Episode 1: Sound

A village choir (wikipedia)

When the two companions visited the Tottenham Court Road Chapel they heard ‘a great number of melodious voices, singing with the utmost harmony, the praises of ALMIGHTY GOD’ (p. 7). The narrator says that he was surprised to hear such a sound at such an early hour (before 6 am) and notes that its hearing ‘was a pleasure’. This is one of only a few descriptions of singing in A Sunday Ramble, and yet sound in general has an important role in the description of the Sunday walk.

In terms of sensory history, sound and hearing are perhaps only of secondary interest to sight and viewing.  Mark M. Smith has, for example, argued that in the eighteenth-century sound was increasingly mediating and informing ideas about class, identity, and nationalism (Smith, 2007, ch. 2). Sounds, Smith argues, could be considered a comfort or discomfort depending on the type of person hearing it. For example, the ringing of church bells in towns forms a backdrop to class struggles in which the elite ‘were intent on imposing their fastidious tastes and reducing noise to some sort of harmonious order’ – in other words controlled ringing of church bells – against the ‘rough music’ which were considered the tastes of lower classes.

If then, sound had become political by the eighteenth-century, as Smith suggests, then A Sunday Ramble – with its interest in satirising cultural morality and activity – might well include some interesting vignettes into the subject.

Music and Singing

The example of singing at Tottenham Court Road can be followed up with a similar occurrence at St Paul’s Cathedral. The narrator records that he and his friend had just arrived in time ‘to perceive several well-dressed people coming out of the church’ (p.38). The Captain’s response provides an argument that often such groups of people leaving the church suggested that ‘a curious anthem by some celebrated vocal performers, or an extraordinary fine piece of music by an admired organist’ had just finished. The Captain adds that at such times:

it was no uncommon thing to see a number of the musical gentry leave the church; not only to avoid the unharmonious voice of the minster, but that they might be able to make their exit genteely, without the inconvenience of dropping their mites in the church-warden’s plates (p. 38).

This description compares the sounds of good musicians and singers with that of the sermon of the priest, claiming the latter as uninteresting and the former as pleasurable. Those who seek such a pleasure though are of a particular class and persuasion. They are the relatively well-off. Such a satirical argument about the enjoyment or distaste of sounds in a church context further illuminate the core theme of morality. The well-to-do audience attends the church for a concert, not for purposes of religious devotion.

Similar satire against the well-to-do can be found where music is played or talked about in A Sunday Ramble. For instance, observing one person, the Captain explained that he was a musician and Italian ‘so celebrated for his musical abilities, and who ravishes the ears of the brilliant audiences at the Opera-house’. The man, the Captain claims, had been ‘imported’ for ‘the amusement of the nobility, at a very high price’ (p. 48). On another occasion, the companions are told a story of a country Squire’s daughter who had fallen to the lure of a man who had ruined her. Within the story, we are told that part of her education was to learn to play the harpsichord, but that ‘music however did not suit her taste’ (p. 75).

Musical sound could also be missing or silenced, ruining the pleasures of the well-off. One such example can be found in the companions visit to Bagnigge Wells which, the Captain notes, had been ‘greatly frequented’ because of a ‘fine organ’ which provided ‘entertainment of the company’, but the organ had now been banned from being used on a Sunday (p. 19), as had organs in other gardens ever since ‘the Pantheon’ had been opened up as a preaching place.

The musical interests of the gentry’ classes are one thing, but what about the lower classes that the ramblers meet? There is silence on the topic. The closest A Sunday Ramble gets to the topic is when the companions observe a failed poet who ‘sported himself with two fiddles in his hand and offers himself to imitate a whole concert therewith, as well as to mimic the notes of all the birds in the creation’ (p. 73). Nothing more on the subject is said.

Talking, whispering, and shouting

The most obvious sound that would have been recorded in A Sunday Ramble, is that of talking of one kind or another. Conversation is, indeed, the main tool that the author uses to satire his tales of morality. Talking whilst walking or pausing during the walk either outside or inside often takes the form of background noise and hubbub. In chapter 3, for example, when the companions pause at the Bank Coffeehouse the narrator describes the room as full of various kinds of people:

The sober citizen, the stock-jobber, and the politician, were promiscuously seated together; sipping their coffee, reading the papers, and displaying their several talents, (or want of talents) in curious arguments on their favorite topics. Some were enquiring the price of stocks, others the state of trade (p. 28).

The scene is one of a mingled noise and silence. Some are reading or sipping coffee with minimal sound, others are debating the topics of the day or discussing stocks and trade. Some of the noise is further analysed here. When the narrator describes how two groups were arguing over the persecution and imprisonment of a bookseller we are informed that one group were just making noise which ‘gave neither satisfaction nor information to any of the hearers’ (p. 29). The author appears to argue here that in a debate there is often one side who makes a lot of noise but provides little in the way of what is worth hearing.

From churches, singing and preaching were the most common sounds. Unlike St Paul’s where the thought of listening to the priest’s sermon was enough to send the gentry packing, the sound of the sermon at St Mary le Strand is described as ‘a very excellent discourse’ (p.39). Another sound is also mentioned. Once finished children are described as ‘placed at the doors’ so that they could ‘loudly implore the assistance of the numerous congregation; so that even those whose penurious dispositions would not permit them to part with a farthing from motives of charity, were compelled to do it through shame’ (p. 39).

Conversations of a different sort were held outside, in the parks and streets of the city. During a walk through the park at Primrose Hill, the narrator and his companion are confronted by ‘an eternal talker’ described as ‘a paradoxical argumentative little man’ (p.59). The narrator complains that:

Although he was a stranger to most of the company present, he took upon him to entertain them with a tedious string of stories of no sort of importance to any soul present, and all tending to display his own consequence, whims and independency. Such conversation was ill calculated for the company present, the majority of whom had I dare say had been founders of their own fortunes, and I should doubt if there was any quarter of the globe accessible to commerce, which had not been resorted to by some one or other sitting in the room (p.59).

Another unwanted sound – described rather than heard in this case – is in the description of a ‘wag’ named Zachary, who, after dinner, favored to perform ‘a certain favorite toast which he would not give direct before his wife, constantly started in his imagination, and was sometimes ready to leap from the roof of his mouth and the hinder parts of his oratorical organ’ (p.54). Whilst Primrose Hill was to be considered a place for fine walks by those of mercantile wealth, it was obviously also a place where some acted foolishly.

The most unusual – in terms of format – of a conversation held outside is an overheard one. The companions happen to walk close to two young women ‘seemingly persons of fashion’ who were holding ‘a very curious conversation’. The conversation is then played out as an actual dialogue in which the two women gossip about a friend who is engaged to be married.

“So! Have you heard that Miss T—– is going to be married?”

“Married! Lus ha’ mercy! No, sure! She going to be married?”

“Tis true, upon my word, for I saw her sister to-day, and she told me it was all settled.” (p.88)

The conversation continues for several pages and the two young women become quite mean about their friend. This is the one instance of the companions observing people talking whilst walking. It is also described as a common occurrence. The narrator even apologises for it as something that readers ‘may find nothing in it but what they have frequently heard before.’

Early in the narrative, the two companions happen upon a fight held in the fields near the Foundling Hospital. This provides an opportunity for other kinds of sound. To the narrator, one of the bystanders ‘whispered me gently that it was only a sham fight’ (p.15) whilst the ‘mob’ shout loudly when one of them is declared as the victor (p.16).

Another ‘hubbub’ is overheard when walking through Bagnigge wells. In this instance, it was a commotion caused by prostitutes arguing over the beauty of one-another. ‘The dust was raised’ the narrator states ‘in defense of the unblemished character of one of the girls’ who had been rudely attacked ‘by another frail sister’. In response, the narrator muses that ‘even envy carps in those scenes of life, as well as in any other’ (p.70).

Background sounds

Whilst moving through the city the narrator also mentions the occasional background sound to set the mood and scene. At the start of their journey, the narrator describes the scene of the fields, with the sun rising and the birds making ‘a concert of music, which would not have disgraced the most harmonious assembly’ (p.5). In chapter 7, at the tea gardens, those wishing privacy could ‘plunge into the recesses of a thick grove’ undisturbed ‘by the plaintive notes of the blackbird, or the more melodious voice of the sweet-warbling thrush’ (p.78). A more human background noise is described to set the scene at the Pantheon, in which the rotunda is described as crowded and:

 the noise of the people’s feet, coming in with the shape of the building, rendered it no bad similitude to what it was compared by a countryman present; who, starting with great seeming astonishment at the multitude of people in the spacious galleries, declared it was the largest beehive he had ever beheld (p.64).

