The Precinct of Well
Close ~ Wellclose Square
See here for the history of the areas that became part of the
Liberties of the Tower of London. By Letters Patent of 1686, King James II
included the areas of Minories, the Old Artillery Ground and
Wellclose among the Tower Liberties, although the Tower held
land in the area. Right [b+w version is in higher resolution] is Stow / Strype's map of c1720 showing the areas involved (Wellclose Square, formerly known
as Marine Square, is in the top right), and part of the 1878 Vestry map. The western edge of the
Precinct of Wellclose was
Well Street [now Ensign Street], its southern edge Neptune Street [now Wellclose Street], and
to the north was Graces Alley, later home to Wilton's Music Hall. See also Rosemary Lane
[now Royal Mint Street].
were the implications of this 'Liberty'? It meant
for the maintenance of law and order within the area lay with the
Governor of the Tower, sitting with appointed magistrates. They dealt
with all criminal charges, great and small, and those accused
were committed to Newgate for safe custody. In civil matters,
served as a Court of Record and Request for
the recovery of small debts (like
County Court), and had its own 'gaol of the Tower Royalty'. An example
of this alternative jurisdiction is from 1798, when at the Middlesex
sessions in July a group of men (including Lancelot Henry,
churchwarden at St George-in-the-East) stood accused of crimes (which
they denied), and were bailed, but claimed that as the alleged events
occurred within the Liberty the quarter sessions had no authority to
hear the case. (Click here for documents and transcript: we don't know the nature of the charges or the final
The Court House, on the south side of Wellclose Square at the corner with Neptune Street was erected some
time after 1687, and there are good records and pictures of the
building before demolition, including Barbon's staircase to the first floor. (In its latter years it was used as
a German club, and then became a
paint works - the courtroom became a storeroom, and the staircase was
painted in shiny cocoa brown.) The prison behind, on the
corner of Neptune [later Wellclose] Street, was
commonly known as the 'Sly House', because it was said that felons who
it left by a subterranean passage to the Tower and the docks, from
which the convict ship Success
left. The reality may have been more prosaic: it was used mainly for debtors who were tried at the local court. Right is the Watch House in the Square, c1925, used in earlier times by the nightwatchmen.
The landlord of the adjacent King's Arms (33
Wellclose Square, linked to what later became 211 St George Street) was
responsible for feeding the prisoners: a doorway beside its main
entrance led up a stone staircase to the first floor of the Court
House, and down to a courtyard and the prison. When the prison closed and the King's
Arms took over the site, the landlord would open the cells, with their
heavily-bolted doors, grilles, plank beds, fetters and straitjackets,
to visitors. Some of these fixtures have now been preserved at the Museum of
London, including inscriptions scratched with pine cones on the
wooden panels [right]. Among them is one to Stockley, who invented the 'pitch
which was clapped on victims' mouths to keep them silent; the
optimistic verse The
cupboard is empty, to our sorrow; let's hope it will be full to-morrow; and the pathetic
to remember the poor debtors, 1758. As many advertisements in the Times
show, in the 18th and early 19th centuries estate agents regularly left
prospectuses for East London properties (often sold by auction at Garraway's Coffee House in the City) at the King's Arms.
The freehold was sold in the 1880s, with Thomas Wasmuth as sitting
tenant and licensee (at least one of his children was baptized at St
George-in-the-East). It was demolished around 1912.
The Precinct's distinctive legal status gradually came to an end as new local government legislation took
effect: from 1855 (or earlier) the area fell under the jurisdiction of the local Magistrates' Court. But the traditional
on Ascension Day, continued until
1897 for the Liberty of Wellclose. The Lieutenant of the
accompanied by an escort of Tower warders, followed by officials and
schoolboys wearing ribbons
red, white and blue on their bosoms, and carrying willow
wands. These boys were the sons of soldiers quartered at the
parish churches, including St George's, also used to beat the
perambulating the borders with hymns and prayers - as this 1882 programme [left] shows: the event was also a farewell to Harry Jones as Rector. Right is a 1910 picture from the
Tower's own ceremony from 1910. The
tradition continues in some places, though with no legal significance.
