Victorian Monopoly – From ‘The Strand’ to ‘Jail’

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

In this third segment we press on with our journey around the Monopoly Board using only images from the Crace Collection of antiquarian prints and maps held by the British Museum. Our 1850s Londoners are tasked with traversing streets and locations immortalised since the London version of this iconic board game first appeared in 1936. We will begin in The Strand but shall inevitably end up in Jail, before our final turn homewards. But will the places we visit be familiar to Victorian eyes?

The Strand | Fleet St | Trafalgar Sq | Fenchurch St Station
Leicester SqCoventry StWater Works | PiccadillyGo To Jail

The Strand

The Strand (1781) by Thomas Malton

From the Middle Ages the Strand served as the principal route between the twin Cities of London and Westminster, deriving its name from its close proximity to the River Thames – which made it a thoroughfare liable to flooding right up until the construction of Victoria Embankment in 1870. For many centuries one of London’s best-known roads, the Strand might have had a still a greater claim upon the map of modern London: – Not once but twice stations that were called ‘The Strand’ have been subsequently renamed (Aldwych and Charing Cross). ‘Strand Bridge’ too was nearing completion, when the Duke of Wellington’s famous victory over Napoleon in 1815 caused it to be re-titled ‘Waterloo’ Bridge. Bordered to the west by Trafalgar Square, and to the east by Fleet Street., the Strand was a thriving commercial thoroughfare, instantly recognisable to Victorian Londoners

Exeter Change, The Strand

We are going to alight at Exeter Change, or Exchange as it was also known, on the north side of the Strand – where the Strand Palace Hotel now stands. The Change was built in 1676 on the site of the London mansion of the Earls of Exeter. Despite being demolished in 1829, this building retained a very special place in the memories of older generation Victorians. It was designed and built by a Dr Barbon as a kind of bazaar – similar to a modern-day shopping mall –  with various outlets, entertainment, and retail spaces. At the front was an arcade extending forwards right into the Strand. Initially Exeter Change housed a number of fine tailors, milliners, hosier and other fashionable shops – with an auction room (that also occasionally served as a Court room) on the upper floors. These were prime units, for it was recorded that one Thomas Clark, a cutler, accumulated a vast fortune via trade from the Change – enabling him to purchase the upper parts in 1773 as an investment – and thereafter to establish the first of a series of menageries, or private zoos – for which Exeter Change became most truly renowned

The Exeter Change menagerie at various times included lions, tigers, monkeys, and other exotic species, all confined in iron cages in small rooms. The roaring of the big cats could be heard outside, often frightening horses passing in the street below. Gilbert Pidcock bought the menagerie in 1793, and it later subsequently passed into the hands of Stephani Polito. Both Pidcock and Polito operated of travelling circuses, using the Exeter Change as winter quarters for their animals, which was a neat way of earning revenue off-season. The menagerie was extremely popular across all sections of society, and was well-advertised as a tourist attraction.

Pidcock’s Royal Menagerie Brochure

A few years before Exeter Change was swept away as part of a grander scheme to improve The Strand, it was the scene of a tragic and sensational event – revealing the cruelty and barbarity of Georgian society towards animal welfare; namely the death of Chunee in 1826. Chunee was an Indian elephant brought to London around 1809 and put to work at Covent Garden Theatre. His acting career got off to a bad start because ‘the tremendous noise of his reception deprived him of sense’ causing Chunee to refuse to allow ‘the Sultan of Cashmire’ to dismount him during an important scene,. Instead of following the script, Chunee scarpered off-stage into the wings knocking all around him asunder. Fortunately no one was injured in the ensuing melee, and the sensation caused by his impromptu ad-libbing added boosted ticket sales. Chunee soon overcame his stage-fright to complete a 40-day pantomime season in front of packed houses, and then had the honour of appearing alongside Edmund Keane at Drury Lane. By 1812 Chunee was in retirement at Exeter Change, where he was placed in an oak and hammered-iron cage, and rapidly became one of London’s most iconic tourist attractions. This must have been a miserable existence for such a huge beast – as he was almost permanently locked up for human entertainment.

Chunee ate his keeper’s clothing in 1819

As Chunee grew older the sheer tedium and loneliness of his existence made him angry and hostile. By the mid-1820s there were entire seasons when he was considered ungovernable. Eventually on March 1st 1826, Chunee became extremely agitated and began violently striking his den.  His exasperated owner and keeper, Mr Cross took the heartless decision to poison him. But this failed, so he sent for his gun, ignoring the pleas of his staff, declaring ‘no pecuniary loss could induce me to endanger the lives of other humans’ by keeping Chunee alive. Thirty bullets were fired from close range but the Chunee continued to struggle and actually succeeded in smashing the front section of his cage open. As the case was now desperate, soldiers bearing muskets were called upon from Somerset House and a further hundred musket balls were fired.  When Chunee eventually sunk to his knees – the firing continued. In fact it took another 90 minutes for this poor elephant to die. A grotesque crowd of onlookers witnessed the appalling spectacle of Cross finishing his off his prize exhibit with a sabre. Afterwards the newspapers commiserated with Cross over the loss of such a valuable asset (said to be in the region of £1000) – but there was barely a mention of the horrific ordeal suffered by Chunee.

