Thursday, 18 December 2014

Duchess of Deptford

Hogarth's prints are full of detail, much of it significant to his eighteenth-century audience but obscure to the modern viewer. The current exhibition at the Cartoon Museum does a great job not only of showing many of Hogarth's works but also of explaining lots of those intriguing details. One which caught my eye was mention of Nan Rawlings, known as 'Duchess of Deptford' or 'Deptford Nan'. 

Nan's portrait features in the engraving The Cockpit, which gives a strong clue as to her unsavoury occupation. The cockpit was a venue for cock-fighting, and Nan was a cock-breeder and well-known figure on the fighting circuit. As her nicknames suggest, she was based in Deptford. 

There doesn't seem to be much more information available about Nan Rawlings. It's perhaps not surprising: although (as Hogarth shows) people of all classes attended cock fights, those who made their livings from the activity were not likely to feature in many histories. In fact, she may have been forgotten fairly soon after her death: by 1803, the 'Duchess of Deptford' was a title accorded to a lavishly-dressed figure in a print satirising the nouveau riche

In 1835, cock-fighting was banned by the Cruelty to Animals Act.  One suspects that Hogarth would have approved: The Cockpit is a depiction of the vice and degradation of its gambling audience, while his series Four Stages of Cruelty begins with its central character delighting in such animal suffering and ends with his executed body being dissected at Surgeons' Hall.
The Museum of London website has the image and a description

Hogarth's London continues at the Cartoon Museum, Little Russell Street, until 18 January 2015 and is well worth a visit. I attended with London Historians


deptfordpudding said...

There's a pub in St Albans which still has a cockpit, it's called The Fighting Cocks.

Stephen Barker said...

Thanks for the info and drawing my attention to the detail in the engraving, which I thought I knew quite well.

It is the paradox that the Eighteenth Century is often presented as the Age of Reason, style and civility yet that all seems a thin veneer or a society that was tough, cruel vulgar and bawdy.

Björn H said...

Do you know whether Cockspur Street gets its name from cock fighting? There used to be a pleasure ground there in Spring Gardens, so I believe that would be possible

CarolineLD said...

I believe it does but, unhelpfully, I can't remember where I read that.