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Review: London Vagabond – the Life of Henry Mayhew by Christopher Anderson. 

lvApologies, this review is almost a year late. More overdue than this by far is a proper treatment of the life of Henry Mayhew (1812 – 1887). Thankfully Christopher Anderson spotted this sorry oversight on everyone’s part and set to the task almost 10 years ago resulting in this biography.

Mayhew was a prolific writer, most famously of his magnum opus London Labour and the London Poor (1861). That was a book derived of journalism, but ‘Harry’ Mayhew was also a begetter of comedy, satire, novel and play. In his pomp, he was as well known as his exact contemporaries Dickens and Thackeray. But ultimately – like Dr Johnson – he was remembered more or less for one work when there was so much more. Frequently impecunious, he would often complain that his early play The Wandering Minstrel attracted £200 per annum in royalties for decades after he sold the rights for £20.

punch1The one other thing for which Mayhew is well known (if at all), is as the founder of Punch magazine, in 1841. Some would add founding editor too, though this is something which some of his contemporaries dispute. Certainly, it was his brainchild, having a few years earlier also started its less successful predecessor Figaro in London, with his friend Gilbert à Becket. His relationship with Punch was short but fascinating. When moneyed, respectable owners had to be found to save the magazine, one of the conditions was that Mayhew was jettisoned; he was just too unpredictable, too much of a loose cannon: the magazine needed stability, a word nobody could associate with the mercurial writer.

A constant theme in Mayhew’s life was trouble with money. While he knew what he was worth as a writer and frequently pulled down substantial earnings, more often he was in debt, a bankrupt. He spent at least three spells in debtors’ prisons, others in the sponge house (the staging post to debtor’s prison). Self-imposed exile in Wales, Paris and Germany to avoid his creditors, the bailiffs and the law. Sometimes but not always, he was bailed out by family, friends or – humiliatingly – The Royal Literary Fund (he applied to them twice). His long-suffering wife Jane and children Amy and Athol had perforce to share these hardships. Worse, on one occasion he allowed his younger brother Gus to take the rap in the debtor’s prison on his behalf.

Clearly, Henry Mayhew was a careless man, irresponsible to say the least, amoral even. But talented, hardworking, naïve, deeply amusing and the object of devotion from a very small group of friends and admirers. He always had a plan up his sleeve to get him out of the soup. More often than not, these failed. One is reminded a little of Mr Toad.

Something of a polymath and like many Victorian men of affairs, Mayhew was deeply interested in science. A devotee of Humphry Davy and in particular Michael Faraday, he conduced many a dangerous experiments at home, primarily in the pursuit of creating artificial diamonds. Like many a Mayhew pursuit, these literally turned to dust.

I hope you can see so far that this is a lively biography which succeeds in bringing the real Henry Mayhew into our lives. We are also introduced to his rather large family of siblings, in-laws, wife and children, interesting individuals themselves, in particular brothers Horace (Ponny) and Augustus (Gus), who both became writers like Henry, much to the chagrin of their terrifying father Joshua (like Dickens, Mayhew bore a deep antipathy towards the legal profession). Ponny carved out a long and successful career at Punch while Gus frequently wrote in partnership with Henry as the Brothers Mayhew: the name was a strong brand at the time.

London Vagabond connects us to the creative world of the mid 19th Century London intellectual scene. Mayhew worked directly or rubbed shoulders with writers, illustrators, publishers, printers, actors, playwrights, radicals, Chartists; Dickens and Thackeray as we have seen, but also Douglas Jerrold, George Cruickshank, Mark Lemon, George Sala, Henry Vizetelly, Joseph Paxton and dozens more; plotting, scheming, drinking, laughing, networking. The titles for which Mayhew wrote at one time or another were almost uncountable, but the author’s meticulous research has revealed them, along with Mayhew’s improving books for children (e.g. biography of Martin Luther) and unclassifiable genres all his own. I found particularly interesting some of his late stuff on Germany: 1) Hilariously intemperate travel guide involving living among the Saxons 2) Dangerous reportage of the 1870 Franco-Prussian war – Mayhew was a fearless reporter.

henrymayhew

Portrait of Mayhew from London Labour and the London Poor, 1st Ed, 1851, aged about 39.

One senses that the author has read every piece of Mayhew writing he could lay his hands on, both by the man himself and other parties. He quotes substantially and frequently. I would estimate that possibly as much as 20% of the text is quotations. They are always apposite and enriching.

Sometime I hope to catch up with Mayhew’s other major London work, the Great World of London and indeed some other of his now forgotten writing which sound marvellous.

