Sunday, 25 March 2012

BARBON THE BUILDER - Charlotte Betts

 This week the Hoydens are delighted to welcome guest blogger, Charlotte Betts, author of The Apothecary's Daughter.

The Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London started in the small hours of 2nd September 1666 after a scorching hot summer of drought. The city was as dry as a tinderbox and before the night was out the warehouses by the river below Thames Street had ignited and become an unstoppable inferno. The fire leaped from building to building, fanned by a fierce east wind. The populace, led by the Duke of York and Charles II, frantically pulled down houses to form firebreaks but to no avail.

After the fire had raged through the city for four days the wind died down and the progress of the fire slowed and finally came under control. A smoking wasteland under a glowering red sky was all that remained. Almost everything within the city walls was destroyed, churches, guildhalls, shops, offices and taverns as well as an estimated 13,000 houses. Over 100,000 homeless citizens fled to camp out in the fields of Islington or Moor Fields with their few remaining possessions gathered around them.

Something had to be done and done very quickly. Christopher Wren, John Evelyn and others produced plans for regeneration in a matter of days for a new city on a geometric plan with wide, straight roads, open piazzas and grand boulevards by. But it was not to be. The difficulties in registering the ownership of plots of land and the Crown’s lack of funds to buy them resulted in rebuilding on almost the same higgledy-piggledy street plan as the mediaeval city of London.
Nicholas Bardon

Whilst Christopher Wren was designing cathedrals and guildhalls, one Dr Barbon saw the rebuilding of the city as an opportunity to make his fortune. The son of a preacher called Praise-God Barebones, Dr Barbon had been christened If-Jesus-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hads’t-Been-Damn’d. Who could blame him if he asked his friends to call him Nicholas? He attended university in Holland but never practiced medicine, preferring instead to turn his skills to property speculation.

After the fire, Barbon began to build his empire with astonishing speed and extraordinary opportunities were there for the grasping. He began by buying leases from landlords whose property had burned and who didn’t want, or couldn’t afford, to rebuild. New laws had been made for the rebuilding, which set clear rules. Houses had to be built of brick or stone with no windows or jetties projecting from the face of the house. A lesson had been learned and ramshackle and combustible wooden hovels would no longer be tolerated.

Barbon didn’t have the funds to build these new houses himself so he sought other investors, constantly borrowing money from one to start a project, delaying payments to another for as long as possible  and only settling his large debts when the percentage of capital and costs were about half the cost of borrowing. As an MP, he used his Parliamentary right of immunity to prosecution shamelessly to shield himself from the courts when he defaulted on payments and defrauded partners. His projects were often underfunded and sometimes he skimped on the quality of building materials. Some of his houses collapsed due to unsafe foundations. He didn’t always bother to apply for the necessary licenses and simply moved onto a building plot, violently beat off any objectors, demolished what remained of any previous house and set to work to cram in as many new terraced houses as possible onto the site.
Devonshire Square

In spite of his unscrupulous methods, Barbon and his property speculator partners built swathes of terraced housing. Amongst others, he developed Red Lion Square, Devonshire Square, Marine Square, Gerrard Street, Conduit Street, Bedford Row in Holborn, Cannon Street, Fetter Lane and the Middle Temple Courts. Essex Street he laid out in the grounds of Essex House. The fine Essex Street Water gates built in 1676 before the building of the embankment and the road on the north side of the Thames, prevented the tidal wash that reached the properties along The Strand and Fleet Street.

Barbon didn’t care what people thought of him; money was all. He dressed in the latest fashions and lived as splendidly as a lord of the manor in Crane Court off Fleet Street, all the better to impress his investors. In 1680 he pioneered the Insurance Office for Houses, later renamed the Phoenix Office. This was an insurance scheme, which provided fire insurance for over 5,000 householders. In 1694 he patented a design for pumping water from the Thames to his new developments and with John Asgill, he founded the successful National Land Bank, which issued mortgages. His economic theories resulted in his tract Discourse on Trade (1690).