The barbaric slaughter of Chunee the elephant (1826)

Yet Chunee’s demise may be seen as a parable for changes underway in British society as the Georgian era reached its end. Most people relished the cruelty of blood sports – indeed hundreds of people paid a shilling to watch Chunee’s dissection at the Royal College of Surgeons (where his bullet-ridden hide was sold off for £50). But there were also some green shoots of Victorian respectability arriving, and the emergence of sense of feeling towards animals. -This can be seen via a letter sent to The Times a few days afterwards

To place an elephant, or any beast, without a mate, and in a box bearing no greater proportion to his bulk than a coffin does to a corpse, is inhuman; and there can be no doubt that confinement and the want of a mate caused the frenzy… If a very small part of the money voted for the Royal Palace were applied to the purchase of a few acres of ground, we might [be able to exhibit] Nature’s wonderful works in the style worthy of a great city…

This correspondent’s wishes would not be realised for another three decades (with the opening of Regent’s Park Zoo). As for the menagerie – when Exeter Change was finally demolished, it was re-opened further down the Strand, in a building near Charing Cross. Exeter Change may have been no more for Victorians, but legend says that Chunee can still be found in the Strand – inspiring this 1829 poem by Thomas Hood

Lines from Chunee’s Ghost (1829)

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Fleet Street

Fleet Street has for centuries been a major street in the City of London, extremely well-known to Victorians, especially because it was the site of Temple Bar, an ancient landmark serving as the principle ceremonial entrance on the royal route between the St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower of London on one side, and the Palace of Westminster on the other. Temple Bar was intended as a barrier regulating trade passing into the City, but it became a symbol of the rule of law because it was situated close to the Inns of Chancery. After 1800 the Royal Courts Of Justice, transferred to Fleet Street from Westminster Hall, adding to Fleet Street’s status as a legal quarter. So, while Fleet Street’s historic connection with newspapers and the press has come and gone, it remains today very much associated with the law.

Temple Bar c.1700

The baroque version of Temple Bar erected c.1680 was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and as can be seen above was still used as a place for displaying the severed heads of executed prisoners, as a warning to others. Temple Bar spanned Fleet Street right up until 1878, when it was removed because it caused too much of a bottleneck for passing traffic. After many years away from London, Wren’s arch can nowadays be found in Paternoster Square, adjacent to St Paul’s Cathedral.

Fleet Ditch (1841) – a true Dickensian slum

Fleet Street gained its name from the River Fleet which crossed the roadway at Fleet Bridge – nowadays known as Ludgate Circus, and for many years whilst there was an open ditch north of Fleet Street, surrounded by ramshackle housing, prone to flooding and cholera. Not surprisingly crime proliferated – and by the 1826 it was so bad that a drastic reform of policing was necessary.

The nuisance, by the assemblage of groups of dissolute girls and men of notorious character, in the vicinity of Temple Bar, Fleet Street, and the Strand, is now likely to be abolished, as it is in contemplation to establish an effective street police… [ensuring] ‘free passage’ and ‘safe walking’ to the public in these great thoroughfares… to break the almost impassable file of pickpockets and women of the lowest description, who plant themselves in this most crowded… and most convenient thoroughfare for their plunder.

The Metropolitan Police Act 1829 rescued Fleet Street from becoming a no-go area but Victorian Monopoly player’s would have looked for Fleet Street at the cheapest section of section of their game, rather than the upper-middling red area it was allotted by 1936.

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Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square c.1852

By choosing Trafalgar Square to complete their red section, the original creators of the London Monopoly board displayed a sensible and logical understanding of this City’s topography; for Trafalgar Square stands at the western end of the Strand, which in turn leads on to Fleet Street. Trafalgar Square owes its existence to an Act of Parliament (1826) enabling the redevelopment of Charing Cross. This area had been an important meeting place for Londoners since the 13th Century, so it was very suitable for renewal on a grand scale, and perfect to receive a name synonymous with Britain’s new sense of her own power and patriotism. Began by John Nash, Trafalgar Square was finally completed in 1844, though it’s new name, recalling Horatio Nelson’s famous victory over the French (1805), was routinely in use as early as 1833.

When its iconic fountains were added in 1841 at a cost of £11,000, the earth removed was used to level off Green Park. The centrepiece – Nelson’s Column was erected in 1843.

