Brancaster 1833 – A Sad Tale!

From amongst all the major gales that have imposed themselves on to Norfolk over the years, the 1st September gale of 1833 must rank as the worst. That storm ranged wide over the North Sea and as far south as the English Channel when it wrecked hundreds of ships in the North Sea alone. Out of this undefined figure, over 60 ships were driven on to the County’s coastline alone. Areas inland weren’t safe either; the spires of St Margaret’s and St Nicholas Churches in Kings Lynn were blown down and forty wagon-loads of wreckage were removed from the beaches of Hunstanton and Snettisham. On the following Sunday, 8th September Bell’s ‘Life in London’ looked back at, what was referred to as ‘the great gale’, and recalled:

“……the loss of life and property in all parts of the country presents a dreadful catalogue of calamities, which must fill the minds of our readers with horror………On Monday, the public mind was shocked by the description of the disaster of the most appalling description, and everyday since has produced some new account equally heart-rending”

Brancaster (Amphitrite 1833)

It was from the accounts written at the time that the public learned of dead bodies floating ashore throughout the storm ” from one end of the Norfolk coast to the other”. Cromer, which sits at the top right-hand edge of Norfolk, collected eighty-four bodies from its beach over two days. They were buried in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul’s Church. East Anglian reports following the storm emphasised the damage to homes, fields and orchards. According to the Cambridge Chronicle, the rain and tide-swollen Ouze River breached its banks and:

“……such was the immense body and impetuosity of the water, that in a few hours, upwards of 1,500 acres of land were laid under water……many acres of standing corn are irretrievably lost and many head of cattle drowned……The damage sustained by the lamentable event has not yet been ascertained, but it is much to be feared that it is to a considerable extent, nor is there any prospect that the water can be got off before the next spring”

Similar accounts from the coast naturally focused on the destruction of ships,crew lives lost and infrastructure damaged. The Times, no less, referred to the coast around Lynn as ‘strewn with vessels, parts of vessels, boats and goods’ Also, in a report unusual for its concern for human life lost, referred to:

” The brig Margaret, Captain Osire……went down on Saturday afternoon, near Whiting Sands and all hands perished. By this awful circumstance there are four women left without husbands, and 22 fatherless children. Better luck attended the crew of the Brig ‘Waterloo’, like ‘Margaret’ carrying a load of coal. After Waterloo went down, the crew ascended the rigging at eight o’clock on Sunday night, and remained lashed in that perilous situation, the sea breaking over them mountains high till one o’clock the next day when they were taken off by fishermen, several of whom manned their boats and succeeded in rescuing eight individuals.”

Brancaster (Earl of Wemyss 1833)
An early 19th century Packet Ship similar to the Earl of Wemyss. The strip of white paint on the hull was to distinguish ships of the old Shipping Company from those of other Traders. Photo: Public Domain.

But, probably. the most tragic tale was that of the Earl of Wemyss, Leith’s Old Shipping Company’s Packet Ship. In common with the Amphitrite, its tragedy became indelibly imprinted in the public’s minds, in part because it revealed men’s failure to behave in an honourable way. The crew and male passengers on board the ,Earl of Wemyss, en route from London to Leith in Scotland, survived the gale off Brancaster, Norfolk, but that the 6 women, one man and 4 children on board drowned. This news was met with the public’s disbelief and anger.

The Amphitrite, PW8062
The Amphitrite, a 200 tonne Prison Ship which sank off Boulogne-Sur-Mer during the same gale as hit Brancaster, Norfolk on 1st September, 1833. One hundred and eight female convists and twelve children on board the Prison Ship were lost.

The ships owned by the ‘Old Shipping Company’ of Leith were called ‘White Siders’ to distinguish them from the ships of other trading lines which had a different strip of colour painted on their hulls;  the ‘Old Shipping Company’ ships had a white strip. All these companies carried passengers, freight and hauled convicts sentenced to transportation or the home-based hulks from Edinburgh to London, thirty at a time. It was on the 29th August 1833 that the Earl of Weymss (pronounced ‘weemz’) set out from London on a return journey to Scotland. In command was a Captain Henry Nesbit; not the same Captain Nesbit who, almost thirty years earlier had been master of the Old Shipping Company’s smack Queen Charlotte when she was attacked by a French privateer. The successful defence of the Charlotte earned Nesbit a £105 reward from the owners. In 1833 Captain Nesbit of the Earl of Wemyss did not appear to be like the hero of 1804!

Ahead of Captain Nesbit was a 400-mile. plus, passage that could take as little as a few days or as much as 2 weeks. It was stated later, at an inquiry at the Hare Arms in Docking  into the ship’s disaster, that the Earl of Wemyss had carried 19 passengers on board, 8 men and 11 women and children, but the Captain’s count did not include some passengers not travelling business class in the salons, but travelling economy in steerage. A substantial amount of cargo was also on board, including bales of hops from Kent. After the wreck, men worked for hours to unload the ship’s hold of the then sodden bales and goods packed inside – apparently, none of it insured.

It was said that late in the afternoon of the Saturday, “a northeaster blew up in the North Sea and continued to freshen until it became a hurricane” However, this was later contradicted by others who were on board who said that the gale had been blowing since 6.00 am that morning, when the ship was off the Spurn Light. By midday on that Saturday the Earl of Wemyss was out of control on seas – “like mountains of snow”, all her canvas was shredded and her stern boat gone. By the Saturday night the ship had lost both anchors in a failed attempt to wait out the storm and found itself aground off Brancaster, Norfolk. An effort early morning of the Sunday to launch another boat failed and soon afterwards the Earl of Wemyss flooded  with water from storm-driven seas breaking over the un protected skylights and breaking through the glass, drowning everyone in the women’s cabin below. Those still living rushed out on to the open deck and stated later at a Magistrate’s Inquiry:

” where we found the captain, crew, and steerage passengers secured to the rigging and the winch, We lashed ourselves in the same manner and continued there with the sea breaking over us for about four hours.”

Two weeks later when the Inquiry, convened by the Home Office, took place at the Hare’s Arms in Docking, its brief was to determine ” whether there had been any loss of life by culpable negligence, or loss of property by dishonesty.” Captain Nesbit’s incompetence was made manifest through him missing at least two opportunities to save his passengers. One was a chance to wade ashore early on the Sunday morning when a lull at low water passed, when he misread a nautical almanac and also confused the flow of the tide with its ebb. He then offered ‘fatal advice’ that sent his female passengers and children into their berths. He failed to protect his ship’s four skylights and their chutes through the main deck and into the space below, thus setting up the circumstances for the drownings of the women and children. They were:  Mrs. Hamilton, her son, and a lady ; Mrs. Pyne, her daughter, and child ; Mrs. Carmack ; Miss Susanna Roche and a child—all cabin passengers; total, 9. Mrs. Rymer and child, steerage.

The Reverend Holloway of Brancaster testified that Captain Nesbit told him that the ladies were already dead in their cabin and there was no point in rescuing them as they had been there for over four hours. When the bodies were recovered, they were taken to the Church. The Reverend Holloway believed that if the skylights had been battened down the ladies would have been saved – and if they had been rescued earlier their belongings may also have been saved. Statements referring to the dead said that “whilst their bodies were yet warm” they had been stripped of their valuables by Joseph Newman Reeve, son-in-law of the Brancaster Lord of the Manor. Reeve claimed that he had asked people to help get the bodies out of the ship and took the jewellery to “protect them from ‘revolting indignities’ – such as having their fingers cut off to get the rings off them” Reeve claimed that he had kept everything safely; although others claimed he had refused to give the things back and said that they belonged to the Lord of the Manor, who was entitled to everything cast up on the shore. Reeve admitted that he had unwisely opened one bag, belonging the Mrs Pyne, without witnesses, but said that others gave him jewellery to look after.

Brancaster (Sir James Scallett)
Sir James Scarlett, who represented Joseph Newman Reeve.

Reeve was tried in March 1834 at the Norwich assizes before a Judge Vaughan, but escaped conviction on two charges of felony thanks to being represented in court by Sir James Scarlett, a local MP and a famously competent lawyer. He might also have been helped by the still general belief in England, that coastal residents were “the lawful heirs of all drowned persons” and so entitled to the property providence had cast at their feet. A further trial at the Norwich summer assizes in the July of 1834, of the ship’s steward, cook and a local farmer who had been in charge of the wreck, included some very damaging evidence about people who had offered to lie to protect Reeve – but this evidence was dismissed and the jury of the second trial also gave a ‘not guilty’ verdict. Captain Nesbit was dismissed from his role and was ejected by his Guild and all that is left of the wreck of the Earl of Wemyss is a weathered gravestone inscription in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church, Brancaster:

Brancaster (St Mary's Church)
St Mary’s Church, Brancaster, Norfolk.

Sacred to the memory of Susanna Roche, aged
32 years and also to her nephew, Alexander David
Roche, aged 4 years who were unfortunately
drowned with many others in the cabin of the
Earl of Wemyss, Leith Packet which was
stranded on this coast during the dreadful gale
on September 1st 1833 on its passage from London.
Which melancholy affair has been doubly afflicting
for the relatives of the deceased from the fact that no
attempt was ever made to rescue them from their
situation, and in continuation of such inhuman
conduct their persons were stripped of every
valuable and their property plundered.

The tale of the Leith Packet ship Earl of Wemyss combined all the elements to interest readers: evidence of incompetence at sea, the death of innocents and a suspicion of crimes inflicted on the dead. The reason for such persistent coverage by the press was that all the dead came from the same propertied class as did the readers of The Times and The Scotsman. On May 6th, 1834 the rebuilt Earl of Wemyss went back into service, carrying passengers and cargo from Scotland to London, under the command of a Captain Brown. Eventually the ship was replaced in the packet service by steam. The Wemyss, now twenty-five years old, could still be seen at sea 15 years later sailing between Aberdeen and the Baltic.

THE END

Sources:

The Norfolk Almanac of Disasters, Brook, P.,Breedon Books Publishing, 2007
http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/14th-september-1833/8/the-late-gale
http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/7th-september-1833/6/the-gale
http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/12th-october-1833/6/inquiry-regarding-the-loss-of-the-earl-of-wemyss
https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=the+gale+of+1833&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=1DlLpcoPzGuY-M%253A%252CIzp_iCOaaUAXaM%252C_&usg=AFrqEzcCurqCrmq09dVA4L92_moh8o0RLw&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjrqZXEkpjdAhXPFsAKHUecBt8Q9QEwBHoECAEQBg#imgrc=zeY4nygttHxoKM:&spf=1535748056035
Photos: Google Images and Wikipedia.

Horsford’s Little Hero.

In the graveyard of All Saints Church in Horsford, Norfolk lies a very young person of mystery who clearly had received a heroes burial from those who thought highly of him. One may well ask what his qualities might have been in life and what had he done to deserve such a place in the memories of others. His gravestone, name and inscription raises so many questions but few answers. In this day and age one can only speculate!

All we have is the inscription on his headstone. It tells us clearly that his name was John Pirsins, he was 13 years old and he had died from wounds received at the Battle of Camperdown which took place on 11th October 1797. John Pirsins had survived, and presumably suffered, for five weeks before giving in to the inevitable. His gravestone states the following:

All Saints Church, Horsford 093
Sacred to the memory of John Pirsins aged 13 years who died the 18th Day of November 1797 in consequence of the wounds he received on board His Majesty’s Ship Triumph the 11th of October in the action fought between the British and Bativian fleets off Camperdown. This stone is erected by his messmates as a tribute due to his early valour.

Where does one start in trying to identify this young lad and his circumstances. For a start, take his name – John Pirsins. In the 18th century, one in four seamen were apparently named ‘John’, this may have been their baptismal name or the one the authorities or mates would bestow in the absence of a known name. Then there is the surname which is a rare, so rare that one may well construe that it came about in error. How come is the obvious question? Well – John, let’s assume this to be correct, appears to have been a rural lad from the heart of the Norfolk countryside and he left home to join the British Navy. Literacy, at the time, was not a strong point in either area of occupation, so when it came to registering one’s name, the presence of illiteracy, local dialects and unclear pronunciation came into play: “Name”. “John Parsons (Pirsins) Sir” Who knows, but the surname stuck!

Did John Pirsins really come from the lower classes, or did he have connections with a higher status from where favours were often bestowed on family members and friends? Take the the quality of the gravestone as another faint clue. It is clear that the stone, and the skill required to inscribe it, would not have come cheap. Whilst it is commendable that more than a few of his mess-mates had, apparently, rallied round to find the money to erect such a monument in his honour, one wonders if they, in turn, were helped by a sponsor? Did this someone, as a possible favour to his parents, also have taken John on board ship as, maybe, an officer’s servant with intentions for him to be trained as an able seaman if not midshipman? – just like Horatio Nelson some 25 years earlier. But then, if all this was true then would not his surname and connections be better known today? Crucially, does any of this fit? Did John Pirsins enlist on his own volition because he wanted an adventure? Where did he join his first ship and at what level was he recruited? Two options stand out – did he become a Cabin Boy and/or a Powder Monkey?

Horsford Hero (Cabin Boy)1
18th Century Cabin Boy undertaking one of his many duties aboard ship.

