Nov 102017

A couple of years ago I found myself in Bergerac on Bastille Day (July 14th): Roads were cordoned off, crush barriers erected, stands became packed, and at the appointed hour there was a solemn march-past of be-medalled and be-ribboned members of the armed forces. Then there was silence and a lone man approached the microphone and sang an unaccompanied solo version of La Marseillaise. It was stunning and very moving.

I remember how strange it was to feel a lump in the throat listening to such a beautiful and stirring patriotic song, when it wasn’t my country which was being eulogized. It made me wonder at the origins of the song….

On 25 April 1792, the mayor of Strasbourg requested that his guest Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle compose a song “that will rally our soldiers from all over to defend their homeland that is under threat” At the time France was at risk from invasion by armies from Austria and Prussia. That evening, Rouget de Lisle wrote ‘Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin’ (‘The War Song of the Army of the Rhine’) and dedicated the song to Marshal Nicolas Luckner.

Here is a picture painted fifty years later, showing the composer singing his rendition of the song:

The melody soon became the rallying call of the French Revolution and was adopted as La Marseillaise after the melody was first sung on the streets by volunteers from Marseille at the end of May 1792. A young officer from Montpelier called Francois Mireur had sung it at a patriotic gathering in that city. Later, when volunteers entered the city of Paris on 30 July 1792 printed copies were handed out to supporters, and the troops adopted it as the marching song of the National Guard of Marseille. The irony is that Rouget de Lisle was actually a royalist, and he narrowly escaped a trip to the guillotine…

Subsequently La Marseillaise was made the official French national anthem (14 July 1795) although it subsequently fell out of favour. Napoleon disliked it, and later French rulers banned it altogether. In the middle part of the eighteenth century it became the anthem of the international revolutionary movement, being adopted as such by the Paris commune in 1871. Its status as the national anthem was restored in 1879.

This is how Richard Newton illustrated the words in a drawing published on 10th November 1792

Newton is one of my favourite caricaturists from the end of the eighteenth century – he only lived to the age of  21 and died in 1798 but in his lifetime displayed an irreverence and a sense of humour – often lavatorial – which I still find appealing!

This is his self portrait:I have often included Newton in my blogs – see here for a post about him from way back in 2012.


Oct 252017

This day 257 years ago a young man was informed of the death of his grandfather, King George II, who was just short of his 77th birthday. It meant that the young Prince of Wales was now King of Great Britain and Ireland, at the age of 22. He was also, let us not forget, ruler of the American colonies…. His life, previously highly sheltered, thanks to an overbearing mother and a very protective Lord Bute, would never be the same again.

Within one year, on 8 September 1761 in the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, the King married Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. He only met her on their wedding day – her measurements having been sent over previously from Germany so that her dress could be tailor-made without her being present. A fortnight later on 22 September 1761 both were crowned at Westminster Abbey.

Here he is, in all his sumptuous finery, as painted by Allan Ramsay, at the time of his coronation. Now that is what I call understated elegance….

You needed a ticket enabling you to attend Westminster Abbey that day, and the Abbey site contains an image of  what you would have needed to see the happy pair in their crowning glory:

Copyright Westminster Abbey

Ironically, the crowning ceremony took place before the new coronation coach – specially commissioned for the occasion and dripping with bling – was ready. My blog here explains why it was not used until the State opening of Parliament in 1762. But  even so the procession must have been mighty impressive – as shown in this painting, a copy of which wends its way round the Royal Mews.

Meanwhile a number of medals had been struck to mark the accession of George to the throne, and I came across one of them on the Metropolitan Museum of Art site here. It really is a very impressive piece of sculpting, done by a designer called Thomas Pingo. You can just make out his name at the base of the shoulder armour, immediately above the date MDCCLX (1760). The Pingo family were prolific medallists – Thomas was appointed Assistant Engraver at the Mint in 1771, a post which passed to his son Lewis when Thomas died in 1776. Another son, John Pingo also designed medals, but  for my money father Thomas was the pick of the crop.

