A New View of 1815 London

By Victoria Hinshaw

A very exciting exhibition featuring a Panorama of London begins March 15  at the Museum of London, and will run until September 2019.  This extraordinary work was executed as a study for a panorama that was shown in Paris from 1816-1819 by artist Pierre Prévost. The full-sized work, several times larger than these studies, is now lost. One newspaper referred to the work as “London as the Duke of Wellington would have seen it.” Others have noted it is the London Jane Austen knew.

The artist, Pierre Prévost (1764-1823), viewed London from the bell tower of St  Margaret’s Church, adjacent to Westminster Abbey.

St. Margaret’s Church, London; note Big Ben behind the trees to the left

The first view in the scan above looks west from the edge of Westminster Abbey (at the left edge); the large building in the center, above, is the now-demolished Middlesex Guildhall and in the distance is St. James Park, and in a better reproduction, you can see Buckingham House, the palace, as it was in 1815.

Above, the studies split in half. The top image is west and north; the bottom image is east and south.

The Sotheby’s Auction Catalogue description:

Pierre Prévost – MONTIGNY-LE-GANNELON 1764 – 1823 PARIS

A PANORAMIC VIEW OF LONDON, FROM THE TOWER OF ST. MARGARET’S CHURCH, WESTMINSTER
Watercolour and bodycolour over pencil, squared for transfer in pencil, the squares numbered, on multiple sheets of paper laid onto canvas 850 by 6050 mm.

Looking north up Whitehall, the Banqueting House is seen at the curve; the steeple in the distance is St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields but Trafalgar Square which it faces today, was not yet created. The Sotheby’s Catalogue states, “To the centre of the composition, one can see the only remaining component of the Palace of Whitehall, the Banqueting House. Designed by the leading English architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652), the Banqueting House was commissioned by Charles I; in 1649, just 27 years after its construction, it was the site of his execution.  The neoclassical St. Martin-in-the-Fields stands nearby. The site of a church since the medieval period, this had been re-built by James Gibbs in the 1720s. Prévost’s view shows the area prior to the construction of Trafalgar Square in the 1820s, and the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields would therefore have appeared considerably different to how it does today. Contemporary accounts of the area describe the church as crowded in by surrounding buildings, which detract from the impressive nature of Gibbs’ edifice.”

Above, looking northeast, beyond Westminster bridge one see the City, mercifully shorn of its tall buildings with the outline of St. Paul’s Cathedral on the horizon slightly left of center.

The view above looks east across the Thames, with the Westminster Bridge on the left and the roof of Westminster Hall parallel to the river in the center. The buildings in the foreground were various elements of the Palace of Westminster which burned in 1834 and were replaced by today’s Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster, incorporating the ancient and restored Westminster Hall.

The final sections, above and below, feature Westminster Abbey in its smoke darkened coating.

In the Georgian era, panoramas were popular exhibitions. The first opened in London in 1792 and according to The Guardian, viewers paid three shillings to view the painting which curved around a room “dramatically” lit.

In preparing this post, I was surprised to learn that the Museum of London is planning to move its entire Barbican operation to a new site in the old Smithfield Market, also located in the City of London. No doubt they will construct a fine exhibit space for this painting when they complete their plans and move, sometime in the next decade.

Being from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I have occasionally run across the stories of the German Panorama Painters who came to the city in the mid-19th century and painted many of these works installed in various cities.  The only remaining one I know of is in Atlanta,  Georgia, and recently reopened as the Cyclorama in the Civil War Museum.

However, the only panorama I have ever seen is the one that still exists in Waterloo, Belgium, picturing the famous battle in 1815 when the Duke of Wellington led the Allied forces to victory over the emperor Napoleon, pictured below.

More details  about the London Panorama from the Sotheby’s  catalogue:

“Of extraordinary size, detail and topographical accuracy, this view of London is a remarkable preparatory study for a lost panorama of approximately 30 metres in diameter, by Pierre Prévost, which shows the artist at the pinnacle of a highly successful career as a panoramist …. The illusion of depth, height and distance is testament to Prévost’s ability to work on such a large scale, and this complete, circular image, joined at Westminster Abbey, is one of the finest drawings of its type to have survived….

“By 1800 panoramas could be viewed in many European capitals. The works were usually exhibited for a short period of time in a rotunda, before travelling on, and ultimately were replaced or sold. The nature of this process has ensured the rarity of the completed panorama, as excessive handling and transportation in most cases resulted in their ultimate destruction.”

