Mar 242016
Funeral scene, shown courtesy of the Ephemera Society

Funeral scene, shown courtesy of the Ephemera Society

It never ceases to amaze me that I am still coming across memorabilia from my ancestor Richard Hall, who lived between 1729 and 1801.1 Chas Hall memorabilia Francis Hall funeral accou 2 (4) Last week I had lunch with my cousin and he produced the funeral account from when  Francis Hall died. Francis was Richard’s father – a man born in 1699,  who had been faced with financial disaster in 1720 when the Stock Market crash of that year wiped out the family’s fortunes (“The South Sea Bubble”). He buckled down, got a job as a hosier making silk stockings in Red Lyon Street Southwark (just by the Borough Market) and poured all his energies into educating Richard and bringing him up on the straight and narrow.

By the time he died Francis had lived to see Richard marry extremely well. His bride, Eleanor Seward was a wealthy heiress and when her parents both died, Eleanor (or more accurately Richard) copped the lot: stately pile in the Cotswolds, investments, cash, and a large quantity of plate….

When Francis died Richard obviously wanted to show that the family knew how to put on a proper show. Even so £54 was a huge amount to pay for the funeral of a humble hosier, who was to be buried at London’s Bunhill Fields Burial Ground. Francis was a Baptist, and this was the favourite burial place for dissenters. It is easy to imagine the solemn scene as the funeral procession wended its way through the streets of London, with the black horses,  black ostrich feathers, black pall and so on. The details are fascinating – from dressing the home with black crepe, to the cost of sending out funeral invitations, to the type of cloth, the gloves, the scarves and so on. I have had a go at deciphering the various entries:

2 Chas Hall memorabilia Francis Hall funeral account (1)To a strong English Oak coffin with a Double Lid covered with fine black cloth sett with two rows all round of the best burnished brass nails close drove, and ornamented with gilded (?) drops, a large mettle plate of inscription and four pairs of  best Contrast hand (?) gild lyned and ruffled with fine crape. To a superfine crape shroud sheet pillow and mattress to the bottom  £8.18.6d

To Ticketts of Invitation and Inviting the Company 5/-

Burning three pounds of wax candles cost 7/6 and the actual pall (best velvet) another ten shillings. Then came the slate lid adorned with five ostrich feathers (17/6)and  “eleven pairs of lac’d Gents shammies” (presumably soft gloves) at £2.15.0. Two pairs of women’s laced Danzicks came to ten shillings – I believe ‘Danzick’ referred to linen from Danzig renowned for its discreet geometric patterns, but no doubt someone will be able to correct me  if I am wrong.

Ten pairs of women’s plain gloves were required at £1, and someone obviously made do with their own pair but they were altered by adding “old lacing” which cost another four shillings. Five pairs of ribbon-bound kid, and half a dozen “rich Ducape silk scarves” were needed for the pall bearers, tied with “black Paduasoy silk ribbons” at 31/6d a go, totaling another nine guineas.

4 Chas Hall memorabilia Francis Hall funeral account (3)Two longer scarves were needed for the Clergy along with 8 “Allamode Hattbands” at eight shillings each. Five fine cloaks were needed for the mourners and the clergy (you might have thought that the clergy would have their own funeral weeds!). The two horsemen needed “porters equipment with Gowns and staves covered with silk” at a cost of one pound and they too needed “hattbands and gloves” costing five shillings. Then there was the actual hearse (“herse”) and six horses (£1.15.0). These were adorned with no fewer than seventeen plumes of ostrich feathers for “ye herse and horses”, setting the family back another two pounds. That still left a set of velvet and fringed coverings at a cost of £1.10.0, and then there were the men in mourning, eight of them, “to attend the herse as pages and to bear the body with velvet caps and truncheons” costing one pound. They each needed gloves and favours – eight, costing another sixteen shillings.

