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 Last Victims Of Waterloo? Sea Horse Tragedy 1816

The Wreck of the Sea Horse, Tramore, 1816

On January 30th 1816 Waterloo veterans met a watery grave

As a second-generation Irishman whose parents live in deepest Tipperary, it is almost obligatory that my visits to Ireland include an excursion to Tramore in County Waterford. Its lovely sandy beach, funfair and (one-time) myriad of slot machine arcades providing something for all ages, PLUS the added bonus of Dooly’s truly excellent fish and chip shop – supplies the perfect end to any day trip. They don’t serve seahorse, but you don’t have to look far to see them in this town.

Yet, amidst my nostalgia for Tramore, the presence of a shipwreck on the beach (when I was a lad) was always a stark reminder of the perils facing mariners daring to enter her waters. To this end I have long appreciated why each side of Tramore Bay has so many large beacons – one of which is be-topped by a ‘Metal Man’ which I was wrongly informed had been erected as a kind of corporate stunt. Compounding things further, I always assumed that Tramore’s cute seahorse emblem was just an obligatory tacky seaside symbol, on a par with saucy postcards, donkeys and kiss-me-quick hats.

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Tramore Seahorse Logo – not tack, but genuine respect

But thanks to the magnificent people of Waterford, a monument is about to be unveiled which not only makes me humbly eat my words about Tramore and its logo, but is also a very sincere and poignant memorial for a maritime disaster of the highest order, which occurred on 30th January 1816 involving the ill-fated transport ship Sea Horse.

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The new Sea Horse Memorial at Tramore

Whilst walking the promenade at Tramore this weekend I came across this delightful stone-built memorial commemorating the bicentennial of the tragedy of the sinking of the Sea Horse – when 363 lives were lost as she foundered during a storm in Tramore Bay. The story of the Sea Horse is very sad, not least for the 2nd Battalion, 59th (2nd Nottinghamshire) Regiment – who were all but wiped out in the icy waters of Tramore Bay. This Battalion (formed in 1806) had been garrisoned in Ireland until 1814 when they were called up to form part of the army of occupation in Paris. After Napoleon’s escape from Elba, the 2/59th were present at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18th 1815. In this bloodiest of battles, the 2/59th were fortunately spared – having not been called into action by the Duke of Wellington.

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The 2/59th Regiment – Escaped death at Waterloo (but not for long)

In the aftermath of Napoleon’s final defeat, peace and subsequent demobilisation – the 2/59th sailed back to Dover, making the short journey to Ramsgate, for embarkation upon the Sea Horse which was commissioned to return them to barracks in Ireland. The full story of what happened to the 2/59th is recounted by the Lancashire Infantry Museum. It reveals that Sea Horse was one of a convoy of ships wrecked along the Irish coast that fateful night – raising the overall death toll in this regiment to 550 souls.Their account highlights one important event – in itself a tragedy – but which triggered the horrendous loss that ensued:

At 4pm Ballycotton Island was seen at about 12 miles distance. On board the Sea Horse, the Mate, John Sullivan, who was the only person aboard with knowledge of the approaching coast, climbed the foremast to spy out the land, but he fell, breaking his legs and arms. He died three hours later in his wife’s arms; a loss of local knowledge which was to have tragic consequences for his ship….

Local knowledge was indeed essential because the treacherous bay of Tramore could easily be mistaken for the calm waters of the Waterford Estuary – which lay just east of where the Sea Horse ultimately foundered

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Shipwrecks were almost daily reported in the early C19

Contemporary newspaper reportage of what was at that time (and perhaps until the sinking of the Lusitania) Ireland’s worst maritime disaster, was scant. All I could find was a report in the Morning Post (6th February 1816)

