Archive for May, 2013

A new tranche of entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is published today. I’m honoured that it includes my entry on architect Leslie Green, who designed over 50 Tube stations at the beginning of the 20C. Other Londoners included in this release are listed below, including the chap who gave us the Routemaster bus, Albert Durrant. I shan’t link them because you need a subscription to the DNB or access by virtue of membership to one of  a selection of local libraries (I highly recommend you investigate this).

Albert Durrant (1898-1984), chief engineer for London Transport and designer of the Routemaster bus. Our main theme for May’s update will be people who shaped the history of British motoring, and Durrant fits here and also with your entry on Green. I wrote this entry and attach a copy here (in case it’s of interest).

Maurice Levinson (1911-1984), London taxi driver, known for his books and articles on being a cab driver

John Henry Forshaw (1895-1973), architect, who became head of the LCC architects’ department in 1943 and assisted Patrick Abercrombie in his ‘County of London Plan’ for the redevelopment of the capital. Promoted the ‘Swedish’ over the ‘Corbusian’ model of mass housing post-war.

William Edward Riley (1852-1937), architect who, as superintending architect of the new LCC, oversaw programme of public buildings, including ‘arts and crafts’ style fire stations (like that at Euston), and the development of Aldwych and Kingsway.

Timothy Bennett (1676-1756), cordwainer, and John Lewis (1713-1792), brewer, both of whom are remembered for leading campaigns to re-establish public access in public parks – Bennett in Bushy Park and Lewis in Richmond Park in the 1750s. In both cases public rights had been denied by the monarch or members of the royal family; Bennett and Lewis led popular campaigns which successfully overturned these prohibitions. Both men were subsequently praised as champions of English liberty and are commemorated in their respective parks by walkways and monuments.

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shakespeare and London, london metropolitan archivesThe name of a new exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives.

As an article in our current Members’ newsletter points out, Shakespeare is not as widely celebrated in the town of his trade as one might expect. You have to search hard for places touched by him. A great example is the spot where he bought a property in Blackfriars – whether to live in or to rent out is not known. The deed which records this sale is the prize document in the exhibition. It bears the Bard’s signature, one of only six known to exist worldwide.

shakespeare and London, london metropolitan archives

There are many other objects in the show, including other official documents, correspondence, prints, playbills, programmes, maps. Nor is it in any way restricted to Shakespeares’s own time, far from it. We celebrate many historical luvvies from Richard Burbage down to Sir Laurence Olivier. As you might expect, Hogarth’s famous engraving of his good friend David Garrick doing Richard III is featured.

shakespeare and London, london metropolitan archives

We get the story of Shakespeare’s Globe including a beautiful model from 1951 when its modern photocopy was possibly still a glint in Sam Wannamaker’s eye. You like maps? There are some near contemporary beauties on the wall including the Norden map from 1593. The original – in a book – is about nine inches wide. The LMA have scanned it at massive resolution and blown it up to about six feet wide, so you can appreciate better the London topography at the back end of the sixteenth century. Such a boon.

shakespeare and London, london metropolitan archives

In addition to all this, there are four smallish audio visual displays. Except without the “audio”, just the visual (what’s that called?). Anyway, they use subtitles. Hoorah, so much more civilised than having booming displays causing noise pollution when you’re trying to enjoy displays. Museums, take note. My favourite was the one about contemporary and subsequent pubs with Shakespearean connections. There’s much about the Mermaid near Cheapside, of course (long gone), but loads more fascinating facts. How many pubs in London today bear Shakepeare’s moniker? Can you name them?

If you’ve read my recent posts about the Office of Works and Royal Mint shows, you’ll know I’m a great fan of smaller exhibitions. Typically, they’ll take you about an hour or so to do properly, and you’ll leave feeling educated and entertained rather than overwhelmed. Shakespeare and London at the LMA is another perfect example. It opens tomorrow and runs until 26th September. Entry is free, don’t miss it.

More information.

shakespeare in london, london metropolitan archives

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For some reason that life’s too short to find out, the Royal Mint and its museum are based in Wales. So a new exhibition at the Tower of London adds a welcome and much-needed minty flavour to the capital. And rightly so, because the Royal Mint was based at the royal fortress from the late thirteenth century right through to 1812. The new show – Coins and Kings: The Royal Mint at the Tower – is based in rooms which were once part of the old money factory in what was, and is, known as Mint Street.

royal mint, tower of london

Mint Street.

There is a strong focus on technology. At the beginning of our period it was very basic; coins were literally stamped with a hammer and dye, and then cut into shape. As a technique it was thousands of years old. During the Restoration a new way of making milled coins using machinery was introduced from the Continent. Apart from automation, that’s essentially still the method used today.

