18th Century Thief-takers

In this three part blog Guildhall Assistant Librarian Isabelle Chevallot will explore the lives of Jonathan Wild and Charles Hitchin, two of the most celebrated thief-takers of the eighteenth century.

Part 1-Jonathan Wild, Thief-taker General

Jonathan Wild, baptised on the 6th of May 1683 in Wolverhampton, was one of Britain’s most notorious thief-takers of the eighteenth century. Before the establishment of a professional police force in the nineteenth century, thief-takers, private individuals hired to catch thieves, were instrumental in bringing criminals to justice. An Act of Parliament passed in 1697 which offered rewards for the capture and successful prosecution of highwaymen in order to persuade people to assist in law enforcement, had inadvertently created the occupation of thief-taker. The unfortunate side effect of this law was that apprehending criminals brought rich cash rewards and also a free pardon for any offences the thief-taker himself may have committed, encouraging corruption, blackmail and perjury.

Jonathan Wild, the self-styled “Thief-taker General of England and Ireland”, learned his ‘trade’ while serving a sentence in Wood Street Compter debtor’s prison. In prison, Wild became acquainted with prostitutes and petty criminals but also was in favour with the prison keepers and was granted the privilege of ‘the liberty of the gate’ which allowed him out at night to help arrest thieves and paid him for running errands. He was instructed in the ways of thievery by Mary Milliner, a well-known prostitute, and they moved in together when he was released from prison at the end of 1712. To begin with Wild made a living from the proceeds of prostitution and working as a bailiff’s assistant, and then expanded into racketeering and dealing in stolen goods. By 1713, Wild fell in with Charles Hitchin, Under-Marshal of the City, who had been suspended after being accused of receiving stolen goods and other shady practices. Hitchin, who was still empowered to act as a constable, enlisted Wild to help him keep control of his thieves while he was officially side-lined. Hitchin asked Wild to accompany him on his night walks where, on the pretext of reforming disorderly houses, Hitchin and Wild extorted protection money and trafficked in stolen goods. After Hitchin was reinstated to his office in April 1714 they fell out with each other and pursued separate careers in thief-taking.

By the December 1714, Wild had installed himself in Little Old Bailey where his house became an ‘Office of Intelligence for lost Goods’. Wild acted as a middleman who helped victims of theft recover their goods without ever keeping them in his possession. In this way he was able to avoid prosecution under the Act of 1706 which made receiving stolen property a felony. Wild put advertisements in newspapers calling for lost valuables to be brought to him at his house in the Old Bailey on the promise of rewards and no questions asked.

See below an engraving dating from 1813, this is a view of the house which was once the residence of Jonathan Wild in Old Bailey. This image can be found on COLLAGE- The London Picture Archive, a database of images from the City of London’s collections which is available online:


See below a couple of examples of Jonathan Wild’s advertisements from the 17th and 18th Century Burney Collection of newspapers which are available online at Guildhall Library, (please note remote access to this, and other historical newspaper archives including the Financial Times and the Times are available to City of London library members):

Whereas the house of John Bentham at the Three Spoons in Petty France was broken open on Thursday Night or Friday Morning last and there was taken from thence two Silver Tankards and 2 Stone Mugs tipt with Silver, markt B. I. D. If any of the Persons concerned in this Robbery will bring the said Goods’ to Mr Jonathan Wild at the Duke of Grafton’s Head in the Old Bailey, or discover the rest of the Persons concerned in this Fact, so that they may be brought to Justice, he or they shall have, besides his Pardon according to Act of Parliament, a Reward of Eight Pounds paid him by the said Jonathan Wild.

Post Man and the Historical Account (London, England), July 7, 1716 – July 10, 1716; Issue 11250. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

Whereas the House of Aaron Arcos in St Mary Ax, was between Friday and Monday last broke open, out of which was taken 2 Salvers, 1 Coffee Pot, 1 Caudle Cup and Cover, 6 Forks, 5 Spoons, 1 set of Casters, and 1 Salt-seller, with other Goods; but the above mention’d Plate being on Monday last taken upon a Person by Jonathan Wild, these are to satisfie the Person or Persons that hath the remainder of the said Goods, that if they do not forthwith return them to the Person injured, or to Jonathan Wild at the Duke of Grafton’s Head in the Old Bailey, they may assure themselves that the said Wild will make it his Business to bring them to Justice.

Post Man and the Historical Account (London, England), August 14, 1716 – August 16, 1716; Issue 11250. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

Many regarded Wild as performing a vital public service, especially by reuniting people with their lost valuables. To begin with Wild was shrewd enough to refuse any fees (although he received a cut from the thieves). Frequently, to better establish his reputation as an honest man, he would take steps to have the thieves arrested and prosecuted, particularly if they did not cooperate with him. In this way Wild was both a receiver and a thief-taker who earned not only public approbation for bringing thieves to justice, but also the rewards offered by parliament for the successful conviction of burglars and highwaymen.

