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Archive for the ‘Victorian period’ Category

Guest post by LH Member Laurence Scales. This article first appeared in LH Members’ Newsletter of July 2019. 


Dean Street in Soho was probably named after a dean but sources disagree about which one. In this article I shall brandish for your casual admiration some deans whose names are commemorated in the streets of central Westminster. Regular readers of my articles will not expect me to fuss about ecclesiastical history but this little collection of deans includes a number notable in other ways.
Victoria Street, an unlovely main thoroughfare running south west from Westminster Abbey, was a Victorian invention, the clue is in the name, and its birth flattened a large area of mean and decayed housing, including Dickens’ “Devil’s Acre” for which the slang word slum was brought first into general use. This and follow-on improvements around central Westminster, and a weeding of duplicate street names to help the postman, resulted in a number of new streets in the area named after deans.

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Victoria Street, 1854.

Not being part of the diocese of the Bishop of London, there is no Bishop to house or commemorate at Westminster Abbey. The Abbey is a Royal Peculiar, or church under the direct control of the monarch, and the highest ranking divine of that shrine is the Dean. After Victoria Street ploughed across the cityscape Dean Street, running south outside Westminster Abbey, was subsumed into Great Smith Street. Concealed hard by Westminster Abbey there is also Dean’s Yard, named for the deanery there.
I became interested in the topography of central Westminster named after specific deans having noticed several, and then been surprised to find one of them named for the Victorian Dean Farrar whom I recognised from the historical back catalogue of lecturers at the scientific Royal Institution of Great Britain. But I will come to him later.

Before we consider the Victorian deans in the new wave of streets christened after the First World War, we should perhaps note briefly some of the other divines name-checked in the streets of the vicinity. John Islip (1464–1532) was abbot of the monastery of Westminster shortly before Henry VIII’s dissolution. (There has been a connection down the centuries between the Abbey and the village of Islip in Oxfordshire, and Dean Buckland died there.) John Islip street runs south towards the Tate Britain. Then Atterbury Street, which contains the new entrance to the Tate, was named for a Dean of Westminster appointed in 1713.

Vincent Square is named after Dean William Vincent (1739-1815), once also the headmaster of the ancient Westminster School which has a discrete frontage in Dean’s Yard. The school has the green centre of Vincent Square for its games. Vincent displayed an intriguing mania for researching the particulars of the trading voyages of the ancient Greeks extending into the Indian Ocean. (Vincent’s father was a merchant.) He compared the Greek’s anecdotal accounts of their travels with current knowledge in The Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients in the Indian Ocean (1807). Here is a taster.

“We shall have reason to observe as we proceed, that fish is almost the only means of supporting life, or furnishing the conveniencies of life, such as they are, to the natives; that their houses are constructed with the larger bones of fish, and thatched with the refuse; that their garments are of fish-skins; that their very bread is a fishy substance, pounded and preserved; and that even the few cattle they have, feed on fish.”

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Dean William Vincent. National Portrait Gallery, London.

His publications on this subject included the contribution of the previous Dean of Westminster, Samuel Horsley, who provided an astronomical appendix on the rising of the Pleiades constellation above the horizon in classical antiquity, but who did not (apparently) merit a street being named after him.

Apart from the loose canon (pun intended) of Dean Farrar, whose street leads off to the north of Victoria street, the other named Dean Streets are around or close to Smith Square. In that square, the architectural oddity of St John’s Church of 1728 lies, according to Dickens, “On its back with its legs in the air.”

Dean Trench was Richard Chenevix Trench (1807-1886). Dean Trench Street, west of Smith Square, was roughly a replacement for Little Tufton Street, which could otherwise be confused with its grown-up neighbour, Tufton Street. His address of 1857 On some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries at the London Library to the Philological Society is regarded as launching the 80-year effort to produce the Oxford English Dictionary. The complete OED, distinctively, charts the changes in the meanings of words over the centuries, by example. The murderer William Minor and polymath John Lubbock were among many contributors of illustrative quotations.

