Archive for September, 2011

In the hallway about an hour ago I found a parcel in a clear plastic bag. With it was a hand-written note, in pencil, on a scrap of paper. It read:

Mr Paterson. Sorry I forgot your Newsletter. I shall post it. Ric.

This item had been hand-delivered. The contents were

  • Seven lovely plans of the Old Palace of Westminster
  • Book 1: The London Letters of Samuel Molyneux, 1712-13 by Paul Holden
  • Book 2: The Palace of Westminster, surveyed on the eve of the Conflagration, 1834 by MH Port
london topographical society


All of these items are published by the London Topographical Society. I am a recent joiner of the LTS, but I was pretty sure that I had not ordered any of their excellent publications yet. So, a bit of a mystery. Not wanting to be the undeserving recipient of something not intended for me, I phoned them up, only to be told: no, that is correct, it is part of your annual members’ pack.

I am deeply impressed.

One of my key interests in London history is to do with topography: the rivers, the canals, the streets, bridges, railways, sewers, tunnels, architecture etc. Yes, people too, of course. But for me the changing landscape of the city is particularly fascinating. So I had been meaning to join LTS for almost a year, but simply not got around to it. I met some fellows on their stand at the London Maze at the Guildhall some months ago, promising to join and yet still I let things slide (anyone thinking of joining London Historians who are reading this please don’t follow my slack example!). Finally, during some idle time a few weeks ago, I got my act together and signed up.

To join LTS you have to download a form from their web site, print it out, fill it in and send them a cheque. Their web site does look rather old fashioned. And now this business with the parcel. The London Topographical Society is very old school. I had thought for a while that they should buck up and join the 21st Century.

But who am I to say? I’d love for us to be able to do this for our members. One day we will, but we are still a very young organisation, and that will come. After all, the London Topographical Society was founded in 1880.

I now think they should stay exactly as they are. I’m very happy to be a member and I’d warmly recommend that you should be one too. Annual membership is £20. Furthermore, we shall include LTS members as eligible for £10 discount to London Historians, as we do for the Georgian Group and the Victorian Society. If that’s you, contact us to find out how.

The London Topographical Society web site.

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hair the musical

Origianal HAIR album cover, just as I remember it.

Forty three years ago today, the musical HAIR opened at the Shaftsbury Theatre. The producers had to wait for theatrical censorship to be abolished the previous day. It must have been long expected for surely  they would not have made that kind of investment in cast, scenery etc. without knowing it was coming, and precisely when. 1968. The Summer of Love and student riots in Europe and America. All that. As a 10 year old, I remember HAIR very clearly, and I loved it. The music anyway – we did, after all, live in Zambia at the time. But I was fortunate that my parents had trendy expatriate friends with state-of-the-art hi-fi and cool LP collections. And I always liked the little umlaut (or is it an infinity symbol?) over the capital “I”. Far out, man.

HAIR so represented the spirit of the age. Its London cast included hunky Oliver Tobias and cute cheeky chappy Paul Nicholas. Rocky Horror’s Richard O’Brian and Tim Curry met during the production. Elaine Page was a developing star of the musical stage. Cast member the late Marsha Hunt, black, beautiful and Mick Jagger’s lover. HAIR‘s anthemic, naive, hippy songs are still very listenable today. I think so, anyway.

The new censorship regulations opened the door and HAIR came crashing through. But did it open the floodgates of filth and perversion? Hardly. Oh! Calcutta followed a year or two later but only very occasionally have we had further controversy, Jerry Springer The Musical being the only one I can think of, actually.

Until September 1968, theatre censorship was the responsibility of the Lord Chamberlain’s office. This duty was set up under the Licensing Act 1737 by Robert Walpole, fed up with dramatists various satirising him and his administration. The Act, it is argued, was partially responsible for the rise of the novel, creative writers seeking new avenues to take a poke at authority. And the revival of Shakespearian drama.

The Licensing Act was superceded in 1843 by the Theatres Act, which essentially removed the political dimension of the censorship, just leaving the protection of the theatre-going public from lewdness. This was the Act that was scrapped in 1968 to give us HAIR.

Further back still in the Elizabethan and early Jacobean eras, plays were controlled by the Office of the Censor operating out of St John’s Gate. The plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries were all scrutinised. In 1593, The dramatist Thomas Kyd, accused of sedition, narrowly escaped with his life following severe torture as an indirect result of what he’d written.

st john's gate

St John's Gate. In Shakespeare's time, the Censor's Office operated from this very room.

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Time for some  more funnies from the early 20th Century, cartoons published in Mr Punch in London Town from the New Punch Library.

I was in the Red Lion in Crown Passage, St James’s on Saturday evening and noticed they had framed cartoons on the wall. Closer inspection showed that they were not originals but cut from books, I believe the same set from which these come, that is to say The New Punch Library. I always wince when I see that books have been butchered in this way. You see this in many pubs and countless thousands mounted on board in dealers and on street traders’ stalls up and down the land. Old prints can mean tidy business. The NPL seems to be common enough if you look on eBay, ABE Books and so on, so in this case, no real harm done, I suppose. And one can argue that the overwhelming majority of old book illustrations will never be seen by anybody, ever. So why not chop them out and display them? Mmm… still doesn’t seem right, somehow. What do you think?