Below is an engraving dating from around 1724 entitled The London Rairey Shows or Who’ll step into Ketch’s Theatre showing Newgate. Jack Sheppard, a celebrated criminal of the age, is imprisoned in the gate house at the door of which sits a figure, thought by some to be Jonathan Wild besieged by a crowd of people seeking the return of their stolen property. This engraving is available from COLLAGE- The London Picture Archive, a database of images from the City of London’s collections which is available online:


Below is the text of one of Jonathan Wild’s notices in the London Gazette which is available in hard copy at Guildhall Library as well as free to search online at:

London Gazette 28 November 1719 Issue: 5803 Page: 2


To be continued…


Touring Exhibitions from Guildhall Library

We’re very pleased to announce that two of our exhibitions are now available to hire for free. If you are a museum, library, history centre, school, or any other organisation, and are interested in hiring these exhibitions, we’d love to hear from you!

Each exhibition consists of eight pull-up banners and is flexible enough to fit in most spaces.

img_2461-front-bannerThe first exhibition is London’s Dreadful Visitation: The Great Plague, 1665. The Great Plague was a devastating event in the City of London, wiping out almost 100,000 people. Whether young or old, man or woman, saint or sinner, it killed mercilessly and changed London forever. This exhibition was originally staged at Guildhall Library in the summer of 2015. Divided into clear themes, visitors are able to learn more about the pestilence, including the remedies people used; theories on the causes; and what the authorities did in response to the outbreak.


Also available is our brand new exhibition That Dreadful Fire: the Hand of God, a Great Wind and a Very Dry Season, which was on display at Guildhall Library until 30 November this year. It takes you through the story of the Great Fire and explains what you can learn through Guildhall Library’s collections, including who was to blame, its impact, and how Londoners rebuilt the City.


Our plague exhibition is also now available as an online exhibition, so to find out more about the Great Plague of 1665, visit our website https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/guildhall-library/events-exhibitions/Pages/great-plague-online-exhibition.aspx.

Want to find out more? Please get in touch at GHLevents@cityoflondon.gov.uk or 020 7332 1868 and we can provide more details and an exhibition pack.

Amy Burgess
Events and Exhibitions Officer
Guildhall Library

Carolling in the Collections


Much loved Christmas carols will be sung across the City in special services this month and many of us will go along and sing words and tunes which have been a part of our enjoyment of the season since childhood.

A carol was originally a joyful song which could be sung at any time of year, but the word carol gradually became associated with the songs and hymns sung during Advent and Christmas time.

It has not always been ‘respectable’ to sing Christmas carols in church let alone sing wassails. Indeed they were often seen as worldly and irreverent and not fit for the service of God.  In these days of broader tastes and a more relaxed approach to what can be sung in church, perhaps one would not be at all surprised if the church choir burst into a chorus of Roy Wood’s “I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day” or even the ubiquitous Slade, both of which have a celebratory tone.

The survival and success of music for Christmas in churches has had a chequered and remarkable history. It came close to demise during the Civil War period following a Parliamentary order for the demolition of church organs on the 9th May 1644.  The Parliamentarians are unlikely to have been objecting to music itself, just its use in church which was seen as frivolous and irreverent.  After the Restoration the old music resurfaced in churches and in some places it had never been submerged. This revival included the singing of unaccompanied psalms and the formation of church bands and quires (choirs).  Old tunes were celebrated once again and new tunes were composed.  Organs gradually returned to churches too but many rural and city parishes couldn’t afford them so the church band and quire took its place. However, toward the middle of the nineteenth century, the influence of the Oxford Movement made the organ the standard musical accompaniment once again, together with robed choirs who usually sat in the chancel.  Guildhall Library has books in its collections which can tell us more about this fascinating period.

One of the musical traditions which was all but lost during the late nineteenth century was revived toward the end of the twentieth – that of West Gallery Music.  It had been popular from the early 1700s to the mid-nineteenth century beginning with the singing of metrical psalms but later augmented with anthems and carols.  This music was usually performed in the West Gallery of country churches – hence the name.  The singers were usually male with each “voice” or part being led by an instrumentalist.


A pre-West Gallery strand of music making in church was reflected in John Playford’s “Whole Book of Psalms” published in 1677 (Guildhall Library holds an 18th century copy).  Collectors like Playford were important in the re-discovery and dissemination of pre-Commonwealth tunes.  Playford records a tune called “Winchester” for Psalm 107 “Give Thanks Unto the Lord”.


