Excuses My Ancestor Made

John Glanvill of Chancery Lane – MP, lawyer, excusotron

John Glanvill of Chancery Lane – MP, lawyer, excusotron.

On 18 September 1625 London lawyer John Glanvill, on business in Plymouth, submitted to Charles I’s counsel a document he hoped would opt him out of his appointment as the crown’s observer on a huge, ill-starred naval attack against the Spanish at Cadiz.

The submission was archived as “Mr Glanvills reasons against his being imployed for a Secretary at Warre.” What follows is a transcript of his excuses and the background to them.

Excuse the fyrst. “He is a meere Lawyer, unqualified for h’imployment of a Secretary : his handwriting is so bad that hardly any but his Clarke canne reade itt, who shoulde not be acquainted with all things that may occurre in such a service.”

Well, he got this right: the handwriting is devilish bad. A pretty poor opening gambit nonetheless.

Excuse the secunde. “He hath a wife and six children, and his certaine meanes without his practise is not sufficient to maintain them.”

Tugging at the heartstrings now. The six children were William, Mary, Margaret, John, Francis and Walter – an unnamed child had died at birth six years earlier in March 1619 at Church Yard Alley, Fetter Lane, running adjacent and to the east of Chancery Lane. John and wife Winifred would have two further children: Elizabeth and Julius.

Excuse the thyrd. “He sitteth at 60li rent p annum for a house in Chancery Lane, not worth him in effect anie thing but for the commodiousness of his practise : however hee is to hold itt att that rate for 16 or 17 yeares yet to come.”

The precise whereabouts of his house on or near Chancery Lane are now unknown, but the King’s men would know it was just one of several properties in the Glanvill portfolio. His father, John the Elder, acquired numerous estates in the west country through the patronage of the Duke of Bedford. The Elder, a district judge who died in a fall from his horse on circuit in 1598, when son John was in his early teens, left him Kilworthy, a fine manor north of Tavistock, Devon, but John generously handed it to his older brother Francis. He had estates in Hampshire and Devon, and in later years he made his main domicile at Broad Hinton, Wiltshire, yet his letter to a Mrs Scott in Cocklebury in the same county in 1652 was dispatched from Serjeants Inn, Chancery Lane – he had been made serjeant in 1637. Incidentally, £60 rent is the equivalent of around six grand today. Very good luck in finding a pad in Holborn for that these days.

1560 map showing Fetter Lane (centre left) and Chancery Lane (branching off to left). http://mapco.net/london.htm

Circa 1560 map showing Fetter Lane (centre) and Chancery Lane (branching off to left). http://mapco.net/london.htm

Excuse the forth. “His wife and children are dispersed into four gen’rall counties, with severall frendes in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Gloucestershire and Devonshire, during his sicknes, and hee cannott in his straight and upon so short warninge, setle his affaires for such a journie.”

He has a point: the King was expecting him to disembark from Plymouth at the drop of a hat and be away on this mission for perhaps months. This is also the first documented mention of John’s ‘sicknes’, which recurred sporadically throughout his life – and eventually saw him off in 1661. Sadly the only clues to what the illness was simply describe how it laid him low for extended periods; tantalisingly, there is no discussion of symptoms.

The child-minding friends in Devonshire and Gloucestershire are easily imagined: he hailed from and worked in the former county and his wife Winifred was the daughter of Sir John Bourchier of Barnsley, Gloucestershire. The Herts and Beds connections require further investigation.

Excuse the fifth. “His goods and evidences and the evidences of divers of his clients with many breviattes and noates of instruccons concerninge their Causes, are in his Studdy att Lincolns Inne and house in Chancery Lane, which hee cannot well dispose nor distribut in a short tyme, nor can now safely repaire to the place[s] where they are.”

John was a commercial lawyer as well as MP and Recorder for the Plymouth corporation at the time. According to this submission his legal documents and case files were stored at Lincoln’s Inn, where he had trained and been called to the bar, and in his place next door on Chancery Lane. His argument is that sensitive manuscripts would be left as they are, unattended, in his absence.

At Lincoln’s Inn a splendid portrait of John (as well as one of his father) is still viewable by appointment.

Excuse the sixth. “Hee is witnesse to recordershipps and engaged in divers causes of importance, which affaires and businesses if he desert, much preiudice may thereby grow to very manie.”

This makes absolute sense. Apart from his paid counsel to corporations such as those of Plymouth, Okehampton, and Launceston, he was an extremely active MP and sat on numerous commons committees, particularly those related to his obsessive campaign against market monopolies and rotten boroughs.

Eleven speeches in the House and appointment to 16 conferences or committees in 1625 was a pipe down from his peak the year before of 84 speeches and 47 appointments, but this could be explained by his debilitating illness.

