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The King’s Cross Story by Peter Darley. Review by LH Member Laurence Scales

71DGRy7bKQLI come to know the King’s Cross area from association with the London Canal Museum. Visits to the railway lands on foot were long confined to a bend of the Regent’s Canal. Cement dust in the eye and sounds of pile drivers were all the senses could grasp of the transformation of a vast region beyond blank hoardings. Old maps told of expanses of urban land lost to long dead trade.

The wilderness of gas holders and derelict coal yards between King’s Cross station and St Pancras is yet something to be missed. It is now a destination for cultural happenings other than spraying tags on walls and fly tipping. There is a new architectural showpiece in the repurposed coal drops and a north south axis for flaneurs. So, a new book about this area is timely. Peter Darley, known from the Camden Railway Heritage Trust and his writing about the equivalent hinterland north of Euston, has authored a very attractive one, packed with fascinating photographs and local artists’ evocative renditions of brick, bent iron and weeds. There are many old maps too but I found myself seeking clearer versions on-line.

E1 Gasholder Triplets, 1997, taken from Goods Way

The Gasholder Triplets in 1997, taken from Goods Way, Angela Inglis (courtesy of Rob Inglis).

8.2 Credit to Pope-Parkhouse Archive copy

The York Road entrance to the goods yard, c1900” (courtesy of Pope/Parkhouse archive).

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Granary Warehouse showing two barges entering the Granary via the central tunnels, and horse-drawn carts lined up against the southern wall to receive sacks of grain via chutes, ILN 28 May 1853 (courtesy of Canal and River Trust).

This is really several different books in one. First, the railway station with attendant sheds was a world of its own, with only whistles and smoke escaping. Darley provides plenty of detail for the railway enthusiast. Then there is another world of the carmen and horses swarming around the goods yard at all hours with their coal and grain sacks, herring and potatoes. Included is an account of Jack Atcheler’s knacker’s yard adjacent. The industrial archaeologist is shown horse ramps and hydraulic capstans. As you grab sushi from Waitrose you can learn what manner of trade you might have encountered under that awning years before.

There too are the lost years of planning wrangles, the nature park and Google. This is a rich record and souvenir, not a flowing narrative. In the flip of a page we turn from Streetwalkers to Freightliner Operations. There is so much going on in the area, part now of the Knowledge Quarter, that it cannot all find a home even in Darley’s comprehensive book. I missed mention of the skip garden, inspiring community project and welcome antidote to Prêt partout.

Next time I am in the British Library reading room I shall reflect on the fact that I sit on old Somers Town goods yard. And what may take me to ferret in the library is Darley’s intriguing reference to the unloading in 1937, in another goods yard, of a putrefied whale.


The King’s Cross Story by Peter Darley, Softback, 215 pages, lavishly illustrated, The History Press, £20.

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London’s Docklands: An Illustrated History by Geoff Marshall, 168 pages, fully illustrated. The History Press, £20. Guest review by LH Member Roger Williams. 

61CVrv8LqnL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Ten years on from his illustrated guide to London’s Docklands, Geoff Marshall has come up with a fresh look at the docks’ history in a large format paperback packed with photographs, many of how things look today, with a 22-page section in colour.

This is a practical volume, with a clear map, designed to help navigate the streets as they relate to both existing buildings and and long-gone docks. Panels labelled ‘What is there to see?’ lead among other places to the Great Eastern slipway on the Isle of Dogs and to the shelter for labourers waiting for their ‘call on’ by Greenland Dock gates.

The first four chapters deal with the history of the port of London from Roman times to the opening of the King George V Dock in 1921, creating the largest concentration of impounded water in the world, and to the regeneration that followed the decline. Chapters then go from dock to dock, followed by themed chapters that cover industry, shipbuilding, railways and canals, famous voyages, churches and pubs. The high points of history, the dock strikes, the Tooley Street fire and the Silvertown explosion, are explained.

A Blue Badge Guide, a London Historians member and a former research chemist, Geoff Marshall has clearly pounded the streets. Thorough in his fact finding, he gives details of how sugar is still refined by Tate & Lyle at Silvertown, and how the French government bought 16,000 tons of Peak Freans biscuits from the Bermondsey factory in 1871, for a hungry population emerging from the Siege of Paris.

