Yearly Archives: 2012

Spanish Town – an 18th century History worth saving

Recently, I was reading a discussion on the Jamaica Colonial Heritage Society Facebook Group about the current state of Spanish Town. All contributors mourned its decline and the state of its historic buildings, but there are optimistic straws in the wind about what might be possible in future. Despite some people’s concern about the safety of the town, a large group made a walking tour in August 2012 photographing historic sites and buildings and educating each other about a shared history. Many of the photographs were posted on the Facebook Group, which also houses a huge collection of albums of pictures of Jamaica’s Great Houses and many other interesting images.

For those of us outside Jamaica, who may never be able to visit, James Robertson’s book Gone is the Ancient Glory, Spanish Town, Jamaica, 1551-2000[1] provides an ideal history of the development of the town from Spanish colonial outpost, to island capital, to modern centre with the University of the West Indies Campus at Mona.

The book takes a chronological approach to the history of the town beginning with the reasons for its establishment as the Spanish capital after the abandoning of New Seville in the north of the island. One interesting feature of the early town is the relatively large number of free negroes. In 1611 there were 107 when adult Spaniard numbered 523 and there were 558 slaves. Also reflected in Jamaica’s early history were a significant number of Portuguese, and many Portuguese and Spanish Jews due to the absence of the Inquisition. Robertson describes the imprint of the Spaniards on the layout of Spanish Town and on the ecology of the island through their imported fruit trees and domestic animals. Indeed the cattle the Spaniards left behind provided a much needed source of food and hides in the early days of British conquest.

The imprint of Spain on Spanish Town in its layout, single storey houses and buildings facing inward to courtyards rather than outward onto the street, made the town seem very foreign to the incoming English in the late seventeenth century. Following the 1692 earthquake and the destruction of much of Port Royal, Kingston was laid out on a large modern grid pattern and Spanish Town would always suffer to a degree by comparison. However the location of Spanish Town still made it much more convenient for planters coming together for the Assembly and law sessions, and for the associated social life of racecourse, theatre and balls. Its primacy as island capital would be challenged by the Kingston merchants in the mid-eighteenth century, but not supplanted by Kingston until the mid-ninteenth.

One distinctive characteristic of Spanish Town, highlighted by Robertson, was the existence of clusters of slave huts within the town. Whereas in North America the enslaved were segregated and crammed together into buildings and outhouses on the owner’s land, there was legislation in Spanish Town to control the ‘Negro Hutts’. Although such groups of huts could house runaways, they did enable many to live some form of family life, and in turn the town benefited from produce grown in these yards or brought in from outside to negro markets, the sellers staying overnight in the huts with friends or relations.

Robertson describes how Spanish Town flowered in the mid-eighteenth century with the construction of the great municipal buildings, the Archives Building, Kings House and the Assembly around the central square. In many ways this was a high point and far less construction took place in the later part of the century although Spanish Town did win out over Kingston in the tussle to house the statue of Admiral Rodney. A further engineering high point was reached with the construction of the cast iron bridge over the Rio Cobre, which still stands today – probably the first and certainly the oldest still surviving structure of its kind in the western hemisphere.

The arrival of Protestant missionaries amid the struggle for emancipation at the start of the nineteenth century led to the building of new churches, and the street names in Spanish Town reflected the politics of the day – Canning Street, Duke of Wellington Street and Peel Lane demonstrating an identification of the property owning classes with the English establishment.

With the coming of emancipation in 1838 we have a number of prints showing the celebrations as a crowd of about 7000 assembled at the Baptist Chapel and marched to the Parade to hear the Proclamation read – commemorated today by a plaque.

Early Victorian times saw investment in the Island from outside, including the building of the railway between Kingston and Spanish Town, but by the mid-century international recession and a cholera epidemic rapidly followed by a smallpox outbreak resulted in Spanish Town suffering from lack of investment and becoming increasingly dilapidated. Eighteenth century architecture was out of favour with the Victorians, the railway was funneling trade in the direction of Kingston, the population of Spanish Town reduced, many falling into desperate poverty.

Following the uprising of 1865 and the establishment of Jamaica as a Crown Colony, the island’s administration was moved to Kingston and Spanish town was demoted to the status of an ‘inland county town’. Many buildings that had been leased to those attending the island Assembly were no longer tenanted and were demolished to make way for development of humbler cottages. The day of the eighteenth century town mansion was finally over.

All was not lost however and Robertson describes how ‘Architecturally Spanish Town retains a firm imprint from the revival of prosperity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.’ Much derived from the banana boom. Many small houses constructed in this period still remain, and the social mix included middle class professionals. With the banana boats came the first tourists and Spanish Town developed as a stop over between Port Antonio and Kingston, or for day trippers all arriving by by rail.

Moving into the twentieth century Robertson draws on oral history, accounts of the class structure, the myths and tales told by residents, memories of Spanish Town holding the island’s first cycle races. Then in the 1920s three disasters afflicted the town. In October 1925 the Kings House burnt down. Then came Panama disease, a fungal infection destroying the banana crop. A switch to a resistant strain which was thinner skinned and transported less well, had mixed success. Finally the Railway company racked up huge debts sucking money from the government’s allocation for capital investment. The Great Depression and riots in 1938 saw even more difficult times, and only in 1944 did Jamaicans finally achieve universal suffrage.

