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Archive for the ‘Victorian period’ Category

A guest post by London Historians member, Martyn Cornell, first published in our members’ newsletter from July 2014.

It is doubtful that many of the hipsters drinking their craft-brewed, hoppy IPAs in rough-walled, high-ceilinged pubs in Hoxton and Hackney realise that the beers they are sipping have their historical roots not very far away, and that the very first beers to be called IPAs – India Pale Ales – were made by East London brewers.

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Abbott’s Pale Ale, circa 1850.

Pale ale as a style of drink seems to have originated as a country speciality, popular among the gentry, and according to one 18th century writer it only came to London in the reign of Queen Anne, when those same gentry began spending more time in the capital, bringing their tastes with them. The popular drink in the capital was and remained a type of well-hopped dark brown beer that would eventually develop into the style known as porter, because of its popularity with the street and river porters of London. However, some London brewers began brewing pale ales as well, and not just for the home market: there is evidence that the Fountain brewery by the Hermitage in Wapping was exporting pale ale (and stout) to the West Indies from early in the 18th century.

One point of difference between the export pale ales and those sold at home was that, in order to survive the journey overseas, the export ales had to be more heavily hopped – one third more hops was “absolutely necessary” for beer sent into a warmer climate, according to one writer in 1768 – and heavier hopping is what links those 18th century ales sent out on sailing ships to hotter climes and the sorts drunk today in craft beer bars.

Ale and beer were being exported to the East Indies as well by at least 1711, carried there in the ships of the East India Company, which had a monopoly on trade between India and Britain. The company allowed its commanders and crew to carry all sorts of goods out east to sell to Europeans settled in places such as Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, including furniture, china and, clothes, foodstuffs, wine and cider, as well as beer. A ship’s commander could make up to £12,000 a year from private business, and by 1784 it had become the usual (though illegal) practice for an East Indiaman captain to sell his command to his successor for between 4,000 and 7,000 guineas.

The East Indiamen, as the ships were called, loaded up at Blackwall, just down-river from the Isle of Dogs. Generally, it seems, and certainly by the end of the 18th century, the commanders and captains did not travel very far to buy their beer, getting it from the brewery founded in 1752 at Bow, just up the Lea, by George Hodgson. It seems it was not just Hodgson’s nearness that attracted the officers of the East Indiamen, and the way that his beers could be easily shipped down the Lea by barge, but also that he gave them lengthy credit of up to 18 months: since a round trip to India could not be done in much less than 10 months, this was very handy.

Hodgson is sometimes said to have discovered the need to heavily hop ale that was being shipped out east, but there is no evidence for this at all, and nor is there any evidence that his was the first pale ale shipped to India: he was just doing what every brewer knew needed to be done to export ale. But while other London brewers also exported beer to India, his became the best known. Although Hodgson sold porter as well as pale ale to the East Indiaman commanders, it was for pale ale that the Bow brewery became most famous, perhaps because only the soldiers and servants drank porter in India, while the officers and gentlemen drank pale ale. It even had a song written about it, “sung at many a pigstick party and race meeting in the thirties, forties and fifties”:

Who has not tasted of Hodgson’s pale beer
With its flavour the finest that hops ever gave?
It drives away sadness, it banishes fear,
And imparts a glad feeling of joy to the grave.

O! to drink it at morning, when just from our bed
We rise unrefreshed, and to breakfast sit down,
The froth-crested brimmer we raise to our head,
And in swigging off Hodgson, our sorrows we drown.

By 1813 the Bow brewery was selling 4,000 barrels of beer for export to the east. Four years later the brewery was rebuilt by Bow Bridge, 230 yards east of its original site, and where a pub called the Bombay Grab had been running since at least 1805. (The name of this now-closed pub almost certainly comes from an East India Company warship, the Bombay Grab, a three-masted armed cruiser of the Bombay Marine active in the 1780s, of which an oil painting exists in the British Museum. A “grab” was a two-masted Eastern coasting-vessel or galley, from the Arabic gurab.) The brewery was rebuilt again in 1821, at which point its owners, Frederick Hodgson and Thomas Drane, decided that they were now going to cut out the East Indiamen’s officers and ship their beer to India themselves, thus taking all the profits from the operation.

 

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The Bow Brewery, circa 1928.

