The Centre of Roman London—St. Benet Fink—The Monks of St. Anthony—The Merchant Taylors—Stow, Antiquary and Tailor—A Magnificent Roll—The Good Deeds of the Merchant Taylors—The Old and the Modern Merchant Taylors' Hall—" Concordia parvæ res
crescunt"—Henry VII. enrolled as a Member of the Taylors' Company—A Cavalcade of Archers—The Hall of Commerce in Threadneedle
Street—A Painful Reminiscence—The Baltic Coffee-house—St. Anthony's School—The North and South American Coffee-house—The South
Sea House—History of the South Sea Bubble—Bubble Companies of the Period—Singular Infatuation of the Public—Bursting of the
Bubble—Parliamentary Inquiry into the Company's Affairs—Punishment of the Chief Delinquents—Restoration of Public Credit—The
Poets during the Excitement—Charles Lamb's Reverie.
In Threadneedle Street we stand in the centre of
Roman London. In 1805 a tesselated pavement,
now in the British Museum, was found at Lothbury.
The Exchange stands, as we have already mentioned, on a mine of Roman remains. In 1840–41
tesselated pavements were found, about twelve or
fourteen feet deep, beneath the old French Protestant Church, with coins of Agrippa, Claudius,
Domitian, Marcus Aurelius, and the Constantines,
together with fragments of frescoes, and much charcoal and charred barley. These pavements are
also preserved in the British Museum. In 1854,
in excavating the site of the church of St. Benet
Fink, there was found a large deposit of Roman
débris, consisting of Roman tiles, glass, and fragments of black, pale, and red Samian pottery.
The church of St. Benet Fink, of which a representation is given at page 468, was so called from
one Robert Finck, or Finch, who built a previous
church on the same site (destroyed by the Fire of
1666). It was completed by Sir Christopher Wren,
in 1673, at the expense of £4,130, but was taken
down in 1844. The tower was square, surmounted
by a cupola of four sides, with a small turret on the
top. There was a large recessed doorway on the
north side, of very good design.
The arrangement of the body of the church was
very peculiar, we may say unique; and although
far from beautiful, afforded a striking instance of
Wren's wonderful skill. The plan of the church
was a decagon, within which six composite columns
in the centre supported six semi-circular vaults.
Wren's power of arranging a plan to suit the site
was shown in numerous buildings, but in none
more forcibly than in this small church.
"St. Benedict's," says Maitland, "is vulgarly
Bennet Fink. Though this church is at present a
donative, it was anciently a rectory, in the gift of
the noble family of Nevil, who probably conferred
the name upon the neighbouring hospital of St.
Newcourt, who lived near St. Benet Fink, says
the monks of the Order of St. Anthony hard by
were so importunate in their requests for alms that
they would threaten those who refused them with
"St. Anthony's fire;" and that timid people were
in the habit of presenting them with fat pigs, in
order to retain their good-will. Their pigs thus
became numerous, and, as they were allowed to
roam about for food, led to the proverb, "He will
follow you like a St. Anthony's pig." Stow accounts
for the number of these pigs in another way, by
saying that when pigs were seized in the markets
by the City officers, as ill-fed or unwholesome, the
monks took possession of them, and tying a bell
about their neck, allowed them to stroll about on
the dunghills, until they became fit for food, when
they were claimed for the convent.
The Merchant Taylors, whose hall is very appropriately situated in Threadneedle Street, had their
first licence as "Linen Armourers" granted by
Edward I. Their first master, Henry de Ryall, was
called their "pilgrim," as one that travelled for the
whole company, and their wardens "purveyors of
dress." Their first charter is dated I Edward III.
Richard II. confirmed his grandfather's grants.
From Henry IV. they obtained a confirmatory
charter by the name of the "Master and Wardens
of the Fraternity of St. John the Baptist of
London." Henry VI. gave them the right of
search and correction of abuses. The society
was incorporated in the reign of Edward IV.,
who gave them arms; and Henry VII., being a
member of the Company, for their greater honour
transformed them from Tailors and Linen Armourers to Merchant Taylors, giving them their
present acting charter, which afterwards received
the confirmation and inspeximus of five sovereigns—Henry VIII., Edward VI., Philip and Mary,
Elizabeth, and James I.
There is no doubt (says Herbert) that Merchant
Taylors were originally bonâ fide cutters-out and
makers-up of clothes, or dealers in and importers
of cloth, having tenter-grounds in Moorfields.
The ancient London tailors made both men's and
women's apparel, also soldiers' quilted surcoats, the
padded lining of armour, and probably the trappings
of war-horses. In the 27th year of Edward III.
the Taylors contributed £20 towards the French
wars, and in 1377 they sent six members to
the Common Council, a number equalling (says
Herbert) the largest guilds, and they were reckoned
the seventh company in precedence. In 1483 we
find the Merchant Taylors and Skinners disputing
for precedence. The Lord Mayor decided they
should take precedence alternately; and, further,
most wisely and worshipfully decreed that each
Company should dine in the other's hall twice a
year, on the vigil of Corpus Christi and the feast of
St. John Baptist—a laudable custom, which soon
restored concord. In 1571 there is a precept from
the Mayor ordering that ten men of this Company
and ten men of the Vintners' should ward each of
the City gates every tenth day. In 1579 the Company was required to provide and train 200 men
for arms. In 1586 the master and wardens are
threatened by the Mayor for not making the provision of gunpowder required of all the London
companies. In 1588 the Company had to furnish
thirty-five armed men, as its quota for the Queen's
service against the dreaded Spanish Armada.
In 1592 an interesting entry records Stow (a
tailor and member of the Company) presenting
his famous "Annals" to the house, and receiving
in consequence an annuity of £4 per annum,
eventually raised to £10. The Company afterwards restored John Stow's monument in the
Church of St. Andrew Undershaft. Speed, also a
tailor and member of the Company, on the same
principle, seems to have presented the society with
valuable maps, for which, in 1600, curtains were
provided. In 1594 the Company subscribed £50
towards a pest-house, the plague then raging in the
City, and the same year contributed £296 10s.
towards six ships and a pinnace fitted out for her
In 1603 the Company contributed £234 towards
the £2,500 required from the London companies
to welcome James I. and his Danish queen to
England. Six triumphal arches were erected
between Fenchurch Street and Temple Bar, that
in Fleet Street being ninety feet high and fifty
broad. Decker and Ben Jonson furnished the
speeches and songs for this pageant. June 7,
1607, was one of the grandest days the Company
has ever known; for James I. and his son, Prince
Henry, dined with the Merchant Taylors. It had
been at first proposed to train some boys of Merchant Taylors' School to welcome the king, but Ben
Jonson was finally invited to write an entertainment. The king and prince dined separately. The
master presented the king with a purse of £100.
