Get random musings about London's history. London Historians is the all-of-London historical association for all who are interested in our city's rich story. We’ll also feature tons of useful information on the web site to give you a single launch pad to everything you want to find out about London’s history.
Although most but not all London Historians are interested in the early modern period, the three books described here contain information that will be valuable for all historians. They are all rich resources that cater to historians of many persuasions, academic and not. At least one author, Miranda Kaufmann, is a London Historians member herself. In fact her book is offered as this month’s London Historians book prize. Stephen Alford speaks at length about Sir Thomas Gresham, whose London College is the site of the LH annual lecture. Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson are regular (and highly recommended) speakers in the area. I was privileged recently to spend a day with them at the Weald and Downland Living Museum (http://www.wealddown.co.uk/) where they presented a wealth of information about early modern wills and inventories. Each of these writers works on topics of significant interest to the London Historians and I encourage our members to keep an eye out for their works and for their public presentations.
Miranda Kaufmann undertakes a detailed study of the presence of Africans in early modern England, a population that many people have believed were absent. Drawing from a range of documentary sources (many found in London), she provides a series of biographies that range far more broadly across London society than one might anticipate. There were a number of African musicians, for instance, who received considerable acclaim (and wages) for their work. Somewhat surprisingly, Africans were often prized for their skills at swimming, since Englishmen were less likely to be able to swim. This section is rather poignant, since Kaufmann notes that one reason English sailors could not swim was the desire for them to drown quickly if they fell overboard, since no one was going to attempt to save them. She also talks about entrepreneurial Africans and dispels the assumption that all African women in England would have been prostitutes, although she does discuss the sexual abuse and enslavement of Africans. The author has been speaking regularly since this book appeared, for good reason. She offers an articulate and illuminating account of a group many people did not know inhabited England during this time. London Historians should be pleased to have such an informative book offered by one of its members.
Stephen Alford’s book is also very interesting and well-written. It offers much to appeal to London Historians since, in addition to the focus on Thomas Gresham, he spends considerable time discussing the development and importance of the Livery system within the City of London. Members who have been visiting the Livery Halls with our group will find much to recognize here as Alford describes the ways that the Livery contributed to individual and communal lives during this period. Like the other authors in this review, he provides considerable evidence from wills and inventories, which helps make this volume useful even for those working outside this historical period. Similarly, his account of London’s rapid growth during this era, despite the devastation caused by illness introduces pertinent information about immigration and international trade that could be valuable for those interested in a variety of topics. This is a fascinating book that offers a great deal of historical research in a readable format.
Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson also keep their readers firmly in mind as they present a wonderfully well-illustrated account of daily life in the early modern period. Like their workshop, the book discusses topics both large and small and encourages you to think about early modern England with a new attention to detail. Ear cups (for cleaning said orifices) and toothpicks, for example, were often intricately carved, but rarely listed in inventories or wills. Kaufmann, notably, makes a related point when she indicates that animals were often named on farms, but those names only occasionally were listed in wills. This book about daily life brings a number of such ordinary items and tasks into focus and helps modern audiences better understand what the daily lives of these people looked and felt like. The documents they use for this study would be helpful in a number of inquiries and they do an excellent job of setting out the strengths and weaknesses of using different kinds of evidence for a range of investigations.
These three books all offer excellent bibliographies and lists of sources, so would be valuable for those sections alone. They each provide new perspectives on London during this time frame and complement each other well. None of them treads on the others’ territory, but they each tell fascinating stories that intersect with things that many LH members appreciate.
As a great admirer of Wyndham Lewis’s art, I was delighted to see his portrait of TS Eliot at the Royal Academy of Arts, on loan all the way from Durban, South Africa.
It is part of the 250th anniversary of the Academy’s Summer Exhibition, a retrospective being held concurrently with this year’s show: The Great Spectacle.
This painting caused great controversy when the Academy rejected it for the 1938 Summer Exhibition. Many of Lewis’s peers were incensed, including Augustus John, who resigned his membership of the R.A. over the issue. His resignation letter is also on display.
Eliot liked the portrait, but a possible reason the work was rejected was that both artist and sitter had a somewhat jaundiced view of the Academy. There are some choice quotes here.
I’ve only mentioned Wyndham Lewis once before on this blog and then only in passing in a piece about David Bowie’s personal collection. Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882 – 1957) was a Canadian-born artist and intellectual, active in the first half of the 20th Century. He served with distinction in WW1 as an artillery officer. Before the conflict he had been a member of the Camden Town Group and was active in the Vorticist movement (who expounded a sort of hybrid of Cubist and Futurist styles), being a contributor to its magazine, BLAST. Lewis was a combative critic of the intellectual Left in the 20s and 30s. In the early 1930s, like many at the time, he became admirer of Hitler, a position which had completely reversed by 1936. For the last years of his life from the early 1950s he was completely blind.
But back to the show. The Great Spectacle is indeed great and an most certainly an excellent spectacle. In the spirit of the Wyndam Lewis controversy, there is an amusing picture by Alfred Munnings (1878 – 1959, surely the best painter of horses ever) which takes the piss out of admirers of modern art.
The inclusion of this picture is significant in that Munnings, as outgoing President of the Academy, in 1949 famously made a drunken speech attacking modern art and its practitioners. Fortunately for us, it was recorded, but the Academy must have been rightly horrified.
So two of our best painters of the 20th Century attacking the Academy from opposite directions. They couldn’t win, really. But all credit to them for showing us their story, warts and all, through this superbly curated show, necessarily chronological, but paying close attention to genre. All the British greats are there, famous and obscure, men and women: some of your favourites are bound to be there.
