Rule Britannia!

By Ben Johnson

The patriotic song ‘Rule, Britannia!, Britannia rule the waves’, is the regimental March of the Royal Norfolk Regiment; it is also traditionally performed at the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ which takes place each year at the Royal Albert Hall.

Originally, Great Britain was called ‘Albion’ by the Romans, who invaded Britain in 55BC, but this later became ‘Britannia’. This Latin word referred to England and Wales, but was no longer used for a long time after the Romans left.

The name was then revived in the age of the Empire, when it had more significance. The word ‘Britannia’ is derived from ‘Pretannia’, from the term that the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (1BC) used for the Pretani people, who the Greeks believed lived in Britain. Those living in Britannia would be referred to as Britanni.

The Romans created a goddess of Britannia, wearing a Centurion helmet and toga, with her right breast exposed. In the Victorian period, when the British Empire was rapidly expanding, this was altered to include her brandishing a trident and a shield with the British flag on, a perfect patriotic representation of the nation’s militarism. She was also standing in the water, often with a lion (England’s national animal), representing the nation’s oceanic dominance. The Victorians were also too prudish to leave her breast uncovered, and modestly covered it to protect her dignity!

The ‘Rule, Britannia!’ song that we recognise today started out as a poem co-written by the Scottish pre-Romantic poet and playwright, James Thomson (1700-48), and David Mallet (1703-1765), originally Malloch. He was also a Scottish poet, but was less well-known than Thomson. The English composer, Thomas Augustine Arne (1710-1778), then composed the music, originally for the masque ‘Alfred’, about Alfred the Great. Masques were a popular form of entertainment in 16th and 17th century England, involving verse, and, unsurprisingly, masks! The first performance of this masque was on 1st August, 1740, at Cliveden House, Maidenhead.

It was at Cliveden that the Prince of Wales, Frederick, was staying. He was a German, born in Hanover, son of King George II. His relationship with his father was strained but he came to England in 1728 after his father became king. The masque pleased Prince Frederick because it associated him with the likes of Alfred the Great, a medieval king who managed to win in battle against the Danes (Vikings), and linked him to improving Britain’s naval dominance, which was Britain’s aim at this time. The masque was performed to celebrate the accession of George I (this was the Georgian era, 1714-1830) and the birthday of Princess Augusta.

There were various influences on the poem. Scottish Thomson spent most of his life in England and hoped to forge a British identity, perhaps the reason for the pro-British lyrics. Another of his works was ‘The Tragedy of Sophonisba’ (1730). Rather than giving in to the Romans and becoming a slave, Sophonisba chose to commit suicide. This could have had an influence on ‘Rule, Britannia!’, with ‘Britons never will be slaves’. The words vary slightly between the original poem and the song we know today. Below is the poem, as it appears in ‘The Works of James Tomson’ by Thomson (1763, Vol II, pg 191):

  1. When Britain first, at Heaven’s command/ Arose from out the azure main; floor/ This was the charter of the land,/ And guardian angels sang this strain:/ “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:/ “Britons never will be slaves.”
  1. The nations, not so blest as thee,/ Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall;/ While thou shalt flourish great and free,/ The dread and envy of them all./ “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:/ “Britons never will be slaves.”
  1. Still more majestic shalt thou rise,/ More dreadful, from each foreign stroke;/ As the loud blast that tears the skies,/ Serves but to root thy native oak./ “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:/ “Britons never will be slaves.”
  1. Thee haughty tyrants ne’er shall tame:/ All their attempts to bend thee down/ Will but arouse thy generous flame;/But work their woe, and thy renown./ “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:/ “Britons never will be slaves.”
  1. To thee belongs the rural reign;/ Thy cities shall with commerce shine/ All thine shall be the subject main,/ And every shore it circles thine./ “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:/ “Britons never will be slaves.”
  1. The Muses, still with freedom found,/ Shall to thy happy coast repair; Blest Isle!/ With matchless beauty crown’d,/ And manly hearts to guard the fair./ “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:/ “Britons never will be slaves.”

The first public performance of ‘Rule, Britannia!’ was in London in 1745, and it instantly became very popular for a nation trying to expand and ‘rule the waves’. Indeed, from as early as the 15th and 16th centuries, other countries’ dominant exploratory advances encouraged Britain to follow. This was the Age of Discovery, in which Spain and Portugal were the European pioneers, beginning to establish empires. This spurred England, France and the Netherlands to do the same. They colonised and set up trade routes in the Americas and Asia.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, England’s dominance grew, hence the significance of ‘Rule, Britannia!’. England had been unified with Wales since 1536, but only in 1707, by the Act of Union, did England join parliaments with Scotland, after years of tense relations. This occurred because it would benefit both countries. Scotland’s failed attempt to establish a colony in Panama costing £200,000, made a union with England look very appealing.

Scotland could use English trade routes without having to pay. England, which was experiencing fractious relations with the French, felt it made sense to have someone on their side, to fight for them, but also to simply not present a threat themselves. The Kingdom of Great Britain, the United Kingdom had been formed.

In 1770, Captain James Cook claimed the east coast of Australia, setting a precedent for later expansion in the Victorian era. In 1783 however, the nation experienced a set-back after the American War of Independence, in which 13 American territories were lost. Britain then turned her efforts to other countries, to try and establish more permanent colonies.

In 1815 after years of Napoleonic Wars, France was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, and this heralded the start of Britain’s century of power. At the height of the Empire, Britannia was in control of approximately one quarter of the world’s population and a fifth of the land mass.

British Empire 1919

The original words of the song altered with the fluctuations of Britain’s power; ‘Britannia, rule the waves’ later became ‘Britannia rules the waves’ in Victorian times, because Britain did, indeed, rule the waves! The famous phrase, ‘the sun never sets on the British Empire’ at first seems simply hopeful and poignant, ever-glowing and successful. However, it was actually coined because Britain had colonised so many areas across the world, that the sun had to be shining on at least one of them!

The 19th century, though, was also a time of growth for Germany and America which led to conflict resulting in both World Wars in the 20th century. This began the decline of the British Empire. There was also subsequent decolonisation, and today only 14 territories remain.

Since 1996, ‘Rule, Britannia!’ has been transformed into ‘Cool Britannia’. This play on words reflects modern Britain, the stylish nation of music, fashion and media. It particularly encapsulates the atmosphere and buzz of cosmopolitan London, Glasgow, Cardiff and Manchester.

‘Rule, Britannia!’ has been so popular that it has been used in a variety of ways. In 1836, Richard Wagner wrote a concert overture based on ‘Rule, Britannia!’. Arthur Sullivan, who wrote comedy operas in Victorian times, quoted from the song too.

RNR (Cap Badge)
Royal Norfolk Regiment Cap Badge

‘Rule, Britannia!’ became the Regimental March of the Royal Norfolk Regiment in 1881, and even today, some Royal Navy vessels are called HMS Britannia. The BBC’s Last Night of the Proms always includes an arrangement of the song too. ‘Britannia’ still conjures a sense of pride and patriotism today:

The Royal Albert Hall, London

“Rule Britannia!/Britannia rule the waves/ Britons never, never, never shall be slaves./ Rule Britannia/ Britannia rule the waves./ Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.”

Footnote: The mistake that seems always to be made by ‘Promenaders’ (at the Last Night of the Proms) is that ‘rule’ becomes ‘rules’ and is expressed as a statement. It is more correct for the first line of this ‘anthem’ to be an instruction – or aspiration! We no longer have a ‘Navy’ worth boasting about.


Norwich’s Pioneer in Music Education!

The English Tonic Sol-fa System originated in Norwich, Norfolk in the 1830’s and was known at the time as the ‘Norwich Sol-fa’ notation system. Although credit for its development has frequently been given to John Curwen, it was Sarah Ann Glover who originated its theory. She was also the author of the subsequent book on the subject “Scheme to Render Psalmody Congregational” in which it details simplified notation for sol-fa syllables and rhythms. This system and its accompanying teaching strategies were discovered in 1841 by John Curwen who subsequently popularised and adapted them. Conflict arose between Sarah Glover and John Curwen regarding the modifications Curwen made to Sarah’s system, yet the impact of her work on Curwen and, eventually, on music education in general, cannot be disputed.

(The above extract and the following narrative is based on P.D. Bennett (1984) “Sarah Glover: A Forgotten Pioneer in Music Education” and her own extracts from B Rainbow’s:…..”Musical Education in England 1800 to 1860″, Novello Copyright 1967).

Sarah Ann Glover (Title Page)


Sarah Ann Glover was born in 1786 at Cathedral Close, Norwich and baptised on 18 November 1786 in ‘St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, the Parish Church for the Cathedral Close.

Sarah, the eldest daughter of the Rector of St Lawrence Church, Norwich, had her first formal music lesson in her sixth year. This early training was not unusual at the time when young women were encouraged to study music to ensure a position for themselves socially, as well as for family entertainment and church teaching. Although she did become an accomplished pianist, nothing more is known of her career until, in her late twenties, she was given responsibility for music at her father’s church; this may have been around 1811 when her father became Curate of St Lawrence Church and also when she and her sister, Christiana, began to run the Sunday School.

At the time, when church choirs were particularly noisy and incompetent, Sarah’s children’s choirs were respected for the quality of their singing and St Lawrence became well known and enthusiastically attended for its musical performances. Inquiries began to surface as to ‘the method of teaching’ that enabled the children to sing so well. Apparently, young women from other parts of the country were soon being sent to Sarah Glover for training.

Sarah Ann Glover (Black Boy Yard)
Black Boy Yard (off Colgate), Norwich. (Courtesy of George Plunkett)

Although Sarah’s initial concern was to improve congregational singing, her sights were also reaching towards a reform of the teaching of music reading skills; to do this, a simplified notation system for teaching singing was needed. By 1827, Sarah Ann Glover had drawn up a complete method in which, simply speaking, DOH is always the first note of a scale, RAY the second – and so forth. This was called the ‘Norwich Sol-fa’ and she was to use it as part of her teaching of girls in a school she founded in Black Boy Yard, off Colgate Street, Norwich where she used her system with marked success. From her early choirs, Sarah’s influence gradually spread through those who studied with her and into the homes of the poor working class, as well as the affluent. In 1835, her system was first published by Jarrold & Sons of Norwich and went on to produce four other editions. However, as popular as her methods were with some music educators, The Norwich Sol-fa system remained in relative obscurity until that chance discovery, in 1841, by John Curwen.


Sarah Ann Glover (harmonicon)

Sarah’s pupils learned to sing by means of sol-fa notes and the use of the ‘Harmonicon’. This was an instrument, invented by her and manufactured in Norwich, which consisted of a long narrow mahogany box containing a drumstick and a number of pieces of glass, the latter attached to two pieces of string to enable them to produce various musical notes when struck. She designed it to help her teach her Sol-fa system in conjunction with her book “Scheme for Rendering Psalmody Congregational” comprising a key to the sol-fa notation of music and directions for instructing a school.


Sarah Ann Glover (John_Curwen)
John Curwen

In the Spring of 1841, the Reverend John Curwen was charged by a conference of teachers at the Sunday School Union with recommending a suitable way to teach music in Sunday School. Curwen was already known as a brilliant teacher and the author of a highly successful children’s story entitled “The History of Nelly Vanner” but he was “completely without musical skill” (Rainbow, p.53). Already having experienced the difficulty of teaching large groups of children how to sing, Curwen had little confidence in his ability to fulfil the conference’s request. It was by sheer chance that a friend called Curwen’s attention to the work of Sarah Ann Glover and gave him a copy of her “Scheme to Render Psalmody Congregational” book. It was from this publication that Curwen produced his own adaption that was to become known as the Tonic Sol-fa System of notation.


John Curwen has often been credited with being the originator of the Tonic Sol-fa System of notation but there has always been some controversy surrounding his adaption and popularisation of Sarah Glover’s ideas. As Curwen studied her treatise he began to realise why his earlier attempts to learn (from Ford’s ‘Elements’) to read music had failed. He had learned “off by heart” its various symbols and their meanings but, he had learned nothing of the symbol’s musical significance – this he discovered from Sarah’s method. Delighted with his discovery, Curwen experimented with teaching her method to a child living at his lodgings and found, as a result and within a fortnight, he was himself able to read a tune written in sol-fa notation (Rainbow, p.142). As Curwen’s enthusiasm for Sarah’s method increased he apparently forgot that the system was not something of his own devising. Only after he had been carried too far on the crest of his enthusiasm did it occur to him to write to Sarah Glover herself. This was in 1841 when, having detailed the merits of his changes, he sought to obtain her agreement and an opportunity to meet her; it would appear that at no time did he actual ask for her explicit approval for what he was doing.

Swinstead, George Hillyard, 1860-1926; John Curwen (1816-1880)
John Curwen in later life.

