The subject of the gibbet has become a topic of correspondence of late. Amongst the names of those who were so called ‘gibbeted’ for a crime is a Eugene Aram of Knaresborough in the County of Yorkshire. He suffered this fate in 1759.
Here, it should first be said that Eugene Aram was born in 1704 in the village of Ramsgill, near Harrogate to a family of labourers, his father being a gardener. But Aram was bright; his intellectual energy and quick mind enabled him to gain an education and to discover and develop a particular gift for languages, especially ancient ones. He was therefore, not the typical eighteenth-century murderer, for he had become an educated professional, a published author of works of philology who, at the time of his arrest at the King’s Lynn Grammar School, was working on his comparative lexicon of Latin, Greek and Celtic.
But before then, and after spending some time without success in London, he returned to Knaresborough and became a teacher, marrying and fathering seven children whilst at the same time gradually running up debts. Matters became particularly sour when he made the acquaintance of a shoe-maker, Daniel Clark, whose wife was a woman of means. Clark was spending lavishly and running up debts with local traders. Then, on 7 February 1744 he vanished. This set tongues wagging and by April 1745, Aram was starting to feel insecure; he abandoned his wife and children, moving from town to town before he was appointment as an usher at King’s Lynn Grammar School in February 1758. At that time the school was housed above the 14th-century Charnel Chapel, alongside St Margaret’s Church on Saturday Market Place. Later it was to become a Workhouse.
At first it was thought Aram had run away to escape his debts; his friends assuming that he had also fled with a quantity of valuable goods he had acquired illegally. At the same time Daniel Clark remained unaccounted for, even a ‘no questions asked’ reward of £15 (more than £3,000 in today’s money) was offered for information, but there were no takers.
Thirteen years later, the discovery of bones in St Robert’s cave. just outside Knaresborough led to speculation that Aram and another man, Richard Houseman, had conspired to kill Clark and steal his possessions. Aram was traced and arrested; this came about when a visiting horse trader to King’s Lynn recognised him, and the wheels of justice began to turn. In the same year, a skeleton was discovered in St Robert’s Cave near Knaresborough which did not do any favours for Aram. At some point his property was searched and some of Clark’s booty was found in Aram’s Garden as well as those of other friends. Aram was later to say that Clarke had left the goods there. Also, Houseman, who seemed by some to be far more suspicious, was to turn King’s Evidence and testified that Aram had murdered Clark.
The saying “hell hath no fury……” seems to have been appropriate for Mrs Aram, Eugene’s abandoned wife; she was quick to accuse him of the murder of Daniel Clark. Added to this was the rumours going around of an affair between her and Clark, which added more fuel to the fire. Aram was taken back to Yorkshire and tried for murder.
At his trial, in August 1759, Aram decided, unwisely as it turned out, to conduct his own defence. He questioned the identification of the bones and asserted his own good character but did not challenge the shaky, inconsistent and unreliable evidence of his former friend, Houseman. Despite the lack of conclusive evidence, Aram was convicted and sentenced to death. Accordingly, Aram was executed at York Castle, after an unsuccessful attempt to end his own life in prison, and his body returned to Knaresborough, where his gibbet was erected close to the scene of crime, overlooking the river Nidd; his body remained there, gradually decomposing, for at least 25–30 years.
There was great public interest in Aram’s crime and trial. The association between the apparently gentle and scholarly man and violent murder for material gain was unusual and, combined with the instability of the evidence on which he was convicted, resulted in a widespread belief that the wrong man had been executed. His biographer, Norrison Scatcherd, even described the riots and threats with which Houseman was greeted on his own return to Knaresborough.
Historical image of Eugene Aram
Historical image of Eugene Aram and the incident.
Aram’s story was irresistible to cultural producers of the period. Bulwer-Lytton’s novel ‘Eugene Aram (1831)’, giving Aram a beautiful and brilliant lover, romanticised the story. Bulwer-Lytton’s Eugene Aram, though involved in the death of Clark, was the victim of circumstances and no murderer. The novel was adapted for the stage and had a successful run with Henry Irving in the title role. Thomas Hood’s narrative poem “The Dream of Eugene Aram” (1829) was recited by generations of schoolchildren. PG Wodehouse even has Bertie Wooster quoting Hood’s poem in proper Wooster style – (something along these lines): Tum-tum, tum-tum, tum-tumty-tum, I slew him, tum-tum tum! (PG Wodehouse, Jeeves Takes Charge, 1916) Hood’s Aram, though guilty, was thoughtful, penitent and intelligent: a sympathetic hero. Bulwer-Lytton’s novel and Hood’s poem are the best known of Aram’s literary incarnations, but there were many more – forty-one, including a stage play and at least three films.
At some point, probably before the end of the eighteenth century, a doctor called Hutchinson, then practising in Knaresborough, decided to augment his private cabinet of curiosities with the skull of Eugene Aram and managed to remove it from its gibbet cage. But why was Hutchinson so keen to acquire Aram’s skull? Maybe it was simply that he wanted it as a curiosity because of its association with a significant local event—and one which had attracted national attention – who knows!
The skull resided in Hutchinson’s personal museum until he died, when it passed to his widow’s second husband, and his former assistant, Mr Richardson, a surgeon from Harrogate. When, in 1837, the young Dr James Inglis, burning with phrenological zeal, took up a post as physician at the public dispensary in neighbouring Ripon, it is probable that he found out about Aram’s skull from Richardson, as a fellow medical man working in a neighbouring town. It was Inglis who presented the skull to the Newcastle meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1838.
The skull then passed from Dr Richardson to his step-grandson, John Walker, in whose private collection it remained, first at Malton in Yorkshire and then at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, when Walker moved house. He presented the skull to the Royal College of Surgeons in 1869, by which date it had become something of a strange embarrassment to its owner, an Anglican minister, who therefore sought to place it in a museum. The skull was included in Sir William Flower’s catalogues of the Royal College collections in 1879 and 1907 and remained in that museum until 1993 when it was given to King’s Lynn Borough Council and passed to the Old Gaol House Museum in the town.
Today, and for anyone who is interested, there are three last bits to this story. In the Stories of Lynn Museum there are exhibited in the old gaol cells: Aram’s skull, a fragment of Clark’s skull, and a small pill box made of the wood from the gallows on which Aram was hung.
England in Georgian times is remembered as a period of great elegance and refinement but it was also notorious for the brutality of its judicial system and a time when more than 200 crimes on the statute book carried the death penalty. Imprisonment for debt was commonplace and public floggings and executions were a popular source of entertainment.
The Government of the day had no desire to to improve the life of ordinary people – and probably was not expected do so. It was however expected to protect the land and property of the 3% of the population with wealth; these were the lawmakers and the only ones who were permitted to vote in elections even though they were unlikely to be the victim of crime – unless it was the pickpocket on the street, the robber on the highway, or from poaching on the rich man’s estate. The true beneficiaries of the draconian laws were more often middle-class shop owners and tavern keepers who along with the poor were always more vulnerable to being the victims of crime; however, this was a by-product of, and not the intention of, those who made the law.
The man most responsible for the shaping of Georgian England was Robert Walpole. He was born near Houghton in Norfolk on 26 August 1676, the son of a prominent Whig politician who upon his father’s death in January 1701, was elected as Member of Parliament for his old constituency of Castle Rising.
British politics in the eighteenth century reflected a society divided between the pro-Church and pro-Monarchy landed aristocracy and the rapidly expanding commercial class that sought the primacy of Parliament in all things (the vast majority had no say at all) and it was a fraught arena where tensions often ran high. The Tories and the Whigs were not political parties as we would understand them today but factions who formed alliances to best serve their own interests, and it was no friendly rivalry. They were in effect two warring camps with both willing to take up the cudgel if required. Their mutual enmity was reflected in the names they called one another – a Tory was an Irish bandit or thief – a Whig a Scottish rebel or Presbyterian fanatic.
The fact that elections were held every three years guaranteed a febrile atmosphere with members of the different factions meeting in their own coffee houses to conspire with one another and plot their opponents, downfall. Also, Political meetings were violent affairs, graft and corruption was commonplace, votes and constituency seats bought and sold and the behaviour on the hustings would often border on riotous assembly.
Yet this would be the world in which Robert Walpole, the great manipulator not to say enabler, would thrive and prosper. Walpole’s connections ensured that he soon gained political office and he proved himself an able administrator and earned a reputation for probity at a time when such a thing was transparently lacking in politics, this despite the fact that he had been briefly imprisoned for embezzlement in 1712. Having gained the favour of King George I, as he would later his son George II, he began to rise through Government ranks but his ambition was a secret to no one and he was hated by the Tories who time and again tried to discredit him and have him impeached. But, Walpole’s reputation was to soar following the fiasco of the South Sea Bubble.
The South Sea Company had been formed in 1711 as a joint-stock company which through the sale of bonds would purchase the national debt but in reality, it was a get rich quick scheme underpinned by promises of vast profits to be made from trade. After all, the Company had been granted a monopoly of trade with South America. The fact that Britain was at war with Spain meant that there was little real trade to be had – a fact that was seemingly overlooked by most investors. The rich flocked to buy shares but by 1720 it was apparent that the South Sea Company was an empty shell and the rush to sell shares caused it to crash spectacularly.
Though Walpole had also invested heavily he had earlier been advised to sell his shares. Even so, he tried to re-invest but his purchase of further shares was delayed in the mail and did not arrive in time. This was to prove a stroke of good fortune both financially and more significantly politically for coupled with a few minor criticisms he had made of the Company’s behaviour in the House of Commons it appeared to many that he’d had the foresight to see the crash coming. However, nothing could have been further from the truth but it provided him with a reputation for financial rectitude at a time when others who should have known better had allowed their greed to overwhelm their common sense.
The King now turned to Walpole to help the Government out of the financial mess it now found itself in, and he seized the opportunity with aplomb. Walpole was quick to smooth things over making a series of emollient and reassuring speeches in the House of Commons and confiscating the estates of the Company’s Directors to pay off those worst hit financially in the crisis. He also deflected criticism away from the King who as Governor of the Company was heavily implicated in its wrongdoings. For this both the King and his successor George II would be eternally grateful. Appointed to the position of First Lord of the Treasury alongside a number of other high offices Walpole was the King’s indispensable man and effectively Britain’s first Prime Minister and he would remain so for the next 15 years. It was to be the beginning of the Whig Supremacy and Walpole was to refashion Georgian England in his own image – a country of both conspicuous wealth and extreme poverty, of unapologetic self-interest and punitive laws.
First Walpole, or Cock Robin as he was known, not always with affection, secured his own position. He accumulated for himself a vast array of patronage, ensured that people who would be his men in Parliament were elected to Rotten Boroughs, and aware that he could break as well as make political careers where bribery didn’t serve his purposes, he wasn’t averse to a little intimidation. As a last resort he could always turn to the King for support. Walpole’s policy would be to maintain the status-quo by appealing to the naked self-interest of those who mattered. He adopted a peace policy avoiding ruinously expensive wars, kept taxes low especially those on land, and introduced laws that would protect property, game, and livestock. The rich could sit back and enjoy their wealth comfortable in the knowledge that they were safe from ideological dispute, revolution, robbery, or foreign invasion, and as long as the calm waters of conspicuous self-indulgence and display remained undisturbed then all was well in Georgian England. It would prove for the time being at least a winning formula.