The final chapter of James Robertson’s book  covers the development of Spanish Town from 1942-2000 and asks ‘Where are we now?’ Bounded by a new bypass, with bus passengers queuing in front the of the now closed railway station, there is more traffic, and fewer animals forage in the streets where taller modern buildings replace those of earlier times. Gradually Spanish Town and Kingston spread out to meet each other.

‘Despite all the demolitions of old buildings and infilling of original lots, the older gridded ground plans of the sixteenth-century settlement and its 1740s expansion still organize the heart of the town”. Spanish Town has now gained conditional acceptance as a World Heritage site but lacks the resources to fulfill the conditions for full acceptance.

I have only been able to scratch the surface here. James Robertson’s book, covering many aspects of the history of Jamaica, not simply of Spanish Town, provides ample material to back up its claim to be viewed and preserved as part of our World Heritage. It is a fascinating read.

[1] Ian Randle Publishers, Kingston, Jamaica, 2005. ISBN 976-637-197-0





Puritans and Planters – the Halhed family

The Cloisters at Westminster Abbey


I encountered the name Halhed recently while reading about the early British Colony which settled at Providence Island, just over 100 miles off the coast of modern Nicaragua, and I remembered I had seen the name before in a Jamaican context.

Richard Halhed came from a distinguished Banbury family and indeed was apparently the last to be born in Banbury. His distant great-uncle Henry Halhed had joined a contingent of pioneers, the Providence Island Company, recruited by Lord Saye and Sele[1]. They intended to establish a colony according to puritan principles, and although Henry Halhed was already in his mid-50s he sailed with his wife Elizabeth and three of his youngest children – Patience, Grace and Samuel – in 1632.

Henry Halhed had been hit by the combined effects of a depression in the textile industry and a disastrous fire in Banbury in 1628. The colony was not a success and Halhed and three others were deported back to England on the Hopewell arriving in Bristol in early 1641. All four men were released and held to be guiltless of the charges against them, but this seems to have ended Halhed’s connection with the island, which was subsequently taken by the Spanish who deported all the English colonists.

Richard Halhed’s connection with Jamaica was very much more successful. He was born posthumously in 1685, probably apprenticed in London in 1700, and then went out to Jamaica as a planter establishing an estate called Banbury. Like many other single white colonists he fathered a number of illegitimate children of whom Richard baptised in December 1724 seems to have died young.

In 1746 Grace Hazel and her children Robert, Elizabeth, and Susannah Halhed were all granted the rights of whites by the Jamaican Assembly. The children were described as free mulattos, as was Grace Hazel, who was probably Richard’s ‘housekeeper’. Robert Halhed, later described as a surgeon of St Thomas in the Vale,  subsequently applied to the Jamaican assembly in 1752 and was granted “the same rights, liberties, franchises, and immunities as His Majesty’s liege people do now hold and enjoy”. Legally he had become white.

It appears that Richard also had a daughter called Leah, who is mentioned in Robert’s Will as his half sister, who had married Thomas Leadbeater. There is a marriage for Thomas Leadbeater and Leah Phipps on the 24th of December  1738 in the parish of St Catherine, Jamaica. It seems possible however that Leah was already a widow, since the parish register record for the baptism of Elizabeth and Susannah Halhed was written on a scrap of paper, pinned to the main register, on which were also baptism records for Leah and Rachell Ydana on the same date. The Jewish Ydana family had patented land in Jamaica from the latter part of the 17th-century. It may be that the mother of Leah and Rachell (who were older than Richard’s other children) was connected with the Ydana family. There is no indication of Leah having been granted the rights of whites so she may not have been of mixed race.

Leah’s marriage to Thomas Leadbeater, a planter in St Thomas in the East, seems to have been a good one, and the baptisms of several of their five surviving children were sponsored by prominent citizens including Jacob and Sarah Neufville. It is likely that by time of the birth of the last of these children, Sarah in 1755, Robert Halhed had already left for England – a Robt Halhed was paying land tax in the parish of St Sepulchre in 1750. His father Richard died in Jamaica in July 1755 aged seventy, a very good age for a Jamaican colonist, and he was buried in Spanish Town on the 13th of July 1755.

Richard Halhed provided generously for his children. Although I have not found his Will, his son Robert’s Will (proved in 1778) indicates not only that he was wealthy but also that provision had been made by their father for the care of his unmarried daughter Susannah. Elizabeth, who at the time of the granting of the rights of whites was already married to Thomas Peirce of London, had probably died relatively young and without leaving children. Thomas Peirce married again and there is a record of a Chancery dispute involving the Halhed and Peirce families, held at the National Archives at Kew of which I hope to get a copy shortly.

Robert seems to have settled into English society with no difficulty in spite of his mixed race. He married a wife called Elizabeth, probably in England although I have not found a record for the marriage, and had one child Robert Spencer Halhed living at the time of his death. Very sadly Robert Spencer Halhed died just over a month after his father at the age of thirteen. Elizabeth outlived her husband by more than forty years, dying in 1829.

In England Robert prospered as a merchant and was close to his father’s first cousin William (1723-86)[2] who was much the same age as he was, and who became a Director of the Bank of England. Both Robert and William are recorded as merchants at 1 Bank Street, London which implies a partnership.

