Category Archives: 17th Century London

The Putney Debates (1647)

exterior-st-mary-putney

On this day in 1647, in the midst of the Civil War, the so-called “Putney Debates” began in the church of St Mary The Virgin.

The debates, chaired by Cromwell and attended by officers and men of his New Model Army, many of whom were “Levellers”, addressed  nothing of less import than the post-Civil War future and constitution of England.

Among the issues discussed were not only whether power should be vested in the King and House of Lords or in the Commons, but also whether there should be universal – male – suffrage (“one man, one vote”).

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Colonel Thomas Rainsborough (*), personifying the radical contingent, famously argued that:

“ … [T]he poorest hee that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest hee … ”.

Among the outcomes was a declaration of “native rights” for all Englishmen, including  freedom of conscience, and equality before the law.

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(*)   Rainsborough went on to be killed during the siege of Pontefract, and to be buried in the church of St John in Wapping on November 14th 1648.

For a fuller account of his extraordinary life, the reader is referred to “The Rainborowes” by Adrian Tinniswood.

The execution of Robert Hubert (1666)

The execution of Robert Hubert at Tyburn

On this day in 1666, one Robert Hubert was hanged at Tyburn for  allegedly having deliberately started  the Great Fire of London the previous month.  As his dead body was being taken down to be handed to the Company of Barber-Surgeons for dissection, it was torn limb from limb by an angry  mob of Londoners.

Although the fire is now almost universally regarded as having been brought about by “the hand of God”, or perhaps more accurately, the  negligence of Thomas Farriner or Farynor, who owned the bakery on Pudding Lane where it started, it was at the time, a time when the  tide of xenophobic sentiment in England  was running more than usually high, widely regarded as having been brought about by a foreign hand (*).   In its aftermath, Hubert, a watchmaker from Rouen in Normandy in France, quickly – and almost certainly “under duress” – confessed to having  set the fire while  acting as an agent of the Pope (he  was actually not a Catholic, but a Huguenot, or Protestant).  He was equally expeditiously convicted of the supposed crime – by a jury containing members of Farriner’s family – who had their own dark reasons for wanting to attach  the blame for the fire to  such a convenient scapegoat.  After his execution,  exculpatory evidence came to light that he had been aboard a Swedish ship called the Maid of Stockholm at the time of the outbreak of the fire.

(*) Indeed, until   as recently as 1830, the inscription on the Monument to the Great Fire included lines to that effect!

 

“I went to see Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered” (Samuel Pepys, 1660)

On this day in 1660, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[I]n the morning … I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-general Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition.  He was presently cut down, and his head and heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy.   It is said, that he said he was sure to come  shortly at the right hand of  Christ to judge them that now had judged him … .  Thus it was my chance to see … the first blood shed in revenge for the blood of the King [Charles I] at Charing Cross. Setting up shelves in my study”.

Harrison

Thomas Harrison was   one of a number of the signatories to the death warrant of Charles I at the end of the Civil War in 1649 – otherwise known as “regicides” – to be  hunted down and executed by Charles II after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

“The Mortality is less this week” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

1 - Lord have mercy on London

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“The Bill [of Mortality], blessed be God! is less this week by 740 of what is was the last”.

The “Great Plague” was finally past its peak, although it had still not yet run its entire course.   It eventually killed at least 70000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100000 – far more than the “Black Death” of 1348-9, although far fewer in proportion to the overall population.  The “Bills of Mortality” show that of the 70000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10000 were in the 97 parishes within the walls of the City  – possibly because a significant proportion  of those inhabitants who could afford to do so had fled to the country.    The remaining 60,000  Plague deaths were in the 16 parishes without the walls, the 5 in Westminster, and the 12 in Middlesex and Surrey (St Giles Cripplegate, St Giles-in-the-Fields, St Margaret Westminster, St Martin-in-the-Fields, and Stepney, where there were “pest-houses”, were among the worst affected, with a total of well over 20,000 deaths – 6,500 of them in Stepney alone).  The bodies of the Plague victims were buried either in parish churchyards or in emergency “plague pits”, the latter including those of Tothill Fields in Westminster, to the west; Bedlam, Bunhill Fields and  Holywell Mount, to the north; Aldgate and the  Stepney pest-fields, to the east; and Crossbones Graveyard and Deadman’s Place, to the south.