The nose for an alibi: Lady Alice Glanvill, later Godolphin. Photo (c) ROBERTFROST1960

Excuse the seventhe. “His mother, an aged lady, who relies upon his Counsell and resort, will become herby much weakened and disconsolate.”

If in doubt, mention Mum. Glanvill’s redoutable twice-widowed mother, Lady Alice Godolphin (née Skerrett – she had remarried to Sir Francis Godolphin) was in her mid-70s at the time and died in 1632 aged 82. There is no evidence of frailty; her likeness in a memorial in St Eustachius, Tavistock, is a powerful one.

Excuse the eyghth. “His practise is now as good as most men in ye Kingdome of his tyme, hee having followed ye Studdy these 22 years and ye practise of ye lawe these 15 yeares, with as much Constancie and painefulness as anie man. And if hee should now bee putt into another course though but for a while, itt must needes deprive him of the fruictes of all his labours, for his Clients being by his absence once setled uppon others, he shal never be able to recontinue them again.”

It was always unlikely a whinge about lucrative clients switching allegiance might butter the King’s parsnips, even though some of them were illustrious and influential. What the information does confirm is that he entered Lincoln’s Inn in 1603, around the age of 17, and was called to the bar in 1609.

Excuse the nynthe. “His cominge to Plymouth att this tyme was only to attend ye service of his Recordershippe there, to assist the Maior and his brethren to entertaine his Majestie ; which service hee had p’formed accordingly.”

If begging wouldn’t work, perhaps a gentle reminder of what John had already done for His Maj would do the trick. And it was considerable. He, along with mayor of Plymouth, Nicholas Blake. and another merchant, Thomas Sherwell, were the members of parliament for Plymouth who received the King and his extensive household in September 1625, during which visit this document was written.

City records note the “Fees due to His Majesty’s servants from the said Mayor, for his homage to His Majesty passing through his said towne the fiveteene day of September, 1625.”

“To the Gentlemen Ushers dayly Wayters … £5

“To the Gent. Ushers of the Privy Chamber … £5

“To the S’jants. at Armes … £3

“To the Knight Harbinger … £3

“To the Knight Marshall … £1

“To the Gent. Ushers Quarter Wayters … £1

“To the Servers of the Chamber … £1

“To the Yeoman Ushers … £1

“To the Groomes and Pages … £1

“To the Footmen … £2

“To the fower Yeomen … £2

“To the Porters at the Gate … £1

“To the S’jant. Trumpetters … £1

“To the Trumpetters … £2

“To the Surveyor of the Wayes … £1

“To the Yeoman of the fielde … £10

“To the Coachmen … £10

“To the Yeoman Harbingers … £1

“To the Jester … £10.”

(Quoted in ‘History Of Plymouth’ by Llewellynn Jewitt; Plymouth 1873.)

Charles stayed for ten days. It was not simply the outlay required but the fact that religious turmoil and plague had recently hit Plymouth:

“The King cometh to Plymouth to despatch a fleet. He calls a Parliament and finds great discontent, the Presbyterian interest prevailing so as to ferment the people. A great plague in Plymouth, of which 1,600 people died — some say 2,000.”

The King’s agents also took the opportunity to press 500 men into naval service for his Raid on Cadiz under the command of Edward Lord Cecil. Who could do more for Charles than allow all this indulgence!

In the end the protests were to no avail. Sea-sick Glanvill was made secretary at war for the ill-conceived Cadiz raid and it was a cataclysmic flop.

He took his revenge in two very lawyerly ways.

Firstly he noted every moment of failure with sardonic enthusiasm in his official Journal, published by the Royal Historical Society 250 years later as ‘The Voyage to Cadiz In 1625.’

And secondly, in 1626, a year after the raid, Glanvill was one of the eight chief managers in the impeachment of the King’s favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, whose idea the raid was. Charles reacted by dissolving Parliament. And thus was erected another signpost along the road to Civil War.

GR8 Minds Think Ahead


Sceptic, ghost hunter, genius.

I often recall a comment by a history teacher when I was at primary school. It was simultaneously blindingly obvious and profound:

‘People in the past thought the same way we do, and were no less clever than we are – it’s just that we know more.’

Each week brings a further reminder of that wisdom.

My forebear Joseph Glanvill (pictured), philosopher and religious sceptic, was a member of London’s Royal Society.

I could admire him simply for that, and the fact he coined the phrase ‘climate of opinion’ and hunted ghosts with the alacrity of Derek Acorah. But his book ‘The Vanity Of Dogmatising‘ (and what a title that remains) offers extraordinary musings on the Shape of Things to Come.