Elsewhere the companions observe one ‘snoring away the hours’ (p.51) and in the final chapter ‘the clock […] struck nine’ (p.94) and a few pages later it ‘struck ten’ (p.96).


There is little in A Sunday Ramble to offer support to Smith’s assertion that sound was politicised in the eighteenth-century, however, there is a difference between the sounds made by gentry classes and those of lesser means. The gentry is interested in refined music – organs and church singing – and in engaging in moments of silence, discussion, and debate. The lower classes are more often associated with ‘hubbub’ – fights, arguments, and shouting. Those of the mercantile classes could cross the boundary between the two, such as the case in which the companions encountered ‘Zachary’ at Primrose Hill, in which good manners were seen to be broken.


Mark M. Smith, Sensory History (Oxford, 2007).

Episode 1: Taste

Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Melons, Bread, Jug and Bottle (wikipedia)

Can you taste London? This is a bit of an odd question, I admit. I ask it as surely an investigation into the experience of walking – now or in the past – should not and cannot ignore the human senses. Obviously, sight is a big one here. When we walk we look in front of ourselves to make sure that we go in the right direction and don’t bump into anything or anyone. Sound is also crucial. We listen out for danger and take some amount of comfort (or annoyance) at the surrounding hubbub of noise as we transverse the streets. Smell has a certain amount of importance as well, although less obvious. One is less likely to linger on a street with a bad smell than they might on one which smells of something pleasant (for example). Taste is a bit more difficult to codify into the experience of walking through an urban area, which brings us back to my initial question: can you taste London?

In the introduction to Food: The History of Taste (2007) Paul Freedman argues that ‘society’s soul’ is revealed in its cooking habits (p. 8) and he reminds us that certain tastes (and certain foods and drinks) were and often remain associated with status and class (p. 16). This is perhaps truer for the eighteenth-century than it is today in that taste was more codified by etiquette and expectation than the potential for ‘adventurous’ tasting that exists in a global market.

Meanwhile, Mark M. Smith suggests that during Britain’s age of imperial expansion in the eighteenth-century, the discovery of new foods and tastes did not, initially, always lead to a diversification of the diet. Smith argues that:

‘the initial English reaction was to emphasise the Englishness of their national cuisine. In effect, the English wrote nationalism into consumption, foodways, and taste.’

Thus food and taste, according to Smith, was tied into an idea of national identity.

Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat in A History of Food (2009) takes the idea of nationalism further. He argues that traditional recipes or festive rituals ‘may relate to regional, national and religious characteristics’, and that ‘they also arise from a group’s general liking for basic foods or certain aromatics’ (p. 3). This argument must surely also hold sway for non-festive rituals – the eating of food or the drinking of drinks in specific places, with particular people or groups of people, or at certain times of the day.

Without making too much of a comparison between London now, and London of the eighteenth-century, it would be fair to claim that a walk of any length around the urban space brought people into contact with food and drink; with a variety of tastes from the exotic to the plain. We must assume then, that undertaking a walk in London, at the very least, includes pauses in which taste becomes an important part of the experience.

Taste in A Sunday Ramble

Although the companions drink and eat (and witness drinking and eating) often along with their perambulation, A Sunday Ramble rarely refers specifically to how anything tasted. It would appear that drinks and food are there to be noted by the narrator, but not pondered upon. Food and drink rarely even plays an important part in the narrative, beyond its reference as something consumed whilst the companions observe the place and/or characters in the vicinity. Mostly, it is a piece of background activity or window-dressing. Yet, the mere fact that the companions are sampling food and drink in particular locations and with particular classes and groups of people, suggests that taste could be considered an important element of a walk in eighteenth-century London.

As an example of the limited role that taste appears to have in A Sunday Ramble we can look at chapter 5, where, after taking in the views of Highgate Hill, the Captain admits that he is hungry so the companions go in search of refreshment. We are told that dinner was just being served when they arrived and that the meal was ‘hearty’. This is the nearest we get to an opinion on taste. The narrator notes that the companions ‘tolerably well appeased our appetites’ and then goes onto discussing the characters around them. Only after these descriptions are we told that the companions were drinking a bottle whilst they discussed their surroundings. In terms of description in A Sunday Ramble, this little-narrated piece contains more than some on the subject of food and drink, but it offers nothing in terms of the experience of the meal itself.


In chapter 2 the narrator notes that the ‘waters’ served at Bagnigge-Wells were ‘by no means disagreeable to the palate’ (p. 18) and suggests to the reader that the ‘virtues and effects’ are described by ‘Dr Bevis’ in a little pamphlet.

A watercolour of Bagnigge Wells by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (wikipedia)

It is in this citation to John Bevis’ An experimental enquiry concerning the contents, qualities, and medicinal virtues, of the two mineral waters lately discovered at Bagnigge Wells, that the historian of taste will find their evidence. The opening paragraph even mentions walking and sets Bagnigge Wells into its location:

These wells are a little way out of London, in the high road from Coppice Row, or Sir John Oldcastle’s, which, about a quarter of a mile further, at Battle-Bridge turnpike, comes into the great new road from Paddington to Islington, affording an early access to the springs for coaches from all parts: and the foot path from Tottenham Court Road, by Southampton-Row, Red-Lion-street and the Foundling Hospital, to Islington, Clerkenwell, and Old Street, running close by the wells, is no less convenient for such as prefer walking exercise. (Bevis, 1767, pp. 1-2).

John Bevis (1695-1771) was a physician and astronomer with a particular interest in optics (which he used for observing the skies). In 1765 he was elected to the Royal Society and served as its foreign secretary from 1766 to 1771. Before all of this (around 1759), Bevis had undertaken a lengthy chemical investigation of the mineral waters at Bagnigge Wells. The resultant pamphlet came to just under 70 pages, ran to at least three editions (1757, 1760, and 1767) in his lifetime, with more published up to the early nineteenth century, and was split into two parts.

The first type of water that Bevis describes is a ‘purging water’ which is 20ft deep, never turns foul, and ‘discharges more air bubbles at the surface, than most waters do at the spring head’ (p.5). Bevis describes its taste as not disagreeable ‘in the mouth’ and upon ‘being swallowed, leaves a distinguishable brackish bitterness on the palate’ (p. 5). The second water is described as ‘Bagnigge Chalybeat Water’, which is also 20ft deep and emerges from no less than four springs. This water has a ‘sulphury smell’, Bevis tells us, and its taste is ‘highly ferrugineous (meaning rusty), with an agreeable and sprightly sub-acid tartness’ (p. 33).


As A Sunday Ramble is a tale often focused on morality, it would be expected that there is some amount of discussion and sampling of alcoholic beverages. This is indeed the case, but on most occasions, very little of interest is said about the drinks or their effects.

Tavern scene (Wikiwand)

In the earlier editions of A Sunday Ramble in a bar near St Paul’s the companions note that the wine is good and the narrator explains that many of the bars have ‘the worst liquors, and not the best provisions’ claiming that ‘this house, […] is an exception from the general rule’ (ch. 4, p. 40, 1775-1780 editions). In all editions, a gill of Port is enjoyed at the ‘thatched-house’, the Captain declares it to be ‘as good as any he had ever tasted’ (ch. 2, p. 27), which is a recommendation postulated along with a certification by the narrator that the Captain had worked in the Port trade business for many years (a detail added in the 1794 edition). The claim here is that Port is a gentlemanly drink of fine sophistication, unlike gin, which is mentioned in chapter 5, whilst the companions make their way to Highgate. En route they encounter a variety of ‘field mendicant’s who would not let them pass without ‘telling their dismal stories’ and begging for money to ‘preserve them from the sharp attacks of hunger’, which, the Captain notes, was actually often spent on gin (p. 47). The final chapter ends the tale of the ramble with ‘a comfortable glass of cherry brandy’ (ch. 9, p. 111), again, another respectable drink.


Of food, the companions had much during their perambulation. When eating dinner, the companions share a bottle over the conversation and afterwards note that many others were doing the same for 1s each, which provided a ‘genteel dinner, consisting of two or three dishes of very excellent provisions’ (ch. 5, p. 50). Of chocolate (ch. 3, p. 36) the narrator and Captain are joined by an old gentleman who is a friend of the Captain. After complaining that newspapers are less trustworthy now than they were thirty years ago, the gentleman ‘drunk his dish of chocolate’ before leaving.

In Holloway (ch. 6, p. 62) the companions noted that the area was well-known for ‘the consumption of cakes and ales’ and in particular ‘the weekly sale of cheescakes’ which ‘no means equal in goodness those made by the pastry-cooks in town’. Returning to Bagnigge’s Wells the Captain had a bowl of negus ‘which he asserted was very good in this place’ and would be refreshing for their ‘future excursion’ (ch. 6, p. 72). Negus is a hot drink of port, sugar, lemon, and spice, which may have been invented earlier in the century.


