The ringing of the shop-door bell, 1773-80

Enter for snuff, sugar and wit

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Look’ye Sir, I write to the ringing of the shop-door bell—I write—betwixt serving—gossiping—and lying. Alas! what cramps to poor genius!

Last week we met Ignatius Sancho (1729–80), Britain’s first black person to get the vote, a staunch campaigner for the abolition of slavery, a prolific article writer and composer, and an eyewitness of the Gordon Riots of 1780. Sancho is known to us today through his letters first published in 17821 – and one particularly well-known sequence is a lively correspondence between him and the author Lawrence Sterne about slavery.2

But here I’d like to focus on more domestic scenes, through the prism of Sancho’s role as a shopkeeper, running his own shop at 19–20 Charles Street Mayfair – his letters yield charming details of his business, his family and daily trials and joys, and indeed it was this shop, a few streets from Parliament, that helped him know many luminaries of his day.

[Sancho moved to Charles Street in 1773. The house was built in 1750 and still stands, in altered form. It was later the family home of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, prime minister 1894–5. One of Sancho’s helpers in setting up shop was ‘Mrs H’, whose name we don’t know (possibly Howard) but appears to have been a fellow servant in the household of the late Duke of Montagu, Ignatius’s benefactor. He wrote this to her about his plans:]

1st November, 1773

I have sincere pleasure to find you honor me in your thoughts… Part of your scheme we mean to adopt—but the principal thing we aim at is in the tea, snuff, and sugar, with the little articles of daily domestic use—in truth, I like your scheme, and I think the three articles you advise would answer exceeding well—but it would require a capital—which we have not—so we mean to cut our coat according to our scanty quantum—and creep with hopes of being enabled hereafter to mend our pace.

[Here Sancho refers to his wife having given birth to their fifth daughter, Kitty. He married Anne Osborne, of West Indian descent, in 1758, and they had seven children.]

Mrs. Sancho is in the straw—she has given me a fifth wench… as soon as we can get a bit of house, we shall begin to look sharp for a bit of bread—I have strong hope—the more children, the more blessings—and if it please the Almighty to spare me from the gout, I verily think the happiest part of my life is to come—soap, starch, and blue, with raisins, figs, &c.—we shall cut a respectable figure—in our printed cards.—Pray make my best wishes to Mr. H——; tell him I revere his whole family, which is doing honor to myself.

[See above for his printed trade card – the other side refers to ‘Sancho’s Best Trinidado’, a blend of tobacco. Somewhat unfortunately he sold goods which at the time relied upon the slavery to which he was opposed. A couple of months later, his shop was up and running:]

9th February, 1774

I opened shop on Saturday the 29th of January—and have met with a success truly flattering;—it shall be my study and constant care not to forfeit the good opinion of my friends…

[Two years later he grumbles about poor business. William is his young son, born the previous October.]

28th August, 1776

 … More and more convinced of the futility of all our eagerness after worldly riches, my prayer and hope is only for bread, and to be enabled to pay what I owe;—I labour up hill against many difficulties—but God’s goodness is my support—and his word my trust.—Mrs. Sancho joins me in her best wishes, and gives you joy also; the children are all well—William grows, and tries his feet briskly—and Fanny goes on well in her tambour-work—Mary must learn some business or other—if we can possibly achieve money—but we have somehow no friends—and, bless God!—we deserve no enemies. Trade is duller than ever I knew it—and money scarcer;—foppery runs higher—and vanity stronger;—extravagance is the adored idol of this sweet town.

[Sancho often refers to his sufferings from gout, here in a letter to his good friend John Meheux, a clerk at the India Board, described in another letter as “the best friend and customer I have”.]

4th December, 1776

I forgot to tell you this morning—a jack-ass would have shewn more thought—…the best recipe for the gout, I am informed—is two or three stale Morning-Posts;—reclined in easy chair—the patient must sit—and mull over them—take snuff at intervals—hem—and look wife;—I apply to you as my pharmacopolist—do not criticize my orthography—but when convenient—send me the medicine—which, with care and thanks, I will return.

[He picks up on the ‘jack-ass’ theme again, that being the title of this letter to Meheux:]

25th August, 1777

My gall has been plentifully stirred—by the barbarity of a set of gentry, who every morning offend my feelings—in their cruel parade through Charles Street to and from market—they vend potatoes in the day—and thieve in the night season.—A tall lazy villain was bestriding his poor beast (although loaded with two panniers of potatoes at the same time) and another of his companions, was good-naturedly employed in whipping the poor sinking animal—that the gentleman-rider might enjoy the two-fold pleasure of blasphemy and cruelty—this is a too common evil—and, for the honor of rationality, calls loudly for redress.—I do believe it might be in some measure amended--either by a hint in the papers, of the utility of impressing such vagrants for the king’s service—or by laying a heavy tax upon the poor Jack-asses…

Mrs. Sancho would send you some tamarinds.—I know not her reasons;—as I hate contentions, I contradicted not—but shrewdly suspects she thinks you want cooling;—do you hear, Sir?

[In another letter, we learn more of his affection for his young son.]

24th October, 1777

You cannot imagine what hold little Billy gets of me—he grows—prattles—every day learns something new—and by his good-will would be ever in the shop with me—The monkey! he clings round my legs—and if I chide him or look sour, he holds up his little mouth to kiss me.—I know am the fool for parents’ weakness is child’s strength:—truth orthodox which will hold good between lover and lovee...

