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The Romance of London  —  £ 4.99

Go to the eBook Shop A cornucopia of stories about London and its inhabitants, gleaned from newspapers, magazines, periodicals, autobiographies and official records. The printed version of this huge book runs to almost 1,000 pages.

John Timbs wrote over 150 books, many about London. As a sub-editor on the Illustrated London News he knew the subject very well and nosed out all the best, and most unusual bits of history.

This eBook version contains the entire text as originally published in 1865. Please see the extract below for a complete list of the contents and a few of the 294 essays.

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The cover is the original with the title and author superimposed.

This book has been published in 1, 2 and 3 volume editions. This is the undated 2 volume 'Chandos Classics' version, containing all 294 articles, and may be the first edition.


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Historic Sketches

Story of the Ferryman's Daughter, St Mary Overs, and the First London Bridge
The Ballad of 'London Bridge is Broken Down'
Noted Residents on Old London Bridge
Smithfield and Its Tournaments
Plantagenet Pigs
Whittington and his Cat'
Crosby Place Shakespeare and Richard III
Sorrows of Sanctuary
The Hungerford's at Charing Cross
Jane Shore: Her True History
Story of a King's Head
Queen Elizabeth By Torchlight
Romance of the Beauchamp Tower
Traitors' Gate in the Tower
The Bloody Tower
Two Prisoners in the Bell Tower
What Became of the Heads of Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More?
Execution of Lady Jane Grey
Where Was Anne Boleyn Buried?
Sir Walter Raleigh Writing his 'History of the World'
Sir Walter Raleigh Attempts Suicide in the Tower
The Execution of Sir Walter Raleigh
The Poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury
A Farewell Feast in the Tower
The Gunpowder Plot Detected
Two Tippling Kings
Funeral of James I
Historical Coincidences
Queen Henrietta Maria Doing Penance at Tyburn
Old Parr'
George and Blue Boar Inn – the Intercepted Letter
Lord Sanquhar's Revenge: a Story of Whitefriars
Martyrdom of King Charles I
The Story of Don Pantaleon Sa
Sir Richard Willis's Plot against Charles II
Mansion of a City Merchant Prince
Treasure-Seeking in the Tower
Colonel Blood Steals the Crown from the Tower
The Story of Nan Clarges, Duchess of Albemarle
Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey: his Mysterious Death
Colonel Blood's Attack upon the Duke of Ormond in St James's Street
The Heroic Lady Fanshawe
Cromwell's Skull
A Story of Middle Temple Gate
The Story of Nell Gwynne
Francis Bacon in Gray's Inn
Lord Craven and the Queen of Bohemia
Addison's 'Campaign'
Ladies Excluded from the House of Lords
Jemmy Dawson
Secret Visits of the Young Pretender to London
The Riots of 1780
Alderman Beckford and his Monumental Speech
Royalty Deduced from a Tub-Woman
Unfortunate Baronets
The Victory of Culloden
Suicide of Lord Clive
Funeral of Nelson
Lord Castlereagh's Blunders
Accession of Queen Victoria
The Royal Exchange Motto
London Residence of the Emperor of the French in 1847-8
The Chartists in 1848
Apsley House

Remarkable Duels

Trial by Battle
The Field of Forty Footsteps
The Famous Cheshire Will Case
Duel Between the Duke of Hamilton and Lord Mohun
Duel Between Lord Byron and Mr Chaworth
Duel Between the Duke of York and Colonel Lenox
Fighting Fitzgerald'
Primrose Hill
Lord Camelford the Duellist
A Literary Duel
A Terrible Duel
Heroes of the Road
Claude Duval
Jemmy Whitney, the Handsome Highwayman
Dick Turpin
M'Lean, the Fashionable Highwayman
Metropolitan Highwaymen

Rogueries, Crimes and Punishments

Ancient Civil Punishments
Cage and Stocks at London Bridge
Flogging at Bridewell
Witchcraft Penance on London Bridge
Striking in the King's Court
Torture – the Rack
Pressing to Death
Discovery of a Murder
Origin of the Coventry Act
Rise of Judge Jeffreys
Stories of the Star-Chamber
Persons of Note Imprisoned in the Fleet
The Rising of Sir Thomas Wyat
The Story of George Barnwell
Lady Henrietta Berkeley
Assassination of Mr Thynne in Pall Mall
Murder of Mountfort, the Player
Two Extraordinary Suicides at London Bridge
Extraordinary Escape from Death
Human Heads on Temple Bar
Adventure with a Forger
Eccentric Benevolence
The Execution of Lord Ferrers
Baltimore House
The Minters of Southwark
Stealing a Dead Body
The Execution of Dr Dodd
The Story of Hackman and Miss Reay
Attempts to Assassinate George III
Trial and Execution of Governor Wall
Case of Eliza Fenning, the Suspected Poisoner
Wainwright the Poisoner
Ratcliffe Highway Murders
The Cato Street Conspiracy
Vaux, the Swindler and Pickpocket
A Murderer Taken By Means of the Electric Telegraph
Stories of the Bank of England

