Friday, June 15, 2012

In the tavern with a sword ...

You know how it happens - a group of lads out on the town, everyone's having a good laugh and then one bloke has a drink too many.  And before you've worked out who said what to whom, someone's got their rapier out.

Born in 1652 Henry St John was the second child and eldest son of Sir Walter and Lady Johanna.  He grew up at the Battersea Manor House under the stern eye of his Puritan mother during the austere post war years of the Commonwealth.

With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 it could be fairly said that Henry entered into the spirit of the new age.  Anxious to save him from his worst excesses, Sir Walter and Lady Johanna swiftly married him off in 1673 to Mary Rich, the daughter of the Earl of Warwick.  Sir Walter settled the Lydiard estate on his eldest son and the newly weds divided their time between Battersea and Wiltshire.

But in 1684 Henry was between marriages.  His first wife Mary had died in 1678 following the birth of their only surviving child and his second wife to be, Angelica Pelissary had just arrived in England bethrothed to her first husband Philip Wharton.

Temporarily let off the marital leash, Henry fully indulged his predilection for partying, gambling and racing.  It was during a night out with the boys in that popular watering hole, the Devil Tavern, Fleet Street, that the talk turned to who owned the best horses.

Along with Sir William Estcott, MP for Malmesbury, and Henry's cousin Edmund Richmond-Webb, the group left the Devil and moved on to the Globe, round the corner in Shoe Lane.  A Tryal of Racing between Henry and Sir William was proposed with a bet of £100 - but then it all got rather out of hand.  Some insults were bandied about - Henry called Escott an ass who replied that Henry was a fool.

Out came the weapons and before you could say 'calm down boys' Estcott lay dead on the tavern floor.  Henry and Edmund were committed to Newgate prison to await their appearance at the Old Bailey where they were jointly charged with murder and manslaughter.

On December 13 the two men were sentenced to death; their estates seized by the crown.  But Henry and Edmund had friends and family in high places.  Henry's cousin Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine, long time mistress of the King and mother of five of his illegitimate children, interceded for them.

Just eleven days later Charles II issued a warrant that the sentences should be quashed and their forfeited estates restored - albeit at a price.  It is believed that an estimated £16,000 was paid to secure their reprieve, with Henry's portion paid by Sir Walter and Lady Johanna.

Henry decided a move abroad might be advisable, but he wasn't gone long.  By March 1685 he was back in England where he was returned as MP for the family seat at Wootton Bassett.

Did he see the error of his ways?  It's doubtful, but he never killed anyone else - well not as far as is known.  He went on to marry Angelica Pelissary on January 1, 1686/7 although he never did quite fit the bill as family man, and his eldest son, the statesman Henry Viscount Bolingbroke, loathed him.

Unlike poor Sir William, whose family line was wiped out when he died aged 30, Henry lived another 58 years.  He died in 1742 aged 89 and was buried at St Mary's Church, Battersea.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hungerford Bridge

During the Queen's Jubilee Pageant on the Thames the flotilla of 1,000 vessels passed beneath 14 of London's historic bridges, including London Bridge, which marks the site of the first crossing of the Thames.  The present bridge replaced the 1830s version sold to the American McCulloch Oil Corporation in 1968 for a reputed £1,029,000.  During the 18th century the river was twice it's present width and flowed at half the speed it does today.  There remained only one bridge across the Thames until 1750 when Westminster Bridge was built.

Friends and followers of Lydiard House and the St John family might be interested in the history of another of London's famous bridges with a familiar sounding name - Hungerford.

Hungerford Bridge was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and opened in 1845.  Southwark shoppers paid a half penny toll to cross the original suspension bridge built to connect the south bank with the market from which the bridge took its name.

The site of Hungerford Market dates to the 15th century when it belonged to Sir Walter 1st Baron Hungerford, Lucy Hungerford's great-great-great-great-great grandfather. It was Lucy Hungerford who married Sir John St John in about 1584 and is depicted in the St John polypytch in St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze. Following Sir John's death she married her cousin Sir Anthony Hungerford.  Her son by this second marriage, Parliamentarian leader Sir Edward Hungerford, inherited Hungerford House from his great uncle.  When he died in 1648 the property passed to his nephew, the son of his half brother Sir Anthony Hungerford.

