Holborn : To Chancery Lane

Old and New London: Volume 2. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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'Holborn : To Chancery Lane', in Old and New London: Volume 2, (London, 1878) pp. 526-542. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol2/pp526-542 [accessed 12 April 2024]

In this section



The Divisions of Holborn—A Miry Thoroughfare—Oldbourne Bridge—In the Beginning of the Century—Holborn Bars—The Middle Row—On the Way to Tyburn—A Sweet Youth in the Cart—Clever Tom Clinch—Riding up Heavy Hill—The Hanging School—Cruel Whippings— Statue to the late Prince Consort—The "Rose" Tavern—Union Court—Bartlett's Buildings—Dyers' Buildings—A Famous Pastry-cook— Castle Street—A Strange Ceremony—Cursitor Street—Lord Chancellor Eldon—A Runaway Match—Southampton House—An old Temple —Southampton Buildings—Flying for Dear Life—Jacob's Coffee House—Ridiculous Enactments—Dr. Birkbeck and Mechanics' Institutions—An Extraordinary Well—Fulwood's Rents—Ned Ward and the "London Spy"—Selling a Horse—Dr. Johnson—A Lottery Office —Lotteries: Their History and Romance—Praying for Luck—A £20,000 Prize—Lucky Numbers—George A. Stevens—Gerarde, the old Herbalist, and his Garden—The Flying Pieman of Holborn Hill—An old Bellman of Holborn.

Leaving the gates of Ely Place we turn westwards, and pursue our way along the main thoroughfare of Holborn. And, to begin, let us speak of the divisions of this street. From Farringdon Street to Fetter Lane used to be known as Holborn Hill; from Fetter Lane to Brooke Street as Holborn, and from Brooke Street to Drury Lane as High Holborn. Since the recent alterations and improvements, Holborn extends from Holborn Viaduct to Holborn Bars, and High Holborn from the Bars to Drury Lane.

One of the first great improvements effected in Holborn was its being paved, in 1417, at the expense of Henry V., when the highway, we learn from Rymer's "Fœdera," "was so deep and miry that many perils and hazards were thereby occasioned, as well to the king's carriages passing that way as to those of his subjects."

In Holborn, at what is now Farringdon Street, there was of old a stone bridge over the Fleet, called "Oldbourne Bridge." Stow thus describes this locality:—"Old borne or Hilborne, breaking out about the place where now the Bars do stand, and it ran down the whole street till Oldborne Bridge, and into the river of the Wells or Turnemill Brook. This bourn was likewise long since stopped up at the head, and in other places where the same hath broken out, but yet till this day the said street is here called High Oldborne Hill, and both the sides thereof, together with all the grounds adjoining, that lie betwixt it and the river of Thames, remain full of springs, so that water is there found at hand, and hard to be stopped in every house."

Agas's map of London, in the time of Elizabeth, represents Holborn as a very different sort of a place from what it is now. All the ground from Shoe Lane to Chancery Lane was then gardens with trees and shrubs; and long before Agas's day part of that space was a rural region belonging to the see of Bangor.

Holborn in the beginning of this century is described by Malcolm, the careful compiler of "Londinium Redivivum." "Holborn," he says, writing in 1803, "is an irregular long street, narrow and inconvenient at the north end of Fleet Market, but widening from Shoe Lane, up the hill, westward; thence to Middle Row, or the south end of Gray's Inn Lane. It is an excellent broad and dry place, or oblong square." In the additional Act for rebuilding London, 1670, it was enacted "that the passage to Holborn Bridge is too strait and narrow, incommodious for the many passengers daily using and frequenting the same, and it is therefore necessary to be enlarged: that it may be lawful for the Mayor, &c., to make it run in a bevil line from a certain timber-house on the north side thereof, named the Cock, to the Swan Inn, on the north side of Holborn Hill."

Holborn was anciently of much consequence, not only on account of the many eminent people who resided here, but because of the Inns of Court, which graced both its north and south sides. Besides, it contained an hospital for the poor, and a cell to the house of Clugny in France, suppressed with the Priories Alien.

"Holborn Bars" used to stand a little west of Brooke Street. They marked the termination of the City Liberties in that direction. The spot is now shown by two granite obelisks bearing the City arms. The Corporation of London formerly received a penny and two-penny toll from the carts and carriages of non-freemen entering the City. These tolls were levied at the six bars, including Holborn Bars. The richest inlets were Temple Bar and Whitechapel Bar.

The Middle Row, Holborn, has disappeared, like the Bars. This was a block of houses which stood half blocking up the street at the south end of Gray's Inn Lane. For at least a couple of centuries it was considered an obstruction. Howel, in his "Perlustration of London," 1657 (p. 344), says:—"Southward of Gray's Inn Lane there is a row of small houses, which is a mighty hindrance to Holborn, in point of prospect, which if they were taken down there would be from Holborn Conduit to St. Giles-in-the-Fields one of the fairest rising streets in the world." The obstructive buildings were at last made an end of in 1868. There is a view of the old Row in Faithorne's ichnographical delineation of London in the reign of Charles I.

Holborn was the old road from Newgate and the Tower to the gallows at Tyburn. At regular and frequent intervals both sides of the way were lined and all the windows were covered with curious and often sympathising spectators to see light-fingered gentlemen, murderers, forgers, and such like, riding to their doom.

"Now I am a wretch indeed," says Polly, in the Beggars' Opera, alarmed on account of Captain Macheath; "methinks I see him already in the cart, sweeter and more lovely than the nosegay"—which he had received at St. Sepulchre's—"in his hand! I hear the crowd extolling his resolution and intrepidity! What volleys of sighs are sent from the windows of Holborn that so comely a youth should be brought to disgrace! I see him at the tree! the whole circle are in tears! even butchers weep! Jack Ketch himself hesitates to perform his duty, and would be glad to lose his fee by a reprieve! What then will become of Polly?"