"Richard Langley shewed him a role, wherein was
registered the names of seaven kinges, one queene,
seventeene princes and dukes, two dutchesses, one
archbishoppe, one and thirtie earles, five countesses,
one viscount, fourteene byshoppes, sixtie and sixe
barons, two ladies, seaven abbots, seaven priors,
and one sub-prior, omitting a great number of
knights, esquires, &c., who had been free of that
companie." The prince was then made a freeman, and put on the garland. There were twelve
lutes (six in one window and six in another).
"In the ayr betweene them" (or swung up
above their heads) "was a gallant shippe triumphant, wherein was three menne like saylers, being
eminent for voyce and skill, who in their severall
songes were assisted and seconded by the cunning
lutanists. There was also in the hall the musique
of the cittie, and in the upper chamber the children
of His Majestie's Chappell sang grace at the King's
table; and also whilst the King sate at dinner
John Bull, Doctor of Musique, one of the organists
of His Majestie's Chapell Royall, being in a
cittizen's cap and gowne, cappe and hood (i.e.,
as a liveryman), played most excellent melodie
uppon a small payre of organes, placed there for
that purpose onely."
The king seems at this time to have scarcely
recovered the alarm of the Gunpowder Plot; for
the entries in the Company's books show that
there was great searching of rooms and inspection
of walls, "to prevent villanie and danger to His
Majestie." The cost of this feast was more than
£1,000. The king's chamber was made by
cutting a hole in the wall of the hall, and building
a small room behind it.
In 1607 (James I.), before a Company's dinner,
the names of the livery were called, and notice
taken of the absent. Then prayer was said, every
one kneeling, after which the names of benefactors
and their "charitable and godly devices" were
read, also the ordinances, and the orders for the
grammar-school in St. Laurence Pountney. Then
followed the dinner, to which were invited the
assistants and the ladies, and old masters' wives
and wardens' wives, the preacher, the schoolmaster,
the wardens' substitutes, and the humble almsmen
of the livery. Sometimes, as in 1645, the whole
livery was invited.
The kindness and charity of the Company are
strongly shown in an entry of May 23, 1610, when
John Churchman, a past master, received a pension
of £20 per annum. With true consideration, they
allowed him to wear his bedesman's gown without
a badge, and did not require him to appear in the
hall with the other pensioners. All that was required was that he should attend Divine service
and pray for the prosperity of the Company, and
share his house with Roger Silverwood, clerk of
the Bachellors' Company. Gifts to the Company
seem to have been numerous. Thus we have
(1604) Richard Dove's gift of twenty gilt spoons,
marked with a dove; (1605) a basin and ewer,
value £59 12s., gift of Thomas Medlicott; (1614)
a standing cup, value 100 marks, from Murphy
Corbett; same year, seven pictures for the parlour,
from Mr. John Vernon.
In 1640 the Civil War was brewing, and the
Mayor ordered the Company to provide (in their
garden) forty barrels of powder and 300 hundredweight of metal and bullets. They had at this
time in their armoury forty muskets and rests, forty
muskets and headpieces, twelve round muskets,
forty corselets with headpieces, seventy pikes, 123
swords, and twenty-three halberts. The same year
they lent £5,000 towards the maintenance of the
king's northern army. In the procession on the
return of Charles I. from Scotland, the Merchant
Taylors seem to have taken a very conspicuous
part. Thirty-four of the gravest, tallest, and most
comely of the Company, apparelled in velvet plush
or satin, with chains of gold, each with a footman
with two staff-torches, met the Lord Mayor and
aldermen outside the City wall, near Moorfields,
and accompanied them to Guildhall, and afterwards
escorted the king from Guildhall to his palace.
The footmen wore ribands of the colour of the
Company, and pendants with the Company's coatof-arms. The Company's standing extended 252
feet. There stood the livery in their best gowns
and hoods, with their banners and streamers.
"Eight handsome, tall, and able men" attended
the king at dinner. This was the last honour
shown the faithless king by the citizens of
The next entries are about arms, powder, and
fire-engines, the defacing superstitious pictures, and
the setting up the arms of the Commonwealth.
In 1654 the Company was so impoverished by the
frequent forced loans, that they had been obliged
to sell part of their rental (£180 per annum); yet
at the same date the generous Company seem to
have given the poet Ogilvy £13 6s. 8d., he having
presented them with bound copies of his translations of Virgil and Æsop into English metre. In
1664 the boys of Merchant Taylors' School acted
in the Company's hall Beaumont and Fletcher's
comedy of Love's Pilgrimage.
In 1679 the Duke of York, as Captain-general
of the Artillery, was entertained by the artillerymen
at Merchant Taylors' Hall. It was supposed that
the banquet was given to test the duke's popularity
and to discomfit the Protestants and exclusionists.
After a sermon at Bow Church, the artillerymen
(128) mustered at dinner. Many zealous Protestants, rather than dine with a Popish duke, tore
up their tickets or gave them to porters and
mechanics; and as the duke returned along Cheapside, the people shouted, "No Pope, no Pope!
No Papist, no Papist!"
In 1696 the Company ordered a portrait of Mr.
Vernon, one of their benefactors, to be hung up
in St. Michael's Church, Cornhill. In 1702 they
let their hall and rooms to the East India Company for a meeting; and in 1721 they let a room
to the South Sea Company for the same purpose.
In 1768, when the Lord Mayor visited the King
of Denmark, the Company's committee decided,
"there should be no breakfast at the hall, nor pipes
nor tobacco in the barge. as usual, on Lord Mayor's
Day." Mr. Herbert thinks that this is the last
instance of a Lord Mayor sending a precept to a
City company, though this is by no means certain.
