Sunday, 13 January 2019

The Streets of Old Westminster: Precincts of the Palace of Whitehall

A visitor to London, exploring the City of Westminster, and having explored Parliament Square, can walk northwards, along Whitehall, to Trafalgar Square. Whitehall today is lined, as it has been since the Seventeenth Century, by government buildings (HM Treasury, The Ministry of Defence, The Scottish and Welsh Offices), and by statues of some of the leading figures in British military history. Downing Street, where the Prime Minister of the day resides, leads off from it, as does Scotland Yard, formerly the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police from 1829. Whitehall also forms part of one of the most important ceremonial routes in the life of the nation: Royal coronation, wedding, and funeral processions pass this way (replacing the Medieval and Early Modern processional route from the Tower of London through the City); and it is at the heart of the annual commemoration of British and Commonwealth War dead.

Whitehall in 1953, decorated for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Photo: Ben Brooksbank (licensed under CCA).

Whitehall today, looking south, with the Monument to the Women of World War II; and the Cenotaph in the background. Photo: Tbmurray (licensed under CCA). 

In the Thirteenth Century, the area lay outside the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. Most of the English bishops and archbishops kept palaces in London, allowing them to participate in the life of the Court, including the House of Lords. This was York Place, the London palace of the Archbishops of York. As such, it was occupied by Cardinal Wolsey, but was later seized from him by Henry VIII.

Sketch of the Palace of Whitehall, c 1544, including a water-gate (image is in the Public Domain).

During the reigns of Edward VI, Mary I, and James I, the two palaces (Westminster and Whitehall) functioned, in effect, as a single complex. Henry VIII added a bowling green and tennis court, and James I commissioned Inigo Jones to design what is now "The Banqueting House."

Inigo Jones's plan for a new Palace of Whitehall, c 1638 (image is in the Public Domain).

The "Banqueting House." Photo: ChrisO (licensed under GNU).

The ceiling of the "Banqueting House," painted by Peter Paul Rubens, and commissioned by Charles I as a memorial to his father, James I. Photo: The Wub (licensed under CCA).

In 1606, Shakespeare's Macbeth, with its dark themes of regicide and ensuing chaos, received its first performance in this building, in front of James I and his Queen, Anne of Denmark; yet just forty-three years later, the same building witnessed a true regicide, as their son, Charles I, stepped out from one of its windows onto the scaffold, witnessed by a young Samuel Pepys, who recalled a single Biblical verse: "The memory of the wicked shall rot."

The execution of Charles I, c 1649 (image is in the Public Domain).

Pepys had been taken to witness the execution by his father's cousin, the Republican, Sir Edward Montagu, and, during the Commonwealth era, the Palace of Whitehall was occupied by Montagu's patron, Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. A few decades on, both Montagu and Pepys were Royal servants, playing key roles in the Navy of Charles II.  Pepys began his career as a Naval administrator living, effectively, as Montagu's servant, in his grace and favour apartment in Axe Yard; and later had his own home and offices nearby. There were bars and restaurants in New Palace Yard, where Pepys wined and dined his business contacts and his mistresses; and a theatre, where he enjoyed plays.

The Palace of Whitehall in 1680 (image is in the Public Domain.

New Palace Yard in 1647, by Wenceslas Hollar (image is in the Public Domain).

The old Palace of Whitehall, by Hendrick Danckaerts, c 1675, with the "Banqueting House" on the left (image is in the Public Domain).

Whitehall was re-modeled as a public street in the Eighteenth Century, and the elements of the former palace were gradually dismantled, leaving only the "Banqueting House" as a reminder of its former glories.

Whitehall in 1740, looking south, by John Maurer: the "Banqueting House" is on the left (image is in the Public Domain). The "Holbein Gate" at the centre was builtin 1532, and demolished in 1759.

The Horse Guards Building was designed by William Kent (better known for the interiors and gardens of stately homes), and built, after his death, between 1750 and 1759. Photo: Alistair Welkin (licensed under CCA). 

The modern layout of Whitehall (Ordnance Survey, image is in the Public Domain).

At the Northern end of Whitehall stood Charing Cross, built between 1291 and 1294 to commemorate the funeral procession of Eleanor of Castille, Edward I's Queen. This was destroyed as an "idolatrous" symbol during the era of Cromwell's Commonwealth (the copy that now stands outside Charing Cross Station in The Strand was built during the Nineteenth Century. An equestrian statue of Charles I was erected, in its place, in 1675, and has stood there ever since.

Charing Cross, from John Rocque's map of 1746 (image is in the Public Domain). Northumberland House was the London residence of the Percy family, Dukes of Northumberland. 

