Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Old Goat of Piccadilly

Old QThe unprepossessing character above is William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensbury, otherwise known as Old Q or, as this print published in 1796 when he was 71 years of age, puts it, ‘The Old GOAT of Piccadilly.’

His Grace was every bit as dissolute and dissipated as this print shows him. He had a long life – 1725-1810 – and, as Jerry White says, he was ‘one of the most outrageous gamblers and sybarites of his own or any other age.’ (London in the 18th Century). He succeeded his father as Earl of March in 1731 and was known for most of his long and scandal-filled life by that title, only inheriting the dukedom on the death of his uncle in 1786. He was a passionate gambler, so it was fortunate that he was incredibly wealthy. In 1750 he bet that he could make a four-wheeled carriage drawn by four horses and carrying one man cover a nineteen mile course in one hour. This was considered impossible but, by throwing money at it, the earl had a series of experimental carriages made, each stripped down to nothing more than a basic framework. The harness was made of silk and whalebone and the unfortunate groom driving it had virtually nothing to cling to. He won in a time of 53 minutes 27 seconds. His other notorious bet was that he could send a letter 50 miles in an hour which he achieved by putting it in a cricket ball and having twenty bowlers stand in a measured circle throwing it from one to another continuously.

Throughout his adult life the duke was a passionate pursuer of women, especially actresses to whom he was exceedingly generous, for example building Kitty Frederick a house at 135, Piccadilly next door to his own at 138. He never married but, not surprisingly he had numerous illegitimate children.  In 1795 he had the woods around Drumlanrigg and Neidpath castles in Scotland felled and sold to provide a dowry for Maria Fagniani whom he believed to be his natural daughter. (She did rather well financially – George Selwyn left her a fortune under the impression that she was his child!)

Felling the forests made him the enemy of Robert Burns – ‘The worm that gnawed my bonny trees, That reptile wears a ducal crown…’ and William Wordsworth  – “Degenerate Douglas! Oh the unworthy Lord!”

Old Q’s interest in women did not diminish with age and he became what we would now probably call a sex pest, driving around with a groom whose job it was to get down from the carriage and take notes to any young woman who caught his master’s roving eye. He would walk along Piccadilly, accosting women as he went and when he became too elderly for that he retreated to the balcony of his house and winked at women as they passed.

He was famous for his huge muff, shown in this print. Two medicine bottles are poking out of his pocket, one labelled “Renovating Balsam” the other “Velno’s vegetable syrup.” Presumably these are to revive his flagging energies. The caption reads:

A Shining Star – in the British Peerage

And a usefull Ornament to Society___Fudge.



Filed under Gentlemen, Sex & scandal

Turn Again Whittington – there’s a traffic jam ahead

If you follow the Great North Road out of London towards York and Edinburgh you come to the village of Highgate four miles after leaving Smithfield, the traditional starting point of the road. These days you fight your way out through heavy traffic on the A1 along the Holloway Road to a one-way system encircling the Victorian Archway Tavern and next to the Archway Underground statiBlack and white Archway cropon. Ahead lies Archway Road running through a deep cutting and spanned after half a kilometre by the bridge carrying Hornsea Lane over the top. If you want to visit Highgate Village itself you need to take the fork off the one-way system just before Archway Road, to drive up Highgate Hill, past the modern Whittington Stone pub and the Whittington Stone itself sitting beside the pavement.
If you had been making your way along this route in the mid-14th century you would have no problem with traffic, fumes, noise or jams. But you would have been lurching along a muddy track sunk deep between the fields on either side – the original Hollow Way – until it turned and followed the route of Highgate Hill, for there was no cutting and easy route where Archway Road now runs. You would have armed outriders if you could afford them and a stout cudgel if you could not, because you would be deep in the country here and making your way through an area notorious for footpads or worse.

In the mid 14th century a hermit, William Phelippe, was living in a cell on the lower slopes of Highgate Hill – a great lump of London Clay rising to 423 feet above sea level, a formidable obstacle. William seems to have been that unlikely creature, a wealthy hermit, for he approached the King Edward III with the proposal that he pay for the excavation of gravel from near-by pits and use it to improve the road surface. In return he would set up a toll-bar to tax all wheeled traffic and pack-horses that passed carrying goods. The king duly granted a decree “to our well-beloved William Phelippe, the hermit” who charged two pence per week to each cart with iron-shod wheels, one penny if not iron-shod. Pack horses were charged one farthing a week.Stone crop

It was north along this improved road that young Dick Whittington, a poor apprentice who had failed to make his fortune in London, was trudging one day, with, so legend tells us, his cat. He paused near to where the Whittington Stone now stands, to rest before tackling Highgate Hill and there he heard the bells of the City calling, “Turn again Whittington, thrice mayor of London.” So he did, and made his fortune and the rest is the stuff of traditional tales and modern pantomime.

But Richard Whittington did exist – he was Lord Mayor in 1397, 1406 and 1420, he was knighted, he was one of the richest men of his time and a notable philanthropist whose charities are still in existence. A succession of Stones has marked the spot – the current one was erected in 1821. The etching above shows the previous version, dated 1608.

By the late 18th century Highgate was a prosperous village with a tollgate on the Great North Road and a good coaching and posting trade, for all the traffic still had to climb the hill and go down its main street at the summit. It was a popular place for early commuters, amongst them Grimaldi the clown who was robbed on the hill by footpads in 1807 returning home from performing at Sadler’s Wells theatre. Fortunately when the thieves saw his pocket watch with his portrait in costume painted on the dial they apologized profusely and returned it!

But the increase in coaching traffic meant something had to be done about the hill. Ackermann’s Repository (November 1822) records that, “At Highgate-Hill, over which one of the great north roads branches from the metropolis, a formidable steep presents itself, and which, until about ten years ago, was endured, but liberally abused, by the sufferers obliged to pass it.”

Archway 1822
First, attempts were made to tunnel through it but the tunnel collapsed in April 1812, fortunately after the workmen had left at the end of the working day. The tunnel was abandoned and a great cutting driven through, bridged by a massive archway designed by John Nash to carry Hornsea Lane. It took up a considerable width of the carriageway and was eventually replaced in 1900.

The new Archway Road was cut through on the eastern side of the old Archway Tavern which can be seen with the tollgate to the right in the black and white engraving at the top of the post. This is dated in Old And New London as 1825, but trying to accurately date the prints I have of the Archway is a nightmare.

The small rectangular coloured one above is from the Repository (1822) and shows the view beyond the tollgate. But the two rectangular images below are much more problematic if compared to the black and white oneArchway early 1. They are two sides of a very large print that was too big to go in my scanner so the unfortunate cow in the middle has lost its hindquarters, I’m afraid.

One shows the Archway Tavern which, oddly, has lost the upper part of the right-hand wing which is clearly illustrated in the black and white print. Highgate Hill goes off to the side and the pond, which is shown in the black and white print as walled, has no wall. The other sideArchway east shows Holloway Road coming in from the right and the tollgate before Archway Hill.
To the right just beyond the tollgate is a neo-Gothic building which, according to my early Victorian Ordnance Survey maps, is the Whittington College almhouses, one of Dick Whittington’s charities. The almshouses were moved to this site in 1809 but the neo-Gothic building was not erected until 1822 which means that the black and white print must have been made before that date. This print is an 1823 re-working of an 1813 print which has been changed to show the new almshouses. There’s an image of the original version on the Government Art Collection website.
It is difficult to reconcile this largely rural, village scene with the urban chaos on this site now – I doubt very much that Dick Whittington would have been able to hear the bells and hs cart would have probably been run over by a passing delivery van!


Filed under Buildings, Transport and travel