Old and New London: Volume 2. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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ALDERSGATE STREET AND ST. MARTIN'S-LE-GRAND.
Origin of the Name—History of the Old Gate—Its Demolition—The General Post Office—Origin of the Penny Post—Manley—Bishop—The Duke of York's Monopoly—Murray's Post—Dockwra—Absorption of the Penny Post by the Government—Allen's "Cross Posts"—Postal Reformers—John Palmer, of Bath—Procession of the Mail Coaches on the King's Birthday—The Money Order Office—Rowland Hill's Penny Post—The Post Office Removed to St. Martin's-le-Grand—Statistics and Curiosities of the Post Office—Stamping—Curious Addresses—Report on the Post Office Savings-Bank—Posting the Newspapers—The Site of the Present Post Office—St. Martin's College—Discovery of Antiquities—The New Buildings—The Telegraph Department—Old Houses in Aldersgate Street—The "Bull and Mouth"—Milton's House—Shaftesbury House—Petre House—St. Botolph's Church—The So-called Shakespeare's House—The Barbican and Prince RupertThe Fortune Theatre—The "Nursery"—Little Britain—The "Albion."
Aldersgate was one of the four original gates of London, and formed the extreme corner to the north. Some say it was named after Aldrich, a Saxon, who built it; others, says Stow, attribute it to the alder trees which grew around it. There is no mention of it previous to the Conquest. Becoming dilapidated and dangerous, it was pulled down by order of the Lord Mayor and aldermen; but rebuilt in 1618, the expense (more than £1,000) being defrayed out of a legacy, left for the purpose by one William Parker, a merchant tailor. It was damaged in the Great Fire, but soon after repaired and beautified. Originally, like Temple Bar, it had an arch in the centre for general traffic, and, two posterns for pedestrians. Over the arch was a figure in high relief of James I., but the building itself was heavy and inelegant. The imperial arms surmounted the figure, for through this gate the Stuart first entered London when he came to take possession of the Crown. On the eastern side was an effigy of the prophet Jeremiah, and these lines from his prophecies:—"Then shall enter into the gates of this city kings and princes, sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain for ever." In the western niche was an effigy of Samuel, with this inscription:—"And Samuel said unto all Israel, Behold, I have hearkened unto your voice in all that you said unto me, and have made a king over you." On the south was a bas-relief of James in his royal robes.
The City Crier had rooms over the gate, but in Elizabeth's reign they were occupied by John Day, who printed the folio Bible dedicated to Edward VI. in 1549. He also printed the works of Roger Ascham, Latimer's Sermons, and Foxe's "Actes and Monuments." There is a work of his now much sought after by book-collectors on account of the frontispiece, which represents Day with a whip entering the room of his workmen, who are sleeping, the sun shining upon them. He rouses them with these words: "Arise, for it is day." This gate was sold in 1761, and taken down immediately afterwards. The "Castle and Falcon" inn was built near its site.
The General Post Office forms a noble preface to an important street. From two years before the death of Charles II. there has been a Penny Post (one of the greatest blessings of civilisation) established in London. In Cromwell's time, the revenues of the Post Office were farmed to a Mr. John Manley for £10,000 a year, and it was calculated that latterly Manley made £14,000 annually by his bargain. Bishop, his successor, had to pay £21,500 a year for the office (the monopoly of letting post horses being included). In 1675, the fifteenth year of this disgraceful reign, the entire revenue of the Post Office was granted to the Duke of York. About this time Robert Murray, an upholsterer, suggested the idea of a post from one part of London to another, the City having grown too large for messengers. Murray's Post was afterwards assigned to Mr. William Dockwra (or Docwra). By the early regulations, all letters not exceeding a pound in weight were to be charged one penny for the City and suburbs, and twopence for any distance within a ten mile radius. Six large offices were opened in different parts of London, and receiving-houses were established in all the principal streets. The deliveries in the chief streets near the Exchange were as many as six or eight times a day, and in the outskirts there were four daily deliveries.
The moment the Penny Post became a success,
the courtiers were all nibbling, and the Duke of
York complained that his monopoly was infringed.
Titus Oates cried out that the Penny Post was a
Jesuit scheme, and useful for transmitting Popish
treason. The City porters, too, says Mr. Lewin, in
his excellent book, "Her Majesty's Mails," pulled
down the placards, "Penny Post Letters taken in
here," from the doors of the receiving-houses.
The Court of King's Bench, on a trial, decided, of
course unjustly, that the new office must be absorbed by the Government. From this time, the
London District Post existed as a separate establishment from the General Post, and so continued
till 1854. Shortly after this verdict Mr. Dockwra
was appointed, under the Duke of York, controller
of the District Post. On the accession of the Duke
of York the revenues of the Post Office reverted
to the Crown. Ten years after the removal of unfortunate Dockwra from the "Penny Post," a Mr.
Povey attempted, in vain, to rival the Government
by establishing a "Halfpenny Post." In 1720
Pope's friend, Ralph Allen—
"Let humble Allen, with an awkward shame,
Do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame,"
established an improved system of "cross posts," at a rental of £6,000 a year. By this contract Allen is supposed to have made nearly half a million sterling. On the death of this worthy and successful speculator, the cross posts passed under the control of the Postmasters-General. In 1799, when this department was amalgamated, the proceeds, says Mr. Lewin, had reached the enormous yearly sum of £200,000.
The careless post-boy on a slow horse was still the agent employed to carry letters, often requiring to be conveyed with the utmost care and speed. Fifteen years after the death of Allen, a greater reformer arose in the person of Mr. John Palmer, a brewer and theatrical manager at Bath. In 1784, after some successful experiments with coaches and swifter horses, he was at once appointed controllergeneral of the Post Office, at £1,500 a year, with two and a half per cent. commission upon any excess of net revenue over £240,000, the Post Office's annual revenue for the year of his appointment. The conservative opposition to Palmer's improvements was incessant and untiring, and in 1792 he was compelled to surrender his appointment for a pension of £3,000 a year. After a twenty years' struggle against this unfair removal, Mr. Palmer's son, in 1813, obtained a Parliamentary grant of £50,000. The first year of the introduction of Mr. Palmer's plans the net revenue of the Post Office was about £250,000; thirty years afterwards, the proceeds had increased six-fold—to no less a sum, indeed, than a million and a half sterling.
In 1836 there were fifty four-horse mails, and forty-nine two-horse mails in England, says Mr. Lewin, thirty in Ireland, and ten in Scotland. The last year of mail coaches, twenty-seven mails left London every night punctually at eight p.m., travelling in the aggregate about 5,500 miles before they reached their several destinations.
The original Post Office, of which a view is given on page 205, stood in Lombard Street, (fn. 1) and one of the most interesting sights of the Post Office in old time was the gay procession of mail coaches thither on the King's birthday. Hone, in 1838, tells us that George IV. changed the annual celebration of his birthday to St. George's Day, April 23rd. "According to annual custom," says he, "the mail coaches went in procession from Millbank to Lombard Street. At about twelve o'clock the horses belonging to the different mails, with new harness, and the postmen and postboys on horseback, arrayed in their new scarlet coats and jackets, proceed from Lombard Street to Millbank, and there dine. At this place the coaches are fresh painted, then the procession, being arranged, begins to move, about five o'clock in the afternoon, headed by the General Post men on horseback. The mails follow them, filled with the wives and children, friends and relations, of coachmen and guards, while the post-boys, sounding their bugles and cracking their whips, bring up the rear. From the commencement of the procession the bells of the different churches ring out merrily, and continue their rejoicing peals till it arrives at the General Post Office, in Lombard Street, from whence they sparkle abroad to all parts of the kingdom. Great crowds assemble to witness the cavalcade as it passes through the principal streets of the metropolis. . . . The clean and cheerful appearance of the coachmen and guards, each with a large bouquet of flowers in his bright scarlet coat, the beauty of the cattle and the general excellence of the equipment, present a most agreeable spectacle to every eye and mind, that can be gratified by seeing and reflecting on the advantages derived to trade and social intercourse by this magnificent establishment." "Such a splendid display of carriages and four as these mail coaches," says Von Raumer, in 1835, "could not be found or got together in all Berlin. It was a real pleasure to see them in all the pride and strength which, in an hour or two later, was to send them in every direction, with incredible rapidity, to every corner of England."
