Black Friday

sealOkay, let’s jump on the bandwagon. Instead of getting bruised in the ribs by the sharp elbows of the hordes of Christmas shoppers, why not stay right where you are and purchase your loved one(s) a year’s Membership to London Historians? Or a present to yourself even. We all do that, don’t we?

Here’s the scoop.
First go to our Join page here. Join them to London Historians using their details. Email me separately to let me know what message to put on the card and whether we should send the welcome pack directly to them or to you so you can do the grand handover (furnish your address that being the case). Also, we’ll only send their welcome email and initial Member’s monthly newsletter after 25 December.

That’s it. But please do this by 3rd December so we can get the Member card made up and turned around in time. Any questions, please email me or call on 07980 623 750. 

If you’re an existing Member reading this, you’ll know that you can do this with a £10 discount per November Members’ newsletter.

London Historians, Membership

London Historians welcome pack includes personalised Member card and the popular wax-sealed envelope.

Carbuncle For Sale

I was taking a stroll down to Brentford High Road yesterday and noticed that the old cop shop is for sale: it’s been closed for years. A typically charmless 60s commercial building, purpose-built for the boys in blue, it replaced the rather fetching Vestry Hall of 1900. The hall was designed by local architect Nowell Parr, many of whose pretty buildings (mainly Fullers pubs!) still decorate Brentford, Ealing and Chiswick. The old hall could host meetings and talks of over 600 attendees and also housed Brentford County Court. But in 1963, the bulldozers and wrecking-ball moved in. Progress!

I hope to do more on Nowell Parr in the near future. Meantime, enquiries regarding the lovely police station should be directed to Messrs Frank Knight.


nowell parr, vestry hall


wellington by lawrence

Wellington by Thos. Lawrence

This day in 1852, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, was laid to rest in St Paul’s, having died on 14 September, aged 83. Nearly half a century after Nelson’s ceremony and almost four decades of relative peace across land and sea following Waterloo, Wellington’s state funeral was the most extraordinary street procession that Londoners could remember. It even caused the Lord Mayor’s parade to be cancelled for the only time ever.

Prior to tranquil semi-retirement in Kent, the Iron Duke had become a deeply unpopular politician and Prime Minister. During a period characterised by Reform, Wellington – deeply conservative – set is face against the inexorable tide of popular emancipation. He genuinely felt that the existing settlement could not be further perfected and famously was stoned in his house and in his carriage. Even the equestrian statue of the hero of Waterloo for the Wellington Arch had been laughed at by the public and mocked in the newspapers.

But now all was forgiven and forgotten as over a million lined the route of Wellington’s funeral cortege which ran through the City to St Paul’s. It seemed to extend forever; in its midst was the extraordinary 12 ton, six wheeled funeral car. One can only imagine the racket it made over London’s old cobbles. The car has survived and is at Stratfield-Saye House.

wellington funeral cortege

Duke of Wellington, funeral

Contemporary post card of Duke of Wellington’s funeral car.

To get some idea of the sheer size of this parade, have a look at the British Library’s full-length colour diagram.

Daguereotype, Wellington, 1844

1844 daguerreotype of Wellington

The preparation of St Paul’s took six weeks. Scaffold-borne tiered seating increased its capacity to over 13,000 as the cathedral was festooned in black crepe. The service was delayed by an hour owing to the slow progress of the vast cortege through the streets of London. Eventually, the Duke’s coffin was lowered into the crypt of the cathedral where it remains to this day in a Cornish porphyry sarcophagus.

A most extraordinary eye-witness account of Wellington’s funeral was recorded in 1940. An elderly retired magistrate, Frederick Mead, recalls attending the event as a young boy accompanied by his parents.

Apsley House
Stratfield-Saye House
St Paul’s
The Victorian Web

finally, Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington. Not Tennyson’s finest hour, I’m thinking!

A guest post by London Historians Member, Laurence Scales

It is said that J.M.W. Turner’s painting was influenced by the work of meteorologist Luke Howard (1772-1864) who, by classifying the clouds into species such as cirrus (fibrous) and cumulus (heaped), drew public attention to their forms.

The formative experience in Howard’s life was perhaps the Laki haze of 1783, result of a substantially greater Icelandic eruption than Eyjafjallajökull which recently grounded Europe’s aircraft. It blanketed much of the northern hemisphere and perturbed the weather for many months, bringing famine and remarkable electrical storms. Being a Quaker was for him no escape route from the dire schooling of the time which consisted mainly of Latin and flogging. He became a pharmacist. At least the Latin would come in useful for naming clouds.

Perhaps to make up for an appalling education, he became a member of a philosophical society, the Askesian, which met in the City at Plough Court. It was here that he read his influential paper ‘On the Modifications of Clouds’ in 1802. Modification meant identifying different modes or states. (He had no delusion of changing the weather.) He was not the first to attempt a classification, but his was the system that stuck. He included in his observations the atmospheric conditions when each type was likely to appear, and how they were likely to transform.

