‘We all have a book in us’ as the saying goes. There are some long-forgotten manuscripts in our collections written by various individuals that unfortunately never had the glory of going to print. A red-ribboned bundle titled In the House that Was caught my attention because its author Francis Carruthers Gould was the most celebrated of the Victorian political caricaturists. This was a time of peak popularity for the satirical cartoonist. Gould was part of a legendary group including Harry Furniss and Tom Merry. From the vantage point of Parliament’s Press Gallery, he observed the major debates of the era profiling the protagonists for a public demanding pith.
This blog will use Gould’s biography to transport us back to a halcyon age when the halls of power were crammed full of colourful characters. They’ll of course be a few of his cartoons to enjoy along the way. Always initialled FCG!
This blog was written by Richard Ward, Assistant Archives Officer.
Even though In the House that Was wasn’t published as a book it was serialised in the North Devon Journal. Indicative of the pride the region took from Gould’s accomplishments. He was a native of Barnstaple locally known as ‘Barumites’. Its early passages recalled rural aspects of nineteenth-century Devonshire life. Evoking memories of annual fairs where cattle competitions and boxing booths were commonplace. In adolescence he caught the drawing bug indulging a passion for ornithology by sketching different species of birds.
An interest in politicians was fuelled by the fever that gripped the town whenever elections were called. Candidates scrutinised at hustings became notepad fodder with their ‘Lord Handlebury’ style moustaches. A character study of a local gaoler reimagined as an elephant caused great hilarity as Gould’s precocious talent came to be recognised. The bank was his initial calling, but soon an opportunity to leave for the metropolis was taken.
Gould arrived in the capital at the age of 21 to fill a vacancy as a Stock Exchange broker. Working within the financial district he couldn’t fail to notice the boom in periodicals initiated by the trailblazing Punch magazine. This ‘New Journalism’ was causing quite a stir in London’s influential private members' clubs. It was reported that the Reform Club spent an unprecedented £300 a year on newspapers. At the newsstands a growing white-collar workforce were providing an untapped customer base for the industry.
The additional demands of marriage and subsequent fatherhood didn’t quell Gould’s enthusiasm for caricaturing. He gradually gained a reputation for drafting humorous sketches of banking colleagues that led to requests for private commissions. One of which was viewed by Horace Volies, editor of Truth who asked the budding caricaturist to contribute to their 1879 Christmas edition. The Barnstaple Boy finally had his foot in the door.
Worms on Hooks
As the next decade progressed Gould established himself on the scene to such an extent that he could give up his day job. As an increasingly regular contributor to the Pall Mall Gazette, he hit the jackpot with a series of sketches depicting Charles Parnell’s libel trial against The Times that he named ‘Simple Onion met the Pieman’. He explained his approach in In the House that Was via an angling analogy stating, ‘Put your worm on the hook as if you loved him’.
Unlike many of his contemporaries in the satire movement, Gould didn’t use politics as a stepping-stone to other things. A Press Gallery pass was a precious commodity he treated with reverence. When the Pall Mall Gazette was taken over by Conservative donor William Waldorf Astor in 1892, he decided to hand in his notice. Thankfully there were several editors ready to welcome him with open arms.
Pea Green Incorruptible
Edward T Cook was considered the smartest man in the room amongst the Fleet Street alumni. There was much excitement when he launched his own newspaper, The Westminster Gazette in January 1893. He cherrypicked the cream of the journalistic crop to be part of his editorial team including Gould whose remit was to produce a front-page cartoon for each issue. Its Liberal Party affiliations suited Gould’s allegiances, however, he resisted the temptation to go in too hard on the Conservative-Unionist leaders.
An evening daily, it was to be printed on green-tinted stock developed to ease the eyesight of readers heading home in badly lit railway carriages or omnibuses. This innovation was not well-received with Punch dismissively labelling it the ‘Pea Green Incorruptible’. At its height The Westminster Gazette had a 100,000 readership. Cook’s tenure finished abruptly yet Gould remained on board for nineteen years even compiling an annual album.
Magic Lantern Tour
What made Gould’s portfolio so distinctive was his unique ability to incorporate animal characteristics into Parliamentarian profiles. Thus, William Harcourt was depicted as a bloodhound while the features of an eagle were attached to Gladstone’s persona. His use of speech bubbles to burst the pomposity of political heavyweights like Austen Chamberlain was lauded. These methods helped take the sting out of the coverage of controversial events as seen in his Boer War cartoons. The conflict influenced ‘Oom Paul Refuseth the Lion’ regarded as his finest work.
A favourite past-time of Gould’s was touring the country with a magic lantern slideshow of his illustrations. Free from a sense of responsibility he revelled in the hospitality afforded upon him by his hosts especially ‘pleasant late suppers’. He was an aficionado of the hotel smoking-room and Town Halls blessed with suitable acoustics (Birmingham’s strangely had a ‘chilling effect’ that left him uneasy).
Collaborating with Saki
Famous writers of the period were intermittently employed by the leading tomes to add gravitas to the brand. Thackery, Dickens and Wilde all had stints on this well-trodden path. Fleet Street’s Cheshire Cheese tavern was a haven for these literary celebrities to produce their copy on the cusp of its deadline. At the Westminster Gazette the in-house auteur was cult novelist Hector Hugh Munro aka Saki. Munro also of Devonian roots forged an unlikely partnership with the down to earth Gould. For a brief sojourn they were a dream alliance exploring the unchartered waters of Parliamentary surrealism.
In 1902 this odd couple created The Westminster Alice a parody of Lewis Carroll’s fabled tale with the then Prime Minister, Marquess of Salisbury portrayed as the King of Hearts. Off the back of that success, they collaborated again on The Political Jungle Book as Rudyard Kipling’s classic was given the Gould/Saki treatment.
New Wine in Old Bottles
By receiving a knighthood in 1906 Gould had matched the achievement of his hero Sir John Tenniel whose illustrative genius in Punch inspired him to take a similar creative direction. Eight years later he announced his retirement. Asquith and Churchill now dominated the front pages with Gould surmising that they were simply ‘new wine in old bottle’s’. After the armistice he spent long lazy days visiting abbeys along the French coast. Returning to England to reside in the Somerset countryside where he passed away on New Year’s Day 1925.
The Wig and Pen Club on The Strand had survived fire, brimstone, and German bombs before closing its doors for good in 2003. The Guardian lamented the demise of this drinking den favoured by journalists with an article waxing lyrical about the sheer wonderment of the cartoons that decorated its walls. Notably many were signed, sealed, delivered by the iconic FCG.
In the House that Was by Francis Carruthers Gould, HC/LB/1/37/1-2, Parliamentary Archives
Westminster Cartoons, Francis Carruthers Gould, 1900, House of Commons Library Collection
Cartoons in Rhymes and Line, Francis Carruthers Gould & Sir Wilfrid Lawson, 1905, House of Commons Library Collection
Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain Volume 1, Stephen Koss
Story of the Pall Mall Gazette, JW Robertson Scott
Oxford Dictionary National Biography Volume 23 extract written by H.C.G Matthew
Wig and Pen Club Closure Article, The Guardian, 29th November 2003, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2003/nov/29/pressandpublishing.uknews