Who shot Edward Vyse in the head? The Corn Law Riots, 1815

In 1815 the soldiers and sailors won the war against Napoleon but the government handed the victory to the landlords. They had profited from the high price of   grain during the war blockade, and so the government passed the Corn Law to forbid the import of Wheat until it reached 80 shilling a bushel. This was a de facto ban; it meant that the aristocrats could continue to benefit from high prices and the high rents that they supported.  It was passed by the Commons and Lords with the building surrounded by bayonets. The poor of London rioted because they knew that, having had 20 years of high food prices and poverty, the end of the war was not going to make their life easier.

The rioters were politically literate and aimed for the houses of those MPs who had actively supported the Corn Law. None of them died but their property was severely damaged. Two innocent bystanders did outside the house of Frederick John Robinson MP in Old Burlington Street. From earlier evening on a Tuesday his house was surrounded by a mob of about 60 throwing .Robinson was paying the price of introducing the Corn Bill to Parliament. However, his price was less than that of nineteen year old midshipman Edward Vyse, who was walking past the house and was hit with a shot from the pistol that was designed to scare the mob of boys outside. He died immediately at the scene.

Although this was a partisan class based piece of legislation, the rule of law meant that there would be an inquest, and an attempt to find the killer. One witness at the inquest was an Edward Howe, a messenger at the Board of Trade who asked one of the mob if he feared the soldiers shooting at them-“No, they dare not fire ball” he replied. It is clear that the rioters did not think they were living in a despotic state where the military fired at civilians.  Perhaps he also though that the firing of lethal shot was not part of the traditional choreography of the urban riot.

On the second day of the inquest a Corporal   Richard Burton gave evidence about the action of the six soldiers stationed there. The officer himself stressed that he was taking the advice of the constable, the civil power, and they both agreed to fire powder only. At eight thirty, when most of the Right Honourable member’s windows had been broken and his shutters were under attack, the soldiers opened fire, bit the balls of their cartridges so they were only producing smoke, and the young “rioters” cheered.

In this case, the cheerful rioters were wrong. About 10pm Edward Vyse, aged about 18, a navy midshipman, was shot in the head by persons unknown who were defending the Robinson house. Edward had been walking past the house, not towards it, in full uniform; there was no rioting or disturbances at that time-lots of witnessed attested to this. He had been killed instantly by a single cartridge ball from a pistol. A witness saw a soldier in the parlour wearing a foraging cap, who seemed to be responsible for the death. There were two other shots.

Corporal Burton admitted that there was at least one soldier with a foraging cap in the parlour at the time of Vyse’s death. There seemed to have been a real contradiction in evidence here; a soldier had fired under duress from the mobs attack at 8.30- but Edward Vyse had been killed at ten while he was merely passing the house, not trying to enter it. He father, a respectable artisan printer appeared as a sorrowful witness, backing up this narrative of events. The jury, clearly knowledgeable about these inquests, asked the coroner to keep the soldiers separate from Burton until the inquest continued. The Coroner regretted that he had no such power to do so.

Evidence from the Butler, James Ripley, suggested it seems that the fatal shot had not come from a military weapon but from rifles belonging to the household that had been loaded with the day before. Around 9pm an unidentified soldier had borrowed the rifle from Ripley and it was this that had been discharged into the street at about 10pm at Edward Vyse.

Corporal Burton could not offer any information about which of the six privates had fired the shot, so they we questioned individually. The witness George Ulph, private in the third regiment of Guards, was issued with 21 rounds of ball which he returned the next morning. He had not even fired shot. William Graves had returned all but one of his cartridges; he still had the balls he had bitten off in his pocket at home.

 With four soldiers left, the coroner separated those who had been nearest to the shooting from those who had been further way, and those further away were interrogated. These two could account for their ammunition, had never seen the man in the foraging cap, and were dismissed. Mathews and Herbert were clearly in the frame.

It proved impossible to prove who did the shooting. The Jury’s verdict was that Vyse was unlawfully murdered by persons unknown, and that the actions of the military were unconstitutional, as they had permission neither to enter   the house nor fire on the civilians outside.

James Ripley, the butler who provided pistols, Mathews and Herbert who were nearest the parlour and Richard Burton the corporal in charge must have breathed a sigh of guilty relief.



Let them eat stale bread. The diet of the poor in the Regency

Britain was running out of bread in 1800.The Napoleonic blockade was beginning to have an effect and British domestic production had not yet started to increase. Bread filled the bellies of the poor; children had dry bread for breakfast; workers had bread and cheese for their lunch; the workers wife’s had bread and lard ; drinkers had a salted herring and a slice of bread in the pub; everybody had  bread was the main accompaniment for scraps of bacon. Only on Sunday afternoon did bread not rule the house.

