My London by Kristine Hughes

I’ve been to London many times and whenever those who don’t know me very well ask why I keep returning to the same city, I’m hard pressed to explain to them what London means to me. My London is not the city that exists now. Madame Tussaud’s and the London Eye are all well and good, but my London is the old city, the Square Mile that was bordered to the north by the Oxford Road, to the South by Vauxhall Gardens, to the east by Mile End Road and to the west by Hyde Park. To my mind, Richmond, Hampstead, Brixton and Golder’s Green are not in London. Though I may visit these places, they lay outside the parameters of the London I see in my mind, the London I see when I walk the streets today. You can still see Georgian, Regency and Victorian London on practically every street. Kensington Palace, St. James’s Palace and Apsley House still exist. Hatchard’s bookshop and Fortnum and Mason, the Burlington Arcade and the Tower are still to be found. True, there are no longer Hansom cabs or sedan chairs for hire, no hawkers crying their wares in the streets and, certainly, no dandies strolling in St. James’s Street, but every now and then you come across a London view so perfect, so historically right, that it makes the trip worthwhile.

One of the stops I always make while in London is Apsley House, London home of the Dukes of Wellington, where today you’ll find all of the many paintings and gifts bestowed upon the first Duke by grateful nations on display. While the current Duke of Wellington does live there, the portions of Apsley House now open to the public have a museum feel, there’s nothing of Wellington the man left to see except for a small room in the basement that houses some of his army gear. But again, portions of the upstairs rooms do offer views onto 19th century life. Enough to make me return time and again.

Perhaps what I love best about London are the modern day memories my visits have provided and the people I’ve met along the way. There was the time I was strolling down the Mall with a tour group and our way was suddenly blocked by a burgundy Rolls Royce coming out of a drive and stopping right in front of us. It was an older Rolls and the windows were as large as those found in some houses. Looking through the back passenger window, my gaze met and held that of Prince Charles. He was dressed in full regimental regalia no less. He smiled at me and raised his gloved hand to the visor of his hat in a jaunty salute before the car pulled away. Then there was the day that I was taken to the Victoria and Albert Museum and for a cruise up the river by David Parker, then curator of the Dickens House Museum. At one point during our ramblings, David took hold of my elbow, stopped me and pointed to a second story window. Looking up, I saw Inigo Jones’s ceiling of the Banqueting House through the upper storey windows. Amazing. Another memory I’ll always cherish is the time Anthony Lejeune, author of The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London, invited me to dinner at Brooks’s Club. Walking up the stairs to the second floor dining room, I came face to face with Sir Thomas Lawrence’s full length portrait of George IV. Having port after dinner in library, I gazed at the portraits of the Dilettanti Society that range the walls and marveled at the fact that there were bed billows, in white pillow cases, placed on the arms of the leather couches, ready for any member who felt the overwhelming need of a nap.

On our upcoming trip to London this June, as soon as I land on the Saturday, I’ll meet up with Victoria Hinshaw and the first thing we plan to do is to walk the St. James’s area. We’ll visit the lesser streets, give a nod to the Almack’s building, stroll by the statue of Beau Brummell and, no doubt, raise a pint at the miniscule Red Lion pub in King Street, a perfectly preserved time capsule of a Victorian pub.  No doubt I’ll be returning home with many more memories to treasure . . . . .  . More musings on adventures ahead soon, as well as detailed blogs on the sites Victoria and I have on our itinerary.  

