Sunday, 13 December 2015

To Her; Emma Jones (1813-1842), Kensal Green Cemetery

Alexis Benoit Soyer’s ostentatious display of grief for his 29 year old wife Emma Jones stands opposite the Upper Gate in Kensal Green Cemetery, a few yards away from the endless traffic and scurrying pedestrians on the Harrow Road. It’s size and position demand attention even during the day but by night, at least when it was first built, it was illuminated by gaslight, and must have been a truly uncanny sight for anyone who peered in through the cemetery railings into the dark and deserted burial ground. Emma was an artist and her husband displayed her palette and brushes like holy relics in a glass fronted niche at the back.

Alexis Soyer was a celebrated culinary artiste, a Frenchman who fled the 1830 revolution in Paris to join his brother in London who worked in the kitchen of the Duke of Cambridge. In time became the most renowned chef de cuisine in England, running the kitchens of the Reform Club, opening his own restaurant in Gore House, Kensington, 
authoring numerous books on cookery and advising the British government on the Irish famine and feeding the troops in the Crimea. 

The famous portrait of Alexis Soyer used as a frontispiece to many of his books was by Emma.

Elizabeth Emma Jones was born in London in 1813. She was a precocious and talented child, an accomplished pianist and an artist who first exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of ten. She was tutored by Francois Simonau a successful Flemish artist who subsequently married her widowed mother. In 1836 Alexis Soyer paid a call on the francophone artist and was immediately entranced by the artists stepdaughter. Simonau and Emma’s mother were not keen on Soyer as a suitor as a chef de cuisine, even a successful one, was considered somewhat déclassé. Emma had no such misgivings however and her determination to marry Soyer eventually wore her parents down. The two were married on the 12th April 1837 at St George’s, Hanover Square. It was a happy marriage. Soyer was supportive of his wife’s artistic ambitions and the death of her mother in 1839 and the inheritance of her fortune allowed her the freedom to pursue her art. In her short life Emma produced over 400 paintings and nearly a 1000 drawings and she was good enough to exhibit not only at the Royal Academy but the Paris Salon. Her husband took every opportunity to promote his wife’s work – at the Reform Club he had the kitchens hung with her paintings, in the chef’s parlour there were at least 20 which he showed off to every important visitor who came to visit his famous kitchen. 

Emma before her marriage, drawn by her stepfather Francois Simonau
One visitor, Queen Victoria’s uncle, Ernest I the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, was so impressed by Emma’s paintings that he suggested that Soyer accompany him to Brussels where he would introduce him to King Leopold 1 of Belgium who he thought might be keen to commission a work. Emma was pregnant but with some misgivings, as they had already lost one child through a miscarriage, Soyer decided to take up the offer. Whilst Soyer was away London suffered an unusually intense summer storm, the rain had come down in torrents and there had been thunder and lightning all day. Emma reacted badly to the continual rumble and roar of the thunder, appearing agitated and nervous. Eventually she retired early to bed where she was discovered dead by her maidservant two hours later. Soyer was distraught when he heard the news. His immediate reaction was to try and stab himself. His Belgian friends wrestled the knife off him and dragged him into the garden where it took them two hours to calm him down. He never forgave himself for his absence from home and never really recovered from the death of his young wife. He tried to buy back all of her paintings that had been sold so that he had every single one of her works (many people would not part with them however) and he commissioned the impressive funeral monument to her at Kensal Green. He was buried with her when he died in 1858. Also buried in the plot are Emma’s stepfather Francois Simonau and oddly a Lady Watts, Francois’ grandniece, who had herself interred here in 1929.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The life of a Day, the death of a tree and all the fun of the fair; Daniel Day (1683-1767), St Margaret's Churchyard, Barking

Wind, weather and time has reduced Daniel Day’s gravestone to an almost featureless slab of lichen and moss encrusted rock.  All trace of his name has been eroded away but if you look carefully enough you can just about make out the letters AIRLO, all that remains of the word Fairlop. Day was buried here in Barking church yard in 1767. Because he had developed a horror of horse drawn transport after being thrown from his carriage, even in death he refused equine assistance; he was brought by barge from Wapping, along the Thames and up Barking Creek and then carried the short distance to St Margaret’s by six journeymen block and pump makers. His coffin was made from a gigantic branch of the Fairlop Oak, a tree he had made famous by founding Fairlop Fair.

A few heavily weathered letters are the only confirmation that this is Daniel Day#s headstone

The Fairlop Oak was an ancient and monstrously huge tree; “at three feet from the ground it measured 36 feet in girth, it was divided into eleven vast arms, and overspread an area of 300 feet in circuit. This pride of the forest, which for so many years overshadowed with its verdant foliage the thousands who crowded under it, and the antiquity of which the tradition of the country traces to about the ninth century - this gigantic wonder gave shelter the first Friday in July the well-known Fairlop-fair.”  In the 1720’s Daniel Day of Wapping would ride out to the small estate he owned in Fairlop on the first Friday of July to collect his rents. According to G Woodgate in a letter to the editor of East London Observer in 1867 he “invited many of his friends to a bean feast and bacon, which he doled out to them from the hollow of the tree. Much bacon and several sacks were consumed this way. In the course of a few years other parties came, these increasing, booths were erected, and various articles brought to sale.”  The Fair became a great East End institution with gaming tables, drinking booths, boxing matches, roundabouts, travelling theatres, and fortune tellers. Daniel Day had a boat built complete with masts and rigging but constructed to run on wheels and be drawn by a pair of greys  in which he rode to the Fair from Wapping via Mile End, Bow, Stratford and Ilford. Imitators also constructed boats, bigger and more ornate than the original and drawn by teams of up to six horses. The return of the boats to Wapping from Hainault on the Friday night became a carnivalesque occasion with the crowds lining the streets back into London to watch the boats illuminated by coloured fires and accompanied by a brass band.

The once magnificent Fairlop Oak in its final years

Friday last being the first Friday in July, the day on which Fairlop fair is usually held, an immense concourse of people, taking advantage of the fine weather, assembled in the Mile End Road to “see the boats come in”. The working men “had come forth in their thousands” and the noble road way of Whitechapel was lined from the New Road to Bow by half the population of London. The boats did not arrive until about half past eleven, but considerably before that time the appearance of a long procession of gaily bedizened costermongers, shouting snatches of the last new comic song, heralded the approach of the four splendid greys which drew each boat. Red, blue and green fire was blazing from the window of houses in all directions, giving a ghostly appearance to the faces the light shone upon, and resembling for the time miniature conflagrations. We are happy to state that not a single mishap, as far as we know, occurred to mar the jubilancy of the occasion.  
East London Observer 1867

