The little Black girl who helped end slavery in Britain: Dido Elizabeth Belle

In my previous post on ‘On Matters Pertaining to Slavery-' I related Lord Mansfield's role in bringing about the beginning of the end of slavery in Britain, at least as far as the law was concerned, in 1772.  Mansfield was a moderate and educated man, but at his home, Kenwood House in Hampstead was a young person who no doubt influenced his thinking: Dido Elizabeth Belle, his illegitimate, mixed-race grand-niece.

John Lindsay was Lord Mansfield’s nephew and a Captain in the Royal Navy, stationed in the Caribbean.  When he was 23 or 24, he had a relationship with a Black woman named Maria Belle who bore him a daughter c. 1762.  There has been a great deal of speculation about Maria Belle’s status: whether enslaved, captured, free and so on.  It is likely she was a slave aboard a captured Spanish ship.  These points are moot, as far as I can see, as John Lindsay was sufficiently fond of the child (indicating a continuing relationship with the mother) to send her to his uncle before 1766, when she was baptized in St George’s Church, Bloomsbury.  There is no further record of Maria Belle, so far.

John Lindsay’s daughter wasn’t the only child at Kenwood.  There was already another little girl there: Elizabeth Murray, an orphaned cousin.  Lord and Lady Mansfield were childless and the presence of the two little girls must have been a great boon.  However, when Elizabeth Lindsay arrived, it was clear another name would have to be found for her, to differentiate between the two children, and so she was baptized with the name of the African Queen Dido.  
The two girls were playmates, although no letters or records have so far come to light about their relationship.  The most detailed account of Dido’s presence in the house is from the diary of Thomas Hutchinson, an American Loyalist living in London.  In August 1779 he attended a dinner at Kenwood (in reality a late lunch) and had the following to say:

A Black came in after dinner and sat with the ladies and after coffee, walked with the company in the gardens, one of the young ladies having her arm within the other.  She had a very high cap and her wool was much frizzled in her neck, but not enough to answer the large curls now in fashion.  She is neither handsome nor genteel - pert enough.  I knew her history before, buyt my Lord mentioned it again.  Sir John Lindsay having taken her mother prisoner in a Spanish vessel, brought her to England where she was delivered of this girl, of which she was then with child, and which was taken care of by Lord M., and has been educated by his family.  He calls her Dido, which I suppose is all the name she has.  He knows he has been reproached for showing fondness for her - I dare not day criminal.
A few years ago there was a cause before his Lordship bro’t by a Black for recovery of his liberty.  A Jamaica planter being asked what judgement his Ldship would give? “No doubt” he answered “He will be set free, for Lord Mansfield keeps a Black in his house which governs him and the whole family.”

She is a sort of Superintendant over the dairy, poultry yard, etc, which we visited.  And she was called upon by my Lord every minute for this thing and that, and shewed the greatest attention to everything he said.
Dido would have been about fifteen at the time, so this is no small achievement.  That her position within the household was slightly uncertain is no surprise, but the fact that she joined the family in the dining room, and that the guest was taken to see her domestic successes is a mark of how highly they regarded her.  Around the same time, the portrait at the head of the gallery was painted.  For a long time it was attributed to Johann Zoffany, although I think it is clear he did not paint it (it lacks the crystalline clarity usually present in his work, although the detailing of the costumes is indicative of Zoffany).  It is however, a high quality portrait that was painted to hang prominently.  Elizabeth Murray wears an aristocratic/pastoral costume of the style of the 1760s, to emphasize her Englishness and a book to show her ladylike tastes.  Dido wears a modish and exotic silk-satin dress with a turban (meant to signify her ‘foreign’ status), plus a very expensive pearl earring.  She carries a basket of exotic fruit, which may indicate her position within the household as being concerned with the gardens, or supply of food, plus another indication of her ‘exotic’ origins.  There have been many readings of this portrait, but I find many of them grasp at straws.  My reading is that the portrait is intended almost like a photograph: the two girls are walking in the grounds of Kenwood, and are ‘surprised’ by the artist, who attempts to capture them.  Dido laughingly points to her complexion and makes to leave Elizabeth alone, but her cousin and friend attempts to restrain her, smiling for the artist.  The moment is captured, as Lord and Lady Mansfield no doubt intended when they had it commissioned.  

Dido was a favourite with her great-uncle and acted as his secretary when his sight began to fail.  The fact that she was a valuable and well-cared-for member of the family is evident from the account books (one entry for her allowance is in the gallery).  In 1770, Edward Lonsdale furnished the family with a bill for ‘a mahogany table for Dido’.  A good dentist was employed to extract two of her teeth at some expense in 1789 at 5 shillings each.  Her bed of was draped with chintz which was starched and finished by a professional brought in to do the job.  Asses milk was purchased for her (presumably over a period of time during an illness) at the vast expense of over £3 in 1791.  Her £30 annual allowance was way short of Elizabeth’s but then Elizabeth was an heiress in her own right, and it was still plenty of money for a young girl whose keep was funded anyway.  
Elizabeth left Kenwood to marry in 1785, and Dido was left alone, although she continued to scribe for her great-uncle.  Her father died in 1788, and left his wife (by whom he had had no children) £1000 to split between John, another illegitimate child and Dido, indicating her awareness and acceptance of his children.  Nothing is known about John, but Lindsay’s obituary records Dido as ‘amiable’ and ‘accomplished’.  Lord Mansfield wrote a will in 1783 confirming Dido’s freedom and leaving her some money.  This has been construed by various historians as meaning she was previously enslaved, but much more likely is that Lord Mansfield wanted to make her status absolutely clear in the event of his death.  He died in 1793, and left Dido an annuity.

In December 1793, Dido was married in St George’s Church, Hanover Square, to a John Davinier, very likely a steward at Kenwood.  He was not English, having arrived some time in the 1780s, but little else is known about him.  It seems likely that they waited until after Lord Mansfield died to marry.  She and Davinier had three sons together: twin boys, Charles and Edward in 1795, and William Thomas in 1800.  They lived in what is now Ebury Street in Pimlico.  Dido died in 1804, aged a little over 40, and was buried in the St George’s burial ground.  Her remains were exhumed and reburied, along with all the others in 1960 when the area was redeveloped.
Fifteen years later, in 1975, Dido’s last relative, Harold Daviniere died a free white South African in a land still struggling under apartheid.      

