Archive for the ‘Stuart period’ Category

A guest post by Luke Rees.

Gambling has long been ingrained in British society. This is perhaps due to the historically rigid class system and the fact that gambling is one of the most efficient redistributors of wealth – or simply due to the fact that, for many, gambling can be a lot of fun – the British have long had a deep and meaningful relationship with Lady Luck.

A relatively static working-class gaming culture has existed in taverns, inns, and various other dens up and down the country for over a millennia. In these primitive establishments, gambling was generally associated with some form of physical violence – animal baiting and other gruesome blood sports sadly being the most popular subjects for betting on. However, games of chance such as ‘hazard’, ‘queek’ and ‘chequers’ (all of which are played with dice and demand no skill) were commonplace from as early as the fourteenth century.

It was during the late eighteenth century that gambling became more sophisticated in England and began to influence all levels of society. This was a century of contrasts: an ‘Age of Enlightenment’, but one which propagated slavery and colonial expansion; an age of industrial and technological innovation, but with a corresponding escalation in poverty and squalor. In this period of contradictions and inequality, it was the palliative effects of gambling that seemed to hold universal appeal.

Thomas Rowlandson

‘The Hazard Room’ – a 1792 painting by Thomas Rowlandson.

The epicentre of British gambling migrated from Bath to London in the late eighteenth century, where many exclusive clubs began attracting men from the upper echelons of society. Between 1600 and 1880 London developed into a global centre for commerce, with its population increasing from 200,000 to around five million. The availability of luxuries increased at this time, as did a boom in the economy spurred by a diversifying trade system. This system allowed businesses to run on borrowed capital, which subsequently popularised the idea of speculation as a way of making profit. It is no wonder that a society addicted to luxury and speculation also institutionalised and glamorised gambling.

Some of the most famous gentlemen’s clubs of London included White’s, Brook’s, The Cocoa Tree, and Almack’s, and were often referred to as ‘golden halls’ (in contrast to the ‘copper hells’ which the lower classes frequented). These clubs developed out of coffeehouses and other existing meeting places for the privileged classes. White’s, for example, developed from a regular meeting of wealthy men at a chocolate house.

Membership to a gentlemen’s club was vital to the integrity of a man of standing. Each club had particular political affiliations and offered the member, through proximity to men of state and lawmakers, the opportunity for corporate and political networking. But don’t imagine these clubs were merely the setting for sober and serious dinner talk! This was a social, rather than a professional setting, and these men could drink, carouse, and gamble as rowdily as the next common swindler. The only difference was that the stakes were much lower, and the bets much higher.

The early nineteenth century was primed for an explosion in frivolous consumption from the aristocracy. Peace had returned to Europe after forty years of war with Napoleon, and a generation of bored young aristocrats found themselves with far too much time and money on their hands. Gentlemen’s clubs offered these men the chance to waste huge sums of money betting against the house and each other. In a society obsessed with wealth and status, this form of conspicuous consumption was a way to pass time, but also an important way for the aristocracy to assert itself.

The types of games played in gentlemen’s clubs were also a means for the aristocracy set itself apart from the lower classes. Whilst the majority of games played in the ‘hells’ were based on pure luck, gambling in gentlemen’s clubs required skill. As a result, playing cards were the main device used by the aristocracy, since they were more expensive than dice and involved more sophisticated games.

Whist was the most popular gentleman’s game and is a precursor to the modern game of Bridge. It involves a high level of concentration to keep track of cards, as well as knowledge of the extensive technical jargon. This was an exclusive game for the well-educated, and a skilful card player would be revered and respected by his peers. This was also a betting game, and the players who bet big could gain notoriety. The Duke of Wellington allegedly bet £100,000 on whist on any evening at White’s.

A game of whist.

A game of whist depicted by Samuel William Fores

Whites is the oldest existing gentleman’s club in London, and its books give us a glimpse into the absurd nature of the gambling culture that existed during the nineteenth century. Because money and time were not an issue for these men, there are numerous examples of bets made which appear simply in order to combat boredom. For example, ‘April, 1819. Sir Joseph Copley bets Mr Horace Sermour five guineas, that Lord Temple has a legitimate child before Mr. Neville.’

