The Full Monty – Origin

The Full Monty means the whole lot – the maximum available. The Full Monty is a saying that re emerged in the English language in the mid 1980’s as part of the language of Coronation Street dictionary ‘Street Talk’. It has since been used as the title of several books and a film. There are several suggestion for its origin but the earliest can be traced back to the turn of the century.

In 1904 the tailors Montague Burton (later shortened to Burtons) established their first hire shop in Chesterfield. They made it possible for men not to hire only a suit for special occasions, but also to hire a complete outfit of suit, shirt, tie, shoes and socks and those opting for the full set were known to be wearing the ‘Full Monty’.

Extract from Money for Old Rope Parts 1 & 2

Albert Jack books available for download here

Before You Can Say Jack Robinson

Before You Can Say Jack Robinson it’ll all be over.’ How many times have we heard someone say something like this and wondered who Jack Robinson was? To trace Jack we have to go back over two hundred years to 1778 when Fanny Burney first used the expression in her novel Evelina. In the text, Fanny indicates the phrase is already well known in the way she regularly uses it to describe something that happens ‘in an instant’. There are also suggestions that Jack Robinson was featured shortly afterwards in a play. But let’s now turn to an exchange that took place in the House of Commons in the late 1700s and was famously reported across all Europe, thanks to the drama and contentiousness of the occasion.

It is worth recording that back then, and for that matter now, members of the House would refrain from mentioning any other member by name, a practice that came about in avoidance of the strict libel laws of the time. Instead, an MP might suggest that ‘the Honourable Member for Shaggy Dog constituency has today shown himself to be a scoundrel by stating that … ’, thereby avoiding mentioning the person’s name but making it quite clear whom they were referring to. We can still hear this mode of address today in Parliament, but these days it is merely due to tradition, rather than the avoidance of libel. You can imagine, then, how much of a fuss was caused in the late 18th century by playwright and MP Richard Brinsley Sheridan when he was asked in the House to name a member of government under suspicion and accused of bribery. Without hesitation, Sheridan looked across at fellow MP John Robinson and announced, ‘I could name him for you as soon as I could say Jack Robinson.’ Well, that remark was a little too close for comfort, even by today’s standards, causing uproar and being reported across the land. It is likely this exchange led to the use of the phrase by Fanny Burney in her popular novel and hence its passage into the English language, but I have found an even earlier source for the term and quite possibly for Sheridan’s use of it.

A poem by Thomas Hudson, entitled ‘Jack Robinson’ and written in the early 17th century, told the tale of a sailor returning from the high seas to find the love of his life already married to another. The sad sonnet includes the line ‘and so he went back to sea, afore you could say Jack Robinson’.It is quite likely that Sheridan, literary fellow that he was, knew this poem and was deliberately quoting from it to avoid censure in the House. By substituting the name of John Robinson, the MP he accused, with the name of the fictional character in Hudson’s poem, he could claim the similarity between the two names as merely coincidental should Robinson ever be vindicated and threaten libel action. Clever stuff:  no wonder the exchange was so widely reported and admired.

Extract from Money for Old Rope Parts 1 & 2

Albert Jack books available for download here

The John Snow (Soho, London)

When it really wasn’t safe to drink the water

There is only one public house by this name, on Broadwick Street in the heart of Soho, and it commemorates a local doctor, one John Snow (1813–58), who managed to save thousands of lives through his quick thinking.

In the mid nineteenth century, London had a vast and growing population and yet no proper sanitation. Many basements had brimming cesspits underneath their floorboards. The rich paid for water to be brought to their houses, the poorer gathered their own water from local pumps. This water was generally piped in from the extremely polluted River Thames, which at that time was little better than a vast open sewer. Waterborne disease, unsurprisingly enough, was rife – especially cholera and typhoid – but nobody knew how it was spread.

In August 1854, after several outbreaks of cholera had already sprung up throughout the capital, a major outbreak struck Soho. In its severest form, cholera is one of the most rapidly progressing diseases known to man: without prompt medical intervention, an infected person can die within three hours. During that outbreak in 1854, 127 people had died within three days. Over the course of the week, three-quarters of the inhabitants had fled, while those that remained were dropping like flies. Dr John Snow, tending the sick, was sceptical about the popular theories of the time, essentially that ‘bad air’, known as ‘miasma’, was responsible for spreading the disease. But he remained unable to explain exactly how the infection was passed so quickly between people who appeared to have no direct contact with each other.

