Untold lives blog

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30 July 2015

John Lovejoy, bookbinding tyrant

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What changed bookbinder John Lovejoy, “a good looking, full-bodied, red-faced, dark haired man… with a great business” into “The Tyrant”?

In the 1770s London bookbinders tended to work longer than other craftsmen. One binder, John Lovejoy, (1749-1818) took it upon himself to resolve this discrepancy, and quickly gained considerable support among his colleagues by arguing for the reduction of the working day by an hour.   According to Lovejoy, his memory would be forever blessed for this achievement!

Lovejoy -Davis 221

A binding by John Lovejoy-  Davis 221 taken from the British Library’s online image database of bookbindings. Noc


Lovejoy was originally a journeyman (a trained bookbinder who did not own his own workshop, as opposed to a master bookbinder).  He his fellows met weekly to discuss trade issues, eventually forming themselves into regulated groups (an early manifestation of trade unionism). The issue of ‘the hour’ could not be addressed immediately; a strike fund was established in case binders were laid off.    By 1786, everything was ready but Lovejoy was no longer in step. Indeed he soon became characterised as “The Tyrant”.

What had happened was that Lovejoy had become an employer himself (In Plough Court, Fetter Lane). In an abrupt volte face he urged the masters to resist the hour and promptly discharged his own journeymen when they applied for it.   This was not all: the ‘Prosecuting Masters’ made an example of some of the workers by having them arrested for conspiracy.  At the trial, the famous defence lawyers Thomas Erskine and William Garrow (with the aid of some journeymen) damaged Lovejoy’s credibility by using his former opinions against him. Nevertheless, five strikers were imprisoned in Newgate for 2 years. The ‘hour’ was won despite this.


Thomas Erskine  -'Bar eloquence' by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 6 January 1795 (NPG D12510)
© National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC By


Having proved himself as a sound establishment figure by his part in 1786 prosecution, Lovejoy was granted an honour, the livery of the Stationers’ Company.  His business grew.  Booksellers and Freemasons patronised his workshop (Lovejoy was a mason at the Lodge of Antiquity from 1792-1812).  He was one of the few who could supply bindings with suitable motifs (Lovejoy jealously guarded his masonic tools and never lent them to anyone). 

Despite his mistakes of the past, Lovejoy did not learn his lesson.  In 1794 he unsuccessfully led opposition to a further hour’s reduction.  The journeymen achieved this without a strike. For his pains – as entries in the British Library’s Jaffray Collection show - he died in penury universally hated, while the masonic tools upon which he had set so much store were given to his foreman George Rowley in payment of debts.

PJM Marks
Printed Historical Sources Cc-by

Further Reading:
Ellic Howe and John Childe, The Society of London Bookbinders, 1780-1951 (London, 1952)
The Jaffray Collection at the British Library


28 July 2015

Richard Burton - Masterchef?

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If you mention the name Richard Burton, most people will assume that you mean the mellifluous-voiced Welsh actor, a few might opt for the nineteenth century orientalist and explorer but you can be pretty sure that no-one will suggest Henry VI’s cook.  Everything that we know about this third Richard Burton is written on a memorial brass, hidden away in St Mary’s Church, Twickenham, the burial place of Alexander Pope. 



The Latin inscription reads:

Hic jacet Ricus Burton Armigr nup Capitalis Cocus dni Regis Et Agnes Uxr ejs qui obiit xxiiiio die Julii Ao dni moccccoxliii qor animabs ppiciet des


This translates as:

Here lies Richard Burton Esquire lately principal cook to his Majesty the King and Agnes his Wife who died the 24th day of July 1443 of whom may God have mercy on their souls.

The inscription is on a brass plate mounted on two fragments of a stone slab. Also mounted on the stone are the royal arms of the House of Lancaster and of France; a privilege granted only to those who had been members of the royal household.



There has probably been a church on the St Mary’s site since Saxon times. Located on a rising promontory next to the Thames, it would have provided a useful landmark and a refuge in dangerous times. The earliest incumbent is recorded in 1332 but there is, however, an earlier reference to "Alan, vicar of Twickenham" in the accounts of Richard, Earl of Cornwall for 1296-97.