The most potent symbol of Walpole’s England was to be the Debtor’s Prison. Every major city had at least one and there were seven in London alone, the most notorious of which were the Fleet Prison in Farringdon Street and the Marshalsea Prison in Southwark. These prisons were Government owned but privately managed, and were run for profit. For example, in 1728, Thomas Bambridge purchased the Letters of Patent to run the Fleet Prison as its Warden for £5,000, and like most Warden’s he immediately divided the prisoners into those who could pay for their keep and those who could not. Indeed, Bambridge was to become particularly notorious for extorting money from his inmates even manacling them on occasions until his demands were met. It was possible to be imprisoned for a debt as little as £2 and incarceration would often come as the result of a request from the creditor.
Whilst in prison the interest on the debt would continue to accrue and release would only come after a financial arrangement had been made for repayment of the debt or the creditor himself relented, and with no specific time to be served a prisoner could be wrangling for his release ad nauseam. For those able to pay imprisonment would be less onerous and depending on how much money they had they might get a cell to themselves with a bed, they would also be able to purchase food, and beer that was often brewed on the premises. They could receive visits from their family, if they were not already imprisoned with the inmate which sometimes happened, and could even conduct business.
The Fleet Prison even permitted prisoners to live within a short distance of the confines of the prison itself, a practice known as the “Liberty of the Rules”. If you were unable to pay for your keep then you would be left to rot in the squalor of the common cells, the damp, windowless, rat-infested rooms situated on the ground floor where the petty criminals were confined. Forced to sleep on a bare floor strewn with straw, fed on gruel twice a day, and with nowhere to urinate or defecate disease was rife and life expectancy short.
The “Bloody Code” as it was to become known, saw offences ranging from poaching, the theft of a loaf of bread, and sheep stealing through to murder and treason carry the death penalty. It was harsh in the extreme, as also were the penalties for those crimes that did not carry the ultimate sanction such as being publicly whipped, branded with hot irons, and confined to the pillory for days on end. In the case of many women and children, and those men who could show themselves to have been of previously good character there was always the option of transportation to the colonies as an indentured slave.
Despite the many laws that now made up the statute book there were few formal structures in place with which to enforce them. There was no police force at this time and instead every parish was obliged to have at least a Constable but these were unpaid volunteers often concerned only with the status their position brought them and little concerned with the actual enforcement of the law. In London and other major cities there were paid Watchmen, these were often elderly ex-soldiers who patrolled the streets at night and at the top of every hour would ring a bell to declare the time and cry “All is well.” Though they were much-maligned at the time they did play a role in keeping the streets safe at night and provided reassurance if nothing else.
In 1749, the author Henry Fielding who had been appointed Chief Magistrate for London along with his brother John founded the Bow Street Runners. They now largely replaced the “Thief Takers”, the men often recruited from amongst the criminal underworld itself who would investigate crimes and arrest people for a fee. This had always been an unsatisfactory arrangement to say the least for the Thief Takers were most likely involved in the crime itself and were merely turning in their associates for money. The Bow Street Runners did not serve as policemen as we would understand them, they did not patrol the streets at night or make themselves available for emergencies. They did however serve writs and make arrests on the authority of the Chief Magistrate, and they travelled the length and breadth of the country to do so.They were also paid for the first time by central Government.
Justice was administered by Local Magistrates who were invariably drawn from amongst the wealthiest of any parish. They were unpaid and often found their work burdensome and time consuming. Also, there was no oversight as to their activities and they were not necessarily disinclined to act maliciously or take a bribe. Indeed, the gothic novelist Horace Walpole, the son of Robert, remarked of the Magistrates in London: “The greatest criminals of this town are the officers of justice.” More serious crimes such as burglary, murder, and treason would be tried before the Quarterly Assizes and in London at Newgate, later to become the Old Bailey.
Unlike the trials for petty crime more serious offences were tried before a jury of the accused person’s peers. Even so, it was commonplace for such cases to be dealt with quickly as it was rare for there to be a defence barrister as none was provided by the State. Also, the presumption on the part of the Magistrates was always one of guilty. Also, the fact that the Courtroom itself would be liberally sprinkled with fresh smelling herbs and flowers to mask the smell of the filthy and unwashed prisoners indicates the attitude of those dispensing justice.
A guilty verdict at the Quarterly Assizes would invariably carry the death penalty and such trials were popular events that would be well attended and raucous affairs. The crowd would heckle and jeer throughout but a silence would descend upon the courtroom as the Judge would place the black cap upon his head and speaking these words pass the sentence of death:
“Prisoner at the bar, it is now my painful duty to pronounce the awful sentence of the law which must follow the verdict that has just been recorded, that you be taken to the place of execution there to be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and may the Lord have mercy on your sinful soul.”
Public executions in London were carried out at Tyburn and were occasions for a social gathering in an atmosphere that often resembled that of a fairground. Thousands of people would gather in the field where the gallows were located whilst others lined the streets of the three mile journey of the condemned man from his place of incarceration to his place of execution. Carried on a cart where he would be sat upon his own coffin and accompanied by the Sheriff, a Chaplain and an armed escort the condemned man was for a short period at least the centre of attraction and sometimes as the cart passed a tavern the landlord would offer him a last drink to which the Sheriff would invariably reply: “Not for him, he’s on the wagon.” There would be a celebratory feel to the day with music played, pies sold, and many people drunk. As in the Courtroom however once the condemned man mounted the gallows the crowd would fall silent to hear the Chaplain’s last words:
“You have been adjudged by the laws of this country unworthy any longer to live, unworthy to walk this earth, unworthy to breathe its air, and that no further good to mankind can be expected from you, only the example of your death to warn others in the future, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
Popular Heroes of the Period: The common people knew full well that the justice system was not there to serve them as a popular saying of the time testifies: “The laws grind the poor, and the rich make the law”. As a result the more notorious a criminal, no matter how brutal, the more likely he was to be treated as a folk hero in the tradition of Robin Hood, and Highwaymen such as Dick Turpin, Claude Duval, and Sixteen String Jack who intercepted and robbed the Stage Coaches ridden by the rich were particularly admired and became celebrities. In 1774, when the famous Highwayman John Rann was found not guilty of robbery thousands of people who had gathered outside cheered and carried him aloft from the Court.
Claude Duval: Claude Duval (or Du Vall) is credited with being one of the first great gentlemen highwaymen. Born in France in 1643, Duval emigrated to England after meeting a group of Royalist exiles, who were laying low in France during the Civil War. Once the war was over, Duval not only moved to England, but got an intimate look at the life of English nobility. Not content to live off a servant’s wage, he turned to the life of a highwayman, and he did it in style.
One of the most famous stories about him is his robbery of a carriage on Hampstead Heath. Here, upon meeting the beautiful young wife of the elderly knight he was robbing, Duval danced with the young woman on the side of the road. He then took only a portion of the money the knight was carrying as payment for the entertainment. He was well known but, by all reports, far from reviled. After fleeing to France for a short time to let the heat die down, he returned to England and was arrested during a drunken night out.
Once his death sentence was given, it was said that a number of his previous victims (mostly women that had been wooed by his courtly demeanor) tried to speak up on his behalf to get him a pardon. It didn’t work. He was executed in 1670, and his body was taken to lie in state at a local tavern. There were so many mourners present that the wake was cut short, as it was deemed rather unseemly.
John Rann: John Rann, also known as “Sixteen String Jack,” was one of the first highwaymen (and indeed, criminals) to make his occupation as much about his celebrity status as about his actual crimes or the spoils of his robberies. He was a larger-than-life, over-the-top figure whose nickname came from his extravagant dress. He was always perfectly groomed and gentlemanly in his appearance, always wearing silk breeches that had eight silver strings hanging from them. He encouraged all rumors that were spread about him, and consequently, there are a couple of different versions of his story.
He was born somewhere around 1752, and at some point, he entered life as a coachman. He was strongly associated with several different women. His apprenticeship didn’t give him enough income to support his lifestyle or his women, so he turned to highway robbery. Many of his crimes were of the flamboyant, drunk and disorderly type. It was ultimately an attempt by one of his mistresses (who quickly gave up his name) to sell a stolen watch that earned Rann his first arrest. When he got off, it only made him that much more confident. He boasted to full pubs of his highwayman lifestyle and predicted his own early death. He got off on minor charges of attempting to climb through windows into homes where the ladies always seemed to come to his defence.
It was a similar situation—his female associates trying to sell stolen property—that led to Rann’s final trial, after he and an associate robbed a clergyman riding through Ealing. His female associates got off, stating that they unknowingly traded clean clothes for the stolen property, but Rann himself was executed in December 1774.
Jack Sheppard: The most popular hero of his day however was the 22-year-old apprentice carpenter, Jack Sheppard. He had served five years of his apprenticeship and had been showing great promise at his chosen profession when encouraged by the other apprentices he began to frequent the Black Lion Tavern in Drury Lane, a popular haunt of the local criminal underworld and with his newly acquired taste for alcohol and having made the association of a local gang leader, Joseph “Blueskin” Blake, he soon found that there was easier money to be made in crime than there was in having to work for a living and he quickly progressed from petty theft and pick-pocketing to burglary.
Arrested on numerous occasions it was to be his increasingly spectacular prison escapes that made him a popular hero. Arrested once again and sentenced to hang he promised to escape on the day of his execution but the pocket knife he was carrying to cut the ropes that bound him was discovered. Nonetheless, he had another plan and remained supremely confident that he would not hang and boasted of his forthcoming escape calling upon public to come and witness it. The people expected him to be as good as his word.
Jack Sheppard, a wide-eyed young man with a ready smile was only 5’2” and weighed barely 100 pounds and he firmly believed that as the cart was wheeled away to leave him hanging he would not be heavy enough for the noose to break his neck, and so he had arranged for his friends to cut him down and take him to a doctor to be revived. On 24 January 1724, more than 200,000 people turned out to see Jack Sheppard hang – or escape?
On his journey to the gallows Sheppard joined in the celebratory mood revelling in the banter and urging on the crowd. He even persuaded the Sheriff to stop off at the City of Oxford Tavern so he could down a pint of ale.
As he stood beneath the gallows with his neck in the noose, he continued to play to a crowd that truly expected him to escape once again. As the cart was pulled away from beneath his feet the raucous crowd descended into a hushed silence as they watched his body squirm and twitch. But there was to be no escape this time and this Sheppard was to dangle from the rope for a full 15 minutes as he endured the agonies of slow strangulation. When the body was at last cut down the crowd surged forward to grab their souvenirs, they pulled out tufts of his hair, cut off his fingers, and gouged out his eyes.
His friends who had planned to rescue him before death’s deadly embrace took hold never even got close to retrieving his lifeless corpse. Such had been the popularity of Jack Sheppard that newspapers were forbidden to write of his exploits and theatres were banned from using his name for the next forty years.
Dick Turpin: He was, perhaps, the best known English highwaymen, and he is possibly the worst example of what the idea of a gentleman robber was supposed to be. Born in 1705 in Essex, Turpin couldn’t be bothered to put in the hard work that would have allowed him to make a good, honest living as a butcher, following in his father’s footsteps. He joined a gang instead, raiding houses in the London area, stealing what he could, and outright destroying the rest. Turpin was one of the last members of the gang to be caught; he had since moved on from robbing houses to holding up carriages that were traveling to and from London.
The fictional stories that grew up around Turpin were largely just that: fiction. Turpin became a character in books that embellished the details of his life. Added to the story were dashing good looks, a beautiful, devoted black horse, and a family inheritance that Turpin was supposedly cheated out of. The historical Turpin was a cold-hearted murderer, whose egotistical boasting and a letter back home eventually led to his capture, trial, and execution. It was only after his death and the publishing of a book called Rockwood in 1834, that he was catapulted to fame as a gentleman robber. Perhaps more fitting to his memory was the fate of his corpse. The night that he was buried, Turpin was dug up by grave robbers, who sold his corpse to a doctor for dissection. His body was discovered missing, recovered, and reburied, while the doctor was fined.