 

Queen Victoria’s Coronation

As we know it today, Trafalgar Square is closely associated with public gatherings, protests, and pageantry. For the Victorian monopoly player this tradition would have reminded them of a very important day – the coronation of their Queen on June 28th 1838. The Standard reported that the mob were ‘never so well behaved’ as they lined the streets to witness the Queen’s ceremonial procession

From the earliest dawn… Charing Cross was presented with a scene of unusual bustle and interest. Many persons, it is understood, passed the night in the open space in Trafalgar Square in order to  be in good time for a good view of the procession. Others took up their positions in the taverns and public-houses in the neighbouring streets, from which they sallied forth as early as 5 o’clock, who joined their counterparts in front of the National Gallery. By 6 o’clock the space between the statue of Charles I, and the front of the National Gallery, was filled as far as it could be and by nine it was crowded to such a degree as to make ingress or egress impossible… The appearance of the whole area was one of the most imposing kind. At the west side of Trafalgar Square the Union Club had erected two galleries, which were filled with an elegant assemblage of beauty and fashion. In the distance on weither side were other galleries as attractively occupied. Every  front storey of every house in the whole line teemed with well-dressed spectators, chiefly ladies. Even the house-tops to the chimney-pots were crowded at every place which could command a view… At seven o’clock there was a sharp shower… but after a short time the weather became fair, and for the remainder of the day was as favourable as could be desired… cloudy, without rain. Precisely at ten o’clock the firing of the guns in the Park announced the procession had commenced its movement from the Palace. At this moment the crowd in the vicinity of Trafalgar Square was immense… we do not exaggerate when we say… there were not less than 200,000 persons assembled. Considering the immense assemblage, the order and decorum observed were on the whole highly creditable to the people, to the solemn occasion… and to the civil and military authorities.

What a spectacle it must have been to stand in Trafalgar Square watching young Princess Victoria pass by on her way to become the monarch that gave her name to a golden age in British history – but it’s time to move on to our next destination…

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Fenchurch Street Station

Fenchurch Street Station (1854)

Fenchurch Street Station was opened in 1841 by the London & Blackwall Railway Company, and then rebuilt as per Thomas Hosmer Shepherd‘s painting above. Let us go back to the 5th of July 1840, where we shall learn that Fenchurch Street began its life as a massive pulley-operated terminus running ‘trains’ down and back from the river Thames at Blackwall. The Times recorded its opening day

At an early hour in the morning carriages began to draw up at the terminus, filled with Members of Parliament, merchants, and private gentlemen, accompanied by their ladies… by 12 noon being the hour at which it was arranged the first train should start, there must have been 1500 elegantly-dressed persons in the waiting room

This was to be an exclusive event, and only those with special invitations were admitted into the new station. This did not stop the gathering of an immense but good-natured crowd outside, hoping for a glimpse of Royalty and yelling ‘Where’s the Queen!’ In this they were to be disappointed as Victoria was not present. The distinguished guests were ushered onto the platform, and entertained by an orchestra as they boarded the train. For the passengers there was plenty of incredible engineering to behold

The trains are propelled to Blackwall by means of two stationary engines of 120 horse power each, which are worked in shafts sunk into the earth on each side of the railway lines. To these engines fly-wheels are attached, each of which weighs 43 tons, and is 22 feet in diameter. A tail rope is fasted to the fly-wheels which is wound and unwound at each end by the stationary engines… as the train proceeds to Blackwall the fly-wheels at Fenchurch unwind the rope… and to prevent the rope becoming entangled… a break is placed on the edge of the platform… at which a man is employed to regulate the unwinding of the rope. The ropes (one for each direction) cost upwards of £1200 and the fly-wheel drums take 30 turns to every mile of rope, each of which are three and a half miles long…

Perhaps the greatest source of wonderment was the electric telegraph, invented by Cook and Wheatstone enabling ‘parties at each end of the railway to hold conversation with each other in the most perfect facility’ – with telegraphs placed at each station on the line – meaning that staff and engineers could communicate with one another instantaneously. Given that the telephone was not patented until 1876 – this is truly a remarkable feat that Fenchurch Street had a near-perfect phone system at its disposal in 1840!

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Leicester Square

The Monster Globe at Leicester Square

Leicester Square was laid out in 1670 and was named after nearby mansion Leicester House. Originally intended to be residential, the Square soon became popular with eighteenth century trendy types – and home to perhaps the two most celebrated painters of the eighteenth century – William Hogarth and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Reynolds was a prolific portrait painter, founder and first president of the Royal Academy of Arts (1768) – and he exploited his fame by using his house in Leicester Square as a kind of gallery – and was rewarded by many sophisticated visitors who subsequently became clients. The artistic connection has never left Leicester Square, for it has remained a popular site for public entertainment. Nowadays Leicester Square is THE place for film premieres, but in the Victorian age its star attraction was theatre. Then (as now) the central garden area served as an arena for singers musicians and performers to entertain the many visitors. No Victorian monopoly player could fail to recognise this place. especially in 1851 because Leicester Square acquired a new kind of attraction, namely the Monster Globe – seen above (1854) in a print by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.

