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

Breakfast with the Austens

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Godmersham Park

On a Sunday morning in 1812 Fanny Catherine Knight the niece of Jane Austen set out for church with her family. It was midsummer and Godmersham Park must have been delightful, a picturesque retreat set in the lovely verdant countryside of the Stour Valley.
Later that morning, the family sat down for breakfast and were joined by Mr Louch an acquaintance from the town of Hythe. He stayed awhile, no doubt enjoying the park before eventually accompanying the family to dinner. In May 1814 he dined with the family again, this time at Chawton Great House and in the June, he delivered a letter from Cassandra Austen to her sister Jane to which the author replied:

June 23rd 1814 Henrietta Street: I received your pretty letter while the children were drinking tea with us, as Mr. Louch was so obliging as to walk over with it'.

But who was Mr Louch and how did he come to know the Austen family? The answer to this lies with my great, great, great, great grandmother Elizabeth West formerly Louch.
After the death of her husband she took over the proprietorship of the Swan Tavern at Brentford with her daughter Sarah, son Henry and his wife Henrietta Stevens. The business had been hugely successful and as a consequence the family had acquired numerous properties at Brentford where various members of the family resided including Elizabeth's unmarried sister Jane Louch. The sisters appear to have had a brother called James Louch and nephews William, James and perhaps a John who was recorded as vintner of the White Hart in Brentford in 1791. The same year William Louch was listed as the proprietor of the Drum Inn at 319 High Street, Brentford, but in 1813-14 he seems to have rented a large portion of Churcher's College in Petersfield, Hampshire described as 'the whole of the front of the said college and the kitchen behind the same' for a guinea a week.
During his residence at Churcher's College, William would have received William Stevens Louch son of his brother James and great nephew of Elizabeth West. Sometime prior to 1806, William Stevens Louch had become the business partner of Henry Thomas Austen (pictured below right). They were recorded in partnership at the formation of two banks: Austen Blunt & Louch at 13 Market Square, Petersfield; and Austen & Louch at 93 High Street, Hythe, Kent.
Their business venture and the bank crash that followed the abdication of Napoleon is well documented and I do not intend to cover it here, but an excellent account is provided by T. A. B. Corley in an article for the Jane Austen Society called Jane Austen and her brother Henry's Bank failure. There is also an online source listed at the end of this article.
Despite such full accounts of the bank collapse, there is very little information about Mr Louch, so it seems appropriate to provide some accompanying material here.
William Stevens Louch was born on 25 April 1788 at Brentford and was the son of James and Sarah Louch. Both of his parents may have died in 1796 leaving him and his sister Mary Ann under the guardianship of their uncle William. His grandfather James had married Mary Staples at Twickenham and they seemed to have had links to the Stevens family of Box Hedge House, Steventon. 
William's early life is a mystery, he appears to have been well educated and survived the bank crash despite being gazetted for bankruptcy in 1816. At the time of the crash he was living at Hythe in Kent, but by 1851 he had moved into Hanover Chambers at 12 Buckingham Street, Westminster with three others: Thomas Withers, David G. Henderson and John Hodge a stock broker. William never married.
In 1856 his portrait was painted by the enamel painter William Essex and exhibited at the Royal Academy. Mr Louch was a keen art collector and had managed to acquire a number of paintings by Essex and by the artist Caleb Robert Stanley. No doubt these ornamented his rooms at 12 Buckingham Street and 1 Durham Place, Chelsea where he lived until his death in 1871. The house at No, 12 is part of a terrace just off the Strand in the parish of St Martin in the Fields and is now the Regent Language School. Samuel Pepys had also lived at No. 12 and is said to haunt the grand staircase probably scaring the current students as a 'blurred, smiling phantom'. Other previous occupants include Mary, Countess of Fauconberg, the third daughter of Oliver Cromwell; Sir Thomas Pelham, afterwards 1st Baron Pelham and after Mr Louch, the novelist Benjamin Leopold Farjeon.