London’s Water Supply and the “New River”

In the late twelfth century (the time of the chronicler FitzStephen), water drawn from the City’s rivers, or from springs or wells,  was pure and clean and sweet and wholesome.

Later, though,  “the tide from the sea prevailed to such a degree that the water of the Thames was salt; so much so that many folks complained of the ale tasting like salt” (and  obviously they couldn’t have that).

And, by the beginning of the thirteenth century, the supply had become so contaminated by waste as to be not only unpalatable but unsafe to drink, for fear of contracting a potentially lethal water-borne disease such as such as Bloody Flux (Dysentery).

1 - Cheapside Great Conduit (1245).JPG

So, a supply had to be brought in from outside.  A (lead!) pipeline was built, by public subscription, in 1236, to bring water from a spring at Tyburn, roughly opposite where Bond Street tube station now stands,  to the so-called Little Conduit, Standard and Great Conduit on Cheapside, about three miles away (sections  have  recently been discovered 2m below Medieval street level in Paternoster Row and in  Poultry).   Most people collected water from the conduits themselves, although some had it delivered to them – in buckets suspended from shoulder-yokes – by water-carriers or “cobs” (of whom there were 4000 by 1600), and the few that could afford   to had a private supply piped directly to their homes or businesses in specially installed so-called “quills”.  The pipeline    was extended at either end in the fifteenth century so as to run from Oxlese, near where Paddington station now stands,  to Cornhill, about six miles away.  The so-called  Devil’s Conduit under Queen’s Square probably dates to around the same time, a photograph taken in 1910, shortly before its demolition in 1911-3,  showing it to contain graffiti from  1411.  And the  Aldermanbury Conduit under Aldermanbury Square dates to 1471.

By the sixteenth century, the system had become inadequate  to meet the demands of the rising population (it had also become subject to much abuse and over-use by individuals and by commercial and industrial concerns).

2 - Maritz apparatus, London Bridge (c. 1700).jpg

A short-term solution to this problem  was provided  by the construction by the Dutchman Pieter Maritz in 1582 of a – rather rickety – apparatus under one of the arches of London Bridge that  allowed water to be pumped from the Thames  into the heart of the City, or, in the case of the original demonstration to City officials, over the spire of the church of St Magnus the Martyr!  The apparatus was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, but thereafter replaced by Maritz’s grandson, and  continued in use, after a fashion, until the early nineteenth century.

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A longer-term solution was provided by the construction by the Welshman and wealthy merchant, goldsmith, banker and Member of Parliament Sir Hugh Myddelton in 1609-13 of a  10’ wide and 4’ deep canal, or “New River”, all the way from springs at Amwell and Chadwell in Hertfordshire into the City, an incredible 37 miles away, which is still in use to this day (parts of it can be seen along the “New River” walk in Islington, for example in Canonbury Grove).    Myddelton had to overcome any number of technological  obstacles, and much land-owner and political opposition, to see this major civil engineering project through to completion, doing  so with a mixture of drive and determination, the financial support of 29 investors or “adventurers”, and the tacit backing of the king.  His financial backers had to wait some time until they   profited from the enterprise (actually, until 1633, although by 1695 the New River Company ranked behind only the East India Company and Bank of England in terms of its capital value).  The public  health benefits of Myddelton’s project were immediate, though,  and immeasurable,  and indeed it has been described as “An immortal work – since men cannot more nearly imitate the Deity than in bestowing health”.

4 - Myddelton statue, Holborn Viaduct

Myddelton died in 1631, and was buried in the church of  St Matthew Friday Street, where he had served as a warden.  Concerted  attempts to locate his coffin and monument following the church’s demolition in 1886 were unfortunately ultimately  unsuccessful.

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Fittingly, though, there is a statue to the great man on Islington Green in Islington.

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7 - Myddelton coat-of-arms, Oak Room.JPG

And some of the fittings from the New River Company’s offices, including Grinling Gibbons’s (?) “Oak Room”, may still be seen  in the  London Metropolitan Water Board building, also in Islington.

