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Behind Closed doors

The Egyptian styled Art Deco temple to journalism that was once the former home of the Daily Telegraph is located on Fleet Street, and sits over a purpose built alley with seperate entrance and exits known as Peterborough Court. In all the times I’ve walked past the building I’ve never seen these gates open.

However, Peterborough Court is much older than the Telegraph building opened in 1928. The maps below show the transition of the court from a large area in 1828 to a much truncated version in 1893.

But it is the court in the 1820s that is of interest here. As you can see by the map, the passageway opened out into a large court with a number of buildings dotted about. According to accounts of the time, these were a mixture of small workshops and retail outlets, and there were three such premises with stories to tell.

It was the home and workshop of Thomas Hardy, a bootmaker, who between the turn of the 18th century and 1832 lived a life of no great note producing footwear for the populous of the area. However Hardy was a founding member of the The London Corresponding Society which was a federation of local reading and debating clubs. In the decade following the French Revolution the society formed mainly from shopkeepers, artisans and tradesmen pushed for the democratic reform of the British Parliament. The Government of William Pitt the younger struck back denouncing the society as an instrument of “French revolutionary subversion”. To try and break the society the Government tried to implicate two members, one being Hardy in a plot to assassinate King George III. Hardy was imprisoned and while awaiting trial his wife tragically died during premature childbirth after being attacked in her home by a gang of loyalists called “The Church and King Mob”. The trial for High Treason lasted nine days and Hardy was finally acquitted and released. Accounts portray him as a broken man, he cut all ties with the society and he never again involved himself in politics.

At the east corner of the court was one of the earliest smoking paraphernalia shops known as the “Lighthouse”, the first such shop to stock the Instantaneous Light apparatus, “Hertner’s Eupyrion” which were phosphorus and oxymuriate matches and despite what the handbill claims were the costly predecessor of the Lucifer match.

Directly opposite the Lighthouse was the workshop of Jacob Perkins, an American mechanical engineer and inventor. In the early 1800’s Perkins had been working on a high pressure steam boiler and his results were successful, but unfortunately for him steam machinery technology lagged behind his concept and could not safely use the high pressure steam his boilers produced,

Jacob Perkins 1766-1849

Undaunted he used his boiler to create the steam gun. This was an early fully automatic machine gun powered by steam rather than by gunpowder. It was not the first automatic firearm to be created, but it was the first to carry a large magazine of shot rather than the dozen or so in other firearms. It operated with musket balls at an incredible firing rate of 1,000 rounds per minute. Obviously feeling that this invention would find instant recognition, he set up a public demonstration and exhibition at the Adelaide Gallery in the Strand. His hopes were dashed early on, when after a display of firepower to invited members of the Army, the Duke of Wellington expressed his view that the gun “would never be advantageously employed in warfare”.He later went on to gain the first patent for the vapor-compression refrigeration cycle that was a crucial part in the development of the modern refrigerator.

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