Add caption
Mr. Day died October 19. 1767. His remains were carried by water in a coffin made from the wood of a large branch [of the Fairlop Oak], which broke off just before his death. He desired to be buried at Barking Church, having been once thrown off his horse, and at other times overturned in his wheel-carriage, took a dislike to both, and thus the funeral took its course on the silent highway; six journey block and pump-makers followed him to whom he bequeathed a new leather apron and a guinea each. ....The founder of the fair was remarkable for benevolence; he was never married but had a few innocent eccentricities and was kind to the children of his sister. He had a female servant, a widow, who had been twenty eight years with him. As she had in life loved two things in especial; her wedding ring and her tea, he caused her to be buried with the former on her finger and a pound of tea in each hand – the latter circumstance being more remarkable as he himself disliked tea and never used it. He had a few small aversions but no resentments he was always shocked when he heard of any people going to law; he gave much away and was continually lending money to deserving persons, charging no interest for it. (G. Woodgate in the East London Observer)

Fairlop Fair in its lusty heyday 
The Oak outlasted Daniel Day by a mere half century, a mere twinkling of the eye in the life of a tree. The once magnificent oak was mortally sick by the end of the century. William Forsyth, gardener to George III was paid a nominal 6d in 1791 to apply curative plasters made from cow-dung, ceiling lime, wood ash, river sand and burnt bones to the remaining healthy wood after all the dead and decaying branches had been cut off. A sign was affixed to the tree saying ‘All good foresters are requested not to hurt this old tree, a plaster having lately been applied to its wounds.’ Despite the valiant attempt at treatment the oak continued to die. By 1805 it was a huge hollow shadow of its former self in which several cattle could take shelter. Picnickers took to sheltering and lighting fires inside the oak and eventually and inevitably one fire burned out of control for almost 24 hours, inflicting further irreparable damage to the by now barely living tree. On Fair day in 1813 an elderly gentleman paid a boy 2/6d to pluck the last green sprig growing on the trees crown. In 1820 a gale finally brought the now dead oak crashing to the ground. Mr Seabrooke, the builder currently engaged in building St Pancras new church, purchased some of the better preserved timber from the oak and used it to construct the pulpit which still stands in the church.     

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Death in the Pillory; John Waller, Seven Dials, 1732

When in the pillory a malefactor was completely at the mercy of the mob. Some escaped unscathed; when Daniel Defoe was pilloried for satirising the Government he was pelted with flower petals rather than dead cats and rats and rotten vegetables, and Richard Parsons, pilloried for his part in the Cock Lane Ghost fraud, watched in astonishment as the London mob took up a collection for him. John Waller was not so lucky, a boisterous crowd catcalled and jeered as he was beaten to death on the pillory in 1732 by Edward Dalton, the brother of the man he had sent to the scaffold.

An unknown victim takes a dead cat from a restive crowd
John Waller was a career informer who was not especially careful about whether the information he was laying before the courts (in hopes of a reward) was accurate or not. A narrative of his life, published shortly after his death, states that he was the son of the Halifax executioner who left Yorkshire for a life of roving the country. In 1728 he laid evidence against two men who he accused of robbing him on the highway from Islington but both men were acquitted. In early 1730 the highway robber James Dalton was convicted of robbing Waller at gunpoint somewhere between the Tottenham Court Road and Bloomsbury. Dalton vociferously protested his innocence but Waller was supposedly paid £80 for his evidence. In May Waller was giving evidence again, this time against John Wells and Charles Ditcher who had supposedly assaulted him upon the highway and stolen his coat. The newspapers reported that a further two people were in Newgate accused of picking Waller’s pocket.  Waller wasn’t averse to a bit of highway robbery himself, he robbed one John Edglin and then, in an act of breathtaking audacity, using a false name, accused Edglin of robbing him. The Magistrates were already growing suspicious of Waller’s all too frequent appearances before them and he eventually he found himself under arrest and charged with perjury in the Edglin case. He was convicted in June 1732 and as part of his sentence was sent to the pillory at Seven Dials.
Seven Dials in the 1740's
A fellow prisoner, William Belt, was charged with overseeing the execution.  According to Cartwright Richardson, a witness at the later trial, he had barely got Waller into the pillory before Richard Griffiths and Edward Dalton, the younger brother of James Dalton who had been executed on Waller’s perjured testimony two years earlier,  “and a Chimney Sweeper laid hold of Waller, and stripped him as naked as he was born, except his Feet, for they pulled his Stockings over his Shoes and so left them; then they beat him with Collyflower-stalks, and threw him down upon the Pillory-board. The Chimney-Sweeper put something into his Mouth, and Griffith ramm'd it down his Throat with a Collyflower-stalk. Dalton and Griffith jumpt and stampt upon his naked Body and Head, and kick'd him and beat him with Artichoke and Collyflower-Stalks, as he lay on the Pillory-Board. They continued beating, kicking, and stamping upon him in this manner, for above 1/4 of an Hour, and then the Mob threw down the Pillory, and all that were upon it. Waller then lay naked on the Ground. Dalton got upon him, and stamping on his Privy Parts, he gave a dismal Groan, and I believe it was his last; for after that I never heard him groan nor speak, nor saw him stir.”

John Waller in an illustration from the Newgate Calendar

Belt, Griffith and Dalton were all tried for murder at the Old Bailey. Mr King the Coroner told the court about the horrific state of Waller’s corpse “I viewed the deceased the next Day, and I never saw such a Spectacle. I can't pretend to distinguish particularly in what Part he was bruised most, for he was bruised all over: I could scarce perceive any Part of his Body free. His Head was beat quite flat, no Features could be seen in his Face, and some Body had cut him quite down the Back with a sharp Instrument.”

John Waller’s mother was present at Seven Dials to see her son killed. His mangled body was taken to her where she sat in a coach watching.  Cartwright Richardson described to the court how Dalton and Griffiths reacted when they saw her; “they cryed out here's the old Bitch his Mother, Damn her, let's kill her too. So they went to the Coach-door, huzzaing and swearing that they had stood true to the Stuff. Damn him, says Dalton, we have sent his Soul half way to Hell, and now we'll have his Body to sell to the Surgeons for Money to pay the Devil for his thorow Passage.”  She told the court what happened next “I laid my Son's Head in my Lap. .... My son had neither Eyes, nor Ears, nor Nose to be seen; they had squeezed his Head flat. Griffith pull'd open the Coach-door, and struck me, pull'd my Son's Head out of my Lap, and his Brains fell into my Hand.”

William Belt was acquitted of the murder of John Waller, Richard Griffiths and Edward Dalton were convicted and were hung at Tyburn in September 1732. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

The Greek Necropolis, West Norwood Cemetery and Crematorium

In 1842, just 5 years after West Norwood Cemetery opened,  London’s wealthy Greek expatriate community of merchants and ship owners leased a plot of land from the cemetery company at a cost of £300 in which to create an Orthodox enclave.  Fenced off from the rest of the cemetery, the Greek Necropolis contains more grade II listed architectural gems than any equivalent sized plot in any other London cemetery;  19 tombs and mausolea and the mortuary chapel dedicated to St Stephen.

