Mar 282021

Image courtesy of David Cohen, Unsplash

To mark the fact that the clocks changed last night, a look at one of the ideas which triggered the whole question of daylight saving – a letter to the editor of The Journal of Paris dated 1784, from no less a person than Dr Benjamin Franklin, then living in Paris.

Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Duplessis, 1778



You often entertain us with accounts of new discoveries. Permit me to communicate to the public, through your paper, one that has lately been made by myself, and which I conceive may be of great utility.

Brass Quinquet lamp

I was the other evening in a grand company, where the new lamp of Messrs. Quinquet and Lange was introduced, and much admired for its splendour; but a general inquiry was made, whether the oil it consumed was not in proportion to the light it afforded, in which case there would be no saving in the use of it. No one present could satisfy us in that point, which all agreed ought to be known, it being a very desirable thing to lessen, if possible, the expense of lighting our apartments, when every other article of family expense was so much augmented.

I was pleased to see this general concern for economy, for I love economy exceedingly.

I went home, and to bed, three or four hours after midnight, with my head full of the subject. An accidental sudden noise waked me about six in the morning, when I was surprised to find my room filled with light; and I imagined at first, that a number of those lamps had been brought into it; but, rubbing

‘Shutters’ courtesy of
Valentin Lacoste, Unsplash

my eyes, I perceived the light came in at the windows. I got up and looked out to see what might be the occasion of it, when I saw the sun just rising above the horizon, from whence he poured his rays plentifully into my chamber, my domestic having negligently omitted, the preceding evening, to close the shutters.

I looked at my watch, which goes very well, and found that it was but six o’clock; and still thinking it something extraordinary that the sun should rise so early, I looked into the almanac, where I found it to be the hour given for his rising on that day. I looked forward, too, and found he was to rise still earlier every day till towards the end of June; and that at no time in the year he retarded his rising so long as till eight o’clock. Your readers, who with me have never seen any signs of sunshine before noon, and seldom regard the astronomical part of the almanac, will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises. I am convinced of this. I am certain of my fact. One cannot be more certain of any fact. I saw it with my own eyes. And, having repeated this observation the three following mornings, I found always precisely the same result.

Yet it so happens, that when I speak of this discovery to others, I can easily perceive by their countenances, though they forbear expressing it in words, that they do not quite believe me. One, indeed, who is a learned natural philosopher, has assured me that I must certainly be mistaken as to the circumstance of the light coming into my room; for it being well known, as he says, that there could be no light abroad at that hour, it follows that none could enter from without; and that of consequence, my windows being accidentally left open, instead of letting in the light, had only served to let out the darkness; and he used many ingenious arguments to show me how I might, by that means, have been deceived. I owned that he puzzled me a little, but he did not satisfy me; and the subsequent observations I made, as above mentioned, confirmed me in my first opinion.

This event has given rise in my mind to several serious and important reflections. I considered that, if I had not been awakened so early in the morning, I should have slept six hours longer by the light of the sun, and in exchange have lived six hours the following night by candle-light; and, the latter being a much more expensive light than the former, my love of economy induced me to muster up what little arithmetic I was master of, and to make some calculations, which I shall give you, after observing that utility is, in my opinion the test of value in matters of invention, and that a discovery which can be applied to no use, or is not good for something, is good for nothing.

I took for the basis of my calculation the supposition that there are one hundred thousand families in Paris, and that these families consume in the night half a pound of bougies, or candles, per hour. I think this is a moderate allowance, taking one family with another; for though I believe some consume less, I know that many consume a great deal more. Then estimating seven hours per day as the medium quantity between the time of the sun’s rising and ours, he rising during the six following months from six to eight hours before noon, and there being seven hours of course per night in which we burn candles, the account will stand thus;–

In the six months between the 20th of March and the 20th of September, there are

Nights 183
Hours of each night in which we burn candles 7
Multiplication gives for the total number of hours 1,281
These 1,281 hours multiplied by 100,000, the number of inhabitants, give 128,100,000
One hundred twenty-eight millions and one hundred thousand hours, spent at Paris by candle-light, which, at half a pound of wax and tallow per hour, gives the weight of 64,050,000
Sixty-four millions and fifty thousand of pounds, which, estimating the whole at-the medium price of thirty sols the pound, makes the sum of ninety-six millions and seventy-five thousand livres tournois 96,075,000

An immense sum! that the city of Paris might save every year, by the economy of using sunshine instead of candles. If it should be said, that people are apt to be obstinately attached to old customs, and that it will be difficult to induce them to rise before noon, consequently my discovery can be of little use; I answer, Nil desperandum. I believe all who have common sense, as soon as they have learnt from this paper that it is daylight when the sun rises, will contrive to rise with him; and, to compel the rest, I would propose the following regulations:

Image courtesy of Jarl Schmidt, Unsplash

First. Let a tax be laid of a louis per window, on every window that is provided with shutters to keep out the light of the sun.

Second. Let the same salutary operation of police be made use of, to prevent our burning candles, that inclined us last winter to be more economical in burning wood; that is, let guards be placed in the shops of the wax and tallow chandlers, and no family be permitted to be supplied with more than one pound of candles per week.

Third. Let guards also be posted to stop all the coaches, &c. that would pass the streets after sunset, except those of physicians, surgeons, and midwives.

Fourth. Every morning, as soon as the sun rises, let all the bells in every church be set ringing; and if that is not sufficient?, let cannon be fired in every street, to wake the sluggards effectually, and make them open their eyes to see their true interest.

All the difficulty will be in the first two or three days; after which the reformation will be as natural and easy as the present irregularity; for, ce n’est que le premier pas qui coûte. Oblige a man to rise at four in the morning, and it is more than probable he will go willingly to bed at eight in the evening; and, having had eight hours sleep, he will rise more willingly at four in the morning following. But this sum of ninety-six millions and seventy-five thousand livres is not the whole of what may be saved by my economical project. You may observe, that I have calculated upon only one half of the year, and much may be saved in the other, though the days are shorter. Besides, the immense stock of wax and tallow left unconsumed during the summer, will probably make candles much cheaper for the ensuing winter, and continue them cheaper as long as the proposed reformation shall be supported.

