Old and New London: Volume 6. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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SOUTHWARK (continued).—HIGH STREET, &c.
The Southwark Entrance to London Bridge—The Town Hall—Southwark Fair—Union Hall—Dr. Elliotson—Mint Street—Suffolk House—Lant Street—Charles Dickens's Home when a Boy—The Mint—Great Suffolk Street—The "Moon-rakers"—The Last Barber-surgeon—Winchester Hall—Finch's Grotto Gardens—The Old Workhouse of Southwark—King's Bench Prison—Major Hanger, Dr. Syntax, Haydon, and George Moreland, Inmates of the King's Bench—The "Marshal" of the King's Bench—Alsager's Bleaching-ground—Blackman Street—Sir James South—Eliza Cook—Kent Street—A Disreputable Neighbourhood—The Lock Hospital—A Hard-working Philanthropist—St. George's Church—The Burial-place of Bishop Bonner—Marriage of General Monk and Nan Clarges—The Marshalsea—Anecdotes of Bishop Bonner—Colonel Culpeper—Dickens's Reminiscences of the Marshalsea—The Sign of "The Hand"—Commercial Aspect of Southwark—Sanitary Condition of Southwark—Appearance of Southwark in the Seventeenth Century.
The Borough, High Street, as we have already shown, serving for many centuries as the entrance into London from Surrey and Kent, and, indeed, from the Continent, has always been a very important thoroughfare of the metropolis; but, as a pleasant, gossiping writer of modern times, Mr. Miller, has truthfully observed in his "Picturesque Sketches"—"What a different feature does the Southwark entrance to London Bridge present to what it did only a few brief years ago! Every few minutes omnibuses are now thundering to and from the railway terminus; while passengers think no more of journeying to Brighton and back, and remaining eight or ten hours there, on a long summer's day, than they formerly did of travelling to Greenwich; for it took the old, slow stage-wagons as long to traverse the five miles to the latter as our iron-footed steed to drag the five hundred passengers at his heels, and land them within sight of the wide, refreshing sea."
Starting from St. Saviour's Church, and passing
under the railway bridge which spans the road,
we now make our way southward. The alterations
made in the High Street, when Southwark Street
was planned and formed, involved the demolition
of the Town Hall. This building stood at the
angle formed by the High Street and Compter
Street, and dated its erection from the close of
the last century, when it was built in place of an
older edifice, which had become ruinous. The
old Town Hall, in its turn, too, occupied the
place of a still older hall, having been rebuilt in
the reign of Charles II. After the union of the
parish of St. Margaret-at-Hill with that of St.
Saviour's, the old church of the former parish was
desecrated, being used partly as a prison, and
partly as a court of justice. The building was
destroyed in the fire of 1676. A statue of the
king was placed in front of the building by which
it was succeeded; and on the base of the pediment
was an inscription notifying the "re-edification,"
with the date 1686. On one side of the statue
were the arms of London; and on the other, those
of Southwark. On the occasion of the rebuilding
of the hall in 1793, the statue of the king, instead
of being replaced in its original situation, was sold,
and set up in a neighbouring court called Three
Crown Court, upon a pedestal of brickwork, the
inside of which, strange to say, was made to serve
as a watch-box for a "Charley." At the same
time, a figure of Justice, which had formerly, in
conjunction with one of Wisdom, supported the
Lord Mayor's seat in the Town Hall, was placed
near the bar of a neighbouring coffee-house. On
this event, the following jeu d'esprit is preserved in
Concanen and Morgan's "History of the Parish of
St. Mary Overy:"—
"Justice and Charles have left the hill,
The City claimed their place;
Justice resides at Dick West's still;
But mark poor Charles's case:
Justice, safe from wind and weather,
Keeps the tavern score;
But Charley, turned out altogether,
Keeps the watch-house door."
After remaining for some time in Three Crown Court, the poor unfortunate monarch, we believe, found a resting-place in the shady nook of a garden in the New Kent Road. The prison, or compter, as it was called, was removed to Mill Lane, Tooley Street, but has since been demolished.
The new Town Hall was a very plain and unpretending structure. It consisted of a rusticated basement, from which rose four Ionic pilasters. The windows were arched, and the interior was fitted up as a police-office. The police-court was eventually removed further southward, to Blackman Street. In front of the Town Hall, facing Blackman Street, the hustings for the election of representatives for the borough were usually erected.
The Town Hall has been occasionally used for criminal trials. Thus we read that on the 23rd of June, 1746, eight of the judges went in procession from Serjeants' Inn to the Town Hall on St. Margaret's Hill, and opened the special commission for the trial of the prisoners concerned in the rebellion in Scotland. Those prisoners who were found guilty and received sentence of death were soon afterwards hung, drawn, and quartered on Kennington Common. Between their trial and execution the prisoners were confined in the new gaol, Southwark.
On St. Margaret's Hill, in the immediate neighbourhood of the Town Hall, Southwark Fair was formerly held. This fair, afterwards so famous, was established by virtue of a charter from King Edward VI., dated 1550. The charter cost the good citizens of London nearly £650—a large sum at that period—and the fair itself was to be held on the 7th, 8th, and 9th of September. It was one of the three great fairs of special importance, described in a proclamation of Charles I., "unto which there is usually extraordinary resort out of all parts of the kingdom." The fairs here referred to, according to Rymer, were "Bartholomew Fair, in Smithfield; Sturbridge Fair, in Cambridge; and Our Lady Fair, in the borough of Southwark." It was opened in great state by the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, who rode over London Bridge, and so on to Newington, thence back to the Bridge House, where, of course, was a banquet. "The 'hood-bearer' on this occasion," writes John Timbs, "wore a fine embroidered cap, said to have been presented to the City by a monastery in 1473."
Allusions to the fair are frequent enough in the old writers; but it is most familiar to us through Hogarth's picture of "Southwark Fair." In his time the fair lasted fourteen days, and extended from St. Margaret's Hill, the spot where it was originally held (near the Town Hall), to the Mint; and of course the visitors comprised a considerable portion of the inhabitants of that favoured locality. In Hogarth's plate—a copy of which we reproduce on page 55—we see Figg, the prize-fighter, with plastered head, riding on a miserable nag; Cadman, a celebrated rope-dancer, is represented flying by a rope from the tower of St. George's Church to that part of the Mint which lies in the rear of the houses opposite. The portrait of another famous rope-dancer, Violante, is introduced by Hogarth. From the steeple of the church of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, soon after its completion, this slack-rope performer descended, head foremost, on a rope stretched across St. Martin's Lane to the Royal Mews, in the presence of the princesses and a host of noble personages. Besides these characters, Hogarth shows us a beautiful woman beating a drum, attended by a black boy with a trumpet; a booth tumbling down, and the name of the piece to be performed, the Fall of Bagdad, is inscribed on the tottering paper lantern. Tamerlane, in full armour, is being taken into custody by a bum-bailiff; and in the background are shows with enormous placards announcing the Royal Wax-work, the horse of Troy, and the wonderful performances of Bankes and his horse. If the company frequenting the fair was of a strange sort, the entertainments offered appear to have been of a suitable character. From old advertisements of the fair, of dates between 1730 and 1740, we learn that at Lee and Harper's great booth was performed a thrilling tragedy called Bateman, or the Unhappy Marriage; but, lest the audience should be too much affected, it was lightened by the Comical Humours of Sparrow, Pumpkin, and Sheer going to the Wars. There appears to have been as great a taste for burlesque as that which now exists; but the subjects were curiously chosen. We have the rudiments of a modern pantomime in The Fall of Phaëton, interspersed with comic scenes between Punch, Harlequin, Scaramouch, Pierrot and Columbine, "which," we are told, "the town has lately been in expectation to see performed." The performers, it should be remembered, were not wretched show-folk, but the regular actors of the large theatres, who regularly established booths at Bartholomew's and Southwark Fairs, in which the most charming actresses and accomplished actors thought it no disgrace to appear in the miserable trash mentioned above. In the biography of "Jo Miller," we read that the sound of Smithfield revelry had but just died away, to be caught up, as if in echo, by Southwark, when the Daily Post, having shed a tearful paragraph upon the opening sepulchre of "Matt Prior," proceedeth to tell how that "Mr. Doggett, the famous player, is likewise dead, having made a standing provision annually for a coat and badge, to be rowed for by six watermen on the 1st of August, being the day of His Majesty's happy accession to the Throne." This was on the 23rd of September, 1721. Two days afterwards we read, "Yesterday the remains of Mr. Dogget were interred at Eltham, in Kent." So far the humble player—now for the courtier poet. "The same evening the remains of Matthew Prior, Esquire, were carried to the Jerusalem Chamber, and splendidly interred in Westminster Abbey." When "Jo" received the news of Doggett's death, we have not the smallest doubt that he was too much overcome to go on with the part he was playing at Southwark Fair; and having that day divided the profits of the Smithfield speculation with Pinkey and Jubilee Dickey, he assiduously mourned his departed master at the "Angel Tavern," which then stood next door to the King's Bench.
