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Archive for May, 2011

The other day I posted some ghost sign pictures near the shop that was fixing my laptop in the unprepossessing west London suburb of Hanwell. What more had the area to offer the lazy historian, I wondered?

So on Sunday we drove a few miles up the road to explore Hanwell. Hanwell was, and is, a village on the Uxbridge Road between Ealing and Southall, although administratively it has been absorbed by Ealing. It’s very much the type of place one passes through. But if one gets out the car, as with most places in greater London, there is treasure. Primarily this takes the form of the Wharncliffe Viaduct, built by Brunel in 1836-37 on the route of the Great Western Railway between London and Bristol. Standing 65 feet above the Brent Valley, it is a wonderful example of magnificent 19C engineering. It is said that Queen Victoria liked to stop the Royal train here to gaze across her realm. Immediately north of the viaduct is some rather lovely park land, ideal for picnicking.

hanwellhanwell

Back on the Uxbridge Road we head east and come across two cemeteries facing each other on either side of the thoroughfare.  One is the Westminster Cemetery, the other the Kensington and Chelsea Cemetery, both miles adrift from the eponymous boroughs concerned. They were both established in the 1850s when Central London could no longer cope with its corpses, though one imagines that the prevailing “miasma” theory of cholera transmission (despite Snow), had something to do with it. The Westminster Cemetery was involved in the notorious 15p cemetery sell-off by Westminster Council in the 1980s

I don’t think I’ve purposely visited a cemetery before outside the business of attending a funeral. It is an interesting and peaceful experience, tinged with sadness, obviously. There are no persons of note in these cemeteries, but the stories that the monuments and gravestones tell are often compelling. And misleading. One such said: M Wheeler builder of Notting Hill. Who was this unknown Cubitt of west London, I thought? On finding no information whatsoever about Mr Wheeler, I realised that Lynne Truss may have told me that the inscription should have been punctuated: M Wheeler, builder, of Notting Hill.

hanwell

hanwell

Weather-beaten George and Dragon on the gatehouse of Westminster Cemetery

hanwell

Pretty chapel. Kensington and Chelsea (Hanwell) Cemetery

hanwell

A sad tale. Louisa Eliza Radford died a matter of weeks after the death of her newborn. Two years later her teenaged son perished in a drowning accident.

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On Saturday a friend suggested we meet for tea and cake at The Original Maids of Honour tea room opposite Kew Gardens, an establishment that many readers probably know well. What could be more agreeable?

Maids of honour are a type of tart, the recipe of which has been handed down the generations, apparently since the time of Henry VIII. They have been served from the earliest times in Richmond and then in the present premises since 1887. The building was damaged by a V2 flying bomb during WW2 and restored. It’s extremely pleasant and relaxing without the tweeness that one might expect. The word “Original” in the name of the tea room suggests there must have been some proprietary dispute over these delicious comestibles at some time in the past.

Anyway, while we visited the Original Maids of Honour it was fairly busy, but we got a table easily enough. We chose to have the menu item which included tea, sandwiches, cream & jam scones and a maid of honour for £14.95 each. The food was delicious and I squeezed four cups of tea from my pot, so not bad value. Service, though cheerfully given, wasn’t the fastest in the world, but when you’re having a great time with friends and in no particular hurry, this hardly matters.

The OMoH sells a wide variety of treats, savouries and breadstuff to eat in or take away.

original maids of honour, keworiginal maids of honour, keworiginal maids of honour, keworiginal maids of honour, kew

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A few excellent recently discovered blogs to share with you:
Georgian Gentleman is written by Mike Rendell, whose recent book I reviewed here.
Discovering London by Peter Berthoud, whom I met on our recent Thames walk.

We would like to extend hearty congratulations to Songs from the Howling Sea for completing a London history song and video blog post every week for the past year, a staggering achievement, most entertaining, most enlightening.

