Diamond Jubilee 1897 – amazing images!

Regular visitors to the blog know that I have a huge archive of old books and newspapers stretching back 300 years. And one dusty, crumbling specimen is a photo album published for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.

It includes images that reveal a Britain that is at once familiar and very different. In this most royal of weeks, leading up to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II as I write, let me share some of these images with explanations. They are a fascinating insight into England 120 years ago.

DISCOVER: England’s lost royal palaces

The first scene below is in front of Buckingham Palace. The building may look a bit unfamiliar because in 1913, sixteen years later, a new Portland stone facade was slapped on the front of the palace to match the gleaming white Victoria memorial in front and to create a more impressive backdrop for royal events. Behind the facade is the original palace that was built throughout the first half of the 19th century.

What we see is an honour guard of sailors on the left and “blue jackets” on the right who may look like police but – and correct me if I’m wrong – were actually sailors as well, sent to put down the Boxer Rebellion in China amongst other things.

With the next image, we glimpse Queen Victoria leaving for her Diamond Jubilee procession. Note that today’s impressive railings around the palace are absent and obviously the memorial to Victoria I mentioned above isn’t there either as she was still very much alive. The Mall has yet to be turned into the wide roadway we see in 2022.

FIND OUT MORE: The impressive state funeral for Queen Victoria

Below we get a view of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee procession going through the City of London near the Bank of England and Mansion House. In the foreground towards the left you can see a large group of ‘Bluecoat’ boys from Christ’s Hospital school. The pupils were from poorer backgrounds. The school was founded by King Edward VI in 1552.

It was housed in the remains of a Franciscan monastery shut down during the Protestant Reformation of Henry VIII. Five years after this photo was taken the boys were moved to a new school outside London ending centuries of being based in the middle of the city. The school is still thriving and today admits girls.

The next image has the Diamond Jubilee procession heading down Pall Mall towards Trafalgar Square and a huge multi-level stand has been erected at the junction. Of particular interest is the reference to “various West Indian regiments” as these could have come from Jamaica, Barbados, and other Caribbean colonies, which now are questioning their future in the Commonwealth following the death of Queen Elizabeth II who was still their head of state.

Finally, Queen Victoria arrives at St Paul’s cathedral, which remains an iconic presence on the London skyline. The masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren, constructed after the Great Fire of 1666 that incinerated the ancient medieval cathedral. The buildings to the right are mostly still there but elsewhere around the cathedral, the Blitz of the Second World War levelled a great number of buildings.

DISCOVER: Medieval buildings bombed in World War Two

Note the amount of soot on St Paul’s. I remember it took until the middle of the 1980s for London to be cleaned of all its soot revealing a very different city to the dark place I grew up in. Creamy exteriors we had previously thought to be pitch black.

Worst Royal Funeral ever!

On June 26, 1830 – one of the most unpopular monarchs of England died. King George the Fourth breathed his last. And it seems that nobody particularly cared. This was possibly the worst royal funeral ever!

Goodbye to a hated king!

The Times published an astonishing commentary referring to George as a “pompous and secluded monarch” who had easily identifiable vices while his virtues were not in evidence. “There never was an individual less regretted by his fellow-creatures than this deceased king. What eye has wept for him? What heart has heaved one throb of unmercenary sorrow?”

It then went on to say: “If George IV ever had a friend – a devoted friend – in any rank of life, we protest that the name of him or her has not yet reached us.” The reason, the commentary continued, was his utter selfishness.

“Selfishness is the true repellent of human sympathy. Selfishness feels no attachment and invites none – it is the charnel-house of the affections.”

The London Medical Gazette pulled no punches on July 17, barely three weeks after the king’s death, detailing the “remarkable degree of obesity in the person of his late majesty”.

“We understand that the quantity of fat enveloping the several viscera in the person of his late Majesty was very great. An immense deposit was found about the kidneys, and the adipose matter seemed even to have pervaded the ‘intersfical’ texture of these glands.” There was so much fat around George’s heart, The Times was sure it had “oppressed its action to a considerable extent”.

