Sold for a pot of beer and a shilling!

On August 10th 1817 the marriage took place between Charles Skinner and Mary Gower, at Speldhurst, Kent, the union of two people in Holy matrimony. This seemingly happy union was to last for the next ten years until John Savage appeared on the scene.

We turn to an account of a court case in the Globe newspaper of July 26th, 1828 which took place at the West Kent Quarter Sessions. Charles Skinner, Mary Skinner and John Savage, of the parish of Tonbridge, were indicted for a misdemeanour. The misdemeanour being:

one of those disgusting transactions which were frequently mentioned in the newspapers, and which by a vulgar error, were imagined to be lawful. It was by many persons supposed that if a man became tired of his wife, he might take her to a public market with a halter round her neck, or (as in the present instance) a handkerchief round her waist, and there publicly sell her. Such proceedings were both illegal and immoral, whether the parties were or were not all agreed. Sometime the wife was sold against her will; but in this case, there was an agreement by all parties before they left the cottage at Speldhurst, in which they all lived.

Matrimony: may the Devil take them that brought you and me together.
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Charles and Mary had separated in the respect of being husband and wife, but they continued to live under the same roof along with Mary’s new lover, John Savage. The cottage they all lived in belonged to the parish and this unusual living arrangement came to the attention of the officers responsible for the cottage. Charles and Mary were told in no uncertain terms to ‘behave themselves’.

Clearly ‘behaving’ was not an option and they decided upon a different course of action so that they could retain possession of the cottage. So, with that, Charles and Mary went to the tap-room of the George and Dragon public house in Tonbridge. Then, after a while, John Savage appeared in the pub and the drama began. Making sure that people heard, Charles, having tied a silk handkerchief around his wife’s waist, said to Savage, “Will you buy my wife?” Savage replied, “Yes, what will you have for her?” Charles replied, “A shilling and a pot of beer”. Savage agreed to the bargain and Mary was handed over to him with Charles saying to her ‘If you give me that handkerchief I have nothing more to do with you”. She then gave him the handkerchief and they went away.

Thwick-Thwack
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Mr Pollock, prosecuting, concluded by observing that these people ought to be taught that what they had done was both immoral and illegal, that by their punishment other people might be warned that such transactions could not take place without impunity.

William Hook who was one of the overseers of Speldhurst confirmed that Charles Skinner was a pauper of the parish and that he had resided in the cottage belonging to the parish for three years, but was now in the workhouse because of this transaction. Hook also pointed out that the couple had already been warned at the Monthly Vestry that if he permitted Savage to live in the house, and cohabit with his wife, he must leave the cottage; if he had more room than he wanted, the parish would find somebody to put in it, but apparently Skinner took no notice of this warning.  John Smith the landlord of the George and Dragon was called to give his account of the events of that evening.

He confirmed that on June 2nd that Charles Skinner went in first and ordered a pot of beer and shortly after Savage arrived, the transaction was carried out. He confirmed that there were about four other people present who also witnessed it. Skinner and Savage assumed that this would make it all legal – how wrong they were! As each witness gave their version of events, all were consistent that Skinner had, in fact, sold his wife for a shilling and a pot of beer.

The learned Chairman intimated that there was not enough evidence to support a charge of conspiracy, but that the transaction took place could not be denied.

The defendants were called to give their account of the event. Mary simply laughed and said, “My husband did not wish to go along with my wishes and that was the reason I wished to part”.

Six Weeks after Marriage
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The learned Chairman, in summing up, observed that this indictment was rather of a novel nature. He did not think the charge of a conspiracy had been proved. These people had been living together in the same house, but in what manner it was not now necessary to inquire; and even it was, a mere rumour was not sufficient to reply upon that point. Besides the count of conspiracy, there were two others, charging the defendants with making the sale, and it appeared that such a sale did take place. The lady certainly did not rate her own value very highly; for a pot of beer and a shilling was the only consideration given for that valuable commodity.

The jury, without hesitation, found all of them guilty. They were each sentenced to serve one months hard labour.

 

Featured Image

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Charlectote Park from Morris's Picturesque Views of Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, 1880.