Anyway, back to the cartoons. The first one was originally published in Punch on 24 June, 1908 and involves something known as a “Flip-Flap”. It’s some sort of cage, in this case occupied by well-to-do folk who are being goaded by some characters further down the social scale. But what is a Flip-Flap? At first I thought it might be some kind of lift apparatus on the Underground, at the time going through rapid expansion. But no. A few minutes’ Goolging reveals that the Flip-Flap was a sort of funfair ride at the Anglo-French Exhibition of 1908 held at White City. The Flip-Flap obviously became a widely-publicised highlight. There is a good illustration of it here (scroll down a bit).

mr punch in london town

EXHIBITION NOTES - DISAGREEABLE INCIDENT ON THE "FLIP-FLAP" MRS HENRY HAWKINS "Won't 'e tike a sangwidge, 'Enry? Try 'im wiv a nut." by Lewis Baumer

More working-class wit here:

mr punch in london town

(5.35 A.M. workman's train) BILL. "Ullo, 'Erb, got a job, then?" 'ERB. "I ain't goin' up to Lon'on for a Tango lesson, I give you my word." by A.T. Smith

Put-upon cabbies and waitering staff were a common source for amusement.

mr punch in london town

TAXI-DRIVER (to fare who has given no tip). "I should say pound-notes slip through your fingers as easy as fly-papers!" by H.M. Brock

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lancelot andrewesToday marks the death in 1626 of the formidable church scholar Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) who reached the highest echelons of the Church of England during the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I. He is possibly the most learned, brilliant and influential theologian in the history of the church. A lad from Essex, both he and his brother Roger became prodigious  theologians at a time when the struggle for religious hegemony in England and Scotland was still playing itself out at home and abroad.

Andrewes’ biggest contribution to church history was his role in the creation of the Authorised Version which celebrates its 400th anniversary this  year. The book was commissioned by James I and compiled by three teams of scholars in Westminster, Oxford and Cambridge. Andrewes was the lead editor of the Westminster team and considered to be the overall guiding spirit behind the whole project.

Lancelot Andrewes was educated at the Merchant Taylors’ School and Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. In the 1580s, having taken orders, he served in London parishes in Cripplegate and St Paul’s. His reputation as a scholarly and inspiring preacher grew rapidly and he soon came to the favourable attention of Francis Walsingham who became instrumental in promoting the brilliant theologian’s career further, ultimately becoming chaplain to the Queen herself. Andrewes went on to become bishop of Chichester, Ely and finally Winchester.

He wrote and delivered many influential sermons, largely addressing doctrinal topics such as forms of worship and prayer, interpreting scriptures and generally giving clarity to the differences between the churches of Rome and England. Criticised for the didactic nature of his delivery, his works have nonetheless remained hugely influential down the centuries.

The great theologian was also deeply interested in history and as an amateur antiquarian was well-known in the circles of William Camden, John Stow and their ilk.

Lancelot Andrewes died in 1626 and was interred in the church of St Mary Overy in Southwark which became Southwark Cathedral in the early 20th Century. He has a tomb on the right of aisle at the altar end of the cathedral.

lancelot andrewes

Tomb of Lancelot Andrewes, Southwark Cathedral

lancelot andrewes

The Story of Lancelot Andrewes' tomb.

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Last night’s event. I think I shall just try and let the pictures do the talking, but they will be mumbling, not sure what’s gone wrong with my camera. Also, no pictures of Lucy or me, neither of us particularly camera-shy, I think, just a case of me running around a lot sorting stuff out.

I shall simply make the following observations.

  • Turnout was excellent, the place was packed out and we were jolly lucky in the end that we had about 20 no-shows. Whew.
  • The feedback – mainly via Twitter – has been extremely kind and very positive, I believe everybody had a great time. I know I did.
  • The talks by Lucy Inglis and Prof Jerry White were excellent: compelling, interesting, informative and full of insight.
  • Ruairidh Anderson’s songs and anecdotes from the old East End were an absolute delight.
  • Matt Brown did an excellent job as ringmaster and quizmaster, his questions were suitably testing.

Congratulations to our bookwinners (signed copies of London history tomes by Jerry White) and welcome to London Historians to Jack Leech who won the year’s membership prize draw. Quiz winners were Team Bridle, followed closely by 20thCentury Wellcome and Robin’s Reliants.

A big thank you to the above named speakers; to landlord of The Bell, Glyn, whose surname I don’t know, and his staff; and London Historian Fiona Pretorius for invaluable help with set-up and checking everyone in.

If you were there last night, thanks for your support. This embryonic event was an experiment and your taking the plunge is very much appreciated. Feedback – good, bad or ugly – is most welcome, we will be doing another History in the Pub soon and your comments will help make it even better. If I don’t follow you on Twitter yet, please let me know!

Further info on the event here described can be found on a previous post, here.