It was on this day, September 29th,  in 1613, that Hugh Myddelton’s  older brother Thomas, a member of the Grocers’ Company, became  Lord Mayor of London, and officially opened his  “New River”.  The playwright, poet and writer of pageants Thomas Middleton (no relation)  wrote in The manner of His Lordships entertainment … at that most famous and admired worke of the running streame from Amwell head, into the cesterne neere Islington … :

“Long have we laboured, long cherished and prayed

For this great work’s perfection, and by th’aid

Of heaven and good men’s wishes ‘tis at length

Happily conquered by cost, art and strength.

And after five years’ dear expense in days,

Travail, and pains, besides the infinite ways

Of malice, envy, false suggestions,

Able to daunt the spirits of mighty ones

In wealth and courage, this, a work so rare,

Only by one man’s industry, cost  and care

Is brought to blest effect … ”.

 

Coffee, tea or insurance?

On this day in 1660, Samuel Pepys “did send for a cup of tee, a China drink, of which I had never drunk before”.

Lloyds

Jonathan's Coffee House (1680-1778) - Copy.jpg

Coffee and tea were expensive commodities in the later seventeenth century, and  consumed  exclusively  by  the  rich.  The coffee- and tea- houses that began to spring up all over London at this time became places where respectable wealthy gentlemen, who would not be seen dead in ale-houses, might congregate to converse,  and to transact business: one, Lloyd’s, eventually evolved into an entirely separate  business enterprise, and another, Jonathan’s, into the Stock Exchange.

Pasqua Rosee's

The very  first of the coffee-houses to open was at the sign of  “Pasqua Rosee’s Head”, just off Cornhill,  in 1652.  The eponymous Pasqua Rosee was employed as a man-servant by one Daniel Edwards, a London merchant,  member of the Levant Company and trader in Turkish goods, and he appears to have run the coffee-shop as a sideline, in partnership with one Christopher Bowman,  a freeman of the City and former coachman of Edwards’s father-in-law, Alderman Thomas Hodges.   It is thought that Rosee and Edwards  met in Smyrna in Anatolia, although also that Rosee was ultimately of ethnic Greek extraction.  The “Coffee House”, also just off Cornhill, the “Globe” and “Morat’s”, in Exchange Alley, and an unnamed coffee-house in St Paul’s Churchyard, were also all open by the early 1660s, and all referred to in Pepys’s diary, in addition to the aforementioned unnamed tea-house.

A contemporary advertising handbill  described the “Vertue of the Coffee Drink First publiquely made and sold in England by Pasqua Rosee” as follows:  “The Grain or Berry called Coffee”, groweth upon little Trees, only in the Deserts of Arabia.  It is brought from thence, and drunk generally throughout all the Grand Seigniors Dominions.  It is a simple innocent thing, composed into a Drink, by being dryed in an Oven, and ground to Powder, and boild up with Spring water, and about half a pint of it to be drunk, fasting an hour before, and not Eating an hour after, and to be taken as hot as possibly can be endured … .  The quality of the Drink is cold and Dry … .  It quickens the Spirits, and makes the Heart Lightsome … .  … It suppresseth Fumes exceedingly, and … will very much … help Consumption and the Cough of the Lungs [hmm, not so sure about that].  … It will prevent Drowsiness, and make one fit for business … ; and therefore you are not toe Drink it after Supper, unless you intend to be watchful, for it will hinder sleep for 3 or 4 hours”.  One George Sandys described the coffee of the time  as “black as soote, and tasting not much unlike it”.

 

“The number of the plague the biggest yet” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

1 - Lord have mercy on London

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“But, Lord! What a sad time it is to see no boats upon the river; and grass grows all up and down White Hall court, and nobody but poor wretches in the streets! And, which is worst of all, the Duke [of Albemarle] showed us the number of the plague this week, … that it is encreased …  more than the last, which is quite contrary to our hopes and expectations, from the coldness of the late season.  For the whole general number is 8297, and of them of the plague 7165; which is more in the whole … than the biggest Bill [of Mortality] yet: which is very grievous to us all”.

The “Great Plague” was now killing over a thousand people a day, and  at its peak, and it had  grown so deathly quiet in London that throughout the City  the river  could be heard flowing under the nineteen arches of the old bridge.  The Plague eventually killed at least 70000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100000 – far more than the “Black Death” of 1348-9, although far fewer in proportion to the overall population.  The “Bills of Mortality” show that of the 70000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10000 were in the 97 parishes within the walls of the City  – possibly because a significant proportion  of those inhabitants who could afford to do so had fled to the country.  The remaining 60000  Plague deaths were in the 16 parishes without the walls, the 5 in Westminster, and the 12 in Middlesex and Surrey.  Stepney was the worst affected, with 6500 deaths.