Mark Blitzstein, Roland Hayes and the “Negro Chorus” at the Royal Albert Hall by Another Nickel in the Machine.
Wilton’s Music Hall Needs Help! by Caroline’s Miscellany, also covered by TheVictorianist, here.
Mydidee: from Tahiti to Deptford with Captain Bligh by Caroline’s Miscellany
The Taming of a/the Shrew by Dainty Ballerina
The loathesome and odious sin of drunkenesse by Dainty Ballerina
Nightmen by Lee Jackson
Where’s London’s oldest… outdoor statue? by Exploring London
Sir William Schwenck Gilbert by the Virtual Victorian

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Inspired by the excellent Caroline’s Miscellany, I thought I’d share with you some ghost signs I spotted the other day in Hanwell, which is just west of Ealing. Hanwell doesn’t have any stately houses, fine churches or things of that nature, but it does have Brunel’s magnificent railway viaduct that passes over Brent Valley. Queen Victoria (happy 192nd birthday, Ma’am) used to have the royal train stop here so she could gaze over her realm.

Anyway, here they are, round the back of a 2nd hand car dealership in Hanwell Broadway.

ghost signs hanwellghost signs hanwell

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journal of a georgian gentlemanMike Rendell is a retired lawyer who lives in Spain. His direct ancestor, Richard Hall, was a stocking maker, haberdasher and farmer who lived in the mid-Georgian period. Hall kept a meticulous diary, wrote many letters and hoarded hundreds of documents and objects that particularly interested him.  Much of this – and other directly related material – is in the possession of the author. Rendell has compiled it, made sense of it, related it to the contemporary historical landscape and produced this book: The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman: The Life and Times of Richard Hall, 1729 – 1801.

Hall was born and spent his formative years in Red Lion Street,  Southwark – an only child. He followed his father into the stocking making trade.  Father and son were without benefit of livery membership, so business was tough.  But Richard worked hard, married well and eventually bought himself a shop and respectability in the Square Mile, expanding his wares to general haberdashery, by which time the City establishment  readily embraced him at no little cost: money talks. Simultaneously, he minded, nurtured and developed his small-holding interests in rural Berkshire in parnership with his wealthier brother-in-law.  Having made his eldest son an equal partner in the London business, friction between them over Richard’s second marriage was largely responsible for Hall moving permanently to the Cotswolds, nonetheless visiting the capital frequently for the remainder of his life. Hence, for the historian, this man’s story has valuable depth, embracing as it does substantial periods of life lived both immediately south and north of London Bridge, plus giving us a good look at how a modest country squire spent his time at the fag-end of the 18th Century.

Hall was a Baptist, and suitably God-fearing; he appeared to have a wide circle of friends; he enjoyed a drink; he was keen to keep up with the Joneses; he was a conscientious if possibly not especially affectionate parent (although this is difficult to judge from the written word alone); he was careful with money yet not above ensuring that his house was well appointed with the latest fixtures, fittings and comforts, or that his children were well shod and went to good schools.

Not especially an original thinker himself (why should he be?), Hall nonetheless had an enquiring mind, being deeply interested in the natural world, notably astronomy, fossils, flora and fauna. He took meticulous notes of all the latest discoveries. Almost daily he tells us about the weather. He records the costs of every single transaction, from tipping a gateman to visiting a museum to re-roofing his house. He relates whom he travelled with, where they stayed, what they ate. We share every ache, pain and malady which befalls him, and what remedies he employs.  There is nothing too mundane for Hall to get down on paper.  We might consider him a fussy man, a bore even. But so estranged are we in time from just 250 years ago, these jottings give a fascinating insight into life lived then.  A banquet for the historian of Georgian daily life.

Exceeding Sharp; Snow, froze very Hard. Froze the water in the Chamber Pot.

Went to the Chapel Royal. Saw the King and Queen, afterwards the zebra (two shillings) and elephants (three shillings).

The  value of this book is that it helps one “live in the clothes” of the mid to late-Eighteenth Century. We get a real sense of what things cost, how people dined and entertained themselves, what were their fears and daily concerns. How long it took them to travel from A to B; basic medicine and dentistry; how precarious life could be (his partner’s wife died within seven hours of falling ill). I was interested to discover that Hall and is ilk liked to visit stately homes, something I took to be a 20th Century past-time: far from it.

