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dsc02112cIn anticipation of our live Water Music concert on the Thames this coming 17th of July, I’ve been boning up on George Frederic Handel (1685 – 1759), the German baroque composer who spent most of his life here in London. To give you an idea where he fits in, he was an exact contemporary of JS Bach (1685 – 1750) and Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741).

Handel left his home in Hanover for London in 1710, and stayed. He was employed by Queen Anne and various British aristocrats, notably the fantastically sophisticated 3rd Earl of Burlington. In 1714, his former boss, the Elector of Hanover, became George I, King of England. Awkward. The Water Music of 1717 is seen as a reconciliation piece. It worked.

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Handel, late 1720s, by Denner. NPG London.

The composer existed at the heart of London society, leading a highly productive professional life. Along with William Hogarth and other worthies, he was a founding governor of Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital, playing a key role in its early success. His home still stands in Brook Street, Mayfair, as the Handel House Museum.

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Handel lived here from 1723 until his death in 1759

The Best Of…
Like most of us I suspect, I knew what the famous bits of the Water Music * (1717) and the Messiah (1741) sound like. I had also heard the haunting Sarabande in D Minor (1733) without knowing it was by Handel. It featured heavily in Stanley Kubrick’s Georgian masterpiece Barry Lyndon (1975). I also would have not easily recognised Scipio from the three act opera Scipione (1719) which is the regimental slow march of the Grenadier Guards. Zadok the Priest (aka Coronation Anthem No 1) was written in 1727 for the coronation of George II. For obvious reasons there has been no official call for it in recent times. However, lovers of association football will recognise it from Champions League on the television. Never mind. But it is utterly mesmerising. If you’re ever feeling a bit low, The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from the oratario Solomon (1748) should always raise your spirits. Finally (for now), Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749), hitherto for me known only by name. Turns out it’s an easily digestible 22 minute joy.

G.F. Handel. Wow. What a guy.


* Water Music, just the famous bit.


A selection of some of the Handel favourites above will be performed on the 300th anniversary of the Water Music by a live orchestra on the Thames on 17th July. Hosted by the Georgian Dining Academy and London Historians. Tickets are already selling briskly: don’t miss it.

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As we celebrate the anniversary this day of the opening of Selfridges in 1909 and mourn the end of ITV’s Mr Selfridge, we remember the genius of retail who began it all. A guest post by David Long. 

DSC01750_250‘Only xx shopping days before Christmas’ is a phrase to cheer the heart or chill the bones, depending who hears it. Either way it was coined by the American-born retail magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge, one of many snappy and effective marketing slogans he came up with – ‘the customer is never wrong’ is thought to be another – most of which were quickly adopted by his rivals.

A partner in the US giant Marshall Field (still with us, as part of the Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s empire) Selfridge and his wife arrived in Mayfair in the early 1900s. Unimpressed by the quality of London department stores, he decided to establish his own, ploughing an estimated £400,000 (equivalent to more than £120 million today) into a large plot at what was then the decidedly unfashionable end of Oxford Street. The result was the building familiar to visitors today, its giant Ionic columns the work of English architects R.F.Atkinson and Sir John Burnett with a clock as its centrepiece, nearly three and a half metres in diameter and called The Queen of Time.

The Queen of Time

The Queen of Time

Selfridge’s timing was fortunate, and he was a canny and highly perceptive operator. An early advocate of paid advertising, one who recognised that a generation of newly emancipated women looked upon shopping as a recreation not a chore, he worked tirelessly to promote Selfridges as a destination rather than a mere shop. He even lobbied to get the nearest underground station renamed Selfridges, and when his friend Lord Ashfield, Managing Director of the Underground Electric Railway Company, decided to stick with the name Bond Street serious consideration was given to running a private tunnel from the top of the escalators right into the store.

