Two Graven Stones

I had a Grand Day Out in London this week, not the least of its grandeur being my success in walking from Pimlico (where the plane trees have suffered remarkable pruning) to the Garden Museum at Lambeth, then back past Westminster and New Scotland Yard (where an anti-Boris and Cressida demo was taking place, with very witty banners), then on to the Strand, to Somerset House, and finally to Covent Garden, without getting lost, thus at least (and at last) beginning to fulfill one of my Retirement Resolutions of nearly six years ago, to get to know London better on foot rather than underground. Ironic that I have done this as the date of my second (and probably last, but who knows?) retirement looms.

Pruned planes on John Islip Street, Pimlico
Rather more normal-looking planes in the Victoria Tower Gardens opposite Lambeth Palace and St Mary’s Church, home of the Garden Museum

Anyway, my visit to the Garden Museum was prompted by the current exhibition on Raymond Booth, which is excellent, and I only wish I had the money to buy one of the pictures of fritillaries … Read more about Booth (of whom I had never previously heard – though I now discover that he features in the late David Scrase’s Flower Drawings, which I produced in 1997) here.

But to get to my point: I had more time than usual on leaving the museum, so I looked at some of the external graves (Captain Bligh and the Tradescants are now ‘inside’, in an open-air courtyard). I was slightly unnerved to see that one lady had died on my birthday (albeit in 1832), but I was particularly struck by two memorial stones, one in the church porch, and and the other just to the left of the porch, on the wall, which I had failed to notice before.

Poor William Bacon, formerly of the Salt Office, was tragically killed ‘by touch ethereal’ on 12 July 1787. Luckily for me, David Bingham has written already in gruesome detail about this sad incident in his terrific blog, ‘The London Dead‘ – the only thing I haven’t been able to find out is what and where the Salt Office was. I assumed at first that it was the office which controlled the quality of imports and exports of salt, and so was likely to have been on the riverbank nearby? Or did it in fact administer the salt tax? This was an on–off tax, reimposed after an abeyance just before the start of the Civil War, revoked in 1660 at the Restoration, re-imposed by William and Mary in 1693, doubled in 1696, and eventually abolished in 1825 (though not after a revolution, like the French gabelle). Any information gratefully received!

The second stone is clearly relatively modern, but is presumably the replacement for an original, put in place so that the awful prospect of the bequest passing to the parish of St Margaret’s, Westminster, did not become a reality. The sponsoring of apprentices in this was was not uncommon in the eighteenth century: see, for example, Sir Samuel Mico.

I have not so far found out much about Bryan Turberville, except that he was obviously a wealthy man. Why he favoured the parish of St Mary, on the other side of the river if he lived in St James’s, is not clear, but his bequest survives, though it and several others from the seventeenth to the twentieth century have been subsumed into the local charity in Lambeth, the Walcot Foundation. A block of flats nearby is called Turberville House, but beyond that, not much … the Turberville name had appeared in Glamorgan and the West Country for many centuries previously (and judging from the name, they may have come over with William the Conqueror); but in the sixteenth century Turbervilles were notable recusants, so that the specific clause, ‘no Roman Catholic to enjoy any benefit thereof’, does not quite fit. It is nice to think, however, that Bryan Turberville, Gent., was concerned that the children who were to benefit from his bequest should not be apprenticed into the dangerous trades of chimney-sweep, waterman or fisherman.

The sufferings of young chimney-sweeps were well known before Jonas Hanway and others began to campaign for them in the 1760s: boys as young as four years old were ‘apprenticed’ to sweeps as they were small enough to climb from the hearth to the top of the chimney, clearing soot as they went. Sometimes they were incentivised by having pins stuck into the soles of their naked feet, or by having a fire lit in the hearth; and some were the victims on one of the earliest industrial diseases, the so-called ‘chimney sweep’s cancer’ caused by the constant irritation of coal tar soot on the naked skin. The Chimney-Sweeper’s Friend, and Climbing-Boy’s Album, compiled by James Montgomery (1771–1854), poet and philanthropist, with illustrations by George Cruikshank, was not of course a book for the boys themselves but an effort to force upon the attention of the people whose chimneys were being cleaned the cruelty of the process.

A boy is sold by his haggard, widowed mother to a sweep, while her daughter begs her not to do it. A fashionable lady rides heedlessly by, while on the right the man’s existing apprentice huddles down out of the way. (From The Chimney-Sweeper’s Friend, and Climbing-Boy’s Album)
The title page of Montgomery’s work

London watermen needed a seven-year apprenticeship, in order to master the necessary knowledge of all the channels, currents and routes both up and down and across the river. Accidents were not uncommon in the crowded waterway, and records suggest that very few people – even those working on the river – could swim.

The more than usually crowded river when Charles II and Catherine of Branganza processed on the water from Hampton Court to Whitehall in 1662. (Credit: Historic Royal Palaces)

The dangers to children on fishing boats were notorious before George Crabbe wrote Letter XXII of his poem The Borough (published in 1810), on the fate of the apprentices of the brutal fisherman Peter Grimes:

Peter had heard there were in London then, –
Still have they being! – workhouse-clearing men,
Who, undisturb’d by feelings just or kind,
Would parish-boys to needy tradesmen bind:
They in their want a trifling sum would take,
And toiling slaves of piteous orphans make…

… For three sad years the boy his tortures bore,
And then his pains and trials were no more.

After this apprentice had died of ill usage and starvation,

… Another boy with equal ease was found,
The money granted, and the victim bound;
And what his fate? – One night it chanced he fell
From the boat’s mast and perish’d in her well,
Where fish were living kept, and where the boy
(So reason’d men) could not himself destroy: –
‘Yes! so it was’, said Peter, ‘in his play,
(For he was idle both by night and day,)
He climb’d the main-mast and then fell below.’

The title page of Crabbe’s The Borough

Are there any Turbervilles out there who can claim this philanthropic gentleman as an ancestor, I wonder? If so, they can be assured that a stone, fairly carved in a legible hand, still records their ancestor’s act of charity.


This entry was posted in Art, Biography, Gardens, History, London, Museums and Galleries, Natural history and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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