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Gavin Weightman
  • 0 Holiday Reading

    • Thoughts
    • by Gavin Weightman
    • 18-07-2013
    0.00 of 0 votes

    It is a custom for people who rent out their apartments to holidaymakers to have a few shelves of books that they and their guests have read. And so it is in the charming apartment we have been staying in in Collioure, a seaside town in the Catalan district of south east France. I had brought with me Jonathan Fanzen's Freedom which I tossed aside about half way through, wondering why someone would spend nine years, as the story goes, creating characters he clearly despised. I gave up when I realised I did not care what happened to any of them. Luckily I had also brought Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns which gripped me from the first sentence:more than once, I put the book down with tears welling in my eyes. But when I put it aside, there were a few days to go so I went to the shelves of the holiday apartment owned by an English couple most of whose guests were English. There was a the anticipated range of light, popular fiction. I was looking for something more substantial to follow the wonderful book about Afghanistan. I was pleased to find A week in December by Sebastian Faulks and was looking forward to reading something of substance about modern London. Faulks set out to describe the lives of seven very different characters living in the capital: a hedge fund manager, a Polish footballer, etc. I got no further than the first page before I closed the book and put it aside. The first chapter was entitled Sunday, December 16. " Five o'clock and freezing. Piledrivers and jackhammers were blasting into the wasteland by the side of the West Cross Route in Shepherd's Bush......'" Piledrivers and jackhammers on a Sunday? Maybe, but I doubt it. Never mind. We find Arsenal at home to Chelsea kicking off under floodlights, someone visiting an East End synagogue to pay respects to a relative who " came from Lithuania some eighty years ago. " Then this: " Up the road in Victoria Park, the last of the dog-walkers dragged their mongrels back to flats in Hackney and Bow, grey high-rises marked with satellite dishes, like ears cupped to the outside world in the hope of gossip or escape...." Firstly, it is a lousy image if your readers know what a satellite dish is for and perhaps have one themselves on their roof, hidden,as mine is ,in a district where planning counts for more. Satellite dishes look to me like devices to receive commercial television, sport and films particularly, relatively cheap entertainment. What does Faulks mean by gossip anyway? And escape from what? And why are all the dog walkers council tenants and the dogs mongrels? Is this not a cheap slight, a casual pen stroke by someone who does not have a clue what he is writing about? Has Faulks ever visited Victoria Park?  I have never been to Kabul or anywhere in Afghanistan but I found Hosseni's description of the people compelling. Perhaps those who know the place intimately would be critical of his description of the country. But I sincerely hope that nobody imagines that Sebastian Faulks in A Week in December has got to the heart of the astonishing diversity of modern London. Much of the area of Victoria Park is still owned by the Crown Estates. Much of it which was not destroyd by bombs and rockets during World War2 has survived and is very fashionable. The Park itself has been extensivley renovated. It is a very vibrant area. And, though I know nothing about dogs myself, I bet a lot of those walked in Victoria Park have just as fine a pedegree as the Wellington College educated Faulks himself.

