London history over 2000 years

London history over 2000 years

Chapter 16. Fleet Bridge, Alderman Waithman. - John Ashton 1888

This London history site is a wiki of early London streets.

Hatton, writing in 1708, says: "_Fleet Bridge_ is even with the Str(eet); it leads from _Fleet Street_ over the _Fleet Ditch_ to _Ludgate Hill_; is accommodated with strong Battlements which are adorned with six Peers and enriched with the Arms of _London_, and Supporters Pine-apples, &c., all of Stone; and bet(wee)n the Peers are Iron Rails and Bannisters, on the N. & S. sides of the Bridge."

On either side of where the Bridge used to be, are two obelisks, one on the North, or Farringdon Street side, to Alderman Waithman, and on the South, or Bridge Street side, to John Wilkes the notorious. The first bears the following inscription:--

ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF ROBERT WAITHMAN BY HIS FRIENDS AND FELLOW CITIZENS, M.D.C.C.C.XXXIII.

This Alderman Waithman was almost one of the typical class so often held up as an example for all poor boys to follow, _i.e._, he began life with simply his own energy, and opportunity to help him. And, as a virtuous example of industry, when the times were not so pushing as now; and half, and quarter, or less commissions on transactions were unknown, we may just spend a minute in reading about him. Wrexham was his birthplace in 1764, and his father dying soon after, he was adopted by his uncle and sent to school. No one was then left very many years in _statu pupillari_, and, consequently, he had to join his uncle in business, as a linendraper at Bath. The uncle died in 1788, and he took a place at Reading, whence he came to London, and lived as a linendraper's assistant until he came of age. He then married, and opened a shop at the South end of the Fleet Market, nearly precisely on the spot where his monument now stands.

He prospered in business, and moved to other, and larger premises, became Common Councilman, tried to get into Parliament for the City, and ultimately succeeded in 1818. Next election he lost it, but in all subsequent ones he was the favoured candidate. He was Alderman of Farringdon Without, Sheriff, and filled the office of Mayor in 1823-4. The obelisk to his memory remains, but he has dropped out of general memory, and this revival of his life, for imitation, in industry and rectitude of conduct, must be my excuse for taking up my readers' time.

Far different is it with John Wilkes, about whom every one knows, and I have only to say that his obelisk bears the inscription--

A.D. M.D.C.C.LXXV. THE RIGHT HONORABLE JOHN WILKES, Lord Mayor.

This inscription became effaced through the weather, and was, within the last few years, replaced with a new stone; but it was grumbled at for not having the original word "Esquire" after John Wilkes, which was surely a work of supererogation.

Close by was Ludgate, with its debtors' prison of Lud-gate, which was rather aristocratic, being "purely for Insolvent Citizens of _London_, Beneficed Clergy, and Attorneys at Law," and which was even peculiar in the time when it existed; for Maitland, in his "History of London" (ed. 1775, pp. 28, 29) says:--

"The domestick Government of this Prison having something very singular and remarkable in it, I presume an Account thereof will not be unacceptable to the Reader. I shall, therefore, insert a compendious Abstract thereof from an Account published some Time ago by one who had been a long Time Prisoner there.

"For the quiet and good Government of this Prison, and the Punishment of Crimes and Misdemeanors therein committed, the Master Keeper and Prisoners from among themselves chuse the following Officers, viz., A Reader of Divine Service; an upper Steward, called the Master of the Box; an Under Steward; seven Assistants, who by Turns officiate daily; a Running Assistant; two Churchwardens; a Scavenger; a Chamberlain; a Running Post; and the Criers or Beggars at the Gates, who are generally six in number.

"The Reader is chosen by the Master Keeper, Stewards, and Assistants, and not at a General Election, as the other Officers are. The Reader, besides reading Prayers, was, originally, obliged to Ring the Bell twice a Day for Prayers, and also for the Space of a Quarter of an Hour before Nine at Night, as a Warning for all Strangers to depart the Prison; but for the Dignity of his Office, he is now exempt from those Services, and others in his stead are appointed to perform them. This Officer's salary is two Shillings and eight Pence _per_ Month, and a Penny of every Prisoner at his Entrance, if his Garnish[74] amount to sixteen Pence; and a Dish of Meat out of the Lord Mayor's Basket.