Swift gives us a picture of an execution procession in his "Clever Tom Clinch going to be hanged:"—

"As clever Tom Clinch, while the rabble was bawling,
Rode stately through Holborn to die in his calling,
He stopt at the George for a bottle of sack,
And promised to pay for it when he came back.
His waistcoat and stockings and breeches were white,
His cap had a new cherry ribbon to tie 't.
The maids to the doors and the balconies ran,
And said, 'Lack-a-day! he's a proper young man!'
But as from the windows the ladies he spied,
Like a beau in the box he bowed low on each side!
And when his last speech the loud hawkers did cry,
He swore from his cart, 'It was all a —lie!'
The hangman for pardon fell down on his knee,
Tom gave him a kick—for his fee:
Then said, 'I must speak to the people a little;
But I'll see you all——before I will whittle.
My honest friend Wild (may he long hold his place!)
He lengthened his life with a whole year of grace.
Take courage, dear comrades, and be not afraid,
Nor slip this occasion to follow your trade;
My conscience is clear, and my spirits are calm,
And thus I go off, without Prayer-book or Psalm;
Then follow the practice of clever Tom Clinch,
Who hung like a hero and never would flinch."

MIDDLE ROW, HOLBORN. (From a Drawing taken shortly before its Demolition.)


Holborn Hill, we mentioned in a previous page, was sometimes known as "Heavy Hill." To speak of any one having the privilege of riding in a cart up the Heavy Hill, was equivalent, in the free and easy talk of our forefathers, to saying that he was sure to be hung.

There are many allusions to Heavy Hill, and the procession ascending it, bound for Tyburn, in our old authors:—

"Sirrah," says Sir Sampson, in Congreve's Love for Love (1695), "you'll be hanged; I shall live to see you go up Holborn Hill."

"Daughter Pad," says Aldo, in Dryden's Limberham (1678), "you are welcome. What! you have performed the last Christian office to your keeper; I saw you follow him up the Heavy Hill to Tyburn."

And in Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair we have the following:—

"Knockem: What! my little lean Ursula! my she-bear! art thou alive yet with thy litter of pigs to grunt out another Bartholomew Fair? ha!

Ursula: Yes, and to amble a-foot, when the Fair is done; to hear you groan out of a cart up the Heavy Hill—

Knockem: Of Holborn, Ursula, mean'st thou so?"

It is told in Tom Brown's works that an old counsellor who lived in Holborn used every execution-day to give his clerks a half-holiday, sending them to see the show, and giving them this piece of advice: "Go, ye young rogues, go to school, and improve!"

The Holborn line of road was selected for the cruel whippings which Titus Oates and Dangerfield had to suffer, in the reign of James II. Titus Oates, as every one knows, was the chief informer in what was called the Popish plot; a plot, as he pretended to prove, that was promoted for the destruction of the Protestant religion in England. Several persons of quality were tried and executed chiefly on his evidence, and Oates, in return for his kind and timely information, received a pension of £1,200 a year, and was lodged in Whitehall. Scarcely, however, had King James II. ascended the throne, than he was cast into prison, and tried for perjury with respect to what he had asserted regarding the alleged plot. Being convicted, he was sentenced to stand in the pillory five times a year during his life, to be whipped from Aldgate to Newgate, and from thence to Tyburn; which sentence, says Neal, was exercised with a severity unknown to the English nation. "The impudence of the man," says the historian Hume, "supported itself under the conviction, and his courage under the punishment. He made solemn appeals to Heaven, and protestations of the veracity of his testimony. Though the whipping was so cruel that it was evidently the intention of the Court to put him to death by that punishment, yet he was enabled, by the care of his friends, to recover, and he lived to King William's reign, when a pension of £400 a year was settled upon him. A considerable number of persons adhered to him in his distress, and regarded him as a martyr to the Protestant cause." He died in 1705. Hume describes him as the most infamous of mankind, and tells us that in early life he had been chaplain to Colonel Pride, and that he was afterwards chaplain on board the fleet, whence he had been ignominiously dismissed. He then became a convert to the Roman Catholics, but used to boast in after years that his conversion was a mere pretence, which he made in order to get into their secrets and betray them.

The gentle Evelyn saw the Holborn part of Oates' punishment inflicted. He has this entry in his "Diary," on the 22nd of May, 1685: "Oates, who had but two days before been pilloried at several places, and whipped at the cart's tail from Newgate to Aldgate, was this day placed on a sledge, being not able to go, by reason of so late scourging, and dragged from prison to Tyburn, and whipped again all the way, which some thought to be very severe and extraordinary: but if he was guilty of the perjuries, and so of the death of so many innocents, as I fear he was, his punishment was but what he deserved. I chanced to pass just as execution was doing on him—a strange revolution."

Dangerfield, who had been the inventor of the "Meal-Tub Plot," was condemned, in the same year, to about as severe a punishment as Oates. He was ordered to stand twice in the pillory; to be whipped from Aldgate to Newgate on one day, and from Newgate to Tyburn on another; and to pay a fine of £500. He was not made of such tough material as his brother scoundrel, Oates. He "was struck with such horror at this terrible sentence, that he looked upon himself as a dead man, and accordingly chose a text for his funeral sermon, but persevered in asserting that all he had delivered in evidence before the House of Commons was true. The whipping was executed with full rigour, as before upon Oates, and was scarce over before one Mr. Robert Frances, a barrister, of Gray's Inn, gave him a wound with his cane in or near the eye, which, according to the deposition of the surgeon, was the cause of his death." This furious barrister, Mr. Frances, was consequently tried for the murder, and as it was found that the popular feeling was very violent against him, it was judged a politic proceeding to permit his conviction and execution.

So much for general observations upon Holborn. The first object which catches the eye as we look about for particulars on which to comment, is the statue erected to the memory of the late Prince Consort in Holborn Circus. This statue was unveiled on Friday, the 9th of January, 1874. It is a gift from a patriotic gentleman, who desires to remain unknown, to the Corporation of London. The prince is represented as responding to a salute. The pedestal, which is composed of stones weighing two to ten tons each, includes two sitting figures illustrating History and Peace, and bas-reliefs illustrating important events in Prince Albert's life. The statue is the work of Mr. Bacon. The pedestal is the joint design of the sculptor and Mr. William Haywood.

We must not forget to speak of an inn called the "Rose," which stood formerly on Holborn Hill, and only disappeared within the recollection of the present generation. From it Taylor the water-poet started in the Southampton coach for the Isle of Wight on the 19th of October, 1647, while Charles I. was there.