Charing Cross and Northumberland House, by Canaletto, 1752 (image is in the Public Domain).

The pillory at Charing Cross, by Thomas Rowlandson & Augustus Charles Pugin, 1809 (image is in the Public Domain).

Trafalgar Square as we know it today was laid out between 1842 and 1843, the present National Gallery standing on the site of a succession of royal stables, the earliest of which seems to have been built in the Thirteenth Century, to house the King's falcons, as well as his horses. Trafalgar Square is, in a very real sense, the symbolic heart of London, a venue for both public celebrations and political protests.

The Royal Stables at Charing Cross, designed by William Kent, and completed in 1793 (image is in the Public Domain).

Trafalgar Square before the building of Nelson's Column, by James Pollard, c 1839. Berger Collection, Denver, Colorado (image is in the Public Domain).

Trafalgar Square taken by Sir Norman Lockyer from a helium balloon, 1909 (image is in the Public Domain).

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Monday, 12 November 2018

The Story of London in 50 Novels: 12 - "The Quality of Mercy," by Barry Unsworth

Eighteenth Century London was the hub of a continually expanding network of global contacts. At its wharves and quays, ships arrived bearing lacquer-ware, porcelain, and tea from China; cotton fabrics from India; tobacco from North America; chocolate from Mexico; coffee and spices from Indonesia; and sugar from the Caribbean; smaller ships brought coal from the north-eastern ports of England, which was increasingly burned as a fuel in London, in preference to wood, the nation's forests having been depleted for the building of ships. The new commercial system was underpinned by innovations in banking, insurance, and corporate governance; but it was also underpinned by something more tangible, yet less visible to most Londoners: the trade in human beings.

Coal merchant's advertisement (image is in the Public Domain).

The Pool of London, by John Wilson Carmichael (image is in the Public Domain).

Advertisement for a coffee house in London (image is in the Public Domain).

Almost every spoonful of sugar consumed in London, and every tot of rum carried on the ships for the benefit of their crew-members, had been produced on plantations in colonies such as Jamaica or Barbados, on the basis of slave-labour. The slaves were Africans, who had been shipped to the Caribbean, often on British ships, with British captains; they were the property of British plantation owners; yet very few of them ever came to Britain itself. Although tens of thousands of ordinary Britons owned shares in companies that formed part of the supply chain, slavery itself was largely out of sight and out of mind.

"Slave Dance," by Dirk Valkenburg, Dutch Brazil (image is in the Public Domain).

May Morning," by John Collet, 1770: Museum of London (image is in the Public Domain). A black servant joins the celebrations: under English law, he would not have been a slave.

From the mid-Eighteenth Century, movements emerged in Europe, committed to the abolition of slavery. Within Britain, these campaigns were often led by Evangelical Christians, and by religious dissenters, including Quakers and, later, Methodists. In 1777, a key ruling at the Old Bailey determined that a fugitive slave who had arrived in England, was a free man, since English law included no provision for the institution of slavery, and that, in the words of Lord Justice Mansfield,  "[slavery] is so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law" (in other words, an Act of Parliament, which never actually came to pass).

Portrait of Lord Mansfield's nieces, Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Lindsay, Scone Palace, Scotland, 1778 (image is in the Public Domain). Dido was the daughter of a slave mother and a planter father, and lived as a member of Lord Mansfield's household.

Design for an Abolitionist medallion, by Josiah Wedgwood, 1795 (image is in the Public Domain). 

The first book published by an African author in English, 1782 (image is in the Public Domain). Direct testimony by individuals with first-hand experience of slavery played an important part in the Abolitionist movement. 

With so many vested interests, however, the process of abolition was a slow and painful one. Slavery was formally abolished by the newly created French Republic in 1794, but this was revoked by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. In England, William Wilberforce's act of 1807 outlawed the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but British plantation owners continued to make use of slave labour until 1833.

Illustration from Voltaire's "Candide" (widely read across Europe). His protagonist meets a maimed slave in Surinam: "it is at this price that you eat sugar in Europe," the caption reads. Image: Jean-Michel Moreau, 1787 ((image is in the Public Domain).

Barry Unsworth's novel, The Quality of Mercy, is based around an imagined conflict (though closely based on historical circumstances), between a ship-owner, Erasmus Kemp, whose slave-ship has been taken over by its crew,and run aground in Florida; and the abolitionist, Frederick Ashton, who accuses Kemp of insurance fraud (in claiming for the value of slaves allegedly thrown overboard on the orders of the Captain), and seeks to demonstrate, in the courts, that, as human beings, the slaves had never been Ashton's lawful property. The situation is complicated by a love-interest between Kemp and Ashton's sister; and by the position of Sullivan, the ship's Irish fiddler, one of the few men who might actually know what happened on the ship, and who is, unbeknown to Kemp or Ashton, making his way on foot to a mining community in County Durham, with a message for the family of a murdered ship-mate.

