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How Exmouth Market Got its Name

November 16, 2020
How Exmouth Market Got its Name

If youve ever had lunch in one of the excellent restaurants or the interesting street food stalls in Exmouth Market, you might wonder how the street got its name. After all, the Islington street is a lot nearer Sadler’s Wells Theatre than it is the little Devon seaside town of Exmouth. The answer involves a daring raid to rescue 3,000 people from slavery in 1816.

 

Viscount Exmouth was born as Edward Pellew in 1757 and he joined the Royal Navy at the age of 13. Due to his bravery fighting in the American War of Independence he was already a ship’s captain at the age of 19 before being captured at the Battle of Saratoga. After release from an American prison he rejoined the Navy, following a brief attempt at being a farmer. During the wars with France he captured enemy ships, rescued a ship from rocks by swimming over to it to carry a tow-rope, and when appointed commander of the Far East Fleet, captured a base belonging to the Danes, who had joined in the war against Britain. All this derring-do meant that he was awarded the title Baron, then Lord Exmouth.

 

Since the 16th century, the ports of Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli on the coast of North Africa had become home to the feared Barbary pirates. The pirates raided shipping lanes in the Mediterranean, stealing the cargo of ships bound for Western Europe, and capturing the crews to work as slaves. Increasingly, the pirates started to raid the coastal towns of Europe, capturing whole villages and forcing them into slavery. This happened to towns in Ireland and even Cornwall. Samuel Pepys talks about the loss of the whole population of the Irish town of Baltimore after they were captured by pirates and taken to Algiers. 

 

Sometimes the British would take action against the pirates, sometimes they would be ignored if the North African ports could be of use to British ships fighting the French and Spanish. However, when in 1807 the slave trade was abolished on British ships, the Royal Navy began to be used to put pressure on the Barbary pirates who traded in captured people. In 1816 Pellew was sent on one such mission. He negotiated a treaty with the dey of Algiers, ruler of the city,  which meant that the Barbary ports were to end the taking of slaves, the treaty being sealed by Pellew being given an ostrich, and the dey a telescope. No sooner had Pellew returned home, the news arrived that the British consul in Algiers had been taken hostage, and hundreds of enslaved people had been executed. The press were angry at what was seen as British humiliation, and the prince regent ordered Pellet to return to Algiers.

 

Pellews fleet moved into position close to the defences of the city, then began a bombardment, to which the Algerians replied. Casualties on the British side were heavy, but by the end of the day the Barbary fleet had been destroyed and the deys defences flattened. The dey agreed to free all slaves in the city and the British hostages, and hand over a chest full of gold doubloons as compensation to the British. 

 

On his return Pellet was treated as a hero, made Viscount Exmouth by the prince regent, given the freedom of many cities, awarded silver plates and trophies, and given honours from countries like Sardinia and Sicily which had been victims of the Barbary pirate raids. When he visited the theatre, the whole audience stood and sang Rule Britannia”. And in 1816 a new street in Islington – Exmouth Street was named in his honour, which became a street market in the 1890s. You can see a statue of Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

 

The mission to free European slaves held by the Barbary pirates is in stark contrast to the active involvement of the British in the enslavement of African people which was going on just 20 years before the raid on Algiers. Nonetheless Viscount Exmouth is perhaps someone worth raising a glass to next time you are eating in Exmouth Market.

Find out more in our Georgian London Walk

 

Walter Sickert

November 13, 2020

According to the book Portrait of a Killer, Jack The Ripper Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell, Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper, the murderer who stalked the streets of Whitechapel in 1888.

 

Patricia Cornwell went to a great deal of trouble and expense trying to prove her theory. She even spent about £1million in the attempt. She bought Sickert’s desk and cut some of his paintings out of their frames, desperately searching for DNA from blood/skin shreds she hoped to find on the edges of th...


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Lime Street’s Brief Moment of Catholicism

November 5, 2020

Lime Street does not have much of historical interest today. It is dominated by two pieces of well-known modern architecture: the Lloyd’s Building, designed by Richard Rogers, and the Willis Building by Foster and Partners. Otherwise, it is undistinguished. In the late seventeenth century, however, this small City lane briefly became the site of religious controversy.


Here in 1686 for the first time since the reign of Queen Mary a Catholic place of worship was opened in England. The new chap...


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The Sad Past of Danson House

October 28, 2020

Today Danson House in the London Borough of Bexley is home to a rather wonderful tea room and provides a stunning venue for weddings, but it was built on the proceeds of human misery and was not a happy place for its owner Sir John Boyd.

 

John Boyd’s father Augustus left Donegal in 1700 to run a sugar plantation on the island of St Kitts that had belonged to his uncle. The plantation was worked by African people brought as slaves from Sierra Leone. Augustus bought more plantations but gradua...


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British Museum: The False Door of Ptahshepses

October 7, 2020

Like all displays of objects from Ancient Egypt, the British Museum’s collection is biased towards funerary objects, as these are what have survived best. This is partly due to an early preference on the part of Egyptians to be buried in the desert, where the arid conditions have been conducive to preservation. Amongst the largest and most detailed of the objects on display is the False Door of Ptahshepses which dates to around 2440 BC - part of the Old Kingdom, which ran from around 2,686 ...


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The Mousetrap and Agatha Christie

October 6, 2020

On this day in 1952 Agatha Christie's play "The Mousetrap" opened in London at the Ambassadors Theatre and has played at the St Martin's Theatre since 1973. In 1954 she became the first woman to have three plays running in London at the same time.

Agatha Christie was a prolific writer of novels, short stories and plays and is best known for her series of crime books featuring detectives Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple.

The Agatha Christie memorial on Cranbourne Street near Leicester Square tube...


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