Murther, Murther! Murder?


If you sometimes wonder about present day newspaper coverage of crimes before they go to trial, things could be worse.

This account (1641) of a supposed poisoning of a man by his wife and their landlady offers evidence, persuasion of guilt and straight to the judgement on the first page and all apparently before the woman had gone to trial!

The account reads like a ‘fire and brimstone’ sermon lamenting that ‘a daughter of Jerusalem hath committed an abomination’. We are told that one Anne Hamton of the Parish of Saint Margaret’s, Westminster spent all of her husband’s money in riotous living and when her good (and a little dull) husband begs her to leave off drinking and spending, she plots to poison him on the advice of the wicked landlady Margaret Harwood. He begs her ‘oh wife, wife, take counsell by me thy hitherto loving husband, forsake that company which hate not thy body, but soule, do not drink healths to thine own confusion, nor with so greedy an appetite swallow thine own destruction’ (p3). The poor man comes to a painful end but the evil deed of the women is soon discovered.

This may be a cautionary tale rather than a factual account. Court proceedings were not written down until the 1670s and it wasn’t until the 1750s that (nearly) every case was recorded.

Guildhall Library holds many of these short accounts of criminal activity which were printed and sold as a private enterprise and had nothing to do with the formal legal system. Some offer confessions or speeches purported to come from criminals about to be executed, sometimes ‘from the ladder’ just before they were hung.

One of my colleagues has suggested that this woodcut illustration is far older than the 1641 publication. The clothing depicted suggests an earlier date. Perhaps the workshop which did the printing owned the woodcut illustration and as it was to hand made use of it.

‘Murther, Murther!’ can be ordered at the library using reference A 1.2 no1 in 12.
This and other ‘accounts’ can be found on the library catalogue and you are welcome to visit to read them – just bring along proof of your name and address.

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian

The Unsolved Mystery of Elizabeth Canning

Today in Guildhall Library our Principal Librarian, Dr Peter Ross, gave the first in a series of lunch time talks we’re holding as part of English Tourism Week. This talk featured the unusual story of Elizabeth Canning, discussed in further depth below. If this piques your interest, we have another five talks over the next week, with topics covering the plague, Jack Sheppard, Shakespeare, Victorian ‘lad’s mags’ and Agnes Marshall’s ice creams. Further details are listed at the end of this post.

Amongst Guildhall Library’s more unusual holdings are some rare pamphlets in the remarkable collection of material relating to a genuine mid-eighteenth century crime mystery – the disappearance of Elizabeth Canning.


On 1 January 1753 Elizabeth Canning, a poorly educated maidservant, disappeared on her way home from visiting relatives and reappeared on 29 January 1753 at her mother’s house near St Mary Aldermanbury. According to her story, she had been abducted by two men in Moorfields, who dragged her to a house on the Hertford Road. There, an old woman solicited her to become a prostitute. When she refused, Canning was held prisoner for nearly a month, until she escaped through a window.

On 1 February a posse took Canning to Enfield, where, at the house of Mary Wells, Canning repeated her story, with notable inconsistencies. She picked a local Romany woman, a Miss Mary Squires as the one who had imprisoned her. Wells and Squires were arrested. The trial took place on 21 February 1753 at the Old Bailey.


Mary Squires said that she had been travelling in Dorset during Canning’s supposed imprisonment, and three witnesses supported her alibi. More witnesses had come to give evidence on her behalf, but the mob, incensed against the “Gypsy”, prevented them entering the courtroom. They were both found guilty and Wells was sentenced to branding on the thumb and six months in prison, whilst Squires was to be hanged.

Chief magistrate and Lord Mayor of London, Sir Crisp Gascoyne, however, was dissatisfied with the verdict. He opened his own enquiry, which resulted in several more witnesses supporting Squire’s alibi. Gascoyne appealed to the King who granted first a stay in execution and then a pardon in May of 1753. Canning was then indicted for perjury on 9 June 1753.


The resulting press frenzy was extraordinary. The two camps were called the Canningites and Egyptians (for “Gypsy”). Henry Fielding wrote the pro-Canning A Clear State of the Case of Elizabeth Canning (Guildhall Library A 8.6 no. 5 in 10) and two of his enemies wrote replies. Allan Ramsay wrote A Letter to the Right Honourable the Earl of — Concerning the Affair of Elizabeth Canning (Guildhall Library Pam. 3226)  Gascoyne wrote An Address to the Liverymen of the City of London, from Sir Crisp Gascoyne (Guildhall Library Large pam. 580)  Gascoyne was physically attacked in his coach, and he received death threats.