In 1778, Mr. Clarkson, an assistant, for having
given the Company the picture, still extant, of
Henry VII. delivering his charter to the Merchant
Taylors, was presented with a silver waiter, value
For the searching and measuring cloth, the
Company kept a "silver yard," that weighed thirtysix ounces, and was graven with the Company's
arms. With this measure they attended Bartholomew Fair yearly, and an annual dinner took place
on the occasion. The livery hoods seem finally, in
1568, to have settled down to scarlet and puce, the
gowns to blue. The Merchant Taylors' Company,
though not the first in City precedence, ranks more
royal and noble personages amongst its members
than any other company. At King James's visit,
before mentioned, no fewer than twenty-two earls
and lords, besides knights, esquires, and foreign ambassadors, were enrolled. Before 1708, the Company had granted the freedom to ten kings, three
princes, twenty-seven bishops, twenty-six dukes,
forty-seven earls, and sixteen lord mayors. The
Company is specially proud of three illustrious
members—Sir John Hawkwood, a great leader of
Italian Condottieri, who fought for the Dukes of
Milan, and was buried with honour in the Duomo
at Florence; Sir Ralph Blackwell, the supposed
founder of Blackwell Hall, and one of Hawkwood's companions at arms; and Sir William Fitzwilliam, Lord High Admiral to Henry VIII., and
Earl of Southampton. He left to the Merchant
Taylors his best standing cup, "in friendly remembrance of him for ever." They also boast of
Sir William Craven, ancestor of the Earls of
Craven, who came up to London a poor Yorkshire lad, and was bound apprentice to a draper.
His eldest son fought for Gustavus Adolphus, and
is supposed to have secretly married the unfortunate Queen of Bohemia, whom he had so faithfully
The hall in Threadneedle Street originally belonged to a worshipful gentleman named Edmund
Crepin. The Company moved there in 1331
(Edward III.) from the old hall, which was behind
the "Red Lion," in Basing Lane, Cheapside, an
executor of the Outwich family leaving them the
advowson of St. Martin Outwich, and seventeen
shops. The Company built seven almshouses near
the hall in the reign of Henry IV. The original
mansion of Crepin probably at this time gave way
to a new hall, and to which now, for the first time,
were attached the almshouses mentioned. Both
these piles of building are shown in the ancient
plan of St. Martin Outwich, preserved in the
church vestry, and which was taken by William
Goodman in 1599. The hall, as there drawn, is
a high building, consisting of a ground floor and
three upper storeys. It has a central pointedarched gate of entrance, and is lighted in front
by nine large windows, exclusive of three smaller
attic windows, and at the east end by seven. The
roof is lofty and pointed, and is surmounted by a
louvre or lantern, with a vane. The almshouses
form a small range of cottage-like buildings, and are
situate between the hall and a second large building,
which adjoins the church, and bears some resemblance to an additional hall or chapel. It appears
to rise alternately from one to two storeys high.
GROUND PLAN OF THE MODERN CHURCH OF ST. MARTIN OUTWICH.
(From a measured Drawing by Mr. W.G. Smith, 1873.)
A. Monument: Edward Edwards, 1810.
B.Ancient Canopied Monument: "Pemberton," no date.
C. Monument: Cruickshank, 1826.
D. Monument: Simpson, 1849; Ellis, 1838.
E. Monument: Ellis, 1855.
F. Monument: Simpson, 1837.
G. Monument: Rose, 1821.
H. Monument: Atkinson, 1847; Ellis, 1838.
J. Monument: Richard Stapler.
K. Monument: Teesdale, 1804.
L, L. Stairs to Gallery above.
M. Very Ancient Effigy of Founder, St. Martin de Oteswich.
N. Reading Desk.
In 1620 the hall was wainscoted instead of
whitewashed; and in 1646 it was paved with red
tile, rushes or earthen floors having "been found
inconvenient, and oftentimes noisome." At the
Great Fire the Company's plate was melted into
a lump of two hundred pounds' weight.
In the reign of Edward VI., when there was an
inquiry into property devoted to superstitious uses,
the Company had been maintaining twenty-three
MARCH OF THE ARCHERS (see page 536).
The modern Merchant Taylors' Hall (says Herbert) is a spacious but irregular edifice of brick.
The front exhibits an arched portal, consisting of
anarched pediment, supported on columns of the
Composite order, with an ornamental niche above;
in the pediment are the Company's arms. The hall
itself is a spacious and handsome apartment, having
at the lower end a stately screen of the Corinthian
order, and in the upper part a very large mahogany
table thirty feet long. The sides of the hall have
numerous emblazoned shields of masters' arms, and
behind the master's seat are inscribed in golden
letters the names of the different sovereigns, dukes,
earls, lords spiritual and temporal, &c., who have
been free of this community. In the drawing-room
are full-length portraits of King William and Queen
Mary, and other sovereigns; and in the court and
other rooms are half-lengths of Henry VIII. and
Charles II., of tolerable execution, besides various
other portraits, amongst which are those of Sir
Thomas White, Lord Mayor in 1553, the estimable founder of St. John's College, Cambridge,
and Sir Thomas Rowe, Lord Mayor in 1568,
and Mr. Clarkson's picture of Henry VII. presenting the Company with their incorporation
charter. In this painting the king is represented
seated on his throne, and delivering the charter
to the Master, Wardens, and Court of Assistants
of the Company. His attendants are Archbishop
Warham, the Chancellor, and Fox, Bishop of Winchester, Lord Privy Seal, on his right hand; and
on his left, Robert Willoughby, Lord Broke, then
Lord Steward of the Household. In niches are
shown the statues of Edward III. and John of
Gaunt, the king's ancestors. In the foreground
the clerk of the Company is exhibiting the roll
with the names of the kings, &c., who were free of
this Company. In the background are represented
the banners of the Company and of the City of
London. The Yeomen of the Guard, at the entrance of the palace, close the view. On the staircase are likewise pictures of the following Lord
Mayors, Merchant Taylors:—Sir William Turner,
1669; Sir P. Ward, 1681; Sir William Pritchard,
1683; and Sir John Salter, 1741.
The interior of the "New Hall, or Taylors' Inne,"
was adorned with costly tapestry, or arras, representing the history of St. John the Baptist. It had
a screen, supporting a silver image of that saint in
a tabernacle, or, according to an entry of 1512,
"an ymage of St. John gilt, in a tabernacle gilt."
