A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND – CAVERSHAM

Following the Number One London Georgian Tour, Vicky flew in and met me in London for a night before we headed off on our epic research journey, visiting three Archives that hold documents related to the Duke of Wellington. Our first stop was the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading. We had booked a hotel in nearby Caversham and our good friend, author Beth Elliott was kind enough to pick us up at the station.

You’ve heard me speak of Beth here on the blog before. She’s the sort of friend who is a comfort, a joy and who also happens to be very funny. In an understated English way. So, Beth collected us at the train station and drove Vicky and me to our riverside hotel, where we met a gaggle of other local residents.

Later that evening, we all went out to the nearby carvery and indulged in that most comforting of British food, the Sunday Roast, even though it was actually a Wednesday.

Next day, Vicky and I headed off to the Museum of English Rural Life.

We had ordered the documents we wished to see in advance, one of which was the Marriage Settlement between Richard, Marquis Wellesley and Maryanne Patterson, below. You’ll see that the Duke of Wellington was one of the executors of the Settlement. Between his brother and his former mistress. Yes, you read that correctly.

We spent the entire day reading historic documents and attempting to read Wellington’s handwriting. Boxes and boxes of letters and documents. Naturally, by the end of the day, Vicky and I were ready for a drink. And when we met up with Beth later that evening, we told her we’d love to have a plate of roast beef for dinner. Again. So we did.

Afterwards, we strolled through historic Caversham, which, as Cavesham, was mentioned in the Domesday Book and which sits on the north bank of the Thames.

Good friends, good food and good Wellington documents. As you can imagine, it was a wonderfully satisfying day. And one I’ll always remember. More to come . . . .

REVISITING MINSTER LOVELL CHURCH AND RUINS

Originally published in 2010

So, here we are at St. Kenelm’s Church on a cold, wet, foggy December day when our surroundings look for all the world like a Hammer Studios horror movie set. On the day we visited, the air was crisp and cold and the place was as deserted as it looks in the photos below. There was nary a footprint to be seen in the graveyard and it was so quiet that you could hear the snow crunch beneath your boots with each step. . . no one spoke . . . . . no one dared to break the eerie silence as we made our way through the ancient tombstones . . . . .  don’t be afraid – I’m sure the legends of the Minster Lovell Hall ghost are just rumour . . . . . . . .

St Kenelm’s church in Minster Lovell (above) is mainly 15th century, built on the foundations of an earlier priory minster. This explains the unusual cruciform shape with a central tower. The whole church is “almost entirely unaltered and has handsome details” (Pevsner). It is situated next to the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall, pictured below.

From Kelly’s Directory 1891 – To the south-east of the church, near the river Windrush, are the ruins of an ancient mansion, formerly the residence of the Lovell family: the buildings, when perfect, formed a square, the south side being parallel to the river and within a few feet of its bank; the whole of the south and east sides are now destroyed and the only portions standing are the north side, part of a tower at the south end of the western side and a low wall attached to it, with several fine but now roofless and dismantled apartments; in 1708, during the rebuilding of a chimney here, a large vault was discovered in which was found the entire skeleton of a man sitting at a table on which were writing materials and a book and it has been assumed that Lord Lovell, who disappeared after the battle of Stoke, made his way to his house here, and concealing himself in this vault, was eventually starved to death; on his death, his titles, including the baronies of Lovell and Holland, Dean Court and Grey of Rotherfield, became extinct, and that of Beaumont fell into abeyance between his sisters, but was called out 16 Oct. 1840, in favour of Miles Thomas Stapleton esq. of Carlton, Yorks, one of the co-heirs thereto. The estates of the Lovells, confiscated by Henry VII, were subsequently granted to the Comptons, Cecils and other powerful families.

** An alternate version of the story of Lord Lovell is that he returned with his faithful dog to the Hall and was locked into the secret chamber by his faithful valet, who breathed not a word of Lord Lovell’s whereabouts to a single soul and who came twice a day to feed his master and his master’s dog. The valet, unfortunately, died before he could share his secret with anyone and so Lord Lovell and the faithful dog perished together, starving to death in their self imposed hiding place.

*** Yes, the place is rumoured to be haunted. By both man and dog.  And what a perfect location for a ghost, visually. You couldn’t get much more Byron-esque if you tried.

I’ll leave you with images that are sure to conjure up visions of Christopher Lee . . . . .

