W. J. (William John) Loftie.

Rambles in and near London : or, London afternoons online

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every gaol was a tap or public-house, kept by the gaoler
himself hi most cases, but sometimes by one of the prisoners.
At the Marshalsea, in Southwark, the tap was kept by
a prisoner-for-debt from the King's Bench, which was
so near that he could attend to his business without going
beyond the bounds or " rules." It was common for persons
who were friends of the prisoners to come in and drink
with them. In one place there was a skittle alley, ex-
clusively used by outsiders, who thus prevented the
prisoners from taking exercise in their yard.



270 LONDON AFTERNOONS.

Gaol fever raged so terribly in almost all the London
and country prisons that, to mention one example of each,
in London in 1750, two judges, the Lord Mayor, several
aldermen, the under-sheriff, and many lawyers who had
attended the March Sessions at the Old Bailey, together with
most of the Middlesex jury, and a considerable number of
spectators, died of this distemper ; and at the Taunton
assizes, Lent, 1730, the Lord Chief Baron, Serjeant
Sheppard, Mr. Pigot, the high sheriff, and more than
two hundred other people, died of the same epidemic.
Prisons do not appear to have been inspected in any way :
nay, they were often private property the Gate House,
the chief prison for Westminster, belonged to the Dean
and Chapter, and the town gaol of Salisbury to the Bishop
and this gave rise to many abuses, the gaoler being
appointed, not for his humanity, nor for any other quality
except his power of wringing a good rent out of his
wretched charge. In most places there was no provision
made for feeding the prisoners, except a few pence worth
of bread in the day. In others, charitable persons gave
small sums of money to be applied in this way, and others
sent meat and provisions of various kinds. Legacies, too,
were sometimes left. They were, however, administered
as charitable legacies too often were administered in
those days. No bedding, or straw even for bedding,
was allowed in any prison except out of the charity of
private individuals. Water had often to be fetched long
distances by prisoners in irons. Even air was often denied
through the operation of the window-tax, which had to
be paid by the gaoler.

Another shocking abuse arose from the distances
prisoners had in many cases to go for trial. There were
no prison vans, and you might often meet along a countiy
road a gang of unhappy creatures men, women, and



LONDON A CENTURY AGO. 271

children dragging heavy irons to prevent escape, and
walking or rather creeping perhaps fourteen or fifteen
miles to the assize town. When they arrived there, a
room or two would be hired for their occupation till after
the sessions, probably in some public-house, and there they
would all men, women, and children, as I have said
be shut up together, tired, filthy, starving : so that
it is no wonder their shrieks and cries disturbed the
whole neighbourhood ; no wonder that Mr. Howard
was informed at Aylesbury of two men whose toes had
mortified after their journey from Hertford ; or that
a prisoner told him that he and fifteen others were
confined in a very small room at Beigate, awaiting their
trial at quarter sessions, and were almost suffocated. The
keeper confirmed the statement. Yet this man was
only arrested in order to oblige him to maintain a child,
and being unable at a strange place like Eeigate to find
securities, was sent back to the County Bridewell, in St.
George's Fields, for an indefinite term. This same Bride-
well is a fair sample of all. There was no glass in the
windows, only iron bars. There were no fires, nor was
any firing allowed. The sick prisoners lay on the floor ;
no bedding ; no straw ; allowance, l^d. worth of bread
per diem ; convicts and all other prisoners together ;
no infirmary. And yet in this hell upon earth many
unfortunates who had committed no crime, and had yet
to be tried, were confined. Before trial they had, perhaps,
to wait six months or more, and then to undergo the
misery of a journey such as I have described to Reigate
or Kingston.

When the trial came on, it is not wonderful to find
that neither prisoners nor judges were very careful as to
the punishment. Almost all crimes were punished alike :
before 1783 it was a journey in a cart up Holborn Hill



