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Archive for the ‘Stuart period’ Category

Exhibition at the Museum of London 23 July 2016 – 17 Apr 2017.

DSC04194cIt’s known of course as the Great Fire of London. So great in fact that more generally it is simply called the Great Fire. It raged for four days from 2 to 5 September 1666, destroying most of the Square Mile and a substantial area immediately west of the city wall. This being the disaster’s 350th anniversary, it is being commemorated with sundry events in many ways and places. Nobody is better equipped to deal with this than Museum of London with its vast collection of contemporary objects.

The overall design of the show is immersive and atmospheric, that is to say dark and quite noisy, but not intrusively so. This makes complete sense. The fire started at night and virtually all known paintings of it are nightscapes (at least three of which are on display). The first section is narrow and claustrophobic to give you the feel of the medieval London streedscape: it works.

Thereafter the the spaces open out to accommodate more object displays which take us chronologically through the before, during and after phases of the Fire.

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The technical stuff shows us just how pathetic was 17C fire-fighting equipment. Most risible of all were the squirts, a couple of which are on display. A beautifully-restored fire engine – also hopelessly inefficient – is one of the centrepieces of the exhibition.

The firesquirt. Just a large syringe.

The firesquirt. Just a large syringe.

17C fire engine. For effectiveness, it flatters to deceive!

17C fire engine. For effectiveness, it flatters to deceive!

A very large proportion of the objects feature the everyday – tiles, bricks, household objects. These quite obviously resonate the most and where the museum has a huge supply, not least via years of archaeology through MOLA and its predecessors.

Hoard of 17th-century glass found underneath burnt debris during excavations of a cellar on Gracechurch Street.

Hoard of 17th-century glass found underneath burnt debris during excavations of a cellar on Gracechurch Street.

There’s lots of interactivity that will prove popular with children (of all ages!). Microscopes to view in detail carbonised articles; pushbutton x-ray reveals of encrusted household objects such as locks, keys, knives; interactive computer game of saving buildings with a choice of methods – firehooks, gunpowder etc.

X-Ray of melted iron key found at Boltolph Lane. Museum id BPL95[119] This image may be used free of charge to promote and review the Museum of London Exhibition 'Fire Fire' 2016-17. All other uses must be cleared with the Museum of London picture library

X-Ray of melted iron key found at Boltolph Lane.

In addition, of course, there is no shortage of the paperwork: documents, diagrams, plans, panoramas, books. These could be an exhibition in their own right. And almost especially for me: old pub signs! Five of them!

The Monkey and Apple.

The Monkey and Apple.

The final phase of the exhibition shines a light on the aftermath and ramifications of the tragedy. For me and for many historians I suspect, this is the most absorbing part of the show because it reveals a clear break from many things medieval. It tells us of how Robert Hooke and his team along with voluntary Fire Judges decided who owned what;  how the leading thinkers of the day – Wren, Evelyn and others – came up with new plans for London (none was implemented: London had to get back into business asap); the birth of insurance; modern building regulations.

The Fire Judges' table.

The Fire Judges’ table.

Fire insurance. If you had cover, you'd attach the badge to the front of your building.

Fire insurance. If you had cover, you’d attach the badge to the front of your building.

One of Wren's drawings for the new St Paul's.

One of Wren’s drawings for the new St Paul’s.

Given the subject matter and the inventory at the museum’s disposal for a show such as this, the task would seem an embarrassment of riches for any curator. But in a way, this actually makes the task more challenging. Meriel Jeater and her team have surpassed that challenge to plan, design, assemble and deliver a wonderfully balanced and evocative exhibition of one of London’s greatest calamities. Do go.


Fire! Fire! runs at the Museum of London from tomorrow until 17 April 2017.
Tickets from £8 adults (when booked online).
More information and booking. 

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

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

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

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

Shrine of St Alban.

Shrine of St Alban.

Shrine of St

Shrine of Amphibalus. Some TLC needed, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roman mosaic, in situ.

Roman mosaic, in situ.

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

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

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curtain theatre 200Last week, as guests of Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), we visited one of their current explorations, that of the old Elizabethan playhouse, the Curtain Theatre. The opportunity for access comes about prior to a new developement on the site for retail and office complex to be called, appropriately, The Stage.

The Curtain ran from 1577 to 1627 in Shoreditch, initially under the proprietorship of Richard Burbage. Like its counterparts in Southwark – the Globe and the Rose – the theatre was sited outside the walls of the City of London, which held restrictive laws against public entertainment of this sort.