As Cabin Boy, he just about fitted the criteria with regard to his age. In this role he would have been expected to undertake a variety of day-to-day duties; these would have included waiting on the officers and passengers of a ship and especially running errands for the captain. He would also have been expected to help the cook in the ship’s galley and carry buckets of food to the forecastle where the ordinary seamen ate. Then there was running from one end of the ship to the other carrying messages and becoming familiar with the sails, lines and ropes and the use of each in all sorts of weather – and that was not all. He would have had to be able to scramble up the rigging into the yards whenever the sails had to be trimmed and occasionally stand watch, like other crewmen, or act as helmsman in good weather and holding the wheel to keep the ship steady on her course. Then, in times of battle, he may well have been expected to undertake the role of ‘Powder Monkey’.

As a powder monkey, or powder boy, John Pirsins would not have held any official naval rank but would have been employed to man naval artillery guns as a member of a warship’s crew. His chief role would be to ferry gunpowder from the powder magazine in the ship’s hold to the artillery pieces, either in bulk or as cartridges; this practice was designed to minimise the risk of fires and explosions. One can assume that he would have been selected for the job for his both his speed and height. If so, then John Pirsins was a short individual, in order for him to move more easily in the limited space between decks. As a powder monkey John would have had the comfort of knowing that being hidden behind the ship’s gunwale, kept him from being shot at by enemy ships’ sharp shooters. However, he would have been as vulnerable as the rest of the crew in situations where the ship was hit by heavy cannon fire. Is that what happen when he was mortally wounded?

Horsford Hero (Powder Monkey)1

If John Pirsins had, indeed, been a powder monkey then it is more than likely that he had come from the poor working classes. The Marine Society that encouraged youths to join the British Royal Navy did so by providing clothes, bedding, and a rudimentary education once they had enlisted. In the mid-1790’s it is estimated that the Society was sending five or six hundred boys a year to the fleet, although not all of these boys became powder monkeys. Of the boys who were recruited; most had no other option than to join the navy as their parents could not afford to raise them. However a significant number had familial ties to the sea by having cousins, fathers, and even grandfathers who were, or had been, sailors. These role models made youngsters want to continue family traditions and exploit their sense of adventure. So, does any of the foregoing detail fit with our John Pirsins? As things are, we know much more about the Battle of Camperdown of 1797 and HMS Triumph, on which John Pirsins enlisted and became a hero.

HMS Triumph:

HMS Triumph was a Large Type, 74 gun, third rate ship of the line, built at the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich. She, together with her sister-ship HMS Valiant were the prototypes, re-designed from the ground up for the Royal Navy. Their descendants would become by far the most numerous type of ship in the Royal Navy and would form the backbone of the Royal Navy’s battle-fleets until well into the 19th Century. But, what was significant about these two ships was not the long list of significant naval battles they fought in, or that they were commanded by any particularly famous or infamous naval officers, but the political machinations which led to their being ordered, designed and built.

 

During the Second Hundred Years War, and specifically in the 1730’s, the French began to introduce a new type of ship of the line, one carrying 74 guns on two gun decks. The British soon found that these new French ships were bigger, faster, more manoeuvrable and more heavily armed than their own. Something had to be done, but the British, were struggling with their own naval departmental problems which were rather more political than tactical or technological. Two departments existed with different aims and responsibilities which were the cause of much procrastination, delays and poor designs which, for several years, failed to produce anything that matched up to those of the French.

Horsford Hero (HMS Invincible)1
The former French 74-gun ship L’Invincible. After capture it was renamed HMS Invincible.

Then, on 14th May 1747 at the First Battle of Cape Finisterre, the British captured one of the finest of the French 74-gun ships, L’Invincible. On being taken into British service, L’Invincible was found to be capable of up to 16 knots in ideal sailing conditions; a good three knots faster than the best of her British counterparts. It was also found that in ideal sailing conditions, she could open her lower gun-ports, well clear of the water. As a direct result, the Admiralty began to pressure the Navy Board to do something about it, ideally, to produce a British 74-gun ship along the lines of the French ones. But habits die hard and it was not until the old guard in the Navy Board had either died or had been pensioned off that the situation began to improve. That did not begin until the mid-1750’s when more enlightened men were employed, led by a Thomas Slade. However, even under new management, nothing would be achieved until the Navy Board gave in to the Admiralty’s continuing pressure for two new ships which, essentially, had to be direct copies of L’Invincible but adapted for British use. The first , HMS Valiant was ordered from the Royal Dockyard at Chatham and launched on 10th August 1759. On the other hand, HMS Triumph was ordered from the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich where, despite its keel section being laid on 21st May 1757 was not launched into the great River Thames until Saturday 3rd March 1764 – long before our John Pirsins was even born.

Horsford Hero (HMS Triumph)4

On completion, HMS Triumph was an enormous ship for what she was. Very nearly as big as a first rate ship, HMS Triumph was 171ft 3in long on her upper gundeck and 138ft 8in long in her keel. She was 49ft 9in wide across her beams and her hold (between the orlop deck and the bottom of the ship) was 21ft 3in deep. Fully loaded, HMS Triumph was a ship of 1,825 tons. She was armed with twenty-eight 32-pounder long guns on her lower gun deck, thirty 24-pounder long guns on her upper gun deck, fourteen 9-pounder long guns on her quarterdeck and two 9-pounder long guns on her forecastle. She was manned by a crew of around 650 officers, men, boys and Royal Marines.

HMS Triumph had taken almost seven years to be built as opposed to the three years or so which the construction of a ship like her would be expected to take. This meant that by the time HMS Triumph was completed, the war for which she had been built was over and the Royal Navy rushed to pay off the great first and second rate ships of the line. It would fall to ships like HMS Triumph to provide the heavy firepower for the peacetime navy until May 1766 when the ship was commissioned into the Channel Fleet only to find that by the 11th December of the same year she was paid off and went into the ‘Ordinary’ at Chatham for the next five years.

Horsford Hero (Suckling)1
Captain Suckling

Then in January 1771, HMS Triumph was recommissioned under Captain Hugh Pigot as part of Britains response to the Falklands Crisis of 1770 and went into the Royal Dockyard to be fitted for sea. Captain Pigot left the ship just three months later, having made sure that her Midshipmen’s berth was fully occupied and the ship was fully manned. This meant that when Captain Suckling took command of the ship, there were no vacancies for Midshipmen. In turn, this meant that his young nephew was forced to take up a position as his cabin servant with a nominal rank of Able Seaman. His young nephew had briefly served in Suckling’s previous command, HMS Raisonnable, as a midshipman because Suckling had been able to man that ship from scratch. The young boy, who was aged just 12 when he joined his uncle aboard HMS Triumph, was Horatio Nelson.

Horsford Hero (Midshipman Nelson)1

For clarification, it should be explained that Nelson’s role on HMS Triumph would have been as a ‘Midshipman in Ordinary’; for although the ship had her quota of Midshipmen aboard, and there was no room for the young Horatio aboard in an official role, the captain was entitled to have up to a dozen servants. For that reason, they often took boys of friends, family and anyone else they owed a favour to or were doing a favour for, aboard as Midshipmen-in-Ordinary.

The boys in this role were on the ships books as Captains` Servants, rated and paid as Able Seamen, but wore the uniform and did the job of a Midshipman proper, that is to assist a Lieutenant in his day-to-day duties. They also lived in the Midshipmen’s quarters, which was in the cockpit, located on the ships Orlop level. They would have continued in this role for two years until they gained two years sea service at which point the Admiralty would have appointed them as Midshipmen proper, enabling them to transfer (or be transferred) between ships in order to gain experience and to further their careers.

On 7th May 1773, Captain Suckling managed to find a vacancy for his nephew, Nelson, as Midshipman in the bomb-vessel HMS Carcass but this came to an end in October 1773, when the vessel was paid off at Sheerness and went into the Ordinary. Nelson returned to Portsmouth and to HMS Triumph, once more to take up the only position available to him, as the Captain’s Servant with a nominal rank of Able Seaman. This, however, was for a very short time because his uncle had found a vacancy for him as Midshipman proper aboard the 24-gun sixth rate post-ship HMS Seahorse. Nelson was never to return to HMS Triumph.

Over the next 20 years, or so, HMS Triumph was involved in many skirmishes and more than a few refits to maintain its battle readiness. In between, it undertook policing and peace keeping roles with reduced crew levels. Then in January1792, she was decommissioned and went into the Royal Dockyard at Portsmouth for a ‘Great Repair’, which amounted to an almost complete rebuild. The work was completed in January 1795 and had cost £46,499, more than it had cost to build the ship in the first place. By now, HMS Triumph’s upper gun deck of 24-pounder long guns had been replaced with smaller 18-pounder long guns, while the rest of her armament remained as built. In this, HMS Triumph was unusual in that she was never fitted with carronades. HMS Triumph was recommissioned and joined the Channel Fleet.

The Battle of Camperdown:

Horsford Hero (Admiral Duncan)1
Admiral Sir Adam Duncan

The beginning of May of 1797 saw HMS Triumph lying at the Nore, as part of the North Sea Fleet under Admiral Sir Adam Duncan. By the 12th of the month it became caught up in the Great Mutiny which had spread from Spithead. Whilst Spithead, along with Plymouth, ended peacefully on the 15th, that of Yarmouth was put down forcibly with that of the Nore proving irritable to the authorities. Having started on 12th May in the 90 gun 2nd rate ship HMS Sandwich at 9:30am, it quickly spread to the other ships in the anchorage including HMS Triumph.

Horsford Hero (Essington)1
Captain of HMS Triumph, William Essington

It was at this time that Captain Sir Erasmus Gower was replaced in command of HMS Triumph by Captain William Essington. In the meantime, while the mutiny at the Nore was continuing, the Dutch fleet was making preparations to break out and join the French fleet at Brest. Admiral Duncan was ordered to immediately blockade them and ordered his ships to set sail for the coast of Holland. All but two of his ships disobeyed the order and joined the mutiny.  Nevertheless, Duncan set to his task with the handful of ships available to him and by a mixture of subterfuge and luck, kept the Dutch bottled up in Texel. However, while Duncan was at sea, the mutiny at the Nore fell apart and he was joined by more ships, including HMS Triumph. In October 1797, news reached the Admiralty that the Dutch had called off their plans to break out and the fleet was recalled to Yarmouth to refit and resupply; this included HMS Triumph.

Horsford Hero (De Winter)1

On 8th October however, the Dutch fleet under Admiral de Winter did indeed break out. They were followed by ships Duncan had left behind to watch them, these included the hired armed cutter Black Joke. When the Dutch fleet, consisting of four 74-gun ships, seven 64-gun ships, four 50-gun ships and four frigates was seen putting to sea, it was the Black Joke (Other accounts say it was the hired cutter Active.) that was dispatched to Yarmouth to summon Admiral Duncan and the fleet. When the Black Joke was seen off Yarmouth in the early morning of 9th October flying the signal, all hell broke loose in Yarmouth as ships prepared to put to sea immediately – John Pirsins must have certainly been in the thick of thing! By noon, Admiral Duncan’s fleet was at sea and at 7am on 11th October, Duncan’s fleet sighted Captain Trollope’s squadron who were flying a signal ‘Enemy in Sight to Leeward’. At 08.30, the Dutch fleet was sighted.

Because of the widely differing sailing qualities of the British ships, Duncan’s force was in a very loose order when the enemy was sighted. In order for his ships to take their allotted stations, Duncan’s first signal was for his vanguard, or leading ships, to shorten sail. This was followed, at about 11:10, by signals ordering each ship to engage their opposite number on the enemy’s line of battle and then for the British vanguard to attack the rear of the enemy fleet. De Winter the Dutch commander, for his part and on sighting the British, ordered his ships to go about and head closer to the shore, where his smaller, flatter bottomed ships would have the advantage in shallower waters than their larger round-bilged British opponents. Seeing the Dutch heading into shallower waters where he knew they would have the advantage, Duncan gave up trying to get his fleet into their proper order and instead issued signals to the effect that his fleet was to form into two rough divisions and sail towards the enemy line as best they could and engage the enemy in close action. The fleet formed into two uneven divisions with Duncan leading the Starboard division in his flagship HMS Venerable and his Second-in-Command, Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Onslow leading the other division in his flagship, HMS Monarch.

Horsford Hero (Fleets)1
Relative positions of the fleets at the start of the Battle of Camperdown, 11th October 1797.

HMS Triumph was part of Duncan’s Starboard Division, second in line behind the flagship. Because of the lack of time, the British ships were all jockeying for position to get into the thickest part of the action, which soon became intense. At one point in the battle, Captain Essington could see that both HMS Ardent and HMS Venerable were surrounded and immediately took HMS Triumph into the thick of things by engaging the Dutch ship Wassenaer with everything it had. Wassenaer eventually surrendered to HMS Triumph which then moved on to directly support the damaged HMS Ardent in her action against the Dutch flagship, Vrijheid. The Vrijheid was eventually forced to surrender by HMS Director after having been dismasted and left helpless, crippled and alone. The British had won a spectacular victory. They had defeated a Dutch fleet within sight of their own coastline. In the Battle of Camperdown, HMS Triumph had suffered casualties of 12 men dead with 55, including Captain Essington and John Pirsins, being wounded. She had suffered damage to her hull and masts and had had ten of her heavy 32-pounder guns knocked off their carriages.

