Early 19th century lovers looking at rings in a jeweller’s shop. Copyright Martin Crowther.
With welcome smiles again we’ll meet and all our social joys renew!
As we gradually ease out of Lockdown and look forward to meeting our friends after a year of social isolation, the words of a poem, written in Castle Hedingham over 200 years ago, by Haverhill poet James Guy, seem particularly resonant.
A young lady waits, basket in hand, as the stagecoach prepares to depart. Early 19th century hand-coloured engraving. Copyright Martin Crowther. In 1809, a regular stagecoach service left the Bell Inn, Castle Hedingham for London and Sudbury.
A tearful parting James was writing about a tearful parting from his young love, his two short verses, we might imagine, scribbled hastily at the roadside or in a stagecoach he boarded at The Bell Inn. However, his words seem equally relevant to what many have experienced during the current Coronavirus pandemic.
Front page of The Lady’s Magazine, 1809
The poem James Guy’s poem, published in The Lady’s Magazine, Volume 40, 1809, is quoted in full below.
Written Extempore at Castle Hedingham, Essex on seeing a young Lady in tears, at parting from her.
WHEN from our sacred friends we part, affection drops the farewell tear; As on we plod with heavy heart, The dolesome way seems dull and drear.
Yet soothing is the thought, and sweet, But for a while we bid adieu; With welcome smiles again we’ll meet and all our social joys renew.
James Guy Haverhill
Who was the lovelorn James and did he marry his sweetheart? James Gatland Guy (c1780s-1844) of Haverhill, Suffolk was a farmer, maltster and brickmaker, who also owned a windmill and the town’s dissenting chapel. So, he was a man of considerable wealth.
We know he got married as records show his wife Elizabeth Cole Guy died in 1840. However, research has so far been unable to clarify whether she was the young lady of the poem, or someone he later fell in love with.
Life in London What is clear is that Guy and Elizabeth lived in London, at least from the early 1830s and perhaps much earlier. He purchased The Cocoa Tree club in St James’ Street in 1835 and had previously owned a ‘club house’ at no. 162, The Strand.
St James’ Street, London, home to many fashionable gentlemen’s clubs.
In the early nineteenth century the Cocoa Tree was a popular London club attracting the rich and famous. It was the haunt of Sheridan (1751-1816), Byron (1784-1824) and the Prince of Wales, later King George IV (1762-1830), for whom a circular room at the back of the house was expressly built.
However, it gained notoriety for heavy drinking, as Byron’s journal bears witness:
"Yesterday, dined tête à tête at the Cocoa with Scrope Davies - sat from six till midnight - drank between us one bottle of champagne and six of claret, neither of which wines ever affect me.” Journal, March 28, 1814.
We do not know whether James frequented the club before he purchased it or discussed poetry with Sheridan and Byron, but we do know his interest in poetry dates from the time of their membership. We also know that he held a situation at Crockford’s a gambling house reputed to be “the gayest and most fashionable of clubs”, for many years.
James Guy worked at Crockford’s Club, St James’ Street, London, before taking over the Cocoa Tree Clubhouse.
Top gentlemen’s clubs such as White’s, Brook’s, The Cocoa Tree and Almack’s were referred to as the Golden Halls as opposed to the Copper Hells that the lower classes frequented.
A Game of Whist by Samuel William Feres. Late 18th century cartoon.
Popular games included cards, dice and roulette and the stakes were often staggeringly high. The Duke of Wellington allegedly bet £100,000 on whist one evening at White’s.
An insolvent arch-knave and hell-keeper According to newspaper reports the Cocoa Club was in decline by January 1835 and no longer held its head high, and flourished greatly, but instead had sunk into comparative desuetude.
Under James’s proprietorship the club gained a reputation as a low gambling den. The west end of London was rife with them at this time; with games such as roulette, French hazard and rouge et noir very popular.
By 1839 public pressure and changes in the law led to a crackdown. Police constables were given powers to seize and destroy all tables and instruments of gaming found in such house or premises, and also to seize all monies and securities for money found therein.
James had sunk his money into a venture at the wrong time and in the wrong place. In 1841 he appeared before the insolvents court. The newspapers described him as a a scoundrel and a “hell-keeper”.
The Satirist or Censor of the Times, a controversial 19th century newspaper which featured London scandals, reported…
That arch-knave, James Gatland Guy, the fellow who formerly kept the Cocoa-tree den in St. James's-street, came up, the other day, before the Insolvent Debtors' Court… a hell-keeper who deserves to be consigned to the treadmill… or a more degrading fate for the rest of his life. It is hoped he will be made a proper example of… and not be let loose again on the public, to engage in those depredations which have brought him into his present situation, and which ought, we repeat, to secure for him a permanent residence in a far distant land.
It appears he owed large amounts of money, for which the writer of the article demanded the harshest punishment - transportation to Australia!
Although Guy argued that he was a man of property and brought in witnesses to verify this, the court concluded that he was “not worth a fourpenny piece” and the Cocoa Tree was sold to pay off his creditors.
James was imprisoned at the Queen’s Bench Prison Southwark, where the fictional Mr Micawber in Charles Dickens David Copperfield was also held as a debtor. The quote below gives a flavour of what life was like for the inmates.
We sat before a little fire, with two bricks put within the rusted grate, one on each side, to prevent its burning too many coals; until another debtor, who shared the room with Mr. Micawber, came in from the bakehouse with the loin of mutton which was our joint-stock repast.
Conditions were not as harsh in debtors prison as other gaols, for example visitors were able to bring food and even stay over.
The King's Bench Prison later renamed The Queen’s Bench Prison, Southwark.
Final years After leaving prison James returned destitute to Haverhill, where on 12 June 1843 the Board of Guardians completed a removal order to return him to his London parish, who were legally obliged to support him. He died six months later, in December 1863 at the age of 64. The extensive house and land in Haverhill, formerly belonging to him was put up for auction in 1846.
It is a cautionary tale and a sad end for our young romantic.
Hope after Lockdown Like James and his young love, let’s hope the dolesome way is soon over and with welcome smiles again we’ll meet and all our social joys renew.
Watch this space for forthcoming Voices from the Pews events… as soon as lockdown is over!
Researched and written by Martin and Michelle Crowther,
St Nicholas Church, Voices from the Pews project