Something needed to be done, so in 1801 the government passed the Stale Bread Act. This did not, as the name may suggest, ban the sale of bread that was old and hard. Indeed it was the opposite; it was fresh bread that was banned. Bakers had to keep all loaves for 24 hours before selling them. This logic here was sound, but brutal. Stale bread did fill people up more, and added about 20% to the stomach filling capacity of the loaf. The government believed that up to 50% of all bread sold in the streets of London was hot, and eaten immediately as a snack. This indulgence by the poor could no longer be allowed

Bread consumption fell. Stale bread was also less pleasant to eat, so the government was also able to stop poor people being greedy. However, the Act lasted less than a year. Like many governmental panic measures through the ages, it turned out to be impossible to enforce. The government did try; they had draconian punishments for bakers and offered rewards to people offered fresh bread. They would receive half of the 5 shilling fine; the other half would be given to the poor. A second offence would mean that the bailiffs would take all   of the baker’ property. Many criminals made a living entrapping bakers into breaking the law.  

News of the arrest of bakers was always popular. People were very suspicious of them throughout the eighteenth century.  They were accused of   giving short weights (hence the bakers dozen being 13). Local city authorities, not usually ready to interfere in business, were more than happy to raid bakers and check their weights and measures. Some towns like Derby insisted that the bakers put their initials into each loaf so the bakers could be tracked down if necessary.

People did not, as a rule bake their own bread, so the bakers had a near monopoly. Most fireplaces in Britain were calamitously   inefficient   and it made no economic   sense to use fuel to bake at home. By 1800 poor people could no longer buy small amounts of flour at a reasonable price, as it was more profitable for millers, who were as unpopular as the bakers, to sell it to middlemen.

Bread consumption was reduced by people starving and living off other staples. The potato was unpopular; some people still believed that it was poisonous   and many resented the link with the Catholic Irish. It was regarded as watery and tasteless; outside of Lancashire, it was merely boiled to death. The North West had the advantage of a potato   industry in from the early eighteenth century, and then later on, am Irish diaspora which knew slight more about the tuber through regular and monotonous contact.

 By 1812, large numbers of farmers in Scotland were saved from death by the potato, and the working classes of Manchester were living off potatoes, bread, bacon, gruel, tea and beer- a similar diet to the Irish farmer, who had the same but probably a little more milk.

 Millers and bakers were still the scapegoats after 1815, when the government artificially maintained the price of wheat by banning imports until the price reached a level that could maintain aristocratic rents and profits. Most   rural riots in the period 1815-1817 would converge on the millers. Armed with sharpened agricultural implements, they would demand that prices returned to an earlier level. In towns, sellers in the markets would have their food stolen as a protest at the price. The normal cry was   “Bread or Blood” , often with a loaf on a stick as a symbol of the problem and a way of breaking windows.


Killed by Beer; the Meux brewery flood of 1814



At about 5.30 pm on Monday October 17th 1814, a clerk inspected the huge vat of Porter- a strong black beer- at Meux’s Brewery, near the Tottenham Court Road in London. A large iron hoop supporting the outsize barrel had fallen off an hour earlier; however, there was no real concern- this had happened before. The barrel was huge – the size of a two storey building. And, as it turned out later, rotting away.

The huge fermenting barrel then exploded, and a million pints of beer, mixed with bricks and timber, streamed through the brewery at waist height and spread into the nearby streets of New Street and George Street. The lethal stream of beer, beer fumes, bricks and wood filled the basement cellars of New Street where people where having their tea, and destroyed three houses in George Street. Bricks from the brew house also rained down on New Street. The explosion weakened the facades if the houses and the inundation destroyed the walls, partitions and roof supports.

Eleanor Cooper, aged about 14 was working in the Tavistock Arms public house at 22 George Street. She was scouring pots and pans at a water pump when she was drowned by the incoming wave or crushed by a collapsing 25 foot wall. The beer wave filled the cellar first and then smashed into the yard where she was working. She was found at 8.20, clinging to a water-butt. The Surgeon Ogle was present to help but Eleanor was quite dead.

The newspapers added to the distress by lamenting that 60 pans were smashed beyond recognition. Early newspaper reports gave Eleanor’s age as 10; while this turned out to be incorrect, it did not seem implausible to the press that ten-year old would be working as a servant in the pub. Other reports suggest she was nearer 16; once again the lack of knowledge shows how important a young woman like this was to Regency Society. Her body was sent to the local workhouse and her aged was settled at a guess of 14.

At the partially demolished 3 New Street, the body of the child Sarah Bates was discovered at 1 am in the morning. She was between 3 and four years old .This was part of a heroic campaign by the locals and the brewery servants to locate bodies in the rubble. As today, there were constant calls for silence as people listened to noises from the destroyed buildings. The local working class poor behaved well throughout.

In another part of the house, a Mary Banfield, wife of a coal heaver, her daughter and another child was   having tea and the wave of beer washed the mother out of a tenement window and pushed the daughter into another room, where she was smashed into a partition and killed. Her name was Hannah Banfield and she was about 4 years old; the other child was found nearly suffocated but alive; the mother was sent to the Middlesex Hospital in a serious state but eventually recovered.

Most of the deaths were in New Street.  This was the home of many poor, predominantly Irish families, many of whom lived in cellar dwellings.  At midnight, the corpse of Elizabeth Smith was found on the first floor of one of the two houses in New Street that was completely destroyed.  Elizabeth was a 27 year old bricklayer’s wife. Elizabeth had been in the cellar of No 2 New Street with other local Irish at a wake for a child who had died 2 days before. He was John Saville and his mother Ann Saville was one of the victims. Ann was found floating but drowned in the actual brew house itself at 7.30 on the first evening; her house was immediately behind the brewery.

