A Street Song of the Chartists, from June 1887,
the month of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.It was a fine May morning when the Queen called all her Men:
|Alton Locke, Tailor & Poet (1850) by Charles Kingsley,|
a novel descriptive of the Chartist Movement and notable
for its indictment of ‘sweating practices’ in the tailoring trade.
‘The Empress of the Sea and Shore bids ev’ry Warrior
To muster in your finery. Hurray my Jubilee!’
‘Gad! Fetch my bloody tailor!’ roared General Slaughtermore.
So summoned from his Sweatshop lair the Tailor in despair
Knocked, cap in hand, upon the Door where Fate held much in store.
‘Here mend my Scarlet Jacket for my best dress Uniform!
‘Be quick about it, damn you,’ swore General Slaughtermore.
‘But Debt there is, no small amount, you owe on your account,’
The Poor Man begged his senior, who yelled, ‘I’ll have no more
Of your impertinence! Be gone! And sweat ’til Tunic’s done
Lest your Milords put to the Sword the Lower Order Hordes!’
And so, dismayed, with Jacket frayed, the Tailor sped unpaid
To Cellar floor where he deplored the Laws that scorn the Poor,
‘By Rogues we’re led to bow unfed to Queen, denied our Bread!
Comrades, abhor this Man of Straw, General Slaughtermore!
‘My Lads, our Purse,’ the Tailor cursed, ‘is empty and, what’s worse,
Our Plight’s ignored and set as naught; none spares a second thought
For men as pale as Tailor’s Chalk that are by Hunger stalked,
Who suffer Fraud so splendour gauds General Slaughtermore!’
Such men must thence seek recompense. Denied their daily pence,
They barter tawdry Rags well-worn with Shylock Usurers
For Farthings paid to stay the Pain of Starving that’s profaned
By Evil’s most Outrageous Cause: General Slaughtermore!
So through the Night, by Candlelight, they sewed, their Faces White
With Morbid Thoughts of Cholera that no man should endure,
Until the Dawn, their souls in pawn, they paused with fingers torn
To ask wherefore was Squalor borne to vaunt Lord Slaughtermore?
No clothes they had, they sat unclad, for Destiny forbade
Them fuel and gruel, Fair Dues for All that each man sweated for.
Among aigrettes and epaulettes, gold frogging and bad debts
They sat forlorn, their hopes outworn, suborned by Slaughtermore.
But then a deadly chill there crept into that room unslept,
‘Alack! Because a bed of straw is all we have that’s warm,’
The Tailor said, ‘Let’s make our Bed from Cloth that’s Scarlet Red
It’s Time we wore the Uniform adorning Slaughtermore!’
So turn by turn, their Labours spurned, the men slept, for they’d earned
The right to slumber dressed for Wars far worse than Soldiers fought
And so they lay, until a Maid arrived to fetch away
The Splendid Mended Uniform of Our Lord Slaughtermore.
In mansion grand, a gay riband was tied by fondest hand
On hair that gloried the adorèd daughter of Slaughtermore.
‘For fun! A game!’ the child exclaimed. ‘The Coat of Papa’s fame,
I’ll wear with skirts to frighten Nurse astride my rocking horse!’
Thus Daughter straightway sealed Her Fate. Death Indiscriminate
Sent Plague marauding Tailors Poor and Infant Eleanor.
When dreaded Scarlet Fever’s bred in Scarlet Jacket thread
Whom should we mourn as Maggots gnaw the Slain of Slaughtermore?
A Champion of Sweatshop Workers.A close relative of mine and an incisive social historian reminds me that 1866 – one hundred and fifty years ago – saw the founding of the Amalgamated Society of Tailors and Tailoresses, and he draws interesting parallels between the reformist campaigns of the Chartist Movement and the polemics that scorch the pages of one of the most popular works of that great Champion of Sweatshop Workers, Charles Kingsley, whose Alton Locke, Tailor & Poet (1850) inspired the foregoing verses. The contemporary cartoon, above, is by the Punch artist, John Leech.
This Ballad was prompted by the passage from Alton Locke cited below, a novel descriptive of the Chartist Movement with which Kingsley was involved in the 1840s, and notable for its indictment of 'sweating practices' in the tailoring trade. In this novel, Kingsley set out to expose the social injustices suffered by workers in the clothing trade, with the tale told through the trials and tribulations of a young tailor-boy.