Daniel-Defoe-memorial2
Located in Bunhill Fields Burial Ground in City Road, this memorial to Daniel Defoe, the author of numerous books including Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders as well as a journalist, pamphleteer and ‘provocateur’ or spy, wasn’t erected until 1870, almost 140 years after his death.

After he died in 1731 at the age of 70, Defoe was among the more than 120,000 people buried in Bunhill Fields, a Nonconformist cemetery which opened in 1665 and had closed by 1853. He was apparently buried under the name Dabow, thanks to a spelling mistake made by the gravedigger.

Daniel-Defoe-memorialWhen he died in relative obscurity (he was believed to have been hiding from his creditors at the time), his fame rose after his death – due in large part to the rising popularity of Robinson Crusoe, and by the mid-19th century, it was believed that the simple headstone over his grave didn’t do justice to him.

Hence an appeal was run by children’s magazine Christian World for a more suitable memorial for the writer – named as Daniel De-Foe on the memorial – and more than £150 was raised from 1,700 people, an amount which apparently exceeded expectations.

Sculptor Samuel Horner was subsequently commissioned to carve the memorial obelisk, which features projections at the base resembling a coffin lid, to the designs of CC Creeke of Bournemouth. It was unveiled on 16th September, 1870, in a ceremony attended by three of Defoe’s great grand-daughters.

There was apparently a newspaper story that the sculptor uncovered a coffin bearing Defoe’s name in preparing the site for the monument and had to get the aid of police to prevent watchers from making off with the bones from within.

The monument, which may not mark the exact location of Defoe’s grave site due to the movement of graves in the burial ground, is now Grade II*-listed (and the burial ground itself Grade I-listed). Others buried at Bunhill Fields include author John Bunyan, artist William Blake and Susanna Wesley, mother of John Wesley, founder of Methodism.

WHERE: Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, 38 City Road (nearest Tube station is Old Street); WHEN: 7.30am to 7pm or dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Bunhill-Fields.aspx

The self-styled “Thief-Taker General”, Jonathan Wild was one of the most famous figures of London’s underworld in the early 18th century, credited by some as being the city’s first organised crime boss.

Jonathan-WildBorn to a family in Wolverhampton, Wild – who had at some point undertaken an apprenticeship as a buckle-maker – was married and had a son when he first came to London as a servant in 1704 and although he returned to the city of his birth after being dismissed, he apparently abandoned his family and returned to the capital in 1708.

Little is known of the first couple of years he spent in London but records show he was arrested for debt in March 1710 and sent to Wood Street Compter where he quickly ensconced himself and was even awarded the “liberty of the gate” – meaning he could leave the prison at night to aid in the apprehension of thieves.

It was also during this period that he came under the influence of a prostitute Mary Milliner. Upon his release in 1712 – thanks to an Act of Parliament passed to help debtors – he lived with her as her husband (despite his earlier marriage – and hers) in Covent Garden.

Acting as her protector when she was on the street, Wild also branched into the business of being a fence or receiver of stolen goods and racketeering offences like extortion. In 1713, he joined Charles Hitchen to be his assistant. Hitchen, who had been suspended from his position as the City’s Under Marshal thanks to his practice of extorting thieves and their victims (it’s thought he may have taught Wild the craft), was then working as a thief-taker.

Wild apparently took to the new role with fervour for when Hitchen was reappointed to his post as Under Marshal, Wild parted from his company and continued his work as a thief-taker, opening his own office in the Blue Boar Tavern in Little Old Bailey.

Wild’s method of operation was simple enough – he would organise thieves to steal items and then, when it was announced that said items were stolen, claimed to have found them and would return them to the rightful owners for a “reward”. At the same time, he’d often also aid the police by bringing to justice thieves from rival gangs (including Hitchen’s, for they were now rivals) or those of his own gang who had crossed him – and in all his dealings manage to keep at arm’s length from the actual business of stealing and receiving.

By 1718, Wild – who wore a sword as a sign of his authority and had pretensions of being a “squire” – was calling himself the “Thief-Taker General of Great Britain and Ireland”. It’s said that more than 60 thieves were sent to the gallows on the back of his testimony including the prolific housebreaker (and jail escapee) Jack Sheppard and his associate Joseph “Blueskin” Blake (who almost succeeded in killing Wild while he was awaiting trial).