She was placed with her son in one of the 5 black coffins put in the open air to solicit donations for the funeral of these victims who were drowned in the cellar-   Mary Mulvey (30), her son by an earlier marriage, Thomas Murray (3) and Catherine Butler , a widow(65) . There were no adult men in the cellar for the wake of John Saville; however, if the explosion had happened two hours later, the men would have  been back from work. However, John Saville, wife of Ann, John Bates, father of Sarah and Thomas Smith, husband of Elizabeth, were present at the coffins of their loved ones. They formed, according to the papers “a doleful group”

Anne and her child were buried at St Giles Churchyard on 21 October and the other coffins lay a bit longer at the Ship Inn, Banbury Street, were £33 was raised for their burial.

This was more than enough money for pauper funerals; however the money was more or less extorted from the crowd rather than being a charitable donation. It was more of an entrance fee; two police offers were stationed at the door with a plate in hand to collect sixpences and shillings.  The money was to be used for the general welfare of the local poor too, who had lost an estimated £3000 in property- which puts the £33 into some perspective.

The local working poor who survived were soon forgotten; and the backlash began a little. On October 25th the Bury and Norwich Post reported that the “lower class of Irish” that lived in the area were seen by Wednesday “busy employed putting their claim to their share…every vessel from kettle to cask were used…many were seen enjoying their share at the expense of the proprietor”

However, there was, on the whole a lack of victim blaming in this case. Many of the reports of drunkenness and beer looting do not originate from the primary descriptions and I was unable to find the claims of about the Irish repeated in any other papers. The newspaper could-shock horror- have invented the story to pander to the prejudices of its readership.

By November, the emphasis continued to turn away from the victims. The inquest jury at St Giles workhouse had taken only a few moments to declare that the eight were killed “accidently, and by misfortune”   The newspapers reported with relief that the Horseshoe Brewery of Henry Meux was insured, and that in November 1814 the company successfully asked the Treasury for the rebate of £7664   of excise duties that had already been paid for the beer

Another £800 in aid was raised in the next two months from local people, including a substantial donation from the Young Brewery at Wandsworth. Meux’s brewery made no contribution. The victims were, after all, merely the poor, and the Irish poor at that.


Regency Road Accidents, 1816


Death and injury on the road are not new. For the whole of the regency period people were being thrown about and thrown out of wheeled vehicles.

The most common form of wheeled transport was the gig- A two- wheeled one horse device that would carry one or two people. If people were thrown out of them, then their fate depended on the surface on which they landed. Mrs Parsons of Warsash (carefully described in the newspapers as   “the wife of Mr F Parsons” ) died when her gig overturned. Mr Parsons himself was merely bruised. It was a random event.

Mrs Mary Kirby and 15 months George Kirby were killed at Hyde Park Corner when a coach tried to overtake them and the gig turned over. This was the type of dangerous driving that cyclists know about today, and the Coach driver was accused of manslaughter; however, he had absconded   and a warrant was put out for his apprehension.

Overtaking was a danger point. The worse accident of 1816 was the collision of the Dart and the Phoenix. They were both travelling from London back to Brighton and were doing the last leg from Patcham   when the Phoenix tried to overtake the Dart at Preston, near their final destination.  Both coaches were full of passengers, inside and out.   The Phoenix overturned and the passengers on the outside were thrown clear.  Those inside were smashed against the side of the coach and arms and legs were snapped, ribs bruised and teeth smashed out. The Landlord of the Golden Cross, Princes Street, Brighton broke his arm. His Inn was a major Brighton coaching house; his overturned coach may well have been destined for there. Mr Mayhew, solicitor, lost teeth.  “A German gentleman”, with the highly unlikely name of Mr La Skirk,   cracked his ribs.

The Driver and proprietor of the Dart, Snow, was also the owner of one of Brighton’s main coach companies, but these not stop him behaving dangerously. The competition based on speed and price probably encouraged   reckless overtaking. Both stage coaches were being driven by their owners.  Overtaking at Preston would led to the winner getting to the coaching Inn first

There was some public disquiet about the way the industry was organised. The “Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser” (17 October 1816) welcomed the competition and the lower prices, but worried about the stage coach owners travelling to fast and carrying too many passengers and too much luggage. The newspaper mentioned the London and Brighton route as one of the main perpetrators. There was also a slight hint that the horses were being driven furiously and there was some growing interest in animal welfare.

Poor quality roads and gradients were another problem. In 1816, the Royal Mail was travelling through the night -as they always did, to increase their speed from about 10 to nearer 18 miles an hour. They were at Tgaout Hill, between North Wales and Holyhead, when a rock overturned the vehicle and the driver was thrown off as the coach was going down a very steep gradient. The newspapers  made it clear that it was not the drivers fault. He was sober. The Lamps were lit. But it was hurtling down a narrow road on a step gradient.

The driver fell off the coach at a narrow part of the road and smashed himself into a low wall. This was actually a good thing as beyond the wall was a 2oo feet sheer drop into a river. He broke his leg but lived. The guard was thrown into the road. As it was a Mail coach, there were no outside passengers and only one inside. It took 200 yards for the Mail Coach to stop; had it been an overcrowded Stage Coach, there fatalities would have been much worse.