Robert’s successful career and marriage, and his sister Elizabeth’s marriage to Thomas Peirce are yet another example of the integration of mixed race Jamaican children into mainstream society. For Robert and his family this was crowned by their burial in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey.

When Elizabeth Halhed died at the age of ninety-two in October 1829 she requested burial with her husband and son and that the stone marking the spot should be recut. Her wishes very nearly failed to be carried out when a bizarre accident overtook the Will.

William Halhed had three sons, all of whom were in their seventies by the time Elizabeth died. The eldest Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, still remembered as a linguist and compiler of one of the first Bengali grammars, was according to Elizabeth incapable by then of managing his own affairs. Robert William and John were nominated as executors and when  John heard that Elizabeth was dying he travelled down to Tunbridge Wells, writing a letter to warn his brother that Elizabeth had not long to live. The following day, after her death, her companion Frances Bonnet produced a tin box with the Will and John wrote a letter to Nathaniel’s wife Luiza, detailing the legacies and asking her to forward it to Robert in London.

When John and Frances Bonnet arrived in London, Robert had not yet received the second letter although he had the first. So that evening the two brothers sat down to make a new list of the legacies, with Robert writing on the second page torn from the letter John had written to him. It was an October evening and as John read the Will by candle light he held it too close to the flame and the Will caught fire. Although the fire was quickly extinguished some portions of the will had been lost. However, because John had written to Luiza, and because he and Robert had been producing an abstract of the Will it was possible to correlate the various documents to produce evidence of Elizabeth’s intentions.

With the agreement of the legatees whose legacies had been obliterated, Robert William and John swore an affidavit which enabled probate to be granted on the 15th of October 1829. It was one of the last acts of John Halhed who was buried on the 4th of December 1829. He was survived by eleven of his eighteen children.

You can read a transcript of Elizabeth’s Will here, and also a transcript of the Will of Robert Halhed. As Elizabeth’s Will makes no mention of Jamaica and her legacies are mostly in 3 per cent consols (safe bank investments) it is to be assumed that at some time after her husband Robert’s death she sold the property and invested the proceeds to provide a regular income. As the great days of sugar were largely over, this was a sensible move freeing her from the worries of an absentee landlord. That she was still a wealthy woman, despite her investments having to support her into great old age, is an indication of the wealth accumulated by Richard Halhed in Jamaica and consolidated by Robert in London.



[1] Providence Island 1630-1641, Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Cambridge University Press, 1993.

[2] Much information about the Halhed family may be found at


Family stories – the vital clues

If you ever doubt how much can be gleaned from even the smallest scraps of information left by your ancestors take a look at the piece of paper my mother received in the 1950s in a bundle of family papers collected by an aunt.

Aunt Alice was a young girl when her grandmother, born Charlotte  Heap in 1808, died in 1890, but her grandmother had noted fragmentary details of the family story of an ‘Indian Princess’ and from this eventually grew a database of several thousand close and distant ancestors, and my book A Parcel of Ribbons.

One common, but frustrating, genealogical puzzle comes when you are given only the surname and no first names and this is especially acute if you are tracking through the female line of your family with surname changes every generation as in this example. In the end I came at this problem from two directions at once, both working backwards from Charlotte Heap and also looking for two sisters surnamed Jaques, one who had married a Lee and another a Marleton (in fact spelled Marlton).

Another problem with handwritten notes is interpreting connections without a diagram or helpful punctuation. For example ‘his father married a creole’ in the above example could apply to Richard Lee or to Richard Lee’s father or his grandfather. Another piece of paper written by Aunt Alice said that her father had referred to a creole but she had always heard ‘Indian Princess’.

I had very little to go on geographically other than that the family was based in England, Charlotte was born in Kendal in Cumbria but her mother came from Suffolk and it emerged that the roots were all in London. Without the internet and computerised indexes the search would have been all but impossible.

Two key findings helped in unravelling the story. One was a marriage licence issued in 1720 for Joseph Lee and Frances Jaques (I have still not found the marriage record), and the later discovery that Frances’s sister Mary had married Thomas Marlton. The other was the combined information from the Will of Richard Lee in 1857 (which left a small legacy to Charlotte and various members of her family) together with the 1851 census record for Richard Lee giving his birthplace as Jamaica. This last was a total surprise, since until then no-one in the family had any idea there was a Jamaican connection. Indeed in a family with slight connections with North America and extensive ones from the early eighteenth century in India, the search had been on for either a family Pocahontas or the daughter of an Indian Rajah!

I think there are two lessons to be drawn from all of this. The first is always to take seriously any information your ancestors leave whether as stories or documents. The second is, that having taken it seriously, don’t be surprised if what you find is not at all what you expect. Indeed over the passage of time (Charlotte’s notes were made in the late 1880’s and referred to events nearly a century before she was born) a kernal of truth may well have acquired an auro of myth by the time it comes down to you.




A White Beaver Hat

A Beaver Hat perhaps similar to the one sent to Mary Rose, although apparently dating to about 1830. Source:

Rose Fuller left Jamaica in 1755, after two decades running the Fuller and Isted interests, in order to return to Sussex to manage the family estates he had inherited on the death of his older brother.

