Shirley Brooks, was born in London on 29th April 1816. He was trained for the law by his uncle, Charles Sabine, and in 1838 was among the first four passed by the Incorporated Law Society. By this time Brooks had acquired a strong interest in writing and began having articles published in Ainsworth's Magazine. Over the next six years he established himself as a journalist by working for journals such as the London Illustrated News and The Era. Angus Reach, editor of Man in the Moon, also published Brooks' work.
Brooks also began writing plays. According to Henry Mayhew: "As a dramatist he frequently achieved considerable success, without, however, once making any ambitious effort - such as, for example, producing a five-act comedy. His first play, The Creole, or, Love's Fetters, was produced at the Lyceum on 8 April 1847 to marked applause. A lighter piece, Anything for a Change, was staged at the same house on 7 June 1848. Two years later, on 5 August 1850, his two-act drama, Daughter of the Stars, was acted at the New Strand Theatre. The Great Exhibition of 1851 occasioned The exposition: a Scandinavian sketch, containing as much irrelevant matter as possible in one act, which was produced at the Strand on 28 April in that year. In association with John Oxenford, he supplied to the Olympic, for performance on 26 December 1861, an extravaganza, Timour the Tartar, or, The Iron Master of Samarkand. Among his other dramatic pieces may be mentioned The Guardian Angel, a farce, The Lowther Arcade, Honours and Tricks, and Our New Governess."
In 1848 Brooks was rewarded with a permanent post with the Morning Chronicle. The following year Henry Mayhew suggested to the editor, John Douglas Cook, that the newspaper should carry out an investigation into the condition of the labouring classes in England and Wales. Cook agreed and recruited Brooks to a team that included Mayhew, Angus Reach and Charles Mackay. Brooks concentrated on the agricultural districts and he discovered a great deal of inadequate housing, seasonal unemployment and inadequate incomes.
In October 1849 he wrote about the housing conditions in pit villages: "The houses of the pit village may, be divided into three classes. Those of the lowest class usually contain only one room; those of the second contain a large room and an attic. The best houses consist of two rooms on the ground floor, with generally an attic over one of them. In all cases, the sitting room door is the street door. More than one half of the pit population virtually live - each family - in a single room. Here is bedroom and kitchen - here the men and the boys, on their return from the pit, wash their almost naked bodies, too often in the presence of growing-up daughters and sisters and here too the women dress and undress. The men say they cannot wash upstairs, as the water would plash through the frequently warped flooring down upon the furniture, and perhaps the bed below."
In 1851 became a staff writer for Punch Magazine. M. H. Spielmann, who wrote a history of the journal, claims that Brooks was "perhaps the most brilliant and useful all-round man who ever wrote for Punch." Douglas Jerrold described him as the "most promising journalist of the day" and his editor, Mark Lemon, said in 1856 that "Shirley's pen is the gracefullest in London".
For over twenty years Brooks wrote Essence of Parliament for Punch Magazine. He also continued to contribute to the London Illustrated News. Other books by Brooks included Amusing Poetry (1857), The Silver Cord (1861), Follies of the Year (1866) and Sooner or Later (1868).
When Mark Lemon died in May, 1870, Brooks was appointed editor of Punch Magazine. Shirley Brooks held the post until his death on 23rd February 1874. Brooks is buried at Kensal Green close to his friends, Henry Mayhew, John Leech and William Thackeray.
In the north-eastern corner of England lies the great carboniferous deposit which supplied in 1845 eleven-twelths of the entire mass of coal burned in the grates and furnaces of the kingdom. Between the Coquet and the Tees run the Tyne and the Wear, draining the broadest and richest portions of the coalfield, and on their banks lie scattered the oldest, deepest and the most extensive pits. Like almost all coal deposits, the strata forming the Newcastle field "dip" to a common bottom, somewhat in the manner of a basin, and of this basin, the centre, and therefore the deepest point, lies the sea coast hard by Sunderland.
The houses of the pit village may, be divided into three classes. Those of the lowest class usually contain only one room; those of the second contain a large room and an attic. The best houses consist of two rooms on the ground floor, with generally an attic over one of them. In all cases, the sitting room door is the street door.
More than one half of the pit population virtually live - each family - in a single room. Here is bedroom and kitchen - here the men and the boys, on their return from the pit, wash their almost naked bodies, too often in the presence of growing-up daughters and sisters and here too the women dress and undress. The men say they cannot wash upstairs, as the water would plash through the frequently warped flooring down upon the furniture, and perhaps the bed below.
When a young couple get married they generally go to a furniture broker in Newcastle or Sunderland, with perhaps £10 of ready money, obtaining a considerable part of their purchases upon credit, and paying for it by installments.
The exact local population in each of the Pottery towns appears by the last census to be as follows: Stoke-on-Trent (8,391); Hanley (10,185); Shelton (11,836); Longton (12,407), Fenton (4,923); Burslem (16,090) and Tunstall (6,945). The house accommodation of Longton is inferior to the standard of most others. Filthy and crowded courts - ill-arranged, undrained and irregular streets - and expanses of half waste-land, covered with rubbish and cinder-heaps, patched with neglected gardens, piled up with broken saggars and smashed fragments of pottery, all bear testimony to the hastily ill-built, and ill-laid-out town.
Perhaps the best specimen of a pottery village is to be found in Etruria. The characteristically named hamlet, which is indebted for its classic appellation to the founder of the great pottery firm of Wedgwood, is situated in the township of Shelton, upon the banks of the canal which connects the waters of the Trent and Mersey. The village is entirely the property of Messrs. Wedgwood, and is almost wholly occupied by the working people in their employment.
The accidents in mines produced by atmospheric causes, are usually most numerous in warm weather, because the temperature of the air of the pit being then more equable, the difficulty of causing a column of fresh air to descend is very much increased. In all deep mines and especially in working at a distance from the shaft, the Davy lamp is uniformly used. It will, however, astonish many persons to learn that during the eighteen years previous to 1816 when the safety-lamp was introduced, the loss of life in the counties of Northumberland and Durham by explosion was 447, whereas during the 18 years subsequent to 1816, the amount of loss of life in this way was 538 - the difference being accounted for by the working of the many "fiery Collieries", previously inaccessible; by the neglect and carelessness of the workmen themselves in the management of their lamps; and by the too frequent relaxation of ventilation measures that were previously rigidly carried into effect.
With respect to accidents of all kinds in collieries, I transcribe a table given among the results of one of the parliamentary inquiries into the subject, detailing the number of fatal accidents during the year 1838, and applying to 55 mining districts:
Type of Accidents
By falling down shafts
Breaking of ropes
During the time of ascending and descending shafts
Fall of stones and coals
Various injuries in coal pits
Explosions of gas
Explosions of gunpowder
By traffic and waggons