The Summer Exhibition 2018 itself is a joy. I hadn’t been for over 25 years, but from my dim recollection of the previous occasion compared with 2018, I’m sure that this year’s show is superior in every way. Brighter, more variety, more imagination, talent. Many pieces are political, many quirky, lots are funny and indeed, some are all three. I particularly enjoyed the humorous homages of Tretchikoff’s Chinese Girl, but there is so much more to savour.
A big anniversary year for the Royal Academy, and they’ve played a blinder.
A guest post by London Historians member, Martyn Cornell, first published in our members’ newsletter from July 2014.
It is doubtful that many of the hipsters drinking their craft-brewed, hoppy IPAs in rough-walled, high-ceilinged pubs in Hoxton and Hackney realise that the beers they are sipping have their historical roots not very far away, and that the very first beers to be called IPAs – India Pale Ales – were made by East London brewers.
Abbott’s Pale Ale, circa 1850.
Pale ale as a style of drink seems to have originated as a country speciality, popular among the gentry, and according to one 18th century writer it only came to London in the reign of Queen Anne, when those same gentry began spending more time in the capital, bringing their tastes with them. The popular drink in the capital was and remained a type of well-hopped dark brown beer that would eventually develop into the style known as porter, because of its popularity with the street and river porters of London. However, some London brewers began brewing pale ales as well, and not just for the home market: there is evidence that the Fountain brewery by the Hermitage in Wapping was exporting pale ale (and stout) to the West Indies from early in the 18th century.
One point of difference between the export pale ales and those sold at home was that, in order to survive the journey overseas, the export ales had to be more heavily hopped – one third more hops was “absolutely necessary” for beer sent into a warmer climate, according to one writer in 1768 – and heavier hopping is what links those 18th century ales sent out on sailing ships to hotter climes and the sorts drunk today in craft beer bars.
Ale and beer were being exported to the East Indies as well by at least 1711, carried there in the ships of the East India Company, which had a monopoly on trade between India and Britain. The company allowed its commanders and crew to carry all sorts of goods out east to sell to Europeans settled in places such as Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, including furniture, china and, clothes, foodstuffs, wine and cider, as well as beer. A ship’s commander could make up to £12,000 a year from private business, and by 1784 it had become the usual (though illegal) practice for an East Indiaman captain to sell his command to his successor for between 4,000 and 7,000 guineas.
The East Indiamen, as the ships were called, loaded up at Blackwall, just down-river from the Isle of Dogs. Generally, it seems, and certainly by the end of the 18th century, the commanders and captains did not travel very far to buy their beer, getting it from the brewery founded in 1752 at Bow, just up the Lea, by George Hodgson. It seems it was not just Hodgson’s nearness that attracted the officers of the East Indiamen, and the way that his beers could be easily shipped down the Lea by barge, but also that he gave them lengthy credit of up to 18 months: since a round trip to India could not be done in much less than 10 months, this was very handy.
Hodgson is sometimes said to have discovered the need to heavily hop ale that was being shipped out east, but there is no evidence for this at all, and nor is there any evidence that his was the first pale ale shipped to India: he was just doing what every brewer knew needed to be done to export ale. But while other London brewers also exported beer to India, his became the best known. Although Hodgson sold porter as well as pale ale to the East Indiaman commanders, it was for pale ale that the Bow brewery became most famous, perhaps because only the soldiers and servants drank porter in India, while the officers and gentlemen drank pale ale. It even had a song written about it, “sung at many a pigstick party and race meeting in the thirties, forties and fifties”:
Who has not tasted of Hodgson’s pale beer
With its flavour the finest that hops ever gave?
It drives away sadness, it banishes fear,
And imparts a glad feeling of joy to the grave.
O! to drink it at morning, when just from our bed
We rise unrefreshed, and to breakfast sit down,
The froth-crested brimmer we raise to our head,
And in swigging off Hodgson, our sorrows we drown.
By 1813 the Bow brewery was selling 4,000 barrels of beer for export to the east. Four years later the brewery was rebuilt by Bow Bridge, 230 yards east of its original site, and where a pub called the Bombay Grab had been running since at least 1805. (The name of this now-closed pub almost certainly comes from an East India Company warship, the Bombay Grab, a three-masted armed cruiser of the Bombay Marine active in the 1780s, of which an oil painting exists in the British Museum. A “grab” was a two-masted Eastern coasting-vessel or galley, from the Arabic gurab.) The brewery was rebuilt again in 1821, at which point its owners, Frederick Hodgson and Thomas Drane, decided that they were now going to cut out the East Indiamen’s officers and ship their beer to India themselves, thus taking all the profits from the operation.
The Bow Brewery, circa 1928.
Unfortunately for them, the East India Company was so angered at this attempt to reduce the income of its ships’ commanders that it invited the brewers of Burton upon Trent to turn to the India pale ale trade. Within a few years Burton brewers such as Bass and Allsopp had captured the majority of pale ale sales in India.
Curiously, all this time the name “India Pale Ale” had still not come into use. Instead it was called “Pale Ale brewed expressly for the India market”, “Pale Ale as prepared for India” and similar circumlocutions. The first known use of the term “India Pale Ale” (or to be exact, “East India Pale Ale”) comes from a newspaper in Sydney, Australia in 1829, when it appears to be referring to a beer brewed by Taylor Walker’s brewery in Limehouse. The first known use of the term India Pale Ale in Britain does not occur for another six years, in an advertisement in the Liverpool Mercury newspaper published in 1835, though this time it was for Hodgson’s “very superior” East India Pale Ale, the London brewer evidently trying to get at least some of the Liverpool shipping trade otherwise easily supplied from Burton.
