A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by R Baldwin, London, 1773.
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From the prosecution of Mr. Wilkes, to his being elected alderman of the ward of Farringdon without (fn. 1).
The tide of success that so prosperously attended our arms at the close of the late reign had diffused so general a satisfaction, that parties might be considered as extinct; until a change of men and measures under a new reign revived distinctions almost forgotten; and the terms of the peace, as different branches of commerce happened to be affected by them, generated additional seeds of discontent. The very day of lord Bute's appointment as first commissioner of the treasury, a literary champion stepped forth to defend the ministry in a political paper intitled the Briton. Whether this writer had a commission for his employment or took up his pen officiously as a cadet, he proved a meer Marplot in the title of his essays; as this name gave occasion to a violent antagonist to denominate his paper the North Briton.
Here it is that the writer of this history begins to feel a more than ordinary difficulty in his task; as the dissensions which this since famous North Briton gave rise to, still continue to agitate the metropolis, and to influence the opinions of the whole nation. To relate the ensuing transactions fairly, a writer ought to view facts with the indifference of an unconcerned spectator; unconcerned as to the parties, and interested only as to the consequences in a general view: and to attempt this conduct calls for some degree of fortitude; as none but readers who are equally cool will receive any gratification from a plain narration, in which the licences taken in anonymous productions are not to be expected.
If the measures then pursued by the ministry, if the management of our domestic œconomy, were liable to just censure; the writer of the North Briton might have found sufficient employment for his pen by stating them to the public in a proper point of view; and for this he would have intitled himself to their acknowledgments. But when he made that paper the vehicle of illiberal invectives against a whole nation, because some individuals of them afforded him opportunity to gratify a private pique; when he appeared to delight in virulent personal scurrility; these blemishes gave much offence to the sensible part of mankind at the time, and would have long since consigned the North Briton to deserved oblivion, had not the injudicious proceedings against its reputed author given consequence to him and his writings, and unhappily brought a vulgar stile of political altercation in fashion.
The 45th number of the North Briton was a severe and reproachful commentary on the king's speech April 19th at the close of the session of parliament; wherein he informed the houses of the peace being concluded: and the harsh terms in which this attack was made, were ill justified by representing the speech delivered by the sovereign only as the speech of the minister. Whatever objections may be made against the measures of government, no serious well wisher to his country, that is able to reason to consequences, will ever justify treating the first magistrate with contempt. Thus far then the North Briton, whoever he was, acted unbecoming a good subject, and unworthy the character of a gentleman: if the reputed author afterward acquired popularity, he owed it to the extreme and badly conducted resentment of the offended parties, and to the security the English laws happily afford every man against unjustifiable acts of power.
No prescription can alter the nature of what is in itself illegal. It had long been usual in cases of libels for all secretaries of state to issue general warrants for apprehending the authors, printers and publishers; and these warrants describing no particular persons, the messengers were supported in a discretional oppressive power of taking up whoever they suspected of coming within the limits of the warrant. But the present times were more critical: as an opinion was current that the administration of affairs was conducted upon arbitrary principles, a severe scrutiny was made into all the actions of the ministry, with a view of pursuing them to extremity, if they were found to deviate in any respect from the strict line of rigid law. The advantage was gained, for a warrant of this nature was issued by lord Halifax against the author, &c. of the North Briton No. 45; and as it was not difficult to find a man who did not aim at concealment, the messengers on the last day of April, took into custody John Wilkes, Esq; member for Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.
Whether Mr. Wilkes was the author of this paper or not, the manner of apprehending him was clearly an infringement of the rights of the subject; and it proved eventually no less fortunate for the people in general than for Mr. Wilkes in particular, that he had spirit enough to withstand the secretary's warrant, and was in circumstances that would by no means induce him to overlook the opportunity of distinguishing himself by so popular a measure. Every man will endeavour to free himself from oppression; but prudent men comfortably settled in life generally study to enjoy their property quietly without hazard; and are content with escaping, or even with compounding matters to get free from, a litigation with powerful antagonists: it is not this class of men therefore that may be expected in ordinary cases to assert their rights to the utmost, out of a regard to their country. Men, on the other hand, who have little to risk, either of property or reputation, are sure to be gainers by acting popular parts: when such men therefore become the objects of ministerial indignation, they deserve that their private motives should be overlooked; and they are intitled to support so far as justice will warrant countenancing them; meerly as occasions for vindicating the common liberties of mankind against the encroaching hands of power.
Mr. Wilkes ranked among this latter class; he was a gentleman of great abilities; his circumstances had been rendered precarious by a life of habitual dissipation; and it was strongly reported that his situation had induced him to pay his court to lord Bute during his administration, to obtain the government of Canada; though without effect (fn. 2). Had he proved successful in this application, an embargo would have been laid upon the activity of his patriotism; but a line of conduct now opened to him equally profitable, without subjecting him to any such restraints.
Upon Mr. Wilkes's apprehension, he obtained a habeas corpus from the court of Common Pleas; notwithstanding which his papers were arbitrarily seized, and he was committed close prisoner to the Tower. On May 3d he was brought to the bar of the court of Common Pleas, where he addressed himself to the judges on the illegality and hardships of his commitment, in a bold and animated speech: his case was learnedly argued, but the court requiring time to consider it, he was remanded back until the 6th, when after another spirited address to the court, the lord chief justice Pratt proceeded to give his opinion upon the three following points.
With regard to the first point his lordship observed, that he should consider the warrant of a secretary of state as in no respect superior to the warrant of a common justice of peace; and that no magistrate had in reality a right ex officio, to apprehend any person, without stating the particular crime of which he was accused. Yet he remarked at the same time, that there were many precedents, where a nice combination of circumstances gave so strong a suspicion of facts, that a magistrate was nevertheless supported in a commitment, without receiving any particular information for the foundation of the charge. He was therefore of opinion that Mr. Wilkes's commitment was not illegal.
As to the second point in dispute, he was of opinion that no specification was necessary; for had the whole paper been inserted in the warrant, the nature of the offence did not rest in the bosom of a judge without the assistance of a jury.
Upon the third point, he remarked, that there were but three cases that could possibly affect the privilege of a member of parliament; and these were treason, felony, and the peace; by which is to be understood a breach of the peace. He observed that the commitment of the seven bishops to the Tower (fn. 3), was on the plea that they had endeavoured to disturb the peace; which at that arbitrary time was judged sufficient to forfeit their privilege, when there was but one honest judge out of four in the court of King's-bench, and he declined giving any opinion. Mr. Wilkes, he said, stood accused of writing a libel, which, though a high misdemeanor in the law, did not amount to either treason, felony, or breach of the peace; that at most it had but a tendency to disturb the peace, and therefore could not be sufficient to destroy the privilege of a member of parliament: as a member of parliament therefore Mr. Wilkes was immediately discharged.
Westminster hall was thronged with people eager to know the event of this interesting affair; and after Mr. Wilkes had returned his thanks to the court and to serjeant Glynn who pleaded his cause, they gave unanimous and continued shouts to express their satisfaction. As soon as he had obtained his liberty, he applied by letter to the secretaries of state for the restitution of his papers; and the terms he made use of, sufficiently shewed his determination to assert the advantage he had gained: the same privilege that protected his person, must also secure his property from violation; for nothing could be more cruelly oppressive than by an act of power to invade his private drawers and papers, and possess themselves of those secrets which attend every man's affairs, and ought to be considered as sacred. "I find, said Mr. Wilkes, that my house has "been robbed, and am informed that the stolen goods are in the possession of one or both of your lordships. I therefore insist that you do forthwith return them." In answer, they confessed the detention of his papers, but promised to return such as did not lead to a proof of his guilt; a very weak evasion of a charge the coarseness of which might puzzle them, as it could not be denied in as direct terms. The next day Mr. Wilkes applied to a justice of peace for a warrant to search the houses of the two secretaries; but this the magistrate would not venture to grant. An information was filed against him at the king's suit in the court of King's-bench as author of the North Briton, and on the meeting of the parliament, the proceedings against Mr. Wilkes were laid before the house of commons, he being a member of that house: the house voted it a false, scandalous and malicious libel; and as such ordered it to be burnt by the common hangman. Mr. Wilkes on the same day complained to the house, of the breach of privilege by the imprisonment of his person, the plundering his house by seizing his papers; and by the serving him with a subpœna upon an information in the court of King's-bench.
When Mr. Wilkes obtained his release from the Tower, his popularity induced him to set up a printing-press in his own house; he advertised the proceedings of the administration, with all the original papers; and the North Briton was republished. By corrupting his workmen the ministry obtained a copy of a prophane and obscene burlesque of Pope's Essay on Man, intitled an Essay on Woman; of which he had worked off about a dozen for the use of some select friends. Patriotism however, like charity, was esteemed sufficient to cover a multitude of sins: so that neither the use made of this discovery to depreciate Mr. Wilkes's character, nor the industrious circulation of all the follies and errors of his private life, some of which were dishonourable enough; were able to prejudice him in the opinion of the public: when the indirect practices, by which the particulars were procured; and the views of a disappointed ministry, to divert their attention from points of general importance, were considered; with which it was argued his private character was nowise concerned. In short Mr. Wilkes became idolized as much as ever Dr. Sacheverel was; No. 45 was continually chalked upon every wall in town; and every witling in the public papers tortured his invention to find combinations and allusions to illustrate the mysterious properties of this favourite number.
