Dec 282012
 

“All Mops and brooms” : to be intoxicated or half-drunk. Thought to come from the Mop Fairs held annually throughout the country since the Middle Ages, when women seeking employment as maids would look to be hired for the year, and would carry their mops and brooms to indicate their line of work.

“To go out on the mop” : to go out drinking – presumably because these Mop Fairs involved a lot of drinking and celebrating if you were offered employment for the year (and an even greater quantity of drinking if you were not…).

Mop Sellers, by Paul Sandby, 1759

So, what were the mops and brooms like in an 18th century household, and where did they come from? Earthen floors in humble hovels needed sweeping out, polished marble floors of fine houses needed mopping. Both implements were available from street sellers – the brooms using twigs (presumably not always from broom bushes), and the mops being made with heads of tied bunches of coarse yarn or string. Sometimes the person wielding the broom would lose her (or his!) temper and wave it at some unfortunate miscreant, whereupon the broom and the handle would part company (hence “flying off the handle”).

In the States brooms were transformed in 1797 when a farmer called Levi Dickenson from Hadley, Massachusetts, made a broom for his wife, using the tassels of a variety of sorghum (Sorghum vulgere), a grain he was growing for the seeds. It became known as broom-corn and no other material could compare with it because of its strong, fibrous seed branches. Mr Dickenson went into business and prospered greatly, and apparently the plant was widely grown throughout Illinois and Wisconsin throughout the 19th century.

And the mops? Generally home-made, and sold door-to-door, as in these illustrations from the 18th Century.

Broom Seller from a series of Street Cries of London, circa 1750.

“Old shoes for some broomes”  on the right and “Maids Buy a mop” on the left, (courtesy of the British Museum).

 

I rather like the Jonathan Swift verse from the poem ‘A Description of a City Shower’

          Brisk Susan whips her Linen from the Rope,

While the first drizzling Show’r is born aslope,

Such is that Sprinkling which some careless Quean

Flirts on you from her Mop, but not so clean.

You fly, invoke the Gods; then turning, stop

To rail; she singing, still whirls on her Mop.

The lines were illustrated in this 1754 picture painted by Edward Penny (like Paul Sandby, shown above, he went on to become a founder-member of the Royal Academy).

And I haven’t even started on witches’ broomsticks, or the phrase “jumping the broomstick” to describe a sham marriage ceremony. [O.K., the latter has African (and indeed slavery) connotations, although both the Welsh and the Romanies claim it as part of their ancestral traditions. In actual fact the phrase first appeared in print in England in 1774 (as in the Westminster Magazine : “He had no inclination for a Broomstick-marriage”). Later, The Times printed a poem satirising the “marriage” between the Prince Regent and Mrs Fitzherbert with the words “Their way to consummation was by hopping o’er a broom, sir”. The year: 1789.]

Dec 262012
 

Old London Bridge, courtesy of Motco, with the site of my ancestor’s house at One London Brige arrowed in red.

In the second half of the 18th Century my family lived at One London Bridge – the first house and shop you came to as you entered the City of London  from the Southwark end. One of the things which I find incredibly sad about the family diaries from the 18th and 19th Centuries is the story of Francis Hall (the younger of two sons which my 4xgreat grandfather had by his first wife). After all, he never really wanted to be a shopkeeper – he was never trained as a haberdasher like his father and elder brother, and was only drafted in to the family business at Number One London Bridge when brother William got bored with the retail trade and deserted the shop for the freedom of being a silk-man. That was in the 1790’s.

Francis stepped into the breach without complaint. His life wasn’t easy – his first wife died in 1799 shortly after giving birth to a son. Her previous pregnancies had resulted in three live births (all three of them boys and all three of them dying within a couple of months) and a pair of stillborn twins. She was just 28 at the time of her death, which resulted from complications linked to the birth, but the latest child, another boy, somehow survived.

Bringing up a tiny infant while trying to run the business must have been a daunting task for the newly widowed Francis – it doesn’t bear thinking about! In practice he married again fairly soon afterwards, but never had any more children.

From the moment when he became an owner of the business (jointly with father Richard, who took no part in the running of the shop, but who paid all the bills and pocketed half the profits) Francis knew that he was in charge of an asset which had a declining value as the lease ran out. Richard had originally signed a 61 year lease from the Corporation of London at an annual rent of just under £28. It would inevitably expire on Christmas Day 1826, at which point Francis would have to move out and surrender possession to the Landlord. He must have felt the clock ticking every day, especially after his father died in 1801 leaving him the business. He would know full well that he would be 68 years old when the lease expired – and he would be losing not just his business but the home  he had lived in since he was twelve years old as well.