Other tidbits are the origin of the name Horsleydown as the place where King John’s horse decided to lie down, while total immersion baptisms at this point on the river gave their name to Dipping Alley. Some dockside occupations are familiar, others not. There are, for example, the Bank Rangers who policed Surrey Canal and ‘Blondins’, deal porters who knew how to balance planks of wood when unloading them.

The speed of change in Docklands that began several decades ago has not halted. Archaeology may benefit from developments, with finds such as the porcelain manufactory at Limehouse, but as residential blocks go up around Canary Wharf, encroaching on the remaining water, and industrial buildings around Bow Creek and Orchard Place fall beneath the dead hand of high-rises that take no account of their riverside advantages, it is important not to lose sight of a whole culture that once energised the river. Geoff Marshall’s book is a great asset in ensuring that this does not happen.

– Roger Williams

Black Tudors

Black Tudors by Dr Miranda Kaufmann reviewed by Robin Rowles. Both are Members of London Historians.

black tudorsBlack Tudors is quite simply, a revelation. Miranda Kaufmann’s book, very recently re-published in paperback, is a gloriously detailed examination of a little-known aspect of early modern history. In eight beautifully written chapters we hear about Jacque Francis, commissioned to undertake salvage operations recovering equipment from the Mary Rose – and an ambitious plan to raise and refloat the vessel. That didn’t happen until 1982 and the Mary Rose wasn’t refloated but became a star attraction at Portsmouth.  However, it was a big idea for the age. Another big idea was sailing around the world, something never before attempted by the English. Francis Drake achieved this feat between 1577 and 1580 and along the way acquired a black crewman, Diego, who earned his ‘ticket’ by alerting Drake’s crew to an ambush. The replica of Drake’s ship, the Golden Hinde, now sits in dry dock near Southwark Cathedral and to twenty-first century eyes, it’s a wonder the vessel ever went to sea, let alone sailed round the world.

This book is full of previously little-known characters who in their way, made their contribution to history, like John Blanke, the black trumpeter to both Henry VII and Henry VIII (the latter was more generous with salary, unsurprisingly). His image is captured in the Westminster Tournament Roll, in the College of Arms. This is both rare and informative. Whilst on duty, dressed in his ceremonial livery, John Blanke would have looked all but identical to his fellows. His external appearance almost hid the fact of his African origin. This is the nub of Dr Kaufmann’s book. There were many black people in early modern England, but references to them as black, is fleeting. Their stories, like that of Reasonable Blackman, the silk weaver of Southwark, have somehow been submerged in the sands of time. Thanks to Dr Kaufmann’s meticulous research and flowing prose, their narrative has been unearthed and restored to its rightful place in history.

john blanke 500

John Blanke, back row, middle.

Like all good histories, Dr Kaumann’s examination of minutiae is expertly woven into the larger backstory. The result feels like a splendid retelling of ‘known’ Tudor history, the insertion of the stories of black people into the larger narrative is somewhat overdue and very welcome addition to studies of the period.

Black Tudors has recently been re-published in paperback by Oneworld.


Robin Rowles, a long standing member of London Historians, is also a qualified City of London Guide and Sherlock Holmes enthusiast. 

 

 

Review: Trico: A Victory to Remember. The 1976 Equal Pay Strike at Trico Folberth, Brentford. by Sally Groves and Vernon Merritt.


9781912064878_200x_trico-a-victory-to-rememberThe current dispute of women council workers in Glasgow over equal pay reminds us of the long road travelled since the famous Match Girls’ Strike in East London in 1888. Just as famous is that of the women Ford upholstery workers of Dagenham whose successful dispute of 1968 got made into a movie years later.

Less well-known but no less hard-fought was the strike of women workers at Trico Folberth (will refer as ‘Trico’ from here) of Brentford in 1976. It lasted 21 gruelling weeks.

This book tells that story.

Trico was – and is – an American manufacturer of car accessories, primarily windscreen wiper blades and the associated water pumps and motors. Their UK-based factory which supported car manufacturing for both domestic and international production was based on the Great West Road at the eastern end of Brentford’s ‘Golden Mile’. Today the enormous GSK complex dominates its former site.

The enabling legislation which led to this dispute was Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act, 1970 which came into effect at the end of 1975. Put simply, it legislated that men and women should receive identical pay for the same work. While many companies complied with the legislation, many did not. The Act, as Sally Groves points out, was riddled with loopholes which company lawyers throughout the country skipped through with consummate ease. Trico fell into the category of company which thought all of this could be ignored by dint of its male and female staff working almost completely apart.

