intro b4kxstp
dunghill or game
an absolute rake
suburban wits
charles dickens
the banality of the sublime
maps b4kxstp
rural middlesex

chapter 2:

“The next uncommon Object I beheld,
Was a Spark walking in a lonely Field,
By a Ditch-side, with Arms across his Breast,
In threadbare Coat and dirty Linen drest,
His Peruke lank, like those hung out for show,
Upon a Barber’s Block in Middle Row,
With Stubble-Beard, about a fortnight’s growth,
That outward Sign of Poverty and Sloth,
Crown’d with an old Umbrella-Hat, too broad
By sev’ral Inches for the present Mode;
A Brazen-Sword, which I suppose the Rake
Wore not for Safeguard, but Distinction’s sake,
Hung bobbing at his Heels, as if he meant
To shew thereby he was no less a Gent.
Thus ill-equip’d he saunter’d to and fro,
Like a strip’d Gamester or a ruin’d Beau,
Stol’n from the Confines of the Fleet*, to take
A little Air, for Health or Pleasure’s sake.
The Field Spy, or the walking Observator,
Ned Ward (1713) [*the Fleet debtors' prison]
an absolute rake

“What life can compare with the Jolly Town Rake’s
When in his full swing of all pleasure he takes:
At noon he gets up for a wet and to dine,
And wings the swift hours with mirth, musick & wine;
Then Jogs to the Play-house, and chats with the Masks,
And thence to The Rose, where he takes his Three Flasks”.
What life can compare with the Jolly Town Rake’s, Peter Anthony
Motteaux in Pills to Purge Melancholy, ed Th. D’Urfey (1719 ed
Charles Eaton’s servant girl wife died only six months after their wedding, so that according to Lucas “in a short time” he developed “such an aversion to matrimony (as confining a man to one woman, if he would observe a nuptial contract) that he made it his Summum bonum in this life, to live on the reversion of many of the female sex”; a course of life that led him to have been “often Clap’d, Pox’d, Flux’d and Salivated…”

His musical talents (Lucas describes him as “the best dancer in England for the dance call’d Cheshire Rounds”) earned Eaton both fame and moderate fortune, performing in the most noted musick houses and the playhouses at Dorset Garden and Drury Lane, “for which he was accounted so famous, that he was honour’d with having his name inserted in the Play-House bills, whenever he was to make any performance in that kind”. But the money thus earned was never enough to support his profligate life style, which he subsidised with the profits of crime.

And, of course, with tavern keeping, though even these side-lines were insufficient for Lucas tells us “his Extravagancy exceeding the Gains of any of his projects, he was very much in Debt, for which he was arrested and many times sent to Gaol”. An all too brief entry in the Proceedings for August 1687 actually has the 19-years old Eaton as the victim of crime, his ‘Musick Booth or Shed’ at Bartholomew Fair pulled down by a 500-strong mob and all the goods within destroyed. Two men, Simon Williams and William Wild, were convicted for their role in the attack, sentenced to three months hard labour in the House of Correction, fined, required to find sureties for their good behaviour and ordered to be whipped at the cart’s tail. [1]

The court, however, suspended the execution of the last part of the sentence, “till the King’s pleasure was known in relation thereto,” and no further information is available. In a remarkable coincidence, these rioters were sentenced at the same sessions as those convicted of attacking the Stone End farmhouse of Battle Bridge district’s other infamous rakehell, dairy farmer Thomas Griffith, whose premises stood on Gray’s Inn Lane about a kilometre from the Three Tuns tavern, the two groups ordered to be whipped together. [2]

The account in the Proceedings fails to relate what was going on in Eaton’s Bartholomew Fair booth to so incite the mob, but we know from Lucas that the young Eaton, his attempts to court a famously ugly heiress Mme de Costa having proved unsuccessful, had had “recourse to live off Women of the Town”. Accordingly, the first courtesan he bullied for had been a Mademoiselle Crisp, who dismissed him when he “refused to kill a Blackamoor for stealing her hag-dog”. This task he considered beneath the dignity of “such a good Christian as he was, to fight an infidel, as he thought him to be, because he had a collar about his neck”.

The iron band denoted Samuel Moore’s status as a slave. While English colonists now ‘owned’ many thousands of African slaves on their plantations, technically no individual should have been held in slavery within the boundaries of the kingdom: in 1659 Queen Elizabeth I had declared England to have “too pure an air for slaves to breathe in”, so that in English law “as soon as a man puts foot on English ground, he is free”.