For the great benefit of this discovery, thus freely communicated and bestowed by me on the public, I demand neither place, pension, exclusive privilege, nor any other reward whatever. I expect only to have the honour of it. And yet I know there are little, envious minds, who will, as usual, deny me this and say, that my invention was known to the ancients, and perhaps they may bring passages out of the old books in proof of it. I will not dispute with these people, that the ancients knew not the sun would rise at certain hours; they possibly had, as we have, almanacs that predicted it; but it does not follow thence, that they knew he gave light as soon as he rose. This is what I claim as my discovery. If the ancients knew it, it might have been long since forgotten; for it certainly was unknown to the moderns, at least to the Parisians, which to prove, I need use but one plain simple argument. They are as well instructed judicious, and prudent a people as exist anywhere in the world all professing, like myself, to be lovers of economy; and,from the many heavy taxes required from them by the necessitities of the state, have surely an abundant reason to be economical. I say it is impossible that so sensible a people, under such circumstances, should have lived so long by the smoky, unwholesome, and enormously expensive light of candles, if they had really known, that they might have had as much pure light of the sun for nothing. I am, &c  A SUBSCRIBER.

The letter appears in a book of selected scientific letters entitled The Ingenious Dr. Franklin. edited by Nathan G. Goodman and published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 1931. 

I quote the letter in full because it is a reminder of just how our ancestors were daylight dependent, in an era before proper street lighting and where almost all activities carried out indoors after dark would have involved candles. It is interesting because even back in 1784 eight hours of sleep was regarded as  the norm.

My own ancestor Richard Hall went even further than Benjamin Franklin recommended – he proposed getting up a quarter of an hour earlier every week from mid-April onwards. In his diary he writes:

“Early rising is a habit easily acquired, so necessary to the dispatch of country business, so advantageous to health, and so important to devotion, that except in cases of necessity it cannot be dispensed with by any prudent or intelligent man. Let a person accustomed to sleep until eight in the morning rise the first week in April at a Quarter before Eight, the second week at Half past Seven, the third at a Quarter after Seven and the fourth at Seven. Let him continue this method until the end of July subtracting one quarter of an hour each week from sleep, and he will accomplish the work which at first sight appears difficult.”

Image courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.



The idea of rising at half past four in July just because it is light may not appeal to anyone who is distraught at the idea of having lost an hour’s sleep  last night – but it did go to show that making the most of daylight hours is not just a modern concern. Besides, in the winter I suspect that my ancestor just rolled over at eight o’clock in the morning and went back to sleep….

Sep 122020
DCF 1.0

Rev John Newton

Tomorrow I head to Olney, the town where the Rev. John Newton preached  two and a half centuries ago. It will give me a chance to re-unite the town with a letter written by the good reverend  in October 1775. I am donating the letter to the local museum so that it can be appreciated by a larger audience and it gives me an opportunity of repeating a blog  which appeared in March 2016, and bringing it up to date:


John Newton was the fascinating individual who we remember today as the composer of Amazing Grace – fascinating because he was at one  stage actively involved in the slave trade, but eventually recanted and became a church minister campaigning tirelessly for abolition.

Not that he gave up his wicked ways overnight – despite an epiphany in May 1748 when the ship he was in nearly foundered off the coast of Donegal. The hull was smashed but the cargo broke free and miraculously wedged itself in the gaping hole – and the ship stayed afloat long enough to reach landfall.

It was a while before Newton abandoned all his links to the slave trade. The letter I discovered among Richard Hall’s papers show something of the inner torment he went through, including self-loathing, contempt etc.

Newton 5 001I came across it in an envelope written by my great aunt Annie some time in the 1930s – I vaguely recall her from the 1950s when I was a kid, having to bellow into her silver ear trumpet to say ‘thank you’ for the pocket money (all of one penny, if I remember right) which she had pressed into my eager palm. I remember it because even then a penny was a tad derisory, especially as the old bat was loaded. By then she was well into her nineties, and I never saw her again. Mind you she was quite a character: she and her sister never married and lived together in a commune in a remote part of Wales, rearing goats and ingesting prodigious quantities of  cocaine, in one form or another. It was a while before I understood what ‘coke-head’ meant – but Annie was definitely on a higher plane than the rest of us!

She did have her faults – one was being tee-total (no, coke is OK but the demon drink is a dreadful scourge of the working classes…) and when her father died she rushed over to his home in London’s Park Lane, and promptly poured all the contents of his rather extensive wine cellar down the drain…. so I am none too proud of Aunt Annie!

She would seem to have recognized who John Newton was, and why he was important, but that didn’t stop her taking a sharp knife to the letter and cutting off the wax seal with the imprint of Newton’s signet ring (perhaps she collected seals. Maybe she flogged it … or smoked it for all I know). It did rather leave a hole in the letter, but beggars cannot be choosers…

Newton 1 001Anyway, the letter was written by John Newton on 2 October 1775. It starts off with the words “Dear Sir, when your letter came to Olney I was in London, nor did I receive it till a little before my return, and since I came home I have been quite taken up with things which could not be deferred. Otherwise you would have heard from me much sooner. I should have made a point (tho’  in general I am not a very punctual correspondent) of answering  your first letter speedily as a proof of the value I set upon it – and especially when it brought me the interesting news of the great danger Mrs Robinson has been in, and the Lord’s goodness in bringing her through it and making her the Mother of a living child.”

Rev. Thomas Robinson

Rev. Thomas Robinson

Mrs Robinson was the wife of the Reverend Mr Thomas Robinson of Leicester. Apparently in another letter from John Newton, addressed to John Thornton, he remarked: “that Mr Robinson preaches the gospel at Leicester…  Leicester is a dark place, but if the Lord is pleased to continue Mr Robinson there, who knows but that wilderness may soon blossom like the rose!”

