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16156Book review by LH Member George Goodwin.
The Civil War in London by Robin Rowles
Pen & Sword, £12.99 152pp

As a reviewer it is well to declare an interest. Robin Rowles is both an active member of London Historians and a highly-qualified guide with a love of London’s history that easily communicates itself in conversation, as it did to me when we talked some months ago about the Civil War in London both as a topic in itself and as the subject of this book. So I can be forgiven for approaching the book with rose-tinted glasses.

Robin takes a somewhat old-fashioned approach and the book is none the worse for that. He is impeccable in the way that he credits his sources and the views of his fellow historians, and he ensures that those with only a limited understanding of the causes of the English Civil War have these background factors explained. He then tackles his subject thematically. I have one quibble with the structure of the book, addressed to its editor rather than its author, which is that it might have been better to have had some part of the penultimate chapter ‘London’s brave boys: the trained bands and the defence of London’ as the opening salvo.

There may not have been any fighting in London itself, but that was partly due to the impressive defensive measures taken by the City of London’s Common Council and to the role of the Trained Bands in repulsing the King’s army at the Battle of Turnham Green, then some miles to the west of the twin cities of Westminster and London. As Robin points out, the London units and their extremely effective commander Philip Skippon also played an exceptionally important role in the wider Civil War.

As to the meat of the book, Robin has a real insight into how the City was able to take on much of the machinery of national administration, with its networks of committees in some ways akin to those that would operate in Paris during the French Revolution. Their taking on this role being natural, due to the City’s long-established institutions and the ability of its governing Common Council to give overall direction.

The centuries-old financial importance of the City of London to the Monarchy was symbolised by the longstanding pre-coronation tradition of the monarch being escorted to the Tower through the City gates by the scarlet-clad Mayor and Aldermen of London. With a detailed knowledge of its Livery Companies, Robin shows how the Parliamentarians were able to utilise the City’s long-established means of financing the monarchy in order to back its citizen enemies. He also demonstrates how this change of loyalty had been made a great deal easier through King Charles’s assault on the City’s privileges during the ‘Eleven Years’ Tyranny’ not least through the Crown’s confiscation of the City’s Ulster plantation.

There are some intriguing details in the book to demonstrate that the City was far from universally solid in its support of Parliament, showing that some moderate Royalists were elected as Mayors during the mid-1640s before Charles’ resumption of hostilities in 1648 cut the ground from their feet, that is before Parliament was itself superseded by the army, with Skippon later becoming Cromwell’s Major General for the London area. The exceptional importance of religion in directing men towards either King or Parliament is affirmed and the means by which the Committee for Demolition of Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry set about their task are well described. Women also have their moments: not least the 1643 march on Parliament by City women, with their demonstration against wartime taxation and higher food prices being met not by the MPs, who were taking cover inside, but by Dragoons, with the fatal consequences persuading seven peers to desert to the King.

Above all, the book takes you through the streets of the City and is good preparation for accompanying Robin on one of his London Civil War walks, which he lists with those on Sherlock Holmes and others on http://www.strollintime.co.uk/walks.htm


George Goodwin FRHistS is the author of Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America’s Founding Father.

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A guest post by LH Member Prof. Sheila Cavanagh.

Miranda Kaufmann. Black Tudors: The Untold Story (OneWorld Publications 2017)
Stephen Alford. London’s Triumph: Merchant Adventurers and the Tudor City (Penguin 2018)
Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson. A Day at Home in Early Modern England: Material Culture and Domestic Life, 1500-1700 (Yale, 2017).

Although most but not all London Historians are interested in the early modern period, the three books described here contain information that will be valuable for all historians.  They are all rich resources that cater to historians of many persuasions, academic and not.  At least one author, Miranda Kaufmann, is a London Historians member herself. In fact her book is offered as this month’s London Historians book prize. Stephen Alford speaks at length about Sir Thomas Gresham, whose London College is the site of the LH annual lecture.  Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson are regular (and highly recommended) speakers in the area. I was privileged recently to spend a day with them at the Weald and Downland Living Museum (http://www.wealddown.co.uk/) where they presented a wealth of information about early modern wills and inventories.  Each of these writers works on topics of significant interest to the London Historians and I encourage our members to keep an eye out for their works and for their public presentations.

