Origin of the Name—The "Belvidere" Tavern—The Society of Bull Feathers' Hall—Penton Street—Joe Grimaldi—Christ Church—"White Conduit
House:" Oliver Goldsmith a Visitor there—Ancient Conduits at Pentonville—Christopher Bartholomew's Reverses of Fortune—The Pentonville Penitentiary—The Islington Cattle Market—A Daring Scheme—Celebrated Inhabitants of Hermes Hill—Dr. de Valangin—SinnerSaved Huntington—Joe Grimaldi and the Dreadful Accident at Sadler's Wells—King's Row and Happy Man's Place—Thomas Cooke, the
Miser—St. James's Chapel, Pentonville—A Blind Man's favourite Amusement—Clerkenwell in 1789—Pentonville Chapel—Prospect House—
"Dobney's"—The Female Penitentiary—A Terrible Tragedy.
The site of Pentonville was once an outlying possession of the priory of St. John, Clerkenwell, and
called the "Commandry Mantels," from its having
belonged to Geoffrey de Mandeville—vulgo, Mantell.
Eventually the fields were given to the Hospitallers.
There were springs and conduit-heads in the
meadows; and Gerard, the Elizabethan herbalist,
specially mentions the white saxifrage as growing
The district of Pentonville, once a mere nameless vassal of Clerkenwell and Islington (the latter
itself a comparative parvenu), received its present
name from Henry Penton, Esq., member for Winchester, and a Lord of the Admiralty, who died in
1812, and on whose estate the first buildings in
Penton Street were erected, according to Mr. Pinks,
about the year 1773.
The "Belvidere" Tavern, at the corner of Penton
Street, was at an early period the site of a house
known as "Busby's Folly," probably from Christopher Busby, who was landlord of the "Whyte
Lyon," at Islington, in 1668. In 1664 (four years
after the Restoration), the members of the quaint
Society of Bull Feathers' Hall met at the Folly
before marching to Islington, to claim the toll of
all gravel carried up Highgate Hill. Their thirty
pioneers, with spades and pickaxes, were preceded
in the hall procession by trumpeters and hornblowers. Their standard was a large pair of horns
fixed to a pole, and with pennants hanging to each
tip. Next came the flag of the society, attended
by the master of the ceremonies. After the flag
came the mace-bearers and the herald-at-arms of
the society. The supporters of the arms were a
woman with a whip, and the motto, "Ut volo, sic
jubeo;" on the other side, a rueful man, and the
motto, "Patientia patimur."
This singular club met in Chequer Yard, Whitechapel, the president wearing a crimson satin
gown, and a furred cap surmounted by a pair of
antlers, while his sceptre and crown were both
horned. The brethren of this great and solemn fraternity drank out of horn cups, and were sworn
as members on a blank horn-book. Busby's house
retained its name as late as 1710, but was afterwards called "Penny's Folly." It had fourteen
windows in front; and here men with learned
horses, musical glasses, and sham philosophical
performances, gave evening entertainments. The
"Belvidere" Tavern was in existence as early as
1780, and was famous for its racket-court. At No.
37, Penton Street, that emperor of English clowns,
Joe Grimaldi, lived in 1797, after his marriage with
Miss Hughes, the pretty daughter of the manager
of Sadler's Wells. Penton Street was then the
St. James's or Regent's Park of the City Road
On the west side of Penton Street is a new
church, opened in 1863. It contains sittings for
1,259 persons, and with the site cost about £8,600.
The first incumbent was Dr. Courtenay, formerly
curate of St. James's, Pentonville. St. James's was
made a district, assigned out of the parish of St.
James's, Clerkenwell, in 1854. On the east side
of Penton Street formerly stood that celebrated
Cockney place of amusement, "White Conduit
House." The original tavern was erected in the
reign of Charles I., and the curious tradition was
that the workmen were said to have been regaling
themselves after the completion of the building
the very hour that King Charles's head fell at the
Whitehall scaffold. In 1754 "White Conduit
House" was advertised as having for its fresh attractions a long walk, a circular fish-pond, a number of
pleasant shady arbours, enclosed with a fence seven
feet high, hot loaves and butter, milk direct from
the cow, coffee, tea, and other liquors, a cricketfield, unadulterated cream, and a handsome long
room, with "copious prospects, and airy situation." In 1760 the following spirited verses describing the place, by William Woty, author of the
"Shrubs of Parnassus," appeared in the Gentleman's
"Wish'd Sunday's come—mirth brightens every face,
And paints the rose upon the house-maid's cheek,
Harriott, or Moll more ruddy. Now the heart
Of prentice, resident in ample street,
Or alley, kennel-wash'd, Cheapside, Cornhill,
Or Cranborne, thee for calcuments renown'd,
With joy distends—his meal meridian o'er,
With switch in hand, he to White Conduit House
Hies merry-hearted. Human beings here,
In couples multitudinous, assemble,
Forming the drollest groupe that ever trod
Fair Islingtonian plains. Male after male,
Dog after dog succeeding—husbands, wives,
Fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, friends,
And pretty little boys and girls. Around,
Across, along the garden's shrubby maze
They walk, they sit, they stand. What crowds press on
Eager to mount the stairs, eager to catch
First vacant bench, or chair, in long room plac'd!
