Archive for July, 2013

london's industrial heritage, geoff marshall

I’m so pleased about this book which has very recently been published, and I know of many others will be too. It covers a vast topic which as far as I know hasn’t properly been addressed as a popular history. I know already that this review won’t do it justice.

One is often inclined to relate the word “industrial” with regions far-flung from London, particularly the Midlands and “oop-North”.  One can also find it difficult to uncouple the word from “industrial revolution”, the idea that industry, even heavy industry didn’t exist before the late 18th Century. For these reasons alone, London’s Industrial Heritage is most welcome.

As you might expect, the book is organised by industry starting with emerging public utilities such as gas and electricity but including older ones like the postal service and fresh water.  Yes, we’re inclined to think of these last two as largely Victorian endeavours, Bazalgette, Rowland Hill, Anthony Trollope and all that. But we discover that these gentlemen were more improvers and innovators of industries which were already technologically rather mature. The New River story (1613, 400 years old next month), was an astounding feat of pre-industrial engineering. Similarly, early plastics – typically used in combs, buttons etc. – were developed in London a good century before we think of their 20C ubiquity.

The drivers of industrial growth were need and opportunity. As London’s influence and wealth grew, so did its population which needed to be clothed, fed, housed, kept warm. Simultaneously, the rapidly developing  port and merchant marine made London ideally situated for goods in and out both domestically and on a global scale, leading to factories, chemicals, engineering and so on. These by dint of geography and prevailing westerly wind saw the East London in particular transformed into a steaming, stinking, noisy manufacturing global powerhouse.

Before modern concepts of branding, hundreds of enterprises sprang up with wonderful names of the type which have now all but disappeared: The Impermeable Collar and Cuff Company; The India Rubber, Gutta Percha & Telegraph Works Company; and so on. This last was based in Silvertown, named after industrialist Stephen Winkworth Silver. The area became the world capital of cable insulation at a time when the telegraph system was burgeoning around the globe with transatlantic and trans-Pacific cable being laid. At the same time, the post-Faraday generation of chemists were opening factories for dyes, acids, finishing agents and much besides. Again in Silvertown was the Brunner, Mond chemical works. Not a household name, for sure, but when it was converted to TNT manufacture during WWI, the perhaps inevitable result was the Silvertown Disaster of 19 January 1917, an explosion which killed 73 people and destroyed nearly a thousand homes.

brunner and mond

Brunner and Mond, archetypical late Victorian industrialists.

The coverage of industry in this absorbing book is comprehensive indeed: utilities, industrial chemicals as we have seen; transport; shoes and clothes; clockmaking; glass; pottery; print; shipyards; arms and munitions; silk, rope, brushes, matches, lighting, luxury goods, construction, textiles, leather goods, food; beer and spirits. The list is almost endless.

Among all of this, there are common themes. Rise and fall; mergers, acquisitions and unfortunately in most cases, extinction.  The companies with the exotic and evocative names, as noted. But of course, history is all about people, and where this book really scores for me is that the author has taken great care to weave into the narrative the stories of the businessmen and women, inventors, entrepreneurs, carpetbaggers, go-getters, chancers and visionaries who made London such a vibrant hub of commerce and manufacture. Many were Londoners, many more were attracted from elsewhere – even abroad – so compelling were the challenges and rewards of what had become the world’s largest city.

In fact, there is an astounding amount of close detail that the author has managed to cram into 250-odd pages, which include several dozen excellent photographs and illustrations, including a colour section in the middle. It’s a work of great detail without at any time being overbearing.

In summary, well-researched, well-written and well-overdue. Highly recommended.

London’s Industrial Heritage, 255pp, is published by the History Press with a cover price of £16.99.
Special Offer: London Historians members can purchase signed copies direct from the author for £10 + £2 shipping (UK residents). Details in August Members’ Newsletter!

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This show has been on at Somerset House for a while now and has just over a month to run. It comprises large scale black and white photographs of Hawksmoor’s London churches. These are complemented with models of their towers or facades suspended on wires from the ceiling.

The exhibition curated by Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of Harvard University Graduate School of Design. It features the work of architectural photographer Hélène Binet. Using digital plans, the models were made from resin.

Nicholas Hawksmoor (c.1661–1736) was the brilliant protege of Christopher Wren, most of whose London churches have survived.

They are beautifully and simply presented in this exhibition: the approach is wholly successful. Recommended.

nicholas hawksmoor

nicholas hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor:  Methodical Imaginings runs until 2 September at Somerset House. Entrance in free.

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I spent some time most profitably on Saturday at the Guildhall Library’s inaugural Open Day. It was nice unexpectedly to bump into fellow Members and as far as I can tell, the event was a resounding success. We congratulate the library and look forward to many more of these.