Ill-fated theatres [see also Goodman's Fields]
Theatre [left] in Well Street was
built by subscription in 1786 and run by John 'Plausible' Palmer - a man of the most versatile and eminent talents, but destitute of prudence - but was not licensed. After the opening
performances of As You Like It and
the farce Miss in her Teens, the
profits given to the new London Hospital, it closed until a licence for the hybrid musical entertainments permitted by law - interludes, pantomimes
and other species of the irregular drama - was granted. Later
it fell into the hands of various
adventurers (Nightingale, London and
At some point a gasworks (with a 'gasometer') was built north of the
theatre, next to the stage, to provide lighting both for the theatre
(Palmer's brother Robert had taken part in a display of an 'Aeropyric
Branch' at the Lyceum in 1789 which was probably a demonstration of gas
lighting) and for the neighbourhood, a prosperous manufacturing district, at
an annual profit of £1,000. The Chartered Gas, Light & Coke Co.
bought this 'East London Gas Works' plus the theatre at auction in
1820. In April 1826 the scenery above the stage caught fire during a
performance of Kendrick the Accursed,
for which half a pound of powder was used to simulate the eruption of
Mount Etna; apparently the gas lights beside the stage had not been
turned off. The firemen could only stand at either end of the theatre and throw the water on the flames as well as they could; there was more concern about the two adjacent sugar refineries. All that survived was the grand piano snatched from the green room by an unknown sailor. A
replacement building, the Royal Brunswick [right], was erected in seven months, with a heavy iron
roof. A few days after it opened on 28 February 1828, during a rehearsal of Guy Mannering, the roof fell
in, crushing to death Mr Maurice, one of the proprietors, and twelve
others. See here for the story of the acquisition of the site for the Sailors' Home.
In a district where
most building projects were piecemeal and chaotic, Wellclose Square
(originally known as Marine Square) and the smaller Prince's Square to the east were the
only planned developments of their time, and even here (as noted below)
the houses were of various periods, and were constantly being modified,
extended and rebuilt. Nicholas Barbon (c1640-98) was its principal developer. His full name was Nicholas If-Jesus-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barbon, given by his Puritan father Praisegod Barbon (Barebone), leather-seller, MP, fanatical anti-monarchist and general nuisance. Returning
from Holland in the 1670s, Nicholas was a major speculator in the West
End, leasing plots from the Crown
in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, seeing an opportunity to
provide houses for well-to-do
merchants. He also acquired three sites in East London, paying £3,200
for the freehold of Wellclose Square (though he was slow in making
payment). In 1682-3 he cleared the site and laid out a square with
diagonal passageways at each corner, to insulate it from the noise and
dirt of the surrounding area and maximise the frontages. (Of these
passageways, only Grace's Alley on the NW corner remains, plus the now
un-named cut-through on the SW, variously known in the 19th century as
Harrrod's, Harad's, Harrald's and Hard's Court or Place; Ship Alley on
the SE corner and North East Passage have disappeared. Shorter [now
Fletcher] and Neptune [now Wellclose] Streets connected the square
respectively to Cable Street
and The Highway.)
the south side Barbon built
two-storey houses with attics, with good-sized rooms and staircases
with twisted balusters. In 1680 Barbon opened a fire insurance office
at the Royal Exchange, and in 1683 one of the first schemes was set up
in the Square, with a permanent engine housed on the north side. His
convoluted commercial practices - assigning or mortgaging leases to
others - are described in detail by Elizabeth McKellar inThe Birth of Modern London: the Development & Design of the City 1660-1720 (1999). Barbon's contemporary Roger North, a lawyer and biographer, commented his
house in the morning [is] like a court, crowded with suitors for money.
And he kept state, coming down at his own time like a magnifico, in
deshabille, and so to discourse with them. And having very much work,
they were loath to break finally, and upon a new job taken they would
follow and worship him like an idol, for then there was fresh money.
houses on the
north side were later and larger. At no.26 was a house with
Venetian windows, with a five-bay boarded house behind. Despite the
Fire, houses were built or rebuilt in timber, and Roger Guillery in The Small House in Eighteenth Century London: A Social and Architectural History (2004) comments these were not modest houses, and they incorporated fashionable classical embellishments, like the ground floor Serliana.