"We took one coach, two coachmen, and four horses,
And merrily from London made our courses,
We wheeled the top of the heavy hill called Holborn
(Up which hath been full many a sinful soul borne),
And so along we jolted past St. Giles's,
Which place from Brentford six or seven miles is."

So says Taylor in the beginning of his "Travels from London to the Isle of Wight."

Union Court, situated over against St. Andrew's Church, was originally called Scroop's Court. It derived this name from the noble family of Scrope of Bolton, who had a town house here, which was afterwards let to the serjeants-at-law. It ceased, it is said, to be a serjeants' inn about the year 1498.

Bartlett's Buildings, on the south side of Holborn, is described by Strype as "a very handsome place, graced with good buildings of brick, with gardens behind the houses," and he adds, that it is a region "very well inhabited by gentry, and persons of good repute." Were Strype to come alive again, he would not recognise the locality. Bartlett's Buildings is mentioned in the burial register of St. Andrew's (the parish in which it lies) as far back as November, 1615, and it is there called Bartlett's Court.

We read in Thoresby's Diary, "13th May, 1714.— At the meeting of the Royal Society, where was Sir Isaac Newton, the president. I met there, also, with several of my old friends, Dr. Sloane, Dr. Halley, &c. But I left all to go with Mr. Chamberlayn to Bartlett's Buildings, to the other society, viz., that for promoting Christian Knowledge, which is to be preferred to all other learning."

In Dyers' Buildings, the site of some almshouses of the Dyers' Company, lived William Roscoe, when he published his edition of Pope's Works, with notes and a life of the poet, 10 vols. 8vo, 1824. One of the principal objects of this new edition was to give a fuller and more accurate life of the poet than had yet appeared. Of the various biographical notices of him, it is not unjust to say that there was not one worthy of the subject. The Quarterly Review (October, 1825), in summing up the merits of Mr. Roscoe's work, says, "His original criticism is not much, but is enlightened and liberal; and the candour with which that and the life are written, is quite refreshing after the blighting perversity of the preceding editors, whose misrepresentations and calumnies he has industriously examined and patiently refuted, with a lucid arrangement both of facts and arguments."

At the corner of Furnival's Inn, on the opposite side of the street from Dyers' Buildings, Edward Kidder, the famous pastry-cook, had a school. He had another establishment in St. Martin's-le-Grand, and in these two places is said to have taught, from first to last, nearly six thousand ladies the delightful art of making pastry. Kidder published his receipts, engraved on copper, in a thin 8vo volume, with his portrait as a frontispiece. He died in April, 1739, in his seventy-third year. His book is somewhat dull reading, being unenlivened by any of those touches of fancy and eccentricity which make a work like Dr. Kitchener's "Cook's Oracle" so delightful to spend half an hour over.

And now crossing the street again we come to Castle Street, which runs from Holborn into Cursitor Street. Its proper name is Castle Yard, perhaps from the name of Castle Inn, on the site of which it is built. Lord Arundel, the great collector of art and antiquities, was living in 1619–20 in "Castle Yard, in Holborn." And here died Lady Davenant, the first wife of Sir William Davenant, the poet.

And having by Castle Street reached Cursitor Street, we may as well say a little about it, having omitted to do so in the beginning of our pilgrimage when speaking of Chancery Lane, of which it is a tributary. It is named after the Cursitor's Office or Inn, founded by Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England, and father of the famous Lord Bacon. Stow, speaking of Chancery Lane, says, "In this street the first fair building to be noted on the east side is called the Cursitor's Office: built with divers fair lodgings for gentlemen, all of brick and timber, by Sir Nicholas Bacon, late Lord Keeper of the Great Seal." Cursitor is said to be a corruption of chorister, and this seemeth the more probable, because "anciently all or the most part of the officers and ministers of Chancery, or Court of Conscience (for so the Chancery hath been called) were churchmen, divines, and canonists." The business of the Cursitors is to make out and issue writs in the name of the Court of Chancery.

When passing once through Cursitor Street with his secretary, Lord Chancellor Eldon said: "Here was my first perch; how often have I run down to Fleet Market with sixpence in my hand to buy sprats for supper."

It was here he lived with that pretty young wife whom he married so imprudently, though he used in after life to reflect upon the step as one of the most fortunate of his early career. "The romance of the law," says Mr. Jeaffreson, "contains few more pleasant episodes than the story of the elopement of Jack Scott (afterwards Lord Eldon) with Bessie Surtees. There is no need to tell in detail how the comely Oxford scholar danced with the banker's daughter at the Newcastle assemblies; how his suit was at first recognised by the girl's parents, although the Scotts were but rich 'fitters,' whereas Aubone Surtees, Esquire, was a banker and gentleman of honourable descent; how, on the appearance of an aged and patrician suitor for Bessie's hand, papa and mamma told Jack Scott not to presume on their condescension, and counselled Bessie to throw her lover over, and become the lady of Sir William Blackett; how Bessie was faithful and Jack was urgent; how they had secret interviews on Tyneside and in London, meeting clandestinely on horseback and on foot, corresponding privately by letters and confidential messengers; how, eventually, the lovers, to the consternation of 'good society' in Newcastle, were made husband and wife at Blackshiels, North Britain. Who is ignorant of the story? Does not every visitor to Newcastle pause before an old house in Sandhill, and look up at the blue pane which marks the window from which Bessie descended into her lover's arms?" After a short residence at Oxford, the future Lord Eldon naturally came (as mostly all talent does come) to London, and established himself in a humble little house in Cursitor Street. The pretty wife made it cheerful for him. He had in after life to regret her peculiarities, her stinginess, and her nervous repugnance to society; but he remained devoted in his attachment. "Poor Bessie!" he said, in his old age, after she was dead; "if ever there was an angel on earth, she was one. The only reparation which one man can make to another for running away with his daughter, is to be exemplary in his conduct towards her."