272 LONDON AFTERNOONS.

to Tyburn for prisoners in London itself, and the gallows
when they got there. In May, 1801, eighteen prisoners
were condemned to death at a single sessions, three of
them women. A hundred years hence it may be difficult
to identify any part of the site of the gallows. They
had been removed further and further westward from
Smithfield, where they must have spoiled the view of old
gables like those at the corner of Hosier Lane and Cow
Hill. Next they were in St. Giles's Fields probably very
near the spot at which Bloomsbury Street crosses Oxford
Street; in 1449, or earlier, they had gone as far as
Stratford Place, where there was a conduit with other
civic institutions including, of course, a banqueting house.
The Tyburn gallows were erected at a place to the west
of Marylebone Lane probably, at first, almost adjoining
it; and as houses came nearer the open space the fatal
tree was moved further, till it took up its most permanent
abode at a place where it was almost certain to remain
open on two sides at least. This was at the angle formed
by the junction of the Edgware and Oxford roads, faced
by the park on one side and by open country on two others.
On the right-hand side was an inn, where the sheriffs
and other officials dined after the executions. A stage,
much resembling the grand stand at a race, was erected
in front of this house for the spectators. The gallows
were removed after each performance, and were deposited
in the inn-yard till they were next required. In
J. T. Smith's "London" (1815) we read that "a
gallows was erected on the mornings of execution, con-
sisting of two uprights and a cross-beam. On the west
side of the road were two open galleries for spectators i
these were standing in my time. The keys of one of
them were kept by a squabby woman of the name of
Douglas, commonly called Mammy Douglas, the Tyburn




HOSIER LANE, SMITH FIELD, IN 1809.
(From a Print by J. T. Smith.)



LONDON A CENTURY AGO. 273

Pew-opener." After 1783 the beams degenerated into
horse-blocks and watering-troughs. A place of execution
for soldiers was just within the park boundary, which
consisted of a low wall.

In Hogarth's print of the Execution of the Idle
Apprentice a representation of Tyburn in 1747 will be
found, and may be considered tolerably accurate. A
long avenue of walnut trees commenced just within the
park wall. This is on the left of the picture. The wall
itself is surmounted by a row of spectators. Behind, on
the right, stand the gallows : they are triangular, sup-
ported by three stout beams or legs, and must have been
set up in the middle of the road. It is often asserted
that bones have been found in this neighbourhood in
digging foundations. So far, no such discovery has been
authenticated, though the remains of Cromwell, Ireton,
and Bradshaw were buried under the gallows in 1661.

It has often been asserted that the gallows stood as
far to the west as Gonnaught Square, and a house there
was said to stand on the exact site. This is very unlikely,
though, while there were open fields, gibbets may have
been sometimes placed in them. Smith, quoted above,
knew a man named Watkins who had gathered black-
berries " on the north side of the road now called Oxford
Street " in or about 1762. Two of the fields on which
Portman Square was built were named in an old survey
" Great and Little Gibbet Fields." The customary place
for the execution of the capital sentence was the King's
highway or an adjacent " commonable " space. A gibbet,
on the other hand, might be set up, like a scarecrow,
anywhere. No gibbet or gallows are seen in a view on
an earthenware plate in my possession, probably made at
Plymouth about 1750, which otherwise agrees very well
with Hogarth's.



274 LONDON AFTERNOONS.

Every mention of the streets of a century ago calls
to our minds the difficulties of locomotion. The roads
about London were very bad, and were, moreover, infested
with highwaymen. Most people travelled on horseback,
but noblemen and those who were wealthy, by using
four horses, or even sometimes six, were able to get about
in carriages at great expense. Coaches carrying the
mails lumbered along very slowly, and were constantly
the prey of highwaymen. Thus, one hundred and twenty
years ago, the Chester mail was robbed in the City Road.
The Leeds coach was stopped at Holloway hi March, 1769,
by a single highwayman, who was wounded, but got off.
In the dark, a passenger was tied neck and heels and
thrown into the basket before he was recognised. From
the village of Marylebone to Deptford, a passenger on
foot would probably have avoided the Park for fear of
robbers, and Park Lane for the same reason, as well as the
badness of the road. Along Oxford Road to Holborn, he
would pass the labyrinth of streets on the site of which
Regent Street now stands, carrying his sword well in
hand and his pistols cocked. Perhaps, however, a clergy-
man would not have worn a sword, and would have
trusted more to his gown and bands to protect him
than to his pistols. But the probability is that I should
not have worn the usual costume of a clergyman
the long black cassock, which still survives in bishops*
aprons, and the gown and bands, to say nothing of the
shovel three-cornered hat and the full-bottomed wig
they were already getting obsolete. Before I got as
far as Holborn, I should try to keep company with any
respectable-looking person I could find going the same
way till we were well past St. Giles's. I would then
turn down Chancery Lane, and at Temple Stairs would
try to make a bargain with a waterman to row me



LONDON A CENTURY AGO. 275

down the river to London Bridge. I should cross the
bridge on foot, and then, if possible, obtain a hackney
coach in Southwark to drive me along the Kent Road
towards Deptford. This would cost 1 Is. I might,
perhaps, get a seat on one of the Greenwich coaches, which
were beginning to plyi morning and evening, as far as
Southwark.

