Category Archives: Crime

The Ghost of a Georgian Prison

I was in Devon recently and, crossing Dartmoor, stopped outside Princetown to look at the gloomy bulk of Dartmoor prison. It isn’t easy to stop and look at the place, let alone take photographs, for obvious security reasons, but these were taken from a legitimate parking space beyond the town.

It is often assumed, possibly because of its looming presence in Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, that it is a Victorian  prison and, as a prison for convicted criminals, it is certainly that. The first arrived in 1850, transferred from the rotting prison hulks on the Thames, and the buildings we can see today were built by, and for, those men and their successors.

However, the first stones were laid on the site in March 1806 on land owned by the Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent). There was no village there, merely farms and an inn. The government had realized that the prison hulks at Portsmouth and other harbours could no longer cope with the flood of prisoners of war from the Napoleonic Wars. Prisoners were dying in large numbers from disease and it became clear that a new land-based prison was necessary. Britain was at war with France from 1793 to 1815 and it is estimated that over 100,000 prisoners, mainly naval, were landed in England during that period.

Officers were easy to deal with. By definition they were ‘gentlemen’ and could therefore be relied upon to keep their word of honour. If they gave their parole, a promise in writing not to escape, they were allowed to live in lodgings in one of the numerous parole towns, mainly near the coast. There were eleven in Hampshire alone.

Ordinary soldiers and sailors and non-commissioned officers were not trusted and had to be confined. Norman Cross prison near Peterborough had been established as early as 1797, but that was not enough and the hulks had proved an inadequate, lethal, alternative.

The new prison at what became known as Princetown, built at a cost or £200,000, received its first prisoners on 22nd May 1809. In September 1810 Ackermann’s Repository published a plan of Dartmoor Prison & English Barracks.

The vast majority of the structures seen in the plan were demolished from 1850 onwards as ‘modern’ cell blocks were built, but, extraordinarily, the basic shape and some features remain in the present prison. If you look at the satellite view of the prison you will see the circular shape has been retained, that the old barracks have gone, but Barrack Road still runs through the site and the entrance gates and the outlet for the aqueduct remain. It is even possible to trace the shape of the entrance yards and the line of the wall that cuts across the circle is still visible. Even the layout of the blocks, radiating outwards, preserves the footprint of the original structures. Presumably one was demolished and rebuilt at a time.

The Repository provides a helpful key. Starting from the bottom of the picture, outside the gates, is Aqueduct to supply prison with water and Pond of water. Opposite is The Grand entrance; with the inscription ‘Parcere subjectis’ cut in the stone arch. [‘Spare the vanquished’ ie be kind to the prisoners!]. If you use Streetview you can read the inscription, still in place, and behind it see a second gate with a bell over it, as seen in the print.

On either side of the main entrance were the Agent’s and Surgeon’s houses with clerks’ houses making up the rest of the little Agent’s square for market, etc. – a reminder that prisoners were allowed to craft items from straw, bone and wood and sell them to the public. This wonderfully intricate box was shown on the Antiques Roadshow in 2020 and valued at £4-6000. It was not only innocent workboxes and ship models that the prisoners sold. An embarrassed and indignant  local member of the Society For the Suppression of Vice posted two of his purchases to the London Headquarters. They appear, from the difficulty he had in wrapping them and his euphemism-laden remarks, to have been sex toys carved from bone.

Once through the next set of gates one was in the Detached space for prisoners to receive their allowance from [the cooking-house], also public market. the cooking-house and bath were at the bottom left of that space. The large building to the left of the space was the hospital with the Matron’s house and dispensary facing it. On the other side was the Petty-officers’ prison, a reminder that most of the prisoners were sailors.

Through the next set of gates one is in the Prison yard with five prison blocks radiating around it. In the outer circle are four Sheds for drying clothes. A large pond was fed from the aqueduct head outside the gates and what are presumably drainage ditches serving privies run around from low sheds at the end of each prison block. These appear to be open, which must have been both smelly and insanitary, although presumably they were flushed from the pond.  On the outside of the military way (coloured green) and walls are the North and South Guard rooms. The detached enclosed area was a Barracks for 500 men.

The Repository positively gushes with admiration for the new prison and its management: Here, under the humane arrangement and control of the Transport Board, ably seconded by the resident agent, Isaac Cotgrave, Esq. an old post-captain, every comfort is administered to alleviate the prisoners’ unhappy lot, as far as the nature of circumstances will allow. Unbiassed by motives foreign to their duty, and the innate liberality and feeling of their hearts, these gentlemen (some of whom are well acquainted with French prisons, and have personally experienced what they are) pursue an undeviating system of philanthropy, honourable to themselves, and beneficial to the objects of their care and exertions.

Efforts were made to maintain hygiene. Every morning, bedding is immediately exposed to the air, and the rooms properly ventilated… The hospital is kept in the most exact state of cleanliness and order…medicines, wine, etc are furnished unsparingly.

