Feeds:
Posts
Comments

London A Travel Guide Through Time, Matthew GreenThis is the first book by Dr Matthew Green, an academic historian who has turned his hand to popularising London history through his speaking engagements and immersive guided tours of the City and Westminster. Given the idea behind this book, it’s notable that Green in person has something of a Tom Baker mien, in appearance at least.

We visit London at six different years in history and in the tradition of time travel genres they are chronologically random:
1603: A Whirlwind Tour of Shakespearean London
1390: A Descent into Medieval London
1665: A Mournful Walk through Plague-struck London
1884: Depravity and Wonder on a Tour of Joseph Merrick’s London
1957: London Rising – A Tour of the Blitzed City
1716: Four Days in Dudley Ryder’s London

This works rather well. You’ll notice a cluster of three between 1603 and 1716, so this work is a draw for Early-Modern aficionados in particular. The remaining three years are deftly chosen. Fans of the “long 18th Century” may be disappointed, but they needn’t be: there are compensations aplenty in this brilliantly-observed work.

Green starts each chapter by plonking you in a very specific location – richly described – in the London of the year featured. You then visit various parts of the metropolis by both day and night, usually on foot though a sedan-chair journey is nicely described in 1716. Not just a comic book staple, this was a viable, quick and much-used method of getting around town, by the wealthy at any rate.

Though the book is quite long at 450 chapter pages of around 75 pages each, the author ladles in plenty.

In flavour, A Travel Guide is simultaneously engaging, breezy, scholarly and yet solemn in the obvious places such as the plague year of 1665 or where describing the crushing brutality of the penal system from Newgate Prison to Old Bailey to Tyburn in 1716.

The author guides you the time-traveller to contemporary phenomena worthy of note. And like a skilled guide or conversationalist he succeeds in making them genuinely interesting. As a former addict, I enjoyed reading about tobacco in 1603: even at that early date it had London in its thrall and yes, from the off we knew of the health hazards. Hawking and jousting in 1390. In the grim plague year of 1665 we examine The Royal Society; Pepys and Hackney; dog massacres; the emergence of coffee and chocolate. Late Victorian 1884 takes us “slumming”, a preoccupation of the well-to-do, and introduces us to the era’s take on pornography – quite the opposite of the period’s self image.

The passage I enjoyed most of all – perhaps surprisingly – was the most recent: 1957. Brutalist housing estates, the Chelsea Set, Bohemian Soho, and the slow-fading scars of the Blitz still all too apparent.  In particular it’s delightful fun to track the rising star of working-class Mary Quant and her irresponsibly louche side-kick Alexander ‘Plunket’ Green, along with their wider set of bohemian bon-viveurs, anticipating as they did the Swinging Sixties. Throughout the book, in fact, we meet a wonderful set of characters, old favourites (and several new ones) the mad, bad Earl of Rochester (1665); Charles Jamrach, petshop owner (1884); William Dugdale and Henry Ashbee, pornographers (1884); General Monck in his less well-known role and plague tzar (1665); and many, many more.

There are almost 50 pages of Notes and Further Reading at the end of the book which are as engaging as the rest of the work and readable in their own right. One is reminded of the end notes in George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman novels.

This is a wonderful debut and goes straight in our shortlist for Book of the Year for 2015. It is also our book prize for this month (Members only).

London: A Travel Guide Through Time (512pp) by Dr Matthew Green is published by Penguin. Cover price is £12.99 but it is available for a bit less.

Portrait of Christina Livingston made three days before her marriage to Albert Edmund Broom  © Museum of London

Portrait of Christina Livingston made three days before her marriage to Albert Edmund Broom © Museum of London

Christina Broom (née Livingston, 1862 – 1939) was a lone female London photographer of the Edwardian age and during World War One. Her achievements are all the more remarkable considering her small physical stature and the floor length dresses and elaborate hats she was obliged to wear at that time while lugging around cumbersome photographic equipment. Broom made a living out of postcards and also selling news images to the press. Lord Roberts and Queen Mary were among her great admirers, which helped to gain her often exclusive access to places like the Royal Mews and Wellington Barracks where she enjoyed carte blanche to shoot at will. The result was hundreds images of London’s streets and people during the early decades of the 20th Century.

