The cockneys are coming! ‘Arry and the arrival of Londoners on the Thames in the late Victorian period

You are moneyed, sometimes, and well-tailored; but come you from Oxford or Bow,

You’re a flaring offence when you lounge, and a blundering pest when you row;

Your ‘monkeyings’ mar every pageant, your shindyings spoil every sport,

And there isn’t an Eden on earth but’s destroyed when it’s ARRY’s resort.

(From ‘’Arry on a ’ouseboat’, Punch, 1891)[1]

In 1891, The Lock to Lock Times published a series of humorous images of the stereotypical ‘Up the river types’ who could be witnessed on the Thames above London. The depictions provided a snapshot of how much the waterway had changed by the end of the Victorian era, as they documented not only the growing popularity of certain types of boating, like the sport of rowing (shown by the ‘Varsity oarsmen’) or canoeing (the ‘Canadian canoeist’), but also how immensely fashionable the river had become overall. Indeed, this was during the so-called ‘golden age of the Thames’ (c.1880-c.1914), when huge numbers of visitors flocked to riverside resorts, like Hampton Court and Maidenhead.[2] The descending hordes caused all kinds of tensions, but there was one type of visitor that was often singled out for particular scorn: ’Arry, the cockney swell.[3] His social sins were so great that he was even jokingly blamed for lowering the moral tone of the fish in the water.[4]


Although the name (short for Harry) was broadly understood to mean an uncouth, loud and unwelcome cockney (or Londoner), a more precise definition is harder to pin down. According to Albert Barrère and Charles Leland’s A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant (1889), ‘Arry was

…a familiar general term for a young costermonger dressed in his best clothes when taking a Sunday walk with his young woman… ‘Arries are almost indigenous to London, are generally to be seen with short pipes in their mouths, and swarm at fairs and races and other places of public resort, talking slang and puffing tobacco smoke, and if not altogether of the same genus as the roughs and rowdies that infest great cities, are little removed from them in manners, appearance and conversation.[5]

Their place in the social hierarchy was even confirmed during a parliamentary discussion on anti-social behaviour on the Thames in 1884 during which they were described as being among the ‘rough classes’.[6]

By contrast, Bernard Henry Becker described ‘Arry more succinctly as simply being a ‘cockney hobbledehoy’ (someone who was clumsy or awkward)[7], while the The Saturday Review used Matthew Arnold’s definition of ‘the homme sensual moyen of the middle and lower classes; the ordinary sensual man, very ordinary and excessively sensual’. The latter concurred with the Dictionary of Slang in claiming that the working class ‘Arry was largely associated with his leisure time, rather than his day-to-day context:

For the world at large ‘Arry only exists when he is at large… No martyr of social curiosity has yet sought to know ‘Arry at home; to see him at work, or in his family circle. His public appearances and performances are quite enough at present… ‘Arry is seen in his glory on Bank Holidays at one of many pretty rural spots within 12 or 15 miles of London.[8]

Similarly, Engineering (1882) agreed that ‘Arry was ‘rampant’ during bank holidays.[9]

It was Punch magazine, however, that arguably did the most to popularise the ‘Arry caricature. Editor, E. J. Milliken, created an ‘out-spoken and clever persona’ of the Cockney cad, whose brash comments not only critiqued lower-class mores, but also upper-class affections, which he imitated.[10] The dapper and lively figure’s outspoken and amusing slang-laden commentary on newsworthy events in the 1880s and 1890s helped to ‘sting the readers’ complacency and awaken their social conscience’. Over time, ‘Arry’s character evolved into a more sophisticated voice that revealed a host of hypocrisies and pretensions. Indeed, Milliken did not intend his creation to be too closely defined, but instead to convey the ‘spirit of ‘arryism’ that he considered to be prevalent at the race course, music hall and smoking room.[11] Robert Buchanan went even further by suggesting that the ‘Arry was the ‘typical young man of this generation’.[12]

Boisterous Behaviour

Buchanan described a number of the traits ‘Arry was renowned for, including his ‘wild revelry’, ‘boisterous indecency’ and ‘exuberant cockney horseplay’.[13] Many commentators noted that he had the financial means both to enjoy a variety of leisure activities, as well as to dress the part. The Saturday Review suggested that it was ‘as a vocalist that ‘Arry was most powerful’. While supposedly lacking the brain power for singing, rapid yells tended to announce his arrival and, after a night out, he and his friends could be heard howling, barking, yelping and screaming as they slowly made their way back to their lodgings. ‘No other country in Europe’, it declared, ‘can show this shameful spectacle of a part of the population which deliberately puts itself much lower than the animals, and find pleasure only in meat, drink, and inarticulate noise.’[14] The Tower Gardens even suggested that farm-yard imitating was one of ‘Arry’s favoured activities, as was laughing, joking, stamping, shouting, (comic song) singing and shrill screeching.[15] Similarly, Judy reported that ‘Arry ‘out on a spree’ considered noise to be ‘the signal of his holiday glee’. He would proceed to ‘drink, swear, bully, yell, bluster, and clown’, while considering a ‘sober ride home…no less than a sin’.[16]

The Saturday Review suggested that although he rarely travelled with female company (sometimes described as ‘Arriets), he ‘devoutly’ believed in his successes with women. His interest in the opposite sex was confirmed by the ‘amazingly intimate’ photographs he carried, as well as his enjoyment of burlesque shows.[17] The Illustrated American described how he showed affection to women by ‘sundry nips, thumps, and horse-play’ which although ‘not resented by her’ were ‘unlovely to behold’.[18]