[In this next letter, Sancho refers to the American War of Independence, before turning to matters closer to hand and another little scene in his shop:]

“I… I sincerely believe the Sacred Writ—and of course look upon war in all its horrid arrangements as the bitterest curse that can fall upon a people—and this American one—as one of the very worst—of worst things… But let me return, if possible, to my senses;—for God’s sake! what has a poor starving Negroe, with six children, to do with kings and heroes, and armies and politics?—aye, or poets and painters?—or artists—of any sort?… I am resolved, from henceforth, to banish feelings—Misanthrope from head to foot!—Apropos—not five minutes since I was interrupted, in this same letter of letters, by a pleasant affair—to a man of no feelings.—

A fellow bolted into the shop—with a countenance in which grief and fear struggled for mastery.

“Did you see any body go to my cart, Sir?”

“No, friend, how should I? you see I am writing—and how should I be able to see your cart or you either in the dark?”

“Lord in heaven pity me!” cries the man, “what shall I do? oh! what shall I do?—I am undone!—Good God!—I did but go into the court here—with a trunk for the lady at Captain G——’s (I had two to deliver) and somebody has stole the other;—what shall I do?—what shall I do?”

“Zounds, man!—who ever left their cart in the night with goods in it, without leaving some one to watch?”

“Alack, Sir, I left a boy, and told him I would give him something to stand by the cart, and the boy and trunk are both gone!”

Oh nature!—oh heart!—why does the voice of distress so forcibly knock at the door of hearts?—but to hint to pride and avarice—our common kindred—and to alarm self-love.… But this same stolen trunk;—the ladies are just gone out of my shop—they have been here holding a council—upon law and advertisements;—God help them!—they could not have come to a worse—nor could they have found a stupider or sorrier adviser:—the trunk was seen parading between two in the Park—and I dare say the contents by this time are pretty well gutted…

… How can you expect business in these hard times—when the utmost exertions of honest industry can scarce afford people in the middle sphere of life daily provisions?—When it shall please the Almighty that things shall take a better turn in America—when the conviction of their madness shall make them court peace—and the same conviction of our cuelty and injustice induce us to settle all points in equity—when that time arrives, my friend, America will be the grand patron of genius—trade and arts will flourish—and if it shall please God to spare us till that period—we will either go and try our fortunes there—or stay in Old England and talk about it…

[Another of his regular correspondents was a Mrs Margaret Cocksedge, godmother to Kitty, and from what Sancho writes, he appears to have been very attracted to her, despite his obvious devotion to his wife (unlike our previous Histories shopkeeper). Here he offers her some grocer’s advice:]

23rd July, 1778

… let us know by the next post that you are well, and mean to take every prudent step so to continue—that you have left off tea, I do much approve of—but insist that you make your visitors drink double quantity—that I may be no loser—I hope you find cocoa agree with you—it should be made always over night, and boiled for above fifteen minutes—but you must caution Miss C—not to drink it—for there is nothing so fattening to little folks…

[Soon after, young Kitty’s health was failing – in 1775 we read she was “as lively as ever” but by September 1778 “Kitty has been very poorly for above a month past”. Two letters refer movingly to her death.]

9th March, 1779

… for these six past weeks, our days have been clouded by the severe illness of a child—whom it has pleased God to take from us: and a cowardly attack of the gout at a time when every exertion was needful…

11th March

I give you due credit for your sympathizing feelings on our recent very distressful situation—for thirty nights (save two) Mrs. Sancho had no cloaths off—but you know the woman. Nature never formed a tenderer heart—take her for all in all—the mother—wife—friend—she does credit to her sex—she has the rare felicity of possessing true virtue without arrogance—softness without weakness—and dignity without pride… and to my inexpressible happiness, she is my wife—and truly best part—without a single tinge of my defects.—Poor Kitty! happy Kitty I should say, drew her rich prize early—wish her joy! … Pox on it, my hand aches so, I can scrawl no longer.—Mrs. Sancho is but so, so—the children are well—do write large and intelligible when you write to me, I hate fine hands and fine language—write plain honest nonsense, like thy true friend, I. SANCHO.

[A year later, Sancho’s own health was failing and the gout had taken greater hold of him. He offers his friend Mr Wingrave, a bookseller, some reading recommendations.]

5th January, 1780

I recommend all young people, who do me the honour to ask my opinion—I recommend, if their stomachs are strong enough for such intellectual food—Dr. Young’s Night-Thoughts—the Paradise Lost—and the Seasons;—which with Nelson’s Feasts and Fasts—a Bible and Prayer-book—used for twenty years to make my travelling library…

I feel old age insensibly stealing on me—and, alas! am obliged to borrow the aid of spectacles, for any kind of small print:—Time keeps pacing on, and we delude ourselves with the hope of reaching first this stage, and then the next;—till that ravenous rogue Death puts a final end to our folly.

[This is the last letter we have from Ignatius, to his friend John Spink. Sancho died a week later. When he was an adult William turned the premises into a bookshop and printing house.]

7th December, 1780


        I AM doubly and trebly happy, that I can in some measure remove the anxiety of the best couple in the universe. I set aside all thanks—for were I to enter into the feelings of my heart for the past and present, I should fill the sheet: but you would not be pleased.—In good truth, I have been exceeding ill—my breath grew worse—and the dropsy made large strides.—I left off medicine by consent for four or five days, swelled immoderately:—the good Dr. [Norford] eighty miles distant—and Dr. Jebb heartily puzzled through the darkness of his patient.—I began to feel alarm—when, looking into your letter, I found a Dr. S—th recommended by yourself. I enquired—his character is great—but for lungs and dropsy, Sir John [Elliot], physician extraordinary, and ordinary to his Majesty, is reckoned the first. I applied to him on Sunday morning—he received me like Dr. [Norford];—I have faith in him.—My poor belly is so distended, that I write with pain—I hope next week to write with more ease. My dutiful respects await Mrs. S[pink] and self, to which Mrs. Sancho begs to be joined by her loving husband, and

Your most grateful friend,


John Thomas Smith, author of a biography of the sculptor Joseph Nollekens (the book was known for its ‘malicious candour’), visited Sancho’s shop six months before the grocer died, and gives us a lasting image of the scene in Charles Street:

In June 1780, Mr. Nollekens took me to the house of Ignatius Sancho, who kept a grocer’s, or rather chandler’s shop, at No. 20 Charles-street, Westminster… This extraordinary literary character… was born on board a slave-ship in 1729… In his leisure hours he indulged his taste for music, painting, and literature; which procured him the acquaintance of several persons of distinction.

