Category Archives: Books

The Story of a Square 7: Finsbury Square

In my occasional series on the history of London Squares I am going eastwards to Finsbury Square, shown outlined in green in Horwood’s map of c1800.

Finsbury Square was built between 1777 and 1791 in an attempt, according to The London Encyclopaedia, to ‘recreate a West End atmosphere near the City’. The principal architect was Charles Dance, but others were involved, and each side of the Square was different. It was severely damaged during World War II and now none of the original buildings remain, nor the circular central garden.

It was built on the land marked on Roque’s map (1740s) below as Upper Moor Fields.

This was originally part of a larger marshy fen or moor outside the City walls which was fully drained in 1527. It ran from immediately north of the City walls and ditch, with the Wall Brook, draining into the City ditch, on the eastern side and a causeway (now the A501, City Road) to the west. Where the causeway met London Walls was the Moor Gate, built 1414 by the Lord Mayor Falconer ‘for ease of citizens that way to pass…into the fields…for their recreation.’ The print shows it at the time of its demolition in 1762.

On the western side Cheselstrete, now Chiswell Street, came in at a right angle to an area of the Moor called Mallow Field, bounded on the east by the parish boundary between St Leonard Shoreditch (east) and St Giles Without Cripplegate (west). The eastern part of the moor in St Leonard’s parish was simply called The Moor and, by the time of Roque’s map, was built over.

To the south of the junction of the causeway with Chiswell Street was the northern boundary of the City, By the 1740s narrow Ropemaker Alley ran along that line to the west and is now Ropemaker Street.

South of the City boundary and north of the Wall was Moor Field, its distorted rectangular shape preserved in the formal landscaped area behind the Bethlem Hospital marked as Moor Fields on Roque’s map. Finsbury Circus (1815-17) occupies much of this area today.

A 16th century illustrated map (below) shows these areas shortly after they were drained. Animals are pastured, archery practice is going on, laundry is laid out to dry and cloth is being stretched on tenterhooks. Finsbury Square occupies the area approximately where the horses are grazing.

By the 1740s the tenter grounds were clearly defined and laid out to the east and north of Upper and Lower Moor Fields and the adjoining Upper Moor Field to the west and, stretching up further north, was The Artillery Ground. The Honourable Artillery Company (who still provide the salutes at the Tower and on state occasions) continue to occupy the site which is now their sports field with the headquarters to the north. In 1672 Moor Gate was rebuilt and made higher so that the trained Bands (the local militia) could march through with their long pikes upright on their way to military exercises on the Moor.

In 1785, as work began on Finsbury Square, Vicenzo Lunardi, the Italian pioneer balloonist, took off from the Artillery Ground with a vast and excited crowd spilling out over the Moor all around. (He landed safely near Ware, in Hertfordshire.)

John Wallis, in his London (quoted below), incorporates  Pennant’s London Improved which mentions Moor Fields, describing the area immediately to the north of Bethlem Hospital as “The City Mall” a popular, tree-lined promenade.

The upper part which had been partly enclosed with a dwarf wall, contained waste, and was long a rendezvous for the boxers and wrestlers that composed old Vinegar’s [a bare knuckle boxer] Ring; and for mountebanks, methodist preachers, old iron stalls, etc.

Upper Moor Field might not, with its military drills, the gunfire of the Artillery Company and its use for such displays as balloon ascensions, fights and scrap iron sales,  seem to be an ideal place to erect a fashionable square. John Wallis in his London: Being a Complete Guide to the British Capital (1810) remarks:

A sudden transformation, as it were, of a marshy moor into the magnificent abodes of some of the wealthiest merchants in the metropolis, cannot be otherwise than interesting to the curious observer.

[An] improvement, truly magnificent, must certainly be admitted in the erection of Finsbury-square, and those new and elegant edifices which now cover all the northern site of ancient Moor-fields. This erection commenced about 1777. After this period the west side being erected first, the others rose with as little interruption as possible, and the whole was nearly inhabited in 1783; the rents, which then produced £4792, in 1797 encreased [sic] to £7598.

It is believed that Finsbury Square was the first public space permanently lit by gas.

The best-known occupant of Finsbury Square is probably Lackington’s Library, known as the Temple of the Muses, in the south-east corner. This vast shop, with a frontage of over forty three metres held a stock of thousands of volumes. I have devoted a post to London libraries, including Lackingtons, and you can read more about it here.

The exterior is shown below, in a print of 1828 when it was no longer owned by James Lackington. It burned down in 1841.

 

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Respectfully Inscribed?