There was something else looming over Francis – the knowledge that all he had worked for, all he had done, was likely to be pulled down as soon as the lease was up. He would have known that plans had been mooted from the very beginning of the century to pull down the old bridge and put up a new one just upstream… and that the building at One London Bridge would be demolished so that improved access roads could be constructed. Year by year the knife would have been driven home – a competition to find the best design, parliamentary approval, detailed feasibility studies etc.

All the time the old bridge was deteriorating. The Great Arch had been constructed only seventy years earlier but the pillars were all constructed on their original 500 year old foundations and they were beginning to suffer subsidence. Bluntly the bridge was no longer fit for purpose – either for shipping or for pedestrians, let alone for vast numbers of carts carriages and wheeled vehicles, livestock and so on.

Rennie’s design for the new bridge showing the old bridge with its many arches and starlings.

In July 1823 Parliament finally authorised work to commence in accordance with the plans prepared by John Rennie. The first pile was driven on March 15th 1824 and a year later, on 15th June, the foundation stone was laid with great ceremony.

All day and every day Francis Hall would have had to contend with the noise and dust of construction work, especially with constant pile driving. It can hardly have been conducive to the business of selling fabrics and general haberdashery! To add to his misfortunes his second wife died in July 1825. By then his son had grown up and left home, so Francis would have been alone in the house in those final years.

The view from Francis Hall’s window, showing the new bridge on the right

The warehouse premises next door to Number One were pulled down, and Francis would have had a grandstand view from his living room window of the coffer dam being built to his right, and the excavation for a grand flight of steps leading to the water’s edge, immediately in front of him. The old bridge to the left was still in use, but shored up in places with wooden boards to try and stop any more masonry falling into the river.

Close up view of the starlings  beneath the old bridge, with St Magnus the Martyr in the background.

The excellent map by Greenwood dated 1827 shows the two bridges side by side, and I have highlighted in red the building where Francis would have watched the unfolding picture.

The stone blocks for the new bridge were cut and the arches laid out on the Isle of Dogs, and then lettered and numbered before being brought to the site and lowered into place. Everywhere cranes and derricks were loading and unloading, while stone-masons hammered away. Men swarmed over the scaffolding like ants.

The view towards the site of One London Bridge showing the lower half of the Monument in the background.

December 1826 must have been especially poignant for Francis as he found buyers for his remaining stock within the trade, and began plans for moving out. Maybe he over-did the furniture shifting. Or maybe he simply was heart-broken to be leaving – either way, the lease expired on Christmas Day, and Francis, whose birthday it was on Boxing Day, expired immediately afterwards.

This painting from 1827 looking at the Northern bank of the river from the Southwark side, shows the old bridge on the right, and is looking straight at the site of One London Bridge, It is low tide and the starlings supporting the pillars of the old bridge are exposed. The parapet above the fifth arch is shored up, and the subsidence in the old arches is clearly visible. Standing above the line of the parapet can be seen a number of the cupulas, designed to give shelter and protection to pedestrians, mentioned below.

Francis never saw the New Bridge being formally opened on the 1st of August, 1831, in the presence of His Majesty King William IV. The picture above (courtesy of the Tate) shows the opening ceremony with the old bridge in the background – demolition could not start in earnest until the new structure was fully operational

He never got to see the old bridge being pulled down arch by arch, and the old starlings, used to protect the foundations, being excavated and removed. Today very few pieces of stonework remain – although there are a couple of the old cupolas  to be found in Victoria Park.

 

What is especially interesting is the incredibly detailed record of the works as they progressed, drawn by a young man called Edward William Cooke. He started his drawings in 1826 when he was fifteen. Guildhall Library holds 69 of these drawings: according to their site they were presented in 1872 by Alderman Sir David Salomons, a close friend of Cooke. Twelve of the drawings were later selected for engraving and publication in 1833 under the title ‘Views of the Old and New London Bridge’

Here is his picture of the demolition of one of the pillars to the Great Arch:

Within a few years no trace remained of the old bridge, and the old family shop at Number One passed into history. But I do rather like this 1870 painting of the Rennie bridge, looking towards where the family ran their business for over 60 years. It is shown courtesy of the Atkinson Grimshaw website at http://www.johnatkinsongrimshaw.org  :

 

