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Betting-Shops

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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Cross-genre i
Prose: Leading Article i
Prose: Report i
Prose: Short Fiction i
Subjects Associations; Institutions; Clubs; Labor Unions
Great Britain—Social Life and Customs
Popular Culture; Amusements
Sports; Games; Leisure; Pleasure; Hunting; Horse Racing; Gambling; Duelling
Details
Index
Other Details
Printed : 26/6/1852
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume V
Magazine : No. 118
Office Book Notes
Memo-
Columns7
Payment-
Views : 1829

Gambling was constantly on the political agenda during the 1840s and 1850s with a Gaming Act in 1845, the Betting Houses Act in 1853 and another in 1854. The 1845 Act was intended to unclog the legal system from the ever-growing number of cases involving gambling debts, but, 'as this meant that debts resulting from credit bets were no longer legally recoverably, the law inadvertently gave encouragement to cash betting offices' (R. Munting, An Economic and Social History of Gambling in Britain and the USA [1996], p. 23). By 1852 there was an increasing groundswell of middle-class public opinion critical of this development as reflected in an article, 'Betting Offices', in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, 24 July 1852 (pp. 57–8) and Cruikshank's pamplet The Betting Shop (1852), as well as Dickens's article. 


The Chambers article notes that 'an official appearance is always considered necessary' in such places: 'a partition, therefore, sufficiently high not to be peered over, runs midway across the shop, surmounted with a rail'. It also notes the 'speculative, May-fly offices, open today and shut tomorrow'. In a postscript to the second edition of his pamphlet Cruikshank writes, 'Since the foregoing was in type I have ascertained that there are now nearly three hundred betting shops in the city and the metropolis, independent of sporting public houses and beershops...' Such establishments were suppressed by the 1853 Act. 
      The 'sporting newspaper' Dickens quotes from at the beginning of this piece is Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle. The twenty-nine Tipster advertisements occupied a column and a half of broadsheet in the issue he specifies. The 'Sage' with 'his practised eye' traded under the name of 'John Nonpareil' and he is fluent for sixty-three lines (the advertisements generally average about twelve lines each). The 'moralist' invoking the New Testament was 'John Fairplay' of Ipswich, who quotes the injunction, 'Do unto others as you would be done by'. The 'Conquering Prophet' was a certain James Arkwright of Ipswich. 'Tip' in the sense used here was just entering the language and always appeared within inverted commas (OED shows 1888 as the earliest date the word was used without them); it is the Marshalsea's nickname of Little Dorrit's ne'er-do-well gambling brother in Dorrit. Towards the end of this article, Dickens looks forward, in his discussion of Parliamentary 'tipsters', to his next HW piece, 'Our Honorable Friend' [HW, Vol. V, 31 July 1852; see Headnote]. 

Literary allusions

  • 'Again the Conquering Prophet comes!': adapts, 'See, the conquering hero comes!' from Thomas Morell's libretto for Handel's Judas Maccabeus (1747); 
  • 'Pleased to the last...surely Done!': Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, Epistle I (1732), II. 83–4 ('Pleas'd to the last, he [the lamb] crops the flowr'y food / And licks the hand just rais'd to shed his blood'); 
  • 'establishment...like that of the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet': see Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 5, Sc. I. 
Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume III: 'Gone Astray' and Other Papers from Household Words, 1851–59 (1998). DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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