Here prig with prig holds conference polite,
And indiscriminate the gaudy beau
And sloven mix. Here, he who all the week
Took bearded mortals by the nose, or sat
Weaving dead hairs, and whistling wretched strain,
And eke the sturdy youth, whose trade it is
Stout oxen to contund, with gold-bound hat
And silken stocking strut. The red-armed belle
Here shews her tasty gown, proud to be thought
The butterfly of fashion; and, forsooth,
Her haughty mistress deigns for once to tread
The same unhallowed floor. 'Tis hurry all,
And rattling cups and saucers. Waiter here,
And Waiter there, and Waiter here and there,
At once is called, Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe!
Joe on the right, and Joe upon the left,
For every vocal pipe re-echoes Joe!
"Alas! poor Joe! like Francis in the play,
He stands confounded, anxious how to please
The many-headed throng. But should I paint
The language, humours, custom of the place,
Together with all curtseys, lowly bows,
And compliments extern, 'twould swell my page
Beyond its limits due. Suffice it then
For my prophetic muse to say, 'So long
'As Fashion rides upon the wing of Time,
While tea and cream, and butter'd rolls, can please,
While rival beaux and jealous belles exist,
So long, White Conduit House shall be thy fame.'"
About this time the house and its customers were
referred to by Oliver Goldsmith. He says, "After
having surveyed the curiosities of this fair and
beautiful town (Islington), I proceeded forward,
leaving a fair stone building on my right. Here
the inhabitants of London often assemble to
celebrate a feast of hot rolls and butter. Seeing
such numbers, each with their little tables before
them, employed on this occasion, must no
doubt be a very amusing sight to the looker-on,
but still more so to those who perform in the
"White Conduit Loaves," says Mr. Timbs, "was
one of the common London street-cries, before the
French war raised the price of bread."
Washington Irving, in his "Life of Goldsmith,"
says:—"Oliver Goldsmith, towards the close of
1762, removed to 'Merry Islington,' then a country
village, though now swallowed up in omnivorous
London. In this neighbourhood he used to take
his solitary rambles, sometimes extending his walks
to the gardens of the 'White Conduit House,' so
famous among the essayists of the last century.
While strolling one day in these gardens he met
three daughters of the family of a respectable
tradesman, to whom he was under some obligation.
With his prompt disposition to oblige, he conducted
them about the garden, treated them to tea, and
ran up a bill in the most open-handed manner
imaginable. It was only when he came to pay that
he found himself in one of his old dilemmas. He
had not the wherewithal in his pocket. A scene
of perplexity now took place between him and the
waiter, in the midst of which came up some of his
acquaintances, in whose eyes he wished to stand
particularly well. When, however, they had enjoyed their banter, the waiter was paid, and poor
Goldsmith enabled to carry off the ladies with
This popular place of amusement derives its
name from an old stone conduit, removed in 1831,
and used to repair part of the New Road. It bore
the date 1641, and beneath, the arms of Sutton, the
founder of the Charterhouse, with initials and monograms probably of past masters. The conduit, repaired by Sutton, was built in the reign of Henry VI.,
and it supplied the Carthusian friars. The waterhouse was used by the school till about 1654, when
the supply fell short, and a New River supply was
decided on. The site of the conduit was at the
back of No. 10, Penton Street, at the corner of
Edward Street. There was a smaller conduit at
the back of White Conduit Gardens, close to where
Warren Street now stands. In 1816, Huntington
(Sinner Saved) the preacher, cleansed the spring,
but his enemies choked it with mud to spite him.
Latterly, however, the Conduit House fell to ruins,
and the upper floors became a mighty refuge for
tramps and street pariahs.
An old drawing of 1731 represents White Conduit House as a mere tall building, with four front
windows, a gable roof, a side shed, and on the other
side the conduit itself. On either hand stretched
bare sloping fields and hedge-rows.
The anonymous writer of the "Sunday Ramble,"
1774, describes the place as having boxes for tea,
cut into the hedges and adorned with pictures;
pleasant garden walks, a round fish-pond, and two
handsome tea-rooms. Later the fish-pond was filled
up, and an Apollo dancing-room erected. In 1826
a "Minor Vauxhall" was established here, and the
place became somewhat disreputable. Mr. Chabert,
the fire-eater, after a collation of phosphorus, arsenic,
and oxalic acid, with a sauce of boiling oil and
molten lead, walked into an oven, preceded by a leg
of lamb and a rump-steak, and eventually emerged
with them completely baked, after which the spectators dined with him. Graham also ascended from
these gardens in his balloon. In this year Hone
talks of the gardens as "just above the very lowest,"
though the fireworks were as good as usual.
