Victorian Monopoly – From ‘Pall Mall’ to ‘Free Parking’

Overview

“Go” to “Just Visiting” | “Pall Mall” to “Free Parking” | “Strand” to “Jail” | “Regent St” to “Mayfair”

In this second section we continue our quest to navigate the Monopoly Board using only images held in the Crace Collection of antiquarian prints and maps held by the British Museum. By doing so we will find out whether an 1850s Londoner could have made sense of the streets and enclaves immortalised when this iconic board game first appeared in its London format in 1936. We shall wend our way from Pall Mall up to Free Parking, constituting the half-way point – but will our journey founder upon the altar of modernity? Highlights include a fond farewell to Carlton House, a fruitless search for Marylebone Station and a daring escape from Bow Street Police Station:

Pall Mall

This scene looking east down Pall Mall -with Carlton House immediately on the right and the colonnade to the opera house on the left, was published in Ackerman’s Repository of the Arts magazine in 1822. It shows Pall Mall during a time of great change. Carlton House was entering its last days, but the Royal Opera Arcade (built in 1818 and still here today) was the shape of things to come – for Pall Mall was to be an integral part of George IV’s vision of a new London – which was made real over a decade of great change for this locality.

Pall Mall was originally built in 1661, though a thoroughfare existed here since Saxon times – and its adoption as a roadway in 1662 made it the official route between St James’ Palace and the Mall. Just a few years earlier this strip of land had been fenced off and used as a ‘pelemele court’ by Charles II  – but this early version of croquet was often spoiled by dust blown over by carriages passing on the adjacent lane-way – so the loss of this sporting venue was largely unlamented. Almost as soon as it was paved over, this new street became known as ‘Pall Mall’, a name it retains to this day.

South Front of Carlton House (1819)

When the Prince Regent became King George IV in 1820 he was living at Carlton House, and this continued to operate as his principal London residence until 1826 when he moved to newly refurbished and extended Buckingham Palace. His association with Carlton House began in 1783, and within a few years the then Prince of Wales transformed the mansion along French neoclassical lines. During its lifetime Carlton House’s ambition was only constricted by the size of the Prince’s debts – meaning that it endured bursts of intense re-modelling sandwiched between periods of relative calm. Over time this mansion became one of the most important venues for entertainment and pleasure amongst the ruling elite. Consequently Carlton House’s fall from grace in just 5 years seems drastic – but it was quite typical of George to switch the focus of his creative attention elsewhere. Once he decided upon Buckingham Palace, and appointed Nash to undertake its rebuilding, Carlton House was living on borrowed time. George IV’s other great passion was the development of London along classical lines – and his desire to link Regent Street with the Mall meant that Carlton House needed to go. On March 30th 1826 The Times reported

Carlton House will be taken down at the latter end of the ensuing summer, and preparations are now being made for the temporary reception of the furniture belonging to that royal residence, till the new palace at Buckingham House is completed. On the ground opened by the removal of Carlton House, many noble edifices are to be erected, all of which are to be occupied by our first Nobility… It is also likely that a Club House, for the United Service Club, enlarged and on a much greater scale than heretobefore, will stand in this area. There is to be an opening into [St James’] Park which will be a striking improvement: from this (turning to the right) will be a noble row of architectural houses facing the canal. These will stand on a terrace, and stretch from the opening (at Waterloo Place) to the Ordnance Office… occupying the present gardens of Carlton House – now bounded by the dead wall towards the ride in the Park.

United Service Club, Pall Mall

The United Services Club was completed by 1829 (when this Thomas Hosmer Shepherd image was drawn), surviving until the late 1970s, and the building is still there today as part of the Institute of Directors. As for Carlton House – its famous front facade – reused for the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, is still a pleasing sight today.

For my final word on Carlton House, I must defer to His Majesty George IV, and a newspaper clipping from The Age March 9th 1828, demonstrating the King’s emotional attachment to his old home

Adieu to Carlton House – by George IV (Allegedly)

We are informed that his Majesty, since his arrival in Town, made a pilgrimage to the ruins of his old Palace, scarcely a vestige of which now remains. On his return to St James’, his spirits were much depressed, when he retired to his own apartment. The above elegy was found upon the table

The Lothians Blogspot has written a very detailed and interesting history of the rise and fall of Carlton House

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Electric Company

Finding an electric company in 1850s London was, not surprisingly, a difficult task. For this I was fortunate to locate just one suitable print from the 5000+ held in the Crace Collection – to enable us to progress further

This particular scene from 1852 shows two views of the time-ball on top of a turret in the Strand; the view on the left including the Electric Telegraph Company’s offices, and on the right a close-up of the time-ball on top of the turret. Clearly, electrical power was in its infancy by the 1850s. A quick trawl of the newspapers shows that the Electrical Telegraph Company spent a great deal of its early existence dealing with court cases relating to patents for its new technology. It claimed to own no less than 40 of its own patents, but I think this indicates that electrical power was being developed by a wide number of groups simultaneously. For, as early as 1838 London hosted a meeting of the Electrical Society at which Mr Crosse gave a full account of his electrical experiments. The Society itself was formed to ‘for the purpose of explaining and making public the mysteries’ of electricity, so we can imagine this encouraged more widespread interest and investment in this nascent technology. Thus, a Victorian landing upon Electric Company may be ignorant of what it entailed, but not unaware that electrical power was in the process of development

Thus, on August 19th 1852, The Times reported on the new electric time ball installed in the Strand (pictured above)

After a satisfactory completion of the requisite arrangements which had for some time been pending between the Electric Telegraph Company and the Astronomer Royal at Greenwich, Mr Edwin Clark [was entrusted for] the construction of the ingenious apparatus for the development of the electric telegraph system, as applied to the regulation of time on a plan for distributing and correcting mean Greenwich time in London and… throughout the UK every day at 1 o’clock

Perhaps the most important outcome of this new development was the standardisation of time throughout the UK – which would have been of massive benefit to the railways – ensuring that timetables would be accurate to a specific location, namely Greenwich mean time. For Victorian Britain, this was to be a significant shift towards modernity

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Whitehall

One of the most frequent images found in the Crace Collection is that of the Banqueting House at Whitehall – famous for being the place where Charles I was beheaded in 1649  – when Britain entered a period of commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell (who coincidentally took up residence in Whitehall thereafter). There has been a roadway at Whitehall since the 12th century, but it most likely adopted its name from the Palace of Whitehall, which was the residence of English Kings from Henry VIII to William III. The building burned down in 1698 – apart from the before-mentioned Banqueting House which is still with us today. The above image shows Whitehall and the Horse Guards circa 1811, and we can see that at that time is was still little more than a dirt track

As is is today, Whitehall was synonymous with the heart of Government in Victorian times – housing numerous Departments of State including the Admiralty, the Horse Guards and the Treasury.

A view of the Admiralty, 1818

This view from the street of the Admiralty in Whitehall comes from Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts , showing the arched entrance to the forecourt and screen wall. This three-sided building (not to be confused with the Admiralty Arch at Trafalgar Square) was constructed in 1726 to a design by Thomas Ripley, but was instantly criticised for its baroque-style which was thought out-moded by the new fashion for Palladianism. However it has endured until today, and it is thought to be the first ever purpose-built office. Thoughtfully renamed the Ripley Building, this property is now used by the Department for International Development

Unlike us, the Victorians would have also associated Whitehall with the River Thames. Its piers were important departure points for both Government and Royalty – most notably serving as the main exit route for important personages fleeing London during the Great Plague in 1665. By the 1830s Whitehall even had its own annual regatta – traditionally held in July – a contest for double scullers, offering various prizes put forward by noblemen and gentry. On July 17th 1843 The Morning Post reported

Amongst the nobility and gentry who subscribed to the regatta for men plying at Whitehall stairs, were his Grace the Duke of Buccleuch and Sir Robert Peel… the race was contested on Friday, with six pairs of sculls in two heats. At an early hour in the afternoon the whole of the men started… at half past six the final was held, four were afloat to race from the Duke of Buccleuch’s, down round the Thames… up round Westminster Bridge, and finish at Whitehall. T Piner junior retained the lead and won by a length and a half… his father finished in third.

