Archive for September, 2013

So wrote Charles Dickens in Bleak House.

In this Guest Post, Owen Davies and Louise Falcini from University of Hertfordshire explain how justice was conducted in the pubs of London during the 18C and 19C.  These are programme notes for our re-enactments of the Petty Sessions and the Coroner’s Inquest tonight and tomorrow evening at the George On the Strand. There are places available if you’re quick.

The inn or pub was central to the effective administration of local justice in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – until the rise of police courts. In many communities the inn or pub was the only readily-available, large, indoor space where public events could take place. So auctions were commonly held in pubs and so were the petty sessions (the forerunner of magistrates’ courts) and coroners’ inquests. The proceedings were normally held in an upstairs or back room of the pub, sometimes with their own entrances so that the magistrate or coroner need not pass through the beery throng. But the sounds of conviviality and the smell of alcohol and tobacco smoke would have pervaded the proceedings. Pub justice was a nice little earner for the landlord, who benefitted from payment for the room and the increased custom petty sessions and inquests invariably brought, with locals and thirsty witnesses quenching their curiosity and thirst.

Petty Sessions

Local justice scenarios provided rich pickings for satirists and cartoonists.

Petty sessions were presided over by Justices of the Peace (magistrates) in the counties, gentlemen and local squires of social and financial standing, and in urban Middlesex merchants and tradesmen. For much of the 18th century the position was unpaid, for some the prestige of being a royal officer was enough, for others there was a necessity to charge fees leading to the Middlesex epithet of a ‘trading justice’. In London, the Middlesex Justices Act of 1792 created stipendiary or paid magistrates with salaries of £400 a year. The rest of the country followed suit in later decades. The Justices did not need to have formal legal training and printed guides were available to ensure they knew their remit and the parameters of their power. They sat without a jury and could dispense small fines, order whippings, impose time at the Bridewell or House of Correction (an institution in which inmates would perform some kind of menial work or hard labour), bind individuals to keep the peace, or merely publicly admonish an individual. More serious cases would be sent to the Quarter Sessions, also presided over by a panel of magistrates, but with a jury. Serious offences were dealt with at the Assizes, although in Middlesex and the City of London these cases were heard at Gaol Delivery Sessions held at the Old Bailey.

Petty Sessions

Inquests were not trials but the proceedings resembled them. They were presided over by a coroner and not a magistrate. Coroners, mostly lawyers by training, were required to enquire into the circumstances of a sudden or suspicious death and to investigate its cause. Inquests were held very quickly after death. The Coroner would issue a warrant to summon 24 ‘able and sufficient men’ to act as jurors. From these local men 12 would be selected and empanelled to form the jury. The coroner and jurors would be required to ‘view’ the body before they began to hear evidence. Unlike at a criminal trial, the members of the jury had the right to question witnesses. If the jury decided on a verdict of murder or manslaughter, then the case would be brought to the Assizes or for cases arising in the City of London and Middlesex – the Old Bailey.

Owen Davies & Louise Falcini
University of Hertfordshire, September 2013

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MacDonald GillMost of us know Eric Gill (1882 – 1940), the renowned typographer and sculptor. Few, however, are familiar with his younger brother, MacDonald “Max” Gill (1884 – 1947), who doesn’t even have a proper entry on Wikipedia and nothing at all in the DNB. Hence the title of this exhibition, which opens today at the Pitzhanger Manor gallery in Ealing.

My first introduction to Max Gill was at last year’s Mind the Map exhibition at the London Transport Museum. I ended up featuring him strongly in my review, as he was unquestionably one of the stars of the show itself. Before and after the First World War, he was on the roster of commercial artists engaged by the Underground’s talented talent-spotter Frank Pick, and it was said that commuters actually missed their trains in order to enjoy Max’s cartoon map of central London: Wonderground. This poster, along with its ink preparatory sketch – plus other Gill items from the LTM collection – feature in this show.

But Underground posters are a tiny fraction of Max Gill’s output and not even particularly representative of his life’s work. A formally-trained architect, Max – like his brother – was a talented typographer and calligrapher, much evidenced here. You will also see his expertise in architectural illustration (naturally) but there are plenty of examples of his work in tapestry design, heraldry, monuments, book covers, invitations, advertisements, large-scale murals. He was unapologetically a commercial artist; a jack of all trades, and yet master of most of them. Compared with Eric’s modernism, Max’s work is highly detailed, drawing much more on the past. But look at his designs for the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Glasgow and you’ll see his deco elements, delivered effortlessly.

If he is remembered for anything, though, it will be his maps. They are exquisite, colourful, funny, playful, large, propagandistic (one of his main clients was the Empire Marketing Board). Visual puns abound. Dozens of examples feature in this exhibition.

MacDonald Gill

Post Office Wireless Stations, 1938.

