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Archive for May, 2012

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg had a miserable weekend when several hundred Occupy protestors decided to demonstrate outside his house. Well, having an uninvited miasma of crusties parked outside one’s front door can’t be pleasant, but Clegg should thank his stars that he lives in these highly civilised times. Throughout history, top politicians have had their London homes besieged and sometimes attacked by the the mob. During the Peasants’ Revolt John of Gaunt wisely absented himself from town while disgruntled farmers of Kent and Essex completely trashed his palace on the Strand, more or less where the Savoy Hotel now stands.

Over 400 years’ later in 1830 the Duke of Wellington himself, a national hero if ever there was one, had more that 30 of his windows put out by unruly elements in response to his staunch opposition to reform. In the Duke’s opinion, it was only his servant firing warning shots from the roof with a blunderbuss that saved the property.

A few years later in 1855 it was the turn of Lord Robert Grosvenor. Grosvenor had been trying to push through a Sunday trading bill, highly unpopular with the man in the street, who would typically get paid late on a Saturday. As part of a number of huge Chartist demonstrations that summer, one Sunday the march was diverted to Grosvenor’s house on its way to Hyde Park for the main event. Like his predecessors, the aristocrat was conveniently absent. But he withdrew his Bill the very next day.

I’m sure there are other examples, which I shall add as I come across them.

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cartoon museum londonAsk anyone who is at least a little bit keen on cartoons to name some 20C practitioners and almost certainly HM Bateman will appear on their list. Henry Mayo Bateman (1887 – 1970) was famous for his series of “The Man Who…” cartoons, usually a person who’d made an unpardonable social gaffe with dozens of people around goggle-eyed and agape with shock. It all started in 1922 with a drawing of a guardsman who dropped his rifle on parade. This very picture features in the current exhibition which celebrates the cartoonist’s works at the Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street.

hm bateman; the cartoon museum

The Guardsman Who Dropped It, Tatler 1 December 1922 © H M Bateman Designs

The popularity of this cartoon sparked the series which made Bateman cartoons synonymous with incorrect social behaviour. But the “man who…” cartoons remained concentrated in the 1920s and are but a fraction of Bateman’s body of work which stretched from the first decade of the 20C right through to the 1950s.

Born in Australia of English parents and returning with the family to England virtually as a baby, HM Bateman knew from a very young age that he wished to be a cartoonist. Egged on by his mother and with the artist Phil May as a mentor, young Bateman trained at the Westminster School of Art and the Goldsmith Institute. He was first published when 17 and went on to be a regular artist for – among others – Tatler, Punch, Strand Magazine, London Opinion and The Sketch.

One might criticise Bateman for being formulaic: taking a stereotype and exaggerating it. But then, that’s what most cartoonists did during that era. What put Bateman above the others is that without being overtly cruel, his depictions had the genuine stamp of misanthropy about them. And his exaggerations were more acute than the others’ and yet somehow remained realistic in a way. Although his cartoons were very much about middle-class mores, they simultaneously had everyman appeal. He genuinely disliked authority figures, mistrusted bureaucrats, was suspicious of modernism, in particular modern art. Attacking these easy targets wasn’t mere lip-service: for Bateman it was heartfelt, and it shows, for the results are very funny indeed.

He could tell a story in one huge explosion of a drawing, or patiently tickle out a narrative over dozens of panels. There are over 120 original HM Bateman works in this show, each one a treasure. It may be a long while before such a rich assembly reconvenes, don’t miss it!

cartoon museum london, hm bateman

Baby Cuts a New Tooth, c. 1927-9 © H M Bateman Designs

cartoon museum london, hm bateman

The Boy Who Breathed on the Glass in the British Museum, Punch 4 October 1916 © Punch

The Man Who Went Mad on Paper runs until 22 July at the Cartoon Museum. There are three evening talks associated with the show on 30 May, 20 June and 27 June. Entry to the museum is £5.50 (Free Art Fund members, Friends of the Cartoon Museum; £1 discount London Historians)

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This is a fabulous exhibition for anyone who is interested in the history of the Underground or who loves maps. And if, like me, that ticks both boxes, well, you’re in for a real treat.