Further reading

Coaching Accidents



Joseph Crouch- “A Body Snatcher since a child”


Joseph Crouch was fortunate in his timing when he was finally found guilty of stealing dead bodies. His career was over anyway; the new Anatomy Act of  1832 was to provide the anatomy schools with a regular supply of bodies  and body snatching as an organised, lucrative trade was about to come to an end. He and his accomplice David Baker were found guilty of stealing the shroud from one of the bodies that they had stolen from   St John’s,   Horsley down in Southwark. They   were intercepted with two bodies still lying on the ground, one without a shroud, on 8 April. Crouch’s last words  before arrest were “Don’t hurt me. I will go with you quietly; this way I have got my living for the last twenty years”

There is no reason to doubt the claim. Joseph was a relative of Ben Crouch, a famous resurrectionist and the leader of the Borough gang; and Joseph himself had made headlines on at least three occasions. In January 1832 he and a David Baker were accused by a William Dunelly of stealing his rope and ladders. Dunelly was away from the weekend and found his equipment missing.  Crouch had a solid defence. Dunnelly was, like him, a body snatcher. It was by no means a coincidence that Dunnelly’s lodging had a view of St George’s Burial grounds in Southwark. They worked in a gang of six- a plausible number. Two to carefully remove the body (without disturbing any property, which would be a crime) and four to take them away to a teaching hospital. The rope and ladders were owned in common, according to the defendant. Crouch was dismissive. Dunnelly was such a bad character that “ne’er a decent body snatcher would ‘sociate with him”. ( Morning Post, May 1832)

Joseph appears in the newspapers twice in 1832 but before that had 10 years of what we must presume to be a decade of not getting  caught. There are a few possible reasons for this; it seems that he was a professional, full time body snatcher rather than an occasional one, as his admission in January 1832 proves .He was a relative of Ben Crouch and a known associate of Patrick Murphy, who took over the Borough Gang when Ben Crouch retired to run a hotel in Margate. This was hard core criminality, and well organised.

It was also very easy to evade arrest.  The graveyard watch was more designed to deter than to catch; in a gang of six it would take only two to remove the body; the rest could scarper.  Grave diggers and deacons were poor and could be bribed. At the worst, a surgeon at the anatomical hospital could give them bail. Unless property was damaged or stolen they were safe from serious punishment.

Joseph Crouch appears in the newspapers again in 1828 with an abortive attempt at raiding the mortuary of St Mary’s  church workhouse Newington. They had forced an entrance into the building and removed two male and four female bodies.  An Irishman called Fitzgerald seems to have been sub- contracted to move the bodies to St Bartholomew’s and Guys in his pea green cart. He claimed to have no idea about the possible contents of the six unwieldy sacks. Even his admission that he had dropped the two sacks off at the famous anatomical hospital had not given him any clues. By the time the authorities has tracked down the bodies they had been dissected to the point of not being recognised. The police tried to use Kent to point the finger at Crouch, which he duly did. The judge was not impressed by the police admission that Kent was certainly drunk when he implicated Crouch. The judge asked them to find bail.

Grave robbing was a treacherous world, with little loyalty. When Joseph Crouch reappears in the newspapers again it is as a witness for the prosecution. In the Morning Chronicle in February 1820, Crouch explained that he had seen Patrick Murphy, Michael Wood and a man named Wild, remove three bodies from the St Clement Danes burial ground near Portugal Street.  Notice the different  ways that Crouch uses to  suggest his  high level of knowledge.



The defence case was simple. Crouch had been a body snatcher “since being a child” He was presenting this evidence due to motives of revenge. This all sounds very plausible- perhaps the gang had fallen out over the distribution of money, or Crouch had been cut out of a deal. It could have been that Murphy supplanting his relative as the leader of Borough Gang was the problem.

 They were told to by the judge find bail

 Whatever the situation, it is clear that Crouch was a major criminal (he would need to be very brave to take on Patrick Murphy), he was associated with the leading resurrection  gang,  and was able to act with near-impunity in Regency  England.



An extended version of this blog is part of my new book – The Dark Years of Georgian Britain

Available from Amazon, Pen and Sword and Waterstones





Other blogs by me on the same subject





Regency children hooked on opium


How much was too much?


Keeping infants quiet, especially when teething or similar, is very difficult, even with the advantages and affluence of the modern age. It was significantly more difficult in for the poor in the Regency period but there was a novel way of going about it which would cause controversy now- they were drugged with opium based syrups with names such as  Dalby’s Carminative, Syrup of Poppy and the most famous brand- Godfrey’s Cordial.