It was not however the official coronation medal – that was designed by L Natter and is shown below:









In gold, these are very rare, with  just 800 being minted. Even rarer were the coronation medals commemorating Queen Charlotte, who was also of course crowned at the same ceremony. Just 400 were minted:








Just in case you were a really keen supporter of the monarchy you could also have looked out for the commemorative plaque – some five and a half inches across, and made from brass:But as always there were other unofficial mementoes of the great occasion – here a commemorative tea caddy and a brooch with a cameo portrait of the king and queen:

By the time George III celebrated his fiftieth anniversary on the throne there were a positive plethora of medals issued in a variety of metals, including one referring to the Grand National Golden Jubilee event. Some of the medals appear below, and are based on images on e-bay, whereas the one at the bottom  appears on the site of Whitmore & C0. It is larger than its fellow commemoratives, at 48mm – and was designed by the medallist Hyde. It has a rather mawkish depiction of children playing at Frogmore on the reverse. This is a reference to the fact that in 1792 the King had purchased an estate at Frogmore as a present to his wife, for her to use as a retreat for her and the unmarried daughters.




And to end with, a superb example of the George III And Queen Charlotte Jubilee Medal – available in gold, silver and silver-gilt. A nice way to commemorate  the reign of a monarch who staggered on until 1820 – albeit with the benefit of the Regent.



Oct 032017

3rd October marks the anniversary of the death in 1703 of a 33 year-old woman called Hannah Twynnoy. Her ‘claim to fame’ is that she is perhaps the first person in this country to be killed – by a tiger.

The eighteenth century saw a fashion for exotic animals being towed around from pub to pub. My ancestor Richard  Hall kept the handbill for one such menagerie show, at the Talbot Inn in 1754.

But back in 1703 young Hannah, the local barmaid, enjoyed teasing and taunting the big cat in a cage in the garden at the back of the  White Lion pub in Malmesbury. Then one day the tiger found its cage door unlocked – and took its revenge on young Hannah, mauling her to death. Her epitaph in Malmesbury Cathedral reads:

In bloom of life

She’s snatched from hence

She had not room to make defence;

For Tyger fierce

Took life away

And here she lies

In a bed of clay

Until the Resurrection Day.

Another memorial to her apparently appeared in Hullavington Church, which reads

“To the memory of Hannah Twynnoy. She was a servant of the White Lion Inn where there was an exhibition of wild beasts, and amongst the rest a very fierce tiger which she imprudently took pleasure in teasing, not withstanding the repeated remonstrance of its keeper. One day whilst amusing herself with this dangerous diversion the enraged animal by an extraordinary effort drew out the staple, sprang towards the unhappy girl, caught hold of her gown and tore her to pieces.”

So, let us remember poor Hannah: a terrifying end to a life of a woman who liked to play with pussy cats – big pussy cats….


Aug 042017

On Tuesday, it was great to get the chance to get up to London and visit the Royal Mews, next to Buckingham Palace, at the invitation of the Royal Collection Trust. Complete with Press pack, it gave the opportunity to have a close look at the State landaus, Semi- State landaus and royal carriages used by the royal family from the Victorian period to the present day. OK so I wasn’t especially impressed by various  modern cars driven by Her Maj, and some of the modern replica carriages, complete with electric windows, hydraulic suspension, heating and so on are “interesting” but somehow are not ‘the real thing’…







For that, I didn’t think you can beat the Gold State Coach, used by every monarch at his or her coronation since George IV. I remember seeing it  when Queen Elizabeth attended her coronation back in June 1953 – and I recall playing with  a tinplate model, complete with eight miniature grey horses. Seeing the original, close to, was fascinating.

It is housed in the Royal Mews in its own room, and it is vast, with the main carriage having a body 24 feet long and 12 feet high. It weighs in at a massive four tons, and needs to be pulled by four pairs of Windsor Greys, each of sixteen hands. That’s an impressive horse power, but necessary for something of that weight. Indeed once those giant golden wheels start rolling, it takes some stopping. A footman has to apply the brake – and even then it takes 30 feet to roll to a halt.  For that reason the carriage is only ever drawn at walking pace, so that the grooms can walk along side it and are on hand in case anything goes amiss. Four pairs of postilions  ride the horses, and by the time you add in footmen/grooms and so on, it is a highly labour-intensive means of moving the monarch from Palace to Abbey.