"On finding himself thus accidentally free, Sullivan's only thought was to get as far as he could from Newgate prison while it was still dark. Fiddle and bow slung over his shoulders, he set off northwards, keeping the river at his back. In Holborn he lost an hour, wandering in a maze of courts. Then an old washer-woman, waiting outside a door in the first light of day, set him right for Gray's Inn Lane and the northern outskirts of the city ... An hour's walking brought him to the rural edges of London, among the market gardens and brick kilns north of Gray's Inn Road ... At a junction of lanes here was a huddle of houses and a small inn. He was hungry but he did not dare to stop. One way led to Watford the other to St Albans. He took a shilling from his new purse and tossed it. It came down heads. St Albans then."

"'I had hoped the business might be settled privately between us,' Van Dillen said. 'The outcome must be doubtful in law and if we go to the extent of a hearing there are costs to be thought of. Why should we fatten the lawyers, Mr Kemp?' He was not finding the interview easy. He was physically uncomfortable, for one thing; the seat of his chair was too small for a man of his bulk, and the weather was unseasonably hot. The room had only one window, and the morning sun, strong despite the clogging air of London, slanted through it and lay directly on him. He felt overheated in his bob-wig and broadcloth suit ... He felt an itch on the side of his neck, some insect crawling there ... the windless days and early heat had produced a plague of small black beetles that flew about blindly, getting tangled in wigs and snared in the corner of eyes, copulating and dying, leaving a scurf of corpses ... 'What can be predicted are the legal costs,' Van Dillen said. 'My good sir, the facts are not in dispute, at least as regards the central fact of the Negroes being cast overboard and the necessity thereof.' 'It is precisely the necessity of it that the insurers will dispute if it comes before a court."

"Slavers throwing overboard the dead and dying," by J.M.W. Turner, 1840, Museum of Fine Art, Boston, 1840 (image is in the Public Domain). Slavery was already illegal in British territories at this time, but Turner was campaigning for its global abolition.

"The insurance claim on eighty-five African slaves, cast overboard while still alive from the deck of the 'Liverpool Merchant' on grounds of lawful jettison, was heard at the Guildhall, Justice Blundell presiding. In contrast to the long course of postponements and delays that preceded it, the hearing itself was brief, occupying no more than three hours of the court's time. The insurers were represented by an elderly lawyer named Price, who had a large experience of such cases. Kemp's lawyer, Pike, had wished to hold his fire for the criminal trial at the Old Bailey, which was due to be held at a date not yet specified; he had recommended a young barrister named Waters to represent the ship's owner."      

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

The Story of London in 50 Novels: 11 - "The Fatal Tree," by Jake Arnott

The London that endured the Great Plague of 1665 was largely swept away, the following year, by the Great Fire of London. Although blamed, at the time, on foreign or Catholic agents provocateurs, the fire was, in fact, an accident; the inevitable consequence of the growth of a city of timber-framed buildings with thatched roofs. The new city that sprung up in its place was built, largely, of brick, stone, and tile, and had, as its centre-piece, Sir Christopher Wren's bold new design for Saint Paul's Cathedral, as controversial a piece of architecture in its time as anything built by Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, or Renzo Piano in our own times. 

London in 1751, by Thomas Bowles (image is in the Public Domain).

London was still growing, its population swelling from an estimated 200 thousand in 1600; to 600 thousand in 1700; and 959 thousand by 1801; an increase fueled mainly by migration from the British countryside. Members of the aristocracy were, increasingly, spending part of the year "in town," attracted by a "social season" that included performances of Shakespearean plays and Italian opera; and the life of the coffee-house, which combined business with pleasure. Many poorer people were attracted to the city by the new opportunities in domestic service and the retail trade, but social mobility operated in both directions, downwards, as well as upwards: a servant, apprentice, or shop-worker who lost his or her position (including women who became pregnant, who were almost invariably dismissed) had few options open to them apart from prostitution or crime.

John Roque's map of London, 1741-45 (image is in the Public Domain).

"The Rake at the Rose Tavern," by William Hogarth, Sir John Soane's Museum. The anti-hero of the series (The Rake's Progress), Tom Rakewell, is here being relieved of his watch by a prostitute.

"The Rake in Prison," by William Hogarth, Sir John Soane's Museum.

