Mar 262014

mill3Having a few idle moments to research my recent post about taking snuff I was delighted to come across the wonderful site of Wilsons and Co (Sharrow) Ltd here.  You didn’t think they still make snuff? Think again! Think of seven generations of the same family grinding tobacco leaves from the same premises over a period of nearly three hundred years – and it is still owned by the Wilson family. Their site is a veritable treasure trove of information about early milling, and the history of snuff. With their permission I will include a few details from their site. It refers to Thomas Wilson whose “main interest was in snuff making; at some point he had come in to the possession of the secrets of this trade, and he was able to expand from this into his other ventures. In 1763 a fire at the Mills destroyed thousands of pounds-worth of his stock-in-trade which included ‘tobacco snuff’, and the business was considered so vital to tax revenues that a national collection was ordered to recompense Joseph and his partner (insurance was by no means universal in industry at that time)”.

Snuffers - courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Snuffers – courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

snuff 9

Their site also includes these images which are so “ageless” that you feel you can almost smell the snuff!







mill 2The Old Mill






The full range of snuffs still being made is remarkable, but snuff-taking enthusiasts have always known exactly what they wanted. Some require it to be “toasted” and very dry, others want the tobacco leaves infused first in alcohol or added to aniseed or “rose of attar.”

There was a whole branch of etiquette devoted to snuff-taking, and as a gentleman you would want to be seen to be observing a strict code of conduct. Ceremony was everything! Books even appeared, to offer advice on how to sniff in polite company, as in this pamphlet published midway through the 18th Century:

  1. Take the snuff-box with the left hand
  2. Grasp the snuff-box in the left hand
  3. Tap the snuff-box
  4. Open the snuff-box
  5. Offer the opened snuff-box to the company
  6. Retrieve the snuff-box
  7. Keep the snuff-box open
  8. Consolidate the snuff by tapping on the side of the box
  9. Deftly gather a pinch of snuff with the right hand
  10. Hold the snuff a moment between the thumb and finger before advancing to the nose
  11. Bring the snuff to the nose
  12. Inhale the snuff with both nostrils without grimacing
  13. One may then sneeze, cough and spit
  14. Close the snuff-box

I am not too sure about Rule 13 – shades of visits to modern China – but there you go!

Mention of Rose of Attar reminds me – that was one of the snuffs favoured by the Prince Regent. The records kept by Fribourg and Treyer suggest that he was inhaling  rather more than half an ounce of snuff a day. I pity the laundress having to launder all those snuff-stained hankies! Unfortunately, although Fribourg and Treyer had been trading continuously from the same shop in Haymarket for 250 years (“at the sign of the Rasp & Crown, 34 St. James’s Haymarket”) when Imperial Tobacco took over the firm thirty years ago they closed the shop, and sold on the right to make and sell “the Prince’s Mixture.” Such vandalism of our heritage is frankly inexcusable…

Other notable frequenters of the premises were Beau Brummell and the Duke of Wellington – and followers could specially request the “Dukes sort” or “Brummell’s sort”

A really good description of the Fribourg & Theyer premises appears at the excellent  London Street Views site here and I recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the firm, its products and its history.

The decline in snuff-taking was remarkable – what had been commonplace in 1820 was a rarity by 1850. But a fascinating book called “Ten Minutes advice in choosing Cigars,” published in London in 1833, gives a flavour of the  importance of Knowing Your Snuff if  you were to be considered a gentleman. Here are a few excerpts:









Snuff4snuff 3 (2)






snuff (2)

And to end with – something I hadn’t come across before, a snuff-box made of leather; (tin, wood, silver, gold and papier mache, but never leather). According to the Fisher London site here it is “a charming, 18th century snuff box of oval form, unusual to be crafted from baked leather.  The lid opens on an exquisite, integral hinge and is centred by an oval plaque (probably silver) finely engraved with the name of the original owner, ` Saml Robinson`.  A tactile piece remaining in excellent original condition. Circa 1770.”

a snuff box

And that definitely is a case of enough snuff for now…

Mar 232014

snuffI confess that as a dandified adolescent half a century ago, I used to sniff a little snuff. Sniff – not snort, mind you. Snorting is for other substances….not snuff, which is made from ground tobacco leaves. Taking snuff is not supposed to make you sneeze. Inhale it gently, softly, until the full aroma permeates your olfactory senses! And never, ever, use a white handkerchief afterwards….