The Money Order Office dates from 1792. No order originally could be issued for more than five guineas, and the charge for that sum amounted to four shillings and sixpence, or nearly five per cent. It was originally a private speculation of three Post Office officials, and so remained till 1838, when it became a branch of the general institution. It began with two small rooms at the north end of St. Martin's-le-Grand, and a staff of three clerks. During the year 1863 the number of orders amounted in round numbers to 7,500,000, representing a money value exceeding £16,000,000, the commission on the whole amounting to more than £144,000.
That great reform of Rowland Hill's, the Penny Postage, was first mooted in 1837, and in 1839 the uniform rate of fourpence a letter was tried. The penny rate for half an ounce commenced in 1840. Telegraph messages were first used to expedite Post Office business in 1847. In 1855, the Duke of Argyll being Postmaster-General, the General Post and the London District Letter-carriers were amalgamated, and the red uniform of the General Post abandoned.
In 1765 four houses in Abchurch Lane were taken for the Post service, and additional offices erected; and from time to time other additions were made, until the whole became a cumbrous and inconvenient mass of buildings, ill adapted to the great increase which had taken place in the business of the Post Office. It was at length determined to erect a building expressly for affording the conveniences and facilities required; and in 1815 an Act was passed authorising certain commissioners to select a site. The situation chosen was at the junction of St. Martin's-le-Grand with Newgate Street, where once stood a monastery which had possessed the privileges of sanctuary. The first stone of the new building was laid in May, 1824. On the 23rd September, 1829, it was completed and opened for the transaction of business. It is about 400 feet long, 130 wide, and 64 feet high. The front is composed of three porticoes of the Ionic order—one of four columns being placed at each end, and one of eight columns forming the centre—and surmounted by a pediment. In the interior is a hall 80 feet long, by by two ranges of six Ionic columns, standing upon pedestals of granite. There is a tunnel underneath the hall by which the letters are conveyed, by ingenious mechanical means, between the northern and southern divisions of the building.
In 1839, under the old system, the number of letters which passed through the post was 76,000,000. In 1840 came the uniform penny, and for that year the number was 162,000,000, or an increase of 93,000,000, equal to 123 per cent. That was the grand start; afterwards the rate of increase subsided from 36 per cent. in 1841 to 16 per cent. in 1842 and 1843. In 1845, and the three following years, the increase was respectively 39, 37, and 30 per cent. Then succeeded a sudden drop; perhaps the culminating point in the rate of increase had been attained. The Post Office is, however, a thermometer of commerce. During the depressing year 1848 the number of letters increased no more than 9 per cent. But in 1849 337,500,000 epistles passed through the office, being an augmentation of 8,500,000 upon the preceding year, or 11 per cent. of progressive increase.
In 1850 it was estimated that upon an average 300 letters per day passed through the General Post Office totally unfastened, chiefly in consequence of the use of what stationers are pleased to call "adhesive" envelopes. Many were virgin ones, without either seal or direction; and not a few contained money. In Sir Francis Freeling's time the sum of £5,000 in bank-notes was found in a "blank." It was not till after some trouble that the sender was traced, and the cash restored to him. Not long since, an humble postmistress of an obscure Welsh post town, unable to decipher the address on a letter, perceived, on examining it, the folds of several bank-notes protruding from a torn edge of the envelope. She securely re-enclosed it to the secretary of the Post Office in St. Martin's-le-Grand, who found the contents to be £1,500, and the superscription too much even for the hieroglyphic powers of the "blind clerk." Eventually the enclosures found their true destination.
The dead letters of one year alone contained, stowed among other articles, tooth-picks, toothfiles, fishing-flies, an eye-glass, bradawls, portraits, miniatures, a whistle, corkscrews, a silver watch, a pair of spurs, a bridle, a soldier's discharge and sailor's register tickets, samples of hops and corn, a Greek MS., silver spoons, gold thread, dinner, theatre, and pawn tickets, boxes of pills, shirts, nightcaps, razors, all sorts of knitting and lace, "dolls' things," and a vast variety of other articles, that would puzzle ingenuity to conjecture.
The letters formerly were ranged, for stamping the date and hour of despatch, in a long row, like a pack of cards thrown across a table, and so fast did the stamper's hand move, that he could mark 6,000 in an hour. While defacing the Queen's heads, he counted as he thumped, till he enumerated fifty, when he dodged his stamp on one side to put his black mark on a piece of plain paper. All these memoranda were afterwards collected by the president, who, reckoning fifty letters to every black mark, got a near approximation to the number that had passed through the office. This work is now performed by machinery. The total number of letters which passed through the Post Office on Valentine's Day, 1850, was 187,037. To this total are to be added 6,000 "bye" letters—or those which passed from village to village within the suburban limits of the District Post without reaching the chief office—and 100,000, destined for the provinces and places beyond sea, which were transferred to the Inland Department. The grand total for the day, therefore, rose to nearly 300,000. Thus the sacrifices to the fane of St. Valentine, consisting of hearts, darts, Cupids peeping out of paper roses, Hymen embowered in hot-pressed embossing, swains in very blue coats, and nymphs in very opaque muslin, coarse caricatures and tender verses, caused an augmentation to the revenue on this anniversary equal to about 70,000 missives; 123,000 being the usual daily average for district and "byes" during the month of February. This increase, being peculiar to cross and district posts, does not so much affect the Inland Office, for lovers and sweethearts are generally neighbours. The entire correspondence of the three kingdoms it was calculated in 1850 was augmented on each St. Valentine's Day to the extent of about 400,000 letters.
To George Miller, boy on board H.M.S. Amphitrite,
Voillop a Razzor or ellesaware (the Amphitrite, Valparaiso,
H.M. Steem Freigkt Vultur, Uncon or els war (Steam Frigate Vulture, at Hong-Kong).
Ilwait (Isle of Wight).
Mr. Laurence, New Land, I Vicum (High Wycombe).
W. Stratton, commonly ceald teapot (we presume, as a total abstinence man), Weelin (Welwyn).
Thom Hoodless, 3, St. Ann Ct., Searhoo Skur (Soho Square).
Mr. Dick Bishop Caus, ner the Wises (near Devizes).
Peter Robinson, 2 Compney 7 Batilian Rolyl Artirian, Owylige (Woolwich), England.
To Mr. Michl Darcy, in the town of England.
To my Uncle John, in London.
Miss Queen Victoria, of England.
The Post Office Savings-Banks continue to show a steady and rapid advance in their business; with a remarkable increase in the number of friendly, provident, and other societies and institutions placing money in them. The number of depositors last year increased in round numbers from upwards of 1,300,000 to upwards of 1,440,000; and the whole amount of deposits (including interest) from £17,000,000 to upwards of £20,000,000, giving an average of more than £13 for each depositor.
Last year the Post Office, on behalf of the Board of Inland Revenue, issued more than 1,000,000 licenses of various kinds, producing a revenue of nearly £500,000, being an increase of about three per cent. on the previous year. Of these licenses more than £570,000 were for keeping dogs.
Last year the number of officers was increased by about 2,000, making a total of rather more than 40,000, of whom about 9,600, or nearly one-quarter, are employed exclusively on telegraph work. Upwards of 12,000 of the officers are postmasters, about 8,600 clerks, &c., and upwards of 19,000 letter-carriers, sorters, messengers, &c. Of the foregoing staff nearly 9,000 belong to the London district, and of these more than 3,000 are attached to the chief offices, St. Martin's-le-Grand, and over 1,500 to the Central Telegraph Office.
The net revenue last year was £1,524,000—namely, £1,505,000 from postage, and £19,000 from money orders; being an increase on the net revenue from postage, in 1871, of £260,500, and a decrease on that from money orders of £9,500; or a balance of increase amounting to £251,000.
The number of letters which, owing to wrong addresses and other causes, found their way back to the Returned Letter Office, did not greatly differ from the number in 1871, and was about 3,600,000. About 88,000 of the undelivered letters contained property of different kinds. Besides the property thus posted, there were 2,700 valuable books, which, owing to careless packing or weak envelopes, escaped from their covers, but were recorded, so as to allow of their being traced if inquired for; and more than 51,000 postage stamps were found loose in the different post-offices. The total number of letters posted last year without any address was 15,000.
