Archive for July, 2012

A guest post by London Historians member, Jane Young.

Members of London Historians enjoyed a fine and clement day for a trip to Fulham Palace last Wednesday, 25 July. This was the residence of the Bishops of London until 1973 which stands on a site established for the Diocese around 700AD.

We began in the grounds at the West Courtyard which harks from Tudor times. Changing modes of living and the requirements of successive bishops has seen the courtyard evolve over the years, however it retains the monumental wooden entrance gates dating back to 1495 and still nurtures some young grape vines in acknowledgement of the custom of presenting a bunch of grapes to Queen Elizabeth I from the Bishop of London. Continuing through the extensive grounds enchanted with curiosities, we journeyed through Georgian additions; neo-Gothic additions; removal of neo-Gothic additions; a Victorian chapel and remodelling following World War II.

Fulham Palace

The Tudor Courtyard. 

Fulham Palace

The ancient palace gate. 

Fulham Palace

The Great Hall. The bishops provided their own furniture! 

fulham palace

London Historians and guide in Bishop Sherlock’s Room. 

Fulham Palace

The fourth chapel to be built at the palace was extensively restored after WWII bomb damage. Pic: Jane Young

Fulham Palace

Tudor gateway in the palace’s famous walled garden. Pic: Jane Young

Fulham Palace

The Bishop’s Tree, a repurposed cedar of Lebanon, with modern carvings… 

Fulham Palace

…including drunken bishops… 

Fulham Palace

…and their pets. 

Prior to becoming the principal home of the Bishops of London, Fulham Palace was in the main used as a summer residence. As a result, the varied aesthetic taste of a sequence of these men combined with shifting fashions in architecture, have contributed to the fabric of the buildings and the landscape of the grounds. This fusion of period features can also be seen throughout the interiors of the Palace buildings which have been magnificently restored including a spectacular Rococo ceiling and the impressive Great Hall.

The well-executed and informed tour from volunteer guide Freddie Bircher encompassed not only the history of the buildings and the ecclesiastical role of Fulham Palace but delivered an interesting illustration of changing domestic life there over several centuries. Fulham Palace restoration project is a work in progress with the first two phases now complete and the third phase subject to further fundraising. Run by the Fulham Palace Trust since 2011 and Grade II listed the Palace is a beautiful oasis away from the bustle of Fulham Palace Road.

It often happens that London Historians manage two visits for the price of one, thus a short and pleasant walk across Bazalgette’s Putney Bridge (1886) found us at St. Mary’s Church, Putney.

A most unusual church is this. Amidst a lovely relaxed atmosphere we were able to leisurely walk around the eclectic, but nonetheless compatible symposium of architectural styles spanning five centuries. Parts of the church are medieval surviving from the fifteenth century including the Tower and some of the arcading to the nave. St. Mary’s underwent substantial rebuilding in 1836 with more extensive work finally completed in 1982 as a result of an arson attack that gutted the building in 1973.

St mary's putney

St Mary’s Putney. 

st mary's putney

St Mary’s Putney, interior. Pic: Jane Young

St mary's putney

The argument at the heart of the Putney Debates. 

st mary's putney

Wonderful display on the Putney Debates, including audio visual. 

The result of the rebuild is a most pleasing juxtaposition of old and new created from a brave but beautifully finished distinctive design, set under a very fine vaulted ceiling. An added interest is a dedicated area given over to a permanent exhibition detailing the historically significant Putney Debates of 1647 which were originally held in St. Mary’s.

The entrance to the main part of the church is via a very good licensed café which extends the same friendly welcome as the church it is attached to.

Jane Young is a partner in Darrieulat & Young, aka London Kills Me, which designs beautiful, hand-made, London-themed clothes and domestic accessories for both direct sale and trade. She tweets as @sketchesbyboz.

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the trebor storyDoncaster Butterscotch. Treacle Jacks. Licorice Flaps. Grannies Chest Tablets. Fudge Fancy Boxes. These are some of the names which decorate the end papers of this handsome book. Okay, to our 21C ears I’ve chosen some slightly risqué examples, but they represent a handful of the 400-plus product lines produced by London confectionery company Trebor in the 1930s, when it was at the height of its powers. Today, just seven remain. They are market-leaders, it must be said, which is probably why they were hoovered up by Kraft* in the 2010 takeover of Cadbury which in its turn had swallowed Trebor itself in 1989.

The Trebor Story, by Matthew Crampton relates the 82 year history of this independent British sweet giant which was founded by four East London small-business entrepreneurs in 1907. Two were grocers, one a sweet salesman and one a sugar boiler: a perfect commercial pick n mix, if you will.

