Archive for November, 2012

henry mayhew

Henry Mayhew in old age: kindly walrus.

Today is the bicentenary of Henry Mayhew (25 November 1812 – 25 July 1887).

“I think you will agree to be one of the most beautiful records of the nobility of the poor; of those whom our jaunty legislators know nothing. I am very proud to say that these papers of Labour and the Poor were projected by Henry Mayhew, who married my girl. For comprehensiveness of purpose and minuteness of detail they have never been approached. He will cut his name deep.”

This was written in 1850 by Douglas Jerrold, Mayhew’s friend, collaborator and father-in-law at a time when Henry Mayhew would have been collating the first edition of London Labour and the London Poor (1851). Jerrold was mainly wrong, because today Mayhew is all but forgotten. This is a great pity, because the writer was hugely influential in his own time, not least among his near-exact contemporaries, Charles Dickens (b 1812) and William Makepeace Thackeray (b1811). Mayhew, a journalist (he and Dickens both worked as reporters for the radical Morning Chronicle), novelist, playwright and comic writer, was responsible for telling historians a great deal – probably most – of what we know about the lives of the poor and destitute in London in the mid-19th Century. He not only provided heart-rending (albeit far from relentlessly unamusing) pen-portraits of the poorest men, women and children eking out an existence in the streets: he provided his own estimates and data as to their numbers, earnings etc. – the curtain-raiser if you will to Charles Booth’s work a generation later.

That’s his value to the historian. But Mayhew’s greatest achievement, one might argue, was to co-found Punch magazine in 1841, with Mark Lemon and Stirling Coyne. Although he only remained actively involved with the publication for a handful of years, it thrived and survived right down to our own times.

henry mayhew portrait

Henry Mayhew illustration from the 1851 edition of London Labour and the London Poor, looking like an avuncular panda.

Unlike Dickens, Mayhew joined the world with every advantage. His stern father, Joshua Mayhew, was a barrister. Henry was one of seventeen children and was sent to Westminster School. He was expected to follow Mayhew senior into the Law, as were his brothers: only one of them did. The upshot was that Henry could expect little financial support from that quarter. Indeed he had money worries throughout his life, actually going bankrupt in 1846.

I’m pleased to see that Mayhew has been added to the list of famous Old Westminsters since last I looked. My favourite Mayhew story is of how he came to leave the school. In 1827 (he would have been almost 15), Mayhew was caught swotting from his Greek primer in Chapel. This was not through diligence on his part:  he’d left things far too late and had been warned he was bound to fail the Greek “challenge”. The Master who caught him – one Hodgson who had a nephew scheduled to take the same paper – demanded that Mayhew write out 500 lines of Virgil by the following day. Mayhew ignored the demand and did quite well in the Greek challenge, beating Hodgson’s nephew. The affair was escalated to a more senior master, a Dr Goodenough. This master gave Mayhew an extension for the lines, but once again the boy failed to do them because he now had to cram for the Latin “challenge”, in which he came top. Exasperated, Goodenough – who seemed to be a likeable man – told Mayhew that he would have to flog him. Mayhew is reported to have replied: “…you know that I am not afraid of a flogging, for you have often flogged me, but this time I will not be flogged.” And with that he gathered up his books and walked out of the school. He went to sea. This incident sums up Mayhew – his brilliance, his impetuosity, his bravery. My thanks to Christine Reynolds, Assistant Keeper of Muniments at Westminster Abbey for finding and sharing this lovely story.

Thackeray’s 200th birthday last year passed almost without notice. There have been bits and bobs this year to commemorate the bicentenaries of  Augustus Pugin and Edward Lear. As for Dickens, well it’s been almost non-stop (apart from the Dickens Museum which has bizarrely been closed for upgrades since Easter). And Henry Mayhew? Nothing that I know of. So this evening a small group of us shall be raising a glass to his Life and his Memory. Join us at the Lyceum Tavern in the Strand from about 5pm!


Well, with no expectations either way, about a dozen Mayhew admirers turned up for our little celebration in proper London Historians fashion. We did an appropriate toast and enjoyed a good several hours talking Mayhew and much else besides. Thanks to all those who came, especially Colin del Strother who brought his full set of LL&LP to park in the middle of us like a sacred text. But let’s not get too carried away!

london historians henry mayhew

london historians henry mayhew

henry mayhew london historians



Mayhew, Henry . London Labour and the London Poor, volume 1, University of Virginia
Henry Mayhew on Wikipedia
Henry Mayhew on Spartacus Educational
Henry Mayhew on Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required or via participating public libraries: I get mine via Hounslow).
The Life of a Mudlark, 1861 from Spitalfields Life
Mayhew on Costermongers at VictorianLondon.org

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cornhillMost people consider the coffee shop craze to be a 21st Century thing, with its roots in the 1990s. Historians of London will know that in fact  it was a massive social phenomenon (among men, anyway) in Georgian London, fuelling trade, theatre, insurance, publishing, literature, philosophy, medicine all the things, in fact, that made London a modern city and a great global city.