Marking on a map the homes of as many of the victims as he could find, Snow made a startling discovery. Studying the map, he noticed that 87 of the 89 victims he had identified had all drunk water from a pump in Broad Street. By contrast, there had been no reports of the death from cholera of anyone who drank water from a different well, even if they lived close to Broad Street. Snow immediately took his findings to the local authorities, urging them to remove the pump handle. The authorities, believing like everyone else that ‘bad air’ was responsible for the disease, were initially reluctant as closing the pump would inconvenience local residents. But Snow managed to persuade them to remove the handle long enough at least for him to investigate further, as a result of which there were no new cases of cholera in the area. Snow then discovered that the well had been dug only three feet from an old cesspit that had begun to leak sewage directly into the water supply; this, he concluded, must be the source of the disease.

After the epidemic had halted, government officials still refused to acknowledge Snow’s conclusions, terrified that if the public learned they had all been drinking infected water there would be rioting. In 1848 John Snow had published an essay, On the Mode of Communication of Cholera, in which he suggested the disease was spread by germs and not ‘bad air’. A second edition of the essay, with evidence from the infected water supply in Soho, was published in 1855. Taken far more seriously than the first edition, it led to a detailed investigation of the public water supply in London and the eventual acceptance that cholera was transmitted through bad water and not bad air. John Snow rose to greater prominence, too, although he was already well known for his work on anaesthesia, personally administering chloroform to Queen Victoria during the births of her last two children in 1853 and 1857.

Now Londoners had an excuse for not drinking water, and began drinking more beer and wine instead, knowing that the fermentation process would remove all traces of bacteria and so prevent the spread of water-transmitted disease. This is the reason the expression ‘good health’ is widely used by people having a drink together, because in London in the mid nineteenth century drinking alcohol really was a way of ensuring you didn’t fall ill (or not from cholera, at any rate). Fittingly, Snow, despite being teetotal all his life, is commemorated by a public house bearing his name, built near the old water pump in Broad (now Broadwick) Street. The beer is fine; and, these days, so is the water.

Extract from My Favourite Pub – Thirty Great Pub Name Histories

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Red Lion

A war waged through pub names

One of the most popular pub names in Britain, the Red Lion has an interesting history behind it. One theory claims the reason there are so many Red Lions was due to James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England and Ireland, on 24 March 1603. The red lion was the Scottish king’s personal crest and a prominent part of his coat of arms and it is recorded that he ordered the emblem to be displayed at all public places to remind his English subjects that the Scots now held power in the south. Many innkeepers throughout England felt it wise to follow the new rules in case the king and his army happened to ride by one day. While it is certainly due to James I that a red lion became part of the coat of arms of the British monarchy, the idea that this is the source of all those pub and hotel names is, however, doubtful.

The Red Lion was in fact a popular choice of name long before 1603. England’s first permanent theater, built in Mile End in 1567, was called the Red Lion and that was a full thirty-six years before James turned up in England claiming the throne. As many other Red Lions pre-date his reign, we need to look elsewhere for the origin of the name – to an earlier royal family, in fact, and another coat of arms.

In the fourteenth century John of Gaunt (1340–99) was the most powerful man in England. The third son of King Edward III, he was twenty-seven when his ten-year-old nephew, son of his brother the Black Prince, inherited the English crown as Richard II. Gaunt exercised great influence in the early days of Richard’s reign, and not always positive. It was his unwise decisions about various taxes that brought on the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, as the rebels recognized when they ransacked Gaunt’s Savoy Palace in London (built on the site of today’s Savoy Hotel).

In 1386 John of Gaunt left England to claim the throne of Castile (he had married Infanta Constance of Castile fifteen years before), whose coat of arms, consisting of a Spanish castle and a red lion, he had incorporated into his own crest. During his absence things soon fell apart, however, and England teetered on the brink of civil war as a result of misrule by the young king. It is thought that many places, including taverns and inns, then began displaying John of Gaunt’s coat of arms in order to show their preference for Edward III’s surviving son. Highly sensitive to this public vote of no confidence, Richard II responded by ruling that every publican and landlord close to London must display his own crest, the White Hart, instead. Not so different from today, when you think about it, with signs for political candidates popping up everywhere, just before an election, instead of royal coats of arms.

Rather than take advantage of the situation and seize the crown for himself, Gaunt returned to England to support his nephew and help restore stability. Recognized as the real power behind the throne, he enjoyed the wealth and riches of rule and was astute enough to avoid making serious enemies along the way. Even so, he was unable to prevent his ambitious son Henry Bolingbroke being sent into exile by the king in 1398. A year later, Gaunt passed away, dying peacefully in his bed at Leicester Castle. Rather unusually for the time, it was from natural causes. With that his family crest, red lion included, passed over to Henry, while Richard claimed all his lands for the crown.