He left behind his housekeeper and long time companion Mary Rose who would now keep an eye on his properties in Spanish Town and at Grange Penn. It is clear from her letters that she missed him. Although we do not have his replies to her letters the fact that several of her letters to him are preserved among his papers at the East Sussex County Record Office suggests the affection was mutual.

One of those letters contained a shopping list which included a request for a white beaver hat. Beaver hats had been fashionable in Europe since the sixteenth century. The barbs on beaver fur make it particularly suitable for felting and the inner fur is very soft. Later on a new process for preparing the skins would be developed using mercury salts, which combined with the steam used in shaping the hats produced highly toxic fumes. Mercury poisoning can result in madness and this is thought to be the origin of the phrase ‘mad as a hatter’.

By the eighteenth century the European beaver was being hunted so extensively that numbers were dramatically reduced. However the development of the North American fur trade meant that the beaver hat still had a future. From the late seventeenth century the Hudsons Bay Company was sending back regular shipments of furs to Europe. One beaver pelt could be traded for an iron axe head and the pelt would in turn be worth a dozen such axes. The benefit was not all one way however, since the increased efficiency of an iron axe over a stone one and the time saved in making the stone axe head benefited the native Americans and Canadians who trapped the beaver.

As you would expect for a fashion that has lasted for over four hundred years, beaver hats came in all shapes and sizes, from the large, dashing Cavalier hats of the court of Charles I, to tricorns and military hats, stetsons, top hats and trapper style hats with ear flaps.

I have only come across a couple of historical references to white beaver hats – one in Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and another a reference to one worn by American President John Adams. Clearly white beaver hats must have been much more expensive than black or brown, and much harder to keep clean. Whether there was a particular fashion for them in Jamaica in the mid-eighteenth century I do not know, but what is certain is that it would have been an expensive luxury item. I do hope Rose Fuller sent the hat and that Mary Rose enjoyed the wearing of it.

You can read more about the history of the beaver hat in a project by Kelly Feinstein-Johnson here.


Blog Anniversary

It is just over a year since I began weekly postings on this blog.

I set up the website while I was working on the research for what eventually became the book  A Parcel of Ribbons, because at that stage I did not know if it ever would become a book, and I felt it would be a pity if the research existed only in an electronic archive that no-one else could see or make use of.

During the year I have been contacted by a number of readers who share my interest in the history of the 18th century, and in particular of the connections between Britain and Jamaica. It has been a rewarding relationship and often readers have provided further information on topics I have written about. Sometimes I have been able to help with research others are engaged in.

I am now reviewing where to go to next. I shall be promoting my book when I can, and I have two projects in mind that have arisen from the research into the Lee Family. One concerns the elopement of Matthew Allen Lee and what happened next. The other relates to William Perrin, his estates in Jamaica and the family of his wife in England who intersected with the Lee family in London. Whether there will be another book or two in all this remains to be seen, but I hope there will still be interesting finds to share here. I also have a fair few Wills relating to Jamaica that I have yet to transcribe, when I do they’ll be uploaded here.



Probate Inventories and a Coat of Arms

The Arms of William Jaques

Probate inventories can be a surprisingly illuminating aid in your family history search.

They were compiled after a person’s death in order to value the estate. This was especially important if there were unpaid debts or monies owed to the deceased. More modern probate records for England and Wales can be found on Ancestry which has the England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) for 1858-1966, and this will tell you the value of an estate at death and will usually give you the address of the deceased, date of death and to whom probate was granted. This latter is more helpful when probate is granted to a relation than if it is granted to a firm of solicitors.

Ancestry also carries a number of other probate indexes and digital images of some Wills. For Scotland a free search for Wills can be done on Scotland’s People although they charge for downloading images of the documents. It is not often these days that prices are reduced, but I have noticed a small recent price reduction for downloading the .pdf file of Wills from the UK National Archives. They also hold some probate inventories and you can make a document request to get a copy of these.

Earlier inventories were often made on long narrow strips of parchment which were then stored rolled up. I have transcribed two of these from my own family – for Richard Graybee and William Jaques. Richard Graybee was my eight  times great grandfather twice over, since his daughter Mary married Joseph Lee and her sister Sarah married master watch-case maker William Jaques. Their children Joseph Lee and Frances Jaques were my six times great grandparents.

The first  inventory I  investigated was for William Jaques. He died intestate in January 1719/20, and as he was a Citizen of London and a member of the Clockmakers Company, and several of his children were still under age, his case was dealt with by the Court of  Orphans of the City of London. They appointed  Thomas Powle and Solomon Bonquet to evaluate  ‘all & singular the Goods Chattels Rights and Creditts late belonging to and appertaining unto William Jaques of the Parish of St Sepulchre late Citizen and Clockmaker of London deceased’. The parchment roll showing the results of their labours is in the London Metropolitan Archives.

Thomas and Solomon had gone systematically through the house in Angel Court listing the contents. These included household furniture and items such as feather beds, chairs, tables, dressing glasses, pots and pans, tongs and shovels, 120 pounds weight of pewter items, 170 oz of plate (presumably silver and gold)  and household linen consisting of

16 pair sheets 12 pair of pillocases & 3 damask table cloths & 23 napkins diaper table cloths 40 diaper and Huccaback napkins 3 kitchen table cloths 3 jack towels & 3 doz of hand towels (worth £12 2 shillings).