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Northumberland Avenue

This is the first serious stumbling block on our journey around the early Victorian monopoly board, because Northumberland Avenue was not built until 1876, following the demolition of Northumberland House near Charing Cross. This image from 1826 shows Northumberland House in the background with an equestrian statue of Charles I on the right and the Golden Cross Coaching Inn on the left. However, we must recall that Northumberland Street (to the rear of the mansion) already existed in 1850 – and the House itself was a well-known landmark  to the south of Trafalgar Square – meaning that most Victorians would have known where to go to locate ‘Northumberland Avenue’ on their Monopoly Board.

Northumberland House – James Green (1761)

Northumberland House, built in 1605 to a Jacobean style, lay on a roadway down to the busy wharfs of the Thames serving Charing Cross and Westminster. But as Northumberland Street became increasingly commercialised this mansion eventually became the last bastion of residential homes which once lined that street. After the 1820s the Duke of Northumberland came under increasing pressure to sell his mansion to the Metropolitan Board of Works, who wished to build a new, wider road down to the river. But the Duke was unwilling to leave his ancestral home and resisted all overtures – until disaster forced his hand. On August 22nd 1868 Bell’s Life in London reported

Shortly before midnight on Thursday last the town residence of the Duke of Northumberland was discovered to be on fire. Five steam engines were quickly on the spot, but the flames were not extinguished until the roof of the south-west wing, used as a ball-room, was burned off, paintings, furniture, and decorations partly destroyed… with confectionery rooms underneath damaged by fire and water. Fortunately the drawing room, dining room, marble staircase, and upper suite of saloons and valuable paintings have escaped destruction. though some splendid friezes have been more of less injured… but these are insured… Workmen employed at the house are supposed to have caused the fire.

As a consequence of this carnage, the Duke of Northumberland agreed to sell his mansion for £500,000 – a colossal sum by today’s standards (perhaps £50M) – paving the way for Northumberland Avenue to appear on the London map

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Marylebone Station

The only station serving the parish of Marylebone in the 1850s was at King’s Cross, so a Victorian would have scratched his head at the thought of another station in that area. However, such was the craze for railroads in mid-Victorian times, that no Victorian would have been entirely surprised at the thought of one springing up in the heart of Marylebone. But no such station appeared – and until the 1890s Euston, King’s Cross and Paddington became the key transport hubs for that area.

A trawl of the Crace collection finds just one image of a railway in Marylebone – which is an 1837 view from beneath the Hampstead Road Bridge looking towards Euston Station, as a steam train comes into view. It looks like the rush hour that day for we can see a queue carriages and waggons on the bridge – though we also have a hot air balloon high in the sky above – so not everyone is at work. There is so much to see in this 180-year-old scene – which convinces me to go on from this setback and see what else confounds us on our journey.

Never a real London landmark – Marylebone Station

As for Marylebone Station, we must halt a while to question why that poorest relation of all London mainline stations should ever have been included in the 1936 Monopoly board game. This station only opened in 1899 as the London terminus of the Great Central Main Line, being the last major railway to open in Britain in over 100 years, linking the capital to Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester. Marylebone was always too small to compete with its rivals, poorly conceived in relation to connection with tube stations already in operation nearby – and must be considered a failed vanity-project. It never really had a heyday and was lucky to survive complete closure in the 1980s.- ironically saved by public appeal.

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Bow Street

We’ve had a real wobble on our last two stops round our Victorian monopoly board, so its great to land back on more secure ground at Bow Street, a roadway situated just south of Covent Garden, parallel to the Strand – which has been around since the 1630s. Once a home for London’s aristocrats, by the 1750s Bow Street had declined into a seedy area frequented by journalists and prostitutes (rather fittingly), as well as lodgings for actors serving theatres in Covent Garden and Drury Lane. But its decline was halted after a magistrates court was built there in 1740, and a decade later the novelist Henry Fielding established the Bow Street Runners – a kind of embryonic vigilante group – paid to catch and convict miscreants. This 1825 view by James Winston shows the old police office used by the Bow Street Runners. Even after the newly-founded Metropolitan Police built their own station at Bow Street in 1832 – the Runners continued to operate – but they disbanded in 1839 as proper policing became established.

On September 5th 1825 The Times reported upon a daring escape attempt made from the Bow Street Police Office:

Mary Anne Smith, a woman of about 25 years of age, was committed to the House of Correction, for an assault upon a watchman. Previously to her removal she was locked up in the gaol yard [which is] about 20 or 30 feet square and surrounded by a brick wall about 20 feet in height, and it was over this formidable barrier that the prisoner Smith resolved to effect her liberation. Taking advantage of the temporary absence of the gaoler she placed a wooden bench, upon which the prisoners it, upright, and using this as a ladder… thence to gain the top of the wall. From here she made her way over house and chimney-top until she entered a window at Mr Day, boot-maker in Russell Street. From the window she made a dangerous leap over an interval descending the whole depth of that building – had she missed her footing instant death would have bee the consequence. The gaoler followed close behind fell and for some time hung on for his life at the ledge of the window… The woman got to the street door where she met Mr Day – to him she confessed her purpose and he told her the best place for concealment was the cellar – but officers then arrived at the house and secured the prisoner… The poor creature stated that she had been driven to risk her life on account of two infants who depended upon her, their father having died three weeks ago.

This desperately sad story has a compassionate ending for the chief officer at Bow Street, Mr Minshull ‘with a suitable admonition, humanely ordered her to be discharged. He considered the terror at the situation which her hazardous enterprise evinced, would operate to deter any future offence.’  We don’t know what became of Mary Anne Smith, but she went into the record books as the first person to successfully effect an escape from Bow Street police station.

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Marlborough Street

Our next port of call is Marlborough Street, where we find our subject remains police-related. This Thomas Hosmer Shepherd painting from 1854 shows the front of a Police Office on the north side of Marlborough Street, with a few police officers standing by the entrance. These police certainly look pretty much how we would imagine  Victorian ‘Peelers’ would be. Marlborough Street first made an appearance on 1704 and lies in Soho just south of Oxford Street. Perhaps its most famous building nowadays is Liberty Store which stands on the junction with Regent Street.

Marlborough Street has a Police Office from around 1800, which also served as a magistrates court. Quite often the court dealt with the very lowest section of society – committing to prison petty thieves, drunks and beggars. These cases often attracted little attention – it was only when the rich or powerful got involved, that press coverage was guaranteed. One such occasion was in 1826 when a case was brought on by the Mendacity Society, against an 80-year-old tramp. She was defended by Lord Maryborough  ‘with a zeal, feeling, and good sense, which would be a credit and ornament to any man’. Ellen Goodall’s crime was to stand with her hand out near Hanover Square – considered as begging – and despite Maryborough’s involvement she was sentenced to a fortnight in prison.

The idle rich had no respect for the police

Marlborough Street also had a long and chequered history of dealing with badly behaved aristocrats, whose lenient treatment proved a stark contrast to the often savage sentences meted out upon the poor.  Young bucks enjoyed nights out on the Town, usually getting drunk, and then proceeding to beat or attack person positions in authority. It was almost a right-of-passage for young Lords to misbehave and behave antisocially on London’s streets –  knowing full well they would escape the consequences. For example, on June 22nd 1825 the Morning Post reported

Yesterday Lord Harborough was charged by a watchman with having violently assaulted him at Steven’s Hotel in Bond Street…. striking him several times with a poker… and his fists… to wound him most severely. [He] was very noisy in the street… On the other hand, a Gentleman, who was looking out of the window at the time, deposed that no such noise had been made… the the Gentleman had been willing to come forward to answer any charge… and that he was only resisting attacks by the watchman, who outrageously rushed into the Coffee Room upon him, and then the alleged assault had been committed. 

Not surprisingly the (probably paid) witness swayed the case and the Magistrate bailed Lord Harborough pending further investigation. Given that the watchman would not have had the means to proceed, we must assume that this arrogant toff went unpunished – reinforcing the ingrained injustice of our legal system at that time.

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Vine Street  – (Lambeth not Piccadilly)

This is a peculiar step on our journey because Vine Street is probably the most obscure location to be found on the Monopoly board – being a very tiny cul-de-sac to the rear of Piccadilly. In the days before Regent Street this was a much longer road, and it would certainly have been well-known to Victorians on account of Vine Street Police Station, founded around 1750, which grew from a watch-house into one of the busiest police stations in the world, and sat alongside a court-house which was active throughout the Victorian era. Bow Street, Marlborough Street and Vine Street share an association with law courts – and this explains why they were grouped together in the orange section of a Monopoly board.