Hmm, so much for Leicester. Some years earlier Rev. Robinson had apparently been passing through the town on election night and abhorred the place so much, and was so disgusted by the general behaviour of the population that he “had privately whispered a prayer to God that it might never be his portion to reside at Leicester”. The prayer was obviously muddled in transit, because back came the good Lord’s decision to make him accept the curacy of St Martin’s (now the cathedral). Not all our prayers are answered…

Robinson’s wife Mary (nee Boys) died in 1791 but at the time of Newton’s letter she had obviously just produced a son. I have no idea what happened to him.

The Newton letter continues: “The Providential turns in my life have indeed been very remarkable yet I can readily allow you to think your own case no less extraordinary, because you are acquainted with your own heart – I am a stranger to mine. Non omnia nec omnibus might have been the proper motto for my narrative. Alas the most marvelous proofs of the Lord’s patience and goodness to me are utterly unfit for publication, nay I could not whisper some things into the ears of a friend. It has been since my conversion, and not by what happened before it that I have known the most striking instances of the vileness and depravity of my nature. My heart, as the ancients fabled of Africa, has been continually producing new monsters…. I have good reason to believe that it is still comparatively  a terra incognita to me and that it contains treasures, mines, depths and sources of iniquity in it of which I have hardly  more conception than I could form of looking at the fishes that are hidden in the sea by taking a survey of the fish in Billingsgate.”

The next bit was excised by my aunt’s sharp knife cutting round the seal, but the epistle continues:  “… I believe most who are called by Grace can recollect previous periods of life when they felt something of the working of Grace put in with them and they derive instruction from them afterwards, yet I conceive that these impressions are for the most part different toto genere  from that great radical and instantaneous change which takes place within the moment of Regeneration when a new and truly spiritual light is darted into the soul and gives us such perceptions as we were before unacquainted with.”

Newton 4 001The letter ends “Cease not to pray for us, and believe me to be Your Affectionate and obliged servant and brother, John Newton”

Unfortunately the letter in with Richard Hall’s papers is in poor condition – it has split down the folds and looks somewhat ragged around the edges. Originally it was what was known as ‘an entire’ – in other words it was folded up so that the address appeared on the outside, with the ‘wings’ tucked in on each side. So, no need for an envelope, making for a cheaper postage rate.

Newton wrote many hymns, the most famous being Amazing Grace, which he wrote for a service on New Year’s Day, 1773. In 1780 Newton left Olney to become Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, London, where he became a particularly effective preacher and a friend of William Wilberforce. Newton died on 21 December 1807. He lived long enough to see Wilberforce’s bill abolishing the slave trade passed in Parliament that same year.

All in all, an interesting piece of history, and one for which I suppose I must thank good old Aunt Annie.  And I am delighted to find a good home for the letter – it has been on a very long journey!

A post-script to the blog: it was great being able to call in and deliver the letter to the Museum staff at Olney. It left me with a lovely feeling that I had ‘done the right thing’. The staff were kind enough to turn out on a Sunday and if ever I had any doubts as to whether the letter was going to a good home, they were totally dispelled! I am so pleased it has a permanent home, in the UK, and has not been snapped up by a wealthy private collector! It can now be appreciated by all visitors to Olney – or at least, it will be once the Museum is able to open normally. At that stage I very much look forward to re-visiting the lovely Museum and meeting the enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff.

Apr 232020

Image of the King visiting St Paul’s, shown courtesy of the British Museum

For four months towards the end of 1788 George III was incapacitated by illness – wracked with pain and mental instability, the King’s conduct led to the first serious  look at whether a regency was required. And then he got better. The public were relieved and delighted – and it was decided to hold a service of thanksgiving for the King’s recovery, at St Paul’s Cathedral.

The presentation of the sword by the Lord Mayor of London © Look and Learn / Elgar Collection

The day for the celebration was chosen – 23 April – and large crowds gathered. The king in his carriage was  presented with a ceremonial sword by the Lord Mayor of London, and artists drew pictures to record the happy scene, while engravers quickly came out with a commemorative medal. ‘God save the King’ on the obverse was backed with the sunburst over the royal shield and symbols of power, and the words ‘Visited St Pauls’, and with the date in the exergue (the name given to the space below the line on the reverse side of a coin).

Richard Hall, my ancestor, recorded the joyful news of the King’s recovery in one of his diaries – little did the public know then that it was to be the first of  a number of health problems which would eventually end in the poor monarch being locked away from public view in Windsor Castle – deaf, totally blind, and completely senile.

I prefer to mark the day with a rather nice caricature, published the day before the Thanksgiving Service by SW Fores:

It appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site and shows four ladies of fashion demonstrating their enthusiasm for the king’s recovery. The figure on the left bears a resemblance to the often-parodied Lady Archer. She is shown in profile  wearing a broad-brimmed hat with a high cylindrical crown and a brim with a curtain of lace, trimmed with feathers and ribbons inscribed ‘Save the King’, ‘Live the [King]’, and ‘Regoice’ [sic]. On a bracelet are the letters ‘G.R’, and on the ends of a ribbon sash medallions inscribed ‘The King Restor[ed]’ and ‘Live the King’

Next to her is the rear view of a lady wearing a large hat  be-ribboned with a bow  inscribed ‘Long Live the King G.R.’; her hair is tied with a ‘G.R’ ribbon. The next lady to her is shown full-face and is wearing what appears to be full court dress. Her splendid hair-do features feathers and flowers and is decorated with a ribbon marked: ‘The King Restored’. The fan in her left hand is decorated with a profile portrait of the King. The lady on the left is shown in profile and is wearing a similar costume but topped off with what looks like a splendid piece of confectionery or decorated cream cake. Around it is entwined a spiral ribbon inscribed ‘God Save the King’. Obviously no well-dressed woman would go out without wearing, well, if not her heart on her sleeve, at least her patriotic support for the monarch on the top of her head! I just think that it is a lovely fashion plate – exaggerated maybe, but none-the-less a rather evocative  depiction of the extraordinary fashions of the day.