A cross-section of Wyld’s Monster Globe

The Monster Globe was the brain-child of James Wyld, an MP, and map-maker from Charing Cross. Early in 1851 he took out a ten-year lease on the Leicester Square Gardens to construct a visitor attraction showcasing his cartographic talents. The full story of Wyld’s Monster Globe is succinctly described by the Guildhall Library – suffice to say it didn’t end well, and his huge and costly structure was unceremoniously demolished in 1861. However, let us go back and see what the fuss was about, courtesy of The Standard, May 30th 1851

Yesterday a private view of this most interesting work of art was given to the press previous to the opening to the public. A globe having a surface of 10,000 feet is a novelty in geographical science… only after many failures has Mr Wyld succeeded and the Great Model Globe will probably take its place in the public estimation as one of our greatest national works of art…Within the structure are 4 galleries… modelled on a colossal scale are Europe, North America, and North Asia, with the expanse of the oceans…

Though Wyld tried hard to keep his attraction fresh, by organising exhibitions and inviting distinguished lecturers – he could not sustain the project long-term – and perhaps it was too much of a vanity project to succeed. Victorians shed no tears because they knew that Leicester Square would soon regenerate as a visitor attraction

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Coventry Street

View from Coventry Street

Coventry Street is one of the more obscure addresses to be found on the Monopoly Board, given that it is merely a side-road off Haymarket. Built in 1681 and named after a Henry Coventry secretary of Charles II and one-time ambassador to Sweden, whose house once stood on the north side of Panton Street, adjacent to what is now Leicester Square. Although Coventry Street has always stood in a location filled with bars, restaurants, theatres and entertainment – in the Victorian era it was better known as an industrial area, housing a number of tradesmen and factories. Amongst the various workshops stood some very good coffee houses and dining rooms, making Coventry Street a capable supporting act to its better-known rivals.

However, one type of entertainment did thrive in Coventry Street, and that was prostitution. On March 24th 1841 The Times reported

We some months ago called the attention of the police to the shameful scenes exhibited every night in the Haymarket and Coventry Street by the prostitutes who infest that neighbourhood… and are herded during the day time in the infamous brothels in Coventry-court…

This campaign had for a time been successful, until a local police magistrate, inundated by cases of fallen women brought before him for sentence, declared ‘prostitutes must walk somewhere’. To celebrate their victory the local prostitutes then took to ringing doorbells of local houses at all hours of the night and shouting obscenities at their owners. This new development caused The Times to request

It is the duty of the police to see that [prostitutes] walk in such a manner so as not to annoy and insult peacable persons and modest women, and that their ‘walking’ does not extend to the knockers and bell-handles of the householders

If you had the time, Coventry Street was the place

The catalyst for change in Coventry Street came in 1850, as it so usually does in London, when an act of God swept away many of the factories and workshops allowing the area to be rebuilt. On January 3rd at 11pm a very serious fire broke out in the premises of Creese & Co, boot and shoe-makers. Within a very few minutes the whole factory was ablaze and the fire spread to adjacent properties. Despite the efforts of St Ann’s parish fire brigade, who were able to use brand new mains water provided by the New River Company, the fire raged for 13 hours. The following businesses were affected

  • 3 Coventry Street – Mrs Mary Taylor, stationer, burned down
  • 4 Coventry Street – Creese & Company, bootmakers, burned down
  • 5 Coventry Street – Samuel Walters, a tailor, back of building destroyed
  • 6 Coventry Street – Mr Reid, hosier, back of building destroyed

Properties in Rupert Street and Princes Street were also both fire and water damaged – including three bootmakers, a gunsmith, poulterer and a carpet-maker. Coventry Street was redeveloped to become an asset rather than a liability to London’s amenities. Attractive new buildings replaced the old shops and tenements, and London’s oldest trade was forced to find refuge elsewhere in Soho, but still remained close enough to maintain this area’s modern-day seedy backdrop. In 1907 the first Lyons Corner House was built in Coventry Street, hence its reputation would have improved enough to justify inclusion in the 1936 monopoly board line-up

After 1850 Coventry Street became gentrified

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Water Works

York Buildings Water Works

The spectre of death and disease was never far from the streets of Georgian London, and though it was not then known to be the cause of cholera outbreaks, Londoners were fully aware of the importance of clean drinking water.  As early as 1671 the Thames Water Company was established at York Buildings, at the end of Villiers Street, near Charing Cross. It utilised early steam technology to distill water and provide it at a cost to local residents. But the process was slow, and its machinery soon rendered obsolete by rivals such as Chelsea Water Company to the extent that by the 1730s it was no longer a viable concern. Despite this lack of business success, York Waterworks became a significant London landmark – principally on account of its 70 feet tall wooden tower, which was erected around 1698. A heavy weight was pushed to the top of the tower by steam power in order to create sufficient pressure to pump clean water into nearby houses. With its distinctive shape and curious windows, York Water Tower went on to become a very familiar sight, not least for the many artists who have included it in their Thames landscapes.