This striking image was amongst a mixed lot of prints that I bought at auction and it struck me immediately as a strange choice for a dedications frontispiece!

The crippled ex-soldier begging looks angry to me – and who can blame him? He has lost a leg in the service of his country and has ended up in rags on the street having to beg for a living. The details are fascinating – the straw padding for his stump, the remains of his uniform jacket, the layers of clothing his torn stocking reveals.

I was also intrigued by the verse at the bottom –

Some write for pleasure, some for spite;

But want of Money makes me Write.

What was the book – and why the almost pointed dedication to the ‘Tradesmen of Lancashire; More Particularly of Manchester.’ Was it debts to these tradesmen that made the author write?

By searching for the inscription I found a British Museum entry for an uncoloured version from “Edward Orme’s “The passions humorously delineated…” (based on John Collier [pseud.: Tim Bobbins]’s “Human Passions delineated”, 1773).” With that I was able to find the whole book on-line in the Wellcome Library, including the twenty-five plates which show a range of emotions – anger, grief, contentment etc.

But who was Tim Bobbin, other than , apparently, John Collier? This is his self-portrait – an extraordinary, self-mocking, image that does not seem at first glance

John Collier by himself.

to be an 18th century man at all, until you realise that his close-cropped hair was to go under a wig.

John Collier, who liked to style himself ‘the Lancashire Hogarth’ – presumably with tongue in cheek – was born in Urmstone in Lancashire in 1708 and became a schoolteacher in Milnrow in Rochdale. He married, had nine children, and unsurprisingly needed extra money, so he began to write satirical poetry in Lancashire dialect. A View of the Lancashire Dialect, or, Tummus and Mary, published in 1746, is considered to be the first significant example of the dialect in print.

Human Passions Delineated came out in 1773 and my plate is from the colourised version which was published by Edward Orme in 1810.

Collier died in 1786 and was buried in St Chad’s churchyard, Rochdale. His own epitaph, written twenty minutes before he died, “Jack of all trades…left to lie i’th dark” joined other humorous inscriptions that he had written for stones in the churchyard – I assume as commissions. He certainly must have been interesting, to put it politely, as a teacher, a parent and a husband!

Sir Walter Scott led a campaign to have his grave restored in 1792. He was held in such esteem that a thousand people donated one pound each and a stone and iron railing were installed.

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Fishy Business – And A Moral

In my last blog I posted about a charming children’s book I had discovered and mentioned the Fish Machine – so here it is –

fish machine

It seems to be a ‘machine’ in the same way that any vehicle with a specific purpose was called a machine, even if it had no engine other than the horse – bathing machines, for example. As well as describing the purpose of the vehicle Jane and Ann Taylor, authors of Rural Scenes; or, A Peep Into the Country for Good Children (this version 1813), point up a moral about co-operation in business and make a passing reference to the importance of fresh fish for the benefit of future housewives. I have seen lorries on Japanese harboursides for just the same purpose.

“This man is driving to some great town, to sell his fish to the inhabitants. he not only serves them, but also the fishermen and himself. Indeed, they find a mutual help in each other; for it would be very difficult always to find a market on he sea-coast, and equally inconvenient to the townspeople to go there for them. If he carries fish only, he pays no turnpikes.”

The authors also use every opportunity throughout the book to encourage children to be kind to animals while, at the same time, being very up-front about the use of animals as food, including being quite positive that the human position of power over other creatures was divinely ordained, as in the text that accompanies the two fishermen hauling in their net of river fish.

fishermen

“These two men are labouring very hard to get an honest livelihood, and are, therefore, very commendable. Dominion was given to man over the birds of the air, the fishes of the sea, and the beasts of the field, which, with vegetables and fruit, were appointed for his food. As it is necessary to kill animals for our support, it is our duty to do it in the most humane methods we can invent, so as to give them as little pain as possible; therefore it is better to take fish with a net, than with a hook and line. I have read of a boy who was endeavouring to reach a plate off a shelf, to put some fish in which he had caught when, just in the same manner as he caught the fish, a sharp meat-hook that hung close by, did catch him in the chin.”

And here is the fisherman with road and line, rather uncomfortably perched on a bridge with the moral of the tale in verse below.

rod & line

moral

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Water, Water…

Some time ago I bought a charming book for children which unfortunately is missing its title page and front matter. I tracked it down from the introductory poem and found that it is a version of  Rural Scenes; or, A Peep Into the Country for Good Children, originally published in 1805 by Harvey, Darton & Company, Gracechurch Street, London. The authors were sisters Jane and Ann Taylor. Jane was the author of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.’