Unfortunately for them, the East India Company was so angered at this attempt to reduce the income of its ships’ commanders that it invited the brewers of Burton upon Trent to turn to the India pale ale trade. Within a few years Burton brewers such as Bass and Allsopp had captured the majority of pale ale sales in India.

Curiously, all this time the name “India Pale Ale” had still not come into use. Instead it was called “Pale Ale brewed expressly for the India market”, “Pale Ale as prepared for India” and similar circumlocutions. The first known use of the term “India Pale Ale” (or to be exact, “East India Pale Ale”) comes from a newspaper in Sydney, Australia in 1829, when it appears to be referring to a beer brewed by Taylor Walker’s brewery in Limehouse. The first known use of the term India Pale Ale in Britain does not occur for another six years, in an advertisement in the Liverpool Mercury newspaper published in 1835, though this time it was for Hodgson’s “very superior” East India Pale Ale, the London brewer evidently trying to get at least some of the Liverpool shipping trade otherwise easily supplied from Burton.

The trade for India Pale Ale at home, meanwhile, appears to still have been pretty limited. But in 1839 the railway arrived in Burton upon Trent, and within a couple of years the Burton brewers began shipping increasing quantities of their IPAs around Britain by rail – in particular to London, where IPA soon became popular with the middle classes. (One visible sign of this trade can still be seen down the east side of St Pancras Station, opposite King’s Cross Station, where the attractive arch-windowed frontage was once the stores for the Burton brewer Thomas Salt, with room for 20,000 barrels.)

London’s pre-eminence as the original home of India Pale Ale had now fallen away, helped by the fact that, unfortunately, Burton well-water, saturated with gypsum, or calcium sulphate, made a much better sparkling pale ale than London water, which is better suited to dark beers. Indeed, several big London brewers, including Charrington’s of Mile End and Truman Hanbury and Buxton of Brick Lane, had opened branch breweries in Burton to supply their pubs with pale ales, which is why many old Truman’s pubs still say on their stone frontages things like “London Stout & Burton Brewed Bitters”.

Meanwhile the firm that had once been synonymous with the Indian beer market faded into obscurity. From at least 1838 the Bow brewery partnership was known as Hodgson and Abbott, after apparently merging with Edwin Abbott of the Sun brewery in Wapping. It was “Abbott (late Hodgson & Abbott) by 1843, but by 1849 Edwin Abbott & Son, Pale Ale and Stout Brewers, were in business on their own at the Bow Bridge brewery. The operation was eulogised in 1861 by the comic writer Charles Stuart Calverley, who wrote a poem called Beer that began:

O Beer! O Hodgson, Guinness, Allsopp, Bass!
Names that should be on every infant’s tongue!

though while the last three were still huge names, the Hodgsons had been completely replaced at the Bow Brewery by the Abbotts at least 18 years before the poem appeared. In 1863 the concern became the Bow Brewery Co Ltd, and in 1869 it turned into Smith, Garrett & Co. In 1927 Smith Garrett was taken over by Taylor Walker of Limehouse. The Bow brewery was eventually demolished in 1933 to make way for London County Council flats.


Martyn Cornell is a historian of beer and brewing who likes to boast that he was born on the site of the former Upper Flask pub in Hampstead. He is a member of the editorial board of Brewery History, the journal of the Brewery History Society, and a founder member of the British Guild of Beer Writers. His publications include Amber, Gold and Black, a history of the beer styles of Britain (priced outrageously on Amazon at time of writing). Also Strange Tales of Ale, more than two dozen historical anecdotes involving beer, from flying mild ale to the D-Day troops in the drop-tanks of Spitfires to history’s most notorious brewer.’

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Yesterday I went along to three exhibitions by City of London institutions which opened recently. All are well worth visiting; all are free.

Guildhall Art Gallery: Sublime Symmetry
This exhibition features the works of William De Morgan, the late 19th century London ceramicist, friend and collaborator of William Morris, GF Watts and many others. We are long-standing fans of De Morgan. The closure of a dedicated gallery in Wandsworth some years ago tragically meant that a huge collection of his work, which is owned by the De Morgan Foundation, has been kept behind closed doors. It’s important therefore to do all you can to get to this show. The theme is De Morgan’s background in mathematics, how that meshed with his interest in Islamic symmetical forms and from there informed his decorative work. The artist’s father and brother were both celebrated mathemeticians. Augustus De Morgan was the founding Professor of Mathematics at UCL, friend and correspondent of Ada Lovelace among others, and clearly a warm and funny character. It felt good to meet him. But of course, the stars of the show are De Morgan’s sumptuous, exquisite works. Vases, bowls, dishes, tiles all beautifully decorated with figures from nature and myth.
This runs until 28 October.