In the Eighteenth Century snuff-taking was considered positively refined – much more so than smoking a pipe. Even Queen Charlotte took snuff, as did the Prince Regent, in copious amounts. (The Queen was apparently given the nick-name ‘Snuffy Charlotte’ though not, perhaps to her face!). It was also favoured by the likes of Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Beau Brummel and Princess Caroline. Three strands brought it to fashion prominence – the accession of Charles II (bringing habits learned in French salons to these shores); a curious naval victory (by Admiral Rooke over the Spanish fleet in 1702); and an edict by Beau Nash (as Master of Ceremonies at Bath, banning smoking on the premises). All led to a veritable explosion of snuff!

Snuff had been brought to the attention of the courts of Europe by Jean Nicot (hence ‘nicotine’) during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. He recommended it as a cure for the migraines suffered by the French King Francis II, and taking snuff quickly became popular and was frequently used for its “medicinal properties.” For the next 150 years the use of snuff in England slowly became more common. At that time there were few mills in the country to grind the tobacco leaf into powder, and users therefore made up their own daily supply – so as to keep it fresh. Hence they would have a small container like a tinderbox, designed to hold the tightly bound rolls of tobacco leaf, known as a carotte, so that they could be ground up, using a rasp or file attached to the box. The grater  or rasp gave its name to the most common type of snuff, called rapé. Each carotte was like a strand of rope, as thick as a man’s thumb. The powder generated by the rasp was then allowed to fall through to another compartment, from where it could be removed a few grains at a time.

A man buying snuff, by Thomas Rowlandson

A man buying snuff, by Thomas Rowlandson

The naval encounter of 1702, during the War of the Spanish Succession, involved the capture of a number of ships near Cadiz. They included vessels carrying a somewhat unexpected cargo – powdered snuff. A few days later Admiral Sir George Rooke pounced on several ships off Vigo Bay – and again found himself the proud owner of a vast quantity of premium snuff, on account of the seizure of some 50,000 lbs of the stuff just arrived from Havana. He sailed home and off-loaded his booty in various English ports, where it became known as Vigo Premium Snuff. Suddenly, the ready-powdered snuff was all the rage.

A pinch of cephalic' by George Cruikshank, c National Portrait Gallery

A pinch of cephalic’ by George Cruikshank (but based on an earlier sketch by James Gillray) –  National Portrait Gallery

But as snuff connoisseurs emerged, they wanted their own mix of tobacco, not just ready- milled snuff. The Prince Regent even had different mixtures for different times of the day. Mind you, he got Fribourg and Treyer to mix it for him, none of this DIY nonsense! People wanted their snuff to be freshly ground, which meant making a small quantity at the start of each day, and keeping it in a suitable dispenser. Enter the pocket snuff rasp…

snuff rasp 1 Snuff rasp 3




Here is a lovely example of this small, everyday item, which I found on the excellent Fisher London site.

They describe it as “of tactile boat-shape, features two hinged compartments – one for the retention of the plug of tobacco, the other to catch the snuff when rubbed on the integral metal grater. An unusual item of social history which displays evidence of re-soldering to the lids, but otherwise remains in excellent condition. Circa 1760.”

I love it: often the paraphernalia associated with snuff are of the rather opulent, decorative variety (such as the diamond encrusted gold snuff boxes collected by Frederick the Great) but here is something intended to be used every day – as evidenced by the fact that the lid has been re-soldered. At seven inches long it would have slipped readily into a gentleman’s pocket. You can just imagine the user grinding a small plug of tobacco to create a pile of snuff, which would be stored in the container, before a pinch was gripped between the fingers and sniffed whenever it was required. Portable, fresh, sniffable – an ideal product!

(My thanks to Neil Barclay, and to Hilary of Fisher London for allowing me to use the image of the rasp).