Somehow it is rather satisfying to know that it is excruciatingly uncomfortable. William IV, otherwise known as ‘the sailor king’ described the motion as being like being tossed in heavy seas, while Queen Victoria hated it for its ‘distressing oscillations’ and in the end transferred her affections to other means of transport such as the Imperial Coach. Poor George VI – he reckoned that it gave him “one of the most uncomfortable rides I have ever had in my life.”

The irony is that it was never actually available for use at the coronation of the monarch who commissioned it – George III. He ordered it to be made in 1760, and splashed out £7562 – that is the equivalent of well over a million pounds nowadays, and for that you got a really spectacular set of wheels, adorned with tritons, cherubs and mythical creatures. The actual coach was designed by architect William Chambers, and was constructed by coach-builder Samuel Butler

Construction took longer than anticipated and George didn’t get to use his new toy until he attended the State opening of Parliament in 1762, and it must have caused quite a stir. The panels are magnificently decorated by the Italian artist Giovanni Cipriani – full of allegorical images of Peace and of Roman gods of War. What I found especially impressive is the thought that there are still people with the skill to repair and renovate a masterpiece like this. My first father-in-law was a coach builder, and I spent many a happy hour watching him apply layer after layer of paint to hand finished panels, rubbing them down with meticulous care, and then using gold leaf to form decorative devices. I remember that the gold leaf was kept inter-leaved in something the size of  a small notebook, and was applied with the softest of brushes. Goodness knows what gold leaf like that would now cost, given the current price of gold…. The end result was as smooth and reflective as a mirror, and it is good to see that these skills are still being practised.

The other rather impressive thing is that all the way round the display room is a huge long painting, by Richard Barrett Davis, entitled “The Coronation Procession of William IV”. Above is just a tiny extract. It was painted in 1831 and shows the procession – all the great and the good, occupying carriage after carriage – as well as showing the golden State Coach in splendid pomp. The catalogue accompanying the display also shows this picture of the carriage being used to convey George III to the Houses of Parliament on 25 November 1762:

George III in procession to the Opening of the Houses of Parliament, attributed to John Wootton

The carriage  is exhibited in a long hall, and is so big that moving outdoors into the Mews courtyard involves dismantling doors and windows. It is just part of a really interesting tour of the Royal Mews. You can see the horses, the tack room, and the stables in the building housing the horses and designed by John Nash.  Well worth a visit, and the exhibition is open through the autumn. There are particular displays linked to the Buckingham Palace Family Festival which opens tomorrow, Saturday 5th August. Details are at


Apr 132017
On a fine day in January 1821 seventeen year old Eliza Balsum was crossing the stream near her home in Hanham on the outskirts of Bristol. With her was her new beau William Waddy. They were laughing and joking as they used the stepping stones to keep clear of the water. On the other side of the stream appeared John Horwood. The same age as Eliza, John had previously been Eliza’s boyfriend but she had broken off the relationship towards the end of 1820 and he had threatened violence against her. Seething with jealousy, John observed the carefree pair and picked up a stone, hurling it at Eliza. It struck her on the temple, causing her to stumble and fall. The poor girl was supported back to her mother’s home nearby, still conscious but in obvious discomfort.

Dr Smith in his masonic robes .

After a couple of days being treated at home she attended the Bristol Royal Infirmary as an outpatient, where she was treated by Dr. Richard Smith, senior surgeon. He observed the depressed fracture at her right temple and decided to have her admitted as a patient to his hospital. Dr. Smith was present when a statement was made by Eliza, in which she named John Horwood as her attacker. Days passed, and Eliza’s condition got worse rather than better, until the good doctor decided that he needed to operate to relieve the pressure on the brain. Trepanning (i.e. drilling a hole in the skull) was a barbarous method of treatment in the days before anaesthesia, and with no understanding of antisepsis. Within a couple of days the girl was dead – and John Horwood was immediately charged with murder. The date was 17th February 1821. His trial took place at the Star Inn in Bedminster (Bristol) and lasted one day. Ironically the trial saw the two people who caused Eliza’s death to be present in the same room, Horwood and Smith, but in very different contexts: one as them as the accused; and the other as main witness. There was therefore no examination as to the actual cause of death, or whether the trepanning operation was bungled. Instead, Dr. Smith recounted the statement made by Eliza, outlined his valiant efforts to save the poor wretch, and convinced the court that it was all John Horwood’s fault. Found guilty, John was sentenced to death and the punishment was carried out within 48 hours. It was 13th April 1821 and John had turned 18 years of age just three days previously.