The trade for India Pale Ale at home, meanwhile, appears to still have been pretty limited. But in 1839 the railway arrived in Burton upon Trent, and within a couple of years the Burton brewers began shipping increasing quantities of their IPAs around Britain by rail – in particular to London, where IPA soon became popular with the middle classes. (One visible sign of this trade can still be seen down the east side of St Pancras Station, opposite King’s Cross Station, where the attractive arch-windowed frontage was once the stores for the Burton brewer Thomas Salt, with room for 20,000 barrels.)
London’s pre-eminence as the original home of India Pale Ale had now fallen away, helped by the fact that, unfortunately, Burton well-water, saturated with gypsum, or calcium sulphate, made a much better sparkling pale ale than London water, which is better suited to dark beers. Indeed, several big London brewers, including Charrington’s of Mile End and Truman Hanbury and Buxton of Brick Lane, had opened branch breweries in Burton to supply their pubs with pale ales, which is why many old Truman’s pubs still say on their stone frontages things like “London Stout & Burton Brewed Bitters”.
Meanwhile the firm that had once been synonymous with the Indian beer market faded into obscurity. From at least 1838 the Bow brewery partnership was known as Hodgson and Abbott, after apparently merging with Edwin Abbott of the Sun brewery in Wapping. It was “Abbott (late Hodgson & Abbott) by 1843, but by 1849 Edwin Abbott & Son, Pale Ale and Stout Brewers, were in business on their own at the Bow Bridge brewery. The operation was eulogised in 1861 by the comic writer Charles Stuart Calverley, who wrote a poem called Beer that began:
O Beer! O Hodgson, Guinness, Allsopp, Bass!
Names that should be on every infant’s tongue!
though while the last three were still huge names, the Hodgsons had been completely replaced at the Bow Brewery by the Abbotts at least 18 years before the poem appeared. In 1863 the concern became the Bow Brewery Co Ltd, and in 1869 it turned into Smith, Garrett & Co. In 1927 Smith Garrett was taken over by Taylor Walker of Limehouse. The Bow brewery was eventually demolished in 1933 to make way for London County Council flats.
Martyn Cornell is a historian of beer and brewing who likes to boast that he was born on the site of the former Upper Flask pub in Hampstead. He is a member of the editorial board of Brewery History, the journal of the Brewery History Society, and a founder member of the British Guild of Beer Writers. His publications include Amber, Gold and Black, a history of the beer styles of Britain (priced outrageously on Amazon at time of writing). Also Strange Tales of Ale, more than two dozen historical anecdotes involving beer, from flying mild ale to the D-Day troops in the drop-tanks of Spitfires to history’s most notorious brewer.’
Yesterday I went along to three exhibitions by City of London institutions which opened recently. All are well worth visiting; all are free.
Guildhall Art Gallery: Sublime Symmetry
This exhibition features the works of William De Morgan, the late 19th century London ceramicist, friend and collaborator of William Morris, GF Watts and many others. We are long-standing fans of De Morgan. The closure of a dedicated gallery in Wandsworth some years ago tragically meant that a huge collection of his work, which is owned by the De Morgan Foundation, has been kept behind closed doors. It’s important therefore to do all you can to get to this show. The theme is De Morgan’s background in mathematics, how that meshed with his interest in Islamic symmetical forms and from there informed his decorative work. The artist’s father and brother were both celebrated mathemeticians. Augustus De Morgan was the founding Professor of Mathematics at UCL, friend and correspondent of Ada Lovelace among others, and clearly a warm and funny character. It felt good to meet him. But of course, the stars of the show are De Morgan’s sumptuous, exquisite works. Vases, bowls, dishes, tiles all beautifully decorated with figures from nature and myth.
This runs until 28 October.
Guildhall Library: Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers
More a display than a full blown exhibition, this is the latest in the library’ series which features the City’s livery companies. This year celebrates the 450th anniversary of this company’s first Charter, granted by Elizabeth I 1568, although the company can trace its origins back to 1416. We are shown many objects from its collection, well complemented by items from the library as well. This includes probably my favourite, the so-called “Breeches” Bible from 1589, which was used for the administration of oaths. It is, of course, a late generation English bible before the advent of the Authorised Version (1611) and furhermore is the only example of a chained book in the library’s collection. In addition we have a trowel (of course), ledgers, ordnances and minute books, a loving cup and a portrait miniature of its most famous member, the playwright Ben Jonson who was a bricklayer before he made it big in the London theatre.
Runs until 31 August.
The ‘Breeches’ Bible, 1598.
Ben Jonson’s overdue subscription recorded as paid.
London Metropolitan Archives: Picturing Forgotten London
What I love about the LMA exhibitions – and this one is no exception – is that you see historical images that you’ve never seen before. Not one. This is remarkable considering the hundreds of London history books out there, not to mention what’s online. To choose one example, I thought I’d seen everything on frost fairs: not so!
The headline title is a broad topic indeed which features not forgotten London necessarily, but a London which simply no longer exists, whether the obvious things such a buildings, but also professions, animals, forms of government, everyday life, religion, commerce, housing, transport, technology, sport, food and welfare. The images which bring these themes to life – whether maps, engravings or photographs – are clearly heavily researched astutely chosen.
Warmly recommended. Runs until 31 August.
London’s last frost fair, 1814.
