Friary Court ([1835])

G. P. Hearder
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Devon West Country Studies sPER/SOU
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CD 33 DVD 5
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Hearder, G. & J. The South Devon monthly museum. Plymouth: September 1st, 1835. VOL. VI. No. 33. pp. 97-102.FRIARY COURT.FRIARY Court is the right place for fun; real good, ranting fun. In order to see a fair specimen of one species of high life below stairs, we visited this celebrated quarter of Plymouth some evenings since, and aided and abetted in exterminating a supper: whether the meal in question was purloined or not, is no concern of ours, our sole apparent business was the eating thereof.In order to be properly endued for such a visit, an acquaintance of ours, a quaker, lent us a very benevolent-looking, and most ancient hat: Tom Hynes furnished us with one of his hunting coats; and Sam Wakeham, Lord of the Isles, contributed a pair of fisherman's boots, very excellent in kind and quality, excepting that one of them, by some ill-luck, had got rid of the sole.In olden time Friary Court, being the site of a Monastic Institution, was witness to most excellent feeding, and very splendid suction therewith. So good an example, set by the pious fathers who dwelt hereabout, has not been lost on the questionable tenants of their now ruinous dwelling places. A little change has taken place in the mode and the means, but the good-will remains the same. There are now no more inexhaustible flagons of sack, nor gigantic goblets of canaries, nor is there an odour of well-roasted capons floating in the noon-day air. Nevertheless there is no lack of Scott's XXX., attempered with magnums of "Cawsand water," that never was intimidated by the roguish eye of a gauger, nor is there a deficiency of beef steaks and onions, and gentle pilchards stewed in cream, according to the well approved usance of our beloved natal county Devonshire. The uprorious melodies which charm away the Saturday nights, in Friary Court, had no doubt most veritable prototypes in the dithyrambics of the sleet old monks.Honest men and thieves, the former existing by the sweat of their brows the latter by that of their genius, are oddly mixed up in this epitome of St Giles'. Beggars by profession; itinerant match-sellers; tape venders; knife grinders; purveyors of full, true, and particular accounts of all bloody murders; pick-pockets and other conveyancers; blacking manufacturers; and every other variety of rogues and vagabonds may be found among the inmates.Diogenes would have been completely at home in the sleeping apartments, so would the whole batch of our present utilitarian philosophers; there is nothing like parade or ostentation here, no straining after effect, no fond dalliance with the vanities of life. The beds are ranged on both sides of the room, not on bedsteads, but on the floor, with perhaps an interval of six inches between each; these beds are constructed of straw without any casing of ticken, [sic] to facilitate the shaking up and making thereof. This straw has done so much duty that it could not at first sight be distinguished from chaff, and most assuredly, by a thorough exploring of these resting places, Mr. Rennie or James F. Stevens would find a glorious entomological harvest. Bed clothes there are none, each traveller sleeps in the habiliments which decorate him by day. The room is bona fide a bed-room, neither table nor chair is ever admitted, the only extra piece of furniture being one of Corrie's little half-pint Scotch ale bottles, which does duty as a candle-stick.According to the very excellent custom of the Officers of the Royal Marines, &c. &c" the travellers mess together, at rather a late hour, this meal is generally called supper; the mess-room may hold four dozen when stowed as closely as the feeders are at an election dinner. There is no table sufficiently ample to accommodate this number, but, by a judicious juxta-position of three or four, varying materially in height, a very picturesque board is contrived; the banquet room is not graced by chairs, wooden benches being found to answer the purpose quite as well; and when a more numerous company than usual is assembled, sundry extra seats are put into request; such as fish-maunds [sic] tin saucepans, and buckets, turned upside down, and adjusted to the needful height by two or more courses of bricks.Tom Hynes was president at the feast to which we invited ourselves, the Lord of the Isles officiated as Vice, on Tom's left we noticed Billy Brown; Charley Warn occupied a place on his right, and next to him sat Nickky O'Flinn, and Jack O'Diamonds. The supper was too abundant for us to attempt a detail of all the viands; near the president we noticed a dozen of boiled hakes; the Baron did his best at carving a stewed bullock's head; one guest very modestly appropriated two roast fowls to himself, on the score of his having found them somewhere on the preceding night; a huge dish smoked most savourily of a species of compound ragout, made of pieces of ham, beef, bread, cheese, potatoes, turnips, onions, cold fish, and sundry other fragments which formed the joint stock of such wallets as had been doing peregrination amongst the charitable in the course of the day. An ample tin cauldron held about a wheel-barrrow-full [sic] of potatoes, brown and beautiful from a neighbouring oven, near Tom Hynes were three bottles of Holman's newly invented sauce, which it appears had been borrowed by some one of the party, (without the inventor's knowledge) from his shop in George Street, that morning; and, to supply the libations at dinner, each guest was provided with a pewter pot of XXX.The feasters had no doubt read something of the manners and customs of foreigners, for they eat, in the fashion of Turks and Persians, without the aid of knives and forks, and poured the last remaining drop of gravy out of their plates into a pursed-out lower lip, as the orang-outang does its draught of brandy and water at the Zoological gardens. Each operator proved himself game to the back-bone, in the article of tucking-out; devouring at least twice as much as a Caffre or a Chipawa Indian. After supper, came the brandy, the best that ever was smuggled from "Guarnsy island."And towards midnight, the revelry became fast and furious; Tom Hynes slipped off his chair under one of the tables, where he remained snoring most triumphantly; Jack O'Diamonds and Billy Brown turned too for a bruising match, the rest of the company pairing off as accessories in the fray, whereupon we thought it fit to evaporate into thin air.The reader may be somewhat surprised to know that such good living can be done in Friary Court; we will therefore give some insight into the ways and means of the worthies spoken of.No. 1. Dealers in cabbage nets and matches. The ostensible calling of this class would seldom afford sufficient means for supporting the respectability of its members; the cabbage nets and matches are often blinds to cover the more lucrative occupation of thieving.No. 2. Bellows makers, knife grinders, and umbrella renovators. These men are generally gipsies [sic]. During the summer and pleasant part of the year they care little for exercising their professed vocation, and subsist almost wholly by country plunder, which they commit all over the kingdom, roosting at night in the open fields. On the approach of winter they find "good dry lodgings" more commodious, and operate in the modes of business above mentioned, but always remembering to forget the eighth commandment.No. 3. Solicitors. These are considered as respectable vagabonds by their co-mates. They quickly discover, in whatever town they may be, such elderly and single ladies as bear a character for sanctity. These are visited with begging letters, and it is considered a very bad day which does not produce 14 or 15 shillings. Others call upon tradesmen of some particular craft representing themselves as having been once in good circumstances, in the same business, but now reduced to poverty by sundry calamitous occurrences. The plausibility of their manners, and apparently very modest address, seldom fail to effect their object.No. 4. Wandering Italians. These men have generally the command of separate gangs of a dozen or more boys, who perambulate the streets with an organ, a monkey, a white mouse, or some other little means of amusement. The miserable appearance of these boys is sufficient to excite the charity of numbers, who little suppose that the puny exhibitors are ill lodged and worse fed, whilst their masters live in clover. The boys are expected to bring home a certain sum every week, otherwise they are harshly treated.No. 5. Thimble-riggers and prod-in-the-loop boys: the thimble-rig is perpetrated as follows, a pea is placed under one of three thimbles, which are then moved rapidly about upon a smooth board, and a wager is offered to a by-stander that he cannot point out the thimble which covers the pea. Should any green-horn of a farmer, or comfortable butler bet a sovereign that he is knowing enough to point it out, the operator, instantly, on the score of "doing it all fair," makes the moves anew, taking especial care to remove the pea altogether by a sleight-of-hand manoeuvre, peculiar to the clan. Whatever odds he may bet are of course no consequence, as he cannot fail to win. Race courses are the most productive places for carrying on this game. The thimble rigger always acts in concert with three or more others who are allowed to win pretty largely in order to decoy, more effectively, the unwary.No. 6. Booksellers. The reader will please to understand that any thing printed means a "book," therefore, accounts of dying speeches, bloody murders, accidents, offences, &c.; though printed on small pieces of paper are "books," the venders [sic] of these articles travel through the country visiting, very diligently, all small towns, villages, and hamlets, for in these they are most successful. A double crown folio sheet, containing an account of some direful mischance to a young female, garnished with numerous pictures and some religious verses, has a prodigious sale in the country, as it answers a two-fold purpose, giving warning to the thoughtless, and forming an excellent, because showy, ornament to the walls of a cottage. The profit arising from the sale of these things would hardly be credited. These few explanations will account for the flush of circulating medium which provides the jollifications of Friary Court. [Text may be taken from a different source or edition than that listed as the source by Somers Cocks.]
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