A contemporary description of John Horwood’s case

Horwood took several minutes to die by slow strangulation. The event was hugely popular with the populace of Bristol, with thousands of people turning out to watch. The prison was adjacent to the unfenced stretch of river known as the New Cut, and the authorities were seriously worried that the crush would lead to spectators falling in and drowning.

That was not the end of his family’s suffering. They were a mining family from Hanham. John was one of ten children and many of the family attended the hanging, intent on claiming the body afterwards so that it could be given a proper burial. Dr. Smith was having none of that – the body was requisitioned by him and he was determined to use it for dissection purposes.

Fresh cadavers were hard to come by legitimately, and here was a corpse he could examine without having to employ body snatchers, as in this etching from the Wellcome Institute, showing the watchman encountering two men who have dug up a recently buried body of a young woman.

A tussle broke out as the family sought to snatch the corpse of John Horwood away, but they failed and Dr. Smith took the body back to his rooms at the Royal Infirmary. After analyzing the body parts he kept the skeleton, still with the noose around its neck, in a specially made cupboard in his home, where it remained until his death on 24th January 1843.

The noose around Horwood’s corpse

It then passed to the Royal Infirmary and there to Bristol University where it remained until nearly two centuries after Horwood had died.

But that was not the only indignity: Smith was in the habit of composing rhymes about the deceased criminals who came before him in his laboratory, and Horwood was no exception. The verse, plus Smith’s notes on the case and Eliza’s confession, were then made up into a book…..and bound with John Horwood’s skin! This macabre practice was not all that uncommon in the 17th and 18th Centuries. It is known as anthropodermic bibliopegy and involves flaying the corpse and sending the skin away to be tanned. Smith’s book still has the invoice from the tanner (one pound ten shillings) inside, and the skin is embossed with a skull and crossbones in each corner. The original is still held by the Bristol Records Office, although it is now very fragile and the contents have been digitised. The sketch of John Horwood, shown at the beginning of this post, was included in the book.

Another examples of the practice of anthropodermic bibliopegy is this one using the skin taken from one of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators (Father Garnet). An impression of his features has been stamped upon the binding as a reminder of what he looked like, and is still visible, albeit in a very indistinct manner.

For Dr. Smith, it was business as usual: he was a hugely popular figure in his home city of Bristol, doing much charitable work for schools such as Red Maids School. He was a local councilor for many years, and was Deputy Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge close to his home at 38 Park Street. When he died, of apoplexy, in 1843 the whole city seems to have come to a stand-still in mourning. Crowds of many thousands thronged the streets and at one stage the jostling mass of humanity stopped the funeral cortege altogether. He was buried at Temple Church in Bristol. The Bristol  Mirror sadly reported “In his decease Bristol has lost one of her most devoted sons, and best and brightest ornaments.” It described his funeral with the words  “All associated together on this solemn occasion and felt the bitter pang of regret at the loss of one who was a benefactor to his race – a true philanthropist.”

And what of the mortal remains of John Horwood? After languishing for 190 years in a cupboard, it was finally time for him to be laid to rest. So it was that in April 2011, on the exact anniversary and time of his death, John’s body was brought back to Hanham and given a proper funeral. It marked the end of a personal crusade by Mary Halliwell, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Horwood’s brother. The coffin was draped in velvet and carried on a wheeled bier in the manner of funerals of the period of his death. A dignified end at last to a somewhat undignified episode which shows us not just the barbarity of English justice but also the inadequacy of medical treatment some 200 years ago.

Feb 132017

announcementOn 13th February 1817 a massive banking upheaval got under way. The “old” coinage in circulation was called in and exchanged for  a completely new coinage and within a mere two weeks the transfer was complete. It marked the culmination of a secret plan, headed by William Wellesley-Pole who was Master of the Royal Mint, and represented a determined effort by the British Government to restore public confidence in the coin of the realm. For years the public had suffered chronic inflation. They had had paper currency forced on them, which they generally distrusted, and for fifty years the Mint had not minted any silver in significant quantities. Smaller currency was often replaced with locally-minted coper tokens, many of which were only valid in the town of issue.

