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London's History!Discover the great, the strange, the seedy, the inspired, the criminal and the downright ordinary past of one of the World's Greatest Cities!

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"If you stand in Lombard Street at any time of the day, for example, that narrow thoroughfare like others in the vicinity echoes to hurrying footfalls. It has been a continuous sound for many hundreds of years, in the very centre of the City, and it may be that the perpetual steady echo of passing footsteps is the true sound of London in its transience and in its permanence." Peter Ackroyd, 2000.

Relevant Books: see all items...
The Isles: A History
Norman Davies, after a lecture in Dublin, was asked about his current project. About to say that he was thinking about a history of the British Isles - it occurred to him that, of all places, "one could not fairly talk" of the British Isles in Dublin. "The Isles," as he points out, ceased to be British in 1949 when the republic of Ireland left the Commonwealth, "though very few people in the British residue have yet cared to notice." In 1,058 pages of lucid writing the tortured history of these small specks on the edge of Europe is set before us.
London: The Biography
Peter Ackroyd's marvellous evocation of the life of the city. London life in all its manifestations brilliantly and effortlessly portrayed. It is all here, the sights, smells, sounds and silences of London through the centuries. In addition it is purely and simply a great read! Strongly recommended.
The Annals of London
A year by year account of the events in London from the building of the very successful Westminster Abbey to the disaster of the very unsuccessful Millennium Dome. This is a well-illustrated, well-researched and throroughly readable chronicle of the life of London.Among the events covered are the founding of London's churches, hospitals, schools, theatres and newspapers, the technical and medical achievements of its citizens and institutions, the natural events such as the floodings and freezings of the Thames and disasters such bridge and tunnel collapses.Here too you will find executions, assassinations, hangings, murders, fires, and more - much more.
Eleanor of Aquitaine : A Life
Alison Weir's study of the revered and reviled Eleanor of Aquitaine is valuable to anyone with an interest in medi val England. Wife of Henry II and mother of Richard
The Shorter Pepys
The short Pepys recreates his world for readers daunted by the complete multi-volume set of diaries. Containing about one-third of the original, the abridgment is full enough to give us not just the essence but the detail of Pepys' daily life.

  


Background Briefings on London's History

Item One: From The Gentleman January, 1731

It may be some sort of amusement to present our readers with the following list of officers established in the most notorious gaming houses:

A Commissioner, always a proprietor, who looks in of a night and the week's accompt is audited by him and two others of the proprietors.
A Director, who superintends the room.
An Operator, who deals the cards at a cheating game called Faro.
Two Croupees, who watch the cards, and gather the money for the bank.
Two Puffs, who have money given them to decoy others to play.
A Clerk, who is a check upon the puffs, to see that they sink none of the money that is given them to play with.
A Squib, is a puff of a lower rank; who startes at half salary while he is learning to deal.
A Flasher, to swear how often the bank has been stript.
A Dunner, who goes about to recover money lost at play.
A Waiter, to fill out wine, snuff, candles and attend the gaming room.
An Attorney, a Newgate solicitor.
A Captain, who is to fight any gentleman who is peevish for losing his money.
An Usher, who lights gentlemen up and down stairs, and give the word to the Porter.
A Porter, who is generally a soldier of the foot guards.
An Orderly man, who walks up and down the outside of the door to give notice to the porter, and alarm the house at the approach of the constables.
A Runner, who is to get the intelligence of the justices meeting
The Link-boys, Cloakmen, Chairmen, Drawers, or others who bring the first intelligence of the justices meeting or of the constables being out, at half a guinea reward.
Common bail, Affidavit-man, Ruffians, Bravoes, Assassins, cum multis aliis.

Item Two: From The Gentleman January, 1731

Melancholy effects of credulity in Witchcraft

We have a report from Frome in Somersetshire, published there in the Daily Journal Jan 15, relating that a child of one Wheeler being seized with strange inaccountable fits, the mother goes to a Cunning man, who advis'd her to hang a bottle of the child's water, mix'd with some of its hair, close stopt, over the fire, that the witch would thereupon come and break it: Does not mention the success, but a poor old woman, in the neighbourhood, was taken up and the old trial by Water Ordeal reviv'd.
They dragged her, shivering with an ague, out of her home, set her astride on the pommel of a saddle, and carried her about two miles to a mill-pond, stript here of her upper clothes, tied her legs, and with a rope about her middle, threw her in, 200 spectators huzzaing and abetting the riot.
They affirm she swam like a cork, tho' forced several times under water; and no wonder, for when they strained the line, the ends whereof were held on each side of the pond, she must of necessity rise; but by haling her from one bank to t'other, and often plunging, she drank water enough, and when almost spent, they poured in brandy to revive her, then drew her to a stable, threw her on some litter in her wet cloaths, where in about an hour after she expired.
The coroner upon his Inquest could make no discovery of the ring-leaders, altho' above 40 persons assisted in the Fact, yet none of them could be persuaded to accuse his Neighbour: so that they were only able to charge 3 of them with man-slaughter.

