Sixteen Of The Gang

One of our preoccupations over the last couple of years is avoiding the new form of Churchyard Cough that is Covid-19. In the 19th century the term was used to describe a fatal cold, also known as Churchyard catarrh. Churchyard luck described the good fortune of a mother of a large family who experienced the death of one or more of her children, tongue firmly planted in their cheek.

The perils of smoking tobacco are well known these days, but it is fascinating to note that by 1883 the term cigareticide had been coined to describe the concept that the cigarette was the most dangerous form of smoking. James Ware, in his Passing English of a Victorian Era, did note, however, that it was more commonly used in the United States than in England.

There are some amusing insights into life in the late 19th century to be found in its pages. City sherry was used to describe the worst form of sherry or the highest quality of rectified varnish. It also gave rise to a practical joke played at an establishment in the City, the European in the Poultry, by the locals on visitors. The custom of the tavern was to have half pints of the liquid already ready poured on the counter of the bar, enabling the punters to help themselves without troubling the barman. Of course, they would put the requisite amount of money on the bar, but it gave rise to the story that free sherry was available in the pub.

When the locals spotted a stranger entering the bar, he was immediately given a free glass of fourpenny from the counter. The stranger’s eye would be distracted, and his genial host would pay for his drink, thus perpetuating the story that free drinks were available, courtesy of mine host, at the European. The European closed its doors for good in 1884 but its legacy lived on, city sherry being used to denote a “free drink” that was not what it seemed.

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