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Best London History Books of the Year 2016

For various reasons this year I didn’t get around to as much reading as I usually manage so have probably done someone an injustice of omission. However, our shortlist of favourite books of the year is as follows:

Benjamin Franklin in London by George Goodwin
Mr Barry’s War by Caroline Shenton
Curiocity by Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose
Mansions of Misery by Jerry White
The Boss of Bethnal Green by Julian Woodford

Our winner of London Historians Book of the Year for 2016 is Curiocity by Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose. Unconventional format compared with “regular” titles, but so utterly brilliant, we couldn’t not. Thank you Henry and Matt, and congratulations to everyone for such outstanding work.

Previous winners:
2011 Mr Briggs’ Hat by Kate Colquhoun
2012 Mr Foote’s Other Leg by Ian Kelly
2013 Beastly London by Hannah Velten
2014 Played in London by Simon Inglis
2015 The Street of Wonderful Possibilities by Devon Cox

A tad late, but there are still four shopping days left till Christmas. Any one of these will get you brownie points on Sunday morning. Merry Christmas.

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A guest post by London Historians Member, Rob Smith.

November 2016 is the 200th Anniversary of the Spa Fields Riots, a series of demonstrations in favour of parliamentary reform and against taxation that were held on open ground called Spa Fields in Islington, part of which is still a public park today. The Riots were another of the many steps on the way to universal suffrage, but also an example of the ideological splits and personality clashes that will be familiar among protest groups and political movements.

The Times December 3rd 1812

The Times December 3rd 1812

 

The Battle of Waterloo may have ended the Napoleonic Wars but it did not end the discontent the wars had created across Britain. The cost of the wars had been horrendous and taxation had increased to pay for them. The export market for the luxury goods produced by skilled craftsmen had dried up, while the belt tightening going on in Britain’s country houses meant that the market inside Britain was smaller too. George III, now elderly and infirm, left the Prince Regent’s extravagant spending go unchecked, making the monarchy unpopular on the streets of London. The assassination of Spencer Percival meant that the Earl of Liverpool was Prime Minister, effectively the 5th choice man for the job. A rapidly rising population, uncontrolled urbanisation, uncertainty caused by the industrial revolution and higher food prices all added to make, what should have been a time of triumph for Britain, a time of turmoil.

Opposition to war with France had started back in 1789 when the London Revolution Society were addressed by Richard Price at the Crown and Anchor on the Strand, with a call for support for the French Revolution, an end to the British monarchy and parliamentary reform. During the years of war, legislation like the Treasonable Practices Act of 1795 aimed to prevent literature critical of the war. In 1799 reform groups like The London Corresponding Society were banned, and those attempting to sell Tom Paine’s “The Rights of Man” were imprisoned for selling a dangerous book.

One such was Thomas Spence – one of the more radical revolutionaries in London in the Napoleonic war period. Spence demanded the end of the monarchy, aristocracy and landlords and common ownership of all land. He wanted votes for all, including women, an end to child labour and other cruelties to children, and an end to the war with France. He also called for reform of the English Language, with the introduction of phonetic spelling, which would make learning to read easier for those without access to education. When Spence died in 1814 his followers vowed to continue his work as the Society of Spencean Philanthropists.

In 1816 three Spenceans – Arthur Thistlewood, James Watson and Thomas Preston, decided the time was ripe for action. If they could gather together a large enough group of supporters, the chance to bring about the revolution they had hoped for was finally here. But how to draw the crowd? Thistlewood wrote to two of the best known speakers in the land, William Cobbett (later known for his book Rural Rides) and Henry Hunt. Cobbett refused to attend and warned Hunt not to get involved either, but eventually Hunt agreed to speak at the meeting on November 15th 1816 at Spa Fields in Clerkenwell. Hunt was certainly experienced at talking to huge rallies. Appearances in Birmingham, Blackburn, Stockport and Nottingham that year had drawn audiences of up to 80,000 – earning him the nickname Orator Hunt. The day was set for a huge rally in London.

Henry Hunt by Adam Buck, NPG London.

Henry Hunt by Adam Buck, NPG London.

At that time Spa Fields was much larger than the small park it is today, stretching beyond Sadler’s Wells and was one of Clerkenwell’s many places of recreation. A crowd of over 10,000 gathered, forcing Hunt to address them from the upstairs window of the Merlin’s Cave pub (now commemorated by Merlin Street). The crowd was swollen by people returning from a public hanging at Newgate prison. Hunt spoke about the poverty British workers were living in, despite being the most industrious in the world. The cause of this was taxation, taxation to pay for a standing army occupying France and an army in Britain to stop the populace demanding its rights. According to Hunt, the British worker had not wanted the war, it had been brought about by the MPs in the rotten boroughs that represented a minority of landowners. Therefore the only cure was parliamentary reform.