Two of the most magnificent mausolea were built by the Ralli family from Chios, who had settled in England from 1815 onwards and flourished as grain and textile merchants.  The Doric temple was commissioned by Eustratios Ralli (1800-1884),  who was one of the original committee that acquired the land for the Greek cemetery.  As Patriarch of the Greeks in London he also laid the first stone of the new Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Moscow Place, Bayswater in 1877.  His older brother John Peter commissioned his mausoleum from the architect GE Street who produced a design based on the barrel topped tombs at Xanthos in Turkey. In 1872 a third brother, Stephen Ralli, built the large mortuary chapel.
Other prominent mausolea belong to the Vagliano brothers, also grain merchants, one of whom, Panaghis, left a colossal fortune of over £3 million when he died, equivalent to well over a billion in todays terms. There is also the family tomb of Maria Zambuco, a model to the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, the Caridia family tomb (Aristides the father was an India merchant, his son an Olympic silver medal winning tennis player) and, a descendent of the “Greek Emperors of Byzantium”,  Princess Eugenie Paleologus.   
The Mausoleum of Eustratios Ralli
The mausoleum of John Peter Ralli with Stephen Ralli's mortuary chapel in the background
A detail from one of the many fine tombs

A solitary coffin inside one of the vaults

Friday, 13 November 2015

She had eyes and chose me; Lucy Renaud Gallup (1847-1883), West Norwood Cemetery

She died young and had beautiful eyes; that is obvious from the photograph of her probably taken when she was in her mid twenties, shortly after her marriage in 1870 to Henry Clay Gallup. Henry must have loved the portrait as he had it reproduced on porcelain and set on her grave; a very novel practice in the 1880’s. 130 years later the ceramic plaque is still in excellent condition and Lucy Renaud’s lovely eyes continue to regard us rather hauntingly as we pass by her tomb. 

Lucy was born in 10 June 1847 in to Peter Thomas Renaud and his wife Mary Frances.  Peter Renaud was third clerk to the Duchy of Lancaster and the family lived at 15 South Street (now Terrace), Thurloe Square, SW7, just south of the Victoria and Albert Museum on the Cromwell Road.  Lucy was baptised at St Luke’s in Chelsea and, four days after her twenty third birthday, was also married there to the 35 year old American Henry Clay Gallup. Henry had been born in Stonington, Connecticut in 1834, to an old New England family, their ancestors having moved there in the 1630’s. Henry worked as a travelling agent selling patent medicines for the New York firm of Jeremiah Curtis & Sons. He was eventually made a partner and sent to London to set up a European branch of the business to be called the Anglo American Drug Company. By 1871 we know he had premises at 493 Oxford Street because he was a witness in a court case; a young man called Phillip Cann was indicted at Bow Street Police Court for fraudulently endorsing a cheque for £16. Cann worked for the Globe newspaper as an advertising canvasser and regularly took adverts from Henry Gallup. In April he called at Henry’s premises and requested payment for the latest advertisements placed in the Globe. Henry wrote a cheque for £16 to the Globe’s proprietor William Thomas Madge which Cann then fraudulently endorsed and cashed.  The Illustrated Police News called Henry a “toilet manufacturer”, and we know his products included Fragrant Florilene, a liquid tooth cleaner, and Mexican Hair Renewer.  The business was obviously doing well because by the following year he was a director of the Cedar Creek Gold Mines and Water Company and his address was listed as 54 Guildford Street, Russell Square.

In 1881 Lucy and Henry were living at 39 Marine Parade,  Brighton with their six year old son, Henry Junior.  In the census returns for that year Henry lists himself as a retired merchant.  Less than two years later Lucy was dead at the age of just 35. Henry must have been devastated. He only lasted another couple of years himself, dying in 1885 at his home, Preston House, The Avenue, Upper Norwood, leaving an estate valued at £131,947 14s 9d to his 11 year old orphaned son.

The classical statue that tops the memorial is generally supposed to be a portrait of Lucy Gallup

Friday, 6 November 2015

Cock Lane Humbug; the Ballad of Scratching Fanny - Mrs Frances Kent (1735-1760), St John's crypt, Clerkenwell

The burial register of St John's, Clerkenwell identfying Frances Kent as the Cock Lane Ghost

It would have been a strange scene; 1am on the night of the first of February 1762 in the vaults of St John’s Clerkenwell, a group of unlikely ghost hunting gentlemen led by that stalwart champion of common sense, Dr Johnson, hold out guttering candles and push forward one William Kent, gesticulating for him to address himself to an unmarked coffin. The coffin had been placed in the vaults almost a year earlier by Kent himself, and held the remains of his common law wife Frances. William had no doubt only come on this midnight jaunt to the vaults with the greatest reluctance but he had to try and clear himself of the accusation of murdering his dead wife. Who had accused him? Why, Frances herself, who had apparently returned from the dead in the guise of Scratching Fanny, a ghost who manifested herself solely in the presence of a young girl, Elizabeth Parsons and at her father’s house on Cock Lane, by the sound of fingernails scrabbling, scraping and knocking on wood. The father had devised a method of communicating with the ghost and thereby discovered that Frances had been murdered, poisoned, by her husband. Scratching Fanny became a public sensation and William Kent found his character blackened as a wife killer with seemingly no way to prove his innocence. There were sceptics however who were not convinced of the ghost’s veracity and to silence the doubters Scratching Fanny announced, by her system of knocks, that she would manifest herself in her own coffin on the first night of February, the anniversary of her death, and publicly condemn her murdering husband. And this was why Dr Johnson and his colleagues were down in the crypt of St John’s at one in the morning telling a trembling William Kent to stand in front of his wife’s coffin and call out her name clearly. William did what was asked, several times but to everyone’s relief, there was no response, no sign whatsoever of afterlife, from the cold and dusty coffin. Someone suggested opening the casket but the idea was quickly dismissed, William Kent was clearly innocent and the ghost of Scratching Fanny almost certainly a fraud.   

The ghost’s failure to appear did not stop the rumours, it merely rechanneled them. Newspapers and gossip mongers speculated that the reason Frances Kent did not manifest herself on the first of February was because someone had removed her corpse from the coffin! On 25 February William Kent in company with the undertaker who had buried Frances and the Parish Clerk and Sexton, made their way back into the vaults at St John’s, but during the day this time. In practical terms it does not matter what time you visit a church crypt, it is always going to be dark. This time the coffin had to be opened, unscrewed by the undertaker, to expose the “very awful shocking sight” of Frances Kent’s decomposing corpse. This episode dealt the final blow to the story and by July five people went on trial at the Guild Hall charged with conspiracy to take the life of William Kent by accusing him of the murder of Frances Lynes by giving her poison. At the trial the whole story was exposed.

It had begun with the marriage of William Kent and Elizabeth Lynes in Norfolk in 1756 or 1757. The marriage was short-lived because Elizabeth died in child birth, followed shortly by the baby. The distraught widower sought consolation in the arms of his wife’s younger sister Frances but did the honourable thing by proposing marriage. The church proved to be an obstacle to their union as canon law forbade a marriage to the sister of a deceased wife if she had borne a living child, which Elizabeth had. William moved to London where Frances eventually joined him and the couple lived as man and wife, hoping that no one would discover the deception. The couple had problems with their landlord to whom William had lent £20; he discovered their illicit relationship and refused to pay back the loan, assuming that William would rather lose his money than risk exposure. He was wrong; William had him arrested. Whilst looking for new lodgings he met the parish clerk of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, Richard Parsons, a man who liked a drink and whose finances were a little messy. Parsons offered lodgings to the young couple in his house in Cock lane where he lived with his wife and two daughters the eldest of which, a “little artful girl about eleven years of age” was called Elizabeth. 

