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  • Writer's pictureRichard Edmunds

157 Brick Lane

Updated: May 29, 2021

Sandwiched between two rival Beigel shops, a legacy of 19th century Jewish settlement in East London, lies the Georgian façade of 157 Brick Lane.

Since 1987 a succession of hip coffee and donut shops, it still bears the sign of it's previous life as the Jolly Butchers Public House, though its initial incarnation was as the Turkish Slave Pub which operated there for more than a century, from 1752 to 1875.

The original owner, my relative Timothy Le Beau, was a grandson of French Huguenot refugees from Picardy. Born in Bethnal Green in 1723, at the age of twenty-one Tim went to sea, and was one of a crew of 180 men shipwrecked off the coast of Tangier Bay in January 1745. The survivors of the wreck immediately fell into the hands of Moorish slave traders infesting the North African coast. Those who offered resistance were drowned or strangled on the spot, only a lucky few managing to escape and flee.

The unfortunate remainder, Tim and around eighty others, were put in chains, stripped of their clothes, whipped and forcibly marched over two hundred miles into the African interior, to be sold to the Emperor of Fez and Morocco, Moulay Abdullah. His huge personal retinue of slaves included a harem of more than five hundred concubines by which he fathered a great many children. He was himself the grandson of an enslaved African female, and one of an eyewatering 1,171 children confirmed born to his predecessor, Moulay Ismail, the most prolific father in recorded human history.

Timothy spent the next six years in Africa as a slave, kept chained in dungeons twenty feet undergound at night and at day put to work building the historic Dar Dbibegh Kasbah, the fortified palace of the emperor.

The emperor was briefly dethroned by one of his many brothers in 1747, and in the aftermath of the revolt, Timothy and his fellow slaves were forced to witness the mass execution of 335 of the rebels, which he later described as the worse experience he endured during this time.

Moulay Ismail, slaves being driven into the African interior, and the Dar Dbibegh Kasbah.

Execution of the 335 rebels of 1747, which Timothy Le Beau was forced to witness.

Initially there was little concern for the men back in England, their fate was not uncommon, up to two thousand Brits were kidnapped and sold into slavery by North African pirates annually, villages in Southern England, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, being particularly heavily targeted by slave raids in the past. Famous contemporary accounts include a mention in the diary of Samuel Pepys of a slave raid on the coastal village of Baltimore, Ireland, where the entire populace of the settlement was taken off in chains and never seen again.

By the time this arm of the global slave trade was stamped out in the 1830s, over the course of three centuries, an estimated 1.25 million Europeans had been kidnapped and sold into slavery in Africa, in just the busy slave markets of Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli alone. Abu al-Qasim al-Zayyani (1735-1833), a contemporary Moroccan historian, reported that Moulay Abdullah already held more than 25,000 European slaves when Timothy Le Beau and his shipmates were captured and added to their number.

However, from 1748, a campaign to free them, founded by their relatives and friends, attempted to shame polite society into action, placing adverts for this purpose in The Gentleman's Magazine. The campaign slowly gathered momentum, and eventually bore fruit, when, following negotiations with the British Ambassador, William Latton, the Emperor agreed to accept a ransom of 375 Crowns per man, about twenty thousand pounds each in modern terms, the equivalent of a million pound bounty for their liberty.

December 1750 report of Latton's mission to free the men.

This sum, mostly raised by charitable donations from city trade guilds, did not include the freedom of twenty one of the original captives who had since converted to Islam to improve their conditions. One of these, Thomas Mears, was encountered by an English diplomat some forty years on, still alive, holding high office in the Sultan’s service in Marrakesh.

On their release and eventual return to England in 1751, the freed men were summoned to give a full account of their time in captivity to the Secretary of State, the Duke of Bedford, who in turn reported the details to the King, Prince of Wales and other members of the Royal Family. Moved by their story the King ordered each man to report to the treasury and be paid five pounds each from the Royal Bounty.

1751 newspaper reports of the men's return to England and the King's gift from the Royal Bounty Fund.

The men found themselves briefly at the centre of a media sensation, so few having returned from slavery in Africa having lived to tell the tale.

To follow the King's example and further support the men financially, that summer a lavish benefit concert was organised for them by John Rich at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, where George Frideric Handel was the resident composer, and another followed at Thomas Rosoman's rival Sadler's Wells Theatre in Finsbury.