Trico was a 24 hour manufacturing operation where men worked night shifts and women through the day. Never the twain would meet until in 1976 the night shift was cancelled, some men laid off with the survivors joining the women on the day shift. With this the pay discrepancy between the sexes soon became apparent, something that took the women workers completely by surprise. The consequences soon took the management by surprise too.

Negotiations between union representatives and management took place but led nowhere. On the afternoon of 24 May, at a union mass meeting in a nearby park, approximately 400 women production workers voted for all-out strike. They picked up their belongings from the factory and went home. Virtually none had ever struck before and most of them expected to be back at work in a matter of days.

P-009 John Bracher addressing strikers in Boston Manor Park Eric Fudge standing middle background with bucket. Morning Star, courtesy Bishopsgate Institute_500

Strike meeting in Boston Manor Park. Courtesy Bishopsgate Institute.

This is where the real story begins. It should be noted that about a  hundred men also came out in support. The remainder – including some husbands and boyfriends – stayed on, keeping the factory ticking over. It was to be the single women in particular who felt the most hardship in the following months.

From here we find out how these green strikers grew in determination and experience. Author Sally Groves, who became the workers’ press officer, admits they were virtually clueless at the beginning. But support for them grew in the trade union movement, among local Brentfordians and others, and their cause soon spread from the local press to national media.

P-012 Sally Groves' banner on Trico railings. Morning Star, courtesy Bishopsgate Institute_500

Sally Groves’s homemade banner on the railings at Trico, Morning Star. Courtesy Bishopsgate Institute.

P-030 Trico strikers lobbying TUC Brighton, Source unknown_500

Trico strikers lobbying TUC Brighton. Source unknown.

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On the march.

At the centre of this story, though, is friendship and solidarity. Previously black and white and brown workers didn’t really hang out together: now they did – lifelong friendships were forged. There are dozens of vignettes, heartwarming, sometimes sad but often amusing which, added together, led to final victory on 15 October when the strikers voted to return to work after Trico management agreed to all demands.

Joan Bakewell postcard 1st side without address_500px

Kind permission of Joan Bakewell, DBE.

The reasons this book succeeds so wonderfully are many. First, I believe, is that while both authors were directly involved in the strike, their contributions are some forty years apart. Vernon Merritt’s original manuscript had lain untouched since when he left it in the dispute’s immediate aftermath. By contrast, Sally Groves has completed the job very recently. This has given the whole a very inperceptible yet balanced feel. Second, there are plenty of verbatim accounts of those directly involved which are separated from the main narrative in grey boxes so the work is rich in reportage, reminiscing, anecdote: those who were around in the 1970s will experience a strong tinge of nostalgia, I feel, whatever their politics. Third, dozens of wonderful photographs, cartoons, ephemera. Finally, this book is excellently designed, footnoted and indexed as every good history book should be.

Quite apart from being a wonderful read, I believe this to be an important work in the history of equality and industrial relations in this country. I commend it to you.


Trico – A Victory to Remember (238pp) by Sally Groves and Vernon Merritt was published in June by Lawrence and Wishart in association with Unite trade union. Erroneously listed as paperback by Amazon at time of writing.

A signed copy of the book will be the November book prize in London Historians Members’ Newsletter.

Following Aphra

A guest post by LH Member Lissa Chapman.

B2002.15It seems significant that so many modern studies of Aphra Behn and her work feature a mask on the cover.  Famous as the first-ever professional woman playwright, Behn was also a novelist, poet, translator – and spy.  And she was adept at suppressing information about herself.

By the time of her death in 1689, Behn had become something of a celebrity, and was allowed the honour of a grave in the cloisters at Westminster Abbey.  In a 20-year career in the theatre, she had written and had staged nearly 20 plays.  And for a time her work remained popular – for several decades her play The Emperor of the Moon was staged every time a Friday, 13th came round, as theatre managements knew the show would pull in a crowd whatever the date.  But the world changed, and Behn’s work began to be regarded as too coarse to read.  By the nineteenth century she was firmly forgotten:  the Victorians, disliking the Restoration as a period anyway, could not forgive Aphra Behn for having been a woman, and regarded her work as “too coarse to open”.  Even when, in the next century, Virginia Woolf wrote of placing flowers on Behn’s grave, it was as a trailblazer she was to be remembered:  there was no discussion of the quality of her work. In recent years at least some of Aphra Behn’s work has begun to emerge from the shadows.  A number of her plays, most notably The Rover have been staged, and it is generally agreed that her best writing is at least as good as that of her most famous contemporaries;  there have been new editions of her work, two biographies and innumerable articles.

