Old and New London: Volume 6. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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The Fishery which formerly existed here—Putney Ferry—High Street—Fairfax House—Chatfield House—The "Palace"—The Bridge of Boats—Putney House—The Almshouses—The Watermen's School—Cromwell Place—Grove House—D'Israeli Road—Nicholas West, Bishop of Ely—Wolsey's Secretary, Cromwell—An Incident in the Life of Wolsey—Bishop Bonner's House—Essex House—Lime Grove—The Residence of Edward Gibbon, the Historian—David Mallet, the Scotch Poet—John Tolland and Theodore Hook Residents here—Mrs. Shelley—Putney School—Douglas Jerrold—Bowling-Green House—Death of William Pitt—The Residence of Mrs. Siddons—James Macpherson—The Fire-proof House, and the Obelisk—The Royal Hospital for Incurables—Putney Heath—Celebrated Duels fought here—Duel between the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Shrewsbury at Barn-elms—Reviews on Putney Heath—Putney Park—Wimbledon Common—The Meetings of the Rifle Volunteers—The Oxford and Cambridge Boat-races—Evelyn's Visits to Putney—Putney Church—The Residence of Gibbons' Grandfather—Putney Bridge—The Aqueduct of the Chelsea Waterworks.
In this chapter we have, fortunately, to guide us the experience of a local antiquary, Miss Guthrie, whose work on the "Old Houses of Putney" deserves some formal recognition from the Society of Antiquaries, as an attempt to rescue from oblivion a variety of mansions which are of historic and national interest. It is almost needless to say that we have here drawn largely on her work for trustworthy information. Putney, which lies between Wandsworth and Barnes, and forms part of the manor of Wimbledon, was at a very remote period a place of some little importance, in consequence of the "fishery" which existed here. The first mention of the name—which occurs in the "Domesday Book," where it is styled "Putenhie"—is in connection with the fishery and ferry. According to an ancient custom of the Manor of Wimbledon, "out of every fishing-room belonging to Mortlake and Putney, several salmons were due to be delivered there for the licence or liberty of fishing and hauling and pitching their nets on the soil and shore of the lord of the manor." In 1663 the fishery was held for the three best salmon caught in March, April, and May; but this rent was afterwards converted into a money payment. At the sale of Sir Theodore Jansen's estates, on account of his complicity in the "South Sea Bubble," it was let for six pounds, but was afterwards raised to eight pounds. It brought the latter sum till 1786, since which period the "fishery," as such, has been abandoned, although, as we learn from Lysons' "Environs" and Faulkner's "History of Fulham," fishing continued to be carried on here till the early part of the present century. The salmon caught here are described as being very few in number, but of remarkably fine quality; whilst smelt were in great abundance in the months of March and April, and were highly esteemed. One or two sturgeons were generally taken in the course of a year, and occasionally a porpoise, which, together with the sturgeons, were claimed by the Lord Mayor. The fishermen were bound to deliver them as soon as caught to the water-bailiff. "For a porpoise they received a reward of fifteen shillings, and a guinea for a sturgeon."
The ferry here, at the time of the Conquest, yielded a toll of twenty shillings to the lord of the manor. In ancient times, it appears, it was customary for people travelling from London in this direction to proceed as far as Putney by water. During the reign of Elizabeth it was decreed that if any waterman neglected to pay to the owner of this ferry the sum of one halfpenny for every stranger, and a farthing for each inhabitant of Putney, he should pay a fine of two shillings and sixpence to the lord of the manor. The ferry continued to be of importance till early in the reign of George II., when it was superseded by a wooden bridge across the Thames from Putney to Fulham, of which we shall speak more fully presently.
As a town or village Putney now possesses little to recommend it, except its ancient houses, which are still very numerous. The High Street extends from the river-side up to the Heath: it is a broad thoroughfare, and contains an average supply of shops and places of business. There are those still living who remember this street when it had one very broad pavement shaded by stately trees, and a kennel on either side, by means of which the roadway was watered in summer.
Fairfax House, in the High Street, the finest of all the above-mentioned manors of Putney, is believed to have been built by a gentleman of that name in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It is even said that her Majesty dined here upon one occasion. At the back of the house is a spacious lawn, the trees in which are said to have been planted by Bishop Juxon.
Chatfield House, also in the High Street, is rendered interesting from the circumstance that Leigh Hunt died there while on a visit to its occupant.
On a portion of the ground now occupied by River Street and River Terrace, stood in former times a building which in its latter days became known as "the Palace," from the fact of its having been frequently honoured by the presence of royalty. Miss Guthrie tells us that it is described as having been a spacious red-brick mansion of the Elizabethan style of architecture, forming three sides of a square, with plate-glass windows overlooking the river, and that it possessed extensive gardens and pleasure-grounds. It was built within a court-yard, and approached through iron gates.
This house covered the site of the ancient mansion of the Welbecks, whose monument, dated 1477, is in the parish church close by. The building was erected at the end of the sixteenth century by John Lacy, "a citizen and clothworker of London;" and the ceilings of one of the rooms, it is stated, comprised the arms of the Clothworkers' Company among its ornamentation. Mr. Nichols, in his "Progresses of Queen Elizabeth," says that she "honoured Lacy with her company more frequently than any of her subjects." Indeed, from the churchwardens' accounts at Fulham, it seems that her Majesty visited Mr. Lacy at least a dozen times between the years 1579 and 1603; that she frequently dined with this highly-favoured host, and sometimes sojourned for two or three days under his hospitable roof; and that the last occasion of her visit there was only about three months before her death.
A survey of Wimbledon Manor, written in 1617, mentions the circumstance of James I. having been in this house. His Majesty was himself a member of the Clothworkers' Company. King James and his queen, we are told, "went from Putney to Whitehall previously to their coronation." A few years later the house in which the "maiden queen" and "gentle Jamie" had spent so many pleasant hours was occupied by General Fairfax.