From the start Selfridge was also a great innovator. In 1910 his emporium became the first in the world to have a ground floor beauty department, and today – when almost every rival has followed suit – its beauty hall is still the world’s largest (It sells more than 7,700 lipsticks, 2,800 mascaras and 1,000 nail polishes every week.) For years the store ran its own private Information Bureau, equipped with more books than the average local library and a trained staff dedicated to finding answers to literally any question a customer might put to them. Movie directors were also invited to film scenes in the store, providing yet more valuable publicity for the company. (They still are: in Love Actually Rowan Atkinson is maddeningly meticulous service when he enquires of Alan Rickman’s agitated customer ‘Would you like it gift wrapped?’)

While he turned down the chance to sell the revolting sounding ‘Sitwell Egg’ (a porable confection of rice, artificial lime and pressed meat devised by the eccentric serial inventor Sir George Sitwell) Selfridge frequently called on new technologies to boost his business.

In 1909 Louis Bleriot’s aeroplane went on display here shortly after the Frenchman had become the first to fly across the Channel – more than 150,000 Londoners queued to see it. In 1925 the Scottish inventor John Logie Baird was paid £25 a week to demonstrate his new machine to customers, Selfridge identifying at once that what its creator called the ‘Televisor’ was not a toy but ‘a link between all peoples of the world’. Four years later, to celebrate the store’s 20th anniversary, the exterior was lit up by an unprecedented display of more than 30,000 electric lightbulbs.

Already rich when he arrived in London the popularity and runaway success of the new venture made Selfridge richer still, and following the death of his wife in the post-war flu pandemic he settled down to enjoy it in fine Mayfair style. For a while he flirted with the idea of building a huge square tower on top of the store, one which would have dominated the whole of the West End had not his architect warned that it was so massive that the entire edifice might collapse under its own weight.

Instead, in the absence of such an obvious monument, a Blue Plaque at 9 Fitzmaurice Place is now all there is to give one an indication of the scale on which he chose to spend his fortune. Now home to the Lansdowne Club, this was once a truly magnificent Adam mansion, with wings either side of the main Palladian block and private gardens so extensive that even into the 20th century it could still be described as ‘secluded’.

The house had originally been built for the fabulously rich Marquess of Bute (1713-92), Britain’s first Scottish Prime Minister. It was later sold to William, Earl of Shelburne who renamed it after himself when he was created Marquess of Lansdowne.

When Selfridge took over the lease in 1921, Adam’s masterpiece was still very much one of the great West End houses although sadly its façade and wings were soon afterwards demolished so that a road could be cut through from Berkeley Square to Curzon Street and Piccadilly. Two important rooms were saved: a Drawing Room now installed in the Museum of Arts in Philadelphia; and the Dining Room which found its way to the Metropolitan Museum in New York

Ahead of this act of architectural vandalism Selfridge’s period as custodian of such a landmark house scandalised London society even more than his decision in 1922 to allow waitresses in the store’s restaurant to wear trousers. (This was to allow them to move more quickly from table to table.)

The cause of the scandal this time was his love life, which included affairs with a divorcée (Syrie Barnardo Wellcome, who later married Somerset Maugham) and the Dolly Sisters, a fashionable pair of cabaret artistes of middle-European origins. The idea of cabaret girls was in itself enough to make dowagers feel faint; what made Selfridge’s behaviour even more outré was that discreet enquiries into which sister he was with – Jenny or Rosie? – seemed to point to his carrying on with both of them simultaneously.
While the girls gambled recklessly, Selfridge spent in much the same manner on a wild parties, fleets of Rolls-Royces to ferry friends to race meetings, and for a while a truly mad plan to build himself a castle in Hampshire surrounded by more than four miles of high stone walls.

The whole thing was deliciously decadent, typically 1920s and oh-so-Mayfair, but unfortunately taking his eye of the ball in this way meant that control of Oxford Street’s mightiest retail phenomenon soon slipped from its founder’s grasp. Before long he was manoeuvred out by his fellow directors and with his fortune much diminished by the Depression of the 1930s Harry Gordon Selfridge, incredibly, fell into debt. In 1947 he died, a poor man, living in a tiny flat with his daughter, at 81 Putney Hill, SW15.


David Long‘s latest book on the capital is a companion to the West End called ‘Paved with Gold’ (Fort Publishing).‎ It includes a detailed examination of its history, art, architecture and inhabitants.

