Conway Hall

The Conway Hall Ethical Society, formerly the South Place Ethical Society, based at Conway Hall, is thought to be the oldest surviving free thought organisation in the world, and is the only remaining ethical society in the United Kingdom. It now advocates secular humanism, a life stance which embraces human reason, ethics and natural laws, and is a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

The Society originated in 1793 in a congregation of nonconformists known as Philadelphians or Universalists. William Johnson Fox became their minister in 1817. In 1824 the congregation built a chapel at South Place, Finsbury.

In 1929 they built new premises, Conway Hall, at 37 (now numbered 25) Red Lion Square, on the site of a tenement, previously a factory belonging to James Perry, a pen and ink maker. The opening ceremony was on Monday 23rd September 1929.

Conway Hall is named after an American, Moncure Conway, who led the Society from 1864–1885 and 1892–1897, during which time it moved further away from Unitarianism. Conway spent the break in his tenure in the United States, writing a biography of Thomas Paine. Thomas Paine was one of the great fiery voices of the American Revolution. Publishing pamphlets such as Common Sense, a popular pamphlet that argued for complete American independence from Britain.

In 1888 the name of the Society was changed from South Place Religious Society to South Place Ethical Society (SPES) In 1950 the SPES joined the Ethical Union. In 1969 another name change was mooted, to The South Place Humanist Society, a discussion that sociologist Colin Campbell suggests symbolized the death of the ethical movement in England. In November 2012, the name was changed to Conway Hall Ethical Society.

Conway Hall was designed by Frederick Mansford and built on an L-shaped strip of land which the Society had acquired. It is a Grade II listed built in 1929 and was Mansford’s largest project.

The main entrance is located on an angle with a narrow arch rising to the top of the upper floor. The arch is flanked by two columns in silver-grey brick while the rest of the buildilng is varied with red-brick detailing. There is a lot of glass in the facade with wide windows to the Library on the upper level and in and above the entrance doors. The glazing bars form a distinctive tiny criss-cross pattern reflected in Conway Hall’s logo.

Mansford was aware that his design could appear incoherent and tried to make the elevation hang together by placing six stone urns, bought from a City bank, along roof level, two of them on top of the entrance columns.

The main auditorium can hold 300 plus 180 in a gallery. Wooden panelling nailed directly to the brickwork was used to give the hall excellent acoustic qualities.

It is onsidered the best hall in London for chamber music. This made it very suitable for the performance of music and there have been regular recordings and concerts there. The ceiling of the auditorium was glazed and this made it very light and airy for the time. It opened in 1929 and has continued in use since.

Above the proscenium arch the words, To Thine Own Self Be True. These words were originally inscribed on the back wall of the red mahogany panel at the original South Place Chapel.

In 1935 twenty members of the Society signed a document stating that Conway Hall was their regular place of worship. It was therefore certified for marriages until 1977 when the Deputy Registrar-General ruled that the Hall could not be used for weddings under the terms of the Places of Worship Registration Act.

The Sunday Concerts at Conway Hall can be traced back to 1878 when the Peoples Concert Society was formed for the purpose of “increasing the popularity of good music by means of cheap concerts”. Many of these concerts were held at the South Place Institute but in 1887 the Peoples Concert Society had to cut short their season through lack of funds. It was then that the South Place Ethical Society undertook the task of organising concerts. The thousandth concert was played on 20 February 1927, and the two-thousandth concert was held at Queen Elizabeth Hall on 9 March 1969.

The Conway Memorial Lecture was inaugurated by the Society in 1910 to honour Moncure Conway who died in 1907. The decision to create the Lecture was made in 1908. The Humanist Library and Archives based at Conway Hall is the UK’s foremost resource of its kind in Europe and the only library in the UK solely dedicated to the collection of Humanist material.

Since 2014, Conway Hall has been host to the Sunday Assembly, a popular secular service which takes place on the first and third Sunday of every month.



Sir John Kirk

(1847-1922) J.P., Christian philanthropist; the children’s friend.

Born in the small Leicestershire town of Kegworth on June 10th 1847, John Kirk was the second of seven children born to Alfred, a tinsmith and brazier, and Mary-Ann Kirk. He was educated at Castle Donnington Grammar School. Being born with a delicate constitution, the young lad pursued an interest in books at an early age and came to the attention of the locate curate, the Reverend Peter Lilly, who became an early mentor and life-long friend, and further cemented the moral values and social responsibility that would form the foundation of John’s fifty-four year career.

After his father Alfred’s untimely death on May 12th 1862, the Reverend Lilly willingly took a larger role in the young teen’s passage to adulthood, and ultimately employed him as his assistant when he was appointed the first vicar of Collaton St. Mary’s. Shortly after, John, like so many of his generation, opted to find his destiny in the big bad metropolis of London. He was first employed as an assistant to the Church of England Book-Hawking Society in Paternoster Row at a starting salary of 12s.a week. His next post was through the Pure Literature Society where he met their Secretary Richard Turner, who was also serving as Superintendent of the Ragged School in Ann Street, Camberwell in 1867. Ragged schools is a name commonly given after about 1840 to the many independently established 19th century charity schools in the United Kingdom which provided entirely free education and, in most cases, food, clothing, lodging and other home missionary services for those too poor to pay.