As part of this, at least some of Aphra Behn’s life story has emerged from the shadows.  And it is now clear just what odds she overcame in order to survive at all, let alone to get her work staged and published and to maintain her independence.  Aphra Johnson, born near Canterbury in 1640, was the daughter of a barber and a wet nurse who worked for an aristocratically connected family.   It was probably as a result of this that Aphra was recruited, first as a courier for Royalist plotters during the Commonwealth years, and then as a fully fledged spy.  She was sent first to Surinam, then to the Low Countries, on each occasion to watch and connect with the dissident William Scot.  Aphra, only in her twenties, was a total failure as a spy:  she fell in love with her quarry, who double crossed her, and finally returned to London, badly in debt and with little to show for her mission.  Yet only a few years later, after a short lived marriage to a German merchant, Aphra Behn was established in London as a professional writer – this is the ferocious and misogynist world of the Restoration theatre.

But not all Aphra Behn’s work receives the attention it merits.  Her final play, The Widow Ranter, set in Virginia and featuring not only the reimagined story of a rebellion but satire, music, dance, spectacle, several different love stories and a cross-dressed, drunken, pipe smoking former servant for a heroine, was staged only once, just after its author’s death.  It was published with a defensive preface explaining it had been badly cast, and then laid aside and forgotten.  A couple of years ago Clio’s Company became interested in the play – a reading one afternoon told us it deserved another chance to live on stage.  After Aphra, written by Lissa Chapman and Jay Venn and incorporating scenes from The Widow Ranter as well as new work, is also part of a sequence of productions which will lead up to a full scale production of  in 2020, the 250th anniversary year of the staging of Behn’s first play, The Forc’d Marriage.


After Aphra: The Story of Aphra Behn and “The Widow Ranter” will be performed at the atmospheric. Watermen’s Hall on 23rd October for one night only. A time of writing there are a few places still available.


Editor’s Note
In Our Time on BBC Radio 4 devoted an episode to Aphra Behn in October 2017.

This guest post by LH member Tracey Hill was first published in London Historians Members’ Newsletter of November 2014.

In the early 1620s Thomas Middleton’s profile in London, both on and off the stage, was at its height. His run of civic employments was consolidated when he was appointed the first paid Chronologer of the City of London on 6th September 1620. The commencement of Middleton’s post as City Chronologer was marked by the publication in 1621 of a series of commissioned civic entertainments that took place between Easter 1620 and Easter 1621, entitled Honorable Entertainments compos’de for the Seruice of this Noble Cittie, comprising ten separate entertainments.

ThomasMiddleton
Thomas Middleton (1580 – 1627)

Although his appointment as City Chronologer was a token of the esteem in which Middleton was held in civic circles, his new role came during a run of bad luck for the City and his initial commissions during the 1620-21 period were all problematic. Honorable Entertainments may, on the face of it, have been a wholly suitable way for the City Chronologer to appear in print, but some of the pieces in this book and in other works in this period have an edgy take on the civic transitions of 1620-21.

The second entertainment in the collection marked the termination of William Cockayne’s mayoralty on the day before the Haberdasher Francis Jones’s inauguration in 1620. However, in contrast to the usual joy at the arrival of a new Lord Mayor, this unprecedented ‘sad Pageant’ represents the end of Cockayne’s term of office as a funeral where ‘all seem to mourne’. It seems the very year has died: there is a ‘Last Will and Testament of 1620’, where Cockayne’s unnamed ‘Successor’ is bequeathed ‘all my good wishes, paines, labours and reformations’. The piece concludes with an ‘epitaph’ bemoaning the end of ‘a Yeare of goodness, and a Yeare of right’. As well as reminding Jones (in a move that will come back badly on the City, as we’ll see) of the ‘bounty fayre’ he will expected to provide as Lord Mayor, the first entertainment of Jones’s term is addressed primarily to the Haberdashers’ Company. Of Jones himself, Middleton simply states, with a distinct absence of enthusiasm, ‘I presume his goodness will requite’ the generosity of his Company. Any ‘honour’ that pertains to Jones in this work is merely ‘borrowed’ from the Haberdashers.