On the 3d of December, when the North Briton No. 45 was ordered to be burned at the Royal Exchange, a great mob assembled to obstruct the execution. They began with pelting the hangman, constables, and other inferior officers; and afterward extended their insults even to the sheriffs. A billet snatched from the fire prepared to burn the paper, was hurled at the chariot of Mr. sheriff Harley, broke the front glass and wounded him: so that finding the tumult dangerous, he hastened to the mansion-house to consult the lordmayor; the executioner equally apprehensive of his own safety followed, and the constables most of whose staves were broken, recollected their personal security, and declined all farther resistance. The paper had indeed been partly consumed by being held over a lighted link, but a remnant of it was rescued and carried off in triumph: the mob in the evening resolving to ridicule the affair by a mock representation of their own, prepared a bonfire at Templebar, where a large jack boot, in allusion to the name of the late head of the treasury, was committed to the flames with all possible marks of contempt and exultation. The thanks of the house of commons were voted to the sheriffs for their resolute behaviour in the execution of their order; but when a motion of the same nature was proposed in the court of common-council, it passed in the negative.
Several prosecutions were commenced against the under secretary of state, and the messengers, by Mr. Wilkes and others who were apprehended on his account; in which verdicts were given in favour of the plaintiffs. The lord chief justice Pratt, in his charge to the jury in Mr. Wilkes's cause, expressed his opinion as to the illegality of the general warrant; but modestly submitted his own judgment to that of the other judges, and of the house of peers: adding "if these higher jurisdictions should declare my opinion erroneous, I submit as will become me, and kiss the rod; but I must say, I shall always consider it as a rod of iron for the chastisement of the people of Great Britain."
In the course of these transactions a duel took place between Mr. Wilkes and Samuel Martin, Esq; late secretary of the treasury, occasioned by the wanton scurrilous treatment of that gentleman's character in the North Briton: in this rencounter Mr. Wilkes received a wound in the body from a pistol bullet which disabled him from obeying an order of the house of commons for his attendance to answer the charge exhibited against him, and for them to examine his own complaints of breach of privilege. His time for appearance was enlarged upon this event, but the house at length, to be satisfied as to the real progress of his recovery, ordered a physician and surgeon of their own appointment to visit him and report his condition. These gentlemen Mr. Wilkes did not chuse to admit; but while the parliament was adjourned for the Christmas holidays, gave a convincing proof of timely activity by retiring to France from those inconveniencies that might follow the loss of his parliamentary privilege; which was now reasonably to be apprehended.
The houses met January 19th, 1764, when the commons voted that Mr. Wilkes, by withdrawing himself to a foreign country, without assigning a sufficient cause, had been guilty of a contempt of the authority of that house; and that they would proceed to examine evidence upon the charge against him. His expulsion was then carried, and a writ issued for the election of another member for Aylesbury in his room.
On the 16th his majesty's eldest sister the princess Augusta was married to his serene highness Charles William Ferdinand, hereditary prince of Brunswic Lunenburg; in the great council chamber at St. James's, by the archbishop of Canterbury: her portion being 80,000l. On the 20th, the lord-mayor, aldermen, and commons, presented addresses to his majesty, to the princess of Wales, and to the prince and princess, on occasion of this alliance. The prince resided at Somerset house during his short stay in England; and was naturalized by the parliament (fn. 4).
Charles Dingley, Esq; under whose inspection the new city road had lately been compleated, laid a scheme before the corporation, for forming a street from the front of the mansion-house to Moorfields, which would thus communicate with that new road; the consideration of which had been referred to a committee. This committee, on the 18th, reported that by Mr. Dingley's proposal they were to agree with the prebendary of Finsbury for a new lease of the estate the city held of him, at 200l. per annum. rent, and 6000l. fine; whereas the annual rent of their present lease was but 39l. 13s. 4d. that the purchase of houses to open the street would come to 6 or 8000l. and that the expence of forming the street and erecting new houses on each side, was estimated at 150,000l. They therefore thought it was not for the interest of the city to engage in the undertaking; which opinion was strengthened by a petition from several of the principal inhabitants, representing the difficulties the families would be put to, on being turned out of their habitations; many of whom might be ruined by a removal from the spots where they get their livelihood. The opening projected would certainly have had a very fine effect, and the temporary inconveniencies of a few individuals ought never to obstruct public improvements; but when no thought is taken under new alterations of providing houses suitable to the condition of those whose houses are taken down to make way for them, their remonstrances call for serious consideration. The building large magnificent houses for tradesmen is carried now to a pernicious extreme: the rents are exorbitant; the tenants appear and live in proportion; they are often entered upon credit; the professions carried on in them will not always support such increased expences; and how precarious the situation of tradesmen is rendered under the combined effects of all these circumstances, is too well known to be pointed out.
Mr. Wilkes was tried, though absent, on February 21st, before lord chief justice Mansfield, in the court of King's-bench Westminster, for republishing the North Briton, No. 45. with notes, printed at his own house; and for printing an infamous book called An Essay on Woman; of both which offences he was found guilty, and the proceedings against him, on account of his nonappearance, soon extended to an outlawry.
The court of common-council was on the same day employed on the other side of the affair, by voting the thanks of the court to the city representatives for their zealous and spirited endeavours to assert the rights and liberties of the subject, by their laudable attempt, in the late debates in parliament, to obtain a seasonable and parliamentary declaration, "That a general warrant for apprehending and seizing the authors, printers and publishers of a seditious libel, together with their papers, is not warranted by law:" and to exhort them, in the warmest manner, steadily to persevere in their duty to the crown, and use their utmost endeavours to secure the houses, papers, and persons of the subject from arbitrary and illegal violations. This was followed by another resolution, expressing that, "as the independency and uprightness of judges is essential to the impartial administration of justice, and one of the best securities to the rights and liberties of the subject, this court, in manifestation of the just sense of the firmness and integrity of the right honourable Sir Charles Pratt, lord chief justice of his majesty's court of common-pleas, doth direct, that the freedom of this city be presented to his lordship, and that he be desired to sit for his picture to be placed in Guildhall (fn. 5); in gratitude for his honest and deliberate decision upon the validity of a warrant which had been frequently produced to, but, so far as appears to this court, never debated in the court of King's-bench; by which he hath eminently distinguished his duty to the king, his justice to the subject, and his knowledge of the law."
The example of the city of London in instructing and thanking their members for their conduct in relation to general warrants, and in their public acknowledgments to lord chief justice Pratt, was followed by many corporations and communities in England; extending also to Dublin and some other places in Ireland.
Thus was the public attention determined to assert an important point of national liberty, even though it was in favour of a man whose conduct could not be deliberately justified. Fortunately however for Mr. Wilkes, the generality of mankind did not make nice distinctions in so popular an affair; nor indeed was it easy to separate his personal concern from the public cause: hence it was found that there was no way to get the better of the ministry, but by supporting Mr. Wilkes: whose abilities and intrepidity gave him consequence in the dispute, though his private embarrassments proved for some time a great obstruction to the intentions formed in his favour.
That some moderation might appear on the part of government, a treatise published at this time intitled Droit le Roy, which was a rhapsody of all the prerogatives at any time attributed to the kings of England, was ordered by parliament to be burned by the common hangman at Westminster-hall gate, and at the Royal Exchange.
The frequency of fires in London and Westminster occasioned the passing "An act for the better regulating of buildings, and to prevent mischiefs that may happen by fire within the weekly bills of mortality, and other places therein mentioned (fn. 6)."
By this statute, the former regulations of party walls (fn. 7) are extended to all cases where it was necessary to pull down and rebuild party walls, whether either of the adjoining houses shall require to be rebuilt or not. Party walls are ordered to be at least two bricks and a half thick in the cellar; two bricks thick from thence up to the garret floor; and from thence one brick and a half thick, at least 18 inches above the gutters and roofs. Restrictions are laid upon the letting timbers or joists into such party walls: no timbers are allowed to be placed under the hearths of chimneys; nor within nine inches of the funnels or flues; and where timber buildings are erected adjoining to any house, the timbers are prohibited from being let into the walls of such house. Surveys are to be taken within 14 days after any new built houses are covered in, and their conformity to these regulations properly attested; modes are prescribed for the settling private differences where property is intermixed, with other matters for which those who need particular information must consult the act itself.
