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Yesterday I went along to three exhibitions by City of London institutions which opened recently. All are well worth visiting; all are free.

Guildhall Art Gallery: Sublime Symmetry
This exhibition features the works of William De Morgan, the late 19th century London ceramicist, friend and collaborator of William Morris, GF Watts and many others. We are long-standing fans of De Morgan. The closure of a dedicated gallery in Wandsworth some years ago tragically meant that a huge collection of his work, which is owned by the De Morgan Foundation, has been kept behind closed doors. It’s important therefore to do all you can to get to this show. The theme is De Morgan’s background in mathematics, how that meshed with his interest in Islamic symmetical forms and from there informed his decorative work. The artist’s father and brother were both celebrated mathemeticians. Augustus De Morgan was the founding Professor of Mathematics at UCL, friend and correspondent of Ada Lovelace among others, and clearly a warm and funny character. It felt good to meet him. But of course, the stars of the show are De Morgan’s sumptuous, exquisite works. Vases, bowls, dishes, tiles all beautifully decorated with figures from nature and myth.
This runs until 28 October.

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Guildhall Library: Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers
More a display than a full blown exhibition, this is the latest in the library’ series which features the City’s livery companies. This year celebrates the 450th anniversary of this company’s first Charter, granted by Elizabeth I 1568, although the company can trace its origins back to 1416. We are shown many objects from its collection, well complemented by items from the library as well. This includes probably my favourite, the so-called “Breeches” Bible from 1589, which was used for the administration of oaths. It is, of course, a late generation English bible before the advent of the Authorised Version (1611) and furhermore is the only example of a chained book in the library’s collection.  In addition we have a trowel (of course), ledgers, ordnances and minute books, a loving cup and a portrait miniature of its most famous member, the playwright Ben Jonson who was a bricklayer before he made it big in the London theatre.
Runs until 31 August.

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The ‘Breeches’ Bible, 1598.

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Ben Jonson’s overdue subscription recorded as paid.

London Metropolitan Archives: Picturing Forgotten London
What I love about the LMA exhibitions – and this one is no exception – is that you see historical images that you’ve never seen before. Not one. This is remarkable considering the hundreds of London history books out there, not to mention what’s online. To choose one example, I thought I’d seen everything on frost fairs: not so!

The headline title is a broad topic indeed which features not forgotten London necessarily, but a London which simply no longer exists, whether the obvious things such a buildings, but also professions, animals, forms of government, everyday life, religion, commerce, housing, transport, technology, sport, food and welfare. The images which bring these themes to life – whether maps, engravings or photographs – are clearly heavily researched astutely chosen.

Warmly recommended. Runs until 31 August.

© London Met Archives 28160 Frost Fair low_500

London’s last frost fair, 1814.

By the time this print was published, just few days later, the ice had melted, and the fair gone forever. London Bridge can be seen in the distance.

© London Met Archives 32422 Archway low_500

Rural Archway, 1841.

A winding lane with barns and a farmhouse. It is hard to imagine London’s built-up suburbs as open country but the last farms in the area only disappeared in the early twentieth century.

© London Met Archives 305674 St Pancras low_500

Commercial warehousing, buildings and shops in front of St Pancras Station, 1871.

St. Pancras station opened in 1868 but the hotel and grand entrance were not completed until 1876. Older buildings were demolished as part of the project, including this row of houses and shops which stood nearby. It’s hard to imagine this picturesque scene on one of the busiest parts of Euston Road today.

© London Met Archives 233962 Skylon_500

South Bank, 1952. Featuring County Hall and the Skylon.

This seemingly free-floating steel structure stood outside the Dome of Discovery on the main Festival of Britain site on the South Bank. With no particular function or message, ‘Skylon’ was nonetheless much loved. It was removed shortly after the closing of the Festival.

 

 

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Most of us have heard about the City church which was rebuilt in America, but not many have actually visited. A guest post from the USA by LH Member Penny Jennings. 

