− British Isles 1800–49
Portraits of Curious Characters in London 1814
Known by the Name of Dirty Dick,
Late a Hardware Merchant, in Leadenhall-street.
MR. BENTLEY resided at the corner of the avenue leading to the house formerly the Old Crown Tavern, Leadenhall-street, not far from the East-India House.
The house and character of this eccentric individual are so well described in a poem published in the European Magazine, for January 1801, that we shall transcribe it:
“Who but has seen (if he can see at all)
‘Twixt Aldgate’s well-known pump and Leadenhall,
A curious hard-ware shop, in general full
Of wares, from Birmingham and Pontipool?
Begrim’d with dirt, behold its ample front,
With thirty years collected filth upon’t.
See festoon’d cobwebs pendent o’er the door,
While boxes, bales, and trunks, are strew’d around the floor.
“Behold how whistling winds and driving rain
Gain free admission at each broken pain,
Save where the dingy tenant keeps them out
With urn or tray, knife-case, or dirty clout!
Here snuffers, waiters, patent screws for corks;
There castors, card-racks, cheese-trays, knives and forks:
Here empty cases pil’d in heaps on high;
There pack-thread, papers, rope, in wild disorder lie.
“O say, thou enemy to soap and towels!
Hast no compassion lurking in thy bowels?
Think what thy neighbours suffer by thy whim
Of keeping self and house in such a trim!
The officers of health should view the scene,
And put thy shop and thee in quarantine.
Consider thou, in summer’s ardent heat,
When various means are tried to cool the street,
What must each decent neighbour suffer then
From various vapours issuing from thy den.
“When fell Disease, with all her horrid train,
Spreads her dark pinions o’er ill-fated Spain,
That Britain may not witness such a scene,
Behoves us doubly now to keep our dwellings clean.
“Say, if, within the street where thou dost dwell,
Each house were kept exactly like thy cell;
O, say, thou enemy to brooms and mops!
How long thy neighbours could keep open shops,
If, following thee in taste, each wretched elf,
Unshav’d, unwash’d, and squalid like thyself,
Resolv’d to live?—The answer’s very plain,
One year would be the utmost of their reign:
Victims to filth, each vot’ry soon would fall,
And one grand jail-distemper kill them all.
“Persons there are, who say thou hast been seen
(Some years ago) with hands and face wash’d clean;
And, wouldst thou quit this most unseemly plan,
Thou art (‘tis said) a very comely man:
Of polish’d language, partial to the fair,
Then why not wash thy face and comb thy matted hair?
Clear from thy house accumulated dirt,
New paint the front, and wear a cleaner shirt.”
Many are the reports concerning his civility, and polite manner of attending to the ladies whenever they have honoured him with their commands; and several curious persons have come to town from various parts of the country, on purpose to see so remarkable a figure.
Before the powder-tax was introduced, Nathaniel frequently paid a shilling for dressing that head, which of late years he scarcely seemed to think worthy of a comb! He mends his own clothes and washes his own linen, which he proudly acknowledges. His answer to a gentleman who wished to convert him to cleanliness, was, “It is of no use, Sir; if I wash my hands to-day, they will be dirty again to-morrow.” On being asked whether he kept a dog or cat to destroy rats, mice, &c. he replied, “No, Sir, they only make more dirt, and spoil more goods than any service they are of; but as to rats and mice, how can they live in my house, when I take care to leave them nothing to eat?” If asked why he does not take down his shutters which have been so long up, or why he does not put his goods in proper order, his answer is, “he has been long thinking of it, but he has not time.”
With all Nathaniel Bentley’s eccentricities, it must be acknowledged, he is both intelligent and polite: like a diamond begrimed with dirt, which, though it may easily conceal its lustre in such a state, can easily recover its original polish—not a diamond indeed of the first water—not a rough diamond—but an unwashed diamond.
In his beauish days, his favourite suit was blue and silver, with his hair dressed in the extremity of fashion; but now—strange fancy—his hair frequently stands up like the quills of the porcupine, and generally attended in his late shop without a coat, while his waistcoat, breeches, shirt, face, and hands, corresponded with the dirt of his warehouse.
