Benjamin Partleton (1774-c1833)

Part II


This page is a continuation from Part I of the story of Benjamin Partleton. Click here to go to that page.



To summarise, Benjamin Partleton was born in 1774, in the heart of London.


He grows up in the neighbourhood of Piccadilly in the house of his parents Thomas and Hannah, marries in 1798, and after Thomas' death in 1801 and Hannah's death in 1808, he becomes the head of the household at 43 Swallow Street. Here's Benjamin's family:



And so we move on to the year 1809, the day of Wednesday 12 July, and a fascinating piece of information has emerged at the National Archives and the Guildhall Library:



Benjamin has his house insured with Sun Assurance!


The property at 43 Swallow Street is a big house - the biggest on the block. It is leased from the owner of the freehold, Sir Richard Sutton, who also owns numerous other properties in Swallow Street and the vicinity. Sir Richard had inherited vast wealth from his father, also Sir Richard Sutton, the MP for St Albans who had died in 1802.


We will also add that Sir Richard, who is our Benjamin's landlord in 1809, is still only 9 years old!


So, lets have a look at a map of 1799. Circled in red below is the very house where our Ben, who is a carpenter, is living:



I believe it's time to have a close look at Swallow Street.


At the time Benjamin is living there, Swallow Street is a highway, and - although narrow in places - it's a major, busy, jostling road north, connecting Piccadilly with Oxford Street, and not very well-suited to this purpose.


In the early 1600s, as we saw earlier, Swallow Street had been just a field.. Between 1647 and 1689 it had been built up, and in the 1720s the bit where Benjamin is to live was redeveloped by several private investors to contain a mixed development of early Georgian houses, shops and stables. It's fair to say that it's far less posh than the streets which surround it in the parish of St James, and it had a reputation of being a bit of a mess. Here's what artist and author Thomas Hosmer Shepherd had to say about it in 1825:

The clip we see above comes from a book called Metropolitan Improvements which gives us bit of context: Mr Shepherd was very proud of the architectural changes which had occurred in London, and that we might take his description of old Swallow Street as 'filthy labyrinthine' with a teensy pinch of salt.

Swallow Street really couldn't cope with the sheer weight of traffic. It became rather muddy as a consequence, as revealed as an aside in a later edition of The Times newspaper:

Below we see a picture of one of the stable-yards, at Major Foubert's Passage, in the year 1801. This is a nice colour version of the same black-and-white engraving seen on other pages in The Partleton Tree. The building had been erected in the late 1600s by Lewis Maidwell with the high intentention of it being a boarding school of higher education for the upper classes; academic studies supported with a riding school. Lewis petitioned to get it funded by Parliament with a tax on all books and newspapers, but this was rejected. The building was then bought in the early 1700s by the Foubert family; it declined as an academy and became just a riding school - under cover for all weathers - and stables, which is what it was when our Benjamin was born in 1774.

Benjamin may not remember it as a riding school because when he was eight, the premises were bought by the Parish of St James as boarding for pauper children. The stables continued, sub-let, but the rest of the premised were converted, at a cost of £6687, as accommodation for the older children of the workhouse. In 1797 there were 270 kids in the building. The boys were taught shoemaking and the girls domestic work. That's what's going inside as we look at the painting below, of the early 1800s.

This is just 150 yards from Benjamin's house, which is out of the picture away to the right... if we look closely at the men, we can see how our Benjamin would have been attired at this time:


This picture is seen from the viewpoint of the purple arrow in the map below:



Below we see the exact same view again, a few years later. It's so close to Benjamin's house, on his own street, that it must have been a very familiar sight to to him, so let's step into his shoes in the early 1800s. Perhaps we'll buy some bread or a rabbit from a street trader, stepping around the mud on the way home from a carpentry job:

I found the sign above the door - 'Horses Baited' - of interest. What could that possibly mean? It turns out that to bait in this context is an archaic word which means to feed and water a horse, especially on a journey.

