From St George’s Church to Booth’s London and CrossRail; rebuilding Hanover Square and Mayfair

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When Alice Lisle married Edward Montague Balmerino Lisle at St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, little did she suspect that her marriage would be so short lived. Within a month of marrying him Lisle had disappeared, not to be seen again until his dead body was dragged from the Thames 30 years later.

St George’s, Hanover Square is one of London’s most charming places of worship and Alice was in good company in holding her nuptials there. In 1814 Harriet Westbrook had married the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley at the church, and in 1839 Benjamin Disreali used the venue to marry Mary Lewis. In the previous century Sir William Hamilton married the lowly born Emma Hart who went on to become more famous (or infamous) as the mistress of Horatio Nelson. Seven years later Europe’s most famous clown, Joseph Grimaldi, married Maria Wells, whose father ran the theatre at Sadler’s Wells that still bears his name.

There were other ‘celebrity’ weddings: in 1880 Mary Lewes (better know to us as the novelist George Elliot) married John Cross and in 1886 Theodore Roosevelt (not yet the 26thpresident of the USA) married Edith Carrow. In the twentieth century the church also witnessed the marriages of Guglielmo Marconi (1905) and Amy Johnson (1932). Amy Johnson married her fellow aviator Jim Mollison, a Scot, but she too vanished after her plane supposedly crashed into the Thames near Herne Bay in early January 1941.

In the late 1890s when Charles Booth revisited Hanover Square to reassess his earlier definition of the area as mostly red (for ‘comfortable’ commercial property) he found some change, but not to the overall character of the area. George Street (which today is home to Sotherby’s auction house) was made up of ‘4 and 3 story houses, offices; shops (a few)); chambers etc.’ He noted that fewer people actually lived here any more. There was a resident vet on New Bond Street, and a few helpers but in general this was fast becoming a commercial area of the capital, not a residential one.

He noted the rebuilding that had gone on in nearby Maddox Street, where the core business was tailoring. It was still quite Red on the map, and a hotel and restaurant had been established at number 51, a new development that presumably served the growing commercial streets nearby. Brook Street followed the same pattern of change, being increasingly focused on business and trade rather than residential. There were ‘two or three doctors left’ but no one else lived there. In and around Hanover Square the buildings, if not businesses, had become private members’ clubs and societies such as ‘The Zoological’, ‘St George’s Club, the Oriental Club, and the New County Club, for ladies’. As a result of the change of use Booth noted that Hanover Square ‘could go from yellow to red’.

St George’s Church had been built in 1725 as part of an expansion of 50 new churches authorized by Parliament to meet the needs of the growing Hanoverian capital. The design of St George’s was undertaken by John James, who had worked with Sir Christopher Wren. Construction took three and a half years and cost £10,000 (about £1,000,000 at today’s prices). Today Hanover Square, which once hosted such famous guests as Prince Talleyrand, the archetypal crafty diplomat who managed to survive both the French Revolution and Napoleon, is dominated by a modern construction project. imagesCrossrail is a 73-mile railway line which will (one day) link East and West London with a new over and underground line and modern stations. It should have started running at the end of 2018 but is now set to be delayed until autumn 2021.

Costs have escalated from £14.8bn to a possible £18.25bn but I wouldn’t be surprised if London was still blighted by construction work and dozens of high-viz wearing workmen well into the 2020s. There is simply too much money to be made from infrastructure construction projects like Cross Rail and HS2 for there to be any sense of urgency in actually finishing them. Meanwhile London continues to look like one huge building site, to the detriment of his historical built environment. One wonders what John James and, later, Charles Booth, would have thought.

In the next post I’ll share some of my photos of the modern view of Hanover Square and the area Booth mapped in the late 1800s.

The case of the missing bridegroom and his distraught newlywed wife

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You have to feel sorry for Mrs Alice Lisle. The ‘petite, fair, blue-eyed, young lady’ appeared at the Bow Street Police Magistrates court in late August 1897 to ask for help. Her husband, she explained, had disappeared.

As she explained to Mr Lushington Alice, then Alice Elizabeth Hunt, had married Edward Montague Balmerino Lisle (33) at St. George’s Church, Bloomsbury (pictured above) on 14 July 1897. He was, she said, a gentleman of ‘independent means’ that she’d met at Bunhill Fields Coffee Tavern near Aldersgate Station (now Barbican underground) where she was working behind the counter. Having ‘paid his attentions’ to her for two months he proposed and they married.

It had been a very happy (if short) marriage. They honeymooned in Windsor, in sight of the castle, and on 11 August he returned in advance to London to settle some financial business.

Alice hadn’t seen him since.

