Witches, Witchcraft and Witch Trials

A few years ago we did a blog post about witches in Guildhall Library, this year for Halloween we’ve expanded further to look at our original primary sources on Witches, Witchcraft and Witch trials. One of the most interesting things about the books we hold on this topic is that most of the texts from the 17th and 18th centuries argued against the existence of witchcraft, even going so far as trying to prove that women who’d been tried and found guilty of witchcraft were not in fact witches.

The first few pamphlets were all published around 1711-1712 and look at one specific witchcraft trial, that of Jane Wenham of Hertfordshire. Like many women accused of witchcraft, Jane was old, poor and generally disliked by the people who knew her; which made it easy for them to suspect she was a witch.

A full and impartial account of the discovery of sorcery and witchcraft, practis’d by Jane Wenham of Walkerne in Hertfordshire, upon the bodies of Ann Thorn, Anne Street, &c. The proceedings against her from her being first apprehended, till she was committed to gaol by Sir Henry Chavncy. Also her trial at the assizes at Hertford before Mr Justice Powell, where she was found guilty of felony and witchcraft, and received’d sentence of death for the same, March 4 1711-12.

Jane Wenham was one of the last, if not the last woman, to be sentenced to death as a witch in England. But thankfully her sentence wasn’t carried out. Queen Anne gave her a royal pardon and she was able to live out the rest of her life being looked after by the gentry. This pamphlet by Bagge lists all her crimes, and the examples used to convict her of witchcraft as they were given at her trial. As can be clearly be seen on the title page there is a quote from Exodus 22 v 18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” the verse that was responsible for many deaths.

The Case of the Hertfordshire witchcraft consider’d : being an examination of a book entitle’d A full and impartial account of the discovery of sorcery and witchcraft practis’d by Jane Wenham. 1712

A companion book to Bagge, this one takes the evidence that he was used to convict Jane Wenham of witchcraft and argues that she was not in fact a witch and offers more rational explanations for the events that were used for her conviction. Examples of things she was supposed to have done that proved she was a witch included causing a young girl to run a long way, have a boy collect straw, have cats appear with her face, not having memorised the Lord’s prayer and the more traditional killing of livestock (in this case sheep).

The impossibility of witchcraft : plainly proving from scripture and reason that there never was a witch; and that it is both irrational and impious to believe that there ever was  in which the depositions against Jane Wenham, lately try’d and condemn’d for a witch at Hertford are confuted and exposed. 1712

This pamphlet argues for the improbability of witchcraft (but does not support atheism) brought on by Jane Wendham’s conviction.  It was well argued and used many examples from the Bible, as well as Latin and Greek sources using the original language, and showing how mistakes in translations had brought about these errors in belief. It also discussed the ways in which “modern” witches differed from those in Biblical times saying how in the past witches were powerful but now they are all old and poor. It comes to the conclusion that there are not and never have been witches.

We hold few records  that deal with Witchcraft in London. This 1702 pamphlet recounts a trial, not for  witchcraft but of a man who had falsely accused a woman of witchcraft.

The tryal of Richard Hathaway : upon an information for being a cheat and imposter, for endeavouring to take away the life of Sarah Morduck, for being a vvitch, at Surry assizes, begun and held in the burrough of Southwark, March the 24th, 1702 …, to which is added a short account ofthe tryal of Richard Hathaway, Thomas Wellyn and Elizabeth his wife, and Elizabeth Willoughby, wife of Walter Willoughby, upon an information for a riot and assault upon Sarah Morduck, the pretended witch, at the said assizes. 1702.

Sarah Mordcock, from Southwark had been tried and found not guilty of witchcraft. After the verdict Richard, her chief accuser, was brought to trial for false charges.  In this document there is a lot of evidence given by people who thought he had actually been bewitched. One of the witnesses was a woman who claimed she had been bewitched as a child and reportedly flown, though she could provide no evidence for this as all that had seen her do it were now dead.

The question of witchcraft debated : Or a discourse against their opinion that affirm witches, considered and enlarged by John Wagstaffe 1671

This book starts from the very reassuring standpoint that just because one does not believe in Witchcraft one is necessarily an athiest.  It goes on to point out the problems with Latin translations of the Bible which have led to the belief in witches and provides a translation of the original Hebrew.  The author argues that the witches nowadays do not compare with those described as such in the past,  and that it is ridiculous to think that these poor, old women have such powers and abilities from the Devil.  For if that power existed would the Devil not now pick more influential people as he did in the past? The book concludes with a modern sounding message concerning the tens of thousands of people murdered and tortured to death because of the belief in witchcraft and the author hopes his own work will put a stop to this practice.