In a city without a Police force, the fear of crime was real, and ever-present, and the authorities responded with harsher and harsher penalties. In 1688, there were fifty offences listed as being punishable by death; by 1776, there were almost two hundred; by 1799, two hundred and twenty. Prostitutes and pickpockets feared both the cells of Newgate Prison, and the "triple-tree" of the Tyburn gallows, where Marble Arch stands today.

Newgate Prison, 1780 plan by the architect, Charles Dance.

The Inner Court of Newgate Prison in the 18th Century (image is in the Pubic Domain).

Newgate Prison in 1902, prior to its demolition (image is in the Public Domain).

Newgate Prison in 1902.

Tyburn in 1680, National Archives WORK 16/376 (image is in the Public Domain).

The City authorities employed "Under-Marshals" to keep law and order, and to apprehend & prosecute criminals, but, heavily dependent on testimonies from within the criminal community, the opportunities for, and temptations of, corruption were manifest and manifold. The most notorious example was the self-styled "Thief-Taker General," Jonathan Wild, who was himself hanged at Tyburn in May, 1725.

Ticket for the public execution of Jonathan Wild (image is in the Public Domain).

Prison scene from John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728), which satirises both the legal and political situations of the day, by William Hogarth (1728), Tate Britain (image is in the Public Domain).

Jake Arnotts novel, The Fatal Tree, follows the criminal careers of Elizabeth Lyon ("Edgworth Bess"), and her lover, the burglar, Jack Sheppard. These were real people (Sheppard was hanged in 1724; Lyon was transported to Maryland), and Arnott has made extensive use of the records of trials at the Old Bailey: his Bess narrates her own story, using the "Canting" patois known to have been used by prostitutes and criminals in Eighteenth Century London), which is interspersed with the commentary of William Archer, a fictional journalist (addressed to his editor) with personal and criminal secrets of his own.

Jack Sheppard, by James Thornhill, 1724 (image is in the Public Domain).

Elizabeth Lyon:

"I was born in the small town of Edgworth, some ten miles north of London, the year Queen Anne came to the throne.If any seek significance as to why the place of my birth was later to provide my notorious alias, they might note that the old Roman road from thee makes one straight line to London, without a single turn or bend in it, and ends directly where Tyburn now stands. So this as my swift journey from innocence and, in truth, I was headed for the gallows of that wicked city too soon and far too young ... ".

"Arriving in London I felt a fierce assault on all my senses: the bewildering parade of  people and carriages in the streets, the mad bustle of business, the shriek and clatter of its traffic. And the stench! Scattered heaps of filth, dead fish and offal, dung everywhere. Ragged beggars clamoured at every corner. I held my little bundle  close and made to walk in a manner that might show I knew my way. But I was hopelessly lost."

"It was dark as we left the coffee-house, and the lamps of the link-boys glowed here and there, marking out a constellation across the cobbled piazza. One of the theatres had just emptied its crowd, an now a boisterous audience set forth to make its own drama. We passed the column with its sundials and gilded sphere. On its steps women sat selling hot milk and barley broth. I was led up a side-street to a quiet and respectable-looking terrace. 'Welcome to our house of civil reception,' said Punk Alice, as she ushered me up some steps to the front door. As we entered, a surly footman roused himself from a chair in the hallway. 'Fetch Mother,' Alice snapped at him, and he skulked off to some back-parlour."

William Archer:

"Dear Applebee, Thank you for the ten guineas received on account and your comments on the text. You rightly protest that many will complain of the possible corrupting influence of this story, that Bess rather flaunts her bodily crimes and pleads little for the mercy of her soul. But you know as well as any that this might be her final whoring and could well be a draw to the public. From a shadow-world a shadow-gospel is rendered: the flesh made word where only the intoxication of sin can be offered as mitigation. And though I'm sure that the idle reader may appreciate this, it is to be hoped that when her case comes up before the next sessions she can deliver a better defence than that. But, then, you know the old jest about a jade who plied her trade by the Temple: that if she had as much law in her head as she had in her tail, she would be one of the ablest counsels in England."    

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.


Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Streets of Old Westminster: From Thorney Island to Parliament Square

A visitor to London, exploring the City of Westminster, and walking northward along Millbank from Vauxhall Bridge towards Parliament Square, crosses an invisible line, somewhere between Millbank Tower (the tallest building along the route) and Thames House (the headquarters of the domestic security service, MI5), marking the southern edge of Thorney Island. Thorney island was an eyot or ait: an island formed by the deposition of sediments, often at the confluence of two rivers, in this case the Thames and the Tyburn, the latter flowing south from Hampstead through what is now Saint James's Park (archaeologists from the Museum of London have recently been studying the course of the now largely invisible River Tyburn, and the results of their researches can be seen here).