Before the middle of the C18 the size of London’s black population is difficult to gauge, but by 1760 it had grown to about 10,000. In 1596 Elizabeth had somewhat reneged on her earlier munificence by attempting to have all Englishmen and women of colour rounded up and sent to Spain as ransom for white-skinned English captives, but while many remained free (if usually very poor), in practise some Africans remained here in slavery, in particular those ‘belonging’ to colonists, merchants and ships’ masters. It was not until 1772 that slavery was finally confirmed as illegal in England and Wales, in a ruling by Lord Chief Justice John Murray, 1st earl Mansfield.

Eaton having declined the job of Moore’s assassination, a military gentleman performed the deed, “who did stab the Negro as he was pissing at Temple-bar”, for which the Lieutenant was imprisoned in Newgate for two years. In fact, an account of this crime survives in the Proceedings for October 1688. The court heard that following a confrontation in which Ann Crisp accused Moore of stealing back a “naked bitch” she had purchased from him, and during which she and a Lieut Henry Jeane (or Jones) gent had been heard to threaten his life, the two men “happened to meet in the Strand, and there they Quarrelled afresh, and Mr Jeane was seen to give the Deceased one Mortal Wound, of the depth of seven Inches; and that the Deceased was not seen to strike Mr Jeane, &c”. [3]

The defendant called witnesses to testify that “the Deceased and another Man, a Black-a-More, were seen to strike Mr Jeane the Prisoner several Blows, and that he stood and retired in his own Defence, being set upon by them as aforesaid”. But Jeane had received neither bruises nor wounds. Convicted of manslaughter, his past now caught up with him and a year later he hanged for an earlier crime. And, according to the lengthy title of a brief poem by Tom Brown, Madam Crisp having served time in Newgate “for setting a Lieutenant to kill a Blackmoor that had stolen her Lap-dog, afterwards she kept a Bawdy-house”.

According to Lucas, Eaton next bullied (“stood kick and cuff”) for a ‘Mademoiselle’ Clerk, who usually plied for trade at a ‘Temple of Venus’ coffee house (a rendezvous for sexual liaisons) near the Fleet Debtors Prison. It was very possibly Eaton’s dealings with this young lady that brought down the wrath of the mob upon his musick shed, incited by agents of one of his victims.

Mademoiselle “danc’d incomparably well,” Lucas relates “and was showing her activity at a Music-booth in Bartholomew Fair, when it happen’d that the late Earl of D… passing by her booth, she beckon’d to his lordship, who perceiving her to be a very pretty Woman, he had the Curiosity to go up to speak to her, and finding her Discourse to be very taking he was easily persuaded to enter the Place of Iniquity”.

It was dusk and the evening’s entertainment was about to begin. There was a Consort of Organs, Violins and Bassoons, the booth so illuminated with candles that the Earl on entering “the place of iniquity… began to fancy himself in a Popish Chapel”. There was an “abundance of damsels” in the audience, but Earl D remained enchanted by Mlle Clerk who “was, indeed, full of wit, and very engaging in her discourse” and sold him the line about her ancient and distinguished though presently distressed Irish family.

In no time they had consumed a guinea’s refreshments, for which His Excellency paid, and an assignation was arranged for the next day. But Mlle C was fatigued, and she requested that the aristocrat escort her to her house, just around the corner in Hosier Lane. Earl D consented, and of course could hardly refuse when she invited him to step inside her humble abode for a minute, when a maid appeared with a bottle of wine and glasses. And just as events were appearing to take a particularly agreeable turn, they were diverted in a most disagreeable fashion, with the appearance of Charles Eaton and four or five other thugs dressed as sailors and brandishing cutlasses and coshes.

Mademoiselle slipped away and Earl D was indeed stripped of his clothes, but also blindfolded, gagged and bound to a chair. He lost his all, his satin and silk finery, his gold watch and a purse containing 80 guineas. No gentleman, let alone an aristocrat could allow such an affront to go unpunished, and so it is likely he arranged for the attack on the booth where he had been ensnared. But perhaps the Earl was saved from a far worse fate, for Lucas relates that a short time afterwards Mlle Clerk died of the pox at the venereal disease hospital in Kingsland.

“The English have not a melody that they can call their own except the hornpipe and the Cheshire Round”. History of Music, Dr Charles Burney (1776)

The selection of instruments played by the musicians in Eaton’s booth might suggest a repertoire including arrangements adapted from court music, but their performance was likely to have been chiefly what we might term ‘pop musick’, the old jigs, reels and hornpipes that most usually sufficed for musick house fare.

If popular tunes, according to Sir John Hawkins in A General History of the Science and Practice of Music (1776) they would have been played “without any diversity of parts, and consequently in the unison; or if at any time a bass instrument was added [eg, bassoons, or ‘base oboes’] it was only for the purpose of playing the ground-bass to those divisions on old ballad or country-dance tunes which at that time were the only music that pleased the common people”.