By the time Sarah Glover had received John Curwen’s 1841 letter, he was in her mid-fifties and already with an established and successful, if not celebrated, career; she, emphatically, was not prepared to accept modifications to her successful system by a “bold, assuming young man”. Her letter of response to him no longer exists but it is known that for over twenty years Sarah “resisted Curwen’s attempts to secure her endorsement of his modifications” (Rainbow p.143). Although correspondence between them continued until her death in 1867, theirs was a strained relationship.


The principles of the Tonic Sol-fa System are long lived and still valued in the teaching of music. Invented to aid young students in sight reading, hearing and writing music is still recognised in many classrooms. The circumstances surrounding the popularisation and publication of Sarah Glover’s method have obscured her real contribution to music education. That hers has been a neglected story is proven by the limited number od sources giving accurate information on her work. Certainly, in the history of music education, Sarah Ann Glover deserves considerable recognition for her unique contribution.


Sarah moved away from Norwich in later life = first to Cromer, then Reading and then Malvern in Herefordshire where she retired to live of his modifications” with her sister, Christiana. Sarah died of a stroke at Malvern on 20 October 1867 and is buried there.

Sarah Ann Glover (Brass)

In 1891, a brass plate was erected in St Lawrence Church, Norwich to mark the jubilee year of the Tonic Sol-fa Association which was paid for by the London Branch. The plate states (wrongly) that her father was Rector of St Lawrence. The notation over the last two lines is the tune ‘Rockingham’ in Norwich Sol-fa. The Tonic Sol-fa concept became well known in popular culture after it was featured in a song from the stage and film musical ‘The Sound of Music’. Around about 100 years later, Blue Plaques were mounted at various places in Norwich which had connections with Sarah Ann Glover, such as:  Colgate, St Benedicts, Pottergate.


An Ex. Smuggler Returns to Yarmouth!

By Helen Rogers

The date is 5 February 1840. Charles Lewis Redwood stands at the helm, steering the St Leonard into the Yare. He remembers the tightening of his stomach the last time he watched Yarmouth coming into view, shackled as he was then with his men aboard the Admiralty cutter as his sloop, the Nancy, was towed into port. Deftly, he slips the St Leonard up against the quay and oversees his men unloading her cargo. Honest fare, now, he carries between Harwich and London. Not like the bales of tea and barrels of brandy, stashed in the hulk, discovered when the excise officers intercepted the Nancy crossing the Yarmouth Roads, disguised as a fishing smack.

It’s four years since he was on this quay. The Harwich men were waiting outside the Gaol to greet the five smugglers from the Nancy after six-months imprisonment. Singing and slapping each other’s shoulders, they marched down to the dock and into the nearest tavern. He was impatient to return home but first he must treat the band of smugglers for supporting his men during their confinement with regular supplies of food and tobacco. It felt ungrateful to watch his friends supping their ale and not join them in a glass. After all this time, he was glad to get the commission to come back to Yarmouth. At last he can call on the prison teacher he promised to visit. He seeks directions to Row 57. Will Miss Martin remember him?

She recognizes the sailor instantly, welcoming him into her little room. He’s taken aback by its bare simplicity. Brewing the tea strong, she manages to get two cups out of the teapot, made only for one. It was a hard time, he tells her, when he left the Gaol. Fourteen months he spent, searching for honest work. With his wife and children to feed, it was a sore temptation not to go back to the contraband. But he stood by what his teacher taught him. Now, he says proudly, he is master of a respectable merchant’s ship.

The mariner’s eyes light up when she asks after his family. Sarah, his wife, has another baby on the way. William, his first-born, has become a sailor. He’s a strapping lad. Good and steady. The teacher rummages through a box of envelopes, and takes out the letters of thanks from Edmund Cole and his wife, to read their cheery news. Like Redwood, the first mate had struggled when he returned home. But Cole had visited last summer and  told Miss Martin how all the Nancy’s crew had finally left off smuggling. They are doing well, Charles Redwood nods. Fine men. He sees them often. The teacher is happy to hear him confirm Edmund Cole’s reports. Shyly, before he leaves, the former prisoner takes from his sack two presents for the teacher. He bought them in France, a token of his gratitude for all she has done for him. He hopes she will like them. But sat on the table between them, the pretty vase and jewellery box look out of place, he thinks.

Once the master mariner bids her farewell, Sarah Martin opens the Liberated Prisoners book and writes of his visit and gifts—a vase covered in shells, and a curious glass box—his gratitude for what he thought his obligation to me. At the end of their confinement, she remembers smiling, the smugglers asked to speak with the prisoners, and begged them to listen to her advice, and treat her with respect. She picks up the vase and box, and hesitates, weighing the strange trinkets in her hands. I am not sure if she stands them on the mantelpiece or hides them away in a cupboard.


The smugglers on the Nancy had been in prison before, as they told Sarah Martin. Why did her teaching touch them when previous correction had failed to deter their illegal activities?

In 1832 Charles Redwood was found in charge of the Union of Ipswich, sailing as a collier hauler with contraband concealed under the coal. His men were pressed into the Navy for five years—a gain for the Admiralty that won the services of experienced sailors, and for the Home Office that saved on the cost of imprisoning them. Of the six crew members, only the cabin boy was acquitted, as at the Yarmouth trial. But the captain must be made an example. Unable to afford the £100 fine, Redwood was sent to Springfield Gaol, a convict prison near Chelmsford.

Springfield/Chelmsford Gaol

The County Gaol, at Springfield, stands in an airy and pleasant situation on about 9 acres of land, half of which is enclosed by the boundary wall.  The erection of the old buildings was commenced in 1822, and took six years to be built at a cost of about £57,000. Springfield opened in 1828 as a modern penitentiary, designed in the radial style to ensure close observation of inmates, with a tread wheel for hard labour. Under a ‘silent system’, inmates were prohibited from speaking with each other, on pain of punishment.

Housed together at Yarmouth Gaol and able to converse freely, the ‘Nancy’ men laboured keenly at their lessons. While agreeing with the teacher that smuggling was a form of fraud involving habitual lying, they doubted they could afford to leave the trade. Discussing their concerns with Miss Martin, and mulling over the costs and benefits when she left, the five men began to embrace Christian reclamation as a group.


Mateship had bound the Nancy men together on the open seas. It sustained them in prison, with gifts from the smugglers’ band—one of the illicit friendly societies formed by contraband men. The vision of Christian fellowship, offered by the prison teacher, shared much in common with the values of fraternity and mutual obligation expressed by friendly societies across the trades, often symbolized in Christian terms, especially in the figures of the Good Samaritan and St Christopher.[4] They were embedded, too, in the sea-faring life where the maritime spirit of hardy independence was built on the interdependence of crewmen. Those same values girded the men in the difficult months after release, when the older ones kept a careful eye on their younger mates.

Determination to leave the smuggling trade was surely strengthened by the strain their imprisonment had placed on the men’s families and the fear of transportation if they were caught again. When Charles Redwood was arrested in 1836, his son Lewis was just two-years-old.

The census returns for the Redwood household suggest the precarious nature of sailoring life but also the principles of kinship and reciprocity that kept the master mariner on the straight-and-narrow and his family together. At each census the sailor and his wife lived at a different address but always in the streets by the harbour. In 1841, five of their eight sons and daughters, were with them in Castle Street. When the children left home, they remained close by.

All Redwood’s sons became mariners and his daughters married sailors or men employed in trades connected with the sea. In 1851 his widowed daughter Jane had returned to live with her parents, while she worked as a charwoman to support her young daughter and newborn son. By 1861, now remarried to another sailor, she was living next door to her mother Sarah, who was caring for two of her grandchildren.

The former smuggler passed away in 1859, aged sixty-five. Proudly, his family or his friends placed notices in the Essex Standard and Chelmsford Chronicle, to note the death at Harwich of Mr Charles Redwood, mariner of that town.

Harwich, Essex null by William Daniell 1769-1837
Harwich was, a busy port on Essex’s north sea coast. In the 1850s, the town’s quays were extended through land reclamation


At the click of the latch, young Lewis Redwood runs squealing to the door and tugs at his father’s breeches. Sarah is all smiles. He feels the baby, firm in her belly, as he presses her in his arms. This one will not know his Daddy once went to gaol.

Sitting in his chair by the hearth, he keeps an eye on the potatoes bubbling on the stove while his daughters set the table. Suddenly he is hungry as the herrings, bought today in Yarmouth, sizzle smoky-sweet on the griddle. Up on the mantelpiece, Sarah has added the vase to the collection of shell decorations, beloved by sailors, which her husband has brought back from his travels. The new jewellery box has pride of place, already containing her blue bead necklace and money for next week’s housekeeping. Its glinting glass casts flickering rays of lamplight onto a picture, cut out from a magazine; it is his favourite print – ‘A Sailor’s Family’ by Thomas Rowlandson:

Though often portrayed as rowdy, drunken womanizers, sailors are rarely shown in that domestic role that many of them played – that of father. Aboard a ship, a jack cradles his infant child in one hand, while embracing his wife with the other. Even a dog joins the happy family, looking up to the sailor for approval or acknowledgement. Though drawn in a year of relative peace for the Crown, the pistol, musket, sword, and powder keg above the family all hint at the ever present threat of war that intrudes on their private moment.
The sailor wears a round hat with a low crown and very short brim. His hair is long and unruly. Though it is difficult to make out, the neckcloth appears to be plaid or striped. Our tar’s jacket has unbuttoned slash cuffs. The trousers are very narrowly striped, his stockings are white, and his pointed toe shoes have oval buckles.
He turns away from the merry picture and looks at his own happy band, gathered around the table, his wife beckoning him. For a moment he thinks of Miss Martin, sat at the table in her spartan room, writing out verses for the prisoners to copy. Charles Redwood shakes his head and then joins the homecoming supper, beaming.


And because everyone loves a sailor, here are more returning sailors (and some smugglers)………

A more Raunchy Sailor’s Return by Rowlandson. Does the flitch of bacon suggest impending marriage?

More typical of Rowlandson is his bawdy style of many Sailor’s Returns

That’s enough of that!

The Sailor Boy’s Return from  a Prosperous Voyage.
A Sailor’s Return in Peace. Credit National Maritime Museum
A Married Sailor’s Return, c. 1800. Julius Caesar Ibbetson. Credit Tate
An Unmarried Sailor’s Return, c. 1800. Julius Caesar Ibbetson. Credit Tate

The Sailor’s Farewell and The Sailor’s Return were familiar motifs on pottery:

Credit Sunderland Lustre. United Collections

And then there was The Smuggler’s Return…

David Wilkie, The Smugglers Return, wikigallery
The Smuggler at Home after a Successful Cruise, Henry Perlee Parker 1850
Smugglers Alarmed. Staffordshire Archives & Heritage
The Arrest of the Smuggler in West Looe, 1820. Credit Looe Guildhall

Fortunately, perhaps, there are no links here to extremely lewd and graphic set of Sailors Returns which I’m sure Charles Redwood did not display on his walls!



Repton: A celebration!

Humphry Repton was interred in a grave close by the south wall of Aylsham parish church following his death on the 24th March 1818. This year of 2018 marks the two-hundredth anniversary of Repton’s death and there is little doubt that this year’s anniversary will celebrate him in style, a person who was “the last great English landscape designer”. Commemorative events are planned to take place throughout Norfolk’s spring and summer.

Repton’s Memorial at Aylsham Parish Church, Norfolk

Repton’s Early Life

0 T
Norwich Grammar School 1850

Humphry Repton was born in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, son of John Repton, a successful collector of excise, and his wife, Martha (nee Fitch). Repton was, however, educated at Norwich Grammar School, where his father ran a transport business. In 1764 Repton was sent to the Netherlands to train as a merchant. Here he cultivated his skills as a sketcher and private gardener before entering a period of apprenticeship to a Norwich textile merchant. Following his marriage to Mary Clarke in 1773 Repton went into business on his own account, however, this venture was not successful.

Repton (William_Windham)
William Windham

Then, in 1778, his parents’ died which provided a small legacy for him to settle on a small country estate. There he became a minor squire with facilities to farm his own land; this was at Sustead near Aylsham in Norfolk. During this time, Repton remained restless and continued to cast his thoughts towards other suitable business opportunities. He had periods as a journalist, dramatist, artist, political agent, and as confidential secretary to William Windham of Felbrigg, when he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. These ventures followed one after the other with little success; as was his involvement in a joint venture to reform the mail-coach system; that too lost him money.

The successor to Capability Brown

Following these early business setbacks, Repton was encouraged by a childhood friend, a James Smith, to develop his interests in gardening and sketching and it was at this point that his professional plans in landscape gardening grew. William Windham of Felbrigg lent his support to Repton by allowing him access to the botany books in Felbrigg’s library; it was a gesture that helped Repton to blossom.

