Archive for March, 2012

lillian boardHaving had several days of light-hearted debate by email and on Twitter with Mark Machado of Hayes FM radio about whether Ealing Central Library should be named after Peter Crouch (!), I looked up famous Ealing residents on Wikipedia. Dusty Springfield, Sid James, Nevil Shute, Spencer Perceval, Fred Perry. But one name leapt off the screen.

Lillian Board.

It’s hard now to express to anyone under 50 just how big a name Lillian was back in the late 1960s. The Nation’s Sweetheart. The Golden Girl. Tabloid clichés, yes, but Lillian was that. The hot favourite for 400m gold at the Mexico Olympiad of 1968 she was pipped at the tape (please watch this!) and only came away with silver, but I’d suggest she was embraced and beloved in the public imagination more than Kelly Holmes, Mary Peters, Sally Gunnell, Tessa Sanderson and Paula Radcliffe.

Lillian Board was born in South Africa, but when she was eight or nine, her family moved to Ealing. By her late teens she was excelling as an athlete at 200m, 400m and 800m. By 1968, aged just 20, she was the best in the world. In addition to her olympics silver, she won two golds at the European championships. She appeared on Question of Sport in its early days. She was awarded an MBE in the 1970 New Year’s honours. In the summer of that year, she was training hard at 800m with an eye to Munich 1972.

But six months later, she was dead, at the tragically young age of 22.

Diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer, Lillian declined rapidly, while the entire nation followed events in dumbfounded horror. Despite a last ditch desperate resort to a quack clinic in Germany, she died on Boxing Day.

As an athlete, she was still improving. She probably would have followed a golden path through several more olympics, potentially as far as Moscow 1980. Today she may well have been involved at the heart of affairs for London 2012.

lillian board

Adored by the whole country, Lillian Board was smart, bubbly, talented, gorgeous and very, very fast. She has streets named after her in Ealing and Greenford. She is remembered too at Munich’s olympic stadium. I wonder if our London 2012 Committee has any plans to commemorate her? I think they should.

2 January 2020.
Per the above, of course they didn’t. Also disappointing that the recent 50th anniversary programme about Question of Sport never mentioned her either, although admittedly I didn’t see all of it.

Boxing Day this year – Saturday 26 December – is the 50th anniversary of Lillian’s death. Given that this is the most commented of our blog post by far, I think there’s a case for remembering her that day with a little party of some kind. Comment if interested and we’ll see. All ideas welcome. Thanks.

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arm and hammer manette street soho londonI like unusual badges and signs, for example the Lamb and Flag, sometimes referred to as Agnus Dei, lamb of God. The picture here is of the Arm and Hammer sign on the side of Goldbeaters’ Hall in Manette Street, next to Foyles in Charing Cross Road. The building itself was the fictitious address of Dr Manette in Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities, resulting in the street being so-named. Goldbeaters produce gold leaf in the traditional manner, that is to say smashing ribbons of gold alloy (typically there is a little copper in the mix) with a cast iron hammer until it is a few thousandths of an inch thick. Hence the sign.

But the arm and hammer – not an especially common sign – is also an emblem of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, for obvious reasons. In recent centuries it has become a popular device of manufacturing trades unions and labour movements. There’s an interesting essay on the subject by Kim Munson, here. Lastly, you may be familiar with Arm and Hammer toothpaste, along with other domestic potions. A rather bizarre brand, I think, but there you go.

gold beater

There are some excellent British Pathe film clips of gold-beating here and here (no sound). They give it serious welly.

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A guest post by David Adams of Exploring London.

One of the things I love about London is the city’s many layers of history and how it’s possible, through looking at the remnants of buildings now long gone, to get a sense the city during some of these different historical eras.

Let’s start with the Romans. Putting aside the Temple of Mithras which is currently being moved, among the most evocative Roman remains are that of the massive Roman amphitheatre now under Guildhall Yard (enter through the Guildhall Art Gallery) and those of the Billingsgate bathhouse in Lower Thames Street (keep on eye out for Open House days to get a glimpse inside).

billingsgate bathouse

Billingsgate Bathhouse.

