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Archive for June, 2012

For various reasons I haven’t had time to re-publish more interesting funnies from Mr Punch in London Town just lately. But I shall. Meantime, I have now in my possession another volume from the same series (The Mr Punch Library), this one called Mr Punch in Mayfair. The best of Mr Punch in London Town involved the wit of the working class poor, often in street situations and often featuring inter-class badinage. By contrast, Mr Punch in Mayfair is mostly toffs only and most of the drawings are indoors, so although it has Mayfair in the title, it is not noticeably London in flavour.  Nontheless, a few of them are pretty good, I think. First up, one by the wonderful Fougasse, aka Kenneth Bird.

Mr Punch in Mayfair.

“Did you ring, sir?” “Yes; there’s a wasp in the room.” – by Fougasse.

Mr Punch in Mayfair

GENTLEMAN OF LEISURE (engaging valet): Are you an early riser? VALET: What hour do you usually come ‘ome, Sir?” – by Kenneth Beauchamp

Mr Punch in Mayfair

“That’s a well-cut suit, I wish you’d give me your tailor’s address.” “Certainly, old man, if you’ll promise not to give him mine.” – by Lewis Baumer

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This promises to be a fabulous event taking place on 5 July at Museum of London. The brainchild of quiz-crazy, mad-for-London Matt Brown of the mighty Londonist web site, the idea is that teams representing North, South, East and West London will duke it out in a University Challenge style test of London knowledge. I have the privilege of captaining the wonderful West and need four stout and hearty team mates (three plus one reserve) to compensate for my inadequacies. You may of course wish to play for one of the other sides. Whatever the case, or if you’d prefer just to come for the jeering and cheering – find out more here. It’ll be massive fun. Oh, and there’s also a Facebook page here.

The Londoner Challenge - West

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London Fire Brigade MuseumI recently joined Westminster Guides’s field trip to the London Fire Brigade Museum in Southwark. (At the risk of patronising our friends in Southwark, Lambeth, Vauxhall, Brixton etc., I am daily becoming more enamoured of venturing south of the river, so much to see and discover and enjoy.)

Although a London Fire Brigade as we would recognise it was first set up in the mid-19th Century, the museum gives us the history of fire and London from the earliest days. The Great Fire will always be seared in Londoners’ minds as the major biggie from those times. Its aftermath saw the establishment and rapid growth of fire insurance and the museum has a wonderful collection of fire insurance badges. If your property caught fire without that badge, you were on your own!

London Fire Brigade Museum

London Fire Brigade Museum

Late 17C fire insurance policy, signed by notorious projector Nicolas Barbon.

The early brigade was dominated by two big characters: Scotsman James Braidwood and Ulsterman Captain Eyre Massey Shaw, who between them established and ran the service from 1833 until 1891. Braidwood was killed fighting the Tooley Street fire of 1861, securing an almost mythical status thereafter. His funeral was massive; Queen Victoria wrote in her diary: ‘poor Mr Braidwood … had been killed … and the fire was still raging. It made one very sad.’

Both these men’s lives and careers are well covered in the museum. In addition you’ll find out much about the development of fire-fighting technology, clothing, appliances, training, communications. I was amazed to find that firemen were using rebreather sets in 1913, this was something I thought was the exclusive province of modern scuba divers! You’ll be reminded of the Brigade’s finest hour: The Blitz. It’s all fascinating stuff.

London Fire Brigade Museum

Captain Shaw’s helmet

London Fire Brigade Museum

London Fire Brigade Museum

London Fire Brigade Museum

The large items –  that is to say fire engines – are housed in the next door building. It’s a fine collection.

London Fire Brigade Museum

London Fire Brigade Museum

In every room there are racks with very smart hand-outs that you can take home with you. And I did. I imagine it takes a lot of effort to produce these and keep the stock levels. I’d suggest not many museums could bother with the hassle.

Over the past year there has been much talk (that I was unaware of) about closing this fine museum. We asked staff what the latest was, but they had to take a diplomatic “no comment” position: for them it’s awkward. Losing this wonderful facility would be a tragic travesty. Do acquaint yourself with the situation using this search.

Breaking News: Amazing timing, announcement just today that the museum is to remain open

Whatever the future holds for the museum, I’d recommend you visit as soon as possible. All visits are by appointment and all are part of a guided tour. Cost is £5 for adults with discounts for groups. All information here.

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Full title: Murders of London: In the Steps of the Capital’s Killers by David Long.

murders of london david longLooking at the cover design on-line I had expected this to be a similar format as Long’s recent books, what might be called “sub-coffee table”. So I was rather surprised to find out that it’s a return to more pocket size at about five inches by six. The contents are arranged geographically in chapters, each of which in turn contain accounts of individual murders, or in some cases sprees (Nilsen, Jack the Ripper &c.).

With the exception of the Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811, most crimes covered in the book are from the mid-Victorian period and right up to 2006 (the radioactive assassination of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko). The enjoyment of reading such episodes stems from – let’s face it – prurience and voyeurism. But we learn much about the changes over the period in police, forensic science, the law, capital punishment and so on. I was quite surprised to discover, for example, that until the 1940s accomplices in murder were hanged side-by-side, occasioning hangmen like Albert Pierrepoint (who appears frequently in the book) to call in extra staff.

The crimes involve politics, espionage, domestic squabbles, bigamy, fraud, conspiracy – using weapons and methods from Cluedo and way beyond. They range from the famous and notorious (Lucan, Crippen) to the downright seedy. All, in one way or another, caught the imagination of the public via the press and yet most are now forgotten and hence well worth the reminder. I was fascinated to find out that west London retail magnate William Whiteley – a pillar of society to the outside world although less so to his own staff – was murdered in 1907 by a man who claimed to be his illegitimate son. Also, I had no idea that the toast of 1960s swinging London – Ossie Clark – met a violent end in 1996. Enough spoilers from me, but this book is crammed with rich stories such as these.

All the accounts are illustrated with contemporary photos by the author himself of the addresses where these crimes happened. Or where they still exist, for in many cases the original buildings have long disappeared. But one gets a sense of the sheer banality of the backdrops to these crimes – terraced housing, cheap lodgings etc. – but logically, how else could it be? However, when it comes to the acts themselves and their dramatis personae, one sees that each  is totally unique and utterly intriguing. Furthermore, they are delivered by Long in his usual elegant style.

If you’d like a taster, there’s a web site associated with the book, here.

Murders of London: in the Steps of the Capital’s Killers (256 pp) is published by Random House with a cover price of £12.99, although available for less. Warmly recommended.

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Here you go. Next person to join LH (you can do it here) gets this 1954 farthing. Only the oldest of our readers will remember the cute little wren on the reverse.

old farthing

Thereafter, we’ll dish out one of these ten sixpences dating between 1954 and 1966. Not much actual value, but they surely must be very lucky.

old qeII sixpences

God Save The Queen!

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