In 1870 William prepared his Will and apportioned the following bequests:

'I give to the trustees of the South Kensington Museum the following pictures videlicet four miniatures on enamel by Essex of Shakespeare Garrick Milton and Nelson Oil painting of Callendar Bridge Scotland by C R Stanley watercolor drawings of Kilchurn Castle Ireland and a view of the Shannon by C R Stanley… and two small miniatures on metal of the father and mother of the Pretender…'

The stunning painting of Callendar Bridge by Stanley can be viewed on the Victoria & Albert Museum website. I have not been able to trace any of the other works or the portrait of William Stevens Louch, however I am sure they are stored in a vault at an art gallery somewhere.
William had no immediate family and therefore left a number of legacies to his godchildren. But his most generous contributions were reserved for the hospitals of London:

'One thousand pounds to the trustees of Saint George's hospital Hyde Park Corner one thousand pounds to the trustees of the Westminster hospital Broad Sanctuary Westminster one thousand pounds to the trustees of the Middlesex hospital Charles Street… one thousand pounds to the trustees of St Mary hospital Paddington one thousand pounds to the trustees of the Brompton Consumption hospital five hundred pounds to the trustees of the Institution for homeless No. [?] Great Queen Street Lincolns Inn Fields and two hundred pounds to the trustees of the Victoria hospital for children Gough House Chelsea…'

Clearly William had not suffered as a result of his business ventures with Henry Thomas Austen and the only real victim appears to be their relationship. He is not mentioned by either Fanny or Jane after 1814 and it seems unlikely that he breakfasted with the Austens again.

MJ Holman @mishjholman

From Fanny Catherine Knight's pocket book:

June 21st 1812 Godmersham: 'Morning Church. Mr Louch came to breakfast and staid to dinner. Mr Hoare came to dinner'.

May 17th 1814 Chawton Great House: 'Mr and Mrs Papillon and Miss Jackson, and Mr Louch dined here and some from the cottage. A letter from Edward'.

Online source for information on Henry Thomas Austen's business failure:


Pitchcocked eels: Tavern dining in the 18th century

Entertainment & Culture, Family History, The Swan Circle, West Family 1700-1750, West Family 1750-1800 No Comments »

The Swan at Brentford

By 1777, the Swan tavern at Brentford had developed a reputation for hospitality, quality food and entertainment. The proprietors Henry and Elizabeth West – my great, great, great, great grandparents – had acquired a large fortune from the success of the tavern and were able to acquire further property on Kew Green and in Brentford.
   The tavern landlord during this period was often a man of substance, ranking above the tradesmen of the town. Surprised foreign visitors found that the English five star taverns were decorated and fitted to a high standard; according to Rosamond Bayne-Powell in her book, Travellers in Eighteenth-Century England:

'They found the stairs and landings carpeted. The bedrooms were spacious and clean with good mahogany furniture and immense four-post beds, piled so high with feather mattresses that it needed a short pair of steps to mount into them. There were curtains at the windows and curtains round the beds, wax candles in the sitting-rooms and pictures on the walls.'
  By the end of the eighteenth century, dinner was served in a common dining room or coffee room and there were set menus, however prior to this innovation, diners had the choice of hiring a private sitting-room or having meals with the landlord and his family in the parlour or kitchen. Tables were often covered with large joints of meat, fish and game and there were no napkins, visitors had to wipe their fingers on the tablecloth as the locals did.
  The Swan tavern specialised in fish recipes and even had its own ornamental fishponds for the purpose. In 1746 the Manor of Richmond granted a licence to Henry West to fish for 'Thames salmon of the weight of fifteen pounds each at the best', but it was not a salmon dish that made the Swan famous, but another recipe entirely.
  William Hickey (1749 – 1829) the memoirist, recalled a visit he and his brother made to the Swan between 1775 – 1782 in a failed attempt to avoid becoming inebriated:

  '"Let you and I therefore get out of the way of temptation, mount our horses and ride gently to Richmond, Brentford Ait, or any other place within ten miles of London that you prefer, where we might take a quiet dinner, a pint of port each, and jog soberly home in the evening." To so steady a plan, which I really liked, I readily consented. The event, however, never answered; entirely the reverse. The first excursion of this kind that we made we dined upon the Island off the town of Brentford, where there is a house famous for dressing pitchcocked eels, and also for stewing the same fish, and got so completely intoxicated we were incapable of mounting our horses and obliged to take a post-chaise to convey us to town. The wine being remarkably good, we ordered bottle after bottle until poor prudence was quite drowned.'

What are pitchcocked eels? Hannah Glasse the eighteenth century doyenne of English culinary expertise included recipes for pitchcocked eels and eel stew in her famous, and often plagarised manual The Art of Cookery:

To pitchcock Eels.