He predicts, amongst other things, air travel and space flight, before turning his attention to remote human communication:

‘That men should confer at very distant removes by an extemporary intercourse is a reputed impossibility; but yet there are some hints in natural operations that give us probability that ’tis feasible, and may be compassed without unwarrantable assistance from demoniac correspondence.’

(We still sometimes have a devil of a job finding network coverage, Joseph.) He continues:

‘That a couple of needles equally touched by the same magnet being set in two dials, exactly proportioned to each other, and circumscribed by the letters of the alphabet, may effect this “magnale” [mighty work] hath considerable authorities to avouch it.’

He elaborates: ‘Let the friends that would communicate take each a dial; and, having appointed a time for their sympathetic conference, let one move his impregnate needle to any letter in the alphabet, and its affect fellow will precisely repeat the same.’ And hey presto, folks can go 121 on different sides of the globe.

Joseph recognised his ‘magnetick efficiency’ and ‘Abecederian circle’ required a little tweaking (QWERTY keyboard, predictive text, anyone?), but asserted ‘it may hereafter with success be attempted, when magical history shall be enlarged by riper inspection; and ’tis not unlikely but that present discoveries might be improved to the performance.’

Foreseeing the process that would lead to the telegraph, the telephone, the internet, mobile telephony and instant messaging is all very well, until you consider that Joseph Glanvill was writing in 1661.

That is 155 years before Richard Babbage conceived his ‘difference engine’, 175 years before Samuel Morse unveiled his Morse Code, and 350 years before Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5bn.

Prisoner In The Tower

Seven years ago I stumbled across a book mis-catalogued by the British Library, or rather its predecessor the British Museum Library. Intriguingly, it connected a prominent ancestor, Sir John Glanvill (pictured), with imprisonment in the Tower of London in the 1640s and offered possible answers to other passages in his life story.

The book had been indexed as ‘J. G. Canoyle’ but I indulged my hunch and was thrilled to be vindicated when I viewed it. Sure enough, the cover read: ‘a Paraphrase uppon the Psalms of David by Sir [crossed out] John Glanvill knight, one of the King’s Serjeants at Law, late Speaker of the comons house of Parliament.’ I found a date – 10 January 1645 (old style, so 1646 by today’s calendar) – and saw it had been purchased at Sotheby’s in 1881.

Glanvill, the son of a circuit judge, was an influential political figure in the first half of the C17th. I already knew he had married Winifred Bourchier in 1615 and that they had had seven children who reached adulthood. As an MP and lawyer records suggested he had embraced social reform, opposing rotten boroughs and King Charles I’s excessive tax-raising schemes. Although he lived the high life he did not appear anti-Puritan.

Yet, puzzlingly, when civil war came he first brokered for peace, then sided with the King and was eventually imprisoned as a traitor by Parliament. Diarist John Evelyn claimed John had even burned down his mansion in Broad Hinton, Wiltshire, to prevent it being garrisoned by Cromwell’s forces.

These events are reasonably well documented though not explained. But a lengthy note in the book of psalms – a primary source gift to any family historian – would add compelling detail to his story.

The handwritten note is at various times a dedication to his ‘loving wief’ Winifred, a biography, a plea for deliverance, and a chronology of his psalm-rewriting.

The latter reveals that among his sources for David’s psalms were the bible versions of King James and ‘Mr Calvin’. Calvin’s reformed protestant views were shared by Parliament rather than Charles I and his Archbishop, Laud. John’s cousin, Joseph Glanvill, was also a noted Christian philosopher and sceptic, and the family was far from being High Church, pro-Catholic, so there is a further puzzle over his civil war leaning.

In one passage John describes: ‘the losse of my chief mansion house of Brodehinton [Broad Hinton] in Wilteshire, burned down by a comanded partie of the King’s forces in may last [1645], alleadyng for there reason that they did it only to prevent the Parliament forces of making it a garrison for there service’ – a crucially different take on the event to Evelyn’s, and hardly likely to enamour him to Charles. Perhaps he had been promised favours; perhaps he had no faith in a republic.

John goes on to describe ‘the late death of two of our sons, young men, in the flower of there age: the dangerous sickness from which I am not yet fully recovered: and the long imprisonment of my person which still continueth.’

The first point about sons recently dead led was intriguing. I knew of one – Francis Glanvill, a long-serving professional officer in the King’s army, slain at the siege of Bridgewater six months before the note was written. All other sons recorded lived beyond 1645, setting me off to discover another. Eventually I found Walter Glanvill, son of John and Winnifred, in the St Dunstan-in-the-West parish register, baptised 24 Feb 1623. It remains to be seen whether he died in the 1640s.

The St Dunstan baptism entry for John & Winifred’s previously unrecorded son Walter.

