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Carbuncle For Sale

I was taking a stroll down to Brentford High Road yesterday and noticed that the old cop shop is for sale: it’s been closed for years. A typically charmless 60s commercial building, purpose-built for the boys in blue, it replaced the rather fetching Vestry Hall of 1900. The hall was designed by local architect Nowell Parr, many of whose pretty buildings (mainly Fullers pubs!) still decorate Brentford, Ealing and Chiswick. The old hall could host meetings and talks of over 600 attendees and also housed Brentford County Court. But in 1963, the bulldozers and wrecking-ball moved in. Progress!

I hope to do more on Nowell Parr in the near future. Meantime, enquiries regarding the lovely police station should be directed to Messrs Frank Knight.

 

nowell parr, vestry hall

Weep.

wellington by lawrence

Wellington by Thos. Lawrence

This day in 1852, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, was laid to rest in St Paul’s, having died on 14 September, aged 83. Nearly half a century after Nelson’s ceremony and almost four decades of relative peace across land and sea following Waterloo, Wellington’s state funeral was the most extraordinary street procession that Londoners could remember. It even caused the Lord Mayor’s parade to be cancelled for the only time ever.

Prior to tranquil semi-retirement in Kent, the Iron Duke had become a deeply unpopular politician and Prime Minister. During a period characterised by Reform, Wellington – deeply conservative – set is face against the inexorable tide of popular emancipation. He genuinely felt that the existing settlement could not be further perfected and famously was stoned in his house and in his carriage. Even the equestrian statue of the hero of Waterloo for the Wellington Arch had been laughed at by the public and mocked in the newspapers.

But now all was forgiven and forgotten as over a million lined the route of Wellington’s funeral cortege which ran through the City to St Paul’s. It seemed to extend forever; in its midst was the extraordinary 12 ton, six wheeled funeral car. One can only imagine the racket it made over London’s old cobbles. The car has survived and is at Stratfield-Saye House.

wellington funeral cortege

Duke of Wellington, funeral

Contemporary post card of Duke of Wellington’s funeral car.

To get some idea of the sheer size of this parade, have a look at the British Library’s full-length colour diagram.

Daguereotype, Wellington, 1844

1844 daguerreotype of Wellington

The preparation of St Paul’s took six weeks. Scaffold-borne tiered seating increased its capacity to over 13,000 as the cathedral was festooned in black crepe. The service was delayed by an hour owing to the slow progress of the vast cortege through the streets of London. Eventually, the Duke’s coffin was lowered into the crypt of the cathedral where it remains to this day in a Cornish porphyry sarcophagus.

A most extraordinary eye-witness account of Wellington’s funeral was recorded in 1940. An elderly retired magistrate, Frederick Mead, recalls attending the event as a young boy accompanied by his parents.

Links:
Apsley House
Stratfield-Saye House
St Paul’s
The Victorian Web

finally, Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington. Not Tennyson’s finest hour, I’m thinking!

A guest post by London Historians Member, Laurence Scales

It is said that J.M.W. Turner’s painting was influenced by the work of meteorologist Luke Howard (1772-1864) who, by classifying the clouds into species such as cirrus (fibrous) and cumulus (heaped), drew public attention to their forms.

The formative experience in Howard’s life was perhaps the Laki haze of 1783, result of a substantially greater Icelandic eruption than Eyjafjallajökull which recently grounded Europe’s aircraft. It blanketed much of the northern hemisphere and perturbed the weather for many months, bringing famine and remarkable electrical storms. Being a Quaker was for him no escape route from the dire schooling of the time which consisted mainly of Latin and flogging. He became a pharmacist. At least the Latin would come in useful for naming clouds.

Perhaps to make up for an appalling education, he became a member of a philosophical society, the Askesian, which met in the City at Plough Court. It was here that he read his influential paper ‘On the Modifications of Clouds’ in 1802. Modification meant identifying different modes or states. (He had no delusion of changing the weather.) He was not the first to attempt a classification, but his was the system that stuck. He included in his observations the atmospheric conditions when each type was likely to appear, and how they were likely to transform.

He maintained his interest in meteorology and for years he kept readings of pressure, temperature, rainfall, evaporation and wind direction.  At the end of the Frost Fair of 1814 on the Thames he noted rather delightfully that:

‘We are happy to see the lately perturbed bosom of Father Thames resume its former serenity. The busy oar is now plied with its wonted alacrity, and the sons of Commerce are pursuing their avocations with re doubled energy.’