Love and Marriage

Stories of Fleet Marriages
Story of Richard Lovelace
Wycherly and his Countess
Story of Beau Fielding
Beau Wilson
The Unfortunate Roxana
Mrs Centlivre and Her Three Husbands
Stolen Marriages at Knightsbridge
The Handsome Englishman'
A Mayfair Marriage
George III and 'the Fair Quakeress'
George III and Lady Sarah Lenox
Love and Madness
Emma, Lady Hamilton
Breaches of Promise
Marriage of Mrs Fitzherbert and the Prince of Wales
Flight of the Princess Charlotte from Warwick House
George IV and his Queen

Supernatural Stories

A Vision in the Tower
The Legend of Kilburn
Omens to Charles I and James II
Premonition and Vision to Dr Donne
Apparition in the Tower
Lilly, the Astrologer
Touching for the Evil
David Ramsay and the Divining-Rod
Lady Davies the Prophetess
Dr Lamb the Conjurer
Murder and an Apparition
A Vision of Lord Herbert of Cherbury
A Vision on London Bridge
A Mysterious Lady
Story of the Cock Lane Ghost
A Ghost Story Explained
Stepney Legend of the Fish and the Ring
Dream Testimony
Marylebone Fanatics: Sharp and Bryan, Brothers and Southcote
Hallucination in St Paul's
The Ghost in the Tower

Sights and Shows, and Public Amusements

The Puisne's Walke about London
The Walls of Roman London
The Danes in London
City Regulations in the Plantagenet Times
St Paul's Day in London
Christmas Festivities in Westminster Hall
London Cockpits
Story of the Book of St Alban's
Races in Hyde Park
Old Pall Mall Sights
Romance of Schomberg House
Dr Graham and his Quackeries
Origin of Hackney-Coaches
The Parish Clerks of Clerkenwell
Sedan-Chairs in London
A London Newspaper of 1667
Ambassadors' Squabble
Dryden Cudgelled
Funeral of Dryden
Gaming-Houses kept by Ladies
Royal Gaming at Christmas
Punch and Judy
Mrs Salmon's Wax-Work
The Ragged Regiment in Westminster Abbey
The Pig-Faced Lady
Count Boruwlaski and George IV
The Irish Giants
A Norfolk Giant
Celebrated Dwarfs
Playing on the Salt-Box
A Shark Story
Topham, the Strong Man of Islington
The Pope's Procession and Burning of the Pope
The Giants at Guildhall
Lord Mayor's Day
Presentation of Sheriffs
Lord Mayor's Fool
King George III and the Barclay Family
Carlton House and the Regency
The Prince Regent and the Author of 'Waverlay'
The Coronation-Stone and Championship
Musical Celebration of St Cecilia's Day
The Beggar's Opera
The Opera in 1747
A Fashionable Rout in the Last Century
Vauxhall Gardens
A Ridotto at Vauxhall
Marylebone Gardens
Jubilee Masquerade at Ranelagh
The Bottle Conjuror
Mrs Cornelys at Carlisle House
Bartholomew Fair
Belzoni at Bartholomew Fair
May Fair a Century Ago
Men Who Played Female Parts on the Stage
Nancy Dawson
Puffing on the Stage
Garrick's Acting
John Bannister's Acting
A Partisan Actor
The Minister and the Player
Milkmaids on May-Day
Sweeps' Holiday at Montague House
Mermaid Hoax
The Portland Vase
Unburied Ambassadors
Watch-Face at Somerset House
Lord Stowell's Love of Sight-Seeing
Hogarth's 'Industrious and Idle Apprentices'
Sir Joshua Reynolds's Zenith
Harlow's Picture of the 'Trial of Queen Katherine'
The Lansdowne Family and Lansdowne House
An Astronomical Curiosity
Downing Street
Curiosities of the Patent Office
Opera-House Speculation
Humours of Epsom Races
The Four Indian Kings
The St Margaret's Painted Window at Westminster
Painted Window of 'the Field of Cloth of Gold'
Going to Fires