Repton (Felbrigg Library)
The Felbrigg Library. National Trust

With his capital dwindling, Repton was to move his young family to Hare Street near Romford, Essex in 1788 where he first attempted a career as a playwright before deciding in 1788 to employ his artistic talents to become a ‘landscape gardener’. Repton was all too aware of the death of Capability Brown some five years earlier and the gap it had left in the landscape gardening world which he acknowledged and was keen to fill. He did so by eventually advertising and sending circulars to land owners, particularly those he had cultivated whilst in Norfolk.

Repton (Repton's Cottage)
The view from Repton’s cottage at Hare Street from Fragments on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, 1816

His task, at first, would not be easy since he had a tendency to get on some people’s nerves from time to time, such was his sureness of the dreams he was selling. Maybe for the same reason, he was also thought to be a bit too cocky with a tendency towards a know-it-all air. Even Jane Austen lampooned him in her novel ‘Mansfield Park’ as a money-minded, cunning rogue who roamed the country, preying on the gullible wealthy and supplying them with fashionably picturesque vistas. Here is his very eye catching business card which sets out his stall pretty effectively.

Repton’s Business Card by Thomas Medland

Thus he was able, tentatively at least, to commence his career as a ‘landscape gardener’ – this was a phrase that he was to coin.

Repton’s first landscape commissions relied upon his Norfolk connections: Jeremiah Ives, mayor and textile merchant and owner of Catton Park near Norwich, Norfolk and Thomas Coke, notable Norfolk farming improver of Holkham. Arguably, the most successful of his Norfolk projects was for the Sheringham Hall Estate, Norfolk some years later. Abbot Upcher commissioned Repton to work on Sheringham in 1812 and the Red Book he produced is now considered to be one of the most comprehensive, a mark of the affinity Repton felt with Abbot Upcher. This Red Book is owned by National Trust but kept at the Royal Institution of British Architects (RIBA) library at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In 2013-14 it was selected to be part of the exhibition ‘Masterpieces: Art and East Anglia’ at the Sainsbury Centre of Visual Art. Today, there is a permanent ‘Repton Exhibition’ at Sheringham Park, including a displayed facsimile of his famous Red Book that he designed and produced when he received his commission to undertake the work.

Repton (Sheringham Park)2
Sheringham Park Estate, Norfolk

Repton the Landscape Gardener

Most of Repton’s commissions involved the preparation of his ‘Red Book’, so called for the red morocco bindings he produced them in. They were designed to hold his plans, drawings and accompanying explanatory text for the work; they also included watercolours, many with hinged or sliding overlays to show ‘before’ and ‘after’ views of the same scene. An 18th century winner! – as the following illustration shows; the top image is ‘before’, the bottom is ‘after’, with the addition of a nice curvy hill fringed with new woodland.

Repton (before-and-after-sketches)

These Red Books were never published, they were simply elegant notebooks containing handwritten proposals for each commission he took on. A Red Book was presented to each client who was duly charged for the work and materials involved.

The Picturesque Controversy

Repton’s essentially practical, restrained style led him into to the very public ‘picturesque controversy’ with leading art critics, Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price. They regarded that landscape re-modelling should imitate contemporary approaches to landscape painting that showed more rugged and intricate landscapes, accompanied by classical motifs and references. Repton’s design solutions produced practical and often restrained designs for his clients. He particularly disliked attempts to impose the classical Italian style on the English climate and landscape. His aim always was to enhance nature and described landscape gardening in the following way:


“The perfection of landscape gardening consists in the four following requisites. First, it must display the natural beauties and hide the defects of every situation. Secondly, it should give the appearance of extent and freedom by carefully disguising or hiding the boundary. Thirdly it must studiously conceal every interference of art. However expensive by which the natural scenery is improved; making the whole appear the production of nature only; and fourthly, all objects of mere convenience or comfort, if incapable of being made ornamental, or of becoming proper parts of the general scenery, must be removed or concealed.”

The ‘Gardenesque’

Some of Repton’s designs foreshadowed later popular themed gardens, the laying out of gravel walks and of lawns for use as cricket, bowls and croquet pitches. He also helped popularise the use of terraces and re-introduced separate flower gardens and flower beds. He also replaced earlier classical ornamentation with romantic structures like grottoes and fake ruins. Existing buildings played an integral part in many of his schemes. They both provided reference points and informed his final design for a landscape. At one point in his career he worked, with the architect John Nash, whose early building design suited Repton’s garden style. His son, John Adey Repton, an architect, worked with him and in Nash’s office; continuing to do so after his father’s collaboration with Nash ended acrimoniously around 1800. A younger son, George Stanley Repton, also worked with Repton senior.


Retirement and Beyond

Repton retired in 1814, three years after a carriage accident that forced him to use a wheelchair. In retirement he produced a book, with his son J. Adey Repton, detailing his approach to landscape gardening; Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1816). The book adopted the phrase “landscape gardening” to express his theory that the art requires “…the united powers of the landscape painter and the practical gardener…” He also discussed in detail the relationship between the landscape and the main estate house. To be able to provide visual representations of proposed improvements, he used a system of sliding panels depicting before and after views in his ‘Red Books’. He published two other major works on garden design: Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening (1795), Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1803). He authored a number of other minor works. Taken together with his Red Books, these books are an important part of his legacy to landscape design today.

Repton (Red Book)
An example of Repton’s Red Book

In total, Repton produced designs for the grounds of over four hundred of country houses in England, including Tatton Park, Woburn Abbey and here in Norfolk, notably at Catton Park and Sheringham Park where a replica of his famous ‘Red Book’ is displayed.

Repton (Sheringham Park)1
Sheringham Park Estate

From March 2018, the Broadland District Council and the village of Aylsham, Norfolk will host the official launch of ‘Repton 200’ – a year of nationwide celebrations, coordinated by the Gardens Trust and marking the bicentenary of Humphry Repton’s death.


The Brunton’s of Norwich: Soap to Stage!

The head of this Norwich branch of the Brunton family was John Brunton who was born in 1741 and died in 1822. His birth was within the confines of this city, one of the largest by population in the country. John arrived the son of a prominent soap-maker in the City who saw to it that John was educated at the local grammar school, followed by an apprenticeship with a local wholesale grocer. Once John had completed his seven-year apprenticeship, he married a Miss Friend, the daughter of a Norwich mercer. Shortly after his marriage, John Brunton moved his family to London where he set up as a tea-dealer and grocer in Drury Lane.

18th Century Theatre Prompter

In London, John Brunton made friends with a Mr. J. Younger, who was at the time the prompter at the Covent Garden Theatre. This friendship helped nurture and encourage Brunton’s interested in acting. It was in April 1774 when Brunton was given the part of Cyrus in a benefit performance for Mr. Younger before he played the part of Hamlet in a similar benefit performance of the play for a Mr. Kniveton. Bitten now by the acting bug, Brunton gave up his tea and grocery shop and became a full time actor. He soon became considered as a talented actor of Shakespearean roles and as such returned to live in Norwich from where he travelled around a number of provincial theatres to perform. In time, John Brunton gave up acting and took the position as manager of the theatre in Bath for about three years before becoming manager of the theatre in Brighton where the Prince of Wales became his patron. Brunton eventually returned to Norwich to become the manager of the city’s theatre, acting from time to time when needed.

John Brunton and his wife were blessed with fourteen children but he did not, initially, intend that any of them should enter the acting profession. At the time when the family lived in Bath, Brunton’s wife had taken on the responsibility of educating their children with John also spending many hours reading stories to them. He also taught his eldest daughter Anne, (1769 – 1808) to read Shakespeare aloud as part of her preparation for becoming a governess. It was whilst doing this that he identified her talent for acting and arranged for her to go on stage at the tender age of fifteen years.

Anne Brunton (1769 – 1808) Actress

Anne Brunton made her debut in Bath, in February 1785. After seeing her performances in Bath that summer, Thomas Harris, manager of the Covent Garden theatre in London, engaged her to help his theatre compete with the Drury Lane theatre. Anne’s manager was her father, who also helped her perfect her acting skills. Then in August of 1791, Miss Anne Brunton, married the prominent playwright and poet, Robert Merry.

Robert Merry, (1755–1798)    Playwright & Poet

As Mrs. Merry, she was eventually pressured to retire from the stage by her husband’s family but soon afterwards, Robert Merry found that he had used up most of his substantial inheritance and considered it necessary for the couple to move to Paris; that is until the outbreak of the French Revolution when they were forced to return to London. Thereafter, the Merry’s began to live a very unsettled existence and, after three years, rumours began to circulate that Anne Merry would be returning to the stage in a private theatre in Scarborough. Nothing, in fact, came of this and a few months later there were reports that Anne Brunton Merry would soon appear at Covent Garden as the leading lady in a play written by her husband ; that too came to nothing!

Thomas Wignell (1753 – 1803) Actor & Theatre Manager

By the spring of 1796, Thomas Wignell, the manager of the Chestnut Street Theatre of Philadelphia, was in London seeking talent for his new theatre. Between Merry’s liberal political leanings, his dwindling financial resources and his family’s objections regarding his wife’s work in the theatre, the Merry’s could see no secure position for themselves in London. Anne Merry, therefore, accepted Wignell’s offer to perform at the Chestnut Street Theatre and she and her husband sailed for America.

Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, USA

Anne Brunton Merry was a great success on the American stage and, in addition to Philadelphia, She played in all of the large cities in the United States. Then in 1798, Robert Merry died, and in January 1803, Anne married Thomas Wignell, only for him to die the following month due to an infection. As Mrs. Wignell, Anne performed in Baltimore in the April before going into seclusion to await the birth of her daughter, Elizabeth, that autumn. The following year, Anne Wignell returned to the stage performing in a number of Shakespearean roles.

By now, the actor, William Warren had taken over management of the Chestnut Street Theatre and, in August of 1806, Anne Wignell married him. She continued to act until May of 1808, when she again left the state to await the birth of a child. The Warrens then retired to a house in Alexandria, Virginia where Anne experienced a violent illness which left her delusional and reciting some of her favourite speeches from characters she had played over the years. On 24 June 1806, she gave birth to a stillborn son, and though she initially seemed to be recovering from her ordeal, she died on 28 June 1806.

John Brunton’s son, also named John (1775 – 1849), was intended for the law by his father, though he had had a few small acting roles, while a child, at his father’s theatre. Despite his parent’s hopes, the young man was bitten by the same acting bug as had bitten his father years previously. At the age of eighteen and unbeknown to his family, John Junior joined a theatre company in Lincoln. After experiencing some success, young John returned home to his family, who were then living in Norwich. Though his father was disappointed that his son had chosen not to follow the law, he Well understood his son’s love of the stage and hired him as an actor and assistant manager.

John Brunton Jr. (1775 – 1849)                Brunton in the role of Zadi, from a scene in ‘The Anaconda, the Terrific Serpent of Ceylon’ based on a tale by G. M. Lewis. Published December 4, 1822. Brunton portrays Zadi, “a Cingalese restored to freedom”.

John Brunton Junior. was to become a very successful actor in the Norwich theatre which was managed by his father, and in 1800, young John travelled to London where he made his debut in the same Covent Garden theatre as did his father more than twenty-five years before.

John Jr. played a number of Shakespearean roles over the course of the next five years, but he did not achieve the success of some of the other leading actors in London of that period. In 1804, he followed in his father’s footsteps and became the manager of the West London Theatre, though he did still perform character parts from time to time, when needed. Over the course of his career, John Brunton, Jr. would go on to manage theatres at Brighton, Birmingham, Plymouth, Lynn and Norwich.

Bruntons (Covent Garden)
Covent Garden Theatre, 18th century.

Another daughter of John Brunton, Senior was Elizabeth (c. 1772 – 1799); she would be introduced to the London stage by her successful older sister, Anne, before she departed for America. This Eliza, as she was known in the family, made her stage debut at the Covent Garden theatre in a benefit for her older sister, Anne, in 1788. It was Anne who personally introduced Eliza to the audience that night with an elegant and poetical address which was well-received by those in attendance. That first night, Eliza had such a case of stage fright that she could barely speak her lines. However, the audience showed her sympathy and encouragement by which she was able to collect herself and get through her first performance with increasing confidence. Eliza went on to develop her acting skills further and continued to act for several years, but she never achieved the success of Anne, her eldest sister or Louisa, her youngest. She eventually married a Mr. Colombine.

John Brunton, Senior’s youngest daughter, Louisa (c. 1780 – 1860), was considered a great beauty and a very talented actress, who made her debut in October of 1803, at the Covent Garden theatre, as leading lady to the famous actor John Kemble. Critics wrote of her beauty and her gifted performance, predicting a glowing future for her. Louisa Brunton played a variety of roles, from contemporary plays to Shakespeare over the next four years. She also had many gentlemen admirers. However, it was well-known that she came from a respectable and professional theatrical family. There was never any suggestion in society or in the newspapers that she was anything less that a very proper young lady. Certainly, she was never considered to be a courtesan or a loose woman as were some actresses.