Mary Elizabeth Williams’ marriage to George Hammond Lucy of Charlecote Park, 1823

On 2nd December 1823, the young Mary Elizabeth Williams, fourth daughter of John Williams, Baronet of Bodelwyddan in north Wales, married George Hammond Lucy, the eligible new owner of the magnificent Charlecote Park in Warwickshire.

Mary had been reluctant to accept George’s proposal; she thought him too old (Mary was not quite 20-years of age and her suitor was 34) and – besides – her elder sister Margaret (Miggie) was in love with him. But accept him she did, and he sealed their betrothal by placing a turquoise ring on her finger. During their short courtship and amid the whirlwind of preparing for the wedding, Mary quickly came to like and then to love her new husband.

Mary Elizabeth Williams (1803-1890), Mrs George Hammond Lucy by Richard Buckner, 1847; National Trust, Charlecote Park;
Mary Elizabeth Williams (1803-1890), Mrs George Hammond Lucy by Richard Buckner, 1847; National Trust, Charlecote Park

On the day, Mary wore a bridal robe of snow-white silk and a lace veil, the ‘texture fine as a spider’s web’ falling over her carefully arranged hair which was decorated with orange blossoms. She was attended by six bridesmaids, her four sisters and two friends, all dressed simply in white cashmere with their bonnets lined with pink, Mary’s favourite colour. A whole fleet of carriages took the bridal party to St Asaph Cathedral where the ceremony – by special licence – was to take place.

All was perfect, and Mary and her new husband knelt at the altar as they were pronounced man and wife but, when she tried to stand, Mary fainted and fell to the ground, much to George’s consternation. She was soon recovered however, and left the church for her honeymoon, her uncle’s seat at Cerig Llwydion. The bridesmaids threw old satin shoes at the carriage as the Lucy’s departed, for good luck.

George Hammond Lucy (1789-1845), MP by Friedrich von Amerling, 1841; National Trust, Charlecote Park;
George Hammond Lucy (1789-1845), MP by Friedrich von Amerling, 1841; National Trust, Charlecote Park

Mary’s wedding dress survives, and it was made in the height of fashion.

Detail of the white silk wedding dress worn by Mary Elizabeth Williams when she married George Hammond Lucy on 2 December 1823.
Detail of the white silk wedding dress worn by Mary Elizabeth Williams when she married George Hammond Lucy on 2 December 1823.

As you can see, the detailing on the bodice of the gown is very similar to one shown in Ackermann’s Repository, dated October 1823, and it gives us an idea of what the dress might have looked like in its entirety.

Morning Dress, fashion plate dated October 1823 from Rudolph Ackermann's Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, &c, third series, vol 2.
Morning Dress, fashion plate dated October 1823 from Rudolph Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, &c, third series, vol 2.

George Hammond Lucy’s father, John Lucy (born John Hammond), was a ‘pugnacious, hard-drinking clergyman’ who had found himself – a little unexpectedly – the heir in the male line to the Warwickshire Lucy family.

Early in 1823, at his father’s death, George had inherited Charlecote Park but it was in a dilapidated state. It became his life’s work to restore the estate.

Charlecote Park from Jones's Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, 1820.
Charlecote Park from Jones’s Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, 1820.

Mary and George had a long marriage and many children. In her sixties, Mary wrote down her memories and they are published as Mistress of Charlecote: The Memoirs of Mary Elizabeth Lucy 1803-1889. It is a wonderful read and contains images of two portraits of the couple painted at the time of their wedding.

For more information on the Lucy’s of Charlecote Park, also see the blog Charlecote Park: Uncovered by the National Trust.

 

Sources:

Mistress of Charlecote: The Memories of Mary Elizabeth Lucy 1803-1889, introduced by Alice Fairfax-Lucy (Orion, 2002).

The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986

National Trust images

Featured image:

Charlecote Park from Morris’s Picturesque Views of Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, 1880.

Robert Dingley, founder of The Magdalen Hospital

Having already written about The Magdalen Hospital we thought it would make an interesting article to provide a little more information about one of its founders – Robert Dingley. Robert was later referred to by Mary Ann Radcliffe in ‘The Female Advocate‘ as ‘the first humane proposer of the charity‘.

Robert Dingley was born around 1710 , the eldest surviving son of Susanna and Robert Dingley, a prosperous jeweller and goldsmith of Bishopsgate Street, London and a descendant of Sir John Dingley of Wolverton Manor, Isle of Wight.

