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The Road to Waterloo Week Five – The Allied Troops Gather While Mrs Bell Corsets the Corpulent

Bells Weekly

On Easter Sunday, the 26th, Bell’s Weekly Messenger stated that no-one had arrived in England from France since the 20th March and that most of the information about Napoleon’s invasion that had been reported so far had been inaccurate. Almost half the newspaper (an 8-page journal) was devoted to news of Bonaparte, and had the facts up to his arrival in Paris more or less correct.
The journal reported that dispatches had been sent on the 23rd from the Admiralty to all the ports in England and speculated that this was giving orders for a general impress of seamen, while every regiment of the line was under orders to prepare for active service and were expected to be marching to the coast to be embarked for Belgium.
Meanwhile, amongst the entertainment offered to Londoners this week, were two of a martial nature looking back to past Allied victories against the French.
At Sadler’s Wells: “Easter Monday, a new Scotch Dance composed by Mr Ellar, called a LOWP AN’ AWA’ – A new Pantomime (by Mr C. Dibden, music by Mr. Reeve) called The MERMAID; or Harlequin Pearl Diver – Clown, Mr. Grimaldi. A new Musical Piece, written by Mr C. Dibden, called LAW’S TWO TAILS; or Entail and Red Tail. Signor Francesco Zanini, from Paris, will make his first appearance in England as an Equilibriste Philharmonique. To conclude with a Naumachia on Real Water, representing the Battle of the Nile.”
At the Panorama, Leicester Square: “Just opened, a VIEW of the LAST BATTLE fought by the ALLIES, near the Butte St. Chaumont, previous to their entering Paris; with a view of the City, and Montmartre in the distance. The splendid BATTLE OF VITTORIA will continue for a few weeks. Admittance to each painting, One shilling. – Open Ten till Dusk.”
Mrs Bell, aMrs Bell adt her shop, the Magazine des Modes, 26, Charlotte Street, was advertising her Bandage Corset for pregnant ladies and those “inclined to Corpulancy”, while, for the more slender ladies, The Circassian Corset, made “without superfluities of Steel, Whalebone or Hard Substances, are declared by Physicians to be the only Corset that should be worn, as they give Ease, Gracefulness, and Dignity to the Shape, which no other Corset is capable of.”
Monday was the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet, preceded by the grand procession from Mansion House to Christ Church, Newgate Street to hear a sermon preached by the Bishop of Oxford. The toasts at the banquet included, “Church and King”” (considerable applause), “The Prince Regent” (“the approbation expressed by the company did not appear to be so strong as on former occasions”) and “The Duke of York and the Army” and “The Duke of Clarence and the Navy” (to great applause.) the dancing commenced at 10 o’clock and continued until “a late hour”. The image below (from Ackermann’s Repository 1810) shows the portico of Mansion House on the right and Cornhill stretching away in the middle of the scene. The Bank of England is out of sight on the left and the royal Exchange is behind the buildings in the centre.

 

 

Mansion House
In Friday’s paper, an enterprising furniture salesman managed to get the following inserted as editorial: “The rage for French furniture and elegancies has been very prevalent amongst the Nobility and higher classes of this country, who have made large purchases at Paris, which, from recent events, it is probable they will never receive, this will of course enhance the value of what is to be sold next week at Mr. Squibb’s.”
On Wednesday the 19th, Wellington left Vienna to take up command of the combined armies. On Saturday, April 1st, it was reported from the Brussels papers that “the march of troops through this town is incessant” and that 50 ships had already arrived in Ostend, full of British troops. Londoners could be left in no doubt that the situation was now serious.

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Cold Bath Prison – the Gaol That Gave the Devil Ideas

This bleak place is Cold Bath Prison, or the House of Correction, Cold Bath Fields, a place so notorious for its harshness that the poets Southey and Coleridge wrote of it in their Devil’s Thoughts (original edition 1799):

As he went through Coldbath Fields he saw

A solitary cell;

And the Devil was pleased, for it gave him a hint

For improving his prisons in Hell.

