A few days ago the good people of Kent experienced an earthquake which measured 4.2 on the Richter scale. This follows a quake of very similar magnitude not long previously, in 2007.

Of course these are as nothing compared with the recent monster in Nepal and other quake-vulnerable spots around the world.

The epicentres of “our” disturbances tend to be in the Channel or Kent. But in past times there have been ones centred here in London.

21 May 1382.
A strong tremor rocked London at about 2 in the afternoon during a church Synod at Blackheath which had been convened to pass judgement of 24 Articles of John Wycliffe’s teachings. It naturally became known as the Earthquake Synod. It was presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtnay. A learned man, Courtnay  –  following Aristotle – explained to the terrified delegates that it was simply the Earth naturally expelling noxious fumes. Wycliffe’s followers, the Lollards, on the contrary interpreted the quake as God’s anger at the Synod. This earthquake caused sufficient turbulence in the Thames to capsize boats and quite severely damage St Paul’s.

Better known than the medieval quake were two which struck a month apart in 1750. We are, after all, now in the age of the printed word, and in abundance: Gentleman’s Magazine had much to say, for example. At about midday on 8 February. It was very localised in the City. There were reports of a chimney collapsing and the usual chattering crockery, but with no injuries reported it was clearly a minor, albeit alarming affair.
Exactly a month later on 8 March, a more powerful tremor struck the city in the small hours. There was much actual damage to buildings, crockery, furniture. Dogs howled and folks sprinted into the streets in various states of undress. The bishop of London insisted that divine retribution was at hand on account of London’s wicked ways.
Exactly another month later, many superstitious and gullible Londoners, headed out of town. Just to be sure.

LH Member, the Georgian Gentleman, has a great write-up of the 1750 quake.
Other good coverage of this quake here.



How doth the Banking Busy Bee,
Improve his shining Hours?
By studying on Bank Holidays,
Strange insects and Wild Flowers!

sir john lubbock bt.So wrote Punch magazine in 1882 about the man who more than anyone gave us that strangely and quintessentially British-named institution: the bank holiday. Londoner Sir John Lubbock Bt. (1834 – 1913) was the archetypal Victorian man of affairs. A successful banker, an MP, a philanthropist, a keen amateur scientist. Lubbock was the primary sponsor of the Bank Holidays Act 1871, which introduced four bank holidays under Law: Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day. These have been added to or changed under subsequent Acts, the most recent being 1971. Because some of the Bank Holidays can fall on the weekend, the dates have to be fixed each year by Royal proclamation.

Christmas Day and Good Friday were already holidays under the Common Law and therefore are not official Bank Holidays.

But why bank holidays? Until 1871 – led by the Bank of England – most banks gave their staff the day off on selected saints’ days. Sir John Lubbock felt it would be rather nice if this boon in some small measure was spread to the wider national workforce. No person is obliged to pay any debt or transact any business on days such designated.

Three cheers for Sir John!

This ceremony is held on an occasional basis at the Tower of London. It originates in the 14C when, under Richard II, it was decided that any large navy vessel which traveled upstream to the Tower must pay a levy to the Constable. This takes the form of a barrel of rum and is one of a raft of lucrative privileges enjoyed by the Tower’s constables for use of the Thames or London Bridge, the underlying principle being that the Tower provides protection to visitors.

This morning it was the turn of HMS Defender  – a new Class 45 Destroyer – to pay the Dues. Led by Commander Stephen Higham and supported by the band of the Royal Marines, the sailors delivered the barrel to the current Constable, the Lord Dannatt, formerly commander in chief of the British Army.

Visitors to the Tower were clearly delighted at this unexpected treat. My thanks to LH Member Chris West for the tip-off.

More on the Contable’s Dues. 


Band of the Royal Marines.

Band of the Royal Marines.

Commander   addresses the reception party.

Commander Higham addresses the reception party.


Constable of the Tower, the Lord Dannatt, speaking to the media.

Constable of the Tower, the Lord Dannatt, speaking to the media.

Matelots enjoying a well-served drink afterwards in the Yeoman Warders' Club.