In addition to all the household items which were listed by room, thus telling us how big the house was, there were all the materials of William’s trade as a master silversmith. This included gold worth £263 and 25 oz of new sterling silver. The presence of bedding in the ‘Shopp’ alongside the tools suggests that an apprentice probably slept there, providing security.

Even the clothes of the dead person were assessed and in William’s case this raised an intriguing possibility.


4 Intestate wearing apparel linen and woollen Books & arms & a silver watch £15

This website and the book A Parcel of Ribbons had their origins in my search for the truth behind the story of an Indian Princess which had come down through the family, together with various papers from my great-aunt Alice. She had left a painting of a coat of arms to a cousin of my mother who supplied me with the image above. It seems highly likely that it was this painting that was referred to as ‘arms’ in the inventory. It was also this painting that confirmed for me the link between the Jaques and Graybee families.

William had also owned bonds in the ill-fated South Sea Company, which the executors were able to sell just before the Bubble burst, and the inventory also shows a lengthy list of persons owing money to William, many of whom were clockmakers thus providing further historical information to those interested in eighteenth century clockmaking.

Among the debts owed by William at his death was 10s 6d to the Nurse, so we can infer that he had been ill for a while, if not sufficiently ill to feel the need to make his Will or possibly too ill to be able to do so. His funeral expenses came to £167 16s 6 ½d  which must have produced quite a lavish funeral being equivalent to about £19,600 in modern retail prices.

A generation earlier William’s father-in-law Richard Graybee left a probate inventory which tells us about the contents of his house in Little Old Bailey and about the probable occupation of one of his sons. Although Richard himself was a cooper, there were materials in the cellar of his house suggesting someone involved in the dyeing trade. This ties in with baptism records for the children of a John Graybee who was a silk dyer living close by, almost certainly Richard’s eldest son. Unfortunately the records of the Dyers Company were lost in the Great Fire of 1666 so confirmation is lacking.

One interesting feature of the way the inventories are written is that they refer not to rooms on the first or second floor of the house, but to ‘one pair of stairs’ or ‘two pair of stairs’ as well as garrets, kitchens and cellars. Decoding the values of the goods recorded can be tricky as earlier documents may use Roman numerals for money values rather than arabic, and of course the amounts are in pounds shillings and pence, possibly including halfpennies or farthings.

I have not yet examined any Jamaican inventories, although I hope to do so in future. For anyone interested in Jamaican inventories, you may like to look at that for the estate of Henry Morgan for which Dianne Frankson has made a transcription part of which can be viewed here. One interesting feature of this is the mention of a ‘musketto nett’ which was the first time I had realised that mosquito nets were in use from the earliest times.

When a probate inventory exists it puts flesh on the bones of a person’s Will and gives us a peep into the contents of their home and the way that they lived. It also gives us an idea of the value of the estate left behind and the relative wealth of an ancestor before the formal establishment of the Probate Registry.


First Catch Your Hare

The title page from the facsimile first edition, Prospect Books 2012[1]

‘First Catch Your Hare’ is one of those apocryphal quotations that was in fact never written, in spite of being repeatedly attributed to Hannah Glasse.

Hannah Glasse was the author of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy first published in 1747, and although she is less well remembered than Isabella Beaton she pioneered the method of writing recipes in a systematic fashion that could be understood by anyone who could read.

That her book sold so well gives the lie to the notion that all but the richest eighteenth century women were illiterate. In fact she was at the leading edge of the rise of the self-help book, something which would really take off in the following century with the introduction of steam-powered printing.

Hannah was the illegitimate daughter of Isaac Allgood (of Brandon White House and Nunwick, Northumberland) and Mrs Hannah Reynolds. Her parents’ relationship ended after the birth of three children. Perhaps surprisingly Hannah then lived, not with her mother, whom she called a ‘wicked wretch’, but with her father and his wife, and she grew up close to her legitimate half-brother Lancelot Allgood.

In 1724 her stepmother died suddenly and her father was in very poor health so she moved in with her grandmother Ryecroft in Greville Street, Hatton Garden. It was from here that she left in secret, aged just sixteen, to marry John Glasse at Leyton in Essex on the 5th of August 1724. A month later when her grandmother found out and threw her out, she and John Glasse moved to rooms above a chemist’s shop in the Haymarket.

Over the next fifteen years Hannah bore eleven live children and suffered at least one miscarriage of twins. She corresponded with members of her father’s family in Northumberland and those letters provide most of the evidence for her life with John Glasse, who seems to have been largely without visible means of support and who died in 1747.

By this time Hannah had already indulged in several money-making ventures including selling Daffy’s Elixir, writing her cookery book, and setting up a ‘habit warehouse’, a high class clothes shop in Tavistock Street. Quite how she managed it is unclear but among her clients were royalty, including the Prince and Princess of Wales. It was perhaps her bad luck that ‘poor Fred’ the Prince of Wales died suddenly, and possibly poor management or the unpaid bills of the aristocracy that led to Hannah’s bankruptcy in 1755. This resulted in the sale of the copyright of her book The Art of Cookery, in a story sadly very similar to the sale of the copyright in Mrs Beaton’s books a century or so later.

Hannah went on to write The Compleat Confectioner and the Servant’s Directory but neither had the success of her first book.