Canning’s trial began at the Old Bailey on 29 April 1754 and there followed seven full days of evidence. She was eventually found guilty of corrupt and wilful perjury and sentenced to one month of imprisonment and seven years of transportation.


Canning was transported to Wethersfield, Connecticut where she eventually married John Treat, a great-nephew of a Governor of Connecticut and had five children. She died 1773 at the age of 38. During her later years in America, she never explained what had happened to her during her missing month.

John Trehern’s The Canning Enigma provides an exciting modern description of the real events, whilst Josephine Tey’s novel The Franchise Affair updates the story to a home counties town in the 1940s. Tey’s novel regularly appears in listings of the top 100 crime novels and was made into a film in 1951. 

Peter Ross, Principal Librarian


English Tourism Week talks at Guildhall Library
As part of English Tourism Week, Guildhall Library is holding a series of talks that take you beneath the surface of its collection and provide an insight into London through the ages. With a free mini-cupcake and the chance to win a great prize, what more could you ask for?
Each talk is free, requires no booking, and runs from 1-1.30pm

Monday 31st March 2014, The Bills of Mortality – Tissick, Tympany and Plague in 1665 
Each week in the 17th century, the Parish Clerks recorded the number of burials in the City and the causes of death. In doing so they have left us a remarkable and unrivalled record of disease.

Tuesday 1st April 2014, The Prison-Breaker triumphant – Newgate Prison 1724
Discover how, with his extraordinary escape from Newgate Prison on the night of 15 October 1724, Jack Sheppard, a 22-year-old burglar, became the most famous prison-breaker of all.

Wednesday 2nd April 2014, Shakespeare’s First Folio
The world would have lost 18 of Shakespeare’s plays had his friends not published the first collected edition in 1623. Discover the history of this remarkable book and find out why Guildhall Library’s copy is amongst the finest to survive.

Thursday 3rd April 2014, Buying under-the-counter ‘lads mags’ in Victorian London 
Our early Victorian ancestors may not have been as prim and proper as we imagine. Discover the contents of the soft-porn ‘lads mags’ they could buy in London’s Holywell and Wych streets.

Friday 4th April, 2014 Mrs Marshall: the queen of Victorian ice-cream 
Entrepreneur Agnes Marshall built up a highly successful kitchen equipment and cookery school business in late Victorian London. She specialised in creating extravagant ice-cream recipes and ice-cream machines that, today, influence the extraordinary creations of Heston Blumenthal.

Early travel books: Gresham Collection

Guildhall Library holds a wonderful collection of travel books which are part of the Gresham College Library Collection. In the nineteenth century Mrs. Laetitia Hollier presented her late husband’s library, which included rare and valuable works on architecture, astronomy and mathematics as well as bibles and many books of travel to Gresham College. This collection was retained at Gresham College until 1958 when it was deposited here at Guildhall Library.

These travel books primarily date from the first half of the nineteenth century, but also include some works from the late eighteenth century and contain fascinating first-hand accounts of expeditions both overland and by sea. The authors were intrepid travellers and were often emissaries, army, navy and medical personnel or employed by wealthy patrons and on behalf of foreign potentates. 

Often featuring sociological and anthropological surveys of the countries and their people, the volumes may also include ecological and natural history reports, maps, select dictionaries and vocabularies of the indigenous population and even sheet music with accompanying local songs. 

Some ambitious works covered the world, but most concentrated on a specific country or region and were often written as a diary, journal, reports or letters. Considering the dangers and difficulties of charting what was often unknown territory, these works represent amazing feats of courage, determination, skill and survival.  Some follow the trading routes, especially to Turkey and through Central Asia to the Far East. Others include travels through Russia, Lapland, Greenland and expeditions to the North Pole. 

Prints from two books in this collection are shown below with extracts from the volumes.

“Towards the evening we entered the mountain and the Andes, by a glen of a steep ascent, up which we rode, and which carried us deep into it, that we lost all view of any ground except what was close around us, like small funnels; and we continued to wind, during an hour and a half, out of one steep funnel into another, until one of them became a little larger than the rest, and in it we found Villavicencia, where we halted for the night. This town serves to illustrate what has been observed, of the liberality with which the name is bestowed in South America: it consists of two huts in which we did not find any inhabitants, and a corral…

            Our resting place was in the open air, where a fire was lighted up and supper cooked to which an uninterrupted ride of thirteen hours had insured a welcome reception… Owing to a peculiar introduction and accident of light, the rising sun was here most magnificently beautiful, although the prospect did not extend beyond the sides of the funnel and the sky above it. The effect was rather that of a night scene, and of some forest on fire before us, than of the break of day and a rising sun. The Plate is from a sketch made of Villavicencia after we had left it. The travellers are getting up at the dawn of the day, and the peons lighting the fire for taking matés. A man is going to saddle the mule left in the corral all night, and to fetch the others from their pasture ground.”