An historical essay concerning witchcraft : With observations upon matters of fact; tending to clear the texts of the sacred Scriptures, and confute the vulgar errors about that point. And also two sermons: one in proof of the Christian religion; the other concerning the good and evil angels By Francis Hutchinson. 1720

This work provides a very different argument against witchcraft.  Written by a clergyman it takes the form of a discussion or dialogue with someone asking questions and the ‘expert’ providing the answers. My favourite part is the list of all the historical witches and which includes Albertus Magnus, The Pied Piper of Hamlin, and Joan of Arc all on the same page!  It looks over some of the famous cases from the past, not just in England but in the USA and Europe.

At the opposite end  of the spectrum we also  have the most notorious  Malleus maleficarum by Jacob Sprenger and Henricus Institoris both in the original Latin from 1492 or 1494  and a later 20th century English translation by Montague Summers.

Melanie Strong, Assistant Librarian


The Discovery of Roman London

11 September – 5 January 2018

As part of the Londinium celebrations taking place across the City of London the Guildhall Library’s new exhibition looks at the Discovery of Roman London. It was only in the early 19th century that Londoners with an interest in history realised that large parts of Roman London could have survived under the modern streets of their City and that it might be possible to actively search for the archaeological evidence. This exhibition looks at the early pioneers of Roman London archaeology who often acquired objects straight from building sites in the City. The exhibition contains items from the Guildhall Library’s collections and archaeological artefacts from the Museum of London’s collections.

The exhibition focuses on several notable businessmen who became experts in the field of Roman London archaeology. Charles Roach Smith (1806-1890) ran a chemist’s shop in Lothbury. He was one of the founders of the British Archaeological Association. He became interested in the history of London because of the excavations taking place around his shop in the City of London. As the City underwent a period of vast building and renovation its previous layers were uncovered. Charles Roach Smith collected artefacts from the building sites to further his research on the Roman city. He wrote extensively about his discoveries and became one of the leading experts on Roman London of the 19th century. These artefacts made up his own private museum which was featured in several publications of the time. He would host private tours to those interested. When he moved out of London he sold his large collection to the British Museum where many of the objects are still on display today. Featured in the exhibition display cabinets are copies of Roach Smith’s Illustrations of Roman London alongside Roman artefacts from the Museum of London.

John Walker Baily (1809-1873) was senior partner in a successful company of Ironmongers. The family had close ties with the Guildhall as when his father ran the company they had provided the iron gates for the Basinghall Street entrance. Featured in the exhibition is Baily’s beautifully illustrated manuscript catalogue of the 400 objects which made up his collection of Roman and Medieval antiquities. When Baily died they became part of the collections of the Guildhall Museum. Today the antiquities are part of the collections of the Museum of London and the catalogue remains at Guildhall Library as part of the records of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers.

At the same time that these collectors were acquiring their artefacts the City Corporation was becoming increasingly interested in displaying artefacts relating to the history of London.  In 1826 the Guildhall Museum was established to provide, “A suitable place for the reception of such Antiquities as relate to the City of London and Suburbs”.  However, the museum didn’t open its doors to the public until decades later when appropriate museum space and collections had been acquired.  The exhibition features a photo-wall display of images from the Guildhall Museum from it’s opening in 1873 through to its closure in 1976 when it merged with the London Museum to become the Museum of London.  Artefacts from the Guildhall Museum can still be seen today in the Museum of London’s galleries.

Many events associated with the exhibition have already sold out but there are still tickets available for the following:

Later Roman London and the End of Roman Britain

Thursday 12 October 2017 18:00 – 20:00

London was the capital city of Britannia. It governed a territory which in the South and the East was a fully functioning part of the Roman Empire, but to the North and West was a militarised border region. This far flung territory of Rome changed over time, and eventually slipped out of the Imperial control. In this talk Simon Elliott tells the tale of Roman London from the ‘Crisis of the 3rd Century’ until its final demise in the early 5th century.


Everyday Life in Roman London

Thursday 2 November 2017 18:00 – 20:00

In this lecture Simon Elliott will narrate a day in the life of a wide variety of Roman Londoners in the mid 2nd century AD when the city was at its height during the Roman occupation. He will lift the lid on every aspect of day to day living in the city during the Roman period, from every perspective in society, showing how some things were very similar to our experiences today, but some things very different.


Empire State: How the Roman Military Built an Empire

Thursday 7 December 2017 18:00 – 20:00

The armed forces of Rome are regarded as some of the finest military formations ever to engage in warfare. Less well known however is their use by the State for non-military activities. In his new book ‘Empire State: How the Roman Military Built an Empire’, Simon Elliott considers this for the first time, showing how the military were utilised in a wide variety of civilian roles. These included helping administer and police the Empire, being the main resource used in construction and engineering projects, running industry such as metalla mining and quarrying, and participating in agricultural activity.