As with Isabella Beaton, Hannah Glasse did not invent her recipes, rather she plundered a variety of sources. It seems likely that although she had not had to earn her living as a cook and came from the gentry classes, that she actually enjoyed cooking. Although she took her recipes from other sources the main change she made was to provide precise measurements of quantities where none were given in the originals. She also gave very clear instructions and simplified much of the language that had been used in earlier recipes, for example changing ‘two right oranges’ to ‘two large oranges’, and instead of ‘lard them with small Lardoons’ she has ‘lard them with little bits of Bacon’. Where Hannah was not so systematic is in her arrangement of the recipes, there was no index in the first edition, nor are all recipes for similar ingredients grouped together.

One fascinating aspect of her work is that it makes clear to us that many 18th century ingredients were a little different from now, for example eggs were generally much smaller, so if instructed to take a piece of dough the size of a hen’s egg it is well to remember this. Poultry too were smaller, but teaspoons appear to have been larger and she is probably referring to the caddy spoon used for measuring out tea rather than the smaller spoon for stirring a cup of tea. The Prospect Books facsimile of her book includes not only background to her family, but also detailed discussion of her sources, ingredients and methods of cooking.

Here is a sample recipe chosen at random. I hope to post some more in future. It should be remembered that oysters in 18th century London were still commonplace and cheap. Whether the paper used over the breast was used dry or wet I am not sure.

To marinate Fowls

Take a fine large Fowl or Turky, raise the Skin from the Breast Bone with your Finger, then take a Veal Sweetbread and cut it small, a few Oysters, a few Mushrooms, an Anchovy, some Pepper, a little Nutmeg, some Lemon-peel, and a little Thyme; chop all together small and mix with the Yolk of an Egg, stuff it between the Skin and the Flesh, but take great Care you don’t break the Skin, and then stuff what Oysters you please into the Body of the Fowl. You may lard the Breast of the Fowl with Bacon, if you chuse it. Paper the Breast, and roast it. Make good Gravy, and garnish with Lemon. You may add a few Mushrooms to the Sauce.

And if it seems as if Hannah Glasse’s story has an exclusively London bias, there is a curious postscript. For a document preserved at Nunwick Hall lists some of her surviving children, as of about 1767. Hannah the eldest was alive and unmarried, Catherine was twice widowed and had one son then living, Isaac Allgood Glasse was in Bombay, George who had joined the Royal Navy was lost at sea in 1761, and Margaret (chief partner in the habit making business) had died unmarried in Jamaica.

This raises intriguing questions about why she was there. Clearly a good living could be made in London if her mother’s client list were exploited, so had she gone to Jamaica alone or with a brother? I have not been able to find a burial record for her, nor any other trace of the Glasse family, except perhaps an Edward Glasse who was in Port Royal, and who buried a daughter called Margaret there in 1741. Was he perhaps an uncle?

[1] First Catch Your Hare…The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, by a Lady (Hannah Glasse), a facsimile of the first edition supplemented by the recipes which the author added up to the fifth edition and furnished with a Preface, Introductory Essays by Jennifer Stead and Priscilla Bain, a Glossary by Alan Davidson, Notes and an Index. Prospect Books, Totnes, 2012. ISBN 978-1-903018-88-0.






A lunatic in the family

Hogarth’s image of the Rake’s Progress in which he has finally descended into madness in Bedlam


The treatment in the eighteenth century of those born mentally handicapped and those suffering from mental illness was often absolutely horrific.

The history of Bedlam (a corruption of Bethlem, the Bethlehem Hospital) shows that valiant attempts were sometimes made, but frequently failed, and the attitudes that saw the fashionable treating the inmates as a fit subject for sight-seeing demonstrates a lack of empathy we now find deeply shocking.

For the well-to-do, the alternative to putting a family member in a public institution was private nursing, somewhere quiet and well away from the family (the option taken by the British Royal family in relation to the epileptic Prince John in the early 20th century), or a private asylum. In general such relatives were quietly put aside and forgotten.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a number of private asylums were established on the edge of London in places such as Fulham and Kensington. I first came across this in relation to the fate of a brother of my 3 times great grandmother. The Parmenter family seem to have been particularly unlucky in their sons since a letter written in the 1790s refers to their eldest son Isaac being incapable of work, in some way handicapped, and his brother John being exceptionally small for his age and likewise unsuited to physical work – both died in their twenties. Their brother Robert Lee Parmenter (born in 1792) found work as a bank clerk in the family business, but by the mid 1820s the Lee family cousins were already making provision for care that would last for the rest of his life. When he arrived at the Kensington House Asylum is unclear, but it is to be hoped he was not there during the 1830s.

In 1838-41 it was the subject of an exposé by Richard Paternoster who had been forcibly detained there in 1838. Conditions were nothing like the idylic ones described in its prospectus.

‘He described an overcrowded, badly ordered institution in which the inmates were at the mercy of their often brutal keepers, some of them ex-convicts. “Occuption there was none, amusement none, music none, books none, newspapers none, baths none! cleanliness none, medical treatment none, friends none, food scanty and bad.” Paternoster detailed several examples of violence against patients, one of whom was beaten up for throwing a small bone over the wall into Sir John Scott Lillie’s garden.[1]

After the institution came under Cornishman Dr Francis Philp, from 1840 onwards, conditions improved significantly. Interestingly, from a genealogical point of view, although the inmates are easily found in the 1841 census, they are later listed only by their initials. Dr Philp was mis-transcribed as Philip and was away from home in the 1851 census, so the only solution to finding the inmates was to page through the census books to find Kensington House by its geographical location. You can find a fuller account of Kensington House here.