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james-gillray-1-sized200This year is the 200th anniversary of the death of the London cartoonist James Gillray (1756 – 1815). He’s one of our best-known illustrators, usually mentioned in the same breath as Hogarth, Tenniel and Shepard. Like Hogarth earlier in the century, Gillray trained as an engraver and followed that trade for a short while before discovering his métier.

That profession was the vicious lampooning of prominent persons, primarily politicians and royalty. So rich were his ideas conceptually that they have provided templates for cartoonists ever since, but primarily during our own times. He’s imitated more so even than Hogarth because his illustrations are more punchy, more precise, less cluttered.

This frequent habit of cartoonistic homage down the years forms the basis of a new exhibition celebrating the Gillray anniversary: Gillray’s Ghost, at the Cartoon Museum. It features about 70 items: original hand-coloured prints by Gillray, alongside the modern equivalents by the likes of Steve Bell, Peter Brookes, Chris Duggan, Martin Rowson, Dave Brown, Nick Garland and others.

The most fecund of these, and the headline illustration of the show, is The Plumb Pudding in Danger from 1805 (pre Trafalgar), featuring Pitt and Bonaparte carving up the globe. Food and gluttony are, of course, a common trope for cartoonists down the years. There are at least half a dozen variants of this in the show. Here, using  David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon, is Steve Bell’s.

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The Baked Bean in Danger. Anniversary homage by Steve Bell. © Steve Bell.

To my mind, the most famous of all is A Voluptuary, the image of the Prince Regent, leaning back languidly, picking his teeth with a fork, not a care in the world. Chris Duggan’s cartoon shows a select committee absentee, ditto.

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Gillray CD Voluptuary 500

A Select Committee Absentee under the delights of an Expense Account, Chris Duggan, Times, 8 April 2009

Here we have Pitt, Fox and Adlington wrestling each other while Bonaparte is about to assassinate Britannia from behind a curtain. Britannia Between Death and the Doctor’s (sic). Dave Brown’s version shows Brown and Clegg as the doctors with Cameron as Death.

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Britannia between Death and the Doctors, Dave Brown, Independent, 6 May 2010 © Dave Brown

And so on. The exhibition is well conceived and nicely executed. As ever with the Cartoon Museum, thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Gillray’s Ghost runs at the Cartoon Museum until 17 January 2016. The exhibition is included in museum entry of £7 adults. Friends of the Museum and Art Fund members enjoy free entry.


London Historians Private View.
Monday 16 November, 17:30. Introductory talk by Cartoon Museum director, Anita O’Brien. Glass of wine included. All tickets £12.50 + fee. Book here.

A Taste of Gillray
26 November, 18:30. Presented by the Cartoon Museum and the Georgian Dining Academy (as it so happens, run by a pair of LH Members). An evening of convivial conversation, gin punch, 18th century cuisine and top Georgian entertainment. £40. LH Members £35 (if that’s you, contact us.)
More information.

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Hogarth by Roubillac, NPG.

Hogarth by Roubillac, NPG.

… or pleasing things to know about the great London artist.

I’m sure that like me, you hold Hogarth as one of your favourite Londoners. Every year we remember him often, but especially on his birthday, 10 November (1697) and the day he passed away – today, 26 October (1764). Here’s a little crib sheet of Hogarthiana.

