Category Archives: Employment

The Story of a Square 8: Soho Square

Soho Square was built in the 1680s by Richard Frith who had obtained a license indirectly from the landowner, the Earl of St Albans. The area had been farmland that had become a popular location for hunting and the most likely origin of the area’s name is that ‘So-Ho!’ was a hunting cry. By the 1670s building in the area was gaining momentum and it was popular with significant courtiers and aristocrats.

The Square had forty one houses by 1691 of which the most significant was Monmouth House on the south side, London home of Charles II’s illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth. The print of c. 1700 below looks south across the Square towards Monmouth House with its forecourt behind railings. Monmouth was executed after his failed rebellion against his uncle, King James II, in 1685. The house was eventually demolished in 1783. In John Evelyn’s Diary he records spending the winter of 1690 ‘at Soho, in the great Square.’

The Square was also known as King Square after Charles II. In 1720 John Strype wrote that the Square ‘hath very good Buildings on all Sides, especially the East and South, which are well inhabited by Nobility and Gentry.’ He described the garden in the centre as ‘a very large and open place, enclosed with a high Pallisado Pale, the Square within neatly kept, with Walks and Grass-plots, and in the midst is the Effigy of King Charles the Second, neatly cut in Stone to the Life, standing on a pedestal.’ It stood in a basin of water with figures representing the rivers Thames, Trent, Humber and Severn. The sculptor was Caius Gabriel Cibber. Stow’s view below looks north.

Soho or King’s Square, for ‘Stow’s Survey of London’, pub. 1754 by Nicholls, Sutton (fl.1700-40); hand coloured copper engraving; (out of copyright)

In 1748 a new wall and railings were erected. By 1839 the statues was ‘in a most wretchedly mutilated state’ and in the 1870s it was removed and sold, the last owner being  W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan fame. A half-timbered tool shed was erected in its place. The statue was returned in 1938, but without its basin. The view is looking south to where Monmouth House once stood.

The most fashionable residents abandoned Soho Square in the 1770s and moved westwards towards Mayfair but the area remained respectable and desirable and many merchants and country gentlemen had houses there, with various foreign diplomatic missions as neighbours.

By the beginning of the 19th century the residents were mainly professional men such as lawyers, doctors, architects and auctioneers. On the corner with Greek Street is what is now the House of St Barnabas, a Grade I Listed house built between 1744-7 and leased in 1754 to Richard Beckford, an immensely wealthy Jamaican plantation owner. It is now a charity for the homeless – one wonders what the slave-owning Mr Beckford would have made of that.

In 1816 Trotter’s, or the Soho Bazaar, was opened at what is now 4-6, Soho Square.  John Trotter was an army contractor and had built numbers 4, 5 and 6 as a warehouse. Having made a vast fortune from the war he turned his warehouse into a bazaar, or indoor market, to offer an outlet for craftwork created by the widows and daughters of army officers. They could rent a counter or stall at a cost of 3d per day per foot and sold jewellery, millinery, baskets, gloves, lace, potted plants and books. There was also a druggist in the bazaar, as a charming children’s book entitled A Visit to the Bazaar (1818) shows. The little book was intended to explain the origins of such goods along with moral lessons and instructions on how to make some of them.

The highly successful venture was patronised by the royal family and lasted until 1885.

If you leave the Square today and go around to Dean Street you can peer through the iron gates at the back of the original warehouse.

The print of 1812 shows the south-west corner of the Square. Frith Street enters to the left and the entrance to Carlyle Street can be seen top right. A mixed herd of cattle and sheep are being driven towards Greek Street, perhaps heading for one of the butchers serving the numerous eating houses in the district.

Soho is a fascinating area to explore. You can find it in Walk 5 in my Walking Jane Austen’s London and Walks 5 and 6 in Walks Through Regency London and discover its treasures, even at this difficult time, with the help of StreetView.

