GladstoneThis Borough pub is, of course, named after the 19th century Prime Minister, William Gladstone, who not only served in the office four times but also lends his name to the ‘Gladstone bag’.

Such was the renown of Gladstone – who served as PM in stints between 1868 to 1894 (he resigned the final time at the ripe old age of 84, dying just over four years later) – that his name also adorns monuments, parks, streets and geographic features around the world as well as his fair share of pubs (including the William Gladstone in the heart of Liverpool).

Gladstone is recalled in the pub’s name but also in a large images of his face adorning the external walls.

The pub is located at 64 Lant Street (the street is famous for being where Charles Dickens lodged while his father was imprisoned in nearby Marshalsea Prison), less than a minutes walk from the Tube station.

Along with food and a pint, ‘The Glad’ these days offers live music several nights a week and boasts a long list of names – some you’ll know, some you won’t – have played there. For more on the pub, check out www.thegladpub.com.

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The Devil in the MarshalseaAntonia Hodgson, Hodder & Staughton, 2014

The-Devil-in-the-MarshalseaA murder-mystery set among the desperate and dangerous denizens of London’s Marshalsea Prison in 1727, The Devil in Marshalsea tells the story of lad-about-town Tom Hawkins who is tossed into the notorious prison for debt.

Hawkins’ only chance of escape is to find the killer of one Captain Roberts, who died in the jail before his arrival, and it’s a task that brings him into conflict with, and under the suspicion of, many within the prison walls.

There’s plenty of historical detail and the book delivers an insightful look into what life in Marshalsea would have been like – although as Hodgson points out in an historical note at the start, this is not the Marshalsea of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit – that wasn’t opened until 1800 on a different site while this one was located between Mermaid Court and what is now Newcomen Street in Southwark.

The characters are largely based on actual people – Hodgson goes to the trouble to describe the background to each in some explanatory endnotes – and their stories criss-cross the main narrative.

There’s plenty of twists along the way and the story plunges on at a cracking pace as Hawkins has to confront his worst fears and struggles to discern who is friend and who is foe in a world where everyone appears to be driven by their most base desires.

An enlightening read and, as is the case with a good murder-mystery, hard to put down. A terrific debut.

To buy this book, follow this link The Devil in the Marshalsea.

Often noted as the second greatest English dramatist of his generation (after that Shakespeare guy), the playwright Ben Jonson stands tall in his own right as one of the leading literary figures of the late 16th and early 17th century.

Born in 1572, Jonson was educated at Westminster School in London and possibly went on to Cambridge before he started work as a bricklayer with his stepfather and later served as a soldier, fighting with English troops in The Netherlands.

It was on his return to London that he ventured into acting – among his early roles was Hieronimo in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedie – and by 1597 he was employed as a playwright.

While one of his early play-writing efforts (The Isle of Dogs, co-written with Thomas Nashe) led to a term of imprisonment in Marshalsea Prison in 1597 (he was also briefly imprison about this time for killing another actor in a duel, escaping a death sentence by pleading “benefit of the clergy”), the following year – 1598 – the production of his play Every Man In His Humour  established his reputation as a dramatist. Shakespeare, whom some suggest was a key rival of Jonson’s during his career – is said to have been among the actors who performed in it.

Further plays followed including Every Man Out Of His Humour (1599), his only tragedy Sejanus (1603), the popular Volpone (1606) and The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614) and it was during these years, particularly following the accession of King James I in 1603, that he became an important figure at the royal court).

His political views continued to cause trouble at times – he was again imprisoned in the early 1600s for his writings and was questioned over the Gunpowder Plot after apparently attending an event attended by most of those later found to be co-conspirators – but his move into writing masques for the royal court – saw his star continue to rise.

All up he wrote more than 20 masques for King James and Queen Anne of Denmark including Oberon, The Faery Prince which featured the young Prince Henry, eldest son of King James, in the title role. Many of these masques saw him working with architect Inigo Jones, who designed extravagant sets for the masques,  but their relationship was tense at times.

In 1616 – his reputation well established – Jonson was given a sizeable yearly pension  (some have concluded that as a result he was informally the country’s first Poet Laureate) and published his first collection of works the following year. Noted for his wit, he was also known to have presided over a gathering of his friends and admirers at The Mermaid Tavern and later at the Devil’s Tavern at 2 Fleet Street (Shakespeare was among those he verbally jousted with).