Turner encouraged him to volunteer as a teacher at this institution, and it is here John Kirk found not only his career path, but his future wife, Miss Elizabeth Ayris. The young lovers communicated via letters written in Pitman’s Shorthand, and soon married on March 16th, 1872. They would give birth to seven children of their own, while working to improve the conditions of children in the streets of London through the Ragged School Union. Kirk’s involvement within the Ragged School Union soon grew to encompass the role of Night Inspector of Schools, and Assistant Secretary to the Union itself, which was still struggling to find its footing twenty years after its formation in 1844.

In 1879, Kirk was appointed Secretary and it proved to be a match made in heaven as both his and the Union’s influence grew in London; in England; and in many countries throughout the Commonwealth. Through Kirk the union survived the passage of the Elementary Education Act of 1870 Crossing the class divides with ease, John Kirk was a friend to royalty and ragamuffins equally, and was dubbed “The Children’s Friend” .by all who knew him. When Edward V11 conferred knighthood on Mr. Kirk on Thursday, May 23rd 1907, the event made headlines around the world as rich and poor united in their congratulations. In 1909 Sir John was given the Freedom of London at the Mansion House and appointed a Justice of the Peace, a role in which he continued to labour on behalf of child reform.

His jubilee of service in 1917 was also celebrated at the Mansion House where he took the opportunity of presenting a cheque for £1,000 which he had raised privately, for the establishment of a Shaftesbury Foundation Fund. Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury had been the first president of the Ragged School Union from 1844 till his death in 1855. During his period of service annual income increased from £6,000 to £60,000. He was honorary treasurer until his death.

The freehold quarters of the society were in John Street, Bloomsbury. Kirk travelled widely. He helped Cyril Pearson set up his “fresh air fund” to enable poor children to have rural holidays. In 1909 he founded the National Federation of Christian Workers among poor children.

Although he passed away on April 3rd, 1922, just weeks after celebrating his Golden Wedding Anniversary with Lady Kirk, Sir John’s influence continues today. The Shaftesbury Lectures, which were initiated by Sir John, to celebrate his fifty years of service, are still an annual event. In religion Kirk was a devout evangelical. All agreed he was a modest man with great capacity for the service of others.



Leather Lane

Leather Lane Market runs parallel to Hatton Garden

The earliest mention of Leather Lane was by John Stow’s in his survey of London in 1598.  So the bustling street market has been here for over 400 years

If you think it was home to London’s leather goods market you will be disappointed. Up until the 1960s the leather trade & its tanneries were centred around Bermondsey – And Its Bermondsey Street which is now commemorated with Leathermarket Street, Morocco Street and Tanner Street – all of these are south of the Thames

The story of Leather Lane is far more interesting and if local legend is to be believed, more Regal.

King Charles II would like to have a punt on the horses and at one time found himself owing £500 to a local merchant named Le Vrunelane after a wager on two horses that lost. To pay off the debt the canny merchant offered the King a way out, if he was granted a charter to set up a market and receive 1p on each customer.

The market was named Le Vrunelane and after a number of derivatives was Anglicised to Lovreland, then to Liver Lane and finally Leather Lane.

Another explanation for its name is said to come from the old French word for greyhound

Whether it got its name from a foolish king or the local boozer by the 1960s it had shaken off its 19th century description of being ’a very poor neighbourhood . . . much invested with thieves, beggars, and Italian organ-grinders’. It was a melting pot of culture, class and countries.

Leather Lane’s junction with Clerkenwell Road the area still had an Italian ambience

The market was very lively such as the man who sold cheap china dinner services (“how much will you give me ladies for this fine English bone china”), while stacking and balancing the entire 6-piece set on his arm. But then this was a common site in most London Markets.

My personal memories of the market in 1962 was that it had a stall that sold M&S underwear seconds. Also they sold boxes of chocolates that were passed their prime and the chocolate had gloom on the surface…. They sold these as seen or sometimes they opened up the boxes then they flashed a hot light over them. They also sold pressed leather bags as real leather bags.

On the plus side they had lots of good second hand jewellery stalls my auntie bough the most beautiful blister pearl ring in the 50s, most covered by the rest of the family.

In those days the market spives were grateful for the requirement at that time that policemen had to be nearly 6-foot tall with a uniform topped off by a tall helmet.

They would see the coppers coming towards them through the crowd as they towered over the regular market goers. It took seconds to scoop up their wares into a ready suitcase .. in the same way that they did in Oxford Street in the 60s & 70s.

It also backs on to Johnson Matthey in Hatton Garden – in the 60s some gold bullion was stolen and then thrown over the back wall onto Leather Lane.