’Arry’s ’aunts

According to Dickens’ Dictionary of the Thames (1883), it was Southend-on-Sea that was most closely associated with ‘Arries. The frequently mocked estuary resort was viewed as a ‘sort of Whitechapel-on-Sea’ associated with rampant cockneyism and vulgarity. Although Charles Dickens (the son of the famous author) stressed that the depiction was erroneous, as there were many advantages to the ‘clean, quiet well-built, well-arranged, and old fashioned watering place’, he conceded that it was a favourite place for excursionists and that ‘Arries occasionally descended upon it in their thousands, albeit tending to confine themselves to the old town, pier and beach.[19]

They appear to have been a growing problem on the waterway west of London too, as the Royal River guidebook (1885) described ‘Arry as ‘all-pervading’ and multiplying ‘with astonishing exuberance and rapidity’.[20] Time claimed that the ‘Thames ‘Arry’ was ‘quite another sort of person’ from the heavy drinking, but largely harmless and humorous version hailing from Whitechapel or Seven Dials. The former, dressed in a brown deerstalker hat, a high and abnormally stiffened collar, a spotless striped shirt (like a dragonfly) and a broad leathern belt from which hung a formidable, yet obsolete knife, was said to be a positive danger on the waterway. The fashion-conscious young man could be seen on a variety of boats and yet needed to be given a wide berth, as he was utterly incapable of understanding the Thames. Indeed, it claimed he posed a greater risk than even the swiftest of steam launches[21] – a vessel that was not only another recent imposition to the Thames, but was even described as the ‘’Arry of river craft’ by one Thames guide.[22] Similarly, the Chambers Journal criticised the ‘negative boat management’ of ‘Arry, which made Sundays and Bank Holidays on the river at Hampton Court ‘hideous’.[23]

While those on the boats caused enough of a nuisance, it was camping parties that particularly vexed riparian landowners, because of the extensive damage they caused.[24] Their reported crimes included littering, making fires from cherished peasticks, injuring horses with broken glass from champagne bottles,[25] ‘cutting down valuable ornamental shrubs, climbing garden walls, stealing fruit and eggs, and surreptitiously milking cows at unholy hours’.[26] Indeed, in 1886, the Pall Mall Gazette was forced to concede that the river was so overrun that it was no longer a place for a holiday. Among those ruining the landscape was ‘Arry, who could be found in rows of tents on the lock islands.[27] C. H. Cook noted in his book about the river that there were inevitable explosions from landowners when they discovered ‘Arry bathing from his lawn in the early morning.[28] Campers were more of a problem on the busiest sections of the river, such as around the major resorts closest to London, like Hampton Court and Maidenhead. Indeed, The Pall Mall Budget declared in 1885 that ‘’Arry has not yet begun to trouble the upper Thames’ (above Oxford).[29]

What ever became of ‘Arry?

By the end of the Victorian period, the caricature appears to have been falling from public consciousness, as Punch no longer featured ’Arry as one of their regulars. It is possible that the shift was partly the result of excursionists becoming more and more commonplace around the country, even though they continued to bring the same kinds of social tensions with them. Nevertheless, leisure tastes inevitably changed and, over the course of the early twentieth century, the river west of London slowly fell out of fashion as a mass tourist destination.

(Image from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwin_James_Milliken#/media/File:Edwin_James_Milliken06.jpg)

[1] Punch, volume 101, 15 August 1891, p. 57.

[2] For further discussions around this topic, see the various other resources mentioned on www.simonwenham.com.

[3] For a depiction of the Thames ‘Arry, see Lock to Lock Times, 18 April 1891, p. 726.

[4] The Angler’s Journal, 26 June 1886, p. 310.

[5] A. Barrère and C. Leland, A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant (London, 1889), p. 48.

[6] Parliamentary Papers, volume 16, report 1884, p. 536.

[7] B. H. Becker, Holiday Haunts (London, 1884), p. 167.

[8] The Saturday Review, 9 August 1879, pp. 168-9.

[9] Engineering, 10 March 1882, p. 217.

[10] P. Marks (ed.), The ‘Arry Ballads (London, 2006), pp. 1-2. Milliken was the editor from 1877 to 1897.

[11] Idem.

[12] R. W. Buchanan, The Coming Terror and Other Lessons and Letters (New York, 1891), p. 177.

[13] Idem.

[14] The Saturday Review, 9 August 1879, p. 169.

[15] The Tower Gardens, volume 2 (1882), pp. 107-8.

[16] Judy, 11 August 1890.

[17] The Saturday Review, 9 August 1879, p. 169. He also enjoyed ‘patriotic minstrelsy’.

[18] Illustrated American, 21 February 1891, p. 52.

[19] C. Dickens, Dickens’ Dictionary of the Thames (London, 1883), p. 156.

[20] Cassell and Company, The Royal River: The Thames, from Sea to Source (London, 1885), p. 170.

[21] Time, volume 15 (1886), p. 278.

[22] Cassell, Royal River, p. 170.

[23] Chambers Journal, 21 September 1886, p. 588.

[24] See S. M. Wenham, ‘The River Thames and the Popularisation of Camping, 1860-1960’, Oxoniensia LXXX (2015), pp. 57-74.

[25] The Graphic, 15 July 1876.

[26] Dickens, Dictionary of the Thames, p. 32.

[27] Pall Mall Gazette, 1 October 1886.

[28] C. H. Cook, Thames Rights and Thames Wrongs (London, 1895), p. 267.

[29] The Pall Mall Budget, 13 October 1885.

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