  • 0 Sex in Blackpool

    • History
    • by Gavin Weightman
    • 16-05-2013
    0.00 of 0 votes

    One of the brief fifteen minute talks I gave recently at the Southbank Centre as part of its The Rest is Noise festival was on the extraordinary organisation Mass Observation which was founded in 1937 in London. Charles Madge, a poet and journalist, Humphrey Jennings a film maker and Tom Harrisson a self-styled anthropologist decided, as part of a project to monitor the mood of the nation, that the English working classes should be studied as if they were a tribe of savages. Harrisson, a keen bird watcher had got a taste for social observation while living with cannibals in the South Pacific and on his return to England camped in Bolton, Lancashire to live amongst the natives. Known to Mass Observation as "Worktown" it became the focus of some intense scrutiny when volunteer "observers" arrived to study the social habits of the locals. The idea was to publish the results in a series of books but only one, The Pub and the People, got into print before the war broke out. Which is a shame, for Mass Observation's astonishing and eye opening study of the sexual antics of Worktown at play in Blackpool in 1937, which is held in the Mass Observation archive at Sussex University, has only been peeped at by researchers.  However, a taste of it can be found in a book by Gary Cross called Worktowners and happily the survey was the subject of an article by social historian Peter Gurney published in 1997 in the Journal of the History of Sexuality. My piece here is based entirely on Gurney's article which begins with a quote from one of the Blackpool observers, John Summerfield: "Walk about a bit; by now observer Wickham and myself are convinced that it isn't just bad luck on our part, it's true, all the girls are ugly, not some but everyone. . . " The following is a description of the unorthodox approach to Anglo anthropology taken by the team of observers who set out to mingle with the Blackpool crowd: "When we began work in Blackpool we expected to see copulation everywhere. What we found was petting, feeling, masturbating one another. Observer units combed the sands at all hours, crawled under the piers and hulkings, pretended to be drunk and fell in heaps on located sand couples to feel what they were doing exactly, while others hung over the sea wall and the railings for hours watching couples in their hollowed-out sand pits below." As Peter Gurney summed up this enterprise : "Thus, Mass-Observation systematized voyeurism and legitimated it as scientific 'observation.' Observers set out, we are told, 'with wild cries.' Eventually the quest was successful. All cases of necking seen in one night were recorded at the height of the season (length of contact was timed with a stopwatch). Of a total of 234 couples, 198 cases of 'em-bracing' were recorded, but only thirty-six couples were lying down. The results were tabulated and it was noted that: 'The most significant fact is that against 234 recorded cases of love-making skilled observers could find only four cases of copulation. It is difficult to say whether this result is not biased on the high side since an Observer was himself responsible for one of the cases considered. 'The observer was one of the few working-class participants, Jack Longford, who sent in a full and lurid report of his sexual encounter (standing up, against a wall) with a married woman from Leeds whose husband was a neurasthenic and who had come to Blackpool in search of 'fun.''"  What sort of people were these mass observers? Mostly lower middle class by all accounts and perhaps, as Gurney suggests, the kind of disaffected intellectuals described by George Orwell in his essay The Lion and the Unicorn: " Since about 1930 everyone describable as an "intellectual" has lived in a state of chronic discontent with the existing order. Necessarily so, because society as it was constituted had no room for him. In an Empire that was simply stagnant, neither being developed or falling to pieces, and in an England ruled by people whose chief asset was their stupidity, to be "clever" was to be suspect. If you had the kind of brain that could understand the poems of T. S. Eliot or the theories of Karl Marx, the higher-ups would see to it that you were kept out of any important job. The intellectuals could find a function for themselves only in the literary reviews and the left-wing political parties." The founder members of Mass Observation, Harrisson and Madge, were brought together by the letters page of the left wing New Statesman and Nation. A schoolmaster wrote to say he would have liked to have known what the general public thought of the "sexual situation" of the abdication of Edward Vlll and Charles Madge responded with a reply under the heading " Anthropology at home" that an organisation to find out had just been formed in London. Alongside Madge's letter was a poem by Tom Harrisson, the only one he ever had published, with the title Coconut Moon about the philosophy of cannibals. Harrison contacted Madge and in no time the new organisation Mass Observation was despatching an enthusiastic cabal of film makers, poets and literary critics to Bolton and Blackpool. When war broke out Harrisson kept Mass Observation going and worked with the Ministry of Information to monitor the mood of the nation as the bombing began. Madge and others thought this was a betrayal of their detachment from government, but Harrisson and his observers did not sign the Official Secrets Act and in time he produced a vivid account of the experience of the Blitz in London and the bombings in other towns. After the war the organisation kept going with income from market research and eventually found its home at Sussex University. One strand of its "anthropology at home" was to ask observers to keep a diary for one day, the first being the Coronation Day on 12 May 1937. This has recently been revived and Mass Observation is, to some extent, back in business.