Whilst the companions sample various foods and drinks during their journey (as discussed in our previous post entitled Sunday ramblers travel on their stomach), the only non-alcoholic drink that the narrator comments on is tea, and particularly the vices and scandals that are often blamed on tea. The narrator explains that:

Tea has had its share of blame as promoting scandal, but for what reason I know not; there is certainly nothing in the nature of that much famed Indian weed productive of scandal, any more than wine or other beverages, unless it be asserted that “as almost every person in the kingdom drinks tea, therefore almost every person talks scandal;” a position that is false in every respect. However this may be, it is not my business to defend tea in this place. (ch. 6, p. 71)

The sentence is part of a concluding remark about ‘the unhappy proneness to scandal’ of both sexes and people of various rank with which the two companions had witnessed and described during their perambulation of London on a Sunday.

Historians have become increasingly interested in trying to understand the experience of living in a past world in terms of our senses. How did it feel to live in the eighteenth-century? What were the daily smells that their noses experienced? What did food and drink taste like? How does that change the experience of living in a particular time (and of course what variations were there between classes of people, genders, age, and location)?

A Sunday Ramble contains little in the way of discussion of taste despite the fact that the companions sample a variety of dishes and drinks along their route. What it does do, however, is situate certain types of food and drink with particular places. A Sunday Ramble, therefore, helps us to identify certain tastes with a location and with a certain type of person.


John Bevis, An experimental enquiry concerning the contents, qualities, and medicinal virtues, of the two mineral waters lately discovered at Bagnigge Wells (London, 1767).

Paul Freedman, Food: The History of Taste (California, 2007)

Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, A History of Food, trans. Anthea Bell (Paris, 2009).

Mark M. Smith, Sensory History (Oxford, 2007)

Episode 1: Graffiti in the garden: Gender, class and morality in Kensington Gardens


Any man or woman who walks in an urban landscape will come across graffiti of one kind or another. The buildings surrounding railway lines are covered in spray paint, as are many abandoned buildings, walls, temporary structures and fences. A meander along many urban streets consists of noticing and ignoring such scribbles, mosaics, and cartoonish iconographies.  They are part of the landscape – sometimes obtrusive, often permeable, some of it is considered street art in some quarters, occasionally state-sponsored, often not. Graffiti is, and always has been, part of the landscape in which humans walk.

This video serves as a reminder that modern day walking in London includes graffiti, some of which is still considered vandalism, but some of which is declared as art – often transient, but not always.

For the graffiti artist (or street artist), the activity has many meanings, often subversive, but not always. Graffiti is a form of expression, freed from the restraints of publication – either in print or digital – but intrinsically and uniquely linked to place and to a context, often known only to the artist. The graffiti mark, has a variety of meanings, some only known and understood by an inner circle; a shared sub-culture and community, which itself is a form of subversion of the State and its expectation of cultural norms.

For the observer who has nothing to do with the graffiti, who notices these markings as they walk, there is often something furtive in the perusal. Graffiti, often, is considered by the observer and the State to be a form of vandalism, an act of defacement. Observation of the markings as anything other than vulgar are, to those who consider themselves as law-abiding citizens, internalized as naughty, uncivilized. And yet we often look!

Graffiti in A Sunday Ramble

As the narrator of A Sunday Ramble shows this furtive act of reading and noting words and scribbles of an ‘uncivilized’ nature whilst walking, is nothing new. When the two ramblers visit Kensington Gardens, the narrator considers the perusal of graffiti as a type of voyeurism in which those of a particular class and gender (in particular) should avert their gaze from the vulgar, intrusive, and illegal markings.

I cannot but remark, that though this practice is too well known, many apparently virtuous females were poring over the lines; who, I must be charitable enough to suppose, were not capable of reading them; for they could not, if they comprehended their meaning, have perused them without blushing.

As such the narrator gives voice to the idea that perusal legitimizes something that should be considered illegitimate, especially by people of specific class and more specifically women. The mere act of reading degrades the individual and puts question to their morality. In the case of A Sunday Ramble the degradation of morals is specifically urban in its nature, and this is interesting in itself. The narrator denounces the graffiti as giving ‘great offence of all those who are not lost to all sense of shame’ but he also argues that the more ‘literate’ countrywomen were more than capable of informing them ‘of their error’.

I would, however, advise my more literate countrywomen to inform them of their error; and likewise let them know, (what some of them have probably found by experience) that as well as the laughter such imprudent conduct creates among the other sex, they may frequently meet with hieroglyphicks, sufficiently resembling nature to explain their intended meaning, without the least necessity of the spectators being able to name even the different letters of the alphabet.

As a whole, A Sunday Ramble is concerned with revealing the immoral in everyone from the lowest of prostitutes, to the man or woman engaged in illicit affairs, through to the seemingly virtuous, religious and high status. Although rarely acknowledged by the author, the immorality described and the satire provided is very much that of urban immorality. London, it is insinuated, has a corrupting affect. Emphasizing that point, the author, in chapter 6, describes a ‘countryman’ visiting London who stared in ‘great seeming astonishment at the multitude of people’ and is made to declare that London ‘was the largest beehive he had ever beheld’. The ramblers observe this man and overhear another reply to him:

“Ay, friend, so it is; and though it contains little else but drones, you will find, if you trust them too far, that many of them are not without stings.”

There is a strong reflection of this comment in the story told of Kensington Gardens. This is a beehive of a place filled on the one hand with poets and romantics, and on the other with thieves and criminals. The ‘moralist’, the narrator explains, might wish ‘to indulge his mediations in private’ and can therefore:

…plunge into the recesses of a thick grove, and enjoy his own reflections, undisturbed, but by the plaintive notes of the blackbird, or the more melodious voice of the sweet-warbling thrush.

Whilst the beau (a Dandy):

…may visit the enchanting walks behind the Palace and Greenhouse; where he will find those who equal him in dress, if they do not exceed him in vanity and affectation – or seeks the rejected lover to forget the frowns of a capricious mistress.

The narrator mocks the beau, noting their tendency to levity and overzealousness in crowds, but also hits upon their futility:

…from the levity of the females he will there behold, learn to despise the artful part of the sex, and cease to love where it is in vain to expect a return.

Those who are successful will find quiet ‘less frequented walks’ where he can ‘melt her fond soul with softest tales of love’. Although it is not directly stated, the narrator would seem to point the finger to some of these beau’s as the creators of graffiti.

Graffiti in the Garden

In the eighteenth-century, Kensington Gardens was, as it is now, intended as an escape from the urban setting; a place to walk and stroll, and to enjoy the benefits of nature. The intention in creating gardens such as this, was to provide a place for those ‘well-to-do’ to enjoy, but in reality people of all social statuses used the spaces and each London garden became a mosaic of societal contrasts.

Kensington Palace Gardens

Judging by the newspapers of late eighteenth-century England, Kensington Gardens had a reputation for graffiti as well as offering a home for illicit affairs, murders of passion, and thievery. In the 16 May 1788 edition of The Times, it was reported that admission would now only be possible via ticket due to vandalism. In the same paragraph it was reported that graffiti was a common sight:

The offence that is offered to the eye of Majesty, and which so disgraces some of his subjects, who have transferred the filth of their polluted minds to his seats and alcoves, deserves a most severe castigation; and it is highly probable some of these scribbling fools will be caught in the fact; and by a few well drawn lines on their backs, be taught that he who offends the eye of delicacy, merits punishment as much as the man who offends the ear.

 – Times [London, England] 16 May 1788: p. 3

In eighteenth-century London graffiti appeared regularly along streets, on the seats of inns, and at toilets amongst other locations. Often it was written into glass using diamond pens, and this is the case in A Sunday Ramble. The narrator observes and remarks that:

…the unpardonable folly of scribbling obscene verses on the glass of the green house to the great offence of all…

The time and effort spent in etching graffiti into glass demands more than just an opportunistic and momentary thought but instead requires serious consideration by the graffitist. Christina Lupton describes the purpose of this graffiti as a form of expression for Britain’s poorest and semi-literate writers and offered an opportunity to immortalise oneself in a specific place and in particular ways.  Not all graffiti was lurid or infantile, much of it offered poetry of at least a rough form and, as argued by David Stuart Rodes, included amongst their creators many educated men and women.

In 1731, Samuel Johnson published a four volume miscellany containing a variety of graffiti marks that he had discovered around London. The Merry Thought or, the Glass-Window and Bog-House Miscellany provides us with an indication of the type of markings that the women in Kensington Gardens might have been reading. Here are a few examples:

I become all things to all men, to gain some, or I must have starved. Moll. Friskey.