The Cold Bath was a county prison supervised by magistrates and used for male, female and juvenile offenders serving relatively short terms. It was also known as the Steel, perhaps as a reference to its tough regime.

“The prison is divided into two sides, for males and females. On the former are five day-rooms for convicts, two rooms for vagrants who are sent thither for seven days previously to being passed to their respective parishes, one separate apartment for for debtors, an infirmary, a foul ward, and an apartment for the clerks. On the female side are six day-rooms, a wash house, two store rooms, an infirmary, a foul ward, and an apartment for the children of the convicts…There are 333 cells, in which the convicts are locked up separately at night, and more commodious apartments for such prisoners as can afford to pay half-a-guinea a week for the indulgence.” (Ackerman’s Repository 1814).

The prison was opened in 1798, closed in 1877 and demolished in 1889. The Post Office sorting office, somewhat ironically  named Mount Pleasant, was built on the site. It can be clearly seen in the top left hand section of Horwood’s map of London below.

The road to the NE of the site is now Farringdon Road, Baynes Row to the SE is now Mount Pleasant and Phoenix Place covers the Fleet River on the Western edge.

Right at the top edge of the map you can see ‘Bagnigge Wells’ and ‘New River Company’. This area was part of a complex of springs, pools and reservoirs that stretched between Clerkenwell and Islington and included amongst several others, the Peerless Pool, Sadler’s Wells, Islington Spa, the London Spaw, Merlin’s Cave and Coldbath spring. The Cold Bath building can be seen in Cold Bath Square immediately to the SE of the prison.

“The edifice, which is of brick, stands within a large area, encompassed by a strong buttressed wall of moderate height. The gate is of Portland stone, contrived in a massy style, and sculptured with fetters, the hateful but necessary appendages of guilt.”

The cartoon (1799) shows ‘Citizens Visiting the Bastille’ although The House of Correction for the County of Middlesex is clear over the gateway, as are the bunches of fetters on either side.

The notes to the 1814 print state that the prison “is built on the plan proposed by the late Mr Howard, and may be considered, both in construction and discipline, as a real experiment of his severe principles on convicted felons and hardened offenders.”

Mr Howard was John Howard (after whom today’s Howard League for Penal Reform is named). To quote http://www.parliament.uk: “In 1774 his evidence to a House of Commons committee led to two Acts which aimed to improve conditions in gaols. His published writings on the subject were widely read and his detailed accounts of inhumane conditions caused dismay. He advocated a system of state-controlled prisons in which the regime was tough, but the environment healthy. In 1779 the Penitentiary Act authorised the construction of two prisons in accordance with his own theories. He advocated a regime of solitary confinement, hard labour and religious instruction. The objective of imprisonment, he believed, was reform and rehabilitation, not just punishment.”

Prisoners undertook hard labour in prison, much of which was pointless and brutal – a punishment rather than an attempt to reform them by teaching useful skills. One of the most dreaded was the treadmill, known as the ‘cockchafer’, where inmates climbed the equivalent of 8,640 feet for six hours every day, quite uselessly as the great wheels turned no engines or equipment. The print below shows the Cold Bath treadmill in about the middle of the 19th century.

One of the labours that did have a useful end product was working the crank that either drew water or ground corn. The print below from Ackermann’s Microcosm of London shows “two of the convicts at hard labour, in which they are employed for an hour at a time. The view is taken from the Water-Engine Court…the turn-key [is] bringing two fresh men to relieve those who have completed their task…”

The prison also followed Howard’s principles of putting people to useful work, some of which may have given them skills that helped them on release. “The prisoners are severally employed in  useful labour: the men in  picking oakum, knotting yarn, making spun yarn and rope, making and repairing the prisoners’ clothes, whitewashing and painting the prison, attending the county carpenter, bricklayer, mason and plumber as labourers, and others as gardeners, or carpenters in making wheelbarrows and other utensils for the garden; the women in spinning thread, making, repairing and washing of the bedding, linen and clothes of the prisoners, picking oakum etc.”