  • 0 Off the Rails

    • History
    • by Gavin Weightman
    • 23-01-2013
    0.00 of 0 votes

    I recorded Dan Snow’s Locomotion: a history of the railway to see what he had to say about Richard Trevithick, the Cornish mining engineer who built the first working steam locomotives one of which carried 50 tons of iron and 70 men nearly ten miles in 1804. But there was no mention of him. Episode one lurched from a stationary steam engine which pulled a cable to Stephenson’s Rocket in 1830. Nothing in between. And everything that went right in that quarter of a century, every innovation was attributed to Stephenson and his son Robert, who was a mere lad when Trevithick visited them in the North East. I spun back and forth to find out if there was an account of the radical change in technology which made the steam locomotive possible. Nothing. Just a vague reference to steam engines evolving. I sat there thinking: this programme is not on the rails. Everything about it was wrong. Where on earth did Snow and his researchers go for their information? The history of steam railways and the steam engine is recounted in a huge number of books and the basics are not in dispute. Snow did not explain that the early steam engines which pumped water from mines and were refined by James Watt and Matthew Boulton and later drove machinery were “atmospheric engines”. Their power was not generated by expanding steam directly but by air pressure: a cylinder was filled with steam which drove out the air creating a vacuum in which atmospheric pressure drove down a piston. Watt’s innovations made them much more efficient in the use of coal and therefore more widely available. Cornish tin miners resented the tariff they had to pay for the use of the Boulton-Watt engines and sought a way round the patent. It was this that inspired Trevithick to construct an entirely new kind of engine which was powered by expanding steam. His first Puffing Devil was a road vehicle that ran on Christmas Eve 1801. It burned down, but he built others, one of which exploded in London killing some of his men. Because what he called “ strong steam” was dangerous, Watt was dead against it and reviled Trevithick for his invention. However, these new engines were more compact than the stationary atmospheric engines and were more suitable for powering a vehicle. Trevithick was thwarted because the existing railway tracks were laid for horse drawn wagons and were not strong enough to carry a locomotive. Wrought iron rails,which were first introduced in the 1820s, solved the problem, by which time Trevithick was otherwise engaged in silver mines in Peru. He was invited to go there because atmospheric engines would not operate at very high altitudes whereas his "strong steam" engines did.  In the Snow version of railway history the impulse to create this new form of transport came from the big cotton importers and manufacturers and it all kicked off in 1830. No mention of George Stephenson’s run on a section of the Stockton to Darlington line five years earlier. No mention of the fact that Stephenson was asked to look at the emerging locomotive technology by mine owners concerned about the rise in the price of horse power during the Napoleonic Wars. Did Snow and his team know all this but decided that it would be too much for a popular audience to take?

  • 0 A Pat on the back from Pratchett

    • Thoughts
    • by Gavin Weightman
    • 28-10-2012
    0.00 of 0 votes

    I was very pleased to receive this cutting from The Independent of a brief interview with the author Terry Pratchett who happened, at the time,to be reading my book about the North American natural ice trade. This pat on the back from the hugely successful Pratchett made my day, and week!

