Adam’s Notebook
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Adam’s Notebook

Pickwick in Ipswich

I was wondering why Dickens sends Pickwick to Ipswich (of all places) in chapter 22 of Pickwick Papers, in order for him to get into a pickle with elderly widow Martha Bardell (a misunderstanding that eventually leads to her breach of promise suit), after which he, and she, are lectured by the local magistrate:

‘Bless my soul, ma’am, are you aware of the activity of our local magistracy? Do you happen to have heard, ma’am, that I rushed into a prize-ring on the fourth of May last, attended by only sixty special constables; and, at the hazard of falling a sacrifice to the angry passions of an infuriated multitude, prohibited a pugilistic contest between the Middlesex Dumpling and the Suffolk Bantam? A duel in Ipswich, ma’am? I don’t think — I do not think,’ said the magistrate, reasoning with himself, ‘that any two men can have had the hardihood to plan such a breach of the peace, in this town.’

Then I chanced upon John Glyde splendidly disapproving The Moral, Social and Religious Condition of Ipswich in the Middle of the Nineteenth-century (1850):

Bad, indeed, as the state of the population now is, we are informed, that it has so changed since the commencement of the century, that the most casual observer must admit the advance which has been made. Forty or fifty years ago, bull baiting was a favourite recreation among our inhabitants. In 1805 a bull was baited in the yard attached to the Fleece Inn, at that time kept by Richard Bedingfield. After this another was baited on the race course, on which occasion Mr. Ripshaw, the governor of the Borough Gaol, took a very active part. In the following year Mark Parsley, a well known character in Ipswich, purchased at Lavenham fair a bull for a similar purpose. This poor beast was first baited in a meadow between the river and the Royal William Inn, now used as a garden. It had afterwards to undergo another torment in a sand pit opposite the White Elm Inn; the quiet village of Kesgrave was next visited, and the bull baited in a valley opposite the Bell Inn; and finally it went to Brantham, at which place the leg of the poor infuriated animal was broken during the sport. It is evident, from the frequency of their occurrence, that the authorities took no steps to stop such brutal amusements. Cock fighting was also a very general amusement. Mains were fought, for considerable sums of money, during the race week for many successive years. Suffolk and Norfolk were frequently hacked for two guineas a side, and £25 the odd battle; Tim Micklefield being the man for Suffolk, and a Mr. Stradbolt for Norfolk. The fights lasted three days. A regular cock pit was constructed in some stables at the Cock and Pye Inn, and during the time Mr. David Evans was landlord, this place was the resort of the ‘fancy’ of this cast. A main was fought one year, at the Rose Inn, St. Peter’s; at another, Mr. Bowman’s new malting, in the Green Yard, was used for a three days’ fight. The Bell Inn, “St. Mary Stoke, the Halbert Inn, St. Margaret’s, and the Horse and Whiskey, in Lower Orwell Street, were also used for the same purpose. Badger baiting was occasionally practised at the Woolpack Inn; and dog fighting and pugilistic encounters were frequent . In fact , even within the last twenty years, scarcely a Saturday passed without some persons trying to settle their differences by the disgusting practice of a ‘ turn out’ [Glyde, 52]

A rough-old sort of town, back then, Ipswich, clearly.




Various jottings and thoughts.

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Links and References for Round.

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Adam Roberts

Adam Roberts

Writer and academic. London-adjacent.

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