Henry Harrisse.

Britain at work; a pictorial description of our national industries online

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thousand types
who fill the gaps
b e twee n these
strongly marked
representatives of

th e co m in c r c i a 1 ,,,,,, . Ctusell& . <.,,, /.,,,.

classes, all have to A "WALK" CI.KRK.




requisition clerical help in the conduct of
their business. Eliminate clerks, in fact, and,
despite railways and telegraphs and ocean
greyhounds, British commerce becomes
automatically divested of its cosmopolitan

As more clerks are generally required to
cope with the transactions of a joint stock
company than with the business of a private
firm, it follows that the general tendency
towards the limited liability system of owner
ship is advantageous to the clerical industry.
The railways, the ocean carrying trade, the
shipbuilding yards, the coal mines, the cycle
factories, the breweries, and engineering works
throughout the kingdom, are, as a rule, in
the hands of public companies, who employ
in all more than half a million clerks. Quite
distinct from these great centres of employ
ment is the shopping world wholesale and
retail. It must not, of course, be supposed
that the Whitechapel trader who does
business chiefly in halfpence and farthings
employs even one bookkeeper permanently.
One of his children generally enters roughly
the daily transactions. The assistance of
a regular clerk is then occasionally requisi
tioned, that he may obtain a clear statement
of his financial position. The clerks who

perform these odd jobs are sometimes men
who never seem able to retain regular employ
ment. On the other hand, they are often
bookkeepers in fairly good situations, who
adopt this method of turning their leisure
to profit. Certain positions are now reserved
for ladies in almost every large mercantile
establishment. Shorthand and typewriting
are the lady-clerk s most usual qualifications
for employment. Numberless as are the
sources of occupation open to clerks, never
theless, very many men are constantly unable
to find positions. The reason is twofold.
Cheap education has placed within the reach
of all the necessary intellectual equipment,
and many parents cannot resist the tempta
tion thus thrown in their way to put their
children to employment which means an
immediate addition to the family exchequer
of some trifling weekly sum. In the second
place, there is no such protection against
undue clerical competition as is afforded to
all classes of skilled mechanics by their
trades unions. This is a state of things
which cannot very well be remedied, for in
ordinary mercantile work there are no long
apprenticeships to be passed through, no
highly technical knowledge to be acquired.
Custom requires that the clerk shall dress



better, and generally live according to a
more pretentious scale, than persons who
earn at least as much and often considerably
more. The poorer members of the craft are
in this way called upon to make sacrifices
and endure deprivations calculated to break
the finest spirit Xo city in the world
presents such heart-rending" extremes of
luxury and p; >verty as London. And amongst
the class whom we are now considering are
to be found, perhaps, the most painful con
trasts. Anv day one may notice in the
City the shabbily attired clerk munching
furtively the sandwich which he has brought
from his home in the suburbs to serve as
luncheon. He is verv possibly married, and
has to support a family on twenty-seven or
thirty shillings a week. To him every penny
counts. His single brother, earning only the
same salary, or even a little less, can always
afford a substantial luncheon at a respect
able restaurant, and manage to keep himself
attired smartly.

Travelling to and from business necessarily
imposes a heavy drain up:>n the pocket of
the metropolitan married clerk whose income
approximates to that just mentioned. It is
practically impossible for him
to obtain cheap and suitable
living accommodation within
walking distance of his work.
He is therefore almost com
pelled to take up his residence
in a suburb. The railway
charges for season tickets
may appear trifling to the
well-to-do, but the humble
clerk with a family dependent
on him cannot always afford
to become a
season tic k e t
holder. He en
deavours to effect
the needful
e c o n o m y b y
travelling by the
workmen s trains,
a course which
involves leaving
homemuch earlier
in the morning
than would other
wise be necessary.