Mar 172014

Spare a thought today for a young woman called Elizabeth Butchill who, on 6th January 1780, gave birth to an illegitimate child. Elizabeth Butchill had been born in Saffron Walden in Essex in 1758, making her twenty two years old. She had moved to Cambridge when she was eighteen or nineteen, living with her uncle William Hall.

The statue of Henry VIII above the Great Gate at Trinity College

The statue of Henry VIII above the Great Gate at Trinity College

William’s wife Esther had a job making beds for the students at Trinity College and she used her connections to secure the same employment for her niece. Whether some randy undergraduate “bedded the young bedder” history does not relate, but suffice to say she became pregnant and carried her secret for nine months, unable to confide her shame in anyone.

It must have been terrifying for her as the moment of birth drew near – the certainty that further concealment would be impossible. She dared not tell her aunt and uncle. Whether she had a plan or simply acted on the spur of the moment is not known. What is clear is that she went into labour on her own – her aunt heard her groaning in the early hours of the morning and on being informed that “it was colic” took her niece some peppermint tea and hot flannels to soothe her. Not perhaps the most observant of people, the aunt….

The aunt went off to work at six in the morning and at around half past six Elizabeth delivered herself of a baby girl. She would have known that her aunt would return from bed making duties at around ten. On her own admission she held the baby for some twenty minutes, no doubt pondering the awful fate which life would have in store for them both if the child lived. In her desperate state she committed a terrible sacrifice – she hurled the baby down the necessary – the latrine – from where it floated down into the river where it was discovered the following day, its skull fractured.

The Newgate Calendar takes up the story:

“William Hall, hearing a child had been found, suspected the said Elizabeth Butchill, and sent for a surgeon to examine her. In her voluntary confession, taken before the mayor and Dr. Ewin, and read to the jury, she confessed that she was delivered of a female child on Thursday morning, about half past six o’clock, by herself; that the child cried some little time after its birth; and that, in about twenty minutes after, she herself threw the said infant down one of the holes of the necessary into the river, and buried the placenta, &c. in the dunghill near the house. The Coroners Inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder.”

The wheels of justice moved fast:

b1“On Wednesday morning she was tried before Judge Buller, when her voluntary confession being produced, and many corroborating circumstances appearing in evidence, the jury found her guilty, and the judge passed sentence on her in a very pathetic and affecting manner. When the unhappy culprit, in extreme agony, solicited mercy, his lordship told her that, as she had been deaf to the cries of the innocent, and, stifling the strong ties of maternal affection, had been the murderer of her child, it was impossible for mercy to be extended to her in this world; he therefore exhorted her to seek for a sincere repentance, and sentenced her to be executed the succeeding Friday, and her body to be anatomized.”

The Newgate Calendar ends this sad tale by describing her execution with the following words:

b3“Desiring her example might be a warning to all thoughtless young women, and calling on Jesus Christ for mercy, she was launched into eternity amidst thousands of commiserating spectators, who, though they abhorred the crime, shed tears of pity for the unhappy criminal.

She was a decent plain young woman, about twenty-two years of age; and, before this unfortunate affair, bore a good character for her modest behaviour.”

Her execution took place on 17 March 1780 at Cambridge. Spare a thought for the poor tormented “thoughtless” young Essex girl, who 234 years ago paid a heavy price for the prejudices of 18th Century society, and for the blindness of Justice.

Post script: as far as I know William and Esther Hall were no relations of my ancestor Richard Hall.

Mar 132014

strandWalk down London’s Strand in the early 1770’s and you would not have been able to miss the crowds outside a print shop, under the hanging sign of a golden acorn – the print shop of Mary Darly at 39 The Strand, on the corner of Buckingham Street. It was the third such shop run by the husband-and-wife team (both signing themselves “M Darly” ) within a few hundred yards – the first was just off Fleet Street, and the second had opened in 1762 near Cranbourn Alley, Leicester Square.

The Darly’s played a prominent part in the birth of the caricature – they opened the doors which later exponents crashed through, including James Gillray. As early as 1749 Mathew Darley had been called to face a parliamentary committee looking into the subject of obscene prints. At that stage he had described himself as a “seal engraver”. In the fifties and early sixties the Darly’s dominated the print market, and Mary was central to the firm’s success, calling herself “the Fun Merchant, at the Acorn in Ryder’s Court, Fleet Street.”

