Old and New London, A Narrative of its History, its People and its Places.Illustrated with Numerous Engravings from the Most Authentic Sources. vol 6
St. George's Fields.
St. George's Fields.
In the above lines, the Brothers Smith, the authors of the
in , lamented the decline alike of sports and of rural beauty, which were once the chief characteristics of this locality; but even this description has long ceased to be applicable. Perhaps the following stanza, though less poetic, quoted from Tallis's
would present the reader of to-day with a more faithful character of Fields :
Fields were named after the adjacent church of St. George the Martyr, and appear once to have been marked by all the floral beauty of meadows, uninvaded by London smoke. We learn from Mr. Cunningham that Gerard came here to collect specimens of his
And yet these
together with Marsh--which lies between them and the Thames --were at time almost covered with water at every high tide, and across which the Romans threw embanked roads, and on which they reared villas, after the Dutch summer-house fashion, on piles. Indeed, Fields were certainly occupied by the Romans, for large quantities of Roman remains, coins, tesselated pavements, urns, and bones have been found there. They formed probably of the , or summer camps; for in the winter a great part of them, now known as and Marsh Gate, were under water. It is not stated when all this ground was drained, but various ancient commissions are remaining for persons to survey the banks of the river, here and in the adjoining parishes, and to take measures for repairing them, and to impress such workmen as they should find necessary for that employment; notwithstanding which, these periodical overflows continued to do considerable mischief; and Strype, in his edition of Stow's
informs us that, so late as , owing to this cause and some great rains which had then fallen, all Fields were covered with water. Inundations, therefore, are no novelty to the lands on the south of the Thames near London.
In , as we have already had occasion to observe, Canute laid siege to London; but finding that the bridge was so strongly fortified by the citizens that he could not come up with his vessels to make any impression on the Thames side of the place, he projected the design of making a canal through Fields, then marshes, wide and deep enough to convey his ships to the west of the bridge, and to enable him by that means to invest the town on all sides. The line of this canal, called
ran from the great wet dock, below , through , to the river Thames again at Reach; but its exact course cannot now be traced.
Dr. Wallis, in a letter to Samuel Pepys, dated in , speaks of having walked, years before, from Stangate, close by , to Redriff ,
to , meaning there to cross the Thames to . On this occasion, he writes, a friend
In the same letter he speaks of the southern shore of the river as
Fields have not been unvisited by royalty, for we are told that at the happy Restoration, on the , the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London met Charles II., in his journey from Dover to London, in Fields, where a magnificent tent was erected, and the king was provided with a sumptuous banquet before entering the City.
These fields, according to Pepys and Evelyn, were of the places of refuge to which the poorer citizens retreated with such of their goods and chattels as they could save from the fire of London.
We read in Evelyn's
|, that many of the poor people, who had lost their homes in the City, were dispersed about Fields; |
Fields, down to the commencement of the present century, comprised broad open meadows, and stretched from , Borough, to the . Dirty ditches intersected it, travelling show-vans and wooden huts on wheels were squatted there, and some rusty boilers and pipes rotted by the roadside. They were places, as we read in Malcolm, much resorted to by field-preachers, who, during the reign of the Stuart sovereigns, were not allowed to hold forth in London.
Several of the names of the particular plots of land, during the unbuilt state of Fields, are transmitted to us in old writings, as well as some amusing notices of certain places here, or in the neighbourhood, in scarce books. Among other documents, the parish records of St,
| Saviour's mention Checquer Mead, Lamb Acre, and an estate denominated the Chimney Sweepers, as situated in these fields and belonging to that parish; as also a large laystall, or common dunghill, used by the parishioners, called Dunghill. The open part, at the commencement of the last and end of the preceding century, like , and some other void places near the metropolis, was appropriated to the practice of archery, as we learn from a scarce tract published near the time, called |
Here were the
both standing till the Regency of George IV. In point of fashion they were a direct contrast to Ranelagh, and even to , to which
repaired. The former stood opposite the Asylum in the , and they were fitted up on the plan of , though on a smaller scale, by a Mr. Clayett. In the centre of the gardens was an orchestra, very large and beautiful.