Returning to Holborn and proceeding westward, we come to Southampton Buildings, built on the site of Southampton House. They lie on the south side of Holborn, a little above Holborn Bars. Speaking of the old mansion-house, Peter Cunningham, in 1849, remarked that fragments still remained in his day. He was shown, in 1847, what was still called "the chapel" of the house, a building with rubble walls and a flat timbered roof. The occupant also told him that his father remembered a pulpit in the chapel, and that he himself, when forming the foundation of a workshop adjoining, had seen portions of a circular building which he supposed to be part of the old temple mentioned in a passage from Stow, which we shall make the subject of the following paragraphs:—

"Beyond the Bars [Holborn Bars]," says Stow, "had ye in old time a temple built by the Templars, whose order first began in 1118, in the nineteenth of Henry I. This temple was left and fell to ruin since the year 1184, when the Templars had builded them a new Temple in Fleet Street, near to the river of Thames. A great part of this old temple was pulled down but of late, in the year 1595.

"Adjoining to this old temple was some time the Bishop of Lincoln's inn, wherein he lodged when he repaired to this city. Robert de Curars, Bishop of Lincoln, built it about the year 1147. John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln, Chancellor of England in the reign of Richard III., was lodged there. It hath of late years belonged to the Earl of Southampton, and therefore called Southampton House. Master Roper hath of late much built there, by means whereof part of the ruins of the old temple are seen to remain, built of Caen stone, round in form as the new Temple by Temple Bar, and other temples in England."

We must not forget that in Southampton House, Thomas, the last Earl of Southampton, the faithful and virtuous servant of Charles I., and Lord Treasurer in the beginning of the reign of Charles II., ended his days. Pennant, the historian, when he comes to this point in his "Account of London," writes with all the pathos of an honest and feeling heart. "He died," he says, "in 1667, barely in possession of the white rod, which his profligate enemies were with difficulty dissuaded from wresting out of his dying hands. He had the happiness of marrying his daughter and heiress to a nobleman of congenial merit, the ill-fated Lord Russell. Her virtues underwent a fiery trial, and came out of the test if possible more pure. I cannot read of her last interviews with her devoted lord without the strongest emotions. Her greatness of mind appears to uncommon advantage. The last scene is beyond the power of either pen or pencil. In this house they lived many years. When his lordship passed by it, on the way to execution, he felt a momentary bitterness of death in recollecting the happy moments of the place. He looked towards Southampton House, the tear started into his eye, but he instantly wiped it away."

Southampton House was taken down and private tenements erected on the site in the middle of the seventeenth century. Howel, writing in 1657, mentioning this fact, breaks out in his quaint way: "If any one should ask what the Almighty doth now in London, he might (as the pulse of the times beats) give the same answer that was given by the pagan philosopher, who, being demanded what Jupiter did in heaven, he said, 'Jupiter breaks great vessels, and makes small ones of their pieces.'"

In Southampton Buildings, in the house of a relative, Ludlow, the Parliamentary general, lay concealed from the Restoration till the period of his escape. And a very narrow escape it was. When the proclamation was issued by Charles II., requiring all the late king's judges to surrender themselves in fourteen days, on pain of being left out of the act of indemnity, he determined to fly the country. He bade farewell to his friends, and went over London Bridge in a coach to St. George's Church in the borough of Southwark, where he took horse, and travelling all night, arrived at Lewes, in Sussex, by break of day next morning. Soon after, he went on board a small open vessel prepared for him; but the weather being very bad, he quitted that, and took shelter in a larger which had been got ready, but it stuck in the sands going down the river. He had hardly got on board this, when some persons came to search that which he had just left. After waiting a night and a day for the storm to abate (during which time the master of the vessel asked him whether he had heard that Lieutenant-General Ludlow was confined among the rest of the king's judges), he put to sea, and landed at Dieppe in the evening, before the gates were shut. Having thus got him out of the reach of danger, we shall leave him, only waiting to tell the reader that he died at Vevay, in Switzerland, in 1693, his last wishes being for the prosperity, peace, and glory of his country.

One of the early coffee-houses of London was established in Southampton Buildings. In the autobiography of Anthony à Wood (ii. 65) we come upon the following passage in connection with the year 1650:—"This year Jacob, a Jew, opened a coffey-house at the Angel in the parish of St. Peter, in the East Oxon, and there it was by some, who delighted in noveltie, drank. When he left Oxon, he sold it in old Southampton Buildings, in Holborne, near London, and was living there in 1671."

When coffee was first introduced into England, about the middle of the seventeenth century, the new beverage, as was to be expected, had its opponents as well as its advocates. There were broadsides against coffee, just as there had been counterblasts against tobacco; but in spite of opposition it became a favourite drink, and the shops where it was sold grew to be places of general resort. They were frequented by quidnuncs, and were the great marts for news of all kinds, true and false.

In 1675, a paternal Government issued a proclamation for shutting up and suppressing all coffeehouses. They found, however, that in making this proclamation they had gone a step too far. So early as this period the coffee-house had become a power in the land—as Macaulay tells us—a most important political institution, when public meetings, harangues, resolutions, and the rest of the machinery of agitation, had not come into fashion, and nothing like a newspaper existed. In such circumstances the coffee-houses were the chief organs through which the public opinion of the metropolis vented itself. Consequently, on a petition of the merchants and retailers of coffee, permission was granted to keep the coffee-houses open for six months, under an admonition that the masters of them should prevent all scandalous papers, books, and libels from being read in them, and hinder every person from declaring, uttering, or divulging all manner of false and scandalous reports against Government or the ministers thereof. The absurdity of constituting every maker of a cup of coffee a censor of the press was too great even for those days: the proclamation was laughed at, and no more was heard of the suppression of coffee-houses.

Dr. Birkbeck, in 1823, founded a Mechanics' Institution in Southampton Buildings, for the dissemination of useful knowledge among the industrious classes of the community, by means of lectures, classes, and a library.

"In inquiring," says a writer from whom we have already quoted, "into the origin of that movement for popular instruction which has occupied so broad a space during this century, we are met by the name of George Birkbeck standing out in conspicuous characters. The son of a banker at Settle, in Yorkshire, and reared as a medical practitioner, he was induced at an early period of life to accept a professorship in what was called the Andersonian Institution of Glasgow, a kind of popular university which had just then started into being. Here Birkbeck found great difficulty in getting apparatus made for a course of lectures on Natural and Experimental Philosophy; and this suggested to him the establishment of popular lectures to working men, with a view to the spread of knowledge in various matters relating to the application of science to the practical arts. This was the germ from which Mechanics' Institutions afterwards sprung. The trustees of the Andersonian Institution had not Birkbeck's enthusiasm; they deemed the scheme visionary, and refused at first to support it. In the autumn of 1800 he went to Yorkshire for a vacation, and there digested a plan for forming a class solely for persons engaged in the practical exercise of the mechanical arts, men whose education in early life had precluded even the possibility of acquiring the smallest portion of scientific knowledge. This mechanics' class was to be held in one of the rooms of the Andersonian Institution.

