200_Portrait of Samuel Pepys, Attributed to John Riley, c.1680, The Clothworkers Company

Pepys, Attr to John Riley, c.1680, © The Clothworkers Company

Can any Londoner have led a more interesting life than Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)? Violence, tragedy, pain and enlightenment. He experienced all in good measure and at very close quarters.

Pepys wrote what became a famous diary, he buried his cheese during the Great Fire and he canoodled with the maid. That is what most people know about this man. He was by no means great in the way Wellington, Nelson were great. Or hugely talented like Shakespeare, Hogarth and Wren. Or a great brain box like Newton. But he was an important and influential figure in his day, he mixed with the best, had the ear of kings, was a more than competent administrator. And from our point of view, he was a Londoner of great note. Literally.

A new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum – Plague, Fire and Revolution – celebrates the life of Samuel Pepys. But it is as much about his times as it is about the man himself. But what times they were!

The English Civil War; The regicide of Charles I; The Great Plague; The Great Fire of London; The re-building of London; The wars with the Dutch; The Glorious Revolution. Pepys directly influenced some: he was touched by them all.

Painting of the Fire of London, 1666. Artist unknown. © National Maritime Museum

Painting of the Fire of London, 1666. Artist unknown. © National Maritime Museum

These momentous events are here represented and celebrated. Portraits, panoramas, print, costume, pottery, armour and personal objects all combine to give you a strong sense of Pepys’s world, that is to say the world of the 17th century ruling class in London. The people Pepys rubbed shoulders with were kings and princes, scientists and admirals. Never has there been such a concentration of eminence, ambition and talent. But it wasn’t all blood, guts and distaster. The emergence of London as a world city. The era was characterised by the emergence of international trade and modern scientific discovery. Exotic consumer goods – tea, tobacco, coffee. All of these things are represented in this show which to sum up in a word: lavish.

Wedding outfit of James II. © Victoria and Albert Museum

Wedding outfit of James II. © Victoria and Albert Museum

Memoirs relating to the state of the Royal Navy of England for ten years determined December 1688 by Samuel Pepys © The National Maritime Museum.

Memoirs relating to the state of the Royal Navy of England for ten years determined December 1688 by Samuel Pepys © National Maritime Museum.

Pepys's tobacco box. © The Clothworkers Company.

Pepys’s tobacco box. © The Clothworkers Company.

Chinese teapot, mid 17C. © The Burghley House Collection.

Chinese teapot, mid 17C. © The Burghley House Collection.

The curators have gathered together a group of objects from their own archives and combined them with material from the Royal Collection, Museum of London, livery companies and elsewhere to serve up a true feast. A very accessible, informative and enjoyable show.


Samuel Pepys – Plague, Fire and Revolution at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich runs until 28 March 2016. Adult entry is £12. Free for Friends, half price for Art Fund members.

Panorama of the Thames

panoramaSamuel Leigh (1780 – 1831) was a bookseller based in the Strand during the early decades of the the 19th Century. He specialised in travel guides. In 1829 he published an extraordinary book: Panorama of the Thames from London to Richmond. It mainly comprised a 60 foot long sheet which folded out concertina style, although some editions were made up of a series of individual sheets. On this ribbon of paper was printed a hand coloured aquatint of both banks of the Thames, facing one another, so one bank is always upside-down, depending on which way you hold the book. Approximately 15 miles per bank, 30 miles in all. This was, of course, immediately before the railways and almost half a century prior to Bazalgette’s embankments. Bridges across the river were still relatively few. It is therefore a marvelous visual record of the Thames of the late Georgian era.


Fast forward to the early 21st Century and we find a man called John Inglis doing a very similar recording project, except, of course, using photography. His idea was virtually the same as Leigh’s, except – remarkably – at first he was blissfully unaware of the earlier work. Once Leigh was brought to his attention, it fundamentally transformed his own project in a most exciting way. Using rapidly improving web technology, the old and the new could exactly mirror each other in a tool that could prove both invaluable and entertaining to everybody from curious Londoners to serious historical researchers. This of course involved a massive increase in the workload and extension of the project timeline. With meagre funds, the project has relied on a dedicated band of volunteers.

One of the challenges was to obtain a best possible digitised version of Leigh. Using six surviving copies, the team took high resolution shots of the best bits of each, and then digitally repaired them for colour correction, staining, cracks, folds and so on.

This done, the team has now reached a key stage of the project: the book. Panorama of the Thames: A Riverside View of Georgian London by John Inglis and Jill Sanders is now published by Thames and Hudson. Apart from some nonedescript countryside parts of the riverbank, this book contains all of Leigh, both banks. The authors have departed from Leigh by treating each bank separately. This is something of a sacrifice it can be argued, but I think the correct decision. It has freed up space for text entries describing all notable buildings and structures, many of which no longer exist. The panorama has been divided into sections, with short introductions. The overall result is image rich with text relatively light and for me, that balance is perfect.