The Kent’s initially got on well with the Parsons; William failing to learn from previous experience loaned his new landlord Richard Parsons 12 guineas. Strange phenomenon began to occur at Cock Lane, one night a local landlord was terrified by an apparition in white ascending the stairs of the house and while William was away in the country the now pregnant Frances took Elizabeth Parsons into her bed for company and then suffered a night of ominous knockings and scratchings which kept her awake until daylight. When William came home the couple moved to other accommodation but Frances became ill and was diagnosed with smallpox. Shortly before she died on 2 February 1760 she made a will leaving the bulk of her estate to William Kent. The Lynes family were furious and in Doctors Commons challenged the terms of Frances’ will, which had left half a crown to each of her siblings and the rest of her not inconsiderable estate to William. While the legal battle still raged William remarried, no doubt further fuelling the family’s animosity.

"English Incredulity", a contemporary satire on the Cock Lane ghost

Richard Parsons meanwhile had failed to repay William Kent’s 12 guineas and in January 1762 he found himself in court, sued for the balance of the loan by his former tenant. At Cock Lane the supernatural noises which seemed to follow Elizabeth Parsons around coincidentally started up again at around the same time. Richard Parsons called in John Moore,the rector of St Bartholomew-the-Great in West Smithfield, for advice on the apparent haunting. The two men came to the conclusion that the noises were made by the ghost of Frances Kent and devised a system of interrogating it, one knock for yes, two knocks for no. Questioning the restless spirit soon revealed that she still walked the earth because she had not died, as everyone thought, of the smallpox, but of arsenic poisoning and that the toxin had been deliberately administered by her ‘husband’ William Kent. The story of the ghost spread like wildfire helped in large part by the London press which picked up on it very early and then followed every thrilling development for the next six months. The house in Cock Lane was soon besieged by interested spectators and Richard Parsons quickly became alert to the commercial possibilities of the haunting, charging admission to anyone who wanted a consultation with the spirit. The haunting became a cause célèbre, society visitors to Cock Lane included Horace Walpole and Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany. Many of those who attended the séances were not convinced by the performance. Elizabeth Parsons generally remained tucked up in bed, often with her younger sister, and a female relative of the family, Mary Frazer, would run around the room crying “Fanny, Fanny why don't you come? Do come, pray Fanny, come; dear Fanny, come!” Eventually there would be a scratching or knocking sound from the bed, noises which often stopped if Elizabeth was instructed to put her hands outside the bed covers.

The ghost, details from Hogarth's
"Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism"
Some of the sceptics prevailed on Samuel Fludyer, the Lord Mayor of London, to conduct an investigation. The Mayor appointed a panel which included Bishop John Douglas, Stephen Aldrich rector of St Johns, Clerkenwell, John Moore who was still a believer in the ghost and Samuel Johnson amongst others. The Cock Lane ghost committee began its investigations on February first by attending a séance and then taking part in the vigil in the crypt at St James, waiting for Frances Kent to make an appearance. The investigation continued on and off for most of February with the committee growing increasingly sceptical as the ghostly noises always stopped whenever they attended a séance. By the 21 February Elizabeth was being warned that if the noises did not start up again she and her father would be taken to Newgate Gaol; that same day the scratchings started but the maids in attendance told the investigators that they had seen Elizabeth secret a piece of wood about her person before she went to bed. A search soon revealed the ‘ghost’, a small wooden paddle with Elizabeth used to knock on the bedframe and scratch on the wall. John Moore finally realised that he had been taken in a by a hoax and published a retraction of his previous support but it was not enough to stop him being charged with conspiracy along with Richard Parsons and his wife, Mary Frazer and Richard James a tradesman. All five were tried at the Guildhall on 10 July 1762 on a charge brought by William Kent “for a conspiracy to take away his life by charging him with the murder of Frances Lynes by giving her poison whereof she died". The trial went on all day, the jury did not retire until almost 11.00pm but it took them only 15 minutes of deliberations to find all five accused guilty. Sentencing did not take place until February 1763 by which time the relatively wealthy John Moore and Richard James had agreed to pay William Kent £588 in damages; they were released on their promise to pay. The two women received gaol sentences in Bridewell, Mrs Parsons 1 year and Mary Frazer 6 months. Richard Parons was given two years and further ordered to be set in the pillory at the end of Cock Lane three times in the following month. The triple dose of the pillory terrified Parsons more than the prospect of another two years in gaol, London crowds routinely abused pilloried criminals, sometimes with horrific savagery. In the event on all three appearances the crowd took pity on him and rather than pelting him with cabbage stalks and dung passed around the hat and took up a collection.  

Scratching Fanny in the pillory, detail from  Hogarth's "The Times"

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Edmonton Brick Maker and the Coiners of Haringey; George Blackwell (1859-1911), Tottenham Cemetery

George Blackwell's headstone in Tottenham Cemetery; he had no known equine connections

The horse is probably a red herring (perhaps he was a betting man);   George Blackwell was a brick maker, married to Jane, the beloved wife who put up his headstone and with whom he had at least six children. Although born in Southall he seems to have spent most of his adult life in Edmonton and Haringey. He was probably reasonably successful – as well as owning his own home at 49 Vernon Road, by 1905 he also owned number 37 Vernon Road and 121 Compton Road, both properties rented out as rooms to lodgers. Jane Blackwell had help managing her lodging houses, Mary Ann Gardiner who also lived on Vernon Road, at number 31, cleaned and collected rent for her as she was presumably quite busy enough looking after her numerous offspring. We know these sparse details from the lives of the Blackwell’s because on 6 February 1905 two of their lodgers appeared at the Old Bailey accused of coining and counterfeiting.    

In November 1904 Elizabeth Willis (née Gray), 33 years old and her 20 year old brother William rented two rooms, the front parlour and the kitchen, at Compton Road,  from Jane Blackwell. A month later she moved them to two upstairs rooms at Vernon Road for a rent of six shillings a week. On 4 January 1905 William Gray was in Fore Street, Edmonton, buying cigarettes at at least two tobacconists.  From Gambrill’s he bought 2 penny’s worth of Navy Cut tobacco, offering a dirty shilling as payment. At Jones’ he bought a penny packet of Woodbines, again offering a dirty shilling in payment and getting his 11 pence change. Mrs Jones waited until he had gone to bite the shilling but once she had she raced out of the shop and caught up with Gray and his sister 300 yards down the road.  "Give me back my 11d, you can keep the fags,” she told the young man. Instead of returning her coppers Gray tried to pay her off with a two shilling piece.  At this point Mr Jones arrived from the shop, grabbed Gray and started yelling for the police. PC John Dunford left Jones holding Gray and grabbed Willis. Both were taken first to Edmonton Police Station where they were searched and then to Stoke Newington station where they were charged the search having revealed one counterfeit shilling wrapped in tissue paper on Gray and three on Willis. A search of their rooms at 37 Vernon Road revealed a further 31 counterfeit shillings as well as materials for making the coins.