And so it proved. We learn how from these humble beginnings in London’s East End, Trebor grew to several plants in the area and then nationwide, employing thousands of staff and a huge fleet of brightly liveried trucks and vans (Trebor got motorised very early). Trebor spread its wings, opening factories in all around the Empire and Commonwealth, winning myriad export awards along the way. We share the vicissitudes of two World Wars, the Depression and perhaps most challenging of all – sweet rationing!

By mid-Century, the founders had retired and the next generation – notably John and Ian Marks, sons of one of the founders, chain-smoking Sydney Marks. But we also meet a remarkable group of talented businessmen and women whose expertise in sales, production, export and finance fuelled Trebor’s upward trajectory. These include the formidable Hilda Clark, who joined the company’s Forest Gate plant as a teenager in 1918, opened and ran the new Chesterfield manufacturing and distribution operation during the war and right up until her retirement in 1963, when the company gave her a car as a leaving present, an unheard of gesture hitherto.

This book has dozens of wonderful anecdotes such as these. Matthew Crampton has assembled a massively rich variety of pictures, photographs and documents. He has interviewed many employees and former employees going back many years. He has done much research. And remarkably, in best Ben Schott fashion, he has not only laid out the whole book himself, but done it with panache and skill that most large established publishers would struggle to match.

So. A lovely story, steeped in the most powerful nostalgia, with a sad ending. But an absolute  joy to read.

the trebor story

A typical spread. Lots of images, text and graphics beautifully laid out and balanced.

And finally. Trebor stands for Robert backwards, after founding partner Robert Robertson, right? Well, not quite. While the company was quite happy to perpetuate this myth, Trebor was named after the premises they moved into, Trebor Terrace, after the row’s builder, one Robert Cooper. So just a coincidence. Robertson & Woodcock, as the company was officially known, took on the moniker Trebor almost by a process of osmosis.

* Kraft has now decided to call its international snack division Mondelez. No kidding. With a crappy logo to match. On a par with Diageo, but better than Consignia, I suppose.

The Trebor Story (146 pp)  by Matthew Crampton is published by Muddler Books, officially priced at £18 but available for less. The author tweets as @Trebor_Story and has a nice try-before-you-buy web site here.

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Today I spent a pleasant hour or so loafing by the Thames with a pair of fine gentlemen, Mr Woolf and Mr Shepherd.

We were there to witness the start of this year’s Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race at London Bridge, the oldest continuous sporting event in the world. Five recently-qualified young watermen (there can be up to six) row as fast as they can to Chelsea. The winner is awarded a fine scarlet coat and a silver badge. The race dates from 1715 and originally celebrated the accession the Hanoverian dynasty. It was sponsored by the Irish theatre impressario Thomas Doggett, an ardent Whig. Doggett was keen on watermen, for they who would frequently carry him from central London to his home in Chelsea, what became almost the exact route of the race. Or vice-versa, of course.

Update 15/7/2014: Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race now has its own website.

dogett's coat and badge

In those days there was no way of traversing the river upstream of London Bridge until you reached Kingston Bridge, except by boat. London Bridge itself was a difficult enough crossing anyway, clogged up as it was by houses and shops. So watermen provided a vital service to Londoners – they were the black cab equivalent of their day, as garrulous and opinionated as today’s cabbies apparently are. There were around 2,500 of them in the early 18th Century.

While wandering the dusty far corridors of the web, I found a rather nice piece of verse celebrating the Thames. It’s by the 17 century waterman John Taylor, who called himself the Water Poet. It’s an extract from an enormous piece called In Praise of Hemp-Seed , published in 1630, but probably penned a little earlier. Taylor first compares the river favourably with any in the world, he then describes the bounty it bestows and finally laments how we neglectful Londoners pay it back with shit and ordure. One can only wonder what our 17C environmentalist would have made of it two hundred years later. Anyway, it goes like this.

The names of the most famous riuers in the world.

Maze, Rubicon, Elue, Volga, Ems, Scamander,
Loyre, Moldoue, Tyber, Albia, Seyne, Meander,
Hidaspes, Indus, Inachus, Tanaies,
(Our Thames true praise is farre beyond their praise)
Great Euphrates, Iordane, Nilus, Ganges, Poe,
Tagus and Tygris, Thames doth farre out-goe.
Danubia, Ister, Xanthus, Lisus, Rhrine,
Wey, Seuerne, Auon, Medway, Isis, Tine,
Dee, Ouze, Trent, Humber, Eske, Tweed, Annan, Tay,
Firth (that braue Demy-ocean) Clide, Dun, Spay,
All these are great in fames, and great in names,

