ANOTHER WORKING-MAN'S EXHIBITION.
AMONG the most popular " ideas " of the age must now be reckoned that of holding industrial shows. Carried out in the first instance on a large scale by the shopkeeping classes, the practical importance of the system soon began to be generally understood, and to be acted upon by working-men. Thus arose the many local industrial shows which London and some of the larger towns of England have seen for the last two or three years. They were necessarily confined to a limited district, the time as well as capital of the originators not permitting costly and extensive schemes. But a remarkable feature of all these local exhibitions, at Bayswater, Stratford, Islington, and other places, was that each successive one showed a greater tendency to be representative of the great class comprised under the generic term of " working- men." While the shopkeeping element predominated in the first, it has gradually fallen out, or rather been driven out, of the last show of this kind. We noticed a few months ago (Spectator, Octo- ber 22, 1864) the Industrial Exhibition at the Islington Agricul- tural Hall, and were struck then at seeing the shop so sparingly represented. This week Lambeth has followed in the wake of Islington by opening a " South London Working Classes' Indus- trial Exhibition," and we find that, as far as our own observation goes, there are no shopkeepers at all. It is certainly a curious fact, and one possessing its political as well as social importance.
The "South London Working Classes' Industrial Exhibition" was opened on Wednesday, the 1st inst., with the established form of hymns, prayers, and a rather large amount of philanthropic talk. But the very opening ceremony was a remarkable index to the
character of the undertaking. Except on the platform, filled for the occasion with white neckties and shovel hats, there were scarcely any other people in the whole building but bond fide working-men. As for the clerical element, it seems to be for the present an indis- pensable part of similar industrial shows, as exemplified in the his. tory of this South LondOn Exhibition. The first seed of it was laid about six months ago, at a large meeting presided over by the Rev. Newman Hall, but consisting entirely of working-men. The clerical leadership was a natural consequence of the exclusion of the middle classes, and the fact that workmen proper are seldom speakers, and have besides but little time to spare. However, though a reverend gentleman, with several of his brethren, took the nominal, the working men themselves at once assumed the practical lead and organization of the undertaking. The scheme of a South• London Exhibition was matured at numerous district meetings, at Battersea, Kennington, Lambeth, Southwark, Peckham, an& places as far down the river as Greenwich and Woolwich, and sufficient publicity having been obtained in this way, it was resolved to launch the scheme forthwith. A guarantee fund of 1,0001. was obtained without difficulty, it being generally known that all similar shows have been profitable, or at least self- supporting. More arduous was the task of finding a proper build- ing for the exhibition, but this, too, was solved with true workman- like ingenuity. After much searching, and vain endeavours to com- bine the two objects of getting a very large ball at a very moderate rent, an inventive genius proposed to use a large public swimming bath. The proprietor of the bath was willing to let it cheap for the winter months, his customers being naturally scarce for the time. An artificial pond at first sight will seem a queer place for an exhibition of goods which have to be kept dry. However, with the water let off, the swimming bath was found to be exceedingly well adapted for the purpose, and in fact one of the most convenient buildings ever used for a similar industrial exhibition.
We enter the show from that crowded thoroughfare in Lambeth officially styled the Lower Marsh, but popularly known as the New Cut. The first aspect of the place is extremely pleasing. We find ourselves in a large hall, of about a thousand square feet, with two broad galleries running around the whole building. The bottom of the swimming-bath, neatly paved and in some places carpeted, forms the floor of the hall ; while the promenade around, where the bathers walk and undress, gives the first gallery ; and, above this, a staging of wood-work and iron furnishes a second tier. The appearance of the building is greatly improved by a tasteful arrangement of shields and devices in front of the upper gallery, not unlike the arms of all nations which figured in the Great Exhibition of 1962. But instead of the banners of the world, we have here the flags of peoples only dwelling in the southern districts of the great metropolis, the inscriptions on the gold- embroidered shields bearing the familiar names of " Peckham,' "Camberwell," "Deptford," and other political and postal divi- sions " within the bills of mortality." The character of the show is strongly impressed at once upon the visitor by the exhibited article nearest to the entrance, which is nothing less than a shoe- maker's atelier, with the shoemaker full at work. His produce appears to be of the most solid kind, highly illustrative of the old maxim that there is nothing like leather. We almost fear the whole show is too much of the prosaic, leathery kind ; but a short walk around the building and a glance at the catalogue of contents proves that precisely the contrary is the case. The number of ex- hibitors, we find, amounts to 633 ; and no less than 220, or more than a third of them, have contributed artistic objects. Many of the latter are very curious, reminding us strongly of one of the most noticeable features of former industrial exhibitions, namely, the tendency of working men to excel in matters not within their peculiar province of labour. Perhaps it is a tendency of mankind in general; but it is certainly developed to an extraordinary degree by the British worker, if these shows can be taken as a criterion. Among the 220 contributors of artistic objects here, there does not
seem to be a single artist. A brushmaker sends oil-paintings of his own; a railway-porter, pencil drawings ; a hairdresser, plaster sculpture ; a hatter, views of Switzerland ; and a trunkmaker, water-colour pictures. Most of these works of art are very credit- able, considering that the authors were self-taught ; though truth compels us to say that some few approach the grotesque. Right in the centre of the hall there is a piece of wood-carving labelled " figure of a child," but which looks more like the figure of a Hindoo god. On the other hand, there are not a few paintings, as well as pieces of sculpture, far above the average of amateur work, and showing very remarkable talent. Among these are some water-colour drawings by an exhibitor described as "labourer."