When it came to reporting the king’s funeral a month later, The Times said it was required to cover the event “though at the sacrifice of more important matter”. “Our hearts sicken at the insincerity of the closed and darkened house, the dismal knell, and ‘all the forms, modes, and shows of grief’ wherewith the court sycophant bemoans departed majesty, and with obsequious bow, and smirking smiling face, rejoices in the event”.

DISCOVER: Why King Henry VIII had no friends

Royal Funeral with little respect for the King

The Morning Chronicle reported that on the day of the funeral ‘common-place jokes’ were being told by courtiers.

The whole lying in state and funeral was conducted at Windsor Castle which George IV had spent a vast amount of money refurbishing at a time when the country was in economic turmoil. We’re used to the idea of British royal occasions being perfectly stage managed but before Queen Victoria – this was not the case.

Both the funerals of George IV and his father George III were chaotic. At this funeral, both women and what were described as “effeminate” men complained loudly about the crush of the crowd. Once mourners found themselves by the coffin of the king, The Times noted that there was far less interest than there had been for king George III.

And on the streets of Windsor, “the only sign of mourning” was in what people were wearing. “There is no affectation of grief”, the Times reported, “no sound of lamentation in the street”. The procession to the king’s tomb was described as “more tumultuous than magnificent – more pretending than interesting”.

And quite shockingly to us after seeing the respect shown to Queen Elizabeth the Second – The Times noted that when the “Royal Body appeared, not a single mark of sympathy was exhibited”. The VIP guests found themselves seated without a view because royal servants and their friends who lived locally including carpenters and upholsterers had taken the best seats and refused to give them up.

London shut down as the funeral was a public holiday and people thronged the streets – especially Fleet Street and The Strand. But there were rowdy scenes. St James’s Church in Piccadilly held a special service for the king but only six people turned up. At St James’s Clerkenwell, the preacher condemned the king railing against the “voluptuousness of his companions” and his “habits of reckless expenditure”. He continued: “In no portion of his life was he fortunate in his choice of friends”.

As for George’s stormy relationship with his wife, “it would be well for the memory of his late Majesty if the alienation from the Queen formed no part of his history”.

DISCOVER: Royal weddings – tragic and comic

Before the Royal Funeral – His Majesty’s grim death

Details of George’s final hours of life were given. Contrast that with the scant details provided about the last day of Queen Elizabeth II. King George IV was moved from his bed into a chair as death clearly approached with his fixed and his lips quivering. Attempts were made to revive him splashing Eau de Cologne on the royal face “and such stimulants as were at hand”.

The king tried to raise his hand to his chest and whispered: “Oh God, I am dying!”. Then after a few seconds: “This is death!”. The king’s doctors were not present but once they got to what was now a corpse, they noted his chest was “much swollen as well as the abdomen and legs” while the upper part of his body “exhibited all the appearances of extreme emaciation”.

Aside from heart disease, the king also had cancer and The Times described the lead up to his death with obvious relish: “The torture which the King must have suffered during the paroxysms of this disorder, must have been excruciating. His moans were at times even heard by the sentinels on duty in the Quadrangle”. So disturbed were the soldiers on guard by the noise that they moved away from the king’s apartments to avoid hearing it.

In short, despite some people’s best efforts, George IV was ushered out of this world with little dignity or respect.

England’s lost royal palaces

Some of England’s royal palaces have gone missing – lost at some point in history. Grand structures that once dominated the landscape have vanished into thin air. So, what happened to them?

Every day I pass by an office block called Edinburgh House in south London – a typical post-war block on a busy street. Hard to believe it was once Kennington Palace – built by the Black Prince, one of the military heroes of the Middle Ages. Yet today, not a scrap of the place is left. Why?

Kennington is one of several lost palaces in London alone. There is the mystery of Baynard’s Castle, a looming presence on the river Thames up until the 17th century. Now the site of a 1970s brutalist monstrosity.

One of our largest lost royal palaces

Or the vast 1,500-room Whitehall Palace that King Henry VIII built in Westminster and from where the Tudor monarchs terrorised the country with their conflicting ideas on religion. Whitehall rivalled the Pope’s new Vatican palace in the 16th century and was only eventually outshone by Versailles, constructed by the ‘sun king’, Louis XIV. Today, a solitary building – Banqueting House – is all that remains.