"On his return to Glasgow, he opened communications with the chief owners of manufacturing establishments, offering to the more intelligent workmen free admission to his class. The first lecture was attended by seventy-five artisans; it excited so much interest, that two hundred came to the second lecture, three hundred to the third, and five hundred to the fourth. His grateful pupils presented him with a silver cup at the close of the course, as a token of their appreciation of his disinterested kindness. He repeated these labours year after year till 1804, when he resigned his position at Glasgow to Dr. Ure, who, like him, was at that time struggling into fame. Birkbeck married, came to London, and settled down as a physician.


"Many years elapsed during which Dr. Birkbeck was wholly absorbed in his professional duties. He did not, however, forget his early schemes, and as he advanced in life, he found or made opportunities for developing them. In 1820 he gave a gratuitous course of lectures at the London Institution. Gradually a wish spread in various quarters to put in operation the plan which had so long occupied the thoughts of Dr. Birkbeck—viz., to give instruction in science to working men. In 1821 a School of Arts was established in Edinburgh, chiefly through the instrumentality of Mr. Leonard Horner. In 1823 a Mechanics' Institution was founded at Glasgow, and another in London, of which last Dr. Birkbeck was very appropriately elected president, an office he filled till his death, eighteen years afterwards.

"On the 2nd of December, 1824, being the first anniversary of the formation of the London Mechanics' Institution, the foundation-stone was laid of an edifice to be used as a theatre for delivering the lectures of the professors, on the premises occupied by the Institution in Southampton Buildings. The newly-established concern was at first highly successful. Men of great attainments offered their services as lecturers, and the lecture-hall very often contained a thousand persons listening with the greatest attention to discourses on astronomy, experimental philosophy, chemistry, physiology, the steam-engine, &c. Many persons who afterwards attained to a more or less distinguished position in society, owed their first knowledge of the principles of science to the London Mechanics' Institution. The novelty and success of the enterprise were so great that similar institu tions sprung up rapidly in various parts of the kingdom."


When the first enthusiasm wore off, Mechanics' Institutions hardly realised, perhaps, the expectations of their founders. The reasons for this have been thus set down by a careful observer:—"In large towns," he says, "the energy and enthusiasm that originated them carried them on for a time; but as the novelty wore off the members and revenue decreased, modifications of plan had to be adopted, new features introduced, and radical changes made. If these proved acceptable to the public, the institution flourished; if not, it decayed. If the original idea of giving scientific education only were strictly carried out, the number of members was small, while, if amusement took the place of study, the institution lived in jeopardy from the fickle and changing taste for amusement on the part of the public."

The Mechanics' Institution in Southampton Buildings has now departed considerably from the design of the founder, and flourishes under the title of the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution.

A well by which wonderful cures were effected, both on the blind and the lame, was discovered in 1649 near Southampton House. It was known as the Soldier's Well, the finder having been of the military profession, and is mentioned in "Perfect Occurrences from August 24th to August 31st, 1649."

Fulwood's Rents, commonly called Fuller's Rents, in Holborn, is a narrow-paved court nearly opposite the end of Chancery Lane. It leads into Gray's Inn Walks, Gray's Inn Gardens. Strype, in 1720, describes it thus:—"Fulwood's Rents, opposite to Chancery Lane, runneth up to Gray's Inn, into which it hath an entrance, through the gate; a place of a good resort, and taken up by coffeehouses, ale-houses, and houses of entertainment, by reason of its vicinity to Gray's Inn. On the east side is a handsome open place, with a freestone pavement, and better built, and inhabited by private housekeepers. At the upper end of this court is a passage into the Castle Tavern, a house of considerable trade, as is the Golden Griffin Tavern, on the west side, which also hath a passage into Fulwood's Rents."

Here stood "John's," one of the earliest coffeehouses. "When coffee first came in (circ. 1656)," says Aubrey, in his "Lives," "he (Sir Henry Blount) was a great upholder of it, and hath ever since been a constant frequenter of coffee-houses, especially Mr. Farre's, at the Rainbow, by Inner Temple-gate, and lately John's Coffee-house, in Fuller's Rents."

Adjoining Gray's Inn Gate, on the west side, was Squire's Coffee-house, from whence several of the Spectators are dated.

Ned Ward, the author of the "London Spy," kept a punch-house within one door of Gray's Inn, and here he died, in the year 1731. This writer, whom, in the course of our rambles through Old London, we have already several times quoted, was of low extraction, and born in Oxfordshire, about 1667. His residence was not always in Fulwood's Rents, for we find him living a while in Gray's Inn, then, for some years after, keeping a public-house in Moorfields, and after that in Clerkenwell. In his last establishment, off Holborn, he would entertain any company who invited him with stories and adventures of the poets and authors he was acquainted with. Pope honoured him with a place in the "Dunciad," but Ward took his revenge, and retorted with some spirit. He died on the 20th of June, 1731, and, on the 27th of the same month, was interred in St. Pancras Churchyard, with one mourning coach for his wife and daughter to attend the hearse, as he had himself directed in a poetical will, written by him on the 24th of June, 1725. Ward is best known by his "London Spy," a coarse production, but, in some respects, a true representation of the metropolitan manners of his day.

The "Castle Tavern," of which Strype makes mention, was kept for many years by Thomas Winter, better known as "Tom Spring," the pugilist, who died here on the 20th of August, 1851.

A curious gabled and projecting house, of the time of James I., stands about the centre of the east side of Fulwood's Rents. A ground-floor room of this house is engraved by Mr. Archer, in his "Vestiges of Old London," and is given by us on page 534. The apartment was entirely panelled with oak, the mantelpiece being carved in the same wood, with caryatides and arched niches; the ceiling-beams were carved in panels, and the entire room was original, with the exception of the window. On the first floor, a larger room contained another carved mantelpiece, of very florid construction. The front of the house is said to be covered with ornament, now concealed by plaster.