Matthew appears to have had a training as a commercial draughtsman and he had previously been engaged in making architectural drawings and ceramic designs. Mary was one of the first female cartoonists and print publishers in the country, and together the Darly’s pioneered the print shop – a novelty which was quickly copied by others until the city appeared to have been awash with them!

Strand 3

One of the earliest examples of a print of a print shop shows the Darly premises at 39 The Strand, and it gives a fairly clear example of what the exterior would have looked like, with prints displayed at every pane of glass so that onlookers could see the great and good being ridiculed before their very eyes. No need for a top shelf, when you could display your mockery for all to see…

Many of the early works, in the 1750’s, were fairly crude. But Mary developed the idea of producing small engravings with satirical sketches on them – the size of a playing card – which could be sent through the post. They became collectors’ items and from 1756 were then bound up and published as an annual review under the title of “A Political and Satyrical History of the Year.” Mary describes the political sketches as ‘caricatures’ – the first time the description had been applied in this way.Strand 2

Mary also taught drawing and caricature-making to ‘suitable’ Ladies and Gentlemen, and in 1762 published the first guide book to the subject under the title of “A Book of Caricaturas, on 59 Copper Plates, with Ye Principles of Designing in the Droll & Pleasing Manner.” It contained just three pages of instruction, but also set out numerous examples of her technique.

strand 4

Strand 5









By 1770 the Darly hall-mark was associated with a series of prints ridiculing the macaroni. This was the absurd fashion statement for men which had grown out of the style adopted by young noblemen returning from Italy after the Grand Tour. They brought back pasta, and they brought back the fashion for high-fronted wigs with a tail (or “queue”) tied at the back. They wore tight trousers and large swagger swords – and quickly attracted copyists who became ludicrously foppish figures. Had I met one in the street I would no doubt have yelled a suitable insult such a “French dog” – and gone off to buy one of Darly’s prints. They came out as six sets over as many years, each containing 24 plates, and proved to be incredibly popular – and, presumably, profitable for Mary Darly.

strand 8

strand 9








strand 11


strand 12










"The female Conoiseur" - believed to represent Mary Darly

“The female Conoiseur” – believed to represent Mary Darly

It was to prove to be Mary’s swan-song as others moved into the limelight, and she closed her Strand shop in 1779. Her last engraving appeared in 1781 and it is quite possible that she sold her stock to the brother-and-sister team of William and Hannah Humphrey. They re-issued some of the stock – and also offered employment to the young James Gillray (some believe that he had produced his first drawings for Mary Darly).

So, for a quarter of a century the Darly’s had dominated the London print shop scene. It was just before “the Golden Age” of satire, but the Darly’s helped it happen, and for the crowds gawping at the print shop window in 1772 it would have been an astonishing sight.


To end with, another print showing another Caricature Shop, this one belonging to Mr Roberts…



Mar 062014

NPG D12429; 'Les trois magots' by James Gillray, published by  Hannah Humphrey“Les Trois Magots”  by James Gilray, published in 1791 and shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery: a Hellgate Blackguard, a Newgate Scrub, and a Cripplegate Monster – it is a sort of variation on the three monkeys, but instead of “Hear no Evil, See no Evil and Speak no Evil” it is more a case of “Feel Evil, Think Evil and Be Evil”

Two centuries before “Watergate” the Barry family were having a monopoly of  “-gates”. Four poor little rich kids – daughter Caroline, born 1768; Richard born in 1769; Henry born in 1770; and Augustus 1773; and all of them offspring of the Earl of Barrymore and his wife, Emily (otherwise Amelia). But Father, the sixth earl, died when Richard was three, passing him the title, and Mother (the daughter of the Earl of Harrington) died eight years later. So these four wealthy and well-connected orphans were left in the occasional care of Granny. Granny, aka the Countess Harrington, packed Richard off to Eton, reputedly with the sum of one thousand pounds in his pocket for spending money, but then, somewhat inconveniently, she too died. Caroline and her feral brothers seemed to have been left to grow through adolescence and into maturity without close adult guidance – well, apart from the poor Reverend Tickell of the Berkshire village of Wargrave. He was nominally in charge of the Barry brood, but he appears to have had an uphill struggle to keep in control…