The old orchestra of the gardens, when taken down, was removed to Sydney Gardens, at Bath, to be re-erected there.
grounds were far more obstinate and also far more unworthy of patronage. At this place there was a long room, with tables and benches, and an organ at the upper end, so that in all probability the place was used for
The audience was composed of the riff-raff and scum of the town. Becoming a public nuisance, the gardens were at length put down by the magistrates, and Bethlehem Hospital now occupies the spot which once they covered. The spot was a noted place of amusement for the lower middle classes; and as the name indicates, it was of the chief scenes of the brutal diversion of duck-hunting, which was carried on here, less than centuries ago, in a pond or ponds in the grounds attached to the house. The fun of the sport consisted in seeing the duck make its escape from the dog's mouth by diving. It was much practised in the neighbourhood of London till it wys out of fashion, being suiperseded by pigeony
| shooting, and other pastimes equally cruel. In the century the place was celebrated for its springs. The |
in its later days, bore but a bad repute as a regular haunt of thieves and of other low characters. After a long existence, during which it frequently figured in connection with trials for highway robbery and other crimes, it was suppressed by the order of the magistrates. Garrick thus alludes to the tavern and its tea-gardens in his Prologue to the , :--
It will be remembered that of the best scenes in Hannah More's
is laid in the infamous Dog and Duck Fields.
The following interesting extract from a MS. by Hone, the author of the
is printed by Mr. Larwood, in his :--
A fort, with half-bulwarks, at the
in Fields, is mentioned among the defences of London, set up by order of the Parliament in .
The old stone sign of the
tea-gardens is still preserved, embedded in the
|brick wall of the garden of Bethlehem Hospital, visible from the road, and representing a dog squatting on its haunches with a duck in its mouth, and bearing the date .|
A well of water, celebrated for its purgative qualities, formerly existed near the
grounds. Dr. Fothergill tells us that this water had gained a reputation for the cure of most cutaneous disorders, in scrofulous cases, and that it was useful for keeping the body cool, and preventing cancerous diseases; but the exact site of this well is no longer known.
as Malcolm informs us,
A century ago Fields became the scene of very fierce gatherings of the
mobs; and the populace were very riotous, clamouring for the release of their dissolute and witty favourite from the King's Bench. During the riot which ensued, a young man named William Allen was killed by of the soldiers. Allen was pursued to the
Stones End, and shot in the inn-yard. He was buried, as we have seen, in the churchyard at , where a monument was erected to his memory.
It is not a little strange that the pains-taking and conscientious antiquary, Pennant, though he wrote
| in , when their memory must have been still fresh, makes no mention of these fields having been the head-quarters of the rioters under Lord George Gordon, who years before had wellnigh set fire to all London. He simply speaks of these fields as |
was predicated by Pennant of the
is a little doubtful, more particularly since he refers, in a foot-note, to some new process of adulteration of the oil, and tells the following story almost in the same breath :--
In previous volumes of this work we have already spoken of the effects of the Gordon Riots in different parts of the metropolis, particularly in the burning of Newgate and the destruction of Lord Mansfield's house in ; but as Fields formed the rallying-point, whence the excited mob was to be led on the , some further particulars of the proceedings of the rioters may not be out of place here.
A so-called Protestant Association had been formed in , for the purpose of opposing Sir George Savile's bill for the abolition of Roman Catholic disabilities; and a fanatical Scotch nobleman, Lord George Gordon, son of William, Duke of Gordon, then in his thirtieth year, consented to become president of the association, which was fast gaining an influence over the lower classes. Various meetings to arrange for the presentation of a petition to Parliament against the repeal of these disabilities had been held in April and , in the
, and in the Coachmakers' Hall, and the presentation was finally agreed upon at Coachmakers' Hall, on the . At this meeting, which was attended by upwards of excited people, under Lord George Gordon's presidency, a petition was then proposed and carried to the following effect:--
The enthusiastic and eccentric president then addressed the billowy meeting, informing them that the system of different divisions would be useful, as he could then go from to the other, and learn the general opinion as to the mode of taking up the petition. As it was very easy for person to sign or names to a petition, he thought it was better that every who signed should appear in person to prove that the names were all genuine. He begged that they would dress decently and behave orderly, and, to prevent riots and to distinguish themselves, they should wear blue cockades in their hats. Some had suggested that, meeting so early, people might get drinking; but he held that the Protestant Association were not drunken people, and apprehended no danger on that account. Some had also hinted that so great a number of people being assembled might lead to the military being drawn out; but he did not doubt all the association would be peaceable and orderly; and he desired them not to take even sticks in their hands, and begged that if there was any riotous person the rest should give him up.