Apparently Comedian Tommy Cooper, was once a market trader in Leather Lane Market, Tommy was very tall and certainly would have had no trouble spotting an approaching policeman.

Leather Lane was right in the middle of what was know as “Little Italy”, a distinct colony of Italians that emerged at the beginning of the 19th century. These originally were skilled craftsman working as artists decorators and instrument makers. These were followed by Political refugees such as the Giuseppe Mazzini and Gabriele Rosetti. St Peter’s Church at the end of Leather lane was set up to serve the Italian community.

Leave you with what James Greenwood said in 1881 You “may be threading his way through the unmistakably English crowd that throngs the Leather Lane market” and having progressed but a hundred yards one “has altogether lost sight of his native land, and is stranded on a foreign shore”.



The Crosse Keys is a spectacular pub to visit in the City of London. The building takes its name from the inn that stood near this site from the 1550s.

Pubs called the Cross Keys would have had strong religious links. The Cross Keys are a symbol of Peter, one of the disciples who was the first leader of Jesus’s followers after his death. Peter was crucified upside down because he didn’t want to emulate his Lord’s way of dying and in subsequent images in paintings and sculptures, Peter is seen holding keys – as heaven’s guardian he was able to unlock its gates.

Possibly there is a link to St Benet’s church, which stood on the corner of Fenchurch Street and was called Grass Church because in medieval times the street was filled with the ancient grass or herb market. Londoners came here for healing medicines made from grass or wild plants.

In the 1500s hay, corn, malt and cheese were sold here, and this street became the great corn market of the city.

Between 1578 and 1594 The Cross Keys, along with

  • the Bel Savage off Ludgate Hill,
  • the Bull off Bishopsgate Street and t
  • he Bell at the Bell Inn Yard, off Gracechurch Street

was one of the “four city inns” used for plays. Located within the City limits, the inns offered performance spaces for the early acting companies until the Privy Council –the legal enforcer of Elizabeth’s court – closed all in 1594.

Shakespeare’s troupe of actors, known as the Chamberlain’s Men, was among those who performed plays here.

The Crosse Keyes was destroyed in the Great Fire, and its replacement burnt down in 1734, but was rebuilt. By the early 19th century, the Crosse Keys had become a busy coaching inn, used by 40 or more coaches a day.

This building was the former headquarters of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation. It was designed by W. Campbell Jones and built to the highest standards, impressing on the long-standing City institutions that the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank were here to stay. It opened for business on 22 October 1913.

This pub now occupies what was the main banking floor and you can’t fail to enjoy the prestigious surroundings

Marbled columns, coffered ceilings a Victorian baroque facade and a huge drinking space, the Crosse Keys is a monster of a pub. This is the JD Wetherspoon’s chain at its biggest and best. City of London pubs are always busy, so this place’s great attraction is the sheer number of tables available. There are also quieter rooms at the back. The clientele are a mite more diverse than the typical City boozer, too — suits are by no means a majority.

As it is Cask Marque accredited the quality of beer is outstanding or so I’m told

JD Weatherspoons

The Londonist

Shalt Shakespearean London Theatres

photo by ZOMATO


Jewin Welsh Presbyterian Chapel

is a Presbyterian Church of Wales church.

The current building was built between 23 June 1950 and 12 January 1951, to be developed as part of the Golden Lane Estate. It replaced a chapel in the nearby Barbican which was constructed in the former Jewin Crescent in 1878-9, which replaced the original chapel which had been established in 1774, the first of 30 Welsh chapels in London.

In the 1770s some of the Welsh in London would gather in a meeting room in Cock Lane, Smithfield, to attend services in the Welsh language organised by Edward Jones and Griffith Jones. The former was an ex-soldier and ‘rum and brandy merchant’ while the latter was a ‘ginger-beer manufacturer’: they were, to put it mildly, an unlikely pair of founding fathers.

It is likely that Edward Jones had also been active in Welsh meetings in south London. The great revivalist Howel Harris had preached in Lambeth on his first visit to London in 1739 and returned many times over the years that followed. This is the tradition on which the Cock Lane meetings were built.

By 1785 the congregation had outgrown its home in Smithfield and moved to a small chapel in Wilderness Row, near the junction of today’s St John Street and Clerkenwell Road. There were turbulent times at Wilderness Row. Edward Jones was a tyrant who meted out his own brand of punishment to ‘wayward’ chapel members. The damage to the cause took a long time to be repaired. It took a rather special man, James Hughes, to steady the ship.

The congregation moved to grander premises in Jewin Crescent in 1823 with James Hughes (‘Iago Trichrug’) as minister. He led the cause until his death in 1844.