… as we pushed the wicket-door, a little tinkling bell, the usual appendage of such shops, announced its opening: we drank tea with Sancho and his… lady, who was seated, when we entered, chopping sugar, surrounded by her little ‘Sanchonets’.3


Available online here, for example.


Some of this is available here.


Sancho’s own term for his brood.

The shouts of the mob, 1780

London's worst riot seen at close quarters

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There is at this present moment at least a hundred thousand poor, miserable, ragged rabble, from twelve to sixty years of age, with blue cockades in their hats… all parading the streets—the bridge—the park—ready for any and every mischief.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there were as many as 20,000 black people in Georgian London. One of them was Charles Ignatius Sancho (c.1729–1780), who had been sold into slavery in New Grenada, and given to three sisters in Greenwich when he was just two. As a young adult, he fled and ended up as a valet to the peer John Montagu (1690–1749), who provided Ignatius with an education. He put this to good use, and became a leading member of the abolitionist movement in Britain; and in 1774 he was to become the first known black Briton to vote.

Sancho became a notable man of letters in his time, corresponding with figures such as Lawrence Sterne, and wrote many musical compositions and two plays as well as his many letters about slavery and other subjects. Those letters were published in 1782 as The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, and are well worth exploring.

As well as his writing work, in 1774 the industrious Ignatius set up a grocery shop at 19 Charles Street, Mayfair, selling tobacco, sugar and tea to a wide range of notables of his day, including the artist Thomas Gainsborough and the actor David Garrick. And it was that location which gave him a unique close-up view of the Gordon Riots of June 1780.

These riots began as a protest against the Papists Act 1778, which gave the first minor support for Catholicism since its suppression in the 17th century (although full Catholic emancipation took another 50 years). They were named after Lord George Gordon (1751–93), who founded the Protestant Association to campaign for the repeal of the Papists Act. On 2nd June 1780 he marched with a crown of around 50,000 people from south London to the Houses of Parliament, but the mob gradually got out of hand and ran amok for a week until the army was brought in.

Ignatius Sancho’s shop was on the rioters’ route, and through a series of letters to his friend the draper and banker John Spink, he has given us a remarkable eyewitness account of the chaos, written with great immediacy.1

June 6

In the midst of the most cruel and ridiculous confusion, I am now set down to give you a very imperfect sketch of the maddest people that the maddest times were ever plagued with.—The public prints have informed you (without doubt) of last Friday's transactions;—the insanity of Ld G G [i.e. Gordon] and the worse than Negro barbarity of the populace;2—the burnings and devastations of each night you will also see in the prints:—This day, by consent, was set apart for the farther consideration of the wished-for repeal;—the people (who had their proper cue from his lordship) assembled by ten o’clock in the morning.— Lord N [Lord North, the prime minister], who had been up in council at home till four in the morning, got to the house before eleven, just a quarter of an hour before the associators reached Palace-yard:—but, I should tell you, in council there was a deputation from all parties…

There is at this present moment at least a hundred thousand poor, miserable, ragged rabble, from twelve to sixty years of age, with blue cockades in their hats—besides half as many women and children—all parading the streets—the bridge—the park—ready for any and every mischief.—Gracious God! what's the matter now? I was obliged to leave off—the shouts of the mob—the horrid clashing of swords—and the clutter of a multitude in swiftest motion—drew me to the door—when every one in the street was employed in shutting up shop.—It is now just five o’clock—the ballad-singers are exhausting their musical talents—with the downfall of Popery… Lord Sh [Lord Sandwich – remembered today for his snack-loving – was another John Montagu, and a cousin of Sancho’s patron] was narrowly escaped with life about an hour since;—the mob seized his chariot going to the house, broke his glasses, and, in struggling to get his lordship out, they somehow have cut his face;—the guards flew to his assistance—the light-horse scowered the road, got his chariot, escorted him from the coffee-house, where he had fled for protection, to his carriage, and guarded him bleeding very fast home. This—this—is liberty! genuine British liberty!—This instant about two thousand liberty boys are swearing and swaggering by with large sticks—thus armed in hopes of meeting with the Irish chairmen and labourers—all the guards are out—and all the horse;—the poor fellows are just worn out for want of rest—having been on duty ever since Friday.—Thank heaven, it rains; may it increase, so as to send these deluded wretches safe to their homes, their families, and wives! About two this afternoon, a large party took it into their heads to visit the King and Queen, and entered the Park for that purpose—but found the guard too numerous to be forced, and after some useless attempts gave it up.—It is reported, the house will either be prorogued, or parliament dissolved, this evening—as it is in vain to think of attending any business while this anarchy lasts…

[In a postscript to this letter, Sancho then alludes to the rioters attacking Newgate Prison, releasing the inmates; the prison was largely destroyed – it took two years and £30,000 (now at least £4 million) to rebuild.]

