Off the Shelf #4 – Disputationes

Trusty and Wellbeloved Reader,

I’m a bit late continuing this series, but since I’ve been ill for the last few days I’ve had a few minutes to consider the next addition to this little tale of books: my Disputationes.

The Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei adversus hujus temporis Haereticos is a comprehensive defense of Roman Catholic power written at the height of the Protestant reformations across Europe. In them their author, Roberto Bellarmine, fills out the pages in grand anti-Protestant rhetoric; enough to earn him recognition as the dominant defender of papal power in his age.

This work first appeared in print in 1581 with the production of its first volume, and Bellarmine expanded on it over the subsequent decade to build up a copious defence of the papacy. There were some lenient extracts, which may have seen the book briefly prohibited by the pope in 1590, but other parts were more on the extreme side; this certainly surprised one of the books owners.

So, why are my volumes interesting enough to be off the shelf and in this blog post?

I bought the first volume several years ago now; it was the first 16th century book that I owned, a proud Parisian volume bound in contemporary – possibly English – calf boards with an 18th century spine.


It had been owned originally by George Carleton, a famous bishop and theologian in Elizabeth I’s time, and is signed Sr. T. G. and Thomas Gage; probably the same person – a little known Baronet from Sussex. Extraordinarily, though, he was a descendant of Thomas Darcy, who owned the manor of my village almost 500 years ago.


About four years later I saw a second volume appear on eBay; I took a casual look at it because it was printed only a few years after my first volume. Amazingly, although it was in a completely different early 19th century binding, the signatures on the title page matched my first volume. This was the second volume of this set, which had apparently been split up some time between the last matching ownership inscription (1971) and me purchasing the first book. Obviously, I had to buy it; and by doing so I reunited these two fabulous books.



The best part of these books is yet to come, though. George Carleton, the probable first owner of the books, wrote a book as a response to the Disputationes at the start of the 17th century. These two volumes I own were clearly his reference material for this work, and nearly every page has some marginal notes from him regarding his thoughts and responses to them. His learning is already made clear simply by the fact he uses a mixture of English, Latin, and Ancient Greek to annotate the book.


Some notes he revisited and updated, as was obvious from different inks.


Whereas others he must have come back to and realised he’d misunderstood the text, or made a comment that he no longer liked.


The two books continue filled with these wonderful notes, except for one long gap in the second volume: Carleton or one of his friends must have bought him a note book for these pages, since there are simply numbers next to underlined sections – probably referring to longer notes written elsewhere.

The rebacking of the first volume at the end of the 18th/beginning of the 19th century meant the pages were recut, destroying the edges of the notations, and the same occurred to the second volume when that was entirely rebound. Although this must have happened within a decade or so, the bindings are entirely different – which is perplexing since they must have been in the same collection. One has the spine in English, while the second volume has its spine emblazoned with a different version of the title and in Latin.

The latter two owners we know about are Ralph S. Eves – most probably Rev. Ralph Shakespeare Eves, an Anglo-Catholic priest who must have taken considerable interest in this early outline of Rome’s stance against a reformed Protestant church.

The book past from him to G. B. Barrow in 1971, but this kind owner remains obscure, and I have been unable to trace him. By 2010 the two books had become separated and I bought the first volume, then six years later the second book appeared online and I bought that two, reuniting the set.

Adieu, dearest Reader.

The Marauder’s Map (of London)


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Trusty and Wellbeloved Reader,

I’ve always enjoyed making presents rather than buying them, so – when it came to making a present for a certain lover of Harry Potter – I thought it was time to take a crack at something I’d always wanted to do – a marauders map, but of an actual place.

Therefore, kind reader, here is a little piece of work that I called The London Map.


The outside of the map was very much based on the marauders map, with only a little wording changed here and there. If I’d had more time I’d have made the towers here reference my little history of London’s gates.



So the outside was simple enough – I had a pretty good template from the actual map – but producing London as per the hands of Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs was a much more interesting prospect.