The tome is large, quite weighty and simply wonderfully produced. Lavish. There is great pleasure between its covers. This is more than a book: it is a treasure. Treat yourself.

Westminster, just five years prior to the Commons and Lords being destroyed by fire.

Westminster, just five years prior to the Commons and Lords being destroyed by fire. ©2015 Panorama of the Thames Limited

Hammersmith Terrace.

Hammersmith Terrace. ©2015 Panorama of the Thames Limited

The short-lived Millbank Penitentiary, now the site of Tate Modern.

The short-lived Millbank Penitentiary, now the site of Tate Britain. ©2015 Panorama of the Thames Limited

A beautiful panorama featuring St Paul's and old Blackfriars Bridge.

A beautiful panorama featuring St Paul’s and Rennie’s Waterloo Bridge, then very new. ©2015 Panorama of the Thames Limited

Panorama of the Thames: A Riverside View of Georgian London (256pp) by John Inglis and Jill Sanders is published by Thames and Hudson with a cover price of £30. It’s available on Amazon and Waterstones.

This publication is the first book from the project. More are planned. The ongoing Panorama of the Thames project is here. Check it out; have a play.


There are more than a thousand works by the Georgian satirical cartoonist Thomas Rowlandson (1758 – 1827) in the Royal Collection. The Prince of Wales (later George IV) bought most of these, not as a connoisseur (which he was), but rather in a vain attempt to reduce the circulation – among the aristocracy at any rate, for he always bought the best examples. Queen Victoria, by contrast, adored them. We’d like to think that her reputation as a dour moralist has by now been well and truly scotched.

Rowlandson, like his exact contemporary James Gillray, was a Londoner. As an artist he was formally trained. He was a bon viveur, a prankster. Any money he had, he spent. He sometimes lived in damp and dismal accommodation. But free spirit that he was, he knew he could draw his way out of trouble when he needed to, and he did. His work wasn’t as angry as Gillray’s nor as moralising as Hogarth’s before him. One senses it was a bit cleverer than theirs; that ideas came to him more easily and simply flew off his pen as they did.

A new show at the Queen’s Gallery features around a hundred examples of Rowlandson’s works from the collection. They clearly demonstrate the scope and facility of his mind and pen. His talent as a caricaturist is demonstrated in this Hogarthian set of “types”.



His more overtly political works take direct pot-shots at Royalty and the leading politicians and celebrities of the day (Pitt the Younger, Fox, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire etc.)

A whale swept up the Thames was making the news, detracting from the Duke of York's failings. Here he beseeches the creature to stick around.

A whale which had been beached at Gravesend was making the news, detracting from the Duke of York’s failings. Here he beseeches the creature to stick around.

The nation was fascinated by the French Revolution toward the end of a century of frequent conflict with France. Here are two examples of the same cartoon –  The Contrast – demonstrating how English Liberty was far superior to its French equivalent, very much grist to the mill. Overtly propagandistic, the uncoloured version was priced at only 3d, encouraging the widest possible distribution. Very much a you-never-had-it-so-good sentiment. This work also appeared recently at the Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library.

After Trafalgar, there was a possibility that Nelson’s body would be transferred to another ship to be transported home, but the sailors of the Victory were having none of it. No real axe to grind, this patriotic and sentimental print makes the point. Nelson’s body was conveyed in a barrel of brandy of course, but hey.


It would another half century before cartoons like this appeared in newspapers and magazines. They were distributed individually from print shops at prices ranging typically from one to eight shillings. Collectors tended to mount them in volumes to be handed around on social occasions. Buyers and those who couldn’t afford to collect would eagerly browse the latest examples in print shop windows. The back wall of the exhibition has a selection displayed in this way to give you a sense of the print shop window. I works rather well.

And here is a rare and interesting survival: a screen decorated with cut-outs from the leading satirical prints. The wealthy could afford both to collect prints and to cut them up.



These examples can but give you a tiny taste of the show, for this is a substantial and important exhibition, a must for anyone interested in the late-Georgian satire boom, the likes of which were not seen again until the early 1960s.

High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson, runs at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace
from Friday, 13 November 2015 to Sunday, 14 February 2016. Entrance is £10.00

Note. Included in your ticket is another quite exquisite exhibition running in the gallery over the same period: Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer.

All images courtesy Royal Collection Trust. Photos: Mike Paterson.


