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Archive for the ‘Georgian period’ Category

A guest post by LH member Mike Rendell. This article first appeared in London Historians members’ newsletter of February 2014.

One of the really fascinating characters in Eighteenth Century London was a certain Mr John Joseph Merlin. He was born at Huys, near Maastricht, in Belgium on 17 Sept 1735. If he is known at all, it’s for inventing a form of roller skate and crashing into a mirror when making a spectacular appearance at a soiree. While playing the violin and wearing his skates…(as one does).

The earliest mention of this Grand Entrance appears to come from a work entitled “Concert Room and Orchestra Anecdotes” written by Thomas Busby in 1805.
He relates:

“One of his ingenious novelties was a pair of skaites contrived to run on wheels. Supplied with these and a violin, he mixed in the motley group of one of Mrs Cowley’s masquerades at Carlisle House; when not having provided the means of retarding his velocity, or commanding its direction, he impelled himself against a mirror of more than five hundred pounds value, dashed it to atoms, broke his instrument to pieces and wounded himself most severely.”

Merlin_Image_500

John Joseph Merlin by Gainsborough.

There was, however, rather more to Mr Merlin than inventing skates-sans-brakes. Indeed, he is one of my heroes of the century – a man whose accomplishments fitted perfectly into the Georgian era. Merlin was an inventor, a showman, a fine musician, a clock maker and much more besides.

It appears that he studied for six years as a maker of clocks, automata and mathematical and musical instruments at the Académie des Sciences in Paris. He came to the notice of the Court and arrived in England in May 1760, aged twenty-five, as part of a diplomatic entourage. He soon made valuable friends and connections, including Johann Christian Bach, Thomas Gainsborough and many others.

Merlin was also a popular visitor at the household of the musicologist Charles Burney, father of Fanny Burney. She observed: “He is a great favourite in our house…He is very diverting also in conversation. There is a singular simplicity in his manners. He speaks his opinion upon all subjects and about all persons with the most undisguised freedom. He does not, though a foreigner, want words; but he arranges and pronounces them very comically.”

charles_burney_480

Charles Burney by Joshua Reynolds.

He set to and developed many refinements to existing musical instruments – to the harp, the harpsichord, the new-fangled pianoforte and so on. He invented and patented a harpsichord with pianoforte action. By 1763 he appears to have been involved in the preparation and finishing of a large barrel organ as a gift for the mother of George III.

By 1766 he had started working with James Cox, the brilliant showman, jeweller and goldsmith who opened a museum at Spring Gardens at Charing Cross. Merlin became Cox’s “chief mechanic” developing the mechanism for the famous Silver Swan, now the star of the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle.
When Cox got into financial difficulties, Merlin decided to set up on his own. In 1783 he acquired premises at 11 Princes Street off Hanover Square and called the place Merlin’s Mechanical Museum. Here he offered refreshments to visitors, charging two shillings and sixpence to go in during the morning session and three shillings in the evening.

What they saw was an impressive array of his automata and various inventions. One of the people attending the exhibition was a young schoolboy from Devon called Charles Babbage. The story goes that Merlin took Charles upstairs to see his workshop and to show some more exotic automata. Babbage later recalled: “There were two uncovered female figures of silver, about twelve inches high”. One of the figures was “an admirable danseuse, with a bird on the forefinger of her right hand, which wagged its tail, flapped its wings and opened its beak”. Babbage was completely gob-smacked. “The lady attitudinized in a most fascinating manner. Her eyes were full of imagination, and irresistible”. In 1834 Babbage actually managed to buy the two exhibits which had so profoundly affected him.

He was later to go on and invent the forerunner of the modern computer.

As if inspiring the Father of Computing was not enough, Merlin invented a host of other items:

  • A mechanical chariot equipped with a mechanical whip and an early form of odometer called a “way-wise.” The distance covered was shown on a dial at the side of the vehicle. Apparently Merlin liked to advertise his chariot by riding it through Hyde Park on Sundays.
  • A Dutch oven or Rotisseur with a mechanical jack to turn meat (patented 1773).
  • A bell communication system to summon servants, with a list annexed to the bell push.
  • A ‘Gouty Chair’, propelled and steered by the user turning winches on the arms. 1811.
  • A mechanical garden.
  • A revolving tea table with a robotic 12 cup central samovar for the perfect Georgian hostess.
  • A Hygeian pump to “expel foul air out of Ships Hospitals Bed clothes etc”.
  • A gambling machine which, once wound up, would play a game of ‘odd and even’ for up to four hours!
  • A set of whist cards for the blind (a sort of braille precursor).
  • A prosthetic device for a “Person born with Stumps only” which apparently enabled a person to use a knife and fork, hold a horse reins, “and even write with great freedom”.
  • A personal weighing machine in satinwood called Sanctorius’s Balance.
  • Various exquisite clocks.
  • A set of weighing scales with a built-in micrometer screw for measuring the size, thickness and weight of golden guineas (and their divisions, the half guinea and quarter guinea).
  • A perpetual motion clock (with James Cox). The change of pressure in the Earth’s atmosphere acted as an external energy source and caused the winding mechanism to move. Somehow it failed to catch on…
Merlin_Image_4

The Gouty Chair.