I took in a talk by Assistant Librarian Jeanie Smith on the Lloyd’s Marine Collection (1741 – the present, the most amazing maritime stories) and drank in the displays featuring some of the library’s treasure: a Shakespeare First Folio (one of only 14 complete ones in existence); a John Stow First Edition; the first London Gazette, 1665 (named Oxford Gazette because Parliament had decamped there owing to the Plague); The Great Chronicle of London (1189-1512), a major source for John Stow; Bills of Mortality collection, also 1665; and so on.

Less valuable but more eye-catching and more fun, is London’s Armory from 1677. This is by a fellow called Richard Wallis, “citizen and Arms painter of London.”

London Armory

London Armory

To save your eyesight, the inscription reads:

London’s Armory
Accuratly delineated in a Graphical display of all the Arms Crests Supporters Mantles & Motto’s of every distinct Company and Corporate Societie in the Honourable City of London as they truly bear them; faithfully Collected from their severall Patents which have been approved and confirmed by divers Kings at Arms in their Visitations. A Work never till now exactly perfected or truly Published by any, and will rectify many essential Mistakes and manifest Absurdities Committed in Painting & Carving.
Printed for the Author Rich: Wallis Citizen & arms painter of London and are to be sold by him at his Shop against ye Royall Exchange.

The idea here is that Wallis is sucking up to the Members of the companies represented on the right hand panel. When they cough up for their copy, I imagine that he inscribes their name in the blank panel on the left.

The most noteworthy thing, I think, are the two slaves at the foot of the page among much maritime paraphernalia and presided over by Neptune himself. Here is a man celebrating the hegemony of the City of London over lesser peoples of the world. But what of the arms and badges of which Wallis makes such proud boasts? I can’t match any of them with either livery companies, or the great trading companies or City wards. Militia companies?

I’ve sent a note to Guildhall Library and one or two academic historians who are our Members. But I’d also like to throw this open to the floor, so to speak. Please chip in if you know what they are. This is more a fun item than a serious academic exercise, I must point out.

Thanks to The Londonphile who took the pictures for me. 

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bow police stationWeekend engineering works on the Eastern stretch of the District Line gave me the opportunity to mooch around Bow yesterday. Every cloud and all that. I noticed that Bow Police Station has been closed less than a month. Note the alternatives listed on the notice. A thin gruel. The crims of East London must be delighted.

This particular building was designed by John Dixon Butler (1861–1920) and completed in 1903. A collaborator of Norman Shaw, as Surveyor and Architect to the Metropolitan Police he designed over 200 public buildings. As a near-complete survivor of his work, Bow Police Station was Grade II listed in 2009.

It’s astounding  how many public buildings were constructed in the Edwardian Era. Libraries, hospitals, police stations, museums, archives, etc. A century later, many have succumbed; many more are in constant danger.

Excellent further information on this building and its architect here.

bow police station

bow police station

bow police station

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St Martin-in-the-Fields

St Martin-in-the-Fields

Barely three weeks since my adventure up the steeple of St Bride’s, I found myself back there this morning to hear about the 60th anniversary of the National Churches Trust. We had a very nice talk from NCT vice-president, journalist and broadcaster Huw Edwards (taller in the flesh) followed by a short film on the Trust’s work.

The Trust raises money to help much-needed repairs to the fabric of the nation’s church buildings. Lovely St Bride’s is a great example of the 12,000 buildings to have benefitted from this support. As part of the anniversary, they canvassed about 50 worthies and about 10 politicians (=60) to nominate their favourite churches. Here are the London ones.

Alex Polizzi: Farm Street Catholic Church, W1
Bear Grylls: Holy Trinity Church, Brompton Road, SW7
Bettany Hughes: St Matthew’s Church, Ealing
Campbell Robb: St Martin-in-the-Fields, WC2
Giles Coren: St Bride’s, Fleet Street
Boris Johnson: St Magnus the Martyr, Lower Thames Street, EC3R
Andrew Lloyd Webber: All Saints Church, Margaret Street, W1
Joanna Lumley: St Bride’s Fleet Street
Admiral West: St Anne’s Church, Limehouse, E14
Rev Lucy Winkett: St Mary’s Church, Manor Park, Newham, E12

Like the Mayor, I’m a bit of a St Magnus fan myself. But I’m that shallow, my favourite is often the most recent one I’ve visited, that’s to say (barring St Bride’s), St Giles Cripplegate.

St Matthew's Church, Ealing

St Matthew’s Church, Ealing, chosen by Bettany Hughes. Not far from me (note to self, etc.)

To see the full list, go here:

Note the Prime Minister is better than everybody else, so he has chosen two, both in his constituency.