The prisoners, who were clothed in yellow uniforms with occasional blue stripes, elected representatives to discuss grievances with the Agent and to inspect the rations issued. A daily market was held so that the prisoners could sell their work and buy additional food and many trifling luxuries.

Whether or not conditions were ever so good in reality, things rapidly went downhill as the prison grew more and more crowded. It was full by the end of 1809 but prisoners still kept arriving. War broke out with America in 1812 and  from April 1813 until April 1815 about 6,500 American sailors were held at Dartmoor, some of which were American seamen who were serving on British ships. It is estimated that about 1,000 of the prisoners were black.

Recurrent outbreaks of typhoid, pneumonia and smallpox swept through the prison population. 271 American died and over 11,000 Frenchmen. When the  Treaty of Ghent between the Americans and British was signed in December 1814, the American prisoners expected immediate release, but the British government refused to let them go on parole or take any steps until the treaty was ratified by the Senate on 17 February 1815. On April 16 the men’s impatience finally snapped and they rioted. Guards opened fire and 60 were injured and seven killed. After an enquiry jointly by the US and British, the survivors and bereaved families received pensions.

The prison stayed in use until the end of the war when the survivors were repatriated. The last Frenchman left in early 1816.

The Repository had noted that, it is said to be in contemplation to convert this vast, and then useless building, into a receptacle for convicts, whose labour on the moor will prove highly important and beneficial to the nation, and an incredible saving in the expense incurred both at home and in transportation. In the event the prison closed in 1816 and only reopened in 1850.

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Perambulations Through Late Georgian London or, All the Best Sights in One Week. Day Four

It’s Thursday, the fourth day of the London sightseeing programme proposed by Nathaniel Whittock in 1836. By now the tourists are either on their knees with exhaustion or getting their second wind after the itineraries described in my previous three posts. They might be relieved to find that there is a fair amount of riding around involved in today’s expedition. This itinerary illustrates more clearly than any of the others how close to the Victorian era these visitors are as they experience engineering marvels and improvements in public transport.

Get into the omnibus or coach that goes to Blackwall.

Mr Whittock informs us that “Omnibusses [sic] now run through the leading thoroughfares: their charge is generally stated on the outside of the carriage. At the present time it is as cheap as the most rigid economist could desire as a person may ride in a handsome vehicle from the Bank to Paddington, a distance of four miles, for sixpence.”

George Shillibeer brought horse-drawn omnibuses (shown in the print above) to London in 1829, having seen them operating in Paris. At first they operated with a conductor who took the fares but did not issue tickets. He recorded all the transactions on a waybill, then paid his own, and the driver’s, wages from the money collected and handed the rest over to the bus owner.

An account of the new service was given in the Morning Post of 7 July 1829. “Saturday the new vehicle, called the Omnibus, commenced running from Paddington to the City, and excited considerable notice, both from the novel form of the carriage, and the elegance with which it is fitted out. It is capable of accommodating 16 or 18 persons, all inside, and we apprehend it would be almost impossible to make it overturn, owing to the great width of the carriage. It was drawn by three beautiful bays abreast, after the French fashion. The Omnibus is a handsome machine, in the shape of a van. The width the horses occupy will render the vehicle rather inconvenient to be turned or driven through some of the streets of London.”

see the East and West India Docks

 

The London docks must have been a spectacular sight, teeming with a mass of sailing ships from all parts of the world. The print is a detail from a painting of 1802, looking west across the neck of the Isle of Dogs towards the City, and showing the West India Dock, opened that year. The import dock is on the right, the dock on the left is for export. The canal on the left later became the South Dock. The East India Docks were slightly to the east at the top of the northward bend of the Blackwall Reach of the Thames. Surrounding the docks were huge secure warehouses with walls thirty feet high and their own guards, an effective protection against the menace of ‘limpers’, ‘water pads’ and ‘water sneaks’ who preyed on the craft moored in the river itself.

The map shows the docks in 1849.

A short walk thence will take you to the Ferry-House. On crossing the Thames, see Greenwich Hospital.

These days an entire day can easily be spent in Greenwich but Mr Whittock merely invites his readers to admire the exterior of the buildings (he doesn’t even mention the Queen’s House), enter the Great Hall and look up the hill to the Observatory – ‘a conspicuous and celebrated Object.’

Ride on the Railroad as far as Bermondsey;

This would have been a real highlight for visitors – the first railway line in London. It was intended only for passengers and was built from London Bridge to Greenwich on a viaduct twenty two feet above the ground and supported on “nearly a thousand arches…intended to be converted into dwelling-houses or places of business.” It cut the journey time from London Bridge to Greenwich from an hour to ten minutes and was the forerunner of all the London commuter lines.

 walk to Rotherhithe, devote an hour to the examination of the Tunnel.

Interestingly, Mr Whittock seems more excited about the Thames Tunnel than he does about the railway. It was certainly an epic piece of engineering, during the course of which Marc Brunel (father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel) invented the tunnel shield which is the basis of all tunnel-boring today. Made essential by the development of the docks, and the problems of building bridges over the Thames to bring the workers from south of the river, it was intended for carriage traffic but instead became a footway and a major tourist attraction. It was converted to take the East London railway line in 1869. The print is from 1835.