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A petition was drawn up and signatures collected, demanding the Prince Regent provide relief for the poor and put together proposals for parliamentary reform. In the end Hunt was refused permission to deliver the petition, and a second meeting was called for December 2nd. Meanwhile Preston had been grumbling about Hunt – a country gentleman – taking the lead role in the movement. Would it not be more appropriate that a London artisan like himself took the lead?

The authorities had not been idle either. A man named John Castle had infiltrated the Spenceans. On the day of the second demonstration, Castle waylaid Hunt in Cheapside, allowing Watson to address the crowd outside the Spa Fields Cake shop, comparing the Tower of London to the Bastille. By the time Hunt, who was opposed to the use of force, arrived, Watson was leading a crowd behind the revolutionary tricolour on the way to meet with Preston and Thistlewood at the Mulberry Tree Tavern. A group split off to raid a gun shop in Snow Hill, during which raid the owner was shot and wounded.

The breakaway rioters then moved to the Royal Exchange on which they opened fire. Militia soldiers returning in kind. Rioters also broke into Fleet Street and smashed windows in Somerset House. Others made for Newgate Prison, while Thistlewood headed for the Tower of London where he made a speech to the soldiers, demanding they lay down their arms. They refused and with the protests breaking up, order was restored. Most of the people had stayed at Spa Fields listening to Hunt give a long-winded self congratulatory speech. It had not been the general uprising Thistlewood, Watson and Preston had been hoping for.

The next day arrests were made and the organisers charged with sedition. Amazingly though, after a defence by Sir Charles Wetherell, Thistlewood, Watson and Preston were all acquitted, on the basis that government spy John Castle had acted as an agent provocateur.

The movement was now firmly split into reform and revolutionary camps. Hunt continued to push for reform of Parliament, standing as an MP, and addressing the crowd at the ill-fated meeting in Manchester known as Peterloo. Thistlewood became involved in the 1920 Cato Street Conspiracy, a plot to kill the Prime Minister and Cabinet. He was hanged for treason when the plot was discovered.

The Spa Fields Riots were interesting as they show that the road to parliamentary democracy with universal suffrage was a long one, with many false starts and incremental progressions along the way. The reforms the protesters were demanding did not come about until many years later, but they might not have come about at all without protest. The riots are also interesting because they show how any cause can be riven with splits, something anyone who has been involved with politics will be familiar with.

Spa Fields Today

Spa Fields Today


Islington Museum has an exhibition called Commit Outrage to commemorate the riots, and there will be two free walks led by Rob Smith and Philip Nelkon talking about them.

Saturday 26th November 2016 11am
Led by Rob Smith

Saturday 3rd December 2016 11am
Led by Philip Nelkon

Where: Meet in the foyer of The Islington Museum
14:45h, St John St, London, EC1V 4NB
Duration: 1 hour

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General the Lord Dannatt recently retired from the ancient position of Constable of the Tower. Here, LH Member Chris West writes a guest post about some of the highlights of this 900 year old office.

This is the most senior appointment at the Tower; the first Constable was Geoffrey de Mandeville, appointed by William the Conqueror in 1078. In the medieval period, four Archbishops of Canterbury held the office, Thomas à Becket being the most famous. The Constable of the Tower was nominally responsible for management of the site when the monarch was not in residence; the duties for managing the site devolved to a deputy known as the Lieutenant of the Tower, who had an office with clerks to oversee administration, accounting and running the Constable’s own court of law.

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Over time Constables acquired a variety of legal and financial privileges which included collecting tolls on selected goods from trading ships and entitlement to all flotsam and jetsam on the Thames. They also gained from fees paid by state prisoners for their upkeep, the ownership of livestock falling from London Bridge and passing swans. Sir Henry Bedingfield was appointed Constable by Queen Mary and was responsible for Princess Elizabeth while incarcerated at the Tower prior to her removal to Woodstock. The Princess was reported by some sources to have lived in fear for her life while at the Tower. Following her succession, Queen Elizabeth may have advised Bedingfield to stay away from Her Court. Sir John Holland, Duke of Exeter, was a leading army commander who had served at Agincourt. He was appointed Constable and died in 1447. Originally, his tomb was in the nearby Royal Foundation of St Katharine but is now in St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower itself. Since 1784 the Constable has been a senior Army officer, either Field Marshal or General. Henry VIII built The Queen’s House for Anne Boleyn which has since been used by Constables and Governors.