Good old King George – it would be another twelve years before his next serious attack – and the regency was not introduced until 1811.

PS I see that Thomas Rowlandson brought out his own ‘Restoration Dressing Room’ on 24 April – the day after the celebration.

It appears on Wikigallery – and gives credit to the V&A.

Sep 302019

This is the concluding part of my various blogs re-visiting some of my Irish-themed posts – a repeat of a post made seven years ago when I paid a visit to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin:

As a young boy at boarding school (yes, thanks for reminding me, I am talking about half a century ago…) I recall the excitement of opening a parcel from Guinness containing a poster designed to go on the side of a London bus. Proudly I stuck it up on two walls of the dorm: there in foot-high letters was the slogan known to everyone –  “GUINNESS IS GOOD FOR YOU”. Fast forward fifty years and no doubt there are laws against encouraging minors to partake of alcohol, just as there are rules in small print urging the consumer to ‘drink sensibly’. And of course, the slogan itself is banned. It is enough that we all know it does us good, but Guinness is not allowed to make the claim because it cannot be proved…

And what of the man, good old Arthur? For years no-one was quite sure of his date of birth, which made it awkward to have a decent bi-centennial celebration to mark the occasion. So, when it came to the 275th anniversary some Dr Spin at Guinness decided that the great day was actually … 24th September 1725. No matter that Arthur’s gravestone at Oughterard states that he was 78-years-old when he died on 23rd January 1803, indicating that he was in fact born sometime in 1724 or early 1725. A specific date is easy to commemorate, and slowly the custom of ‘Arthur’s Day’ is catching on. The first ‘Arthur’s Day’ took place on 24th September 2009, to celebrate 250 years of the Guinness Company – 250 years since Arthur signed the lease on the St. James’s Gate brewery. This year it occurs on 27th September (cue much musical celebration and consumption of dark liquid). Rumour has it that in fact the timing of Arthur’s Day has more to do with the fact that it is roughly six months after St Patrick’s Day – a good and timely marketing ploy! At one minute to six o’clock (that is, at 17.59) there is a toast to commemorate the 1759 founding of the Guinness brewery empire.

Quite a bit is known about Arthur’s family, most of it contradictory! His father was Richard Guinness, and when he was a young man he moved to County Kildare and one story has it that he sold milk from a roadside stall near Celbridge, just down the road from a stall run by local farmer William Read (who sold home-brewed ale). The two became friends, no doubt in part over a drop of home-brew, but also because Read had a daughter called Catherine. Richard and Catherine decided to get married.

One other resident in Celbridge was a certain Dr Price, a man whose religious calling did not preclude him from owning a small malt-house in Celbridge (where a pub called The Mucky Duck now stands). Dr Price was busy moving up his professional ladder, ending up in 1744 as Archbishop of Cashel. His responsibilities meant that he needed a land agent – someone responsible for collecting the episcopal rents throughout the county – and Richard somehow persuaded the good Reverend to give him the job. He lived at the malt-house, the better to perform his duties which included brewing beer for workers on Dr Price’s estate.

In  1722 the Archbishop had taken over James Carberry’s  malting house in Celbridge, where Richard and Elizabeth lived in the early years of their marriage. Perhaps the Archbishop was inspired by Richard’s ability to “make a brew of very palatable nature.”

Richard and Catherine had at least 5 children, of whom Arthur was one. Richard not only named the baby Arthur (in honour of the Archbishop) but inveigled him into becoming the lad’s godfather, a shrewd move as it  turned out…

                                    The Courtyard Hotel by the banks of the River Liffey

Dr Price died in 1752 leaving Richard Guinness, and also Arthur Guinness his godson, the sum of one hundred pounds each. Arthur was 27 years old, and suddenly he had money. He also appears to have acquired the skills necessary to brew beer commercially, probably from working at a local brewery. His mother had died in 1742, and his father remarried to Elizabeth Clare whose family owned an inn in Celbridge. This may have been called The Bear & Ragged Staff or possibly the White Hart Inn – who cares, it is now the site of a Londis supermarket, and no, it doesn’t merit a photograph!

Arthur used his inheritance in 1755 to develop a brewery at the Leixlip site, some 17 kilometres from Dublin (the site of the current Courtyard Hotel in Leixlip). The venture prospered, and after a couple of years he handed over the brewery to his younger brother Richard and headed off to the bright lights of the big city. The year was 1759 and history was about to be made.

It wasn’t an easy time in the industry – the English had imposed tax tariffs in an attempt to stop England being flooded with Irish beer. Undaunted, Arthur found a four-acre derelict brewery site in the centre of the city of Dublin, at St James Gate, and signed a 9000 year lease at a rent of £45 pa on 31st December 1759.

That month Arthur entered his signature, as a new brewer, in the Minute Book of the Dublin Brewers and Maltsters Corporation. Within eight years he had risen to become Warden and then Master of the that body. He was also one of the four brewers’ guild representatives on Dublin Corporation.

In the spring of 1761 Arthur married Olivia Whitmore. She was a 19-year-old heiress from Dublin, the daughter of a prosperous merchant family. Arthur and Olivia had 21 children, ten of whom lived to adulthood. From 1764 their country home was at Beaumont House (now Beaumont Convalescent Home). And if having 21 children doesn’t say something about the efficacy of the family product, then I don’t know what does!

The first hint of an export trade occurred around 1769 when there is a reference to six and a half barrels of ‘Dublin Ale’ being shipped to England, notwithstanding the punitive tax. By then Arthur was experimenting with porter, a drink named after the street and river porters in the City of London and who were apparently especially partial to a glass or two after a hard day’s work. Or even, instead of a hard day’s work…

Shrewdly,  Arthur  engaged members of the Purser family who had come over to Dublin from London, where they already had an established track record of brewing porter. Together they forged a partnership which was to dominate the brewery scene.

Coopers making barrels (18th Century).

