Page images
PDF
EPUB

middle of the last century, it was still kept up as a branch of the royal stables. Dr. Radcliffe, the celebrated physician; Richard Baxter, the Nonconformist divine; Dr. Akenside, and Sir Hans Sloane, resided at different periods in this square. Here also, at the north-east angle, was the residence of the great Lord Mansfield. He was living here at the time of the Protestant riots, in 1780, when the mob attacked and set fire to the house. Not only did his valuable pictures and library perish in the flames, but the Earl himself and Lady Mansfield had a narrow escape from falling into the hands of the infuriated populace. He owed his misfortune to his religious toleration, having recently advocated a measure in favour of relief to the Roman Catholics.

"I was personally present," writes Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, in his "Memoirs of his own Time," "at many of the most tremendous effects of popular fury, on the memorable 7th of June, the night on which it attained its highest point. About nine o'clock on that evening, accompanied by three other gentlemen, who, as well as myself, were alarmed at the accounts brought in every moment of the outrages committed, and of the still greater acts of violence meditated, as soon as darkness should favour and facilitate their further progress,-we set out from Portland Place, in order to view the scene. Having got into a hackney coach, we drove first to Bloomsbury Square, attracted to that spot by a rumour generally spread that Lord Mansfield's residence, situate at the north-east corner, was either already

burnt or destined for destruction. Hart Street and Great Russell Street presented, each, to the view as we passed, large fires composed of furniture taken from the houses of magistrates or other obnoxious individuals. Quitting the coach we crossed the square, and had scarcely got under the wall of Bedford House, when we heard the door of Lord Mansfield's house burst open with violence. In a few minutes, all the contents of the apartments being precipitated from the windows, were piled up and wrapped in flames. A file of foot-soldiers arriving, drew up near the blazing pile; but without either attempting to quench the fire or to impede the mob, who were indeed far too numerous to admit of being dispersed, or even intimidated by a small detachment of Infantry. The populace remained masters."

After witnessing the sacking and conflagration of Mansfield House, Sir Nathaniel and his companions proceeded into Holborn, where the first object which presented itself was the flames bursting from the dwelling-house and warehouses of an obnoxious Catholic gentleman of the name of Langdale, affording an appalling picture of desolation. "They were altogether," he says, "enveloped in smoke and flame. In front had assembled an immense multitude of both sexes, many of whom were females, and not a few held infants in their arms. All appeared to be, like ourselves, attracted as spectators solely by curiosity, without taking any part in the acts of violence. Spirituous liquors, in great quantity, ran

down the kennel of the street, and numbers of the populace were already intoxicated with this beverage. So little disposition, however, did they manifest to riot or pillage, that it would have been difficult to conceive who were the authors and perpetrators of such enormous mischief, if we had not distinctly seen at the windows of the house men, who, while the floors and rooms were on fire, calmly tore down the furniture and threw it into the streets, or tossed it into the flames. They experienced no kind of opposition, during a considerable time that we remained at this place; but a party of the Horseguards arriving, the terrified crowd instantly began to disperse; and we, anxious to gratify our farther curiosity, continued our progress on foot, along Holborn to Fleet Market. I would in vain attempt adequately to describe the spectacle which presented itself when we reached the declivity of the hill, close to St. Andrew's Church. The other house and magazines of Mr. Langdale, who, as a Catholic, had been selected for the blind vengeance of the mob, situated in the hollow space near the north end of Fleet Market, threw up into the air a pinnacle of flame resembling a volcano. Such was the beautiful and brilliant effect of the illumination, that St. Andrew's Church appeared to be almost scorched by the heat of so prodigious a body of fire; and the figures designated on the clock were as distinctly perceptible as at noonday. It resembled, indeed, a tower rather than a private building, in a state of conflagration; and would have inspired the beholder

with a sentiment of admiration allied to pleasure, if it had been possible to separate the object from its causes and its consequences. The wind, however, did not augment its rage on this occasion; for the night was serene and the sky unclouded, except when it became obscured by the volumes of smoke which, from time to time, produced a temporary darkness. The mob, which completely blocked up the whole street in every part, and in all directions, prevented our approaching within fifty or sixty yards of the building; but the populace, though still principally composed of persons allured by curiosity, yet evidently began here to assume a more disorderly and ferocious character. Troops, either horse or foot, we still saw none; nor, in the midst of this combination of tumult, terror, and violence, had the ordinary police ceased to continue its functions. While we stood by the wall of St. Andrew's Church-yarch, a watchman, with his lantern in his hand, passed us, calling the hour, as if in a time of profound tranquillity."

The residence of another eminent lawyer, Lord Ellenborough, before he removed to St. James's Square, was at the corner-house of Bloomsbury Square and Orange Street.

In Bedford Place died, in May 1811, the celebrated dramatic writer, Richard Cumberland; and in Charlotte Street, now Bloomsbury Street (No. 3), Theodore Hook first saw the light.

The Church of St. George, Bloomsbury, consecrated on the 28th of January, 1731, is the work

of Nicholas Hawksmoor, an English architect and pupil of Sir Christopher Wren. It possesses no interest and but little merit. The portico, supported by pillars of the Corinthian order, though not an original idea, is certainly fine; but the tower, surmounted by a pyramid, with George the First at the top, and with lions and unicorns, with their tails and heels in the air, at the base, affords a unique specimen of architecture, which Walpole justly styles a master-piece of absurdity. This church must not be confounded with the neighbouring one of St. George the Martyr, Bloomsbury.

In the reign of Queen Anne, this part of London constituted one of its most fashionable localities, disputing the palm with Lincoln's Inn Fields, Soho Square, and Queen Square, Westminster. In 1708, we find the Duke of Bedford, the Earl of Northampton, the Earl of Chesterfield (De Grammont's Chesterfield), and Lords Paget and Castleton, occupying houses in Bloomsbury Square; while in Great Russell Street stood Montague House and Thanet House. Let us not forget that in this latter street lived the great artist, Sir Godfrey Kneller. Strype speaks of Great Russell Street being an aristocratic part of the town; "especially," he says, "the north side, as having gardens behind the houses, and the prospect of the pleasant fields up to Highgate and Hampstead, insomuch that this place, by physicians, is named the most healthful of any in London."

Horace Walpole writes to Sir Horace Mann on the 31st of January 1750-" You will hear little

« PreviousContinue »