On the 18th of June during a thunder storm, the lightning attracted by the beautified spire of St. Bride's church in Fleet-street, shattered it greatly: one stone forced out of its place, broke through the roof of the building, another fell on the top of an adjoining house; and many pieces of broken stone and shivers were scattered about, though providentially without hurting any body. The spire was cracked in several places, so that it was found necessary to rebuild it. The storm was more violent at other places in the country than in town; but as London is peculiarly exposed to the danger of lightning by the many pointed spires which advance to meet it, the safety of those buildings, and more especially of the inhabitants, call for that protection which experiment has discovered, and which has already been hinted on a former occasion (fn. 8).
The inhabitants of the metropolis had an affecting claim to their known humanity laid before them at the latter end of this summer, which deserves to be recorded to their honour. One colonel Stumpel, an officious German soldier of fortune, pretending authority from the British ministry (fn. 9), had engaged about 600 protestant Wurtzburghers and Palatines to emigrate from their own country, by a promise of settling them in the islands of St. John, and Le Croix, in America. After they had been shipped for England, finding himself unable to fulfil his contract, he abandoned them; and upon their arrival in London, they were in immediate danger of perishing for want, without the knowledge of our language to make their distressful case known. About 400 of them who were able to pay their passage, were permitted to come on shore, where they lay in the neighbouring fields without necessaries or covering from the heavy rains; while the remainder continued on board a ship in nearly as destitute a condition. The Rev. Mr. Wachsel, minister of the German Lutheran church in Ayliffestreet, laid their affecting story before the public in the news papers on the last day of August; before 11 o'clock on the same day, tents were sent them from the Tower, by his majesty's order; before night, the passage of those detained in the vessel was defrayed, and 300l. sent for their instant support. Not an hour was lost where necessities were so pressing; donations flowed in from all hands; even a benevolent baker who passed them, is said to have left his whole basket of bread among them. A physician, surgeon, and a man-midwife, attended them in their respective capacities; subscriptions were opened for them; and Mr. Wachsel with other benefactors formed themselves into a committee, and applied to the king to learn his pleasure as to their future disposal. His majesty communicated his intention to establish them in South Carolina, ordered 150 stands of arms to be delivered to them for their defence, and contracts were made for their transportation: when every thing was prepared for their comfortable embarkation, their camp behind Whitechapel church was broke up, and they went on board singing hymns of thanksgiving in praise of their benefactors, whose charity enabled the committee even to make some provision for them after their landing in America.
The laudable relief granted to these deluded emigrants gave rise to great murmuring among our own poor, who were at the same time much distressed by the dearness of provisions. The high prices of necessaries have been long an object of national attention; many schemes have been attempted to lower the rates, but there is no counteracting the natural tendency of things. The increase of the metropolis, combinations among the dealers in provisions, the bounty on corn, the increase of horses, have all been subjects of accusation; and associations have been entered into for checking the profits of wholesale dealers in cattle and other necessaries; without reflecting how impossible it is for combinations of this nature to operate uniformly in enhancing the necessaries of life. Articles of foreign growth and precarious importation may indeed be monopolized in a few warehouses by overgrown traders; but in commodities which are the produce, and the food of every county, the multitude of competitors is always too great, to allow the markets to be governed by a few.
The price of all commodities is governed by the quantity; money is as much a commodity as any of the articles it purchases. The quantity of money has been increasing ever since the Norman conquest, and more especially since the discovery of the American mines; money has therefore been gradually decreasing in value, or what is the same thing, all commodities have grown progressively dearer. If this alteration operated-uniformly, it would not be felt, but continue a meer object of speculation; but the misfortune is that the first advantage of the increase of money is felt by the rich, and the first effects of its diminution in value is felt by the poor: hence it is that the dearness of commodities has been a popular complaint in all ages. Such are the natural causes of the increasing prices of necessaries; to which must be added some artificial causes, which constitute the real grievances.
Since the establishment of public funds, the rise of every article of consumption in price, has been accelerated beyond its relative proportion to the value of money; by the continual accumulation of taxes on them, of which the consumer is frequently obliged to pay double the imposition. It has been hinted that the positive increase of specie must operate in advancing the prices of commodities. But public and private credit are carried to an extream; and if no effectual check is given to the unlimited creation and circulation of ideal money, consisting meerly in strokes of ink upon slips of paper; this artificial method of raising the value of commodities without any equivalent subsisting, may produce effects which stopping such currency the distresses felt in the South-sea failure will revive and involve the whole body of people! Again, every idle person is an actual burden on the community, as consuming the labour of others; and the proprietors of all the funds, with the whole legion of the placemen and pensioners under the present extravagant system of government, increase the number of the idle: and as they live in as fashionable a way as their incomes will afford, they contribute their assistance to raise the prices of every thing by consuming more in proportion than they could afford if they earned what they spend. This effect of the competition of rich purchasers, is verified by the more than ordinary advance in the price of provisions since the last peace. Many great fortunes were gained by the late prosperous war; many astonishing unaccountable fortunes have been since brought home from the East: and these being rapidly acquired by men originally of low station, their ostentation and luxury prove very pernicious to those whose gains are the produce of honest and actual labour. This increase of wealth in few hands, will long operate to depress the poor, before they can advance their labour in proportion to the advance of prices which luxury occasions. In the mean time we feel all the evils which result from extreams; extream profusion among the rich, and extream distress among the poor: whether the correction of these irregularities in our political system will be effected by time, or whether it will be left to that course of cure; are points not altogether so clear, as it is that no coffee-house schemes, however well intended, can answer any farther purpose than furnishing some temporary amusement to the undertakers.
The death of Sir Thomas Harrison chamberlain of London, brought on the election of a successor to that important office, on January 15th 1765. The candidates were aldermen Janssen, and Turner; deputies Long, and Ellis; with mess. Freeman, Till, and Bonus. The latter candidate to favour his election, threw out an insinuation that if he was chosen, he would disclose a secret of great pecuniary advantage to the city. If any thing of service to the corporation lay within the compass of his knowledge, the free communication of it as it became a good citizen, would have operated more in his favour, than a stipulation that sprang meerly from self-interest. A committee of the common-council was however ordered to confer with him on his proposal; when the only secret discovered was, a scheme to procure the office by amusing the public; which not succeeding he declined the contest. The shew of hands declared in favour of alderman Janssen, who, though he had been late in offering himself, was a gentleman whose conduct, both as a magistrate and in his private capacity, was universally esteemed: so that though a poll was demanded on the parts of his competitors, his superior claim to the suffrages of the citizens, still appeared by the result: the only rival whose merit rendered his pretensions in any degree formidable being alderman Turner, who has since so worthily served the office of chief magistrate. On the 29th Mr. Janssen was sworn into his new office, and resigned his gown as alderman of Bread-street ward: when Brass Crosby Esq; then sheriff, was chosen alderman in his room.
On the 14th of February, Mr. John Williams, bookseller in Fleet-street, stood in the pillory in New Palace yard Westminster; for republishing the North Briton compleat in volumes. The ministry gained nothing by this sentence on the poor bookseller: the spirit of the populace keeping pace with their resentment, and defeating the intention of the ignominy, by displaying a burlesque exhibition that excited much more attention, and sentiments directly opposite. They suspended near the pillory a jack boot, a Scots bonnet, and an axe; and after suffering them to hang for some time they chopped off the top of the boot, and burned it together with the bonnet with great triumph. In the mean time a gentleman putting a guinea into a purse handed it round the assembly, and it is said collected above 200 guineas for Mr. Wilkes's benefit. The hackney coach No. 45, carried him to and from the pillory, nor would the anti-ministerial driver accept any thing for the use of his carriage.
April 16th came on before the house of peers in Westminster-hall, the trial of William lord Byron for killing Mr. Chaworth a gentleman of Nottinghamshire, in a duel at the Star and Garter tavern in Pallmall. After examining witnesses as to the circumstances of the rencounter, the lords next day acquitted the prisoner of murder, declaring him only guilty of manslaughter: and as by an old statute (fn. 10), in all cases wherein peers are allowed the benefit of clergy, they are dismissed without burning in the hand, loss of inheritance, or corruption of blood; lord Byron was enlarged on paying his fees.
Much might be said on the custom of duelling, that absurd relic of gothic barbarism; which still compels every man to risk his life at demand, on the most frivolous, or even the most insulting and cruel occasions. The laws of honour have so little connexion with those of honesty, that a man may support his claim to the title of a gentleman by the former, after he has forfeited all pretensions to the character by the latter. Sir John Brute is made to state the behaviour of some men of honour very justly when he says—" He comes to my house, eats my meat, lies with my wife, dishonours my family, gets a bastard to inherit my estate; and when I ask a civil account of all this,—sir, says he, I wear a sword!"
