Old and New London: Volume 2. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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Etymology of the Word "Islington"—Beauty of the Place in Early Times—The old Northern Roads—Archery at Islington—A Royal Patron of Archery—The Archers' Marks—The "Robin Hood"—Topham, the Strong Man—Llewellyn and the Welsh Barons—Algernon Percy's House—Reformers' Meeting at the "Saracen's Head"—Queen Elizabeth and the Islington Beggars—Later Royal Visitors to IslingtonCitizens' Pleasure Parties—Cream and Cake—Outbreak of the Plague—Bunbury and the "New Paradise"—The old "Queen's Head"— "The London Hospital"—Sir Walter Raleigh's House—The old " Pied Bull"—The "Angel."
No satisfactory etymology of the word "Islington" has yet been given. By some writers the name is supposed to have been derived from the Saxon word isen (iron), from certain springs, impregnated with iron, supposed to have their rise in the neighbourhood. Others trace it to the Saxon word eisel (a hostage), without ever condescending to explain what hostages had to do with Islington. The more favoured supposition is that the village was originally called "Ishel," an old British word signifying "lower," and "dun," or "don," the usual term for a town or fortress. It might have been so called, Mr. Lewis thinks, to contrast it with Tolentone, a village built on the elevated ground adjoining the woods of Highbury. The germ of the Islington of the Britons, it is generally allowed, must have been along the east side of the Lower Street.
Islington is supposed to have been situated on the great northern Roman road called the Ermin, or Herman Street, which left London by Cripplegate, and passed through Islington, though, as some antiquaries think, the Roman road really intersected Old Street, and, crossing the City Road, passed by Highbury and Hornsey Wood, and continued by way of the green lanes towards Enfield.
Fitzstephen, the friend of Becket, writing between 1170 and 1182, speaking of the north of London, says, "On the north are fields for pastures, and open meadows, very pleasant, into which the river waters do flow, and mills are turned about with a delightful noise. The arable lands are no hungry pieces of gravel ground, but like the rich fields of Asia, which bring plentiful corn, and fill the barns of the owners with a dainty crop of the fruits of Ceres." Still "beyond them an immense forest extends itself, beautified with woods and groves, and full of the lairs and coverts of beasts and game, stags, bucks, boars, and wild bulls." In later centuries Islington became the pasture-ground of London.
The old highways and roads connected with Islington were very badly kept, and extremely incommodious. Formerly the avenues leading to the village from the metropolis, exclusive of the footpaths over the fields, were confined to the road from Smithfield, through St. John Street; the Goswell Street road, from Aldersgate; and a bridle way that had once been an old Roman road: all these were frequently impassable in winter. The broad green fields that stretched from Finsbury to Hoxton and Islington seem to have been recognised as the Campus Martius of London as early as the reign of Henry II., for Fitzstephen describes, with more unction than an ascetic monk might be expected to manifest, the scholars of the City going to the northern fields with their teachers, to play at ball, while the old and wealthy citizens came on horseback to watch the merry conflict of the lads. He also mentions the military exercises on horseback, good training for war or the tournament, every Friday in Lent; while other citizens, more intent on their own amusement, he says, carried their hawks on their fists, or took out their dogs there, to have a turn or two after a hare.
Archery was early practised in these pleasant northern fields, and here men shot the shafts that were hereafter to be aimed at Frenchmen's hearts. As early as the reign of Edward III. the royal will was proclaimed that every able-bodied citizen was, in his leisure hours and on all holidays, to practise with bows or crossbows, and not to waste his time in throwing stones, or at football, handball, bandy, or cock-fighting, which were vain and profitless plays; while in the reign of Richard II. an Act was passed to oblige all men-servants to exercise themselves with bows and arrows at all times of leisure, and on all Sundays and holidays.
In the reign of Henry VIII., that manly and warlike king, who was himself an archer, several Acts were passed to promote the practice of archery. Every father was enjoined to provide a bow and two arrows for his son, when he reached his seventh year; and all persons, except the clergy and judges, were obliged to shoot periodically at the butts, which were nowhere more numerous than in the fields towards Islington. Three gentlemen of the Court were constituted overseers of the science of artillery—to wit, of longbows, crossbows, and handguns—and leave was given them, as a body corporate, to practice shooting at all manner of marks and butts, and at fowls, and the game of the popinjay in the City and suburbs, and all other places. And when any member of this society, shooting at well-known and accustomed marks, and used the usual caution-word of archers, "Fast," they could not be impeached or troubled by the relations of any passer-by slain at misadventure. It was in these fields the king's favourite archer, Barlow, christened by him "the Duke of Shoreditch," and the Marquis of Islington and the Earl of Pancras, his skilful companions, made their cleverest hits, and in Hoxton Fields took place that great procession of the Duke of Shoreditch and his 3,000 archers and 200 torch-bearers. In the reign of Henry VIII., says the chronicler Hall, the young men of London, finding the fields about Islington, Hoxton, and Shoreditch getting more and more enclosed with hedges and ditches, and that neither the old men could walk for their pleasure, nor lads shoot without getting their bows and arrows taken away or broken, a riot arose. One morning a turner, dressed as a jester, led a mob through the City shouting "Shovels and spades! shovels and spades!" So many of the people followed, that it was a wonder to behold; and within a short space all the hedges about the City were cast down and the ditches filled up. The rioters then quietly dispersed. "After which," Hall says, with gusto, "those fields were never hedged."
In the reign of Elizabeth archery seems to have been on the decline, though good old Stow describes the citizens as still frequenting the northern fields, "to walk, shoot, and otherwise recreate and refresh their dulled spirits in the sweet and wholesome air," and mentions that of old it was the custom for the officers of the City—namely, the sheriffs, the porters of the Weigh House, and all others—to be challengers of all men in the suburbs to wrestle, "shoot the standard, broad arrow and flight," for games, at Clerkenwell and in Finsbury Fields. In 1570, however, we find the London bowyers, fletchers, stringers, and arrow-head makers petitioning the Lord Treasurer concerning their decayed condition, by reason of the discontinuance of archery, and the practice of unlawful games; and from Stow we gather that the increased enclosures had driven the archers into bowling-alleys and gamblinghouses.
James I., in 1605, finding archery still on the decline, though many of his best soldiers preferred bows to guns, still issued letters patent to several distinguished persons, and among them to Sir Thomas Fowler, of Islington, to survey all the open grounds within two miles of the City, and to see that they were put in proper order for the exercise of the City, as in the reign of Henry VIII. Charles I. published a similar edict, ordering all mounds to be lowered that obstructed the archers' view from one mark to another. There were indeed at this time, or a little later, no less than 160 marks set up in the Finsbury Fields, each duly registered by name. These marks, placed at varying distances, to accustom the archers to judge the distance, are all named in a curious old tract, entitled "Ayme for Finsbury Archers," published at the "Swan" in Grub Street, in 1594, and several times reprinted. Among them we find the following quaint titles, suggestive of old nicknames, lucky shots, and bowmen's jokes:—Sir Rowland, Lurching, Nelson, Martin's Mayflower, Dunstan's Darling, Beswick's Stake, Lambert's Goodwill, Lee's Leopard, Thief in the Hedge, Mildmay's Rose, Silkworm, Lee's Lion. Goodly shots, no doubt, these marks had recorded, and pleasant halts they had been for the Finsbury bowmen of old time.