But great’st in goodnesse is the riuer Thames,
From whose Diurnall and Nocturnall flood
Millions of soules haue fewell cloathes and food ;
Which from twelue houres to twelue doth still succeed,
Hundreds, & thousands both to cloath & feed,
Of watermen, their seruants, children, wiues,
It doth maintaine neere twenty thousand liues.
I can as quickly number all the starres,
As reckon all things in particulars :

Which by the bounty of th’All-giuing giuer
Proceeds from this most matchlesse, famous Riuer.
And therefore ’tis great pitty, shelfe or sand
From the forgetfull and ingratefull land,
Should it’s cleare chrystall entrailes vilefy,
Or soyle such purenesse with impurity.
What doth it doe, but serues our full contents,
Brings food, and for it takes our excrements,
Yeelds vs all plenty, worthy of regard
And dirt and mucke we giue it for reward ?

You can sift through the whole hemp-seed poem  here.

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I’m constantly amazed and gratified by what a talented bunch our members are. I’m going to give three of them in particular a plug.

If you’ve joined  London Historians very recently (or renewed your membership), you will have received with your members’ card a unique  hand-made bookmark. These have earned deserved praise from recipients.

london historians

They were kindly supplied by our very talented LH member Jane Young, whose company London Kills Me (aka Darrieulat & Young) makes fine screenprints, cushions and all manner of lovely home items, usually with a London theme. Jane is often out and about at special events, trade fairs and such as listed on her web site. Check it out.

london kills me

Our other very talented Jane is Jane Parker. Her company, Amelia Parker (“London’s history recycled”), sells jewellery made from recycled old London objects, primarily clay pipes from the Thames foreshore. Very clever. And pretty. The jewellery’s not bad either, boom-boom. Jane can frequently be found on her stall at Spitalfields Market, usually Fridays and Sundays. But check the web site.

amelia parker

Julia Forte is a very busy London Historians member. When not running the fabulous Star at Night cocktail bar – home of the London Gin Club – Julia sells an eclectic range of unusual London ephemera under the London Peculiar banner. Some of these items are designed by Julia herself, some are interesting second-hand objects and collectables – antiques indeed. “Sellers of weird and wonderful London rarities, oddities and gifts.”

london peculiar

So if you’re looking for something special for your home – or a unique gift for a friend – Jane, Jane or Julia will most certainly fix you up.

London Kills Me
Amelia Parker
London Peculiar

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Just a quicky to share some pictures of last night’s proceedings (so you can skip this if you’ve already seen them on our Facebook group). The fourth in our series of these events since late last year, this took a little while to arrange because we needed to get all the “acts” we wanted on a night that the pub was available (the Bell in Spitalfields is becoming increasingly in demand from small theatre groups and the like). So worth the wait, I think, for the full-house audience. The line-up was:
Neil Fraser, whose brand-new book Over the Border: The Other East End is about the East End beyond the Lea River, where Essex begins, told us some wonderful stories about Plaistow from when it was still a village. *
Fiona-Jane Weston, singer and actress, sang four historical London songs from her show Loving London, finishing with a beautiful rendition of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.
Duncan Barrett and Nuela Calvi then spoke after the interval about their best-selling book The Sugar Girls **, the story of Tate & Lyle, based on first-hand accounts of ladies who worked there during World War II and the austerity years immediately afterwards. Fascinating stories, a lovely book.
The evening, as per, was run by our good friend Matt Brown of Londonist who also conducted the speed quiz, won by a team called – I think – the Hackney Tubeadors, something like that! Congratulations to them.

We wrapped it up with a very lively and interesting Q&A and open-mic, then repaired downstairs for drinks and chats. Every one of our speakers/singers stayed right till the end, we’re grateful to them all for a brilliant evening.

* I’ve just noticed that Duncan and Nuala have done a very nice precis of Neil’s presentation. (with much better pictures than mine). It’s times like this when I get a special tingle from the whole London Historians idea!
** The Sugar Girls. Our Review. Londonist Review.

Anyway, here are a few pictures from last night. Please keep an eye on our Events page for the next History in the Pub.

history in the pub london historians

Neil Fraser

history in the pub london historians

Fiona-Jane Weston. A bit grainy, sorry Fiona-Jane!

history in the pub london historians

Duncan Barrett, Matt Brown, Nuala Calvi… and Bella the dog.

history in the pub london historians

Full house again.

history in the pub london historians

Nuala Calvi

history in the pub london historians

Matt, Nuala, Duncan. Lively Q&A…

history in the pub london historians

… and great open-mic input from the floor.