I don't know about you, but I'm just itching to see what Benjamin's early-Georgian house looked like. This is quite impossible because it has been demolished for nearly 200 years, but others in the neighbourhood survive. Below are houses in Beak Street at its junction with Upper John Street. No doubt Benjamin would have walked right past them many times, and this is exactly what his own residence would have looked like with those Georgian proportions:



Below we see the location of these four houses, outlined in purple below in the map of 1798, just around the corner from Benjamin's house:



You had to keep your wits about you on Swallow Street. This is from The Times of 16 October 1804:



Life seems good for Benjamin. He has a house nestling in the poshest part of London, and a job that's paying well enough for him to pay the rent (about 16 pounds a year) and insurance on the house - which was important, and probably a condition of the lease. Swallow Street was prone to fires, every house in London was lit by naked flames, and the Sun Fire Company had a fire station on the street. If you weren't insured, they'd just watch your house burn down.


The area of Piccadilly is bristling with interesting features:



This is William Bullock's Egyptian Hall, established in 1812, which we see in the map below, the viewpoint is from the blue arrow:



Benjamin Partleton kept a colourful household (as we will discover later), and I'm confident that he will have taken his family to visit this interesting new establishment at 22 Piccadilly, which was a mixture of museum, theatre and freak show, five minutes walk from his house. Here's what was inside:



In the superb engraving below, of some years later, seen from the green arrow, a great view of Piccadilly; pedestrians gawping at hot-air balloons in the sky. It makes me feel like stepping into the painting and gawping along with them. The Egyptian Hall is on the right, Swallow Street is a turning 100 yards on the left, the spire of St James Piccadilly peeking above the building on the right:



In Swallow Street, Ben's young family keeps growing, with the birth of his daughter Catherine on 18 October 1809:



This is to be Benjamin's only daughter, named after her mum. Catherine had a very interesting life, going on stage, and ending up in America. She has her own page on the Partleton website, and it's worth a look.


Finally we come to Benjamin's last two sons; George Edward Partleton (b1813) and Henry Kemp Partleton (b1814), who were both christened on 24 October 1814 at the Church of St James; the family are still at Swallow Street and Benjamin's occupation is now declared to be a house painter:



These two boys are to grow up to spend their whole lives, starting when they are still children, as performers and accomplished musicians: piano, violin, wind instruments, and also as dancing teachers and stage performers and comedians, so the question arises: where did they get all THAT from? Clearly there must have been more than just carpentry and house-painting going on in Benjamin's home.


All this depicts an entertaining and very lively picture of the life of Benjamin Partleton and his family...


But this is the last year the family are to enjoy at Swallow Street, and, even as the children are being baptised in 1814, things are taking a nasty turn very much for the worse...


The powers-that-be of the time, including the Prince Regent, decided that narrow, overcrowded, muddy, disjointed Swallow Street just wasn't up to the job, and furthermore was a blot on the posh landscape, so in the year 1813 the New Street Act was passed into the statute books.



I'm quite certain that our Benjamin wished that he had never heard of the New Street Act. The point of this statute was for the creation of Regent Street, the outline of which, in green, we see running ramrod straight over the old properties on the east side of Swallow Street on the map above, which is a part of the actual document which proposed the road. Included in the change is our Benjamin's house at No 43, which we have outlined in red, slated for demolition.


The New Street Act provided for compulsory purchase, with compensation being agreed by an independent jury, and attention was paid to the fair treatment of all those who would be affected by the building programme. Armed with this knowledge, The Partleton Tree researched and located some fascinating documents at the National Archive at Kew:



What we see above is the Indenture for the purchase of properties on Swallow Street, including Benjamin's, by the New Street Commissioners (aka the Commissioners of His Majesty's Woods, Forests and Land Revenues) acting on behalf of the Crown Estate. The name Crown Estate sounds like it acts for the monarch, but it doesn't; it represents the property of the country, of the nation state. Its profits go directly into the treasury.


The renowned architect of Regent Street, John Nash, acted extensively in the negotiations on behalf of the New Street Commissioners. Sir Richard Sutton, the landlord of Benjamin's house, engaged another famous architect, S P Cockerell, as his advisor in the bargaining.



What we see above is the clause specifying the sale of 43 Swallow Street along with nine others. The price was 58,751 pounds 18 shillings and 8 pence. We can therefore calculate that the house Benjamin was leasing, which is the biggest, was worth at least 5,800 pounds, an absolute fortune in 1815. I guess this is not so surprising when we consider its highly desirable location. If such a house existed in Piccadilly today, it would be worth millions.


