Mary Wollstonecraft was born on 27 April 1759 she is one of the world’s first feminist writers.
Wollstonecraft decided to become a writer in 1787, 230 years ago, when she moved to 45 George Street, in Southwark, now called Dolben Street. It was from Dolben Street that she launched her career, with the publication of her novel, Mary: A Fiction or Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman is a philosophical and gothic novel that revolves around the story of a woman imprisoned in an insane asylum by her husband. The story focuses on the societal rather than the individual “wrongs of woman” and criticises what Wollstonecraft viewed as the patriarchal institution of marriage in eighteenth-century Britain and the legal system that protected it. However, the heroine’s inability to relinquish her romantic fantasies also reveals women’s collusion in their oppression through false and damaging sentimentalism. The novel pioneered the celebration of female sexuality and cross-class identification between women. Such themes, coupled with the publication of Godwin’s scandalous Memoirs of Wollstonecraft’s life, made the novel unpopular at the time it was published.
Two friendships shaped Wollstonecraft’s early life. The first was with Jane Arden. At the age of nine Wollstonecraft was taken to a farm near Beverley in Yorkshire with her brothers and sisters. They lived a wild life, roaming around the flat land of the Humber estuary until her father took a house in the town opposite the Minster. It was in Beverley she met Jane Arden. Life in Beverley was remarkably civilised, there was a theatre, dances at the Assembly Rooms and a race course with a spring meeting that co-inside with the Spring Fair. Part of my own novel Sinclair is set in Beverley.
The girls frequently read books together and attended lectures presented by Arden’s father, a self-styled philosopher and scientist. John Arden was the descendant of the playwright Arden of Faversham but was disinherited by his family, and forced to set himself up as a roving teacher of practical mathematics and experimental philosophy. After a spell in Germany, he settled in Bath for a while where he became a founder member of the Bath Philosophical Society. Then moved onto Derby where he made friends with the artist Joseph Wright. Wright painted him as the Philosopher in his work entitled: A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, or the full title, A Philosopher giving a Lecture on the Orrery in which a lamp is put in the place of the sun, in 1766.
The Orrery, Joseph Wright of Derby – Derby Museum and Art Gallery
The Orrery, which now hangs in the Derby Museum, caused a sensation at the time because it replaced a classical motif with a scientific one. In this picture, Wright replaces the awe inspired by God with the wonder of science. [John Arden – The Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, iOpening Books 2016.]
At fourteen Wollstonecraft revelled in the intellectual atmosphere of the Arden household and valued her friendship with Jane Arden greatly, sometimes to the point of being emotionally possessive. Wollstonecraft wrote to her: “I have formed romantic notions of friendship … I am a little singular in my thoughts of love and friendship; I must have the first place or none.” In some of Wollstonecraft’s letters to Arden, she reveals the volatile and depressive emotions that would haunt her throughout her life. Mary’s crush for Jane ended badly, in quarrel spiked with jealousy and rage.
Her second and more important friendship was with Fanny (Frances) Blood, who was introduced to Wollstonecraft by the Clares, an elderly couple from Hoxton who became parental figures to her. Mr Clare was a retired clergyman with a taste for poetry, and Mrs Clare encouraged Mary’s reading, providing her with copies of Milton, Shakespeare, Pope and Johnson. Like Fanny, Mary learned the accomplishments expected of a middle-class woman from Mrs Clare – sewing, drawing and letter writing. Above all, she learned to be feminine and neat.
Unhappy with her home life, Wollstonecraft struck out on her own in 1778 and accepted a job as a lady’s companion to Sarah Dawson, a widow living in Bath. However, Wollstonecraft had trouble getting along with the irascible woman (an experience she drew on when describing the drawbacks of such a position in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, 1787).
In 1780 she returned home because she was called back to care for her dying mother. Rather than return to Mrs Dawson’s employ after the death of her mother, Wollstonecraft moved in with the Bloods.
Fanny Blood was paid by the botanist William Curtis to paint wildflowers for his book Flora Londinensis. When Mary was living with the Bloods Fanny became engaged to Hugh Skeys, but the pair could not marry immediately and Skeys was forced to go the sea to finance the marriage. Fanny’s brother Lieutenant George Blood (1762–1844), became good friends with Mary so much so that William Godwin, Mary’s husband wrote that Mary had “contracted a friendship so fervent, as for years to have constituted the ruling passion of her mind”.
Blood, together with Mary Wollstonecraft and Wollstonecraft’s sisters, Eliza and Everina, opened a school first in Islington, which soon failed, and then in Newington Green. The school was combined with a boarding house for women and their children.
On February 24, 1785, Fanny Blood married Hugh Skeys who had made himself into a successful wine merchant based in Dublin. When Blood married and left the school, Wollstonecraft left too, and so their other school failed.