A succession of gifted men, including Dr Owen Thomas, David Charles Davies, and J E Davies (‘Rhuddwawr’), took charge of the church during the second half of the nineteenth century. Membership boomed and Jewin became widely known as one of the most powerful and influential churches in the Calvinistic Methodist domain. The congregation moved to an even more impressive home in 1879. The new chapel was built on the corner of Fann Street at a cost of £10,000. This building was destroyed in the Blitz in 1940, and the building we see today was opened in 1960. This ambitious rebuilding project was the vision of one man the Rev D S Owen who served as minister from 1915 to 1959.

Designed in the stark architecture and internal layout of the New Humanism movement, it opened in 1961 and contains a Compton organ.

After a dramatic fall in the congregation, in 2013 London-based BBC News presenter Huw Edwards agreed to lead a campaign to save the building and the chapel, to keep the traditions of the London Welsh community alive. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones choose the campaign as his input to BBC Wales Today for Children In Need 2013.

Services today follow a simple format. We begin by singing a short prayer, known as an intrada. The preacher will then announce the first hymn before giving a reading. The second hymn is followed by a prayer which ends with everyone singing the Lord’s Prayer. One of the elders will then announce any news and a collection will be taken to support the work of the church. After the third hymn the preacher will deliver a sermon and after the closing hymn give a blessing.

On the first Sunday of the month we hold a special service lead the members, focusing on a particular theme. This follows a different pattern with various people taking part, and rather than a sermon there are a series of short addresses and musical items.

Cymanfa Ganu

On the third Sunday in May and on Remembrance Sunday we hold a ‘cymanfa ganu’ – a traditional hymn singing festival. With a guest conductor and organist this is an opportunity to sing old favourites and explore more contemporary hymns.


This ancient service was traditionally held at dawn on Christmas Day, but we choose the more civilized time of 5pm on the second Sunday of January. The services features a special form of carols sung a ccapella by soloist, duets or small parties. Followed by a cheese and wine reception this has become a popular London Welsh event.


At Christmas we hold a service of lessons and carols on the second Sunday in December and a Christmas Communion Service on the afternoon of the Sunday before Christmas

photo iphone/



Richard Stafford Cripps

was born in London 24th April, 1889. He was the 5th and youngest child of Theresa Cripps the sister of Beatrice Webb who died when he was 4. His father Charles Alfred Cripps, 1st Baron Parmoor, (taken from family estate near Buckingham), was a British politician who crossed the floor from the Conservative to the Labour Party benches. After an education at Winchester and New College at Oxford University, where he was President of the Student Union Cripps became a research chemist.

He married in 1910 and had 4 children He also carried on studying law and was called to the bar in 1913. He was a Conservative and had anti suffragette views. Cripps as well as poor health-later diagnosed as colitis-was a pacifist and during WW 1 he served with the Red Cross in France. As a chemist Cripps was later put in charge of the biggest munitions factory in the country

In 1918 Cripps returned to his work as a barrister. Specializing in company law, Cripps made a fortune in patent and compensation cases and became the youngest Kings Counsel in 1927.

A Christian Socialist and member of the Labour Party, Cripps was elected to Parliament in 1931 at a by-election in East Bristol. He remained MP here for the remainder of his political life. The following year Ramsay MacDonald appointed Cripps as his solicitor-general. However, like most members of the party, Cripps refused to serve in MacDonald’s National Government formed in 1931.

Stafford Cripps was converted to Marxism and became the leader of the left-wing of the Labour Party. Other members of this group included Aneurin Bevan, Jennie Lee and Harold Laski. Cripps was a teetotaller “as a protest against the alcoholism of the Labour Party” In 1932 the group established the Socialist League. Other members included Charles Trevelyan, Clement Atlee, Ernest Bevin and Michael Foot. It was strongly in the Fabian tradition, and the main objective was to persuade a future Labour government to implement socialist policies.

With the rise of Hitler, Stafford Cripps became convinced that the Labour Party should establish a United Front against fascism with the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Independent Labour Party. Stafford Cripps was the main supporter of a United Front in the Socialist League: linking with Communists and the ILP which people such as Richard Crossman disagreed. After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Cripps campaigned for the formation of a Popular Front with other left-wing groups in Europe to prevent the spread of fascism and in January 1937 with George Strauss he decided to launch a radical weekly, The Tribune, to “advocate a vigorous socialism and demand active resistance to Fascism at home and abroad.” The League of Nations he regarded as “an International Burglars Union”

Stafford Cripps declared that the mission of the Socialist League and The Tribune was to recreate the Labour Party as a truly socialist organization. This soon brought them into conflict with Clement Atlee and the leadership of the party. Hugh Dalton declared that “Cripps Chronicle” was “a rich man’s toy” .Labour leaders believed there was only one road to socialism in Britain; the parliamentary one.

The United Front agreement won only narrow majority at a Socialist League delegate conference in January, 1937 – 56 in favour, 38 against, with 23 abstentions. The United Front campaign opened officially with a large meeting in Manchester on 24th January. Three days later the Executive of the Labour Party decided to disaffiliate the Socialist League. They also began considering expelling members of the League and on 24th March, 1937, the National Executive Committee declared that members of the Socialist League would be ineligible for Labour Party membership from 1st June. Over the next few weeks membership fell from 3,000 to 1,600. In May, leading members decided to dissolve the Socialist League.

