© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London | Licence: CC BY-NC-ND
© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London | Licence: CC BY-NC-ND

'A Sticker-up of Bills on Tower Hill at the Rendezvous at the King's Arms' [Bray album]

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From the Collection


From an album of drawings by Gabriel Bray. No. 10 of 74. Titled as above and signed, twice, 'AVprGB' (to the life by Gabriel Bray), once on the drawing itself with the date 'Oct 74', and once on the remains of an early backing sheet with the title. The King's Arms on Tower Hill, London, was the City naval rendezvous, most significantly for the local impress service, which included both voluntary recruitment and the 'press gang' when emergency required this. Recruits of both sorts were housed on the 'Enterprise', the name of a series of receiving ships moored off the Tower, before being shipped down to Sheerness and beyond by naval tenders. Whether this bill-sticker was specifically naval (for recruiting posters) is not clear, since there were many other sorts, but this anonymous portrait is an extraordinary record of a worker at one of the lowest levels of London life. He appears to be wearing a dilapidated fair wig on top of naturally dark hair. Since there are several October 1774 drawings in the Bray album which may be London subjects, with Portsmouth ones dated only from November, it is possible Bray was at the King's Arms waiting for (free) passage by sea round to Portsmouth on one of the naval tenders, rather than taking the public coach. This is one of 73 drawings by Bray (plus one signed 'NF 1782') preserved in a 19th-century album. They have now been separately remounted. Bray (1750-1823), was second lieutenant of the 44-gun ‘Pallas’ under Captain the Hon. William Cornwallis (1744-1819) – later a well-known admiral - on two voyages (1774-77) to report on British interests in West Africa, including the slave trade. The dated drawings refer only to the first of these, from December 1774 to September 1775, though a few may be from the second. Others comprise country views, some of Deal, Kent (where Bray may have come from), and others of social-history interest.

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© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

From the Watercolour World


Tower Hill, London, England