book black tudorsMiranda Kaufmann undertakes a detailed study of the presence of Africans in early modern England, a population that many people have believed were absent.  Drawing from a range of documentary sources (many found in London), she provides a series of biographies that range far more broadly across London society than one might anticipate. There were a number of African musicians, for instance, who received considerable acclaim (and wages) for their work.  Somewhat surprisingly, Africans were often prized for their skills at swimming, since Englishmen were less likely to be able to swim.  This section is rather poignant, since Kaufmann notes that one reason English sailors could not swim was the desire for them to drown quickly if they fell overboard, since no one was going to attempt to save them.  She also talks about entrepreneurial Africans and dispels the assumption that all African women in England would have been prostitutes, although she does discuss the sexual abuse and enslavement of Africans.  The author has been speaking regularly since this book appeared, for good reason. She offers an articulate and illuminating account of a group many people did not know inhabited England during this time.  London Historians should be pleased to have such an informative book offered by one of its members.

alfordStephen Alford’s book is also very interesting and well-written.  It offers much to appeal to London Historians since, in addition to the focus on Thomas Gresham, he spends considerable time discussing the development and importance of the Livery system within the City of London.  Members who have been visiting the Livery Halls with our group will find much to recognize here as Alford describes the ways that the Livery contributed to individual and communal lives during this period.  Like the other authors in this review, he provides considerable evidence from wills and inventories, which helps make this volume useful even for those working outside this historical period.  Similarly, his account of London’s rapid growth during this era, despite the devastation caused by illness introduces pertinent information about immigration and international trade that could be valuable for those interested in a variety of topics.  This is a fascinating book that offers a great deal of historical research in a readable format.

dayathomeinearlymodernengland.Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson also keep their readers firmly in mind as they present a wonderfully well-illustrated account of daily life in the early modern period.  Like their workshop, the book discusses topics both large and small and encourages you to think about early modern England with a new attention to detail.  Ear cups (for cleaning said orifices) and toothpicks, for example, were often intricately carved, but rarely listed in inventories or wills.  Kaufmann, notably, makes a related point when she indicates that animals were often named on farms, but those names only occasionally were listed in wills.  This book about daily life brings a number of such ordinary items and tasks into focus and helps modern audiences better understand what the daily lives of these people looked and felt like.  The documents they use for this study would be helpful in a number of inquiries and they do an excellent job of setting out the strengths and weaknesses of using different kinds of evidence for a range of investigations.

These three books all offer excellent bibliographies and lists of sources, so would be valuable for those sections alone. They each provide new perspectives on London during this time frame and complement each other well.  None of them treads on the others’ territory, but they each tell fascinating stories that intersect with things that many LH members appreciate.

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Oh dear, I should have done this ahead of Christmas to help solve gift dilemmas. Never mind.

best books 2017
With notable increases both in membership and activities, book reading and reviewing suffered this year more than in 2016, which was very much a vintage year for London history books, I feel. But more of our members are stepping up to do reviews, an activity we’ll do our best to nurture in 2018 and beyond.

Short-listed are Peter Stone’s excellent The History of the Port of London; and Indigenous London by Coll Thrush whose early chapters knitted perfectly with this year’s Pocahontas 400th anniversary.

But our winner of London Historians book of the year is The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn by Margaret Willes, a wonderfully-balanced introduction to these very different Restoration diarists who were nonetheless best of friends. There is plenty here even for those who know these gentlemen well.

These and other good books which passed our desk during the year are here.

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A guest post by LH Member Roger Williams. 

Review:  The History of the Port of London — the Vast Emporium of All Nations
By Peter Stone

51FqDHqHplL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_It is flattering when a publisher asks out of the blue if you would care to write a book. That’s what happened to London Historian member Peter Stone, when his posts about the city on his The History of London website caught the eye of Pen & Sword History Press.

The subject he chose was the port of London because, he says, as a Londoner born in the East End, he wanted to know more about it, and there were few comprehensive books on the subject. The result is The History of the Port of London — the Vast Emporium of All Nations, a 250-page book with 16 photographs, half a dozen prints and a dozen clear, specially-drawn maps that tell the story of the port from Roman Londinium to DP World London Gateway.

Medieval London is particularly well researched. This was a time when wine was the biggest import, and the Vintners Company established a 400-year monopoly. Trade was wrapped up in rules and regulations, even stipulating where foreigners could stay ashore. In the early 12th Century crews of foreign ships, when approaching London Bridge, we learn, were required to sing the Kirie Eleison to show they were not pagan pirates.

Elizabethan times saw a great expansion is shipping. Legal quays were established along the City’s foreshore, which held a monopoly on the landing of imports for 250 years. Suffrance wharfs on the south bank were later added to handle the increased volume of cargo brought mainly by charter companies like the East India Company that held monopolies on trade in great swathes of the world.

