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A guest post by LH Member Martin Thompson.

Sir Henry Cole (1808 – 1882), Founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Address in Hampstead: 3 Elm Row (1879 – 1880)

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The first commercially produced Christmas card, 1843.

Life and Times
henry coleSir Henry Cole was instrumental in the development of the Victoria and Albert Museum of which he was the first director. He introduced the world’s first commercial Christmas card in 1843 and played a key role in the introduction of the Penny Post. He is sometimes credited with the design of the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black.

He was born in Bath on 15 July, 1808 into a middle-class family, the son of Henry Robert Cole and his wife Leticia and educated at Christ’s Hospital in London. With little chance of going to university he took a job, aged 15, as a clerk in the Public Record Office. Whilst working there he met and married Marian Fairman Bond on 28th December, 1833 with whom he had nine children. Cole lost his job there in 1835. However, his criticisms of the Commission’s activities enabled him to win back his lost post and led to the eventual establishment of a new Public Record Office, of which Cole was appointed an Assistant Keeper. From there he was recruited by Rowland Hill to work as an assistant between 1837 and 1840 and with whom he helped introduce the penny post.

In 1850 he secured the backing of Queen Victoria to establish, under the Presidency of Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations which was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851. This was enormously popular and a great financial success. He was also instrumental in the decision that the £186,000 surplus from the Great Exhibition would be used for improving science and art education in the United Kingdom. Land was purchased in the South Kensington area and developed as the centre for a number of educational and cultural institutions eventually becoming the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In 1843 Cole commissioned John Callcott Horsley to design a greeting card that he could send to all his friends as, at the time, it was the custom to laboriously handwrite greeting cards individually. It showed a happy family enjoying the holiday with side panels depicting the charitable side of Christmas and the Christmas card was born. One of these first Christmas cards which he had sent to his grandmother, sold at auction for £22,500.

Cole eventually retired with a knighthood bestowed upon him by Queen Victoria in 1875 and sought a home in Hampstead which he found in Elm Row. It is not exactly a busy thoroughfare, just a tiny turning off Heath Street. Yet it has a special significance at Christmas that few will appreciate – unless they take a look at the black plaque on the wall of 3 Elm Row which states: Sir Henry Cole lived here 1879-1880. He originated the custom of sending Christmas Cards and was largely responsible for the founding of the Kensington Museum. He was also a great postal reformer. Whilst living in Hampstead, the Heath became one of his new passions. He also built up a group of local friends in the area amongst them Gerard Manley Hopkins and George du Maurier. Unfortunately, Hampstead did not suit him. Cole himself wrote in his diary “the 400 feet ascent to Hampstead was a great obstacle.” As a result, he left Hampstead and moved to South Kensington, in 1880.

Cole had a known heart condition, but did not slow down as he aged. At the end of 1881, he started writing his memoir highlighting his half century of public service. On Monday, April 17, 1882 Cole sat for a portrait with the famous painter Whistler. That night his condition worsened, and he died in his home the following evening at the age of 74. He was buried in Brompton cemetery.

What the… ?

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I took a neck-ricking double take last week while attending a brilliant talk by Tom Almeroth-Williams at the sumptuous Spencer House. This is quite possibly the weirdest sculpture I’ve ever seen. Disarming, creepy but in its own way rather fabulous. Acquired as recently as 1990 at auction, one might well question whether this is best use of a fine piece of marble.

But what is it?

Well, it’s almost literally a Rowlandson cartoon carved in stone. The classical allusion is the infant Hercules strangling a brace of serpents. But here the heads of the trio are replaced by Pitt the Younger as Hercules and Charles James Fox and Lord North as the snakes. Commissioned by the Pitt-supporting 4th Earl of Bristol, it was carved around 1790 by the minor Italian sculptor Pieratoni (‘Sposino’).

Read this excellent, more detailed and scholarly interpretation at the Smithsonian web site. My thanks to LH Member Janet Gibson for finding it.

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Sumptuous

Review: George IV: Art and Spectacle

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DSC03967_250It’s striking how two of our monarchs with less that pristine reputations, nonetheless shared the highest standards of connoisseurship. Charles I, whose collection featured in a fabulous show at the Royal Academy early last year, employed the likes of Van Dyk and Rubens and acquired the best possible European art. And then, almost two centuries later, George IV, both as king and Prince of Wales showed similar predilections, although even more munificent and financially ruinous. It is interesting that George had a special fascination with the Stuarts and his tragic predecessor in particular to the extent of actually having Charles’s body exhumed to obtain a lock of hair which he then had placed in a bejewelled locket. That very piece features in this new show at the Queen’s Gallery which opened today.