In the wear and tear of metropolitan life
everv hour added on to the working day
counts. In this respect the provincial clerk
enjoys a distinct advantage over his London
brethren. It is noteworthy, too, that the
salaries paid to the rank and file of clerks
in the provinces are substantially the same
as those paid in London, notwithstanding
the difference in the cost of living. But,
of course, opportunities for advancement are
clearly proportionate to the importance of a
town as a centre of trade and industry.

The Stock Lxchange articled clerk belongs
to the aristocracy of City clerks. He makes
anything from a hundred a year to five
hundred, and by-and-by will probably de
velop into a full-fledged stockbroker.

All grades of Stock Lxchange clerks are
in the satisfactory position of possessing
special knowledge of a highly technical
branch of commercial life. This in itself
tends to limit competition, which is a distinct
gain from the employee s point of view. Rail
way clerks also enjoy agreeable immunity
from the difficulties which beset the ordinary
mercantile clerk. Appointments in most of
the railwavs arc made from the ranks of




youths nominated by the directors. The
working" of a great line is an exceedingly-
complex matter. And the boy who takes
an interest in his work has plenty to learn.
Heavy demands, however, are made upon his
patience as well as upon his intelligence,
if the special department in which his duty
lies brings him into direct contact with the
travelling public.

The Government service in every country
is generally regarded as a sort of earthly
Elysium for clerks. There are no earthly
Elysiums! But this
particular delusion
is easily under
standable, seeing
the keen competi
tion which is waged
for all vacancies in
the Civil Service,
whether the clerk
ships be in the
House of Lords or
in His Majesty s
prisons. Thousands
of boys annually
compete at the
various examina
tions, and thousands
of necessity fail,
falling back, as a
matter of course,
upon the already
congested battalions
Civil Service tutors


of mercantile clerks,
probably turn over a
of hundred thousand pounds a year
from the fees of aspirants to State clerkships.
Great Britain pays her servants all round
better than any other country. But amongst
them are the well and the poorly paid. A
junior clerk in a country post-office often has
to make ends meet on twelve shillings a week.
Hundreds of boy-copyists employed in the
Government departments in London, Dublin,
Edinburgh, and other important towns receive
very little more for their services from an
appreciative country, notwithstanding that
their appointments have been obtained by
competitive examination, with the prospect
of another examination when they reach the
threshold of manhood, failure in which in
volves the loss of State employment. The
Government clerk enjoys an advantage over

all others in the matter of working hours.
From ten to four he is bound to his desk ;
but as soon as the clock strikes he is free.
The mercantile clerk, on the other hand,
often works from eight until six or even
seven. At times of exceptional pressure
Stock Exchange clerks are busy until close
upon midnight, but they are always paid
well for overtime when such an exceptional
strain is imposed upon them. The Govern
ment servant is relatively independent of
the whims of his superiors, and the " fixity

of tenure " which
he thus enjoys,
coupled with the
certainty of a pen
sion in his declining
years, constitute,
doubtless, the most
substantial advan
tages of his position.
The two or three
pounds a week
allowed a brilliant
young University
man when he suc
ceeds in entering
the first division of
Government clerks
cannot be described
as a handsome
return for the use
of his brains. The
future, however, ma} bring him a post
of real worth, perhaps of distinction, while
at the worst he is certain to be drawing
within a reasonable time a salary of several
hundreds a year. Clerks of the lower
division can rarely, however, look forward
to the excellent appointments which occa
sional!}- come to the men who begin life
in the higher branch of the service. The
Foreign Office clerk is a prince amongst his
kind. His official salary is generally but a
small fraction of his income.

The Law provides more satisfactory
employment for the rank and file of clerks
than, perhaps, any other line of business.
A good lawyer s clerk is a man with special
knowledge, much of it of a highly technical
character, which has been acquired by years
tof patient industry. He is a skilled worker
who commands a good wage and cannot be





easily replaced. Well - organised societies
exist for the protection of law clerks
interests. A solicitor enjoying a remunera
tive practice often has for his senior clerk
a qualified solicitor a man, perhaps, who
started on his career as an office boy. The
shorthand clerk is a valuable member of
every successful lawyer s staff. For some
reason or other lady clerks have not yet
invaded to any considerable extent the
lawyer s office. But as scriveners assistants
they find plenty of remunerative
work in all the great legal centres.
Every Court in the realm has its
clerk, while the High Courts of
Justice have a battalion, certificated
by the Civil Service Commissioners,
most of whom are never seen in
court, their work being connected
rather with the machinery of the
Law than its administration.