  • 0 Lunar fakery

    • History
    • by Gavin Weightman
    • 27-08-2012
    0.00 of 0 votes

    The death of the astronaut Neil Armstrong has set me thinking about moon stories and the fact that there are still many conspiracy theorists who do not believe that anybody has really landed on it and the whole story is simply an elaborate fabrication. I firmly believe that Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but a story I was told many years ago by a journalist I worked with illustrates the fact that lunar fakery did happen. I was in my twenties, a junior reporter chatting late in the evening to an experienced editor who was seeing out his last days as a kind of executive. He was in a confessional mood, told me about the break up of his marriage, the guilt he felt and many other stories. He had worked in Africa editing a group of newspapers ( I do not remember which country ) and thought he would make a special splash with the first photographs of the surface of the moon sent back from one of the unmanned craft that preceeded Armstrong's historic first steps on the rocky surface. I suppose it would have been 1959. The editor advertised widely that his newspapers would have the "first pictures of the moon's surface ever seen in Africa". Space was allocated on the front pages and he sat down with the picture editor to wait for the images to arrive from an agency wire. It was a long time before anything came through and when the images did arrive they were so poor they could not be printed. If they waited much longer they would have to publish the papers with blank spaces. "I looked at the picture editor, and he looked at me. We were desperate. Then, more or less at the same time, we saw that on a table there was a packet of ryvita. That settled it. We took some shots, mudied them up a bit, and put them in. Africa's first pictures of the surface of the moon was actually a close up of the surface of a ryvita crispbread." I was sworn to secrecy about this, and I have held off until now when I think the distance is safe enough. If there is a newspaper archivist out there somewhere it would be interesting to track down the original. It is a story Evelyn Waugh, author of Scoop would have been proud to have invented. I have no doubt it is as true as the reports of Armstrong's landing on the moon.