The dainty archers of the present day can scarcely believe the strength of the old yew bows, or the length of the arrows, and are apt to be incredulous of the pith of their ancestors' shafts. Nevertheless, the statute of the thirty-third year of Henry VIII. distinctly lays down that men of the age of twenty-four were prohibited from shooting at any mark under two hundred and twenty yards; and the longest distance of that stalwart epoch seems to have been nineteen score, or three hundred and eighty yards.
During the Cromwell time archery seems to
have been deemed unpractical, and was not much
enforced. The old ways, however, revived with
Charles II., and in 1682 there was a great cavalcade
to the Finsbury Fields, at which the king himself
was present, and the old titles of the Duke of Shoreditch and Marquis of Islington were bestowed on
the best shots. On a Finsbury archer's ticket for
the shooting of 1676, all lovers of archery are invited to meet at Drapers' Hall, in Throgmorton
Street; and it is noted that the eleven score
targets would be set up in the new Artillery Ground.
It was in this year that the great archer, "Sir"
William Wood, was presented with a silver badge.
This stout bowman was eventually buried in Clerkenwell Church, with archers' honours. Sir William
Davenant, in his playful poem of "The Long
Vacation in London," describes the attorneys shooting against the proctors, and thus sketches the
citizen archer of those days—
"Each with solemn oath agree
To meet in fields of Finsburie;
With loynes in canvas bow-case tyde,
Where arrows stick with mickle pride;
With hats pin'd up, and bow in hand,
All day most fiercely there they stand,
Like ghosts of Adam Bell and Clymme,
Sol sets, for fear they'll shoot at him."
Up to the last edition of the Map of Archers' Marks in 1738, the fields from Peerless Pool to northward of the "Rosemary Branch" are studded with "roving" marks, generally wooden pillars, crowned by some emblem, such as a bird or a circle. The last great meeting of Islington archers was in 1791, at Blackheath, when the archers' company of the Honourable Artillery Company contended with the Surrey and Kentish bowmen, the Hainault Foresters, the Woodmen of Arden, the Robin Hood Society, &c. Several times in the last century the Artillery Company asserted their old archer privileges, and replaced the marks which had been removed by encroachers. In 1782 they forced the gate of a large field in which stood one of their stone marks, close to Balls Pond; and in 1786 they ordered obstructions to be removed between Peerless Pool, south, Baume's Pond, north, Hoxton, east, and Islington, west. In the same year they threatened to pull down part of a wall erected by the proprietors of a white-lead mill, between the marks of Bob Peak and the Levant. One of the partners of the works, however, induced them to desist; but a member of the archers' division shot an arrow over the enclosure, to assert the Company's right. In 1791, when the long butts at Islington Common were destroyed by gravel-diggers, the Artillery Company also required the marks to be replaced. In 1842, of all the old open ground there only remained a few acres to the north of the City Road.
An old public-house fronting the fields at Hoxton,
and called the "Robin Hood," was still existing in
Nelson's time(1811). It had been a great place
of resort for the Finsbury archers, and under the
sign was the following inscription:—
"Ye archers bold and yeomen good,
Stop and drink with Robin Hood;
If Robin Hood is not at home,
Stop and drink with Little John."
There is a traditional story that Topham, the strong man of Islington, was once challenged by some Finsbury archers whom he had ridiculed to draw an arrow two-thirds of its length. The bet was a bowl of punch; but Topham, though he drew the shaft towards his breast, instead of his ear, after many fruitless efforts, lost the wager.
The historical recollections of Islington are not numerous. One of the earliest is connected with the visit of Llewellyn and his Welsh barons, who in the reign of Edward I. came to London to pay homage to the king. They were quartered at Islington, but they disliked our wine, ale, and bread, and could not obtain milk enough. Moreover, their Welsh pride was disgusted at being so stared at by the Londoners, on account of their uncommon dress. "We will never visit Islington again except as conquerors," they cried, and from that instant resolved to take up arms. In 1465, Henry VI., who had been captured in Lancashire, was brought to London with his legs bound to his horse's stirrups. At Islington he was met by his great enemy, the Earl of Warwick, who removed his gilt spurs contemptuously, and hurried him to the Tower. Edward IV., on the occasion of his accession to the throne, was welcomed between Islington and Shoreditch by the Lord Mayor and aldermen of London, some of whom he knighted. In the same manner the crafty King Henry VII., on his return from the overthrow of Lambert Simnel, was met in Hornsey Park by the mayor, aldermen, sheriffs, and principal commoners, all on horseback in one livery, when he dubbed the mayor, Sir William Horn, knight, and between Islington and London knighted Alderman Sir John Percivall.
Henry VIII. frequently visited Islington, to call on noblemen of his court, for Dudley, Earl of Warwick, held the manor of Stoke Newington; and Algernon Percy, Earl of Northumberland, occupied a mansion on Newington Green. From this house we find the earl writing in an alarmed way to Secretary Cromwell, vowing that he had never proposed marriage to Anne Boleyn. The earl, who died the year after, is supposed to have left the house in which he lived, and one on the south side of Newington Green, to the king, who resided for some time in the first, and employed the other for the use of his household. From this country palace of Henry VIII. a pathway leading from the corner of Newington Green, to the turnpike road at Ball's Pond, became known as "King Harry's Walk." Game was plentiful about Islington, and by a proclamation dated 1546 the king prohibited all hunting and hawking of hares, partridges, pheasants, and heron, from "Westminster to St. Giles-in-the-Fields, and from thence to Islington, to Our Lady of the Oak, to Highgate, to Hornsey Park, and to Hampstead Heath."
In 1557, during Queen Mary's hunting down of Protestants, a small congregation of Reformers, who had assembled at the "Saracen's Head," Islington, under pretext of attending a play, were betrayed by a treacherous tailor, arrested by the Queen's vice-chamberlain, and thrown into prison. The most eminent of these persecuted men was John Rough, who had been a preacher among the Black Friars at Stirling, chaplain to the Earl of Arran, and the means of persuading John Knox to enter the ministry. He was burnt at the stake at Smithfield, and four of the others perished praising God in one fire at Islington. But there is the old saying, "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church." Only the next year forty "godly and innocent persons," who had assembled in "a back close in the field by the town of Islington" to pray and meditate, were apprehended by the constables, bowmen, and billmen. All but twenty-seven escaped, and of these twenty-two lay in Newgate seven weeks before they were examined, though offered pardon if they would consent to hear a mass. "Eventually," says Foxe, in his "Acts and Monuments," "seven were burnt in Smithfield and six at Brentford."
Queen Elizabeth seems to have been partial to Islington, paying frequent visits to Sir Thomas Fowler and to Sir John Spencer of Canonbury House. In 1561 she made a grand tour of the east of London which took several days. From the Tower she first visited Houndsditch and Spitalfields, thence went through the fields to Charterhouse, and in a few days continued her route back to the Savoy and thence to Enfield. On her return to St. James's as she passed through Islington, hedges were cut down and ditches filled up to quicken her progress across the fields.