Surviving excise data shows that by 1778 Arthur was selling porter to England. It wasn’t always plain sailing. The records show that in 1775 Dublin Corporation tried to make him pay for his water supply notwithstanding the fact that his 9000 year lease included water rights. When the Sheriff and a group of men turned up at St James’s Gate to cut off his water source, Arthur seized a pick-axe from one of the men and began to shout ‘with very much improper language that they should not proceed.’ Unwilling to risk further ire, the sheriff and his men beat a hasty if undignified retreat…

A considerable expansion to the brewery was started in 1797 and in 1799 the family took the major step of stopping the brewing of ale, so that it could focus solely on “Guinness’s Extra Strong Porter”

In time this porter developed into ‘stout’ (meaning ‘strong’). It came about after the 1817 invention of patent malt (i.e. malted barley roasted until black). It gave the brew a distinctive burnt flavour and, in 1840, the stout was renamed “Guinness Extra Stout”

By the time Arthur died the brewery was producing some 20,000 barrels a year. Affectionately, both Arthur and his product had become known as ‘Uncle Arthur’ throughout the city. Arthur was buried in his mother’s burial plot at Oughterard, County Kildare in January 1803.

Thereafter the business expanded rapidly throughout Europe and the rest of the world, aided and abetted by distinctive advertising campaigns which are nothing if not memorable. Which is where I came in at the start with my poster at boarding school. Here are just a few of the splendid posters from the post-War years (oh, and one which came out very much earlier, possibly in 1794). I will leave it to the readers to work out which is which, promoting what James Joyce formerly (nay, famously) feted as “The Free,  the Flow, the Frothy Freshener”

























For much of the history I am indebted to the Guinness site at and in particular to Eibhlin Roche, Guinness Archivist.


Post script: one of the reasons for this post is that my ancestor Richard Hall had a brother-in-law called William Snooke. His diary contains an intriguing entry for July 1774, suggesting that he made a purchase of “Light Guinness”. This was just a few years after the first recorded imports of ‘Dublin Ale’. Was ‘Dublin Ale’ known as ‘Light Guinness’? If so it suggests an early familiarity with the brand name.

Aug 022019

Fake Or Fortune? Philip Mould and Fiona Bruce with the painting 'Peniston Lamb II', originally valued at £8,000 (Photo: Ben Fitzpatrick/BBC/PA Wire)Fake Or Fortune? Philip Mould and Fiona Bruce with the painting ‘Peniston Lamb II’, originally valued at £8,000 (Photo: Ben Fitzpatrick/BBC/PA Wire)


Last night the BBC aired the latest episode of ‘Fake or Fortune?’, which examined this portrait of Peniston Lamb, concluding that it was painted by a young Thomas Lawrence rather than by the fragrant Maria Cosway, as previously believed. The programme highlighted the vagaries of the art world – the change in attribution meant a difference to the price tag  from £8,000 to £500,000. Strange – because a fine painting is a fine painting, and I had not realized that a Maria Cosway was valued so little. It reminded me that I had done a post about Maria some time ago, so I thought I would repeat it:

On the left, Richard Cosway’s hauntingly attractive portrait of his young wife, and on the right, her own self-portrait.

The story of the life of Maria Louisa Catherine Cecilia Hadfield (later Cosway) is a remarkable one by any standards. Italian born in 1759, she was originally one of eight children but four were murdered by their insane nursemaid, who was caught after being overheard discussing how she was planning to kill the young Maria as well. Small wonder the girl was a bit unstable!

She showed an aptitude for painting at an early age and when she came to London in 1779 she attracted the attention of Richard Cosway, well known miniaturist and middle-aged roué. They married two years later, despite a twenty year age difference.

   Wax portrait of Maria






She had an interesting  life of romance to say the least. A beautiful woman, she quickly attracted admirers when she came to London, becoming known as ‘the Goddess of Pall-Mall’ when the couple moved to  Schomberg House House and opened a salon there. Later the couple moved to larger premises in Stratford Place. It was the venue for fashionable people to meet and to be seen.


An extract from Maria’s painting entitled ” Georgiana as the Goddess Diana”courtesy of Chatsworth House





Like her husband she also painted miniatures :

    (this being one of her later works, circa 1820)






She was  a fine artist with a celebrity status of her own and she exhibited some thirty pictures at the Royal Academy in a twenty year period  from 1781. I must confess that many of her paintings are not to my personal taste, particularly the ones with mythological scenes and wing-ed nymphs!  She was also a hugely accomplished musician and composer. She entertained royalty in London, and later, the Bonaparte family in France.                                    © National Portrait Gallery, London

“A View from Mr. Cosway’s Breakfast-Room Pall Mall, with the Portrait of Mrs Cosway (Maria Louisa Catherine Cecilia Cosway (née Hadfield) stipple engraving, published 1789, by William Russell Birch”

Later on a trip to Paris with her husband in 1786 she was introduced to the recently widowed Thomas Jefferson, the American Envoy to the Court of Versailles and who was living in Paris at the time. He was 43, she was 27. Jefferson fell in love at first sight.  To begin with they were inseparable companions sampling the delights of Paris, sharing a similar love of art, architecture and music (Jefferson was a talented violinist). But after six weeks Richard Cosway got tired of the besotted Jefferson and sent his wife  back to London. Maria was the subject of Jefferson’s 4000 word letter entitled ‘A Dialogue between the Head and the Heart’  written in October 1786. There followed a passionate if sometimes one-sided correspondence which was to last for the rest of Jefferson’s  life. They met up again in Paris.Theirs appears to have been a platonic romance (Maria was a strict catholic girl with a convent education to terrify her into fidelity) but the ‘affair’ rumbled on for many years. On the occasion when Maria left for Italy and he for America he wrote  “One of us is going the wrong way, for the way will ever be wrong that leads us further apart.”

A portrait of Thomas Jefferson, attributed by some to Maria Cosway.





She travelled extensively in Europe after her marriage (and not necessarily partnered by her husband). The relationship with her husband was a curious one – they had a daughter (who died as a young girl) but Richard made no secret of his numerous affairs. For a while it suited them to remain married, but eventually the marriage was annulled.