I should not think of returning to distant Maryle-
bone the same night, unless I was willing to run the
risk of being out all night, and of being, perhaps,
robbed and murdered on the way home. The beauty of
the severe penal laws was, that if a man robbed you he
might as well shoot you, because dead men tell no tales,
and if he were caught and convicted he would be hanged
just as surely for robbing you as for killing you. It is
very odd that our legislators were so long perceiving the
effect of their efforts for suppressing crime by severity.
I should, as I passed through Southwark, have admired
the light of the numberless oil lamps which had been lately
placed in St. George's Fields to mark the way, but which
served only to make the darkness of the Kent Road more
dismal. I should also, in passing through the streets of
London, have congratulated myself and the London public
on the brilliant illumination made by the oil lamps at
almost every corner, and, in some streets, even along both
sides of the way at long intervals. Of course, I should
not admire this feeble light if I had ever seen gas ; and,
bad as London gas is, it is a thousand times better than
anything used before. In houses the chief light was
tallow candles ; wax was too expensive for common use,
and composites had not yet been invented. Even to light
your dip you had to go through an elaborate process with
a flint and steel and some dry tinder in your tinder
box.



276 LONDON AFTERNOONS.

So far the picture is but gloomy. To our modern
eyea London even fifty years ago would be full of sights
and sounds which would strike us unfavourably. But
London was even then better than many Continental
cities. We obtain a curious transient glimpse of it and its
impression on the mind of a foreigner in the eighteenth
century from a pamphlet written in 1788. It was pub-
lished at Amsterdam, and must have been an attempt on
the part of some Frenchman, exiled by the revolution, to
make a little money. It describes in a letter to a friend
a Promenade d'Automne en Angleterre, or, as we should
say, a holiday run. He is much impressed, and so is his
companion, a boy of seventeen, by the journey through
Rouen to the coast of Normandy. He never forgets
Paris for a moment, and even when he sees the heart
of Richard Coeur de Lion it only reminds him of an opera.
At Dieppe he embarks for " Brigtemstone " : which he
reaches in safety, but characterises as " a miserable village."
After some days he proceeds to London. His first excla-
mation is at the astonishing greenness of the country, a
verdure wanting, he says, in the rest of the world. He
is also surprised at the neatness of everything, the absence
of beggars, the abundance everywhere " not a traveller
on foot, not a pauper, not a soldier."

When our Frenchman arrives in London he first
remarks the beauty of the dome of St. Paul's and the
wide extent of the suburbs. He describes a villa : a
small brick house, ornamented with carpets, with tables
of mahogany, solid and comfortable chairs, newspapers,
and a Bible. " Here the simple artisan works by the side
of his wife, who sews and watches her handsome children
out of a corner of her eye as they jump about or scramble
on the lawn."

He is well pleased with London. According to the





STONEWARE PLATE, IN AUTHOR'S POSSESSION, BEARING
VIEW OF TYBURN GATE, ABOUT 1750.



LONDON A CENTURY AGO. 277

discoveries of the learned, he says, " it was built by Brutus
the Trojan, long before the coming of the Komans." He
remarks on its great size and population, the multitude
of steeples and old edifices, the width of the streets and the
foot-paths, the fine squares with their shrubberies, the
statues, gilt from head to foot, and the many other features
which distinguished London from Paris, even then. On
the other hand he sometimes complains of ill-paved lanes,
of the smoke, of the funereal tint of a dull day with fog
and soot and brown brick. He was much distressed
by the bareness of the interior of St. Paul's, in which he
complains that they forced him to observe some flags
taken from the French. He is greatly pleased with St.
Stephen's, Walbrook, which he prefers to St. Paul's, but
his chief admiration is lavished on what he calls " With-
hall." He remarks with horror on the death of
Charles I., little foreseeing, perhaps, that in five short
years the King of France was to meet a similar fate in
Paris.