The other, exactly contemporaneous C18 historian of music, Charles Burney lived for many years in Queen Square, its northern side open to the Lamb’s Conduit Fields, Hawkins for some time living in Hatton Gardens where his spinster daughter Laetrecia treasured a glimpse of the Cold Bath Fields from an upstairs window of their house. Both men were largely dismissive of popular taste, specifically ignoring a rich tradition of folk music, but they were correct in signalling out country dances for special mention, and in particular the Cheshire Round which was for a long time the most popular dance for solo public exhibition.

The dances were developed out of the common amusements of the village green, first become fashionable at Queen Elizabeth’s court. They were collected and published during the Commonwealth by ‘Honest John’ Playford, whose English Dancing Master (1651>) contained tunes and steps for over 100 dances (including one called A Trip to Pancridge). Growing in popularity at the Restoration, towards the end of the century the French imported the country-dance style and then exported it to Germany. Of the dances, Rousseau in his Dictionary of Music (1767) says: “They should have marked rhythms and be brilliant and gay, yet with much simplicity”. [1 &2]

In rounds (aka, rondels) pairs of dancers usually form and reform a circle, the couples raising archways with their arms through which they and their fellow dancers pass. But the Cheshire Round is actually a hornpipe, originally performed solo. This is why it only features in later editions of the Playford’s guides, those published by his son Henry, with a 1701 edition casting the dance for couples while an edition published in 1721 (by John Young) describes it as “long ways for as many as will”. It was one of the most popular dances of its day, featured in John Gay’s Polly (1729) the banned follow up to his Beggar’s Opera.

The traditional words to the melody appear in Edward Jones’s Popular Cheshire Melodies (1798), describing a Cheshireman’s visit to Spain, where “A Spaniard him espies...

Who said, ‘You English rogue, look here!
What fruit and spices fine
Our land produces twice a year!
Thou has not such in thine,”

The Cheshireman returns to his boat to fetch a Cheshire cheese, declaiming, “Look here, you dog! Behold!

We have such fruits as these...
Your fruits are ripe but twice a year,
As you yourself do say;
But such as I present you here
Our land brings twice a day”.

The enraged Spaniard draws his rapier, at which the Cheshire man “kick’d up his heels”, the tale’s moral a warning to “Never let the Spaniard boast,

While Cheshire men abound,
Lest they should teach him to his cost
To dance a Cheshire Round”.

Obviously a demonstration of manhood, the actor Joe Haynes was for long the leading exponent of the dance, very possibly having first brought the solo performance to public acclaim in the 1660s. It became ever more popular at court, in the patent theatres, fairgrounds and musick houses, leading lights including but by no means restricted to two other great theatrical figures, Thomas Dogget and William Pinkethman. But for the best part of a century just about any and every red-blooded male displayed his macho credentials with the steps of the Cheshire Round...


"During the 1690s, the Three Tuns or Bowling Green House at Battle Bridge was kept by Charles Eaton, although there is no sure evidence as to exactly how long he remained there.

Rebuilt and renamed the Skinners Arms 200-years ago, the pub stands in Judd St WC1, just to the south of Camden Town Hall and the council headquarters on Euston Road opposite the entrance to St Pancras railway station: popular with locals, students from the many nearby halls of residence and office workers, the pub has for long been the resort of councillors and Camden residents attending local political business.

Eaton was born in 1668, to a respectable family of Rumsey in Hampshire who had him apprenticed to a London surgeon. He was thrown out of his place for marrying a servant girl, the registers of the St James chapel in Duke’s Place, where clandestine weddings most commonly took place, recording the 18-years old Eaton's  marriage to a Mary Coleman in April 1686.

"St Pancras church in the fields was another popular venue for irregular weddings, for which its late vicar Randolph Yearwood had got into serious trouble a decade earlier. His enemies, a ‘confederacy’ of influential parishioners who over many years went to great lengths
to undermine his incumbency, instigated the prosecution, ensuring his suspension for three years for marrying on the spot (and therefore without banns ) a couple who had arrived unannounced at his church door.

"The Young Eaton took to a life of crime, establishing himself at the head of a gang and becoming one of the most infamous gamesters, pimps and highwaymen of his day. He was also a renowned solo dancer, performing at all the leading public venues in and about Town. But there is no mention anywhere of his having any particular talent at bowls, even if while landlord of the Three Tuns he would have no doubt controlled the activities of the sharps (or rooks) on its greens..." An absolute rake; or, ball games, vice & musick (feat. early modern dance at the Wells)

This excerpt has been adapted from the ebook:

An Absolute Rake; or, spectacle, vice & musick (feat. early modern dance at sadler’s wells)

available in  kindle format:

 buy me here (kindle)

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