There is about a thousand mad men, armed with clubs, bludgeons, and crows, just now set off for Newgate, to liberate, they say, their honest comrades.—I wish they do not some of them lose their lives of liberty before morning. It is thought by many who discern deeply, that there is more at the bottom of this business than merely the repeal of an act—which has as yet produced no bad consequences, and perhaps never might.—I am forced to own, that I am for universal toleration. Let us convert by our example, and conquer by our meekness and brotherly love!

Eight o’clock. Lord G[eorge] G[ordon] has this moment announced to my Lords the mob—that the act shall be repealed this evening:—upon this, they gave a hundred cheers—took the horses from his hackney-coach—and rolled him full jollily away:—they are huzzaing now ready to crack their throats

June 9

Government is sunk in lethargic stupor—anarchy reigns—when I look back to the glorious time of a George II and a Pitt’s administration—my heart sinks at the bitter contrast… the Fleet Prison, the Marshalsea, King’s-Bench, both Compters, Clerkenwell, and Tothill Fields, with Newgate, are all slung open;—Newgate partly burned, and 300 felons from thence only let loose upon the world.—Lord M’s [Lord Mansfield was a prime mover toward the abolition of slavery, and had supported the Papists Act] house in town suffered martyrdom; and his sweet box at Caen Wood escaped almost miraculously, for the mob had just arrived, and were beginning with it—when a strong detachment from the guards and light-horse came most critically to its rescue≥ Ld. N’s house was attacked; but they had previous notice, and were ready for them. The Bank, the Treasury, and thirty of the chief noblemen’s houses, are doomed to suffer by the insurgents.—There were six of the rioters killed at Ld M’s; and, what is remarkable, a daring chap escaped from Newgate, condemned to die this day, was the most active in mischief at Ld. M[ansfield]’s, and was the first person shot by the soldier; so he found death a few hours sooner than if he had not been released.—The ministry have tried lenity, and have experienced its inutility; and martial law is this night to be declared.—If any body of people above ten in number are seen together, and refuse to disperse, they are to be fired at without any further ceremony—so we expect terrible work before morning…

Half past nine o’clock. King’s-Bench prison is now in flames, and the prisoners at large; two fires in Holborn now burning. 

[In a second letter on the same date, Sancho continues.]

Happily for us the tumult begins to subside—last night much was threatened, but nothing done—except in the early part of the evening, when about fourscore or an hundred of the reformers got decently knocked on the head… There is about fifty taken prisoners—and not a blue cockade to be seen:—the streets once more wear the face of peace—and men seem once more to resume their accustomed employments;—the greatest losses have fallen upon the great distiller near Holborn-bridge, and Lord M; the former, alas! has lost his whole fortune;—the latter, the greatest and best collection of manuscript writings, with one of the finest libraries in the kingdom.—Shall we call it a judgement?—or what shall we call it? The thunder of their vengeance has fallen upon gin and law—the two most inflammatory things in the Christian world…

Hyde Park has a grand encampment, with artillery… St. James’s Park has ditto—upon a smaller scale… We have taken this day numbers of the poor wretches, in so much we know not where to place them… bets run fifteen to five Lord G G is hanged in eight days…

June 13

The spring with us has been very sickly—and the summer has brought with it sick times—sickness! cruel sickness! triumphs through every part of the constitution:—the state is sick—the church (God preserve it!) is sick—the law, navy, army, all sick—the people at large are sick with taxes—the Ministry with Opposition, and Opposition with disappointment.—Since my last, the temerity of the mob has gradually subsided;—numbers of the unfortunate rogues have been taken:—yesterday about thirty were killed in and about Smithfield, and two soldiers were killed in the affray.—There is no certainty yet as to the number of houses burnt and gutted—for every day adds to the account—which is a proof how industrious they were in their short reign… The camp in St. James’s Park is daily increasing—that and Hyde Park will be continued all summer.—The [King] is much among them them—walking the lines—and examining the posts—he looks exceeding grave. Crowns, alas! have more thorns than roses.

In the end, nearly 500 rioters were either killed or wounded by the army, with as many again arrested – and more than twenty executed. Gordon was charged with high treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London but found not guilty – ironically eight years later he was imprisoned in Newgate for defamation; and surprisingly, given his Protestant protestations, in 1787 he converted to Judaism while living in Birmingham, and died in Newgate, aged 42, as Yisrael bar Avraham Gordon. There are various other first-hand accounts of the riots, as well as fictional versions (including in Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, 1841). As for Ignatius Sancho, he sadly died from the effects of gout only six months after the riots – but we shall meet him again in more peaceful times next week.


There are some great resources about Sancho and other black Britons of his era at Brycchan Carey’s website. Carey argues that Sancho’s letters are not as immediate as they seem, and partly drew from newspaper accounts. Though their tone seems real enough to me, and his shop was certainly on the way to Parliament!


An unfortunate phrase to our ears, but even though Sancho was black himself, and an ardent abolitionist, he clearly reflects the mores of the society he had entered.

Advice for travellers, 1671

Essential things you need to know for your trip

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For a man to travel safely through the world; it behoveth him to have a falcon’s eye, an ass’s ears, a monkey’s face, a merchant’s words, a camel’s back, a hog’s mouth, and a deer’s feet.

As lockdowns ease across some parts of the world, people are considering travelling abroad again. So who better to advise us on the best way to prepare and undertake a journey abroad than Sir Edward Leigh (1603–71)? The first part of his pamphlet Three Diatribes or Discourses was entitled ‘A Diatribe of Travel, or a Guide for Travellers into Foreign Parts’.1 (The other two sections were on ‘Money’ and ‘of Measuring of the Distance betwixt Place and Place’.) I came across this while ferreting for various historic travelogues. It was printed in 1671, the year of Leigh’s death.