The Sotheby’s catalogue entry states: “While the final canvas created by Prévost would have been very much larger (it was exhibited in a purpose built rotunda on the rue Neuve Saint-Augustin in Paris, measuring 32 metres in diameter, over five times the size of this preparatory drawing), even this preliminary study is of an impressive size, and is highly finished ….

“The street scenes in the foreground bring a sense of life to the panorama, and allow the viewer to engage fully with the daily activity of the city’s inhabitants….Here, shops and professions are indicated in the foreground in remarkable detail. On Great George Street, the road running horizontally across the centre foreground, the shops include a wine and brandy merchant and a solicitor, whilst on Bridge Street, which runs towards Westminster Bridge, an apothecary, a shoe-maker and a children’s clothes store are indicated. ”

I hope many people enjoy seeing the London Panorama of 1815.

 

 

THE DARKER SIDE OF 19TH CENTURY LONDON – THE GREAT STINK

by Kristine Hughes Patrone

If you’d been watching Season 2, Episode 4 of the PBS Masterpiece series Victoria, you would have seen Prince Albert addressing the problem of the outdated, and stinking, drains at Buckingham Palace. In reality, the problem of outdated and overburdened drains extended far beyond the Palace and permeated through the entire city of London. So prevalent was the problem that it came to be known as The Great Stink, a condition once so grave that it’s remediation has gone down in history as one of the greatest engineering feats of its day.

 The Great Stink actually took place in 1858, but of course London had been stinking for centuries prior. In the first half of the 19th Century, London’s population was 2.5 million, all of whom ultimately discharged their waste directly onto the streets or into the Thames.  Besides people, there were hundreds of thousands of horses, cows, dogs, cats, sheep, etc. adding their daily contributions to the waste problem. John Cadbury, social reformer and candy company founder, wrote:  “Foul odors emanated from more than 200,000 cesspools across London, in alleyways, yards, even the basements of houses. It was not a smell that could be easily washed away.”

Most homes and businesses were built above cesspits, designed to drain to the street by means of a crudely built culvert to a partially open sewer trench in the center of the street. The design was faulty, to say the least. Cesspits often overflowed and waste soaked foundations, walls and floors of living quarters. Culverts typically became blocked and caused sewage to spread under buildings and contaminate shallow wells, cisterns and water ways from which drinking water was drawn. In October 1660, Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary: “Going down to my cellar…I put my feet into a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr. Turner’s house of office is full and comes into my cellar.

While causing disgust in Pepys and thousands of other Londoners, cesspits gave work to a portion of the population who included night soil men and saltpetre men. Saltpetre is another name for potassium nitrate, an essential ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder. It was typically generated by collecting vegetable and animal waste into heaps and mixing it with limestone, mortar, earth and ashes. These heaps were kept moist from time to time with urine or other waste from stables. Digging for ingredients in outbuildings such as dovecotes and stables provided adequate supplies of gunpowder for the navy. Beginning during the reign of Elizabeth I, official saltpetre men were given powers to requisition any suitable deposits they came across. In 1621 James I appointed Lords of the Admiralty as Commissioners for Saltpetre and Gunpowder. They divided the country into districts for collection, and specialised saltpetre men were appointed and given weekly quotas to meet. They were also awarded powers with the right to enter premises to dig for nitrogenous earth.

In addition to saltpetre men, night soil men removed human waste that they then sold as fertilizer for crops. It was filthy job that involved crawling through cesspits and sewers or descending into them from ladders. Henry Mayhew describes them in his London Labour and the London Poor. You can read it here.

By 1810, the city’s one million inhabitants had to be content with 200,000 cesspits. The pressure on these and the haphazard sewer system caused the pits to overflow into street drains designed originally to cope with rainwater, but now also used to carry waste from factories, slaughterhouses and other activities, contaminating the city before emptying into the River Thames, or into the old London streams – the Fleet, the Wandle, the West Bourne, the Ravensbourne, the New, the Holbourne and many others that had been partially covered. WC’s discharged human waste directly into these streams and as most of those on the south side were tide-locked and drained into the Thames only at low tide, the results were catastrophic – much of London’s drinking water was still being extracted from the Thames, often downstream from the sewage discharge points.

