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the boys learning something about fires. In those
days the appliances for extinguishing conflagrations
(especially in the country) were of the simplest
character. Felsted had no large town near it, within
a radius of some six miles, and practically consisted
of little more than the school. There was a village
with a few shops, but the school overshadowed
everything else with its handsome range of buildings,
its chapel, its property in every direction. And the
place, to the best of my belief, did not possess a fire
engine. So when there was an alarm of fire in the
neighbourhood (a not infrequent occurrence when
quarter day was nigh in hard times, and farm
labourers and their masters were discontented) we
lads used to turn out en masse and hurry to the site
of the blaze under the direction of the masters. We
used to form into a double row of water bearers, the
two ends resting one on the bank of the nearest pond,
one close to the blazing building. The buckets used
to be passed from hand to hand full and returned


empty. It was very primitive but not ineffective.
Some of the pupils used to throw the water on the
fire itself and became in time capital amateur
pompiers. Over and over again have I partaken of
the cakes which were sent to the school as some
slight sign of grateful acknowledgment for services


And here it may be asked, why should not fire drill
be taught at every school in the kingdom ? Not
only at the public schools but the board schools, and
even at the infant schools. Children cannot com-
mence too early to learn how to do a thing, and this
is a matter of very great importance. And I would
not make a distinction between the sexes. Why
should not girls learn as well as boys ? In a fire
everyone should be of use, and if a girl is not strong
enough to carry a bucket or draw along hose, she
can at any rate learn to make herself valuable as a
messenger or a signaller. Of course it is immensely
important that there should be discipline, and fire
drill like all other drills conduces to discipline. So
even from this point of view it would be a most
valuable institution



I believe that volunteer firemen are very nume-
rous in America, and we see large numbers of
them in England. The object of the movement is
of course admirable, and consequently it is a thou-
sand pities that sometimes discredit is thrown on the
force by the collection of subscriptions by persons
whose claims to distinction are (to put it mildly) of
an extremely slender character. It would be well if
volunteer hremen could be put on the same footing
with volunteer riflemen. In France and other coun-
tries they are treated as soldiers, and on emergency
can be used as a military force. If the War Offtce
could see its way to accepting the services of the
English pompiers, and granting commissions to their
officers, the scandals to which I have incidentally
referred would disappear .rid become at once im-
possible. At the present moment the discipline of
the various brigades is purely self-imposed. To be-
come thoroughly effective the force require more than
this, and the man who adopts my suggestion and
works out the idea successfully will assuredly deserve
well of his country. He will cover himself with dis-
tinction, and no doubt be offered a knighthood. As
an alternative suggestion, why not make volunteers
themselves pompiers? It would be an addition to


their duties that should not be, and I venture to say
would not be, unpopular.


At one time fires in London theatres were of fre-
quent occurrence. There is scarcely a playhouse in
London that has not been burned down twice or
thrice. But of late years very few London theatres
have fallen a victim to the flames. I think we may
take it for granted that the much abused but occa-
sionally useful London County Council has had
something to do with bringing about this satisfactory
result. The Lord Chamberlain, too, has had his say
about the matter with good effect. Some little while
ago I had personal experience of the zeal of both
parties. In 1887 a theatrical entertainment with
which I was connected had been given by invi^T.tion
in the Hall of Gray's Inn. As it was, of course, a
gratuitous performance no one could interfere with
us — and by " us " I mean the Members of the Hon.
Society of Gray's Inn. A few years later it was pro-
posed to repeat the performance in the Hall of the
Inner Temple, but, on this occasion, For a charitable
object. Money having to be received at the doors
it was necessary to get a licence. There was a long
discussion as to whom had the right to grant the
licence. The Lord Chamberlain insisted it should be