By 1938 Cripps and Strauss had lost £20,000 in publishing The Tribune. Cripps and Aneurin Bevan were also involved in the campaign against appeasement. This included speaking on the same platform with members of the Communist Party and led to his expulsion from the Labour Party.

Cripps with Aneurin Bevan, Strauss and Trevelyan were readmitted in November 1939 after agreeing “to refrain from conducting or taking part in campaigns in opposition to the declared policy of the Party.”

For the first two years of WW 2 Cripps and Aneurin Bevan provided the main opposition to Britain’s coalition government. Churchill on coming to power made sent Cripps to Moscow as British ambassador. Here he had a strange existence being cold shouldered and ignored by Stalin till the Russian invasion. In a survey carried out in 1941, the public was asked who should be prime minister if anything should happen to Churchill. Of those who replied, 37% said Eden and a surprising 34% selected Cripps.

Did Cripps plan to supplant Churchill? Churchill certainly became concerned about having one of his main critics so high in the polls. In 1942 Churchill appointed Cripps as Lord Privy Seal in his government and put him in the War Cabinet. However, Cripps continued to question Churchill’s war strategy and in October 1942 he was removed from the War Cabinet. He remained in the government and now became Minister of Aircraft Production. Later he was made Leader of the House but not a parliamentary man he failed.

In 1945 Cripps published his book Towards a Christian Democracy and his re-admittance to the Labour Party. Following the 1945 General Election, the new Prime Minister, Atlee, appointed Cripps as Minister of Trade. Two years later Cripps replaced Hugh Dalton as Chancellor of the Exchequer. His policy of high taxation, tight public spending and a voluntary wage freeze, helped to keep inflation in Britain under control. However illness, poor health and the devaluation of the pound in October 1950 forced him to resign from the government in 1950 and as an MP. (Tony Benn took his seat) The following year he was elected as President of the Fabian Society.

This estate consisted of three 12-storey towers (Cotswold, Parmoor & Sapperton Courts). It was one of the very first high-rise housing projects built by a British Local Authority, the first in London, at a cost of £350,000 and housing 180 families, (60 in each block).

Richard Stafford Cripps died in April 1952 in Zurich of bone marrow cancer and was cremated there. His ashes came back to be buried in Gloucestershire. In death as in life his reputation hinged on one word; austerity!


Daniel Defoe

Most of us will remember Daniel Defoe as the author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders but he had a rich and varied life as a trader, writer, journalist, pamphleteer and spy.

He was born around 1660 in Fore Street to Annie and James Foe. They were Flemish Presbyterian migrants. James Foe was a prosperous tallow chandler and a member of the Butchers Company. They later changed their name to the more aristocratic Defoe.

This article concentrates on the development of Protestantism after the English reformation and will concentrate on the effect on Defoe’s life of being raised as a presbyterian.

English Presbyterianism started in 1588 when Protestants who had fled the reign of Queen Mary returned to England. In Scotland the faith developed independently as most members were followers of John Knox, a compatriot of Calvin. Most puritans hoped to establish ecclesiastical reform within the established church. They hoped to recreate the simple life described in the scriptures. They eschewed pomp, vestments and prelates. The individual congregation was the primary body of government; the name presbyter refers to the individual member of such a congregation and enters the language in 1607.

On the 11th December 1640 15,000 Londoners and signed the ‘Root and Branch’ petition which was submitted to parliament leading to the formation of the Westminster Assembly of Divines. In 1641 the Earl of Stafford was executed and 12 bishops imprisoned after publication of the Great Remonstrance. There was great debate about church governance.

Unlike some dissenting sects Presbyterians were loyal to Charles 1st and hoped to reform the church from within. They worshipped in their own chapels but any member of the parish was free to attend. This roused the suspicions of the established Church of England who viewed them as schismatics.

In 1662 the Act of Uniformity was passed. It required ministers to accept the Book of Common Prayer in its entirety and to be ordained by the Episcopal rites of the Church of England. 2,000 ministers declined and were removed from their livings, which were often their homes, on St Bartholomew’s Day.

As a dissenter Defoe was unable to be educated at Oxford or Cambridge. Many Presbyterians went to university in Leyden, Utrecht, Glasgow or Edinburgh but Defoe attended a dissenting academy in several Newington Green run by Charles Morton with the intention of becoming a Dissenting minister. Morton was a Cornish non conformist minister who provided a broad education. He was arrested after the Civil war and excommunicated. He left for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1685 and became the Vice president of Harvard.

Defoe gave up the idea of being a minister and went in to business as a general merchant selling hosiery, woollen goods and wine. Defoe had many businesses which thrived but he was a risk taker and was frequently in debt. He published several pamphlets in praise of William of Orange.