Strange Adventures and Catastrophies

A Memorable Explosion
Earthquakes in London
The New Zealander Visiting the Ruins of London
Dangerous Classes in the Last Century
York Buildings, a Site of Mischance
The Burning of Montague House
Sir Thomas Gresham's Shop in Lombard Street
The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
Runs upon the Bank of England
Theodore King of Corsica
Worth of a Queen Anne's Farthing
Ireland's Shakespeare Forgeries
Lotteries in London
Fashion for Flowers
Flooding of the Thames Tunnel
Burning of the Houses of Parliament
Hudson, 'The Railway King'

Remarkable Persons

Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
Praise-God Barebones
Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
Gulliver's Travels
The Duke of Newcastle's Eccentricities
Celebrated Physicians
A Quack Oculist
Voltaire in London
A Scene in Middle Temple Hall
Nat Lee's Madness
Dirty Dick of Leadenhall Street
The Crossing Sweeper
A Mock Prince
An Errant Journalist?
Death of Flaxman, the Sculptor
Death of Newton, the Painter
Charles Lamb at the Play
Corner Memory Thompson'
Deville the Phrenologist
Monk Lewis
The Penalties of Avarice
Coleridge's Opium-Eating
Sir Joshua Reynolds's Last Lecture
Eccentricities of Cobbett
Eccentricities of Lord Byron
How Robert Bloomfield wrote his 'Farmer's Boy' in the Heart of London
Dr Dibdin, the Bibliomaniac
Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
A London Recluse
Philip Astley, the Rider
The 'O. P. Riot'
Charles Mathews the Elder


Jack Cade in Southwark
Shakespeare's House in the Blackfriars
Prisoners in the Tower
The Ancient Watch and Ward
Robbing the Royal Treasury
Migration of Citizens Westward


Curiosities of the Patent Office

     An indefinite title was formerly supposed to be some security against piracy during the long progress of a patent towards maturity; while at the same time patentees, thinking it no doubt a great hardship to have so costly a protection limited to only one invention, were in the habit of crowding as many distinct things as possible into their specifications. There are numberless instances of this to be found in the old specifications at the Patent Office, but the most amusing and most modern occurs in a patent granted a few years since, which, under the modest title of “improvements in cooking and culinary articles and methods of heating and suspending and fastening articles of domestic use, and similar purposes,” embraces not less than fifty distinct inventions, classed under eleven different heads, and comprising the manufacture of fuel, machinery, cements, coffee and tea pots, ovens, pails, brackets, lamps, filters, walking-sticks, door-plates, railways and nosebags for horses, enamelled door-knobs, candlesticks, weights and scales, brushes and mops, egg-boilers, knife-sharpeners, locks, plate-warmers, decanter stoppers, frying-pans, and chimney flues, besides many other processes in chemical and manufacturing operations.
     It was not until the 30,000 old specifications – all granted since the days of James I. – were indexed, that it was seen how men had patented the same hopeless inventions over and over again, without the least idea that hundreds had not only tried the same plans, but been ruined by them. All these inventions are now indexed under four heads, in as many volumes; and taking them all in all, they are, perhaps, the most wonderful records of human ingenuity, and sometimes, too, we must add, of human folly, that ever were gathered together. A mingled list of failures that have ruined the hopes of thousands, and of successes which have almost altered the destinies of half the human race, and realised the most colossal fortunes. The honour of heading this list and of receiving the first patent, granted on the 2nd of March 1617, belongs to Aaron Rapburne, gent, and Roger Burges, who are “graunted a priviledge for the terme of XXI yeares of the sole makeing, carveing, describeing, and graveing in copper, brass, or other metalle, alle suche and soe manie mappes, plottes, or descripcions of Lond., Westm., Bristolle, Norwiche, Canterbury, Bath, Oxford, and Cambridge, and the towne and castel of Windsor, and to imprint and sette forthe and selle the same.” The next, given in the same month, is to Nicholas Hildeyarde, for drawing pictures of his Majesty James I. Many of the patents, though, of this time are mere monopolies. Some, however, are good, and we meet with one which evidently points to the use of steam in 1630 – a patent granted to no less a person than our old friend David Ramseye, of whom Scott has left us such a picture in The Fortunes of Nigel. The wording of this is:-
     “To our wel-beloved servants, David Ramseye, Esquire, and one of the Groomes of our Privie Chamber, that hee, by his greate paines, industry, and chardge? hath found out, invented, and perfected diverse new waies, meanes, and invencons; that is to say, To multiplie and make saltpeter in an open fielde in fower acres of ground sufficient to serve all our dominions; to raise water from Lowe-pitts by fire; to make any sort of mills to goe on standing waters by continuali mocon, without the help of winde, waite, or horse; to make all sorts of tapistrie without any weaving loome or way ever yet in vse in this kingdome; to make boates, shippes, and barges to goe against stronge winde and tyde; to make the earth firtile more then vsuall; to rayse water from low places and mynds and coalepitts by a new waie never yet in vse; to make hard iron soft, and likewise copper to bee tuffe and soft, which is not in vse within this kingdome, and to make yellow wax white verie speedily.”
     This is a fair amount for any man to accomplish; but the old clockmaker seems scarcely satisfied with even this allotment, since a few years later we find him, in conjunction with one Thomas Wildgoose (good name for a patentee), taking out another for –