The hall windows were painted with armorial bearings;. the floor was regularly strewed with clean
rushes; from the ceiling hung silk flags and
streamers; and the hall itself was furnished, when
needful, with tables on tressels, covered on feast
days with splendid table linen, and glittering with
The Merchant Taylors have for their armorial
ensigns—Argent, a tent royal between two parliament robes; gules, lined ermine, on a chief
azure, a lion of England. Crest—a Holy Lamb, in
glory proper. Supporters—two camels, or. Motto—"Concordia parvæ res crescunt."
The stained glass windows of the old St. Martin
Outwich, as engraven in Wilkinson's history of that
church, contain a representation of the original
arms, granted by Clarencieux in 1480. They differ
from the present (granted in 1586), the latter having
a lion instead of the Holy Lamb (which is in the
body of the first arms), and which latter is now
One of the most splendid sights at this hall in
the earlier times would have been (says Herbert),
of course, when the Company received the high
honour of enrolling King Henry VII. amongst
their members; and subsequently to which, "he
sat openly among them in a gown of crimson
velvet on his shoulders," says Strype, "à la mode
de Londres, upon their solemn feast day, in the
hall of the said Company."
From Merchant Taylors' Hall began the famous
cavalcade of the archers, under their leader, as
Duke of Shoreditch, in 1530, consisting of 3,000
archers, sumptuously apparelled, 942 whereof wore
chains of gold about their necks. This splendid
company was guarded by whifflers and billmen, to
the number of 4,000, besides pages and footmen,
who marched through Broad Street (the residence
of the duke their captain). They continued their
march through Moorfields, by Finsbury, to Smithfield, where, after having performed their several
evolutions, they shot at the target for glory.
The Hall of Commerce, existing some years ago
in Threadneedle Street, was begun in 1830 by Mr.
Edward Moxhay, a speculative biscuit-baker, on the
site of the old French church. Mr. Moxhay had
been a shoemaker, but he suddenly started as a
rival to the celebrated Leman, in Gracechurch
Street. He was an amateur architect of talent, and
it was said at the time, probably unjustly, that the
building originated in Moxhay's vexation at the
Gresham committee rejecting his design for a new
Royal Exchange. He opened his great commercial news-room two years before the Exchange
was finished, and while merchants were fretting at
the delay, intending to make the hall a mercantile
centre, to the annihilation of Lloyd's, the Baltic,
Garraway's, the Jerusalem, and the North and South
American Coffee-houses. £70,000 were laid out.
There was a grand bas-relief on the front by Mr.
Watson, a young sculptor of promise, and there
was an inaugurating banquet. The annual subscription of £5 5s. soon dwindled to £1 10s. 6d.
There was a reading-room, and a room where
commission agents could exhibit their samples.
Wool sales were held there, and there was an
auction for railway shares. There were also rooms
for meetings of creditors and private arbitrations,
and rooms for the deposit of deeds.
A describer of Threadneedle Street in 1845
particularly mentions amongst the few beggars the
Creole flower-girls, the decayed ticket-porters, and
cripples on go-carts who haunted the neighbourhood, a poor, shrivelled old woman, who sold fruit
on a stall at a corner of one of the courts. She
was the wife of Daniel Good, the murderer.
The Baltic Coffee House, in Threadneedle Street,
used to be the rendezvous of tallow, oil, hemp,
and seed merchants; indeed, of all merchants and
brokers connected with the Russian trade. There
was a time when there was as much gambling in
tallow as in Consols, but the breaking down of
the Russian monopoly by the increased introduction of South American and Australian tallow has
done away with this. Mr. Richard Thornton and
Mr. Jeremiah Harman were the two monarchs of
the Russian trade forty years ago. The public saleroom was in the upper part of the house. The
Baltic was superintended by a committee of
That famous free school of the City, St. Anthony's, stood in Threadneedle Street, where the
French church afterwards stood, and where the
Bank of London now stands. It was originally
a Jewish synagogue, granted by Henry V. to the
brotherhood of St. Anthony of Vienna. A hospital was afterwards built there for a master, two
priests, a schoolmaster, and twelve poor men. The
Free School seems to have been built in the reign
of Henry VI., who gave five presentations to Eton
and five Oxford scholarships, at the rate of ten
francs a week each, to the institution. Henry VIII.,
that arch spoliator, annexed the school to the
collegiate church of St. George's, Windsor. The
proctors of St. Anthony's used to wander about
London collecting "the benevolence of charitable
persons towards the building."The school had
great credit in Elizabeth's reign, and was a rival of
St. Paul's. That inimitable coxcomb, Laneham,
in his description of the great visit of Queen Elizabeth to the Earl of Leicester, at Kenilworth Castle,
1575, a book which Sir Walter Scott has largely
availed himself of, says—"Yee mervail perchance,"
saith he, "to see me so bookish, Let me tel you
in few words. I went to school, forsooth, both at
Polle's and also at St. Antonie's; (was) in the fifth
forme, past Esop's Fables, readd Terence, Vos isthœc
intro auferte; and began with my Virgil, Tityre tu
patulœ. I could say my rules, could construe and
pars with the best of them," &c.
In Elizabeth's reign "the Anthony's pigs," as
the "Paul's pigeons" used to call the Threadneedle
boys, used to have an annual breaking-up day procession, with streamers, flags, and beating drums,
from Mile End to Austin Friars. The French or
Walloon church established here by Edward VI.
seems, in 1652, to have been the scene of constant
wrangling among the pastors, as to whether their
disputes about celebrating holidays should be settled
by "colloquies" of the foreign churches in London;
or the French churches of all England. At this
school were educated the great Sir Thomas More,
and that excellent Archbishop of Canterbury, the
zealous Whitgift (the friend of Beza, the Reformer),
whose only fault seems to have been his persecutions of the Genevese clergy whom Elizabeth
Next in importance to Lloyd's for the general
information afforded to the public, was certainly the
North and South American Coffee House (formerly
situated in Threadneedle Street), fronting the
thoroughfare leading to the entrance of the Royal
Exchange. This establishment was the complete
centre for American intelligence. There was in
this, as in the whole of the leading City coffeehouses, a subscription room devoted to the use of
merchants and others frequenting the house, who,
by paying an annual sum, had the right of attendance to read the general news of the day, and
make reference to the several files of papers, which
were from every quarter of the globe. It was here
also that first information could be obtained of the
arrival and departure of the fleet of steamers,
packets, and masters engaged in the commerce of
America, whether in relation to the minor ports of
Montreal and Quebec, or the larger ones of Boston,
Halifax, and New York. The room the subscribers
occupied had a separate entrance to that which
was common to the frequenters of the eating and
drinking part of the house, and was most comfortably
and neatly kept, being well, and in some degree
elegantly furnished. The heads of the chief
American and Continental firms were on the subscription list; and the representatives of Baring's,
Rothschild's, and the other large establishments
celebrated for their wealth and extensive mercantile operations, attended the rooms as regularly as
'Change, to see and hear what was going on, and
gossip over points of business.
