Caring for the Poor in Sixteenth Century London

My Tuesday Talk Guest - Ann Swinfen

When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1536-41, he was intent upon seizing their lands and riches for himself, although reports of corruption and the break with Rome provided the excuse. What he overlooked – or given his character, perhaps he did not care – was the immense contribution to social welfare by the religious institutions. Not only did they offer safe lodging for travellers, they provided permanent homes for the aged and infirm and for those incapable of looking after themselves, they took in orphans and foundlings, and they supplied medical care for the sick who were too poor to employ a private physician.

When this service collapsed, the multiple problems of the poor became acute. In London above all, the ever-growing number of inhabitants meant that the situation was a cause for serious concern. There were many religious houses in London, one of the largest being St Bartholomew’s, founded as an Augustinian priory in 1123 and incorporating a hospital (the oldest surviving hospital in the world). The church of St Bartholomew-the-Great was in large part pulled down at the dissolution, but fortunately some survives. The hospital building remained, but without any income. Henry VIII was persuaded to hand the hospital over to the Corporation of London, who managed to save it and continue its work for the sick poor north of the river.

In Southwark, south of the river, was St Thomas’s, an Augustinian monastery of monks and nuns, also founded in the twelfth century, also providing care for the poor, and also dissolved by Henry. Its hospital was closed and only reopened in 1551, when the city obtained the land and a charter from Edward VI. Both hospitals figure in my series of novels about the young physician, Christoval Alvarez.

As a result of these humanitarian actions by the city authorities, medical care was restored for the poor. A further serious problem, however, was the vast number of abandoned and orphaned children. The crowded conditions in London meant that epidemics spread quickly and killed large numbers of the inhabitants. Best known are the recurrent episodes of the plague, but there were others – the sweating sickness, dysentery (‘the bloody flux’), typhus, typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis (‘consumption’), smallpox – quite apart from all the common illnesses we know today – influenza, measles, mumps, chickenpox, pneumonia, and many chest infections. Venereal diseases also took their toll, especially syphilis, which reached Europe after the invasion of the New World.

These killer diseases meant that many children were left orphans. Unwanted babies were abandoned on doorsteps and in public privies. Children were exploited by beggars who used them to illicit sympathy. In times of hardship and starvation, such as the famine years of the 1590s, poor families simply could not feed their children. What was to be done about this growing problem of destitute babies and children? Those who managed to survive swarmed in the streets as beggars and potential criminals. It was an acute crisis.

King Edward VI wrote to the Lord Mayor of London, asking him:

to take out of the streets all the fatherless children, and other poor men’s children that were not able to keep them, and bring them to the late dissolved house of the Greyfriars…where they should have meat, drink and clothes, lodging and officers to attend upon them…the sucking children and such as for want of years were not able to learn should be kept in the country… [John Howes, 1582, quoted in Liza Picard, Elizabeth’s London.]

Remarkably, Greyfriars, located in Newgate, across the street from Newgate Prison, had not been torn down, though it was in a derelict state. The Lord Mayor assembled a committee of thirty solid and benevolent citizens who immediately set to work to raise funds, repair the buildings and appoint a large staff. The first children were admitted in November 1552, before winter set in.

The site, which can be seen on the Agas map of London, was huge, incorporating a church, dormitories, quadrangles (like an Oxford or Cambridge college), and numerous outbuildings, which provided everything necessary for this model orphanage: bakery, brewery, laundry, and so on. Moreover, there were to be two schools, a petty school for the small children and a grammar school for the older ones. These children were not to join the unskilled and indigent paupers of London when they left Christ’s. They were trained in basic clerical skills, some were later apprenticed to craftsmen, some very clever boys would even go on to university and rise to high positions in the church.

The numbers were initially to be limited to 250, then 300, but they frequently rose to as many as 700. From the outset it seems to have been a kindly and humane home, for cases are recorded where children apprenticed to cruel masters ran away and came home to Christ’s Hospital. At a time when life could be unbelievably brutal, Christ’s was an extraordinary exception.

Bluecoats boy 1854
Many of the buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 (though no children died), and Christ’s was obliged to move out of London to Hertfordshire. However, the children returned to London when the school was rebuilt in the eighteenth century. In the twentieth century Christ’s made its final move to Horsham in Sussex, where it continues to this day, known more commonly as the Bluecoats School. Recently the pupils were allowed to vote on whether or not they wished to retain their Tudor uniform of long blue coats and yellow socks. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of retention. It is believed to be the oldest, and probably the first, school uniform in the world.

