Archive for April, 2015

This ceremony is held on an occasional basis at the Tower of London. It originates in the 14C when, under Richard II, it was decided that any large navy vessel which traveled upstream to the Tower must pay a levy to the Constable. This takes the form of a barrel of rum and is one of a raft of lucrative privileges enjoyed by the Tower’s constables for use of the Thames or London Bridge, the underlying principle being that the Tower provides protection to visitors.

This morning it was the turn of HMS Defender  – a new Class 45 Destroyer – to pay the Dues. Led by Commander Stephen Higham and supported by the band of the Royal Marines, the sailors delivered the barrel to the current Constable, the Lord Dannatt, formerly commander in chief of the British Army.

Visitors to the Tower were clearly delighted at this unexpected treat. My thanks to LH Member Chris West for the tip-off.

More on the Contable’s Dues. 


Band of the Royal Marines.

Band of the Royal Marines.

Commander   addresses the reception party.

Commander Higham addresses the reception party.


Constable of the Tower, the Lord Dannatt, speaking to the media.

Constable of the Tower, the Lord Dannatt, speaking to the media.

Matelots enjoying a well-served drink afterwards in the Yeoman Warders' Club.

Matelots enjoying a well-deserved drink afterwards in the Yeoman Warders’ Club.


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Our visit in perfect weather to the Crossrail archaeology site at Liverpool Street yesterday. It’s just north of the old London wall at Moorfields, near where Bedlam #2 was sited, making it London suburbia in ancient and medieval times. In a previous phase, the team have discovered human remains of thousands here and nearby in recent months, far more than would have come from the Bethlehem Hospital and probably more than can be explained away as plague pits. More research and analysis is required, which will take some years in all.

The sometimes notorious Bethlehem Hospital in Moorfields by Robert Hooke.

The sometimes notorious Bethlehem Hospital in Moorfields by Robert Hooke.

But right now they are down to the 1C/2C Roman layer next to an old road and a tributary of the Walbrook river. A very marshy area historically which the Romans, naturally, succeeded in draining. We were shown close-up a variety of objects – some unidentifiable at the moment – which have been discovered in the previous several days. I find it quite moving to hold things which have been hidden from us for nearly two millenia, things which because they are freshly excavated seem to connect us more directly with long-dead Londoners, our predecessors. You get far more of a buzz, I think, examining these items before they have been properly cleaned, identified, “museumified”. That’s why I enjoy mudlarking.

Our thanks to Marit Leenstra from Crossrail who generously gave her time to open up the site and tell us all about the project, which will draw to a close in the coming months. There are scheduled public viewings if you’d like to have a go. Details here.

There is further information and events relating to the Crossrail project here.

Here are some pictures from our visit.


crossrail archaeology

crossrail archaeology

The dig. Crossrail archaeologists.

crossrail archaeology

Marit does show and tell.

crossrail archaeology

Excavated last Monday. Possibly 1C, more analysis required.

crossrail archaeology

Copper coin showing head of Emperor Antoninus Pius (r 138 – 161 AD), one of the so-called “Good Emperors”.

crossrail archaeology

Finds on display 1.

crossrail archaeology

Finds on display 2

crossrail archaeology

Finds on display 3


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A guest post by London Historians Member, Jane Young.

Geffrye Union board250For anyone that is familiar with the Geffrye Museum it will be no surprise to find another skillfully executed exhibition there which displays the usual beautifully finished attention to detail that the Geffrye does so well.

Included in the exhibition are some spectacular original paintings. The centrepiece used for the exhibition literature, ‘The Pinch of Poverty’ by Thomas Benjamin Kennington 1891 is exquisite and Gustave Doré’s ‘A Poor House’ 1869 simply magnificent to mention just two of many.

Geffrye Daffodils500

The Pinch of Poverty by Thomas Benjamin Kennington, 1891. (detail)

It is very refreshing to find that the curator has not restricted the exhibition to the tried and trusted method of using exclusively the East End of London as the only exemplar of all that denotes slums and poverty within this period. As a result the exhibition is well balanced, covering all of London from Bloomsbury to Greenwich and Deptford along with the lesser known ‘Potteries’ of Notting Dale in the west, one of the blackest spots to be found on the Booth Map.

All aspects of the conditions of life on the streets are illustrated, in addition to abject poverty and destitution, the human side of what it meant to be homeless is explored with documents, photographs and everyday objects, showing the camaraderie and humour amongst real people and their accounts of the time. Incorporating lodging houses and charity the response to social intervention and paternalism is demonstrated.

Geffrye Corridor photo500

Accommodation available to the homeless was spartan indeed. Interior of a workhouse.


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Street poor queueing.

Opened in 1914 in the buildings and grounds of almshouses built two centuries earlier in 1714 by the Ironmongers Company, the Geffrye is well worth a visit at any time if you do not already know it. For those travelling any distance to see the exhibition it might be useful to note that the restored almshouse which is open for visitors on certain days is superb and a good reason to time a visit to coincide with the open days. Also the permanent collection, which transports you through four centuries of detailed domestic interiors and houses further beautiful original paintings; an herb garden; garden reading room and beautiful grounds and gardens within the setting of the original almshouses; a little oasis off the Kingsland Road where it is very easy to forget you are in 21st Century East London.

‘Homes of the Homeless’ manages to achieve that rare thing, an exhibition which has in no way been ‘dumbed down’ but is still perfectly accessible and understandable for children too. Engaging and thoughtfully constructed it succeeds in having appeal for a wide audience. Now open and running until 12 July 2015 with a very reasonable admission price of £5. In conjunction with this runs a display in collaboration with the New Horizon Youth Centre: ‘Home and hope: Young people’s experience of homelessness today’ raising awareness of the contemporary experience of homelessness.

Homes of the Homeless: Seeking Shelter in Victorian London runs until 12 July. 

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