A visit to the Tower (Frederic Gershow, 1602)

Philipp Julius, the Duke of Stettin-Pomerania.JPG

On this day in 1602, Frederic Gershow, the secretary to Philipp Julius, the Duke of Stettin-Pomerania, wrote, in his diary:

“[H]is princely Grace, having obtained permission, visited the Tower of London, an old but strong castle built by Julius Caesar [sic], where they keep the prisoners.  At first we were led into a long hall, full of harness, maybe for a hundred thousand men, as one might say; but this armour was not properly arranged, nor kept clean”.

Tower Armoury

 

 

“The Mortality is encreased” (1665)

1 - Lord have mercy on London

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[M]y finding that although the Bill [of Mortality] in general is abated, yet the City within the walls is encreased and likely to continue so, and is close to our house there.  My meeting dead corpses of the plague, carried to be buried close to me at noon-day through the City in Fenchurch Street.  To see a person sick of the sores carried close by me by Grace-church in a hackney-coach.  My finding the Angell tavern, at the lower end of Tower-hill, shut up; and more than that, the alehouse at the Tower Stairs; and more than that, that the person was then dying of the plague when I was last there, a little while ago at night.  To hear that poor Payne, my waiter, hath buried a child, and is dying himself.  To hear that a labourer I sent but the other day to Dagenhams, to know how they did there, is dead of the plague; and that one of my own watermen, that carried me daily, fell sick as soon as he had landed me on Friday morning last, when I had been all night upon the water … is now dead of the plague.  … To hear that Mr. Lewes hath another daughter sick.  And, lastly, that both my servants, W. Hewers and Tom Edwards, have lost their fathers, both in St. Sepulchre’s parish, of the plague this week, do put me into great apprehensions of melancholy, and with good reason”.

And  John Tillison wrote, in a letter to Dr Sancroft:

“Death stares us continually in the face in every infected person that passeth by us; in every coffin which is … carried along the streets.  … The custom was … to bury the dead in the night only; now, both night and day will hardly be time enough to do it.  … [L]ast week, … the dead was piled in heaps above ground … before either time could be gained or place to bury them.  The Quakers … have buried in their piece of ground [Bunhill Row] a thousand … .  Many are [also] dead in … other places about the town which are not included in the bill of mortality”.

The “Great Plague” was almost at  its peak.  It eventually killed at least 70000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100000 – far more than the “Black Death” of 1348-9, although far fewer in proportion to the overall population.  The “Bills of Mortality” show that of the 70000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10000 were in the 97 parishes within the walls of the City  – possibly because a significant proportion  of those inhabitants who could afford to do so had fled to the country.  The remaining 60000  Plague deaths were in the 16 parishes without the walls, the 5 in Westminster, and the 12 in Middlesex and Surrey.  Stepney was the worst affected, with 6500 deaths.

 

 

“The Greatness of the  Plague” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

1 - Lord have mercy on London

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“Up; and, after putting several things in order to my removal, to Woolwich; the plague having a great increase this week, beyond all expectation of almost 2,000, making the general Bill [of Mortality] 7,000, odd 100; and the plague above 6,000.  Thus this month ends with great sadness upon the publick, through the greatness of the plague every where through the kingdom almost.  Every day sadder and sadder news of its increase.  In the City died this week …  6,102 of the plague.  But it is feared that the true number …  is near 10,000; partly from the poor that cannot be taken notice of through the greatness of the number, and partly from the Quakers and others that will not have any bell ring for them”.

The “Great Plague” was now killing nearly a thousand people a day, and approaching its peak.  It eventually killed at least 70000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100000 – far more than the “Black Death” of 1348-9, although far fewer in proportion to the overall population.  The “Bills of Mortality” show that of the 70000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10000 were in the 97 parishes within the walls of the City  – possibly because a significant proportion  of those inhabitants who could afford to do so had fled to the country.  The remaining 60000  Plague deaths were in the 16 parishes without the walls, the 5 in Westminster, and the 12 in Middlesex and Surrey.  Stepney was the worst affected, with 6500 deaths.