 

Whilst the government and various commissioners and officials put forth plans for cleaning up London’s cesspits and sewers, the Duke of Wellington forged ahead with action of his own at the Tower of London – he was Constable of the Tower for 26 years. Centuries before, latrines and been built and desgined to empty directly into the moat set into the outer wall of Edward I’s Brass Mount in the north-eastern corner of the Tower. In addition, the moat connected to the River Thames, which washed its foul and putrid self about the Tower at both high and low tide.  In 1830, the Duke of Wellington ordered the silt from the moat be taken to fertilize market gardens at Battersea, but this was not enough to prevent complaints in 1841 that the banks exposed at low tide were ‘impregnated with putrid animal and excrementitious matter … emitting a most prejudicial smell,’ resulting in 80 men from the garrison being taken to hospital. Wellington ordered the moat to be completely drained and covered over, the work being completed in 1845.

Dire problems with London’s water supply inevitably took their toll on the City’s inhabitants – cholera first struck London in 1832 and again in 1840. In 1854 London physician Dr John Snow discovered that the disease was transmitted by drinking water contaminated by sewage after an epidemic broke out in Soho, but this idea was not widely accepted even by that late date.

The lawyer Edwin Chadwick, secretary to the Poor Law Commision, was one of many to draw attention to London’s unsanitary living conditions. In 1842, he produced an uncompromising and influential paper, ‘The Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain.’ Shocked by the squalor of the slums, he cited ‘atmospheric impurities produced by decomposing animal and vegetable substances,’ ‘damp and filth,’ and ‘close and overcrowded dwellings” as leading inevitably to disease and epidemics. Chadwick enlisted the aid of Charles Dickens, who personally recorded graphic accounts of the terrible state of reeking graveyards from his brother-in-law, Henry Austin, a leading sanitary reformer.

However, attempts at sanitary clean up were slow, as this letter to the editor of The Times – written in 1849 – shows –

TO THE EDITUR OF THE TIMES PAPER

Sur, -May we beg and beeseech your proteckshion and power. We are Sur, as it may be, livin in a Wilderniss, so far as the rest of London knows anything of us, or as the rich and great people care about. We live in muck and filthe. We aint got no privies, no dust bins, no drains, no water splies, and no drain or suer in the hole place. The Suer Company in Greek Street, Soho Square, all great rich and powerful men, take no notice watsotnedever of our complaints. The Stenche of a Gully-hole is disgustin. We all of us suffur, and numbers are ill, and if the Colera comes Lord help us… Teusday, Juley 3, 1849″.

Nearly a decade later, the situation had hardly improved. The year 1858 saw an exceptionally hot summer, over the course of which the Thames and many of its urban tributaries continued to overflow with sewage. Bacteria grew and the miasma of noxious smells increased until even the members of the House of Commons couldn’t ignore it, being driven out of the House by the foul odours. A House of Commons select committee was appointed to report on the Stink and recommend solutions and within 18 days a bill was passed into law that provided the funds necessary for a comprehensive sewer scheme for London, and to build the Embankment along the Thames in order to improve both the flow of water and of traffic.

 

In 1855 the Metropolitan Board of Works which, after rejecting many schemes for “merciful abatement of the epidemic that ravaged the Metropolis”, accepted a scheme to implement sewers proposed in 1859 by its chief engineer, Joseph Bazalgette. The intention of this very expensive scheme was to resolve the epidemic of cholera by eliminating the stench which was believed to cause it.

 

Massive sewers were built running along the north and south banks of the river Thames. These captured the waste that would otherwise pour into the river. The sewers gently inclined downwards to the east, resulting in the waste flowing towards the sea. In areas such as Victoria, the muddy foreshore was reclaimed, and sewers and the new underground railway were installed. On the surface, a 30 metre width of landscaped road and pavement was established, providing a modern and elegant
boulevard now known as the Embankment, which also served to guard against flooding. These new sewers terminated at pumping stations east of London in Kent and Essex, where the waste was carried out to sea on the outgoing tide. The Prince of Wales opened the pumping station at Crossness in Kent in 1865.

Work on London’s massive new sewer system continued over the next six years and, eventually the “Great Stink” became but a thing of memory, as did cholera.

Thames Water has produced a film about the construction of the sewer, which you can watch here.

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: WATERLOO 2017 – PART 1

 

Ian Fletcher and Kristine Hughes Patrone, founding members of the Guild of Bad Ass Tour Guides.

A few weeks ago, I was in London with my traveling mate, Denise Costello. We rented a flat in the King’s Road and settled in for a nice, long stay, our agenda pretty much wide open. Oh, we had things on our wish list, but they were arranged more as a list of suggestions than an actual itinerary. Except for Waterloo. I felt the need to revisit the Battlefield as it had been seven years since my last visit. I asked Denise if she’d be up for a jaunt to the Continent and it turns out she was. She’s pretty much up for anything, which is why she’s one of my “go to” travel companions.