rabble, estimated variously at from to men, all wearing blue ribbons, some of which had the words
upon them, met at the appointed day and hour in Fields--on the very spot, singularly enough, as tradition says, where the high altar of the present Roman Catholic Cathedral is raised : such is the irony of history. Blue banners were flying; and it is said that in the Scotch division bagpipes were playing. In each of the divisions the
marched, singing hymns, or abreast, the enormous tree-trunk of a petition being carried on men's heads in a conspicuous part of the procession. They began to advance towards soon after , division marching by , the others by and . The march was orderly and decorous; hitherto the passions of these fanatics had been restrained; it was only when the rabble joined, and a sense of new-felt power came over them, that they turned to wild beasts. When they reached the Houses of Parliament, about half-past , the
gave such a shout as that before which fell the walls of the fated Jericho. Gibbon, the historian, then a member of the , describes the scene
we read that just when the great doctor was engaged in preparing a delightful literary entertainment for the world,
Of this extraordinary tumult, Dr. Johnson has given the following concise, lively, and just account in his
Boswell speaks of these riots as
Miss Priscilla Wakefield, in her
writes as follows concerning these riotous proceedings :--
It might be added that the Marshalsea was broken open by the mob on this occasion.
Mr. H. Angelo, in his
thus writes :--
Horace Walpole sarcastically calls these riotous proceedings
The number of persons who perished in these riots could not be accurately gathered. According to the military returns, persons died by shot or sword in the streets, and in the hospitals; and were wounded and captured. How many died of injuries, unknown and unseen, cannot be computed. Many more perished in the flames, or died from excesses of kind or other. Justice came in at the close, to demand her due. At the , eightyfive persons were tried for taking part in the riots, and finally out of these eighteen were executed, woman, a negress, being of the number. By a Special Commission for the County of Surrey prisoners were tried, and of them capitally convicted, though or were reprieved.
But what, it has been asked, did Lord George Gordon all this while?
as his counsel on trial said,
Every reader of knows the fearful state of London during the continuance of these riots; and act of Lord George, in his presumed attempt to quell the tumult, is particularly referred to by the author of that work. A young man came to the door of his coach, and besought his lordship to sign a paper drawn up for the purpose, which ran thus :--
It has been insinuated that Lord
|George Gordon wrote for friends many protectionpapers like this, the language of which certainly implies a knowledge and approval of the intent to attack those who were considered enemies. But the young man proved that it was written by himself, and that Lord George signed it hurriedly in compassion. When shown to the mob, it saved the man's house.|
Lord George was arrested on the , and conveyed to the Tower under a strong guard. The Government thought it prudent to allow months to elapse before trying him, and he was then acquitted; though it seems strange that the ringleader should have been absolved from blame, when a score of his poor dupes were executed for their subordinate share in this bloody work.
Some time after this event a person begging alms from him in the street remarked,
cried Lord George;
replied the sturdy beggar;
In Lord George Gordon coolly wished to offer himself as a candidate for the representation of London, but he withdrew, on finding that the City did not choose to be burnt down once a year for his amusement.
