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January 17.


On the 16th and 17th of January, 1809, Mr. Howard observed, that the snow exhibited the beautiful blue and pink shades at sunset which are sometimes observable, and that there was a strong evaporation from its surface. A circular area, of five inches diameter, lost 150 grains troy, from sunset on the 15th to sunrise next morning, and about 50 grains more by the following sunset; the gauge being exposed to a smart breeze on the house top. The curious reader may hence compute for himself, the enormous quantity raised in those 24 hours, without any visible liquefaction, from an acre of snow: the effects of the load thus given to the air were soon perceptible. On the 17th, a small brilliant meteor descended on the S. E. horizon about 6 p.m. On the 18th, though the moon was still conspicuous, the horns of the crescent were obtuse. On the 19th appeared the Cirrus cloud, followed by the Cirrostratus. In the afternoon a freezing shower from the eastward glazed the windows, encrusted the walls, and encased the trees, the garments of passengers, and the very plumage of the birds with ice. Birds thus disabled were seen lying on the ground in great numbers in different parts of the country. Nineteen rooks were taken up alive by one person at Castle Eaton Meadow, Wilts. The composition of this frozen shower, examined on a sheet of a paper, was no less curious than these effects. It consisted of hollow spherules of ice, filled with water; of transparent globules of hail; and of drops of water at the point of freezing, which became solid on touching the bodies they fell on. The thermometer exposed from the window indicated 30,5°. This was at Plaistow. The shower was followed by a moderate fall of snow. From this time to the 24th, there were variable winds and frequent falls of snow, which came down on the 22d in flakes as large as dollars, with sleet at intervals. On the 24th a steady rain from W. decided for a thaw. This and the following night proved stormy: the melted snow and rain, making about two inches depth of water on the level, descended suddenly by the rivers, and the country was inundated to a greater extent than in the year 1795. The River Lea continued rising the whole of the 26th, remained stationary during the 27th, and returned into its bed in the course of the two following days. The various channels by which it intersects this part of the country were united in one current, above a mile in width, which flowed with great impetuosity, and did much damage. From breaches in the banks and mounds, the different levels, as they are termed, of embanked pasture land, were filled to the depth of eight or nine feet. The cattle, by great exertions, were preserved, being mostly in the stall; and the inhabitants, driven to their upper rooms, were relieved by boats plying under the windows. The Thames was so full during this time, that no tide was perceptible; happily, however, its bank suffered no injury; and the recession of the water from the levels proceeded with little interruption till the 23d of February, when it nearly all subsided. No lives were lost in these parts; but several circumstances concurred to render this inundation less mishievous than it might have been, from the great depth of snow on the country. It was the time of neap tide; the wind blew strongly from the westward, urging the water down the Thames; while moonlight nights, and a temperate atmosphere, were favourable to the poor, whose habitations were filled with water. On the 28th appeared a lunar halo of the largest diameter. On the 29th, after a fine morning, the wind began to blow hard from the south, and during the whole night of the 30th it raged with excessive violence from the west, doing considerable damage. The barometer rose, during this hurricane, one-tenth of an inch per hour. The remainder of the noon was stormy and wet, and it closed with squally weather; which, with the frequent appearance of the rainbow, indicated the approach of a drier atmosphere, and change on few occasions within Mr. Howard's recollection more desirable.

Numerous inundations, consequent on the thaw of the 24th, appear to have prevailed in low and level districts all along the east side of the island: but in no part with more serious destruction of property, public works, and the hopes of the husbandman, than in the fens of Cambridgeshire: where, by some accounts, 60,000, by others above 150,000 acres of land, were laid under deep water, through an extent of 15 miles. It is a fact worth preserving, that about 500 sacks filled with earth, and laid on the banks of the Old Bedford river, at various places, where the waters were then flowing over, proved effectual in saving that part of the country from a general deluge.


Swearing on the Horns at Highgate.

It's a custom at Highgate, that all who go through,
Must be sworn on the horns, sir!—and so, sir, must you!
Bring the horns!—shut the door!—now, sir, take off your hat!—
When you come here again, don't forget to mind that!