Boodle's Club

During the Regency and Victorian eras, Boodle’s Club, in St. James’s Street, was noted for the number of baronets who were members. It’s been recorded that when a waiter called out “Sir John, you are wanted,” a whole host of gentlemen would at once respond. This is rather a quaint anecdote, but it must be remembered that the club was established chiefly for “county people,” who had a proper respect for their own importance. Until the late 19th century, before Boodle’s came under the management of a committee, there was a kind of secret tribunal, the members of which were fictitiously supposed to be unknown. “This conclave conducted its proceedings with great secrecy, and its very existence was only inferred from the fact that at intervals, varying from six months to fifteen years, some printed notices appeared in the club rooms.” But these notices only referred to dogs or strangers, who were looked upon by the ancient members as very objectionable intruders.
Another rule was that members dining in the coffee room must wear evening dress. However, there was another apartment for those who found it necessary to keep to their morning clothes. Boodle’s was very strict and chaste on etiquette laws. Boodle’s Club was originally known as the “Savoir Vivre,” and took its particular name from the founder, and was established, like many of the other famous clubs of the day, in St. James’s Street.Gaiety and the joy of good living marked its early career very conspicuously, as may be gathered from “the Heroic Epistle to Sir William Chambers,” I773:
For what is Nature ? Ring her changes round,
Her three flat notes are water, plants, and ground ;
Prolong the peal, yet, spite of all your clatter,
The tedious chime is still ground, plants and water ;
So, when some John his dull invention racks,
To rival Boodle’s dinners or Almack’s,
Three uncouth legs of mutton shock our eyes,
Three roasted geese, three buttered apple pies.
White’s, Brookes’s, and Boodle’s for many years fought for supremacy, with masquerades, dinners, and “ridottos.” Boodle’s outside appearance is still very unpretentious, and perhaps sombre, from an architectural point of view, but the interior has a number of interesting features, especially in regard to some of the pictures by Gillray and others.
Among the exceedingly eccentric members of the club, two at least are deserving of passing comment. Michael Angelo Taylor, at one time M.P., and John, the tenth Earl of Westmorland. Taylor was “Paul Pry ” personified, and was an everlasting gossip. The Earl was very thin. Coming in one day, says Edward Walford in “Old and New London,” Taylor found Lord Westmorland, who had just dined off a roast fowl and a leg of mutton. “Well, my lord,” said Taylor, “I can’t make out where you have stowed away your dinner, for I can see no trace of your ever having dined in your bare body.” “Upon my word, I have finished both, and could now go in for another helping,” replied Westmorland. Walford adds that his lordship was notorious for his prodigious appetite, and on several occasions was known to have eaten the better part of a good joint and a couple of fowls.
The Club house, at No. 28 St. James’s Street, was designed by the Adams brothers and erected by John Crunden about 1765. The saloon on the first floor at Boodle’s is still noted for the stateliness of its appearance, opening from which on each side are two small apartments. One of these, according to tradition, was, in the Regency days of high play, managed by a cashier who issued counters and occupied himself with the details connected with the game; while the other room was reserved for special gambling members who wished to play in quietude.
It was not an easy matter to be elected a member of Boodle’s, and when Mr. Gayner became the manager, he would sit in state in a small chamber adjacent to the principal saloon, or front room, which, of course, was sacred to the members. Says Ralph Nevill, “When a candidate was proposed they (the members) walked across and deposited their black or white balls, after which they retired again to the front room. After a short time Mr. Gayner would shout ‘elected’ or ‘not elected,’ as the case might be, the ceremonial being gone through separately for every candidate.” But Mr. Gayner, it is said, took no account of the balls, but scrutinized all who were proposed from his peep-hole, and if they did not meet with his approval the black ball predominated.

Mr. Gayner, notwithstanding, was a very liberal and kind man, and prevented many a young fellow from getting into the hands of the money lenders and usurers who were in constant wait for the young unfledged geese who were ready to be plucked, by advancing them the wherewithal to assist them out of impending difficulties. There are several anecdotes in regard to his generosity and kindness in such cases. He always kept a large amount of cash in his safe, and at his death is said to have been owed no less than £10,000, which, however, by a clause in his will, was not to be demanded from the borrowers. After his death, Mr. Gaynor’s sister succeeded him in the proprietorship of Boodle’s. She died in 1896, when the club was purchased by its members.

The English Mails Part Two

Fast mail coaches were introduced in 1784, with recognized mail routes springing up across the land soon after. There were two types of fast coach upon the road and with the exception of the wealthy, who travelled in their own carriage or by post-chaise, and of the very poor, who used wagons or slow night coaches, all passenger traffic was done by Mail or Stage coach. Stage and Mail coaches were alike in build, carrying four inside passengers and ten or twelve outsides. Mail bags were piled high on the roof, and luggage was carried in large receptacles called boots at either end of the vehicle. The box seat by the coachman, for which an extra fee was charged, was considered the most desirable and was frequently occupied by someone interested in horse flesh. Mail coaches, which were subsidized or owned by the Post Office, were painted uniformly, the lower part of the body being chocolate or mauve; the upper part as well as the fore and hind boots black; the wheels and under carriage a vivid scarlet. The Royal arms were emblazoned on the doors, the Royal cipher painted in gold upon the fore boot, with the number of the vehicle on the hind boot. The panels at each side of the window were embellished with various devices such as the badge of the Garter, the rose, shamrock or thistle.