This is an excellent Life and I would warmly recommend it to all, whether established Mayhew fans like myself or indeed those coming across him for the first time.


London Vagabond – the Life of Henry Mayhew is written and published by Christopher Gangadin Anderson. 409 pp (of which 46 pp are index, bibliography, end notes etc.). It costs around £10.

 

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A guest post by LH Member Catharine Arnold. This article was previously published in London Historians Members’ Newsletter of December 2014.

Playwright Ben Jonson [1572-1637], scholar of Westminster School, soldier and one time bricklayer, a trade he hated, is best known for his satires Bartholomew Fair and Volpone. As a dramatist, Jonson was Shakespeare’s greatest rival, and he was fortunate to survive the knockabout world of the London stage, as this anecdote illustrates.

By 1598, Ben Jonson’s dramatic talents ensured that he was much valued by his acting company, the Admiral’s Men, which performed at the Rose. While Francis Meres recorded that Jonson was considered ‘the best for tragedy’, Jonson’s satirical skills were also in the ascendant and he would see a positive reception for his comedy, Every Man in His Humour. This was in spite of the debacle of his previous play, The Isle of Dogs, a political lampoon regarded as so contentious by the authorities that the theatre was raided on the first night and Jonson and his comrades thrown into jail. However, as Jonson’s star rose, so another actor’s reputation sank. Gabriel Spenser, Jonson’s cellmate in the Marshalsea after the disastrous production of The Isle of Dogs had joined him in the Admiral’s Men but a bitter feud had developed between the pair, and plummeted to new depths over the following year. As the 26-year-old Jonson scaled the professional heights, the unpopular Spenser sank deeper into drink and developed an implacable hatred of Jonson. Unpopular among the actors, Spenser had a reputation as a troublemaker, and worse.

Two years earlier, on 3 December, 1596, Spenser had been present at the house of Richard East, along with a man named James Feake, between five and six in the afternoon. According to witnesses ‘insulting words had passed’ between Spenser and Feake. Feake had seized a copper candlestick which he threatened to throw at Spenser, whereupon Spenser seized his sword and stabbed Feake in the right eye, penetrating the brain and inflicting a mortal wound. Poor Feake ‘languished and lived in languor at Holywell Street’ for three days before he died. Despite being accused of murder, Spenser was not executed, or required to forfeit any goods. Perhaps the three days between the fight and Feake’s death gave Spenser the opportunity to assemble friendly witnesses to testify that Feake had provoked him. It was a violent age and men such as Spenser did not hesitate to resort to their weapons if the opportunity demanded it. But Nemesis came for Gabriel Spenser two years later.

On the evening of 22 September 1598, Ben Jonson encountered Spenser in Hoxton Fields in Shoreditch, just around the corner from the Curtain Theatre. The men quarrelled and Spenser challenged Jonson to a duel. Fighting came naturally to both men. Jonson had been a soldier, but as an actor Spenser had trained for fight scenes. All Englishmen had the right to bear arms, and fencing was regarded as a vital accomplishment and an extension of one’s masculinity, as indicated in these lines from The Merry Wives of Windsor. ‘I bruised my shin th’ other day with playing at sword and dagger with a master of fence.’ Elizabethan youths flocked to the fencing schools, and swordplay was an everyday occurrence in Elizabethan London, part of the throbbing violent pulse of the times.

ben johnson duel

Fighting for his life. Sword fighting in the late Tudor style. Jonson’s weapon is considerably shorter than that of his assailant, Gabriel Spenser.

So here stood Jonson, the provoked, and Spenser, the provoker, with weapons drawn, about to fight to the death. The protagonists were equally matched in terms of skill, but as the younger man, Jonson had the advantage. The fight between Jonson and Spenser must have been as theatrical as any performed on stage. Once violence is imaginatively re-created, it gains its own momentum. Did this skirmish start as a drunken taunt, a play-fight between two hot-headed hell-raisers? In terms of weapons, it was scarcely a fair fight. Spenser’s sword was ten inches longer and it was only the fact that Spenser had been drinking all day that gave Jonson the advantage. As Spenser staggered about waving his sword, Jonson swiped back at him and, within minutes, Spenser was dead at his feet.