Henry invaded England in June 1399 with a small force that quickly grew in numbers. Claiming initially that his goal was only to reclaim his patrimony, it soon became clear that he had his eyes on the throne itself. Meeting little resistance, partly thanks to the reputation of his father and partly due to the king’s unpopularity, Bolingbroke was able to demonstrate he had enough strength and support to force Richard to hand over the crown, and he became King Henry IV. Richard died in captivity early the next year; it is thought he was probably murdered. The White Hart had finally, and very definitely, given way to the Red Lion.

Extract from My Favourite Pub – Thirty Great Pub Name Histories

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Garibaldi

The Italian hero who became the toast (and biscuit) of Victorian England

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Italy was a collection of warring states. The person responsible for drawing them into one country was Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807–82), a soldier and politician who is credited with being the first international revolutionary, a nineteenth-century Che Guevara.

Born on 4 July 1807, Garibaldi joined the Carbonari (the ‘Charcoal Burners’), a secret revolutionary organization dedicated to Italian nationalism, but in 1834 fled to Brazil when his part in a failed revolution led to his being condemned to death in his absence by a Genoese court. In 1841 Garibaldi travelled to Montevideo, Uruguay, where the Uruguayan Civil War had been raging for two years. There he raised an Italian legion and then spent the next six years defending the city against the forces of Uruguayan president Manuel Oribe. He also earned himself a reputation as a brave, if not reckless, soldier by leading uphill bayonet charges against forces far greater in number.

Garibaldi’s heart never strayed from his home country, however, and it was the revolutions of 1848 that finally tempted him home to Italy and to Milan in particular, where the inhabitants were fighting against Austrian occupation. When the French, under the command of the future Napoleon III, sent forces to Rome, Garibaldi’s republican army found itself fighting the imperialists on far too many fronts. He was forced to withdraw his 4,000 men and head north to Venice, which was being besieged by the Austrians.

During this time his romantic profile as a freedom fighter was increasing daily, especially in Britain where Italian exiles frequently wrote about his exploits. Garibaldi himself was aware of the importance of public support and at one point had a press corps of nearly one hundred reporters travelling with his army. But with the Austrians, French and Spanish in hot pursuit, he soon found his militia dwindling in number, and was once again forced into exile, this time to New York, on 30 July 1850, as the guest of wealthy Italian immigrants.

Refusing a parade, the famous Italian managed to slip quietly into the city, where he retained a low profile, avoiding publicity for nearly three years before leaving Baltimore and sailing into Tyneside on 24 March 1854. Already a popular figure in England, Garibaldi cut quite a dash with his red silk shirt, poncho and sombrero hat. By mixing with the working classes rather than hobnobbing with local dignitaries, he further enhanced his reputation in the eyes of the public.

Staying in England for only a month, Garibaldi toured the country, and thousands of Londoners were at Nine Elms station to greet his train when he arrived in the capital. He was hailed in the newspapers as the ‘Italian lion’ and ‘the noblest Roman of them all’. Cake makers Peek Frean later developed a biscuit in his honour, said to be based on the raisin bread he provided for his marching troops and still produce the famous Garibaldi, or ‘squashed fly’, biscuits today. Thousands lined the streets, chanting ‘We’ll get a rope and hang the Pope, so up with Garibaldi’ as the Italian hero passed by. Hotels made a profit from selling his bathwater and hundreds of Italian café and tavern owners renamed their establishments in his honour, such was his reputation during the 1850s. However, the great and the good of British establishment were relieved when the man they considered to be nothing more than a rabble-rousing terrorist returned, once again, to his homeland, with Queen Victoria declaring, ‘Garibaldi, thank God, has gone.’

Back in the Mediterranean, Garibaldi bought the small island of Caprera, northern Sardinia, and in 1859, as the Second War of Independence broke out, he formed his own volunteer unit, the Hunters of the Alps. The Garibaldini, as the men were nicknamed, soon became a formidable force, at one point numbering over 40,000, and won several stunning battles against the Austrians. Garibaldi was rather halted in his tracks, however, on learning that his home city of Nice had ceded to Napoleon III and was now a French town.

The freedom fighter then turned his attention to the French army who were occupying Sicily and attacked the island, declaring himself Dictator of Sicily in the name of Victor Emmanuelle II, King of Piedmont (a northern Italian state), before driving out the French occupiers. That action turned him into a national hero in his home country, instead of the exiled rebel he had been thought of previously, and with his new political alliance with the northern provincial king, Garibaldi crossed into southern Italy. With his army growing on a daily basis both in number and support, he began moving north until, on 30 September 1860, the Garibaldini fought the French at Volturno. He was soon joined by the Piedmontese army, which had been fighting in the south, and together the Italians won a decisive victory over the French. Garibaldi then handed over his southern territorial gains to the king, whom he famously addressed on 26 October as the ‘King of Italy’.