Gin – or ‘Mother’s Ruin’: London was the largest city in the world with a population of over 800,000 and was growing all the time. It was a place like no other with more than 50,000 shops, taverns, restaurants, coffee houses, and brothels where every need and desire could be catered for; a place of both outlandish display and grim squalor, with beautiful parks and filthy streets; a place of hucksterism and gaudy self-indulgence. A city of vice, violence and disease its many iniquities were vividly captured in the paintings and lithographs of the artist William Hogarth, and no problem was more evident than that of public drunkenness.
By the 1720’s London was quite literally awash with gin, or “Mother’s Ruin,” as it was known. The craze for gin had caught on in the 1690’s following its cheap importation from the Netherlands and within a decade distillery producing it were cropping up not just in London but throughout the country. Of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London alone more than half were Gin Palaces. By 1743, it is estimated that the English were drinking up to 10 litres of gin per head of population a year.
Drunkenness had become a common feature on the streets of all England’s major cities and with it a corresponding rise in the crime rate, and the number of abandoned children that thronged the streets and dead babies that littered the gutters had become a national disgrace. Attempts to stamp out the craze for gin were easier said than done, however. The Gin Act of 1736 that priced it at 20 shillings a gallon and required a licence to sell it at a fee of £50 per annum provoked disturbances so violent that they lead to it being repealed in 1742. A further attempt to curtail its production and distribution the following year were to lead to the Gin Riots that were to leave many dead and cause widespread destruction throughout London. Learning the lessons of past mistakes, a series of more moderate measures were introduced which over time saw a decline in the consumption of gin and by 1757 it was perceived to be no longer a problem.
Back to Walpole: By this time Robert Walpole, the man who had done so much to forge Georgian England in his own image was long gone. He had by the early 1740’s ceased to be seen as the guardian of wealth but as an impediment to increased prosperity and people had tired of the widespread corruption that had so come to mark his time in power. His peace policy of placating Britain’s enemies abroad had come to be seen as a national humiliation and his increased taxes on commodities to ensure that the tax on land remained low was damaging the economy. Many amongst an aspiring and growing middle-class, and even many of his natural supporters amongst the nobility and gentry, now saw their futures in overseas trade and the expansion of Empire and so with his enemies, and he had always had many, gathering in Parliament and fearing impeachment on 11 February 1742 he resigned, returning to his palatial home at Houghton Hall a bitter and resentful man. There he died in great splendour three years later on 18 March 1745, aged 68, a bloated caricature of himself and the country he had created. The draconian laws that Walpole had introduced did not go with him, however.
Indeed, the number of capital offences on the statute book increased. It still remained possible to be hanged for impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner, going out at night with a blackened face, damaging a turnpike, and writing a threatening letter. Most of these offences would continue to carry the death penalty late into the Victorian era though as the decades passed they were rarely enforced. Even so, between 1791 and 1891, long after the Bloody Codes had first been introduced more than 10,000 people were hanged in England alone, and imprisonment for debt and Debtor’s Prisons were not abolished until the Bankruptcy Act of 1869. The first professional police force wasn’t established until 1829 when the Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel formed the Metropolitan Police to maintain law and order on the streets of London.
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My other hobby is oil painting – landscape painting. Having ‘cut my teeth’ with those of John Constable many years ago. I later discovered John ‘Old’ Crome and, apart from his paintings, I soon became interested in the man’s background; for, apart from some 200 years between us, we share certain aspects: such as same county, city, locations of work, home, painting, church – and public houses! So why shouldn’t I follow his trail, and maybe dream; and, hopefully, with you in tow:
Riding on the backs of sheep and cloth, Norfolk was once rich; it was also at the forefront of the Agricultural Revolution which brought further wealth. Norwich’s mercantile class also blossomed and comfortably melded in with the surrounding country gentry. Between them, privileged society provided a cultured patronage on which aspiring local artists could emerge.
John Crome, (1768 – 1821) was one such artist. He, as many art enthusiasts would know, was a principal English landscape painter of the Romantic era, and one of the founding members of the ‘Norwich School of Painters’. It was he who, in later life, was better known as ‘Old’ Crome; this to distinguish him from his son, John Berney Crome, who painted in his father’s manner but who, in the opinion of some at least, had an inferior talent – but no matter!
John Crome was born on 22 December 1768 in an alehouse named the ‘Griffen’ (Griffin)’ which, according to Hocksetters Map of 1789 used to be in the Castle Meadow/ Tombland area of the city, near the corner of Tombland and Upper King Street, on what was then called Conisford Street in the quarter known as the Castle Ditches. Records show that the building itself dated back to at least 1603, but it completely disappeared when the Prince of Wales Road was constructed in 1860. Here, John Crome’s father, despite being an active weaver by trade, ran the Griffin; it would appear that being in more than one occupation was not an uncommon practice at the time!
On Christmas Day 1768, in St George’s church in Tombland, Crome was baptised. By then, this church had already accumulated a long history, which dated back to at least the 14th century (some say as far back as the late Anglo-Saxon period) – its tower dating from 1445 and then having major repairs in 1645. The font from which John received his baptism was, and remains, of Purbeck marble, not uncommon in many rural East Anglian churches; in 1768 it had yet to be ‘urbanised by enthusiastic Victorians who would place it on grand marble pillars.
The young boy Crome was later to be described as ‘very likeable’ with a ‘charming character’; even, a ‘loveable rascal’ – with these attributes it may be no surprise to learn that he grew up and lived in Norwich for the whole of his life! However, it was a life which only slowly emerged in any sort of recorded detail when the boy had reached 12 years of age. At that point, in 1781, young Crome had become an errand boy for the eminent city doctor Edward Rigby. Dr Edward Rigby owned an apothecary’s shop, at 54 Giles Street, and it was there where the 12-year-old lived and worked for about three years.
Dr. Rigby was to have an initial influential effect on Crome’s life for he appears to have been the first person to recognise Crome’s potential as an artist. As time went on, he introduced him to some of the influential people of that period whom Rigby knew and who were interested in art. In particular, the weaver-turned-banker Gurney family – although of equal importance was to be Thomas Harvey (1748-1819), of Catton House in the village of Old Catton, who would also make an early appearance in Crome’s development.
Of course, Crome’s personal responsibilities and interests were not expected to be solely directed towards art; there was also the matter of work that he was employed to do for the doctor who, in his own field of skill, was already someone of eminence. But the doctor, it seems, had to handle a sometimes ‘mischievous’ lad in Crome – for the lad had a propensity for pranks, with several stories surviving through time. An example was the occasion when young Crome changed the labels on the medicines that he was delivering on behalf of the doctor! Another, which may have been one which had rebounded on to him, was when he threw the doctor’s medical skeleton out of his bedroom window; it was said that medical students had placed it in his bed for a joke – Boys, it seems, will always be Boys!
Nevertheless, young Crome survived a full three years of employment with Dr Rigby before his employer, having given him lodgings, paid him and nurtured his desire to paint, decided that it was time for Crome to move on – and here, we may have to thank the doctor for what followed. Just around the corner from the apothecary’s shop, stood Francis Whisler’s, Coach and Sign painting business – in Bethel Street. It was there, in August 1783, where Crome began his seven-year apprenticeship, learning first-hand how to mix colours and to appreciate what these substances could produce in the right hands. Clearly a precocious lad, with an ability to apply paint to canvas, board and paper with effect, he had taken the first steps in establishing his preferred career path.
Fast forward now to today; and surviving in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London is believed to be the earliest known example of Crome’s work, produced during the time of his apprenticeship, which was between 1783 and no later than 1790. The painting is known as ‘The Wherryman’; it was a sign which must have formerly hung outside a public house – and it would be interesting to know where? In 1906, an auction in Norwich first brought this signboard back into the light and, at that time, it was sold for the price of twelve guineas. The V & A Museum’s description of the work is as follows:
It was also during the early years of his apprenticeship when Crome became firm friends with an apprenticed printer named Robert Ladbrooke, who was employed by Whites of Norwich. The two boys had serious compatible interests in art and went out together to sketch the streets and lanes around Norwich, and particularly to Mousehold Heath on the outskirts of the city. For a time, they shared a garret studio and between them, sold some of their art-work to a local print seller, Smith and Jaggers of Norwich. At that time Ladbrooke concentrated of portraits whilst Crome on landscapes, which both sold for very small sums. Subsequently, Ladbrooke turned to Landscape painting, in which he was said to have ‘become highly successful’.
It has also been said that it was through the print seller, Smith and Jaggers of Norwich, that Crome met Thomas Harvey of Catton; but here it should be remembered that Harvey and Dr Rigby, mentioned earlier, were already friends; and young Crome had been in the employ of the doctor and through ‘introductions’ probably already knew Harvey. That apart, the little extra money that Crome and Ladbroke earned during their excursions went on buying prints of Dutch masters to copy – and Ladbroke was much inspired by Crome’s undoubted superior skills; skills which included the ability to make his own paintbrushes from cat’s hairs, whilst using oyster shells as palettes!
When Crome’s apprenticeship ended, in 1790, he began to take up commissions and to give drawing lessons to children of the wealthy. This was also the moment when Crome’s earlier introduction to Thomas Harvey, the wealthy weaver from Old Catton – who also, by the way, had a house in Colgate (see above), really began to pay off.
Thomas Harvey was a rich master weaver who had come from a line of wealthy merchants, ten of whom had been mayors of Norwich. Harvey had married a Ann Twiss, the daughter of an English merchant living in Rotterdam who had an important collections of paintings, which included Thomas Gainsborough’s ‘Cottage Door’ (see below), plus several of the Dutch School. These eventually passed into the Harvey family and to Thomas who was something of an artist himself, but very much of the amateur kind. His wealth also allowed him to build up his collection of Dutch masters, some of which had come from Antwerp dealers; these were supplemented by paintings from other artists, including those of Richard Wilson and Miendert Hobbema.
When Harvey became Crome’s patron, both his own studio at Catton House and his art collection became available to the young artist and he, it seems, became particularly influenced by the Wilson and Hobbema paintings – and their ‘ability to give landscape paintings a sense of space and breadth’. Given this patronage, Crome certainly visited Catton House frequently; and it is probably quite true that, for a time at least, Crome may have lived there. This would have been of real benefit when it came to Crome actually copying these paintings as part of his further development, thus ensuring that the qualities and colour aspects of these two masters would feature in Crome’s future works and teachings.
Catton House was also the place where young Crome met other artists, such as Sir William Beechey R.A. and later, John Opie. Then there was Sara Siddons the famous actress who was related by marriage to Harvey’s wife, Anne; as a consequence, Siddons was reputed to have given ‘a Reading’ before an invited audience at Catton House in October 1793. But it was Sir William Beechey who saw Crome’s promise as an artist and gave him some lessons – all be it in London. Beechey was also the one who described Crome as:
‘…. an awkward country lad when I first met him, but shrewd in all his remarks on art, although he wanted words to express them’.
This post-apprenticeship period was certainly a busy one for Crome one way or another; included in which was an activity that had little to do with painting – romance! He had met Phoebe Berney and in the October of 1792, they married at St Mary’s Church, Coslany; just in time, for by the 30th of that same month, their first child, Amelia, arrived! Quite a relationship one would suppose since the couple were to go on to produce eleven children in total during their marriage. However, four were to die in infancy and Amelia died shortly before her second birthday. Two of their surviving sons, John Berney Crome and William Henry Crome (1806–67). were to follow in their father’s footsteps to become well-known artists in their own right.
Robert Ladbrooke who, unsurprisingly, had been present at Crome’s wedding in 1792 followed his close friend one year later when he married Phoebe Berney’s sister, Mary.
