The Swan Circle

A story of Georgian networking

Rainham Hall: behind closed doors

18th Century Digressions, The Georgian Home 1 Comment »
Rainham Hall

Rainham Hall built 1729

“…it is one of the finest and best preserved examples in England of a medium sized early Georgian merchant’s house” –  2011 Heritage Scoping Study

On a chilly day last December, in that pale daylight which never really wakes to full glory, I set off for my local village ‘fayre’. It had been a few years since I had last ventured there, and behind the milling folk and teams of morris dancers, I could see it had evolved into something greater in size, in ambition, and in attraction, if a little Disneyesque. I admit I was immediately drawn to the mulled cider, but beyond the seasonal food stall and the small choir rendering with aplomb a rather fine version of ‘Rockin’ around the Christmas tree’, stood an even greater pull: Rainham Hall.
     During the fair, this National Trust Queen Anne style property was open to all-comers, and I grabbed the opportunity to venture through its grand portico with smiling glee. No doubt I wore a wondrous expression like some child accidentally finding a wardrobe portal, but it made talking to the NT stalwart volunteer easier: I was cheerily enthusiastic. And I was dying to ask questions, so many flooded my head, ‘Is this plaster original?’ was perhaps the first, and I could hardly wait to splutter it out even though to my inexpert eye, the bulging wall suggested it was.
     How the wall had been damaged was anyone’s guess and the answer to the question of safety was addressed by my newly acquired NT friend. Safe it was and yes the plaster was original, so too part of the staircase and the mouldings around the portico; in the parlour an original Queen Anne dresser had stood, but had been removed prior to the onset of conservation work; the arches in the basement were not original and were later added to carry the weight of the marble floor above, the conservators had started work on the blue room, ‘hidden behind this door’ – a curiosity like the forbidden room in a Victorian gothic novel – and would proceed through most of the house before attempting the stable block, the soon to be NT Visitor Centre and cafe. Oh I was in ecstasy. 

Rainham Hall

Rainham Hall: Portico


And so we started to talk about Captain Harle, the merchant and prosperous builder of Rainham Hall – though not entirely well heeled because he could only afford to build a house twenty years behind the fashion – and the acquisition of Rainham Wharf in 1718. The South Shields sea captain began his business at Rainham importing commodities and conducting affairs from his small office opposite the hall – now a cabbies office – until his business flourished and he was flush with the required amount to build his dream home and move in with his wife from Stepney. The hall was passed down the generations and was still in private ownership until 1949 when the NT took over; the Trust was recently awarded a grant for renovation with full plans to open up this gem for the enjoyment of all Londoners and visitors.
      After the work has been completed, go and take in its full glory; it left a distinct impression on me, it was a lavish meal to my dessert of mulled cider.

Rainham Hall

Rainham Hall: Detail

Rainham Hall

Rainham Hall: Blue Room

Rainham Hall

Rainham Hall: Plasterwork

Rainham Hall

Rainham Hall: Hall

Rainham Hall

Rainham Hall: Detail

Rainham Hall

Rainham Hall Detail

Rainham Hall

Rainham Hall Detail

Rainham Hall

Rainham Hall: Hall

Rainham Hall

Rainhall Hall: Detail

Photos, 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 – C.A. Jackson
Photos, 2, 8 – James Brennan, National Trust
Photo, 4 – attribution unknown



Brest’s Coffee-House, 1773

Family History, The Georgian Home, The Swan Circle 2 Comments »

Seven Dials circa 1740

Seven Dials, Covent Garden circa 1740


William George Brest advertised the trial opening of his new coffee-house at Christmas in the year of 1773. Two years earlier he had been working as a book-keeper to Mr Prater of Charing Cross and was a close friend and brother-in-law of William Mercer (see previous post). His coffee-house was situated in the area of Covent Garden known as the Seven Dials. Today it is swanky, upmarket and home to one of my favourite theatres 'The Donmar', but by the 19th century the area had become a slum and part of the notorious St Giles rookery.
   The fate of Brest's Coffee House is unknown, but Brest's advertisement serves to illustrate the expectations and requirements of the gentlemanly patrons of coffee houses during the eighteenth century:


Soups, Dinners, Wines, Coffee, &c.