Bluecoats Uniform
Today Christ’s Hospital is purely a school, but it retains much of its charitable funding and great pride in its origins. Those benevolent citizens of London who opened their purses and their hearts to destitute children in the sixteenth century set in train a truly remarkable institution.

In 1601, the Elizabethan Poor Law was introduced, a refinement of an earlier act of 1597, which (with modifications) provided general relief for the poor until the new act of 1834. But that is another story.

About the Author:

Ann Swinfen spent her childhood partly in England and partly on the east coast of America. She was educated at Somerville College, Oxford, where she read Classics and Mathematics and married a fellow undergraduate, the historian David Swinfen. While bringing up their five children and studying for a postgraduate MSc in Mathematics and a BA and PhD in English Literature, she had a variety of jobs, including university lecturer, translator, freelance journalist and software designer. She served for nine years on the governing council of the Open University and for five years worked as a manager and editor in the technical author division of an international computer company, but gave up her full-time job to concentrate on her writing, while continuing part-time university teaching. In 1995 she founded Dundee Book Events, a voluntary organisation promoting books and authors to the general public.

Her first three novels, The Anniversary, The Travellers, and A Running Tide, all with a contemporary setting but also an historical resonance, were published by Random House, with translations into Dutch and German. The Testament of Mariam marked something of a departure. Set in the first century, it recounts, from an unusual perspective, one of the most famous and yet ambiguous stories in human history. At the same time it explores life under a foreign occupying force, in lands still torn by conflict to this day. Her second historical novel, Flood, takes place in the fenlands of East Anglia during the seventeenth century, where the local people fought desperately to save their land from greedy and unscrupulous speculators.

Currently she is working on a late sixteenth century series, featuring a young Marrano physician who is recruited as a code-breaker and spy in Walsingham’s secret service. The first book in the series is The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez, the second is The Enterprise of England, the third is The Portuguese Affair, the fourth is Bartholomew Fair and the fifth is Suffer the Little Children.

This Rough Ocean is based on the real-life experiences of the Swinfen family during the 1640s, at the time of the English Civil War.

She now lives in Broughty Ferry, on the northeast coast of Scotland, with her husband, formerly vice-principal of the University of Dundee, and a rescue kitten.


In Elizabethan London, no child is safe. Children are misused and exploited by parents, masters, strangers, and society at large. Even the children of the rich are in danger. When a five-year-old heiress to great estates is kidnapped, Christoval Alvarez, the players of James Burbage’s company, and a disreputable group of child beggars all become involved in the search. At Seething Lane, matters are approaching a crisis. Sir Francis Walsingham is dying and, as Thomas Phelippes struggles to hold the intelligence service together, he receives information that another attack on the Queen is planned. The identity of the assassin is unknown, but Phelippes does know the place and the date – Whitehall Palace on the day of the Twelfth Night Revels.

Twitter: @annswinfen

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Starting April 1st

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Go to Previous Post by Helen Hollick: Has Bookbzz buzzed off? click here

Has Bookbzz Buzzed Off?

I’m not sure if I’m disappointed, angry or red-faced embarrassed. Either way I owe all my friends and readers a profound apology.

Remember a few weeks ago I was asking nicely (well OK also threatening with a rather sharp cutlass) for votes for Sea Witch my pirate-based nautical adventure with a touch of fantasy? I often describe the Sea Witch Voyages as: “A cross between Hornblower and Pirates of the Caribbean, with a dash of Richard Sharpe (Bernard Cornwell’s Napoleonic novels) blended with James Bond and Indiana Jones.” I think that sums them up nicely.

I was thrilled when so many of you offered your support to me (and my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne).  With well over a couple of hundred votes we won. I told Jes to put the cutlass away, which he did and promptly went off to celebrate with a keg or two of rum.
Unfortunately he has to get the cutlass out again and go in search of two who, it seems, are possibly real pirates.