The after-life of this nobleman was marked by vagaries which confirmed the probability of his being really afflicted with insanity. In he openly embraced the Jewish faith, and soon after was convicted of a libel on the Queen of France. He fled to escape the sentence, but was re-taken in a few months and confined in Newgate, where he lived until fever cut short his career on the Ist of , at the age of . He was much beloved by the prisoners, and with good reason, being generous and humane. Jewish maid-servants, partly through enthusiasm, waited on him daily up to his death. The last words of Lord George Gordon were characteristic. The French Revolution had attracted him as a glorious event, and he died crazily chanting its watchword,
Northouck, writing in , anticipates the early arrival of a day when Fields will no more resemble fields, but be covered with buildings, as an ultimate consequence of the erection of and Blackfriars Bridges. He was right. In the course of the next decades of years, the hand of the builder had been at work, and streets and terraces were fast rendering the name of Fields but a meaningless title.
The pleasant and open aspect of Fields, and indeed the whole neighbourhood of the , at the above-mentioned date, and it may, perhaps, be added the moderate price of the land, induced the locality to be selected as the site of several charitable institutions. Foremost among them was the , which for just a century stood near the southern end of . It was originally opened, under the name of Magdalen House, by the founders, Robert Dingley and Jonas Hanway, in a large building, formerly the London Infirmary, in Prescott Street, , in . The good founders were readily assisted by others, and the fame of the institution even reached to Calcutta; and Omichund, the rich native merchant, who figures conspicuously in the history of Warren Hastings, left more than rupees to the funds of the hospital, though, we are sorry to add, his executors contrived to seize and appropriate to themselves the greater portion of the sum.
Jonas Hanway's larger schemes of benevolence have connected his name not only with the Marina Society and the Foundling, but also with the Magdalen; and to his courage and perseverance in smaller fields of usefulness (his determined contention with extravagant veils to servants not the least), the men of Goldsmith's day, as we have seen in our account of , were indebted for liberty to use an umbrella.
At home no was more zealous in support of the Magdalen than Dr. Dodd, the fashionable preacher, who was its chaplain, and whose unlucky exit from this world of trouble at Tyburn we have already mentioned. The doctor, we are informed, was unrivalled in his power of extracting tears and loose cash from his fair hearers, and appealed so effectually in sermons, that the fashionable ladies, sympathising, perhaps, with female frailty, contributed liberally. The charity was incorporated in , and and a half acres in Fields purchased, on which a new hospital was erected. Accordingly, the hospital is called
The character of this excellent institution is well described in the will of Mr. Charles Wray, who was for many years a governor of the hospital.
Thousands of young women who have strayed from the paths of virtue have been admitted, restored to their friends, or placed in service; and it is an invariable rule that no female shall be discharged, unless at her own desire or for misconduct, until means have been provided by which she may obtain an honest livelihood. No recom mendation is necessary to entitle the unfortunate to the benefits of this hospital more than that o repentant guilt.
The hospital consisted of brick buildings forming a quadrangle. The chapel belonging t( the institution was an octangular building, erectec at of the back corners. In the year the institution was removed to Streatham, as we hav( already seen. The unhappy women, for whose benefit this hospital was erected, are received bj petition; and there is a distinction in the wards according to the education or the behaviour of the
persons admitted, the inferior wards consisting of meaner persons and of those degraded for their behaviour. Each person is employed in such kind of work as is suitable to her abilities, and has such part of the benefits arising from her industry as the committee think proper. Allen, in his |
in dealing with the (and the description so far is applicable to it in its new situation, as well as when it stood in Fields), writes :--
A large block of Peabody Buildings now covers the site of the old Magdalen. The trees which stood in front of the latter are still made to do duty by screening the windows which front the street.
Shortly after the foundation of the Magdalen, another valuable institution, the [extra_illustrations.6.350.3] , was established, principally through the exertions of Sir John Fielding, the active magistrate, and Fields was chosen for its site. Like the Magdalen, this institution has migrated further into the country, having within the last few years taken up its quarters at Bedington --the fine old Elizabethan dwelling-house of the Carews-near Croydon. While the is limited to the reception of infants, the Asylum for Female Orphans has been founded for the reception of destitute children, who are admitted at a more advanced age. The children are educated and industriously employed until sufficiently old to be apprenticed out, when the utmost care is taken that they are provided with suitable situations. The Asylum stood originally at the junction of and , on the spot now covered by . The old building formed sides of a square, but its dimensions appeared contracted, and not of that commanding character expected from the celebrity of this charity.