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Guildhall Library: Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers
More a display than a full blown exhibition, this is the latest in the library’ series which features the City’s livery companies. This year celebrates the 450th anniversary of this company’s first Charter, granted by Elizabeth I 1568, although the company can trace its origins back to 1416. We are shown many objects from its collection, well complemented by items from the library as well. This includes probably my favourite, the so-called “Breeches” Bible from 1589, which was used for the administration of oaths. It is, of course, a late generation English bible before the advent of the Authorised Version (1611) and furhermore is the only example of a chained book in the library’s collection.  In addition we have a trowel (of course), ledgers, ordnances and minute books, a loving cup and a portrait miniature of its most famous member, the playwright Ben Jonson who was a bricklayer before he made it big in the London theatre.
Runs until 31 August.

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The ‘Breeches’ Bible, 1598.

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Ben Jonson’s overdue subscription recorded as paid.

London Metropolitan Archives: Picturing Forgotten London
What I love about the LMA exhibitions – and this one is no exception – is that you see historical images that you’ve never seen before. Not one. This is remarkable considering the hundreds of London history books out there, not to mention what’s online. To choose one example, I thought I’d seen everything on frost fairs: not so!

The headline title is a broad topic indeed which features not forgotten London necessarily, but a London which simply no longer exists, whether the obvious things such a buildings, but also professions, animals, forms of government, everyday life, religion, commerce, housing, transport, technology, sport, food and welfare. The images which bring these themes to life – whether maps, engravings or photographs – are clearly heavily researched astutely chosen.

Warmly recommended. Runs until 31 August.

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London’s last frost fair, 1814.

By the time this print was published, just few days later, the ice had melted, and the fair gone forever. London Bridge can be seen in the distance.

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Rural Archway, 1841.

A winding lane with barns and a farmhouse. It is hard to imagine London’s built-up suburbs as open country but the last farms in the area only disappeared in the early twentieth century.

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Commercial warehousing, buildings and shops in front of St Pancras Station, 1871.

St. Pancras station opened in 1868 but the hotel and grand entrance were not completed until 1876. Older buildings were demolished as part of the project, including this row of houses and shops which stood nearby. It’s hard to imagine this picturesque scene on one of the busiest parts of Euston Road today.

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South Bank, 1952. Featuring County Hall and the Skylon.

This seemingly free-floating steel structure stood outside the Dome of Discovery on the main Festival of Britain site on the South Bank. With no particular function or message, ‘Skylon’ was nonetheless much loved. It was removed shortly after the closing of the Festival.

 

 

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A guest post by LH Member Ross MacFarlane. First published in London Historians Members’ Newsletter from June 2014.

As incidents of Victorian London go, “The Great Stink” of June 1858 must be one of the most familiar: the merest mention of the words brings to mind cartoons of filthy water (such as the one shown, below) and, most famous of all, the disruption of debates in the Houses of Commons due to the stench wafting in from the river.

But away from Westminster, what was the experience like for other Londoners? Was the Great Stink as bad downriver as it was in Parliament? Here’s a description of Rotherhithe from June 1858, sweltering in the summer heat:

Rotherhithe, in common with all other Metropolitan riverside parishes, has suffered considerable inconvenience during the just elapsed month from the stenches arising from the filthy state of the Thames water. Perhaps in the annals of mankind such a thing was never before known, as that the whole stream of a large river for a distance of seven or eight miles should be in a state of putrid fermentation. The cause of the putrescency, and of the blackish-green colour of the water, is admitted by all to be the hot weather acting upon the ninety millions of gallons of sewage which discharge themselves daily into the Thames. Now, by sewage, must be understood, not merely house and land drainage, but also drainage from bone-boilers, soap-boilers, chemical works, breweries, and above all from gas factories, the last, the most filthy of all, and the most likely to cause corruption of the water. Should any person doubt this assertion, let him compare the foul black and stinking liquid of a sewer which passes by a gas work, with that of a sewer which receives only house and land drainage…