The first wet dock was in Rotherhithe. Howland Wet Dock was initially designed to shelter ships en route to London, but it also served the whaling fleets, whose messy business was kept away from the city. By 1800 an estimated 8,500 vessels could be seen between six miles below London Bridge and two miles above it. Import and export docks were sorely needed and they developed with great rapidity –– London, West India, East India, St Katharine’s, the Surrey Docks complex and the Royal Docks. An aerial photograph from 1957 shows their enormous extent.

With quotations from Pepys to Millicent Rose, the book is good on social history, on the lives of all those involved in the docks that by 1900 supported 20,000 full-time jobs and half as many casual ones. Ben Tillett, the unions and the everyday lives of dock workers are evoked, and the role of the Port of London Authority fully explained. There is the development of the villages from the City to the Isle of Dogs, from the time when Stepney was a village with a dock at Ratcliffe to today, when everything has slipped way down the river. But Tilbury, it is heartening to read, is still active, exporting engines from Ford at a rate of two vessels a day and importing a quarter of a million vehicles a year. Petroleum, steel, timber and sugar are still important imports, while DP World London Gateway, which covers an area twice the size of the City of London, can handle the largest vessels in the world,

The story of London’s ports is the story of the city, and, with a final chapter that looks to the future, Peter Stone has given the port of London a fulsome and highly readable biography.


The History of the Port of London — the Vast Emporium of All Nations
by Peter Stone is published by Pen & Sword History with a cover price of £19.99.


Review by Roger Williams. His latest book is ‘Whitebait and the Thames Fisheries’, Bristol Book Publishing, £7

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Review: The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn by Margaret Willes.

the-curious-world-of-samuel-pepys-and-john-evelynLondoner Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) is the most famous proper diarist in the English language. Those who appreciate a little of London history will know too his fellow practitioner and great friend John Evelyn (1620 – 1706).

Pepys kept his diary for just 10 years until 1669 when he felt it was affecting his eyesight. Evelyn was far more prodigious, noting down his daily thoughts from 1660 until his death in 1706. We find that others – notably Robert Hooke – also enjoyed the pastime, a genre embraced with much enthusiasm from the mid 17th century onwards. Unlike Pepys, Evelyn retrospectively updated and adjusted his diaries over time, which may seem to us now to be a bit cheaty. Pepys, perhaps, didn’t see his daily jottings as a legacy issue. How ironic.

The two men had much in common. They were both active members and supporters of the new Royal Society; they were keen collectors of books; they had friends and acquaintances in common such as Hooke, Boyle, Wren and others of that golden generation. In short they belonged to group of men whom we might describe as curious gentlemen of affairs. That’s how they would have seen themselves and how others saw them too, and not always approvingly.

But at the same time, they were very different. Pepys became a widower and had no children; Evelyn had a successful and long marriage with many offspring (although most did not survive childhood). Their attitude to women generally was entirely different. Pepys, though well-connected, was not as wealthy as Evelyn and had to make his fortune through successful public service. Most importantly, though, Pepys’s character was as earthy as Evelyn’s was high-minded. The former was addicted to theatre, music and entertainment generally whereas his friend’s obsession was primarily horticulture. Pepys experienced prison; Evelyn not. Evelyn’s world view was shaped by his continental travels as a young man; Pepys lacked this benefit. And so on.

Looking through the prism of  the interests and experiences of these two men, we can build a detailed and fascinating picture what life was like for the educated elite in Restoration London. That is idea underpinning this book. It is not really about Pepys and Evelyn so much as about their curious world and hence the title.

The early chapters talk about the political and social environment inhabited by our protagonists. We are introduced to their friends, their family and others who shaped their lives. It’s good to be reminded of the origin of the word cabal and the genesis of Whigs and Tories.

As later chapters examine in further detail, this was a remarkable period of firsts. Formalised scientific enquiry through the Royal Society; the introduction of tea, coffee and chocolate; the rise of the coffee houses (it was interesting find out that coffee had taken hold in Oxford some good ten years before London); the craze for imported foreign manufactures – furniture, linen, crockery, etc; shopping malls!

These are wonderfully developed, but for me there are two stand-out chapters. The first – Chapter 6, Pleasure in All Things, is mainly about Pepys. It addresses the Restoration theatre of Kelligrew and Davenant with appearances, of course, by Margaret Hughes (another first) and Nell Gwynn. Pepys’s love of music introduces us to how that was written, performed, consumed and distributed at the time.

The other is the book’s final chapter – The Affection Which We Have to Books – which brings us full circle for both men: their love of books. This is one of the author’s specialities and it shines. Pepys’s library (now at Magdalene College, Cambridge) numbered some 3,000 titles while Evelyn’s was even larger at around 4,000 – both enormous by the standards of the day. Respectively, as you would expect, they tell us much about their owners who assembled them, housed them and catalogued them in distinctly different ways, also reflecting their personalities. The contemporary London book trade – agents, vendors, booksellers, stationers, auctioneers – an enormous topic, here wonderfully described. For me, this was one of the most fascinating sections of the book. One among many.

