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Archive for June, 2016

On this day in 1886, Queen Victoria opened Royal Holloway College, a women-only institute of learning which was bankrolled by the pills and powders magnate, Thomas Holloway. Holloway and  his wife Jane lacked children. The entrepreneur was thinking about his legacy and it was Mrs Holloway who came up with the idea.

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Royal Holloway eventually merged with another London women’s college, Bedford, becoming Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. A right mouthful, it is now more commonly known as Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL). Slightly better.

The reason I’m making a bit of a fuss is that Royal Holloway is my alma mater. Pray indulge me. I had been turned down by King’s and UCL chiefly on account of my awful A Level grades. Fair enough. RHBNC (as was) took me under their wing. I must thank those other London-based colleges for their chilly shoulder, because the teaching staff at Royal Holloway at that time included the likes of Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, Professor Amanda Vickery, Professor Caroline Barron, Professor Nigel Saul, Professor Alison Brown, Professor Boris Rankov, Professor Julian Crysostomides, Professor Rosalind Thomas, Professor Jonathan Phillips, Professor Justin Champion. (names in bold were my tutors). Not all were professors at the time, I should just say. I’m sure you must recognise some of those great names.

So I was, and am, a very lucky historian. I am showing off, I admit, but I’m very proud of Royal Holloway’s History faculty.

Right now, thousands of young people are pondering which uni to sign up to. If you – or your son or daughter – are planning to do History, Royal Holloway is well worth a look.

Happy 130th birthday, Royal Holloway, and thanks.

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Last Saturday London Historians went on an awayday to St Albans; 12 of us. We were led by fellow Member and guide, Rob Smith, a longstanding resident of the city who gave us a wonderful tour.

I was aware, of course, of the ancient Roman town very near by, Verulamium. And that it has a fine old abbey, now a cathedral. But I was unprepared for quite how much of this city’s historic fabric survives. You can walk entire streets where the newest building might be Victorian. I was particularly pleased to see lots of old coaching inns which today shops, pubs, flats, whatever. But still there. St Albans escaped WW2 bombing but importantly it’s less careless about its heritage than London: I gather the St Albans Civic Society has a fearsome reputation.

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The cathedral itself, like many large and ancient survivals, is a hodge-podge of styles, and none the worse for that. At the beginning of its timeline, still an abbey, we have its beautiful Norman tower. At the other end we have the much-derided west front by Victorian architect Edmund Beckett Denison who took over the building’s restoration from Sir George Gilbert Scott. It looks okay to me but will never compare with – for example – Hawksmoor’s west front towers at Westminster Abbey.

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Inside is the shrine and tomb of St Alban himself, a local man who during the Roman persecution, took the rap for a Christian priest, and was beheaded. Like today, pilgrimage was massive business in the Middle Ages, only more so. When the martyrdom of Thomas Beckett turned Canterbury into a serious rival destination, St Albans successfully petitioned Rome for Alban’s beneficiary, Amphibalus, also to be sanctified.  Two saints!

Shrine of St Alban.

Shrine of St Alban.

Shrine of St

Shrine of Amphibalus. Some TLC needed, though.

In addition to these two blameless fellows, notable St Albans residents included Matthew Paris, who was a monk at the abbey, and a medieval chronicler; Francis Bacon, the scientist and philosopher who developed the Scientific Method. Queen Anne’s friend Sarah Churchill, who preferred St Albans to Blenheim; and Samuel Ryder, a seed magnate originally from Preston, who sponsored the first Ryder Cup.

The Wars of the Roses. Did you know they kicked of at St Albans? In May 1455, the armies of the Dukes of York and Somerset fought it out in the streets, alleys, ditches and the market square. The issue was that the King, Henry VI, was mentally ill, so who ruled England in his stead? York prevailed on this occasion, but not before St Albans, which had no investment in the quarrel whatsoever, got horribly sacked.

St Albans is but two stops on the train from St Pancras and therefore – for me – takes no more time than to reach fair Greenwich, which I visit quite frequently. You may find the same. No excuses. Rob has another scheduled tour coming up on 9 July.

Rob tells us about the ancient Great Gate to the Monastery.

Rob tells us about the ancient Great Gate to the Monastery.

View from St Albans's town Clock Tower in the market square.

View from St Albans’s town Clock Tower in the market square.

Clock Tower bell, known as Archangel Gabriel, case in Whitechapel c1400!

Clock Tower bell, known as Archangel Gabriel, cast in Whitechapel c1400!

Roman mosaic, in situ.

Roman mosaic, in situ.

I’ve put more pictures on our Flickr space here.

Finally, in view of my previous post, on the pipe organ, here is St Albans Cathedral’s tribute to David Bowie.

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DSC03489_200David Bowie. We’re still smarting, are we not?

Our greatest rock star and the coolest Englishman who ever lived.

Yesterday I popped into this very temporary exhibition, in Heddon Street exactly opposite the Ziggy Stardust plaque. It features a selection of previously unseen portraits by three of Bowie’s favourite snappers: Chalkie Davies, Tony McGee and Denis O’Regan. It runs until Sunday.

David Bowie: Fame Fashion Photography.

Pic: Denis O'Regan, 1978

Pic: Denis O’Regan, 1978

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All the pieces are wonderful: how could they not be? But I particularly like the more informal contact sheet-style series and the informal ones rather than official photoshoot types. But how can you tell? Was Bowie always “on”, or was he simply so cool, so photogenic that it was simply impossible to take a bad picture?

If, like me, you are a bit of a fan, this wonderful show is bitter-sweet. It touches you.

