2 October 2016

Freeth's Coffee House & the Society Feasts

Freeth's Coffee House was a tavern (more formally known as the Leicester Arms) on Bell Street, a lost street which would have stood under the complex of the new Bull Ring Shopping Centre. It was run by John Freeth (sometimes John Free), a local poet and political commentator, often known as Poet Freeth and printing publications such as The Political Songster. As with many coffee houses in the eighteenth-century, it was a meeting place, not just of people, but of ideas. Most well-known are the meetings of the Jacobin Club, a group of political radicals including James Bisset (toy-maker and museum keeper) and James Sketchley (printer and auctioneer). In his obituary in 1808 it was noted that Freeth would sing his poems and 'delight a large company with original songs, composed from subjects of a public nature, replete with wit and humour'.

The pub was the site of a number of dinners where the radical politics and current affairs of the day could be discussed. The call to these feasts was frequently through a few lines of poetry, printed in letterpress onto small cards. Here are some examples:

Click on the cards to enlarge.

Poet Freeth (John Freeth).

26 September 2016

James Watt's Workshop

A short video by History West Midlands, taking us inside the workshop of James Watt, which existed at Watt's home, Heathfield Hall, in the late eighteenth-century. The workshop is now reconstructed at the Science Museum in London.

9 September 2016

Samuel Raven's Snuff Boxes

Snuff box painted with the actress Mrs. Honey, c. 1820 by Raven.
From the V&A Collection.

Samuel Raven (c. 1774-1847) was a painter, particularly known for adorning papier mâché snuff boxes. It is thought that he worked for the japanner Henry Clay, before branching out on his own in about 1815 (though the plain papier mâché boxes were probably bought from Clay). 

He seems to have been admired for his skill, as on 21 February 1820 the following article appeared in Aris's Gazette:

'His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, after having personally expressed himself to S. Raven that he was highly gratified with the Segar Case lately presented to him, was pleased to command that Portraits should be taken, by the same Artist, of his Royal Highness and the late Duke of Kent; which being now finished may be seen previous to their transmission to Kensington Palace, at Mr. Cooke's, Carver and Gilder, New Street'.

A box with the portrait of George IV is held at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (seen below).
George IV, c. 1822.
From the BMAG Collection.
Signed inside, see below.

Raven was also a member of the Anacreontic Society, a social club that met at the Eagle and Ball on Colmore Street, and formed in October 1793. The society took its name from the Greek poet Anacreon, who was particularly known for writing drinking songs, as well as other verses. It is no surprise that notable socialite, James Bisset, was a member then, as well as Theophilus Richards (who ran the grand toy-shop on High Street), Peter Wyon (die-sinker), and Charles Jennings (button maker). Raven painted a devise for the society, a British crown encircled in light and a ribbon bearing the inscription 'May our Friendship endure as long as the Sun'. This hung on the wall of the Eagle and Ball, until the pub (and the street it stood on) was demolished when New Street Station was built in 1846. It reportedly then moved to the Woodman on Easy Row, but has since been lost.

Other snuff boxes painted by Raven include one of the printer and japanner John Baskerville, which is a copy of a larger portrait thought to be by James Millar. The production of the snuff box perhaps coincided with the exhuming of Baskerville's body in 1829, when it was put on display for several months at a local warehouse!
The Baskerville snuff box painted
by Samuel Raven is at BMAG.
A self-portrait of about 1816, held by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Below is a selection of boxes from private collections, for interest (all signed).

A lady in clouds. Signature is below.

The Duchess of Clarence, later Queen Adelaide
A selection of provocative ladies.....

And a cute little dog....

3 September 2016

The Swan Hotel in Pictures

Swan Hotel in 1829.