By the time this print was published, just few days later, the ice had melted, and the fair gone forever. London Bridge can be seen in the distance.
Rural Archway, 1841.
A winding lane with barns and a farmhouse. It is hard to imagine London’s built-up suburbs as open country but the last farms in the area only disappeared..
A guest post by LH Member Ross MacFarlane. First published in London Historians Members’ Newsletter from June 2014.
As incidents of Victorian London go, “The Great Stink” of June 1858 must be one of the most familiar: the merest mention of the words brings to mind cartoons of filthy water (such as the one shown, below) and, most famous of all, the disruption of debates in the Houses of Commons due to the stench wafting in from the river.
But away from Westminster, what was the experience like for other Londoners? Was the Great Stink as bad downriver as it was in Parliament? Here’s a description of Rotherhithe from June 1858, sweltering in the summer heat:
Rotherhithe, in common with all other Metropolitan riverside parishes, has suffered considerable inconvenience during the just elapsed month from the stenches arising from the filthy state of the Thames water. Perhaps in the annals of mankind such a thing was never before known, as that the whole stream of a large river for a distance of seven or eight miles should be in a state of putrid fermentation. The cause of the putrescency, and of the blackish-green colour of the water, is admitted by all to be the hot weather acting upon the ninety millions of gallons of sewage which discharge themselves daily into the Thames. Now, by sewage, must be understood, not merely house and land drainage, but also drainage from bone-boilers, soap-boilers, chemical works, breweries, and above all from gas factories, the last, the most filthy of all, and the most likely to cause corruption of the water. Should any person doubt this assertion, let him compare the foul black and stinking liquid of a sewer which passes by a gas work, with that of a sewer which receives only house and land drainage…
If you were any doubt about the effect of such proximity to the Thames during this period, this writer leaves you with little doubt how trying life was:
“It is quite impossible to calculate the consequences of such a moving mass of decomposition as the river at present offers to our senses…”
The author of this graphic account was not a noted author nor a campaigning journalist but Dr William Murdoch, then Medical Officer of Health for Rotherhithe, and his account of the summer stench of 1858 comes from his Report on the health of the area he submitted to the Parish of Rotherhithe for that year. It’s also one of the many accounts of life in London revealed through the Wellcome Library’s digitisation project, London’s Pulse: Medical Officer of Health Reports, 1848-1972.
Launched in late 2013, London’s Pulse brings together more than 5500 annual reports from Medical Officers of Health (MoHs) covering the City of London, 32 present-day London boroughs, their predecessors, as well reports from the London County Council and the Port of London.
The reports have been photographed cover-to-cover and turned into text using Optical Character Recognition. Along with the full text, around 275 000 tables have been extracted from the reports as individual files (downloadable as text, HTML, XML and CSV). All this data – as well as images of each page of every report – can be downloaded, freely, from London’s Pulse.
The website also includes contextualising essays from Dr Becky Taylor of Birkbeck and a detailed timeline, placing the reports amongst the forest of legislation which altered the responsibilities of MoHs.
Briefly summarised by Dr Andrea Tanner, MoHs duties – as required by law – “were to inspect and report from time to time on the sanitary condition of their district, to enquire into the existence of disease and into increases in the death rate, to explain the likely causes of disease in their area and to recommend measures to counteract ill-health”.
As such, analysing MoH reports allows us firstly to trace responses to the major infectious diseases of the 19th century, showing how disease outbreaks could quickly spread but yet, over time, how rates of morality gradually fell across the capital and such maladies as typhoid, smallpox and diphtheria gradually retreated from our streets.
At the same time, the responsibilities of MoHs increased: from their introduction following legislation in the 1840s and 1850s, the scope of their attention widened: from homes, to factories, to ports, to schools; to bakehouses, to dairies and to slaughterhouses – all would come under the gaze of the MoH and their growing staff of sanitation officials, school nurses and environmental officials. The amount of access obtained by the MoH and their staff to these differing kinds of properties illustrates why these reports tell us so much about the lives (and deaths) of previous generations of Londoners.
As such, the reports show just how much information can nominally come under the heading of “medical”: these reports have been used in the past for studies on such wildly differing topics as food and food safety; maternity and child welfare; health promotion; housing; pollution; manufacturing; shops and offices; sanitation; social care; civil liberties; demography; engineering and meteorological conditions. With the greater amount of access provided by London’s Pulse, we hope even more research topics may be added to this list – to take two examples, the London Sound Survey website has started to use the website to uncover what these reports can tell us about London’s attitude towards noise and the Municipal Dreams blog has incorporated data from London’s Pulse into its detailed accounts of the activities of municipal reformers.
As strong as these reports are as evidence, there are of course just one source on London’s health from the 19th century onwards. Given the local level these reports operate on, much supporting material for them can be found at London’s local studies libraries and archives and to promote London’s Pulse and flag up such material, the Wellcome Library held events earlier this year in association with local libraries and archives in Tower Hamlets, Kensington and Chelsea, Southwark and Camden.
But at the heart of the reports on London’s Pulse are the responses by MoHs and their staff to the health of their local populations. What comes through most of all from the reports is the MoHs attention to detail: their diligent reporting and statistical accounting of the well-being of their local area. Whether it’s in their intense detection into the exact site of a disease outbreak or even in risking injury when illegal traders respond angrily to their investigation of adulterated foodstuffs; MoHs and their staff respond to the challenges they face with a stoic sense of duty. With London’s Pulse we can look at London life through their eyes and see the problems these relatively unsung figures responded to and how they helped alter our city for the better.
