Saturday, 25 November 2017

Kiss My Bloody Arse: Swearing in Victorian Cardiff

I'm writing a creative history of the lives of prostitutes, brothel keepers, pimps, thieves and sailors who were congregated together as a community in Cardiff for over a generation.
My book is littered with swear words but after a conversation about swearing in Victorian times on twitter with Jonathan Green (@MisterSlang and an expert on historical swearing) and Helen Rogers (@helenrogers19c and writing a creative history about prison boys at Yarmouth) I wondered what was the historical evidence for this.

Firstly the people in my book MUST have sworn. I know you should never assume things but come on, you've got the roughest streets in Cardiff full of the roughest career criminals mixed in with boat loads of sailors and copious amounts of alcohol and opium.
The question is what language did they use?
The newspapers, one of my main sources of information, hardly published swear words. You get a lot of this:
They mainly describe it as violent language, bad language, disgusting language or obscene language.

But Jonathan Green made a good point in saying that the policemen who heard this may have had different notions of bad language to us, so perhaps a 'bloody' or a 'damn' would be disgusting or obscene to them.
I was finding some sort of grading of severity in the newspaper reports though. If you read between the lines when it's just 'bad language':
That's maybe different to when a policeman says:
Or 'most obscene':

Luckily Glamorgan Archives have the original Petty Sessions books (PSCBO/1 series)- they record witness statements so they are a little more instructive on the issue of swearing. The police, who were the ones charging the prostitutes, pimps and thieves, often didn't want to repeat the actual words in court but thankfully some did.

The language starts of pretty tame in the 1840's and 50's but luckily this changed in the 1860's and the court transcriber Mr Rees was kind enough to write down a LOAD of the really bad swear words that the police reported.

So here goes:

'Violent Language'

This is pretty simple and involves threats against the body or person, such as:
'The prisoner said he would send a bloody injection down my throat' January 6 1848
'Unless she came out she would rip her guts open' May 20 1852
'You bloody thing, I'll blow your brains out' (says man with brace of pistols) Aug 7 1852
'He said he would have my brains about my feet and have my bloody guts out' said the Notorious Jack Matthews to his ex-landlady October 10 1852.
'She said she would have his liver out' Feb 24 1853


Pretty normal in heated arguments, often written as b___r as opposed to bloody which was b___y.
'You b___r' July 7 1851
'strike the bugger' October 13 1851
'Baker halload out to Jenkins Strike the Bugger' June 7 1852
'You are the b___r that took the tobacco from me' July 29 1852


Again, like bugger, pretty standard fare:
'There's the b__y theif, kill the b___r' March 20 1851
'push that bloody lamp away from me' brothel owner to a policeman July 31 1851


There must have been a lot of suspected whores in Cardiff as this is is used a lot. Over a three month period in 1852 we have:
'I called you a whore's son' May 27 
'I heard him call her a whore' June 1 
'He said come here you bloody whore'  June 1 
'There goes Vachell's (the mayors) whore' June 7 
'Bloody whore' July 12
'He called me a whore' July 22

Most of these insults were not directed at prostitutes, though they could be, for instance when Hannah Goodwin was attacked and called a 'bloody whore' in December 1850 and when Jane Williams was called the same in July 1851. One neighbourly argument in October 1852 had this nice snippet in it:
'I did not say that she was a Whore and go to Whitmore Lane' 


Not as prevalent as whore but still frequently used:
Defendant called me a lousy Irish b____' May 27 1852
'He called her a bitch' June 1 1852
'Some person said, you damned bitch' Sept 16 1852
'She said to her sister to look at me standing in my door the stinking Bitch' October 5 1852
'call your black bitch of a sister in' February 17 1853

Of course some liked to make use of as many words as possible in a sentence:
'He said you damn bloody curmudgeon bitch, I'll kick your brains out' April 6 1848


There's not a lot of shit to be honest, just one so far:
'Defendant called me a bloody shit' April 18 1853


There's not a lot of sluts either. Here Hannah Thomas says she 'did not strike her, I called her a nasty dirty slut' in an argument with Eliza Withers on Adelaide Street in September 1859:


Only one prick so far, a man saying 'across my bloody prick you bugger' in April 1861. 