With Garibaldi’s dream of a free and united Italy finally a reality, the famous guerrilla leader rode triumphantly alongside the king into Naples on 7 November before retiring to Caprera in search of a more peaceful existence. But the political turmoil in Europe during the mid nineteenth century never seemed to settle down and Garibaldi was called into action many more times to defend Italy. Despite this, he died peacefully in bed on 2 June 1882, aged seventy-four. Giuseppe Garibaldi is now regarded as the father of Italy and he lives on in memory as an enduring national hero, while his visit to Britain is still commemorated in many a pub name.

Extract from My Favourite Pub – Thirty Great Pub Name Histories.

Albert Jack books available for download here


The Royal Oak

The tree that gave refuge to a Stuart king on the run

On 30 January 1649, King Charles I of England and Scotland, wearing two shirts to avoid any shivering that might be mistaken for fear, climbed on to the scaffold outside the Banqueting House in London’s Whitehall and was beheaded (see THE KING’S HEAD). This event was intended to mark the end of the English Civil War and the victory of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army over the English monarchy.

But as the saying goes, ‘The king is dead! Long live the king!’ and his eighteen-year-old son, Charles, was soon proclaimed King of Scotland, an entirely separate kingdom at the time. Before long, the boy king was leading an army south to drive out Cromwell. By the spring of 1651, his force of 14,000 well-armed men had crossed the border into England.

But Cromwell, the great military strategist, had already sent Parliamentarian forces north to disarm suspected Royalist sympathizers by confiscating weapons and horses from the country estates and securing them for his own use in secret locations. As a result, Charles failed to raise any meaningful support on his journey south, and when his army of just over 16,000 men reached Worcester, he was met by a well-prepared and determined force of nearly 30,000 battle-hardened Parliamentarian troops.

Early on the morning of 3 September 1651, Cromwell ordered his field commanders to attack Royalist positions around the town and the Battle of Worcester was over within a few short hours. By mid afternoon Charles’s forces were on the run. His advisers agreed that the king would be safer and draw less attention in a smaller group and one of his companions, Charles Giffard, took him to the White Ladies Priory (where, legend has it, Guinevere retired after the death of King Arthur) and then to Boscobel House on the Shropshire and Staffordshire border in the early hours of 4 September.

With Cromwell’s men hard on their heels, Giffard knew they had to move fast. A reward of £1,000, a vast sum of money in 1651, had already been offered for his capture: anybody found to be hiding him was certain to be executed. In an attempt to disguise the king to help prevent his capture, Charles’s distinctive thick, black curly hair was cut short and he was dressed as a simple woodsman. Tipped off that Cromwell’s forces were closing in, Giffard had nowhere else to go and he was desperate to hide the king. Charles himself later recalled the story, recounting it for Samuel Pepys, the great seventeenth-century diarist:

‘Giffard told me that it would be very dangerous to either stay in the house or go into the wood … that he knew but one way how to pass the next day, and that was to get up into the great oak, in a pretty plain place where we might see round about us, for the enemy would certainly search at the wood for people that had made their escape.

Of which proposition I approving, we went and carried with us some victuals [provisions] for the whole day, viz. bread, cheese, small beer, and nothing else, and got up into a great oak that had been lopped three or four years before, and being grown out again very bushy and thick, could not be seen through, and here we stayed all day … While we were in this tree we saw soldiers going up and down in the thicket of the wood, searching for persons escaped, we seeing them, now and then, peeping out of the wood.’

It took another six weeks of disguises and adventures before the young king was finally smuggled to safety in France. Charles then stayed in exile until 1660 when he finally returned to London on his thirtieth birthday, 29 May. In 1664 this day was made, by Act of Parliament, a national holiday to mark the restoration and officially called ‘Oak Apple Day’ in honour of the oak tree at Boscobel that had successfully concealed the king and protected him, years earlier, from certain death.

For nearly two hundred years, Oak Apple Day was celebrated all over the land. It was a hugely popular festival. Everyone, high and low, male and female, adult and child, would wear a spray of oak leaves in their lapel or hat: traditionally any child not wearing such an emblem was attacked unmercifully by their schoolfellows and could be pinched, stung with nettles or pelted with rotten eggs.