John Evelyn in his "Diary," under date 13th September, 1660, says, "I saw in Southwark, at St. Margaret's Faire, monkies and asses dance and do other feates of activity on ye tight rope; they were gallantly clad à la mode, went upright, saluted the company, bowing and pulling off their hatts; they saluted one another with as good a grace as if instructed by a dancing-master. They turned heels over head with a basket having eggs in it, without breaking any; also with lighted candles in their hands and on their heads, without extinguishing them, and with vessells of water, without spilling a drop. I also saw an Italian wench daunce and performe all the tricks on ye tight rope to admiration; all the Court went to see her. Likewise here was a man who tooke up a piece of iron cannon of about 400 lb. weight, with the haire of his head onely."
From Pepys's own quaint and amusing description, too, we glean some further particulars of the entertainments provided here. On the 21st of September, 1668, he writes: "To Southwark Fair, very dirty, and there saw the puppet-show of Whittington, which is pretty to see; and how that idle thing do work upon people that see it, and even myself too! And thence to Jacob Hall's dancing on the ropes, where I saw such action as I never saw before, and mightily worth seeing; and here took acquaintance with a fellow who carried me to a tavern, whither came the music of this booth, and by-and-by Jacob Hall himself, with whom I had a mind to speak, whether he ever had any mischief by falls in his time. He told me, 'Yes, many, but never to the breaking of a limb.' He seems a mighty strong man. So giving them a bottle or two of wine, I away."
In the reign of George II. the fairs of London were in the zenith of their fame. Mr. Frost observes in his "Old Showmen:"—"During the second quarter of the eighteenth century they were resorted to by all classes of the people, even by royalty; and the theatrical booths which formed part of them boasted of the best talent in the profession. Not only were they regarded as the nurseries of histrionic ability, as the provincial theatres came afterwards to be regarded; but they witnessed the efforts to please of the best actors of the London theatres when in the noon of their success and popularity. Cibber, Quin, Macklin, Woodward, Shuter, did not disdain to appear before a Bartholomew Fair audience, nor Fielding to furnish them with the early gushings of his humour. The inimitable Hogarth made the light of his peculiar genius shine upon them, and the memories of the 'Old Showman' are preserved in more than one of his pictures."Southwark Fair was not finally suppressed till 1763. The booth-keepers used to collect money for the relief of the prisoners in the Marshalsea.
In the registers of the parish of St. Margaret's occurs the following curious entry, under date 1451–2: "Recd. in dawnsing [dancing] money of the Maydens, iiis. viijd." To what this may refer, whether to any religious ceremony or public procession, it is at this distant period difficult to tell.
At the east end of Union Street, close by St. Margaret's Hill, formerly stood Union Hall. On the opening of this street to the Borough by taking down the "Greyhound Inn," in 1781, Union Hall was built by subscription, for the use of the magistrates, previous to which time they sat at the "Swan Inn," which was afterwards converted into a private house. On the passing of the Police Act in 1830 Union Hall was made one of the Metropolitan police offices. On the destruction of the old Town Hall, as above mentioned, the sessions for the county were held there, though it was not adequate to the business till the county gaol and a sessions house were built nearer to Newington Butts.
At No. 104 in the High Street was born Dr. Elliotson, F.R.S., the celebrated physician. He was the son of a chemist and druggist, whose house bore the sign of the "Golden Key," of which a token exists. Dr. Elliotson was a devoted student of mesmerism and mesmeric influences, upon which he wrote largely. Thackeray, it may be added, was taken ill when writing "Pendennis," and was saved from death by Dr. Elliotson, to whom, in gratitude, he dedicated the novel when he lived to finish it. Dr. Elliotson died in 1868.
Mint Street, opposite St. George's Church, keeps in remembrance a mint for the coinage of money, which was established here by Henry VIII. at Suffolk House, the residence of his brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. The mansion was a large and stately edifice, fronting upon the High Street. It was ornamented with turrets and cupolas, and enriched with carved work; at the back, the range of outbuildings formed an enclosed court. The house was sometimes called the "Duke's Palace," as well as Suffolk House; and it is likewise mentioned as "Brandonne's Place, in Southwarke," in Sir John Howard's expenses, under the year 1465. It was exchanged by the Duke of Suffolk with Henry VIII., the king giving him in return the house of the Bishop of Norwich in St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. On this exchange the mansion took the name of Southwark Place, and a mint was established here for the king's use.
Edward VI., in the second year of his reign, came from Hampton Court and dined at this house, where he knighted John Yorke, one of the Sheriffs of London. He afterwards returned through the City to Westminster. Queen Mary gave the mansion to Nicholas Heath, Archbishop of York, "and to his successors for ever, to be their inn or lodging for their repair to London," as a recompense for York House, Westminster, which was taken from Wolsey and the see of York by her royal father.
Archbishop Heath sold the premises, which were partly pulled down, many small cottages being built on the site. Some portion of the house which was left became the residence of Edward Bromfield, who was Lord Mayor in 1637. He was owner of the premises in 1650. His son John was created a baronet in 1661, and in 1679 he was described as "of Suffolk Place, Bart.," in the marriage settlement with Joyce, only child of Thomas Lant, son and heir of William Lant, a merchant of London. This estate devolving to the Lant family, we find that in the reign of Queen Anne an Act was passed for the improvement of Suffolk Place, empowering Thomas Lant to let leases for fifty-one years. In 1773 it was advertised to be let as seventeen acres, on which were 400 houses, with a rental of £1,000 per annum. The entire estate was sold early in the present century, in ninety-eight lots, the rental of the estate having been just doubled. The family of Lant are still kept in remembrance by Lant Street, which runs from Blackman Street parallel with Mint Street.
A back attic at the house of an "Insolventcourt agent" belonging to the Marshalsea, in Lant Street, was one of the temporary homes of Charles Dickens when a boy; it was the same in which he described Mr. Bob Sawyer as living many years afterwards. "A bed and bedding," he writes, "were sent over for me and made up on the floor. The little window had a pleasant prospect of a timber-yard; and when I took possession of my new abode, I thought it was a Paradise." The various members of the family of the InsolventCourt Agent are immortalised as the "Garlands" in the "Old Curiosity Shop."