An added problem had been that the price of silver bullion had gone through the roof. Remember, all coins had a face value which was the same as its intrinsic value, so if the Royal Mint was making a one penny silver coin, it ended up as an absolutely minute sliver of silver – smaller than the size of a  pinkie finger nail. It had also got so thin that the design on one side of the coin interfered with the design on the other. The decision was made to decrease the purity of the silver being used. At the same time, the gold currency was given a total overhaul. Previously it was based on the guinea, a coin having a face value of twenty one shillings. From 1817 the guinea disappeared and was replaced with the pound – and a splendid new design by the Italian engraver Pistrucci was introduced.

bull-headThe whole re-coinage was done in total secrecy, so as not to alarm the public. The distribution of millions of the new coins to Banks throughout the country was done without fuss or loss of any sort, and the whole thing was a huge success. Not that the public liked the new coins, with what was known as the “bull head” of the monarch George III. The problem for Pistrucci was that no-one had seen the King for some years – George III was totally senile, deaf, blind and unshaven, so Pistrucci had to ‘imagine’ a likeness. As with many engravers before and since, he chose to make the royal portrait younger. Wellesley-Pole was already hugely unpopular, as was Pistrucci. The latter was disliked because he was a foreigner, but Wellesley-Pole was despised even more. Not only had he refused to select designs submitted by members of the Royal Academy, preferring Pistrucci’s handiwork, but he was vain enough to have his initials, WWP, appear on the face of the coin. The bull head was considered ugly if not treasonous, giving rise to the ditty:

It is allow’d, throughout the town,

The head upon the new Half-Crown,

Is not the George we so much prize—

The Chin’s not like—the Nose—the Eyes.

This may be true—yet, on the whole,

The fault lies chiefly in the Pole!”

_The_new_coinage wikimediaThe original intention had been to swap all the coins between 3rd and 17th February but the start was delayed by a few days and got under way on the 13th. It gave rise to this caricature by Charles Williams and published by J Sidebotham on 13th February and entitled ‘The New Coinage, or John Bull’s visit to Mat of the Mint! ‘

It shows Wellesley-Pole, referred to as “Master and Worker of his Majesty’s Mint,” shovelling money into a sack, saying “There, Johnny! see how I have been working for you for months past; you can’t say I get my money for nothing.” John Bull replies, “You be a very industrious man, Master Mat, and the prettiest Cole merchant I have dealt with for many a day.”  His sack is inscribed: ‘New Silver to enable the people to give intrinsic value for Bank rags & worthless Tokens.’ Behind him, his wife carries a baby while her children, dressed in rags and with bare feet, scrabble on the floor. A large crowd are gathered behind the family, waiting for their turn to get their hands on the new coins which are being shovelled  in the manner of a coal merchant loading coal.

The change-over involved some 2.6 million pounds-worth of currency – that is, some 57 million coins – being delivered nationwide, using boxes containing £600 of coins (a bag of half crowns, four bags of shillings and another one of sixpences). The destination of each box had to be labelled for each of the 700-odd banks involved nationally, and the Mint employed over one thousand staff to oversee the arrangements. The boxes would then be used to return the old coinage by way of exchange. Astonishingly not one coin went astray – the books balanced to the penny.

The copper coinage was largely  left alone for the time being, but the popularity of smaller value silver coins led to the introduction of the groat (4d) and, during the reign of Queen Victoria, to a half-hearted attempt at decimalisation involving the florin (one tenth of a pound i.e. two shillings) and double florin. One thing was certain: the coins never looked the same again.

Reverse Geo III sov Ben PistThe reverse of Pistrucci’s iconic design for the sovereign i.e one pound coin, shown courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.

Jan 052017

twelfth-night-2Nowadays there is little to be said for Twelfth Night other than that you should take down your Christmas decorations. But if you live in Spain, 5th January is Three Kings  – an excuse for much celebration, and men on horse-back handing out sweets and other treats.