The recurring ‘dangerous sickness’ was probably what saw John off in October 1661. He had complained about it confining him to bed as early as 1626; one possibility I am exploring is that it was malaria, and there are tantalising hints that he traveled widely through his commercial and legal work.

The chronology of John’s imprisonment is laced through the text: ‘being taken prisoner and so carried to Oxford [after July 1643] where I long remained under the restraint of a command in the tyme of these unaturall civil warrs’, and ‘here [ie the Tower] where I am now a prisoner and have so bin ever since the 20th of June 1644… ‘.

His ‘cell’, I was advised, would have been in one of the pleasant buildings adjacent to the Beauchamp tower in the inner ward. The note in the book of psalms signs off, ‘Tower of London, 10th day of January, 1645.’

The inner ward buildings where John Glanvill is most likely to have been kept prisoner.

John was eventually released after four years in the Tower in 1648. He was forced to surrender rents from his various properties to make up a fine of £2,320 (over a quarter of a million in today’s money) for his High Treason, but was briefly restored to the position of King’s Serjeant on the restoration of the monarchy.

The recent chance discovery of a handwritten book of psalms still provides clues to put flesh on the bones of this ancestor from four centuries ago. Further proof that the evidence is out there: you just need to know where to look.

Three Bombs

The Wallis department store (and Thavie’s Inn) in flames. Prince Albert’s statue bids farewell.

Perhaps it is sufficient comment about the effect they had on him that my father very rarely spoke about three explosions which had such a huge impact on his early life in London during World War Two.

Derek James Glanvill was born at Thavie’s Inn, Holborn, in August 1929, and grew up there in a loving family with his father Percy and mother Ethel, and younger brother Roy. Percy was the warehouseman for a renowned books and engravings publisher, Virtue and Co., of 19-21 Thavie’s Inn, and the job provided spacious living accommodation on the premises, anciently one of the inns of court, where student lawyers trained; it was mentioned in Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’.

The Glanvills occupied the top floor of the old building, and a wealthy bookmaker and his family lived on the storey below. The bookmaker’s sons were slightly older than Derek and Roy, so the luxurious toys of which they grew bored were passed on and stored in a huge trunk in the corner of the large living room. Anything from train sets to air rifles, otherwise unaffordable to a warehouseman’s children, found their way up the stairs.

Like so many London youngsters the boys were evacuated soon after war broke out and were placed with various families in Croxley Green in Hertfordshire for around a year. On the night of 16 April 1941. Wren’s church, St Andrew, was hit by incendiaries and destroyed. Likewise the department Wallis & Co., celebrating its 115th birthday with a sale at the time.

The fire engulfed Thavie’s Inn too. Firemen fought the blaze all night and day, but to no avail. Percy and Ethel and their fortunately absent sons, aged 11 and 7, had lost virtually everything: possessions, home, childhood.

The brothers were brought back to London when newspapers carried details of a bombing raid near Croxley Green. Stomping up to Hertfordshire, Ethel announced that if they were going to be killed they would die with their parents.

The city was now very different, of course. Percy had found work and lodgings at Barclay’s Bank on Wardour Street, Soho, while the boys – whose school had closed, ending their education right there and then – treated the ravaged heartland as their playground, and shrapnel as collector’s items. Roy recalls the brothers and their friends coming across an unexploded incendiary. Rather than alert the authorities, they threw stones, and dropped it from heights in an attempt to see it explode. Luckily they were unsuccessful, or I might not be here to report the fact.

London in flames, viewed from St Paul’s Cathedral. The city my father returned to.

When not capering in bomb sites, Derek and Roy earned a few pence singing in the choir at St James’s church, Piccadilly. It was after a service around 11.15 on Sunday 18 June 1944 that the boys set out towards the Palace of Westminster – their curiosity had been roused by the rumour a bomb had landed there.

Regular explosives were not the chief concern by then. Hitler’s long-rumoured ‘pilotless aircraft’, the V1, was terrorising the capital. As they reached the Cenotaph on Whitehall they heard the uniquely gut-wrenching drone of an approaching flying bomb. Worse, the distinctive pulse of the engine stopped – at which point, they knew, the doodle bug began its deadly descent.

A V1 flying bomb, or doodle bug.

Looking up, they could see the flying bomb was headed straight for them. The only other person in the vicinity, a man across the street, also stopped in his tracks. Unlike in the films, none of them dived for cover, they just froze and awaited their fate. To their enormous relief the silent death passed just over their heads. They heard the explosion as it landed seconds later but didn’t consider the consequences too much. Until the next day, that is, when they heard ‘their’ doodle bug had hit the Guards’ Chapel at Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk during morning worship.

One hundred and twenty-one soldiers and civilians were killed in the carnage, and 141 injured. It was the most serious flying bomb incident of the entire war. Perhaps this was why my father, a regular gambler, always considered himself lucky.

