Grub Street News by John Jones

Acres is made by Sheridan to say, "The best terms will grow obsolete." This, every day's experience proves to be true. "What a shocking bad hat!" "There he goes with his eye out!" and "Flare up!" were doomed to make way for "Who are you?"—as "All round my hat," with the public street vocalists, has been superseded by "Jump, Jim Crow."

But it may be remarked that popular phrases founded on a well-known fact have had a longer duration than those which cannot be proved to have any such origin.

The cry of "Nosey!" at the theatres, when it was wished that the music should play up, which arose about a century ago in honour of Mr. Cervetto, whose nasal promontory used to adorn the Drury-lane orchestra, survived till a very late period, and indeed has hardly yet fallen into desuetude; and "Grub-street news" is still spoken of by our elder quidnuncs, though probably they would be puzzled to tell, not the meaning of the sentence, but how those words came to convey the meaning they embody.

It has been said that they took their rise from the circumstance of a set of needy scribblers having established themselves in Grub-street, a mean narrow passage leading from Chiswell-street to Fore-street, now dignified with the name of Milton-street, and thence sending forth fabricated intelligence. This may be true; but still there was a founder of this hopeful colony, whose name has not been preserved. It is intended in this paper to fill up the hiatus in history which has so long been deplored. George Iland appears to have been the man.

In the early part of the reign of Charles the Second, some very bold inventions were hazarded, and given to the world duly attested, with as good a set of signatures appended as Morison's pills can command now. They somehow attracted the notice of those in authority, and one of the marvellous narratives launched in the year 1661 was thought worthy to be made the subject of an official investigation. Some curiosity will be felt to know what sort of a narrative it could be that received this singular honour. A verbatim copy is therefore subjoined. The original filled six pages, and was adorned with a grotesque engraving, which it is hardly worth while to transcribe. The title-page ran thus:


That happened at Hereford on Tuesday last, being the first of this present October 1661,


A Church-Steeple and many gallant Houses were thrown down to the ground, and several of the Inhabitants slain; with the terrible Thunder-claps and violent Storm of great Hail-stones that then fell, which were about the bigness of an Egge, many Cattle being thereby utterly destroyed as they were feeding in the Field.


The prodigious and wonderful Apparitions that was seen in the Air, to the great amazement of all Spectators, who beheld two perfect Armes and Hands: In the Right-Hand being graspt a great broad Sword, and in the Left, a Bowl full of Blood, from whence they heard a most strange and loud Voice, to the wonderful astonishing of all present, the fright whereof causing divers Women to fall in Travel, amongst whom the Clerk's Wife, named Margaret Pelmore, fell in labour and brought forth three Male-Children, who had all Teeth, and spake as soon as they were born, and presently after gave up the Ghost and died together; the like having never been known before in any Age!

"The Truth hereof is witnessed by
Francis Smalman, and Henry Cross, Churchwardens.
Peter Philpot, Constable.
Nicholas Finch, Gent.
James Tulley, Gent.
George Cox,
Robert Morris,
Thomas Welford, &c.
"London, Printed for J.J. 1661."

"True and perfect Relation of the terrible Earth-quake, great Claps of Thunder, and mighty Hail-stones, which hapned at Hereford, on Tuesday last, the first of this present October, &c.

"Before I mention any further concerning this strange and sudden Accident, which hath so lately befaln at Hereford, and that this Real and Authentique Truth may not seem doubtful, I shall put the Reader hereof in minde to take notice and remember the several Disasters that hath befaln, not long since, in and about London, which I need not here to declare, yet none so wonderful or worthy of observation as this; but let it not seem strange, for we know, and often read, that the Lord doth sometimes manifest his will unto the World in Wonders and Signes, thereby in some part to shew his Omnipotency, and let them know that he is still the Almighty God, and that he sees and knows all our ways, how slight soever we make thereof. Then how can we praise him sufficiently, when we hear of this strange Disaster that did so lately befal at Hereford, in that he was pleased to keep the like from us here in London, we being as sinful as any? But he that is all Mighty and all Powerful, is also all Goodness and all Merciful, whereon depends the best hopes of all good Christians.

