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doggett1_2501 August 1715 was the first instance of Doggett’s Coat and Badge rowing race between newly-qualified watermen, up the Thames from London Bridge to Chelsea. Unlike today, there were no further bridges to pass under and the river was almost entirely unembanked, hence considerably wider than today. Once past Westminster, the vista would have been comparatively sparce of buildings on both banks. The boats are notably different too. The original participants raced in the craft of their craft: a wherry, the London cab of its day.  Today, the racers are more fortunate, using modern Olympic class single skulls. This race has been competed almost every year since, making it the longest continuously-run sporting event in the world. Yet compared with the much newer Boat Race (1829), it is hardly known. The prize for the winner is a handsome scarlet coat decorated with a solid silver sleeve badge. It comes with a dinky matching cap. The badge depicts a leaping horse and the word “Liberty”. The founder of this ancient competition was Irish-born Thomas Doggett (1640 – 1721), an actor and successful theatrical impresario. He was and ardent Whig and supporter of the new Hanoverian monarch, George I. He endowed the Doggett’s Coat and Badge race in celebration of the new Georgian dynasty, leaving provision in his will for its continuation in perpetuity. It was supposed to be administered by the Watermen’s Company – logical – but an executor of Doggett’s will, Mr Burt of the Admiralty Office, instead charged the task to the Fishmongers’ Company, who do the job to this day. The fund in 1722 was £350.

Modern winners of the race on procession at St Katharine Dock, 2015.

Modern winners of the race in procession at St Katharine Dock, 2015.

There is a dedicated web site to the race, here. It has lots of information including history, the course, the rules, a list of every winner, etc. The line-up this year are: Louis Pettipher, 24, from Gravesend, Charlie Maynard, 23, from Erith, Dominic Coughlin, 24, from Cuxton, Ben Folkard, 23, from Maidstone all of whom raced last year, plus first-timers Frankie Ruler, 21, from Blackheath, and Perry Flynn, 21, from Kennington. The race starts at 11:30 at London Bridge tomorrow, 1 August. Approximately half an hour later it will finish at Cadogan Pier, Chelsea, next to Albert Bridge. I am meeting some fellow London Historians on Albert Bridge at 11:30 to see the end of contest. We’ll then go to the Cross Keys pub nearby. Anyone is welcome to join us.

Pimlico RoadMore Dubai on the Thames luxury flattery. On this occasion it’s the Duke of Westminster via his property company, Grosvenor Estate. Luxury flats. How original. But why not? Everyone else is at it – it’s the most efficient way to turn a buck.

This is not a class warrior thing with me. Rather, I despair at the homogenisation of London by developers, this incessant conversion of historically significant buildings and areas into luxury apartments. There have been a few small, yet pleasing wins. A pub here, another one there. The retention of West Smithfield for the Museum of London. But mostly it’s the chucking up of bland glass and steel, little of it with much architectural merit. Stinking up the place and blighting the skyline.

But back to the story. Grosvenor Estate has given a group of six shopkeepers in Pimlico Road notice to quit their premises by the end of the year. The plan is to bulldoze the lot and replace them with luxury flats and, oh, some larger retail units. The owners of these shops – all successful – are none too pleased, needless to say.

Pimlico Road.

One of the units is a Victorian timber yard which has been in continuous business since 1840. Run today by Travis Perkins, for most of its history it was owned by the family firm WH Newson, who founded the business 175 years ago. Travis Perkins has recently been celebrating this fact with its Pimlico Road employees.

Pimlico Road.

Pimlico Road.

Back in 1840 Pimlico was very much on the up, largely thanks to that titan of suburban development Thomas Cubitt, who had a massive goods yard on the Thames nearby. The area had formerly been virtually uninhabitable owing to its marshy, mosquito-ridden landscape. But Thomas Telford’s new St Katharine’s Dock east of the Tower of London had changed all that when spoil from the development had been used to reclaim land in the Pimlico area, hence rendering it fit for development. One wonders whether Cubitt’s contractors and foremen engaged WH Newson as a supplier? Highly likely.

Pimlico Road is located opposite the dual intersection with Ebury Street and Bourne Street (formerly Westbourne Street). It wasn’t called Pimlico Road in 1840 either: west of Ebury Street it was Grosvenor Road, and to the east, Queen Street. If you look it up on a map, you’ll see it sits right where Chelsea meets Belgravia meets Pimlico, in the middle of an area largely dominated by the Grosvenor and the Cadogan estates, both of which resulted hundreds of years ago from lucky young chaps marrying phenomenally wealthy heiresses.

They have proved over the years largely to be enlighted and responsible landlords, something one hopes this may prevail in this particular case and that Grosvenor may yet change its mind over Pimlico Road as it did once before, in 2001.

More on this story as reported in yesterday’s Evening Standard.

2015 is the Year of the Big Anniversary, it seems. They just keep coming. Here’s another one for you: this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. It was published in London by Macmillan & Co on 26 November 1865 with 42 illustrations by John Tenniel. This is key, because immediately the words and the pictures formed a symbiotic relationship which informed everything to do with Alice from that day hence, influencing how other illustrators, film-makers, producers etc visualised and presented and re-presented Alice to this day.

Alice in Blunderland by John Tenniel, 1880

Alice in Blunderland by John Tenniel, 1880

No where is this better demonstrated than at a new exhibition which opened this week at the Cartoon Museum: Alice in Cartoonland. 

As it happens, Charles Dodgson (i.e. Carroll) fancied himself as something of an illustrator and despite being turned down by various journals (“not up to the mark”), had plans to illustrate Alice himself. Fortunately, friends – including John Ruskin – persuaded him to engage a professional, and John Tenniel got the gig. The dream ticket, as they say, for there was none better.

Tenniel_sigAside from the man himself, dozens of cartoonists and illustrators who have sat on Tenniel’s shoulder this past 150 years are represented here. E.H.Shepard, David Low, Carl Giles, Steve Bell, Wally Fawkes (TROG), Ralph Steadman, Martin Rowson are just some who caught my eye. Steadman, in particular, stands out. At least three of his pieces from his award-winning Alice book from the early 1970s are featured here. For Alice’s situations and scrapes lend themselves as metaphors to a thousand situations for political satirists. Cartoonists love it, not least because it gives them an opportunity to acknowledge Tenniel by reproducing his showy mark!

Freeman Moxy © Martin Rowson

Freeman Moxy © Martin Rowson

The appeal of Alice is universal, hence this exhibition has much more of an international flavour than most previous Cartoon Museum shows, quintessentially British. Items from both Disney (1951) and Hanna-barbera (1966) studios typify American contributions, though there are others too from non-English countries such as Czechoslovakia. I particularly liked the trans-Atlantic colour cover illustrations for the New Yorker by Irish-born cartoonist Kenneth Mahood.

Alice in Cartoonland at the Cartoon Museum runs from 15 July to 1 November. Entry is included in the museum’s standard admission of £7.

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.

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