Merlin died at Paddington in May 1803 at the age of 68. In his will he directed that his 30 year old horse should be shot – presumably because he could not tolerate the thought of anyone else riding him, or of the horse suffering in old age. Having died unmarried, he left his property to two brothers and a sister.
All in all, a prolific inventor and a fascinating chap.

Merlin you old wizard, I salute you!


Mike Rendell is a founder member and great supporter of London Historians. Also known as the Georgian Gentleman he has written several excellent books about the period and runs a very active blog. He is on Twitter as @georgiangent.

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in our time

I am a massive fan of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time, BBC Radio 4 most Thursdays at 9am. There are various ways you can search it, but as a service to our readers, here is a list of the London-related ones.

Aphra Behn
Annie Besant
Athelstan

Thomas Becket
Bedlam
The Black Death
The Bluestockings
The Book of Common Prayer
Boudica
Robert Boyle
Brunel
Fanny Burney

Caxton and the Printing Press
Chaucer

Mrs Dalloway
The Death of Elizabeth I
Dickens
The Domesday Book

The East India Company
Englishness
The Enlightenment in Britain

Michael Faraday
The [Great] Fire of London
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

The Gin Craze
The Great Exhibition of 1851

William Hazlitt
Octavia Hill
Holbein at the Tudor Court
Robert Hooke

[Samuel] Johnson

London

Marlowe
Milton

The Novel

Titus Oates and His ‘Popish Plot’

The Peasants’ Revolt
Pocahontas
[Alexander] Pope
The Putney Debates

The Restoration
The Royal Society

The Scriblerus Club
Seventeenth Century Print Culture
The  South Sea Bubble
Suffragism

The Trial of Charles I
The Tudor State

Utilitarianism

Oscar Wilde
Mary Wollstonecraft


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Today marks the anniversary of William Blake‘s 260th birthday. He was born in Soho, died near the Strand and is buried in Bunhill Fields. Apart from a few years in Sussex, he lived his entire life in London, the city he loved and loathed.

by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1807

William Blake, 1807, by Thomas Phillips. National Portrait Gallery, London.

He was, as we know, an illustrator, engraver, writer, printer, bookmaker, poet and mystic. My plan today was simply to mark this anniversary with a Tweet and an entry in our new Facebook group space. But the response has been so instantly positive and some of the things I’ve found on the internet so interesting, I felt it best to dump some links here for you to enjoy and remember today this great Londoner, who I feel remains somewhat under-appreciated in his native city.

LINKS
First, of course, Wikipedia.
Then, check out the Blake Society, who have an interesting page of all the places Blake lived (none in London has survived).
The Tate has a very good page on significant London sites and, by the way, a room dedicated to him at Tate Britain, do remember to check it out. William Blake’s London.
A very good friend of London Historians, the singer Kirsten Morrison, has some lovely Blake pieces on YouTube here and here.
finally…  Patti Smith!

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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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Hairposter49 years ago this very evening, the stage musical HAIR opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre, heralding the dawn of the Age of Aquarius, whatever that was. A troupe of hirsute performers led initially by Oliver Tobias and including Richard O’Brien and Tim Curry (yes, the seeds of Rocky Horror) delighted London audiences for the next five years until the theatre roof literally came down.

The previous era –  the Age of Stage Censorship – had ended the previous day with the Theatres Act 1968. This new law extinguished the considerable and centuries-old powers of the Lord Chamberlain to curtail all sweary bits, nudy bits and politically subversive bits from the theatres of the nation.

As the title suggests, the Lord Chamberlain is a Royal official. Originally, the approval or otherwise of new productions fell to the Master of the Revels, a powerful and lucrative royal sinecure. His physical office between 1578 and 1607 was based at St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell. Whenever I visit there, I always imagine the work of Shakespeare and his great contemporaries  having their first airing in front of the Master or his officials.