Ross MacFarlane is Research Engagement Officer in the Wellcome Library, where he is heavily involved in promoting the Library’s collections. He has researched, lectured and written on such topics as the history of early recorded sound, freak shows and notions of urban folklore in Edwardian London. He has led guided walks around London on the occult past of Bloomsbury and on the intersection of medicine, science and trade in Greenwich and Deptford. As an archivist, he has worked at a number of London institutions including King’s College, Tate Britain, the Royal Society and the Reform Club. Whilst doing so he has handled a mermaid, discovered a lost alchemy manuscript written by Isaac Newton and found out almost too much about Henry Wellcome.
This post, first published in London Historians Members’ Newsletter of July 2014, was written by the late Helen Szamuely.
Not far from St John’s Wood underground station there is a street of fine houses, called Woronzow Road with a big plaque at one end of it. Under the portrait of a refined looking eighteenth century gentleman we find the following:
The road was named after Count Simon Woronzow Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1784 to 1806.
He lived in Marylebone and on his death in 1832 left a bequest to the poor of the parish. The money was used to build the St Marylebone Almshouses at the south-west corner of this road.
Though the road was named after the ambassador in 1843 the Russians took longer to erect a memorial to him:
Plaque unveiled 26 November 2002 by H. E. Grigori Karasin [Russian Ambassador to the UK] and the Mayor of Camden, Councillor Judy Pattison.
Gift of Peter the Great Company of St Petersburg to the citizens of Camden.
One can only hope that the citizens of Camden appreciated the gift and took some trouble to find out the story behind the brief summary.
Count Semyon Vorontsov came from a distinguished Russian family who had been involved in Russian politics and government for at least a couple of generations. His brother, Alexander, was ambassador in London from 1762 to 1764 and lived in Clifford Street, as at that time there was no permanent ambassadorial residence. He was merely 21 at the time of his appointment, which he owed partly to his uncle, Mikhail Vorontsov, the Grand Chancellor and partly to the fact that his sister, Elizabeth, was Peter III’s mistress. On his return to Russia he was created a senator and the President of the Board of Trade but he lost Catherine II’s favour and was retired, to return to state office in 1802 when Alexander I appointed him Imperial Chancellor. The Vorontsovs were supporters of Russian alliance with Britain and fervent opponents of Napoleon.
Their other sister, Ekaterina, whose married name was Dashkova, was a close friend of Catherine II’s and is sometimes referred to as Catherine the Little. Dashkova was by her friend’s side throughout the day of her coup in 1762 though her actual role has been disputed both by Catherine and by her various favourites, the Orlovs and, especially, Prince Potemkin whose enmity towards the Vorontsovs prevented the family’s advancement. Dashkova, though consistently loyal to the Empress, found it prudent to go on an extended European journey in 1768. Unlike many educated Russians she had a strong partiality for Britain over France and spent time in various parts of it, including two years in Edinburgh, where her son was educated. Some sort of reconciliation between her and Potemkin was arranged when her son became the prince’s adjutant and Dashkova herself returned to St Petersburg to become the Director of the Imperial Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1782 and the first President of the Russian Academy in 1784 where she initiated the 6-volume dictionary of the Russian language and even wrote part of it. Her subsequent relationship with the Empress remained stormy though not unfriendly but she was much hated (as were all Catherine’s favourites) by the Emperor Paul.
Semyon himself resigned from the elite guards regiment in 1773 because of his dislike of Potemkin, by now a Lieutenant-General, who then ensured his “exile” to London, where he became ambassador in 1784 and remained in the post with brief interruption till 1806, staying in London even after his retirement.
By this time the Russian ambassador had a permanent residence in 36 Harley Street, acquired by the Russian Treasury in 1779 for £6,000 and, it seems, a separate embassy was also functioning at 32 Welbeck Street, which also had a Russian chapel. The staff of the embassy consisted of 6 people, one Counsellor, 2 Titular Counsellors, 1 translator and two students or actuaries, which makes one wonder whether the concept of interns had not been started by the Russian diplomatic service. There were constant arguments about payment. Under Peter, Secretaries had been paid 300 roubles and this was increased under Elizabeth to 400 – 600 roubles, with Catherine keeping to that rate till 1790s when it was increased to 2,500 roubles for Secretary and 1,000 roubles for other employees. (In 1773 the exchange was 4.5 roubles to £1.)
The ambassador also had a country house, though this was rented, in Richmond and various Russian visitors to London, such as the great Russian historian Nikolai Karamzin, described staying there as well as visiting the Harley Street residence. Another man who stayed at the Richmond house was Vasily Malinovsky (1765 – 1814) who had been appointed to the embassy, astonishingly enough, because of his good knowledge of English and who imbibed many English political ideas while here. In the Richmond house he wrote the first part of his book, Thoughts on War and Peace, eventually published in Russia in 1802.
Vorontsov managed to build up a large network of political and social friends and allies. He cultivated journalists and his social skills came in very useful in 1791 when he was instrumental in preventing Pitt from arming a naval squadron to compel Russia to return the Ochakov fortress to Turkey. Vorontsov was close to Fox and the Whigs and, with the help of his Chargé d’Affaires and interpreter, Vasili Lizakevich, rallied support in the City, as ever, not much in favour of a war with Russia. Realizing that even his own people were divided on the subject, Pitt backed down in the House of Commons and Vorontsov could proudly explain that:
“Ink and paper proved mightier than Prussian steel and British gunpowder.”
To be fair, the fact that the navy was not in favour of the proposed expedition helped.