At the north-east extremity of Threadneedle
Street is the once famous South Sea House. The
back, formerly the Excise Office, afterwards the
South Sea Company's office, thence called the Old
South Sea House, was consumed by fire in 1826. The
building in Threadneedle Street, in which the Company's affairs were formerly transacted, is a magnificent structure of brick and stone, about a quadrangle,
supported by stone pillars of the Tuscan order,
which form a fine piazza. The front looks into
Threadneedle Street, the walls being well built and
of great thickness. The several offices were admirably disposed; the great hall for sales, the
dining-room, galleries, and chambers were equally
beautiful and convenient. Under these were capacious arched vaults, to guard what was valuable
from the chances of fire.
The South Sea Company was originated by
Swift's friend, Harley, Earl of Oxford, in the year
1711. The new Tory Government was less popular
than the Whig one it had displaced, and public
credit had fallen. Harley wishing to provide for
the discharge of ten millions of the floating debt,
guaranteed six per cent, to a company who agreed
to take it on themselves. The £600,000 due for
the annual interest was raised by duties on wines,
silks, tobacco, &c.; and the monopoly of the trade
to the South Seas granted to the ambitious new
Company, which was incorporated by Act of
To the enthusiastic Company the gold of Mexico
and the silver of Peru seemed now obtainable by
the ship-load. It was reported that Spain was
willing to open four ports in Chili and Peru. The
negotiations, however, with Philip V. of Spain led
to little. The Company obtained only the privilege
of supplying the Spanish colonies with negro slaves
for thirty years, and sending an annual vessel to
trade; but even of this vessel the Spanish king
was to have one-fourth of the profits, and a tax of
five per cent. on the residue. The first vessel did
not sail till 1717, and the year after a rupture with
Spain closed the trade.
In 1717, the King alluding to his wish to reduce
the National Debt, the South Sea Company at once
petitioned Parliament (in rivalry with the Bank)
that their capital stock might be increased from ten
millions to twelve, and offered to accept five, instead
of six per cent. upon the whole amount. Their
proposals were accepted.
The success of Law's Mississippi scheme, in
1720, roused the South Sea directory to emulation.
They proposed to liquidate the public debt by
reducing the various funds into one. January 22,
1720, a committee met on the subject. The South
Sea Company offered to melt every kind of stock
into a single security. The debt amounted to
£30,981,712 at five per cent, for seven years, and
afterwards at four per cent, for which they would
pay £3,500,000. The Government approved of
the scheme, but the Bank of England opposed
it, and offered £5,000,000 for the privilege. The
South Sea shareholders were not to be outdone,
and ultimately increased their terms to £7,500,000.
In the end they remained the sole bidders;
though some idea prevailed of sharing the advantage
between the two companies, till Sir John Blunt
exclaimed, "No, sirs, we'll never divide the child!"
The preference thus given excited a positive frenzy
in town and country. On the 2nd of June their
stock rose to 890; it quickly reached 1,000, and
several of the principal managers were dubbed
baronets for their "great services." Mysterious
rumours of vast treasures to be acquired in the
South Seas got abroad, and 50 per cent. was
"The scheme," says Smollett, "was first projected
by Sir John Blount, who had been bred a scrivener,
and was possessed of all the cunning, plausibility,
and boldness requisite for such an undertaking.
He communicated his plan to Mr. Aislabie, the
Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a Secretary of
State. He answered every objection, and the
project was adopted."
Sir Robert Walpole alone opposed the bill in the
House, and with clear-sighted sense (though the
stock had risen from 130 to 300 in one day) denounced "the dangerous practice of stock-jobbing,
and the general infatuation, which must," he said,
"end in general ruin." Rumours of free trade
with Spain pushed the shares up to 400, and the
bill passed the Commons by a majority of 172
against 55. In the other House, 17 peers were
against it, and 83 for it. Then the madness fairly
began. Stars and garters mingled with squabbling
Jews, and great ladies pawned their jewels in order
to gamble in the Alley. The shares sinking a little,
they were revived by lying rumours that Gibraltar
and Port Mahon were going to be exchanged for
Peruvian sea-ports, so that the Company would be
allowed to send out whole fleets of ships.
Government, at last alarmed, began too late to
act. On July 18 the King published a proclamation denouncing eighteen petitions for letters patent
and eighty-six bubble companies, of which the following are samples:—
For sinking pits and smelting lead ore in Derbyshire.
For making glass bottles and other glass.
For a wheel for perpetual motion. Capital £1,000,000.
For improving of gardens.
For insuring and increasing children's fortunes.
For entering and loading goods at the Custom House;
and for negotiating business for merchants.
For carrying on a woollen manufacture in the North of
For importing walnut-trees from Virginia. Capital
For making Manchester stuffs of thread and cotton.
For making Joppa and Castile soap.
For improving the wrought iron and steel manufactures of
this kingdom. Capital £4,000,000.
For dealing in lace, Hollands, cambrics, lawns, &c.
For trading in and improving certain commodities of the
produce of this kingdom, &c. Capital £3,000,000.
For supplying the London markets with cattle.
For making looking-glasses, coach-glasses, &c. Capital
For taking up ballast.
For buying and fitting out ships to suppress pirates.
