Archive for February, 2013

124. The lure of the Underground, by Alfred Leete, 1927bThis is the name of a 1927 Underground poster by David Leete, to the right. Its humour, warmth, colour and indeed lure is representative of the inter-war golden age of the Tube’s commercial posters. It is one of 150  which have been selected from over 3,300 to make up this celebratory new exhibition at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.

You might argue that with so many to choose from, easy-peasy, they could hardly go wrong, and you’d be right. All are wonderful. But they haven’t been chosen simply as lovely art, but also what those who ran the network were trying to say about the Tube. Furthermore, they didn’t so much advertise the Tube itself (though many did that too), but rather what the Tube gives us, or more accurately where it takes us. So we have the theatre, all the major sports, museums, galleries, cinema, shows, exhibitions and the zoo. Despite not being especially close to a particular station, London Zoo has been the most frequently represented attraction.


For the Zoo, Book to Regent’s Park. by Charles Paine, 1921.

Undoubtedly, the richest poster era, as we have said, was the inter-war period. This was entirely due to the influence of one man: Frank Pick. Pick joined the Underground in in the early-1900s and almost immediately set to work in standardising how the organisation represented itself. The logo and the Johnston typeface (1913) was the basis of the branding. The job of posters was to be more than just informative. They had to be bright, clever, optimistic. Alluring. He began having them posted outside stations where they could be seen in good light and seen by all, not just paying passengers. He commissioned local talent, foreign talent, artists fresh out of art college and international stars such as Man Ray and Rex Whistler. And women! All Pick cared about was that the ideas were fresh and innovative and that the art was great.


For Property Lost, by Tom Eckersley, 1945. Eckersley got the nod from Pick fresh out of art college in the 1930s and was still producing great Tube posters in the 1970s.

Many of the problems of the Tube then are with us today. The system was often overcrowded, a situation exacerbated by peoples’ habits. Led by Pick, these were opposed with humour rather than bossiness. There is a wonderful series of  cartoon posters by the great Fougasse (Cyril Bird), exhorting people to stand on the right on the escalators; have your ticket ready at the barrier; spread out along the carriage; don’t crowd the platform entrances. There are others which try to persuade people and businesses to stagger their start and finish times for a less crowded commute; for non employed people please only to use the Tube between 9 and 4. Presumably people putting grubby feet on the seats, eating stinky food and having to be reminded to give up seats for the old and infirm still lay sometime in the yobbish future. For this period of the posters, the Tube is telling an unapologetically positive and optimistic story: London is a glamorous, sophisticated and modern metropolis: get the most out of it on the Tube. It can be argued that there is a certain innocence, naivety about all of this. But this is commercial art after all, and we must be conscious of our cynical 21st Century mind-set. This is made clear, I feel, with the later 20th Century stuff. The work is “good”, but one feels that its too clever for its own good, even classics such as Fly the Tube and the one we all know and love, The Tate by Tube. Maybe it’s the photography, barely used before the 1960s.

Congratulations to LTM for this wonderful show. Poster Art 150 continues until 27 October*. Entry is included in museum ticket, standard price £15. LTM run the enlightened policy which we applaud and endorse of year-long validity (other London institutions please take note).

*UPDATE, 6 Sept: Poster 150 has been extended to 5 January.

Here are just a few more examples to whet your appetite.


It is Warmer Below by Frederick Charles Herrick, 1927. An oft-used theme was to use the Tube to escape the elements. The previous summer, Herrick did a poster called It is Cooler Below.


Away from it all by Underground at Whitsuntide, by MEM Law, 1932. Simple, beautiful, clever. Tube branding superfluous.


Power. The Nerve Centre of London’s Underground. by Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1931. Most artists were expert calligraphers. Understated Tube branding on this one.

Read Full Post »

1 It’s free!

2. Guildhall Yard. It wears both its modernity and antiquity very lightly. Two ancient structures – St Lawrence Jewry and the Guildhall itself – counterbalanced by the modern Guildhall Library and Guildhall Art Gallery, both late 20C. Integrated one with the other deliciously, architectural practice at its most sympathetic and very best. Then there is the pavement which incorporates the gentle curve marking the outline of the ancient Roman amphitheatre twenty feet or so below.

guildhall city of london

Guildhall and Art Gallery

guildhall city of london

St Lawrence Jewry

3 Staff. You’ll come across security who scan your bag inside the front door; someone on the front desk, and the two ladies (usually it’s ladies) who run the cloakroom downstairs. Always smiley, always friendly, always welcoming. Archivists and librarians ditto.