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It is unknown when St Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury was first built but there is reference to the church in 1181. After the great fire of 1666 it was ruined, Christopher Wren commissioned its reconstruction. He utilised the Gothic building of 1437 and ensured that the structure would preserve the English Renaissance style. It stood in London for the following three centuries until it was gutted during the London Blitz in 1940.

Dr Robert LD Davidson had a vision that what remained of the church, which had now lay as a charred shell for 20 years, could be dismantled and relocated in the USA. After negotiation and the raising of funds to finance the project in 1962, the 7,000 stones were carefully disassembled and transported as ballast. After arriving in Virginia USA they were then loaded on railroad cars for their journey to Fulton, Missouri. The stonemasons and waiting builders reconstructed the jigsaw of stones to the original design and dimensions. They faithfully adhered to the vision of Christopher Wren. Finally in 1969 the church of St Mary, Aldermanbury was reconsecrated; 10,000 people attended it was described as “Fulton’s finest hour”. Winston Churchill’s daughter, Lady Mary Soames, described Missouri as “very lovely” it reminded her as she said “ of our Cotswold region in England with its lovely rolling green hills”. The church is located at the Winston Churchill Memorial, Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, USA.


Today, there is a memorial garden in the City of London where this church once stood. More on St Mary Aldermanbury. 

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A guest post by Dr Wolfram Latsch.

The next time you find yourself on Leadenhall Street heading towards Aldgate, walk past Billiter Street and stay on the right side of the road. At No. 50 you will notice a narrow passageway. This is Fenchurch Buildings, and it connects Leadenhall and Fenchurch Streets. On Roque’s 1746 map of London this part of the passageway is called Sugarloaf Court. In the first half of the eighteenth century, you would have a view, on your right, of African House, the headquarters of the Royal African Company of England (RAC), which traded slaves across the Atlantic between 1660 and 1752.

In 1703, a sixteen year-old boy named James Phipps was signed up at African House to become a writer — an entry-level position — in the service of the RAC. He came from a prominent family of clothiers in Wiltshire. Phipps lived on the Gold Coast for twenty years, a remarkable longevity for a European living in Africa before the age of tropical medicine. He died at Cape Coast Castle, the African headquarters of the RAC, in 1723. He had risen to the position of governor and captain-general, becoming the highest-ranking RAC official in Africa, before being removed from his post among accusations of embezzlement and abuse of power.

James Phipps left his estate to his wife Catherine and their four children. Catherine Phipps was the daughter of an African woman and a Dutch soldier from Elmina, a fort not far from Cape Coast. James and Catherine’s children — Bridget, Susan, Henrietta and Thomas — were all of mixed race – they were ‘mulattos’ in the parlance of the time. In his will, James Phipps wanted Catherine to move to England to be with their children. This was an unusual request, since most white men did not think of their African partners as legal wives. James would provide generously for Catherine if she agreed to move: his estate was worth at least 1.7 million pounds in today’s money. But she refused to leave Africa and died in 1738, a prominent and independent businesswoman (and slave-owner) known at Cape Coast simply as ‘Mrs. Phipps’.

Had Catherine Phipps agreed to leave her home, she would probably have moved to London, and anyone with an interest in black British history would today know her name. Black women were a rarity in England in the early eighteenth century and independently wealthy black women were entirely unknown. As it is, Catherine Phipps is one of a very small number of eighteenth-century African women known to us by name.

James and Catherine’s daughters Bridget and Susan had left Africa around 1715 when they were maybe ten years old, to be educated in England, initially at the boarding school of a Mrs. Smith in Battersea. In May 1730, Bridget married Chauncy Townsend of Austin Friars, a London merchant and mining adventurer (and later an MP) in the Fleet Prison, a preferred location for clandestine marriages. Chauncy and Bridget Townsend had twelve children, including James, who was born in London and baptized at St Christopher-le-Stocks in February 1737.