Westminster Abbey pleases our traveller. The banners
are admired, but the monuments disgust him. Never-
theless he observes an Englishman, who points out to
his son the tomb of some hero, and sees the boy redden
as his father tells him not of the glory of the deceased
but that he died doing his duty.

He notices the order and cleanliness of the hospitals,
and makes the strange remark : " I think that hospitals
ought to follow the organisation of the English but be
managed by Frenchmen." Some of his observations
on our courts of justice are less out of date. The Hall
of the Old Bailey, he says, is square : the Mayor of London
seats himself on a kind of throne, at his side are the seats
of the judges, and at the extremities are the two sheriffs
in black and scarlet with gold chains. In a separate



278 LONDON AFTERNOONS.

tribune on the left is the jury, waiting in a cold and
respectful attitude for the accused. Some of the surround-
ings of justice are curious, and not easily explained. " Be-
low the tribunal was a sword of justice, and under it a cup,
the ancient emblem of forgetfulness ; at its sides are two
rods of light, white wood, symbolic of the gentleness which
ought to preside at punishment." Our Frenchman's
love of emblems seems to have led him astray here, but
he is correct when he mentions that flowers, bouquets,
and sweet-smelling herbs are distributed to the spectators,
and are also spread on the benches of the criminals. He
goes on, " The light of Heaven having been invoked, the
judge begins his interrogatory.'' Here his recollections of
French methods of procedure evidently confuse him
methods which are the same now, after a hundred years
and more of change and revolution among our traveller's
countrymen. A man of the world, he remarks, however
well-informed or ingenious, could never imagine what
tradition of humanity, subtlety and address the judges
have acquired in questioning the witnesses. He evidently
looked on every one who wore a wig and gown as a judge.
While elsewhere, he continues, they try to find a man
guilty, here they try to find him innocent. The Court
sat till four o'clock, and adjourned for dinner. " The gravity
which pervaded this ceremonious repast was in accordance
with my feelings," he observes. " Two ceremonies struck
me : the grace said by the chaplain before we sat down,
and the same ceremony over a large silver-gilt basin of
rose-water which went round. At six o'clock the trials
were resumed, and twenty-five criminals were condemned
to death." The judge spoke in a grave and touching
manner, like a father unwilling to punish. Our traveller
wished that other countries could adopt the law-giving of
the English, though he objected to the punishment of death.



LONDON A CENTURY AGO. 279

What strikes a modern reader most is the good he
recognises in the English character. Could he have
foreseen that the tendency of the jurisprudence on this
side of the Channel would be to lessen ill-doing and
to make punishment less and less revenge for crime,
yet more and more deterrent, and could he have
prophesied that after a century the erroneous ideas
of his countrymen would have been intensified, as we
have seen them lately, he might have written in a still
more despondent tone. We are inclined to speak of the
cruelty and indifference to suffering of our ancestors, yet
we find our Frenchman remarking on the fact that in
England " three great horses are set to draw on a smooth
highway what one horse in France would have to draw
over a rough country road." He observes that when
a coachman stops for a moment he gives his horses hand-
fuls of hay and rubs up the harness. " He is attentive
and civil, and unlike the French cocker" What most
astonishes him is the repose everywhere apparent. The
quietness of even crowded streets has been mentioned
very lately as striking foreign visitors : and one of the
best remarks of the gentleman from whom I have quoted
so much is, we may hope, still true : " They think much
less of the architecture of their theatres than of that of
their hospitals."



280



CHAPTER XXIII.

KENSINGTON.

In Search of a Palace Holland House, its Architecture and
Associations Purchase of Nottingham House by William III.
Its Conversion into Kensington Palace Sir Christopher
Wren and William Kent The Serpentine The State Apart-
ments Royal Deaths in the Palace Queen Anne Queen
Caroline The Cupola Room The Room in which Queen
Victoria was Born.