In April of that year Pitt despatched William Fawkener as a secret emissary to St Petersburg but both he and the envoy, Charles Whitworth, had a difficult time with the Empress who preferred to deal with Robert Adair, Fox’s secret emissary who had been recommended by Vorontsov but whose mission could well be interpreted as being near-treasonous.
As countries changed sides during the prolonged war, Vorontsov signed a trading convention between Russia and Britain as well as an alliance against revolutionary France despite which Russia and Britain found themselves at war some years and as allies in others in the space of two decades. In 1800, for example only the priest of the Russian Embassy Church, Jakov Smirnov, was in residence as a chargé d’affaires, as the two countries were nominally at war.
Vorontsov remained ambassador for some of Paul’s reign, was dismissed when Paul drew closer to France, had his estates confiscated as he refused to return and was reappointed by Alexander I. In 1806 he retired but remained in England till his death in 1832. Letters from him in the Lilly Library Manuscript Collection are addressed from Harley Street, Welbeck Street, Berners Street as well as Richmond and Southampton.
Both Vorontsov’s children were brought up in England and his son, Mikhail (1782 – 1856), who went back to Russia to a glittering military and political career, becoming Viceroy of New Russia and the Caucasus, a prince and a field-marshal, was usually described as “a dry phlegmatic milord”. Curiously enough, he married Elisabeth (Lise) Branicka, the daughter of Potemkin’s favourite niece and reported mistress, Sashenka Branicka. Mikhail Vorontsov was also one of the many important men in Russia to be cuckolded by the great poet and ladies’ man, Alexander Pushkin, quite possibly the real father of one of the Vorontsov daughters.
Semyon’s daughter, Catherine (1784 – 1856), stayed in England and became the second wife of George Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke, with whom she had six children, including a son, Sidney, who became the Secretary at War during the Crimean War. His mother and uncle died in 1856 but there is no record of their feelings on such a curious turn of affairs.
Vorontsov died in Mansfield Street, leaving in his will £500 to the poor of St Marylebone parish, which was used to build the Almshouses in St John’s Wood Terrace in 1836 (they were rebuilt at the same address in 1965 and are still used for sheltered housing). He was buried in the Pembroke vault in the crypt of St Marylebone Church. The entrance to the crypt was bricked up in 1853 but in 1980 a decision was taken to reuse it. In 1983 all the bodies were removed to Brookwood cemetery as the crypt was turned into a healing centre. The memorial in the cemetery records the date of the removal but not the individual names, which are listed in the parish office of St Marylebone. The Russian topographical historian, Sergei Romanyuk, waxes indignant in his book Russian London about the Pembroke family not removing Vorontsov’s remains before the removal to Brookwood. The likelihood is that they did not know this was going to happen. Others have not forgotten. The road named after him is still there and now there is a memorial presented by the Peter the Great Company to the citizens of Camden and erected jointly by the Russian Ambassador and the Mayor of Camden.
Helen Szamuely, who passed away in April 2017, was a Founder Member of London Historians.
A guest post by London Historians member David Brown. This article was first published in London Historians Members’ Newsletter from June 2014.
I live close to Belsize Park, a largely Victorian residential suburb in North London with a tube station on the Northern Line. Walk around today and it is a rather pleasant place to live and visit – but you will also find the footprint of the earlier and rather grander history of the area, based around what was the grandest house in Hampstead. The street layout today echoes the grand gardens that were visited by
Sam Pepys and John Evelyn. It’s an area really worth visiting.
The name of the area comes from the old French “Bel Assis” or beautifully situated, referring to its geographical position on Haverstock Hill with views out over the City of London. It has had a long association with Westminster Abbey who received fifty-seven acres of Hampstead land in 1317 from Sir Roger le Brabazon, who was Lord Chief Justice for King Edward II. Westminster Abbey leased the land to a stream of different landowners, and the first grand house is thought to have been built in 1496, and became the home of the Waad family (the most famous member is probably Armigell Waad who thought to have been an early visitor to North American, travelling to Newfoundland in 1536) . The house was rebuilt several times – in 1663 by Colonel Daniel O’Neil. His son Lord Wotton improved the house by adding a large park possibly employing John Tradescant the younger to do so – it certain impressed Sam Pepys who visited on 17th August 1668 reporting the gardens “too good for the house … the most noble that ever I saw, and brave Orange and Lemon trees”, although John Evelyn by contrast was unimpressed – he found the gardens ill-kept and the soil “a cold weeping clay”. The gardens also boasted lakes made from a tributary of the River Tyburn that rises in the area.
Belsize Park on Roque’s map of 1746.
New life to the house and park came in 1704 when they were leased by entrepreneur Charles Povey. He turned the house into a public attraction, with music, dancing and gambling. The gardens were used for deer-hunting, horse racing, and even footman racing. Belsize Park became well known as a Pleasure Garden well before Ranelagh and Vauxhall Gardens opened. The Prince and Princess of Wales visited in 1721, and this stamp of approval led to huge attendances – with over 300 coaches a day visiting the gardens. The management also provided a dozen sturdy armed guards to protect visitors as they travelled between Belsize Park and London. The resort faced the same difficulties as other resorts and became known as a “scandalous and lew’d house” leading to its closure by local magistrate in the 1740s. Early maps of the area show the house and the boundary of the old house – and a painting exists showing the original estate.
View of a House and its Estate in Belsize, Middlesex 1690, b, Jan Siberechts – Tate Britain.