The number of ordinary telegraphic messages last year reached a total of nearly 15,000,000, showing an increase of nearly 3,000,000, or about 25 per cent. During a single night, when important Ministerial statements were made in Parliament, upwards of 200,000 words, or about 100 columns of the Times newspaper, were transmitted from the central station in London for publication in the provincial press. The total length of the Postal Telegraph wires at the end of the year was more than 105,000 miles, of which about 5,000 miles were rented by private persons. In 1871 the total mileage was rather less than 88,000.
During the last year nearly 270 additional Money Order Offices (serving also as Savings-Banks) were opened, making the whole number upwards of 4,600. The number of inland money orders increased from rather more than 12,000,000 in 1871 to nearly 14,000,000 (amounting to £24,000,000) in 1872, or by nearly 16 per cent. The number of colonial and foreign money orders last year, counting the issues both in this country and abroad, was about 260,000, being an increase of about 70,000, or nearly 37 per cent., on the number in 1871. These orders amounted to more than 1,000,000 (as compared with about 770,000 in 1871), and yielded a profit of nearly £9,000, being an increase during the year of nearly £3,500.
Postage ceased to be charged on the correspondence of Government departments early in the year 1868. The amount of Government postage (excluding the Post Office itself) for the last complete year in which it was charged (1867), was about £197,000.
In an admirable article in the first volume of Household Words, March 30, 1850, the late Mr. Charles Dickens and Mr. W. H. Wills described, in a very animated way, the manner of then closing the evening letter-boxes at St. Martin's-le-Grand. "It was a quarter before six o'clock," they say, "when they crossed the hall, six being the latest hour at which newspapers can be posted without fee. "It was then just drizzling newspapers. The great window of that department being thrown open, the first black fringe of a thunder-cloud of newspapers, impending over the Post Office, was discharging itself fitfully—now in large drops, now in little; now in sudden plumps, now stopping altogether. By degrees it began to rain hard; by fast degrees the storm came on harder and harder, until it blew, rained, hailed, snowed, newspapers. A fountain of newspapers played in at the window. Waterspouts of newspapers broke from enormous sacks, and engulfed the men inside. A prodigious main of newspapers, at the Newspaper River Head, seemed to be turned on, threatening destruction to the miserable Post Office. The Post Office was so full already, that the window foamed at the mouth with newspapers. Newspapers flew out like froth, and were tumbled in again by the bystanders. All the boys in London seemed to have gone mad, and to be besieging the Post Office with newspapers. Now and then there was a girl; now and then a woman; now and then a weak old man; but as the minute hand of the clock crept near to six, such a torrent of boys and such a torrent of newspapers came tumbling in together pell-mell, head over heels, one above another, that the giddy head looking on chiefly wondered why the boys springing over one another's heads, and flying the garter into the Post Office, with the enthusiasm of the corps of acrobats at M. Franconi's, didn't post themselves nightly along with the newspapers, and get delivered all over the world. Suddenly it struck six. Shut, sesame!"
On the site of the General Post Office, in the early days, stood a collegiate church and sanctuary, founded by Withu, King of Kent, in 750, and only enlarged in 1056 by Ingebrian, Earl of Essex, and Girard, his brother, and confirmed by a charter of William the Conqueror, in 1068. The proud Norman also gave to the college all the moor land without Cripplegate, and granted them "soc and sac, dot and sheam," in a chapter confirmed by two cardinals of Pope Alexander. Many of the deans of this college were great people, observes Strype, one being Keeper of the Treasure and Jewels of Edward III., and another Clerk of the Privy Seal. The college was a parish of itself, and claimed great privileges of sanctuary, prisoners from Newgate to Tower Hill sometimes trying to slip from their guards and get through the south gate of St. Martin's. Thus, in 1442 (Henry VI.), a soldier, on his way from Newgate to the Guildhall, was dragged by five of his fellows, who rushed out of Pannier Alley, in at the west door of the sanctuary; but that same day the two sheriffs came and took out the five men from the sanctuary, and led them fettered to the Compter, and then chained by the necks to Newgate. The Dean and Chapter of St. Martin's, furious at this, complained to the king, who, after hearing the City, who denied the right of sanctuary to the college, returned the five soldiers to their former retreat. In the reign of Henry VII. the right of sanctuary was again violated, and again disputed at law, and this time the sheriffs were "grievously fined" for their pains.
In the reign of Edward II. there was before St. Martin's College a "solar," that is, a large airy room, or chamber, somewhat like the galleries in great houses, being places of entertainment and pleasure. This "solar" was toward the street, and a jetty outward, which was so low that it annoyed the people passing along.
When the college of St. Martin's-le-Grand flourished, the curfew was rung here, as at Bow, St. Giles's, Cripplegate, and Allhallow's, Barking, to warn citizens to keep within doors. Strype also mentions an ordinance of Edward I., at a time when "certain Hectors" infested the streets at night, walking armed, and committing "mischiefs, murders, and robberies," commanding none to wander in the streets after "coverfew" has sounded at St. Martin's-le-Grand.
A crypt was laid open in St. Martin's-le-Grand on clearing for the site of the General Post Office, in 1818. There were then found two ranges of vaults, which had served as cellars to the houses above; one of these being the crypt of St. Martin's (taken down in 1547) and afterwards the cellar of a large wine-tavern, the "Queen's Head." This was in the pointed style of Edward III., and was most probably the work of William of Wykeham. The second or westernmost range, which must have supported the nave, was of earlier date, and was a square vaulted chamber, divided by piers six feet square. Here was found a coin of Constantine, and a stone coffin containing a skeleton; and in digging somewhat lower down, Roman remains were met with in abundance. In St. Martin's-le-Grand also, between Aldersgate and St. Anne's Lane end, was the large tavern of the "Mourning Bush," whose vaulted cellars, as they remain from the Great Fire of 1666, disclose the foundation wall of Aldersgate, and are a remarkably fine specimen of early brick archwork.
The new Post Office buildings, erected from the designs of Mr. James Williams, of H.M. Office of Works and Public Buildings, were opened early in 1874. The building is rectangular, having frontages of 286 feet to St. Martin's-le-Grand and Bath Street, and frontages of 144 feet to Newgate Street and Angel Street, and is 84 feet in height from the paving line. It stands on a base of granite from the De Lank quarries, and the whole of the fronts have been executed in Portland stone of the hardest "Whitbed." The building is four stories in height, exclusive of the basement, and the floors are thus appropriated:—The basement is partly occupied as office-rooms, partly for stores, and partly by the department of the telegraph engineers, the large room in the centre being used as a batteryroom. The ground floor is appropriated to the Postmaster-General and the Accountant-General. On the first floor are accommodated the secretaries and their staff; the third and fourth floors being appropriated to the telegraph department. The fourth floor is especially devoted to the telegraph instruments, and the pneumatic tubes are laid on to it, establishing communication with the district offices. The large instrument-room is 125 feet by 80 feet The central hall is intended for the staff of the Accountant-General. In the north court there are placed four steam-engines, each of 50horse power, for working the pneumatic tubes. An Artesian well is also proposed for the supply of the large quantity of water required, and a small engine will be kept at work at pumping to the large tanks (two of 6,000 gallons each) at the top of the building. It is calculated that about three-quarters of a mile of instrument-tables will be required in the telegraph galleries.
The building was commenced in December, 1869, the first block of Portland stone being laid by the Right Hon. A. S. Ayrton, M.P., the First Commissioner of Works, on the 16th of December, 1870. The contractor was Mr. William Brass; the clerk of the works, Mr. William Trickett. The contract amounted to £129,718
"In the telegraph department in the new wing," says Mr. Yates, "young ladies are seated at the long rows of tables crossing the room from end to end, and, with few exceptions, each one has before her a single needle or printing instrument, the 'circuit,' or place with which it is in communication, being denoted on a square tablet, something like a headstone in a cemetery, erected immediately in front of her. It may further be remarked of these young ladies, that they talk much less than might be expected, work very quickly, and have generally very nice hands."