The Swan Hotel was a large and dominant coaching inn on the High Street throughout the eighteenth-century and before. According to Joseph Hill it was an ancient tavern, the land of which stretching across the corner of High and New Streets, and belonged to a family called Rastell during the reign of Henry VIII. Between 1666 and 1688 the landlord of the Swan was Edward Crank, who demolished the old tavern, and built another set back from the street, with a large yard in front for carriages, and erected a row of five smart town houses along the street (seen on the left of the trade card, above).* The Swan was a haunt of Samuel Johnson, who writes in 1755 'I was extremely pleased to find that you have not forgotten your old friend, who yet recollects the evenings which we have passed together at Warren's and the Swan'. Johnson resided in Birmingham in the early 1730s, initially with Edmund Hector (to whom he writes above) at Thomas Warren's bookshop situated opposite the Swan at that time (Warren's shop moved about).

Contemporary colouring of the 1829 card.

In the 1730s, as the notice below announces, you could catch a stage-coach to London at the Swan at six on a Monday morning, and return 'if God permit' on the Saturday. Take a journey on the Birmingham to London stage-coach here.

The hotel survived until the late 1950s, but was demolished before 1961 to make way for the new Rotunda. The photos below were taken in 1932 by William A. Clark.

The swan over the door. 
The entrance door with the swan over, looking up
Swan Alley. Note Fred Burn on the right.
Poor image of the alley from the other direction. Not taken by Clark.
Landing of the Swan Hotel.

There was another entrance to the Swan around the corner on New Street (see below, far left). The street on the right of the trunk manufacturer is Worcester Street, and when the Rotunda was built, this became Worcester Passage, which was covered and cut underneath the building.

New Street (left) at the corner of Worcester Street (right).

1 August 2016

John Baskerville's House and Something Unexpected in the Garden

Baskerville's house at Easy Hill.

John Baskerville was a japanner, letter cutter, type founder and printer in Birmingham in the mid eighteenth-century. Japanning was his initial, and also very prosperous, trade, which enabled him to build himself a grand house on the outskirts of Birmingham in 1745, at Easy Hill. By the 1770s the Birmingham Canal and its wharf had encircled the house, and the town was encroaching nearer and nearer (see map below).

1778 map highlighting the house at Easy Hill, with a long tree lined drive
garden, and possible orchard. Birmingham is expanding onward.

Baskerville died in 1775, and the house was lived in by his widow and daughter, and his daughter owned it until 1788 when it was bought by John Ryland, who had the images below produced. They give some interesting detail of the ornamentation, and if anyone knows what the statues are, please let me know in the comments.

Easterly front of Baskerville's house.

Southerly front of Baskerville's house.

Close-up of the statues.
The house is thought to have been demolished in about 1795, and the land utilised for manufacture, and by a canal wharf, the construction of which, in the 1820s, unearthed Baskerville's corpse, which he had asked to be buried in a catacomb built especially for the purpose in the garden. Below is a drawing of said corpse, produced by Thomas Underwood in 1829, after the body had been on display. It says something about Baskerville's fame and renown that this seemed acceptable. 

31 July 2016

Bisset's 'Magnificent Directory', 1800

Hen & Chickens (Plate V, placed at the front of the directory)

Following is the Magnificent Directory section of James Bisset's 1800 publication A Poetic Survey Around Birmingham (see the A Poetic Survey section here). The Directory contains 24 copper-plates of Birmingham scenes, manufactories and manufacturers, with lists of names.

Click on the images to enlarge.
Title Page.
Reference to the Plates.

Bankers & Gentlemen adjacent to Birmingham

Plate A.
A: Bankers include Spooner, Attwood & Co, and Taylor & Lloyds.

Miscellaneous Professions on New Street

Plate C.
C: The image behind the scroll shows the Theatre Royal on the right, and Bisset's Museum on the left. 

Miscellaneous Professions on High Street

Plate D.
D: The group of buildings on the right of the scroll include the apothecary shop of Richard Pratchett, the offices and printing shop for Aris's Birmingham Gazette, and the Swan Hotel. On the left is the spire of St. Martin's church. 

Inns & Taverns, with a view of Swinney's Type Foundry

Plate F.
F: Swinney's type foundry was behind the Swan Hotel. 