"Have you been sworn at Highgate?" is a question frequently asked in every part of the kingdom; for, that such a custom exists in this village is known far and near, though many who inquire, and are asked, remain ignorant of the ceremony. As the practice is declining, diligence has been exercised to procure information on the spot, and from every probable source, concerning this remarkable usage.

The village of Highgate take[s] its name from the gate across the public road into London, opposite the chapel, which is sometimes erroneously called the church, for it is, in fact, only a chapel of ease to Hornsey church. This road runs through land belonging to the bishopric of London, and was made, by permission of the bishop in former times, probably when the whole of this spot, and the circumjacent country, was covered with wood, and part of the great forest of Middlesex, which, according to Matthew Paris, was infested by wolves, stags, boars, and other wild beasts, besides robbers. This gate, from being on the great northern eminence towards London, was called the high-gate; as the land became cleared of wood, houses arose near the spot, and hence the village now called Highgate. It seems probable, that the first dwelling erected here was the gate-house. The occupier of the inn of that name holds it under a lease from the bishop, under which lease he also farms the bishop's toll. In the year 1769 the old gate-house, which extended over the road, was taken down, and the present common turnpike-gate put up. So much, then, concerning Highgate, as introductory to the custom about to be related.

"Swearing on the horns," which now is "custom more honour'd in the breach than in the observance," prevailed at Highgate as a continual popular amusement and private annoyance. An old and respectable inhabitant of the village says, that sixty years ago upwards of eighty stages stopped every day at the Red Lion, and that out of every five passengers three were sworn. It is a jocular usage of the place, from beyond the memory of man, especially encouraged by certain of the villagers, to the private advantage of public landlords. On the drawing up of coaches at the inn-doors, particular invitations were given to the company to alight, and after as many as could be collected were got into a room for purposes of refreshment, the subject of being "sworn at Highgate" was introduced, and while a little artifice easily detected who had not taken the oath, some perhaps expressed a wish to submit to the ceremony. It often happened however, that before these facts could be ascertained "the horns" were brought in by the landlord, and as soon as they appeared, enough were usually present to enforce compliance. "The horns," fixed on a pole of about five feet in height, were erected, by placing the pole upright on the ground, near the person to be sworn, who was required to take off his hat, and all present having done the same, the landlord then, in a loud voice, swore in the "party proponent." What is called the oath is traditional, and varies verbally in a small degree. It has been taken down in writing from the lips of different persons who administer it, and after a careful collation of the different versions the following may be depended on as correct.—The landlord, or the person appointed by him to "swear in," proclaims aloud—

"Upstanding and uncovered! Silence!" Then he addresses himself to the person he swears in, thus—

"TAKE NOTICE what I now say unto you, for that is the first word of your oath—mind that! You must acknowledge me to be your adopted Father, I must acknowledge you to be my adopted son (or daughter.) If you do not call me father you forfeit a bottle of wine, if I do not call you son, I forfeit the same. And now, my good son, if you are travelling through this village of Highgate, and you have no money in your pocket, go call for a bottle of wine at any house you think proper to go into, and book it to your father's score. If you have any friends with you, you may treat them as well, but if you have money of your own, you must pay for it yourself. For you must not say you have no money when you have, neither must you convey the money out of your own pocket into your friends' pockets, for I shall search you as well as them, and if it is found that you or they have money, you forfeit a bottle of wine for trying to cozen and cheat your poor old ancient father. You must not eat brown bread while you can get white, except you like the brown the best; you must not drink small beer while can get strong, except you like the small the best. You must not kiss the maid while you can kiss the mistress, except you like the maid the best, but sooner than lose a good chance you may kiss them both. And now, my good son, for a word or two of advice. Keep from all houses of ill repute, and every place of public resort for bad company. Beware of false friends, for they will turn to be your foes, and inveigle you into houses where you may lose your money and get no redress[.] Keep from theives of every denomination. And now, my good son, I wish you a safe journey through Highgate and this life. I charge you, my good son, that if you know any in this company who have not taken this oath, you must cause them to take it, or make each of them forfeit a bottle of wine, for if you fail to do so you will forfeit a bottle of wine yourself. So now, my good son, God bless you! Kiss the horns or a pretty girl if you see one here, which you like best, and so be free of Highgate!"