3 Chas Hall memorabilia Francis Hall funeral accou 2 (3)The funeral director had to pay eight shillings in cash for the coaches involved in “extra fetching and carrying home the Company, with men to attend ’em” and then there was nine shillings paid out for turnpike fees as the cortege wended its way through the City. The mason and bricklayer both got in on the act, and half a guinea was payable as a burial fee. A large elm case, made to cover the remains of the late Mr Hall, with proper assistance, came to another guinea and finally there was the “Mourning Coach and pair, one day to Meeting” at fifteen shillings. The funeral director then had to swear an affidavit at a cost of one shilling and that rounded the total up to a hefty £54. Compare that with what Richard was paying a house servant for the whole year  (- £7.10.0) and you can see what an expensive show of family sorrow and grief this was!

5 Chas Hall memorabilia Francis Hall funeral accou 2 (2)

My thanks to cousin Charles for the use of the original document. And to end with, a copy of the Rowlandson print I have just acquired, showing Death outside the window looking in and about to strike, as the patient lies on the bed with his toes curled up. The undertaker has obviously just been tipped off and arrives at the door, with the coffin strapped to his forehead. I love it, but for some inexplicable reason My Dear Lady Wife hates it and says she doesn’t want it up on any of the walls! Weird eh? What’s not to like…

Rowlandson medical print


Mar 172016

Would my ancestor have noticed an Irish connection on 17th March as he grew up in London in the middle of the eighteenth Century? Almost certainly, yes. Dean Swift in his Journal to Stella demonstrates that the wearing of crosses on this day was not confined to Ireland and that the custom had travelled abroad with its citizens as they crossed the Irish Sea. Writing in 1713 he remarks that in London “The Irish folks were disappointed that the Parliament did not meet today, because it was St Patrick’s Day; and the Mall was so full of crosses, that I thought all the world was Irish”

The traditional St Patrick’s Cross differed  according to gender: the one worn by men and boys was made of a square of paper, each side about three inches long, on which a circle was drawn. Using a quill pen and the index finger as a rough pair of dividers the circumference of the circle was used to create small arcs inside the circle. These would then be coloured, often by the children, traditionally using egg yolk for yellow, chewed grass for green – and a pricked finger for red! An alternative pattern was to draw an inner circle, ringed along its edge with six smaller circles. The whole would then be set within a larger circle and each of the constituent parts of the pattern would then be coloured. The resulting equivalent of an intricately designed Celtic cross would then be pinned to the cap and worn throughout the 17th  March.

For the girls there was a different custom: a cross was made of stiff card and pinned onto a circle of silk. The arms of the cross would then be decorated with ribbons and bows, with a rosette of emerald green silk  attached to  the centre. The decorated cross would then be pinned beneath the wearer’s shoulder on her right hand side.     (Illustration  courtesy of National Museum, Dublin).

And the wearing of the shamrock? Well that was certainly already a custom in the 1700’s. In 1727 the botanist Caleb Threlkeld identified the shamrock as the white clover (‘Trifoleum repens’) and remarked “This plant is worn on the 17th March yearly, which is called St Patrick’s Day, it being a current tradition that by this three-leaved grass, he emblematically set forth to them the mystery of the Holy Trinity. However that be, when they wear their seamar-oge, they often commit excess in liquor, which is not a right keeping of a day to the Lord; error generally leading to debauchery.” He goes on to describe the break in Lenten fasting as being called “wetting the shamrock”

Others have identified the shamrock with other plants from the same family. But whether it was the clover or oxalis or the common trefoil, tradition had it that when the last drink was about to be drunk, the wearer removed the leaf and placed in St Patrick’s Pot (‘pota Pádraig’), delivered a toast, and then having emptied the pot or bumper, threw the leaf over his left shoulder.

So, there we have it – the day was celebrated by young and old alike, at home in Ireland but also wherever they congregated overseas, and it invariably ended up with the consumption of alcohol. It also was a pretext for abandoning the rigours of Lent for one day – observers of St Patrick’s Day felt able to eat meat instead of the wretched herring on which they had subsisted for the previous few weeks!

But those who were not of Irish extraction were always happy to use the Saint’s Day as an excuse for ribaldry and frankly racist behaviour, as shown by a newspaper report from March 1740 :

“Being St Patrick’s Day, the Butchers in Clare Market hung up a Grotesque Figure, to represent an Irishman; and a great Number of Irishmen coming to pull it ’down a fierce Battle ensu’d, when much Mischief was done, and some very dangerously wounded; but a File of Musqueteers being fetched from St James’s several of the Rioters were carry’d before Col De-Veil, who sent three of them to Newgate”.