Although he maintained that Spenser had struck first, wounding him in the arm, Jonson was charged with ‘feloniously and wilfully’ slaying Gabriel Spenser’ with ‘a certain sword of iron and steel called a rapier, of the price of three shillings, which he then and there had and held drawn in his right hand.’ According to witnesses, Jonson inflicted a six inch wound to Spenser’s right side which killed him instantly. Despite claiming to have been acting in self-defence, Jonson was arrested and taken to Newgate, charged with murder. For all his genius, it looked as if Jonson’s final performance was to be upon the scaffold at Tyburn. But Jonson had one trump card left. As a former pupil at Westminster School, he possessed one item which nobody could take away from him, and that was his education. Jonson’s life was saved by a legal loophole which permitted the literate man to escape sentence ‘by benefit of clergy’ on the grounds that any man with a working knowledge of Latin was a cleric and therefore immune to secular law. The ‘Benefit of Clergy’ posed no difficulty for Jonson, who was required to do nothing more than recite an extract from Psalm 51 which began Miserere Mei or ‘Have mercy upon me, O Lord.’ This stratagem saved so many prisoners from the gallows that it became known as ‘the neck verse’. Jonson emerged from Newgate with an ‘x’ branded on his thumb to prevent him claiming benefit of clergy a second time. This was a lasting reminder of his imprisonment, but he had at least escaped with his life.

Philip Henslowe, owner of the Rose Theatre, was horrified by this turn of events. On 26 September 1598, he wrote: ‘I have lost one of my company, which hurteth me greatly, that is Gabriel, for he is slain in Hogsden Fields by the hands of Benjamin Jonson, bricklayer.’ Jonson, no doubt, would have been hurteth greatly to be referred to as a bricklayer, the trade which he so despised.

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Review: Trico: A Victory to Remember. The 1976 Equal Pay Strike at Trico Folberth, Brentford. by Sally Groves and Vernon Merritt.


9781912064878_200x_trico-a-victory-to-rememberThe current dispute of women council workers in Glasgow over equal pay reminds us of the long road travelled since the famous Match Girls’ Strike in East London in 1888. Just as famous is that of the women Ford upholstery workers of Dagenham whose successful dispute of 1968 got made into a movie years later.

Less well-known but no less hard-fought was the strike of women workers at Trico Folberth (will refer as ‘Trico’ from here) of Brentford in 1976. It lasted 21 gruelling weeks.

This book tells that story.

Trico was – and is – an American manufacturer of car accessories, primarily windscreen wiper blades and the associated water pumps and motors. Their UK-based factory which supported car manufacturing for both domestic and international production was based on the Great West Road at the eastern end of Brentford’s ‘Golden Mile’. Today the enormous GSK complex dominates its former site.

The enabling legislation which led to this dispute was Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act, 1970 which came into effect at the end of 1975. Put simply, it legislated that men and women should receive identical pay for the same work. While many companies complied with the legislation, many did not. The Act, as Sally Groves points out, was riddled with loopholes which company lawyers throughout the country skipped through with consummate ease. Trico fell into the category of company which thought all of this could be ignored by dint of its male and female staff working almost completely apart.

Trico was a 24 hour manufacturing operation where men worked night shifts and women through the day. Never the twain would meet until in 1976 the night shift was cancelled, some men laid off with the survivors joining the women on the day shift. With this the pay discrepancy between the sexes soon became apparent, something that took the women workers completely by surprise. The consequences soon took the management by surprise too.

Negotiations between union representatives and management took place but led nowhere. On the afternoon of 24 May, at a union mass meeting in a nearby park, approximately 400 women production workers voted for all-out strike. They picked up their belongings from the factory and went home. Virtually none had ever struck before and most of them expected to be back at work in a matter of days.

P-009 John Bracher addressing strikers in Boston Manor Park Eric Fudge standing middle background with bucket. Morning Star, courtesy Bishopsgate Institute_500

Strike meeting in Boston Manor Park. Courtesy Bishopsgate Institute.

This is where the real story begins. It should be noted that about a  hundred men also came out in support. The remainder – including some husbands and boyfriends – stayed on, keeping the factory ticking over. It was to be the single women in particular who felt the most hardship in the following months.

From here we find out how these green strikers grew in determination and experience. Author Sally Groves, who became the workers’ press officer, admits they were virtually clueless at the beginning. But support for them grew in the trade union movement, among local Brentfordians and others, and their cause soon spread from the local press to national media.

P-012 Sally Groves' banner on Trico railings. Morning Star, courtesy Bishopsgate Institute_500

Sally Groves’s homemade banner on the railings at Trico, Morning Star. Courtesy Bishopsgate Institute.

P-030 Trico strikers lobbying TUC Brighton, Source unknown_500

Trico strikers lobbying TUC Brighton. Source unknown.

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On the march.