About 1827 archery was much practised; and in
1828 the house was rebuilt with a great ball-room
and many architectural vagaries. A writer in the
Mirror of 1833 says:—"Never mind Pentonville,
it is not now what it was, a place of some rural
beauty. The fields behind it were, in my time, as
wild and picturesque, with their deep-green lanes,
richly hedged and studded with flowers, which
have taken fright and moved off miles away—
and their 'stately elms and hillocks green,' as they
are now melancholy and cut up with unfurnished,
and, of course, unoccupied rows of houses, run up
during the paroxysm of the brick and mortar
mania of times past, and now tumbling in ruins,
with the foolish fortunes of the speculators. The
march of town innovation upon the suburbs has
driven before it all that was green, silent, and fitted
for meditation. Here, too, is that paradise of
apprentice boys, 'White Cundick Couse,' as it is
cacophoniously pronounced by its visitors, which
has done much to expel the decencies of the district. Thirty years ago this place was better frequented—that is, there was a larger number of
respectable adults; fathers and mothers, with their
children, and a smaller moiety of shop-lads, and
such-like Sunday bucks, who were awed into decency
by their elders. The manners, perhaps, are much
upon a par with what they were. The ball-room
gentlemen then went through country dances with
their hats on and their coats off. Hats are now
taken off, but coats are still unfashionable on these
gala nights. The belles of that day wore long
trains to their gowns. It was a favourite mode of
introduction to a lady there to tread on the train,
and then apologising handsomely, acquaintance was
begun, and soon ripened into an invitation to tea
and the hot loaves for which these gardens were
once celebrated. Being now a popular haunt, those
who hang on the rear of the march of human
nature, the sutlers, camp-followers, and plunderers,
know that where large numbers of men or boys are
in pursuit of pleasure, there is a sprinkling of the
number to whom vice and debauchery are ever
welcome; they have, therefore, supplied what these
wanted, and Pentonville may now hold up its head,
and boast of its depravities before any other part
The place grew worse and worse, till, in 1849,
the house was pulled down and streets built on
its site. The present "White Conduit" Tavern
covers a portion of the original gardens. Mr.
George Cruikshank has been heard to confess
that some of his early knowledge of Cockney
character, and, indeed, of City human nature, was
derived from observing evenings at White "Conduit
An old proprietor of the gardens, who died in
1811, Mr. Christopher Bartholomew, was believed
to have realised property to the amount of £50,000.
The "Angel," at Islington, was also his; and he
used to boast that he had more haystacks than
any one round London. He, however, became a
prey to the vice of gambling, and is said at last
to have sometimes spent more than 2,000 guineas
in a single day in insuring numbers at the lottery.
By degrees he sank into extreme poverty, but a
friend giving him half of a sixteenth of a favourite
number, that turned up a £20,000 prize, he again
became affluent, only to finally sink into what
proved this time irreparable ruin.
The Pentonville Penitentiary was the result of a
Government Commission sent over to America in
1832, to inquire into the system of isolation so
much belauded on the other side of the Atlantic.
"Many people," says Mr. Dixon in his "London
Prisons," published in 1850, "were seduced by the
report issued in 1834, into a favourable impression
of the Philadelphian system; and, amongst these,
Lord John Russell, who, being secretary for the
Home Department, got an Act introduced into Parliament in 1839 (2 & 3 Vict. c. 56), containing a
clause rendering separate confinement legal in this
country. A model prison on this plan was resolved
upon. Major Jebb was set to prepare a scheme of
details. The first stone was laid on the 10th of April,
1840, and the works were completed in the autumn
of 1842, at a cost of more than £90,000. The
building so erected consists of five wings or galleries,
radiating from a point, the view from which is very
striking, and at the same time very unprison-like.
On the sides of four of these galleries the cells are
situate, and numbered. There are 520 of them,
but not more than 500 are ever occupied. If we
divide £90,000 by 500, we shall find that the
accommodation for each criminal costs the country
£180 for cell-room as original outlay.
"Last year the expenses of mere management
at Pentonville were £16,392 1s. 7d.; the daily
average of prisoners for the year was 457; consequently, the cost per head for victualling and
management was nearly £36.
BATTLE BRIDGE IN 1810.