The diet included  no vegetables or fruit at all and very little protein either. “The county allowance to the convicts is a pint of gruel and a pound of bread each day for breakfast, and a quart of broth of rice and oatmeal, and six ounces of meat, alternately, for dinner. All sick persons have wine or whatever indulgence the medical attendant may order.” It seems incredible that the authorities could boast that, “It is a strong proof of the healthiness of the prison, that from November 1793 [presumably when in the old prison] to November 1807, out of 19,862 male and female prisoners, only ninety-one have died.”

Over the same period twenty four babies were born to add to the dependent children who entered the prison with their parents. These children were separated from their parents – as they would have been in workhouses – “and are taught to read, say their catechism, etc” Possibly the “etc” included sewing for the girls and basic craft skills for the boys. Writing and arithmetic are not mentioned.

I can imagine that anyone released from Cold Bath Prison was strongly motivated never to return, but given the levels of poverty and the severity of sentencing for even the most trivial property crime, it seems likely that many came back.

 

 

 

 

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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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An English Poet in Georgian Malta

On my holidays this year I seem to have been bumping into the long arm of the Georgian navy at every turn. In August and September I wrote about encounters in Canada with Queen Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent, and uncle, William IV when he was a naval officer. Last month I visited Malta and, standing in front of the Grand Master’s Palace in the heart of Valletta, found myself looking up at an unmistakable coat of arms on the opposite side of St George’s Square.

Even without seeing the date of 1814, this is clearly a Georgian coat of arms with the white horse of the house of Hanover as the other supporter with the British lion. So what was it doing there? I should have remembered that Malta was one of the Mediterranean islands that fell to the British after the defeat of the French navy at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Translated the motto reads: “The love of the Maltese and the voice of Europe assigned these Islands to great and unconquered Britain. A.D. 1814.” No shortage of self-confidence there…

The Grand Harbour is one of the greatest harbours of the world, as the Knights of St John who had governed Malta for hundreds of years appreciated. In 1798 the French ousted the Knights and took over the supremely strategic island and even after the Battle of the Nile the French clung on to Malta, with some of the surviving ships of the fleet sheltering in the harbour. The British navy promptly blockaded the island. They were helped by the Maltese population who, although they were weary of the Knights’ rule, seem to have liked the French even less. In September 1800 the French ships tried to break out and were captured and the island fell. In 1814, the date on the coat of arms, Malta became a British colony, finally achieving independence in 1964.

Throughout history Malta has been of huge strategic importance in the Mediterranean which has made it all too often the target of fierce fighting – notably under the Knights and during the Second World War where its population endured the most appalling conditions and were awarded the George Cross as a tribute to their courage. With the arrival of the British in 1800 the island found an unexpected peace and prosperity. British merchants came in droves and it became an invaluable distribution point for British exports and the harbour and the presence of the fleet created huge commercial and employment opportunities. Not all was sweetness and light – the history of Anglo-Maltese relations is too complex to explore here – but the British presence for over 160 years has left a deep impression on the island.

The Grand Master’s Palace (below) became the seat of government and the residence of the British Governor.

Opposite is the Main Guard Building (below) which was built by the Knights in 1603 as the guardhouse for the Palace. The neo-classical portico was added, along with the coat of arms, in 1814.

So what was the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, perhaps now most famous for his poems The Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, to do with this? To my surprise I found a plaque to him on a building on the corner of St George’s Square. Apparently, in 1804, despite health problems and an increasing opium addiction, he travelled to Sicily and then to Malta where he found a post as Acting Public Secretary under the Civil Commissioner, Sir Alexander Bell. Despite being successful in the role he resigned and returned to England in 1806.

 

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The Sailor Prince & the Society Lady – a Canadian Scandal

My surprise is down to my ignorance, obviously, but when I visited the Maritime Provinces of Canada last month I was intrigued to find myself bumping into two of George III’s sons at what seemed like every turn.

