The Swan Circle

A story of Georgian networking

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)


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

‘I earnestly desire she may not be sent to Bedlam’

18th Century Digressions, Health & Medicine No Comments »

  In 1703, Stephen West a member of the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers married Alice Emerton at St Helens Bishopsgate. In 1722, Stephen's name appears with several others on a petition to the Court of Aldermen for relief against 'an act of Partiality', in that less senior members have been elected to the Court of Assistants of the Company before them.

As a man of some standing, who had accrued wealth and status, Stephen planned his Will seemingly concerned by his wife's declining state of mind. Nevertheless he named her Executor, but with a number of trustees hovering in the background ready to step in. He made provision should Alice not agree to the terms of his Will because of her illness:

'That if my said wife shall not accept what I have given her… but shall claim her share and part of my personal estate according to the Custom of the City of London… I do in such case revoke and declare all such legacies to be void… And I do assure my said dear wife that the reason of my making my Will in the manner aforesaid is on the account of her long indisposition which renders her unfit to manage her own affairs and dispose of her own effects…' 2 Aug 1737

Then on the same day he added a Codicil to his Will, clearly afraid for her fate following his death:

'My Will and meaning is that if after my decease my dear wife should in any manner be disordered in her understanding as to require Confinement that my within named Trustees do take care to have her placed in some private house where she may be duly and carefully looked after but I earnestly desire she may not be sent to Bedlam or any Publick Mad house”

Bedlam from The Rake's Progress

On 7 November 1737 Catherine Seely testified that she had been a servant to the West's and had observed Mrs West 'to be of very melancholic disposition and nature and to be so much affected thereby as to be intirely deprived of her senses reason and understanding insomuch that she was seldom left alone by herself for she should make away with or destroy herself which she often threatened to do'. Catherine believed that Alice was unfit to handle her own affairs and that after her husband's death her distemper had 'been more violent and stronger'.

The surgeon Francis Abercromby of St James Westminster, 'upwards of forty years' appeared next, having been acquainted with Alice for three or four years observing on several occasions 'that she was afflicted with a melancholy delirium but as some times much more violently than at other times which very much disordered her senses reason and understanding… And that this deponent believes the said Alice West to be of the age of seventy years upwards and as her distemper is so strong upon her this deponent is of opinion that she will scarce ever recover her senses again'.

On the 11 November Stephen's trustees stepped in and power was granted to them to administer his estate during the 'lunacy delirium or incapacity of Alice West'.

On 27 March the following year Stephen's Will was proved by Elizabeth Moor and Ann Bates his nieces, 'the said Will being ceased and expired by reason of the death of the said Alice West'.

Unfortunately, we do not know by what means Alice died, whether she 'destroyed herself' or died by natural causes, but she did not linger long after her husband's death and maybe she joined him in St Clement Danes churchyard, 'near… my son formerly buryed there'.

The building of the Swan Tavern

Family History, The Swan Circle, West Family 1650-1700 No Comments »


The 1771 Manorial Survey showing a plan of the Swan Tavern, its fish ponds and orchards