Did Leigh actually travel himself? He was born in Leicestershire, educated at Oxford, and then spent six months in France in 1625 to avoid the plague at home in London, ‘with great improvement to himself and his studies’, he claimed. He was a noted anti-Catholic and became a Parliamentarian colonel during the English Civil War; and was MP for Stafford 1645–8. He is mostly known (if at all) for his religious writings. Whether he travelled beyond France isn’t clear, but that stay clearly emboldened him to offer the general advice for travellers I share with you this week.

“Travel in the Younger sort, is a part of Education; in the Elder, a part of Experience.” – Sir Francis Bacon’s Essays.

“There is no Map like the view of the Country; One journey will shew a man more then any Description can. He that searcheth Forreign Nations is becoming a Gentleman of the World.” – Feltham’s Resolves of Travel.2

Many Travellers returning to their own home, bring back only some vain Garbs and Fashions, and are leavened with the ill Customes and Manners of the Countries they passed through… I think it most requisite and fit, that none should Travel without leave of the State, or Publick Council; and at their return should be accountable to the State and Publick Council of their Travels, and the advantages they have made…

The Merchant… brings home exotick Commodities, as Wine, Fruit, Spices, Metals, precious Stones, Silk, and such like, serving both for use and luxury… The well-bred Gen∣tleman… honor, that he may accomplish himself for the service of his Country.

In such a one going to travel; there is required:

First. A competent age. That he be above eighteen or twenty years old: although the years of fourteen or fifteen are more proper for learning the true accent of any language; and all exercises belonging to the body.

[Leigh writes this in an era when the Grand Tour around Europe – for young, upper-class gentlemen, that is – was a relatively new phenomenon.]

Secondly. That he hath the Latin tongue; and some skill in the liberal sciences.

Thirdly. That he be skilful in architecture: able so well to limn [draw] or paint, as to take in paper the situation of a castle or a city, or the platform [plan] of a fortification.

Fourthly. That he be well grounded in the true religion: lest he be seduced and perverted.

Fifthly. He should be first well acquainted with his own country, before he go abroad; as to the places and government. If any came heretofore to the Lords of the Council for a license to travel: the old Lord Treasurer Burleigh would examine him of England. If he found him ignorant; he would bid him stay at home, and know his own country first.

[That was an allusion to the need for any travellers in that era who weren’t soldiers or merchants to have a royal licence, if departing from anywhere other than Dover or Plymouth; some had turned to Lord Burghley, i.e. Elizabeth I’s chief advisor, for help in acquiring one. For that matter, at a time when ‘vagrancy’ (and the spread of disease) was frowned upon, even travel within England required a local licence.]

Sixthly. It were of use to inform himself, before he undertakes his voyage, by the best chorographical and geographical map of the situation of the country he goes to; both in itself, and relatively to the universe: to compare the vetus et hodierna regio [‘old and modern area’]; and to carry with him the republics [government] of the nations to which he goes; and a map of every country he intends to travel through.

Seventhly. Before his voyage, he should make his peace with GOD; receive the Lord’s Supper; satisfy his creditors, if he be in debt; pray earnestly to GOD to prosper him in his voyage, and to keep him from danger: and if he be sui juris [ie. of age] he should make his last will, and wisely order all his affairs; since many that go far abroad, return not home.

In the survey of a country, these things are observable.

First. The Name and its derivation; the Latitude and Longitude of the place. The temperature of the climate. The goodness or barrenness of the ground. The populousness or scarcity of the people. The limits of the country; how it is bounded by sea or land, or both. The commodities, natural and artificial. The discommodities; either imperfections or wants. The manners, shape, language, and attire of the people. Their building; their havens and harbours. The religion and government. The history of the country and families.

Secondly. The Courts of Princes are to be seen and observed; especially when they give audience to Ambassadors: the Courts of Justice, while they sit and hear causes; and so of Consistories Ecclesiastical. The churches and the monuments therein. The walls and fortifications of cities and towns; Antiquities and Ruins; Libraries, Colleges; Disputations and Lectures, where they are. Shipping and Navies; Houses and Gardens of state and pleasure, near great cities; Armouries, Arsenals, Magazines, Exchanges, Bourses, Warehouses; Exercises of horsemanship; fencing; training of soldiers; and the like. Treasuries of jewels and robes; Cabinets; and rare Inventions.

Aubertus Miraeus, in the life of Lipsius, saith that when he came first to Rome, he spent all his time, when he was at leisure, in viewing the stones and ancient places, and other rarities there: and that he spent his time in the Pope’s Vatican library, in comparing together the manuscripts of Seneca, Tacitus, Plautus, Propertius, and other ancients. He viewed also other famous libraries, public and private.

Thirdly. The choice herbs and plants, beasts, birds, fishes and insects proper to that country; are to be taken notice of: together with minerals, metals, stones, and earths.

Their proverbs also should be observed; in which, much of the wisdom of a nation is found.

Fourthly. Learned men, and such as have abilities of any kind; are worthy to be known: and the best books there, are to be inquired after.

Men that travel must be very cautious both of speech and demeanour. The Italian proverb saith, “For a man to travel safely through the world; it behoveth him to have a falcon’s eye, an ass’s ears, a monkey’s face, a merchant’s words, a camel’s back, a hog’s mouth, and a deer’s feet.”…

Fifthly. Make choice of the best places for attaining of the language. As, Valladolid for the Spanish; Orleans or Blois for the French; Florence or Sienna for the Italian; Leipsic or Heidelberg for the High-Dutch [German] tongues. In these places, the best language is spoken…

Change of air by travelling, after one is used to it, is good: and therefore great travellers have been long lived.