One for the team’s key findings is that the theatre was a rectangular building of approximately 22m by 30m, and not polygonal as previously thought. As is usual in virtually any excavation in London, many historic artifacts have been unearthed. One of particular interest in this instance is the remains of a bird whistle, in this case probably for theatrical sound effects rather than a child’s toy. There are numerous references to bird song, for example, in Romeo and Juliet, for example: “That birds would sing and think it were not night. ”

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Although selling out fast, there are still places left on the public tours of the site, which are taking place on Fridays, full details of these are listed on the MOLA web site.

This visit is quite typical of a wide variety of Events undertaken by London Historians, most of which are nowadays Members only affairs. Join us!

 

 

 

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Last Monday, London Historians enjoyed a long-anticipated lunch and tour at Ironmongers’ Hall. It was superb. This was On the staircase, I immediately recognised an object which I remember from some years ago. It is “The Estridge”, a wooden carving from 1629 on the occasion of the Lord Mayor’s pageant for Sir James Campbell, three times Master of the Company (1615, 1623, 1640). That’s some old bird. The connection with ironmongery is that back in the day, it was thought that ostriches were able to eat and digest iron, hence the horseshoe in the animal’s beak. If you went to the superb Royal River exhibition at the Maritime Museum, Greenwich, you will have seen this same ostrich on display, on loan from the Company.

estridge, ostrich, ironmongers' hall

Three years ago, in Greenwich.

Three years ago, in Greenwich.

You can see a gallery of pictures from our visit to the Ironmongers’ Hall here and here.

More on ill-conceived myths relating to animals.

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A guest post by London Historians member Robin Reynolds.
You can see higher resolution versions of all images in this article in our Flickr space, here

Visscher’s view of London has long been a puzzle. If, as many people believe, he never visited the city, how was his panorama researched, and by whom? The further puzzle is why did his neighbour and rival, Ludovicus Hondius, publish the London panorama when Visscher himself was already an established and successful publisher?

We may never know for sure, but perhaps there’s enough, in the many engravings and etchings that he left behind, for us to understand something about the man, and to make a reasonable guess as to how the London engraving was compiled.

Visscher's London Panorama of 1616

Visscher’s London Panorama of 1616

Existing documentation allows us to sketch his life in outline. Son of a shipyard carpenter, he was born in Amsterdam around 1587. So he’s 13 at the turn of the century, and 16 when Queen Elizabeth I dies, to be succeeded by the Stuart King James I.

Visscher marries Neel Floris in 1608, and the following year they buy a house in the city centre, where he bases his studio and publishing operation. So already, aged just 22, he’s a thrusting businessman, originating new work and reviving worn-out second-hand plates sold off by other publishers. (In those days an engraved copper plate was limited to 1,000 prints or so before the grooves faded under the weight of the press. Visscher’s craftsmen would recut the grooves and print off new editions.)

He runs a highly productive workshop up to his death in 1652, and he hands on to his son one of the most successful publishing businesses in Europe.

His own achievements as an engraver are humbling. His series of small landscapes capturing the rural life and scenery of the Low Countries are the subject of academic studies today. He produced posters – for example promoting a lottery to fund an old people’s home. The creation of polders – large-scale drainage and land reclamation projects – began in his time, and he produced maps of the new farmland, in which he promoted the precision of the surveyors’ measurements alongside the quality of his own work.

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Dutch countryside by Visscher.

His most profitable line was publishing Reformation bibles, and his most spectacular work is Leo Belgicus, a stunning statement of the defiance of the protestant Low Countries in their long-running and bloody conflict with Catholic Spain.

Then there are his city panoramas. Not many prints survive, but we know that at least 28 came out of the Visscher workshop.

And finally there is his most intriguing line, news pictures.

Together, these works help us to picture the man and to get some measure of his personality.

Amsterdam’s Kalverstraat, where he lived and worked, was the publishing hub of the city, and a shared sense of humour and self-mockery seems to have attached itself to this emerging industry. Hondius names his workshop The Watchful Dog (Hondius = de Hondt = dog). Dancker Danckerts calls his publishing house In Gratitude. Likewise Visscher makes a joke of his own name, adopting as his trademark a fisherman with two rods. The figure appears again and again in different works, so perhaps this image – a cross between Father Christmas and a garden gnome – is how he saw himself.