In 1647, Cromwell, equally jealous of the Parliament and the king, who was then at Hampton Court, fixed the head-quarters of his army at Putney in order to watch their respective movements. The houses of the principal inhabitants were occupied by the general officers, who, during their residence here, held their councils in the parish church, and sat with their hats on round the communion-table, relieving the monotony of their deliberations by psalm-singing or a sermon from some popular preacher. In Whitelocke's "Memorials," under date September 18, 1647, we read:—"After a sermon in Putney Church, the general, many great officers, field officers, inferior officers, and agitators, met in the church, debated the proposals of the army, and altered some few things in them, and were full of the sermon, which was preached by Mr. Peters." Old deceased historians and local authorities, we may here state, differ widely in their accounts of the manner in which Cromwell passed his time while domiciled at Putney. Thus, while the former represent him as being entirely engrossed with State affairs—holding conferences, and issuing mandates all tending to the future overthrow of royalty; the latter, on the other hand, would lead us to believe that his one thought was the beautifying of the place, and that his chief occupation was the planting of mulberry-trees all over Putney.
On the escape of the king from Hampton, on the 13th of November, the army quitted Putney, after a residence of three months.
After the battle of Brentford, the Earl of Essex determined to follow the king into Surrey, and a bridge of boats was constructed for that purpose between Fulham and Putney. The structure is thus referred to in a newspaper paragraph of the period:—"The Lord General hath caused a bridge to be built upon barges and lighters over the Thames between Fulham and Putney, to convey his army and artillery over into Surrey, to follow the king's forces; and he hath ordered that forts shall be erected at each and thereof to guard it; but for the present the seamen, with long boats and shallops full of ordnance and musketeers, lie there upon the river to secure it."
The "Palace," at the time when it was occupied by General Fairfax, is described in a newspaper of the period, printed by the authority of Parliament, as belonging to Mr. Wymondsold, "the high sheriff." It was afterwards held by Sir Theodore Jansen, from whose trustees it was purchased by Paul d'Aranda, whose daughter, generally styled Madame d'Aranda, was its owner at the commencement of the present century, when Lysons wrote his "Environs." On the death of this lady the house was thrown into Chancery, and after the lapse of the usual term of years, none out of the many heirs who presented themselves having made good their claim to the property, it was disposed of by a clergyman, who speedily levelled with the ground all that remained of the interesting old mansion. A portion of River Street, Gay Street, &c., are erected on what was once the gardens and pleasure-grounds. The stately iron gates, which in their time had opened wide to admit the "fantastic Elizabeth," the "ungainly James," and, when royalty for the time was nodding to its fall, the martial form of General Fairfax, were degraded into an entrance to a brush manufactory; whilst on a part of the once beautifully laid-out garden was erected "a shed or booth, where on Sunday afternoons active maidens disposed of fruit, lemonade, &c., to carefully-got-up young gentlemen, who came hither in crowds to breathe a purer air than that afforded them in the mighty city—Putney being at the time of which we speak a favourite resort with the citizens."
In close proximity to "the Palace" was formerly another ancient building, the residence of the Hochepieds and Larpents; and on the site now occupied by two large ranges of buildings known as "The Cedar Houses," stood at one time Putney House, and also another mansion called "The Cedars." Putney House, in the early part of the last century, was the residence of Mr. Gerard van Neck, who lived here in a style of great splendour, and, it is said, was frequently visited by George II., who stayed here as his guest during his hunting expeditions in the neighbourhood of Putney. For several years Putney House and The Cedars were in the occupation of the Hon. Leicester and the Hon. Lincoln Stanhope, brothers of the fourth Earl of Harrington. Mr. Heneage Legge, the latest occupant of Putney House, was well known for his benevolence. He seems to have been, too, a true son of the Church, and showed his appreciation of his pastor in a manner which, to him, must have been peculiarly agreeable. "Daily a knife and fork were laid on his table for the special use of the Rev. Henry St. Andrew St. John, should he choose to avail himself of the good old squire's free-hearted hospitality, while a saddlehorse was kept in readiness for him whenever he felt inclined for equestrian exercise."
About the year 1839 Putney House was converted into a College for Civil Engineers, which was founded by subscriptions among the nobility and others, for the purpose of conferring a superior education on the sons of respectable persons in the engineering, mathematical, and mechanical sciences. The college was broken up in 1857, and the fine old mansion pulled down.
At the foot of Starling Lane stood the residence of Sir Abraham Dawes, the founder of the almshouses which bear his name in Wandsworth Lane. Sir Abraham was one of the farmers of the Customs, an eminent loyalist of the reign of Charles II., and one of the richest commoners of his time. The almshouses were "for twelve poor almsmen and almswomen, being single persons and inhabitants of Putney." For some time, however, only women have been admitted.
The Watermen's School, in Wandsworth Lane, was founded in 1684 by Thomas Martyn, a merchant of London, as a token of gratitude for having been saved from drowning by a Putney waterman. The school is a spacious red-brick building, and in it is afforded maintenance and education for twenty boys, the sons of watermen.
Cromwell Place now occupies the ancient site of Mr. Campion's house, where General Ireton lodged in the year 1646. In Lysons' time this house was a school, in the occupation of the Rev. Mr. Adams. According to a date in one of the rooms, it was built in 1533. Some years ago this interesting old house was taken down, and its materials employed in the construction of the cottage, known as Cromwell Place. The names of Cromwell House and Cromwell Place naturally lead one to suppose that Cromwell himself was quartered somewhere in this neighbourhood. It has been stated that the house he occupied stood at the corner of the High Street and Wandsworth Lane; but the absence of any record of the fact renders it impossible to fix upon this, or any other locality, with any degree of certainty. Grove House, which stood between the High Street and D'Israeli Road, but has been removed to make room for a new thoroughfare, was a fine old mansion, also associated by tradition with the name of Oliver Cromwell. But we cannot guarantee this tradition, for it has been observed—"There is scarce a village near London in which there is not one house appropriated to Cromwell, though there is no person to whom they might be appropriated with less probability. During the whole of the Civil Wars Cromwell was with the army; when he was Protector, he divided his time between Whitehall and Hampton Court."
