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

‘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’.

Garrow’s Law Series 2: The Trial of Robert Jones

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Garrow's Law


Francis Henry Hay and The Mercer Family

This Sunday TV viewers in the UK will continue to enjoy a new series of the 18th century courtroom drama Garrow's Law. The second season aired last year and included a story loosely based on the shocking trial of Captain Robert Jones. Garrow was never involved in the Robert Jones controversy nor were the events portrayed in the TV episode exactly akin to the factual events that were played out in 1772; the writer, Tony Marchant was concerned with Garrow's own story arc and changed the facts to mirror the counsel's personal predicament.

The real story of Captain Robert Jones and his trial can be found on the Old Bailey website and on Rictor Norton's website Gay History and Literature. The story of Jones, the treatment of gay men by the British justice system (the law did not prosecute lesbians) and the events of 1772 are widely covered in a number of books, articles and websites focusing solely on Robert Jones.

I was rather disturbed by this. If there was a perpetrator then there must have been a victim irrespective of whether one believes in the plaintiff's complicity in this specific case, and for what it's worth I do believe he was complicit to a degree. So what about the 'victim' of the 1772 trial? He is mentioned in the literature, 'a thirteen year old boy called Francis Henry Hay', but there is little else of any note.
Regular readers of this blog can probably guess at what is coming next. I always seem to have some connection to the people and events that are the subjects of my posts and in this instance it is with Francis Henry Hay; he was the nephew of my great, great, great uncle William Mercer. William was one of the main witnesses at the trial.
I will not discuss the trial in any detail here, I will leave that for the source list at the end of this article and the aforementioned references. My main focus will be on Francis Henry Hay with the intention of balancing the available literature of the trial and hopefully ensuring less of an onus on Robert Jones. 
I do not claim to know what went on in the mind of Francis Henry Hay, I have no evidence to suggest that the boy was completely innocent and a victim or was naïve and curious about a possible sexual encounter. I do know, however, something of both the Hay and the Mercer families and thought it would be interesting to reflect on their background and social standing.
If you have read my post The Abduction of Frances Mercer then you will already be familiar with the Mercer family. William Mercer was little Frances Mercer's brother and both children were the offspring of Francis and Jane Mercer; on 30 November 1757 their other daughter Mary married Alexander Hay at St Martin in the Fields.

According to his trial testimony Francis Henry Hay was born on 31st January 1760 and had lived for sometime with his grandfather Francis Mercer before moving into his uncle William Mercer's house at the beginning of 1772. The Mercer family were probably of Scottish descent and linked to a number of Scottish families: the Cowies, the McKenzies, the Dewars, the Drummonds and of course the Hays. At the time of the trial, William Mercer was living at No. 1 Parliament Street, roughly where Westminster Tube is today; he later moved to Northumberland Street next door to what was then Northumberland House.

William Mercer was a jeweller by trade and his Will has the appearance of a jeweller's catalogue: a brilliant hoop ring, a handkerchief pin, a brilliant ring, a shirt pin, brilliant cluster ring, diamond ring, pearl bracelets set in gold… and the star item a watch by Mudge and Dutton. Most of these items belonged to my great, great, great aunt Sarah. William also included in the Will 'two gold seals, one of the family arms the other my crest and cypher' as well as portraits of William Mercer and Sarah Mercer by George Morland and two of the same by George Saunders.
On the witness stand William was asked to describe the course of events and how the assault on Francis Henry Hay by Robert Jones was brought to the attention of the authorities. He recalled that he had notified Justice Mercer; could this have been a member of his own family?
'Justice Mercer' was probably George Mercer JP for Surrey and Middlesex and was said to be a descendant of the Aldie Mercers. The Aldie Mercers had links to the Mercer Elphinstone family and Margaret Mercer Elphinstone was famously painted by George Saunders.


The Hay Family


Francis Henry Hay was working in his uncle William's shop when he met with Captain Robert Jones in St Martin's Lane and Jones told him he had a buckle to mend. Hay went with the Captain to his lodgings to collect the buckle and Jones allegedly sexually assaulted him in the dining room.
A month or so later Jones was called to trial at the Old Bailey for the assault and Hay appeared on the stand, followed by his uncle and another future family member William George Brest. Francis Henry Hay's father Alexander Hay did not appear at the trial and only a vague reference is made to the mother Mary who lived in Tavistock Street. Could Alexander have been dead by this date? His Will was written in 1762, but not proved until 1776 so possibly. Alexander's Will is curious because not only does he name his father-in-law Francis Mercer as sole executor, he also grants him Letter of Attorney for his freehold house in Justice Walk, Chelsea (see pictures) to hold for Francis Henry Hay; he also writes of several sums owed to him by various individuals, most notably the Earl of Rothes.
Intriguingly, John Leslie, the 10th Earl of Rothes was the son of John Leslie and Lady Jean Hay the daughter of the 2nd Marquess of Tweeddale. Could there have been some link between the two Hay families? Unfortunately I have not been able to answer that question.
I can only find a passing reference to Alexander's father, but I have managed to discover the Will of his uncle, also called Alexander. The senior of the two Alexanders had acquired large amounts of East India Company stock, most of which was divided between family members at the time of his death in 1757. In particular, £30 of East India Company stock was bequeathed to his sister Elizabeth Hay of Dundee, Angus; sadly Elizabeth never saw a penny as she died before her brother. Alexander senior was buried at Chelsea Old Church on 15 April 1757 under pews 19 and 20!

In his Will of 1791 Francis Mercer left the house in Justice Walk to his grandson Francis Henry Hay 'of Quebec', so at some point the boy had fled or escaped the ramifications of the Robert Jones trial and all the controversy that followed. At present we do not know if he ever returned or what happened to him.

The aforementioned William George Brest was a friend of the Mercer family and at the time of the trial a book-keeper to Mr Prater of Charing Cross. Mercer had turned to Brest hoping he could extract from the boy an account of the events that had occurred at the lodgings of Robert Jones. Brest later became William Mercer's brother-in-law and became the proprietor of an upmarket coffee house.
Amazingly, both Mercer and Brest become embroiled in another court case. This time before the King's Bench where both defendants were called to answer allegations regarding a bond and a lottery ticket!

That story will be told in another blog post.

Robert Jones Trial 1772 – Old Bailey Online

The First Public Debate about Homosexuality in England

George Saunders (Sanders) at the NPG

George Morland

More Mudge and Dutton

Justice Walk, Chelsea



Breakfast with the Austens

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


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:


Clarissa and The Swan

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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)


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