Archive for June, 2011

I must share. Have been doing some research this past week at the National Archives in Kew, about two miles from here (how lucky am I?). While the excellent staff were digging out the stuff I requested, I killed time by browsing their bookshop. It’s almost exclusively stocked with history, architecture and ancestry type titles and also has a good line in old maps etc. Best of all, it has loads of books on discount. Good ones too, not your usual bargain bin remaindered crap. So, for a princely sum of £21, I’m now the proud owner of:
Kew Past by David Blomfield
Samuel Johnson A Biography by Peter Martin
London Pleasures, From Restoration to Regency by David Kerr Cameron
Fatal Voyage, Captain Cook’s Last Great Journey by Peter Aughton

That’s over £70 worth on cover prices. So even if you are not doing research, I’d strongly recommend you visit this superb history bookshop, one you would never otherwise come across. You can shop there online too (use link, above).

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Last month I did a preview of the £13 million revamp of the Watts Gallery in Compton near Guildford. The gallery is dedicated to the works of Victorian artist George Frederic Watts, “England’s Michelangelo”. It reopened to the public last weekend.

The Watts people requested that I publish minimum photos until the official launch when all press coverage could be coordinated and maximised. So here are some more, which don’t come near to doing this wonderful gallery justice, but I hope enough to entice you to visit yourself.  There is also a list of press review links on our web site, here.

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watts gallery

watts gallerywatts gallery

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First off, another delightful new discovery: The Dustshoveller’s Gazette, written by Caroline Shenton who is writing a book about the 1834 Westminster Fire, to be published next year. London Cemeteries has been that busy with daily posts, I shan’t list them individually, but rather exhort you to go take a look.
And now, on to some cracking reads:
Ayers Street, SE1 by Caroline’s Miscellany
The Shoreditch Bodysnatchers and the Murder of Carlo Ferarri by Georgian London
The Victorians and Science Fiction by Virtual Victorian
Railway Promotion and the 1846 Royal Commission by Turnip Rail
Victorian Animal Rights and the Societies the Promoted Them by The Victorianist
124 Years Today: The Queen’s Golden Jubilee by The Victorianist
The Garden Squares of Islington by the House Historian
The History of Hurlingham by the House Historian
Now Showing at the Talbot Inn, a Crocodile and a Rhino by Georgian Gentleman
To Brighton to Swim in the Sea by Georgian Gentleman
The Fearful Fire Began Above by Dainty Ballerina
In Search of Shakespeare’s London by Spitalfields Life
St Pancras Renaissance – A Visit by Lee Jackson

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Whereas offences against property have of late increased in and near the metropolis; and the local establishments of nightly watch and nightly police have been found inadequate to the prevention and detection of crime, by reason of the frequent unfitness of the individuals employed, the insufficiency of their number, the limited sphere of their authority, and their want of connection and co-operation with each other: And whereas it is expedient to substitute a new and more efficient system of police in lieu of such establishments of nightly watch and nightly police, within the limits herein-after mentioned, and to constitute an office of police, which, acting under the immediate authority of one of his Majesty’s principal secretaries of state, shall direct and control the whole of such new system of police within those limits.

So goes the preamble of the Metropolitan Police Act of 19 June 1829, which established the organisation we know today. As every child should know, Sir Robert Peel was the moving force behind the Act. The Met was actually founded and operational a few months later on 29 September. Its first two commissioners were Sir Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne. The City of London was excluded from these arrangements, running their own force, as they do to this day.

Much is made – rightly – of the so-called Peelian principles, although there is no evidence that he himself devised them:

  1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.
  3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
  4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
  5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
  6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.
  7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it
It is a shame that they seem unfamiliar to today’s politicians and police commissioners.

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hammersmith bridgeOn this day in 1887, Prince Albert Victor – accompanied by his father, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII – opened the present Hammersmith Bridge.

London’s bridges had quite recently been taken into public ownership and made toll-free, to great public acclaim. It then became the job of the chief engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works,  Sir Joseph Bazalgette, to inspect the state of all the bridges and return them to a safe and serviceable condition. Bazalgette and his team found the state of the bridges to be generally woeful. Three of them – Putney, Battersea and Hammersmith – were considered not worth saving. They were demolished and replaced by structures of Sir Joseph’s own design.

The original Hammersmith bridge was opened in 1827. Designed by William Tierney Clark, it was the Thames’ first suspension bridge, built when that technology was very much in its infancy. Although widely admired by engineers and the public alike, it was never a particular success practically, being far too narrow for the traffic it came to service in the ensuing decades. At its two towers the width of the roadway was a mere 14 feet – insufficient for new modes of transport such as the horse-drawn omnibuses to travel in both directions without putting the lives of pedestrians in peril. But the structure remained sound. All this changed in 1882 when a boat collided with the bridge and a policemen fell through a walkway on his way to investigate. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1883 to build a new bridge.

old hammersmith bridge

William Tierney Clark's original Hammersmith Bridge (1827)

Bazalgette opted to stick to a suspension bridge design. The chief differences between his bridge and Clark’s were that the bridge was wider – 21 feet going through the towers – and it was by comparison highly decorated with much ornamental cast iron. The result was a beautiful structure aesthetically, considered by many to be London’s prettiest bridge, although a notable exception was the interior designer and local resident William Morris.

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Hammersmith Bridge from the Surrey side

But even the far-sighted Bazalgette did not realise the needs of vehicles in the age of the combustion engine. Today, the old lady is too weak to cope with lorries. There are six feet width restrictors on the approach roads in both directions, although small buses are permitted to bypass these. Further indignities were perpetrated by the IRA who have attempted to blow up the bridge on three occasions, most recently in 2000, causing it to be closed for many months.

There have been calls recently from some quarters (eg the art critic Brian Sewell) to replace the bridge with something more modern and sturdy. But most locals love their bridge and will not hear of such at thing. I have to say I agree with them.

Hammersmith Bridge was not the only bridge we celebrate today. Although now a distant memory, the first Waterloo Bridge – designed by John Rennie – was opened on 18 June 1817 by the Prince Regent and The Duke of Wellington, and named Waterloo for obvious reasons.

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hammersmith bridge

Row of historic buildings on the Hammersmith side, including the Blue Anchor (1722)

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From the Middlesex side

Wikipedia, as per (they have the opening date wrong).
Crossing the River by Brian Cookson

Engineering Timelines
Our friend, Patrick Baty

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On the morning of Sunday 18 June, 1944, the Guards Chapel in Wellington Barracks suffered a direct hit from a V1 flying bomb. The building was all but destroyed. It was packed with worshippers, 121 of whom were killed and a further 141 injured – soldiers and civilians alike. The enemy could not have dreamed of a more fortuitous result, given the totally random nature of flying bombs.

Supported by donations from many branches of the armed forces – notably I’m proud to say South Africans and Rhodesians – the chapel was re-built and re-opened in 1963. It’s well worth a visit, as is the Guards Museum next door.

There’s a good report of this incident here.

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I’d like to draw your attention to two new historical plays which are showing in London, but on quite short runs.

The Four Stages of Cruelty, presented by the Simple8 Theatre Company is based in 1751 and inspired by Hogarth engravings. It runs until 24 June. £15. More info and tickets here.

four stages of cruelty

The King’s Face covers a little-known historical incident in 1403 when Henry V, then Prince Harry, was severely wounded in the face by an arrow. The play tells the story of how his surgeon John Bradmore saves the prince’s life and how their relationship develops during the healing process. Until 3 July.

£12, down to £8 for groups. More info and tickets here.

the king's face

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