By fast clipper, the news of this victory spread fast with the nation already celebrating by the time the ships returned to Great Yarmouth. The grateful nation breathed a sigh of relief that their ‘rebellious’ navy had, once again, restored its authority on the high seas, along with the strong and blatant patriotism, unashamedly renewed among the British people. The dead were buried and those of the wounded that could not function normally were cared for in the town. John Pirsins was amongst them, suffering from extensive injuries incurred in the heat of battle. Only his closest mates would have witnessed the circumstances of his heroism; it would have been they who visited him as he lay in the hospital in Great Yarmouth; and it would have been they who hoped he would recover. As it turned out, John Pirsins did not, but it was these same mates  who dipped into their pockets and paid for his headstone back at his home village of Horsford and its All Saints Church.

All Saints Church, Horsford 032
All Saints Church, Horsford, Norfolk. John Pirsins grave is to the left of the right-hand ‘green’ door. Picture: Haydn Brown

 

THE END

Sources:

http://leewright67.wixsite.com/horsfordlifemagazine/contact
http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=18402.0
https://www.cnrs-scrn.org/northern_mariner/vol14/tnm_14_4_11-24.pdf

Norfolk’s ‘Knight of the Cleaver’!

Meet John ‘Jack’ Slack, alias the ‘Norfolk Butcher’, alias the ‘Knight of the Cleaver’; a bare knuckle fighter, who was the champion of what is thought to be the first international Heavyweight fight which took place  in 1754.

Jack Slack1
Jack Broughton, the Boxer by John Hamilton Mortimer, c.1767.
Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

 

A contemporary description of Slack says that he was five foot eight inches and a half in height and weighed almost fourteen stone. His physique was ‘compact . . . superior to the generality of men in strength and of excellent bottom.’ He changed his style of fighting to suit his opponent and often came out the victor, punching his opponents with such force that the term ‘a slack’un’ came into general use, meaning a ‘smashing hit.’ In 1743 Slack became the Champion of Norfolk after defeating three local men in boxing matches and by 1748 his renown was such that he sold on his butchery business to his brother and moved to London where his reputation as a fighter continued to grow.

On the 14th March 1750, at Broughton’s Amphitheatre in Oxford Road, London, Slack threw down a challenge to the formerly invincible Jack Broughton (a man some years older than he and known as the ‘Father of Boxing’ who had been taught by Slack’s grandfather, James Figg). Slack, who possessed a talent for getting under other fighters’ skins had, according to the Derby Mercury of 6 April 1750, instigated a dispute with Broughton earlier in the month, during a controversial election campaign in Brentford, which was dogged by allegations of corruption. For reasons unknown, this altercation about the election had resulted in “personal abuse” being exchanged between the two pugilists.

Jack Slack (John Broughton)1

Subsequently, so the Mercury claimed, during a bout at the amphitheatre, Slack “came upon the stage” and “offered to fight Mr Broughton immediately for 20 guineas”. Broughton declined the offer, arguing that he was “not immediately prepared” whereas Slack had been “in keeping some months”. However Broughton did agree to a contest the following month, and a bout was duly arranged for 11 April 1750. In fact, Broughton was eager for the fight – or for the money to be derived from it! He regarded Slack with the utmost contempt and made no sort of preparation; also, so afraid was he that the ‘butcher’ might not turn up at the last minute that he gave him ten guineas to make sure of him! The betting was 10-1 on Broughton when the men appeared in the ring. After all, as boxing went in those days, he did know something about defence, and he was master of two famous blows, one for the body and one under the ear, which were said to terrify his opponents. As for Slack, there was nothing elegant about him. His attitude was said to be ugly and awkward, he was strong and healthy but quite untrained in the true meaning of the word. Standing only 5 feet 8 inches he still weighed as much as 14 stone, nearly as much as his antagonist, who was a taller man.

The match duly taking place on the 11th April 1750, backed by one of Broughton’s patrons, the Duke of Cumberland – he himself to be known as Butcher Cumberland after the Jacobite uprising). This Duke was so enthusiastic at the prospect earning a considerable sum of money for this fight that, it was said, he bet 1,000 guineas on Broughton.

Jack Slack (Cumberland)1
The Duke of Cumberland (1721–1765) by Stephen Slaughter (attributed to), c.1750.
(c) Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds.

The match lasted just fourteen minutes and eleven seconds, a blow from Slack between the eyes blinded Broughton, and Slack had only to continue hitting him until he was unable to rise again. Slack, it seems, easily emerged as the victor to win the Championship of England and bagging himself not less than 600 guineas. As for the Duke of Cumberland; well, he was quite upset by the loss of his money. At first he told everyone that he had been “sold,” though later on he appeared to have forgiven Broughton and pensioned him. But not so! He went to Parliament, where he was very influential, and had legislation passed that closed Broughton’s Amphitheatre. Thereafter, and to the end of his days, “he could never speak of this contest with any degree of temper.” As for Broughton, he never again raised his fists for money, except to instruct the young and hopeful with the mufflers. When he died, on 8 January 1789, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, the only boxer to be so honoured.

Four years later, on the 29th July 1754, Slack was back in his home county of Norfolk, challenging the Frenchman Monsieur Jean Petit (or Pettit) to a match.  Pettit was a muscular giant of a man, reputed to have previously exhibited himself in a circus as a ‘strong man.’ This boxing match took place at Harleston. A letter reporting the fight appeared in the newspapers just days later. This one is taken from the London Evening Post and dated 3rd August 1754.

Extract of a Letter from Harleston in Norfolk, July 30.

‘Yesterday in the Afternoon Slack and Pettit met and fought. At the first Set-to, Pettit seized Slack by the Throat, and held him up against the Rails, and grain’d him so much as to make him turn extremely black. This continued for Half a Minute before Slack could break Pettit’s Hold; after which, for near ten Minutes, Pettit kept fighting and driving hard at Slack; when at length Slack clos’d with his Antagonist, and gave him a very severe Fall; after that, a second and third. But between these Falls, Pettit threw Slack twice off the Stage; and indeed, Pettit so much dreaded Slack’s Falls, that he ran directly at his Hams, and tumbled him down; and by that Means gave Slack an Opportunity of making the Falls very easy.

When they had been fighting eighteen Minutes, the Odds ran against Slack a Guinea to a Shilling; whereas, on first setting out, it was three or four to one on his Head. But after this Time Slack shorten’d Pettit so, as to disable him from running and throwing him down in the Manner he had done before, but obliged him to stand close fighting. Slack then closed one of his Eyes, and beat him very much about the Face. At twenty Minutes Pettit grew weaker, Slack stronger; this was occasion’d by Slack’s strait Way of fighting. At twenty-two Minutes, the best Judges allow’d Slack to have the Advantage over Pettit very considerably, as he was then recovering his Wind, which was owing to Game.

When they had boxed twenty-four Minutes, Pettit threw Slack again over the rails; this indeed Slack suffer’d him to do, as by that Means he fix’d a Blow under Pettit’s Ribs, that hurt him much; whilst Slack was again getting upon the Stage (it was not Half a Minute before he was remounted) Pettit had so much the Fear of his Antagonist before his Eyes, that he walked off without so much as civilly taking Leave of the Spectators, or saying any Thing to any Person, this the Cockers call Roguing of it; for it is generally thought that Pettit ran away full strong. The whole Time of their fighting was twenty-five Minutes, and this Morning the Battle was given to Slack, who drew the first Ten Guineas out of the Box. Thus ended this dreadful Combat. The Box was Sixty-six Pounds Ten Shillings’.

Although sometimes mentioned as a ‘dirty fighter’, victories continued for Jack Slack until 1760 when he finally lost to Bill Stevens (the Nailer) at a bout on a stage erected for the purpose of the fight in the Tennis Court, James Street, London on the 17th June 1760. The Duke of Cumberland, who ten years previously had been the patron of Broughton, found that he really did miss the sport despite the money that that earlier fight had cost him. This time he backed Jack Slack, by not only arranging for the bout to be held in London, with no interference from the law, but also placing a bet on him. However, this time the sum was 100 Guineas, but at least it showed that his heart was still in the game. Unfortunately, the Duke was again on the losing side on three counts; Slack lost the championship, the Duke lost his 100 guineas together with any further interest in boxing.

Jack Slack v John Broughton1

Feature Photo (Above): – “The Bruiser Bruisd; Or, The Knowing Ones Taken-in” is by an unknown artist in 1750. It depicts the boxing match between Jack Slack and John Broughton in the same year. Newspapers at the time noted how Broughton feared that Slack would not turn up to fight, and so offered him ten guineas ‘not to break his engagement’. It was also said that Broughton was the superior boxer at the beginning of the fight and that the odds were ten to one in his favour. However, confidence was short-lived as Slack ‘put in a desperate hit between Broughton’s eyes, which immediately closed them up’. The blood pouring from the left eye of Broughton is indicative of this wound and the faces of the audience reflect the disbelief that the British Champion had been beaten by Slack in just fourteen minutes. This unlikely result sparked rumours that the match had been fixed, although there does not appear to have been any evidence to confirm this. The spectator depicted directly behind Broughton in a state of disbelief is possibly the Duke of Cumberland, Broughton’s patron who ‘lost several thousand’ on a bet. The Gentleman on both sides of the gallery are pictured giving money to men by their sides, having lost their bets too. The Title implies that the ‘knowing’ spectators were ‘taken in’ by Broughton, however an attempt to incriminate Broughton by emphasising his larger frame in comparison to Slack, is overshadowed by the emphasis placed generally on the exchange of money. Money is presented as underpinning the sport; inviting the viewer to question the honesty of professional boxing. It is possible that the prospect of profiting was an incentive for boxers and patrons to conspire and fool others.

Slack, after this, mostly retired from boxing himself and instead concentrated on his butchery trade. Many sources say he possibly opened a shop on London’s Chandos Street in Covent Garden (he had appeared in the rate books for this street in 1750), but at the time of his fight with the Nailer in 1760, he was reported in the newspapers to be settled at Bristol. He still kept his hand in by training other fighters, possibly running a boxing school in Bristol (he was rumoured to occasionally fix fights for his protégées), and just occasionally was mentioned as fighting himself.

The London Chronicle newspaper, on the 5th January 1765, reported that:

“Slack, the famous Boxer, who has been for some time in Dublin, is under an engagement to fight one Weyburn, a noted bruiser there, for a considerable sum”.

 

Jack Slack (Newspaper)1
Extract from Lloyd’s Evening Post  22nd July 1768.

Three years and six months after this fight John Slack died at Bristol on the 17th July 1768 and was buried in that city two days later.

Jack Slack was still remembered some years after his death, the St. James’s Chronicle reporting on the 11th September 1781, and placing him alongside some very noteworthy personalities:

“Some Years ago the three most remarkable Personages of the Age were Kitty Fisher, Lord B__te, and Slack, the Bruiser. At the present Day, says a Correspondent, the three most remarkable Personages are, the Perdita, Doctor Adelphi, and Sir Jeffery Dunstan”.

THE END

Sources:

https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/jack-slack-the-norfolk-butcher/
http://eighteenthcenturylit.pbworks.com/w/page/101956858/Boxing
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Slack

 

 

 

Old Luke Hansard!

Old Luke Hansard was born on July 5th, 1752, in Norwich in the day of Wenman Coke. Today in 1952 was when the Spectator Newspaper celebrated Luke’s bicentenary birthday with an article, from the pen (and it probably was a pen in 1952) of Evelyn King. This year of 2018 marks Luke Hansard’s 266th birthday and its seems appropriate and timely to reproduce Evelyn’s contribution whilst taking the liberty to supplement the content with further detail.

Luke Hansard (St_Mary_Coslaney)
St Mary’s Church, Coslany, Norwich where Luke Hansard was christened. When H.M. Stationery Office dispersed out of London and to Norwich in 1968, it found itself within the old Coslany district and literally ‘across the road’ from where Hansard was born and was christened. Photo: Adrian S Pye.

Luke Hansard was born in 1752 in the parish of St Mary Coslany; his parents were Thomas and Sarah. In an account of his life, written in 1817 for the benefit of his sons, Luke described his father, Thomas, as a manufacturer, though of what was not revealed. His mother, Sarah, was a clergyman’s daughter from Spilsby in Lincolnshire, but at the time of Luke’s birth, the family fortunes had reached a low ebb and were never to recover.

Little has been said about Luke’s education, except that he was educated in Norwich and at the Free Grammar School in the village of Kirton which lies about four miles south of Boston in Lincolnshire. As someone once said, ‘he got a little but not much education in Lincolnshire’. It was as he approached his fourteenth birthday when his parents thought of apprenticing him to an apothecary, but his ‘gallipot’ Latin was inadequate; so he became apprentice to Stephen White in Cockey Lane, Norwich. Mr White was a printer, medicine-vendor, boat-builder, ballad-writer, general artist and a dab-hand at playing the violin. Young Luke was to describe his master as an “eccentric genius”, who was “very rarely in the office” ……….Personal instruction in the art of printing was given sparingly by White. He would, for instance, begin to set a line of type and then say, “So go on Luke boy,” and leave Luke to finish. However, within a few months, Luke had mastered every aspect of the printing trade. During this time, young Luke boarded with the proprietor, sleeping in the corner of the shop whilst another of Mr. White’s pastimes, his pigeons, occupied the opposite corner. Then, in 1769, his father died aged only 42; in the same year Luke’s apprenticeship came to an end and by the summer he had packed his bags and gone to London, with a downright manner, a Norwich burr, and with only a guinea in his pocket. After 10 weeks he found work as a compositor with the firm of John Hughes in Great Turnstile, Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Much later, when he was Old Luke, he would enrich the English tongue with his surname—Hansard.