– In pencil upon a wall in a Tavern near Covent-Garden


If virtue rules the minds of women,

They’ll never let you touch their Linnen;

But if they are not virtue proof,

Then you may kiss them oft enough.

– Bull and Mouth Street


No hero looks so fierce to fight,

As does the man who strains to sh-te.

– From the Temple Bog-House

The graffiti on the greenhouses in Kensington Gardens were more likely to talk of romance or ‘dilly-dallying’ than the humour found in the city’s toilets. The context of location and moment is crucial.

Tea Gardens as microcosm of urban life

There is plenty that can be unpacked from the narrators account of graffiti in Kensington Gardens. Firstly, the narrative plays on popular expectations of class and gender. The London tea gardens are used in A Sunday Ramble as a microcosm of larger urban society. As such there is the good and the bad; the moral and the immoral; the beauty and the ugly of urban life, all contained in a small area. It is, indeed, a beehive, although it is a controlled one. The narrator notes – with glee – that servants ‘prevent persons meanly clad from going into the garden’ by standing at the entrances, but – with frustration – that ‘notwithstanding the great care that is taken to preserve decency and decorum in this place, there is generally complained of nuisance prevails’. The newspaper reports of the time confirm that the servants are not always successful in their duty, but it also seems to suggest that the ‘nuisance’ is often caused by those seemingly well-dressed.

For our interests here, the gardens are also a location for walking, for moving through the minutia of city life in microcosm. At one point the narrator describes Kensington Gardens as ‘the most agreeable I ever beheld’ with ‘a vast number of the most beautiful walks’, whilst also berating it for its lurid graffiti and the immorality of the people. The existence of graffiti in Kensington Gardens is – if we recall the discussion in the video – a feature of interest even if it is officially discouraged and disliked. Someone has walked through the garden and spent time etching into the greenhouses the thoughts that occurred to them during that walk.  Furthermore, others have paused in their walks to peer at the scribbling. The thoughts of one walker are transferred to others. What does this mean for our understanding of thought-processes whilst walking? The consumption of another walkers thoughts related to place but perhaps distanced from its original context, is difficult to analyse.

Essentially, the author of A Sunday Ramble, shows us in this passage that the act of walking can also be one of observation and that such observations can reveal the immorality barely hidden under the surface of London society. It also tells us that a reading of walking is filled with hidden details, complex associations, and negotiations between the acceptable and unacceptable.


Christina Lupton, Knowing Books: The Consciousness of Mediation in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Philadelphia, 2012). 

“This evening, Lady ARCHER will have a very numerous route, having sent cards of invitation.” Times [London, England] 16 May 1788: 3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. Website

Images: Graffiti Street Art Urban – pixibay

Episode 1: Return to Bagnigge Wells

Our ramblers visited just two spots twice on their journey: the Marlborough-Head in Bishopsgate, their starting and finishing point, and Bagnigge Wells, a resort made famous in 1757 with the discovery of mineral waters believed to be beneficial to one’s health. The Marlborough-Head marked the completion of their journey, so logically they needed to visit twice, but why did they call on Bagnigge Wells twice? What was the lure of the resort that sat not far from Kings Cross?

BevisBagniggeWellsTwo springs were found near the River Fleet and were tested by Dr John Bevis, physician and astronomer, who printed his findings in a booklet first printed in 1760, An experimental enquiry concerning the contents, qualities, and medicinal virtues, of the two mineral waters, lately discovered at Bagnigge Wells, near LondonBevis ran forty-seven experiments on the water from one well, the purging well, all of which are described in his book. For example, Experiment 33 is as follows: ‘Being mixed with syrup of violets, no new colour was produced after several hours, but the next day the mixture shewed a dirty green’. (p. 16). Another thirty-three experiments on a second well, the chalybeat well, with Experiment 11 as follows: ‘With powdered rhubarb it first took a brown, afterwards a purple brown’. (p. 40) Bevis concluded that several health problems could be solved by the drinking the water: pimples, cancers, gout, ‘corrupt humours’ (pp. 29-30) (Those experiments sound old-fashioned but in fact the syrup of violets turns green when exposed to alkalis and rhubarb has a high oxalic acid content that reacts to potassium permanganate, a compound with antimicrobial properties).

V0013667 Bagnigge Wells: the exterior, after a print made in 1780. Wo Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Bagnigge Wells: the exterior, after a print made in 1780. Wood engraving by [W.H.P.]. 1780-1877 Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Bagnigge Wells: the exterior, after a print made in 1780. (Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images, V0013667)
After the discovery of the spas, Bagnigge Wells grew in popularity. The therapeutic effects of the spas became less important to visitors than the social aspects of the resort and, before long, the grounds included tea arbours, a fun house, a skittle alley, a bowling green, a grotto, a flower garden, ponds and fountains. There was also a pump room for concerts.[1] Literary works about the resort followed its rise in popularity, with ‘Song of Bagnigge Wells’ printed in Isaac Kimber’s The London magazine. Or, Gentleman’s monthly intelligencer in 1759.[2] The 1779 ‘Bagnigge-Wells: a poem’ read:

Thy arbours, Bagnigge, and the gay alcove,
Where the frail Nymphs + in am’rous dalliance rove; 
Where prentic’d Youths enjoy the Sunday feast, 
And City Matrons boast their Sabbath’s rest…[3]

By 1794, after several decades of popularity, Bagnigge Wells had become an established part of social and leisure life in London. In 1785, Samuel Jackson Pratt wrote that ‘ the common people of London have their places of convivial resort, such as Bagnigge Wells, White Conduit House, the Dog and Duck, &c.’[4] Penny Post delivered letters to Bagnigge Wells by 1794, confirming that it was indeed a well-known spot.[6]

Well-known Bagnigge Wells became, but its reputation began to be clearly linked to frivolity and a lowering of morals as years passed, as seen in a 1793 court report from the London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post:

Several witnesses were examined on the part of the defendant, to prove that the plaintiff’s daughter was a girl of great levity of manners, and had accepted the addresses of several young men, with whom she was frequently seen at Bagnigge’s Wells and other public gardens, on Sunday evenings.[5]

Our ramblers’ inclusion of Bagnigge Wells on their journey makes sense in light of their other stops and their exploration of the morals and values of London. Time spent in chapels and churches balances with time spent drinking syllabub at the Foundling Hospital and listening to gossip in Green Park. The actions they take and conversations they hold in Bagnigge Wells tell us about the location itself, as well as the role it plays in their journey.

Our narrator and Captain Lee first arrived at Bagnigge Wells after eight in the morning, our narrator convinced of the need to visit after hearing the Captain’s description:

… it is at present a place of general resort; so that we shall by no means find it barren of amusement. I have myself seen some hundreds of a morning, whose various characters and appearance must certainly furnish sufficient entertainment for a contemplative mind; And though there are several minerals in the neighbourhood not to be despised, yet the superior accommodations of this place rendered it more frequented than any other, as I think it justly deserves. (p. 18)

They did not drink the water on either visit, though the narrator mentioned Dr Bevis’s pamphlet about ‘their various virtues and effects’. In fact, the narrator explained that they did not visit Bagnigge Wells ‘in the character of valetudinarians’, and therefore ignored the water. Rather, the Captain described the elegant ‘great room’, with its fine organ and the progress of the gardens, comparing them favourably to Vauxhall.

… I proceeded to take a view of the place, which I found to consist of several beautiful walks, ornamented with a great variety of curious shrubs and flowers, all in the utmost perfection. About the centre of the garden is a small round fish-pond, in the midst of which is a curious Fountain, representing a Cupid bestriding a swan, which spouts three streams of water through its beak to a great height. Round this place, and indeed almost over the whole garden, are genteel seats for the company; which, my friend said, we should undoubtedly find quite full in the afternoon, notwithstanding their prodigious number. At a little distance from the pond is a small neat cottage, built in the rural style; and not far from that, over a bridge leading across a piece of water that passes through part of the garden, is a pretty piece of grotto-work, large enough to contain near twenty people. Besides which, there is house, and several seats placed by the water-side, for such of the company as chuse to smoke, or drink cyder, ale, &c. which are not permitted in the other parts of the garden. (pp. 18-19)

After a full description of the grounds, the Captain and narrator settle into a discussion of the wicked ways of wife of an elderly merchant, the transgressions of a young man dressed in century-old fashion, and the romantic woes of a young man from Hampstead. After relating the gossip of these three, as well as putting forth their strong judgements, our ramblers grew hungry. ‘Having sufficiently admired this agreeable place, I did not wonder at my friends encomiums, though they at first seemed to be rather exaggerated’. (pp. 19-20)

Bagnigge Wells, London: two alluring, fashionably-dressed women, one plucking rosebuds (Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images V0013668)
Bagnigge Wells, London: two alluring, fashionably-dressed women, one plucking rosebuds (Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images V0013668)

 I must not forget, however, that just as we quitted the gardens, we were presented with the address of two ladies of easy virtue, requesting our attendance by four in the afternoon; but as we did not think proper to comply with their kind invitation, we immediately returned the card, to prevent their being disappointed, and proceeded on our way to the THATCHED-HOUSE, where we regaled ourselves with a gill of red port, which my friend the Captain, who had been many years in the port trade, declared was as good as any he had ever tasted abroad.

