Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Journal of a Georgian Gentleman

After seeing Rich Hall at the Soho Theatre the night before, it was off to hear all about a different Richard Hall (1729 - 1801), in a fascinating talk at the Museum of London, titled 'A Haberdashery Shop at One London Bridge: Journal of a Georgian Gentleman', which took place last Tuesday (12 February). 

The talk was given by Mike Rendell, Hall's great, great, great, great grandson and a retired lawyer. Hoarding has run in Mike's family for three hundred years and over that period they have amassed a collection of items that any history enthusiast would consider a treasure trove. Mike is now the custodian of much of this material. Amongst the many items in his possession (and the list appears endless) are diaries from the 1600s, newspapers announcing the death of Oliver Cromwell and the outbreak of the Great Fire in 1666 and shopping lists dating back to 1780! 

Richard Hall, as you've no doubt guessed, was the Georgian Gentleman in the title - a stocking maker and haberdasher - and to say he was a bit of an obsessive when it came to hoarding documents and other items, is an understatement. He also, from an early age, wrote a diary/journal, noting in detail the day to day activity of his life and his thoughts and observations about the world around him. I was particularly amused when Mike read out an extract which outlined how frequently he bathed (once every two months - "whether he needed one or not"!) and did his laundry (his records indicated  a "great wash" was done once every three months). Some modern day students will of course strongly identify with this. I jest.

Amongst my favourite anecdotes was one where, on two separate occasions in 1750, a month apart (8 February and 8 March), Hall noted in a separate booklet (which he entitled "Observables") that two earthquakes had been felt in London. The bishop of London was quick to identify the cause of both earthquakes - what else but pornography! The novel Fanny Hill (by John Cleland) had been published in 1748 and the bishop took the earthquakes to be a sign of Divine displeasure for this debauched piece of literature. Londoners deduced that the previous quakes were therefore a warning that the Big One was about to happen on 8 April and, on that day, chaos ensued as everyone tried to leave the city, causing mass gridlock! How sheepish they must have been on the way back to London the following day!

I was interested to learn that this lecture is actually linked to a book that Mike has written, 'Journal of a Georgian Gentleman: The Life and Times of Richard Hall, 1729 - 1801' which I'm now keen to pick up a copy of. I found a very good review of the book at the London Historians website, which you can read here. Mike also writes his own blog, on 18th century life, which apparently grew out of the research he did for writing the book. Definitely also worth a read.

One rather sad fact revealed to the audience in a question and answer session after the talk was that none of his children have any particular interest in maintaining the collection as a whole, so its future is uncertain. But for now, the collection is safely intact and I hope Mike finds a permanent home for it all. 

The talk was part of a series of Gresham College lectures, all free to attend, covering a wide range of subjects. Apart from one or two exceptions, no pre-booking is required, it's simply turn up as early as possible and hope to get a seat. The rest of their current programme is available on their website - you can find it here. The Museum of London hosts many of the lectures, but they are also held at other venues too.

My friend Jo was coincidentally at the talk that evening, having brought along a few friends from a group called London Historians (one of whom, Mike Paterson, the Director of LH, wrote the review mentioned above). Having made me aware of her presence, she invited me to join them all for a drink afterwards, which I duly did at the Lord Raglan, a pub just down the road from the museum. They were very nice company, from a diverse array of backgrounds, and it was lovely to meet them. 

1 comment:

  1. I have only just stumbled across the review - I am so glad you enjoyed the talk! It was great fun doing it and I am delighted to see that Gresham have invited me back to give a follow-up talk next March (on Entertainment).
    Let me know if you ever got hold of the book! Mike