The Swan Circle

A story of Georgian networking

The end of an era: George III’s Jubilee at Kew

Entertainment & Culture, Family History, Society and Politics, The Swan Circle, West Family 1750-1800 2 Comments »

Kew Green in 1810


Kew Green in 1810

It was 1809 and the patriarch was dead. Henry West was long gone and with him the little empire he had built at Kew was dying; the old Swan Tavern on the Brentford Ait had been surrendered by his wife in 1793 to Thomas Samuel Maycock and from him to Elizabeth Legh and her descendants; until finally Robert Hunter irritated occupant of the house opposite, made a complaint to the City of London about the noise. The island, he said 'was a great Nuisance to this parish and Neighbourhood on both sides of the river…,' it lured, enticed and encouraged the worst type of behaviour drawing debauched individuals to the 'House of Entertainment, which has long been a Harbour for Men and women of the worst description, where riotous and indecent scenes were often exhibited during the Summer months on Sundays'.
   Whilst under the proprietorship of the West family, the Swan Tavern had dazzled George IV and he had used it to plot his seduction of Mary Robinson, but by 1800 his father's court had drifted away to Windsor and old King George III paid his last visit to Kew in 1806. He did not return to this fond place of memories for his jubilee, but the remaining members of the West family including my great, great, great grandparents Henry and Henrietta would have joined in the celebrations on Kew Green:

   "The morning was ushered in by the firing of cannon, and the ringing of bells. The board of Artificers walked in procession to Church at ten o'clock. After divine service, Messrs. George and Henry Warren [local landowners and probably relatives of Henry West’s chum Thomas Howlet Warren] entertained 100 persons with roast beef, plum-pudding. &c. in a spacious marquee, erected for the purpose, upon Kew Green. Porter, ale, and punch, were likewise plentifully distributed. On his Majesty's health being drank, 50 pieces of cannon were discharged. In the evening, the whole town was illuminated. A grand gothic arch was erected, from the centre of which the British Star was suspended, and underneath a striking likeness of his Majesty, with the motto of "Virtue, Honour, and Glory." The whole of the trees around the green were illuminated by variegated lamps, in radiant arches, wreaths, and columns, and the evening concluded with a rustic dance, and fire-works".

Surely even a fogyish stick-in-the-mud like Robert Hunter would not have objected to such a celebration on his doorstep.

MJ Holman


An account of the celebration of the jubilee, on the 25th October, 1809; being the forty-ninth anniversary of the reign of George the third, collected and publ. by a lady, the wife of a naval officer
Kew Past, David Blomfield

Footprints on the cheese: a strange tale of theft from 1770

18th Century Digressions, Family History, The Swan Circle No Comments »

It was on a late winter's night in 1770, when Edward Wild a former lodger, broke into the warehouse belonging to his old landlord and stole some produce. He must have carefully considered his chances of being caught and based any decision to burgle the old man on his knowledge of the property, its layout and the family routine. He knew that the warehouse was separate from the dwelling and relied on the assumption that the family, asleep in their beds when he struck at midnight on 10th February, would not hear a thing.

But his former landlord was a canny, suspicious old devil and had kept his eye on Wild for quite awhile. The merchant's name was Francis Stevens and his was my 4x great, grandfather; he had lived through much of the 1730s through to the 1760s at Mayfair and at Piccadilly before moving to New Brentford in the late 1760s. The family house and warehouses were probably nearer to the old village of Hanwell where the family had a long association, than they were to Brentford.

Francis provided an account of the theft and its aftermath on the witness stand of the Old Bailey:

'I missed some cheeses; there being a great quantity, I cannot tell how many were missing. My servant seeing mark of feet upon some coals, told me of it I went into the cellar, and saw it myself; they led to the hole where the jack-weight went down. I went into my warehouse above, and saw marks of feet on some cheeses. The prisoner Wild had lived with me about two months, and had been gone but the Sunday before. I suspected him. I ordered the watchman, if he saw any body about there, to secure them. On the Monday, the watchman called me up before twelve at night, and told me, he had got one of them. He had got a boy. I examined him if he was not concerned with Wild? He said, No, he never was; but he had told him, he could get up a hole and get things; and he had received some nutmegs from him. Then I went with the watchman to the woman's house at the bar, where Wild lived, and called him to get up; he was some time before he did. When I charged him, he cryed, and desired to speak with me backwards. He then told me he had taken a cheese. Soon after he said he had taken two, and that they were in that house. We found one in the cellar cut in two, and about three pounds of it gone. The man of the house declared his innocence; he went up stairs to his wife. The other cheese was found in his bed-room, but I was not by at the time.'

