Old and New London: Volume 2. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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In this section
Origin of the Name—The "Belvidere" Tavern—The Society of Bull Feathers' Hall—Penton Street—Joe Grimaldi—Christ Church—"White Conduit House:" Oliver Goldsmith a Visitor there—Ancient Conduits at Pentonville—Christopher Bartholomew's Reverses of Fortune—The Pentonville Penitentiary—The Islington Cattle Market—A Daring Scheme—Celebrated Inhabitants of Hermes Hill—Dr. de Valangin—SinnerSaved Huntington—Joe Grimaldi and the Dreadful Accident at Sadler's Wells—King's Row and Happy Man's Place—Thomas Cooke, the Miser—St. James's Chapel, Pentonville—A Blind Man's favourite Amusement—Clerkenwell in 1789—Pentonville Chapel—Prospect House— "Dobney's"—The Female Penitentiary—A Terrible Tragedy.
The site of Pentonville was once an outlying possession of the priory of St. John, Clerkenwell, and called the "Commandry Mantels," from its having belonged to Geoffrey de Mandeville—vulgo, Mantell. Eventually the fields were given to the Hospitallers. There were springs and conduit-heads in the meadows; and Gerard, the Elizabethan herbalist, specially mentions the white saxifrage as growing abundantly there.
The district of Pentonville, once a mere nameless vassal of Clerkenwell and Islington (the latter itself a comparative parvenu), received its present name from Henry Penton, Esq., member for Winchester, and a Lord of the Admiralty, who died in 1812, and on whose estate the first buildings in Penton Street were erected, according to Mr. Pinks, about the year 1773.
The "Belvidere" Tavern, at the corner of Penton Street, was at an early period the site of a house known as "Busby's Folly," probably from Christopher Busby, who was landlord of the "Whyte Lyon," at Islington, in 1668. In 1664 (four years after the Restoration), the members of the quaint Society of Bull Feathers' Hall met at the Folly before marching to Islington, to claim the toll of all gravel carried up Highgate Hill. Their thirty pioneers, with spades and pickaxes, were preceded in the hall procession by trumpeters and hornblowers. Their standard was a large pair of horns fixed to a pole, and with pennants hanging to each tip. Next came the flag of the society, attended by the master of the ceremonies. After the flag came the mace-bearers and the herald-at-arms of the society. The supporters of the arms were a woman with a whip, and the motto, "Ut volo, sic jubeo;" on the other side, a rueful man, and the motto, "Patientia patimur."
This singular club met in Chequer Yard, Whitechapel, the president wearing a crimson satin gown, and a furred cap surmounted by a pair of antlers, while his sceptre and crown were both horned. The brethren of this great and solemn fraternity drank out of horn cups, and were sworn as members on a blank horn-book. Busby's house retained its name as late as 1710, but was afterwards called "Penny's Folly." It had fourteen windows in front; and here men with learned horses, musical glasses, and sham philosophical performances, gave evening entertainments. The "Belvidere" Tavern was in existence as early as 1780, and was famous for its racket-court. At No. 37, Penton Street, that emperor of English clowns, Joe Grimaldi, lived in 1797, after his marriage with Miss Hughes, the pretty daughter of the manager of Sadler's Wells. Penton Street was then the St. James's or Regent's Park of the City Road quarter.
On the west side of Penton Street is a new
church, opened in 1863. It contains sittings for
1,259 persons, and with the site cost about £8,600.
The first incumbent was Dr. Courtenay, formerly
curate of St. James's, Pentonville. St. James's was
made a district, assigned out of the parish of St.
James's, Clerkenwell, in 1854. On the east side
of Penton Street formerly stood that celebrated
Cockney place of amusement, "White Conduit
House." The original tavern was erected in the
reign of Charles I., and the curious tradition was
that the workmen were said to have been regaling
themselves after the completion of the building
the very hour that King Charles's head fell at the
Whitehall scaffold. In 1754 "White Conduit
House" was advertised as having for its fresh attractions a long walk, a circular fish-pond, a number of
pleasant shady arbours, enclosed with a fence seven
feet high, hot loaves and butter, milk direct from
the cow, coffee, tea, and other liquors, a cricketfield, unadulterated cream, and a handsome long
room, with "copious prospects, and airy situation." In 1760 the following spirited verses describing the place, by William Woty, author of the
"Shrubs of Parnassus," appeared in the Gentleman's
"Wish'd Sunday's come—mirth brightens every face,
And paints the rose upon the house-maid's cheek,
Harriott, or Moll more ruddy. Now the heart
Of prentice, resident in ample street,
Or alley, kennel-wash'd, Cheapside, Cornhill,
Or Cranborne, thee for calcuments renown'd,
With joy distends—his meal meridian o'er,
With switch in hand, he to White Conduit House
Hies merry-hearted. Human beings here,
In couples multitudinous, assemble,
Forming the drollest groupe that ever trod
Fair Islingtonian plains. Male after male,
Dog after dog succeeding—husbands, wives,
Fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, friends,
And pretty little boys and girls. Around,
Across, along the garden's shrubby maze
They walk, they sit, they stand. What crowds press on
Eager to mount the stairs, eager to catch
First vacant bench, or chair, in long room plac'd!