duke of wellingtonArthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington was Constable from 1769 to 1852. He made important changes, which included draining the moat, removing the menagerie of wild animals, reorganising the establishment of the Yeoman Warders, overseeing the building of the Waterloo Barracks and other extensive restoration of the site. He also made the last, unsuccessful attempt to refill the moat. Wellington did not favour its development into a museum and preferred the Royal Repository at Woolwich for the prizes from Paris in 1815. He did ensure that the guns captured in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo would be preserved at the Tower, some of which are still outside the Waterloo Block. His memory is honoured with a plaque in the Chapel Royal- though interestingly, this was only initiated recently.

Since 1933 the Constable’s appointment has been for five years. His installation is celebrated on Tower Green before an invited audience. The Lord Chamberlain hands the keys of the Queen’s House to the new Constable, who then entrusts them to the Resident Governor, responsible for the management of the Tower.

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The Constable still retains the right to direct access to the monarch. Ceremonial events are attended, including gun salutes, state parades and the Ceremony of the Dues, representing the historic toll of wine or goods paid by ships entering the Pool of London. A Royal Navy vessel berths at Tower Wharf, bringing into the Tower a ceremonial keg slung from an oar, accompanied by a parade headed by the Chief Yeoman Warder, then a military band followed by the ship’s company. At Tower Green, they are met by Tower officials in full dress uniform and the keg is presented. Both parties and guests then retire for refreshments.

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Former Chief of General Staff, General the Lord Dannatt has just finished his tenure as the 159th Constable, having served for seven years instead of the usual five. He has further distinguished himself with his extensive input while resident. Being a Trustee of Historic Royal Palaces (the independent charity responsible for running the Tower), he was involved in the excellent 2014 poppies installation in the moat, ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’. He also helped coordinate the services charities involved and was a central figure in the daily Roll Call ceremony.

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Lord Dannatt was extensively involved in life at the Tower, its residents and the various ceremonies, while still regularly attending at the House of Lords. Lord and Lady Dannatt were key figures in raising money to renovate the Chapel Royal and to improve funding for the unique choir, successfully hosting many special day and evening events.

General Sir Nicholas Houghton replaces Lord Dannatt as the 160th Constable.


 

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sheridanTwo hundred years ago today, Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751 – 1816)- a titan of the London theatre – died in  poverty at home in Saville Row.

Things didn’t go well for him after his Theatre Royal Drury Lane burned down in 1809 and he lost his seat in Parliament in 1812 after 32 years an MP.

Sheridan it was who gave us the malapropism after Mrs Malaprop from The Rivals (1775), one of the great comic characters of English drama.

This great man was born in Dublin in 1751. His parents moved to London when he was young and sent him to Harrow school and then further education privately. He spent time at Middle Temple but hankered for a career in the theatre in which there was a strong family background. This was the London of David Garrick and Samuel Foote – it was a very exciting time for the stage.

Success came quite quickly with The Rivals – initially badly received but transformed spectacularly and almost instantaneously with a rewrite and a new cast. Sheridan epitomised the can-do attitude of the Georgian period. There followed School for Scandal in 1777. Aged 26, the playwright had produced two of the great plays of the English canon. Many other productions followed.

Between 1778 and 1780, Sheridan bought by instalments the Theatre Royal Drury Lane from Garrick. Then as now, it was the greatest of all London theatres. The building was thought to have been designed by Wren (we now know it wasn’t, the architect remains unknown), but the reputation of London’s great architect paled besides Sheridan’s ambition and vision. He tore it down and built an even bigger building in 1794 with all the latest fire safety features (actually laid down by recent law). This was the one which burned down in 1809, leaving Sheridan in the street – glass in hand – to remark laconically: “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”

Sheridan’s other great interest was politics. As with the theatre, he engaged in it with no half-measures, taking his seat at Westminster in 1780. Already a famous man about town, he was soon at the heart of the Foxite Whigs, the circle of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and the Prince of Wales himself. With Fox, Burke and others, he vigorously sought the prosecution and impeachment of Warren Hastings, formerly governor-general of Bengal. In pursuit of this, he stood up in court and spoke for several days, finally collapsing theatrically back into his seat, uttering: “My Lords, I am done!”. And so was Hastings. It was a trial which took 148 days over seven years. Chilcot is by no means new.