Melanie Strong, Assistant Librarian


As one wanders through our stacks, reflecting upon 276 years of maritime history, one can also stumble across some musical gems on a maritime theme. Guildhall Library holds the Lloyd’s Marine Collection, but sea shanties and sea songs are both represented in the library’s resources.

Sea songs were more often sung ashore, occasionally by sailors home from sea, but frequently by land lubbers. These songs often celebrated a great victory or the bravery of a particular Captain. A renowned writer of these sailor songs was Charles Dibdin (1745-1814). Some tell of the “delights” of a life at sea and one wonders what real sailors thought of those doubtful pleasures. Some sea songs were sung aboard ship e.g. – forecastle songs, reflecting where the singing took place. Hugill (in “Shanties and Sailor Songs”) tells us that some forecastle (fo’c’sle/forebitter) songs were popular with the Navy and Merchant Navy.

Shanties (said to be from the French chantez or chanter) were practical work songs, sung not for leisure and enjoyment, but during very heavy work indeed e.g. – the words and repetitions of halyard shanties helped the men to haul together. Shanties were sung in the Merchant rather than the British Navy where work was carried out without musical encouragement.

One of the library’s musical treasures is “Real Sailor Songs: Collected and Edited by John Ashton”. It was published by the Leadenhall Press in 1891. Both writer and publisher offer interesting areas for study. Historian and member of the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers, John Ashton, was a ballad collector who drew on the broadsheets in his possession for his publications. He was aiming to bring the best of the texts he had collected to a wider public. In his preface, Ashton commented that at time of publication, sea songs were mostly sung in the music halls saying “I have omitted the whole of Dibdin’s, as they were songs for Sailors, but not necessarily Sailors’ Songs”.

His earlier publication “A Century of Ballads” (1887) included eighty broadsides from the seventeenth century. His “Modern Street Ballads” (1888) drew on later sources from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Ashton made use of the woodcut illustrations from the original broadsides in his possession, but he rearranged them, attaching them to different songs, pointing out that in the original broad sheets the illustration often bore little relevance to the words beneath.

Ashton divided his volume of sailor songs into those about sea fights, the press-gang, disaster, life ashore, love, and finally a miscellaneous section.  Several of the songs recorded by Ashton have a London theme e.g. “Meg of Wapping” is about landlady who cheerfully gains and loses six husbands.  He also records “The Jolly Sailor” or “The Lady of Greenwich” in which a well to do lady falls in love with our hero sailor and showers adoration and wealth upon him.  This enables him to return from the sea for good.

Other London songs recorded are “The Greenwich Pensioner”, “Bonny Shadwell Dock” and “Ratcliffe Highway in 1842”….

“You jovial sailors, one and all,

When you in the port of London call,

Mind Ratcliffe Highway, and the damsels loose,

The William, the Bear, and the Paddy’s Goose”

There are several versions of these songs but a common tale is the unfortunate sailor who comes ashore at Wapping, wages in pocket, meets and gets drunk with a woman who then robs him.  The woman is sometimes described as a “flash packet” and the lyrics are filled with double entendre.  There are versions in which the sailor steals something from the woman in return.  Hugill thinks that songs celebrating the delights of being ashore are probably genuine sea songs.  He calls Ashton’s book “The first genuine attempt to bring together sailor come-all-yous, forebitters and ballads, in one book.”

Publisher of the Ashton book, The Leadenhall Press, was founded by Andrew White Tuer (1838–1900) of Field & Tuer. The firm began at the Minories in 1862, principally as a printing and stationery business, but Tuer drove the business toward a fuller range of printing techniques and the production of books. In 1868 Field and Tuer moved to 50 Leadenhall Street and by the 1880s they were printing a wide range of volumes including children’s books and limited editions. They had also developed a reputation for reproducing art works. They worked with artists such as Burne-Jones Joseph Crawhall, Randolph Caldecott, and Punch cartoonists Phil May, Charles Keene and Linley Sambourne. To find out more about the publications of the Leadenhall Press see “Field & Tuer, The Leadenhall Press: A Checklist” by Matthew McLennan Young.

The work of Charles Dibdin is also represented in the library’s collections. Dibdin was an actor, composer and writer from Southampton who moved to London. He became part of Garrick’s Drury Lane Company and composed for them. His only experience of life at sea came from his brother’s seafaring career and perhaps his own journey to France to escape his creditors. He wrote several popular sea songs including “Blow High, Blow Low” “‘Twas in the good ship Rover” and above all “Tom Bowling” (suggesting the bowline, an important sailor’s knot) from a character in Smollett’s “Roderick Random”. “Tom Bowling” is often played on the Last Night of the Proms. Dibdin’ s songs had a strong patriotic flavour and were taken up by the British Navy in time of war. During the Napoleonic Wars his version of “Britons Strike Home” (1803) led to his being awarded a government pension.