At 14, schooling out of the question, Derek found work with an estate agent at Cavendish Square. He had already been through experiences few youngsters should. That was about to become far worse.

Late in the morning on Friday 30 June 1944 a V1 landed at the junction of Howland Street and Tottenham Court Road. Again intrigued, my father took off on his bicycle during the lunch break to view the damage. What he witnessed affected him so deeply he raced home to Wardour Street in distress and was violently sick. The images branded on his memory that day returned to him throughout his life.

Remember the impact of the bus bomb at 7/7 and imagine the damage a high-velocity explosive could do on a busy shopping street with traffic passing by. My father did not have to. He occasionally shared the most stunning of those recollections of what he witnessed with me:

‘A bus, still packed with people sitting in all the seats, but all the glass blown out and all the skin blown off their faces.’

Civil defence warden Charles Newbery, in his largely unemotional WWII account, ‘Wartime St Pancras’, describes ‘the doodle demolishing a café, wrecking two motorbuses, badly damaging a public house, a bank, many shops and workshops, and making a number of homes on Howland Street uninhabitable.’

When staff from nearby University College Hospital arrived on the scene they were confronted with a scene that was, Newbery relates, ‘indescribable – dead and injured all over the place, as well as the two buses, now only skeleton vehicles; a motor vehicle was blown off the road into the basements of some houses demolished after the Blitz in 1941.’

Even now exact casualty figures are difficult to discern. Newbery collates those from Howland Street with a less destructive V1 blast on Whitfield Street on 19 June and records: 82 dead, 196 seriously injured and 376 slightly injured.

Among those killed, it eventually emerged, was Sir Percy Alden, the Radical MP for Tottenham. Analysis of the home addresses of 44 of the dead – in Finchley, Hornsey, Holloway Road, Islington, Caledonian Road, Camden, Kensington Chelsea – suggests at least one of the buses may have been a no.14. Its ‘ghost‘ route, the 91, is one I use regularly; one of the victims, Herbert Bradford, lived in a house in Hornsey that I pass virtually every day.

It is easier for me to connect with those details than it was to gain an insight into how those three devastating wartime events shaped my innocent young father’s life. And he was one of so many who had their own similar moments or worse personal losses.

After the first V1 fell, the North London Press front page thundered: ‘The German “secret weapon” is no longer a secret. It is just another mistake of Hitler and his Huns, who hoped the break the unbreakable – the staunch morale of the Britishers. The flying bombs have destroyed some homes but it has not shattered the courage of the homeless.’

Not courage, perhaps, but something, certainly, was shattered.

Enfield’s First Lady of the Organ

Stan up for women’s rights. Next to his ancestor’s grave.

I have met hundreds of people through family history research. Some are long lost cousins. Others are researching the same ancestors but have no blood relation. An example of the latter is Stan Rondeau. Visitors to the remarkable Christ Church in the old Huguenot heartland of Spitalfields may well have been met and gret by Stan, who provides ‘living history’ as a guide there.

To me, though, Stan is near-miss Huguenot kith and kin: his ancestor John Rondeau (1754-1802) was the second husband of Magdalene Levesque (1756-1840), whose first spouse was James Vernell (1755-1790); they are my five-times-great grandparents.

Stan and I have met to share our research several times. A few months back we were exploring the local history archives in Enfield, where we knew of other individuals from the Rondeau and Levesque families.

My seven-times-great uncle Peter (or Pierre) Levesque was ‘upwards of 50 years organist in this church’ according to the register of St Andrew’s in Enfield’s ancient market square. The words were next to his burial entry on 1 January 1823. He was 78 and lived on Chase Side. By coincidence I went to school opposite St Andrew’s and lived for a while on Chase Side – ancestral footprints and all that.

I hoped the church vestry minutes might provide further information on Peter’s half-century at the Enfield wicket and possibly suggest a new link between the Levesques and the Rondeaus. Well, we learned much, including that in 1811 the parish paid Peter £9 15s 6d per quarter to play and tune the organ – around £1,300 a year today.

Pipe-cleaner and player: Peter Levesque’s contract.

Eleven years later ‘the situation of organist of this parish was declared vacant by the death of the late Mr Peter Levesque’ and a successor was to be chosen a few weeks later, each candidate to perform on the keyboard before a vote took place.

Remarkably, Stan’s ancestor James Rondeau was one of those whose ears would pass judgement.

There were four candidates: Miss Linton, Miss Leach, Mr Arnull and Mr Reeves. Tension rose when the vestry minutes for 6 March 1823 recorded that although, following the auditions, ‘a show of hands appeared and was declared in favour of Miss Leach’, sexism reared its head and a paper vote was demanded. Women were simply not supposed to take music-playing seriously in early C19th England.