He maintained his interest in meteorology and for years he kept readings of pressure, temperature, rainfall, evaporation and wind direction.  At the end of the Frost Fair of 1814 on the Thames he noted rather delightfully that:

‘We are happy to see the lately perturbed bosom of Father Thames resume its former serenity. The busy oar is now plied with its wonted alacrity, and the sons of Commerce are pursuing their avocations with re doubled energy.’

He died at Bruce Grove, Tottenham, in a house which now stands with a blue plaque, but derelict.

Unlike the great art galleries and sculptural collections it can sometimes seem that the Science Museum is lacking in humanity. But to me the objects in its collection are heavily invested with humanity. One such is Luke Howard’s own recording barometer which can be seen there beside the George III collection.

The text of ‘On the Modifications of Clouds’ is here.

By Laurence Scales, www.laurenceswalks.co.uk @LWalksLondon

A guest post by London Historians Member Richard Tincknell.

What do these two things have in common? Well, the answer is very simple: Wimbledon Theatre.

The Wimbledon Theatre was designed in the Renaissance style by Cecil Massey and Roy Young. With a tower in one corner topped by a dome on top of which stands the Roman goddess Laetitia (goddess of gaiety) standing on top of a globe. The theatre opened under the management of JB Mulholland on Boxing Day 1926 to the Pantomime Jack & Jill. The pantomime tradition would become a regular feature each year and has even been broadcast from here on numerous occasions.

Wimbledon Theatre, 1914

Wimbledon Theatre, 1914. Image: The Theatres Trust.

The theatre was very popular in the inter war period with acts like Gracie Fields, Sybil Thorndike, Ivor Novello and Noel Coward all performing. In 1945 comedy duo Laurel and Hardy performed for one week and Marlene Dietrich had her last ever UK performance here in 1975.

Novello, Coward, Laurel, Hardy, Dietrich.

Novello, Coward, Laurel, Hardy, Dietrich.

The theatre fell into servere financial difficulties around 2003 and was forced to close but through discussions with various local councillors, producers and companies a deal was reached with Ambassador Theatre Group. This is when the name changed to the New Wimbledon Theatre. It has since gone on to host large touring productions.

What is little known though is the secret that lies beneath.

A Victorian style Turkish bath. Unfortunately there is very little written about the baths. Although considering that they could be accessed through the theatre itself via a several doorways off the lobby we can assume that the main use was intended mainly for male theatre workers and actors as there were no female toilet facilities. Also, we do not know whether members of the public were permitted to use these facilities as there was no mention in advertisements or otherwise of it in the local directories. One local paper at the time thought that the opening was very interesting in the way that the heating from the baths could be transferred into the theatre itself.

There are Turkish baths on part of the site occupied by the theatre and as a series of ducts from the hot rooms have been arranged connecting with gratings in the floors and walls of the theatre, so that in the event of the climate playing one of their sudden pranks with which it afflicts us, the temperature can be raised from 40 to 60 degrees in 15 minutes. (Wimbledon and District Gazette 24 Dec 1910)

As Malcolm Shifrin says on his web site www.victorianturkishbath.org (This is a brilliant place to go for those seeking to understand the venue better.): “Contemporary theatregoers must have hoped that the Turkish bath was empty of sweating bathers while the theatre temperature was being raised in this manner.”

When the theatre closed in 1938 the baths stopped too and remained closed when the theatre eventually re-opened after the war. The current usage is as a nightclub with access via the former shops on the Broadway.

joseph bazalgetteJust for a lark. Turns out more difficult that you’d think, for most Elizabethans and early Stuarts had goatees attached, so discounted. As admirers of all things classical, Georgians tended to be clean-shaven. Many Victorians and Edwardians opted to augment their moustaches with enormous beards. No good either, but at least enough of them sported the standalone ‘tache, giving us something to work with at least, and this continued into the 20C, though in general more of a modest brush style. But how about those who draped their upper lip and cheeks with a moustache-mutton chop combo? Allowed, on the grounds that we simply must include one of London’s all-time heroes, Joseph Bazalgette, right.

Now I’m sure you could have found more pre-Victorian mo-men than me (this is just rapid fun), but any chance to give William Dobson a leg-up. He was a wonderful portraitist in Charles I’s circle during the English Civil War, but died drunk and penniless back in London, no one really knows the circumstances.

William Dobson

National Portrait Gallery, London.

How about comparisons and connections?

Gilbert and Sullivan

Gilbert and Sullivan

Harold Macmillan (Con) and Clement Attlee (Lab)

Harold Macmillan (Con) and Clement Attlee (Lab)

Leslie Green - Charles Holden

Leslie Green (1875 – 1908) Charles Holden (1875 – 1960)

Okay, I’ve broken my own rule: Charles Holden has a small goatee. But since these two gentlemen, born in the same year, designed dozens of our Tube stations, they belong together. But look when they died. Green, tragically in his early 30s. Holden’s best work was over 20 years later. Even almost precisely the same age, Green remains ever the Victorian whereas Holden is very much a 20C creature. This is the only known picture of Leslie Green, incidentally. Top ‘tache.