George IV, as King, Regent and Prince of Wales, spent enormous quantities on buildings, art, gold, silver, jewellery, furniture, cutlery, plate, wallpaper, decorations, crockery, clothes, armour, fancy weapons, books, charts. Usually the best, usually the most expensive. He had no idea of the value of a pound, he was almost childlike in his needs and demands. He didn’t always get his way – Parliament refused, for example, to pay for a crown which had comprised hundreds of borrowed diamonds – but a lot of the time he did. Even by the early 1790s he was already over £400,000 in debt (£31 million today), much of which on kitting out Carlton House, which he famously abandoned. When he died, largely unloved, in 1830, The Times wrote “there never was an individual less regretted by his fellow low-creatures than this deceased King”. But here we are, almost 200 years later, and we cannot deny that he was a great collector and a great patron of the arts.

Most of the types of things that floated his boat are here represented.

There are half a dozen or so large paintings by Sir Thomas Lawrence, the greatest portrait artist of his age (or any, in my opinion). Included here are two of his best: Pope Pius VII and, of course, the King himself, the natural choice for the main representation of this show.

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For the historian, there is lots of portrait work in the form of paintings, drawings, engravings and mezzotints of the important people in George IV’s life: family, friends, acquaintances. This includes a very recent acquisition: a drawing by Richard Cosway of Maria Fitzherbert, George’s best-known mistress whom he referred to as ‘the wife of my heart and soul’.

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Maria Fitzherbert by Richard Conway, 1789.

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George IV’s only child and heir, Princess Charlotte.

 

Elsewhere we have a pair of magnificent Rembrandts, one of which – The Shipbuilder and His Wife cost a record 5000 guineas! To be fair, it’s gorgeous. There are also here featured a few dozen other lovely Netherlandish paintings (Cuyp, Steen, Teniers, and others) which include charming depictions of village scenes etc. There is an quite exquisite portrait of the Prince of Wales on horseback by Stubbs (I’m not a fan of the horse dauber, but this is excellent). These in addition to other horsey paintings of the highest quality. There are some good bits of satire by Rowlandson (Her Majesty has a huge Rowlandson collection)  and others. The milder ones were purchased by the king himself, but others have been acquired after his death but are shown here to give you an idea of how he was perceived at large.

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Rembrandt van Rijn. The Shipbuilder and His Wife, 1633.

As with the paintings, the sculpture is right up there. There are marble busts including an excellent one of Wellington and a rather fetching scaled down equestrian bronze of Louis XIV of France. George ignored advice not to buy it and then commissioned a sumptuous plinth for it.

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Beyond painting, drawing and sculpture, I have to say I struggle a bit. But even I enjoyed the visual feast represented by, in particular, the furniture, the silver plate (Rundell), dinner service (Sèvres).

The most important event in George IV’s life was, of course, his own Coronation over which he was director, producer, choreographer, set designer and all the rest of it. It was a massively indulgent festival, the most lavish and expensive Coronation before or since, a massive lapse of judgement as only he knew how. The exhibition includes a few items to give us but a tiny taste of it: the robe, the cope and the diamond diadem.
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George IV was the curator of  his own life, his own wardrobe, his palaces and every room within them. The choices he made were good ones, made by the leading connoisseur of the age. They have stood the test of time: this exhibition proves it.

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George IV: Art and Spectacle runs at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace until 3 May 2020. Adult ticket is £13.50. Other rates apply.

All items Royal Collection Trust and Her Majesty the Queen. Some images are by the author. 

roger williams 3We were deeply dismayed recently to hear that London Historians Member Roger Williams had passed away, on 23 August following a heart attack.

Roger had been a Member of long-standing, having joined us early on, in 2012. He was an enthusiastic supporter of London Historians as a group but also of our members individually. A regular fixture at LH monthly pub meet-ups, he was marvellous company and kindness personified. Many of our members have experienced ready advice, suggestions, the loan (or often gift) of a book or magazine, or myriad other acts of kindness.

Roger was, first and foremost, a writer. A professional journalist for most of his career, he also wrote many books, the ones in recent years focusing on London and in particular, the Thames. Roger was also an active member of the Docklands History Group which, like us, benefited from his support and wisdom.

As for Roger’s background before we met him, his wife Pam kindly sent us both the picture you see above, taken in Genoa only last June, and these words:

Roger was born in Wimbledon in 1947 and grew up and went to school there. He had (has) two sisters. He left school at 17 and went straight into journalism, working initially on a trade magazine. I met him when he was 23 and we spent a few years roaming around Europe, teaching English in Italy for a while and working in a bar in Spain. He then worked on Mayfair magazine (I know!!) and Titbits (I’m a bit vague on the chronology). We bought our first home, a flat in Fulham, where our daughter Joby was born in 1978. We then moved to Putney. He worked on the Sunday Times Magazine but left when Murdoch took the paper to Wapping, although he later returned as a freelance and spent several years there, making many friends. He wrote two anti-nuclear books for WH Allen. We moved out to rural Kent in 1990 and he then wrote Lunch with Elizabeth David – published by Little Brown – which was quite well received. After that he concentrated mainly on travel writing and editing, mostly for Insight Guides and Dorling Kindersley. With the advance of technology, and our move back to London in 2009, he got into self-publishing, and furthered his interest in London and the Thames. He then wrote the three London books you know about and that brings us up to date when you first knew him.”

