Punch Scholar

The Mayhew interview

In The Morning Chronicle on Thursday May 16, 1850, as part of a series of "letters" under the title Labour and The Poor, Henry Mayhew(1812-87) turned his attention to the Street Showmen and Performers which included an interview with "a Punch".

As he considered this a scientific exercise, categorisation was of some importance and the street performers were put into "divisions and subdivisions" with the class of Street Puppet-Shows consisting of "Punch, Fantoccini, Chinese Shades and Galantee Shows."

Mayhew describes the Punch showman he interviewed as a short, dark, pleasant-looking man, about 50 years old (The Preston Chronicle and Lancashire Advertiser, 1857). Mayhew mentions that he carried some Pandean pipes which, with a drum, had become the instrument used by Punch showmen after the trumpet had been banned from the streets of London.

Later, the following year Mayhew published his articles in the Morning Chronicle as a book, London labour and the London Poor (Mayhew 1851) in which he also included a script for the show and a wood engraving taken from a daguerreotype (an early type of photograph) taken by Richard Beard.

Whether or not the script and illustration pertain to the same person he interviewed cannot be known for certain, but it is certainly probable if you read the description of Mayhew's working process (Champkin 2007). One has to doubt whether he would have organised another Punch to pose for the photo and perform the recorded show.

For the Punch scholar the importance of this interview is that the information provided by the showman has proved to be entirely accurate and it gives quite a detailed account of the life and concerns of a Punch street showman of this second generation of performers - indeed one who actually bought Piccini's puppets and was taught by him to use the swazzle continuing on the tradition up to the 1850's and presumably beyond.

By putting together the snippets of information one can say; he was born at about the turn of that century, had spent his youth as a footman, then spent a couple of years as an assistant to a showman (from August 1825), bought Piccini's puppets and booth some time in 1828 when the elderly Piccini retired (He went into the Work House in 1831). In the interview he says he expected himself to die in the workhouse as well. He also states he was one of 8 showmen in London, with 8 in the rest of the U.K. (With one on his way to the Isle of Man at that time.). He insists they all knew each other and kept in contact; much as they still do today (Reeve, 2014). So this is an article to read, paying due attention to every detail.

Champkin J.(2007) Henry Mayhew: the statistical Dickens
Accessed from:
Newspaper article (1857) Mr. Henry Mayhew in Preston in The Preston Chronicle and Lancashire Advertiser, May 2. (see link above)
Leach, R. (1985) The Punch & Judy Show: History, Tradition and Meaning. Batsford.
Mayhew, H. (1851). London labour and the London poor: a cyclopaedia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work and those that will not work (Vol. 3). Cass.
Reeve, M. J. (2014). Contemporary Punch and Judy in performance: an ethnography of traditional British glove puppet theatre. PhD Diss, Royal Holloway College). [ Click here to open ]

Here in two parts is the scan of the original Morning Chronicle article.

[ Part 1] [ Part 2]

Later, in 1857, Mayhew toured Britain giving a lecture in which he discussed his research and included an account of the Punch show man. Here is a review of that lecture.

[ Click here to open a pdf ]

Above is a time line that investigates who was performing around 1850 according to various sources.
Click on the image to open a PDF of this.

In his book The Wassail Bowl, published in 1843, the author Albert Smith wrote of Punch and Judy.

[ Click here to read this ]