The Mint is thus curiously described in the "New View of London," published in 1708:—"It is on the west side of Blackman Street, near against St. George's Church, and was so called for that a sumptuous house, built by Charles Brandon, late Duke of Suffolk, in the reign of Henry VIII., coming into the king's hands, was called Southwork (sic) Place, and a mint of coinage was there kept for the king. The inhabitants of late—like those of the White Fryars, Savoy, &c.—have assumed to themselves a protection from arrests for debts, against whom a severe though just statute was made in the 8 and 9 William and Mary, whereby any person having moneys owing from any in these pretended privileged places, may, upon a legal process taken out, require the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex, the head Bailiff of the Dutchy Liberty, or the High Sheriff of Surrey, or Bailiff of Southwork, or their deputies, to take out a posse comitatus, and arrest such persons, or take their goods upon execution." And then follows a long list of penalties, including the pillory, to which all persons resisting their authority are exposed. It is added, "Yet notwithstanding this place pretends as much to Privilege as before, though this Act has supprest all other (such-like) places. And these streets are reckoned within the compass of this Mint—viz., Mint Street, Crooked Lane, and Bell's Rents; also Cannon Street, Suffolk Street, St. George Street, Queen Street, King Street, Peter Street, Harrow Alley, Anchor Alley, and Duke Street, all in the parish of St. George's, Southwork." The Mint, as the district was called, consisted, therefore, of several streets, whose inhabitants claimed the privilege of protection from arrest for debt—a privilege which, says the "Ambulator" (1774), "has since been suppressed by the legislature, who have lately passed an Act for establishing a Court of Conscience here for the better recovery of small debts."
The place had become a refuge for the worst
characters—in fact, another Alsatia, into which
few bailiffs or officers of justice dared to venture.
Felons and outlaws, debtors and vagabonds, herded
there; and to this day it is one of the plague-spots
of the metropolis. Marriages, not à la mode, like
those of Mayfair and the Fleet, were performed
here constantly, and highwaymen and burglars
found a secure retreat in its mazy courts. Mat o'
the Mint is one of Macheath's companions, and
Jonathan Wild was a frequent visitor. To poor
authors it was a more secure Grub Street; but
though duns could not enter, starvation and death
could. Here, in 1716, died Nahum Tate, once
poet laureate, and, in conjunction with Brady, the
author of that metrical version of the Psalms which
superseded Sternhold and Hopkins's psalmody in
prayer-books. Allusion is often made to the precincts of the Mint by the poets and comic writers.
The reader of Pope's satires will not forget the
"No place is sacred, not the church is free,
E'en Sunday shines no 'Sabbath Day' to me;
Then from the Mint walks forth the man of rhyme,
Happy to catch me just at dinner-time."
Nathaniel Lee, the dramatist, lived often in the
Mint; he had frequent attacks of insanity, and at
one period of his life spent four years in Bedlam.
He wrote eleven plays, and possessed genius (as
Addison admitted) well adapted for tragedy, though
clouded by occasional rant, obscurity, and bombast.
Latterly, this ill-starred poet depended for subsistence on a small weekly allowance from the theatre.
He died in 1691 or 1692. Pope often alludes to
the Mint with scorn, and he makes mention of
Lee's existence here in the following couplet:—
"In durance, exile, Bedlam, or the Mint,
Like Lee or Budgell, I will rhyme and print."
There are numerous allusions in old gossiping books and pamphlets of the seventeenth century to the customs of the Mint, the vagabond population of which maintained their privileges with a high hand. If a bailiff ventured to cross the boundary of the sanctuary, he was seized and searched for proofs of his calling; then, when the perilous documents were found, dragged by the mob from pump to pump, and thoroughly soused. A ducking in one of the open sewer ditches followed, and then he was made to swear, kissing a brickbat debaubed with filth from the cloaca, that he would never again attempt to serve a process in the Mint. The next step was the payment of certain fees for the purchase of gin. If he had no money in his pockets, he was handed over to the tender mercy of the women and boys, who gave him a few more duckings and shampooings with filthy brickbats, and then kicked him out of the precincts.
Thomas Miller, in his "Picturesque Sketches of London," published in 1852, gives the following description of the old Mint, which he had written seven years previously, after visiting the remains of this dilapidated neighbourhood:—"Stretching from St. George's Church, in the Borough, into the high road which leads to the cast-iron bridge of Southwark, are no end of narrow courts, winding alleys, and ruined houses, which a bold-hearted man would hesitate to thread after dusk. Here stand numbers of houses which are unroofed and uninhabited. Years ago they were doomed to be pulled down, and it was resolved that a wide open street should be built upon the space they now occupy. Years may still roll on before they are removed. There is no place like this in the suburbs of London, no spot that looks so murderous, so melancholy, and so miserable. Many of these houses, besides being old, are very large and lofty. Many of these courts stand just as they did when Cromwell sent out his spies to hunt up and slay the Cavaliers, just as they again were hunted in return, after the Restoration, by the Royalists, who threaded their intricacies, with sword and pistol in hand, in search of the fallen Roundheads. There is a smell of past ages about these ancient courts, like that which arises from decay—a murky closeness—as if the old winds which blew through them in the time of the Civil Wars had become stagnant, and all old things had fallen and died just as they were blown together, and left to perish. So it is now. The timber of these old houses looks bleached and dead; and the very brickwork seems never to have been new. In them you find wide, hollow-sounding, decayed staircases, that lead into great ruinous rooms, whose echoes are only awakened by the shrieking and running of large black-eyed rats, which eat through the solid floors, through the wainscot, and live and die without being startled by a human voice. From the Southwark Bridge Road you may see the roofs of many of these great desolate houses; they are broken and open; and the massy oaken rafters are exposed to the summer sun and the snow of winter. Some of the lower floors are still inhabited; and at the ends of these courts you will see standing, on a fine day, such characters as you will meet with nowhere besides in the neighbourhood of London. Their very dress is peculiar; and they frequent the dark and hidden public-houses which abound in these close alleys—placed where the gas is burning all day long. Excepting the courts behind Long Lane, in Smithfield, we know no spot about London like this, which yet fronts St. George's Church, in the Borough."
"The Mint," says Charles Knight, in his "London," "was the scene of 'the life, character, and behaviour' of Jack Sheppard; and within the same precincts, at the 'Duke's Head,' still standing in Redcross Street, his companion in villainy, Jonathan Wild, kept his horses. The Mint and its vicinity has been an asylum for debtors, coiners, and vagabonds of every kind, ever since the middle of the sixteenth century. It is districts like these which will always furnish the population of the prisons, in spite of the best attempts to reform and improve offenders by a wise, beneficent, and enlightened system of discipline, until moral efforts of a similar nature be directed to the fountainhead of corruption. There are districts in London whose vicious population, if changed to-day for one of a higher and more moral class, would inevitably be deteriorated by the physical agencies by which they would be surrounded, and the following generation might rival the inhabitants of Kent Street or the Mint."
The Mint is awfully memorable in modern annals; for amid the squalor of its narrow streets appeared, in 1832, the first case of Asiatic cholera in the metropolis. Again, Thomas Miller, in his work above quoted, refers to this miserable locality when he says, "The 'Land of Death,' in which we dwelt, was Newington, hemmed in by Lambeth, Southwark, Walworth, Bermondsey, and other gloomy parishes, through which the pestilence (fn. 1) stalked like a destroying angel in the deep shadows of the night and the open noon of day."
In the autobiographical reminiscences of his childhood, which are embodied in his "Life," by Mr. John Forster, Charles Dickens describes the quaint old streets of "low-browed" shops which lay between Rowland Hill's chapel in the Blackfriars Road, and his humble lodgings in Lant Street, mentioned above, along which he had to pass night by night, in returning from his drudgery at Hungerford Stairs. He tells us of the boot-lace and hat and cap shops which he patronised, and of another shop conspicuous for its sign of "a golden dog licking a golden pot," over the door, and which may still be seen at the corner of Charlotte Street, Blackfriars Road. He tells us also how on Saturday nights he would be seduced into the inside of show-vans containing the "Fat Pig," the "Wild Indian," and the "Little Dwarf Lady," in this immediate neighbourhood.
In the early part of the year 1877, steps were taken by the Metropolitan Board of Works with the view of levelling with the ground a large part of the disreputable neighbourhood now under notice. The areas comprised Mint Street, King Street, and Elizabeth Place. Mint Street area included the wretched street of that name, associated with robberies and crimes of all sorts, which leads from the Borough to Southwark Bridge Road; and it was further proposed to widen the new street and Harrow Street to a minimum width of thirty feet, and to extend Little Lant Street of the same width into Mint Street, at a cost of over £15,000.