The melody will be more familiar to us as “While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night,” the words to which are thought to have been written by Nahum Tate (1652 –1715) of Tate & Brady Psalms.  This may suggest that the association of Tate’s words with “Winchester” was quite new in Playford’s time.  During the later West Gallery period, Winchester was just one of many tunes for this favourite carol.  Collectors of these tunes have apparently identified at least two hundred tunes for “While Shepherds Watched,” including Lyngham (associated with Cornwall), Otford, and Cranbrook – written in Kent.  The latter is now better known as “On Ilkla Moor bar tat” why not try it…”and glory shone around, and glory shone around, and glo-ry shone around…”

The West Gallery tunes were sung in Anglican and Non-Conformist churches in country villages and towns.  As we have seen, different parishes and congregations had their own traditions and the words and tunes local usage.  Some churches preferred to sing metrical psalms only, such as “All People that on Earth do Dwell” (Psalm 100), whilst others had a broader repertoire.  In church the choirs often sang words based on biblical texts or the Book of Common Prayer, but they also learned Christmas carols to be sung not in church, but in their homes and for ‘going the rounds’ on Christmas night.

Some post Commonwealth parishes supported the work of the singers and musicians by employing singing teachers or purchasing musical instruments to accompany the singing when players were too poor to afford their own.  Players and singers were sometimes paid money or supplied with food and drink.   The music was handed down through families, many of whom created their own music manuscripts.  These local players often played for secular occasions too.

The rousing harmonies of West Gallery tunes were not unanimously welcomed, some parishes felt that traditional psalm tunes were better suited to the solemnity of a church service. There remained a suspicion of a tradition in which ordinary villagers led the service and that their singing and playing was not confined to or controlled by the church.  Others genuinely felt that it was better for the whole congregation to sing together rather than listen to a quire and musicians.  The church bands and choirs were gradually replaced by organists.

Guildhall Library’s collections offer an insight into the history of Christmas music sacred and secular.  In his preface to “Some Ancient Christmas Carols” (1823) Davies Gilbert looks back at a dying tradition…

“shadows of these customs were, till very lately, preserved in the Protestant West of England.  The day of Christmas Eve was passed in an ordinary manner; but at seven or eight o’clock in the evening cakes were drawn hot from the oven; cyder or beer exhilarated the spirits in every house; and the singing of Carols was continued late into the night.  On Christmas Day these Carols took the place of Psalms in all the Churches, especially at afternoon service, the whole Congregation joining; and at the end it was usual for the Parish Clerk to declare, in a loud voice, his wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy new year to all the Parishioners.” (Preface iv)

My own introduction to the joyous sound of West Gallery Music came through the work of Thomas Hardy whose father played in the West Gallery of the church at Stinsford, a village near Dorchester in West Dorset.  The County Museum houses the Hardy family’s music books with religious tunes at one end and secular ones at the other.  Hardy’s family memories inspired  some of his poems but above all his novel “Under the Greenwood Tree” which he subtitled “The Mellstock Quire, a Rural Painting of the Dutch school” (Guildhall Library reference B:H 272).  In that novel Hardy gives a fictional account of the quire ‘going the rounds’ on Christmas Eve and leading the singing in church on Christmas morning.  There is a poignant sense of loss at its eventual demise in favour of a single musician – the church organist.


When Davies Gilbert (1767-1839) published his collection of “Some Ancient Christmas Carols: with the Tunes to which they were Formerly Sung in the West of England. Together with Two Ancient Ballads, a Dialogue, &c” he was offering these songs to the reading public at a time when they were increasingly undervalued.
(Guildhall reference S 728:28 )

The collection includes this now lesser known carol “Hark! Hark! What News the Angels Bring”


And the better known “Christians Awake”


Gilbert also records the carol “A Virgin Most Pure” which is sometimes called “A Virgin Unspotted” (see Sandy’s “Christmastide: Its History, Festivities and Carols”) and gives the tune.  Sandys records it as a West Country tune but it has been popular in several English counties.    It seems that this carol had a secular origin.  Broadwood & Fuller Maitland in their “English Country Songs” (1893) tell us that the tune used was one called “Admiral Benbow” sung at Marden, near Hereford.  Sandys also records the words to “Remember Adam’s Fall” in his “Christmastide” which is sung by the Mellstock Quire in Hardy’s “Under the Greenwood Tree”.


Gilbert “Some Ancient Christmas Carols”


William Sandys (1792-1874) gave the words of forty two Christmas songs and the music for twelve. He too was saddened that carol singing was dying out. He recorded “A Virgin Most Pure”, “Remember Adam’s Fall” as well as a carol which possibly dates back to the fourteenth century entitled “Joseph was an Old Man” also known as the “Cherry Tree Carol”

In his Diary entry for the 23rd January 1873 the Reverend Francis Kilvert recorded going to hear a man recite this carol…

“This morning I found John Cozens at work on the lawn covering down one of the old flower beds, the one near the Deodar, between it and the limes. He fulfilled his promise of reciting to me the old Christmas Carol which the Wassailers and he as chief singer used to sing with the Wassailing song at Christmas. John leaned on his spade and I took this carol down word for word from his mouth.


Joseph was an old man,
An old man was he,
When first he courted Mary
What a virgin was she…”

“Selections from the Diary of the Rev. Francis Kilvert” volume two, pages 312-314. Reference BK: 48.