In 2014 the Museum of London acquired a huge collection of Broom’s work which – along with objects lent by the Her Majesty and others – form the basis of Museum of London Docklands’s main show for this year: Soldiers and Suffragettes: the Photography of Christina Broom. Curated by Anna Sparham, it opens today, 19 June and runs until 1 November. Entrance is free.

The content of this exhibition falls into four areas: soldiers and suffragettes, as the title tells us; and then there are the post cards and sports images, largely the Boat Race. From the historian’s viewpoint, the postcards tell us much about streets, vehicles, costume and architecture. If, like me, you are deeply interested in Edwardian London, this is milk and honey. But the emotional appeal of this show resides with the suffragettes of the pre-War era and the soldiers of World War 1. For the time, these photos are incredibly informal and relaxed. One senses a clear bond of trust between the subjects and photographer. This removes from them the anger, fear and bitterness that one is inclined automatically to associate with war and with protest, delivering a massively poignant and nostalgic effect. It’s very moving indeed, making us appreciate all the more the achievements and sacrifices of our ancestors from not so long ago.

3rd Grenadier Guards, at either Richmond Camp or Pirbright, 1917-18 © Museum of London

3rd Grenadier Guards, at either Richmond Camp or Pirbright, 1917-18 © Museum of London

The Prisoners’ Pageant, including key members of the WSPU Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Sylvia Pankhurst and Emily Wilding Davison, themselves former prisoners, 23 July 1910 © Museum of London

The Prisoners’ Pageant, including key members of the WSPU Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Sylvia Pankhurst and Emily Wilding Davison, themselves former prisoners, 23 July 1910 © Museum of London.

The Oxford rowing team at the University boat race, with photographer Alexander Korda at the water’s edge, Putney, 1911 © Museum of London

The Oxford rowing team at the University boat race, with photographer Alexander Korda at the water’s edge, Putney, 1911 © Museum of London

In addition to these workaday pictures – her best – there are also interesting historical subjects: royal and aristocratic portraiture, funerals, coronations and the like. Special mention must go to Christina’s daughter Winnie who did all the film processing and printing, a very specialist job indeed back then. There are on show some of her notebooks of chemical formulae and so on. Winnie’s lab was based in the coal cellar of their Fulham home and she was known to produce over 1,000 prints of an evening while Christina went out for a well-earned game of whist.

This is a superb exhibition which I am sure will help to build Christina Broom’s reputation as a Great in the history of photography, masterful at her craft, dedicated to it and a wonderful talent.

Last photograph of Christina Broom, fishing in Margate, just before she died, 1939 © Museum of London

Last photograph of Christina Broom, fishing in Margate, just before she died, 1939 © Museum of London

Brixton Outing

LH Member Caroline Derry reports on our outing to two great Brixton institutions on Friday 12 June: HMP Brixton (1820) and Brixton Windmill (1816).

DSC08999cOur Brixton visit included two buildings a short walk apart, both built at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and both still used for their original purpose – but very different!

The morning was spent inside HMP Brixton, which opened in 1819 as Surrey House of Correction. Initially innovative, it became overcrowded and conditions worsened to the point that drastic changes had to be made. It became a women’s prison, then a military prison, a remand prison, and most recently, a men’s Category C prison.

Despite the changes and expansions over the centuries, parts of the original House of Correction survive. These include an external wall – which soon had to be heightened because prisoners were climbing over it to escape; and the governor’s house, which is of an unusual octagonal shape, a reminder that this was a very early panopticon-inspired gaol. The governor’s view included the prison treadmills, the first in the capital. Later survivals include the prison chapel, built in the 1850s when Brixton became a women’s prison. Today it is multi-faith, and was being set up for Muslim prayers during our visit.

As a Category C and D prison, Brixton houses men whose sentences are within a year of ending. Vocational training is prioritised, and our visit was accompanied by the delicious smells of the Bad Boys Bakery (set up for a Channel 4 documentary with Gordon Ramsay, but still going strong). Finally, a delicious three-course lunch was enjoyed in the Clink Restaurant, which is also staffed by prisoners. We are grateful to our excellent guide Christopher Impey, fellow London Historian and the author of London’s Oldest Prison .