Contrast to the Character last mentioned.
THOSE who are in the practice of walking the principal streets of this metropolis, leading from Bond-street to Cornhill, must have been attracted by the daily appearance of Ann Siggs, a tall woman, walking apparently easy with crutches, and mostly dressed in white, sometimes wearing a jacket or spencer of green baize; yet always remarkably clean in her dress and appearance.
It does not appear, however, that this female ranks very high among the remarkables, having but very few eccentricities, and nothing very singular, except her dress and method of walking. The great burthen of warm clothing which she always wears, is not from affectation, or a disposition to promote popular gaze, but from the necessity of guarding against the least cold, which she says always increases a rheumatic complaint with which she is afflicted.
When we consider the great number of beggars who daily perambulate London, and the violence they commit against decency, cleanliness, and delicate feelings, one naturally feels surprised they are so often the receivers of the generosity and bounty of the passing crowds; but independent of the commendable garb which adorns the interesting figure of Ann Siggs, we have repeatedly noticed another rare quality so very uncommon among the mendicant tribe, and that is, a silent and modest appeal to the considerate passenger, which almost involuntarily calls forth inquiry.
She is about fifty-six years of age, and is said to have a brother still living, an opulent tradesman on the Surrey side of the water; she also had a sister living at Isleworth, who died some time since.
This mendicant receives from the parish of St. Michael, Cornhill, a weekly allowance, which, with the benevolence of some well-disposed persons, probably adds considerably to her comforts,
“But cannot minister to the mind diseas’d.”
It appears she has lived in Eden-court, Swallow-street, upwards of fifteen years, the lonely occupant of a small back room, leaving it at 9 o’clock every morning to resume her daily walks.
Her father lived many years at Dorking, in Surrey, maintaining the character of an industrious, quiet, and honest man, by the trade of a tailor, and who having brought up a large family of eight children, died, leaving the present Ann Siggs destitute of parental protection at the age of eighteen; and after many revolutions of bright and gloomy circumstances that have attended her during her humble perambulations, which the weakest minds are by no means calculated to endure, these have in some measure wrought upon her intellects. She is however perfectly innocent.
MEMOIRS OF THE CELEBRATED
Surgeon, Dentist, &c.
OF MOUNT-STREET, BERKELEY-SQUARE.
THE appellation of extraordinary may, indeed, well apply to this ingenious and whimsical man. All the remarkable eccentricities which have yet been the characteristic of any man, however celebrated, may all hide their diminished heads before Martin Van Butchell. He is the morning star of the eccentric world; a man of uncommon merit and science, therefore the more wonderful from his curious singularities, his manners, and his appearance. Many persons make use of means to excite that attention which their merit did not deserve, and for the obtaining of credit which they never possessed. It appears, as an exception to these rules, that the singularities of Martin Van Butchell have tended more to obscure, than to exalt or display the sterling abilities which even the tongue of envy has never denied him.
A man riding a horse
The father of Martin Van Butchell was very well known in the reign of George II.; being tapestry-maker to his majesty, with a salary of £50 per annum attached to the office.
The education of the son was equal to the father’s circumstances; who lived in a large house, with extensive gardens, known by the name of the “Crown House,” in the parish of Lambeth, where several of the gentry occasionally lodged for the beauty of the situation and air; the son, who had many opportunities of improvement, by and through the distinguished persons who paid their visits at his father’s house, was early taken notice of, and very soon possessed a knowledge of the French language, and arrived at many accomplishments. He maintained a good character, with a prepossessing address; recommendations which induced Sir Thomas Robinson to solicit his acceptance to travel with his son, as a suitable companion, in a tour through Europe. This offer, it appears, was not accepted; but in a short time after, he joined the family of the Viscountess Talbot; where, as groom of the chambers, he remained many years: a situation so lucrative as to enable him to leave and pursue with vigour his endeared studies of mechanics, medicine, and anatomy.