Wild’s pursuit of Sheppard was the beginning of his own downfall (although authorities had as early as 1717 passed an Act of Parliament aimed squarely at ending his criminal enterprise, it seemed to have had little effect, at least initially). Sheppard’s demise had been unpopular with the masses and the press of the day – and in February 1725, Wild himself was arrested for assisting in the jailbreak of one of his gang members. Other members of the gang turned against him and eventually, in May that same year, he was sentenced to death for the theft of lace.

Having unsuccessfully attempted to kill himself by drinking laudanum before his execution, Wild was hanged at Tyburn on 24th May before a large and raucous crowd which apparently included an 18-year-old Henry Fielding.

Wild was buried in secret in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church next to his third wife (and one of his many lovers), Elizabeth Mann (she had died in 1718 and he apparently married another woman shortly after). His body was later reported to have been dug up and eventually, following the recovery of a body with a hairy chest from the Thames which was identified as being Wild’s, a skeleton said to have been his was donated to the Royal College of Surgeons (it’s now on display in the Hunterian Museum).

The subject of numerous articles, books and ballads, Wild’s story has been since told numerous times and for varying purposes. Among them are Daniel Defoe’s True and Genuine Account of the Life and Actions of the Late Jonathan Wild, published in 1725, Henry’s Fielding’s ironic The History of the Life of the Late Mr Jonathan Wild the Great (1743), and John Gay and John Rich’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728) which features the character Peachum, said to have been based on Wild.

PICTURE: From “Ticket to the Hanging of Jonathan Wild”/Wikimedia Commons

To read more about Jonathan Wild, see Gerald Howson’s Thief-taker General: The Rise and Fall of Jonathan Wild.

Once a visible sign of London’s legal system, the city had several pillories which were used to degrade and humiliate those offenders put within them.

Titus-OatesOriginating in medieval times, the pillories were wooden contraptions in which a standing person’s head and hands were held in place and exposed to the ridicule of the crowd (not to mention their rotten foodstuffs and other less savoury things). They were a similar form of punishment to the stocks and were designed to humiliate those put within them.

They were used to punish a broad range of offenders including everyone from con-men and forgers to traders who didn’t play fair with their customers, people publishing unlicensed literature, and homosexuals.

Some people were pilloried repeatedly and additional punishments could be handed out to some put in the pillory – such as the nailing of the offender’s ears to the structure. There was cases of enraged mobs injuring the person locked in the pillory so badly that they died and the journey to the pillory – a formal parade of the malefactor before the people – was another chance for people to shout abuse and throw things at the offender.

As well as in Charing Cross where the pillory was located just to the south of Trafalgar Square, pillories were found at locations in Cheapside, Cornhill and Old Bailey in the City as well as Old Palace Yard and Tyburn in Westminster.

Among the most famous occupants of London’s pillories was the writer Daniel Defoe. The author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, he was placed here on 31st July,1703, due to his publication of pamphlets criticising the church. It didn’t prove the harshest of punishments, however – Defoe was greeted with flowers, not stones, by a crowd rather sympathetic to his cause.

Others to suffer the punishment of the pillory included Titus Oates, who fabricated a plot to kill King Charles II, and puritan William Prynne, who lost both his ears when pilloried for libelling Queen Henrietta Maria  (although they were apparently sewed back on before he lost them again for a subsequent offence).

The punishment was formally abolished in 1837 – the last time it was used was in 1830.

PICTURE: Wikipedia. Image is from Robert Chambers’ Book of Days, 1st edition.

The British Library is to digitise 250,000 books and make them available on the internet under a deal with tech giant Google. The works, which are all out of copyright, date from between 1700 and 1870 and include printed books, pamphlets and periodicals. Among them are feminist pamphlets about the ill-fated French Queen Marie Antionette dating from 1791, blueprints of the first combustion engine-driven submarine dating from 1858, and a 1775 account which tells of a stuffed hippopotamus owned by the Prince of Orange. The works will all be available online via Google Books which has partnered with more than 40 libraries around the world. The project will include material published in a range of European languages and will focus on works not already freely available in digital form online. For more see www.bl.uk.