Jonson spent more than a year in his ancestral home of Scotland around 1618 but on his return to London, while still famous, he no longer saw the same level of success as he had earlier – particularly following the death of King James and accession of his son, King Charles I, in 1625.

Jonson married Anne Lewis – there is a record of such a couple marrying at St Magnus-the-Martyr church near London Bridge in 1594 – but their relationship certainly wasn’t always smooth sailing for they spent at least five years of their marriage living separately. It’s believed he had several children, two of whom died while yet young.

Jonson, meanwhile, continued to write up until his death on 6th August, 1637, and is buried in Westminster Abbey (he’s the only person buried upright in the abbey – apparently due to his poverty at the time of his death).

For an indepth look at the life of Ben Jonson, check out Ian Donaldson’s Ben Jonson: A Life.

Born the second child of a naval clerk then stationed in Portsmouth, Charles Dickens had what one would imagine was a fairly typical childhood for the son of a naval clerk, his family following his father John Dickens from one place to another – Sheerness, Chatham and briefly, in 1815, in London – as he took up different posts.

But in 1822, amid increasing financial difficulties, John Dickens was recalled to London and he and the family moved into a house at 16 Bayham Street in Camden Town in the city’s north, Charles joining them after completing schooling in Chatham (the house at number 16 Bayham Street is now commemorated by a plaque – it was demolished in 1910).

The family subsequently moved to another, recently built, premises at 4 Gower Street North (later renumbered 147 Gower Street) but soon after this, on 20th February, 1824, John Dickens was arrested over debt and taken to Marshalsea Prison where he subsequently resided with his family with the exception of Charles (the prison, in use since the 14th century, was closed in 1842 and finally mostly demolished in the 1870s – a single wall of the second prison on the site is all that remains).

Twelve-year-old Charles, meanwhile, was put to work in the Warren’s Blacking Factory (pictured) near Hungerford Stairs, which stood just off the Strand (it’s said to have stood roughly where Charing Cross Railway Station now stands). While doing so, he roomed firstly at a house in Little College Street, Camden Town, and then in rooms at Lant Street in Borough (which was much closer to the prison).

John Dickens was out of prison in May but Charles continued working at the factory for almost another year until his father’s fortunes improved and Charles, now living with the family once again – at 29 Johnson Street and then, after being evicted, at The Polygon in Somers Town (an area in St Pancras) – returned to school, becoming enrolled at the Wellington House Classical and Commercial Academy in Hampstead Road.

In 1827, his father’s finances once more having taken a turn for the worse, he began work as a solicitor’s clerk (but more of that later)…

PICTURE: A nineteenth century etching of Dickens at Warren’s Blacking Factory – Source: Wikipedia.

The favoured place to dispatch pirates, Execution Dock was located on the north bank of the River Thames just off Wapping High Street.

Among the most famous to be executed here was Kidd himself who, having been found to have turned pirate while operating as a privateer under the authority of King William III, was hanged here on 23rd May, 1701.

The site, near where a cannon foundry operated supplying the fleet of King Henry VIII, was in-use as an execution ground for more than 400 years, from the 15th century until the last hanging in 1830 (that of pirates George Davis and William Watts).

Those convicted of piracy in the High Court of Admiralty were typically brought to Execution Dock from Marshalsea Prison (or in some cases from Newgate) in a procession across London Bridge and past the Tower of London which was led by the Admiralty Marshal or his deputy who carried a silver oar as a symbol of their authority.

In a public spectacle, the pirates were then hanged on a wooden scaffold built at low tide but unlike at other sites of execution where they were cut down after death, the victims were left hanging to allow three tides to wash over them.

The most notorious of the pirates would then be tarred and put in a gibbet to be exhibited on one of the banks of the Thames as a warning to others (Kidd’s remains were apparently left in such a state for more than 20 years at Tilbury).

The exact location of Execution Dock remains a matter of dispute with favoured locations including a spot near the Town of Ramsgate pub (where a noose still hangs today), just along from The Captain Kidd  pub near what are now known as King Henry’s Stairs and, between the two locations, a warehouse which stands on the waterfront and is prominently marked with an E (for Execution Dock). Some even suggest the site was outside the Prospect of Whitby pub further east along Wapping High Street.

There’s currently an exhibition on Captain Kidd at the Museum of London Docklands, Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story.  See here for more information.

PICTURE: Wikipedia