Dine at Rotherhithe, and afterwards ride to the Surrey Zoological Gardens.

The Surrey Zoological Society Gardens were founded in 1831 and occupied a site now under Penton Place in Walworth, just north-east of the Oval cricket ground. Impressario Edward Cross sold them the contents of his menagerie at Exeter Change which I blogged about here. It must have been some improvement for the animals who were housed in cages under a circular domed glass conservatory 300 feet (90 m) in circumference. There were lions, tigers, a rhinoceros and giraffes (shown here in 1841) and, for a time, the gardens were more popular than London Zoo in Regent’s Park. However, that was subsidised, and cheaper (the Surrey Gardens cost one shilling admission), so gained in popularity. The gardens, which were lavishly planted and dotted with pavilions, were used for large public entertainments from 1837 – re-enactments of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the Great Fire of London, or the storming of Badajoz – and spectacular firework displays. The Great Exhibition of 1851 was the final nail in its coffin and it closed in 1856.

Towards the evening return to dress, and at eight o’clock go by water to Vauxhall.

Vauxhall Gardens lay where the modern park is still situated, close to the Thames and Vauxhall Bridge. Going by water was the traditional way of visiting, even though the first bridge had opened in 1816.

I have blogged about Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens here and also in comparison with their rival, Ranelagh. The print by Cruickshank shows the Gardens in the 1830s, just as our tourists must have seen them.

They would have staggered back to their lodgings late and perhaps a trifle tipsy. Hopefully they get a decent night’s sleep, because Friday will be devoted to the West End, London Zoo, shopping and the theatre.

If you are interested in more of the slang used for London’s criminal classes, including the river thieves, you can find that, and much more, here

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The Road to Waterloo – Week Seven. The Allied Sovereigns Snub Napoleon and Mr Barton Wallop Goes to A Ball

In Paris Napoleon was finding that the tide of popular acclaim that had swept to meet him on his journey to Paris was ebbing fast now that he was actually in power. There were threats of civil war in the south and west and his legislative reforms were in chaos, even though all the major public institutions had declared their loyalty to him. To be safe he had to keep the peace internationally while he consolidated at home, so he wrote to the Allied Sovereigns – but none of his letters were accepted. France was, therefore, put on a war footing while Napoleon tinkered with the constitution. The British Mercury commented gloomily that 300,000 French prisoners of war had been returned to France and were doubtless flocking to Napoleon’s banner to fight against Britain.

BON40706In London the social scene was buzzing and in the newspapers the “Fashionable Parties” and “Arrivals” columns were long. On Monday it was reported that, “Lady Castlereagh [shown left. She was one of the Patronesses of Almack’s] gave an elegant supper on the Saturday, after the opera, at her house in St. James’s-square to nearly 100 distinguished fashionables: among them were the Russian Ambassador and his lady, Prince and Princess Castelcicala, the Duke of Devonshire etc.”

“Lord Grantley, Sir John and Lady Lubbock, Lady Frances Wright Wilson, Mr. Anson, Mr. Barton Wallop, and a large company of distinguished friends, were entertained on Friday to dinner, by the Earl and Countess of Portsmouth, in Wimpole-street; and her Ladyship had a party in the evening which was a much enlivened by an elegant selection of music.” The magnificently named Mr Barton Wallop appears to have been Major William Barton Wallop (1781-1824) who was at one time in the Nova Scotia Fencibles. There can’t have been many men around with that name!

On Monday a marriage fated to become tragically famous was announced: “On Tuesday last, ColonWilliam_Howe_DeLanceyel Sir William de Lancey to Magdaline, second daughter of Sir James Hall of Dunglass, Bart. and Lady Helen Hall, sister to the Earl of Selkirk.” This was to prove a short-lived marriage, ending at Waterloo where Lady de Lancey nursed her dying husband [left] under terrible conditions.

In Parliament the House of Lords were almost entirely occupied with “The Crisis” while the Commons debated the Paving Bill, considered a number of petitions and gave the Chancellor of the Exchequer a hard time.

Employers everywhere probably shuddered at the report of the indictment of Elizabeth Fenning, for attempting to poison her employers (the household of Orlibar Turner – this seems to be the week for unusual names) with arsenic in elizabeth-fenning-book-1their dumplings because she was under notice of dismissal. She had, apparently, taken the arsenic out of a drawer where it was, rather conveniently, labelled “Arsenic, deadly poison.” She was found guilty and sentenced to death.

At Lambeth Street Magistrates’ Office the trial continued of Margaret Moore, accused of attempting to steal the crown from the Tower of London. She maintained that her motive was to relieve those who were in want. Her neighbours appeared to state that she was occasionally deranged.

1808 court dressOn Thursday the Queen held the Drawing Room which was “brilliantly attended”. The Morning Post reported that Her Majesty wore “a petticoat of jonquil starsnet covered with a beautiful Indian silver gauze, with draperies of the same gracefully intermerged with superb formed silver fringe, ornamented with handsome cords and tassels; robe to correspond ornamented with diamonds.” A long list of persons were to be presented and a one-way system was set up through the palace in order to manage the crowd. The image shows court dress – despite the fashion for high waists hoops were still compulsory, producing a truly odd silhouette.