The departure of the Mails was one of the most exciting sights in London. On its outward journey each coach collected passengers from whatever inn the vehicle was horsed at, and then dashed round at 8 p.m. to St. Martin’s le Grand to collect the mail. Coaches were called by name to receive their bags and the crash of the lid of the boot locking down on the special mails was the signal for each coach to speed away. Fast Stage and Mail coaches made their journeys in about the same time. It took 5 hours to travel from London to Brighton, 2 more to Southampton, 17 hours to Exeter, 19 to Manchester and 21 to Liverpool. This worked out to an average speed of 10 miles an hour. The coaches, besides galloping against each other, were always running against the clock, for lateness was punished by heavy penalties and loss of credit. The half-thoroughbred horses were kept in peak condition and during their stage of seven or eight miles were worked at fever pitch. The steadier wheelers were meant to act as a check upon their leaders, but more often than not the driver gave the wheelers their heads and the whole team sped along at a gallop.

In truly severe weather, the sufferings of the outside passengers was terrible. Once, when the Bath Mail changed horses at Chippenham one March morning, two of the outside passengers were found frozen to death, a third dying later. Postboys were frequently lifted out of their saddles near the point of death. The winter of 1836 was one of the worst on record, with Christmas storms closing all coach roads for several days. On December 26th, the Manchester, Holyhead, Chester and Halifax Mails were all stuck in snow drifts at Hockley Hill, near Dunstable, within a few yards of one another, and throughout the country stories of overturned coaches and dogged heroism on the part of coachmen and guards were recounted. In one instance a guard, leaving his snow bound coach, carried out instructions by taking the mails forward on horseback. Nine miles farther on he sent the horse back, but pushed on himself. Next morning he was found dead, a mile or two up the road, with the mail bag still tied round his neck.

Change of horses at each fresh stage was made quickly. Hostlers and stable boys were allowed a minute in which take out the old horses and harness up a fresh team, though some could manage the job in 50 seconds. Seats on a coach had to be secured in advance at the inn from which it started or where it stopped on the road. The traveller’s name was entered into a book and half the fare taken as a deposit. The fares by stage coach worked out to 2 1/2 to 3d a mile outside, 4-5d a mile for inside passengers. Mails coaches were dearer, averaging from 4 1/2d to 5d for outsides, 8-10d for insides.

The coachman wore beneath his coat a crimson travelling shawl, topped by a long waistcoat of a striped pattern and over that, a wide skirted green coat, ornamented with large brass buttons. Usually he wore on his head a wide brimmed, low crowned brown hat. He wore knee cord breeches, painted top boots and a copper watch chain. The real responsibility for the coach rested with the guard who, in the case of Mail coaches, had the added care of guarding the letter bags. In their red coats, with the gleaming brass horn at the ready, they collected fares from those who joined the coach on the road, saw that the schedule was kept to and were entrusted with the execution of commissions. In case of accident, the guard looked after the mails and the passengers, carrying the former by horse and arranging for a fresh coach for the latter if necessary. They were accustomed to journeys of up to 120 – 150 miles at a stretch and received about 10s a week in wages. Inside passengers were supposed to tip the guards 2s 6d, the outsides 2s, and the guard collected further tips for handling luggage or running errands.

Travelling post chaise was decidedly the favoured means. The chaise was a light and comfortable vehicle with two, or more commonly four wheels, drawn by two or four horses ridden by postboys. For great haste, four horses with two postilions were used. As with a Mail coach, the horses were changed at stages. There was room for only two passengers in a post-chaise, but most carriages had a dickey, or platform, at back for a groom. Principal turnpike gates out of London were found in Knightsbridge at the corner of Gloucester Road, in Kensington at the corner of Earls Court Road, at Marble Arch, Notting Hill, King’s Cross, City Road near Old Street, Shoreditch, Commercial Road, Kennington Gate and three more in the Old Kent Road.