The transport Sea Horse sailed from a port in England a few days ago bound for Waterford or Cork, with a large detachment of the 59th Regiment, consisting of about 16 officers, 287 men, 33 women and 31 children… On the morning of the 30th ult the vessel was driven into Tramore Bay by a desperate gale from the south. The severity of the weather had compelled her to cut her mizen mast, before she came within the bay… she continued beating off with a view to get around Brownstown Head, and thus to reach the harbour in safety, but totally without effect. The top fore-mast fell, killed the mate, and broke the leg of one of the seamen. Two anchors were thrown out but these were dragged by the violence of the storm, and rendered totally unavailing. The vessel was then driven forward, within half a mile of the shore, in presence of hundreds of people, who could give the unhappy persons on board no aid. It was low water at the time, about one pm, which on such a beach, rendered every chance of escape almost utterly hopeless. Much of them on board then retired below, and resigned themselves to their awful and impending fate. The vessel struck upon the sands… and in a few minutes went entirely to pieces. There were 363 drowned and only 31 saved… One of the [surviving] officers clung onto something belonging to the ship… had nearly abandoned himself to his fate, when a countryman rushed into the sea, at the peril of his life, and rescued the stranger from death… It was not within the compass of human power to prevent the sad catastrophe..

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363 lives were lost in Tramore Bay

Captain Gibbs was one of the few survivors and later wrote a full narrative of events. He said of his fellow passengers

There was no disturbance amongst them, most were saying prayers, women were heard encouraging husbands to die with them, and a sergeant’s wife, with three children clasped in her arms, resigned herself to her fate, between decks.

Children fared worst of all, for many had been placed in trunks by their parents in futile hope they might float to safety. One large chest was later recovered containing the bodies of 4 tots – another child was found in the arms of his father who had refused to give him up to save his own skin. Corporal Malone (a survivor) found his son amongst many bodies piled upon the shore, and he removed his shirt to wrap the naked boy for burial.

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Sea Horse Memorial in Christ Church, Tramore

For those left behind, the human cost can perhaps best be summed up via this advertisement from the Morning Post (February 10th 1816), which reveals the awful situation to which one widow was plunged. If only I had a time machine to help the family of ship’s carpenter Russell from Rotherhithe, who had only recently joined the Sea Horse crew and by his death left a wife and 6 children

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An uncertain fate awaited the bereaved families

To conclude, I have to say that I felt a immense pride and admiration for the people of Waterford when I learned how much this awful event is woven into their cultural history, and how fitting and respectful their hard work to memorialise the victims has been. As for me, I now understand why the Sea Horse logo so aptly befits Tramore – and I’ve finally realised that the ‘corporate’ bigwigs I believed responsible for the Metal Man – were in fact Lloyds of London who erected these maritime beacons in 1823 on the orders of the Admiralty in London, as a direct consequence of the Sea Horse disaster.

metal man tramore

So, if you are ever in Ireland and fancy a day out – why not go down to Tramore and see for yourself their heartfelt recognition for the loss of 363 souls who might, in a less tolerant society, have been disdained as soldiers from an army of occupation – rather than desperately sad victims of mother nature’s wrath.

 

For Further Information

Ivan Fitzgerald’s Blogspot is absolutely the best resource for information on the Sea Horse – not least for this 1820s poem lamenting the loss of life in Tramore Bay

tramore poem

For information as to where the wreck of the Sea Horse rests visit Wreck Site, or you might like the Sea Horse Commemoration Facebook Page. James Donahue has written a great piece on why the Sea Horse tragedy still resonates today

The Sea Horse Tramore Blog is a voluntary group comprising of various local bodies in Tramore dedicated to the memory of this event, and the Waterford Chamber of Commerce considers it to have ‘left a lasting mark upon the people of Tramore’

I have strayed off usual territory a bit here, but if your interest is The Battle of Waterloo, you might like to read about Wellington and Fitzroy Somerset or the history of the Waterloo Medal. Or if you are more of a landlubber like me, some information on London stagecoaches might be in order

 

6 Reasons why France should salute the Iron Duke

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With the celebrations of the bicenntenial of Waterloo almost upon us, it obvious that France should commemorate the end of Napoleon’s fascinating rule rather than focussing on what was a decisive military defeat. However it should not follow that the Duke of Wellington should be portayed as the ‘baddie’ responsible for drawing the curtain down upon one of the most exciting periods in French history. To do so would be an injustice to the Iron Duke given that he was a confirmed Francophile – whose dispute was directly with Napoleon, and concern for the French citizens was always paramount.

wellington at waterloo

The recent creeping campaign to undermine Wellington’s role at Waterloo is, to me, bad enough. But the attendent lack of recognition for his important role in PROTECTING France both during and after the conflict is a step too far.