Guildhall Library holds a copy of “Songs, Naval and National, of the Late Charles Dibdin, a Collection Arranged by Thomas Dibdin with Sketches by George Cruikshank”. His work was much admired by Charles Dickens who kept a copy of this in his library.

In 1889 a memorial to Dibdin was erected by public subscription which has a verse from “Tom Bowling” inscribed upon it. This gives a flavour of Dibdin’s style and demonstrates the marked difference between the sailor songs collected by Ashton and those written by Dibdin:
“His form was of the manliest beauty,
His heart was kind and soft,
Faithful, below, he did his duty;
But now he’s gone aloft.”
Other memorials to Dibdin are at the Royal Hospital, Greenwich and at Holyrood Church in Southampton.

Jeanie Smith, Assistant Librarian & Keeper of the Lloyd’s Marine Collection

Find out more at Guildhall Library

JPT Bury  “A W Tuer and the Leadenhall Press” in Book Collector 36.2 (Summer 1987):225-243.

Roy Palmer (ed.) Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs reference (1979) reference 782.4216221

Stan Hugill Shanties and Sailors’ Songs  (1969) reference 782.421595

Stan Hugill Shanties from the Seven Seas (1961) reference 782.421595

Oxford Book of Sea Songs chosen and edited by Roy Palmer (1986) reference S782.421595

Matthew McLennan Young Field and Tuer, The Leadenhall Press (2010) reference SL 07.1

John Ashton Modern Street Ballads (1888) reference S 821:04

John Ashton Real Sailor Songs (1891) reference AN 11.4.2

T Dibdin Songs of the Late Charles Dibdin, with a Memoir (1864) reference B:D 544

Dibden’s Humourous Budget of Sea Songs. Vol. 1. [1790] reference pam 1275

John Braham  Braham’s Whim: or, Songster’s Delight : Comprising all the Modern Fashionable and Sea Songs now Singing at the Theatres of London (1812) reference pam 6170

Lady Jane Grey – Famous Trials at Guildhall

I’m Thomas; I am currently a placement student from the City of London academy working at Guildhall Library. This is a piece of research I did on some of the famous trials that have taken place at Guildhall.

The Guildhall is a key part of the modern day City of London and it also holds great historical and social importance. Essentially the town hall for the City of London it has also played host to many historic trials in its near thousand year history. Some of the more famous trials happened during the Tudor period and include the trial of Lady Jane Grey, Anne Askew and Thomas Cranmer.

Lady Jane Grey

The trial of Lady Jane Grey, otherwise known as the Nine Day Queen, was probably the most famous trial to take place at the Guildhall. As Edward VI was dying of consumption (today we know it as tuberculosis), he and Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and his most trusted advisor, wanted to keep the country Protestant and they knew when Edward died the throne would go to his half-sister Mary who was strongly catholic. As a result Edward named his cousin once removed, Lady Jane Grey, as heir to the English throne. So when Edward died, Jane was named queen of England, Wales and Ireland on 10th July 1553. But, as her ‘nickname’ suggests, she was only Queen for nine days, not even long enough to be officially crowned.

Mary turned out to have a very large following of both Catholics and people who believed a Tudor queen should sit on the throne and not a Dudley. So nine days after Jane was named Queen by the council, Mary rode into the City of London and was in turn proclaimed Queen. Jane was arrested, along with her husband Lord Guildford Dudley and members of her council including Thomas Cranmer. On 13th November 1553 she and her co-conspirators where marched from the Tower of London where they were being held, to Guildhall to be tried by special commission. On her journey, Jane was stated to have worn all black whilst holding an open prayer book, which was meant to represent protestant piety.

Once at Guildhall, they were all accused of high treason, or more specifically Jane, Guildford and Cranmer were charged with taking possession of the tower and proclaiming Jane as Queen. Jane was also accused of ‘signing various writings’. The commission was led by Sir Thomas White, the then Lord Mayor of London and the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard. They were all charged with high treason and sentenced to death. The men where to be executed by being hung, drawn and quartered, whilst Jane would be burnt at the stake or beheaded. They were then marched back to the tower.

Although, as time went on, it appeared that Mary would spare Jane as no date was announced for her execution. This was sadly not to last. On January 26th 1554 Thomas Wyatt as well as other nobles, including Jane’s father the Duke of Suffolk lead a rebellion against Mary over her very unpopular decision to marry Phillip II of Spain as well as over political and theological concerns. Whilst Jane was not directly involved she was becoming a ‘security risk’, and so, bowing to  pressure from her council Mary scheduled Jane’s and her husband’s execution for 12th February 1554 when she was beheaded at the Tower of London.

