Ancestry UK

Casual Ward Graffiti

Below is a collection of graffiti collected from the casual wards of various workhouses by Poor Law Inspector Andrew Doyle in 1865. First, a selection of "notices":

"Private notice.—Saucy Harry and his moll will be at Chester to eat their Christmas dinner, when they hope Saucer and the fraternity will meet them at the union.—14th November 1865."

"Notice to our pals.—Bristol Jack and Burslem was here on the 15th of April, bound for Montgomeryshire for the summer season."

"Notice to Long Cockney, or Cambridge, or any of the fraternity.—Harry the Mark was here from Carmarthen, and if anybody of the Yorkshire tramps wishes to find him he is to be found in South Wales for the next three months. —17th August 1865."

"Spanish Jim, the b— fool who robbed two poor b— tramps in Clatterbridge union, was here on the — find it out."

"Taffy, the Sanctus, was here on the 28th of November 1865."

"Yankey Ben, with Hungerford Tom and Stockport Ginger. The oakum was tried to be burned here on 28th October by Messers John Whittington, Joseph Walker, Thos. Pickering, Jas. Hawthornwaite."

"The Flying Dutchman off to Brum for a summer cruise at the back doors or any other door."

"Cockney Harry and Lambeth bound for Brum for jolly rags."

"Beware of the Cheshire tramps, Spanish Jem, Kildare Jem, Dublin Pick, Navvy Jack, Dick Graven, the shrewd Cheshire tramps."

"Wild Scoty the celebrated king of the cadgers, is in Newgate in, London, going to be hanged by the neck till he is dead; this is a great fact.—Written by his mate."

"Never be ashamed of cadging. I was worth five hundred pounds once, and now I am glad to cadge for a penny or a piece of bread.—Lanky Tom."

"The Governor of Chester Castle orders all subalterns to meet at Stourbridge."

"If ragtailed Soph stays here (Shiffnal) come on to Stafford."

"The York Spinner, Dick Blazeanvy, Lancashire Crab, Dublin Smasher, and Bob Curly called for one night on their road for the tip at Birmingham."

"Bow street, Long Macclesfield, Welsh Ned, Sailor Jack, the lslington Kid, Wakefield Charley, and an Irish cabinet maker were located here 10th September 1865."

The graffiti often comment on the on the character of the relief afforded in different unions. The "bare-boards" of some vagrant wards are carefully distinguished from the "good padding" of others, and warnings are given, that in some unions the "tear-ups" (those deliberately tearing up their clothing in the hope of being given a better replacement) will not get new suits. The bad character of the Congleton workhouse (near Sandbach) was recorded thus:

"Oh Sandbach, thou art no catch,
For like heavy bread, a damned bad batch,
A nice new suit for all tear-ups,
And stones to crack for refractory pups."

Some of the reports were rather more concise:

"Beware of Ludlow—bare boards, no chuck."

"Bishop's Castle Union Workhouse is a good place to be down in, but a damned bad lot of paupers about it."

The workhouse of the Seisdon Union (at Trysull) appears to have a rather better reputation:

"Dry bread in the morning, ditto at night,
Keep up your pecker and make it all right.
Certainly the meals are paltry and mean,
But the beds are nice and clean;
Men, don't tear the beds, sheets, or rugs,
For there are neither lice, fleas, or bugs
At this little clean union at Trysull.
But still at this place there is a drawback,
And now I will put you on the right track,
For I would as soon lodge here as in Piccadilly
If along with the bread they gave a drop of skilly,
At this little clean union at Trysull.
So I tell you again, treat this place with respect,
And instead of abusing, pray do it protect,
For to lodge here one night is certainly a treat,
At this little clean union at Trysull.—Bow Street."

Some of the inmates had definite poetic talents:

"A little power, a little sway,
A sunbeam on a winter's day
Is all the rich and mighty have,
Between the cradle and the grave.—Yankey Ben."
My unfortunate friends, pray look around,
And tell me for what is this place renowned;
The room is large, but the windows are small,
But that don't much matter at all at all.
A pint of skilly for your supper to drink;
But of sleep you cannot get a wink.
You may lay on the boards or the chilly floor,
About as warm as a North American shore.
The old bed is full of fleas all alive:
I killed in number about five times five.
They are not poor, but all thorough-bred,
And before morning you will wish they were all dead;
And by this and by that it plainly is clear,
This is the worst relief in all Staffordshire.—Bow Street."

Inspector Doyle described "Bow Street" as the "laureate of cadgers". After a visit, presumed to be to the neighbouring gaol of Stafford, the bard arrived at the tramp ward of the Newport Union where he recorded his impressions of:

No sun, no moon,
No morn, no noon,
No sky, no earthly blue,
No distant looking view,
No road, no street,
No t'other side the way,
No dawn, no dusk,
No proper time of day,
No end to any row,
No top to any steeple,
No indication where to go,
No sight of familiar people,
No cheerfulness, no healthy ease,
No butterflies,
Nor yet no bees.—Bow Street."