Sheridan’s fame coincided with Reynolds, Gainsborough, Lawrence et al, so it’s perhaps surprising that there are relatively few likenesses of him. His face was markedly disfigured from the second of two duels he had in 1772 aged just 21. They were against a thuggish army captain, one Captain Mathews. It all resulted from Sheridan rescuing and eloping to France with a 17 year old girl whom the married Mathews had been pestering. Brave and physically courageous. Yet another reason to love Sheridan. He went on to marry Eliza Linley. They were both spectacularly unfaithful to each other, but stuck together.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Brave, quixotic, talented, ambitious. A great man and a great Londoner, who typified a great age. He is buried in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey and today we remember him.


Good coverage on Wikipedia and an even better entry if you can access by subscription the Dictionary of National Biography.

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Scan20151201_16270271The cartoonist Martin Honeysett died just over a year ago to the great distress of his family, friends and fans. He was 71. He had led an interesting and varied life, including a spell of lumberjacking in New Zealand and in his later years as a visiting professor at a university in Kyoto.

Born in Hereford, Honeysett was brought up in south London, where he attended the Croydon School of Art.  He drifted around for about 10 years before properly knuckling down to the business of drawing for a living. From the early 1970s, he became a regular and prolific contributor to magazines such as Private Eye, SpectatorThe Oldie, and Punch. He also worked in book illustration with Michael Palin and Terry Jones of Monty Python, dour Scottish comedian Ivor Cutler, author Sue Townsend and others.

But it is mainly for his one panel cartoons and magazine covers that Honeysett will be remembered. Acutely observed, black, grotesque and often a little unnerving, the main attribute of his work was that it was very, very funny indeed – so much so, in fact that a great deal of them required no caption. And they worked on several levels, because his drawings – misanthropic in the extreme – were funny of themselves – funnier than any other cartoonist’s – and on top of all that: the strange joke, every one a cracker.

Last week on the exact anniversary of Martin Honeysett’s demise, The Cartoon Museum opened an exhibition in his memory and honour: A Taste of Honeysett: the Acerbic Wit of Martin Honeysett. I visited last Thursday afternoon and was soon giggling happily, something you’ll not experience at any other London gallery. I noticed other punters were snorting and guffawing too, quite unselfconsciously. Here are some examples.

Private Eye, 16 April 1996. Estate of Martin Honeysett.

Private Eye, 16 April 1996. Estate of Martin Honeysett.

Martin Honeysett

Cover for Punch. 27 May, 1981. Estate of Martin Honeysett

There are dozens more like this, along with his illustration work. You soon realise, if you didn’t already, what a talented illustrator Martin Honeysett was, possibly somewhat camouflaged by his busy, scratchy style. This joy of an exhibition runs until 16 April. Do not miss.

There is a 148 page catalogue of the exhibition with introductory articles by Ian Hislop, Richard Ingrams, Bill Stott and the Cartoon Museum’s director, Anita O’Brien. It includes a generous colour section and is a snip at just £8.99. Available from the museum shop, online here or by phone on 020 7580 8155.

Finally, here is a brace of my own Honeysetts. Treasured.

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Martin Honeysett

 

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Exhibition at Hogarth’s House, 22 January – 3 April 2016

A guest post by LH Member, Val Bott

Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d, or the Artificial Changeling, John Bulwer, 1653, a study of the way humans have modified their bodies for cultural and cosmetic reasons

Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d, or the Artificial Changeling, John Bulwer, 1653, a study of the way humans have modified their bodies for cultural and cosmetic reasons

Layton’s Library: A Curious Collection will display some of the most beautiful and unusual examples of 17th and 18th century books once owned by Brentford antiquarian Thomas Layton. These are amongst the oldest volumes from his remarkable collection and this is an exciting opportunity to see them for the first time.

Supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Thomas Layton Trust is running a project to raise awareness and understanding of the collection. The exhibition has been curated by a team of dedicated local volunteers who have selected books for display from around 8,000 volumes! Visitors will be intrigued by these early books, their various subjects, their bindings and their illustrations. They will also learn a little about Layton and his passion for collecting and the Trust hopes the exhibition will raise awareness of the collection and share it with a new generation of readers.

The exhibition is on show at Hogarth’s House, Chiswick, admission free. Visitors are welcome from Tuesday to Sunday, between 12 noon to 5pm, until 3 April. From 30 April 2016, some of the exhibition will be on show at Boston Manor House in Brentford, where the Trust is planning a range of workshops for adults and children during the summer months.