     “Thirty-one yeares to exercise and putt in use divers new apt forms of engines and other profitable (?) inventions, as well to plough grounds without horse or oxen, and to make firtile as well barren peats, salts, and sea lands as inland and upland grounds within the realms of the united kingdom; and also to raise waters and to make boats for carriages running upon the water as swift in calms and more safe in storms than boats full saile in great windes.”

If this does not point to steam it must be sheer lunacy.

     The old adage that there is nothing new under the sun is forcibly exemplified as we look down the pages of this index. The electric telegraph is clearly foreshadowed at the close of the seventeenth century, in a manner then almost as prophetical as the verse in Job, which says, “Send lightnings that they may go and say unto thee we are here.”

     In 1823, again, a gentleman, named Ronalds (yet living), took out a patent for an electric telegraph, and actually proved its feasibility by working through eight miles of wire. This inventor asks:-

     “Why has no serious trial yet been made of the qualification of so diligent a courier? And if he should be proved competent to the task, why should not our Kings hold Councils at Brighton with their Ministers in London? Why should not our Government govern at Portsmouth almost as promptly as in Downing Street? Why should our defaulters escape by means of our foggy climate? Let us have electrical conversazione offices communicating with each other all over the kingdom if we can.”
     The reply of the Government of that day to the offer of this gentleman to construct an electric telegraph for them is worth recording as a grand instance of routine. It was briefly this:-

     “Telegraphs of any kind were wholly unnecessary, and none other than the semaphores then in use would ever be adopted.”

     Up to 1852 there were 262 patents for improvements in firearms, shells, rockets, &c. Curiously enough, one of the earliest on the list is a breech-loading revolving cannon, by James Puckle, while the last is Colonel Colt’s, applying the same principle to pistols. Puckle’s specification is partly in rhyme, and entitled “A Defence:”–

Defending King George, your country, and laws,
Is defending yourselves and the Protestant cause.
For bridges, breaches, lines, and passes,
Ships, boats, houses, and other places.

     This most curious weapon has different chambers; some for shooting round bullets against Christians, and for square bullets against Turks.
     One gentleman has actually been insane enough to have a patent taken out for an extraordinary and most impossible invention, and as the patent is in the name of an unknown earldom, the patentee believes that such a specification under the Great Seal is the same as a patent of nobility, and has thenceforth signed himself “Earl Bedlam” accordingly. One cannot help smiling at some of the specifications, though it is almost alarming to see how fine is the line between lunatic and patentee. What a state of mind must the man be in who spends £500 patenting a “Nocturnal remembrancer, by which every person of genius, business, or reflection, may secure all their night thoughts worth preserving, though totally in the dark,”
     Dibdin has a patent for teaching music by a very roundabout way, with letters instead of notes, a mode which, to judge from the state of the music trade at the present time, seems scarcely to have answered the expectations of the inventor. Benjamin O’Neale Stratford, Earl of Aldborough, of patent medicine fame, has whole folios of specifications devoted to improvements in “Aerial Navigation.” Characteristically enough, “Aerial Navigation,” and its improvement, seems to possess great charms for the inventors of the sister kingdom, for we find several such specifications at the Patent Office, each more outrageous than its predecessor, and each accompanied by the wildest diagrams it is possible to conceive. Rabelais’ visit to Queen Whims has nothing in it so comical or so absurd as not to find a parallel in this curious record of wild ideas and impracticable plans – or plans which, if feasible and carried out, could be of no earthly good to anybody.†

[† Abridged from The Times journal]