Great Suffolk Street, nearer "Stones' End," is named from Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who, as stated above, lived here, in Suffolk House. This street was formerly known by the name of "Dirty Lane," an appellation which it very well deserved. The "Moon-rakers" is the sign of a public-house in this street, where it has stood for upwards of half a century. "The original of this," says Mr. Larwood, in his "History of Sign-boards," "may have been one of the stories of the 'Wise Men of Gotham.' A party of them going out one bright night, saw the reflection of the moon in the water; and, after due deliberation, decided that it was a green cheese, and so raked for it. Another version is, that some Gothamites, passing in the night over a bridge, saw from the parapet the moon's reflection in the river below, and took it for a green cheese. They held a consultation as to the best means of securing it, when it was resolved that one should hold fast to the parapet whilst the others hung from him hand-in-hand, so as to form a chain to the water below, the last man to seize the prize. When they were all in this position, the uppermost, feeling the load heavy, and his hold giving away, called out, 'Hallo! you below, hold tight while I take off my hand to spit on it!' The wise men below replied, 'All right!' upon which he let go his hold, and they all dropped into the water, and were drowned."
In this street lived the last barber who let blood and drew teeth in London, the last of the barber surgeons; he died there about 1821, as Mr. Cunningham was told by an old and intelligent hairdresser in the Strand; "To which," adds Mr. John Timbs, in his "Autobiography," "I may add my remembrance of his shop-window, with its heap of drawn teeth, and the barber's pole at the door. His name was Middleditch, and, renovare dolorem, I have a vivid recollection of his dentistry."
At the corner of Great Suffolk Street and Southwark Bridge Road stands Winchester Hall. This
is neither more nor less than a concert-room, of
the ordinary music-hall type, and is attached to a
public-house which originally bore the sign of "The
Grapes." Close by this spot, in former times, were
some well-known pleasure-grounds. They bore the
name of Finch's Grotto Gardens, and were situated
on the west side of Southwark Bridge Road. They
were first opened as a place of public resort about
the first year of the reign of George III. Here
Suett and Nan Cuttley acted and sang, if we may
trust the statement of John Timbs, who adds that
the old Grotto House was burnt down in 1796, but
soon afterwards rebuilt, a stone being inserted in
its wall with the following inscription:—
"Here herbs did grow
And flowers sweet;
But now 'tis called
St. George's Street."
"Within my remembrance," writes Mr. John Reynolds in his agreeable work, "Records of My Life," "there was a place called Finch's Grotto Gardens, a sort of minor Vauxhall, situated near the King's Bench Prison. There was a grotto in the middle of the garden, and an orchestra and rotunda. The price of admission was sixpence, and the place was much frequented by the humbler classes." He goes on to say, as a proof of the estimate in which the place was held, that "Tommy Lowe, after having once been proprietor of Marylebone Gardens, and having kept his carriage, "was absolutely reduced to the necessity of accepting an engagement at these Grotto Gardens."
Finch's Grotto Gardens, doubtless, was one of those suburban tea-gardens which were at one time pretty plentiful in the outskirts of London. The Prussian writer, D'Archenholz, in his account of England, published towards the close of the last century, is represented by Chambers as observing that, "The English take a great delight in the public gardens near the metropolis, where they assemble and take tea together in the open air. The number of these in the neighbourhood of the capital is amazing, and the order, regularity, neatness, and even elegance of them are truly admirable. They are, however," he adds, "very rarely frequented by people of fashion; but the middle and lower ranks go there often, and seem much delighted with the music of an organ which is usually played in an adjoining building."
A large building, occupying three sides of a quadrangle, adjoining Finch's Grotto Gardens, was at one time the workhouse of St. Saviour's parish. It was built at an expense of about £5,000, and was opened in 1777. Under the new Poor Law Act, the parish of St. Saviour's forms a union with that of Christchurch; St. Saviour's is the larger parish of the two.
At the south-west corner of Blackman Street, and at the entrance to the Borough Road, stands the large building, surrounded by a high brick wall, formerly known as the King's (or Queen's) Bench Prison. The original King's Bench Prison stood on the east side of the High Street, near the Marshalsea, and was certainly as old as the time of Richard II. Thither Prince Hal (afterwards Henry V.) was sent by Judge Gascoigne for endeavouring to rescue a convicted prisoner, one of his personal attendants—that is, if we may believe the genial old gossiper, Stow—but some historians have repudiated the story altogether. It is, however, mentioned by Hall, Grafton, and Sir Thomas Elyot, a favourite of Henry VIII., in his book called "The Governour."
In a play called Henry V., written in the time of Elizabeth, before 1592, in the scene in which the historical account of the violence of the prince against the chief justice is introduced, Richard Tarlton, a famous comedian and mimic, acts both judge and clown. One Knell, another droll comedian of the time, acted the prince, and gave the chief justice such a blow as felled him to the ground, to the great diversion of the audience. Tarlton, the judge, goes off the stage, and returns as Tarlton, the clown: he demands the cause of the laughter. "Oh," says one, "hadst thou been here to have seen what a terrible blow the prince gave the judge." "What! strike a judge!" says the clown: "terrible indeed must it be to the judge, when the very report of it makes my cheek burn."
Readers of the "Uncommercial Traveller" of Charles Dickens will not forget the glimpse that we catch from him of the interior of the old King's Bench Prison, and of its many inmates suffering and dying of the "dry-rot." The prison was removed to the present situation towards the close of the last century. Wilkes was confined here in 1768, and the mob endeavoured to rescue him. A riot ensued, the military were called out, and fired on the people in St. George's Fields, which at that time extended as far as this spot. A spectator, William Allen, was killed, and the jury returned a verdict of "wilful murder" against the soldier who fired the shot. The soldier was a Scotchman, a countryman of "Jack Boot," and in those days that was enough to condemn him. The tomb of Allen might be seen in the old church at Newington Butts. The King's Bench Prison was burnt down by Lord George Gordon's rioters in 1780. It was, however, speedily rebuilt, and is thus described by Mr. Allen, in his "History of Surrey," 1829:—"The prison occupies an extensive area of ground; it consists of one large pile of building, about 120 yards long. The south, or principal front, has a pediment, under which is a chapel. There are four pumps of spring and river water. Here are 224 rooms, or apartments, eight of which are called state-rooms, which are much larger than the others. Within the walls are a coffee-house and two public-houses; and the shops and stalls for meat, vegetables, and necessaries of almost every description, give the place the appearance of a public market; while the numbers of people walking about, or engaged in various amusements, are little calculated to impress the stranger with an idea of distress, or even of confinement. The walls surrounding the prison are about thirty feet high, and are surmounted by cheveaux de frise; but the liberties, or 'rules,' as they are called, comprehend all St. George's Fields, one side of Blackman Street, and part of the Borough High Street, forming an area of about three miles in circumference. These rules are usually purchasable after the following rate, by the prisoners: five guineas for small debts; eight guineas for the first hundred pounds of debt, and about half that sum for every subsequent hundred pounds. Day-rules, of which three may be obtained in every term, may also be purchased for 4s. 2d. for the first day, and 3s. 10d. for the others. Every description of purchasers must give good security to the governor, or, as he is called, marshal. Those who buy the first-mentioned may take up their residence anywhere within the precincts described; but the day-rules only authorised the prisoner to go out on those days for which they are bought. These privileges," adds the writer, "render the King's Bench the most desirable (if such a word may be thus applied) place of incarceration for debtors in England; hence persons so situated frequently remove themselves to it by habeas corpus from the most distant prisons in the kingdom." A strict attention to the "rules," it may be added, was very seldom enforced—a fact so notorious, that when Lord Ellenborough, as chief justice of the King's Bench, was once applied to for an extension of the "rules," his lordship gravely replied that he really could perceive no grounds for the application, since to his certain knowledge the rules already extended to the East Indies! In cases of this kind, however, when discovery took place, the marshal became answerable for the escape of the debtor. This prison was properly a place of confinement for all cases that could be tried in the Court of King's Bench.