This situation pertained (not forgetting, of course, outright suppression during the Commonwealth) until 1737. Robert Walpole happened to be the Master of the Revels at that time. Weary of anti-government satire by the likes of Henry Fielding, Walpole put censorship on a statutory footing with his Licensing Act 1737, giving the responsibility of stage censorship directly to the Lord Chamberlain. Under the Act, the Lord Chamberlain could suppress any performance without recourse of appeal. The measures were softened with slight modifications in 1788 and 1843, but essentially our public entertainment remained thus bridled for over 200 years.


Interesting article on HAIR and contemporary theatre censorship here.
Complete 1968 HAIR soundtrack on YouTube here (terrific!).

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A guest post by LH Member Brian Cookson. This article first appeared in London Historians Members’ Newsletter from November 2013.

Like several other Thames bridges, Richmond Bridge replaced a ferry which from medieval times had provided a crossing for horse-drawn vehicles and pedestrians at about the same location on the river.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Richmond developed into a thriving and fashionable town. Although Henry VII’s magnificent Palace became neglected and was pulled down, Richmond, kept its royal connections and was the favourite country resort of George II and Queen Caroline.

Whereas Richmond was in the county of Surrey, Twickenham on the opposite side of the river was in the county of Middlesex. The Middlesex bank was less developed, but much favoured by aristocrats, artists and writers. Alexander Pope was among the first to build himself a villa here in 1719. Of the several artists who lived in Twickenham at this time, two were very much connected with the Thames and its bridges – Samuel Scott and his pupil, William Marlow, who both painted central London river scenes in the style of Canaletto.

As a result of the developments here on both banks of the Thames the need for a bridge to replace the ferry was becoming overwhelming. Local inhabitants put forward their proposal which formed the basis of the Act of Parliament which received Royal Assent on 1 July 1773. The Act nominated 90 Commissioners who were to be responsible for building and maintaining a bridge of stone construction. The Commissioners included the landscape gardener, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the writer, Horace Walpole, the actor, David Garrick and Sir Charles Asgill who was the local MP and former Lord Mayor of London who had recently presided over the removal of the houses from Old London Bridge. The Act also gave a number of key directions to the Commissioners, including the punishment for anyone convicted of damaging the bridge. Convicts were ‘liable for transportation to one of His Majesty’s colonies in America for seven years’. However the colonies decided to declare independence in 1776, a year before the completion of the bridge, so this punishment could never be handed out.

Among the first decisions made by the Commissioners was to choose to use Portland Stone as the main construction material and to appoint James Paine as the architect. Paine had trained as an architect in London where he caught the attention of Lord Burlington, the leading proponent of the now fashionable Palladian style of architecture.

old_richmond_bridge_1813

Richmond Bridge in 1813.

Construction was put out to tender and a contract was signed on 16 May 1774 for Thomas Kerr to build the bridge for the sum of £10,900. It was now time to raise the money to pay him and cover all the other expenses such as for building the approaches and compensating local landowners. The method chosen was known as a ‘tontine’, named after Lorenzo Tonti who had originated the idea in France in the 1650s. £20,000 was raised by the sale of shares which paid an initial annual dividend of four per cent. As each investor died, his or her share was divided between the survivors until the last survivor received the whole of the dividend amounting to £800 per annum. When there were no more survivors, dividends would cease. The list of shareholders held in Richmond Local History Library contains an unusually large number of investments made in the name of children. It is not therefore so surprising that the last survivor did not die until 1859 at the age of 86, having received the maximum £800 for the last five years of her life. A local historian relates an amusing story about one of the investors, an elderly lady, who ‘called on the paymaster, William Smith, for her biannual dividend and found it was the same as her previous one. She exclaimed in a discontented tone “What, has no one died since I was last here – all still alive?” But it was the last time she complained. When the dividends were next due, death had removed her, thus adding to the amount to be shared by those that survived her.’

The bridge was declared open for carriages on 12 January 1777, although not finally completed until December 1777. The author of an article in The London Magazine of September 1779 wrote ‘…it presents the spectator with one of the richest landscapes nature and art ever produced by their joint efforts, and connoisseurs in painting will instantly be reminded of some of the best performances of Claude Lorraine.’ In the 1820s Turner produced about 20 sketches of the bridge from various viewpoints as well as one finished watercolour which can be seen in Tate Britain.

When the last survivor of the first tontine died in 1859 all tolls ceased and the tollhouses were later replaced by iron seats dated 1868, which are still situated in the recesses of the bridge on the Richmond side.

richmondbridgetoday

Richmond Bridge today. 

