Category Archives: 1600s

Blood Libel

The City’s first Jews arrived in 1066 and England’s Jewish community was to endure what was called Blood Libel.

This was an accusation made against Jews concerning matzahs which is the unleavened bread used in the Passover ceremony which takes place every March or April.

This was an allegation that Christian children were sacrificed and their blood used as an ingredient in the matzahs.

This showed ignorance to begin with as Jewish diet forbids the consumption of blood.

Going a long way from the City the most infamous case took place in a town called Trent in Italy in 1475 when a two year old boy named Simon disappeared. It was rumoured that he’d been taken for a ritual sacrifice. The whole local Jewish community was massacred as a result.

The infant Simon was made into a saint and this led to the cult of Simon of Trent which had followers all across Europe and ascribed hundreds of miracles to him.

It took until 1965 for Simon to be unsainted.

First recorded UK case was in 1144 when an English boy, William of Norwich, was found brutally murdered with strange wounds to his head, arms, and torso. His uncle, a priest, blamed local Jews, and a rumour spread that Jews crucified a Christian child every year at Passover.

More persecution resulted.

The Jews were expelled by Edward 1 in 1290 and remained exiled for almost 400 years until the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, invited them back in the mid 1600s.

Nicholas Hawksmoor


Hawksmoor was an architect who began to work for Christopher Wren at 1680. He helped Wren with several City churches including St Paul’s cathedral.

In 1711 he was commissioned to help build around 50 churches in Greater London. Within the City his only church was St Mary Woolnoth which was completed in 1724 . Other churches included St. George-in-the-East, Wapping (1729), Christ Church, Spitalfields (1729) and St. Anne in Limehouse (1730) where you may find a Pyramid in the churchyard.

Christopher Wren


We all know Wren as an architect but at the age of just 25 he was appointed professor of astronomy at Gresham College.

He studied mathematics, mechanics, medicine, meteorology and microscopy. He was a member of parliament who served three terms in the House of Commons and, despite being born a sickly child in the 1600s lived to the age of 90.

It is, however, as an architect that we best know him. in 1669, three years after the Great Fire, King Charles II appointed him Surveyor of Works and charged him with rebuilding the City.

Rebuild it, he did. Aside from other buildings, he rebuilt 52 City of London churches including St Paul’s cathedral.

He was assisted by architect and polymath Robert Hooke and worked alongside architect Nicholas Hawksmoor.

He laid the groundwork for the formation of the Royal Society of which he was later president.

Great Plague

The Great Plague started in May 1665 and it was nasty stuff – worse than Man Flu. It’s reckoned that it killed 75,000 Londoners

A little biology lesson! If you see a rat in London today then it is a Brown rat.

Back in the 1600s, however, the resident rat was the Black Rat and it was believed for some time that these carried the Bubonic plague which was then passed to people by fleas.

This has proved not to be the case and the disease was actually passed from human to human by fleas and lice.

Not the first plague epidemic in London, that being the Black Death in 1348/49. Last recorded case in UK was in 1679. The last recorded case in China though, was in 2019 – but 2022 in the USA.

Want to know more? Come on either my Billingsgate or City Essentials walk.

Robert Hooke


Hooke was a scientist engaged in a number of disciplines. He formulated Hooke’s Law relating to elastic properties of materials.

Hooke became curator of experiments for the Royal Society in 1662.

Three years later, in 1665, he was appointed Professor of Geometry at Gresham College.

Hooke was a pioneer in the development of the microscope and also wrote papers on gravity which are respected to this day.

As an architect he was chief assistant to Christopher Wren when rebuilding the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666.

Like Wren, Hooke was an astronomer and determined to prove that the earth rotated around the sun. This led to a failed experiment involving the star Gamma Draconis.

Gamma Draconis

Many of you will know the tower called The Monument. You may not know that its design was inspired by an object 150 light years away.

The Monument commemorated the Great Fire of 1666 and was built by Christopher Wren. The architect, however, was not Wren but his assistant Robert Hooke who had a particular plan for the building.

Like Wren he was also an astronomer. At this time some scientists still believed that the sun rotated around the earth. Hooke was determined to prove that the opposite was true.

A star called Gamma Draconis passes over the City every night and Hooke reasoned that by taking observations of the star at different times of the year he could prove that the earth went around the sun.

To do this he needed a telescope around 200’ long and, obviously somewhere to put it. The tower, therefore, was also an observatory.

Hooke’s astronomy was perfect, his calculations were flawless, the telescope was built with absolute precision and positioned perfectly within the building.

He had, however, failed to take two factors into consideration. His observations could involve fractions of a millimetre but every time a vehicle rolled down nearby Fish Street Hill, the tower vibrated slightly and upset his readings. Also, surprisingly for an architect, he’d failed to consider that a 200’ tall building would sway in the wind!


How would Hooke’s experiment have worked? He was using something called parallax.

Here’s an example. Stand at the end of a room and choose something, say a picture, on the opposite wall. Take 3 paces left and you’ll be looking at the picture from a certain angle. Take 6 paces right and the angle changes. This is parallex.

He theorised that if the earth went around the sun then in, say, June it would be one side of the sun and in December on the other. and there would be quite a long way between the two.

If he took observations of Gamma Draconis in June and then again in December and the star was shown to be at a different angle (albeit a tiny one) then this would prove that the earth was indeed circling the sun.

Alexander Pope


Poet, translator and satirist of what is known as the English Augustan period.

Pope was physically handicapped. He had curvature of the spine believed to come from too much time studying. When young he is believed to have suffered from tuberculosis of the spine which hampered his growth and he stood only 4.6″ tall. He suffered a lot of pain but was pleased that he was still able to ride a horse.

He was a Catholic and lived his early years in London until anti-Catholic harassment forced his family to move to Berkshire.

Pope might well have gone to university but was constrained by the Test Acts of 1673 and 1678 which supported the Church of England and banned Catholics from teaching, attending a university, voting or holding public office on penalty of imprisonment.

His works included Pastorals, Messiah (from the Book of Isaiah, later translated into Latin by Samuel Johnson), The Rape of the Lock (a satire on privileged society). He also translated Homer’s Illiad into English and compiled and edited a six-volume publication of William Shakespeare’s works.

He introduced the word Bathos to the language – meaning a sudden change from the solemn to the amusing or ridiculous.

Pope introduced several aphorisms to the language including “To Err is human; to forgive divine”, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”, “Wit is the lowest form of humour” and “A little learning is a dangerous thing, [Drink deep or taste not the Perian Spring]” (the Perian Spring was a sacred spring near Mount Olympus).

He was a Freemason, something which may have caused a conflict in his later life when the pope, in 1738, forbade Catholics from being masons.

In terms of the City, Pope was born in Plough Court off Lombard Street.

He was reputed to have lost money in the so called South Sea Bubble. Did he? This will be discussed in a future article.