  1. Although of humble beginnings in Smithfield, Hogarth lived to become Sergeant Painter to the King.
  2. Like Dickens, his father went to debtors prison, having gone bust running a coffee house where only Latin was permitted to be spoken. It was in St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell.
  3. Even by the standard of the day, Hogarth was a shortarse, standing only five foot tall at the most.
  4. His father-in-law was Sir James Thornhill, celebrated in his day, but less well known now. Thornhill painted the inside of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Painted Hall in Greenwich, and the best known life portrait of notorious prison escapee, Jack Sheppard.
  5. Hogarth was a key figure in the foundation of copyright under the law, thanks to his lobbying for the Engravers’ Copyright Act in 1735 (aka “Hogarth’s Act”), which, with subsequent variations, still protects musicians, artists and other creative professionals to this day.
  6. Hogarth was a founding governor and great supporter of Captain Coram’s Foundling Hospital. He and his wife Jane supervised wet nurseries near their home in Chiswick for babies from the institution. The couple never had children of their own.
  7. Hogarth, having been criticised by charismatic political firebrand John Wilkes, created arguably the best-known image of the politician, a vicious caricature.
  8. The Hogarth family tomb in Chiswick was endowed by the actor David Garrick, a great friend of his.
  9. Hogarth ordered a trade card for his pug, Trump, from a printer at one of the Thames ice fairs.
  10. On his only foray beyond these shores, Hogarth got arrested in Calais in 1748 – ostensibly for spying. This didn’t help to disabuse his jaundiced view of foreigners and their ways.

There are, of course, many many other pleasing Hogarth things. Please add your own in the Comments.

William Hogarth on Wikipedia.
William Hogarth Trust.

St John's Gate, Clerkenwell, site of Hogarth Senior's ill-conceived coffee house.

St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell, site of Hogarth Senior’s ill-conceived coffee house.

Hogarth's House, Chiswick. The artist's country home 1749 until his death.

Hogarth’s House, Chiswick. The artist’s country home 1749 until his death.

Hogarth takes a pop at John Wilkes.

Hogarth takes a pop at John Wilkes.

Hogarth family tomb. St Nicholas churchyard, Chiswick. 2014 on the 300th anniversary of his death.

Hogarth family tomb. St Nicholas churchyard, Chiswick. 2014 on the 250th anniversary of his death.

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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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doggett1_2501 August 1715 was the first instance of Doggett’s Coat and Badge rowing race between newly-qualified watermen, up the Thames from London Bridge to Chelsea. Unlike today, there were no further bridges to pass under and the river was almost entirely unembanked, hence considerably wider than today. Once past Westminster, the vista would have been comparatively sparce of buildings on both banks. The boats are notably different too. The original participants raced in the craft of their craft: a wherry, the London cab of its day.  Today, the racers are more fortunate, using modern Olympic class single skulls. This race has been competed almost every year since, making it the longest continuously-run sporting event in the world. Yet compared with the much newer Boat Race (1829), it is hardly known. The prize for the winner is a handsome scarlet coat decorated with a solid silver sleeve badge. It comes with a dinky matching cap. The badge depicts a leaping horse and the word “Liberty”. The founder of this ancient competition was Irish-born Thomas Doggett (1640 – 1721), an actor and successful theatrical impresario. He was and ardent Whig and supporter of the new Hanoverian monarch, George I. He endowed the Doggett’s Coat and Badge race in celebration of the new Georgian dynasty, leaving provision in his will for its continuation in perpetuity. It was supposed to be administered by the Watermen’s Company – logical – but an executor of Doggett’s will, Mr Burt of the Admiralty Office, instead charged the task to the Fishmongers’ Company, who do the job to this day. The fund in 1722 was £350.

Modern winners of the race on procession at St Katharine Dock, 2015.

Modern winners of the race in procession at St Katharine Dock, 2015.

There is a dedicated web site to the race, here. It has lots of information including history, the course, the rules, a list of every winner, etc. The line-up this year are: Louis Pettipher, 24, from Gravesend, Charlie Maynard, 23, from Erith, Dominic Coughlin, 24, from Cuxton, Ben Folkard, 23, from Maidstone all of whom raced last year, plus first-timers Frankie Ruler, 21, from Blackheath, and Perry Flynn, 21, from Kennington. The race starts at 11:30 at London Bridge tomorrow, 1 August. Approximately half an hour later it will finish at Cadogan Pier, Chelsea, next to Albert Bridge. I am meeting some fellow London Historians on Albert Bridge at 11:30 to see the end of contest. We’ll then go to the Cross Keys pub nearby. Anyone is welcome to join us.