Leslie Ward

Leslie Ward, Illustrator (“Spy”)

Posh caracaturist Leslie Ward drew full length cartoon portraits of the governing classes and high society, mainly for Vanity Fair.

Norman Parkinson

Norman Parkinson

Norman Parkinson, fashion snapper to the rich and famous and purveyor of sausages (remember Porkinson bangers?) wore an extended upturned toothbrush, a quintessentially English ‘tashe for an eccentric English gent.

But out of the literally dozen or so Londoners I inspected over 10 minutes’ intense research, the laurels in the historic London moustache stakes go to Victorian illustrator John Tenniel. Well done, that man: it’s a doozy.

John Tenniel

John Tenniel

Please add to my meagre list in Comments, if you have a mind to.
1) Must sport a standalone moustache
2) Must be a Londoner.



Dirty Old London by Lee JacksonDirty Old London: the Victorian Fight Against Filth by Lee Jackson.

In 1850, 13 years into Victoria’s reign, London’s population had doubled over the previous 50 years, to over two million people. By the end of her reign in 1901 it had trebled again to over 6 million. The waste products of such an immediate post-industrial popluation explosion – faeces and urine of course (ex-both human and beastly), soot, smoke, grime, mud, food, corpses, general filth – can barely be imagined by the Londoner of today. This new book takes a very decent stab at helping us to do so.

Next time you see some dog shit on the pavement or an overflowing public waste bin or some illegal fly-tipping, count yourself lucky: our eyes and noses have never experienced the assault on the senses as endured by our Victorian ancestors.

In the early 19th Century, the modern world had taken London by surprise; the difficulty was that the metropolis was still run largely by essentially medieval institutions: the vestries. Added to this, local paving boards, local sewer commissions, and dozens of other bodies with position and status and agendas to protect. Localism was such as that your ardent libertarian of today could only dream of. The book describes the gradual transformation from vestrydom to “municipal socialism” by the end of our period. Many of the problems had been solved or alleviated, some had not.

For the “big” problems, the solution was to move the waste out of town: sewage through Bazalgette’s massive bores and pumping stations; corpses to new suburban burial grounds; the livestock market from Smithfield to Islington; and so on. Smog, soot, slums, personal hygiene needed different approaches.

All the solutions described in the book were hard-won and driven by campaigning reformers for which the period is characterised. Most of us have heard of the likes of Edwin Chadwick (who inevitably looms large throughout), Lord Shaftsbury and Octavia Hill; this book casts the spotlight of dozens of others, MPs, doctors, engineers, churchmen and the new (then) Medical Officers of Health, fuelling the rise of statistics. All these individuals and their groups influenced, cajoled, shamed and lobbied Parliament into passing dozens of improving Acts from outlawing the use of climbing boys (chimney sweep helpers) to providing public loos for women.

"Important Meeting of Smoke Makers" from Punch Magazine addressing the Smoke Nuisance Abatement Bill.

“Important Meeting of Smoke Makers” from Punch Magazine addressing the Smoke Nuisance Abatement Bill of 1853.

Some of the well-meaning provisions of these Acts worked or partially worked, others did not. For there were entrenched attitudes and vested interests which were hard to budge. Many felt that poor people weren’t interested in being clean, for example. Damaging too were outdated beliefs dogmatically adhered to, such as miasma theory, a blind alley which took decades to back out of.

The story that Jackson has taken on is complex. He has organised each filth difficulty into its own chapter, some of which have witty titles (e.g. Vile Bodies for corpse disposal). Each, therefore reads as an independent essay in its own right. The author has marshalled his material superbly and written economically but with total authority, so that the academic and the layman will read Filthy Old London with equal pleasure. Yes, pleasure: odd, so you would think, given the subject matter. But there is much humour here and worthy trivia too: did you know that the illuminated signage on the first public toilets in London were not Ladies or Gentlemen, Men or Women, but HALT? Fabulous. But on a more macabre note, I was amazed to learn that parishes would often surreptitiously place the corpse of a poor baby in someone else’s coffin as a free service. Basic humanity in a cruel existence.

There are two sections of images comprising 40 photos, cartoons, illustrations, plans and portraits which are very generously captioned. At the back of the book there are a full 50 pages of Notes, Bibliography and Index. In short, a history book just how I like it.

This much-needed treatment is one of the best London history books I’ve read this year : I recommend it to all social historians and London historians alike and doff my hat to Mr Lee Jackson.

Dirty Old London: the Victorian Fight Against Filth (293pp) by Lee Jackson is published by Yale with a cover price of £20 although available for less (e.g. £13.60 at time of writing).


Lee Jackson is a writer, author and blogger specialising in Victorian London. He is a frequent tweeter as @victorianlondon.




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