The study of the human teeth accidentally took up his attention through the breaking of one of his own, and he engaged himself as pupil to the famous Dr. J. Hunter. The profession of dentist was the occasion of first introducing him to the notice of the public; and so successful was he in this art, that for a complete set of teeth he has received the enormous price of eighty guineas! We have heard of a lady who was dissatisfied with teeth for which she had paid him ten guineas; upon which he voluntarily returned the money: scarcely had she slept upon the contemplation of this disappointment, before she returned, soliciting the set of teeth, which he had made her, as a favour, with an immediate tender of the money which she originally paid, and received them back again.
After many years successfully figuring as a dentist, Martin Van Butchell became no less eminent as a maker of trusses for ruptured persons. A physician of eminence in Holland having heard of his skill in this practice, made a voyage for the purpose of consulting him, and was so successfully treated, that, in return for the benefit received, he taught Martin Van Butchell the secret of curing fistulas; which he has practised ever since in an astonishing and unrivalled manner.
The eccentricities of Martin now began to excite public notice; upon his first wife’s death, who, for the great affection he bore towards her, he was at first determined never should be buried; after embalming the body, he kept her in her wedding clothes a considerable time, in the parlour of his own house, which occasioned the visits of a great number of the nobility and gentry. It has been reported, that the resolution of his keeping his wife unburied, was occasioned by a clause in the marriage settlement, disposing of certain property, while she remained above ground: we cannot decide how far this may be true, but she has been since buried. He has a propensity to every thing in direct opposition to other persons: he makes it a rule to dine by himself, and for his wife and children also to dine by themselves; and it is his common custom to call his children by whistling, and by no other way.
Next to his dress and the mode of wearing his beard, one of the first singularities which distinguished him, was walking about London streets, with a large Otaheitan tooth or bone in his hand, fastened in a string to his wrist, intended to deter the boys from insulting him, as they very improperly were used to do, before his person and character were so well known.
Upon the front of his house, in Mount-street, he had painted the following puzzle:
Thus, said sneaking Jack, speaking like himself,
I’ll be first; if I get my money, ROYAL I don’t care who suffers.
With caustic care——and old Phim
Sometimes in Six Days, and always tene——
the fistulæ in Ano.
Licensed to deal in Perfumery, i.e.
Hydrophobia cured in thirty days,
made of Milk and Honey.
which remained some years. In order a little to comprehend it: some years ago, he had a famous dun horse, but on some dispute with the stable-keeper, the horse was detained for the keep, and at last sold, by the ranger of Hyde-Park, at Tattersal’s, where it fetched a very high price. This affair was the cause of a law-suit, and the reason why Martin Van Butchell interlined the curious notice in small gold letters, nearly at the top, as follows:—“Thus said sneaking Jack, speaking like himself, I’ll be first; if I get my money, I don’t care who suffers.”
After losing his favourite dun horse, a purchase was soon made of a small white poney, which he never suffers to be trimmed in any manner whatever; the shoes for it are always fluted to prevent slipping, and he will not suffer the creature to wear any other. His saddle is no less curious. He humorously paints the poney, sometimes all purple, often with purple spots, and with streaks and circles upon his face and hinder parts. He rides on this equipage very frequently, especially on Sundays, in the Park and about the streets.
The curious appearance of him and his horse have a very striking effect, and always attracts the attention of the public. His beard has not been shaved or cut for fifteen years; his hat shallow and narrow brimmed, and now almost white with age, though originally black: his coat a kind of russet brown, which has been worn a number of years, with an old pair of boots in colour like his hat and about as old. His bridle is also exceedingly curious; to the head of it is fixed a blind, which, in case of taking fright or starting, can be dropped over the horse’s eyes, and be drawn up again at pleasure.
Many have been the insults and rude attacks of the ignorant and vulgar mob, at different times, upon this extraordinary man; and instances have occurred of these personal attacks terminating seriously to the audacious offender. One man, we remember, had the extreme audacity to take this venerable character by the beard; in return, he received a blow from the injured gentleman, with an umbrella, that had nearly broken a rib.