The hardships of the Spital-fields weavers made them very riotous and gave great disturbance to the metropolis in the month of May this year. The English nobility, very little to the credit of their political principles, or even to their taste, distinguish themselves by a fondness for the tinsel flimsy productions of France; a nation who are our most dangerous competitors in trade, and whose ambitious schemes long experience teaches us to be very watchful against; in preference to the more correct, more substantial, and equally elegant, fabrications of their own country. The well known jealousy the land owners entertain of the trading interest, may lead us to conclude that the nobles look back with regret on the extinction of their feudal powers over their baronies and manors; and that they wish rather to check than promote those industrious arts at home, which are so favourable to independence and liberty; and which enable merchants and tradesmen by the exertion of personal talents, to rival the advantages of meer birth and hereditary possessions. The fact, however, is, that numbers of them, when they purpose to emulate each other in ostentation, display themselves in the richest manufactures of France; which they distress our labouring poor, defraud their king, and violate the laws they give their voice to, by importing clandestinely.
Early in the last summer a great body of journeymen silk weavers had presented a petition to the king, representing their hardships from the clandestine importation of French silks; against which they prayed relief. Their sensations of this cruel and illicit commerce were soon after aggravated, by the seizing a large book of French patterns, containing several thousands of samples from 5s. to 5l. per yard; which book had been secretly handed about among the mercers by. French agents: to which must be added the occasional discoveries made from time to time, of parcels of rich suits made up in Paris by private orders from persons in London for their own wearing. A bill calculated for their relief was thrown out of the house of peers, which occasioned meetings of the weavers in greater numbers than consisted with the peace of civil government; and their resentment was principally pointed against the duke of Bedford, who they were informed was a principal opposer of the bill. On the 14th of May a large body of them, having a black flag as an emblem of their misery carried before them, marched from Spital-fields to St. James's palace, to make another representation to the king; but his majesty with the queen being gone to Richmond before they arrived, the greatest part of them followed and obtained an answer through a lord in waiting that his majesty would do all in his power for their relief.
The motions of such formidable numbers alarmed the city, and caused the lord-mayor and court of aldermen to issue orders for the constables in every parish to repair immediately to their respective watch houses with assistance; and to remain there till farther orders, for the prevention of any riots that migh happen.
On the 16th about 8000 of them assembled in Moorfields, and paraded again to St. James's, where they reiterated their requests, and received a favourable answer. They then adjourned to the Green Park, where they drew round one Jones who acted in the capacity of their captain or leader; and who advised them to disperse and wait the result of his majesty's assurances, and the intentions of the parliament. The greatest part of them appeared satisfied and disposed to comply with this prudent advice; but whether it was that other riotous persons mixed among them, or that their intentions were altered by drink, or that both these circumstances combined to inflame their passions; they proceeded to Bloomsbury-square with such threats of vengeance against the duke of Bedford, that it appeared necessary to send a military force for his security. They then dispersed, more from fatigue than from any better motive, but assembled again the next morning by beat of drum, to the amount as was conjectured of 50,000; and forming themselves under commanders of their own appointing, they marched to Westminster in three bodies. The one crossed London bridge and went over St. George's-fields and Westminster bridge; another down Ludgate-hill and through the Strand; and the third along Holborn by Covent Garden. When these three bodies joined again in Old and New Palace yards and their neighbourhood, the avenues to the houses of parliament were so crouded, that the members found the utmost difficulty in passing through them. Flags of various colours and kinds of French manufactures were borne by the women; the men wore red cockades with shreds of silk in their hats; and all joined in loading the mercers with severe reproaches for discouraging English goods. They stopped the carriages of the members as they passed, praying them to take pity on the poor weavers; but in general behaved with as much decency as could be expected in such a tumultuous assembly.
However pacific the weavers appeared at present, their manner of assembling and their numbers, rendered it prudent to prepare against sudden disorders. The first troop of horse guards, with a party of horse grenadiers, and three companies of foot guards, were ordered to parade to Old Palace yard, where they were drawn up before Westminster-hall to clear the passage for the members to enter the house. In the mean time the justices of peace for Westminster had attended at their new Guildhall; at which place there was also a conference between the chieftains of the weavers, their masters, and the mercers; when the latter agreed immediately to countermand all their contracts for foreign goods and set the journeymen instantly to work. This treaty in all probability would have quieted them, had not a suggestion been started on their journey homeward that these promises might be delusive; a body of them therefore went once more to Bloomsbury-square, where they began to demolish the wall before the duke of Bedford's house and the pales along the road behind. A party of horse had been added to the foot placed there the night before; but the mob became so regardless of this armed force that they tore up the very pavement to supply themselves with stones to pelt them: much mischief ensued, many of the soldiers were wounded, several people trampled down by the horses; and great part of the night was employed in these outrages. The petitioning weavers now became actual rioters; as another party of them passed by Mess. Carr and Co. mercers on Ludgate-hill, who they had been told carried on a silk manufacture in France, they demolished the windows, broke the lamps, and proceeded to farther mischief; when the lord-mayor, sheriffs, recorder, with a number of peace officers arrived. The recorder told the populace that unless they dispersed the riot act would be read; and a party of horse and foot being sent for, they began to be intimidated, and no other disorders happened there.
A court of aldermen had been called the evening before to consult on proper methods for guarding against any ill consequences from these commotions among the weavers. A party of soldiers from the Tower were ordered on duty all night in Moorfields, another party had been sent for the same night to Spitalfields, where the mob had broken the windows of several master weavers who were reported to have French silks in their houses. Moorfields continued to be occupied for some days by a strong body of guards, attended by constables, headboroughs, and other peace officers; and pursuant to an address of the house of lords, occasioned by the insults offered to the duke of Bedford, a proclamation for suppressing riots, tumults, and unlawful assemblies, was published. By the prudence of the magistrates, and the assurances of the master weavers, the discontent subsided, and tranquillity was restored; though some censures were passed by one of the houses of parliament, on the lenity observed toward the rioters.
It is common for fires to happen in the close narrow streets on each side of the river below the Tower, about Wapping and Rotherhithe, where they work and deal in the combustibles used in shipping. Two fires happened this summer of more than ordinary fierceness, and within a few days of each other; the one in Narrow-street Shadwell, on May 16th, which consumed about 60 houses; and the other in Prince's street Rotherhithe June 1st that destroyed 206 houses, together with a brig and several lighters in the river: the wind carried the flames to a great distance, but had they been blown as fiercely over the Thames, as they were driven from it, the consequence must have been very fatal to the shipping. The losses were computed at 10,000 l. of which about 3000 l. were incurred by 240 poor families and their servants who had not insured their property: but these were soon indemnified by a humane subscription that exceeded the estimates of the claimants by upward of 300 l.
The addresses presented to the king by the city on ceremonious occasions are in general too uniform to call for particular mention; but that which was presented to his majesty August 28, by the lord-mayor, aldermen, and common-council, on the birth of the prince afterward named William Henry, plainly insinuating a dissatisfaction with the administration of government, gave rise to debate whether it be received or not (fn. 11). But the consequences of increasing the discontent being weighed, it was thought prudent to let it pass; and the citizens were thanked as usual for their dutiful address. The offensive passage was as follows. "Permit us, royal sir, to assure your majesty, that your faithful citizens of London, from their zealous attachment to your royal house, and the true honour and dignity of your crown, whenever a happy establishment of public measures shall present a favourable occasion, will be ready to exert their utmost abilities in support of such wise councils as apparently tend to render your majesty's reign happy and glorious."
The prince and princess of Brunswic having come over to England, the court of common-council, on October 15th, voted the freedom of the city to the prince, in a golden box of 150l. value. At the same court a motion was made that all members of the common-council should be possessed of a certain qualification in point of fortune; but this motion was overruled on a doubt whether the court had power to enforce such a law. On the 22d, a resolution was made to present 500l. to the society for the encouragement of arts, manufactures, and commerce.
When Stocks-market was removed to make way for the mansion-house, Fleet ditch was arched over from Holborn bridge down to Fleet-street and the market placed over it (fn. 12): the building a new bridge at Blackfriars now required the remainder to be covered over down to the river, to make a spacious avenue to it. The former part consisted of two arched channels, but from thence it was continued with a single arch twelve feet wide, the space on each side being filled up with rubbish. A small part of the ditch is still lest as an open dock, owing to the obstinately disputed claim of a private proprietor, which may in time fall into less tenacious hands: this grand sewer was so far compleated in the middle of October; and when a street of houses shall be suitably erected on each side, it will be the finest part of the city.
On the 23d a cause was tried in the name of the chamberlain of the city, and at the expence of the farrier's company, against one Cole a farrier in Thamesstreet, for exercising his trade without being a freeman of London. The defendant pleaded that having served as a farrier in the Train of Artillery, he was intitled by law (fn. 13) to exercise his trade in any corporation within the king's dominions: but proof being made that none of the farriers, drivers of carriages, or other such persons, occasionally employed in the artillery, were ever considered as part of the military establishment; a verdict was given against him.