Robert Dingley by John Dixon, after  William Hoare, 1762 (National Portrait Gallery)
Robert Dingley by John Dixon, after William Hoare, 1762 (National Portrait Gallery)

Robert was an extremely busy man, with fingers in many pies it appears. He took a keen interest in the arts and was an active member of  The Society of Antiquaries from 1734 and ‘dabbled in architecture‘ ; became a Fellow of the Royal Society in November 1748; was also founder member of the Society of Dilettanti, along with Sir Francis Dashwood about whom we have previous written in connection with The Dunston Pillar; held a lifelong career with the Russia Company and was also Director with the Bank of England and according to The Whitehall Evening Post of March 30th, 1749 he was appointed Governor of the Foundling Hospital.

On December 30th 1744 Robert married into another affluent family, his first wife being Elizabeth Thomson, daughter of Henry Thomson Esq, of Kirby Hall, Yorkshire.

Stamford Mercury 03 January 1745

The couple had three children Susanna (born November 22nd, 1745) and Robert Henry Dingley in 1746. A later child Elizabeth who was born 19th June 1748 did not survive infancy.

In 1759 his first wife Elizabeth died leaving Robert to raise two teenage children.

There is an obelisk and bust of Elizabeth at St Luke’s church, Charlton, Kent.

With this in mind Robert wasted no time and married his second wife, Esther Spencer, sister and heir of Thomas Spencer, the following year, on 21st March 1760.

For someone who led such a public life the newspaper report of his death was succinct to say the least –

St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, August 9, 1781 – August 11, 1781

Died yesterday at Lamb-Abbey. Near Eltham, aged 72, Robert Dingley Esq.

However, there is a memorial for both Robert and Esther in the same church. Esther died 1784.

An interesting piece appeared some years after his death in Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, Saturday, September 9, 1786, just after the death of Jonas Hanway.

So what became of Robert’s children, well his daughter, Susanna Cecilia (1743–1795) of Lamb Abbey, near Eltham, Kent, married Richard Hoare (d.1778) of Boreham House, Essex, a partner in Hoare’s bank, in 1762.

Richard Hoares’ marriage to Susanna in 1762 in the presence of her father Robert. The marriage was carried out by none other than Rev. William Dodd.
Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child by Joshua Reynolds
Reynolds, Joshua; Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child; The Wallace Collection

Susanna and Richard had five children, and the present picture probably depicts their eldest child, called Susanna Cecilia after her mother, who died young in 1768. In 1765 Mrs. Hoare paid 70 guineas for the picture, which was probably painted 1763–1764.

His son, Robert Henry took holy orders and became the rector of Beaumont cum Mose and south Shobury, Essex until his death in March 1793.

Robert Henry followed in his father’s footsteps and became a governor of Magdalen Hospital, as did Robert’s second wife, Esther.

 

Featured Image

Courtesy of the British Museum

Portrait, three-quarter length seated wearing velvet suit and long white wig, directed to right holding a book open on right knee to show the title-page of ‘An Account of the Rise, Progress and Present State of the Magdalen Charity’ faced by a picture of a woman, his left arm on arm of his chair beside a table on which are papers bound with ribbons; after Hoare.

 

Sources Used

ODNB

The Ipswich Journal 19 November 1748

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, Volume 2 By Edward Hasted

An Account of the Rise, Progress and Present State of the Magdalen Hospital By William Dodd

 

‘Manchester Heroes’. Contemporary print showing the Peterloo Massacre, courtesy Library of Congress.

Regency Manchester: Guest Post by Sue Wilkes

We are delighted to welcome back to our blog, author, Sue Wilkes. Sue is the author of several history and genealogy titles. Her latest book is Tracing Your Manchester and Salford Ancestors. As well as being an author, Sue, also hosts two great blogs which you might wish to check out – Sue Wilkes and  A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England.Tracing Your Manchester & Salford Ancestors: a guide for family & local historians by Sue Wilkes. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tracing-Your-Manchester-Salford-Ancestors/dp/1473856353

Late Georgian Manchester was a buzzing hive of industry thanks to its canal and road links. People flocked to work in its textile factories. In about 1816, it took mail-coaches about thirty hours to travel from London to Manchester. But this was no provincial backwater; it had thriving religious and cultural institutions.