The house was rebuilt in 1745 as a private house. The only Prime Minister to have the misfortune to be assassinated, Spencer Perceval lived here with his family from 1798 to 1807 – he is remembered in the modern street Perceval Avenue close to this spot. The house was rebuilt again in 1812, and survived until it was demolished in 1853. It was incidentally on the route of one of Charles Dicken’s regular walks – and he wrote about a murder that took place on Cut-Throat lane – a path that skirted the park on the east.
Today there are two small remainders of the park – an old mulberry tree in the garden on the site of the house, and a part of the brick wall of the original estate (not easily visible from the public road).
Belsize Park is famous for the rather grand houses built by builder and speculator Daniel Tidey. He started building in this area in 1856, and finally overstretched himself in 1869 when he was bankrupted. Tidey houses are large (6 to 8 bedrooms), typically semi-detached villas and were built for well-off people such as merchants, and professionals. They were built to a fairly standard design with white stucco, and many have a large bay at the back in the main reception rooms – a Tidey introduction intended to be used for the grand pianos that were become widely used in this period.
Typical Daniel Tidey “Belsize Park” houses.
The House and Park became Belsize Square – a large rectangular space, surrounded by Tidey Houses, with the local church at the north end . The church St Peter’s Belsize Square (architects J P St Aubyn and W Mumford) was completed in 1859. The name of the church is linked to Westminster Abbey – as it provided the land. The church was largely paid for by the first Vicar – Rev Dr Francis Tremlett, who also paid for the building of a massive vicarage (now demolished) at the southern end of the Square. Tremlett is an interesting character – travelling to the US when young to preach to the poor, he met his wife who provided his money, returned to the UK to become Vicar of St Peter’s, and remained Vicar for overr over 50 years. He was quite a character, being one of the strongest supporters of the South in the US Civil War. He was a key player lobbying the government to support the South, and the vicarage became known as “The Rebel Roost” as many Confederate Officers spent time staying with him in Belsize Park – including the Admiral and Officers of the CSS Alabama when it was sunk off the coast of Cherbourg in 1864. After the war he was visited by Andrew Davis the Confederate President.
To learn more about the local area, it is very well documented, and you can read about the details in the Streets of Belsize edited by Peter Woodford and revised by Christopher Wade, Camden History Society, 2009. The area also benefits from two local history DVDs, The Belsize Story Volume 1 and Volume 2 both with commentary by Fiona Bruce, and produced by film producer David Percy.
David Brown is a historian, genealogist and London Walking Guide. David is also available to provide customised tours of many parts of London including the Belsize Park area. Camden Tour Guides Association runs regular tour guiding courses, and the next one will start in September – we welcome any historians who are interested in the London Borough of Camden, and would like to learn guiding techniques. You can find out more and apply at camdenguides.com.
“the liberty of the press is the birthright of a Briton, and is justly esteemed the firmest bulwark of the liberties of this country” ~ John Wilkes
Wilkes by Hogarth
In the immediate wake of the defeat of Leveson 2 in the House of Commons, it’s an appropriate historical coincidence that today is the 250th Anniversary of the St George’s Field Massacre, which occurred on 10 May 1768.
It resulted from the trial of John Wilkes for seditious libel for anti-government items – some pornographic – published in his magazine, the North Briton, in particular the notorious issue Number 45 from 1763.
During the trial a pro-Wilkes crowd assembled in St George’s Field in Southwark, swelling to an estimated 15,000 in number. The Riot Act was read and troops were called in. They opened fire on the throng, resulting in the deaths of at least six protesters with many more injured.
Wilkes paid his fine, did his time and decided to become an MP.
Spurned multiple times by Parliament, he instead built a successful political career in the City, eventually becoming Lord Mayor. It was here that he did his best work for press freedom. In 1771, several newspapers reported on the proceedings of Parliament. This was strictly against the law. In February, Parliament tried to arrest the printers of two newspapers in particular – the Middlesex Journal and the Gazetteer. Wilkes afforded them protection within the City. The Government, probably realising the effort to be futile, never really opposed Parliamentary reporting after this.
It was a key moment in the history of freedom of the press in this country. So let’s remember those who died on this day 250 years ago and reflect that freedom of the press was hard won.
A guest post by Caroline Derry. This article originally appeared in London Historians Members’ Newsletter from May 2014.
When Tsar Peter the Great visited London in 1696 to learn about shipbuilding and naval architecture, it was natural that he should stay in Deptford. After all, the town had England’s foremost Royal Dockyard, and was close to the Naval Hospital and Observatory in neighbouring Greenwich. The river offered easy travel into London. And conveniently, Sayes Court, the Deptford home of John Evelyn, had just become available to rent.
John Evelyn is best remembered today as a diarist, albeit overshadowed by his contemporary Samuel Pepys. Perhaps his greatest influence, though, was in gardening and forestry. As well as designing his own and friends’ gardens, he wrote horticultural works ranging from the Elysium Britannicum, a major (if unfinished) work of gardening history, to Acetaria: a Discourse of Sallets, devoted to salad plants but including discussion of vegetarianism and a selection of recipes. The work with which he was most closely identified was Sylva, a treatise on tree cultivation; he was later even nicknamed ‘Sylva’ Evelyn.
Sylva was the first book published by the Royal Society, in 1664. A learned and wide-ranging work on forestry, it aimed to encourage the planting of trees to replace those lost in the Civil War or cut down for industrial use. The practical purpose of this was made clear in the sub-title: A Discourse of Forest Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in his Majesty’s Dominions. The book proved a double success, not only selling well but also achieving its greater aim. Landowners answered Evelyn’s call to plant trees – and in doing so, they provided raw material for the ships which helped win the Napoleonic Wars nearly a century and a half later. In a foreshadowing of a popular phrase from that war, Evelyn had described the Navy as the nation’s ‘wooden walls’.