To the sincere grief of the nation his royal highness William duke of Cumberland uncle to his majesty died suddenly on the last day of October, in the 45th year of his age: it was this prince that suppressed the last rebellion in favour of the pretender, and not with standing the late political disputes he still preserved the affections of the people, who justly considered him as a stedfast friend to their real interests, amidst the contests of parties. The citizens appear to have been somewhat dubious how to act with regard to the annual festival of their new mayor on this occasion; for the sheriffs were sent to court the next day to know his majesty's pleasure how the day should be celebrated, whether in a private or public manner. Their late address was not yet forgot; and it was reported they were referred to the measure of their respect as the rule of their conduct: however the duke's body being to be buried on the evening of the lord-mayor's day, the lord-mayor received a letter from the lord chamberlain desiring it might pass with as little shew as possible. Accordingly George Nelson, Esq; the new mayor, with the aldermen and recorder, went to Westminster and returned in a private manner by land.
A most unhappy fire broke out on the 7th of November, about 3 o'clock in the morning, at the house of one Rutland a peruke maker in Bishopsgate-street, next door to the corner house in Leadenhall-street. The height of the wind, and want of water and due assistance in proper time, left the flames to seize the corner house; from whence it catched the opposite houses one after the other, so that the four corners where Bishopsgate-street, Leadenhall-street, Gracechurch-street, and Cornhill, met, were all on fire at the same time. That which formed the corner of Gracechurch-street and Cornhill, was only damaged; but the other three were all destroyed, as likewise all the houses from the corner of Cornhill up Bishopsgate-street on both sides the way, to the church of St. Martin Outwich at the corner of Threadneedle-street; which with the parsonage house adjoining were greatly damaged. Here the flames turned down Threadneedle-street, and consumed several houses; but the wind shifting about 7 o'clock, drove the flames back; when Merchant Taylors-hall received some damage, every house in White-lion court, five houses on the Exchange side of Cornhill, with upward of 20 in Leadenhall-street, were all consumed. A party of guards from the Tower were sent to keep off the mob, and the Royal-Exchange was opened for the goods of the sufferers. This sad accident destroyed above 100 houses; and some lives were lost, both by the fire and by the fall of walls: a gentleman who ventured among the ruins the next day, thinking it possible that some persons might be alive under the rubbish, actually waved his hat to draw the attention of the people to the spot where he stood, declaring he was sure there were people under it. Upon this the firemen went instantly to work with pick-axes, and opened a vault from whence they drew out alive two men, three women, a child about six years old, a dog, and two cats. The loss was estimated at 100,000l. and many sufferers not being insured, a subscription was opened for their relief, to which his majesty gave 1000l. and the donations soon amounted to 3000l.
The society for the encouragement of arts, manufactures, and commerce, by their assiduous attention to schemes of utility, and by their annual exhibitions of paintings and other works of elegance, had excited a spirit of emulation among the professors of the polite arts: and a society of painters, sculptors, architects, and engravers, obtained a charter of incorporation this year, by the name of the society of artists of Great Britain; to consist of a president, vice-president, directors, and fellows, with a common seal and other corporation powers within the city of London, and ten miles thereof, for the improvement of the said arts.
The paving of Westminster under the new regulations (fn. 14) was now far advanced, and the great disparity in elegance and convenience between the Westminster side of Temple bar, and the London side, was so observable to every one who passed through; that the corporation of London, early in the year 1766, perceived the necessity of applying to the legislature for suitable powers to adopt the same improvements. These were no sooner obtained (fn. 15) than they were exerted; and the advantages London received, from having the enormous sign boards with their heavily ornamented irons taken down, with the removal of the posts on each side the streets; were rather more observable here than in Westminster, because the streets in general are not quite so wide. The taking down the gates, the occasional openings made of incommodious passages, the covering Fleetditch over, with the beautiful uniformity of the streets and houses under the new regulations, have so altered the general appearance of London, that at this present time of writing it no more resembles what it was fifty years ago, than the best part of Westminster now resembles the worst part of Wapping. An act of the same nature was also procured for the borough of Southwark (fn. 16); and afterward for other separate districts, which did not come within the general limits of the acts already passed; as will appear in the note below (fn. 17).
The act which had imprudently imposed stamp duties on the American colonies, having been productive of great tumults there, and even of discontent here; on the principle that the English Americans having legal assemblies of their own in the respective provinces, the British parliament, in which they are not represented, had no right to tax them: the ministry were therefore convinced of the expediency of annulling by parliamentary sanction, what that sanction could not procure due obedience to. On the 18th of March when his majesty went to the parliament to give his assent to the repeal of this mischievous act, the American merchants assembled before the house of lords, and made a most numerous and brilliant appearance, to express their satisfaction and thankfulness: and as soon as this was known in the city, the ships in the river displayed their colours; great numbers of houses were illuminated; and every decent and orderly method was observed, to demonstrate the sense that was entertained of his majesty's prudence, in conciliating the minds of the people on so critical an occasion.
On the 14th of May, the king having given the royal assent, among others, to "the bill to prohibit the importation of foreign wrought silks and velvets for a limited time," several thousand weavers went to St. James's, with colours flying, drums beating, and music playing, and otherwise testifying their gratitude by loud acclamations.
At a court of common-council held July 30th, a report of Mr. Recorder was read concerning the right of the city of London to import 4000 chaldrons of coals for the benefit of the city poor; by which it appeared that the corporation were intitled by charter to that quantity at 1s. per chaldron less duty than is customarily paid at the port of London. When Oliver Cromwell granted a licence of this kind (fn. 18) it was an abatement of the whole duty; the exemption now would prove trifling unless the act of common-council in 1665 was revived, which required the principal city companies to lay up stores in summer to sell to the poor in winter; as has already been noted under that year (fn. 19).
As by the building a bridge at Blackfriars, the Sunday ferry which was carried on there by the Watermen's company for charitable purposes was ruined; the bridge committee agreed on the 19th of August to transfer 13,650l. consolidated 3 per cents. to the rulers of the company, as a recompense for the loss: the interest of which money was appropriated to the same uses as the profits of the ferry used to be.
Complaints still continued to be made of the dearness of provisions, which had even produced tumults in different parts of the country; where the populace violently seized corn, and other articles which they sold among themselves at prices of their own settling, and paid the money to the right owners. A proclamation was published on the 10th of September, for putting the laws in execution against forestalling, regrating, and engrossing of corn: but though these laws are wisely provided against those undue practices, and ought never to be neglected; yet the evil, as has been already intimated (fn. 20), appears to have a deeper origin, by the inefficacy of all ordinary measures to remove the effects. On the 23d, the court of aldermen resolved to send the sheriffs to lay the distresses of the poor before his majesty; and on the 26th, two proclamations appeared, the one reciting that the price of corn continuing to rise, the stock in hand being very inconsiderable, and the recess of the parliament not allowing a present remedy suited to the emergency; his majesty, by the advice of the privy council, thought proper to lay an embargo on all vessels laden or to be laden for exportation, with wheat or flour, until the 14th of November (fn. 21): the other to prohibit the distillation of spirits from wheat.
On the 1st of October, the princess Caroline Matilda, youngest sister to his majesty, was married at St. James's chapel by the archbishop of Canterbury, to the young king of Denmark; the duke of York being proxy for the absent king: her portion was 100,000l. The next morning she set out for Denmark with a train and an escort suited to her regal dignity; and a few days afterward, a congratulatory address was presented to his majesty from the city of London, on this event, and the birth of a princess which happened two days before the marriage.
The elegant statue of queen Elizabeth, which heretofore stood over the great arch on the west side of Ludgate, was this month placed in a niche over the east end of St. Dunstan's church Fleet-street, and elegantly painted; with the following inscription under it.—"This statue of queen Elizabeth formerly stood on the west side of Ludgate: that gate being taken down in 1760, to open the streets, it was given by the city to Sir Francis Gosling, knight, and alderman of this ward, who caused it to be placed here."
The arches of Blackfriars-bridge being now compleated from the Southwark shore two within two or three on the London side, a temporary wooden gallery for the conveniency of foot-passengers was erected over the stone arches so far as they were built; and from the last arch was conducted aside down flights of stairs to connect with a gallery or bridge carried on piles from Blackfriars, and built so as not to interfere with the edification of the remaining arches. This foot bridge was opened on the 19th of November, and the toll imposed by the act, collected from all passengers; the numbers of which increased daily. Fines for sheriffs to the amount of 16,200l. had been received since May 1758, toward the purposes of this bridge (fn. 22).
At a court of common-council held January 22d, 1767, Mr. Deputy Paterson, to whose abilites the city has often been greatly indebted, laid a plan before the corporation for raising 282,000l. for the following purposes.
The duties for raising the interest on the orphans debt, which had been provided for by two acts of parliament (fn. 23), had, as this gentleman shewed, produced a surplus which by computation would in about 35 years, ending with the year 1803, discharge the whole debt. He therefore proposed that these duties with certain alterations should be continued to 1827; and that upon the credit of the fund thus constituted, the common-council should be authorized to raise 126,000l. part of the above sum, at 3½per cent. that from midsummer 1768, the surplus of the fund be applied first in discharge of the 12,000l. due on the account of London-bridge; secondly in the payment of 144,000l. now owing on the new-bridge account; thirdly in extinction of the orphans debt; and lastly in satisfaction of the 126,000l. proposed to be raised (fn. 24). Mr. Paterson received the thanks of the court, the plan was approved, and a petition to parliament agreed on to carry it into execution (fn. 25).