He died at Bruce Grove, Tottenham, in a house which now stands with a blue plaque, but derelict.

Unlike the great art galleries and sculptural collections it can sometimes seem that the Science Museum is lacking in humanity. But to me the objects in its collection are heavily invested with humanity. One such is Luke Howard’s own recording barometer which can be seen there beside the George III collection.

The text of ‘On the Modifications of Clouds’ is here.

By Laurence Scales, www.laurenceswalks.co.uk @LWalksLondon

A guest post by London Historians Member Richard Tincknell.

What do these two things have in common? Well, the answer is very simple: Wimbledon Theatre.

The Wimbledon Theatre was designed in the Renaissance style by Cecil Massey and Roy Young. With a tower in one corner topped by a dome on top of which stands the Roman goddess Laetitia (goddess of gaiety) standing on top of a globe. The theatre opened under the management of JB Mulholland on Boxing Day 1926 to the Pantomime Jack & Jill. The pantomime tradition would become a regular feature each year and has even been broadcast from here on numerous occasions.

Wimbledon Theatre, 1914

Wimbledon Theatre, 1914. Image: The Theatres Trust.

The theatre was very popular in the inter war period with acts like Gracie Fields, Sybil Thorndike, Ivor Novello and Noel Coward all performing. In 1945 comedy duo Laurel and Hardy performed for one week and Marlene Dietrich had her last ever UK performance here in 1975.

Novello, Coward, Laurel, Hardy, Dietrich.

Novello, Coward, Laurel, Hardy, Dietrich.

The theatre fell into servere financial difficulties around 2003 and was forced to close but through discussions with various local councillors, producers and companies a deal was reached with Ambassador Theatre Group. This is when the name changed to the New Wimbledon Theatre. It has since gone on to host large touring productions.

What is little known though is the secret that lies beneath.

A Victorian style Turkish bath. Unfortunately there is very little written about the baths. Although considering that they could be accessed through the theatre itself via a several doorways off the lobby we can assume that the main use was intended mainly for male theatre workers and actors as there were no female toilet facilities. Also, we do not know whether members of the public were permitted to use these facilities as there was no mention in advertisements or otherwise of it in the local directories. One local paper at the time thought that the opening was very interesting in the way that the heating from the baths could be transferred into the theatre itself.

There are Turkish baths on part of the site occupied by the theatre and as a series of ducts from the hot rooms have been arranged connecting with gratings in the floors and walls of the theatre, so that in the event of the climate playing one of their sudden pranks with which it afflicts us, the temperature can be raised from 40 to 60 degrees in 15 minutes. (Wimbledon and District Gazette 24 Dec 1910)

As Malcolm Shifrin says on his web site www.victorianturkishbath.org (This is a brilliant place to go for those seeking to understand the venue better.): “Contemporary theatregoers must have hoped that the Turkish bath was empty of sweating bathers while the theatre temperature was being raised in this manner.”

When the theatre closed in 1938 the baths stopped too and remained closed when the theatre eventually re-opened after the war. The current usage is as a nightclub with access via the former shops on the Broadway.

joseph bazalgetteJust for a lark. Turns out more difficult that you’d think, for most Elizabethans and early Stuarts had goatees attached, so discounted. As admirers of all things classical, Georgians tended to be clean-shaven. Many Victorians and Edwardians opted to augment their moustaches with enormous beards. No good either, but at least enough of them sported the standalone ‘tache, giving us something to work with at least, and this continued into the 20C, though in general more of a modest brush style. But how about those who draped their upper lip and cheeks with a moustache-mutton chop combo? Allowed, on the grounds that we simply must include one of London’s all-time heroes, Joseph Bazalgette, right.

Now I’m sure you could have found more pre-Victorian mo-men than me (this is just rapid fun), but any chance to give William Dobson a leg-up. He was a wonderful portraitist in Charles I’s circle during the English Civil War, but died drunk and penniless back in London, no one really knows the circumstances.

William Dobson

National Portrait Gallery, London.

How about comparisons and connections?