[extra_illustrations.6.350.4] , in Elizabeth Place, , of which we give an illustration on page , was founded about the commencement of the present century, for the maintenance and education of the daughters and orphans of decayed members of the Masonic body. The schools were removed a few years ago, to make room for improvements in the neighbourhood.
In the Philanthropic Society established an industrial school in Fields, for the rescue of young children from a career of crime. The place of reception of the Philanthropic Society was at a small house on , but the prosperous encouragement it received induced the directors to contract with the Corporation of London for a piece of ground in the , at the corner of , not far from the Obelisk; and on this site it remained till about the year , when the operations of the society were transferred to a more convenient building near the Red Hill station of the Brighton Railway. St. Jude's Church, in , was till the Philanthropic Society's chapel.
[extra_illustrations.6.350.5] , occupying considerable space on the southern side of the , and shown in our illustration of the Obelisk on page , was originated at the premises of the old
When new Bethlehem Hospital was erected, in , the site was required, and the Blind School was removed to its present site. Of institutions like this, Dr. Lettsom observed, that
While the poor blind were thus cared for in Fields, those deprived of speech and hearing found a home in the , where we have already paid them a visit.
The , which forms a continuation of the to the
tavern, may be dismissed with remark. The South London Palace of Amusement, on the eastern side of the road, was, from to , in which last-named year Cathedral was completed, the principal chapel for the Roman Catholics of this part of the metropolis.
Besides witnessing the events mentioned above as having occurred here, Fields have borne their share of celebrity in the annals of England. They were very often the scenes of royal pomp and knightly cavalcades, as well as the rendezvous of rebellion and discord. It was to this place that Wat Tyler's and Jack Cade's rebels resorted, in order to raise the standard of opposition to the royal authority; and it was hither that the former retired, after the arrest of their leader in , and were compelled to yield to the allegiance which they had violated.
are now entirely covered with streets and spacious roads. From each of the bridges-Westminster, Waterloo, and Blackfriarsbroad thoroughfares converge to a point, about a mile distant from the river, at what is now called [extra_illustrations.6.350.6] , whence roads diverge in various directions.
In the centre of the circus is an [extra_illustrations.6.351.1] , erected in , during the mayoralty and in honour of Brass Crosby, Esq., who is stated by Allen, in his
to have been imprisoned in the Tower
and to commemorate the independent and patriotic spirit with which he released a printer who had been seized, contrary to law, by the . Full particulars of the proceedings which led to the committal of Brass Crosby to the Tower will be found in the pages of the for , from which it appears that the printers of several London newspapers had been apprehended on warrants issued against them by order of the . On being taken before the Lord Mayor and Alderman Wilkes, the printers were at once discharged, his lordship saying that
In consequence of this Wilkes and Crosby became martyrs; but while the name of the former has been handed down to posterity from his connection with the that of the latter is now almost forgotten. On the north side of the obelisk is inscribed,
on the south side,
on the east side,
and on the west side,
Several Acts of Parliament were passed, at the close of the last and beginning of the present centuries, for the improvement of this part of the metropolis. In an Act was passed which enabled the City to sell some detached pieces of land, mentioned in a schedule annexed to the Act, and to invest the purchase-money, and a further sum of , in the purchase of other land there, so as to make their estate in Fields more compact.
 See ante, p. 132.
[extra_illustrations.6.344.1] Old Houses in Ewer Street
 See ante, p. 263.
 See Vol. II., p. 442.
 See Vol. IV., p. 539.
 See Vol. IV., p. 471.
 See Vol. V., p. 193.
 See ante, p. 318.
[extra_illustrations.6.350.1] Philanthropic Society's Chapel and Female Reform
[extra_illustrations.6.350.2] Tower of Blind School
[extra_illustrations.6.350.3] Asylum for Female Orphans
[extra_illustrations.6.350.4] The Royal Freemasons' Charity School for Girls
[extra_illustrations.6.350.5] The School for the Indigent Blind
 See ante, p. 252.
[extra_illustrations.6.350.6] St. George's Circus