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!

 

Thomas Hosmer Shepherd – A Recorder of London

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

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

Self-Portrait of Shepherd and his muse: London

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

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

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

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

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

Landmark or no mark: Shepherd always had bystanders

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

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

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

George Shepherd was more adept with a pencil than brother Thomas

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

Shepherd’s seemingly mundane images are fascinating for historians

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

Edinburgh Castle (1829) with obligatory dog and kilts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on Thomas Hosmer Shepherd I recommend

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