Opening the map reveals a complex array of lines of text in different scripts and sizes running across the paper.



Once expanded the map is almost a meter across, stretching from St James’s Park in the West to the Tower of London in the East. 


A few landmarks appear with smaller names, hidden among the scribbled streets.


In other places some more unexpected landmarks appear.


Ultimately, what a great fun project – next up… Aberystwyth?

Adieu, kind Reader.


Henry Rogers and the Stolen Coffin


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Conquistadorial Reader,

This little story is one that I unearthed in a book that I bought only a few days ago – a little volume of Toldervy’s Epitaphs from the mid-eighteenth century. Here’s how one little note written in there a century or so ago reveals the forgotten tale behind a very mysterious grave indeed.


This mysterious stone and its inscription are stood up against a brick-built table tomb in the graveyard of Christchurch Priory in Dorset.

There’s plenty of old legends about this stone; some say it refers to shipwrecked mariners or smugglers who were buried there, while others reckon it’s the grave of an unfortunate soldier killed in the civil war. The latter, even with the change between old style and new style dates, is quite impossible, since the civil war didn’t start until over a year after the tomb reckons Henry Rogers died.

This is where my book comes in.


The top three lines read In Christ Church Yard – states to have been on men whose Coffins had been stolen for shot [viz.?]

The final last word of those three lines – viz – also looks like by, in which case the sentence is unfinished and the unknown author of the note must have had no luck finding who stole the coffins.

But the story it reveals is something quite extraordinary. And after a bit of digging around in several archive catalogues here it is:

Henry Rogers was a wealthy gentleman of Christchurch, regularly involved in the administration of the town. He seems to have been descended from a line of wine merchants, and was successful enough to have been mayor in around 1640. His family had already been for some years key players in town politics, and indeed would continue to be for the entire seventeenth century.

Henry stops appearing in records on 1st April 1641, about a year after he stepped down as mayor, and, as the above tomb explains, within a few weeks he had died. He was buried at his local church, Christchurch Priory. One key fact we can now suppose about his funeral is that he was wealthy enough for it to be a grand affair, and he was buried in a fine lead coffin.

Now we come to the subject of his unusual epitaph.

In 1642 the English Civil War began and Dorset was a reasonably Royalist area compared to the rest of the country. There was a small regiment of soldiers garrisoned around the town, but they seem to have been quite unprepared or entrenched against any enemy action.

On April 7th 1644 there was a surprise attack by Parliamentarians under William Waller and the town was taken, with apparently almost the entire Royalist garrison captured. Here the Parliamentarians immediately showed their great disrespect for the likely still very catholic-feeling priory building, and stabled their horses in it.

Over the next year there the town changed hands between the two sides, including one point in January 1645 where for a few days a Parliamentary force was besieged within the church itself.

Some time between these little battles we can discover the scene that resulted in our enigmatic inscription, and tell the tale of Henry Roger’s stolen coffin:

As the note in my book says, the stone was raised for men whose Coffins had been stolen for shot. Indeed, it would seem that for want of lead, the church roof likely already having been stripped and the Iconoclastic Roundheads having smashed apart the lead-glazed windows, eyes turned on the churchyard.

It’s not clear which side is responsible, but more extreme Parliamentarians are certainly known to have had no shame in defacing churches and monuments. Indeed, there is the famous tale of Winchester Cathedral’s windows being smashed when Roundheads broke open medieval tombs in the church and threw the bones at the glass.

It was common in medieval Britain for wealthy people to be buried in lead coffins, and that practice had continued into the 17th century. There were ten graves found in the churchyard that were known to belong to once-wealthy incumbents and so these were dug up. The bones and decomposing remains were unceremoniously thrown together – heere we ten are one – before being covered over. The message on the stone reads very much like a warning; how can you live happily, when you can’t even let your ancestors rest peacefully? This message could well have been carved when the churchyard was full of fresh graves of soldiers killed there, hence why start the epitaph by saying how the men here were strangely not slayne but raysed.