Interior of Manchester Collegiate Church. Gallery of Engravings, Vol. II, (Fisher, Son & Co., c.1845).
Interior of Manchester Collegiate Church. Gallery of Engravings, Vol. II, (Fisher, Son & Co., c.1845).

The Collegiate Church (later the Cathedral) was the town’s main place of worship. It was renowned for the mass baptisms and marriages which took place regularly there (because people had to pay extra fees if these ceremonies were carried out in other local churches). But other denominations had recently built their own places of worship. Roman Catholics had two chapels (Rook St, (1774) and Mulberry St (1794)). The Dissenters had had a chapel in Cross St since 1693 (nearly destroyed by a mob in the early 18th century), which had been extended in 1788.

The Methodists had a large chapel in Oldham St (mostly funded by William Brocklehurst), along with several other chapels in the area, including one at Gravel Lane in Salford. At this date Manchester only had a small Jewish population, who worshipped at the Synagogue in Long Millgate; they had a burial ground in Pendleton, near St Thomas’s Chapel.

The Infirmary, Dispensary, Lunatic Hospital and Asylum. J. Aston, A Picture of Manchester, c.1819. Courtesy Google Books.
The Infirmary, Dispensary, Lunatic Hospital and Asylum. J. Aston, A Picture of Manchester, c.1819. Courtesy Google Books.

The famous Literary and Philosophical Society (1781) met regularly at George St. Members had to be elected to the Society, which had a whopping 2-guinea entrance fee, and a guinea yearly membership fee. Its members included the famous scientist John Dalton. A News Room and Library (the Portico) opened in 1805; four years later, the New Exchange opened, where businessmen and merchants met to transact their business dealings.

The town had had a theatre since 1753 (possibly earlier), and stars from the London theatres regularly trod the boards here. The first Theatre Royal (in Spring Gardens) burned down in 1789; the new Theatre Royal opened in Fountain St in 1807, but like many other establishments, it was bedevilled by financial problems. By 1816 the Theatre Royal had ‘elegant saloons’ in the boxes (4s admission), or you could pay one shilling to sit in the gallery.

Regency gentlemen and belles graced the ballroom at the Assembly Rooms in Mosley Street, with its glittering chandeliers and mirrors. Dancers refreshed themselves in the elegant tea-room. Regular concerts were held at the Assembly Rooms.

The Sir Ralph Abercromby pub, believed to be the only surviving structure from the era of Peterloo close to the site of the massacre. © Sue Wilkes.
The Sir Ralph Abercromby pub, believed to be the only surviving structure from the era of Peterloo close to the site of the massacre. © Sue Wilkes.

Manchester was also home to many charities such as schools, Sunday schools, and hospitals. Did you know that Manchester had its own ‘spa’ at the end of the Infirmary Walks? Well-to-do locals could subscribe to the Public Baths supplied by a local spring; it cost half a guinea for a year’s subscription. Bathers could enjoy the Cold Bath, Hot or Vapour Bath, or the ‘Matlock or Buxton’ Bath.

St Ann’s Church, consecrated in 1712. © Sue Wilkes.
St Ann’s Church, consecrated in 1712. © Sue Wilkes.

But Manchester had its darker side. There was a recently built prison in Salford (the New Bailey), which opened in 1790 and replaced the former unsanitary House of Correction at Hunt’s Bank. Weaver Samuel Bamford and the orator Henry Hunt were imprisoned at the New Bailey following their arrest in 1819. They had been attending at a mass meeting at St Peter’s Field to campaign for parliamentary reform. Several people were killed when local magistrates sent yeomanry cavalry into the crowd to arrest Henry Hunt – the infamous ‘Peterloo massacre’.

Header Image:

‘Manchester Heroes’. Contemporary print showing the Peterloo Massacre, courtesy Library of Congress.

 

 

Elizabeth Morton and ‘The Gentleman in Black’

Elizabeth Morton was baptized May 4th May 1747 in the small, rural Nottinghamshire village of Misterton, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth. She had three siblings – Mary (25th September 1743), Thomas (25th Sept 1757) and Ann (1757).