"The discipline of the prison," writes Mr. Richardson, in his "Recollections of the Last HalfCentury," "was tyrannical, yet lax, capricious and undefined. The regulations were either enforced with violence and suddenness, or suffered to become a dead letter. Nobody cared much about them; and at one time or other they were broken by every prisoner within the walls. Occasionally an example was made of a more than usually refractory inmate; but the example was despised as a warning, and operated as an incentive to infraction. The law by which the prisoners were kept in some sort of moral subordination emanated from themselves, and from the necessity which is recognised in all communities of combinations of the weak to resist the oppressions of the strong, a very mild administration of justice was acknowledged and enforced. The exigencies of the system demanded dispatch and vigour. A sort of 'lynch-law' superseded the orders of the marshal. It was the duty of that functionary to reside in a house in the court-yard, within the outward boundary of the prison. It was meant by the legislature that he should be at hand to administer justice, to attend to applications for redress, to enforce obedience by his presence, prevent disturbance among the unruly host of his subjects, and to carry into effect the orders which, as a servant of the Court of King's Bench, he was bound to see respected. It is notorious that Mr. Jones, for many years the marshal of the prison, did not reside. He was only in attendance on certain days at his office, and held a sort of court of inquiry into the state of his trust, the turnkeys and the deputy-marshal acting as amici curiæ, and instructing him in his duties. He made, at stated times, inspections of the prison; and in his periodical progress was attended by his subordinates in great state. He was a fat, jolly man, rather slow in his movements, not very capable of detecting abuses by his own observation, and not much assisted in his explorations by others. It was a mere farce to see him waddle round the prison. His visits produced no beneficial effect: the place, somewhat more orderly during the time of his stay, on the moment of his departure relapsed into its normal state of irregularity and disorder. In the halcyon days of his authority there was no such institution as the Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors. The legislature from time to time cleared out the over-gorged prisons by passing Acts to discharge unfortunate insolvents, and what was called the 'Lords' Act' helped to prevent the enormous conflux of such people. But this inefficient kind of legislation was not what was wanted; it acted as a temporary alleviation of the miseries and abominations of the system, but it failed to abate the nuisance, which may be said to have flourished with renewed vigour from the prunings which removed its effects. The consequence was that the prison was crowded with persons of all classes, ranks, callings, professions and mysteries—nobles and ignobles, parsons, lawyers, farmers, tradesmen, shopmen, colonels, captains, gamblers, horsedealers, publicans, butchers, &c. The wives of many of these shared the fortunes and misfortunes of their husbands; and scores of widows and spinsters were amongst the majority who could not pass the gates. It may be calculated that the numerical strength of this strange colony amounted to an average of eight hundred or a thousand individuals."
The state of this gaol is thus described by Smollett, about the time of its establishment in the Borough Road; it was much in the same state down till late in the present century:—"The King's Bench Prison … appears like a neat little regular town, consisting of one street, surrounded by a very high wall, including an open piece of ground, which may be termed a garden, where the prisoners take the air, and amuse themselves with a variety of diversions. Except the entrance, where the turnkeys keep watch and ward, there is nothing in the place that looks like a gaol, or bears the least colour of restraint. The street is crowded with passengers; tradesmen of all kinds here exercise their different professions; hawkers of all sorts are admitted to call and vend their wares, as in any open street in London. There are butchers' stands, chandlers' shops, a surgery, a tap-house, well frequented, and a public kitchen, in which provisions are dressed for all the prisoners gratis, at the expense of the publican. Here the voice of misery never complains, and, indeed, little else is to be heard but the sound of mirth and jollity. At the further end of the street, on the right hand, is a little paved court leading to a separate building, consisting of twelve large apartments, called staterooms, well furnished, and fitted up for the reception of the better sort of Crown prisoners; and on the other side of the street, facing a separate direction of ground, called the common side, is a range of rooms occupied by prisoners of the lowest order, who share the profits of a beggingbox, and are maintained by this practice and some established funds of charity. We ought also to observe that the gaol is provided with a neat chapel, in which a clergyman, in consideration of a certain salary, performs divine service every Sunday."
John Howard, the philanthropist, found in the King's Bench Prison a subject for deserved complaint. He describes the Gatehouse at Westminster as empty, but this as full to overflowing. Indeed, it was so crowded in the summer of 1776, that a prisoner paid five shillings for a separate bed, and many who had no crown-pieces to spare for such a luxury, lay all night in the chapel. The debtors, with their families, amounted to a thousand, two-thirds of whom were lodged within the prison walls, the rest "living within the rules."
Here, at the close of the last century, the
notorious George Hanger, Lord Coleraine, was
an inmate for nearly a twelvemonth. We have
already had occasion to speak of this eccentric and
unfortunate nobleman. (fn. 2) At one time he tried to
"make both ends meet" by recruiting for the East
India Company, and at another by starting as a
coal merchant. With respect to the former occupation, he tells us that he spent £500—"costs
out of pocket," as the lawyers say—in establishing
and organising agencies for recruits in all the large
towns of England, but that an end was put to this
work by various disputes among the directors in
Leadenhall Street as to the best place for recruiting barracks. The decision, wherever it placed the
depôt, threw him out of employ, robbed him of
his £500 and six years' labour, and lost him an
income of £600 a year. The result was that he was
sent to the King's Bench, and had to start afresh
with a capital of £40 in hand! No wonder that
next year he thought of trade in earnest as much
better than such precarious work. Not long before
this, Major Hanger—as he was more frequently
called—had become one of the jovial associates
of the then Prince of Wales, who made him one of
his equerries, with a salary of £300 a year, an
appointment which, together with the employment
which he undertook of raising recruits for the East
India Company, afforded him the means of living
for a time like a gentleman. His good fortune
did not, however, last long, and the major was
soon on the high road to the King's Bench, which
he entered in June, 1798. He spent about ten
months in "those blessed regions of rural retirement," as he jokingly styles his prison, possibly
remembering the lines of Lovelace—
"Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and peaceful take
That for a hermitage;"
and he declares that he "lived there as a gentleman on three shillings a day." Released from prison, he now applied for employment on active service, but in vain; so he formed the resolution of taking to trade, and set up at one time as a coal merchant, and at another as dealer in a powder for the special purpose of setting razors. Specimens of this powder he carried about in his pocket to show to "persons of quality," whom he canvassed for their patronage! How far he flourished in the coal business we do not hear; but, as he mentions a kind friend who gave him a salary sufficient to keep the wolf from the door, in all probability he did not make one of those gigantic fortunes which the coal owners and coal merchants are in the habit of realising now-a-days at the cost of the long-suffering British householder.
John Timbs tells us, in his "Autobiography," that amongst those who were living here in lodgings, "within the rules of the King's Bench," in 1822, was the indefatigable and eccentric William Coombe, better known as "Dr. Syntax," the author of "A Tour in Search of the Picturesque." He wrote this to fit in with some drawings by Rowlandson; and the two combined, published by Ackerman, in the Strand, became one of the luckiest of literary ventures. Besides the above work, Coombe was also the author of "The Letters of a Nobleman to his Son" (generally ascribed to Lord Lyttelton), the "German Gil Blas," &c. He had travelled, when young, as a man of fortune, on the Continent, and had made "the grand tour," and had been a companion of Lawrence Sterne. In middle life, however, he ran through his fortune, and took to literature as a profession, and among other connections he had formed one with Mr. Walter, of the Times. Mr. Crabb Robinson tells us in his "Diary" that "at this time, and indeed till his death, he was an inhabitant of the King's Bench Prison," and that "when he came to Printing House Square it was only by virtue of a day-rule. I believe," adds Mr. Robinson, "that Mr. Walter offered to release him from prison by paying his debts; but this he would not permit, as he did not acknowledge the justice of the claim for which he suffered imprisonment. He preferred to live upon an allowance from Mr. Walter, and was, he said, perfectly happy." Coombe is said to have been the author of nearly seventy various publications, none, however, published with his own name. He ran through more than one fortune, and died at an advanced age.