 

Whipping Tom, The Crack’s Terror
In my search for obscure references and bits of information on London immigrants, often from unlikely sources, I came across the story of Whipping Tom, the ‘Tall Black Man’ of Fleet Street during the late 1670s.  As it turns out, he probably wasn’t Black, but dressed all in black and covered his face with a black cloth.  The idea that he was an immigrant is cast into even further improbability by his peculiarly English perversion: spanking.  Yes, Tom would wait in dark alleys for unsuspecting ladies out and about at night, grab them, lift up their skirts and beat ‘an Alarum’ upon ‘their Tobies’ with his bare hand as he cried out ‘Spanko!’.

Tom’s speed and skill led him to be described ‘as nimble as an Eel’ in the execution of his work, and made him impossible to resist, or to catch.  He often assaulted prostitutes, or ‘Cracks’, but any lady walking alone at night could be his target.  His attacks went no further than a harsh spanking, but a contemporary account recorded that one one occasion ‘he so swinged her tail, that tis thought, she will not be capable of her Trade for some time.’  It is clear from the records involving Tom that he was seen as something of a joke.  He was clearly a pervert who gained sexual gratification from his activities, but there is no record of him doing anything other than spanking, which the pamphlet pictured above describes in great detail.  Especially detailed is the tale of the poor, stunned pease-pudding seller:

Another time the Woman that cries hot Gray Pease about the Streets, coming up Ram Alley in Fleet Street … a cold hand was lay’d upon her, and up flew her heels, and down fell the Pease Tub, when (as she has farther related) her sences were so charmed, that she lost all power of Resistance, and left him to Tyranize over her Posteriors at pleasure, the which when he had done, he left her to scrape up her ware as well as she could, for the use of such longing Ladies as are affected with such Diet.

Such anecdotes are amusing, but the relish with which it was reported places some culpability upon the victim, who must have enjoyed the attention in some way to be so acquiescent.  Whipping Tom achieved no small fame, and Aphra Behn hit the nail on the head in her 1682 play The City Heiress when one of her characters chastises the other for his drunken moaning on women:

I shall have you whining when you are sober again, traversing your Chamber with Arms across, railing on Love and Women, and at last defeated, turn whipping Tom, to revenge your self on the whole Sex.

The belief was that Tom’s victims were out and about alone at night (although the pease-pudding seller had every reason to be), and therefore deserved a spanking: Tom was an agent of social and sexual justice.  He disappeared as quickly as he had come, perhaps leaving London, perhaps dying, but his legend lived on.  Whipping Tom had passed so far into the London sub-conscious that in 1751, a Thomas Wallis was named Whipping Tom in the press after a sex-crime spree in, wait for it…yes, it’s Hackney!  Even better, our faithful Hackney Nightwatch came to the rescue.  Thomas Wallis was a dangerous deviant whose attacks began with a spanking, but soon evolved into serious sexual assault.  In 1751, Mr Hawkins had the trial and details printed up as a pamphlet to satisfy the popular curiosity.  As always in the popular press at this time, coy wording and especial attention to the rude bits go hand in hand:

Mary Sutten the Milkmaid of Hackney also deposed that when the Prisener whipt’d her Backside in a Ditch near Shoulder of Mutten Fields, to prevent her Crying out, he stuff’d his Handkerchief into her Mouth, and wuld have thrust something else into another place, had not the Watchmen come happely to her assistance.

Thomas Wallis was dealt with in the appropriate 18thC manner for rapists: hanging.  His namesake never quite fell out of the minds of Londoners walking the streets at night, but he was followed by more unpleasant attackers such as the piquerisitic London Monster (more on him another time).  The reporting of Whipping Tom’s attacks is uniquely English and a great illustration of the humour of the time.  His assaults were viewed as terrifying for the victims, but ultimately harmless and with heavy comic potential.  Poor Robin even implied in his Intelligence of 1677 that women walked the night-time streets of London in anticipation of having their ‘Butt ends’ made to cry ‘Spanko!’  Come on ladies, own up, you know you want it really….      

Whipping Tom, The Crack’s Terror

In my search for obscure references and bits of information on London immigrants, often from unlikely sources, I came across the story of Whipping Tom, the ‘Tall Black Man’ of Fleet Street during the late 1670s.  As it turns out, he probably wasn’t Black, but dressed all in black and covered his face with a black cloth.  The idea that he was an immigrant is cast into even further improbability by his peculiarly English perversion: spanking.  Yes, Tom would wait in dark alleys for unsuspecting ladies out and about at night, grab them, lift up their skirts and beat ‘an Alarum’ upon ‘their Tobies’ with his bare hand as he cried out ‘Spanko!’.

Tom’s speed and skill led him to be described ‘as nimble as an Eel’ in the execution of his work, and made him impossible to resist, or to catch.  He often assaulted prostitutes, or ‘Cracks’, but any lady walking alone at night could be his target.  His attacks went no further than a harsh spanking, but a contemporary account recorded that one one occasion ‘he so swinged her tail, that tis thought, she will not be capable of her Trade for some time.’  It is clear from the records involving Tom that he was seen as something of a joke.  He was clearly a pervert who gained sexual gratification from his activities, but there is no record of him doing anything other than spanking, which the pamphlet pictured above describes in great detail.  Especially detailed is the tale of the poor, stunned pease-pudding seller:

Another time the Woman that cries hot Gray Pease about the Streets, coming up Ram Alley in Fleet Street … a cold hand was lay’d upon her, and up flew her heels, and down fell the Pease Tub, when (as she has farther related) her sences were so charmed, that she lost all power of Resistance, and left him to Tyranize over her Posteriors at pleasure, the which when he had done, he left her to scrape up her ware as well as she could, for the use of such longing Ladies as are affected with such Diet.
Such anecdotes are amusing, but the relish with which it was reported places some culpability upon the victim, who must have enjoyed the attention in some way to be so acquiescent.  Whipping Tom achieved no small fame, and Aphra Behn hit the nail on the head in her 1682 play The City Heiress when one of her characters chastises the other for his drunken moaning on women:

I shall have you whining when you are sober again, traversing your Chamber with Arms across, railing on Love and Women, and at last defeated, turn whipping Tom, to revenge your self on the whole Sex.
The belief was that Tom’s victims were out and about alone at night (although the pease-pudding seller had every reason to be), and therefore deserved a spanking: Tom was an agent of social and sexual justice.  He disappeared as quickly as he had come, perhaps leaving London, perhaps dying, but his legend lived on.  Whipping Tom had passed so far into the London sub-conscious that in 1751, a Thomas Wallis was named Whipping Tom in the press after a sex-crime spree in, wait for it…yes, it’s Hackney!  Even better, our faithful Hackney Nightwatch came to the rescue.  Thomas Wallis was a dangerous deviant whose attacks began with a spanking, but soon evolved into serious sexual assault.  In 1751, Mr Hawkins had the trial and details printed up as a pamphlet to satisfy the popular curiosity.  As always in the popular press at this time, coy wording and especial attention to the rude bits go hand in hand:

Mary Sutten the Milkmaid of Hackney also deposed that when the Prisener whipt’d her Backside in a Ditch near Shoulder of Mutten Fields, to prevent her Crying out, he stuff’d his Handkerchief into her Mouth, and wuld have thrust something else into another place, had not the Watchmen come happely to her assistance.
Thomas Wallis was dealt with in the appropriate 18thC manner for rapists: hanging.  His namesake never quite fell out of the minds of Londoners walking the streets at night, but he was followed by more unpleasant attackers such as the piquerisitic London Monster (more on him another time).  The reporting of Whipping Tom’s attacks is uniquely English and a great illustration of the humour of the time.  His assaults were viewed as terrifying for the victims, but ultimately harmless and with heavy comic potential.  Poor Robin even implied in his Intelligence of 1677 that women walked the night-time streets of London in anticipation of having their ‘Butt ends’ made to cry ‘Spanko!’  Come on ladies, own up, you know you want it really….      

John Keats: Apothecary, Surgeon’s Pupil, Poet-

John Keats’ short and painful life began at the Hoop and Swan by Moorgate where he was the eldest of three boys and a girl.  His father Thomas was a barman who came to manage or even own the pub (now Keats and the Globe for some reason, being nowhere near The Globe).  When Keats was seven he was sent to a school in Enfield, North London. Nine months after he started at the school, John’s father came to visit him and on the way home was thrown from his horse.  Thomas Keats’s skull was fractured and he died.  John’s mother, Frances, remarried almost instantly but it wasn’t a success and she was forced to move in with her mother in north London.  She died in March 1810, leaving her fourteen year old son in the charge of Thomas Hammond, an apothecary.  He shared Hammond’s lodgings, giving him a sense of continuity and an interest in medicine that would lead John to become a student at Guy’s Hospital when he was 18.  He would study there for 5 years, as a dresser (attending in theatre and dressing the patients’ wounds after surgery). In 1816 Keats took his apothecary exams, and passed.  He was an avid letter writer (although his handwriting was often more ‘doctor’ than ‘poet’), rapidly developing a friendship with Leigh Hunt, Ben Haydon and others.  He frequently left off ‘spouting Shakespeare’ to go and attend a surgery.  In that year, Hunt helped him achieve publication with his first poem, and the following year, a collection of his poems were put before the public, to little success. 

During a Scottish summer holiday in 1818 with his friend Charles Brown, Keats developed a cold so severe he could not continue and for the first time began to drop weight.  When he came home, it was to the reality of his brother Tom’s full-blown tuberculosis.  Keats nursed Tom, but was probably succumbing to the early stages of TB himself.  Their other brother George had left for America (although he would later return to borrow money from John, who was broke anyway and complained that ‘He ought not to have asked,’).  Tom died late in 1818 and by that time Keats had started his own slow decline.  He had also started to take laudanum, claiming it eased the tightness in his chest, but it soon became a habit, and one he and Brown fell out over more than once.  The two friends moved to Hampstead, where he met the elusive Miss Fanny Brawne, who would inspire so much of his work.  Keats knew himself to be extreme in nature, and it is almost amusing he chose someone so practical and down-to-earth as Fanny to fall in love with.  She was an incorrigible flirt and not just with John, which tore him up.  He wrote her cruel and often spiteful notes, then others full of contrition.  She seems to have taken them all in her stride and they developed a close relationship which would lead to an engagement.  The convention of the day insisted John raise enough money to provide her with at least somewhere to live before they married, but he wished to devote himself to poetry, and so had to make some money out of writing.  These hopes were almost dashed in 1819 with the publication of Endymion.  It was savaged by the critics and Keats was heartbroken.  Byron sniped at Keats as a ‘Cockney’ and a ‘dirty little blackguard’, but he was genuinely sorry for his fellow poet’s mauling at the hands of the critics.

'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuffed out by an Article.
Keats’ odd appearance was perhaps one of the factors that drove his unbalanced character.  He was of short stature, perhaps no more than five feet tall, and delicately built.  He was painfully aware of a mismatch between his mind and his body.  He perceived himself as unattractive to women and regarded them with suspicion, perhaps always imagining them to be laughing behind their hands at him.  Severn’s appalling duck-faced, fuzzy-headed portrait remains one of the most popular images of John.  Much better are the various sketches featured in the gallery, by various artists.  His life mask shows a fine sensitive face with remarkable eyelashes and a beautiful, if slightly top-heavy mouth (emphasised in the silhouette).  The touching image of him asleep as he was dying, also by Severn, conveys both the heartbreak of a friend, and the character of the patient.