There is a lovely catalogue which you can buy via donation (minimum £5, please) and all the pieces on display (and a few others) are for sale via silent auction. Bid range at time of writing £500 – £3,500. All proceeds to Cancer Research UK.

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The Shocking Case of Sarah Trimmer School, Brentford.

THE SARAH TRIMMER SCHOOL Instituted in the year 1786 For Religious Instruction and Industry Supported by annual Subscriptions and Benefactions and the produce of the Children's work

THE CHURCH SCHOOL
Instituted in the year 1786
For Religious Instruction and Industry
Supported by annual Subscriptions
and Benefactions
and the produce of the Children’s work

This sign adorns the street-side wall of 367 Brentford High Street, widely known as Mrs Trimmer’s School Room. Built in 1806, it is Grade II listed and historically highly significant. First, as recent research by historians James Wisdom and Val Bott has made clear, it is probably the only surviving example of a Georgian industrial school. Second, its association with its founder, Mrs Sarah Trimmer, a well-known educationalist of the time. It survived in its primary role – and also as a Sunday School – deep into the 19th Century, long after its founder’s death. Hence the building’s importance and heritage is unquestionable and something of which Brentfordians can rightly feel proud.

This view is not shared by the developers IDM West London Limited.

These developers who – to the consternation of many locals – have caused severe damage to the fabric of the building over the past two months, violently removing chimneys and roof and causing cracks to at least two of the main walls. Following the unauthorised removal of the roof, a Hounslow enforcement officer ordered them to protect the building with a cover and to cease further work. It was only after several downfalls that the cover was installed, a good 10 days later. Late last week and in breach of the order, the builders on site sand blasted the paint from two of the outside walls, forcing the council to intervene again on 9 June, this time with a Temporary Stop Order. The problem is that breaking the order can result in a maximum fine of only £20,000, hardly a deterrent to a rapacious developer.

Chimneys violently ripped out.

Chimneys violently ripped out.

Severe cracks have appeared.

Severe cracks have appeared in two of the walls.

The roof, apart from existing damage by the developers, in generally good shape.

The roof, apart from existing damage by the developers, in generally good shape.

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The roof: gone!

Having been told to suspend work on the building, the developers sandblasted two of the walls in a way you probably won't see in any English Heritage manual.

Having been told to suspend work on the building, the developers have sandblasted two of the walls in a process you probably won’t see recommended in any English Heritage manual.

A horrible extra side effect of the roof destruction is the loss of an interesting structure in the beams which was probably a flue of some sort – long disused – from an earlier incarnation of the roof. There can’t be many examples around – but now it’s gone. (see pictures below)

The truth of the matter is that the workers on this site have been attacking this poor old building like a troop of drunken chimpanzees with jackhammers. As a lay person it’s difficult to say, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the structural integrity of this building has been compromised as a result of its violent treatment.

The interior of the building in January 2016. Note the rectangular frame in the beams.

The interior of the building in January 2016. Note the rectangular frame in the beams.

Detail.

Detail.

Some weeks ago, I contacted IDM West London to see if they could adequately explain their actions. To be fair, their Project Architect, Bal Heer, returned my call, chatted at length and sent me quite a detailed email of what they had done and why. Subsequent events have caused me to revisit it and this leapt off the page:

“2nd week of May the main contractor commenced temporary support of the chimney structure as recommended by the Structural Engineer. It is clear to see the extent of the chimney leaning into the roof in the photo below: Leaning chimney. During this propping process the large double chimney became unstable and had to be removed from the existing roof. Further investigation showed the extent of the damage to the roof structure and the decision was taken to remove as much of the load from the damaged roof structure, ie the tiles were removed carefully so they could be used again.”

Aha! Did they tell the council or seek advice? Of course not. This is the old oh-dear-what-a-shame routine beloved of developers when they wish to justify wrecking something inconvenient to themselves. It was used by another outfit very recently less than a mile up the road to smash down the frontage of some Victorian terraced houses (that’s a whole other story).

Sadly this case is by no means unique. But it typifies what developers get up to and, most of the time, what they get away with. Their sole ambition is to build ’em high and sell ’em high. They will milk the last penny from every square inch of a site, regardless of the consequences for our heritage or for local people. If an opportunity arose, say, to smash down the Cenotaph itself and put up a unit of “luxury apartments” called The Warrior Quarter, believe me there isn’t a developer in London who wouldn’t do it.

I am not a Nimby. We have to build new things and replace old things. But developers want it all. How do we stop this desecration of our heritage? As in this case, it’s vital that local people especially, and Londoners generally, continue to be vigilant and kick up a fuss immediately when they see or suspect heritage vandalism by developers. But more importantly – because they are able actually to do something – local authorities must intervene with maximum and swift vigour. Westminster Council did exactly this recently when a developer smashed down the Carlton Tavern in Maida Vale, a viable and thriving pub.

Well done them. All councils have a duty of care for their local heritage. I’d like for my council – London Borough of Hounslow – to build a fearsome, rottweiler reputation against developers who swan in here and smash up the fabric of our historic structures. Play by the rules and you’re very welcome. Do not, and you’re in big, big trouble. I’m hoping for more from them in this case. Let’s see how they go.

To repeat: if IDM West London contravenes the stop order, the maximum potential fine is £20K. Puny. This isn’t going to slow down any developer whose massively profitable project is held up by pesky council officers. More sanction need to be made available against law-breaking developers, and that must be jailtime. Go to Jail. Go Directly To Jail. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect 20 million. That’ll learn them to have some respect.

The perps.

The perps.


More images on our Flickr space, here.

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