The National Churches Trust would love you to join in and vote for your favourite. Do so via Facebook or Twitter (@NatChurchTrust)

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alison balsomThe Globe Theatre, Sam Wanamaker‘s magnificent replica Elizabethan theatre on Bankside. I last attended a production here in 2005. The reason I remember this is because – just as now – the Ashes were on and I recall during the interval having to catch up on the score from Old Trafford.

Yesterday evening we were transported not backwards in time from Shakespeare’s London, but forward to the London of the 1690s, during the reign of William and Mary: Wren’s London, a London fizzing with  religious tension, the Catholic James II only recently having been shown the exit. The streets, houses, palaces and the Thames, of course, are the scenes for a brand new production by Samuel Adamson: Gabriel.

Gabriel is a large ensemble musical play. It is a play rather than a musical, really, because although there are songs, they are relatively few. It is, nonetheless, a play about music: Purcell’s music; baroque music; specifically music for trumpet. Along with the violin players, cellists, woodwind tooters and kettle drummer, the cast includes at least four trumpets, led by virtuosa Alison Balsom.

Early on, two of the comic characters – a fictitious, sickly Royal prince and an alcoholic trumpeter – assert that the trumpet can only be used for rousing, martial-like music. From here the production comprises a series of scenes and stories which serve to disprove this clearly simple-headed thesis, through the music of Purcell. These pieces are in turn rousing, sad, funny, tragic, bawdy. All are wonderfully done. The writing, acting, music and performing are all rock-solid and delivered with great confidence and panache, a wonderful achievement for the opening weekend. A special mention must be made for the costumes and, in particular, wigs. Fantastically over the top, yet realistic for the time. The leading ladies’ frocks are particularly stunning.

There is good swearing, boasting, joshing and violence from our friends, the Watermen who live up to their historic stereotype. There is some near total nudity (socks), unfortunately only male. A trumpet comes in handy in these circumstances. Another scene features a wonderfully written and delivered diatribe against lovers of the English Opera amid much farting (delivered, of course, via trumpet special FX) and giggling.

Just wonderful. Congratulations to all concerned.

More about the play, including interviews etc, and booking, here.

Gabriel runs until 18 August.
Until the 20 July, London Historians members can book tickets for just £10, saving up to £29, an astounding discount. If you’re a Member reading this, email admin@londonhistorians.org for the promotion code. And if you’re not? Go anyway, or join us in the tent.

globe theatre

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Just downriver of Tower Bridge you have Wapping on the North bank (Middlesex, as was) and Bermondsey to the South (Surrey). To generalise a bit, the Wapping side has traditionally been about docks and wharfs – logically goods needed to load and offload near the consumers and manufacturers – that’s to say the City of London and what we know as the East End. The Bermondsey side tended to be where ships were manufactured, fitted out and repaired. Here were the homes and neighbourhoods of shipwrights and associated trades craftsmen.


Before the modern docks were built from the beginning of the 19th Century, this section of the Thames was choked solid with thousands of vessels – an unbroken forest of masts and rigging of merchantmen with service vessels, river taxis, lighters and the like weaving between them as best they could.

Today at low tide, archaeologists go down to the river’s beaches and try to make sense of past from the valuable but shifting clues left behind. Last Thursday professional archaeologists and volunteers from Thames Discovery Programme (TDP) hit the mud on the Bermondsey side to study a section. All tape measures, clipboards and wellies. One of their number, Eliott Wragg, gave a public tour of the area and the operation to about 20 of us “civvies”. We kicked off with a nice surprise: some ruins of an ancient manor house or possibly a hunting lodge dating from around 1350 . I knew of this building but not exactly where it was. Now I do.


King Edward III’s manor house. Possibly.


Archaeologists at work.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey.

Eliott explains.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey.

Rudder of an 18C frigate, re-purposed as part of wharf or dock structure.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey.

Heading upriver.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey.

“A Fine Summer’s Day in London”

Fellow LH Member Hannah Renier and I really enjoyed our outing with the TDP as we did at Vauxhall a few months ago.  We managed to squeeze in some mudlarking while we were at it. I was very excited to find my first clay pipe stem; an hour later we’d amassed dozens. Obvious, really, that “finds” should be more plentiful just down from the City.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey

Eliott, Hannah, Eddie the dog.


Some of the stuff we found. Crockery bits, rusty nails, clay pipe stems.


The Thames Discovery Programme is an archaeological group comprising around 300 volunteers and a tiny complement of full-time staff (2.5 members, to be precise). Its mission is to record, measure, monitor the largest archaeological site in Britain: the Thames foreshore. A major part of its remit is public engagement: walks, talks, site visits. With a little training, you can join them as a FROG (Foreshore Recording and Observation Group), i.e. volunteer. Or just tag along for an outing as we did. It’s all on their web site.

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