There is no question that Vine Street was recognisable to Victorian Londoners – but they would have instantly asked: Which One? For London had a second Vine Street just south of the river in Lambeth and was the main thoroughfare towards Hungerford Bridge, which was opened in 1845. This Vine Street was engulfed by a natural disaster which occurred on January 29th 1850

The tide rose so extraordinarily high as to overflow the walls of the river and inundate the various thoroughfares along either shore. So unexpected was the high tide that no one had made any preparation to preserve their property, and the consequence was that mischief to an incalculable amount was done… The first notice the inhabitants received of this fearful visitation was shortly after three o’clock – about half an hour before high water. At that period water began to flow over the banks.. and in the space of ten minutes it became apparent that a fearful destruction of property, if not human life, was inevitable. The various wharfs along the river soon presented immense sheets of water, timber, and other articles being forced about with the strength of the tide in terrible confusion… The property destroyed in Lambeth Parish must reach many thousand pounds… The whole of Vine Street was one great expanse of water, and the only means for the residents to leave their habitations were in boats… The water travelled as far as the terminus of the South Western Railway, in York Road. In Vine Street it rushed into kitchens, and forced the furniture up to the ceilings. In one house three children nearly perished; their mother being upstairs… hearing them scream, she rushed downstairs and found the water half way to the ceiling, and the children up to their necks in water…

The great flood as seen from Lambeth Stairs (1850)

This upper Thames flood was recorded as the worst for 50 years, and helped to accelerate two major improvements – firstly the construction of embankments on either side of the Thames, which vastly improved flood defences; and secondly; the improvement in London’s sewage management. Just a few weeks before this flood, MPs debated the awful problem of pollution on the Thames and how it could be alleviated. To have that dank and deadly water overspill into homes and businesses so soon afterwards must have been a catalyst for change, and began London’s long road towards environmental recovery

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Free Parking

Free Parking was probably a bit of a bonus in 1936 as London was already well accustomed to traffic gridlock. Today it is just a pipe-dream for London’s motorists, used to Congestion Charging, Residential Parking Permits, Red Routes, and Pay-by-Phone extortion – should they ever decide to travel in by car. For the Victorians parking was never an issue, but they would have been accustomed to knowing where to find parked hansom cabs in order to travel from A to B – and these would have commonly been found outside hotels and inns, stations, shops and businesses. Above we see a view of Oxford Street in 1831 – with carriages waiting outside Stafford House – ready for hire.

Let’s wait until the next segment before we catch our taxi onwards to cross the Victorian Monopoly Board, and conclude this second part by reflecting upon a difficult journey,  which began at Pall Mall and had us lost for a while in Northumberland Avenue and Marylebone Station, before putting us back on surer, more familiar territory amongst the orange enclave – which last delivered us safely to ‘Free Parking’.

I hope you will join me for Part 3 of our trip, which sets out from The Strand but almost inevitably will put us all in ‘Jail’.

If you are interested in London history, you may like to learn about 3 Savile Row or find out how to catch a stagecoach (1819-style)

Beyond my own pages, I would recommended the following excellent London-related blogs:

 

Victorian Monopoly – From ‘Go’ to ‘Just Visiting’ Prison

Overview

“Go” to “Just Visiting” | “Pall Mall” to “Free Parking” | “Strand” to “Jail” | “Regent St” to “Mayfair”

In this section we set off from ‘Go’ on our quest to navigate the Monopoly Board using only images held in the Crace Collection of antiquarian prints and maps held by the British Museum. How far can we get before modernity prevents our progress?

Old Kent Road

Here is a view for the Deaf and Dumb Society Asylum which was built around 1807 in Old Kent Road, with the original stone being laid by the Duke of Gloucester – whom was their patron. Originally founded by Reverend John Townsend in 1792, just around the corner in Grange Street Southwark, the Society met half-yearly to raise funds for the assistance of those unable to meet the fees required to attend the asylum.

On July 19th 1808 The Times reported on the Society’s General Meeting at which a list containing 69 child candidates had been voted upon by its members. As the new building in Old Kent Road was not yet ready, it fell upon the committee to report on a ballot involving its membership – which was to decide who they could make room for at that time. William Hayler topped the poll with 2128 votes and everyone down to 8th placed John Nicholls (896) were awarded a place. Just one girl, Elizabeth Campion, made the cut. Selecting children in this kind of incapacity competition was a very difficult operation:

This election… made a distressing impression upon the minds of those who witnessed the sorrowful and effecting disappointment felt by the unsuccessful candidates. The melancholy met these 61 unhappy children, for want of room in the present house, necessarily remained excluded from the benefit of the Institution, impressed more strongly than any language could do, the necessity of endeavouring to procure, with all possible speed, the means of completing the new building

A total of almost £350 was raised that night including 20 Guineas from the Duke of Gloucester, and we now know that their building in Old Kent Road did open in October 1809 – hopefully putting an end to the awfully high rejection rate experienced the previous year. The Deaf and Dumb Society are a very important milestone in the history of deaf education – and they were to remain at this site until the late 1960s. The patients would be taught how to speak, read, write and cipher so that they were capable of finding work after they were discharged from the institution.

There are numerous excellent resources for learning more about the history of London’s Deaf and Dumb Society – of which here are just a few

Community Chest

‘Community Chest’ is a phrase inherited from the original American version of Monopoly and refers to fund-raising organisations which sprang up throughout in the United States and Canada after 1914, who sought to raise money from local businesses and workers in order to donate it to community projects. Charitable organisations have been around London since Medieval times, and the Crace Collection has numerous examples of buildings and organisations dedicated to helping those less well-off in the community – such as that we just passed in Old Kent Road.

Above is a picture of Mrs Hillier’s almshouses which stood between 119 and 120 Curtain Road, in what is now Shoreditch – also listed as Holywell Street (which may have been at the rear). These eight small houses were built in 1812 and sat behind a dwarf wall and railings. Each dwelling housed two poor women and the project was endowed by Elizabeth Hillier, who lived in Pancras Lane. I have been unable to find out what became of this building

Whitechapel Road

Here is a view of Whitechapel Road in 1851, a watercolour by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. We are  looking west towards Aldgate; with a line of carriages visible on the right side of the road; and a coach approaching in the foreground. My favourite detail has to be the man on left carrying what looks like a box of fruit on his head – perhaps he’s been to Spitalfields Market. This mid-century scene of Whitechapel seems a million miles away from the days of Jack the Ripper, which were almost four decades later – and seem to have permanently associated the area with

In a strange way the elegance of Whitechapel then seems much more in tune with how this area is today – a very chic and sought after location just on the cusp of the City.

Income Tax

On your standard Monopoly board death may be avoidable, but sadly taxation is not. However, it was not always so inevitable that your wages were subject to income tax – for it was only introduced in December 1798 by Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. Intended to fund Britain’s war effort, this first iteration of income tax was abolished in 1816 (after a brief sojourn in 1802) as it was considered unnecessary for peace-time Britain. It was only in 1842 that incoming Prime Minister Robert Peel, alarmed by the country’s budget deficit, decided to drop his opposition to income tax – and legislate for its restoration.The above image from 1854 depicts newly the opened Inland Revenue Office, which adjoined Somerset House, in the Strand – more or less permanently establishing this form of tax.

 

Kings Cross

Here is a view of the south front of the Great Northern Station at King’s Cross, as it was in 1852 by artist unknown.