DISCOVER: The filth and stench at Versailles

Where the Savoy Hotel now stands was once the Savoy Palace, home to John of Gaunt. He was the brother of the aforementioned Black Prince and arguably the most powerful politician of the medieval period. But his once sumptuous home has gone. A victim to a wave of violence that swept the city.

To find out more about our lost royal palaces, watch the film below for some answers that might surprise you!

Has royal tradition been largely invented?

This week just gone saw the death of Queen Elizabeth II who has been a constant in my life as somebody born and raised in the United Kingdom. It’s an event that’s had a justifiably big impact. But in the hours and days that have followed, I’ve watched with a quizzical eye some of the allegedly ancient traditions unfold. Normally involving men in strange costumes yelling proclamations around the country. But to what extent has much of this royal tradition been invented?

In other words, is it all as old as they’d like you to believe?

Well, it may come as a shock to both Britons and royal watchers around the world to know that some of these venerable traditions really aren’t that old. Unless you regard fifty, one hundred and even two hundred years as incredibly ancient. In fact, a great deal of the pomp has grown with the development of mass media and the public appetite for spectacle.

The monarchy has also been deployed during volatile political periods in the 19th and 20th century to curb radical and even revolutionary currents stirring within the British population. In an excellent book – The Invention of Tradition – edited by the late Eric Hobsbawm, things you may have regarded as both eternal and true like Scottish tartan were breezily demolished. The book showed how royal glitz has been an effective distraction from growing social unrest.

DISCOVER: Royal weddings – tragic and comic

The book also examined how royal ‘tradition’ was extended to the Indian Raj and colonial Africa to foster deference and the idea of an empire upon which the sun would never set. For example, the British took the idea of the ‘durbar’, a traditional royal feudal gathering in India, and turned it into the Imperial Durbar. Three grand processional events held by the British in 1877, 1903, and 1911. At the third one, King George V oversaw the proceedings in person as Emperor of India (a title invented in Queen Victoria’s reign and scrapped in the 1940s after Indian independence).

So let’s look at some other traditions around the monarch that may not be quite as old as if often claimed:

The State Opening of Parliament: The website for Parliament claims this ceremony is 500 years old. But then it lets the cat out of the bag admitting that in its ‘modern’ form – ie, what you see on TV – it’s only existed since 1852 when Queen Victoria established the route to be taken and much of the ritual. Indeed, in the early part of Victoria’s reign, a state opening would have been impossible because the Houses of Parliament had burned down and were being rebuilt.

The Honours system: If you think the honours system with the OBE, MBE, and CBE dates back centuries, I’ve got bad news for you. It celebrated its centenary in 2017 having been introduced in the closing years of the First World War and the same year as the Russian Revolution.

The national anthem: While the music and words to the national anthem, do date back to the mid-18th century, the anthem only started to be used in earnest at royal occasions from the mid-19th century. It wasn’t even played at the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837.

In short, we can rightly point an accusing finger at the Victorians whose love of kitsch – and frankly rather camp – takes on medieval history and ritual are well recognised. They created much of the royal ‘tradition’ that we believe dates back countless centuries.

Was Tutankhamun buried in the tomb of a queen?

One of the mysteries surrounding the tomb of Tutankhamun is the seemingly feminine appearance of the dead pharaoh. Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves believes there’s a simple explanation. The tomb was never meant for the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun but for a royal queen. It was built for the wife of the boy’s father – the pharaoh Akhenaten. That woman was none other than the iconic Egyptian queen: Nefertiti.

Reeves believes Tutankhamun’s death mask was originally for Nefertiti and then modified. The rich golden decorations in the tomb are representing Nefertiti and not Tutankhamun. The shape of the tomb is traditional for a queen and not a king. And the feminine representation of the boy – even with breasts on one statue – is because we’re looking at Nefertiti and not Tutankhamun.

