Four streets – or maybe three

Morning Post 1789

Four addresses, all given as Soho, feature above: Brewer St, Berwick St, Moor St and Tower St. Now this last is a conundrum as there is no Tower St in Soho. There is, however, a Tower St in present day Covent Garden which is next door, as it were. It is unclear whether Tower St was once regarded as being in Soho (no historical references to support that) or if whoever recorded the information, or the clerk who copied the same for the newspaper insertion, or the typesetter of the newspaper, or whoever simply made a mistake. It is not the only possible mistake attached to these four girls as Catherine Charlotte, given the surname Baes in School records, has on her baptismal record records the name Bayce or possibly Boyce. So who made the mistake and when?

Baptismal record for Catherine Charlotte

Catherine Charlotte, daughter of Francis and Catherine, was born on 12th July 1783 and, at the time of her admission to the School, lived at 23 Tower St. The application for her place was supported by ‘Mr Ruspini jnr’, son of the Chevalier. Clearly, Francis was a Freemason but the only reference in lodge records is M F Baes, listed as a Maj of languages (whatever that means) but with an address in Castle St, Leicester Square. This is not very far from Tower St but that may not be helpful in pinning down whether this is the right person or not.

Tower St today is a highly sought after address, at least according to the estate agents. (Now there’s a surprise!) Described as ‘In the heart of central London’s uber cultural Covent Garden’, 22 Tower St is a listed building now been converted to luxury apartments.

By Philafrenzy – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50413744

 

 

 

London’s house-numbering system appears to change from street to street so whether 23 Tower St is adjacent to 22 or opposite is unknown.

When Catherine left the School, she was apprenticed to James Duff esq. of Finsbury Square although the School records do not indicate in what capacity. There is a complete absence of any further records save a possible burial record in 1847 as Catherine Bays.

 

 

Sophia Riches, daughter of Henry and Mary, was the oldest of the first pupils having been born in 1780. Her address in 1789 was given as 43 Brewer St, Golden Square.

 

Map showing close proximity of these streets

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https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols31-2/pt2/pp138-145#highlight-first

The layout of Golden Square (above right) in 1675 is a clear indication of the peculiarity of street numbering as it shows the back of 19 being adjacent to No. 82 and 62 adjacent to 13! Presumably those facing into Golden Square were built first, the rest being added into spaces left over. Brewer St, on the southern flank, was developed by Sir William Pulteney and was probably named for the breweries in the area. None of these houses survive today.

https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols31-2/pt2/pp116-137

This outline is even worse for numbering, showing No 1 next to No 44! The above website indicates Nos. 40 and 42 Brewer St were paired houses ‘with plain brick fronts of early nineteenth-century character’. It describes the interior styling in some detail and then states that No. 44 is a four-storeyed house of a slightly earlier date, constructed in yellow London brick with a shopfront and accommodation above. Sadly, No 43 is not mentioned specifically. We might extrapolate a similarity but there seems to be such inconsistency that it is impossible to be sure. Lodge records for Henry Riches suggest that he may have been a coal dealer although neither lodge places him directly in Brewer St.

‘Brewer Street and its immediate vicinity was evidently a centre for noxious trades’ (ibid)

The western end of it was known as Gunpowder St as there was a saltpetre house there and the nearby Glasshouse St probably relates to a glass manufactory. You only needed a tanner’s yard and you’ve got a full house for stinks! The eastern end was originally called Knaves’ Acre and then Little Pulteney Street until 1937, when it was absorbed into Brewer Street. Whilst the word ‘knave’ today has connotations of roguish behaviour, in origin it simply meant boy or male servant and was a neutral term which ‘gradually underwent a process of “pejoration” and took on its modern meaning’ http://www.word-detective.com/2012/08/knaves-jacks. It is also used in cards and Dickens uses the term to demean Pip in Estella’s eyes in Great Expectations:

“He calls the knaves, Jacks, this boy!” said Estella with disdain, before our first game was out. “And what coarse hands he has! And what thick boots!”

Sophia does not appear to have returned to Brewer St after her time at school because she was apprenticed to Mr Whitehouse of Brownlow St although, as this was Covent Garden, she may not have been far from home.

Berwick St, our next port of call, was described in 1720 as ‘a pretty handsome strait Street, with new well built Houses, much inhabited by the French, where they have a Church’. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols31-2/pt2/pp219-229#h3-0007

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=571451

Berwick St is pictured on the Oasis album cover (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? It is famous for its market, the earliest reference being 1778 where the vestry committee minutes note that:

‘Ten brokers living in Berwick Street … were then summoned ‘for setting out goods in the Street‘ Whereupon the Committee … advised them to be careful not to offend in future.’ https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols31-2/pt2/pp219-229#h3-0007

Clearly this mildest of rebukes did not prevent the trading which continues to the present day. We’ve already had Dickens, so now let’s have Virginia Woolf, who “regularly frequented Berwick Street Market to buy ‘silk stockings (flawed slightly)’. Berwick Street featured in her writing and she described Soho as a space ‘filled with fierce light’ and ‘raw’ voices.” https://www.thisissoho.co.uk/history/

Berwick market was the place to shop for ‘exotic’ ingredients. In 1880 tomatoes first appeared in there and the first grapefruit in 1890. In the 1950s, Elizabeth David’s book introduced a post-war, monochrome Britain to Mediterranean food although actually buying the ingredients was a problem. Olive oil then was only used medicinally but Berwick market stepped up to the plate and became the place to buy all the unusual ingredients we can now find on the shelves of even relatively small supermarkets.