About the close of the year 1755, a committee was appointed to inquire into the right of the mayor, commonalty, and citizens, to the hospitals of St. Bartholomew, Christ, St. Thomas, Bridewell, and Bethlehem, and whether the right has in any instance been given up or taken away (fn. 26). In the beginning of this year the committee made the following report.
"That in the fourth year of Philip and Mary, some orders which had been before made, were revived by the court of aldermen; which orders seem to be the true constitution of the hospitals. There were to be sixty-six governors at least, fourteen aldermen, and fifty-two grave commoners, citizens and freemen, four of whom were to be scriveners. They were to be elected at a general court, on St. Matthew's day, and to continue in office two years, and the election was to be ratified, or reformed by the next court of aldermen. These orders were attended to till 1615; but after the troubles, though the aldermen asserted their right of government, and declared that no unfreeman should be chosen a governor, yet nothing farther was done, except that they kept up the form of the beadles giving up their staves on St. Matthew's-day, and preserving a respectable footing as individuals; by confining the presidency to aldermen, and constituting all the aldermen governors without election."
On March 10th, the lord-mayor, several of the aldermen, the committees of common-council, and of the Skinner's company, went and presented the freedom of the city of London to his royal highness the duke of Cumberland, the king's youngest brother, and afterward dined at the Mansion-house.
On the 17th the city members attended by Mr. Dance the surveyor waited on the lords of the Treasury with a plan of the ground on which Gresham college stood; with a view to the converting that antient and almost useless building into an Excise-office: the building in the Old Jewry then made use of, being found too small and inconvenient for that purpose. At a court of commoncouncil held on the 22d of May, it was resolved to agree with the proposal of the government for the purchase, in order to erect the Excise-office on the spot (fn. 27): that the Gresham lectures (fn. 28) should be read over the Royal Exchange; and that the lecturers should be allowed a compensation for their apartments in the old college.
At a court of common-council on June 23d, the freedom of the city in a golden box was voted to the right honourable Charles Townshend, chancellor of the Exchequer; as a tribute due to his distinguished talents, and as a mark of gratitude for the late instances of his regard to the city of London, and readiness to promote its embellishments, trade, and manufactures. A piece of plate of 200 guineas value was also voted to Mr. deputy John Paterson, for the many services rendered by him to the corporation, but more especially for his late plan above mentioned. After a long debate it was agreed at the same court to allow the proprietors of London-bridge water-works a fifth arch of the bridge; under the express condition, that if the grant should hereafter be found prejudicial to the navigation of the river, the city should have liberty to revoke it, on paying the proprietors their whole expence in occupying the said arch.
A dissension arose about this time between the college of physicians and those physicians who only practised by virtue of a licence from the college without being admitted as fellows. The college were incorporated by Henry VIII. (fn. 29) with power to license all practitioners in medicine; and by a bye law afterward made, the fellows confined the privileges of the college to those who studied and took their degrees in the two English universities of Oxford and Cambridge. They sometimes indeed, speciali gratia, granted fellowships by procuring degrees from one of the two universities, for those on whom they were disposed to bestow such favour; but had lately resolved that no one who had at any time practised surgery should be thus distinguished: the licentiates however, who were now become formidable by their numbers and reputation, were not content with a mere toleration, but objecting to the validity of this bye law, insisted on their right of fellowship under the incorporation. The fellows of the college having a meeting and a dinner at their hall in Warwick-lane on the 23d of September, a great number of the licentiates went to the college and demanded admittance; which being refused, they forced the outer gate, and then, with the assistance of a smith, burst open the door of the hall, and thus the meeting ended with broken windows and great confusion.
The licentiates prepared to renew their hostilities on the anniversary meeting of the college for the choice of president and other officers on the last of September; and the fellows apprehensive of the attack took measures on their part for a vigorous defence. The gates were secured by a strong iron chain, the garrison was strengthened by a reinforcement of constables, and a masked battery was prepared of a water engine used for extinguishing fires. In the afternoon the besiegers appeared in a long train of hackney coaches and demanded entrance, which was denied. A council of war was then held, in consequence of which a smith was offered ten guineas and an indemnification to force the gate; but this not being accepted, the notice of the water engine damped their ardor for storming the castle, they therefore raised the siege, and made an orderly retreat, without being pursued.
When the licentiates failed of introducing themselves into the college by force, both parties had recourse to law; and after a long hearing before lord Mansfield, the licentiates were again defeated in the court of King's-bench, and the fellows of the college were confirmed in the possession of their exclusive privileges: a victory of no great consequence unless it could be proved to include a monopoly of medical knowledge and superior abilities.
A farther enlargement of salary being moved for in favour of the recorder of London, on account of the increasing business of his office; the common-council on December, 17th, agreed to give him an addition of 200l. and at the same time voted 150l. more to the common serjeant.
The expiration of the parliament, which was dissolved March 12th, 1768, gave Mr. Wilkes, who had remained in a manner neglected all this time in exile, an opportunity of trying on the strength of his popularity to get into the house of commons again. The election for the city of London being appointed on the 16th, Mr. Wilkes took a bold step, came suddenly over, and offered himself a candidate (fn. 30): the other candidates were, the right honourable Thomas Harley, lord-mayor; aldermen Ladbroke, Beckford, Trecothick, and Glynn, with John Paterson, Esq. The shew of hands were in favour of the lord-mayor, Ladbroke, Beckford, and Trecothick; but a poll being demanded in favour of the rest, was directly opened, and on the 23d the numbers in favour of each candidate stood thus.
|or the lord-mayor||3729|
|Sir Robert Ladbroke, Knt.||3678|
|William Beckford, Esq;||3402|
|Barlow Trecothick, Esq;||2957|
|Sir Richard Glyn, Bart.||2823|
|John Paterson, Esq;||1269|
|John Wilkes, Esq;||1247|
The four first were therefore declared duly elected. The populace during the poll were guilty of many extravagancies to shew their regard for Mr. Wilkes; and even degraded themselves so far as to take the horses out of the carriage he rode in, and act in the capacity of beasts of draught for him. On the determination of the election, Mr. Wilkes returned his thanks to the hall for the suffrages he had received, complained of the exertion of ministerial influence against him, (a fact notorious enough on all contested elections) and declared his intention of standing candidate for the county of Middlesex. In this election, which came on at Brentford on the 28th, he was more successful, the state of the poll there being
|For John Wilkes, Esq;||1292|
|George Cooke, Esq;||827|
|Sir William Beauchamp Proctor||807|
Here therefore his election was indisputable, and he was once more entrenched within the privilege of a member of parliament. The mob on each side were very outrageous; a banner was carried in the procession of Mr. Wilkes's opponents on which was painted No Blasphemer, which irritated his party and gave rise to many frays in the course of the proceedings. At night all Mr. Wilkes's friends illuminated their houses, and the mob parading the streets with great insolence imposed the same obligation on every one who chose to save their windows and houses from demolition. The windows of the Mansionhouse were all broken, together with a large chandelier and some pier glasses, to the loss of several hundreds of pounds; the houses of lord Bute, lord Egmont, Sir Sampson Gideon, Sir William Mayne, and many other inhabitants of the most public streets, all shared the same fate. The guards on duty at St. James's the next day, received orders to be in readiness to march to suppress any riot that might happen; and on the following day a court of common-council was called to consider the means of preventing future riots and to punish those who should be found guilty of the late disturbances of the public peace. A reward of fifty pounds was offered for the discovery of every offender to be paid on conviction; and it was determined to prosecute them with the utmost vigour.
The prince of Monaco, at whose court the duke of York died, had been invited over to England this summer by his majesty in acknowledgment of his civilities to his deceased brother; and the lord-mayor, thinking it incumbent on the city of London, to join in shewing respect to this prince, desired his company to an entertainment at the Mansion-house. On the 18th of April the prince with many of the nobility dined with the lord-mayor accordingly; and in the evening the dukes of Gloucester and Cumberland honoured the company with their presence at a ball, which was opened by the duke of Cumberland and the lady mayoress.
Some disputes arising among the coal-heavers concerning their terms of working, a desperate fray happened among several gangs of them at Wapping on the 15th of April; in which many persons were wounded, and three houses almost destroyed. One Green a publican who kept a house of call for them, having disobliged them, his house was beset on the 20th, he defended himself all night, during which many shots were fired on both sides, and several of the rioters killed and wounded.