Canaletto’s view of York Water Tower c.1750

Thomas Malton’s York Water Tower c.1792

The Shard Building, London Bridge (2009)

It is not known exactly when York Tower was removed, but it must have been gone by the time the Victoria Embankment was constructed the early 1860s. York Water Gate (seen in Thomas Malton’s image above) still stands in the park. York Water Tower may be lost but its one-time dominance of the Thames panorama is thought to have influenced architect Renzo Piano’s design for the Shard building at London Bridge. Piano has credited Canaletto’s painting seen above for formulating his idea. Not only can we see that the Water Works was a familiar landmark during the Victorian era, but we still have a super-sized reminder of its existence.

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Piccadilly

Devonshire House, Piccadilly (1844)

Piccadilly spent the early years of its life deciding whether or not it ought to be called Portugal Street, an issue that was finally resolved in its favour around 1750. It came to prominence after the old road between Charing Cross and Hyde Park Corner was closed to enable the creation of Green Park in 1668. Continual development meant that by 1800 there were many elegant mansion houses, such as Devonshire House , coaching inns, clubs, hotels, and shops all the way to Hyde Park Corner, and within a few decades the fabulous Nash facades were added to its junction with Regent Street. By Victorian times Piccadilly certainly was a very exclusive neighbourhood.

St James’ Church came into existence primarily because of the rapid expansion of Piccadilly. In the 1660s local residents put forward a Bill to create a new parish separate from St Martin in the Fields, and eventually obtained permission to construct. Built by Sir Christopher Wren for a cost of £5000, it was first consecrated in 1684 – and lent its name to the area which became known as St James’ Parish (or St James’ as it is today).

St James Piccadilly

St James Piccadilly played a very important role in the life of ‘Wicked William’ Long-Wellesley, for it was the scene of his marriage to Wanstead House heiress Catherine Tylney-Long in March 1812. But it has other more noble claims to fame such as the poet William Blake‘s (baptised there 1757) or the burial place of legendary Georgian caricaturist James Gillray.

White Bear Yard, Piccadilly c.1850

The White Bear situated in Piccadilly was one of London’s foremost coaching inns. Despite the decline in coach travel by the 1840s it was still a thriving inn – though this report from The Times shows that you had to chose the right time to enter its yard, without incurring the wrath of Ann Bond

A foreign person, Mr Paul Decone, was passing through White Bear Yard a few evenings ago, about half past seven o’clock, when he was suddenly deluged by the contents of a pail thrown from the first floor window… a very short time afterwards he discovered that his clothes were turning red, and parets of his hat were burnt off. The defendant Ann Bond admitted throwing the water out of her window into the drain below, but denied that it was contaminated… [but] the defendant had for a length of time been in the habit of throwing water over people passing through the yard at dusk… and the police had been called several times before. It being a public thoroughfare tests were carried out on the water, which was found to contain vitriol. [The Judge] was willing to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt, but in order to put a stop to a most unjustifiable proceeding, that of throwing water out of a window, by accident or design, so as to cause an assault, he should inflict a fine of 50 shillings and costs. The money was duly paid…

Its appropriate to leave Piccadilly on a criminal note as we are now off to prison

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Go To Jail!!

Fleet Prison 1840 – relying on charity to survive

Prisons were very familiar buildings in Victorian London, the spectre of which hung wide sections of the population. Alongside the traditional prisons such as Newgate, were a plethora of debtors prisons and asylums which were to all intents and purposes also places of permanent incarceration, plus some decaying hulk ships housing alien prisoners and those awaiting transportation. My own research subject ‘Wicked William’ spent time in Fleet Prison for contempt of court, and in the Tower of London for abduction. His ordeal would have been nothing compared to the vast number of desperate and destitute souls finding themselves behind bars in Victorian London, and hoping for the kindness of strangers

Millbank Prison  c1829

Millbank was a new type of prison built on marshland west of Westminster between 1813 and 1823. The works were beset with problems not least because Millbank was traditionally a bit of a swamp liable to flooding from the Thames, hence its construction became a very challenging task. The idea was to create a prison purely for those whom it was considered capable of reform – and sentences between 5 and 10 years were given as an alternative to transportation.

Almost as soon as Millbank Penitentiary was opened the Morning Chronicle commented 

It is seated in a marsh, beneath the bed of a river, through which the vapours of stagnant water are constantly exhaling. The effluvia from the mass of human beings confined within its walls cannot dissipate from deficient ventilation… lingering confinement cannot fail to produce all the diseases which take place…  One would be almost tempted to think that the mind of the person who contrived this prison had been influenced by the diabolical idea of saving the expense of conveying convicts to distant settlements, by a commutation that would end all their earthly troubles… There is but one remedy – to place as much gun-powder under the foundation as may suffice to blow the whole fabric into the air.