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On the face of it he’s a likeable fellow, referred to fondly in a poem by one of the writers with whom he collaborated:

‘The young should rack their brains
And with great diligence strive for knowledge,
As did Visscher, who teaches in his prints
How one may become a master in this art’

But to judge from his news prints, he’s far from being Father Christmas. He’s a Calvinist activist, supporting the House of Orange in the Dutch Revolt. He produces diagrams and illustrations of battles on land and at sea, and he revels in atrocities perpetrated by the Calvinists against their enemies.

Witness the fun he has over the execution of Hendrick Slatius, an Arminian protestant who plotted to kill the prince of Orange. As the sword falls, Slatius throws up his hands. One is sliced off and the other dangles by a thread. How do we know this? Visscher gives us a grisly close-up. Another image shows the headless torso exposed for the crows high on a wooden plinth. Thoughtfully nailed to the perch beside him is the severed hand.

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Visscher produces a veritable comic strip of ensuing events. The body, head and hand are retrieved under cover of dark by friends unknown, and buried decently – albeit secretly – in a farm field. But not for long. The farmer’s plough turns up the coffin, and the bits, including the hand with its distinctive nail-hole, are dragged back to town.

Visscher has a final laugh as the body is reinstated. The clumsy handlers lose their grip, and the headless, naked body slips off its perch and dangles upside down.

That was in 1623. Seventeen years earlier, Visscher produced a news sheet depicting the execution of the Catholic Gunpowder Plotters in what is supposedly St Paul’s Churchyard, London. But, revealingly, the bodies are being chopped and burned by men in Dutch clothing against a Dutch townscape.

So we can say with certainty that in 1606 Visscher didn’t know what London or Londoners looked like. Ergo, he did not make sketches of Elizabethan London three or more years earlier.

The way Visscher went about his 1611 Amsterdam panorama tells us this is a man for the short cut. Rather than row across the river to make his own sketches, he buys the plates of a relatively sparse 1599 Amsterdam panorama by Pieter Bast, adds extra ships and foreground characters, and bish-bosh, we have what is probably his first wide city view.

Amsterdam panorama by Bast.

Amsterdam panorama by Bast.

Amsterdam panorama by Visscher

Amsterdam panorama by Visscher

I think this is further evidence that Visscher wouldn’t have taken time out to go to London, but I also think it’s where Visscher’s involvement in the London project begins.

The London project almost certainly belongs to the publisher, named as Ludovicus Hondius following the recent death of his father Jodocus Hondius. In fact Ludovicus would have been just 14 at the time, so in all probability his mother Colette (of the Van den Keere engraving family) was pulling the strings.

But it’s a solid guess that the idea originated with the late Jodocus, who was familiar with London and had substantial London connections. A Flemish cartographer and artist, Jodocus spent nine years in England, a refugee of the religious troubles in his homeland. In that time he hooked up with, among others, the seafaring hero Francis Drake. Two Drake portraits at the National Portrait Gallery are attributed to Hondius.

It’s possible that when he moved to Amsterdam in 1593, he took with him a sheaf of sketches of London, made from the top of St Mary Overie (today’s Southwark Cathedral). However it’s more likely that he remained in touch with artists in London, and was sent a sketched view, by an acquaintance unknown to us, of the city around the turn of the century.

Either way, nothing is done with those sketches until several years later. Possibly not until after Hondius’s death in 1612. By then Visscher’s Amsterdam panorama is in circulation, and no doubt doing well.

I fancy that at Number 9 Kalverstraat Visscher is thinking it’s time for another city panorama, while a few doors away Mrs Hondius is going through the papers of her late husband. She comes across the London sketches, knocks at Visscher’s door, and a deal is done. She supplies the sketches, Visscher does the engraving, she takes it to market.

Neither of them, evidently, takes much notice of content. That the royal barge is still flying the Tudor flag, 13 years into the reign of the Stuart King James, is neither here nor there. One of them – probably Mrs H – decides that for this first edition, there should be a tract of Latin text, lifted from William Camden’s Britannia, describing London in glorious terms. When the copy falls short, their solution is to drop in a few paragraphs about, of all things, glass-making, taken from Johan Pontanus’s recent History of Amsterdam. Again it doesn’t seem to matter that people might notice.

Visscher London with Latin

Visscher London with Latin

Some thirty years after Visscher’s death, the family produced a catalogue of the prints they had on offer. The inventory includes 28 four-plate city panoramas, from Lisbon to Constantinople, Augsburg to Vlissingen, Rome to Cracow.