Gillray’s Ghost

james-gillray-1-sized200This year is the 200th anniversary of the death of the London cartoonist James Gillray (1756 – 1815). He’s one of our best-known illustrators, usually mentioned in the same breath as Hogarth, Tenniel and Shepard. Like Hogarth earlier in the century, Gillray trained as an engraver and followed that trade for a short while before discovering his métier.

That profession was the vicious lampooning of prominent persons, primarily politicians and royalty. So rich were his ideas conceptually that they have provided templates for cartoonists ever since, but primarily during our own times. He’s imitated more so even than Hogarth because his illustrations are more punchy, more precise, less cluttered.

This frequent habit of cartoonistic homage down the years forms the basis of a new exhibition celebrating the Gillray anniversary: Gillray’s Ghost, at the Cartoon Museum. It features about 70 items: original hand-coloured prints by Gillray, alongside the modern equivalents by the likes of Steve Bell, Peter Brookes, Chris Duggan, Martin Rowson, Dave Brown, Nick Garland and others.

The most fecund of these, and the headline illustration of the show, is The Plumb Pudding in Danger from 1805 (pre Trafalgar), featuring Pitt and Bonaparte carving up the globe. Food and gluttony are, of course, a common trope for cartoonists down the years. There are at least half a dozen variants of this in the show. Here, using  David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon, is Steve Bell’s.


Gillray SB baked bean _500

The Baked Bean in Danger. Anniversary homage by Steve Bell. © Steve Bell.

To my mind, the most famous of all is A Voluptuary, the image of the Prince Regent, leaning back languidly, picking his teeth with a fork, not a care in the world. Chris Duggan’s cartoon shows a select committee absentee, ditto.


Gillray CD Voluptuary 500

A Select Committee Absentee under the delights of an Expense Account, Chris Duggan, Times, 8 April 2009

Here we have Pitt, Fox and Adlington wrestling each other while Bonaparte is about to assassinate Britannia from behind a curtain. Britannia Between Death and the Doctor’s (sic). Dave Brown’s version shows Brown and Clegg as the doctors with Cameron as Death.


Brown Death Doctors500

Britannia between Death and the Doctors, Dave Brown, Independent, 6 May 2010 © Dave Brown

And so on. The exhibition is well conceived and nicely executed. As ever with the Cartoon Museum, thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Gillray’s Ghost runs at the Cartoon Museum until 17 January 2016. The exhibition is included in museum entry of £7 adults. Friends of the Museum and Art Fund members enjoy free entry.

London Historians Private View.
Monday 16 November, 17:30. Introductory talk by Cartoon Museum director, Anita O’Brien. Glass of wine included. All tickets £12.50 + fee. Book here.

A Taste of Gillray
26 November, 18:30. Presented by the Cartoon Museum and the Georgian Dining Academy (as it so happens, run by a pair of LH Members). An evening of convivial conversation, gin punch, 18th century cuisine and top Georgian entertainment. £40. LH Members £35 (if that’s you, contact us.)
More information.

©NOBBY CLARK +44(0)7941-515770 +44(0)20-7274-2105 nobby@nobbyclark.co.ukVirtually every time I ask someone if they’ve heard about the new play Mr Foote’s Other Leg, most say: “Is that about Michael Foot?” Deep breath. No, it’s about the eighteenth century playwright, satirist, actor, theatre owner and impresario Samuel Foote. In his day, he was massive: one of the most famous men in London, the equal of Garrick. But the great news is that – largely thanks to historian Ian Kelly – Foote is emerging triumphant from the 21st Century shadows. First there was Kelly’s biography of 2012, then his play which has just ended its sold-out run at the Hampstead Theatre.

However, the biggest boost to the old Georgian trouper was the play’s transfer to the Theatre Royal Haymarket on Wednesday for a limited run as we reported recently. The significance of this cannot be overstated, for this was Foote’s own playhouse and the royal warrant was granted to him personally. Samuel Foote has come home.

But what about the play itself?

It is very funny. It has to be, because Foote himself was the funniest man in London. From the opening scene with Frank Barber and Mrs Garner rifling through John Hunter’s laboratory, the audience is roaring and this continues throughout. There are constant witty asides aimed at luminaries such as Samuel Johnson, David Garrick and in particular, Handel – celebrities one and all on the London scene. But this being Georgian London, Handel and Germans in general draw most of the fire, reflecting a casual xenophobia which today is practically illegal.

As a whole the play covers the trajectory of Foote’s professional life starting as new boy from Cornwall at Charles Macklin’s informal acting academy (a brilliant ensemble scene) through the toast of Georgian London to life-threatening accident, mental illness, scandal and ignominy. As the play progresses, so too does the comedy darken and the scenes become charged with sadness, not just for Foote, but those around him too. For his is loved. The transformation of mood is skillfully paced.

Charles Macklin's acting lesson.

Charles Macklin’s acting lesson.