Despite their protestations that they would not accept the invitation from those two ladies, our ramblers returned to Bagnigge Wells after 5pm. This time, they ‘entered this garden just in the height of the tea-drinking’. Over halfway through their long journey when they stopped at Bagingge Wells a second time, the Captain was quite tired and a ‘bowl of negus’ was called for. Our narrator observed that there were more people in attendance later in the day  (p. 72)

‘We scarcely sat down, before I was accosted by the noted Bob Short, the author of many short trifles, mostly useful for young folks or country families’. (p. 72) Mr Short’s presence was due to his ‘Sunday Reforming Scheme’ and among his projects was an effort to reform the women listed in Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies.

The ladies of easy virtue who constantly attend this place are too numerous to be all noticed in this place, however, as the Captain knew most of them, and Bob gave us many anecdotes of such new faces as the other did not know, we passed out time very agreeably. (p. 74)

V0013673 Bagnigge Wells: the gardens, with people taking tea, playing Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Bagnigge Wells: the gardens, with people taking tea, playing bowls, etc. Coloured process print after a drawing made in 1830. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Bagnigge Wells: the gardens, with people taking tea, playing (Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images V0013673)


Our ramblers had their fill of gossip and moralising at Bagnigge Wells, a location in London that provided a tableau of men and women who provided grist for our ramblers’s mill of relating their observations and even moral instruction to readers.

Tired of the scenes of dissipation to which we has been witnessed, we agreed to retire and pursue our route to Kensington, where we proposed to spend an hour in the elegant shades of the favourite retirement of his late majesty George II. (p. 76)



[1] Roy Porter, London: a social history (Harvard University Press, Boston, 2001), p. 173.

[2] Isaac Kimber, The London magazine. Or, Gentleman’s monthly intelligencer in 1759. (London:Richard Baldwin, jun. at the Rose in Pater-Noster-Row, 1759), p. 332.

[3] ‘Bagnigge-Wells: a poem, In which are pourtrayed the characters of the most eminent filles-de-joye’ (London: Henry Haukins, 1779).

[4] Samuel Jackson Pratt, Miscellanies, by Mr. Pratt, in four volumes (London: Printed for T. Becket, in Pall-Mall, bookseller to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and their Royal Highnesses the Princes, 1785), p. 252.

[5] London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England), March 8, 1793 – March 11, 1793; Issue 3723.

[6] London Chronicle (London, England), September 13, 1794 – September 16, 1794; Issue 5949.

Episode 1: The Introduction and Preface

Chapter 1 of A Sunday Ramble 1794 edition), Senate House Library
Chapter 1 of A Sunday Ramble 1794 edition), Senate House Library

The copy of A Sunday Ramble held by Senate House Library begins with the first chapter. This is also true of the 1797 edition held at the Bishopgate Library, indicating that neither edition had an introduction or preface, only a title page and contents as means of preamble. This was certainly not true of the earlier editions. The first edition of 1775 contained an introduction that provided an important context for the perambulation and was, in fact, referenced at the start of Chapter One. This introduction was retained, with minor amendments, in the subsequent editions of 1776 and 1780. These two editions also contained an additional preface that reflected on the relative success of the first edition and made the case for only minor corrections to the narrative.

The Introduction

The four-page introduction explains both context and purpose for the story of A Sunday Ramble. The reader is told that this is an account of a visitor to London, who had been ‘entirely devoted to the country’ for the last thirty years and ‘prompted by curiosity to visit the metropolis’ plans to stay in London for the entire summer and for the greater part of winter.

Right from the start, then, the earlier editions of A Sunday Ramble are situated as an outsider’s tale, a fact which is only alluded to in the later editions. This is important. As an outsider who has little to no understanding or knowledge of life and place in London, the narrator is able to convey the questions and provide opinion that a Londoner would not think to ask or consider but the reader of the story might. The friend, meanwhile, is given the role of guide; offering up the required knowledge and stories for the narrator (and reader) to consider and discuss. Indeed, the narrator claims that the book was written for his ‘country’ friends, rather than those already living in the capital.

The narrator explains that A Sunday Ramble was written after this visitation as a means to record ‘whatever I thought remarkable’ and ‘in the order they happened’. If the author is to be believed, then A Sunday Ramble is an account after-the-fact of one particular Sunday perambulation. This is exactly what is claimed:

The following sheets contain a faithful account of the occurrences which happened during our perambulation, together, with the judicious remarks of my friend.

The fact that the perambulation is based on a Sunday walk in the capital is not forgotten, indeed it is central to the narrative:

I should for my own part imagine, that the peculiar manner in which the Sabbath-day is generally employed in this metropolis, with descriptions of the various places resorted to on that day, and accounts of the different characters I shall without doubt be able to make you acquainted with, might be placed in such a light, as to render it a very entertaining performance.

The idea of a ‘performance’ mentioned here is key to understanding the kaleidoscope in which London – its places and persons – is viewed and explained in the text, and therefore to our method for interpreting its meaning as an insight into the experience of walking in London in the late eighteenth century. Whether or not the perambulation ever actually happened or if the characters are real or imagined caricatures is not especially important to the purpose of the text. The narrator has already told us that the importance and purpose is to understand the ‘peculiar manner’ in which London and its people operate on a Sunday. The locations, the situations, and the characters are essentially an apparatus for the author to use as a basis for discussing the state of morality, class and gender variations, and personality of London and Londoners in the 1770s.

The Preface

The second edition of A Sunday Ramble contains a new preface, which is copied exactly in the 1780 edition as well.  Its purpose appears to be two-fold. First, it acts as a means for the printer to defend the decision not to extensively re-write or update the text. He claims that the author, due to reason of distance from London, could not easily ‘review the scenes, and adapt the descriptions of the various places of resort more agreeable, perhaps, to their present appearance’.

Example heading from The Critical Review Wikipedia)
Example heading from The Critical Review Wikipedia)

Second, the preface offers the opportunity to self-promote the book with a good review of it from the Critical Review of January 1775 and to answer the criticism that were, apparently, made against the first edition elsewhere. In this regard the preface seems to enter into a conversation with the potential reviewer. It offers up a challenge. If, as it claimed, the first edition had proven popular with the ‘imparitial publick’ then why would critics and reviewers consider it ‘too insignificant for their notice’? The printer even suggests that:

Since the first publication of this performance, the LONDON REVIEW, another respectable critique, has originated; which, had it then existed, would doubtless have been mentioned as a publick censor capable of affecting the reputation of an author.

The criticism against the first edition is swiftly tackled by use of a quotation from the original author. The complaints appear to focus on the dealing of religious communities, in particular how certain readers felt that they were spoken of in ‘disrespectful terms’. The printer confirms that he has no intention of altering anything in the second edition because of these criticisms but instead offers the explanation of the author that he ‘has not the least antipathy to any particular sect of religion, profession or station in life’ and that his description of the ‘characters’ in the book are as accurate as he can make them. He also states that he believes ‘there are many meritorious persons, of every sect, profession, and station in life from the Beggar to the Throne’. In response to those who might be offended the author has this to say:

He most heartily assures them it must be entirely owing to their own application of things; as he never intended the least particular satire, but only to put general vices out of countenance, by (if not as useful) yet, at least, an innocent exposure.

Episode 1: The Narrator and his Friend


In the 1794 and 1797 editions of A Sunday Ramble the narrator’s friend is Captain Lee of Edmonton.  The ramblers are both traders and they undertook their perambulation by staying overnight at the Marlborough Head Inn. In Chapter Eight we are additionally told that they are both ‘thorough church and government men’ (pp. 106-7) and that they plan, in the future, to publish another work called the London Spy. This is not the case in the 1775 edition, or indeed any of the editions previous to 1794. In these editions, the narrator’s friend is unnamed and the two companions began their perambulation from the friend’s own home, where the narrator had stayed for a season. We are also told that the friend had ‘formerly been a schoolfellow, and was now a very eminent druggist, in the heart of the city’.

The character of ‘the friend’ and indeed, the narrator in A Sunday Ramble is therefore transformed between the 1770s and the 1790s. The alteration is largely cosmetic, however. The narrative, whilst greatly expanded, does not alter much from its original form because of the character alteration, neither does the role of the narrator and friend alter as the reader’s guides. The alteration is only intended to alter the reader’s preconception and familiarity of the principal characters and their relations with other characters in the narrative, but it is not intended to alter the opinions conveyed or the actual story in a substantial way. The alteration is also likely an attempt by the printer to engage a wider readership amongst merchants, rather than the specialist occupations of medicine.

