The Building Slump of 1825

The 1815 slump which followed the end of the Napoleonic War had slowly dispersed. Trade picked up, but by 1825 the next slump had developed. In that year alone, 100,000 writs for debt were issued in Great Britain.

John Pocock's diary records the story of the slump as it affected one man. His father, George Pocock had borrowed money at high interest from Thomas Mortimer, who owned property near Greville Road and gave his name to Mortimer Crescent and Mortimer Place. George Pocock became pressed for money. Had to let part of his house, 'which is far too large for us'. Measured land for further building and hoped to be paid. Planned to extend Greville Place into Abbey Road. Arranged for the boy to have lessons in fits and starts, as and when he could afford a term's fees. Sent him on messages to associates and creditors.

On the 11 Nov. 1826, George Pocock was arrested for debt, taken to Carey Street and was lodged in Banco Regis (the King's Bench Prison). A month later, presumably released from there, he went to meet an associate, Bewley, to arrange some business.

'That infamous rascal Bezvley arrested my father and lodged him at 'Heard's, ; Serles Court.'

This was a debtors' lodgings house near Carey Street. George Pocock sold off all his property in Kilburn Priory by public auction apart from a small cottage where they all would live. John recorded all this in innocent clarity.1

He was a most unusual boy, with responsibility thrust on him at an early age. At the age of thirteen, his father was in the Marshalsea prison for debt; 'but nobody must know about this' - a barge load of bricks to be sold and, while the boy was negotiating for a better price on his father's behalf, the boat sank. On 25th October, 1829, with his father dying in intense pain, his son was still was still trying to help by measuring land for him.

A fortnight later John Pocock wrote a long account of his father's business difficulties:

When we lived in the corner house in the Priory, I remember well he was still in affluent circumstances. He kept three clerks - - - many household servants, a house and a gig and one of the finest sets of horses for miles around - - -But then gradually his finances became impoverished, and his remaining land fettered beyond recovery. Then commenced his lamentable illness; his friends fell off and deserted him, his creditors became clamorous --- then Mortimer, like a mercenary man, refused him further assistance –­

And on and on and on. A moving epitaph to a small builder, more generous than he should have been, trusting the words of sharper men. It is an epitaph to one of many small builders defeated by that chancy trade.

A few months later John Pocock was apprenticed to a surgeon and sailed with him to South Africa and Australia. The Diary records these journeys. He later settled in South Africa, where he became a homeopathic doctor. A fascinating story.


Footnote

  1. " A Camden Schoolboy" published by Camden History Society. The first edition is far more detailed than the later ones as these include other diaries of his life in South Africa and the Camden section is condensed.

 

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