Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Cromwell & the location of the clitoris; Anna Cromwell (1659-1727) & Thomas Gibson (1648–1722), St Georges' Burial Ground, Bloomsbury

Anna Cromwell was the daughter of Lord Protector Richard Cromwell (or Tumbledown Dick as he known due to the brevity of his time in office) and granddaughter of Oliver Cromwell.  She was actually born during the year of her father’s protectorate but would have grown up during the restoration.  Not much is known about her; she inherited considerable wealth from her family, was close to her older unmarried sister Elizabeth, married the physician Thomas Gibson, had no children and died at the age of 68 in 1727. One contemporary, Hewling Luson wrote of the two Cromwell sisters “I have been several times in company with these ladies. They were well-bred, well-dressed, stately women, exactly punctilious; but they seemed, especially Mistress Cromwell, to carry about them a consciousness of high rank, accompanied with a secret dread that those with whom they conversed should not observe and acknowledge it. They had neither the good sense nor the great enthusiasm of Mrs. Bendysh. But as the daughter of Ireton had dignity without pride, the daughters of Richard Cromwell had pride without much dignity." (Bridget Bendish was the daughter of Henry Ireton and Oliver Cromwell’s daughter Bridget, and was therefore cousin to Anna and Elizabeth).  

Dr Edmund Gibson, Bishop of London nephew and heir
The Oxford antiquarian Thomas Hearn also mentions  the two sisters in a diary entry from 1719; “On Saturday, 5 September, came to Oxford two daughters of Richard Cromwell, son of Oliver Cromwell, Protector, one of whom is married to Dr. Gibson, the physician, who wrote 'The Anatomy';  the other is unmarried. They are both Presbyterians, as is also Dr. Gibson, who was with them. They were at the Presbyterian Meeting-house in Oxford on Sunday morning and evening ; and yesterday they and all the gang with them dined at Dr. Gibson's, the Provost of Queen's, who is related to them, and made a great entertainment for them, expecting something from them, the physician being said to be worth £30,000. They went from Oxford after dinner." John Gibson, the Provost of queen’s, was Thomas Gibson’s nephew. His hopes of a share in his uncles £30,000 fortune were to be thwarted.   After her husband died another relative of his, Dr Edmund Gibson, the Bishop of London, was very attentive to Anna, supposedly even writing a “Life of Cromwell” to please her (though it was of course published anonymously, the king was the head of the church after all). He didn’t need to make the effort; Thomas’ will had specified that Edmund was to inherit after Anna’s death but perhaps he was genuinely fond of her. 

Thomas Gibson was born in Bampton, near Penrith in Cumbria around 1648. He attended university at Cambridge and at Leyden in the Netherlands and was admitted a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians on 26 June 1676, and an honorary fellow on 30 Sept. 1680. On 21 January 1719, at the age of 71, he was appointed physician general to the army. He married twice, the first time to Elizabeth the widow of Zephaniah Cresset of Hertfordshire and the second time, in 1698 when he was fifty and she was 39, to Anna Cromwell. There were no children from either marriage. Gibson is chiefly remembered for his ‘Anatomy of Humane Bodies epitomized’ published in 8 volumes in 1682. The fact that the work was largely plagiarised from the work of Alexander Reid, amongst others, did not stop it being either popular or often reprinted. Not all of his ‘Anatomy…’ though was completely unoriginal as his section on The Clitoris shows:

Above, betwixt the nymphae, in the upper part of the pudendum does a part jet out a little that is called clitoris, from [the Greek] that signifies lasciviously to grope the pudendum. It is otherwise called virga, for it answers to a man’s yard in shape, situation, substance, repletion with spirits and erection, and differs from it only in length and bigness. In some it grows to that length as to hang out from betwixt the lips of the privity. Yea, there are many stories of such as have had it so long and big as to be able to accompany with other women like unto men, and such are called fricatrices, or otherwise, hermaphrodites; who it is not probable are truly of both sexes, but only the testes fall down into the labia, and this clitoris is preternaturally extended. But in most it jets out so little as that it does not appear but by drawing aside the labia.

Its use may be known from what has already been discoursed. And we will note further that in some Eastern countries it uses to be so large, that for its deformity and the hindrance it gives to copulation, they use to cut it quite out, or hinder its growth by searing it, which they improperly call circumcision.