D'Israeli Road is, of course, of recent formation, composed of middle-class houses. The naming of the thoroughfare seems to have given rise to some little difficulty, and became the subject of proceedings in the police-court; for one enthusiastic resident, taking objection to the name, obliterated it from the house whereon it was affixed, and for so doing was summoned by the Board of Works to answer for his conduct, and had to pay a fine.
Putney is memorable as the birthplace of at least two or three eminent characters. Nicholas West, Bishop of Ely, the reputed son of a baker, was born here; as also was Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, whose father was a blacksmith in the village. The site of Cromwell's birthplace is still pointed out by tradition, and is in some measure confirmed by the survey of Wimbledon Manor, quoted above, for it describes on that spot "an ancient cottage called the smith's shop, lying west of the highway from Richmond to Wandsworth, being the sign of the Anchor." The plot of ground here referred to is now covered by the "Green Man" public-house. Cromwell, as every reader of English history knows, was for some time in the service of Cardinal Wolsey, in the character of steward or agent. He became a member of Parliament, and when his unfortunate master was lying under the charge of high treason, distinguished himself by a bold and able defence of the cardinal. The king, we are told, conceived a very high opinion of his abilities, and "heaped on him numerous employments." On the abolition of the papal supremacy he was made Vicar-General of the Spiritualities, in virtue of which office he presided at the synod held in 1537. In the same year he was created Baron Okeham, of Okeham, in Rutlandshire, and three years later was elevated to the earldom of Essex. To support these dignities he had made to him large grants of land, chiefly in Essex; but he likewise had conferred on him a grant of the manor of Wimbledon. His sudden fall is well known, and may therefore be here summed up in a few words. Essex had been instrumental in bringing about the union of Henry VIII. and Anne of Cleves; and the immediate cause of his downfall is said to have been the king's disgust for the royal lady. He was arrested for treason in June, 1540, and in the following month he perished by the hands of the executioner.
Putney is, singularly enough, connected with the following incident in the life of Wolsey:—On ceasing to be the holder of the Great Seal of England, and obeying the royal mandate, Wolsey quitted the sumptuous palace of Whitehall, which Henry had marked for his own, and removed to his palace at Esher. For this purpose he embarked on board his barge at Whitehall Stairs. The news of his "disgrace" had spread abroad, and the Thames soon became crowded with boats filled with men and women, hooting and insulting him, and shouting aloud their delight to see him sent to the Tower; but the indignant prelate threw a defiant glance on his exulting enemies, and instead of descending the river to the Tower, as they had been led to imagine he would, he ascended it towards Putney. Here he took the road westward to Esher. As he was riding up Putney Hill he was overtaken by one of the royal chamberlains, Sir John Norris, who there presented him with a ring as a token of the continuance of his majesty's favour. Stow declares that "when the Cardinal had heard Master Norris report these good and comfortable words of the king, he quickly lighted from his mule all alone, as though he had been the youngest of his men, and incontinently kneeled down in the dirt upon both knees, holding up his hands for joy of the king's most comfortable message. Master Norris lighted also, espying him so soon upon his knees, and kneeled by him, and took him up in his arms, and asked him how he did, calling upon him to credit his message. 'Master Norris,' quoth the Cardinal, 'when I consider the joyful news that you have brought to me, I could do no less than greatly rejoice. Every word pierces so my heart, that the sudden joy surmounted my memory, having no regard or respect to the place; but I thought it my duty, that in the same place where I received this comfort, to laud and praise God upon my knees, and most humbly to render unto my sovereign lord my most hearty thanks for the same.'" Wolsey told the chamberlain that his tidings were worth half a kingdom, but as he had nothing left but the clothes on his back, he could make him no suitable reward. He, however, gave Sir John a small gold chain and crucifix. "As for my Sovereign," he added, "sorry am I that I have no worthy token to send him; but, stay, here is my fool, that rides beside me; I beseech thee take him to court, and give him to his Majesty. I assure you, for any nobleman's pleasure he is worth a thousand pounds."
Bishop Bonner is said to have had a residence here, the site of which is now covered by some houses belonging to Mr. Avis. Bonner's house is reported to have contained some good old oak panelling, a portion of which is still in existence; it is described as being of the old napkin pattern, with this peculiarity, that in every panel there was inserted a small cross.
Where the Lower Terrace now stands was at one time a fine old family mansion. Its entrance-hall and public apartments were of stately dimensions, while the kitchen, it is said, afforded unmistakable evidence of having been a private chapel.
Essex House is generally believed to have been built and occupied by Queen Elizabeth's ill-starred favourite, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, about the end of the sixteenth century. The royal arms, with the initials E. R., appear in the ornamentation of the drawing-room, and also in one of the bedrooms. The wainscoting of the various rooms is stated to be of wood which formed a portion of one of the ships of the Spanish Armada. Some weight is given to the tradition that Lord Essex lived in this house by the fact that his Countess was the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, who passed the latter years of his eventful life in the quiet seclusion of Barn Elms, which adjoins Putney on the west, and where he was frequently visited by his son-in-law.