There are only a few occurrences in which the occupation of the narrator and friend play a direct role in the narrative. Although, in the earlier editions the friend, and perhaps narrator, were characterised as druggists in the introduction, the main body of the narrative rarely refers to this fact. There is one key exception in Chapter Two, where the friend recited a story in which he, himself was involved. The tale involved an elderly man who had been ensnared into a marriage with a young woman who had feigned pregnancy after a dalliance with him. The original intention of the author was for the friend to administer a treatment for illness a short while after the marriage had taken place, which the young woman then used as a means to pretend that she had not been ill at all but had suffered a miscarriage.

1775 1794
…she gave too much encouragement to a gentleman that visited her husband, who basely reduced her to the necessity of sending for me on another account: when she took the opportunity of attributing her illness to a miscarriage; which presently satisfied her deluded husband, and he has never once doubted her virtue. Having eradicated the disorder, I advised her to a course of these waters… …she gave too  much encouragement to a gentleman that visited her husband, who basely reduced her to the necessity of sending for a doctor on another account: when she took the opportunity of attributing her illness to a miscarriage; which perfectly satisfied her deluded husband, and he has never once doubted her virtue. Having eradicated the disorder, he advised her to a course of these waters…

Earlier in the text the narrator describes the health benefits of an early morning stroll. This is another minor reference to their roles as medical men. The friend is cited as noting that:

  ‘the bills of mortality would greatly decrease, as well as the pride and opulence of we dealers in medicine, who owe more of our importance to one single branch of intemperance, than to all the natural causes put together’

In the editions of the 1790s, ‘we’ and ‘our’ have been subtlety altered to read ‘the’ and ‘their’, denoting the alteration of character. The same occurred where the friend described the elderly man and young woman. The choice of a druggist for the central characters is not without merit. Their profession was on the rise in the late eighteenth century, becoming more preferable than traditional apothecaries and a fair bit cheaper to use.

In the second phase (1794 onwards), the change of role to trader is utilised at several points in the narrative. For instance, in Chapter Eight the narrator is introduced to one of the Captain’s former colleagues, aboard the Mary:

Just as we were coming out of the room, the Captain was saluted with,

“How are ye, old messmate? why don’t you know your old acquaintance of the MARY, when we came from Lisbon rive to Portsmouth harbour in one night, and the ship was sunk, because they thought the devil was the pilot.”

“Aye,” replied the Captain, “well do I remember it…”

Earlier, in Chapter Two, when enjoying a ‘gill of red port’ the narrator mentions that the Captain, ‘had been many years in the port trade’, whilst in Chapter Five, when reprimanding an alderman for talking too long about himself, the narrator notes that:

 ‘we are traders, sir, and are beholden to our industry and fair-dealing for what you inherit from your ancestors and yourself never toiled for; might it not be altogether as amusing to you to be told of our adventures in foreign climes and countries; or our daily difficulties and escapes; our remarks upon the manners and customs of other nations, as to enclose the whole conversation within the hedge of your own estate’.

In general it would seem that the alteration of occupation reflects the expected interests and topics of current speculation amongst the London and English gentry; the expected readers of A Sunday Ramble.

Episode 1: Preparing the food and drink in A Sunday Ramble

‘Woman selling Salop’, 1805 (Credit Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library)
‘Woman selling Salop’, 1805 (Credit: © Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library)

Among the different food and beverages our ramblers partake of are some that are not common now. For example, salep is a drink made from orchis tubers, milk and sugar. In the eighteenth century, sassafras, the bark or blossoms of a tree native to North America, was a frequent addition to the recipe. Salep salesmen sold the beverage from shops around London as well as on the streets, such as one on Fleet Street that regularly advertised in London’s various newspapers. As early as 1735, the London Daily Post and General Advertiser had a news piece about ‘a Man who maintain’d his Family by selling a Liquor called Saloop’ (issue 348). More interestingly, saloop was connected to radical politics by a 1793 issue of London’s Morning Post (issue 6198):

The Lord mayor rose to state some important facts. He had always been a friend to freedom of debate, but an enemy to the abuse of it. When any information had been laid before him, he had gone to the person whom it concerned, expostulated with him on his conduct, and advised him to desist from his present practices ­ Meetings of a dangerous nature had existed in the City, had alarmed the Citizens, and several applications had been made to him for suppressing them ­ He had been present at a club, when the President had declared himself a Republican, but expressed his apprehension that were not yet sufficiently forward. Pamphlets had been circulated containing principles destructive of our happy Constitution. Great pains had been taken to spread them among the common people, and Mr. Paine’s Works had been sold in a Saloop Shop.

Our narrator relays his seeing a Saloop-man denied payment, ‘his dulcinea’, Sahlepseveral young women, and a drunkard get into an altercation.

‘Thus a general encounter commenced; the saloop-man laid about the aggressor, his companion about the saloop-man, and the girl about him: during which time, the other girls appeared very busy in separating the combatants; when, I suppose, they took the opportunity of rifling their pockets’. (pp. 3-4)

Our ramblers continue on and come across a group drinking syllabub, and this time, they join them, ‘that it might perhaps be productive of an adventure’ (p. 6). The Oxford English Dictionary describes syllabub as a drink made with milk or cream, curdled by the admixture of wine, cider, or other acid, and often sweetened and flavoured. Syllabub was a drink known to Londoners as early as March 1739, when the London newspaper, The Country Journal or The Craftsman (issue 660), stated that, ‘We all know that a Whipt-Syllabub is a very good Thing’. In 1797, a play called Whipt Syllabub played in the Green Room on Drury Lane.

The making of syllabub sounded an interesting enough exercise to be repeated in the twenty-first century and willing participants from Senate House Library, the Institute of Historical Research, and the School of Advanced Study took part in recreating the treat.

Our ramblers have a cold meal at eleven o’clock, an early lunch by our modern standards. This lunch, a ‘pint of Lisbon’ and dumplings, cold meat and bread and cheese, fills them for a couple hours until their dinner at one o’clock at Highgate. Lisbon refers to wine from Lisbon, Portugal, while the dumplings most likely refer to barm dumplings, made using the foam produced in beer making.

To make Barm Dumplins: Make a light Dough, as for Bread, with Barm, Flour, an Egg and Water; Then boil a Panful of Water, and put the Dough in it, making it into little round Balls as big as an Egg; then flat them with your Hand, and put them in the boiling water: Ten Minutes boils them : Take care they don’t fall to the Bottom. Send them to the Table with beat Butter in a Cup. Put salt on them. (Elizabeth Cleland, A New and Easy Method of Cookery (1755), facsimile ed. (Totnes, 2005), p. 123)

At five o’clock, our ramblers stop a second time at Bagnigge Wells, a spa quite close to the Foundling Hospital and the subject of a future post. The Captain, feeling tired, partakes of a bowl of Negus there. This was a drink made from wine, usually port or sherry, mixed with hot water, sweetened with sugar.

Many of the items our ramblers consumed on their journey reflect London’s role as a major hub of trade, from the sassafras from North America to the sugar from the Caribbean to Portuguese wine, as mentioned in the previous blog. These ingredients either altered more traditional meals, like having ‘Lisbon’ with barm dumplings, or led to the development of new and popular recipes, like syllabub. And eighteenth-century syllabub was again popular, even if only for an afternoon in Senate House.

Episode 1: Sunday ramblers travel on their stomachs

Food and drink play a large role in A Sunday Ramble, mentioned seventeen times in the text, with our ramblers themselves eating three times and drinking twelve. Their meals include breakfast at the Bank Coffeehouse; ‘an excellent cold collation’ at an establishment near St Paul’s, and dinner on Highgate Hill. The ample descriptions of food and drink indicated more than just London’s emergence as a centre for conspicuous consumption, although with three meals, two bottles of wine, a glass of wine, salep, syllabub, a bowl of negus, a pint of port, a glass of port, tea, coffee twice, ‘a comfortable glass of cherry brandy’ and ‘a bumper of red port’, consumption was clearly the order of the day.

Borough Market, 2015 (photo by Reiner Schulz)

London had over thirty markets in the late eighteenth century, some retail and some wholesale, a demonstration of the growth in trade for London at that time. Food came from all over the British Isles and beyond, and London as a whole had different habits in consumption than the rest of Britain. For example, tea and coffee were more popular in London, as were sugar and treacle. Londoners consumed more fats in general than those who lived elsewhere in Great Britain, leading one to question the role of nutrition and diet in the fact that Londoners were shorter than the British average.[1] However, food prices increased greatly during the late eighteenth century with wars having an impact on the food supply. In short, Londoners had different eating habits, a wider range of commodities but an increase in prices as the century closed. The higher costs are not evident in A Sunday Ramble but the consumption of sugar, found in the syllabub, salep, and negus, is apparent. Our narrator and the Captain were simply consuming as Londoners did in the eighteenth century.