John Rich (1692-1761) influential director, theatre manager and founder of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden.

Timothy and fellow London captive, Thomas Troughton, capitalised further by writing and publishing a book on their experiences, Barbarian Cruelty, and it was with his share of the profits, that Timothy opened the Turkish Slave pub at 157 Brick Lane.

Timothy Le Beau describing himself at the Old Bailey as a public house keeper, of Brick Lane, Bethnal Green, after he was the vicitim of the theft of a silver tankerd in 1757.

Timothy's first wife had died whilst he was in captivity, but he remarried twice and had fathered five children by the mid-1760s, by which time he had leased the day to day running of the pub to another Huguenot, Charles Bishard, and was operating as a master gauze weaver in the Spitalfields silk industry, taking on apprentices.

In old age, as the weaving industry declined, he appears to have fallen on hard times. In the 1770s his mother died in poverty in La Providence, the French Hospital of London. In 1787 he travelled to Exeter to convince a publisher to reissue the book to raise funds in his benefit, at which time he described himself as working as a nightwatchman on Broad Street, in the city of London.

Original 1751 edition of Timothy Lebeau and Thomas Troughton's book.

Front pieces of the 1787 Exeter edition republished by Timothy, and a further edition republished in London in 1809, two decades after his death, where both the title and his forename has been changed, perhaps to evade paying royalties to his heirs.

Timothy died soon after and was buried close to Brick Lane, at Christchurch, Spitalfields, where he was interred alongside his relation, Stephen Mourgue, my 7x great grandfather. Stephen had also experienced slavery, spending a year as a Galley Slave in France. Tim had worked on building galleys for Moulay Abdullah's slaves, and described this as a worse fate than he had endured in Africa, the Galley slaves being permanently chained to their place of work morning, day and night, without sunlight, rarely surviving longer than two years in such hellish conditions.

Tim’s story lived on in the capital in the pub that's name still bore witness to his extraordinary experiences. It remained a hub of the Huguenot community of Spitalfields in the decades following his death, operating as a meeting place for the Society of Walloon and Picards.

The Turkish Slave named as the meeting place of the Society of Picards and Walloons in 1799.

His name also lived on with his grandson Timothy Edmund Le Beau, who became an important photographic pioneer, opening the first photo studio in East London, on the Hackney Road, Bethnal Green, in February 1846.

Awarded a medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851, he was only the second person in England granted a license for commercial use of the daguerreotype process, recently discovered in 1839 by the inventor of modern photography, Frenchman Louis Daguerre.

Timothy Edmund Le Beau's 1843 marriage describing him as a resident of 33 Sclater Street, Brick Lane, just yards from his late grandfather's pub, the Turkish Slave.

Originally an oil and colours man, selling painting materials to artists, Timothy also exhibited his photographic work in Paris in 1855, and was himself responsible for an important technological breakthrough, being the first man to use lime bromide as an accelerator in the dageurrotype process, which soon became the industry standard.

Only four examples of his early photographic work 1846-1852 are known to survive. These include a portrait of a leading anti-slavery campaigner and several African items held in the collection of 18th century anatomist John Hunter, perhaps showing a continued interest in his own family history and his grandfather’s time spent in Africa as a slave.

Recently discovered in 2018, a hand-coloured Timothy Le Beau daguerreotype, circa 1846-52, of George Stacey (1787–1857) of Tottenham, a leading English Quaker, with second wife Mary. Stacey was a founding member of the Anti-Slavery Society committed to the extinction of slavery worldwide. He spoke at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, also attended by his daughter, Rachel Stacey, secretary of the London Ladies' Negro Friend Society.

Early Timothy Le Beau daguerreotype held in the National Museum of Scotland Collection, showing African exhibits in the anatomy and pathology collection of surgeon and anatomist John Hunter (1728-1793), at the Royal College of Surgeons, Lincoln's Inn Fields, Holborn.

Daguerreotypes of a woman and child, dating to 1848-1852, whilst Timothy Le Beau operated out of premises close to Brick Lane, at 8 London Terrace, Hackney Road, Bethnal Green.

Early photograph of the Crystal Palace, location of the Great Exhibition of 1851, where East London's first photographer, Timothy Edmund Le Beau won a medal for his pioneering work.

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