At the base of Putney Hill, where the stately trees of former times have given place to modern villas, stood Lime Grove, the seat of Lady St. Aubyn. The mansion derived its name from a grove of limes which formed an avenue to the house. The structure was one of those thoroughly English mansions, erected for convenience and comfort rather than for display. The apartments were spacious and lofty, and contained a rich store of pictures and articles of vertu; among the former were several by Opie, of whom Sir John St. Aubyn was an early patron. This house was for some time the residence of the family of Edward Gibbon, who tells us, in his Autobiography, that his grandfather acquired here "a spacious house with gardens and lands," and resided here "in decent hospitality." His father, who inherited the property, had the nonjuror, William Law, as his tutor; but, in Gibbon's words, "the mind of saint is above or below the present world; and so, while the pupil proceeded abroad on his travels, the tutor remained at Putney, the much honoured friend and spiritual director of the whole family." Here the historian was born, on the 27th of April (old style) in 1737; and his baptism, and that of his five younger brothers and a sister, may be seen recorded in the parish register. He received his early education partly at home, and partly at a day-school in the village, till old enough to be sent to a boarding-school. A great part of his time was spent with his aunt, at the house of his maternal grandfather. This house, he tells us, was near Putney Bridge and churchyard. It was subsequently tenanted by Sir John Shelley, the Duke of Norfolk, and other members of the upper classes. Here Gibbon spent his holidays whilst at school, until the house was broken up on his mother's death, when he was in his twelfth year.
An amusing story is told of Gibbon in the last volume of Moore's "Memoirs:"—"The dramatis personæ were Lady Elizabeth Foster, Gibbon, the historian, and an eminent French physician—the historian, and doctor being rivals in courting the lady's favour. Impatient at Gibbon occupying so much of her attention by his conversation, the doctor said crossly to him, 'When my Lady Elizabeth Foster is made ill by your twaddle, I will cure her.' On which Gibbon, drawing himself up grandly, and looking disdainfully at the physician, replied, 'When my Lady Elizabeth Foster is dead from your recipes, I will immortalise her.'"
Another resident of Putney was David Mallet, the Scotch poet, to whom Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, left £500 for writing the life of the great duke, her lord. His character, as we know from Johnson's Life of him, was immoral; but, at all events, it seems to have been in keeping with such principles as he had; for Gibbon, in his "Memoirs," speaks of having been taken to Putney "to the house of Mr. Mallet, by whose philosophy," he adds, "I was rather scandalised than reclaimed."
John Tolland, the deistical writer, spent the latter years of his life in Putney, living in obscure lodgings at a carpenter's, where he died in 1722. Here, too, at the house of the Countess of Guildford, on Putney Hill, died Henry Fuseli, the artist, in 1825.
Theodore Hook, in 1825, took a cottage at Putney, of which neighbourhood he had always been fond; while at Putney he re-wrote—or composed from rough illiterate materials—the very entertaining "Reminiscences" of his old theatrical and musical friend, Michael Kelly.
At Layton House was living, in 1839, Mary Wollstonecraft, the widow of the poet Shelley. Whilst resident here, or at the White House, near the river-side, she wrote her husband's "Memoirs." She was the daughter of William Godwin, the author of "Caleb Williams," "St. Leon," and other works, by marriage with Mary Wollstonecraft, who was also eminent as a writer. Mrs. Shelley was the author of "Frankenstein," and other novels; she died in 1851.
The spacious old mansion in the Richmond Road, long known by the name of Putney School, owing to its having been for generations used as a school, was originally a country residence of the Duke of Hamilton. Here also General Fairfax resided for the space of nine months, during which period he was frequently visited by Cromwell. It is also said that the house was at one time the residence of the notorious Duchess of Portsmouth. This building, which is now called Putney House, was for a short time the Hospital for Incurables, previous to its transfer to Putney Heath. On the removal of the hospital, the old mansion was purchased by Colonel Chambers, well known as "Garibaldi's Englishman."
West Lodge, on Putney Common, was for some years the home of Douglas Jerrold, who here entertained many of the men who in a few years were destined to become the leaders of literary thought. Whilst resident at Putney he founded the Whittington Club, and wrote his celebrated "Caudle Lectures."
Putney, two centuries ago, was a place to which the Londoners repaired to play at bowls; such, at least, is the assertion of John Locke, who writes, in 1679: "The sports of England for a curious stranger to see are horse-racing, hawking, hunting, and bowling; at Marebone (fn. 1) (sic) and Putney he may see several persons of quality bowling two or three times a week." Mackay, in his "Tour through England," says that the "Bowling-Green House" was resorted to by the citizens for the purpose of deep play. Horace Walpole, in a letter to Sir Horace Mann, dated August 2, 1750, giving an account of the apprehension of James McLean, the "fashionable highwayman," writes:—"McLean had a quarrel at Putney Bowling-green two months ago with an officer whom he challenged for disputing his rank; but the captain declined till McLean should produce a certificate of his nobility, which he had just received." McLean was executed at Tyburn, as we have stated in a previous part of this work. (fn. 2)
The house at Putney Heath occupied by the "heaven-born minister," William Pitt, and in which he died, was called at that time "Bowling-Green House;" it derived its name from the fashionable place of entertainment mentioned above, and which existed on its site nearly a hundred years before. In the early days of George III. It was celebrated for its public breakfasts and evening assemblies during the summer season. It was occupied for some time by Archbishop Cornwallis previous to Pitt taking up his residence there.
For the following account of Mr. Pitt's death we are indebted to Lord Brougham's biography of the Marquis Wellesley:—"Lord Wellesley," he writes, "returned home from his glorious administration at a very critical period in our parliamentary history. Mr. Pitt was stricken with the malady which proved fatal—a typhus fever, caught from some accidental infection when his system was reduced by the stomach complaint under which he had long laboured. This their last interview was in Pitt's villa on Putney Heath, where he died within a few days. Lord Wellesley called upon me there many years after; the house was then occupied by my brother-in-law, Mr. Eden, whom I was visiting. His lordship showed me the place where these illustrious friends sat when they met for the last time. Mr. Pitt, he said, was much emaciated and enfeebled, but retained his gaiety and his constitutionally sanguine disposition, and even expressed his confident hopes of recovery. In the adjoining room he lay a corpse within the ensuing week; and it is a singular and melancholy circumstance, resembling the stories told of William the Conqueror's deserted state at his decease, that some one in the neighbourhood having sent a message to inquire after Mr. Pitt's state, he found the wicket, and then the door of the house, both open, and, as nobody answered the bell, he walked through the rooms until he reached the bed on which the minister's body lay lifeless, the sole tenant of the mansion, the doors of which but a few hours before were darkened by crowds of suitors alike obsequious and importunate—the vultures whose instinct haunts the carcases only of living ministers."