Our deepest condolences go to both Pam and Joby.

Thank-you, Roger. We’ll miss you.

Review: Hogarth Place and Progress

First Blake at Tate Britain, and now this. We Londoners are being spoilt rotten with these two simultaneously-running exhibitions featuring our most beloved native artists.

Thanks to its canny eponymous benefactor, Sir John Soane’s Museum is already the lucky owner of two of William Hogarth’s (1697 – 1764) best-known series: The Rake’s Progress (1732) and the four Humours of an Election (1754-55). The latter remain in situ in their ground floor home attached to the famous swinging panels which usually open out to reveal Rake’s Progress on the reverse sides. However,  The Rake’s Progress have been removed and added to the main exhibition space of this show. In addition we are treated to Marriage A-la-Mode (1743) from the National Gallery. Hence, all of Hogarth’s painted series in the same building together at the same time! In the room with Marriage A-la-Mode, the museum has borrowed three surviving oil sketches of Happy Marriage one of which gives us the gawky dancers to which the artist later returned in hilarious engravings on the subject, notably an illustration in Analysis of Beauty

The Dance (The Happy Marriage ?VI: The Country Dance) circa 1745 by William Hogarth 1697-1764

Happy Marriage VI: The Country Dance. Tate.

V0049213 A country dance in a long hall; the elegance of the couple o

Country Dancers in a Long Hall (detail, from Analysis of Beauty)

But I digress. Complementing these Hogarth masterpieces are many of his most famous engravings, most of which from the private collection of Andrew Edmunds: A Harlot’s Progress (1734); Industry and Idleness (1747); The Four Times of Day (1736-37); The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751); and (of course!) Beer Street and Gin Lane (both 1751).

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The Idle ‘Prentice approaching the gallows at Tyburn.

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The Industrious ‘Prentice becomes Lord Mayor of London.

The name, or theme, of this marvellous exhibition – like Hogarth himself – is plain-dealing: ‘Progress’ – lifted from the harlot and the rake but applying to all his morality series; and ‘Place’ – London, of course, but using the extensive recent research which has precisely pinpointed the locations in most of the artist’s individual compositions. Here the curators have grouped the various series logically to contrast or complement one another.  One could argue, of course, that Hogarth’s subject matter is so rich that any pairings would do the trick. The main thing is, it works: how could it not?

Thought-provoking, yes. The joy of this show, though, is the opportunity to examine a large body of the artist’s work at very close quarters. An obvious thing to say, perhaps, but this is more important with Hogarth than probably any other artist. The detail he put into his compositions is quite phenomenal; if there’s another gag or pithy aphorism to squeeze in, in it goes. For example, there are tiny bits of writing all over the place that one would simply not pick up even in the highest-quality book. This is especially true of the paintings. A detail that I hadn’t noticed before and which pleased me in particular was Hogarth’s depiction of old London Bridge in all its dilapidated and rickety glory. We view it through the window in Marriage A-la-mode VI: The Lady’s Death. This will have been just 15 years before all the buildings on the bridge were finally demolished.

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Marriage A-la-mode: The Lady’s Death. National Gallery London.

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This exhibition has been curated with a great deal of thought, yet commendable lightness of touch. Our congratulations to the museum and gratitude to all the lenders. The show is on for just three months; it is a treat and a joy you must not miss.

Hogarth Place and Progress runs at Sir John Soane’s Museum from 9 October 2019 until 5 January 2020. Free entry by timed booking required.

Review: Tracing Your Insolvent Ancestors. A guest post by LH Member Joanna Moncrieff.

insolvent ancestors“A unique introduction to a neglected historical source” is what jumped out at me when I was first given this book to review. That sounded intriguing.

I have recently realised that many of the resources I use for researching my family tree are equally as useful for research for my guided walks and vice versa.

‘Tracing your Insolvent Ancestors’ by Paul Blake is a case in point. This book could definitely be marketed to an entirely different audience as it has a wealth of detailed information about many of London’s debtor prisons with lots of pointers as to where you can find out more.

Although it isn’t specifically about London the main focus is on it and the book is packed with facts and examples of records in relation to the prisons’ history. The background history of each prison is gone into together with how to access its records. Other chapters delve into the history of the various courts and how they operated. Everything you need to know about the history and operation of debtors’ prisons is in this book.

Those of us who are Clerkenwell and Islington Guides and who guide in and around Old Street talk about Whitecross Street debtors’ prison. An in depth history of the prison and how it operated together with examples of research about various inmates gives a real insight into life as a debtor.