Louisa Brunton (1780 – 1860)

Sometime in 1805, Major-General William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven (28 September 1770 – 30 July 1825), became one of Louisa’s most ardent admirers. Lord Craven had been the first patron of the notorious courtesan, Harriette Wilson, when Harriette was only fifteen. However, it does not appear he ever made any attempt to offer Louisa Brunton the carte blanche he had offered Harriette Wilson. Rather, he asked for Louisa’s hand and, on 12 December 1807, the couple was married in Lord Craven’s London townhouse in Berkeley Square. Though Louisa may have expected to have been welcomed into aristocratic society, such was not the case. Though she was not a loose woman, Louisa had been born into the middle class, and there were many high-sticklers among the beau monde who shunned her. Nevertheless, she and her husband did maintain a circle of friends whose company they enjoyed.

Major-General William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven (28 September 1770 – 30 July 1825)

After her marriage, Louisa gave up the stage and devoted much of her time to her family. She and Lord Craven took up their primary residence at the earl’s estate of Hamstead Marshall Park in Berkshire, where the earl had recently built a fine mansion. The earl never lost his wandering eye, and he is known to have had relationships with other women during their marriage. It seems his countess turned a blind eye to these extra-curricular activities in order to maintain peace in the marriage. Louisa took up garden design, a pursuit she would enjoy at Hamstead Marshall Park for most of her life. The Earl and Countess of Craven had four children, three boys, including the next earl, and a daughter.

In 1811, when her father, John Brunton, retired as the manager of the Norwich theatre, he and his wife, Louisa’s mother, moved to Berkshire to be near Louisa. When her husband died in July of 1825, Louisa remained at Hamstead Marshall, while her eldest son, the new earl, took up residence at Ashdown House, also situated in Berkshire. Louisa, Dowager Countess of Craven lived a quiet and retired life at Hamstead Marshall, her fame on the stage all but forgotten when she died there on 27 August 1860.

It transpired that Louisa was not the last of the Bruntons to take to the stage. Two of her older brother John’s daughters, the third generation of the Brunton family, both became actresses. In March of 1815, Elizabeth Brunton (1799 – 1860), made her debut at the theatre in Lynn, which was managed by her father. Elizabeth’s first role was that of Desdemona in Othello, opposite Charles Kemble, of the famous acting family. Though she did well enough, her father concluded that ‘Bess’ was more suited to comedy and it was in these roles that Miss Elizabeth Brunton was to perform at theatres in Birmingham, Worcester, Shrewsbury and Leicester over the next two years.

Bruntons (Eliza Yates 1799-1860)2
Elizabeth Brunton (1799 – 1860)

In 1817, Thomas Harris, the manager of London’s Covent Garden theatre, engaged Elizabeth Brunton, just as he had engaged her Aunt Anne many years before. It was in the September of that year when Miss Elizabeth Brunton made her London debut at Covent Garden as Letitia Hardy in the comedy, Belle’s Stratagem. She also was to perform in a number of other plays at Covent Garden that year; all of the to mixed reviews. The following year, Elizabeth Brunton appeared on stage in Edinburgh and at Drury Lane, but was back at Covent Garden for the 1818 – 1819 season taking a couple of years off from acting to spend some time in the country.

Shortly after her return to the stage, Elizabeth performed in Norwich, her ancestral home city; that was in 1820. On one particular evening of her tour, the performace did not run as it should due to a riot, a report of which found its way on to the pages of the 16th March edition of The Times:

“…. a theatrical riot took place at the Norwich Theatre. On the Monday Miss Brunton had appeared in the character of Rosalind without incident. On the Tuesday, she appeared as Maria Dorillon in Elizabeth Inchbald’s controversial play “Wives as they Were, and Maids as they Are”, which had been attacked as subversive for its portrayal of women. Notwithstanding the excellence of her performance, the house was very thinly attended. As if this was not enough for poor Miss Brunton on her final performance:…….much confusion arose in consequence of part of the audience calling for ‘God Save The King’, which was sung, while others vociferated ‘God Save The Queen’. At length, two regular battles took place……[but] at the commencement of the farce, on Miss Brunton’s appearance, loud applause superseded the tones displeasure.

But as the battle raged among the audience, Miss Brunton was led off the stage. The manager tried to reason with the audience but he and the remaining actors were driven from the stage, which was occupied by some of the rioters while ‘the respectable part of the audience immediately left the house'”.

In 1822, Elizabeth Brunton resumed her career on the London stage, at the West Theatre, where her father was manager. Unfortunately, the season did not go well, and Bess once again retired to the country. It was whilst she was there that she became reacquainted with Frederick Henry Yates, an actor with whom she had performed at Drury Lane. In November of 1823, the couple were married in Bath. Mrs. Yates, still billed as Miss Brunton, appeared in a number of plays in Bath that season. The following season, she played at Cheltenham and Drury Lane, often with her husband. The couple played several theatres, sometimes together, and sometimes separately, over the course of the next decade. About 1835, Frederick Yates became the manager of the Adelphi Theatre in London. When he retired from the Adelphi in 1842, Mr. and Mrs. Yates traveled to Ireland, with their son, to perform in Dublin. Sadly, Mr. Yates became ill during rehearsals and the family decided to return to England. Frederick Yates died not long after his return, in June of 1842.

In 1843, Mrs. Yates took over as co-manager of the Adelphi theatre for about a year, but found her health was not up to it. She came back to the stage as an actress at the Lyceum for the 1848 – 1849 season. However, her health continued to deteriorate and she was forced to retire permanently from the stage by 1850. After a long illness, Mrs. Elizabeth Yates died on 30 August 1860, just three days after the passing of her Aunt Louisa. Though both Mr. and Mrs. Yates had enjoyed long theatrical careers, they had always discouraged their son, Edmond Yates, from seeking a career in the theatre; instead, he became a novelist and playwright and never performed on stage.

Whilst today the Norwich branch of the Brunton family is largely unknown, that was not the case from the late eighteenth century and well into the middle of the nineteenth when they were very well-known throughout the theatrical world of Britain.


A Victorian Circus Star from Norwich!

The first fact to reveal about Pablo Fanque is that he was born in Norwich in the fair County of Norfolk. The second, and probably the more important, is the fact that he not only became a brilliant equestrian performer, but famous as the first non-white British circus owner in Britain and the most popular circus proprietor in Victorian Britain during a 30-year golden period of circus entertainment. His life’s story starts where all life stories begin; it is this beginning on which the City of Norwich lays its own claim to this showman’s name and fame.


Norwich boasts the fact that Pablo Fanque, baptised William Darby, was born in the City; the date of his birth was 30th March 1810. He was to die on 4th May 1871 in Stockport, Lancashire, having left Norwich as a teenager, never to return. Fast forward to 2010; this was the year when Norwich first expressed its pride in being associated with the gentleman in the form of a commemorative blue plaque placed on the wall of the John Lewis department store on All Saints Green. Its position was the nearest the authorities could get to the house in Ber Street where Fanque lived his earlier years. Then, in 2018 a student accommodation block was opened in the Norwich, opposite the John Lewis Store and named ‘Pablo Fanque House’.

Pablo Fanque (Block)2
A view of the new flats, built on the former Mecca Bingo site. Pic: Alumno Developments.

Much of Pablo Fanque’s early life in Norwich is unknown and speculative. What is known comes from the City’s church records which state, quite clearly, that he was born in 1810. He was one of at least five children born to John and Mary Darby (née Stamp) in Norwich. When Fanque married in 1848, he entered on his marriage certificate “butler” for his late father’s occupation. A Dr. John Turner, in a biography, speculated that Fanque’s father “was Indian-born and had been brought to Norwich and trained as a house servant.” Other accounts have also speculated that Fanque was orphaned at a young age, and even born in a workhouse to a family with seven children.

Over the years, biographers have also disputed Fanque’s date of birth and it was Dr John Turner, again, who popularised the belief that Fanque was born in 1796, presumably based on the 14 May 1871 ‘Era’ newspaper which recorded that Fanque’s coffin bore the inscription; “AGED 75 YEARS”. Dr Turner may also have been influenced by the detail on Fanque’s gravestone, located at the base of his late wife Susannah Darby’s grave in Woodhouse Cemetery, Leeds (now St George’s Field) which reads; “Also the above named William Darby Pablo Fanque who died May 4th 1871 Aged 75 Years“.

But those who support the belief that Fanque was born earlier than 1810 should maybe take note of certain facts. Firstly, his age was recorded in the 1841, 1851 and 1871 Census’s of England as being born in 1810 – surely, not all three would be incorrect! Then, a birth register at St. Andrews Workhouse in Norwich also records the birth of a ‘William’ to John Darby and Mary Stamp at the workhouse on 1 April 1810. This is the same birth year as that on Norwich’s blue plaque. There also follows the marriage record of a John Darby to Mary Stamp on 27 March 1791 at St. Stephen’s, Norwich, by records of their children; these include a John Richard on 4 Jul 1792, Robert on 27 Jul 1794, William on 28 Feb 1796, Mary Elizabeth on 18 Mar 1798, and William on 30 March 1810. Crucially, the family also had two burial records, a William on 30 April 1797 and Mary Elizabeth on 10 Feb 1801. Genealogists worth their salt would know that it was quite common in families that suffered infant mortalities in the past for a later child to be given the same name as a sibling who had previously died. This was particularly true where parents wished to maintain a family name in perpetuity. These facts strongly indicate that William, our subject was born in 1810, following the earlier William who had died in 1797.


William Darby became apprenticed to the circus proprietor, William Batty, around 1820, when he was about ten years old and in circumstances that biographers can only dream up. Certainly, Darby picked up the ‘bug’ of being a circus entertainer in Norwich and made his first known appearance in a sawdust ring there on December 26, 1821. He was billed as “Young Darby”; his acts including equestrian stunts and rope walking. Then, as soon as he had grown and developed into a young adult with the full range of skills that he was to became famous for, William Darby left Norwich for good and toured extensively. It was also around this period when he changed his name to his professional “Pablo Fanque” identity. Eventually, and maybe inevitably, Fanque was to make a highly successful London debut; that was in 1847 under his professional name. Describing Fanque and his performance at that debut, The Illustrated London News wrote:

“Mr. Pablo Fanque is an artiste of colour, and his steed … we have not only never seen surpassed, but never equalled … Mr. Pablo Fanque was the hit of the evening. The steed in question was Beda, the black mare that Fanque had bought from Batty. That the horse attracted so much attention was testament to Fanque’s extraordinary horse training skills.”


This same edition of The Illustrated London News also provided an example of how contemporaries regarded Fanque’s performance:

“This extraordinary feat of the manège has proved very attractive, as we anticipated in our Journal of last week; and we have judged the success worthy of graphic commemoration. As we have already described, the steed dances to the air, and the band has not to accommodate itself to the action of the horse, as in previous performances of this kind. The grace and facility in shifting time and paces with change of the air, is truly surprising.” – Fanque was also described as a “skilful rider” and “a very good equestrian. It was the same newspaper, reporting on another performance at London’s Astleys Amphitheater, that filled in many more biographical details of Fanque:


“… Mr. William Darby, or, as he is professionally known, Mr. Pablo Fanque, is a native of Norwich, and is about 35 years of age. He was apprenticed to Mr. Batty, the present proprietor of “Astleys Amphitheater” and remained in his company several years. He is proficient in rope-dancing, posturing, tumbling etc; and is also considered a very good equestrian. After leaving Mr. Batty, he joined the establishment of the late Mr. Ducrow, and remained with him for some time before rejoining Mr. Batty.”

In 1841, he began business on his own account, with two horses, and has assembled a fine stud of horses and ponies at his establishment at Wigan, in Lancashire…. “in which county Mr. Pablo is well known, and a great favourite.” Thus started the 30 year period when Fanque ran his own successful circus, only sometimes involving partnerships with others where these were necessary. During this time he toured England, Scotland, and Ireland, but performed mostly in the Midlands and the Northern England counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire, and what is now “Greater Manchester.”

Families flocked to his shows in their thousands, lured by exciting poster and newspaper advertisements, street parades and the stories told by those who had been held spellbound by what they had experienced. Fanque was extremely adept at conjuring together new ‘exotic’ names, acts and historical extravaganzas, which could transport poor people out of what many experienced as drab, hardworking lives into a world of imagination, colour, dangerous feats of courage, expertise and sheer fun!  His shows appealed equally to those of the higher classes.


One reason for Fanque’s success, one that often goes unremarked in circus histories, was his keen appreciation of the importance of  advertising. Among the advantages that his circus enjoyed over its numerous rivals was that it enjoyed the services of Edward Sheldon, a pioneer in the art of billposting whose family would go on to build the biggest advertising business in Britain by 1900. Fanque seems to have been among the first to recognise Sheldon’s genius, hiring him when he was just 17.  Sheldon spent the next three years as Fanque’s advance man, advertising the imminent arrival of the circus as it moved from town to town.


