Page images

as singular incidents for which he could in no manner account.

The whole affair at the time appears to have been generally regarded as a “ detestable plot.” We are rather inclined, however, to believe that it was a clever practical joke, played by Mr. Barnard and his friends, one of whom seems to have proved a traitor in the camp, and to have parried back the jest on the principal accomplice, without imagining, perhaps, that it would lead to a serious trial at the Old Bailey







May Fair, the site of which was anciently known as Brook Fields, derives its name, it is almost needless to remark, from the celebrated fair which was held in its green meadows from the reign of Henry the Eighth till the middle of the last century. “May Fair,” says Pennant, “ was kept about the spot now covered with May Fair Chapel, and several fine streets. The fair was attended with such disorders, riots, thefts, and even murders; that, in 1700, it was prevented by the magistrates, but revived again, and I remember the last celebrations. The place was covered with booths, temporary theatres, and every enticement to low pleasure.”

Malcolm, in his “Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London,” quotes an advertisement which appeared in the London Journals of the 27th of April, 1700, which affords us a curious picture of this memorable fair. “In Brookfield

market-place, at the east corner of Hyde Park, is a fair to be kept for the space of sixteen days, beginning with the 1st of May; the three first days for live cattle and leather, with the same entertainments as at Bartholomew Fair, where there are shops to be let ready built for all manner of tradesmen that usually keep fairs, and so to continue yearly at the same place.” As mentioned by Pennant, the disgraceful scenes of outrage, riot, and profligacy, which were annually to be witnessed at May Fair, led, in 1700, to its temporary suppression. In the Tatler of the 24th of May, 1708, we find;—“The downfal of May Fair has sunk the price of this noble creature [the elephant] as well as of many other curiosities of nature. A tiger will sell almost as cheap as an ox; and I am credibly informed a man may purchase a calf with three legs for very nearly the value of one with four. I hear likewise that there is great desolation, among the ladies and gentlemen who were the ornaments of the town, and used to shine in plumes and diadems, the heroes being most of them pressed, and the queens beating hemp.” May Fair, however, was again revived. Notwithstanding that a part of the ground was built over as early as 1721, we find a donkey-race attracting great crowds to the fair in 1736, and as late as 1756, it is still mentioned in Maitland's Anecdotes as being annually celebrated.

Not the least remarkable feature connected

with old May Fair was the celebrated chapel, presided over by one Keith, where any two persons might be married at a moment's notice; the law, in the middle of the last century, requiring neither public notice, the consent of guardians, nor, indeed, any other formality than the mutual agreement of the consenting parties. Keith's little chapel stood within a few yards of the present chapel in Curzon Street; indeed, an extract from one of his own remarkable advertisements points out the exact spot :-“To prevent mistakes, the little new chapel in May Fair, near Hyde Park Corner, is in the corner-house opposite to the city side of the great chapel; and within ten yards of it. The minister and clerk live in the same corner-house where the little chapel is; and the licence on a crown stamp, minister and clerk's fees, together with the certificate, amount to one guinea, as heretofore, at any hour till four in the after

And that it may be better known, there is a porch at the door like a country church porch.”

When, in consequence of the profligate manner in which he prostituted his sacred vocation, Keith was subsequently excommunicated for “contempt of the Holy and Mother Church," he had the cool impudence to retort on Bishop Gibson, the Judge of the Ecclesiastical Court, whom he formally excommunicated in his cha: el

The consequence was that he was committed to prison, where he continued for some years, leaving his duties to be performed by his curates, who were


apparently his shopmen. At length, in 1744, the Act for preventing Clandestine Marriages came into agitation, against which he had the impudence to issue a formal manifesto from his prison. Speaking of the hardship which he insists it would entail on the lower orders of society, he writes ;—“Another inconveniency which will arise from this act will be, that the expense of being married will be so great that few of the lower classes of people can afford it; for I have often heard a Fleet parson say, that many have come to be married when they have had but half-acrown in their pockets, and sixpence to buy a pot of beer, and for which they have pawned some of their clothes."

The walls of the little chapel in Curzon Street might have told strange tales of love, folly, and romance. Among other singular marriages, it witnessed that of the beautiful Elizabeth Gunning to James Duke of Hamilton. Horace Walpole writes to Sir Horace Mann on the 27th of February, 1752;—“The event that has made most noise since my last, is the extempore wedding of the youngest of the two Gunnings, who have made 80 vehement a noise. Lord Coventry, a grave young lord, of the remains of the patriot breed, has long dangled after the eldest, virtuously with regard to her honour, not very honorably with regard to his own credit. About six weeks ago, Duke Hamilton, the very reverse of the Earl, hot, debauched, extravagant, and equally damaged in

« PreviousContinue »