The whole thing, the Bookbzz website, the offer to advertise books and running the competition it transpires, was very possibly all a scam. Or maybe the people running it, Conrad Murray and Paige Doyle didn’t make the money they had hoped for from eager punters and got fed up with it? Maybe the website is down because of computer problems – it’s possible, but many disgruntled authors who have been eagerly waiting to hear about our prize money since the beginning of March have not had emails responded to. No answers on Twitter or Facebook. No response from connections via Mr Murray’s other publishing ventures of Swan's Nest Publishing Canada and Bookmarq. His contact e-mail on Linkedin bounces back as unknown. This from a man who has on his Linkedin profile:

  Core involvement in a series of very successful web start-ups since the very birth of the Internet. Goals, results and profit-driven innovator who can conceive and deliver projects to meet real-world needs without over-stretching the limit of existing technology or breaking the budget. 
   Driving force is always to deliver a massive return on investment. Fascinated by data marketing techniques and customer behaviour. 
   A strong believer in the future of mobile but wants to sidestep the hype, rubbish and non-delivery that afflicted the early days of the internet.
   Primarily interested in innovating mass-penetration mobile products that offer a significant practical benefit to end users as well as a very significant business return for developers and service providers.

All very laudable – except he doesn’t have working e-mail connections, and for the one he does, he doesn’t answer anything.

He also has on Linkedin:

October 2014 – Present (6 months) London, Toronto, New York enables readers to find good books and tell friends about them, and authors and publishers to reach readers who want to buy books.
We call it a tell-a-friend engine -- but it can also generate reviews, manage relationships and news channels between publishers, authors and readers and act as a complete cost-effective viral marketing suite for books.”

Fine, except as the website is closed no one can ‘find' good books, and readers cannot be reached. Tell friends about them? Yes, that’s what I am doing – although I don’t think they meant for me to be telling: “The Bookbzz tell-a-friend engine seems to have run out of buzz, it can’t ‘generate reviews’ or ‘act as a complete cost-effective viral marketing suite for books.’”
In fact it can’t do anything except distress quite a few disgruntled authors because it is no longer there.

According to his CV, Conrad Murray has been a principal owner, chief marketing officer, partner, director, chairman, consultant, business development marketing director, development director, production director, senior producer, foreign correspondent + producer, freelance features writer, and correspondent all for different companies from 1982 to present day.

Conrad Murray as appearing on Linkedin
My, what a busy man. Can we add Possible Pirate and conman scammer to the list? At the very least he seems to enthusiastically start a project then lose interest after a few months and move on to something else.

For Swan's Nest Publishing I have tried my best but I can only find two books by the same author published by the company.

Bookmarq is another book marketing company belonging to Mr Murray. It has a very impressive-looking website but doesn’t actually do much – except publicise Mr Murray’s own articles and attempt to entice authors to use the company for: ‘Boosting Your Sales and Saving You Time and Money’.
Hmm, not sure about that. I’m wasting a lot of time here, and I suspect there are more than a few enraged authors out there who have lost a good bit of money.

Beneath Mr Murray’s e-mails he advertises: (sent to me 19th February 2015)

“ is the destination meeting-place for readers and writers. 
Along with insightful reviews, regular author interviews, articles and 
competitions, we provide comprehensive details of events and services as 
well as vital advice and guidance for aspirant writers, and marketing 
tools for established authors and publishers.
Joining the community should be the first step on, and a 
continuing part of, your writing journey.”

I tired joining the membership area. Nothing happened.
Not sure how Mr Murray can offer ‘vital advice and guidance’ when he doesn’t answer a single e-mail.
The first step’ – yes, the first one backwards if I were you – at a run.

And how much has he made from authors signing up for Bookmarq and Bookbzz? More than short-change I wouldn’t mind betting!

Here’s some of the advertising for Bookbzz and the competition;
 (typing errors are theirs, not mine!)

“If you haven't already done so we strongly recommend you Become a Premium Member (from $7.50 a month) to increase your book's visibility
Consider also the following promotions for the duration of the competition to secure more votes and as a means to generate lasting ongoing sales:

Socialbook Viral Book Marketing Campaign
Pop a banner to plug your entry. Your supporters can easily pop a banner and share it with all their followers. Announce and enable your readers to easily prommote your entry and encourage others to vote for your book. $25 onetime setup. Requires Premium Membership Subscription (from $7.50 a month). Click the link above to find out more.

PageTurner "Look Inside" Book Extract Reader
Elegant portable reader which works on our website, your website (and any other website) as well as social media. Enables potential readers to read a good opening chunk of your book. $25 onetime setup. Requires Premium Membership Subscription (from $7.50 a month). Click the link above to find out more. Book Club Interview and Publicity promotion
Reach our dedicated readership when you announce a give-away or price-drop promotion to our book club members and we will organise a publicity promo and email blast plus featured pages on our website and in our newsletters. Typically these promotions run over a month for maximum reach and impact.
In week one our Senior Reviewer introduces the book.
In week two we release an interview conducted by our reviewers with the author.
In week three readers can ask questions and
In week three to four the author answers.
$100 onetime setup. Requires Premium Membership Subscription (from $7.50 a month). Click the link above to find out more information.”