Many of the male patients seem to have been professional men – occupations listed in the 1841 census include farmer, planter, colonel, merchant, surgeon, several French people and a number of clerks. The relatively large number of French patients may have been due to the presence in the area of emigrés from the French revolution and the earlier use of Kensington House by the Jesuits. It is to be hoped that Robert Lee Parmenter did not arrive at the Asylum before 1840, but he was certainly there in 1841 and he died there of bronchitis in 1866.

Another sad and intriguing case is that of the second son of Frances Dalzell, who married George Duff in 1757 in Charles Street, London. Frances was a daughter of Susanna Augier whose family I have previously discussed. It appears that Frances met George in Bath, and although she was nearly seven years older than he was it was a love match. Her father was already dead and she and her brother had jointly inherited the Lucky Hill estate in Jamaica, and would also inherit from their grandfather General Robert Dalzell who outlived all his children and died in his ninety-sixth year.

Frances and George had a son called William Robert baptised in 1758, James in 1760, twins George and Jane Dorothea in 1765 and Frances who was probably born a year later. William Robert seems to have died young, both daughters died in their twenties and George, who went into the army, was for a time disowned by his father because of his wild lifestyle.

Two online references to James refer to him being ‘a lunatic from birth’, and one says that he was cared for in Beaufort House in Fulham under the name of James Thompson. Ironically it seems that he outlived his entire family, dying at the age of seventy-two. I have not as yet been able to verify these on-line references, but if correct they suggest that the care given in Beaufort House was good. It seems to have been a small institution, for a mid-nineteenth century report which listed Kensington House as having 44 inmates (2 under restraint) listed only five for Beaufort House, which also had two under restraint.

Without further information it is impossible to know what was the matter with James. The description of him as ‘a lunatic from birth’ suggests either that he was mentally handicapped, or perhaps that he had Down’s syndrome, although it would be unusual for someone with Downs to live into their seventies. He may have been autistic or have suffered from epilepsy, or perhaps he had a degree of cerebral palsy sufficient to make him socially unacceptable, but not to shorten his life.

Frances Dalzell died in 1778 and in her Will, written two years earlier, she makes no mention of her son William. She left £100 to James and £200 to each of her daughters with the residue of the Jamaican estates left to George. She left her shares in the Sun Fire Office in similar proportions with one each to James, Jane Dorothea and Frances and twelve to George. That she did not leave a substantial share to James, the eldest, reinforces the suggestion that he was incapable of minding his own affairs.

George Duff senior died in 1818 and George junior, described at the time as his only son, died in 1828. James was probably still living at the time.

NOTE I have recently added the following update to my previous article on the Augier clan.

POSTSCRIPT : 2nd August 2012 I have been looking again at the children of Susanna Augier and I think a confusion has arisen over her children with Peter Caillard. I now think that her children with Peter Caillard were Mary, Peter and Susanna and that there is only one child called Frances – the daughter of Gibson Dalzell.

[1] British History online.

London graveyards and the Wonderful Mrs Basil Holmes

 “Bella” Holmes, photographed in 1895 (courtesy of Jake Holmes)

But for the efforts of the wonderful Mrs Basil Holmes much of what we know about London graveyards and burial grounds would have been lost. Instead of which we now have not only the results of her labours in her book on The London Burial Grounds, but its descendants in modern websites such as Londonburials to aid in our search for lost ancestors. Many of those who went to Jamaica had London roots, and many who made their fortunes in Jamaica came ‘home’ to settle in and around the capital.

Isabella Matilda Gladstone was born in 1861, the sixth of seven children of John Hall Gladstone (FRS and a Scientific Chemist) and his first wife Jane Mary Tilt. Isabella’s mother, her eldest sister and her only brother died when she was three in an epidemic of scarlet fever and diphtheria. Her father’s second wife died in childbirth six years later, barely a year after their marriage. Margaret, the child of this marriage, would go on to become the wife of Ramsay Macdonald, Britain’s first Labour Prime Minister.

In 1887 Isabella married Basil Holmes who was Secretary to the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association (MPGA) which had been founded five years earlier. Between 1888 and 1896 Isabella had two daughters and two sons, with another son coming along in 1905. During the 1890s the family lived at  5 Freeland Road, Ealing in west London and were able to employ various nursemaids, a cook and a housemaid. The Freeland Road house was a solid brick-built Victorian villa, comfortably situated between Ealing Common and the Ealing Lawn Tennis Club, but the founders of the MPGA were only too well aware that many Londoners lived in squalid slums, seeing little sunlight, rarely seeing any greenery and with no safe places for their children to play.

It was the dawning age of metropolitan socialism that brought about the clearing of slums, the building of ‘model dwellings’ and the first social housing, and the erection of public baths, lavatories and wash-houses for those with no proper sanitation or running water at home.