Lord Brougham shows us, in his "Autobiography," what a gentle, good-natured, and entertaining host Pitt could be, in spite of his apparent coldness and hauteur, by telling the story of his friend William Napier, who went to Putney Heath on a visit to Pitt, fully resolved to obtrude his strong Whiggism on his Tory host. "Primed with fierce recollections and patriotic resolves, he endeavoured to keep up, and not to conceal, a bitter hatred of the minister; but in vain. All hostile feelings gave way to that of unbounded surprise." Brougham adds the following interesting sketch of the famous Lady Hester Stanhope, the niece of the "heavenborn minister:"—"Lady Hester was there. He found her very attractive; and so rapid and decided was her conversation, so full of humour and keen observation, and withal so friendly and instructive, that it was quite impossible not to succumb to her, and to become her slave, whether laughing or serious. She was certainly not beautiful; but her tall, commanding figure, her large dark eyes and varying expression, changing as rapidly as her conversation, and equally vehement, kept him, as he expressed it, in a state of continual admiration. She had little respect for the political coadjutors of Mr. Pitt, and delighted to laugh at them. Lord Castlereagh she always called 'his monstrous lordship;' but Lord Liverpool she invariably treated as a constant theme for ridicule and contempt."
Pitt, who was only in his forty-seventh year at the time of his death, had been nineteen years First Lord of the Treasury, and died on the anniversary of the day on which, five-and-twenty years before, he had first entered Parliament. "In his neighbourhood," writes Mr. John Timbs in his "Autobiography," "he was much respected, and was a kind master to his domestics. A person who, a little before the great statesman's death, was in the room, stated that it was then heated to a very high and oppressive temperature; and the deep voice of the dying minister, as he asked his valet a question, startled a visitor who had been unused to it. There was long a doubt as to the last words of Mr. Pitt. Earl Stanhope, in his 'Life' of the great minister, gave them from a manuscript left by his lordship's uncle, the Hon. James H. Stanhope, as, 'Oh, my country! how I love my country!' But upon reexamination of the manuscript, a somewhat obscure one, no doubt was left in Lord Stanhope's mind that the word 'love' was a mistake for 'leave.' The expression, as in this manner finally authenticated, is in perfect and most sad conformity with the disastrous state of the Continental war produced by the battle of Austerlitz, when Mr. Pitt was approaching his end. 'We may roll up that map now,' he said, pointing to a map of Europe on the wall of the Foreign Office, when the news came of Bonaparte's great victory."
Adjoining Bowling-green House is the villa which for the space of two years was the residence of Mrs. Siddons and her husband. Bristol House, which is close by, owes its name to the Bristol family, in whose possession and occupation it was from the commencement of this century till some few years ago. It may be added that James Macpherson, the translator and reputed author of Ossian's Poems, had a villa on Putney Heath.
In 1776 steps were taken here to commemorate the Great Fire of London, although Putney had no close connection with the City. A certain Mr. David Hartley, the descendant of a namesake who more than fifty years previously had obtained a patent for the construction of fire-proof buildings, attempted to revive public interest in the invention by a series of experiments, to which he invited the presence of royalty. A pillar was erected, mainly at his instance, on the Common, which bears the following inscription:—"The Right Hon. John Sawbridge, Esq., Lord Mayor of London, laid the foundation-stone of this pillar 110 years after the Fire of London, on the anniversary of that dreadful event, and in memory of an invention for securing buildings against fire."
With reference to the above-mentioned experiments, Sir Richard Phillips, in his "Walk from London to Kew" (1817), writes:—"The house, still standing at the distance of a hundred yards from the obelisk, serves as a monument of the inventor's plans; but, like everything besides, it recently excited the avarice of speculation, and when I saw it was filled with workmen, who were converting it into a tasteful mansion, adding wings to it, throwing out verandas, and destroying every vestige of its original purpose. One of the workmen showed me the chamber in which, in 1774, the king and queen took their breakfast, while in the room beneath fires were lighted on the floor, and various inflammable materials were ignited, to prove that the rooms above were fire-proof. Marks of these experiments were still visible on the charred boards. In like manner there still remained charred surfaces on the landings of the staircase, whereon fires had been ineffectually lighted for the purpose of consuming them, though the stairs and all the floorings were of ordinary deal! The fires in the rooms had been so strong that parts of the joists in the floor above were charred, though the boards which lay upon them were in no degree affected. The alterations making at the moment enabled me to comprehend the whole of Mr. Hartley's system. Parts of the floors having been taken up, it appeared that they were double, and that his contrivance consisted in interposing between the two boards sheets of laminated iron or copper. This metallic lining served to render the floor air-tight, and thereby to intercept the ascent of the heated air; so that, although the inferior boards were actually charred, the less inflammable material of metal prevented the process of combustion from taking place in the superior boards. These sheets of iron or copper, for I found both metals in different places, were not thicker than tinfoil or stout paper, yet, when interposed between the double set of boards, and deprived of air, they effectually stopped the progress of the fire." The invention, however, seems to have sunk entirely into obscurity, and few records now exist of it except the pompous obelisk and the remains of the original Fire-proof House, which are still embodied in the present building.