All Saints Church, Misterton, Nottinghamshire.
All Saints Church, Misterton. Courtesy of Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project

When just 15 years old she had gained employment as a servant in the neighbouring village of Walkeringham, just over 2 miles from her home, for a farmer John Oliver and his wife Elizabeth née Clark. At that time the couple had three daughters:

Ann (baptized 12th October 1758);

Mary (baptized 7th June 1760);

Rebecca (baptized 20th May 1762)

Their son John (baptized 29th May 1763) was not born until after the incident in question.

St Mary Magdalene church, Walkeringham, Nottinghamshire.
St Mary Magdalene church, Walkeringham. Courtesy of J. Hannan-Briggs

On 10th August 1762 Elizabeth was committed to Nottingham county gaol, by Daniel Newton, one of the coroners; she was charged with the murder of an infant about two years of age, the daughter of John Oliver. The Leeds Intelligencer of 24th August 1762, reported that Elizabeth had strangled the child with her hands as it lay in the cradle. The newspaper also stated that:

there is too much reason to suspect, that this unhappy girl has murdered two other young children, in different places, where she was taken in to look after them. She is a stout made girl, has little to say for herself, can neither read nor write, and appears to be of a brutish disposition.

Some seven months later, on 10th March 1763 at the Nottingham Assizes her trial for a capital offence began i.e. the murder of a two-year-old child and the attempted murder of another child, who survived and had recovered. Also for attempting the life of another of the children, whose neck she had almost twisted round, and hid it in some straw in the barn, where it was found by its mother struggling in the agonies of death. At her trial, Elizabeth claimed that she had been incited to commit the crime by a ‘gentleman in black’ who came to her during the night (alluding to it being the devil who made her commit the crime).

The Derby Mercury of 11th March 1763 described her as:

a most profligate harden’d young wretch, the reason she gives for such inhuman acts, is that the children were cross and troublesome. Execution was respited for the time being on account of her youth.

The Derby Mercury of 1st April 1763 noted her demise.

Yesterday Elizabeth Morton, a girl of only 16 years of age, was executed at Nottingham (being her Birth-Day) for the murder of her master’s daughter, a child of two years old, who liv’d at Walkeringham, near Gainsboro’. Her behaviour since she received sentence of death has been decent. She never denied the fact but could give no satisfactory account of the motives that induc’d her to commit so shocking a crime. She was attended to the place of execution by a prodigious concourse of people where after the usual time spent in prayer with the minister, she was tuned off about one o’clock much frighted with the terrors of death.

After her death, her body was given to a surgeon of Calverton near Nottingham, to be dissected, then buried in a village near her home.

According to The annual register, or a view of the history, politicks, and literature, for the year 1763

‘… it is probable that she was an idiot …’ 

This would, if proven, have been sufficient grounds for a pardon, the register gives no indication as to whether this was tested or not.

On a final note, having found the baptism records for John Oliver’s children there are also two corresponding burials at the time Elizabeth was charged with the murder of the two-year-old. Mary was buried on 5th August 1762, but there is also an entry for the burial of Rebecca who would have been a mere three months old on 3rd August 1762 – did she die from natural causes or was she also one of Elizabeth’s victims?

 

Featured Image

Nottingham Gallows. Courtesy of University of Nottingham 

 

(From left to right) John Glynn, John Wilkes and John Horne Tooke and is a copy after Richard Houston, (original 1769) (National Portrait Gallery London)

John Wilkes and Knighton Gorges Manor House

In the late eighteenth-century, John Wilkes, journalist, radical and politician, took a cottage on the Isle of Wight in which he installed his middle aged mistress Amelia Arnold and subsequently he was a frequent guest at Knighton Gorges Manor, the nearby house of Maurice George Bisset and his wife.  Bisset’s wife, formerly Harriat Mordaunt, was the illegitimate daughter of Charles Henry Mordaunt, the 4th Earl of Peterborough and his mistress (and later second wife) Robinaiana Brown and also cousin to the infamous courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, as we reveal in our book An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot. Another local landowner was Sir Richard Worsley whose wife Bisset had, some years earlier, eloped with, leading to a very public and shocking criminal conversation case (for more information on the infamous Lady Worsley see Hallie Rubenhold’s excellent biography, The Scandalous Lady W).