Joseph Redwith of Paddington was not poisoned directly by Godfrey’s Cordial but by the system that condoned it. He had, according to the surgeon at his inquest in December 1816, been regularly dosed with the cordial. On this occasion he had accidental been given arsenic .Joseph had been coughing and having trouble with his teeth. His mother Ann sent out the daughter Eliza to pay two penny worth of Godfrey’s Cordial from the druggist Mr Pralle in King Street Paddington. The daughter was served by the assistant with a phial of brown liquid and she took it home to her mother. Despite not having any illness herself, she pinched some of the liquid on the way home- not enough to raise suspicions and not enough to kill her. She fell ill on the way home but this this did stop Ann from administering it to Joseph. When he fell ill, after 15 minutes, she sent the daughter back to check that it was the right medicine. It was discovered that it was not Godfrey’s Cordial but not that it was arsenic. Cordial was used as an antidote, but by this time Joseph was dead and his internal organs soon became gangrenous.

Mr Keridge, the assistant, who was also qualified to dispense medicine, had given Eliza arsenic because the poison was not labelled as such, and had been put in the place where the Godfrey’s cordial was. The Coroner suggested that this might not be a good idea.

The Surgeon at Joseph’s port mortem, Mr North, took the opportunity to condemn Godfrey’s Cordial and similar sleeping draughts. They did not cure any children’s ailments ( when the Cordial was advertised it was often under the worryingly vague heading of “Disorders of Children”). They were given to make children sleep for long periods of time. He claimed this “pernicious drowsiness” was worse than most of the illnesses that it failed to cure. Rather than have any empathy, North suggested that Godfrey’s cordial was given to “gratify their idleness” and he condemned the parents for abusing these medicines. It was probably not what you wanted to hear at the post mortem of your baby, and it showed no empathy for the lack of support that poor families had. Mr Redwith was a baker working all hours and life must have been very difficult for the family. That was never a consideration.

Robin Parkins of Fleet, Hampshire died the same way. He was 13 months old, the same age as Joe Redwith. He, too, had nagging gums. His mother sent a 13 year old neighbour to the druggist with her own brown bottle but the young man asked for pure laudanum and the druggist gave it to him and the child died in half an hour. Once again, nobody was asking why society allowed bottles of pure opiate in the house or why people needed it.

In 1819, the 6 week old child of baker in White Ladies Aston, Worcestershire was killed when he was given dose of vitriol instead of a teaspoonful of Godfry’s Cordial from an unmarked bottle. Clearly the family, like those of the Parkins, were buying small amounts of Godrey’s Cordial from the druggist in their own bottles.  In any case, a teaspoonful for a six week old child would have be a severe problem it itself. He would have slept for many, many hours and be unable to cry out. His appetite would be suppressed as well- another boon for the poor mother on a low budget

What was the correct dose of Godfrey’s Cordial? Nobody seemed to know. This from the from Stamford Mercury 17 September 1819




The poor women who took the advice of her neighbour to give the child two teaspoonfuls did not take into account the fact that child who was given it regularly would need considerably more to get the same effect.

It   was an unregulated drugs trade that killed these children. Godfrey’s Cordial would not have killed him in 15 minutes but it did lead to a slow lingering death for many children. It is significant that the advertisers of 1816 called it “Godfrey’s Genuine Cordial”- it seems that druggists were making their own versions, either as a copy of a counterfeit. There was no fixed dosage. Anybody could buy it. Anybody could administer it.

Another incident in 1819 in Stamford Lincolnshire shows the problem when free market unregulated medicine collided with the ignorance and desperation of the poor. A family called Smith were passing through Bourn and needed something to quieten their two week old child. They went to a druggist for some branded Cordial but were given some “nostrum” that the druggist had created. He put excessive opium in the mixture meant that the child slept for 24 hours and then died. The Coroner reprimanded the druggist and warned the parents to take care. The Coroner had done the same in Newhaven in July 1817 when Mr Bolton’s “fine” (but unnamed) boy was poisoned by the deleterious nostrum was given to the child by a druggist

It may seem that it was not being given Godfrey’s Cordial that killed children. However the mixture of molasses and opiates killed children slowly and anonymously. Some more and more  medical men were beginning to realise this; an extract from the Morning Post( 1819)   from surgeon “CS” from Tower Hill.


The doctor was saying the cure was worse than the disease, and the fact a comatose child could not exhibit the symptoms that needed treatment was probably for the advantage of the nurse. The admixture of unregulated medicine, a country hooked on laudanum and the desperate life of the regency poor meant that its working class children were regularly poisoned, dosed to sleep and often killed.


Further interesting stuff

http://greatwen.com/tag/godfreys-cordial/    A good overview of drug use in the nineteenth century