In 1581, the queen, riding by Aldersgate Bars towards the Islington Fields to take the air, was environed by a crowd of sturdy beggars, which gave the queen much disturbance. That same evening Fleetwood, the Recorder, had the fields scoured, and apprehended seventy-four rogues, some blind, "yet great usurers, and very rich." The strongest of the seventy-four "they bestowed in the milne and the lighters."
In the great entertainment given at Kenilworth by the Earl of Leicester to Queen Elizabeth in 1575, a minstrel discoursed with tiresome minuteness on the Islington dairies, that supplied London bridal parties with furmenty, not over-sodden, for porridge, unchalked milk for "flawnery," unadulterated cream for custards, and pure fresh butter for pasties. The arms of Islington, it was proposed, should be three milk tankards proper on a field of clouted cream, three green cheeses upon a shelf of cake bread, a furmenty bowl, stuck with horn spoons, and, for supporters, a grey mare (used to carry the milk tankards) and her silly foal; the motto, "Lac caseus infans," or "Fresh cheese and cream," the milkwives cry in London streets.
The ill-starred Earl of Essex, on his way to Ireland, where he was to sweep away rebellion by a wave of his hand, passed through Islington with his gay and hopeful train of noblemen and gentlemen, returning only to become himself a rebel, and to end his days on the Tower Hill block.
In 1603, when James I., with all his hungry Scotch courtiers, rode into London, he was met at Stamford Hill by the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and 500 of the principal citizens, who escorted him through the Islington Fields to the Charterhouse. He passed along the Upper Street, which was for a short time after known as King Street.
Charles I., on his return from Scotland in 1641, passed through Islington, accompanied by his queen, the Prince of Wales, and the Duke of York. In the following year the Committee of the London Militia gave orders to fortify the approaches to the City, and in 1643 the entrenchment began in earnest, the Trained Band citizens, and even their wives and children, toiling at the work. The trades volunteered by turns. One day there were 5,000 felt-makers and cappers, and nearly 3,000 porters; another day, 4,000 or 5,000 shoemakers; and a third day, 6,000 tailors. Several of the works were in the neighbourhood of Islington. There was a breastwork and battery at Mount Mill, in the Goswell Street Road, another at the end of St. John Street, a large fort, with four half bulwarks, at the New River Upper Pond, and a small redoubt near Islington Pound.
When the great plot to assassinate Cromwell was detected, in 1653, Vowell, an Islington schoolmaster, one of the plotters, was hung at Charing Cross. He died bravely, crying out for Church, King, and Restoration, and warning the soldiers of their dangerous principles. Colonel Okey, whom Cromwell compelled to sit as one of King Charles's judges, was in early life a drayman and stoker at an Islington brewery. He was seized in Holland, after the Restoration, and executed in 1662. A curious story is told of the famous Parliamentary general, Skippon, in connection with Islington. This tough old soldier was being brought from Naseby, where he had been desperately wounded. As his horse litter was passing through Islington, a mastiff sprang at one of the horses, and worried him, nor would he let go till a soldier ran him through with his sword. Skippon, however, on getting to London, had a piece of his waistcoat drawn from his bullet-wound, and soon recovered.
For many ages Islington, especially in summer,
was a favourite resort for London citizens, who
delighted to saunter there to drink creams and eat
cakes, or to hunt the ducks of the suburban ponds
with their water-dogs. As early as 1628, George
Wither, the poet, in his "Britannia's Remembrances,"
describing holiday-making, says—
"Some by the banks of Thames their pleasure taking
Some sillibubs among the milkmaids making,
With music some upon the waters rowing,
Some to the next adjoining hamlets going;
And Hogsdone, Islington and Tothnam Court
For cakes and cream had there no small resort."
Davenant describes very pleasantly in rough
verse the setting out of a citizen's party for
"Now damsel young, that dwells in Cheap,
For very joy, begins to leap;
Her elbow small she oft doth rub,
Tickled with hope of syllabub,
For mother (who does gold maintaine
On thumb, and keys in silver chaine),
In snow-white clout, wrapt nook of pye,
Fat capon's wing, and rabbit's thigh;
And said to Hackney coachman, go,
Take shillings six—say, I or no;
Whither? (says he)—quoth she, thy teame
Shall drive to place where groweth creame.
But husband grey, now comes to stall,
For 'prentice notch'd he strait doth call.
Where's dame? (quoth he)—quoth son of shop,
She's gone her cake in milke to sop.
Ho! ho!—to Islington—enough—
Fetch Job my son, and our dog Ruffe;
For there, in pond, through mire and muck,
We'll cry, hay, duck—there Ruffe—hay, duck," &c.
In the Merry Milkmaid of Islington, 1681, the prices noted down are highly curious.
Scene—Lovechange, Sir Jeffery Jolt, Artezhim (the Lady Jolt), and Tapster.
Love. What is the reckoning?
Tap. Nine and elevenpence.
Jeff. How's that? Let's have the particulars. Mr. Lovechange shall know how he parts with his money.
Tap. Why, sir, cakes two shillings, ale as much; a quart of mortified claret eighteen pence, stewed prunes a shilling.
Art. That's too dear.
Tap. Truly, they cost a penny a pound of the one-handed costermonger, out of his wife's fish-basket. A quart of cream half-a-crown.
Art. That's excessive.
Tap. Not if you consider how many carriers' eggs miscarried in the making of it, and the charge of isinglass, and other ingredients, to make cream of the sour milk.
Art. All this does not amount to what you demand.
Tap. I can make more. Two threepenny papers of sugar a shilling; then you had bread, sir—
Jeff. Yes, and drink too, sir—my head takes notice of that.
Tap. 'Tis granted, sir—a pound of sausages, and forty other things, make it right. Our bar never errs.
The Ducking-ponds were on Islington Green, near White Conduit House in the Back Road, and in East Lane, the spot where the Reservoir of the New River Head afterwards stood. Thomas Jordan, in a coarse comedy called The Walks of Islington and Hogsden, with the Humours of Wood Street Compter, 1641, the scene of which is laid at the "Saracen's Head," Islington, and his Prologue speaks of the diet of the place, and the sort of persons who went there for amusement.
"Though the scene be Islington, we swear
We will not blow ye up with bottle beer,
Cram ye with creams and fools which sweetly please
Ladies of fortune and young 'prentices,
Who (when the supervisors come to find 'um)
Quake like the custard, which they leave behind 'um."
Browne, in his "New Academy," 1658, alludes to the "Cream and Cake Boys" who took their lasses to Islington or Hogsden to feast on white pots, puddings, pies, stewed prunes, and tansies.
The plague seems to have raged at Islington in the years 1577, 1578, and 1592. In 1665 593 persons died of the plague. The story of the first outbreak is told graphically in the "City Remembrancer." A citizen had broken out of his house in Aldersgate Street, and had applied in vain for admission at the "Angel" and the "White Horse," in Islington. At the "Pied Horse" he pretended to be entirely free from infection, and on his way to Lincolnshire, and that he only required lodgings for one night. They had but a garret bed empty, and that but for one night, expecting drovers with cattle next day. A servant showed him the room, which he gladly accepted. He was well dressed, and with a sigh said he had seldom lain in such a lodging, but would make a shift, as it was but for one night, and in a dreadful time. He sat down on the bed, desiring a pint of warm ale, which was forgot. Next morning one asked what had become of the gentleman. The maid, starting, said she had never thought more of him. "He bespoke warm ale, but I forgot it." A person going up, found him dead across the bed, in a most frightful posture. His clothes were pulled off, his jaw fallen, his eyes open, and the rug of the bed clasped hard in one hand. The alarm was great, the place having been free from the distemper, which spread immediately to the houses round about. Fourteen died of the plague that week in Islington.