Gilbert and Sullivan

Gilbert and Sullivan

Harold Macmillan (Con) and Clement Attlee (Lab)

Harold Macmillan (Con) and Clement Attlee (Lab)

Leslie Green - Charles Holden

Leslie Green (1875 – 1908) Charles Holden (1875 – 1960)

Okay, I’ve broken my own rule: Charles Holden has a small goatee. But since these two gentlemen, born in the same year, designed dozens of our Tube stations, they belong together. But look when they died. Green, tragically in his early 30s. Holden’s best work was over 20 years later. Even almost precisely the same age, Green remains ever the Victorian whereas Holden is very much a 20C creature. This is the only known picture of Leslie Green, incidentally. Top ‘tache.

Leslie Ward

Leslie Ward, Illustrator (“Spy”)

Posh caracaturist Leslie Ward drew full length cartoon portraits of the governing classes and high society, mainly for Vanity Fair.

Norman Parkinson

Norman Parkinson

Norman Parkinson, fashion snapper to the rich and famous and purveyor of sausages (remember Porkinson bangers?) wore an extended upturned toothbrush, a quintessentially English ‘tashe for an eccentric English gent.

But out of the literally dozen or so Londoners I inspected over 10 minutes’ intense research, the laurels in the historic London moustache stakes go to Victorian illustrator John Tenniel. Well done, that man: it’s a doozy.

John Tenniel

John Tenniel

Please add to my meagre list in Comments, if you have a mind to.
1) Must sport a standalone moustache
2) Must be a Londoner.

 

 

Dirty Old London by Lee JacksonDirty Old London: the Victorian Fight Against Filth by Lee Jackson.

In 1850, 13 years into Victoria’s reign, London’s population had doubled over the previous 50 years, to over two million people. By the end of her reign in 1901 it had trebled again to over 6 million. The waste products of such an immediate post-industrial popluation explosion – faeces and urine of course (ex-both human and beastly), soot, smoke, grime, mud, food, corpses, general filth – can barely be imagined by the Londoner of today. This new book takes a very decent stab at helping us to do so.

Next time you see some dog shit on the pavement or an overflowing public waste bin or some illegal fly-tipping, count yourself lucky: our eyes and noses have never experienced the assault on the senses as endured by our Victorian ancestors.

In the early 19th Century, the modern world had taken London by surprise; the difficulty was that the metropolis was still run largely by essentially medieval institutions: the vestries. Added to this, local paving boards, local sewer commissions, and dozens of other bodies with position and status and agendas to protect. Localism was such as that your ardent libertarian of today could only dream of. The book describes the gradual transformation from vestrydom to “municipal socialism” by the end of our period. Many of the problems had been solved or alleviated, some had not.

For the “big” problems, the solution was to move the waste out of town: sewage through Bazalgette’s massive bores and pumping stations; corpses to new suburban burial grounds; the livestock market from Smithfield to Islington; and so on. Smog, soot, slums, personal hygiene needed different approaches.

All the solutions described in the book were hard-won and driven by campaigning reformers for which the period is characterised. Most of us have heard of the likes of Edwin Chadwick (who inevitably looms large throughout), Lord Shaftsbury and Octavia Hill; this book casts the spotlight of dozens of others, MPs, doctors, engineers, churchmen and the new (then) Medical Officers of Health, fuelling the rise of statistics. All these individuals and their groups influenced, cajoled, shamed and lobbied Parliament into passing dozens of improving Acts from outlawing the use of climbing boys (chimney sweep helpers) to providing public loos for women.

"Important Meeting of Smoke Makers" from Punch Magazine addressing the Smoke Nuisance Abatement Bill.

“Important Meeting of Smoke Makers” from Punch Magazine addressing the Smoke Nuisance Abatement Bill of 1853.

Some of the well-meaning provisions of these Acts worked or partially worked, others did not. For there were entrenched attitudes and vested interests which were hard to budge. Many felt that poor people weren’t interested in being clean, for example. Damaging too were outdated beliefs dogmatically adhered to, such as miasma theory, a blind alley which took decades to back out of.

The story that Jackson has taken on is complex. He has organised each filth difficulty into its own chapter, some of which have witty titles (e.g. Vile Bodies for corpse disposal). Each, therefore reads as an independent essay in its own right. The author has marshalled his material superbly and written economically but with total authority, so that the academic and the layman will read Filthy Old London with equal pleasure. Yes, pleasure: odd, so you would think, given the subject matter. But there is much humour here and worthy trivia too: did you know that the illuminated signage on the first public toilets in London were not Ladies or Gentlemen, Men or Women, but HALT? Fabulous. But on a more macabre note, I was amazed to learn that parishes would often surreptitiously place the corpse of a poor baby in someone else’s coffin as a free service. Basic humanity in a cruel existence.