There is a depiction of a living pharaoh opening the mouth of a recently deceased pharaoh to release their spirit and enable them to live eternally. The living ruler is thought to resemble the boy pharaoh whereas the dead ruler is more feminine than masculine. Is this Tutankhamun releasing the spirit of Nefertiti?

One problem with this. Nefertiti was never the pharaoh of Egypt. Well, that is a statement a growing number of commentators would challenge. They believe she ruled briefly between the death of Akhenaten and his son – who was her stepson.

Reeves even thinks her body could be somewhere in the tomb. But the Egyptian government is adamant that there are no hidden chambers to be found. Theories about what happened to Nefertiti after the death of her husband Akhenaten abound because of two apparent facts. Her body has not been found and she may have ruled after the death of her husband.

I say ‘apparent’ facts because there is a view that Nefertiti’s body was discovered and can be seen today in Cairo. And that in fact she did rule after the death of her husband Akhenaten. The tomb we attribute to Tutankhamun was actually built for her. That explains why when the boy pharaoh died suddenly, a richly decorated place of burial was ready for him. Because….it wasn’t originally for him at all!

DISCOVER: Was Moses the Pharaoh Akhenaten?

The mystery of pharaoh Smenkhkare

After the death of Akhenaten, somebody called Smenkhkare took over. Very little is known about this person, so all kinds of theories have filled the gaps. One is that Smenkhkare was a male gay lover of Akhenaten. The other is that this mystery pharaoh was Nefertiti ruling under another name.

Or then we have view that Smenkhkare was indeed a woman – but not Nefertiti. In fact, the real identity are the two older sisters of Tutankhamun. What happened was that after the death of Akhenaten, his youngest surviving daughter Neferneferuaten took over disguised as a man. Her sister Meritaten adopted the role of royal spouse.

After a year, Meritaten decided that just being spouse wasn’t quite good enough – and proclaimed herself pharaoh as well. The two sisters effectively ruled as co-regents for their brother Tutankhamun who was still only four or five years old. This idea of joint rulership may have been inherited from their late father who had his wife Nefertiti depicted on almost equal terms with him. Something that no doubt disgusted traditional opinion in Ancient Egypt.

Should point out that Neferneferuaten wasn’t that much older than Tutankhamun. In fact, she was seven when she became pharaoh! So, what on earth was going on? The explanation given by one historian is that repeated outbreaks of plague spooked Akhenaten. He wanted to sort out the succession after his death.

Therefore, he himself married his eldest daughter, Meritaten. The next oldest daughter – Ankhesenpaaten – was married to Tutankhamun. And the seven-year-old Neferneferuaten was designated as the next pharaoh. Nefertiti never ruled because she was not of the royal bloodline.

Reeves believes that many of Tutankhamun’s burial goods were made for Neferneferuaten including his gold mask.

TO BE CONTINUED

Queen Victoria assassination attempt

Queen Victoria – the eight assassination attempts

At the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, there was a wave of anarchist inspired political assassinations. The Empress of Austria, King of Italy, Prime Minister of France, King of Greece and President of the United States (William McKinley) were all killed by assassins. But one ruler blithely survived an astonishing eight assassination attempts during the 19th century: step forward indestructible Queen Victoria.

DISCOVER: Was Queen Victoria a drug addict?

While other heads of state breathed their last – the Queen of Britain and Empress of India seemed to almost bat away the bullets. So let’s list all those attempts on Her Majesty’s life:

  1. Edward Oxford was the first would-be queen killer taking a shot at Victoria in 1840. She was still a young woman and had barely been on the throne for three years. Her assailant was a mild-manner unemployed man called Edward Oxford. Victoria’s security was unbelievably lax. Shooting her as she drove past in her carriage was beyond easy. Oxford just stepped forward, took aim and fired. At his trial, claims to be part of a conspiratorial group called Young England proved to be a fantasy and it soon become clear he was insane. The jury certainly thought so and off he went to an asylum for the next 24 years. After which he was sent off to Australia where he assumed a new identity and married a woman who apparently never knew who he actually was. Oxford – now called John Freeman – was an upstanding member of the local community and nobody was any the wiser.
  2. Two years later and a man called John Francis, described by Prince Albert, Victoria’s husband, as a “little, swarthy, ill-looking rascal”, pulled out a pistol and fired on the queen as she drove down Constitution Hill. But the pistol mercifully jammed and Francis ran away.
  3. Well, if you don’t succeed the first time – come back and have another go. Incredibly, the following day – 30 May 1842 – Francis did exactly that. This time he was arrested, sent to Newgate Prison and sentenced to death. Strictly speaking, the punishment for treason was to be hanged, drawn and quartered. I’ll spare you the details. This horrific medieval punishment was only removed from the statute books in 1870. Francis, it turned out, was the son of an employee at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. Before taking aim at the queen, he’d been seen walking round the nearby park yelling obscenities about Victoria – so not exactly keeping a low profile.
  4. 1842 was going to be quite memorable for Queen Victoria. Because she’d barely got over two assassination attempts in May when along came another one on 3 July. This time the pistol wielder was John William Bean. His gun was a ramshackle affair that failed to fire. Bean was only four feet high and severely disabled. He was clearly a very unhappy chap and the subsequent story was that his assassination attempt was more or less a cry for help. But Victorian England wasn’t such a kind place. The order went out – I kid you not – to round up every ‘hunchback’ in the vicinity. Bean was captured but shown some leniency – by which I mean he wasn’t hanged publicly but sent to a pretty dreadful prison. In fact, he was imprisoned at the Millbank Penitentiary – which is now the site of Tate Britain in south London. Eventually released, he got married, had a son but happiness proved elusive. He lived not far from my house here in the Camberwell district of London and in 1882, killed himself with poison.
  5. Bean claimed to have been inspired by Edward Oxford – as did the perpetrator of the next assassination attempt on Queen Victoria. Like Oxford, William Hamilton was unemployed. His gun was only loaded with powder and there doesn’t seem to have been a serious desire to murder the queen. Hamilton was Irish and had left his homeland during the appalling famine of the 1840s. By 1849, when he took aim at Her Majesty, he was broke and like many at the bottom of society, thought prison might be a better option than life on the streets. However, Hamilton instead was transported to Gibraltar and from there to Australia.
  6. Hard to know whether to regard this one as an assassination attempt – but Robert Pate certainly meant the queen considerable harm. A former army lieutenant in the Tenth Hussars, life on civvy street hadn’t been kind to this gentleman. Many Londoners saw this strange man marching frantically around Hyde Park as if he was still on military service. Frankly, he became a bit of a joke. Even, it’s said, Queen Victoria was aware of him. But the joke turned sour when he ran at her coach and whacked the sovereign on the head with a cane. She was left with severe bruising and I think it’s safe to say that despite her famous stiff upper lip – this was a deeply unpleasant incident. This was in 1850 and it’s simply mind-boggling that Victoria’s protection was not up to scratch.
  7. Queen Victoria now had a two decade respite in her long reign until 1872 when Arthur O’Connor raised his gun. Like Hamilton, O’Connor was an Irishman. But whereas Hamilton seemed to have no political motivation, O’Connor claimed his act was intended to goad the British state into releasing Irish Republican prisoners. This was a time when the movement for Irish independence from the British Empire was gathering pace. And Irish nationalists were the first to bring what we would now call terrorism to the British mainland to make their point. Well, another Celt – the queen’s Scottish servant (and very, very close friend) John Brown – wrestled O’Connor to the ground. As with previous assassins, he was spared the rope and instead got prison, a spell in an asylum and transportation to Australia.
  8. Ten years later in 1882 came the final assassination attempt by Roderick Maclean. Now this was at a time when anarchist killings were picking up. But Maclean’s shooting at Victoria outside Windsor Station was a clumsy affair. Schoolboys from Eton College beat him to the ground with their umbrellas – which can hardly have been the heroic image he was striving for. He spent the rest of his life in an asylum.

There clearly wasn’t the appetite in 19th century England to impose draconian punishments on these assassins. Britain was becoming a parliamentary democracy with radical movements like the Chartists and the emerging trade unions as well as other pressure groups campaigning for a more humane and just society.