Matelots enjoying a well-deserved drink afterwards in the Yeoman Warders’ Club.

Our visit in perfect weather to the Crossrail archaeology site at Liverpool Street yesterday. It’s just north of the old London wall at Moorfields, near where Bedlam #2 was sited, making it London suburbia in ancient and medieval times. In a previous phase, the team have discovered human remains of thousands here and nearby in recent months, far more than would have come from the Bethlehem Hospital and probably more than can be explained away as plague pits. More research and analysis is required, which will take some years in all.

The sometimes notorious Bethlehem Hospital in Moorfields by Robert Hooke.

The sometimes notorious Bethlehem Hospital in Moorfields by Robert Hooke.

But right now they are down to the 1C/2C Roman layer next to an old road and a tributary of the Walbrook river. A very marshy area historically which the Romans, naturally, succeeded in draining. We were shown close-up a variety of objects – some unidentifiable at the moment – which have been discovered in the previous several days. I find it quite moving to hold things which have been hidden from us for nearly two millenia, things which because they are freshly excavated seem to connect us more directly with long-dead Londoners, our predecessors. You get far more of a buzz, I think, examining these items before they have been properly cleaned, identified, “museumified”. That’s why I enjoy mudlarking.

Our thanks to Marit Leenstra from Crossrail who generously gave her time to open up the site and tell us all about the project, which will draw to a close in the coming months. There are scheduled public viewings if you’d like to have a go. Details here.

There is further information and events relating to the Crossrail project here.

Here are some pictures from our visit.


crossrail archaeology

crossrail archaeology

The dig. Crossrail archaeologists.

crossrail archaeology

Marit does show and tell.

crossrail archaeology

Excavated last Monday. Possibly 1C, more analysis required.

crossrail archaeology

Copper coin showing head of Emperor Antoninus Pius (r 138 – 161 AD), one of the so-called “Good Emperors”.

crossrail archaeology

Finds on display 1.

crossrail archaeology

Finds on display 2

crossrail archaeology

Finds on display 3


A guest post by London Historians Member, Jane Young.

Geffrye Union board250For anyone that is familiar with the Geffrye Museum it will be no surprise to find another skillfully executed exhibition there which displays the usual beautifully finished attention to detail that the Geffrye does so well.

Included in the exhibition are some spectacular original paintings. The centrepiece used for the exhibition literature, ‘The Pinch of Poverty’ by Thomas Benjamin Kennington 1891 is exquisite and Gustave Doré’s ‘A Poor House’ 1869 simply magnificent to mention just two of many.

Geffrye Daffodils500

The Pinch of Poverty by Thomas Benjamin Kennington, 1891. (detail)

It is very refreshing to find that the curator has not restricted the exhibition to the tried and trusted method of using exclusively the East End of London as the only exemplar of all that denotes slums and poverty within this period. As a result the exhibition is well balanced, covering all of London from Bloomsbury to Greenwich and Deptford along with the lesser known ‘Potteries’ of Notting Dale in the west, one of the blackest spots to be found on the Booth Map.

All aspects of the conditions of life on the streets are illustrated, in addition to abject poverty and destitution, the human side of what it meant to be homeless is explored with documents, photographs and everyday objects, showing the camaraderie and humour amongst real people and their accounts of the time. Incorporating lodging houses and charity the response to social intervention and paternalism is demonstrated.

Geffrye Corridor photo500

Accommodation available to the homeless was spartan indeed. Interior of a workhouse.


Geffrye photo500

Street poor queueing.

Opened in 1914 in the buildings and grounds of almshouses built two centuries earlier in 1714 by the Ironmongers Company, the Geffrye is well worth a visit at any time if you do not already know it. For those travelling any distance to see the exhibition it might be useful to note that the restored almshouse which is open for visitors on certain days is superb and a good reason to time a visit to coincide with the open days. Also the permanent collection, which transports you through four centuries of detailed domestic interiors and houses further beautiful original paintings; an herb garden; garden reading room and beautiful grounds and gardens within the setting of the original almshouses; a little oasis off the Kingsland Road where it is very easy to forget you are in 21st Century East London.