Richard, the Seventh Earl, went on to become a close friend of the Prince of Wales, earning himself the name of “Hellgate”. His younger brother Henry was born with a club-foot and, in the days before political correctness, was known by all as “Cripplegate”. That left Augustus, who somehow or other grew up to become a Reverend, but was the most profligate gambler of them all, and he was given the moniker “Newgate” because, supposedly, that was the only one of the debtors prisons he had not been sent to. NPG D12513; 'Billingsgate eloquence' by James Gillray, published by  Hannah HumphreyAnd Caroline? Well she was wont to swear like a trooper and the Prince of Wales gave her the nick name of “Billingsgate” – because she swore like a fishwife!

It has to be said, she was no beauty, if the caricature by James Gillray was anything to go by. In time she went on to marry Louis Pierre Francis Malcolm Drummond, Comte de Melfort, but her marriage was annulled, and plain “Mrs Drummond” opted to call herself  Baroness de Barry  when the last of her three brothers died in 1823.

So, what of Hellgate? Well, by the age of 16 he had already won a wager of £1000 at Newmarket. He loved racing, frequently riding his own horses to victory, and he developed a passion for boxing – both practising it and betting on it. He is shown on the left in the Gillray etching  which heads this post.  When he returned to Wargrave in the holidays he and his mates would terrify the villagers by taking over the reins from the postilions and racing their carriages through the village, smashing windows with their whips. By the age of  18 he was developing his own racing stud, keeping a hunting pack in his own  kennels, and building a reputation as a hell-raiser. Rumour has it that he spent or lost three hundred thousand pounds by the time he hit 21. But he just stayed on the right side of being a pain in the neck to the Wargrave residents by  entertaining them all lavishly, providing food and drink at numerous sporting activities in the village. He loved dramatic performances and built a theatre in Wargrave, at a cost of some £60,000, so that plays could be put on. The Seventh Earl and his friends were naturally given key parts to play…

As a prankster he had no equal, setting up a blistering pace by forming clubs for every occasion: there was the Two o’clock Club, which met at that hour of the early morning to hold court and impose ludicrous punishments on any member committing a perceived misdemeanour. There was the Bothering Club, the Je ne sais quoi Club, the Warble Club and so on. The latter had the very sensible rule “that  if any member has more sense than another, he be kicked out of the club.”

By now he was gambling heavily – sometimes winning as much as £25,000 on a single boxing match, sometimes losing a fortune on horse races. He liked odd challenges – such as a man-against-horse over thirty yards, with a turn round a tree at the midway point, but he consumed his assets with relentless impetuosity and was in danger of being adjudged bankrupt. Rather to everyone’s amazement he married – but not for money. In 1792 he eloped with the 17 year old Charlotte  Goulding, the daughter of a sedan-chair man. Like her husband, she too was a bare-knuckle boxer…

He stood for Parliament – probably as a way of thwarting his creditors – and joined the army, being appointed Captain in the Royal Berkshire Militia.  War with France and the threat of invasion meant that he was required to keep his musket loaded at all times – and when he was in his carriage escorting three French prisoners-of-war into custody the musket went off accidentally. The ball lodged in his eye, and at the age of 23 Hellfire drew his last breath. The date: 6th March 1794

His title was taken over by Cripplegate – another person who saw it as his duty to ensure that the Prince of Wales maintained his life of debauchery, scandal and intrigue. The Eighth Earl reportedly had a fine singing voice, but became better known for his pranks – kidnapping young women, then leaving a coffin standing upright outside their front door before knocking loudly – just to see the horror in the face of the servant coming to answer the call.