Barbon moved to a sixteenth century manor, Osterley House, and died there in 1698, still in debt despite of his opulent surroundings. Utterly ruthless and disliked by many, Nicholas Barbon must however, have possessed considerable charisma when it suited him or he would never have persuaded so many investors to part with their money. Although he was the property developer people loved to hate, he left behind him a housing stock, much of it still in existence, which changed the face of London for the better.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

April Fish Day: coming up!

April Fool's Day is coming up. What is the history of this day of trickery? A reference to April Fool’s Day pranks has been found as early as 1539, in a comical poem by Flemish writer Eduard De Dene. Over a century later, in 1686, John Aubrey of England noted "Fooles holy day" observed on April 1st. At the end of the century, a British newspaper noted a popular April Fool's Day prank: sending people to the Tower of London to see the lions washed
In general, it seems that April Fool's Day originated in Northern Europe and migrated to England. There are a number of theories on how this came about, but few conclusions. 
The calendar-change theory:
Traditionally, the French used Easter as the start of the year In 1563, the French King Charles IX declared January 1 to be the New Year. According to legend, those who kept to the old calendar and celebrated the New Year in the spring had jokes played on them. Pranksters would surreptitiously stick paper fish to their backs. The victims of this prank were thus called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish, which is still the French term for an April Fool.
The French calendar-change theory is tidy, but for the fact that the switch to January 1 to mark the New Year happened very slowly over a century.
The abundance-of-fish theory:
Another French theory traces the origin of April Fool's Day to the abundance of fish to be found in during early April when fish have hatched. These young fish were easily fooled with a hook and lure. The French called them Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish. Soon it became customary (according to this theory) to fool people on April 1, as a way of celebrating the abundance of foolish fish. 
The Roman tradition theory:
In 1766, this note was published in Gentleman's Magazine in England:
“The strange custom prevalent throughout this kingdom, of people making fools of one another upon the first of April, arose from the year formerly beginning, as to some purpose, and in some respects, on the twenty-fifth of March, which was supposed to be the incarnation of our Lord; it being customary with the Romans, as well as with us, to hold a festival, attended by an octave, at the commencement of the new year—which festival lasted for eight days, whereof the first and last were the principal; therefore the first of April is the octave of the twenty-fifth of March, and, consequently, the close or ending of the feast, which was both the festival of the Annunciation and the beginning of the new year.”
I think this is a credible explanation. 

The renewal-ritual theory: 
Nearly every culture has a festival to celebrate the end of winter and the return of spring. Anthropologists call these “renewal festivals” and they often they involve mayhem and the wearing of disguises.
Certainly we are often fooled by hints of spring! 
For an excellent article on these puzzles, click here

Sandra Gulland
Author of The Josephine B. Trilogy and Mistress of the Sun

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Witches of Connecticut


Read Part One

Continuing on with the witch trials of Connecticut, I'll start part two with Goody Mary Bassett. Little remains in the records other than she had confessed and was executed in 1651. Some say she named another witch.

In 1653, Goodwife Elizabeth Knapp was thought to have been a woman of good character. The village of Fairfield was suspicious about her being a witch and this led to gossip. Soon, she was indicted and thrown into prison. She was tried and sentenced to hang.

The same day of sentencing, neighbors descended upon Elizabeth in order for her to confess to her crimes and name any other witches in their midst. Elizabeth remained strong and refused to "render evil for evil." She resisted falsely naming others of the crime and appealed to her persecutors "neuer, neuer poore creature was tempted as I am tempted, pray, pray for me."

On the gallows, Elizabeth broke. She climbed down from the ladder and asked to speak to the Deputy Governor of Massachusetts and Connecticut in private. She named "Mary Staplies" as a witch, and in view of the villagers, she was hanged. When her body was still, she was "cut downe." Her body was stripped and searched for witch's marks.

Among the women searching her body was Mary Staples. They found some "teates" on Elizabeth's body and Mary claimed, "...if they were the markes of a witch, then she was one..." Of course, that brought further suspicion on Mary. She was luckier than Elizabeth. She didn't hang for her remarks and her husband filed a suit for slander. Another suit accusation was brought against Mary in 1692. This time her daughter and granddaughter were included in the charges. Again, she was acquitted.