At other times the wagers could have a much darker side. Horace Walpole recollected an infamous bet made between two of White’s members that a man could survive for 12 hours under water. Allegedly the men hired a ‘desperate fellow’, sunk a ship with him on board, and never heard from him again (the stake was £1,500). Although there is no evidence in White’s books of this bet being made, it helps to illustrate the rampant gambling culture that existed.

Brook’s is often considered the most infamous and fashionable of the top clubs, with the average age of its members being just 26. Needless to say, aristocratic manners and gentility were not the priority for these young patrons. A peculiar etching from 1772 depicts the club’s members around the gambling table, all dressed up as witches and uttering a spell: ‘Double, bubble, toil and trouble. Passions burn and bets are double!’ It seems gambling was a ritualistic compulsion for these men – a compulsion undercut by the caption to the photo which delivers a fateful prophecy: ‘ruin enters as fate runs out’.

The dissolute Regency Period saw the craze of heavy gambling reach fever pitch. William Crockford was one of the most prominent figures of this age, whose incredible rags to riches tale was fuelled entirely by his aptitude for gambling. Beginning his career as a fishmonger, half a century later he had founded the ‘Crockford’s’ gambling club and become one of the wealthiest men in England (worth the equivalent of £95 million today).


Crockford’s original location at 50 St. James’s Street.

Crockford made his fortune taking money from the pockets of reckless aristocrats, thereby helping to democratise the British gambling culture. And whilst he cut away the elite nature of gaming, the government also cracked down on the spread of new ‘hells’ at the bottom end of society. Clubs and gambling houses held different motives and intentions by this time, with the divide between upper and lower class gaming rituals gradually being reduced. Towards the middle of the nineteenth century, the establishment of institutionalised gambling – the casino – had emerged.


Luke is a history writer from London who is associated with Europalace Casino. He enjoys reading, cooking, and playing piano.




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Review: Lady Bette and the Murder of Mister Thynn by N.A. Pickford.

lady bette and the murder of my thynnIn an age when women – no matter how high born – had few rights, wealthy heiresses found themselves sometimes to be both bargaining counters of their guardians and targets for kidnappers after rich pickings. Lady Bette was one such, but so much more than that: she was a Percy and the heiress to the Northumberland estates: the very top echelon of the English aristocracy. Think Syon House in Brentford and Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, both still with us. Add to this the magnificent Northumberland House near Charing Cross – lost to the railways and urban expansion of the late 19C; and Petworth House and it’s clear that in the late Seventeenth Century, the Percys of Northumberland were an ancient and noble family of the first rank. They still are today.

So when Bette’s father, the 11 Duke of Northumberland died in 1670 when she was just three, and her elder brother himself having died two years previously, little Bette became the heiress to vast estates. She instantly became a pawn in a marriage game played by two deadly rivals: her mother and her grandmother, the formidable Dowager Lady Howard.

Having already lost her childhood husband from her initial arranged marriage (they appeared to be a fondly devoted young couple), Bette – still in her early teens – was fixed up with Thomas Thynn, an unpleasant character who rubbed shoulders with the emerging Whig faction surrounding the Duke of Monmouth – desperate chancers as history would later prove.

These years of scheming and intrigue – skillfully woven by the author in the narrative – culminate in the event of the title: a drive-by assassination of Thynn in his coach at the cross-roads of Pall Mall and Haymarket. The killers were a group of down-at-heel desperadoes in the pay of the mysterious Count Konigsmark and his right hand man, Christopher Vratz, fortune hunters and mercenaries to a man.

London at this time was a haven for resting military types from the Continent, common soldiers now impoverished habitues of the capital’s less salubrious inns and ale houses. They were easy recruits for this mission.