Luke Hansard (Portrait)
This painting of ‘Old’ Luke Hansard is a variation on the one exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1828 and appears to have been in the possession of the Hansard family until its presentation to the House of Commons in 1942.

That was Young Luke as he once was, first an apprentice then later as proprietor of the firm of John Hughes, Printer to the House of Commons. But Old Luke only printed the journals, and those by order. Old Luke was a Tory to the bone, and his pride lay in the carrying out of an order punctually and exactly. He earned the appreciation and respect of Pitt and the intimacy of successive Speakers —Addington, Mitford, Abbott and Sutton—as well as the affection of Members of succeeding generations. His was the grain-of-oak candour which earns affection and respect. All literary London knew Hansard the printer. He was an intimate ‘of Charles Dilly and Edmund Burke. He published for Dr. Johnson and Richard Porson, and also for the prolific Dr. Hill. (” His farces are physic and his physic a ‘farce is,” wrote Garrick of Dr. Hill).

Luke Hansard (Print Shop)2
Typical 18th and 19th century printers

In 1771, John Hughs died and was succeeded by his son Henry with William Day as partner and manager, but as the workload increased both on the parliamentary and general side – Dr Johnson and Edmund Burke were among their literary customers – Hughs and Day realised that another part-ner was needed to supervise the operative section. In 1774 they offered 22 year-old Luke a partnership. With his future now secure, Luke’s thoughts turned to marriage. On 21 July 1775, he married Elizabeth Curson from Swanton Morley in Norfolk at St John’s Church, Clerkenwell. Their marriage was to last for 50 years and produce five children: Thomas Curson (1776), Elizabeth Susanna (1779), James (1781), Luke Graves (1783) and Hannah Mary (1785). Henry Hughs certainly admired the skills and character of Luke, his junior partner. He involved Luke more and more in the general running of the business until Hansard the printer became well known in the London literary circle and in the corridors of Parliament where he was becoming a familiar figure. In 1800 at the age of 43 Luke became sole proprietor of the firm. Henry Hughs had retired and William Day had been dead for six years. Thomas Curson, James and Luke Graves had followed their father into the business and the new century saw Luke Hansard and Sons as printers to the House.

Luke Hansard (Thomas C Hansard)

However, it was Old Luke’s son, Thomas Curzon Hansard, who was a problem – he was a ‘fly-by-night’. He, at a very early age, wanted to enact the gentleman. He wanted to be in business on his own account, which was bad; he was a Radical which was even worse, and he was a friend of William Cobbett, which brought him to prison. He had printed Cobbett’s flaming condemnation of an administration which allowed German mercenaries to be used to compel British soldiers in Ely to submit to 500 lashes for mutiny, and he shared with Cobbett the trial and punishment with which that “seditious libel” was rewarded. Yet it was Thomas who published in his maturity that massive work Typographia and became, within his own province, the foremost scholar of his day. But he was not immortalised for his scholarship. He was immortalised because, in a little magazine of small circulation and dubious legality, which ran at a loss, he published, from a site on which now stand the offices of the Daily Telegraph, the Debates of the day—an offence for which more than one of his predecessors had been reprimanded on their knees.

Luke Hansard (Print Shop)3
18th century Binding and Finishing Books

It was in 1732 that Cave had started his reports in his Gentleman’s Magazine, and from 1740 Dr. Johnson had written them, though his rounded essays had in them little enough of the speech he purported to report. There had been many other efforts, but in the end it was Cobbett’s, later Hansard’s Parliamentary, Debates, which caught and held the attention of the public. It was not until 1855 that Cornwallis, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, a learned and dull man, plunged rashly and ordered the Controller of the Stationery Office to subscribe for a hundred annual sets of Parliamentary debates to be circulated in Government Departments in Whitehall, London and throughout the Colonies.

Luke Hansard (Newgate Prison)
Newgate Prison

Appetite grew by what it was fed on, and in three years the order rose to 120 sets at five guineas each. This meant decorous enthusiasm at 12, Paternoster Row, and well over £600 a year for the second Thomas Curzon Hansard. But Old Luke’s other more favoured son, and successor, Luke Graves, came within an ace of prison too; a shattering thought to that tower of rectitude. In avoiding it he was instrumental in establishing a constitutional principle of vital consequence to our liberties. William Crawford and the Reverend Whitworth Russell were two of H.M. Inspectors of Prisons. They reported that a certain book circulating among prisoners in Newgate Gaol, and published by Stockdale, was “of a most disgusting nature” and its plates “indecent in the extreme.” By order of Parliament the report of H.M. Inspectors of Prisons was published, and Hansard published it. Stockdale sued Luke Graves for publishing a libel.

Here was a question of supreme constitutional importance. Could Parliament protect its servants who carried out its instructions. Was the voice of Parliament to be heard freely? The case came before Lord Denman, who enquired coldly why, if a subject of the Queen were libelled, the printer should not be sued for libel, by whomsoever the libel was authorised. He found Hansard guilty. Parliament came a little slowly to Luke Graves’ defence, and the battle .between Parliament and the Courts was fairly joined.

Nor was it confined to words. Our Parliamentary and judicial ancestors had fire in their bellies. Under the authority of the High Court the High Sheriffs of Middlesex took forceful possession of poor Hansard’s eleven printing presses. Stirred to wrath, the Commons directed their Sergeant at Arms to arrest the High Sheriffs. These grave men passed a dolorous weekend in Newgate Gaol, in which they had hitherto had only a professional interest. Scarlet-robed and mute of tongue they were brought to the Bar of the House. Their sins had been as scarlet as their robes. They were guilty, they were told, of “a contemptible breach of the privilege of the House of Commons.” But the Court of Queen’s Bench also had weapons and used them. They issued a Writ of Habeas Corpus on the Sergeant at Arms, and in the centre of it all stood poor Hansard, wide open to every blizzard, his locks visibly greying, bemoaning man’s ingratitude in the spirit of King Lear as the tumult beat about his head. Ultimately common-sense prevailed, and after a three-and- a-half years’ battle the law was amended. Lord Denman deserves his place in history, if only for this single sentence:

“I infer . . . that the House of Commons disapproves our judgement, and I deeply lament it, but the opinion of the House on a legal point in whatsoever manner communicated is no ground for arresting the course of Law or preventing the operation of the Queen’s Writs on behalf of every one of her subjects who sues in her Courts.”

It was in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that the Hansards had their day. But, though they were constantly harried by H.M. Stationery Office anxious for a larger sphere of usefulness, Tory Ministers of the nineteenth century seemed avid, in this case, for nationalisation – their influence in and around the House did not cease until 1890.

Luke Hansard (Horatio Bottomley)
Bottomley addressing a WWI recruiting rally in Trafalgar Square, London, September 1915

H. L. T. Hansard, great-grandson of Old Luke, sold his interest to the new Hansard Publishing Union for £90,000, in which the principal was Horatio Bottomley. Mr. Bottomley, unlike the Hansards, required no Parliamentary grants. He would print the journals. As to the debates, which he also acquired from T. C. Hansard, they would be nourished and sustained by income derived from tasteful advertisement. Mr. Bottomley’s enterprise was private and original, but its end was public and commonplace. It expired in a fog of litigation and bankruptcy, and a charge of conspiracy and fraud.

It was not until 1920 that H.M. Stationery Office won its Hundred Years’ War, and lifted the printing from the hands of private enterprise. Old Luke, who had, multiplied his guinea by 80,000 before he died, had been followed by Luke Graves, Luke James, who went mad by the way, Henry and Henry Luke – so it went from father to son. And as Luke and his seed published the journals, so in parallel Thomas and his seed, even better known, published the debates.

It is strange how nouns and verbs, once renowned, may sink into oblivion. This might well have happened to Hansard but for the activity of Stephen King-Hall, then Independent Member for Ormskirk. In 1943, after much prompting by him and by Sir Francis Freemantle, the Speaker directed that the name Hansard “should be restored to the cover of the official reports of the debates. And so on July 5th each year we celebrate the birthday of Old Luke. It is right that he should be remembered. He powerfully affected Parliamentary history. There are “Hansards” not only in the United Kingdom, but also in Australia, in Canada, and in many other parts of the Commonwealth. All this would have seemed strange indeed to Stephen White’s apprentice—the small boy who laboured long ago at the press in a Norwich attic to the sound of his master’s violin.

Luke Hansard (HMSO)
Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, St Crispins, Norwich. St Mary’s Coslany Church is immediately right but, unfortunately, just out of the picture. Remarkable indeed that this office, so closely linked with Luke Hansard, should find a home ‘across the road’ from where the lad was born and spent most of his childhood. PHOTO: Eastern Daily Press.

By a remarkable coincidence, when the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office was moved from London to its present site in St Crispins, Duke Street, Norwich, it was only ‘yards’ from the parish church of St Mary, Coslany, within the boundaries of which Luke had been born over two centuries before. Hansard had returned to the city where a 14 year-old apprentice printer had first set a line of type. The Region’s Caesar never knew his posterity had swayed. However, his memory, like his portrait, lives in the House he venerated, and Parliament must speak for ever in his name. – Happy Birthday Luke lad!

THE END

Sources:

http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/4th-july-1952/9/old-luke-hansard
http://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/Content/DerekJames/Street_Names/asp/030923hansard.asp
http://lackfamily.net/genealogy/names/whole%20family/f480.html

 

 

 

Norwich ‘Whifflers’ & ‘Snap’!

Whifflers and Snap Dragons are still about – but not in the rolls that they once had! Nowadays, the ‘whiffler’ name is confined to one public house on the Norwich Ring Road at Hellesdon, to a road opposite the pub and to an open air theatre in the shadows of Norwich Castle. This is not to overlook its use with the present-day enthusiasts who keep the character alive in the public’s consciousness by appearing in public processions and local events from time to time.

‘Whifflers’ went out of use in much of England long ago, but survived in East Anglia, thriving particularly in Norwich. It was the Whifflers, supported by Snap, who played such a major role in past Norwich Civic Ceremonies.

The origin of the word ‘Whiffler’ is 16th century and comes from the word ‘wifle’ for battle-axe and came from the Old English ‘wifel’ of Germanic origin: it was applied to attendants at processions who carried weapons to clear the way through crowds. It was a word which was once in general use and appeared in Shakespeare’s play Henry V;

The deep-mouth’d Sea, / Which like a mighty Whiffler ’fore the King, / Seems to prepare his way”.

The Norwich Dragon, known affectionately as ‘Snap’, is preserved in a remarkable present-day collection at Norwich Castle Museum. This collection totals three old snapdragons which are more or less complete; one is the last of the Civic Snaps with the other two being later copies.

Snap was designed and constructed to be carried by one man, using straps over his shoulders. The form of the body is barrel-shaped, formed around a horizontal pole (head at one end, tail at the other) and two small wings concealing the man’s face. His hands are left free to operate the head and hinged lower jaw (this makes a loud click when it shuts, hence ‘Snap’.


In an old and long established Civic ceremonial, which persisted until the mid 19th century, included Snap who acted as the herald for the grand annual Guild Day procession which was held at the inauguration of a new Mayor. This cavorting dragon was a source of amusement and entertainment for the crowds who watched these processions. However, in earlier times, Snap took on a more religious significance as part of a pageant performed by the Guild of St. George in Norwich.

St. George riding on horse-back and fighting the dragon was the centre-piece of these Processions, with a third figure representing the maiden who was, supposingly, rescued by St. George. She was recorded as ‘The Lady’, ‘The Maid’ or ‘The Margaret’ – “the lady of the Gild“ and believed to be based on Saint Margaret of Antioch. A Sword bearer, carrying the Guild sword led the procession with priests, the City Waits, Cantors from the Cathedral and the City and Guild officials following.

In Norwich’s Great Hospital, St Helen’s Church, has a fine example of the devil depicted as a dragon. It is said the a dragon swallowed St Margaret of Antioch but her cross irritated the dragon, allowing her to break free.

Norwich (Pew)
Here she is shown on a medieval pew end emerging from the dragon’s belly, illustrating her role as the patron saint of pregnancy and childbirth.

The Guild of St. George 1385-1731

The history of the Snap was inextricably linked to that of The Guild of St George, founded in 1385; its aims were religious, charitable and social: to honour St. George, to keep his feast day, to pray for its members past and present and to offer alms to the poor and needy within the Guild. The principal event for the Guild was the feast day ceremony held annually on 23 April which began as a simple religious celebration of the feast day of St. George. The event grew steadily in size and importance as the Guild’s relationship with the City Corporation deepened. By the end of the sixteenth century, however, the event was no longer a civic religious ceremony but a civic secular ceremony which celebrated the coming to office of the new Mayor. For this no expense was spared.

Although the form of the procession changed over the centuries, Snap the dragon remained as part of the pageantry for over 400 years. The earliest reference to him comes from the minutes of the Guild Assembly of 1408 at which it was agreed:

‘to furnish priests with copes, and the George shall go in procession and make a conflict with the Dragon, and keep his estate both days’.