The Metropolitan Gallery, consisting of a set of three large rooms, is simply used as a centre for the collection of messages from the metropolitan district. It is arranged upon the plan of the postal districts, with which the public are now familiar, and each division is under the superintendence of a clerk in charge. All messages are brought to the central sorting-table, and there subdivided: those for the country being sent to the upper or Provincial Gallery by a lift, those for the City being sorted into different batches, and dispatched by the agency of a pneumatic tube to the delivery station nearest to their destination. These pneumatic tubes, through which the messages are being perpetually shot all day long, have been found of great service, and are now in operation between the office and the principal delivery stations in the City, while they are also used by the Anglo-American, the Indo-European, and the Falmouth and Gibraltar offices, for the transmission of messages to the central station. It should be here noticed that the messages for the Continent received at the office are dealt with entirely by the members of the male staff, a mixed assemblage of foreigners and Englishmen conversant with foreign tongues. Pausing for an instant by the side of the young lady to whose memory a tombstone inscribed "Holborn" has been erected, we find her at fifty-four and a half minutes past three p.m. writing off the last words of a message which had been handed in at the office on Holborn Viaduct at fifty-three minutes past three p.m., and which will thus have been completed and ready for sending out for delivery within two minutes. Here in this south western division are what are known as the "official circuits," worked by the A B C instrument, with the grinding handle and the alphabetical depressible keys familiar to most of us, which communicate with the War Office, the Foreign Office, the Treasury, the Admiralty, the Houses of Parliament, and the whipper-in. Here, too, is the last specimen left throughout the building of what at one time used to be the favourite telegraphic instrument, the "double needle," which is used for communication with Buckingham Palace. At Windsor, Osborne, and Balmoral there are telegraphic instruments, under the charge of a clerk, who travels with the Court, to which he has been attached for some years; while Sandringham, Badminton, the seat of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Caterham, and the country-houses of various other noblemen and officials, are similarly furnished.
The work in the Metropolitan Gallery, which is always great, is largely increased on the occasion of any of our great cockney festivals, such as the Derby, or the University Boat Race. A dense fog, too, brings much extra business for them, and the wires, but for the precaution which the department has been able to take against sadden pressure, would be choked with messages explaining the impossibility of keeping appointments already made. All the messages for the tube stations are sorted into different pigeon-holes marked with the name of the superintendent. Some idea of the business done may be guessed, when it is stated that there are already between three and four hundred of these delivery stations in London.
The Provincial Gallery is more interesting as a show-place for the display of tours de force than the Metropolitan. Thus, we are taken to one of the Liverpool circuits, furnished with one of Hughes's instruments, the speciality of which is, that it records the message in actual Roman type, and are invited to communicate with the clerk at the instrument in the Liverpool office. We do so, and in less than a minute and a half we see his printed reply come winding, snake-like, out of the instrument. This Liverpool, by the way, is a very cormorant of telegraphic communication. Already it has eleven direct circuits from the office, and five from the Stock Exchange, making sixteen in all; but it is still clamorous for more, and is likely to have its wishes gratified. This is considered rather a dull time in the office. During the busy season, the daily average of messages sent, exclusive of press messages, has been nearly 20,000; now it is about 16,000. We can check these figures, if we like, by the aid of the superintendent of one of the checktables close by. Her account, she says, stands at this time (quarter to five p.m.) at 6,500 messages; each of these has been sent twice, representing a total of 13,000, and there is yet plenty of time for the receipt of more.
This extraordinary collection of apparently the brass butt-ends of fishing-rods, with thin coils of wire running around and between them, is one of the most important of the internal arrangements at the office. It is called the testing-box, and, as its name imports, is the place where the trial of the state and efficiency of all the wires is made. When the engineer's attention is called by a clerk to a fault in the wire which he is working, each one of which has a separate number and letter, he proceeds to the test-box, and, by means of the galvanometer in connection therewith, he is able to ascertain at once whether the fault or fracture is at his end of the wire. Finding it is not there, he then proceeds to test the wire in the various sections into which it is divided; thus, supposing it were a north-western wire, he would test the section between the office and Euston, then between Euston and Wolverton, then between Wolverton and Rugby, and so on, until he hit upon the section, and, finally, upon the immediate locality where the fault lay; when the divisional engineer would be instructed as to its whereabouts, and ordered to remedy it. Nearly all the wires radiating from the station are tested at six a.m. every morning, when every terminal station is spoken to and expected to reply, to see if the lines are right throughout. It is calculated that there are nearly sixty miles of wire under the floor of the Provincial Gallery, merely for making local connections with batteries, &c.
Another interesting object is the chronopher, or instrument from which all England is supplied with the correct time. Sixteen of the most important cities in the kingdom are in direct communication with this instrument, which is itself in direct communication with the Observatory at Greenwich. At two minutes before ten every morning all other work is suspended, in order that there may be no interference with what is called the "time current," which, precisely at the striking of the clock, flashes the intelligence to the sixteen stations with which it is in communication. And not merely at these large towns, but at every post-office throughout the kingdom, the clerks at two minutes before ten are on the look-out for the signal which is to be passed along the line, and the clocks are adjusted accordingly. Messrs. Dent, Benson, and all the principal watchmakers in London receive the time every hour from this chronopher. Time-guns at Newcastle and at Shields are also fired at one p.m. by batteries connected with the chronopher at the office, the clock attached to which is regulated for accuracy to the twentieth part of a second.
The single-needle instrument conveys its information by the varying vibrations of an indicator or "needle" between two fixed ivory stops. It is read by the eye, and its signals are transitory. It is as though the minute-hand of a small clock, or a large watch, were caused by the electric current to perform rapid calisthenic exercises between the points that indicate eleven and one o'clock. If the minute-hand made two violent efforts to show that it was one o'clock, and after each effort returned exhausted to noon, it would simply indicate the letter M. If panting to go the right way, it made two powerful efforts to go the other way and retired after each effort equally unsuccessful, it would simply indicate the letter I; one such tick to the right would be T, one to the left E. The letters of the alphabet are thus formed by the movements of the indicator to the right and left of some fixed point, and every word is so spelt out letter by letter.
The Morse instrument is different. It depicts its telegraphic language on a long piece of paper that unrolls itself by machinery in tape-like fashion beneath a revolving wheel, one half of which is constantly enjoying a cold bath of ink. While no electric current flows, the paper is free from this circular pen. When the current is caused to speed its lightning career, the paper is pressed against the wheel, and a thin blue line is traced by the ink which the revolving wheel carries with it on the paper with beautiful regularity. If a current of very short duration be sent, there is simply a dot, like a full stop, registered on the paper. If the current be maintained for a little longer period, we have a —shown. One dot is the letter E, one dash the letter T, a dot and a dash the letter A, and a dash and a dot the letter N. The letters of the alphabet are thus made up of a series of dots and dashes.
The signals in both instruments are made by the depression of a small lever, which is moved like the key of a piano. The needle instrument has two keys, one for the movements to the right, the other for the movements to the left. The Morse instrument has but one key, which is depressed as though the telegraphic manipulator wished to play crotchets and quavers on one note, the crotchets forming the dots, the quavers the dashes.
As regards the Wheatstone instrument, it is only necessary to point out that the speed of the ordinary Morse is dependent upon the rate at which a clerk can manipulate his key. Forty words a minute is very fast sending, and few, if any, clerks can reach forty-five words per minute. But there is no limit to the speed of the electric current, and if the messages are sent mechanically, as in the Wheatstone, that is, if the varying currents required to indicate a despatch are regulated by a machine moving with great speed, we are not only independent of the limited powers of the human hand, but made free from the liability to error in meeting out the proper duration of the signal. Thus great accuracy and great speed can be simultaneously attained.
There are instruments, also, that appeal to the ear as well as to the eye. Bright's bell is an instrument which indicates its telegraphic language by sound; bells of different notes struck by little hammers connected with the right and left movements of the needle, and the dot and dash of the Morse. These little tinkling talkers rattle forth their information with great speed, and many clerks are to be seen writing for their very lives to keep up at the rapid rate at which the bells are speaking.
The staff at present employed by the office consists of between seven and eight hundred clerks, of whom about a third are men, and two-thirds women. Of the latter, some come on duty at eight a.m., and leave at four p.m.; others arrive at twelve noon, and leave at eight p.m. It is noticeable that no women are on duty before eight a.m. or after eight p.m.; but the night duties are performed by a special night male staff, who are employed from eight p.m. to nine a.m., under the superintendence of a clerk in charge. Before the transfer of the office to the Government, the male and female staff were kept rigidly apart, and marriage between any members of either entailed the loss of situation on both the contracting parties. But a paternal Government looks upon these matters with a much more benevolent eye, and so far from forbidding matrimony, is understood to encourage it.
