Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A Glimpse Of Victorian Life

He feared rising crime, liked to gossip and got up to "wicked tricks" with his girlfriend. All very modern preoccupations, you may think. But Nathaniel Bryceson was a Victorian, and his diary has just been published online, explains Ed Argar of Westminster Council. (Top right: Bryceson's first diary entry in 1846).

When Nathaniel Bryceson wrote his diary in 1846 at the age of 19, he had no way of knowing that more than 160 years later it would be published online for the world to see.
By all accounts Bryceson led a fairly unremarkable life - he certainly wasn't rich or famous but his simple yet fascinating descriptions of Victorian London offer a historically important glimpse into British society in the 19th Century in what was for many a great period of change.
While much like the modern blogger, his observations of every day life passing comment on everything from the weather, politics and the royal family will undoubtedly resonate with many of today's readers.
It is for these reasons that staff and volunteers from Westminster City Council's archives department have transcribed the manuscript's 260 entries as part of a project to make them available to the wider public.
Bryceson was born in St Marylebone on 5 June 1826 to a working-class family. In 1846, aged 19, he lived in Richmond Buildings, Soho, and worked as a clerk at Lea's coal wharf in Pimlico, earning 20 shillings a week.
As with many of us today, Bryceson liked to follow the news headlines including the First Anglo-Sikh War in India, Parliamentary debates on the Corn Laws and Lord John Russell replacing Sir Robert Peel as prime minister.
Bryceson on Queen Victoria en route to open Parliament
On 22 January, he witnessed Queen Victoria as she made her way to open the Houses of Parliament. Then, as now, the royals were a ripe target for gossips everywhere.
"Saw the carriages, including the State one preceded by about six others, proceed from the Royal Mews to the Palace, altogether presenting a very gaudy sight, so covered with gilded ornaments," he wrote. "In my opinion a procession of aged parish paupers and almshouse inmates would make a much more pleasing sight."
A month later, Bryceson commented on the wintry conditions which, like the current cold snap, had gripped a swathe of London.
"Fall of snow during the night, which gave the Mall, St James's Park, a very grand appearance, owing to the tree having through the late mild weather, come out in full bloom - the snow sticking so thick to the leaves," he wrote. "Generally in winter the branches are bare but this morning they looked like a hearse of white funeral feathers."
Elsewhere, much of the diary is focused on Bryceson's girlfriend, Ann Fox. On 22 February, the pair took a walk over Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath. "Rain fell in torrents, rather wetted," he wrote. "Ann got very wet, self fared better... Sheltered ourselves under arch. Got to wicked tricks."
Crime was a major concern during Bryceson's time, but it will come as a surprise to many that public executions in Britain were still taking place as late as the 1840s. And with the absence of mass modern-day entertainment - the earliest black and white films were still 50 years away - hangings were a popular if gruesome spectacle with the public.
On 5 Januar
y, Bryceson described the public hanging of a young woman. "Martha Browning expiated her crime on the scaffold in the Old Bailey, for the murder of Elizabeth Mundell on the 1st of December last," Mr Bryceson wrote. "The culprit showed great presence of mind on the occasion and ascended the gallows with a firm and steady step, and without any assistance. The body was cut down at 9 o'clock."
Bryceson eventually became a successful accountant, married Sarah Clark in 1854 and had a daughter and three sons. He died in 1911, aged 85, in Mile End, east London.
Despite the passage of time and the huge advances in technology, his diary shows that human nature has remained fairly constant over the years - people are still interested in many of the same issues that Victorians were in their day. (Pictured above left: Victorian London).
By putting Bryceson's diary online we hope to not only inspire people's interest in history but to also provide a captivating window into Victorian society and the trials and tribulations of a young man as he makes his way through life.
Councillor Ed Argar, as Cabinet member for Adult and Community Services at Westminster Council, is in charge of the borough's libraries.

Early SatNav

The Wall Street Crash Of 1929

The Roaring Twenties, the decade that led up to the Crash, was a time of wealth and excess, and despite caution of the dangers of speculation, many believed that the market could sustain high price levels. Shortly before the crash, economist Irving Fisher famously proclaimed, "Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau." However, the optimism and financial gains of the great bull market were shattered on "Black Tuesday", October 29, 1929, when share prices on the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) collapsed. Stock prices fell on that day and they continued to fall, at an unprecedented rate, for a full month. (Picture top right: Crowds gather on Wall Street in 1929).
The October 1929 crash came during a period of declining real estate values in the United States (which peaked in 1925 near the beginning of a chain of events that led to the Great Depression, a period of economic decline in the industrialized nations.
In the days leading up to "Black Thursday" (called "Black Friday" in Europe due to the time difference), the market was severely unstable. Periods of selling and high volumes of trading were interspersed with brief periods of rising prices and recovery. Economist and author Jude Wanniski later correlated these swings with the prospects for passage of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which was then being debated in Congress. After the crash, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) partially recovered in November-December 1929 and early 1930, only to reverse and crash again, reaching a low point of the great bear market in 1932. On July 8, 1932 the Dow reached its lowest level of the 20th century and did not return to pre-1929 levels until November 1954.