Dec 252012
 

Christmas time was so much easier in the Georgian era! Richard did all his Christmas shopping with one supplier, a fortnight ahead of the Big Day. Everyone got more or less the same – oysters. He would drop a line to Mr May, fishmonger, and order a barrel of oysters to be sent to his family and closest friends. They would be delivered on specified dates in the week leading up to Christmas, and Richard could no doubt sit back on the day itself and reflect on the fact that it was indeed Christ’s birthday, a time for giving and receiving in memory of His blessings, and he would enjoy the pleasure of having given. No riotous early-morning ripping open of presents, no vast meal, but a trip to the church to sit on hard seats listening to an uplifting sermon by the Reverend Beddome, knowing that the good Minister would then be able to go home and dine on the barrel of oysters sent round a few days before…

Mind you – there was an element of class and status to this – Richard’s more important and prestigious friends got the Pyfleet oysters which cost four shillings and three-pence per hundred. The lowly Minister, like some of the other neighbours in Bourton on the Water, had to contend themselves with the somewhat inferior Colchester oysters, which cost a shilling less for each barrel! Some years friends moved up the scale and were rewarded with better oysters, just as some years others appear to have fallen out of favour and were downgraded. I just wish present-giving was as straight-forward today. But we can still enjoy the day, and be thankful.

Peace and goodwill to all !

Dec 242012
 

Wandering through the British Museum library of on-line prints I came across this lovely lady from 1782 wearing an enormous bell-shaped hat. The drawing is by Charles Bretherton.

                            

And another one, from the Lewis Walpole Library, showing female hat fashions of the 1770’s:

Quite wonderful! May I wish you all Season’s Greetings!

Dec 222012
 

An interesting  etching dating from 1769 shown courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.

As the site explains: In a panelled room hung with mirrors and a clock, the master of the house, in dressing gown and nightcap, puts his hand on the bosom of a maid who serves him biscuits. Next to him a clergyman looks adoringly at the lady of the house on his left. In his hand is an open volume with text “A sermon, I am sick of love.” She is dressed in a wrap and cap and, while smiling at the clergyman, surreptitiously takes a letter from a black servant boy who approaches from behind her chair.

The caption beneath reads

“With Touch Indelicate, his Grace

Approaches that Angelic Place.

Her Ladyship his Fondness views

While she the self-same Path pursues.

The Letter from her young Gallant

Delivered by her confidant

Proclaims what Husband is and Wife

‘Mongst Perosns in exalted life”

 

Somewhat obscurely a  parrot in a cage  sings, “Caesar and Pompey were both of them horned.” A squirrel sits on a stool next to the table. In the foreground, a monkey sits on the floor, reading “A dissertation on winding up the clock, by Tristam Shandy.” On the extreme left, a footman with a long unbraided queue is trying to push out of the room a bill collector who came in to present a tailor’s bill.

It appears to be saying that the higher and more exalted the company, the lower the moral standards become. Small wonder, given the shenanigans of the rich and aristocratic classes…

Dec 192012
 

The mere male of the species is occasionally given a glimpse into the world of ladies tailoring, at the skills of the corsetière, and at the advantages of a well-made wig, all courtesy of the cartoonist. Here is a splendidly irreverent one, drawn by Charles Ansell and published in 1799. It appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site and is entitled The Virgin Shape Warehouse:

On the left a lady in a poke bonnet enters the room where a short man is encouraging a tall, lanky, and somewhat under-endowed young woman to try on a pair of falsies. In the centre, and definitely wearing Big Pants, a large lady admires her image in the mirror as the tailor demonstrates what he can push in, pull out, reduce and accentuate. On his right an assistant fiddles with a garter while, seated, a young lady pulls on a pair of stockings. Behind are hanging up a variety of bloomers of different sizes, marked as being for ‘six feet ladies’ … ‘for two feet ladies’ etc while on the right a row of pegs holds under-garments tagged ‘Virgins of 15’ (small) ‘Virgins of 50’ (not so small) and ‘Virgins of 80’ (decidedly large). Wigs of red, blue and green  are stacked in boxes on shelves.

The text reads “Charles Trussup takes the Liberty to acquaint the Ladies that he has by dint of intense study, Astronomical, Geographycal, Clerical Agricultural Chronological Physical and Divine Calculations Discovered an immense variety of Convenient, Comfortable and captivating articles for the Ladies; first his warm and well-contriv’d Drawers which will in all weathers keep warm the most delicate or Antiquated Virgin bottom, in spite of the rage for thin covering, they are made of flannell, cotton, fleece, hose and various other commodities according to the natural warmth of the parts they are intended to cover. C Trussup has from much observation and reflection prepared commodious Spring Garters for Ladies, allowing them to exercise their legs, in any way they please, without the banefull ligature above the knee which makes the ancle so inelegantly thick and Clumsy; also his wonderfull Wigs calculated by Astronomical & Chronological researches to suit the largest smallest, thickest thinnest, strongest and weakest heads, to the immense advantage of elderly Young Ladies; but above all, his favourite & accommodating Circassian Vests, alias Bosom Friends, which permit free respiration, prevents all pressure on the chest, raises the languid Breast to the appearance of a Juvenille heaving Bosom and preserves the pure Virgin Shape to the latest period of Life. NB resolves all sorts of lawful & intricate Questions in Law. Physic, Divinity, Astronomy, Astrology & Geography and in short is the only Man in existence capable of treating on all subjects in the Habitable World.