4 The Great Hall. A massive 15C late-gothic space containing monumental statuary commemorating Nelson, Wellington, both Pitts, plus huge statues of London’s legendary founding giants, Gog and Magog. It’s not always obvious whether it’s open, hence we had the place entirely to ourself one weekend last year. Do check!

guildhall great hall

5 The art. A very mixed bag, and something for everybody. In the main spaces at ground floor and mezzanine level there are many Victorian genre paintings and notable Pre-raphaelite stuff. But I rather like the London landscape paintings and big parades (Lord Mayor’s Show, Queen Victoria’s jubilee, etc). We use the gorgeous Blackfriars Bridge and St Paul’s by William Marlowe on the London Historian Members’ card. But special mention must go to…

6 … the massive The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, September 1782 by the American artist John Singleton Copley. One of the largest oil paintings in the country, the picture was commissioned by the City of London in 1783. It’s actually a multiple portrait picture featuring the main players on the British side, made out as a battle scene. Its home in the gallery today is a bespoke space that was worked in to the design of the building.

john singleton copley

7 George Dance the Younger. On his father’s death, George junior took over the role of surveyor for the City of London aged just 27. He designed dozens of significant London buildings, the vast majority of which no longer exist. Probably the most significant is the Guidlhall’s facade and front door. So elegant. It reminds me a lot of the fine old London city gates, demolished by his own father in 1760. Irony.

8 The Roman Amphitheatre. When you look at old models or illustrations of Roman London (there is a rather nice example in the Crypt Museum at St Hallows by the Tower), there is always a glaring omission: the amphitheatre. That’s because it was only discovered in the 1990s when archaeologists were having a bit of a sniff around prior to the construction of the art gallery. It is directly underneath Guildhall Yard. Except for ancient history purists, our Roman bits are far from spectacular, but the City has made a noble attempt to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, and I understand there is a big makeover in the pipeline.

amphitheatre guildhall london

9 Tradition. There are all sorts of grand dinners to which we lesser types are not party. Men (mainly) in Livery, Chains of Office, plumed hats, at the very least swanky white tie, their good ladies in tow. There are public ones, though, that take place in Guildhall Yard. My favourite it the Cart Marking Ceremony which happens in July.  Also the livery companies compete with one another on Shrove Tuesday in pancake races. Quite new, that one, but all traditions have to start somewhere.

London Guildhall

Cart Marking July 2011

10 The Clockmakers’ Museum. Beyond the library you will find this little-known museum which celebrates the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers (#61, 1631) and its Members’ work and achievements down the centuries. The displays are gorgeous, inspirational and the stories are fascinating. And it’s free. UPDATE 3/9/2015. Clockmakers’ museum is now closed, but reopening at the Science Museum soon.

Read Full Post »

shakespeare's local pete brownVisit the George Inn in Southwark and you’ll see copies of this recently-published book in the window. In reviewing this book, I am also reviewing the pub. We say pub, back in history there was clear distinction between ale house (drink only), tavern (food and drink) and inn (drink, food, accommodation). In its day it was par excellence an inn, a place where its functions were at one time or another spectacularly varied: hotel; restaurant; stables; playhouse; hop exchange; warehouse; post office, and much of the time simultaneously.

But today it is very much a pub; a pub which occupies about a quarter of its original real estate, the section which runs along what was the southern side of the old inn. It is down an alley off Borough High Street and you would miss it if you were not seeking it. The first section retains the galleried aspect which once would have run around the whole courtyard. Inside, it is as you might expect, all low ceilings and wooden beams. Plenty of wood. It is divided into small sections: about four bar/lounge bits and a restaurant bit at the far end. The walls are decorated with old photos and etchings of the inn, former denizens and worthies of the local area. There is in a frame a life assurance policy belonging to Charles Dickens. For he drank here, as did Churchill and Attlee.

