Victorian graffito

Maker: Unknown proletariat
Obscene, Victorian graffito, c.1865
Slate on slate, 153cm x 122cm
19.5cm x 12.5cm
Museum no: I. 186

In the nineteenth century, slate was a commonly used material for roofs and walls alike. This slate wall panel contains a rare example of Victorian graffito. After the great slum clearances, many of these walls disappeared but, due to its subject matter, the item made its way to The Keeper’s collection.

John Addington Symonds, the well-known historian, refers to happening upon the emphatic diagram while wandering ‘the sordid streets’ of London. The encounter has such an impact on him that he describes it as ‘so penetrative a character – so thoroughly the voice of vice and passion in the proletariat – that it pierced the very marrow of my soul.’

The date of the piece coincides with an amendment to the Offences against the Person Act 1861, replacing the death penalty for buggery with ten years imprisonment.

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