In 1585 the two separate celebrations, that of Guild Day in April and that of the swearing in of the new Mayor of Norwich in June, were combined to create one grand event on the Tuesday before Midsummer’s Eve. Over the next 150 years the pattern of the Guild Day celebrations remained the same but the scale and splendour of the occasion increased, gradually reaching its height at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

 

The three pictures above are copies of postcards published by the Norfolk and Norwich Heritage trust which are taken from glass roundels in the Dragon Hall, Norwich – http://www.dragonhall.org/

Then came 1645 and a setback which interrupted Snap Dragon’s progress: the Puritan government ordered that at the next procession there must be ‘no beating of drums or sounds of trumpets, no Snap-Dragon or fellows dressed up in Fools Coats and Caps; no standard with the George thereon, nor no hanging of Tapestry Cloth and Pictures in any of the streets’. However, in 1660, the monarchy was restored and all the old ways returned – including Snap and Whifflers. Their appearances continued and, in time, Norwich became quite famous for the scale and spectacle of its processions. However, the Guild found it expedient to make certain modifications to the form of the ceremony. They agreed that on the following feast day ‘. . .

“there shall be neither George nor Margaret; but for pastime, the Dragon to come and shew himself as in other years”.

A local historian, Benjamin Mackerell, has left us a description of the Guild Day festivities in the early years of the 18th century,

“On Guild Day the old Mayor, Sheriffs, Aldermen, the St George’s Company and Common Councillors met at eight o’clock in the morning at the house of the newly elected Mayor where they enjoyed sugar rolls and wine. The whole street (formerly the whole parish) where the new Mayor lived was decorated. The street was strewn with green sashes and planted with trees. The outsides of the houses were hung with tapestries and pictures, particularly the new Mayor’s house. From here the dignitaries then paraded on horseback to the house of the retiring Mayor where a substantial breakfast of pasties, roast beef, boiled legs of mutton and wine were provided. The procession then set out for the cathedral. The way was cleared by six Whifflers and two Dick Fools accompanied by the Dragon. The Dragon, carried by a Man in the body of it, gave great diversion to the common People: they always seemed very much to fear it when it was near them, but always looked upon it with pleasure when it was a little distance from them’.

As for the Whifflers, they were dressed in a distinctive costume of scarlet satin breeches, white satin jerkin and a hat decorated with a cockade of feathers and ribbons. They carried swords which they brandished and tossed in the air. Helping them were the Dick Fools, who wore painted canvas coats with red and yellow cloth caps adorned with fox or cats’ tails and small bells”.

With the demise of the St. George’s Company (formerly the Guild) in 1731, Guild Day continued, but on a much more modest scale. Although the Company was disbanded Snap the dragon, Dick Fools and Whifflers were kept on and their wages paid by the Corporation. Pagan Snap became Civic Snap, the property of the local authority and appeared on Guild Day when the Lord Mayor was inaugurated. Then, with the passing of the Municipal Corporation Reform Act of 1835 much pageantry of corporate boroughs disappeared and that year saw the last Guild Day Ceremony.

Norwich (Market Sketch)
By Norwich Market and outside the extant Sir Garnet Wolseley Pulic House (copyright Norfolk County Council).

It was George Borrow, writing in 1857 in his book ‘The Romany Rye’ who lamented their passing in these words:

“The last of the whifflers hanged himself about a fortnight ago ….. from pure grief that there was no further demand for the exhibition of his art…….since the discontinuance of Guildhall banquets”.

There was, however, one final outing of the Whifflers and Snap in 1846. It was during the ‘crowning’ of Jeremiah Colman, the mustard manufacturer, when two Whifflers met a royal Duke off the train at Trowse Station and led him and the procession up Bracondale Hill into the city. The two of them taking it in turns to run ahead, leaping and twirling their two handed swords.

It was fortuitous that the Whifflers lasted into the age of photography so it is still possible to see the costume that they wore with breeches and white socks tied with fancy garters, a bowler styled hat with a cockade to the left hand. The whole uniform was completed by a white jacket. Maybe it was on the 1846 occasion that the following Whiffler photograph was taken?

Whiffler 1
A 1846 Whiffler – as supplied by an anonymous ancestor. Further examples at flickr.com/photos

As for Snap, he continued to appear occasionally up to around 1850 after which he was adopted by the Pockthorpe Guild, more as a publicity gimmick than anything else. By the 1880’s much of the mock pomp of the past had gone and the appearance of the Snap had degenerated into just a boisterous money-raising stunt for the Guild which used it alongside members carrying collection boxes. Even so, Snap continued to cause much hilarity when used to chase people with the intention of grabbing their hats or caps between its jaws and returning them only after a penny ransom had been paid. Young boys would taunt the Snap by running close by and chanting

‘Snap, Snap, steal a boy’s cap, give him a penny and he’ll give it back’.

Although much of the pageantry disappeared after the passing of the Municipal Corporation Reform Act of 1835, a defiant tradition emerged: the people of Pockthorpe, a part of Norwich outside its walls and over the water, created their own dragon and their own mocking, subversive imitation of the Lord Mayor’s street procession. So the tradition of faux Snap terrorizing the people of Norwich continued in the district of Pockthorpe and in the nearby village of Costessey. This 1887 photograph of the Costessey Guild Day suggests the fun that accompanied the election of the ‘mayor’.

Norwich (Costessey Guild)
Snap in this picture is still in the care of the Norwich Museums Service (in store at Gressenhall since 2000), along with the head of the Costessey Dragon and another Snap Dragon.(c) Picture Norfolk at Norwich County Council

These annual revelries continued until early in the twentieth century, according to oral history, up to the First World War, but Snap lived on. In the 1930s, ‘Snapdragon’, was a magazine aimed at raising money in aid of hospitals. Then, the Festival of Britain in 1951 saw the Pockthorpe dragon come to life again for a procession of ‘Norwich Through the Ages’. Co-incidently, it was around this time that another very dilapidated dragon was found, this time in the Backs Bar in Norwich.

Norwich (Back's Dragon)
(Copyright: David Kingsley)

Norwich (Snapdragon and Whiffler 1951)2

Norwich (Snapdragon and Whiffler 1951)
The two photos above were taken around 1951. It has been said that one of the two Whifflers shown is the famous local naturalist Ted Ellis.

These Snap Dragons are the remnants of a medieval pageant play banned at the reformation (saints being denigrated as icons of papism). Snap meant something, for though its official role ceased in 1835 it persisted in a community based in both city and outskirts. Since the mid 1980s Snap occasionally accompanies the Lord Mayor, and at least three have materialised from the community, so the dragons clearly do still have significance for Norwich.

Norwich (Snapdragon and Whiffler 2017)
2017: Snap and the Whifflers escorting the Lord Mayor and Sheriff from The Guildhall to the Cathedral for the Annual City Service.

It was publicity that led to curiosity and from that the dragons found themselves conserved and are now on proud display in Norwich Castle. The publication of an important book about ‘Snap The Norwich Dragon’ by Richard Lane in 1976 led to Snap’s reappearance in the Lord Mayor’s Procession in the early 1980s and since that time the dragon has become well loved again, very visible in the culture of the city – and joined by newcomers.

THE END

Sources:

For those who want to know more: Click on the following links:

http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/politics/snap-heads-up-colourful-procession-as-norwich-marks-start-of-its-civic-year-1-5555325

https://www.facebook.com/NorwichWhifflers/#

http://www.dragonglow.co.uk/snap.htm

http://www.nor-folk.co.uk/Norwich%20Dragon/aliens.html

 

 

 

Alicia – What A Woman!

The daughter of a Norwich watchmaker, Alicia Meynell was born in 1782 and became the first woman in the Jockey Club Records to have raced and won against a man, a record unequalled until 1943. From her early years she called herself ‘Meynell’, perhaps at the request of her Massingham family over near Kings Lynn! Alicia Meynell was to go on to lead a colourful life and was nicknamed the ‘Norfolk Nymth’.

Alicia Meynell 5

Alicia Meynell (Thornton) 1
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton

We know that she had at least one sister, possibly older than her, who married William Flint of Yorkshire, a gentleman who was very keen for horses. Perhaps through the Flints, Alicia met and fell madly in love with their neighbour, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton of the Second Regiment of the York Militia. He was a man of some property and respect in the area, and he cut a dashing figure, even at a ripe age of 60 years. Alicia was a young lady of some 18 years of age and only one of a long line Thornton’s mistresses! Despite this ‘discrepancy’, it was Thornton who encouraged Alicia to become an expert horsewoman and one of the things both were to have in common was the ability to ride and ride well. Remember that this was a time when women were at least partly judged by their “seat”: how well they could handle a horse. Alicia was a dynamo. She too knew her horseflesh, and she owned no less than three hunters. She was pleased to ride to hounds, something that was still rather rare for a woman because of the difficulty in thundering over rough, unpredictable terrain in a side saddle – wasn’t easy but Alicia did it, and did it very well. One day while she was visiting her sister, Alicia and her brother-in-law, William Flint, went riding. She was on her husband’s favourite horse, a brute named ‘Vingarillo’. Flint was riding his favourite, a brown hunter named ‘Thornville’. As they argued good naturedly about which horse was better, they decided to race to prove the point. It seems, only a race could settle this argument and so, off they rode. Twice – and Alicia won both times.

Alicia Meynell 3

A sore loser, Flint challenged her to a real race, at the Newmarket Race Track, and named a princely prize of 1,000 guineas (which would be equivalent to over £28,000 today!). Flint probably thought that Alicia would decline – but she certainly did not! Immediately word spread far and wide. A woman? Racing? Who wouldn’t want to see that! They met on the last day of the York meet in August 1804. The York Herald reported that 100,000 people crowded the race track to watch, more than ten times the number that had assembled for the last “big” race between more famous horses. Even the military in the form of the 6th Light Dragoons was called in for crowd control. The total amount of bets laid was estimated to be over £200,000!

Alicia Meynell 1

Alicia was in rare form. She wore a dress spotted like leopard skin, with a buff waistcoat and blue sleeves and cap. The crowd adored her. She must have been quite a contrast to Flint, who rode all in white. But his heavenly apparel didn’t reflect his attitude. He refused anyone to ride alongside Alicia to help her if her side-saddle slipped (a common courtesy for women riders), and he ordered her to ride on a side of the track that deprived her of her whip hand. Neither trip handicapped Alicia. She was ahead from the start and stayed that way for nearly three quarters of the four-mile circuit. The Herald reported, “Never surely did a woman ride in better style. It is difficult to say whether her horsemanship, her dress, or her beauty was more admired.” But something happened to Vingarillo in the last mile, causing him to falter, and Flint nipped ahead and won.

Alicia wasn’t at all pleased. After hearing people go on and on about how gentlemanly Flint had been to race with a woman to begin with, she wrote a letter to the editor of the Herald denouncing him and demanding a rematch. But it was a Mr. Bromford who next challenged her to ride the following year, with the prize a £2,000 and a great quantity of French wine. She agreed, but on the day of the race Bromford decamped and the lady won by default. Alicia, in a new outfit with purple cap and waistcoat, buff-coloured skirts, and purple shoes with embroidered stockings, was not about to be sent to the sidelines. That same day, she raced 2 miles on a mare named Louisa against Buckle, one of the premier paid jockeys of the day. The Annual Register records that:

“Mrs. Thornton, by the most excellent horsemanship, pushed forward and came in a style far superior to anything of the kind we have ever witnessed, gaining her race by half a neck.”

Alicia Meynell 1

Unfortunately, she was not so good at choosing husbands. Colonel Thornton turned out to be something of a scoundrel. When Flint won the first race, the colonel refused to honour the bet he and Alicia had made, insisting it had all been a joke. An outraged Flint showed up at the second race and literally horsewhipped the Colonel in public before being confined to jail for assault. Several years of court battles led to a decision for the Colonel. Even worse, however, is his treatment of Alicia in later years who he left behind when, in 1814, he went off to France; apparently, he preferred France over England , ever since his court-martial some time back!  Thorton was never to return, leaving Alicia to raise their illegitimate son alone. When Thorton died 1823, he left a part of his estate to a woman named Priscilla Duins but the bulk went to his illegitimate daughter by her – Thornvillia Dianna Rockingham Thornton – and did he really name her after his ex-friend’s horse!. So it was that Alicia was left nothing from Thornton’s Will, although their ‘alleged’ son, Thomas, received a bequest of £100. But in the end it was Alicia who had the last laugh. While Thornton is barely remembered – a womaniser who lacks honour, Alicia’s name would go down in history. Remember – She remained the only woman listed in the records of England’s Jockey Club to have raced and won against a man – until 1943 that is.

Sources:

 

From Motley Crew To A Monument!

The Wrestlers Inn, the termination point for the `Flying Coach on Steel Springs’ run by Job Smith between Gt. Yarmouth and Norwich, was a well established hostelry. It had the reputation as “the most considerable hostelry in the town” by the time James Sharman was born in 1785. The Inn’s popularity continued to grow to a point when Lord Nelson, having landed in Great Yarmouth on, 6th November 1800 from his victory at the Battle of the Nile stayed at the Wrestlers Inn; he was accompanied by a small party which included Lady Hamilton.

Sharman (Nelson)1
Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, Lemuel Francis Abbott, 1800, National Maritime Museum. Visible on his cocked hat is the aigrette presented by the Ottoman Sultan as a reward for the victory at the Nile.