There are two sections of images comprising 40 photos, cartoons, illustrations, plans and portraits which are very generously captioned. At the back of the book there are a full 50 pages of Notes, Bibliography and Index. In short, a history book just how I like it.

This much-needed treatment is one of the best London history books I’ve read this year : I recommend it to all social historians and London historians alike and doff my hat to Mr Lee Jackson.

Dirty Old London: the Victorian Fight Against Filth (293pp) by Lee Jackson is published by Yale with a cover price of £20 although available for less (e.g. £13.60 at time of writing).

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Lee Jackson is a writer, author and blogger specialising in Victorian London. He is a frequent tweeter as @victorianlondon.

 

 

A guest post by WW1 aficionado and London Historians Member, James Norwood. 

men of letters, duncan barrettThe 100th anniversary of the Great War, the First World War, the “war to end all wars,” or if you are on Twitter #WW1 has not unexpectedly given rise to a significant increase in publications to mark the event. This is good news for someone who has been studying the global conflict that shaped the twentieth century since he was 6 years of age, and has publically stated that he will attempt to read 100 books on the war during the period 2014-2018.

The new batch of works now appears to go even further than before in terms of questioning long held truisms and reassessing previously lauded histories of the conflict. Even A.J.P. Taylor’s seminal work The First World War (1963) and Alistair Horne’s The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 (1962) have been taken to task in recent times, just as they too in their time helped redress what had until then been pretty much patriotic and propagandist versions of events. What’s more, many of the new works go far beyond general histories to offer fleeting glimpses into, and in many cases, very specific history of areas not covered before. One such work is Men of Letters, the latest book by Londoner Duncan Barrett, subtitled “The Post Office Heroes who fought the Great War”,  it’s somewhat of a departure back in time from his previous WW2-centric efforts The Sugar Girls (2012), and GI Brides (2014), both co-authored with Nuala Calvi.

Not a complete stranger to the topic, having previously edited the memoirs of First World War pacifist saboteur, Ronald Skirth in The Reluctant Tommy (2010), and through his own family association with the Western Front: Barrett’s great-great uncle, Eric Layton, was amongst the many thousands killed at High Wood in September 1916. Layton’s former employer, the Metropolitan Gas Company, later honoured their dead with a special memorial service, just as the Post Office did for year after year until living memories of the events dwindled  and finally passed.

Of course, although men (and women) from all walks of life and all kinds of employment joined in and did their bit, few were able to serve side-by-side with their own colleagues in their very own battalion as did the Post Office Rifles (POR) or to trade their civilian employment for its wartime alternative within the Royal Engineers Postal Section (REPS). And herein lies the incredible potential for a story of this kind.

100 years on from the start of hostilities on the Western Front, few young people today in Britain are even familiar with the term “GPO.” The new normal that is the Internet, email, and instant text messaging has simply replaced the need for the most personal part of the postal service – the letter. And now, following recent privatisation, one of the last great civil institutions of the World (not just the UK) has itself ceased to be. So what? Progress was unkind to Kodak, and Uber cares little for the humble taxi, but in 1914 the Post Office was the world’s largest employer with more than a quarter of a million people on its payroll. This in itself presents an opportunity to tell a story of real interest.

However, if that’s what I expected as I set about the book that was not at all what I got. In fact, following a short prologue, by the end of chapter one we are already on our way to France and the trenches with the POR, and it is their story, the story of the POR that the book is principally about. There is minimal coverage of the REPS and a single, somewhat disjointed chapter, only very remotely linked to the main subject of the POR that tackles the matter of the women back home who were eventually required to fill the void. Once you understand what the book is actually going to be about, which takes a while, then you are able to focus on that and allow yourself to be carried along by Barrett’s highly accessible and easygoing style.

The potential of the subject matter could have provided greater scope for a more encompassing tale beyond the exploits of just the POR as they move from campaign to campaign throughout the war in what is essentially a battalion history presented in a more narrative form. For instance, several recent works on the war that have met with considerable acclaim begin with inordinate preambles on the background to the actual subject that is to be treated.