Dean Stanley was Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (1815-1881) who enjoyed a particularly good relationship with Queen Victoria. Dean Stanley Street, east of Smith Square was formerly Church Street of which London already had a few namesakes. Refreshingly, for a cleric in the Church of England, in which music plays such a large part, Stanley was apparently “incapable of distinguishing one tune from another.” He had a favourable opinion of the Quakers and saw Christians for what they had in common rather than what divided them. Notably, this made for his key role in university reform – as secretary to a royal commission of 1850. This commission urged removal of the requirement for students to subscribe to the 39 articles of faith of the Church of England in order to attend universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, and be awarded a degree. University College London had already broken with the practice but London had promptly founded a new Christian college, King’s. Previously, some of the most distinguished scientific minds in the country had been denied a university education, through being nonconformists. But the other side of the coin was that their thinking had been novel and untrammelled by the natural philosophy routinely taught at the ancient universities. Earlier reform might have denied the country many a celebrated savant.

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Dean Arthur Stanley. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Dean Bradley was George Granville Bradley (1821-1903), and his claim to inspiring the name of a street is, to me, obscure. Dean Bradley Street, south of Smith Square, was new. His main claim to fame is as the author of a number of Latin textbooks, on which subject I shall leave my next Dean to comment more eloquently than I ever could.

Frederic William Farrar (1831-1903) was an archdeacon at Westminster but a Dean at Canterbury. He was also a schoolmaster at Harrow and eager for educational reform. I must admit to cheering at his remarks that I found in his Royal Institution lecture, so unexpected in Victorian Britain, although the first below is perhaps unlikely to find favour with London Historians’ chief executive today.

‘We commonly see boys ready to sacrifice everything to cricket… they talk cricket, think cricket and dream cricket, morning, noon and night… This mania of muscularity has its share in the hunger-bitten poverty of our intellectual results.’

‘I must avow my distinct conviction that our present system of exclusively classical education… is a deplorable failure… Classical Education neglects all the power of some minds, and some of the powers of all minds.’

Farrar, published his views in Essays on a Liberal Education and sanctioned the burial in 1882 of the atheistic Charles Darwin in Westminster Abbey as deserving of that honour. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, who famously attempted to ridicule Darwin’s ideas in debate with Thomas Huxley at Oxford in 1860 was, himself, formerly a Dean of Westminster. No street was named for him!

Remembrance of the unknown warrior was a concept born of mass slaughter beyond reckoning in the mud and chaos of no-man’s-land in the First World War and it found public expression first in memorials in Westminster and in Paris. Herbert Edward Ryle (1856-1925), Dean Ryle, was responsible for taking for Westminster the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Dean Ryle Street, south of Smith Square and Horseferry Road was a new creation.

My favourite dean, Dean William Buckland (1784-1856), was a cracking eccentric, significant in the history of geology, zoology and gastronomy, who included in his adventures a minor dalliance with cannibalism. But unfortunately, he is still waiting for a Westminster street to be named after him.


Laurence Scales is a specialist guide and lecturer interested in the history of science, invention, engineering and medicine in London. He is a volunteer at the archives of the Royal Institution and Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

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A guest post by LH Member Martin Thompson.


rowland hill portraitSir Rowland Hill is best known as the originator of the Uniform Penny Post. In the 1830s the postal system was mismanaged, wasteful, expensive and slow. Letters were normally paid for by the recipient, not the sender. The recipient could simply refuse delivery. For the working class, a letter could cost more than a day’s wage. In addition, postal rates were complex, depending on the distance and the number of sheets in the letter.

Rowland Hill was born in Kidderminster, Worcestershire on 3 December 1795 into a family of enlightened educators during an age notorious for public school brutality as shown in the books of Charles Dickens. The family ethos was to instill moral training by kindness instead of fear of authority. At the age of 12, Rowland became a student teacher in his father’s school. He taught astronomy and earned extra money fixing scientific instruments. He also worked at the Assay Office in Birmingham and painted landscapes in his spare time

On 27 September 1827, Hill married Caroline Pearson, from nearby Wolverhampton. The couple had one son and three daughters. Hill became frustrated in his role as a schoolmaster and started looking for other avenues to achieve social progress and personal advancement. He worked on all sorts of ideas, inventions and innovations. Hill served from 1833 until 1839 as secretary of the South Australian Colonisation Commission, which worked successfully to establish a settlement in what is today Adelaide. Rowland Hill’s sister and her family emigrated there in 1850.