Finally, after many thousands of police court pages, Mr Rees the court transcriber in 1860 actually gave me evidence of fuck being used. Barbara Jenkins, a notorious prostitute, was on Whitmore Lane telling passers-by 'to go fuck themselves'. I thought I'd never find evidence of this word, but it's there and this proves it was in use as part of the 'most filthy language' often described.
I've found lots more fucks all from prostitutes, two on Whitmore Lane, one on Charlotte Street.
The Whitmore Lane prostitute Ellen Cochlin in September 1861 telling a policeman:
 'Come on you bloody fuck.'
Mary McCarthy on Bute Street in October 1861 telling a customer:
'I don't care whether you come home and fuck me or not'
and Frances Rogers aged 39 and 'a notorious brothel keeper' arguing with some other women on Whitmore Lane in 1862:
'called ____ a bloody fucking cow'
Ellen Hall in May 1862 said:
'she fucked about with black men and had black bastards'
Margaret Jones, a Whitmore Lane lady, was on Charlotte Street arguing with some other girls in June the same year. She called them:
'bloody fucking cow' & would fight 'any of the buggers'.
In March 1863 Jane Lewis on Bute Street said to the policeman who was going to arrest her:
'You bloody fucking bugger'
Ann Harris in October 1863:
'Bloody fucking cows and buggers'
Kate Barry in November 1863:
'She was telling women to go and fuck their mothers'


Quite possibly the worse word. After almost giving up on the court transcriber or the police repeating this word in an official sphere I hit gold. On the 6th January PC Cambridge reported on the arrest of Mary Lewis the night before:
'Saw prisoner on Bute Road- some sailors passed. She used most disgusting language. She told sailors to kiss her cunt'
What's interesting to me is that the word is not used as an insult but as an invitation to the act.

Disgusting Language: Bad to the Bone

On August 26 1852 two prostitutes were up for using disgusting language. Mary Davies and Margaret Sully, who lodged on Whitmore Lane, were:

'On the pavement of Bute Street stopping sailors. Sully was making use of the most filthy language to the sailors. After I took Sully into custody Davies then made use of disgusting language as loud as she could holloa after me. I saw Sully place her hand on a sailor's privates and make use of disgusting language.'

In the same vein in October Martha Jones was stopping several parties on Bute Street and:
'taking hold of them in an indecent manner' 
I don't think they were asking them round for a cup of tea. It's unfortunate that it does not repeat the actual words used but it gives some context to the phrase 'disgusting'.
I'm sure 'bloody, bugger, bitch and whore' were thought of as disgusting but I think there was more to it, for example when the police brought in the prostitute Elizabeth Williams:
'she said she would be damned if I should go any further. She used disgusting language.'

In September 1852 Emma Hiscocks (who the year before was in the brothel at 31 Charlotte Street) was told to move on by a copper at the end of Charlotte Street:
"She began abusing us and made use of the most indecent language. She rose up her clothes behind and said kiss my b___y  arse."
Here we have some of the language, but I don't think it's all of it. Unfortunately the police don't seem to have liked repeating anything too rude or obscene in court.
The prostitute Eleanor Hughes ended a bad week in March 1853 by being thrown out of a pub:
'When outside she pulled up her clothes and made use of bad language in the streets'
In a similar vein Ellen Fry, who had been in Cardiff for six weeks from Bridgwater, was described in the newspaper and the Petty Sessions records as using 'very filthy and disgusting language' on Bute Street. When the policeman took her to task for it she:
'she pulled up her clothes and whipped her backside to me.'
Matilda Brown went one better in 1863. When told to move on by the policeman she:
'She said she would when she pulled off her drawers- she pulled them off and told me to kiss her arse'
A sexual use of bugger is recorded in March 1863. The prostitute Jemima Daley tells the arresting copper:
'I asked her to go home. She said she would see me buggered first.'
So if people are using bloody, bugger, bitch, whore, slut and threatening to rip each other's guts out in their disputes it it possible that in the 'dens of iniquity' of Charlotte Street and Whitmore Lane this, and much stronger language with a high sexual element was being used.