These, then, are the brush strokes. The wider canvas of the book gives us much context. We learn, for example, about how the Enclosures Acts affected Hall’s farming interests: extremely directly as it happened. Hall and his brother-in-law, both upstanding Christian gentlemen, connived in gerrymandering the local election in order to get a piece of the action, that is to say to get their hands on public land. We discover how Hall coped with the Gordon Riots of 1780: he holed  up at a friend’s house until  the violence dissipated. We are reminded how hostilites with France at the end of Hall’s story caused economic problems – income tax, burgeoning national debt, acute inflation – and was felt most acutely, as usual, by those on the very bottom of the heap.  No radical, Hall was nonetheless on the abolition side of the slavery argument.

There is a strong current trend for historical examination of the life of the aspirational middle class. Historians Amanda Vickery and Lucy Worsley have both recently blazed a trail across our screens.  Not for them the rich, the famous, the powerful. This is the history of the street, the shop, the office, the family and the home. Mike Rendell’s excellent book makes a noteworthy contribution to building the picture of Georgian middle-class merchant domesticity.

The book is richly illustrated with photos, maps, contemporary illustrations and, of course, facsimiles of pages of Hall’s own writings. It has generous and interesting appendices.

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman, 255pp, is published by The Book Guild and is priced £17.99 RRP, but available for less.

Mike Rendell’s web site.
Mike Rendell’s excellent blog.

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Yesterday a group of London Historians and friends went for an excellent historical mosey from the Embankment past Blackfriars, over the Wobbly Bridge (known by a few as the Millennium Bridge) into Southwark and the extremely popular Anchor pub. We were led by the excellent author, Blue Badge guide and true gentleman, Brian Cookson, a friend of London Historians who has encouraged us from the outset, not least by writing some superb articles on London’s bridges.

The sun was out, the tide was high. Dozens of packed pleasure craft plied their trade up and down our great river. The Embankment bustled with happy Londoners and tourists. We met at Temple tube station and headed west through Embankment Gardens, taking in Somerset House, the York Watergate, the Savoy. Through Embankment station we doubled back along the river bank past Cleopatra’s Needle, under Waterloo Bridge. The Blackfriars station redevlopment forced us to detour “inland” a bit taking in the Unilever building, the art-deco Blackfriar pub. Over the Wobbly Bridge we went, checking out Shakespeare’s Globe until we reached the Anchor pub.

And there most of us remained for the next three hours and more, happily downing away, the smokers in particular grateful for the fine conditions. This is the part of London Historians events that I enjoy the most: socialising with like-minded historians and making new friends. Everyone has their own particular interests, specialities. I love finding out what other historians are doing, what turns them on. When starting London Historians, this is exactly what we wanted it to be all about. Long may it continue.

So do look out for further London Historians events on our web site.

london historians thames walk

london historians thames walk

York Watergate marks the former position of the water's edge prior to embankment by Bazalgette.

london historians thames walk

The Art Nouveau Blackfriar pub

london historians thames walk

london historians thames walk

Brian Cookson

london historians thames walk

Sundowners. Earned.

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Following a tip by IanVisits, a fellow London Historian and I went yesterday to The Honourable Artillery Company’s open evening. It was a great opportunity, since this site is normally closed to the public. The HAC headquarters is in City Road near Bunhill Fields Cemetery. It has its own cricket and rugby field in what must be one of the highest value patches of real estate in the world.

Raised in 1537, the HAC is the oldest extant unit in the British Army. Today it is a territorial unit,  its gunnery function mainly for ceremonial purposes, although its troops still do active service in an infantry role. They put on a superb show. Here are some pictures. As we were leaving, I was delighted to find in the grand staircase a sculpture model from Charles Sargeant Jagger’s Royal Artillery Memorial, which I wrote about last November. My favourite London monument.

Honourable Artillery Company

HQ Building

Honourable Artillery Company

Royal Horse Artillery with 13 pounder

Honourable Artillery Company

Royal Horse Artillery. How they train the horses.

Honourable Artillery Company

Lieutenant and Captain. Garb is mid-17C.

Honourable Artillery Company

Honourable Artillery Company. Pikemen and Musketmen.

Honourable Artillery Company

Boer War re-enactment

Honourable Artillery Company

Lavish interior of Honourable Artillery Company HQ.

Honourable Artillery Company

Model of figure from Royal Artillery Memorial by Charles Sargeant Jagger. And the real thing, Hyde Park Corner.

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