A number of the
houses were originally occupied by Scandinavian timber merchants. In the chapter
on Wellclose Square in their informative book Wapping 1600-1800: A Social History of an Early Modern London Maritime Suburb
(East London Historical Society 2009) Derek Morris and Ken Cozens list
a number of local families, identified from insurance policies, court
records and wills, including
- the German-Norwegian brothers Georg(e) & Ernst Wolff: the timber trading firm of Wolff, Dorville & Ernest was originally
established in East Kent but moved to London in 1767 at no.21 and
no.20 before moving to larger premises near the Minories as
Wolffs and Dorville.
Georg [right] had become a Methodist - he
accommodated John Wesley at his home during a period of illness, and
was one of his executors - and was also one of the founders of the British & Foreign Bible Society.
He was also the Danish-Norwegian consul from
1787 - run from the family home / workshop in the Square (though later he also had a house in Balham) - see here for the later fate of these premises.
Ernst produced a
dictionary, a ready reckoner for timber pricing, and a history of the Danish & Norwegian Church in the Square.
|References to Wolff in John Wesley's Journal: 1783: 28.02, 04.06, 17.12; 1784: 18.02; 1785: 04.08 (Balham); 1786: 04.01; 1787: 03.01,12.12 (Ballam) (Testament); 1788: 14.01 (Bal[h]am. sermon), 18.01 (Mrs Wolff), 21.02, (Bal[h]am (sermon), 13.11; 1789: 20.01 (letters), 01.12 (Bal[h]am); 1790: 20.01, 16.02 (Tuesday: I retired to Balham for a few days, in order to finish my sermons and put all my things in order), 18.02 (Thursday: 3 with Mrs Wolff, Wandswor[th], 8 Balham, supper), 02.10, 06.11(at Mr. Wolff's, christened), 29.12; 1791: 31.01.
next generation departed somewhat from Lutheran / Methodist piety, and
were less fortunate in business. Georg's son Jens, who inherited the consulate from his father, has been described as a'virtually unrewarded' hero of the Danes - see Den Danske Kirke i London 1692-1992
- and was the last person to be interred in the vault below the Danish
church, in 1845, then in the hands of Bo'sun Smith with whom he had
been in conflict. His wife Isabella had a long-standing affair with Sir Thomas Lawrence,
from some time after he began his portrait of her in 1803 until her
divorce in 1813; two years later his picture [left], depicting her as the
Ethyrean Sibyl from the Sistine chapel, apparently examining a book of
Michaelangelo's engravings, was exhibited at the Royal Academy, and is
now at the Art Institute of Chicago. (Some observers note that she
appears to have no clavicle.) Georg's daughter Elizabeth married John Dorville,
but had an equally nororious liasion with the noted naturalist George
Montague, producing two children, who took her husband's surname -
Henry and Elizabeth Dorville.
The firm of Wolffs & Dorville traded from New Bridge Street, near Blackfriars, and flourished until
they went bankrupt in 1812, largely because Britain was at war with
Denmark/Norway (having led the attack on Copenhagen in 1807) during the
Dano-Swedish War of 1808-09, so they lost their access to the banks, though trade was still good. (See here
for a legal case of 1817.)
The Norwegian art historian Ada Polak produced her doctoral thesis Wolffs og Dorville: Et norsk-engelsk handelshus i London under Napoleonskrigene: En kulturhistorisk skildring (Oslo 1968 - with English summary) on the history of the family, including their links with Methodism. Peder Borgen, George Wolff (1736-1828): Norwegian-born Merchant, Consul, Benevolent Methodist Layman, Close Friend of John Wesley in Methodist History 40:1 (2001), gives more detail of his life - longer version available in Norwegian!
The Danish & Norwegian Church
was built in the centre of the Square in 1694 [on the site now occupied by St Paul's
Primary School, next to which is now another primary
Shapla, opened in 1987]. In 1724 Daniel
in A Tour thro' the
Whole Island of Great Britain, Well
Close, now call'd Marine Square, was so remote from houses, that it
used to be a very dangerous place to go over after it was dark, and
many people have been robbed and abused in passing it; a well (also known as Goodman's Fields Well) standing
in the middle, just where the Danish Church is now built, there the
mischief was generally done. This remained true a century later, when G.C. (Bo'sun) Smith established several seafarers' institutions (described here) in connection with the church.