Poor Haydon, (fn. 3) about 1828, was an inmate of this prison, where he painted a "Mock Election" that was held within its walls. The picture was purchased by George IV. for £500. Another painter of note who was consigned to the King's Bench was George Morland. In 1799 he was arrested, and being allowed to live "within the rules," instead of within the gaol itself, he took a house in the neighbourhood, in St. George's Fields, which soon became the haunt of all the profligates of the prison. "In this cavern of indolence, dissipation, and misery," writes the author of "Great Painters and their Works," "Morland reigned and revelled. But the inevitable end was approaching. He was struck with palsy; and when the Insolvent Act of 1802 brought release, it was to the poor miserable wreck—physical, intellectual, and moral—of what had once been George Morland."
In the early part of the present century, the emoluments of the "marshal" of the King's Bench amounted to about £3,590 a year; of which £872 arose from the sale of beer, and £2,823 from the "rules." About the year 1840 an Act was passed for the better regulation of this prison, by which the practice of granting "day-rules" was abolished; and the prison thenceforth, till its abolition as a debtor's prison about the year 1860, was governed according to regulations provided by one of the secretaries of state. After the abolition of imprisonment for debt, this prison remained unoccupied for a short period. It was afterwards used as a military prison, and about 1870 it passed into the hands of the Convict Department.
Near the King's Bench Prison was the manufactory and bleaching-ground of Mr. Alsager, who gave up his prosperous business in order to write the "City Articles" for the Times, in which he ultimately came to own a share.
Again making our way towards London Bridge,
we pass by "Stones' End" into Blackman Street,
a thoroughfare mentioned in "The Merry Man's
Resolution" published in the "Roxburgh Ballads:"
"Farewel to the Bankside,
Farewel to Blackman's Street,
Where with my bouncing lasses
I oftentimes did meet;
Farewel to Kent Street garrison,
Farewel to Horsly-down,
And all the smirking wenches
That dwell in Redriff town:
And come, love,
Go along with me;
For all the world I'll forsake for thee."
In a large house, on the east side of this street, resided for many years Mr. (afterwards Sir James) South, the son of a chemist and druggist. While practising medicine, South gave special attention to astronomy. Between 1821 and 1823, from the roof of his house, which was nearly opposite Lant Street, he, in conjunction with Mr. (afterwards Sir) J. F. Herschel, made some valuable observations on 380 double and triple stars, both astronomers being armed with what in that day were considered powerful telescopes of five inches aperture, constructed by Tulley. A few years later South removed to Campden Hill, Kensington, where he fitted up a telescope of larger dimensions. Of the sale of his instruments at the last-named place we have given an account in a former chapter. (fn. 4) He was one of the founders of the Royal Astronomical Society, and was knighted by William IV. in 1830. He died in 1867.
George IV., in his last hours, expressed a desire that Sir James should receive from the Civil List a pension of £300 per annum, which was con ferred by King William IV. Many years ago, when it was thought desirable by some persons to have a second national observatory, Sir James South offered to build it at his own expense, and endow it with his own magnificent instruments; but the offer was declined by the Government. A scientific account of Sir James South's astronomical observations in Blackman Street, and of their results, accompanied by an elaborate description of the five-feet and seven-feet telescopes with which they were made, will be found in the "Philosophical Transactions" for 1825.
Another distinguished native of the same part of Southwark is the gifted poetess, Eliza Cook, who was born here in December, 1818, and who from early womanhood has stirred the hearts of the middle classes of Englishmen and Englishwomen by her spirited and hearty songs as few other poets have done. Joseph Lancaster, the educationist, was born in Kent Street in 1778.
Until the formation of the Dover Road early in the present century, Kent Street, commencing eastward of St. George's Church, at the north end of Blackman Street, was part of the great way from Dover and the Continent to the metropolis. This narrow thoroughfare, originally called Kentish Street, was a wretched and profligate place. As far back as 1633 it was described as "very long and ill-built, chiefly inhabited by broom-men and mumpers," and to the last it was noted for its turners' and brush-makers' shops, and broom and heath yards; yet some of these men rose to wealth and position. John Evelyn tells us of one Burton, a broom-man, who sold kitchen-stuff in Kent Street, "whom God so blessed that he became a very rich and a very honest man, and in the end Sheriff of Surrey." During the plague in 1665, Evelyn, under date of 7th September, writes: "Came home, there perishing neere 10,000 poor creatures weekly; however, I went all along the City and suburbs from Kent Street to St. James's, a dismal passage, and dangerous to see so many coffins expos'd in the streetes, now thin of people; the shops shut up, and all in mournful silence, as not knowing whose turn might be next. I went to the Duke of Albemarle for a pest-ship, to wait on our infected men, who were not a few."
Kent Street was the route taken by Chaucer's jolly pilgrims, of whom we shall have more to say in the next chapter, when dealing with the "Tabard" Inn; by the Black Prince, when he rode a modest conqueror with the French king by his side; and by which Jack Cade's rabble rout poured into the metropolis, quite as intent, we may fairly suppose, upon plunder as upon political reform. In this street, as early as the fourteenth century, stood the Loke, an hospital for lepers, afterwards known as the Lock, a name still retained by the well-known hospital in the Harrow Road, Paddington. (fn. 5) An open stream, or rather ditch, dividing the parishes of St. George and St. Mary, Newington, was also called the Lock; but whether it derived its name from the hospital, or the hospital from the stream, is uncertain. It rose in Newington (the open ground on its banks being called Lock's Fields, a name which it still retains), was crossed from early times by a bridge at the end of Kent Street, and flowed through Bermondsey into the river.
Kent Street has borne its evil reputation to the present day; and it is immortalised in Charles Dickens's "Uncommercial Traveller" as "the worst kept part of London—in a police sense, of course—excepting the Haymarket." Smollett says, "It would be for the honour of the kingdom to improve the avenue to London by way of Kent Street, which is a most disgraceful entrance to such an opulent city. A foreigner, in passing this beggarly and ruinous suburb, conceives such an idea of misery and meanness, as all the wealth and magnificence of London and Westminster are afterwards unable to destroy. A friend of mine who brought a Parisian from Dover in his own post-chaise, contrived to enter Southwark when it was dark, that his friend might not perceive the nakedness of this quarter." Since the formation of the Dover Road, Kent Street has been no longer the great highway to Kent, a fearful necessity to timid travellers; but it still retains much of its old character, as the chosen resort of broom and brush makers. Towards the close of the last century this street, although the only thoroughfare from the City to the Old Kent Road, presented a scene of squalor and destitution unequalled even in St. Giles's. Gipsies, thieves, and such-like characters, were to be met with in almost every house; and men, women, children, asses, pigs, and dogs were often found living together in the same room. Filled with a noble desire to do something to instruct and improve the condition of the rising generation in this crowded neighbourhood, Thomas Cranfield, a hard-working tailor, then residing in Hoxton, and formerly a corporal at the siege of Gibraltar in 1782, resolved, if possible, to establish a Sunday-school in Kent Street. For this purpose, in 1798, he hired a room, and at once undertook, with no other help than that given by his wife, the education of the "wild Arabs" who came to receive instruction in this novel manner. The reputation borne by the neighbourhood for vice and profligacy was in itself quite sufficient to deter many persons with any benevolent intentions from venturing into the street. Undaunted by the magnitude of the undertaking, for some months this philanthropic individual and his wife, travelling every Sunday all the way from Hoxton with three of their children, occupied themselves with the task they had set themselves, and with so much success, that in a short time the fruits of their selfdenying exertions became conspicuously apparent to others, and at last other voluntary teachers summoned up courage to undertake the same work. Finding his labours in Kent Street rewarded with success, and being now reinforced by additional volunteers, Cranfield determined to open a similar school in the Mint, close by, a locality even worse than Kent Street. This school also succeeded, and soon after their establishment these schools were incorporated with the Sunday-school carried on in Surrey Chapel, under the title of the "Southwark Sunday-school Society," the Rev. Rowland Hill becoming the first president. Nine of these schools still exist, and many of the children born in Southwark within the last seventy years owed their education and their position in after life to the voluntary instruction given in these Sunday-schools. A nobleman on one occasion being present at one of these Sunday-school anniversaries at Surrey Chapel, and being struck not only with the cleanly appearance of the children, but with the respectability of the teachers, asked Rowland Hill what salary the latter received for their arduous duties. Mr. Hill gave the following reply: "It is very little of this world's goods that they get, unless it is now and then a flea, or another insect not quite so nimble in its movements."