Lloyd’s Register Ship Plan and Survey Report Collection: The London Port Boxes and Project Undaunted

I work for the Lloyd’s Register Foundation and would like to share some exciting findings from our current project with you all. The Heritage & Education Centre in London has a specialist marine science and engineering library and archive. In addition to our main holdings, we also have the Lloyd’s Register (LR) ship plan and survey report collection dating from 1834 to the 1960s. This is an extensive collection in excess of 65,000 ships with an estimated 1.25 million items.

We have embarked on an ambitious venture to make 10% of this collection more accessible to the public. The records themselves are globally significant and unique and until now have been little utilised. We have a great team in place with our cataloguers Miles, Sarah and Eloisa, as well as our conservator Nicole, all working under the guidance of our Curator of Maritime Heritage & Education, Barbara Jones. It is thanks to their hard work that we will have some of this great material to share with you at my talk on 5 June (free talk, book via: http://bit.ly/2r8ScPj)

To get a feel for what is there we will launch with a look at some first and famous ships – those of significant design, technological advance and historic importance, or just ones that everyone has heard of! Vessels like the Cutty Sark, the Queen Mary, Carpathia and Fullagar.

A product of ship classification, the archives were created during the survey of ships and there are a total of 1,756 reports in the first three London port boxes alone. I have conducted some initial analysis of these to show the potential of the collection, but there is far more that can be done with the material by researchers with a wide range of possibilities. For example, if someone is interested in researching a particular place or country of build, or if they want to see the destined voyages of vessels or totals for a time period then the data can be used for these ends. Equally if they are interested in individual ships then these can also be examined.

Key places of build are evident from analysis of the London port boxes such as Sunderland, London, Hull, Newcastle and Aberdeen. Interestingly many of these places also feature as Coats of Arms on the exterior of our building and on the ceiling of the Old Library in our office at 71 Fenchurch Street. The ceiling, decorated by Shrigley and Hunt in 1901, was commissioned to represent the major shipbuilding centres at the time. As an aside – if anyone is interested in seeing the ceiling in person then you are welcome to join us during London Open House on Saturday 16 September when our offices will be open to the public.

The digitisation project itself has been named ‘Project Undaunted’ after the first survey report prepared for the re-constituted society, London no.1, belonging to the barque Undaunted. The survey was carried out by LR surveyor Nathaniel Middleton on 1 July 1834. This has turned out to be a very apt title!

We have some great characters in our long LR history – surveyors like George Bayley – who took exception to a shipowner that offered him a bribe. I hope that you can join me on 5 June to find out what happened next!

By: Louise Sanger, Heritage & Education Centre Deputy Manager, Lloyd’s Register Foundation


Coastal Catastrophe and a Steep Learning Curve – The 50th Anniversary of the Wreck of the Torrey Canyon

The “Lloyd’s Weekly Casualty Reports” were not written to tell an exciting tale but occasionally their immediacy allows a story to unfold, minute by minute, in great detail. This one had me on the edge of my seat!

The 18th March 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of a shipping disaster which had a long term environmental impact on the British and French coasts. Over 100,000 tons of crude oil seeped into the Atlantic affecting the coastline of Cornwall, Brittany and the Channel Islands. The details still shock today and the incident impacted coast and wildlife for decades.

The “Torrey Canyon” ran aground on Pollard’s Rock, between Land’s End and the Scilly Isles on the 18th March 1967. She was an early super tanker and owned by the Barracuda Tanker Corporation (chartered to BP at the time of the incident).

As you can see on this “Lloyd’s Voyage Record Card” she left Kuwait (Mina Al-Ahmadi) on 18th February 1967. She ran aground a month later following a navigation error.

The “Lloyd’s Weekly Casualty Reports” for 1967 take up the story…

The first reports appeared on the day of the incident, stating that the Liberian tanker “Torrey Canyon” had run aground near Seven Stones and that her position was extremely dangerous. There were thirty six Italian crew on board. In gale force winds two Dutch, two French and two British vessels were on their way to assist, the St Mary’s lifeboat had been launched (report above), the Penlee lifeboat was standing by and a request had been made for helicopter assistance. Eyewitness accounts confirmed that oil was pouring out of the vessel and desperate attempts were made to re-float her until the salvage operation had to be called off for the night.

