Fleet Street & MED

So, the work on the Middle English Dictionary has come to an end (“ende,” also spelled “eende,” “eynede,” “inde,” “yende” and “yinde,” and first found in an 1175 text).

Finally. I had to use what was available in a research project a while back. Of course the words I needed weren’t done yet, and I doubt I’ll be going back that far again.

A kind soul on the C-18L mailing list pointed out a link to some material from London Life in the Eighteenth Century by M Dorothy George. I was taken with a description of Fleet Street that sounded a bit like Las Vegas:

Pennant describes Fleet Street as it was before 1753: “in walking along the street in my youth … I have often been tempted by the question,`Sir, will you be pleased to walk in and be married ?’ Along this most lawless space was hung up the frequent sign of a male and female hand conjoined with `Marriages performed within’ written beneath. A dirty fellow invited you in. The parson was seen walking before his shop, a squalid profligate fellow clad in a tattered plaid night-gown, with a fiery face and ready to couple you for a dram of gin or a roll of tobacco”.

There are more churches per capita in Las Vegas than anywhere in the world, due in part to the prolific trade in marriage and praying for lucky numbers to come up. The real heart breaker was here, though:

One Jouveaux, a tambour-worker, employed seventeen parish apprentice girls, and had so cruelly ill-treated and starved them that five had died “in a decline”. The girls worked at embroidery on muslin from four or five in the morning till eleven or twelve at night, sometimes till two in the morning, and sometimes all night. Their food was usually bread and water, sometimes a few potatoes, sometimes rice boiled in water without salt. It was brought to them to eat at their embroidery frames. The seventeen slept in a garret on three beds. When there was no work they had Sundays to themselves, otherwise they worked on Sunday. Jouveaux moved his establishment from Hackney to Stepney Green at four o’clock one morning, because the neighbours had called out “shame”. The girls’ shrieks had been heard, and they had been seen seeking in the hog-trough for food. [From Times (Law Report 23/5/1801]

So, now I’m really cheered up. Life could be worse.