penny blackIn 1835 Rowland Hill published a pamphlet entitled Post Office Reform. Hill’s Penny Post plan was revolutionary, leading to various reforms and the introduction of the first postage stamp. On 10 January 1840, the Uniform Penny Post was established throughout the UK, facilitating the safe, speedy and cheap conveyance of letters which could be prepaid with the first postage stamp, known as the Penny Black. Since Britain was the first country to use adhesive stamps, she is the only country in the world that does not have to put the name of the country on them. Hill’s ideas were adopted virtually world-wide within a generation.

In 1849, Hill moved to Bartrams House – demolished in 1902 – near Hampstead Green on the corner of Haverstock Hill and Pond Street. He lived there for over 30 years until his death on 27 August 1879. While in Hampstead he served as Secretary to the Postmaster-General from 1846 to 1854 and then Secretary to the Post Office from 1854 to 1864. He received a knighthood in 1860 for his contribution to postal reform. Soon after Hill’s death, his house was incorporated into the North Western Fever Hospital which was replaced by the larger Hampstead General Hospital in 1905 and finally by the vast Royal Free Hospital, completed in 1975. A road behind the hospital bears his name. He was honoured by being buried at Westminster Abbey on 4 September 1879.

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There are three public statues of Hill; the earliest stands in Birmingham, one is in his hometown of Kidderminster and a third in King Edward Street in the city of London outside what was at one time the General Post Office Headquarters.

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On the boundary wall of the present Royal Free Hospital complex, facing down Rowland Hill Street, a chocolate-brown coloured plaque erected by the Society of Arts commemorates the originator of the Penny Post with the words: Sir Rowland Hill KCB originator of the penny post lived here 1849-1879 Born 1795 Died 1879. This is currently obscured by panels whilst a new building is being erected.

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I always encourage people to wander into churches if they have even a few minutes to spare. Or any place of worship for that matter. I did this recently with quite a modern-looking church that lies between Chinatown and Leicester Square in Leicester Place: Notre Dame de France.

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It is, of course. a French church, founded in the 1860s at the behest of Cardinal Wiseman to serve the considerable French diaspora living in the immediate area. For most of its existence Notre Dame de France – a Marian church as its name suggests – has been run by the Marist Brothers. It is one of four Catholic churches in the West End.

It suffered severe bomb damage early in WW2 and its story is really about its rebuilding, refurbishing and redecorating later in the war and the years immediately afterwards.

When you enter you immediate realise that the church is a rotunda, that’s to say domed, its form having been inherited from a precious building on the site, Burford’s Panorama. Large scale panoramas had been popular forms of entertainment in the late Georgian period but by the mid 19th Century somewhat out of fashion.

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The most noteworthy item in Notre Dame is group of chapel murals painted by Jean Cocteau (1889 – 1963) in November of 1959. Largely forgotten today, Cocteau was internationally renowned at the time. A film director, writer, playwright, artist and poet, he was invited to paint three murals depicting the Annunciation, the Crucifiction and the Assumption. For a week he turned up at 10 in the morning, lit a candle and got on with the job, including a self portrait in the work. He additionally painted a panel of wood which was used to obscure an altar mosaic by the great Boris Anrep. This bizarre business was only rediscovered in 2003 whereupon the work was uncovered and remains so till this day.

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The Anrep mosaic.

There are other lovely bits of artwork dotted around the church, notably a large altar tapestry by the Benedictine monk, Dom Robert.

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Do pop in to Notre Dame if you find yourself in the Leciester Square or Chinatown area.

Website of Notre Dame de France.

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A guest post by LH Member Martin Thompson.

Sir Henry Cole (1808 – 1882), Founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Address in Hampstead: 3 Elm Row (1879 – 1880)

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The first commercially produced Christmas card, 1843.

Life and Times
henry coleSir Henry Cole was instrumental in the development of the Victoria and Albert Museum of which he was the first director. He introduced the world’s first commercial Christmas card in 1843 and played a key role in the introduction of the Penny Post. He is sometimes credited with the design of the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black.

