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Puggy Booth

Now there’s a name to go by. A tough Georgian bare knuckle pugilist, or a renown Victorian cricketer known for stubbornly occupying his crease perhaps?

Well the answer is neither and in fact the name goes to an artist of great repute. The name was not one given at birth and in fact was not actually the person in question’s name, but it was one he adopted quite readily for reasons that will become clear.

Puggy Booth

To the local inhabitants of Wapping on the banks of the Thames, the Landlord of one of the local taverns in the area, The Old Star was known as Puggy Booth, a rather short, stocky, brusque gentleman who ran the tavern with his wife Sophia. The strange thing about the domestic arrangements of this hostelry was that Mr Booth was frequently absent, leaving his wife to run the tavern on a day to day basis.

J M W Turner 1775-1851

The truth about the set up was that Mr and Mrs Booth were not actually married. Sophia was actually Mrs Booth, a widow, but her supposed husband was none other that the artist Joseph M W Turner. I came across this fact whilst researching one of my guided tours which takes in the riverside areas of Limehouse, Shadwell and Wapping called East of Eden

In 1833 Turner met Sophia Booth, a widowed landlady from Margate who was to become his mistress until his death in 1851. When Turner inherited two cottages in the dockland area of Wapping, he converted them into a tavern and installed Mrs. Booth as proprietor.

Turner was exceptionally secretive, especially over women. From the age of twenty-five he was to keep several mistresses, who were to bear him four illegitimate children. Although he never married, women always played an important part of Turners life. His vigorously sensual side was to emerge in the copious quantities of erotic drawings discovered among the Turner bequest on his death. These were supposedly executed during the weekends of drunken debauchery amid the Dockside taverns of Wapping. It appears that none of the locals knew who he was and so the epithet seems to have stuck, allowing Turner a high degree of anonymity.

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