Apart from Bette herself, no one comes out of this story with any credit. Honour there is none. Everybody, high and low alike, is on the make. My favourite – and likely yours will be too – is Ralph Montagu, sometime ambassador to Paris and step-father of Bette, whose strategic womanising and scheming are utterly shameless, leading ultimately to his disgrace at Court. A morality tale within a tale.

N.A. Pickford weaves complex threads together with great skill and tells this amazing story with panache and style. His research is clearly both deep and wide-ranging  and he manages his sources masterfully. Any history lover will enjoy this pacy true story, but if you’re particularly into the scheming, the intrigues, the power-broking of the Restoration elite, you will adore this book.



The footnotes, references and index are excellent: all you would want.

Lady Bette and the Murder of Mister Thynn (309pp) is published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson with a cover price of £20 although it is available for less.


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trinity house

Trinitas in Unitate.

Many happy returns to Trinity House which was granted its Royal Charter this day in 1514 by Henry VIII, early in his reign when he was yet young, handsome and worthy.  Trinity House is the charity which takes care of all of our lighthouses and coastal buoys, ensuring the safety of thousands of mariners down the ages.

As with many ancient organisations, Trinity House has a religious foundation and a wonderfully convoluted name: The Master, Wardens, and Assistants of the Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood of the most glorious and undivided Trinity, and of St. Clement in the Parish of Deptford-Strond in the County of Kent. Deptford, of course, was in times gone by London’s major centre of ship building and maritime marine. The initial function, according to the Charter, was “so that they might regulate the pilotage of ships in the King’s streams”.

As a fraternity, the top of the organisation comprises 31 Elder Brethren, led by a Master. Today’s Master is HRH The Princess Royal, the latest in a long line of senior royals who have held the position. Former non-Royal Masters have included Samuel Pepys (as you’d expect), The Duke of Wellington and William Pitt the Younger.

The Trinity House HQ is in Trinity Square, overlooking the Tower of London and the Tower Hill Memorial which commemorates all merchant seamen and fishermen lost in the two world wars. All Hallows by the Tower, which also remembers seafarers, is close by. The late-Georgian building by Samuel Wyatt dates from 1796. It has a magnificent staircase, beautifully-appointed rooms and is festooned with portraits, ships models, silverware and other seafaring objects.

Trinity House

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Last Saturday as part of the 500th anniversary celebrations, Trinity House was open to the public, a rare occurrence. These photos are from our visit, all by LH Member Fiona Pretorius. It will next be accessible one day on Open House weekend this September and booking will be necessary, so look out for that.


Further Reading.

Our Trinity House photos on Flickr.
Trinity House History.
Trinity House History Blog.
Trinity House home page.
Trinity House FAQs.
Trinity House on Wikipedia.

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This museum was re-opened in March after a substantial revamp. Last Friday we were privileged to have a private tour led by curator Jennifer Adam. The whole business was fascinating with a massive array of artifacts to Mammon. We only had an hour before the doors were opened to the public, so I’ll definitely go back for a more substantial look, I’d suggest it needs a good several hours. Here’s a piece of trivia. When the currency was decimalised in 1971, the ten bob note was to be continued as a 50p note, but the idea was scotched at the last minute. And whose head was going to appear on it? Sir Walter Raleigh.

bank of england museum

One of our group, LH Member Chris West, writes:
Our visit to the Bank of England Museum on Friday was fascinating. We were straight away talking about the beautiful floor mosaics and then Jenifer Adam introduced herself to us as our host – we saw the structure of the building in model form, which showed the complexity of the various extensions and the way expense was not spared to reflect the national importance of this world famous financial hub. We were expertly shepherded from room to room, seeing beautifully presented displays from early history, displays from the vaults (no you are not allowed to view the gold down below), a clever hands on ‘ship’ designed to involve youngsters, bank notes ancient to modern (we all remembered the ten shilling note) and a sprinkle of the famous people who just popped in to exchange their money, including Handel! It’s always a delight to listen to such a passionately interested, devoted expert, and Jennifer Adam  did us proud- so much to see (I nearly forgot that we were all able to pick up the gold bar, which today was worth £360000+ (but you wouldn’t get far with it- it’s encased except for room to slide your hand in) so I’ll have to go back again as soon as I can.

bank of england museum

Charters from the 17C establishing not only the Bank, but the National Debt.

bank of england museum

Lottery tickets, early bank notes and a book listing customer authorities.

old lady of threadneedle street gilray

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, first coined by the cartoonist James Gillray in 1797. The bank being ravished by William Pitt the Younger.

bank of england museum

Where you have Gillray you must have Cruickshank. Satirical banknote, protesting the hundreds of executions of forgers.