Nicholas Bayley and his wife were under suspicion of being witches in 1655. Among their deeds were lying. She was said to have told a "filthy speech." They were acquitted and banished from the colony. William Meaker was accused of bewitching a neighbors pigs. There were a couple of other minor cases, including another husband and wife accusation, before the infamous Hartford trials. I'll continue with the Connecticut witch trials in my next blog.

Kim Murphy

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Lady Henrietta Wentworth

Lady Henrietta Wentworth

In my search for a suitable 17th Century heroines, I came across several fascinating women worth writing about, some of them ahead of their time.  One was the Duke of Monmouth's mistress, Lady Henrietta Wentworth, though I rejected her as not being colourful enough, though with hindsight,  maybe that was because she died young.

Henrietta was only about eight, when her father, Thomas Wentworth, 5th Baron Wentworth died, making her the heir to her grandfather's title and the family home, Toddington Manor in Bedfordshire.

In December 1674, when she was seventeen, Henrietta was presented at the court of Charles II, when she took part in a masque called ‘Calisto, or the chaste Nymph,’ by John Crowne, where she, 'Personated Jupiter in love with Calisto'. Also taking part were the princesses Mary and Anne, the daughters of James Duke of York, and Sarah Jennings, the future wife of John Churchill.

It was at this masque she attracted the attention of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, the king's illegitimate son who was already married to Anna Scott, Duchess of Buccleuch with whom he had three children, although the couple were estranged.

Their association caused a scandal at court as Henrietta was set to marry Richard Tufton, 5th Earl of Thanet. Although her mother, Philadelphia Carey dragged her back to Toddington, Monmouth aparently followed her there and spent a lot of time at the manor, where, under the watchful, but not displeased eye of Philadelphia, they spend hours riding together and walking in the grounds of the estate, reading and playing cards. Adjoining rooms in the Manor were known as Duke Monmouth and Little Lady’s Chambers.

Three years later, in 1683, Monmouth was implicated in the Rye House plot which was believed to include the murder of his father Charles II and uncle James Duke of York.  Fearing reprisals, Monmouth went into hiding at Toddington where it is said he hid in the oak tree behind the house. From there, he fled to Brussels, where Lady Henrietta joined him, then the couple went into exile in Holland where the Prince of Orange,  received Henrietta by the Prince of Orange as Monmouth's mistress.

James Scott Duke of Monmouth
Two years later, in early 1685, Monmouth's father, King Charles II died, with unsubstantiated rumours of him having been poisoned by his brother, the Duke of York, Monmouth launched his ill-fated rebellion, funded by a loan secured with Henrietta's jewels. After the disastrous Battle of Sedgemoor, and Monmouth was dragged out a ditch by Royal troopers at Ringwood, a notebook was found on him containing rhymes about the bowers of Toddington.

On the scaffold, a few days later, Monmouth maintained that his connection with Lady Wentworth was blameless in the eyes of God. He had been married, 'when but a child', and he had never cared for his duchess; Henrietta had reclaimed him from a licentious life; he remained faithful to her, and, turning to the crowd, he exclaimed that she was ‘a lady of virtue and honour, a very virtuous and godly woman.’

One of his last acts was to request one of the attendants to convey a memorial to her. As a result of this declaration, Monmouth was apparently refused the Eucharist because he refused to acknowledge their relationship as sinful. Also, Henrietta's declaration on hearing of her lover's execution is well recorded. 'Had that poor man nothing to think of but me?'

A month after Monmouth's death in July 1685, Henrietta returned to England, but not much is known of her subsequent fate, other than she was devastated by Jame's death. The fact she did not survive him by less than a year is also shrouded in mystery, or indolence, who can tell?  After all, dying at 25 in the 17th Century wasn't that unusual when any number of life threatening ailments could carry you off.

She died on 23rd April 1686, and was buried in the Wentworth Chapel in St. George's Church, Toddington and her barony, the manors and estates passed to Anne Lovelace, Henrietta’s aunt, who became 7th Baroness Wentworth.