Cromwell is said to have resided in a house (afterwards the "Crown" public house) on the north side of the road at Upper Holloway, but there is no proof of the fact. He probably, however, often visited Islington to call on his friend Sir Arthur Haselrigge, colonel of a regiment of cuirassiers, called the "Lobster" regiment, who had a house there. In May, 1664–5, Sir Arthur complained to Parliament that as he was riding from the House of Commons in the road leading from Perpoole Lane to Clerkenwell, returning to his house at Islington, the Earl of Stamford and his two servants had struck at him with a drawn sword and "other offensive instruments," upon which he was enjoined to keep the peace, and neither send nor receive any challenge.
In later times Islington still remained renowned for its tea-gardens and places of rustic amusement, and in the Spleen, or Islington Spa, a comic piece, written by George Colman, and acted at Drury Lane in 1756, the author sketches pleasantly enough the bustle occasioned by a citizen's family preparing to start for their country house at Islington. The neats' tongues and cold chickens have to be packed up preparatory to the party starting in the coach and three from the end of Cheapside. It was here and at Highbury that Goldsmith spent many of his "shoemaker's holidays," and Bonnell Thornton has sketched in the Connoisseur the Sunday excursions of the citizens of his times, in which he had no doubt shared.
Bunbury, that clever but slovenly draftsman, produced, in 1772, a caricature of a London citizen in his country villa, and called it "The delights of Islington." Above it he has written the following series of fierce threats:—
"Whereas my new pagoda has been clandestinely carried off, and a new pair of dolphins taken from the top of my gazebo by some bloodthirsty villains, and whereas a great deal of timber has been cut down and carried away from the Old Grove, that was planted last spring, and Pluto and Proserpine thrown into my basin, from henceforth steel traps and spring-guns will be constantly set for the better extirpation of such a nest of villains.
On a garden notice-board, in another print after Bunbury, of the same date, is this inscription:—
"THE NEW PARADISE.
"No gentlemen or ladies to be admitted with nails in their shoes."
Danger lent a certain dignity to these excursions. In 1739 the roads and footpaths of Islington seem to have been infested by highwaymen and footpads, the hornets and mosquitoes of those days. In the year above mentioned, the Islington Vestry agreed to pay a reward of £10 to any person who apprehended a robber. It was customary at this time for persons walking from the City to Islington after dark to wait at the end of St. John Street till a sufficient number had collected, and then to be escorted by an armed patrol. Even in 1742 the London Magazine observed that scarcely a night passed without some one being robbed between the "Turk's Head," near Wood's Close, Islington, and the road leading to Goswell Street. In 1771 the inhabitants of Islington subscribed a sum of money for rewarding persons apprehending robbers, as many dwellings had been broken open, and the Islington stage was frequently stopped. In 1780, in consequence of riots and depredations, the inhabitants furnished themselves with arms and equipments, and formed a military society for general protection. In spite of this, robberies and murders in the by-roads, constantly took place. In 1782 Mr. Herd, a clerk in the Custom House, was murdered in the fields near the "Shepherd and Shepherdess." Mr. Herd, a friend of Woodfall, the publisher of "Junius," was returning from town with a friend and two servants well armed, when he was attacked by footpads armed with cutlasses and firearms, one of whom (who was afterwards hanged) shot him with a blunderbuss as he was resisting. In 1797 Mr. Fryer, an attorney of Southampton Buildings, was attacked by three footpads and shot through the head. Two men were hung for this murder, but a third man afterwards confessed on the gallows that he was the murderer.
One of the celebrities of old Islington was Alexander Aubert, Esq., who first organised the corps of Loyal Islington Volunteers. In 1797 the loyal inhabitants of Islington formed themselves into a corps, to defend the country against its revolutionary enemies. It consisted of a regiment of infantry and one of cavalry. Mr. Aubert became lieutenant-colonel commandant of the corps. The uniform consisted of a blue jacket with white facings, scarlet cuffs, collar, and epaulets, and trimmed with silver lace; white kerseymere pantaloons, short gaiters, helmets, and cross-belts. The corps was broken up in 1801, when a superb silver vase, valued at 300 guineas, was presented to Mr. Aubert. This gentleman, who was an eminent amateur astronomer, assisted Smeaton in the construction of Ramsgate Harbour. He died in 1805, from a cold caught when inspecting a glass house in Wales. A portrait of him, in uniform, holding his charger, by Mather Brown, used to be hung in the first floor parlour of the "Angel and Crown" at Islington.
In 1803, the old fears of French invasion again filling the minds of citizens, a volunteer corps of infantry was organised at Islington. It consisted of about 300 members. They wore as uniform a scarlet jacket turned up with black, light-blue pantaloons, short gaiters, and beaver caps. This second Islington Volunteer Corps broke up in 1806 from want of funds. The adjutant, Mr. Dickson, joined the 82nd Regiment, and was killed near Roeskilde, in the island of Zealand, in 1807.
Nelson, writing in 1811, explains the great disproportion that there appeared in the Islington parish registers between the burials and baptisms, from the fact of the great number of invalids who resorted to a district then often called "The London Hospital." Dr. Hunter used to relate a story of a lady, who, in an advanced age, and declining state of health, went, by the advice of her physician, to take lodgings in Islington. She agreed for a suite of rooms, and, coming down stairs, observed that the banisters were much out of repair. "These," she said, "must be mended before she could think of coming to live there." "Madam," replied the landlady," that will answer no purpose, as the undertaker's men, in bringing down the coffins, are continually breaking the banisters." The old lady was so shocked at this funereal intelligence, that she immediately declined occupying the apartments.
The most interesting hostelry in old Islington was the old "Queen's Head," at the corner of Queen's Head Lane. It was pulled down, to the regret of all antiquaries, in 1829.
"It was," says Lewis, "a strong wood and plaister building of three lofty storeys, projecting over each other in front, and forming bay windows, supported by brackets and carved figures. The centre, which projected several feet beyond the other part of the building, and formed a commodious porch, to which there was a descent of several steps, was supported in front by caryatides of carved oak, standing on either side of the entrance, and crowned with Ionic scrolls. The house is said to have been once entered by an ascent of several steps, but, at the time it was pulled down, the floor of its front parlour was four feet below the level of the highway; and this alteration is easily accounted for, when the antiquity of the building, the vast accumulation of matter upon the road, in the course of many centuries, and the fact of an arch having been thrown over the New River, in front of the house, are considered."