The Smallpox Hospital, which was demolished to to build King’s Cross Station

The station took its name from the King’s Cross area of London, itself named after a monument to King George IV that was demolished in 1845 Construction was on the site of a fever and smallpox hospital and it replaced a temporary terminus at Maiden Lane that had opened on 7 August 1850, but was already considered inadequate. Built to a design by Lewis Cubitt, a lesser-known brother of two other more renowned Cubitt family members, his design was based on two great arched train sheds, with a brick structure at the south end designed to reflect the main arches behind. The loggia beneanth the arches and clocktower was a nod to classical architecture. One of the great advantages of railway transportation was speed of travel and goods, but it also very quickly led to the now common practice of fare evasion. For example, on July 10th 1852 the Morning Post reported

Mark Johnson, aged 18, dressed as a sailor, came before the bar at Clerkenwell charged on the following circumstances: On thursday last, on the arrival of the train from Doncaster into the King’s Cross Station, Mr Garnett, an officer in the company’s service, went to collect tickets… when he found the prisoner concealed in one of the third-class carriages… without a ticket… He said he had run away from his ship, at Newcastle [and] travelled on foot without food or money until his feet were blistered and bleeding… arriving at Doncaster exhausted and got into one of the carriages to come to London… He was given into custody when the judge asked if non-payment was a regular occurrence and was told that [fare evasion] had been a big problem during the Great Exhibition, but not so frequent of late

Despite a plea from Johnson’s mother, who had made the journey to support her lad, the judge decided that it was necessary to deter others from such a practice, especially as it was still a problem for the railways. Therefore he fined Johnson 20 shillings, or 14 days imprisonment – the latter of which was imposed because the family were unable to make the payment.

Before we leave our first Monopoly board station, I’m taking a small detour to look at why this area of London acquired its name, as the station above was actually built in a hamlet called Battle Bridge, which was the site of an ancient crossing of the Fleet river. In Crace’s collection I found the answer. King’s Cross has its origin in a monument to King George IV which stood in the area from 1830 to 1845. Built at the crossroads of Gray’s Inn Road, Pentonville Road and New Road, which later became Euston Road. It was sixty feet high and topped by an eleven-foot-high statue of the king, and was described by Walter Thornbury as “a ridiculous octagonal structure crowned by an absurd statue”. It may have only lasted 15 years but this failed monument was around long enough to ensure its name was adopted for the new railway terminus, thus the hamlet of Battle Bridge was consigned to history – usurped by King’s Cross. An item in the Crace collection records the removal of King’s Cross and is less than complimentary about its existence.

King’s Cross – the real one, graced London from 1830-1845

                                                                                                                                                                                            What strange mutations does the hand of ‘public improvement’ work in our metropolis. Less than a score of years have rolled away since a very anomalous pile was reared at the point where meet the New-road, Maiden Lane, Pentonville-hill, the Gray’s Inn-Road &c.; the spot receiving the somewhat grandiloquent name of ‘King’s Cross’. The building boasted, however, of correspondent pretension; the lower story was classically embellished, as the portion in our engraving shows; the upper stories were less ornate; but, if the expression be allowable, the structure was crowned with a composition statue of the Fourth George – and a very sorry representative of one who was every inch a king…  people [soon realised the above was a very uncomplimentary effigy of majesty; even the very cabmen grew critical; the watermen jeered; and the omnibus drivers ridiculed royalty in so parious a state, at length the statue was removed in toto, or rather by piecemeal. / We cannot tax our memory with the uses to which the building itself has been appropriated; now a placeof exhibition, then a police-station, and last of all (to come to the dregs of the subject) a beer shop. Happily, our artist seized upton the modern antique just in time for rescue from oblivion; and his sketch is far more picturesque than would be’a proper house and home’. The ‘time to pull down’ at length arrived; the strange pile has been cleared away.

The Angel, Islington

The Angel Inn is thought to have existed since around 1614, built on the site of an old monastery and over time associated with Islington, though it was actually in the parish of Clerkenwell. An important stagecoach Inn, the Angel was for many years seen as an outpost for London – beyond which lay dangerous and bandit-ridden country. This scene by C R Matthews is from 1842 when London’s reach had gone far beyond Islington, and looks down the City Road from the Angel Inn; which is shown on the left  By 1831 a topographical guide to Britain recorded

The Angel Inn at Islington presents a busy scene. A road called the New Road, comes up from the ‘west end’ and just where this inn stands, joins the city road. Here between the ‘west end’ and the bank, ply fifty-four omnibuses. Through Islington too, pass a great number of vehicles to Holloway, Highbury, Hornsey &c

In the early 1920s the Angel Inn became a Lyons Tea Room, and the building still stands today as a bank with offices above.

Chance?

In 1806 London started a brief craze for House Lottery ticket sales- this became possible after an Act of Parliament that year gave permission for such raffles. Purchasing a ticket afforded you the chance to own a splendid new London townhouse and contemporary newspaper reports indicate that participants came from throughout the UK. One winner was from Suffolk and the other from Sussex and their prizewas valued at £300 per annum just to rent out, which was a considerable amount when you consider that most families lived on less than £50.

You could win this house in Pickett Street

What a lovely house this lottery offered – hard to think what it would be worth today. The other prize house in Skinner Street, was very close to the East India Company offices – redeveloped in 1803, Skinner Street was demolished in 1860 to make way for the Holborn viaduct.

 

Euston Road

Here is a view of Euston Road c.1825 by Charles T Heath, with the St Pancras New Church on the right. We can see that it was a wide road lined with elegant houses visible in the distance. Built in 1756 as London’s very first by-pass – Euston Road was originally called New Road. It enabled farmers to take their livestock to Smithfield from the west of London without having to drove them into Oxford Street. In 1837 it was chosen as a site for a new railway station.

St Pancras New Church (so-named to distinguish itself from the old one) was built in 1822 to the designs of William and Henry William Inwood. It has a long and fascinating history and is today one of London’s most popular landmarks. The Independent has written a good article upon the politics of St Pancras Church’ construction, which also reveals that its pulpit was carved from the very famous Fairlop Oak, which blew down in 1820 – the loss of Wicked William Long-Wellesley (then Warden of Epping Forest) was blamed

Pentonville Road

I tried hard to avoid putting a picture of the prison when looking for Pentonville in the Crace collection, since we are about to go visiting there in the next picture. Hence I have opted for a picture drawn by Charle H Matthews in 1840, but which recalls a view of Busby’s Folly, in Pentonville, as it appeared in 1731; complete with a rustic wooden fence, a barn to the right.

From the 1660s this area of Pentonville became renowned as a place of entertainment and received many travellers from the City. Busby’s folly was a house of entertainment with an adjacent bowling green, set in the fields. It was names after Christopher Busby who was the landlord of the White Lion in Islington and built his folly to attract day-trippers. From 1664 it became the meeting place of the Society of Bull Feathers Hall, which seems to have been a drinking and revelling club – as it had manners, rites and customs which included a musical parade from Busbys Folly to Highgate. In 1710 one visitor left Busby’s Folly decidedly poorer for his journey

Busbys Folly for a time appeared as a landmark on 18th century maps, but by the 1750s it was renamed Penny’s Folly, eventually demolished to make way for a pub called the Belvedere Tavern, which was built around 1780 and still stands at 96-98 Pentonville Road.

Jail – Just Visiting

Fleet Prison was founded as early as 1197 and was to blight London’s landscape until its demolition in 1846. Largely destroyed during the Gordon Riots if 1781, the prison spent its final decades housing mainly debtors and bankrupts. Whilst some inmates had the luxury of financial support from friends and family, a great many of the inmates were entirely destitute. These desperate captives had to rely on charity which they could receive at this barred window beneath a stone arch. This image from 1840 show an unkempt prisoner accepting money from a well-dressed lady and child. This prison features in my own research project, for Wicked William Long Wellesley spent time here in the early 1830s. For him the experience was less traumatic because his celebrity status afforded him a range ‘of choice viands and wines’ from a local inn-keeper. It;s alright for some then.

So – we have managed to get to the first corner of our Victorian Monopoly board without too much trouble. But tune in for my next post to see how much further we can go on our journey, which relies entirely on prints in the Crace Collection.