So we dig further into the indenture and we get a surprise...



Look carefully at the lessees and you will find the lease to No 43 is held by... Thomas Partleton, from beyond the grave. Thomas had actually died in 1801 but we may assume that the original lease, signed in 1784, was for 31 years and consequently is still in his name.


We think the 'occupiers' listed in this schedule are the shopkeepers on the ground floor, which explains why the same names keep re-appearing. We also know that Richard Joshua, at No 43, is a local businessman who leases several shops in the neighbourhood..


Here's the aforementioned Richard Joshua, who is specified at no 43, and surely very well-known to Benjamin Partleton, in 1809 as a witness at the Old Bailey - the main criminal court in London:



I'm not sure how the jury arrived at 'not guilty' in this case! There must have been some evidence we didn't see!


That clipping is from the excellent website Old Bailey Online; search there and you find hundreds of cases in Swallow Street. Here's another involving Richard Joshua who is having stuff nicked from his shoe shop in 1804:



6 months in chokey for nicking two pairs of shoes. If that sounds harsh, Mr Willis actually got off lightly by the judicial standards of the day.


Lets get back to our Benjamin, whose lease for that nice house at 43 Swallow Street - where he grew up and has lived for 31 years - is running out. The lease is not going to be renewed, and there's nothing he can do about it. The landowners are going to play Monopoly - for real - with Swallow Street. All the houses are going to be knocked down by the Crown Estate:





And some much bigger properties are going to be built, creating the brand-new Regent Street:

It's an expensive affair, even for the government and the Crown Estate who had to buy so many houses at top dollar.


But, oh, those rents are going to go up:

Thanks to that indenture we saw earlier, we now know the exact date that the Partleton family had to clear out: Thursday 05 January 1815:


Ironically, the first good look we get at Swallow Street is in a picture showing its demolition, which was carried out gradually during 1813-1821:



This picture is drawn looking south from the viewpoint of the yellow arrow in the map below. The road on the right is Conduit Street. From the houses in the foreground I think we get a fair view of what Ben's house looked like; his actual house is one of the ones in the distance on the left, only 150 yards from this scene:



Here's a comparison of this exact spot, 1815 and 2009. Conduit Street is the turning on the right. None of the original buildings survive:




There is a second engraving, clearly drawn later, by the same artist, which shows further progress of the razing of Swallow Street, and in this case it's a beautiful clear high-resolution scan.

Take your time and drink in the details; step into Benjamin's shoes for a stroll down the road where he lived:

If we compare this 1821 version with the earlier engraving, we note that all the houses on left, including Benjamin's, are now gone. The horse looks suspiciously like the one in the earlier picture, but actually there are lots and lots of differences between the two images, and though it's by the same artist - Augustus Wall Callcott - he's not just revisiting his earlier work, he's redrawn the whole thing.

The pub on the right, though frustratingly unnamed, looks good enough to sit outside for a pint of beer on a hot summer's day and watch the throng of human activity passing by. Wouldn't it be great to see a picture of Benjamin or his family wearing those hats! Well, tough, we'll just have to use our imagination!

We also see a dog capering in the foreground... perhaps we'll reach down and pet the nice doggy...

Left: The Times, 30 December 1795

Death through rabies is particularly unpleasant, as alluded by The Times. Though rabies is still prevalent throughout the world, this story is a startling reminder that it was not eradicated from Britain until 1902.

Credit for the beautiful scan of Swallow Street we enjoyed above goes to Peter Doyle who rescued the print from oblivion and emailed us all the way from Australia:

With the ending of his long lease, Benjamin Partleton now has a very serious problem. He certainly won't be able to afford any other house in this fancy neighbourhood. Not a chance. He'll have to relocate... that's how the Partletons ended up in Lambeth!

This all seems a shame for Benjamin, who is now in his early 40s, and his family, but look on the bright side... if Regent Street hadn't happened, and their lives had followed a different path, none of us descendants would be here now!


Deep breath, before we cross the river to Lambeth, let's take a look at what ensued from the demolition of Swallow Street.