At the centre of this story, though, is friendship and solidarity. Previously black and white and brown workers didn’t really hang out together: now they did – lifelong friendships were forged. There are dozens of vignettes, heartwarming, sometimes sad but often amusing which, added together, led to final victory on 15 October when the strikers voted to return to work after Trico management agreed to all demands.

Joan Bakewell postcard 1st side without address_500px

Kind permission of Joan Bakewell, DBE.

The reasons this book succeeds so wonderfully are many. First, I believe, is that while both authors were directly involved in the strike, their contributions are some forty years apart. Vernon Merritt’s original manuscript had lain untouched since when he left it in the dispute’s immediate aftermath. By contrast, Sally Groves has completed the job very recently. This has given the whole a very inperceptible yet balanced feel. Second, there are plenty of verbatim accounts of those directly involved which are separated from the main narrative in grey boxes so the work is rich in reportage, reminiscing, anecdote: those who were around in the 1970s will experience a strong tinge of nostalgia, I feel, whatever their politics. Third, dozens of wonderful photographs, cartoons, ephemera. Finally, this book is excellently designed, footnoted and indexed as every good history book should be.

Quite apart from being a wonderful read, I believe this to be an important work in the history of equality and industrial relations in this country. I commend it to you.


Trico – A Victory to Remember (238pp) by Sally Groves and Vernon Merritt was published in June by Lawrence and Wishart in association with Unite trade union. Erroneously listed as paperback by Amazon at time of writing.

A signed copy of the book will be the November book prize in London Historians Members’ Newsletter.

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This guest post by LH member Tracey Hill was first published in London Historians Members’ Newsletter of November 2014.

In the early 1620s Thomas Middleton’s profile in London, both on and off the stage, was at its height. His run of civic employments was consolidated when he was appointed the first paid Chronologer of the City of London on 6th September 1620. The commencement of Middleton’s post as City Chronologer was marked by the publication in 1621 of a series of commissioned civic entertainments that took place between Easter 1620 and Easter 1621, entitled Honorable Entertainments compos’de for the Seruice of this Noble Cittie, comprising ten separate entertainments.

ThomasMiddleton
Thomas Middleton (1580 – 1627)

Although his appointment as City Chronologer was a token of the esteem in which Middleton was held in civic circles, his new role came during a run of bad luck for the City and his initial commissions during the 1620-21 period were all problematic. Honorable Entertainments may, on the face of it, have been a wholly suitable way for the City Chronologer to appear in print, but some of the pieces in this book and in other works in this period have an edgy take on the civic transitions of 1620-21.

The second entertainment in the collection marked the termination of William Cockayne’s mayoralty on the day before the Haberdasher Francis Jones’s inauguration in 1620. However, in contrast to the usual joy at the arrival of a new Lord Mayor, this unprecedented ‘sad Pageant’ represents the end of Cockayne’s term of office as a funeral where ‘all seem to mourne’. It seems the very year has died: there is a ‘Last Will and Testament of 1620’, where Cockayne’s unnamed ‘Successor’ is bequeathed ‘all my good wishes, paines, labours and reformations’. The piece concludes with an ‘epitaph’ bemoaning the end of ‘a Yeare of goodness, and a Yeare of right’. As well as reminding Jones (in a move that will come back badly on the City, as we’ll see) of the ‘bounty fayre’ he will expected to provide as Lord Mayor, the first entertainment of Jones’s term is addressed primarily to the Haberdashers’ Company. Of Jones himself, Middleton simply states, with a distinct absence of enthusiasm, ‘I presume his goodness will requite’ the generosity of his Company. Any ‘honour’ that pertains to Jones in this work is merely ‘borrowed’ from the Haberdashers.

Eight of the ten entertainments in this collection were presented at Jones’s house. The lack of confidence in Jones signalled in Honorable Entertainments was more than borne out by events. The christmas entertainment evokes Jones’s house as ‘Bounties pallace/ Where euery Cup ha’s his full Ballace’, where ‘sparkling Liquors’ abound and where ‘Cellar, Hall [and] Larder’ are ‘Iouiall’ and ‘blithe’. Despite Middleton’s citation of ‘th’Abundant welcome yon’d Kind Lord affords’, as it turned out, Jones could not afford it and absconded just before his term of office expired. The keen seventeenth-century letter writer John Chamberlain recorded that ‘the night before he should have accompanied his successor to Westminster [Jones] did sgombrare [clear out], conveying all of worth out of his house, and he and his wife into some secret corner of the country’. Contrary to usual practice Jones was ‘excused’ due to an alleged ‘sudden infirmity’ when his successor took his mayoral oath at Westminster in 1621.