Eight of the ten entertainments in this collection were presented at Jones’s house. The lack of confidence in Jones signalled in Honorable Entertainments was more than borne out by events. The christmas entertainment evokes Jones’s house as ‘Bounties pallace/ Where euery Cup ha’s his full Ballace’, where ‘sparkling Liquors’ abound and where ‘Cellar, Hall [and] Larder’ are ‘Iouiall’ and ‘blithe’. Despite Middleton’s citation of ‘th’Abundant welcome yon’d Kind Lord affords’, as it turned out, Jones could not afford it and absconded just before his term of office expired. The keen seventeenth-century letter writer John Chamberlain recorded that ‘the night before he should have accompanied his successor to Westminster [Jones] did sgombrare [clear out], conveying all of worth out of his house, and he and his wife into some secret corner of the country’. Contrary to usual practice Jones was ‘excused’ due to an alleged ‘sudden infirmity’ when his successor took his mayoral oath at Westminster in 1621.

The Recorder of London Sir Heneage Finch was responsible for this public negotiation of Jones’s flit. There may be a deliberate irony in his ambiguous remarks in the same speech that Jones had ‘willingly’ laid down the burden of office and that Jones ‘cannot give a greater testimony of him[self] than his meane estimation of him selfe’. In pointed contrast, his successor Edward Barkham’s ‘greate bounty and hospitallity … feastes and entertainments’ were highlighted at the equivalent ceremony in 1621. On passing on the mayoralty to Peter Proby in October 1622 Barkham was given a testimonial by Finch which stated that, unlike his predecessor, he had performed the role with ‘dilligence from the first [day] of the [mayoral] yeare to the last’.

These words of praise notwithstanding, Barkham’s rise to the City’s highest office had not been straightforward either. To take the office he had to ‘translate’ from the Leathersellers’ Company to one of the Great Twelve. Thus the backdrop to the 1621 mayoral inauguration was no more auspicious than the termination of his predecessor. Barkham’s process of translation to the Drapers began with an approach to the Company in July 1621. The request was rebuffed for some months: there were prolonged negotiations and the matter was only resolved on the intervention of the Privy Council.

Barkham’s putative membership was discussed by the Drapers’ Court four times in July 1621. For a while the Company were adamant that they were would not accept him and agreed to convey to the Court of Aldermen their ‘absolute denyall’ of Barkham’s admission, demonstrating the strength of feeling against this enforced admission. Later in July the Company remained intransigent, reiterating ‘the denyall of the generality of this Companie in acceptinge of Mr Alderman Barkeham’. In their fourth meeting there was only one item on the agenda. They were ‘altogether unwilling and unable’ to accept the financial charge consequent on having another mayoral inauguration to support. However, their position had shifted: they were no longer refusing entry to Barkham per se (the phrase ‘absolute denyall’ no longer features), but rather asking the Court of Aldermen to excuse them the costs. The final discussion took place in August, within weeks of the election of the new Lord Mayor on Michaelmas Day. Once more the Drapers wished to be excused the costs of the ‘triumphes’, adding the argument that they were trying to avoid any complaints and any ‘disgrace’ to the City. Indeed, they protested against the cost to the end, but in the face of the forces against them the Company had finally to capitulate, and Barkham–by then ‘Maior elect’–was duly admitted to the membership by translation from the Leathersellers in the nick of time in early October 1621.

drapers_arms
Coat of arms of the Drapers’ Company.

Close scrutiny of that year’s mayoral Show, The sunne in Aries, reveals clues about the considerable strain and prolonged debate of Barkham’s translation. A number of times in the text the word ‘costly’ is employed, which, although conventional, in this context could be seen to gesture towards the Drapers’ concerns about the expense of the inauguration. The relationship between the new Lord Mayor and his Company–in particular, their role in funding the Show–is central to the valedictory speech given at the very end of the Show in a way that could be a veiled commentary on the circumstances.

This speech is intended as a ‘noble Demonstation of [Barkham’s] worthy Fraternities Affection’. The Drapers’ ‘Loue’ for Barkham is likened to the sun breaking through after ‘a great Ecclipse’. It is certainly possible to interpret the now past ‘eclipse’ to the furore over Barkham’s enforced translation. The Drapers’ affection, Fame declares, ‘is showne/ With a Content past Expectation … A Care that ha’s [sic] beene comely, and a Cost/ That ha’s beene Decent’ (my emphasis). The Show itself is said to ‘clearly’ demonstrate how ‘great’ the Drapers’ love is, and the ‘Cost’ is (finally) ‘requited’ by Barkham’s accession to the mayoralty. Middleton’s text strives to incorporate Barkham into the Company, to remind him of the expense they have been put to and attempts to smooth over the recent controversy about their reluctance to pay for the very event that is taking place.