Item Three: From The Builder January, 1844

MOON'S PATENT CHIMNEYS

We have recently observed the enrolment of a patent taken out by Mr Moon for flues of a circular form and although we are perfectly aware that the same form has been patented many times before our publication was in existence, we do not think that any other plans have embraced the important principals of bonding in the materials with the general work, a desideratum of such importance, that the absence of such mode of construction has been fatal to the general adoption of subjects of previous patents.
We consider the matter of so much consequence, that we have exemplified it by the annexed illustrations of the main features of the patent, in which it will be observed that although bricks of various forms are requisite for effecting the improvement, yet we believe they will be exemplified to the greatest possible extent .
Mr Moon seems to have considered the whole subject matter of chimneys, and has applied remedies for their present numerous defects; he has commenced (as all should) at the foundation; he gives us a bar of a peculiar formation, in fact it is an iron girder upon a small scale; this bar is furnished with hooks for a soot cloth, and has dowells to receive two bearing bars which are also provided with hooks for a soot bag; these bearing-bags are destined to receive the moulded throat-lumps, which form the contraction with a most perfect and gradual receptacle for the smoke on its first emission, very different from the present gatherings which are in most instances extremely irregular and leave far too much space for cold air; on these throat lumps commences a cylindrical flue, each course of which is formed of four bricks consisting of headers and stretchers alternately, by which is effected a most perfect union with the general work, as well as diminution in the number of vertical joints, for the bonding courses are without any external vertical joints. Now as the present old description of the flue requires seven bricks to each course, it will be seen that the number of bricks used in Mr Moon's flues is numerically only four-sevenths as many, and we may add that the old form could only be tolerates as allowing just sufficient space for the poor sweeper to exercise his miserable and degraded occupation; but, thanks to a more enlightened age, such provision is no longer necessary. The best form for strength and emission of smoke is now the principal object.

Item Four: From Our Own Correspondent

Political Background to the Events of 1660

By the death of Oliver Cromwell in September 1658 power in the Commonwealth had slipped from Army-Dominated council of State to Parliament. In 1557, with Cromwell's approval, the Instrument of Government (the army's constitution) was replaced by a parliamentary constitution. This was an anti-military constitution which established a two-chamber parliament, established a hereditary succession and set limits to religious toleration. Cromwell refused the Crown offered to him by this constitution but died before he could resolve the question of the balance between the civilian and military factions.

His death left the Commonwealth rudderless in a constitutional miasma. In the period between September 1658 and December 1659, none of the political groups who had the opportunity to exercise power were able to agree or produce a workable constitutional settlement. By the end of the year the country was faced with political and economic anarchy. The parliament summoned by Cromwell's son and successor Richard in November 1658 was, under severe pressure from the army, dissolved on April 21 1659.

There then followed the most unusual alliance between the army and the republican faction. On the 7th of May 1659, the former recalled the Rump Commonwealth which it had itself dissolved in 1647 on account of its republican tendencies. There is no question that the generals were under pressure from the lower ranks to take radical action, but it is still a measure of the fast disappearing options left to the army that they should recall a parliament that had once before disappointed radical expectations.

Nothing was to be different this time round. The Rump sat through the summer and produced nothing but long debates on constitutional issues that got nowhere. What was clear, however, was the continuing distrust of the Army on the part of the civilian republicans who proposed a series of Army purges. In August, the Army became preoccupied with putting down a Royalist revolt led by Sir George Booth, but once that was out of the way, the Rump was, inevitably, once again dissolved on October 13th.

The Army now took control with a committee of safety under Charles Fleetwood, the Commander in chief, and Cromwell's son-in-law. However, it very soon demonstrated its lack of constitutional ideas but, more ominously, failed to carry the rank and file of the army with it. The army in Scotland, under General George Monck, declared for the Rump and was quickly followed by Fairfax and his army in Yorkshire, the army in Ireland and the navy in the Downs.