A series of events running under the banner of ‘Green Garden Lunchtimes’ will be held at the Bunhill Fields Burial Group (off City Road) in the City of London from next Monday until 1st July. The events include free yoga and tai chi classes, a bike repair workshop, a history tour from City Guides and a wildlife talk courtesy of the Natural History Museum. The Wren Clinic will also be providing free advice and treatments. Bunhill Fields is famous for its connections to the Nonconformists and contains the graves of writers William Blake, Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan. For dates and times, follow this link.

• Six churches and a synagogue in London have been granted £582,000 to carry out repair works under the Repair Grants for Places of Worship scheme. The grants, which are administered by English Heritage and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, include £199,000 for the Church of St Augustine in Honor Oak Park – an early example of the Gothic Revival in the Early English style, £122,000 for Christ Church in Christchurch Park, Sutton, and £111,000 for the Golders Green Synagogue in Barnet. The grants were part of £8 million worth of funding given to 67 of England’s most important Grade II listed churches, chapels and synagogues. For more, see www.hlf.org.uk.

On Now: Treasures of Heaven: saints, relics and devotion at the British Museum. The museum’s major summer exhibition looks at the spiritual and artistic significance of Christian relics and reliquaries in medieval Europe. Among the highlights are: an arm reliquary of St George, which was housed in the treasury of St Mark’s in Venice following its capture in the sack of Constantinople in 1204; the British Museum’s bejewelled Holy Thorn reliquary, dating from 1390-97 and said to contain a relic from the Crown of Thorns; and, a 12th century bust of St Baudime from France, which once contained a vial of the saint’s blood and is being seen for the first time in Britain. Other exhibits come from the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore as well as from the Vatican. Runs until 9th October. There is an admission charge. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Found living ‘wild’ in the woods near Hamelin in northern Germany, in 1725, Peter was brought to London at the behest of King George I the following year (the king had heard of his plight while visiting his Hanoverian homeland and had initially had him taken to his summer palace at Herrenhausen). Peter subsequently spent time at the court of the king as well as those of the Prince of Wales, the future King George II, and his wife, Caroline of Ansbach.

On his arrival in London, Peter, believed to be about 15 or 16 years old when he was found, quickly acquired celebrity status – Daniel Defoe wrote a pamphlet, Mere Nature Delineated, in which he mused about his nature and Jonathan Swift wrote a satire on the excitement surrounding his arrival in London while a wax figure of him was exhibited in the Strand and along with other palace courtiers, he appears in a now famous painting by William Kent which still hangs on the king’s grand staircase in Kensington Palace.

Treated by the royals as something of a ‘pet’, efforts were made to educate Peter but later abandoned due to his apparent lack of progress. Many were also said to have been shocked at his lack of manners – something that may have helped contribute to his eventual departure from court.

When the king died in 1727, his daughter-in-law, now Queen Caroline, granted a yeoman farmer in Hertfordshire, James Fenn, a pension in return for looking after Peter.  He is recorded as having wandered off on a couple of occasions and, after one incident involving a fire in 1751, was fitted with a collar to prevent further escapes (the collar is still in the keeping of the Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire).

Peter subsequently spent the remainder of his life in rural England (where he was known to have developed a love for gin but was generally remarked upon as being timid). Meeting him a few years before his death, Scottish philosopher and judge James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, recorded that while Peter could understand what was said to him, he could only say the words ‘Peter’ and ‘King George’.

Peter died in 1785, when he was at least 70-years-old. He was buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church in Northchurch, Hertfordshire.

It is now believed that Peter may have been affected by the chromosomal disorder Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome, thanks to the work of Historic Royal Palaces historian Lucy Worsley who, while researching the lives of courtiers at Kensington Palace for her book Courtiers, noted features such as Peter’s “cupid bow lips”, coarse hair and drooping eyelids in Kent’s portrait and passed on a description to a professor of genetics.

It is thought such a diagnosis may help explain why Peter ended up living alone in the German forest where he was found.