OK, I agree, it's all very splendid. But I can't help but feel that it's a shame old Swallow Street is gone. We are looking straight north up the brand new Regent Street from the viewpoint of the blue arrow in the map below:



In this map I have superimposed the modern plan over the 1799 map so we can see the impact of Regent Street. What a tribute to the skills of Richard Horwood, the 1799 map maker - all the roads are a perfect fit. Note that there is a tiny vestige of Swallow Street at the south end which still remains today. However, before you rush out to visit it, none of the original Swallow Street buildings survive.


The main feature of the 'New Street', as designed by Nash, and completed in 1826, was the curved quadrant with its colonnades, as seen from the red arrow in the map:


Originally conceived by Nash as a covered walk for shoppers and visitors, the colonnades had never been popular with the shop-owners who complained about loss of light, or with the police, who called them 'a haunt of vice and immorality'. It turns out that - far from attracting shoppers - the columns attracted hordes of prostitutes. After a petition signed by 51 of 56 occupiers, the colonnades were condemned as 'structurally unsound' (sounds like a pretext if I ever heard one), and demolished in 1848.

And if any of you think the Victorians had no sense of humour, just check out this gag of 1865 set in Regent Street...

The removal of the colonnades wasn't  the end of the changes. Far from it. We may think of London as being broadly populated by old buildings which never change, but almost every time you look at them closely, it turns out this is far from true. Nash's economy brick-built  'fake stone' stuccoed buildings became severely unfashionable in the late 1800s, and they did not match the layouts required by new shops. Amazingly, between 1902 and 1927 they were ALL knocked down and replaced!

The fact that Nash himself had not been very happy with the quality of his buildings is confirmed in the 1851 publication Knight's Cyclopaedia of London, wherein we learn another lovely snippet about old Swallow Street:

In this 1927 royal procession, marking the completion of the redevelopment of Regent Street, looking south from near to Oxford Street, none of the buildings are Nash's:



Regent Street was designated a Conservation Area in 1976, and you'd think that this would bring an end to the changes, but not a bit of it. The Grade II listing of the buildings means that changes are controlled but not completely prevented. In many cases, the interiors behind the early-20th-century facades have been completely rebuilt in recent years and continue to be radically remodelled to suit changing needs.

Below we see some of that cheeky cheating in progress. One of those 1920s buildings on Regent Street (near the junction with the remnant of Swallow Street) has been demolished, leaving only the facade. The Crown Estate crane is busy assembling the modern steel frame behind it:

Here's the junction of Regent Street and Beak Street, looking south. The Horwood map of 1799 is so inch-perfect that it is a relatively straightforward job to pinpoint the precise location of Benjamin's house; Slap-bang in the middle of Regent Street on the doorstep of tailor shop, Brooks Brothers. Below we see the former location of the house outlined in yellow:



I can hear Benjamin asking me to stop talking about the confounded 'New Street', so I'll end this diversion by noting that Regent Street is famous for its Christmas lights.


In about 1963 my mum Joan Partleton took me and my sister on the top of a London bus down Regent Street to see the lights. I still remember staring goggle-eyed into the London night, clutching a bag of chocolate coins:



The lights above are the 1960 ones.


Below we see the 2006 lights, which were switched on by Gandalf and Gollum, aka Lord of the Rings celebrities Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis, along with Shane Ritchie. Notwithstanding the destruction of his home, the basement of which now lies under the feet of the milling crowds in the middle of Regent Street, Benjamin would definitely have approved of all this razzamatazz (as we shall see later):




Benjamin Partleton, having been ejected from Swallow Street, now has to size up his options. He has no choice but to move to a poorer neighbourhood. The obvious places would be the East End - which is the very roughest and poorest part of London; or Drury Lane, (circled in red in the map below) which is a notorious nest of crime, gin palaces and vice; or Lambeth, which is a rapidly expanding area of industrialisation on the south bank of the Thames.