"This flourishing institution, then, stands thus in
account with the nation yearly:—The land given for
nothing, i.e., not set down in the account; taxes,
ditto; interest of outlay, £100,000 at 5 per cent.,
£5,000; cost of maintenance, £15,000; repairs,
&c. (for 1847 this item is nearly £3,000). If we
take the three items here left blank at an average
of £2,000, a very moderate estimate for the yearly
drain, we shall have a prison capable of accommodating 450 prisoners, at a charge upon county
rates of £22,000 per annum; or, in another form,
at about £50 per head for each prisoner yearly.
Compare this with the cost of the maintenance of
the poor in workhouses, ye disciples of economy!"
The Islington Cattle Market (like the Thames
Embankment, projected by Martin, the painter,
and others, and the Holborn Viaduct, projected by
Mr. Charles Pearson) was planned out nearly half
a century ago, by active London minds. In 1833
John Perkins, Esq., of Bletchingley, in Surrey,
struck with the dirt and cruelty of Smithfield, and
the intolerable danger and mischief produced by
driving vast and half-wild flocks and herds of cattle
through the narrow and crowded London streets,
projected a new market in the fine grazing district north of the metropolis. The place was built
at an expense of £100,000, and opened under an
Act of Parliament, April 18th, 1836. So strong,
however, was the popular and Conservative interest in old abuses, that the excellent new market
proved a total failure, and was soon closed. The
area for cattle at Islington was nearly fifteen acres,
abutting on the road leading from the Lower Street
to Ball's Pond. It was enclosed by a brick wall,
ten feet high, and had vast sheds on all the four
sides. A road ran entirely round the market,
which was quadrated by paths crossing it at right
angles, and there was to have been a central
circus, to be used as an exchange for the greasy
graziers and bustling salesmen, with offices for the
money takers and clerks of the market. The market was capable of accommodating 7,000 head of
cattle, 500 calves, 40,000 sheep, and 1,000 pigs. The
principal entrance from the Lower Road had an
arched gateway, and two arched footways. Poor
Mr. Perkins, he was before his age. The spot was
excellently chosen, lying as it does near the great
roads from the northern and eastern counties,
the great centres of cattle, and communicating
easily with the town by means of the City Road,
which was also convenient for the western part of
London. Twenty years later, in 1852, the nuisance
of Smithfield (thanks, perhaps, to "Oliver Twist")
became unbearable, even to the long-suffering
abuse-preservers; so Smithfield was condemned to
be removed, and a new cattle-market was opened in
Copenhagen Fields in 1855, and that enriched district now rejoices in many cattle and all the attending delights of knackers' yards, slaughterhouses,
tripe-dressers, cats'-meat-boilers, catgut-spinners,
bone-boilers, glue-makers, and tallow-melters.
WHITE CONDUIT HOUSE ABOUT 1820.
It was proposed by a company of projectors,
in the year 1812, to establish a sea-water bathingplace at Copenhagen Fields, by bringing water
through iron pipes "from the coast of Essex to
Copenhagen Fields." It was calculated that the
undertaking would pay the subscribers 12½ per
cent. on the capital embarked, which was to be
£200,000; but the proposition met with little
encouragement, and was soon abandoned.
The present Metropolitan Cattle Market occupies
seventy-five acres of ground. The market-place is
an irregular quadrangle, with a lofty clock-tower in
the centre, and four taverns at the four corners, the
open area being set off into divisions for the different kinds of live stock. No less than £400,000
have been expended upon the land and buildings.
In the parts of the market appropriated for the reception of the different cattle, each central rail is
decorated with characteristic casts of heads of oxen,
sheep, pigs, &c.; these were designed and modelled
by Bell, the sculptor. The open space of the
market will accommodate at one time about 7,000
cattle and 42,000 sheep, with a proportionate number of calves and pigs. The calf and pig markets
are covered, the roofs being supported by iron
columns, which act at the same time as waterdrains. In the centre of the whole area is a twelvesided structure, called "Bank Buildings," surmounted by an elegant campanile, or bell tower.
The twelve sides give entrance to twelve sets of
offices, occupied by bankers, salesmen, railway
companies, and electric telegraph companies. In
one year (1862) the returns were 304, 741 bullocks,
1,498,500 sheep, 27,951 calves, and 29,470 pigs.
The great Christmas sale, in the closing year of old
Smithfield, ranged from 6,000 to 7,000 bullocks, and
between 20,000 and 25,000 sheep. On December
15, 1862, the bullocks were 8,340, being a greater
number than ever before known at any metropolitan market. The market-days for cattle, sheep,
and pigs are Mondays and Thursdays. There is a
miscellaneous market for horses, asses, and goats
on Fridays. (Timbs.)
At a large house on Hermes Hill, afterwards (in
1811) occupied by "Sinner-saved Huntington,"
the converted coal-heaver, a useful man in his
generation, resided, in the last century, from 1772
till his death in 1805, Dr. de Valangin, an eminent
Swiss physician, who had been a pupil of Boerhaave.