Here is a selection of other "Bow Street" pennings:

"Mickleham Mick, the wandering jockey,
Laid his nob on these boards the other night,
He is not now half so cockey
As when with Ben Anson's dumplins he did fight.—Bow Street."
"Stafford, land of wax and capstones,
Heel balls, wax, and leather,
Where the broth is made of bones,
Where the cobblers face all weather,
Where the stove is seldom lighted,
Where the rugs are daily boxed,
Where the tramps are daily righted,
And out of their grub are foxed.—Bow Street."
"It's an ill dog that don't deserve a crust
Is a maxim true and just,
So we must be dogs of the very worst breed,
When we don't receive what we greatly need;
For it's very unkind, nay, further cruel,
To give here merely a drop of thin gruel.
But let them keep it, we can do without it,
And I mean to let half the town know about it."—Bow Street."
"A Dutchman came one night to lodge,
A beggar down to every dodge,
And if to tell the truth I must,
My eyes could'nt he excavate a crust.—Bow Street."
"Before you close your eyes to sleep, boys, pray for fine weather,
For human hearts need sun as well as corn and oats;
For this rain of late, and at present too, is to had altogether,
Considering the state of our old shoes and the thinness of our coats.
In this place there is a stove, but it is very seldom lighted,
In fact to make you comfortable they don't intend to try,
And the clerk of the weather office must surely be short-sighted,
Or he would see the benefit of sunny days as well as you or I.
Bow Street, 16th August 1865."

The majority of the messages, though, were simple one-liners which catalogue the vagrants' colorful nicknames:

"Bow Street, 1st May, going to Bangor to stay over Sunday—if they will only let me."

"Deer Foot, Spanish Jim, and his Nipper."

"Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, on a Sunday, 24th September 1865."

"Thomas Noon was here on the 18th September 1865. bound for Cardiff."

"Cocking Henry, from Yarmouth, was here the 29th of August, bound to Cheshire."

"Londonderry Ginger was here on the 7th October 1865, bound to Cardiff for the winter."

"Happy Jack was here on the 3rd of July, bound for the Island of Hope."

"Madman was here on the 3rd of June 1865, bound for Bangor."

"Joe Withers, Soldier Tom, and the Corporal was here on the 29th March 1865, bound for the Lord knows where."

"Poor hould Salford prig Frank, was here on the 20th June 1865, bound for the hill of good country, Wales, so no more at present from your poor Frank. Amen."

"Spanish Jim and Bloody Sod."

"John Jones the blue dire, last night he gave us a good fire."

"Doctor Lank was here on the 12th October 1865."

"Tom, the dirty —, he had better go back and pay for its at King Charlie."

"Westminster Cockney, Dublin Dick, and Preston Lank was here on the 11th October, and is bound for Wales. Dublin Dick bound for Liverpool."

"Browney will not have none of Prince Charles this winter, he is bound for Westmoreland and Cumberland, all padding cans in that country, no dirty rugs and board."

"I dont know where to go to put over the time untill Christmass, but there is too dry service in Yorkshire to please me; I shall take my likeness to Bristol for the next 2 months.—Westminster Cockney."

"Yorkey Jim was here on the 11th October 1865, bound for Wales"

"Yorkey Ned was here on the 2nd June 1865."

"Dudley Fred and the Green one was here on 23rd October bound for port."

"Nottingham Dad and Roderick was here 15th October bound for the city of Worcester."

"Salop Jack, Glo'ster Charlie and Emma, Lank Bill was here 16th October, bound for North Wales."

"Harry Heenan was here hafter beeing off of the rope twelve months. 13th September 1865."

"Cockney Henry Lambeth."

"Londonderry Ginger bound for Derby."

"The Yorshire Rodneys coming down into Cheshire to spoil the splendid county, after filling there b—y big guts with good cheese and bacon.—Buttermilk."

"Bow Street and two other raggamuffins slept here on the night of 12th April, and was quite shocked at the clownish impudence of the old pauper at the lodge. The thundering old thief denied us a drink of water. So help me Bob."

"What noble institutions these Poor Law Unions are, and how they succour distress, open arms, yes, over the left, plenty of pump but little grub, and a nice warm breakfast in the morning. Don't you wish you may get it.—Bow Street."

"Bound for Wales on the 6th August 1863. My friend the monkey is coming very had lately on some jolly rags. Swell mob.—Polley Coffey, Esq."

"William May, bound for Stone, 16th May 1865."

"John King was here on the 2nd inst. bound for London, so passed to Chester and all the good houses in Chester to good neede. King, the Chester nipper, is gone to London, and Miss Beef's at A. Winter's to spend the winter in Chester (good to all).—E. Yeson."

"Cocking was here on the Saturday night bound for Derby. Thomas of Yorkshire."

"Spanish Jim, 26th July 1865."

"Daniel Davies, clogger, from Swansea, South Wales, 26th July 1965."

"'This bloody hole is lousey."

"Welsh Jack, 11th October 1865."

"Wolverhampton Nipper bound for London, 24th October 1865."

"Henry Anderson on the 10th of October, bound for Manchester, 1865."

"Saturday, 17th June, Bow Street, bound for Derbyshire, Amen—Wolverhampton Nipper and Belfast Jack was here 14th September 1868, bound for London."

"Liverpool Jim. The Red Rover was here the 22nd of August, bound for London. Positively the last appearance of this celebrated charator."

"Deerfoot, the celebrated runner, was here the 13th of September. No more Staffordshire for him."

"Hungerford Tom, bound for Derby; Yankey Ben, bound for Derby."

"The Dutchman was here on the 21st of September, ragged and lousey, padding the hoof, and getting the mange quite fast.—The Dutchman."

"I should dearly like to marry if I could find Any gay old donner suited to my mind.—Jack Sheppard from York."

Worcester Joe, Wiggin Tom, longing for a flowing tin of skilley, so that we may warm our belley."

"Long Macclesfield and Cockney was here on 16th of August 1865, bound for Brum."

"Cockney Harry, of Lambeth, bound for Brumm, for jolly rags."

"This is a rum place for a fellow to come to for a night's lodging; you will never catch me here again.—Old Bob Bridley, Ok!"


  • BPP 1866, XXXV Reports on Vagrancy

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