The city also contains a significant number of medieval remains – among the more spectacular are what’s left of the 14th century crypt of a priory which once belonged to the Carmelite order of White Friars. Encased by glass in the basement of an office building now occupied by law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, this can be reached by heading down Bouverie Street (off Fleet Street) and then to the end of Magpie Alley, after which there are a few steps.

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The last remains of the once massive Whitefriars priory.

And while many of the royal palaces in London are well known (and quite a few still standing), the remains of a lesser known building, believed to be a manor house of King Edward III, can be found on the south bank of the Thames near the junction of Bermondsey Wall East and Cathay Street.

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Edward III's manor house.

Other medieval remains include the Clerk’s Well that gave its name to Clerkenwell – located in Farringdon Lane, it can be seen through the window or you can gain entry by arrangement with Islington Council’s local history centre – as well as the rather more substantial ruins of churches like St Dunstan’s-in-the-East in Idol Lane.

Among the more impressive 17th century building remnants is that of York House Watergate, tucked away in Embankment Gardens. It was once the Thames-side entrance to York House which bought by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and favorite of King James I, about the time the baroque gateway was built in the 1620s and provides a terrific insight into the opulence of the Stuart court.

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The York Watergate - a one minute walk from Embankment station.

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A guest post by Mathew Lyons.

A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England by Suzannah Lipscomb.

a visitor's guide to tudor england suzannah lipscombIt was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached Suzannah Lipscomb’s latest book. Was it really necessary? Did the world need another guide book to the historic buildings of England? Would she not be forced into tiresome iterations of ‘We can imagine…’ or ‘If one closes one’s eyes one can almost hear…’ and so on.

Well, so much for my judgement: I stand corrected. A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England is not only a first-class and fascinating guide to the most important of what survives of Tudor England, it also doubles as a deceptively thorough history of the period – and indeed a fine introduction to the complexities of life in sixteenth-century England.

Readers expecting a comprehensive guide to the buildings of Tudor England should look elsewhere: Lipscomb offers something else. Although on paper this may look a more limited work of reference, Lipscomb has used that limitation to create something far deeper and more worthwhile than any mere gazetteer could ever hope to provide.

In essence, A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England takes the reader on a journey through fifty English locations with strong associations to Tudor history. Most of course are buildings – churches, castles, houses and so on – but Lipscomb’s survey also encompasses, among other things, a ship, a park, a battlefield and a solitary tree. These entries are organised geographically by region and are interspersed here and there with sections on other more elusive aspects of Tudor life, covering everything from food and clothing to the purpose of royal progesses and the development of the theatre.

In her introduction, Lipscomb sets out the criteria governing her selection: that there must be something that is actually still worth seeing; that each site should have a story to tell about a significant person or event in Tudor history; that as wide an area of England should be covered as possible; and that the entries should taken together offer a balanced overview of Tudor history as a whole.

Written out like that, I think the difficulty of the task Lipscomb has undertaken becomes apparent. I’m not wholly sure it ought to be possible to tick all those boxes, never mind do it with such elegance and wit. Lipscomb is now an academic historian and a writer – her previous book, the excellent 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII, was published in 2009 – but she also worked as a curator at Hampton Court Palace for three years. That experience shines through in the text, since she has a superb eye for telling architectural detail and a subtle, evocative sensitivity to place: the cold winds at Ludlow, say, or the desolation of Pontefract Castle.

The book is aimed at the general reader, but Lipscomb is a clear and insightful writer and there is much for everyone to enjoy, from the judiciously chosen stories she recounts – the public triumphs and private tragedies of an extraordinary period of English history – to the vivid and revealing portraits she draws of the lead actors. Moreover, although of course all the figures one would expect to be here are covered, from Sir Thomas More to William Shakespeare, there are many less well known men and women with fascinating lives. I knew next to nothing of poor Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister, for example, and certainly not of her year of five weddings; I loved the workmen at Hampton Court suddenly having to replace Anne Boleyn’s heraldic falcon with the panther of Jane Seymour, working under such pressure that they missed a few up in the roof.