A week later, 11 January, 41 year old Henry Brown was arrested at his lodgings in Newton Road, Tottenham and charged with coining. He claimed to barely know Elizabeth Willis “I met this woman in the street, went home with her, and slept with her occasionally. The last time was just before she was locked up; I read about it in the 'Tottenham Herald'.” At the trial various witnesses placed Brown regularly in the company of Willis and Gray at both Compton Street and Vernon Street. Residents of the lodging houses talked about ‘white stuff’ appearing in the privies after they had been used by Gray and by Brown, plaster of Paris dust from the moulds used to cast the fake coins. Brown continued to maintain his innocence, he told the court "I have been very intimate with Lizzie Gray; I visited her several times at her house. On no occasion of visiting her have I seen any counterfeit coins, or the making of them." William Gray backed his story, saying that Brown knew nothing of the counterfeiting operation and taking all the blame on himself. Whether he was nobly but misguidedly trying to save his friend or whether he was intimated by Brown we will never know. Elizabeth Willis pleaded guilty to passing false coins, she was given 12 months hard labour. Her brother was given 18 months. Brown, who had challenged all the witnesses while the others had kept silent, was not believed by the jury or the judge – he was pronounced guilty by one and given a four year sentence by the other. Quite rightly as it turned out.
From the Chelmsford Chronicle 10th January 1908
Brown must have earned some remission of his four year sentence because less than 3 years later he was back at the Old Bailey on the same charge. The police had raided a house in Grange Road, Plaistow and found false florins, a saucepan full of molten metal  on the fire hob, and plaster of Paris moulds. 36 year old Alfred Stevens and one Martha Louisa Brown were arrested at the scene of the crime. While the police were searching the premises an unsuspecting Henry Brown sauntered in and found himself under arrest again. Stevens excuse that he was only on the premises to tune a piano was not believed and as he had previous form was given a six year sentence. Henry and Martha, presumably his wife, were both sentenced to four years. The police said that the prisoners were “the most scientific makers of moulds for coining in the Metropolis.”      

Friday, 23 October 2015

Skulduggery in the fur trade; John Moritz Oppenheim (1801-1864) & Frederick Schroeter (1809-1876), Nunhead Cemetery

Unless you know where in Nunhead Cemetery to look the impressive memorial to John Moritz Oppenheim and Frederick Schroeter is hard to find; it must once have been clearly visible from the main path but the unchecked growth of trees and shrubs has hidden it in its own secret grove. Although I had never heard of them I assumed Oppenheim and Schroeter must have been artists – the badly eroded, apparently vandalised, panels seem to indicate that. In one a seated man touches a sculpture of a woman’s head (one description I read described him as ‘fondling a female bust’) possibly of the classically draped woman who stands to the side; sculptor and model I assumed. Another panel shows a seated man and a standing female figure holding what may be a canvas, an artist’s palette and brushes on the floor. In the third panel an angel touches the eyes of a man reclining on a day bed. But Oppenheim and Schroeter were in fact fur traders, and the only connection they had with the arts was Oppenheim’s love of painting. He was a collector and patron who ironically went blind for the last twenty years of his – the angel touching the dying man’s eyes perhaps restoring his vision and the man fondling the bust because he can no longer see?

John Moritz Oppenheim

Johann Moritz Oppenheim was born in Hamburg in 1801/02. We don’t know when he came to England but he set himself up in business as a fur trader in the city in 1823, as soon as he was legally old enough to do so. His business which specialised in the Alaska fur trade (the pelts of seals, sea otters, beavers and racoons) prospered and he died a wealthy man. He never married and lived close to his business in Cannon Street.  He was a passionate collector of art and in his will left several paintings to the National Gallery; his blindness robbed him of one of the great pleasures of his life.  The business was inherited by his nephew by marriage and partner, Frederick Schroeter but he left a number of other legacies including a £1000 bequest to the Hungarian president Louis Kossuth “in admiration of his wisdom, and patriotism”, £100 each to five London hospitals, including St Thomas’, £100 each to his chief clerks in London, Moscow and Hamburg and a year’s wages to all of his servants.

One of the works of art Oppenheim left to the National Gallery

Oppenheim was a quiet man who lived away from the public eye. Apart from his death the only mention of him in newspapers are in court cases where he was the victim of fraud or robbery. In 1840 a young man named Jacob Isaac found himself arraigned before the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House, accused of obtaining goods by deception from a number of furriers.  The prosecuting solicitor ushered Oppenheim into the witness box with no prior warning to the defence to tell his story of accepting a bill for £185 and some shillings from Isaacs, presumably in payment for furs. When the bill had become due and was presented at Barclays the cashier told Oppenheim there were ‘no orders’ and it soon emerged that it was a forgery.  The defence objected to the last minute presentation of what amounted to a new and more serious accusation against their client. The Lord Mayor was unimpressed and forgetting about the original charges of obtaining goods by deception remanded Isaacs solely on the charge of forgery.  Perhaps the case never came to court – I have not been able to trace any trial.

WP Lillicrap, receiver of stolen goods
In April 1862 another German born furrier, Gotthard Pohler, went on trial at the Old Bailey accused of receiving stolen goods, namely two sealskins, 26 muskrat skins, and 160 racoon tails to the value of £5.00.  Pohler had received the furs from Leopold Warnecke of Buttesland Street, Hoxton, an employee of Oppenheims who had pilfered them from his employer. Warnecke was soon caught; he only worked for Oppenheim for 8 weeks.   As soon as he was caught, and afterwards in court, he had no hesitation in both confessing and informing on his partners in crime. Pohler had bought the furs from Warnecke and then sold them on to his employer, a supposedly respectable furrier, William Pearce Lillicrap of Davis Street, Berkeley  Square who clearly operated an ’ask no questions’ policy when offered stock at knock down prices by his employees. He was most put out when Oppenheim’s manager and a detective from the City Police paid him a visit. Lillicrap called Pohler and, swearing he knew nothing of the origins of the stolen furs, handed him over to the police. Warnecke was spared prosecution in return for his sworn testimony in court. Lillicrap too walked away scot-free, happily giving evidence to the court about Pohler but earning himself the censure of the jury who clearly thought he was as dodgy as his employee, to which the Recorder added his agreement, saying that his excuses should not be allowed. Poor Pohler, whose wife was about to give birth, got four years hard labour.

The Alaska Factory, Bermondsey
Under Schroeter’s guidance the Oppenheim & Co went from strength to strength. In 1869 he moved south of the river, opening the Alaska Factory in Grange Road, Bermondsey. Only the original gate still stands with its carving of a seal; the famous art deco building behind the gate was designed by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners, the architects of the Hoover building. Schroeter lived in Mottingham in a thirty room mansion set in 38 acres of grounds and died there in 1876. He had erected the memorial to his benefactor in Nunhead Cemetery a couple of years after his death and he also chose to be buried with him.  He left an estate worth more than a quarter of a million pounds which included farms and houses in Surrey as well as the family business.

In 1982 the Oppenheim Schroeter memorial was heavily vandalised and the burial vault broken into and desecrated by grave robbers. 

