“He shot the bridge divers times” (Roger North)

200px-Roger_North_after_Lely 220px-Dudley_North

Another in the occasional series on contemporary – “pen-portrait” – accounts of events in the history of London, this one written by Roger North (pictured, above) regarding the simple youthful pleasure his brother Dudley (left) was able to derive during the period of Puritan rule after the Civil War from swimming in the Thames:


“He could live in the water an afternoon with as much ease as others walk upon land.  He shot the bridge divers times at low water which showed him not only active but intrepid; for courage is required to bear the very sight of that tremendous cascade which few can endure to pass in a boat.  He told me that his method was to glide along while the current was smooth, which was like the motion of an arrow and extremely delicious; and when he was through, and plunged in the disorders of the waters there, he used his swimming powers, … applying all the force he had to prevent turning round, which in those eddies was hard to be done; and all this under water, till he got into some calm where he might govern himself again.  His greatest danger was flooks of anchors, broken piles, great stones, and such enemies as lay concealed under water … ”.

Dudley North, who had been born in 1641, went on to make a fortune as  merchant with interests in the Levant, as in Constantinople and Smyrna.  He was knighted in 1683, and elected Member of Parliament for Banbury in 1685.  He died in 1691, and is  buried in the church of St Paul, Covent Garden.

Roger North, who had been born in 1653, went on to pursue a career in the law, becoming King’s Counsel and a Bencher of Middle Temple in 1682, Solicitor-General to the then-future James II in 1684, and Attorney-General to James’s Queen, Mary of Modena, in 1686.  He was elected MP for Dunwich in 1685, only to fall from favour following the overthrow of his mentor James in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.  He died in 1734.   His biography of his family, “Lives of the Norths”, was published after his death.  He also wrote an autobiography, a defence of Charles II’s rule, and several treatises on Baroque music, and was a talented musician and architect, responsible for the design of Middle Temple Gate-House (built in 1684, after the Great Fire of 1666).

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