IMG_20190309_0001

The only one I can find on sale is a first edition bound with the companion A Peep Into London… and that was $3,250! Mine has different and fewer images, although in exactly the same style, and was published in 1813. I think I paid £10 for it – but I have to admit, mine is rather more battered.

With the rain lashing down outside I thought the text accompanying a scene of a woman dipping water from a stream was rather apt. The book groups similar subjects together and this is from a set all to do with water.

water

38: Dipping Water.

Morning and night, with cleanly pails,

Comes Mary to the spring,

And to her cottage never fails

The Cooling draught to bring.

With some she scours the dressers smart,

or mops the kitchen bricks; And in the kettle sings a part,

Above the crackling sticks.

The text following it reads, ‘Without water, man, woman, and child; birds, beasts, and fishes; trees, plants, and flowers, must all die! Do not let us be so angry, then, with a shower of rain, even if it should spoil our walk; for what should we do without it? We often overlook the comforts we possess, nor are we sensible of their great value, until we are deprived of them. For want of water and fresh air, many English people died in a dungeon, at Calcutta, in the East Indies. And how much to be valued is fresh water on shipboard; as all water in the sea is salt, and not fit for men to drink, except as a medicine, in some disorders, for people on shore.’

In a very few lines it packs in a lecture on housekeeping – clean pails required, daily scrubbing of the kitchen – a passing reference to history with the Black Hole of Calcutta, moralising on being aware of the blessings we possess and a mention of saline draughts in medicine!

The image above is a lecture on the value of the cows which John is taking to drink. Betty will make cheese, butter and cream and sells the butter milk ‘to the poor people’. But when the cows are killed they provide food, leather, fat for candles, hoofs for glue, horns to make lanterns and combs, bones for carving like ivory, ‘the blood makes a beautiful blue colour’ and ‘even the bowels are not thrown away.’ Luckily we aren’t informed what happens to those. No sentimentality about farm animals here!

As for the bottom image, that provides us with a neat little moral lesson:

tap

Jane Taylor, shown below, lived 1783 – 1824. She was born in London, lived for much of her childhood in Lavenham and died and is buried at Ongar in Essex. Jane Taylor

I may well return to this delightful book in the future – I’m eager to share the ingenious ‘Fish Machine’.

 

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Time For A Pudding

The evenings are drawing in, there’s a nip in the air – what better time to think about making a warming pudding?

Recipes0001

I’ve been consulting A New System of Domestic Cookery formed upon Principles of Economy and Adapted to the Use of Private Families by A Lady. It was published in 1829 by John Murray (Jane Austen and Byron’s publisher) and cost seven shillings and six pence.

Some of the recipes certainly would have been very economical, using up left-overs in a way that resonates with today’s concern about food waste. There are a number of recipes using bread such as this one:

A Rich Boiled Bread Pudding

Over half a pint of crumbs (from a previous recipes I think these must be stale white bread crumbs) pour half a pint of scalding milk; cover for an hour. Beat up four eggs, and when strained, add to the bread, with a tea-spoonful of flour, an ounce of butter, two ounces of sugar, half a pound of currants, an ounce of almonds beaten (I assume these would be ground almonds), with orange-flower water, half an ounce of orange, ditto lemon, ditto citron (juice??). Butter a basin that will exactly hold it, flour the cloth and tie tight over and boil one hour.

I rather like the sound of this savoury pudding although I’d add  more cheese myself. I imagine it would be baked in a pie dish:

A Cheese Pudding

Grate three ounces of cheese and five of bread (stale, I assume); and having warmed one ounce of butter in a pint of new milk (making this today I would use full fat milk), mix it with the above; add two well-beaten eggs and a little salt. Bake it half an hour.

Another one that I’d like to try is:

An Exceedingly Good Orange Pudding

On half a pound of crumbs of bread pour a pint of milk; let it boil up; stir in two ounces of butter and one of marrow (I think I might give the marrow a miss and add a bit more butter!), keeping the pan over the fire until all is incorporated. Let it become cold then mix in two eggs, two ounces of sugar, the same of orange marmalade, and a spoonful of orange flower water. Choose a basin that will exactly hold it, and tie over with a floured cloth very closely. Boil it an hour and a quarter. For sauce, melted butter, sugar, a little lemon-juice, and a spoonful of brandy.

Finally here’s a real novelty. I’m trying to persuade the cook in our household to try it to see if it lives up to its name. If I succeed, I will let you know!