Another of my favourite travel pals is Ian Fletcher, author of Galloping at Everything, in addition to other titles about Waterloo and the Peninsula and Napoleonic Wars. He’s also one of the UK’s most well respected battlefield guides. It took a lot of convincing, but Ian eventually agreed to take us to Waterloo and show us the highlights. To give you an idea of just how difficult it was for me to convince him to accompany us, I share with you the conversation we had:

Me: Will you take us to Waterloo for three nights in June?

Ian: Sure.

So Denise and I tatted up and were enclosed in a car with Ian, inside of a metal container, being transported beneath the Channel by speeding train before we knew what hit us.

Upon arrival in Calais, we headed south to Brussels and motored through towards Waterloo, chattering all the while about the Battle, the generals and Wellington. As one does.

The Lion’s Mound gets me every time. I’m aware that Wellington, upon seeing it for the first time, was said to have remarked, “They’ve ruined my battlefield.”

I do get it, but for me, the first sight of the Mound when I arrive at Waterloo fills my head with all the things I associate with the Battle: Freddy Pakenham, the Scots Greys, Lady Capel, Creevey, the Duchess of Richmond, amber waves of grain, Alexander Gordon, Henry Paget, Waterloo teeth, Copenhagen, the state of the field after the Battle, etc., etc. Images, words, people swirl inside my head and I’m overwhelmed to be standing on this ground. 

As we crossed over the road to the portion of the Battlefield that had been Wellington’s left flank, Ian described the events that unfolded on the day in 1815, ultimately leading the the cavalry charge of the Royal Scots Greys. As Ian isn’t to hand as I write this, I’ll use Wikipedia to describe those events:

“The Scots Greys, which had been reduced in size because of the end of the Peninsular War, were expanded. This time, there would be 10 troops of cavalry, a total of 946 officers and men, the largest the regiment had ever been until that time. Six of the ten troops were sent to the continent, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel James Inglis Hamilton, to join the army forming under the command of the Duke of Wellington. The Scots Greys, upon arrival in Ghent, were brigaded under the command of Major-General Ponsonby in the Union Brigade, with Royal Dragoons and the Inniskillings Dragoons.

“The Scots Greys, with the rest of the Union Brigade, missed the Battle of Quatre Bras despite a long day of hard riding. As the French fell back, the Scots Greys and the rest of the Union Brigade arrived at the end of their 50-mile ride.

Henry Paget, Lord Uxbridge

“On the morning of 18 June 1815, the Scots Greys found themselves in the third line of Wellington’s army, on the left flank. As the fights around La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont developed, Wellington’s cavalry commander, the Earl of Uxbridge, held the cavalry back. However, with the French infantry advancing and threatening to break the British centre. Uxbridge ordered the Household Brigade and the Union Brigades to attack the French infantry of D’Erlon’s Corps. The Scots Greys were initially ordered to remain in reserve as the other two brigades attacked.

“As the rest of the British heavy cavalry advanced against the French infantry, just after 1:30 pm, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton witnessed Pack’s brigade beginning to crumble, and the 92nd Highlanders falling back in disorder. On his initiative, Hamilton ordered his regiment forward at the walk. Because the ground was broken and uneven, thanks to the mud, crops, and the men of 92nd, the Scots Greys remained at the walk until they had passed through the Gordons. The arrival of the Scots Greys helped to rally the Gordons, who turned to attack the French. Even without attacking at a full gallop, the weight of the Scots Greys charge proved to be irresistible for the French column pressing Pack’s Brigade. As Captain Duthilt, who was present with de Marcognet’s 3rd Division, wrote of the Scots Greys charge:

“Just as I was pushing one of our men back into the ranks I saw him fall at my feet from a sabre slash. I turned round instantly – to see English cavalry forcing their way into our midst and hacking us to pieces. Just as it is difficult, if not impossible, for the best cavalry to break into infantry who are formed into squares and who defend themselves with coolness and daring, so it is true that once the ranks have been penetrated, then resistance is useless and nothing remains for the cavalry to do but to slaughter at almost no risk to themselves. This what happened, in vain our poor fellows stood up and stretched out their arms; they could not reach far enough to bayonet these cavalrymen mounted on powerful horses, and the few shots fired in chaotic melee were just as fatal to our own men as to the English. And so we found ourselves defenceless against a relentless enemy who, in the intoxication of battle, sabred even our drummers and fifers without mercy.

“A lieutenant of the 92nd Highlanders who was present would later write, “the Scots Greys actually walked over this column.”