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I feel duty-bound to share a few more funnies from the The New Punch Library. For it was today in 1841 that Henry Mayhew and Ebenezer Landells founded Punch magazine with an investment of £25. Originally called Punch or the London Charivari, Mayhew initially co-edited it with Mark Lemon before drifting off to leave Lemon at the helm for almost thirty years.

All these examples are early 20th Century, up until the 1930s. You can see my previous posts of Mr Punch in London Town from the New Punch Library here.

mr punch in london town

“I’m orfen thankful I ain’t a Copper. Must be a tejious life ‘anging abaht an’ loiterin'”. ~ by G.L. Stampa

mr punch in london town

MUSCULAR STRAPHANGER (to fair ditto): “May I offer you this gentleman’s seat?” ~ by G.L. Stampa

And here’s one specially for London Historians members who are guides.

mr punch in london town

CICERONE OF THE SIGHTSEEING PARTY: “I am now standing on the spot once occupied by the statue of Hadrian, when London was a Roman city. According to authentic accounts, the attitude was something like this.” ~ by “Hailstone”

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over the border neil fraserThe border referred to is the Lea River. West of it: Middlesex; East of it: Essex. This major tributary joins the Thames with an elaborate final meander on the East shoulder of the Isle of Dogs. It has been termed The Border for centuries by locals, commentators and writers alike, not least of them Dickens. The border areas include Plaistow, East Ham, West Ham, Canning Town, Silvertown. And Stratford, home of London2012, and the raison d’etre of this book.

The author lived in the general area for much of the 1990s and 2000s. The first sentence of the book is: “This is not a history book, though there is a lot of history in it.” A perfect summary. There is a lot of history but the author, one feels, is covering his back a little because much of it is a very personal memoir, but no need, for  it is most definitely none the worse for that.  Some of the history involves incidents and people which are almost common knowledge to the London historian (Dr Dodd; the 1917 Silvertown disaster). But most I would say is not. The main story of the area, and that which takes up most of the narrative, is about industrialisation and consequent urbanisation. Factories, industries, workers, slum housing. We learn about 19C industrialists such as the men who created Silvertown, the home of Tate & Lyle and dozens of noisesome and distinctly less benevolent businesses; businesses which provided domestic goods for every home in Britain and the colonies along with industrial essentials for the wider world (notably electric cable: I had never heard of gutta percha before – massive). Grim, unsanitary, dangerous living and working conditions along with high unemployment characterise this area from the coming of the docks and railways right through to the post-WWII era – living memory. All of this is well researched and described with plenty of contemporary newspaper, survey, report and history writings cited and frequently quoted, often at length. (I like how Over The Border has its footnotes on the actual page rather than at the back.)

The more modern parts of our story are told with a weary and regretful cynicism, albeit with humour. I very much enjoyed learning about the post-war rejuvenation of the now legendary Theatre Royal Stratford, led by Joan Littlewood and a company of optimistic, leftist actor-producers who always had to be one step ahead of creditors and inspectors. The making in 1969 of the critically-acclaimed independent movie Bronco Bullfrog, about the tribulations of a local teenage couple. The scenery of much of the location work, the author notes, has mostly disappeared or been transformed as to be unrecognisable, a mere 40 years on.

The replacement in the post-war decades of whole streets of terraced housing and small shops by modern concrete shopping centres, blocks of flats, new trunk roads, etc; dead pubs; how the 60s ignored – and were ignored by – the local citizenry; and now the wholesale transformation of Stratford by the Olympic Park and Westfield, both of which the author looks over with a distinctly jaundiced eye. At the beginning and end of the book and occasionally elsewhere, Fraser is accompanied in the pub or on his explorations by his drinking buddy and literal fellow-traveller “Angry Bob”, in a Cassandra role. Angry Bob also provides – on behalf of the author – comic relief and swearing. Both men are more mellow and philosophical by the end of the story, largely because they had both escaped the region some years previously.

Over the Border is an excellent introduction to the to the  history of the “other East End”, and most enjoyable to read: informative, opinionated and pacy. Neil Fraser has succeeded in taking much very grim subject matter and making it palatable, without trivialising any aspect of it. There is an excellent section of historical and contemporary pictures the latter of which are mostly by the author himself. He may make the “not a history book” claim, but my only criticism is that the volume would definitely benefit from a nice index.

Over the Border: The Other East End, 394pp, by Neil Fraser is published in paperback by Function Books with a cover price of £9.99, although available for less.

Neil Fraser will be talking at London Historians event History in the Pub on Tuesday 17 July, along with the authors of The Sugar Girls. More information here.

I’d also like to mention that London Borough of Newham has a fine collection of historical images on its website, here.

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