In addition to such advertising, Fanque would organise a spectacular parade to announce his arrival in town.  In some towns he would drive ‘Twelve of his most beautiful Hanoverian and Arabian Steeds’ through the principal streets, accompanied by his ‘celebrated Brass Band’.  He was also known to drive fourteen horses in hand through the streets in some places.

Even serious churchgoers sought enjoyment from a Fanque circus, whilst risking chastisement from some quarters. It was in1843, when clergy in Burnley were criticised in the Blackburn Mercury for attending performances of Fanque’s circus. This prompted one reader to respond thus:

“Ministers of religion, of all denominations, in other towns, have attended Mr. Pablo Fanque’s circus. Such is his character for probity and respectability, that wherever he has been once he can go again; aye and receive the countenance and support of the wise and virtuous of all classes of society. I am sure that the friends of temperance and morality are deeply indebted to him for the perfectly innocent recreation which he has afforded to our population, by which I am sure hundreds have been prevented from spending their money in revelling and drunkenness.”


The “Benefit for Mr. Kite”, a title later to be immortalised by the 20th century’s musical Group ‘The Beatles’, was one of many benefit shows that Pablo Fanque held for performers in his own circus, for others in the profession who had no regular retirement or health benefits, and for community organisations. Fanque was, in fact, a member of the Order of Ancient Shepherds, a fraternal organisation affiliated with the Freemasons. The Order assisted families in times of illness or death with burial costs and other expenses. For example, an 1845 show in Blackburn benefitted the Blackburn Mechanics Institution and the Independent Order of Odd-fellows, offering a bonus to the Widows and Orphans Fund. Fanque held a similar benefit in Bury the following year.

Pablo Fanque (Friendly Soc.)

Then in 1857 and 1858, Fanque was again active, holding at least two benefits among other performances. In 1857, in Bradford, he held a benefit for the family of the late Tom Barry, a clown. Brenda Assael, in The Circus and Victorian Society, writes that in March 1857, “Pablo Fanque extended the hand of friendship to Barry’s widow and held a benefit in her husband’s name at his Allied Circus in Bradford. Using the Era offices to transmit the money he earned from this event, Fanque enclosed 10 pounds worth of ‘post office orders…being the profits of the benefit. I should have been better pleased had it been more, but this was the close of a very dull season.” On 24 October 1858, The Herald of Scotland reported: “IN GLASGOW, ‘Pablo Fanque’s Cirrque Nationale’ offered ‘A Masonic Benefit.”

An 1846 a Bolton newspaper story epitomised the public’s high regard for Fanque in the communities he visited on account of his beneficence:

“Several of the members of the “Widows and Orphans Fund” presented to Mr. Pablo Fanque a written testimonial, mounted in an elegant gilt frame…Mr. Pablo on entering the room was received with due respect. Mr. Fletcher presented an address…which concluded:…’and when the hoary hand of age should cease to wave over your head, at a good old age, may you sink into the grave regretted, and your name and acts of benevolence be remembered by future generations.”


During the 1840s and 1850s, Fanque was close friends with the clown W. F. Wallett, who performed in his circus. Wallett also managed Fanque’s circus for a time. Wallett frequently promoted himself as “the Queen’s Jester,” having performed once before Queen Victoria in 1844 at Windsor Castle. He appeared regularly with Fanque’s circus and many towns throughout the north. It was during a ‘benefit’ being held for Wallett in the amphitheatre, Leeds when a balcony collapsed, killing Fanque’s wife; see below.

Pablo Fanque (wallett)2
W.F. Wallett

Throughout his 1870 autobiography, Wallett shares several amusing anecdotes about his work and friendship with Fanque, including the following about their 1859 engagement in Glasgow:

“ The season was a succession of triumphs. One of the principal attractions was a little Irishman whom I engaged in Dublin, who rejoiced in the name of Vilderini, one of the best posture masters the theatrical world ever produced. I engaged him for three months at a liberal salary, on the express understanding that I should shave his head, and convert him into a Chinaman. For which nationality his small eyes, pug nose, high cheek bones, and heavy mouth admirably adapted him. So his head was shaved, all but a small tuft on the top, to which a saddler with waxed twine firmly attached his celestial pig-tail. His eyebrows were shaved off, and his face, neck, and head dyed after the most admired Chinese complexion. Thus metamorphosed, he was announced on the walls as KI HI CHIN FAN FOO (Man-Spider-leg mortal).

We had about twenty supernumeraries and the whole equestrian company in Chinese costume. Variegated lanterns, gongs, drums, and cymbals ushered the distinguished Chinaman into the ring, to give his wonderful entertainment. The effect was astonishing, and its success extraordinary. In fact the entire get-up was so well carried out that it occasioned us some annoyance. For there were two rival tea merchants in Glasgow at the time, and each of them had engaged a genuine Chinaman as touter at his door. Every night, as soon as they could escape from their groceries, they came to the circus to solicit an interview with their compatriot. After being denied many nights in succession, they peremptorily demanded to see him. Being again refused, they determined to move for the writ of habeas corpus. That is to say, they applied to the magistrate stating they believed their countryman to be deprived of his liberty except during the time of his performance. We were then compelled to produce our celestial actor, who proved to the satisfaction of the worthy magistrate that he was a free Irishman from Tipperary.”

Pablo Fanque (wallett)1
W.F. Wallett


Fanque married Susannah Marlaw, the daughter of a Birmingham buttonmaker. They had two sons, one of whom was named Lionel. It was on 18th March 1848 when his wife died in Leeds at a ‘Benefit’ performance for Fanque’s friend, W F Wallett, clown. Their son was performing a tightrope act before a large crowd at the Amphitheatre at King Charles Croft. The 600 people seated in the gallery fell with its collapse, but Susannah Darby was the only fatality when heavy planks hit her on the back of the head. Reportedly, Fanque sought medical attention for his wife at the King Charles Hotel, but a surgeon pronounced her dead. Years later a 4 March 1854 edition of the Leeds Intelligencer recalled the incident, while announcing the return of Pablo Fanque’s Circus to the town:

“His last visit, preceding the present one, was unfortunately attended by a very melancholy accident. On that occasion he occupied a circus in King Charles’s Croft and part of the building gave way during the time it was occupied by a crowded audience. Several persons were more or less injured by the fall of the timbers composing the part that proved too weak, and Mrs Darby, the wife of the proprietor, was killed. This event, which occurred on Saturday the 18th March 1848, excited much sympathy throughout the borough. A neat monument with an impressive inscription is placed above the grave of Mrs Darby, in the Woodhouse Lane Cemetery.”

It is clear that widower Fanque did not waste any time in finding another wife for in June 1848, he married an Elizabeth Corker, a circus rider and daughter of George Corker of Bradford. Elizabeth was 22 years old and was to deliver two more sons to Fanque, George (1854) and Edward Charles “Ted” (1855). Both sons were to join the circus with Ted Pablo achieving acclaim as a boxer, and would tour Australia in that profession. A daughter, Caroline died at the age of 1 year and 4 months and was buried in the same plot as was for Susannah and William.

In Warriston Cemetery in Edinburgh there also stands a tombstone dedicated to the memory of two others of Elizabeth and Fanque’s children —William Batty Patrick Darby (13 months) and Elizabeth Darby (3 years). Both died in 1852 but Elizabeth, the younger, died in Tuam, Ireland. This was at a time, in the early 1850’s, when Fanque was performing regularly in Edinburgh. The inscription on the children’s tombstone is thus:

“Sacred to the Memory of
William Batty Patrick Darby
son of
William and Elizabeth Darby
Professionally known as Pablo Fanque
who died 1st February 1852, Aged 13 Months
Also of 
Elizabeth, their Daughter
who died at Tuam Ireland 30th Oct. 1852,
Aged 3 years and 4 months”


It is left to the 1861 census records to reveal that Fanque was living with a woman named Sarah, aged 25, who was described as his wife! But there again, the 1871 census records show him living again with his wife Elizabeth and his two sons, in Stockport.


The successful performance years and the money enjoyed by Fanque were destined not to last beyond the 1860’s. Certainly within a couple of years of his death, Fanque was ‘insolvent’, living in a room in the Britannia Inn, 22 Churchgate, Stockport, with his wife and two sons – George and Ted Pablo. There Fanque died of bronchitis on 4 May 1871. It was a sad end for such an extraordinary man, who rose from humble beginnings in Norwich to reach the top of his profession and in a career that lasted fifty years.

Despite the apparent poor financial circumstances of his last few years, Pablo Fanque’s funeral was a spectacular occasion. One may think that, having been a member of a charitable ‘Order’ and someone who often raised money for others, help came forward to see him on his way. Certainly, his body was brought from Stockport by train and a great procession accompanied him to his resting place, watched by several thousand people.  The hearse was preceded by a band playing the ‘Dead March’ from Saul and was followed by Pablo’s favourite horse, Wallett, ‘partially draped in mourning trappings and led by a groom’, four mourning coaches, and several cabs and private vehicles.  Pablo was buried with his first wife in Woodhouse Lane Cemetery, Leeds. Ahead of the funeral procession to the cemetery was a band playing the “Dead March”. Fanque’s favourite horse followed, along with four coaches and mourners. Fanque was buried next to his first wife Susannah Darby. The Cemetery is now named St. George’s Field and part of the University of Leeds campus. While the remains of many of the 100,000 graves and monuments have been relocated, the monument that Fanque erected in his wife’s memory, and a smaller modest monument in his memory still stands.

While some contemporary reports did not refer to Fanque’s African ancestry, other reports noted that he was “a man of colour,” or “a coloured gentleman,” or “an artiste of colour.” These suggest he was of mixed race with partial European ancestry as well. Thirty years after Fanque’s death, the chaplain of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, Reverend Thomas Horne, wrote: “In the great brotherhood of the equestrian world there is no colour line for, although Pablo Fanque was of African extraction, he speedily made his way to the top of his profession. The camaraderie of the ring has but one test – ability.” He was commenting on Fanque’s success in Victorian England despite being of mixed race.

For all the charitable qualities possessed by Fanque, he was far from perfect. Apart from the apparent eye he seemed to have for the ladies, there was a less savoury side to him that should not be forgotten if a sense of balance is to be maintained.

Fanque, at best, seemed to have also been an irritable man, if not violent. In 1847, he attacked a James Henderson, not the J. Henderson on the playbill by the way! James Henderson was an employee who, although taking Fanque to court, the matter was settled without full legal recourse. – “He [Henderson] was unable to keep the horse quiet, and thereupon the defendant, after one or two somewhat uncivil expressions of disapprobation, threw the comb and brush at him (complainant), and then (probably from the force of association) began ‘kicking’ at his legs. — John Leach and James Geary confirmed the complainant’s account …” – (Blackburn Standard – 13 October 1847 p.3.).

Another assault took place in 1849. – “CHESTERFIELD PETTY SESSIONS, SATURDAY, JULY 28. Pablo Fanque Darby, the proprietor of a travelling equestrian establishment, was charged with assaulting John Wright, of Walton, at Baslow, on the proceeding day.” – (Derbyshire Courier – 04 August 1849 p.2.)

However, a chronic problem with Fanque was that he was not good at keeping the finances straight. Nelson had a financial dispute over wages with him in April 1858 which went to court but by October 1858 Fanque had been made bankrupt and in June 1859 was refused protection from bankruptcy, owing £2765 with assets of £165. It turned out that Fanque had fooled everyone into thinking he was “the owner of a large equestrian establishment”, but had in fact sold his business to William Batty some years before and hired it back. A creditor claimed that this sale was fraudulent and although the commissioner found that “the transactions with Battye … were of a singular character, and calculated to arouse suspicion … nothing fraudulent had been proved before him”. Even the fact that he had kept no books did not in law “call for punishment”.

However, a charge of perjury was more serious for it was claimed that Fanque had sworn an affidavit that the circus was worth £1000 when it had been previously purchased by Batty for £500. “Unfortunately for the bankrupt’s character, it was too clear that the the affidavit was intended to deceive. The statement that the establishment was worth £1000, and was his property, was entirely untrue … the bankrupt had shown that no reliance could be placed on his word”. – (Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser – 4 June 1859)

Even after his death in May 1871, his propensity not to be honest with regard to the way he handled his debts caused problems for others. John Walker, a juggler in his circus had lent him £5, which he required to be repaid, but Pablo had died suddenly. As a result he sued Elizabeth Darby, his widow and administratrix of the estate. As a result, Elizabeth’s barrister in the case, “asserted that the defendant had not a rag, her husband having died hopelessly insolvent. Sometime before his death, the deceased assigned every particle of his property, in consideration of a sum of £150 lent to him by a Mr. Knight, of Manchester, who had now taken possession of everything”.  – (Huddersfield Chronicle – 13 May 1871 p.8.) In order to settle the case, her barrister paid the £5 out of his own pocket.