After the calamitous events of the Civil War, where it was said 'the most barbarous outrages were committed in the town, and the inhabitants cruelly plundered', a flood devastated Brentford in 1682. The weather had turned violent and a storm raged with bursts of thunder and lightning, followed by a swift release of flood waters cannoning through the town, carrying away its little houses and boats. A similar event would occur a century and a half later but more savage and deadly, killing some of the inhabitants, and laying to waste their habitations.       
   Such turmoil had been a feature of Brentford's existence, whilst across the river at Kew, the genteel pursuits of gardening and estate building were being followed and forged, with brand new villas designed and built, and gardens planned and laid.
Earlier in the century in 1631, Samuel Fortrey a Flemish merchant had taken a mansion at Kew and rebuilt it, placing his own initials with that of his wife's over the door, for many years the new villa would be known as the Dutch House.
Fortrey's neighbour, Sir Henry Capel had made an obsession of gardening and collecting unusual plants. John Evelyn, a frequent visitor to Kew observed that Capel's 'orangerie and myrtetum are most beautiful and perfectly well kept. He was contriving very high palisadoes of reedes to shade his oranges during the summer, and painting those reedes in oil'.
Back across the river at Ealing, the baptism register of 1698 records the birth of Stephen son of Stephen and Ann West. The eldest boy is followed by a stream of offspring, there's John and Mary, then Anne and Dorothy until finally Elizabeth and Sarah are baptised in 1713 and 1715 respectively. The 1753 Will of Ann West gives reference to two other children, Martha and Henry whose baptisms are not recorded by either Ealing or Brentford parish churches.
The family had made a considerable fortune for themselves from fishing rights, leaving behind the begrimed labour of butchery and the increasing quest for trade. Fishing was more localised with buyers on their doorsteps, but there is a confusion as to which Stephen West, elder or junior, started the climb towards respectability.
Stephen West junior married Mary Stevens at St Benet Paul's Wharf (a 'Stevens church') in 1724 and according to the historian John Cloake was granted a publican's licence the same year. A document exists at the London Metropolitan Archives for a 14 year Lease concerning the conversion of land into a kitchen garden, first to Lady Elizabeth Molyneux (great-niece of Sir Henry Capel) and second to Ann Lelly [sic] widow of Sir Peter Lely, with rights to Stephen West for landing passengers on the Kew side of the river in 1729.
The very same year West is specifically granted a licence for the Swan Tavern. The hostelry was situated on the Brentford Ait, and according to some sources was originally built by Stephen West. The extent of the plot can be seen on the 1771 Manorial Survey of Richmond shown in the image above; the actual acreage consisting of fishponds, orchards and buildings was in reality larger than that of the Dutch House on the opposite bank.
The success and eventual notoriety of the Swan, would culminate in a period of glory years for the aforementioned Henry West brother of Stephen, who would sit and pose for his portrait, painted by one of the greatest miniaturists of the day.

That story is yet to be told.

Stephen West & the Assassination Plot: Final Part

Family History, The Swan Circle, West Family 1650-1700 No Comments »

In December 1670 two men, Stephen and Charles West, were arrested for the attempted murder of the Duke of Ormonde. The circumstances in which they were apprehended and their subsequent interrogation and trial are vague.

What follows is an attempt to bring together the proceedings as they unfolded, however an accurate time frame does not appear to be possible at this stage.

   The testimony of Thomas Greene, a tanner, provided a crucial part of the brothers' alibi, but it also endowed the story with a backdrop of town life in the 1670s. The two brothers travelled from Stapleton every Saturday for the fair at Bristol, selling their trade, supplying meat and hides. Bristol was booming and was slowly beginning to benefit from the North Atlantic trade. The merchants were growing in number and had their eyes on the profits from the Americas and the Caribbean; the outgoing human ‘goods’ from the port set sail to work on the plantations, but there was a burgeoning demand for incoming necessities that must have attracted the West brothers.
After leaving Bristol on 12 December 1670, Stephen and Charles West headed south to another port and potential market at Southampton. The detailed description of the Duke of Ormonde’s attackers and one of their horses, had been circulated to the King’s town officials via the London Gazette dated 8-12 December 1670.
Upon arrival in Southampton, the two brothers must have aroused suspicion, possibly bearing a resemblance to the published description of the assailants and being in charge of a black nag. They were subsequently arrested, their money and horses were confiscated and they were incarcerated in prison; within two or three days they were removed and sent to the Westminster Gatehouse.
The State Papers contain a nebulous document in the hand of Sir Joseph Williamson, instructing the Justices to study the examinations extracted by the Mayor of Southampton, ‘and wishing them to inquire into such particulars as relate to their [Stephen and Charles West] parts, and to lose no time in the inquiry’.
On 5 January, Stephen and Charles sent a letter entreating Thomas Greene to send a certificate to the Gatehouse, certifying the colours and marks of the horse they had bought from him, ‘for it concerns our lives and therefore for Gods sake do not fayle us this time’.
Further evidence arrived the same day from William Beveridge, the Vicar of Brentford, who having been notified of the brother’s distress, collected twenty-one signatures to confirm Stephen’s marriage in 1663 and his residence at Brentford, saying ‘the cause of his going away now was that he was overthrown in a law suit’.