Thus I have drawn up six brief reasons why Wellington ought to receive some grudging Gallic recognition

1. Military Training

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Arthur learned his trade in France

Anyone familiar with the life and career of the Duke of Wellington will know that at the age of 16  (when simply known as Arthur Wellesley) he enrolled at the French Royal Academy of Equitation in Angers. It was in France that Arthur first showed any signs of talent. At Angers Arthur learned equestrian skills and became very fluent in French, which was to serve him well in future. Crucially Arthur met fellow students, some of whom were victims of the French Reign of Terror – others who rose through the ranks to fight against him under Napoleon – he never forgot the friendships made or the bonds he felt towards France

2. Wellington the Francophile

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Wellington adored French art and furnishings

Wellington’s love for the French people extended way beyond the ties of personal friendships. For he was also a great admirer of French culture, and particularly its art and furnishings. Whilst Napoleon was exiled to Elba in 1814 Wellington was in Paris – not lording it over the people, but negotiating fair prices to buy works of art including French Buhl furnishings. He set an example by not acting as the commander of an army in occupation, but immersing himself into the cut and thrust of Parisian life and becoming a consumer – paying the going rate without quibble.

3. Military Campaign in France 1813-14

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Wellington’s civilised entry into Toulouse, 1814

Towards the end of the Peninsular War in 1813 Wellington went to great lengths to ensure his armies pouring into France acted with absolute decorum towards the peasantry. Anything taken was always paid for, crops were not trampled down, and the British-led army refrained from hostilities expected from any invading army.

4. After the Battle of Waterloo

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Horrific aftermath of Waterloo

Anyone who thinks that Wellington lacked emotion towards his troops would be well advised to read the correspondence of Thomas Creevey (1768-1838), better known as the Creevey Papers. Though Creevey was not a fan of Wellington, he describes the Iron Duke returning to the fields of Waterloo and Quatre Bas in the days following the battle to aid and assist French and Allied troops alike. Wellington is horrified to find one French soldier unattended and went to his aid – apologising for his situation and calling for medical assistance. The pain Wellington felt for Waterloo encompassed all participants; he never demonised the French.

5. Respect for the enemy

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Wellington could not stop Bourbon vengeance : Marshall Ney

Throughout the Peninsular War Wellington held a more than healthy respect for French generals opposing him in the field. To those who claim that Wellington was over-cautious it might be argued that he was wise to avoid meeting renowned military leaders –  unless it was on his own terms. One such general, Marshall Ney, survived to rejoin Napoleon at Waterloo – having been retained by the restored Bourbon monarchy. After Waterloo the Bourbons decided to make an example of Ney. When Wellington heard he went to great lengths to appeal for clemency, but the King refused to speak with Wellington – & Ney was executed by firing squad. His death divided opinion in France, but showed Wellington to be a man of honour. The Duke’s respect for the enemy went right to the top – and certainly cut both ways. For, when his number was up, Napoleon offered to surrender to Wellington only. I have always thought it a shame that Wellington passed up the opportunity to meet Napoleon at this time as I am sure their conversation would have been legendary.

6. Protection of Paris

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The British – a very civilised army of occupation

Perhaps the most important, yet easly forgotten, role Wellington played in the war against Napoleon was by his presence at Paris. Arriving from the east: Russian, Prussian and Austrian armies were intent upon revenge for the many atrocities their armies and people endured at Napoleon’s hands -and it was almost second-nature for ordinary soldiers to rape and plunder the vanquished population. But while Wellington was around, there were be no horrific reprisals. Draconian punishments befell any British soldier seen to undermine relations with their hosts – and this policy was greatly influential in restraining other occupying troops. This ultimately helped to restore good relations on all sides. The Congress of Vienna stands up very well because of this international civility, especially compared with the bitterness and revenge that bedevilled the Treaty of Verseilles a century later.