Here prig with prig holds conference polite,
And indiscriminate the gaudy beau
And sloven mix. Here, he who all the week
Took bearded mortals by the nose, or sat
Weaving dead hairs, and whistling wretched strain,
And eke the sturdy youth, whose trade it is
Stout oxen to contund, with gold-bound hat
And silken stocking strut. The red-armed belle
Here shews her tasty gown, proud to be thought
The butterfly of fashion; and, forsooth,
Her haughty mistress deigns for once to tread
The same unhallowed floor. 'Tis hurry all,
And rattling cups and saucers. Waiter here,
And Waiter there, and Waiter here and there,
At once is called, Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe!
Joe on the right, and Joe upon the left,
For every vocal pipe re-echoes Joe!
"Alas! poor Joe! like Francis in the play,
He stands confounded, anxious how to please
The many-headed throng. But should I paint
The language, humours, custom of the place,
Together with all curtseys, lowly bows,
And compliments extern, 'twould swell my page
Beyond its limits due. Suffice it then
For my prophetic muse to say, 'So long
'As Fashion rides upon the wing of Time,
While tea and cream, and butter'd rolls, can please,
While rival beaux and jealous belles exist,
So long, White Conduit House shall be thy fame.'"
About this time the house and its customers were referred to by Oliver Goldsmith. He says, "After having surveyed the curiosities of this fair and beautiful town (Islington), I proceeded forward, leaving a fair stone building on my right. Here the inhabitants of London often assemble to celebrate a feast of hot rolls and butter. Seeing such numbers, each with their little tables before them, employed on this occasion, must no doubt be a very amusing sight to the looker-on, but still more so to those who perform in the solemnity."
"White Conduit Loaves," says Mr. Timbs, "was one of the common London street-cries, before the French war raised the price of bread."
Washington Irving, in his "Life of Goldsmith," says:—"Oliver Goldsmith, towards the close of 1762, removed to 'Merry Islington,' then a country village, though now swallowed up in omnivorous London. In this neighbourhood he used to take his solitary rambles, sometimes extending his walks to the gardens of the 'White Conduit House,' so famous among the essayists of the last century. While strolling one day in these gardens he met three daughters of the family of a respectable tradesman, to whom he was under some obligation. With his prompt disposition to oblige, he conducted them about the garden, treated them to tea, and ran up a bill in the most open-handed manner imaginable. It was only when he came to pay that he found himself in one of his old dilemmas. He had not the wherewithal in his pocket. A scene of perplexity now took place between him and the waiter, in the midst of which came up some of his acquaintances, in whose eyes he wished to stand particularly well. When, however, they had enjoyed their banter, the waiter was paid, and poor Goldsmith enabled to carry off the ladies with flying colours."
This popular place of amusement derives its name from an old stone conduit, removed in 1831, and used to repair part of the New Road. It bore the date 1641, and beneath, the arms of Sutton, the founder of the Charterhouse, with initials and monograms probably of past masters. The conduit, repaired by Sutton, was built in the reign of Henry VI., and it supplied the Carthusian friars. The waterhouse was used by the school till about 1654, when the supply fell short, and a New River supply was decided on. The site of the conduit was at the back of No. 10, Penton Street, at the corner of Edward Street. There was a smaller conduit at the back of White Conduit Gardens, close to where Warren Street now stands. In 1816, Huntington (Sinner Saved) the preacher, cleansed the spring, but his enemies choked it with mud to spite him. Latterly, however, the Conduit House fell to ruins, and the upper floors became a mighty refuge for tramps and street pariahs.
An old drawing of 1731 represents White Conduit House as a mere tall building, with four front windows, a gable roof, a side shed, and on the other side the conduit itself. On either hand stretched bare sloping fields and hedge-rows.