However, references to Barkham are relatively scant and recent holders of civic office are compared unfavourably to their predecessors. Whereas past Drapers were ‘Colledge Founders’, ‘Temple-Beautifiers’ and ‘Erecters … of Granaries for the Poore’, now these granaries are ‘conuerted to some Rich mens Store’. Naturally, there is no suggestion that Barkham is one of those avaricious men but a poor light is cast upon the current civic oligarchy. There is also an oblique reference to Barkham’s unusual route to the mayoralty. Sir Richard Pipe, Lord Mayor in 1578, is mentioned solely because ‘being Free of the Leathersellers, [he] was also from them translated to the Ancient and Honorable Society of Drapers’. Pipe’s translation was a precedent that legitimated Barkham’s troubled move to the Drapers, but given the strong opposition the latter had generated, one wonders why Middleton thought it necessary to mention translation from the Leathersellers at all.

Ultimately, the Drapers had had to accept Barkham and the City had to put the controversy behind it and move on. All the same, Recorder Finch’s speech when Barkham took his oath at Westminster strikes a sterner note than usual. ‘Magistrates are not sett in Authority for their owne sakes’, Finch proclaimed, ‘but for the people’. The office of Lord Mayor, he emphasised, involved ‘a number of cares’ which ‘cannot [be] putt off with [the Lord Mayor’s] clothes now layed under his pillow’, and those who take on high office ought to ‘consider well the weight of government’.

Translation to one of the Great Twelve livery companies, as we have seen, was indeed a more serious business than donning a new suit of clothes. By 1622, however, the crisis was but a memory and Recorder Finch’s speech at the Exchequer when Peter Proby took his oath celebrates Barkham retrospectively for his acts of civic altruism such as endowing a new water conduit. This presentation of Barkham as a man of good deeds features elsewhere too. During his year of office Barkham played an important role in the building of a new church on the site of of what had been the priory church of the Holy Trinity, Aldgate. The building of the church, the 1633 edition of John Stow’s The Survey of London relates,

‘proceeded on with good and prosperous successe, to the no meane honour and commendation of the Lord Maior then being, Sir Edward Barkham by name, the Court of Aldermen, and state of this famous City, by whose good meanes it is made a very beautifull and comely Parish Church’.

Barkham ‘himselfe undertooke, and effected at his owne charge’ the ‘maine and great East light in the Chancell’, and his contribution was commemorated, appropriately enough, in a verse placed in the chancel of the church:

Barkham the Worthie,
whose immortall name,
Marble’s too weake to hold,
for this workes fame.
He never ceast
in industrie and care,
From ruines to
redeeme this House of Praier.

Somewhat ironically given the strong resistance to his translation, Barkham’s membership of the Drapers is highlighted in this monument; indeed, he is even linked to one of the City’s most esteemed figures, the first Lord Mayor of London, Henry Fitz-Alwin. The verse concludes:

This Cities first Lord Maior
lies buried here,
Fitz-Alwine,
of the Drapers Company,
And the Lord Maior,
whose fame now shines so cleere,
Barkham,
is of the same Society.

fitz-alwyn
Henry Fitz-Alwin, commemorated on Holborn Viaduct.



Long-standing London Historians Member, Prof Tracey Hill is Head of English and Cultural Studies at Bath Spa University. Her research expertise is in the cultural history of early modern London, with a particular focus on civic pageantry. She is the author of Pageantry and Power: a cultural history of the early modern Lord Mayor’s Show (Manchester University Press 2010) and Anthony Munday and Civic Culture (Manchester University Press 2004) as well as of a number of articles and chapters in books.


A longer version of this article – “Ever obedient in his Studies”: Thomas Middleton and the Cityc1621′,  – appeared in The London Journal,42:2 (2017).

A guest post by LH Member Hannah Renier, this article first appeared in London Historians Members’ Newsletter from October 2014.