It is said that, standing at an open window of the Inn, Nelson addressed an excited crowd “I myself am a Norfolk man, and I glory in being so”. On his departure, Mrs Suckling the Inn’s proprietor asked Nelson if he would allow her to call the Inn the “Nelsons Arms” in future. “That would be absurd” said the hero “seeing as I have but one”. As a result of this remark, the Wrestler Inn became the “Nelson Hotel ” and remained so for the next 20 years, reverting to its previous name around 1820 – one year after its 1799 ‘pressed’ waiter became ‘Keeper’ of Yarmouth’s Nelson Monument on the South Denes.

*********

John Suckling, Licensee of the Wrestler Inn since 1791, took young Sharman into his employ as a ‘waiter’ – let us just say, for a matter of convenience not fact, that this would have been in early 1799 when James Sharman was 14 years old. Sometime later that year this young lad, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, was press-ganged into the Royal Navy. Had this unfortunate incident not occured when it did then the young Sharman might well have served on Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson  during his visit to the Inn on 6th November 1800. Unfortunately it did happen, Sharman was press ganged and the probability was that he was not the only one being grabbed for naval service. Almost certainly, the Press Gang would have targeted other ‘strong healthy-looking persons’ in Yarmouth. The only concession probably offered to Sharman would have been a choice between voluntary or forced servitude.

Sharman ( The Press Gang, John Collet, c_1760's, from The Foundling Museum_detai1)
Detail from ‘The Press Gang’ by John Collet, c1760’s, from The Foundling Museum

Sharman had been forced into service by a Crown practice that did allow for the navy to take British subjects into service. There were, of course, certain restrictions laid down by the Government on this practice but anything that stood in the way of ‘a result’ was often ignored; the Royal Navy had a constant need for able bodied seamen to man its fleet. The groups of men that made up the Press Gangs came from amongst sailors, or civilians hired for the purpose. They would roam the countryside, concentrating on areas near the naval ports and the coastal counties, searching for men to compel into the service. If no man-of-war sailor was available, fishermen and merchant sailors were preferred, but any strong healthy-looking person might be taken. Norfolk was not excempt from the practice.

Sharman ( The Press Gang)
The Press Gang at work.

One of the ‘escape clauses’ available to those taken by a press gang was to have access to ‘prominent associates’ ashore and, importantly, the means by which to contact them before the ship sailed. On the basis of such help, the individual would be released. Other means by which release would be granted was if the men taken had communicable diseases or too infirm to serve. The rest would be given a choice between voluntary or forced servitude. Records indicate that the Royal Navy in the 18th Century consisted of 47% volunteers, 24% impressed men and another list of 29% volunteers. The last probably included those who volunteered for service after being forced on board, although no one can be certain about this.

It would be pure supposition to say that Sharman must have ‘volunteered’ at some early point, but he did go on to record a lengthy period of service before being invalided out some years later; he also appeared to have modestly risen in rank. However, at the outset of his new career and, on the basis of his age, he must have been classed as a “ship’s boy” when he joined his first ship. As things turned out that was HMS Weazle, a new 214 tonne sloop-of-war sailing ship with a size of 77 x 26 ft. It had been built by the firm of King in Dover in 1799 and she had 16 cannons. It is not known at what point in the ship’s five year life he actually joined the Weazle but on the 1st March 1804, the ship was wrecked off Cabritta Point near Gibraltar. At the time she was under the command of Lieutenant William Layman (acting) when, during a storm, it ran aground and was smashed to pieces with the loss of one man out of a crew of 70.

Sharman ( Shipwreck)1

By a twist of fate, Sharman then found himself amongst the motley crew of HMS Victory, as proved by his entry in the surviving Ship’s Muster. He was be under the command of Captain Thomas Hardy and, allegedly, given the rank of ‘Able Seaman’. This rank was certainly a leg up from first being a ship’s boy, landsman and then ordinary seaman; it is a further indication that Sharman had established himself as a willing ‘volunteer’ in His Majesty’s Navy and no longer a ‘pressed man’. As an ‘able seaman’ he must have demonstrated to the ship’s satisfaction that he could perform several skilled tasks on the ship. As a result, he would have been paid a bit more than an ordinary seaman and, if possible, assigned to a position consistent with his skills. There were 212 experienced ‘able seamen’ amongst a total motley crew of 821 from mixed nationalities who made up HMS Victory’s manpower at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Sharman (Battle_JMW Turner)
The Battle of Trafalgar, as seen from the starboard mizzen shrouds of the VictoryJ. M. W. Turner (oil on canvas, 1806–1808)

It has been said that Able Seaman, James Sharman, survived Trafalgar largely unscathed by the experience, leaving the ship’s employ sometime after it had returned to Portsmouth. He took away with him the seeds of what would, in time, become a common belief that it was he who helped carry the fatally wounded Horatio Nelson below decks to the cockpit during the battle. Be that as it may, Sharman went on to have three more ship postings before eventually being discharged through illness and entering the Greenwich Hospital for Seamen. Understandably, he was not happy and on the recommendation of his former Captain Hardy, Sharman was to be appointed “Keeper of the Pillar” in 1817. This post was created to look after a proposed edifice in honour of Horatio Nelson which was to be built on the South Denes on the outskirts of Yarmouth.

Sharman (South Denes)1
View of the Nelson ‘Pillar’ Monument at South Denes, Yarmouth by JMW Turner © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

During the course from conception through to planning and fundraising, the proposed ‘Pillar’ went through more than one name change. An original suggestion was for something along the lines of ‘Norfolk Naval Pillar’ before opting for ‘The Norfolk Column’ – to think that nowadays, it is referred to as the ‘Britannia Monument’ following restoration in 2005. But back in the early 19th Century, the South Denes on which this pillar/column/monument would be built was still an open, grassy area between the sea beach and the River Yare. This was where fishermen hung out their nets to dry, cattle grazed and public hangings took place. It was also used by the East Norfolk Militia for its military manoeuvres, and also where its officers laid down a proper race course for themselves. The site also became a popular venue for assembled “fashionable personages” to be seen! Maybe it was not envisaged at that time but a few years after Nelson’s death, a Royal Naval Hospital was built on the Denes and, later still, incorporated into a large military barracks.

The idea of raising a monument of sorts to Norfolk’s Nelson was first put forward in the late 1790s after Nelson’s great victory at Aboukir Bay or, in other words Battle of the Nile in 1798. However, this suggestion was not carried through at the time, but was certainly revived after his death at his greatest triumph, the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805. We are told that a first proposal was not to have a monument in Yarmouth at all, but on Castle Hill in Norwich, which would not have pleased those in Yarmouth. In fact, it was in 1814 when a group of Norfolk businessmen, with Yarmouth interests, finally set up a committee to collect money for the project, having decided that the open spaces of Yarmouth’s South Denes would be the most appropriate setting – right in the centre of the race course.

Sharman (races)
The Racecourse at South Denes, Yarmouth

It was an area well known to Nelson, rich in military and naval connections and an excellent site for a physical beacon “to guide future generations of navigators towards the harbour mouth” they would say. It would be built in the centre of the recently-established officers’ race course, as soon as subscriptions had reached £7000. That was when the committee in charge finally met in Thetford to choose from 44 different proposals, from which they opted for the Doric design put forward by the prominent London architect William Wilkins. Wilkins was a native of Norfolk and an architect who had designed the Shire Hall in Norwich, London’s National Gallery and Downing College, Cambridge.

The foundation stone of the Nelson’s Monument – aka Norfolk Pillar, the Norfolk Naval Pillar and Britannia Monument – was laid on 15 August, 1817. It was a moment when there “were great huzzahs and goings-on” – 12 years after the death of Norfolk’s favourite son and Britain’s greatest naval hero. During the next two years the column rose to its full height of 144 foot (44 metres), standing clear on the South Denes beach but slightly shorter than the 169 foot (52 metre) memorial to Nelson in Trafalgar Square which, incidentally, followed some 20 years later. Yarmouth’s monument was in the style of a Doric column topped by six caryatid figures that supported a statue of Britannia proudly atop a globe inscribed with the motto from Nelson’s coat of arms ‘Palmam Qui Meruit Ferat’, translating as ‘Let him who has merited it take the palm’. Britannia holds an olive branch in her outstretched right hand, a trident in her left, and looks inland, some say, towards Burnham Thorpe in North Norfolk, Nelson’s birthplace. At its base are inscriptions commemorating Nelson’s victories at St Vincent in 1797, Aboukir on the Nile in 1798, Copenhagen in 1801, and Trafalgar on October 21, 1805. On the western front a Latin inscription reads:

‘This great man Norfolk boasts her own, not only as born there of a respectable family, and as there having received his early education, but her own also in talents, manners and mind’.

img_3427
The Column showing Sharman’s Cottage – later to become a beer house.

The work was completed in 1819 when a fully recovered James Sharman, commenced his duties as “Keeper of the Pillar” – but not before the opening ceremony was out of the way. That affair, marked by “an elegant ball” for three hundred and fifty persons of rank and respectability”. One can assume that ‘common seamen’, including Sharman maybe, would not have been amongst its guests? Be that as it may, we do know that from his first day in charge, Sharman was to remain Keeper for nearly 50 years, living in a cottage nearby that had been built for him. Then in 1827, some ten years after being appointed, Sharman undertook a brave rescue of several sailors from the Brigantine Hammond which was shipwrecked on the beach near his cottage. It was the famous author, Charles Dickens, who read a newspaper report of this exploit whilst writing David Copperfield, which is partly set in Yarmouth. He must have been clearly intrigued because he made the effort to visit Sharman in his cottage and, from this experience, Dickens was said to have based the book’s character, Ham Peggotty, on Sharman. Also, during his visit and talks with the old sea-dog, Dickens was to hear Sharman’s account of his collecting wood from shipwrecks and building a shelter for himself. As the driftwood from wrecked boats tended to be curved, the shelter resembled an upturned boat – again, reminiscent of Peggotty’s boat house in David Copperfield.

Sharman (Pegotty's Boat House)1
Illustrations by Phiz and Barnard of Peggoty’s Boat-House in David Copperfield

But, Sharman was reputed to be something of a ‘colourful character’. Apparently and throughout his life in Yarmouth, he never tired of recounting the exploits of his hero, Nelson, and telling yarns of his own adventures. Who’s to say, he did not spin a tale or two when speaking to Dickens, Similarly, was it Sharman who gave birth to the claim that it was he who carried Nelson down to HMS Victory’s cockpit during Trafalgar! Surely, no one could possibly put it past him, particularly when trying to encourage extra tips from those ‘regaled’ visitors to ‘his’ Monument.

But one event that Sharman could not have made up and must have witnessed occurred in 1863, when an acrobat called Charles Marsh climbed up to stand on Britannia’s shoulders. Sadly, he missed his footing while climbing down and plunged to his death before the horrified crowd gathered below.

Sharman (Monument 1851)1
The present “Britannia Monument” back in 1851

James Sharman died in 1867 at the age of 82 years. He was entitled to a Royal Naval funeral and funds were available to finance it but due to an oversight he was borne to his grave, in the Old Cemetery in Yarmouth, accompanied only by members of his family and without anyone from the navy being present. His gravestone, which includes the words ‘HMS Victory’ is now badly laminating and may well have become illegible.

Sharman ( With Medals)
James Sharman

As for his ‘Pillar’? Well, It has ended up being surrounded by commercial and industrial buildings. But despite this, and with the restorations of 2005, there is still grandeur and fascination with it – “a monument to a Norfolk man who bestrode his epoch and commanded the sea”. In 1817, an ‘Able Seaman’ from Yarmouth by the name of James Sharman was allowed the opportunity to looked after his master’s Monument.

Sharman (Death_of_Nelson)
The Death of Nelson by Daniel Maclise (Houses of Parliament, London

THE END

FOOTNOTE:

Towards the latter part of James Sharman’s 50 years in charge of Nelson’s (Britannia) Monument, the cottage that he lived in became a beer house with him as Landlord. This beer house later became a public house called the ‘Monument House’ followed by being re-named the Nelson Hotel.

James Sharman’s General Service Medal with Trafalgar Bar was sold at auction in 2012 for £27,000!

Sources:

The Nation Museum, Royal Navy: http://www.hms-victory.com
Photos: Royal Navy National Museum & Google Images.
Nelsons Monument: http://www.nelsonsmonument.org.uk
http://www.owlcation.com
http://www.waymarking.com
Visit Norfolk: http://www.visitnorfolk.co.uk
Wikipedia

Norfolk’s Scarlett Pimpernel – Perhaps?

St Peter’s Church in Ketteringham, Norfolk contains a number of memorials, but perhaps the most curious of them all is the one which is the most westerly of a group of memorials. It is a 1907 memorial to Charlotte Atkyns, who died in Paris in 1836 and is buried in an unmarked grave.  Charlotte Atkyns, nee Walpole, once found herself caught up in the events of the French Revolution and her memorial inscription further recalls that she was the friend of Marie Antoinette. It was said the she made several brave attempts to rescue Marie Antoinette from prison; and after that Queen’s death strove to rescue the Dauphin of France. She bankrupted the family fortunes in this quest, mortgaging the Ketteringham Hall Estate and claiming to have spent an extraordinary eighty thousand pounds, about fifteen million in today’s money.

On her death, she requested that her body be returned to Ketteringham and a marble slab be placed on the chancel walls. Her relatives of the time, left destitute by her apparent eccentric enthusiasms, understandably failed to carry out either request. With the passage of time, it might also be thought that Charlotte’s Francophile adventures, together with the French name of Boileaus, might indicate a connection between the two families; on this point there remains today in St Peters an ‘Atkyns/Boileaus’ pew in situ. The Boileaus were an old Huguenot family who came to Norfolk by way of Dublin and already owned Tacolneston Hall. They were the ones who bought the bankrupt Ketteringham Hall Estate after Charlotte’s death.