- the family of Captain Hugh Raymond
(1674-1737), a shipbuilder, involved in the slave trade, and one of the
Governors of the South Sea Company
- when the bubble burst in 1720 a detailed inventory of his house in
the Square was taken and he was liable for £34,000 (half his estate).
- the family of Peter Rohde [or Rhode] (1710-62): born in Meldorf, Holstein, he took a wife from Easingwold, Yorkshire; he and their sons Casten
and Major were sugar refiners. Major bought a house in Bromley Common from Admiral Cornwallis in the 1780s.
Left are detailed maps of the area by John Rocque (1742) and Horwood
(1792). In 1815 Nightingale
described it as a
pretty little neat square. But it was not all housing: a sugar refinery
was built in the square by 1794 (and by 1854 there were five). There premises, at no.48, were used
until 1851 in turn by Pritzler, Engell, Martineau, and Henrickson. It
was still listed as a sugarhouse in the 1861 and 1871 censuses, but was
taken over, together with no.49, as a pickle factory by George Whybrow
and Sons, variously described as export oilmen, oil merchants and Italian warehousemen.
The firm began trading around 1825 and had other premises at 4 Minories
and 10 Royal Mint Street. One of their sites had a steam-powered lift
between the floors. They manufactured pickles, sauces, bottled fruits
and other goods, imported capers, salad oil and castor oil and exported
to the colonies, especially Australia - detailed in this advertisement from the Australian Handbook of 1877, which pictures the Wellclose Square works and quotes from a testimonial in The Grocer of 22 May 1875:
|WHYBROW'S POPULAR "RELISH"
All the rage being now for cheap and popular Sauces, we have little
doubt that the "Relish" prepared by Mr. GEORGE WHYBROW, of 48,
Wellclose Square, and sold in neatly got-up bottles at the price of
6d., will command a large sale. Any one who tastes the Sauce will
perceive that in the matter of ingredients it has been carefully
prepared, and it has a sharp piquant flavour, which will be found very
agreeable. Like other similar Sauces, it may be used with almost any
description of Cold Meats, &c., and in such cases it will be found
a pleasant accessory.
Their pickle jars and bottles [right] are now collectors' items.
George died in 1873, and the 1881 census shows 48 & 49 Wellclose
Square as uninhabited - they had moved to new premises at 290 Cable Street, between Bewley and Albert Streets, shown right on Goad's 1899 insurance map prior to closure. His relatives Francis and Henry took on the
business for a time, but their partnership was dissolved in 1885.
Francis continued to run it; an attempt to re-finance it failed in
1897. It was wound up in 1899, and an order of the Chancery court was made the following March for the sale of the lease,
goodwill, stock-in-trade and fixtures of the business of Pickle
Manufacturers for many years carried on by George Whybrow Limited, and
their predecessors at 290 Cable-street Shadwell together with trade marks, plant and machinery and the option of purchasing current book debts.
The Economist, commented in 1897 on
the growing absence of financial particulars in prospectuses, and gave this company as an example. The reason why such
figures were not included is presumably because the company had ceased
to be profitable!
|Or take the case
of George Whybrow, Limited, where investors are asked to acquire, at a
cost of £60,000, the business of a pickle, sauce, &c, manufacturer.
As the business was established in the beginning of the present
century, it would obviously be possible to show what the profits have
been over a series of years; but instead of any particulars of the
kind, we are treated to an estimate of what the company is going to
earn in the future, and are asked to reflect upon the profitable
natures of such joint-stock companies as Maple and Co., J. & P.
Coats, Harrod's Stores, A. and F. Pears, the leading drapery
companies, Price's Candle Co., Bryant and May's, and Guinness. Could
anything be more absurd?