  • 0 Paper delivered at Stead 2012 Conference at the British Library 17 April

    • History
    • by Gavin Weightman
    • 17-04-2012
    0.00 of 0 votes

    When the obituaries of those who perished on the Titanic began to appear in the newspapers in April 1912 there were many column inches devoted to the life and work of W.T.Stead who was still then a very famous journalist. And there was no doubt that Stead's most celebrated campaign had been the investigation in the Pall Mall Gazette he called The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon. Stead himself had written that he would be happy with a memorial which read: " Here lies the man who wrote the Maiden Tribute". As it happened, Stead disappeared in the Atlantic and he was one of many victims of the disaster whose bodies were never found. But there was a tribute of a kind which even he, with his legendary foresight, could not have anticipated. It came in an oblique and satirical form from his old adversary the playwright George Bernard Shaw. It so happened that Shaw was working on the script of his play Pygmalion at the time the Titanic sank and the Stead obituaries appeared. He had begun the play years before, in 1897, and had in mind from early on that the story would be of a London cockney girl who is transformed into a Duchess. He told the actress Ellen Terry he wanted Mrs Patrick Campbell to play the part of the girl who would be " an East End dona in an apron and three orange and red ostrich feathers. " Shaw waited for the chance to cast Mrs Campbell in the role and he had still not put the finishing touches to the play in April 1912. What was a tragedy for Stead turned out to be a bit of inspiration for Shaw. He was able to weave into the script of Pygmalion many of the details and insinuations from one particular story Stead told in his monumental survey of vice in London in 1885.  On the evening of 6 July 1885 the newspaper boys selling the Pall Mall Gazette cried out in the streets of London: " Five pounds for virgin guaranteed pure." One shocked bystander heard the boys call to two girls at a bus stop: " Come on Miss, have a copy. This'll teach you how to earn £5". The newsagent W.H.Smith had refused to carry the Gazette that night and the boys had been drafted in to fill the gap. It so happened that Bernard Shaw was a contributor to the Gazette at that time writing unsigned book reviews. He was, it seems, impressed by Stead's campaign and must have known that however sensational the journalism the purpose was admirable. Stead wanted to shock Parliament into raising the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen, an issue on which it had been prevaricating for some time. And it was a triumph. Within a month of the publication of the Maiden Tribute articles over four evenings in early July the Criminal Law Amendment Act raised the age of consent to 16 where it remains today. Shaw said later to Stead's biographer that he had himself offered to sell the Gazette along with the paper boys but that his letter was not answered. And he went on to say that his opinion of Stead and his campaign changed radically when he learned that a story in the Maiden Tribute that had inspired the paper boys to cry " £5 for a virgin guaranteed pure" was fabricated. The words Shaw actually used were that it was a " put up job". And I have to say I came to agree with Shaw when I myself became interested in the truth about what Stead had written in that most celebrated campaign of his. I came at it more obliquely than Shaw, and I would say, as a journalist myself, my judgement of Stead has turned out to be harsher. A few years ago I wrote a book about the development of early wireless which took me to Marconi and inevitably to the Titanic disaster as it was Marconi wireless operators who sent out the distress signal on 14 April 1912. When I read about it Stead's name inevitably caught my attention. Like many people I had heard of him and I had a very vague memory of his daring escapade in which he demonstrated how easy it was to buy a virgin in London and that he had gone to jail for his trouble. I thought he must have been a hero. When my book on wireless was finished I decided to take a look at the Maiden Tribute in some detail. I discovered very soon that there was one story in the first of four instalments of the Gazette's investigation which stood out. The sub-heading was simply A child of thirteen bought for £5. Signing himself the Chief Director of the Secret Commission, Stead avowed that he could vouch for the truth of this story while the rest of the investigation was a series of assertions by unnamed brothel keepers, pimps, police and other underworld figures he had interviewed. Intriguingly, he did not say how he knew about the fate of this girl. He called her Lily, described the negotiations that went on for her purchase by a procuress, indicating that the mother was keen to take some money for her, gave a few details of her life, quoted a little verse she had written, described how she had had her virginity verified by a midwife, how chloroform had been bought to render her unconscious, and implied her rapid ruination with her crying: " Take me home, Take me home. "  Now how did Stead know all this? And why did he not do anything to save the girl from a fate worse than death? The answer became clear when, to Stead's surprise and irritation, the girl's mother, aided by the police and rival journalists, went looking for her. It took some while to find her because she had been sent away first to Paris and then to provincial France to work as a servant with a family in Loriol-sur-Drome. And, of course, it turned out that Stead knew all about what had happened to the girl because he had staged the whole thing himself. And when he came to write up the tale of the girl bought for £5 he