I hope you are enyoying this odyssey and will join me again for the next leg from Pall Mall to Free Parking


If you are a lover of London History you may like to read about Stagecoach Inns or perhaps to see how multlcultural late Georgian society really was via the work of Thomas Hood. Also I have written about the amazing history of one London mansion

Ratcliff – The other Great Fire of London

Not just 1666! – Fires were a regular occurrence in London

The Great Fire of London is a very important and well-remembered event in the timeline of London’s life story. Over a period of 4 days beginning 2nd September 1666 the fire destroyed most of the medieval City of London, sweeping away over 13000 houses, numerous wharves and businesses, and 87 churches – including St Paul’s CathedraI. This disaster has been widely recorded, not least by diarist Samuel Pepys. Its aftermath led to the reconstruction of early modern London, replacing narrow thoroughfares and wooden structures with wide streets and brick buildings – and brought us 51 new churches designed by Sir Christopher Wren. ‘Great Fire’ certainly befits this calamity; but it should not mask the fact that London (like many other early modern cities) always lived under the constant spectre of fire, and that buildings and places of importance were lost to fire on a fairly regular basis. Hence it is useful to look beyond the Great Fire of 1666, and at other fires in order to fully appreciate the extent to which blazes were a very real and life-changing disaster for the people affected. The best place to start, therefore, is to find another great fire of London- so we head east of the City to Ratcliff.

 

Ratcliff Cross (1791)

This blog examines the Ratcliff Fire, said to be the biggest conflagration that London saw between 1666 and the Blitz in 1940. This fire seems to have escaped attention perhaps because its victims were poor (who were irrelevant) or tradesmen (who were probably insured), but hopefully because its aftermath was dealt with so quickly and humanely. Ratcliff(e) in earlier times was also known as “sailor town”, was originally known for shipbuilding but from the 1300s more for fitting and provisioning ships. By the end of the 1700s Ratcliff was a village-cum-shanty-town on the Thames situated between Shadwell and Limehouse, due south of Stepney village, still offering various maritime services, but now also containing warehousing and storage for a variety of imported goods, from which manufacturing industries nearby relied. Ratcliff tended to specialise in docking of combustible cargoes considered too risky to be bulk-handled in the City, and this ultimately proved to be its downfall. Here are some contemporary reports of the fire:

On Wednesday afternoon at 3 o’clock on July 23rd 1794 the hamlet of Ratcliff suffered a dreadful fire. It began at Mr Clove’s, a barge-builder at Cock Hill, and was occasioned by the boiling over of a pitch kettle that flood under his warehouse, which was consumed within a very short time. It also set light to a barge (it being low water) lying close to the premises, laden with saltpetre – which subsequently spectacularly exploded. The blowing-up of the saltpetre occasioned large flakes of flame to rain down upon riverside buildings – one of which belonged to the East India Company, from which a store of saltpetre was in the process of removing to the Tower of London – 20 tons of which had been fortunately removed the preceding day. Consequently the fire wrought carnage both on land and river – and very soon all the houses on either side of Brook Street were destroyed as far as Ratcliff Cross, as well as several alleyways – and several large ships, including the East Indiaman Hannah, which was about to depart for Barbados, and other smaller boats were utterly burnt out. The fire found new fuel at Ratcliffe Cross when it over-ran a sugar-house. This new ignition point meant that the adjacent glassworks and a lighter-builders yard were lost.

Ratcliff Fire damage – as seen from the Thames

The blaze continued until the following morning and its progress was helped mainly by the narrowness of the streets, which prevented fire engines being of any practical service. The wind blowing strong from the south fanned the flames onwards: it reached the premises of Joseph Hanks, a timber merchants, in London Street and extended on into Butcher Row – the whole of the west, and part of the east side of which was consumed. At Stepney Causeway the fire caught the premises of Mr Shakespeare, a rope-maker, and burnt through to the fields at the other side before dying down. It was only the boundaries of urban development that prevented further progress of the inferno. Almost no property in the vicinity was spared loss or damage, though it was singularly odd that the dwelling house of Mr Bere – a very extensive building – was surrounded by fire but emerged entirely unscathed.

Scene showing Mr Bere’s house escaping the inferno

It was reported that Mr Clove broke an arm fighting the initial fire, and one of his servants was sent to London Hospital with terrible burns. A survey carried out after the fire showed that only 570 out of 1200 buildings survived – and that most of those lost served as housing for the poor. The Government reacted by erecting 120 tents in Stepney Fields to accommodate the poor – hardly a generous deed given that 1000+ people were made homeless. The loss to tradesmen was equally bad – for example Mr Whiting, who owned the sugar-house, lost £40,000 worth of stock. There is no record of any loss of life resulting from the fire, but Lloyd’s Evening Post does seem to imply death amongst the poor without enumerating the extent.

The distress of the miserable inhabitants exceeded all description. In the surrounding fields were deposited a few goods, consisting chiefly of bedding, they were able to save. Stepney Church was opened for their reception, and above a thousand people were obliged to remain all night in the fields, watching the remnants of their property. Children crying for their lost parents, and parents lamenting the fate of their children, added to the horrors of a scene not equalled during the present century

Before any financial assistance arrived in the Ratcliff area, a very different kind of flood inundated the scene. This was in the form of thousands of spectators arriving from the City to view the extensive ruins. It was reported that a great many carriages deposited men and women decanting on foot for a closer look at the scene, including a tour of the rows of tents erected for the poor. But these were not mere gawping onlookers, because evidence reveals their prime motivation was charitable feeling towards to the distressed families they came to see. Within a week the True Briton was able to report that charitable subscription from all quarters had already exceeded £4000 – a figure that rose to £15000 within a few weeks. Business was also quick to resume in the area. By November 1794 the Whitehall Post announced that the East India Company had commenced rebuilding its saltpetre works at Ratcliff, engaging 200 men in the process

The public responded quickly for victims of the fire

Historic UK has a detailed report and more images of the Ratcliff Fire together with the pleasing news that the Corporation of London, Lloyds and the East India Company also contributed almost £2,000 to the relief of the homeless.

This is one of a series of posts I will be doing in 2017 based upon the Crace Collection at the British Museum – all images used here come from that source.You may wish to know more about Frederick Crace or Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (one of his principle contributors).

For other London related posts, you might be interested in the death of a Regency Prizefighter, or see how multicultural Regency London may have been via this post on Thomas Hood . Finally, for a wider look at Regency era sketches why not join Anne Rushout on tour.

 

Thomas Hosmer Shepherd – A Recorder of London

T H Shepherd – painted the good, the bad & the ugly of London’s streets

In my previous post I wrote about the tremendous debt Londoners owe to Frederick Crace, whose collection of some 5000 prints, maps and paintings of London and its environs was purchased by the British Museum in 1880. Actively collecting between 1815 and his death in 1859, Crace amassed an cornucopia of scenes encompassing and embracing times of great change in the topography of the city. He particularly excelled in ensuring that soon-to-be demolished buildings were recorded for posterity. Sometimes the doomed structures were depicted in their final dismal state, but others were carefully illustrated as they were in their heydey.

Self-Portrait of Shepherd and his muse: London

This post is about perhaps the most important artist associated with Frederick Crace’s collection, certainly in terms of output, if not by reputation. Crace’s collection contains individual works by legendary artists, such as Paul Sandby or Wenceslaus Hollar, but it is dominated by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, whose 720+ works constitute about 15% of the entire portfolio. Additionally, the British Museum holds almost 300 Shepherd artworks not associated with Frederick Crace. So here we have in just one location over 1000 examples of his works of art:-  the fruits of a very industrious and important artist principally engaged in recording London as it was undergoing huge changes towards modernity.

Tumbledown buildings in Grub Street complete with broken windows c.1840

A quick search on google returns some 192,000 pages linked to Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. But this is entirely down to the wide dissemination of his drawings and watercolours. Very little is recorded about his life and times – and practically no images of the artist himself. When I searched the British Library newspaper archive I found that Shepherd’s death on July 4th 1864 was not reported in the press – indicating that his final years were spent in obscurity. However, I was pleased to discover that Shepherd does have a blue plaque at No 26 Batchelor Street in Islington, so at least he is being commemorated today.

T.H Shepherd’s old stomping ground at Islington Green (1850)

The story of Thomas Hosmer Shepherd in many ways mirrors the life of any struggling painter in the early modern period: i.e. one of dependency upon a patron in order to facilitate one’s career. In the age before consumerism it was common for artist to find favour with a wealthy or influential connoisseur through which they were enabled to thrive. Artists such as Hogarth and Nollekins forged their career in this way. However by the late 1700s a new genre of independently successful artists emerged – most particularly Sir Joshua Reynolds – who were sufficiently renowned to stand on their own merit, and benefitted from a surge in purchasing power from the mercantile and middling classes as Britain underwent rapid industrial change. However, when we look at Thomas Hosmer Shepherd we can see that even by the mid 1800s it was only the very elite artists that were capable of choosing their own commissions and setting their own prices.  For everyone else it was a question of finding favour with clients, meeting their needs, and striving for regular and constant output – without which the spectre of poverty always beckoned. Shepherd’s story of boom and bust parallel’s that of Thomas Hood, of whom I have previously written.