He was born in Bath on 15 July, 1808 into a middle-class family, the son of Henry Robert Cole and his wife Leticia and educated at Christ’s Hospital in London. With little chance of going to university he took a job, aged 15, as a clerk in the Public Record Office. Whilst working there he met and married Marian Fairman Bond on 28th December, 1833 with whom he had nine children. Cole lost his job there in 1835. However, his criticisms of the Commission’s activities enabled him to win back his lost post and led to the eventual establishment of a new Public Record Office, of which Cole was appointed an Assistant Keeper. From there he was recruited by Rowland Hill to work as an assistant between 1837 and 1840 and with whom he helped introduce the penny post.

In 1850 he secured the backing of Queen Victoria to establish, under the Presidency of Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations which was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851. This was enormously popular and a great financial success. He was also instrumental in the decision that the £186,000 surplus from the Great Exhibition would be used for improving science and art education in the United Kingdom. Land was purchased in the South Kensington area and developed as the centre for a number of educational and cultural institutions eventually becoming the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In 1843 Cole commissioned John Callcott Horsley to design a greeting card that he could send to all his friends as, at the time, it was the custom to laboriously handwrite greeting cards individually. It showed a happy family enjoying the holiday with side panels depicting the charitable side of Christmas and the Christmas card was born. One of these first Christmas cards which he had sent to his grandmother, sold at auction for £22,500.

Cole eventually retired with a knighthood bestowed upon him by Queen Victoria in 1875 and sought a home in Hampstead which he found in Elm Row. It is not exactly a busy thoroughfare, just a tiny turning off Heath Street. Yet it has a special significance at Christmas that few will appreciate – unless they take a look at the black plaque on the wall of 3 Elm Row which states: Sir Henry Cole lived here 1879-1880. He originated the custom of sending Christmas Cards and was largely responsible for the founding of the Kensington Museum. He was also a great postal reformer. Whilst living in Hampstead, the Heath became one of his new passions. He also built up a group of local friends in the area amongst them Gerard Manley Hopkins and George du Maurier. Unfortunately, Hampstead did not suit him. Cole himself wrote in his diary “the 400 feet ascent to Hampstead was a great obstacle.” As a result, he left Hampstead and moved to South Kensington, in 1880.

Cole had a known heart condition, but did not slow down as he aged. At the end of 1881, he started writing his memoir highlighting his half century of public service. On Monday, April 17, 1882 Cole sat for a portrait with the famous painter Whistler. That night his condition worsened, and he died in his home the following evening at the age of 74. He was buried in Brompton cemetery.

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Review: Tracing Your Insolvent Ancestors. A guest post by LH Member Joanna Moncrieff.

insolvent ancestors“A unique introduction to a neglected historical source” is what jumped out at me when I was first given this book to review. That sounded intriguing.

I have recently realised that many of the resources I use for researching my family tree are equally as useful for research for my guided walks and vice versa.

‘Tracing your Insolvent Ancestors’ by Paul Blake is a case in point. This book could definitely be marketed to an entirely different audience as it has a wealth of detailed information about many of London’s debtor prisons with lots of pointers as to where you can find out more.

Although it isn’t specifically about London the main focus is on it and the book is packed with facts and examples of records in relation to the prisons’ history. The background history of each prison is gone into together with how to access its records. Other chapters delve into the history of the various courts and how they operated. Everything you need to know about the history and operation of debtors’ prisons is in this book.

Those of us who are Clerkenwell and Islington Guides and who guide in and around Old Street talk about Whitecross Street debtors’ prison. An in depth history of the prison and how it operated together with examples of research about various inmates gives a real insight into life as a debtor.

In between the sections about what records are available are lots of interesting snippets perfect for tour guides. For example an 1847 report from the Inspectors of Prisons likened the prison at Lancaster Castle to a ‘noisy tavern and tea-garden’.

I was amazed to discover that the National Archives has an account book listing names of beggars and the tiny amounts they collected at the Fleet begging grate from the 1820s. This fact has already been shared by me with guiding colleagues.