‘Ooh,’ winced Stan as we browsed the columns of the voting record, ‘I do hope James did the right thing and voted for Miss Leach.’

Reassuringly, James Rondeau pulled out all the stops and his vote was indeed placed under the original winner, Miss Leach. An anachronistic family crisis was averted. I discovered afterwards that the first female member of England’s Cathedral Organists’ Association was only elected 180 years later.

Organ of progress. St Andrew’s church, Enfield.

Afterwards we strolled down to St Andrew’s church, where Stan inspected James Rondeau’s gravestone just that little bit more fondly. I surveyed the historic organ: tuned and played for 50 years by great uncle Peter, and then striking an early chord for Feminism, four years into the reign of Queen Victoria.

32 Different Words For Weaver


Hogarth’s ‘Noon’ (1738) depicting Huguenots leaving church. (www.york.ac.uk/history-of-art/virtual-exhibition/31.html)

Anyone who always thought the Inuit language contained 30 different words for snow would have been disillusioned by the episode of ‘QI’ in which Stephen Fry debunked the myth.

In fact Eskimos have four words for snow, Fry claimed, but 32 words for this that and the other – or demonstrative pronouns.

Linguistic misapprehensions are everywhere in family history, especially when researching immigrant ancestors such as Huguenots. This body of folk were refugees from religious persecution, chiefly in France, where Protestantism was declared illegal by the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685.

A steady stream of Calvinist Protestants from Normandy arrived in London, and especially the Spitalfields area just outside the City walls. They brought with them silk weaving skills the Crown had vainly sought to develop for almost a century.

Like incomers around Brick Lane to follow, they also brought the enforced migrant’s determination to preserve their language and culture.

Among the earliest roots they put down around Spitalfields were French Protestant churches, whose records happily survive. When considered, even the simplest entries (mostly in French) in the registers of baptisms, marriages and burials of one – La Patente, ‘Eglise Française de Crispin Street en Spitlefields de Londres’ – provide an insight into the kind of world these French Londoners occupied.

Language must have been an everyday challenge. Older family members who lived for decades in London still spoke and wrote wills only in their native tongue.

And the evidence is there in La Patente’s records, between 1689 and 1785, which contain dozens of varied spellings for ‘weaver’ – the profession of most Huguenots in their congregation.

The English word weaver derives from the Old English ‘wefan’, whereas the French would use ‘ouvrier en soie’ (ie ‘labourer in silk’), or ‘tisserand’. La Patente records 32 different and quite obvious attempts to marry the lingos of loved-ones and locals phonetically, as follows:

Oeuure. Oiuire. Oiure. Oivre. Ouaiure. Ouayure. Oueure. Ouiure. Ouive. Ouuoir. Ouure. Oweure. Oyure. Oywer. Vaiure. Veawre. Waiure. Wevure. Weaure. Woaure. Weaver. Woavre. Weavre. Woeure. Weure. Woiure. Weuer. Woive. Wever. Wouire. Wevre. Woyure.

La Patente’s registers also contain a multitude of franglais attempts at place names which provide further insight into the bilingual soundscape occupied by the Huguenots.

For example ‘Flower de Luce Street’ – that’s Fleur-de-Lis Street, Shoreditch, to you and me, guv. ‘Cloberout’ appears to be a stab at what English barrow boys would call Club Row.

The staff at CofE ceremonies would encounter the same issue in reverse. In the St Matthew’s Shoreditch parish register of 15 Jan 1759 the curate has penned the name ‘Mary Magdalene Dushmain’ in a marriage form.

One can imagine his impatience as the young lady (my first cousin eight times removed), keen to preserve her mother’s tongue, explained, perhaps a few times, how the surname was spelled. Perhaps she didn’t really care as long as it sounded right; perhaps it was to no avail anyway.

As it was, her signature reveals her personal preference for spelling the surname ‘Duchemin’ – though even she signs her middle name ‘Magdalin’.

Juggling names in mid-to-late-1800s Censuses often provokes similar amusement at the situation when some middle class enumerator questioned slum-dwelling Victorian ancestors in Hackney or Islington as small, grubby Ellens/Helens cavorted round the room.

I’ve frequently had to work out whether ‘Etty’ is the pet-name for a little Esther, or a Hetty stripped hof hits ‘aitch’, Dick Van Dyke style.

My favourite translation, though, was by a general factotum working on the 1911 Census forms. The return for the boarding house of Elizabeth Hanson in humble Huddersfield happens to have captured wild-eyed US escapologist Harry Houdini during his European tour.

By now householders were expected to fill in their own forms, and from the change in handwriting it seems the landlady asked Harry to complete parts for himself and wife Beatrice.


Mysteriarch or Music Hall board-treader?

