Fawkes profiting from Parliament’s collapse? Dubious accounting methods ultimately destroying the integrity of Parliament? Government intervention in the style in which the unemployed were supported? Social unrest regarding the manner in which the dangerously mentally ill were allowed to roam at will?
Is nothing new in the ‘rotten state’ of Parliament? For I speak not of today, but of 175 years ago today.
Where Guy Fawkes failed in 1605, the dubious accounting methods that had been used since the 14th century – the wax soaked tally sticks used to record ‘taxes owed’ – succeeded. The porters charged with destroying the redundant tally sticks let the fire get out of hand and eventually it burnt down the building erected after the Great Fire of London.
The ‘huddled masses’ of London gathered on the banks of the Thames to jeer and cheer as they warmed their hands by the blazing House of Parliament, for the 1834 Poor Law Act had removed the rudimentary ‘dole’ money they received from their parish, and sent them into the newly built ‘workhouses’ to ensure they did something profitable for their keep.
The “fundamental principle … to legal relief of the poor” was that “the condition of the pauper ought to be on the whole less eligible than that of the independent labourer”.
The Act had also singled out the ‘lunatics, insane people and idiots who were dangerous’, (nice to see that idiots were recognised as dangerous even then!) and separated out from the general poor to be contained in the new fangled ‘lunatic asylums’, under the control of a ‘Master of Lunacy’ – an aptly named position still held today by the senior judge in charge of the Court of Protection. There were no Human Rights lawyers stalking the shores of insanity in those days;
“It must … be remembered that with lunatics, the first object ought to be their cure, by means of proper medical treatment. This can only be obtained in well-regulated Asylums”
And what of ‘Fawkes profiting from Parliament’s collapse’? Bear with me.
As the new Palace of Westminster was being built (the one still used by Parliament today), paintings and frescoes were commissioned to decorate it. The cartoons – in the old sense of preparatory drawings – were put on display. The magazine Punch – the 1834 version of irreverent bloggers today – thought that there were better uses for the government’s money than spending it on art for the rulers. (Is nothing new?)
At the time, the humorous drawings that appeared in Punch were called ‘cuts’, short for ‘woodcuts’, from the printing technique. A full page was given over to “the Big Cut”, the principal satirical picture of the issue, and John Leech was the artist designated to draw it. This is what he came up with for the issue dated 15 July 1843.
There were five more numbered ‘cartoons’ in this sequence, and by the end of it, Punch’s staff had renamed ‘the Big Cut’ as ‘the Cartoon’. The first recorded instance of its usage in this sense. In the 1970s, the Cartoon was the responsibility of Trog, who also drew the comic strip Flook in the Daily Mail. Trog was the pen name of jazz musician Wally Fawkes.
So at least one Fawkes prospered from the destruction of Parliament. You may now groan.
Mind you, Guido hasn’t done too badly either.
Time for another bonfire. This time we should build the ‘inanities’ a new one with glass walls so we can see what they are up to.