With the closures of properties around London thanks to the COVID-19 emergency, we’ll be highlighting some online exhibitions instead. Here’s a couple to get you started…
• Osterley House in Isleworth in London’s west was purchased by the Child banking family in 1713 who then set about transforming the property and filling it with treasures sourced from around the world. An exhibition, which was held at the house between November and February but which can now be viewed online, tells the story of the family who developed the banking business Child & Co during Britain’s Financial Revolution between 1660 and 1750. While the property, which is now looked after by the National Trust, is rightfully famous for the interiors Robert Adam created in the later 18th century, Treasures of Osterley: Rise of a Banking Family, features treasures from this earlier era. Among the items featured are a receipt for money signed by King Charles II’s mistress, Nell Gwynn, a lacquered screen from China decorated with the arms of the Child family (c1715-20), and the oil painting Saint Agatha by Carlo Dolci (1616–1687), which was purchased by Sir Robert Child. To view the exhibition (which was open to the public at the house between November and February), head to www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/exhibition/treasures-of-osterley. PICTURE: Maxwell Hamilton (licensed under CC BY 2.0)
• Visitors to the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace in 2018 were able to see a special display of artworks selected by the Prince of Wales to mark his 70th birthday. The exhibition, Prince and Patron, featured Prince Charles’ favourite works from both the Royal Collection and his private collection. They include a cedar wood pavilion created by classical Afghan-born carver Nasser Mansouri, a red felt cloak which, believed to have been worn by Napoleon, was seized from Napoleon’s baggage train at Waterloo following his defeat, and, various portraits of the Prince and other members of the Royal Family. The display can be viewed on the Google Arts and Culture website.
Famous as the home of the Apollo Club, the Devil – more completely the Devil and St Dunstan or The Devil and the Saint, thanks to its sign which showed the saint tweaking the Devil’s nose with pincers – was a Fleet Street institution.
Located at number 2, Fleet Street close to the Temple Bar, the tavern’s origins date back to at least 16th century but it was Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonson who made it home to the literary dining club known as the Apollo Club (the moniker comes from the name of the room in the tavern in which the club was located).
As well as Jonson, members of the club are said to have included William Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope and Dr Samuel Johnson. Samuel Pepys is also said to have frequented the tavern.
A bust of Apollo was mounted over the door to the room and a verse of welcome on the wall – they apparently still exist inside the bank of Child & Co (now part of the Royal Bank of Scotland) which now occupies the site on which the tavern once stood. The ‘rules’ of the club – which have been penned by Jonson – also apparently hung over the fireplace (and the name of the club lives on in Apollo Court over the road).
The tavern is also noted for its associations with ‘Mull Sack’ (aka chimney sweep turned 17th century highwayman John Cottington) and hosted concerts and other important gatherings including that of the Royal Society which held its annual dinner here in 1746.
It was demolished in the 1787 when the site was annexed by the neighbouring bank. A plaque can now be seen on the bank’s wall in Fleet Street.
PICTURE: Open Plaques
While it may not be the oldest (that remains a matter of some dispute), we can say that one of London’s oldest banks stands at 1 Fleet Street.
Child & Co’s origins go back to the mid-1600s when Francis Child entered into a partnership with Robert Blanchard to run a goldsmith’s business. In 1673, the business, now known as Blanchard & Child moved to the premises it now occupies.
Child later married Blanchard’s step-daughter and on Blanchard’s death in 1681, he inherited the entire company, renaming it Child & Co (knighted in 1689, Child later served as a Lord Mayor of London and as an MP) and in 1698 was appointed “jeweller in ordinary” to King William III.
Following Child’s death in 1713, his sons continued the business, transforming it into a bank. It’s first banknote was issued in 1729.
The bank passed into the ownership of the Earls of Jersey in the mid-1800s and in 1880, following the removal of the Temple Bar gate, rebuilt its premises.
The bank, which at one stage had a branch in Oxford, was later sold to London-based commercial bank Glyn, Mills, Currie, Holt & Co and this in turn was acquired by the Royal Bank of Scotland. They remain the current owners.
Interestingly, the bank is said to be the model for Tellson’s Bank in Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities.
For a book on the financial history of the City of London, check out David Kynaston’s City of London: The History: 1815-2000.