He called this hill "Hermes," from Hermes Trismegistus, the fabled Egyptian king, and discoverer
of chemistry, to whom fawning Lord Bacon compared James I., because, forsooth, that slobbering,
drunken monarch was king, priest, and philosopher.
De Valangin—the inventor of several useful and
useless medicines, including the "balsam of life,"
which he presented to Apothecaries' Hall—was
the author of a sensible book on diet, and "the
four non-naturals." The doctor, who was a man of
taste and benevolence, married as his second wife
the widow of an eminent surveyor and builder, who,
says Mr. Pinks, had recovered £1,000 for a breach
of promise, from a lover who had jilted her. He
buried one of his daughters in his garden, but the
body was afterwards removed to the vaults of Cripplegate Church. In his book (1768) De Valangin
particularly mentions the increased use of brandyand-water by English people. His house was remarkable for a singular brick tower or observatory,
which was taken down by the next tenant.
That eccentric preacher, William Huntington, was
an illegitimate son, whose reputed father was a
day-labourer in Kent. In youth he was alternately
an errand-boy, gardener, cobbler, and coal-heaver.
He seems, even when a child, to have been
endowed with an extraordinary deep sensibility to
religious impressions, and early in life he began to
exhort men to save their souls, and flee the wrath
to come, and, we fully believe, in all sincerity,
though his manner was vulgar. His original name
was Hunt, but flying the country to escape the
charge of an illegitimate child, he took for safety
the name of Huntington; and, unable to pay for
a Dissenting title of D.D., he christened himself
S.S. (sinner saved). Huntington seems to have
had a profound belief in the efficacy of faith and
prayer. Whether it was tea, a horse, a pulpit, or
a hod of lime, he prayed for it, he tells us, and it
came. Even a pair of leather breeches was thus
supplied, as he mentions in his John Bunyan way.
"I often," he says, "made very free in my
prayers with my invaluable Master for this favour;
but he still kept me so amazingly poor, that I
could not get them, at any rate. At last I was
determined to go to a friend of mine at Kingston,
who is of that branch of business, to bespeak a
pair, and to get him to trust me until my Master
sent me money to pay him. I was that day going
to London, fully determined to bespeak them as I
rode through the town. However, when I passed
the shop, I forgot it; but when I came to London
I called on Mr. Croucher, a shoemaker in Shepherds' Market, who told me a parcel was left there
for me, but what it was he knew not. I opened it,
and behold, there was a pair of leather breeches with
a note in them, the substance of which was to
the best of my remembrance as follows:—'Sir,—
I have sent you a pair of breeches, and I hope
they will fit. I beg your acceptance of them; and
if they want any alteration, leave in a note what
the alteration is, and I will call in a few days
and alter them.—J. S.' I tried them on, and they
fitted as well as if I had been measured for
them; at which I was amazed, having never been
measured by any leather breeches maker in London."
S. S. had strong belief in eternal perdition, and
attacked the mad prophet Brothers, for his wild prophecies of the sudden fall of the Turkish, German,
and Russian empires. When Huntington's chapel, in
Tichfield Street was burnt, his congregation erected
a new one on the east side of Gray's Inn Lane, at
a cost of £9,000, of which he craftily obtained the
personal freehold. By his first wife S. S. had thirteen
children; he then married the widow of Sir James
Sanderson, who came one day to his chapel to
ridicule him, but "remained to pray," and to fall
in love. He died in 1813, and was buried in a
garden in the rear of Jireh Chapel, on the cliff at
Lewes. A few hours before his death, at Tunbridge Wells, he dictated the following epitaph for
"Here lies the coal-heaver, who departed this life July I,
1813, in the 69th year of his age, beloved of his God, but
abhorred of men. The omniscient Judge, at the grand assize,
shall ratify and confirm this, to the confusion of many
thousands; for England and its metropolis shall know that
there hath been a prophet among them.—W. H., S. S."
At the sale of his goods at Pentonville, which
realised £1,800, a humble admirer bought a barrel
of ale, as a souvenir of his pastor.
"When," says Huntington, "I first began to
open my mouth for the Lord, the master for whom
I carried coals was rather displeased; at which I
do not wonder, as he was an Arminian of the
Arminians, or a Pharisee of the Pharisees. I told
him, however, that I should prophesy to thousands before I died; and soon after the doors began
to be opened to receive my message. When this
appeared, and I had left the slavish employment of
coal-carrying, others objected to my master against
such a fellow as me taking up the office of a minister.
His answer was, 'Let him alone. I once heard him
say that he should prophecy to thousands before
he died; let us see whether this prophecy comes
to pass or not.'"
"Huntington is described as having been, towards
the close of his career, a fat burly man with a red
face, which rose just above the cushion, and a thick,
guttural and rather indistinct voice."