He was forever quarrelling and challenging others to duels – and then enlivened proceedings by always conducting the duel while totally starkers! In 1795 her decided to get married, but like his elder brother chose as his bride  a girl without means, called Anne Coghlan – she was in fact the beautiful daughter of a local tavern-keeper. His debts continued to mount and he died in France at the age of 56 in 1823 – probably of a stroke. He was penniless as well as childless, so the Earls of Barrymore died out (younger brother Newgate had already perished). That just left “Billingsgate”, the self-styled Baroness de Barry,

As a trio of debauchers, rakes, profligates gamblers and foul-mouthed ill-tempered brattish aristos they really took the biscuit!


To end with, a satirical print by Isaac Cruikshank dating from 1791, shown courtesy of the British Museum, in which all three brothers appear.  According to the accompanying text:

“Two young men fight, stripped to the waist. One (left) on the ground, cries ‘foul – foul’, the other, Lord Barrymore (‘Scrub’ or ‘Newgate’) stands over him in profile to the left, with clenched fists, and kicks him. The Prince of Wales stands behind the fallen man, and holds out his arms as if to protect him, saying, “Dam it Newgate fight like a Man no Kicking”. The Duke of York stands on the extreme left, his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, saying, “fie donc – If he had hit my head instead of my Curl, I would have fought fair”. Barrymore’s brothers stand behind him (right): Augustus kicks the victim, saying, “Bl–st me I’ll lay 3 to I We lick him”; the other, whose inturned feet indicate ‘Cripplegate’ (Henry), says, “Bloody Newgate to me if I dont take his fathers Licence”.

A charming family, but  at least none of them contributed to the gene pool by having any children! (Mind you, I do wonder whether Justin Bieber has a genetic link to the Barry boys….).

Mar 032014

Front page Ackermann 001My Christmas present to myself this year was an old copy of Ackermann’s Microcosm of London – not the original i.e. first edition I hasten to add (I am not that generous, even to myself….). It first appeared in 1808 and is spread over three volumes, containing dozens of plates. Many of them are regularly dusted off and used – particularly the Pugin/Rowlandson collaboration showing the exhibition at the Royal Academy, or the rather repetitive  representations of the interiors of theatres such as Drury Lane, or Sadler’s Wells, the opera house or Astley’s Circus.



So I was interested to see that it contained a picture of the Albion Mills grain-store on fire – chosen, it would seem, largely because it gave Pugin the chance to show St Paul’s Cathedral in the background in all its glory.

Fire in London 2 001

Or to quote Ackermann, “we have selected this from the many objects of a similar nature which frequently occur in the great metropolis, because the representation afforded an opportunity of more picturesque effect; the termination of (Blackfriars) bridge, the extensive area in front and St Paul’s in the back ground contribute so many interesting parts to a representation which is altogether great and awful.”


It was not a conflagration I had heard of, but it does serve as a reminder of how paranoid Londoners were in the decades and century after the Great Fire. Ackermann notes that in 1807 there were  375 fires in the City during the year, plus a further 356 chimney fires – and each one would have had the good citizens looking over their shoulders, praying that the wind would be in the right direction, checking that they had fire insurance in place – and above all hoping that the Thames would be at High Tide so that the pumps could operate. As it happened in the blaze on 2nd/3rd March the flames developed at low tide – the pumps could not get enough pressure to draw the water up to the blaze, and the roof caught fire and fell in before any serious attempt could be made to extinguish the flames. By then 4,000 sacks of grain had gone up in flames – just 30 sacks were saved. No-one was killed – but just imagine the thick pall of smoke reeking of burnt grain which must have drifted across London! Vile…

Ackermann records that “the fire raged with such un-abating fury that in about half an hour the whole of that extensive edifice, together with an immense amount of flour and grain, was reduced to ashes…the flames burst out in so many different directions and with such incredible fury and intolerable heat that it was impossible to approach on any side, till the roof and exterior part of the building tumbling in, completed the general conflagration in a column of fire so awfully grand as to illuminate for a while the whole horizon.”