the London County Council, the London County
Council repudiated the power and suggested the
Lord Chamberlain. Ultimately, after an opinion
upon the subject had been obtained from the Law
Officers of the Crown, the Lord Chamberlain re-
mained master of the field. It was decided that 1
should apply for and hold the licence. I made the
application, but the late lamented Lord Lathom re-
fused to grant it until I had obtained a certificate
from the surveyor of the London County Council
stating that the Inner Temple Hall was suitable for
a theatrical performance, and reasonably safe from
any danger of fire. The London County Council
behaved most courteously (which was the more
creditable as the Press had been abusing them under
the impression that they had been putting obstacles
in the way of our performance), and lent us their
surveyor. That official was also a most amiable
gentleman, and after condemning a gallery here, and
ordering a door to be unhinged there, gave me the
necessary certificate. I got the licence and the per-
formances were a great success. And we did not
lose the use of the gallery after all, for it was the
opinion of those learned in the law that it might be
used for those who had not paid for admission. So
it was placed at the service of friends of the per-
formers, and other privileged personages. From this
it must not be imagined that I (who was primarily


responsible for the arrangement) thought the place
unsafe. As a proof to the contrary, I may say that
I was there myself when not engaged on the stage,
and so was my noble and learned colleague the Lord


In the old days, when the headquarters of the
London Fire Brigade used to be in Watling Street,
I was a frequent visitor to the apartments of Sir Eyre
Shaw. The late Chief Superintendent was in the
habit of allowing some of his friends to act as volun-
teers, and on more than one occasion I was of the
number. In those days every man in the force was
a sailor, with the solitary exception of the driver of
the captain's cart. All the men were teetotalers.
Since Sir Eyre resigned my connection with fires has
been extremely limited. The last I attended was
two or three years ago. I had been dming in
Bouverie Street at a famous literary dinner, when
there was a cry that a fire had broken out in the
neighbourhood. The sparks were floating over
Bouverie Street and falling in the roadway. An
artistic colleague of mine volunteered to come with
me, and we started for the scene of conflagration.
We found the block of buildings close to the Old
Bailey and Ludgate Hill " well ablaze." My ticket
as a Member of the Institute of Journalists passed


us through the cordon of poHce, and we might have
gone anywhere and seen anything. The fire was got
under after awhile, but not quickly enough to satisfy
my artistic colleague.

" Had it been in America," said he, " they would
have put it out in less than no time. But there, they
have got no water-towers over here ! "

From which I took it that water-towers must be
something particularly choice in the shape of fire


In conclusion, it seems to me that not only do we
require an increased Brigade under the London
County Council (that is admitted) but also organisa-
tion for auxiliary assistance. There is no reason
why volunteer firemanships should not be as popular
in England as in America. There is plenty of pluck
among Britons, and the fireman who is worth his
salt must have a fair share of that excellent (may I
call it ?) quality. Discipline, coolness, and courage
are all to be had for the asking. So the sooner the
Government begins to work up the raw material into
the requisite composition, the better will it be for the
nation in general and the metropolis of that nation in
particular. The Fire Brigade is still in want of
further development at the end of the nineteenth





Londoners have always taken an interest in the
Army, and no account of the Modern Babylon would
be complete without a reference to Tommy Atkins
as seen through metropolitan spectacles. The Au-
tumn Manoeuvres had their inception in Pall Mall and
have grown during the last half century.


The first idea of the sort was (I fancy) associated
with the camp of Chobham a short while before the
Crimean War. Until then we had no thought of
tactics, and even the great Duke of Wellington ex-
pressed his doubts about the possibility of getting ten
thousand men in or out of the Park via Hyde Park
Corner. Nowadays, the heroes of a hundred fights
would be greatly astounded to see the ease with which