The situation was seriously exacerbated by a serious economic depression and more and more of the influential merchants and the middle classes became convinced that the Republic could no longer guarantee law and order. Demands for a "free" parliament were to be heard on all sides and there were growing threats to withhold taxes. There were also calls for the return of the 110 Members who had been forcibly excluded from Parliament in the Army Purge of 1648. Fleetwood panicked and resigned on December 24th, handing his powers over the Rump.

As the parliament assembled General Monck began to march south.. The unfolding of the events in Evelyn's Annus Mirabilis of 1660 are closely documented by both Pepys and Evelyn in their very different diaries. In their daily records both make frequent mention the "Fanatics". These were the extremist wing of the dissenting Protestant sects Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, Quakers and others - who refused to conform to the restored Church of England (the See of Canterbury had been vacant during the Commonwealth). The actions of the extremists further inflamed a political situation in which many already questioned whether religious toleration was compatible with political stability.

Item Five: From Our Own Correspondent

The Sinking of HMS Truculent

On the night of, Thursday January 12th 1950 the Royal Navy diesel submarine HMS Truculent sank after colliding with the Swedish tanker Divina ten miles east of Sheerness in the Thames Estuary. The following night the Admiralty announced that there was no hope for the 55 men entombed in the submarine. There were 80 men aboard the Truculent at the time of the disaster and only 15 survivors had been landed safely. Nine fathoms down divers hammered vainly for sounds of life against the hull of the submarine. Four of its seven compartments were flooded through a great gash in her starboard side. Admiralty officials boarded the 643-ton motor-tanker Divina today and told the captain his ship was under arrest.
The crew did not, have surface immersion suits to protect them from hypothermia. As a result of delay in arrival of rescue forces and the temperature of the water, there were a large number of fatalities from hypothermia. Of the 50 men who escaped from the vessel, only 10 survived. The others were washed away by the tides and curents and died from hypothermia or drowning. Following this tragedy, the Royal Navy took the decision to develop a better surface survival system.
Fifty years later, when the Russian submarine Kursk sank, one of the survivors from Truculent, Mr Leslie Stickland, a 27-year-old chief petty officer, recalled his escape in the Irish Times:-

We were all in the mess about to have dinner when there was this violent blow. I thought we had hit a mine. I filled the buoyancy tanks with air to keep the sub afloat for as long as possible, but within two minutes it hit the estuary bed 70 ft below. Eventually we opened the hatch and prepared for the swim to the surface. I was one of the last to go and I didn't have an oxygen bottle. It was terrifying. You just had to remember to keep breathing out, or else the pressure in your lungs would make them explode. The last two or three feet were agony. I was quite sure at that point I really wasn't going to make it. Miraculously all the crew made it to the surface alive - only to realise that no ships had come to rescue us.

The Swedish vessel took more than ninety minutes to realise what had happened and return but by then for most of the men in the ice-cold waters it was too late.

Item Six: From The Gentleman February 15, 1731

The Laws of Dodge Hare

The Duke referred to in the report is the nine/ten-year old William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, the second (and favourite) son of George the II. Dodge Hare appears to be a more violent form of the game of Hide and Seek. It is, perhaps, an interesting insight into the young mind of the future victor of Culloden whose cruelties there earned him the lasting title of Butcher.

He that falls must have five stripes.
He that falls on purpose must be catch'd.
He that looks must not play off one game.
He that lets himself be catch'd must be let go again.
He that don't catch whom he can, must have four stripes on his hand.
He that crys whosp before the rest are hid must have two stripes.
He that accuses another wrongfully must have one hundred stripes.
He that takes hold of another must be catch'd.
He that gets over the Beds must have ten stripes.
He that sticks pins in the bed-posts must have eighty stripes.
He that stands in the way must have forty stripes.
He that does not sit still after he has been home must have five stripes.
He that tells over or under five must be catch'd.
He that mistakes the name must be catch'd.

Item Seven: From Our Own Correspondent

On Waterloo Bridge

The first Waterloo bridge was designed by Sir John Rennie and was built between 1811 and 1817. It was opened by the Prince Regent on June 18t 1917 the second anniversary of the Battle of waterloo. At its conception, it was known to be the Strand Bridge as it would link that thoroughfare with Lambeth. However, there were many who wanted a major monument to Wellington's Victory. Parliament agreed and in an Act of 1816 changed the name to Waterloo Bridge because:-

the said bridge when completed will be a work of great stability and magnificence, and such works are adapted to transmit to posterity the remembrance of great and glorious achievements.