[Leigh then offers examples of the travels made by luminaries such as the emperor Hadrian, who “travelled over a great part of the world and with his head bare, though it were cold and wet, and so fell into a deadly disease”, and lists numerous travel writers of his era, finishing thus…]

Sir Benjamin Rudyard whose discourse and speeches were full of apothegms was wont to say, “France is a good country to ride through, Italy a good country to look upon, Spain a good country to understand, but England a good country to live in.”

So wishing the traveller a prosperous voyage: I here cast anchor.

So there you go. Don’t forget your Latin phrasebook, and don’t bring back any “vain Garbs and Fashions” (the fabled ‘lousy T-shirt’ clearly isn’t new). And now I shall cast anchor too.


You can find the whole work here. It was also collected in the Harleian Miscellany.


Owen Feltham (1602–68) wrote a large collection of essays – unlike Leigh, who addresses his advice on travel only to men, Feltham also notably wrote about equality between men and women.

Georgian Fight Club, 1710

Wood v. Turner – who will escape the Hole?

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Each of the combatants had his second by him with a large stick in his hand; they were not there to parry blows, but only to see that there was fair play on all sides.

It’s certainly not news that some of humanity has always enjoyed taking chunks out of other parts of humanity, and others still have enjoyed watching it. A notorious arena for this, along with a variety of cruelties to animals, was the Bear Garden alongside the River Thames in Southwark, London (very near Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, where at least the confrontations were simulated). This was on various sites from the mid-16th century onwards, the last account we know of dating from 1682.

But the Southwark fighting arena had an equally notorious successor, the Bear Garden at Hockley-in-the-Hole. This was further north in the city, in Clerkenwell, alongside the River Fleet. The site later became the Coach and Horses pub,1 which today as a gastropub, The Coach, where today the clientele are more likely to fight with a lobster. So it goes.

Bull and bear baiting was advertised there from around 1700, and only a year later there was a handbill announcing that four men would “fight at sword for a bet of half-a-guinea, and six to wrestle for three pairs of gloves, at half-a-crown each pair” – and in the same year there were already official complaints of a public nuisance. But it continued. A handbill from 1709 offers a euphemistic take on another prize fight: “At the Bear Garden at Hockley in the Hole, near Clerkenwell Green, a trial of skill shall be performed at the noble science of self-defence, on Wednesday next, at two of the clock precisely.” (The first rule of Georgian Fight Club was to talk about it.)

In last week’s Histories, we met the German traveller Zacharias von Uffenbach, offering his snooty view of Oxford. But that was just one part of his visit to England in 1710, and from 6th June until 26th July he was in London (and again from 9th October to 4th November). His journals2 record a wide variety of experiences… including this detailed account of a prize fight at Hockley-in-the Hole. Those of a sensitive disposition should look away.

[Uffenbach here uses the term ‘Moor’ (from the term of the time ‘blackamoor’) to refer to black people. It has been estimated that there were somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 black people in London in this era.]

In the afternoon we drove to the Bear Garden at Hockley in the Hole to watch the fights that take place there, a truly English amusement. First a properly printed challenge was carried round and dealt out. Not only were all the conditions of the fight there set forth, but also the weapons to be used. The combatants were an Englishman and a Moor. The Englishman a was a short, thick-set man but the Moor was as tall, well-made and pretty a fellow as I had ever seen. The former was called Thomas Wood and the latter George Turner. The Moor is by profession a fencing master; there are, in fact, such a quantity of Moors of both sexes in England that I have never seen so many before. Males and females frequently go out begging; it might well be so here, for in Germany formerly much money was given in that fashion. The females wear European dress and there is nothing more diverting than to see them in mobs or caps of white stuff…

The place where the fight took place was fairly large. In the middle was a platform as tall as a man of middling height; it had no rail and was open all round, so that neither of the fighters could retreat. All round the upper part of the open space were wretched galleries with raised seats, like those on which the spectators sit at the play. But the common people, who do not pay much, are below on the ground. They tried with violence to clamber up on to the galleries and scaffolding, and when some would have hindered them, they cast up such monstrous showers of stones, sticks and filth, and this with no respect of persons, that we were a little anxious; as we, however, were sitting on the best side, they did not come near us. They behaved like madmen and things looked very ugly.

After we had sat there a little while, four fellows got up on the platform and laid about them prodigiously with sticks, to the end of which muzzles were fastened. This is a sport peculiar to the English, and one can see it any day practised by children in Morefield or any other wide open space in London. It is diverting to watch how skilfully they can parry each other’s blows with their sticks and how those lacking practice get fearful knocks, especially on the head and shins. The fellows gained nothing by it but the shillings thrown them by the spectators. When they had finally stopped, half a crown came flying down to them; thereupon they were at it again violently to decide which of them should have the half-crown.

Then the master and the fighter I mentioned above appeared themselves. They had taken off their coats and tied only a handkerchief round their heads. First they bowed in every direction, and then showed their swords all round. These were very broad and long and uncommonly sharp. Each of the combatants had his second by him with a large stick in his hand; they were not there to parry blows, but only to see that there was fair play on all sides. They began the fight with broadswords. The Moor got the first wound, above the breast, which bled not a little. Then the onlookers began to cheer and call for Wood; they threw down vast quantities of shillings and crowns, which were picked up by his second. This seemed to me quite the wrong way round, as one should have compassion on the fellow that is hit, especially since the winner receives two-thirds of the money that is taken at the gate. In the second round the Englishman, Wood, took a blow above the loins of such force that, not only did his shirt hang in tatters, but his sword was knocked out of his hand and all the buttons on one side of the open breeches he wore were cut away.