The next day, fourteen of the crew were taken off the vessel and an ominous report from St Just stated “St Mary’s lifeboat reports that steam tanker Torrey Canyon does not look too good”. By mid-morning it was estimated that 20,000 tons of her oil cargo had been lost.
Attempts were made by tugs to pull her free of the rocks and the Royal Navy began to tackle the oil spill with detergent. Sadly this not only failed to stop the slick reaching the shore but the detergent was toxic, thus adding to the environmental impact of the incident.

The weather deteriorated and the St Mary’s lifeboat rescued a further nine of the crew who were in danger. The “Torrey Canyon’s” Master and some crew stayed aboard in spite of hazardous conditions, accompanied by two radio operators from the Dutch tug “Utrecht” which had been one of the first on the scene.

By March 20th the helicopter pilots reported that the main bulk of the oil now extended some 22 miles south of the Scilly Isles. The sea area covered was reported to be 100 square miles. More dispersant was used, and an expenditure of £500,000 was authorised by government for the incident. Questions were already being asked about who would pay for the enormous cost of tackling the oil spill and its aftermath.

On the 24th came the bad news that “a change of wind has heightened the danger of west country beaches being polluted by oil from the tanker”. Desperate attempts were made to save them but the oil reached Cornwall’s beaches on the 25th and by the next day the situation was disastrous…”Up to yesterday, oil-fouled beaches stretched from St Ives to Lizard Point, but heavy winds and sea swell have now spread deposits from the wreck twice as far up the north Cornish coast…a naval spokesman at Plymouth reported oil offshore for about nine miles from St Ives to Portreath and a further eight miles from there to Perranporth.” (April 4th report). Oil had also contaminated Lizard Point to Mount’s Bay.

On the 26th came the unwelcome news of the vessel’s fracture and more reports of oil reaching the coast at Sennen Cove and Cape Cornwall. One can only imagine the increasing dread of people living and working on the Cornish coast.

Two days later a new way of tackling the problem was tried:

“London, Mar.28.
Planes from the Royal Naval Air Station at Lossiemouth will attempt to destroy steam tanker Torrey Canyon with bombs this afternoon.”

The aftermath was also reported in The “Casualty Reports”

“Coastguards at Sennen said that the tanker was a mass of flames, with dense black smoke rising to 2,000 ft.” (March 28th reported in April 4th issue)

By the 29th March the oil slicks covered “an area from 15 miles east of the Lizard to 40 miles west-north-west of Guernsey”

The “Casualty Reports” for April 1967 take up the next instalment of the unfolding disaster as the oil had by then reached the coast of Brittany. Reports from St Brieuc describe the French Navy’s “Operation Orsec” which aimed to stop the oil reaching oyster beds worth millions of francs. The French authorities seem to have taken a different approach, using powder containing volcanic ash to make the oil coagulate so that it could be scooped from the surface. They also applied sawdust requisitioned from local mills. It is in these reports that the effect upon wildlife is recorded. The French authorities feared that they would be unable to save the majority of 60,000 birds nesting at a government owned sea bird sanctuary at Sept Iles. The plight of thousands of other sea birds was also highlighted.

Claims were made against the owners of the vessel by the British and French governments which later led to the arrest of the “Torrey Canyon’s” sister ship the “Lake Palourde” at Singapore (reported 15th July see below).

It should be remembered that the agencies involved were facing new challenges and trying to find the best solutions as the crisis unfolded. An inquiry was later held in Liberia (where the vessel was registered) which placed the blame for the incident on the Master of the vessel. Changes in legislation occurred as a result of the disaster e.g. the 1969 “International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage” which placed liability firmly on a ship owner.

If you would like to read the “Lloyd’s Weekly Casualty Reports” to find out more, you are welcome to visit Guildhall Library to view them. We are a public reference library and open to all.

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian & Keeper of the Lloyd’s Marine Collection


18th Century Thief-takers – Part 3

Part 3- The demise of Charles Hitchin and Jonathan Wild

A decade later Hitchin was in the limelight once again when he was caught up in a campaign against ‘sodomitical practices’ instigated by the Societies for the Reformation of Manners, because of his alleged homosexuality. The Societies for the Reformation of Manners were established in the late seventeenth century in order to suppress profanity, immorality, prostitution and brothels.

A prominent supporter of the Societies for the Reformation of Manners, Sir John Gonson, is pictured below in William Hogarth’s satire The Harlot’s Progress 1732 from COLLAGE- The London Picture Archive, a database of images from the City of London’s collections available freely online: http://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/home


‘The Compleat trull at her lodging in Drury Lane’, plate III of “The Harlot’s Progress”; The harlot’s handsome young lover has cost her an easy life with her Jewish protector and she is now in a Drury Lane lodging house. In the background bailiffs enter, led by Sir John Gonson, to take her away’.