Charlotte Atkyns, née Walpole, was considered by some to be an 18th-century Norfolk eccentric; that is being Norfolk by marriage and residency, not by birth. This, of course, did not stop her from suggesting that she was related to the well-known Walpole family of Norfolk, descendants of Sir Robert Walpole, our first prime minister – she was not!

Pimpernel (Charlotte)
Lady Charlotte Atkyns, nee Walpole.

Charlotte was born in County Westmeath & Roscommon in Ireland around 1758, her father was a William Walpole of Athlone. She became an actress and made her debut in Dublin in January 1776, continuing to perform at various other theatres in the city throughout the remainder of that year. Charlotte made her London stage debut as Leonora in The Padlock by Isaac Bickerstaff at the Crow Street Theatre in London before her Drury Lane debut in October 1777. There she had some modest success before then appearing at the Theatre Royal, Bristol in which she displayed, it seems, a versatility as a singer as well as an actress. The theatre management announced her in such terms via the local newspapers:

Pimpernel (Charlotte on stage)
“She is a good Singer, an excellent Actress, and it is a matter of dispute with the young Londoners in which character she appears to most advantage, male or female.” [i.e. in “breeches” parts, as in the image above]

In 1778 – 79, and after spending a summer in Bath, Charlotte returned to Drury Lane where “as pretty as an angel” she added dancing to her repertoire of skills. However, after that season she completely gave up the stage – for marriage. The story goes that she captured the attention of Sir Edward Atkyns, of Ketteringham Hall, Norfolk and the grandson of a Lord Chief Justice. Edward and Charlotte married on the 18 June 1779 at St James, Piccadilly, London and were to have two sons, Edward and Wright Edward. Unfortunately, Charlotte Atkyns, nee Walpole, was never to be accepted by a Norfolk society which considered her to be ‘a common actress’. This situation was compounded by the fact that her husband was beginning to suffer under heavy debts. The couple’s future time abroad was to be put down to financial difficulties, at least by those who doubted her husband’s wisdom in marrying Charlotte. No sooner had Edward and Charlotte moved to France in November 1784, to get away from their ‘insufferable situation’, when Lady Jerningham wrote in a letter from Lille:

“A great many people have taken refuge here, to fly from their creditors in England; among the rest a Norwich family and a Mrs Atkins of Ketteringham. She was a player, a friend of Miss Younger. You may remember to have heard of her, and he was always a great simpleton or else he would not have married her.”

Others were more complimentary. A note preserved in the Folger Library and dated 1790, reads:

“Mrs Atkins, late Miss Walpole of Drury Lane Theatre, is perhaps the most…….female Equestrian. This Lady, whose residence is at Lille in Flanders, frequently rides for an airing….. to Calais, which is 74 miles and returns the following Day with the greatest ease.”

Charlotte personality and facial features were never in doubt, but despite being described as “pretty, witty, impressionable, and good,” she was thought of as an eccentric. This, however, did not stop the wedded couple from being welcomed in France where they made friendships with influential people at the French court. Among these friends was Yolande Martine Gabrielle de Polastron, better known as the Duchess of Polignac – she was a close friend to Marie Antoinette. Apparently, from the moment that the Duchess of Polignac introduced Charlotte to Marie Antoinette, Charlotte was enchanted and thereafter was, reputedly, an intense admirer of the Queen. According to one source:

“Atkyns shared first in the Queen’s amusements, then in her griefs, for she was still at Versailles when the Dauphin Louis Joseph died, and [she was still there] when 1789 began the cycle of years so terrible for French Royalty.”

When the French Revolution broke out, in 1789, Charlotte and her husband moved from Versailles to Lille, a city in northern France. Her relationship with the royal family was claimed to have been somewhat close because after the Atkyns began residing in Lille, Charlotte was to become known locally “as a pensioner on the Royal Treasury.” Then, in 1791, the Atkyns began to flit between France and Ketteringham and Charlotte extended her contacts with French émigrés. It was at this time when she was reputed to have been recruited as a spy and agent by her lover, the Royalist Louis de Frotté, a position that she purportedly fulfilled until 1794.

Pimpernel (Louis_de_Frotte)
Louis de Frotté. Courtesy of Wikipedia. He was to be court marshalled and executed by firing squad in February 1800

Once Louis XVI was guillotined in January of 1793, it was enough to make any Royalist lose hope of saving the Queen. However, the King’s death is said to have emboldened Charlotte. Apparently, it was then that she came up with an idea to save the Queen because, “Why should she not go in person to Paris and try her chance?” she would claim. Charlotte believed that the same level of surveillance applied to the King would not be applied to Marie Antoinette and this prompted her to think that she might be able to gain access to the Queen at the Temple. She had a plan!

Pimpernel (Royal Family in Prison)
The Royal Family Of France In The Prison Of The Temple. Edward Matthew Ward

There were several drawbacks to whatever plan that Charlotte’s concocted. Firstly, she was a foreigner and barely spoke French. There was also little support from her close friend Jean-Gabriel Peltier. Peltier had been a blazing revolutionary who suddenly did an about face and became an intense Royalist. He founded a newspaper with the title of “The Acts of the Apostles”, then violently attacked everyone who disagreed with his ideas.

Pimpernel (Peltier)
Jean-Gabriel Peltier. Public Domain.

The day after the insurrection of 10 August, Peltier left France and sought refuge in England where he, supposedly, developed a friendship with Charlotte and would do everything in his power to dissuade her from becoming involved in any plot to save Marie Antoinette. Thus, he wrote to her in the following tone, stating:

“You will hardly have arrived before innumerable embarrassments will crop up; if you leave your hotel three times in the day, or if you see the same person thrice, you will become a suspect.”

But, Charlotte was persistent, and her persistence eventually convinced Peltier about her plot to save the Queen, because even “he admitted that the moment was relatively favourable.” However, events were moving quickly in Paris. Before Charlotte could implement her plan, she too began to doubt it’s feasibility, particularly after word reached her that another plot to free Marie Antoinette had recently failed. This resulted in Peltier trying again to dissuade Charlotte from making any attempt to save the Queen:

“If you wish to be useful to that family, you can only be so by directing operations from here (instead of going there to get guillotined), and by making those sacrifices which you have already resolved to make.”

Charlotte, it seems, was not put off by any of Peltier’s words. Instead, it was claimed that she reached Marie Antoinette anyway. For her story to match other facts, it appears that her meeting with Marie Antoinette would have had to occur after Marie Antoinette had been moved from the Temple to “the Conciergerie; that is to say, after August 2, 1793.” Moreover, this meeting occurred because apparently Charlotte “won over a municipal official, who consented to open the doors of the Conciergerie for her, on the condition that no word should be exchanged between her and the Royal prisoner … [and to] wear the uniform of a National Guard.”

Pimpernel (Marie Antoinette)2
Marie Antoinette.

Charlotte, supposedly, agreed to these conditions and on the proposed day of her meeting, she appeared carrying a bouquet, which she offered to the Marie Antoinette. However, because of the stress of the event, Charlotte accidentally dropped a note that was to be presented with the bouquet to Marie Antoinette. As the municipal guard rushed forward to pick it up, Charlotte bent down, grabbed, it and swallowed it. Unsurprisingly, she was immediately ordered out. However, despite this failure, she did not give up. Through friends and persistence, she was able to obtain another meeting. This one was said to be a private interview with Marie Antoinette, and it was reported that Charlotte “had to pay a thousand louis for that single hour.” This time she planned to change clothes with Marie Antoinette so that the Queen would leave the Conciergerie undetected while Charlotte remained behind. If she thought her plan would ever work, she misjudged an obstinate Marie Antoinette:

“[Marie Antoinette] would not, under any pretext, sacrifice the life of another, and to abandon her imprisoned children was equally impossible to her. But what emotion she must have felt at the sight of such a love … She could but thank her friend with tearful eyes and commend her son, the Dauphin, to that friend’s tender solicitude.”

All this, and much else, was done at the expense of her large fortune which enabled her to bribe officials, pay messengers to travel between London and Paris and charter a ship to hover near the coast for months waiting to transport possible fugitives. Charlotte, apparently, would take no rest until she had expended all her energy and her wealth trying to free Marie Antoinette and those close to her. This quest of hers, however, failed and her ‘friend’ the Queen was executed by the guillotine at 12.15pm on 16th October in 1793, famously apologising to the executioner for stepping on his foot while climbing the scaffold. After Charlotte’s husband, Edward, died in 1794 she may again have gone to France to attempt further rescues of the remaining family, but if there were any attempts they were unsuccessful. But, she continued to promote the émigré cause and mortgaged Ketteringham in 1799 to raise funds for this purpose.

Hers remain a wonderful and somewhat dramatic story – given her past background as an actress, – but unfortunately it is one with more than a few holes in it. Many people, in fact, have claimed that Charlotte’s story, about attempting to rescue Marie Antoinette, was false and that the story came from a “cracked old woman who dreamed that she had been the friend of Marie Antoinette.” Ultimately, it seems, that all the source material for Charlotte’s ‘adventures’ come from Charlotte herself. Backing up all this are indications that Charlotte wasn’t even in Paris in 1793 as she claimed. Also, there is no independent evidence of her ever having been at Versailles, or even meeting Marie Antoinette; the only reference to their friendship appear in letters, apparently from eminent people but which Charlotte actually wrote to herself. As it was, papers from Frotté show that he believed her story and there was also, supposedly, a mysterious Countess McNamara, who had spoken of Charlotte’s plot; but, both Frotté and McNamara had, apparently, obtained their information from Charlotte herself! Since then, one 20th century investigation of her story also came to the conclusion that the book written by Frédéric Barbey about Charlotte’s plot relied on faulty evidence:

“There is no other evidence of her [Atkyns] ever having been at Versailles, or ever having seen the Queen, except a few allusions to their friendship in some letter addressed to Mrs. Atkyns, of which M. Barbey has found a large collection in the office of an unnamed Paris lawyer ….., assuming their existence and authenticity. His quotations from these letters suggest that Mrs. Atkyns was in the habit of writing letters from eminent persons to herself.”

As for being the “daughter of Robert Walpole” – as her 1907 memorial in Ketteringham’s church of St Peters has it – it seems to be an assumption by subsequent generations that Charlotte was related to the man who became Britain’s first Prime Minister. It is an assumption without any basis in fact; not only did Walpole never have a daughter called Charlotte, he died 13 years before Charlotte was born. His son was also named Robert, but he had no daughter either. All one can say is that the ‘real’ Charlotte and her husband certainly spent time in France from November 1784, shortly before the Revolution, but they were more concerned with getting out of financial difficulties than political intrigue.

After the restoration of the French monarchy in 1814 Charlotte petitioned unsuccessfully for reimbursement of more than £30,000 which she claimed to have expended in the Bourbon cause.

Pimpernel (Letter)1
19th September 1822, to Sir Charles Stuart (‘Your Excellency’). Atkyns states that, with October fast approaching, she wishes her correspondent to ‘press my claim upon the King of France’, continuing ‘I am persuaded that your Excellency’s protection will prevail and that His Majesty will at last decide to do me justice’ and further adding ‘I live in a state of continual agitation as not anything but paying my mortgages can prevent my estate being sold, trusting to the interest that I am persuaded your Excellency feels in my favour, I beg leave to apologise for my eternal intrusion, the nineteenth of this month is arrived, and nothing yet decided’.
Charles Stuart (1779-1845) was a British Diplomat, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal and Brazil 1810-14, British Ambassador to France 1815-24, 1828-30 and British Ambassador to Russia 1841-44.

Charlotte’s petitioning took place around 1823 and it was in that year when she gave Ketteringham Hall to her sister-in-law, Mary Atkyns, in return for an annuity, such were Charlotte’s reduced circumstances. Then, about 1830, Charlotte moved permanently to Paris, where she died on 2 February 1836 with her loyal German maid by her side. Charlotte was buried somewhere in Paris in an unmarked grave, knowing that her fortune had all but gone having remortgaged Ketteringham and spent the modern-day equivalent of £15 million during her, supposing, reign as a female Scarlet Pimpernel. Charlotte Atkyns Will was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 26 July 1838.

The marble plaque inside St Peter’s at Ketteringham reads:

“In memory of Charlotte, daughter of Robert Walpole and wife of Edward Atkyns esq of Ketteringham. She was born 18 and died at Paris 1836 where she lies in an unknown grave. This tablet was erected in 1907 by a few who sympathised with her wish to rest in this church. She was the friend of Marie Antoinette and made several brave attempts to rescue her from prison and after that Queen’s death, strove to save the Dauphin of France.”

Pimpernel (Memorial)
Charlotte Atkyns 1907 memorial in St Peter’s Church, Ketteringham.

FOOTNOTE: During the French Revolution, various tales circulated about Charlotte and her activities. Some claimed she acted as a spy for counter-revolutionaries; others that her heart was set on freeing Marie Antoinette from imprisonment and spiriting her and her son out of the country to safety. Unfortunately, the sources for most of these tales date from long after the Charlotte’s death and are heavily laced with romanticism. All that matters now is for readers to note that Lady Charlotte Walpole Atkyns did gain something of a reputation for being an enthusiastic supporter of causes close to her heart; all be it in an eccentric and ‘fanciful’ manner. She did so in comfort and until she had spent most, if not all, of her husband’s money!