We shall now endeavour to exhibit his remarkable turn for singularity, by his writings, as published at different times in the public prints, and affording entertainment for the curious:
“Corresponding—Lads—Remember Judas:——And the year 80! Last Monday Morning, at 7 o’clock, Doctor Merryman, of Queen-street, May-fair, presented Elizabeth, the wife of Martin Van Butchell, with her Fifth fine Boy, at his House in Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, and—they—are—all—well—. Post Master General for Ten Thousand Pounds (—we mean Gentlemen’s—Not a Penny less—) I will soon construct—such Mail-Coach—Perch—Bolts as shall never break!
To many I refer—for my character: Each will have grace—to write his case; soon as he is well—an history tell; for the public good;—to save human blood, as—all—true—folk—shou’d. Sharkish people may—keep themselves away,——Those that use me ill—I never can heal, being forbidden—to cast pearls to pigs; lest—they—turn—and—tear. Wisdom makes dainty: patients come to me, with heavy guineas,—between ten and one; but—I—go—to—none.”
Mender of Mankind; in a manly way.
In another advertisement, he says:
“That your Majesty’s Petitioner is a British Christian Man, aged fifty-nine—with a comely beard—full eight inches long. That your Majesty’s Petitioner was born in the County of Middlesex—brought up in the County of Surrey—and has never been out of the Kingdom of England. That your Majesty’s Petitioner (—about ten years ago—) had often the high honour (—before your Majesty’s Nobles—) of conversing with your Majesty (—face to face—) when we were hunting of the stag—on Windsor Forest.”
“British Christian Lads (—Behold—now is the day—of Salvation. Get understanding, as the highest gain.—) Cease looking boyish;—become quite manly!—(Girls are fond of hair: it is natural.—) Let your beards grow long: that ye may be strong:—in mind—and body: as were great grand dads:—Centuries ago; when John did not owe—a single penny: more than—he—could—pay.”
Many more equally whimsical advertisements might be selected, and many additional anecdotes might be told of him; but what we have here recorded concerning this complete original may be depended upon. Not one word of which is contrary to truth.
PARTICULARS RELATING TO
A REMARKABLE BLIND YOUNG MAN,
Surgeon, Dentist, &c.
IT seems that this extraordinary character was born blind, about the year 1768. Having been deprived of his father, whilst very young, he was taken care of by his father-in-law, a brass-founder; and, early in life, habituated to attend very constantly the public worship of the church of England; but it appears, the visits he then made to places of worship were more from the authority of his father-in-law, than from any relish he had for the benefit of assembling amongst religious people; on the contrary, he was averse to the practice of going to church, and therefore it is not to be wondered at, that he should be found at length professing openly, by words and actions, similar dislike even to religion itself. But his continuance in these sentiments was suddenly changed, in accidentally meeting with the Countess of Huntingdon’s Hymns, and the preaching of a gentleman at Spa Fields Chapel, so that he became more and more enraptured with the sublime doctrines of the Gospel; and has ever since constantly attended upon the dissenting meetings. And though blind, he does not walk in darkness, like too many professing Christians, “who have eyes, but see not.” Those who have the use of their sight, and have been constantly resident in London, are not better acquainted with the town than poor Statham. With astonishing precision, he finds his way, from street to street, and from house to house, supplying his customers with the various periodical publications that he carries; and this only by the means of an extraordinary retentive memory. His constant companion being a stick, whereby he feels his way. Such is his care and recollection, that he has never been known to lose himself. Whilst living with his father-in-law, he paid great attention to the brass foundery business and still remembers the process of that art. On the death of his father-in-law, poor Statham became possessed of a very small freehold estate: the produce of which is, however, so trifling, that were it not for the occasional assistance of benevolent persons, and his little magazine walk, the wants of nature could not be supplied. He uses every exertion within his power to increase his weekly pittance; but the cruelty exercised upon him by inconsiderate people has, at different times, given him severe pain and bitter disappointment: the inhumanity we allude to, is that of sending him orders for magazines to be taken to places, several miles distant, which when purchased and conveyed to the fictitious place, he has been told, “No such books have been ordered, nor is there any one of that name lives