DSC00418 Noc

The 15th century tower is all that is left of an earlier building, which may have included parts that were even older. By 1713, it was in a poor state of structural repair and the new vicar, a Dr Pratt, refused to conduct any more services inside it.  There are records of a discussion about emergency repairs to some pillars just three days before the building collapsed during the night of 9 April 1713.  The church was rebuilt in 1714, and the surviving ragstone tower was joined to a red brick Queen Anne nave and chancel. Some of the monuments from the earlier building, of which the Burton brass is the oldest, were relocated in the new church.  It is uncertain where the original tomb was located; the brass is displayed vertically but may once have been on a flat ledgerstone.



The description of Richard as a cook probably reflects Latin usage in England at that time and a better description might be Steward.  The memorial would seem to indicate a gentleman, entitled to bear arms and probably holding a responsible position within the royal household. The Burtons must have been sufficiently important for someone to have erected a memorial to them.  In which of the royal establishments did Richard work?  The palace at Richmond was not built until some 60 years later. Perhaps he retired to Twickenham?  We can only speculate because, at the moment, nothing more is known of Richard and Agnes Burton or the life they led in Twickenham. 

David Meaden
Independent researcher


Further reading:
Add MS 34891 - Rubbings of sepulchral brasses, chiefly inscriptions and shields of arms f. 157 Richard Burton, Chief Cook to Henry VI: Sepulchral inscription of him and wife at Twickenham, 1443.
The story of St Mary’s – the parish church of Twickenham (X.080/743).


25 July 2015

Blessing cars and eating oysters

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Two saints are remembered on 25 July in the United Kingdom - St Christopher and St James.  A number of very different customs and traditions are associated with this day.

St Christopher, a 3rd century Christian martyr, is commonly represented by a figure carrying the child Jesus across a river. He is most often claimed as the patron saint of travellers, but he is also the patron saint of sports, with figures wrestling or fishing accompanying his picture. Both travellers and athletes wear medallions bearing an image of St Christopher for protection and good fortune.

  St Christopher

Image taken from Charles Knight, Pictorial Half-hours (1850) Noc


The link to travellers has prompted special church services to bless vehicles in honour of St Christopher’s Day.  In July 1932, there was a ceremony held on St Christopher’s Eve at St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Nottingham.  Each member of the congregation was presented with a St Christopher medal and after the service Canon Parmentier went outside to bless cars, motorcycles, and bicycles belonging to the worshippers.  In 1950 the vicar of St Botolph’s in Northfleet Kent reported how he blessed all forms of transport outside his church on 25 July.

On St James’s Day it was the tradition for the rector of the parish of Cliff in Kent to distribute a mutton pie and a loaf to however many people demanded this bounty.  The day was celebrated in many counties with customs aimed at increasing the apple crop.  Prayers or verses were said in the orchards and the trees were sprinkled with holy water.  In Sussex young men performed the ceremony of ‘blowing the trees’. Cows’ horns were blown under the apple trees and each man took hold of a tree and recited verses.

25 July was also considered a milestone for hop growers. There is an old saying concerning the likelihood of a good crop:
Till St James’s Day is past and gone,
There may be hops, or there may be none.

Away from the countryside, St James’s Day was the first day on which oysters were brought into the London market, thus flouting the notion that they should only be eaten when there is an ‘r’ in the month.  There was a superstition that anyone eating the oysters on 25 July would have plenty of money throughout the rest of the year.

  Oysters kh128815
An oyster market in England -Denis Dighton (1821) ©Jean Vigne/Kharbine-Tapabor/British Library Board


So it’s time to drive your car or ride your bike to the nearest church before seeking out a plate of oysters. Happy St Christopher’s and St James’s Day!

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:
John Timbs, Something for everybody (London, 1861)
British Newspaper Archive: Nottingham Evening Post 25 July 1932, Dundee Evening Telegraph 10 October 1950