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The Louvre, Paris c.1815

In some respects it may be argued that Wellington’s admiration for France went too far – for he played a major role in preventing art treasures amassed at the Louvre being reclaimed by those from whom Napoleon had seized them.

Conclusion

It was a good thing for France that the Duke of Wellington saw his task as the defeat of Napoleon and not a vendetta against its people.  Whatever the ifs and buts about his credit for the Battle of Waterloo, the Iron Duke WAS crucial in protecting France and enabling her to restore relations with the rest of Europe. Though the people of France could never love Wellington, I hope at least they can acknowledge that he was not the worst of enemies to have at a time of military defeat.

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Bringing back the Bourbons? – Not so popular there Arthur!

If you have enjoyed this post you may be interested in Wellington and Fitzroy Somerset at Waterloo or to know how Wicked William rated his illustrious uncle.

Find out more about the production of the Waterloo Medal, via Wellington’s brother Wellesley-Pole

For news, views and information on this year’s Waterloo celebrations visit Waterloo 200 or Waterloo2015 – not forgetting the simply splended Unseen Waterloo

If you live in London, why not visit Apsley House and see the Duke of Wellington’s home

Last but not least, I must mention Geraldine Roberts’ book Angel and the Cad, which is launched by MacMillan on June 18th – Yes, the bicenntenial of Waterloo!!  – in which the Duke of Wellington & Waterloo feature heavily.

Any comments or feedback, as ever, would be greatly appreciated. Otherwise tune in for more Wellesley-related articles!

3 Savile Row – Its role in British history

 

Within These Walls: 6 Layers of History

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No 3 Savile Row, Mayfair

Let me introduce you to a Grade II listed mansion house in London’s Mayfair that has recently been in the news due to an unsuccessful campaign to prevent its conversion into an Abercromby & Fitch childrenswear store. Knowing the history of this grand old building it is somewhat ironic to find that an American transformation has materialised. For the truth is that this building has some very interesting and important connections.  Since its construction in 1733 this house has been occupied by people who have helped shape the course of British military and cultural history. Let’s go inside…

1. Admiral John Forbes (1714-1796)

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John Forbes was Wellesley-Pole’s father in law

John Forbes began his naval career at the age of 13 and progressed up through the ranks until he became Admiral of the Fleet from 1781 until his death. This was an era when a great many servicemen returned from war incapacitated, and disability was not considered a barrier to high office. Even though Forbes was unable to walk and rarely seen in society he still managed to exercise overall control of the British Navy – and he did so by holding meeting as his house at 3 Savile Row, where he had lived from around 1760.

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Execution of Admiral Byng (1757)

Forbes most important contribution to British history came when he was involved in the trial of Admiral Byng, who was blamed for the loss of Minorca in 1756. He was tried and found guilty of failing to “do his utmost” to prevent the defeat. When Byng was sentenced to death an appeals for clemency was angrily refused by King George III. Forbes was the only Admiral to refuse to sign Byng’s death warrant though his action failed to prevent Byng’s execution by firing squad on 14 March 1757. Such was the effect upon the public mind that this was the last time a serving naval officer was executed on this charge. Forbes fearless refusal to bow to enormous pressure singled him out as a compassionate man of principle and made him a role model for fairer treatment of naval personnel.

In 1784 Forbes twin daughter Katherine married 3rd Lieutenant William Wellesley-Pole in a ceremony at 3 Savile Row with guests including Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington. Wellesley-Pole inherited the house in 1797 but decided to rent it out

2. General Robert Ross (1766-1814)

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Perhaps Wellesley-Pole’s most famous tenant was Robert Ross a famous British general who is best known across the water in the United States. Irish-born Ross lived at Savile Row until 1805 after returning from action at the Battle of Alexandria (1801). He was subsequently present at the Battle of Corruna (1809) before serving under Arthur Wellesley during the Peninsular War. Despite being seriously wounded at the Battle of Orthes on 27th February 1814, Ross agreed to lead command a British expeditionary force to attack the United States

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Hard to believe even today – Britain burning down the White House (1814)

Having routed the Americans at Bladensburg (27th August 1814) Ross advanced into Washington DC where he destroyed all the public buildings including the White House. For this act Ross is perhaps the best remembered of all British soldiers ever to set foot on American soil.