HMP Brixton is on Jebb Avenue. Jacob Jebb was a long-serving and enlightened governor of the prison in the mid-19C.

HMP Brixton is on Jebb Avenue. Jacob Jebb was a long-serving and enlightened governor of the prison in the mid-19C.

After a morning in spaces from which the public are usually carefully excluded, a quick stroll took us to Brixton Windmill, which positively welcomes visitors. It opens regularly during the summer, although we were fortunate enough to have the mill – and tea and cakes – to ourselves. In the company of volunteer guides we climbed to the top of the building, which celebrates its bicentenary next year.

Like the prison, the mill has seen significant changes in its long life. The Ashby family operated it as a windmill until 1864, when Brixton’s transformation from agricultural area to city suburb meant the all-important winds weren’t reaching it. The Ashbys moved to a watermill, but kept their Brixton site for storage. In 1902, though, it resumed milling once more – with steam-powered machinery. The mill finally closed in 1934, but was first restored in the 1960s. A more recent restoration in 2010 allowed the mill to open for tours, and it has even started milling flour once more!

Brixton Windmill

Brixton Windmill

Brixton Windmill

Brixton Windmill

 

Brixton Windmill

Brixton Windmill

 

DSC08924cToday I remembered to attend one of the City of London’s more obscure ceremonies, the delightful celebration of the Knollys Rose (pron. Knowles). It has its origins in the 14th Century when the wife of a City worthy Sir Robert Knollys built a footbridge over Seething Lane, near their home. Without permission. Thanks to Sir Robert’s esteem (he was a chum of John of Gaunt), the punishment against the Knollys family was to donate a rose from their garden to the City of London every year henceforth, to be presented to the Lord Mayor’s home, today in Mansion House, of course. The Lord Mayor in the year of this outrage – 1381 – was Sir William Walworth a name possibly familiar to some readers. Yes, it was he who slew Wat Tyler that same year in Smithfield in the presence of the boy-king Richard II. There is a statue in his honour on Holborn Viaduct.

The Knollys Rose Ceremony involves the plucking of a rose from a garden in Seething Lane, placing it on a fancy cushion and then taking it in procession from the ancient and wonderful All Hallows by the Tower to Mansion House, by way of Seething Lane and Lombard Street. Leading the ceremony is always the Master of the Worshipful Company of Watermen and Lightermen, currently Jeremy Randall.

Rev Bertrand Olivier and Master Jeremy   with this year's Knollys Rose.

Rev Bertrand Olivier and Master Jeremy Randall with this year’s Knollys Rose.

All Hallows's garden. We're on our way.

All Hallows’s garden. We’re on our way.

But this year there was a twist, a very nice one. Owing to construction work in the Seething Lane rose garden, the garden behind All Hallows had to be used instead, with the kind permission of vicar Bertrand Olivier. But what about the rose? This year it was specially supplied by Talbot House on the occasion of their centenary. Talbot House was founded in 1915 on the Western Front as a haven for soldiers travelling to and from the battlefield. The man responsible: the legendary Tubby Clayton, vicar of All Hallows from 1922 to 1962. In that time he saw his church firebombed in the Blitz virtually to oblivion then restored completely. I can’t begin to describe to you what a lovely and historic church it is. But a while ago I gave it a try.

Where it all kicked off: Seething Lane.

Where it all kicked off: Seething Lane.

Nearly there. Through Lombard Street. St Mary Woolnoth behind.

Nearly there. Through Lombard Street. St Mary Woolnoth behind.

John Dryden, poetA guest post by LH Member, Ursula Jeffries.

I happened upon this description by Dryden of London on the day of a naval battle which eventually led to the Treaty of Breda in 1667. Something of a surprise appearing as it does at the start of his ‘Essay of Dramatic Poesy‘ but I thought you might like his description of how it felt in a time before news media!

It was that memorable day, in the first summer of the late war, when our navy engaged the Dutch: a day wherein the two most mighty and best appointed fleets which any age had ever seen disputed the command of the greater half of the globe, the commerce of nations, and the riches of the universe…the noise of the cannon from both navies reached our ears about the City; so that all men being alarmed with it, and in dreadful suspense of the event which we knew was then deciding, every one went following the sound as his fancy led him; and leaving the town almost empty, some took towards the park, some cross the river, others down it; all seeking the noise in the depth of silence.

