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1967 and all that.

Guest Post.
Fifty years past. The Summer of Love ; Sgt Pepper; homosexuality decriminalised. Momentous events. Ursula Jeffries remembers her time as a young executive in London. 

It is hard to see yourself as part of history but there comes a time….

I was always a south London girl but July 1967 was when I really started to get to know the city. There were few gap years in those days so my graduate traineeship began straight away and I was whisked from the dreaming spires into what was known by the inmates as the tomb of the unknown borrower. The Abbey National headquarters building in Baker Street can still be seen in its imposing nearly art deco glory. Now divided into flats, it was then the ultimate functional commercial building of the sixties straddling the old and the new. Almost the whole of the ground floor was taken up by the computer, below ground were machines devoted to efficient direct mail and deep dark corridors of client files. The public view was mainly a grand banking hall and sight of an elegant lift to the working offices; this was operated by a Hungarian refugee, by all accounts a professor in his time. Visitors often looked for Sherlock Holmes and would get a response to a letter.

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The Abbey National Building, Baker Street. Today only the facade survives.

While modern management sought to brand the building society as up to date and swinging with cutting edge advertising campaigns and window displays (Happy National) many of the old guard clung to the old ways especially the logo of a couple holding an umbrella shaped like a roof. Much time was spent on keeping the silhouette of the lady in contemporary style. The length of skirts affected me as well. For the last three years I had been assiduously cutting off the hems of coats and skirts as the mini skirt took over. I literally had nothing to wear in a traditional office except my interview suit and only expensive shops had anything of suitable length. I had to wait until 1968 to afford Carnaby Street. My mother had sorted the problem of my waist length hippy hair by buying me a haircut at Vidal Sassoon and the change was so radical that my own boyfriend didn’t recognise me. I found the formality of the organisation difficult to absorb and I was the first female graduate in this post but they were very welcoming to me despite paying less salary on account of my gender. I had subsidised lunch in the middle management dining room and my own secretary; hierarchies were still firmly embedded.

Outside, the noisy, dirty streets were familiar to me. Red buses, telephone and post boxes, commercial traffic. Although much of the war damage had been dealt with the place was grimy, not helped by the massive level of cigarette smoking indoors and out. Nobody thought twice about it and the beleaguered nonsmokers didn’t complain much. I soon took a room in a shared flat which was affordable and near Baker Street – I could walk to work alongside Regents Park if I chose. I felt very safe as I started to get to get to know the different villages of London and there was an air of change for the better, unthreatening and fun. The only problem being that there was far too much to do.

On the South Bank the Festival Hall floated by the river representing British design and the modern London to come. The cafeteria was a great meeting point, snug between the bridges, ugly Hungerford and elegant Waterloo, and the promise of the Festival of Britain still hovered in the air as the riverside developments continued. The Old Vic had evolved from a Shakespeare rep to an embryonic National Theatre. Anyone lucky enough to be working and to have connections to the arts was privileged to be witness to a confident flowering of culture. I missed seeing Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles but I did get to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I didn’t have time or money for a television although I did have my Dansette record player. Back in the suburbs life was changing at a slower pace but pop music was a shared revolution and although views varied as to its ‘suitability’ it was absorbed much more than hippy culture was ever going to be.

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And what became of the hippies? On a hot summer afternoon we came out of the Curzon where we had watched Blowup. A commotion in Hyde Park attracted us and we found ourselves in the midst of hundreds of flower children dancing, ringing bells and floating in a fragrant mist. Music thumped in the distance and a poet declaimed from the top of a step ladder to anyone still in a state to listen. Free marijuana was the message; the demonstration was very gentle as were the police that we saw. One could trace their many influences but on that day it just felt like a dream – and you only had to breathe in to feel part of it!

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DSC09938b_200Next week the remains of the Temple of Mithras will be open to public view once again. Unloved and open to the elements for almost fifty years, the development of its original site by the financial information giant Bloomberg presented an excellent opportunity to give this highly significant Roman building the type of home it deserves. Bloomberg, Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) and other partners have enthusiastically and painstakingly carried out a project which unearthed by far the largest number of ancient Roman artifacts from a single British site. The quality and variety of them are truly staggering. The survival of many of the perishable objects – typically wood and leather – is thanks to the muddy conditions in the vicinity of the lost river Walbrook. The most significant object of the dig must surely be a tablet from circa 53AD which mentions “Londinium”, the oldest known reference of this name.

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There were Mithraeums in most urban centres of the Roman Empire. Its symbol was Mithras killing a bull with a knife.