George Francis became a banker and speculator, based at the Cable
Street address. He was the managing director of one of
the first sawmills in Papua New Guinea, owned by Pacific and Papua Produce Ltd., at Manu Manu, at the mouth of Galley Reach (near Port Moresby, where there was an Anglican mission station). The Pacific Island Monthly vol 26 (1956) describes how he arranged for the massive steam boiler to be delivered by sea.
As well as those linked to the Bo'sun Smith's church, the Square housed other hostels
and other welfare organisations, including the Jewish Joel Emanuel Almshouse (a trust which continues to the present day, based in north London) - shown on 1868 map right in the south-west corner - and at no.32 the Hand in Hand Home for Aged and Decayed Tradesmen,
founded in 1840 and previously based at 5 Duke's Place from 1843, and
22 Jewry Street from 1850 before moving to the Square in 1854, and again in 1878 to 23 Well Street, Hackney.
This was one of a trio of organisations set up to protect members of
the Jewish community, for whom care and respect for the elderly and
needy is a core priority; the Poor Law
system failed to meet their social, religious and dietary needs. The
other two were the Widow's Home Asylum (founded 1843, and from
1857-1880 at 67 Great Prescott [Prescot] Street - more here)
and the Jewish Workhouse or Home (1871). The three later came together
in Hackney and Stepney Green and merged in 1894, moving to Nightingale
Lane in Wandsworth Common in 1907. (Now known as Nightingale,
in 2001 it was the largest Jewish residential and nursing home in
Europe. Ted 'Kid' Lewis, a local Jewish boxer, whose story is noted here, was a resident from 1966 until his death in 1970.) See here for a Jewish orphanage elsewhere in the parish which also became the basis of a present-day trust elsewhere.
In the 19th century no.6 housed the office of the St George-in-the-East Poor Law Guardians. Two timber-framed
buildings reflecting the 18th century maritime history of the area, and
which remarkably survived later reconstruction, were the cottage at
no.26, at the corner of Stable Yard (with a Venetian attic window) [pictures 1 & 2; 3 & 4 show front and rear in 1943], and no.27, in the yard behind, a 'colonial-style' house of four storeys and cellar [pictures 5 & 6 (1 Sept 1911) - the sign reads Everett & Co, though earlier the sugar bakers Ellerman had been based here].
years Wellclose Square had a number of notable residents, and became
something of a
haven for free-thinkers, before it fell into decline. Indeed, from
1744-62 it housed a small dissenting academy, in the home of Dr Samuel Morton Savage (1721-91).
Students boarded with families, and the library and lectures
were in the house. Morton taught classics and mathematics, and Dr David
Jennings, the Principal, taught theology.
Other notable residents included:
- Emmanuel Swedenborg
(1688-1772) - more here.
- Sir Felix Feast, brewer, freeman and briefly Sheriff of London; here in the early years of the 18th century he brought up Richard Cooper
(1700-64), orphaned at the age of nine, who moved to Edinburgh around 1727 and as
an engraver with architectural interests became a significant figure in
the Scottish enlightenment; he had also been associated with the
Swedish artist George Englehart Schröder (1684-1750), who drew Cooper's portrait [right] before returning to Sweden in 1725 and may have had connections with the Swedish Church in Prince's Square (for more details on all this, see Dr Joe Rock's site here).
Sir Felix died intestate in 1724, provoking a Chancery case (5 April
1726) about the provision made at the time of his marriage for his wife (she lived until in 1755) and future children.
- At the same address lived other brewers - Sir John Parsons
(knighted 1687, owner of the Red Lion Brewery, Lord Mayor of London
1702-03 and MP for Reigate for nearly 30 years until his death in 1704
- the owner of Reigate Priory from 1681), and Henry Parsons - see
An exact copy of the poll, At the chusing of Knights of the Shire for the County of Middlesex (1705). Here is a full biography.