Mr. Wilkes, now member for Middlesex, appeared on the 20th, before the court of King's-bench, and declared his surrender, according to his promise; he stated his case to the court, and animadverted on some irregularities in the management of his trial. The attorney general moved for his immediate commitment; but his counsel specified several errors in the process of his outlawry as sufficient foundation for a writ of error. Lord Mansfield on the other hand denied Mr. Wilkes to be legally before him, as not being brought into court in virtue of the writ of capias utlagatum, according to the regular forms of law. Mr. Wilkes therefore was left to go out of the court as freely as he came into it; and so formidable were he and his party now esteemed, that the magistrates of London and Westminster kept all their peace officers ready at call; two battalions of guards lay on their arms in St. James's-park, other parties were in St. George's-fields, those at St. James's, the Savoy, and Tower, were kept in readiness to march at a minute's warning; as well as several troops of horse, until two o'clock in the morning.
After thus permitting Mr. Wilkes to stand an election in London, another at Brentford, and by his public appearance to revive and cultivate the popular prejudices in his favour; he was at length on the 27th of April served with this writ of capias utlagatum, and brought before the court of King's-bench at their own time and in their own manner. He was now ordered to the King's-bench prison, but the court were still obliged to accept his voluntary surrender; for the mob stopped the coach on Westminster-bridge, took off the horses, and drew it back through the Strand and so to Spital-fields: here they turned the two tipstaves out of the coach and would have used them very ill if Mr. Wilkes had not exerted his influence in their favour. He was then drawn to the Three tuns-tavern, from an upper window of which he persuaded the populace to retire; and when they were dispersed he went away privately and delivered himself up to the marshal of the King's-bench prison.
The next day he was visited by many of his friends, and the prison was surrounded by a numerous concourse of people, who it was expected would have offered some outrage; but all remained quiet till night, when they pulled up the rails which inclosed the footway, with which they made a bonfire, and obliged the inhabitants of the borough to illuminate their houses; but a captain's guard of 100 men arriving about twelve, they all dispersed.
While the British ministry seemed to confine their united attention solely to one object, the prosecution of Mr. Wilkes, and thus gave him consequence in the eyes of the people; the dearness of living strengthened the discontent of the populace, and prompted them to riotous measures. The coalheavers at Wapping engaged in another tumult on account of disputes between them and their employers; which did not end without bloodshed. The sailors belonging to the outward bound vessels in the river imbibed the contagion, and refused to proceed on their voyages without an increase of wages. In the beginning of May they collected in great bodies in Stepney fields and Deptford to prepare a petition to the parliament; they boarded those ships in the river that were preparing to sail, and unrigging them, carried off the men, vowing that no ships should sail before the merchants had agreed to advance their wages. On the 7th, they assembled in St. George's fields and paraded to St. James's-palace with colours and music before them to present a petition to the king; and some days afterward presented one to the parliament, where being told it should be considered, they retired seemingly satisfied.
On the 9th, the watermen went in a great body to represent their grievances to the lord-mayor; who pacified them by promising that if they would prepare a petition, he would present it at the house of commons. At night however, another body of men not altogether so orderly, paid their compliments at the Mansion-house where they exhibited a portable gibbet, with a boot and petticoat dangling on it. At this insult, the lord-mayor, from an eagerness to shew his zeal as Mr. Harley, forgot his high station; and by an unnecessary act of heroism in a chief magistrate, exposed himself personally among the rabble, and with only two or three attendants, made a prize of the boot and petticoat. The adventure was truly ridiculous, and the indiscretion did not escape censure; for whatever personal merit might be claimed by it (fn. 31), any indignities offered by an unthinking mob, were to be sustained by the lord-mayor of London.
The next day May 10th produced a more fatal instance of rash violence against the people on account of their attachment to the popular prisoner in the King's-bench. The parliament being to meet on that day to open the session, great numbers of the populace thronged about the prison from an expectation that Mr. Wilkes would on that occasion recover his liberty; and with an intention to conduct him to the house of commons. On being disappointed they grew tumultuous, and an additional party of the 3d regiment of guards were sent for. Some foolish paper had been stuck up against the prison wall, which a justice of peace then present was not very wife in taking notice of; for when he took it down the mob insisted on having it from him, which he not regarding the riot grew louder; the drums beat to arms, the proclamation was read, and while it was reading some stones and bricks were thrown. William Allen a young man, son of Mr. Allen, keeper of the Horse-shoe-inn, in Blackman-street Southwark, and who as appeared afterward was meerly a quiet spectator, being pursued, along with others, was unfortunately singled out, followed by three soldiers into a cowhouse, and shot dead! A number of horse grenadiers arrived, and these hostile measures having no tendency to disperse the croud, it rather increased; the people were fired upon, five or six were killed, and about fifteen wounded; among which were two women, one of whom afterward died in the hospital (fn. 32).
Two other tumults happened on the same day, that had no connexion with Mr. Wilkes; the one of coalheavers who mustering in Stepney-fields, marched to Palace-yard with colours flying, drums beating, and music playing before them. Here Sir John Fielding met them, who persuaded them to part with their flag, silence their drums and dismiss their fidlers; then talking with their leaders, prevailed on them to have a meeting with their masters at his office to accommodate their differences. The other was an actual riot of sawyers, a large body of whom, disgusted with a sawmill erected at Limehouse by Mr. Dingley, as prejudical to their business, met together and pulled it down.
The officious alacrity of the soldiers in firing on the people promiscuously in St. George's fields, instead of meerly guarding the prison door, which as they were sent for by as officious magistrates, was their only needful duty; proved of itself sufficiently odious: but when these soldiers were the next day publicly thanked by a letter from the secretary at war in his master's name, for that alacrity; the affair appeared greatly aggravated in all its circumstances. Peter Maclaughlin, who actually killed the inoffensive Allen, was withdrawn from justice, and could never be found; so that though his two associates Donald Maclaine and Donald Maclaury, with their commanding officer Alexander Murray, were proceeded against for the murder, the prosecution came to nothing; and only contributed to heighten the general discontent.
The validity of Mr. Wilkes's outlawry was tried in the court of King's-bench on the 8th of June, he being brought into court for that purpose. The attorney general entered into a long argument in support of the outlawry, to which Mr. Wilkes's counsel made no reply: the judges then delivered their opinions very fully on the irregularity of the proceedings, but though they differed as to the reasons, they were unanimous that the outlawry was illegal, and concurred in the reversal of it. The consideration of the verdicts found against him was deferred to another day; and on the 18th judgment was given against him on both verdicts. The sentence was, that for the republication of the North Briton No. 45, in volumes, he should pay a fine of 500l. and be imprisoned ten calendar months: (the two months of previous confinement making twelve) and that for publishing the Essay on Woman he should pay another fine of 500l. and be imprisoned twelve calendar months, to be computed from the expiration of the former imprisonment: and that he should afterward find security for his good behaviour for seven years; himself to be bound in the sum of 1000l. and two sureties in 500l. each.
On the 7th of July the grand jury of the county of Middlesex found a bill for wilful murder, against Samuel Gillam, Esq; the justice of peace who ordered the guards to fire on the 10th of May in St. George's-fields. He was tried at the Old-Bailey in consequence for the murder of William Redburn; but was acquitted without entering upon his defence, and a copy of his indictment was granted him by the court. It was remarked on this trial that though the prosecution was carried on against Mr. Gillam, in the name of the crown; yet the attorney and solicitor generals, Sir Fletcher Norton, as well as the solicitor of the treasury with his deputy, all appeared for the prisoner (fn. 33).
On the 1st of September in the evening the heaviest rain fell at London, and the country round it, that had been known in the memory of man. In a few hours the waters poured down Highgate-hill with incredible violence; and the common sewers in several parts of the town not being able to carry off the torrent, the adjacent houses were filled almost to the first floors: immense damage was done, and as it happened in the night, many were awakened in the greatest consternation. The Serpentine River in Hyde-Park rose so high, that it forced down a part of the wall, and poured with such violence upon Knightsbridge, that the inhabitants expected the whole town to be over-flowed: the canal in St. James's Park rose so high, that it flowed up to the garden-wall belonging to the treasury, so that foot-passengers could not pass; and the lower parts of houses near the treasury were overflowed. About Bagnigge-Wells the waters rose eight feet perpendicular, and several people in Cold-Bath-Fields, MuttonLane, Peter-street, and those parts, sustained great damage: in the lower part of Hockley in the Hole, the inhabitants were obliged to quit their groundfloors, and go up stairs. Some butts of beer were carried away from the cellar of the Cheshire-Cheese at Mount-Pleasant, and conveyed by the great drain, quite to Fleet-Ditch, where they were taken out.