By the end of 1645 the town had regained some moderate peace, and a new mayor was elected; John Rogers. This man must have been a close relation to Henry, as the position of mayor seems to have been held by fathers and sons of the Rogers family many times through their 17th century generations.

This man I can only suppose is the JR whose initials appear at the bottom of the stone, fed up with a war that had ruined his town and disrespected his dead relative to the utmost extreme. The stone carving itself is unusually naïve even for the period, and could well be evidence of the local stonemason having fled, so a less experienced local cut the text.

There, then, my dear and happy Reader, is all I have to say on this little subject. What an unusual story to come of buying an old book.



Some Old Sketches


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Advancing Reader,

Over the summer I went through some very old pictures that I’d drawn – things from the age of seven upwards – I make no apology for these unhappy crimes against art that I now present.


I’ve got a few scraps of paper like these – back when I was in primary school I wrote a lot of short horror stories, so regularly illustrated them with ghosts and skeletons. This scrap of paper ended up getting expanded a bit, and whenever I’ve found it in the past I’ve added a new drawing. The oldest one here – 2000 – would have been when I was eight.


Here’s a haunted house from when I was about ten.


And here’s one in colour – probably when I was about the same age.


This drawing is very frustrating. I found a piece of the crest from a Bellarmine Jar when I was nine or ten and this is a drawing of it – I liked to record my finds this way. I’ve been searching for what happened to this interesting piece of pot for years and had hoped to find it this summer, but it’s still missing.


This illustration of odd finds is something I probably drew when I was about twelve, some of these are missing too. It shows a piece of 17th century pot, a medieval floor tile from Beeleigh Abbey, a lock plate from my grandparents’ house, a piece of jewelry and a statuette from a Victorian tip, a hypocaust tile and tesserae from Caer Went, and a brass loop from Duxford aerodrome.


Getting into more technical drawings, this is something I must have drawn when I was ten or so. It’s a plan for a Lego model!


And something even madder: my granddad gave me and my brother some old cupboards and a broken lawnmower one summer to build something out of. Here’s a plan for the plane that we attempted to make, with an explanation of the system to make the propeller turn and control the ailerons.


Going back to writing, I wrote my first reasonably lengthy novel attempt aged 13 – some 35,000 words that got me a detention when I gave it in for a writing project piece of homework and my teacher thought I’d just stolen it from the internet. This was my attempt at a cover image for that first one ‘In Half Light’


I wrote plenty of equally awful stories following on in the same fantasy universe up until the age of sixteen or so, this map must be related to one of the last ones that I wrote.


After that I went back to more conventional drawings, including this clock.


Then I began working with pens – this is a drawing of some pirates I drew to impress a girl I liked, I think I was about seventeen. Can’t say it worked, but at least I’ve got a fancy doodle.


And finally, this drawing dated Aug. 2011 would have been when I was 19, just before I went off to university and began filling up sketchbooks rather than odd scraps of paper (I suppose that’ll be a blog post one day). This and the previous one are re-creations of historical scenes from a bit of research and a lot of general guessing. Something that’s come to be a majority of the drawings I produce.

Adieu, my dear Reader.

Off the Shelf #3 – Heathens

Daguerreotyped Reader,

I own plenty of old books that have at some time or the other been the textbook of an unhappy schoolchild or two, and their bored doodles and sometimes even their homework cover lengths of battered page-margins. That is almost certainly true of my next book in these little stories of my library: The Pantheon, Representing the Fabulous Histories of the Heathen Gods and most Illustrious Heroes.


I can’t say exactly when it was printed – the first and last few pages have been ripped out apparently a long time ago, but surprisingly the cover is pretty much completely intact. The binding stylistically is of the last quarter of the seventeenth century, being a single-tone panel binding, but the style of it is simple and it could easily be an early 18th century binding done by a country binder as a cheap but hard-wearing piece of work.