Fanny died in childbirth in Lisbon, Portugal, on November 29, 1785. Wollstonecraft was deeply affected by Blood’s death and in part inspired her first novel, Mary: A Fiction in 1788. She also named her own daughter, Fanny Imlay (1794–1816), after her friend.Frances “Fanny” Imlay was Mary’s daughter by the American commercial speculator and diplomat Gilbert Imlay. The pair never married and when Mary died Fanny remained part of the family of the man her mother had married, William Godwin. She was born in Le Havre in 1794 as the French Revolution took hold. Her half-sister Claire Clairmont would become Byron’s lover and her sister by Godwin would elope with the poet Shelley and write the gothic novel Frankenstein.
In later years, Mary realised during the two years she spent with the Blood family she had idealised Fanny as a woman like herself, fiercely independent and intellectual but Fanny was not like Mary, she wanted to be a wife and a mother more than a revolutionary. Nevertheless, Mary loved the Bloods and remained dedicated to them throughout her life. Wollstonecraft had envisioned living in a female utopia with Blood; they made plans to rent rooms together and to support each other emotionally and financially, but this dream come to nothing. The weight of economic reality and social conformity as well as being women in what was to all intents and purposes a world designed and run by men for men made their dream impossible to fulfil.
Mary followed the publication of Mary: A Fiction, with works on the education of children. Her own experience of motherhood forcing her to reconsider her views on women and children.
Through her association with her friend and publisher Joseph Johnson, she met Thomas Paine, the writer of The Rights of Man. Paine who would become one of the great influencers of the both the French Revolution and the development of the American state opposed the idea of hereditary government and the belief that dictatorial government is necessary, because of man’s corrupt nature. She also met her future husband and one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement William Godwin through Johnson. The first time Godwin and Wollstonecraft met, they were both disappointed in each other. Godwin had come to hear Paine, but Wollstonecraft assailed him all night long, disagreeing with him on nearly every subject.
It was after she left Dolben Street in 1791 that she published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). There is no doubt that her time at Dolben Street, Southwark was the furnace of her intellectual development, and was the site of her most intensely creative years.
For more information on Wollstonecraft see: https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/keywords/mary-wollstonecraft
 George Street was formed circa 1776 and the houses on either side were completed and tenanted by 1780 when the street name first occurs in the sewer rate books. It was built across the open fields shown as “tenter grounds” on Rocque’s maps, on part of what became known as Brown’s Estate. The formation of George Street was part of the rapid development of the area which followed the erection of Blackfriars Bridge. The street was renamed Dolben Street in 1911 in honour of John Dolben (1625–86), Archbishop of York, who in 1671, when Bishop of Rochester, officiated at the consecration of Christ Church. Throughout the period that these houses are shown in the rate books and directories they have been occupied by small tradesmen, chandlers, bakers, etc., and by artisans. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol22/pp127-128
Southwark was the location of several London prisons, including those of the Crown or Prerogative Courts, the Marshalsea and King’s Bench prisons, those of the local manors’ courts, e.g., Borough Compter, The Clink and the Surrey county gaol originally housed at the White Lion Inn (also informally called the Borough Gaol) and eventually at Horsemonger Lane Gaol.
One local family of note, was the Harvards. John Harvard went to the local parish free school of St Saviour’s and on to Cambridge University. He migrated to the Massachusetts Colony and left his library and the residue of his will to the new college there, named after him as its first benefactor. Harvard University maintains a link, having paid for a memorial chapel within Southwark Cathedral (his family’s parish church).
Sources:The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft By Claire Tomalin, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination by Barbara Taylor, & Wikipedia
My own novel, Sinclair takes place in Southwark and Beverley.
Julia Herdman is a novelist. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1 is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 on Kindle
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Byron’s Daughters – A Tale of Three Sisters
Madame Staël – A woman who abored all that was tyrannical, cynical, or passionless
Think of the words ‘white’ and ‘chocolate’ and the images that come to mind are those of the ‘The Milky Bar Kid’ or that luxury white chocolate flecked with fine black vanilla seeds but White’s and chocolate in the 18th century meant something entirely different; gambling.
The impetus for London’s chocolate craze came from France, introduced as an ‘excellent west indian drink’ in the mid 17th century. A decade later pamphlets proclaimed the miraculous, panacean qualities of the new drink, saying that it would boost fertility, cure consumption, alleviate indigestion and reverse ageing: with a mere lick, it was said, it would ‘make old women young and fresh and create new motions of the flesh’.