In 1685 he was one of the members of the Monmouth rebellion but was pardoned. When William and Mary ascended to the throne, Defoe’s advocacy was rewarded. He served as a close ally to William and a spy when on missions to Europe.

In 1695, he returned to England and started serving as a commissioner of glass duty (collecting tax on bottles). The following year he opened a tile and brick factory and moved to Chadwell St Mary.

His first serious publication in 1697 was ‘An Essay Upon projects’ a detailed analysis of proposals for economic and social improvements. He wrote several pamphlets defending King William against perceived xenophobia the most famous of which was ‘A True Born Englishman’ often described as a satire on the English claim to racial purity.

William died in 1702 and was succeeded by Anne. Defoe published ‘the Shortest Way with Dissenters’ which is viewed as a piece of irony but was openly critical of high church Tories and those dissenters who occasionally practised traditional church rites. Queen Anne was unamused. He was arrested in July 1703 on charges of seditious libel and put in the pillory for 3 days, then transferred to Newgate prison. His sentence was cut short when the 1st Earl of Oxford paid for his release in exchange for him spying on the Tories. He wrote numerous periodicals and pamphlets for the government before publishing his first lengthy work ‘The History of the Union of Great Britain’ in 1709 and explains the events leading to the Act of Union in 1707. He later served as an advisor to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland.

There were dangers inherent in political commentary and Defoe turned to writing fiction. Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719.

Defoe married the daughter of a London merchant, Mary Tuffly. They remained partners for 50 years, had 8 children 6 of whom survived to adulthood. Defoe died on 24th April 1731 and is buried in Bunhill Fields.



A School for Scandal

Recent excavations, connected with the building of the new high walk at London Wall, have uncovered a few missing pages from Sheridan’s A School for Scandal. Intriguingly they throw light on more recent developments in the same area:

Scene 1  

Lady Sneerwell: Pray pass me my chocolate, Snake. Tell me, has my niece, young Julia, come up from the country? It seemed only yesterday that, as a mewling baby, she was put out to a wet nurse.

Snake: She is as lively a seven year old as your ladyship could wish

Lady Sneerwell: Lively, you say, time she was sent to a school. Are there any about?

Snake: Thomas More’s academy for Young Ladies, just by St Giles, is highly recommended. They are opening up a new prep school, ma’am.

Lady Sneerwell: I fear she will stand out, as country-bred, with a healthy tan, and the inevitable coarse features.

Snake: Oh ‘Tommy’s’ will cure her of that affliction. From the morning bell to the evening hooter the school is entirely underground. The school motto is “Semper pallidae, immo perpallidae’. ‘Always seek the paler pallor, or even beyond the pale.’

Lady Sneerwell: Excellent, children should be neither seen nor heard. The school will be well-placed to develop the new modish Japonaise look … white skin without the slightest suspicion of a freckle. She wants that delicacy of tint. What activities do they teach? No sports I daresay?

Snake: Huntin’, Shootin’ and Fishin’.

Lady Sneerwell: How so?

Snake: All indoors – Huntin’ the slipper, Shootin’ a line and Fishin’ for compliments.

Lady Sneerwell: Sports Day will be a mite esoteric. I can’t remember there being much room for a new Prep School, are you sure of your intelligence?

Snake: Oh, they have commandeered a stables and a Sedan Chair park from below the houses in St Giles’s Fields. The locals now have to traipse to Finsbury Fields for any footfree locomotion

Lady Sneerwell: That seems a little harsh. What is the point of a chair if you have to walk to it? It will be similar to the Puritans’ Olde Parke and Ride scheme – that had no Ride either.

Sir Peter Teazle: (Entering) Although it could be argued that the School has taken the locals for a ride.

Lady Sneerwell: Ah Sir Peter, I did not hear you arrive. There’s an infernal banging coming from somewhere.

Sir Peter Teazle: It’s the Girls’ School’s Woodwork Class: they seem to be building an extension into the Great North Road.

Snake: The Reverend Indulgence of St Giles’s Church is without.

Lady Sneerwell: He is always without. Show him in, but hide the valuables as he does not restrict his collections to Sundays.

The Reverend Indulgence enters, gazing about the room.

Indulgence: Ah My Lady, Sir Peter, what a charming room.

Lady Sneerwell: Indeed, Reverend Father, but don’t look so much as if you were taking an inventory:

Indulgence: Many apologies – I have got into bad habits – too many years collecting tithes with the Franciscan Order of Muscular Bailiffs. But the tables seem to be turning, as the School wishes to take over our nave.

Lady Sneerwell: Your knave? Who is this rogue and what business has the School with him?

Indulgence: The nave of the church – the bit you sit in.

Lady Sneerwell: I sit in a nave? Snake, remind me to become an atheist. On what grounds are they making this insolent request?

Indulgence: The school says that the church is under-used.

Sir Peter Teazle: What services do you hold?