An important London coaching inn was the Golden Cross in Charing Cross, near Nelson’s Column before 1830, when it was moved to face Craven Street. Coaches left here bound for Gloucester, Cheltenham, South Wales, Chester, Liverpool, Hastings, Dover, Stroud, Brighton, Halifax and other points. The Saracen’s Head stood at the top of Snow Hill, next to St. Sepulchre’s Church, with coaches leaving for many parts of England and Scotland. During the eighty years before its demolition in 1868, the inn had been kept by members of the Mountain family, the most prominent being Sarah Ann Mountain who carried on after her husband’s death in 1816. She despatched thirty coaches from her inn each day and set a record
with her “Tally Ho!” to Birmingham. She also built coaches for sale at 110 – 120 guineas each. The Tally Ho! served Canterbury, Liverpool and Birmingham, and was one of nine coaches on the London to Birmingham route. It’s team of four horses was changed at each of the ten stops made between London and Birmingham. The Tally Ho! normally made the 109 mile trip in eleven and a half hours, travelling at an average speed of 9.5 mph. During the famous London to Birmingham race which took place on May Day, 1830, the Tally Ho! made coaching history, setting a record by covering the route in seven and a half hours, travelling at an average speed of 14.5 mph. It should be noted that the coach carried no passengers during the race.

The Swan With Two Necks was the hub of much activity during the 17th and 18th centuries, serving London as a coaching, parcel and wagon office. The name is derived from Swan with Two Nicks, the nicks being the mark by which the birds of the Vintner’s Company were identified. The Inn was a terminus for northbound coaches and stood at the corner of Aldermanbury, where the Guildhall was and is located, with the Wax Chandler’s Hall being on the south side of the street. The Inn was demolished in 1845 when Lad Lane, St. Anne’s Lane, Maiden Lane and Cateaton Street were all widened during the building of Gresham Street.
William Chaplin, the “Napoleon of coach proprietors,” was born at Rochester, Kent, in 1787, son of a coachman-proprietor, and he himself started off driving the Dover Union. Marriage to the sister-in-law of James Edwards, `one of the largest proprietors on the Kentish routes,’ proved useful. He and Edwards allied in many ventures in Kent. He came to horse more and more coaches, until by 1827 he owned between three to four hundred animals and the Spread Eagle, Gracechurch Street. By 1835, he owned 1,200 horses and the Swan with two Necks. In 1838 he horsed 68 coaches with 1,800 horses, employing 2,000 men. He also acquired the Cross Keys and the White Horse, Fetter Lane, and opened the Spread Eagle coach office in Regent Circus. Chaplin was said to have had “immense energy, an equable temperament and great sagacity,” also, “a very good knowledge of the animals he governed as well as the bipeds with whom he was associated.” Never the less, Chaplin one day had a run in with George Denman, toll collector at Kensington Gate, who issued Chaplin a toll ticket bearing the improper amount. A fight broke out during which Denman took hold of Chaplin’s horses, prompting him to use his whip upon the toll keeper. Chaplin was later fined 12s and court costs. As with most well to do businessmen, Chaplin was known to grumble about the actual profits he made, stating in 1827 that, “I have not a shadow of a doubt that, were the coaching account of the nation kept regularly, the whole is decidedly a loss and the public have the turn.”

The Source of Madness in Alice in Wonderland

We all know and love Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and the audacious characters therein, like the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter. But with the release of the latest film version of the tale comes a discussion on just how the Mad Hatter got his name – even Johnny Depp chimes in on the speculation. Was the name really meant to be the “Mad Adder?” Or did the Hatter’s madness have to do with mercury poisoning, a pitfall of the trade in the 19th century? You can read the full article here.

The Low Down on the English Post

First things first – here are all those elusive postal details you’ve been seeking: Before the introduction of the prepaid penny post (Post Office Act of 1765) and adhesive stamps (6 May 1840), postage was usually collected from the recipient. Rather than paying in advance, one paid on delivery. In order to save their correspondents paying postage, some people had their letters “franked.” A frank was the signature of a Member of either House of Parliament, who had to write both the address on the envelope as well as his signature in his own hand. Thus postage was free.