‘Homes of the Homeless’ manages to achieve that rare thing, an exhibition which has in no way been ‘dumbed down’ but is still perfectly accessible and understandable for children too. Engaging and thoughtfully constructed it succeeds in having appeal for a wide audience. Now open and running until 12 July 2015 with a very reasonable admission price of £5. In conjunction with this runs a display in collaboration with the New Horizon Youth Centre: ‘Home and hope: Young people’s experience of homelessness today’ raising awareness of the contemporary experience of homelessness.

Homes of the Homeless: Seeking Shelter in Victorian London runs until 12 July. 

A guest post by London Historians Member, Sue Sinton Smith.

kemal chunchieDuring the early 20th Century Canning Town had the highest multicultural population in the country. Kamal Chunchie, born in Ceylon, came to England to fight with the Middlesex Regiment during the First World War. After the war he settled in Canning Town and, appalled at the discrimination experienced by black and Asian people, decided to establish somewhere they could socialise as well as to get advice. Chunchie rented a former Chinese boarding house which had hosted opium dens in the basement and moved in with his family. He wanted somewhere Black and Asian people could feel safe and learn, as well as hear the word of God. Chunchie, born a Muslim but converted during the War, was ordained as a Minister in the Methodist Church. He spoke eight languages and sometimes preached in six different languages at the same service! The church wanted to send him abroad as a missionary but he refused as he felt, like Dr Barnardo, that there was so much to be done here.

The Institute was funded by the Methodist Church, supplemented by donations from friends and Chunchie himself. It was open from nine in the morning till 10 at night and had a billiard room, a newspaper and writing room and a prayer room. It provided food and shelter to seamen and gave out food and clothes parcels to poor families and provided Christmas dinners, as well as running outings to the seaside.

Sadly it was not to last. After just five years, the building was demolished to make way for the new road to the docks in 1930. Chunchie might have been able to re-establish the Institute in another building but by this point funding had been withdrawn by the Methodist Church. This could have been due to Chunchie’s lifestyle. He was a smoker, drinker and gambler and didn’t feel his position as minister meant he should compromise his enjoyment. He carried on travelling around the country, preaching and raising money for the people he supported, unable to move into a new building before his death in 1953.


1. Eastside Community Heritage, 2010

2. Kamal Chunchie and Coloured Men’s Institute, The Newham Story

Mission accomplished. As explained in the previous post, the final public opening (until 2018) of Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing last Saturday rendered imperative my long-delayed Sir John Soane walk from Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields to Ealing. Soane bought Pitzhanger in 1800, re-built it until 1804, then sold it in 1810. Below is an 1800 map and the current route from Google. It is very little changed, the Oxford Street-Bayswater Road – Uxbridge Road axis being a major westerly trunk road today as then.


I love the idea of doing long walks. It’s good exercise for a start if you can tolerate the traffic pollution (I can). It is essential to give the historian a sense of what life was like before trains and buses. There were carriages, of course, but even successful men like Soane, John Quincy Adams and William Hogarth often chose to take a bracing walk between town and country, or vice-versa. Most of all, you see things that you never would by car or by bus and, obviously, on the Underground. Apart from the map work, I do very little research beforehand. The surprises are all the better that way. There were lots. I particularly enjoyed seeing two Passmore Edwards libraries, in Shepherd’s Bush and Acton (my admiration for the Edwardians and all their works increases every time I explore like this). It was nice properly to inspect the old milestone in Ealing rather than to squint at it stuck in a traffic jam. Below are some photos. Check the much larger set on Flickr here. Next we’ll do a Hogarth walk from Leicester Square to Chiswick.

My thanks to fellow London Historians member Deborah Metters (@rosamundi) for her excellent company on this odyssey.

The site of the Tyburn scaffold. Apparently.

The site of the Tyburn scaffold. Apparently.

Passmore Edwards Public Library, Acton.

Passmore Edwards Public Library, Acton.

1832 milestone, Ealing Common.

1832 milestone, Ealing Common.


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