No sphere of public life was untouched by the proceedings of the coffee house. But actually, it all started in the middle of the previous century, during the Commonwealth. The man responsible was a Greek Sicilian called Pasqua Rosee. He was the manservant of an English merchant, one Daniel Edwards of the Levant Company. Pasqua opened a coffee stall in the churchyard of St Michael Cornhill. Despite the hot black liquid being rather disgusting, the little shop became an instant hit as a meeting place. Others emulated the exotic coffee vendor and the coffee house phenomenon took off, surviving various attempts to suppress it, not least by Charles II himself.

These are the bare bones of a delightfully rich guided tour we took last Saturday, presented by Unreal City Audio.  I say presented because it is just that. Dr Matt Green does the tour-leading and academic talking, while his cast of supporters act out various roles, mainly an extremely exuberant Pasqua Rosee. There are also contemporary songs. It’s different, it’s a great deal of fun, and it’s greatly informative: Matt Green knows his stuff and I learned loads.

The tours last about two hours and cost £13.50, except to London Historians members, who pay £10.

London Coffee Houses

Site of the famous Jamaica coffee house, more or less the same position as Pasqua’s operation.

London Coffee Houses

Pasqua Rosee

London Coffee Houses

That’s Entertainment.

London Coffee Houses

The demise of Pasqua, killed by a pineapple. Okay, a bit of poetic licence at this bit.

London Coffee Houses

The most famous of them all. Lloyds transmogrified to the giant Lloyds of London insurance brokerage we know today.

London Coffee Houses

Venerable City pub. And yes, there was once a real vulture tethered outside, to the consternation of many.

London Coffee Houses

Tour leader Matt Green at the site of another famous London coffee house: Jonathans.

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all hallows by the towerYesterday I finally got to visit this ancient church, the oldest in the City of London, and one which survived both the Great Fire and (just), the Blitz.

All Hallows by the Tower was founded in 675, a good 400 years before the eponymous Tower itself. There are a few remains of the original Saxon building in the form of an arch, but older still are parts of a floor from a Roman dwelling which can be seen in the crypt. Today the crypt houses an excellent small museum, one of whose many artefacts includes a crow’s nest from Ernest Shackleton’s ship “Quest”. The church is very much associated with sailors, Merchant Navy and Royal Navy alike: there are ships’ models and memorials scattered around the building. It’s no coincidence that the Merchant Navy war memorial is just across the road.

Most of  the post-Blitz surviving parts of the church are mid-17C. Samuel Pepys observed the Fire from what would have been the very new bell tower. In fact, All Hallows survived the conflagration thanks to firebreaks having been made around it.

Proximity to the Tower inevitably means All Hallows has close associations with executed martyrs, whose heads were delivered there for burial. Noteworthies include Thomas More (1535), St. John Fisher (1535) and William Laud (1650).

The church has very close ties to the USA owing to William Penn having been baptised there in 1644 and John Quincy Adams’s marriage there in 1797.

So a massive store of history. Yet, I found myself most taken by a more recent tale, the inspiring story of  Philip “Tubby” Clayton (1885 – 1972). Do you perhaps remember your  parents, when describing a stupid person, to say: “as dim as a Toc H lamp”? I know mine did. Well, it all started with Tubby. As an army chaplain in World War One, he founded what became the Toc H movement. It was a Christian friendship association for the soldiers, begun in a building behind the lines where they could fraternise and use the library which Tubby set up. To prevent the theft of books, he instituted a system whereby the soldiers had to leave their hat as collateral. After the war, he continued to develop Toc H, but was also the Vicar of All Hallows for some 40 years. He suffered the destruction of his church by the Luftwaffe but it must have been most uplifting to witness its restoration in the following decades.

Did I mention the gorgeous Grinling Gibbons font cover in the Baptistery?


All Hallows by the Tower is welcomes visitors seven days a week. Check their website for opening times.

All Hallows by the Tower

All Hallows by the Tower

all hallows by the tower

The altar.

all hallows by the tower

Memorial to Philip “Tubby” Clayton…

all hallows by the tower

… but how cute is the wee dog at his feet?

all hallows by the tower

All Hallows commemorates British seafarers down the ages.

all hallows by the tower

If you take your sword to church, you might make use of this 18C sword holder. Very rare in churches nowadays, All Hallows has three of them.

all hallows by the tower

Grinling Gibbons font cover.

all hallows by the tower

Crypt Museum: Shackleton crow’s nest.

all hallows by the tower

Crypt Museum: Bomb-damaged memorial to William Penn.

all hallows by the tower

Crypt Museum: Recording of the marriage of John Quincy Adams.

all hallows by the tower

Temporary grave markers recovered from World War One battlefields.

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Dulce et Decorum Est


Dulce et Decorum Est.

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Do you prefer Leslie Green stations or Charles Holden ones? It’s a sort of Beatles or Rolling Stones question. One of our members who is an expert in such matters, takes up the discussion…

A guest post by Gareth Edwards, editor of London Reconnections

Leslie Green - Charles Holden

Leslie Green (1875 – 1908) and Charles Holden (1875 – 1960)

Green or Holden? It’s a tricky question. It’s hard to dispute that in strictly design terms Holden’s stations are superior, but I genuinely believe that Green deserves more praise than Holden for his work, which I know isn’t a popular view.