There you have it! – the ‘not so complete tale’ of Pablo Fanque’s life. However, like with most lives and events legacies remain. In Pablo Fanque’s case, his name was almost forgotten, that is until it became immortalised in the mid part of the 20th century, on the Beatles’ album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – in the song, ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’.  The words of that song had been lifted by John Lennon from an advertising poster for Fanque’s Royal Circus in Rochdale, in 1843, which Lennon had spotted in an antique shop in Sevenoaks, Kent:

John Lennon with that Poster!

“For the benefit of Mr. Kite/There will be a show tonight on trampoline/ The Hendersons will all be there/ Late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair – what a scene/ Over men and horses, hoops and garters/ Lastly through a hogshead of real fire!/ In this way Mr. K will challenge the world!”

Lennon bought the poster while shooting a promotional film for the song, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, in Knole Park. Tony Bramwell, a former Apple Records employee, recalled, “There was an antique shop close to the hotel we were using in Sevenoaks. John and I wandered in and John spotted this Victorian circus poster and bought it.” The poster advertises a performance in Rochdale and announces the appearance of “Mr. J. Henderson, the celebrated somerset thrower” and “Mr. Kite” who is described as “late of Wells’s Circus.” Lennon modifies the language, singing instead, “The Hendersons will all be there/Late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair/What a scene!”

The title “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” is taken verbatim from the poster. The Mr. Kite referenced in the poster was William Kite, who is believed to have performed in Fanque’s circus from 1843 to 1845. As for “Mr. J. Henderson”, he was John Henderson, a wire-walker, equestrian, trampoline artist, and clown. While the poster made no mention of “Hendersons” plural, as Lennon sings, John Henderson did perform with his wife Agnes, the daughter of circus owner Henry Hengler. The Hendersons performed throughout Europe and Russia during the 1840s and 1850s.

The Beatles. Pic: AP Photo/Robert Freeman- Copyright Apple Corps Ltd


Chamberlin’s of Norwich: “Value and Reliability!”

There was a time when Norwich had, along with Bristol, the honour of having a Mint. There even was a time when Norwich had an importance which was second only to that of London. There was also a time when this City had its best forgotten days, when it lost its famous old weavers and saw the break-up of textile trade. There was also a time when its transport links to the capital city were poor and stage coach journeys were long, tedious and at times dangerous. That once famous ‘Punch’ magazine, in a sarcastic thrust at the slow methods of reaching East Anglia from the Metropolis, wrote at the time: “ On Friday last a young man was heard to ask for a ticket to Norwich. No reason can be assigned for the rash act.”

On one hand, there was that glorious year of 1815 when Napoleon was finally beaten at Waterloo; then, on the other hand that same year had its’ drawbacks. There were no railways, penny postage, morning papers, matches or gas, to say nothing of electric light; without a thousand and one inventions that were to give comforts to the masses, it was a time ripe for enterprise and progress. It was a time when a certain Henry Chamberlin, a Scotsman from Edinburgh, opened a business on Guildhall Hill which was to become known by the diserning as “ Chamberlin’s of Norwich,” a title that signified the hall-mark of excellence.

Henry Chamberlin (born 1777 and died 1848) never was one to entertain the selling of low quality goods; he went for the best, and the firm which he founded in 1815 never swerved from the principles of “value and reliability,” during perplexing years which saw, just like today, the rise and fall of the craze for cheapness. On this basis the Store became firmly established and grew. Then, in 1823, Henry the founder was joined by his son, Robert Chamberlin and continued to prosper. Some years later became known as Chamberlin, Sons & Co. and then quoted as a Limited Company under the title of Chamberlin & Sons, Limited. On 4 March Henry Died and was buried at Thorpe St Andrew Cemetery.

Chamberlins (Henry's Grave)1

Robert took over the Company’s reigns and just like his father, not only oversaw the business, but was to occupy a variety of civic office rolls during his life. On the domestic front, he found time to have seventeen children from two marriages. Then, following his death in 1876, his son, George Chamberlin, became General Manager of the family business. George would himself have a large family too, fathering ten of his own children. All four of his sons were to serve in the First World War. Throughout his life, George, just like his father and grandfather, also occupied a variety of commercial and civic posts, as well as having a very active personal life – his favourate sport was shooting. He was Mayor of Norwich three times, and in that capacity took the review of the 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment on their return from Mesopotamia after the First World War.


Chamberlins (Portrait Notes)

The Chamberlins were good people; good to work for and good in the community at large. While looking after the needs of the well-heeled citizens of Norwich and Norfolk they also help those living on the breadline in the mean courts and yards across the city. Their story is told in the book ‘Men Who Have Made Norwich’ in which members of the present Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society have re-printed articles written by Edward and Wilfred Burgess in 1904 when the Chamberlin Store and factory were in their prime. The two authors had a wonderful way with words when describing the scene before them when they walked into the shop on Guildhall Hill some 114 years ago, when it had been rebuilt following the fire of 1898 which was reported in the Norwich ‘Evening News’ at the time describing the blaze as “an irreparable loss.” It went on to say:

“The blaze had started at Hurn’s ropemaking business and spread to the library. Sixty thousand volumes, many rare and valuable, were lost including the important Norton collection of foreign dictionaries. Chamberlins – the big, upmarket department store on Guildhall Hill – was also damaged in the blaze.

Chamberlins (Fire 1898)1

If the wind had been blowing in a different direction much of Dove Street and Lower Goat Lane could have gone. It was also said later that if the fire brigade – the Carrow and the Anchor brigades also helped – had had longer ladders, they would have more chance of saving the building and many of the books.

The library reopened a year later at a cost of £1.719.

But back to Edward and Wilfred Burgess’s dissertation of 1904:

“Spacious and elaborate as were the premises of Messrs. Chamberlin, Sons, & Co., prior to the year 1898, an event then occurred which was regarded at the time as most disastrous to the city but which has turned out to be a blessing in disguise — we refer to the destruction of the premises by fire. The fire was of a most serious character, devastating the whole of one side of Dove Street, and part of the other side. From the ashes of the old premises arose — phoenix-like — a building, compared with which, the previous establishment — extensive as it was — was quite a modest affair. The disastrous experience of the fire has resulted in elaborate preparations being made for fighting or preventing a fire in future. At the end of each floor hydrants are fixed, giving a copious supply of water, while in the immediate vicinity of each hydrant lengths of hose are placed within easy reach. The present edifice, imposing in its external aspect, is positively palatial within its walls, and all the appointments are a marvel of sumptuousness. From the ne entrance lobby facing the Market Place right away to the utmost limits of the establishment, the display of the riches of the world’s drapery marts is only broken by the elegance of architecture and decorations on every hand. The ground floor saloon is devoted to the various retail departments under the management of Mr. George Waite, and they are the admiration of every visitor. So and agreeable tints pervade the whole place, and the lighting of the spacious area, from concave lights on either side, is perfect. Comfort and luxury are conspicuous features of the saloon, yet the space allowed to the display of goods appears to be almost unlimited. e further end of the saloon is artistically furnished with ladies waiting and reception rooms, while close by are the Fitting and costume departments. The upper floors are occupied by the counting houses and the wholesale departments; and the extensive basement, which is nothing less than a huge warehouse itself, is also utilised for the latter, especially for heavy goods.

Chamberlins (Shop)4

The area of the establishment is enormous, extending as it does from Dove Street — one entire side of which it occupies — up Guildhall Hill to the other side of the square facing the public library. Bearing in mind the numerous departments, the elegance of the appointments, the care devoted to ensuring the comfort of customers, the large and varied stock, and the unremitting attention given by assistants, it is no exaggeration to say that few establishments, either in or out of London, equal “Chamberlins,” and none surpass it. The Furnishing Department is of comparatively recent origin, but it is already a very extensive business of itself. The building appropriated to this branch is the last one of the series up Guildhall Hill, and the entrance is at the corner of the Public Library Square, almost exactly facing the entrance to the ancient Guildhall. Here is to be seen one of the largest assortments of carpets, linoleums, floor cloths, and furniture of every description, to be found in the Eastern Counties. The managements in the capable hands of Mr. T. Morpeth, a gentleman of wide experience in carrying out furnishing contracts. The comprehensive range of this department may be judged from the fact that it embraces the manufacture of bedding, all kinds of cabinet making and upholstering — in fact everything which goes to constitute a full equipment of complete house furnishers.


Chamberlins (Shop)1

Even this latter does not exhaust the variations of Chamberlins, for in Botolph Street the firm runs a modern clothing factory of large dimensions, which, has quite recently been rebuilt, and now provides cubic space of over 300,000 feet, with ample accommodation and motive power for about 1000 workers. On these premises are manufactured various kinds of clothing and shirts, but judging from appearances the main output is in uniforms and waterproof clothing for the Army, Navy, Yeomanry, Volunteers, Colonial Service, Postal Departments, Railway Companies, Police, etc. The motive power of the machinery, in the new section of the works is electricity, while in the remaining portion of the old works the machinery is still driven by steam power. Chamberlins are contractors for several of the principal railway companies and police forces in the country, while the variety of military uniforms indicates that the clothing supply of a considerable branch of the Army is catered for here. In the pressing room, the temperature is decidedly high, but here, as in every other department of the works, the ventilating arrangements are as perfect as modern science can make them. In the cutting room are to be seen some really wonderful machines, viz., the machine cutters. Driven at a terrific speed each of these cutters, by means of a rotary knife apparently as sharp as a razor, must do more work than any dozen hand cutters. Garments are cut and shaped by the one, two, or three dozen — according to the resisting qualities of the material – at a surprising rate. In one case layers of cloth, to a thickness of three inches, are cut to a pattern drawn on the top layer, as easy as a lady would cut muslin with scissors. In another cutting and trimming room, a numbers of hand cutters are engaged shaping garments which probably were not required in such large numbers as the uniforms are.


The basements of the two buildings are very extensive and in one of them a powerful dynamo, by Laurence, Scott and Co., provides the electric light for the establishment. In the other basement, long rows of bales of material — probably scores of tons — are awaiting the handling in the dissecting and cutting rooms, and for the purpose of more easily moving these bales from floor to floor, a new lift has been erected which runs from the basement to the topmost floor. Here the preparations against fire are most complete, including an outside re-proof iron staircase, which has an outlet from every floor. Of course in works of this description the management is divided and sub divided, but the sole responsible manager for the entire Clothing Works is Mr. G. S. Barnard.


It is worthy of observation, in a review of this nature, that in re-opening the Market Place premises, a new departure was made in giving a musical treat to the public. The Blue Hungarian Band was engaged on that occasion, and the experiment proved to be so eminently successful and so generally appreciated that the precedent has since been followed on several occasions.


In closing and appreciation in which we have clearly established the right of Chamberlins, Limited to be bracketed with the “Men Who Have Made Norwich” it is interesting to note that the enormous number of persons attending a recent sale was quite unprecedented. In the first few days the rush was so great that it became absolutely necessary to keep the doors closed and customers were admitted in batches, as they could be dealt with; an authority on crowds estimating that there were at least 1,200 customers in the shop at a given’ hour on one afternoon.”

George Chamberlin in his uniform as Deputy Lieutenant, 1911

When WWI broke out in August 1914 Chamberlin’s factory, situated in Botolph Street, was entirely devoted to the manufacture of civilian goods for the home and foreign markets. Almost immediately the call had come for help with the war effort, and George Chamberlin’s response was so prompt and efficient that within a month the business was almost entirely transferred to war productions. The importance and notoriety of the business rose, and although the difficulties faced were vast, they were tackled successfully. In a very short time the eight hundred employees roles were reorganised to satisfy Admiralty and War Office requests for an ever-increasing output.

Chamberlin’s produced vast quantities of waterproof material for use by the army, as well as suits for soldiers in service and after demobilisation. For some years the company had been the sole concessionaires for Great Britain and the Colonies for the manufacture of Pegamoid waterproof clothing. In pre-war days the authorities had subjected this material to a severe test in all climates, and it was held in such high esteem that, with the exception of a certain quantity which went to the army and to the Italian Government, the Admiralty claimed the bulk of the Company’s output during the whole period of the war.


Another important aspect of Chamberlin’s activities was the manufacture of East Coast oilskin water-proof material, and throughout the war this was used in many styles of garments for the sea and land forces. The demand became so pressing that not only was the entire output requisitioned by the Admiralty and War Office, but it was necessary to build and equip a new factory in order to cope with it. In addition to these services Chamberlin was contracted for the supply of clothing to meet the requirements of the G. P. O, Government munitions factories, and other departments. At the request of the Government large quantities of standard clothes were also made, as well as suits for discharged soldiers. The war work of Chamberlin & Sons totalled close on one million garments, and they received from the authorities’ official recognition of the value of their services to the State in the years of WWI.

One hundred and twenty-five members of their Norwich staff enlisted and eight died in the service of their country. Many others served with distinction and obtained commissions and decorations for gallantry.