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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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Just How Romantic Were Highwaymen?

I have a vested interest in that question because two of my ancestors were hanged at Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire for highway robbery in the first half of the 18th century – fortunately for me, they had married and left children by then. Not so fortunate for their families. So, were these two handsome masked men on flashy black stallions, setting ladies’ hearts a flutter as they relieved the gentlemen of their coin? I very much doubt it – from what I can establish of these two, and their circumstances, they were probably an unpleasant pair of muggers out for what they could get and unscrupulous about how they got it.

But the highwayman was a popular figure (at least, if you weren’t one of his victims). The crowd loved a villain, especially one who robbed those better off than themselves, carried out daring raids and escapes and, when almost inevitably brought to justice, “died game” on the gallows. Reality was less romantic – even the famous Dick Turpin, shown here on Black Bess, was a violent thug who tortured victims and inn keepers. The dashing Frenchman, Claude du Vall was hanged at Tyburn January 1670 despite (according to legend) gallantly sparing the possessions of any pretty lady who was prepared to dance with him. Presumably the plain ones just got robbed. The Victorians loved him and he was immortalized in a painting by Frith.

So, what was the risk of encountering a highwayman? Up until the third quarter of the 18th century the danger was significant. Roads were bad, so travel was slow and out-running a mounted attack virtually impossible. There was no effective policing of highways and the response of the law was to react to incidents, not to prevent them. The London Gazette in 1684 carried an advertisement offering a reward after the Northampton stage was, ‘set upon by four Theeves, plain in habit but well-horsed,’ and in one week in 1720 every stagecoach into London from Surrey was robbed by highwaymen.

However, as I discovered when I was researching  Stagecoach Travel, although rapid improvements to roads in the later 18th century meant that there were far more vehicles moving over them it also meant that the coaches – increasingly better designed – became faster. Stage and mail coaches were now major businesses with a lot to lose and the guards were better armed and trained. The authorities put mounted patrols on the roads and eventually made the whole business too risky to be worthwhile.It took a while, though – the last incident of highway robbery on Knightsbridge, the road between Hyde Park Corner tollgate and the village of Kensington, was in 1799.

Today as you travel along that route, perhaps on the top of a London bus, look north as you pass the Royal Albert Hall, built on the site of Gore House. Opposite Gore House was the infamous Halfway House Inn (below). There the spies for the highwaymen of Hounslow Heath would congregate to see who was travelling and pass the word on to alert the highwaymen about fine carriages or vulnerable riders.  The wall behind the inn is the boundary of Hyde Park.

Highwaymen did persist longer in Ireland where the roads were less good and the slower coaches made easier pickings. In 1808 a coach lined with copper and advertised as bulletproof was tried on the Dublin to Cork road, an indication that highwaymen were not afraid to shoot into the body of the vehicle at the passengers as well as threaten the guard and coachman.

The highwayman and his less glamorous compatriots were sufficiently significant in Georgian society to have left their mark on the slang of the time as I discovered when I was researching Regency Slang Revealed: Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.   The mounted highwayman was “on the High Toby” the footpads were on the “Low Pad” or “Low Toby”. I found eleven general terms for a highwayman – a Gentleman’s Master being one that perhaps gives a clue as to why they were popular with the common people. A Bully Ruffian was a very violent highwayman whereas a Royal Scamp preyed on the rich in a most gentlemanly fashion. It seems that equipment was important – a Rum Padder was particularly well-armed and well-mounted and a Chosen Pell was a highwayman operating inside a town, riding a horse with leather covers on its feet to muffle the sound of hoof-beats.

A highwayman’s mistress was his Bloss or Blowen and she may have waited for him at inns like the Halfway House when he went “on the pad” advised by his Carriers or Cruisers – the informants. They would all have hoped for a Catching Harvest – a time when the roads were thronged with travellers going to some event or another. Fairs, boxing matches and races gave particularly good pickings.

Just remember, when you are held up by a highwayman – mention the Music. That’s the universal password that will see you safe.

I’ll leave you with a watercolour portrait that I own. I have no idea of date, artist or subject, but he haunts me. I just have the feeling that he’s a highwayman, no longer in his prime. Should he mount up and take to the High Toby tonight? Or would that be one time too many…

 

 

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A Great Investment – Or an Incitement to Murder? The Tontine

According to the Oxford English Dictionary a tontine is “A financial scheme by which the subscribers to a loan or common fund receive each an annuity during his life, which increases as their number is diminished by death, till the last subscriber enjoys the whole income…” [From the name of Lorenzo Tonti who initiated the scheme in France c 1653].