Because this is a listed building under the aegis of the National Trust, there are no tellies, juke boxes, gambling machines or piped music. This is how it should be and makes for good ambience and conversational environment, almost totally lacking in pubs today. The brewery is Greene King, who don’t make fantastic beer in my opinion, but they do make a George Ale (4%) exclusively for this pub, which is not bad at all. Two pints came in at under £8 (sorry, wasn’t paying attention to my change), which is okay by me for what is supposedly a tourist trap situated in a “yuppie playground” – the author’s description of Borough today.

george in southwark

george in southwark

The George was neither the largest nor most famous of Southwark’s dozen-plus coaching inns (that accolade goes to the now-lost Tabard next door, as featured in Canterbury Tales). But it is the only surviving one, and that is what matters. In any case, it has a terrifically rich history in its own right. Pete Brown, ad industry escapee and award-winning beer writer* has written its biography. As befits the subject matter, he has a breezy style with occasional asides direct to camera. That’s not to say he doesn’t take his subject deadly seriously, he does. Shakepeare’s Local is thoroughly researched, taking forward past attempts by others which were eccentric at best, chief of whom one William Rendle.

The building of which the current George is a remnant, dates from 1676 following two disastrous fires which destroyed its predecessors. This was about half way through its life story taking us back to 15C pre-Tudor times. Brown invites us to ponder the “Trigg’s broom” (or Sugarbabes) question: is something whose fabric has been 100% replaced, still essentially the same thing? Being of romantic mien, he concludes yes, today’s George Inn can indeed be considered the same beast as its medieval great-great-grandparent and intervening iterations.

In this book, we learn what the pub was for, what it did and the people who lived in it, ran it, and crossed its portals. But as a well-rounded history book, we have context, that is to say the inter-relationship between the inn and Southwark, Southwark and London and indeed further afield. How the fortunes of the George and its owners waxed and waned through triumph and disaster; at the height of its success during the short-lived coaching age and rapid decline and redundancy with the coming of the railways and the opening of the magnificent hop exchange nearby (eclipsing all neighbouring inns’ ability to function as hop exchanges themselves); why the George survived (sort of), while all its rivals perished.

Most importantly for me, there are the heroes of this story: the George’s landlords and landladies down the ages. They all had something in common: dedication to and love of their charge, which goes some way to explaining its survival. All remarkable and determined innkeepers, special mention must go to the formidable Agnes Murray who worked at the George from 1871 to 1934, from barmaid to landlady.

Shakespeare’s Local has a few dozen illustrations. Old photos and engraving, but most handy of all – maps and plans. Of these the most remarkable is a re-drawn rendering from the earliest known map of Southwark, dating from 1542. You could line this up with the equivalent from the latest London A to Z and it would make almost perfect sense.

The book is lightly footnoted on the actual pages to which they refer, not at the back. I far prefer this. There is a good bibliography at the back and a detailed and useful timeline. But no index, unfortunately.

An excellent, informative read.

Shakespeare’s Local. Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub (352pp) by Pete Brown (2012, Macmillan) has a cover price of £16.99 but is available for around £11.

* Picture the scene. “So, Brown, what plans do you have for after you’ve left school?” “I wish to be a beer writer, sir.” “Get out.”

george inn southwark

Read Full Post »

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of joining two fellow Members, Victor Keegan and Hannah Renier, on a mooch around the Thames foreshore with the good people from the Thames Discovery Programme (Sunny, Eliott, John, Roger). They are a volunteer archaeology group whose mission is to discover and record as much as possible of the river’s shoreline: it is in constant flux and requires essential and frequent monitoring.

Afterwards we stopped at the local caff for much needed hot coffee and I was introduced to David Coke, co-author of the award-winning book Vauxhall Gardens: A History. I remember seeing this magnificent tome at the Vauxhall Gardens exhibition at the Foundling Museum last year, so it was nice to make the connection. My eyes popped out on cartoony stalks as David produced over a dozen historical maps of the tightly focused stretch of the river we had just explored going back many centuries and then right up until quite recent Ordnance Survey. Fascinating stuff.  David’s web site on Vauxhall Gardens is here.

On our beach stroll itself, Vic Keegan has beaten me to it (of course he has: he’s a Journalist with a capital J) and written this up on his fine blog, London My London. So I’ll simply share some captioned pictures.