The anonymous writer of the "Sunday Ramble," 1774, describes the place as having boxes for tea, cut into the hedges and adorned with pictures; pleasant garden walks, a round fish-pond, and two handsome tea-rooms. Later the fish-pond was filled up, and an Apollo dancing-room erected. In 1826 a "Minor Vauxhall" was established here, and the place became somewhat disreputable. Mr. Chabert, the fire-eater, after a collation of phosphorus, arsenic, and oxalic acid, with a sauce of boiling oil and molten lead, walked into an oven, preceded by a leg of lamb and a rump-steak, and eventually emerged with them completely baked, after which the spectators dined with him. Graham also ascended from these gardens in his balloon. In this year Hone talks of the gardens as "just above the very lowest," though the fireworks were as good as usual.
About 1827 archery was much practised; and in 1828 the house was rebuilt with a great ball-room and many architectural vagaries. A writer in the Mirror of 1833 says:—"Never mind Pentonville, it is not now what it was, a place of some rural beauty. The fields behind it were, in my time, as wild and picturesque, with their deep-green lanes, richly hedged and studded with flowers, which have taken fright and moved off miles away— and their 'stately elms and hillocks green,' as they are now melancholy and cut up with unfurnished, and, of course, unoccupied rows of houses, run up during the paroxysm of the brick and mortar mania of times past, and now tumbling in ruins, with the foolish fortunes of the speculators. The march of town innovation upon the suburbs has driven before it all that was green, silent, and fitted for meditation. Here, too, is that paradise of apprentice boys, 'White Cundick Couse,' as it is cacophoniously pronounced by its visitors, which has done much to expel the decencies of the district. Thirty years ago this place was better frequented—that is, there was a larger number of respectable adults; fathers and mothers, with their children, and a smaller moiety of shop-lads, and such-like Sunday bucks, who were awed into decency by their elders. The manners, perhaps, are much upon a par with what they were. The ball-room gentlemen then went through country dances with their hats on and their coats off. Hats are now taken off, but coats are still unfashionable on these gala nights. The belles of that day wore long trains to their gowns. It was a favourite mode of introduction to a lady there to tread on the train, and then apologising handsomely, acquaintance was begun, and soon ripened into an invitation to tea and the hot loaves for which these gardens were once celebrated. Being now a popular haunt, those who hang on the rear of the march of human nature, the sutlers, camp-followers, and plunderers, know that where large numbers of men or boys are in pursuit of pleasure, there is a sprinkling of the number to whom vice and debauchery are ever welcome; they have, therefore, supplied what these wanted, and Pentonville may now hold up its head, and boast of its depravities before any other part of London."
The place grew worse and worse, till, in 1849, the house was pulled down and streets built on its site. The present "White Conduit" Tavern covers a portion of the original gardens. Mr. George Cruikshank has been heard to confess that some of his early knowledge of Cockney character, and, indeed, of City human nature, was derived from observing evenings at White "Conduit House."
An old proprietor of the gardens, who died in 1811, Mr. Christopher Bartholomew, was believed to have realised property to the amount of £50,000. The "Angel," at Islington, was also his; and he used to boast that he had more haystacks than any one round London. He, however, became a prey to the vice of gambling, and is said at last to have sometimes spent more than 2,000 guineas in a single day in insuring numbers at the lottery. By degrees he sank into extreme poverty, but a friend giving him half of a sixteenth of a favourite number, that turned up a £20,000 prize, he again became affluent, only to finally sink into what proved this time irreparable ruin.
The Pentonville Penitentiary was the result of a Government Commission sent over to America in 1832, to inquire into the system of isolation so much belauded on the other side of the Atlantic. "Many people," says Mr. Dixon in his "London Prisons," published in 1850, "were seduced by the report issued in 1834, into a favourable impression of the Philadelphian system; and, amongst these, Lord John Russell, who, being secretary for the Home Department, got an Act introduced into Parliament in 1839 (2 & 3 Vict. c. 56), containing a clause rendering separate confinement legal in this country. A model prison on this plan was resolved upon. Major Jebb was set to prepare a scheme of details. The first stone was laid on the 10th of April, 1840, and the works were completed in the autumn of 1842, at a cost of more than £90,000. The building so erected consists of five wings or galleries, radiating from a point, the view from which is very striking, and at the same time very unprison-like. On the sides of four of these galleries the cells are situate, and numbered. There are 520 of them, but not more than 500 are ever occupied. If we divide £90,000 by 500, we shall find that the accommodation for each criminal costs the country £180 for cell-room as original outlay.
"Last year the expenses of mere management at Pentonville were £16,392 1s. 7d.; the daily average of prisoners for the year was 457; consequently, the cost per head for victualling and management was nearly £36.