For the importation of timber from Wales. Capital
For the transmutation of quicksilver into a malleable, fine
One of the most famous bubbles was "Puckle's
Machine Company," for discharging round and
square cannon-balls and bullets, and making a
total revolution in the art of war. "But the
most absurd and preposterous of all," says Charles
Mackay, in his "History of the Delusion," "and
which showed more completely than any other the
utter madness of the people, was one started by
an unknown adventurer, entitled, 'A Company for
carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but
nobody to know what it is.' Were not the fact
stated by scores of credible witnesses, it would be
impossible to believe that any person could have
been duped by such a project. The man of genius
who essayed this bold and successful inroad upon
public credulity merely stated in his prospectus
that the required capital was £500,000, in 5,000
shares of £100 each, deposit £2 per share. Each
subscriber paying his deposit would be entitled to
£100 per annum per share. How this immense
profit was to be obtained he did not condescend to
inform them at the time, but promised that in a
month full particulars should be duly announced,
and a call made for the remaining £98 of the
subscription. Next morning, at nine o'clock, this
great man opened an office in Cornhill. Crowds
of people beset his door; and when he shut up at
three o'clock he found that no less than 1,000 shares
had been subscribed for, and the deposits paid.
He was thus in five hours the winner of £2,000.
He was philosopher enough to be contented with
his venture, and set off the same evening for the
Continent. He was never heard of again."
Another fraud that was very successful was that
of the "Globe Permits," as they were called. They
were nothing more than square pieces of playing
cards, on which was the impression of a seal, in
wax, 'bearing the sign of the "Globe Tavern," in
the neighbourhood of Exchange Alley, with the
inscription of "Sail-cloth Permits." The possessors
enjoyed no other advantage from them than permission to subscribe at some future time to a new
sail-cloth manufactory, projected by one who was
then known to be a man of fortune, but who was
afterwards involved in the peculation and punishment of the South Sea directors. These permits
sold for as much as sixty guineas in the Alley.
During the infatuation (says Smollett), luxury,
vice, and profligacy increased to a shocking degree;
the adventurers, intoxicated by their imaginary
wealth, pampered themselves with the rarest dainties
and the most costly wines. They purchased the
most sumptuous furniture, equipage, and apparel,
though with no taste or discernment. Their
criminal passions were indulged to a scandalous
excess, and their discourse evinced the most disgusting pride, insolence, and ostentation. They
affected to scoff at religion and morality, and even
to set Heaven at defiance.
A journalist of the time writes: "Our South
Sea equipages increase daily; the City ladies buy
South Sea jewels, hire South Sea maids, take new
country South Sea houses; the gentlemen set up
South Sea coaches, and buy South Sea estates.
They neither examine the situation, the nature or
quality of the soil, or price of the purchase, only the
annual rent and title; for the rest, they take all by
the lump, and pay forty or fifty years' purchase!"
By the end of May, the whole stock had risen
to 550. It then, in four days, made a tremendous
leap, and rose to 890. It was now thought impossible that it could rise higher, and many prudent
persons sold out to make sure of their spoil.
Many of these were noblemen about to accompany
the king to Hanover. The buyers were so few on
June 3rd, that stock fell at once, like a plummet,
from 890 to 640. The directors ordering their
agents to still buy, confidence was restored, and
the stock rose to 750. By August, the stock culminated at 1,000 per cent., or, as Dr. Mackay
observes, "the bubble was then full blown."
The reaction soon commenced. Many government annuitants complained of the directors' partiality in making out the subscription lists. It was
soon reported that Sir John Blunt, the chairman,
and several directors had sold out. The stock fell
all through August, and on September 2nd was
quoted at 700 only. Things grew alarming. The
directors, to restore confidence, summoned a meeting of the corporation at Merchant Taylors' Hall.
Cheapside was blocked by the crowd. Mr. Secretary Craggs urged the necessity of union; and Mr.
Hungerford said the Company had done more
for the nation than Crown, pulpit, and bench.
It had enriched the whole nation. The Duke
of Portland gravely expressed his wonder that any
one could be dissatisfied. But the public were not
to be gulled; that same evening the stock fell to
640, and the next day to 540. It soon got so
low as 400. The ebb tide was running fast.
"Thousands of families," wrote Mr. Broderick to
Lord Chancellor Middleton, "will be reduced to
beggary. The consternation is inexpressible, the
rage beyond description." The Bank was pressed
to circulate the South Sea bonds, but as the panic
increased they fought off. Several goldsmiths and
bankers fled. The Sword Blade Company, the
chief cashiers of the South Sea Company, stopped
payment. King George returned in haste from
Hanover, and Parliament was summoned to meet
THE OLD SOUTH SEA HOUSE (see page 538). From a Print of the period
In the first debate the enemies of the South Sea
Company were most violent. Lord Molesworth
said he should be satisfied to see the contrivers of
the scheme tied in sacks and thrown into the
Thames. Honest Shippen, whom even Walpole
could not bribe, looking fiercely in Mr. Secretary
Craggs' face, said "there were other men in high
station who were no less guilty than the directors."
Mr. Craggs, rising in wrath, declared he was ready
to give satisfaction to any one in the House, or
out of it, and this unparliamentary language he
had afterwards to explain away. Ultimately a
second committee was appointed, with power to
send for persons, papers, and records. The directors were ordered to lay before the house a full
account of all their proceedings, and were forbidden to leave the kingdom for a twelvemonth.
Mr. Walpole laid before a committee of the
whole house his scheme for the restoration of
public credit, which was, in substance, to ingraft
nine millions of South Sea stock into the Bank of
England, and the same sum into the East India
Company, upon certain conditions. The plan was
favourably received by the House. After some few
objections it was ordered that proposals should be
received from the two great corporations. They
were both unwilling to lend their aid, and the
plan met with a warm but fruitless opposition at
the general courts summoned for the purpose of
deliberating upon it. They, however, ultimately
agreed upon the terms on which they would consent
to circulate the South Sea bonds; and their report
being presented to the committee, a bill was then
brought in, under the superintendence of Mr.
Walpole, and safely carried through both Houses
LONDON STONE. (see page 544.)
In the House of Lords, Lord Stanhope said that
every farthing possessed by the criminals, whether
directors or not, ought to be confiscated, to make
good the public losses.