The Regency Boarding School, 1816

Private boarding schools for both boys and girls would advertise in the local newspapers every January. Many would merely thank the public for their support in florid and obsequious terms and announce the day of re-opening. For the majority of the schools in 1816, the first day back was Monday 22 January.
On 13 January 1816, the Oxford Journal had advertisements for 20 private boarding schools. Ten of these were in Oxford, but the others were in Abingdon, Chipping Norton, Bicester, Witney, and Cirencester and as far away as Worcester. Regency parents could live without their children near. The Long Melford Girls School, Suffolk, on sale in 1816, boasted that it was a mere 59 miles from London an on some very convenient stagecoach routes.
Some schools advertised their services in the January announcements. The Girls’ Boarding schools were owned either by a single woman or a pair of Sisters. For a rather pricey 35 guineas the Prospect House Boarding School, the Misses Temple offered English, French, Writing, Arithmetic, Geography and History. As with most Boarding Schools, there was an extra charge for accomplishments- Music, drawing, dancing and French. The Barton Lodge Boarding School offered “plain and fancy needlework” alongside other subjects as part of the mainstream curriculum.
Who attended these schools? Well. It was certainly not the top section of society, who used larger public schools and governesses, but it was people who were ambitious for their children. It is easier to see this in the advertisements for the boy’s boarding schools. Mr Hills School in Hereford, like many schools, tried to straddle two worlds. It offered an education suitable for entrance to University, or the “life of a gentlemen or men of business” Mr Hill offered English, composition and handwriting as the core curriculum, with Latin and Greek ( taught by the clergy). Continental Languages, drawing and dancing were also offered. Accounts were offered for those who felt they were not hoping to become gentlemen.
There seems to have been a division between those schools who offered Commercial Studies as part of the core and those who offered it as an afterthought. Some announced this is their names “ The Mathematical and Commercial School” in Twyford was one. The Rev J Milner’s Academy was another, and it also had a rather “menu like” fees structure;


Many schools offered the parents the added convenience of keeping the children throughout the year, in this case 4 guineas. It was also clear that most of the money was being spent on boarding; some schools make a point of announcing that they did not take day students; but those who did, often at the lower end of the social scale, were charging 4 guineas for mere attendance lessons but 25 guineas for boarders
Winton School Westmoreland offered a slightly more up market curriculum -“ for the university, professions and all types of business”- but did not quite reach the heights of gentlemen. The brothers Adamthwaite, both established Anglican clergymen provided the core curriculum and employed qualified teachers for other areas. The fee was 22 guineas or 40 guineas for “parlour boarders”- those who would be treated more like members of the family with use of the parlour. One of the brothers was spending January in attendance at the Chapter Coffee House in London-Wackford Squeers style- to encourage people to send their children to the other side of the country. According to the advertisement “there were no holidays” and it was a long time by coach from London to the Lake District.
The excerpt from the website “KIRKBY STEPHEN – IN THE NEWS” suggests what this particular school was like-(below)

[From “The Lake District and Cumbria” by Peter Long …..”In the centre of the village is the manor house built in 1726, and Winton’s only three-storey building. It was formerly a boys’ school where, apparently, the boys were treated like prisoners and not allowed to return home until the end of their education in case they told of their life at the school”. Speaking 40 years later, Charles Dickens described these places as  ” cheap distant schools, where neglected children pine from year to year”

Okey Nash’s school in Stony Stratford was one of the most expensive advertising in January. 40 guineas a year would secure you a core curriculum starting with the classics and academic subjects. Entrance was an extra 2 guineas and washing 2 guineas per year. Extra subjects were more academic ones- not the accomplishments done by women- and once again accounts were an add- on, presumably for the lower stratum of the cohort who were headed for Trade. Okey’s was different to Winton’s; it offered “liberal instruction” with domestic comfort- “the Young Gentlemen sleep in single beds”
After a viewing  few advertisements patterns begin to emerge. The school is always somewhere salubrious. It is staffed by Clergymen or spinsters. Only girls draw and do needlework. Boys sometimes dance; girls always do. French teachers are from France; both sexes do continental languages, but probably in a different way and for different purposes. Boys can do accounting if they really have to. Fees are the same for boys and girls; nothing worth advertising could be had for less than 20 guineas a year. French was a key part of the curriculum quite down the social scale, and it was not merely for adornment- it was a useful skill, especially for a post in a government apparently at war with Napoleon for ever.

There was very little Science taught, and none of course, to girls. However, one school is Nottingham did offer some leisure time science, known as “Natural Philosophy”.


The content of these lessons, and the efficacy of the schools is another matter and not so easy to find evidence for. Sir John Soane, who was a social cut above the people sending their children to these types of schools, made this note in his accounts in January 1798
“Paid to Mr Wicks for not teaching the two boys for ½ year £39 17shilling “

The Vere Street Coterie-A sodomitical panic

The male only  brothel o r  “Molly House” had only been trading for about six months at the White Swan, Vere Street, Clare Market when it was raided by the Bow Street patrole on Sunday July 8th 1810.

The Bow Street law enforcers had done a thorough job. They had visited the public house on the Sunday previously and the Saturday before, and on both occasions had witnessed monstrous and unmentionable practices which, true to their word, remade unmentioned in the newspapers. From their base at the St Clements Danes   Watch House they pulled up at the public house with three coaches. In their raid they arrested 23 men and tried to escort them to the Watch House. However the roads around the areas were very busy and the men were placed first in the Brown Bear Pub in Bow Street.

Some of the men arrested were of a distinct lower class; William Thomson, Phillip Kett, James Spittle, James Griffiths, and Michael Hays were all servants, some out of place –unemployed. Of the others Matthew Saunders, James Done, William Barrow, John Reeves, Bernard Hove, none of them were gentlemen.

Some were to be released almost immediately, due to lack of evidence. However, there was a growing mob outside who were less interested in judicial rules. The crowd pelted the men with the usual ammunition as they tried to escape. Those who were to be charged could not go out of the front door of the Brown Bear and had to be smuggled out of the back. The mob did not disperse until early evening.