The Recorder of London Sir Heneage Finch was responsible for this public negotiation of Jones’s flit. There may be a deliberate irony in his ambiguous remarks in the same speech that Jones had ‘willingly’ laid down the burden of office and that Jones ‘cannot give a greater testimony of him[self] than his meane estimation of him selfe’. In pointed contrast, his successor Edward Barkham’s ‘greate bounty and hospitallity … feastes and entertainments’ were highlighted at the equivalent ceremony in 1621. On passing on the mayoralty to Peter Proby in October 1622 Barkham was given a testimonial by Finch which stated that, unlike his predecessor, he had performed the role with ‘dilligence from the first [day] of the [mayoral] yeare to the last’.

These words of praise notwithstanding, Barkham’s rise to the City’s highest office had not been straightforward either. To take the office he had to ‘translate’ from the Leathersellers’ Company to one of the Great Twelve. Thus the backdrop to the 1621 mayoral inauguration was no more auspicious than the termination of his predecessor. Barkham’s process of translation to the Drapers began with an approach to the Company in July 1621. The request was rebuffed for some months: there were prolonged negotiations and the matter was only resolved on the intervention of the Privy Council.

Barkham’s putative membership was discussed by the Drapers’ Court four times in July 1621. For a while the Company were adamant that they were would not accept him and agreed to convey to the Court of Aldermen their ‘absolute denyall’ of Barkham’s admission, demonstrating the strength of feeling against this enforced admission. Later in July the Company remained intransigent, reiterating ‘the denyall of the generality of this Companie in acceptinge of Mr Alderman Barkeham’. In their fourth meeting there was only one item on the agenda. They were ‘altogether unwilling and unable’ to accept the financial charge consequent on having another mayoral inauguration to support. However, their position had shifted: they were no longer refusing entry to Barkham per se (the phrase ‘absolute denyall’ no longer features), but rather asking the Court of Aldermen to excuse them the costs. The final discussion took place in August, within weeks of the election of the new Lord Mayor on Michaelmas Day. Once more the Drapers wished to be excused the costs of the ‘triumphes’, adding the argument that they were trying to avoid any complaints and any ‘disgrace’ to the City. Indeed, they protested against the cost to the end, but in the face of the forces against them the Company had finally to capitulate, and Barkham–by then ‘Maior elect’–was duly admitted to the membership by translation from the Leathersellers in the nick of time in early October 1621.

drapers_arms
Coat of arms of the Drapers’ Company.

Close scrutiny of that year’s mayoral Show, The sunne in Aries, reveals clues about the considerable strain and prolonged debate of Barkham’s translation. A number of times in the text the word ‘costly’ is employed, which, although conventional, in this context could be seen to gesture towards the Drapers’ concerns about the expense of the inauguration. The relationship between the new Lord Mayor and his Company–in particular, their role in funding the Show–is central to the valedictory speech given at the very end of the Show in a way that could be a veiled commentary on the circumstances.

This speech is intended as a ‘noble Demonstation of [Barkham’s] worthy Fraternities Affection’. The Drapers’ ‘Loue’ for Barkham is likened to the sun breaking through after ‘a great Ecclipse’. It is certainly possible to interpret the now past ‘eclipse’ to the furore over Barkham’s enforced translation. The Drapers’ affection, Fame declares, ‘is showne/ With a Content past Expectation … A Care that ha’s [sic] beene comely, and a Cost/ That ha’s beene Decent’ (my emphasis). The Show itself is said to ‘clearly’ demonstrate how ‘great’ the Drapers’ love is, and the ‘Cost’ is (finally) ‘requited’ by Barkham’s accession to the mayoralty. Middleton’s text strives to incorporate Barkham into the Company, to remind him of the expense they have been put to and attempts to smooth over the recent controversy about their reluctance to pay for the very event that is taking place.

However, references to Barkham are relatively scant and recent holders of civic office are compared unfavourably to their predecessors. Whereas past Drapers were ‘Colledge Founders’, ‘Temple-Beautifiers’ and ‘Erecters … of Granaries for the Poore’, now these granaries are ‘conuerted to some Rich mens Store’. Naturally, there is no suggestion that Barkham is one of those avaricious men but a poor light is cast upon the current civic oligarchy. There is also an oblique reference to Barkham’s unusual route to the mayoralty. Sir Richard Pipe, Lord Mayor in 1578, is mentioned solely because ‘being Free of the Leathersellers, [he] was also from them translated to the Ancient and Honorable Society of Drapers’. Pipe’s translation was a precedent that legitimated Barkham’s troubled move to the Drapers, but given the strong opposition the latter had generated, one wonders why Middleton thought it necessary to mention translation from the Leathersellers at all.