It was this Edward who, encouraged by the success of Covent Garden, decided to develop his property, then called Hungerford Inn.  A 1678 Act of Parliament granted Edward authority to let the ground on building leases and to hold a market there on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.  The prospects were good for this commercial enterprise when the market opened in 1682, but somewhat surprisingly the market never prospered and Edward quickly began selling off parcels of land.  Sir Christopher Wren bought a quarter of the property and the market house built in the centre of the site was thought to have been designed by him.

Subsequent owners included architect Henry Wise who bought the property in 1718 and in 1830 it was acquired by the newly created Hungerford Market Company.  In 1851 Hungerford Hall was built for lectures and shows but just three years later the property was burnt down when it caught fire during a panorama of the Duke of Wellington's Funeral.  The fire also damaged the Market Hall, causing yet more financial problems for the Hungerford Market Company.  In 1862 the whole property was bought by the Charing Cross Railway Company.  The area was cleared and is today the site of Charing Cross Station.

Brunel's original suspension bridge was bought by the South Eastern Railway company in 1859. It was replaced with a structure designed by Sir John Hawkshaw using Brunel's brick pile buttresses, which continue to support the bridge up to the present day.

Read more about Lucy Hungerford on my other blog

Friday, June 1, 2012

Churchwarden's Accounts

The vestry, a form of local government dating back to the Tudor period, performed much the same function as today’s local government authority.  It was responsible for collecting taxes, administering public spending, keeping law and order in the parish and looking after the poor.

The parish officers were elected annually, two Churchwardens, an Overseer of the Poor, a Waywarden or Surveyor of the Highways whose duty it was to look after the roads, and a Parish Constable.  Regular meetings were held, usually in a room in the parish church.  Some vestries, particularly small rural ones, were open to any ratepayer who could attend meetings and vote. 

The main responsibly of the 19th century churchwarden was to keep the fabric of the church in good repair.  The office dates back to the 12th century but following Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries the role became more complex and included the relief of wayfaring Irish, the repairs of pounds, stocks and whipping posts and the destruction of vermin.

In 1851 Lydiard Tregoze Churchwardens Cornelius Bradford, Mayor of Wootton Bassett and farmer at Midgehall, and George Busson, farmer at Upper Studley, handed over their books for examination.

The accounts run from Lady Day 1850 until the same date in 1851 and are settled from money raised from the church rate.
April 6     Mr Wallice masons bill   17s  9d
       12     Mr Gardeners bill for coals    17s  9d
       17     Mr Habgood blacksmiths bill   7s  6d
       23     Mr Westall repairing organ 10s

May 11    Rev Mr Daubeney 2 year visitation and Register fees up to June 1849 £3 3s
June 11    A stamp for the Railroad rate   2s  6d

July 10     App visitors fees & Pentecostals Visitation fees articles of enquiry & presentments £1 2s 7d
                Expenses Churchwardens at Visitation  £1

Nov  12    Mr Franklin bill for 6 bottles of Tent wine for sacramental part.   £2 2s
         15    Expenses with churchwardens horse and gig at the station  4s 6d
         16    Leighfield boys and others with sparrows 54 heads  2s 3d

1851  Brought forward  £36 16s 3¼d

Jan   11    Jos. Loves boy 21 sparrows  5½d

        18    Ringers to Christmas last £1
        25    Jos. Loves boy 16 sparrows 4d
        25    Postage for letters 8d
        31    Richard Wallice masons bill 2½ day work himself & 1 man each mending paths in the churchyard 11s

March 20 Mr Tellings bill for 5 new bell ropes £2 18s 6d
                Mr Edmunds organist salary for a year to March 25th 1851 £12
                Mr Edmunds clerks salary 15a 6d
                and his bill for expenses at the church 15s 6d
                Edwin Edmunds bill glazier for work done on the church £2 1s 3d
                Mr Habgood blacksmith 6d
                Miss Franklin 6 bottles of Tent wine for the Sacrament   £2 2s

Expenses totalled £41 0s ¼d

Church rate of 2d in the pound had raised £58 13s 5d and the churchwardens had £10 10s 7½d cash in hand from the previous year.  After payments had been deducted it left the parish with £28 4s 0¼d to carry forward.

The accounts were examined and allowed by Captain Bartholomew Horsell who farmed 203 acres in Lydiard Tregoze and was a magistrate at Wotton Bassett, and William Kinchin, tenant at Windmill Leaze Farm.

And if readers find any discrepancies, take it up with those Victorian churchwardens!