Kilvert records twelve verses of the carol. Laurie Lee also records singing this carol in “Cider with Rosie”.


Thankfully West Gallery tunes are now easier for a modern day audience to experience owing to the dedication of singers, musicians and scholars who have performed and recorded them in recent years. In the Sheffield area the music has survived by moving it to the pub and during December people still sing the old carols with gusto over a pint.

In London we are fortunate to have the London West Gallery Quire so we do not have to head for the West Country or Yorkshire to hear these wonderful tunes.  There is a West Gallery Music Association http://www.wgma.org.uk/ where you can find articles about the music and details of concerts.  So let’s not be limited in our choice of Christmas music this year and celebrate our long and varied tradition of sacred and secular carols.

Jeanie Smith

Assistant Librarian & Keeper of the Lloyd’s Marine Collection

The newsletter of the Friends of City Churches available in the library also lists carol services and concerts in the City.

Find out more about secular and sacred Christmas music in Guildhall Library’s collections:

Christmastide : its History, Festivities, and Carols [1852]

William Sandys

Reference S 394:2663


English Country Songs: Words and Music (1893)

Collected and Edited by Lucy E Broadwood & J A Fuller Maitland

Reference 782:4216221


Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs (1979)

Edited by Roy Palmer

Reference 782:4216221


Festive Songs, Principally of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries with an Introduction by William Sandys (1848)

Reference ST 271 (PERCY S; 77)


The Folk-Carol of England (1967)

Douglas Brice

Reference 782:28


Go West…

Christopher Turner

The Musical Times, Vol. 136, No. 1829 (Jul., 1995), pp. 380-383

Available via Jstor in the library


The Old Church Gallery Minstrels: An Account of the Church Bands and Singers in England from about 1660 to 1860

Canon K H MacDermott

Reference 783:8


Some Ancient Christmas Carols : with the Tunes to which they were Formerly Sung in the West of England. Together with two Ancient Ballads, a Dialogue, &c (1823)

Collected by Davies Gilbert.

Reference S 728:28


Specimens of Old Christmas Carols : Selected from Manuscripts and Printed Books.

Thomas Wright (1810-1877)

Reference ST 271 (PERCY S; 16)


Under the Greenwood Tree

Thomas Hardy

Reference BH: 272


The Whole Book of Psalms (1757)

John Playford ; Joseph Fox

Reference AN 11.2.17


The “Pepys Collection” at Guildhall Library

As the library of London history Guildhall Library has recently featured Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) in our exhibitions on the Great Plague and the Great Fire.

In fact we hold two collections relating to the famous diarist. The first is that of “The Samuel Pepys Club and Samuel Pepys Trust Award”: the shortlisted books for the award are added to the collection biennially. The second, and the subject of this blog is simply called “The Samuel Pepys Collection.” It contains 560 books and pamphlets by, or about, the diarist. The collection was assembled by Colonel C D L Pepys (pronounced Pep-iss) and was deposited in 1987. This material was published between c1669 and 1996 and includes biographies, editions of the diary and Pepys’ letters, and published material relating to Pepys’ career as a naval administrator.

Through the work of Pepys and his contemporaries the collection offers information and insight into the Royal Navy of the 17th century e.g. a 1690 copy of Pepys’ “Memoires Relating to the State of the Royal Navy of England, for Ten Years, Determin’d December 1688” (Pepys 3*). It was printed in London for Benjamin Griffin, and sold by Sam Keble at the Great Turks-Head in Fleet-street over against Fetter-Lane. There is a well known engraved portrait of Pepys as frontispiece by R White (after Godfrey Kneller).


In this memoir one can see Pepys the successful administrator at work and defending his record.

“A List and State of the Whole Royal Navy of England (Whether at Sea or in Harbour) upon the 18. day of December 1688 shewing the condition of each ship and vessel therein, with respect to their repairs and Value of their Rigging and Sea Stores, upon that day, containing also an Account of the last and highest Estimates presented to his Majesty by the officers of his Navy of the defects of every ship comprehended within Mr Pepys’ Proposition; compar’d with the Real Charge of the Works perform’d thereon by the late Commissioners of the Navy between the Commencement of their Commission March 25th. 1686. and its Determination October 12. 1688.” P178-9

The collection also includes Nathaniel Boteler’s “Colloquia Maritima”. Boteler (or Butler) seems to have been a controversial figure; appointed Governor of Bermuda in 1619, he was accused of the harsh treatment of some Spaniards who were wrecked on the coast. In 1627 Boteler commanded a ship which took part in the catastrophic La Rochelle Expedition (led by George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham and favourite of Charles I) in which 4,000 men died. “Colloquia Maritima” contains six dialogues on such subjects as the office of commanders in chief, the duty of inferior officers, the victualing of ships, an explanation of the names of all the parts of a ship and the best ships of war and the ordering of fleets.
The dialogues were written in 1634. A later printed, but said to be flawed edition, was issued in 1685 (See Carr Lawton’s article in “Mariner’s Mirror” for January 1911).