Long live Mr Truss-up, and here’s to Bosom Friends, I say!

Dec 132012
 

I used to live in Richmond Hill in Bristol and was aware of the green plaque a few doors down advising the world that it used to be the home of Sarah Guppy, an English inventor who lived between 1770 and 1852. Indeed I always parked my car in the tree-filled garden opposite her home at 7 Richmond Hill, unaware that she had bequeathed it to the city on condition that it was not built upon. It remains as a delightful, quiet, enclave right in a busy part of the city.

But what of Sarah Guppy the inventor? It is fair to say that female inventors are few and far between in the Georgian and Victorian era, for one very good reason. If a woman was married she could not own property in her own name – and as a patent was intellectual property this meant that a woman could not apply for a patent in her own name and had to do so via her husband.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Nevertheless Mrs Guppy can lay claim to an extraordinarily eclectic mix of inventions. Where for instance would we be without a device to prevent barnacles forming on boat hulls? She earned a contract with the British Navy worth £40,000 for that one. Or even more usefully, for the safe piling of bridge foundations (patented in 1811 and used free of charge by Thomas Telford when building his bridge over the Menai straits, and by Isambard Kingdom Brunel with the Clifton Suspension bridge some ten years later). She never sought to charge a licence fee for her pile-driving ideas because she regarded them as being for the public benefit.

She also put forward a scheme to prevent soil erosion on railway embankments by planting willow and poplar trees, while my favourite invention was one which modified a samovar-type of tea urn to enable you to boil an egg in the steam while at the same time keeping the toast warm on a steam-heated metal plate. An ideal breakfast maker in fact!

Sarah’s exercise bed

In between time Sarah invented a way of keeping fit in the bedroom – patenting a sort of hybrid bed-come-gym, with drawers beneath the bed forming steps for exercise, and with bars suspended from the ceiling for developing upper-body strength.

Other patents covered a type of fire hood for the kitchen. She also devised a modified candle holder which would enable candles to burn for longer, and a method of caulking wooden boats so that they were more sea-worthy.

In all Sarah took out ten patents in the late Georgian and early Victorian period – a remarkable achievement.

She had been born Sarah Beech in Birmingham into a wealthy family with trading links to the West Indies (in particular with the sugar trade) and had married Bristol trader Samuel Guppy. At first they lived in Queen Square and later in Prince Street and quickly became the focus of Bristol society. They were a glittering and successful couple, well connected with leading figures of the age especially Brunel. She had six children including Thomas Richard, who went on to become one of Brunel’s assistants. Together the pair formulated the idea of a rail link from London to Bristol, combining it with the notion of a ship travelling to New York. This led to the Great Western Railway and the launch of the Great Western steamship. Indeed Thomas Richard Guppy was Directing Engineer of the Great Western Steamship Company, of which Mr. Brunel was the Consulting Engineer.

When her first husband died the 67 year old Sarah made an unfortunate decision to re-marry. She took as her spouse one Richard Eyre-Coote who was still in his late thirties.

Arnos Court, Brislington (now a hotel)

For Richard, his wife’s money meant a life of profligacy and gambling, particularly on the horses, and before long Sarah moved out of their home at Arnos Court Brislington and bought 7 Richmond Hill where she remained until her death at the age of 82. By then all her money had gone, squandered by her second husband. There’s a lesson there for all cougars….

 

 

Dec 102012
 

I remember as a child the feeling of wonderment when the first sputnik was launched and seeing this print entitled “Prime Bang up at Hackney or a Peep at the Balloon” reminds me that the same astonishment would have been felt when balloon flights suddenly captured the public imagination in Paris in the closing months of 1783. Manned flights watched by thousands took place throughout Europe in 1784 and in subsequent years. The papers were full of it. After all, if man could fly, what other wonders might be achieved – the skies were literally endless.

“Among all our circle of friends,” one observer noted, “at all our meals, in the antechambers of our lovely women, as in the academic schools, all one hears is talk of experiments, atmospheric air, inflammable gas, flying cars, journeys in the sky.”