Pitt the Younger. There is much statuary throughout the bank and the museum, notably of William III who was on the throne when the bank was founded in 1694.

Pitt the Younger. There is much statuary throughout the bank and the museum, notably of William III who was on the throne when the bank was founded in 1694.

The Bank of England Museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday. Entrance is free.

London Historians frequently organises behind the scenes group visits which are mostly for Members only.

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royal hospital chelseaIf you watched the moving Remembrance concert at Albert Hall on Saturday evening you will have seen the contingent of Chelsea Pensioners prominently featured. This is one of their busiest times of year, understandably. But you see small numbers of them out and about at other great occasions and if you’re ever in Chelsea, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter them simply out for a walk.

I had walked past their home – the impeccably symmetrical Royal Hospital Chelsea – many times, usually on my way to the National Army Museum nearby. With three sets of imposing gates out front, I had no idea that the place was open to members of the public. But it very much is (see below for details). During the summer I joined a group of our friends from the Westminster Guide Lecturers Association for a wonderful tour of the complex. Led by the excellent Michael Allen, who features in these pictures.

The moving spirit behind the Royal Hospital was Charles II, inspired during his exile by Les Invalides in Paris. With a waft of the royal hand, Sir Christopher Wren – with quite enough on his plate thanks very much – was contracted to design our very own version, using 66  acres of land originally acquired by James I in Chelsea, then of course pretty much countryside. Unsurprisingly, he did a fantastic job, which is more or less unchanged to this day.

In Wren’s day and from medieval times, the word hospital had a much wider meaning than today, being a derivation of “hospitality” rather than more narrowly a place for sick people, although it did generally imply a charitable function. There are usually around 300 in-pensioners (colloquially: “Chelsea pensioners”). As these terms imply, for a place in the Royal Hospital,  you must be over 65 and surrender your army pension in return for total accommodation and provision. You must be able to look after yourself in day-to-day normal routine and until very recently, you had to be male. There is a tiny handful of female pensioners. (In a ballot, the overwhelming vote by the pensioners in favour of staying all-male was overruled.). Generally, inmates are from “other ranks”. The only officers who may apply will have spent 12 years or more in the ranks. Pensioners retain the rank they left the forces with, hence you will see badges of rank on the tunics of some.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Figure Court. Accommodation in the wings ot the left and right. Great Hall and Chapel immediately left and right of the main portico and tower.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Statue of Charles II in classical garb, by Grinling Gibbons. Gilded for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. I’m not convinced such a great idea.

Royal Chelsea Hospital

Central cupola.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

The Great Hall, where the pensioners take their meals.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

The chapel.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Extremely rare example of a Royal Mail letter box with two slots, for when the gate is locked.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

The public cafe does excellent cream teas.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Warriors on mobility scooters. Old soldiers are less steady on their pins than once they were.

In addition to what you see in these pictures, the Royal Hospital also has an excellent museum and shop, the entrance to which is the Wellington room, featuring portraits or the Iron Duke himself, Her Majesty, a superb diorama of the Royal Hospital in the 18C and a panorama of the battle of Waterloo painted in 1820.

You may visit the places here described for free if you’re on your own or in a small group. Groups of 10 or more must make a group booking which comes with a Chelsea pensioner guide. Or you can join an existing group booking if you want the tour. These occur twice a day. Details and opening times here.

For more of our images from the Royal Hospital Chelsea, see our Flickr account here.