Our 1688 copy (Pepys 8) was printed and sold by William Fisher and Richard Mount at the Postern on Tower-hill. It was dedicated to Samuel Pepys by the bookseller Moses Pitt.

Another volume in the collection is mentioned by Pepys in his diary for Friday 25 July 1662:

“At my office all the morning, reading Mr Holland’s discourse of the Navy, lent me by Mr Turner; and am much pleased with them, they hitting the very diseases of the Navy which we are troubled with nowadays. I shall bestow writing of them over and much reading thereof.”

There are two copies of John Holland’s (fl. 1638-1659) “Discourses of the Navy” in the Pepys Collection, both in the Navy Records Society series (Pepys 433 & Pepys 434).

John Holland was Surveyor of the Navy from 1649-52. His manuscript of ‘A Discourse of the Navy’ was written in 1638 but was not published until 1896. His work examines inefficiencies and problems in administering the Navy e.g. the organization of wages, victuals, stores and people – so it is unsurprising that Pepys was a keen reader of the work. Holland, like Boteler, is said to have been abrasive and his career was punctuated by disputes with colleagues. His second discourse appeared around 1661 and was dedicated to the Duke of York (but also not published until 1896).

“Samuel Pepys’ Naval Minutes” edited by J R Tanner (Navy Record Society edition of 1926) were taken from his manuscript in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge (Pepys 390). They offer an eclectic mix of Pepys’ notes on things to be investigated, naval problems he was mulling over, criticism of his predecessors, even rumination on how Noah’s ark was built. The original minutes were unclassified, meaning that Tanner’s index is invaluable. The volume also includes a list of ships mentioned by Pepys.

Pepys’ maritime career saw him appointed Clerk of the Acts at the Navy Board in 1660, admitted a younger brother of Trinity House in 1662 (later Elder Brother and Master) and nominated for the committee set up to run Tangier (part of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry 1661) in 1662.

Sir Hugh Cholmley (1632-1688) was given charge of building the ‘mole’ or breakwater at Tangier in 1663, then felt essential for defence from attack and for protection from the weather. Cholmley’s “An account of Tangier” (Pepys 45) takes us to this period of Pepys’ administrative career and Cholmley is mentioned several times in the “Diary” e.g. in this entry for Monday 12 January 1663:

“So I went to the Committee, where we spent all this night attending to Sir J. Lawson’s description of Tanger and the place for the Molde, of which he brought a very pretty draught. Concerning the making of the Molle, Mr. Cholmely did also discourse very well, having had some experience in it.” (R C Latham and W Matthews edition Volume 4)

Pepys became Treasurer of the Tangier garrison in 1665. Our 1787 copy of Cholmley’s account was taken from his manuscripts by Nathaniel Cholmley. The structure was costly and several years were spent building it. However it was unfinished when Tangier was besieged in 1680 and the colony had to be abandoned. It was then decided the mole could not be left behind to aid the besiegers and so it was destroyed – another expensive and difficult undertaking.

Pepys kept a Tangier journal from 30th July 1683 to 1st December 1684 and a 20th century publication of this is in the collection (Pepys 439), as are his Tangier papers which were edited and transcribed for the Navy Records Society series (Pepys 439).

The collection includes many volumes which look at Pepys’ other enthusiasms as in this book by Australian writer and polymath Oscar A. Mendelsohn (Pepys 378).


Other books by this author include “The Earnest Drinker’s Digest” (1946) which is in Guildhall Library’s food and drink collections. The book is in part a collection of quotations from Pepys’ diary, so if you would like to know what Pepys wrote about English wine, champagne, ale, sack, wormwood wine or metheglin, this will be of interest.

Charles A. Rivington’s “Pepys and the Booksellers” (Pepys 419) offers notes on the book sellers, book binders, stationers, printers and print sellers mentioned in Pepys’ diary, correspondence and papers, so is of value to anyone interested in the 17th century book trade. It tells us about Pepys’ good relationship with the London booksellers together with useful references to them in the “Diary”. One can also see the fruits of this relationship in the “Catalogue of the Pepys Library at Magdalene College” compiled by N.A. Smith (Pepys 245).

Pepys had three volumes of what he termed “Penny Merriments” which contain 115 small chapbooks now at Magdalene College. The volumes offer 17th century broadsides, ballads, riddles, proverbs, recipes etc. which were aimed at a wide audience – hence the penny cost. Roger Thompson edited a selection of these entitled “Samuel Pepys’ ‘Penny merriments’ : being a Collection of Chapbooks, full of Histories, Jests, Magic, Amorous Tales of Courtship, Marriage and Infidelity, Accounts of Rogues and Fools, together with Comments on the Times” (Pepys 365).