For her part, Queen Victoria seems to have been bitterly disappointed at the relatively lenient punishments. She wanted consequences that were way more severe. A noose around the neck and a long drop. It left the queen with the distinct impression that parliament viewed these incidents as either irrelevant or maybe worse – amusing.

She, though, was not amused.

Elizabeth I – why was she a Virgin Queen?

In 1998, the movie Elizabeth was released with Cate Blanchett as the queen who resolved to never marry nor have children. Audiences in the United States were so moved by her strength and defiance that some stood up to shout “go girl!” during the film. The decision by a real-life female monarch to reject all those royal male suitors and become the almost ethereal Virgin Queen is a hugely compelling narrative. But is it true?

Well, let’s look at the different theories about Elizabeth – the allegedly Virgin Queen.

Powerful royal women – but this was the first Virgin Queen

Many women had exerted power behind the throne in England for centuries. Powerful and intelligent women like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Margaret of Anjou. But the Tudors in the 16th century gave us two women who ascended to the throne in succession: Mary Tudor and her sister Elizabeth. Both daughters of Henry VIII and as strong-willed as their father.

DISCOVER: Tudor treasure stolen in England

Elizabeth was crowned as the last Tudor monarch after a stormy century of religious turmoil and war. Her rise to power was by no means assured and on many occasions she had good cause to fear for her life. Elizabeth was constantly at the centre of court intrigue for which she could easily have paid with her head. But good fortune saw her succeed to the top job. However, holding on to power was a formidable challenge.

Creating Elizabeth – Gloriana and Virgin Queen

To do that, Elizabeth crafted an image of herself. She used her body, her sex and her appearance as propaganda tools. Her Ladies of the Bedchamber worked tirelessly on her dress, make-up and hair to project Gloriana – the Virgin Queen. In effect, Elizabeth politicised her body to create a myth. That she was married to England and no prince would come between her and royal duty.

It was a secularisation of the wedding between Catholic nuns and Christ – appropriate for the newly Protestant England. This spiritual marriage was to a country now independent of the Pope and his church. Elizabeth’s chastity was a statement of dedication to her country – not to God and Rome.

But sceptics abounded. Elizabeth was the subject of gossip with regards to several very eligible courtiers. Expert Dr Anna Whitelock believes the rumours of illicit relationships between Elizabeth and various male aristocrats were dealt with by her ultra-loyal Ladies. If necessary, they would take a bullet for the queen and claim to have been seeing the man involved themselves.

Whitelock details how Elizabeth batted away attempts by her Privy Councillors to force her to marry soon after becoming queen and how this pressure to wed continued into her 40s as she approached the menopause. Her contemporaries and many commentators down the centuries wrestled with the question of whether she simply concealed her affairs, was incapable of having sexual relations or if her propaganda was in fact the truth.

No choice but to be a Virgin Queen?

Maybe Elizabeth simply couldn’t have sex – for solid biological reasons. The playwright Ben Johnson (1572-1637) believed “she had a membrana on her which made her uncapable of man, though for her delight she tried many” (his spelling). Peter Bayle writing in 1710 stridently asserted that “it is certain, she had no vulva”. A gynaecologist writing last year thought that Johnson and Bayle were referring to a condition called vaginismus – where penetration is impossible due to a combination of fear and pain.

Even in death, Elizabeth the Virgin Queen left instructions to ensure that there would be no embalming. This would have led to the prying hands and eyes of physicians taking a good look at the royal corpse. And that would not be allowed to happen. Her womb, as was the custom, would not be examined to see if it had borne children. Her secret would go to the grave.

Daniel Defoe

When the public loved not hated journalists

The view of journalists today among the public is at an all time low. This is not good for democracy. Especially when that hatred is fuelled by populist politicians who resent being scrutinised….by journalists. But this is a new phenomenon – journalists in the past were loved, not hated by the public.

I have to declare an interest here. I’m a former journalist (BBC News, Sky News, Financial Times magazines, etc) and still a paid up member of the National Union of Journalists. And it depresses the hell out of me to see ill-informed people on Twitter writing BS about the so-called MSM. So I’m writing this blog post as a well overdue corrective.