The trial of those who were actual present at the White Swan began on September 22nd. It was during a period of massive moral panic about gay men. The 7 men on trial were called “The Monsters” even before conviction. Their mistreatment at every opportunity was commented on with grim satisfaction by the press.

Despite the hugely prejudicial atmosphere, the law still applied. A conviction for sodomy needed a witness who could confirm both penetration and ejaculation. This was impossible in the context of a crowded chaotic set of rooms in the pub. However, they could and were accused of encouraging sodomitical behaviour and on that basis, William Amos was given three years imprisonment and a session at the pillory. Cooke, Kett ( or Illet), Thomson, Francis and Done received two years and the pillory, and Aspinall one year and no pillory. As was quite common with Georgian juries, they did not adjourn but decided their verdict with a discussion that took about a minute.

Amos commented “you may as well take away my life as put me in the pillory” as they were led away to Cold Bath Fields Prison. They were attacked by the mob and the 40 constables were not enough to protect them. The best that the Bow Street Patrole could do was to block the road behind the men, as they ran, in chains, towards the prison. The experience in the pillory is described here.



During the summer two more people were captured. On July 26th a man called  Rivett of the Bow Street patrole went to Newport Barracks to arrest Ensign John Newball Hepburn, aged about 42, for buggery.  Hepburn and a 16 year old drummer boy Thomas White were accused of sodomy and were accommodated in the Tower of London before their trial.

At their trial on December 1811 both were accused of sodomy by a James Mann, almost certainly a government spy in the White Swan.  Mann had witnessed the sex acts at the White Swan and probably knew that White was an experienced prostitute and may have introduced him to Hepburn. The fatal mixture of a witness to the act and the defendants’ willingness to confess meant that they were sent to the gallows on March 7th 1811. As the Hampshire Chronicle noted with some satisfaction. “Hepburn called several witnesses to speak to his character, but they did not appear”

The whole of 1810 saw a raging moral panic and just plain panic. Many other gay men were pilloried and every incident was said to have been perpetrated by a unapprehended member of the gang In December 1810, a Thomas Strachan, who accosted a guardsman was one of the monsters; Thomas Carter, who tried to picked up a man called Purdy in St James Park was escorted to the Watch House by a mob of 5000, who the constables did not even try to control.

The large crowd at the execution of Hepburn and White included members of the aristocracy who may have been customers of the White Swan  Molly house, who may not have been present at the time and probably would not have been arrested if they had been.

If you liked this blog you will like my new book- the Dark Days of Georgian Britain- out November 30th, 2017

Price comparison site here



“A rash and melancholy act” Suicide in the Regency

The late Georgian period was a rough and violent age. It has a hard, uncaring image, but that did not always apply to those who took their own life.

The crime of suicide- “felo de se”- would mean that the person killing themselves would lose their property to the Crown and forfeit the right to be buried in consecrated ground. However, this was almost never the judgement of the coroner’s court, who would invariably try to reduce the distress of the family with a verdict of “lunacy”. This would avoid the humiliating penalties. For most of the later Georgian period, suicides and their families were often seen as unfortunate rather than sinful.

The newspapers were remarkably democratic in their coverage. There were reports from all classes, and on each occasion a reason was looked for; and it was assumed that a suicide would be by definition not in their right mind. As a crime that affected all classes, where the same range of emotions were observed, it was perhaps inevitable that the reactions would be roughly the same

William Dumbell , a labourer, had 12 pots of beer and then hanged himself in a privy in Newhaven. He had been “melancholy”. On the other end of the social spectrum, Edward Hussey Esq, a magistrate in Lamberhurst Sussex, had blown out his brains with a blunderbuss with exactly the same reason given.

Mr G Lecke, a former soldier hanged, himself in May 1816. No reason could be found –“he was a very religious man and it would have been thought of him one of the last men in the world who would have committed suicide had he been in senses”. Sir Edward Crofton committed in January and the press were unable to provide a reason- the key point here was that reasons were looked for and expected.

Melancholia was a reason; so was mental derangement caused by domestic problems. In February 1816 an unnamed 12 year old girl of Smithfield tied lead weights to her feet and hanged herself after a disagreement with parents-it was a “rash act” and “melancholy incident” A women called Fane, wife of an aging watchmen, had drowned herself after a marital disagreement, leaving her shoes on the bank and putting her silver snuff box in a place where it could be found. Even when there was such a degree of planning, mental derangement was always the reason and “lunacy” was the cause of death, not “felo de se”

It was clearly seen that people took their own lives from economic distress. Mr Hollingsdale of Chailey, Sussex was last seen tending to the cattle that were about to be sold to pay his rent and tithe debts. He,like most regency suicides recognised as such, hanged himself. Richard Bishop of Exeter “put a period to his own existence” in old age, having encouraged others to make unsuccessful investments.