Ultimately, the Drapers had had to accept Barkham and the City had to put the controversy behind it and move on. All the same, Recorder Finch’s speech when Barkham took his oath at Westminster strikes a sterner note than usual. ‘Magistrates are not sett in Authority for their owne sakes’, Finch proclaimed, ‘but for the people’. The office of Lord Mayor, he emphasised, involved ‘a number of cares’ which ‘cannot [be] putt off with [the Lord Mayor’s] clothes now layed under his pillow’, and those who take on high office ought to ‘consider well the weight of government’.

Translation to one of the Great Twelve livery companies, as we have seen, was indeed a more serious business than donning a new suit of clothes. By 1622, however, the crisis was but a memory and Recorder Finch’s speech at the Exchequer when Peter Proby took his oath celebrates Barkham retrospectively for his acts of civic altruism such as endowing a new water conduit. This presentation of Barkham as a man of good deeds features elsewhere too. During his year of office Barkham played an important role in the building of a new church on the site of of what had been the priory church of the Holy Trinity, Aldgate. The building of the church, the 1633 edition of John Stow’s The Survey of London relates,

‘proceeded on with good and prosperous successe, to the no meane honour and commendation of the Lord Maior then being, Sir Edward Barkham by name, the Court of Aldermen, and state of this famous City, by whose good meanes it is made a very beautifull and comely Parish Church’.

Barkham ‘himselfe undertooke, and effected at his owne charge’ the ‘maine and great East light in the Chancell’, and his contribution was commemorated, appropriately enough, in a verse placed in the chancel of the church:

Barkham the Worthie,
whose immortall name,
Marble’s too weake to hold,
for this workes fame.
He never ceast
in industrie and care,
From ruines to
redeeme this House of Praier.

Somewhat ironically given the strong resistance to his translation, Barkham’s membership of the Drapers is highlighted in this monument; indeed, he is even linked to one of the City’s most esteemed figures, the first Lord Mayor of London, Henry Fitz-Alwin. The verse concludes:

This Cities first Lord Maior
lies buried here,
Fitz-Alwine,
of the Drapers Company,
And the Lord Maior,
whose fame now shines so cleere,
Barkham,
is of the same Society.

fitz-alwyn
Henry Fitz-Alwin, commemorated on Holborn Viaduct.



Long-standing London Historians Member, Prof Tracey Hill is Head of English and Cultural Studies at Bath Spa University. Her research expertise is in the cultural history of early modern London, with a particular focus on civic pageantry. She is the author of Pageantry and Power: a cultural history of the early modern Lord Mayor’s Show (Manchester University Press 2010) and Anthony Munday and Civic Culture (Manchester University Press 2004) as well as of a number of articles and chapters in books.


A longer version of this article – “Ever obedient in his Studies”: Thomas Middleton and the Cityc1621′,  – appeared in The London Journal,42:2 (2017).

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A guest post by LH Member Caroline Shenton. This article first appeared in London Historians Newsletter of August 2014. The paperback edition of her book, Mr Barry’s War, has just been published.

Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860) is best-known as the architect of the new Houses of Parliament.  With the designer AWN Pugin (1812-1852) he created the most iconic building in London, familiar to millions the world over as a symbol of Britain and democracy.  It was a labour of love.  Barry was a Londoner through-and-through: he was born, married, worked and died in London and, apart from three years on the Grand Tour as a young man, he lived there all his life.  So where were the houses he inhabited in the city whose skyline he, more than anyone else, influenced by means of the biggest Houses of all?  And can these buildings tell us something about a brilliant man who was discreet and private while he lived, and who remains an enigmatic character since he destroyed many of his personal papers before he died?

Barry was the ninth of eleven children of Walter Barry, a government Stationery Office supplier.  He was born and grew up at 2 Bridge Street, which ran along the northern side of New Palace Yard, Westminster.  Some fifty years later Barry would construct the famous Clock Tower of the New Palace of Westminster, to Pugin’s design, almost adjacent to his birthplace, which stood in its shadow until 1867.

The redbrick Georgian terraces of Bridge Street can be seen immediately to the right of the Palace in this 1860 picture in the Parliamentary Works of Art Collection (WOA 1164)

Barry was christened at St Margaret’s Westminster, the parish church of Parliament, just a few steps from home. In the final decade of his life he also designed and oversaw the construction of a new Westminster Bridge.  For the most of his life then, Charles Barry lived and worked in the immediate neighbourhood of the Houses of Parliament, old and new.