Let’s first address the Harry Beck thing. Worthy of an exhibition in his own right. Harry Beck (1902 – 74)was the design draughtsman who devised the original diagrammatic London Underground map as we know it today. There is more than enough here for Beck fans, from one of his earliest hand-drawn sketches (1931), through his early versions where intersection station were represented as diamonds, through quite recent post-Beck representations which excluded the Thames entirely (hugely unpopular) and through to today. A special treat was Beck’s spoof tube map of 1933 literally done as a wiring diagram. Beck playing it for laughs, I always had him down as quite the serious cove.

The Underground 'straight eight' all-electric skit-set circuit diagram

Harry Beck: “The Underground ‘straight eight’ all-electric skit-set circuit diagram” (1933).

There is so much to relish. I’ll mention two personal highlights. One: discovering MacDonald Gill. He was the brother of the more celebrated Eric Gill, sculptor and typographer. Like his sibling MacDonald was a talented type designer but also a wonderful illustrator. He was active from just before WWI and through the interwar period. Although in many of his works he played is straight, so to speak, many of his creations were large, colourful, incredibly detailed and festooned with tiny cartoons, jokes, puns and quotes. It is said that punters frequently missed their trains while reading them.  Two: The tube system of 1928 superimposed on Roque’s famous London map of 1746, a simple idea, probably easily done, but inspired nonetheless. The creator remains unknown.

The Gill item is framed by a ribbon of text, thus:

BY PAYING US YOUR PENNIES, YOU GO ABOUT YOUR BUSINESSES. IN TRAMS, ELECTRIC TRAINS AND MOTOR DRIVEN BUSES. IN THIS LARGEST OF ALL CITIES. GREAT LONDON BY THE THAMES.

In the corner is a panel containing this verse:

The Westminster Press they printed me
In all my artful devilry
And painted me o’er in colours galore
In AD One thousand nine one & a four
For the Underground Railway Company
The laughter of GODS is yours if you will
As the wish of the artist is. MacDonald Gill.

london transport museum art maps macdonald gill

“By paying us your pennies…” (1914), by MacDonald Gill

london transport museum art maps macdonald gill

“By paying us all your pennies…” – detail.

And here is the 1928  Underground superimposed on Roque’s map.

london transport museum art maps

I’ve mentioned but a tiny few of the many dozens of examples on display from the early 20C, the Frank Pick years, Pick being the man who imposed unifying design principles on the Tube network, both architecturally and graphically. Fast forward to living memory and enjoy again the 1980s punny advert for The Tate represented by the map made from tubes of oil paint. Simon Patterson’s celebrated Great Bear from 1992 (all the stations renamed as movie stars, scientists, philosophers etc.) is updated with an equally amusing version, named Saptarishi. Simon Wood recorded all his Underground journeys on GPS for 10 years and turned it into a map.

london transport museum art maps

Remember this? The Tate Gallery by tube, by David Booth of the agency Fine White Line, 1987.

This is all the big stuff. We mustn’t forget the most common format of all and friend to millions of visitors to our city: the pocket map. There is a handsome selection on display.

london transport museum art maps, mind the map

Buses too. General Omnibus Company pocket map from 1931.

What I have briefly described here is barely scratching the surface of this wonderful exhibition. Public transport, cartography, art, functionality and fun. It’s all here in one show. Don’t miss it.

Mind the Map runs until 28 October at the London Transport Museum, Covent Garden. Entry is free with full museum ticket at £13.50 (£10 concessions).

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The wonderful Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) releases its latest update today. It includes new entries of around 40 noteworthy Londoners, as follows:

Belville, (Elizabeth) Ruth Naomi (1854–1943), horologist and merchant
Belville, John Henry (1795?–1856), horologist and assistant astronomer [see under Belville, (Elizabeth) Ruth Naomi (1854–1943)]
Belville, Maria Elizabeth (1811/1812–1899), school teacher [see under Belville, (Elizabeth) Ruth Naomi (1854–1943)]
Bludworth, Sir Thomas (b. in or before 1623, d. 1682), merchant and mayor of London
Cakebread, Jane (1827/1828–1898), inebriate and subject of medical enquiry
Causton, John (d. 1353), merchant
Cowper, Agnes (b. c.1559, d. after 1619), servant and vagrant
Croft, Henry (1861–1930), road sweeper and founder of the pearly tradition
Cummings, Ivor Gustavus (1913–1992), civil servant
Dixey, Phyllis Selina (1914–1964), variety and striptease artiste
Elsyng, William (d. 1349), mercer and hospital founder
Eve, (Arthur) Malcolm Trustram, first Baron Silsoe (1894–1976), public servant
Gonson, Sir John (1676/7–1765), magistrate
Gregg, Hubert Robert Harry (1914–2004), songwriter, actor, and broadcaster
Hampton, Alice (d. 1516), vowess and benefactor
Hampton, Sir William (d. 1482d. 3), mayor of London [see under Hampton, Alice (d. 1516)]
Kersh, Gerald (1911–1968), novelist and short-story writer
Kinnear, William Nicoll Duthie (1880–1974), oarsman
Knight, John Peake (1828–1886), railway manager and promoter of traffic signals
Layton, (John) Turner (1894–1978), composer, singer, and pianist
Logsdail, William (1859–1944), artist
Losse, Hugh (d. 1555), administrator and property speculator
Mabot, Richard (c.1487–1539), cleric
Maiden, Geoffrey Basil [pseud. James Curtis] (1907–1977), novelist
Mallin, Henry William (1892–1969), boxer
Morris, Olive Elaine (1952–1979), political activist
Peach, (Clement) Blair (1946–1979), schoolteacher and victim of police brutality
Pearse, Innes Hope (1889–1978), medical practitioner and biologist [see under Williamson, George Scott (1883–1953)]
Pinkhurst, Adam (fl. 1385–1410), scribe to Geoffrey Chaucer
Scorey, George Albert (1882–1965), policeman
Severs, Dennis Lee (1948–1999), collector and museum creator
Shields, Ella (1879–1952), music-hall performer and male impersonator
Smith, Gavin (b. c.1550, d. in or after 1604), engineer and projector
Smith, Henry (1549–1628), benefactor
Tildesley, Christopher (fl. 1384–1414), goldsmith
Tubbs, Ralph Sydney (1912–1996), architect and exhibition designer
Wallace, (David) Euan (1892–1941), army officer and politician
Williamson, George Scott (1883–1953), medical practitioner and biologist
Young, Edward Preston (1913–2003), designer and submariner

Look out for PC George Scorey the policeman atop the horse of “White Horse Final” fame at Wembley in 1923; Henry Croft, recognised as the original pearly king; Henry “Dog” Smith, beggar turned philanthropist; Geoffrey Chaucer’s scribe, Adam Pinkhurst; Southall riots activist and victim Blair Peach; and possibly London’s most notorious alcoholic, Jane Cakebread.

Access to the DNB is by subscription. But you can get free access via most library services. I do this via my membership of Hounslow libraries and I use it all the time: reaches parts that Wikipedia could only dream about.

Our thanks to DNB publication editor Dr Philip Carter for all the information in this post and his lovely essay on some of the above Londoners in our May Members’ Newsletter.

Update
Philip Carter has just sent us these links, which are open access. The final outer London map one is great fun.

Selected ‘highlights’ (free public access) http://www.oup.com/oxforddnb/info/freeodnb/shelves/may2012/

 

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tube london rebecca samsOr TubeLondon: Discovering London by Underground, to give its full title.

This is an easily digestible book featuring loads of  interesting things to know about Central London, using the tube system as the framework to hang the content on. You’ve got to have a system, as Harry Hill says, but it’s not gratuitously done because each of the 62 Underground stations featured are themselves covered with engaging background information. Some of these, of course, are also London’s first generation mainline termini. As a middleweight scholar of the Underground (i.e. a wind cheater rather than an anorak, perhaps), I was pleased to find lots that I didn’t know. It is interesting, for example, to discover who the architects were on new Underground stations not designed by Leslie Green or Charles Holden. I like the factoids attached to stations’ early history, that Bond Street was originally to be called Davies Street. And so on.

Each station is designated about half a dozen features, buildings or otherwise interesting facts about the immediate vicitity. I suppose this gives us approximately 400 or so items to enjoy. All of these entries are well-chosen, well-researched and well-written. They are accompanied on most spreads by two or three colour photos, or – as below – a full page picture. These are all remarkably fine images. I discovered they were taken by the author herself, who was too modest or forgetful to mention this anywhere.

tube london rebecca sams

I may be wrong, but I’m guessing that TubeLondon was produced in the Far East. It has that Dorland Kindersley glossy quality about it which is most pleasing and which will look very handsome on your bookshelf when not being dipped into. For it very much is a dipping into kind of book, which I have every intention of finishing in that mode. It’s also, I’d like to suggest, an excellent gift book.