But also we do have to be wary of modernising these attitudes, In the policeman's witness statement for the arrest of Margaret Young in January 1860 the policeman says 'she used very obscene language' and unusually quantifies this by saying 'The words she used were 'bloody- bugger'' so this was this policeman's sense of obscene.
The experienced PC Samuel Sheppard had this to say about Swansea Sue on Whitmore Lane in July 1854:
'She was making use of the most filthy and beastly language I ever heard.'
I just wish he'd told us what it was!


'Ellen Griffiths' Cardiff Times November 12th 1859 p.6.
'Bad language' Monmouthshire Merlin February 14th 1857 p.5.
'Disgustingly vulgar' Cardiff Merthyr Guardian August 8th 1849 p.1.
Ann Daniel CMG April 22nd 1848 p.4.

Threats of Violence
Joseph Thackerell v John Matthews PSCBO/1/5 January 6th 1848
Daniel Edwards v Sarah Vivian PSCBO/1/11 May 22nd 1852
Bridget O'Hagan v Michael Flanagan PSCBO/1/11 August 7th 1852
Mary Ann Beck v John Matthews PSCBO/1/12 October 10th 1852
Fanny Beard v James Price PSCBO/1/12 February 24th 1853
George Hart Leonard v Margaret Pitt PSCBO/1/10 March 20th 1851
Thomas Morgan v Edward Llewellyn PSCBO/1/10 July 31st 1851
Richard Aubrey v William Scornfield PSCBO/1/10 July 7th 1851
John Kyte v William Morgan PSCBO/1/10 October 13th 1851
John Thomas v Anthony Jenkins PSCBO/1/11 June 7th 1852
Edward Dwyer PC v Stephen Anderson PSCBO/1/11 August 7th 1852
Eliza Reardon v William Pugh GRO PSCBO/1/11 May 27th 1852
John Walsh v Ellen Regan GRO PSCBO/1/11 June 1st 1852
John Willey v Daniel Clayton GRO PSCBO/1/11 June 1st 1852
John Thomas v Anthony Jenkins GRO PSCBO/1/11 June 7th 1852
John Kyte v John Griffiths GRO PSCBO/1/11 July 12 1852
Ann Jones v Richard Probin GRO PSCBO/1/11 July 22 1852
Hannah Goodwin v Robert Hockwell GRO PSCBO/1/9 December 12th 1850
Jane Williams v Thomas Hopkins GRO PSCBO/1/9 July 17th 1851
Ann Andrews v Mary Elliot PSCBO/1/12 October 5th 1852
Eliza Reardon v William Pugh PSCBO/1/11 May 27th 1852
George Daunton v George Richards PSCBO/1/11 June 1st 1852
Sarah Jones v John Beynon & John Joshua PSCBO/1/12 September 16th 1852
Ann Andrews v Mary Elliot PSCBO/1/12 October 5th 1852
Letitia Roberts v David Roberts PSCBO/1/12 February 17th 1853
Mary Hitchin v Phillip Taylor PSCBO/1/7 April 6th 1848
Henry Pitten v John Hickey PSCBO/1/12 April 18th 1853
Eliza Withers PSCBO/1/25 September 3rd 1859
Thomas Darlow PSCBO/1/31 April 2nd 1861
Barbara Jenkins PSCBO/1/29 October 22nd 1860.
Ellen Cochlin PSCBO/1/33 20th September 1861.
Mary McCarthy PSCBO/1/31 2nd October 1861.
Frances Rogers PSCBO/1/34 30th April 1862.
Ellen Hall PSCBO/1/36 5th May 1862.
Margaret Jones PSCBO/1/36 24th June 1861.
Jane Lewis PSCBO/1/39 16th March 1863.
Ann Harris PSCBO/1/41 8th October 1863.
Bad to the Bone
Police v Mary Davies and Margaret Sully August 26 1852 GRO PSCBO/1/12 for her lodging on Whitmore Lane see PSCBO/1/12 September 27th 1851 Police v Margaret Sully.
Police v Martha Jones PSCBO/1/12 October 4th 1852
Police v Elizabeth WIlliams PSCBO/1/12 February 7th 1853
Police v Emma Hiscocks PSCBO/1/12 September 20th 1852
Martha Brown PSCBO/1/39 22nd April 1863
Jemima Daley PSCBO/1/39 March 25th 1863
Margaret Young PSCBO/1/27 10th January 1860

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