The wrath of the House of Commons soon fell
quick and terrible as lightning on two members of
the Ministry, Craggs, and Mr. Aislabie, Chancellor
of the Exchequer. It was ordered, on the 21st of
January, that all South Sea brokers should lay
before the House a full account of all stock bought
or sold by them to any officers of the Treasury or
Exchequer since Michaelmas, 1719. Aislabie instantly resigned his office, and absented himself
from Parliament, and five of the South Sea directors (including Mr.Gibbon, the grandfather of the
historian) were ordered into the custody of the
The next excitement was the flight of Knight,
the treasurer of the Company, with all his books
and implicating documents, and a reward of £2,000
was offered for his apprehension. The same night
the Commons ordered the doors of the House to
be locked, and the keys laid on the table.
General Ross, one of the members of the Select
Committee, then informed the House that there
had been already discovered a plot of the deepest
villany and fraud that Hell had ever contrived
to ruin a nation. Four directors, members of the
House—i.e., Sir Robert Chaplin, Sir Theodore
Janssen, Mr. Sawbridge, and Mr. F. Eyles—were
expelled the House, and taken into the custody of
the Serjeant-at-Arms. Sir John Blunt, another
director, was also taken into custody. This man,
mentioned by Pope in his "Epistle to Lord
Bathurst," had been a scrivener, famed for his
religious observances and his horror of avarice.
He was examined at the bar of the House of Lords,
but refused to criminate himself. The Duke of
Wharton, vexed at this prudent silence of the
criminal, accused Earl Stanhope of encouraging this
taciturnity of the witness. The Earl became so
excited in his return speech, that it brought on an
apoplectic fit, of which he died the next day, to
the great grief of his royal master, George I. The
Committee of Secrecy stated that in some of the
books produced before them, false and fictitious
entries had been made; in others there were
entries of money, with blanks for the names of the
stockholders. There were frequent erasures and
alterations, and in some of the books leaves had
been torn out. They also found that some books
of great importance had been destroyed altogether,
and that some had been taken away or secreted.
They discovered, moreover, that before the South
Sea Act was passed there was an entry in the
Company's books of the sum of £1,259,325 upon
account of stock stated to have been sold to the
amount of £574,500. This stock was all fictitious,
and had been disposed of with a view to promote
the passing of the bill. It was noted as sold on
various days, and at various prices, from 150 to
325 per cent.
Being surprised to see so large an amount
disposed of, at a time when the Company were
not empowered to increase their capital, the committee determined to investigate most carefully
the whole transaction. The governor, sub-governor,
and several directors were brought before them and
examined rigidly. They found that at the time
these entries were made the Company were not in
possession of such a quantity of stock, having in
their own right only a small quantity, not exceeding
£30,000 at the utmost. They further discovered
that this amount of stock was to be esteemed as
taken or holden by the Company for the benefit
of the pretended purchasers, although no mutual
agreement was made for its delivery or acceptance
at any certain time. No money was paid down,
nor any deposit or security whatever given to the
Company by the supposed purchasers; so that if
the stock had fallen, as might have been expected
had the act not passed, they would have sustained
no loss. If, on the contrary, the price of stock
advanced (as it actually did by the success of the
scheme), the difference by the advanced price was
to be made good by them. Accordingly, after the
passing of the act, the account of stock was made
up and adjusted with Mr. Knight, and the pretended purchasers were paid the difference out of
the Company's cash. This fictitious stock, which
had chiefly been at the disposal of Sir John Blunt,
Mr. Gibbon, and Mr. Knight, was distributed
among several members of the Government and
their connections, by way of bribe, to facilitate the
passing of the bill. To the Earl of Sunderland was
assigned £50,000 of this stock; to the Duchess
of Kendal, £10,000; to the Countess of Platen,
£10,000; to her two nieces, £10,000; to Mr.
Secretary Craggs, £30,000; to Mr. Charles Stanhope (one of the Secretaries of the Treasury),
£10,000; to the Sword Blade Company, £50,000.
It also appeared that Mr. Stanhope had received
the enormous sum of £250,000, as the difference
in the price of some stock, through the hands of
Turner, Caswall, and Co., but that his name had
been partly erased from their books, and altered to
The punishment fell heavy on the chief offenders,
who, after all, had only shared in the general lust
for gold. Mr. Charles Stanhope, a great gainer,
managed to escape by the influence of the Chesterfield family, and the mob threatened vengeance.
Aislabie, who had made some £800,000, was expelled the House, sent to the Tower, and compelled
to devote his estate to the relief of the sufferers.
Sir George Caswall was expelled the House, and
ordered to refund £250,000. The day he went to
the Tower, the mob lit bonfires and danced round
them for joy. When by a general whip of the Whigs
the Earl of Sunderland was acquitted, the mob
grew menacing again. That same day the elder
Craggs died of apoplexy. The report was that he
had poisoned himself, but excitement and the death
of a son, one of the secretaries of the Treasury, were
the real causes. His enormous fortune of a million
and a half was scattered among the sufferers.
Eventually the directors were fined £2,014,000,
each man being allowed a small modicum of his
fortune. Sir John Blunt was only allowed £5,000
out of his fortune of £183,000; Sir John Fellows
was allowed £10,000 out of £243,000; Sir Theodore Janssen, £50,000 out of £243,000; Sir John
Lambert, £5,000 out of £72,000. One director,
named Gregsley, was treated with especial severity,
because he was reported to have once declared he
would feed his carriage-horses off gold; another,
because years before he had been mixed up with
some harmless but unsuccessful speculation. According to Gibbon the historian, it was the Tory
directors who were stripped the most unmercifully.
"The next consideration of the Legislature," says
Charles Mackay, "after the punishment of the
directors, was to restore public credit. The scheme
of Walpole had been found insufficient, and had
fallen into disrepute. A computation was made of
the whole capital stock of the South Sea Company
at the end of the year 1720. It was found to
amount to £37,800,000, of which the stock allotted
to all the proprietors only reached £24,500,000.
The remainder of £13,300,000 belonged to the
Company in their corporate capacity, and was the
profit they had made by the national delusion.
Upwards of £8,000,000 of this was taken from
the Company, and divided among the proprietors
and subscribers generally, making a dividend of
about £33 6s. 8d. per cent. This was a great
relief. It was further ordered that such persons as
had borrowed money from the South Sea Company
upon stock actually transferred and pledged, at the
time of borrowing, to or for the use of the Company, should be free from all demands upon payment of ten per cent. of the sums so borrowed.