Chamberlins (Shop)2

In 1935 the post-war years brought fresh demands and challenges and, although maintaining traditions, Chamberlin & Sons had moved with the times and established a modernised store fully equipped to provide in all departments of drapery and house furnishing. Their factory, with new modern machinery, produced speciality men’s sports clothing under their registered brand ‘Sartella’. They remained a large manufacturer of oilskins whose largest customer continued to be the British Government.

Some of Chamberlin’s Staff (undated) Do you recognise any of these ladies – and Gentleman?

It was said to be a great treat to shop at Chamberlin’s in the thirties and forties, with staff to welcome you and lead you to the desired department. The female assistants were apprenticed and generally lived over the shop, but were not allowed to serve customers for the first year of their training. They would instead act as runners for their superiors and later they would be allowed to assist the seniors. Only in their third year they were allowed to deal directly with the customers. Unfortunately, even tradition and the finest charm could not withstand modernisation, different shopping habits and changes in retail. The grand old store was eventually taken over by Marshall & Snelgrove in the 1950s the Tesco Metro now stands in their place next to the Market.


From the days of ‘Value and Reliability’ to the present day ‘Every Little Helps’! This says much about the seismic shift in marketing, business provision and consumer demands


Tales of the Great and the Not So Good.

By Victoria Draper (NRO) 2 January 2018

Marriage licences were often favoured by families of high social class since they allowed the couple privacy, ability to choose their parish of marriage and were faster to arrange than banns.  The marriage licence could also be a status symbol in itself, showing that the couple could afford to purchase it and although the cost of a licence was not exceptionally high, many people could not afford one.  As a result, the names of several prominent Norfolk families are included in the bonds.

One bond relates to the marriage of Philip Meadows Martineau (1872-1829) to Ann Dorothy Clarke in 1811.  The Martineau family were of Huguenot descent and Philip Meadows was a prominent member of the local French community.  He was a distinguished surgeon specialising in lithotomy, the surgical method for removing kidney, bladder and gallbladder stones which were common medical complaints in Norfolk.  Martineau was a surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and also served as a hospital governor.

003 Crop of Bracondalle engraving MC 2295-1

The Martineau family were Unitarians and Philip Meadows Martineau attended the Octagon Chapel in Norwich.  Following Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, 1753 (which attempted to curb secret and irregular marriages) Nonconformists had to marry in an Anglican church.  There were exemptions for Jews and Quakers but Catholics and other protestant Nonconformists, including Unitarians, were not exempt until later.  Sadly, the marriage licence bond does not tell us which church Philip and Ann Dorothy married in, which is quite common.

Martineau owned a large estate at Bracondale (the Norfolk Record Office and County Hall now occupy part of the site) and this marriage licence bond is dated around the time that he also purchased the adjacent property of Carrow Abbey.

004 Crop of Martineau mlb v2 ANW-86-9

Another bond relates to the marriage of Ann Margaret Coke of Holkham, aged 15 years, to Thomas Anson in 1794.  Ann Margaret, born at Holkham Hall, became a painter and may have been taught by Thomas Gainsborough in Norfolk and London.  Her husband, Thomas Anson, was a wealthy politician and heir to the Shugborough estate in Staffordshire.  Since Ann Margaret was only fifteen at the time of her wedding, her father Thomas William Coke, the first Earl of Leicester, made a sworn oath of consent to her marriage which is noted on the marriage licence bond.

005 Crop of Margaret Coke mlb ANW-24-69-33

A.M.W. Stirling recounts in his two volume work, Coke of Norfolk and his Friends, that Ann looked very young at her wedding:

‘At the wedding breakfast she looked such a child that Dean Anson said mischievously to her: “Ann, if you will run round the table, I will give you a sovereign!”  Scarcely had the words left his lips, then away went the delighted bride and, racing round the table, triumphantly claimed her reward.’

Stirling also notes that Thomas Anson, concerned about his wife’s young age, insisted that Ann sat at cards with the dowagers when attending dances which unfortunately gave her a taste for gambling!

Marriage licence bonds were not the preserve of the gentry and even those of more modest social status such as tenant farmers, trades people and military occupations are well represented in them.  This particularly became the case as the cost of marriage licences fell relative to wages.  For some couples they may even have been an aspirational choice to emulate the higher social classes and add some sparkle to their wedding day!

Obtaining a marriage licence bond was no guarantee of social standing and character. One bond relates to the marriage of James Blomfield Rush (who later became the notorious Stanfield Hall murderer) to Susannah Soames (named in the bond as Susan Soame) in May 1828.  Rush, a tenant farmer who had got himself into debt, murdered estate owner Isaac Jermy and his son at Stanfield Hall on 28 November 1848.  After a dramatic legal trial, Rush was hanged at Norwich Castle on 21 April 1849.  A crowd of over 12,000 people gathered to witness the event and the Eastern County Railway Company even ran a special train from London to Norwich for the execution.

006 Drop of Rush lithograph mc 63-1

Rush was no stranger to trouble. In 1835, despite being married to Susannah Soames, a woman, named either Dank or Dack, brought an action against him for breach of promise of marriage.  She claimed that she had been forced into the workhouse after Rush made her pregnant.  When the case came to court at the Norfolk Assizes in the summer of 1839, the court convicted Rush and ordered him to pay costs of over £26.

© Norfolk Record Office

The Thorpe Railway Disaster 1874

The Thorpe Railway Disaster 1874
Compiled from various sources

On Thursday, September 10th, 1874, Norfolk experience both stormy weather and a rail tragedy. Two trains collided head-on near Norwich, in what became known as the Thorpe Railway Disaster. Passengers were killed and rescuers were faced with scenes of carnage as they struggled to help the injured and dying. 

The evening of that Thursday, 143 years ago, was cold, dark and wet as the 8.45pm mail train left Great Yarmouth station for Norwich; it would pick up its Lowestoft connection at Reedham before heading on to its destination at Norwich. In the cab  was 49 years old and experienced train driver, John Prior; beside him was 25 year old fireman, James Light of King Street, Norwich. As their train drew away from the station, there was nothing to suggest that this journey would be any different from any other.

TRD (Reedham Station)At Reedham, John Prior’s train waited whilst the carriages from the Lowestoft train were coupled on to the mail train before it continued on to Norwich. Behind the engine was mixture of first, second and third class carriages, a truck laden with fresh fish from the docks and two brake vans; totalling thirteen carriages in all. The carriages from Lowestoft were especially crowded with visitors, that day, to the town’s flower show. Amongst the crowd were the Reverend Henry Stacey and his wife who were returning home.  Sergeant Major Frederick Cassell and Sergeant Robert Ward who were serving members of the West Norfolk Militia had been away on the fishing trip on the Norfolk Broads. Also amongst the train passengers were Robert Ward, who had been in the Coldsteam Guards before joining the West Norfolk Militia, together with his wife Elizabeth and their four children. Then there was John Betts, a 29 year old employee of the Great Eastern Railway Company who had been given a half day off to take his wife, Elizabeth, and two sons to the seaside. Passengers and train proceeded along the double track to Brundall, where the train normally waited on a loop to the single line to allow the scheduled express train through before carrying on its final stretch of its journey.

Back at Thorpe Station, Alfred Cooper, night duty inspector for the last 15 years and of blameless character, arrived for duty at 9pm; by 9.15pm he noted that the express train from London was seventeen minutes late. In such cases, it was usual practice for a telegraph message to be sent from Wymondham station to alert Norwich of any train delays of at least fifteen minutes; none had been received. Punctuality was known to be poor and the London Express was more often late than on time. The night inspector, Alfred Cooper was, again, not a happy man.

He mentioned the delay to the Norwich Thorpe stationmaster, William Sproule, who replied: “All right, we’ll get her off.” Cooper hurried off thinking Mr Sproule meant him to send up the Brundall train. But the stationmaster intended no such thing – he wanted to send the express to Yarmouth. Cooper rushed to the station telegraph booth where he asked the clerk, 18-year-old John Robson, to prepare a message for Brundall. Railway rules dictated that such messages must be signed before despatch; however, Cooper’s usual ‘custom and practice was to leave some messages unsigned and let the telegraph clerk send them. The young clerk, Robson, assumed this was such an occasion and tapped out and sent the wire at 9.26pm. It read:

“Send the mail train up before the 9.10pm down passenger train leaves Norwich – A Cooper”

TRD Brundall Station2The stationmaster at Brundall was William Platford who had been in charge there for eight years. On that particular evening he was assisted by his twelve year old son, who regularly sent and received telegraph messages for his father. When the telegraph from clerk Robson at Norwich arrived, apparently signed by Alfred Cooper. Two minutes later the train pulled out of Brundall station and three minutes after that, at around 9.31pm the London express left Norwich on the instructions of Mr Sproule. A fatal minute elapsed before Cooper saw the express steam out. A witness at the time stated:

 “Cooper then left his office. He could not have been there for more than two minutes. A few minutes afterwards, at 9.23, the witness heard the down express run in under the arcade. In 8 minutes, at 9.31, he saw the train start again while standing at the door of his office. He went in there again and heard, some few minutes after, a sharp click of the wicket opening at the telegraph-window. He wondered and listened, and heard something about the mail. He rushed out and said, “What about mail?” Cooper was then standing against the telegraph-window………. he had the appearance of a man paralysed and said “I have ordered it up,” or “the mail up”, the witness was not sure which; he was so unstrung that he hardly knew what took place. He felt for Cooper so much that he could hardly speak to him…”

It was also reported at the time that the Inspector’s reaction to such a shock was for him to shout at Robson, “Have you ordered up the Brundall train?”, to which the clerk replied that he had. Cooper immediately ordered him to send another wire to Brundall to stop the train. Both he and Robson waited anxiously while Brundall took the message and replied. That reply starkly stated “Mail gone!”

Apparantly, Cooper had also demanded of the clerk as to why he had sent the first telegraph requesting for the mail train to proceed when he had expressly told Robson not to. The clerk claimed that he had reminded Cooper that he had told him (the clerk) to send the message – if Cooper hadn’t, then why had he asked the clerk to cancel it!

No one will ever know how the fatal misunderstanding between Inspector Cooper and the telegraphist Robson arose and a further explanation, set out in an old letter that came to light many years later, would have muddied the water even more. It was from a Mr H O L Francis, a railwayman working on the Yarmouth section of the Great Eastern Railway network in 1874. In 1931 he wrote to a railway inspector, Oswald Cook of Cromer and his letter put the blame for the accident squarely on the clerk, Robson.

“I had been on the Yarmouth section a few days before the mishap. I knew the guards concerned, with the Norwich inspector Cooper and Parker – also the telegraphist Robson. This latter person caused the accident by sending on to Brundall the unsigned message handed him by Inspector Cooper – ‘send the mail train up’ which Mr Cooper told him not to send till he came to him again. When Cooper saw Inspector Parker start the down express he went to tell Robson to send the message after an interval to allow down express to reach Brundall. To his horror he found the unsigned message gone. Robson saying he did not hear him say: ‘Wait till I come and sign it’.”

Whatever the facts and actual sequence of events, the end result was the same and there was nothing that the drivers, John Prior and Thomas Clarke, could do to avoid the crash. Its inevitability within minutes caused panic at Norwich Station where everyone had realised that they were powerless and there was no way of communicating with either driver or stopping the trains beforehand.  According to eye witnesses, Cooper had frozen with fear, realising the consequences of his actions.

TRD(Thorpe Train)2

Thomas Clarke was driving the London Express train that evening, alongside him was fireman Frederick Sewell. Thomas, who was keen to make up lost time and believing that the Yarmouth mail train was waiting at Brundall, opened up the steam regulator. Coming the other way was the mail train with it’s diver, John Prior, also eager not to delay the Norwich train any further than necessary,  building up considerable momentum.  It was unlikely that Prior would have seen the approaching lights of the express train for there was a slight bend on the track at Postwick and there would not have been enough time to apply the brakes. The outcome was catastrophic. In the darkness and pouring rain both trains collided head at 9.45pm, just east of the bridge over the river Wensum and within 100 yards of the Thorpe Gardens public house, now the ‘Rushcutters’. Local people described the noise as being like a ‘thunderclap’ and ‘a massive peal of thunder’ with one eye witness saying:

‘The engines reared up into an almost perpendicular position , and the carriages mounted one upon the top of another, and gradually sunk down into an altogether inconceivable mass of rubbish and ruins. Carriages were piled one on top of the other; others had been thrown on their sides and had rolled some half dozen yards away from the line’.

In fact, the first few carriages of both trains were ripped apart as they ploughed into the twisted wrecks of the locomotives; the momentum forcing the other carriages to rear up on top of one another. Some carriages split in two and some had the roofs torn off. Further witnesses stated that the highest most carriage was some 20 or 30 feet above the ground, teetering precariously. The drivers and firemen of both trains, John Prior, James Light, Thomas Clarke and Frederick Sewell had been killed instantly.