Joseph Severn was to become Keats’ greatest friend, and also his nursemaid, but through an odd series of events.  Towards the end of winter in 1820, Keats returned from the City to Brown’s house, thoroughly chilled.  He was sent to bed by Brown, who brought him up a glass of spirits.  Keats coughed once, but blood hit the sheet.  He ordered Brown to bring him the candle in order to see the colour of the blood.  His surgical training allowed him to recognize it as arterial blood, meaning his lungs were compromised.  ’That drop of blood is my death warrant,’ he told his friend.  Later that night, he had his first serious lung haemorrhage, his mouth filling with blood.  Brown later remembered the calm with which Keats wiped his chin and remarked, ‘This is unfortunate.’ 
This period was one of his most productive, and with Leigh Hunt’s support he began to think that it may be possible to support himself, and a wife through writing.  John had run through three doctors, who seemed to have no idea what to do with him.  He was bled, starved, fattened and opiated.  He fretted for Fanny’s company and began to suffer palpitations.  Finally, the doctors recommended a warm climate.  Joseph Severn, a promising young artist with an award for travel from the Royal Academy was singled out as a good friend for John, and he became a regular visitor, along with Coleridge.  John was living with the Hunts, but found the noise and the children distressing.  An odd incident drove all matters to a head: a letter from Fanny was opened by mistake.  Keats had a tantrum then began to cry, walking the streets in a distracted state.  He passed the house where his brother had died, then made his way to the Brawne house, where he collapsed.  Mrs Brawne took him in and she and her daughter nursed John for a month.  His lungs became more congested and he began to produce blood on a regular basis.  Rome was settled upon as the place for him to convalesce, and Jospeh Severn as the companion.  Fanny gave John paper that he might write to her and a large marble she used to cool her fingers when sewing.  It would rarely leave his reach for the rest of his life.

John and Joseph Severn left England on the 17th of September 1820.  As the distance from Fanny grew, John’s spirits sank.  Severn did not know how to help him, but listened when the poet talked.  They employed an English doctor, who encouraged a robust diet and walking.  When Keats continued to decline, the doctor confirmed what John already knew: that he was dying.  Keats became set upon suicide by laudanum, determined not to suffer the loss of dignity his brother Tom had undergone.  Severn confiscated Keats’ supply of the drug and John punished him with descriptions of the incontinence, vomiting and raving that was to come.  Severn was a stoic and ignored his friend, nursing him as his health plummeted early in 1821.  Their friendship was a rare one.  Keats became frightened of the dark, so Severn rigged up a system whereby one faltering candle would light the wick of the next, an invention Keats named ‘the fairy lamplighter’.  The sketch at the head of the gallery was drawn on 28th of January 1821 in the light of one of those candles.
Keats became resigned to his fate and encouraged Severn in his nursing: ‘Now you must be firm for it will not last long.’  A letter arrived from Fanny, but he would not open it, only asking for it to be placed in his coffin with his lock of her hair.  On the 23rd of February, his lungs began ‘to boil’.  He asked Severn to lift him up and hold him, resolving to die easily, and soon.  So he and Severn sat, hand in hand for the next seven hours, until John Keats died.  The Police visited the house the following day (as was the law in Italy for consumptive deaths) and ordered all destroyed.  Severn saved some things for himself, but Keats was buried in the Protestant cemetery as they had agreed.  Severn wrote to Brown to tell him the news:

I am broken down from four nights’ watching, and no sleep since, and my poor Keats gone.  Three days since, the body was opened; the lungs were completely gone.  The Doctors could not conceive by what means he had lived these two months.  I followed his poor body to the grave on Monday…
The news took a month to reach London, where it was published in The Times on March 23rd, 1821.  

At Rome on the 23rd of Feb., of a decline, John Keats, the poet, aged 25.

Th’Infernal Gout-     Gout is an extremely unpleasant disease, usually manifesting itself in the large joint of the big toe and causing agony to the sufferer.  Too much uric acid in the blood causes urates (spiky little crystals of difficult-to-dislodge poison) to accumulate in the joints and mimics a painful arthritic attack.  Over time, it can lead to large swellings on the joints which then break through the skin.  Uric acid is a byproduct of purine breakdown.  Certain foods, such a lobster, crab, foie gras, champagne and port contain high levels of purine, leading gout to be termed the ‘Rich Man’s Disease’.  Thomas Sydenham, the gifted doctor who introduced a holistic approach to English medicine recorded in his papers in 1683 that:Gouty patients are, generally, either old men, or men who have so worn themselves out in youth as to have brought on a premature old age - of such dissolute habits none being more common than the premature and excessive indulgence in venery, and the like exhausting passions.Of course, many other, more complex conditions were diagnosed as ‘the gout’.  The light diet and abstention from alcohol prescribed by Sydenham and his like-minded colleagues would have helped, but once got, gout is difficult to get rid of.  Queen Anne, Isaac Newton and many others are famous sufferers.  Samuel Johnson is also have thought to have suffered from gout, but let’s be honest, there wasn’t anything he didn’t suffer from and it could have been any one of many underlying diseases, or simply degenerative arthritis.  Gout is also a side effect of kidney failure and/or liver disease.  It was likely that many deaths attributed to gout, including that of John Milton (8th Movember, 1674) were actually result of renal failure, with gout as the most obvious symptom.  Dropsy, or grotesque swelling of the body, often accompanied gout-like pain.  All fortified wine was known to exacerbate gout, although there is always an opportunist ready to market their wares as ‘medicinal’.  One wine merchant sent a bottle of sherry to arch-snob Lord Chesterfield, with a note extolling the ability of his wine to ‘cure the gout’.  Lord Chesterfield, sharp as ever, replied:Sir, I have tried your sherry and frankly prefer the gout.

Th’Infernal Gout-

Gout is an extremely unpleasant disease, usually manifesting itself in the large joint of the big toe and causing agony to the sufferer.  Too much uric acid in the blood causes urates (spiky little crystals of difficult-to-dislodge poison) to accumulate in the joints and mimics a painful arthritic attack.  Over time, it can lead to large swellings on the joints which then break through the skin.  