I love the story of James Turnbull, a soldier who was seconded to do hot, sweaty work in the mint. With the help of an accomplice, after breakfast one morning in December 1798 he locked his colleagues in a cupboard and made off with much bullion. He was caught trying to escape to Europe several weeks later. Next stop, Newgate gallows by way of the Old Bailey. Exactly a century previously William Chaloner, a notorious counterfeiter and fraudster had been running rings around the authorities. Unfortunately for him, the new Warden of the Mint was possibly the cleverest man in the world: Isaac Newton. Newton meticulously built a water-tight case against the felon and prosecuted him, the inevitable result being a one way ticket to Tyburn. In a final letter to Newton, the now contrite Chaloner begged for his life:

O dear Sr nobody can save me but you O God my God I shall be murdered unless you save me O I hope God will move your heart with mercy pitty to do this thing for me I am Your near murdered humble Servant…

These are just a few of the stories you’ll learn. Key objects from the Tower itself have been united with items from the Royal Mint Museum in Wales, the British Museum and other institutions to give a compelling narrative of coin production down the centuries. The great and the good – kings, scientists, forgers and brigands – all are featured.

royal  mint, tower of london

Spanish eight reales coins were an international currency. During the crisis of 1797, it was quicker to stamp George III’s portrait onto foreign coins than to melt them down to make new ones.

This exhibition hasn’t been confirmed as “permanent”, but it is on “until further notice”, which means for a long time. Entry is free with the Tower of London ticket, so do make sure you make account for it whenever you next visit, easily worth 45 minutes to an hour of your time.

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a monumental act, wellington arch, quadriga gallery, english heritage

The Office of Works. It’s almost a cartoonish name, like the Daily Mash’s Institute of Studies. To those of us of a certain age it has a black-and-white, Andy Capp, post-war era quality. Its staff, we might imagine, would probably be middle-class improvers with a modest terrace house, a modest car and a mousy wife. Its an organisation from a bygone age and nobody knows what it was or probably few people did back then either. In reality, it was far more exciting that its name suggests, particularly if you appreciate history and heritage issues.

The Office of Works was an ancient department dating back to the 14th century. Its job was the maintenance of Crown property; it also participated in organising Royal ceremonies: weddings, coronations, funerals. In 1882 the Ancient Monuments Act gave it the job of acquiring and maintaining prehistoric monuments; from 1900 this was extended to historic buildings.

But this side of the Office’s duties changed fundamentally into something we would recognise today on 15  August 1913 with the passing of the The Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act. 

The Act gave the Office powers to 1) list protected monuments which could not be altered without reference to the Office; 2) issue a Preservation Order where a monument was under threat and 3) take a monument into the care of the state, with or without the owner’s agreement.

Hence the Office of Works became the predecessor of English Heritage. In the first 20 years after the Act a small cadre of workers who included historians, restorers, builders and archaeologists and led by the formidable Charles Peers, rescued 229 monuments.

These include Rievaulx Abbey, Furness Abbey, Richborough Roman Fort and Goodrich Castle.

Peers, the first Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments, was one of those leaders who seem to have disappeared from public life: driven, determined, competent and insistent to have things as he would have them. He reminds me in that way of his contemporary Frank Pick over at the London tube.

The other prime mover in this story was George, Lord Curzon. While Viceroy of India at the turn of the twentieth Century,  Curzon had restored the Taj Mahal and its gardens. Back in England, and shocked by the state of our monuments, in 1912 he personally intervened using his own money to prevent Tattershall Castle from being wholly exported to America. The government’s powerlessness and his example created the momentum which led to the Act.

The centenary of the 1913 Act and its aftermath is celebrated in a wonderful exhibition at the Quadriga Gallery within Wellington Arch, appropriately run by English Heritage. It includes lots of objects saved from rescued monuments, plus many photographs, portraits, paintings and plans.

A Monumental Act: How Britain Saved its Heritage
1 May – 7 July 2013, Quadriga Gallery
Entry: £4. English Heritage Members: Free.
More Information.

a monumental act, wellington arch, quadriga gallery, english heritage

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tower bridge, horace jonesToday is the architect Sir Horace Jones‘s birthday. He was born in 1819 in the City of London. He also trained in the City before opening his practice in Holborn. He was architect and surveyor to the City of London from 1864 until his death in 1887. A Londoner of Note indeed.

Much of Jones’s work has survived both the Blitz and the wrecking ball, notably the Temple Bar memorial along with Billingsgate, Leadenhall and Smithfield Markets. He loved iron and steel. But most sensational of all was Tower Bridge.