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Filed under Architecture, Buildings, Employment, Royal family, Shopping, Walks

The Road to Waterloo Week Two – Londoners Riot & The News Arrives

With the government in London, and the Allies at the Congress in Vienna, still unaware that anything was amiss, Napoleon continued his march northwards. On Sunday 5th he arrived at Sisteron, where he was not greeted with any great enthusiasm, but he pushed on to Gap where he arrived on Monday and was joined by the 7th Regiment of Infantry under its colonel, Charles de la Bédoyère.
By Tuesday 8th Napoleon reached Laffrey, 77 kilometres from the coast and 26 kilometres south of the significant city of Grenoble. The road was barred by a battalion of the 5th Regiment of the Line. Napoleon rode out in front, within pistol range, dismounted, walked forward, threw back his greatcoat to show his uniform and challenged the soldiers to shoot their Emperor. Instead they cheered and surged forward to surround him – it was a significant moment.
That day news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba reached the Congress in Vienna – but without any information about where he was.
Meanwhile Londoners had violence of quite a different kind to be concerned about – the Corn Law Riots. With the end of war there was a drop in demand for wheat for the army. At the same time the removal of the danger to merchant shipping allowed grain imporPic010ts to flow in unimpeded and the price of wheat fell. This was a serious threat to landowners, just as it was a great relief for the poor, for whom bread constituted a major part of the diet, especially in the industrial towns.
The Corn Importation Bill was put before parliament in February and prohibited the import of foreign wheat at under 80 shillings a quarter, and also set minimum prices for other grains. It proved to be the start of one of the most furious political debates in British history and one that continued to divide opinion for thirty years.
Landowners argued that low wheat prices would prevent farmers from making a profit, they would have to cut labourers’ wages and the whole economy would suffer from a decline in purchasing power. It would also put the country at the mercy of foreigners. The cartoon below shows landowners refusing foreign wheat. The women and children harvesters are from a bat-print dish of about 1820.

Corn LawSamuel Whitbread, the brewer, pointed out that by this argument, the recent war had been a good thing as it had prevented the French exporting their wheat and that on those grounds, “it would be better to set Boney up again.” He was about to get his wish.
In the industrial towns, which were virtually unrepresented in parliament, there was furious opposition to the Bill. Petitions flooded in – for example one from Bristol signed by 40,000, and the petition from the City of London speaking of “unexampled distress and privation.” The newspapers were full of column after column detailing the petitions. Parliament panicked and the Bill was hurried through – within three weeks it was already receiving its third reading.
On Monday 6th the chanting of the mob outside Parliament could be heard in the Chamber “No Corn Bill! No Corn Bill!”
Although the mob was dispersed, violence broke out that night, supporters of the Bill had their houses attacked and violent disorder continued through the nights of Wednesday and Thursday. The army was called in, mob rule and revolution was feared and the Society pages noted that the Marchioness of Camden’s rout & card party at the family town house in Arlington Street was thin of company because of the unrest in the streets. Even the bad news of the retreat of British forces on 18th Jan, after an initially successful attack on New Orleans on 23 December, was lost in the furore over the riots and the Bill.
Then on Friday Napoleon entered Lyons in triumph and the garrison, in the process of being reviewed by King Louis XVIII’s brother, the Comte d’Artois, changed sides, pulling faces at the helpless prince. The same day the news of his escape finally reached London. The Corn Law Bill was pushed out of the headlines.Nathan_Mayer_Rothschild
In the words of the next day’s Morning Chronicle, “An extraordinary sensation was yesterday produced by the intelligence from France, of the landing of BONAPARTE at Frejus… the first notice of this most memorable event was announced by Mr Rosschild  [Nathan Mayer Rothschild, shown left], the Exchange Broker, who sold stock to the amount of 600,000l. on the receipt of the news by express from France.”
At the same time as the Rothschilds’ efficient intelligence network delivered the news, the British government received dispatches from Lord Fitzroy Somerset in Paris and the confirmation that Napoleon was in France reached Vienna.
Thanks to the stage and mail coach network the news spread across the country with incredible speed. James Oakes of Bury St Edmunds wrote in his diary on the 10th, “This morning by mail the acct came of Bonaparte’s making good his landing in France with 10 or 20,000 men.”
That day, the 10th March, the Corn Law was passed by 245 votes to 75 – without any disturbances on the street whatsoever.

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Filed under Agriculture, Employment, Food & drink, Napoleon, Regency caricatures, Riots, Waterloo, working life

Recycling Georgian Style

I was sorting out the recycling the other day and began to wonder just how the average Georgian dealt with their waste and rubbish.

To get the most unpleasant waste out of the way first – a privy and cess pit serving a home where a well-built facility was regularly emptied was one thing, the shared privies in a back slum, quite another. At least in Jane Austen’s day most human waste was dealt with via a cess pit and was not flushed straight into the drains that had been designed only to take the rainwater to the rivers.  The privies were emptied by the ‘night-men’ or ‘night-soil men’ who carried out their smelly task after dark, tipping the contents into great vats on the back of carts that then trundled off to the market gardens that surrounded London where raw waste was used to fertilise the crops.