Oh look, a binding.

Oh look, a binding.

Indeed it needed to be hard-wearing; the original owner certainly used this book thoroughly, and it seems to me that he is largely responsible for the state of the book today. This is John Digby – a mysterious owner who has the handwriting of a young teenager, and filled the front and back paste downs with his name and two years in which he seems to have read the book – 1745 and 1748. Thanks to a hand-written alternative to a bookmark in one margin, we know that on 20th March 1745 he had read up to page 76.


His bored doodles turn up from page to page, and he’s coloured in a few parts of different engravings with his ink pen. He must have been studying Latin since, even though the book is in English, a short handwritten essay from 1745 appears on the back of one of the book’s engravings, which discusses Theseus and the Minotaur. There’s also several corrections of printing errors, and in one translation of a poem Digby even steps in to fix the rhyming of one line.


Aside from him, sadly, there is no history of the owners of this little book. The nibbling along some of the fore-edges shows that it was once kept where mice were running around, and the wear on the boards suggests it has more likely been kept for most of its life on its side rather than stood upright on a shelf. Other than that, there is very little that one can assume about this quaint old schoolbook.

Adieu, Happy Reader

Off the Shelf #2 – Epitaphs



Prebendary Reader,

You get books on all sorts of subjects – granted my collections attempts to keep to theology, philosophy, poetry, and history – but sometimes an odd subject appears that catches the eye and just has to be read. There’s plenty of these that came out of the bizarre curiosities of past ages, and this next book is one of them – Select and Remarkable Epitaphs on Illustrious and Other Persons.


This octavo volume was written by John Hackett, a mysterious antiquarian with a slightly morbid interest in epitaphs who was himself dead by the time the book was published. I own only one volume of the two volume set, a first edition from 1757.

The book is essentially a survey of graveyards and churches across the country and a record of their curious memorials as they were in the first half of the 18th century; whenever the author found a gravestone that he thought was particularly interesting or witty he wrote it down. Some are touching, others heroic, and others even humerous:

On an Unlucky Woodcutter

The Lord saw good, I was lopping off Wood
And down fell from the Tree,
I was met with a Check, and I broke my Neck,
And so death lopp’d off me.

On an old Hawker found dead in the Highway

John Sherry lies here, whose fixed abode
Before was no-where, for he lived on the road;
And when with Age grown scarce able to creep,
He there laid him down, and he died in a Sleep.
But some Friends who lov’d him soon heard his Mishap,
And hither remov’d him to take out his Nap.

On the Parson of an Unrecorded Parish

Come, let us rejoice, merry Boys, at his Fall;
For, egad, had he liv’d, he’d a bury’d us all.


It was printed for Thomas Osborne and John Shipton, two booksellers who regularly worked together in the 1750s to pay for books to be produced, which would then be sold between the two of them. Osborne was the son of a bookseller – a family trade – and had worked with men including Samuel Johnson earlier in his career. At the time he helped produce my book he was working to start shipping some of his stock to the Americas. His partner, Shipton, sadly is far more obscure and it is beyond my minor research to present his history.

My copy was owned, possibly originally and almost certainly during the 18th century, by Edward Brock. I can’t tell you much about him either. What I can tell you about, though, is the actions of a particularly impressive 19th century bookseller, who has had a good play around with my poor old book.

The binding is battered and the hinges tired - it has clearly been well read since it was last bound.

The binding is battered and the hinges tired – it has clearly been well read since this binding was added.

It was last bound in the first half of the 19th century, and I entirely blame a single bookseller for the appearance of the book, since only someone who wanted to disguise its faults would have changed the book in the way that it has been changed. Since the ultimate benefit of disguising the book’s damage would seem to be to sell it for a better price, I blame an unknown bookseller for the wonderful lengths that have been gone to:

Firstly, this is one volume of a two volume set, but the binding has only the title on it and no volume number. Odd, perhaps, for a book that should be part of a pair, but not any real proof that someone has tried to purposefully disguise that its partner is missing. However, at the end of the book where the final page should say end of the first book, the page has been scratched out, making it seem like the book naturally finishes.