But how do you know where to find this information? There are detailed instructions of what records are available and how you can access them. There are tips on what records have the most info and that some records show a key to more detailed records that are available elsewhere. We are also encouraged to use the TNA catalogue to get an idea of what is held in local archives.  The chapter on Newspapers, Periodicals, Journals and Directories includes lots of practical advice about what is available online and how you can find it.

So much work must have gone into this book to collate such a wealth of material and searching tips. I would definitely recommend this to anyone with an interest in social history.


Tracing your Insolvent Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians (224pp) by Paul Blake is published by Pen & Sword with a cover price of £14.99 but available for less if you shop around. Note: We have linked to National Archives bookshop here because same price as Amazon, they have a fabulous selection and have frequent sales from their online shop. Give them a try!


Joanna Moncrieff is a long-standing Member of London Historians and also a qualified guide for Westminster and Clerkenwell & Islington. Her blog.

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In my personal experience, they certainly do.

But seriously.
Review: Londonist Drinks – A Spirited Guide to London Libation by Londonist editors, staff writers and guests. 

londonistdrinksThis new book celebrates public drinking in London: where and what Londoners imbibe when being sociable. It is largely about alcohol, but tea, coffee, chocolate, juice, water etc. do get a decent look-in. There is an interesting chapter, for example, about drinking chocolate which reminds us that swanky men-only (still) White’s Club was originally a chocolate emporium, one of the first, in fact. And an entire four page article is devoted to tea, its history, where to enjoy it and all the centuries-old markers around town reminding us of one of our national obsessions. Coffee mania came, then went, and has come again.

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It’s not all about boozing – far from it.

But it must be said that most of Londonist Drinks’s pages are devoted to Londoners’ enjoyment of alcohol in most of its forms.

The book comprises 68 small essays which may be consumed in any order. Editor Will Noble and veteran Editor at Large Matt Brown do most of the heavy lifting here, but there are also contributions by staffers including Laura Reynolds and Dave Haste. Myriad other writers pitch in too, for example the excellent Peter Watts who has a manly stab at the unsolvable which-is-London’s-oldest-pub conundrum. It is published in hardback and is a quality item, richly illustrated by 20 talented, professional artists. I didn’t notice at first glance that the cover, the familiar London citiscape which Londonist uses as its logo – is cleverly made up of bottles, glasses and other boozing paraphernalia.

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London’s oldest pub – that thorny old question.

Primarily, this is a guide-book of pubs and bars. That sort of book and indeed web site has been done to death. But Londonist – on its website as on here – does things differently. The dozens of pen-portraits within these pages are presented variously as oldest (see above); as pub crawls (Karl Marx, Blue Posts, Circle Line (image below), Colours of the Rainbow, Docklands Light Railway, Charles Dickens, you name it); as strangest names; on water; the best Wetherspoons; and so on. We examine wine bars, speakeasies, working men’s clubs, rooftop bars, hotel bars. Where to get the best cocktails.

And for readers of this blog, there is plenty of history too. Not only the history of all these beverages, but kings and queens; the London Beer Flood; the story behind pub names; the 18C Gin Craze; animals, death and murder.

With 68 chapters to enjoy, you can see I’ve here just scratched the surface.

Readers of Londonist will know that their style has a definite lightness of touch and humour. This shines through here, making the reading of this book even more of a pleasure. Secondly, they adore trivia, and the sharing thereof. Londonist Drinks is dripping in the stuff, but you’ll get no spoilers from me.

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One of many flimsy excuses for a good pub-crawl.

I have two quibbles which are more petty even than that word suggests:
1) There is an excellent chapter called Liquid History: A Chronology of Key Events in London Drinking. Here I discovered that my favourite pint – London Pride by Asahi Breweries (formerly Fuller’s) is actually younger than me, I had no idea! Anyway, this chapter is at the back. All historians will agree with me that it belongs at the front.
2) Use of the word ‘quaff’ (‘Once more unto the breach, Casketeers!’) Points deducted.

But seriously (again). This simply marvellous book is a sure-fire treat for all sociable Londoners and, may I suggest with Christmas looming scarily, guaranteed brownie points as a gift to your friends and family.