In the "Banquet of Jests" (1639) we find mention made of a tavern near this, called the "Sun:" —"A pleasant fellow, willing to put off a lame horse, rode him from the 'Sunne Tavern,' within Cripplegate, to the 'Sunne' in Holborn, neere the Fuller's Rents; and the next day offering to sell him in Smithfield, the buyer asking him why he looked so leane, 'Marry, no marvell,' answered he, 'for but yesterday I rid him from sunne to sunne, and never drew bit."

Dr. Johnson, in 1748, lived at the "Golden Anchor," at Holborn Bars.

At the east corner of the Middle Row, Sir James Branscombe kept a lottery-office for forty years, He had been footman to the Earl of Gainsborough, and was knighted when Sheriff of London and Middlesex, in 1806.

The history of lotteries in England is an entertaining one. The earliest English lottery was drawn in 1569. The drawing began on the 11th of January, at the west door of St. Paul's, and continued day and night till the 6th of May. The scheme, which had been announced two years before, shows that the lottery consisted of 40,000 lots, or shares, at 10s. each, and that it comprehended "a great number of good prizes, as well of ready money as of plate, and certain sorts of merchandise." Any profit that might be derived from the scheme was to be devoted to the reparation of harbours and other useful public works. The second lottery, in 1612, was projected to benefit the new colony in Virginia, and there is a tradition that the principal prize—4,000 crowns —was gained by a poor tailor. Down to 1826 (except for a short time following upon an Act of Queen Anne) lotteries continued to be sanctioned by the English Government as a source of revenue. It seems strange, says a popular writer, that so glaringly immoral a project should have been kept up under such auspices so long. The younger people at the present day may be at a loss to believe that, in the days of their fathers, there were large and imposing offices in London, such as this one in Holborn, and pretentious agencies in the provinces, for the sale of lottery-tickets; while flaming advertisements on walls, in new books, and in the public journals, proclaimed the preferableness of such and such "lucky" offices—this one having sold two-sixteenths of the last £20,000 prize, another having sold an entire £30,000 ticket the year before, and so on. It was found possible to persuade the public, or a portion of it, that where a blessing had once lighted, it was the more likely to light again. The competition amongst the lottery-offices was intense. One firm, finding an old woman in the country of the name of Goodluck, gave her £50 a year, on condition she should join them as a nominal partner, for the sake of the attractive effect of her name. In their advertisements each was sedulous to tell how many of the grand prizes had in former years fallen to the lot of persons who had bought at his shop.

"The State lottery," Dr. Chambers remarks, "was founded on the simple principle that the State held forth a certain sum, to be repaid by a larger. The transaction was usually managed thus: —The Government gave £10 in prizes for every share taken, on an average. A great many blanks, or of prizes under £10, left, of course, a surplus for the creation of a few magnificent prizes, wherewith to attract the unwary public. Certain firms in the City, known as lottery-office keepers, contracted for the lottery, each taking a certain number of shares; the sum paid by them was always more than £10 per share, and the excess constituted the Government profit. It was customary, for many years, for the contractors to give about £16 to the Government, and then to charge the public from £20 to £22. It was made lawful for the contractors to divide the shares into halves, quarters, eighths, and sixteenths, and they always charged relatively more for these aliquot parts. A man with 30s. to spare could buy a sixteenth, and the contractors made a large portion of their profit out of such customers."

"The Government sometimes paid the prizes in terminable annuities, instead of cash, and the loan system and the lottery system were occasionally combined in a very odd way. Thus, in 1780, every subscriber of £1,000 towards a loan of £2,000,000, at four per cent., received a bonus of four lotterytickets, the value of each of which was £10, and any one of which might be the fortunate number for a £20,000 or £30,000 prize."

The culminating point in the history of lottery gambling appears to have been the year 1772. The whole town then went crazed on the chance of making large gains by small ventures. There were lottery magazines, lottery tailors and dressmakers; lottery glovers, hat-makers, and tea-dealers; lottery snuff and pig-tail merchants; lottery barbers, who promised, on payment of 3d., to shave you and give you a chance of being paid £10; lottery shoe-blacks; lottery ordinaries, where one might obtain, for 6d., a plate of beef and the chance of winning sixty guineas; lottery oyster-stalls, where 3d. yielded a dozen of oysters and a very distant prospect of five guineas; and, lastly, a sausagestall, in a blind alley, where you might, by purchasing a farthing's worth of sausages, should the fates prove propitious, gain a bonus of 5s.

The demoralising effect of this state of affairs may be readily imagined. By creating illusive hopes lotteries supplanted steady industry. Shopmen robbed their masters, servant-girls their mistresses, friends borrowed from each other under false pretences, and husbands stinted their wives and children of necessaries—all to raise the means for buying a portion or the whole of a lottery-ticket. There was no exaggeration in the report of a committee of the House of Commons, a considerable time prior to the abolition of lotteries in 1826, which remarked that "the foundation of the lottery is so radically vicious that under no system can it become an efficient source of gain, and yet be divested of the evils and calamities of which it has proved so baneful a source. Idleness, dissipation, and poverty are increased; sacred and confidential trusts are betrayed; domestic comfort is destroyed; madness often created; crimes subjecting the perpetrators to death are committed. No mode of raising money appears so burdensome, pernicious, and unproductive. No species of adventure is known where the chances are so great against the adventurers, none where the infatuation is more powerful, lasting, and destructive. In the lower classes of society the persons engaged are, generally speaking, either immediately or ultimately tempted to their ruin; and there is scarcely any condition of life so destitute and so abandoned but its distresses have not been aggravated by this allurement to gaming."

Amidst all this immoral and unhealthy excitement, however, many incidents occurred which, to read about at least, afford amusement. In 1767, for example, a lady in Holborn had a lottery-ticket presented to her by her husband, and on the Sunday preceding the drawing, her success was prayed for in the parish church—St. Andrew's, most probably—in this form: "The prayers of this congregation are desired for the success of a person engaged in a new undertaking." Possibly she was one of those who followed the lottery-loving clergy who used to defend the appeal to chance by reference to Scripture, urging that "by lot it was determined which of the goats should be offered to Aaron; by lot the land of Canaan was divided; by lot Saul was marked out for the kingdom; by lot Jonah was found to be the cause of the tempest; by lot the apostles filled up the vacant place of Judas." But "the devil can quote Scripture for his purpose."