The most incredible disfigurement, though, appears where page 75/6 should be. These pages have been cut out, but to try and disguise that a very careful circle has been cut into pages 73/4 around the page number to neatly remove it, so that it now takes a double check to see that the pagination is in fact incorrect.

There isn’t any evidence of the book’s history after those changes, but the book is very scuffed and worn – I’ve done a little restoration work on it myself to pull the binding back together. It’s a well read little book and one that, though a truly peculiar and gothic subject, is well worth perusing for the range of odd and sometimes magnificent epitaphs of history’s figures – both well known and obscure.

Adieu, my Kindest Reader.

Ticking Along


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Considerable Reader,

I blogged a little while ago about a handsome old clock that I’d bought while attempting to shop for old books. I am no clock restorer – but I hope that the Reader will allow me to blog a little upon my first amateur steps to try and restore this wonderful timepiece.

The first job was just to give the frame and dial that I’d bought a bit of a clean, which aside from uncovering a few old screw holes lost in grime, showed how long it had been since the clock had last been looked at properly – the top of it was encrusted with ancient candle wax.

Some quick notes on what was needed and where it would end up.

Some quick notes on what was needed and where it would end up.

Then I had to buy some things. The list of parts the clock needed was quite extensive, but fortunately a clock known to have been made by the same maker only a year earlier is well photographed online. What I needed to make or buy was:

  • A bell
  • A bell hammer
  • A clock hand
  • A mechanism, either striking or one that could be made into a striking mechanism
  • Brass to make a crown from
  • Brass to make the fretwork from
  • Brass to make the side doors from
  • Brass finials
  • Brass feet
  • Bolts to fit the thing together, as well as other odd finishing pieces.

This list does not include the tools I’ve also had to amass to even begin attempting this project.

So far I can tick a few things off.

I’ve bought a bell –  a beautiful thing that is probably about the same age as the clock if not a little earlier. The hammer is going to be tricky though, and I’ll probably end up making that myself to fit the shape of the old holes in the top of the clock.

Some things piled on top of the clock.

Some things piled on top of the clock.


I’ve also got two mechanisms, I spent a long time trying to find one that was front winding and would line up with the old winding hole, but the movement from the ~19th century conversion that created the old winding hole must have been pretty custom, so I’ve decided to go for a rear-winding movement to keep it simple. One of my mechanisms is a very incomplete 19th century French carriage clock movement, the other is a simple Swiss movement from the 40s, which should be easy to add a passing strike to.

A Swiss movement - I have since bought an escapement for it too.

A Swiss movement – I have since bought an escapement for it too.

I’ve bought some nice hand-cast finials, which are surprisingly similar to examples used by Savage on his other clocks. There’s also a bunch of brass sheets, which will I’ll be cutting and engraving to make up the several parts of the clock which were custom to it and can’t be sourced easily – namely the fretwork, doors, movement-stand, and crown.

Lastly there’s the hand – just one, since my clock is early enough to be single-handed – I bought a nice laser cut reproduction, which I can work down with a file to make look hand-made and original.

Oh, and I haven’t bought any feet or bolts yet.

So, what have I done so far?

Firstly, I had to make up a template for the fretwork. I'd decided to start off by cutting out all the brass so that I had everything I needed for assembling the clock.

Firstly, I had to make up a template for the fretwork. I’d decided to start off by cutting out all the brass so that I had everything I needed for assembling the clock.

Once a template was drawn out onto card and cut out I could use that to stencil the design onto the brass.

Once a template was drawn out onto card and cut out I could use that to stencil the design onto the brass.