Georges Arnauld de Ronsil, Dissertation sur les hermaphrodites, 1750

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

When Barking was a fishing port; the Hewett family, St Margaret's Churchyard and Rippleside Cemetery, Barking

This simple chest tomb covers the Hewett vault in St Margaret's churchyard

It is almost impossible to imagine today but for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Barking was the most important fishing port in England. On a High Street now dominated by McDonalds and Dixie Fried Chicken, Poundland and Paddy Power back in the 1860’s ‘there were six sail makers, five mast, pump and block makers, five shipwrights and boat builders and four rope and line makers…. four marine store dealers, four slopsellers and two ships chandlers, as well as makers of specialized products such as ship’s biscuit, sea boots, kegs, casks and nets. A former inhabitant reminisced “how fragrant Heath Street and Fisher Street smelt of tar and pitch, how well the stores were supplied with sou’westers, oilskins, big-boots, guernseys, red caps, hawsers, ropes and twine.”’ (Richard Tames “Barking Past.”)   The fishing industry has been around the area since the middle ages and by 1724 Daniel Defoe described Barking as a large market town but one now dominated by fishing and “chiefly inhabited by fishermen, whose smacks ride in the Thames at the mouth of the river Roding, from whence it (fish) is sent up to London to the market at Billingsgate, by smaller boats.” The industry reached its apogee under the Hewett family whose Short Blue fleet became the largest private fishing fleet in the world.

The Hewett tomb inscription
Scrymgeour Hewett
The fishing dynasty started when the Scot Scrymgeour Hewett came to Barking (which he said was the prettiest village he had ever seen) and married a local girl, Sarah Whennel, at West Ham in 1797. Scrymgeour’s father, a doctor, had died when he was 8 and his mother brought him and five of his siblings to London. Before showing up in Barking he had spent several years in the West Indies where presumably he learned to sail. His father in law owned two fishing boats and soon Scymgeour was buying his own vessels, the first of which was the Liberty’s Increase, shortly followed by the Fleming, Matchless and Fifeshire. At the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars Scrymgeour obtained himself letters of marque to sail as a privateer with crews of local bruisers who were more than happy to exchange hauling nets for licensed theft against the French. When Scrymgeour returned home from his spell of officially sanctioned piracy he found his second son Samuel had run away to sea. Scrymgeour brought him back and put him to work as an apprentice on the still growing Short Blue fleet. Within five years Samuel was mastering his own vessel and by the time he was 25 his father had effectively turned over the running of the fleet to him. Samuel turned out to be almost a genius in matters of business. By 1850 the fleet numbered 220 vessels directly employing 1370 men.  The transformation of the business was accomplished by the introduction of two simple
Samuel Hewett
innovations that with hindsight seem almost banally obvious. The first related to the wicker creels in which the catch was transported back to market. Traditionally these were round ended baskets called peds which were not calculated to make the best use of the storage capacity of the fishing boats. Samuel Hewett altered the shape to a simple box and at a stroke increased the carrying capacity of his smacks by up to 30%.
  His second innovation was to reduce the amount of time his smacks spent in sailing back to port to deliver the catches. He organised his fleet into two classes of smack. The fishing smacks stayed out on the open sea, sometimes for weeks at a time, hauling sole out of the newly discovered Great Silver Pits on the North Sea. Smaller faster vessels shuttled between the smacks out in the fishing grounds and Barking and Billingsgate taking 18 tons of ice, food and supplies out to the men on the boat and bringing back 40 ton catches of fish.

In 1862 Samuel took the decision to relocate his fleet to Gorleston in Norfolk. The arrival of the east coast railway gave the resourceful entrepreneur a cheaper and quicker method of getting his fish to market in London and he wasted no time taking advantage of the opportunity.  His employees and competitors were quick to follow him either to Gorleston or to Grimsby and Barking’s days as the premier fishing port of England were effectively over. The family connections with Barking however remained as strong as their links to fishing.

Samuel Hewett in old age
Samuel Hewett died at Great Yarmouth in 1871 but he was buried in his father’s vault in St Margaret’s Churchyard. The business was taken over by his son Robert who had inherited his father’s ambition but not his innovative flair. He certainly had ideas but these never quite came off and the business began to struggle. In 1882 he told a House of Commons Select Committee that the Short Blue Fleet totalled around 200 ships, including 82 trawlers, and that the average annual value of the catch was £180,000. 570 men were employed at sea and 107 ashore. In 1885 Samuel opened the Shadwell Fish Market on what is now the site of the King Edward Memorial Park. The market was not a financial success. Other business ventures of Robert’s included an ice plant at the Shadwell Market site and an engineering, boiler making and shipbuilding works at Fisher Street. On Friday 6 January 1899 at 3.00pm there was a massive explosion at the Fisher Street works which killed 11 people and wounded many more. A boiler in the works had been over pressurised according to a later Board of Trade enquiry and had exploded hurling iron plating and pipes for hundreds of yards, bringing down a tall chimney down onto the workshops and wrecking the whole factory. The injuries were horrendous; “Those of the dead whose bodies were taken to the Barking Town Hall Mortuary had been so frightfully maimed as to be in several instances scarcely recognisable. One poor fellow had lost an arm and a leg, another had both legs torn away, and a third was found with the upper part of the head blown off.” The enquiry into the cause of the accident blamed the factory owners and as a result their insurers refused to pay out leaving the Hewett’s responsible for the compensation claims of the dead and injured. The damages added to the losses at Shadwell left the family no option but to sell off almost everything including the ships that made up the Short Blue Fleet.