By 1803 the celebration of  St Patrick’s Day seems to have become rather more fun …. (shown courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library).

St Patricks day in the morning

P.S. Why 17th March? Because that was the day in 432 that St Patrick, a bishop, was captured and carried off to Ireland as a slave.

P.P.S. First time St Patrick’s Day was celebrated in New York City? 1756 in the Crown & Thistle Tavern

Mar 082016

To mark International Women’s Day I thought I would post a profile of a woman who will feature as one of my fifteen ‘paradigm shifters’ to be included in my forthcoming book “Petticoat Pioneers”.

by; after Samuel Bellin; Thomas Barber,print,mid 19th century

Charles Latrobe, after Samuel Bellin.

MGIn a way Margaret, Lady Middleton achieved nothing out of the ordinary – she was an accomplished portrait artist; she was a close friend of Dr Johnson and David Garrick; she knew an awful lot of important people; and she held dinner parties. But she was also an extremely influential figure in the abolition movement, which perhaps explains why the Moravian preacher Christian Latrobe, a family friend, once claimed that ‘the abolition of the slave trade was…. the work of a woman, even Lady Middleton.’ Later, her friend Hannah More, herself a staunch abolitionist, wrote to Margaret in 1791, saying ‘you have the first title to every prize on the whole slave subject’. Praise indeed – and that from a woman very much involved in the behind-the-scenes work to promote the abolitionist cause.

For such an influential and fiercely intelligent woman there are remarkably few details of her early life. Born Margaret Gambier some time after 1730 into a family who had come to Britain as Huguenot refugees in the 1690s, she was well-educated, clever and artistic. Her parents James Gambier and Mary Mead were evangelical Christians, who saw it as their job to improve conditions in the world around them. If there was a wrong, then it was their Christian duty to right it. The fact that Margaret was a woman, and therefore had no prospect of going to university or entering Parliament, simply strengthened her view that her skill should lie in influencing others. She could not vote, but in her middle age she certainly learned how to persuade, cajole and inspire others to vote with their conscience.

 William Wilberforce by Anton Hickel, (1745-98)

William Wilberforce by Anton Hickel, (1745-98)

Many would argue that Margaret was the single most influential person in persuading William Wilberforce to present the abolitionist case in Parliament. Not a naturally decisive man, he suffered constantly from self-doubt and needed the encouragement from Margaret to adopt the cause as his life’s work. Wilberforce was not over-keen on allowing women to take part in the abolitionist meetings or to drum up support for petitions, writing in 1826 ‘I own I cannot relish the plan. All private exertions for such an object become their characteristic but for ladies to meet, to publish, to go from house to house stirring up petitions – these appear to me proceedings unsuited to the female character as delineated in Scripture. I fear its tendency would be to mix them all in the multiform warfare of political life.’

The fact that the influence of Margaret Middleton was so effective is revealed in one of his letters to her, when he replies to her letter urging him to present a bill before Parliament with the words: ‘I feel the great importance of the subject and I think myself unequal to the task allotted to me, but yet I will not positively decline it.’

More importantly, having committed himself to the cause, Margaret was closely involved in much of the strategic planning behind the various anti-slavery bills put before Parliament.

Admiral Charles Middleton, later Lord Barham (1726-1813)  *oil on canvas on board  *75.5 x 63.2 cm  *19th century

Admiral Charles Middleton, later Lord Barham (1726-1813) 

How did this happen? Largely in conjunction with her husband, whom she had met on her uncle’s ship when he was in his mid-teens. A few years older than her, he was an impoverished servant serving under Captain Samuel Mead, who was in charge of HMS Sandwich. The fact that she fell head-over-heels for him did not endear their relationship to her parents – his prospects were far from clear, and he had yet to establish a name for himself in his chosen career i.e. the Royal Navy. She faced more parental opposition when she declined to marry a suitor of her parent’s choice, and in time her parents dis-inherited her. The couple had to wait a further twenty years, until 1761, before the 35 year old Charles Middleton was able to take a prolonged period of shore leave, and marry Margaret. She got pregnant immediately and gave birth to a daughter exactly nine months later.