Then it was into the vice for cutting, first with a saw and then the detailing around the edge with a file.

Then it was into the vice for cutting, first with a saw and then the detailing around the edge with a file.

Next job will be piercing the fretwork, I haven't started that yet.

Next job will be piercing the fretwork, I haven’t started that yet.

I’ve also cut out the crown, which needs filing down and then bending so that it will fit over the top and support the bell. I’ve also hand-finished the clock hand to make it look more handmade.


Some more things on top of the clock.

Until next time, happy Reader!

Wintery Rhymes


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Propelled Reader,

Yes, wintery can be spelled that way.

The Reader will allow me pause to put my odd attempts at poetic creativity here – not every blog post can be as interesting as others – and, now that I’ve been allowed this dull pause in interesting content, go and find something more interesting to read.

To the Happy West

I wandered by the waves last night
  In many a pleasant dream;
A youthful moon shone proud and bright
  And I within his beam
  But it was just a dream.

I felt the salt air in my heart
  And breathed the winter shore.
And thought that time would never part
  Those happy days before
  That stand up here no more.

The happy west, the conq’ring sea –
  These things I’ll breath again –
But there are hearts of lads like me
  That pine for them in vane
  And shall not come again.

Their hearts were willing long ago
  But clay makes good men still:
These dancing spirits wander so
  But time will cure what’s ill
  When I’ll go west and still.

Sunrise, 2016

The sheen of dawn
That ran aground
On the high idle mountain
Coloured the waiting room of stars
For a moment red
And newborn.
And the banners of darling things:
The diamond starlight
And baleful moon
Turned out,
And, done into nothing,
Poured down bronze
From out the autumn of the night
Into the bright rising spring
Of day.

A Tired Old Year

“That rhyme’s as broken as the rest of the world.”

  Big Ben strikes
Four and five and six.
He showers the evening down
And mocks at England’s politics:
The thorn of state and crown.

  The world shakes –
Another modern fear –
And happy news a tinderbox
To help it burn more clear.
Still turn those senseless clocks.

  Time and time again
Repeats old history
Philosophers mock at societies lot
And says’t no mystery –
Who wins or not.

  No, for sure
‘Tis clear as Bow bell’s chime
Evil asks only good does naught
And now’s its time –
How joy was short.

  But hope –
Lads, that’s an honest cure
Let’s not forget our friends
And when the world lays all unsure
We’ll work for better ends.

Night, 2016

Heaven transcendent
Crouched over a void of tears
That dribbled out
Towards the hue-forsaken west
And into a colourless tribute
Among newborn stars.

“There comes, you know,”
Spoke those time agnostic lights
“A day when dawns will be made of ash
“And dreams counted out
“When all things are up and done.”

The west sighed
And breezes from the bosom of home
Trembled forgotten things.
Charging good health
And happy days
And ignorant joys.
And starlight distant
Employed in their immaculate heaven
Mocked the quiet ambitions of man.

The trees breathed out together
And under the quiet reigns of night
And happy chords of heaven
Echoed those night wind stars again
“Beds of mould
And finite smiles
Are no comfort in this bleak eternity.
Starlight fades
And empty lungs
Tell no histories here.”

Adieu, dearest Reader.

Off the Shelf #1 – Sun Dials

Celebrated Reader,

It’s been a while since I had a series of posts going on in this blog – the last was my pre-written history of London’s gates – so I thought I’d try something I’ve wanted to write for a good while; a history of some books. In case the Happy Reader is unaware, I’ve got a lot of them. I’m in the middle of cataloguing them (something I’ve claimed to have been doing for about three years now), but I’d guess I have at least three hundred volumes stretching from the 20th century back to the 15th.

Here’s the history of a few (we’ll just have to wait and see exactly how many) of them, with this first post being on a fascinating old book I bought a few years ago.

