Tag Archives: Harriet Lane

Twenty-Seven Of The Gang

James “Jem” Mace was a Norfolk-born boxing champion who operated, primarily, during the bare-knuckle era. He held the English Welterweight, Middleweight, and Heavyweight titles between 1860 and 1866 and was World Heavyweight Champion from 1870 to 1971 while fighting in the United States. He lent his name to a bit of slang, macing, which was a severe but regulated thrashing. Both he and the word that commemorated his prowess have fallen into obscurity.

To be marwooded was to be hung, a phrase deriving its origin from the Victorian executioner, William Marwood, whose other claim to fame was that he developed the long drop technique in 1872, a more scientific approach which took the height and weight of the prisoner into consideration in calculating the drop. In his nine years as an executioner, he hung 176 people including Charlie Peace and Henry Wainwright, the murderer of Harriet Lane. He also spawned the popular piece of doggerel; if Pa killed Ma/ who killed Pa/ Marwood. Marwood died in 1883.  

A fictional character whose name was enshrined in the argot of the time was Alfred Muntle, a handsome man with a black, bushy moustache, who appeared in Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby. The husband of a milliner, he changed his name to Mantalini on the supposition that Muntle would be bad for business and lived off his wife. From the 1840s Mantalini was the name give to a male milliner.   

How times have changed. In the 1890s made in Germany was used as a term used to signify something that was bad or valueless, thanks to the vast quantity of inferior goods imported from Germany, notes James Ware in his Passing English of a Victorian Era. The term increased in its usage when it was required by law to be stamped on the goods.

More slang anon.

Twenty-Four Of The Gang

Another colourful piece of slang that referred to a contemporary event whose notoriety has faded into the mists of time is Harriet Lane, a reference to Australian canned meat. It was so called, James ware avers in his Passing English of a Victorian Era, because of its unedifying appearance akin to chopped up body parts.

Harriet Lane, the mistress of Henry Wainwright, a brush maker, was murdered by him in 1874 and her body was buried in his warehouse. The following year, Wainwright was declared bankrupt. He disinterred her body and with the assistance of his brother, Thomas, and another brush maker, Alfred Stokes, sought to rebury her elsewhere. Stokes was suspicious of the packages he was handling, opened one up, saw it contained body parts, and notified the police.

At the subsequent trial, Henry was found guilty of murder and was hung on December 21, 1875, while Thomas was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact. I think I will give a can of Harriet Lane a miss. Perhaps I would be better off having a hasty pudding. This was a piece of Victorian fast food, consisting of flour and water, boiled for five minutes.

I know several people about whom I could say he never does anything wrong, a satirical musical hall phrase used to describe someone who can never do anything right. They are almost as bad as someone who worships his creator, said of a self-made man who thinks a lot of himself. Such terms of opprobrium may be assuaged if they had a heap o’ saucepan lids, rhyming slang for money via dibs.

More slang anon.