Owing to its healthy and open situation, Putney is a favourite spot for charitable institutions, as it was for two centuries for ladies' schools. One of the most important is the Royal Hospital for Incurables, which is situated on the summit of West Hill, near to the Fire-proof House. This institution was founded in 1854 by the efforts of the late Dr. Andrew Reed. It was established to cherish and to relieve, during the remainder of life, persons, above the pauper class, suffering from incurable maladies, and thereby disqualified from the duties of life. To persons having a home, but without the means of support, a pension of £20 a year is given. The first home of the charity was at the village of Carshalton. At the end of three years it became necessary to secure larger premises, and Putney House was engaged. The accommodation thus secured sufficed till the year 1861, when a second house in the immediate neighbourhood was added as a branch establishment. Two years later the building now occupied as the hospital was purchased, together with the freehold of twenty-four acres of land surrounding it. The edifice, called Melrose Hall, had been a distinguished family residence; it was well built, and contained a large number of rooms suitable to the purposes of the institution. The building has since been extended by the addition of two wings, and now affords accommodation for 200 inmates. It contains on an average about 150 patients, whilst upwards of 300 are in receipt of pensions from the charity at their own homes. This institution, we may add, is unendowed, and is therefore entirely dependent for its support on the voluntary subscriptions of the public.
Putney Heath, some 400 acres in extent, bears a faint resemblance to that of Hampstead in its slightly broken surface of sand, turf, and heather. From the higher portion some good views of the river and the metropolis are obtained. Like Wimbledon Common, Hounslow Heath, and other open spots round London, this heath in bygone times was a noted rendezvous for highwaymen; and towards the close of the last century it was the scene of so ghastly a spectacle, that few cared to traverse it after nightfall, for here was set up the gibbet on which the body of the notorious Jerry Avershaw was left to dangle in the wind, after having expiated his numerous crimes on Kennington Common, which was at that time the place of execution for the county of Surrey. (fn. 3)
The heath has also been from time to time the scene of many bloodless, and also of some bloody, private, and also political, duels. Here, in 1652, an encounter took place between George, third Lord Chandos, and Colonel Henry Compton, which resulted in the latter being killed. Here, too, Mr. William Pitt, when Prime Minister, ex changed shots, on a Sunday in May, 1798, with Mr. George Tierney, M.P.; but, fortunately, the affair ended without bloodshed. In September, 1809, was fought the memorable duel—happily, not a fatal one—between George Canning and his colleague, Lord Castlereagh. This "affair of honour" took place near the obelisk, and close by a semaphore telegraph which was erected by the Admiralty in 1796.
Although not actually on Putney Heath, the record of another "affair of honour" which took place not far off, at Barn Elms, may not be out of place here. This affair took place in January, 1667–8. The parties engaged were George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, attended by Sir Robert Holmes and Captain William Jenkins; and Francis Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, attended by Sir John Talbot and the Hon. Bernard Howard, a younger son of the Earl of Arundel. Pepys, in recording this duel in his "Diary," says it was "all about my Lady Shrewsbury, at that time, and for a great while before, a mistress to the Duke of Buckingham; and so her husband challenged him, and they met; and my Lord Shrewsbury was run through the body, from the right breast through the shoulder; and Sir John Talbot all along up one of his armes; and Jenkins killed upon the place; and all the rest in a little measure wounded." A pardon under the Great Seal, dated the 5th of February following, was granted to all the persons concerned in this tragical affair. Lord Shrewsbury died in consequence of his wound in the course of the same year. During the fight the Countess of Shrewsbury is reported to have held the duke's horse, in the dress of a page. This lady was Anna Maria Brudenell, daughter of the Earl of Cardigan. After the death of her husband she was married, secondly, to a son of Sir Thomas Brydges, of Keynsham, Somerset.
The heath, however, has witnessed other meetings besides those assembled for the purpose of bloodshed, for here, in May, 1648, the good people of Surrey met to petition the House of Commons in favour of the re-establishment of episcopacy. Charles II. is said to have reviewed his forces on Putney Heath; and in May, 1767, George III. reviewed the Guards at the same place. On this occasion upwards of £63 was taken at the bridge, being the largest amount ever known in one day.
According to Pepys, Charles II. and his brother, the Duke of York, used to run horses here. We find in the "Diary," under date of May 7, 1667:—"To St. James's; but there find Sir W. Coventry gone out betimes this morning, on horseback, with the King and Duke of York, to Putney Heath, to run some horses."
At the east corner of the health is Grantham House, the residence of Lady Grantham. On the west side the heath is bounded by Putney Park and Roehampton. The former, styled Mortlake Park in old memorials, was reserved to the Crown by Henry VIII. Charles I. granted the park to Richard, Earl of Pembroke, who here erected a splendid mansion, which, soon after his decease, was sold, together with the park, to Sir Thomas Dawes, by whom it was again disposed of to Christina, Countess of Devonshire. Waller and the other poets of the period sang her praises; Dawes, by whom it was again disposed of to Christina, Countess of Devonshire. Waller and the other poets of the period sang her praises; and Charles II. visited her at this place with the queen-mother and the royal family. The mansion was at last pulled down by Lord Huntingfield. Roehampton has been an aristocratic part of Putney for more than two centuries.
Southward, Putney Heath merges itself into the more extensive area of Wimbledon Common; but our limited space will not allow of our saying more of this interesting locality than that every July it is the scene of the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association. The old windmill, formerly a picturesque object on the breezy common, has been converted into the head-quarters of the Rifle Association. These annual gatherings are attended by the élite of fashion, and always include a large number of ladies, who generally evince the greatest interest in the target practice of the various competitors, whether it be for the honour of carrying off the Elcho Shield, the Queen's or the Prince of Wales's Prize, or the shield shot for by our great Public Schools, or the Annual Rifle Match between the Houses of Lords and Commons.