"His pulpit prayers," writes a contemporary, "are
remarkable for omitting the king or his country.
He excels in extempore eloquence. Having formally announced his text, he lays his Bible at
once aside, and never refers to it again. He has
every possible text and quotation at his finger's
end. He proceeds directly to his object, and,
except such incidental digressions as 'Take care
of your pockets!' 'Wake that snoring sinner!'
'Silence that noisy numskull!' 'Turn out that
drunken dog!' he never deviates from his course.
Nothing can exceed his dictatorial dogmatism.
Believe him—none but him—that's enough. When
he wishes to bind the faith of his congregation, he
will say, over and over, 'As sure as I am born, 'tis
so;' or, 'I believe this,' or 'I know this,' or 'I am
sure of it,' or ' I believe the plain English of it to
be this.' And then he will add, by way of clenching his point, 'Now you can't help it;' or, 'It
must be so, in spite of you.' He does this with a
most significant shake of the head, and with a sort
of Bedlam hauteur, with all the dignity of defiance.
He will then sometimes observe, softening his
deportment, 'I don't know whether I make you
understand these things, but I understand them
well.' He rambles sadly, and strays so completely
from his text, that you often lose sight of it. The
divisions of his subject are so numerous, that one
of his sermons might be divided into three. Preaching is with him talking; his discourses, storytelling. Action he has none, except that of shifting his handkerchief from hand to hand, and
hugging his cushion. Nature has bestowed on him
a vigorous, original mind, and he employs it in
everything. Survey him when you will, he seems
to have rubbed off none of his native rudeness or
blackness. All his notions are his own, as well as
his mode of imparting them. Religion has not
been discovered by him through the telescopes of
"Huntington's portrait," says Mr. Pinks, "is in
the National Portrait Gallery, in Great George Street,
Westminster. He 'might pass, as far as appearances.
go, for a convict, but that he looks too conceited.
The vitality and strength of his constitution are fearful to behold, and it is certain that he looks better
fitted for coal-heaving than for religious oratory.'"
Penton Place, leading to what was once called
Bagnigge Wash, used to be frequently overflowed,
when the Fleet Sewer was swollen by heavy rains
or rapid thaws. The street was made about the
year 1776. In 1794 Grimaldi lived here, and took
in brother actors as lodgers. He removed to Penton Street in 1797. This wonderful clown was the
son of a celebrated Genoese clown and dancer,
who came to England in 1760, in the capacity of
dentist to Queen Charlotte. He played at Drury
Lane, under Garrick's management, and was
generally known on the boards, from his great
strength, as "Iron Legs." At one performance
the agile comic dancer is said to have jumped so
high that he actually broke a chandelier which
hung over the side stage-door, and kicked one of
the glass drops into the face of the Turkish ambassador, who was gravely sitting in a stage-box.
Joe was born in 1778, in Stanhope Street, Clare
Market, and his first appearance was at Sadler's
Wells, in 1781, before he was three years old.
Grimaldi's amusements, in his leisure time, were
innocent enough; he was devoted to the breeding
of pigeons and collecting of insects, which latter
amusement he pursued with such success, as to
form a cabinet containing no fewer than 4,000
specimens of butterflies, "collected," he says, "at
the expense of a great deal of time, a great deal of
money, and a great deal of vast and actual labour;"
for all of which, no doubt, the entomologist will
deem him sufficiently rewarded. He appears, in
old age, to have entertained a peculiar relish for
these pursuits, and would call to mind a part of
Surrey where there was a very famous sort, and a
part of Kent where there was another famous species.
One of these was called the "Camberwell Beauty"
(which, he adds, was very ugly); and another, the
"Dartford Blue," by which Dartford Blue he seems
to have set great store.
At the dreadful accident at Sadler's Wells, in
1807, during the run of Mother Goose, when twenty-three people were trodden to death, during a false
alarm of fire, Grimaldi met with a singular adventure. On running back to the theatre that
night he found the crowd of people collected
round it so dense, as to render approach by the
usual path impossible. "Filled with anxiety," says
his "Memoirs," "and determined to ascertain the
real state of the case, he ran round to the opposite
bank of the New River, plunged in, swam across,
and, finding the parlour window open and a light
at the other end of the room, threw up the sash
and jumped in, à la Harlequin. What was his
horror, on looking round, to discover that there lay
stretched in the apartment no fewer than nine dead
bodies! Yes; there lay the remains of nine human
beings, lifeless, and scarcely yet cold, whom a few
hours back he had been himself exciting to shouts
Grimaldi died in 1837. For many years he had
been a nightly frequenter of the coffee-room of the
"Marquis of Cornwallis" Tavern, in Southampton
Street, Pentonville. Mr. George Cook, the proprietor, used to carry poor half-paralysed Joe out
and home on his back.