Uric acid is a byproduct of purine breakdown.  Certain foods, such a lobster, crab, foie gras, champagne and port contain high levels of purine, leading gout to be termed the ‘Rich Man’s Disease’.  Thomas Sydenham, the gifted doctor who introduced a holistic approach to English medicine recorded in his papers in 1683 that:

Gouty patients are, generally, either old men, or men who have so worn themselves out in youth as to have brought on a premature old age - of such dissolute habits none being more common than the premature and excessive indulgence in venery, and the like exhausting passions.
Of course, many other, more complex conditions were diagnosed as ‘the gout’.  The light diet and abstention from alcohol prescribed by Sydenham and his like-minded colleagues would have helped, but once got, gout is difficult to get rid of.  Queen Anne, Isaac Newton and many others are famous sufferers.  Samuel Johnson is also have thought to have suffered from gout, but let’s be honest, there wasn’t anything he didn’t suffer from and it could have been any one of many underlying diseases, or simply degenerative arthritis.  Gout is also a side effect of kidney failure and/or liver disease.  It was likely that many deaths attributed to gout, including that of John Milton (8th Movember, 1674) were actually result of renal failure, with gout as the most obvious symptom.  Dropsy, or grotesque swelling of the body, often accompanied gout-like pain.  

All fortified wine was known to exacerbate gout, although there is always an opportunist ready to market their wares as ‘medicinal’.  One wine merchant sent a bottle of sherry to arch-snob Lord Chesterfield, with a note extolling the ability of his wine to ‘cure the gout’.  Lord Chesterfield, sharp as ever, replied:
Sir, I have tried your sherry and frankly prefer the gout.

Debunking Bedlam

On Wednesday I made a brief mention of the number of private Madhouses* in Hackney, Hoxton and Bethnal Green.  I’ll do a separate post on those another time, but today I just want to tackle the thorny subject of Bethlem Hospital (in its Georgian incarnation), and the treatment of the insane in Georgian London.
Bethlem Hospital, nicknamed Bedlam from its earliest times, is the oldest hospital in the world to deal specifically with mental disturbance.  It has lived in four places since it took in its first mentally ill patients in 1357: in an old priory where Liverpool Street Station is now, Moorfields and Southwark and now Beckenham.  I am most concerned with the Moorfields site, the first of three later purpose-built hospitals.  Whilst the priory with its individual cells had originally been useful for confining inmates separately, it was over subscribed and in a poor state of repair.  The new building, designed by Robert Hooke, was built at the Southern edge of Moorfields.  It was a huge, grand building (that would later prove structurally unsound) and included the Caius Gabriel Cibber sculptures of ‘Raving and Melancholy Madness’ (now in the V&A).  These sculptures signified the distinction made at the time between insanity (incurables) and depression (curables).  Those born with severe mental deficiency, but largely passive natures were classed as idiots*.  Samuel Johnson and Fanny Burney had a conversation about madness (mainly Johnson’s fear of it) and how he believed it to come about through disconnected thinking, and how she believed it to be the result of a breakdown when life was very cruel and burdensome.  ’Moral insanity’ which one hears bandied about so much was a blanket term and it didn’t mean ‘you are a bad person and it has sent you mad’, it means ‘you have syphilis, or have lost your mind because of vile experiences as a street prostitute, or through drug abuse, and are therefore insane, and this is an acceptable euphemism’.

Very briefly, the care an afflicted person could expect to receive depended then, as now, on how much money they had.  Bedlam was for poor people, which is why large numbers of official documents pertain to it.  If you had a relative or spouse who became mentally ill, or was born an idiot (they managed to marry remarkably often if they had a large amount of land or money) you could have them nursed at home.  If they became violent, you could have them cared for in an private madhouse.  If you had nothing and were likely to end up on the street or in the workhouse, you went to Bedlam.  The criminally insane such as Margaret Nicholson, who attempted to stab George IIIrd were also confined there.  The engravings of the new hospital show it was built on no mean scale, and looks far more like a sanctuary than a prison.  Hooke’s plans show a distinct care for space, light and recreational areas for the patients.  
From its opening in 1676, tours of the new building could be had for a penny a time.  That people came and poked the insane with sticks is unlikely, but they did come to watch the ‘ravers’, particular favourites being the compulsive masturbators of both sexes.  In no way do I condone making a spectacle of mental illness, but if asylums were open for visiting today people would go and gawp, so to condemn the Georgians as cruel is hypocritical considering the number of websites and magazines devoted to the bizarre and unfortunate of every kind.  It should also be noted that one cannot take too much notice of Mr Hogarth’s paintings and engravings on such subjects.  He was a notorious joker (note how the Rake is depicted in the posture and appearance of Cibber’s ‘Raving Madness’)  In 1770, the visits were stopped, being considered inhumane.  

In 1774 the Madhouses Act was passed in an attempt to improve the lot of those consigned to these institutions.  It was largely unsuccessful, but excellent private houses did exist (and terrible ones, to be posted on some time in the near future), and the Monro family of doctors did take action to improve care at Bedlam in over a century of medical attendance there.  Although many of their ideas were antiquated, they were concerned with exchanging shackles for straight-jackets, fitting cork or india-rubber flooring to cells, recreational activities, good diet and exercise for those who could take it.  It is unclear how many patients were there at a time, but the numbers indicate above two hundred, plus around 80 criminally insane prisoners who were kept separately.  Exceptionally violent or criminally insane patients were still kept fettered and in some cases wearing only blanket tunics and if they continued to soil bedding were given only straw to sleep upon.  Almost every patient had a carer, but men were sometimes put in charge of female patients and there were accusations of abuse.
It cannot be assumed that everyone in Bedlam was an incoherent lunatic*.  There were inmates who were both lucid and persuasive, such as James Tilly Matthews, admitted in 1797, who is believed to be the first fully documented case of paranoid schizophrenia.  Tilly Matthews was a Welsh tea merchant who became obsessed with the idea that a gang of espionage ‘experts’ had set up a magnetic ‘Air Loom’ at London Wall, and were brainwashing the citizens of London, including major politicians.  He spoke of threatening and harming these ‘infected’ persons.  John Haslam, Bethlem’s resident apothecary studied Tilly Matthews and made drawings of this loom (in the gallery).  As a patient, Tilly Matthews was charming, but he was kept in an institution for the rest of his life.  

In 1799, the building began to subside, and it was decided that it should be moved to Southwark.  It took until 1815 to happen and the old hospital was demolished.  With the turn of the 18th century, care for the mentally ill entered a new phase, much more like the care we see today and attitudes towards the afflicted changed rapidly.  Bedlam is perhaps the worst example of early psychiatric care (we will never know the worst abuses in the private madhouses), and it was rapidly outpaced by the new-fangled St Luke’s, under the charge of William Battie, which opened opposite it in 1751.  However, it has retained its original purpose into the present day, and continues to provide care under very difficult circumstances.
*All these were the accepted terms in the period, although they are now antiquated and in many cases, inappropriate.