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This tablet is inscribed with the earliest known use of the word Londinium.

As someone whose degree strongly featured ancient Rome and who has visited the Eternal City many times over past decades, I’ve always been a bit sniffy about what I considered the paucity of London’s surviving Roman remains. With the best will in the world, there can be no comparison. The bits of Roman wall near the Tower and the ribbon along London Wall combined with the Roman bath house in Lower Thames Street hardly set the pulse racing. Perhaps that’s just me. But with this new development to add to the Roman amphitheatre installation beneath Guildhall Yard – only discovered in the 1990s – that has all changed very significantly indeed, I think.

Londinium was, after all, the beginning of this most historical of cities. Suddenly, with the addition of the London Mithraeum, we have, I feel, a truly weighty and credible Roman London collection for all visitors to enjoy and Londoners to be proud of.

We must thank and congratulate Bloomberg for not just paying lipservice to our heritage but for embracing it and wholeheartedly backing this project. An example for all businesses and developers to follow.


Find out more and book your free places at the London Mithraeum.

A guest post by LH Member Roger Williams. 

Review:  The History of the Port of London — the Vast Emporium of All Nations
By Peter Stone

51FqDHqHplL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_It is flattering when a publisher asks out of the blue if you would care to write a book. That’s what happened to London Historian member Peter Stone, when his posts about the city on his The History of London website caught the eye of Pen & Sword History Press.

The subject he chose was the port of London because, he says, as a Londoner born in the East End, he wanted to know more about it, and there were few comprehensive books on the subject. The result is The History of the Port of London — the Vast Emporium of All Nations, a 250-page book with 16 photographs, half a dozen prints and a dozen clear, specially-drawn maps that tell the story of the port from Roman Londinium to DP World London Gateway.

Medieval London is particularly well researched. This was a time when wine was the biggest import, and the Vintners Company established a 400-year monopoly. Trade was wrapped up in rules and regulations, even stipulating where foreigners could stay ashore. In the early 12th Century crews of foreign ships, when approaching London Bridge, we learn, were required to sing the Kirie Eleison to show they were not pagan pirates.

Elizabethan times saw a great expansion is shipping. Legal quays were established along the City’s foreshore, which held a monopoly on the landing of imports for 250 years. Suffrance wharfs on the south bank were later added to handle the increased volume of cargo brought mainly by charter companies like the East India Company that held monopolies on trade in great swathes of the world.

The first wet dock was in Rotherhithe. Howland Wet Dock was initially designed to shelter ships en route to London, but it also served the whaling fleets, whose messy business was kept away from the city. By 1800 an estimated 8,500 vessels could be seen between six miles below London Bridge and two miles above it. Import and export docks were sorely needed and they developed with great rapidity –– London, West India, East India, St Katharine’s, the Surrey Docks complex and the Royal Docks. An aerial photograph from 1957 shows their enormous extent.

With quotations from Pepys to Millicent Rose, the book is good on social history, on the lives of all those involved in the docks that by 1900 supported 20,000 full-time jobs and half as many casual ones. Ben Tillett, the unions and the everyday lives of dock workers are evoked, and the role of the Port of London Authority fully explained. There is the development of the villages from the City to the Isle of Dogs, from the time when Stepney was a village with a dock at Ratcliffe to today, when everything has slipped way down the river. But Tilbury, it is heartening to read, is still active, exporting engines from Ford at a rate of two vessels a day and importing a quarter of a million vehicles a year. Petroleum, steel, timber and sugar are still important imports, while DP World London Gateway, which covers an area twice the size of the City of London, can handle the largest vessels in the world,

The story of London’s ports is the story of the city, and, with a final chapter that looks to the future, Peter Stone has given the port of London a fulsome and highly readable biography.


The History of the Port of London — the Vast Emporium of All Nations
by Peter Stone is published by Pen & Sword History with a cover price of £19.99.


Review by Roger Williams. His latest book is ‘Whitebait and the Thames Fisheries’, Bristol Book Publishing, £7

A guest post by John Bennett.

On the anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street on 4 October 1936, this piece examines two different eras of the East End’s turbulent history which have sealed its reputation for challenging extremist right-wing ideologies: the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ in the 1930s and clashes with the National Front in the 1970s.