Add all that up: a nice little earner!

Fortunately, I am not financially out of pocket. I paid a fee of $25 to Bookbzz to enter the competition and I steadfastly ignored those repeated marketing emails to sign up for a Bookbzz marketing package. All the above I can do for myself for free.

Then there’s Mr Conrad’s partner, Paige Doyle.

I was approached by him some months ago when he was seeking authors to back the Bookbzz project. I was approached, I think, because of my capacity as Managing Editor of Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews, plus I am quite prominent on Facebook, Twitter ( @HelenHollick ) etc in my capacity as an author.

I was happy to support the project in principal, anything to help Indie authors get noticed is (usually) a good thing. I was happy to put my books there as well, and yes, it was fun to be part of the competition. It would have been nice to have received the offered prize, but as I was only expecting a refund of the entry fee I’m not too bothered about that (although some of the other winning authors will probably be upset at losing out).

So who is Paige Doyle? He hasn’t replied to any e-mails either.
On the Bookmarq website there is this:

Paige Doyle is the Managing Editor at and as such, decides what we publish. He previously worked in the music business where he managed an Irish diva and superstar until his nerves became too frayed. No not Dana, the other one... Read Full
More posts by the Author »” No point clicking the read more links – they don’t go anywhere And I thought Conrad Murray was managing editor?

Paige Doyle as on Bookmarq
You know I get somewhat suspicious when e-mails are not answered, profile pages do not have a photo of a real person, and even the details on a website about the managing editor have a cartoon instead of a photo.

It makes you wonder if the person behind the name is real? Or is he maybe the same as someone else? Paige is a rather good alias for an editor isn’t it?

Should I have checked out how legitimate this was? Should all of us who entered have done so? Probably, but has anyone any suggestions of how we could have done that? Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I suppose the one big alert, had I looked, would be the fact that nowhere is there a telephone number. Surely companies that publish and/or market books should have a working contact phone number?

There was nothing specific to cause concern on-line before the competition and the website closed (and the emails stopped being answered) to suggest a “con”. Well there is now! I (and several other authors) intend to make a reclaim of entry fees from PayPal, and I shall be adding enough links and labels on this article to hopefully flag up that Conrad Murray and Paige Doyle, along with Bookbzz, Bookmarq and Swan's Nest Publishing, may not be all they say they are. Please feel free to reblog, RT, share and all things like that to help bring attention to these two men  (one man?).

Alternatively I might get a very cross response from some legal person saying I’m committing slander or libel (or whatever it is) by implying that this competition and the various marketing sites are not quite kosher. Bring It On… because I would dearly love to have to retract this article and for myself and the other winning authors to be contacted and awarded our rightful money prizes - or at the very least a truthful explanation and a public apology.
Somehow, though, I don’t think any of that is going to happen.

Bookbzz - this shower of probable scammers -
 is NOT BookbUzz 
which is - as far as I can tell - 
a different and legit company.

(I will add here that most of these book marketing companies 
are used by authors not READERS 
so there is very little point in paying out to use them. 
I can highly recommend Indie B.R.A.G. below though!)

So all in all, my apologies to you all for this red-herring wasn’t real competition. I am gutted, I admit – the only competition/award Sea Witch has won (apart from a much cherished 100% genuine Indie B.R.A.G.medallion ) and it turns out to be what appears to be fake.

at least this one
was genuine!

Still, you my supportive readers and friends are real and your votes were genuine, so I suppose that counts as something to be proud off. Just a shame that glow of pride has been somewhat tarnished by huge embarrassment on my part.

well, tomorrow is another day. I don’t think I’ll enter any more awards though. The disappointment when you don’t win is awful and the disappointment when you do win is just as bad.

One final thought though.

Authors have a very good way of taking revenge…

(If you want to feel sorry for me and offer a consoling hug, you could do so by putting a really nice review of Sea Witch (or any of my books) on Amazon. Preferably 4 or 5 stars with “I voted for Sea Witch!” as the tag line... can but try to gain something positive out of the negative. 

(as for the Winner logo at the top of the page and on my sidebar 
I'm keeping it - because the votes and the support were genuine. 
Also the people at  Bookbzz have made a delightful error - 
there is no mention of their company on the logo, 
nor an embedded link, so it is only advertising my win - not their fake website!)