Here a specific event is recorded: to mark the birthday of George, Prince of Wales on 12 August 1811 one James Sadler (1753 – 1828) took off in his balloon with a paying passenger (Lieutenant Paget, R.N.) from the gardens of the Mermaid Tavern in Hackney. Some three thousand spectators watched as the balloon ascended, landing near Tilbury Fort just 73 minutes later. One has to assume that Paget felt that having paid a hundred guineas he had had his money’s worth (shades of Richard Branson’s space flights for paying customers due to start in a few year’s time….).The balloon is shown with two tiny aeronauts aboard, and is swathed in vertical stripes with cross-bands inscribed “GPW” ( George Prince of Wales) and “PR” (Prince Regent).

The artist is described as Wm E-me and was published by Thomas Tegg on 20 August. I am grateful to the Lewis Walpole Library for the image, and for the information about the print and for this description:

“A plebeian crowd, much caricatured, cheers the majestic ascent of a balloon. On the right is part of an old-fashioned gabled building with a large projecting sign, ‘Mermaid’: a mermaid emerges from the sea holding up a comb and a wine-bottle. Two men and a woman sit on the beam of the sign, two other men climb up to it. In the foreground a fat woman has fallen over a sow and her litter. A sailor carries astride his shoulders a stout woman, who waves frantically. The roofs of coaches are crowded with cheering spectators. Others wave from distant roofs and from the square tower of Hackney Church.”

Ah those heady days! Prints like this help bring the excitement back to life.

Dec 082012
 

On 14th November 1813 Lord Byron went to the Strand in London to see an elephant. Not any old elephant: Chunee, the star of numerous plays and pantomimes, and who had appeared at both Drury Lane and Covent Garden. This male elephant was huge – 11 feet tall, and weighed nearly 7 tons. The animal’s party piece was to use his trunk to pick up a silver sixpence from a member of the public, and then pass it back to the visitor. Byron paid over his money and recorded “The elephant took and gave me my money again — took off my hat — opened a door — trunked a whip — and behaved so well, that I wish he was my butler.”

At the time Chunee was being exhibited at Exeter Exchange. From the 1770s, Exeter Exchange in the Strand was occupied by a succession of showmen who dealt in ‘foreign birds and beasts’. Chunee had been acquired by a Mr Pidcock, who showed him to the public alongside kangaroos, beavers, exotic birds, and oddities such as a two-headed cow! After Pidcock’s death in 1810 the animals were sold and Chunee ended up in the possession of one Edward Cross.

Edward Cross

Then one day in February 1826 while he was being walked down the Strand (as you do) Chunee ran amok and killed one of his keepers. Over the ensuing days he became impossible to handle and there were fears that he would smash his tiny cage to pieces. Mr Cross decided to have the beast killed.

On 1 March, his keeper tried to feed him poison, but Chunee refused to eat it. Soldiers were summoned from Somerset House to shoot Chunee with their muskets. Kneeling down to the command of his trusted keeper, the massive elephant was hit by 152 musket balls, but refused to die. His keeper then administered a coup de grace with a weapon variously described as a harpoon or a sword.

The poor animal obviously died in agony, but that was not the end of his ignominy: hundreds turned up and paid a shilling to watch his carcass being butchered and dissected. His hide was removed and found to weigh 1900 lb (860 kilos) and was sold to a tanner for fifty pounds. His skeleton was sold for twice that amount and ended up at the Royal College of Surgeons (after being paraded around the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly). The skeleton remained in the Hunterian Collection until it took a direct hit from the luftwaffe in 1941.

Chunee’s skeleton

The animal’s death led to a huge furore: people wrote The Times complaining about the appalling, cramped, living conditions in which the animals had been kept – others complained at the barbaric and cruel slaughter. Within a month of the animal’s hideous death, the Zoological Society of London was founded (April 1826) . People no longer wanted to come and see the animals and as a result, the Exeter ‘Change soon closed down (it was finally demolished in 1829) and the remaining animals were transferred to a zoo in Surrey.

The Destruction of the Elephant at Exeter ‘Change (courtesy of the City of London Museum).

 This sad story is shown as an indication of the Georgian’s cruelty to animals. Of course, it didn’t end there: I have a Victorian newspaper which describes in graphic detail how another elephant was poisoned with vast quantities of prussic acid – apparently to see how much it would take to kill the beast.

You will gather from the above that I do not like zoos. I accept that some of them have wonderful breeding programmes  which help keep different species alive, but I choose to vote with ny feet: this particular grandfather does not take his  children’s offspring to a zoo. Never have, and never will.

.