Continued from Part 1
Of more concern to Defoe though were funding difficulties at Greenwich hospital itself. From the very beginning there were cash flow crises as monies promised for the building were not forthcoming. By March 1698 the hospital was £4000 in debt to its workman alone. Defoe had to wait a year to be paid for bricks supplied in 1696 and this came less the deductions made by the treasurer John Evelyn. Defoe didn’t seem to be paid for bricks supplied in 1697 and the following year Defoe didn’t bother to bid for the contract. Despite all the initial fanfare, the new hospital was well behind schedule.
Meanwhile Defoe turned his attention elsewhere in bidding to supply Christ’s Hospital (School) and associated housing near St Paul’s Cathedral. This was another project designed by Christopher Wren. However, presumably due to Defoe’s erratic business style, the negotiations collapsed. All the while Defoe was still being pursued by creditors.
According to Daniel Defoe, the factory at Tilbury gave employment to no less than 100 poor families. Of other staff at brickworks we already know of, were Thomas Castleton the Superintendent who was ordered with Defoe to repair local seawalls. On Castleton’s death in 1698, he was replaced by Paul Whitehurst. Additionally a Dutchman was employed for some of the time to oversee production of the pantiles.
Just to add to all the disputes Defoe was immersed in, Paul Whitehurst (the Tilbury factory superintendent) along with a drink supplier called Chapman later sued Defoe in connection with ‘small and strong drink’ being served to the factory workman (as well as soldiers from nearby Tilbury Fort). Details are sketchy with a suggestion that the ‘strong drink’ was in fact served from Daniel Defoe’s house.
Yet making bricks and tiles and then selling them took up less and less of Daniel Defoe’s time and energy. Not only was he juggling three wives and homes, he also pursued many other interests and was always seeking new ways of making money. He was easily distracted.
Defoe was also increasingly busy with his writing, producing pamphlets and booklets on a variety of subjects. Defoe’s political connections made him well placed to provide ‘expert’ comment on politics, business and law and order, subjects for which the reading public had a growing appetite.
Whilst Defoe was otherwise engaged it was not clear what was happening at the Tilbury factory. Certainly there was a huge demand for bricks in London but whether the Tilbury factory could fulfil any or some of the demand was another matter. Furthermore, Defoe had multiple mortgages on the Tilbury land of which no repayments seem to have been made. By 1703 the factory had run out of orders as suppliers feared they would not be paid.
Defoe’s challenges suddenly came to a head. Although published anonymously, Defoe’s satirical pamphlet, The Shortest Way with Dissenters, caused fury in the establishment, the church and especially with the new monarch, Queen Anne. Defoe was soon identified as the author, arrested, pilloried and then imprisoned, convicted of sedition.
On the 8th November 1703, after six months in Newgate Prison, Daniel Defoe regained his freedom. Whilst the establishment had seen justice done in their eyes, there were still many an angry creditor chasing him and it was necessary for Defoe to go into hiding. Prison and hiding had disastrous consequences for the Tilbury factory and Defoe’s finances.
Despite the best efforts of his brother-in-law, Robert Davies, the Tilbury factory went bankrupt and after nine years the Defoe connection with Tilbury ended. Defoe claimed his incarceration has cost him £3000.
It is difficult to know if any of Daniel Defoe’s Tilbury red bricks are visible today on the Greenwich buildings. Certainly there are no roofing pantiles. The grand project took over 60 years to complete with funding being so erratic. In 1869 the hospital vacated the premises and four years later the site was occupied by the Royal Naval College. They in turn left in 1998 and it is now the home of Greenwich University. King William Court, which houses the Painted Hall which was completed between 1698 and 1707, has many red bricks visible on its exterior construction. However, whether any of these are Daniel Defoe’s Tilbury ‘originals’ is impossible to say without forensic archaeological examination at both Tilbury and Greenwich.
There is another, so far unexplained, Daniel Defoe mystery connected with Greenwich university. In July 2014 the Daniel Defoe student halls of residence opened (image below) next to Greenwich station which is some distance from the main campus. At the time of writing neither the university archivist nor Legal and General, who funded the building, can say why the name Daniel Defoe was chosen.
In 1719 Daniel Defoe published Robinson Crusoe and four years later Moll Flanders and once more Defoe turned his attention to Essex. On 6th August 1722, just north of Colchester, part of Kingswood Heath or Severalls, including the house and farm were leased by the corporation to Daniel Defoe for £120 per annum for a period of 99 years. The house was subsequently rebuilt and later occupied by his daughter Hannah Defoe.
In the meantime Defoe was scheming once more. He teamed up with a John Ward who signed a sub-lease on the Colchester land. Thereafter things got somewhat murky. Defoe suggested to Ward they set up a brick and tile business on the estate. Ward then signed two agreements with Defoe, one of which Defoe could show to his family that all was in order with the other stating that the real purpose was to build another brickworks. Yet John Ward was declared bankrupt within 12 months of the agreement being signed and according to Ward he was left to pay all the bills for the new venture. In the end Ward walked out and left Defoe to settle the outstanding debts. Needless to say the venture collapsed and the assets of the nascent tile works were sold off. The Georgian farmhouse erected by the Defoe family survived into the 21st century and was listed in 2001. Unfortunately a fire severely damaged the building in 2009 and it was deemed irreparable and subsequently demolished.
So what legacy is there of Daniel Defoe in in Essex? There is a in Chadwell-St-Mary a Defoe Parade and a in Colchester a Defoe Crescent. The former Robinson Crusoe pub in Longhouse Road, Chadwell-St-Mary has since been renamed the Chadwell Arms.
Daniel Defoe may have been considered a hopeless business man but there is no doubt he was a talented and prolific writer, having drawn much inspiration from his business dealings. Defoe is credited with publishing over 560 books and pamphlets and being the father of British journalism. Despite this he died in 1731 alone, in debt and pursued by creditors.
Backscheider, Paula, Daniel Defoe, His Life, John Hopkins Press, 1989
Bastien F, Defoe’s Early Life, Palgrave Macmillan 1981
Bingley, Randal, Panorama No 27, Thurrock Local history Society, 1985
Martin John, Beyond Belief, The Real Life of Daniel Defoe, Accent Press, 2006
Merwe, Pieter van der Merwe, A refuge for all, A short history of Greenwich Hospital
National Maritime Museum, 2010
Moore Robert, John, Daniel Defoe, Citizen of the Modern World, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1958
Sutherland, James, Defoe, Methuen & Sons, 1931
West Richard, The life and Strange Adventures of Daniel Defoe, Harper Collins, 1997
Wright, Thomas, The Life of Daniel Defoe, C.J.Farncombe & Sons, 1931
Court of Sewers Order Book ERO. D/SR.1
The Colchester Archaeologist 2011
© Essex Hundred Publications November 2021