Monday, 15 November 2010

Coffee Pots and Quinces (3)


With pleasure I herewith continue the account of a most unfortunate event in the Fine City of Norwich in 1762, extracted from a rare surviving copy of The Coffee Pot & Shag.  This little known periodical (1750-1772) gives us a precious glimpse into the lives and concerns of the wealthier class of Norwich coffee house society, in this particular instance highlighting the fragility of social order, so easily unbalanced, even by that well meaning citizen Cornelius Hump when attempting to share his Antiquarian zest with his fellow men (and ladies, of course).
Enjoy this, the third extract, or simply scroll down for the previous two.
~ Gregorious ~


The third of four extracts from The Coffee Pot & Shag (October 1762)

The DANGERS attendant upon HISTORICKE DISCOURSE with SUNDRY PERSONS of Mixed & Diverse ORDERS
Being a true & faithful account of events in this city of NORWICHE rendered in full earnest hope of warning & benefit to others by the author though it spare him not certain details most unbecoming to a gentleman.

Mr Tangle had paused at the south wall of the Guildhall, as he had proposed in his description of the route to be taken through the auncient streets, and Mr Hump joining him, their listeners did gather about, showing perseverance in expectation of amusement, me thought.
An even larger number did now attend upon the duo, just as trouble doth always double itself, and they began their Antiquarian discourse upon Norwich citizens of times past.  A catalogue of many diverse crimes and misdemeanours then flowed forth, of half clad, adulterous swags, foul tongued fish wives, fraudsters skilled with crooked dice, radicals of politick and un-Godly whores, many of whom were put to trial by City magistrates within that very building.
Each tale was coloured by the holding aloft of some significant object, (such as say, a set of old teeth) produced from Mr Tangle's pedlar basket.
The noise of the close-by Fish Mart did much detract from the clarity of their discourse, but the theatrical manner of holding aloft their prizes being plain visible to all, some passing persons were misled into thinking here were purchases to be had.  Thus the crowd swelled denser, and decidedly coarser.  A brawny country  woman called to know the price of coneys; Mr Tangle quipped, with admirable speed, "Sixpence, mother, but the wisdom is free!"
A Caledonian drover offered to improve upon his wisdom most rudely, drawing a sharp response from a whiskered Broadsman, with a placatory interjection from a pale Quaker lady, and from here, my friends, the clarity of my tale is torn asunder, for event now conjoined upon event, quick as the gush from a carter's mare at jakes.
A heavy boot roughly trod on a lady's gown, a dog yelped, an elderly gent was elbowed as he raised his snuff box, most unfortunate, as a quantity cascaded down a  pretty neck line, a red faced fish trader demanded what business was here, to which young Ditherus replied, in good if misguided faith, "Why they are Pedlars of the Past, dear sir!"
Mr Hump, methinks to quell the growing hubbub, of a sudden raised his arm aloft like Caesar and in vox magnificat proclaimed :
"Mark you all, in my hand I hold two dice, no ordinary dice these, but ones guaranteed to maketh my fortune!"
Oh, ill luck upon that moment, for as from nowhere a great parson strode to seize his hand, calling against Satan's gamblers, and struck Mr Hump full square upon his periwig with a thick book of prayer.  As in a river in flood, the press of people (and dog) tossed me like a leaf, for panic swept the rougher sorts as now also was realised the presence of a Beadle, with a host of fish sellers, shouting their intent upon seizing unlicensed pedlars!  Even as I glimpsed a huge fish wife, with great red forearms, emptying a pail of foul liquids (too heavy for any man to lift) far over the heads of all, the elderly snuff taker was toppled head first against my stockinged shin, and hopping in ungainly agony I dimly heard a familiar feminine scream: my wife, without doubt.
Separated from her as I had been for some time, I knew only that she was to the front, near our speakers, but trying to see thence I glimpsed only barbaricke commotion.  Mr Tangle in fierce struggle, having been seized by his pedlar's basket, and Mr Hump, bareheaded now and delivering, with curious skill and competence, a fair account of fisticuffs upon the Caledonian drover.
All this, my friends, happened quick as a whipjack's sleight, and it seemed as if now the whole of the Great Mart was embattled, a howling maelstrom of flying missiles - of unspeakable foulness - running skirmishes and smashed heads.  Fish mart produce seemed to be lubricating everywhere under foot, and I fast found myself  prostrate against what seemed a low wall, while others did tumble over me.  I looked up into a hook nosed, wrinkled face: an aged crone, her bony jaws working her tobacco, gazed down at me with beady eyed calm.
"His it Saturday yit?" she said.  Without thinking I murmured 't was, and she seemed satisfied.  Clambering painfully up, I had time to see saw the low wall was the filthy wooden stocks, behind which she sat with one ragged leg pinioned, before a small hand seized mine and pulled me, staggering low, through the screams and rushing bodies, into the relative calm of Dove Lane.
Collapsing with a gasp in a dark yard entrance, in fear lest the wetness soaking my neck and shirt was my own blood, shin skinned and missing a shoe, I saw my rescuer was none other than the little urchin from St Peter’s Street.  He regarded me silently, and methought to any observer he and I were now equals, save I the more malodorous of fish.
"I must to my wife, " I gasped, but he only held out some tattered, round shaped thing that puzzled me first, but then declared itself - Mr Tangle's drum, it's marching days now over.  We both started at running feet - a man wild eyed and blood stained fled past, over his shoulder a flash of pale green brocade that also stirred my memory: Mr Ditherus' frock coat.  A female screech turned both our heads, and we saw a sinewy, weather darkened fish wife point in our direction.
"That's 'im, with the drum!"
Glaring faces turned upon us and next, well, gentlemen, strip a man of his worldly apparel, then roll him in life's gutter and what have you?  Shoeless urchins, every one of us, and as such we ran, the veteran leading the hapless novice.
Into the passage first, and then like mice by twists and turns and sometimes crawls through yards, offal rank conduits, beneath hanging linen, through barrels 'neath an ale house kitchen, once (most foul) across a pig yard and out, at last, onto a busy cobbled street, as back from a subterranean world.  My guide I lost at once, and turning bewildered and much aware of curious stares and unwonted attentions, saw a church door ajar before me.  Pushing through and closing it behind, I stumbled through glassed inner doors, falling headlong down an unnoticed step to lie on the cool paments, my hands before me, like a wearied penitent after long pilgrimage through wilderness.
A moment of sweet calm passed, till opening my eyes I noticed a large pair of feet, in shoes once belonging to some gentleman, but now serving another in their old age with missing buckle, and a burly young man leaned over me.  Close cropped, with a slight droop of one eye, there was an innocence in his countenance.  Close by, a deep voice spoke.
"Help him up easy, Ned, for he hath been cast upon our shore as one storm wrecked by the ocean of the world."
With tenderness, the lad helped me rise, and I saw two men sat upon old rush chairs near a stove, both puffing long stemmed churchwarden pipes, a jug of nog close by.  One wore the long coat of a warden, and the other, a black clad figure, I knew at once, was Pariah Greengrass.


to be continued...

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