judiciously omitted some of the episodes. It was all, as Shaw said, a "put up " job. For an account of what really happened in the case of the £5 virgin, I can recommend a close reading of the court proceedings of the trial at the Old Bailey in which Stead, along with others, was convicted by one Jury of abduction and by a second Jury of aiding and abetting indecent assault. This second conviction Stead chose not to mention when asked to recall his triumphant campaign. When I was researching the story I photocopied the whole of the trial in the British Library. Thanks to the wonders of the internet and the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Sheffield you can peruse the court record in the comfort of your own home by logging on to Old Bailey online. There you can discover something about Stead's modus operandi as a journalist as he tried to justify his actions under sharp cross examination. I will mention some highlights. When there was an outcry about the disappearance of Eliza Armstrong after the publication of the Maiden Tribute Stead told a public meeting: "We took that child from a place that was steeped in vice; from a mother who has admitted that was she was going to a brothel as she thought, and instead of taking her to a brothel we placed her in good and Christian guardianship. ( at this there was Great cheering). I ought to make one explanation; we did take that girl to a brothel for about half an hour; she did not know it was a brothel. She simply knew she was going to an hotel, but no suspicion or shadow of thought of anything wrong crossed that girl's mind" In fact, Stead had never been to Charles Street, Lisson Grove where Eliza lived. Nor had any journalist from the Gazette. He relied entirely on a vague memory of what he had been told by Rebecca Jarrett, the reformed brothel keeper, who had taken Eliza away. He described Eliza's parents but he had never met them. He gave an account of Mrs Armstrong pleading for her daughter Eliza to be the girl from Charles Street who would be bought for the pleasure of a London Minotaur. But he was not there. Not only was he not present at this critical event, it was quite clear when he was questioned about it at the Old Bailey that he had become confused about the several stories Rebecca Jarrett had told him. He wrote up the Maiden Tribute a month after his last meeting with Jarrett. He had made no notes and during those four weeks he had been smoking and drinking champagne in brothels when he was, as he said, a non-drinker and non-smoker. The Old Bailey proceedings revealed what happened when Stead arranged for Eliza to be examined by a French midwife or abortionist ( it was never clear what her profession was ) to confirm that the girl was a virgin and that he had not had " a little harlot" palmed off on him. He did not go with her but left it up to Rebecca Jarrett. He had no compunction in paying a guinea for this woman to indecently assault a girl he believed to be quite innocent whatever the morality of her parents. He also paid for the purchase of some chloroform. In the brothel in Poland Street Stead asked Rebecca Jarrett to put Eliza to bed and to render her unconscious with the chloroform. But the girl was too smart and threw away the drugged handkerchief. Stead went in to the room where the girl was in bed in her nightclothes, acting the fake Minotaur and imagining Eliza would know nothing about it. But she heard his voice and screamed: " There is a man in theroom." She could not see Stead because there were curtains around the bed. Stead hurried out and Jarrett tried to reassure Eliza by drawing back the curtains and showing her there was no-one in the room, to which Eliza replied: " That is because he has gone out. " It was by this time very late at night. Stead had got his story but he had clearly not thought about what he would do with the girl. At the Old Bailey, Jarrett said he had told her she could keep any girls she procured, and this seems likely as she had agreed with Mrs Armstrong that Eliza could write home once a week. But Stead was clearly now concerned that Eliza might return home and be able to say what had been done to her at his bidding. He decided he needed to get a certificate to confirm that Eliza had not been sexually assaulted by him. In the early hours of the morning he therefore had Eliza taken to a kind of nursing home in the centre of town and arranged with Bramwell Booth of the Salvation Army to get a distinguished doctor to examine Eliza. Rebecca again put Eliza to bed and this time a nurse rendered Eliza unconscious. The doctor, Heywood Smith, then greased his professional finger, examined Eliza and for three guineas signed a certificate to say she was virgo intacta. The next day Eliza was sent off to Paris with Jarrett and a woman from the Salvation Army. None of this was included in the supposedly true story of the ruination of the girl called Lilly. There was a further episode in Stead's account of how he came to write the story of the girl bought for £5 which illustrates poignantly that the illegal interception of messages did not begin with tapping phones or hacking into mobile phone messages. As mentioned before, when Jarrett took Eliza away it was agreed with her mother that she would write home once a week. After a month there had been no word from her, and at the Old Bailey the reason was revealed. As a dutiful daughter Eliza had written an affectionate letter from Paris. It was correctly addressed. She was being looked after at the time by the Salvation Army. Instead of posting the letter, as they said they would, they handed it over to Bramwell Booth, Chief of Staff of the Army. He in turn gave it to Stead. This was about three weeks before he wrote up the Maiden Tribute story. Not only did Stead purloin the letter, he decided to quote from it in his