Lipscomb is empathetic in her portrayals – the account of Mary I’s marriage to Philip of Spain at Winchester Cathedral, for instance, is gently moving. But her judgements are no less sharp for all that. I particularly liked Jane Seymour’s “cheerful, bovine tractability”, for instance.

Caveats? The only criticism I can really think of relates to my point about the book being an excellent introduction to the history of the period. There is a timeline of important dates tucked away in the introduction, but it is fairly cursory. A fuller timeline, cross-referenced as appropriate to the relevant buildings and chapters would, I think, be helpful to readers trying to piece 16th century England back together in their minds. But it is a minor quibble, perhaps even a graceless one given how much else here there is to enjoy.

To return to my initial question. Is this book necessary? Emphatically, yes. It is hard to think of a book that offers such a rich, pleasurable and illuminating guide to Tudor England. It should surely be essential reading for anyone travelling to any of the sites it covers, but it would be no less valuable as a companion for anyone simply setting out to explore the history of the period.

A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England by Suzannah Lipscomb (326pp)  is published by Ebury Press. Cover price £12.99, but available for less.

Mathew Lyons is the author of the critically acclaimed Impossible Journeys, described by the Guardian as ‘a non-fiction companion to the tall tales of Italo Calvino’s Marco Polo’. It was the Folio Society’s bestselling title through 2010. His latest book is The Favourite, published by Constable & Robinson in March 2011 and due out in paperback this June. (www.mathewlyons.co.uk)

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A brief report and some photos of our event on Tuesday night at the Bell in Spitalfields. Buoyed by the success of our first two efforts at the end of last year (here and here), we decided to be a bit more ambitious by introducing a theme and involving sound clips and video, not just the microphone.

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Full house at the Bell

As before, the room was packed. Our theme was London Recorded Sound. Our presenters were Simon Rooks (BBC Archives), Ian Rawes (British Library) and Ross MacFarlane (Wellcome Library), all experts on the history of early London recorded sound. These three gentlemen “owned the room” with their compelling presentations. Space prevents detail, but Max Beerbohm talking about London in the 1930s was delicious; Commander Daniel recording this street sounds of Leicester Square with commentary – hilarious; the story of Thomas Edison’s sidekick, one Colonel George Gouraud, who, using the Edison phonograph, made voice recordings of the great and good in London society, including Florence Nightingale.

Arthur Sullivan immediately recognised the downside of the new invention.

I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening’s experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever.

Michael Buble, anyone?

Ian Rawes brought in an actual first generation wax cylinder phonograph with cylinders and gave us a demo: impressive.

A big thank you to Matt Brown of Londonist who hosted the evening, as usual, with effortless aplomb and set a testing Speed Quiz, won by the team Bakelite Bells.

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Simon Rooks

london historians history in the pub 3

Ian Rawes. Sorry Ian, terrible photo.

london historians history in the pub 3

Ross MacFarlane

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Matt Brown

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Q & A

An entirely happy coincidence was that on the very day of our event, the excellent Spitalfields Life blog wrote about some diorama models of the Bell – the very pub that we were in – which had been gathering dust in the pub’s basement for many years. They are rather large, but we hoicked one upstairs to display. Landlord Glyn Roberts has been looking for a good home for them for years. The good news is that Bishopsgate Institute have stepped forward to take, restore and display them. Do check the above link – the photos are much much better than mine, below.

