Marx, Mozart, and a philanthropic dean

Communist Manifesto21 February 1848 saw the publication in London of Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei or, in English, Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx. Marx, who spent the last years of his life in London, a few of them in Soho’s Dean Street.

The street is generally agreed to have been named as a compliment to Bishop Henry Compton, Dean of the Chapel Royal. The sixth and youngest son of an earl, Compton was educated at Oxford, spent several years travelling abroad – mainly in Italy, though he was a dedicated anti-papist – and did not return to his native land until the Restoration of Charles II. Compton became Bishop of Oxford in 1674 and then at the end of 1675 was translated to the See of London.

Compton’s rapid promotion within the church and his influence in Charles II’s court (he was responsible for the education of the king’s nieces, the princesses Mary and Anne and also performed their wedding ceremonies) were attributed to his hostility towards Catholics.

Above all, however, Compton was noted for his philanthropy: he spent his own money aiding those who were refugees from persecution in foreign countries, helping poor children and rebuilding hospitals and churches. The generous bishop died a poor man himself, having spent all his money on these acts of charity. Old Compton Street, which intersects Dean Street, is also named after him.

Mozart as a boy
Mozart as a boy

Dean Street has many associations with the fine arts world: in 1746, at number 21 Dean Street, the seven-year-old Mozart played the harpsichord, accompanied by his four-year-old sister. Number 33 was the site of a coffee house known as Jack’s, which was frequented by artists and writers such as Johnson, Reynolds, and Goldsmith. It later became Walker’s hotel, where it is alleged that Nelson slept the night before he sailed to the battle of Trafalgar.

Karl Marx lived at number 28 from 1850 (or 1851) to 1856, where he began to write Das Kapital. (A Greater London Plaque was erected on the site and some sources claim that the date of 1851 on the plaque is incorrect.)

Karl Marx
Karl Marx

Marx and his family – wife Jenny, children, and maidservant Helene – lived there in grinding poverty. Most of the money they did have was contributed by Marx’s friend Engels, and Marx seldom went outside because his clothes were often in the pawnshop rather than on his back. When one of his daughters died, the family had to borrow £2 for the coffin.

The question as to whether, or how, they could afford to pay a maidservant may perhaps be best addressed, if not answered, by one who said, somewhat acidly, that Marx “further complicated his struggles against capitalism by making his servant pregnant”.

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Bridle Lane and Sir Harbottle Grimston

Sir Harbottle
Sir Harbottle Grimston

This day in London history: on 27 January 1603 was born a Master of the Rolls (the second most senior judge in England and Wales after the Lord Chief Justice), who rejoiced in the name of Sir Harbottle Grimston (the second). Grimston, who died of apoplexy in 1685, is indirectly related to the derivation of the name of Bridle Lane in London’s Soho district.

Despite the equestrian sound of this name, it has nothing to do with horses. It was known as Bridall Lane in 1692 and was associated with the family of John Brydall, a law writer who may have published over 30 treatises. (There is some uncertainty as his father, also John, was another writer of law treatises.) John the younger entered Oxford as a commoner, later joined Lincoln’s Inn, and afterwards became secretary to Sir Harbottle.

Bridle Lane cropAccording to the august source of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Brydall’s legal expertise covered a wide range of topics, such as “the laws and customs of London, the rights and privileges of the nobility and gentry, conveyancing, bastardy, and lunacy”.

But back to Sir Harbottle; his second wife was Anne Meautys, a widow and daughter of Nathaniel Bacon; Nathaniel was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon who was, in turn, the half-brother of Sir Francis Bacon. That, without benefit of a degree in genealogy, would suggest that Anne was Francis Bacon’s half great-niece.

Sir Harbottle was was a Member of Parliament for both the Long and Short Parliaments of Charles I’s reign. Sir H became a great defender of the privileges of the House of Commons following Charles I’s unsuccessful attempt in 1642 to arrest five members and made a fiery speech defending those rights. He spoke of “the drooping Spirits of men groaning under the burthen of tyrannicall oppression inflicted on them unjustly and maliciously by unmercifull and wicked men that have usurped to themselves places and offices of power and authority both in State and Church”. It was Parliament’s duty to cheer and comfort these drooping spirits, he maintained.

Despite preserving the rights of Parliament against the monarchy and being supportive of the Parliamentarians during the Civil War, Sir H remained, overall, a Royalist. He was one of the members arrested during Pride’s Purge and was imprisoned for a time, but was later released and was also a member of the Rump Parliament. Sir H became Speaker of the House of Commons in the Convention Parliament and, in that capacity, visited the exiled Charles II and was supportive of him upon his return.

Bridle Lane is close to Golden Square, the site of one of London’s plague pits.