It seems unlikely that Visscher engraved all of these himself, and still less likely that he researched them in person, on location. But in the world that explorers such as Drake had opened up, there was undoubtedly an appetite for the exotic, and Visscher exploited it to the full.

You can see higher resolution versions of all images in this article in our Flickr space, here


Visscher Redrawn, the brainchild of Robin Reynolds, is a project in which Robin drew a panorama for 2016 from the exact viewpoint of Visscher’s famous 1616 version. Both images are on display at the Guildhall Art Gallery from Saturday 20 February until November. Robin will be speaking at a London Historians evening event at the gallery on 8 March. Over a glass of wine. Event details and booking here.

London panorama by Reynolds, 2016.

London panorama by Reynolds, 2016.

 

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200_Portrait of Samuel Pepys, Attributed to John Riley, c.1680, The Clothworkers Company

Pepys, Attr to John Riley, c.1680, © The Clothworkers Company

Can any Londoner have led a more interesting life than Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)? Violence, tragedy, pain and enlightenment. He experienced all in good measure and at very close quarters.

Pepys wrote what became a famous diary, he buried his cheese during the Great Fire and he canoodled with the maid. That is what most people know about this man. He was by no means great in the way Wellington, Nelson were great. Or hugely talented like Shakespeare, Hogarth and Wren. Or a great brain box like Newton. But he was an important and influential figure in his day, he mixed with the best, had the ear of kings, was a more than competent administrator. And from our point of view, he was a Londoner of great note. Literally.

A new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum – Plague, Fire and Revolution – celebrates the life of Samuel Pepys. But it is as much about his times as it is about the man himself. But what times they were!

The English Civil War; The regicide of Charles I; The Great Plague; The Great Fire of London; The re-building of London; The wars with the Dutch; The Glorious Revolution. Pepys directly influenced some: he was touched by them all.

Painting of the Fire of London, 1666. Artist unknown. © National Maritime Museum

Painting of the Fire of London, 1666. Artist unknown. © National Maritime Museum

These momentous events are here represented and celebrated. Portraits, panoramas, print, costume, pottery, armour and personal objects all combine to give you a strong sense of Pepys’s world, that is to say the world of the 17th century ruling class in London. The people Pepys rubbed shoulders with were kings and princes, scientists and admirals. Never has there been such a concentration of eminence, ambition and talent. But it wasn’t all blood, guts and distaster. The emergence of London as a world city. The era was characterised by the emergence of international trade and modern scientific discovery. Exotic consumer goods – tea, tobacco, coffee. All of these things are represented in this show which to sum up in a word: lavish.

Wedding outfit of James II. © Victoria and Albert Museum

Wedding outfit of James II. © Victoria and Albert Museum

Memoirs relating to the state of the Royal Navy of England for ten years determined December 1688 by Samuel Pepys © The National Maritime Museum.

Memoirs relating to the state of the Royal Navy of England for ten years determined December 1688 by Samuel Pepys © National Maritime Museum.

Pepys's tobacco box. © The Clothworkers Company.

Pepys’s tobacco box. © The Clothworkers Company.

Chinese teapot, mid 17C. © The Burghley House Collection.

Chinese teapot, mid 17C. © The Burghley House Collection.

The curators have gathered together a group of objects from their own archives and combined them with material from the Royal Collection, Museum of London, livery companies and elsewhere to serve up a true feast. A very accessible, informative and enjoyable show.

 

Samuel Pepys – Plague, Fire and Revolution at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich runs until 28 March 2016. Adult entry is £12. Free for Friends, half price for Art Fund members.

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2016 will be the 400th anniversary of Claes Jansz Visscher’s panoramic engraving of London. Pre-fire, it gives us one of the best ideas of what London looked like in medieval times and through the Tudor era. Incredibly, it’s almost certain that the Dutchman never actually visited our city. He was very experienced in this art form and it’s thought he used secondary sources.

1280px-London_panorama,_1616cGo here for a detailed rendition of the Visscher panorama.

To celebrate the anniversary, illustrator Robin Reynolds has been painstakingly recreating the panorama for 2016. In pen on paper, it’s the same size as its illustrious predecessor, taken from the same viewpoint in Southwark and including the same distortion and visual tricks that Visscher employed.

Last week we had a work-in-progress preview of Robin’s version. I’d say it’s about two thirds done. It is simply gorgeous and will be utterly sensational when finished. There’s a very nice explanatory video from earlier in the project on YouTube. We’ll keep you up-to-date with further developments.

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Robin Reynolds

Robin Reynolds

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