Sounds a bit like a 70s TV crime drama, starring Edward Woodward, but this is no self styled vigilante. I had never heard of the person who went by this sobriquet and it was only one of those chance happenings that took me into his world.
I had alighted at Angel underground station and before heading off to the Regents canal I decided to get something to eat. Making my way up to Camden Passage, I was a little spoilt for choice and walked its length without being able to decide what to have. As I retraced my steps I noticed a rather dishevelled looking wall plaque that I had missed first time I passed by.
Although difficult to make out the plaque reads “Alexander Cruden 1699-1770 Humanist scholar and intellectual Born Aberdeen Educated Marischal College Came to London 1719 as tutor Appointed book seller to Queen Caroline in 1737 Compiled the Concordance to the Bible Died here in Camden Passage, November 1st“ The line beneath took some finding on the internet but it reads “whom niether infirmity nor neglect could debase Nelson 1811” (spell checkers hadn’t been invented then).
So that decided my lunchtime choice and as I ate I started to look at Cruden’s life. He was the son of a merchant, born in Aberdeen. It seems he started to train for the ministry, but a spell in an insane asylum, which would be a reoccuring theme in his life put an end to an ecclesiastical career. Digging a bit deeper it seem that the committal to the asylum was the result of an unhappy love affair and looking further it seems as if his incarceration was choreographed by the love of his life and her brother who were engaged in a insestuous relationship. Cruden apparently found out and as a way of gagging him as to anything he might say about it the siblings had him put away. On his release it seems that he put as much distance between himself and the couple as possible by moving to London. He became a proof reader at a printers in Wild Court near to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but later became a bookseller by the Royal Exchange.
His major work as a writer was an index to the King James Bible, a lists of biblical words alphabetically, with indications to enable the inquirer to find the passages of the Bible where the words occurred called “Cruden’s Concordance” first published in 1737 it is still in print today.
The title “The Corrector” was self appointed, as Cruden made it his life’s work to safeguard the nation’s spelling and grammar, and by association the nation’s moral health. He was considered, if not completely mad to be at least a touch deranged. He was particularly concerned with misspelt signs, graffiti, swearing and the keeping of the Sabbath, and was in the habit of carrying a sponge and paint around the city with him, which he used to blot out all inscriptions and signs which he thought were incorrect or contrary to good morals.
He spent several spells in various mental institutions because those around him did not know how else to stop him behaving in such a strange manner, but it looks sadly that in most cases he was committed because he was causing a nuisance to those who put him away. At worst he was rather eccentric, but as he did no real damage, only to the offending signs he certainly shouldn’t have been locked away. He died on the 1st of November 1770 and the newspaper report reads “Alexandra Cruden M. A. at his lodgings in Camden Street Islington; he was found dead on his knees at 7 o’clock in the morning having complained for three or four day of shortness of breath“.