"The interior of the house was constructed in a similar manner to that of most of the old buildings in the parish, having oak-panelled wainscots and stuccoed ceilings. The principal room was the parlour already alluded to, the ceiling of which was ornamented with dolphins, cherubs, acorns, &c., surrounded by a wreathed border of fruit and foliage, and had, near the centre, a medallion, of a character apparently Roman, crowned with bays, and a small shield containing the initials 'I. M.' surrounded by cherubim and glory. The chimneypiece was supported by two figures carved in stone, hung with festoons, &c., and the stone slab, immediately over the fireplace, exhibited the stories of Danae and Actæon in relief, with mutilated figures of Venus, Bacchus, and Plenty."
Tradition had long connected this house with the name of Sir Walter Raleigh, though with no sufficient reason. In the thirtieth year of Elizabeth, Sir Walter obtained a patent "to make licences for keeping of taverns and retailing of wines throughout England." This house may be one of those to which Raleigh granted licences, and the sign then marked the reign in which it was granted. There is also a tradition that Lord Treasurer Burleigh once resided here, and a topographical writer mentions the fact that two lions carved in wood, the supporters of the Cecil arms, formerly stood in an adjoining yard, and appeared to have once belonged to the old "Queen's Head." Another story is that Queen Elizabeth's saddler resided here; while others assert that it was the summer residence of the Earl of Essex, and the resort of Elizabeth. Early in the last century, this occasional house belonged to a family named Roome, one of whom left the estate to Lady Edwards. The oak parlour of the old building was preserved in the new one. In a house adjoining the "Queen's Head" resided John Rivington, the well-known bookseller, who died in 1792.
Behind Frederick Place we reach the site of the old "Pied Bull" Inn, pulled down about forty-five years ago, which was originally either the property or the residence of Sir Walter Raleigh. In the parlour window, looking into the garden, was some cuirous stained glass, containing the arms of Sir John Miler, Kinght, of Islington and Devon. These arms bear date eight years after Sir Walter was beheaded, and were, it is supposed, substituted by Miler when he came to reside here. The seahorses, parrots in the window, and the leaves, supposed to represent tobacco, seem to have been chosen as emblems of his career by Raleigh himself.
"The arms in the parlour window," says Nelson, "are enclosed within an ornamental border, consisting of two mermaids, each crested with a globe, as many sea-horses supporting a bunch of green leaves over the shield, and the lower part contains a green and a grey parrot, the former eating fruit. Adjoining to this is another compartment in the window, representing a green parrot perched on a wreath, under a pediment, within a border of figures and flowers, but which does not seem to have been intended for any armorial ensign.
"The chimney-piece of this room contains the figures of Faith, Hope, and Charity, with their usual insignia, in niches, surrounded by a border of cherubim, fruit, and foliage. The centre figure, Charity, is surmounted by two Cupids supporting a crown, and beneath is a lion and unicorn couchant. This conceit was probably designed by the artist in compliment to the reigning princess, Queen Elizabeth. The ceiling displays a personification of the Five Senses in stucco, with Latin mottoes underneath, as follows:—An oval in the centre contains a female figure holding a serpent, which is twining round her right arm, and biting the hand; her left hand holds a stick, the point of which rests on the back of a toad at her feet. The motto to this is 'Tactus.' Around the above, in smaller ovals, are, a female bearing fruit under her left arm, of which she is eating, as is also an ape seated at her feet, with the word 'Gustus.' Another figure holding a vizard. At its feet a cat and a hawk, with the motto, 'Visus.' A figure playing on the lute, with a stag listening, and the motto, 'Auditus.' The last figure is standing in a garden, and holding a bouquet of flowers. At her feet is a dog, and the motto, 'Olfactus.'"
That corner stone of Islington, the "Angel," has been now an established inn for considerably more than 200 years. In old days, it was a great haltingplace for travellers in the first night out of London. "The ancient house," says Lewis, "which was pulled down in 1819 to make way for the present one, presented the usual features of a large old country inn, having a long front with an overhanging tiled roof, and two rows of windows, twelve in each row, independently of those on the basement storey. The principal entrance was beneath a projection, which extended along a portion of the front, and had a wooden gallery at the top. The inn-yard, approached by a gateway in the centre, was nearly a quadrangle, having double galleries, supported by plain columns and carved pilasters, with caryatides and other figures."
There is a tradition that the whole of the ground from the corner of the Back Road to the "Angel" was forfeited by the parish of Islington, and united to that of Clerkenwell, in consequence of the refusal of the Islingtonians to bury a pauper who was found dead at the corner of the Back Road. The corpse being taken to Clerkenwell, the district above described was claimed, and retained by that parish.
The old Parish Church of Islington—Scaffolding superseded—A sadly-interesting Grave—misner House—George Morland, the Artist—A great Islington Family—Celebrities of Cross Street—John Quick, the Comedian—The Abduction of a Child—Laycock's Dairy Farm—Alexander Cruden, the Author of the Concordance—William Hawes, the Founder of the Royal Humane Society—Charles Lamb at Islington—William Woodfall and Colley Cibber—Baron D'Aguilar, the Miser—St. Peter's Church, Islington—Irvingites at Islington—The New River and Sir Hugh Myddelton—The Opening Ceremony—Collins, the Poet—The "Crown" Inn—Hunsdon House—Islington CelebritiesMrs. Barbauld—The Duke's Head—Topham, the "Strong Man."
The old parish church of Islington, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was a strange rambling structure, entered through a gable-ended school-room which blocked up the west end. It had an old flint tower, with six bells, a clock, and a sun-dial. The date of the building was not much earlier than 1483. In 1751, the church becoming ruinous, it was pulled down and rebuilt by Mr. Steemson, under the direction of Mr. Dowbiggin, one of the unsuccessful competitors for the erection of Blackfriars Bridge. It cost £7,340. In 1787 the church was repaired and the tower strengthened.
"Thomas Birch, a basket-maker," says Nelson, "undertook, for the sum of £20, to erect a scaffold, of wicker-work round the spire, and which he formed entirely of willow, hazel, and other sticks. It had a flight of stairs within, ascending in a spiral line from the octagonal balustrade to the vane, by which the ascent was as easy and safe as the stairs of a dwelling-house. This ingenious contrivance entirely superseded the use of a scaffold, which would have been more expensive, and is frequently attended with danger in works of this kind. The spire on this occasion presented a very curious appearance, being entirely enveloped, as it were, in a huge basket, within which the workmen were performing the necessary repairs in perfect safety. The late Alderman Staines is said to have been the first person who contrived this kind of scaffolding, in some repairs done to the spire of St. Bride's Church, London, which was damaged by lightning in the year 1764, after having his scaffold-poles, &c., which had been erected in the usual way, carried away by a violent storm."
In Islington Church were buried, in 1609, Sir George Wharton, son of Lord Wharton, and James Steward, son of Lord Blantyre, and godson of James I. These young gallants quarrelled at the gaming-table, and fought at Islington with sword and dagger, and in their shirts, for fear of either wearing concealed armour. They both fell dead on the field, and, by the king's desire, were buried in one grave. In the church vault are two iron coffins, and one of cedar, the last containing the body of Justice Palmer, train-bearer to Onslow, the Speaker. The object of the cedar was to resist the attack of the worms, and the cover was shaped like the gable roof of a house to prevent any other coffin being put upon it. Here, also, is buried a great-grandson of the eminent navigator, Magelhaens, and Osborne, the Gray's Inn bookseller, whom Dr. Johnson knocked down with a folio. Osborne gave £13,000 for the Earl of Oxford's library, the binding of which alone had cost £18,000. In 1808 the body of a young woman named Thomas was disinterred here, there being a suspicion that she had been murdered, as a large wire was formerly thrust through her heart. It was, however, found that this had been done by the doctor, at her dying request, to prevent the possibility of her being buried alive.