Flooding of the Thames Tunnel

     This stupendous work had considerably advanced by May 1827, when the bed of the river being examined by a diving-bell, the soil was found to be extremely loose; and on the 18th of May, as the tide rose, the ground seemed as though it were alive. The water was pressing in at all points, and it was not long in entering. Occasional bursts of diluted silt were followed by an overwhelming flood of slush and water, which drove all before it. The men, forced out of the shield, fled towards the bottom of the shaft. The water came on in a great wave, threatening to sweep them back under the arch by its recoil against the circular wall of the shaft. The lowest flight of steps was reached, and the recoil wave surged under the men’s feet. They hurried up the stairs of the shaft, and it was thought that all of them had come in, when the cry was raised, “A rope! a rope! Save him! Save him!” Some unfortunate workman had been left behind, and was seen struggling in the water. Young Brunel, seizing a rope, slid down one of the iron ties of the shaft, reached the water, passed the rope round the man’s body, and he was immediately drawn up. It proved to be old Tillett, the engine-man. The roll was then called, and every man answered to his name; but the Tunnel works were, for the time, completely drowned.
     On examination of the bed of the river from the diving-bell, a large hole was found extending from the centre of the Tunnel excavation to a considerable distance eastwards. Measures were taken to fill up the opening with bags of clay, laid so as to form an arch in the bed of the river immediately over the work. More bags of clay were then sunk; and after about thirty thousand cubic feet of clay had been thrown into the hole, the pumping was resumed, and the state of the work could be examined from the inside in a boat. On the 10th of November following, the Tunnel had again been so far cleared of water, that young Brunel determined to give a dinner in one of the arches to about fifty friends of the undertaking; while above a hundred of the leading workmen were similarly regaled in the adjoining arch. The band of the Coldstream Guards enlivened the scene, and the proceedings went off with great eclat. The celebration had, however, been premature; and the young engineer had been “hallooing before he was out of the water;” for in two months the Thames again burst in, owing in some measure to the incautiousness of young Brunel himself, and the river held possession of the Tunnel for several years.
     The circumstances connected with this second flooding are well told by Mr Beamish, in his Memoirs of the Brunels:-

     “On the morning of Saturday, the 12th of January, I came on duty at six o’clock, but was detained aboveground in writing out orders for the men, and had scarcely completed the last order, when a strange confused sound of voices seemed to issue from the shaft, and immediately the watchman rushed in, exclaiming, ‘The water is in – the Tunnel is full!’ My head felt as though it would burst – I rushed to the workmen’s staircase; it was blocked by the men; with a crowbar I knocked in the side-door of the visitors’ staircase; but I had not taken many steps down when I received Isambard Brunel in my arms. The great wave of water had thrown him to the surface, and he was providentially preserved from the fate which had already overwhelmed his companions. ‘Ball! Ball! – Collins! Collins!’ were the only words he could for some time utter; but the well-known voices answered not – they were for ever silent.
     “In the earnest desire to make progress, some of the precautions which experience had shown to be so important were unfortunately omitted; and Isambard Brunel, calculating upon the tried skill, courage, and physical power of some of the men coming on in the morning shift (particularly Ball and Collins), ventured at high water, or while the tide was still rising, to open the ground at No. 1. According to his own account, given to me that day, upon the removal of the side-shoring the ground began to swell, and in a few moments a column of solid ground, about eight or ten inches in diameter, forced itself in. This was immediately followed by the overwhelming torrent. Collins was forced out of the box, and all the unflinching efforts of Ball to timber the back proved unavailing. So rapid was the influx of water, that had the three not quitted the stage immediately they must have been swept off. A rush of air suddenly extinguished the gas-lights, and they were left to struggle in utter darkness. Scarcely had they proceeded twenty feet from the stage when they were thrown down by the timber, now in violent agitation, for already had the water nearly reached as high as Isambard’s waist. With great difficulty he extricated his right leg from something heavy which had fallen upon it, and made his way into the east arch. There he paused for a moment to call for Ball and Collins, but, receiving no answer, and the water continuing to rise, he was compelled to consult his own safety by flight. Arrived at the shaft, he found the workmen’s staircase, which opened into the east arch, crowded. The morning shift had not all come down; the night shift had not all come up; added to which, those who had succeeded in placing themselves out of danger, forgetful of their less fortunate companions, stopped and blocked up the passage. Unable to make his way into the west arch and to the visitors’ staircase, which was quite clear, owing to the rapidity with which the water rose, Isambard Brunel had no alternative but to abandon himself to the tremendous wave, which, in a few seconds, bore him on its seething and angry surface to the top of the shaft. With such force, indeed, did the water rise, that it jumped over the curb at the workmen’s entrance. Three men who, finding the staircase choked, endeavoured to ascend a long ladder which lay against the shaft, were swept under the arch by the recoil of the wave. The ladder and the lower flight of the staircase were broken to pieces. We had then to mourn the loss of Ball, Collins, Long, G. Evans, J. Cook, and Seaton…. Isambard Brunel was found to have received internal injury, as well as severe abrasion in the knee-joint, and was confined to his bed for months.”