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The death of General Ross

It was not to end well for Ross as he was killed by American snipers near North Point on 12th September 1814. He is buried in the Old Burying Ground at Nova Scotia but has a monument inscribed to him in St Paul’s Cathedral.

3. The Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)

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When Arthur Wellesley returned from 8-years service in India the first place he stayed was with the Wellesley-Pole family in Blackheath, for he was at that time unmarried and had no London home. However, he was to repeat the exercise in 1814 when he triumphantly returned from the Peninsular War following Napoleon’s surrender and exile. It’s very telling that the newly ennobled Duke of Wellington chose Savile Row rather than his own marital home. Imagine if you can the thousands of people who gathered outside, mounting a daily vigil to catch a glimpse of their conquering hero. Wellington remained at Savile Row for a month before returning to Paris.

4. William Wellesley-Pole (1763-1845)

wwp by pistrucci

Wellesley-Pole owned 3 Savile Row between 1797 and 1842. In his role as Master of the Mint Wellesley-Pole presided over the introduction of new silver currency that was to remain in circulation from 1817 right through until decimalisation in 1971.

shilling

The humble shilling must surely be on of the greatest symbols of Britishness. Wellesley-Pole he also helped to create the instantly recognisable St George & Dragon motif designed by Benedetto Pistrucci which is still in use today.

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5. The Bowler Hat (1849)

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Quintessentially British – The bowler hat

Perhaps the greatest stereotypical representation of the English gentleman must be the wearing of a bowler hat. No 3 Savile Row can claim the distinction of being recognised as the place where the bowler hat originated. William and Thomas Bowler are credited with creating the first prototype for the bowler hat in 1850, but it is generally acknowledged that the hat was after a design by British soldier and politician Edward Coke, who was fed up with seeing his gamekeeper’s hats continually knocked off by low-hanging branches when out riding. When he was in Town, Coke lived at 3 Savile Row.

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Bowler hats have travelled up the social spectrum

Initially very popular with the Victorian working classes, the bowler hat went on to become standard uniform for middle-class businessmen, and by the 1960s it had elevated to the aristocratic realm.

6. The Beatles (1969)

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On January 30th 1969 the Beatles played their last ever public performance on the roof of Apple Records HQ at No 3 Savile Row. Just a year earlier the Beatles paid £500,000 to purchase the mansion and they are said to have spent the best part of 18 months living there leading up to that famous rooftop escapade.

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Not surprisingly, to this day 3 Savile Row is still considered a tourist attraction for Beatles fans and there has been a steady clamour for a blue plaque to recognise their use of this building.

Conclusion

Whilst researching this post I came across a reference to Lady Hamilton, Admiral Nelson’s lover, stating that she too once lived at 3 Savile Row. But I have not included her in this blog as I can’t see where she would fit in this timeline, unless she rented the property before General Ross. However, I think there is sufficient here to demonstrate that we should hold Savile Row dear not just because of the Beatles, or to keep American tailoring out of this important British fashion location, but because of its connections to everything British: from the stiff upper lip (Forbes), to military escapades (Ross & Wellington), the British currency (Wellesley-Pole), Quintessentially British headwear (Bowler hat), not to mention The Beatles.

In fact No 3 Savile Row has given us a wealth of characters and symbols that mean a lot to our notion of Britishness.

Kier Holdings paid £20 million for the mansion in 2009 but its fate today remains undecided. Who knows what the future holds…

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If they knew their history, these chaps would be wearing bowler hats!

Links

A marvellous set of 1950s photographs showing some amazing interiors of No 3 Savile Row

For more info on General Ross I recommend War of 1812 website

The Daily Telegraph has written a splendid history of the bowler hat

Until such time as Geraldine Roberts Angel and the Cad is published by MacMillan, my main focus on this blog will be Wicked William’s father Wellesley-Pole. There is much to write about Wicked William so stay tuned on that score!