here.” Now if the persons so treating a poor defenceless man, only reflected a moment, at least they would forbear the shameful exercise of such wanton cruelty. As we have hinted at the strength of his memory, we will now produce some facts to substantiate the truth. He can repeat all the Church of England service, and a great part of the Old and New Testament; some particular portions of Scripture which he considers remarkably striking he delivers with peculiar emphasis; besides the recollection of Lady Huntingdon’s Hymns. Every sermon he hears he will go over, when returned home, with astonishing precision. Equal to his retentive memory is his ingenuity, possessing an extensive knowledge of metals, copper, tin, brass, pewter, &c. &c. He can likewise tell if pinchbeck is or not a good mixture of copper and brass of equal proportion! And no less remarkable is his retention of hearing: we remember upon a time, a person only having been once in his company, and after an absence of some months the same gentleman paid him a second visit; poor Statham immediately looked to the spot from whence the voice proceeded, and having repeatedly turned his head, without any further information, instantly addressed the gentleman he recollected. It appears he is extremely fond of music, and what is called spiritual singing. His mode of living is always regular and frugal; strong liquors, so much used by the poor of this country, are by him religiously abstained from. These circumstances cause him to receive the advantages of a regular good state of health, and that cheerfulness of mind and patience in suffering so very conspicuous in his character. Since the above account was written, this unfortunate individual was found, by the road side, near Bagnigge Wells, frozen to death, on Christmas morning, December 25th, 1808, having lost his way in that memorably severe storm of frost and snow, of Christmas eve of that year.
SINGER AND MUSICIAN.
WE have now to take notice of a female who never fails to attract particular notice; she is mostly attended by a crowd: with the assistance of a musical instrument, called a guitar, she adds her own voice, which, combined with the instrument, has a very pleasing effect.
A decent modesty is conspicuous in this person, more so than in any other we have ever witnessed following so humble a calling. She is wife to a soldier in the foot-guards, and lost her sight by suckling twin children, who are sometimes with her, conducted by a girl, who seems engaged to assist the family both at home and out of doors. Cleanliness, at all times the nurse of health, is by nine-tenths of the poor of this land banished existence, as if it were matter of misery to be distinguished by a clean skin and with clean clothes; now this rarity, we speak of, is amply possessed by Anne Longman, and though not quite so conspicuous in this particular as Ann Siggs, yet she lays strong claim to pity and charitable sympathy. It cannot be supposed that her husband, possessing only the salary arising from the situation of a private in the foot-guards, can support, without additional assistance, himself, his wife quite blind, and a family of four children, without encountering some severe trials and difficulties; so that, upon the whole, it is a matter of satisfaction and pleasure to find, that, incumbered as she is, some addition is made to their support through the innocent means of amusing the surrounding spectators by her melody.
THE WANDERING MINSTRELS.
THESE pedestrians form a singular sight; twins in birth, and partners in misfortunes in life; they came into the world blind; and blind are compelled to wade their way through a world of difficulties and troubles.
Though nothing very remarkable can be recorded of them, yet there is something in their looks and manners that at least renders them conspicuous characters.
They are continually moving from village to village, from town to town, and from city to city, never omitting to call upon London, whether outward or homeward bound. It is observable, however, they never play but one tune, which may account for their not stopping any length of time in one place. For upwards of twenty years they have always been seen together.
John and Robert Green are visitors at most country fairs, particularly at the annual Statute Fair, held at Chipping Norton, which they never fail to attend; and at this place, it appears, they were born.
When in London, they are always noticed with a guide; and as soon as the old harmony is finished, one takes hold of the skirt of the other’s coat, and in that manner proceed until they again strike up the regular tune. We are inclined to think the charity bestowed upon them is not given as a retaining fee, but rather to get rid of a dissonance and a discord which, from continual repetition, becomes exceedingly disagreeable; though in this manner they pick up a decent subsistence.