In the late 19C, London’s rapid expansion required yet another bridge to link the City to the Surrey side downriver of London Bridge. The difficulty was that this could potentially block the old Customs House and its surrounding wharfs from offloading vital cargo – food and fuel – to supply the city’s massive populus: shipping needed to pass by the bridge. Many wacky and bizarre plans were put forward, along with more practical ones by the great Joseph Bazalgette, Horace Jones, and others. In 1884, Jones’s design was given the nod. It was essentially a drawbridge idea, the key difference being that it was based on a bascule (see-saw) principle rather than chainlift. The power that drives the bascules up and down is provided by hydraulic chambers filled by water pumps, originally steam but electric from 1976.

Jones died only two years after work began on the bridge, but his technical partner, the engineer John Wolfe Barry saw the project through to completion in 1894, when it was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales on 30 June. Barry had also been responsible for the mechanism and hydraulics systems for the bascules.

tower bridge, horace jones

tower bridge, horace jones

London Historians had a group visit to Tower Bridge last month where we visited the museum and walkways along with the rest of the public, but we were also shown the modern engine room, the old control room, the storage tanks for the hydraulic lift system and, crucially, we went down into one of the bascule chambers. A week or two previous to that, I had the enormous privilege of raising the bascules myself from the modern control room. Here follows some pictures from these visits, but I’ve put a larger set on our Flickr space here.

tower bridge, horace jones

London Historians on the pedestrian walkway.

tower bridge, horace jones

Instruments in the old control room.

tower bridge, horace jones

Engine Room.

tower bridge, horace jones

Hydraulic Accumulator.

tower bridge, horace jones

In the bascule chamber.

tower bridge, horace jones

Old steam engine in the Tower Bridge Museum.

tower bridge, horace jones

Author in the safe hands of engineer Charlie Harrison in the modern control room.

tower bridge, horace jones

All my own work.

Tower Bridge Trivia:

Tower Bridge, John Wayne, Brannigan

John Wayne: Duke of Hazard.

  1. On full lift, the bascules are 77° to the horizontal except when the monarch passes through: 87°.
  2. Between 1894 and 1976 the bridge had over 300,000 lifts without a failure.
  3. In 1940, an anti-aircraft gun was removed from the bridge after damaging one of the towers.
  4. The pedestrian walkways were closed in 1910 due to lack of use.
  5. In 1968 a disgruntled RAF pilot flew a Hawker Hunter jet through the bridge.
  6. Raising the bascules for shipping is a free service.
  7. Shipping always has priority over road traffic (1885 Tower Bridge Act).
  8. In 1952, London bus driver Albert Gunton famously jumped the gap between the rising bascules after the traffic management system failed. He received a £5 reward.
  9. John Wayne drove a yellow Ford Capri – simulated – across Tower Bridge in the 1975 movie Brannigan. Clip.
  10. In 1997 the motorcade carrying Tony Blair and Bill Clinton was split by a bridge lift, leaving the leaders on opposite sides of the crossing. An international incident almost occurred when the bridge team, to prevent making matters worse, refused to stray from the procedure.


On behalf of London Historians as a group and me personally for my lifting the bascule experience, a big thank-you to the City of London who manage Tower Bridge, in particular Chris Earlie, Iain Stanford and Charlie Harrison who are directly involved in the day-to-day running of the bridge, all highly professional, knowledgeable and welcoming.


Tower Bridge Exhibition.

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Fallen In Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn, by Joanna Carrick, showing at the Tower of London.

A Guest Post by London Historians Member, Lissa Chapman

fallen in love tower of london anne boleyn

The Boleyn brand has never been more popular: novels, television series, conferences, a dozen Twitter users jostling for the name @AnneBoleyn – surely the perfume and a range of lingerie called “the most happy” can’t be far behind. It’s hardly surprising. Anne Boleyn was a celebrity (yes, they did have them in the sixteenth century), a whore or a religious heroine – delete according to taste – in her own lifetime, and her legendary status is unlikely to fade. She is one of the historical figures whose significance is in the eye, and often the heart, of the beholder.

So a play about her, staged within yards of the place of her violent death, has to be a winner. But it isn’t clear if “Fallen in Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn” is exactly a play. Supported by the Heritage (not the Arts) Lottery Fund and staged in association with Historic Royal Palaces, this project seemed to me to belong in the sometimes uncertain ground between theatre and live interpretation. It is both a strength and a weakness of the piece that it is written with great integrity, firmly based on primary source material. It also avoids the vulgarities of sixth fingers, witchcraft and serial shagging.