In the period up until her marriage Margaret was estranged from her parents and lived with a close friend Elizabeth Bouverie, a Huguenot who owned an estate at Barham Court at Teston in Kent. Margaret and Elizabeth had been at school together, fostering a lifelong friendship. Together they had hosted parties for their artist friends and intellectuals – men like Samuel Johnson, who described Margaret as one of the wisest people he knew, and fellow artist Joshua Reynolds.

Barham Court, Teston.

Barham Court, Teston.

So close was the connection, and so generous was Elizabeth as host, that Margaret continued to live at Barham Court after she married. Eventually, the estate was bequeathed to Charles Middleton, but in 1761 Charles was happy to spend time ashore and to devote his energies over a twelve year period to farming and managing the Barham Court estate. He also owned a London house at Hanover Square, where he could attend to his burgeoning naval career. He was a highly political animal, becoming Comptroller of the Navy in August 1778. He was awarded a baronetcy in 1781 and three years later was elected as M.P. for Rochester.

He introduced James Ramsey, who he knew from his sailing days, to the circle of friends at Barham Court. Ramsay had served as ship’s surgeon on board HMS Arundel when it was under the command of Charles Middleton. Later he gave up being a surgeon to become an Anglican vicar and worked tirelessly on the Caribbean island of St Kitts to improve working conditions for the plantation slaves. Margaret had been involved in correspondence with Ramsay over a twenty year period. Now he was appointed secretary to Sir Charles Middleton, and given the living at Teston Church and made Rector at nearby Nettlestead.

Another visitor to the group came at the invitation of Ramsay – the indefatigable Thomas Clarkson, who became curate at Teston and went on to be a founder member of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. He was to devote his whole life to criss-crossing the country giving lectures, interviewing sailors and collecting signatures to his anti-slavery petitions.

Another guest was John Newton – a former slaver who had himself been reduced to servitude and abject poverty by a disgruntled slave trader on an island off the coast of Sierra Leone. When he eventually escaped and returned to Britain he experienced an epiphany when the ship he was on board nearly sank off the coast of Ireland. Eventually recanting of his old ways, he became a firebrand of a preacher, and among other things went on to write the anti-slavery song ‘Amazing Grace’

In this way Barham Court became the place where all the threads of the anti-slavery movement came together. Friendships were forged, roles were worked out, and the leading lights went forth, imbued with determination to get the message across.

James Ramsay

James Ramsay

Ramsay had seen the appalling treatment of slaves first-hand during his time in the West Indies. What alarmed him was not just the cruelty but also the apparent indifference shown by people with whom he raised the topic. But with Margaret and her husband he found sympathetic listeners – they rebuilt his confidence, convincing him that he had a duty to speak out. They helped him draft what became an important treatise on slavery, which was published in 1784 as a book-length tract called an ‘Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies’. The preface to the tract was a lengthy letter which was in fact written by Margaret, Lady Middleton. Clarkson was to say of Ramsay’s book that it was the “first controversy ever entered into on the subject, during which, as is the case in most controversies, the cause of truth was spread’. It certainly helped light the fuse under the abolitionist cause, and inspired a generation of activists to campaign against the degrading and barbaric trade in human misery.

1788 saw the publication of another paper by Ramsay entitled ‘An Inquiry into the Effects of Putting a Stop to the African Slave Trade’. His works were extremely influential – he had seen the horrors of slavery at first hand, and he was a mainstream Anglican clergyman whose ideas could not be dismissed out of hand.

Ramsay’s success, coupled with the generosity of the Middleton’s as hosts, and Sir Charles’s increasing importance as a reformer of the Royal Navy, meant that influential visitors were eager to attend the Middleton dinner parties. In private meetings such as these the nascent abolition movement took hold. Strategies and tactics were discussed – and it was clear that a parliamentary voice was essential. Around this time the daughter of Charles and Margaret got married – and her husband had been at St John’s College Cambridge with William Wilberforce. William was introduced to the regular gatherings at Barham Court, meeting Ramsay in 1783. He loved the Barham Court atmosphere, writing later that he found Barham Court ‘in high preservation. It has none of the grand features of your northern beauties but for the charms of softness and elegance I never beheld a superior to Barham Court’.