"This flourishing institution, then, stands thus in account with the nation yearly:—The land given for nothing, i.e., not set down in the account; taxes, ditto; interest of outlay, £100,000 at 5 per cent., £5,000; cost of maintenance, £15,000; repairs, &c. (for 1847 this item is nearly £3,000). If we take the three items here left blank at an average of £2,000, a very moderate estimate for the yearly drain, we shall have a prison capable of accommodating 450 prisoners, at a charge upon county rates of £22,000 per annum; or, in another form, at about £50 per head for each prisoner yearly. Compare this with the cost of the maintenance of the poor in workhouses, ye disciples of economy!"
The Islington Cattle Market (like the Thames Embankment, projected by Martin, the painter, and others, and the Holborn Viaduct, projected by Mr. Charles Pearson) was planned out nearly half a century ago, by active London minds. In 1833 John Perkins, Esq., of Bletchingley, in Surrey, struck with the dirt and cruelty of Smithfield, and the intolerable danger and mischief produced by driving vast and half-wild flocks and herds of cattle through the narrow and crowded London streets, projected a new market in the fine grazing district north of the metropolis. The place was built at an expense of £100,000, and opened under an Act of Parliament, April 18th, 1836. So strong, however, was the popular and Conservative interest in old abuses, that the excellent new market proved a total failure, and was soon closed. The area for cattle at Islington was nearly fifteen acres, abutting on the road leading from the Lower Street to Ball's Pond. It was enclosed by a brick wall, ten feet high, and had vast sheds on all the four sides. A road ran entirely round the market, which was quadrated by paths crossing it at right angles, and there was to have been a central circus, to be used as an exchange for the greasy graziers and bustling salesmen, with offices for the money takers and clerks of the market. The market was capable of accommodating 7,000 head of cattle, 500 calves, 40,000 sheep, and 1,000 pigs. The principal entrance from the Lower Road had an arched gateway, and two arched footways. Poor Mr. Perkins, he was before his age. The spot was excellently chosen, lying as it does near the great roads from the northern and eastern counties, the great centres of cattle, and communicating easily with the town by means of the City Road, which was also convenient for the western part of London. Twenty years later, in 1852, the nuisance of Smithfield (thanks, perhaps, to "Oliver Twist") became unbearable, even to the long-suffering abuse-preservers; so Smithfield was condemned to be removed, and a new cattle-market was opened in Copenhagen Fields in 1855, and that enriched district now rejoices in many cattle and all the attending delights of knackers' yards, slaughterhouses, tripe-dressers, cats'-meat-boilers, catgut-spinners, bone-boilers, glue-makers, and tallow-melters.
It was proposed by a company of projectors, in the year 1812, to establish a sea-water bathingplace at Copenhagen Fields, by bringing water through iron pipes "from the coast of Essex to Copenhagen Fields." It was calculated that the undertaking would pay the subscribers 12½ per cent. on the capital embarked, which was to be £200,000; but the proposition met with little encouragement, and was soon abandoned.
The present Metropolitan Cattle Market occupies seventy-five acres of ground. The market-place is an irregular quadrangle, with a lofty clock-tower in the centre, and four taverns at the four corners, the open area being set off into divisions for the different kinds of live stock. No less than £400,000 have been expended upon the land and buildings. In the parts of the market appropriated for the reception of the different cattle, each central rail is decorated with characteristic casts of heads of oxen, sheep, pigs, &c.; these were designed and modelled by Bell, the sculptor. The open space of the market will accommodate at one time about 7,000 cattle and 42,000 sheep, with a proportionate number of calves and pigs. The calf and pig markets are covered, the roofs being supported by iron columns, which act at the same time as waterdrains. In the centre of the whole area is a twelvesided structure, called "Bank Buildings," surmounted by an elegant campanile, or bell tower. The twelve sides give entrance to twelve sets of offices, occupied by bankers, salesmen, railway companies, and electric telegraph companies. In one year (1862) the returns were 304, 741 bullocks, 1,498,500 sheep, 27,951 calves, and 29,470 pigs. The great Christmas sale, in the closing year of old Smithfield, ranged from 6,000 to 7,000 bullocks, and between 20,000 and 25,000 sheep. On December 15, 1862, the bullocks were 8,340, being a greater number than ever before known at any metropolitan market. The market-days for cattle, sheep, and pigs are Mondays and Thursdays. There is a miscellaneous market for horses, asses, and goats on Fridays. (Timbs.)