"BREST'S Coffee-House. WILLIAM GEORGE BREST previous to acquaint his Friends and the Publick, that he has very com…..lly and genteely fitted up his House, the Corner of Great Earl-Street, Seven-Dials, near Long-Acre as a Coffee-Room and Tavern. For the Coffee-Room (the entrance of which is in Earl-Street) he takes in all the Morning Papers, Evening Papers, &c. and Gentleman resorting it will always find different Soups, Coffee, Tea, Wines, and every other requisite Article of the very best Kinds. He has also engaged a professed Cook; and any Gentleman or Company may always depend on dining or supping in the Coffee-Room, or in a Private Room as a Tavern, equal (in respect to Dispatch, Attendance, Accommodation, and Goodness) to the first Houses in London, and on Terms that will, he flatters himself insure him the Continuance of those Gentlemans Custom who now honour him with a trial."


The harmful vogue of Chinoiserie

18th Century Digressions, Occupations & Trades, The Georgian Home 1 Comment »


 'Chinese Baubles'

The growth of my passion for all things to do with the eighteenth century coincided with the success of retailers such as Past Times. Leafing through their gift catalogues whilst sipping from a glass of Pinot Grigio became a happy distraction and a moment to slip away from the present. The displays of decorative arts or chinoiserie wallpaper helped complete a fantasy that I could have my entire home ornamented in a vogue that reached its peak between 1750 to 1765.
   For many an eighteenth century wife, the style seemed to become a de rigeur home accessory for the fashionable much to the frustration of one commentator: 


Through the ignorant taste of the present times, ornamental China has become a universal fashion, and the veriest tradesman's wife within the weekly bills, would look down upon herself a downright Tramontane, unless she had an urn or a Mandarin on her chimney-piece. This pernicious custom has been a great loss to our carvers and dealers in looking-glass, who formerly supplied the ornamental part of our chimneys, and by that article alone, employed a prodigious number of hands, whose labour was extremely serviceable to the community; this circumstance, therefore is a fresh reason why the East India Company should be laid under some immediate and salutary restraints, as nothing can justify our allowing any set of adventurers an exclusive right to prejudice any manufacture of the kingdom”.
London Chronicle

 The writer continued to express his concern that thousands of pounds derived from the sale of such objects would go east to the Indian Princes, who would “acquire millions to squander on some European instrument of tyranny and murder”, while our industries are oppressed for the importation of “Chinese baubles”.
   These words were written as the fashion began to wane and décorative styles moved towards neoclassicism. The chinoiserie vogue faded and the impetus for the great British industrial engine was about to move up a gear and place these islands at the centre of new modes of manufacturing.

Catherine Palace

No. 73 Kew Green & a Royal visit

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

Centre of picture: Nos.  73, 75 and 77 Kew Green

Henry West and his wife Elizabeth lived in a house on the north side of Kew Green until Henry's death in 1784. The property they owned in copyhold is now two houses, nos. 73-75*, or no. 784 on the manorial survey and is described as part of 'five messuages, outhouses and yards about 1 rood and 14 perches'. Number 73 is now a Grade II listed dwelling (listed 1950) and consists of 'three storeys. Three windows. Parapeted brown brick front. Doorway with elliptical-arched fanlight. First floor balcony with tented canopy' (English Heritage).
After Henry's death the property transferred into the hands of his spinster daughter Sarah, who must have shared it with her mother Elizabeth and my great great great grandfather Henry. Henry junior married Henrietta in 1787 and they had one child Stephen who was probably born in the property in 1790. The house at number 77 was owned by John Dillman Engleheart who belonged to the famous dynasty of artists and he left the property to his niece Ann Engleheart; the dwelling was then let to German immigrant Frederick Albert, the father of Mrs Charlotte Papendiek assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe to the Queen. From the 1790s the house appears to have been occupied by Mrs Clementina Jokkobinn Sobeiski Schnell formerly Macdonald, who claimed to be the god-daughter of the Old Pretender.
    All these families would have watched from their windows as the carriages of visitors to Kew Gardens mounted and parked on the Green; how many times did they idly perambulate amongst the flowerbeds and trees of those famous gardens? Were they the ones that complained about Sunday parking and coaches causing ruts and destroying the grass?
    During the stay of George III and his family, the royal entourage passed along the road directly in front of the row of houses on its way to and from Kew Palace, accompanied by a troop of life guards. The Wests took this opportunity to entertain their royal neighbours. In her memoirs, Mrs Papendiek vividly recalled the parties the West family gave in their house on the ait opposite the Kew bank, entertaining the Court and no doubt the sons of George III, 'Parties came up by river too,' she wrote, 'with bands of music, to the ait opposite the Prince of Wales's House. The whole was a scene of enchantment and delight'.
    With such close ties to the royal household, the families alongside the Green would have been shocked by the attempted assassination of George III by Margaret Nicholson. On 2 August 1786, the King alighted his carriage at St James's Palace and was approached by a well-dressed woman carrying a slip of paper, thinking it was a petition he took the note, but the woman lunged at the King with a dessert knife. The King was unharmed and during the days that followed, burgesses and officials throughout the land paid grateful homage, thankful for the King's escape (London Gazette, 8th August).
    On 8 August 1786, the royal family arrived at Kew to a reception from the local inhabitants. Fanny Burney, who had taken a position as Second Keeper of the Robes earlier that year, recorded the event:

"An exceeding pretty scene was exhibited to-day to their Majesties. We came, as usual on every alternate Tuesday, to Kew. The Queen's Lodge is at the end of a long meadow, surrounded with houses, which is called Kew Green; and this was quite filled with all the inhabitants of the place — the lame, old, blind, sick, and infants, who all assembled, dressed in their Sunday garb to line the sides of the roads through which their Majesties passed, attended by a band of musicians, arranged in the front, who began "God save the King!" the moment they came upon the Green, and finished it with loud huzzas.
This was a compliment at the expense of the better inhabitants, who paid the musicians themselves, and mixed in with the group, which indeed left not a soul, I am told, in any house in the place.
  This testimony of loyal satisfaction in the King's safe return, after the attempted assassination, affected the Queen to tears: nor were they shed alone; for almost everybody's flowed that witnessed the scene. The Queen, in speaking of it afterwards, said, " I shall always love little Kew for this!"

If not a soul was left in any house as Fanny wrote, then Elizabeth, Sarah and Henry West were amongst those that greeted the procession and the meeting upon the Green, ever thankful for the safety of their King.

*They owned part of no. 75 as it was split into two copyhold plots. A single plot of three stories appears to have been added after 1777.

MJ Holman

No. 75 Kew Green1771 Manorial Survey of Richmond






From left to right: No. 73 Kew Green, No. 75 Kew Green, The manorial survey of 1771 showing plot no. 784 (no. 73)

No. 73 Kew Green is partly open to the public. Visitors can access the gardens of four houses along the north side of the green including no. 73 by visiting the NGS:

Manorial Records and Genealogy… do not be afraid

Family History, The Georgian Home, The Swan Circle, West Family 1700-1750 No Comments »

Since making my début as a Genealogist in 1985, I have occasionally been apprehensive about consulting certain types of records. The possibility that I might have to trace an equity pleading, or consult a manorial record has often plagued my nerves with anxiety. Some of my apprehensions stem from consulting a late medieval Manorial Court Book for a Norfolk manor, written in tiny abbreviated Latin.
Genealogists embarking on quests for eighteenth century ancestors, should not avoid manorial documents because of a fear of the unknown. The records may only appear useful to those who have ancestors who held property in copyhold, but it should not be forgotten that tenants are often mentioned too.
To illustrate the usefulness of manorial documents, I will use two examples in relation to the individuals featured in The Swan Circle, one from a Court Book and the other from a Rentals Survey.
   Any researcher who wishes to view a manorial document for a parish, will need to ascertain the name of the manor that contains the parish, and whether the documents exist for the era they are interested in. A search through the Manorial Documents Register database at the National Archives will indicate where, if any, the documents are held. If a Court Book for the pertinent dates does not emerge, do not despair, it is possible that a book either side of the required dates might be of assistance; entries were made retrospectively regarding the surrender of a property, so look forward as well as back.
Many Court Books have an index of individuals, but it is more useful to search the document thoroughly – ancestors not yet discovered may be lurking further down the property line! If a Rentals Survey exists, use it to provide a shortcut when tracing how many family hands a property has passed through.
The Rentals Survey and the Court Books consulted for The Swan Circle are held at The National Archives in class CRES 5, but most Manorial Documents are kept at County level. Some records are still in private hands and are occasionally surrendered to local archives, so the pertinent records may not be in the public domain.

Our first example is for a Court Leet or Court Baron held in 1746 in the manor of Richmond, Surrey. The individual concerned is Stephen West and his name appears in the left margin of the page with notice regarding his death. The document provides useful genealogical information: from it we discover the extent of the land and premises Stephen held at Kew, 'half an acre of ozier ground' and 'a House in the ayte' and have determined that he had an only brother called Henry, a fisherman and heir.




 The second example is from the Rentals Survey and again concerns Stephen West. The entry pertains to a piece of land on the island known as Mattingshaw in Brentford and shows the line of ownership after Stephen's death. The document lists his 'heirs', including his brother Henry, Henry's wife Elizabeth and their son Henry and shows that the property passed out of the family hands and into the trust of Thomas Samuel Maycock in 1793.

Manorial Documents Register
Medieval Genealogy
Examples of English Manorial Documents
Using Manorial Records

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