After a six-year run when the world saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average increase in value fivefold, prices peaked at 381.17 on September 3, 1929. The market then fell sharply for a month, losing 17% of its value on the initial leg down.
Prices then recovered more than half of the losses over the next week, only to turn back down immediately afterwards. The decline then accelerated into the so-called "Black Thursday", October 24, 1929. A then-record number of 12.9 million shares were traded on that day.
At 1 p.m. on the same day (October 24), several leading Wall Street bankers met to find a solution to the panic and chaos on the trading floor. The meeting included Thomas W. Lamont, acting head of Morgan Bank; Albert Wiggin, head of the Chase National Bank; and Charles E. Mitchell, president of the National City Bank of New York. They chose Richard Whitney, vice president of the Exchange, to act on their behalf. With the bankers' financial resources behind him, Whitney placed a bid to purchase a large block of shares in U.S. Steel at a price well above the current market. As traders watched, Whitney then placed similar bids on other "blue chip" stocks. This tactic was similar to a tactic that ended the Panic of 1907, and succeeded in halting the slide that day. In this case, however, the respite was only temporary.
Over the weekend, the events were covered by the newspapers across the United States. On Monday, October 28, the first "Black Monday", more investors decided to get out of the market, and the slide continued with a record loss in the Dow for the day of 13%. The next day, "Black Tuesday", October 29, 1929, about 16 million shares were traded. The volume on stocks traded on October 29, 1929 was "...a record that was not broken for nearly 40 years, in 1968 Author Richard M. Salsman wrote that on October 29—amid rumors that U.S. President Herbert Hoover would not veto the pending Hawley-Smoot Tariff bill- stock prices crashed even further." William C. Durant joined with members of the Rockefeller family and other financial giants to buy large quantities of stocks in order to demonstrate to the public their confidence in the market, but their efforts failed to stop the slide. The DJIA lost another 12% that day. The ticker did not stop running until about 7:45 that evening. The market lost $14 billion in value that day, bringing the loss for the week to $30 billion.
An interim bottom occurred on November 13 with the Dow closing at 198.60 that day. The market recovered for several months from that point, with the Dow reaching a secondary closing peak (i.e., bear market rally) of 294.07 on April 17, 1930. The market embarked on a steady slide in April 1931 that did not end until 1932 when the Dow closed at 41.22 on July 8, concluding a shattering 89% decline from the peak. This was the lowest the stock market had been since the 19th century.

Economic fundamentals
The crash followed a speculative boom that had taken hold in the late 1920s, which had led hundreds of thousands of Americans to invest heavily in the stock market, a significant number even borrowing to buy more stocks. By August 1929, brokers were routinely lending small investors more than ⅔ of the face value of the stocks they were buying. Over $8.5 billion was out on loan more than the entire amount of currency circulating in the U.S. at the time. The rising share prices encouraged more people to invest; people hoped the share prices would rise further. Speculation thus fueled further rises and created an economic bubble. The average P/E (price to earnings) ratio of S&P Composite stocks was 32.6 in September 1929, clearly above historical norms. Most economists view this event as the most dramatic in modern economic history.
On October 24, 1929 (with the Dow just past its September 3 peak of 381.17), the market finally turned down, and panic selling started. In 1931, the Pecora Commission was established by the U.S. Senate to study the causes of the crash. The U.S. Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act in 1933, which mandated a separation between commercial banks, which take deposits and extend loans, and investment banks, which underwrite, issue, and distribute stocks, bonds, and other securities
After the experience of the 1929 crash, stock markets around the world instituted measures to temporarily suspend trading in the event of rapid declines, claiming that they would prevent such panic sales. The one-day crash of Black Monday, October 19, 1987, however, was even more severe than the crash of 1929, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell a full 22.6%. (The markets quickly recovered, posting the largest one-day increase since 1933 only two days later.)

Effects and academic debate
Together, the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression "...was the biggest financial crisis of the 20th century." "The panic of October 1929 has come to serve as a symbol of the economic contraction that gripped the world during the next decade." "The crash of 1929 caused 'fear mixed with a vertiginous disorientation', but 'shock was quickly cauterized with denial, both official and mass-delusional'." "The falls in share prices on October 24 and 29, 1929 ... were practically instantaneous in all financial markets, except Japan." The Wall Street Crash had a major impact on the U.S. and world economy, and it has been the source of intense academic debate—historical, economic and political—from its aftermath until the present day. "Some people believed that abuses by utility holding companies contributed to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed." "Many people blamed the crash on commercial banks that were too eager to put deposits at risk on the stock market."
"The 1929 crash brought the Roaring Twenties shuddering to a halt.

Getting Your Priorities Right

Today's Smile

Going over our church finances I found a receipt from a local paint store signed by someone named Christian. I wasn't aware of anyone buying paint, so I called the store to point out the mistake.
"I'm sorry,", I told the manager, "but there no Christians here at First Baptist Church."