At a large house on Hermes Hill, afterwards (in 1811) occupied by "Sinner-saved Huntington," the converted coal-heaver, a useful man in his generation, resided, in the last century, from 1772 till his death in 1805, Dr. de Valangin, an eminent Swiss physician, who had been a pupil of Boerhaave. He called this hill "Hermes," from Hermes Trismegistus, the fabled Egyptian king, and discoverer of chemistry, to whom fawning Lord Bacon compared James I., because, forsooth, that slobbering, drunken monarch was king, priest, and philosopher. De Valangin—the inventor of several useful and useless medicines, including the "balsam of life," which he presented to Apothecaries' Hall—was the author of a sensible book on diet, and "the four non-naturals." The doctor, who was a man of taste and benevolence, married as his second wife the widow of an eminent surveyor and builder, who, says Mr. Pinks, had recovered £1,000 for a breach of promise, from a lover who had jilted her. He buried one of his daughters in his garden, but the body was afterwards removed to the vaults of Cripplegate Church. In his book (1768) De Valangin particularly mentions the increased use of brandyand-water by English people. His house was remarkable for a singular brick tower or observatory, which was taken down by the next tenant.
That eccentric preacher, William Huntington, was an illegitimate son, whose reputed father was a day-labourer in Kent. In youth he was alternately an errand-boy, gardener, cobbler, and coal-heaver. He seems, even when a child, to have been endowed with an extraordinary deep sensibility to religious impressions, and early in life he began to exhort men to save their souls, and flee the wrath to come, and, we fully believe, in all sincerity, though his manner was vulgar. His original name was Hunt, but flying the country to escape the charge of an illegitimate child, he took for safety the name of Huntington; and, unable to pay for a Dissenting title of D.D., he christened himself S.S. (sinner saved). Huntington seems to have had a profound belief in the efficacy of faith and prayer. Whether it was tea, a horse, a pulpit, or a hod of lime, he prayed for it, he tells us, and it came. Even a pair of leather breeches was thus supplied, as he mentions in his John Bunyan way.
"I often," he says, "made very free in my prayers with my invaluable Master for this favour; but he still kept me so amazingly poor, that I could not get them, at any rate. At last I was determined to go to a friend of mine at Kingston, who is of that branch of business, to bespeak a pair, and to get him to trust me until my Master sent me money to pay him. I was that day going to London, fully determined to bespeak them as I rode through the town. However, when I passed the shop, I forgot it; but when I came to London I called on Mr. Croucher, a shoemaker in Shepherds' Market, who told me a parcel was left there for me, but what it was he knew not. I opened it, and behold, there was a pair of leather breeches with a note in them, the substance of which was to the best of my remembrance as follows:—'Sir,— I have sent you a pair of breeches, and I hope they will fit. I beg your acceptance of them; and if they want any alteration, leave in a note what the alteration is, and I will call in a few days and alter them.—J. S.' I tried them on, and they fitted as well as if I had been measured for them; at which I was amazed, having never been measured by any leather breeches maker in London."
S. S. had strong belief in eternal perdition, and attacked the mad prophet Brothers, for his wild prophecies of the sudden fall of the Turkish, German, and Russian empires. When Huntington's chapel, in Tichfield Street was burnt, his congregation erected a new one on the east side of Gray's Inn Lane, at a cost of £9,000, of which he craftily obtained the personal freehold. By his first wife S. S. had thirteen children; he then married the widow of Sir James Sanderson, who came one day to his chapel to ridicule him, but "remained to pray," and to fall in love. He died in 1813, and was buried in a garden in the rear of Jireh Chapel, on the cliff at Lewes. A few hours before his death, at Tunbridge Wells, he dictated the following epitaph for himself:—
"Here lies the coal-heaver, who departed this life July I, 1813, in the 69th year of his age, beloved of his God, but abhorred of men. The omniscient Judge, at the grand assize, shall ratify and confirm this, to the confusion of many thousands; for England and its metropolis shall know that there hath been a prophet among them.—W. H., S. S."
At the sale of his goods at Pentonville, which realised £1,800, a humble admirer bought a barrel of ale, as a souvenir of his pastor.
"When," says Huntington, "I first began to open my mouth for the Lord, the master for whom I carried coals was rather displeased; at which I do not wonder, as he was an Arminian of the Arminians, or a Pharisee of the Pharisees. I told him, however, that I should prophesy to thousands before I died; and soon after the doors began to be opened to receive my message. When this appeared, and I had left the slavish employment of coal-carrying, others objected to my master against such a fellow as me taking up the office of a minister. His answer was, 'Let him alone. I once heard him say that he should prophecy to thousands before he died; let us see whether this prophecy comes to pass or not.'"