Benjamin opted for Lambeth, and that decision is to dictate where the Partleton family will orbit for the next 100 years. We've seen this place a thousand times on this website, but, what the heck, let's remind ourselves where it is - in the yellow circle:

The first solid evidence for the family's relocation to Lambeth is the marriage of Benjamin's eldest son Benjamin Thomas Partleton (1799-1843) to Mary Ann Greenwood at St Mary-at-Lambeth Church on 29 July 1822. Seven years have passed since the family left Swallow Street. Our Benjamin is a witness to his son's wedding:

At this moment its a good point to give credit to from whence these baptism records originate. If you're inspired by this website to seek out your own British ancestors as I have done, click here.

A year after this, Ben's second son Thomas George Partleton is married to Ann Rebekah George in the same church:


St Mary-at-Lambeth church in the engraving above is seen from the point of view of the blue arrow in the map below:


In the same year as Thomas' wedding - 1823 - Benjamin's son Henry Kemp Partleton, aged just 9, made his first appearance on stage at Astley's Amphitheatre. We know this from his obituary:



What was Astley's Amphitheatre? It was a permanent circus and place of entertainment at the foot of Westminster Bridge in Lambeth/Southwark:



In the detailed the map below, extracted from the larger map above, we see the location of Astley's. The frontage which we see in the picture above, is from the viewpoint of the red arrow, on Westminster Bridge Road. Behind the frontage, we see the main arena at the rear:



Jane Austen mentioned Astley's in her 1816 novel Emma:



So, let's take a trip in 1823 to Astley's Amphitheatre with Benjamin to watch his son Henry perform. Here's the interior:



Ok... young Henry didn't stand on a galloping horse's back. He most likely sang a song or played a musical instrument, or may have played a part in a comic skit. Astley's was part-circus, part-theatre.


It's always a little frustrating that we never get to see a picture of the subjects of these family history web pages, but we do occasionally get to see people whom they must have met. One such person is specified in Henry Kemp Partleton's obituary; the master horseman and circus performer, and manager of Astley's, Andrew Ducrow:




Our Benjamin - now aged 49 - must surely have acted as agent for his 9-year-old son Henry, and would very likely have met Mr Ducrow face-to-face and negotiated the terms of Henry's engagement.


We also know from a playbill of 13 May 1825 that two of Benjamin's son's [one of whom was James, aged 19, the other unspecified] appeared as part of a Terzette Chinoise - a musical or dancing trio - at the Royal Coburg Theatre, which is presently known by a more familiar name - The Old Vic, in Southwark, which we see below:



Moving on, in 1826 the Partleton family still retains some connection with their old stamping ground of Westminster because Benjamin's daughter Catherine appears, aged 16, on stage at the Adelphi Theatre on The Strand, in a spectacle called To Fry Shots.



Assuming Benjamin, who is now 52, must be playing some part in all these theatrical engagements of his young children, let's sit with him in the year 1826 in the stalls of the Adelphi, the interior of which we see below, to watch Catherine:


Catherine is only an extra, dancing in the crowd scenes, but we can still imagine Benjamin's pride watching her perform.


All we have are tiny snippets of these theatrical adventures, but I sense we can only see the tip of the iceberg. This is a rich ground for future research. By 1832, Benjamin's fourth son, George Edward Partleton, had joined the travelling comic troupe of Henry Jackman, where we see him on a playbill, aged 19, playing the hornpipe:



Four months later, on 26 May 1832, Catherine married at the now-familiar St Mary-at-Lambeth church:


Benjamin is there to sign and witness his daughter's wedding.

Just five weeks later, on 30 July 1832, we learn that Benjamin's wife Catherine has died, because Benjamin is married for a second time, to Mary W Brooks at the church of St George the Martyr in the neighbouring borough of Southwark.



Left: St George the Martyr

Benjamin is only 58 at this time, but his second marriage is not to last long. He died within two years of this event. We haven't located his death record, but we know that his widow Mary W Brooks remarried in 1834 at the Church of St George Bloomsbury.


This rich and interesting tapestry of theatrical connections, and the family's early comfortable life in Piccadilly is somewhat misleading. All of Benjamin's children, with the exception of his second youngest son George, declined towards poverty, and actual destitution and early death in many cases.


This story isn't finished. Who is Benjamin's granddad? What became of Benjamin's five sisters and two older brothers who left no descendants? Where are Benjamin and his wife Catherine's death records? More research required...

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