MacDonald Gill

Tea Revives the World (detail), 1940

Max Gill had been married for twenty years when in the late 1930s his private life became complicated when he fell in love with his god-daughter, the attractive Priscilla Johnston, 26 years his junior. This is Johnston as in Edward Johnston the typographer of London Transport’s typeface, friend of the Gill brothers and mentor of Eric in particular. You see, Priscilla was his daughter. I mention this only because in the show are two letters from 1938 in reaction to this situation breaking cover: one from Johnston to Priscilla, his daughter – forgiving; and one from Eric to Max – the opposite, berating. Both writers, as one might expect, had beautiful handwriting. There is also a rather nice letter, after Max’s death from his first wife Muriel to Priscilla.

These letters are in addition to diaries, notebooks, sketchbooks, Max’s pens, nibs, rulers, T-square, tools of his trade. Even the brass plate from his architecture practice. So Out of the Shadows is a very intimate exhibition as well as being a very complete one.

MacDonald Gill

Notebook: Trains, aged 12, 1896.

MacDonald Gill

Architectural sketch. Wisborough Green, 1935.

MacDonald Gill

Mural of North Atlantic for RMS Queen Mary.

This show is curated by Max Gill’s great-niece, Caroline Walker, alongside Edward Johnston’s grandson Andrew Johnston and Andrew’s wife Angela. The Johnstons provided many of the exhibits and personal memorabilia featured in this show. Caroline has determined to bring the artist’s life and work to a wider audience. A book is in the pipeline, but meantime visit her MacDonald Gill website and sign up to her newsletters which you’ll receive from time to time. There is a good gallery of Max’s work there too on this page.

So. Out of the Shadows. A one-man exhibition of the most charming and breathtaking inter-war commercial art. I shall definitely go again, probably several times. You should too. And it’s free.

The show runs until 2 November. Information here.

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Georgian London, Lucy InglisMany of us enjoy and admire Lucy Inglis’s blog, Georgian London. Now: the book. Subtitled Into the Streets. The reason for this, I’m guessing, is not because it focuses on street urchins, noises, smells and the like – although there are sufficient of those – but that it is organised by geographical area rather than by theme.

London was a hugely different city in 1830 from that of 1714. Through this geographic approach – chapter by chapter – the author shows us almost literally how the streetscapes, buildings and houses developed through the decades, who made them, who lived in them, who worked in them.

So we start in the City, specifically new St Paul’s which was completed at the very dawn of our period; Westminster follows, then Bloomsbury, Mayfair, Soho, spiralling outwards to the burgeoning suburbs and especially towards the end of the era the industrial explosion in the East along with the docks and wharves of the world’s number one trading capital.

On this framework are draped stories of the most fascinating people, great and small. Historians of London may know some of them: the Fieldings, Jonas Hanway, Mary Wortley Montagu (my heroine!), and so on. And while the big celebrities of the age – Hogarth, Johnson, Reynolds etc – are nodded at in passing, the writer has rightly glossed over them to serve up the lesser-known but no less absorbing. So we learn, rather, of carving entrepreneur Mary Coade; Peter the Wild Boy; the French gingerbread maker, Tiddy Doll; the Hackney justice Henry Norris; possibly my favourite – James Brydges, Duke of Chandos – who was rubbish at business but a fabulous patron of music and art, a gentleman collector with taste who once invited his losing opponent in a duel to join him for dinner; and dozens of others. Do we have their equivalents today? Perhaps it’s because I don’t often read the Daily Mail, but I really don’t think so.

While her dramatis personae entertain us, Inglis mixes in sundry Georgian miscellanea. Did you know that blind musicians were engaged to play at orgies in Covent Garden? Or that corpses for dissections were priced on complicated sliding scale, where dead infants were costed by the inch? That the sedan chair business was monopolised by Irishmen, acknowledged by visitors to be the best in Europe?

While all of this may make us smile, darker, weightier and more serious themes are not neglected. Gang violence, poverty and philanthropy, immigrants, pornography, lunacy, slums, prisons, brothels. Also public leisure, East End non-conformism and the emergence of radicalism, hospitals, public health. It’s all there.

Inglis has a good ear for the outlandish, the farcical, the bizarre and the macabre. This gives the book an anecdotal and gossipy timbre without diminishing in any way its authority. She has succeeded in balancing tones, themes, facts and stories in a package which delivers a wonderful popular history of Hanoverian London.

It’s a recipe which makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read and I’m thinking we may expect more of this writing style as talented bloggers are increasingly identified for recognition in print.

The book is generously illustrated with contemporary illustrations and maps, early in the period by Roque (1745) , very late in the era by John Greenwood (1829).


Georgian London: Into the Streets (400pp) is published by Viking (Penguin) today (5 September) with a cover price of £20.00, but is available for less.

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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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