Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Manchester Square - Joanna Southcott and the Pig-faced Lady

Hertford House in the present day.
A shorter post today as I am recovering from a migraine.
Manchester Square in 1830
Hertford House on the left (now home of the Wallace Collection)

My husband's office is in Manchester Square, London, and I was curious to find out about the people who lived and worked there in the past. Firstly, the most dominant building in Manchester Square is the home of Wallace Collection. Built by the Duke of Manchester (and named accordingly) in 1797 it was bought by the Marquess of Hertford, and renamed Hertford House. The collection boasts many fine art works.

Above - The Princes in the Tower - the Wallace collection.

Above - my favourite painting in the Wallace collection
-my Granny had a much loved biscuit tin with this picture on the lid

A famous inhabitant of Manchester Square was Joanna Southcott. In 1792 she made public her ‘gift of prophecy’ and predicted the French Revolution heralded an apocalypse with Napoleon as her antichrist. Joanna made some of her prophecies public during her lifetime, but others she kept secret. The latter were written down and locked in a sealed box with instructions only to open it at a time of national crisis and in the presence of the 24 Bishops of the Church of England. The whereabouts of this box is disputed, but some say it was opened in 1927 and found to contain a lottery ticket, lacy night-cap and a pistol.

Above - Joanna Southcott
At the age of 64, in 1814, she declared herself pregnant with ‘the Prince of Peace’ and that she would give birth to a messiah, called Shiloh. She implied the child was the result of divine conception by “the power of the Most High” and her offspring would “rule the nations with a rod of iron.” However, it seems likely that Joanna’s swollen belly was actually a huge tumour since no baby was forthcoming and she died at home in Manchester Square in December 1814.
'Spirits at work' - Joanna's conception

1814 was a busy time for the square as it was rumoured another famous resident lived there.
“There is at present a report in London of a woman, with a strangely deformed face, resembling that of a pig, who is possessed of a large fortune…”  The Times 1714
With thanks to Wellcome Images
Apparently many hundreds of people sought out this poor woman, including Lord Kirkcudbright – who being hunchbacked and dwarfish wanted to sympathise with someone equally challenged in looks. However, for whatever reason the pig-faced woman was a hoax, perhaps created by the media to make the point of how easily people were led.
“The pig’s face is as firmly believed in by many, as Joanna Southcott’s pregnancy, to which folly it has succeeded…there is hardly a company in which this swinish female is not talked of, and thousands believe in her existence.”


  1. Sorry about the migraine! I hope you're feeling much better now. I like the biscuit-tin picture, too! Hmm... I wonder what she's thinking. Dreaming up mischief? A story?

    1. Thank you so much for your concern, Barbara - very kind.
      As for the biscuit - just one of those really evocative things, I can hear the creak of the larder door and smell the crumbs at the bottom of the tin...

  2. Love the "cartoon"! Very funny.

    1. Great aren't they. Prints shops and cartoons had such influence back then. Love it.


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