LUNCHEON IN PICKERING PLACE AND A VISIT TO LOCK'S HATTERS

After a busy morning of poking our noses into various London venues, Victoria and I decided to take a much needed pause for lunch at Boulestin in St. James’s Street. Boulestin offers an intimate and elegant setting in which to enjoy modern French cuisine. The food is fabulous and the location even better – the site was once occupied by Overton’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar and its’ outdoor dining tables are in Pickering Place. Yes, that Pickering Place.

Once our food had been delivered and the wine poured I looked at Victoria and said, “We’re eating in Pickering Place.”

“I know.”

“How cool is this?” I asked.

“Tres.”

“Pickering Place.”

“Yup. Duels, even.”

“Have you heard the story about how the Duke of Wellington came back from Paris incognito in 1816 and thrashed the Hell out of Brummell for being such an idiot and getting himself into debt and insulting Prinny? It happened right here. The Duke was punching the crap out of Brummell when an old woman opened a window on the second floor, right there, and yelled `Begone, ye hooligans!’`And Brummell yelled back, `It’s not a hooligan, it’s the Duke of Wellington!’ And the old woman replied, `And I’m Queen Caroline. Now get away with ye before I call out the Watch.’

“Nope,’ Victoria said, “never heard that. Probably because you just made it up. I like it though.”

“Yeah, not bad. Do you want to go next door to Lock’s and look at the Duke’s hat when we’re done?”

“Sure. Do you want any of this brie?”

And so we made our way two doors down to Lock’s Hatters, where Wellington’s bicorn and Nelson’s hat, complete with eye patch, are both on display, as are hat forms, order books, letters from famous customers and all other manner of interesting memorabilia.

Above, the Duke of Wellington’s hat. 

Lock’s is the oldest hat shop in the world – founded in 1676 – and has been at it’s current St. James’s Street location since 1765. Anyone and everyone of note had hats made at Lock’s, especially those gentlemen in the military, who hunted or who appeared at Court. Lock’s records are a veritible who’s who of English society from the Georgian period through to the present day. And whilst Lock’s is most associated with gentlemen’s hats, they also supply millinery services for ladies, as you can see in this video.

Having just visited Lock’s Hatters earlier this month and meeting with current staff, I’m pleased to be able to announce that a visit to the shop will be a feature of several of Number One London’s upcoming tours for 2017.


In fact, most of St. James’s Street will feature on our tours, where we’ll step back in time in order to Research the Regency. In the meantime, stay tuned here for more of Kristine and Victoria’s Open House visits.

POST TOUR: EXPLORING PART OF THE CITY OF LONDON

Victoria here, relating our activities after the Duke of Wellington Tour back in September 2014. After wandering Hampstead, Kristine and I needed a good sit-down — and where better than on a London bus…so we grabbed one and had a ringside seat for the street scenes from Hampstead all the way to the City of London.  It is always fun to explore a new area — and we were looking for Cheapside, once a popular shopping area.

Here’s a bit of what we saw –
.

Elia, Charles Lamb, a bust by William Reynolds-Stephens in Gitspur Street on the wall of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate

Old Bailey

Christchurch Greyfriars Garden

St. Paul’s

St. Mary-le-Bow

St. Mary-le-Bow interior
Bank of England

Duke of Wellington by Francis Leggatt Chantrey;
The Duke, Queen Victoria, and Frederick Augustus II, King of Saxony, attended the unveiling on June 18, 1844, anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

BEN FRANKLIN'S BONES

In the heart of London is Benjamin Franklin House, above, the world’s only remaining Franklin home. For nearly sixteen years between 1757 and 1775, Dr Benjamin Franklin – scientist, diplomat, philosopher, inventor, Founding Father of the United States and more – lived behind its doors. Built circa 1730, it is today a dynamic museum and educational facility.
While lodging at 36 Craven Street, Franklin’s main occupation was mediating unrest between Britain and America, but he also served as Deputy Postmaster for the Colonies; pursued his love of science (exploring bifocal spectacles, the energy-saving Franklin stove); explored health (inoculation, air baths, cures for the common cold); music (inventing the delightful glass armonica for which Mozart, Bach and Beethoven composed) and letters (articles, epitaphs, and his witty Craven Street Gazette), all while forging a hearty social life and close friendships with leading figures of the day.