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A Miscellaneous Georgian Easter!

By Joanne Major

We herewith present an (admittedly) random selection of Easter snippets from the early 19th century newspapers; a true Easter miscellany.

On the 25th March, 1802, The Treaty of Amiens, which signalled peace between Great Britain and the French Republic, was signed. It was also the signal for a proposed long school holiday for the Eton schoolboys. Do any of our readers know if the Prince of Wales’ request was granted?

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has interceded with the Head Master of Eton School for extending the Easter holidays of the Etonians a week longer than usual, in consequence of the Peace.

(Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 26th April, 1802)

The following year, with the truce breaking down, and Britain about to declare war on France, while a few of the nobility remained in London, battle-lines were being drawn elsewhere.

The fine weather, and the Easter holidays, scatter a few of our fashionables around the Metropolis, that they may inhale a little fresh air, preparatory to the suffocating routs and balls of May. The SALISBURYS are gone to Hatfield; the ABERCORNS to Stanmore; the DERBYS to the Oaks; the MORTON PITTS to Corfe Castle; Earl ROMNEY to the Mote, near Maidstone; Lord and Lady HOBART to Roehampton; and Lord HAWKESBURY will take the air between Combe and Downing-street, though he may not always be able to take his breath.

(Morning Post, 5th April, 1803)

Tuesday evening a most furious battle took place between a Chimney Sweep and a Jack Ass Driver, at a small fair which is held on the Easter Holidays at the end of Tottenham-court-road. After half and hour’s hard and obstinate fighting, both being beat to that degree that neither was able to stand, they were forced to give up any farther contest.

(Hampshire Chronicle, 18th April, 1803)

The Epping Hunt, or the ‘Cockney Hunt’ was traditionally held on Easter Monday.

Epping Hunt – Monday, at an early hour, the industrious sons of Spitalfields, Bethnal-green, and Whitechapel, disdaining the somnific powers, rose at the blush of Aurora, and prepared for the far-farmed Epping hunt, big with the fate of Cockneys. The road from town to the sportive scene was thronged by hunters of every description. Some were heavily dressed, and others as bare of covering as Meleager when he killed the Calydonian boar. The gallant troop displayed all the colours of gay Iris, and the sable bearings of a chimney-sweeper were often blazoned by the powderings of a barber’s apron. The cattle were composed of horses, asses, and mules, all high in bone and low in flesh; and the pack displayed every class of the canine species, from the bull to the lap-dog.After having regaled with copious libations of geneva, the motley group arrived at The Eagle, Snaresbrook, and other houses contiguous to the forest. A fine stag had been previously carried from a stable. His horns were sawed off, as usual, except the front antlers, which were braided with ribbands, and he was turned out to the mercy of his pursuers, near Buckets-hill. Finding himself at liberty, he dashed into Fairmaid Bottoms and sought refuge in the forest. The scent was then given, and off went the Cockneys,

“Like wind and tide meeting.”

In a few moments the ground was covered with hats, wigs, and the bodies of fat Citizens. Riders were seen looking for their horses, and horses for their riders. The vendors of gin and eatables, who stood prepared for the scene, immediately rushed in to dispose of their ware, and glasses of cordial consoled the downcast hunters for bruises and pain. Several Nimrods, who had pursued the sport of the day in taxed carts, were overthrown with the loss of their wheels, and the confusion which prevailed produced considerable mirth, at the expence of tailors, tallow-chandlers, weavers, and soap boilers, who had not been able to restrain the fury of their vicious kicking donkeys, and mischievous cart-horses. The stag, as usual, escaped from the fury of its unqualified pursuers, and many of the hunters who had lost their horses returned on foot to the Bald-faced Stag, to celebrate their lucky escape from the perils of the chace. After sacrificing at the shrine of the Jolly God, they returned to town.

(Oxford University and City Herald, 8th April, 1809)

At the other end of the social spectrum, Easter Sunday was a chance to promenade in Hyde Park, dressed in your finery, but beware an importune April shower!

HYDE PARK

Owing, no doubt, to the extreme coldness of the weather, the Park yesterday was not so prolific in the display of the Spring fashions as was expected, and is as usual on Easter Sunday. Custom, assuredly, is the arbiter of fashion; but the closer such adheres to nature the better. Long waists, and tight stays, although much worn, are not deserving of panegyric. Natures always looks most beautiful as herself, without capricious whimsicalities of stiff ornament. Among the newest articles in the female costume, we noticed the Polish dress, or pelisse, composed of slate coloured sarsenet; it is made open in front, with a gold bordering, and gold buttons. The bonnet, boots, and redicule, were made of the same materials. Among the fashionable equipages were those belonging to the Duchesses of GRAFTON and LEEDS; Marchionesses of WELLESLEY, LANSDOWNE, and HEADFORT; Ladies CASTLEREAGH, CLONMELL, KINGSTON, MEXBOROUGH, D. SMITH, MANSFIELD, and SEFTON. A sudden storm of hail and snow, about half-past three o’clock, destroyed all the fair beauties of the scene in a moment. The company, male and female, who were in the pedestrian promenade, scampered off at the first approach of the enemy, to seek refuge under any covering, however humble, so that it afforded them a secure retreat from the pitiless element. The Park was completely deserted during the after part of the day.

(Morning Post, 3rd April, 1809)

Easter was also a time for Balls; the ones held at the Mansion House in London being particularly spectacular:

The decorations and alterations making at the Mansion-house for the Easter ball are extremely splendid. A carpeting is made to imitate a gravel walk, and each side of the avenues leading to the Egyptian-hall will be ornamented with orange trees, and flowering shrubs.

The Prince of Wales has accepted the invitation of the Lord Mayor to dine and the Mansion-house on Easter Monday. This will be the first public visit ever made by his Royal Highness into the City, and the only instance, for many reigns, of an Heir Apparent going there on such occasion.

(Bury and Norwich Post, 14th April, 1802)

Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Yesterday John Hawkins, an extra constable, was charged before the LORD MAYOR with concealing a diamond drop, which he found at the Mansion House on Monday night, at the Easter Ball, the property of the Duchess of GORDON, being part of a pair of elegant diamond ear-rings worn by her Grace that day, value above five hundred guineas, and for the recovery of which a reward was advertised.

Mrs. HORSFALL, of the Mansion House Coffee-house, stated, that she saw a constable have such an article in his possession that night, which he said he had picked up in the Mansion House, and described the man, from which circumstance he was discovered. The prisoner at first denied it, but the diamond drop being found, he pretended not to know the value of it. His Lordship, conceiving that he detained it with a felonious intent, fully committed him to take his trial for the same.

(Morning Post, 11th April, 1806)

And if you were attending such a Ball, then, as a fashionable lady, you would need to look your best.

THE EASTER BALL and GALA will be particularly grand in Honour of the Regency, and as the Ladies will appear with extreme lustre on this occasion, it certainly accounts for the present great demand for HUBERT’S ROSEATE POWDER, which effectually removes superfluous hairs on the face, neck and arms, and highly improves the whiteness, delicacy and softness of the skin, thus bestowing a new charm on natural beauty. – May be had of the Proprietor, 23 Russell-street, Covent-Garden; Rigge, 35, and Overton, 47, Bond-street; Dunnett, 3, Cheapside; Davison, 59, Fleet-street, Thorn, 45, Oxford-street; Bowling and Co. 38, Blackman-street, Borough; Harding and Co. 89, Pall-mall; and of all Perfumers. – 4s. and 7s.

(Morning Chronicle, 8th April, 1811)

And we end with the best Easter Gift, (although personally, as chocoholic’s, we’d rather have an Easter egg . . . ), and an Irish Easter cake.

The best Easter Gift, a present to a young Lady, is a Ticket in TOMKINS’S Picture Lottery; which are selling in New Bond-street at Three Guineas each; and a red ticket and a black ticket are sure to gain a prize.

(Morning Post, 25th April, 1821)

CURIOUS CUSTOM – In Ireland, at Easter, a cake, with a garland of meadow flowers, is elevated upon a circular board upon a pike, apples being stuck upon pegs around the garland. Men and women then dance round, and they who hold out longest win the prize.

(Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 17th December, 1825)

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Georgians Socialising at Easter

With Easter almost here, how about we share with you some snippets about the way Georgians spent their Easter as shown in  a few extracts from the newspapers of the day – partying being the most obvious! Let us begin with a letter of complaint, clearly, from someone who didn’t appreciate many of the celebrations that took place during the year and felt it appropriate to vent annoyance to the editor of the Whitehall Evening Post – focusing on a section about Easter…..…

Whitehall Evening Post (1770), August 2, 1783 – August 5, 1783

Some things customary refer simply to the idea of feasting, according to the season and occasion. Of these, perhaps, are lambs-wool on Christmas eve; furmety on Mothering Sunday; Braggot (which is a mixture of ale, sugar and spices) at the festival of Easter … lamb at Easter to the Paschal Lamb. This, perhaps, may be the case also with respect to pancakes on Shrove Tuesday; unless that shall be supposed to allude to ‘the egg at Easter’ an emblem of the rising up out of the grave; in the same manner as the chick, entombed as it were in the egg, is in due time brought to life. So also the flowers, with which many churches are ornamented on Easter-day, are most probably intended as emblems of the resurrection having just risen from the earth during the severity of winter, they seem to have been buried.

 A custom, which ought to be abolished as improper and indecent, prevails in many places of lifting, as it is called, on Easter Monday and Tuesday. Is this a memorial of Christ being raised from the grave? There is, at least some appearance of it; as there seems to be trace of the decent of the Holy Ghost on the heads of the Apostles in what passes at Whitsuntide fair in some parts of Lancashire; where one person hold a stick over the head of another, whilst a third, unperceived, strikes the stick, and thus gives a smart blow to the first. But this, probably is only local.

 The Hampshire Chronicle, Sunday, March 31, 1788

Of the multitude of customs and ceremonies which formerly commanded attention at this season, but very few are preserved; it is however, universally considered as a time appropriate to recreation and innocent festivity. Amongst the common people it is even now a custom in the North to rise early, in order to see the sun dance. We suppose this o have arisen from some metaphorical expression in the sacred writings. Boys carry a vessel of water into the fields, that the sun may seem to dance from the tremulous motion of the water.

Georgian Easter (eggs)
Pasche Eggs

Paper eggs, properly pasche eggs, are stained of different colors and covered with gold leaf, and given to young children in the North of England as a fairing. This is a relic of Popish superstition; an egg being considered a type of the resurrection. This custom prevails in Russia; a long account may be seen in Hackluyt’s voyages. Dr. Chandler also in his travels in Asia Minor says ‘they made us presents of coloured eggs and cakes of Easter bread’.

(It was a family tradition to make pasche eggs for Easter by binding the flowers to eggs with strips of sheeting then boiling the eggs in onion skins.  The flowers would act as a resist, creating prints on the hardboiled eggs.) – To continue:

Durand says, that on Easter Tuesday wives used to beat their husbands, on the day following when husbands beat their wives.

 

Thomas Girtin (1775ー1802) Durham Cathedral and Castle(c.1800)

In the city of Durham the following custom is still preserved: On one day the men take off the women’s shoes, which are only to be redeemed by a small present. On another day the women take off the men’s in a like manner.

Tansy

In Yorkshire tansy puddings and cakes are made, which custom Seldon, in his ‘Table Talk‘, has referenced to the bitter herbs which the Jews greatly use at this season. At Newcastle, on Easter Monday a great match is always played at hand ball for a great tansy cake.

Many other incidents might be enumerated, most of which are obsolete, and many generally forgotten; we sincerely however regret, that the memory of anything should be lost, which, by introducing innocent merriment, strengthens the sweet bond of social life.

 The Hampshire Chronicle, Monday, April 28, 1794

Westminster Abbey and Bridge from Horseferry, Lambeth, British School; Government Art Collection

Greenwich

The belles and beaux, from the fineness of the weather, exceeded far, very far, any number that ever were seen at that favourite spot. From six to eight o’clock, on their return to London, it was one continued throng of holiday people of all ranks and descriptions, from Greenwich park to Westminster bridge. There was no resisting the torrent; and many an honest young woman who was so yesterday morning, will have fatal cause to repent, before this day twelvemonth, the frolic of tumbling down the hill in the park – drunkenness, riots, battles and thefts, as usual, dignified the proceedings. Not less than one hundred thousand persons were present.

Londoners Gypsying (The Family Holiday Party, in Epping Forest, near London) by Charles Robert Leslie, 1820; The Geffrye, Museum of the Home

Epping Forest

At ten in the morning, at least ten thousand equestrians and pedestrians were upon the forest: every species of vehicle from the hand cart and buggy to the light waggon and splendid chariot was there. At one, the stag, bedecked with ribbons was turned out on Fairmaid Bottom – and then the fun began, with running, riding, crossing, jostling, tumbling, hooting, shouting, screaming and howling; which formed the scene that may be seen, but cannot possibly be described, and that indeed never before was exhibited but in a nation of madmen. At four, the stag was at bay in a thicket, near the Royal Oak and was taken and put in a cart and with continual shouts was brought to the starting house in order to afford fresh sport in future.

Easter Monday, or, The cockney hunt Rowlandson 1807 Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

THE END