Envelopes had been developed in the 1830’s, but did not catch on until the Great Exhibition of 1851, when Jeremiah Smith displayed his gummed envelopes. Still, the use of envelopes in correspondence was not general until well into the 1860’s, most people preferring the old fashion of folding over the sheet of paper and fastening the flaps with a wafer -a little disc of gum and flour which was moistened and pressed down with a seal. Quill pens were used long after steel nibs had been introduced. Quills soon lost their point and needed cutting with a sharp “pen knife,” so the art of cutting a nib was one of the first things taught at school.

The penny post routes operated six days a week in most cases. Rates of postage at a uniform penny were lower than those charged by most private carriers, some of whom charged fees as high as 4d to take letters from the nearest post town. Many private posts charged for both letters delivered and those collected for onward transmission by the general post. The official penny post charged only for letters delivered, a system which allowed for posting boxes to be provided at certain points. Letters were delivered to any house on the penny post route and in most villages receiving houses were set up where people in outlying areas could collect their mail. In 1830 the letter rates for the penny post were 4d for 15 miles, 5d for 20 miles and thence according to a sliding scale to 1s for a limit of 300 miles. A letter from London to Liverpool cost 11d; to Bristol 10d; to Aberdeen 1s 3d; to Glasgow 1s 2d. Packages weighing an ounce paid four times the ordinary rate, and for every quarter of an ounce in excess an additional sum was charged. Letters sent to addresses within the same post town were delivered free of charge. In the late 1880’s, commercially produced picture post cards became all the rage and the Post Office instituted a half penny fee for the handling of these.

A late posting fee was sometimes charged and was meant to deter letters from being posted at times inconvenient to official duties, this usually being a penny. Private postal boxes were available, but not in widespread use, at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1837, the Bromley postmaster had six subscribers from whom he received a guinea each. The use of such boxes was explained in The Second Report on Postage (1838): Persons having Private Boxes enjoy generally the advantage of receiving their letters as soon as the window is open and the letter-carriers despatched, but which means, those Subscribers who reside at any distance from the post office obtain their letters so much earlier than they would do by the ordinary Delivery; they have also the opportunity of ascertaining at once whether there are any letters for them, and are usually allowed credit by the Postmaster, accounts being kept of their postage.

The Postmaster could also realize extra revenue by the sale of money orders. From 1798 on, the Money Order Office was run by three partners, including Daniel Stow, Superintendent President of the Inland Office. Originally, money orders were offered in order to enable soldiers and sailors to send funds home to their families. In 1861, the Post Office Savings Bank was opened, with millions opening small savings accounts over the next forty years.

The Twopenny Post served London and its suburbs. There were six collections and deliveries daily in London and three in the suburbs, letters being posted at various receiving offices during the daytime while the last collection was made by a postman who went through the streets ringing a bell. There were two kinds of postmen in London, the General who delivered the post from all parts of the country, and the Twopenny Postman, who had only to do with local mail. Both wore much the same style of uniform – a scarlet coat and shining top-hat adorned with a gold band.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, postmasters had also been innkeepers due to the fact that they were responsible for finding post boys and horses, providing stabling etc. Once recognized mails came into being, this was no longer necessary and it was felt that inns provided little security for the mail bags. In October 1792 the Post Office declared itself against the appointment of innkeepers, as separate rooms for postal business were rarely provided and business might be conducted in the bar. By March 1836, only one post town in the entire country had an innkeeper as postmaster. More common were post offices run by druggists, stationers, grocers, news agents and booksellers. Women could be appointed postmistresses or allowed to take over the concern upon the death of their husbands. Of the 29 Kentish post towns in March 1836, four had postmistresses. One of these was the bustling Ramsgate office, the salary of which was roughly 178 pounds per annum. When a postmistress married, it was the ruling of the Post Office that she must give up the appointment, but it could be transferred to her husband. At Faversham, the widow of Mr. Plowman, the late postmaster, took over upon his death, but in 1800 she married Andrew Hill, who became postmaster in her place. After Mr. Hill died in July of the same year, Sara was reappointed.

by Kristine Hughes
Part Two: Mail Coaches coming soon.