There was a strong suspicion that the blaze may have been started deliberately – perhaps by rival mill-owners who saw their livelihood at risk because of this “super-mill” which had been  a wondrous tourist attraction since it opened in 1786. After all, if you had an old-fashioned windmill grinding your corn by the handful, how would you feel if the Industrial Revolution spawned a monster which could grind in ten minutes what it would take you ten hours? Luddites may have been at work… or it may just have been a case of someone not applying enough grease to the bearings, so that friction caused overheating. Whatever – the crowds were dancing in glee as the building was destroyed, some carrying placards supporting “mills for Albion – but not Albion Mills”

This drawing by S W Fores is entitled “A bon fire for the poor or the shame of Albion exposed” and shows the blaze as the work of the devil….

a bon fire

The premises had featured a rotary steam-powered flour mill designed by Matthew Boulton and James Watt, with grinding gears designed by John Rennie, and could produce something like 6000 bushels of flour an hour. It was one of those “dark, satanic mills” which inspired Blake, and the destruction of the mill gave rise to a popular song which included the verse:

“And now the folks begin to shout,
Hear the rumours they did this and that.
But very few did sorrow show
That the Albion Mills were burnt so low.
Says one they had it in their power,
For to reduce the price of flour,
Instead of letting the bread raise,
But now the Mills are all in a blaze,
In lighters there was saved wheat,
But scorched and scarcely fit to eat.
Some Hundred Hogs served different ways
While Albion Mills were in a blaze.
Now God bless us one and all,
And send the price of bread may fall.
That the poor with plenty may abound,
Tho’ the Albion Mills burnt to the ground.”

Mar 022014

Richard had two sons by his first marriage. The youngest was Francis – and life dealt him a somewhat hard hand compared to his elder brother. William was made a partner in the family haberdashery business at One London Bridge; Francis went off to Portsmouth to find a niche for himself working in some  capacity or other for the land-based Naval Office. Then, when William got bored and had enough of being a shop keeper, Francis was expected to drop everything and  take over the business. It was Francis who had the sad legacy of watching the  business come to an end, when the shop premises were demolished to make way for improved roads linked to the “new” Rennie Bridge across the Thames. I blogged about  that here but his life was sad in other respects as well –  not least when he was widowed at an early age.

He had married Mary Davis when she was eighteen – he was  thirty one.  In September 1789 she gave birth to a son Edward, but he  died just ten weeks later.  She conceived within five months of the loss. But when her new son – christened Francis after  the father – was born on 5th January 1791 he was destined to live only five months before  catching a fatal illness. Another child, also christened Edward, was born a year later and barely survived six months before going the way of his siblings. How Mary must have feared the worst when she fell pregnant again – the fourth time in four years. This time she gave birth to a son called William, and miraculously he survived childhood, grew up, married, had children, went bankrupt and died at the age of 51.

Mary meanwhile waited five years before falling pregnant again, this time with twins.  Something went disastrously wrong with the pregnancy – she lost the twins and on March 2nd 1799 she died of associated complications. Her husband Francis was 46, his surviving son just five years old. It must have been an unimaginably horrible and uncertain Easter for the family.

For Richard it meant the sad  business of attending the funeral – and kitting out the family in mourning gear:


This is his list of the various sundries for himself, his wife, his 17 year old daughter Anna and 12 year old son Benjamin.

One curious thing: as far as I can see this was the only time in his lifetime that Richard and the children by his second marriage met up with the (grown up) children of his first marriage – largely because the two families were estranged. Richard barely spoke to his first family for the last twenty years of his life because of their opposition to his choice of second wife. And yet something happened at the funeral, something which Richard would have not necessarily have known about. Daughter Anna – all of seventeen remember – took a shine to her young cousin Richard. He was 13, and although it took them another nineteen long years to get round to it – they married in 1818 and bred like rabbits. Old man Richard Hall was long dead by then – which is a shame because he would have been in the unlikely position of being both grandfather to  the groom and father to the bride at the same ceremony. Talk about keeping it in the family…

Even more of a coincidence is that they were not the only couple who would later look back and say “that is where we met – at Mary’s funeral.” I mentioned that Francis had a son by Mary called William. At the funeral he met for the very  first time his cousin, the four year old Frances, granddaughter of Richard Hall via his daughter Martha. Fast forward twenty years and they too tied the knot – a reminder of the very small “pool” from which people were likely to find a spouse in the Georgian era. Better the devil you know!

So a sad funeral with a happy ending… ain’t life amazing?