Suppression, Appropriation and Resistance
But the Pantomime was not universally acclaimed for a rift had opened in theatrical culture between the legitimate drama and popular entertainment. Pantomime was derided and despised by many leading figures in the legitmate culture, notably poet Alexander Pope and Henry Fielding, even Colly Cibber who as a theatre manager staged Pantomimes, was contemptuous of there appeal. In 1759 David Garrick who disliked Pantomimes but was forced to produce them as an actor manager at Drury Lane, actually dramatised the conflict between the popular and the legitimate in a Pantomime called Harlequin's Invasion; or a Christmas Gambol ; The show features the invasion and eventual expulsion of Harlequin and the motley characters of the Pantomime from a kingdom ruled by Shakespeare. With the advent of Pantomime a seperation opened up between the Theatre and popular entertainment.
From the second half of the 18th century onwards, industrialisation, urbanisation, the decline of the agrarian economy, the rise of evangelical Christianity and bourgeois anxiety about the unlicensed culture of the vulgar classes combined to produce a systematic onslaught of state suppression and legislation against traditional popular culture. 1 The new age of reason and commerce required from its workforce, order, moral discipline, thrift and sobriety. There would no place for the sensuality and chaos of the carnival. Moreover as revolution raged abroad and riot raged at home, the bourgeoisie sought to prevent the dangerous public gathering of the common people.
The state perception of street signs as dangerous hazards which blocked out the light or could fall into the bustling streets, reinforced by growing public literacy and the numbering of houses which began around 1708, led to statutes enacted by the London parishes which removed all projecting and hanging signs between 1765-1770. 2
Regional authorities attempted to suppress unlicensed holiday pleasure fairs and wakes. Fairs which began on a Sunday or which celebrated Christian Holy days were especially censured since the mirth and drunkenness of the revellers was viewed as blasphemous. In 1855 Bartholomew Fair was prohibited and in the decade following the passing of the Fairs Act of 1871 over 700 hundred fairs and wakes were abolished in England.3 However the campaign against the fairs was often met with resistance and even expansion, the eventual decline of the rural fairs in the late 19th century was due more to the general decline of the agrarian economy.
Most of the traditional popular bloodsports such as Throwing at Cocks and Bear and Bull Baiting, were all but eliminated by genteel opposition before the 1835 Cruelty To Animals Act made them illegal. The only bloodsports which effectively survived where those in which the ruling classes participated eg.. hunting with hounds. 4 Opposition to street football and especially to the large scale holiday games intensified, the Highways Act of 1835 made it possible to prosecute players and many of the games which survived were prohibited and forcibly eliminated in the late 19th century.5
After 1700 there developed in the rural parish churches a form of popular music known as Psalmody, or West Gallery Music after the galleries which were built for the Quire in the west ends of the churches. 6 These 'quires' were drawn from local people, originally they were all male singers but they developed in many cases into mixed gender bands of singers and musicians. Although the main function of the quires was to perform in the church they also played a leading role in parish life performing at weddings and festivals. Around the mid-19th century the Church of England adopted a policy of standardisation which eliminated the Quires and replaced them with congregational singing led by organs and surpliced boy choirs. However the quires were not totally silenced, many moved to the non-conformist churches or to the pub. The style and melody of Gallery Music survives in the chapels of the North of England and in the carol singing of Christmas.
Busking on the dark streets of mid-Victorian London there were more than a thousand musicians, acrobats, actors, ballad singers, puppet shows and other entertainers. Many subsisted on a pittance to keep out of the workhouse, many were disabled and could not work. In the 1860s the M.P. Michael .T. Bass led a campaign to outlaw street music which was supported by many eminent figures including Tennyson, John Everett Millais, Holman Hunt, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. Perhaps the most vehement enemy of street music was Charles Babbage, who is considered to be the pioneer of computer technology. The eventual Legislation enacted against street music in 1864 was however considerably weakened by public opposition.
The onslaught of litigation and genteel opposition in the late 18th to mid 19th century did not actually eliminate or enervate popular culture, but it was another determinant in the development of a hybrid commercial urban popular culture. A critical example of this is the effect of suppression on the development of the Music Hall. In 1751 the Disorderly Houses Act required all taverns, alehouses and other places of entertainment to apply for an annual license, this was separate from a theatre license and was generally known as the 'music and dancing' license.
Tavern entertainment in the late 18th century was a carnival hybrid:
By the 1790s tavern concerts had generally become known as free - and - easies,
although some had specific exotic names, such as Courts of Comus. At one London Court, a group of singers, posture-makers and tumblers performed and were paid in drink while customers paid for drink and not for the show.
A "president ", who was a frequenter of the tavern, introduced each performer with a toast. At another court, 6d was charged to enter, but the performer was not differentiated from the audience. One of the regulars took the chair, receiving food, drink and tobacco for his services: wearing the "official club cocked hat ", he called on each member of the audience to "do something ". The turns were often boisterous and hilarious: "either a song, a speech, poising a tobacco pipe or coal skuttle; an imitation of a cat, dog or fowl, posturing, or the more classic feat of quaffing to the dregs the pewter Amystis of some potent compound." 7