The Royal Exchange, from Views of the principal buildings in London; with an account of the curiosities they contain (1800?)

The first of the three meals eaten by our ramblers was breakfast, and the ‘place we judged most convenient for our morning repast, was the Bank Coffeehouse near the Royal Exchange’.

‘When we arrived, we found the room tolerably full of various kinds of people. The sober citizen, the stock-jobber, and the politician, were promiscuously seat together; sipping their coffee, reading the papers, and displaying their several talents, (or want of talents) in curious arguments on their favourite topics.’ (p. 28)

While there is no description of the actual food they ate, there is a mention of a man at a neighbouring table who finished off his ‘dish of chocolate’. In the eighteenth century breakfast was usually a small meal, sometimes bread and butter with a hot beverage like coffee, tea or chocolate. Bread in the morning was recommended by Nicholas Robinson in his A treatise on the virtues and efficacy of a crust of bread: eat early in a morning fasting, to which are added some particular remarks concerning the great cures accomplished by the saliva or fasting spittle. (London, 1756)

Over breakfast, conversation covered a range of subjects: ‘Some were enquiring the price of stocks, other the state of trade; while others, more ridiculous than either, were planning schemes for paying the national debt without any taxes at all, and contriving methods to humble the French and oblige them to submit to the decrees of a minister’ (p. 28). Finally, ‘we found our appetites sufficiently satisfied; and not perceiving any other characters worthy of notice, we thought proper to quit this place: which we immediately did, on paying for our breakfasts, and receiving an agreeable smile from the captivating eyes of a very beautiful bar-maid’ (p. 37).

Just a couple of hours later, our ramblers once again are hungry.

‘As we came out of the church, my friend acquainted me that there was a place close by St. Paul’s in the city, which it would by no means be improper to visit; as it was famous for an ancient custom that used to prevail in town to treat customers on a Sunday morning with dumplings, cold meat and bread and cheese, for their morning guests; and this practice occasions many to visit the house on a Sunday, who never make their appearance there at any other time; but as the landlord knows this sort of people tolerable well he takes care they shall not have an over good bargain of it, furnishing them with only the latter article for their reflection, but with this they are sure to get good liquor, and the most obliging usage from Mr. Kelly, who is a most loyal soul, and the Captain’s and my best friend in town. (pp39-40)

With their cold lunch of meat, bread and dumplings, our ramblers are approached by a young man who asks, ‘Well, gentlemen, what are your thoughts of the war? Do you think our government will interfere much longer with the French; this is an unfortunate war; we shall have no trade while it lasts; will it last long think you?’ (p. 40). Political topics dominate the rest of the meal until the ramblers continue their journey.

A Sunday ordinary at Highgate, from The tricks of London laid open (1785)
A Sunday ordinary at Highgate, from The tricks of London laid open (1785)

Not long after their cold meal, the ramblers decide to dine. ‘THE day being remarkably fine, we agreed to take a walk as far as Highgate, to dinner; where my friend told me we should meet with a good ordinary, and plenty of genteel company’ (p. 47). As with breakfast, there is no description of what is served at dinner, just that is ‘made a very hearty meal’ (p. 48). Listening to gossip about an Italian musician and a reporter from the House of Commons as they sit at a table of nearly twenty persons with a landlord and landlady, our ramblers finish a bottle of wine and spend an hour in ‘very agreeable conversation on different subjects’ before continuing their walk (p. 50).

The mentions of sassafras, chocolate, and sugar in A Sunday Ramble demonstrate London’s role as an importer and centre for the consumption of goods from around the world. Just as our narrator and the Captain talk about ‘the mad man Tom Paine’, as well as tell a story of ‘one of the principal merchants of this metropolis’ while at the Bank Coffeehouse, London was a key hub in the movement of not just ideas but also of goods. While worrying about the ‘unfortunate war’ with the French over ‘a pint of Lisbon’ near St Paul’s, our narrator and the Captain display their knowledge of the world’s happenings while partaking of the world’s products.

The variations in editions are discussed in several other posts, and there are some small changes in what our ramblers consume between the phase one and phase two editions, with additional opportunities for drink phase two. For example, simply including the leg of the journey that carries our ramblers to Bermondsey means that the ‘bumper of read port’ is added to the consumption total for the day. Phase two editions include a visit to the Thatched House, where they imbibe a gill of red port they did not drink in the phase one editions. Our ramblers also drink negus at Bagnigge Wells in 1794, during which they have a conversation with Bob Short, ‘the author of many short trifles, mostly useful for young folks or country families’. (p. 72) In phase one editions, our ramblers arrive at a very crowded Bagnigge Wells, ‘and though we were disposed to have drank a glass of wine, could perceive no place where we might conveniently fit’. The phase one ramblers move on to their next leg without that particular drink made of port, sugar, lemon and flavouring. Phase one ‘dumplins’ become ‘dumplings’ in phase two, but the meal remains at the same time and is composed of the same foods. Adding drinks, such as the ‘comfortable glass of cherry brandy’ at the end of the phase two journey, allows for the inclusion of more conversation and gossip. Therefore, as our ramblers drink more, we learn more.

“Mr. Vernon in the character of Macheath. If thus a man can duel, Much bolder with Brandy.” (from The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1777-02-01)

[1] Floud, Roderick, Annabel Gregory and Kenneth Wachte, Height, Health and History: Nutritional Status in the United Kingdom, 1750-1980 (Cambridge, 1990), p. 126.



Episode 1: Politics

An example of patrons in a coffeehouse considering the news. Edward Lloyd's Coffee house, à Londres, par William Holland (1789) (wikipedia)
An example of patrons in a coffeehouse considering the news. Edward Lloyd’s Coffee house, à Londres, par William Holland (1789) (wikipedia)

A Sunday Ramble was intended to pique the interests of gentlemen belonging to a wealthy middle class. The narrator and his friend are therefore both of this status as a means not only to identify themselves with their likely readers but also to legitimise their ability to associate with servants and lowly workers, whilst also able to associate and discuss matters of interest in a close, friendly manner with those of noble rank. High amongst the topics shared with those of higher rank was politics. Between the two phases of A Sunday Ramble – the first of which were published in the 1770s and 80s and the second of which published in the 1790s – these stories and discussions altered to better suit the concerns of the present and to therefore keep the book up-to-date.

This is nowhere more apparent than in Chapter Three. Around ten o’clock the narrator and his friend have just reached the Royal Exchange just off from Lombard Street. They have decided to take a rest in the Bank Coffeehouse and there observe the various customers and listen in on their conversations. Amongst them are those who contrive ‘to humble the French and oblige them to submit to the decrees of a minister’ and others who bemoan the recent arrest of a bookseller who was confined for four years in Newgate jail for publishing ‘truth and irrefragable argument’, and another who was expatriated to Botany Bay ‘for lending the said books to his friends’.

The first of these exchanges refers to the French Revolution which, in 1794, remained a topic of important discussion and concern. In brief, the political revolution began in 1789 with the rising up of militias and popular uprisings against the established feudal hierarchy. The storming of the Bastille on 14 July signalled the increase of popular uprisings and a month later the National Constituent Assembly officially abolished feudalism and wiped away the power of the Second and First Estates.

Storming of the Bastille (anonymous painting) (wikipedia)
Storming of the Bastille (anonymous painting) (wikipedia)

By 1794, the year in which the revised A Sunday Ramble came to print, the new French Republic had waged a successful war on Austria and, more astonishing, executed their king, Louis XVI. Internal conspiracies and political rivalries invited heavy use of the guillotine, with tens of thousands killed by its blade between September 1793 and July 1794 (the so-called Reign of Terror).

As a result, Britain and many other European states, including Spain, joined the war against France and during much of 1793, proved victorious. However, by the autumn of that year the Republican regime had halted the allied advance into France itself, and by the summer of 1794 had not only pushed the allies out of their homeland, but also taken back much of the Austrian Netherlands.

The exchange about the French continues a few pages later, when an elderly gentleman familiar with the Captain joins them in their booth. The narrator asks the gentleman what his opinion is of the dispute. The elderly gentlemen replied that:

‘he thought our government more blameable to pretend to impose a King upon the French, than they were to invade the Republic of Holland, who had undoubtedly aggressed in interfering with their internal form of government, and in their officious attempts to save the French King from a fate he undoubtedly merited as much as one convicted of perjury does the pillory’.