St. George's Church, at the corner of the High Street, Borough, and of Blackman Street, is dedicated to St. George the Martyr, the patron saint of England. The original church, which stood here, belonged to the Priory of Bermondsey; it was a very ancient edifice, and was dedicated to St. George of Cappadocia. It is described in the "New View of London," published in 1708, as "a handsome building, the pillars, arches, and windows being of Gothic design, and having a handsome window about the middle of the north side of the church, whereon were painted the arms of the twenty-one companies of London who contributed to the repair of this church in 1629, with the names of the donors; the sums respectively given by them amounting in all to £156 16s. 8d. This edifice was sixty-nine feet long to the altar-rails, sixty feet wide, and thirty-five feet high. The tower, in which were eight bells, was ninety-eight feet high."
We hear of the old church as having been given
in 1122, by Thomas Arderne, on whose ancestor
the parish had been bestowed by the Conqueror, to
the abbot and monks of Bermondsey. It is stated
in the work above mentioned that among the distinguished persons who lie buried in St. George's
Church, are Bishop Bonner, (fn. 6) who is said to have
died in 1557, in the Marshalsea Prison (a place,
as Dr. Fuller observes, the safest to secure him
from the people's fury); and the famous Mr.
Edward Cocker, a person so well skilled in all
parts of arithmetic as to have given rise to the
classic phrase, "according to Cocker." The tradition in Queen Anne's time was that Bonner's
grave was under the east window of the church,
and that Cocker, "the most eminent composer and
engraver of letters, knots, and flourishes of his
time," lay "in the passage at the west end, within
the church, near the school." Such, at all events,
was the statement of the then sexton; and, as
he died about the year 1677, in all probability the
tradition may be accepted. Cocker's fame was
chiefly made by his "Vulgar Arithmetic," published
after his death by his friend, John Hawkins, who
possibly wrote the following epigram upon him:—
"Ingenious Cocker! now to rest thou'st gone,
No art can show thee fully but thine own.
Thy vast arithmetic alone can show
The sums of thanks we for thy labours owe."
Here also was interred John Rushworth, the author of "Historical Collections" relating to proceedings in Parliament from 1618 to 1640. Rushworth died in the King's Bench. In the graveyard of this church it was the custom to bury prisoners who died in the King's Bench and the Marshalsea.
In this church General George Monk, afterwards Duke of Albemarle, was married in 1652, to Nan Clarges, (fn. 7) the daughter of a farrier in the Strand, and widow of another farrier named Radford or Ratford, who had been his sempstress, and "used to carry him linen."Mr. Henry Jessey, who subsequently became an Anti-Paedobaptist, and was immersed by Hanserd Knollys, was, during the Commonwealth, the minister of this church.
The old church having undergone many repairs, and being ruinous, the parishioners applied to Parliament, and obtained an Act to have another church erected in its place; in consequence of which the present edifice was begun in 1734, and finished in about two years. The architect was a Mr. John Price, and the expense of the building was defrayed by a grant of £6,000 out of the funds appropriated for building fifty new churches in the metropolis and its vicinity. It was repaired in 1808, at a cost of £9,000. The plan of the building is a parallelogram, with a square tower at the west end, surmounted by a second storey of an octagon form, and crowned by an octangular spire, finished with a ball and vane. The church throughout is very plain. It is built of dark red brick, with stone dressings, in a heavy Dutch style, and has altogether a tasteless aspect. In looking at such a building as this, well may we exclaim in the words of a divine of the nineteenth century, "Ichabod! the glory of the Church has departed. I never observe the new churches on the Surrey side of the river without imagining that their long bodies and short steeples look, from a distance, like the rudders of so many sailing-barges. Where is the grand oriel? where is the old square tower? What have we in their stead? A common granary casement and a shapeless spire." Pennant describes the steeple of St. George's Church as "most awkwardly standing upon stilts." It may be added that the large bell of this church is tolled nightly, and is probably a relic of the curfew custom.
About midway between St. George's Church and London Bridge, stood in very remote times the Marshalsea, or prison of the Court of the Knight Marshal, in which all disputes arising between servants of the royal household, and offences committed within the King's Court, were adjudicated upon. Its jurisdiction extended for twelve miles round Whitehall, the City of London excepted. It was once of high dignity, and coeval with the Courts of Common Law. This Marshal's, or Palace Court, as it was afterwards called, was removed from Southwark to Scotland Yard in 1801; it was abolished by Act of Parliament in 1849, and ceased to exist from the end of that year. For very many years no legal business was transacted in the Marshalsea Court, though it continued to be opened and closed with the same legal formalities as the Palace Court, the judges and other officers being the same in both.
In the "New View of London" we read: "The Marshal's Court, situate or kept in the Marshalsea Prison on the eastern side of the Burrough (sic) of Southwark, was first intended for determining causes or differences among the king's menial servants, held under the Knight Marshal, whose steward is judge of this court, and whereunto also belong four council (sic) and six attorneys." Here follow the names of these ten privileged gentlemen, with a note to the effect that "none except members of Clifford's Inn may practise in this court." In 1774 we find the Marshalsea described as "the county gaol for felons and the Admiralty gaol for pirates."
We have no exact record of the first establishment of the Marshalsea prison, but we find it casually mentioned in an account of a mob riot in 1377. A sailor belonging to the fleet commanded by the Duke of Lancaster, Lord High Admiral, was killed by a man of gentle blood, who was imprisoned in the Marshalsea; but it being supposed by the sailors that powerful friends were at work to obtain his pardon, a number of sailors broke into the prison, murdered the offender, and then hanged his body on the gallows, returning afterwards to their ships with trumpets sounding. Four years afterwards, Wat Tyler's followers seized and murdered the marshal of the prison. Bishop Bonner, the last Roman Catholic Bishop of London, having been deposed by Queen Elizabeth, died (as stated above) a prisoner in the Marshalsea, where he had been ordered to be confined. He had been previously imprisoned there during the reign of Edward VI. He was buried, as we have already seen, in St. George's Church, hard by.
"Another anecdote is told of Bishop Bonner," says Charles Knight, in his "London," "at the period of his committal to the Marshalsea, which is worth repeating here, as it shows his temper in a more favourable light than that which the voice of the public ascribes to him. On his way to the prison, one called out, 'The Lord confound or else turn thy heart!' Bonner coolly replied, 'The Lord send thee to keep thy breath to cool thy porridge.' To another, who insulted him on his deprivation from the episcopal rank, he could even be witty. 'Good morrow, Bishop quondam,' was the remark. 'Farewell, knave semper,' was the reply." Bonner died on the 5th of September, 1569, having been a prisoner here for about ten years. In Queen Elizabeth's time, the Marshalsea was the second in importance among the prisons in London. Political satirists, George Wither among them, were confined there; and, in conjunction with the other Southwark prisons, it was the place of durance of Udal and other Puritan martyrs. Among other notorious inmates was George Barnwell, who killed his uncle at Camberwell, if we may believe the mock heroic lines on that hero of the shop and counter in the "Rejected Addresses."