- Thomas Bowrey (1662-1713), sea captain and free merchant,
probably from a Wapping family, who travelled and traded extensively in
the East Indies between 1669-88; he then married his cousin Mary
Gardiner, daughter of a Wapping apothecary, and settled in Wellclose
Square until their deaths (she outlived him by two years). He was a
Younger Brother of Trinity House, and is particularly remembered for
producing the first English-Malay dictionary in 1701 [his map of Malay-speaking areas right]. He also published travel writings, including a Geographical Account of the Countries round the Bay of Bengal 1669-1679, which includes this illustration [far right] and an account of how on the Bay of Biscay he and his colleagues observed the effect of communal drug-taking (bhang, made from crushed cannabis pods mixed with milk) and each bought a pint to try for themselves:
Bowrey's papers also included a Diary of a Six Week Tour in 1698 to Holland
and Flanders, Also The Story of the Mary Galley (1704-1710), and an
incomplete manuscript, in 'crabbed italic hand', Discription of the
Coast of Affrica from the Cape of Good Hope, to the Red Sea, dated 1708
(which was found in an old chest in a Worcestershire manor house in
1913, parts of which are now in the Guildhall Library in London; these
documents were published in the 1920s by the Hakluyt Society).
|It Soon tooke its Operation Upon most of us, but merrily, Save upon
two of our Number, who I suppose feared it might doe them harme not
beinge accustomed thereto. One of them Sat himselfe downe Upon the
floore, and wept bitterly all the Afternoone, the Other terrified with
feare did runne his head into a great Mortavan Jarre, and continue in
that posture 4 hours or more; 4 or 5 of the number lay upon the Carpets
(that were Spread in the roome) highly Complimentinge each Other in high
termes, each man fancyinge himself noe lesse than an Emperour. One was
quarrelsome and fought with one of the wooden Pillars of the Porch,
until he had left himselfe little Skin upon the knuckles of his fingers.
My Selfe and one more Sat sweating for the Space of 3 hours in
Exceeding Measure ...
- Dr Hayyim
Samuel Jacob Falk
(c1708-1782) [right] was a Kabbalistic rabbi and alchemist. Charged with
sorcery in his native Westphalia, he fled to London and settled in
Wellcose Square in 1742 where he lived until his death. The Jews of
London called him the 'Baal Shem of London' because of his alleged
miraculous or magical powers involving the divine Name. He kept a diary
of dreams and the Kabbalistic names of angels, now held in the library
of the United Synagogue in London.
- Revd Dr Henry Mayo
(1733-93), minister of the Independent Chapel in Nightingale Lane,
Wapping, known as the 'literary anvil' - more details here. He is not to be confused
with Dr Herbert Mayo, Rector of St George's during the same period.
Day (1748-89), author, politician and disciple of
Rousseau, though he lived most of later life at the family estate in
Barehill, Berkshire, was born in Wellclose Square, at a house which
went with his father's
job as 'Collector of the Customs Outward in the Port of London'.
variously numbered 31, 32 and 36 - right, in a drawing from John Adcock Famous London Houses and Literary Shrines of London (Dent 1912), and photo of 1920 - which until it was demolished bore a blue plaque. Day's
1773 poem The Dying Negro,
written with John Bicknell, was an early inspiration to the
anti-slavery campaign, and The
Devoted Legions (1776) argued for the rights of
the American colonists. He is most remembered for his children's book The
History of Sandford and Merton (1783) which
espouses Rousseau's ideals. Far right is a 1770 portrait by Joseph Wright (National Portrait Gallery). [In the 1820s and 1830s no.32 was the home of an engineer, John Hague
(c1781-1857) who registered various patents, including for sugar-blowing and hydraulic machinery, but was declared bankrupt in
1845, then living at Rotherhithe; it later housed a Jewish hostel - see
- William Consett Wright (1790-1873)
lived at no.50,
the home and office of his father Joseph (?) Wright's coal lightering
business, with a wharf at Ratcliff Cross; after attending various
Dissenting academies, he was
apprenticed to his father at the age of sixteen and was admitted to the
Lightermen and Watermen's Company in 1813. He took over the business
on his father's death in 1817, in partnership with a widowed relative
Sarah Wright since he had no sons. In 1825 he was also in partnership
with Samuel Harris, at Black Raven Court, Seething Lane, as flour
factors. [Three examples of judicial sentences for theft of his
property: in 1819 Samuel Lucas,
aged 20, for stealing eight bushels of coal, valued at 10s., from one
of their barges, was imprisoned for three months with whipping; in 1843
and Lawrence Riley, aged 12, and William Gilbert, aged 13, for stealing
80lb. of coal valued at 10d. were imprisoned for two (the older boy,
with a previous conviction, for three) months, with whipping; in 1840 Thomas Hilliard,
aged 42, for stealing 120lbs of rope, value £1, was
transported for seven years.) In
the 1830s he was accused of persistently 'deviating' - selling coal on
the Market contrary to the spirit of the Coal Exchange's principles.