At first tontines seem to have been large scale affairs, often state-organised, and the reward for investment was the annuity, never a share of the capital, but by the later 18th century the very large tontines were out of favour and they were becoming a device for smaller groups to raise investment for a particular scheme. By the early 19th century there also appear to have been tontines where everything, including the capital, devolves on the survivor. This, of course, makes a perfect motive for murder, even for tontines where the capital is never awarded, but the survivors’ annuities increase with the death of each member. Who would want to stand at the head of a staircase with a fellow tontine subscriber behind you?

My first encounter with the concept of the tontine was in the film The Wrong Box (1966) which was based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1889 novel of the same name. The heirs of the two elderly Masterman brothers – the sole survivors of a tontine – engage in a range of hilarious and illegal tricks when it seems that one of the brothers has been killed in a train crash.

A few reminders of the tontines remain in the UK, mainly in hotels called The Tontine. There is one is Glasgow, one in Peebles – and the one that reminded me of the whole subject, in Ironbridge, Shropshire.

Here it is at the foot of the famous Iron Bridge itself. The bridge itself was opened in 1784 and immediately became a huge draw for not only  engineers and iron masters but also early tourists. The men behind the bridge saw the opportunity to cash in on this early tourist attraction and formed a tontine to pay for building the hotel. Pioneer industrialists Abraham and Samuel Darby and John Wilkinson were amongst the members of the tontine, but I have not discovered who was the survivor who eventually owned the hotel for himself.

In New York the Tontine Coffee House (1793) was funded by 203 shares of £200 each – a substantial investment. The coffee house on the corner of Wall Street and Water Street became the heart of New York financial dealing – the birth of the stock exchange. In this picture it is shown on the left with the flag above.

Meanwhile I am left wondering if I can’t use a tontine in a murder plot…

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To Go On the Buz Gloak or We’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two

The Sami people of Arctic Scandinavia (shown here in a print of c1800) have one thousand words for their reindeer and more than one hundred and eighty for snow and ice, figures that emphasize how important those things are in their lives.

When I was researching for Regency Slang Revealed I found twenty seven words or phrases relating to the crime of pickpocking which suggests that while it might not have filled the thoughts of people in 1800 to quite the same extent, it was a significant crime and one that was encountered on a regular basis.

To go pick-pocketing, or to practice the Figging Law (the art of picking pockets) was to go on the Buz Gloak, to File the Cly or to Dive, Draw, Foist or Shake. There were categories of pickpocket. A Knuckles was a superior practitioner and a Rum Diver was particularly dexterous while a Fork used his middle and forefingers  to delve into pockets. A pick pocket who was constantly at work was said to keep his Fives A-Going.

Pickpockets generally were Buzmen, Cly Fakers, Divers, Dummee Hunters, Files or Foists. Very often they worked in groups – Bulk and File – or had associates who would run off with the stolen goods the moment they were taken – the Adam Tylers. A female pickpocket might well wear a Round-about, a large circular pocket worn under her skirts in which to stash her ill-gotten gains.

Prostitutes often acted as decoys for pickpockets and a man whose mind was anywhere but on the contents of his pockets might well find them empty after an encounter in a back alleyway. But even the most virtuous were in danger – Autem Divers operated in churches, picking the pockets of worshippers whose concentration was on higher things. An Anabaptist, however, was not a follower of that religious sect but a pick pocket who had been caught and suffered summary punishment with a ducking in the nearest pond or under the pump. In a detail from an Alken print of a race meeting (at the head of this post) the man in a blue coat is picking the pocket of another who is totally distracted by a game of dice.

Stealing handkerchiefs (Clouts or Wipers) was a particular specialty. Unlike the paper tissues of today, costing virtually nothing and instantly discarded, a handkerchief in the Georgian period was a large piece of fabric, often good linen (a Kent), fine cotton lawn (a Lawn) or silk (a Sleek Wipe, India Wipe or Fogle), and worth money. Stealing them was to go on the Clouting Lay and a Fogle, Napkin Hunter or Wipe Drawer was the specialist in this form of crime.

Gentlemen often kept their handkerchiefs in a pocket in the tails of their coats which preserved the line of the body of the coat but made the handkerchief vulnerable. Sometimes they were deliberately displayed coming out of the back pocket to perhaps show off a fine Belcher (spotted silk handkerchief) – and that was asking for trouble. The two lads in the print by Alken seem to be stealing just such a handkerchief, one distracting the mark by begging, the other taking the handkerchief.

In no time at all a stolen handkerchief would be in the hands of of a Ferret (pawnbroker) or for sale in a Bow-Wow, a secondhand clothes shop.

Theft of an article worth more than one shilling was a crime punishable by death until 1823, although juries frequently assessed stolen goods at under that value in order to save the accused from the gallows. Stealing handkerchiefs was probably a profitable form of larceny that kept the Buzmen just on the right side of that line, although they could well face transportation and/or a vicious flogging. One pickpocket who did not do too badly, despite being caught, was George Barrington, known as ‘the pickpocket of gentleman and the gentleman of pickpockets.’  He was transported to Botany Bay  in 1791. By 1796 he was the Superintendent of Convicts, and later, High Constable.