Thomas Layton (born in 1819, died 1911) lived for the majority of his life on Kew Bridge Road in Brentford, West London. He was a lighterman, a coal merchant, a churchwarden, a member of the Burial Board and a Poor Law Guardian but, above all, he was a collector. During the course of his life he built up an enormous and intriguing collection of ‘every conceivable thing that can be found in an antique store’, including maps, prints, spears, swords, tokens, medals and coins, but his plans to endow a museum and library in Brentford ran into difficulties.

Many of his antiquities are on public display in the Museum of London; the river wall in their London Before London gallery. However, by far the largest element of his collection – the extraordinary collection of books – has remained relatively unknown and little used. The laytoncollection.org website has brought many of the elements together as a “virtual museum” for you to explore.

Antiquarians frm Grose

Rules for drawing caricatures: with an essay on comic painting, Francis Grose, 1791, with wonderful illustrations by the author

The books on show include
A Compleat Collection of English Proverbs, John Ray, 3rd edition 1737
New, Authentic and Complete Collection of Voyages Round the World, Captain Cook’s First, Second, Third and Last Voyages, by George William Anderson, issued in 80 sixpenny parts 1784-6
Picturesque Views on the River Thames, Samuel Ireland, 1791
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 1631 edition
The Fables of Aesop, Paraphrased in Verse, Adorned with Sculpture & Illustrated with Annotations by John Ogilvie Esq, 1668
Indian antiquities or Dissertations relative to Hindostan, Thomas Maurice, 1792
A discourse concerning old-age Tending to The Instruction, Caution and Comfort of Aged Persons, Richard Steele, 1688
The Lady’s Magazine or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated solely to their Use and Amusement, 1790
The English House-Wife, Containing The inward and outward Vertues which ought to be in a Compleat Woman, Gervase Markham, 1683
Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d, or the Artificial Changeling, John Bulwer, 1653
Rules for drawing Caricaturas: with an Essay on Comic Painting, Francis Grose, 1791

The Lady’s Magazine or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex. Appropriated solely to their Use and Amusement. Vol. XXI for the year 1790 - genteel entertainment, one year's monthly issue bound as a single volume.

The Lady’s Magazine or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex. Appropriated solely to their Use and Amusement. Vol. XXI for the year 1790 – genteel entertainment, one year’s monthly issue bound as a single volume.

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Preview evening. 

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Preview evening. 

All images by Toni Marshall. 

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DSC08924cToday I remembered to attend one of the City of London’s more obscure ceremonies, the delightful celebration of the Knollys Rose (pron. Knowles). It has its origins in the 14th Century when the wife of a City worthy Sir Robert Knollys built a footbridge over Seething Lane, near their home. Without permission. Thanks to Sir Robert’s esteem (he was a chum of John of Gaunt), the punishment against the Knollys family was to donate a rose from their garden to the City of London every year henceforth, to be presented to the Lord Mayor’s home, today in Mansion House, of course. The Lord Mayor in the year of this outrage – 1381 – was Sir William Walworth a name possibly familiar to some readers. Yes, it was he who slew Wat Tyler that same year in Smithfield in the presence of the boy-king Richard II. There is a statue in his honour on Holborn Viaduct.

The Knollys Rose Ceremony involves the plucking of a rose from a garden in Seething Lane, placing it on a fancy cushion and then taking it in procession from the ancient and wonderful All Hallows by the Tower to Mansion House, by way of Seething Lane and Lombard Street. Leading the ceremony is always the Master of the Worshipful Company of Watermen and Lightermen, currently Jeremy Randall.

Rev Bertrand Olivier and Master Jeremy   with this year's Knollys Rose.

Rev Bertrand Olivier and Master Jeremy Randall with this year’s Knollys Rose.

All Hallows's garden. We're on our way.

All Hallows’s garden. We’re on our way.

But this year there was a twist, a very nice one. Owing to construction work in the Seething Lane rose garden, the garden behind All Hallows had to be used instead, with the kind permission of vicar Bertrand Olivier. But what about the rose? This year it was specially supplied by Talbot House on the occasion of their centenary. Talbot House was founded in 1915 on the Western Front as a haven for soldiers travelling to and from the battlefield. The man responsible: the legendary Tubby Clayton, vicar of All Hallows from 1922 to 1962. In that time he saw his church firebombed in the Blitz virtually to oblivion then restored completely. I can’t begin to describe to you what a lovely and historic church it is. But a while ago I gave it a try.

Where it all kicked off: Seething Lane.

Where it all kicked off: Seething Lane.

Nearly there. Through Lombard Street. St Mary Woolnoth behind.

Nearly there. Through Lombard Street. St Mary Woolnoth behind.

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