But his business continued; in 1843 he moved his business to Limehouse,
with various new
partnerships including those with Henry RIdley Dale, and with Dale, E.
Perronet Sells and Gordon Surtees, at South Quay, Regent's Canal Dock,
and at the Coal Exchange, which were dissolved when he retired in 1859,
and Charrington's took
over the firm. By this time he had moved to Upper Clapton; later homes
were in Battersea, Croydon and Richmond, where he died. A Light in the West Indies 1810: Letters
exchanged between William Consett Wright, 'A Gentleman of
Respectability', and his Family during a Voyage to the Islands of St
Thomas and Santo Domingo were transcribed in Caribbean Studies 6.4 and 7.1 (January and April 1967) - in one of which, posted to Hayti [sic], his mother asked him to bring back pine-apples or other fruit. His Scottish son-in-law Dr John Dauglish,
who found Scottish bread insipid and suffered from dyspepsia, is
credited with the invention of aerated bread; he was also a writer, on
political questions of the day.
next residents of no.50 were scientists John Thomas Quekett (1815-61) [pictured], founder of the Royal
Microscopical Society, and his brother (also a histologist and miscroscopist) Edwin John Quekett. They came to live next door to their older brother William at no.51, who was the first
Vicar of Christ Church Watney Street. Here is an 1841 paper by Edwin for the Medical Gazette, 'On the Production of Ergot of Rye'.
- Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward
(1791-1868) invented around 1829 the terrarium or 'Wardian case' [examples pictured left], a
dry version of
an aquarium, because his ferns were being
the London air. He was the son and assistant of Stephen Smith Ward, who
practised medicine in the Square, and succeeded him in the practice.
In the 19th century, several
printing presses were established in the area, including those of
Samuel Braund Clouter at 39 Wellclose Square / 1 Ship Alley in 1825 (described as a stationer, bookseller, dealer and chapman of Bristol, he had been declared bankrupt in Birmingham in 1815; he died as a wholesale stationer in the parish of St George Bloomsbury in 1833);
Henry Catmur at 14 Ship Alley in 1825; and Henry Abraham at 8 Wellclose
Square in 1835. No.6 became the base of the Poor Law Guardians and the Superintendent Registrar for St George's East District.
Later years: decline and fall
- Jan Hendrik [John Henry] Vorstius (1827-1879) was the son of a wealthy Amsterdam stockbroker - family arms shown right
- but having settled in London and anglicized his forenames, in 1851
married Charlotte Crawford, née Vardey, a 23-year old widow with a 2
year old son, at St John of Wapping. She was living with her stepfather
William Johnson at 83 St George Street, described in the 1851 census as
a 'beer seller'; Jan/John was more grandly described in the wedding
register as a 'licensed victualler'. The had six children, baptized at
St John of Wapping. By 1855 (when their son Alfred Edward was born - he
married in 1871) they were living at no.10 Wellclose Square and he was a
'cab proprietor'; the same profession was given in the 1871 census,
when they were at 224 St George Street, though in 1861 (at Hill Street)
he was described as a 'coachman'. What brought him to the area, and why
did he stay? More details here.
died in the Square in 1879. With William Smith he
'Billy and Charley'
forgeries of antiquities, which dealers bought
despite the fact that the lettering was a meaningless jumble.
1872: an article claimed that a notice at
the entrance to the Prussian Eagle
tavern, in Ship Alley (a meeting-place for Germans, with a
well-used dance hall upstairs, with one of the various 4- or 6-piece
German bands providing music) read All persons are requested,
before entering the dancing saloon, to leave at the bar their pistols
and knives, or any other weapon they may have about them. This
may be a myth, but Melville McNaughton, later Assistant Commissioner at
New Scotland Yard, recalled visiting as a young constable, when dancing
was carried on by German ladies, and sailors of all nationalities, and
the sight of a drawn knife or two was not infrequent. [1872 map right shows the various institutions.]