Landmark or no mark: Shepherd always had bystanders

Thomas Hosmer Shepherd was born in France on 16 January 1793, the son of a watchcase maker. At this time France was in the throes of revolution, and war was about to break out against a coalition of her neighbouring countries including Britain. So the family hastened home settling in a house near the City Road, in what was then the village of Islington, and Thomas was baptised at St Luke Old Street, on 24 February.

St Luke’s Church, Old Street (Magnoliabox.com)

Perhaps Thomas’s most important influence in his early years was older brother George, an artist working in both pencil and watercolours – who began working for Frederick Crace around 1810. By this time young Thomas had already obtained commissions from Rudolph Ackermann, for whom he regularly supplied prints and etchings right up until Ackermann’s magazine The Repository of Arts folded in 1827. The two brothers often worked together on projects as their skills complemented each other – George was very fast with the pencil outline, and Thomas a better finisher. Thomas did very little work for Frederick Crace before 1820 (certainly not that he was credited for) and looked more likely to establish himself independently, as he undertook a series of sketching tours and earned his living in that way. However, it seems that once Thomas settled down and became a father, it became vitally important for him to have a regular workflow – so he gravitated back to employment by others.

George Shepherd was more adept with a pencil than brother Thomas

Thomas married in 1818, spending his honeymoon in France. Somewhat tellingly his first-born son was named Frederick Napoleon Shepherd, perhaps in homage to his nationality and political leanings (in terms of Napoleon) but also crediting his benefactor (Frederick Crace). By 1820, the family lived at 26 Chapman Street (now Batchelor Street), Islington, just west side of Liverpool Road. He used his home address when advertising as a drawing master.

Shepherd’s seemingly mundane images are fascinating for historians

Throughout the 1820s Shepherd worked hard to establish himself as a popular artist, both by touring and contributing to numerous topographical publications. He undertook a series of paintings of Edinburgh, and also worked at Bath and Bristol. But after 1830 his output as an illustrator of books rapidly declined  – possibly due to a change in public demand for such books, as a couple of planned commissions that year never came to fruition – one of which had necessitated a wasted trip to Ireland.

Edinburgh Castle (1829) with obligatory dog and kilts

Shepherd then took a change of direction by exhibiting four watercolours of Scotland at the Society of British Artists, in 1831 and 1832, but as the years passed by he increasingly relied upon Frederick Crace for employment. Luckily for Shepherd, Crace seems to have accelerated his demand for pictures – and work was plentiful right up until Crace died in 1859. In the early 1840s Shepherd moved to 2 Bird’s Buildings (now part of Colebrooke Row), north of Camden Passage, Islington – and he also began contributing images for The Illustrated London News. Shepherd’s final years were spent in poverty, possibly through ill health as old age set in, but more likely as a result of lack of work after Crace passed away. It is sad to think that somebody capable of creating thousands of historically important images of nineteenth century Britain should die unnoticed and unwanted, just as new photographic technology usurped his genuine talent for recording life as it was back then.

Temple Bar (1844) – Streetscene as interesting as the edifice

Shepherd’s style of painting was characterized by an attention to detail towards to subject building or street being depicted, but his scenes often contained people, carriages, horses, or dogs. Thus his collection of paintings gives us an excellent by-product of olde London via the fashions and activities of the people. For example we often see children playing in the streets, and the enduring British love for dogs is more than abundantly represented via a variety of pooches of differing sizes and shapes adorning his works. Whilst it is true that Shepherd’s paintings tend to avoid the filth, smoke, and grinding poverty of London – he doesn’t shy away from decay or of realistic portrayal of slum areas and prisons, which he was commissioned to accurately record. We must remember that his brief was to concentrate upon the buildings  as subjects, and that his only individual artistic outlet was the ability to add by-standers for context and adornment purposes. In his world too, it seldom rains and plants are always in bloom – So we get Dickensian buildings in abundance – without the depressing realism of London as it really must have been.

I hope you will join me on this progressing journey through olde London courtesy of Crace and Shepherd. I have already extensively used their images for my series of postings on Regency Stagecoach Travel and also when relating the story of Wellesley Pole at the Mint

As my series of posts relating to the Crace Collection unfolds, Thomas Hosmer Shepherd will feature heavily. All images used will come directly from the British Museum images database. However, Shepherd’s prints are abundantly held by numerous other public bodies – most notably Kensington and Chelsea Library -which has done a series of excellent posts regarding their own collection, the V&A Museum, the Science Museum, the Government Art Collection, and a small number at the Royal Academy.

Shepherd as a recorder of change: Blackfriars Bridge and Steamship (1848)

Please note that my use of British Museum images in on a non-commercial basis –  my primary intention being to promote the British Museum as a source of reference for all historians. Several times in the past I have paid initial photographic fees to digitise their images for my own use, knowing that once this fee is paid such imagery becomes available to all. I could not recommend use of the British Museum strongly enough, especially if you are looking to source illustrations for publication. In return for obtaining pricelessly detailed high resolution images, you in return get the satisfaction of knowing that you are contributing to the continued development and protection of this vital resource.

For more information on Thomas Hosmer Shepherd I recommend

  • Brian Reginald Curle and Patricia Meara, Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, 1793-1864, (London: Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, 1973)
  • J F C Phillips, Shepherd’s London, (London: Cassell, 1976)
  • Chris Beetles Gallery has a range of original Thomas Hosmer Paintings for sale as well as an excellently detailed biography
  • On 6th April 2015 Bonhams sold an exquisite collection of Thomas Hosmer Shepherd views of Edinburgh, pencil on paper – with 5 in watercolour for £5625.00

Frederick Crace – London’s Forgotten Benefactor

frederick_crace_oil_on_canvas_on_diplay_at_the_royal_pavilion_large

This is Frederick Crace (1779-1859) – a man who deserves to be remembered for his cultural contribution to the history of London. Between 1820 and 1860 Crace collected and collated a visual record of London every bit as vital as that which has been described by Charles Dickens in the pages of his iconic novels – i.e an aura of ‘Olde’ London at a time when it was quickly (and quietly) vanishing beneath the relentless march of Victorian ‘modernisation’. The era when Crace operated saw stagecoach transportation gave way to steam locomotion, clearance of slums and construction of elegant new town squares – extending London’s boundaries far beyond their traditional limits. Ports, churches, thoroughfares and dockyards were rebuilt as industrialisation changed the face and spread of London almost beyond recognition even for those who witnessed it.

bedford-sq-c1850

Bedford Square c.1850 (Crace Collection)

For all his efforts, it is particularly sad that Frederick Crace doesn’t seem to have a permanent London memorial. He doesn’t have a blue plaque, and even his graveyard memorial in West Norwood Cemetery has long since been destroyed. For a man who did so much to record London in the era before photography, we really ought to celebrate and commemorate him better. So I am going to begin here by giving a brief outline of Crace’s professional career, and then follow up with a series of posts examining the the many London scenes he commissioned for his unique collection. If you want a taster why not start with my recent blog about London’s coaching inns – which uses images entirely drawn from Crace’s collection.