The devastation caused by the Barking Explosion of 1899
Robert Hewett
Robert Hewett is buried in Rippleside Cemetery on the outskirts of Barking. The pink granite monument has a still gleaming ships anchor and chain. Buried with Robert are his wife and his son Robert Muirhead who took over the helm of the much reduced family business from his father. He was a gold medallist ice skater and a passionate roller skater.  His eldest son, also buried in Rippleside, was Captain Roy Scott Hewett who took his first trawler trip to Iceland in 1897 when he was 11. He inherited his father’s love of skating and became British Amateur Figure Skating Champion in 1911, 1912 and 1914 and also Figure Skating Champion of Great Britain in the English style, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1926 and 1927.

For more information on the Hewetts and the Short Blue Fleet see the excellent Short Blue Fleet website 

The Hewett grave in Rippleside Cemetery

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Baldassare Viscardini (1830-1896), Freedom Fighter and Cabinet Maker, New Southgate Cemetery

Photo of Baldassare at the time of his Italian war
from Anglo-Italian Family History Society
Baldassare Viscardini was born in Mondello a village in the Como district of Lombardy in Northern Italy. By the time of the 1851 census he was living with his brother and father in Brick Lane, Spitalfields all three listing their occupations as Looking Glass Frame Makers.  When he married at St Dunstans in the West in 1857 he had left the east End and was living in the city, at Bouverie Street, just off Fleet Street. His bride was a 19 year old English girl, Rose Hannah Martin, the daughter of John Martin a carpenter. The couple seem to have had no children. Just two years after the wedding Baldassare left his bride and went to fight in the 1859 second War of Italian Independence. The complex and confusing political situation of the time meant that an assassination attempt by an Italian Nationalist on the French Emperor resulted in an alliance between France and the Italian Kingdom of Sardinia against the Austrians (who held territory in Baldassare’s birthplace of Lombardy and Venetia). The Italians provoked the Austrians into an attack and the French army went to the aid of the Italians. The campaign was relatively short; war was declared in at the end of April though fighting did not start until 20 May and by 11 July the French and Austrian Emperors were signing a peace deal at Villafranca.  Baldassare’s career as a freedom would have been short but glorious.
Photo of Baldassare's Viscardini's grave taken by Iain MacFarlaine from
findagrave.com. The picturesque ivy growth has now been completely removed

In 1867, almost ten years to the day from his first wedding, Baldassare remarried at St Andrew’s, Holborn. He was now living in Kirby Street, just off Hatton Garden, and was a widower, his first wife apparently having died in her twenties. His new bride was Eliza Sheppard, 20 years his junior and the daughter of a bootmaker of Gray’s Inn Road.   The couple went on to have 7 children, Florence, Amelia, Baldassare Junior, Bimbina, Giacomo. John and Beatrice. Baldassare changed occupations to wood carver and then cabinet maker and became successful enough to open his own business first at 49 and then at 54 Gough Street, WC1 in a shop that still stands (although it now seems to be a private residence). In his later years Baldassare moved to 15 West View, an address alternatively given as being in Islington or Highgate but which I can’t trace. It was here that he died on 20 September 1898 leaving an estate worth £2461 5s 2d to his widow. 

Monday, 6 July 2015

Life masks of the surrealists; Paul (1891-1973) & Hilde Hamann (1898-1987), New Southgate Cemetery

It is unusual to see such an unashamedly erotic nude in a cemetery – such blatant disregard for the proprieties can only mean that the grave belongs to a foreigner, and not just any foreigner, but an artist. Paul Hamann was born in Hamburg in 1891 and studied at the local Arts & Crafts School and in Paris with Rodin. He served in the First World War, returning afterwards to Hamburg where he was prominent in local artistic circles. In the 30’s he left Germany to escape the Nazi’s, initially in Paris where he lived for three years at the Cité Fleurie artists colony, and then later in London. He set up a studio and a private art school in Hampstead in 1938 and became a member of the Hampstead Artists Council.  Before the outbreak of World War II he became a founder member of the Free German League of Culture, helping to organise shows at the New Burlington Gallery of the work of German, Austrian and Czech artists persecuted by the Nazis. His credentials as an anti Nazi campaigner did not prevent him being interned as a potentially hostile alien in the Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man in 1940. He spent a year there before being released. He later became a British Citizen.