1896: Herbet Elliott Hamblen, in On Many Seas - the Life and Exploits of a Yankee Sailor (1896) describes a boarding house in Ship Alley [Shipal Passage] as a
little dingy hole ... kept by a German lady, Almena by name. She was a
partially reformed denizen of The Highway who had taken to herself a
Norwegian sailor for a consort ... her right hand grasped a quart
pewter pot of 'arf an' 'arf (p118). Israel Zangwill, in Ghetto Comedies (1907), tells the tale of a man and his family who found lodging in the cellar of 25 Ship Alley, the home of Baruch Zezanski: It
was pitch black. They say there is a hell. This may or may not be, but
more of a hell than the night we passed in this cellar one does not
require. Every vile thing in the world seemed to have taken up its
abode therein. We sat the whole night sweeping the vermin from us (The Model of Sorrows, p20).
See here for 1911
and 1934 accounts of the Square.
Left is Ship Alley, then and now, and right a picture of 1944. and two from the early 1960s.
1951: in The
East End of
London, when many of the old houses were still
standing, but much-damaged in the war, Millicent Rose wrote
was never designed as a whole, and the individuals who lived there were
continually ornamenting the fronts of their houses or even rebuilding
them entirely. To this day it is like a sampler of our domestic
building, from the south side houses which date, some of them, from the
1690s, to those on the north, where there is a tall, warmly coloured
group of the mid-18th century, while the houses to east and west
many of them somewhat later. One on the west side shows the
weather-boarded country style which was once so common all over the
East End, and which fire and decrepitude have so consistently
destroyed. It is a graceful and sophisticated example of the style,
with a pretty Venetian window, but having been allowed to fall derelict
during the war, it cannot survive much longer. In the north-west corner
there is another interesting house, whose façade has been dressed up
with delightful reliefs; this too is derelict. ..... In its
square must have been a most agreeable place. The houses to the east
were the largest, and with their gardens stretching behind them right
to the back gardens of Prince's Square, and their big front windows
looking onto the church with its bower of plane trees, they were
considered the most desirable. .... Prince's Square with its
Church was in every respect a smaller, less fashionable Wellclose, and
here there are other pleasant houses, the oldest of them dating back to
the first laying-out of thse square in the 1720's. .... A close
juxtaposition of handsome square and wretched slum was usual all over
Georgian London, but nowhere more striking than in this riverside
region. From three sides and from the four corners of Wellclose Square
run seven little alleys that keep their original contours and are still
built chiefly with rows of humble cottages. All led directly into what
was, for three centuries, one of the noisiest, dirtiest, and most
disreputable quarters in London. Turn into Shipal Passage, and twenty
paces will bring you to the Ratcliff Highway.|
1967 & 1968:
here are two wistful drawings showing the potential of the Square and
what might have been saved. The first is by Noel Gibson, and the second
by Geoffrey Fletcher who wrote The
devastation of the square was pitiful to see. I only saw one man all
the time I paced the square, and he had one foot in the grave. The
April evening was chill and the sky overcast, but a blackbird warbled
in the plane trees, introducing impromptu variations and evidently
trying to keep his courage up. The half dozen Georgian terraced houses
left on the north side looked indescribably weary and exhausted, their
bricks crumbling and their stucco returning to sand. Grass was coming up on the pavement.
The story of the
demolition of the remaining houses, and the 'redevelopment' of the area, is told here. In a shed at the rear of no.37 an oak carved sacrament cupboard or aumbry, dating from the early 16th century, possibly French in origin, was found. Right is a still from 'Poppy', a 1975 episode of The Sweeney,
showing St Paul's School in the background, and a view of the site
between St Paul's School and The Highway where subterranean electrical
cabling [far right] is under way. network Wapping is campaigning for a creative use
of this site when this work is completed, hoping to build on Tower Hamlets' new conservation
area of 2008 centred on Wilton's Music Hall and Wellclose
Square. For further comment, see Will Palin on 'This unfortunate and ignored locality' in Spitalfields Life (December 2012).
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