Either side of his domestic life, Crome continued to paint and, increasingly, to build up his contacts and clients. By 1796 he was teaching sketching to Master Sparshall, the son of the Quaker wine merchant who lived in St Clements Alley which, incidentally, was quite near to Thomas Harvey’s town house in Colgate. The Sparshall house itself had previously been the residence of Alexander Thurston, the 17th century Mayor and MP for Norwich.
Then in 1798, Crome accepted a post as drawing master to the three daughters of Quaker and business-man, Joseph Gurney of Earlham Hall. It was also the year when John Opie painted Crome’s portrait. This may have been during the time leading up to May of 1798 when Opie married Amelia Alderson, a gifted poet and authoress, whom he had met at a party in Norwich. Also, in that same year, John Opie was not only in Norfolk visiting Thomas Harvey in his home at Catton House but, principally, carrying out some commissions for Thomas Coke at Holkham Hall.
By this time, Crome had become a Freemason, joined the Philosophical Society and the ‘Dirty Shirt Club’, which met in the Rifleman’s Arms in Calvert Street, across from Cross Lane which in turn led to St George’s Street. There, a group of like-minded characters, smoked ‘churchwarden’ pipes and enjoyed a drink or two with other members of the ‘Dirty Shirt Club’ – the origins of which were said to be as follows:
“The Rifleman was located in an industrial area of shoe and weaving industry workers. And through this, came an unusual if not ingenious idea to attract more customers to the pub. The normal working week in such trades was then six days during which their workers clothing unavoidably became dirty. So, one Master Weaver arranged with the Rifleman for him to ‘set up shop’ in the bar on Saturday afternoons so that he could pay his out-workers when they came in to have a drink to end the week.
Not only were they paid, but naturally arriving dirty, the distribution of wages was accompanied by a change of shirt with a clean one provided for the following week. The number of people “enjoying” this opportunity, led to the formation of the ‘Dirty Shirt Club’. While enjoying a drink or two and a gossip, members also smoked their own churchwarden clay pipes, given to them on entry. Each member’s initials were inscribed on the bowl and pipes were kept aside for them by the publican, between visits. Any new members had honour of smoking from a silver pipe. From the early 1800s, ‘Old’ Crome was a regular visitor, and had his own special chair – witnessing everything.”
By 1801, Crome had established a school of art in his house at 17 Gildencroft, possibly Green Lane (now demolished) and later took up a post as drawing master at the King Edward Grammar School which lay within the shadows of the Cathedral in Norwich. At the Grammar School he helped the sons and daughters of the Norfolk gentry and middle-class, as well as private pupils to learn to paint and draw. Amongst these pupils were notable artists of the future, such as James Stark and Edward Thomas Daniel. There was also George Borrow’s brother, John – who was to paint George Borrow’s portrait in 1821, whilst the latter was working as a solicitor’s clerk in London
In 1802, and by way of an extension to the business of tutoring the Gurney’s three daughters in art, Crome was invited to join the whole Gurney family on a tour of the Lake District. Sometime after their return to Norwich, on 19 February 1803 to be precise, Crome, together with his long-standing friend, artist and printer Robert Ladbrooke, became the principal movers in the foundation of the ‘The Norwich Society of Artists’; this was later to become famously known as the ‘Norwich School of Painters’ — the first art movement in England to be formed outside London. The term ‘Norwich School’ was coined because its style reflected landscape painting which had moved away from European influences, which favoured warm, burnt-brown palettes. The Norwich School replaced these with the verdant greens actually seen in the Norfolk landscape. It was Old Crome himself, through the Society, who had advocated that paintings should look ‘only to nature’, a statement that regularly appeared in the Society’s exhibitions catalogues at the time.
It is not known whether it was Crome or Ladbrooke who first raised the idea of forming this debating/exhibiting society in Norwich, but the two’s growing involvement with local art patrons and fellow artists probably made it inevitable that such a body would emerge – to be added to the many other clubs and societies that were flourishing in Norwich at the time? The purpose of the Crome/Ladbroke version was, from the outset to be:
“An Enquiry into the Rise, Progress and Present State of Painting, Architecture and Sculpture, with a view to point out the Best Methods of Study to attain to Great Perfection in these Arts”
Also, the Norwich Society of Artists promoted, from the outset, an ‘open-door’ policy whereby no one was turned away who had a genuine interest in art. The only criteria to joining was for each to submit a piece of their own and to secure a place via a ballot of existing members. These members consisted of active painters in oils and watercolours, and included such people as John Sell Cotman, Joseph Stannard and ‘Old’ Crome’s artist son John Berney Crome, Robert Dixon, Charles Hodgson, Daniel Coppin, James Stark, George Vincent and of course others. Some would have seemingly worked under Crome’s influence, with a bias in favour of Norfolk scenery – the slow-flowing rivers and gnarled trees, the people and places of their home city and the Norfolk coast.
Throughout, the Society’s meetings were held fortnightly at the ‘Hole in the Wall’ tavern, which was destined to be demolished by 1838. Its actual location of this tavern is not clear today; time and changes to street layout etc. have seen to that. However, it has been said by the likes of George Plunkett that it was once near the St Andrews Street end of the Hole in the Wall Lane, and built into a part of the east wall of the chancel of the Church of St. Crowche, most of which had itself been demolished as far back as the 16th century. The tavern must have also stood very near to what is now the lower section of Exchange St. It was said that at the time pedestrians had to walk round the old churchyard to get into St Andrew’s. Today, all that remains of both the tavern, and St Crowche, is a mediaeval stone corbel set in a flint wall off the north side of St Andrew’s Street.
As for the Norwich Society of Artists, its evenings at the tavern were taken up with ‘taking supper listening to the presentations of papers’; for this, there was a yearly subscription of 4 Guineas to maintain membership.
By 1805, the Society had enough paintings to present their first exhibition, hosted at Sir Benjamin Wrench’s Court, which was off Little Cockey Lane and not far from Little London Street; Crome contributed twenty-two works. This venue was later to became the home of the Society. From that point onwards, and until 1825, these exhibitions were held annually and coinciding with the city’s Summer Assizes Week when many people from the surrounding area visited the city and where amusements took place. Norwich became the first English city to establish regular art exhibitions outside London.
John ‘Old’ Crome was to become the president of the Society on several occasions up until his death in 1821, but when he was again elected in 1808, his long-standing friend, Robert Ladbrooke was elected as Vice-President. However, in 1816 Ladbrooke, Stannard, Thirtle and a few other members – Ladbroke having also fallen out with Crome – broke away from the Society to set up and run rival exhibitions; but these proved a failure and were ended after three years. Ladbroke and Crome were reconciled at just about the same time; maybe simply because theirs had been a long-standing friendship; it was a friendship between entirely different characters though:
“Crome was found of company, a ‘dashing fellow’ and with great ideas; whereas, Ladbroke was ‘plodding, prudent and took great care of what cash came his way; he taught his family likewise”.
Finally, on 14 April 1821 and after a few days’ illness, John ‘Old’ Crome died at his house in Green Lane, Gildengate, and his death certificate recorded that he had died of ‘an inflammatory malady induced by early labours as a house painter’! On the 27th of that same month, his remains were interred in St George’s church Colegate – a mere stones-throw away from his home and his local, ‘The Rifleman’. The local paper reported that ‘an immense concourse of people’ attended his funeral at St Georges, which had been his church and where, in later life, he became its churchwarden. It was an appropriate place in which to mount a memorial tablet to him.
When ‘Old’ Crome died in 1821, John Sell Cotman became President of ‘The Norwich Society of Artists’; its activities continuing until his own departure for London in 1834. It was at that point when Cotman actually closed the Society and many former members and their pupils went off elsewhere to continue painting and exhibiting.
Surprisingly perhaps, Crome and what was known as the ‘Norwich School’ had been little known outside Norfolk; that is, until the late twentieth century. This was due mainly to the fact that many of Crome’s paintings, together with paintings of other ‘Norwich School’ members, were bought privately by the J.J. Colman family. It was in 1946 when Russell James Colman donated these to the city’s Castle Museum. He also gave money in order for the museum to build a gallery to house them in a permanent display.
Following the death of ‘Old’ Crome, during the November of 1821, the Norwich Society of Artists held a memorial exhibition of more than 100 of Crome’s works in the city. During his life, however, he had exhibited an estimated number of 307 pictures, 16 of which had been exhibited in London – and none of which had been signed. It appears somewhat strange that Crome, above all, never signed any of his paintings. Bearing in mind that his pupils and sons had been trained by Crome on the basis of copying his works, meant that it has always been difficult, or impossible indeed, to verify which are ‘Old’ Crome’s paintings and which are replicas!
It is also a sad fact that when Old Crome died, he was in debt – to the sum of £145 owed to the Gurney’s Bank. Nevertheless, John ‘Old’ Crome was and remains, in my eyes at least, as an artist of considerable repute.
An incident in Crome’s life was the subject of the one-act opera ‘Twice in a Blue Moon’ by Phyllis Tate, to a libretto by Christopher Hassall: it was first performed in 1969. In the story Crome and his wife split one of his paintings, depicting Mousehold Heath, in two to sell each half at the Norwich Fair.
Part of the front of Stranger’s Hall was once the home of sculptor Pellegrino Mazzotti; it was he who produced a bust of John Crome; today, a ‘blue plaque’ on Its wall refers to this.
Heading Image: John Crome by Denis Brownell Murphy, watercolour and pencil, exhibited 1821. National Portrait Gallery.
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The village of Bale can be found just off the A148, which runs from Fakenham towards Cromer. There is some history here, not so much for being mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, but for it’s famous ‘Bale Oak’, once an enormous tree with a trunk 36 feet in circumference. The Bale Oak is said to have been a gathering place for pagan worship before the coming of Christianity. Indeed, it is said the 14th century church of All Saints was built beside the oak, in a place already considered sacred. By the early 18th century, the oak was hollow and it was said that ten men could stand inside its trunk. The then Norfolk historian, Rev. Blomfield, added to the information by recording:
“A great oak at bathele near the church, its hollow so large that ten or twelve men may stand within it and a cobbler had his shop and lodge there of late and it is or was used for a swinestry.”
However, in 1795, the oak was severely damaged and was heavily pollarded, with the removed bark and some of the wood sold to the Hardy’s of Letheringsett for tanning. The tree never recovered and was deemed dangerous by the local populace; it was also subjected to abuse and this led to its removal in 1860 on the orders of the Lord of the Manor, Sir Willoughby Jones. There was said to have been much local mourning as the remains of the oak was taken in a cart to Cranmer Hall at Fakenham.
The site was replanted with a grove of 12 Holm Oaks (Quercus Ilex) and may have been planted to commemorate the Bale Oak, although there is a record of oaks being planted there in 1617. The trees have been National Trust property since 1919, and are now ‘listed’ by that body as a ‘Place of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty’. A wooden sculpture now marks the approximate position of the original Bale Oak tree, and the trees that surround it have now grown to maturity and form a screen between the church and the road.
Now, every old Norfolk Hall seems to have a good story to tell – if only their walls could speak!
At Fishley Hall there is such a story; firstly, it is of a tunnel having once existed which ran from the cellars (which still exist and have brick barrel vaulted ceilings) under the north wing and then to a boat dyke that directly connected the user to the River Bure – and to the sea beyond. By 1812 the boat dyke, and no doubt the tunnel had long since been disused; however, there exists an estate map of the same year which provides such evidence. But one may well wonder who, and for what purpose would cargo be transported to and from the Hall during that period – smuggling maybe, or just bringing provisions for the Hall, farm and the estate?