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Review: The Cheapside Hoard, London’s Lost Jewels

The Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

In June 1912, workmen digging under the former premises of a goldsmith in the City’s once-fashionable shopping thoroughfare of  Cheapside discovered a sensational stash of treasure. It comprised over 500 pieces of precious jewels and stones, mainly from the late 16th to early 17th centuries, but some very much older pieces too. The objects were encrusted in the raw mud and clay. The excited diggers took their haul directly to the antiques dealer GF “Stoney Jack” Lawrence at his shop in Wandsworth. Stoney Jack was known to every navvy, builder and mudlark in London as the man who would know what to do with your find and give you a good deal.

The Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

Stoney Jack

From there the collection found itself split between the Guildhall Museum (1826) and the London Museum (1912), but reunited when those institutions joined together as Museum of London (1976). Amazingly, the Cheapside Hoard as it became known, has never been exhibited in its entirety. Until now.

This new show at the Museum of London displays the hoard in all its glory. All bags to be left in the lockers downstairs, you have to pass security guards and specially-installed thick barred high specification floor-to-ceiling turnstiles before entering the dimly lit exhibition space. Once inside, you encounter dozens of glass cabinets in which curator Hazel Forsyth and her team have lovingly arranged the long-lost treasure. Rings, necklaces, brooches, earrings, bracelets, costume jewellery, perfume bottles, scientific instruments, watches, hairpieces, combs, lockets, cameos and on and on. I used to drool over this sort of thing as a boy reading pirate comics.

What immediately strikes one is the design and the craftsmanship that went into these items. On display are some contemporary design books, works of art in their own right. But it is the skill that went into the build of this jewellery that is breathtaking (there are large magnifying glasses on hand, for the use of) – these Tudor and Jacobean jewellers must’ve ruined their eyesight over the years.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

Museum of London staff had painstakingly to thread fine wire through each link of these necklaces to make this stunning display.

The oldest piece. Ptolomaic cameo, possibly of Cleopatra.

The oldest piece. Ptolomaic cameo, possibly of Cleopatra.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

Gold and enamel scent bottle. Use of perfumes made a comeback during the Tudor period.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

An assortment of gorgeous pendants.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

Elizabeth Wrothesley, Countess of Southampton, 1620. National Portrait Gallery.

The fascinating thing about the hoard is that it tells us a lot, and yet it holds deep secrets too. Jewellery tends to be messed about over time. Fashions change, tastes change and so a lot of pieces get broken up, adjusted, reset, made into something else and so on. The jewels represent therefore a massive survival for jewellery and fashion historians to learn from. Second, a huge proportion of the precious stones are from the New World, particularly striking are emeralds from South America, reminding us how the maritime powers of Europe were dicing for global supremacy across the high seas, Elizabethan England not least of them, taking early steps on the road to becoming in time the number one player.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

Watch set in South American emerald. Amazingly, the translucent lid is actually closed!

Having recovered from the sensory assault dished out by the jewels themselves, one has time to take in the support displays which put the whole thing in historical context and the curators have done a fantastic job. Contemporary portraits of England’s elite hanging on the outer exhibition wall, showing of their bling. Puritanism still being in its infancy, this was a period was of ostentatious display among England’s ruling elite. Status symbols. We have a section showing what contemporary Cheapside looked like through maps and illustrations. It was London’s leading thoroughfare of posh retail, dominated by goldsmiths, silversmiths, jewellers. Another cabinet (my favourite after the jewels themselves) tells us about security, showing containers ranging from fancy jewellery cases through to ponderous iron-clad chests, secured by the most unimaginably complex locking mechanisms.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

Braun and Hogenberg map of London, 1574. Pic: author.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

Reconstruction of contemporary jeweller’s workshop using actual tools from Museum of London collections. Pic: author.

Treasure containers. The fancy and the cautious. Pic: author.

Treasure containers. The fancy and the cautious. Pic: author.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

Ephemera. One of several typical shop signs from the era. Delightful. Pic: author.