And many taverns and inns were named the Royal Oak to demonstrate their loyalty and support for the monarchy. By the early 1700s the original oak tree had been all but destroyed by souvenir hunters although, from a single acorn, another fine oak tree has grown alongside the site of the original, called the ‘Son of Royal Oak’. In 2001 Prince Charles, the future King Charles III, planted a sapling alongside this tree after it was severely damaged in a storm.

Grown from one of the tree’s acorns, this makes it ‘Grandson of Royal Oak’. To this day, there are thought to be over six hundred pubs and hotels bearing the name the Royal Oak, making it one of the most popular pub names in Britain. In many cases the traditional pub sign depicts a great oak tree and, if you look hard enough, you may just be able to make out the young king peeping through the branches somewhere near the top.

My Favourite Pub – Thirty Great Pub Name Histories

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Agincourt

Once more unto the breach, dear friends

In 1414 a generation of English and Frenchmen had taken a twenty-six-year break from slaughtering each other. They were already seventy-seven years into the Hundred Years’ War (although the Hundred and Sixteen Years’ War would be more accurate), which could have been a few decades shorter had the young English king, Henry V, not turned down the French invitation to resolve their territorial differences. Claiming Charles VI’s offer of settlement was insulting, Henry gathered his troops together and in August 1415 landed his army on the Normandy coastline, intending to head for Paris.

But a rethink was needed after his siege of the port of Harfleur took six weeks, far longer than expected. By the time the town had surrendered, on 22 September, autumn was closing in and the season for mindless violence was all but over, so Henry started back towards Calais, at that time an English stronghold, to regroup and re-arm for the following spring.

The Siege of Harfleur had given the French time to react, however, and troops were already marching north to confront the English at the Somme, in northern France, an area made famous many centuries later as the scene of far greater slaughter, during the First World War (see The Lord Kitchener). After a three-week march of over 260 miles the English army was weak, ill and hoping to reach the safety of Calais instead of being drawn into a pitched battle. With an army of under 9,000, its numbers depleted by disease and desertion, Henry had no intention of attacking the French. But he was forced into action when, on 24 October, enemy troops caught up with and trapped his men on a narrow strip of land in a forest between Agincourt and Tramecourt.

Things looked pretty bad for the English. Early the following day Henry addressed his men, pointing out to them that each and every one was in a fight for his life, as prisoners were unlikely to be taken. The French, by contrast, greater in number and occupying a better battle position, were confident of a quick victory, believing they could wipe out the English threat and head home before winter set in.

But the English had one trick up their sleeve: the longbow. Equivalent in length to the height of the individual archer, the bow had already proved its worth at the Battle of Crécy in 1346 (see The Star and Garter). Henry V knew that, used en masse, the weapon could be deployed at a long range, devastating an entire army from two hundred yards away, while the archers remained at a relatively safe distance from the enemy. The king therefore deployed 5,000 longbowmen at his flanks, the vast majority of his army, who dug in behind rows of sharpened pikes. They were protected from the cavalry charge of the French knights by the thick forest on either side.

Once his bowmen were ready, Henry ordered the initial attack on the French army, who must have been surprised to find themselves on the receiving end of ten arrows per archer per minute. Within ten minutes of the first volley, half a million arrows had shattered the French lines, causing mayhem and panic. French knights charged the archers only to find themselves caught between the spiked defences and with more horsemen coming up behind. Trapped directly in front of the archers and weighed down by their heavy armour, they were scythed down within minutes and the English foot soldiers, wielding swords and hatchets, then moved in to finish them off.

When the archers ran out of arrows, they dropped their bows and waded into the fray with axes, and soon up to 10,000 Frenchmen lay dead, against English losses of only 1,600, although some historians claim that was the overall number of the wounded and only 100 Englishmen actually lost their lives. Either way, Agincourt was a major victory for the English and a disaster for the French as most of their knights and military leaders were killed, severely restricting French military capability for a generation to follow.

Agincourt is celebrated in pub names throughout Britain and in Shakespeare’s rousing play Henry V. The Laurence Olivier film that came out in 1944 was key to raising British morale in the darkest days of the Second World War. But the really interesting thing is the way the French remember it …

For a town with such a huge and historic reputation, Agincourt – or Azincourt, as the French call it – is a remarkably nondescript little place with a population of just under 300. Even so, the French hold an annual festival there, including re-enactments of the battle, to commemorate their crushing defeat by the English longbowmen. What a strange thing to do! If the French were to hold a festival to commemorate every important battle they have lost, then there would be one every day of the year.

Extract from My Favourite Pub – Thirty Great Pub Name Histories

Albert Jack books available for download here