A clue may lie with William Luson himself – pure speculation of course! He was indeed a wealthy merchant who came from a staunchly non-conformist family and had lived in Great Yarmouth; he had made his money, legitimately one must suppose, from trading with Holland. He could, therefore, well afford to purchase Fishley Hall; which he did in 1712, from the previous owners who were the Pepys family of Impington near Cambridge. They were distant cousins of the famous diarist, Samuel Pepy, and had created their own wealth as lawyers in London.
By 1724, William Luson, was also the owner of the much larger Gunton Hall and its estate near Lowestoft, making him the lord of the manor of Gunton. This ancient title also gave salvage rights to the owner to anything washed ashore from sea wrecks which, over the centuries, were numerous. Is there a link here with the then William Luson and his Fishley Hall mooring facility?
In his Will of 1731, William Luson bequeathed everything, including both estates to his second son, Hewling Luson. Again, none of the Luson family came to live at Fishley Hall. Instead, Hewling continued to live at Gunton Hall in Suffolk, with the same entitlements. It was during his period there when he is credited with the discovery of a seam of clay on his land which was said to have been used later in the making of the famous Lowestoft Porcelain.
The story goes, according to the Suffolk historian Gillingwater, that the Lowestoft factory that was later established, came about under remarkable and somewhat romantic circumstances. It began when, around 1756, Hewling Luson befriended a shipwrecked Dutch mariner and provided him with accommodation at Gunton Hall until such time as the sailor was able to return to his own country.
On walking over his estate one day with the sailor, the latter noticed some clay which had been newly turned up, and remarked to his host:
“They make Delft-ware of that in my country.”
Acting upon this comment, Hewling was said to have taken the first steps towards experimenting with actually making porcelain. Gillingwater’s account also stated that Hewling’s pottery experiment seemed to have been reasonably accurate, but there was no actual indication of the whereabouts of the clay deposit used, or indeed whether this was the source actually used later by the Lowestoft Porcelain factory. Nevertheless, the account forms the basis of our knowledge of events today.
A year later, around 1757, the Lowestoft Porcelain Factory was founded by the partnership of Messrs. Walker, Aldred, Richman, and Brown; it did not include Hewling Luson, although he clearly knew his tenant, the above Philip Walker, who became the principal of the new company. As for Hewling thereafter; by the October of 1761 he became bankrupt and his Gunton Hall estate and the Fishley estate in Norfolk was sold to Sir Charles Saunders.
Hewling Luson remained in Lowestoft until at least 1765 when the Manor Roll records that:
“Robert Luson was admitted to the Fish Houses in the occupation of Hewling Luson, late of Gunton and now of Lowestoft” and, according to Gillingwater was “one of the town’s herring boat owners.” By 1777 Hewling had moved to Bethnal Green in London and died there.
Crossing the River Waveney from the south, through a flat landscape, the old Norwich Road entered Norfolk at Scole, or “Schoale,” as the name was often spelled in old times. To the west, Scole was bordered by the parish and town of Diss. This parish nowadays contains not just the village of Scole, but also Billingford, Thelveton, Frenze, and the deserted village of Thorpe Parva. Indeed, in the 19th century the parish was known as ‘Scole with Thorpe Parva and Frenze’, before reverting to simply ‘Scole’ when in 1935 the parishes of Billingford and Thelveton were abolished and joined to Scole. Scole was also recorded as Osmondeston in the Domesday Book. The name ‘Osmodeston’ derives from the Old English for Osmond’s enclosure or farm.
In years past, when coming over the little bridge which once straddled the Waveney, the village could be seen huddled together on either side of a very narrow road, which rose as it continued north. Both the village and its church were dominated by a large building of mellow red brick, its panelled chimney-stacks and long row of beautiful gables giving the impression of an historic mansion having, by some mysterious chance, been lifted from a nobleman’s estate and placed beside the highway. This is the White Hart which, at no time, was a private residence, but built as an inn; and an inn it remained for well over two-and-a-half centuries.
Scole itself, was quite a celebrated place in the days when the Inn flourished. Then, every traveller in Eastern England had either seen or heard of the “Scole White Hart” and its famous sign that stretched completely across the road. Because a great many coaches halted at the inn for teams to be changed, passengers had plenty of time to examine what Sir Thomas Browne thought to be:
“the noblest sighne-post in England.”
Both Inn and sign were built in 1655, for James Peck, described as a “Norwich merchant,” whose initials, together with the date, were seldom noticeable on the centre gable. The elaborate sign alone cost £1057 to make and erect. It was of gigantic size and loaded in excess of twenty-five carved figures of classic deities. As explained by a Charles Harper, in 1901, there was:
“Chaste Diana, with bow and arrow and two hounds; she had a place on the cross-beam, in company with Time in the act of devouring an infant; there was also Actæon and his dogs, a huntsman, and a White Hart couchant. On a pediment above the White Hart, supported by Justice and Temperance, was the effigy of an astronomer ‘Seated on a Circumferenter,’ who by some Chymical Preparation is so affected that in fine weather he faces the north and against bad weather he faces that quarter from whence it is about to come.
On either side of the astronomer were figures of ‘Fortitude’ and ‘Prudence’, a position hardly suitable for the first-named of those two virtues, but certainly too perilous for the second. Further suggestions of Olympus, with references to Hades and Biblical history, adorned the other portions of this extraordinary sign. Cerberus clawed one side of the supporting post, while Charon dragged a witch to Hell on the other; and Neptune bestriding a dolphin, and Bacchic figures seated across casks alternated with the arms of twelve East Anglian noble and landed families.
Two angels supported respectively the arms of Mr Peck, his lady and two lions – those of Norwich and Yarmouth. On the side nearest the inn appeared a huge carving of Jonah coming out of the whale’s mouth, while, suspended in mid-air, and surrounded by a wreath, was another White Hart.”
Although Sir Thomas Browne had been impressed with this work, an early 19th-century tourist, apparently, dismissed it as “a pompous sign, with ridiculous ornaments”. Shortly afterwards, the sign was taken down, for no other reason than “it cost the landlord more to keep it in repair than the trade of the house permitted.”
Together with this, the once celebrated ‘Great Bed of the White Hart’ also disappeared. It was a round bed and said to be capable of holding twenty couples and, therefore, a good deal larger than the famous Great Bed of Ware [see below]. Perhaps it was because guests did not relish this co-operative method of sleeping together, or maybe because sheets, blankets and coverlets of sufficient size were not easily available, that the Scole Great Bed was chopped up for firewood. Why on earth did anyone suppose that beds of this size and capacity would ever be desirable?
The “Scole White Hart” must have been among the very finest of inns and posting-houses in its day. Its wide staircases, its large rooms and fine panelled doors, its great stone-flagged kitchen, all proclaiming how great its old prosperity must have been. Even the wide-spreading yard at the rear of the Inn, together with its outbuildings, would have given some hint of how heavy the traffic must have once been, positioned as the Inn was, at the junction of the Lowestoft, Bungay, Diss and Thetford Road with that from London to Norwich. However, a gradual shrinking trade was to cause parts of the inn to be let; whilst the stone and wooden porches, seen in the old print, disappeared. The coach entrance was blocked up to become the bar, and the window mullions gave way to sashes. Nevertheless, the building still retained a noble architectural character which, perhaps, appears more interesting today.
Little or nothing is found in contemporary records of “Scole White Hart”; only that of its later years, when indignant would-be coach passengers stood at the door on a day in October 1822 and saw the drivers of the “Norwich Times” and “Gurney’s Original Day Coach,” fired by rivalry, and recklessness in their long race from Whitechapel, came pounding furiously up the road and over the bridge, passing the White Hart without stopping, and disappearing in clouds of dust in the direction of Norwich. It was said that Thorogood was driving the “Times” and both coaches started from London at 5.30 a.m. The “Day” coach reached Norwich at 5.20 p.m., and the “Times” ten minutes later, neither having stopped for changing horses during the last twenty-five miles. This was a “record” for that period, the usual time being fourteen hours.
Probably these ‘disappointed’ passengers stayed the night; a prospect which surely no one would have complained about? Guests at the “White Hart,” seem to enjoy being ‘coaxed’ into a feeling that they were living in another era; a feeling that would have grown as each wandered upstairs to bed, almost lost along the roomy corridors. After they had closed the nail-studded doors of their bedrooms and crept into the generous embrace of a damask-hung four-poster bed and gazed reflectively around their panelled room and up to the curiously coffered ceilings, they would have dropped soundly off to sleep. Old times would live again, faded flowers blossoming once more, forgotten footsteps echoing along the passages of time, post-chaises clattering up to the door, its noise consciously telling the sleeper that the sound is only that of a jolting rustic tumbril going down the road in the early morning. However, this is the twenty-first century, and the “White Hart” survives – from the back edges of life.
Besides the “White Hart,” there remains little else at Scole. The plain flint tower of the church still stands by the roadside, on the ascent that leads from the village. Two or three inns, a few rustic shops, cottages, and a private residence of the past also helped make up this tale. Scole, in fact, has not grown greatly since it was a Roman station, and when the Roman soldiers whose remains have been found near the river occupied the military post on the long road to Venta Icenorum.
George Townshend was born on 28 February 1723/24, the eldest son of Charles (3rd Viscount Townshend) and his wife Audrey Harrison. The Townshend family-owned extensive estates in Norfolk and elsewhere, but their ancestral home was Raynham Hall in Norfolk.
George was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge, leaving there in 1742 to become a volunteer to the British Army in Germany, attached to the staff of Lord Dunmore, one of the general officers. He was present at the battle of Dettingen (16 June 1743) and also apparently at that of Fontenoy (30 April 1745), though a letter of Horace Walpole’s says that he was too late for any action!
In May 1745 Townshend was appointed a captain in Bligh’s Regiment (later the 20th Foot). On the outbreak of the Jacobite rebellion in that year he returned to Britain, joined his regiment, which fought at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746; during this battle, the Bligh’s casualties were 4 killed and 17 wounded. Afterwards, Townshend went back to the Continent, having been appointed an aide-de-camp to the Duke of Cumberland. In this capacity he was present at the battle of Laffeldt on 21 June 1747 and carried Cumberland’s dispatch back to England. Then on 25 February 1748, he was appointed to a captaincy in the 1st Foot Guards, which carried with it the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
When the War of the Austrian Succession ended in 1748, Townshend returned to England and became a MP in the House of Commons for the County of Norfolk – which he continued to represent until he succeeded his father as 4th Viscount in 1764. But before that, he famously fell out with the Duke of Cumberland; attacking him in parliament, and making him a victim of his notable powers as a caricaturist.
George Townshend, you see, had a mercurial personality that did not suffer fools gladly and was never shy about criticising those whose competence he questioned. Not surprisingly perhaps, this was the reason which led to the open hostility between Townshend and his military superior. At the end of 1750 Townshend resigned from the army and identified himself with the cause of militia reform; largely as a result of his efforts an effective new militia act was passed in 1757.
Townshend had always exhibited a knack for drawing, and during his military tenure used it effectively to sketch topography, fortifications, and maps. But beginning around 1750, he began to draw caricature sketches of people–officers, clergy, fashionable women. He was soon covering every scrap of available paper with caricature portraits of friends and enemies and circulating them among his friends and correspondents. But it was in 1756-57 that Townshend began embedding his portrait caricatures into dramatic and narrative frames to make a political point, and thereby creating the prototype for satiric political caricature that would later be followed by others. The Recruiting Sergeant, for example shows Fox acting as a sergeant gathering a pathetic group of recruits to create a new ministry while the Duke of Cumberland (for whom the ministry would be formed) appears ironically exalted in the Temple of Fame.