In 1802 Maria went to Paris and started a girls’ school there. She was then asked by the Duke of Lodi to return to Italy and found a  convent and college for girls. She did so, and on 1st April 1812 the school at the Convent di Santa Maria delle Grazie opened its doors for the first time. She remained closely involved in the running of the college and her work as an educationalist led to her being awarded the rank of Baroness by the Austrian Emperor Franz I. She died at Lodi on 5th January 1838.

And O.K. you get one mawkish picture with wing-ed dryads. It is entitled “An Angel and Putti accompanying a child’s soul to Heaven” and is not to my taste at all…..

Dec 312018

To mark the end of the year, a snippet repeated from Richard’s diary for 1790:aa2

I have not come across a record of the disaster – although the century seems to have been marked by a number of catastrophic drownings in the canals around Amsterdam, often linked to fog. The Gallery of Natural Phenomena refers to a general disaster on  14th December 1783

“Holland – Fog. Fatal accidents, Amsterdam; coaches fell into canals”

and presumably this was repeated at the end of the century. Meanwhile Richard did love his entries about extreme weather – it must have rounded off his year nicely! What is sad is to see that people are still drowning in considerable numbers in the Dutch capital – though probably this was as a result of drink rather than fog. Fifty one deaths by drowning occurred in the three years, between 2009 and 2011, only one of them as a result of crime… presumably the other fifty were accidents, or suicide. Since that date an average of 400 people a year have fallen into the Amsterdam canals – with  an average of 18 deaths occurring in every year. But for 230 to perish in a single night of dense fog, as in 1790, was truly tragic.

Post Script:   Since this wasoriginally  published I received corroboration of the events of 31st December 1790 from the ever-so-helpful Baldwin Hamey, who does a fascinating blog called London Details here. He referred me to this engraving. The caption apparently reads “In the heavy fog several people and a coach have gone into the water. Torches produce more light to see.”

It appears on this Dutch site  and copyright belongs to Amsterdam City Archives. Thanks Baldwin!


May 052017

Sometimes the diaries of my ancestor are interesting because of what he does not say – and in a way his diary from May 1767 is a case in point: basically, he only remembers to talk about two things, health and the weather.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, 5th May was a Tuesday – and it was cold, remarkably cold. So much so that London had a scattering of snow. Apparently Richard trudged over to see Mr Sykes, but I bet he didn’t stay late, partly because of the weather, and partly because the previous week had seen “an attempt by some rogues” to break into his house in the evening. Also, they cannot have had much to talk about, because the identical entry about visiting Mr Sykes appeared  three days earlier. Mind you, that was before he started his new medicine (“May the Lord’s Blessings attend it”).

The next day, Wednesday, was a real non-event: he didn’t go anywhere, he didn’t do anything and he didn’t see anyone – but it was “mostly dullish, a cold day.” Thursday saw rain in the morning but it was dull and mild in the afternoon. And then on Friday we had “Fine morning, dull in the afternoon, and very mild.”  But guess what, tucked in at the end “Went and took up my Freedom of the City.” You would have thought that there would have been more of a fanfare, something about what he wore, or who he met, or whether his wife came and watched – but no, just “took up my Freedom”.

It is not as if it wasn’t quite a big deal: he was not allowed to trade within the City boundaries unless he was a Freeman – and he had just opened his shop at Number One London Bridge  three weeks earlier. This had incensed the Haberdashers Guild – because Richard had served his apprenticeship in Southwark, where the long arm of the livery companies did not reach, and he had therefore escaped paying his dues to the Haberdashers for all his adult life. When he moved North of the River Thames into the actual City of London, they had him by the proverbials – and they duly fined him to make up for all the past payments he had avoided. Whether he knew this when he paid his £4/5/00  by way of an admin. charge I do not know – the actual fine of £25/14/06 was not imposed until September the following year – but that is bureaucracy for you! To get an idea of the scale of the fine, multiply by at least eighty. Or, to put it in context, he paid his maidservant about one quarter of that amount for the whole year. Still, she couldn’t complain, as she got her food and lodging thrown in for free….

I still have all Richard Hall’s papers relating to being made a Freeman – his Oath which he had to swear, the receipt for the fine, and so on. I reckon it should have been a red-letter day for Richard, so I am disappointed that he made no other mention of it.

Back to the diary: the following day, Saturday 9th May saw Mrs Snooke leave Town. Mrs Snooke was his sister in law – immensely wealthy and accustomed to coming up once a year to stay a few weeks with Richard in order to see something of her sister (Richard’s wife). It hadn’t been an easy year for Mrs Hall – she miscarried six weeks earlier. Richard’s diaries at the time  commented on the miscarriage with a laconic “My wife miscarried in the Evening – the Lord is gracious to her. A very fine day, mild.” And that was just about it – just one more mention that “Thru the Goodness of God my wife continued poorly, a raw dull cold Foggy day.”

On the Sabbath Richard went as he usually did to hear the great theologian Dr Gill preach – from Hebrews Chapter 9 verse 27 – and for good measure also got a sermon from the visiting Baptist Minister Mr Cole, who took as his text Isaiah 8:17 (“I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.” – Just thought that you would like to know…..).

Then on the Monday  it was a “Dull, dribbling day” – what a lovely description, and so appropriate to the British climate! The wind was cold, and “Poor John” (servant) “was very bad at night.”

Richard noted the next day that John was “thro’ Mercy, better” but apart from noting that the weather was “Dull in the morning, Fine in the afternoon, Mild” all he had to say for himself was what he did NOT do – he didn’t go to Mr Sykes again – because Mr Sykes was not well.

So, not a lot to report 250 years ago. In his defence I have to say that having just opened his new shop, and moved house, Richard must have had his days pretty full, and his diaries get much more communicative and interesting once he retired, and had more time to  fill  in the entries every day.