To begin with Prince William, (1765 – 1837), George III’s third son. He was created Duke of Clarence and St Andrews in 1789 and succeeded his brother George IV to the throne as William IV in June 1830. I have to confess that I had always regarded him as a kind of stop-gap between the Hanoverian kings and his niece, Queen Victoria, who succeeded him. In contrast to George IV he appeared to be a much nicer character with good intentions. I knew he had a lively love life and had a mistress for twenty years – the actress Mrs Jordan who bore him ten children all bearing the surname FitzClarence. They split in 1811, apparently because of William’s money problems, and in 1818, after the death of his niece, and heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte, the fifty three year old prince married twenty five year old Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen and joined the race to produce an heir, essential as it was clear that George IV would have no more children.

Against all the odds – their ages and his history of love affairs – this was a happy marriage and William stayed faithful, although it did not produce the hoped-for heir to the throne.

I also knew that William was a sailor. He joined the Royal Navy as a thirteen year-old midshipman and was present at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1780. His naval career, culminating in his appointment by George IV as Lord High Admiral, led to his nickname, The Mariner King. The unkind caricature of 1827 below shows William in the centre and suggests that only the fool of the family is sent into the navy.

Dof C

William was the only member of the British royal family to visit America before or during the American Revolution and George Washington wrote to approve a plot to kidnap him: “The spirit of enterprise so conspicuous in your plan for surprising in their quarters and bringing off the Prince William Henry and Admiral Digby merits applause; and you have my authority to make the attempt in any manner, and at such a time, as your judgment may direct. I am fully persuaded, that it is unnecessary to caution you against offering insult or indignity to the persons of the Prince or Admiral…” Word of the plot reached the British and William suddenly found himself  with a large armed escort.

That was the extent of my knowledge of William, so I was surprised to come across him in the harbour town of Lunenburg in Nova Scotia. We were staying at the historic Mariner King inn, built in 1830, and there I discovered the history of William’s scandalous connection with the province.

William was captain of the frigate Pegasus and put into harbour at Halifax, further along the coast from Lunenburg, in 1786. He was twenty one, of an amorous disposition, and soon found himself in the bedchamber of Mrs Frances Wentworth, aged forty two.

Portrait_of_Mrs._Theodore_Atkinson_Jr._(Frances_Deering_Wentworth)Frances was the wife of the Governor of New Hampshire and, as Loyalists, they and many others had been forced to flee by the American forces. Apparently she was very unhappy in Canada, missed her son who was in London and fretted at her diminished social status. An affaire with a prince must have raised her morale considerably! However, her husband wrote to the King to complain and William was recalled to England. (In the painting above of 1765 by John Singleton Copley she was still married to her first husband, Theodore Atkinson. he was her cousin, as was John Wentworth whom she married withing a week of Theodore’s death. Image in public domain.)

It seems William returned to Mrs Wentworth’s company in 1787 and again in 1788, causing a scandal in Halifax society. She apparently brazened it out  “like a haughty Queen” and her husband John left the city to serve as H.M. Surveyor of Forests, a sinecure presumably organised by the King as a sweetener. He did receive some reward for his patient humiliation when, in 1791, he and Frances visited London. Frances renewed her acquaintanceship with the Prince and he helped secure the appointment of John as Governor of Nova Scotia. John was created a baronet in 1795. (He is shown in the undated portrait below. Artist unknown. Image in public domain.)

Governor_John_Wentworth

So, back to Lunenburg, founded in 1753. The second owner of what is now the Mariner King Inn was an enthusiastic supporter of the new monarch and named his brigantine, The William and so it must have seemed an appropriate name for an inn.

Lunenburg is a World heritage site, still laid out on the original grid pattern of 1753 by army surveyors and full of delightful, well-maintained, houses of the 18th and 19th century – it is well worth visiting if you ever find yourself in Nova Scotia. At the foot of this post is a glimpse of its colourful streets with 18th century houses, ‘updated’ in the 19th century.