In 1788 Charles Middleton addressed the House of Common on the evils of the slave trade, and his wife asked whether he was prepared to spearhead the abolition campaign in Parliament. He declined, saying that William Wilberforce ‘not only displayed very superior talents of great eloquence, but was a decided and powerful advocate of the cause of truth and virtue.’ In practice it was a wise choice – Middleton remained to serve as a most effective Comptroller of the Navy, introducing much needed reforms, eradicating corruption and improving the lot of the common sailor, with increased pay and better conditions. He was eventually made up to Admiral (June 1795) and was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty (1805). When he retired from office he was given the title of Baron Barham of Teston. He died aged eighty-six on 17th June 1813.

And what of his wife Margaret? She died suddenly in 1792. The timing was significant because in that same year John Thornton purchased an estate in Clapham and it quickly took over from Barham Court as the centre of the abolitionist cause. The Clapham Sect carried on where the salons of Margaret, Lady Middleton had left off. But although she did not live to see her cause carried through to the Statute Book, she was hugely influential. In an era where it was not particularly fashionable to “wear your heart on your sleeve” and promote your evangelical Christian beliefs, she relentlessly used her social clout and network of contacts to further her chosen cause. Faith and philanthropy were inseparable in her mind – a combination which was to find an echo in the life of Elizabeth Fry in the decades which followed.

Mar 032016

Richard Hall could never resist going to see travelling shows, such as exhibitions of ferocious animals in the yard of the local public house etc and when he went he kept a copy of the handbill. Some he stuck into his note books, others were left as loose pages. They do however hint at his enormous appetite for anything new or unusual. Here is one, which Richard himself dated May 1752:


Another handbill demonstrates that the owners of a fine metal house-on-wheels (no doubt towed behind a pair of oxen as it lumbered around London and the shires nearby) handed out these notices to drum up business. Richard avidly collected the bills – [” I mean, a house, and it´s on wheels!!!”]. Next time I trundle behind a caravan down Devon lanes I will spare a thought for the time that caravans were unique and newsworthy!

A third one shows Richard’s fascination with automata:

The panopticon was three sided: one showed a country fair, with musicians and blacksmiths moving in time; the second showed  a ‘beautiful landskip‘ (i.e. landscape) with a flowing river and huntsmen; and the third was a ship-yard with labourers working on ships to a musical accompaniment. The actual description is rather more elaborate:

First Side

“In the first scene is the clock, which besides telling the time shows the high tide times in 3o different sea ports, with the Moon’s age, its increase and decrease, full and change, and underneath which is a representation of a Country Fair with a vast variety of Motions too tedious to mention…a Concert of Musick in a tent, of which all the figures have their true actions agreeable to the several airs with which the ear is entertained….

Second side

A great variety of coaches, carts, chaises and horsemen ascending and descending hills and altering their positions, a water mil with the water running from it, swans fighting and feathering themselves, dog and duck hunting ,with several other whimsical motions…the upper picture is a smith’s shop with men grinding their tools, blowing their bellows, planishing at the anvil, working at the forge etc.

Third side

In the last scene the lower picture represents a ship-carpenters yard with a distant view of the sea. In the yard are workmen corking, carving, sawing in the pit, carrying planks from a pile to the ship….

Note: it plays several pieces of music on various instruments, composed by the best Masters; as Handel, Albononi etc, and imitates an Aviary of birds”.

This panopticon would have been just the sort  of thing Richard Hall adored – very similar to the be-jewelled automata he subsequently visited, over and over again, at James Cox’s museum in Spring Gardens in the 1770s and 1780s.

I have shown these handbills because they demonstrate the Georgian thirst for anything novel or unusual. Whether it was a travelling freak show, or a piece of elaborate clockwork machinery, or trick riding at Astley’s Circus – Richard was always a candidate for laying out a few pennies for the chance to stand and gawp!