Thorney Island. Photo:

Bush Eyot, on the River Thames in Berkshire, gives an impression of what Thorney Island might have looked like before it was built upon. Photo: Nancy (licensed under CCA). 

There are records of a church having been built on the island as early as the Seventh Century AD, by Mellitus, Bishop of London, an Italian Benedictine who came to England as part of the mission sent by Pope Gregory the Great, under Saint Augustine, to Christianise the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The Palace of Westminster, Parliament Square, and Westminster Abbey all stand on what was once Thorney Island, chosen by the later Anglo-Saxon Kings as the royal centre of London, some distance to the west (and, importantly, upstream) from the bustling (and frequently noisy and malodorous) commercial port and City.

Conjectural reconstruction of Thorney Island in the reign of King Henry VIII, with the Palace of Westminster (foreground), Westminster Hall (centre), Westminster Abbey (top), and Saint Margaret's Church (to the right of the abbey). H.J. Brewer, 1884 (image is in the Public Domain).

Almost opposite the Sovereign's Entrance to the House of Lords is the Jewel Tower, built in the Fourteenth Century, on the orders of King Edward III. As its name suggests, it was intended to house valuable items of Royal regalia. Its foundations, as revealed by archaeologists, testify to its original position on the shores of a tidal islet, prone to flooding.

The Jewel Tower. Photo: lonpicman (licensed under GNU).

The foundations of the Jewel Tower, with oak sleepers resting on elm piles. Photo: Tracey and Doug (licensed under CCA).

The Palace of Westminster that we see today was built by the Nineteenth Century architects, Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, following a disastrous fire in 1834. The first palace on the site, however, was built by King Edward the Confessor, in the Eleventh Century, its position on an island presumably providing an element of security. Among the earliest elements to survive is Westminster Hall, built in 1097, and then the largest hall in Europe. Its wooden roof was commissioned by King Richard II, in 1393, from the Royal Carpenter, Hugh Herland. The hall, which saw (among many others) the trials of Sir Thomas More, Guy Fawkes, and King Charles I; together with other parts of the Parliamentary Estate, can be visited by the public when Parliament is in Recess.

Parliament Square from the London Eye, showing the Elizabeth Tower of the Palace of Westminster (left), Saint Margaret's Church (centre left), and Westminster Abbey (centre). Photo: Tebbetts (image is in the Public Domain).

Westminster Hall in 1808, by Thomas Rowlandson & Augustus Pugin (image is in the Public Domain).

Penny of King Edward the Confessor. Photo: Rasiel Suarez (licensed under CCA). 

Parliament Square, in its current form, was laid out in 1868. Around it are statues of prominent statesmen (Churchill, Palmerston, Disraeli, Sir George Canning, Sir Robert Peel, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi), and, the most recent addition, the Womens' Suffrage campaigner, Millicent Fawcett.

Parliament Square. Photo: wjh31 (image is in the Public Domain).

Statue of Millicent Fawcett, Parliament Square. Photo: Garry Knight (licensed under CCA).

On the west side of Parliament Square is the Supreme Court, formerly Middlesex Guildhall, built between 1912 and 1913; and, on the south side, Saint Margaret's Church (established in the Twelfth Century but rebuilt in the Sixteenth and Eighteenth Centuries); and Westminster Abbey, the burial place of English monarchs throughout the Middle Ages and into the Early Modern period, and the scene of coronations from the time of William the Conqueror down to the present day.

At the same time as he was building the first Royal Palace on Thorney Island, King Edward the Confessor re-modeled the old Benedictine monastery, established by Bishop Mellitus, into a Royal Church, in which he, and his wife, Edith, would ultimately be buried. The number of monks increased dramatically over the following decades, with the "Abbey of Saint Peter" (its official title throughout the Middle Ages) becoming one of the great landowners of England by the time of the Domesday survey of 1087. Much of the City of Westminster is built on land that once belonged to the monks, supplying them with wool and leather for their clothing; meat, cheese, fruit, and vegetables to eat; and milk and ale to drink (the abbey had, by this stage, been taken within the pan-European Cluniac family, whose monks, often with close aristocratic and royal connections, ate and drank very well).

The body of King Edward the Confessor being carried to the Abbey of Saint Peter, from the Bayeux Tapestry (image is in the Public Domain).

Most of the abbey that we see today dates from the rebuilding that began under King Henry III, in 1245, although each successive generation, including our own, has made its mark on the fabric of the building.

The Figures of Twentieth Century Martyrs, above the West Door of Westminster Abbey. Photo: Dnalor_01 (licensed under CCA).

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.