The London Earthquake

The London Earthquake

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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The Leadams of Tooley Street

The Leadams of Tooley Street

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 Apothecary Poet – John Keats

The Apothecary Poet – John Keats

John Keats – The Apothecary Poet

The poet John Keats trained as an apothecary and a surgeon before deciding to dedicate himself to poetry.

Keats had first-hand experience of serious illness and death. His father died after falling from a horse, and his mother and uncle died of what was called ‘an unspecified decline.’ Keat’s only brother Tom was to die of tuberculosis in December 1818. Keats nursed his brother through his final months catching the deadly virus in the process. Keats’ disease became apparent early in 1820. Known as consumption in those days the disease was common, distressing and lethal.

Keats Early Life

Aged just 14 years old Keats was apprenticed to the family’s doctor, Thomas Hammond. In the summer of 1810, Keats moved in above Hammond’s surgery in Edmonton, North London. While an apprentice, Keats would have performed such tasks as making up medicines, cleaning the surgery, preparing leeches (blood-sucking worms that were used to bleed patients), and bookkeeping. As he progressed he may have moved on to dressing wounds, drawing teeth and visiting the sick.

Keats’s poetry received some harsh criticism form literary snobs because he was an apothecary. Having such a profession was seen by some to be beneath the dignity of a poet. The Tory critic John Gibson Lockhart, writing anonymously in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Lockhart advised Keats that ‘It is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet.’

He seems to have left before his apprenticeship was completed, but he had done enough to satisfy the requirements of the 1815 Apothecaries Act, which came in while Keats was in the next stage of his training at Guy’s Hospital. Keats entered Guy’s Hospital as a student on 1 October 1815 and, with incredible speed, was promoted to the role of ‘dresser’ on 29 October 1815, less than a month after he had arrived at the hospital and just before he turned 20.

The Apothecaries Act had come into force on 12 July 1815 and was an attempt to regulate and professionalize apothecaries. To be allowed to practice, there was now a required minimum degree of training and an exam. Keats had done enough of his apprenticeship, the requisite six months of hospital training, and then passed the difficult exam (which his two housemates failed). He qualified for his apothecary license on 25 July 1816.

Keats Poetry

His knowledge of the human body and its suffering can be found in his narrative poem Lamia which was published in 1820. The poem was written in 1819, during the famously productive period that produced his 1819 odes. It was composed soon after his “La belle dame sans merci” and his odes on Melancholy, on Indolence, to a Grecian Urn, and to a Nightingale and just before “Ode to Autumn”. It tells how the god Hermes hears of a nymph who is more beautiful than all the rest and he goes searching for it but he finds Lamia, trapped in the form of a serpent. She reveals the previously invisible nymph to him and in return, he restores her human form. Her transformation into a woman contains all the pain and horror he had witnessed in his hospital work. It shows the knowledge of chemistry he gained at Guy’s Hospital. Lamia foamed at the mouth her eyes wild ‘Flash’d phosphor and sharp sparks’ (Part 1, ll. 148-52). The beautiful colours that had characterized her mythological, serpent body are replaced with the ‘pain and ugliness’ of human mortality and the change was horrible, physically painful ‘She writh’d about, convuls’d with scarlet pain’ (Part 1, l. 164; l. 154). Scarlet is, of course, the colour of blood and in his phrase ‘scarlet pain’, Keats describes the agony of Lamia’s transition into a fully mortal woman.

Keats Death

During 1820 Keats’ health declined. He suffered two lung haemorrhages in the first few days of February and lost a lot of blood. At the suggestion of his doctors, he agreed to move to Italy with his friend Joseph Severn. He took a house on the Spanish Steps in Rome, today the Keats–Shelley Memorial House museum. Despite the care of Severn and Dr. James Clark, his health rapidly deteriorated. Keats was placed on a starvation diet of one anchovy and a piece of bread a day intended to reduce the blood flow to his stomach. He was bled, a standard treatment of the day to reduce the agitation of his blood. Weak and knowing the fate he had in store Keats tried to poison himself with opium without success. His friends hoping to save him from himself took the opium away and Keats died in agony with nothing to ease the pain.

John Keats died in Rome on 23 February 1821 and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery. His last request was to be placed under a tombstone bearing no name or date, only the words, “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.” Severn and his doctor Brown erected the stone. On it they had a relief of a lyre with broken strings cut into it with the epitaph:

This Grave contains all that was Mortal of a  Young English Poet Who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies Desired these Words to be engraved on his Tomb Stone:  Here lies One  Whose Name was writ in Water. 24 February 1821. The text echoes a sentiment from Catullus LXX. Sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti, in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua  which means ‘ What a woman says to a passionate lover should be written in the wind and the running water.

About the author

Julia Herdman is a novelist writing about 18th and early 19th century London. Her debut novel Sinclair is about a family of apothecary surgeons working at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospitals at the dawn of modern medicine. Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 on Kindle

Julia Herdman is a novelist writing about 18th and early 19th century London. Her debut novel Sinclair is about a family of apothecary surgeons working at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospitals.

What people are saying about Sinclair.

5 stars – Fantastic Tale of the 18th century

This book is superbly written and pulls the reader right into 18th-century life! Truth be told, I am not usually a fan of historical fiction, but Sinclair has changed that for sure! I was fully immersed in this tale, and have recommended it to all of my friends & colleagues! C.Miller, USA

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Writers of Influence – Daniel Defoe

Writers of Influence – Daniel Defoe

Defoe is known today for his contribution to English literature with works such as Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders and Roxanne but there was far more to him than a mere penner of novels.