The whole of the exhibited articles are divided into four classes,
,the " artistic," " mechanical," " general," and " fabrics and fancy -work." The first is—curiously enough for a " working-man's " ex- hibition—the most numerously represented, counting 220 contribu- tors; while the mechanical class has 110, the general class 126, and the class of fabrics and fancy work 74 exhibitors. In the mechanical class the models predominate, for the obvious reasons of limited time and capital. Here, as well as elsewhere, the mere shopkeeping ele- ment is strictly excluded by one of the chief rules of the promoters of the show, which orders that " no article be exhibited which is not the work or design of the exhibitor." As a necessary consequence of this exclusion of dealers, and the inability of the workers them- selves to produce costly goods on speculation, we find, besides models, but small articles, such as brushes, dressing-cases, chairs -and tables, and similar objects. But some of these, objects, as >well as nearly all the models, are remarkable in more than one respect. A bootmaker's apprentice exhibits the, working model of a steam-engine ; a hatter, an " improved rat -trap ;" a railway pointaman, a "musical squirrel cage ;" and a carpenter, a small; machine intended " to give an idea of perpetual motion." It is pleasant to see that even such a very old "-idea " as that of " perpetual motion," continues to live in the midst of -such a very young thing aea working-man's show.
The third class of the exhibition, the -" general," contains no- thing very striking or noteworthy ; but the more curious is the fourth, if not on account of the objects at least of the makers. A great number of these are women, marshalled in due order as "married " and "unmarried,"—which seems a very sensible way of -doing business. " Penelope Anderson, unmarried," has a glass case of crotchet and embroidery work ; while " Harriet Green, married," shows "a penwiper made from a snip of ,King Bonny's coat." We suppose the " King Bonny" here brought into fame is the same dusky sovereign otherwise known as King Peppel of Bonny, who keeps a poet-laureate somewhere in Lincolnshire. It is odd,, however, to find a " snip " of His Majesty's coat wafted to Lam- beth to become a penwiper. The other articles shown by fair, exhibitors are of a less mysterious kind. " Julia Howe, un- married," has "a boy done in crotchet work," evidently a labour of love ; while "Sophia Gothard, married," shows a more prac- tical hearth-rug ; and " Harriet Still, widow," a still more practical patchwork bed-cover, "made out of woollen shirt-cut- tings, 1,382 pieces herrinboned together." Here is the quint- essence of industrial skill, and of mechanical genius struggling under difficulties Our whole complex civilization seems reflected in the widow's process of exhibiting some thousand cuttings and pieces " herrinboned together."
It is with a real feeling of satisfaction that we leave the South London Industrial Exhibition. Perhaps some things in it will create a smile, yet the whole, for all that, is living proof of a most im- portant movement now going on in the very midst, at the very basis,.ef English society. It is the great principle of co-operation which clearly manifests itself at this industrial show. One day —and the time probably is not far off—these working-men, who now show their models in the dried-up bath, will club their pence and shillings together, and throw their brains and arms together, and their models will grow into engines, into houses; bridges, ships, and railways. Already they co-operate, but in a hazy, indistinct manner, much obscured by theology and philan. tbropy. The road nevertheless is clear enough, and no less clear that out of co-operation will grow one of the greatest social revolutions of modern times.