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A guest post by London Historians Member, Val Bott.

the painter and his pug by william hogarthWilliam Hogarth died 250 years ago on 26 October 1764. He spent Thursday, 24 October working on his engraving plate of The Bench at Chiswick but, too unwell to work on the 25th, he was taken to his town house in Leicester Fields while his wife remained at Chiswick. On going to bed, he was taken suddenly very ill and died a couple of hours later in the arms of his wife’s cousin, Mary Lewis, who had helped run the print business for years. He was buried at St Nicholas Church by the Thames at Chiswick, where later a fine memorial was erected with an epitaph by David Garrick.

That week a piece in the the London Evening Post commented that in Hogarth were happily united ‘the utmost force of human genius, an incomparable understanding, an inflexible integrity and a most benevolent heart. No man was better acquainted with the human passions, nor endeavoured to make them more subservient to the reformation of the world than this inimitable artist. His works will continue to be held in the highest estimation, so long as sense, genius and virtue shall remain among us’.

Hogarth's tomb in St Nicholas Churchyard, Chiswick, on the banks of the Thames.

Hogarth’s tomb in St Nicholas churchyard, Chiswick, on the banks of the Thames.

Hogarth was a Londoner through and through, depicting daily life in clear reality and with affection, while mocking those of whom he disapproved. A brilliant engraver and a fine self-taught painter, he produced memorable images which we love today. With an astute business sense he sold his prints by subscription and protected them from piracy through his successful campaign for the first artists’ Copyright Act. He was a generous man and his love for animals and children is evident in his work. A philanthropist, he was a governor of the Foundling Hospital, he oversaw the wet-nurses who cared for foundling babies in Chiswick and, with his wife Jane, fostered foundling children. When financially secure he acquired his much-loved second home a Chiswick which is now a museum about the Hogarths, their Chiswick friends and neighbours, and other past residents of the house. The walls are hung with his most important prints, depicting London as the backdrop to his famous series of modern moral subjects, but also at the theatre, in the crowd at Southwark Fair, in the streets in Four Times of Day.

Hogarth's House

Hogarth’s House.

The William Hogarth Trust has worked with Hogarth’s House this year to produce a new exhibition, The Small Self, which has just opened. Supported by a grant from the J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, it was devised by trustees Chrissy Blake and Jason Bowyer, who sent out sixty foot-square artists’ boards with an invitation to use these to submit a self portrait in homage to Hogarth. Fifty-three self-portraits have arrived, from the Trust’s patron, Sir Peter Blake, Royal Academicians William Bowyer, Anthony Green, Ken Howard and Humphrey Ocean, cartoonists Steve Bell and Martin Rowson, designers Cath Kidston and Toni Marshall, writers such as Jaqueline Wilson and Mike McCartney, performers including Harry Hill, Holly Johnson, Jim Moir and Joanna Lumley and members of the New English Art Club. This exhibition is testimony to a strong continuing enthusiasm for Hogarth; a beautiful little catalogue illustrating them all is on sale at £6.95.

Self portraits. Sir Peter Hall and Bowyer.

Self portraits. Sir Peter Blake and Jason Bowyer.

On the evening of 25 October the Trust and the Friends of St Nicholas will be mounting a special commemoration at Chiswick’s St Nicholas Church. Ars Eloquentiae will perform music Hogarth would have known (with some audience participation!) and Rosalind Knight, Lars Tharp and others will be reading 18th century texts to celebrate Hogarth’s life and work. Admission is £10, refreshments will be available and there will be a souvenir programme on sale. The event is supported by the J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, Hounslow Council and Fleet Tutors.

On 22 October The Cartoon Museum opens Hogarth’s London, a must for London Historians. It draws together a range of prints (including a number on loan from Hogarth’s House) to celebrate his love of the capital city and to reveal the vitality and the suffering of life here 250 years ago.

The Small Self continues until 11 January 2015, 12 noon to 17.00 Tuesday to Sunday, admission free.
Hogarth’s London continues until 18 January 2015, 10.30 to 17.30 Monday to Saturday, Sunday 12 noon to 17.30, at 35 Little Russell St, London WC1A 2HH. There is an admission charge – full details at cartoonmuseum.org.

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