It is the summer of 1720, and you decide to walk (not ride) around London’s outer edges, keeping woods and trees on your left all the way. Starting from Hyde Park Corner, you head north to the gallows at Tyburn and east along the Oxford Road, proceed around Montague House and Lamb’s Conduit Street, Clerkenwell and Bunhill Fields, and turn south from Shoreditch to pass Whitechapel. The northern shore of the Thames is lined with wharves and smart seafarers’ houses downstream as far as Wapping, where you get into a wherry (that’s why you don’t have a horse: the horse ferry is expensive). You are rowed across to Rotherhithe Church. After a quick detour inland to Allhallows in the Borough you follow the shore upstream to where wharves, mills and cottages peter out near Vauxhall Gardens. Here you take another wherry from the gunmakers’ stairs at Vauxhall back to the horse-ferry terminus at Tothill, near Westminster, and walk up to Pall Mall and back to Hyde Park Corner. There have been woods and fields, or marshes, on your left all the way; and buildings – newish terraces on the northern edge, and a largely post-Fire jumble in the East and south – on your right.

jangreffierhorseferry500
The Thames at Horseferry, with Lambeth Palace and a Distant View of the City, London, by Jan Greffier, c1710.

London was four miles long and a mile and a half wide, with a population of around 400,000. It was not easy for horses: there were long slopes up from the foreshore to Covent Garden, Mayfair was hilly, the Fleet basin was treacherously steep on both sides and there were sharp climbs up from the river north of London Bridge. Loads were unlimited, laws against cruelty unenforced, and ignorant farriery ubiquitous. Most peripatetic farriers, recognisable by blue cross-belts with gold horse-shoes on, followed Blundevill’s bad instructions from 130 years ago, and over-pared hooves and heavy-shod them with agonising results.

The summer of 1720 was the height of the boom. South Sea Company stock was giddily high and fortunes were borrowed to buy it. The rich rode in the Park, flirted in private gardens and stepped down from coaches into pleasant squares; some rode out to Ascot where the late Queen Anne had begun a tradition of summer horse-racing, now continued by the German King George.

Back in London were crowds of shortish humans, dodging nervously over cobbles between hackneys and carriages and drays pulled by horses of uncertain temper that might weigh half a ton. Between every few houses were slippery side turns down to cobbled yards; certain streets were edged by ‘kennels’ – drains bridged by culverts; barrels, on ropes, were lowered into gaping cellars. Markets were crowded with impatient horses and scavenging dogs, streets strewn with spilled hay, and the crossing sweeper rarely got to the latest pile of dung fast enough. The smell of manure was omnipresent. Every yard, mews and inn had its dunghill. And this chaos played out against the roar of iron-bound wheels and iron-shod hooves on cobblestone.

Men with money rode their own horses in town, and rich women who happened to be frail or pregnant could be taken by carriage and four, kept at the town house’s stables; although riding ‘on the stones’ in the middle of town, in a heavy creaking vehicle without suspension, was certainly uncomfortable.

Horses, of course, had to put up with people: yelling drivers, bawling street sellers, wailing children, a din compounded in unpleasantness by a stench of sweaty, unwashed wool, for laundry water usually had to be carried from pumps in the street or delivered by barrel. London had thousands of cess-pits, growing obnoxious before they were emptied (the slurry being carted through the streets at night for eventual sale as fertiliser). And human behaviour was unpredictable. John Gay saw it all, in his walks about London.

The lashing Whip resounds, the Horses strain,
And Blood in anguish bursts the swelling vein.
Oh barb’rous Men, your cruel Breasts asswage,
Why vent ye on the gen’rous Steed your rage?

The craze for gin meant inhibitions were released, anger expressed in blows, animals neglected and above all, horses were stolen. A good horse, for quick sale at Smithfield, could fetch £10 at a time when thieves could look forward to getting drunk for a penny and dead drunk for tuppence, pennies being 240 to the pound.

London’s working horses, like their owners, were crowded into cramped accommodation. If they were ever taken out to the fields of Marylebone or Brompton, they could graze on rich grassy meadows dotted with foxgloves and lady’s slipper, celandine and clover. Good fortune of this kind attended royal horses and cavalry horses, but plenty of draught animals toiled in the streets from one year’s end to the next. As to grazing opportunities south of the river, they had to get there first and either way cost a fare or a toll. The horse ferry was quicker than the journey across London Bridge, but picking your way through a cramped dark alley between shops and pedestrians could take an hour. London Bridge was a restraint on trade. Parliament heard repeated demands for a new bridge, but the Archbishop of Canterbury, who profited from the horse ferry at Lambeth, the Watermen, and the Bridgewardens, were solidly opposed.