Unlike in Paris and Madrid, chocolate drinking was not confined to the social elite in London however it was never as popular as coffee with its enlivening caffeine boost.. It was only around St James’s Square that a cluster of super-elite self-styled ‘chocolate houses’ flourished. The principal chocolate houses were Ozinda’s and White’s, both on St James’s Street, and the Cocoa Tree on Pall Mall.As befitted their location their interiors were a cut above the wooden, workmanlike interiors of the City coffeehouses, boasting sofas, polished tables, dandyish waiters and, at least in Ozinda’s case, a collection of valuable paintings for the customers to admire. In fact Ozinda’s comfortable surroundings became a hot bed of Jacobite intrigue. On one occasion in 1715, Jacobite supporters were arrested there and taken off to Newgate prison.
White’s started life at 4 Chesterfield Street, off Curzon Street in Mayfair, in 1693; owned by an Italian immigrant named Francesco Bianco. It was later re-named Mrs. White’s Chocolate House with a side line in tickets for the King’s Theatre and Royal Drury Lane Theatre White’s quickly made the transition from cafe into an exclusive club. It was notorious as a gambling house; those who frequented it were known as “the gamesters of White’s.” The club gained a reputation for both its exclusivity and the often raffish behaviour of its members. Jonathan Swift referred to White’s as the “bane of half the English nobility.” In 1778 it moved to 37–38 St James’s Street and was from 1783 the unofficial headquarters of the Tory party, while the Whigs’ club Brooks’s was just down the road.
White’s had such a terrible reputation Hogarth depicted its inner gambling room as ‘Hell’, in the sixth episode of Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress. The place is on fire but no one seems to notice. It is a picture of greed and despair so far removed from the images of chocolate we have today.
Illustration: Meissen Chocolate Cup and Saucer.
Julia Herdman is a novelist. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1 is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29
Also available on:
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On the 8th of March, 1750, an earthquake shook London. The shock was at half past five in the morning. It awoke people from their sleep and frightened them out of their houses. A servant maid in Charterhouse-square, was thrown from her bed, and had her arm broken; bells in several steeples were struck by the chime hammers; great stones were thrown from the new spire of Westminster Abbey; dogs howled in uncommon tones; and fish jumped half a yard above the water. London had experienced a shock only a month before, namely, on the 8th of February 1750, between 12 and 1 o’clock in the day and at Westminster, the barristers were so alarmed that they imagined the hall was falling!
Most people (including academics) saw the tremors as the work of God. However, The Gentleman’s Magazine, (founded by Edward Cave, alias ‘Sylvanus Urban’, in 1731) which was interested in everything, told its readers that there were three kinds of earthquake; the ‘Inclination’, which was a vibration from side to side, the ‘Pulsation’, up and down, and the ‘Tremor’, “when it shakes and quivers every way like a flame.” Scholars were agreed that the origins of earthquakes were to be found in the underground voids with which the earth was believed to be honeycombed, especially in mountainous regions; but whether it was the surges of air, water or fire within these caverns that were the actual cause of the shock was still disputed.
Despite only the minor damage, Londoners were worried. One earthquake was remarkable, but two earthquakes in a month was unprecedented. Were they a warning from God? Thomas Sherlock, the Bishop of London, was sure of it. In a letter to the clergy and inhabitants of London, he called on them to “give attention to all the warnings which God in his mercy affords to a sinful people…by two great shocks of an Earthquake”. He pointed out that the shocks were confined to London and its environs, and were therefore ‘immediately directed’ at that city.
On Sunday, March 18, at about 6 pm, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight were shaken, and, as they trembled, the air vibrated to a noise like the firing of great guns. The shock was even felt, though faintly, at Bath. On Monday, April 2, at about 10 pm, Liverpool and an area about 40 miles round vibrated to ‘a smart shock of an earthquake’ for two or three seconds.
1750 was a year when the earth trembled up and down the land. The weather was also considered freakish. People lived in trepidation waiting for the next catastrophe.
The last, and strongest, English earthquake of 1750 shook Northamptonshire and several other counties, just after noon on September 30. It was ‘much stronger than that felt in London”, and lasted nearly a minute. Part of an old wall in Northampton was thrown down, a lady in Kelmarsh was tossed from her chair, and all over the shaken district people ran into the street. At Leicester, a rushing noise was heard, and the houses heaved up and down. The convulsion caused terror, but passed off with only the loss of some slates, chimney parts, and a few items of glassware. Near Leicester, an unfortunate child was shaken out of a chair into a fire, and was ‘somewhat burnt’.
Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1 is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29
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Tooley Street in Southwark is the location of my new novel Sinclair. Today is it’s one of London’s best known streets, home to London Bridge Station and the London Dungeon, and is close to the London Shard and City Hall.
Running parallel to the Thames on the south side Tooley Street is one of the oldest streets in London. Its name is said to be a strange corruption of its former name, St. Olave’s Street, which is hard to believe but I suppose we’ll just have to accept what the local experts tell us on that one.