It is difficult to conceive any
bod)- of men weighted with greater
responsibility than bank clerks. Not
only is banking itself a great in
dustry, but those who conduct it
have under their hands at all seasons
the very life-spring of ;dl industries.
Neither the great capitalist, master
of millions of money and the
happiness of thousands of people,
nor the humble marine-store dealer
can dispense with the bank clerk s
services. It is one of life s ironies
that bank clerks are verv indiffer

ently paid. Day after day cashiers in a
hundred London banks, and in a thousand
banks throughout the country, pass over
the counter, within, perhaps, an hour, sums
of gold equivalent to many years purchase
of their salaries sums which would make
them rich for life and their children after
them. Considering their temptations, they
have good reason to feel more than proud of
the confidence which the commercial world
reposes in their integrity. The vacancies


Photo: Cassell & Co., Ltd.



for juniors in most banks are filled by youths
nominated by the directors. In some
instances the initial salary is only thirty
pounds a year. It is not unusual for the
manager of a branch house of an important
banking company to dra\v a salary hardly
so good as that of a second-rate music-hall
performer. Not often does the bank official
reach a salary of a thousand per annum.

Municipal clerks are not only well paid,
but are, as a rule, accommodated with
bright, airy offices and are seldom over
worked. Town clerks, of course, are at the
head of this department of the clerical
industry. The Town Clerk of the City of
London measures his salary by thousands.
The town clerks of few important towns

draw less than eight or nine hundred per
annum. The London boroughs pav their
town clerks handsomely, salaries of a thousand
pounds and upwards being quite the rule.
In some small county towns, however, the
town clerk ekes out a living bv combining
the practice of a regular profession with
his municipal duties. In municipal life a
clerk of exceptional ability seems to advance
more rapidly to the higher ranks than is the
case in other spheres of clerical employment.
It is but necessary, however, to look round <>n
the list of leading men in all departments
of business, and in some of the professions,
to realise that every clerk has hidden >ome-
whcre in his desk the key to wealth and
position. It only needs finding.





SCENK- PAINTING is, of course, an
art as \vell as an avocation. The
scene-painter, it is true, can aim
only at broad effects ; delicacy and subtlety
he must not attempt. And to the con
ventions of the ordinary painter he has to
add others arising out of the circumstance
that his work has to be viewed from a
distance, and not only in artificial light,

Photo : Cassell & Co., Lid.


but often in artificial light that is tinted.
This, however, does not make his work less
an art ; it is one difficult}- the more to over
come ; and the best scene-painter, other
things being equal, is the one who most
successfully adapts his art to all the
manager s exacting requirements.

In these pages, however, it is with scene-
painting as an avocation rather than as an
art that we are primarily concerned. That
those who rise to distinction in the pro
fession are not unhandsome!} remunerated
for their skill and pains may be taken
for granted. In these days so much
depends upon the " mounting " of a piece
audiences have, as a result of long in
dulgence, come to expect so much in the
way of scenic beaut}- that it would be
strange indeed if the men whose function
it is to supply the demand had to com

plain of inadequate recompense in current
coin. Nor does the work fail to bring
some measure of glory to those who ars
mainly responsible for it. Such names as
1 1 awes Craven, Joseph Ilarker, Bruce Smith,
\V. Telbin, R. Caney, W. Harford, Henry
Linden, \V. T. Hemsley, T. L. Ryan, and
Walter Johnston are almost household words
among that largest of all " the classes " who
frequent the theatres. A fleeting kind of
fame, no doubt. But so also is that of
the actor. The greatest of those who tread
the boards and nightly move
multitudes to ecstasy have no
sooner quitted the scenes of their
triumphs than they begin to fade
into abstractions, and if the)
remain anything more than mere
names it is at least as much
because, like David Garrick, they
were personalities as on account
of their histrionic genius.