Margaret Burgess, who lived in Berwick St in 1789, may well have visited the market herself. Her home was given as ‘Turner, No 29 Berwick St’ so we have to assume that the family rented part of a house, from Mr Turner. Wakefield’s Merchant and Tradesman’s General Directory for London … 1794 lists a ‘John Turner, Upholder and Auctioneer’, albeit at No 12 rather than 29. There is no other Turner listed for Berwick St so one may make the assumption that this could be the same business. In Berwick St was ‘Le Quarré de Sohoe’ French Church (since demolished) in use since 1694. By 1770, this had become an auction room. Could this be the place of business of John Turner? By 1818, it was the ‘Berwick Street Theatre’, owned by Mr Daley, an auctioneer and copperplate-engraver. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols31-2/pt2/pp219-229#h3-0007

Another building that Margaret would have seen – well the outside of it anyway! – is the Blue Posts Public House, at the corner of Broadwick and Berwick streets since at least 1739.

https://pubshistory.com/LondonPubs/Westminster/BluePostsBerwick.shtml

After her time at school, Margaret was apprenticed to Mr Dodd of Lime St, a packer in the East India Company so did not return to Berwick St.

If the other three addresses suggested previously gentrified areas gradually sliding downhill, Moor St could well be described as already at the lower end!

‘One area where the dodgy Soho clung on was the bit known to the police as the Moor Street Triangle, bounded by Old Compton Street, Charing Cross Road, and Moor Street itself’ http://englishbuildings.blogspot.com/2008/05/moor-street-london.html

Perhaps this is an unfair description of it in 1789 but it neatly encapsulates its downward path.

 

The view from Google Earth street view shows a façade that may have been Georgian in origin but in which, at its nadir, the interiors were knocked about something cruel to accommodate their use.

‘The properties in the triangle had been unofficially converted and adapted – extra ceiling height for the lap dancing, lower ceilings for the more horizontal activities above, lean-tos in the courtyard to provide extra kitchen space for the restaurants, interconnecting corridors allowing those in the know to enter from Moor Street and exit via Old Compton.’ http://englishbuildings.blogspot.com/2008/05/moor-street-london.html

At the time the Vinets were there, it had perhaps not yet become synonymous with seediness and was probably an area with some shops and accommodation above as suggested in the image above.

Vinet Pere (the use of the French is appropriate here) was recorded in the first Minute Book (rough copy) as Jean Antoine Vinet, a master tailor now ‘in distress’ and with a sick wife.

‘Her Father appeared, 60 Years of Age brought persons known by the Committee who testified his being made a Mason before the year 1768. Having been in good circumstances but now in great distress produced a Certificate from the Grand Lodge and with great difficulty had procured 6/6d to pay for the same.’

Just a few years earlier he was recorded as paying Poor Rates and Watch Rates so perhaps the family, according to the rule of indigence by which all candidates were judged, had seen better times and sickness and increasing age were rendering life difficult. At any rate, his daughter was deemed ‘a proper object’ so the Committee accepted Vinet’s petition. Whilst Harriet was at school, her elderly father and possibly also his ‘sick wife’ both died, as Harriet, on leaving school, was returned to her aunt, Mrs Johnson, ‘who kept a house in a respectable part of Camden Town’. Thereafter there is but one uncertain reference to her, the burial of Harriett Ann Vinett, aged 45, in 1828 at St James, Piccadilly and of Little Pulteney St.

John Anthony Vinet was a tailor but in 1789 the family were living at Mr Shaw’s, Ironmongers, Moor St.

This image is actually a shop in Soignies (Belgium) but is typical of the old-fashioned ironmonger’s shop. http://spitalfieldslife.com/2013/05/18/at-londons-oldest-ironmongers/ states that London’s oldest ironmongers [In Hackney Rd] opened for business in 1797 as Presland & Sons’ but, as Mr Shaw the ironmonger in Moor St is listed by the Morning Post in January 1789, it was clearly not the first ironmongers. Whatever the history, ironmongers’ shops were pretty much all like that pictured above and testament to this is the wonderful sketch by the ‘Two Ronnies’ known as Four Candles. The delicious word play based on misunderstanding items on a shopping list could not take place anywhere but an ironmongers. In the sketch, Ronnie Corbett, as the increasingly exasperated shopman, is asked for things which he duly retrieves from little boxes or drawers only to find that the customer, Ronnie Barker, is actually asking for something else. It is a classic piece of comedic wordplay.

Four candles? No … just four streets!