A penn’orth of oysters-     Dr Johnson famously purchased oysters for his cat Hodge, according to James Boswell, going out to buy them from the cart so his servants did not have to.  There are many myths surrounding London oysters, including the bylaw whereby gentlemen could not force their household to eat shellfish more than so many times per week.  Samuel Pepys ate oysters from ‘a barrel’, but in reality the barrel was about 12 inches high and soaked in salt water before the small London oysters were packed into it for transit.  They would keep like that for a couple of days and were opened for gentlemen to eat as they stood at the bar, small knives and picks being provided for the purpose.  Today was a nice day so I walked on the foreshore and found some nice examples of oyster shells.  The ones at the bottom are the small London oysters of the 17thC, the ones Pepys would have eaten.  By the middle of the 18thC, the London stocks were dying out due to pollution and Thames traffic and other sources had to be found.  Essex began to supply the London trade, with wagons and carts making the trek daily.  The two in the middle are Essex oysters, served from carts pushed along the streets, made hot with pepper and vinegar.  The top one is the large ‘Scuttlemouth’, a big shell for a small, sweet oyster very similar to the London ones, but sourced from the South Coast and brought daily by trains after 1850.  Oysters are rich in protein and zinc, and so were a healthy addition to a diet that may sometimes have lacked high quality meat and dairy products.  The foreshore is covered with thousands of these shells, testifying to London’s massive appetite for this raw morsel.  It was a food eaten by every level of society: street vendors talk of supplying trays of shucked oysters for dinner parties at grand houses, at the same time as serving the parson his supper of 6 oysters to supplement his cheese on toast.    

A penn’orth of oysters-

Dr Johnson famously purchased oysters for his cat Hodge, according to James Boswell, going out to buy them from the cart so his servants did not have to.  There are many myths surrounding London oysters, including the bylaw whereby gentlemen could not force their household to eat shellfish more than so many times per week.  

Samuel Pepys ate oysters from ‘a barrel’, but in reality the barrel was about 12 inches high and soaked in salt water before the small London oysters were packed into it for transit.  They would keep like that for a couple of days and were opened for gentlemen to eat as they stood at the bar, small knives and picks being provided for the purpose.  Today was a nice day so I walked on the foreshore and found some nice examples of oyster shells.  The ones at the bottom are the small London oysters of the 17thC, the ones Pepys would have eaten.  By the middle of the 18thC, the London stocks were dying out due to pollution and Thames traffic and other sources had to be found.  Essex began to supply the London trade, with wagons and carts making the trek daily.  The two in the middle are Essex oysters, served from carts pushed along the streets, made hot with pepper and vinegar.  The top one is the large ‘Scuttlemouth’, a big shell for a small, sweet oyster very similar to the London ones, but sourced from the South Coast and brought daily by trains after 1850.  

Oysters are rich in protein and zinc, and so were a healthy addition to a diet that may sometimes have lacked high quality meat and dairy products.  The foreshore is covered with thousands of these shells, testifying to London’s massive appetite for this raw morsel.  It was a food eaten by every level of society: street vendors talk of supplying trays of shucked oysters for dinner parties at grand houses, at the same time as serving the parson his supper of 6 oysters to supplement his cheese on toast.    

A Georgian Burglar Alarm and The Hackney Vigilantes-

This entry from October 1736 in the ever-interesting Gentlemen’s Magazine records one man’s attempt to protect his business (sadly, this one was a real fail’):  

Mr Jones, a Florist near Kent-Street, Turn
Pike: He having been several Times Robb’d
of Valuable Flowers-Roots, had provided a 
Gun with Several Wires to the Trigger that
when touch’d would go off, which unawares
doing himself, it shatter’d his Shoulder to Pieces.
Poor Mr Jones was suffering from one of the many notorious Hackney crime waves.  What made Hackney quite such a hot-bed of nefarious activity is unclear.  It was after all, a pretty little suburb at the time, but by 1617 there was a company of 16 nightwatchmen or constables patrolling the area.  By 1657 a ‘cage’ had been built in the corner of St Leonard’s church yard (I think it can be seen in the engraving in the gallery) to imprison offenders caught by the Hackney watch.  In 1686, the constables were prosecuted for not keeping a proper watch.  By 1740, the beats were well-defined and the constables patrolled in pairs between the Turnpike and Cambridge Heath, where their watch house was located.  The little map section in the gallery shows the territory quite clearly (the turnpike is at the bottom).  In 1756, four more watch houses were ordered, to be paid for by parish funds and the subscriptions of residents.  Offenders were no longer kept in the cage at the church, but put under lock and key at various public houses until morning.  In 1763, the landlords of the Mermaid and the Bird in Hand protested about having to keep the prisoners and refused to take any more.  The watch was a serious business: each constable was equipped with a gun and bayonet and keen to use them.

Just north of the turnpike, you can see Mad Ho., or the Mad House, actually called Brooke House (the grand house in the gallery).  It was purchased in 1759 to be converted into an asylum and continued on until 1940, when it was badly damaged by a bomb.  Hackney was associated with private asylums, as was Hoxton and later, Bethnal Green.  The inmates were not always as well-contained as they might be, and in 1755 a Hoxton girl was found with a knife through her skull after being assaulted by an escapee.  He was caught and confessed immediately.
In 1763, Hackney raised enough money for street lighting on the worst section of the road.  Night-time robberies, of both people and premises seem to have been the big problem, but by May 1828, the parish declared itself free of night-time crime.  By this time there were 30 constables patrolling every evening after nightfall.  Hackney even petitioned against the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829, and provided evidence of over a century of efforts to control their own crime.  They also said they had driven all the criminals into lawless Tottenham.  