There were some dissenting voices. In September 1816, the Cumberland Pacquet newspaper referred to suicide as a crime-condemning the bereaved family to torment on earth and the deceased to torment in the afterlife. On the 15th August, a person with the pen name “HUMANITAS” wrote to the “Morning Post” bemoaning the number of “lunacy” judgements in coroner’s courts , which were clearly designed to save people’s feelings and protect inheritance rights. Without any irony at all, HUMANITAS commented that this had all gone too far, in an era of “ universal benevolence and philanthropy “ he believed that the reapplication of the proper judgement would reduce suicides; if this was not possible, perhaps the bodies could be dissected rather than buried at the crossroads in an unmarked grave? A slightly more constructive suggestion was the banning of arsenic; HUMANITAS claimed that the use of poison was under-reported as a method of suicide, and this may well have been the case

Two cases show the differing attitude towards the subject. In November 1816, the coroner gave a erdict of “felo de se” on a criminal called Brook who was  never favoured with a first name. He had been apprehended during a robbery of a tallow chandler named Thompson and placed in the black hole of St James Watch House. Despite being handcuffed he had managed to strangle himself with his handkerchief

He was buried at two in the morning in unconsecrated ground in Bridle Lane, near Great Pulteney Street. However, this was not the end of it

Another sad example was the suicide of Mr C Bradburn in February 1816. He had attended a masquerade at the Argyle Rooms in Regent Street. He met a women of new acquaintance there and was about to take her home when two men, Wallace and Andrews,  jumped into the coach. They went together to a hotel and Bradburn took up the invitation to play dice for champagne and claret that could be given to the young lady, who seemed to know the other men well. Gambling for drink turned to gambling for money; Bradburn won at first but found himself with loses of £2000. When the men arrived at his address a few days later, armed and noisy, Bradburn blew his brains out in a state of mental derangement. He was found insane. His fortune and reputation were saved.

Not everybody agreed. A letter to the paper pointed out the problem. The Argyle rooms were the haunt of prostitutes. The strumpet and the gamblers were in cahoots. Why did Bradburn use somebody else’s dice? The writer went on to say that. If Bradburn was mad, then he was mad at the very beginning of the process in showing his appalling judgement!

This uncharitable view excepted, the late Regency had an attitude to suicide that was clearly the result of the Enlightenment and looks quite familiar to use today!

Crim Con in the Bon Ton..Adultery and Compensation 1816

In July 1816, Lord George Thomas Beresford sued for damages from his erstwhile friend, the Honourable Thomas Taylour, the Earl of Bective. Beresford accused him of the successful seduction of his wife Harriet Beresford and demanded the sum of £30,000 in compensation.

This was no twenty- first century quickie divorce or twentieth century legal court case with witnesses and co-respondents. Indeed it wasn’t divorce at all; merely a demand for compensation as a prelude to one. This was, in the parlance of Georgian times, a “Crim Con”- criminal conversation between the accused and the wife of another. The case of Beresford v Taylour is not a well known case, largely because it was not contested and there were no lurid details for the press to report. But it tells you a lot about the state of marriage in the Regency

Because it was uncontested, no witnesses were called. However, the wife was never called even if there was a dispute. The aim of the hearing was to assess damages. Beresford was asking for more that he was likely to receive- by that time this amount of money had been issued only once.

Beresford’s representative told the story at the Sheriffs Court at Bedford Row on June 17th 1816.George married Harriet Schultz, daughter of John Bacon Schultz, in 1808. She was “ a lady of high connection, immense fortune and was endowed with every accomplishment “ This may or not have been true but it was not meant as a compliment; this was a compensation case about loss of amenity, so it was very much in the interest of Beresford to portray his wife as something valuable and therefore a massive inconvenience to lose. After the first born, Harriet had fallen into a derangement that we might identify as post natal depression. However, it was spun to George’s advantage; he had not abandoned her; he was a good man, later to be betrayed. He could possibly feel the compensation rising as Sergeant Best spoke in his behalf

Another factor in assessing the compensation was the social standing of the people concerned; the higher the more compensation; nearness in social class would reduce it, as it would lessen the shame and humiliation. So there was little scope there to make money; both were the sons of important aristocratic landowners in Ireland. Instead, Beresford’s representative went to great pains to point out how close the two families were. If “Crim Con” involved betrayal and calculation, the compensation would rise accordingly

The successful seduction took place in the summer of 1815. George was, it was strongly pointed out, away only because he was a Major General fighting for King and Country. On receiving reports of the further derangement of his wife, he rushed home to care for her. However, acting on reports received he obtained a key from her writing desk which contained a letter, “ coached in the most passionate language” from Thomas Taylour, Earl of Bective and son of the Marquis of Headfort. It was a long and declamatory missive about a set of events that had already happened. The Earl tried to qualm her fears about her reputation. “No man, presumptuous, confident or artful, would think you lightly won”. He tried to reconfirm their love “Search now that bosom, and see that it still loves Bective”

He had been the seducer. The seductive had been difficult. He had exploited her illness and the friendship of the families. How was Beresford going to bring up their three living daughters without their mother? Before this, their life had been one of domestic harmony. George brought forward no less than five witnesses to prove it. An even now, George took care of her-rather than abandon her to “The London World”

Bective’s defence was brief. He was far from rich; this was irrelevant as somebody else was paying. He was young and naive. (The papers reported that he was “An agreeable young man, born in the same year as her ladyship”) He was sorry.

The jury took 30 minutes to agree compensation to George Beresford of £10,000.