TUBE LONDON: Discovering London by Underground (2012) by Rebecca Sams is 160pp and published by Capital History. Cover price is £12.95.

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the sugar girlsI noted last weekend that The Sugar Girls had deservedly made the Sunday Times top 10 for non-fiction. This gave me the poke I needed to knuckle down and read it. So this weekend gone I did just that: it is a very easy read, for reasons I hope I can make clear.

“Sugar Girls” is what eastenders and the girls themselves called the female factory workers at Tate & Lyle’s massive sugar refinery and syrup factory plants in Silvertown. The young ladies themselves were fiercely proud to be known as such. This book follows the stories of four of them – steadfast Ethel, gadabout Gladys, determined Lilian and tragic Joan (names you barely hear nowadays), their families, colleagues and bosses over an approximate 10 year period starting at the back end of World War II.

Historians of the period tend to focus on austerity, rationing, the foundation of the NHS, nationalisation, and so on. In The Sugar Girls, these things are barely mentioned, if at all. Why? Because the book is a collective memoir of four women whose day-to-day priorities were getting to and from work, keeping their family together and securing and keeping a boyfriend or husband at a time when most men were returning from war or going on National Service. That is how these now elderly ladies remember the period. (Lovers of historical trivia will enjoy, as I did, the origin of Tate and Lyle’s sugarcube man).

It would be so easy for the authors to have fallen into the trap of presenting the East End stereotype, but they succeed brilliantly in avoiding this. While our heroines do love a sing-song and a knees-up, these and similar phrases are never employed; nor can I recall a single example of Cockney rhyming slang. Nonetheless, there is no shortage of unsavoury and unpleasant characters in our story, and certainly the locals are hard nuts, evidenced by several rather brutal sugar girl fights and occasional bouts of domestic violence.

Most people in this industrial part of town were dirt poor. But the massive Tate & Lyle had a reputation of paying well, and looking out for its workers’ welfare. Although unionised, there didn’t seem to be much friction between staff and management during the period. But terms of service and certain working conditions from our perspective today seem positively archaic. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that you could drink alcohol at the recreation club during lunch, but I was genuinely surprised that in certain departments, women workers were obliged to leave the company on getting married – pregnancy didn’t even enter into it (inevitably, though, pregnancy looms large in our story).

Although the authors – or perhaps their subjects –  have suppressed some of the more jagged edges of post-War, industrial East London, there is plenty of hardship and heartbreak in this story, believe me. But overall, they have emphasised the positive, the funny and the uplifting. Do have the tissues close at hand when you get to the final chapter for the wrap-up of this remarkable, warm-hearted story of our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generation.

My only criticism of this book has nothing to to do with beautifully-told story, but is rather about production: Sugar Girls lacks photographs, even though there are plenty available if you go to the Sugar Girls website. I do hope some of these may be included in subsequent editions, but if you haven’t read it yet, I do recommend you check out the pictures before or during your reading of this wonderful book.

The Sugar Girls (340 pp) by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi is published in paperback by HarperCollins, 2012, and with a cover price of £6.99 although available for less.

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edward learWhen we were boys, my brother and I used to love reading funny books together. We loved to giggle, and still do. Sometimes our heads go purple with laughter, veins threatening to pop.  Anyway, the most fondly remembered book was The Armada Book of Fun. One of our favourite items within was nonsense botany by Edward Lear (1812 – 1888).

Phattfacia Stupenda
Manypeelplia Upsiddownia
Piggiawiggia Pyramidalis

And here they are!

As a writer of nonsense poetry and an illustrator of zoological books, perhaps these came to Lear particularly easily. Who’s analysing? A Londoner of Note, Lear was a prodigious talent, as an illustrator, as a cartoonist, but most of all as a writer and poet.

Today we celebrate his 200th birthday. Of all the centenaries and bicentenaries of 2012 – and there are many – this has to be my favourite.

__________________________

Here’s a decent Lear website.
And please check out Virtual Victorian, who has done a far better job of this than me 

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