The full title of this first volume is lengthy – Dialing: Plain, Concave, Convex, Projective, Reflective, Refractive, shewing, How to make all such Dials, and adorn them with all useful Furniture, Relating to the Course of the Sun – and the book itself is as grand as the title; folio sized, and full of large engravings of sundials and mathematical scales.

It’s a first edition, printed in 1682, and still in the majority of the original binding – it’s on my list of books to get professionally restored and one that I would never attempt to work on myself. It was written by William Leybourn, a seventeenth century surveyor and mathematician, and printed for and sold by an extreme Whig and Williamite who was involved in treasonous activities during Monmouth’s Rebellion – one Awnsham Churchill.


My copy is a splendid survival. It was originally bought in 1682 by Joseph Moxon, a famous mathematician and surveyor in his own time; he had grown up as a Royalist exile in the Netherlands, and when he bought my book was the advising hydrographer to King Charles II as he rebuilt London’s watercourses destroyed in the great fire. Moxon, by a note in the front cover, seems to have lent the book out and found it necessary to add the inscription Joseph Moxon lend mee. Moxon must have had a particular interest in sundials – in 1697 he published his own work on designing and creating them.

The opening page of the book was quite filled up with names

The opening page of the book was quite filled up with names

He sold the book on 8th June 1689 to one Joseph Howes, who I’ve been unable to track down. There is the slimmest chance he could have been a bookseller in Nottingham. Howes paid 12 shillings and sixpence for it, but doesn’t seem to have kept it for too long:

This is where the most active owner of this book comes in, Isaac Kirk. Kirk was given the book as a child in 1690. His childish handwriting repeats his name countless times over the front and back endpapers of the book, along with a faded Sunday school rhyme and a few other phrases that sound like the sort of thing a theologically minded parent or schoolmaster might have taught a child – things like put away from you all Evill and I ask not for Evill but Shun yt.

Isaac took a great interest in this wonderful book, and as he grew up he clearly became a skilled surveyor and mathematician – and a keen ‘Dialer’. Unlike almost any other annotator in any of my books he named and dated every note he made, many of which are long calculations and solutions to problems poorly outlined in the text – some of which he claims as his own invention or idea. There are also grand tables for calculating different angles for the dial depending on latitudes. Amazingly, he also hand-rubricated the entire book with his own pen.

There are plenty of grand engravings, some have been enlarged upon by Kirk.

There are plenty of grand engravings, some have been enlarged upon by Kirk.

He lost interest in the volume in about 1705 when his notes trail off (although it is quite amazing that for some 15 years he regularly made new notes in the margins of the book, all on the art of creating sundials), he returned briefly to the pages in 1715, when a few small notes indicate that he had re-checked several sums and found them to be correct.


Kirk himself is a very interesting character, and it took me a long time to track him down – it was one small note towards the end of the book that gave him away; a line of latitude that relates to a sundial he built in Pilsley, Derbyshire. I had misread Pilsley as Tilsley, so hadn’t managed to find him before, and only once I traced the route of the line did I recognise the name and connect the man to the places he knew. Isaac lived down the road from Pilsley, and turns up in Derbyshire records as Isaac Kirk of Shirland Lodge, a freemason and surveyor. He was important enough to take charge of repairing the bridge at Swarkestone, and may have worked on Pilsley Hall – since he references his work on a sundial at Pilsley in relation to a ‘Great Chamber’; the main room of an old hall house.

Kirk last appears in my book in 1715, and last appears in records in 1717; no one put their pen to the pages of my book again for almost a hundred years, when the book turns up only just down the road from where Isaac lived. This owner was Elijah Hall, a well of mill owner who lived at South Wingfield Park, who came to own the book in 1812.

Hall himself would become involved in an interesting moment of British history a few years later, when his mill workers refused to work in the face of the industrial revolution and the introduction of machinery. This turned into an armed uprising called the Pentrich Rising, which shortly afterwards was crushed by the government. One of the men who challenged Hall over the new machinery in Hall’s mills would be among the three last people executed by beheading in the British Isles.