The old sanctuary privileges of St. Martin'sle-Grand led to infinite mischief. There is no doubt that up to the time of the mischievous and abused rights of sanctuary being abolished, St. Martin'sle-Grand was a mere refuge for rogues, ruffians, thieves, and murderers. Any rascal who stabbed his pot-companion, or struck down an innocent traveller in a dark bye-street, any red-handed brawler, could rush through the monastic gates and shelter himself in this den of crime. Here also, says Stow, harboured picklocks, forgers, coiners, makers of sham jewellery, carders, dicers, and other gamblers. After the dissolution a tavern was built where the college church had stood.
In Elizabethan times, when sanctuary privileges were still claimed, French, German, Dutch, and Scotch artificers settled here. Here lived shoemakers, tailors, button-makers, goldsmiths, pursemakers, drapers, and silk-weavers, and the first Flemish silk-throwers settled here. In 1569 the number of inhabitants was 269. There were frequently disorders in this turbulent Liberty, the inhabitants of which often objected to pay taxes, in the Plague-time refused when stricken to close their doors and windows, and often erased the red cross set upon their houses, and even threatened the constable and headboroughs who, according to law, painted them up. "And some," says Stow, "repaired to the court with their wares, a thing dangerous to the queen and nobility;" and, there being no prison in the Liberty, the Liberty people sent to the Gate House at Westminster frequently brought actions for such illegal imprisonment.
Butler, in "Hudibras," speaks of this district—
"'Tis not those paltry counterfeits,
French stones, which in our eyes you set,
But our right diamonds that inspire,
And set your am'rous hearts on fire.
Nor can those false St. Martin's beads,
Which on our lips you place for reds,
And make us wear, like Indian dames,
Add fuel to your scorching flames."
"Round Court, St. Martin's-le-Grand, hath a passage leading into Blowbladder Street, which is taken up," says Strype, "by milliners, sempstresses, and such as sell a sort of copper lace called St. Martin's lace, for which it is of note."
On the west side of Aldersgate Street stood the London residence of the Nevilles, Earls of Westmoreland (still indicated by Westmoreland Buildings), and close on the site of Bull and Mouth Street, stood the mansion of the Percys, Earls of Northumberland. At her house in this street, in 1621, died Mary, Countess of Pembroke, "Sydney's sister, Pembroke's mother," a lady immortalised in Ben Jonson's hyperbolic yet noble epitaph. As an "ancient dame," whom Shakespeare must have seen and honoured, we claim in Aldersgate Street remembrance for him, as well as for Milton, who, according to Philips, had, at one time, "a pretty garden-house in this street, at the end of an entry."
The great coaching-inn of Aldersgate Street, in the old time, was the "Bull and Mouth." The original name of this inn was "Boulogne Mouth," in allusion to the town and harbour of Bouloge, besieg ed by Henry VIII. But the "gne," being generally pronounced by the Londoners "on," it gradually became "an," and it only required the small addition of "d" to make "and" of it. The first part being before this made a "bull" of, it was ultimately converted into the "Bull and Mouth."
The "Queen's Hotel," St. Martins-le-Grand, rebuilt
in 1830, now occupies the site of the old "Bull and
Mouth." On the front there is a statuette of a bull,
above which are the bust of Edward VI., and the
arms of Christ's Hospital, to which the ground
belongs. The old inn stood in Bull and Mouth
Street, and the south side in Angel Street still
retains the name of the old inn, but is merely a
luggage depot of Chaplin and Home. On the front
of the present hotel, much affected by Manchester
men, under the turbulent little bull, is a stone
tablet probably from the old inn, and on it are
deeply cut the following quaint lines:—
"Milo the Cretonian
An ox slew with his fist,
And ate it up at one meal,
Ye gods, what a glorious twist!"
Howell in his Londinopolis, 1657, speaking of the spacious and uniform buildings which made Aldersgate Street almost resemble a street in an Italian town, calls Jewin Street "a handsome new street, fairly built by the Company of Goldsmiths."
Jewin Street, Aldersgate, in Stow's time was full of "fair garden plots and summer houses for pleasure." It was anciently called "Leyrestow," and was granted by Edward I. to William de Monteforte, Dean of St. Paul's. For several centuries this spot was the only one allowed the London Jews as a place of interment; but in the reign of Henry II., after long suits to King and Parliament, they obtained leave to buy local graveyards.
Aldersgate Street, dear to business men for its
Post Office, is hallowed to authors by having once,
as we have already said, been the residence of
Milton. Here the poet came, with bag and baggage, in 1643, the year after Edgehill, removing
from St. Bride's Churchyard, the site of the present
Punch office, where he had kept a small school.
This residence is especially interesting to those
who honour our great poet, as it was here he
became reconciled to Mary Powell, his first wife,
the daughter of an Oxfordshire Cavalier. As a first
step to their re-union, Milton placed his wife in
the house of one Widow Weber, in St. Clement's
Churchyard. Mr. Jesse has pointed out very
happily the possible reminiscence contained in
"Paradise Lost" to this reconciliation. In his
beautiful description of Adam's reconciliation with
Eve, after their fall, Milton, says Mr. Jesse, had
evidently in his mind his own first interview with his
repentant wife, after her unhappy estrangement—
"She, not repulsed, with tears that ceased not flowing,
And tresses all disordered, at his feet
Fell humble, and, embracing them, besought
Milton's reconciliation with his wife took place in July, 1645, in which year he removed from Aldersgate Street to a larger house in Barbican. Here he remained till 1647, when he took a smaller house in High Holborn, overlooking Lincoln's Inn Fields. After the Restoration he removed to a house in Jewin Street, where he married his third wife.
On the east side of Aldersgate Street, Nos. 35 to 38 (still distinguished by a series of eight pilasters), stands Shaftesbury or Thanet House, one of Inigo Jones's fine old mansions, formerly the London residence of the Tuftons, Earls of Thanet. From them it passed into the family of that clever and dangerous political intriguer, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, the hated "Achitophel" of Dryden, of whom it was said in jest that he hoped to be chosen King of Poland. He was the idol of the antiPopery apprentices, the hatcher of the Popish plot, the rival of Buckingham for the favour of the Whigs, a man seditious and restless as Wilkes, yet, like that demagogue, a constant striver for constitutional liberty. Sir Walter Scott, in the Notes to his edition of "Dryden," anticipatory of his "Peveril of the Peak," says of Shaftesbury—
"Being heir to a plentiful fortune, a Member of Parliament, and high sheriff of the county of Dorset, he came to Oxford when the Civil War broke out, and though then only twentyone or twenty-two years of age, presented to the king a digested plan for compromising matters between him and his subjects in arms against him. Charles observed, he was a very young man for so great an undertaking; to which, with the readiness which marked his character, he answered, that would not be the worse for the king's affairs, provided the business was done. He had, in consequence, a commission from the king to promise indemnity and redress of grievances to such of the Parliamentary garrisons as would lay down their arms. Accordingly, his plan seems to have taken some effect; for Weymouth actually surrended to the king, and Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, as his style then was, was made governor. Some delays occurred in the course of his obtaining this office; and whether disgusted with these, and giving scope to the natural instability of his temper, as is intimated by Clarendon, or offended, as Mr. Locke states, at Weymouth having been plundered by Prince Maurice's forces, he made one of those sudden turns, of which his political career furnishes several instances, and went over to the other side. After this, Clarendon says that 'he gave up himself, body and soul, to the Parliament, and became an implacable enemy to the Royal Family.'"
Shaftesbury is thus described by the author of a
poem, entitled "The Progress of Honesty;" or the
view of Court and City:—
"Some call him Hophni, some Achitophel,
Others chief Advocate for hell;
Some cry, he sure a second James is,
And all things past and present sees;
Another, rapt in satire, swears his eyes
Upon himself are spies;
And slily do their optics inward roul,
To watch the subtle motions of his soul;
That they with sharp perspective sight,
And help of intellectual light,
May guide the helm of state aright,
Nay, view what will hereafter be,
By their all-seeing quality."
But Dryden's was the most terrible portrait of
this busy politician:—
"For close designs, and crooked counsels fit
Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit;
Restless, unfixed in principles and place,
In power unpleased, impatient of disgrace;
A fiery soul, which, working out its way,
Fretted the pigmy-body to decay,
And o'er-informed the tenement of clay.