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If you were any doubt about the effect of such proximity to the Thames during this period, this writer leaves you with little doubt how trying life was:
“It is quite impossible to calculate the consequences of such a moving mass of decomposition as the river at present offers to our senses…”

The author of this graphic account was not a noted author nor a campaigning journalist but Dr William Murdoch, then Medical Officer of Health for Rotherhithe, and his account of the summer stench of 1858 comes from his Report on the health of the area he submitted to the Parish of Rotherhithe for that year. It’s also one of the many accounts of life in London revealed through the Wellcome Library’s digitisation project, London’s Pulse: Medical Officer of Health Reports, 1848-1972.

Launched in late 2013, London’s Pulse brings together more than 5500 annual reports from Medical Officers of Health (MoHs) covering the City of London, 32 present-day London boroughs, their predecessors, as well reports from the London County Council and the Port of London.

The reports have been photographed cover-to-cover and turned into text using Optical Character Recognition. Along with the full text, around 275 000 tables have been extracted from the reports as individual files (downloadable as text, HTML, XML and CSV). All this data – as well as images of each page of every report – can be downloaded, freely, from London’s Pulse.

The website also includes contextualising essays from Dr Becky Taylor of Birkbeck and a detailed timeline, placing the reports amongst the forest of legislation which altered the responsibilities of MoHs.

Briefly summarised by Dr Andrea Tanner, MoHs duties – as required by law – “were to inspect and report from time to time on the sanitary condition of their district, to enquire into the existence of disease and into increases in the death rate, to explain the likely causes of disease in their area and to recommend measures to counteract ill-health”.

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As such, analysing MoH reports allows us firstly to trace responses to the major infectious diseases of the 19th century, showing how disease outbreaks could quickly spread but yet, over time, how rates of morality gradually fell across the capital and such maladies as typhoid, smallpox and diphtheria gradually retreated from our streets.

At the same time, the responsibilities of MoHs increased: from their introduction following legislation in the 1840s and 1850s, the scope of their attention widened: from homes, to factories, to ports, to schools; to bakehouses, to dairies and to slaughterhouses – all would come under the gaze of the MoH and their growing staff of sanitation officials, school nurses and environmental officials. The amount of access obtained by the MoH and their staff to these differing kinds of properties illustrates why these reports tell us so much about the lives (and deaths) of previous generations of Londoners.

As such, the reports show just how much information can nominally come under the heading of “medical”: these reports have been used in the past for studies on such wildly differing topics as food and food safety; maternity and child welfare; health promotion; housing; pollution; manufacturing; shops and offices; sanitation; social care; civil liberties; demography; engineering and meteorological conditions. With the greater amount of access provided by London’s Pulse, we hope even more research topics may be added to this list – to take two examples, the London Sound Survey website has started to use the website to uncover what these reports can tell us about London’s attitude towards noise and the Municipal Dreams blog has incorporated data from London’s Pulse into its detailed accounts of the activities of municipal reformers.

As strong as these reports are as evidence, there are of course just one source on London’s health from the 19th century onwards. Given the local level these reports operate on, much supporting material for them can be found at London’s local studies libraries and archives and to promote London’s Pulse and flag up such material, the Wellcome Library held events earlier this year in association with local libraries and archives in Tower Hamlets, Kensington and Chelsea, Southwark and Camden.

Preparing for these events only emphasised the breadth of London life observed by the MoHs. To take the context of London’s response to the First World War, through London’s Pulse you can see illustrations of how manufacture was affected, the effects of the housing shortage, attacks by Zeppelins and even discussion over whether gunfire on the Western Front was behind the increase in rainfall in south East England in 1915 and 1916…

But at the heart of the reports on London’s Pulse are the responses by MoHs and their staff to the health of their local populations. What comes through most of all from the reports is the MoHs attention to detail: their diligent reporting and statistical accounting of the well-being of their local area. Whether it’s in their intense detection into the exact site of a disease outbreak or even in risking injury when illegal traders respond angrily to their investigation of adulterated foodstuffs; MoHs and their staff respond to the challenges they face with a stoic sense of duty. With London’s Pulse we can look at London life through their eyes and see the problems these relatively unsung figures responded to and how they helped alter our city for the better.