the unemployed invade the Row and Piccadilly. If
the volunteer movement has taught us nothing else,
at least it has instructed us in the art of moving about
m fours and columns. The camp at Chobham was
the first rough notion of the coming school of Alder-
shot. We were just recovering from " the First Ex-
hibition of '51 Millennium," when it was supposed that
war (except, perhaps, on the stage and m the circus of
Astley's) had become obsolete. Certainly, we had
some slight trouble in various parts of our colonial
possessions, but that was only in connection with " the
■ niggers." And under the generic term of " niggers "
we included all sorts and conditions of coloured men.
Under this category we classed Indians (West and
natives of Hindostan), New Zealanders, Hottentots,
Zulus, and copper-coloured heroes of Cooper's ro-
mances. That Europeans would quarrel after Sir
Joseph Paxton had built a gigantic conservatory and
"the Commissioners of 185 1 " had awarded prize
medals to the manufacturers of soaps, pianofortes,
biscuits, and locomotives, seemed to us simply a ridicu-
lous impossibility. Still, there was no harm to play
at soldiers, and the camp at Chobham was the out-
come of the inclination. The military gathering on
the Surrey downs produced a profound sensation. It
was quite " the thing to do " to take tea with the mili-
tary, and John Leech in the pages of Vunch showed
how things were done in the shape of hospitality by



the gallant defenders of our never-to-be-anything-
but-at-peaceful country.


The camp at Chobham supplied the title for a
play at the Olympic, which I class amongst the earliest
of my " Green-room Recollections." The cast in-
cluded Robert Keeley and Leigh Murray, and, I
fancy, Miss Charlotte Sanders. But of the lady I am
not at all sure. I rather think I am talking of a
period long before her time — the palmy days of the
Strand Theatre, when Jimmy Rogers and Johnnie
Clark used to share with Patty Oliver, Marie Wilton,
and the actress I have just mentioned, the honours
of the evening. But I distinctly recollect that Leigh
Murray, the elegant light comedian, appeared in the
undress uniform of a cavalry officer and pitched his
tent in Mr. Keeley's front garden. Then Mr. Keeley
himself appeared in a dressing-gown to secure the de-
cease of an early-crowing fowl. I do not remember
the plot, but I suppose he must have been a guardian
of the walking lady who had attracted the affectionate
regards of the uniformed Leigh Murray. And here
I am reminded that thirty or forty years ago aji officer
of the British army never appeared without his regi-
mentals — on the stage. I have quite forgotten the
name of the walking lady of the period, but fancy she
was called Miss Katherine Rogers. No doubt The


Camp at Chobham is in one of the volumes of
" Lacy's Acting Edition." I do not think that Mrs.
Keeley was in the cast, although she appeared about
this time at the Olympic with her husband in a farce
founded upon the Licensing Act, called Bond fide


But pieces at the Olympic of 1853 (or thereabouts)
have not much to do with the Autumn Manoeuvres of
the present time. A subject much nearer home is
the way things were done in 1872, just twenty-seven
years ago. I had the honour of taking part in the
first series of Autumn Manoeuvres, which were held
in the neighbourhood of Aldershot. I was a lad in
those distant days, but had the pleasure of being a
subaltern in charge of a company in the Militia. The
battalion to which I belonged was selected for
manoeuvring, and sent from the suburbs of the me-
tropolis to the wilds of Cove Common. We knew
of our destination long before we received the official
information from Pall Mall. An enterprising firm of
outfitters in Aldershot sent us a circular giving us the
prices for camp furniture. This was the herald of
what was to follow. My regiment had not been per-
manently embodied since the Mutiny, and conse-
quently the battahon had a considerable sum standing
to its credit at the Army Agents'. In spite of an in-


creased subscription for the year, we had to dip into
our reserve to the tune, or, perhaps, I should say more
appropriately, regimental march of several hundreds
of pounds. We had, amongst other things, to hire a
mess tent, the one provided by the War Office being
utterly out of proportion with our requirements. From
a financial point of view sending the Militia to the
Autumn Manoeuvres in those days spelt disaster.
And I am not at all sure that the course was entirely
beneficial, even from a military point of view. W^e
had six weeks on Cove Common before we made a
move, and it was during those forty-two days we were
supposed to get into shape. But this was not an easy
task. When at home in our barrack square we had
our squad, company, and battalion drill, with just
enough musketry to make things interesting. But
at Aldershot we were for ever being called away from
our work to attend brigade drill or to take part in a
march out. Our general, too, had rather a small
opinion of our (regimental) honesty. He assumed
that nearly every militiaman spent a month with the
colours and the rest of the time in the hands of " the
civil power."