The ‘Battle of Cable Street’ in October 1936 showed the political loyalties of the East End tested considerably. Despite Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists extolling a protectionist view of multiculturalism, the privations of the recession of the 1930s had made the ideology popular in the area, even counting some Jews as supporters. Nonetheless, racially motivated violence against Jews had become common, particularly in Shoreditch and Hoxton. Mosley’s decision to march through the East End was understood to be a provocative flashpoint and East Enders of all creeds set up barriers around Cable Street to stop the procession. The result was messy: the BUF were redirected away from the east, but the disorder created by the creation of barriers led to pitched battles between protestors and police. It appears no fascists were actually involved in the disturbances but the protestors had won the day and the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ has since been seen as a successful of example of the people rising up against what they saw as a threat to the cohesiveness of their community.

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Battle of Cable Street memorial mural. 

The East End was at a low ebb in the 1970s. A major housing crisis in Tower Hamlets had been exacerbated in many people’s eyes by the large influx of Bengalis to the area following the civil war in Bangladesh. Accusations of housing queue-jumping and squatting only inflamed resentment of the newcomers. Far right groups such as the National Front found a willing audience in the area, bolstered by skinhead youth groups looking for an identity. Throughout the mid 1970s, violence against Asians and their property became commonplace, resulting in the racist murder of Altab Ali in Whitechapel in May 1978. This more than any other incident galvanised the Bengali community to take action, forming their own ‘vigilante groups’ to nip violence in the bud and campaign for police intervention which, on the face of it, had been severely lacking up to that point. Vandalism and physical attacks by NF supporters in Brick Lane in June 1978 (‘the battle of Brick Lane’, as the local press dubbed it) created a backlash by the Asian community to stymie the attacks as they happened, resulting in a stronger police presence and the street’s own police station.

Although fascist groups would once again raise their heads briefly in the early 1990s, the events of the late 1970s would see the subsequent rapid decline of right-wing activity in the East End, thanks to a more successful cohesion of community and law-enforcement and a more established Asian population.


John Bennett’s book Mob Town, A History of Crime and Disorder in the East End was published last month by Yale.

Design

Victims of our own success (600+ Members), we have run out of stock of Member cards featuring a design from 2013.

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And here is the previous generation design from 2011. Gorgeous: my favourite.

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What this means is we now have an opportunity to do a brand new Member card featuring a historic London vista. Like the above examples it would probably include the Thames but this is not a set-in-stone stipulation. What is important is that it has sufficient space of sky, or possibly water, for the London Historians logo and “MEMBER” to stand out without unduly interfering with the image.

We need to act quickly and we’d love to hear your suggestions.

If you’re not familiar with the LH Member card, it’s printed on credit-card type plastic and personalised on the reverse. A quality item. If you’d like to join us as a Member and be the first to receive the new card, you can do so here.

Hairposter49 years ago this very evening, the stage musical HAIR opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre, heralding the dawn of the Age of Aquarius, whatever that was. A troupe of hirsute performers led initially by Oliver Tobias and including Richard O’Brien and Tim Curry (yes, the seeds of Rocky Horror) delighted London audiences for the next five years until the theatre roof literally came down.

The previous era –  the Age of Stage Censorship – had ended the previous day with the Theatres Act 1968. This new law extinguished the considerable and centuries-old powers of the Lord Chamberlain to curtail all sweary bits, nudy bits and politically subversive bits from the theatres of the nation.

As the title suggests, the Lord Chamberlain is a Royal official. Originally, the approval or otherwise of new productions fell to the Master of the Revels, a powerful and lucrative royal sinecure. His physical office between 1578 and 1607 was based at St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell. Whenever I visit there, I always imagine the work of Shakespeare and his great contemporaries  having their first airing in front of the Master or his officials.

This situation pertained (not forgetting, of course, outright suppression during the Commonwealth) until 1737. Robert Walpole happened to be the Master of the Revels at that time. Weary of anti-government satire by the likes of Henry Fielding, Walpole put censorship on a statutory footing with his Licensing Act 1737, giving the responsibility of stage censorship directly to the Lord Chamberlain. Under the Act, the Lord Chamberlain could suppress any performance without recourse of appeal. The measures were softened with slight modifications in 1788 and 1843, but essentially our public entertainment remained thus bridled for over 200 years.


Interesting article on HAIR and contemporary theatre censorship here.
Complete 1968 HAIR soundtrack on YouTube here (terrific!).

After Helen Szamuely passed away earlier this year, I thought I’d published everything she’d done for us, but I was wrong. This piece was from LH Members’ newsletter of October 2013. 

by Helen Szamuely

Everyone who likes mooching round second hand bookshops, print shops, shops with theatre programmes and knick-knacks knows Cecil Court, the alleyway that runs between Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane. It has been there, apparently, since the seventeenth century but only since the second half of the eighteenth in its present state and it has been the centre of the second hand book trade for decades.