A daring pilot in extremity,
Pleased with the danger when the waves went high,
He sought the storms; but, for a calm unfit,
Would steer too nigh the sands to boast his wit."
"'Mong these there was a politician,
With more heads than a beast in vision,
And more intrigues in every one
Than all the whores of Babylon;
So politic, as if one eye
Upon the other were a spy,
That, to trepan the one to think
The other blind, both strove to blink;
And in his dark pragmatic way
As busy as a child at play.
He had seen three governments run down,
And had a hand in every one;
Was for'em and against 'em all,
But barb'rous when they came to fall;
For, by trepanning th' old to ruin,
He made his interest with the new one;
Play'd true and faithful, though against
His conscience, and was still advanc'd.
Could turn his word, and oath, and faith,
As many ways as in a lath;
By turning, wriggle, like a screw,
Int' highest trust, and out, for new.
Would strive to raise himself upon
The public ruin, and his own.
So little did he understand
The desperate feats he took in hand,
For, when h'had got himself a name
For fraud and tricks, he spoiled his game;
Had forc'd his neck into a noose,
To show his play at fast and loose;
And, when, he chanc'd t' escape, mistook,
For art and subtlety, his luck."
Hudibras, Part III., Canto 2.
Almost opposite to Shaftesbury House stood Petre House, the residence of the Petre family in the great Elizabethan times; and of Henry Pierrepoint, Marquis of Dorchester, in the days of the Commonwealth. It was also used as a state prison in the Commonwealth-times, and subsequently became the temporary abode of the Bishops of London, after the Great Fire had treated their mansion in St. Paul's Churchyard in a Puritanical and remorseless way. In 1688, when the selfish Princess Anne deserted her father, James II., and fled at night from Whitehall, she was conducted by the warlike Bishop Compton to his house in Aldersgate Street in a hackney coach.
The street of which we are taking stock in this chapter contains singularly few churches. St. Anne-in-the-Willows we have already visited (somewhat, perhaps, out of sequence); the remaining church, St. Botolph's, at the corner of Little Britain, but for its mean bell-turret and pretty fizzing fountain, singularly resembles a meeting-house. It was erected in 1790 on the site of the old building, which had escaped the Great Fire. An old Jacobean pulpit in the vestibule is the only relic of the old church, except the few uninteresting monuments. There is one to a worthy Dame Anne Packington (died 1563), who founded almshouses near the White Friars' Church, in Fleet Street, which were left under the superintendence of the Clothworkers' Company; one to Richard Chiswell, an eminent bookseller (died 1711), and another to an Elizabeth Smith, with a cameo bust by Roubiliac.
At the north-east end of this street of noblemen's houses, not far from Shaftesbury House, stood Lauderdale House, the residence of that cruel and unprincipled minister of Charles II. Lauderdale was one of those five "thorough-going" adherents of Charles II. who formed the "cabal" (Clifford, Ashley, Buckingham, Arlington, and Lauderdale), after Clarendon's exile, and the death of Southampton and Monk. It was this same unscrupulous inhabitant of Aldersgate Street whom Charles, in 1669, sent to Edinburgh as High Commissioner to the Scottish Parliament, to put down conventicles with a high hand, to fine Presbyterians, and to hang and shoot field-preachers, severities which eventually led to the rebellion of the Covenanters of 1679. There must have been many a quiet and many a state visit made from Shaftesbury House to Lauderdale House.
An audacious board over two small shops, No. 134, half-way down Aldersgate Street on the west side, boldly asserts that "This was Shakespeare's House." There is no documentary evidence (the best of all evidence), and not even a tradition, to connect our great poet's name with the house, or even with the street, often as he may have visited good Master Alleyn's Fortune Theatre in Golden Lane. The assertion is as impudent as that which claims a small house, opposite Chancery Lane, as the palace of "Wolsey and Henry VIII." An antiquary of authority has clearly shown that no residence of Shakespeare's in London is actually known. There was a house in Blackfriars which he purchased in March, 1612–13, from Henry Walker, "abutting from a street leading down to Puddle Wharf, on the east part, right against the King's Majesty's Wardrobe," and the counterpart of the original conveyance of which (bearing the signature of Shakespeare), is in the library at Guildhall. That house is of course undoubtedly connected with Shakespeare; but although he was the owner of it, none of his editors believe he ever lived in it. Mr. Knight and other commentators conjecture that this house was purchased in reference to some object connected with Blackfriars Theatre; but in addition to that—although we do not positively know when Shakespeare retired from London—all his biographers are of opinion that he left London, and went back to his native Stratford to spend the remainder of his days, about the year 1610 or 1611. The only other place probably connected with Shakespeare's name was a property in St. Helen's parish, in the ward of Bishopsgate. There is a subsidy roll of 1598, preserved at the Carlton Ride, in which the name of "William Shakespeare" occurs as the owner of property then to the value of £5. and on which a tax of 13s. 4d. was assessed. But that roll has the memorandum "affid." affixed to his name, and that means that an affidavit had been produced, showing that he did not reside in the parish or district. Shakespeare's name, in respect of that property, does not occur before 1598, not is it heard of after that date. Besides, we are not to jump to the conclusion that every William Shakespeare then living in London was our William Shakespeare. These are the only two houses in London that can be associated with Shakespeare, and they have long since been improved off the face of the earth. The concocter of the board, says the antiquary we have quoted, finding out that a public-house in that neighbourhood had been mentioned as having been a place of resort of the most celebrated wits of the sixteenth century, at once jumped to the conclusion that this was "the house," and further, that Shakespeare, being a wit of that period, he took it for granted that the poet came there to slake his thirst, and so tickets this house with Shakespeare's name.
Barbican, an essential tributary of Aldersgate Street, derives its Saracenic-sounding name, according to all old London antiquaries, from the Saxon words, "burgh kennin," or "postern tower," the remains of which existed a little north of the street till towards the end of the last century. According to Bagford, a good old London antiquary, who died in 1716, and who, from being a shoemaker, turned bookseller, printer, and collector of books for the Earl of Oxford, the Romans kept watch at night in that tower, and gave notice of conflagrations, or an approaching army. At night they lit bonfires on the top of the turret, to guide travellers to the City.
In the reign of Edward III. the Barbican was entrusted to Robert Ufford, Earl of Suffolk, no doubt a valiant and stout knight, in whose family it remained hereditary, through the female line, till the reign of Queen Mary. In that cruel reign it is on record that the Barbican (then a mere sinecure, and no longer needed by the City for defence) was in the keeping of the Baroness Katharine Willoughby d'Eresby, baroness in her own right, and widow of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who lived in a lordly mansion near the spot. This was that daring Protestant lady who so narrowly escaped the Smithfield fires for calling her lap-dog Gardiner (after the detested bishop, Bonner's worthy yoke-fellow), and dressing him up in small episcopal rochet and surplice. For this practical joke the jocose lady and Richard Bertie, her second husband, ancestor of the Dukes of Ancaster, had to fly to Poland, where the king, according to Mr. Jesse, installed them in the earldom of Crozan.
On the site of Bridgewater Square resided the Egertons, Earls of Bridgewater, in a mansion famous for its fruitful orchards. The house was burnt down in April, 1687, during the occupancy of John, third earl, "when his two infant heirs," says Mr. Jesse, "Charles, Viscount Brackley, and his second son Thomas, perished in the flames." Hatton, in 1708, calls Bridgewater Square "a new, pleasant, though very small square;" and Strype mentions it as "well inhabited, the middle neatly enclosed with palisado pales, and set round with trees, which renders the place very delightful."
Beech Lane, Barbican, where Prince Rupert resided, and worked on his chemical experiments and his mezzotint plates, was probably so called, says Stow, from Nicholas de la Beech, Lieutenant of the Tower, who was deprived of his office by Edward III. Stow, whose clue we ever follow, describes the lane, in Elizabeth's time, as stretching from Redcross Street to Whitecross Street, and adorned with " beautiful houses of stone, brick, and timber." An old house in Barbican belonging to the Abbot of Ramsay was afterwards called Drury House, from the worshipful owner, Sir Drew Drury, also of Drury Lane. This was the house Prince Rupert afterwards occupied; and parts of the mansion were in existence as late as 1796. Here lived the fiery prince, whom Time had softened into a rough old philosopher, fond of old soldiers, and somewhat of a butt at Whitehall among the scoffing Rochesters of his day, who were all à la mode de France. Here Evelyn visited Rupert. In the parish books of St. Giles's, Cripplegate, a guinea is set down as payment to the ringers on the occasion of Charles II. visiting the prince at his Barbican house. In Strype's time the street had lost its gentility, and was inhabited by clothes-salesmen, and on the site of the old watch-tower fronting Redcross Street, stood an ignoble watchhouse for the brawling Mohocks of the day.