The final print, of the famous street entertainer Black Billy performing in front of the statue of Charles I, shows another handkerchief being stolen on the extreme right of the picture. The pickpocket is a most respectable-looking youth – it seems you couldn’t trust anyone!

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From Palace to Prison – a Short History of Bridewell

prospect-of-bridewell

How does somewhere turn, in the space of thirty years, from a royal palace where the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was lavishly entertained to a place whose name became generic for prisons for the punishment of vagrants and fallen women?

Bridewell Palace was built for Henry VIII between 1515 and 1520. Its southern façade faced the Thames, its eastern face was on the banks of the River Fleet and it was named for the nearby holy well of St Bride and it was a typical rambling, brick-built Tudor palace around three courtyards. It was the location where Hans Holbein’s famous painting The Ambassadors was set, the venue for masques and celebrations when Charles V visited and the home of Henry’s illegitimate son Henry Blount, Duke of Richmond and Somerset.

Its days as a palace were short-lived after it served as the venue for conferences with the Papal Legate over the royal divorce and Henry’s last meeting with Catherine of Aragon in November 1529. By 1531 it was leased to the French Ambassador and it was there in 1533 that Holbein’s The Ambassadors was painted.

In 1553 Edward VI gave Bridewell away, granting it to the City of London as a home for destitute children and vagrants and as a prison for punishing disorderly and loose women and petty offenders with short periods of incarceration and regular whippings. Queen Mary confirmed Edward’s gift – perhaps not wanting to take back the place of such ill-memories of her mother.

The model of prison, hospital and workrooms proved successful enough for many others to be opened across the country, all called Bridewells. The whippings took place in  public twice a week, there was a ducking stool on the banks of the Thames in 1628 and there were also stocks. The regime appears to have been one of “short, sharp shock”, although it seems doubtful that it was very successful in reducing vagrancy, petty crime and immoral behaviour with no support for its inhabitants once they were released. More fortunate were orphans of City Freemen who were accommodated here for an education before being apprenticed to a trade.

The Great Fire of 1666 destroyed much of the old palace and it was rebuilt in 1667. Judging by the print at the top of this post from a drawing by Jan Kip made in the early 18th century, some of the old Tudor palace survived. It can be seen surrounding the courtyard in the foreground with the 17th century and later additions behind. This version of Kip’s drawing was published in 1720 by John Strype and shows the view from the east – in other words, the artist is hovering above the Fleet River and looking west. The two courtyards of the rebuilt Bridewell can be clearly seen in this detail from John Rocque’s map of 1747 (below) turned to be in the same orientation.

bridewell-roque

Despite the floggings the Bridewell was more liberal than other prisons of the time – it had a doctor in 1700, seventy five years before they were appointed to prisons elsewhere, and in 1788 prisoners were not only given straw for their beds but actual beds to put it in – other gaols had neither beds nor straw. Women were not whipped after 1791. The air quality must have improved somewhat after the Fleet was covered in 1764 with the creation of New Bridge Street down to Blackfriars Bridge (1760-69).

The beds filled with straw can be seen in this print of The Pass-Room at Bridewell, 1808 from Ackermann’s Microcosm of London. Here single women with babies were locked up as punishment for their ‘loose behaviour’. The notice on the wall warns that “Those who dirts Their Bed will be Punished.”

bridewell

Building work and improvements carried on until 1833 when all the Bridewells passed from local control to become part of the government’s prison system. In 1855 the prisoners were transferred to Holloway prison and the buildings were demolished in 1863/4. The only remaining fragment is the façade and gateway of 1802 which is now 14, New Bridge Street.

The outline of the site remains in the block bounded by New Bridge Street to the east, Tudor Street to the south, and Bridewell Place which wraps around the west and north sides. Tudor Street can be seen on the Rocque map and led towards one of the notorious and lawless Alsatias from which many of the inmates of Bridewell probably came.

As with Bedlam, the public could gain admittance to view the unfortunate inmates. Priscilla Wakefield, author of Perambulations in London (1814) wrote, ‘Many of the prisoners who we were permitted to see, were women, young, beautiful and depraved.’ Like much of Wakefield’s moralising writing this fills me with the desire to give her the life-chances those ‘depraved’ young women had and see how she got on!

The print below is from Ackermann’s Repository of May 1812 and shows the view looking south down New Bridge Street from what is now Ludgate Circus where Fleet Street dips down to the Fleet Valley and then rises eastwards up Ludgate Hill to St Paul’s Cathedral. Bridewell is concealed behind the furthest range of brown buildings on the right of the print.

new-bridge-street

This area is included in Walk 8 of my Walking Jane Austen’s London and Walk 9 of Walks Through Regency London.

 

 

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Visiting The Old Doss, The Navy Office and The Stone Pitcher

Few tourists walking up Ludgate Hill towards St Paul’s Cathedral today realise that they are close to three of the major London prisons, but the Bridewell, the Fleet and Newgate are within a stone’s throw.