I do wonder at Mr Lisle’s honesty. Apparently he liked to gamble (if not excessively) and his letters to her suggest he spent most of his time at the races. His full name was – slightly unbelievably – Just Henry Edward Montague Elphinstone Balmerino Lisle – and he claimed to have been a pupil at the Marlborough School and to have returned there to look up an old friend shortly after leaving Windsor.

The magistrate could not help much beyond recommending that the newspapers – starting with the Daily Mail (who had a reporter in court that day) – should publicise the case in the hopes that someone knew something. In the meantime, all Alice could do was go back to her lodgings at Hunter Street, Brunswick Square and wait.

That really was the last Alice saw of her bridegroom. Whether he ran away to avoid a previous marriage (bigamy was not uncommon at the time), or to outrun his creditors (debt was equally familiar to many men of his generation), he doesn’t seem to met a sticky end. At least not in 1897 that is. Oddly I did find a mention of man with his name being fished out of the Thames, presumed dead by his own efforts, 30 years later

[from Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 28 August, 1897]

A Victorian tale to bring a gleam to Mr Duncan Smith’s eyes

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The Victorians – and especially those who signed up to the Mendicity Society – had a real hatred of imposture when it came to poverty. The society was determined to root out and expose (and thence to punish) anyone who pretended to be in need of poor relief or charity when they were fit and able to work. We seem to have inherited this distrust of the poor and now frame those we would like to see exposed as ‘benefit scroungers’.

It is fairly common for highly paid, privately educated, and well-connected, privileged members of Parliament to condemn those that claim they cant survive on the little the state provides.  In these hard times there has also been a focus on denying benefits to the disabled, by reinterpreting what it means to be ‘unfit to work’. Withholding benefits or making the hoops that the impoverished need to jump through to get them more complicated or time consuming is another, well practiced, tactic of modern ‘caring’, Conservative Britain.

I think Mrs May, Jeremy Hunt, Amber Rudd, Ester McVey and (especially) Iain Duncan Smith would have relished living the 1800s. Workhouses, ‘less eligibility’ and mendicity officers would have been right up their street (although they may have struggled with this county’s open doors policy on immigration – at least until the end of the century that is).

They would have liked Mr Turner, who gave evidence at Clerkenwell Police court in March 1866. He was there to investigate Johanna (or Ellen) Shields who had been brought up by the curate of St George’s, Queen Square, for begging at his door. The curate (presumably a  ‘good Christian’) had found Johanna knocking on his door asking for money as her husband was sick and out of work and she had six children to feed.

He asked her name and where she lived. Johanna gave a false name (Ellen Thomas) and an address in Little Ormond Yard, in Bloomsbury. He didn’t believe her and to confirm his suspicions he donned his hat and said he’d accompany her home to see for himself. This unnerved Johanna who tried to put him off, saying she would go and get her certificate to prove she was registered in the parish (and so entitled to relief). Instead the curate summoned a constable and had her arrested.

In court at Clerkenwell Mr Barker (the magistrate) was told (by the curate, whose name is never revealed) that Johanna had changed her story when he’d said he’d go with her, which led him to involving the police. The woman now said she lived in Church Street, St Giles, had six children (one of whom was blind) and a sick husband. When he subsequently visited her address he found her husband, and three children, none of whom was blind. He also testified that she had asked his fellow rector at St George’s for help and he’d refused also. He said he was ‘determined to give all imposters into the custody of the police’.

So what was Mr Barker to do with Johanna? She denied the charge but the evidence against came from a respectable source. Moreover the justice expected she’d done it before, and so had ‘form’. She was being treated as if she was a criminal when her only ‘crime’ was being poor and asking for help.

This is where Mr Turner from the Mendicity Society came in. He was tasked with discovering whether she had a history of ‘shamming’ so the bench could decide what punishment (if any) to hand down. This would take a week and Mr Barker decided that regardless of the outcome Johanna would spend the next seven days locked up on remand. The gaoler escorted her back to the cells to be transferred to the Clerkenwell house of detention where she would subsist on bread and water and pick oakum with all the other ‘offenders’.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, March 06, 1866]

A family is broken up, just in time for Christmas

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Monday’s post touched on the subject of prostitution and brothels in central London in the 1880s, suggesting that a young girl of just 14 years of age might have been drugged with alcohol as a precursor to being ‘sold’ into the sex trade. Today’s case concerns three young children who have been taken into what passed for ‘care’ in the late Victorian city, because their mother was a prostitute and they were being brought up in a brothel.