  Elizabeth Boyce, wife of the 'man of the house' was charged with receiving stolen goods, but was acquitted. Edward Wild was found guilty and sentenced to transportation, probably to either Virginia or Jamaica.

The two cheeses were valued at 10 s.

Orange Blossom: an Edwardian Country Wedding

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Wedding 1904 Courtesy of The Full Wiki
Edwardian wedding

In the 1860s my great grandmother Mary left Devon for London; she was orphaned after a tragic and appalling accident killed her father and shocked her mother to such an extent that she succumbed to spinal meningitis. Her brother Thomas, who at the time was only sixteen, took his two younger sisters to the city in the hope that they would find work and perhaps some prosperity. Unfortunately, Mary never found any satisfaction from her new life and would later die an alcoholic.

   She may have regretted leaving Devon because soon after her marriage she and her husband planted family roots in the slums of Southwark, whilst in her mother's hometown another branch of the family were celebrating – in style – the nuptials of one of the belles of Totnes.

   Annie Holman was born in 1873 into a prosperous middle class merchant's family. There was little romance about the family business, they basically made their fortune from selling poo. Her grandfather was an ardent chartist and follower of Feargus O'Connor and despite owning several farms and properties, the grandfather advocated O'Connor's land scheme. He encouraged his children to support charitable causes and participate in fund raising events; Annie continued this tradition and entertained the local populace whilst gathering money for Christian charities.

  In the spring of 1890, she performed with the Amateur Orchestral Society in the Coffee Tavern Hall at Totnes in aid of the Y.M.C.A; obviously the star of the show she contributed to a programme of secular music with masterful solos on the violin. Fourteen years later she was in the spotlight again, this time for her wedding. She had been slow to warm up romantically, but eventually had found a beau in the guise of Charles James Watts who hailed from a popular Victorian seaside town in Essex.

  The Western Times in June 1904 was ecstatic about the wedding and printed the following account:

Wedding at Rattery, Totnes

'A fashionable assembly was present on Wednesday at St. Mary Church, Rattery, to witness the solemnisation of the wedding of Mr. Charles James Watts, of Clacton-on-Sea, and Miss Annie Holman, eldest daughter of Mr. William Holman, J.P., of Velwell, Rattery and Totnes. Great interest was manifested in the event, and several of the villagers exhibited decorations, while the church was also decorated. During the assembling of the guests, Mr. Baddeley, of London rendered the "Bridal March" (Lohengrin) and Gounod's "Marche Romaine." As the bride entered the church with her father (who gave her away), the hymn, "O Father, all creating," was sung.

   'The bride was attired in a charming dress of white satin mousseline, trimmed with chiffon and orange blossom, with wreath and veil (lent by her aunt, Mrs. H. Roberts). She also wore a necklace of pearls, and carried a magnificent shower bouquet. Her bridesmaids were the Misses Kate, Gertrude, and Dorothy Holman (sisters of the bride), who wore pale green silk, trimmed with mimox [?] lace, their hats being en suite, while their bouquets were of light pink roses, and the bridegroom gave them gold bangles.

   'Mr. J. W. Herring of Taunton was the groomsman. The officiating clergyman was the Vicar of the parish (Rev. B. Packer) who was assisted by the Vicar of Shebbear (Rev. T. E. Fox).
   'After the marriage portion of the service the "Deus Misereatur" was sung. The hymn, "How welcome was the call," was sung prior to an address by the Rev.
B Packer. As Mr. and Mrs. Watts left the church to the strains of the "Wedding March" (Mendelssohn), they were received with a shower of rose leaves, and the church bells were set ringing. At Velwell Mrs Holman received a large party at the "At Home," and later in the day the happy pair were given a hearty send off, as they left for Newton Abbot en route to Gloucester and Robin Hood's Bay.'

The couple had a grand celebration and bon voyage. Unfortunately, I have no further information about them, but I do have some rather pretty pictures of  Grade II listed Velwell.

'Velwell' refers to Velwell House where the family were living at the time of the 1911 Census and where Annie's father William was born in 1847. There is some confusion about the residence; William often described himself as living at 'Higher Velwell' which appears to be the name of a farm close to Velwell House. Irrespective of whether he actually meant Velwell House or the farm, it is still worth visiting the Velwell House website to take a peep.