In between the sections about what records are available are lots of interesting snippets perfect for tour guides. For example an 1847 report from the Inspectors of Prisons likened the prison at Lancaster Castle to a ‘noisy tavern and tea-garden’.

I was amazed to discover that the National Archives has an account book listing names of beggars and the tiny amounts they collected at the Fleet begging grate from the 1820s. This fact has already been shared by me with guiding colleagues.

But how do you know where to find this information? There are detailed instructions of what records are available and how you can access them. There are tips on what records have the most info and that some records show a key to more detailed records that are available elsewhere. We are also encouraged to use the TNA catalogue to get an idea of what is held in local archives.  The chapter on Newspapers, Periodicals, Journals and Directories includes lots of practical advice about what is available online and how you can find it.

So much work must have gone into this book to collate such a wealth of material and searching tips. I would definitely recommend this to anyone with an interest in social history.


Tracing your Insolvent Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians (224pp) by Paul Blake is published by Pen & Sword with a cover price of £14.99 but available for less if you shop around. Note: We have linked to National Archives bookshop here because same price as Amazon, they have a fabulous selection and have frequent sales from their online shop. Give them a try!


Joanna Moncrieff is a long-standing Member of London Historians and also a qualified guide for Westminster and Clerkenwell & Islington. Her blog.

Londonist Drinks

In my personal experience, they certainly do.

But seriously.
Review: Londonist Drinks – A Spirited Guide to London Libation by Londonist editors, staff writers and guests. 

londonistdrinksThis new book celebrates public drinking in London: where and what Londoners imbibe when being sociable. It is largely about alcohol, but tea, coffee, chocolate, juice, water etc. do get a decent look-in. There is an interesting chapter, for example, about drinking chocolate which reminds us that swanky men-only (still) White’s Club was originally a chocolate emporium, one of the first, in fact. And an entire four page article is devoted to tea, its history, where to enjoy it and all the centuries-old markers around town reminding us of one of our national obsessions. Coffee mania came, then went, and has come again.

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It’s not all about boozing – far from it.

But it must be said that most of Londonist Drinks’s pages are devoted to Londoners’ enjoyment of alcohol in most of its forms.

The book comprises 68 small essays which may be consumed in any order. Editor Will Noble and veteran Editor at Large Matt Brown do most of the heavy lifting here, but there are also contributions by staffers including Laura Reynolds and Dave Haste. Myriad other writers pitch in too, for example the excellent Peter Watts who has a manly stab at the unsolvable which-is-London’s-oldest-pub conundrum. It is published in hardback and is a quality item, richly illustrated by 20 talented, professional artists. I didn’t notice at first glance that the cover, the familiar London citiscape which Londonist uses as its logo – is cleverly made up of bottles, glasses and other boozing paraphernalia.

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London’s oldest pub – that thorny old question.

Primarily, this is a guide-book of pubs and bars. That sort of book and indeed web site has been done to death. But Londonist – on its website as on here – does things differently. The dozens of pen-portraits within these pages are presented variously as oldest (see above); as pub crawls (Karl Marx, Blue Posts, Circle Line (image below), Colours of the Rainbow, Docklands Light Railway, Charles Dickens, you name it); as strangest names; on water; the best Wetherspoons; and so on. We examine wine bars, speakeasies, working men’s clubs, rooftop bars, hotel bars. Where to get the best cocktails.

And for readers of this blog, there is plenty of history too. Not only the history of all these beverages, but kings and queens; the London Beer Flood; the story behind pub names; the 18C Gin Craze; animals, death and murder.

With 68 chapters to enjoy, you can see I’ve here just scratched the surface.

Readers of Londonist will know that their style has a definite lightness of touch and humour. This shines through here, making the reading of this book even more of a pleasure. Secondly, they adore trivia, and the sharing thereof. Londonist Drinks is dripping in the stuff, but you’ll get no spoilers from me.

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One of many flimsy excuses for a good pub-crawl.

I have two quibbles which are more petty even than that word suggests:
1) There is an excellent chapter called Liquid History: A Chronology of Key Events in London Drinking. Here I discovered that my favourite pint – London Pride by Asahi Breweries (formerly Fuller’s) is actually younger than me, I had no idea! Anyway, this chapter is at the back. All historians will agree with me that it belongs at the front.
2) Use of the word ‘quaff’ (‘Once more unto the breach, Casketeers!’) Points deducted.

But seriously (again). This simply marvellous book is a sure-fire treat for all sociable Londoners and, may I suggest with Christmas looming scarily, guaranteed brownie points as a gift to your friends and family.

 


Londonist Drinks – A Spirited Guide to London Libation (192 pages) is published on 3 October by AA Media (there’s a double joke in there) with a cover price of £16.99, though available for less.