The king of Denmark though so lately married, having engaged in a tour for pleasure this summer, arrived at St. James's palace on the 11th of August, under the title of the prince of Travendahl, to avoid the ceremony which would have been necessary on travelling in his royal character. After visiting several parts of England, the court of common-council of London resolved on the 16th of September, "that the right honourable the lord-mayor be desired to wait on his majesty the king of Denmark with the most respectful compliments of this court, and to intreat his majesty to allow them the high honour of entertaining him at the Mansion-house." The king accepted the invitation, fixed on Friday the 23d for the day, and expressed at the same time a desire to come to the city by water. On this a committee of six aldermen and twelve commoners were appointed to conduct the entertainment, who were impowered to draw on the chamberlain for the necessary expences; the several city companies who had barges were summoned to attend the city barge; all the members of the court of common-council were desired to come to the entertainment in their gowns; and each of them received a ticket for the admission of their ladies to the gallery. As none of the court of aldermen understood the French language, Mr. Deputy Paterson was requested to act as interpreter on the occasion.
When the day arrived, the lord-mayor being confined to his bed by illness,0 Sir Robert Ladbroke officiated as locum tenens; and received his Danish majesty into the city barge at the stairs from New Palace yard: and in order to give him a compleat view of London, Westminster, the bridges, and the river, the state barge took a circuit as high as Lambeth, and from thence down as far as the Stillyard. They then returned to the Temple-stairs, where the benchers of both societies received the king, conducted him to the Middle Temple-hall, and regaled him and his company with an elegant collation. The procession then began by land, the king of Denmark sitting on the right hand of Sir Robert Ladbroke in the state coach; his retinue with the aldermen and sheriffs following in a long train of carriages: the whole was conducted with great magnificence tending to shew respect to the royal visitor and to demonstrate the general joy on so brilliant an occasion. The dinner was splendid; the king sat on the right hand of the locum tenens at a table placed on an elevation across the upper end of the Egyptain-hall, his noble attendants on the right, the aldermen above the chair on the left; and a band of music in an orchestra fronting his majesty's table: the members of the common-council below, the ladies in the gallery above, with the number and disposition of the lights, all contributed to display a scene the grandeur of which could not but give the king a high idea of the opulence of the city of London.
About 8 o'clock in the evening the king of Denmark took leave of the corporation and returned to St. James's palace, amidst crouds of the populace who testified their satisfaction by continual shouts; and the inhabitants shewed their respect to him in his way home by illuminating all their windows.
As a farther acknowledgment for the honour of his company, the commoncouncil on the 10th of October unanimously voted the freedom of the city to the king of Denmark in a golden box of 200 guineas value; the king made choice of the Goldsmiths company, and his freedom being afterward given to his ambarsador here, was by him transmitted to Copenhagen.
On the same day that this court was held, his Danish majesty in return for the many entertainments and civilities he had received here, gave a grand masquerade ball at the Opera house in the Haymarket, which was superbly fitted up for the purpose. He did not forget the corporation of London on this occasion, but sent the lord-mayor an hundred tickets for the masquerade; forty of which were directed, twenty six of them to the aldermen, twelve to the commoners who were of the committee for preparing the entertainment; one to the recorder, and one to the common serjeant: the remainder were entrusted to his lordship's disposal, together with an hundred and fifty tickets for the gallery.
These tickets sent in return for the king's entertainment in the city, were generally understood as intended for the members of the corporation who gave the treat; the common-councilmen were therefore much disgusted at finding themselves generally neglected in the distribution; and at the above court an inquiry into the disposal of them was moved for (fn. 34). His lordship was not then in town, but at a court held on the 12th he alleged that he had disposed of them to the most respectable of the citizens, and that in so doing he thought he fulfilled the trust reposed in him by his Danish majesty. Answer was made that next to the aldermen, the members of that court were the most respectable citizens in the corporation. To this the lord-mayor replied, that the tickets being of a mixed nature, some of them for the masquerade and others only for the gallery, he could not have divided them without giving offence by the distinction: he even asked one of the members whether he would have been contented with a gallery ticket; and was answered that he and many other Gentlemen would gladly have preferred gallery tickets for a very obvious reason. High disputes ensued; for trifles become important when they are converted to marks of distinction by those who are expected to be above all partial considerations in their public conduct.
The death of George Cook, Esq. who was elected member for Middlesex with Mr. Wilkes, occasioned a new election: Sir William Beauchamp Proctor offered himself again as a candidate, and was supported by the ministerial interest; but was opposed by serjeant John Glynn, who had acted as Counsel for Mr. Wilkes, and was of course the popular candidate. The poll began at Brentford on the 8th of December about 11 o'clock, and proceeded quietly until a little after 2, when the numbers appearing to be greatly in favour of Mr. Glynn, the freedom of the poll was shamefully interrupted by a mob brought down by the agents of the other party. Mr. Glynn in his address to the Middlesex freeholders the next day, described the violence in the following Terms.—"The sheriffs, and every person present, were witnesses of a scene never before exhibited at an election–a desperate set of armed Russians, with Liberty and Proctor in their hats, without the least provocation or cause of quarrel, destroying those who did not lift up a hand in their defence. Sir William, to whom I called to go with me and face this mob, returned me no answer and left me: I remained the last man upon the hustings."–The remainder of the day was a scene of confusion.
The new lord mayor Samuel Turner, Esq: who attended the sessions at the
Old-Bailey on that day, acted in a manner that did him honour. When the
jury was called over, he asked them upon their honours whether any of them
were freeholders of Middlesex; and it appearing that about 18 of them were so,
his lordship immediately dismissed them, that they might not be withheld from
discharging their duty at Brentford. After the riot some of the poll books being
missing, the poll was adjourned to the 13th and the next day it was peaceably
concluded; when the numbers were
For Mr. serjeant Glynn 1542.
Sir William Beauchamp Proctor 1278.
On the 15th an inquisition was taken on the body of George Clarke an attorney's clerk at Marybone, by the coroner's jury; before whom it appeared by positive evidence that his death was occasioned by the stroke of a bludgeon at the Brentford election on the 8th past: an eminent surgeon who opened the head, giving his opinion that the blow was the cause of his death. The jury therefore gave a verdict of wilful murder by some person or persons unknown.
The last transaction that belongs to this year, was the institution of a Royal academy of arts at London, on December 18th, under the king's immediate patronage, and under the direction of forty artists of the first eminence in their several professions.
The principal object of this institution is the establishment of well-regulated schools of design, where students in the arts may find that instruction which hath so long been wanted, and so long wished for in this country. For this end, therefore, there are established a winter academy of living models to draw after, and a summer academy of living models to paint after: with laymen, all sorts of draperies, both ancient and modern, and choice casts of all the celebrated antique statues, groups, and basso-relievos. Nine of the ablest academicians, elected annually from amongst the forty, attend these schools by rotation, to set the figures, to examine the performances of the students, to advise and instruct them, and to turn their attention toward that branch of the arts for which they shall seem to have the aptest disposition. A professor of painting, a professor of architecture, one of anatomy, and one of perspective, are appointed; who are annually to read a certain number of public lectures in the schools, calculated for the purposes above recited.
That the effects of this royal institution may be conspicuous to the world,1there is an annual exhibition of paintings, sculptures, and designs, open to all artists of distinguished merit, where they may offer their performances to public view, and acquire that degree of fame and encouragement which they shall be deemed to deserve.
But as all men, who study the arts, are not equally successful, and as some unhappily never acquire either same or encouragement; but at a time of life when it is too late to think of other pursuits, find themselves destitute of every means of subsistence: and as others are, by various infirmities incident to man, rendered incapable of exerting their talents; or by being cut off in the bloom of life, leave their families destitute of provision: his majesty allotted an annual sum for the relief of indigent artists and their distressed families (fn. 35).
The death of Sir Francis Gosling, alderman of Farringdon ward without, produced a new accession of honour and consequence to Mr. Wilkes. Though a prisoner under two verdicts against him for transactions not much to the honour either of him or of his prosecutors; there were several circumstances in conducting the prosecution against him, which want of room will not allow the detail of, that compared with the measures pursued by the government in other respects, gave him some claim to the compassion of the people, and made him be considered as a victim in the popular cause. Thus he gained a fresh stock of credit with the public, derived rather from the misbehaviour of his court adversaries, than from his own original merit. As the blemishes in his private character had been industriously exposed, if not exaggerated, to add to the catalogue of his public offences, on the one hand; so on the other, incidents which started from ill conducted resentment in the ministry, or from meer accident, were as liberally laid to the account of his public virtue. His private interest naturally dictated the proper improvement of these circumstances, in which he was in truth equally assisted both by the enthusiasm of his friends and the inveteracy of his foes.
At the wardmote held January 2d 1769 for the choice of an alderman for Farringdon without, Mr. Wilkes was put up in opposition to Mr. Bromwich; but so few appeared on the books in favour of the latter that he declined the poll the same evening, and the lord-mayor declared Mr. Wilkes duly elected. This declaration was however afterward objected to as premature, the books being irregularly closed before the time first agreed on; and another wardmote was therefore called on the 27th for a fresh election. The lord-mayor now made a genteel apology to the inhabitants for giving them the trouble of meeting again, by his mistake in point of form; which was received with great applause: Mr. Wilkes was again proposed, and so unanimous did the assembly approve of his nomination that no one ventured to oppose him, and he was a second time pronounced duly elected.