Then they went for each other with sword and dagger and the Moor got a nasty wound in his hand, which bled freely. It was probably due to this that, when they had attacked each other twice with ‘sword and buckler’, that is to say with broadsword and shield, the good Moor received such a dreadful blow that he could not fight any longer. He was slashed from the left eye right down his cheek to his chin and jaw with such force that one could hear the sword grating against his teeth. Straightway not only the whole of his shirt front but the platform too was covered with blood. The wound gaped open as wide as a thumb, and I cannot tell you how ghastly it looked on the black face. A barber-surgeon immediately sprang towards him and sewed up the wound, while the Moor stood there without flinching. When this had been done and a cloth bound round his head, the Moor would have liked to continue the fight, but, since he had bled so profusely, neither the surgeon nor the seconds, who act as umpires, would allow this. So the combatants shook hands (as they did after each round) and prepared to get down.

Then there arose a prodigious cheering, and one could hear nothing but shouts of Wood! Wood! while yet more money was thrown down to him. An Englishman sitting behind us, who had probably drunk a considerable amount, was making a vast uproar and throwing down whole handfuls of shillings. His wife, who was sitting with him, was also rather vociferous; she assured us herself that two years ago she had fought another female in this place without stays and in nothing but a shift. They had both fought stoutly and drawn blood, which was apparently no new sight in England. When I asked whether it had ever happened that people had been killed or died subsequently of their wounds, I was answered in the affirmative; they told me that four years ago the brother of this identical Moor, Turner, had lost his life. Nothing was done to the perpetrator, unless it could be proved that he had transgressed the rules of fighting and wounded his adversary with malicious intent. The most diverting thing of all was that, when the fighters had got down, so many little boys climbed up on to the platform that it would scarce hold them, and called out asking the spectators for money to scramble for. It was amazing to see them swoop down on it in groups of ten or a dozen; sometimes a couple of them would roll down together, but, straightway picking themselves up, plunge afresh into the fray, which lasted for at least an hour. We left while it was still going on, since we had a long way to go. On our way home we got out at the park and walked there for a little.

The gory glory days of Hockley-in-the-Hole came to an end in due course. By 1715 ‘the fancy’ (higher echelons of society) had moved away to watch bear-baiting in Marylebone; and in 1756 the area was drained as part of improvements around the Fleet River course. The street next to the Bear Garden was renamed Ray Street in 1774, and one had to go to Spitalfields to enjoy animal cruelty as a sport.

Meanwhile, back in 1710, von Uffenbach also described visiting a cockfight and a bear-baiting while he was in London. At the end of the latter, he snarked, “And thus was concluded this truly English sport, which vastly delights this nation but to me seemed nothing very special” – but he and his brother did wager a few shillings on the cockfight. But now it’s farewell to Zacharias – next week, something different!

(PS. I’m thinking of putting together a small ebook of the best bits of social history seen through the eyes of von Uffenbach – do reply to this email if you think you might be interested.)


According to Walter Thornbury’s Old and New London (1878), a “small valise… marked on the lid ‘R. Turpin’” was found there – perhaps belonging to highwayman Dick.


Translated in London in 1710 by W.H. Quarrell and Margaret Mare, 1934.

The oddballs of Oxford, 1710

Zacharias proves hard to please…

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I was greatly shocked by the hideous features and generally villainous appearance of this good and honest man. His wife, a filthy old hag, was with him, and although she may be the ugliest of her sex he is certainly the more repulsive of the two.

One of the clichés of academia is that scholars are often absent-minded, poorly dressed and eccentric.1 This week we discover that this view is certainly not a new one.

A few days ago my good friend Paul introduced me to the journals of Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach (1683–1734), a German scholar and bookworm who wrote extensively about his visits to the museums and libraries of Cambridge, London and Oxford in 1710, accompanied by his brother Johann Friedrich.

Much of Uffenbach’s journal goes into great detail describing the collections of the archives he visited, and is fairly dry stuff (apart from his persistently snarky comments about how they are often not well kept compared to those in Germany), but his descriptions of people and other scenes he encounters are often very entertaining. As J.E.B. Mayor, translator of selections of these writings, wrote in 1911, “his diary is full of girdings and sniffings at the people and things he sees”.2 (He generously adds, “But though I suspect he was tiresome, I take him not to have been a disagreeable man on the whole.”)

So this week I give you a few of those ‘girdings and sniffings’ – some little vignettes of Oxford scholars of the era (he seems to have been less critical of those in Cambridge – I checked just in case).

On 18 August, Monday morning, our first care was to view the world-famed public library of this University, or the Bodleian, as it is commonly called, after its founder, and to make ourselves known to the Librarian. We asked him to let us have a pass; for unless this is in order, no book may be touched and one sees nothing except what the assistant librarians choose to show for an honorarimn, only too often all sorts of rubbish little likely to please anyone who is in search of something more profound. But as it costs about eight shillings and some trouble to gain an entrance, most strangers content themselves with a casual inspection. Every moment brings fresh spectators of this description and, surprisingly enough, amongst them peasants and womenfolk, who gaze at the library as a cow might gaze at a new gate with such a noise and trampling of feet that others are much disturbed. So that we might not proceed likewise, we begged the Proto-Bibliothecarius, Dr. Hudson, to procure us a pass, which he readily gave. We supposed that this happened out of courtesy, but learned later it was rather from cupidity and in anticipation of getting large donations out of us.