Guildhall Library is a public reference library open to all. Scholars and enthusiasts are all very welcome to visit to read and enjoy these books. All you need to bring along is proof of your name and address. A post on “The Samuel Pepys Club and Samuel Pepys Trust Award” will follow in the New Year.

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

*reference in the Pepys Collection

A Global Celebration of an Historic Trade: Risk and Sacrifice

As the Totally Thames Festival draws to a close for another year we mark an annual and international event on the 29th September 2016 – World Maritime Day. The theme for this year is “Shipping: indispensable to the world” and has the intention of raising awareness of the importance of shipping in a global society and the role of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) within it.

The IMO, an agency of the United Nations, was established in 1948 as an international body charged with promoting maritime safety. The IMO webpage for World Maritime Day tells us that “around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide. …Without shipping the import and export of goods on the scale necessary to sustain the modern world would not be possible.” It also states that “There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.” (http://www.imo.org/en/About/Events/WorldMaritimeDay/Pages/WMD-2016.aspx)


Crew aboard the ‘Zamalek’ which took part in PQ 17 – Lloyd’s Marine Collection

The work of the merchant fleet has often made the difference between life and death, not least in time of war. During the Second World War around 185,000 civilian and volunteer seamen from Britain, India, China, Australia, Canada and New Zealand served in the Merchant Navy delivering essential supplies of food and equipment from North America and from around the Empire. The food and supplies were transported in convoys offering the merchant vessels a greater level of protection as they were accompanied by Royal Navy escort vessels. It was a dangerous service and by the end of the war over 29,000 merchant seamen had lost their lives.

At Guildhall Library we are proud to hold the Lloyd’s Marine Collection offering information about Merchant Navy ships from 1741 to the present. Among the resources are details of shipping movements and war losses for 1939-45 which evidence the danger faced by these servicemen.

For some years, a group of dedicated enthusiasts have been using resources here and at other archives to build an invaluable database of convoy movements for the First and Second World Wars. This database is only available at Guildhall Library and I have consulted it to find out which convoys have their 75th anniversary on World Maritime Day 2016.

A search by date of convoy departures and arrivals offered the following:


We have had the honour to assist many merchant seamen and their families gather the required evidence to make a claim for the Arctic Star and other medals. Some of those who served on the convoys were very young indeed; one enquirer was only fifteen years old when he joined. The Arctic Star award is for service on the Russian Convoys during World War Two so I was immediately drawn to find out more about Convoy PQ 1.

The PQ 1 link on the database takes the enquirer to a list of the merchant vessels in that convoy together with its escort vessels. Each vessel name has a further link from which one can trace all her convoy movements during the period of World War Two – an invaluable resource for family and maritime historians!


The first ‘test’ convoy to Russia was called ‘Operation Dervish’ and it sailed from Liverpool for Hvalfjord on the 12th August 1941 arriving at Archangel (via Iceland) on the 31st August.  Early convoy supplies for Russia came from British sources; the outward convoy vessels were partly in ballast but also carried Russian exports as she was in dire need of finance through trade.  These Russian exports included chrome, cotton and tobacco.  There were three routes but PQ convoys went to the North Russian ports of Archangel and Murmansk and were named after Commander Peter Quellyn Russell, a planning officer in the Admiralty.

Our example (PQ 1) was the first of the coded convoys to North Russia and the database shows that it sailed from Hvalfjord on 29 September 1941.  As you can see the convoy consisted of eleven merchant ships; the Convoy Commodore was Captain D Ridley, Master of the ‘Atlantic’ and the Vice Commodore was with the ‘North King’.  Escort vessels throughout were the cruiser ‘Suffolk’, the destroyer ‘Impulsive’ plus four minesweepers and these were joined for part of the journey by destroyers ‘Antelope’ and ‘Anthony’.  The Lloyd’s War Loss Cards show that vessels were often attacked after they left the comparative safety of the convoy and were undefended.

PQ 1 arrived at Archangel on the 11th October 1941.  Using the named vessel links in PQ 1 finds their later movements and in some cases ultimate fate.   As an early convoy to Russia, PQ1 travelled relatively unscathed but four of the vessels in that convoy had been sunk by July 1943; the ‘Capira’, the ‘Gemstone’, the ‘Harmonic’ and the ‘River Afton’.

From January 1942 the battleship ‘Tirpitz’ arrived in Norway which meant that the number of escort vessels had to be increased to defend the convoys. As the war progressed journeys were undertaken in constant fear of attack from U-boats, enemy battleships and attack from the air.  The most famous PQ convoy was PQ 17 which demonstrated that fears were not unfounded – 24 of the 35 merchant ships that left Iceland were lost and 153 merchant seamen lost their lives.  PQ 18 was the last of the PQs after which they became JW.