 


Londonist Drinks – A Spirited Guide to London Libation (192 pages) is published on 3 October by AA Media (there’s a double joke in there) with a cover price of £16.99, though available for less.

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London, City of Science 1550-1800, the new gallery at the Science Museum. This is a guest review by LH Member Laurence Scales, @LWalksLondon.

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From Holland Park to Tower Hamlets you cannot go far in London without crossing the path of a notable scientist or passing a place where an important innovation or experiment was made. The Science Museum in South Kensington has long been full of Londony objects, although even London Historians might be forgiven for not realising that.

When I visited recently, the Museum plans, signage and maps had yet to catch up with the opening of the new permanent addition, the ‘Science City 1550-1800’ gallery which is all about London. The new gallery, opposite the not-quite-so-new Clockmakers’ Museum (which relocated here from the Guildhall if you have not kept up with things) is on the second floor. It is, in part, a new and roomier setting for an old friend, the George III collection of scientific instruments, which has returned after a world tour of a couple of years or more. It is supplemented by some of the objects previously secreted in the archive of the Royal Society, rescued from the overflow store, or loaned from elsewhere.

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Astrolabe, check. Mural arc, check. Sextant, check. Orrery, check. The gallery has all the beautiful brass, copper, wood, enamel and (probably) ebony artifacts that you would expect. Though, if you are a stranger to the astrolabe, you are unlikely to appreciate more than its engraving, after a visit here. And I’m afraid I cannot do much to enlighten you either. (I once asked at the Oxford science museum how an astrolabe worked, and I clearly did not look intelligent enough to be granted an answer – though they were quite nice about it.) Now, I am not normally a fan of videos in museums. But here is one that is absolutely appropriate, and worth your time. It shows for a few minutes some of the craft that goes (went) into making these things – gears, mirrors, glass vessels and globes. (By the way, one of the segments was filmed at the Clockworks, West Norwood which is often a participant in Open House in September.)

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In the near future the Science Museum is going to open a temporary exhibition on The Art of Innovation. But it has always been quite possible to treat the Science Museum as a refreshingly different and eclectic art gallery. City of Science continues that strand. There is a portrait of Georgian aeronaut Mrs Letitia Sage, and a view of old Westminster Bridge being constructed with the aid of pile driver developed by (Huguenot?) James Valoue. Bibliophiles will be pleased to glimpse early editions of great works by John Evelyn and Robert Hooke.

And now, welcome to geeks corner. With the opening of this gallery, the Science Museum can boast two different dividing engines on display in different rooms! Just so you know, it’s a kitchen range sized rotating table for marking an accurate scale on a sextant or theodolite. (The one by Troughton long displayed downstairs is the one to see.) However, it was seeing a surveying chain made by celebrated instrument maker Jesse Ramsden and a piece of St Paul’s Cathedral’s original lightning conductor where I found my goosepimples pleasurably elevated. But that might not be the effect on everyone!

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What is in the gallery is admirable. But ‘science’ is a misnomer, and an oversimplification. This is a physical science and technology museum. This gallery offers an informative but blinkered view of science over the period in question. Here, you would not guess that there were advances during this period by Londoners unconnected with, or even disdained by, the Royal Society. Also, physiology (William Harvey?) and natural history (Hans Sloane?) are scarcely represented but for Robert Hooke’s magnified louse and other drawings. But the Natural History Museum is next door.

The unfortunate thing about the Science Museum (and any science museum) is that exhibits which are not pure art may be difficult to enjoy from a standing start. In this case, it may be worth glancing at Wikipedia to refresh your memory on the subject of the Royal Society and its early great names before you visit. Even when such care has been taken over the captions, it would aid understanding to have someone next to you getting excited at times, or making a connection with something more familiar – I think. Science City 1550-1800 is an attractive gallery. I hope it may whet the appetite of history enthusiasts to see more of the Science Museum, but note that it probably will not wow the average child for more than about a second.


Laurence Scales is a guide specialising in the history of science and technology in London, and a volunteer in the archives of both the Royal Institution and Royal Society of Arts. His tours cover the period from about 1550 to recent times.

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