In the same year Cumberland ceased to be Commander-in-Chief, being succeeded by Sir John Ligonier. Townshend now returned to the service, being commissioned as Colonel on 6 May 1758 – but without a regiment, a point which prompted him to write to William Pitt asking for active employment against the French. In December he was summoned to London and appointed to command a brigade in the expedition under James Wolfe which was being organized to attack Quebec by way of the St Lawrence.
This appointment displeased Wolfe very much; he had asked Ligonier to let him choose his own subordinates – and he had not asked for Townshend! The “Proposals for the expedition to Quebec” in Pitt’s papers suggest that the three brigadiers were Robert Monckton, James Murray, and Ralph Burton. Unfortunately, Burton, a particular friend of Wolfe’s, was squeezed out to make room for Townshend – a man with more influence! Wolfe wrote Townshend a welcoming letter in which he said:
“Your name was mentioned to me by [Ligonier] and my answer was, that such an example in a person of your rank and character could not but have the best effects upon the troops in America; and I took the freedom to add that what might be wanting in experience was amply made up, in an extent of capacity and activity of mind, that would find nothing difficult in our business.”
This reflects the feelings of a hard-working middle-class career officer confronted with the heir to a viscountcy who has always had things made easy for him. It would be strange if Townshend did not resent the reference to inexperience, especially as he had seen a good deal of active service. Here perhaps is the origin of later trouble!
Townshend, junior to Monckton but senior to Murray, was third in command of the expedition. He crossed the Atlantic with Wolfe in Vice-Admiral Charles Saunders*’s flagship Neptune. It may have been during the voyage that he made the water-colour drawing of Wolfe which the general’s biographer Robert Wright called “the most convincing portrait of Wolfe I have ever seen”; it is certainly the best portrait extant. In the last week of June 1759, the British fleet and army arrived before Quebec, and Wolfe began his long struggle with the problem of bringing the Marquis de Montcalm to battle.
During 9 and 10 of July, Townshend’s and Murray’s brigades landed on the north shore of the St Lawrence, below Montmorency Falls, and entrenched themselves there. By this time Wolfe’s relations with his brigadiers, and particularly Townshend, had deteriorated. On 7 July Wolfe had written in his journal:
“Some difference of opinion upon a point termed slight & insignificant & the Commander in Chief is threatened with a Parliamentary Inquiry into his Conduct for not consulting an inferior Officer & seeming to disregard his Sentiments!”
The “inferior Officer” was presumably George Townshend; and matters got worse after the unsuccessful Montmorency attack on 31 July, an operation which the brigadiers had disliked. On 6 September Townshend wrote the rather famous letter to his wife in which he said, “General Wolf’s Health is but very bad. His Generalship in my poor opinion – is not a bit better; this is only between us.” Townshend’s wickedly clever caricatures of Wolfe which have survived tell a great deal about their relationship.
On or about 27 August Wolfe, then recovering from a severe illness, consulted the brigadiers formally for the first time. He sent them a memorandum begging them to consult together as to the best method of attacking the enemy. He himself suggested three possible lines of attack, all variants of the Montmorency operation which had already failed. After discussion with Admiral Saunders, the brigadiers politely rejected the Commander-in-Chief’s suggestions and recommended a quite different line of operation, bringing the troops away from Montmorency and landing above Quebec:
“When we establish ourselves on the North Shore, the French General must fight us on our own Terms; We shall be betwixt him and his provisions, and betwixt him and their Army opposing General [Jeffery Amherst] [on Lake Champlain].”
For the first time, the essential strategic weakness of the French position was pointed out and exploited: Quebec, and the French army outside Quebec, were dependent on provisions brought down the river, and if this supply line were cut, Montcalm would have no choice but to fight to open it. Wolfe accepted the brigadiers’ recommendation, and thereby made possible the victory on the Plains of Abraham; though the decision to take the risk of landing at the Anse au Foulon, close to the town, was Wolfe’s own. The brigadiers had favoured landing further up the river.
In the battle of the Plains, Townshend commanded the British left wing. Wolfe was mortally wounded and Monckton disabled, and Townshend unexpectedly found himself commanding the army. In these circumstances it is not surprising that his direction of the last phase of the action and its aftermath was not particularly effective. His first task was to deal with Colonel Louis-Antoine de Bougainville’s belated intervention from up the river; this was easily done. But the beaten French field army made good its escape to the west. Townshend prepared to besiege and bombard Quebec, bringing large numbers of guns up the cliff to the Plains of Abraham. But the city surrendered to him on 18 September and in return was offered relatively lenient terms in order to get possession of the town as soon as possible.
Townshend returned to England before the winter and was rewarded with the colonelcy of the 28th Foot and the thanks of Parliament. On 6 March 1761 he was made a Major-General, and took command of a brigade in the British contingent of the allied army in Germany. The following year he was sent to Portugal with the local rank of Lieutenant-General, and took command of a division of the Anglo-Portuguese army which was protecting Portugal against the forces of France and Spain. No important operations took place here before the conclusion of peace.
In 1767 Townshend was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and held this post until 1772. Traditionally, Townshend in Ireland has been remembered chiefly as a person who was adept at manipulating the Irish parliament by corrupt means and was considerably disliked. Later research, however, reveals him as an effective and resolute administrator whose financial measures broke the power of the local oligarchy and transferred it to a party in parliament controlled by the government in Dublin Castle.
From 1772 to 1782, and again for some months in 1783, Townshend was master general of the Board of Ordnance. He was promoted general in 1782 and field marshal in 1796. He was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk in 1792, and also held the office of governor of Jersey. In 1787 he was made a marquess.
Although Townshend had been so bitter against Wolfe in 1759, time softened his feelings, and in 1774 he discouraged Murray from making an attack on the memory of the dauntless hero. Townshend and his fellow brigadiers have been much abused by Wolfe’s admirers; but there is not the slightest doubt that they gave him sound advice at a moment when he was floundering badly, and that it was they, with the support of Saunders, who set Wolfe’s feet on the path to victory. Townshend had important artistic abilities; he has been called “the first great English caricaturist.” An obituary in the Times said, “In his private character he was lively, unaffected, and convivial.” His portrait was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and by Thomas Hudson.
Townshend was one of the favoured people who in July 1767 received 20,000-acre grants in St John’s (Prince Edward) Island, being awarded Lot 56 in the east end of the Island. In 1770, embarrassed by his Irish expenses, he was trying unsuccessfully to sell this land. Like so many of the absentee proprietors, he seems to have done nothing to settle or develop his grant. In 1784, however, he gave up one-quarter of it to “American Loyalists and disbanded troops,” and some settlement then took place.
Footnote: On the domestic front, and away from all the awards during an illustrious career, George Townshend married Charlotte Compton in 1751; she was Baroness Ferrers of Chartley in her own right. By her, four sons and four daughters were said to have been delivered before she died in 1770. Three years later he married Anne, daughter of Sir James William Montgomery; this marriage is said to have produced six children.
George Townshend, 4th Viscount and 1st Marquess Townshend, army officer and caricaturist died at Raynham Hall, Norfolk, England on 14 Sept. 1807.
Robert Humphrey Marten, to give him his full name, came to Norfolk in September 1825 on a 24-day tour of at least a section of the County which took in Yarmouth, Norwich, Cromer and finally ending with a few days of ‘country delights’ in an unspecified house and location where the family could enjoy shooting, musical evenings, riding, and some fine dining. His intention was to provide ‘heath and pleasure’ for himself, his wife, Emma and daughter Sarah; in this, the party were ably assisted by the family servant. Today we would class them as well-healed tourists.
Mr Marten, who was something of an avid diarist and gifted artist; however, he tells us little about himself. It has been left to future researchers to establish more about his personal details and character. Neverthe less, it seems that Robert was clearly a caring man, his kindness well in evidence in the pages with small acts of kindness. Also, although a serious and deeply religious man, he did seem to possess a ‘cheeky’ sense of humour, alongside his amusement, on several occasions during his travels, of the tactics employed by the smarter element of Norfolk locals to profit from visitors! But there was much more to this man.
The basic facts of Mr Marten were that he was born on 21 March 1763 in London, the second eldest in a typically large family for the time. His father, Nathaniel, was a Mile End pastry cook and his mother was Martha Clarkson. The family attended Congregationalist meetings and family prayers and religious instruction were commonplace in his home.
He married three times, but it was only his second marriage, to Elizabeth Giles in July 1791, that gave him children. At first, the couple lived on a small income, meaning that they had to practice economy – with no partying permitted; instead, they followed the advice of their church, working hard, praying hard and striving to remain cheerful despite their circumstances. But he was to advance in business and fortune, and with improving finances came the opportunity to move to larger premises, first at No. 64 Great Prescott Street in London; it was a comfortable house but with a small garden, of which he seems not to mind. However, by this time, Robert had established himself in maritime insurance, an occupation which had, for centuries, been the most dominant and important line of business. It followed that he became a partner with the company Smith St Barbe & Marten, marking a great step forward for this ambitious 30-year-old. To this firm’s main business, he was responsible for adding the care and disposal of salvaged ships, a big money earner during the ensuing wars with France.
By April 1807 the family was in a position to move again, this time out to Plaistow and live in a large house called ‘Broadway House’ in what was then a small village east of London; a gardener and various servants completed the now well-to-do household. It seems also that his business career was matched only by his role as a religious leader and a reformer. Politically he worked towards removing legal discrimination against non-members of the Church of England. It is also known that he was a friend of William Wilberforce who is reported to have been a frequent visitor to Broadway House. Continuing his religious role, he also helped to found the Non-Conformist Church in Plaistow.
When his second wife, Elizabeth, died in 1811 Robert Marten wrote of twenty years of ‘mutual happiness’ with the mother of his five grown up children. Two more years were to pass before he found his third wife, Emma, said to have been chosen for her very high character and approved by the children. It was Emma who accompanied Robert on his 1825 tour of Norfolk; but by then, the demands of business and philanthropy were beginning to take their toll on Mr Marten’s health, hence the need for a break away from business stresses, towards the more bracing and cleaner air of the Norfolk coast with its recently discovered benefits to the constitution.
Mr Marten simply tells us that, it was on Wednesday 7 September 1825 when he and his party began their tour of Norfolk; leaving from the Custom House steps London and sailing on the Thames-built steam packet ‘Hero’, bound for the County. In little over a day later, they reached the port of Great Yarmouth, having probably enjoyed their mini-cruise more comfortable than any stage-coach journey. Whilst in the town for only a short stay they took the opportunity to visit the more fashionable Gorleston, seemingly a more pleasurable place than its herring-smelt neighbour on the other side of the estuary.
On Saturday, 10 September, Mr Marten’s party boarded yet another, but smaller, steam packet vessel which would make its way inland along the river Yare to Norwich; a city laying some 27 miles and a journey time of approximately 5 hours away. It made good time and once alongside Norwich’s quay, they disembarked above Carrow Bridge at Foundary Bridge – the scene of the 1817 steam packet explosion.
It was probably likely that Robert Marten and his party would have been picked up by a hotel employed vehicle and conveyed into the city; in this instance, it was to the Norfolk Hotel at 25 St Giles in the city centre near the Market Place; here they booked in for a several-day stay. The idea of picking up visitors made good business sense to the hotels of Norwich; particularly, fourteen years later, when trains operated to and from Norwich. The station would be at Thorpe which, incidentally, was the very site of the once Ranelagh Gardens and the point where Mr Marten and his party disembarked in 1825.
Mr Marten and his party were clearly set on taking every opportunity during their stay in the city to explore all its facets; however, high on their list was their need to attend various places of worship. The first opportunity to do this was during their first full day in Norwich, which was a Sunday. They attended morning service at the old St Mary’s Baptist Chapel near Duke Street. It seems that they were a very devout family for during the evening they attended yet another service at the Princes Street Chapel.