London’s Pulse: Medical Officer of Health Reports, 1848-1972 


Ross MacFarlane
Ross MacFarlane is Research Development Lead at Wellcome Collection, where he is heavily involved in promoting the Wellcome’s library collections. He has researched, lectured and written on such topics as the history of early recorded sound, freak shows and notions of urban folklore in Edwardian London. He has led guided walks around London on the occult past of Bloomsbury and on the intersection of medicine, science and trade in Greenwich and Deptford. As an archivist, he has worked at a number of London institutions including King’s College, Tate Britain, the Royal Society and the Reform Club. Whilst doing so he has handled a mermaid, discovered a lost alchemy manuscript written by Isaac Newton and found out almost too much about Henry Wellcome.

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A guest post by London Historians member David Brown. This article was first published in London Historians Members’ Newsletter from June 2014.

I live close to Belsize Park, a largely Victorian residential suburb in North London with a tube station on the Northern Line. Walk around today and it is a rather pleasant place to live and visit – but you will also find the footprint of the earlier and rather grander history of the area, based around what was the grandest house in Hampstead. The street layout today echoes the grand gardens that were visited by
Sam Pepys and John Evelyn. It’s an area really worth visiting.

The name of the area comes from the old French “Bel Assis” or beautifully situated, referring to its geographical position on Haverstock Hill with views out over the City of London. It has had a long association with Westminster Abbey who received fifty-seven acres of Hampstead land in 1317 from Sir Roger le Brabazon, who was Lord Chief Justice for King Edward II. Westminster Abbey leased the land to a stream of different landowners, and the first grand house is thought to have been built in 1496, and became the home of the Waad family (the most famous member is probably Armigell Waad who thought to have been an early visitor to North American, travelling to Newfoundland in 1536) . The house was rebuilt several times – in 1663 by Colonel Daniel O’Neil. His son Lord Wotton improved the house by adding a large park possibly employing John Tradescant the younger to do so – it certain impressed Sam Pepys who visited on 17th August 1668 reporting the gardens “too good for the house … the most noble that ever I saw, and brave Orange and Lemon trees”, although John Evelyn by contrast was unimpressed – he found the gardens ill-kept and the soil “a cold weeping clay”. The gardens also boasted lakes made from a tributary of the River Tyburn that rises in the area.

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Belsize Park on Roque’s map of 1746.

New life to the house and park came in 1704 when they were leased by entrepreneur Charles Povey. He turned the house into a public attraction, with music, dancing and gambling. The gardens were used for deer-hunting, horse racing, and even footman racing. Belsize Park became well known as a Pleasure Garden well before Ranelagh and Vauxhall Gardens opened. The Prince and Princess of Wales visited in 1721, and this stamp of approval led to huge attendances – with over 300 coaches a day visiting the gardens. The management also provided a dozen sturdy armed guards to protect visitors as they travelled between Belsize Park and London. The resort faced the same difficulties as other resorts and became known as a “scandalous and lew’d house” leading to its closure by local magistrate in the 1740s. Early maps of the area show the house and the boundary of the old house – and a painting exists showing the original estate.

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View of a House and its Estate in Belsize, Middlesex 1690, b, Jan Siberechts – Tate Britain.

The house was rebuilt in 1745 as a private house. The only Prime Minister to have the misfortune to be assassinated, Spencer Perceval lived here with his family from 1798 to 1807 – he is remembered in the modern street Perceval Avenue close to this spot. The house was rebuilt again in 1812, and survived until it was demolished in 1853. It was incidentally on the route of one of Charles Dicken’s regular walks – and he wrote about a murder that took place on Cut-Throat lane – a path that skirted the park on the east.

Today there are two small remainders of the park – an old mulberry tree in the garden on the site of the house, and a part of the brick wall of the original estate (not easily visible from the public road).

Belsize Park is famous for the rather grand houses built by builder and speculator Daniel Tidey. He started building in this area in 1856, and finally overstretched himself in 1869 when he was bankrupted. Tidey houses are large (6 to 8 bedrooms), typically semi-detached villas and were built for well-off people such as merchants, and professionals. They were built to a fairly standard design with white stucco, and many have a large bay at the back in the main reception rooms – a Tidey introduction intended to be used for the grand pianos that were become widely used in this period.