To get ourselves into the good graces of Master Crab [Joseph Crabb], the Sub-Librarian, a poor covetous man, and to take the opportunity of giving him his customary gratuity of a crown, we asked him to guide us round, principally to see the arrangement of the library in general…

[They return a few days later.]

We ran through the three corridors together without moving a single book, and the Sub-Librarian Crab (an arch-ignoramus who, were it not that this was his living, would have preferred sitting in a tavern to being in the Library) merely remarked that there were theological books here…

Mr. Crab then led us back along the cross corridor and opened the two cabinets which one finds in the first part of this cross-corridor at the outset where the contents – mostly playthings and likely to please the ignorant, are always shown… but Mr. Crab never even mentioned what they are and probably neither knows nor can read them. Of one however he did remark: “That book is very old – more than eight hundred years.” When I asked him how knew this, he could reply nothing but: “It is certain, Dr. Grabe told me so,” (i.e., the famous Joh. Ernst Grabius of Königsberg, with whom he considered himself great friends because they have similar sounding names). Thereupon he looked so desperately wise that one could not help laughing.

[Uffenbach is not much more complimentary about Dr Hudson…]

On the morning of 17 September we were in the library. The Librarian Dr. Hudson looked through with us the books which we had selected from the duplicates, and quoted the price, which was so high that my brother only kept a few mathematical books. I was not a little annoyed that he often asked ten shillings for a book which he afterwards parted with for five or six. I hear he is said to be very self-seeking and to have earned large sums with his book peddling: but he has made many enemies through his greed and is generally called the “Bookseller.” His erudition is not very much thought of nor did I detect much of it in my intercourse with him. To all appearance he is very affable, but he has a very disagreeable habit, when he is talking, of crying out every moment: “He! he! he!” just like the peasants, so that it can be heard through the whole library. He is not particularly industrious in the library and the two Sub-Librarians, Mr. Crab, but in particular Mr. Hearne, have made the new catalogue. This Hearne is a man of thirty, very inconspicuous, but a hard worker and of considerable learning.3

[Uffenbach’s sharpest words are saved for poor Jacob Bobart (1641–1719), who succeeded his own German-born father, Jacob senior, as the head of Oxford’s Botanic Garden (then called the Oxford Physic Garden). Both Jacobs seem to have had their eccentricities: the elder was allegedly accompanied round the garden by a goat, and the younger had (a few years before Uffenbach met him) altered the corpse of a rat he found to make it look like a miniature winged dragon – which some people fell for, until he admitted the deception. Uffenbach doesn’t seem to have disliked the elderly botanist, but he is certainly very scathing about his appearance…]

We entered the Hortus Medicus [i.e. the Physic Garden] and Professor Bobart was waiting for us. I was greatly shocked by the hideous features and generally villainous appearance of this good and honest man. His wife, a filthy old hag, was with him, and although she may be the ugliest of her sex he is certainly the more repulsive of the two. An unusually pointed and very long nose, little eyes set deep in the head, a twisted mouth almost without upper lip, a great deep scar in one cheek and the whole face and hands as black and coarse as those of the poorest gardener or farm-labourer. His clothing and especially his hat were also very bad. Such is the aspect of the Professor, who would most naturally be taken for the gardener. In point of fact he does nothing else but work continually in the garden, and in the science of botany he is the careful gardener rather than the learned expert. Yet the industry of the man in publishing the works of his predecessor Morison, who far excelled him in learning, is as praiseworthy as his work in the garden. To come to the garden itself, the good man conducted us round most willingly and showed us all he had, a considerable number of items, but not approaching in interest either those in Leyden or in Amsterdam.

[Uffenbach’s Oxford diary ends with another brief, and sadder, tale of an Oxford eccentric, albeit not one he could meet in person. The don in question is Thomas Creech (1659–1700).]

On 7 October we went together to see the beautiful library which Codrington had bequeathed to the College of All Souls… Eleven years ago, directly over these rooms where the library is, a Mr. Creech lived, and as is well-known, hanged himself like his favourite Lucretius, whom he had translated into English and illustrated with learned anno!ations. He had been expelled from the Collegium Omnium Animarum [i.e. All Souls] on account of unsteady behaviour, upon which he took lodgings in this house. As he intended to hang himself, he pretended to the apothecary that he was going to London, who therefore supposed he was away, until he was found hanging by the belt of his dressing gown. The landlord or apothecary told us a strange thing: namely that at that time Mr. Creech was always in very great fear of being overturned when travelling or in a coach, so that often when he was going anywhere by vehicle, he would lose consciousness, for which reason he usually rode on horseback. Consequently when he announced that he was going to London by coach the landlord was very much surprised. It appears that he was so afraid of driving, because he had made up his mind not to end his life in a fall but swinging in the air by hanging himself.

[It took five days for Creech’s body to be found. The story goes that he had wanted to marry a Miss Philadelphia Playdell but she was told not to by friends; the Dictionary of National Biography drily reports “committed suicide from disappointed love and pecuniary difficulties”. The coroner’s inquest found him ‘non compos mentis’.]

In early June I am publishing Oxford: Visits through History, which includes more of Uffenbach’s adventures and many more from other writers. Readers of Histories are the first to know! And you can order it at HALF PRICE until 31st May:

Order for Half Price!

1, anyone?


J.E.B. Mayor, Cambridge under Queen Anne (1911). Mayor’s book included extracts of Uffenbach’s writings about Oxford and London, although the Oxford extracts here are from the 1928 translation by father and son W.H. & W.J.C. Quarrell, published as Oxford in 1710.


Rare praise from Uffenbach. Thomas Hearne became a notable antiquarian. He kept a diary, too, but alas I’ve checked and it doesn’t tell us about his meeting with the German visitor.

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