With its nine elliptical arches and pair of Doric columns at the piers, the new bridge was instantly regarded as a masterpiece and the most handsome bridge on the river. It was a popular thoroughfare and the tolls which helped pay for its construction were lifted in 1877. However, in 1923 two of its piers began to sink at an alarming rate and the bridge was declared unsafe. A temporary bridge was hastily built alongside and a Committee set up to advise the London County Council (LCC) on the best means of dealing with the problem. That committee reported back in 1925 with the recommendation that an entirely new bridge be built. It also recommended that the opportunity be taken to relieve the traffic problems at the north end where it met the Strand by constructing an underpass beneath the latter.
These recommendations were greeted by a storm of protest. The Rennie bridge was by far the most beautiful surviving bridge in London and whilst none disputed this, it was pointed out that it was in generally poor condition and was certainly not wide enough for modern traffic. The point was bluntly made by the Chair of the Finance Committee at the LCC:
if the only function of a abridge is to be beautiful, or that if it is beautiful it can dispense with performing other functions, I have nothing more to say; but if you hold that the first function of Art is to add beauty to utility, and that utility must come first, and that a growing city with growing demands must perforce sometimes have to let things go

An alternative scheme was devised which would widen the bridge, replace the weakest piers and construct additional bridges to cope with traffic. The LCC would only agree to this scheme if central government was prepared to provide 75% of the enormous cost. The government of Ramsey MacDonald declined and, in 1934, the LCC under the leadership of Herbert Morrison adopted the recommendations of the Committee.
In a characteristically flamboyant show of determination, Mr Morrison himself ceremoniously removed the first stone from the bridge.
The modern bridge of cantilevered reinforced concrete box girders was constructed between 1937 and 1942 to a design by the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

Item Eight: From Our Own Chronicler

John Wycliffe and the Lollards

John Wycliffe, born in 1329, was a popular theology teacher at Oxford who also held office at court where he was used as a pamphleteer. By 1374 he had become a recognised critic of abuses by the clergy and was sent to Bruges to treat with papal ambassadors on the matter of ecclesiastical abuses. England at this time was in the midst of the Hundred Years war with France and patriotic sentiment was running high. Some of the more powerful men at court were also becoming more exasperated by the growing power and wealth of the clergy.
The church itself was riven by its own internal arguments and division and these culminated in the Great Schism of 1378 wit the election of the Anti-Pope at Avignon. Wycliffe's criticisms of the clergy became more forceful and his began to expound the view that all authority (secular and ecclesiastical) was founded in grace and that wicked rulers, wherever they were, forfeited their right to rule For many in the church, these writings carried the seed of major heresy. In addition, he maintained that the secular power had the right to control the clergy. This at once appealed to the anti-clerical faction at court who resented the growing wealth of church foundations and individual prelates. It also appealed to the ultra-patriotic who resented the interference of the pope in England's internal affairs.
The English prelates decided to nip the heresy in the bud and summoned Wycliffe to appear before the Bishop of London, William Courtenay, at St Paul's on February 19th 1377. However, Wycliffe had powerful patrons and an unseemly row broke out between Courtenay and John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster. The prelates, fearing that they would be seen to be making a political attack on the Duke, were unable to reach a firm decision on the heresy question.
The Pope, Gregory XI, now banned Wycliffe's teachings and sent bulls to the King, the dying Edward III, the bishops and the University of Oxford demanding that Wycliffe be imprisoned and brought before the archbishop and pope. He was arraigned for a second time at Lambeth in 1378 but, once again, the result was inconclusive. With the schism upon them, Wycliffe now began to question the constitution of the Church itself declaring that it would be better to be without pope or prelates.
He went further and began to deny the poser of a priest to grant absolution. The whole system of enforced confession, of the efficacy of penance and of indulgences was next subject of attack. All of his tracts and pamphlets had been written in Latin but he now entered a phase where he embraced the vernacular to appeal directly to the people. He began an English translation of the bible and organised a body of itinerant preachers who rapidly spread the fundamentals of his theses.
IN 1380, carried on by the force of his logic, he began to question the dogma of transubstantiation. This was a far more dangerous heresy and when he was summoned before the Bishop in Convocation in 1382, his appeal to the King, Richard II, went unheeded. His 'trial' took place at Blackfriars in January 1382 and was interrupted by an Earthquake which gave the Bishops pause for thought. In the event, the prevaricated. Opinions such as those expressed by Wycliffe were condemned but no judgement was passed on the man himself. For the remaining two years of his life, he constantly attacked the formalism which he saw in the church and insisted on an "inner religion".
He had many disciples and after his death many members of the country gentry and urban middle classes professed beliefs which were loosely based on his teachings. The attracted the derisive term 'Lollards' from the Dutch word for 'mumblers' because of the lack of a central corpus of opinion in the movement. Nonetheless, it became increasingly dangerous in the unstable times at the end of the 14th century and early part of the 15th. Inevitably, a political dimension crept into the movement and by end of the 14th century both the Church and State had an interest in suppressing the heresy.
The first martyr to suffer the fire in England was William Sawtree, who was executed at Smithfield on February 19t 1401. He was followed by many more. The Lollards continued to be active throughout the first two decades of the 15th century and reach their apogee with the Uprising led By Sir John Oldcastle in 1414. The rebellion was suppressed and Oldcastle himself was roasted alive in 1417 on the new Lollard gallows at St-Giles-in-the-fields.