We must now retrace our steps down Putney Hill, and through the village to the river-side. Here we meet with a few old-fashioned brick dwelling-houses, together with sheds for boat-building, boat-clubs, and boating-houses; for Putney has long been the head-quarters for aquatic matches on the Thames. The day of the annual boat-race between the rival crews of the Oxford and Cambridge Universities, which takes place generally in March or April, has been for many years—indeed, almost without intermission since 1836—a red-letter day in the annals of Putney. For many days prior to the race one or other of the rival crews, while undergoing their preparatory trials and "coaching," take up their abode at the "Star and Garter," a comfortable hostelry overlooking the Thames, or in the private houses in the neighbourhood. And the day of the race itself is looked forward to, not only by the inhabitants of the village, but by the public at large, with almost as much interest as is felt concerning the fate of the "blue ribbon of the turf" when the "Derby" is run for on Epsom Downs. In 1829, the first year of the race, the contest took place at Henley, when Oxford was proclaimed the winner. In 1836, 1839, 1840, and 1841, the course was from Westminster to Putney, Cambridge on each occasion proving the victors. In the following year the Oxford crew came in first, the race being rowed over the same course. From 1845 to 1847 the river between Putney and Mortlake was the scene of the race, Cambridge on each occasion carrying off the honours. In 1849, 1852, and 1854 the Oxford crew were the winners; but in 1856 the Cantabs once more were hailed as the victors. From 1857 to 1860 each year's race was won alternately by the respective crews; but from 1861 to 1869 Oxford came in first on each occasion. The tables were turned, however, in the following year, when Cambridge won the race, and this they succeeded in doing one every subsequent occassion down to 1874. In 1875 and 1876 the race was won alternately by Oxford and Cambridge; but in 1877 the judges decided that the race was a "dead heat." Putney is the starting-point of the race, and Mortlake its goal, and the course is about four miles and a half. The time occupied in the race has varied from about twenty-one to twentyfive minutes. Formerly the race was sometimes rowed from Putney to Mortlake, and at others the reverse way; but of late years the starting-point has always been near the ugly iron aqueduct of the Chelsea Water-works Company, just above Putney Bridge. On the day of the race the usually quiet village of Putney puts on a festive appearance, the place is gay with banners, &c., and many of the inhabitants, no doubt, reap a rich harvest for the time being. All along the banks of the river, up to the winning-post by the "Ship" at Mortlake, the pathways and buildings commanding a view of the race are crowded with excited spectators, who watch with eager interest the animated scene which presents itself.
Putney was at one time the starting-place for the Thames Regatta; but other races besides the great University contest still take place here very frequently during the summer months. Before quitting the river-side we may mention that in his "Diary," under date of April 16th, 1649, John Evelyn tells us he "went to Putney by water in barge, with divers ladies, to see the Schooles or Colledges of the Young Gentlewomen." These schools were probably those known to have been kept by a Mrs. B. Makins, who was one of the most clever and learned women of her time, and had been tutor to the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Charles I.
The river-side of Putney at this time was probably full of picturesque "bits" of rural scenery; for a few weeks afterwards we find Evelyn again making a voyage thither, no doubt by barge, "to take prospects in crayon to carry with me into France."
Putney Church, of which we must now speak, is dedicated to St. Mary, and stands at the bottom of the High Street, near the bridge. It was originally built as a chapel of ease to Wimbledon; the precise date of its erection, however, is unknown. That it dated from, at all events, the beginning of the fourteenth century is certain, as it is on record that Archbishop Winchelsea held a public ordination here in 1302. The ancient structure exhibited the architecture of different periods far apart. The arches and columns which separated the nave from the aisles belonged to Henry VII.'s time, while the north and south walls were said to be coeval with the original building. On the south side of the old church was a small chapel, built early in the reign of Henry VIII. by Bishop West, whom we have mentioned above. In 1836 the church, with the exception of the tower, was rebuilt, from the designs of Mr. E. Lapidge, and in the Perpendicular style of architecture. The edifice is large and lofty; some of the windows are enriched with stained glass. The tower, which is of four stages and surmounted by battlements, is supposed to have been built not later than the middle of the fifteenth century, "from the fact of a coat of arms above the belfry door being appropriated solely to the family of Chamberlyn, a name not found amongst the inhabitants of Putney since that period." On the rebuilding of the church, Bishop West's chapel was removed to the north side of the chancel, where it was rebuilt stone by stone; it is small, and in the fan tracery of the vaulted roof appear the bishop's arms and initials. Its eastern window of stained glass was presented, in 1845, by Dr. Longley, Archbishop of Canterbury, as a memorial of his mother, who was long a resident in the parish of Putney. There are several monuments and tablets, mostly from the old church, but none of any particular interest. In 1877 the flooring of the chancel was re-laid with encaustic tiles, and the body of the fabric re-seated with open benches in place of the old-fashioned pews.
Pepys, in his amusing "Diary," thus makes mention of visits he paid to Putney Church:—"—28th, 166— (Lord's Day). After dinner, by water—the day being mightily pleasant, and the tide serving finely, reading in Boyle's 'Book of Colours'—as high as Barne Elms, and then took one turn alone, and then back to Putney Church, where I saw the girls of the school, few of which pretty; and then I came into a pew, and met with little James Pierce, which I was much pleased at, the little rogue being very glad to see me; his master reader to the church. There was a good sermon and much company. But I sleepy, and a little out of order at my hat falling down through a hole beneath the pulpit, which, however, after the sermon, I got up by the help of the clerk and my stick."
Again, on the 25th—,we find this entry:—"(Lord's Day.) I up to Putney, and stepped into church to look upon the fine people there, whereof there is great store, and the—young ladies!" A later entry runs thus:—"2nd— (Lord's Day). After dinner I and Tom, my boy, up to Putney by water, and there heard a sermon, and many fine people in the church."
On the site of a house now standing between the churchyard and the bridge, there formerly stood an old red-brick house, surrounded by trees, which at the beginning of the last century was tenanted by Mr. James Porten, a merchant of London, whose youngest daughter, Judith, was the mother of Edward Gibbon, of whom we have spoken above.