In Britain in bygone days Twelfth Night was celebrated with parties – much more so than New Year’s Eve. It was an occasion for much merriment, wassailing,  and consumption of cider – and a special cake. The cake would be a rich fruit cake, often made with exotic spices and maybe soaked in rum or brandy and flamed before being served. Nowadays it has been taken over by the Christmas pudding served on Christmas Day – which is a bit of a shame because let’s face it, by then you have already eaten more than enough….

Twelfth Night, by Thomas Tegg, 1807. © The Trustees of the British Museum: A party of men and women round a table look at caricatures of themselves.

Twelfth Night, by Thomas Tegg, 1807. © The Trustees of the British Museum: A party of men and women round a table look at caricatures of themselves.

Checking through the dairies of ancestor Richard Hall I cannot see any particular celebration for 5th January – 1st January always started with a comment along the lines of “Praise be to the Lord that I have been spared to see another year” and then was followed by a reference to the fact that he was suffering from indigestion and was confined to bed! By the fifth January Richard Hall was usually back to taking tea with neighbours, but nothing in any way celebratory. But then, my ancestor always was a miserable old blighter….

By the time we got to Richard’s great great grand daughter (in other words, my gran) I remember  it was a tradition in the family sixty years ago that we would play parlour games – and none were more typical than The Old Family Coach. I imagine that it was Victorian rather than Georgian in its origin, and I have come across a printed account of the “rules” of the game dating from the 1870s.

old-family-coachI suspect that each family had its own version. My grandmother said that the game very popular when she was a youngster in the latter years of the 19th Century. Each person was allocated a word associated with a trip to the seaside by coach – someone would be ‘the wheels’ another ‘the horses’ another the ‘whip’ ‘the dog’ and so on. A story was then read out by the narrator, along the lines of “The coach set off, the wheels spun round, the horses galloped, the dog barked and the driver spared the whip” and as each word was mentioned that particular person had to get up and turn a circle clockwise. If I remember right the trip to the seaside involved a wheel coming off the ‘old family coach’, so it had to be repaired before the assembled company could complete the journey.

Whenever the words ‘The Old Family Coach’ were mentioned the entire assembled company had to stand up and revolve anti-clockwise. Of course no-one could remember who they were supposed to be, or which way they should be turning, and great fun was had by all….when I tried to reprise this game with my own family they refused to have anything to do with it. I suspect if it had involved karaoke, or money, it might have been better received! As it is, I cannot see the tradition ever being revived, which is a shame. So, on this Twelfth Night, let me raise a toast to the Old Family Coach!


Dec 292016

charles-macintosh-1766-to-1843I see that Google are today honouring Charles Macintosh, who was born this day in history 1766. We remember him for giving his name to a raincoat – using a method of rubberising fabric which he patented in June 1823

His success in keeping us all dry rather overshadows his other work as an Industrial Chemist – he made important contributions to the production of steel and was jointly credited with the patent awarded to James Beaumont Neilson in 1828 in connection with the ‘hot-blast’ process. In 1824 he was made  a Fellow of the Royal Society – and died in 1843.

And so, in memory of the demise of the lovely Debbie Reynolds a link from macintoshes to …  the film “Singing in the Rain”, here via YouTube with “You were meant for me.”

Some came in, and some went out. So, Hello George, and Goodbye Debbie….


Dec 152016

Among a large collection of Richard Hall’s letters which came to light just a couple of years ago is the correspondence from his father-in-law Benjamin Seward to the latter’s brother-in-law George Knapp, barrister. The collection includes this one from Badsey in Worcestershire dated 15 December 1736 – in other words, 280 years ago.

By way of background: Benjamin was a hosier, one of seven sons. He did rather well for himself in the aftermath of the Great Fire, buying up farmland in the area of North London and flogging it off for development. Most of his 6 brothers lived in Badsey, near Evesham, with their parents. By his early forties Benjamin had amassed enough of a fortune to buy The Mansion House at Bengeworth (now the Evesham Hotel) a couple of miles down the road. He chose the place in part so that his parents could assist him with the task of bringing up his two infant daughters, Frances and Eleanor. Their mother had died when Eleanor was born, and George Knapp was their mother’s brother. By the time of this letter the children were 5 and 3.