In the ‘Personal Occupation’ column Houdini boldly wrote ‘Mysteriarch’ – a description some might find pretentious.

Our British government clerk was one of them, sniffily adding: ‘Music Hall Artist.’

If you have Huguenot ancestors take a look at the Huguenot Society website: http://www.huguenotsociety.org.uk/family.html.

The ‘Affair of the Three Cranes,’ 1640

John Glanvill (1586-61), Speaker and King's Serjeant

‘Here’s a Health to the confusion and destruction of my Lord’s Grace of Canterbury’

Roughly where the Sarastro restaurant’s vivid flower baskets brighten up a corner of Drury Lane and Kemble Street is the site of a forgotten
London hostelry.

Here, in the mid c17th, were the premises of the Three Cranes, namesake of the far more noteworthy hostelry in Vintry so beloved of Ben Johnson and Samuel Pepys.

Theatreland’s Three Cranes was shorter-lived and less celebrated, but it did scandalise its way into the State Papers Domestic in 1640. If that year wasn’t Charles I’s first choice as ‘annus horribilis,’ it would certainly make it to boot camp.

Two years before standards were raised in the Civil War, he was despised and strapless, and forced to recall Parliament for the first time in 11 years in order to pass laws to raise cash. There were two Parliaments that year: the Short and the Long. My ancestor, Tavistock-born senior judge John Glanvill, was MP for Bristol and Speaker during the Short Parliament.

He was a pragmatist who had vehemently opposed Charles’s excessive tax-raising but was equally distrustful of the Puritans and their objectives. As Speaker – and the King’s Serjeant, a key legal adviser – he walked a political tightrope while England quarrelled its way towards death and destruction.

What he may not have needed at that juncture was for his tearaway son, John the younger, to stir the political ferment further for him. Yet that is exactly what young John did, and the scene of his misdemeanour was the Three Cranes, not far from the Chancery Lane residence of the Glanvills.

Young John was 21 and studying law at nearby Lincoln’s Inn – his father’s alma mater. He was out drinking with fellow trainees at the inn on 3 July 1640 when a row broke out with several ‘mechanicks’ in the employ of the influential Earl of Northumberland. The incident led to injury, theft, dampness, and a hearing at Whitehall in front of the king and his council.

Events are detailed in a surviving account of the inquiry a fortnight later. The king and his advisers were told how John and his pals had imbibed plenty of sweet Canary wine, then intimidated, fought and finally ‘pumped’ (ie half-drowned under a water pump) the Earl’s retainers. John himself was heard outrageously to raise a toast against ‘my Lord’s Grace of Canterbury’ – the controversial and hated Archbishop William Laud.

With England on the brink, Laud and Northumberland were not people to cross. The Earl – Sir Francis Windenbank, MP for Oxford University, King’s councillor, Roman Catholic sympathiser and conspirator – had Charles’s ear (and possibly even both).

Archbishop of Canterbury Laud was a friend and confidant of ‘the subtle whirly Windebank’ and Charles Stuart, and behind several anti-Puritan purges. Clearly Glanvill senior would have been desperate to avoid being dragged into a political scandal at such a time.

Serjeant Glanvill’s son was in dynamic company. Among his group were Winston Churchill (father of the first Duke of Marlborough, ancestor of the cigar-smoking World War II hero), Robert Warcup (called to the bar five years later, elected MP for Southwark under Cromwell in 1654), and an unnamed ‘tall blacke man’, also from Lincoln’s Inn.

Several of those involved gave evidence. Interpretation of events, all too familiar to today’s pub-goers, centred around the spilling of a drink and who did what in the melee that ensued.

Northumberland’s ‘picture-drawer’, Stephen Hosier, claimed that his friend John Skelton had reacted angrily to a glass of wine thrown over his head by one of the legal trainees at a nearby table. When a second glass of liquor ‘lighted upon’ his colleague William Rochester Hosier said he demanded an apology, at which ‘two or three of them fell upon’ and beat him.

He then alleged that, thus subdued, he was helpless as Glanvill ordered a bottle of Canary and, filling a glass, raised the controversial toast: ‘Here’s a Health to the confusion and destruction of my Lord’s Grace of Canterbury’, which went round.

Hosier and his pals felt compelled to join in the anti-Canterbury toast, ‘for, if they had refused it, they verily beleeve they would have knockt them down with the wine potts, or done them some other mischief’.

Most of Northumberland’s men sloped off, but Hosier claimed he was grabbed again, robbed him of his cloak and handed it to the vintner’s wife, relived of its contents, including a £300 bill.

The trainee lawyers took him out into the street to a nearby water pump and forced under the water stream, to perform the toast again. The black man was said to have cried that had the Earl himself been there they would have pumped him too.