"The Upper Steward, or Master of the Box, is, by all the Prisoners held in equal Esteem with the Keeper of the Prison; and to his Charge is committed the keeping of all the several Orders of the House, with the Accounts of Cash received upon Legacies; the Distribution of all the Provisions sent in by the Lord Mayor, and others; the cash received by Garnish, and begging at the Grates, which he weekly lays out in Bread, Candles, and other Necessaries. He likewise keeps a List of all the Prisoners, as well those that are upon the Charity, as those that are not; to each of whom, by the Aid of the Assistant for the Day, he distributes their several proportions of Bread and other Provisions. He receives the Gifts of the Butchers, Fishmongers, Poulterers, and other Market People, sent in by the Clerk of the Market, by the Running Post, for which he gives a Receipt, and, afterwards, in the Presence of the Assistant for the Day, exposes for Sale to the Charity Men, by Way of Market; and the Money arising thereby is deposited in the Common Stock, or Bank.

"This Officer, with the Under Steward, Assistants, and Churchwardens, are elected monthly by the Suffrages of the Prisoners; but all the other Officers, except the Chamberlain, are appointed by the Master-Keeper, Stewards, and Assistants. The Design of these frequent Elections, is to prevent Frauds and Abuses in the respective Officers; but, when they are known to be Men of Probity, they are generally reelected, and often continue in such Posts many Months. The _Monday_ after every Election, the Accounts are audited and passed, and the Balance divided; and, if it amount to three Shillings and four Pence _per_ Man, the Keeper of the Prison arbitrarily extorts from each Prisoner two Shillings and Four Pence, without the least Colour of Right: But, if the Dividend arises not so high, then he only takes one Shilling and two Pence; the other Moiety being charged to the Prisoner's Account, to be paid at the Time of his Discharge; which new and detestable Impositions are apparently contrary to the Intention of the Founder.

"Another great Grievance the distressed and miserable Prisoners are subject to, is, their being obliged to pay the Turnkey twelve Shillings _per_ Month, for no other Service than that of opening the Door to let in Gifts and Charities sent to the Prison, which often amount to little more than what he receives.

"The Under Steward is an Assistant, or Deputy, to the Upper Steward, in whose Absence or Indisposition he performs the several Functions of his Office.

"The Assistants, being seven in Number, are chosen Monthly with the Stewards; one whereof, officiating daily, his Business is to attend in the Hall, to enter all Charities, and keep an Account of the Money taken out of the Boxes, which are opened at five o'Clock in the Afternoon, and at Nine at Night; which Money he pays to the Upper Steward, at the passing of whose Accounts the Assistants are Auditors.

"Every Person put in Nomination for the Office of an Assistant, refusing to serve, forfeits one Shilling to the Use of the Publick, or, in lieu thereof, to be put in Fetters for three Days. The officiating Assistant is invested with a magisterial Power, whereby he can commit a Prisoner to the Stocks or Shackles, for the Abuse of any Person. This Officer is to see the Cellar cleared every Night, by ten o'Clock of all the Prisoners; for which he receives six Pence out of the Charity Money; two Pence whereof to his own Use, two Pence to the Upper Steward, and two Pence to the Running Assistant. This Office was anciently in such Esteem, that the Assistant, at his entering upon it, used nightly, at Eight o'Clock, to be ushered into the Hall, by an Illumination of forty or fifty great Candles, carried by so many Prisoners.

"The Running Assistant's Business is, to attend upon the Criers at the Gates, to change Money; and open the Boxes: to put up Candles in their respective Places, attend upon the Stewards and Assistants, look after the Clock, ring the Bell for Prayers; and to be Crier at the Sale of Provisions. His Salary is four Shillings and eight Pence _per_ Month, and an eighth part of the Garnish Money.

"The Churchwardens are chosen from among the youngest Prisoners. The Upper Warden's Office is, to call to Prayers on _Sundays_, after the Bell has done ringing; and the Under Warden's is to call the Prisoners to Prayers all other Days. They are likewise to take cognizance of all Persons who are upon the Charity Foundation; who in default of Attendance are fined one Penny each. The Under Warden's Salary for this Service is four Pence _per_ Month; and the Penalty for not serving, when duly elected, is four Pence.

"The Scavenger's Office is, to keep clean the Prison, and to fetter, and put in the Stocks all Offenders; for which he is intitled to receive from each Criminal one Penny, together with a Salary of five Shillings and eight Pence _per_ Month, and two Pence out of every sixteen Pence of the Garnish Money.

"The Chamberlain is chosen by the Keeper of the Prison, whose Office it is to take Care of all the Bedding and Linen belonging to the Keeper; to place Men at their coming in, and to furnish them with Sheets, and to give Notice to Strangers to depart the Prison by Ten o'Clock at Night. This Officer, formerly, was obliged to make the Charity-Men's Beds, for which he received two Pence _per_ Month.

"The Running Post's Business is, to fetch in a Basket the broken Meat from the Lord-Mayor, Clerk of the Market, private Families, and Charities given in the Streets, which are often so inconsiderable as not to admit of a Dividend; wherefore it is disposed of by Sale or publick Market, as aforesaid. The Salary annexed to this office, is four Shillings _per_ Month; one Penny _per_ Month out of each Man's Dividend, and one Penny out of every sixteen Pence of Garnish money.