TAKE a large eel, and scour it well with salt to clean off all the slime; then slit it down the back, take out the bones, and cut it in three or four pieces; take the yolk of an egg and put over the inside, sprinkle crumbs of bread, with some sweet herbs and parsley chopped very fine, a little nutmeg grated, and some pepper and salt, mixed all together; then put it on a gridiron over a clear fire, broil it of a fine light brown, dish it up, and garnish with raw parsley and horseraddish; or put a boiled eel in the middle, and the pitchcocked round. Garnish as above with anchovy-sauce, and parsley and butter in a boat.

To stew Eels.

Skin, gut and wash them very clean in six or eight waters, to wash away all the sand; then cut them in pieces, about as long as your finger, put just water enough for sauce, put in a small onion stuck with cloves, a little bundle of sweet herbs, a blade or two of mace, and some whole pepper in a thin muslin rag, cover it close, and let them stew very softly.
Look at them now and then, put in a little piece of butter rolled in flour and a little chopped parsley. When you find they are quite tender and well done, take out the onion, spice and sweet herbs. Put in salt enough to season it. Then dish them up with the sauce.

   Both dishes appear to have been heavily seasoned in keeping with the English traditions of the day – perhaps the custom of drinking sweet wines and clarets helped offset the strong taste of the food!

The Aits from Kew 

The Brentford Ait from the Kew bank showing where the Swan tavern once stood


MJ Holman (@mishjholman)

Clarissa and The Swan

Family History, The Swan Circle, West Family 1750-1800 No Comments »

Brentford Ait

Brentford Ait, 19th Century

"… [Clarissa] was rowed to Chelsea, where she breakfasted; and after rowing about, put in at the Swan at Brentford-Aight, where she dined; and would have written, but had no conveniency either of tolerable pens, or ink, or a private room…"
Samuel Richardson, 'Clarissa, or, The history of a young lady'


In December 1738, Samuel Richardson the author of the novel Pamela leased a house called the Grange in North End Road in west London. The Restoration period property with its grotto and high walled garden, was the country retreat where Richardson created his epistolary novel Clarissa, and where he entertained good company from 'Saturday to Monday'.
   He was a familiar figure in the neighbourhood of Fulham; a widow who kept a public house on the corner of North End Lane, recalled "a round, short gentleman, who most days passed her door", and whose family she would serve with beer. Richardson moved to Parsons Green in 1755 and the Grange was later acquired by Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Edward Burne-Jones, who was said to have been impressed by its atmosphere.

   Richardson did not complete the novel Clarissa until the October of 1746, the year that Stephen West died and passed the ownership of the Swan to his brother Henry (my 4 x gt grandfather). Records show that Stephen had been granted a licence for the Swan in 1729 and had managed to grow a favourable reputation for the hostelry through skilful planning. By the time of Stephen's death, the water bailiff Roger Griffiths wrote that the Brentford Ait was "a very pleasant spot, on which is a publick house, inhabited by a fisherman, who of late years has greatly improved the spot by making therein several fishponds and other ornaments, for the more agreeable reception of those who shall make use of his house".
   Richardson's account of Clarissa's experience of the Swan reads as a very personal one; we can only guess that the author visited the tavern and perhaps did not find things to his satisfaction: no private room, no tolerable pens or ink etc. However, the Swan became famous not because of the quality of its stationery, but because of the excellence of its food and the superiority of its wine.

Find out what was on the menu in the next blog post.

MJ Holman (@mishjholman)


The Abduction of Frances Mercer

Family History, The Swan Circle, West Family 1750-1800 3 Comments »

