Saturday 30 July 2016

George Landmann - wild beasts and savages in Barking

The next chapter in George Landmann's autobiography starts with him being taken by his father to 'Exeter Change'. George had done up his foot long hair specially for this visit - by tying it into tight pigtails at night it became by day a giant 'furze bush'. He assures it that this was very fashionable for young boys in the 1790s.

On the way there they encountered the 'smoking ruins' of Richmond House and a 'dense mob' out to watch the fire.We can thus date this visit to December 1791 which is when the second Richmond House was gutted by fire.  The house had been the London residence of the Dukes of Richmond, and had been adjacent to the old royal palace of Whitehall. The original Richmond House of about 1660 had been replaced in 1733-4 by a new house  built to the designs of Lord Burlington.
They eventually reached Exeter Exchange. This had been built in 1676, on the site of the demolished Exeter House, London home of the Earls of Exeter, opposite the today's  Savoy Hotel. It originally housed small shops but George comments 'it was gloomy dirty and badly paved'.  From 1773, the upstairs  rooms were let s  a menagerie which included lions, tigers,monkeys, and other exotic species, all confined in iron cages in small rooms.  It is this that young George was keen to see. What happened next concerned George's hairstyle and a lot of commotion - read his account and wonder! (health and safety again!)

George then - briskly as ever changing subject - begins to talk about balloon flights by the famous Italian aeronaut (and publicist), Lunardi.  Lunardi took off for many of his flights from the Artillery Ground in Moorfields - and I am therefore a bit suspicious of a number of web sites which say he left from the Royal Artillery grounds in Woolwich (have they got the right bit of artillery there??). George does not mention these take offs but does say he saw Lunardi's balloon pass over Woolwich and land in Barking.  I am going to quote, more or less verbatim, what George says and you can judge for yourselves

"The people of Barking were regarded by the Woolwichers as a set of barbarians .. and it was commonly believed .. that the air of Barking was so insalubrious to women that no female could survive a year's residence there"

Lunardi was rescued from the clutches of Barking people by 'officers of the Artillery' and taken to dine in the mess.

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