     The funds of the Tunnel Company were by this time exhausted; and it was determined to make an appeal to the country for the means of finishing it. A subscription-list was opened, and £18,500 promised; but this sum was a mere “flea-bite,” and the works remained suspended. The Government at length consented to make a loan of £246,000 for the purpose of enabling the Tunnel to be completed, and the first instalment was advanced in December 1834. The water was then pumped out of the Tunnel, and the works were recommenced, after having been at a standstill for a period of seven years. A new shield, of excellent construction, was supplied by the Messrs Rennie, which was satisfactorily placed in position by the 1st of March 1836. But the difficulties of the undertaking were not yet entirely overcome; the river broke in again and again – three times in twenty weeks, within a distance of only twenty-six feet; but by perseverance and skill the water was ultimately mastered, and the work was at last brought to a completion, and opened to the public on the 25th of March 1843.
     Thomas Hood thus humorously quizzed the Tunnel irruptions:-

Other great speculations have been nursed,
   Till want of proceeds laid them on the shelf;
But thy concern was at the worst,
   When it began to liquidate itself.

Ode to Brunel.

Runs upon the Bank of England

     There is an abundance of interest in the chronicles of the runs upon the Bank, and the expedients by which it has been saved – in 1745, for instance, by the corporation retaining its specie, and employing agents to enter with notes, who, to gain time, were paid in six-pences; and as those who came first were entitled to priority of payment, the agents went out at one door with the specie they had received, and brought it back by another, so that the bonâ fide holders of notes could never get near enough to present them. We may as well here, though it be out of date, give the explanation of the issue of one-pound notes during the panic of 1825. The incidental mention to one of the directors that there was a box of one-pound notes ready for issue, turned the attention of the authorities to the propriety of attempting to circulate them; and the declaration of Mr Henry Thornton, in 1797, probably occurred, that it was the want of small change, not a necessity for gold, that was felt; and that as the pressure on the country banks arose from the holders of the small notes, it was suggested to the Government that the public might, perhaps, receive one-pound notes in place of sovereigns. The Government approved of the idea, and the panic was at its height, when on Saturday, the 17th of December, the Bank closed its doors with only £1,027,000 in its cellars. (In the pamphlet published by Lord Ashburton is the following remarkable paragraph:- After saying, “I was called into counsel with the late Lord Liverpool, Mr Huskisson, and the Governor of the Bank,” his Lordship proceeds: “The gold of the Bank was drained to within a very few thousand pounds; for although the published returns showed a result rather less scandalous, a certain Saturday night closed with nothing worth mentioning remaining.”)
     “It has been stated, that by accident the box of one-pound notes was discovered. But such was not the case. A witness stated that ‘he did not recollect that there were any one-pound notes; they were put by; it was the casual observation that there were such things in the house, which suggested to the directors that it would be possible to use them.’ Application was made to Government for permission to issue them; and this was granted, subject to certain stipulations.”†

[†Francis’s History of the Bank of England]

Earthquakes in London

     Two of the most memorable shocks of the earth felt in the metropolis were those of 1580 and 1750. The first of these took place on the evening of Easter Wednesday (April 6), 1580. The great clock-bell at Westminster struck at the shock, and the bells of the various churches were set jangling; the people rushed out of the theatres in consternation, and the gentlemen of the Temple, leaving their supper, ran out of the hall with their knives in their hands. Part of the Temple Church was cast down, some stones fell from St Paul’s, and two apprentices were killed at Christ Church by the fall of a stone during sermon-time. This earthquake was felt pretty generally throughout the kingdom, and was the cause of much damage in Kent, where many castles and other buildings where injured; and at Dover, a portion of a cliff fell, carrying with it part of the castle wall. So alarmed were all classes, that Queen Elizabeth thought it advisable to cause a form of prayer to be used by all householders with their whole family, every evening before going to bed.
     On the 8th of September 1692, the merchants were driven from ‘Change and the people from their houses by a shock; and the streets of the metropolis were thronged with a panic-stricken crowd, some swooning, some aghast with wonder and amazement. This earthquake was felt in most of the home counties. Evelyn, writing from Sayes Court to Bishop Tenison, says:- “As to our late earthquake here, I do not find it has left any considerable marks. In London, and particularly in Dover Street, they were greatly affrighted.”
     The year 1750 is, however, the most memorable year of English earthquakes. It opened with most unseasonable weather, the heat being, according to Walpole, “beyond what was ever known in any other country;” and on the 8th of February, a shock was felt, followed exactly a month afterwards by a second and severer one, when the bells of the church-clocks struck against the chiming-hammers, dogs howled, and fish jumped high out of the water.
     Walpole, in a letter to Sir Horace Mann, narrates the catastrophe, commencing with

Portents and prodigies have grown so frequent,
That they have lost their name.