Image and extract from:
Travels into Chile, over the Andes, in the years 1820 and 1821: with some sketches of the productions and agriculture; mines and metallurgy; inhabitants, history, and other features, of America; particularly of Chile, and Arauco by Peter Schmidtmeyer (Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, & Green, 1824), pp. 204-205.
Guildhall Library Reference: Gresham 70

Castle of Morzouk

“Morzouk is a walled town, containing about 2500 inhabitants… The houses are generally built in little narrow streets; but there are many open spaces, entirely void of buildings, and covered with sand, on which the camels of the traders remain. Many palms grow in the town, and some houses have small square enclosures, in which are cultivated a few red peppers and onions. The street of entrance is a broad space of at least a hundred yards, leading to the wall that surrounds the castle, and is extremely pretty: here the horsemen have full scope to display their abilities when they skirmish before the Sultan. The castle itself is an immense mud building, rising to the height of eighty or ninety feet, with little battlements on the walls (a fancy of the present Sultan’s): and at a distance really looks warlike.”

Image and extract from:
A narrative of travels in Northern Africa, in the years 1818, 19, and 20: accompanied by geographical notices of Soudan and of the course of the Niger by Captain G. F. Lyon (John Murray, 1821), pp. 97-98.
Guildhall Library Reference: Gresham 304

A list of travel books in this collection can be viewed on our catalogue:

All the books in the Gresham College Library Collection can be consulted at Guildhall Library – as these are classed as rare items you will need to sign in and show one form of identification.

Rosie Eddisford
Assistant Librarian

South Prospect, gone west

IMG_0597Ever wondered about the fetching frog-green illustration hanging along the western wall of Guildhall Library? It is in fact a reproduction of the greater part of a view of the City of London from the south side of the river at Southwark. The original of The South Prospect of the City of London, created by an anonymous artist around 1720, is in the print collection formerly at Guildhall Library and now part of the graphic collections at London Metropolitan Archives.

The available wall space only allows us to reproduce the area on the north bank of the Thames: the north end of London Bridge is just visible, but the river itself has disappeared. Part of the view is behind the computers dedicated to electronic resources and the City of London Libraries catalogue: the Thames, were it reproduced, would flow just beneath the keyboards.IMG_0581

St Paul’s Cathedral dominates the skyline with the sister spires and towers of the City churches, and this head-on view from the south bank has a direct impact far from the glittering obliquity of Canaletto’s slightly later paintings of the City from further upriver. The Cathedral represented here is strangely proportioned: the east end is (incorrectly) gabled; an apse is only cursorily suggested by a few strokes; the south transept projects but the sculpted pediment and the south portico are hardly visible.

The towers at the west end are not as built; in fact they are hardly towers at all. What we see can be read horizontally in terms of the two orders, one superimposed on the other, but the stages of the south-west tower do not read vertically above the main cornice. It almost looks as if a pair of exotic pepper pots have been dropped at random on the west end of the Cathedral: possibly they relate to an earlier stage of Wren’s design copied from another engraving. In reality among the City churches only the tower of St Mary-le-Bow is comparable in scale to the grandeur of the Cathedral’s west towers.


To the west of the South Prospect, the spire of St Bride Fleet Street appears slightly attenuated, though the tiers of the ‘wedding cake’ are recognisable. In the east, the Monument makes a clear mark of exclamation. St Michael Crooked Lane should be in three circular stages, but appears here with a regular spire, and St Andrew Holborn, just to the east of St Bride Fleet Street, lacks the urns at its pinnacle.

By way of consolation we can see a number of the Wren churches that have subsequently been demolished: All Hallows Bread Street, St Michael Queenhithe, St Antholin Watling Street, and St Dionis Backchurch, to name but a few.

For readers at a distance, an image of the South Prospect can be found online on the City of London’s image database Collage, at record 27619.

Jo Wisdom
Assistant Librarian


Open Day feedback

A big thank you to everybody who attended Guildhall Library’s first open day last Saturday! It was great to meet so many of you and to hear your questions.


Proving most popular on the day were our behind the scenes tours and the workshops on conservation and book care. Our collection displays sparked a lot of discussion on Twitter, with people particularly relishing the often odd causes of deaths shown in our copy of the Bills of Mortality, which was on display on the day.