He was the last man to write his name in the book, and no other notes appear recording its history since then. The next step in its history will be a trip to the restorers before it deteriorates any more – the spine is already missing and several pages are loose, with the front board detached and leather pealing away. Fortunately though, once I have the funds together to get it properly restored, the unique history of this book and the wonderful musings of its owners can be preserved for as many centuries to come as the aged pages have struggled through until today.

Until next time, Merry Reader

What Happened to Aldgate?


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Botanical Reader,

Now that you are well planted in your chair, allow me to potter along with a little story of Aldgate that I have meant to put into this lettered form for far too long.


When I left off the eighteen-hundred year history of that edifice the year was 1761, and I clumsily ended saying that it was briefly being reconstructed at Bethnal Green as a curiosity. I had a sneaking feeling that something was wrong here; this was the only mention that I had found of it being reconstructed, and there was no evident reason for why this would have happened.

The story that I found, however, was beyond what I had expected – and stretches the history well into the 19th century.

To begin, we must go back to 1761, when the order for the gate to be dismantled was first given. The structure that was being pulled down dated from 1607, but may well have contained much recycled material from the earlier medieval structure.

This is where I have to introduce a magnificent antiquary – Ebenezer Mussel esq. – a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries and renowned collector of a vast range of ancient objects. From Roman and Egyptian treasures to illuminated manuscripts and even a pair of Elizabeth I’s gloves, this man’s vast collection covered the history of much of the globe, and his interest seems no less disposed towards the poor fate of the ancient gates of London. So, naturally, he bought one.

This gate was, as the Reader may be happy to expect, Aldgate – and he had all of the materials of the gate used to construct a wing on his home known as Corner House in Bethnal Green. It is this that led to it becoming known thereafter as Aldgate house. Corner House itself is recorded as early as 1538, and had already been rebuilt in the early 1640s and possibly again during the reign of James II, Mussel had bought it in 1760, only a year before purchasing Aldgate.

Mussel sadly died without seeing the new ‘Aldgate wing’ finished, but his son Ebenezer Mussel jr. had it finished in 1766 and had an inscription made up to celebrate it.

Aldgate House c.1800

Aldgate House c.1800

The wing stood on the north side of the house; incorporated into the gate were the ancient battlements, the pair of circular portraits of Roman emperors, supposedly based on coins from a hoard discovered when Aldgate was being rebuilt in 1607. The arched relief under the window may have been the wooden relief cut from ‘Wat Tyler’s Tree’ – a tree on Bow Common that had been cut down some years earlier, and local legend said had been the tree under which Wat Tyler had met his rebellious peasants.

A slightly later engraving of the house.

A slightly later engraving of the house.

After Ebenezer Mussel snr.’s death at the start of October 1764 the house and Ebenezer’s possessions’ ownership came into question, and it took two law cases for things to be settled, during which time the house was rented to a few of the many Jewish families who were at that point moving into Bethnal Green. The collections in the house were sold off in 1765, and the library followed in 1782. In 1790 the house was finally confirmed as having passed to his wife, Sarah, who had remarried in May 1765 to one John Gretton. Sarah, however, had died before 1790 so the house went to her widowed husband.

As a side note completely outside of the gate, and just to spark a bit of 18th century gossip, Sarah and John’s first daughter was born only three months after their marriage, and their marriage itself was only seven months after Ebenezer’s death.

Hughson describes the house as still standing in his description of London published in 1807, but it can’t have been long after this that Gretton had the aging property pulled down and replaced with a few houses and a small Calvinist church, which he touchingly named the Ebenezer Chapel. The chapel was finished in 1811, and the entire development by 1813. It is unclear how long this stood for, but by the end of the 19th century the population demographic seems to have shifted enough that there was little need for an independent chapel in the middle of Bethnal Green. By the start of the 20th century it had been replaced by Our Lady of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, which still stands on the site today.