The public loved journalists – even in the pillory

The path to creating a free press was a treacherous one. Not for nothing does the US Constitution protect the right of free speech. Because in the Old World – that right was non-existent or permitted at the whim of an absolute monarch.

Into the early 19th century, British journalists and publishers were literally placed in the pillory for producing work that offended the establishment. Just to be clear – they were put on trial and then taken to a wooden post with a yoke and fixed by their head and hands to be pelted by the mob.

But in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries – the ‘mob’ often didn’t comply. They came out and supported the hapless journalist in the pillory. They loved them for defending liberty and exposing corruption and vice. How different from today!

Daniel Defoe – journalist loved by the public

One of the many journalists placed in the pillory was the author of Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe. Aside from writing a great yarn (based on real events) about a castaway, Defoe was essentially a tabloid journalist. He was also a bit of a spin doctor for the government.

In 1703, he wrote a satirical pamphlet called The Shortest Way with the Dissenters. It was intended to be a ribald commentary on the attitude of the Church of England to Protestant dissenters on the one side and Catholics (or “Papists”) on the other. The CofE was likened to Christ with a dissenter thief on one cross and a Papist on the other. All pretty silly and Defoe wrote the whole thing tongue in cheek.

But the Church of England and government took the pamphlet very seriously and he was charged with sedition. The pamphlet was burned by the public hangman and Defoe went into hiding. However, he was discovered and put in three separate pillories around the centre of London for maximum humiliation.

The public, though, admired Defoe for his literary bravery and instead of throwing rotten vegetables at him – brought flowers and sang songs. Including a song he’d written for the occasion!

Public loved journalists who stuck it to the king!

Even though Daniel Defoe was cheered by the public – the experience of the pillory undoubtedly freaked him out. So much so that he agreed to spy on another journalist, Nathaniel Mist. Mist’s early 18th century weekly journal was hugely popular and it poked fun at the new German speaking king of Britain – George I.

Mist described the great grandfather of George III (who lost the American colonies) as a “cruel, ill-bred uneducated old tyrant”. He served a short prison sentence and like Defoe was sent to the pillory. Also like Defoe, the public cheered him on as a free spirit. But then Mist fled to France unable to handle the pressure and threats from the government.

Edmund Curll – also loved by the public

Edmund Curll was another early 18th century figure in the publishing world. This time, a publisher as opposed to a journalist. His sin in the eyes of the church and state was to publish both radical political works and pornographic tracts. Almost as if to cause maximum rage in respectable society.

One publication, Venus in the Cloister, alleged that while the church was prudish, Jesus Christ had believed in sexual exploration. This was a translation of a French work that went on to influence the notorious Marquis de Sade.

DISCOVER: The urban gang that terrorised Georgian London

Curll eventually earned a place in the pillory where, like Defoe and Mist, he was treated rather kindly by the crowds. And the list of pilloried and prosecuted journalists loved by the public – in Britain particularly – goes on and on.

What a sad contrast with today when many of the public would rather side with power against free speech. Or, worse, take the word of YouTube charlatans and hucksters as the truth ahead of people who are on the front line trying to report what is happening in the real world.

Below is the arrest of CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez in 2020 while reporting on protests following the death of George Floyd. A modern pillorying of a member of the ‘fourth estate’.

Walking through Lockdown London with a visor!

On 3 June 2020 I left my home for the first time since mid-March. I live in the London borough of Southwark, just south of the river Thames, and we had distinguished ourselves early on as having one of the highest rates of Covid infection in the capital. So – I was very strict about lockdown and quarantine.

The only reason I left my home today was that back in February, I’d started root canal surgery and it was left with a gaping hole in my molar. That got infected and so I had to dash to the dentist and get the surgery finished off.

So what to say about Lockdown London on 3 June. Well, despite all the reports that quarantine has all but collapsed, I found a city that was eerily deserted still. Yes, there are more cars and construction workers – but no office staff.