This savage indictment did not prevent Millbank from continuing to operate until a new prison was opened at Pentonville in 1842; and thereafter it became a holding prison for transportees.

The Governors Report for 1842 makes grim reading:

For the year 1842 there were 707 prisoners, of which 408 were males, 157 females, and 142 soldiers… twenty prisoners died [including] 11 from dysentery, 5 from consumption… 18 were released on medical grounds including 5 to a lunatic asylum… the Committee stated that the distressing increase in the number of insane prisoners had been arrested by a new regime imposed in July 1841… limiting inrercourse between prisoners for the first three months after their admission, and then to be placed on a modified system of intercourse, consisting of permission to converse, during the hours of exercise, with tow or more fellow-prisoners. This privilege is liable to be suspended for misconduct… this new system has cut cases of insanity by a third…

What a horrific place Millbank must have been. To think that only those most likely to reform and be rehabilitated into society were sent to this hell-hole. There was absolutely nothing to encourage improvement, just daily exposure to disease, and Governors imposing a minimum of three months isolation as the means to control mental health. Thankfully the sheer cost of this brutal regime prevented it carrying on any longer, and the prison was downgraded shortly afterwards. Millbank Prison closed in the 1880s, and was fully demolished by the end of the Victorian era.

Pentonville Prison c.1850

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In conclusion we can see that your average Victorian would have felt well at home making his way across the top part of a modern Monopoly board. Though he would have wondered how places like Fleet Street and the Strand could ever be considered so appealing given their proximity to slum housing, disease and crime. Given this fact our trip to prison at the end of this journey would hardly have been unexpected. Please join me for the final segment as we get released from our cell to examine London’s elite areas from Regent Street to Mayfair.  What were these exclusive areas like for Victorian-age Londoners? Find out next time!

For a blog post of this scope, I have struggled for brevity. Despite its ridiculous length, I hope you will have enjoyed the stopping points we have made on our Victorian Monopoly odyssey, learning a little about each place on the way. There are a myriad of internet resources available for those interested in the history of London’s streets and enclaves. You may like the following further reading resources:

The Strand – British History On Line, Rachel Knowles visits Exeter Change, Know Your London: Exeter Change, Mike Rendell’s Sad Story of Chunee the elephant, or Jane Austen’s London

Fleet Street – A history of Temple Bar, British History of Fleet River and Ditch, The Londonist looks at Fleet Ditch today, or Charles Dickens and Fleet Street

Trafalgar Square – Trafalgar Square Website, The Londonist asks: How much do you really know about Trafalgar Square?, Londontopia has some great random facts, or click here for a fuller description of Queen Victoria’s coronation day

Fenchurch Street Station – Black Cab London looks at its history, and Isle of Dogs Life looks at the London & Blackwall Railway

Leicester Square –  Hidden London’s brief history, The Guildhall Library looks at Wyld’s Monster Globe, and David Morrell has used the Monster Globe as a setting for his novel Ruler of the Night

Coventry Street – British History Online, or the strange tale of the Coventry Street Vampire & the role of Lyon’s Corner House in Gay History

Waterworks – For an excellent history of the York Watergate click here, Leslie Tomory has written a book about London’s water companies 1580-1820, and IanVisits has unearthed some great info on York Water Tower

Piccadilly – St James Piccadilly Website has an excellent history section, or read about the early history of Piccadilly

Victorian Prisons – London for Free has a great guide to Historic Prisons, Old Police Cells Museum looks at life in a Victorian Prison, and London Lives looks at the rebuilding of Georgian prisons

If you are interested in London’s history you might also like to read about Walthamstow Murderess Elizabeth Jefferies, or know the sad story of Regency Prizefighter Tom Shelton. If buildings interest you then read the multi-layered history of 3 Savile Row, or follow Regency artist Anne Rushout on Tour

Thanks for reading my blogs, and for all your feedback. I have written around 80 original posts in the past three years, and hope to continue adding to this on a more regular basis, as time permits.

All comments and feedback are welcome!

 

The invention of ‘Royal Ascot’ 1823-1830

Creating Tradition – Wellesley-Pole and Ascot (Part 3)

How Wellesley-Pole invented ‘Royal Ascot’

Intro | Master of the Buckhounds | The Age of Reform | Anger Management | Legacy

George IV

George IV – A great patron of Ascot Races

The transformation of Ascot Heath races to ‘Royal Ascot’ between 1813 and 1830 must largely be credited to George IV. At the beginning of his Regency (1813) Parliament enacted an Act of Enclosure securing the future of Ascot Heath as a public racetrack. But it was not until his accession to the throne in 1820 that the King really made his mark. Almost immediately his favoured architect John Nash was engaged to construct a Royal Stand.  This began a decade of almost continuous change and improvement. Between 1820 and 1830 racing at Ascot and the Royal Family became synonymous- This happened because it was transformed into an incredibly well-organised and massively popular event- one of the few venues where the unloved and extravagant King genuinely felt at ease.

