Following my piece about the tiny 17th century mass book I found in my dad’s study, I was contacted by reader Angela Fearneyhough in reference to the fact that the book was printed at The Lamb in Holborn in 1688.

Angela wrote: “I lived and worked in London from 1977 for ten years… From what I remember, The Lamb was a lovely old traditional pub and very popular.” Being in the heart of Bloomsbury, it was frequented by the literary elite, including Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, E.M Forster, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath among others.

Once I started digging, I discovered that this pub has a fascinating history, although I’m confused by the date it was founded. One online source says it was "built" in the 1720s, and another that it was "established" in 1779.

However (and if you look at the photo with this article), it clearly states that our book was printed in 1688 for Mr Turner at The Lamb in Holborn (then spelled Holbourn). Are the online sources wrong?

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The pub is named after a philanthropist named William Lambe (1495-1580), a wealthy cloth merchant who recognised the need for piped water to be made available to residents and businesses in the local area. We take running water for granted today, but back in the 16th Century, until communal pumps were installed, water had to be manually carried from the nearest source back to your house.

It was a fair old trek from Bloomsbury down to the Thames or the Fleet (now an underground sewer) and lugging heavy, open buckets of water over long distances was not an easy task. As a result there was a thriving mini-industry of people selling buckets of water to those who could not fetch it themselves.

The pub’s address is "Lamb’s Conduit Street", a conduit being a large channel serving those who were permitted to tap into it. Mr Lambe, at his own expense, built the conduit (long-since demolished) to supply the local area, along with a water pump for the public to use.

From its earliest days, the pub was associated with publishing, and the gentleman mentioned in the frontspiece of my book is Matthew Turner. I found very little out about him, apart from the fact that as well as this mass book, he was responsible for publishing a broadsheet comic strip that was distributed all over London in c.1682 (a copy of which is now in the British Museum). It is an attack on those responsible for the Popish Plot, a fictitious conspiracy involving Catholic Jesuits plotting to assassinate King Charles II.

Entitled "A True Narrative of the Horrid Hellish Popish Plot", it focuses on the trial of a very colourful character named Titus Oates who is credited with starting the whole thing off, stirring up anti-Catholic hysteria among the populations of England and Scotland between 1678 and 1681.

Oates, alongside a fervent and supposedly insane Protestant cleric named Israel Tonge, compiled a lengthy manuscript outlining the non-existent plot which they showed to the king. They made 43 accusations against 541 Jesuits and other prominent Catholics which led to at least 22 innocent people being executed.

Having read up on Titus Oates, it is incredible that he was believed at all, as he had a well-known track record of lying, including faking a university degree, falsely accusing a schoolmaster of the capital offence of sodomy just to steal his job, fleeing the country on a ship when accused of perjury, being ejected from that ship when accused of sodomy himself, and again fleeing.

Despite his shady past, he seemed to keep bouncing back, and won the ears of many influential people. For three years, he stirred up unrest and disorder at the expense of the Catholics, until certain voices began to express doubt about his accusations, most notably William Scroggs, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, who declared that many of the accused were indeed innocent.

The tide turned against Oates, and when Catholic King James II came to the throne in 1685, Oates was finally convicted of perjury and sentenced to life in prison.

Incidentally, Matthew Turner’s broadsheet, illustrated by Francis Barlow, is considered the earliest example of a comic strip featuring the first ever "voice balloons".

Who’d have thought the little book on my dad’s shelf would lead to all this?

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