Our survey requesting feedback from those who attended is still available online here – if you did attend please do let us know your thoughts!


Open Day 2013

On Saturday Guildhall Library will hold its first open day. As a public library, open to all six days a week the irony of closing our usual services to offer an ‘open’ day is not lost on us! So why are we doing it? We hope to take this chance to show you the breadth and depth of our collections.

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Perhaps the most challenging question the staff are asked is “what does Guildhall library hold?” since it is not a question that can be answered concisely! We are the library of London history; in fact it is the largest collection on the history of a single city anywhere in the world. But our collections cover subjects wider than London alone: historic recipes dating back to 1531, the journeys and losses of merchant vessels, annual reports of companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, 18th and 19th century travel books, books on archery, clocks and gardening can all be found in our collections.

However, as a closed access library most of this varied, fascinating and sometimes unique material is held in our book stores. This allows us to hold many times more material than we could fit on the open shelves in the Library. However, the downside is that all you can initially see is a list of catalogue records and, however good the catalogue, it can sometimes be difficult to get a sense of the item or collection.

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As staff we are privileged to work with and have access to this remarkable material, but our collections are available to all and you are able to search our holdings and order and consult any item. Our bookstores hold a wealth of information just waiting to be discovered. But sometimes it’s knowing where to start…

So our Open Day is an opportunity for us to tell you about some of the collections that we hold (we can’t manage to fit ALL of them in one day!). You can view a range of items from the collection and we will be on hand to tell you more. Through talks, workshops and drop in sessions we will also show you how you can access everything – from 15th century publications to the latest e-resources.

With collection displays, talks, films, tours and workshops there will be much to see and do along with London walks, provided by the City Guides (for which charge applies), that may encourage you to find more about the city. And next week normal service will resume, and we hope you will be inspired to visit and enjoy conducting your research in this impressive Library.

Rosie Eddisford
Assistant Librarian

Our Open Day will be held this Saturday, 20th July, from 10am to 5pm. The full program can be found online here.

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Sheep Across London Bridge: The Freedom of the City

Guildhall Library was very pleased to welcome Murray Craig, the Clerk of the Chamberlain’s Court, to give a talk on the City Freedom, an institution which goes back to the early 13th century. Until the 19th century, one needed to be Free of the City, via a Livery Company or Guild in order to trade within the Square Mile.

Murray’s schedule is a busy one and he arrived, hot-foot from a ceremony, at 2 o’clock on the dot and launched straight into his talk.


The audience enjoyed hearing about the history of the Freedom and how it is conducted in the present day. We were entertained with tales from his experience of meeting recipients of the Freedom and the Honorary Freedom.

Those receiving the Honorary Freedom are presented with an illuminated copy of the Freedom in a gold box, but there have been some notable exceptions. The boxes presented to Churchill and Florence Nightingale, for example, were made of wood. Churchill’s was made from relics of the wooden roof of Guildhall which had been destroyed in the Blitz. Florence Nightingale had requested something simpler and less expensive than gold for her Freedom casket – the result may have been made of wood – but no one could call it ‘plain’.


Murray Craig told us about the fascination of hearing the many ways in which the declaration is spoken, sometimes whispered or even shouted, and on one memorable occasion recited in character.  His rendition of these speakers probably made the staff and readers next door jump – but the audience loved it.

A couple of years ago, Murray appeared with Len Goodman on ‘Who Do You Think You Are’.  We shared memories of the rush which descended upon Guildhall Library and the Chamberlain’s Court after the programme went on air and the nation heard that Guildhall Library holds records of City Weavers going back to 1600.  We had visitors forming an orderly queue for the same manuscripts for weeks!

Audience feedback was full of comments words like ‘Excellent’ and ‘Brilliant’ and there were several requests for us to ask him to speak again.  

But can you drive your sheep across London Bridge if you have the Freedom of the City?  Murray says the answer is no…because you would cause traffic chaos!

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian


Worshipful Company of Gardeners’ collection

With Guildhall Library’s exhibition showcasing some of the gems of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners’ Horticultural Library now open, this week our blog looks at the history of this fascinating collection, and some of its key items.


In April 1891 the Worshipful Company of Gardeners passed a resolution to grant funds for the purchase of books to form the nucleus of a library of horticulture at Guildhall Library. Behind this resolution was the public spirited intention of providing a collection of current gardening manuals as a reference resource for City workers. The collection was placed under the Library’s control in 1922 whilst remaining the property of the Gardeners’ Company.