@IWM (A 27565)

Even in the period before the arrival of the ‘Tirpitz’ there was still a further adversary to be overcome – the weather. The build-up of ice on vessels in the freezing seas could destabilise a ship, living conditions on board were poor and keeping warm was a constant challenge. However, accounts of some serving merchant seamen seem to suggest that 60 foot waves were, if not welcomed, at least tolerated because they made submarine attacks less likely. The journey was always a dangerous one.

The Lloyd’s ‘Loss and Casualty Books’ (held at Guildhall Library) show the dangers merchant vessels were exposed to during the Second World War, often disappearing without trace or no news of the fate of vessel or crew confirmed for many months.

The Convoys Database at Guildhall Library is a practical, easy to use and informative web resource for researchers but the work of its compilers and webmaster also pays tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of the Merchant Navy during the two World Wars.

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian

Find out more about the collection at https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/guildhall-library/collections/Pages/Maritime-history.aspx and books on the subject in our library catalogue https://col.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/ghl/?






The SS Great Eastern: A Tale of Ingenuity and Adversity


Isambard Kingdom Brunel‘s inventiveness ascended new heights when he designed the SS Great Eastern. Originally named Leviathan, she was six times larger than any previous vessel and designing and launching her posed new challenges both to him and to the builder, J Scott Russell of Millwall. Scott Russell was expert in the field, and Brunel and he had met and worked together before.

The necessity for her immense size came from the need to carry sufficient coal for return voyages to India and Australia where she hoped to corner the passenger market with her ability to carry up to 4000 people at record speed. At 18915 gross tons, 692 feet long and with an 82 feet beam it was many years before any vessel exceeded her dimensions.


The Great Eastern’s means of propulsion were experimental and various, using paddles, a propeller and sails. Lloyd’s Register for 1888-1889 (see above) records the two engine builders which were required to complete work on such a specialised vessel. The engine attached to the screw propeller was made by James Watt & Co and that for the paddle wheels was built by Scott Russell. The launch of the Great Eastern was equally experimental as owing to her enormous size, she couldn’t be launched stern first onto the Thames, so Brunel had to devise a means of launching her sideways onto the busy Thames in safety. In this he was probably a pioneer of a method now commonly used in shipyards.

Building began in 1854 but she was not launched until 1858. The difficulties associated with the project eventually bankrupted Russell and affected Brunel’s health. Fitted out at Deptford, she set off on a trial trip in September 1859, cheered off by large crowds owing to the press attention the project had received. During this voyage an explosion occurred on board killing six of her firemen and badly damaging the Grand Saloon. This seems to have been the last straw for Brunel who died soon after hearing the news. Her maiden voyage to New York began on the 17th June 1860 with only 43 passengers and 418 crew.

Ultimately the original project was a brave and daring failure: she was so large that some docks were unable to cope with her and in 1869 the Suez Canal opened which meant that her planned voyages via the Cape of Good Hope became less viable. Instead she plied the trans-Atlantic Route to America and by 1864 the vessel was sold for far less than she was worth to a cable laying company. However, this marked her place in another moment of history when she was used in laying the first telegraph cable to America (under the management of Brunel’s Great Western Railway protégé and the railway’s first Chief Mechanical Engineer, Daniel Gooch).

The Illustrated London News published numerous articles on her telling the story of her life as a passenger ship and as a cable laying vessel, through to her journey to the Mersey to be broken up. Library users can also follow the various delays and misfortunes which attended her launch and maiden voyage with this source. The issue on Saturday the 7th November 1857 included stunning images of the bow and stern of the ‘Leviathan’ indicating her huge dimensions. By October they stated that “as we peered curiously down the hatchway we could distinguish in the cavernous depths of the hold fitful flashes from the numerous riveting-forges, making the vast abyss resemble the crater of a volcano, whence a horrid clangour of what seemed titanic hammers battering against iron gates fell on the ear in thundering reverberations.”

Guildhall Library also holds an interesting pamphlet (Pam 3837) The Great Eastern Steam Ship: A Description of Mr Scott Russell’s Great Ship, Now Building at Millwall, for the Eastern Steam Navigation Company. It was illustrated and priced at one penny. It is undated but likely to have been published in 1854 when the ship was laid down. One page offers a series of line drawings demonstrating the immense size of the Great Eastern compared to the Great Western and the Great Britain for example.

Among the other printed material on the ship which the Library holds is The Big Ship by Patrick Beaver (387.243) a volume packed with illustrations in the form of photographs covering the whole of the vessel’s biography.

In 1888 this ground breaking vessel with a chequered history ended her days in a Mersey scrapyard, literally being knocked to pieces. She was so solidly built that it took two years to dismantle her. Guildhall Library’s copies of Lloyd’s Register are ‘posted’ which means that they were updated between issues by Lloyds. The extract below illustrates the simple but sad amendment made to their records in the 1888-1889 Register…‘Broken up’.