 

Patches, Beauty Spots and What They Mean-

After yesterday’s post I thought we’d have some light entertainment.  From around 1760 onwards, patches or beauty spots became fashionable wear for both ladies and gentlemen (they’d never really gone out of fashion for women after 1600).  Personally, I think believe very few men would have worn them, and then only the ones seriously interested in fashionable dress.  The idea that they were used to cover massive blemishes is perpetuated mainly by Hogarth’s sense of humour, but no doubt people pushed the boundaries a bit.  

Patches were made from fine black velvet, although sometimes the very poor used mouse-skin.  They bought them ready made as heart-shapes, ovals, crescent moons, stars and diamonds.  They were a perfect piecework industry for children and older women confined to the home and were sold alongside fans and hair ornaments in the London shops.  To stick them on, a mixture of glycerin and other ingredients, including extract of sturgeon swim-bladder was used (exactly the same as court-plaister).

Patch boxes were common gifts between girls and also as little love tokens.  They were made with lots of different places and sentiments on top, and were a cheap, pretty gift.  The basic box shape worked for either patches, or snuff, but snuff boxes have different themes (such as racing), and no mirror in the top.  
A definite ‘patch language’ is unlikely because you would wear one wherever you had a smallpox mark, or a spot and so on.  At the huge parties I’m sure people did conform to some code, but fashions probably came and went so rapidly it was impossible to keep up.  As far as one does exist, here it is:

the middle of the forehead - dignified
the middle of the cheek - bold
heart shape to the right cheek - married
heart shape to the left cheek - engaged or committed to a lover
touching edge of lower lip - discreet
on nasolabial fold - playful
near corner of the eye - on the look out for a new ‘friend’
beside the mouth - will kiss but go no further
And so on….

 

'Monstrous Twins-'

Physical abnormality is a difficult and emotive subject, and the late seventeenth century saw the emergence of the first glimmers of understanding about genetic disorders.  There were many who still believe the sperm was delivered to the mother as a tiny homunculus, which she then nurtured and brought into the world.  Any abnormalities were of course, the mother’s fault.  

There was a new school of thought: that material for a child was inherited from both parents.  Such new ideas paved the way for new medical journals, and new ways of addressing patients.  Emphasis was placed on the medical practitioner having seen and examined each case, and descriptions were more accurate than they had been before.  

Of particular interest were conjoined and parasitic twins (a twin not fully formed and utterly dependent on the other, rather than ‘Siamese’ twins).  Other than in the poorest countries of the modern world, every effort is made to separate or disengage twins joined at birth and efforts were made, even in the 17thC to separate twins who did not share organs, but the majority would struggle through life as they were.  London appears to have drawn them in.  The following note appears in the Statues on Slavery.  

 Sir Thomas Graham bought a monster in the Indies, which was a man of that country,
which had a perfect shape of a child growing out of his breast; as an excres-
ency, all but the head.  This man he brought hither (i.e. to England) and
exposed to the sight of the people for profit.

In the same year, in Genoa, James Pero was born, displaying a similar parasitic twin called Matthew, which you can see in the gallery.  He appeared on show in London in 1714, prompting Sir Hans Sloane to commission his portrait (now in the British Museum).  Another witness to James Pero’s show was James Paris du Plessis.  Paris was not a physician (he was a servant and for some time worked for Samuel Pepys), but he was fascinated by medical anomalies, and by the end of his life had amassed a large library of associated matter.  Written circa 1731, his History of Prodigies detailed the lusus naturae or natural freaks he had seen on his travels in service.  There is no hint of kindness in his tales, but there is little of cruelty either, he is simply an observer, although on occasion he is rather more ‘hands on’ than perhaps he should’ve been: fascinated by the ‘Yorkshire hermaphrodite’ and noted ‘its viril Herge did erect by Provocation’.


Every so often, something truly grotesque appears (don’t read this if you have a delicate constitution):

December, 1748

Two months ago, J.H. a poor
woman belonging to this town,
was delivered of a monstrous child,
which, besides the usual form and parts
of a female, had adhering to, or rather
contained in it, as in its capsula, a rude
and imperfect substance, whose shape
is somewhat conical; at the birth it re-
sembled a large cyst, or bag, extending
itself from the fundament quite down 
to the toes of the child; its size was e-
qual to that of a bullock’s heart, was co-
ver’d with a thin membrane, in which
was contained a limpid fluid. A few 
days after the birth, the membrane 
burthing, discovered to view an irregular
mass of flesh, perfectly human, with a 
smooth skin of a florid colour: In its
inside are solid substances, which feel
like bones; and on its external surface
are visible a distinct hand and foot; on 
the former are five fingers and a thumb,
on the latter four toes, with the great
toe in the middle. There was no other
visible distinction of either parts or sex
in this substance, for part of it is still
lodg’d in the body of the child, and
possesses all that cavity form’d by the
ossa innominata (the pubic bone), reaching upwards half
the length of the spina dorsi (the spine), in order to
the lodgment of which, the rectum of 
the child gives way, and discharges its
excrements very regularly at the left 
groin.  But the uncommon bulk, in
equality, and feel of the parts, I appre
hend there are distinct extremeties, and
a head still conceal’d from view; the
whole bulk, if extract’d, would be near
ly equal to that of the child—-It re
ceives fluids, and increases in bulk, tho’
whether it enjoys an animal or vegeta
ble life is uncertain.  I saw the child
yesterday, which feed heartily; many
hundreds beside myself have likewise 
seen it; and ‘tis allow’d to be one of of
the most surprising instances of the kind
ever seen of heard of.
Such phaenomena, as they are re-
markable displays of divine almighty
power, so they are undoubtedly visible
proofs of God’s displeasure against sin,*
in that, contrary to the established laws
of nature, he sometimes permits such
uncommon lusus naturae (freaks of nature) to exist among
the human species; for in general har-
mony and proportion are the beauty of
his works. 

* The parent of the child has been remarkably vile, and her offspring is spurious.

The freakishness of this entire entry is only compounded by the equal vileness of the ‘constant reader’ who submitted it.