Tottenham Court RoadAnimal waste was another vast problem. There were thousands of horses in London and added to that were the great herds of animals driven right into the centre of town daily to small local slaughterhouses. The print is from Ackermann’s Repository March 1812 and shows the Tottenham Court Road turnpike with St James’s chapel on the right. Today the burying ground behind the chapel is lost under Euston station. A flock of sheep and a cow are herded past on their way to London, a routine part of the day.

All the animal waste ended up on the streets to mix with dust, household sweepings and rainwater to create a disgusting muddy slurry. At least within central London the roads were cobbled – being ‘on the stones’ marked the limits of the hackney carriages – and the pavements were, as their name suggests, paved. In the better areas the parish officials would employ road sweepers to clear the worst of the mud and muck. This print by Richard Deighton is from his London Nuisances series and is entitled Passing a Mud Cart. The smartly-dressed gentleman is dry-shod on the pavement, but that does not save him.

Mud cart

Crossing sweepers, often young boys or elderly men, made their living by clearing a path through the worst of the muck whenever someone wanted to cross the road.

Adding to the mess on the streets were industries and markets. Tanneries, breweries, metal working all created foul waste water to be flushed away to the river. Beggars, scavengers and stray animals dealt with much of what fell to the ground in markets. Very little was wasted – even the most unpromising meat scraps could be sold to feed pets, guard dogs and the kitchen mouser. This print shows a cat and dog meat seller outside Bethlem Hospital.Cat meat

In the home recycling was a way of life. The mistress drank expensive tea but the used tea leaves were a perk of the housekeeper who would dry them and resell them. The left-overs from the family table were eaten by the servants or given to the poor. Carcasses and scraps were boiled for stock and soup, bones could be resold for various industrial purposes.

Packaging was paper-based, so could be reused until it fell apart or was put on the fire. Clothing was re-cut and reused and gradually descended through the social orders from lady to lady’s maid, to second-hand clothes shop to rag man and finally paper manufacturer. In this detail from William Pyne’s ‘Guy Fawkes’ the woman applying blacking to boots is wearing an old army jacket while the coat on the guy has reached the end of its life.Guy Fawkes

The market for second hand goods ranged from the elegant antique shop or a sale at a major auction house to a market stall. Repairing worn or damaged goods was commonplace and gave employment to a range of craftsmen such as chair seat repairers, tinsmiths and cobblers.

In the household candle stubs were reused in the servants’ quarters, or if they were good quality wax, formed part of the housekeeper’s perks and were sold. Ashes were used in the privy or on the garden or, if thrown out would be picked over to remove every re-burnable scrap. The chimney sweep would remove the soot and resell it as fertiliser.

In 1805 William H Pyne produced the series of prints known as Pyne’s British Costumes, showing everyone from a highland shepherd to an admiral by way of bakers, knife grinders and aldermen. A detail from ‘Guy Fawkes’ is shown above and this is a detail of  ‘Dustman’ showing the protective leather attached to the back of his hat so he can shoulder the baskets of waste.

Dustmen 2The accompanying text explains that to prevent plague and pestilence the cities of London and Westminster had appointed ‘a regular body of scavengers, and dustmen, the former to sweep the open streets, and cart away the filth, and stagnant dirt; and the latter, to collect from door to door such waste materials as composed the dunghills.’ An Act of Parliament in 1670 required householders to ensure that ‘the dirt, ashes, or soils, of their houses should be in readiness for the Carmen, by setting out the same overnight in tubs, boxes, baskets, or other vessels…’

Pyne states that the dustmen ring a bell to announce their arrival and collect rubbish to ‘the dust hills in the environs of the town…time has brought to light, that industry, aided by experiment, can turn everything to advantage; and that rubbish and filth, the former pests of the city, are now become a source of utility and wealth.’ The rubbish had become so valuable that scavengers and dustmen had to pay for permission to cart it away. ‘It furnishes the means of an honest livelihood for a great number of men and women, of the lowest order, who are employed in separating the different materials, which are heaped together upon the dust hills.’

It seems that recycling in some form or another was a way of life for the Georgians and one that provided a living for virtually every strata of society below the wealthy.

 

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