Wellesley-Pole was the man George IV entrusted to revitalise Ascot, but the King could never have imagined this undertaking could lead to the creation of ‘Royal Ascot’ AND the rehabilitation of the King in the eyes of his subjects.

Wellesley-Pole’s changes can be briefly be categorised as follows:

Building Works

The Roal Stand - Ascot 1825

The Royal Stand c.1825

Though the Royal Stand was first opened in 1822 (having been built by Nash in just 5 weeks), it was greatly improved and modified under Wellesley Pole’s stewardship. Additional rooms were added, and the windows hung with rich rose-coloured drapery. The King now had the option to make himself more visible to the public from its rooftop terrace, or to retreat to the privacy of his entourage. He greatly enjoyed the ability to wave to his subjects from the security of his suite.

In 1826 a new stand was erected for the Duke of York next to a further smaller stand for Wellesley-Pole’s use as steward. Sadly the Duke of York died in 1827, whereupon the King assigned his brother’s stand to the Jockey Club. Before it was handed over Wellesley-Pole reconfigured the windows so that Jockey Club members would not be able to overlook the King’s Stand.

For the benefit of the betting circles a new three storey building was erected to afford a better view of proceedings for aristocratic gamblers as well as more than doubling the capacity for licensed book-makers. This building too was set back to prevent over-looking the Royal Stand.

All these improvements were eventually superseded by the opening of a magnificent Nash inspired public stand in 1839, but the plans for that were laid down during George IV’s reign, when Wellesley-Pole was in charge.

But the most important and lasting changes to Ascot undertaken by Wellesley-Pole related to the course itself. Wellesley-Pole recognised that the quality of racing was totally dependent upon the state of the racetrack, and set out to ensure that (whatever the weather) Ascot would rise to the occasion. His first action was to ensure that race-goers could not enter the running area. He did this by employing a host of security guards and police men who rigidly prevented any intrusion likely to damage the course, or worse still hinder the races when in progress.

yeoman prickers

‘Yeoman Prickers’ nowadays known as Greencoats -entrusted with keeping pedestrians off the course

By 1824 the course was closed to cattle grazing- only sheep were permitted onto the course when it was not in use. An extensive program of under-draining began so that by 1828 it could no longer be considered a ‘heath’ since standing water simply drained away. That same year Wellesley-Pole remodelled the turns at Swinley & Pike corners, creating a wider sweep, giving the horses more room for running with greater safety – immeasurably improving the race standards. Finally in 1829 £300 was spent forming a new gallop for the horses in training – meaning that the course was now pristinely preserved solely for the annual race meeting. The Morning Chronicle described these structural improvements as making ‘Ascot on of the most complete race courses in the Kingdom… which cannot fail of proving beneficial to the sport’.

Ceremonial

It was already a long-held tradition that the Royal Family attended Ascot Races. Since the 1750s the event was held once annually lasting four days. There was no fixed date in the calendar for Ascot, it seemed to be determined a fixed number of weeks after Easter- hence the meeting could fall in May, but was most commonly held in the early part of June. Attendances were always greater when it was known that the Royal Family would be there, so Wellesley-Pole set about adding a much-needed touch of pageantry to the occasion.

Royal Procession

The Royal Procession – Inaugerated by Wellesley-Pole 1825

Wellesley-Pole decided that the Royal Family should arrive at the fixed time of 1pm, and that a ceremonial procession be devised to celebrate the occasion. Given that Ascot was open to all, and the King was genuinely fearful of public hostility – Wellesley-Pole ramped up the pomp to such a high level as to create a sense of awe. This had two effects – firstly it put the King at his ease to feel that he was partaking in a State Occasion – secondly it appealed to the patriotic fervour of the people. Yes, they may have resented George IV as a profligate wastrel – but the institution of the British Monarchy meant so much more than that, and Ascot was neither the time or the place to undermine it.

So, on 31st May 1825 his Majesty and a party of distinguished visitors emerged from trees within the Park and began a parade down the straight mile section of Ascot’s racecourse. The procession continued up to the newly built Royal Stand, and the newspapers reported

His Majesty was preceded by Wellesley-Pole and several yeomen prickers in their scarlet jackets, and came in his plain travelling-carriage drawn by four horses. Three carriages followed with the members of His Majesty’s suite. His Majesty, on alighting, was received by the Duke of York, who had previously arrived… and walked to the Stand with great firmness and appeared to be completely relieved from his recent attack of gout. On reaching the Royal Stand he instantly advanced to the window and on throwing up the sash was received with the customary demonstrations of loyalty and affection. He was highly delighted by the brilliant and numerous assemblage which was presented to his view.