In recent decades, the comparatively low cost of gardening manuals has increased general ownership and the focus of the collection has shifted toward antiquarian and rare books. The gardening manuals were transferred to the lending libraries in the 1960s but the Company’s collection remains at Guildhall Library and can be consulted on production of one form of identification (showing proof of address).

The collection ranges from almanacs to zoophytes; so this is just a sample from around five hundred printed books and journals from the sixteenth-century to the present.

John Evelyn’s Kalendarium Hortense: or, The Gard’ner’s Almanac: Directing What he is to Do Monthly Throughout the Year and What Fruits and Flowers are in Prime  (1691) tells gardeners that in November they should “hardly be too sparing of Water to your hous’d plants…the not observing of this destroys more plants than all the rudenesses of the season.” The volume concludes with “a catalogue of such excellent Fruit Trees as may direct Gentlemen to the Choice of that which is good, and Store sufficient for a moderate plantation: Species and Curiosities being otherwise boundless, and without end.”

Gardeners collectionThe Compleat Florist was first published in 1740 and offered advice to flower growers and pleasure for the general reader. Our 1794 edition offers a series of plates (see left) giving detailed engraved illustrations for each flower, time of flowering and instructions for cultivation. Today it is an informative guide to the plants available to the eighteenth-century gardener.

The library includes several of the works of Gertrude Jekyll including Wood and Garden (1899) and Home and Garden (1900) which describe the creation of her house and garden with architect Edwin Lutyens at Munstead Wood in 1896. These volumes are illustrated with Jekyll’s own photographs.

Another volume to enjoy for its text and illustration is Poet Laureate Alfred Austin’s prose idyll The Garden that I Love (1906 2nd edition) with sixteen reproduced watercolours by artist George S Elgood RI. 

Gardeners postcardA list of the publications in this collection can be viewed on our catalogue here.

The Gardeners’ Company promotes good gardening and supports centres of horticultural excellence. It is probably best known to city workers for its ‘Flowers in the City’ campaign, which aims to “’beautify’ the City, to make the City a place to be proud of, and a joy to work or live in.”

Jeanie Smith, Assistant Librarian

Guildhall Library is holding a free exhibition showcasing some of the collections held by The Worshipful Company of Gardeners, usually not on view to the public, from 2 May – 26 July 2013.

‘The Temple of Flora’, plants as medicine, the history of botany and London gardeners are all brought vividly to life through manuscripts, monographs, objects, robes and even a silver spade!  

New books: The André Simon Food and Drink Awards

IMG_0607Guildhall Library is home to a number of internationally renowned collections of books on food and wine, including the André Simon Collection. This collection is based on the personal library of the late André Simon, the eminent food writer and historian. Simon studied at Guildhall Library as a young man in the early 1900s and was a personal friend of the then Guildhall Librarian.

The André Simon collection was placed here as a result of the writer’s links with the library. It was Hugo Dunn-Meynell, the then Director of the International Wine & Food Society, who facilitated the donation to Guildhall Library where, as Hugo put it, the items ‘could be used in ideal conditions by everyone’.

Each year the short-listed works for the André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards are donated to Guildhall Library and added to this growing collection. There are two categories in the award – food and drink. Judging starts in mid-November and a final decision is not reached until the day of the ceremony – allowing judges plenty of time to try out and reflect upon the recipes.

This year the shortlisted books in the food category were:

Annie Bell’s Baking Bible by Annie Bell (Kyle Books)
Edible Selby by Todd Selby (Abrams)
Following fish by Samanth Subramanian (Atlantic books)
Hoosh by Jason C Anthony (University of Nebraska Press)
Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ebury Books)
Polpo by Russell Norman (Bloomsbury Books)
Sud de France by Caroline Conran (Prospect Books)
The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert (Bloomsbury Books)

The shortlisted books in the drink category were:

Brunello di Montalcino by Kerin O’Keefe (University of California Press)
How to love wine by Eric Asimov (William Morrow)
Pomerol by Neal Martin (Wine-Journal Publishing)
Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla by Peter Liem & Jesús Barquín (Manutius)
Wine grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, Dr José Vouillamoz (Penguin Books)

The 2012 award was announced at a reception on 14th March 2013, and two Librarians from Guildhall Library were lucky enough to be invited to see the winners declared. Caroline Conran’s Sud de France was the deserving winner in the food category and the comprehensive Wine Grapes: A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours received the award in the drink category. In the lead up to the announcement of the award we created a colourful display next to our Enquiry Desk of all the shortlisted entries. These have now been added to our collection and are available from our store within twenty minutes of ordering.