Jeanie Smith, Assistant Librarian

Jane Loudon: The Ladies’ Gardener

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Horticulturalist, novelist and journalist Jane Loudon Webb (1807-1858) faced financial difficulty for much of her life and turned to writing to make a living.  Her father died when she was seventeen, leaving her without financial security but a few years later she enjoyed literary success with her novel “The Mummy! Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century”, published anonymously in 1827.  The tale explored ideas of future technological and scientific developments and among the many who admired the book was writer and horticultural expert John Claudius Loudon.  They met following his review of her book and were married within the year.

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Once she had entered her husband’s horticultural world she wanted to immerse herself in the subject and learn more, attending lectures by John Lindley. She wanted to assist Loudon in his work but recognized she had a great deal to learn about gardening in order to do so. This experience of being a complete beginner was invaluable in her later writings on horticulture. She went on to write nineteen books on natural history and botany, many of them instructional and aimed at the female amateur. The volumes also demonstrate that she was a talented botanical artist. Her work was of a serious nature, offering sound and practical advice to the aspiring Victorian lady who may not have been used to wielding a spade!

Guildhall Library holds two of her works; both are in the collection of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners. The first is a small volume entitled “Mrs Loudon’s Instructions in Gardening for Ladies” (reference GC 3.3) published in 1840 and partly written because the family were in financial difficulty and extra income was needed. The book was popular, with over 1300 copies sold on the day it was published. In her introduction she explained why she felt she was particularly qualified to publish this kind of instruction manual:

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“I think books intended for professional gardeners, are seldom suitable to the wants of amateurs. It is so very difficult for a person who has been acquainted with a subject all his life, to imagine the state of ignorance in which a person is who knows nothing of it…Thus, though it might at first sight appear presumptuous in me to attempt to teach an art of which for three fourths of my life I was perfectly ignorant, it is in fact that very circumstance which is one of my chief qualifications for the task.” (vi)
The second book by Mrs [Jane] Loudon at Guildhall Library is a lavishly illustrated volume called “The Ladies’ Flower Garden of Ornamental Annuals” (1842) (reference GC 1.6).

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In her Preface she explains that this volume is to be the first in a series…

“which, when completed, should contain coloured groups of all the most ornamental flowers in British gardens, as well as those grown under glass, as in the open air. The present work, which is the first of this series, comprises the hardy and half-hardy annuals…”

Each of the series was designed to be complete in itself but the whole series was to form the most “comprehensive illustration of the kind of plants belonging to the different orders, than any other work which has yet been published”.

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Although some of the phrases she uses would not be welcomed by present day male or female gardeners, she was countering contemporary arguments that the Victorian woman lacked the strength for gardening, or that it might be improper for her to engage in the pastime:-

“…a lady, with the assistance of a common labourer to level and prepare the ground, may turn a barren waste into a flower garden with her own hands.” (i)

Seed sowing, transplanting, training and tying in plants, deadheading and gathering seed for next year’s crop are “all suitable for feminine occupations; and they have the additional advantage on inducing gentle exercise in the open air.” (i)

From the introduction to “The Ladies’ Flower Garden”

In the introduction she makes the case for planting annuals; it is a worthwhile activity, it is cheaper and can be enjoyed over several months. Planning your garden in this way also suits people who rent their property for just a year as they see and enjoy the fruits of their labour.

She goes on to explain the arrangement of the work…

“I shall first give the botanic and English names, next the synonymes [sic], if any, and then the names of the modern English books in which the flower has been figured. To this, I shall subjoin a short botanical character, which will be followed by a popular description, with the geography, history, properties and uses, culture, and in short, everything worth knowing of the plant.” (iii)

She may have celebrated the sowing of annuals but she had strong words for those tempted to overdo things…

“An important feature of this work will be the directions for the culture of each flower…It is a common error, to suppose that all that is necessary to make a showy flower-garden is to sow the ground with a great many different kinds of flower-seeds…. “(iii)


“On looking into most flower-gardens, it will be found that most of the annuals are crowded together, each tuft having been left unthinned; and that the plants having been neither trained nor pruned, present, as they grow up, the most tawdry appearance, without either the grace and elegance of wild nature, or the trimness and neatness of art.” (iii)

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Her achievements were celebrated in a very practical way during the 2015 Hampton Court Flower Show with a garden designed by Jean Wardrop and Alexandra Stevenson called “A Growing Obsession – the Yardley London Perennial Garden” which was inspired by Loudon’s work.

Most of the images in “The Ladies Flower Garden” are annotated “Day & Haghe, Lithographers to the Queen”. Jane Loudon was the artist but her name does not appear on the illustrations. After her husband’s death she was again left in debt but continued to write and edited the weekly magazine “The Ladies’ Companion at Home and Abroad”. She was saddened when she was replaced as editor in 1851 following a slump in sales of the periodical. She died in 1858.

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian

All images from “The Ladies’ Flower Garden of Ornamental Annuals” of 1842.
Guildhall Library reference GC 1.6 (Please bring proof of your name and address with you).