"The Criers are six in Number; two whereof daily beg at the Grates; he at the Grate within is allowed one Fourth of what is given, and he at that on _Blackfriars_ Side one Moiety of what is given there."

This custom is alluded to in the _Spectator_, No. lxxxii.:

"Passing under _Ludgate_ the other Day I heard a Voice bawling for Charity, which I thought I had somewhere heard before. Coming near to the Grate, the Prisoner called me by my Name, and desired I would throw something into the Box. I was out of Countenance for him, and did as he bid me, by putting in half a Crown."

Of this Grate there is a pretty and romantic story told by Stow.[75]

"When the Prison was in this Condition, there happened to be Prisoner there one _Stephen Foster_, who (as poor Men are at this Day) was a Cryer at the Grate, to beg the benevolent Charities of pious and commiserate Benefactors that passed by. As he was doing his doleful Office, a rich Widow of _London_ hearing his Complaint, enquired of him, what would release him? To which he answered, Twenty Pound, which she in Charity expended; and, clearing him out of Prison, entertained him in her Service; who, afterward, falling into the Way of Merchandize, and increasing as well in Wealth as Courage, wooed his Mistress, Dame _Agnes_, and married her.

"Her Riches and his Industry brought him both great Wealth and Honour, being afterwards no less than Sir _Stephen Foster_, Lord Mayor of the Honourable City of London: Yet whilst he lived in this great Honour and Dignity, he forgat not the Place of his Captivity, but, mindful of the sad and irksome Place wherein poor Men were imprisoned, bethought himself of enlarging it, to make it a little more delightful and pleasant for those who in after Times should be imprisoned and shut up therein. And, in order thereunto, acquainted his Lady with this his pious Purpose and Intention; in whom likewise he found so affable and willing a Mind to do Good to the Poor, that she promised to expend as much as he should do for the carrying on of the Work."

And they did spend their money on it right royally, building, amongst many other conveniences, a Chapel for the inmates, A.D. 1454, which they endowed, so as to maintain a "preacher" or chaplain. Sir Stephen Foster likewise provided that the place "should be free for all Freemen, and that they, providing their own Bedding, should pay nothing at their Departure for Lodging, or Chamber rent (as now they call it), which to many poor Men becomes oftentimes as burdensome as their Debts, and are by the Keeper detained in Prison as for Debt, only for their Fees, though discharged and acquitted of what they were committed for."

Nor did his charitable goodness end here, for he gave a supply of water _gratis_ to the prisoners, as was recorded on a brass in the Chapel, very pithily--

"Devout Souls that pass this way For STEPHEN FOSTER, late _Maior_, heartily pray, And Dame AGNES, his Spouse, to God consecrate, That of Pity this House made for Londoners in LUDGATE. So that for Lodging and Water, Prisoners have nought to pay, As their Keepers shall all answer at dreadful Doomsday."

Dame Agnes survived her husband, but was ultimately buried by his side in the Church of St. Botolph, Billingsgate.

For a Prison, Ludgate compared more than favourably with every other in London. As we have seen, the prisoners were select; they were helped, in the matter of food, by the king of the City, the Lord Mayor: their fees were infinitesimal as compared with other debtors' prisons. Strype (ed. 1720, book ii. p. 179) says:--

"Formerly Debtors that were not able to satisfy their Debts, put themselves into this Prison of _Ludgate_, for shelter from their Creditors. And these were Merchants and Tradesmen that had been driven to want by Losses at Sea. When King _Philip_ in the Month of _August 1554_ came first through _London_, these prisoners were Thirty in number; and owed L10,000, but compounded for L2,000. Who presented a well penned Latin Speech to that Prince, to redress their Miseries, and, by his Royal Generosity, to free them. 'And the rather, for that that Place was not _Sceleratorum Carcer, sed miserorum Custodia_; _i.e._, a Gaol for Villains, but a Place of Restraint for poor unfortunate Men. And that they were put in there, not by others, but themselves fled thither; and that not out of fear of Punishment, but in hope of better Fortune.' The whole Letter was drawn by the curious Pen of _Roger Ascham_, and is extant among his Epistles, Lib. iii.

"If a Freeman or Freewoman of _London_ be committed to _Ludgate_, they are to be excused from the ignominy of Irons, if they can find Sureties to be true Prisoners, and if the Sum be not above L100. There is another Custom of the liberal and mild Imprisonment of the Citizens in _Ludgate_, whereby they have Indulgence and Favour to go abroad into any place by _Baston_, as we term it, under the guard and superintendency of their Keeper, with whom they must return again to the Prison at Night."

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