Artists, including Henry Clay

Plate J.

Plate J from the Magnificent Directory which accompanied James Bisset's A Poetic Survey Around Birmingham in 1800. This plate consists of two adverts, the top image is for 'Henry Clay, Japanner in Ordinary To his Majesty and his Royal Highness The Prince of Wales'. The classical imagery is apparent; the vase on the left contains a wolf suckling Romulus and Remus. What is notable is that the classical scene is one of imagined ruins rather than an actual view; perhaps the suggestion to readers is that the industrial and artistic significance of Birmingham is rising from the ruins of the ancient civilisations. Beneath the classical image is one of the sources of Birmingham's industrial strength, the canal system that had arrived in the town in the mid 1770s. Why the canal image was placed here, or whether it is connected to Clay's manufactory is unknown.

Beneath Clay's advert is a list of Birmingham's Artists accompanied by an engraving of the tools of their trade. These are an artist's palette, a folio, paper, a portrait and bust, an easel, a mirror/magnifying glass, and books (the latter probably to signify the artists as learn'ed). Many of the artists listed were involved in the making of the engravings used in the directory (see below); the names are in alphabetical order and are James Bisset, George Bullock, Francis Eginton, Allen Everitt, Albert Fiedler, J Gregory Hancock, Moses Haughton, William Hollins, Samuel Heartland, James Millar, Joseph Patrick, C Richards and Son, Edward Rudge, John Smith and Thomas Willets (click on the names in red to find out more).

Brass Founders

Plate L.
L: The building at the top is the Brasshouse, and still stands on Broad Street today.

Toy Makers
Plate M.
M: The townscape of Birmingham is in the background with cherubs in the foreground, one with a package and another with a print of a selection of toys. Two eagles hold up the scroll.

The toy makers listed are Adcock & Ivey, Coleshill Street; Anderton & Calley, Weaman Street; John Barnet, Snowhill; James Bisset, Museum; Baggins, Biddulph & Baggins, St. Paul's Square; John Ellis & Co., Livery Street; Thomas Hadley, Newhall Street; Ralph Hammersley, Bath Street; Caroline Hands, Edmund Street; Kettle & Son, Suffolk Street; John Moore, New Market; Thomas Patrick, Great Hampton Street; Samuel Pemberton & Son, Snowhill; Thomas Pemberton, St. Paul's Square; Rudder & Ledsam, Edmund Street; William Scott, Pritchet Street; W. L. Simmons, St. Paul's Square; Sturges, Darby & Fareday, Charlotte Street; James Swaine, Weaman Street; Edward Thomason, Church Street; Thompson & Co., Price Street; William Tongue, Weaman Street; Samuel Toy, Newhall Street.

Miscellaneous Professions

Plate N.
N: The church in the background on the left is St. Paul's Chapel. 

Miscellaneous Professions

Plate P.
P: The central oval at the top is for John Allin's Cabinet of Curiosities, and is topped with the Union Jack, as the actual shop was. 

Button Makers

Plate R.
R: Surrounded by the tools of the trade.

Eagle Foundry & Mr. Whitmore's

Plate U.
U: The Eagle Foundry was on Broad Street and Whitmore's was on Newhall Street.

Aston Glass House

Plate W.
W: Exterior and interior view.

Edward Thomason's Manufactory

Plate X.
X: With a carriage and the new patent steps at teh top, and Thomason's manufactory at the bottom.

The 1800 edition of the directory was published by Swinney and Hawkins (of High Street) with 24 plates for Birmingham businesses, as well as three for outside Birmingham, printed in 'plain, proof and colour plates', with the plates being engraved by 'Hancock, Reynolds, Smith, F. Eginton' among others.* The directory was re-printed in 1808 with about 20 additional plates and the Poetic Survey omitted. Bisset also planned to produce a Grand National Directory (the three plates included in the 1800 edition were intended for this purpose), but it was never published, though Bisset did produce a preliminary copy.
Golden era of ballad literature