"Huntington is described as having been, towards the close of his career, a fat burly man with a red face, which rose just above the cushion, and a thick, guttural and rather indistinct voice."
"His pulpit prayers," writes a contemporary, "are remarkable for omitting the king or his country. He excels in extempore eloquence. Having formally announced his text, he lays his Bible at once aside, and never refers to it again. He has every possible text and quotation at his finger's end. He proceeds directly to his object, and, except such incidental digressions as 'Take care of your pockets!' 'Wake that snoring sinner!' 'Silence that noisy numskull!' 'Turn out that drunken dog!' he never deviates from his course. Nothing can exceed his dictatorial dogmatism. Believe him—none but him—that's enough. When he wishes to bind the faith of his congregation, he will say, over and over, 'As sure as I am born, 'tis so;' or, 'I believe this,' or 'I know this,' or 'I am sure of it,' or ' I believe the plain English of it to be this.' And then he will add, by way of clenching his point, 'Now you can't help it;' or, 'It must be so, in spite of you.' He does this with a most significant shake of the head, and with a sort of Bedlam hauteur, with all the dignity of defiance. He will then sometimes observe, softening his deportment, 'I don't know whether I make you understand these things, but I understand them well.' He rambles sadly, and strays so completely from his text, that you often lose sight of it. The divisions of his subject are so numerous, that one of his sermons might be divided into three. Preaching is with him talking; his discourses, storytelling. Action he has none, except that of shifting his handkerchief from hand to hand, and hugging his cushion. Nature has bestowed on him a vigorous, original mind, and he employs it in everything. Survey him when you will, he seems to have rubbed off none of his native rudeness or blackness. All his notions are his own, as well as his mode of imparting them. Religion has not been discovered by him through the telescopes of commentators."
"Huntington's portrait," says Mr. Pinks, "is in the National Portrait Gallery, in Great George Street, Westminster. He 'might pass, as far as appearances. go, for a convict, but that he looks too conceited. The vitality and strength of his constitution are fearful to behold, and it is certain that he looks better fitted for coal-heaving than for religious oratory.'"
Penton Place, leading to what was once called Bagnigge Wash, used to be frequently overflowed, when the Fleet Sewer was swollen by heavy rains or rapid thaws. The street was made about the year 1776. In 1794 Grimaldi lived here, and took in brother actors as lodgers. He removed to Penton Street in 1797. This wonderful clown was the son of a celebrated Genoese clown and dancer, who came to England in 1760, in the capacity of dentist to Queen Charlotte. He played at Drury Lane, under Garrick's management, and was generally known on the boards, from his great strength, as "Iron Legs." At one performance the agile comic dancer is said to have jumped so high that he actually broke a chandelier which hung over the side stage-door, and kicked one of the glass drops into the face of the Turkish ambassador, who was gravely sitting in a stage-box. Joe was born in 1778, in Stanhope Street, Clare Market, and his first appearance was at Sadler's Wells, in 1781, before he was three years old. Grimaldi's amusements, in his leisure time, were innocent enough; he was devoted to the breeding of pigeons and collecting of insects, which latter amusement he pursued with such success, as to form a cabinet containing no fewer than 4,000 specimens of butterflies, "collected," he says, "at the expense of a great deal of time, a great deal of money, and a great deal of vast and actual labour;" for all of which, no doubt, the entomologist will deem him sufficiently rewarded. He appears, in old age, to have entertained a peculiar relish for these pursuits, and would call to mind a part of Surrey where there was a very famous sort, and a part of Kent where there was another famous species. One of these was called the "Camberwell Beauty" (which, he adds, was very ugly); and another, the "Dartford Blue," by which Dartford Blue he seems to have set great store.
At the dreadful accident at Sadler's Wells, in 1807, during the run of Mother Goose, when twenty-three people were trodden to death, during a false alarm of fire, Grimaldi met with a singular adventure. On running back to the theatre that night he found the crowd of people collected round it so dense, as to render approach by the usual path impossible. "Filled with anxiety," says his "Memoirs," "and determined to ascertain the real state of the case, he ran round to the opposite bank of the New River, plunged in, swam across, and, finding the parlour window open and a light at the other end of the room, threw up the sash and jumped in, à la Harlequin. What was his horror, on looking round, to discover that there lay stretched in the apartment no fewer than nine dead bodies! Yes; there lay the remains of nine human beings, lifeless, and scarcely yet cold, whom a few hours back he had been himself exciting to shouts of laughter."
Grimaldi died in 1837. For many years he had been a nightly frequenter of the coffee-room of the "Marquis of Cornwallis" Tavern, in Southampton Street, Pentonville. Mr. George Cook, the proprietor, used to carry poor half-paralysed Joe out and home on his back.
