Posted on Jun 11, 2002 – 01:05 PM by Bill McCann
Notes and anecdotes about the gentlemen of London who have not made it into the major history books.
He was an apprentice cobbler who has the distinction of being the only person known to have been killed in an earthquake in London. He was killed by falling masonry at Christ’s Hospital in Newgate Street during the earthquake of April 6th 1580. Read about it in Earthquakes in London
Brutus BillyIn the days before paving, the streets of London were constantly churned up and rutted by the traffic. Street sweepers were employed at major intersections to keep the surface in some kind of order by sweeping the churned up mud and gravel level. For many years the intersection at the foot of Ludgate Hill was swept by an old black man named Charles old black man named Charles M‘Ghee, whose father had died in Jamaica at the age of 108. He was a short, thick-set man, with his white-grey hair carefully brushed up into a toupee, the fashion of his youth. Generally called “Brutus Billy,” or “Tim-buc-too,” he was found in his shop, as he called his crossing, in all weathers, and was invariably civil. At night, after he had shut up shop (swept mud over his crossing), he carried round a basket of nuts and fruit to places of public entertainment, so that in time he laid by a considerable amount of money. He lived in a passage leading from Stanhope Street into Drury Lane and when he laid down his broom he sold his professional right for a very large sum. Retiring into private life much respected, he was always to be seen on Sundays at Rowland Hill’s chapel. When in his seventythird year his portrait was taken and hung in the parlour of the “Twelve Bells,” Bride Lane. He died in Chapel Court in 1854, in his eighty-seventh year and the (untrue) rumour soon got about that he had left £7,000 to Miss Waithman, who used to send him out soup and bread.Farr the BarberMr. Farr, had a barber’s shop close by Temple Bar in Fleet Street. In 1654 he opened The “Rainbow Tavern” in No. 15, on the south side of Fleet Street. This was the second coffee-house to open in London. Farr undoubtedly intended to exploit the potential lucrative market of the Barristers of the Temple. However, the Vintners saw the new coffee houses as a real thret to their own business and opposed them whenever they could. In the case of the Rainbow, whether with the help of the Vintners or not, Farr’s neighbours complaind about the smell of the roasting coffee and brought an indictment for nuisance against him. The indictment failed and Farr persevered and coffee soon became a popular drink leading one of London’s satirists to pen the lament:And now, alas! the drink has credit got,
And he’s no gentleman that drinks it not.
JenkinsJenkins was a clerk at the Bank of England in the latter half of the 18th century who had the distinction of being 6 foot and seven inches tall. This made him a target for the anatomists of the day who no doubt plotted many ways to get their hands on his corpse once he was dead. He died in 1798 but medical science was cheated of its prey. In 1781 when the Bank of England was being enlarged the church of St Christopher le Stocks was demolished to accommodate the new building. The churchyard, however, was not destroyed but was incorporated within the walls of the new Bank. To cheat the body-snatchers, Jenkins had sought, and obtained, special permission to take advantage of the extra security by having his corpse interred in the old churchyard.
Charles ByrneThe fears of Jenkins were not unfounded. Byrnes was an Irishman who was 8 foot and 4 inches tall and who arrived in London as part of a travelling circus. Byrne was dogged by the eminent surgeon John Hunter for years, who wanted his skeleton so much that he had a hired boy follow Byrne about with a pot (for boiling the flesh from his bones). Byrne’s solution was to arrange to have his body taken out to sea and buried in deep water for which he left specific instructions and a large sum of money. He died in 1783 at the age of 22 but the body was never taken out to sea. Instead, his undertaker was handsomely bribed by Hunter who thereby got his hands on the body and added it to his collection. The skeleton is still on display at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
John CradockHe was a baker who has the distinction of being the first person to commit suicide by jumping from the top of the Monument in Fish Street Hill. He made the leap in July 1788 and was to be the first of six unfortunates to end their lives in this way. Two others, a diamond merchant and another baker, followed in 1810. After the suicide of a maidservant in 1842 the building was temporarily closed and the gallery enclosed by an iron cage to prevent any further attempts.
Richard AtkinsonIn the early seventeenth century Richard Atkinson lived in Bishopsgate Ward. He was poor, and made a living by removing cinders of sea-coal from the houses of the well to do. One morning he went to take his wheelbarrow to empty it before collecting the next load of cinders but discovered in it an abandoned baby. The child was newly-born and still breathing so he took it at once to his wife who washed and fed it. It was a boy which was well-formed and strong and had neither blemish nor injury on his body. They took him to St Helen’s Church to have him christened and decided to give him a name which would always remind him of his remarkable origin. The name they chose was Job Cinere Extractus [Job rescued from the cinders]. Unfortunately, little Job died three days later and was buried in St Helen’s Churchyard in an unmarked grave.Simon FletcherThe son of a baker in Rosemary Lane, to which trade he served about four years with his father; but happening several times to fall into bad company, and being of a vicious inclination, he was prevailed on, without much difficulty, to run away from his servitude, and enter with a gang of thieves. The chief sort of thieving at that time was cutting off people’s purses or pockets, which was in use long before the modern and more dextrous practice of picking out the money and leaving the case behind. The latter, however, must be allowed to be only an improvement of the former, and therefore the performances of any of our pickpockets cannot be said to derogate from the merit of those gentlemen of the last age; for the inventors of all sciences have generally been looked upon to deserve a greater share of praise than they that have brought those sciences to perfection, because it is much easier to refine upon the thought of another person than to start any new thought of our own. Simon Fletcher was looked upon to be the greatest artist of his age by all his contemporaries of the same trade; and it is affirmed that he was constituted captain of all the thieves, in and about London, by general consent. All that we know more of him is that he was at last taken, committed to Newgate, and hanged at Tyburn. His exit was in 1692, when he was about fifty-three years of age.
From the Newgate Calendar.Robert CockingOn July 25th 1837, Robert Cocking made a parachute jump from a hot air balloon 5,000 feet above Kennington Common. He used a cone-shaped canvas parachute which unfortunately became inverted with the tip pointing downward and Cocking became he first ever parachute fatality. The tragedy resulted in a very strong public prejudice against parachute jumping which lasted for some years.Fawcett & MunroThe last formal duel in England took place near the isolated Brecknock Arms on the Camden Road on July 1 1843. At five o’clock in the morning, two carriages were seen drive past by the early farm workers and the local police constable, who were chatting by the roadside. Shortly afterwards, the sound of a shot was heard and one of the carriages, with two men on board, again drove past but now heading rapidly in the direction of London.
The workers and the constable made their way to a nearby field where they found a man lying on the ground with a severe shot wound. He was attended by two friends and the workers helped them to carry the injured man to the nearby tavern where he died of his wounds some days later.
The victim was Lieutenant Colonel Fawcett who had lately returned from army service in china. The other duellist was his brother-in-law Lieutenant Munro. It seems that Fawcett had made a disparaging remark about Munro’s handling of the family affairs during his own absence in china. Munro took exception to the remark and issued the challenge which resulted in Fawcett’s death.
The newspapers raised themselves to great heights of indignation and demanded that the government take action to ban the practice entirely. The Pictorial Times acidly pointed out that had the duellists been men of a lower class, the survivor would have been instantly charged with murder.
In fact, Munro was tried for murder four years later and was found guilty. The verdict, however, was accompanied by a strong recommendation for mercy and he spent just one year in prison.