When he returned to England in 1820 after travelling through Europe, the Levant and Egypt, he set up a home and office at 39 Ely Place, on the edge of Hatton Garden.  Today this is a gated road containing residential buildings and legal chambers, but until the end of the eighteenth century it had been the Bishop of Ely’s Palace.  It was sold off and redeveloped in 1772 and so Barry had chosen to live on a site with plenty of medieval resonance – including the gothic church of St Etheldreda – but in a house which by then was fifty years old and on the edge of a slum: definitely a first-time buyer’s option.  Two years later he married Sarah Rowsell, daughter of a stationer friend of his father’s whose sister was already married to his brother. Sarah had patiently waited for him to return from his travels and then for a year or two after his return before he had enough money to support them – again a sign of his good sense and prudence.

This is Ely Place today.  No 39 does not survive, having been destroyed by bombing
during World War II which hit the end of the terrace.  We can assume it looked very like this though.

The Barrys continued living at Ely Place until 1827, when they moved to 27  Foley Place with their two sons – Charles jnr (b. 1823) and Alfred (b. 1826).  In the previous seven years Charles had made a name for himself with projects in Brighton and Manchester and the young family’s move to the West End indicates his growing prosperity, and the fact that he was starting to socialise in fashionable Whig circles including members of the Devonshire House set.  Today Foley Place has become Langham Street in Fitzrovia – and is just a stone’s throw from the RIBA on Portland Place, an institute of which Barry was a founding member and whose library today holds significant collections of his papers and architectural plans.

Over the next thirteen years Barry won a series of brilliant competitions and commissions to design and build the Travellers’ Club in Pall Mall (1829); the Birmingham Grammar School (1833); Trentham House, Staffordshire (1834); the Reform Club in Pall Mall (1837); Highclere Castle, Berkshire better known as “Downton Abbey” (1838); and Trafalgar Square (1840), among many others.  In 1840 Sarah Barry laid the foundation stone of the new Houses of Parliament, her husband’s most famous building, and that year the family (now including eight children and three servants) moved to a spacious mid-Georgian townhouse at 32 Great George St in Westminster – in fact, a continuation of Bridge Street where Barry had been born.  This was not only to accommodate his large family better but also so that Barry could be as close as possible to the site of his ‘great work’ which was now growing into the air just a few hundred yards away.  Great George Street was at that time a residential quarter favoured by politicians, civil engineers and railway contractors.  At one point this included Samuel Morton Peto, whose firm had the building contract for superstructure of the new Palace of Westminster, and at number 23 lived and worked James Walker, the famous civil engineer who took over Thomas Telford’s practice and whose firm built the river wall and embankment for the Houses of Parliament in the late 1830s. Across the road from the Barry household was the original National Portrait Gallery, run by the Scharf family of topographical artists, and so this neighbourhood nicely encapsulates the main themes of Barry’s career.  These houses no longer exist but a vestige of those times remain as 1 Great George Street is now home to the Institution of Civil Engineers.

At the very end of his life, Barry moved to the semi-rural delights of 29 Clapham Common North, to a grand mansion called ‘The Elms’.  Exhausted and fatally stressed by some 25 years of work on the new Houses of Parliament, he perhaps felt the need to at last relax in comfort and enjoy the semi-rural delights of the Common where sheep still grazed.  He died just a few months later, in May 1860, of a massive heart attack.  His funeral cortège set out from The Elms on 22 May and led to Westminster Abbey, where Barry was buried under a brass depicting the Victoria Tower of the Palace of Westminster, which the great architect regarded as his masterpiece.  Today, no 29 is part of Trinity Hospice, which has occupied the building since 1899.


 


Caroline Shenton  was formerly Director of the Parliamentary Archives and is now a freelance writer, historian and heritage consultant. Her latest book Mr Barry’s War. Rebuilding the Houses of Parliament after the great fire of 1834   was a book of the year for BBC History Magazine and The Daily Telegraph. Follow her on twitter @dustshoveller or read her blog on Parliamentary history at www.carolineshenton.co.uk.

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Yesterday I went along to three exhibitions by City of London institutions which opened recently. All are well worth visiting; all are free.