In my next blog post I will explore the connection of William’s brother Edward with Canada – and we meet Mrs Wentworth again.

Lunenburg

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Just A Dip in the Street? One of London’s Lost Rivers

Last week, on a visit to London, I got off a bus on Ludgate Hill, walked down to Ludgate Circus and turned left down New Bridge Street towards the Thames, ignoring Fleet Street rising up straight ahead. It is something that workers and tourists do in their thousands every day of the week, but I wonder how many of us think about why there is such a steep hill and dip in the street just there. The clue is in Fleet Street and the valley was, of course, caused by the River Fleet, now flowing under New Bridge Street in the guise of a sewer to its virtually invisible outfall in the Thames.

The map below is a section of Cary’s New Plan of London (1784)

Blackfriars

Travelling about London one tends not to notice its dips and hills. I have posted in the past about taking the 23 bus and experiencing the dip not only of the Fleet but also the Tyburn Brook in Oxford Street. On the map above the streets with ‘hill’ names help us map the course of the Fleet. At the top of Fleet Market, formed when the river was covered over in 1733, Holborn Hill and Snow Hill dip down from west and east and the course of the river continues northwards under Saffron Hill.

New Bridge Streetfull size

The image above is from Ackermann’s Repository May 1812, “from a drawing by that eminent artist in water-colour painting, Mr Frederick Nash.” The artist shows the scene as though he is standing in the middle of Ludgate Circus (although the maps of the time do not give the junction a specific name). The bump of Blackfriars Bridge is just visible in the far distance, Fleet Street is to the right and Ludgate Hill to the left.

“The obelisk at the north end of this street, as shewn in the view, was erected to give safety to the public crossing, in the year 1775, during the mayoralty of the celebrated John Wilkes.” (Wilkes (1725 – 1797) was a  radical, journalist, libertine and Member of Parliament. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of American independence although he grew increasingly conservative with age.) The obelisk has long gone, unfortunately.

The Fleet rises on Hampstead Heath, as does the Tyburn, but there is no trace these days other than the three swimming ponds on the Heath. In the Middle Ages it was still navigable by barges as far as Holborn Bridge, to the north of the section in this map of 1563. Fleet Bridge is named and below it was the Bridewell Bridge , “said to resemble to Rialto at Venice” according to Ackermann’s – it  certainly seems to be covered. Before the Great Fire it was made of wood, but was replaced in stone with two arches.

Blackfriars 1563

Bridewell, which has now vanished, began as a palace and rapidly deteriorated into a prison. I traced its history here.

In 1733 the length between the Holborn and Ludgate bridges was covered and became Fleet Market – the double row of stalls can be seen in Roque’s map of 1738/47 (below). The Fleet Prison shows clearly, middle top, – the curve of the wall is still reflected in the building line today.

Below Fleet Bridge the  Bridewell Bridge has disappeared and the Fleet itself is labelled ‘Fleet Ditch’, an apt name by then – it was a stinking mass of refuse. Pope in his Dunciad writes of it:

Fleet Ditch, with disemboguing streams,

Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames;

The King of Dykes! than whom no sluice of mud,

With deeper sable blots the silver flow.

Or, to quote Ackermann’s rather more prosaic description, “…in the state of a muddy and loathsome ditch, until the building of Blackfriars-Bridge in the year 1768. In the place of this ditch, which had become a serious public nuisance, has sprung up the noble street, exhibited in this view [ie the print above], called New Bridge-street.”

Blackfriars Roque

The original Blackfriars Bridge was begun in 1760 and was finally completed in 1769, although it was open to pedestrians in 1766 and to riders in 1768. It was intended to name it for the Prime Minister, William Pitt, as the remaining inscription still confusingly explains, but popular usage soon had it named for the area, the site of the old Black Friars’ monastery. Repairs took place in 1832, but the bridge deteriorated to such an extent that a new one was proposed. It took years, the building of the Thames Embankment and the demands of the railways, but in 1869 and new bridge was opened. (The parallel railway bridge, just downstream, opened in 1864).