In 1685 Colonel Culpeper was consigned to the Marshalsea as a prisoner. John Evelyn tells the story of his seizure, in his "Diary," under date July 9th of the above year:—"Just as I was coming into the lodgings at Whitehall, a little before dinner, my Lord of Devonshire standing very neere his Majesty's bed-chamber doore in the lobby, came Colonel Culpeper, and in a rude manner looking my lord in the face, asked whether this was a time and place for excluders to appeare. My lord at first tooke little notice of what he said, knowing him to be a hot-headed fellow, but he reiterated it, my lord asked Culpeper whether he meant him; he said, yes, he meant his lordship. My lord told him he was no excluder; the other affirming it againe, my lord told him he lied, on which Culpeper struck him a box on the eare, which my lord return'd, and fell'd him. They were soone parted; Culpeper was seiz'd, and his majesty order'd him to be carried to the Greene Cloth officer, who sent him to the Marshalsea as he deserved."
The Marshalsea escaped Lord George Gordon's rioters, in June, 1780, when the King's Bench, the Borough, and Clink prisons were demolished; but shortly afterwards it was removed nearer to St. George's Church, where it remained until its abolition in 1849. At that time it contained sixty rooms and a chapel.
For a description of this prison as it was half a century ago, the reader may as well be referred to the "Little Dorritt" of Charles Dickens, who lays within its precincts most of the scenes of the first part, and several in the latter part of the second. These scenes were drawn from life, as the elder Dickens passed here a considerable part of his days while his son was a lad; and here the future "Boz," coming to visit his selfish and indolent father, picked up much of his practical acquaintance with the lower grades of society and London life, which he afterwards turned to account. "The family," he writes, "lived more comfortably in prison than they had done for a long time out of it. They were waited on still by the maid-of-all-work from Bayham Street, the orphan girl from Chatham workhouse, from whose sharp little worldly, yet also kindly, ways I took my first impressions of the Marchioness in 'The Old Curiosity Shop.'"
In 1856, whilst engaged in the purchase of Gad's Hill, Charles Dickens paid a visit to the Marshalsea, then in the course of demolition, to see what traces were left of the prison, of which he had received such early and vivid impressions as a boy, and which he had been able to rebuild almost brick by brick in "Little Dorritt," by the aid of his wonderfully retentive memory. He writes to his friend, John Forster, "Went to the Borough yesterday morning before going to Gad's Hill, to see if I could find any ruins of the Marshalsea. Found a great part of the original building, now 'Marshalsea Place.' I found the rooms that had been in my mind's eye in the story. … There is a room there, still standing, that I think of taking. It is the room through which the ever-memorable signers of Captain Porter's petition filed off in my boyhood. The spikes are gone, and the wall is lowered; and any body can go out now who likes to go, and is not bed-ridden."
In 1663 was published a book entitled "The Ancient Legal Course and Fundamental Constitution of the Palace-Court or Marshalsea; with the Charges of all Proceedings there, and its present Establishment explained, whereby it will appear of what great authority this Court hath been in all Times." This is a very scarce little volume, known to few, and unmentioned by the bibliographers. At the time of publication the Court, whose authority was held by Fleta to be next to the High Court of Parliament, was kept every Friday in the Court House on St. Margaret's Hill, and might be held in any other fit place within twelve miles of Whitehall.
In the neighbourhood of the Marshalsea prison there was formerly an inn with a sign-board called the "Hand." If we may trust a statement in Tom Brown's "Amusements for the Meridian of London," this board, whether it represented the hand of a man or of a woman, was always regarded as an evil sign.
Southwark, it is almost needless to remark, embraces an important manufacturing and commercial district. Along the water-side, from Bermondsey to Lambeth, there is a long succession of wharves and warehouses, which all seem to ply a busy trade. A considerable hat manufacture is carried on in and around St. Saviour's parish. Bermondsey abounds with tanners and curriers. Southwark is also the chief place of business for persons connected with the hop trade; and within its limits are probably the largest vinegar-works, and certainly one of the largest breweries in the world. Apparently, some of the tradesmen of "the Borough" were persons of substance in the Middle Ages. At all events, a writer in Notes and Queries, on the authority of Mr. W. D. Cooper, says "that a certain Harry Baily, or Bailly, a 'hostelry keeper' of Southwark, represented that borough in Parliament in the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II." Mr. Timbs confirms his identity by an extract which he quotes from the Subsidy Roll of 4 Richard II., A.D. 1380, in which Henry Bayliff, "Ostyler," and Christian, his wife, are assessed at two shillings. He adds, "We cannot read Chaucer's description of the Host without acknowledging the likelihood of his being a popular man among his fellow-townsmen, and one likely to be selected for his fitness to represent them in Parliament." As we have shown in a previous chapter, too, coming down to more recent times, the elder Mr. Thrale, the founder of Barclay and Perkins's brewery, was for some time a representative of Southwark in the House of Commons, as also was Mr. Apsley Pellatt, of the Falcon Glass Works.
The tradesmen of Southwark—even if some of them have attained to opulence—are, however, we fear, like those of most other places; and there are, or have been, "black sheep" among them, for in the "History of Quack Doctors" we read that in the reign of Edward VI. one Grig, a poulterer in Surrey, was set in the pillory at Croydon, and again in the Borough, for "cheating people out of their money, by pretending to cure them by charms, or by only looking at the patient."
The principles of free trade would seem to have been almost unknown in the reign of Edward I., if, as stated by Maitland in his "History of London," it was ordained that "no person should go out of the City into Southwark to buy cattle," and the bakers of Southwark in like manner were forbidden to trade in the City.
The Surrey side of the Thames being so low and flat, and void of all that can act as a relief to its monotony, was almost on that very account predisposed to be made into a pleasure resort. Added to this, its rents were low, on account of the tolls upon the bridges, and hence a sufficient number of acres to constitute a public garden were easily obtainable, even by somewhat impecunious speculators, and the very great success of Vauxhall Gardens had somehow or other familiarised the public mind with the idea that it was the "right thing" to go across the water for pleasure, leaving the cares of home for the north side of the river.
The sanitary arrangements of Southwark certainly were not good in the early part of the reign of George III. Pigs and sheep were killed for the London markets in many parts of the Borough. "The kennels of Southwark," writes Dr. Johnson, during his Scottish tour, with reference to this circumstance, "run blood two days in every week."
We can form a tolerably accurate notion of the extent and appearance of Southwark at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Southward of St. George's Church and the Mint spread St. George's Fields, reaching nearly to the archiepiscopal palace at Lambeth, and the village of Newington. The Kent Road was a lane between hedgerows; and there were bishops' palaces and parks, mansions, theatres, and pleasure-gardens near the green banks of the river. There were forts for the defence of the borough at the end of Blackman Street, near the Lock Hospital, and in St. George's Fields, where afterwards stood the "Dog and Duck," at the eastern end of the present Bethlehem Hospital. The old High Street of Southwark had gabled houses and large quadrangular inns, dating from the early Norman times; and between them and the Abbey of Bermondsey were open spaces and streams flowing gently towards the river. Pasture-lands, farms, and water-mills were farther east towards Redriff (now Rotherhithe), and Horselydown was indeed a grazing place for horses. Now all that is changed; but it is pleasant to think of the old days, even amid the constant bustle and crowding at the entrance of the busiest of London railway stations.
The journal of a London alderman, at the close of the last century, under date of Sunday, 25th June, 1797, thus describes the Southwark of his day:—"I dined in the Boro' with my friend Parkinson en famille, and in the evening walked thro' some gardens near the Kentish Road, at the expense of one halfpenny each. We went and saw a variety of people who had heads on their shoulders, and eyes and legs and arms like ourselves, but in every other respect as different from the race of mortals we meet at the West-end of the town as a native of Bengal from a Laplander. This observation may be applied with great truth in a general way to the whole of the Borough and all that therein is. Their meat is not so good, their fish is not so good, their persons are not so cleanly, their dress is not equal to what we meet in the City or in Westminster; indeed, upon the whole, they are one hundred years behindhand in civilisation."