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One of four diorama models of the Bell, Spitalfields

To discover more about London Sound at the BBC, I’ll quote directly Simon Rooks’ email:

“The www.bbc.co.uk/archive site has the widest range of published BBC archives in one place, presented in themed collections. It’s no longer updated, but everything was cleared for permanant publications so they should be staying around. I worked on one which celebrated the people whose vision and drive created what we now call the BBC Sound Archives. That’s collected in http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/archive_pioneers/

For further listening and viewing pleasure…

releasing archives is now more concentrated in TV based collections supporting BBC4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/collections and for radio, big mass-release projects such as Desert Island Discs http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/desert-island-discs/find-a-castaway ”

Finally, I simply must recommend to you Ian Rawes’ web site: London Sound Survey. It is an astonishing labour of  love which combines contemporary crowd-sourcing of London sounds with amazing content of historical recordings.

london sound survey



Look out for our next History in the Pub!

Update: Ross MacFarlane has sent this link to very early Edison sound recordings, including from Crystal Palace.

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On Facebook earlier this week, History Today drew attention to an article in the Daily Mail where Professor David Abulafia of Cambridge University bemoans the lack of British history key event teaching at GCSE level, suggesting 31 which he thinks every child shud kno. I Tweeted the url and a fairly lively discussion followed, as expected. But Twitter is a fairly hopeless forum for this sort of thing, so if you’d like to check the article and make your own observations here, that would be lovely. As an old-school Gradgrind, my own position is broad agreement with the Professor but not necessarily his selection, or – more to the point – his omissions.

But that’s the fun in this sort of article. I was surprised by Trafalgar but no Waterloo (although I’d concede the argument that Trafalgar may have been more important); nothing on plagues; Gunpowder Plot; you can’t have Treaty of Paris, secession of American colonies, and then leave out Plassey; Great Fire of London; the Indian Mutiny. Tweeters criticised lack of anything on suffrage, women’s or otherwise. And so on. And what about technology? Railways and the spinning mule are mentioned. But the phone, car, airplane, radio, television and the silicon chip have all made a fundamental impact historically. Maybe it’s because they are everyday items that are still with us, we take them for granted without considering their historical impact.

So what do you think about the Professor’s selection? And his arguments?

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Today it was announced that the Palace of Westminster would not, after all, be making an entry charge to the Clock Tower to visit Big Ben. Not until 2015, in any case. The House of Commons Commission seemingly backed down after protests from a group of MPs. The suggested ticket price was £15. Yes one-five pounds.

Instead of coming up with a sensible and fair price, the default position was immediately to fleece the punter. Why? Because they can, and there’s plenty of precedent. The Monument – a not dissimilar experience, I would suggest – charges a sensible £3, and I look forward to going up there soon. Most boutique museums and “lesser” historic sites tend to charge £5 – 7. Fair enough. My nearest, the Kew Bridge Steam Museum, charges £10. A tad pricy, perhaps, but your ticket does at least last for 12 months. I wish more museums would do this.

Sites which were once free but have recently introduced entry charges are the Temple Church (£3, I think, info not available on their web site) and Flamsteed House at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (£7). Not too bad, on the face of it, but again, once the charging principle has been established, price inflation is much easier to implement: the thin end of the wedge.

Remember Kew Gardens. It famously used to cost a penny to get in. When I first visited in the early 80s this had gone up to a few shillings, I can’t remember the exact amount. Today it costs a whopping £13.90. Other entry prices I find quite frankly shocking, include: Tower of London, £20.90; Hampton Court Palace, £16.95; St Paul’s, £14.50; Westminster Abbey, £16.00.

Now, I am a believer in the free market and the idea that you can price anything at what the market will bear, supply and demand and all that. But there are punters out there who will, for example, stump up £150 or more from a tout for a ticket to see, I dunno, let’s say U2 or Blur. Doesn’t make it right. No, my problem is that residents of this country, and Londoners in particular, are being priced out of big swathes of their heritage. And I include myself in this, incidentally. I strongly believe there should be a two-tier pricing system to take this into account.

Thankfully, many of our biggest museums and galleries are still free, and I congratulate them and the government for maintaining this situation. Long may it continue. My favourites are the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

What do you think about ticket pricing in our museums and heritage attractions? Do you know of other examples of charging being introduced?

*Prices cited here are from the relevant web sites of attractions themselves at time of writing.

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