A Sunday Ramble (1794), p. 33.

Here, the opinion of the author of A Sunday Ramble is clear. In 1775, however, the overheard conversations were not concerned with the French, but with the Americans. In these earlier editions, the narrator asked the elderly gentleman what his opinion was regarding ‘our present dispute with the Americans’, not the French. The elderly gentleman replies:

‘he thought the Americans were indeed blameable, though much less so than our parliament; who, according to his idea of the constitution, could have no right to impose laws on a people they do not represent, when those people are represented by others, who do not think such laws either just, reasonable or necessary’.

A Sunday Ramble (1775), p. 37.

The elderly gentleman continues by noting that he feared the Americans had no intention of altering their position and that this would continue to have ‘bad effects’ on British manufacture. He then cites the Quebec-Bill – a bill enacted in 1774 which set out procedures of governance in the Province of Quebec, including, an allowance for free practice of the Catholic faith – which he considers all the more alarming as it concerns a ‘spiritual’ rather than a ‘temporal’ issue. His advice is for the Houses of Parliament to repeal the acts as it would ‘restore the public tranquillity, and revive the languid state of our American trade’.

Essentially, some of the same turn of phrase is retained in 1794 but the topic under consideration was updated to represent and reflect the news-worthy discussions and concerns likely amongst the readership of A Sunday Ramble.

The Province of Quebec in 1774 (wikipedia)
The Province of Quebec in 1774 (wikipedia)

In the editions of the 1790s, the conversation regarding tensions with the French continue in Chapter Four, when the Captain and the narrator chatted with a young student from Oxford who asked them if they thought the English government would continue to interfere with the French and if they thought war was on the cards. In the earlier editions this conversation introduced an altogether different news-piece: a quarrel between the Portuguese and Spanish. The variation between these two narratives can be seen below.

1775 edition 1794 edition
Do you think our government will interfere in the quarrel between the Portuguese and Spaniards, after the many proofs they have had of the infidelity of that dastardly set of people?’ ‘I know not Sir,’ replied my friend, ‘how to answer your interrogations; as the report of a rupture between those powers, has not yet been otherwise authenticated, than by news-paper authorities, which I do not hold to be sufficient proof of the fact: but I should imagine, if they really are at variance; our people know better than to espouse the cause of the Portuguese, who by no means deserve it at their hands; especially when it is considered, that the whole of their abilities is absolutely necessary, in the present situation of affairs, to bring about a reconciliation with the disaffected colonists, and establish unanimity at home.


Do you think our government will interfere much longer with the French; this is an unfortunate war; we shall have no trade while it lasts; will it last long think you? I know a person who lately heard say, that a monied man in the city having lately some business with the Minister, mistook affability for weakness: “Pray, Sir,” replied the Minister, “I can’t inform you, as I have not read a news-paper these ten days!”.


The political topics chosen for A Sunday Ramble in the 1770s and their alteration and updating in the 1790s suggest that the author and/or printer of the work were keen to tap into the political interests popular at the time of print. The topics chosen would suggest a particular interest in foreign affairs, more than domestic.

The conversations regarding trade problems with the Americans in the 1775 edition would have been a popular topic amongst London traders and merchants in particular in the latter half of the 1770s as it had a direct effect on their interests. The Quebec Act was signed in March 1774 although war between Spain and Portugal did not, in fact, erupt until 1776. In the 1790s events in France overrode almost all other concerns. Although the topics of discussion alter drastically between the two phases of A Sunday Ramble, a thornier issue of accurate news-reporting remains largely intact. The author of A Sunday Ramble appears to be offering an instruction to his readers concerning how to properly judge the validity of newspaper articles.

Episode 1: Religion

Whitefield Memorial Church, Tottenham Court Road (wikipedia)
Whitefield Memorial Church, Tottenham Court Road (wikipedia)

In the second edition of A Sunday Ramble the preface makes reference to critics who considered the description of various religious communities as offensive and made in ‘disrespectful terms’. The author and printer are unapologetic and show no inclination to make any alterations in response. Indeed, the author knowingly throws the complaint back in the faces of those who made them by arguing that it is ‘their own application of things’ (i.e. their interpretation) that is at fault, not his. The author claims that all he intended was to reveal the possible general vices that can be observed in all religious, political, and societal groups.

That was true for the version of A Sunday Ramble published by James Harrison between 1775 and 1780. The version published by B. Crosby in 1794 and 1797 does make one major alteration in the first chapter which suggests that this new printer had some second thoughts. It would appear that Crosby considered criticisms of specific characters – aligned or not to a religious community – as fair critique, but became more circumspect where criticism was levelled directly at the core beliefs of a religious community in its entirety.

This is exactly what happens in Chapter One. When visiting a Methodist Chapel on Tottenham Court Road the narrator encounters an ‘agreeable’ man who describes in turn each of the main churches popular in England in the eighteenth century. In each case he is highly critical of the core tenets of faith that the community enjoy. This is what he says for each:

The Roman Catholic Church (‘Papists’)

“value themselves on being the most ancient kind of Christians, are no doubt apostates from the true religion; and, as the Apostle Paul truly prophesied, have departed from the faith: speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience feared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats. These are their known practices and professed tenets: the idea, therefore, that this is the ancient and true Church of CHRIST instead of such a religion must, therefore, be absurdity itself.”

Church of England (‘Protestants’)

“these, it must be confessed, are a much more rational set of people than the former, having wiped away many of the superstitious fopperies of the Romish Church. Pity it is, that the temper of the times would not permit them to make a thorough Reformation, and establish, at once, the ancient simplicity of the Christian Religion!”


“Next are the Dissenters, or Presbyters, (for their difference is very trifling;) who, determined to avoid every branch of Romish superstition, protest against all manner of forms; and thereby throw away the good with the evil. Were they not quite so scrupulous, (as they are less careless of Religion than the generality of Protestants) I should be ready to pronounce them the true Church of CHRIST, according to the best of my judgement.”


“Now for the people before us, sometimes called Whitefieldites, but generally Methodists; to whom my great and almost only objection is, their seeming neglect of GOD THE FATHER; by directing their prayers immediately to GOD THE SON, instead of addressing them to HIS FATHER through HIM; and, like the Papists and Protestants, bowing at HIS name, without noticing that of HIS FATHER.”


“The Anabaptists differ very little from the Methodists, in any thing but the baptizmal ceremony; which they do not administer to infants, and after a particular form to persons of riper years; and as this is contrary to the express words of CHRIST, who said, Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; you cannot wonder at my disapprobation of their distinction.”


“who being an apparently harmless set of people, would not meet with my censure, (though their doctrine appears to be ridiculous, as well as unscriptural) did they not seem to trifle too much with the inspiration of the HOLY GHOST. In short, the Third person of the Trinity is this people’s favourite branch; as the Second is that of the Methodists, and the First of the Deists. Neither of which extremes is, in my opinion, the right way.”

In the 1790s editions published by Crosby, the attacks on Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anabaptists, and Quakers are removed entirely and replaced by a summary of the central point that the author/printer is generally attempting to put forward:

Pride and hypocrisy supply the pretext for displaying some degree of fervor on the one day set apart for public worship, while the heart and understanding are seldom engaged in the same side. Indeed, the conduct of many of the flock and of some of their leaders are so opposite to their pretended principles, that the rational part of mankind think less profession and more practice would become a Christian character better than the uncharitable way of condemning wholesale to hell flames all who differ from them in opinion.

Instead of attacking specific church doctrines, the emphasis is altered to the morals – or lack of – of certain members of the congregations, which is, at any rate, more fitting to the rest of the narrative which is also focused on the morality of Londoners.

In all editions of A Sunday Ramble, the man that the narrator encounters at the chapel also describes several of the congregation as hypocritical in their faith and in their actions. For example, one woman whom the man describes is declared to have had three husbands – all now deceased – and presently desires a fourth. She, he claims, worked to ‘conceal the libidinous emotions of her heart’ through a feigned ‘zealous piety’. The entire book is full of similar characters including women of ‘easy virtue’, men of libidinous appetites who are coaxed into false marriages, and youths of both sexes too willing to partake in drinking and sex.

The fact that religion is a topic of particular concern in A Sunday Ramble is not unexpected. The two companions are, after all, on a perambulation around London on a Sunday. However, with the exception of the erased section in Chapter One, the variance of belief between religious communities are not the focus of the commentary. It is the morality of people from different walks of life, and how that morality plays out in specific locations across London such as in churches, tea-gardens, streets, and fields, that take the interest of the author. Every single encounter is an analysis of morality. In this regard A Sunday Ramble offers a curious insight into the experience of walking as an encounter with the morality of a place and of a person and of the intersection of the two.