A noted Character,
ABOUT ST. PAUL’S CHURCH-YARD, &c.
THOMAS SUGDEN seems determined to distinguish himself from the rest of his brethren, by carrying two pigeons upon his shoulders, and one upon his head; healthy and fine birds continue so but a little time with him. He is the dirtiest among the dirty; and his feathered companions soon suffer from this disgusting propensity; one week reduces their fine plumage and health to a level with the squalid and miserable appearance of their master, whose pockets very often contain the poor prisoners, to be ready to bring them forth at the first convenient stand he thinks it most to his advantage to occupy; and from this mode of conveyance are they indebted for broken feathers, dirt, &c.
Sugden, a native of Yorkshire, lost his sight in a dreadful storm, on board the Gregson merchantman, Capt. Henley, commander: the particulars he sometimes relates, and attributes his misfortunes to an early neglect of parental admonition, when nothing but sea could serve his turn. He addresses his younger auditors upon this subject, and remonstrates with them on the advantage of obedience to their parents.
ELEVATED as the bell-ringing tribe are above this humble creature, the correct manner of his ringing, with hand-bells, various peals and song tunes, would puzzle the judgments of a very large portion of regular-bred belfry idlers.
Numbers of persons have attended upon his performance, particularly when his self-constructed belfry was in existence, near Broad Wall, Lambeth, containing a peal of eight bells, from which he obtained a tolerable livelihood; here he was soon disturbed, and obliged to quit, to make way for some building improvement. He has ever since exercised his art in most public places, on eight, ten, and sometimes twelve bells, for upwards of twenty-four years. He frequently accompanies the song tunes with his voice, adding considerably to the effect, though he has neither a finished nor powerful style of execution. While he performs upon the hand-bells (which he does sitting), he wears a hairy cap, to which he fixes two bells; two he holds in each hand; one on each side, guided by a string connected with the arm; one on each knee; and one on each foot. It appears, he originally came from the city of Norwich, and was employed as a weaver in that place some years, but, having (from a cold) received an injury to his sight, resigned his trade for the profession which necessity now compels him to follow.
Well known for his imitative abilities,
AND GROTESQUE APPEARANCE.
IT seems the important study of ass-braying, wild-boar grunting, and the cry of hungry pigs, has engaged for some years the attention of this original. In addition to these harmonious and delightful sounds, another description of melody he successfully performs, which is on the trumpet, French horn, drum, &c.
An Italian took a fancy to his wonderful ingenuity, and had him imported into England. As an inducement to obtain George’s consent to leave the city of Lisbon, in Portugal, the place of his nativity, he was most flatteringly assured of making his fortune.
Romondo took shipping for England, safely arrived in London early in the year 1800; and soon after commenced operations in a caravan drawn by horses, nearly resembling those used by the famous Pidcock, for the travelling of his wild beasts up and down the country. In this manner Romondo began making a tour of England, from fair to fair, under the style and title of “THE LITTLE MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN.” He now became alternately pig, boar, and ass, for the Italian’s profit, with an allowance of 2s. 6d. per day, for himself. It is natural to suppose such a speculation could not be attended with success; the event actually turned out so; and after some time it was given up, and our poor mountain hero left by this cunning Italian, to shift for himself.
He, however, soon after commenced operations upon his own account, and continues to this day to exercise his surprising talents!
He is about forty-three years of age, wears a cocked hat, drooping a prodigious length over his shoulders, completely in the fashion of a dustman or coalheaver, and with a coat actually sweeping the ground. In height he is about three feet six inches; his legs and thighs appear like a pair of callipers; he is said to be, in temper, very good natured; and is very fond of the ladies, often kissing their elbows, which come exactly parallel with his lips, as he walks the streets of London; and in exchange, many a box on the ear has been received, with apparent good nature. At particular times, he is seen in his full dress, with a round fashionable hat, white cotton stockings, and red slippers.