TRD (Illustration)2

Darkness descended when the impact extinguished all the carriage lamps.  One national newspaper described the scene as a “ghastly pyramid formed of hissing locomotives, shattered carriages and moaning, in some cases dying, passengers”. There had not been time for the drivers to turn off the regulators with the result that the steam was still emerging for some time afterwards. Those who could, scrambled out of the wreckage with many suffering from head wounds, having been catapulted across the carriages. All around was a scene of devastation, people were dead or dying. Villagers who had heard the crash rushed down to help. Dr Peter Eade, who had been in the first class carriage on the Lowestoft section of the mail train managed to crawl through the opening and out onto the marshland.  Although he was cut about the face, he immediately rushed to assist those who were injured.

An Illustration drawn on the spot for the Illustrated London News by Edward Pococke

Black, one of the brake van guards, was thrown across the carriage but picked himself up, grabbed a lantern and clambered out. Although hurt, he insisted on carrying out his duty and made his way to the wooden rail bridge, which crossed the River Yare and where five or six of the Norwich carriages had come to a stop. Inside the carriages there was panic and confusion with terrified passengers screaming and crying, unable to get out because there were no guard rails alongside the narrow bridge. Cautiously, Black edged his way along the rails with his lantern, holding on to the steps of the carriages to prevent himself falling into the water below. He did his best to calm the occupants and urged them to stay where they were until rescued. Another of the van guards, a man named Read, staggered back along the line to alert Thorpe station of the disaster.

TRD (Old Hospita)2l

Back in Norwich, emergency procedures were already underway, supervised by the Station Master. A train was prepared to take men and equipment to the accident and cabs sent out to fetch every available doctor. The job of extricating the injured from amongst the wreckage was a difficult one as many needed to be cut free. The steam and the heat from the boiler complicated matters further. Light was provided by huge bonfires which were built beside the track, fuelled by the remains of the shattered wooden carriages. Makeshift mortuaries were set up in a boat shed beside the track belonging to Steven Field and in a room at the Three Tuns pub across the river at Thorpe Gardens. These were soon occupied by 15 bodies. The wounded were taken back to Norwich by train from where the most severe cases were sent to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Some comments from witnesses appeared in the local Press:

“In a corner lay the corpses of a man, a woman and a pretty little child, not more than four or five years old. On the opposite side were the mortal remains of a woman who appeared to be nothing but a chaotic mess of clothing.”

“Between these bodies lay the wounded, and the smile that continually overspread the features of one poor young woman as she looked up into the face of her nurse was a thing never to be forgotten. She seemed to be dying.”

“Another young woman next to her was evidently suffering acutely, her piteous groans giving ample testimony of this fact.”

A girl’s leg was amputated at the scene of the tangled wreckage.

TRD (Illustration)1

The men worked long and hard throughout the night and by mid morning most of the wreckage had been cleared. The death toll had risen to 18. Surprisingly, there was little damage to the track itself. Two of the rails were slightly bent, but none of the sleepers had been dislodged. By 2.30 that afternoon, the track had been opened up to rail traffic once more. News of the accident spread quickly and it was the subject of some very graphic and sensationalistic reporting for several weeks. It prompted much discussion in both national and provincial newspapers over safety on the railways. The reports make for a harrowing read.

Over the next couple of weeks, the final death toll rose to 27, with over 70 suffering varying degrees of injury. It was estimated that there had been around 220 passengers in total on the two trains. Amongst those who died were GER stoker John Betts, his wife and their youngest son who was just six weeks old and hadn’t yet been named. He had been found lying in his mothers arms.  Their three year old son Charles suffered a head wound but survived. Sgt Major Frederick Cassell and Sergeant Robert Ward also lost their lives and were buried with full military honours. The Rev. Henry Stacey and his wife Ann were killed along with Mr George Womack, a clothier from Norwich, Mrs Sarah Gilding from London and her four year old daughter Laura, Mr Stanley Slade, a London auctioneer, Miss Susan Lincoln a servant from Thorpe Hamlet  and Mr J Hupton, a 45 year old harness maker from Great Yarmouth. The eminent Bungay botanist, Dr Bransby Francis, was another victim. They were people from all walks of life.

TRD (Illustration)4

Surprisingly perhaps, there were some lucky escapes. One young couple had moved from the lead carriage, as they didn’t like the company in the front carriage and one young woman was thrown clear through trees into a nearby garden and suffered only a few cuts and bruises. Another was a young man sitting in one of the other carriages who escaped without a scratch or bruise, although his carriage had been pulled up into the air as the engines collided. The mail guard, who was in his van at the time of the crash, despite being bruised and shaken and the van smashed like a matchbox, picked himself and his bags up and succeeded in getting them to the post office in a cart. Refusing to go to hospital he was persuaded to return to his home in Yarmouth in a carriage.

Alfred Cooper and John Robson were arrested and immediate investigations conducted. The Coronors inquest, held before a jury by Mr E. S. Bignold, considered the evidence and decided that both men were guilty of gross negligence and carelessness and should be tried for manslaughter. However, it was felt that Cooper was the more culpable of the two. At a separate inquest held by Captain Tyler of the Board of Trade, the jury concluded that both should be charged with manslaughter but that Robson, having sent the telegraph message to send the mail train up from Brundall was the guilty party. In giving evidence, both men tried to shift the blame on to one another. When the case reached trial in April 1875, John Robson was acquitted and released and Alfred Cooper was found guilty and sentenced to eight months imprisonment with hard labour. The Great Eastern railway Company paid out over £40,000 in compensation to the victims and their families, an unprecedented sum at the time. It was noted that the Thorpe accident could have been far more serious  had it occurred just a hundred feet closer to Norwich the line. The engines and carriages would probably have ended up in the river and many passengers would have been drowned. The fact that there were three empty carriages and a horsebox directly behind the Norwich engine, and a cargo truck carrying fish behind the Yarmouth engine, also limited the number of fatalities as it was these which bore the brunt of the collision.

Nothing seems to be known of Alfred Cooper after he had been sent to prison. From facts brought up during his trial it would appear that he was a man who had a history of mental health problems, although he was judged to have been of sound mind and sober at the time of the accident. Was it a momentary lapse in concentration or a serious error of judgement? Whatever the reason, the outcome was one of the worst railway accidents in Britain.

 It seems right that this tale should end at the graves of the driver and fireman of the Great Yarmouth mail train, John Prior and James Light. They were buried side by side in a corner of the Rosary Cemetery in Norwich.
TRD (John Prior and James Light)
The graves of John Prior and James Light in Rosary Cemetery, Norwich, Norfolk

Footnote: Ironically, the company back then had recognised that the single line between Norwich and Brundall needed doubling and had laid a second line beside it which was awaiting Board of Trade approval – and surprise, surprise, it was duly approved a few weeks after the Thorpe crash and brought into use. There is a plaque commemorating this crash in Girlings Lane, off Yarmouth Road, which is very close to the site of the accident.

This accident which is known as the Thorpe Railway Disaster, along with two further rail accidents in the following months led to new safety measures being implemented to prevent similar incidents happening in the future. In particular, it led to the introduction of the Tablet System, where an interlocking token must be secured before a train may proceed along a single track:

Tyer’s Electric Train Tablet system is a form of railway signalling for single line railways used in several countries; it was first devised in Great Britain by engineer Edward Tyer after the Thorpe rail accident of 1874, which left 21 people dead. It was used in New Zealand for close to 100 years until June 1994. The system used a hard disk called a tablet, a form of token.

The purpose of the system was to use the tablet as a physical guarantee to the traincrew that their train had exclusive right of way on the single line section. Without this they could not proceed beyond the section signal which protected entry to the single line. With advances in electrical locking of the lever frame within the signal box, the tablet instrument also electrically locked the section signal lever. This was marked with a white stripe on the red background

TRD single-line-working-tablet2
Single Line Tablet

The Tablet System is still in use, although the disappearance of the semaphore signal, and the closure of many signal boxes (where the tokens used to be exchanged) means that an electronic system of token exchange is now widely employed. The safety record of the railways is based on the fail-safe principle. It was the proud boast of the M&GN Railway (that ran almost entirely in the county of Norfolk) that during the 80 years in which it was in operation it never killed a passenger.

A Victorian Christmas

By Ben Johnson

For thousands of years people around the world have enjoyed midwinter festivals. With the arrival of Christianity, pagan festivals became mixed with Christmas celebrations. One of the leftovers from these pagan days is the custom of bedecking houses and churches with evergreen plants like mistletoe, holly and ivy. Apparently, as well as their magical connection in protecting us from evil spirits, they also encourage the return of spring. No era in history however, has influenced the way in which we celebrate Christmas, quite as much as the Victorians.

Before Victoria‘s reign started in 1837 nobody in Britain had heard of Santa Claus or Christmas Crackers. No Christmas cards were sent and most people did not have holidays from work. The wealth and technologies generated by the industrial revolution of the Victorian era changed the face of Christmas forever. Sentimental do-gooders like Charles Dickens wrote books like “Christmas Carol”, published in 1843, which actually encouraged rich Victorians to redistribute their wealth by giving money and gifts to the poor – Humbug! These radical middle class ideals eventually spread to the not-quite-so-poor as well.


Dicken's Christmas Carol 5

From ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens

The holidays – The wealth generated by the new factories and industries of the Victorian age allowed middle class families in England and Wales to take time off work and celebrate over two days, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Boxing Day, December 26th, earned its name as the day servants and working people opened the boxes in which they had collected gifts of money from the “rich folk”. Those new fangled inventions, the railways allowed the country folk who had moved into the towns and cities in search of work to return home for a family Christmas.

The Scots have always preferred to postpone the celebrations for a few days to welcome in the New Year, in the style that is Hogmanay. Christmas Day itself did not become a holiday in Scotland until many years after Victoria’s reign and it has only been within the last 20-30 years that this has been extended to include Boxing Day.

The Gifts –At the start of Victoria’s reign, children’s toys tended to be handmade and hence expensive, generally restricting availability to those “rich folk” again. With factories however came mass production, which brought with it games, dolls, books and clockwork toys all at a more affordable price. Affordable that is to “middle class” children. In a “poor child’s” Christmas stocking, which first became popular from around 1870, only an apple, orange and a few nuts could be found.

Victorian Toys

Father Christmas / Santa Claus – Normally associated with the bringer of the above gifts, is Father Christmas or Santa Claus. The two are in fact two entirely separate stories. Father Christmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival, normally dressed in green, a sign of the returning spring. The stories of St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas in Holland) came via Dutch settlers to America in the 17th Century. From the 1870’s Sinter Klass became known in Britain as Santa Claus and with him came his unique gift and toy distribution system – reindeer and sleigh.

Victorian Father Christmas 1
Father Christmas

Christmas Cards – The “Penny Post” was first introduced in Britain in 1840 by Rowland Hill. The idea was simple, a penny stamp paid for the postage of a letter or card to anywhere in Britain. This simple idea paved the way for the sending of the first Christmas cards. Sir Henry Cole tested the water in 1843 by printing a thousand cards for sale in his art shop in London at one shilling each. The popularity of sending cards was helped along when in 1870 a halfpenny postage rate was introduced as a result of the efficiencies brought about by those new fangled railways.

Victorian Christmas Card 1

Turkey Time – Turkeys had been brought to Britain from America hundreds of years before Victorian times. When Victoria first came to the throne however, both chicken and turkey were too expensive for most people to enjoy. In northern England roast beef was the traditional fayre for Christmas dinner while in London and the south, goose was favourite. Many poor people made do with rabbit. On the other hand, the Christmas Day menu for Queen Victoria and family in 1840 included both beef and of course a royal roast swan or two. By the end of the century most people feasted on turkey for their Christmas dinner. The great journey to London started for the turkey sometime in October. Feet clad in fashionable but hardwearing leather the unsuspecting birds would have set out on the 80-mile hike from the Norfolk farms. Arriving obviously a little tired and on the scrawny side they must have thought London hospitality unbeatable as they feasted and fattened on the last few weeks before Christmas!

Victorian Christmas (Turkey)2

The Tree – Queen Victoria’s German husband Prince Albert helped to make the Christmas tree as popular in Britain as they where in his native Germany, when he brought one to Windsor Castle in the 1840’s.

Victorian Christmas Tree 2

The Crackers– Invented by Tom Smith, a London sweet maker in 1846. The original idea was to wrap his sweets in a twist of fancy coloured paper, but this developed and sold much better when he added love notes (motto’s), paper hats, small toys and made them go off BANG!

Carol Singers – Carol Singers and Musicians “The Waits” visited houses singing and playing the new popular carols;

Victorian Carol Singers 1

1843 – O Come all ye Faithful

1848 – Once in Royal David’s City

1851 – See Amid the Winters Snow

1868 – O Little Town of Bethlehem

1883 – Away in a Manger