Georgina Rogers (aged 11) and her sister Agnes (10) and brother Henry (8) were brought before the magistrate at Westminster. They had come from St George’s workhouse under the watching eye of William Girling, an officer working for the Rescue and Reformation Society at Charing Cross. They had sepnt a few nights in the workhouse after they had been removed from ‘a disorderly house’ in Cumberland Street, Pimlico.

Their mother had money, so perhaps she was a successful  brothel madam or otherwise well connected. This was evident because she hired a lawyer to defend the children in court with the aim of keeping them out of institutional care. Mr E D F Rymer told the magistrate (Mr Partridge) that arrangements had been made for the trio to go and live with their grandmother at Teddington.

This might have seemed like a sensible solution. After all, as Mr Rymer explained, in his experience ‘children of the prisoners’ class were invariably corrupted by mixing with those children in these institutions’. Just what sort of class the three siblings were is hard to judge but given that their mother was living with them in  a house of ill repute I doubt they were exactly members of the aristocracy. Instead I imagine that Ms Rogers perhaps considered herself to be better through wealth than she was through birth, and so aped the behaviour (if not the morality) of the middle classes.

The Rescue Society had been created in 1853 to protect children from sexual exploitation and prostitution. It ran 10 homes across the capital and had campaigned for a rise in the age of consent. Its members were dedicated to the cause and under the terms of the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1885) saw these realized with the help of Stead’s Maiden Tribute newspaper campaign.

So it was unlikely that Mr Girling was going to be happy to allow the children back into the care of Ms Rogers or her family. Crucially Mr Partidge agreed with him, not the lawyer. He ordered that the girls be taken to a reformatory school at Chelsea but allowed the lad (who was perhaps less at risk in his eyes of being corrupted) to go to his grannie.

Was this a good outcome for the children? It is hard to say. Reformatories separated parents from children, and children from ‘bad’ environments. The sisters would have learned domestic duties and sewing, as well as being educated in basic literacy and maths. But being parted from their family would have been traumatic, but not unusual for very many poor children in the later 1800s.

[from The Standard, Saturday, 19 December, 1885]

The descendant of the Rescue Society is Fegans, a charity that supports abused children and their parents.

The City’s charity will not be given to ‘worthless people’ a magistrate assures the public.

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Goldsmiths’ Hall in the mid-ninetenth century, by Thomas Shepherd

It is the time of the year when charities do so much to raise awareness of poverty and homelessness. People are homeless all year round of course, and poverty is endemic in our society, but there is something particularly poignant about seeing someone sleeping rough at Christmas which helps charities prick the consciences of the general public.

At the Guildhall Police court in December 1855 the suffering of the poorest was on the mind of Alderman Finnis, the duty magistrate, but so were the attempts of the poor to help themselves. He notified the press that his court had received a cheque for £20  from the Goldsmiths’ Company which was to be added to the Poor Box. This enabled him and his fellow magistrates ‘to relieve many deserving cases’ in the City but he assured readers (and potential donors) that the money ‘was not given to worthless people’. The Goldsmiths could well afford it, as the painting of their headquarters above suggests.

Among those he might consider ‘worthless’ were Martha Gilbert and Mary Murphy. They had entered a bakery at 49, Old Bailey and had asked for a loaf of bread. When Mrs Fore, the shopkeeper, had placed it on the counter the women ripped it in half and rushed out, stuffing into their mouths as they ran. They were soon captured  and brought before the alderman.

In their defense they said they were starving which only earned them a rebuke.

‘That is no excuse, for you should have applied to the union’, Alderman Finnis told them.

They had, he was told, but St George’s had refused them poor relief. This was probably true the reliving officer of the West London Poor Law Union admitted,

‘for the metropolitan parishes were refusing to relieve the poor for the purpose of driving them into the City, where it was well known they were all relieved’.

Only the day before he had had no less than 153 applications, many from paupers living outside the City’s boundaries.

Alderman Finnis was outraged. ‘It is a pity they [meaning the Poor Law Unions in Middlesex] are not prosecuted for it’ he grumbled. Turning to the two women, who had clearly been honest in claiming their theft was entirely motivated by hunger, he sent them to the house of correction for seven days.

At least they would get fed.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, December 13, 1855]

If you would like to give to charity this winter then perhaps consider St Mungo’s who have been doing great work in London with the homeless since 1969.

Smallpox brings death and difficult decisions to the Westminster Police Court

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Watercolour of a hand with smallpox by Robert Carswell in 1831 (Wellcome Library, London)

Mr Selfe had only just taken his seat at Westminster Police Court on the morning of the 12 April 1863 when the officer of health for the parish of St George’s, Hanover Square approached him. As a magistrate Selfe had to deal with all sorts of problems and issues of everyday life, but few were as sensitive as this.