As a matter of fact, this slur upon the conscientious-
ness of the regiment, and, I may say the force, was


entirely undeserved. Our fellows were exceedingly
good fellows, and as honest as the day. It was only
when their devotion to their officers was tested that
their fidelity to their superiors outweighed their ap-
preciation of the exact value of the words rmum and
tuum. For instance, on one occasion, after a weary
march of over twenty miles, we were ordered to pitch
our tents for the night. We had on either side of us
line regiments. As a zealous officer I saw that the
tents of my company were pitched before I looked
after my own. When the time came for the erection
of my modest marquee I found that we had exhausted
our tent pegs— there was not one to be found.

" Never mind, Capting," said one of my men ; " you
wait and you will see it will be all right."

And it was. When I returned after mess to my
tent I found it held down with an absolute plethora
of pegs. How they got there I do not know, but as
I heard shrieks m the course of the night from the
lines of the two service battalions (where the tents
were falling like displaced ninepins) I suspect that
after I left them that my men must have gone for-
aging. But, as I asked no questions subsequently,
I had no opportunity of hearing any statement, true

or otherwise.

And I am reminded by this experience that things
are not so comfortable nowadays as m the past. A
man was allowed to dig a trench round his tent a


quarter of a century ago. This permission is now
withdrawn, a bad regulation in rainy weather.


No doubt some other matters are better managed
than they were in 1872. In that year the great break-
down was the transport. The Government had hired
waggons, and the drivers were civihans, and under
imperfect control. The horses were in many cases
overworked, and could scarcely drag their carts. I
happened to be in charge of the baggage-guard on
one memorable occasion when the troops arrived
hours before their tents. We could not get on. It
was exceedingly hilly country, and the poor horses
could not move. We had to requisition the assistance
of the artillery to get along at all. Some horses from
one of the guns were told off to help us, and served
as leaders to the hired wheelers in the shafts. The
next morning, after we had pitched our tents anyhow
and anywhere, the encampment was a sight to see !
The only " dressing " to be had came from the Duke
of Cambridge, then the officer Commanding in Chief
the British Army. Men had to find their way to
their lines as best they could. A song might have
been appropriately composed for the occasion, and
called " When you want to know your camp ask


a sentry." As one of the officers in command
of the baggage-guard, I was called upon to
furnish a report. I did ; letting the Government
have it right and left. 1 have a sort of notion that
this document (which would have made an excellent
leading article) stood in the way of my promotion.
I do not wish to suggest anything in the least offen-
sive to the authorities in Pall Mall, but I cannot help
calling attention to the fact that to this day I am not
a General of Militia.


Recently the Regulars have had the manoeuvres to
themselves. Of course, everything was carefully
thought out. They fought their fight with the mini-
mum of chance, and, victorious or defeated, the rival
armies knew where to encamp for the night and where
to get water. There were no difficulties about sup-
plies, and the commissariat was perfect. During
one set of manoeuvres the Prince of Wales, who was
out with his cavalry regiment, was taken prisoner by
some enterprising privates belonging to the old Con-
stitutional Force. One-and-twenty years ago the
Commander of the Blues, considering the day of hos-
tilities to commence immediately after midnight,
dashed off in that early moment of the morning and
nearly terminated the campaign by taking everyone


prisoner. However, I believe he was sent back with
a flea in his ear, and informed that he was " slightly
premature." Warfare was not expected to commence
before 8 a.m. ! Again, the damage to the crops has
been less, and the transport, of course, has been all
that can be desired. Even the dipping of the colours
is easier and more effective. Of late years the regi-
mental flags have decreased in size, and it is possible
to be graceful in dipping them to Royalty, even when
the hired charger of the senior Major is restive and
inclined to tals^ post in the front rank of A company.
No doubt the Autumn Manoeuvres and the Short
Service system have had much to do with the creation
of that admirable army which has recently gained
such distinction in Africa — North and South.