If you’re a London Historians Member, we’ll be organising an outing with the Thames Discovery Programme later this year, look out for it on the web site and in your monthly newsletter.


Mooching about the foreshore with the Thames Discovery Programme.


Hardy LH Members, Vic and Hannah, with Ed the Dog.


Wooden moldings for a concrete structure, not yet identified or dated.


One of several bronze age piles thought to have supported a jetty or possibly even a bridge. As featured in the unlamented (by me) Time Team.


Upriver or down, it’s impossible to take a photo of lovely Vauxhall Bridge without an ugly tower stinking up the joint.


Vauxhall Bridge, very pretty. Opened in 1906, it replaced the original bridge of 1816.


One of eight statues representing arts, sciences and manufacturing which decorate the bridge. This one is Pottery. Sculptors Drury and Pomeroy also made Justice on the Old Bailey.


Vauxhall Bridge showing structure from the old paddle steamer jetty from before any bridge existed.


Where lesser know tributary the Effra meets the Thames. Prior to embankement it was a tad upstream from here.


Downstream of the bridge, the Albert Embankment, by the mighty Bazalgette. Serpentine lamposts reflect those on the Middlesex bank opposite.

Read Full Post »

This being the title of the new exhibition at the Foundling Museum.

The Curator looked at me slightly oddly when I remarked that in the general scheme of things, the tokens were more important in the museum than the paintings, rooms, furniture and all the rest of it. But I think she saw where I was coming from. And I think it’s true.

The tokens are what this exhibition is all about. What are they? When babies and toddlers were left at the Foundling Hospital, the parent (in most cases the mother), left an object that would later be used as an identifier if the child was re-claimed. Most often it was a piece of jewellery – a ring, earring, hairclip, string of beads. Sometimes the parent couldn’t even manage that: there’s a hazelnut here, and there a shell. Each item was attached to the checking-in document for the child, the Billet Page. Sometimes the parent would leave a note or letter. I’m always struck how many of these people at the poorest and bottom rung were literate. Not just literate, but having absolutely beautiful handwriting in many cases.

Childs ring token mid eighteenth century. Copyright Foundling Museum London

Child’s ring token mid eighteenth century. © Foundling Museum London

Hazelnut date unknown. Copyright Foundling Museum London

Hazelnut, date unknown. © Foundling Museum London

Virtually all the billet pages for the Foundling Hospital have survived and are kept at the Metropolitan Archives. During the Victorian period, the officers of the Hospital decided to separate and store all the old tokens. From an academic perspective, this was a very bad move. For the past decade or so a small team of researchers has been re-uniting token with billet page, and therefore child and possibly even parent.

Fate, Hope & Charity is an exhibition which is all about this particular work in progress. So we have a good several dozen tokens on display and the stories behind them. They are all deeply fascinating. One is about William Hunter the famous surgeon. In 1767, he promised the well-to-do family of an unmarried and pregnant daughter that he would take care of matters. In the event, she had twins, and Hunter dropped them both off at the hospital, signed them in and left playing cards as tokens. The other is about Margaret Larney, who was arrested and incarcerated at Newgate Prison for “coining” (shaving or clipping of silver or gold coins), technically treason and a capital offence. Because she was pregnant, she had a stay of execution. However, once he child was born, it and an elder brother were deposited at the Foundling and Margaret was burned at the stake at Tyburn. Horrid.

Exhibitions about the foundlings are always deeply poignant and sad. But we must always remind ourselves of the prevailing conditions for the poorest in society and their children in the 18C and 19C. The hospital should always be celebrated for the work it did.

Token for Kings Experimental Philosophy lecture mid eighteenth century. Copyright Foundling Museum London

Token for Kings Experimental Philosophy lecture mid eighteenth century. © Foundling Museum London

Padlock token mid eighteenth century. Copyright Foundling Museum London

Padlock token, mid eighteenth century. © Foundling Museum London

Like all of the Foundling Museum’s special exhibitions, Fate, Hope & Charity is wonderfully researched and beautifully staged. It runs until the 19 May. Entrance is included in the entry price, which is £7.50. Concessions apply.

Other Foundling Museum Posts
Foundlings, Families and Fledgling Charities
Threads of Feeling Online
A Well-Spent Afternoon
Tread Softly…
Received, a Blank Child

Read Full Post »