Sibella Proctor, Ann Martin and Charlotte Richardson, three of the first pupils in January 1789, all lived in Courts. To wit: Black Swan Court, Wild Court and Flower de luce Court. Of these, only one still exists – Wild Court –immediately behind the Library and Museum of Freemasonry and United Grand Lodge.
A map of 1750 sort of shows Wild Court, on the edge of one map and the next, showing that the propensity for the places you want being right on the fold of gazetteers is not a new phenomenon!
Fifty years later and the court is a little clearer
Wild Court ran off Great Wild St with Little Wild St (now renamed Keeley St) running parallel. In 1781, a sermon was preached in Little Wild St.
Dr Samuel Stennett, a dissenting Baptist preacher, ministered to the Little Wild Street church. The map below, although somewhat later in date, shows the Baptist chapel.
His sermon was made on a day which had been declared a public fast. Unfortunately ‘references to public fasts are relatively scarce in public records’ (Religion and the American Civil War: Miller, Stout & Wilson, 1998) and the same must apply to UK as not a trace can be found to explain why February 21 1781 was a public fast day. For those with plenty of food it perhaps had more impact. For the less well-off, for whom a fair few days might involve fasting, the impact was less great.
Whether Charlotte Richardson’s family witnessed the sermon or participated in the fasting is unknown. Charlotte herself was not yet born, arriving in the world in April 1781. She was baptised at St Sepulchre’s in June 1781 which is certainly not the nearest church to Wild Court. Perhaps the family did not at that time live there but we will never know.
The map of 1889 from Charles Booth, Life and Labour of the People in London marks Wild Court as being an area of ‘Intermittent or casual earnings’. Although this is a century later perhaps the beginnings of these are evidenced in the entry in a Minute Book of 1788 which states that Charlotte’s father ‘was … formerly in good Circumstances but now much distressed’.
The school records tell us that, having arrived at the School in January 1789, in February 1789 Charlotte’s name again appears in the Minute Book.
The Matron being then called in and examined reporting Charlotte Richardson (one of the Children) who had been taken away by her Parents when she informed the Committee that her Father had been very troublesome and had insulted and abused her and afterwards the Mother came had took her Daughter away and notwithstanding the Child declared she was perfectly satisfied.
Charlotte’s place was taken by Charlotte Hatton. Curiously, despite Charlotte Richardson’s parents being instructed to remove their daughter, her benefits withdrawn, the Book of Governors, published in 1818, records that she had been returned to her parents ‘in consequence of an alteration in circumstances’. As this was almost 30 years later, the edges of memory may well have been softened.
Where Charlotte went after this has proved impossible to trace with confidence. Wild Court, however, continues to exist even if much changed. Some of that change may well have been courtesy of the Luftwaffe as a high explosive bomb fell in the area between Oct 7 1940 and June 6 1941 as shown by http://bombsight.org/#17/51.51454/-0.12005
But then Wild Court has fared better than either Black Swan Court or Flower de luce court neither of which exist any longer.
Black swans, native to Australia, were regarded as exotica in Britain and perhaps explains why a number of pubs and streets were named after them. [A piece of swan ephemera for you – on the ground, a group of swans is a ‘bank’. When undertaking group flight they are a ‘wedge’. ]
This image from https://haydensanimalfacts.com/2015/08/22/5-interesting-facts-about-black-swans/ has quite a high cute factor, don’t you think?
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/dictionary-of-london lists at least four Black Swan Courts, plus one Black Swan Alley which had formerly been a court. What is unclear is which of these is the Black Swan Court where Sibella Procter lived. This is largely because her address is given as Black Swan Court, Market St, a street that does not appear in earlier maps.
We have already seen from Charlotte Richardson that the place of baptism of these early pupils may not be an indication of where they were living. In Sibella’s case, it is even more confusing because she was baptised at St John Zachary, a church which did not exist after the Great Fire!
The parish was absorbed into St Ann and St Agnes and St John’s never rebuilt. Only its graveyard remains and its site is now a garden.
Despite this, her baptismal record is clearly given as being at St John Zachary on Feb 14 1779.
This 1883 street map of the St John Zachary area shows it labelled as a parish but with the site of the church rather than a church building.
Using the http://www.british-history.ac.uk references, there are two courts that seem to be in the vague area that might be served by St John Zachary. Black Swan Alley (described as South out of St. Paul’s Churchyard at No. 21 to 7 Little Carter Lane, first mentioned in Horwood’s map of 1799 but given an earlier reference as being formerly Black Swan Court) and one called Black Swan Court which was south of Cannon Street and west of Lawrence Pountney Lane. Just to add confusion, this Court was previously (1720) known as an alley! www.british-history.ac.uk goes on to say that ‘The site has been rebuilt and is now occupied by warehouses and offices, etc.’