May 092016

Dennis Severs' HouseOne of the most extraordinary museums I have ever visited was the highly evocative house of Dennis Severs at 18 Folgate Street in London. Each room is unique, and reflects the fact that the 18th Century occupier of that particular room has just popped out for a break. The low lighting, the sounds, the smells are all done to re-create a perfect Georgian atmosphere. Visitors go round in small, silent groups, so no coach parties of children, no flocks of foreign tourists with motor-driven cameras a-whirring, just you and a few other lucky people tip-toeing through history.

This June sees some unique joint visits to Dennis Severs’ House and the Museum of Immigration at 19 Princelet Street. The latter reflects the wave after wave of immigrants into the Spitalfields area, not just with the silk weaving Huguenots, but others right up until the 20th Century. And let’s face it, most of us come from families who were immigrants at one time or another. “Immigrants” just mean that people have yet to be assimilated into the melting pot. My lot were Anglo-Saxon immigrants. Anyway, the museum reflects all the diverse immigration waves over recent centuries and is one of those places where “the walls talk”. The joint venture is interesting because up until now it has been almost impossible to visit both museums on the same day – because of their very limited (and often conflicting) opening hours.

The first part, consisting of a tour of 18 Folgate Street, is to be followed by a short walk to Princelet Street and a tour around what has been described as ‘one of the most charismatic, moving, beautiful places in all London’. Apparently the joint tour is designed to take an hour and three quarters. Tours are at midday and at one p.m. and will be run on various days between 7th June and 25th June.

More information can be obtained via the website at  It sounds an interesting experience, and one I highly recommend if you are in London in June.

Jun 292015

As the holiday season is upon us I thought I would look back to the events of 1773, and see what my ancestor was up to. Sure enough, he was just about to set off from London to go down to Salisbury, do a spot of sight-seeing (Wilton House, Stonehenge etc) and then head for his ‘holiday home’ in the Cotswolds. A chance to take tea with loads of friends, attend a few sermons, eat and drink at lots of pubs called the White Hart, the White Swan, the White Almost-anything, and then head for Oxford and back to London via Uxbridge. His coach broke down on the way – ah, those were the days, with no RAC to come to the rescue….

Stonehenge in the 18th Century,image courtesy of the Salisbury Museum

Stonehenge in the 18th Century, image courtesy of the Salisbury Museum

For those with good transcription skills, here are the actual entries:-

one 001

Three 001

Four 001So, on Wednesday 30 June he set off in the coach with his wife, took Breakfast at the White Hart in Cobham, Dinner at the White Hart in Guildford and Supper at the White Hart in Alton. It was a dull day, with some rain, and not very hot.

The next day he managed a Breakfast at The Swan at Alresford and  Dinner at the Dolphin at Southampton (still there, if I remember correctly from my university days) and then took Supper at the White Horse at Romsey. By then it was very fine, not very hot, and as usual he noted that  he was “kindly preserved”. Presumably the coach would have passed what is now Broadlands at Romsey – acquired by Henry Temple, 1st Viscount Palmerston  in 1736, and the subject of a major refurbishment under the auspices of Henry Holland starting in 1767. By the time that Richard rode by, the massive landscaping works proposed by Capability Brown were well under way, part of a de-formalisation process designed to produce the ‘broad-lands’ i.e. the “gentle descent to the river.

Broadlands, Romsey

The house at Broadlands, Romsey, designed in the Palladian style.

The pace continued  the next day (2 July) with Breakfast at Mr James Sharp’s, Dinner at Mrs Futchers before going on to take tea with Richard Sharps. No mention of Supper that day – perhaps he ate all the cake at tea time. Or maybe his appetite was tempered because the day was rather dull, and not hot.

Richard presumably borrowed a horse the next day, because he rode over to Broughton and the Wollops on 3 July, where it was warm in the sun, being pretty fine. He drank tea at Mr Comleys. Mr Comley’s name doesn’t appear elsewhere in Richard’s diaries, but the family were presumably close friends because he stayed the following day with them (Sunday, so attending church for a double whammy of sermons by both Mr Porter and Mr Gregory) with a quick visit to Mr Madgwicks for tea. A spot of Breakfast and Dinner the next day with the Comley’s was followed by a leisurely drive over to Salisbury, arriving just in time to take Supper at the Antelope. No matter that he called it The Antilope, the hotel/restaurant is still going strong, in the Vale of Pewsey, and is a well-known, 300 year-old, coaching inn. They owe me a  pint for the mention….

The Antelope Inn

The Antelope Inn

Whereas the previous day seems to have been marked by “a little mist of rain”  Monday was “part dullish, some rain, not sultry.”

The stunning Wilton House, Double Cube Room.

The stunning Wilton House, Double Cube Room.

On Tuesday he had Breakfast and Dinner at Mr Moon’s at Salisbury, no doubt giving him an opportunity to look round the cathedral. Certainly he jotted down elsewhere the number of windows and doors in the cathedral, so he was presumably impressed…. then he trotted off to see the stunningly magnificent Wilton House ( – often featured in period dramas such as  The Madness of King George, Mrs. Brown, Pride and Prejudice and The Young Victoria)  and then dashed over to see Stonehenge.

twoThat evening saw him in Devizes, where he supped and laid at The Bear, another famous coaching Inn, where the young artist Thomas Lawrence would entertain the guests with his drawings and sketches, and with his poetry recitations. Mind you, I may have got the place wrong, because Richard may well have written The Boar rather than The Bear, and I know nothing whatsoever of The Boar….

The weather seems to have been typically British – fine but with rain, and warm in the sun. The next day saw him break his fast at Chippenham and take Dinner at Tetbury, staying at the Overbury’s place. On July 8th he set off early and got to Bourton in time for Dinner (lunch to you and me). A chance to take Tea with the Widow Collet, but by mid-week it was very hot. I am not quite sure what “I sat down” on Sunday 11 July signified, but it must have been pleasant because  it was very fine, very hot, but “with an air.”