Clearly, two visits to a religious establishment in a week was not enough for Mr Marten, for he and his party headed for the ‘solemn grandeur’ of Norwich Cathedral on the Monday morning to attend the 9.45am Matins. Marten described the service as “the same as in other Cathedrals” – this comment may well suggest that he was an Anglian, but one who enjoyed visiting different places of worship. He went on to say in his diary:
“There were scarcely a dozen persons besides the ecclesiastics who officiated. The building is in fair preservation considering that it has been [in use] since the year 1096. The interior is very clean and from the magnitude and architecture presents to the eye a solemn grandeur. The Courts & inclosures and ancient houses around it are also kept in that order & have that still and quiet aspect & that appearance of retirement & comfort which is usually found around Country Cathedrals.”
Mr Marten also took a particular interest in Meeting House buildings and attended a sermon by Mr Joseph Kinghorn, although:
“His preaching was not to us so satisfactory…….He appeared to be more the preacher than the minister or pastor. His pronunciation is very broad…….Mr Kinghorn is a thin tall old gentleman, very plain in his attire, simple in appearance, of acknowledged talents and has entered the lists in controversy with Robert Hall of Leicester on the subject of open communion which is advocated by the latter and opposed by the former.”
On Tuesday, 13 September 1825, Marten and his family continued their tour of Norwich but found the stones with which the Norwich streets were paved very annoying; this would seem to be a strange reaction to a material that had long been widely used for laying road and pavements in many other towns and cities. Nevertheless, they prevailed and on the same day, obtained permission to:
“mount the top of the elevated castle in order to have a panoramic view of the City and the hills which surround it, but we were dissuaded on account of the wind blowing so strong that it would be difficult to stand against it”.
However, they did manage to walk round the castle to where it was “loft enough to afford a view over the houses to the distant hills.” From high on the castle they counted 23 steeples of the 36 churches which the Map of Norwich stated to be within the city. The view “prolonged our stay because of the pleasure we enjoyed”.
“We then walked about the large city & came by St Giles Church into Heigham, and called on Mr Grout who permitted us to go through his important Silk Manufactory. The works are in several floors and the winding twisting bobbings are by machinery moved by a beautiful 20-horsepower engine. These operations are watched and conducted by more than seventy females, some so young as 7 to 8 years of age. These are on foot from seven in the morning till eight in the evening watching the threads, repairing the broken & seeing that all go on well – occasionally supplying oil where wanted to prevent evil from friction. Only that they have half an hour to breakfast & an hour for dinner. And these little girls earn some 5 shillings, some 5 shillings/6d a week.”
“We were then shewn the winding into warp – the subsequent Beaming – & the reeds for the weaving & were informed that a-yard-wide crape has in that breadth 2560 single twisted threads of silk. We then saw one of the female superintendents at her crape loom, and afterwards the turners shop where nine men were employed in preparing Bobbins etc. for the factory here & the much larger [factory] which Mr Grout is now erecting at Yarmouth. The silk used here is principally from Bengal but part was the white silk from China………Seeing a loom going in a private house as we passed, we asked the woman who was weaving Norwich crape & learned that she could, by close application, weave eleven yards each day – but we omitted to ask her earnings by that work.”
Where Mr Marten and family ate and refreshed themselves between forays is not known but they kept going throughout each day. This included walking towards the north of the City until they reached its outskirts and fields beyond and “found the population lively”. They remained clearly amazed by the number of churches around:
“so abounding that the eye could scarcely fail to see two or three whichever way it turned. Many of these were flint faced and some of them with squared flints very carefully cut & nicely laid” – They even counted eleven steeples from their hotel windows.
Their stay was also to include walks through both the eastern and southern parts of the city where they saw “many very large & elegant houses.” Marten even picked up on the fact that Norwich was in the process of building a new prison at the top end of St Giles, in an area now occupied by the Roman Catholic Cathedral. One wing of the new prison was expected to open for business later that year and Marten was sufficiently interested in the site to request a visit. He went on to write:
“We were admitted to go over the whole building. The Governor’s House is in the centre and from several windows he can at all times inspect every part of the prison. The Chapel is in the Governor’s House. His pew is opposite & very close to the Pulpit which is entered from the winding stair case. The Felons are in Pews even with this Governor whose eye may be constantly on them – and the Turnkeys guard the two entrances during the whole of divine services – the Debtors are on the floor of the Chapel and thus everyone can see & hear the Preacher. We were shewn the cells for the Felons who are confined at night separately – but they have a Day Room & they have the privilege of the open air in a yard allotted to them. Condemned Felons left for execution have other & still stronger lonesome cells which they are not permitted to leave until the hour when they are taken to the platform over the entrance gate to surrender their forfeited lives to the violated justice of their Country.”
Marten’s general impression of the City was favourable, apart of course for those streets which were paved with small pebbles and flints, making walking “uneasy to the foot and on which one unused cannot walk either steadily of comfortably.” Other than that:
“We were not accosted in any of our walks even by a single medicant [a beggar] – Everyone seemed busy and we were told by a Gentleman, a resident, that no complaints were heard and that the manufacturers and general business of the place were in thriving condition. Houses of the third and fourth rate & some even beneath these were buildings to a great extension of Norwich, a circumstance which marks many other cities beside this.”
Marten’s final comments, as he prepared his party for their departure from Norwich, was to say that their stay had been pleasant and:
“the Norfolk Hotel intitled to praise for the goodness of its provisions – the neatness of its accommodation……..and attention of its conductors & servants. We were also perfectly satisfied with the reasonableness of its charges. We left the Hotel at 20 minutes before 4 o’clock in the stage for Cromer……….”
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In the winter of 1932, Charles David Abbott observed that it is “Through the diaries of Parson Woodforde, that readers are given the opportunity to not only increase their knowledge of a departed age, but also to live among the fields and hedgerows and cottages of Georgian England.”
He does not say that his comment rings particularly true to those living in Norfolk where much of his diary was based. However, he does tell us that Woodforde’s 18th century was never poor in having literary memorials: London exists forever in the pages of Boswell; the upper circles will always gossip and there is much intrigue in Walpole’s letters; Cowper, would have succeeded in giving us the reality of country life, had he been able to keep his own too interesting personality and his poetic bent more in the background. But thanks to Parson Woodforde, we have ‘what Cowper was too great to produce’. The Parson paints a life as it actually was in hundreds of rural parishes throughout England.
The Parson Woodforde Diaries begin on 21 July, 1759 – when, at the age of nineteen years, he records being made a Scholar of New College – readers immediately plunged into an Oxford of ‘unregenerate’ days.
“Hooke, Boteler and myself went to Welch’s of Wadham College, where we designed to sup and spend the evening, but our entertainment was thus, one Lobster of a Pound, a half-pennyworth of Bread, and the same of Cheese, half of an old Bottle of Ale, half a Bottle of Wine, and a Bottle of Lisbon, and then we were desired to retreat, which was immediately obeyed……”
On another eventful occasion, the evidence was more lavish:
“Baker and Croucher both of Merton Coll: spent their evening in the B.C.R. [Bachelor’s Common Room]. Croucher was devilish drunk indeed, and made great noise there, but we carried him away to Peckham’s Bed in Triumph. Baker laid with me.”
Abbott, in his own words, goes on to say that James Woodforde was the normal undergraduate, by no means averse to the delights of collegiate existence but, at the same time, not unoccupied with the duty of preparing himself for the priesthood. His career was like that of the majority of university-bred men of his period – four years at Oxford, ten years of curacies in his native Somerset, followed by a year or two of residence as Fellow of New College and as University Proctor, all before he is finally presented to the college living of Weston Longeville in Norfolk. By the time he goes permanently to Weston in 1776, we are thoroughly acquainted with him.
He remains the same innocent fellow who in his first term at Oxford gave away his snuffbox “to a Particular Friend” and went “to see the man ride upon three Horses.” No breath of scepticism touched him. He has no doubt of Anglican doctrine, and he looks upon the church, in so far as he thinks about it at all, as the natural home for men of his sort. He questions none of the duties, dislikes none of them. They do not interfere with his simple pleasures, which consist largely of living comfortably in a rural retreat, where food is plentiful, the cellar spacious and well-stocked, and the neighbours sociable. He loves sport so long as it is not too strenuous—the coursing of a hare before dinner or the dragging of a pond. There is no chance of his ever growing bored with the life that he knows, from the carefully recorded daily breakfast to the evening rubbers of whist. He loves it all, and it is all a part of his simple nature. Everywhere he shows himself the wholesome, generous, affectionate, lovable gentleman who, we like to believe, is the typical country clergyman. We may therefore be amazed that so much good-nature never brought him a wife, but we soon grow accustomed to his continued state of bachelorhood.
It was on the question of Woodforde’s love life that Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) had a particular view, as expressed in The Common Reader, Second Series:
“The Parson’s love affair, however, was nothing very tremendous. Once when he was a young man in Somerset, he liked to walk over to Shepton and to visit a certain “sweet tempered” Betsy White who lived there. He had a great mind “to make a bold stroke” and ask her to marry him. He went so far, indeed, as to propose marriage “when opportunity served”, and Betsy was willing. But he delayed; time passed; four years passed indeed, and Betsy went to Devonshire, met a Mr. Webster, who had five hundred pounds a year, and married him. When James Woodforde met them in the turnpike road, he could say little, “being shy”, but to his diary he remarked — and this no doubt was his private version of the affair ever after:
“she has proved herself to me a mere jilt”.
But he was a young man then, and as time went on, we cannot help suspecting that he was glad to consider the question of marriage shelved once and for all so that he might settle down with his niece Nancy at Weston Longeville, and give himself simply and solely, every day and all day, to the great business of living. Again, what else to call it we do not know.”
Such was the Parson’s disposition when he arrived at his parsonage of Weston Longeville in 1776, and remained there, in spite of the later irritations of poor health, during a twenty-six-year incumbency. At Weston Longeville, we come to know it intimately, as if we had been part of the Parson’s household. The local and domestic events are all chronicled, quite without any attempt to dramatise them:
“My great Pond full of large toads, I never saw such a quantity in my life and so large, was most of the morning in killing of them, I daresay I killed one hundred, which made no shew of being missed, in the evening more again than there were, I suppose there are thousands of them there, and no frogs…….”
The neighbours begin to call, particularly the Custances from Weston House, the great family of the parish, and soon the Parson is happily involved in the social life of the community. Dinner succeeds dinner, each duly recorded as to partakers and menu.
“We had for dinner, the first Course, some Fish, Pike, a fine large piece of boiled Beef, Peas Soup, stewed Mutton, Goose Giblets, stewed, etc. Second Course, a brace of Partridges, a Turkey rosted, baked Pudding, Lobster, scalloped Oysters, and Tartlets. The desert black and white Grapes, Walnuts and small Nutts, Almonds and Raisins, Damson Cheese and Golden Pippins. Madeira, Lisbon, and Port Wines to drink…..”
It is small wonder that, after so many dinners of these proportions, the good parson was to suffer later with a variety of internal complaints.
Regularly every summer, for many years, the Parson returns for a long visit with his family in Somerset, where his daily routine is unaltered, except that there are no clerical duties. We renew acquaintance with the various members of the family, particularly with Brother John, whose conduct does not always conform to the Parson’s notions of propriety. The Woodforde family is exhibited without any restraint on truth – we see them with all their jealousies, their humorous conceits, their pride and their affections, completely unadulterated. Woodforde has an innocent way of quite unconsciously laying bare the characters of his relations:
“Sister Clarke and Nancy had a few words at breakfast. My sister can’t bear to hear anyone praised more than herself in anything, but that she does the best of all.”