John Wilkes's Cottage [near Sandown Fort] on the Isle of Wight.
John Wilkes’s Cottage [near Sandown Fort] on the Isle of Wight. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
John Wilkes had a legitimate daughter, Mary (Polly) (to whom he wrote about Lady Peterborough and Miss Mordaunt in 1775) and two illegitimate children, a son by his housekeeper Catherine Smith who he passed off as his nephew and a daughter named Harriet by his mistress, Amelia Arnold.

Brighthelmstone,

Thursday, Oct. 16, 1775

Lady Peterborough, Miss M___t, more gloomy and dejected than ever, and Miss G___d as pert and flippant as at Bath, more is impossible, are here, and no other ladies I believe of your acquaintance.

Wilkes wrote to his daughter Polly from Sandham Cottage, his house on the Isle of Wight, on 15th July 1791 to tell her that ‘Captain Bissett dined here yesterday, but I have neither seen nor heard of Sir Richard Worsley. The French ladies are at Knighton House, a grandmother, mother and little daughter’ and later that same month he wrote again, mentioning that he was kindly supplied with melons and other fruit from Knighton Gorges.  The French ladies were perhaps aristocratic emigrants who had run for their lives before they lost their heads to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Grace Dalrymple Elliot and her friend Lady Seymour Worsley (Sir Richard’s wife) were not quite so lucky, and while they kept their heads on their shoulders, they were unable to flee Paris and had to endure the terror of those years, documented in An Infamous Mistress.

John Wilkes and his daughter Mary by Johann Zoffany, c.1779.
John Wilkes and his daughter Mary (Polly) by Johann Zoffany, c.1779. National Portrait Gallery, London

Knighton Gorges (now demolished) was one of the most magnificent houses on the island, a contemporary description in an island history says of it:

The manor house is an ancient building, but appears to have been constructed with much taste and judgment; and great attention has been evidently paid to it, to preserve its original beauty, in the various reparations which inevitably have been bestowed upon it. In particular we may observe, that one part of the building is finely variegated by the ivy that binds its gable ends, which perhaps, are too numerous to afford pleasure and delight to the eye; and that the windows in front are all latticed and retain their antique pillars of stone for their present supporters. It is finely situated on the gentle rising of a hill between some fine woods, but at a sufficient distance to afford some very beautiful prospects.

Knighton, the Seat of George M. Bisset, Esq.
Knighton, the Seat of George M. Bisset, Esq. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Featured image:

The picture at the head of the article is of (from left to right) John Glynn, John Wilkes and John Horne Tooke and is a copy after Richard Houston, (original 1769) (National Portrait Gallery London)

Sources:

Letters from the year 1774 to the year 1796, of John Wilkes, Esq. addressed to his daughter the late Miss Wilkes, Volume 4, 1804.82-83

A New, Correct and much improved History of the Isle of Wight, John Albin, London, 1795

Destruction of the furious elephant at Exeter Change. Courtesy of the British Museum

‘Exeter Change in the Strand’ by William Ellis-Rees

We are delighted to welcome another new guest to All Things Georgian: William Ellis-Rees. William is a Classics teacher with a serious sideline interest in researching and writing on lesser known historical topics. Having published articles on various subjects in Country Life, Garden History and the gardening journal Hortus, he is now about to publish a book on Josephine Bonaparte, which, far from being a full-blown biography of the Empress, sheds light on a fascinating corner of her life and William is also working on another book, in which he returns to nineteenth-century London and its environs to tell the true story of a tragedy that shocked the nation.

Today, William is here to tells us a little more about his book, The Elephant of Exeter Change: A Tale of Cruelty and Confinement in Georgian London, which is available from Amazon as an e-book (follow the highlighted links to find out more). With that, we will hand you over to William to share some more information.

The Strand, Looking Eastwards from Exeter Change, London by Stanley, Caleb Robert. Museum of London.
The Strand, Looking Eastwards from Exeter Change, London by Stanley, Caleb Robert.  Museum of London.

How odd to think that a restaurant and a coffee shop in London’s Strand, almost opposite the Savoy Grill, were once the ramshackle building known in the early nineteenth-century as Exeter Change.