'Monstrous Twins-'


Physical abnormality is a difficult and emotive subject, and the late seventeenth century saw the emergence of the first glimmers of understanding about genetic disorders.  There were many who still believe the sperm was delivered to the mother as a tiny homunculus, which she then nurtured and brought into the world.  Any abnormalities were of course, the mother’s fault.  
There was a new school of thought: that material for a child was inherited from both parents.  Such new ideas paved the way for new medical journals, and new ways of addressing patients.  Emphasis was placed on the medical practitioner having seen and examined each case, and descriptions were more accurate than they had been before.  

Of particular interest were conjoined and parasitic twins (a twin not fully formed and utterly dependent on the other, rather than ‘Siamese’ twins).  Other than in the poorest countries of the modern world, every effort is made to separate or disengage twins joined at birth and efforts were made, even in the 17thC to separate twins who did not share organs, but the majority would struggle through life as they were.  London appears to have drawn them in.  The following note appears in the Statues on Slavery.  
Sir Thomas Graham bought a monster in the Indies, which was a man of that country,
which had a perfect shape of a child growing out of his breast; as an excres-
ency, all but the head.  This man he brought hither (i.e. to England) and
exposed to the sight of the people for profit.

In the same year, in Genoa, James Pero was born, displaying a similar parasitic twin called Matthew, which you can see in the gallery.  He appeared on show in London in 1714, prompting Sir Hans Sloane to commission his portrait (now in the British Museum).  Another witness to James Pero’s show was James Paris du Plessis.  Paris was not a physician (he was a servant and for some time worked for Samuel Pepys), but he was fascinated by medical anomalies, and by the end of his life had amassed a large library of associated matter.  Written circa 1731, his History of Prodigies detailed the lusus naturae or natural freaks he had seen on his travels in service.  There is no hint of kindness in his tales, but there is little of cruelty either, he is simply an observer, although on occasion he is rather more ‘hands on’ than perhaps he should’ve been: fascinated by the ‘Yorkshire hermaphrodite’ and noted ‘its viril Herge did erect by Provocation’.

Every so often, something truly grotesque appears (don’t read this if you have a delicate constitution):


December, 1748

Two months ago, J.H. a poor

woman belonging to this town,

was delivered of a monstrous child,

which, besides the usual form and parts

of a female, had adhering to, or rather

contained in it, as in its capsula, a rude

and imperfect substance, whose shape

is somewhat conical; at the birth it re-

sembled a large cyst, or bag, extending

itself from the fundament quite down 

to the toes of the child; its size was e-

qual to that of a bullock’s heart, was co-

ver’d with a thin membrane, in which

was contained a limpid fluid. A few 

days after the birth, the membrane 

burthing, discovered to view an irregular

mass of flesh, perfectly human, with a 

smooth skin of a florid colour: In its

inside are solid substances, which feel

like bones; and on its external surface

are visible a distinct hand and foot; on 

the former are five fingers and a thumb,

on the latter four toes, with the great

toe in the middle. There was no other

visible distinction of either parts or sex

in this substance, for part of it is still

lodg’d in the body of the child, and

possesses all that cavity form’d by the

ossa innominata (the pubic bone), reaching upwards half

the length of the spina dorsi (the spine), in order to

the lodgment of which, the rectum of 

the child gives way, and discharges its

excrements very regularly at the left 

groin.  But the uncommon bulk, in

equality, and feel of the parts, I appre

hend there are distinct extremeties, and

a head still conceal’d from view; the

whole bulk, if extract’d, would be near

ly equal to that of the child—-It re

ceives fluids, and increases in bulk, tho’

whether it enjoys an animal or vegeta

ble life is uncertain.  I saw the child

yesterday, which feed heartily; many

hundreds beside myself have likewise 

seen it; and ‘tis allow’d to be one of of

the most surprising instances of the kind

ever seen of heard of.

Such phaenomena, as they are re-

markable displays of divine almighty

power, so they are undoubtedly visible

proofs of God’s displeasure against sin,*

in that, contrary to the established laws

of nature, he sometimes permits such

uncommon lusus naturae (freaks of nature) to exist among

the human species; for in general har-

mony and proportion are the beauty of

his works. 


* The parent of the child has been remarkably vile, and her offspring is spurious.


The freakishness of this entire entry is only compounded by the equal vileness of the ‘constant reader’ who submitted it.

Uncommon Births

The Gentleman’s Magazine is a source of constant amusement and wonder.  It reported news from all over the Empire, including stocks prices, shipwrecks, and other business news.  There were also London Mortality Lists, and the famous ‘Hatched, Matched and Dispatched' pages, detailing the births, marriages and deaths amongst the Great and the Good.  They also included details of 'Uncommon' or 'Remarkable' Births and Deaths.  It is clearly impossible to check the details, but some of the entries make you blink and look again.  Today, I'm focussing on a selection of excellent births, all of which you can see in the gallery.
October, 1736

A Woman at a Dairy Cellar in the Strand
was delivered of 5 children (viz) 3 Boys and 2 Girls
Although quintuplets are enough to make most women baulk, they were by no means an isolated incident:  

March, 1739
At Wells, in Somersetshire, a Woman
was deliver’d this Month of four Sons and
a Daughter at a Birth, they were all
christened, and likely to live.

Quads also feature, but it is clear not all babies in multiple births were expected to live:
October, 1743

At Rate, Perthshire, one Jean Galloway
———of 2 Boys and 2 Girls, 3 of Whom were
living.
If these announcements aren’t brilliant enough, there is the excellent Mrs Simpson:

December, 1743
Mrs Simpson, in Ireland, not 14 Years old
but 5 Foot 11 Inches high———of two boys.

And Piccadilly in the late summer of 1746 played home to two very tired parents:
August, 1746

Aug 22. The Wife of Mr Williams, of 
Coventry-street, Piccadilly, de
liver’d of two boys and two girls, all like to live.
More weirdness later in 1746:

Sept 28. A Jew woman in Duke’s Place,
above 60, deliver’d of a Son.
Which is topped entirely in 1750:

A woman in Pulbelly, in Caernarvonshire 
aged 73———of a fine Boy.
The Magazine continues to report these little pieces of news for another century.  ’Liverpool dockhand’s wife deliver’d of triplets, all like to live,’ and so on.  These entries are tiny windows into another time, and in many ways, a time hardly any different to our own in its endless appetite for the freakish, the bizarre and the downright strange.