Defoe was a talented and versatile writer who used his writing skills to influence not only the world of fiction but the history of Britain too. His portrait gives us some clues to the man’s character. He was clearly a handsome man, perhaps even charming. We can see in his long lean face a man a man who was ambitious, shrewd, and intelligent but underneath his respectable persona history tells us that he was not always honest. In his writing, he was prolific, controversial, entertaining and, under duress politically adroit using his skills of persuasion save not only his own life and but change the course of British history.

Born in 1660 Defoe lived through some of the most tumultuous events in British history: The Great Plague of London 1665 and The Great Fire that followed it a year later when his father’s shop was one of two houses left standing in their neighbourhood. His father, James Foe, was a prosperous tallow chandler and a member of the Worshipful Company of Butchers. His mother died young and the young Foe was sent to be educated first in Surrey then at 14 he attended a school in Newington Green, London. His education was Presbyterian and as a dissenter, he and his family were always in danger of government persecution.

After school, Defoe entered the world of business as a general merchant, dealing at different times in hosiery, general woollen goods, and wine. His ambitions were great and he was able to buy a country estate and a ship as well as civets to make perfume, though he was rarely out of debt. In 1684, he married Mary Tuffley, the daughter of a London merchant, receiving a dowry of £3,700 – a huge amount by the standards of the day.

In 1685, he abandoned his new wife and joined the ill-fated Monmouth Rebellion supporting James Scot the Duke of Monmouth and the illegitimate son of Charles II in his attempt to usurp his uncle, the Catholic king, James II. He was lucky and somehow; probably by turning King’s evidence; gained a pardon when the rebellion was quashed escaping the Bloody Assizes of Judge Jeffreys.

However, he was not so lucky in business. In 1692, Defoe was arrested for debts of £700 though his total debts may have amounted to £17,000. Again with a bit of luck and persuasion, he got out of prison and disappeared to Europe and Scotland, trading in wine. By 1695, he was back in England, now formally using the name “Defoe” and serving as a “commissioner of the glass duty” responsible for collecting taxes on bottles. In 1696, he ran a tile and brick factory in what is now Tilbury in Essex and lived in the parish of Chadwell St Mary.

Defoe’s first notable publication was An Essay upon Projects, a series of proposals for social and economic improvement, published in 1697. From 1697 to 1698, he defended the protestant, Dutch-born King William III with his writing particularly with the publication of his poem, The True-Born Englishman in1701, in which he ridiculed English xenophobia.

However, William’s death a year later and the ascent of conformist Anne made Defoe a natural target for the English authorities. However, that did not stop Defoe. In December 1702 he published a pamphlet entitled, The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters; Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church, purporting to argue for the extermination of anyone not adhering to the faith of the Church of England. The pamphlet was satirical but unfortunately, like many satires, it was not widely understood. Defoe was charged and found guilty of seditious libel at the Old Bailey where the notoriously sadistic judge, Salathiel Lovell, sentenced him to 3 days in the pillory and a fine of 200 marks.

The price of his release was high. In prison he wrote to William Paterson, the London Scot who founded the Bank of England and part instigator of the infamous Darien scheme that bankrupted Scotland, asking for a loan. Paterson spotted an opportunity and in turn approached the Speaker of the Commons and Queen Anne’s confidant, Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford. Harley was not only Speaker of the Commons but Queen Anne’s spymaster and political fixer. Harley was persuaded to employ Defoe to influence the Scots to accept the Act of Union. With little prospect of ever raising the 200 marks and facing a lifetime in gaol Defoe agreed and started his new life as a spy and political journalist.

Defoe immediately published a magazine called, The Review, which appeared weekly, then three times a week, written mostly by himself. The Review was the main mouthpiece of the English Government promoting the Act of Union 1707.

Defoe began his Review campaign persuading the English that the Union was a good idea saying that it would remove the hostile threat from the north and provide an “inexhaustible treasury of men”, and a valuable new market increasing the power of England. With the campaign in England underway, Harley ordered Defoe to Edinburgh in 1706 charging him to work undercover and to do everything possible to secure Scottish acquiescence to the Treaty of Union.

Defoe’s first reports to Harvey included vivid descriptions of violent demonstrations against the Union. “A Scots rabble is the worst of its kind”, he reported. Years later John Clerk of Penicuik, a leading Unionist, wrote in his memoirs that, “He [Defoe] was a spy among us, but not known as such, otherwise the Mob of Edinburgh would pull him to pieces.”

Defoe used his Presbyterian family history to gain the trust of the adviser to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and committees of the Parliament of Scotland. He told Harley that he was “privy to all their folly” but “perfectly unsuspected as with corresponding with anybody in England”. He used this deceit to influence the proposals that were put to Parliament in Harley’s favour.

He used all his persuasive skills to help the English Government hoodwink the Scottish Parliament into believing that they would have full sovereignty over their realm; he wrote articles supporting the Union passing himself off as Scottish. He even wrote pamphlets in Scots to make them look authentic. With his master’s work done and the Act of Union railroaded through the Scottish Parliament Defoe sealed the deceit with a massive history of the Union in 1709. With his liberty restored but considerably out of pocket he used of his Scottish experience to write his Tour thro’ the whole Island of Great Britain, published in 1726, where he admitted that the increase of trade and population in Scotland which he had predicted as a consequence of the Union was “not the case, but rather the contrary”.

Julia Herdman’s books are available on Amazon.