Hitchin was tried at the Old Bailey in April 1727 for the capital offence of sodomy.  Although acquitted of that charge he was convicted on a second indictment of attempted sodomy. His indictment (below) from Old Bailey sessions papers, April 1727, 5–6 is available online at the Old Bailey Online:  https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/

Charles Hitchin (under City Marshal , formerly a Cabinet-maker in St. Paul’s Churchyard , was indicted, for that he did on the 29th of March last, wickedly make an Assault, and commit that detestable Sin of Sodomy on the Body of Richard Williamson.
He was second Time indicted for a Misdemeanour, in assaulting and endeavouring to commit that detestable Sin of Sodomy on the Person of Richard Williamson.
The Prosecutor depos’d. That the Evening mention’d in the Indictment, coming from the Savoy Gate, he met the Prisoner, who asked him to drink, and carried him to the Royal Oak in the Strand, where after they had drank 2 Pints of Beer, the Prisoner began to shew some little Sodomitical Civilities, which not pleasing the Taste of the Prosecutor, he desired Leave to go saying, he had some Business in the Savoy, which must not be neglected, but the Prisoner not willing to part with a smooth Face and a fresh Countenance without shewing some greater Marks of his Brutallity, bound him under an Obligation to come again and made him leave his Hat for a pledge, giving him a little Money, and a great many fair promises: After the Prosecutor’s Return, the prisoner took him to the Rummer Tavern, and treated him with two pints of Wine, giving him some unnatural Kisses, and shewing several beastly Gestures. After this he perswaded him to go to the Talbot Inn , where he called for a Pint of Wine, and order’d the Chamberlain to get a Bed ready, and bring a couple of Nightcaps: Here they went to Bed, (where the Writer of this paper would draw a Curtain, not being able to express the rest with Decency, but to satisfy the Curiosity of the Reader let this susfice, he did all that a beastly Appetite could prompt him to, without making an actual penetration. ) Next Morning the Prosecutor under frightful Apprehensions of what had been offered, went to a Relation of his and told him the whole Story, who came back with him to the Talbot, and desired, if the prisoner should come thither he might be sent for; accordingly the prisoner came again on Saturday the 9th Instant, when the people of the Inn sent for the Prosecutor’s Relation, Mr.Joseph Cockrost , who depos’d. That coming to the Talbot Inn, and hearing that the Prisoner was there with another Person, he look’d through the Key-hole of the Door, and saw such filthy Actions that are not proper to be mention’d. After this, knocking at the Door, the Prisoner came out, and upon this Deponent’s taking him by the Collar, and saving, he had some Business with him, the Prisoner laid his Hand upon his Sword, upon which this Deponent said, Sir, if you offer to draw, I’ll whip you through the Gills.
Christopher Finch , Servant, depos’d. That he saw the Prisoner the Time aforesaid, come to his Master’s House with the Prosecutor, and by his frequent coming there with Soldiers, and calling for a private Room, he suspected him to be guilty of Sodomitical Practices, and thereupon looking through the Key-hole, he saw him offer some beastly Actions to the Prosecutor.
John Carter Constable, depos’d. That he being call’d, was charg’d with the Prisoner, by the Cook of the Talbot and the Prosecutor, but he heard nothing of any Proposals made by the Prosecutor and his Friends, to make it up, as was intimated by the Evidence of John Cole and George Birch two Watchmen. The Prisoner call’d several to his Character, but the most Material was Micah Wilkins , who depos’d. He had known the Prisoner to be a very honest Man, and that he had took a deal of Pains, and spent a great deal of Money to curb the Vice of the Nation. Upon the Whole, his first Indictment being laid for actual Sodomy, he was acquitted of that, but found guilty of the Second.
12 April 1727
Charles Hitchins for Sodomitical Practices, was fined 20 l. and 6 Months Imprisonment, and to stand in the Pillory near the End of Catherine Street, in the Strand.
From Old Bailey sessions papers, April 1727, 5–6

In this Daily Journal article the Societies for Reformation of Manners distance themselves from Charles Hitchin:

We are well informed, that Mr Charles Hitchin, the Under City-Marshal, who was lately convicted of an Attempt to commit that detestable Sin of Sodomy, never did belong to the Societies for Reformation of Manners, nor had any Concern with them, and that what has been reported and printed to the contrary, is false and groundless. But there is Reason to believe he may have pretended to belong to those Societies, because some years ago he offer’d them his Assistance which they refused to accept of, as having no very good Opinion of him, and apprehending that such Offer proceeded from corrupt motives. We are also assured that the said Societies have, for a considerable Time past, had good reason to believe that he was a Frequenter of the Sodomitical Clubs and a Practioner of that abominable Lewdness, tho’ they had not sufficient Evidence for a legal conviction, and therefore they did not promote a Prosecution against him till they were acquainted with the Evidence of the Fact, for which he is now convicted.