The Mansion House at Bengeworth, now known as the Evesham Hotel

The Mansion House at Bengeworth, now known as the Evesham Hotel

On 16 July he headed off with his wife and brother-in-law William Snooke to go to Bengeworth – no doubt to visit Bengeworth Mansion House  (now known as The Evesham Hotel) which Richard had inherited some twenty years previously on the death of his in-laws the Sewards.  All was well (it was tenanted by the local vicar at £25 p.a.) and through Mercy he was  safely returned.  That week was marked by thunder and lightning, and he appears to have had a narrow escape when his Old Grey nearly threw him on 19 July.  The next day saw him go to Burford Races where he appears to have got a soaking in the rain, although it was fine by the evening. I can just imagine him humming the tune as he rode home after the summer showers….

Burford Races

Some more Tea, and then his brother in law appears to have volunteered to see him off the premises, driving him in his Chaise as far as Witney.  Richard and his wife then got the Stage Coach to Oxford, staying at The Star. No doubt he was grateful that it was  “a fine travelling day, not much sun, moderate in heat.”

Friday 23 saw the last leg of the journey, so he Breakfasted at Tetsworth, and took Dinner at Uxbridge but only after the coach broke down. “Through Mercy, no hurt done”. He got in safe home that evening, recording faithfully his gratitude to the Almighty – “Lord give a deep sense of thy favours – dullish”.

Ah well, holidays were over, and it was back to the grindstone of life as a haberdasher at One London Bridge, where he had left his 18 year old son William in charge of the shop…..

Apr 152015

Today I am delighted to offer a guest blog-spot to author David Ebsworth, who brought out a fascinating book earlier this year entitled The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour. Over to you David!


a4 Ebsworth1“They say that, on the day after the battle, you couldn’t find a pair of pliers for love nor money. Not for fifty miles around. The new fashion – in London, Paris, Berlin and St. Petersburg – was for dentures fitted with real teeth.

Waterloo teeth

Waterloo teeth

And there, on those few square miles of Belgian soil, lay no less than 50,000 potential donors, most of them dead, the rest so close to it that it didn’t much matter. And it wasn’t just the nature of dentistry that changed in June 1815. The battles fought in Belgium over those few brief days brought an end to 22 years of almost continuous fighting between the European powers in what had been, effectively, the first “world war” – and historians estimate that as many as 7,000,000 military and civilian casualties occurred between 1804 and 1815 alone. Until 1917, this was known as “The Great War.”

a6 Panorama2Those battles also brought an end to that military rivalry between Britain and France which had flared so violently and plagued each of the six centuries since the Anglo-French War of 1202-14.

From now on, France would be our ally in all subsequent conflicts – the beginning of a new and more modern Europe in which Germany and Italy would be born, and the seeds of social democratic government would slowly begin to replace the despotism of the old Royal Houses. It’s a process that’s still evolving, of course. But many other things remained entirely unchanged. International banking continues to fund all sides in current conflict, exactly as they did in 1815. The arms industry is still the main beneficiary of warfare, exactly as it was in 1815. And regardless of the original spark, which may ignite the bonfires of war, it has generally been international banking and the arms industry that have fanned the flames and kept the bonfires burning.

a 1 Bonaparte1So, with this in mind, and the bicentenary of Waterloo coming up, I began to think how I might tell the story from a slightly different perspective.   As usual, I began by looking at the controversies.

Was victory at Waterloo

(a) won by the brilliance of Wellington and the resolute steadiness of his British infantry,  or

(b) truly threatened by the alleged cowardice of his Dutch and Belgian contingents, or

(c) snatched from the jaws of an ignominious British defeat by the timely arrival of Wellington’s dogged Prussian allies, or

(d) simply thrown away, against all the odds, by the French.

You’ll find whole battalions of eminent historians, this year, fighting their own battles, for and against each of these viewpoints.

a5 Catherine Baland at ChiclanaAnd then there were the legends – none striking me so hard as the tale of Charles Napier (95th Rifles) and the broken body of a beautiful female French cavalry trooper he discovered among the thickest of Bonaparte’s dead. It was this tale that set me on the path of researching the many feisty women who fought, in their own right, in their own way, in the French front lines.

By the time I’d finished that research, I knew what I didn’t want to write. Not yet another “boy’s own adventure” story of Waterloo. Not another one-sided account that failed to recognize the battlefield fever and frenzy, the heroism, that gripped British, Dutch-Belgian, Prussian and French alike – nor to at least acknowledge that all the protagonists genuinely believed they were “on the right side.” Hindsight, and the pen of the victors, might have shaped the way we’ve been taught about Waterloo over the past 200 years but, on the day, among the French ranks, it all looked very different indeed!

So I became a bit fixated on some little-known and often forgotten issues.  First, Napoleon faced two very powerful armies, not one – and each of those armies was numerically as strong as his own.  By the time of Waterloo itself, over the previous three days, the French had already fought two major battles and several smaller ones. The French army, and its commanders, had slept little over those few days. By the end of the battle, many French Divisions, almost a third of Bonaparte’s total force, had still not fired a shot nor been engaged. For at least half the battle, a relatively small number of French soldiers held off wave after wave of Prussians trying to come to Wellington’s rescue – in some of the bloodiest fighting which those taking part had ever seen.

And, for most of the battle, Bonaparte – either by choice or through illness – was not even present on the field.

The result of all this has been The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour – a tale of Waterloo told from the viewpoint of two French women participants. But is this Napoleonic chicklit? Definitely not. This is a very traditional action story, and will hopefully appeal to all readers of historical fiction. Somebody’s said that the novel’s perhaps akin to Thomas Keneally’s The Daughters of Mars and, if so, that’s a great compliment.

But I’ll leave readers to make up their own minds!”




David has published three previous novels: The Jacobites’ Apprentice, Finalist in the Historical Novel Society’s 2014 Indie Award; The Assassin’s Mark, set during the Spanish Civil War; and The Kraals of Ulundi: A Novel of the Zulu War. Each of these books has been the recipient of the coveted B.R.A.G. Medallion for independent authors.


Thanks for that, David. More details of David’s work are available on his website here. The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour was published on 1st January and is available through all normal outlets.