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I have to confess to being very envious of Mike Rendell for the amount of family papers he has still in his possession (including a Geneva Bible and reports about the death of Oliver Cromwell).

Youtube has a recording of a talk he did in February 2013 at the Museum of London, entitled A Haberdashery Shop on London Bridge: Journal of a Georgian Gentleman.  In this talk Mike uses the many documents left by his ancestor, Richard Hill (1729-1801) to talk about life in Georgian England.

Richard’s grandparents had not been poor.  They had been wealthy landowners but like so many in 1720 they were caught up in the South Sea Bubble.  This meant that his father, Francis, had to seek employment for the first time.  Mike comments:

“This was not an easy task, because he had no trade or qualification. He came to London seeking training and found that the Livery Companies had a stranglehold on apprenticeships – and they had strict rules on age at admission. Francis had already passed his 21st birthday and was ineligible. He therefore had no alternative but to head south of the Thames, to the somewhat rough area of Southwark, because here the long arm of the Livery Company could not reach. 

Southwark was a haunt of hookers, pimps and pick-pockets. There were dozens of public houses and doss houses within a stone’s throw of his home in Red Lion Street, just on the edge of the area known as Bridgefoot.

Francis obtained an apprentice-ship as a hosier, making silk stockings. The money was to be made in the embroidery – a hosier could charge three times the amount for a well embroidered stocking than for a plain one. Francis served a 7 year apprenticeship before qualifying in late 1727. He married the following year and in 1729 their only child Richard Hall was born.”

Young Richard recorded many fact including that he was breeched at the age of 3½ years of age ie he was put into breeches for the first time, and the fascinating fact that if you crossed a long-necked animal such as a camel with a spotted creature leopard what you got was a giraffe!  Whilst the older Richard recorded details of his illnesses, the number of falls taken by his wife and the amount of wine and sugar purchased.

What is true fantastic is that Richard Hall kept all the paperwork of his ordinary life such as shopping lists and instructions on how to identify a counterfeit coin or bank note.

In his notebook of “Observables” Richard even recorded two earthquakes which were felt in London on 8th February and 8th March 1750.  Two interesting points arise from this.  One is that as a result everyone expected that a third quake would be felt on 8th April and so grid-lock occurred in London as people tried to flee the capital.  The other is that Bishop of London identified the cause of the earthquakes as God’s response to the publication of John Cleland’s infamous Fanny Hill.  As we know no third earthquake occurred and the novel has been re-published and read by many generations and so far no further punishment has been meted out.

Richard became a haberdasher like his father and took advantage of opportunities which came his way.  Mike reports that

“Meanwhile things were changing in London at the old bridge.. it was simply no longer fit for purpose. Someone has described it as a wall with gaps in it – and certainly it was hopeless for shipping, which could only go through the arches for a couple of hours either side of high tide, and then only with a great deal of care and good fortune. Equally for pedestrians, crossing the bridge was a nightmare with obstructions from houses, shops gateways etc.

In 1759 work commenced to take out the central pier and to widen the archway to allow ships to pass freely. The carriageway was also widened to 46 feet

In the following year the Great Stone Gate, for so long a bottleneck, was dismantled

And in 1762 the last of the buildings on the bridge was pulled down

The next year saw the formation of a new pedestrian access onto the bridge direct from St Magnus the Martyr Church

This left the Corporation of London owning a small piece of land just inside the City boundaries, on the other side of the road to St Magnus, and the decision was made to lease it to Richard in 1766 so that he could build a shop with a four-bedroom house above.

[The] map by Horwood shows the site of One London Bridge, on the corner of Lower Thames Street, on the other side of the road to the church…Richard noted down all the construction costs, and building right by the river obviously wasn’t cheap. The Corporation had granted him a 61 year lease at an annual ground-rent of just under £28 a year. He entered into an agreement with Mr Pounder the builder to put up the building for £850 with another £228/7/7d for surveyors fees and sundry extras. In addition he allowed £5/16 shillings for wall papering

However, perhaps the saddest story recorded is the death of Richard’s wife, Eleanor, at the age of only 46.  She was fine at breakfast, had a headache at lunchtime and was dead in the evening.  Richard, ever the fine worker of silhouettes and paper cutting produced a most magnificent, circular piece which Mike believes were of the dimensions suitable for it to be carried in his fob-watch.  Although there is clear evidence that Richard was effected by the sudden death of his wife he still remarried – in a matter of months, to a relative, some twenty years his junior.  His children were not happy and, in fact Mike comments on the fact that they never really spoke thereafter.

This is a truly witty and informative story of a real Georgian gentleman.

Visit Mike Rendell’s blog at http://blog.mikerendell.com/

To read the full transcript or to watch the presentation go to http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/a-haberdashery-shop-on-london-bridge-journal-of-a-georgian-gentleman or go to Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqD90aqD3vE).  To purchase a copy of the book from the author go to Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/1846245230/ref=dp_olp_0?ie=UTF8&condition=all)