Indulgence: Well 5 per diem and 7 on a Sunday. Matins, High Mass, Low Mass, Middle Mass, Vespers, Bible Readings and Tombola.

Then sundry Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals and Witch Dunkings.

Sir Peter Teazle: And are your services well attended?

Indulgence: Oh Yes, my flock are God fearing, particularly after I installed a number of paintings from the Spanish School. I learnt that tip from the Jesuits. Mainly scenes of Hell – although no pictures of Saints (or priests) being tortured to death. As popular as it is for the Iberians, I deemed it conveyed the wrong message. The paintings just by the confessionals are particularly gruesome.

Lady Sneerwell: You have confessionals?

Indulgence: Oh yes – a good source of local gossip. Not all Papal practices are Bull. If the sinner is particularly penitent, or perhaps reluctant to make a true confession, we have a special area in the crypt. We managed to purchase some equipment that once belonged to Sir Francis Walsingham, Good Queen Bess’s spymaster – dusty but serviceable.

The cries from the crypt often supplement the choristers’ efforts, particularly in the upper register.

The sound of a bell urgently ringing.

Ah I must go, I hear the Church bell – the Verger rings it when the School is preparing an assault. Apparently it is Year 6 with a bevy of Estate Agents.

Scene II Six Months Later.

Snake: Miss Julia, My Lady.

Lady Sneerwell: Julia, how pale you are, my child! Can we book you as a ghost at our next Eve of All Hallows bash? It would be good if you emerge from the secret door just as Sir Benjamin Backbite is passing. He has a weak heart and I am the chief beneficiary.

Sir Peter Teazle: What subjects are you studying? I hope you are keeping up with your History.

Julia: Oh yes, The Highland Clearances are very popular. The School is calling building the Prep School underground ‘The Lowland Clearances’. And I am in the school play. Of course, being underground, the ceilings are low so we are staging She Stoops to Conquer. But Board Games are the real rage. ‘Homes under the Jack Hammer’ and our favourite … Monopoly.

Lady Sneerwell: An interest in property is never mis-placed.

Julia: Of course the new exchange student, a French girl, Elisa Bonaparte, feigns lack of interest in local acquisitions. She says that her family’s ambitions are far wider, though her brother is a mere artillery officer. Hardly a big shot.

Sir Peter Teazle: Perhaps in a way……

Julia: Monopoly is a super game. You take over as much property as you can and build regardless. Green for a house, Red for a hotel and Purple for a School, which obliterates all properties on all adjacent squares.

Sir Peter Teazle: And what about your sports?

Julia: Well in addition to the ‘Tommy’s Triathlon’ – Huntin’, Shootin’ etc. Tommy’s are teaching us Riding.

Lady Sneerwell: Riding, surely not with horses? Ponies perhaps or a charming, small phaeton?

Julia: Oh no horses involved. The local stables were demolished to make way for the Assembly Hall. No it’s riding roughshod over the wishes of the locals. It’s the new rage.

Sir Peter Teazle, Lady Sneerwell and Snake: Tis indeed a School for Scandal.

Kevin Kiernan



Railway Murder

Thefts and crime were common as the new railway network became popular. But the first murder did not take place until 1864, when Thomas Briggs was killed by Franz Muller.

As early railway travel became popular with the travelling public, luggage thefts were common and violent robberies occurred from time to time. Many opponents of the railways painted a gloomy picture of the prospect which faced the lone passenger in the unlit carriages. Trains in those days were not corridor connected, and men were robbed and women assaulted often enough to provide pessimists and hostile sections of the press with plenty of material.

The first railway murder, however, did not occur until 1864. It was one of the most sensational crimes of the century.

On Saturday, 9 July 1864, the 9.50pm train from Fenchurch Street on the North London Railway arrived at Hackney at 10.11pm.Two bank clerks entered an empty first class carriage and sat down, immediately noticing blood in the carriage. They called the guard who examined the compartment and found blood all over the cushions and the off-side door. He also found a black beaver hat, a stick, and a bag.

The guard locked the door, telegraphed Chalk Farm station, and on arrival there told the stationmaster. The carriage was detached and sent to Bow for examination and the hat and other articles were handed to the Metropolitan Police.

At 10.20pm, the driver of a train travelling in the opposite direction saw something between Hackney Wick and Bow Stations. He stopped the train and found an unconscious, severely injured man. The victim was Thomas Briggs, chief clerk of a bank. He was nearly seventy years old and died of his wounds the following night.

The bag and stick found in the compartment were identified as Briggs’. The hat was not identified and provided an initial clue in the form of the address of the maker at Crawford Street, Marylebone. Robbery was evidently the motive for the murder because Briggs’ gold watch and chain, and gold eye-glasses could not be found. The publicity given to this unique crime caused an outcry as railway passengers campaigned for better protection. The Government and the bank which employed Briggs offered substantial rewards for information.