Paul Hamann taking a life mask of Man Ray (1930)

Hilde photographed in the 70's
Paul married Hilde Guttmann in the early 1920’s. Hilde was born in the city of Breslau in Silesia (now Wroclaw in Poland) in 1898 to a well to do mercantile family with Jewish roots. She met Paul when she was a student of his at the Hamburg School of Applied Arts. In 1924 she stayed in Paris for six months where she studied at the studio of Fernand Léger. In Germany she painted but in England after the war she became more interested in ceramics and then later in enamels. Her own artistic career took a back seat to her husbands, for many years she worked as his assistant. Whilst Paul was interned she became the principle breadwinner. When he was released it seems the marriage broke down though the couple continued to work professionally together.
An example of Hilde's painting from the 1920's.
Paul Hamann is principally remembered now for his technique of creating life masks. In the 1930’s,  according to the catalogue of an exhibition of his work at the Warren Gallery, he “perfected a substance with which life-masks can be taken subtly and painlessly. His preparation looks like tomato soup and smells faintly of vanilla. … It is the gentlest, kindliest, most coaxing process imaginable. .. And the result, as you observe, is magnificent…. All this will be achieved by you and Herr Hamann if you consent to sit patiently in a chair for forty minutes.” His preparation was so good for the skin that Elizabeth Arden tried to get hold of the formula. Hamann’s life masks were immensely popular in Germany, France and London. Bertolt Brecht had one made and then had himself photographed holding it.
Bertolt Brecht with Hamann's mask
In England Hamann’s sitters included Lady Ottoline Morrell, Raymond Mortimer, Noel Coward and Raymond Mortimer.  In Paris the surrealists were enthusiastic; Paul Eluard got Andre Breton interested in death masks and both of them indulged their obsession by having Hamann make life masks for them. After Breton’s death amongst his unpublished papers was an encomium he had written on Hamann and his technique called “Le Masque du jour”. Hamann also made a mask for Man Ray and was photographed in the process of applying his tomato and vanilla mixture to the American’s face. Man Ray loved this life mask so much that he used it in several photographs including the one used as the cover for his book “Photographs 1924-1930 Paris.”

The cover of “Photographs 1924-1930 Paris” with Hamann's mask at top right 

Was Hilde the model? She choose this sculpture to adorn Paul's tomb.

Friday, 3 July 2015

“The case is altered,” quoth Plowden; Edmund Plowden (1518-1585), Temple Church, EC4

Edmund Plowden was a lawyer, legal scholar and author of a famous collection of legal commentaries. He was born in Shropshire and studied law at Cambridge, the Middle Temple and Oxford but was also admitted to practice chirurgery and physic. Under Queen Mary he was appointed as one of the Council of the Marches and became MP for Wallingford, Reading and Wootton Bassett.  Plowden remained a life-long Catholic which hampered his career on the accession of Elizabeth. At one time the Queen was supposed to have offered him the Lord Chancellorship on condition that he swore allegiance to the Church of England but this he refused to do.  Despite being a known recusant (the sheriff and magistrates of Berkshire required him to give a bond for good behaviour and appear before the privy council for refusing to attend divine service) and a defender of persecuted Catholics (he was one of the three defenders of Bishop Bonner) he was allowed to continue writing and practicing law. He died in 1585. His memorial is a splendid example of Tudor funerary art.

“The case is altered,” quoth Plowden was a 17th century English proverb. According to John Ray’s “Compleat Collection of English Proverbs” (1737) the occasion of the expression was either when a neighbour of Plowden’s asked his opinion on what remedy there was in law against someone who let his hogs trespass on his grounds.  Plowden told him he might have a good remedy but when the neighbour confessed that the hogs in question belonged to Plowden himself he responded “Nay then neighbour (quoth he) the case is altered.” Or says Ray, it arose during a court case when Plowden was defending a gentlemen against the charge of attending a mass. The gentlemen had been entrapped by malicious neighbours who dressed up a layman in priest’s vestments solely with the intention of denouncing him to the authorities.  Cross examining the supposed priest “saith Plowden to him, art thou a priest  then? The fellow replied, no. Why then Gentlemen (quoth he) the case is altered: No priest, no mass.”