Meanwhile, Sayes Court was proving an ideal testing ground for Evelyn’s work on gardening, despite suffering from easterly winds. The nearby docks meant that foreign plants were readily available; the large site offered scope for ideas he had gathered on a grand tour of France and Italy. His ideas on creating naturalistic gardens probably influenced developments in landscape design which would come to fruition in the eighteenth-century work of Repton and ‘Capability’ Brown.
As well as private gardens with flowers, herbs and bee-hives, there were extensive grounds and an ornamental lake. It is no surprise that the author of Sylva included orchards and a grove of various tree species. A contemporary described the garden as ‘most boscaresque’, while Pepys enthused over its ‘variety of evergreens and hedges of holly, the finest things I ever saw in my life.’
The garden was Evelyn’s pride and joy: he had started planting it even before the purchase of the house was complete in 1652. Many illustrious guests came to Sayes Court to admire its gardens, and were generally welcomed by him. His diary for June 1685, though, records a more surprising would-be visitor:
A large whale was taken betwixt my land butting on the Thames and Greenwich, which drew an infinite concourse to see it, by water, coach, and on foote, from London and all parts. It appeared first below Greenwich at low water, for at high water it would have destroyed all the boats; but lying now in shallow water, incompassed with boats, after a long conflict it was killed with a harping yron, struck in the head, out of which it spouted blood and water by two tunnells, and after a horrid grone it ran quite on shore and died.
The gardens themselves later suffered a rather undignified experience at the hands of Peter the Great and his friends. Apparently more interested in heavy drinking than the appreciation of horticulture, the Russian visitors did a great deal of damage to the property – but what seems to have upset Evelyn most was the harm to his holly hedge caused by the Tsar driving wheelbarrows through it. On 5 June 1698 he wrote:
I went to Deptford to see how miserably the czar had left my house after three months’ making it his court. I got Sir Christopher Wren, the king’s surveyor, and Mr. Loudon, his gardener, to go and estimate the repairs, for which they allowed £150 in their report to the Lords of the Treasury.
Peter the Great Memorial, Deptford.
Among the items to be repaired were 300 broken panes of glass, 170 feet of oak wainscoting, and 240 feet of fencing, as well as grease and ink damage to the floors. Damage to the furniture added another £133. Two months after Peter’s departure, the Treasury awarded Evelyn the then-enormous sum of over £350 in compensation.
While the physical injury to the prized holly hedge was seemingly not permanent, the injury to Evelyn’s feelings was more enduring. He would write in a subsequent edition of Sylva:
Is there under heaven a more glorious and refreshing object of the kind, than an impregnable hedge of about four hundred feet in length, nine foot high, and five in diameter; which I can shew in my now ruin’d gardens at Say’s-Court, (thanks to the Czar of Muscovy) at any time of the year, glitt’ring with its arm’d and varnish’d leaves? … It mocks at the rudest assaults of the weather, beasts, or hedge-breakers.
Sadly, drastic changes followed Evelyn’s death in 1706. The holly hedge could not mock the rude assaults of the expansion of the neighbouring dockyard or the replacement of Evelyn’s home with a workhouse. Sayes Court gardens have now all but disappeared. Most of the grounds are underneath Convoy’s Wharf (itself derelict pending a controversial redevelopment) although a small area survives as Sayes Court Park. Its ancient mulberry tree, now in poor health, may have been part of the original gardens.
Evelyn’s name is found in many Deptford street and place names, but his contribution to victory in the Napoleonic Wars is largely forgotten. His unruly tenant Peter the Great has arguably fared better, since his statue stands on the river front. However, its strange and unflattering portrayal of the Tsar makes it a rather mixed blessing!
Caroline – a long-standing London Historians Member – is the author of the Caroline’s Miscellany blog, which focuses on London history and ghost signs. She has lived in Deptford for over a decade, and is fascinated by its past and the physical traces which remain.
The Wandsworth Prison Museum was founded and has been run by a London Historians Member for the past 10 years. He is a serving prison officer at HMP Wandsworth. He has organised these on-site events during 2018.
WANDSWORTH PRISON MUSEUM
2008-2018 10th Anniversary Events
20.5.18 Boardroom Talk “ The Prison & the First World War” Spies, hangings,
Conscientious Objectors, Easter Rising.
8.7.18 “The Ronnie Biggs escape” (8.7.1965) External and internal wall walk
and talk during the history tour of the escape.
8.9.18 Boardroom talk “Wandsworth’s Last hanging and the end of capital punishment” (8.9.1961)
4.11.18 Boardroom talk “Oscar Wilde, his time at HMP Wandsworth”
The above events are taking place for a maximum of 20 per event, as part of a small scale celebration of 10 years of the Wandsworth Prison Museum.
The venue for the talks is the Governor’s Boardroom inside the prison but all groups will meet initially at the Wandsworth Prison Museum at 11am. The talks and one walk will be for approximately one hour.
As the venue is inside the prison, the following is needed to make a booking:
Name, address and date of birth of each visitor. Visitors must be over the age of 18.
One booking per person, which is not transferable as there may be a waiting list should any event be over booked.
Bookings can be made by emailing: Wandsworthprisonmuseum@hmps.gsi.gov.uk or in writing at Wandsworth Prison Museum, C/O POA Office, Heathfield Road, London SW18 3HS
The above is the current agenda, other events may be added if time and resources permit