     “My text is not literally true; but, as far as earthquakes go towards lowering the price of wonderful commodities, to be sure we are overstocked. We have had a second, much more violent than the first; and you must not be surprised if, by next post, you hear of a burning mountain springing up in Smithfield, In the night between Wednesday and Thursday last, the earth had a shivering fit between one and two; but so slight that, if no more had followed, I don’t believe it would have been noticed. I had been awake, and had scarce dozed again – on a sudden I felt my bolster lift my head. I thought somebody was getting from under my bed, but soon found it was a strong earthquake, that lasted nearly half a minute, with a violent vibration and great roaring. I got up and found people running into the streets, but saw no mischief done. There has been some; two old houses flung down, several chimneys, and much earthenware. The bells rang in several houses. Admiral Knowles, who has lived long in Jamaica, and felt seven there, says this was more violent than any of them. The wise say, that if we have not rain soon, we shall certainly have more. Several people are going out of town, for it has nowhere reached above ten miles from London: they say they are not frightened, but that it is such fine weather, ‘Lord, one can’t help going into the country!’ The only visible effect it has had was in the Ridotto, at which, being the following morning, there were but 400 people. A parson who came into White’s the morning after earthquake the first, and heard bets laid on whether it was an earthquake or the blowing up of powder mills, went away exceedingly scandalised, and said, ‘I protest they are such an impious set of people, that I believe, if the last trumpet was to sound, they would bet puppet-show against judgment!’ The excitement grew intense: following the example of Bishops Seeker and Sherlock, the clergy showered down sermons and exhortations, and a country quack sold pills ‘as good against an earthquake.’ A crazy Lifeguardsman predicted a third and more fatal earthquake at the end of four weeks after the second; and a frantic terror prevailed as the time drew near.
     “On the evening preceding the 5th of April, the roads out of London were crowded with vehicles, spite of an advertisement in the papers threatening the publication of an exact list of all the nobility and gentry who have left or shall leave this place through fear of another earthquake.’ ‘Earthquake gowns’ – warm gowns to wear while sitting out of doors all night – were in great request with women. Many people sat in coaches all night in Hyde Park, passing away the time with the aid of cards and candles;” and Walpole asks his correspondent, “What will you think of Lady Catherine Pelham, Lady Frances Arundel, and Lord and Lady Galway, who go this evening to an inn ten miles out of town, where they are to play brag till four o’clock in the morning, and then come back, I suppose, to look for the bones of their husbands and families under the rubbish?” The prophet of all this was a trooper of Lord Delawar’s, who was sent to Bedlam.
     The second shock having happened exactly a month after the former, it was believed there would be a third in another month, which was to swallow up London; and Walpole advised several who were going to keep their next earthquake in the country, to take the bark† for it, as they were so periodic. Dick Leveson and Mr Rigby, who had supped and stayed late at Bedford House, one night, knocked at several doors, and in a watchman’s voice cried, “Past four o’clock, and a dreadful earthquake!”

[† “I remember,” says Addison, in the 240th Tatler, “when our whole island was shaken with an earthquake some years ago, that there was an impudent mountebank who sold pills, which, as he told the country people, were very good against an earthquake.”]

     The great earthquake which destroyed Lisbon in 1755 agitated the waters of the United Kingdom, and even affected Peerless Pool, in the City Road.
     In 1842, an absurd report gained credence among the weak-minded, that London would be destroyed by earthquake on the 17th of March, St Patrick’s Day. This rumour was founded on certain doggerel prophecies; one pretended to be pronounced in the year 1203, and contained in the Harleian Collection (British Museum), 800 b. folio 319; the other by Dr Dee, the astrologer (1598, MS. in the British Museum). The rhymes, with these “authorities” inserted in the newspapers, actually excited some alarm, and a great number of timid persons left the metropolis before the 17th. Upon reference to the British Museum, the “prophecies” were not, however, to be found; and their forger has confessed them to have been an experiment upon public credulity.

Dangerous Classes in the Last Century

     Sir John Fielding, in his well-filled duodecimo Description of London and Westminster published in 1776, gives a supplement of “Proper Cautions to the Merchants, Tradesmen, and Shopkeepers; Journeymen, Apprentices, Porters, Errand Boys, Book-keepers, and Inn-keepers; also very necessary for every person going to London either on business or pleasure.” The information is of a really practical kind, while it contains little pictures of the metropolitan rogues and frauds of the period, which the well-informed Justice of the Peace renders agreeable as well as serviceable to the reader. Here are three specimens:-

     Sky Farmers are described as a set of cheats, who make a dupe of the heart, and impose on the benevolence and compassion of the charitable. These ingenious sky farmers execute their schemes in the following manner:-