One of the celebrated buildings of Islington was Fisher House, in the Lower Street, and nearly opposite the east end of Cross Street. It was probably built about the beginning of the seventeenth century. In the interior the arms of Fowler and Fisher were to be seen. Ezekiel Tongue, an old writer against the Papists, is supposed to have kept a school here about 1660 for teaching young ladies Greek and Latin. It was afterwards a lodging-house, and then a lunatic asylum. Here Brothers, the prophet, was confined, till Lord Chancellor Erskine liberated him in 1806.
At the south end of Frog Lane was formerly a public-house called " Frog Hall;" the sign, a plough drawn by frogs. At the "Barley Mow" publichouse, in Frog Lane, George Morland, the painter, resided for several months, about the year 1800. Morland would frequently apply to a farm-house opposite for harness, to sketch, and if he saw a suitable rustic for a model pass by, would induce him to sit, by the offer of money and beer. Here he drank and painted alternately. Close by, at No. 8, Popham Terrace, resided that useful old writer, John Thomas Smith (he was a pupil of Nollekens), "Rainy Day Smith," to whose works on London we have been much indebted. He became Keeper of the Print-Room of the British Museum, and died in 1833.
Opposite Rufford's Buildings there stood, till 1812, an old Elizabethan house of wood and plaster, with curious ceilings, and a granite mantelpiece representing the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge. The new house became Shield's school, where Dr. Hawes and John Nicholls, the antiquary, were educated. In a house which formerly stood in the Upper Street, opposite Cross Street, resided Dr. William Pitcairn, elected physician, in 1750, to St. Bartholomew's Hospital. He commenced a botanical garden of five acres behind the house, but it does not now exist.
One of the celebrated houses of old Islington was No. 41, Cross Street, and formerly the mansion of the Fowler family, lords of the manor of Barnesbury. The Fowlers were great people in their swords and ruffs, in the days of Elizabeth and James; and Sir Thomas Fowler appears to have been one of the jurors upon the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh, at Winchester, in 1603. The house is wood and plaster, with a modern brick front. It appears to be of the age of Elizabeth.
"The ceiling of a back room on the first floor," says Lewis," is decorated with the arms of England in the reign of that princess, with her initials, and the date (1595) in stucco; also the initials of Thomas and Jane Fowler, F./T.I. with fleur de lis, medallions, &c., in the same style as the ceilings at Canonbury House. The rooms are wainscoted with oak in panels, and till the year 1788, when they were removed, the windows contained some arms in stained glass, among which were those of Fowler, with the date (1588), and those of Herne, or Heron. In pulling down some old houses for the formation of Halton Street, at the east end of this house, some remains of the ancient stabling and offices were taken away. In these stables a fire broke out on the 17th February, 1655, but it does not appear to have done any injury to the dwellinghouse.
"At the extremity of the garden which belonged to the mansion is a small building, originally about fifteen feet square, and presenting an exterior of brick, absurdly called Queen Elizabeth's Lodge. It appears to have afforded access to the house through the grounds, and was probably built as a summer-house or porter's lodge, at the entrance of the garden, about the time the mansion-house was erected. The arms of Fowler, bearing an esquire's helmet, are cut in stone on the west side of the building, near the top, which proves that the time of its erection was before the honour of knighthood had been conferred upon its owner."
The name attached to the lodge may have arisen from some visit paid by Elizabeth to Sir Thomas Fowler or Sir John Spencer.
A house near the old charity school at the top of Cross Street was partly demolished by the London rioters in 1780, when it was occupied by the obnoxious Justice Hyde, who had ordered out the troops, and whose goods the true Protestants with the blue cockade burnt in the street.
In Cross Street, in 1817, died Mrs. Hester Milner, the youngest of ten daughters of the Dr. John Milner in whose school Dr. John Hawkesworth and Oliver Goldsmith were assistants. At the "Old Parr's Head," at the corner of Cross Street, John Henderson, the best Falstaff ever known on the stage, made his first appearance in public, by reciting Garrick's ode to Shakespeare, with close imitations of the actor's manner. He appeared as Hamlet at the Bath Theatre in 1772.
John Quick, a celebrated comedian, resided at Hornsey Row. He was the son of a Whitechapel brewer, and was the original Tony Lumpkin, Bob Acres, and Isaac Mendosa; he was one of the last of the Garrick school, and was a great favourite of George III. He retired in 1798, after thirtysix years on the boards, with £10,000, and died in 1831, aged eighty-three, another proof of the longevity of successful actors. Up to the last of his life Quick frequented a club at the "King's Head," opposite the old church, and officiated as president. Mrs. Davenport was Quick's daughter.
In the year 1818 great interest was excited by the abduction of the child of a shipbroker, named Horsley, who resided at 3, Canonbury Lane. It had been stolen by a man named Rennett, who had conceived a hatred for the boy's grandfather, Charles Dignum, the singer, and also for the sake of the reward. The man was tracked, taken, and eventually transported for seven years.
Laycock's dairy farm faced Union Chapel, built by Mr. Leroux, at the beginning of the century. Laycock, an enterprising man, who died in 1834, erected sheds for cattle on their way to Smithfield. Laycock and a Mr. Rhodes had gradually absorbed the smaller grass farms (once the great feature of Islington), and which were common seventy or eighty years ago, says Mr. Lewis, writing in 1842. The stocks varied from twenty to a hundred cows. "One of these was on the site of Elliot's Place, Lower Street; another where Bray's Buildings now stand, and others in the Upper Street, and at Holloway."
At a house in Camden Passage, near the west end of Camden Street, and also in the Upper Street and at Paradise Row, lived that extraordinary man, Alexander Cruden, the compiler of the laborious Concordance to the Bible. Cruden, the son of an Aberdeen merchant, was born in 1701. After being a private tutor and a corrector of the press, he opened a bookseller's shop under the Royal Exchange, London, and there wrote his Concordance. His mind becoming disordered at the bad reception of the Concordance, he was sent to an asylum at Bethnal Green, the practices at which he afterwards attacked, bringing an unsuccessful action against the celebrated Dr. Munro. In 1754, on his release, he applied for the honour of knighthood, put himself in nomination for the City of London, and assumed the title of "Alexander the Corrector," believing himself divinely inspired to reform a corrupt age. One of his harmless eccentricities was going about with a sponge, erasing the number forty-five from the walls, to show his aversion for John Wilkes, against whom he published a pamphlet. Eventually he became corrector for the press on Mr. Woodfall's paper, the Public Advertiser, and devoted his spare time to teaching the felons in Newgate, and other works of charity. He dedicated the second edition of his Concordance to George III., and presented him a copy in person. He died in 1770, being found dead on his knees, in the attitude of prayer. He was buried in a Dissenting burial-ground, in Deadman's Place, Southwark.
