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Archive for July, 2015

doggett1_2501 August 1715 was the first instance of Doggett’s Coat and Badge rowing race between newly-qualified watermen, up the Thames from London Bridge to Chelsea. Unlike today, there were no further bridges to pass under and the river was almost entirely unembanked, hence considerably wider than today. Once past Westminster, the vista would have been comparatively sparce of buildings on both banks. The boats are notably different too. The original participants raced in the craft of their craft: a wherry, the London cab of its day.  Today, the racers are more fortunate, using modern Olympic class single skulls. This race has been competed almost every year since, making it the longest continuously-run sporting event in the world. Yet compared with the much newer Boat Race (1829), it is hardly known. The prize for the winner is a handsome scarlet coat decorated with a solid silver sleeve badge. It comes with a dinky matching cap. The badge depicts a leaping horse and the word “Liberty”. The founder of this ancient competition was Irish-born Thomas Doggett (1640 – 1721), an actor and successful theatrical impresario. He was and ardent Whig and supporter of the new Hanoverian monarch, George I. He endowed the Doggett’s Coat and Badge race in celebration of the new Georgian dynasty, leaving provision in his will for its continuation in perpetuity. It was supposed to be administered by the Watermen’s Company – logical – but an executor of Doggett’s will, Mr Burt of the Admiralty Office, instead charged the task to the Fishmongers’ Company, who do the job to this day. The fund in 1722 was £350.

Modern winners of the race on procession at St Katharine Dock, 2015.

Modern winners of the race in procession at St Katharine Dock, 2015.

There is a dedicated web site to the race, here. It has lots of information including history, the course, the rules, a list of every winner, etc. The line-up this year are: Louis Pettipher, 24, from Gravesend, Charlie Maynard, 23, from Erith, Dominic Coughlin, 24, from Cuxton, Ben Folkard, 23, from Maidstone all of whom raced last year, plus first-timers Frankie Ruler, 21, from Blackheath, and Perry Flynn, 21, from Kennington. The race starts at 11:30 at London Bridge tomorrow, 1 August. Approximately half an hour later it will finish at Cadogan Pier, Chelsea, next to Albert Bridge. I am meeting some fellow London Historians on Albert Bridge at 11:30 to see the end of contest. We’ll then go to the Cross Keys pub nearby. Anyone is welcome to join us.

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Pimlico RoadMore Dubai on the Thames luxury flattery. On this occasion it’s the Duke of Westminster via his property company, Grosvenor Estate. Luxury flats. How original. But why not? Everyone else is at it – it’s the most efficient way to turn a buck.

This is not a class warrior thing with me. Rather, I despair at the homogenisation of London by developers, this incessant conversion of historically significant buildings and areas into luxury apartments. There have been a few small, yet pleasing wins. A pub here, another one there. The retention of West Smithfield for the Museum of London. But mostly it’s the chucking up of bland glass and steel, little of it with much architectural merit. Stinking up the place and blighting the skyline.

But back to the story. Grosvenor Estate has given a group of six shopkeepers in Pimlico Road notice to quit their premises by the end of the year. The plan is to bulldoze the lot and replace them with luxury flats and, oh, some larger retail units. The owners of these shops – all successful – are none too pleased, needless to say.

Pimlico Road.

One of the units is a Victorian timber yard which has been in continuous business since 1840. Run today by Travis Perkins, for most of its history it was owned by the family firm WH Newson, who founded the business 175 years ago. Travis Perkins has recently been celebrating this fact with its Pimlico Road employees.

Pimlico Road.

Pimlico Road.

Back in 1840 Pimlico was very much on the up, largely thanks to that titan of suburban development Thomas Cubitt, who had a massive goods yard on the Thames nearby. The area had formerly been virtually uninhabitable owing to its marshy, mosquito-ridden landscape. But Thomas Telford’s new St Katharine’s Dock east of the Tower of London had changed all that when spoil from the development had been used to reclaim land in the Pimlico area, hence rendering it fit for development. One wonders whether Cubitt’s contractors and foremen engaged WH Newson as a supplier? Highly likely.

Pimlico Road is located opposite the dual intersection with Ebury Street and Bourne Street (formerly Westbourne Street). It wasn’t called Pimlico Road in 1840 either: west of Ebury Street it was Grosvenor Road, and to the east, Queen Street. If you look it up on a map, you’ll see it sits right where Chelsea meets Belgravia meets Pimlico, in the middle of an area largely dominated by the Grosvenor and the Cadogan estates, both of which resulted hundreds of years ago from lucky young chaps marrying phenomenally wealthy heiresses.

They have proved over the years largely to be enlighted and responsible landlords, something one hopes this may prevail in this particular case and that Grosvenor may yet change its mind over Pimlico Road as it did once before, in 2001.

More on this story as reported in yesterday’s Evening Standard.

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2015 is the Year of the Big Anniversary, it seems. They just keep coming. Here’s another one for you: this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. It was published in London by Macmillan & Co on 26 November 1865 with 42 illustrations by John Tenniel. This is key, because immediately the words and the pictures formed a symbiotic relationship which informed everything to do with Alice from that day hence, influencing how other illustrators, film-makers, producers etc visualised and presented and re-presented Alice to this day.