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Typical Daniel Tidey “Belsize Park” houses.

The House and Park became Belsize Square – a large rectangular space, surrounded by Tidey Houses, with the local church at the north end . The church St Peter’s Belsize Square (architects J P St Aubyn and W Mumford) was completed in 1859. The name of the church is linked to Westminster Abbey – as it provided the land. The church was largely paid for by the first Vicar – Rev Dr Francis Tremlett, who also paid for the building of a massive vicarage (now demolished) at the southern end of the Square. Tremlett is an interesting character – travelling to the US when young to preach to the poor, he met his wife who provided his money, returned to the UK to become Vicar of St Peter’s, and remained Vicar for overr over 50 years. He was quite a character, being one of the strongest supporters of the South in the US Civil War. He was a key player lobbying the government to support the South, and the vicarage became known as “The Rebel Roost” as many Confederate Officers spent time staying with him in Belsize Park – including the Admiral and Officers of the CSS Alabama when it was sunk off the coast of Cherbourg in 1864. After the war he was visited by Andrew Davis the Confederate President.

To learn more about the local area, it is very well documented, and you can read about the details in the Streets of Belsize edited by Peter Woodford and revised by Christopher Wade, Camden History Society, 2009. The area also benefits from two local history DVDs, The Belsize Story Volume 1 and Volume 2 both with commentary by Fiona Bruce, and produced by film producer David Percy.



David Brown is a historian, genealogist and London Walking Guide. David is also available to provide customised tours of many parts of London including the Belsize Park area. Camden Tour Guides Association runs regular tour guiding courses, and the next one will start in September – we welcome any historians who are interested in the London Borough of Camden, and would like to learn guiding techniques. You can find out more and apply at camdenguides.com.

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The Wandsworth Prison Museum was founded and has been run by a London Historians Member for the past 10 years. He is a serving prison officer at HMP Wandsworth. He has organised these on-site events during 2018.

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WANDSWORTH PRISON MUSEUM
2008-2018 10th Anniversary Events

20.5.18 Boardroom Talk “ The Prison & the First World War” Spies, hangings,
Conscientious Objectors, Easter Rising.

8.7.18 “The Ronnie Biggs escape” (8.7.1965) External and internal wall walk
and talk during the history tour of the escape.

8.9.18 Boardroom talk “Wandsworth’s Last hanging and the end of capital
punishment” (8.9.1961)

4.11.18 Boardroom talk “Oscar Wilde, his time at HMP Wandsworth

The above events are taking place for a maximum of 20 per event, as part of a small scale celebration of 10 years of the Wandsworth Prison Museum.

The venue for the talks is the Governor’s Boardroom inside the prison but all groups will meet initially at the Wandsworth Prison Museum at 11am. The talks and one walk will be for approximately one hour.

To book.
As the venue is inside the prison, the following is needed to make a booking:
Name, address and date of birth of each visitor. Visitors must be over the age of 18.
One booking per person, which is not transferable as there may be a waiting list should any event be over booked.
Bookings can be made by emailing: Wandsworthprisonmuseum@hmps.gsi.gov.uk or in writing at Wandsworth Prison Museum, C/O POA Office, Heathfield Road, London SW18 3HS

The above is the current agenda, other events may be added if time and resources permit

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in our time

I am a massive fan of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time, BBC Radio 4 most Thursdays at 9am. There are various ways you can search it, but as a service to our readers, here is a list of the London-related ones.

Aphra Behn
Annie Besant
Athelstan

Thomas Becket
Bedlam
The Black Death
The Bluestockings
The Book of Common Prayer
Boudica
Robert Boyle
Brunel
Fanny Burney

Caxton and the Printing Press
Chaucer

Mrs Dalloway
The Death of Elizabeth I
Dickens
The Domesday Book

The East India Company
Englishness
The Enlightenment in Britain

Michael Faraday
The [Great] Fire of London
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

The Gin Craze
The Great Exhibition of 1851

William Hazlitt
Octavia Hill
Holbein at the Tudor Court
Robert Hooke

[Samuel] Johnson

London

Marlowe
Milton

The Novel

Titus Oates and His ‘Popish Plot’