In the same year (1767) the prize (or a prize) of £20,000 fell to the lot of a tavern-keeper at Abingdon. We are told, in the journals of the time—"The broker who went from town to carry him the news he complimented with £100. All the bells in the place were set a-ringing. He called his neighbours, and promised to assist this one with a capital sum, that one with another. He gave away plenty of liquor, and vowed to lend a poor cobbler money to buy leather to stock his stall so full that he should not be able to get into it to work; and, lastly, he promised to buy a new coach for the coachman who brought him down the ticket, and to give a set of as good horses as could be bought for money."

The theory of "lucky numbers" attracted great attention in the days of lotteries. When the drawing took place, papers inscribed with as many different numbers as there were shares, or tickets, were placed in a hollow wheel; one of these was drawn out, usually by a Bluecoat boy, and the number was audibly announced. Another Bluecoat boy then drew out of another wheel a paper, representing either a "blank" or a prize for a certain sum of money, and the purchaser of that particular number got nothing or gained a prize accordingly. With a view to getting lucky numbers, one man would select his own age, or the age of his wife; another would select the date of the year, a third a row of odd or of even numbers. Some, in their excitement, dreamt of numbers, and purchased tickets in harmony with their dreams. There is an amusing paper in the Spectator (No. 191, October 9, 1711) in which the subject of lucky numbers is dealt with in a strain of pleasant banter. It tells of one man who selected 1711, because it was the year of our Lord; of another who sought for 134, because it constituted the minority on a celebrated bill in the House of Commons; and of a third who selected the number of the beast, 666, on the ground that wicked beings were often lucky. In 1790 a lady bought No. 17090, because it was the nearest in sound to 1790, which had been already sold to some other applicant. A story is told of a tradesman who, on one occasion, bought four tickets consecutive in number. He thought it foolish to have them so close together, and took one back to the office to be exchanged. The one thus taken back turned up a £20,000 prize!

The last "State lottery" was drawn in England on the 18th of October, 1826, at Cooper's Hall, Basinghall Street. Public suspicion had, however, by this time been aroused, and though such numbers turned out to see the last of a long series of legalised swindles, as to inconveniently crowd the hall, the lottery-office keepers could not dispose of all the tickets. The abolition of lotteries deprived the Government of a revenue equal to £250,000 or £300,000 per annum.

In Holborn was born the once popular lecturer and poet, George Alexander Stevens, "a man," says the late Mr. J. H. Jesse, "whose misfortunes were only equal to his misconduct—at one time the idol of a Bacchanalian club, and at another the inmate of a gaol; at one time writing a drinkingsong, and at another a religious poem. Stevens is now, perhaps, best remembered from his 'Lectures on Heads,' a medley of wit and nonsense, to which no other person but himself could have given the proper effect. The lecture was originally designed for Shuter, who entirely failed in the performance. Stevens, however, no sooner attempted the task himself than it became instantly popular."

At the commencement of his career Stevens attempted the stage, a line of life which he soon abandoned. As an actor his merit was below mediocrity. As a humorous writer he acquired considerable fame, but his life being neither regulated by the rules of virtue nor of prudence, his health was soon impaired, his finances were often at a low ebb, and his person was not unfrequently in durance. His pecuniary position, however, was much improved by his happily conceived lecture, by means of which he soon amassed a large sum of money. After delivering it in England and Scotland, with extraordinary approbation, he visited America, and was well received in all the principal towns. In fact, in the course of a few years he became worth about £10,000; but the greater part of this sum had melted from his hands before his death. He died on the 6th of September, 1784, his mind having for some time previous been in a state of hopeless idiotic ruin.

Stevens is the first instance that can be produced of one man, single-handed, keeping an audience amused for the space of four hours. As he was the inventor of this species of entertainment, it may naturally be inquired by what means it was suggested to him. The first idea of his lecture, it is said, was got at a village, where he was manager of a theatrical company. He met there with a country mechanic, who described the members of the corporation with great force and humour. Upon this idea Stevens improved, and was assisted in making the heads by his friend, who little imagined what a source of profit he had established.

Gerarde, the herbalist, had a large physic-garden in Holborn. The site is uncertain, but we may as well notice it here. He dates his "Herbal" "From my house in London, within the suburbs of London, this first of December, 1597." He mentions in his famous work many rare plants which grew well in the garden behind his house.

Of his botanic garden in Holborn, says Chalmers, "Gerard published a catalogue in 1596, and again in 1599. Of this work scarcely an impression is known to exist, except one in the British Museum, which proved of great use in preparing the 'Hortus Kewensis' of Mr. Aiton, as serving to ascertain the time when many old plants were first cultivated. It contains, according to Dr. Pulteney, 1,033 species, or at least supposed such, though many, doubtless, were varieties; and there is an attestation of Lobel subjoined, vouching for his having seen nearly all of them growing and flowering. This was one of the earliest botanic gardens in Europe."

This last statement of Chalmers' is a little of an exaggeration. The fact is, there was a botanic garden in England, at Syon House, the seat of the Duke of Somerset, as early as the beginning of the sixteenth century. It was under the superintendence of Dr. Turner, whom Dr. Pulteney considers as the father of English botany. A great deal of interest seems to have been taken in botany during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and many new plants were brought into the country. Gerarde mentions Nicholas Lete, a merchant in London, "greatly in love with rare and fair flowers, for which he doth carefully send into Syria, having a servant there at Aleppo, and in many other countries, for which myself and the whole land are much bound unto him." The same author also gives due honour to Sir Walter Raleigh; to Lord Edward Zouch, who, assisted by the celebrated Lobel, brought plants and seeds from Constantinople; and to Lord Hunsdon, Lord High Chamberlain of England, who, he says, "is worthy of triple honour for his care in getting, as also for his care in keeping, such rare and curious things from the farthest parts of the world."