"And now to descend to the subject I was before speaking of, which was of the violent Tempest, and terrible Earth-quake, &c. that hapned at Hereford, be pleased to observe the true Relation thereof, which is thus:

"On Tuesday last, being the first of this present October 1661, about 2 of the clock after Noon, there hapned a great and violent storm to arise, to the amazing and astonishing of all the inhabitants. The first beginning was with a most terrible Winde, which continued for the space of 2 hours, with such vehemency, that it forced the Tiles off the Houses, insomuch that none durst come out at their doors; in the midst of which storm was blown down the Steeple of a Church, and many brave Houses, the falling whereof hath killed some persons, but what they are, or whom, we yet know not.

"Then the Air began to be darkned, but, suddenly clearing again, the people began to look abroad; and so continuing for a while, all assuredly thought the storm to be over: but contrary to their hopes, about 6 or 7 of the clock in the evening, their ears were solicited with unwonted Claps of Thunder; and, more to augment their fear, presently fell such Hail-stones, that the like was never seen in any Age before, each Hail-stone being about the bigness of an Egge, which several gentlemen of quality affirm, here present in London, who certifie that they destroyed the Cattle in the Field, and did much other harm.

"Then followed a terrible and fearful Earth-quake, which continued almost for the space of half an hour, which so amazed the inhabitants, that they thought the last Day had been come; and immediately appeared a great brightness, as if it had been Noon-day, but was presently overcast with a Black Cloud, out of which appeared a perfect Armes and Hands; in the right-hand was grasped a great broad Sword, and in the left a Cup, or Boul, as they conceived, full of Blood.

"Having glutted their eyes with amazement, and filled their hearts with great fear, with beholding these prodigious Apparitions, more to astonish both them and us, appeared to their eyes a piece of Corn, ground, ready to mow, and a Sythe lying by, from whence they heard a most strange and loud voice, which said, 'Woe, woe to thee, and to the inhabitants thereof, for he cometh that is to come, and ye shall all see him!'

"At the conclusion of these words, the people made a grievous cry, as indeed they might, and many Women that were with Child, through extream fear, fel in travel; but none so wonderful to be taken notice of, as Mrs. Margaret Pelmore, the Clerk's Wife of the Town, who, for the space of twenty Weeks, wanting her bodily health, had sought for cure of the Doctors: This Margaret Pelmore at that very instant fell in travel, being exceedingly affrighted, and brought forth 3 Male Children, who had all teeth, and spake as soon as they were born. The first said, 'The Day is appointed which no Man can shun.' The second demanded, 'Where would be found sufficient alive to bury the Dead?' And the third said, 'Where will there be Corn enough to satisfie the hungry and needy?'

"As soon as they had spoken these words, they all immediately gave up the Ghost and died, to the great astonishing and amazement of all present; and the Mother of the said Children doth at this moment lie Distracted, and raging in such extream manner, that none can tell, as yet, whether she will live or die!

"The truth whereof is witnessed by
Francis Smalman,
Henry Cross, Churchwardens.
Peter Philpot, Constable.
Nicholas Finch.
James Tulley,
George Cox,
John Groom,
Robert Maurice,
Thomas Welford,
And divers others.

Such was the experiment then made on public credulity. The inquiry which has been mentioned is proved to have taken place by a paper found some years ago in the State Paper Office, attached to the pamphlet itself, which was marked, "Examina[~c]on of Jo. Jones," and dated "20th 8ber, 1661." The examination is reported as follows:

"This Examinate saith that he had a share in the printing of the booke of an Earth quake at Hereford, but did not Print it; and that it was printed in Mr. Alsop's house in grub streete where one Geo. Iland, who brought the coppy, liveth.

"John Jones."