Some time ago I noticed that apart from the tablet on No. 9 that tells us of the child Mozart staying there with his parents on their visit to London in 1764 others have appeared on some houses that tell us about the various film companies and related businesses that existed in Cecil Court during the first flowering of British cinema between 1894 and 1914. Near the Charing Cross end of the alleyway there is a green plaque, which explains that it was known as Flicker Alley (though this name is rarely if at all mentioned in histories of the silent film) and was home to offices by British film pioneers like Cecil Hepworth and James Williamson as well as international companies like Gaumont, Nordisk and Vitagraph. Other plaques, blue this time, are on the various buildings where these companies were.

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27 Cecil Court, where one can find Stephen Poole Fine Books, has three plaques though two are clearly for one company as it evolved. One tells us that Gaumont had an office here from 1904 – 1906 having expanded from 25 Cecil Court (now Goldsboro Books, specialists in signed first editions but also a shop that from time to time has a stall of second-hand paperbacks outside it, many of which are detective stories and all at a reasonable price). After Gaumont, the building was taken over by James Williamson and Co that turned into Williamson, Dressler and Co. in 1908, staying in Cecil Court for another year. James Williamson was a chemist in Brighton where he started film manufacture, moving to London later. In 1901 his made what must have been an exciting and sensational film about the Boxer Rebellion, Attack on a China Mission. According to the Stage Year Book for 1908, the previous year saw two very popular films from this company: a drama entitled Just in Time and a comedy, Bobby’s Birthday.

On 13 Cecil Court where Motion Books is to be found now the plaque says that in 1914 it was the home of Quo Vadis Film Company, described as a Cinema Services and Rental Agency.

18 Cecil Court, where Peter Ellis Bookseller is now, also has two plaques. One is for Nordisk Film Company, a UK representative for a Danish film studio that traded at this address from 1908 to 1910 and was responsible for a very successful film in the first of those years: The Lion Hunt. Where there are films there are cinemas and where there are cinemas there are chocolates. The same address accommodated the Theatre Chocolate Company in 1911.

There were other companies in Cecil Court in that period, and probably there will be more plaques up soon. Hepworth Manufacturing Company was at 15 – 17 Cecil Court (Motor Books and Travis & Emery Music Bookshop) for some years. It had been established by Cecil Hepworth in 1899 and manufactured such essential objects as arc lamps and provided printing and developing, all under the special trade mark of Hepwire. They also made films, the most popular of which was Dumb Sagacity in 1907, the year in which the comedy That Fatal Sneeze came out.

The Cinematograph Syndicate was at 23 Cecil Court (now part of Goldsboro Books). They manufactured films and other supplies but also made their own films like The Gamekeeper’s Dog and Tommy’s Box of Tools. Hepworth also made a number of films about cars, which in those days meant films about car disasters. 1900 saw the ominously titled How it Feels to be Run Over and Explosion of a Motor Car.

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Cecil Hepworth (1874 – 1953)

At the other end of the alleyway, at 3 – 5 Cecil Court (partly Storey’s Ltd now) was the New Bioscope Trading Company, which had been established in 1904. It made and hired films and was the manufacturer of the “Dreadnought” Bioscope.

While Cecil Court was not the only place where film companies and related businesses moved in the early years of the twentieth century (there were some in Charing Cross Road and even in Soho), this was clearly a magnet for many of them both British and foreign. The British film industry was buoyant for a number of years. However the film historian Ian Christie says in The Last Machine:
“In 1914 The Times reported that only 2 per cent of the million feet of film sold for exhibition in London each week was home-produced. The writing was already on the wall: having been a leading exporter from 1896 to 1907, Britain could now be the first country to have gained and lost a film industry in a little over twenty years.” (p. 135)

The dates on the plaques confirm this: most of the companies seem to have left Flicker Alley by 1908. Professor Christie speculates about the reason for this collapse and suggests that the British film industry, successful though it was for two decades, lacked support both from business with bankers and financiers remaining sceptical and from the intelligentsia, even writers who could be described as prophets of modernity and whose works were filmed at the time, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling or G. B. Shaw. Not so in other countries, says Mr Christie, where the financial and intellectual importance of the cinema was perceived very early on. Not till the thirties did Britain recover ground in film-making.