If a female be in the room she is usually saluted, if not, the horns must be kissed: the option was not allowed formerly. As soon as the salutation is over the swearer-in commands "silence!" and then addressing himself to his new-made "son," he says, "I have now to acquaint you with your privilege as a freeman of this place. If at any time you are going through Highgate and want to rest yourself, and you see a pig lying in a ditch you have liberty to kick her out and take her place; but if you see three lying together you must only kick out the middle one and lie between the other two! God save the king!" This important privilege of the freemen of Highgate was first discovered by one Joyce a blacksmith, who a few years ago kept the Coach and Horses, and subjoined the agreeable information to those whom "he swore in."

When the situation of things and persons seems to require it, the "bottle of wine" is sometimes compounded for by a modus of sundry glasses of "grog," and in many cases a pot of porter.

There is one circumstance essential for a freeman of Highgate to remember, and "that is the first word of his oath,—mind that!" If he fail to recollect that, he is subject to be resworn from time to time, and so often, until he remember that. He is therefore never to forget the injunction before he swears, to take notice what is said, "for that is the first word of your oath—mind that!" Failure of memory is deemed want of comprehension, which is no plea in the high court of Highgate— "mind that!" That is, that that "that," is "that."

There is no other formality in the administration or taking of this oath, than what is already described; and the only other requisite for "a stranger in Highgate" to be told, is, that now in the year 1826, there are nineteen licensed houses in this village, and that at each of these houses the "horns" are kept, and the oath administered by the landlord or his deputy.

To note the capabilities of each house, their signs are here enumerated, with the quality of horns possessed by each.

1. THE GATE-HOUSE is taken first in order, as being best entitled to priority, because it has the most respectable accommodation in Highgate. Besides the usual conveniences of stabling and beds, it has a coffee-room, and private rooms for parties, and a good assembly-room. The horns there are Stag's.

2. Mitre, has Stag's horns.

3. Green Dragon, Stag's horns.

4. Red Lion and Sun, Bullock's horns. The late husband of Mrs. Southo, the present intelligent landlady of this house, still lives in the recollection of many inhabitants, as having been a most facetious swearer in.

5. Bell, Stag's horns. This house now only known as the sign of the "Bell," was formerly called the "Bell and Horns." About fifty years ago, it was kept by one Anderson, who had his "horns" over his door, to denote that persons were sworn there as well as at the Gate-house. Wright, the then landlord of the "Red Lion and Sun," determined not to be outrivalled, and hung out a pair of bullock's horns so enormous in size, and otherwise so conspicuous, as to eclipse the "Bell and Horns;" at last, all the public houses in the village got "horns," and swore in. It is within recollection that every house in Highgate had "the horns" at the door as a permanent sign.

6. Coach and Horses, . Ram's horns.

7. Castle, . . . . . . Ram's horns.

8. Red Lion, . . . . Ram's horns.

9. Wrestler's, . . . . Stag's horns.

10. Bull, . . . . . . Stag's horns.

11. Lord Nelson, . . . Stag's horns.

12. Duke of Wllington, . Stag's horns. This house is at the bottom of Highgate Hill, towards Finchley, in the angle formed by the intersection of the old road over the hill, and the road through the archway to Holloway. It therefore commands the Highgate entrance into London, and the landlord avails himself of his "eminence" at the foot of the hill, by proffering his "horns" to all who desire to be free of Highgate.

13. Crown, . Stag's horns. This is the first public house in Highgate coming from Holloway.

14. Duke's Head, . . Stag's horns.

15. Cooper's Arms, . . Ram's horns.

16. Rose and Crown, . Stag's horns.

17. Angel, . . . . . Stag's horns.

18. Flask, . . . . . Ram's horns. This old house is now shut up. It is at the top of Highgate Hill, close by the pond, which was formed there by a hermit, who caused gravel to be excavated for the making of the road from Highgate to Islington, through Holloway. Of this labour old Fuller speaks, he calls it a "two-handed charity, providing water on the hill where it was wanting, and cleanliness in the valley which before, especially in winter, was passed with difficulty."