Ascot Heath Races

The Gold Cup 1829, King George IV’s final appearance at Ascot

At one o’clock precisely Lord Maryborough desired the bell for the first race to be rung, and at the same moment the Yeoman Prickers and Constables under his Lordship’s direction, and with great propriety forced every person to retire outside of the ropes and railings, thereby enabling his Majesty, and those in elevated situations, to command an uninterrupted view of the running, which began at 1-30pm sharp. Newspapers enthused that ‘the regulations adopted in this respect were most judicious, and were strictly adhered to throughout the day… It would be well if at Epsom so admirable a precedent were followed.’

So strikingly successful was the Royal appearance in 1825 that it was permanently adopted thereafter. Thus, as early as 1826 ‘Ascot Heath’ was no more, and the press hereafter referred to it as the ‘Royal Races’ at Ascot.

Rules and Regulations

Wellesley-Pole was a stickler for order and propriety, and his unremitting demands for conformity played a huge role in changing Ascot into a public occasion worthy of the Royal Court.

Ascot Heath Races 2

Determining race winners was never easy

We have seen that Wellesley-Pole laid down the rule that the Royal Family arrived at their Stand at 1 o’clock precisely via a procession down the straight mile. He employed hordes of security to keep the people off the race surface. As Steward he requested that all ranks of the aristocracy were on the course by 12 noon, emphasising that the new ‘Royal Procession’ was to become an integral part of the Ascot races.

When it came to the races themselves, Wellesley-Pole really came into his own. He insisted that all races start on time. A notice was fitted on the weighing room that every jockey not attending to weigh at the proper time would be fined.

The outcome of races was often the subject of great controversy, so Wellesley-Pole employed Mr Clarke the well-renowned judge from Newmarket in order to raise the Ascot’s standards of professionalism to the highest level. He also made it a strict rule that all horses start from the same point as this was often the source of dispute and accusations of cheating. Finally Wellesley-Pole ended the practice of running heats for various prized events, since on one occasion it got too dark for the final races to be ran.

It was generally agreed that Ascot needed an officious and firm stewardship, and though Wellesley-Pole did not endear himself to anyone unlucky enough to breach his rules, there was a grudging admiration for what he had achieved.

Licensing & Security

One of Wellesley-Pole’s greatest attributes was his ability to involve all staff in the process of change. Adding the Yeoman Prickers to the Royal Procession gave them a very real sense of inclusion, and made it easier for Wellesley-Pole to encourage them to secure the racetrack from trespass. On race days each person employed was made fully aware of the importance of their contribution. Better still, Wellesley-Pole paid special bonuses to reward everyone involved in the successful outcome of each meeting.

From 1825 there was a noticeable decline in crime and illegal gambling. The Morning Chronicle enthused that ‘those ruffians with cups and balls, garters, and other swindling devices, by whom Epsom downs was infested, were altogether excluded from the course’. A large contingent of Bow Street Runners were on hand to deter pickpockets and other petty thieves. The aim was to make the occasion a safe one, but not to exclude ordinary folk who came there in their droves.

Public at Ascot - Sandhay 1809

Ascot was a great public occasion, and there was not a bed to be had for miles around during race week

As mentioned earlier, the betting circle was extended after 1826 – but a license charge of 5 guineas was set so that Ascot could benefit financially. Also a team of inspectors was engaged to proceed against all vendors intending to serve wines and spirits without purchasing the appropriate license – again at 5 guineas each.

Such was the effect of Wellesley-Pole’s reforms that the Morning Chronicle wrote

Ascot cannot be too highly praised. The precision in which the races were run the keeping of the course- and the spirit displayed by the principle supporters of them, cannot but have satisfied the most fastidious; for everything evinced liberality and good management. To [Wellesley-Pole] the public are indebted for the management and execution of those measures to which the excellence of the sport was owing.

So, by 1830 Ascot had truly transformed to become ‘Royal Ascot’. It was in fact so popular with the King that he ordered Wellesley-Pole to arrange a second meeting to be held just a few weeks later. In the King’s eyes Wellesley-Pole could do no wrong. But change was coming – the King was ailing and Wellesley-Pole himself was soon to overstep his authority and fall from grace.

Tune in for part 4 of Wellesley-Pole and Ascot to see how Wellesley-Pole’s hot temper and over-bearing rules & regulations combined to bring the curtain down on his illustrious Stewardship of Ascot race track.

My blog sheds light on the extraordinary life and times of the Wellesley-Pole family, including their three daughters (dubbed the three graces), and, of course ‘Wicked’ William his notoriously scandalous son. It is only when we learn the calibre and achievements of his family that the real scale of ‘Wicked’ William’s depravity is revealed.

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