Take a digital tour of Velwell House and look out for the splendid Victorian dresser!

MJ Holman

Totnes Bank Crash of 1841

19th Century Digressions, Family History No Comments »

Oxford Arms, Fore Street, Totnes


This description of the failure of two Totnes banks is strangely reminiscent of the scenes outside the branches of British bank Northern Rock in 2007/8!

Western Times
Saturday 24 July 1841

'The utmost consternation and gloom were spread through this town by the failure of these Banks. Many an honest yeoman, who came to market comfortable in mind and pocket, went away almost broken-hearted. On Saturday afternoon, and during Monday, the town was crowded by people, who came in to enquire, in most cases, after their lost all. It was painful to hear the numerous cases of sudden distress into which hundreds of honest and industrious persons of all the classes have been thrown. In many cases this has been rendered more severe from this being the time when the dividends on the funds are paid'.


‘I’ll tear your henge out’ – a Victorian feud

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Totnes Guildhall

Totnes Guildhall

Last December some idiots vandalised the historic granite pillars supporting the canopy outside Totnes Guildhall. This fine building has been the hub of town and community life since the sixteenth century, serving as a guildhall, magistrate's court and prison. During the English Civil War, soldiers were billeted there and Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax used the large oak tables in the Council Chamber for planning and discussions in 1646.
   My Holman family have had a long association with Totnes and in particular with the Guildhall – they were sometime Mayors of the town in the 15th century when it grew prosperous from trade with France eventually becoming one of the 20 richest towns in the kingdom. The pointless attack on the Guildhall reminded me of a couple of incidents concerning my relatives James and Helen Holman which saw them appear before the magistrate's court on two separate occasions.
   James and Helen resided in Fore Street, the long main road that winds its way up to the top of the steep hill in Totnes. He was a master blacksmith following on the profession of his father, she – typically of the time – warranted no more than a mention as a 'blacksmith's wife' and whatever chores that involved. At the time of their appearance at the Guildhall they had been married for seven years and had three very young children.
   Next door lived master cordwainer John Perrott with his wife Jane and young daughter Mary. The two families were involved in some spat that boiled over on 17th August 1860 when Perrott leaving his garden to enter his house at 9 o'clock in the evening was confronted by Helen Holman. Helen had rushed from her house towards Perrott shouting, 'I'll limb you, you b**??**?,' then once in close proximity she aimed a punch towards Perrott, but missed and the blow struck against the door. Unperturbed, she said 'Come out here and I'll limb you and I'll tear your henge out.'"
   With his 'henge' still firmly in place John Perrott charged for assault and the case appeared before Totnes magistrates on 20th October 1860. Sadly there is no full account of the hearing, but it has to be presumed that there were witnesses – or Helen still had a very sore hand – as she was found guilty and fined in total 9s and 6d expenses.
  Seven days later it all kicked off again. This time John Perrott decided to lay into James Holman – obviously deciding he was the safer of the two because scary iron-fisted Helen was too much of an adversary – accusing the blacksmith of using threatening language against him. However, the magistrates at the Guildhall who heard the case on 3rd Nov 1860 contended that there was no evidence against James Holman and threw the case out, but cautioned him against such 'riotous behaviour' – I think the inference here is drunkenness…
  Hopefully the rift was forgotten and no-one was killed. James and Helen continued on into the 20th century and lived out their lives in Newton Abbott and thankfully John Perrott survived until the next census.


The Butterwalk, Totnes

The Butterwalk, at the top of Fore Street, Totnes


What is a henge?

I had never heard of it before this story except of course in reference to Neolithic stone or wooden post circles. The OED has a definition of it's usage as coined by Helen Holman:

The ‘pluck’ (heart, liver, etc.) of an animal.


1469    in Coll. Ordinances Royal Househ. (1790) 96   Every sheepe to be brought in whoole, except the hedde and the henge.

1787    F. Grose Provinc. Gloss.,   Hanje, or Hange, the head, heart, liver and lights of any animal, called in Somersetshire the purtenance.

1888    F. T. Elworthy W. Somerset Word-bk.,   Hange, the pluck, i.e. the liver, lungs, and heart of any animal. In dressing sheep, the head is usually left attached by the windpipe – this is always called a ‘sheep's head and hange’.

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