Kelly’s aforementioned book is deeply researched and scrupulously delivered. This is not an imperative with drama, so he takes liberties which don’t affect the gist of the story one bit but add much colour (literally in the case of Frank Barber who was Samuel Johnson’s black butler, not Foote’s) and help to keep the audience more closely connected. The surgeon John Hunter, though well enough acquainted with Foote, did not actually perform the amputation of the actor’s leg. Benjamin Franklin – resident in London for some sixteen years – didn’t loom large in Foote’s world, but here he is, talking frequently direct to the audience in a sort of chorus role (a neat touch is whenever Franklin is on stage we hear the eerie sound of the daft musical instrument he invented – the glass armonica). And so on.

All the perfomances are wonderful with special mentions to Jenny Galloway as Mrs Garner (hilarious) and Dervla Kirwan as Peg Woofington (hilarious and tragic, both). But what makes this play really tick is the outstanding performance of Simon Russell Beale. He looks just like Foote, he has taken possession of Foote and Foote in turn possesses him. He takes the funny bits, the poignant bits, the heartbreaking bits and makes them sing. Great, great acting.

Mr Foote’s Other Leg is written by Ian Kelly, directed by Richard Eyre and will run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket for 12 weeks.

All images ©Nobby Clark.

The operation. Gasps from the audience!

The operation. Gasps from the audience!

©NOBBY CLARK +44(0)7941-515770 +44(0)20-7274-2105 nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

Garrick, Foote and Woofington.

pessimists100 years ago on the Western Front, the now-legendary army padre Philip “Tubby” Clayton and his colleague padre Neville Talbot recognised the urgent need for a soldiers’ club where the troops could hang out and relax with their comrades when behind the lines. A two storey house in Poperinge (“Pop”) was procured and named after Talbot’s brother, Gilbert, who was killed at Ypres on 30 July, aged 23. Talbot House was born.

The top floor became a chapel, using a carpenter’s bench for an altar. Tubby estimated over 100,000 attended there during the war, whether for public service or private prayer. The ground floor was a lounge, library and tea room. Alcohol was not served. Talbot House was for all ranks, indeed all were considered equal, hence it was known as Every-Man’s Club. It was an immediate success and continued until the immediate area became too dangerous towards the end of the conflict, after which Talbot House went mobile, using prefabricated wooden sheds. The original Talbot House exists to this day as a museum.

Talbot House

Talbot House is celebrated at a new exhibition at the Guildhall Library. It comprises displays of contemporary objects, bits of uniform, letters, pages of Tubby Clayton’s letters, notes and diaries (very neat writing with all the lines caracteristically sloping up to the right in a pleasing way, uniformly so. The hut in the middle of the display is an actual survival: not a replica. The interior is made up as Tubby’s field office.

Talbot House

Talbot House

This display is brilliantly conceived and designed. The signage is logical, clean and informative. The little touches are wonderfully effective, for example the contemporary wallpaper design. The cumulative effect is extremely moving. The Guildhall Library have done great work already on World War 1, including contemporary war memorial photography by their artist-in-residence Simon Gregor (London Historians member). But this Talbot House exhibition is easily the best large display I’ve seen them do. Highly recommended.

Talbot House: An Oasis in a World Gone Crazy a the Guildhall Library runs until 8 January 2016. Entry is free.

A guest post by London Historians member, Jane Young

Streets of Sin – A Dark Biography of Notting Hill, by Fiona Rule (2015)

Streets of Sin by Fiona ruleFeaturing a newspaper Sunday tabloid headline on the dust jacket, it is a series of scandals that provide the framework for this new publication.

Dealing with mainstream history of Notting Hill as told by the newspapers, the chapters are divided by the events that achieved notoriety and captured the imagination of the popular press.

The well known tales of 10 Rillington Place; The Profumo Affair; Notting Hill Riots and the demise of designer Ossie Clark are narrated as seen through the reports of newspapers and public perception. The early development of the built environment is nicely covered although there is much history of the area that has been left out, however that is not much of a criticism given that the aim is to tell the more notorious story of Notting Hill, in doing so it has been well researched and set out in an entertaining format.

It ends neatly with a sharp and accurate observation of how Notting Hill has come full circle over the course of two centuries, again drawing on the public persona of the area with an adroit summing up of the district today.

For anyone with a passing interest in the area this is a well written book. For those familiar with the history of Notting Hill it is not relating anything that hasn’t been written before. However, having read it from both the point of view of an historian and someone who has known the area well and seen it change over many decades it can still be recommended as an interesting read.

Streets of Sin – A Dark Biography of Notting Hill, 224 pp, by Fiona Rule, is published by The History Press. Hardcover. Cover price £15.99 but available for around £15 or less. Kindle edition available.


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