That excellent man, Dr. William Hawes, the founder of the Royal Humane Society, was born in 1736, in "Job's House," or the "Old Thatched House" Tavern, in Cross Street, and was the son of the landlord. In 1773 he began to call attention to the means of resuscitating persons apparently drowned, a subject which the Gentleman's Magazine had been urging for thirty years. At first he encountered much ridicule and opposition, but, in 1774, Dr. Hawes and Dr. Cogan brought each fifteen friends to a meeting at the "Chapter" Coffee House, and the Humane Society was at once formed, and the "Thatched House" Tavern became one of the first houses of reception. This same year Dr. Hawes wrote a pamphlet on the death of Goldsmith, to show the dangers of violent medicine. In 1793 this good man was the chief means of saving 1,200 families of Spitalfields weavers from starvation, at a time when cotton had begun to supersede silk. Dr. Hawes died in 1808, and was buried in the cemetery attached to the churchyard at Islington.
Colebrooke Row was built in 1768. Six acres at the back formed at first a nursery and then a brick-field. Here that delightful humourist, Charles Lamb, resided, with his sister, from about 1823 to 1826, immediately after his retirement from the India House.
Lamb describes his place of abode at Islington, in a letter to Bernard Barton, dated September 2, 1823:—"When you come Londonward, you will find me no longer in Covent Garden; I have a cottage in Colebrooke Row, Islington—a cottage, for it is detached—a white house, with six good rooms in it. The New River (rather elderly by this time) runs (if a moderate walking-pace can be so termed) close to the foot of the house; and behind is a spacious garden, with vines (I assure you), pears, strawberries, parsnips, leeks, carrots, cabbages, to delight the heart of old Alcinous. You enter without passage into a cheerful dining-room, all studded over and rough with old books; and above is a lightsome drawing-room, three windows, full of choice prints. I feel like a great lord, never having had a house before." And again, in the November following, in a letter to Robert Southey, he informs the bard, who had promised him a call, that he is "at Colebrooke Cottage, left hand coming from Saddler's Wells." It was here that that amiable bookworm, George Dyer, editor of the Delphin classics, walked quietly into the New River from Charles Lamb's door, but was soon recovered, thanks to the kind care of Miss Lamb.
A small house at the back of Colebrooke Row was the residence of that great Parliamentary reporter, William Woodfall, the friend of Garrick, Goldsmith, and Savage. In lodgings at a house near the "Castle Tavern" and Tea Gardens, old Colley Cibber, the best fop that ever appeared on the stage, died in 1757, aged eighty-six. As one of Pope's most recalcitrant butts, as the author of the Careless Husband, and as poet laureate, Cibber occupied a prominent place among the lesser lights of the long Georgian era. Cibber's reprobate daughter, Charlotte Charke, among other eccentricities in her reckless life, kept a public-house at Islington, where she died in 1760.
At the close of the last century the Baron D'Aguilar, a half-crazed miser, lived in Camden Street, and kept a small farm on the west bank of the New River, near the north end of Colebrooke Row. He beat his wife and starved his cattle, which were occasionally in the habit of devouring each other. He died in 1802, leaving jewels worth £30,000. The total bulk of his property is supposed to have been worth upwards of £200,000, which he left to two daughters, one of whom he cursed on his dying bed.
St. Peter's Church, Islington, consecrated in 1835, was erected at an expense of £3,407. The Irvingite church, in Duncan Road, was erected in 1834, the year Irving died. After his expulsion from the Presbytery, Irving frequently preached in Britannia Fields, Islington, till his admirers rented for him West's Picture Gallery, in Newman Street.
And here we may, as well as anywhere else, sketch the history of the New River, which passes along Colebrooke Row, but was some years ago covered over. In the reign of Elizabeth, the London conduits being found quite inadequate to the demands of the growing City, the Queen granted the citizens leave to convey a stream to London, from any part of Middlesex or Hertfordshire. Nothing, however, was done, nor was even a second Act, passed by King James, ever carried into effect. What all London could not do, a single publicspirited man accomplished. In 1609, Mr. Hugh Myddelton, a Welsh goldsmith, who had enriched himself by mines in Cardiganshire, persuaded the Common Council to transfer to him the power granted them by the above-mentioned Acts, and offered, in four years, at his own risk and charge, to bring the Chadwell and Amwell springs from Hertfordshire to London, by a route more than thirty-eight miles long. Endless vexations, however, befell the enterprising man. The greedy landholders of Middlesex and Herts did all they could to thwart him. Eventually he had to petition the City for an extension of the time for the fulfilment of his contract to nine years, and at last, when the water had been brought as far as Enfield, Myddelton was so completely drained that he had to apply to the City for aid. On their ungenerous refusal, he resorted to the King, who, tempted by a moiety of the concern, paid half the expenses. The scheme then progressed fast, and on the 29th of September, 1613, the water was at last let into the New River Head, at Clerkenwell. Hugh Myddelton's brother (the Lord Mayor of London) and many aldermen and gentlemen were present at the ceremony, which repaid the worthy goldsmith for his years of patient toil.
Stow gives us an account of the way in which the
ceremony was performed. "A troop of labourers,"
he says, "to the number of sixty or more, well
apparelled, and wearing green Monmouth caps, all
alike, carryed spades, shovels, pickaxes, and such
like instruments of laborious employment marching
after drummes, twice or thrice about the cisterne,
presented themselves before the mount, where the
Lord Maior, aldermen, and a worthy company
beside, stood to behold them; and one man in
behalf of all the rest, delivered this speech:—
'Long have we labour'd, long desir'd, and pray'd
For this great work's perfection; and by th' aid
Of Heaven and good men's wishes, 'tis at length
Happily conquered, by cost, art, and strength.
And after five yeeres deare expence, in dayes,
Travaile, and paines, beside the infinite wayes
Of malice, envy, false suggestions,
Able to daunt the spirits of mighty ones
In wealth and courage. This, a work so rare,
Onely by one man's industry, cost, and care,
Is brought to blest effect; so much withstood,
His onely ayme, the Citie's generall good.
And where (before) many unjust complaints,
Enviously seated, caused oft restraints,
Stops and great crosses, to our master's charge,
And the work's hindrance; Favour, now at large,
Spreads herself open to him, and commends
To admiration, both his paines and ends
(The King's most gracious love).
* * * * *
Now for the fruits then; flow forth precious spring
So long and dearly sought for, and now bring
Comfort to all that love thee; loudly sing,
And with thy chrystal murmurs strook together,
Bid all thy true well-wishers welcome hither.'
At which words the flood-gates flew open, the streame ran gallantly into the cisterne, drummes and trumpets sounding in triumphall manner, and a brave peale of chambers gave full issue to the intended entertainement."
It was a considerable time before the New River water came into full use, and for the first nineteen years the annual profit scarcely amounted to twelve shillings a share. The following figures will give the best idea of the improvement of value in this property:—1634 (the second), £3 4s. 2d.; 1680, £145 1s. 8d.; 1720, £214 15s. 7d.; and 1794, £431 8s. 8d. The shares in 1811 were considered worth £11,500, and an adventurer's share has been sold for as much as £17,000. The undertaking cost the first projectors half a million sterling. There were originally seventy-two shares, and thirty-six of these were vested in the projector, whose descendants, however, became impoverished, and were obliged to part with the property. The mother of the last Sir Hugh indeed received a pension of twenty pounds per annum from the Goldsmiths' Company.