I’m happy to admit that this probably sounds a bit silly, but I’ll try and explain:

Holden’s work on the Underground is amazing, and it deserves all the credit it gets, but the truth is that Holden had a relatively easy time of it.

OF COURSE Holden’s stations are great. OF COURSE they represent an excellent example of the Arts and Crafts movement’s principle that real things should be designed well. OF COURSE they did because Holden had the time, the luxury and – most importantly – the senior management support from the legendary Frank Pick that allowed him to make them that way. Yes he had plenty of issues, but fundamentally he was gifted a working environment in which he had a pretty easy path to success.

Green, by contrast, had the exact opposite situation. In Charles Tyson Yerkes, the epitome of the American “Railway Robber Baron”, Green found himself working for a man who wanted high art at low cost, who was pushing stations and lines forward at speeds that gave little regard to what was actually practical from an architect’s perspective, and who had no problem with sacking anyone who he felt wasn’t meeting his needs. People can be sniffy about Green’s stations all they want, but to produce anything close to quality architecture under those circumstances is an incredible testament to his ability.

Holden produced beautiful stations because of his boss’ goals. Green produced beautiful stations DESPITE his boss’ goals.

There’s almost something class-based about it I suppose (isn’t there always in Britain?). Holden’s stations, much as I love them, often leave me feeling slightly out of place. Unconsciously, I think Holden and Pick created distinctly “middle-class” stations – even in areas that resoundingly weren’t. I don’t mean that in a negative way, just that they feel like stations designed to gently, but politely, teach one to be a better person, but which gained the luxury to do so through a position of privilege of which they’re not innately aware.

Green’s stations, on the other hand, feel like “working class” spaces (despite Green himself not being so). Stations that look good almost despite themselves – because the man on the spot doing them had pride in his work and maximized what he had at his disposal. Not perfect, and not to be fussed over, but something a man could be proud of nonetheless.

If I stand in a Holden station and close my eyes, I hear the sound of architecture lectures, if I do the same in a Green station, I hear the sound of football crowds. Green’s stations feel like they worked hard at an inner city comprehensive to get to University, Holden’s feel like their parents could afford extra maths tuition on the side, just to make sure.

That’s why Holloway Road will always be my favourite station I suspect. Holden’s stations will always be more beautiful, that I know for sure, but somehow Green made his stations just feel like…

…well, like me.

holloway road station

Holloway Road Station (1906) by Leslie Green. The most complete of his surviving stations.

arnos grove station

Arnos Grove Station (1932) by Charles Holden, considered by many to be his finest.

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A guest post by London Historians member Ursula Jeffries.

About a year ago Mike wrote on this blog about John Passmore Edwards, the nineteenth century philanthropist. London Historian members who take an interest in his London legacy might like to know how the guardian of his memory is getting on. Dean Evans, author of Funding the Ladder which tells his story, has won an award from the Cornish publisher Holyer an Gof  in their non-fiction section devoted to industry and heritage. Dean puts all proceeds from sales toward the fund to restore the Blackwater Institute near Hayle in Cornwall where Passmore Edwards began his quest for literacy for all. Raising money for any project is getting tougher but do look at the website dedicated to an almost obsessive supporter of libraries who left such a mark on London. His name lives on in some buildings such as the facade of Whitechapel gallery but is receding with the closure of libraries and removal of many of his more utilitarian donations such as horse troughs and drinking fountains. The former Haggerston library, a stunning building, has been adapted into apartments. Here’s an image sent by a colleague which expresses how I feel about the loss of the resources he sponsored although I imagine if I were richer I would want to live there!

John Passmore Edwards stone

P.S. Do any London Historians have any other thoughts about Cornish legacies in London? In the nineteenth century many Cornishmen left the West Country to seek their fortune and as was the way in those times formed the London Cornish Association. Their annual dinner, founded in 1895, is still held, a tradition only suspended on one occasion when George VI died. The LCA are producing a leaflet guiding their members and international visitors round London following a Cornish theme. The list, which includes Cornish gold and granite and Humphrey Davey at the Royal Institution is quite long already but all additional ideas are welcome.

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A guest post by Thomas Hood.

Thomas Hood (1799 – 1845) was a humorous writer, editor and poet. Born in the City of London, he was very much the patriotic Londoner. I’ve always enjoyed his pessimistic ode to this month, conveying an outlook I strongly share.


No sun–no moon!
No morn–no noon!
No dawn–no dusk–no proper time of day–
No sky–no earthly view–
No distance looking blue–

No road–no street–
No “t’other side the way”–
No end to any Row–
No indications where the Crescents go–

No top to any steeple–
No recognitions of familiar people–
No courtesies for showing ’em–
No knowing ’em!

No mail–no post–
No news from any foreign coast–
No park–no ring–no afternoon gentility–
No company–no nobility–

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

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