Guildhall Art Gallery: Sublime Symmetry
This exhibition features the works of William De Morgan, the late 19th century London ceramicist, friend and collaborator of William Morris, GF Watts and many others. We are long-standing fans of De Morgan. The closure of a dedicated gallery in Wandsworth some years ago tragically meant that a huge collection of his work, which is owned by the De Morgan Foundation, has been kept behind closed doors. It’s important therefore to do all you can to get to this show. The theme is De Morgan’s background in mathematics, how that meshed with his interest in Islamic symmetical forms and from there informed his decorative work. The artist’s father and brother were both celebrated mathemeticians. Augustus De Morgan was the founding Professor of Mathematics at UCL, friend and correspondent of Ada Lovelace among others, and clearly a warm and funny character. It felt good to meet him. But of course, the stars of the show are De Morgan’s sumptuous, exquisite works. Vases, bowls, dishes, tiles all beautifully decorated with figures from nature and myth.
This runs until 28 October.

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Guildhall Library: Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers
More a display than a full blown exhibition, this is the latest in the library’ series which features the City’s livery companies. This year celebrates the 450th anniversary of this company’s first Charter, granted by Elizabeth I 1568, although the company can trace its origins back to 1416. We are shown many objects from its collection, well complemented by items from the library as well. This includes probably my favourite, the so-called “Breeches” Bible from 1589, which was used for the administration of oaths. It is, of course, a late generation English bible before the advent of the Authorised Version (1611) and furhermore is the only example of a chained book in the library’s collection.  In addition we have a trowel (of course), ledgers, ordnances and minute books, a loving cup and a portrait miniature of its most famous member, the playwright Ben Jonson who was a bricklayer before he made it big in the London theatre.
Runs until 31 August.

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The ‘Breeches’ Bible, 1598.

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Ben Jonson’s overdue subscription recorded as paid.

London Metropolitan Archives: Picturing Forgotten London
What I love about the LMA exhibitions – and this one is no exception – is that you see historical images that you’ve never seen before. Not one. This is remarkable considering the hundreds of London history books out there, not to mention what’s online. To choose one example, I thought I’d seen everything on frost fairs: not so!

The headline title is a broad topic indeed which features not forgotten London necessarily, but a London which simply no longer exists, whether the obvious things such a buildings, but also professions, animals, forms of government, everyday life, religion, commerce, housing, transport, technology, sport, food and welfare. The images which bring these themes to life – whether maps, engravings or photographs – are clearly heavily researched astutely chosen.

Warmly recommended. Runs until 31 August.

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London’s last frost fair, 1814.

By the time this print was published, just few days later, the ice had melted, and the fair gone forever. London Bridge can be seen in the distance.

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Rural Archway, 1841.

A winding lane with barns and a farmhouse. It is hard to imagine London’s built-up suburbs as open country but the last farms in the area only disappeared in the early twentieth century.

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Commercial warehousing, buildings and shops in front of St Pancras Station, 1871.

St. Pancras station opened in 1868 but the hotel and grand entrance were not completed until 1876. Older buildings were demolished as part of the project, including this row of houses and shops which stood nearby. It’s hard to imagine this picturesque scene on one of the busiest parts of Euston Road today.

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South Bank, 1952. Featuring County Hall and the Skylon.

This seemingly free-floating steel structure stood outside the Dome of Discovery on the main Festival of Britain site on the South Bank. With no particular function or message, ‘Skylon’ was nonetheless much loved. It was removed shortly after the closing of the Festival.

 

 

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“the liberty of the press is the birthright of a Briton, and is justly esteemed the firmest bulwark of the liberties of this country” ~ John Wilkes

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Wilkes by Hogarth.

In the immediate wake of the defeat of Leveson 2 in the House of Commons, it’s an appropriate historical coincidence that today is the 250th Anniversary of the St George’s Field Massacre, which occurred on 10 May 1768.

It resulted from the trial of John Wilkes for seditious libel for anti-government items – some pornographic – published in his magazine, the North Briton, in particular the notorious issue Number 45 from 1763.

During the trial a pro-Wilkes crowd assembled in St George’s Field in Southwark, swelling to an estimated 15,000 in number. The Riot Act was read and troops were called in. They opened fire on the throng, resulting in the deaths of at least six protesters with many more injured.

Wilkes paid his fine, did his time and decided to become an MP.

Spurned multiple times by Parliament, he instead built a successful political career in the City, eventually becoming Lord Mayor. It was here that he did his best work for press freedom. In 1771, several newspapers reported on the proceedings of Parliament. This was strictly against the law. In February, Parliament tried to arrest the printers of two newspapers in particular – the Middlesex Journal and the Gazetteer. Wilkes afforded them protection within the City. The Government, probably realising the effort to be futile, never really opposed Parliamentary reporting after this.

It was a key moment in the history of freedom of the press in this country. So let’s remember those who died on this day 250 years ago and reflect that freedom of the press was hard won.

 

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