The health officer, Dr Aldis of Chester Place, explained to the magistrate that a three year-old child had died of smallpox, a disease that remained widespread in poorer communities in the nineteenth century despite Edward Jenner’s best efforts to promote vaccination against it.

The unnamed child was lying in his cot so people could pay their respects, as tradition dictated, at a room in a house in Pimlico and Dr Aldis was worried about the public health consequences of this. The ‘small back room’ was home to the ‘boy’s father and mother and three other children’ and no fewer than 26 other persons lived in the property. Moreover, the doctor insisted, this was a crowded locality ‘in which the smallpox is very prevalent’.

He wanted to have the child buried quickly to avoid contagion but the mother was resistant. She wanted to grieve for her son and to do so in the customary way. The family were part of London’s large immigrant Irish community and they fully supported the bereaved mother.

Mr. Badderly, the overseer of the poor for the parish, had attempted arrange the funeral and had sent a man named Osborne to the house to try and remove the dead boy. He brought a small coffin and with the father’s permission placed the child within it. When the mother found it however, she removed her son and placed him back in his cradle. When Osborn objected a group of local Irish gathered and ‘intimidated him with their threats [so that] he felt compelled to retire’.

Here then was a clash between the parish and its obligations towards the health of the community and the very personal wishes of one grieving mother and her friends and family. Since the child’s father either agreed with the health officer or simply felt much less strongly that his wife, the court was bound to side with the parish. Mr. Selfe agreed that the child needed to be buried immediately, for the sake of public health, and since the father had no objection the mother’s wishes were of no consequence. The magistrate said that in his opinion ‘there could be impropriety in the police accompanying the parish officers to see that there was no breach of the peace from the removal of the child’.

It is a desperately sad story which reveals both the reality of infant mortality in the Victorian period and the poverty and overcrowding that condemned so many to a premature death. It also demonstrates the difficult decisions that some magistrates had to make when faced with evidence that ran counter to the wishes of individuals who had not done anything wrong or in any way ‘criminal’.

The mother’s desire to mourn for dead boy in her own way is completely understandable, but when this was countered by what was (at the time) understood to be a risk to the health of very many others, the justice’s decision is also easily understood. This week we have had the heart-rending story of the struggle of Connie Yates and Chris Gard who have lost the latest stage of their battle to keep their son, Charlie, alive in Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Mr. Justice Francis, who made the decision knew, as everyone in the court did, that when he told doctors ‘at Great Ormond Street that they could withdraw all but palliative care, was to all intents and purposes delivering a death sentence’.* He acted in what he considered to be the best interest of the child and against the interests of the parents. Time alone will tell whether he was right to do so.

At Westminster court in 1863 Mr. Selfe may have done the right thing, and saved many other lives. Given what we now know about smallpox it is unlikely that anyone would have caught it unless they had physical contact with the child whilst his exposed scabs still covered him, but the magistrate was not necessarily aware of that and so his actions were perhaps the best thing he could do in the circumstances.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, April 13, 1863]

*www.guardian.com [accessed 13/4/17]

Prison for the work-shy, shelter for the needy – Victorian style

It was early December in 1864 at 6 in the evening and a crowd of people had gathered outside the workhouse in Mount Street, near Grosvenor Square. Upwards of 50 were trying to gain access for the night but the porter (Robert Plowright) didn’t have room for them all. He looked over the group and tried to give shelter to some of the faces that had been in the night before.

There was a tussle as paupers struggled to get to the front and be allowed in. It was winter and the alternative was a workhouse in another parish (this one was in St George’s) or the street. One man pushed through and confronted Plowright and another shouted ‘Give it to the _____’.

Punches were thrown and the porter was hit before a policeman moved in and arrested the man that had been heard inciting violence. He was a ‘healthy looking man’ named John Thompson and the next day he appeared before Mr Knox, the sitting magistrate at Marlborough Street Police Court.

Thompson denied hitting anyone and said the porter had instigated the violence. The porter refuted this information and he was supported in this by the constable, PC Jeffrey (209C). This provoked Thompson to claim that the two had got up the charge to spite him.

Mr Knox poured scorn on this, telling the defendant that:

‘He did not believe a word the prisoner had said, it was a tissue of lies. He did not believe that the porter and the constable were all in a conspiracy against him.  The prisoner was a young and stout man, and it was disgraceful that he should be hanging about such places at all, workhouses being intended for old and decrepit persons’.

He ordered Thompson to find bail of £5 or he would be sent to prison for 14 days. I wonder if he chose the latter option because at least he would have received the shelter he desired.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, December 02, 1864]