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 Milk of Human Kindness?

The Milk of Human Kindness?

Elite women rarely nursed their own children in the past, the business of nursing was one for the lower classes who almost always fed their own children if they could. Social historians have tracked the practice and results in 18th century London show that when the upper classes handed their children over to ‘surrogate’ mothers they were increasing their chances of an early death. This was because the women who did the nursing were often under nourished themselves and the equivalent of 18th century formula milk; flour or cereal mixed with broth; did not do the job.

Although attempts to use cows milk as a substitute for mother’s milk had been tried as early as the 15th century there was no alternative to employing a wet nurse that gave a child a reasonable chance of life until the mid 19th century.

From the mid 18th century the fashionable elites started to abandon their use of the wet nurse encouraged by the writing of Rousseau, the biologist and physician Linnaeus, the English doctor Cadogan, and the midwife Anel le Rebours. Linnaeus thought that the lower class wet nurse produced lethal milk because they ate too much fat, drank alcohol, and had contagious (venereal) diseases. These are all things that Dr Sinclair checks for when he examines a poor French girl whose child has died before he employs her as a wet nurse in my new novel Sinclair.

““This is Esmé,” she said. “Her baby died yesterday. She’s very thin; but will she do?”
The girl curtsied, keeping her eyes fixed to the floor. She was wearing a thin cotton dress and white cap with an apron; her legs were bare and she had wooden clogs on her feet. The girl looked no more than sixteen, in Sinclair’s estimation.
He offered his condolences, and asked if she was willing to be a wet nurse for his daughter. The girl said that she was, and asked how much she would be paid. Sinclair explained she would have to accompany them to London.
“I have no family here, sir,” the girl explained. “I am from Bordeaux. I am an orphan.”
“She was in the service of the Duc de Ventadore. The silly girl got herself knocked up by one of the grooms, so they threw her out, monsieur le docteur,” Allete explained scornfully; and the girl silently blushed.”

Illustration: François-Guillaume Ménageot A Lady, said to be Madame Danloux, nursing her Child in a Drawing Room, late 18th c

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.

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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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London’s Mad House

London’s Mad House

‘Bedlam’, London’s first public mental hospital, is typically understood as a byword for chaos, mania and disorder. The world’s first hospital for the sick of mind is more properly known as St Mary Bethlehem, or Bethlehem Hospital and it was founded in 1247 as the Priory of the New Order of St Mary of Bethlem in the city of London during the reign of Henry III.
From 1600 the hospital allowed visitors and artists to observe the ‘mad’.In William Hogarth’s series, A Rake’s Progress (1733-34), The Rake meets his end there shown among a menagerie of strange, otherworldly characters: a magician, emperor, musician and an astrologer while two fashionably dressed women enjoy the spectacle. Hogarth’s etching stresses how a visit to ‘Bedlam’ was understood predominantly as a tourist activity for the wealthy and leisured classes.
By 1750, the acquisitive Monroe family of ‘mad doctors’ was in charge and as the paying visitors viewed the restraints and purges, it became an issue of n public debate. Bethlem had lost its institutional monopoly for the treatment of insanity by the creation of St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics in 1751 and the debate on how to treat the ‘mad’ entered a new stage.
The hospital was run by men but had many female patients. The warders were men too and abuse was frequent. As the 18th century progressed criticism of the hospital increased and it closed it doors to the public in 1770.
One of Bedlam’s most infamous treatments was called rotational therapy. A patient would be seated in a chair or swing, suspended from the ceiling, and spun by an orderly at a speed and duration prescribed by a doctor. This could mean a hundred rotations per minute, and could last an hour. Developed by Erasmus Darwin (grandfather to Charles), he believed that mental illness could be cured with sleep, and rotational therapy would expedite sleep. Of course, it didn’t; it usually only expedited vomiting – which was encouraged. Purging treatments were believed to be curative.
A Parliamentary inquiry in 1815/16 recorded: “gross negligence in the care and management of patients, and heedlessness of the conditions in which they were housed; decided medical apathy toward therapeutic innovation; excessive restraint employed by design and default, and as a means of coping with under-staffing; and inadequate medical supervision of dishonest, and often brutal, ancillary staff..”
The situation at Bedlam finally began to change around 1852, when William Hood was hired as the first-ever resident physician. He believed that tranquillity was the best way to cure mental illness. Hood didn’t believe in chaining up the patients. Instead, he allowed the patients access to magazines, games, and crafts. In 1863, the Broadmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane opened, and Bedlam’s violent, aggressive patients were moved there, creating a calmer atmosphere.
Sources: History Today, Anna Jamieson, Wikipedia, Jonathan Andrews, Andrew Scull, Undertaker of the Mind John Monro and Mad-Doctoring in Eighteenth-Century England , Ayse Wax at BlumHouse.com
Illustrations; William Hogarth, The Rake’s Progress, Plate VIII, A woman restrained, Bedlam Hospital at Moorfields, The Bedlam Swing.

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 Kindle £2.29

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