The following evening, the two men were examined before Lord Arlington and other Lords of the Council:

‘when they pretended their names to be West, two brothers, by profession butchers, and that they rambled so about upon occasion of debts; but being taken in different confessions and found to be persons of an unknown life and conversation, if not the persons suspected, they were committed to the Gatehouse til better evidence be brought to clear them’.

   A certificate from Thomas Greene arrived on Saturday 7 January, confirming that he had seen the two men at Bristol market on 6 December and they did not leave until after the 10 December. On the 7 December they had bought from him ‘a black nag with certain marks’ and had given him a hide as part payment thereof.
Five days passed at the mercy of Lady Broughton, the notorious keeper of the Westminster Gatehouse, until finally Stephen and Charles West went to trial at the Old Bailey where they were acquitted within two days. The warrant issued for their release was sent on 14 January, however they were not released immediately; amongst the undated State Papers is a Petition from the brothers to Lord Arlington for relief, as they ‘… are detained by Lady Broughton, because they cannot pay the double fees which she demands’. 
Earl of Arlington  
The authorities did not catch up with Lady Broughton for another decade. Her draconian regime and ‘hard usage of the prisoners in a most barbarous manner’, emerged after she was indicted for extorting fees and sent to trial. She pleaded not guilty, but was founded culpable on all counts, stripped of her office and fined 100 marks.

The outcome of the Petition is unknown, but upon receiving the letter, the Council also received the following:

‘Petition of Katherine, wife of Rich Halliwell, tobacco cutter, to Lord Arlington for release of herself and maid from the custody of a messenger, to which they were committed, having been apprehended about three weeks ago, on suspicion that her husband is connected with the horrid attempt against the Duke of Ormonde. She hopes that he is innocent, and absents himself only from fear of prison, having endured much in that kind in respect of his religion’.

   Richard Halliwell or Hallowell was named as one of the culprits responsible for the attack on the Duke of Ormonde and described by the London Gazette as ’middle sized…, plump faced, with pock holes, of demure countenance, having a short brown periwig’. Halliwell and the remainder of his comrades were still at large, and some of them were not captured until a famously audacious attempt was made to steal the Crown Jewels in May 1671.

It seemed that both the attack on the Duke of Ormonde and the attempt to steal the Crown Jewels were perpetrated by the same man, the infamous Thomas Blood. The King pardoned Blood and gave him land in Ireland worth £500 a year, many watched on in horror as Blood became a society favourite. In his diary, John Evelyn wrote:

‘Dined at my Lord Treasurer's, where dined Mons. de Grammont and several French noblemen, and one Blood, that impudent, bold fellow, who had not long before attempted to steal the imperial crown itself out of the Tower, pretending curiosity of seeing the regalia there, when, stabbing the keeper, though not mortally, he boldly went away with it through all the guards, taken only by the accident of his horse falling down. How he came to be pardoned, and even received in favour, not only after this, but several other exploits almost as daring both in Ireland and here, I could never come to understand. Some believed he became a spy of several parties, being well with the sectaries and enthusiasts, and did his Majesties service that way, which none alive could do so well as he; but it was certainely as the boldest attempt, so the onely treason of this sort that was ever pardon’d. This man had not onely a daring, but a villainous unmerciful looke, a false countenance, but very well spoken, and dangerously insinuating‘.

   Blood died in 1680 and the Duke of Ormonde in 1685; the respective fates of Halliwell, Stephen West and Charles West are unknown. Stephen West must have returned to his family in Brentford, for his descendants built a small empire on the banks of the Thames, that would eventually propel them into the path of the royal family yet again. 

Part 3

Content Protected Using Blog Protector By: PcDrome.