Among linen-drapers’ assistants who have risen from the ranks and become eminently successful the following is a remarkable instance:—
A lout of a lad came up from Norfolk, and somehow contrived to obtain employment about an establishment in the city, at that time of little note. He began humbly, as a kind of porter, his work at the outset being to carry parcels, and assist in taking down and putting up the heavy shutters on the windows mornings and evenings. He was a raw, uncouth fellow—tall, thin, and ungainly from rapid growth—his drab corduroys scarcely reaching to his ankles. But he had a clear head on his shoulders, and he had willing hands; and the coarse ill-cultured hobbledehoy wrought his way on perseveringly till he was placed by his observant master among the salesmen. This vantage ground once gained, his greatest difficulty was surmounted, and he took his place among his fellows and maintained it; and, having acquitted himself to the satisfaction of his employer, he was, after a time, occasionally trusted to make a run down to the manufacturing districts to buy. This had been the height of his ambition. To be a buyer! To attain this lofty eminence was the culminating point of his earthly desires; and, when he attained it, his satisfaction was without bounds—it was supreme.
He started by coach from the Swan with Two Necks, Lad Lane, one morning in the beginning of November in the year 1817 to make some purchases. On arriving at the place of his destination late in the evening, he found some other buyers from the city in the hotel; but being little known to them, he kept as much as possible apart. He had his reasons for wishing to avoid coming in contact with them. From information which he had received previous to starting on his journey, and which he had thought carefully over on his way down, he had a game to play, and he meant to play it well, thoroughly, out and out. It is said that he was secretly, but busily engaged all the following day, among the manufacturers, buying up right and left, but keeping down all suspicion of his motives as much as possible, the entire stock in the market of one article. News did not then travel so rapidly as they do now by rail and telegraph, and it was not till the coaches arrived that night or next morning, that the astounding intelligence was brought of the unexpected death of the Princess Charlotte. The London buyers of goods were instantly agog for the interest of their respective employers; but, to their extreme mortification, they found that, except trifling morsels, every packet of mourning crape in the town and neighbourhood had been bought up. Our Norfolk youth, now metamorphosed into a buyer, had secured it all.
Having done his work, he set off home, and communicated to his master what he had done. The master was a plain-sailing man; he had saved his money rather than made it, and he was uneasy. It was a speculation beyond the range of his ideas to buy up the whole of any commodity whatever, and, most of all, of the whole manufactured black crape in the country. He did not like it. The longer he thought over the transaction, the more the temerity of his buyer alarmed him. And, when van after van began to arrive at the warehouse, setting down absolute mountains of the rather bulky commodity, the poor man wrung his hands—he was in despair. Every corner of the warehouse was filled with crape; every hole and cranny was stuffed with it; pile upon pile rose in vast pyramids before the eyes of the bewildered man, shutting out of sight the other portions of the stock, and making a passage through the premises nearly impracticable. Crape, crape, nothing but crape was visible on floor, and shelf, and counter; the horrid article was everywhere, to the exclusion of everything else, above or below.
The unfortunate linen-draper in the anguish of his heart cursed the Norfolk lad, bitterly lamenting the hour in which he had unluckily permitted his imprudent assistant to go out unrestricted as to the extent of his purchases. Ruin was manifestly staring him in the face, and he insensibly began to calculate how much might be saved from the wreck wherewith to compound with his creditors. Not so the worker of all the mischief. He had faith in himself. He did his best to console and soothe his employer by assuring him of what he felt confident would turn out to be the fact—that the whole retail trade of the United Kingdom would require to come to them for their supplies, and that they would obtain any prices they pleased.
The lamentation for the death of the Princess Charlotte was so sincere and so universal, that the mourning worn at her decease, out of sympathy for her untimely end, was much more general than is usual on the demise of members of the royal family, and, consequently, the demand for black crape for mourning was in proportion unprecedented. The vast stock rapidly disappeared, and the general trade of the concern was thereby greatly improved; the foundation of a princely fortune was laid, and in due time a partnership, and after that, the hand of his master’s daughter, rewarded the services of the bold crape buyer.
MacMillan’s Magazine, Vol. 7, David Masson, editor, 1863, p. 35-36
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The mourning for the death of Princess Charlotte was quite unprecedented. The British public had hoped to put the madness of King George III and the mad extravagances and follies of the Regent behind them with this romping girl. But, alas, it was not to be: she died giving birth to a still-born son 6 November, 1817, setting off the Great Marriage Stakes among the sons of George III, all of whom had large families with their mistresses.
Much as we may applaud the winning form of the Norfolk lad, mourning for the late Princess went far beyond crape. Many mourning artifacts survive, such as this pendant.
And this ring.
And images of her tomb in wax, prints of her funeral, and an image of her apotheosis, complete with royal infant ascending to the Heavens.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.