The vandalised relief panels on the memorial

Friday, 16 October 2015

"DEAD - A Celebration of Mortality" Charles Saatchi

The poster on the London Underground (taken at Stockwell station)

Perhaps Charles Saatchi is losing his flair for advertising. Admittedly the poster for “Dead: A Celebration of Mortality” is striking;  a heavy but clever crop of a classic Bart Hardy photograph showing children playing in a Glasgow Cemetery focuses on a single boy leapfrogging a grave stone. It’s a great image, the all too fleeting triumph of life over death perfectly visualised. It made me go out and buy the book but I suspect that demographically speaking, consumers who can’t resist buying a product associated with death form a tiny target group in the general population. Even stranger was to hear an ad for the book on Heart FM sandwiched between Take That and Michael Buble.  Poster campaigns on the London underground and commercial radio stations don’t come cheap – Saatchi must have squandered a small fortune trying to sell his book to jaded commuters and desperate housewives. Perhaps he has taken to advertising after revelations from the Grillo sisters, former aides accused of defrauding him out of £600,000 between them, whose defence in court was that they spent most of the money buying copies of his books in Waterstones and on Amazon to boost their ratings in the best seller lists.

Bert Hardy's classic image "Leapfrog"

“Dead: A Celebration of Mortality” has the unmistakable air of a vanity publication about it. The cover is gimmicky, made up to look like a tombstone, down to the marbling effect on the paper edges. Even though the author is presumably underwriting all the expenses, publishers Booth-Clibborn Editions (run by an ex advertising crony of Saatchi’s) have managed to make the typesetting look amateurish and clumsy. If you want to read a review of the book you will have to go to Amazon, no newspaper or magazine has deigned to even notice the books existence. 5 of the 6 Amazon reviewers give it 5 stars. Barry Osborne says “it is much more amusing than I expected.” Barry has reviewed three books on Amazon (and nothing else), all of them by Charles Saatchi, and is presumably either that very rare creature, a Charles Saatchi fan or that slightly more common one, a Saatchi hireling pretending to be a disinterested consumer. J Kaufman says it is ‘dead good’ and   Benjamin thinks death is “an unlikely subject for a fun book.” Susan Jones who likes Al Jarreau and is perhaps the only Heart FM listener to have actually bought a copy of the book after hearing the advert, says “nothing to say; Mr Saatchi says all.”(?!!?). The only dissenting voice is Mr Harry Potter (not his real name one suspects) who comments “I've never read a book before where I felt I'd just wasted several hours of my life. Personally I'm glad I was given it and didn't waste money on it.” He counsels potential readers to “wait until you’re dead to read this.” 

Goshka Macuga’s Madame Blavatsky

Saatchi’s collection of ‘essays’ (his word, not mine) are only very loosely linked by the theme of death, and consist mainly of material clipped from newspapers or culled from too many hours browsing the net. We are given dubious factoids, (‘there were fewer gunfights in the wild west than in Detroit today’), spurious statistics (‘Greenland possesses the highest recorded suicide rate in the world today, with 1 out of 5 citizens attempting to kill themselves at some point in their lives’), stories of bizarre deaths (the woman who died electrocuting her nipples with a hair dryer), death related lists (most popular funeral songs), last words (James French to the journalists assembled to see him die in the electric chair ‘How about this for a headline for tomorrow’s paper? French Fries?’), and the authors banal musings on his life experiences (‘the thought of becoming a centenarian is not necessarily a pleasant one’). The writing is leaden and humourless, the content a mishmash of poorly organised and undigested material with no plan or purpose. By page 242 Saatchi feels obliged to bring his opus to some sort of a conclusion so we get “Some lives leave a mark, others a stain”, a phrase he clearly feels is imposing because it occupies half a page by itself in 36 point bold type. It is followed by the equally inane ‘almost everybody lives a life of little consequence to mankind but wouldn’t you prefer to have spent your years rather uselessly but entertainingly?’ This is not a book I would recommend. 
Dallas Seitz’s Elizabeth Regina and John Hanning Speke 

The Saatchi gallery hosted an exhibition in the summer to tie in with the launch of Charles’s book. Four rooms on the top floor were filled with a random selection of art works retrieved from the Saatchi’s warehouses. Anything that seemed to tie in with the theme of death found a place. On the walls of Room 1 hung Denis Tarasov’s photos of the laser etched gravestones of Russian Mafiosi (also featured in the first of Saatchi’s essays in his book) and the floor was littered with corpses by, amongst others, Andra Ursuta (a grim blackened female covered in what look like squirts of semen), Terence Koh (a cast of the artists own body) and Alina and Jeff Bliumis (man buried under a cascade of books). Room 2 has paintings of car crashes by Dirk Skreber and photos by Vikenti Nilin and the Gao Brothers. Room 3 features Rafael Gomezbarros’ fibreglass ants, hundreds of them blown up to the size of a small dog and swarming over the walls and ceiling – great fun but I couldn’t see the connection with death. Room 4 had some of my favourite works. For example  Francis Upritchard’s ‘Travellers Collection’, a three shelved table with a mummy and funerary urns and mortuary objects made out of junk shop tat. Goshka Macuga’s Madame Blavatsky levitating between two dining chairs is very amusing. Dallas Seitz’s Elizabeth Regina and John Hanning Speke look like companion pieces, Speke being of course the African explorer who travelled with Richard Burton; during the course of their expedition the two men developed a mutual loathing and Speke discovered the source of the Nile. He died mysteriously after shooting himself in the armpit the day before he was due to take part in a public debate with Burton at the British Association in Bath in 1864. Plenty to enjoy then but this was not a carefully curated exhibition, instead it was simply thrown together from whatever was available. In essence it created to serve the same purpose as those adverts on the underground and on the radio, to publicise Saatchi’s tenth rate book.       

Friday, 9 October 2015

The Sealy Memorial, St Mary-at-Lambeth churchyard

The Coade Artificial Stone Factory was set up in Lambeth in 1769 and ceased to trade in 1840. For much of its life time the company was run by two Eleanor Coades, the elder the widow of the founder and the younger, their daughter. From 1799 to 1813 the company became known as Coade & Sealy when John Sealy, a cousin who started as a clay modeler in the factory, rose to become became Eleanor Coade senior’s business partner. When John Sealy died in 1813 he was buried in the churchyard at St-Mary-at-Lambeth beneath a Coade & Sealy monument (of course) where he was later joined by various members of his large and extended family. 

The memorial is not in as good a state of preservation as the other famous Coade stone memorial in the churchyard belonging to Captain William Bligh and his wife Betsy.

Coade stone is a type of stoneware. Mrs Coade's own name for her products was Lithodipyra, a name constructed from ancient Greek words meaning "stone-twice-fire" (λίθος/δίς/πυρά), or "twice fired stone". Its colours varied from light grey to light yellow (or even beige) and its surface is best described as having a matte finish.

The ease with which the product could be moulded into complex shapes made it ideal for large statues, sculptures and sculptural façades. Moulds were often kept for many years, for repeated use. One-offs were clearly much more expensive to produce, as they had to carry the entire cost of creating the mould.

Contrary to popular belief the recipe for Coade stone still exists, and can be produced. Rather than being based on cement (as concrete articles are), it is a ceramic material.