It’s a thriving place today with state of the art offices, clean and tidy streets and modern communications and although it was no less thriving in the past it was a very different place then. Here are some of the residents and trades listed as living and operating in the area in the 18th and 19th century:
Wharfingers (warehouse owners), merchants, instrument makers, factors, and agents; outfitters, biscuit-bakers, store-shippers, ship-chandlers, slop-sellers, block-makers, rope-makers, engineers, and then there were the surgeons who worked at the great charitable hospitals: Guy’s, St Thomas’ and the London.
My novel is set in eighteenth century Tooley Street in a house inhabited by my family’s ancestors for three generations. They owned an apothecary shop at No. 65 and worked as surgeons at Guy’s Hospital just a stone’s throw away. Members of the Leadam family pop in and out of the historical record; appearing in trade directories, hospital correspondence, or as witnesses in Old Bailey cases or giving evidence to Government enquiries on issues such as public health.Some members of the family are mentioned in magazine and newspaper articles of the day and some have published obituaries and their own publications.
In my story which is a fiction not a family history, a Scottish doctor down on his luck comes to live at No 65 Tooley Street after the unexpected death of Christopher Leadam who is based on the real Christopher Leadam who was born in Yorkshire and worked at Guy’s hospital as a surgeon and was secretary to one of its weekly committees. He died young leaving a widow, whom I have called Charlotte Leadam in the book and a teenage son. My story focuses on his widow’s struggle to keep the apothecary shop open and get her son, John, trained as a surgeon.
Illustration: Guy’s Hospital, London, opened 1725.
You can read my fictionalised account of life at No. 65 Tooley Street in Sinclair.
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The wreck of the ‘Sherwell‘ in my new novel Sinclair is based loosely on the wreck of the East Indiaman the Halsewell a ship captained by a man called Richard Pierce; Captain Richards in my story. The Halsewell left Gravesend docks on the first day of January 1786 with a manifest of 240 people and was wrecked six days later of the Dorset coast with the loss of over 170 lives. The tragedy shocked the nation to its core and the ship’s captain became a national hero with stories and eulogies appearing in the London press and magazines like The Gentleman and The European praising his self-sacrifice. The ship was not the first to go down and it certainly was not the last but this wreck in particular captured the nation’s imagination.
Built by Wells of Blackwall in 1778 the 758 ton ship was on route to Madras armed with 12 cannon and carrying a cargo of 53 chests of small arms, 25 tons of copper plate, 500 tons of lead for shot, and general merchandise including pitch, grindstones, tar, chains and bellows but the main consignment was the men of the 2nd Battalion and the 42nd Regiment of the East India Company’s army who were being sent to replace men lost in Company’s war with the last mogul emperor with any clout, Hydra Ali, three years earlier.
In addition to these soldiers the Haleswell has civilian passengers, including three female members of the captain’s family; his daughters Eliza and Mary-Ann; and two nieces Amy and Mary Pau;, there was also a Miss Elizabeth Blackburn,a Miss Mary Haggard, a Miss Ann Mansell on board along with Mr John Shultz. The first mate, Thomas Burston, was a member of the captain’s family too.
All the women died along with 170 others including the captain and the first mate. Accounts given by two surviving officers Meriton and Rogers said that Pierce heroically remained with the women as they faced death.
The storm that night was one of the worst in living memory and the ship broke up within a couple of hours, smashed to matchwood on the rocky Dorset coast. The survivors were rescued by quarry men who lowered ropes down the cliffs and hauled them up to safety. For their efforts they were rewarded with 50 guineas. The survivors, who were mainly the ship’s crew, had to walk all the way back to London through snow and rain, and there was no reward for them. In fact the crew were lambasted in some sections of the London press and in an epic poem for failing to do their duty on that fateful night and it soon became a commonly held view that the reason for the disaster was the lax attitude of the crew and their failure to follow their captain’s orders.
The legacy of that fateful night was used to strengthen the hand of the Navy and commercial ship owners when it came to disciplining their crews. They used the tragedy to enforce strict discipline on board ships allowing mariners no defence when they found themselves serving under brutal officers.
You can read my fictionalised account of the disaster and its aftermath in Sinclair.
Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29
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 Monody, On the death of Captain Pierce, 1786.
 A circumstantial narrative of the loss of the Halsewell, East-Indiaman .Henry Meriton (second mate of the Halsewell.), John Rogers (third mate of the Halsewell. ) http://www.responsites.co.uk/halsewell/
 The London Recorder, January 15th, 1786.
 The Ship Wreck of the Haleswell, Evan Thomas, 1787.
See also: Shipwreck in Art and Literature: Images and Interpretations from Antiquity edited by Carl Thompson
Illustration: The Loss of an East Indiaman (formerly Loss of a Man of War), depicting the shipwreck of the Halsewell East Indiaman on 6 January 1786, off the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset, England. Painted by Joseph Mallord William Turner circa 1818, watercolour on paper, 280 x 395 mm; Collection of trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford, England