Transparent Pudding

Beat eight eggs very well; put them into a stew-pan with half a pound of sugar pounded fine, the same quantity of butter, and some nutmeg grated. Set it on the fire and keep stirring it until it thickens.  Then set it in a basin to cool; put a rich puff pastry round the edge of the dish; pour in your pudding, and bake it in a moderate oven. It will cut light and clear. You may add candied orange and citron, if you like.

I haven’t tried any of these – so if you do, it is at your own risk! Happy baking.

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“And Many a Frightful Face…”

For All Hallows Eve I am writing about Whitby for its connection with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This Gothic horror story was written in 1897, well outside my usual period, but the tale would have greatly appealed to readers of Gothic novels in the early part of the century and the ruins that inspired Stoker certainly had a spookily romantic effect on an earlier visitor.whitby-abbey-1813

Prince Hermann Ludwig Heinrich von Puckler-Muskau travelled extensively in England during his visits and left detailed diaries. In 1827 he found the little fishing town of Whitby picturesque, but dirty and “miserable”. He did admire the abbey “…now the property of some private individual…[whose] cattle feed among it mouldering walls” just as they do in William Daniell’s illustration (above) in his A Voyage Round the Coast of Great Britain…(1814).

von Puckler-Muskau visited the ruins of the abbey “..by the light of the young moon, and was enchanted by the romantic effect – lofty columns, darting up into the air like the slender trunks of pines; long rows of windows in good preservation, and many finely executed ornaments about them, still as perfect as if the wind of the first autumn now played among their ample arches. Other parts were quite altered and decayed, and many a frightful face lay scattered about, grinning at me in the moonlight.”

Perhaps it was those “frightful faces” that played on Bram Stoker’s imagination when he visited the abbey. Certainly its ruins, high on the cliff, would have been the first thing that was visible when the doomed ship bearing Count Dracula in his coffin full of Transylvanian earth sailed towards the coast. When it crashed to the shore the crew was found to be missing or dead and a great dog leapt ashore to vanish into the darkness…

Even in broad daylight the sight is impressive from the sea as I found earlier this year when I sailed into Whitby!

whitby-from-sea

 

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The Real Castle of Otranto

In 1764 Horace Walpole published The Castle of Otranto, A Story. Translated by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto. [Image: British Library]

oTRANTO FRONT

Walpole (1717-97) was the son of Robert Walpole, recognised as Britain’s first Prime Minister, and was variously a Whig politician, a dilettante, an antiquarian and the creator of the wonderful Gothic masterpiece, Strawberry Hill, his house in Twickenham.

Walpole’s book – often considered to be the first Gothic novel – has the lot: a giant supernatural helmet that crushes a bridegroom to death, thwarted love, tragic stabbings, lustful noblemen, vengeful fathers, sword fights, ghostly happenings and much, much more. Frankly, attempting to summarise the plot is impossible but a short extract gives the flavour:

Manfred, whose spirits were inflamed, and whom Isabelle had driven from her on his urging his passion with too little reserve, did not doubt but that the inquietude she had expressed had been occasioned by her impatience to meet Theodore. Provoked by these conjectures, and enraged at her father, he hastened secretly to the great church.  Gliding softly between the aisles, and guided by an imperfect gleam of moonlight that shone faintly through the illuminated windows, he stole towards the tomb of Alfonso…

After the success of the first edition, purporting to be a translation of an ancient manuscript, Walpole came clean for the second edition and admitted to writing it. It was hugely popular, spawned an entire genre of fiction and inspired numerous stage melodramas.

I was recently on a small ship cruise in the Mediterranean in the footsteps of Edward Lear and found myself in the Italian port of Otranto. Obviously the priority was to seek out the castle. I had visions of gothic towers, creepy turrets, gloomy dungeons, gargoyles… Actually, it is nothing like that at all, which was rather a disappointment.Otranto

It is known as The Castello Aragonese, was rebuilt by Alphonso II of Naples in 1485–98 and is an aggressively militaristic edifice with not a gargoyle in sight. Over the entrance is the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-58) who owned southern Italy when it was part of the Kingdom of Aragon.

Otranto arms

An impressive castle – but not, I fear, the house of horrors of Walpole’s imagination, unless one pictures the huge coat of arms taking off on those strange wings behind it and crashing down on some unfortunate bridegroom…

Napoleon stationed naval ships  in Otranto harbour from 1804 and in 1808 created the hereditary title Duc d’Otrante for his Minister of Police Joseph Fouché when the town became duché grand-fief in the satellite Kingdom of Naples. The dukes now live in Sweden and the title is still extant, apparently without any gothic nightmares to haunt the family.Otranto moat

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