Coming up New Bridge Street from Blackfriars’s Bridge you are walking over the Fleet River (or Ditch as it had become by the time of Roque’s map in 1747) and passing, on your left, the site of the Bridewell, or as it was known in cant terms, the Mill Doll or the Old Doss. It was built on the site of Henry VIII’s Bridewell Palace (the place where Holbein’s famous painting of The Ambassadors was created). In 1553 Edward VI gave the palace to the City as a refuge for homeless children, but in 1556 it became a House of Correction and workhouse. It dealt with vagrants, beggars, paupers and petty offenders until it burned down in the Great Fire of London, 1666.

Bridewell

It was rebuilt and, because it was dealing with petty crime, handled a very large number of prisoners – 1,989 committals in 1800, for example. Its medical facilities were considered excellent by the standards of the day and it did give some training to youths and care to the babies born there to unmarried mothers. The image of 1808 shows the ‘Pass-room’ for unwed mothers, each with her bed of straw. The sign on the wall reads ‘Those who Dirts Their Bed shall be Punished.’ The Bridewell closed in 1855 and most of it was demolished, although you can still see part of the handsome façade just south of Costa Coffee.

When you reach the crossroads, with Ludgate Hill to your right and Fleet Street to your left, you are at the site of the Fleet Bridge. In front of you now is Farringdon Street, but this used to be Fleet Market, with the Fleet Ditch paved over and a long line of market stall running north. William Morgan’s map of 1682 shows the Fleet running open here in a canal.

In the angle between the Fleet and the northern side of Ludgate Hill was the Fleet Prison. As a pun on its name its Warden became known as Commander of the Fleet and the prison itself as ‘the Navy Office.’ The site of the Fleet Prison resembled a strange letter P and, as with so many ancient sites in London (it was built in 1197, destroyed during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, then in the Great Fire and also severely damaged during the Gordon Riots of 1780), the shape remains – walk up Ludgate Hill and look to the left down the relatively new Limeburner Lane and you can see the curve in the modern buildings on the site.

The Fleet was a debtors’ prison , with about 300 held there, often with their families, until they had discharged their debts. Given that they had to pay their gaolers for absolutely everything from food to having their chains removed, it is hard to see how they could do so without outside help. Many were reduced to begging from the windows of the cells, but those with a trade were permitted to exercise it and, if they had a little money, could take lodgings in the area immediately around the prison – the ‘Liberty of the Fleet.’ Before the Marriage Act of 1753 the Liberty was a prime location for secret or hasty marriages – as many as three hundred in a week.

The prison was frequently condemned for its appalling conditions but it did not close until 1842 and it was demolished four years later.

123For criminals, prisons were not places of punishment until later in the 19th century when the reduction in hangings and floggings meant that new, less physical, punishments such as a term in prison, were devised. In Georgian times they were holding places for prisoners awaiting trial or punishment – hanging, flogging, transportation, time in the stocks or pillory. They were chaotic, filthy and rife with disease and a prisoner’s degree of comfort, if such a thing was to be had, depended on the ‘garnish’ or bribes they could give to the gaolers, just as happened in the Fleet.

Climb Ludgate Hill a little further and you come on the left to The Old Bailey. In the early 18th century this led to a Sessions House – a place where trials took place and now vanished under the southern end of the Central Criminal Courts (1907). Following Old Bailey north you come to Newgate Street where, just to the right was, literally, the New Gate, a massive gatehouse spanning the road. From its southern part Newgate prison extended under what is now the majority of the Central Criminal Courts site. The first records of a prison here are 1188. It was rebuilt after the Great Fire and again in 1770-8, burned down during the Gordon Riots and rebuilt 1780-3.

Newgate was so notorious that Grose’s and other slang dictionaries give over fifteen names for it – No.9 Fleet Market, Ackerman’s Hotel, the Stone Pitcher and Newman’s Tea Garden amongst them. An original door from Newgate and now in the Museum of London is shown above.

Roque’s map shows the Old Bailey forking just opposite the Sessions House with Little Old Bailey running up to Newgate Street on the left and leaving a triangular block of buildings in the centre. Old Bailey

When public hangings at Tyburn were abolished – the long drive across London through jeering and cheering crowds became to be seen as uncivilised, and it certainly disturbed the peace of the smart new developments north of Oxford Street – they were transferred to Newgate in 1783. This was supposed to create a more orderly atmosphere where the watching executions could be experienced with due solemnity. To this end the buildings between the Little Old Bailey and the main street were demolished at the same time as the prison was rebuilt following the Gordon Riots, creating a triangular space which is still open today.In the print above (1814) the Sessions House is on the right with Newgate Prison itself beyond it. The open space faces it, out of sight to the left of the print.

Naturally public executions at the new location were as much of a bear garden as before, with the crowd crammed into the enclosed space and every property with a view making a killing out of renting out window space to view the condemned being led out through the Debtors’ Door.

The print below shows the execution of the Cato Street conspirators, 23 February, 1820. Because they were convicted of treason the initial sentence was hanging, drawing and quartering, a brutal survivor or the middle ages. As a nod to modern times it was commuted to hanging, but the bodies were beheaded symbolically afterwards.catostreet executions

Newgate Prison is seen on the right and the church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, where a bell was tolled before a hanging, in the background.