A squirrel spotted playing among the tombstones of Bunhill Fields Cemetery in the Borough of Islington. The Dissenters’ graveyard – burial place of the likes of writers John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe, artist and poet William Blake and Susanna Wesley, mother of Methodist founders John and Charles Wesley – was recently given a Grade I listing on the national Register of Parks and Gardens. For more information on the cemetery, see our previous post here.

The London burial place of writers John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe and artist and poet William Blake has been recognised as one of the city’s most significant historic landscapes with a Grade I listing on the national Register of Parks and Gardens. The news, which was announced last month, also sees 75 tombs located within Bunhill Fields Cemetery individually listed. Bunhill, located between City Road and Bunhill Row, is one of 106 registered cemeteries in London (and now one of only seven Grade I listed cemeteries). It was established in 1660 and, thanks to its not being associated with Anglican place of worship, is viewed as the “pre-eminent graveyard for Nonconformists in England” . About 123,000 burials took place in its four acres before it was closed in 1869. The oldest monument is that of theologian Theophilus Gale, who died in 1678. As well as the tombs of Buynan, Defoe and Blake, others listed on the register include that of Dame Mary Page, who died in 1728 and whose tomb inscription talks of her stoicism in the face of 240 gallons of water being taken out of her prior to her death, and Joseph Denison, a banker who died in 1806 and was one of England’s wealthiest commoners at the time. The listing was made by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport following advice from English Heritage. For more on Bunhill Fields, follow this link

Kew Gardens has joined Google Streetview, meaning it’s now possible to navigate your way around the gardens from the comfort of your own home. More than 26 kilometres of paths and the interiors of some of the garden’s glasshouses – including the Palm House and the Temperate House – can now be seen on Streetview which offers 360 degree views. Professor Stephen Hopper, director at Kew, says the new technology is “bound to encourage people to visit us and experience Kew for themselves”. Follow this link to see the gardens on Streetview.

• On Now: Afghanistan’s heritage is on display in a newly opened exhibition at the British Museum. Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World showcases more than 200 objects from the National Museum of Afghanistan as well as some items from the British Museum and includes sculptures, ivory inlays once attached to furniture, Roman glassware and Egyptian stone tableware, and inlaid gold ornaments once worn by the area’s “nomadic elite”. The objects were found between 1937 and 1978 and were preserved thanks to officials who kept them out of harm’s way during the Soviet and Taliban eras. The museum announced this week that they would be joined by carved ivory fragments that were stolen from Afghanistan’s national museum in the early 1990s and only recently presented to the British Museum by a benefactor with the idea that they will eventually be returned to Kabul. The exhibition runs until 3rd July. There is an admission charge. For more information, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The most notorious of London’s many prisons, Newgate remained in use for more than 700 years.

The prison – located on the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey on the site of what is now London’s Central Criminal Court (known as the Old Bailey thanks to its position on the street known as Old Bailey) – was apparently first constructed around the end of the 1100s on the orders of King Henry II at the site of one of the gates in the Roman wall (see picture).

It was enlarged and renovated several times over the ensuing centuries (including a complete rebuilding after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and another to the design of George Dance after the prison was badly damaged during the Gordon Riots of 1780, sparked by opposition to Catholic emancipation).

The prison, which was infamous for the squalid conditions in which prisoners were housed, was used for a range of purposes including housing debtors and the incarceration of people awaiting execution (by the 18th century, it’s said that more than 350 crimes had become punishable by death).

In 1783 public executions were moved from Tyburn, west of the city, to a site just outside the prison. In 1868, executions were no longer open to the public at large and the gallows moved inside. The prison closed in 1902 and was eventually demolished in 1904.

Famous prisoners who spent time in Newgate include Shakespeare’ contemporary Ben Jonson (for killing a man in a duel), 17th century author Daniel Defoe (for his authorship of political pamphlets), Captain William Kidd (for piracy), and William Penn, Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania (for contempt of court during a case brought after he was accused of having illegally preached ).

But perhaps the most infamous is the 18th century criminal Jack Sheppard, known for having escaped from the prison several times before finally being hanged at Tyburn (close to where Marble Arch now stands).

The only surviving part of the prison in its original location is part of the prison wall which can be seen in Amen Corner.

PICTURE: Wikipedia.com