Its manufacture required special skills: extremely careful control and skill in kiln firing, over a period of days. This skill is even more remarkable when the potential variability of kiln temperatures at that time is considered. Mrs Coade's factory was the only really successful manufacturer.

The formula used was:
 10% of grog
 5-10% of crushed flint
 5-10% fine quartz
 10% crushed soda lime glass.
 60-70% Ball clay from Dorset and Devon.

This mixture was also referred to as "fortified clay" which was then inserted after kneading into a kiln which would fire the material at a temperature of 1,100°C for over four days.

The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent (or dragon) devouring it's own tail representing eternal return. "The first known appearance of the ouroboros motif is in the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld, an ancient Egyptian funerary text in KV62, the tomb of Tutankhamun, in the 14th century BC. The text concerns the actions of the god Ra and his union with Osiris in the underworld. In an illustration from this text, two serpents, holding their tails in their mouths, coil around the head and feet of an enormous god, who may represent the unified Ra-Osiris. Both serpents are manifestations of the deity Mehen, who in other funerary texts protects Ra in his underworld journey. The whole divine figure represents the beginning and the end of time........"

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The affair of the diamond necklace: Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, Comtesse de la Motte (1756-1791), St Mary-at-Lambeth

Jeanne de la Motte's entry in the St Mary-at-Lambeth burial register
A casual passerby would have seen some odd goings-on at Mount Row in Lambeth on the night of 6 June 1791 when a pair of heavily built men forced their way into one of the lodging houses. A few minutes later a distraught young woman leaves the same house in something of a rush and, despite apparently not being able to speak English, manages to persuade the occupants of a neighbouring house to let her in. She is observed by one of the men from an upstairs window and eventually both of the men follow her into the street and into next door. Noise and confusion follow their entry and then a third storey window of the house opens and the young woman flies out and falls to the pavement, striking a tree on the way down.  It is impossible to say if she fell, jumped, was pushed or even thrown out of the window but it is clear she is badly injured; she seems to have broken more than one limb and she has lost an eye.

In the days that follow the newspapers explain what happened;
A female foreigner, who lodged in the neighbourhood of Mount-row, Lambeth, being on Monday night arrested upon an action for a trifling sum of money, was so much affected, that she leaped out of a two pair of stairs window, by which act the broke both her legs, and was otherwise so much bruised, that her life is despaired of. She proves to be the famous Comtesse de !a Mott.  As soon as the Bailiffs arrested her, she asked them to drink a glass of wine,  and, on pretence of getting it, left the room, and immediately locked the door. From the window they saw her go into an adjoining house, and pursued her. She lies terribly mangled; her left eye cut out — one of her arms and both her legs are broken.  Caledonian Mercury 9 June 1791

Jeanne de la Motte
The trifling sum of money was £30 and the young woman was the 35 year old Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, Comtesse de la Motte. She and her husband, the shadowy Count de la Motte, were fugitives who had earned the undying rancour of the French Royal family and who were terrified of Royalist retribution even though the Revolution was in full throe and Louis XVI and his Queen Marie Antoinette had far more pressing matters to deal with.  Jeanne took two and a half months to die of her injuries, finally expiring on the 21 August, reportedly after over indulging in mulberries for which she had a particular weakness. She was buried five days later at St Mary-at- Lambeth by William Vyse who as well as  being the rector of St Mary’s was also Chaplain to Archbishop Cornwallis, Lambeth Palace being next door to the church.  In the registry the rector recorded the deceased as Jean St Rymer De Valois, Countess De La Motte.  The Count was not at her funeral; he was in Belgium fighting a duel in which he killed William Grey a Bond Street jeweler, no doubt in a dispute over payment for the diamonds that his wife had stolen and that had led to her public flogging and imprisonment in Paris;

An Affair of Honour, which has been attended I with fatal Consequences, took place at Brussels a few Days ago. A Dispute between the famous Count La Motte and Mr. William Gray, of Bond-Street, London, which originated on some trivial Circumstance, had occasioned a Duel, in which the latter fell. A Brace of pistols being fired by each without Effect, they had Recourse to Swords; and Mr. Gray having a Cast in his Eye, and being less versed in the Management of that Weapon than his Antagonist, yielded an easy Victory.  Oxford Journal 27 August 1791

The churchyard at St Mary-at-Lambeth

Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy was born in July 1756 in the Chateau of Fontette near the town of Barbe-sur-Aube in Champagne. Her father Jacque was an illegitimate grandson of Henri II and a near penniless drunkard who had frittered away what was left of the family fortune by gambling. He had fallen so low as to marry a servant with whom he produced six children, supporting them by poaching off the estates he had once owned.  Poverty drove the family to Paris where a broken Jacque died in the workhouse. Jeanne’s mother promptly married a Sardinian guardsman and the family moved to Boulogne. The Guardsman raped the 8 year old Jeanne and made her earn her keep by begging in the streets of the town.  Jeanne stood on the main carriage route with her baby sister strapped to her back, holding a sign which said “Pity the poor orphan of the blood of Valois.”  The Marquise de Boulainvilliers, driving past in her Phaeton, took pity as instructed and became Jeanne’s patron for a decade. Placing the sisters in a convent didn’t stop the Marquise’s husband debauching the adolescent Jeanne. At the age of 20 she ran away from the convent back to her place of birth in Barbe-sur-Aube where she was taken in by a Madame  Surmont, the wife of the local Prefect. The good woman soon regretted her charity when her husband became smitten by the girl; she however reserved her favors for the Bishop of Langres by whom she became pregnant.  Jeanne deftly side stepped the potential scandal by ensnaring Madame Surmont’s beloved nephew, guardsman Nicolas La Motte, into a hasty marriage.  Jeanne had twins, girls, but they died soon after birth.

Cardinal Rohan
Jeanne’s much vaunted Valois blood eventually led to her being granted an annual pension by the Crown but it was not enough for a penniless girl with grand ambitions. Her opportunity to further these came when Madame  Boulainvilliers introduced her to Cardinal Rohan, the Bishop of Strasbourg. The Rohans were an important, powerful and vastly wealthy aristocratic family and Cardinal Rohan was a worldly prelate with a taste for politics. He had been one of the political faction opposed to the Austrian marriage of Louis XVI and had been sent on a special mission to Vienna to try and prevent it. He only succeeded in earning the personal enmity of the Empress Maria Teresa and her daughter Marie Antoinette. Once Marie was Queen Rohan’s political career was over and he was barely tolerated at court.  The Cardinal was enchanted by Jeanne and she soon became his mistress and confidante. The only other person Rohan trusted implicitly was Count Cagliostro; placing himself in the unfortunate position of having two of the 18th century’s greatest swindlers as his personal advisers, a situation that would eventually cost him dearly.