19. Fox and Crown. . . Ram's Horn's. This house, commonly called the "Fox" and the "Fox under the Hill," is nearly at the top of the road from Kentish Town to Highgate, and though not the most remarked perhaps, is certainly the most remarkable house for "swearing on the horns." Guiver, the present landlord, (January 1826) came to the house about Michaelmas 1824, and many called upon him to be sworn in; not having practised he was unqualified to indulge the requisitionists, and very soon finding, that much of the custom of his house depended on the "custom of Highgate," and imagining that he had lost something by his indifference to the usage, he boldly determined to obtain "indemnity for the past, and security for the future." Thereupon he procured habiliments, and an assistant, and he is now an office-bearer as regards the aforesaid "manner" of Highgate, and exercises his faculties so as to dignify the custom. Robed in a domino with a wig and mask, and a book wherein is written the oath, he recites it in this costume as he reads it through a pair of spectacles. The staff with "the horns" is held by an old villager who acts as clerk, and at every full stop, calls aloud, "Amen!" This performance furnishes the representation of the present engraving from a sketch by Mr. George Cruikshank. He has waggishly misrepresented one of the figures, which not being the landlord, who is the most important character, no way affects the general fidelity of the scenes sometimes exhibited in the parlour of the Fox and Crown.[1]

It is not uncommon for females to be "sworn at Highgate." On such occasions the word "daughter" is substituted for "son," and other suitable alterations are made in the formality. Anciently there was a register kept at the gate-house, wherein persons enrolled their names when sworn there, but the book unaccountably disappeared many years ago.—Query. Is it in Mr. Upcott's collection of autographs?

There seems to be little doubt, that the usage first obtained at the Gate-house; where, as well as in other public houses, though not in all, at this time, deputies are employed to swear in. An old inhabitant, who formerly kept a licensed house, says, "In my time nobody came to Highgate in any thing of a carriage, without being called upon to be sworn in. There was so much doing in this way at one period, that I was obliged to hire a man as a 'swearer-in:' I have sworn in from a hundred to a hundred and twenty in a day. Bodies of tailors used to come up here from town, bringing five or six new shopmates with them to be sworn; and I have repeatedly had parties of ladies and gentlemen in private carriages come up purposely to be made free of Highgate in the same way."

Officers of the guards and other regiments repeatedly came to the Gate-house and called for "the horns." Dinner parties were formed there for the purpose of initiating strangers, and as pre-requisite for admission to sundry convivial societies, now no more, the freedom of Highgate was indispensable.

Concerning the origin of this custom, there are two or three stories. One is, that it was devised by a landlord, who had lost his licence, as a means of covering the sale of his liquors; to this there seems no ground of credit.

Another, and a probable account, is, to this effect—That Highgate being the place nearest to London where cattle rested on their way from the north for sale in Smithfield, certain graziers were accustomed to put up at the Gate-house for the night, but as they could not wholly exclude strangers, who like themselves were travelling on their business, they brought an ox to the door, and those who did not choose to kiss its horns, after going through the ceremony described, were not deemed fit members of their society.

It is imagined by some, because it is so stated in a modern book or two as likely, that the horns were adopted to swear this whimsical oath upon, because it was tendered at the parish of Horns-ey, wherein Highgate is situated.

The reader may choose either of these origins; he has before him all that can be known upon the subject.

An anecdote related by Mrs. Southo of the Red Lion and Sun, may, or may not, be illustrative of this custom. She is a native of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, where her father kept the Griffin, and she says, that when any fresh waggoner came to that house with his team, a drinking horn, holding about a pint, fixed on a stand made of four rams' horns, was brought out of the house, and elevated above his head, and he was compelled to pay a gallon of beer, and to drink out of the horn. She never heard how the usage originated; it had been observed, and the stand of rams' horns had been in the house, from time immemorial.


Mean Temperature   . . .   35 . 52.

Notes [all notes are Hone's unless otherwise indicated]:

1. The portly figure with his hand on the horns in Cruikshank's engraving is a representation of Hone himself. [KG] [return]