“As the Scots Greys waded through the French column, Sergeant Charles Ewart found himself within sight of the eagle of 45e Régiment de Ligne (45th Regiment of the Line). With a chance to capture the eagle, Ewart fought his way towards it, later recounting:

“One made a thrust at my groin – I parried it off and … cut him through the head. one of their Lancers threw his lance at me but missed … by my throwing it off with my sword … I cut him through the chin and upwards through the teeth. Next, I was attacked by a foot soldier, who, after firing at me charged me with his bayonet, but … I parried it and cut him down through the head.

“With the eagle captured, Sergeant Ewart was ordered to take the trophy off, denying the French troops a chance to recapture their battle standard. In recognition of his feat, he was promoted from sergeant to ensign.

“Having defeated the column and captured one of its battle standards, the Scots Greys were now disorganised. Neither Ponsonby nor Hamilton were able to effectively bring their troopers back under control. Rather than being able to reorganise, the Scots Greys continued their advance gaining speed, eventually galloping, and now aimed at Durutte’s division of infantry. Unlike the disordered column that had been engaged in attacking Pack’s brigade, some of Durutte’s men had time to form square to receive the cavalry charge. The volley of musket fire scythed through the Scots Greys’ ragged line as they swept over and round the French infantry, unable to break them. Colonel Hamilton was last seen during the charge, leading a party of Scots Greys, towards the French artillery. However, in turning to receive the Scots Greys’ charge, Durutte’s infantry exposed themselves to the 1st Royal Dragoons. The Royal Dragoons slashed through them, capturing or routing much of the column.

“Having taken casualties, and still trying to reorder themselves, the Scots Greys and the rest of the Union Brigade found themselves before the main French lines. Their horses were blown, and they were still in disorder without any idea of what their next collective objective was. Some attacked nearby gun batteries of the Grande Battery, dispersing or sabring the gunners. Disorganized and milling about the bottom of the valley between Hougoumont and La Belle Alliance, the Scots Greys and the rest of the British heavy cavalry were taken by surprise by the counter-charge of Milhaud‘s cuirassiers, joined by lancers from Baron Jaquinot’s 1st Cavalry Division.

“As Ponsonby tried to rally his men against the French cuirassers, he was attacked by Jaquinot’s lancers and captured. A nearby party of Scots Greys saw the capture and attempted to rescue their brigade commander. However, the French soldier who had captured Ponsonby executed him and then used his lance to kill three of the Scots Greys who had attempted the rescue. By the time Ponsonby died, the momentum had entirely returned in favour of the French. Milhaud’s and Jaquinot’s cavalrymen drove the Union Brigade from the valley. The French artillery added to the Scots Greys’ misery.

“The remnants of the Scots Greys retreated to the British lines, harried by French cavalry. They eventually reformed on the left, supporting the rest of the line as best they could with carbine fire. In all, the Scots Greys suffered 104 dead and 97 wounded and 228 of the 416 horses. When they were finally reformed, the Scots Greys could only field two weakened squadrons, rather than the three complete ones with which they had begun the day.

“Following the victory of Waterloo, the Scots Greys pursued the defeated French Army until Napoleon’s surrender and final abdication. The Scots Greys would remain on the continent until 1816 as part of the army of occupation under the terms of the peace treaty.

Denise Costello and Ian Fletcher contemplate the Charge of the Royal Scots Greys.

Poppies can be seen growing everywhere upon the field of Waterloo.

 

Denise and Ian took a trip up to the top of the Lion’s Mound, while I stayed behind and walked the base. I’d already seen the view from the top during the 2010 Waterloo re-enactment. I was one of hundreds who perched atop the Mound to view the action, except that it had been bucketing down with rain when I was there.

 

Afterwards, we headed out to the other sites in the area connected to the Battle.

 

 

PART TWO COMING SOON!

 

VIDEO WEDNESDAY: LIVE UK WEBCAMS

Today we bring you links to some webcams in use in the UK in order to share interesting sites throughout Britain. Sit back, pour yourself a cuppa and enjoy a varied tour through the lens of  these cameras.

Trafalgar Square

Tower Bridge

Sussex Gardens, Paddington

Abbey Road (lots of silly beggars recreating the Beatles walk)

The Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset

Interior of barn, Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth, Devon

Ordsall Hall Ghost Cam

The beach at Bognor Regis

Market Square, Petersfield, Hampshire

Three webcams in Oxford

Inside the Arnside Chip Shop

Edinburgh Zoo panda cam

Whitby Harbour – 3 views

Wookey Hole Caves

The Peregrines at Norwich Cathedral

Lake District National Park webcams

Dublin Zoo webcams