Crace’s appointment as Commissioner of Sewers in 1818 may have literally been ‘a crap job’, but it did stimulate his interest in the history of the streets of London because he began to collect maps and views of the city from that point right up until his death in 1859. What Crace was unable to procure from collectors, he commissioned via renowned artists, in particular Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. A very large collection of maps and pictures was assembled under his care. Crace had some of Shepherd’s paintings collated and published as ‘Views of London’. But many of the scenes recorded were ordered by Crace upon a whim, or at the drop of a hat, whenever he saw anything important to record for posterity.

http://www.chrisbeetles.com/gallery/early-english-18th-early-19th-century/st-marys-aldermanbury.html

Courtesy www.chrisbeetles.com

St Mary’s Aldermanbury by T.H. Shepherd c.1850

Thanks to Crace we have a significant record of early Victorian transformation of the old Georgian landscape – because his vast collection now resides to the British Museum, having been purchased from Crace’s son in 1879. More joyously still, we now have access to hundreds of beautiful London street scenes (such as the one above) via their excellent online search engine. The true beauty of Crace’s collection is that the traditional tourist panoramas, such as St Paul’s Cathedral or the Tower of London, play a very minor role in the whole ensemble – because Crace concentrated on what was leaving the landscape, rather then what endured. We therefore have a wonderful myriad of London back-streets, shops, inns, churches and housing – perhaps too idyllically depicted – nonetheless vital to grasping an essence of life in London almost two centuries ago.

fishing-templeThe Fishing Temple at Virginia Water, by Frederick Crace c.1825

Frederick Crace, was one of a dynasty of interior designers that graced British homes and palaces between 1750 and 1899. Originally founded as a decorating company by Edward Crace (1725-99), 4 subsequent generations of Craces, in various partnerships and guises,  transformed the business into what the Victoria and Albert Museum have described as ‘the most important family of interior decorations in 19th Century Britain’.

Courtesy Smithsonian Museum

A lot has been written about the Crace family, not least Frederick who is chiefly remembered for the chinoiserie interiors of the Brighton Pavilion. Just recently London Street Views have written a very informative blog about their business base at 14 Wigmore Street. The family firm was created around 1750 by Edward Crace (1725-99) and quickly established themselves as favoured contractors to George III. Edward was not just a paint-splosher, and his services were more akin to interior design, earning him extensive commissions both at Buckingham House and Windsor. Edward’s talents were far-reaching, for in 1770 he authored an influential book upon designs for coach panels (his own father had been a coach-maker), and not long afterwards he became Keeper of the Royal Collection of Paintings, which involved both cataloguing and maintaining the King’s art collection. This was a job Edward kept right up until his death.

Royal Pavilion by Frederick Crace

The Music Room, Brighton Pavilion – Frederick Crace c.1820

Edward’s eldest son John was equally proficient and renowned for his decorating skills, though he set up in practice separately from his father due to a dispute about his choice of bride. John Crace (1754 – 1819) set up on his own in 1776 and by the end of the century was employing his very highly-rated son Frederick. Their clients included leading architects such as Henry Holland and many of the late Georgian housebuilders. John was as favoured in Royal circles as his estranged father – and he was used extensively by the Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent) – working at Carlton House and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. When in 1788 John was commissioned to source and supply a collection of Chinese art to the Royal Pavilion, he could not have known that this was to lay the groundwork for his own son’s most famous and enduring project.

brighton-pavilion

Brighton Pavilion – the Prince Regent’s playground

It is said that young Frederick first came to the attention of the Prince of Wales whilst he was at work gilding a staircase at Windsor Castle. The Prince was so enamoured with the artistry on show that he asked Frederick to decorate the Royal Pavilion in a style to match the Chinese art housed therein – hence Frederick designed and installed the exotic Chinese-inspired décor of the Music Room and later, when the Prince Regent became George IV, he decorated the King’s private apartments at Windsor Castle. Other significant projects attributable to Frederick included designing the St James’s Theatre (1835)

st-james-theatre-exterior

St James’ Theatre (1835) designed by Frederick Crace & Son

Frederick died peacefully at his home in Hammersmith on 18th September 1859. The Morning Post eulogised upon his professional talents and achievements but went on to add

Mr Crace has always taken a great interest in the history and topography of London, but for the last 30 years of his life he has devoted himself with untiring energy and industry in perfecting a very valuable and extensive collection of maps, plans, and views of every part of the metropolis from a very early period to the present time

Frederick’s collection was left to his son John, who further added to it, catalogued it and eventually put it in a free exhibition at South Kensington Museum in December 1878. The Morning Post enthused called ‘a most honourable monument’ to Frederick’s patriarchal and archaeological skills:

To historians and antiquarians it will prove of great value as describing the marvellous changes enacted by the lapse of time, not alone in the architecture of London, but also in the manners, fashions, and social usages of its inhabitants.

Within two years (around 1880) John Crace sold the entire collection to the British Museum, where it remains today every bit as important as the Morning Post described it 140 years ago. I am not sure what the Museum paid for the privilege of owning this collection, but I hope and suspect that the Crace family would have been more anxious to preserve the collection than to maximise profit by this transaction.

craces-home-by-shepherd

In my next post I will introduce Thomas Hosmer Shepherd and talk about his life, and in subsequent posts will collate some of Shepherd’s images into themed headings and try to provide more background upon each London scene. I hope you will be able to join me as I try to add historical notes to the images selected, to help breath life back into Crace’s London.

In conclusion, I am irresistibly drawn to make a comparison between Frederick Crace and the modern-day work of Mr Paul Talling, who I believe is undertaking an equally commendable and worthy task of recording derelict and forgotten London before it too disappears from our consciousness. Whereas Frederick relied upon artists such as Shepherd, Paul is able to utilise his own camera to capture equally historic scenes which are already being acknowledged as culturally vital – Its good to know that the feelings which motivated Frederick Crace remain alive today with modern historians of London life.

For further information on the Crace family, may I recommend and cite as sources of reference

  1. London Street Views – page on the Crace business premises
  2. Victoria and Albert Museum Archive of Art and Design catalogue of items relating to Frederick Crace
  3. Carlton Hobbs’ excellent images and details about the Crace family
  4. Cooper Hewitt’s list of Crace items at the Smithsonian Museum
  5. A visit to the Brighton Pavilion to see Frederick’s Crace’s masterpiece of the Music Room as well as his portrait

If you are interested in the lost history and traditions of London, you make like my series of blogs on the Epping Hunt, or the history of Royal Ascot. Or for another forgotten and under-appreciated genius why not check out William Wellesley-Pole – the man who gave us the splendid shilling – which is fast approaching its bicentenary of creation.

 

 

‘No one likes us, we don’t care’ – Wellesley-Pole & Pistrucci

The Mint with a Pole – Part 3

Intro | Waterloo Medal | Pole & Pistrucci | The Great Re-coinage | Exit & Legacy

pistrucci image 1826 by cf voigt

Benedetto Pistrucci – Would you mess with him?

Wellesley-Pole’s recruitment of Pistrucci for the Royal Mint in 1815 was both a brave and also deeply unpopular decision. These two firebrands came together under a storm of controversy, yet successfully adopted a classic ‘bunker’ mentality to achieve new heights of numismatic brilliance. Benedetto Pistrucci (1783-1855) was born and educated in Rome. At the age of 15, he was placed with the gem-engraver Nicolo Morelli (1771–1830), whose patrons included the Pope and Emperor Napoleon. His talent for carved cameos was quickly evident as he obtained first prize in sculpture from the drawing academy at Campidoglio. Pistrucci remained in Rome until he was in his forties, producing a combination of portrait cameos and engraved gemstones. Hoping to enhance his reputation further Pistrucci moved to France around 1814. But his arrival coincided with Napoleon’s defeat and exile, so he met the Duke of Wellington and his brother Wellesley-Pole rather than the French Emperor (to whom he had hoped to present a cameo). By the time Wellesley-Pole returned to London to become Master of the Mint, Pistrucci was already there causing ripples of disapproval in artistic circles.