The Peasants’ Revolt
Pocahontas
[Alexander] Pope
The Putney Debates

The Restoration
The Royal Society

The Scriblerus Club
Seventeenth Century Print Culture
The  South Sea Bubble
Suffragism

The Trial of Charles I
The Tudor State

Utilitarianism

Oscar Wilde
Mary Wollstonecraft


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This article first appeared in London Historians Members’ Newsletter of December 2013.
by Essie Fox

Most of us are fully aware of Queen Victoria’s terrible grief at the time of her husband’s sudden death. We know the story of John Brown, the servant on whom she came to depend. But there is one story, not so well known, regarding the Queen’s affection for an Indian Maharajah who was brought to live in England when deposed from his Punjabi throne at the end of the second Anglo-Sikh War (1848/9).

The Maharajah Duleep Singh was a handsome and glamorous prince whose life was dramatic and filled with intrigue, not to mention a sad and tragic end. He became the ruler of the Punjab when barely more than an infant. But, by the age of 11, he had been removed from his mother’s care and was held at the fort of Futteghar where, influenced by his new British ‘friends’, he converted to Christianity. After that he was brought to England and became very popular at court where Victoria and Albert encouraged the prince’s friendship with their own royal children.

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Duleep Singh, 1854, by court painter Franz Winterhalter (1805 – 73).

Also brought to England from India was what had been Duleep’s sovereign symbol: the sacred Koh-i-noor diamond, taken as ransom at the time of the Annexation of Lahore. The diamond inspired much interest when exhibited in 1851 at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, after which it was set as a brooch and worn by Queen Victoria. It was reduced to half its size when Prince Albert had its facets re-cut in an effort to improve the way the diamond reflected the light.

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The new design for the Koh-I-Noor, and how it looked pre-cut. From the Illustrated London News.

It was in the White Room at Buckingham Palace where Duleep and his diamond became reunited – a poignant and symbolic scene when Victoria commissioned Winterhalter, her favourite portrait artist, to make a likeness of the prince in an exotic, idealised work that remains in the Royal Collection today.

One day, while Duleep was posing in his Sikh ceremonial robes the Queen appeared in the White Room too, instructing the prince to close his eyes and hold out his hands – into which she then placed the Koh-i-noor.

No doubt she was only testing the maharajah’s loyalty. And although he had the good sense to hand the stone back into her palms, Duleep admitted to intimates that he had been insulted and was more than tempted to throw the stone out of an open window. He called the Queen Mrs Fagin – the handler of stolen property. He would also have been very much aware of the ancient curse upon the stone – which was that any man who held it would see his line disappear from the light.

Duleep’s line did indeed disappear. He married and had several children, but no grandchildren. And then, in his middle years, when Duleep became disaffected, often asking for the diamond’s return, it could have been that he believed in another well-known prophecy: if the stone was returned to its homeland all foreign invaders would be cast out.

Fearing another Mutiny should Duleep attempt to reclaim his throne, Victoria’s advisors would never consent to giving the diamond back to him. They had the prince followed by British spies and eventually he was exposed as consorting with various dissidents, mainly those Russians and Irishmen with whom he had been making plans to march an army on the Punjab by route of Russia and Afghanistan. Duleep was exiled from England as well as India. He was forced to live out the rest of his life on the European continent, where he died at the age of 55 in a shabby Parisian hotel – but not before Victoria secretly met with pardoned him, and after which she brought her beautiful boy back to be buried in England – despite the maharajah’s wish for his remains to return to his native India.

So, Duleep’s life appeared to be cursed. But Victoria, who still possessed the stone, may well have received its blessings, with the diamond linked to a prophecy that any woman who owned it would then go on to rule the world. She did command an Empire, and became the Empress of India.


Essie Fox’s novel, The Goddess And The Thief features the Maharajah Duleep Singh and the myths surrounding the Koh-i-noor. Her Victorian debut, The Somnambulist, was selected for the Channel 4 Bookclub, and was nominated for the National Book Awards. Her latest book, The Last Days of Leda Grey features the Edwardian world of moving film and was selected as Historical Book of the Month by The Times. It was published in paperback on November 16 2017. Essie blogs as The Virtual Victorian, and her author website has many more details of her novels, with reviews, articles, and upcoming events: www.essiefox.com

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