Woman and child by George MorlandTen years before my great, great, great grandmother Henrietta married Henry West the heir of The Swan Tavern 'empire', her sister Sarah Stevens married into the prosperous Mercer family. She was probably unaware that the Mercers had been embroiled in at least two major court cases, though it seems unreasonable that she would not have noticed the 1772 trial, which was so notorious nationally, that the scandal reverberated across the whole of the kingdom.
   However, the earlier trial involving the family is a curious one, the offender changed her story twice; the last occasion was before her execution when she had nothing to gain, though she may have been hoping for a last minute pardon.
   On 2 May 1750, little Frances Mercer left the family home in St Martin's Court, Westminster to play by herself in Leicester Fields; she was well dressed in a gown and shift, a stay, a quilted petticoat, some stockings, a bib, an apron and buckled shoes. She had not wandered far, as the Fields were situated across the lane from her father's china shop, when she was abducted by a woman called Elizabeth Banks.
   Banks must have moved fast as she took the child up to the open fields of Marylebone, set her near the pond and stripped her of most of her clothes. The whole scene was witnessed by Susannah Bates who was working at her door, and who saw Banks partly dress Frances Mercer in her petticoat and gown again, before calling on her neighbour the milk-woman Elizabeth Bugdon for assistance.
   Banks tried to lead the child away whilst carrying the bundle of clothes, but was confronted by Bugdon. Frances Mercer cried bitterly, "Let me go to my mamma, she lives in St Martin's Court at a china-shop", adding that the woman threatened to fling her into a pond if she cried. Bugdon, Bates and two men took Elizabeth Banks and Frances Mercer back to St Martin's Court where they were greeted by the child's father Francis, who had noted she had been gone one and a half hours.
   The father, accompanied by the witnesses, brought Banks before Justice Fraizer where she signed a confession and admitted remorse for her crime. She was sent for trial at the Old Bailey on 30 May 1750, by which time she had altered her story saying she had been hired to look after the child. 
   The jury decided her defence was a fabrication and she was found guilty and hanged at Tyburn on 6th July 1750. The crime of course was not abduction, but highway robbery and the eyewitness accounts of the removal of the clothes and the 'bundle' were used by the prosecution to highlight her guilt. But what do we know about Elizabeth Banks?
   She was born about 1695 in Weymouth, Dorset, a poor uneducated child of industrious parents who had left her orphaned and at the mercy of the Parish. She was apprenticed immediately after reaching the appropriate age and she was left in charge of a hard and unkind Dame, who treated her so harshly she vowed to leave at the earliest opportunity; slipping away from her Mistress's house, she travelled to Dorchester and took the waggon to London. She was ten years old.
   The waggon arrived at the Black Bull Inn, Piccadilly where she was immediately offered a service job by the mistress of the house and stayed there for seven years. She left this service, 'willing to see more of the World' and took a new position in St Mary le Strand. Here she met and married her first husband and had four children whilst residing at Russell Court, Drury Lane, but misfortune struck and all of her family died.

"After this, she went out to Day-work, and was admitted into many Houses for that Purpose, in the Neighbourhood of the Strand, but particularly mentioned the One Bell Inn, and the Five Bells Tavern, and says she never wronged any Body. In this Way she went on for many Years, and about nine or ten Years ago was married to a second Husband, who was also a poor labouring Man, and carried Carcases of Sheep, Lambs, &c. for the Butchers in Clare-Market, to Marybone, Tottenham Court, and other Villages adjacent to the Town; and when she wanted Work in her own Way, she was used to assist him, being old and infirm, and as a good Wife should do, to bear a Part of his Burthens. She lamented greatly her unhappy Condition, and always repeated her Innocence, and that she never wronged Man, Woman, nor Child in her Life, but worked hard for her Living".

She persisted to swear her innocence and told her story thus:

"She had an odd Jobb or two somewhere near Clare Market, which having done, she was at Leisure; and having nothing to do, she followed her Husband towards Marybone, that if he had any Thing to bring Home, she might assist him, as he was old, and but weak. In her Way, she says, she met with a tall Women, dress'd well, in a brown Camblet Gown, who had this Child in her Hand, and the Bundle, as it was taken upon her Banks says, that when this Woman overtook her, she told her, if she would hold the Child and the Bundle, while she went to a House which she pointed to, just by Marybone Road, she would give her Twopence. She was willing to get the Money, as she says, so easily, not thinking she should pay so dear for it; and she saw the Woman go to the House she mentioned. What became of her afterwards she does not know. She waited, she says, a long Time, and the Woman not returning, she went up to the House, and enquiring of the Maid-servant, what was become of the Woman? was told, that she came in, and was about to go up Stairs; but some how or other turned back, saying, I ask Pardon, I have mistaken the House; and so went out again".

Banks was warned about persisting in a lie and that the bundle was sufficient evidence to prove her guilt, however in response she was supposed to have maintained that, 'the Woman who gave her the Child and Bundle to hold, had concerted the Matter with others, on Purpose to take away her Life, with a View of a Reward'.

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