The theme is the intense bond between Anne Boleyn and her younger brother George – the two were of course convicted, among other things, of incest with each other. The premise of the piece is that their love was the central relationship in both their lives. The action spans nearly twenty years, starting at the time of the Field of the Cloth of Gold when the siblings were in their teens, and continuing until their execution; each scene is a self-contained set piece, with the two characters meeting to plan, rejoice, grieve or comment.

Emma Connell as Anne and Scott Ellis as George, both in their twenties, were convincing in the early scenes; each was able to convey the vitality and insatiable ambition of the pair, and their interdependence against the world, along with the febrile charm that must have characterised the real Boleyns.. It was as they were asked to age, to occupy a larger place in that world and to become more formidable that the difficulties began. These were partly inherent in the writing which, as the characters became public property, took more and more the form of paraphrased chunks of source material (relying on the accuracy of the reports of Eustace Chapuys a little too often for my particular taste). And as the Boleyns became significant and visible to the world at large, the limitations of the two-hander became more evident. Attempts were made to suggest the influence of others, in particular the king, but neither the danger and watchfulness of court life nor the dangerousness of the characters themselves became manifest.

fallen in love tower of london anne boleyn

It is worth noting that this production represents a huge ask of its cast and crew. The 9pm performance I attended was the third of that day – an exhausting prospect for a show with an 85-minute running time. The choice of the New Armouries as the setting was a disappointment, as it is one of the least atmospheric parts of the Tower, although the practicality in terms of lighting and comfort were evident. And the costumes, although they would have been acceptable in a larger space, were not of sufficient quality to bear the close scrutiny they receive from an audience only a few feet from the action.

Despite all this, however, this is a serious and thoughtful piece of writing. It would be interesting to revisit the subject using a larger cast of characters and perhaps with live rather than recorded music. Yet – secret heart? Walking through the dark precincts of the Tower on a night in May seemed to me to offer a greater sense of connection with Anne Boleyn than any play ever could. Perhaps that is as it should be.


Fallen In Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn, by Joanna Carrick, runs until 16 June. There are three performances most days, ticket prices £27 – £32. Concessions available, including 10% discount to London Historians Members.

More information here.
Booking here.

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middle templeYesterday, a group of Members went on one of our behind-the-scenes: a tour around the Middle Temple whose ancient hall dates from the Elizabethan era. It’s a magnificent structure with a handsome double hammerbeam roof, one of only four in the world. Middle Temple is one of London’s four Inns of Court, the other three being its near neighbour Inner Temple plus Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn slightly to the north on t’other side of Fleet Street.

Before universities proliferated, along with Oxford and Cambridge the Inns collectively were main centres of learning for young gentlemen who perhaps preferred to hang around the capital. Sir Walter Ralegh was one such. Today the hall’s main function is a refectory for members and students. But in its early days it was also a venue for revels, lectures, drama. Twelfth Night’s first performance was here in 1602. Our tour started and ended here for afterwards we enjoyed a fabulous buffet lunch seated on one of the long bench tables. Between these bookends in time, we were led through a series of wood panelled function rooms, all richly decorated with portraits of luminaries of the past who had close connections with this Inn.

King Edward VII and the late Queen Mother were both enthusiastic supporters who enjoyed the convivial hospitality of the Middle Temple. The guided part of our visit ended in the Library. The books are old; the building is modern, for the old library was irretrievably Blitzed. It’s the home of the Molyneux globes, one terrestrial, the other celestial. They are among the earliest of the type ever made, remarkable survivors. Members of the public are permitted to visit the hall, but only if it’s not being used and at the discretion of the porters, so it’s all a bit random. But we had our fill and much more besides, all thanks to the Inn’s senior librarian Renae Satterley @resatterley whose knowledge, enthusiasm and warm hospitality are a credit to this ancient institution. Rather than repeat what’s available elsewhere, read the history of Middle Temple on Wikipedia here or, better still, on their own web site here. Look out for the PDF download. Related post: Agnus Dei.

middle temple

Our group at the high table. donated by Elizabeth I. A massive plank of Tudor oak which was manoevred in only by removing the stained glass window.

middle temple london

Double hammerbeam roof.

There are hundreds of these members' coats of arms throughout the Middle Temple.

There are hundreds of these members’ coats of arms throughout the Middle Temple.

middle temple london

Contemporary Portrait of Elizabeth I.

middle temple hall

This bench top is a hatch from the Golden Hinde, where newly qualified barristers are sworn in.

middle temple london

The Bench Apartment.

middle temple london

Charter from James I granting possession of the Middle Temple in perpetuity.

middle temple london

The spot where a Zeppelin-delivered bomb pierced the floor. Middle Temple was a victim of bombs in both World Wars.

middle temple london

The Prince’s Room, named in honour of Prince William, formerly the Members’ Smoking Room.

middle temple london

The library.

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