I can’t remember a history book as richly illustrated as this. There are fully 48 pages of colour plates in three sections. Virtually every topic covered in the text has an image to match – portraits, maps, engravings, landscapes, fabrics, toys, panoramas, landscapes, furniture and on and on. All generously captioned.

This is a wonderful introduction to the Restoration London scene through the lives of two if its most significant players. Thoroughly researched, organised and presented, I loved every page and recommend it unreservedly.


The Curious World or Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn (282pp) by Margaret Willes is published by Yale with a cover price of £20.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cover-1-525x700London Historians member Victor Keegan has a new anthology of poetry out. Unlike its predecessors, this one focuses entirely on London. Entitled London My London, it comprises 84 poems. They are autobiographical, philisophical, whimsical, sometimes political and often funny. I like the deliberate anachronism in this one.

Lundenwic
We learn of ancient Greece and Rome
But not of history nearer home
If in time travel I had wandered down
To live my life in Lundenwic town
There’d be no one but Saxons there
From Fleet Street to Trafalgar Square. 

I quote this one in full as a neat and typical example that I could transcribe easily! Other topics include the Underground, cigarette cards, Tate Modern, graffiti, Tooting, the Walbrook River, St Mary’s Woolnoth [a favourite!], the Thames estuary, Sir Henry Havelock, and on an on. Oh, and fellow poet Ben Jonson.

Stand-up Poet
Oh, rare Ben Jonson,

As should be known
by every London cabbie,
He lies buried standing up
in Westminster Abbey.

Read what Vic himself has to say about this work here and here.
The anthology costs a mere fiver in paperback or £3.99 Kindle edition both at Amazon.

 

 

 

 

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A guest post by LH Member Claudia Elliott. 

REVIEW: Marriages Are Made In Bond Street – True Stories From a 1940s Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson.

marriagesbondstreetLooking for a husband or wife is no easy task and, in spring 1939, two enterprising chums, Heather Jenner and Mary Oliver, decided to make it their business. They opened the first match-making agency, situated in a tiny office above a hairdressing salon in Bond Street.

Instead of waiting for Cupid’s arrow to strike at a society ball or in the Lyons Corner House, potential sweethearts could queue up the stairs to the Marriage Bureau, where a secretary would take down their particulars and vet their suitability as partners.

During the inter-war years, social class was still much to the fore, and status was the number one concern. Candidates were graded as ‘Gentish’, ‘Near Lady’ or ‘Much Better Than Some’.

Most were looking for solid, steady partners who could provide a home and security. No requests for ‘partners in crime’ or ‘soulmates who enjoy drinking red wine by a roaring fire’ here.

As it was unusual for young women to be running a business, let alone one of this nature, the two 24-year-old proprietors run up against spluttering moral indignation from various quarters.

War breaks out and with it the pressure to find a bride or groom increased. One memorable passage concerns a disfigured soldier who takes his partially sighted date to The Players Theatre in Albemarle Street for a magical evening of Victorian song and mushroom pie.

Over time, the business of match-making became more socially acceptable and Heather Jenner became a minor celebrity featured in newspapers.

Author and London Historians member Penrose Halson rattles through the tale in an entertainingly droll fashion. She was the owner of Katharine Allen Marriage Bureau, which merged with Heather Jenner’s business in 1986. Heather Jenner’s archive provided the stories for this book.

Quirky gems are to be found in the notes on candidates’ requirements –

“Sensible but not stodgy. Not living in or near Southport.”
“Interested in ballet or opera or both but not the Bloomsbury type that haunts both.”

Men tended to be preoccupied with appearance, often stating a preference for virginal bombshells who were willing to keep house and travel with their husband’s job.

The interviewer’s comments about candidates could be merciless – “Scarecrow, spectre, long thin face and body, glasses. But pleasant.”

The jaunty toodle-pipness and sentimentality is a little overdone in places but in all this book is great fun, as well as a valuable document of social life in the 1940s. And the Marriage Bureau worked – thousands of its clients were wed after their introductions in Bond Street.

The speediest success story comes from the couple who sent the following telegram: “Met at lunch STOP Engaged at dinner STOP Thank you.”

Marriages Are Made In Bond Street – True Stories From a 1940s Marriage Bureau (357pp) by Penrose Halson is published by Macmillan available in both hardback and paperback.


Claudia Elliott
https://claudiaelliott.contently.com/
Twitter: @Claudia_Elliott

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