The first important information came from a jeweller named John Death. He gave a description of a German man, who called at his shop in Cheapside on 11 July and exchanged a gold chain, later identified as Briggs’.

A week later, a cabman told police that he found a small cardboard box bearing the name ‘Death’ in his home. It had been given to one of his children by a young German named Franz Muller, formerly engaged to his eldest daughter. Enquiries showed that Muller had sailed for New York on 15 July. The cabman also stated that the black beaver hat found in the train was one purchased by him on behalf of Muller at the Marylebone address. He gave police a photograph of Muller and Death, the jeweller, identified him as the man who had exchanged the gold chain.

Muller was linked with the property stolen from the murdered man and with the hat found in the compartment. A warrant for his arrest was granted by the chief magistrate at Bow Street and on 19 July, Inspector Tanner and Sergeant Clarke left Euston for Liverpool. On 20 July they sailed for New York on a steamship and reached there on 5 August, three weeks before Muller. He was arrested and searched and in his possession were found the missing watch and a hat believed to be Briggs’. Extradition proceedings began on 26 August and on 3 September the officers left for England with their prisoner.

On 27 October 1864, Muller appeared at the Old Bailey. Evidence for the prosecution was given by several railway witnesses including the ticket collector who punched Briggs’ ticket at the beginning of his fateful journey, the guard of the 9.50pm train, and the driver who found the body.

Muller’s defence was an alibi – he tried to prove he was elsewhere at the time of the murder. One defence witness stated he had seen Briggs in the compartment with two other men, neither of whom he recognised as the prisoner. Another witness, a prostitute, said Muller was with her at the material time.

The defence also suggested that the hat left in the compartment might have belonged to the cabman who could have been the murderer. Muller, who had a previous conviction for larceny, asserted his innocence to the end but was found guilty on the strongest possible evidence.He was publicly executed amid scenes of drunkenness and disorder which contributed to the ultimate abolition of these exhibitions.

Briggs’ murder was the first to take place on the British railway and the pursuit across the Atlantic caught the imagination of the public in much the same way as the Crippen case fifty years later. As a direct result of the murder, communication cords that allowed passengers to contact train staff were installed in all carriages. If Briggs had been able to pull the communication cord, he might have been able to save his life.


The Monument’s Sculpture

The sculpture on the west panel of the pedestal, facing Fish Street Hill, is a basso-relievo by Caius Gabriel Cibber, the sculptor, which represents the King affording protection to the desolate City and, freedom to its rebuilders and inhabitants.

The design is allegorical and displays a female figure, representing the City of London, sitting on ruins in a languishing condition, her head hanging down, her hair dishevelled and her left hand lying carelessly upon her sword; behind is Time with his wings and bald head, gradually raising her up. Another female figure by her side gently touches her with one hand and, with a winged sceptre in the other, points upwards to two goddesses sitting in the clouds, one with a cornucopia, denoting Plenty, the other having a palm branch in her left hand, signifying Peace. At her feet is a bee-hive, denoting Industry, by which the greatest difficulties can be surmounted. Beneath the figure of London, in the midst of the ruins, is a dragon supporting a shield bearing the arms of the City of London. Over her head are shown houses burning and flames breaking out through the windows. Behind Time is a group of citizens raising -their hands in encouragement.

Opposite these figures is a pavement of stone raised with three or four steps, on which stands King Charles II in Roman costume, with a baton in his right hand and a laurel wreath on his head, corning towards the City of London, and commanding three of his attendants to descend to her relief. The first represents Science, with a winged head and a circle of naked boys dancing on it, and in her hand a figure of Nature with her numerous breasts ready to give assistance to all. The second is Architecture holding in the right hand a plan, and in the left, a square and compasses. The third figure is Liberty waving a cap in the air.

Behind the King stands his brother, the Duke of York, holding in one hand a garland to crown the rising city, and in the other an uplifted sword for her defence. The two figures behind are justice with a coronet, and Fortitude with a reined lion. Above these figures are represented houses in building and labourers at work. Lastly, underneath the stone pavement on which the King stands, is a figure of Envy gnawing a heart and emitting contagious fumes from her envenomed mouth.

Cibber had to be got out of The Marshalsea Prison at times where he had gone for unpaid gambling debts. The Monument is 202 ft in height, being equal to the distance westward from the bakehouse in Pudding Lane where the fire broke out.  It took six years to construct 1671 – 1677.  The balcony is reached by a spiral stairway of 311 steps and affords panoramic views of the metropolis. Each step is exactly 6 inches high.  A superstructure rises from the balcony and supports a copper vase of flames. Originally it was to be a sculpture of King Charles 11 to which he objected. The very top of the edifice has a hinged lid and the spiral staircase surrounds a void (rather than a solid shaft) so the whole height can be used by a giant pendulum, or as a telescope. Robert Hooke’s laboratory’ is a room below ground not normally open to the public. The scientific nature of the Monument did not work out as the noise and vibrations from the carts on cobbles negated Wren and Hooke’s intentions.