In such entries we are presented with the real materials that lie behind the artistry of Jane Austen. Finally, in 1779, Nancy Woodforde, a niece, leaves Somerset and comes to live at Weston with her uncle, whose comforts and trials she continues to share until his death.
Life, of course, goes placidly on in the Weston Parsonage, amid the round of dinners and the unceasing charity to the poor. The tithe-audit regularly takes place, and the Parson regularly entertains the tithe-payers at his “Frolick.” There are mild winters and cold winters, “such Weather with so much Snow I never knew before.” Some springs are merely moist and hence productive, others “so wet that Farmers cannot plow their lands for their barley.” The world of great events seems more than a few miles away.
Distant rumblings, of course, are heard from America and the Parson is occasionally aghast at the lawlessness of French mobs. As England becomes more and more involved in continental entanglements, even the Parson feels the shock of increased taxes. But such matters do not seriously interfere with his ways – including those of Nancy. His appetite remains unimpaired, and he is far more vexed by his niece’s chronic sauciness than by any affairs of the outside world!
Abbott wonders why the Parson’s unflagging repetition of daily small beer does not grow tiresome, and perhaps we are hoodwinked into thinking that our hunger for knowledge of a remote time is insatiable; but this is not the real reason, for we read the Diaries and are disappointed that there is not more, because Parson Woodforde in his unthinking, artless way has reproduced real life. He never repeats a conversation, and yet each individual from mere reiteration emerges as a definite personality. We learn to know every guest at every dinner, so frequently do they reappear; and, though we hear none of the conversation, we know pretty well from a hundred previous clues what was said. We become inevitably absorbed in all the details, just as if they were details of our own lives.
Finally, Abbott concludes by saying that everything is put down in the parson’s quaint fashion, unconscious of grammar and consistency, fact after fact, never any feelings other than mere bodily ones. But we know the emotions well enough; they lie between the lines, and as for the Parson, we are devoted to him. He has become an old friend, and when in the course of the last volume he begins to fail, and the daily routine is interrupted by long illnesses and seasons in bed, we grow sad because we know that the diary will come to an end and that with Parson Woodforde, we shall have lost the whole of his company of friends. And when he is gone, we can only echo the words of his last entry in his diary, and the grief of the one entry from Nancy’s diary’:
“17 October 1802: We breakfasted, dined, Very weak this Morning, scarce able to put on my Cloaths and with great difficulty, get down Stairs with help – Mr. Dade read Prayers & Preached this Morning at Weston Church – Nancy at Church – Mr. and Mrs. Custance & Lady Bacon at Church – Dinner today Rost Beef & Lamb.”
“January 1, . Saturday. Weston. Norfolk. This morning about a quarter after Ten o’clock died my ever-dear Uncle James Woodforde whose loss I shall lament all the days of my life…….”
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Ultimately, this is intended to be the story of three particular members of the same family line – a prominent line and one which had been well established in the Scole area of Norfolk throughout the 18th century, and probably much earlier – they were the Gooderham’s. It is a story which is long, hence the need to split it into three parts. This is Part 1 – about William Gooderham, the evangelical patriarch!
William Gooderham was born on 29 August 1790 in, or certainly near Scole in Norfolk, the second son of James and Sarah Gooderham. Very little is known about William’s childhood, except to say that when he was 12 years old, he left his father’s farm in Norfolk to work in the London office of his mother’s brother, an East Indies trader. Then, during the Napoleonic Wars, he joined the Royal York Rangers and saw action in the capture of Martinique in 1809 and Guadeloupe in 1810.
William survived the actual conflict, however, at the age of 21 years, he was invalided home after contracting yellow fever on the island. After he had recovered, he continued with the force as a recruiting officer for the remainder of the war, which lasted until 1815. During this period, he was said to have ‘acquired’ the means by which to pay off an £800 mortgage on his father’s farm at Scole, which he was to later inherit in 1820 when his father died. This initiative of his also secured a modest income for himself; it was also the first sign of his in-built ‘business acumen’ which was to hold him in good stead in future years. For the moment, however, he simply became a gentleman farmer, although his estate at Scole at the time was to suffer from the general decline in values of British agricultural produce, brought about in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) when food imports recovered and there was a resumption of American trade following their own Civil War of 1812–1815.
This economic downturn for land owners, plus the rural rioting during that period, must have been an influencing factor in William’s decision, eleven years later, to emigrate. However, before then and shortly after his father had died in 1820, William married Harriet Tovell Herring and began the process of rearing their family of thirteen children, of which at least five were born at Scole. During the whole process of rearing a family, William went from ‘gentleman farmer’ in Norfolk to becoming a very successful and wealthy distiller, businessman, and banker in far off Canada.
In 1831 Gooderham’s brother-in-law, James Worts, (1792 – 1834) instigated a large immigration of their two families to Upper Canada. Worts, being the first to emigrate, established himself as a flour miller at the mouth of the Don River near York, Toronto, and began construction of a windmill. The following year of 1832, William Gooderham followed in Worts wake, bringing over to York a company of some 54 persons: members of his own and of Worts’s family, as well as servants and 11 orphans. Once settled in York, William invested the substantial sum of £3,000 in Worts’s milling business and the two brothers-in-law formed the partnership of Worts and Gooderham. The partnership abruptly ended when in February 1834, several weeks after Worts wife, Elizabeth Gooderham, died during childbirth, James Worts committed suicide; he drowned himself in a well on his own company’s property. William, ever the businessman, not only continued running the company, but also changed its name to William Gooderham, Company.
In 1837 he then added a distillery to his business so that he could make efficient use of surplus and second-grade grain. Four years later he introduced gas for illumination and converted the entire plant from wind-to steam-power. Shipment of consignments to Montreal in the early 1840s illustrated Williams growing interests in the harbourfront area and in distant markets. Six years later he built his own wharf there and by the 1860s owned schooners on the Great Lakes. During this period of expansion, William took on his nephew, James Gooderham Worts the son of the drowned James, as a trainee. In 1845, this same young nephew joined William as a full partner; the firm’s name was changed to Gooderham and Worts. During the 1860s and 1870s the company enjoyed a pre-eminence in Toronto’s industry, transportation, and finance, as well as on the stock exchange.
The complex of buildings owned by Gooderham and Worts, and designated the Toronto City Steam Mills and Distillery in 1845, grew to become an industrial showpiece and made its owners the city’s largest taxpayers. A major expansion was begun in 1859 with a new, five-storey distillery built; it was acknowledged as the largest distillery in Canada West and had begun exporting to the English market. In early 1862 the costs of new buildings, which included storehouses and an engine house, and of equipping the old windmill with modern machinery were estimated at over $200,000 – (apprx. $5,000,000 (£3,676,925) in today’s terms?). A brick malthouse was later added. After 1862 the windmill was used for further distilling of the company’s premium brands, “Toddy” and “Old Rye,” which enjoyed both an English market and large sales in Canada.
On 26 October 1869, a spectacular fire destroyed a storehouse and a lumber pile and gutted the interior of the main milling and distillery building, causing considerable damage; unfortunately, the company was not covered by insurance. However undeterred, William Gooderham and James Worts rebuilt, and their business continued to grow further. In 1874–75 the company produced over 2,000,000 gallons, or one-third the total amount of proof spirits distilled in the country. By the late 1870s, Gooderham and Worts, in common with other Canadian distillers, had withdrawn from the English market and had turned increasingly to selling grain alcohol for the manufacture of such products as vinegar and methylated spirits, as well as the scent “Florida Water.” Although Gooderham and Worts delegated direct management and some degree of ownership in the 1860s and 1870s, they were primarily responsible for the success of the firm.
Visitors to the Gooderham and Worts establishments after 1861 were said to bestruck by their massive size, by their cleanliness, by the fully automatic milling machinery which further distinguished the operation from most others in the province, and by the shelters for the livestock alongside the distillery. Just as the distillery had grown out of the mill, a livestock operation, begun in the 1840s, was an offshoot of the distillery business. William first raised pigs and then cattle, fattened on the nutritious swill that was a by-product of distilling. A dairy herd numbering 22 in 1843 grew into a dairy and beef operation which by 1861 was fattening about 1,000 animals a year, but at that time the herd was probably no longer owned by Gooderham and Worts. When improved transportation opened an English market, only beef was produced and by the end of the decade there were sheds for 3,000 animals near the distillery.
In the expansion of their facilities after 1859, Gooderham and Worts included a siding to the Grand Trunk Railway, large enough to hold 14 carriages; they were to be prominent among Toronto businessmen interested in the narrow-gauge railways promoted by George Laidlaw, a former employee. The partners’ interest in railways grew naturally out of the needs of their mills and of the Toronto flour-mill and distillery complex. In 1870, on terms favourable to themselves, they advanced a loan large enough to give the bonds of both the Toronto, Grey & Bruce and the Toronto and Nipissing railways a market value.
Thereafter their influence increased in the operation of the two lines, especially the Toronto and Nipissing railway of which William Gooderham Senior had become a provisional director upon its incorporation in 1868. Even before William Gooderham Jr became President of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway Company in 1873, the Gooderham interests were the railway’s main customer, and the Toronto terminal of this line was established conveniently near the distillery and cattle sheds. Although family control of a railway, built with much public funding, did not escape criticism, defenders of the line pointed to the need for Gooderham’s capital to launch the enterprise and to finance its chief activity, which involved buying cordwood in the north and storing it to season before transporting it for sale in the city.
When William Gooderham became President of the Bank of Toronto in 1864, a post he held until his death, he embarked on the last of several careers, leaving James Worts to look after their joint interests in the Bank. The Bank’s combination of conservative investment policy with internal efficiency and innovative management bore the mark of William Gooderham. Under him the Bank achieved an enviable reputation for stability which brought it a growing share of business. Its stocks remained at a relatively high price, even during the recession in the 1870s.
On a personal front William Gooderham, ever the ‘conservative’, avoided the public eye and shied away from exposure as a member on the first publicly elected school board in 1850; his only real venture into politics was as City Alderman in 1853 and 1855. At the same time, he was staunch evangelical Anglican, and a leading member of Little Trinity Church (which was near his distillery) and its warden from 1853 to 1881. William was also a lifelong freemason, and served as President of the York Pioneer Society from 1878 to 1880. His charitable activities were both personal (he took a growing number of orphans under his protection) and institutional. He represented the board of trade on the trust of the Toronto General Hospital, and along with Worts and William Cawthra he contributed the $113,500 (possibly valued around $3 million today?) needed to build a new wing for patients with infectious diseases.
William died on 20 August 1881 in Toronto, Ontario, having taken the opportunity during the last three or four years of his life to turn much of his business over to his third son, George, who had already become a full partner in Gooderham and Worts. It seems that William’s eldest son, William Junior, President and Managing Director of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway from 1873 had an inglorious career in other businesses and was to die in 1889. William’s second son, James, had already been killed in an accident on the Credit Valley Railway in 1879. Three other sons of William, Henry, Alfred Lee, and Charles Horace, were to be employed in branches of the family concern. The Reverend Alexander Sanson of Little Trinity Church eulogized William as a type of patriarch.
Even after providing for his children, William Gooderham left an estate which amounted to approximately $1,550,000 at first valuation (possibly valued around $40 million today?). Obituaries stressed the breadth of his influence in the business community and his contribution to the city’s growth from a town of “three or four thousand inhabitants, and little wealth” to the ‘metropolis’ in 1881. Gooderham built his Empire by combining the principle of dealing in articles of widespread consumption with a sensitivity, which he retained as he grew older, to the opportunities offered by new techniques and new markets. Not bad for this man from Scole, Norfolk, England.
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