While in London a year or so ago, we went to Green Park to see a pair of huge blue and gold wrought-iron gates, a Grade II* Listed Building. The gates, which once formed a grand entrance to Green Park, are a reminder that visible traces of history can be much more complex than first impressions. They were originally made for the estate that Lord Heathfield purchased in 1789 to the west of London, at Turnham Green, which was then a small rural village. Heathfield House was demolished in 1837, but the name survives locally as Heathfield Terrace – not much to mark the hero of the Great Siege of Gibraltar, who is better known as George Augustus Eliott.
The Turnham Green gates, now at Green Park
The gates were purchased in 1837 by the Duke of Devonshire for the front of nearby Chiswick House, but in 1897 or 1898 they were moved to the front of Devonshire House in Piccadilly, London. Continue reading →
The first attempts at manned hot-air balloon flights took place not long after the ending of the Great Siege of Gibraltar. The Montgolfier brothers (Joseph Michel and Jacques Étienne), established a tradition that persisted with the first spaceflights – sending up animals in the initial experimental flights. In September 1783, a cock, duck and sheep were attached to a hot-air balloon and launched from the Palace of Versailles, near Paris. The animals travelled 2 miles in 8 minutes before landing safely. After that, the way was open for larger balloons carrying people, and the age of flight began. All kinds of enthusiasts started to experiment with both hydrogen and hot-air balloons, and ascents became popular spectacles.
First female balloonists
In June 1784 Madame Thible was the first woman to fly in a balloon, taking off from Lyons in France. A year later (and still less than two years after the first flight by animals), Mrs Letitia Ann Sage became the first woman in Britain to ascend in a balloon.
Letitia Sage, George Biggin and Vincenzo Lunardi
(waving his hat)in the balloon before the ascent in June 1785
The original plan had been for Vincenzo Lunardi, George Biggin and Mrs Sage to make the balloon flight on 29 June 1785, but in the event Continue reading →
London, October 1814 – a time of peace. Britain was no longer at war with France, though the war with the United States of America continued. Nobody realised that in early 1815 Europe would be engulfed by turmoil when Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from Elba, which would culminate in the Battle of Waterloo.
The Horseshoe Brewery, which was named after the public house next door, lay between Tottenham Court Road, Bainbridge Street, New Street and Great Russell Street. This was almost the unmarked boundary between the upmarket West End of London and the notorious slums of St Giles.
The slum tenements of St Giles, London
This brewery was known for its porter, which had grown out of the custom of Londoners drinking a mix of two or three weak and strong beers. In the 1720s one brewer had produced a blend of three beers that was dark brown, almost black, in colour. This strong beer was so popular with market porters that Continue reading →
London has always been a city through which to travel to other places, as well as a destination in its own right. Nowadays, the airports, railway stations and coach stations are the transport hubs, but when travel relied on horses, coaching inns performed this function. These inns stabled teams of horses so that stagecoaches and mail coaches were provided with fresh animals along their route after travelling around 7–10 miles. They also offered food and drink to travellers. Some visitors used coaching inns as hotels, renting a room for the duration of their stay and taking some meals there. One of the most famous was the Belle Sauvage, also known as the Bell Savage, on Ludgate Hill.
An American in London
In 1805 Benjamin Silliman, a 25-year-old American, arrived in England to further his science studies. He had read law at Yale College and then studied chemistry and natural philosophy, and he was destined to become a foremost figure in science. On returning to America, Continue reading →
‘The Very Plain Elm Case’ might sound like the title of a mystery in an old detective novel, but it is actually a real-life (and death) story relating to William Jones, who was born in 1755 at Abergavenny in Wales. In 1781, he became the curate of the parish of Broxbourne, then a small village just north of London.
Sick to death of London
Although he wrote copious notebooks and journals, only his diary has survived, which was published in 1929 as The Diary of the Revd. William Jones, edited by his great-grandson, Octavius Francis Christie. It starts in 1777 and continues to 1821, when William died. We used a few quotes from his diary in Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England, because he gives revealing and amusing comments on finances, tithes, housing for the clergy and the poor, taking in lodgers, taxes on wine, marriage, snuff, writing materials and the gruesome murder at Hoddesdon Continue reading →