However, you might like to know about Wicked William and the Epping Hunt, or why the Duke of Wellington considered him lamentably idle – alternatively you could always read about the death of a Regency Prizefighter

I hope you have enjoyed this post and would be most grateful for any feedback for any additional information you may be able to provide to fill in the gaps.

The Mint with a ‘Pole’ (1814-1823)

Introduction: How and why Wellesley-Pole became Master of the Mint

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

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An outcast redeemed: William Wellesley-Pole (c.1814)

When Wellesley-Pole took up office on 29th September 1814, this was to be the first and only time that the Master of the Mint qualified as Cabinet rank. In this period the Government was dominated by peers with only exceptional outsiders breaking into their elite circle. By any standards Wellesley-Pole’s appointment was unusual. He was neither a peer (nor even a supporter) of Lord Liverpool’s administration – yet he was handed an unexpected seat in the heart of government doing a job previously considered second-rate. So why was Wellesley-Pole brought in from the cold, and what motivated Lord Liverpool to make the role of Master of the Mint a Cabinet position? To answer this we must go back 2 years:-

 

perceval death

Spencer Perceval’s murder: the opening shot in a ministerial crisis

The Battle of 1812

Lord Liverpool came to office in the summer of 1812 in the aftermath of the assassination of prime minister Spencer Perceval. But he did so at the expense of the Richard Wellesley who spectacularly fell from grace after his memo critical of Perceval’s war effort was leaked to the press at the worst possible time:

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Richard Wellesley’s attack on Perceval coincided with announcement of his death

Initially Lord Liverpool proposed Wellesley-Pole to join the Cabinet as Minister for War, which would have put him in charge of Arthur [Lord Wellington]’s campaign in Spain. But the Prince Regent felt placed in an awkward position and refused to accept Wellesley-Pole because ‘he could not reward one brother, and abandon the other’. Heavy of heart Wellesley-Pole wrote to Liverpool on May 21st

I shall ever retain a just sense of your great kindness towards me [but] I could not serve without subjecting myself to difficulties and inconveniences which I am bound by every principle of affection to my brother to avoid.

Meanwhile in the Peninsula Wellington took the news badly, pronouncing himself ‘confoundedly vexed’ that Wellesley-Pole chose to follow his brother out of office, instead of staying and fighting for his place. Wellington’s antipathy towards Liverpool was such that he broke contact with London during its state of flux declaring ‘I will not tantalise you by entering on our plans for the remainder of the campaign.’ Ironically for all sides Wellington’s victory at Salamanca in July 1812 actually served to cement Liverpool’s shaky administration, putting an end to any realistic prospect of Richard Wellesley seizing power.

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Wellington’s victory at Salamanca just about saved Lord Liverpool’s administration

Cometh the hour, cometh Wellesley-Pole (1814)

The main reason Wellesley Pole was asked to re-join the Government was because of an urgent need to improve relations between Liverpool’s administration and the Wellesleys. After 1812, Liverpool’s government was insulated by the inability of opposition groups to unify against them. However, when Napoleon surrendered and was exiled in 1814, Arthur (by now Duke of Wellington) made it clear to the Prime Minister that he would not support an administration that excluded his brothers. The risk of being at odds with the hero-of-the-hour was too great; bridges must be built. So, after his triumphant return to England in June, Liverpool acceded to Wellington’s request to bring Wellesley-Pole into the Cabinet.

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With victories like this, you can ask for anything

On this occasion Wellesley-Pole clearly benefitted from patronage via the Duke of Wellington, but Liverpool’s decision to place him in charge of the Mint was really not a token gesture. In fact it was a pragmatic and eminently sensible move. Liverpool already had a personal association with the Mint, serving as Master between 1799 and 1801. His father Charles Jenkinson chaired a long-running Select Committee dedicated to enhancing Mint practices. Currency reform was vital, becoming more acutely necessary as the war reached a conclusion. Replacing the silver currency required the Mint, the Exchequer, Prime Minister, bankers, and the Prince Regent to work in harmony. The aim was to preserve the banking system whilst it underwent a vital blood transfusion. These unique circumstances may explain Liverpool’s decision to elevate Master of the Mint to Cabinet rank. He knew Wellesley-Pole met the criteria required, having worked closely with him before. Wellesley-Pole was a good administrator, loyal and discreet, had Exchequer experience, and (best of all) commanded the Prince Regent’s respect.