In the autumn of 1720 the rich got a nasty surprise. The Government, the King, and every other potential investor discovered that the South Sea Company had been a Bubble. It burst, leaving them with debt.

Fine horses were suddenly for sale. Many were stabled on the great estates outside London, but if you were a suddenly impecunious aristo, in town, who chose to ride your best horse at Hyde Park Corner, you might get an offer from a friend.

The great age of horse breeding for racing, when today’s at thoroughbred bloodlines were sired by three imported stallions, was in its heyday. In 1720 the Byerley Turk had recently died, the Godolphin Arabian was yet to be born, but the Darley Arabian was very much alive. Rich men were impassioned by horses as status symbols as never before. The King had imported hundreds of cream Hanoverians, which were much admired. Everyone who was anyone took riding lessons; there were riding houses, with training circuses or even amphitheatres, in Riding House Street and down alleys all over town. Captain Foubert and his family had been running one for years.

DarleyArabian
The Darley Arabian, after John Wootton.

If Hyde Park Corner and an exchange between friends was not to be, the South Sea Bubble debtor would sell his horse, or his team of horses and maybe even the carriage he kept in town in an inn yard to a dealer, through an auctioneer like Mr Heath or Mr Osmer or Mr Beevor in St Martin’s Lane – or – and it did happen – on a Friday at Smithfield.

This was of course the start of a long downhill run to decrepitude. A champion horse kept at stud in retirement from the racecourse could easily, like the Godolphin Arabian later, live for thirty years. Or like most others it could, in changing hands, go from racehorse to country hack to carriage horse to carter’s horse in a decade or less. Such a horse might pull a heavy hackney carriage all day or join the team kept by a carter such as Mr Pickford and be sent back and forth along a section of the Great North Road. It was tolled, but still a rough surface. Most cartage horses would die of exhaustion before they were fifteen, for their the lives were fraught with sprains, skin diseases, eye infections, dental deformation and ailments generally arising from inferior care, stress and sometimes cruelty.

Those farriers who took their job seriously did mean well. They were at least as expert as doctors – probably more. While there were inhibitions about cutting human bodies up (and only six years later a royal doctor would ‘witness’ Mary Tofts giving birth to rabbits), horse anatomy had been studied for at least a thousand years. The expertise of a good farrier came mostly from observation of gait and wind and mouth. He dealt with horses daily – all farriers were shoeing smiths – and could tell when something was wrong.

Well informed owners knew that many equine ailments could be traced to poor shoeing. Diagnosis was sometimes perceptive but treatment was usually wishful thinking. The Farrier’s Dispensatory by William Gibson was a popular resource. The author earnestly explained that essential off the-shelf remedies were herbal – leaves, roots, seeds, grains, gums, barks and so on – animal, and mineral. Listing them all, he helpfully suggested cheap alternatives for less valuable horses. Herbs could be gathered or bought. Things like snakeweed and allspice were imported from the Americas or the Indies, then distilled, infused, or administered as balls (pills)or powders, suppositories or plasters. Minerals included borax, arsenic for poultices, petroleum, vitriol, antimony – an excellent all round tonic – and lead, silver, quicksilver, coral and chalk and brimstone. Animal derivatives included dog turd (to reduce inflammation), bear’s grease (a ‘ripener’ to relieve pain), beetles, the anal sac or some other stinking bit of the back end of a beaver (an import, very expensive, but good for the staggers); cow-dung wrapped onto stiff legs; cuttlebone powder, blown into the eyes; frogspawn; pickled herrings or bacon rind applied to wounds, and hoglice (woodlice), a clutch of which, ground into balls with flour, ‘open all manner of obstructions’ and would prevent blindness. Tiny puppies also could be cut open and ‘applied to the part’.

Gibson rejected some older remedies – toads, and fox lungs – although earthworm oil (made by boiling worms in wine) was always useful. Well-meaning as all this was, it does seem that for many horses neglect must have been the better option.

As a postscript to the horrified, please note that an Annals of Improbable Research Ig Award, 2014, has been awarded to a group of scientists who proved that plugs made of bacon, inserted into a human nose, are extraordinarily effective in stopping nosebleeds.