2014GW2957

Pistrucci intended this cameo for Napoleon (Paris 1814), but he was ‘Gone Away’

Having spent over a quarter of a century perfecting his skills Pistrucci was supremely confident in his ability and unwilling to reverentially defer to established English artists. In 1815 Pistrucci attended a party at Sir Joseph Banks’ home where a Mr Payne Knight exhibited an engraved gem believed to be an ancient relic, having been purchased some years earlier from Mr Boneli an art dealer from Golden Square. To the astonishment of the assembled guests Pistrucci announced that he had created the gem in his workshop and sold it to Boneli for twenty Roman crowns. This assertion was challenged not only by Boneli (who insisted that Pistrucci had merely polished up an ancient gemstone) but also by several renowned experts present. It was declared that there was ‘no living artist so capable’ as to have manufactured such an item. So Pistrucci offered to make a replica and present it within three months in proof of his claim. He duly delivered a near perfect match, but without the signs of wear and tear evident on the original – and he demanded £50 payment from Payne Knight for his troubles. But Knight refused to pay or to submit both items for independent adjudication.

head of flora

The ‘Head of Flora’ – which Pistrucci claimed to be his own design

So in some circles Pistrucci found himself labelled a forger and a charlatan trying to extort money from a well-known patron of the arts. But all was not lost for he acquired a vital ally in the form of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820). Banks was the long-serving President of the Royal Society which had a traditionally paternalistic control over the policies and activities of the Royal Mint. Knowing that Wellesley-Pole was looking for an artist to work on designs for the new coinage Banks introduced Pistrucci – but left the final decision wholly with the Master of the Mint.

wellesley pole

Wellesley-Pole looking calm and collected for a change

Wellesley-Pole soon encountered problems when he brought Pistrucci into the Mint. His Italian friend had initially submitted artwork for approval, including the now famous St George and Dragon design. But when chief engraver Thomas Wyon copied Pistrucci’s model he could not match the original. Wellesley-Pole realised he was on to a winner and paid Pistrucci 100 guineas to create the template himself. This caused ill-feeling at the Mint, which worsened after Wyon unexpectedly died. Wellesley-Pole knew no one could replicate Pistrucci’s work, so he backed his man unequivocally. Pistrucci was employed as an engraver for £500 per annum, offering him accommodation at the Mint. Wellesley-Pole acquired Pistrucci’s services on excellent terms considering that the initial contract for 100 guineas only entailed a week’s work. Pistrucci was permitted to augment his pay by carrying out private commissions, and brought his family over from Rome. However he worked up to 18 hours a day at the Mint in these early years, leaving no time for freelance projects. Staff at the Mint resented Pistrucci because he was an alien. Their antipathy lasted decades during which time he was not allowed to be called ‘Chief Engraver’.

On 11th July 1815 Wellesley-Pole invited 12 members at the Royal Academy, including Sir Thomas Lawrence, John Flaxman, and his close friend Joseph Nollekins to submit designs for the Waterloo Medal. The letter clearly stated

This can only be done by the aid of the First Artists belonging to the Royal Academy

flaxman

John Flaxman (1755-1826) – was not deemed good enough by Wellesley-Pole

But when the Royal Academy nominated Flaxman’s design for the larger Waterloo Medal, Pistrucci refused to copy it, declaring that it went against his artistic principles. Instead he submitted his own proposal which was approved by the Regent. The Regent then asked for his portrait by Lawrence to be copied for the obverse face of the medal. But when Wellesley-Pole went to see him at his studio, Pistrucci had turned Lawrence’s painting to face the wall and pointedly refused to comply even when threatened with dismissal. He said he wanted to create the Regent ‘from life’. It was an awkward situation, for Wellesley-Pole had agreed a fee of £3500 for this commission, £2000 of which had already been paid. Additionally, he was over a barrel regarding the new coinage. Remarkably Wellesley-Pole persuaded the Regent to back down, and Pistrucci got his way. The Royal Society was enraged by the Mint’s rejection of Flaxman and Lawrence’s artwork. A senior British Museum antiquary said ‘a more intimate knowledge of the talent that existed in the Kingdom…would have saved [Wellesley-Pole] from the reproach of unnecessarily insulting the whole body of native artists’.

double sovereign

Pistrucci’s iconic St George & Dragon motif – still in use today. Note his initials (bottom right)

To get some idea of the resentment stirred up by Wellesley-Pole’s appointment and dogged support for Pistrucci you only have to look at the press between 1816 and 1819 where numerous anonymous letters lambasted their partnership. Even though the Great Re-coinage was an unqualified success the barbed comments kept coming. For example the Morning Chronicle of October 29th 1818 stated

The execution of the coin of the Realm…[occurred] through the anti-national bad taste of the Master of the Mint shamefully [working] after the designs of the Italian artist.

wwp coin marks

Despite Wellesley-Pole’s private marks being very small and subtle he was likened to Cardinal Wolsey

Wellesley-Pole was delighted to discover ‘I am empowered to place such private mark as I choose [on all coin], and I have chosen my initials…WWP’. The press accused him of ‘smuggling his initials’ onto the new sovereign and they were quick to publish his reply: ‘I shall be impeached for putting my initials on the coin of the realm, as Cardinal Wolsey was for placing a cardinal’s hat on the coin of Henry VIII!’  Such was the level of vitriol probably originating from jealous and resentful members of the Royal Academy that Wellesley-Pole was compelled to make a statement in the House of Commons setting the record straight. Pistrucci fared similarly when exercising his right to leave a mark on designs used in the new coins

Pistrucci the artrist who executed the die for the Crown piece is determined that his name shall be transmitted to posterity. It is engraved at full length on both sides of the coin!! For this specimen of vanity and presumption he has no precedent

Reports on the design of the Double-Sovereign in 1819 reveal the depth of animosity against both men

Mr Pistrucci whose happy knack of making strong likenesses is well known to the British public has presented a faithful resemblance of himself in the cavalier… with a melting pot instead of a helmet. In the beast on which he is mounted the public will recognise… the Master of the Mint differing however from the Grecian charger… by a striking addition to the length of his ears… so that the whole figure on the new coin resembles a jack-ass. [In fact] the initials W.W.P are impressed on his hind-quarters… so Englishmen in future ages will not look at the jack-ass without thinking of Mr Pole.

pistrucci bust

In Pistrucci, Wellesley-Pole found a like-minded character. Both men were hot-headed perfectionists unwilling to compromise in pursuit of their goals. Wellesley-Pole correctly identified Pistrucci as the man to revolutionise British coinage and backed his man to the hilt. But the consequence for both men was an estrangement from the established body of artists, and fellow Mint employees. In fact it was the Mint’s unwillingness to accept Pistrucci as Chief Engraver and their pointed omission of his name from their Red Book that led to the 30+ year delay in Pistrucci delivering the dyes needed to produce the larger Waterloo Medal.  Pistrucci complained long and often that he was promised the role of Chief Engraver by Wellesley-Pole and he genuinely feared that the Mint would cast him aside as soon as he was no longer considered essential.  So he dragged his heels for decades and by the time the dyes were presented only the Duke of Wellington remained alive of the leaders involved in the Battle of Waterloo.

Waterloo-medal-A

Though Pistrucci worked at the Mint until 1849, his most productive and inspirational phase was under Wellesley-Pole’s influence and support – between 1815 and 1820. It is fair to say that both men benefitted from each other’s obstinacy and drive for perfection. No one liked them, but luckily for us, they didn’t care because their collaboration produced coins considered to be ‘the finest that had ever been issued in Europe’.

pistricci work

Example of Pistrucci’s earlier cameo work c.1810

Pistrucci was undoubtedly an essential cog in Wellesley-Pole’s machinery at the Mint, but my next part will focus on the incredible logistical achievement of The Great Re-Coinage in 1817…

Sources Used

  1. Greg Roberts unpublished dissertation ‘The Forgotten Brother’ (2009)
  2. Billing A., Gems, Jewels and Coins (London: Bell and Daldy, 1867)
  3. Humphreys H., Gold, Silver and Copper Coins of England (6th Ed, London: Bohn, 1849)
  4. British Library Add. MSS 39791
  5. Hayward J., Waterloo- The Medal, www.greatwarhistoricalsociety.com
  6. Bagot J., George Canning and Friends (London: Murray, 1909)
  7. Images of Wellesley-Pole marks on coins courtesy of The Royal Mint Museum

In November 2014 it was announced that Pistrucci’s Waterloo Medal had finally been struck, nearly 200 years after Wellesley-Pole commissioned it. The medal was presented to representatives of Britain’s allies at the Battle of Waterloo in a ceremony held at Apsley House, The Duke of Wellington’s London home

ceremony

Better late then never- Britain’s allies thanked for Waterloo

To find out more about Pistrucci’s Waterloo Medal visit The Royal Mint Museum

Waterloo 200 organisation will produce 500,000 Waterloo Medal replicas as part of events to mark anniversary of Wellington’s victory

For more information Pistrucci’s famous ‘head of flora’ cameo visit the British Museum

Traditionalists will be pleased to see that the Royal Mint are producing a 2015 Sovereign in which Pistrucci’s mark is clearly visible

To find out what Wellesley-Pole got up to after he left the Mint, watch him go to the dogs or if you want to know more about Wellington’s devotion to his staff you may enjoy Wellington & Raglan