Item Nine: And so to Mr Pepys

The Cambridge Tripos

At Cambridge, the Tripos or Bachelor of the Stool, was the student who made the Half-Term speech, in verse, on Ash Wednesday, when the senior Proctor called him up and exhorted him to be "witty but modest withal." The speeches of these individuals who were usually ambitious and of a political frame of mind, did, especially after the Restoration, tend to be boisterous, and even scurrilous. It was an early exercise in what we saw (and expected) in the 20th century as the set-piece in a student debate. The Tripos verses still come out, and are circulated on Ash Wednesday in accordance with the old tradition. At the same time, the list of successful candidates for honours is published on the same paper. Which is the reason why this has become known as the "Tripos" list.

Item Ten: From the Newgate Chronicler

The Newgate Bellman

Today, in 2002, it is possible to stand in the 12th century porch of the church of St. Sepulchre and look out on the Old Bailey and the site of the old City gate of Newgate. The gaol of Newgate began its life as a place of detention within the structure of the Gate itself, in the same way that the gate at Ludgate did. Both of them looked across the stinking moat at the Fleet prison, which was a much more serious affair built by William Rufus in 1180. When the Fleet began to deal exclusively with debtors, the gaol at Newgate was much expanded to deal with criminals of a higher order. Here were incarcerated those who were destined for the gallows.

Until the end of the 18th century the work-a-day gibbet was located at Tyburn, now Marble Arch. However, this place did not enjoy a monopoly, many who were convicted of capital crimes were executed at the scene of the crime itself. Execution was seen as a form of expiation and, generally, the condemned went along with that, accepting their fate. composing prayers, forgiving wrongs and composing prayers etc.

This religious element placed the church of St. Sepulchre in a unique position. In a sense, it became the parish church of Newgate even though there was a chapel within the prison. A prisoner condemned to hang at Tyburn was taken from Newgate to the place of execution by way of Holborn and Snow Hill. A route that took the procession past the south front and around the west end of St Sepulchre's. At some early stage arose the custom of tolling the bell of St Sepulchre, as if for a funeral, as the condemned prisoner was passing. This custom continued after Tyburn was dismantled and the street outside Newgate itself became the place of execution.

However, human nature is nothing if it does not have a vicious and vindictive side. Once the custom of the funeral bell had become established another soon established itself as a necessary preliminary. Thus, on the night before an execution the bellman of St Sepulchre would walk past Newgate and, ringing his handbell, recite the following:

All you that in the condemned hold do lie,
Prepare you, for to-morrow you shall die.
Watch all, and pray, the hour is drawing near,
That you before the Almighty must appear.
Examine well yourselves, in time repent,
That you may not t'eternal flames be sent.
And when St Sepulchre's bell to-morrow tolls,
The Lord above have mercy on your souls! "
Past Twelve O'Clock.

According to John Stowe, in his Survey of London in the late 16th century, the basis of this practise was established by a bequest from a member of the Merchant Taylor's guild. He writes that:

Robert Dove, Citizen and Merchant Taylor, of London, gave to the parish church of St Sepulchres, the sum of 50. So that, after the several sessions of London, when the prisoners remain in the gaol, as condemned men to death, expecting execution on the morning following ; the clerk of the church should come in the night time, and like-wise early in the morning, to the window of the prison where they lie, and there ringing certain tolls with a hand-bell, appointed for the purpose, he doth afterwards (in most Christian manner) put them in mind of their present condition, and ensuing execution, desiring them to be prepared therefor as they ought to be. When they are in the cart, and brought before the wall of the church, there he standeth ready with the same bell, and after certain tolls rehearses an appointed prayer, desiring all the people there present to pray for them. The beadle also of Merchant Taylor's Hall hath an honest stipend allowed to see that this is duly done.


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