For example, Mark Thompson’s The White War goes into tedious detail about Italian culture and politics in the years leading up to the War, but it’s ultimately necessary. Christopher Clark’s hugely successful The Sleepwalkers, How Europe Went to War in 1914 goes into almost monotonous analysis of pre-war Serbian history, which was enough to almost make one give up, before it actually picks up the action proper; and Ian Senior’s Home Before The Leaves Fall devotes the first third of the book to analysis of the French and German pre-war plans before we even get to 1914. In all cases these are ultimately justified as the reader now carries an in-depth understanding of why things happened and why they unfolded the way they did, as well as a greater attachment to the subject matter at hand. One can’t help thinking that a more in-depth analysis of the world’s largest employer in the decades and years leading to the war would have helped this work too.

As already noted, Men of Letters is an account of the Post Office Rifles battalion on the Western Front in France and Belgium, told via a quick-paced yet always interesting narrative, interspersed with individual stories and letters reproduced from a number of principal characters whose stories feature throughout. This is not an uncommon storytelling style when it comes to the Great War. For all the stories that will never be known, there are so many personal and group stories that are known, and that have been preserved for posterity, through sterling work by the likes of the Imperial War Museum in London. One of the earliest to forge this method of Great War storytelling was Lyn MacDonald, although it was probably perfected by writers such as Peter Hart and Nigel Steel who through books like Passchendaele, The Sacrificial Ground; Jutland 1916; and Aces Falling, The War Above the Trenches, 1918 have introduced so many to the horror and camaraderie of the First World War through the lives and words of those who were there.

For his part, Barrett chooses in the main to relay the story in his own words based on his meticulous research and relies less on first hand accounts than say Hart or Steel and in many ways this is to be lauded. That said, one never seems to truly feel as close to the real life characters in Men of Letters perhaps because one hears less from the characters themselves. It was only at the very end of the work that I actually felt moved by the narrative, and this is not because the contents are not moving, they are, I just simply didn’t know enough about the central figures or connect with them empathetically. Barrett’s practice of reproducing every name in full, every time makes personal connection harder. For example, by page 263 we still see “Letter from Captain Home Peel to his wife Gwendolen,” when “Home Peel to Gwendolen” might have sufficed. Even the constant refrain “the men from the post office rifles,” leaves the reader on the outside, whereas the odd “the rifles,” or “the posties,” might have helped. It’s perhaps a small and fastidious point but this is a story about a specific group, a Band of Brothers if you will, and so anything to help the reader form a closer bond would I feel have improved the overall effect.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of Barrett’s work is the interspersing of interesting war facts, many of which I’m happy to say were new to me as well. His treatment of how British troops first dealt with the horrors of a gas attack is simply fascinating, and the short piece on the development of the “sharpshooter” or as they later became known – snipers – is simply enthralling. There are so many of these precious little stories within the story – and not all are combat related – that combined make this book not just fascinating but a truly educational read, and I would recommend it on that level alone to both new WW1 readers and long term students alike.

It’s also good to see statements like “The Germans had been doing it since the start of the war,” which time and again shows how the “wicked Hun” were actually for the most part the truly innovative ones during the conflict. The Tank aside, anecdotally treated by Barrett as well, the Allies were slow to learn, although ultimately able to adopt, and if not perfect, then to simply outgun the Germans as the war wore on.

Without wanting to give away too much of the central story itself, one of the more intriguing and in many ways poignant themes that come to light is that amongst the officer class (very few of whom were actually Post Office men) we see the normality of jostling for position and vying for promotion, even from those who loathed the war and the army, with an almost peacetime vigor, and this from men whose life expectancy (at least for new Subalterns) was measured in weeks not months.

For my part, I would have liked to see the employment of an even more intimate approach through a deeper connection with the central characters, and a more thorough work around the Post Office itself during the Great War as a whole. That said, Men of Letters works on a number of levels and very effectively captures the lives of a group of people, men who served in the POR and with a nod to the women who took their place back home.

In what is essentially a fairly short work, Barrett’s use of an easy-going and highly accessible narrative style makes the read eminently worthwhile.
_________________________________________________________

James Norwood, according to his Twitter profile is a (somewhat) opinionated business software industry veteran, enthusiastic public speaker, aspiring historian, and (part-time) cycling junkie. Originally from Birmingham, he still calls Chiswick home even though he has resided in California for the past 15 years. An inaugural member of London Historians, he maintains the unenviable record of having only attended three LH events to-date.

_________________________________________________________

Men of Letters (336pp) by Duncan Barrett is published in paperback by AA  Publishing and is available for £8.99.

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