Sir Hugh died in 1631 a prosperous man, though there is an old Islington tradition that he became pensioner in a Shropshire village, applied in vain for relief to the City, and died in obscurity.
The last Sir Hugh was a poor drunken fellow who strived hard to die young, and boarded with an Essex farmer. Even as late as 1828 a female descendant of the Welsh goldsmith obtained a small annuity from the Corporation.
The New River is mentioned by Nelson in 1811 as having between 200 and 300 bridges over it, and upwards of forty sluices. Lewis, writing in 1842, speaks of it as having in his day "one hundred and fifty-four bridges over it, and four large sluices in its course, and in various parts, both over and under its stream, numerous currents of land-waters, and brooks, and rivulets." It was formerly conducted over the valley near Highbury, in a huge wooden trough 462 feet long, supported by brick piers, and called the Boarded River. This was, however, removed in 1776.
Dr. Johnson describes going to Islington to see poor Collins, the poet, when his mind was beginning to fail. It was after Collins had returned from France, and had come to Islington, directing his sister to meet him there. " There was then," says the Doctor, " nothing of disorder discernible in his mind by any but himself; but he had withdrawn from study, and travelled with no other book than an English Testament, such as children carry to the school." When his friend took it in his hand, out of curiosity, to see what companion a man of letters had chosen, " I have but one book," said Collins, "but that is the best."
On the east side of the Lower Street was formerly a very old public-house called " The Crown." "It contained," says Lewis, "several fragments of antiquity, in the form of carved work, stained glass, &c., and had been probably once the residence of some opulent merchant or person of distinction. In the window of a room on the ground-floor were the arms of England, the City of London, the Mercers' Company, and another coat; also the red and white roses united, with other ornaments, indicative of its having been erected about the time of Henry VII. or Henry VIII. Many years previous to the pulling down of the building, it had been converted into a public-house, the common fate of most of the old respectable dwellings in this parish, and was latterly kept by a person named Pressey, who frequently accommodated strolling players with a large room in the house for the exhibition of dramatic performances."
Between Lower Chapel Street and Paradise Place stood an old mansion generally known as Hunsden House, which was pulled down in 1800. It was supposed to have been the residence of Queen Elizabeth's favourite cousin, Henry Carey, created by her Lord Hunsden. The front, abutting on Lower Street, was inscribed King John's Place, as that king was said to have had a hunting-lodge there. Sir Thomas Lovell rebuilt the house. It was supposed, from the armorial bearings in one of the stained glass windows, that this chosen residence had been at one time the abode of the great Earl of Leicester, the most favoured of all Elizabeth's suitors. It afterwards became the property of Sir Robert Ducy, Bart., the banker of Charles I. The memorable mansion was celebrated for its rich windows, illustrating the subjects of the Faithful Steward and the Prodigal Son, and crowded besides with prophets and saints. There was also a magnificent chimney-piece, containing the arms of the City of London, with those of Lovell quartering Muswell or Mosell, the arms of St. John's Priory, always potent in this neighbourhood, besides those of Gardeners of London, grocer, and the Company of Merchant Adventurers.
Among the celebrities of Islington we may notice the following, in addition to those already given:—Sir Henry Yelverton, a judge of Common Pleas in the reign of Charles I., who was baptised at St. Mary's. He got entangled in opposition to the imperious Duke of Buckingham, and paid for it by an imprisonment in the Tower and a heavy fine.
Robert Brown, the founder of the sect of Brownists, was a lecturer at Islington. After flying to Holland, and being excommunicated on his return to England by a bishop, he went back to the Establishment about 1590, and accepted a living in Northamptonshire, where he lived a somewhat discreditable life. For striking a constable who had demanded a rate from him Brown was sent to Northampton gaol, where he boasted that he had been in thirty-two prisons. He died in 1630, aged eighty-one.
Defoe was educated at a Nonconformist seminary at Islington, and four years there was all the education the clever son of a butcher in St. Giles's seems ever to have had. Edmund Halley, the celebrated astronomer royal, fitted up an observatory at Islington; and resided there from 1682 till 1696. It was Halley who urged Newton to write the " Principia," and superintended its publication. He is accused of gross unfairness to his two great contemporaries, Leibnitz and Flamsteed, breaking open a sealed catalogue of fixed stars drawn up by the latter, and printing them with his own name.
Halley's greatest work was the first prediction of the return of a comet, and a discovery of inequalities in the motion of Jupiter and Saturn, which confirmed Newton's great discovery of the law of gravitation.
Mrs. Foster, the granddaughter of Milton, kept a chandler's shop at Lower Holloway for some years, and died at Islington in 1754. In her the family of Milton became extinct. She was poor and infirm, and in 1750 Comus was represented at Drury Lane Theatre for her benefit, Dr. Johnson writing the prologue, which was spoken by Garrick. She used to say that her grandfather was harsh to his daughters, and refused to allow them to be taught to write; but we mustallow perhaps something for the perpetual irritation of gout, which would sour the temper of an archangel. At Newington Green resided Dr. Richard Price, a Nonconformist minister, celebrated for his financial calculations in connection with assurance societies. He was a friend of Howard, Priestley, and Franklin, and was consulted by Pitt as to the adoption of the Sinking Fund. He died in 1791. Mary Woolstonecroft, the wife of William Godwin, and the mother of Mrs. Shelley, in early life conducted a day-school at Newington Green. She was one of the first advocates of the rights of women, and died in 1797.
That excellent woman, Mrs. Barbauld, was wife of Mr. Barbauld, a minister at a Unitarian chapel on Newington Green. Amongst the vicars of St. Mary's we should not forget Daniel Wilson, Heber's successor as Bishop of Calcutta. He succeeded the good Cecil at St. John's, Bedford Row. Nelson, the best of the Islington historians, lived and died, says Mr. W. Howitt, at his house at the corner of Cumberland Street, Islington Green. Rogers, the banker-poet, was born in 1763 at Newington Green, "the first house that presents itself on the west side, proceeding from Ball's Pond." On his mother's side Rogers was descended from Philip Henry, the father of Matthew Henry, the pious author of the well-known exposition of the Bible. In one of the detached houses opposite Lorraine Place lived that pushing publisher and projector, Sir Richard Phillips. We have described this active minded compiler elsewhere. Dr. Jackson, Bishop of London, was for a time head-master of the Islington Proprietary School.
The " Duke's Head," at the south-east corner of Cadd's Row, near the Green, was, in the middle of the last century, kept by Thomas Topham, the celebrated "Strong Man" of Islington. His most celebrated feats were pulling against a horse at a wall in Moorfields; and, finally, in 1741, in Coldbath Fields, lifting three hogsheads of water, weighing 1,831 pounds, to commemorate the taking of Porto Bello by Admiral Vernon. He once hoisted a sleeping watchman in his box, and dropped both box and watchman over the wall into Bunhill Fields Burying Ground. Towards the close of his life this unhappy Samson took a public-house in Hog Lane, Shoreditch, and there, in 1749, in a paroxysm of just jealousy, he stabbed his unfortunate wife and killed himself.