Appointing Wellesley-Pole therefore enabled Liverpool to appease the Duke of Wellington, but it also gave him the ideal person to tackle serious and urgent problems which threatened to destroy Britain’s post-war economy.

The State of the Mint to 1814

In 1787 the Mint began a slow process of modernisation. Jenkinson’s Select Committee examined the state of the coinage and existing working practices. He was assisted by Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), President of the Royal Society – a post he held for 42 years. The Royal Society traditionally exercised control over currency manufacture. The Mint comprised of disparate departments with strict, almost medieval, working practices. The Royal Society acted like a glue to keep these elements working together and to oversee innovation and improvement.

 banks

Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) was to become Wellesley-Pole’s greatest fan

When Jenkinson’s Committee was established, it was so long since silver coins had been mass-produced that Mint employees feared the know-how was lost. Eventually in 1804 a system was perfected for producing standard weights and alloy mixtures. Around the same time, Matthew Boulton invented a steam-driven coining press. He operated from a factory in Birmingham, supplying copper coinage throughout Britain and Ireland. To modernise the London operation a new Mint was constructed at Tower Hill incorporating steam technology, which was completed in 1810.

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The new Royal Mint at Tower Hill

Boulton’s steam press system and use of highly-skilled engravers overcame the problem of counterfeit copper coins. Also an Act of Parliament in 1803 introduced draconian fines for simple possession of fraudulent coins. But forgery of silver currency continued unabated. Up until this time the best engravers only worked on large value coins. No regard was given to the quality of lower denominations. ‘From the Mint’s point of view the manufacture of coin had to satisfy two, and only two, criteria: coin must be of proper fineness and of accurate weight.’ It is little wonder that forgers thrived.

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Napoleon’s brief trip home, 1815

Almost as soon as Wellesley-Pole began his duties, Napoleon escaped from Elba and hostilities with France resumed. During this period Wellesley-Pole asked the Commons to approve the construction of houses ‘to accommodate… persons who had been ‘imported’ from Birmingham, for the purpose of managing the machinery of the new Mint. At a meeting with Banks to discuss new currency designs, Wellesley-Pole was introduced to an Italian engraver named Benedetto Pistrucci, of whom we shall hear more.

The Battle of Waterloo was to present Wellesley-Pole with his first opportunity of proving his worth, and he did not waste it. Tune in for part two to find out how the Waterloo Medal was conceived, the extraordinary speed in which it was manufactured, and its unique innovation.

For more information about this exciting era in the history of the Royal Mint please visit their website or the Royal Mint Museum, whose director Dr Kevin Clancy is a widely renowned and respected numismatist.

If you are interested in Wellesley-Pole, you may be interested to read about his ‘creation’ of Royal Ascot

You might like to know how Lord Liverpool got the better of the Wellesleys (again), or why The Duke of Wellington considered Wellesley-Pole’s son (Wicked William) ‘lamentably ignorant and idle’

Finally, the growing legions of Wellesley-Pole fans undoubtedly wondering why he’s never been written about should be thrilled to bits to know that our hero is very much a ‘best supporting character’ in Geraldine Roberts’ forthcoming book Angel and the Cad : Love, Loss & Scandal in Regency England

Sources Used:

[1] Butler I., The Eldest Brother: The Marquess Wellesley 1760-1842 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1972)

[2] British Library Manuscrips Add.MSS 37296

[3] Longford E., Wellington: Years of the Sword (London: Panther, 1971).

[4] Craig J., The Royal Society and the Royal Mint in, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, (London: The Royal Society, V19, No 2– Dec 1964).

[5] Selgin G., Steam, Hot Air & Small Change: Matthew Boulton and the Reform of Britain’s Coinage,in Economic History Review (London: Blackwell, 2003)

[6] Challis C., A New History of the Royal Mint (Cambridge: CUP, 1992)

[7] Hansard, 25/Apr/1815