The Fortune, one of the celebrated and one of the earliest Elizabethan theatres, stood between Whitecross Street and Golding Lane. It was opened about 1600 by Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn; and here, and at the Bear-garden, Bankside, Southwark, of which he was the proprietor, the latter actor derived the money afterwards bestowed on God's-gift College, at Dulwich. An adjoining passage still retains the name of Playhouse Yard. Alleyn's theatre was burnt down in 1621, and was shortly afterwards rebuilt, but again destroyed, in 1649, by some rough and fanatical Puritan soldiers. Many of the actors of this theatre, in the last scene of all, when they had shuffled off this mortal coil, were buried at St. Giles's, Cripplegate.
In Golding Lane also stood the Nursery, a seminary for educating children for the profession of the stage, established in the reign of Charles II., under the auspices (says Mr. Jesse) of Colonel William Legge, Groom of the Bedchamber to that monarch, and uncle to the first Lord Dartmouth. Dryden speaks of it in his "Mac Flecknoe":—
"Near these a Nursery erects its head,
Where queens are formed, and future heroes bred;
Where unfledged actors learn to laugh and cry,
Where infant punks their tender voices try,
And little Maximins the gods defy;
Great Fletcher never treads in buskins here,
Nor greater Jonson dares in socks appear."
In Pepys' " Diary" are the following notices of the Nursery:—"2nd Aug., 1664. To the King's Playhouse. . . . . I chanced to sit by Tom Killigrew, who tells me that he is setting up a Nursery; that is, is going to build a house in Moorfields, wherein he will have common plays acted.
"24th Feb., 1667-8. To the Nursery, where none of us ever were before; the house is better and the music better than we looked for, and the acting not much worse, because I expected as bad as could be; and I was not much mistaken, for it was so. Their play was a bad one, called Jeronimo is Mad Again, a tragedy."
According to Stow, the antiquaries of his time believed that Little Britain, without Aldersgate, was so called from the Earls of Brittany lodging there, just as Scotland Yard was where the Kings of Scotland took up their quarters, and Petty Wales, in Thames Street, where Prince Hal held his noisy court. R. B., in Strype, defines Little Britain as stretching from Aldersgate Street, by the corner of St. Botolph's Church, running up to the Pump; then, as it grows wider, turning north up Duck Lane into another passage turning to "the Lame Hospital, or Bartholomew's Hospital." It was full of "old booksellers," especially from the Pump to Duck Lane. Here, especially during the Commonwealth, any hour in the day, might have been found such amiable dozy old antiquaries as still haunt old bookstalls ("all these for sixpence each"), poring over black-letter pamphlets and yellow flyingsheets of the Civil War time, spectacles on nose, and crutch-cane in hand, intent on culling odd learning; and errant 'prentice-boys, their rough hair on end at the wonders of some story-books, which they would have given a month's wages to buy.
"It may not be amiss," says Roger North, in his Life of the Hon. and Rev. Dr. John North, 1740–42, "to step aside to reflect on the vast change in the trade of books between that time (about 1670) and ours. Then Little Britain was a plentiful and perpetual emporium of learned authors; and men went thither as to a market. This drew to the place a mighty trade; the rather because the shops were spacious, and the learned gladly resorted to them, where they seldom failed to meet with agreeable conversation. And the booksellers themselves were knowing and conversable men, with whom, for the sake of bookish knowledge, the greatest wits were pleased to converse. And we may judge the time as well spent there as (in latter days) either in tavern or coffeehouse . . . . but now this emporium is vanished, and the trade contracted into the hands of two or three persons."
Isaac Walton sketches Little Britain in his Life of Dr. Robert Sanderson. " About the time," he says, "of his printing this excellent preface," that is to say, the preface to his last twenty sermons, first printed in 1655, "I met him accidentally in London, in sad-coloured clothes, and, God knows, far from being costly. The place of our meeting was near to Little Britain, where he had been to buy a book, which he then had in his hand. We had no inclination to part presently, and therefore turned to stand in a corner under a penthouse (for it began to rain), and immediately the wind rose, and the rain increased so much, that both became so inconvenient as to force us into a cleanly house, where we had bread, cheese, ale, and a fire for our money."
Here, too, Milton's great work was published, and lay for a time unnoticed on the stalls. "Dr. Tancred Robinson," says Richardson, in his "Remarks," "has given permission to use his name, and what I am going to relate he had from Fleet (wood) Shepherd at the Grecian Coffee House, and who often told the story. The Earl of Dorset was in Little Britain, beating about for books to his taste; there was ' Paradise Lost.' He was surprised with some passages he struck upon, dipping here and there, and bought it. The bookseller begged him to speak in its favour if he lik'd it, for that they lay on his hands as waste paper; JesusShepherd was present. My Lord took it home, read it, and sent it to Dryden, who in a short time returned it. 'This man (says Dryden) cuts us all out, and the ancients too."
Later still we find that amiable writer, Washington Irving, wandering contemplatively in Little Britain. "In the centre of the great City of London," he says, "lies a small neighbourhood, consisting of a cluster of narrow streets and courts, of very venerable and debilitated houses, which goes by the name of 'Little Britain.' Christ Church School and St. Bartholomew's Hospital bound it on the west; Smithfield and Long Lane on the north; Aldersgate Street, like an arm of the sea, divides it from the eastern part of the City; whilst the yawning gulf of Bull-and-Mouth Street separates it from Butcher Lane, and the regions of Newgate. Over this little territory, thus bounded and designated, the great dome of St. Paul's, swelling above the intervening houses of Paternoster Row, Amen Corner, and Ave-Maria Lane, looks down with an air of motherly protection. . . . But though thus fallen into decline, Little Britain still bears traces of its former splendour. There are several houses ready to tumble down, the fronts of which are magnificently enriched with old oak carvings of hideous faces, unknown birds, beasts, and fishes; and fruits and flowers which it would perplex a naturalist to classify. There are also, in Aldersgate Street, certain remains of what were once spacious and lordly family mansions, but which have in latter days been subdivided into several tenements. Here may often be found the family of a petty tradesman, with its trumpery furniture, burrowing among the relics of antiquated finery, in great rambling time-stained apartments, with fretted ceilings, gilded cornices, and enormous marble fireplaces. The lanes and courts also contain many smaller houses, not on so grand a scale, but, like your small ancient gentry, sturdily maintaining their claims to equal antiquity. These have their gable ends to the street; great bow windows, with diamond panes set in lead, grotesque carvings, and low-arched doorways." (fn. 2)
In Aldersgate, Street in 1661 (the year after the Restoration), died Brian Walton, Bishop of Chester, a laborious and learned scholar, who edited and in 1657 published the first English Polyglot Bible, in the Hebrew, Syriac, Chaldee, Samaritan, Arabic, Ethiopic, Persian, Greek, and Vulgar Latin languages. Before the war Walton had been rector of St. Martin Orgars and St. Giles-in-the-Fields. He was a good deal hunted about during the Civil Wars for his zeal for tithes, yet the Preface of his Bible contains compliments to Cromwell, which were afterwards altered so as to suit Charles II. "His triumphant return to his see, says an old writer, zealously, "was a day not to be forgotten by all the true sons of the Church, though sneered at in private by the most rascally faction and crop-eared whelps of those parts, who did their endeavours to make it a May game, and piece of foppery." This learned prelate, who studied so hard during all the commotions of the Civil Wars, was buried in St. Paul's.
The "Albion," in Aldersgate Street, has long been famed for its good dinners. "Here," says Timbs, "take place the majority of the banquets of the Corporation of London; the sheriffs' inauguration dinners, as well as those of civic companies and committees, and such festivals, public and private, as are usually held at taverns of the highest class.
"The farewell dinners given by the East India Company to the Governors-General of India usually take place at the 'Albion.' Here likewise (after dinner) the annual trade sales of the principal London publishers take place,' revivifying the olden printing and book glories of Aldersgate and Little Britain.