At street level the Change—short for “Exchange”—comprised a jumble of shops and stalls selling walking sticks and umbrellas, suitcases and saddles, corkscrews and combs and any number of other useful items.  Above these was a menagerie, and even now, long after I started work on this hidden corner of London history, the bizarre notion of caged animals floating above a crowded city street surprises and delights me.

Exeter Change in 1829. Print by Thomas Shepherd
Exeter Change in 1829. Print by Thomas Shepherd

The elephant on the first floor

The elephant at the heart of the story travelled to England from Kolkata (Calcutta at the time) on board an East India Company ship in 1811.  The ship’s captain, Robert Hay, who had been horribly injured in an encounter with French warships off Mozambique, was an honourable man, and he kept a protective eye on the elephant even after he returned and sold it to a theatre.  The London stage was the elephant’s first taste of fame, but its unwelcome celebrity was only truly established when in 1812 it passed into the hands of Stephen Polito, the owner of the menagerie at the Change.

Polito’s menagerie in the Strand in 1812. Print from Ackerman’s Repository of Arts.
Polito’s menagerie in the Strand in 1812. Print from Ackerman’s Repository of Arts.

The animals in the room above the Strand not only entertained and frightened the paying public: they also satisfied a curiosity about the world that lay beyond England’s shores.

Polito and Cross

Stephen Polito, and the man who took on the menagerie in 1814, Edward Cross, were a distinctly nineteenth-century phenomenon.  Whereas they presented themselves as respectable businessmen, and scientists of a sort, others regarded  them more accurately as dealers and showmen.  Polito and Cross certainly knew about animals, but they were not exactly naturalists: they were motivated by profit, and their exhibits were kept in cramped conditions, and were often treated cruelly.  Even so, the taste for the exotic they profited from cut across many social divides, and Cross in particular, in his capacity as an importer and supplier, enjoyed the patronage of a number of highly distinguished clients.  So when he was snubbed by the London Zoological Society, who refused to buy his animals, he founded a rival establishment in what is now South East London with the help of powerful backers.  There is a splendid portrait of Cross in his sixties, with a lion cub in his arms and a silk top-hat balanced on his head.  He had transformed himself from Georgian impresario into early Victorian man of means—quite a success story.

Edward Cross in 1838. Painting by Jacques-Laurent Agasse
Edward Cross in 1838. Painting by Jacques-Laurent Agasse

Raffles and Brookes

On the subject of the London Zoological Society, an important figure in the story is Thomas Stamford Raffles.

Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1817. Painting by George Francis Joseph. Courtesy of NPG
Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1817. Painting by George Francis Joseph. Courtesy of NPG

Although principally known to history as the founder of colonial Singapore, Raffles was also the prime mover of the new zoo, the birth of which in 1826 was not unrelated to the elephant’s tragic end.  And it is at this moment that the extraordinary Joshua Brookes makes his entry.

Joshua Brookes in 1815. Painting by Thomas Phillips. Courtesy of NPG
Joshua Brookes in 1815. Painting by Thomas Phillips. Courtesy of NPG

Brookes was a renowned London anatomist, although his image suffered from his dealings with the notorious resurrectionists.  For details of his unique contribution to the story, I would like to refer you to my book, The Elephant of Exeter Change! Suffice it so say that Brookes found an unexpected solution to the problem of an elephant that had grown—as all young elephants do in time—to a colossal size.

The Elephant of Exeter Change: A Tale of Cruelty and Confinement in Georgian London, Kindle Edition. www.amazon.co.uk/Elephant-Exeter-Change-Confinement-Georgian-ebook/dp/B06ZZ8JJ6S
The Elephant of Exeter Change: A Tale of Cruelty and Confinement in Georgian London. Kindle Edition

In conclusion, researching the events of 1826 was a fascinating task: they were widely reported in newspapers and journals, and the commercial illustrators enjoyed a field day.  But the elephant left other traces of itself—in playbills, in a jingle advertising boot polish, in a drawing-room song.

There is even a small but gruesome relic in a museum in East Anglia.  The real discovery, though, was the cast of characters: the elephant itself, the one or two heroes and the several villains, and last, but by no means least, the ever-changing backdrop to a story that begins in the Indian Ocean and ends in some of the darker recesses of Georgian London.

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Destruction of the furious elephant at Exeter Change. Courtesy of the British Museum