16 December in London’s history: Jane Austen was born on this day in 1775. One of the most widely-read authors in English history, Austen spent her early life in Hampshire, moving to Bath and later Southampton with her family.
Austen did, however, visit London on occasion to visit her brother Henry, who was also her literary agent. One of the places she would have stayed was Henry’s residence in Hans Place, Knightsbridge. Hans Place was named after Hans Sloane, who founded the British Museum and also brought cocoa to England.
Also on this day in London’s history, Oliver Cromwell was appointed as appointed as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. There are many London associations with Cromwell, including Whitehall and Long Acre, where he lived; Cripplegate, where he was married; Tyburn, where his body underwent a mock execution on the 12th anniversary of the beheading of Charles I; and Red Lion Square, where his remains were reputed have been interred briefly before that mock execution.
Other Cromwell connections include Horseferry Road, where he is supposed to have taken the ferry; and Fleet Street, where the pickpocket Moll Cutpurse targeted Cromwell supporters.
This day in London history: on 11 January 1569, the world’s first national lottery was held to raise money for public works in England. In addition to money, one of the prizes included immunity from arrest for one week (but not if a serious crime was involved).
Elizabeth I decided against introducing a tax, which might well have proved unpopular; instead she went for the lottery option. Tickets were sold three years beforehand, giving the government effectively an interest-free loan from the people. The ticket price of ten shillings was beyond the reach of the average person, but apparently the lottery was a huge success socially, and less successful financially.
According to the official ticket, it was “A very rich Lotterie generall, without any Blanckes, contayning a great number of good Prices, aswel of redy Money as of Plate and certaine sorts of Marchaundizes, having ben valued and priced by the commaundment of the Queenes most excellent Majestie, by men expert and skilfull.”
On 11 January 1668/69, Samuel Pepys notes in his diary that he went “with W. Hewer, my guard, to White Hall, where no Committee of Tangier met, so up and down the House talking with this and that man, and so home, calling at the New Exchange for a book or two to send to Mr. Shepley and thence home, and thence to the ‘Change”.
The ‘Change’ to which he refers is the Royal Exchange, founded in 1565 by Sir Thomas Gresham to act as a centre of commerce for the city, and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth I, who awarded the building its Royal title, in 1571.
There is a Change Alley in London, which is nothing to do with metamorphosis, but is an abbreviation of ‘Exchange Alley’ – from the Royal Exchange. Towards the end of the 17th century, the Exchange was so crowded that many stockbrokers transacted their business in local coffee houses, Jonathan’s Coffee House in particular. [Some sources say that stockbrokers’ were banned from operating in the Royal Exchange because of their rude manners.]
In any event, Jonathan’s was also the scene of the disastrous ‘South Sea Bubble’ scheme, speculation that ruined the purses and lives of thousands of investors. It started with the South Sea Company, given exclusive trading rights first with South America and then the South Seas. The company originally planned to convert the National Debt to a lower rate of interest and then take it over completely. Money poured into the scheme, resulting in gross over-speculation and the eventual bursting of the bubble. It was not just the unwary investors who were ruined financially: Members of Parliament were shown to have taken bribes and the bubble was a national scandal.
And also on this day in 1770, the first shipment of rhubarb went from London to the US: when Benjamin Franklin sent a plant to a botanist friend, John Bartram, in Philadelphia.
This day in London history: Pride’s Purge occurred on 6 December 1648. At the height of the second English Civil War, Colonel Thomas Pride, a supporter of Oliver Cromwell, led an attack on those Members of Parliament considered unlikely to support the army’s goal of punishing Charles I.Pride and his solders stood outside the entrance of Parliament, arresting and excluding more than half of the 460 Members. Following this coup a further 86 Members left in protest and the depleted gathering of around 200 became known as the Rump Parliament.
A small but determined band among the Rump drove through an Act that established a court to try the king for high treason. Despite Charles I disputing the authority of the court, and widespread opposition to the trial, a verdict of guilty was declared. The death warrant was signed by a minority of less than half of the commissioners of the High Court originally established by the Rump, and later that month Charles I was beheaded outside the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall.
The palace gave its name to the street and area of Whitehall, long known as the seat of the English government. The Banqueting House, designed by Inigo Jones, is the only survivor of the original palace, which burned down in 1698. At the time, the palace was the largest in Europe, with over 1,500 rooms, outstripping even the Vatican and Versailles.
Originally the official London residence of monarchs had been the Palace of Westminster and what later became the Palace of Whitehall was York Place, from the archbishop of York, and archbishops resided there for centuries. When Cardinal Wolsey became archbishop, he extended the palace to such a grand extent that, when he was deposed, Henry VIII took it over as his own residence and renamed it Whitehall after the colour of the building.
The name York Place lives on in a small alley nearby, once called Of Alley.