King's Row, on the north side of Pentonville Road, was erected, says Mr. Pinks, prior to 1774. It formerly bore the odd name of "Happy Man's Row," from a public-house which bore the sign of the "Happy Man."
In Pentonville Road resided Mr. James Pascall, a much-respected public-spirited man, who laboured forty years for the interests of Clerkenwell parish, and helped to detect a fraudulent guardian named Scott, who defrauded the parish, in 1834, of more than £16,000. He also urged forward the covering up the noisome Fleet Ditch, and wrote a useful work on the Clerkenwell charity estates.
At No. 16, Winchester Place, now No. 61, Pentonville Road, lived for fifteen wretched years the celebrated miser, Thomas Cooke. This miserable wretch was the son of an itinerant fiddler near Windsor. Early in life he was a common porter, but by a stratagem obtained the hand of the rich widow of a paper-maker at Tottenham, and then bought a sugar-baker's business at Puddle Dock. Here his miserable life as a miser began. He would often feign fits near a respectable house, to obtain a glass of wine. His ink he begged at offices, and his paper he stole from the Bank counters. It is said that he collected with his own hands manure for his garden. His horse he kept in his kitchen, and his chaise he stored up in his bedroom. His one annual treat was the Epsom Races. Turned out of this house at last, Cooke betook himself to No. 85, White Lion Street, Pentonville, and died in 1811, aged eighty-six. He was buried at St. Mary's, Islington, the mob attending throwing cabbage-stalks on his dishonoured coffin. He left (and here was his pride) £127,705 in the Three per Cents. chiefly to the Shoreditch and Tottenham Almshouses; such is the inconsistency of human nature. In an old portrait Cooke is represented with an enormous broad-brimmed hat, a shade over his eyes, knee breeches, buckle shoes, an immense coat with a cape, while a stiff curled wig and huge cable pigtail completed the strangelooking figure.
St. James's Chapel, Pentonville, was first projected by Mr. Penton, in 1777, to benefit his estate; but the incumbent of St. James's refusing to sign a bond to the Bishop of London for the regular payment of the minister, closed the matter for ten years. In 1787, however, a chapel was begun by subscription, and was opened in 1788. The first minister was Mr. Joel Abraham Knight, from the Spa Fields Chapel. The church trustees of St. James's purchased the chapel in 1789 for £5,000. Mr. Hurst, the architect of the chapel, who died in 1799, lies in a vault beneath the building. The chapel and cemetery were consecrated for the use of the Church of England in 1791.
"Mr. Francis Linley, organist of Pentonville Chapel," says Caulfield, in his "Portraits," "was blind from his birth. His greatest amusement was to explore churchyards, and with his fingers trace out memorials of the dead from tombstones; indeed, the fineness of his touch would lead him to know a book from the lettering on the back of a volume; and he could, without a guide, make his way throughout the bustling streets of London."
In 1789 Clerkenwell pickpockets had grown so daring, that one day, as the society of "Sols" were going into this chapel, a gentleman looking on had his pocket picked, and was knocked down, and the person who informed the gentleman he was robbed was also knocked down and dragged about the road by his hair, no one interfering, although hundreds of honest persons were present.
Pentonville Chapel is built chiefly of brick, with a stone façade. The building stands north and south, instead of east and west. The altar-piece, "The Raising of Jairus's Daughter," in West's feeble manner, was painted by Mr. John Frearson, an amateur artist. At the death of a Mr. Faulkner, in 1856, the Bishop of London ordered the churchwardens of Clerkenwell to sequestrate at once all the "fruits, tithes, profits, oblations, and obventions," for the benefit of the next incumbent, but the Rev. Dr. A. L. Courteney, the curate, claimed the profit, as having by the incumbent's death become perpetual curate of the district chapelry erected in 1854. The case, however, never came on for trial, as the trustees dreaded litigation. In 1863 Dr. Courteney opened his new church at the corner of John Street. The incumbent of St. James's, Clerkenwell, presents to the living of St James's, Pentonville.