I didn’t see a single person in a suit in the middle of town. Even though I walked down Fleet Street and Chancery Lane – centre of the legal community. Not a single arrogant, over-paid lawyer in sight! 🙂

DISCOVER: Coronavirus and panic in history

London is not a stranger to plague and lockdown as I’ve mentioned on the blog. In 1665, we had a Great Plague which involved King Charles II and his court fleeing the city for Oxford. Much to the annoyance of Londoners. They took the full force of the disease while their social betters were miles away.

Then there was the Black Death where the bodies piled up in huge pits – stricken with the bubonic plague. Incidentally, these plague pits are dug up every so often and others lie under your feet in the most unexpected places. Like a supermarket in Whitechapel I won’t mention, for example.

This virus hasn’t been on the scale of 1665 or the Black Death. Nor the many cholera and typhus outbreaks that hit the city over the centuries. And I suppose our response has been more sophisticated – though at present, most Londoners I know are not hugely enamoured of the politicians.

Anyway, I didn’t feel at enormous risk today with my visor. But the lockdown has forced many business sectors in London to rethink their models. Do we need so many offices? Do we need all these hotels? How will transport work with social distancing?

And it’s going to change the way we interact. A year ago, pre-lockdown London was booming. Previously derelict areas of the city were becoming terribly chic and crowded with hip young things. And now?

Dog dung used to make books look good!

Before the advent of synthetic products, some very odd natural materials had to be used for processes we take for granted today. Take curing leather bindings on books. In the good old days, getting a nice brown sheen on the cover of books was achieved by using dog dung.

And that dung had to be supplied by somebody. Well, there were people on hand happy to provide the raw materials!

The people who collected dog dung for books

Collecting dog dung for a living has to be about the most revolting job ever created. I’ve been re-reading the works of a Victorian Londoner called Henry Mayhew who, in 1851, published a book describing the appalling ways in which people were forced to make a living. The scraping of “Pure” (the slang word for dog excrement) from the streets has to be the worst.

Why on earth, you may reasonably ask, was dog dung referred to as “Pure” and what possessed anybody to go out and collect it? Well, it’s all to do with turning animal skins into leather. In the Victorian period, this would be done at a tannery.

That would be a workshop where animal skins were delivered to be cleaned; the fat and hair scraped off and then fermented using dog or pigeon dung.

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Needless to say, tanneries stank. I mean, really reeked. And so they were normally placed out of the centres of town by the 19th century – though not always. The leather created using dog dung transformed goat and calf skins into book covers, gloves and other quality items.

So, if you have a leather bound book from the Victorian era, I’m afraid dog dung may have been involved in its production. Canine excrement was essential for quality books.

The supply of dog poo was done by people called “Pure Finders”. The brown stuff was called “Pure” because it cleansed and purified the animal skins turning them into leather.

Getting dog dung for books was good business

In 1851, Mayhew tells us that Pure Finders could make between eight and ten pennies per bucket – and maybe more if the quality was good. The highest price was for something described as the “dry-limy-looking sort”. That apparently had more alkaline and so reacted better with the animal skins to make good leather.

There was always a temptation to doctor the dung to make it look more “limy”. That was done by mixing a bit of mortar with it. I can’t imagine how that was done – actually I can but I’m trying not to!

A lucky Pure Finder might have an arrangement to regularly clean some kennels and could make ten to fifteen shillings a week – good pay in the 1850s. But most had to scour the streets picking up what they could find. Their income was pretty miserable – this was a job you did if you’d fallen on hard times.

A typical tannery in the south London district of Bermondsey might employ 300 to 500 tanners – and in addition, retain 20 or so Pure Finders. Many of the finders were struggling to keep out of the workhouse by doing any job on the streets that was available. Mayhew heard about one finder who was totally unaware up until he died that he was the beneficiary of a vast legacy of thousands of pounds. Lawyers even placed advertisements in the newspapers to find him.

Fittingly, this man’s name was Mr Brown – I’m not kidding.

Tony Robinson is a TV historian and presenter in the United Kingdom and a few years back, he broadcast a series on horrible jobs in history. Here is his episode on the Victorians!