story about the girl he called Lilly. Eliza had sent her mother an affectionate little verse which read: As I was in bedSome little forths (thoughts) gave (came) in my head.I forth (thought) of one, I forth (thought) of two;But first of all I forth (thought) of you. Stead quoted this in the Gazette story to add bathos and he still had the letter when he appeared at the Old Bailey. Eliza Armstrong's father was a chimney sweep, who before he had taken up that trade was in the Militia and had been discharged because of poor eyesight but of good character. The mother was a drinker but she was an affectionate mother who sent her children to Sunday school. When this was put to Stead at the Old Bailey he shouted: " There are plenty of mothers whose children go to Sunday-schools who are perfectly ready to assent to their seduction, just as there are rich mothers who sell them to rich husbands who do not love them a bit; I think it is just as immoral in the one case as in the other. " The Armstrong family lived in Charles Street, Lisson Grove. They were desperately poor as were all the families in the street, most of whom lived in just a single room. But there were no prostitutes living there, nor were there any brothels, as Stead imagined. For an account of the extent to which Shaw borrowed from the scandal of 1885 when scripting the final drafts of Pygmalion, I am indebted to a paper entitled Parodying the Five Pound Virgin: Shaw and the Playing of Pygmalion by an American academic Celia Marshik which was published in 2000. So we have the real Eliza Armstrong from Lisson Grove, and the fictional Eliza Doolittle also from Lisson Grove. The real Eliza's father was a chimney sweep, the fictional Eliza's father a dustman, Alfred P. Dolittle who happily classes himself as one of the "undeserving poor", not a bad description of Stead's view of the people of Charles Street. When Alfred Dolittle tracks his daughter down to Professor Higgins's home he enters into a negotiation for the sale of Eliza. He puts it like this: " Well, the truth is, I've taken a sort of fancy to you, Governor; and if you want the girl, I'm not so set on having her back home again but what I might be open to an arrangement. Regarded in the light of a young woman, she's a fine handsome girl. As a daughter she's not worth her keep; and so I tell you straight. All I ask is my rights as a father; and you're the last man alive to expect me to let her go for nothing; for I can see you're one of the straight sort, Governor. Well, what's a five pound note to you? And what's Eliza to me?" When Higgins appears outraged that Dolittle is prepared to sell his daughter, apparently for immoral purposes, Dolittle says that the price for that would be nearer £50 . Higgins offers £10, but Dolittle will have no more than the £5 he initially asked for. Happy with the deal, and announcing with cheerful confidence that the whole of the fee will be spent " by Monday", the dustman Dolittle exits this early scene without ever asking what Higgins wants with Eliza. When, reluctantly, Professor Higgins agreed to take on the challenge of turning Eliza Dolittle into a lady, he tells his housekeeper to take the clothes she is in and to burn them, just as the real Eliza Armstrong had been bought new clothes paid for by Stead. Eliza Dolittle is shocked: "You' re no gentleman, you're not, to talk of such things. I'm a good girl, I am; and I know what the like of you are, I do." To which Higgins responds: " We want none of your Lisson Grove prudery here, young woman. You've got to learn to behave like a duchess. Take her away, Mrs. Pearce. If she gives you any trouble wallop her." It is possible to imagine Shaw chuckling to himself as he penned these lines, the working class Eliza Dolittle offended by the forwardness of Higgins, who treats her with disdain and who might just have sexual designs on her. Mrs Pearce, the housekeeper, is not too sure about what these gentleman want with a rough flower girl. And when Higgins offers Eliza a chocolate she is hesitant: " How do I know what might be in them? I've heard of girls being drugged by the like of you. " To reassure her, Higgins cuts the chocolate in two, and pops one half into his own mouth. These farcical circumstances echo some of the absurdities of Eliza Armstrong's real-life drama and are not much more far-fetched than Stead's imaginary recreation of what happened in Lisson Grove in June 1885. In a note attached to Pygmalion, Shaw refuses to speculate on what happens to Eliza Dolittle after she has been successfully turned into a well-spoken lady. Similarly we have no account of what became of Eliza Armstrong after her brief initiation into respectable life. I did my best to track her down but got only as far as her leaving the Princess Louise Home for the protection of young girls in Wansted in 1888. It was a fee paying institution and the money came from donations from the public who contacted Mr Poland, a prosecuting counsel, saying they would like to help the Armstrong family. According to the newspaper reports after the trial, Eliza was offered a handsome fee to appear in Music Hall, but her parents turned it down. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Stead believed to the very end that Eliza Armstrong was a commodity ripe for sale in the market for virgins and that she would have been better off left with a bourgeois family in the South of France. No doubt he talked about this at his dining table during the last hours of his life on the Titanic. Though many thought that what he did to a girl who he himself recognised was perfectly innocent was quite shocking and immoral he never apologised and one of the few regrets he said he had about the case was that he did not ask Mrs Armstrong for a receipt for the purchase of her daughter. Even Shaw could not have made that up.