After exploring the area, the marvellous Art Nouveau Blackfriar pub just before the bridge is an excellent place to have lunch and to admire the depiction of the monks who once inhabited the area. (Get there early – it is very popular!)

 

 

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A Splendid Pew and an Encounter With an 18th Century Lady

Some time ago I wrote about the organisation of space inside churches in the Georgian period. Social stratification became very clear in the way seating was organised and splendid box pews were built and were bought and sold or rented out. “To be SOLD, A PEW, in the West Gallery of the Parish Church, at Leeds, well situated for both Hearing and Seeing, and containing Sittings for Five People,” read the advertisement in the Leeds Intelligencer in October 1789.

I was reminded that as well as private pews in the body of the church it was possible to construct even more exclusive accommodation if you had the status and the position in the parish.

I had travelled to the Norfolk church of Holy Trinity, Stow Bardolf, to the south of King’s Lynn, in pursuit of one particular (and startling) memorial – of which more later – and was struck by the family pew of the lords of the manor which is situated like nothing so much as a theatre box next to the choir.

Stow Hall, which was sited within sight of the church, was the home of the Hare family who acquired the estate in 1553. In 1641 they were created baronets and this is probably what prompted them to construct a family chapel on the north side of the chancel with its own exterior door. It has a number of imposing monuments including Sir Thomas Hare who died in 1693 and is shown reclining in full Roman armour but, ludicrously, wearing his wig.

At some point someone had the bright idea of knocking through the wall behind the north choir stall to create the open front of a large family pew, enclosed in wood panelling and with a door into the family chapel. The Hares could therefore walk or drive to the churchyard gate nearest the Hall and enter through their own private door without having to mingle with the lesser folk of the parish.

family pew

Above is the view from the altar steps. Once seated in their pew, high enough to look down on the heads of the choristers below, the family were almost completely private. Behind the pew you can glimpse some funeral hatchments and below them the outside door.

mary hareThe 19th century family would have worshipped under the gaze of the figure of Hope on the memorial to Mary Hare who died in November 1801. Hope is leaning on an anchor (her symbol) which also serves as a reminder that Mrs Hare’s father, Sir Francis Geary, Bart., was an Admiral of the White. The upside-down torch leaning against the urn is a symbol of a life snuffed out. Usually the length of the torch is an indication of the length of the life of the deceased.

In the photograph of the pew you can just see the pointed top of something wooden and that is what I had come to Stow Bardolf to see. At first sight it appears to be a cupboard, almost like a small, rather shallow mahogany wardrobe.dsc09570

Over the door is an inscription which reads:

Here Lyeth the Body of Sarah Hare Youngest Daughter of Sr Thomas Hare Bart. And Dame Elizabth. His Wife And Sister To The Present Sir Thos Hare Who Departed This Life The IX Day Of Apr MDCCXLIV [1743] And Ordered This Effigies [sic] To Be Placed Here.

That is all the warning the unwary visitor has before they open the door and come face to face with Sarah Hare.

dsc09569

She is life-sized, the only wax funerary effigy in the UK outside Westminster Abbey and she died aged eighteen from blood poisoning after pricking her finger with a needle while doing embroidery. Poor Sarah lived long enough to realise that she must make her will and in it she left very specific instructions.

She was to be buried by six poor men of the parish who were to be paid five shillings each. “I desire to have my face and hands made in wax with a piece of crimson satin thrown like a garment in a picture, hair upon my head and put in a case of Mahogany with a glass before.” Her grieving family carried out her instructions to the letter. After the first shock on opening the cabinet it is very moving to come face to face with a woman of the 18th century shown just as she was, without any attempt to make her look ‘perfect’. Sarah has a double chin, a rather severe mouth and a mole on her right cheek and she looks beyond the viewer as though failing to notice that we are there. Her right hand looks swollen – perhaps a result of the infection that killed her.

An unsettling, but fascinating, encounter with a real woman.

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