Ruairidh Anderson, Matt Brown

Ruairidh Anderson, Matt Brown

Professor Jerry White

Professor Jerry White, looking saintly thanks to background picture.
Matt Brown Londonist

The speed quiz. Matt poses challenging London history questions.

History in the Pub

Standing room only.

History in the Pub

London Historians stalwart and Westminster Guide, Pete Berthoud, Matt, Jerry.

History in the Pub

Aftermath: hardcore London Historians are usually still there at chucking out time.

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Best of Recent Blogs #29

I haven’t done one of these for a while, so there are too many to list. I shall just cite my favourites from each blogger and leave it to you, dear reader, to check out their other recent posts.

A hidden gem of a Georgian public house in Hatton Garden by Georgian Gentleman, prolific as ever
An Epitaph, by a Friend by Georgian London
Rotherhithe Ramblings by Westminster Walks
Find Us Near the Pump by Caroline’s Miscellany
Do not glare upon thy snot by Shakespeare’s England
Holborn Bars by Silver Tiger
Unveiling the Map of Spitalfields Life by the Gentle Author
What do you want your railway to do? by Turnip Rail (and a very welcome design update of black text out of white!) 🙂
Westminster’s Throne on Wheels by Dustshoveller’s Gazette
Feathers, Carnage and Protest in Victorian England – guest post by Jayne Shrimpton on the Victorianist
What’s in a Name?… Cheapside by Exploring London
VC Holder Felled by Kerb by Discovering London
20 September 1486 – the birth of Arthur, Prince of Wales by the Anne Boleyn Files
Tooley Street Fire by Lee Jackson


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When I went to the preview of the HMP Wandsworth exhibition last week at the Wandsworth Museum, it was an unexpected treat to discover the De Morgan Centre in the same building. Never heard of it? Nor me. It so happened that it re-opened last Thursday after a complete two year re-fit. It houses a large proportion of the life’s works of  William De Morgan (1839 – 1917), ceramicist, and his wife, Evelyn De Morgan (1855 – 1919), painter. The De Morgan collection is displayed in a single room gallery. But it is a very large, high-ceilinged room which has been exquisitely appointed to house more of the collection than hitherto, including several paintings by Evelyn which have not been shown before and have been fully cleaned. The immediate effect as you enter is a breathtaking riot of colour. Quite spectacular.

De Morgan Centre

Photograph Nigel Frey. © De Morgan Foundation

De Morgan Centre

William and Evelyn De Morgan. © De Morgan Foundation

William De Morgan was born into a highly intellectual and progressive family. He was an aspiring artist who, disillusioned with the art establishment, fell in with William Morris, the Arts and Crafts movement and the pre-Raphaelite crowd. Although something of a polymath, his primary interests were pottery and ceramics. He employed a wide range of influences, but much Eastern (particularly Isnik) as was the fashion. De Morgan was particularly focused on perfecting glaze techniques, resulting in gorgeous finishes, particularly using lustreware, a “lost” technique which he rediscovered through extensive experimentation. His works produced some of the tiles in Lord Leighton’s famous Arab Hall and he also completed commissions of compositions in tile for luxury cruise liners, a few of which are on show at the centre. William De Morgan had potteries in both Fulham and Chelsea. Late in life he turned his hand to writing novels with considerable success, especially in the USA, although some I have spoken to rate them as terrible!

De Morgan Centre

Dragon Tile. © De Morgan Foundation

De Morgan Centre

Dolphin Plate. © De Morgan Foundation

In 1887  De Morgan married Evelyn Pickering, 16 years his junior and at 32 almost considered “on the shelf” by the standards of the day. But Evelyn was an independently-minded woman, not given to bending to societal norms of the age. Having trained at the Slade on a scholarship in the 1870s (one of its first woman students), she had devoted her time to building a career as a painter. Her subjects were typical of the pre-Raphaelite themes of myth and allegory, not a few given to the idea of women being trapped or enslaved ( e.g. the Gilded Cage). Over half of her output is in the collection.

De Morgan Centre

The Guilded Cage. © De Morgan Foundation

De Morgan Centre

Luna. Newly-cleaned and on public display for the first time. © De Morgan Foundation

The De Morgans had a loving, supportive and successful marriage. Their circle included Morris, Ruskin, GF Watts, Leighton and other movers and shakers in the art world, although they were more Grosvenor Gallery types than the Royal Academy crowd (not being an art expert by any means, I wonder to what extent these distinctions are exaggerated?). They were intellectually progressive, very supportive of women’s suffrage. They were also pacifists and much interested in spiritualism (a disappointment to us, perhaps, but one must remember that many intellectuals of the day thought there was something in it).

One might argue that the De Morgan Centre and its collection are strictly for lovers of pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts genres. But no, it is a joyful, colourful space, beautifully decorated and lit. Evelyn’s paintings might not float everyone’s boat, but I defy you not to be amazed at the beauty of William’s creations.

The De Morgan Centre in Wandsworth costs £4 entry, free entry for Art Fund members. For opening hours etc. check their web site.

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