Then they all ‘fell on [Hosier] and beat him, soe as he never was since he was borne, for which he hath kept his bed divers days since, and is yet very sore.’

The physical aggression was one scandal; the public denigration of the king’s allies and the head of the church quite another, especially for Glanvill’s father.

The young men of Lincoln’s Inn offered eloquent defence, deflecting all charges. The second glass had been thrown as a result of Skelton using ‘unseemely language’ and holding a pot to Churchill’s face. The cloak was not stolen or plundered.

Yes, they fell upon Hosier to begin with as a result of his group’s aggression, but had no idea that he was the Earl of Northumberland’s man. The water pumping and beating were nothing to do with them.

Then to the awkward issue of abusing the Archbishop:

‘As to the healthe charg’d to be dranke by mee,’ attested Glanvill junior, ‘I doe and shall deny forever. If trewe, I doe acknowledge that to have soe farre forgot myself as yet I could expect any remition for soe great an offence, having herde my father seriously accknoweledge his Grace’s extraordinary favors to him.’

The deference shown may have worked. The inquiry accepted most of the Lincoln’s Inn version, reprimanded the trainees, but discharged them. Presumably the outcome was a great relief to the King’s Serjeant.

However, soon after war broke out in 1642, Glanvill senior would be imprisoned at the Tower of London as a follower of the king.

Son John was not too damaged by the incident. He was called to the bar in 1647 and attained fame and wealth as a lawyer, marrying well and dying, aged 70, in 1688.

Further reading: State Papers, Domestic, Charles I, vol. 460, no. 24; ‘The Black Books of Lincoln’s Inn’ (1897), http://www.archive.org/details/blackbookrecord01lincuoft.

The Glanvills Buy A Sewing Machine (1861)

Persons unknown outside Glanvill & Sons (on the right) on Jerusalem Passage, 1890s.

Among the pleasures of tracing a distant cousin, Nigel Glanvill, a few years ago was the astonishing collection of family photos and letters in his possession. He kindly loaned me the entire pile and working through it I have felt like an amnesiac rediscovering my past, albeit of my Victorian ancestors.

The Glanvill family moved from Ashburton in Devon, via Exeter, to Clerkenwell, Middlesex, in the 1850s. They brought with them their trades – tailoring and bootmaking – as well as a determination to make more of their lives.

The patriarch was my three-times great-grandfather, Thomas Glanvill (1803-1867), a tailor and part-time Methodist zealot who according to one of the letters would ‘on Sundays mount a horse and be away preaching’ around rural Devon. He had been widowed in 1844, so the burden of looking after his younger children on the Sabbath fell to his increasingly resentful older sons.

His extended absences and the demands on his kids were balanced by excellent baking skills. According to his grandson Fred, his homemade steak and kidney puddings were easily the equal of ‘the fancy varieties at Simpsons or the Cheshire Cheese’ in the Big Smoke.

However, it may have been the invitation to start a Methodist ministry – as well as splendid pastries – in a new locality that attracted Thomas to a momentous move.

London, made more accessible by the railway reaching Exeter in 1844, also offered the prospect of a busier trade and social life for his grown-up children. Thomas took the plunge and moved his family to Clerkenwell, an area renowned for small workshops and cheap labour, just north of the old City wall.

It was from his new master tailoring premises at 11 Jerusalem Passage that Thomas wrote several times to his younger brother Richard, a haberdasher who had remained in Ashburton. Most of this correspondence – all randomly perforated by embers from the pipe of his brother as he read them – consists of religious ranting and Thomas’s battles to resist temptation while surrounded by sin.

One letter, however, dated 1861, speaks in wonderment of the kind of invention that would help his family flourish in the capital: one of the new ‘sewing machines’ that had been in mass production for just a few years.

‘Tom [his oldest son] hath bought a Sewing Machine for £8 10s [around £450 today],’ he marvelled. ‘He finds some difficulty with it at present. It is such a complicated piece of machinery that without a regular course of instruction it is not easily learnt.

‘I am sure it will require six months good practice to be anything like a master of it. However, it will go ahead and no mistake.

‘You can sew the seams in a pair of trousers, stitch the falls, put in the pockets, and make the linings in a quarter of an hour, after it is baisted.

‘There is silk and thread sold on purpose, but you cannot use double thread nor do anything but backstitch, but as fine or as coarse as you like.

‘My work has been very slack of late for three months and I believe every trade is complaining of the same. Notwithstanding I am very thankful indeed that it was so ordered in God’s providence for me to come to London.’

Thomas died in 1867 aged 64, but having mastered the new tailoring device, Glanvill & Sons survived for a further sixty years at 11 Jerusalem Passage.

Thomas Glanvill’s 1861 letter (pdf)