King's Row, on the north side of Pentonville
Road, was erected, says Mr. Pinks, prior to 1774.
It formerly bore the odd name of "Happy Man's
Row," from a public-house which bore the sign of
the "Happy Man."
In Pentonville Road resided Mr. James Pascall,
a much-respected public-spirited man, who laboured
forty years for the interests of Clerkenwell parish,
and helped to detect a fraudulent guardian named
Scott, who defrauded the parish, in 1834, of more
than £16,000. He also urged forward the covering up the noisome Fleet Ditch, and wrote a useful
work on the Clerkenwell charity estates.
At No. 16, Winchester Place, now No. 61, Pentonville Road, lived for fifteen wretched years the
celebrated miser, Thomas Cooke. This miserable
wretch was the son of an itinerant fiddler near
Windsor. Early in life he was a common porter,
but by a stratagem obtained the hand of the rich
widow of a paper-maker at Tottenham, and then
bought a sugar-baker's business at Puddle Dock.
Here his miserable life as a miser began. He
would often feign fits near a respectable house, to
obtain a glass of wine. His ink he begged at
offices, and his paper he stole from the Bank
counters. It is said that he collected with his own
hands manure for his garden. His horse he kept
in his kitchen, and his chaise he stored up in his bedroom. His one annual treat was the Epsom Races.
Turned out of this house at last, Cooke betook
himself to No. 85, White Lion Street, Pentonville,
and died in 1811, aged eighty-six. He was buried
at St. Mary's, Islington, the mob attending throwing cabbage-stalks on his dishonoured coffin. He
left (and here was his pride) £127,705 in the
Three per Cents. chiefly to the Shoreditch and
Tottenham Almshouses; such is the inconsistency
of human nature. In an old portrait Cooke is
represented with an enormous broad-brimmed hat,
a shade over his eyes, knee breeches, buckle shoes,
an immense coat with a cape, while a stiff curled
wig and huge cable pigtail completed the strangelooking figure.
St. James's Chapel, Pentonville, was first projected by Mr. Penton, in 1777, to benefit his
estate; but the incumbent of St. James's refusing to
sign a bond to the Bishop of London for the regular
payment of the minister, closed the matter for ten
years. In 1787, however, a chapel was begun by
subscription, and was opened in 1788. The first
minister was Mr. Joel Abraham Knight, from the
Spa Fields Chapel. The church trustees of St.
James's purchased the chapel in 1789 for £5,000.
Mr. Hurst, the architect of the chapel, who died in
1799, lies in a vault beneath the building. The
chapel and cemetery were consecrated for the use
of the Church of England in 1791.
"Mr. Francis Linley, organist of Pentonville
Chapel," says Caulfield, in his "Portraits," "was
blind from his birth. His greatest amusement was
to explore churchyards, and with his fingers trace
out memorials of the dead from tombstones; indeed, the fineness of his touch would lead him to
know a book from the lettering on the back of a
volume; and he could, without a guide, make his
way throughout the bustling streets of London."
In 1789 Clerkenwell pickpockets had grown so
daring, that one day, as the society of "Sols"
were going into this chapel, a gentleman looking
on had his pocket picked, and was knocked down,
and the person who informed the gentleman he
was robbed was also knocked down and dragged
about the road by his hair, no one interfering,
although hundreds of honest persons were present.
Pentonville Chapel is built chiefly of brick, with
a stone façade. The building stands north and
south, instead of east and west. The altar-piece,
"The Raising of Jairus's Daughter," in West's feeble
manner, was painted by Mr. John Frearson, an
amateur artist. At the death of a Mr. Faulkner,
in 1856, the Bishop of London ordered the churchwardens of Clerkenwell to sequestrate at once all
the "fruits, tithes, profits, oblations, and obventions," for the benefit of the next incumbent, but
the Rev. Dr. A. L. Courteney, the curate, claimed
the profit, as having by the incumbent's death
become perpetual curate of the district chapelry
erected in 1854. The case, however, never came
on for trial, as the trustees dreaded litigation.
In 1863 Dr. Courteney opened his new church
at the corner of John Street. The incumbent of
St. James's, Clerkenwell, presents to the living of
St James's, Pentonville.
Prospect House, in Winchester Place, now Pentonville Road, was one of those old houses of half
rural entertainment once common in this part
of London. It derived its attractive name from
the fine view it commanded northward—a great
point with the Cockney holiday-maker. From
Islington Hill, as the vicinity was called, there
really was a fine coup d'œil of busy, moody London;
and Canaletto sketched London from here, when
he visited England. Prospect House is mentioned as early as 1669, and is noted in Morden
and Lee's Survey and Map of 1700. The tavern
was famous, like many other suburban taverns, for
its bowling-greens. Subsequently it was re-christened from its proprietor, and was generally known
as "Dobney's," or D'Aubigney's. In 1760 Mr.