Easter Sunday and Monday for the last twenty
years or so have been invariably associated with the
Volunteers. Not so very long ago the Review was
one of the features of the military year. But of late
it has become the fashion to " cry down " the credit
of the force, and to assume that the two hundred
thousand men forming the Citizen Army of England
are merely a weapon-carrying mob. I fancy that
this has been the fault to a great extent of the
Volunteers themselves. They have been so ready to
take for granted that " professional " opinion must be
right that they have ignored their own common-sense.
I have often been amused at seeing a Colonel of
Volunteers of twenty years' service — a man who has
passed the school at the Wellmgton Barracks and
has earned the " T " for tactics — absolutely hanging
on the words of some subaltern of scarcely six


months* standing. And when I say amused, I might
almost add ashamed. The Colonel of Volunteers is
impressed with the " regular." But of late the
" snubbing " to which I have referred, if not on the
decrease, is being mitigated by what may be termed
" honourable compensation." Some Httle while ago
officers of twenty years' service received a decoration,
then it was extended to sergeants, now it is to be
given to corporals, lance-corporals, and the rank and
file. The snubbing is the brimstone and the decora-
tion is the treacle. But, unfortunately, the brimstone
dealt out to our Volunteers is scarcely likely to be
more useful to our riflemen than the same nauseous
medicine was to the scholars of Dotheboys Hall.
However, as Volunteers and their work are at the
moment well to the fore, thanks to the absence of
the regulars on active service, it may not be out of
place to devote a few pages to the consideration of
the merits of these martial Londoners as we find
them at the end of the century.


Of course all the world knows (and by the phrase
I refer chiefly to the habitues of the Reading-Room
at the British Museum) that in the early years of
1800 the Volunteers were immensely useful in dis-
pelling the scare raised by the rumour that we


were about to be invaded by the French. In spite
of the paucity in our numbers as compared with our
population of to-day, we managed to gather together
a host of men. The force in London alone compared
favourably with our existing Metropolitan Volunteer
Corps. A short while ago I had occasion to glance
through an old Army List published before the
century departed had reached its teens, and was sur-
prised to find that all the " Loyal Volunteers " had
their full complement of officers. There was no diffi-
culty in getting men to accept com.missions eighty or
ninety years ago, and many a portrait of a grand-
father or great-grandfather in full regimentals,
honoured by members of the present generation,
affords evidence that the recipients of the King's
favours were not ashamed of their uniforms. Gentle-
men of various professions joined the ranks and
worked their way up to the silver epaulettes. They
did not seem to consider that they were doing more
than their duty, and it is interesting to note that
although the militia sometimes came in for the hard
rubs of the caricaturists, the volunteers were allowed
to go Scot free. It was assumed, and I think rightly
assumed, that if a man took the trouble to find time
from his general legitimate work to make himself
efficient for the defence of his native land he deserved
well of his country. The scare died away, and with
it the " Loyal Volunteers." The corps disappeared


from the army lists, and the old colours found a
resting-place in the churches. Not very long ago I
came across a number of flags in St. Luke's (the old
St Luke's), Chelsea, close to Battersea Bridge. They
had been there for more than half a century, and,
hearing that the Queen's Westminsters might possibly
be able to lay claim to their reversion, I called the
attention of Colonel Sir Howard Vincent to their
existence. If they are still at St. Luke's, or have
been removed, I know not, but I have no doubt that
a diligent search would assist in the discovery of a
number of other colours that have fluttered in the
breezes of Hyde Park in the days of the Georges.


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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettLondon at the end of the century : a book of gossip → online text (page 9 of 19)