Partly obscured by the cross-beam of the gallows you can just make out a rectangular panel. This was hung with chains and shackles and, when the prison in King’s Lynn was built, that door was reproduced in all its details.

Lynn prison

Public hangings were ended in 1868 and now it takes an effort to stand in the attractive space, with its flower tubs and benches,facing the dignified mass of the Edwardian Central Criminal Courts and with the church still standing to your left and imagine what the place must have been like during an execution.

You can find these prisons on Walk 8 of Walking Jane Austen’s London and if you are intrigued by the slang and cant terms for the prisons you can find more for crime and punishment and the whole colourful world of Georgian and Regency underworld and sporting life in  Regency Slang Revealed.

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A Most Scandalous Lady

When I was researching Knightsbridge for my last post I came to Kingston House (shown below in a Victorian print) and read about its extraordinary first owner, Elizabeth Chudleigh. I write historical romances, but I would never dare attempt a plot with anything like the story of her romantic life – no-one would believe it for a moment!

Kingston House

Elizabeth (c1720-1788) was the daughter of Colonel Sir Thomas Chudleigh who had a number of influential friends, including the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Perhaps it was due to his good offices that she became a maid of honour to the Princess of Wales, wife of Frederick, Prince of Wales and mother to George III.

At court she met and became engaged to the Duke of Hamilton who promptly departed on the Grand Tour. While he was away Elizabeth met Captain Augustus John Hervey, a son of the Earl of Bristol who fell passionately in love with her. At first Elizabeth did not return his feelings,  but her aunt who favoured the match intercepted the duke’s letters from the continent and eventually Elizabeth, piqued at his apparent neglect, secretly married Hervey in 1744.

Incredibly the couple managed to keep their marriage a secret from the court and their families, even though it soon became apparent that it was not a success. Elizabeth was unfaithful to Hervey, and he probably was to her, and they effectively parted in 1749.

The Duke of Hamilton returned to England from his Grand Tour, still assuming they were engaged and pressed for a marriage date, only to be astounded by Elizabeth’s refusal. However much she might have wanted to marry a duke, she was not, at this point, ready to commit bigamy. Hamilton finally gave up and married one of the beautiful Gunnings sisters.

NPG D1106; Elizabeth Chudleigh, Countess of Bristol after Unknown artist

Elizabeth’s family were furious with her for apparently refusing a duke on a whim, and she left the country for to the court of Frederick the Great where she was very popular. On her return to London the vivacious “Miss Chudleigh” was equally in demand, and enjoyed a very lively social life as the portrait of her in the role of Iphegeia at a masque suggests! (Unknown artist 1749)

“… it has been asserted this lady appeared [at a masquerade] in a shape of flesh-coloured silk so nicely and closely fitted to her body as to produce a perfect review of the unadorned mother of mankind, and that this fair representative of frailty, … had contrived a method of giving as evident tokens of modesty, by binding her loins with a partial covering, or zone, of fig-leaves.” (The Life and Memoirs of Elizabeth Chudleigh. 1788)

But Elizabeth was still stuck with her secret husband and it is said that she eventually tore the leaf out of the church register where the marriage was recorded and bribed the clerk to say nothing. At which point her husband unexpectedly became Earl of Bristol so she bribed the clerk again and returned the page to the register!
At this crucial point she fell in love with the Duke of Kingston and became his mistress. Kingston and Bristol agreed between them that Bristol would relinquish all claims to Elizabeth and a marriage was performed on March 6th 1769 between the Duke of Kingston and Elizabeth – despite her first husband being very much alive and no divorce having taken place.
For years they lived as man and wife at Kingston House. Elizabeth became a leader of fashion, but in 1773 the duke died and she travelled to Italy. While she was away a Mrs Craddock, a witness to the true marriage, turned up at her solicitors and proceeded to blackmail the “Duchess”. When no money was forthcoming Mrs Craddock went to the Duke of Kingston’s family and all hell broke loose.

L0023717 Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston, attending her tria

[Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston, attending her trial. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org. Etching 1776 by John Hamilton Mortimer. Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ ]

Proceedings were brought and Elizabeth returned home to face trial for bigamy. The case began on April 15th 1776 and she was, unsurprisingly, found guilty. At the time the penalty for bigamy was transportation or imprisonment, but Elizabeth claimed the privileges of a peeress and was discharged without sentence.
But her “in-laws” were still in hot pursuit of the property she had acquired from the duke on his death and she knew she had to leave the country. She kept her planned flight a secret, even going to the lengths of inviting a large number of people to a dinner party on the night in question. They arrived to find Kingston House empty.
Elizabeth lived in Calais for a while, then moved to Paris under the protection of the king’s brother. She was residing there when her lawyers told her that a suit concerning an estate she had bought with the duke’s money had been found against her. She flew into such a furious fit of temper that she burst a blood vessel and died on August 26th, 1796. Perhaps a fitting end to such a tumultuous life!

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