This background explains the keen attempt by Benjamin to find himself a new wife. I thought others might like to see the poetic (?) turn of phrase used to describe his interest in the Ladies (“My zeal for the Petticoat Pleasures”).

The letter reads:

“I blame myself for my long silence, at the same time I can’t help complaining of yours. Since my last I took a second tour to Birmingham where I was very agreeably entertained. I was at Two Balls and very merry amongst the Fair Lasses but as yet I am only a General Admirer.”

He then refers to his two young children: “ My two little charmers have so great an Ascendant over my Affections that I shall not I hope precipitously be a Particular One, tho my zeal for Petticoat Pleasures is too well known to admit of a Disguise. Therefore when I come to London again, which I propose doing soon after Xmas, I may chance to venture a Second Voyage if there is a Fair Prospect of Casting Anchor at the Cape Du Bon Esperance.”

In other words he made no secret of the fact that he was desperate to marry a second time if the chance came along…

The address section of the letter (known as an entire) showing delivery to Joe’s Coffee House at Mitre Court, Fleet Street.

In due course Benjamin did indeed find another wife – I think possibly it was his fortune rather than his flowery prose which did the trick! They married and moved into Bengeworth Mansion House and the daughters grew up in a happy and stable environment. My ancestor married Eleanor, the younger daughter, when she was 21, spending the honeymoon at Bengeworth while Dad and Step-Mama went up to London. Both parents were to die within a few weeks of the wedding, leaving the house and lands equally to Frances and Eleanor. By virtue of the Property Laws then in force, this meant Richard was suddenly a very wealthy 25 year old.

It may seem slightly curious that Benjamin’s younger daughter was able to keep her father’s letters; they came into her possession when George Knapp, (addressee) died and Richard (executor) discovered the letters with George’s effects. Even more remarkable is that no-one else thought of binning them in the intervening 280 years! For very many  years they have nestled safely and unseen in a concertina file of papers which my second cousin has kindly let me photograph. I am now reading through the correspondence and general ephemera and maybe eventually I will decide to bring out a Second Edition of the Journal of a Georgian Gentleman in order to include all this extra material.

Meanwhile a paperback version is available  for £9 + p&p. Do contact me via if you are interested. No-one can say I don’t try and make Christmas shopping simple!


Nov 302016

Nowadays bankers are held in low esteem – hardly a day goes by without stories of their dubious morality. So, why don’t we just hang them? After all, we used to… the last crooked banker to meet his maker this way was Henry Fauntleroy, who went to the gallows for forgery (the last man to do so for that offence) on 30th November 1824 aged 40.





Henry Fauntleroy, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.


Fauntleroy was the son of a Dorset bank clerk who helped form a private bank in London (at Berners Street in Marylebone) by the name of Marsh, Sibbald, & Co in 1782. At other times the Bank was known as Marsh, Stracey, Fauntleroy and Graham. The twenty-year old Henry joined the bank as a clerk, and took over the position of senior partner when his father died. The other partners took very little part in the running of the Bank and appear to have abandoned the young Fauntleroy without proper supervision. The Bank had agreed loans to a number of builder clients. By the very nature of their business the builders needed finance all the way through the building programme – withdrawing backing at any stage would mean a calamity for the bank as well as for the builder. So, when expenses rose and debts became overwhelming, Fauntleroy took to using client funds to shore up the business. The bank’s indebtedness stood at £60,000. By 1815 he was forging powers of attorney enabling him to sell stocks and securities lodged by clients with the Bank. In his papers he was quite thorough in recording these deals, and when he was eventually brought to trial these records, in his own writing, made any denial impossible.

One report states: “So Henry Fauntleroy threw honesty to the winds and adopted the expedient of forgery, which at that time was punishable at the hands of the hangman. Among the clients of the Berners Street bank were innumerable holders of Consols, long and short annuities, Navy loans and other Government securities. Fauntleroy had a list of their stocks and was familiar with all their signatures. In every case the device was successful. The defrauded proprietor was never allowed to discover the theft. Forgery was used to cover forgery, until eventually nearly £400,000 worth of Government stock had been appropriated”.

Fauntleroy kept his activities covered by continuing to meet the dividends due to the owners of the stock, but eventually the enterprise collapsed like a pack of cards.