Maps taken from https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/side-by-side using 1892 map
Earlier maps, from https://www.theundergroundmap.com/map.html?id=70&mode=fullscreen show the same areas in 1750. In neither case can Black Swan Court or Alley be identified but they may simply have been too small or insignificant to be marked on the map.
When Sibella was admitted to the School, she was referred to as ’a very proper object’. This peculiar shorthand is inexact in meaning but as a rule of thumb a ‘proper object’ was a girl who had lost one parent and a ‘very proper object’ was a girl who had lost both parents. There is a reference to a Joseph Procter being buried Aug 20 1784 in St John Zachary which could be her father. There is also a marriage reference for 1767 at St Dunstan in the West, between Joseph Procter and Mary Wilkinson which might be her parents (or might not!) but further than this is difficult to trace. As for the girl herself, the School records state she was apprenticed to Mr Simons of Jermyn St, Soho Square. However, the 1818 Book of Governors lists her as apprenticed to Mrs Gonne, Champion Hill. Possibly she did both, moving from one to the other. Both could have been as domestic servants although there is a fleeting reference to Mrs Gonne running a school. In 1841, we find a Sibella Procter in Camberwell, aged 60, given as a schoolmistress. The 1841 census rounded ages up and down, so the computed birthdate of 1781 is within accepted parameters. It seems likely that this Sibella Procter (whether the one from School or not) died in 1845 and was buried at St Giles Camberwell.
Our last candidate for the Court Report is Ann Martin whose address was given as No 3 Flower-de-luce-court, Fleet St. The spelling of Flower de Luce varied enormously (Flower de lys, flower de lyz or fleur de lys) and all were corruptions of fleur de lis anyway, from the quartering of the French arms with the English.
The history of the fleur de lis armorially can be read at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleur-de-lis from where the image is taken.
The likeliest candidate for the court that housed the Martins is Fleur de lis Court described as East out of Fetter Lane at No. 9, and north to Trinity Church Passage.
In the 17th and 18th centuries this was a long court extending south to Fleet Street, but when the southern end of Fetter Lane was widened, this southern portion was absorbed into Fetter Lane, as shown above.
In Lockie, 1810, it is described as at 179 Fleet Street, behind the houses Nos. 1-16 on the east side of Fetter Lane. The name of the court may well have come from a house formerly in Fleet St called ‘flowerdeluce’. It does not seem to have been a particularly salubrious area as Strype describes it as ‘of some note for the Mousetrap House, a receptacle for lewd persons (ed. 1720, I. iii. 277)’. http://london.enacademic.com/2316/Fleur_de_lis_Court
However, let us restore its reputation a little by stating that John Dryden lived at No 16 Flower de luce court [no date given for this but as he died in 1700 we can assume it was well before the Martins were there]. Image in the National Portrait Gallery
Nearby Fleet St is still synonymous with newspapers even though many prominent national newspapers have moved away. At one point, it was also a place for tanning which declined once the River Fleet was re-routed underground in 1766. Ann Martin’s father, Reeve Martin, is described as a glover which would fit with this. Given that the presiding rule for a girl to become eligible for the School was that of indigence, we should note that in 1784, Prime Minister Pitt imposed a tax on gloves. His calculation of the number of gloves that would be sold each year (9 million pairs) gave rise to a tiered taxation.
“One penny duty should be added to all gloves up to the value of ten pence
Two pence to gloves costing between ten pence and fifteen pence
Three pence for all gloves costing over fifteen pence”
The tax was payable by the retailer and in July 1785, The Stamp Office declared that: “Anyone selling gloves without this tax would be liable for a fine of £20.” (ibid). To ensure that duty was paid, every retailer had to be licensed. Unfortunately for Pitt, his careful calculations were somewhat over optimistic. By 1785, it was realised that it was raising less than an eighth of the revenue anticipated.
Given the timing of this, it may well have been a contributory factor in Reeve Martin’s indigence and his daughter was elected nem. con. In 1788. The Minutes Book records that he was ‘Formerly in good Circumstances, now in great distress with a Wife and four Children’. It is possible that he is the person recorded in Newgate Prison, London: ‘Lists Of Felons (Prisoners) On The Common Side (Debtors)’ in 1786.
Perhaps our sympathy for the Martins’ plight is somewhat diluted by the fact that the Minutes Book records that in 1793 occurred an incident that should have resulted in Ann’s dismissal from the School. As is the way with this instrument, it fails to give further details, perhaps on the basis of ‘them that knows, knows …’ but it appears to have been the behaviour of the father rather than that of the child. The 1818 Book of Governors records that Ann was returned to her parents ‘for improper conduct on their part.’ Of her life story nothing more can be ascertained. Like Fleur de lis court, it gradually disappears. Even the date of that disappearance is uncertain. https://london19.com/streets1832/FleurdeLiscourtFleet.shtml states that it disappears about 1842 when Fetter St was widened but a map of 1895 still shows it so it can’t have done. It was still there in a 1914 map albeit not named. So perhaps, like this Court Report,