Although some of the big-
cities of the provinces, such as
Liverpool, Manchester, and Bir
mingham, have their own scene-
painters, the great centre of the
profession is London ; and it is
the scene-painters of the metropolis who for
the most part furnish forth the scenery for
those touring companies that earn- successful
plays into the country. Vet even in London
and even though during the last few years
theatres have been springing up all over
the town the number of scene-painters is
not considerable. Painters and assistants
together do not, probably, number more
than about a hundred. To these must be
added the articled pupils ; and although
man\- of these have acquired a consider
able degree of proficiency, one still marvels
how so small a bod}- of men contrives to
get through such an enormous mass of
work. In former days each leading theatre
had its own staff of scene-painters ; now
the rule is for the scenes to be dis
tributed among several artists, regard being
had, of course, to the special aptitudes of




each. IIo\v the change came about, whether
it was that the modern svstem of long runs
made it uneconomical for a theatre to
have its permanent staff of scene-painters,
we need not stop to inquire, but so it is.
A scene is offered to a given artist, a
price is agreed upon, and he, with his
assistants and pupils, turns out the work.

Another change, consequent upon the
one just indicated, is that the work is no
longer for the most part done in the
theatres, but in buildings rented or ac
quired by the various artists, and by them
adapted to their requirements. Almost the
only exception to this rule is Drury Lane,
which is such an enormous structure that
there is room in it for at least some of
the scenes that are presently to grace
the stage to be painted "on the premises."
At Drury Lane, indeed, there is room
for everything. Other theatres have to
store their scenes in railway arches, and
so forth, and my readers will doubtless
remember how not so very long ago a
fire in one of these arches wrought havoc
among the beautiful scenes which Sir
Henry Irving had accumulated ; but Drury
Lane is able to provide its own storage,
although, as may be supposed, its stock of
scenes and "properties" is on the most
gigantic scale.

This leads me to speak of yet another
change that has come over the "mystery"
of scene - painting. Formerly the canvas
was spread on the floor, and the artist
traced his designs with a brush having a

handle long enough to permit of his stand
ing over his work. The inconveniences of
this )iK>dtis opcrniidi are obvious enough.
In the first place, the work could only be
done in a building with a large superficial
area. The Covent Garden Opera House
requires scenes seventy feet long bv fortv
feet broad, and though the stage of Covent
(iarden is the largest in this country, scenes
for an average theatre have to be some
forty feet bv thirty-five feet. The position.
too. was an awkward and tiring one for the
painter, who must have known excellently
well what backache means, and who was
also reduced to the painful necessity of
treading his work under foot. Now
all these drawbacks are avoided bv the
simple expedient of a windlass and a slit
in the floor, through which the canvas, at
tached to a frame, is raised or lowered so
as to bring that part of it which is being
operated upon at the moment on a level
with the painter s arm.

It is still necessary, of course, that the
painter should have a fairly lofty building
to work in, but he requires comparatively
little floor space. In Macklin Street, between
Ilolborn and Drury Lane, a large warehouse
has been converted into painting rooms by
two well-known scenic artists. Other scene-




painters have appropriated and adapted
such buildings as factories and mission
chapels rather farther afield, where probably
space is a less costly commodity than it is
within a stone s - throw of the Holborn
Restaurant ; and there is one painting room
so far away from theatre-land as Lewisham.
Mr. Bruce Smith, who works only for Drury
Lane and Covent Garden though he does

are not likely to be content with inferior
work. Speaking generally and roughly, the
French scene - painter aims, perhaps, at
rather quieter effects than his English
compeer, but it would require a robust
patriotism to assert that they are less

When a manager, sometimes with help
from the author, has roughly indicated



not, of course, monopolise the contracts given
out by these two theatres, since he is only
capable of doing the work of two or three
men and not of a round clo/.cn does some of
his painting at Drury Lane ; and, as he
is one of those who can do two things at
once, friends who call upon him here seldom
find him too busy to have a chat.