Alice in Blunderland by John Tenniel, 1880

Alice in Blunderland by John Tenniel, 1880

No where is this better demonstrated than at a new exhibition which opened this week at the Cartoon Museum: Alice in Cartoonland. 

As it happens, Charles Dodgson (i.e. Carroll) fancied himself as something of an illustrator and despite being turned down by various journals (“not up to the mark”), had plans to illustrate Alice himself. Fortunately, friends – including John Ruskin – persuaded him to engage a professional, and John Tenniel got the gig. The dream ticket, as they say, for there was none better.

Tenniel_sigAside from the man himself, dozens of cartoonists and illustrators who have sat on Tenniel’s shoulder this past 150 years are represented here. E.H.Shepard, David Low, Carl Giles, Steve Bell, Wally Fawkes (TROG), Ralph Steadman, Martin Rowson are just some who caught my eye. Steadman, in particular, stands out. At least three of his pieces from his award-winning Alice book from the early 1970s are featured here. For Alice’s situations and scrapes lend themselves as metaphors to a thousand situations for political satirists. Cartoonists love it, not least because it gives them an opportunity to acknowledge Tenniel by reproducing his showy mark!

Freeman Moxy © Martin Rowson

Freeman Moxy © Martin Rowson

The appeal of Alice is universal, hence this exhibition has much more of an international flavour than most previous Cartoon Museum shows, quintessentially British. Items from both Disney (1951) and Hanna-barbera (1966) studios typify American contributions, though there are others too from non-English countries such as Czechoslovakia. I particularly liked the trans-Atlantic colour cover illustrations for the New Yorker by Irish-born cartoonist Kenneth Mahood.

Alice in Cartoonland at the Cartoon Museum runs from 15 July to 1 November. Entry is included in the museum’s standard admission of £7.

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London A Travel Guide Through Time, Matthew GreenThis is the first book by Dr Matthew Green, an academic historian who has turned his hand to popularising London history through his speaking engagements and immersive guided tours of the City and Westminster. Given the idea behind this book, it’s notable that Green in person has something of a Tom Baker mien, in appearance at least.

We visit London at six different years in history and in the tradition of time travel genres they are chronologically random:
1603: A Whirlwind Tour of Shakespearean London
1390: A Descent into Medieval London
1665: A Mournful Walk through Plague-struck London
1884: Depravity and Wonder on a Tour of Joseph Merrick’s London
1957: London Rising – A Tour of the Blitzed City
1716: Four Days in Dudley Ryder’s London

This works rather well. You’ll notice a cluster of three between 1603 and 1716, so this work is a draw for Early-Modern aficionados in particular. The remaining three years are deftly chosen. Fans of the “long 18th Century” may be disappointed, but they needn’t be: there are compensations aplenty in this brilliantly-observed work.

Green starts each chapter by plonking you in a very specific location – richly described – in the London of the year featured. You then visit various parts of the metropolis by both day and night, usually on foot though a sedan-chair journey is nicely described in 1716. Not just a comic book staple, this was a viable, quick and much-used method of getting around town, by the wealthy at any rate.

Though the book is quite long at 450 chapter pages of around 75 pages each, the author ladles in plenty.

In flavour, A Travel Guide is simultaneously engaging, breezy, scholarly and yet solemn in the obvious places such as the plague year of 1665 or where describing the crushing brutality of the penal system from Newgate Prison to Old Bailey to Tyburn in 1716.

The author guides you the time-traveller to contemporary phenomena worthy of note. And like a skilled guide or conversationalist he succeeds in making them genuinely interesting. As a former addict, I enjoyed reading about tobacco in 1603: even at that early date it had London in its thrall and yes, from the off we knew of the health hazards. Hawking and jousting in 1390. In the grim plague year of 1665 we examine The Royal Society; Pepys and Hackney; dog massacres; the emergence of coffee and chocolate. Late Victorian 1884 takes us “slumming”, a preoccupation of the well-to-do, and introduces us to the era’s take on pornography – quite the opposite of the period’s self image.

The passage I enjoyed most of all – perhaps surprisingly – was the most recent: 1957. Brutalist housing estates, the Chelsea Set, Bohemian Soho, and the slow-fading scars of the Blitz still all too apparent.  In particular it’s delightful fun to track the rising star of working-class Mary Quant and her irresponsibly louche side-kick Alexander ‘Plunket’ Green, along with their wider set of bohemian bon-viveurs, anticipating as they did the Swinging Sixties. Throughout the book, in fact, we meet a wonderful set of characters, old favourites (and several new ones) the mad, bad Earl of Rochester (1665); Charles Jamrach, petshop owner (1884); William Dugdale and Henry Ashbee, pornographers (1884); General Monck in his less well-known role and plague tzar (1665); and many, many more.

There are almost 50 pages of Notes and Further Reading at the end of the book which are as engaging as the rest of the work and readable in their own right. One is reminded of the end notes in George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman novels.

This is a wonderful debut and goes straight in our shortlist for Book of the Year for 2015. It is also our book prize for this month (Members only).

London: A Travel Guide Through Time (512pp) by Dr Matthew Green is published by Penguin. Cover price is £12.99 but it is available for a bit less.

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