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Guest Post by BK
26th May 1732: it is a fine Spring evening in London. William Hogarth and some friends are enjoying a convivial evening in The Bedford Arms, a tavern on the South side of the Covent Garden Piazza. Six weeks earlier Hogarth had achieved his first public triumph with the publication of The Harlot’s Progress and the conversation flowed as the punch bowl rapidly emptied. One topic appears to have been the rubbishing of The Grand Tour whereby young English noblemen could spend months or even years touring Europe to acquaint themselves with Continental, Roman and Greek civilisation and manners. Hogarth, a patriotic Londoner, thoroughly disapproved of such things. As midnight approached the friends decided that it would be great fun for them to hold their own Grand Tour. They rushed to their homes, picked up a spare shirt each and set off on The Five Day’s Peregrinations Around The Isle Of Sheppey Of William Hogarth and His Fellow Pilgrims, Scott, Tothall, Thornhill, and Forrest.
The troupe walked along, singing merrily, to Billingsgate where they hired a boat to take them to Gravesend. When they reached Cuckolds’ Point they set up a chorus of ‘St John-at-Deptford Pishoken’, a reference that has baffled musicologists ever since, and then settled down to eat ‘hung beef and biscuit, and drank right Hollands ( Dutch gin)’.
At Gravesend, they had breakfast of coffee, toast and butter and set out to explore the town where they visited The New Church and The Market. St George’s, the parish church of Gravesend, was consecrated in 1510. Unfortunately a great fire destroyed most of Gravesend including the church and 110 houses in 1727. Funding for a new church was obtained from The Commission For Building Fifty New Churches, a self-explanatory body set up in 1710 to use money from the duties on coal imported into The Port of London. Although The Commission never achieved its aim it did fund a number of churches including St Paul’s Deptford and St Alfege’s Greenwich. St George’s Gravesend was completed in 1731, hence the reference to The New Church. Although the party spent a good deal of time on their journey looking at graves and epitaphs, they make no mention of Pocahontas, presumably that local industry hadn’t started yet.
The lads then set off to walk to Rochester. They admired The Cathedral and The Castle, from where they saw ‘some of the noblest ships in the world’. On the High Street they visited The Six Poor Travellers House, an almshouse set up by a bequest from a local businessman, Richard Webb, to provide a night’s accommodation, entertainment and four pence for up to six poor travellers. The four pence was important because under the Poor Law of 1576 anybody who did not possess that amount could be declared a vagrant, whipped and returned to their home parish. Further along the High Street they passed the Guildhall and Hogarth amused himself by playing hopscotch In the colonnade.
They had lunch at The Crown Inn at the end of the High Street. ‘A dish of soles and flounders with crab sauce, a calf’s heart stuffed and roasted, the liver fried and the other appurtenances minced, a leg of mutton roasted and some green peas, all very good and well dressed, with good beer and excellent port.’ In the afternoon, they walked that off by walking around Chatham, visiting the dockyard and inspecting several naval vessels. They found some space to buy and eat shrimps before returning to The Crown for further refreshment and then bed.
Next day they set out to walk up the Hoo peninsula in order to catch a boat at Grain. They visited the church at Frendsbury and then at Upnor they visited the castle, then still fully manned, and dined on cockles that they bought from a blind couple in a little cock-boat. Pressing on to Hoo they amused themselves by bombarding each other with water, sticks, pebbles and hog’s dung. Throughout the trip the gang indulge in sorts of all bawdy and scatalogical behaviour that would now probably seem hooliganish. Apparently, the more refined figure of Horace Walpole was shocked to learn of their behaviour but Thackeray later defended them saying ‘These are the manners and pleasures of Hogarth, of his time very likely, of men not very refined, but honest and merry. it is a brave London citizen, with John Bull habits, prejudices and pleasures’.
They visited the church at Hoo and then walked on to Stoke where they also saw the church before stopping at the Nags Head where they had had dinner, drank punch and retired to bed, but had a bad night’s sleep, being badly bitten by gnats from the nearby marshland.
In the morning they had milk and toast for breakfast and walked on stopping at The Chequers for salt pork, bread, butter and buns and good malt liquor. At Grain they found a boatman who they hired to carry them over the river to Sheppey.
After a rough crossing they were landed at Sheerness and walked along the beach to Queenborough which is described as ‘but one street, clean and well-paved’ but very little sign of life. They visited the ‘low and ill-built’ church and the Town Hall or Clock House and then went to stay at The Red Lion, aka The Swan. They could find no meat to eat and so had to make do with lobsters, bacon and eggs.
Walking around town in the evening they wre surprised to meet several pretty women who they fell into conversation with, they then went back to The Red Lion where they enjoyed ‘several cans of good flip’ and got into a singing contest with a group of lobster fishermen from Harwich. Apparently the lobstermen’s singing was much better than our boys who could only offer St John at Deptford and Pishoken again.
Next morning they walked up the hill to visit Minster, where again they walked around the church and graveyard to admire the local monuments and inscriptions. Then, after dining at The George (now known as The Prince Of Waterloo, The Prince Of Waterloo is a hereditary title given to all Dukes Of Wellington by the Dutch government) they walked back to Sheerness and hired a boat to take them to Gravesend. It was a rough voyage and they kept their spirits up with yet more singing of St John Pishoken, along the Thames their boat was accompanied by a school of porpoise. At Gravesend they ‘supped and drank good wine’, slept and then set off next morning with ‘a bottle of good wine, pipes, tobacco and a match’.
They disembarked at a landing by Somerset House on The Strand and walked up to the Bedford Arms ‘in the same good humour we left it’.