They had lent about £11,000,000 in this manner,
at a time when prices were unnaturally raised; and
they now received back £1,100,000, when prices
had sunk to their ordinary level."
A volume (says another writer) might be collected
of anecdotes connected with this fatal speculation.
A tradesman at Bath, who had invested his only
remaining fortune in this stock, finding it had
fallen from 1,000 to 900, left Bath with an intention to sell out; on his arrival in London it had
fallen to 250. He thought the price too low,
sanguinely hoped that it would re-ascend, still deferred his purpose, and lost his all.
The Duke of Chandos had embarked £300,000
in this project; the Duke of Newcastle strongly
advised his selling the whole, or at least a part,
with as little delay as possible; but this salutary
advice he delayed to take, confidently anticipating
the gain of at least half a million, and through rejecting his friend's counsel, he lost the whole. Some
were, however, more fortunate. The guardians of
Sir Gregory Page Turner, then a minor, had purchased stock for him very low, and sold it out
when it had reached its maximum, to the amount
of £200,000. With this large sum Sir Gregory
built a fine mansion at Blackheath, and purchased 300 acres of land for a park. Two maiden
sisters, whose stock had accumulated to £90,000,
sold out when the South Sea stock was at 790.
The broker whom they employed advised them
to re-invest in navy bills, which were at the time at
a discount of twenty-five per cent.; they took his
advice, and two years afterwards received their
money at par.
Even the poets did not escape. Gay (says Dr.
Johnson, in his "Lives of the Poets") had a
present from young Craggs of some South Sea
stock, and once supposed himself to be the master
of £20,000. His friends, especially Arbuthnot,
persuaded him to sell his share, but he dreamed of
dignity and splendour, and could not bear to obstruct his own fortune. He was then importuned
to sell as much as would purchase a hundred a
year for life, "which," said Fenton, "will make
you sure of a clean shirt and a shoulder of mutton
every day." This counsel was rejected; the profit
and principal were both lost, and Gay sunk so low
under the calamity that his life for a time became
Pope, always eager for money, was also dabbling
in the scheme, but it is uncertain whether he made
money or lost by it. Lady Mary Wortley Montague
was a loser. When Sir Isaac Newton was asked
when the bubble would break, he said, with all his
calculations he had never learned to calculate the
madness of the people.
Prior declared, "I am lost in the South Sea.
The roaring of the waves and the madness of the
people are justly put together. It is all wilder
than St. Anthony's dream, and the bagatelle is
more solid than anything that has been endeavoured here this year."
In the full heat of it, the Duchess of Ormond
wrote to Swift: "The king adopts the South Sea,
and calls it his beloved child; though perhaps,
you may say, if he loves it no better than his son,
it may not be saying much; but he loves it as
much as he loves the Duchess of Kendal, and
that is saying a good deal. I wish it may thrive,
for some of my friends are deep in it. I wish
you were too."
Swift, cold and stern, escaped the madness, and
even denounced in the following verses the insanity
that had seized the times:—
"There is a gulf where thousands fell,
Here all the bold adventurers came;
A narrow sound, though deep as hell—Change Alley is the dreadful name.
"Subscribers here by thousands float,
And jostle one another down;
Each paddling in his leaky boat,
And here they fish for gold and drown.
"Now buried in the depths below,
Now mounted up to heaven again,
They reel and stagger to and fro,
At their wit's end, like drunken men."
Budgell, Pope's barking enemy, destroyed himself after his losses in this South Sea scheme, and a
well-known man of the day called "Tom of Ten
Thousand" lost his reason.
Charles Lamb, in his "Elia," has described the
South Sea House in his own delightful way.
"Reader," says the poet clerk, "in thy passage
from the Bank—where thou hast been receiving
thy half-yearly dividends (supposing thou art a
lean annuitant like myself)—to the 'Flower Pot,'
to secure a place for Dalston, or Shacklewell, or
some other shy surburban retreat northerly—didst
thou never observe a melancholy-looking, handsome brick and stone edifice, to the left, where
Threadneedle Street abuts upon Bishopsgate? I
dare say thou hast often admired its magnificent
portals, ever gaping wide, and disclosing to view
a grave court, with cloisters and pillars, with few
or no traces of goers-in or comers-out—a desolation
something like Balclutha's. (fn. 1) This was once a
house of trade—a centre of busy interests. The
throng of merchants was here—the quick pulse of
gain—and here some forms of business are still
kept up, though the soul has long since fled. Here
are still to be seen stately porticoes; imposing staircases; offices roomy as the state apartments in
palaces—deserted, or thinly peopled with a few
straggling clerks; the still more sacred interiors of
court and committee rooms, with venerable faces
of beadles, door-keepers; directors seated in form
on solemn days (to proclaim a dead dividend), at
long worm-eaten tables, that have been mahogany,
with tarnished gilt-leather coverings, supporting
massy silver inkstands, long since dry; the oaken
wainscots hung with pictures of deceased governors
and sub-governors, of Queen Anne, and the two first
monarchs of the Brunswick dynasty; huge charts,
which subsequent discoveries have antiquated;
dusty maps of Mexico, dim as dreams; and soundings of the Bay of Panama! The long passages
hung with buckets, appended, in idle row to walls,
whose substance might defy any, short of the last
conflagration; with vast ranges of cellarage under
all, where dollars and pieces-of-eight once lay, 'an
unsunned heap,' for Mammon to have solaced his
solitary heart withal—long since dissipated, or
scattered into air at the blast of the breaking of
that famous Bubble.
"Peace to the manes of the Bubble! Silence
and destitution are upon thy walls, proud house,
for a memorial! Situated as thou art in the very
heart of stirring and living commerce, amid the
fret and fever of speculation—with the Bank, and
the 'Change, and the India House about thee, in
the hey-day of present prosperity, with their important faces, as it were, insulting thee, their poor
neighbour out of business—to the idle and merely
contemplative—to such as me, Old House! there is
a charm in thy quiet, a cessation, a coolness from
business, an indolence almost cloistral, which is
delightful! With what reverence have I paced thy
great bare rooms and courts at eventide! They
spake of the past; the shade of some dead accountant, with visionary pen in ear, would flit by
me, stiff as in life."