He describes a group of friends taking a barge and then “they made haste to shoot the bridge, and left behind them that great fall of waters which hindered them from hearing what they desired: after which, having disengaged themselves from many vessels which rode at anchor in the Thames, and almost blocked up the passage towards Greenwich, they ordered the watermen to let fall their oars more gently; and then, everyone favouring his own curiosity with a strict silence, it was not long ere they perceived the air break about them like the noise of distant thunder, or or swallows in a chimney: those little undulations of sound, athough almost vanishing before they reached them, yet still seeming to retain somewhat of their first horror which they had betwixt the fleets.”

The friends pass the time as they return home discussing poetry inspired by the thought of all the terrible verses likely to be written by “those eternal rhymers, who watch a battle with more diligence than the ravens and birds of prey”. They get back to Somerset Stairs where they disembark: “The company were all sorry to separate so soon, though a great part of the evening was already spent; and stood a while looking back at the water, which the moon-beams played upon, and made it appear like floating quick-silver…”

Earthquake

A few days ago the good people of Kent experienced an earthquake which measured 4.2 on the Richter scale. This follows a quake of very similar magnitude not long previously, in 2007.

Of course these are as nothing compared with the recent monster in Nepal and other quake-vulnerable spots around the world.

The epicentres of “our” disturbances tend to be in the Channel or Kent. But in past times there have been ones centred here in London.

21 May 1382.
A strong tremor rocked London at about 2 in the afternoon during a church Synod at Blackheath which had been convened to pass judgement of 24 Articles of John Wycliffe’s teachings. It naturally became known as the Earthquake Synod. It was presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtnay. A learned man, Courtnay  –  following Aristotle – explained to the terrified delegates that it was simply the Earth naturally expelling noxious fumes. Wycliffe’s followers, the Lollards, on the contrary interpreted the quake as God’s anger at the Synod. This earthquake caused sufficient turbulence in the Thames to capsize boats and quite severely damage St Paul’s.

1750.
Better known than the medieval quake were two which struck a month apart in 1750. We are, after all, now in the age of the printed word, and in abundance: Gentleman’s Magazine had much to say, for example. At about midday on 8 February. It was very localised in the City. There were reports of a chimney collapsing and the usual chattering crockery, but with no injuries reported it was clearly a minor, albeit alarming affair.
Exactly a month later on 8 March, a more powerful tremor struck the city in the small hours. There was much actual damage to buildings, crockery, furniture. Dogs howled and folks sprinted into the streets in various states of undress. The bishop of London insisted that divine retribution was at hand on account of London’s wicked ways.
Exactly another month later, many superstitious and gullible Londoners, headed out of town. Just to be sure.

LH Member, the Georgian Gentleman, has a great write-up of the 1750 quake.
Other good coverage of this quake here.

 

 

How doth the Banking Busy Bee,
Improve his shining Hours?
By studying on Bank Holidays,
Strange insects and Wild Flowers!

sir john lubbock bt.So wrote Punch magazine in 1882 about the man who more than anyone gave us that strangely and quintessentially British-named institution: the bank holiday. Londoner Sir John Lubbock Bt. (1834 – 1913) was the archetypal Victorian man of affairs. A successful banker, an MP, a philanthropist, a keen amateur scientist. Lubbock was the primary sponsor of the Bank Holidays Act 1871, which introduced four bank holidays under Law: Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day. These have been added to or changed under subsequent Acts, the most recent being 1971. Because some of the Bank Holidays can fall on the weekend, the dates have to be fixed each year by Royal proclamation.

Christmas Day and Good Friday were already holidays under the Common Law and therefore are not official Bank Holidays.

But why bank holidays? Until 1871 – led by the Bank of England – most banks gave their staff the day off on selected saints’ days. Sir John Lubbock felt it would be rather nice if this boon in some small measure was spread to the wider national workforce. No person is obliged to pay any debt or transact any business on days such designated.

Three cheers for Sir John!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 724 other followers