He was by all accounts a solemn person who exuded respectability and trust: he is described as being “a tall man and used to wear white trousers, white waistcoat and black coat.” Oddly, he believed that he bore a striking resemblance to Napoleon, and he aspired to be regarded by the world at large as a Napoleon of commerce. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 1821 Fauntleroy bought “a sumptuous Grecian villa at Brighton and erected a billiard room in the form of Napoleon’s travelling tent.”

Apparently in 1809 he was compelled to marry a woman with whom he had an affair and got pregnant: the girl’s brother demanded a duel, and Fauntleroy was obliged to marry the lady in order to save face. They did not live together, and by some accounts this enabled Fauntleroy to go off and have affairs with various ladies of ill-repute, most interestingly a woman known as Mrs Bang a.k.a. Mother Bang a.k.a. Mary Kent, Mary Berners and various other noms de plume. “Bang” was both a description of her activities and  the fact that she was “bang on” fashion.

The papers later sensationalised the stories about Fauntleroy and Mrs Bang, painting him as totally debauched and immoral. One paper described the arrangement as follows:

A female, of as much personal attraction as possible, was selected by a set of men then about town, who being themselves mined by the same means, both in fortune and in fame, were ready to become the willing instruments of ruin to others. This gang all pulled one way, and having got hold of a handsome and interesting woman, they established her in an elegant and splendidly furnished mansion in some fashionable street at the west end of the town. This woman, nominally the owner of the mansion, was hawked about, dressed in the most fascinating and gay attire to the Italian Opera, the theatre, and all other places of public fashionable resort where she had her male accomplices scattered about, offering their friendly services to all their young and inexperienced acquaintances, often men of fortune and of family, to introduce them to the great object of general admiration–Mrs. Such-a one. The introduction took place-the lady put forth all her powers of attraction-a fascinating invitation was given to the new aspirant for her favours, to join a supper-party, at her house that night; after the entertainment cards were introduced-something trifling was commenced with, the wine went round ; the ladies soon dropped off one by one from the table -a proposal was made to play for a few dozen of Champagne, to make a present to the lovely and hospitable hostess, the pigeon was most generally suffered to win this first and some following trifling stakes, to give-him confidence. Dice (false ones) now took the place of cards ; play became deeper and deeper, until the wine vanished, and the poor dupe of all this villainy was fleeced of every shilling he had about him, and then entered into securities, his own bills…

The Hecate of these infernal courts, for several years, was Mrs. Bertram, better known by the domestic name of “Mother Bang,” because she was ” bang up” to all the arts and intrigues of her calling. Mr. Fauntleroy unfortunately fell in with some of the destructive women above described, and amongst the rest this said Mother Bang. In this way, we understand, he has dissipated enormous sums, besides loans of a large amount, to fellows about town, whom he met at those places, and whose words he took to pay him when they would, and that was never.

By some accounts Fauntleroy and Mrs Bang went their separate ways when Fauntleroy seduced a young schoolgirl and set her up in a home in London. She allegedly bore him two children.

Fauntleroy was to deny these charges totally in Court. Indeed he seemed far more concerned at refuting the allegation of immorality than to defend himself against the charge of forgery.

On 14th September 1824 the Bank had announced that it was closing for business and Fauntleroy had been charged with “uttering a forged document knowing it to be forged.”  After a trial lasting less than five hours the jury returned a verdict of guilty and on 2 November 1824 the recorder pronounced the sentence of death.

Two appeals were made on points of law ; seventeen merchant bankers volunteered to give references as to his moral character and past dealings, but Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, saw no reason for leniency and on 30th November Fauntleroy was led from his cell in Newgate, paraded in front of a crowd estimated at 100,000 people, and was hanged. Mind you that was only after a curious claim by a mad Italian called Edmund Angelini who demanded to take his place on the scaffold….

The presses churned out broadsheets like the one shown, eager to display his picture and last words. There were even coins over-stamped, as this Cartwheel Penny, with the words “Fauntleroy the Robber of Widows and Orphans, Executed at Newgate, such be the Fate of the Insolvent Bilking Bankers and Agents”

The centuries roll by, and some might argue we still havent found a more effective way of making sure that bankers toe the line…