Before passing on to describe how scene-
painting is clone, I should mention the rather
curious circumstance that our ingenious
neighbours across the Channel still paint
on the floor. That they produce good
results, at whatever inconvenience to
themselves, may, to use one of their own
idioms, go without saying, for so artistic
and theatre-loving a nation as the French

the kind of scene he requires, the scene-
painter makes a sketch, and if that is
approved he proceeds to construct of
cardboard a complete model, on a scale,
say, of half an inch to the foot. It is here
that the resourcefulness and inventiveness
of the scene-painter are able to make
themselves felt. The model shows every
thing, down to the smallest detail not
only the landscape, but door and windows,
those which have to open in the actual
scene being made " practicable " in the
model. " Wings " and " top-cloths " are also
shown, and even the pulley and ropes which
will be used in the adjustment of the
scene are indicated. This part of the work,
as may be supposed, calls for abundant




patience, but its importance is manifest,
and no scene-painter begrudges the time he
has to spend upon his model, even when
he knows that he will have to toil earh

and late to get the work finished by the
stipulated time.

The model, when at last it is completed,
is submitted to the manager s considera
tion. It ma)- be that he or the author
desires some alteration, generallv an in
considerable one. When the modification
has been made, the model is handed over
to the master carpenter, who constructs
the framework which is to receive the
canvas. Having been affixed to the frame,
the canvas is prepared by the painter s
labourers, whose business also it is to mix
the colours. These are ground in water,
by means of such a machine as is figured
in one of our illustrations. Now the
artist draws the design, in chalk or char
coal, and then the colours are filled in,
always, as I have said, with due regard
to the artificial conditions under which
the picture has to be viewed, certain
colours, therefore, which appear very
differently in artificial light as compared
with natural light, being avoided al
together, or modified, as the case may

That scene-painting, like most other
modes of earning one s dailv bread, is not

Phcto: CatseU& cV.. / rrf.




\\ithout drawbacks, I am not prepared to
assert. Strange indeed would it be if this were
not so. The work, as the reader will know
for himself, has a plentiful lack of regularity,
and while both master painters and assistants
often have to toil under heavy pressure to
get their scenes read}- by the eventful night,
the assistants, at any rate, sometimes have
periods of enforced leisure. The attractions
of the vocation, however, to those to whom

the work itself is congenial, far outweigh
this disadvantage. If the practitioner of the
art is clever and resourceful, if he can
not only wield the brush swiftly and
deftly, but is also facile in inventing a
scene from the manager s brief hints, which
is a much rarer gift, he in no long time
may rise to distinction, besides being liberally
rewarded in a pecuniary sense for his industry
and skill. , TT ,





\ LTHOUGH our foreign neighbours arc
JT\. never tired of sneering at the alleged

mercenary basis of the British military
system, there can be no doubt as to the
latter that is, the voluntary system being
a higher development than that of compul
sory service. It would, of course, be too
much to say that the great majority of men
enlist out of purely patriotic motives ;
nevertheless, the very fact of their enlist
ing of their o\vn free will confers upon the
British Army a quality of spirit and tone
which are of incalculable value. Concern
ing the advantages not realised as widely
as they should be which the Army now
offers as a means of employment we
shall speak farther on ; meanwhile, to com
mence the description of everyday life in
the Army, let it be at once stated that the
training of men by short service and pass
ing them into the Reserve is the vital
principle of the system.

The mass of men that is, those for the
Line, Cavalry and Infantry, and the Royal

Online LibraryHenry HarrisseBritain at work; a pictorial description of our national industries → online text (page 30 of 39)