Prospect House, in Winchester Place, now Pentonville Road, was one of those old houses of half rural entertainment once common in this part of London. It derived its attractive name from the fine view it commanded northward—a great point with the Cockney holiday-maker. From Islington Hill, as the vicinity was called, there really was a fine coup d'œil of busy, moody London; and Canaletto sketched London from here, when he visited England. Prospect House is mentioned as early as 1669, and is noted in Morden and Lee's Survey and Map of 1700. The tavern was famous, like many other suburban taverns, for its bowling-greens. Subsequently it was re-christened from its proprietor, and was generally known as "Dobney's," or D'Aubigney's. In 1760 Mr. Johnson, a new landlord, turned the old bowlinggreen into a circus, and engaged one Price, from the "Three Hats," a rival house near, to exhibit feats of horsemanship, as he had done before the Royal Family. Price, the desultory man, eventually cleared £14,000 by his breakneck tricks. The time of performance was six p.m. In 1766, newspapers record, a bricklayer beat his wife to death, in a field near Dobney's, in presence of several frightened people. In 1770 Prospect House was taken for a school, but soon re-opened as the "Jubilee Tea Gardens." The interior of the bowers were painted with scenes from Shakespeare. It was the year of the Jubilee, remember. In 1772 an extraordinary man, a beetamer, named Wildman (perhaps from America), exhibited here. His advertisement ran—"Exhibition of Bees on Horseback.—June 20th, 1772. At the Jubilee Gardens, late Dobney's, this evening, and every evening until further notice (wet evenings excepted), the celebrated Mr. Daniel Wildman will exhibit several new and amazing experiments, never attempted by any man in this or any other kingdom before. He rides standing upright, one foot on the saddle and the other on the horse's neck, with a curious mask of bees on his head and face. He also rides standing upright on the saddle, with the bridle in his mouth, and, by firing a pistol, makes one part of the bees march over a table, and the other part swarm in the air, and return to their proper hive again. With other performances. The doors open at six, begins at a quarter before seven. Admittance in the boxes and gallery, two shillings; other seats, one shilling." This Wildman seems to have sold swarms of bees.
In 1774 the gardens were fast getting into the
"sere and yellow leaf" that awaits, sooner or later,
all such fools' paradises. A verse-writer in the
London Evening Post, 1776, says—
"On Sabbath day who has not seen,
In colours of the rainbow dizened,
The 'prentice beaux and belles, I ween,
Fatigued with heat, with dust half poisoned,
To Dobney's strolling, or Pantheon,
Their tea to sip, or else regale,
As on the way they shall agree on,
With syllabubs or bottled ale?"
In 1780 the worn-out house became a lecture and discussion room; but about 1790 the ground was cleared, and Winchester Place built. The gardens, however, struggled on till 1810, when they disappeared, leaving as a slight memorial a mean court in Penton Street known as Dobney's Court. Until the building of Pentonville, says Mr. Pinks, the only carriage-way leading to Dobney's was one leading from High Street, Islington, under the gateway of the "White Lion," and from thence to the bowling-green.
The London Female Penitentiary, at No. 166, Pentonville Road, was formerly a nunnery school. This excellent charity, intended to save those whom vanity, idleness, and the treachery of man have led astray—poor creatures, against whom even woman hardens her heart—started here in 1807. The house was fitted for about thirty-five inmates, but was in a few years enlarged, so as to hold one hundred women. The path of penitence is up-hill everywhere, but especially in London. The inmates are trained for service, and their earnings at needlework and washing go far to maintain the institution. If the peacemakers were expressly blessed by our Saviour, how much more blessed must be those who step forward to rescue poor women like these who are willing to repent, but who are by poverty drifted irresistibly down the black river to the inevitable grave. The report, a few years ago, showed good results. There were 171 then in the house, thirty-one had been placed out in service, and eight reconciled to their friends. From 1807 to 1863 there were 1,401 poor women sent to service, 941 reconciled and restored to their friends, thirteen married, and forty-eight who have emigrated. Altogether in that time charity and kindness had been held'. out to 4,172 of the most miserable outcasts of the metropolis.
In 1834 a terrible and wholesale tragedy was enacted at No. 17, Southampton Street, by a German whip-maker named Steinberg. On a September night this wretch, from no known reason, but perhaps jealousy, murdered his mistress and her four children, the youngest a baby, and then cut his own throat. It was with difficulty the mob. was prevented from dragging the murderer's body through the streets. His victims were buried in St. James's Churchyard, and he himself in the paupers' burial-ground in Ray Street, the corpse being shaken out of the shell into a pit. No stake was driven through the body, as usual formerly with suicides, but one of the grave-diggers broke in the skull with an iron mallet. There was afterwards a shameful exhibition opened at Steinberg's house, a sham bloody knife being shown, and wax figures of the woman and her children placed in the various rooms, in the postures in which they had been found. The victims' clothes were bought for £25, and nearly £50 was taken for admission in one day. And yet this was not in the Ashantee country, but in civilised England, only a few years ago.