So the hoard has told us much. But not its biggest secrets. Who owned it and why did they bury it? When did they bury it? And why didn’t they come back for it? The when has kind of been established. No earlier than 1640, because the newest piece has been successfully dated to that year. No later than 1666, the Great Fire, because the building under which the hoard was buried was destroyed in the Fire. As for the who and the why, there’s a short film clip at the end which throws up some possibilities. The English Civil war kicked off in 1642 and even after the Restoration in 1660, England was beset by religious and political uncertainty and strife. So they were dangerous times. In all likelihood the person who did the burying died and his secret died with him. But why did he do it, whose “side” he was on – religiously or politically? Who was he? We’ll almost certainly never know.

This is a landmark exhibition, wonderfully conceived and executed. highly recommended.
The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels runs until 27 April 2014.

All images Museum of London unless otherwise stated.

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The Rainborowes, Adrian Tinniswood

It was appropriate and a little strange seeing the Commons assert its authority during the Syria debate while at that very moment reading of the House doing a similar thing about two thirds through this new book by Adrian Tinniswood. For most of The Rainborowes takes part during the English Civil War. Centre stage is Thomas Rainborowe – the Colonel Rainsborough of Putney Debates fame – who among many things, is a Puritan Leveller and seige specialist par excellence. Utterly loathed by the Royalists, he is widely admired by his men and Parliamentary leaders alike; he is physically courageous, intelligent, militarily talented and not unambitious politically. Could he rather than Cromwell have become the head of a Republican England? It’s not unthinkable, but Thomas was too intransigent, too doctrinaire, too – well – left wing.

Thomas Rainborowe

Thomas Rainborowe

Although he is the leading light in this story, Thomas is but one of a remarkable family of siblings who experienced first-hand the tumult and violence of the Civil War or eking out an existence in colonial Boston. Or both. But we start with the telling of how their father and patriarch of the family, William Rainborowe senior, establishes the family fortunes as a merchant mariner of the Levant trade and also as the scourge of Barbary pirates along North Africa’s Atlantic seaboard. He ruthlessly leads the successful blockade of the pirate stronghold of New Sallee, freeing hundreds of English captives destined for slavery. But his adventures against Irish rebels a few years on were signally less successful.

William senior leaves us just as the Civil War kicks off. His sons and daughters are intermarrying into an extended network of ambitious Puritan families on both sides of the Atlantic, in London and in colonial Boston. His daughters Martha and Judith marry into the elite of Boston Puritan society many of whom also have origins in East London; his sons Thomas and William Junior – the latter returning from New England – fight for Parliament against the king.

That’s the basic narrative, a lot of history there. Two generations of a high-achieving London maritime family in a relatively short and tumultuous period of violence and rapid change which witnesses the birth of one nation and the re-birth of another.

The author has succeeded totally in arranging and compiling a huge amount of evidence – particularly with regard to complex trans-Atlantic family networks. –  and delivering a compelling, pacy work of history. It encompasses on one hand intimate domesticity – the Puritan household – to warfare on a grand scale, on land and on sea. He achieves this seemingly effortlessly, though it is perfectly clear that a lot of hard work lies behind this fabulous account.

I fully expect The Rainborowes to be cited on those book of the year lists you see in the pre-Christmas newspaper supplements.

There is a section of well-chosen images at the centre of the book, which include a portrait of Thomas Rainborowe (above) and others, engravings featuring the Thames and contemporary ships (very fancy, no wonder they were expensive), and what I particularly like: crude contemporary propaganda pamphlets, both religious and political.

The book has two maps, always a good thing: The British Isles showing the main Civil War sites featured; and the Massachusetts Coast. Plus, there is a contemporary one of Old and New Sallee, in the images pages. Index, Notes, Bibliography, all present, thorough and excellent.

The Rainborowes (407pp) by Adrian Tinniswood is published by JonathanCape on 5 September. Cover price is £25.00 but available for less.

Putney Debates.

Thomas Rainborowe’s famous quote at St Mary’s, Putney, where he clashed with Cromwell.

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