Nicole d'Oliva
With Cardinal Rohan’s backing Jeanne took to haunting Versailles, continually calling on officials and courtiers with petitions and requests for the money, property and titles that she felt she was entitled to on account of her Valois blood. When this didn’t work she tried sleeping with court officials and telling outrageous lies about her close personal relationship with the Queen. She became such a pest that officials eventually increased her pension in an effort to get rid of her but it was not enough for the voracious Jeanne. Cardinal Rohan swallowed the story of Jeanne’s new friendship with Marie Antoinette and humbly accepted her advice that he start a campaign to restore himself into Royal favor by writing a letter to the Queen begging her forgiveness for the errors of his past.  Jeanne recruited a friend, a master forger named Rétaux de Villette, to produce a reply that came ostensibly from the Queen herself. Encouraged by the faked response Rohan wrote more letters to the Queen to which Rétaux wrote increasingly warm, even intimate replies.  Flattered by this apparent interest from the Queen Rohan was soon penning treasonous love letters to her majesty. The worldly prelate seems not to have smelled a rat, even when ‘the Queen’ began asking him for substantial donations towards charity. He seemed not to notice that the penurious Jeanne was suddenly affluent, living in better accommodation and dressing in finer clothes. Rohan’s ardor increased to the point where he was desperate to meet the Queen in private.  Jeanne put off the meeting for as long as possible but when she ran out of excuses she arranged a rendezvous on a moonless night in an overgrown arbor in the gardens at Versailles. Another friend Nicole d'Oliva, a prostitute, was recruited as stand in for Marie Antoinette. The private interview was quick, no more than a few minutes, undertaken in conditions of great secrecy – the excited Rohan was barely able to stutter a few endearments to the heavily disguised Queen and had no time to receive any in return. Instead ‘the Queen’ thrust a single red rose into his hand before rushing away to spend the night writing him a long passionate letter.

The famous necklace
It was not only the Cardinal who believed Jeanne’s story of her friendship with Marie Antoinette; the court jewelers Barsenge and Bohmer hearing false rumors of her intimacy with the Queen approached her to intercede with her majesty on their behalf. They were anxious to sell a colossally expensive diamond necklace, a piece which cost so much that only the King could afford to buy it. Unfortunately the King had declined the purchase and the jewelers were left with a necklace into which they had sunk almost all their capital. They hoped that Jeanne could help them solve their liquidity problem by approaching the Queen on their behalf. She immediately saw the potential to make a fortune from the besotted Cardinal Rohan.  On her instructions Rétaux the forger wrote a charming letter to Rohan, ostensibly from the Queen, explaining that she desperately wanted the necklace but that the King was in temporary financial difficulties and had told her she had to make sacrifices. Could her dearest Cardinal please advance her a loan to buy the trinket? The cost was an eye watering 1,600,000 livres, a sum so vast even the lovelorn prelate started to feel uneasy but the jewelers were prepared to accept payment in installments and by the time the first payment had been made the King could probably be relied on to come up with the rest.  Rohan anxiously decided he needed further help in making such a big decision so he asked Count Cagliostro to consult the spirits for him, they surely would know what to do. The Count did as he was asked and was pleased to tell Rohan that the auguries were all good and he should go ahead. Jeanne soon had the necklace, which she passed on immediately to her husband who wasted no time prising the diamonds from their settings before hot footing it off to Brussels and London to sell them.

Marie Antoinette points the finger at Cardinal Rohan

The plot unraveled when the first installment of the money fell due to Barsenge and Bohmer;  Rohan found himself unable to come up with the cash by the appointed date. The two jewellers panicked and approached the Queen directly to politely remind her that the money was due. She of course claimed to know nothing and so the jewelers produced the contract of sale to which Rétaux the forger had obligingly appended her name on behalf of Jeanne. Soon Cardinal Rohan, Jeanne, the unfortunate Cagliostro, Rétaux the forger and Nicole the prostitute all found themselves under arrest. The King decreed that there should be a public trial, a serious misjudgment given the general unpopularity of the Royal family. Both Jeanne and Cagliostro published spirited (and meretricious) defenses which became best sellers in France and newspapers all over Europe took a keen interest in the progress of the trial itself. Public opinion in France believed Rohan to be an innocent victim of Marie Antoinette, the Queen merely using Jeanne and her disreputable friends to discredit and humiliate the Cardinal. The verdict of the Paris Parlement, where the trial was held, reinforced the popular view; Rohan was acquitted of all charges against him, as was Cagliostro, and the full brunt of blame for the affair fell on Jeanne and her two accomplices. Jeanne was ordered to be whipped and branded and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Jeanne is publicly branded in the courtyard of the Palais de Justice

Early in the morning of 21 June 1786 Jeanne was dragged out of her cell in the Palais de Justice wearing only a petticoat and shawl by 8 men who bodily carried her to the main courtyard. She put up a ferocious struggle as her captors tied a halter rope around her neck and attached her to a cart to be whipped. The courtyard had been set up with benches for the public to see the spectacle and despite the earliness of the hour a crowd of several hundred people quickly gathered. The guards seemed almost sorry for her and the lashing across her shoulders and neck was half hearted according to most accounts. One of the guards then stripped her half naked to allow the executioner to brand a V on her shoulder and breast with a red hot iron. As he scorched her breast the swooning Jeanne rallied momentarily and sank her teeth into his hand, biting off a sizeable chunk of flesh before passing out. Whilst she was unconscious her hair was shorn to the scalp. Later she was given the coarse grey uniform of the Salpêtrière before being taken away to that notorious prison for prostitutes. 

Jeanne's flight from the Salpêtrière 
Her sentence was life imprisonment but in the event she served less than six years, somehow escaping and fleeing to London. We only have her own, highly improbable account of how she managed to escape her Parisian jail. She claims well wishers smuggled writing materials to her with which she produced a sketch of the key to her cell (which she merely managed to snatch glimpses of in the hands of the nuns who served as jailers), the sketch was then smuggled out of the prison and used to make a duplicate key which was smuggled back in along with a suit of men’s clothes. When the opportunity arose Jean donned the suit and wig and let herself out of her cell and a further three locked doors and escaped from the prison by mingling amongst a crowd of sightseers on a visit to see the locked up prostitutes. Once free she made her way to Luxembourg and then to London where she was joined by her husband. In London she wrote her bestselling “Memoires Justificatifs de La Comtesse de Valois de La Motte,” but seemed to make very little money from them if she was forced to live in a common lodging house in Lambeth and died being dunned for a mere £30.

Illa Meery as Jeanne de la Motte, in the silent film "Cagliostro" (1929) By Richard Oswald.

Perhaps we have not heard the last of Jeanne; on ‘Find A Grave’s web page about her, an anonymous poster left the following message in January 2012: another lifetime on earth I was Jeanne De Saint-Remy de Valois. To those kind and beautiful souls who have left flowers THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart, it's been very healing. To those few who have left negative comments, believe me, I have paid for my actions in this lifetime by carrying huge amounts of guilt and shame and suffered, which has impacted on every aspect of my life. Her actions were not 'nice' to say the very least, but unless you walk in another's shoes, I would ask you not to judge, think of the poverty and the abuse. I have met Marie-Antoinette again in this life-time and I felt so guilty and ashamed that I could not bear to be in her company and I sobbed for about an hour aterwards. I'm still trying to work through the energy of that life, but I'm grateful for this opportunity to share with whoever comes across this.
Added: Jan. 7, 2012