Famous Londoners

John Wilkes – cross eyed politician and reformer

John Wilkes – cross eyed politician and reformer

By in Famous Londoners

Standing almost unnoticed amongst the new office buildings crowding the City today, is a statue of a very interesting London figure, who certainly didn’t go unnoticed during his lifetime.   John Wilkes was born in nearby Clerkenwell in 1725, the son of a successful distiller and when only 18 years old, married a wealthy heiress 10 years his senior, which not only gave him considerable wealth but also the Manor of Aylesbury, thus enabling him to become one of the landed gentry. He was not however the ideal husband. Despite being famously ugly (and cross eyed to boot) he can be best described in those early years as a Rake – womanising and spending most of his time at the Hell Fire Club, an elitist club where ‘persons of quality’ could go who wished to take part in socially immoral acts! However Wilkes soon grew bored of his life of pleasure and decided to go into politics, becoming the MP for Aylesbury and fast developing a reputation as a radical. He was not afraid to be outspoken, setting up a newspaper called the North Briton, where he criticised King George III on his choice of Prime Minister.     Arrested and charged with seditious libel, Wilkes only avoided prosecution because of MP’s privilege and soon became popular amongst ordinary people as a champion of liberty. He was also a well known wit, and in one heated exchange between himself and the 4th Earl of Sandwich who said to him:   “Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox” Wilkes famously replied: That depends my Lord, on whether I embrace your lordship’s principles or your mistress”   But Wilkes had made powerful enemies. He was challenged to a duel by one of the Kings supporters and was shot in the stomach. Wounded, he fled to Paris for his own safety. Five years later he returned to London and assumed a new name in an attempt to lay low and not attract attention. But the quiet life was not for John Wilkes and soon he was championing workers rights and standing for Parliament again, this time in the constituency of Middlesex. The authorities...

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Samuel Johnson – London’s greatest cheerleader

Samuel Johnson – London’s greatest cheerleader

By in Famous Londoners

No self respecting blog about London can fail to include Dr Johnson, who was responsible for the most quoted ‘quote’ of all about our great city…. “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford” Samuel Johnson was an English writer and critic, and one of the most famous literary figures of the 18th century. Next to William Shakespeare, he is probably the most quoted of all English writers.                 His best-known work is his ‘Dictionary of the English Language’ which took him 9 years to write, finally published in 1755. Some of the definitions used by Johnson in the dictionary give a clue to the man’s forthright and controversial personality. DULL:  To make dictionaries is dull work OATS:  A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people. Johnson had moved to London in 1737 and it’s fair to say, promptly fell in love with the city. He was a regular at many of the drinking establishments in the area, including the well known Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in Fleet Street. An evening there  must have been entertaining! “By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can shew.”   Samuel Johnson lived in a house just off Fleet Street, between 1748-1759, where he wrote his famous Dictionary. Though the success of the dictionary bought Johnson fame, he was always in trouble for money. At one time he was arrested for an outstanding debt of £5.16  In 1763, he met James Boswell, a young Scottish lawyer, who wrote the  ‘Life of Johnson’ (published in 1791) which did much to spread Johnson’s name. “If you are idle, be not solitary. If you are solitary, be not idle”               Who would be the equivalent of Samuel Johnson today? He was a Satirist & Diarist, quick witted and famous for his pithy quotes. Today he would probably be an author, broadcaster and blogger. His tweets would have been memorable!   “One of the disadvantages of wine, is that it makes a man mistake words for thoughts!”...

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