IN the winter of 1689 King William III. was in search
of a palace. At that time Whitehall and its neighbour
St. James's were decreed by an Act passed in the reign
of Henry VIII. to be " the Palace of Westminster." They
both lay very low, parts of Whitehall being little, if at all,
above the level of high water in the Thames, while St.
James's stood in an undrained marsh. Vigorous as was
the mind of our Dutch King " of glorious, pious and im-
mortal memory," it was lodged in a weak, asthmatical
body. Winter spent upon or below the level of the river
Thames was not calculated to improve the royal lungs.
When he took his daily airing, therefore, on the higher
ground round London, William endeavoured to find a
house within easy reach of the offices of his Government,
yet out of the smoke and damp, and suitably surrounded
by spacious gardens and a wide, well-timbered park. It
so happened that at this time two very beautiful country



KENSINGTON. 281

houses lay to westward of London, one on the road to
Kensington, the other beyond that village, both belonging
to noblemen who had other residences nearer town, and
lx)th, it was understood, if not actually in the market,
yet at hia Majesty's disposal for a moderate price. It
would seem that in going to look at Holland House, William
passed near Nottingham House. The second Earl of
Nottingham had not yet succeeded to the title and estate
of his cousin the Earl of Winchilsea, but the other earl, the
owner of Holland House, had become Earl of Warwick
as well, and his second suburban residence was at a place
marked for us by Warwick Court, near Gray's Inn.

Nottingham House could not boast of the beautiful
architecture which Sir Walter Cope had bestowed on
Holland House Cope's Castle, as it was locally called
before it was inherited by the Earls of Holland. Both
had belonged to the Rich family after the marriage of
Henry Rich, first Lord Kensington, with Cope's heiress.
Before his marriage he had lived near Church Lane in
what had probably been the manor house of Neate, or
Neyt, and had belonged to the Abbots of Westminster.
The Abbots had owned two manors between London and
Kensington: Hyde, afterwards Hyde Park, and Neyt,
where they had a country house. The Finches obtained
the place when the Riches went to Cope's Castle, and
the house, with its gardens and park, lay on King William's
road as he drove to see Lord Warwick's residence in 1689.

Holland House is interesting to Londoners as the relic
of an age and a phase of manners now long gone by. And
it is, moreover, interesting intrinsically for three things
in which it has few rivals in England ; its beauty, its
historical associations, and the works of art it contains.
It is, to begin with the first of these, a very charming
specimen of a style of architecture which should commend



282 LONDON AFTERNOONS.

itself to the tastes of Englishmen, as the last of native
growth. The development of art in building presents
a regular series or succession, from the days when our
Saxon ancestors dwelt in wooden huts or in hovels of
mud and timber, to the days when Sir Walter Cope founded
the turrets of Cope Castle, in the manor of West Town,
Kensington, and when his son-in-law, the first Earl of
Holland, changed its name to Holland House and com-
pleted the building. There is, perhaps, no contrast in
nature more pleasing than the artificial one between
red brick and green trees. It makes the square
mansion of the Georgian period look picturesque in
a well-timbered park ; and as we approach Holland
House from among the narrow r , crowded streets or
the lath-and-plaster of the new suburbs, the views
through an avenue of ancient elms, green even in London,
of the quaint red turrets, the shaped gables, the arcaded
terraces, the many-paned oriels, are as charming as
anything that has been built so near London since.

We first see the south side of the house. It is most
picturesque, and was formerly the front. But now the
avenue passes to the east of the house, and the hall door
is at what used to be the side. Beyond are the pleasure-
grounds and the Dutch garden, with their yew hedges,
clipped borders, heavy cedars, statues, avenues, arbours,
and archways. Everything is in the state in which our
generation found it when they came into the world.
Nothing of any importance has been altered, for though
the public entrance is no longer on the south, the fabric
of the building is hardly disturbed. Facing the old
entrance, at the south side, were Inigo Jones's piers and
gateway, and the front of the house was thus first
approached by the visitor. Now, the piers have been
removed to a terrace in the pleasure-ground, the porch



KENSINGTON. 283

leads only into a garden, and the chief entrance is at
the eastern side. On the whole, however, few exteriors
of the period have been less altered than this, a fact
the more remarkable when we remember the number
of different families by which the estate has been held,
and its so dangerous proximity to London.

The mention of the different owners to whom the
place has belonged brings us to the historical associations
which crowd about Holland House. But the name of
Addison must not detain us, nor must that of Charles
James Fox. We could linger over the history, not
altogether edifying, of the mother of the Napiers a
family of heroes. We must recall the open admira-
tion of the young King George III. for the lovely


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Online LibraryW. J. (William John) LoftieRambles in and near London : or, London afternoons → online text (page 21 of 23)