This week’s blog for publication onto the ‘London Shoes’ website, in some ways falls into the category of ‘quirky’ – however, historically, the topic provides today’s world with a remarkable insight into an aspect of every day London life well over 200 years ago.
This week’s blog is all about the “Link Boys & Snuffers” of old London!!!
Today, we take street lighting for granted, but long before the invention of gas lighting and its implementation throughout London’s streets – Londoner’s had to make their own devices to enable them to find their way around the streets at night – streets that were particularly dark and dangerous after dark, making walking around them an extremely risky business.
Because there was no public lighting, the authorities encouraged the public to make their own arrangements regarding having sufficient lighting to find their way around after dark – and, to prevent potential crime, those Londoner’s residing in the more affluent streets and districts were advised to make provisions so that flamed torches/lanterns could be erected and displayed outside their front doors.
This ‘flamed torch’ lighting was not a problem for the wealthy as invariably they had servants in ‘service’ who would do the job of lighting up the front of the house – and more importantly, would carry a flamed torch in front of their ‘master’ whenever they were out and about on the streets at night.
However, the ordinary Londoner could not afford such luxuries – and so would have to rely on the services of a “Link Boy” to guide them through the darkness.
A “Link Boy” was really a young street urchin exploited in child labour – who would carry a homemade ‘flamed torch’ made from reeds and cotton and coated in wax, tallow and tar, that formed the ‘wick’ – this ‘torch’ was known as a ‘Link’.
‘Link Boys’ could be found on the corner of most of London’s busiest streets, and would charge punters a couple of farthings to provide a guiding light to wherever their destination was.
However, Link Boys were very often connected to criminal activity, and would be paid to lead their ‘clients’ down dark alleys , where there would be gangs of muggers waiting to ambush and rob them.
An interesting fact here is that the expression “Couldn’t hold a candle to” used when describing something as inferior to something else – derives from comparisons made at that time, between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Link Boys!!!! – (it just goes to show, you learn something new every day)
“Link Boys” were regularly referred to in the literary works of Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens – and even mentioned as far back as Shakespeare’s time in his play Henry IV.
With the eventual arrival and roll-out of gas street lighting, the role of the Link Boy obviously declined – but paintings and illustrations of those times, depict their existence and importance to every day London life.
So – what are ‘Snuffers’ all about??
When using a flamed torch to find your way around the streets, and having arrived at your destination – you then needed something to extinguish the ‘flame’ – and this would be done by using a ‘Snuffer’ (or link extinguisher, to give it its formal name).
These “Snuffers” were iron horn shaped fixtures that were attached to iron railings surrounding a front door of the wealthier and prestigious properties in London.
The ‘flamed torch’ would simply be ‘snuffed-out’ by sticking it in the ‘Snuffer’ – so as not to waste the wax etc. covering the wick of the torch – allowing it to be re-used over and over again.
So – my quest this week was to ‘sniff-out’ those ‘Snuffers’ that still remain in situ throughout London, some 200 years or more since they were used.
This was an enjoyable little challenge – and I have posted several photos of the ‘Snuffers’ I located – which hopefully bring the subject matter to life a little bit.
Having ‘sniffed-out’ these ‘Snuffers’ I decided to pay a visit to one of London’s historically infamous boozers – the “Viaduct Tavern”, just across the road from the Old Bailey, and built on the site of the old Newgate Prison.
This famous old pub first opened in 1869 – at the same time the iconic Holborn Viaduct landmark was opened.
It was one of London’s most notorious ‘Gin Palaces’ which also had an opium den located on its first floor. It was a seriously rough old joint – so much so, that the landlord would have ‘vet’ punters at a ticket booth located by the entrance door, and then hand out ‘beer vouchers’ to those that he felt wouldn’t cause any trouble when buying a beer at the bar.
So – having been given my ‘beer voucher’, it was left to me to sink a couple of ‘cheeky’ ones at the bar, before making my way back home.
Hope you found this one interesting and enjoy the accompanying photos.