During the early years of the twentieth century there were many arguments about how to solve the problems of the increasing congestion over the bridge. In the end a new bridge was in fact constructed in 1933 to the north of the town to take the Chertsey arterial road over the river to Twickenham and beyond. By then Surrey and Middlesex County Councils had finally agreed that the old bridge should be widened and its control was transferred to public ownership. Work proceeded to number each of the facing stones on the upstream side before taking them down so that the inner portion of the bridge structure could be widened and subsequently refaced with the original Portland Stone. The result was a bridge which was widened from 24 ft 9 in. to 36 ft. but looked exactly the same as before. The effect of the widening can be noted only by looking up from underneath the arches where the newer bricks on the upstream side are clearly differentiated from the original brickwork. Richmond Bridge’s bicentenary was celebrated on 7 May 1977, and today is the oldest existing structure to cross the Thames in London.


Brian Cookson is a Founder Member of London Historians, Blue Badge guide and author of Crossing the River: The History of London’s Thames River Crossings from Richmond to the Tower (2006).

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A guest post by Roger Williams, LH Member.

1. Exterior

Sandycombe Lodge, the country house that JMW Turner built in 1813 in Twickenham behind Marble Hill, is now open to the public for the first time. It had been bought in a run-down state in 1947 by Professor Harold Livermore, an Hispanic scholar, and his wife Ann, who wrote about Spanish music, and they immediately began trying to restore what had been a small wartime factory. On his death in 2010, Professor Leverhulme bequeathed their house to the nation. Now, after a £2.4 million conservation effort, it has been brought back to what is believed to be as near as can be to Turner’s original home. This involved knocking down extensions, removing external white rendering and uncovering the initial decoration, including marbling on the stairway. The house was designed by Turner, but if some of the detailing echoes Sir John Soane’s house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, it is because the two were friends and contemporaries, Turner being appointed the Royal Academy’s Professor of Perspective just a year after Soane was made Professor of Architecture.

2.telescope

On first sight it is an unprepossessing, late-Georgian villa, with just two first-floor bedrooms. The larger one is at the back, facing Marble Hill House and the Thames, and although the view is now constricted by subsequent developments, a telescope has been installed (above) through which visitors can spy a re-created picture of the view Turner saw in his day.

3.Kitchen

In the basement is the kitchen and range (above), the domaine of Turner’s ‘Old Dad’ who looked after the house and garden until he was 80. His father had been a barber and wig-maker in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, where Turner was born on St George’s Day, 1775, and had tirelessly promoted and helped his only child. Turner’s mother had died in Bethlem Hospital nine years before Sandycombe Lodge was built, and William Sr continued to help in the running of Turner’s Gallery in Marylebone, hitching lifts into town for the 10-mile journey.

4.Eel pots

Nothing in the house is labelled, and visitors, in limited numbers, are shown around by knowledgeable guides such as Ken Osbourne, pictured here in the kitchen with fishing rod and eel trap. These and the late-Georgian items of furniture, such as the ‘Turkey’ rugs, have been hunted down by Catherine Parry-Wingfield, Chair of the Turner’s House Trust, who has been instrumental in creating the house-museum.

5. Turnerships

Prints on the walls include some from Turner’s teaching manual, the Liber Studorium, from Professor Livermore’s own collection, but there are no original artworks. Turner bequeathed his drawings and paintings to the nation, and these are now in changing displays in Richard Sterling’s 1986 Clore Wing of Tate Britain, while the Royal Academy has his fishing rods and paint boxes. Security issues mean these cannot be loaned, although, Parry-Wingfield is hopeful that this may one day happen.

The Tate also has custody of the model boats Turner owned and used as aids to his paintings. The Trust commissioned variations of two of them from model maker Kevin Thatcher to go on display in the sitting room . Many of these were originally made by French prisoners during the Napoleonic wars.

Turner was a keen fishermen, but the enormous pond he created, apparently almost the size of a football pitch and stocked with fish, has long since disappeared beneath urban housing. He sometimes went fishing with his friend Soane, both self-made men, both at times socially uneasy and irascible. But Turner enjoyed gatherings, too, and a cunning key in the door of a longcase clock in the dining room starts a recording of an account of a picnic enjoyed by Turner and his friends on Ham Common on the opposite side of the river.

Turner was also instrumental in starting the Royal Academy Dining Club’s annual river jaunts which began at Eel Pie House in Twickenham, not far from Sandycombe Lodge in 1818. Five years later Turner proposed they went to the Crown and Sceptre in Greenwich, which was famous for its whitebait dinners. The RA Dining Club’s annual Whitebait Dinner has continued ever since, now taking place during the Summer Exhibition under the enthusiastic eye of the RA’s current CEO, Charles Saumarez Smith, whose recent blog gives a report of this year’s outings and the riverside architecture seen en-route to Greenwich.

For details and opening hours, see http://turnershouse.org


Roger Williams’ latest book is Whitebait and the Thames Fisheries.

 

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