     One of them dresses himself extremely genteel, and takes upon himself either the character of a private gentleman or respectable tradesman. He is attended by two men in the character of country farmers, with clumsy boots, horsemen’s coats, &c. The objects pitched upon for imposition are good charitable old ladies, to whom the sky farmer tells a dreadful story of losses by fire, inundation, &c, to the utter ruin of these two poor farmers and all their families; their wives are with child, their children down in the small-pox, &c. A book is then produced by the sky farmer, who undertakes this disagreeable office purely out of good nature, knowing the story to be true. In this book are the names of the nobility and gentry set down by himself, who have contributed to this charity; and by setting out with false names, they at length get real ones, which are of great service to them in carrying on their fraud; and well-disposed persons are daily imposed upon by false appearances of distress. There are persons in this town who get a very good livelihood by writing letters and petitions of this stamp, with which those noblemen and gentlemen who are distinguished for their generosity and benevolence are constantly tormented; and these wretches often obtain relief for their false distresses, whilst the really miserable suffer, from their modesty, the asserted afflictions. A woman stuffed so large as if she was ready to lie in, with two or three borrowed children, and a letter giving an account of her husband’s falling off a scaffold, and breaking his limbs, or being drowned at sea, &c, is an irresistible object.

     Swindling. – The highest rank of cheats who attack the understanding (says Sir John Fielding), have made use of the following stratagems:-

     One of the gang, who is happiest in his person, and has the best address, is pitched upon to take a house, which, by means of the extreme good character given of him by his comrade to the landlord, is soon accomplished. The next consideration is to furnish it, when Mr —, a young ironmonger, just set up, is pitched upon to provide the squire’s grates, who, glad of so fine an order, soon ornaments his chimneys with those of the newest fashion. This being done, Mr —, the upholsterer, is immediately applied to for other furniture, and is brought to the house, in order that he may see the grates, which he no sooner beholds than he tells his honour that he could have furnished him likewise with grates of the best kind, at the most reasonable rates, to which Squire Gambler replies, that he intends taking some little villa in the country, where Mr — shall furnish everything he can.
     The house being now completely furnished, the squire dresses himself in his morning gown, velvet cap, and red morocco slippers, puts one or more of his comrades into livery, then sends for the tailor, linen-draper, silversmith, jeweller, &c, takes upon him the character of a merchant, and by getting credit of one, by pawning the goods the moment he has got them, he is enabled to pay ready money to others; by which means he extends his credit and increases his orders till he is detected, which sometimes does not happen till he has defrauded tradesmen to a very considerable value. Nay, they have been known to carry their scheme so far as to fix one of their comrades at some rendezvous in Wapping, in the character of the captain of a vessel lying at such stairs, and bound to some of the American plantations, by which means the aforesaid merchant procures goods to be sent abroad; and, as his credit advances, he makes use of drafts, which are constantly accepted by his comrades, who have constantly changed their lodgings when the said drafts have become due.

     “There is a set of sharpers who have lately purchased several estates without money, in the following manner:-

     “They make a bargain with the seller, or his agent, for the estate, in consequence of which they draw articles of agreement, by which they oblige themselves to pay the purchase-money at such a time, and give a bond for the performance of covenants; they then immediately go to the tenant, to show him the articles of agreement, and tell him that he will soon have a new landlord; upon which the former begins to complain of the old one, and hopes his honour will repair this, rebuild that, and alter something else, which the landlord promises to do. Credit being thus gained with the tenant, the new landlord falls in love, perhaps, with the farmer’s daughter, or with a fine horse, or else borrows money of him, and gives him a draught upon his banker in town, who seldom has any cash in hand, and often is not to be found,”

     Ring-dropping. – This old fraud is described by Sir John Fielding as practised by fellows who find a paper full of “gold rings,” which they take care to pick up in the sight of a proper object, whose opinion they ask. These rings appear of little value, which gives the finder an opportunity for saying that he had rather have found a good piece of bread-and-cheese, for he had not broke his fast for a whole day; then wishes the gentleman would give him something for the rings, that he might buy himself a pair of shoes, a coat, &c. He will immediately bite, and thinking to make a cheap purchase of an ignorant fellow, gives him 20s. for four or five brass rings washed over. Or, what is more frequent, and yet more successful, is the picking up of a shilling or a half-crown before the face of a countryman, whose opinion of it is immediately asked, whether it be silver or not, and he is invited to share the finder’s good luck in a glass of wine or a pot of ale. The harmless countryman, pleased at such an invitation in a strange place, is carried to an ale-house, where the sharper’s friends are waiting for him, and where cutting or playing at cards is soon proposed, and the countryman most certainly tricked out of all his money, watch, and everything valuable he has about him.
     The sky farmers appear to be admirably shown up by Sheridan in The Critic.


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