Johnson, a new landlord, turned the old bowlinggreen into a circus, and engaged one Price, from the
"Three Hats," a rival house near, to exhibit feats
of horsemanship, as he had done before the Royal
Family. Price, the desultory man, eventually cleared
£14,000 by his breakneck tricks. The time of performance was six p.m. In 1766, newspapers record,
a bricklayer beat his wife to death, in a field near
Dobney's, in presence of several frightened people.
In 1770 Prospect House was taken for a school,
but soon re-opened as the "Jubilee Tea Gardens."
The interior of the bowers were painted with scenes
from Shakespeare. It was the year of the Jubilee,
remember. In 1772 an extraordinary man, a beetamer, named Wildman (perhaps from America), exhibited here. His advertisement ran—"Exhibition
of Bees on Horseback.—June 20th, 1772. At the
Jubilee Gardens, late Dobney's, this evening, and
every evening until further notice (wet evenings excepted), the celebrated Mr. Daniel Wildman will
exhibit several new and amazing experiments, never
attempted by any man in this or any other kingdom
before. He rides standing upright, one foot on the
saddle and the other on the horse's neck, with a
curious mask of bees on his head and face. He
also rides standing upright on the saddle, with the
bridle in his mouth, and, by firing a pistol, makes
one part of the bees march over a table, and the
other part swarm in the air, and return to their
proper hive again. With other performances. The
doors open at six, begins at a quarter before seven.
Admittance in the boxes and gallery, two shillings;
other seats, one shilling." This Wildman seems to
have sold swarms of bees.
In 1774 the gardens were fast getting into the
"sere and yellow leaf" that awaits, sooner or later,
all such fools' paradises. A verse-writer in the
London Evening Post, 1776, says—
"On Sabbath day who has not seen,
In colours of the rainbow dizened,
The 'prentice beaux and belles, I ween,
Fatigued with heat, with dust half poisoned,
To Dobney's strolling, or Pantheon,
Their tea to sip, or else regale,
As on the way they shall agree on,
With syllabubs or bottled ale?"
In 1780 the worn-out house became a lecture
and discussion room; but about 1790 the ground
was cleared, and Winchester Place built. The
gardens, however, struggled on till 1810, when
they disappeared, leaving as a slight memorial a
mean court in Penton Street known as Dobney's
Court. Until the building of Pentonville, says
Mr. Pinks, the only carriage-way leading to Dobney's was one leading from High Street, Islington,
under the gateway of the "White Lion," and from
thence to the bowling-green.
The London Female Penitentiary, at No. 166,
Pentonville Road, was formerly a nunnery school.
This excellent charity, intended to save those whom
vanity, idleness, and the treachery of man have led
astray—poor creatures, against whom even woman
hardens her heart—started here in 1807. The house
was fitted for about thirty-five inmates, but was in a
few years enlarged, so as to hold one hundred women.
The path of penitence is up-hill everywhere, but
especially in London. The inmates are trained for
service, and their earnings at needlework and washing go far to maintain the institution. If the peacemakers were expressly blessed by our Saviour, how
much more blessed must be those who step forward
to rescue poor women like these who are willing
to repent, but who are by poverty drifted irresistibly down the black river to the inevitable grave.
The report, a few years ago, showed good results.
There were 171 then in the house, thirty-one
had been placed out in service, and eight reconciled to their friends. From 1807 to 1863 there
were 1,401 poor women sent to service, 941 reconciled and restored to their friends, thirteen married,
and forty-eight who have emigrated. Altogether
in that time charity and kindness had been held'.
out to 4,172 of the most miserable outcasts of the
In 1834 a terrible and wholesale tragedy was
enacted at No. 17, Southampton Street, by a
German whip-maker named Steinberg. On a September night this wretch, from no known reason,
but perhaps jealousy, murdered his mistress and
her four children, the youngest a baby, and then
cut his own throat. It was with difficulty the mob.
was prevented from dragging the murderer's body
through the streets. His victims were buried in St.
James's Churchyard, and he himself in the paupers'
burial-ground in Ray Street, the corpse being
shaken out of the shell into a pit. No stake was
driven through the body, as usual formerly with
suicides, but one of the grave-diggers broke in the
skull with an iron mallet. There was afterwards a
shameful exhibition opened at Steinberg's house, a
sham bloody knife being shown, and wax figures of
the woman and her children placed in the various
rooms, in the postures in which they had been
found. The victims' clothes were bought for £25,
and nearly £50 was taken for admission in one
day. And yet this was not in the Ashantee country,
but in civilised England, only a few years ago.
SADLER'S WELLS IN 1756.
SADLER'S WELLS. (From a View taken in 1756.)