"The cuisine of the 'Albion' has long been celebrated for its recherche character. Among the traditions of the tavern, it is told that a dinner was once given here under the auspices of the gourmand alderman Sir William Curtis, which cost the party between thirty and forty pounds apiece. It might as well have cost twice as much, for amongst other acts of extravagance they dispatched a special messenger to Westphalia to choose a ham. There is likewise told a bet as to the comparative merits of the 'Albion' and 'York House' (Bath) dinners, which was to have been formally decided by a dinner of unparalleled munificence, and nearly equal cost at each; but it became a drawn bet, the 'Albion' beating in the first course, and the 'York House' in the second. . . . . Lord Southampton once gave a dinner at the 'Albion' at ten guineas a head."
ALDERSGATE STREET (continued).
Sir Nicholas Bacon—The Fighting Earl of Peterborough—A Knavish Duke—The Cooks' Company—Noble Street—The "Halfmoon Tavern," a house of call for wits—The "Bell Inn"—The City Road—Founding of Bunhill Fields Chapel—The Grecian Saloon—The "Old Milestone," City Road—Northumberland House in the City—The French Protestant Church in St. Martin's-le-Grand.
Close to Shaftesbury House—which, after being a tavern and a lying-in hospital, became in 1848 a general dispensary, and latterly was divided into shops—stood Bacon House, the residence of Sir Nicholas Bacon (Queen Elizabeth's Lord Keeper), an enemy to Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Jesuits, a resolute, honest, unambitious man, and the father of the great philosopher and Lord Chancellor, Francis Bacon. The Lord Chancellor, however, was born at York House in the Strand, of which Buckingham Street marks the site. A popular writer has thus graphically described Bacon's father:— "Huge in person, gouty, asthmatic, high in flesh, Sir Nicholas could not walk from Whitehall to York House without sitting down to rest and blowing for his breath; and this weakness in his legs and chest descended to both his sons by Lady Anne. Queen Elizabeth, laughing, used to say the soul of her lord keeper was well lodged—in fat; but the lusty old knight, who had mother-wit of his own, could have been as brightly sarcastic as the queen. His was a shrewd saying: 'Let us take time, that we may have sooner done.' When Elizabeth, tripping into the hall at Redgrave, cried, 'My lord, what a little house you have gotten!' he adroitly answered, 'Madam, my house is well; but you have made me too great for my house.' When an impudent thief named Hogg asked mercy from him as judge, on the plea of kindred between the Hoggs and Bacons, he replied, 'Ah, you and I cannot be of kin until you have been hanged!'"
Swift's warlike friend, Mordaunt, the Earl of Peterborough, also lived in Aldersgate Street. Many of this energetic general's letters to Swift, are still extant, as well as Swift's pleasantly sarcastic verses to him. In the War of Succession the Earl took Barcelona, and drove the French out of Spain. Swift says of him:—
In "Remarks on the Characters of the Court of Queen Anne" Peterborough is thus described:—"He affects popularity, and loves to preach in coffee-houses and public places; is an open enemy to revealed religion; brave in his person; has a good estate; does not seem expensive, yet always in debt and very poor. A well-shaped, thin man, with a very brisk look, near fifty years old." "This character," observes Swift, "is for the most part true!"
Of the famous Duke of Montagu, who also lived in Aldersgate Street, the author of "Remarks on the Characters," says, "Since the queen's accession to the throne, he has been created a duke; and is near sixty years old." "As arrant a knave," is Swift's addition, "as any in his time."
"Opposite to St. Botolph's Church stood the Cooks' Hall, a spacious building," says Aleph, "which escaped the Great Fire, but was consumed by a comparatively insignificant conflagration in 1771, when the worshipful company transferred their business to the Guildhall. The Cooks' Company is a fellowship nearly as ancient as good living; it is thirty-fifth in precedence, was incorporated in 1480 by that luxurious monarch Edward IV., and obtained further privileges from Queen Elizabeth."
In Noble Street, in Shakespearian times, dwelt Mr. Serjeant Fleet, the Recorder of London, and in the same house afterwards resided Robert Tichborne, Lord Mayor in 1657. Tichborne signed the death-warrant of Charles I.; and at the Restoration was tried, with Hugh Peters, Harrison, and others, and executed. The old "Castle and Falcon" inn stood near the old City gate. Nearly opposite Lauderdale House, which was north of Shaftesbury House, stood in 1830 the "Half-moon Tavern," a place of resort for the wits of Charles II.'s time, Wycherley and Congreve being among the habitués. The fireplaces were ornamented with curious grotesque carvings in wood.
Higher up than Lauderdale House, two doors only from Barbican, once stood the "Bell" inn, "of a pretty good resort for wagons with meal." From this inn John Taylor, the poetical waterman of the time of James I., set out on his penniless pilgrimage to Scotland. At the west side, a little beyond St. Botolph's, is Trinity Court, so called centuries ago from a brotherhood of the Holy Trinity, first founded in 1377, as a fraternity of St. Fabian and St. Sebastian, licensed by Henry VI., and suppressed by Edward VI. The hall was still standing as late as 1790.
The City Road, an indirect tributary of Aldersgate (by Goswell Road), is a continuation of the New Road, and runs from the "Angel" at Islington to Finsbury Square. It was opened on June 29th, 1761, when Mr. Dingly, the projector, modestly refused to give it his own name. In April, 1777, John Wesley laid the first stone of the chapel opposite Bunhill Fields, and remarked, as he laid it, "Probably this will be seen no more by any human eye, but will remain there till the earth and the works thereof are burnt up."
The theatrical traditions of this neighbourhood demand a few words. The "Eagle" Tavern, now the Grecian Theatre, City Road, when under the management of its originator, Mr. Thomas Rouse, was highly famed for its two comic vocalists, Harry Howell, and Robert Glindon. The firstnamed was, perhaps, the best buffo singer of his day; and it was for these gardens that Glindon wrote "Biddy the Basket Woman," "The Literary Dustman," and other songs of world-wide repute, singing them himself in the evening, his daytime being fully occupied in painting, with the late Mr. Danson, that marvel of panoramas "London by Day and Night," so many years the main attraction at the Coloseum, Regent's Park. After his voice failed him, he was enlisted in the standing company at the Drury Lane Theatre, assisting in the scene-painting and property department, and doing small parts in the pantomime openings. It was at the Grecian Saloon that Frederick Robson also made his mark with the London playgoers, in the characters of "Jacob Earwig," in Boots at the Swan, and "Wormwood" in The Lottery Ticket. William Farren, that excellent actor, had seen and admired Robson's wonderful abilities, and wished to secure his services for the Olympic; but fearing the announcement "from the Grecian Saloon" might act detrimentally with public opinion, he got Robson an engagement in Ireland, and then, announcing him "from the Theatre Royal Dublin," launched him on his brilliant career at the little theatre in Wych Street.
The "Old Milestone," City Road, opposite Goswell Street Road, was, in the early part of the present century, much patronised by Cockney tourists, on account of its pretty tea-gardens, and like White Conduit House and Bagnigge Wells, it attracted immense crowds of Sunday ramblers. Concerts were occasionally given here, particularly at holiday times, but its modern reputation was chiefly owing to its Judge and Jury Society, and the forensic ability of its proprietor, Mr. Benjamin Foster, who was afterwards so well-known and respected by literary men as mine host of the "Saint John's Gate," or Gate House, Clerkenwell.
Very near Aldersgate stood Northumberland House, where the fiery Hotspur, who owes all the emblazonment on his escutcheon to Shakespeare, once dwelt. Henry IV. gave the house to Queen Jane, his wife, and it was then called her Wardrobe. In Stow's time it was the house of a printer—not, however, John Day, the celebrated printer of Elizabeth's time, as has been suggested, for he lived, as we have shown, over the Gate itself, as the illustrious Cave did at St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell. It afterwards, in Strype's time, was a tavern, the usual end of all celebrated London buildings.
Adjoining what is at present the Money Order Office in St. Martin's-le-Grand is the French Protestant Church, opened in 1842, when St. Mary's Chapel, in Threadneedle Street, was taken down. On July 24, 1850, the tercentenary of the Royal Charter to Foreign Protestants granted by Edward VI. was commemorated by special services both at the Dutch Church, Austin Friars, and at St. Martin's-le-Grand, and in the evening the members of the consistories of both churches dined together, and drank to the memory of the pious Edward VI.