Mrs Arnott at No 83
Margaret (“Meg”, “Maggie”) Arnott is not mentioned by name in Ulysses, but there are at least three reasons for including her here:
1) She ran one of the “disorderly houses” or brothels along Lower Mecklenburgh Street between Mrs Mack’s at No 82 and Bella Cohen’s at No 85;
2) She is frequently alluded to as one of Dublin’s foremost Madams;
3) Her maiden name was ‘Higgins’, and this may have influenced Joyce’s choice of Zoe Higgins’s name in Ulysses.
Furthermore, the story of her life – as far as it is known – throws considerable light on what it was like to be a brothel-keeper at the end of the nineteenth century.
Unlike Mrs Mack the hard-nosed businesswoman, Meg Arnott was frequently in trouble with the civil authorities – more often than not in cases involving physical assault and the rough-and-tumble of north Dublin streets. To some extent she seems to have thrived on notoriety. She did not own a large property portfolio, but she was reputed to have made a financial success of the business she did run.
Meg Arnott’s life and times
Soon after this, Bella Goad moved with her husband to England. The chart below plots Maggie Arnott’s own moves between 1881 and 1905, using Thom’s Directory as well as other records. From the house in Lower Temple Street she moves by 1881 into No 4 Lower North Cumberland Street, one of a set of four houses (No 1-4 Lower North Cumberland Street) subsequently acquired by Annie McEachern (Annie Mack) in 1886. Maggie Arnott retains the surname Arnott, though John Arnott seems to fade from the picture. The interaction of the various major characters in this small but powerful demi-world is a key aspect of these articles.
No 83 and No 84 Lower Mecklenburgh Street (adjoining Mrs Mack at No 85) were advertised for sale in 1887 and Maggie Arnott soon took up residence at No 83. She remains at this address until at least 1905.
(yellow = Thom’s Directory; brown = legal document; green = newspapers)
Life in Lower Mecklenburgh Street
By way of biographical information Maggie Arnott here offers the fact that she has been in Dublin for twelve years (she comes from Cork), and has never been inside a police station. We have, however, already seen that she has had several previous brushes with the law.
The sworn statement by her accuser in this case, Ninian Wildridge Woods, MRCS, is witnessed by one of his colleagues, Henry Noble. Two years later, in 1889, Maggie Arnott marries Henry Noble (son of James Noble, Gentleman) at St Thomas’s (Church of Ireland) parish church, though they seem to have had a common-law relationship for several years before this. Both give their address as 16 Lower Gardiner Street, one house up from her home address with John Arnott. Maggie Arnott provides her name as “Margaret Higgins (now Noble)” and her father as “Daniel Higgins, Civil Engineer”.
Her names now extend from Margaret Higgins, to Maggie Arnott, to Margaret Noble. The names Noble and Arnott are used interchangeably over the years in her Thom’s listing for No 83 Lower Mecklenburgh Street.
See Maggie Arnott’s marriage certificate, which includes her names “Noble” and “Higgins”.
But there was medical evidence that Polly Parker might have died from natural causes, and after her discharge and subsequent retrial Mrs Noble resumed her normal business.
In between her court appearances business must, however, have been satisfactory. At the same time the Dublin Corporation was starting to make serious efforts to clean up the area and legislation by the Westminster Government was generally making life more difficult for the Madams. At the turn of the century the Corporation introduced the Montgomery Street/Purdon Street Improvement Scheme. With each new restrictive measure the Madams found they had less room for manoeuvre. They had seen their heyday back in the 1880s.
Although Margaret Noble/Arnott does not state her age, we know from other sources that she was by now in her early forties.
Throughout this period Thom’s Directory lists her under the name “Mrs. Arnott”. Pressure from the Corporation must have been making itself felt, though. 1905 is the final year in which Mrs Arnott is listed by name at No 83 by Thom’s. After that, the property (like the others from No 82 to 85) are simply listed as “Tenements” as their use and condition changes. By 1918 they are listed as “Ruins”.
After the census
It seems that life had to change for Mrs Arnott. But things were not going to get any better for her before she slipped into oblivion.
1905 was an annus horibilis for Maggie Arnott. By now she seems to have left Dublin – or at least to be residing in Cork and in Bansha (County Tipperary). These are the latest residences she stated as she boarded the SS Majestic at Queenstown (now Cobh), southern Cork, bound for New York on 1 June. She says that she had previously visited the United States in 1902, and this time was en route to visit her step-son George Bartlett at 807 3rd Avenue, New York City. She describes herself as a ‘H[ouse]keeper’ and carries the princely sum of $2,500 (considerably more than most of her fellow passengers).
Freeman’s Journal (on the same day) reports that after the attack “a desperate struggle for life ensued”, and The Irish Times notes that Mrs Arnott had recently returned from America. The Mountjoy Prison General Register for 7 November, the day of the arrest, offers a glimpse of Maggie Arnott: she is registered under the name “Margaret Noble”, born in Queenstown, Cork, aged 42, of small stature at 5 feet one inch, weighing 106 lbs (7 stone 8 lbs). She has brown hair, hazel eyes, and a “fresh” complexion. Her next of kin is her sister Kate Higgins, whom she is accused of attempting to murder. Her occupation is listed as “Pros[titute]” and her religion “Roman Catholic”.
Ultimately life was not kind to Maggie Arnott, but then she had not been kind to life. She was an Irish girl who had the sound sense to establish herself in a profitable business, and she did not seek to extend that business into an extensive portfolio of lodging houses or brothels. She was apparently of striking appearance, but quick-tempered, and perhaps her temper was her downfall. For medical or psychological reasons she was adjudged “lunatic” at the time that her business faded. Her generation of lodging-house keepers or Madams was being rooted out by the authorities, and a new generation (including such ladies as May Oblong and Becky Cooper) was starting to take over.
This is the third of six related articles: Continued at:
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