Gerarde was born at Nantwich, in Cheshire, in 1545. He practised surgery in London, and rose to eminence in that profession. After the publication of his "Herbal," he lived for about ten years, his death taking place in 1607. Many errors have been pointed out in Gerarde's work, but he had the great merit of a practical knowledge of plants, with unbounded zeal and indefatigable perseverance. He contributed greatly to forward the knowledge of plants in England, and his name will be remembered by botanists with esteem, when the utility of his "Herbal" is superseded. "He was patronised," says Pennant, "by several of the first characters of the time. During twenty years he superintended the garden of the great statesman, Lord Burleigh; on his death, he found in Sir Walter Raleigh another patron; and the same in Lord Edward Zouch and Lord Hunsdon, Lord High Treasurer of England. All of those noblemen were much smitten with the useful and agreeable study of botany."

Many districts of London have in past times had the good fortune to be haunted by characters of an original type, and a most interesting volume might be compiled of these metropolitan oddities. At present we shall notice one who used to frequent the region of Holborn, and who has been taken notice of by "Aleph," in his "London Scenes and London People." This was Peter Stokes, known as "the Flying Pieman of Holborn Hill." He is thus described, dressed in all the finery of an oldfashioned costume, by Mr. Harvey, writing in 1863:— "When I was a youngster, the steep roadway from Hatton Garden to Fleet Market was highly attractive to me on account of the 'Flying Pieman,' though he did not vend pies, but a kind of baked plum-pudding, which he offered smoking hot. He was a slim, active, middle-sized man, about forty years old. He always wore a black suit, scrupulously brushed, dress-coat and vest, knee-breeches, stout black silk stockings, and shoes with steel buckles, then rather fashionable. His shirt, remarkably well got up, had a wide frill, surmounted by a spotless white cravat. He never wore either hat or cap; his hair, cropped very close, was plentifully powdered, and he was decorated with a delicate lawn apron, which hardly reached to his knees. In his right hand he held a small circular tray or board, just large enough to receive an appetite-provoking pudding, about three inches thick. This was divided into twelve slices, which he sold at a penny a slice. A broad blunt spatula, brilliantly bright, which he carried in his left hand, enabled him to dispense his sweets without ever touching them. His countenance was open and agreeable, expressive of intellect and moral excellence."


And about this man, engaged in such a humble trade, shone the light of a somewhat romantic history. He was by profession a painter, and, it was believed, possessed considerable talent. When he was a very young man he married, "all for love." His practice as an artist did not keep pace with the growing wants of a small family, and at last, with an eccentricity which, in the circumstances, may be pardoned, he determined to begin a street-trade on Holborn Hill, and conducted this business for many a day. From twelve to four o'clock he was to be seen shouting, "Buy, buy, buy!" as he moved to and fro, from Fetter Lane to Ely Place, thence to Thavies Inn or to Field Lane, Hatton Garden or Fleet Market, rapidly getting rid of his tempting wares. After four o'clock he betook himself to genteel lodgings in Rathbone Place, where Stokes was himself again, resumed his palette and easel, and found sitters increase as his means made them less necessary, for the street business proved a money-making one.

Peter Stokes' history recalls that of a remarkable hawker of savoury patties, who might. be constantly seen in the streets of Paris, during the earlier years of Louis XVI. He was of higher origin than our London "Flying Pieman," however, but reckless extravagance had reduced him to poverty while he was yet in the prime of life. His dress was fastidiously elegant, and while standing, basket in hand, on the steps of the Palais Royal, he wore round his neck the decoration of St. Croix. Sterne had seen him, and declares that his manners and address were those of a man of high rank.


Let us now speak about another character of this neighbourhood, namely, an old bellman of Holborn, and take the opportunity of saying a few words about bellmen in general. "In London, and probably in other English cities in the seventeenth century," says Dr. Robert Chambers, "the bellman was the recognised term for what we would now call a night watchman, being derived from the handbell which the man carried in order to give alarm in case of fire. In the Luttrell Collection of Broadsides (British Museum) is one dated 1683–4, entitled, 'A Copy of Verses presented by Isaac Ragg, Bellman, to his Masters and Mistresses of Holbourn Division, in the Parish of St. Giles-in-theFields.' It is headed by a woodcut representing Isaac in professional accoutrements—a pointed pole in the left hand, and in the right a bell, while his lantern hangs from his jacket in front. Below is a series of verses on St. Andrew's Day, King Charles the First's birthday, St. Thomas's Day, Christmas Day, St. John's Day, Childermas Day, New Year's Day, the 13th of January, &c., all of them being very proper, and very insufferable. The 'prologue' indeed is the only specimen worth giving, being the expression of Mr. Ragg's official duty. It runs as follows:—

'Time, master, calls your bellman to his task,
To see your doors and windows all are fast,
And that no villany or foul crime be done
To you or yours in absence of the sun.
If any base lurker I do meet,
In private alley or in open street,
You shall have warning by my timely call;
And so God bless you, and give rest to all."

One of our Holborn bellman's professional brethren, Thomas Law, issued a similar but unadorned broadside in 1666, which has had the good fortune to be preserved for our enlightenment. In it he greets his masters of "St. Giles, Cripplegate, within the Freedom," in no less than twenty-three dull stanzas, of which the last may be given here:—

"No sooner hath St. Andrew crowned November,
But Boreas from the north brings cold December;
And I have often heard a many say
He brings the winter month Newcastle way:
For comfort here of poor distressed souls
Would he had with him brought a fleet of coals."

At a fixed season of the year—most often, no doubt, Christmas—it seems to have been customary for the bellman to distribute copies of his broadside through the district of which he had the charge, expecting his masters to favour him in return with some small gratuity. The execrable character which usually belonged to these rhymed productions is shown by the contempt with which the wits used to speak of "bellman's verses."

Robert Herrick has a little poem in which he wishes good luck to his friends in the form of the nightly addresses of the bellman. Like all Herrick's productions, it is daintily musical. With its good wishes applied to the reader, we shall leave him for the present, and conclude this chapter:—

"From noise of scare fires rest ye free,
From murders benedicite;
From all mischances that may fright
Your pleasing slumbers in the night;
Mercie secure ye all, and keep
The goblin from ye, while ye sleep.
Past one o'clock, and almost two:
My masters all, 'good-day to you!'"