Daily Journal (London, England), Monday, April 17, 1727; Issue 1952. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

Hitchin might have escaped from death but together with a fine of £20 and six months’ imprisonment he was sentenced to an hour in the pillory. The pillory was a frightening prospect for men convicted of homosexual offences and particularly for Hitchin as newspapers revealed he had targeted young men. The under-sheriff took him down long before his appointed hour had passed:

This day Charles Hitchin, Under City Marshal stood in the Pillory over against Katherine Street End in the Strand, Pursant to his Sentence, for an Attempt to commit Sodomy. The Mob us’d him so roughly that his Life was in Danger, part of his Cloaths were pull’d off his Back, his Breeches down and several Persons struck him on the bare skin with the end of their Canes.

Evening Post (1709) (London, England), April 29, 1727 – May 2, 1727; Issue 2773. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

Charles Hitchin was taken back to Newgate prison to serve out his sentence. He was stripped of his title of Under-Marshal by the Court of Aldermen for his ‘notorious and wicked practices’ He died shortly afterwards in poverty.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Wild continued to thrive in his trade of receiver—thief-taker  despite the clause in the 1718 Transportation Act which would make it a felony to accept a reward for recovering stolen goods without attempting to prosecute the thief. Many saw this legislation as directly aimed at Wild. William Thomson, the City Recorder, one of the men who devised this act, was reported to disapprove of Wild’s activities. However, Gerald Howson, a biographer of Wild’s, has suggested that even such high-ranking City officials as Thomson turned a blind eye to the thief-taker’s double-dealing, possibly to avoid exposure of their own implication in these activities.

After 1718, Wild concentrated on gang breaking and thief-taking. It was a lucrative business: a 1720 royal proclamation offered rewards of £100, above those already granted by Parliament, for the successful conviction of robbers in London and its environs. Wild was regularly to be found at the Old Bailey and other criminal courts where he appeared to give evidence for the prosecution.

Wild fell from grace in the eyes of the public after his involvement in the arrest and prosecution of two of the most famous criminals of the age- Jack Sheppard and his accomplice Joseph ‘Blueskin’ Blake in 1724. The press promoted Sheppard as a popular hero who had avoided any dealings with Wild and they used him to denounce thief takers like Wild. The press portrayed Blueskin as one of the children Wild had introduced to the life of a thief and subsequently sent to the gallows. While Blueskin was awaiting trial, Wild reportedly said he could do nothing for him short of paying for his coffin. Blueskin slit Wild’s throat in a fit of rage. Wild survived, but his reputation was in tatters.

On 15 February 1725, Wild was arrested for helping one of his associates escape from a constable. Wild was held on a warrant of detainer. He was accused of being both a receiver and a confederate of thieves; of having formed a ‘Corporation of Thieves’. He was also accused of selling human blood by presenting false evidence. There was as yet no precise charge against Wild, and it appeared that the authorities still sought witnesses in order to bring him to prosecution.  However, on 10 March Wild was discovered having accepted 10 guineas for returning some stolen lace to one Mrs Statham without attempting to prosecute the thieves, who had, in any case, committed the robbery on his instructions. On 15 May 1725, Wild was tried at the Old Bailey for ‘privately stealing’ the lace, and for ‘helping’ Statham ‘to the said Lace’ for a reward.  Wild attempted to influence the jurors by producing a list of the names of 75 felons he had brought to justice. However, while Wild was acquitted of the theft, he was convicted of the second indictment, accepting reward for the recovery of stolen goods without having attempted to prosecute the thieves; a charge that had been made a capital offence under the 1718 Act. He was sentenced to hang. The night before his execution Wild attempted to commit suicide:

About two o’clock in the morning he endeavour’d to prevent his Execution by taking Laudanum, but the Largeness of the Draught, together with having fasted before, instead of destroying him immediately, was the occasion of his not dying of it.

Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer (London, England), Saturday, May 29, 1725; Issue 5. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

On 24 May 1725 Wild, still drowsy from the laudanum, was transported to Tyburn to be hanged. An angry mob pelted him with stones so violently on his head that ‘the Blood ran down plentifully, which occasion’d a report that he had cut his throat.’

Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer (London, England), Saturday, May 29, 1725; Issue 5. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

For those who wish to learn more about Jonathan Wild we can recommend consulting Gerald Howson’s biography, Thief-Taker General: the Rise and Fall of Jonathan Wild (1970) available at Guildhall Library shelf mark B:W 668.

Jonathan Wild’s trial was dramatized by the BBC please find the link below:

Isabelle Chevallot
Assistant Librarian Guildhall Library