At the commencement of this chapter we have spoken of the ferry which in former times was the only means of transit between Putney and Fulham. Down to the commencement of the last century the want of a bridge here was greatly felt; for at that time there was none between those of London and Kingston. When Laud was Bishop of London, he narrowly escaped drowning in crossing from Putney to his palace, one dark night, by the capsizing of the ferry-barge with his horses and suite. In 1671, a Bill for the building of a bridge at this point of the Thames was brought into Parliament, but rejected, several of the members who spoke against it basing their arguments on the assumption that the City of London would be irretrievably ruined if such a project were carried out. An Act of Parliament, however, was ultimately passed, mainly through the instrumentality of Sir Robert Walpole, and the bridge was completed in 1729. Faulkner, in his "History of Fulham," says: "The plan of the bridge was drawn by Mr. Cheselden, the surgeon of Chelsea Hospital, who," he adds, "in his profession acquired the greatest reputation, and by the skill displayed in this useful piece of architecture has shown the affinity that exists among the sciences." This, however, as Mr. Chasemore points out, in his "History of the Old Bridge," was a mistake; "the records clearly proving that the bridge was built after a design by Sir Jacob Ackworth, who was also the designer of old 'Kingston, Chertsey, Steans (Staines), Datchet, and Windsor Bridges.'" This was not the first bridge that has spanned the Thames between Putney and Fulham, for, as we have stated above, a bridge of boats was constructed to enable Lord Essex to cross over with his army after the "battle of Brentford." Forts were erected at either end to guard it. When Faulkner wrote his "History of Fulham," in 1813, the tête du pont on the Putney side of the river was "still plainly discernible." The position of this bridge of boats was about 500 yards below where Putney Bridge now stands; and the fort on this side of the river is said to have remained intact until about the year 1845, when it was removed; it stood on the site of a market-ground below the "Cedars."
By the Act authorising the construction of the bridge, the sum of £62 was directed to be divided annually between the widows and children of the poor watermen of Fulham and Putney, as a recompense to their fraternity, who, upon the building of the bridge, were constrained from plying upon Sundays. The proprietors purchased the ferry—which, on an average, produced the owners £400 per annum—for the sum of £8,000. Lysons tells us that on the abolition of the ferry, the Bishop of London reserved to himself and his household the right of passing the bridge toll-free. This privilege stills holds good. Formerly the king paid £100 per annum for the passage of himself and his household over the bridge.
The present bridge is constructed of timber, and is almost as ungainly in appearance as that of Battersea, which we have described in a previous chapter; (fn. 4) it is an ugly black structure of timber, with no redeeming feature to recommend it in point of taste. The length of the bridge, according to Sir Jacob Ackworth's design, was to be 786 feet, and the width twenty-four feet, with a clear water-way of 700 feet, with twenty-six openings or locks; and there were also to be "on the sides of the way over the bridge angular recesses for the safeguard and convenience of foot-passengers going over the same." The bridge was lighted by oil-lamps, which were removed in 1845, and gas substituted. With this exception, the old bridge remained much in its original condition down till 1870, when two of the locks or openings were thrown into one. Since then three locks have been converted into one; so that there are now but twenty-three openings, instead of twenty-six, as originally.
The approach to the bridge from the High Street, Putney, is built on arches, which are thus referred to by Faulkner:—"On Putney side there is a stone terrace, sixteen feet wide, enclosed from the water by a wall, being the road from the bridge; and to prevent the earth from bulging out, there are arches turned horizontally in the bed of the road, a contrivance well adapted for this purpose, though never used before, by which means this wall has never bent or started, though the tide rises twelve feet against it, and it can be taken down at any time without the least inconvenience to the road." At the Putney end of the bridge there is a quaint little toll-house, of red brick; at the Fulham entrance to the bridge there is a double toll-house, very quaint and foreign in its appearance, the roof of which spans the roadway.
"Passing down the river," says Ireland, in his "Picturesque Views of the River Thames," published as far back as 1799, "the decayed and apparently dangerous state of Putney Bridge cannot fail to disgust the observer. This disgraceful appendage to the river was erected in the year 1729, when the pontage or toll was settled on the subscribers by Act of Parliament; and, as I am informed, was within twelve months after so greatly advantageous to them as to repay all their disbursements. At the extremities of this tottering bridge stand the rival churches of Putney and Fulham, which are said to have been built by two sisters."
Two toll-collectors were stationed at each end of the bridge. They were furnished "with hats, and gowns of good substantial cloth of a deep blue colour, lined with blue shalloon, and carried staves with brass or copper heads." These, it appears, were quite as much for use as for show, for the people did not at first at all relish the idea of having to pay toll for crossing a bridge. "They did not pay when they went over London Bridge; why should they pay at Putney?" The consequence of this was that several very serious affrays took place on the bridge between the collectors and the passengers during the first ten years of its existence. But the stalwart collectors stood their ground, until the popular discontent had abated, and the tolls were thenceforward paid without complaint.
In 1730 bells were ordered to be hung "on the tops of the toll-houses, to give notice of any disorder that might happen, so that the collectors might go to the assistance of each other as there might be occasion." The two bells, which are still there, are, we are told, occasionally used for this purpose, and are rung nightly, when the day tollman goes off and the night tollman goes on duty. The date upon the bells shows that they were cast in 1739. Doubtless these bells did good service a century or so ago, when Putney Heath and the surrounding neighbourhood was infested with highwaymen and footpads.
What little of the "picturesque" there might have been in the quaint old bridge in former times, when taken as an accessory in a view of either Putney or Fulham as seen from the Thames, is now wholly lost by the aqueduct of the Chelsea Waterworks Company, which spans the stream on massive cylindrical supports a few yards above it.
Bidding adieu to Surrey, and crossing the bridge, we now make our way once more into Middlesex, in order to complete our western circuit of suburban London.