The House, built circa 1730, is architecturally significant. It holds a Grade I listing and retains a majority of original features (central staircase; lathing; 18th century paneling; stoves; windows; fittings; beams; brick, etc) ‘unimproved’ over time.

Fast forward to 1998, when the first conservation work began at Craven Street.  It was interrupted by the discovery of bones, both human and animal, under the floor of what is today the House’s Seminar Room (originally the garden in Franklin’s day). The London coroner was called and he determined that the bones were more than 100 years old so no inquest was needed.

Display Label: This cabinet displays a selection of the bones found ten years ago in the basement of the house. They are the result of William Hewson’ anatomy school, which opened here at 35 Craven Street on the 30 September, 1772. They are being shown here for the first time since their discovery. Although this is only a small collection of the original number of bones found, the specimens selected for display are of particular medical interest. 

Craven Street Bones


The Craven Street Bones on display in the Seminar Room
Consequently, the House team invited Dr. Simon Hillson and colleagues from London’s Institute of Archaeology at University College London to study the bones and their research has provided valuable historical details.
From a one metre wide, one metre deep pit, over 1200 pieces of bone were retrieved and are the the remnants of an anatomy school run from the House by William Hewson, son-in-law of Franklin’s landlady, Margaret Stevenson.  Hewson, who married Margaret’s daughter Polly in 1770, is best known for his research on blood and the lymphatic system. He isolated the key protein in the blood clotting process, fibrinogen, and called it “coagulable lymph.”

A glass viewing window in the basement allowing visitors to see where the bones where discovered
Hewson trained in Edinburgh and studied with famous anatomist William Hunter, becoming a partner in Hunter’s school at Great Windmill Street, London.  Hewson had a falling out with Hunter and Franklin served as a mediator.  Franklin noted, “I should think it no Trouble to hear their Complaints if I could be of the least Use in accommodating their Differences; but since that was not likely, I could only wish as I had a Regard for both, that they would go on to the End of their Term as quietly as possible, since that would be most to the Credit of both.”

In  due course, Hewson opened his own anatomy school at Craven Street. The human remains derive from over 15 people and show dissection marks from surgical instruments (animal remains were found primarily in the front of the House in the old coal depositories).  For example, a femur bone has been cut cleanly probably demonstrating the process of amputation.  This was a valuable skill when there was little knowledge of sterilisation and much diplomacy took place on the battle field!  The skull pieces have circles drilled out from a trepanning device – a sample of one is on display in the Seminar Room.  Trepanning was primarily used to relieve pressure on the brain.  However, relatively few surgical operations had any likelihood of success; invasive procedures were made difficult by the possibility of major blood loss and infection, and the lack of anaesthetic, not used until 1846.

Key evidence linking the Craven Street bones to Hewson’s anatomy school is a portion of a turtle spine and mercury found in the bone pit. In an experiment conducted in 1770 at the Royal Society, Hewson showed the flow of mercury through a turtle to highlight the lymphatic system. With help from Franklin, Hewson was elected to the Royal Society and received their Copley Medal for his work. Other items linked to anatomical study were also found in the bone pit, including microscope slides.

In Georgian England, the practice of anatomical study became increasingly popular. Limited hospital teaching left a gap filled by private schools like Hewson’s.  They also satisfied growing interest in public health and talks by the experts were financially successful. Despite this, procuring bodies for dissection was not easy.  It did not become a fully legal practice until 1832.  It is likely that some of Hewson’s cadavers came from the so-called ‘resurrectionists’ – bodysnatchers who shipped their wares along the Thames under cover of night.

Anatomy was a hazardous area of study: during a dissection in 1774 Hewson contracted septicaemia and died aged just 34.  As Franklin wrote to his wife Deborah: “Our Family here is in great Distress. Poor Mrs. Hewson has lost her Husband, and Mrs. Stevenson her Son-in-law. He died last Sunday Morning of a Fever which baffled the Skill of our best Physicians. He was an excellent young Man, ingenious, industrious, useful, and belov’d by all that knew him. She is left with two young Children, and a third soon expected. He was just established in a profitable growing Business, with the best Prospects of bringing up his young Family advantageously.”  Polly would eventually move with her children to Philadelphia to be close to Franklin after the close of the Revolutionary War.

To learn more, watch the complete episode of the PBS special, Secrets of the Dead: Ben Franklin’s Bones here (55 minutes)