Before she married Basil Holmes, Isabella had already been providing information to the MPGA. Looking at one of the classic eighteenth century maps of London, by John Rocque, she had noticed that many burial grounds and churchyards marked on it no longer existed. Intrigued, she  investigated what had happened to them and drew up a list which was published in the first MPGA report in 1884.

There was a serious lack of good information. From the mid-nineteenth century many burial grounds were so overcrowded as to become a serious health hazard, the ground level having risen several feet as coffin was piled upon coffin. Many were closed for new burials, and as congregations moved out of the City to the suburbs church attendances fell and churches were closed and demolished, replaced by commercial developments.

In 1884 the Disused Burial Grounds Act was passed with the aim of preventing unregulated development on graveyards. One consequence of this however was that builders finding bones would hush up the discovery and hastily cart away the evidence for disposal elsewhere. Isabella mentions that even in poor Whitechapel building land was worth £30,000 an acre, putting every unrecorded and forgotten burial ground in danger of development.

This then was the context in which she began her work, a task that lasted more than a dozen years, from the early days of the MPGA through marriage, a family, and finally the production of her book in 1896 which accompanied a set of colour-coded maps that she presented to the London County Council. The maps comprised 60 Ordnance Survey 25-inches to the mile sheets, with burial places still in use coloured blue, those that were disused coloured green and those now converted for public recreation coloured red. In the County and City of London she had documented 362 burial grounds, of which 41 were still in use and 90 had become public gardens or playgrounds for slum children. She did not include in this number churches and chapels which had burial vaults but no graveyard. She did however extend her searches to include non-conformist, Quaker and Jewish burial places.

Early on in her work Bella realised that there was no substitute for seeing things on the ground, and off she went notebook in hand searching for burial grounds that she knew should still be there, but which now were often back yards filled with rubbish. Often access was difficult, but a letter of introduction got her into a Jewish cemetery from which her Christian status would otherwise have excluded her. And she was not above climbing fences to peer beyond – ‘One day I climbed a high rickety fence in a builder’s yard in Wandsworth in order to see over the wall into the Friends’ burial-ground. No doubt the men in the place thought me mad, – anyhow they left me in peace.’

She would knock on doors and ask to look out of people’s rear windows to locate old graveyards. Moreover, intrepid but careful, she was quite happy to venture into parts of London she was told were unsafe. ‘An appearance of utter insignificance and an air of knowing where you are going and what you want, is the passport for all parts of London’. One feels she would have made a good spy!

Having collected a wealth of books and information during her searches, Isabella’s own book includes much useful background information on the development of London, albeit some of her archaeological comments have been superseded by more recent work. The book covers British and Roman burying-places; the graveyards of priories and convents; the Cathedral, the Abbey, the Temple and the Tower; the City churchyards; London churchyards outside the City; pest-fields and plague-pits; the dissenters’ burial-grounds; burial places of foreigners in London; hospital, almshouse and workhouse grounds; private and promiscuous cemeteries; the closing of burial grounds and vaults; graveyards as public gardens; cemeteries still in use and a ‘forecast for the future’.

In this last chapter she showed herself somewhat ahead of the times in discussing cremation of the dead, which would help to reduce the need for additional burial places. Not until after the First World War, when so many of the dead had no known resting place, would cremation become as accepted as burial.

The book also has an appendix with extensive listings of extant and disappeared burial grounds, and instructions on how to lay out a burial-ground as a garden. There are also many illustrations of churches and graveyards and contemporary photographs.

It all makes fascinating reading, and moreover her book is still in use by professional archaeologists in London. It is fascinating to compare Isabella’s descriptions of St Pancras after the arrival of the Midland railway, with the Museum of London Archaeology book on the St Pancras Burial Ground, published last year, following the redevelopments for St Pancras International station.

You will be hard put to find a copy of Isabella’s original book for sale, and if you do it will not be cheap, but thanks to print-on-demand technology you can easily obtain  a reprint from the British Library Historical collection.

It is well worth the read.

History Blogs – time to go exploring

With the publication of A Parcel of Ribbons finally completed, I am looking forward to having time to read some of the many history blogs out on the web.

I was delighted to be approached by Julie Goucher of the Anglers Rest blog to do an interview about the book. That and a very kind nomination by the Rebel Hand blog for an Illuminating Blogger award made me realise how much I have been missing by not having time to read many of these wonderful sites.

You may have noticed that I have a link on the left hand side of this page to the Geneabloggers website which is an amazing compendium of hints and tips together with Blog resources and a genealogy blog listing. They list over 2,500 blogs and family history websites and also provide a listing by type which makes it easy to find, say, blogs relating to a particular American state or a subject such as graveyards. Well worth exploring.

One of my favourites (strictly a website rather than a blog) is the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice which is devoted to pre-anaesthetic surgery and medicine, such as was available in eighteenth century Jamaica. You do need a strong stomach for some of the details!

A blog that provided me with inspiration and information early in my researches in relation to Georgian London is by Lucy Inglis who is also blogger in residence for the Museum of London.

From time to time I intend to include a post listing other blogs I have found useful or entertaining. Do let me know of your favourites.

And finally a reminder link for the book, available at the special discount price of £13.49 (plus postage).

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Perfect bound paperback 6″ x 9″ – 374 pages with illustrations.

ISBN: 9781105809743