James Townsend was first elected to parliament in 1767. In 1769 he was elected alderman of the City of London for Bishopsgate ward and sheriff of London, becoming one of the leaders of the Whig party in London. Townsend played a key role in the intrigue surrounding the electoral campaigns of the radical journalist John Wilkes in Middlesex and the City, turning from a supporter of Wilkes to one of his fiercest opponents. Townsend was elected Lord Mayor in 1772 in spite of Wilkes’s coming first in the polls, an event that created political turmoil in the City. A mob incensed by Townsend’s coup attacked Guildhall during the ball on Lord Mayor’s Day, and Townsend’s arms were erased from the church of St. Helen’s Bishopsgate.

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James Townsend (center) as alderman of the City of London (1769)
Source: National Portrait Gallery, NPG D19402

Today Townsend is known, if at all, for the part he played in the drama of Wilkes’s bid for the mayoralty. Local historians and visitors may also know Townsend as an owner of the estate that is now Bruce Castle Museum in Haringey. He died there in 1787 and was buried nearby at Old Church Tottenham in the mausoleum of his wife’s family, the Coleraines. Her inheritance had made him a wealthy man.

James Townsend was the descendant of a black woman from the Gold Coast, the grandson of a ‘mulatto’ and one-eighth African, the first black MP and the first black Lord Mayor of London. This part of his family’s history was either unknown, or it went unnoticed, or it was ignored. His story may prompt an interest in the unacknowledged and often forgotten black ancestry of many London families and their complicated connections to the Atlantic slave trade.


Dr. Wolfram Latsch teaches economics and international studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. A version of this article was published in Notes & Queries, December 2016, as ‘A Black Lord Mayor of London in the Eighteenth Century?’

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A guest post by Rebecca Rideal.

In April 1664, a House of Commons committee was set up in Westminster to investigate the nation’s declining cloth industry. It didn’t take long, however, for committee members to widen their focus to the deterioration of English trade more generally. Over the previous few years, mercantile tensions between the England and the Dutch Republic had grown steadily (erupting into the First Anglo-Dutch War, 1652–1654) and much of the blame for this perceived deterioration in trade was levelled at the Dutch. Throughout committee meetings, influential London merchants were encouraged to voice their grievances. With their companies venturing further afield for mastery of trade in gold, silver, sugar, tobacco, silks and spices, key complainants were the Levant Company, the East India Company, and the Royal Adventurers for Trade in Africa, whose headquarters and boards were all based within the capital and whose ships docked and delivered along the Thames. They complained that the Dutch had taken possession of all the former Portuguese territories, especially along the West African coast where they had severely inhibited England’s ability to trade.

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Cape Coast Castle in 1682.

In fact, that same year, a forty-three-year-old Irish-born sea captain named Robert Holmes had been sent by the London-based benefactors of the newly-formed (and state-backed) Company of Royal Adventurers to facilitate the company’s expansion. Founded by the Duke of York and Prince Rupert of the Rhine on the belief that there were rich gold fields along the Gambia river, the company regularly came into conflict with Dutch trading bases along the West African coast. As the small fleet set off from the Thames, its primary goal was the acquisition of gold but Holmes also had explicit orders, for the first time, to establish a trade in slaves, with the aim of acquiring 3,000 per year to sell to the West Indies. He was instructed to ‘kill, take, sink or destroy such as shall oppose you’, but the unwritten truth was that in order to achieve these ends, he would need to take possession of Dutch trading bases.

In his forty-gun flagship, the Jersey, Holmes led a taskforce of English vessels to capture the Dutch fortress of Carolusborg, on the northern part of the Gulf of Guinea. He took with him a new spring-based pendulum watch, designed by the illustrious Dutch scientist and inventor Christiaan Huygens and refashioned by the Royal Society ready for the sea. It was hoped that the watch might enhance the accuracy of navigation. A cunning man who, by his own admission, looked ‘his enemies in the face with as much love as his friends’, Holmes was also a determined military leader and knew these waters well. With the support of his loyal crew and aided by the latest naval weaponry and navigation equipment, he seized a cluster of trading bases before setting his sights on the main prize, Carolusborg. It took Holmes eleven days of hard bombardment to capture Carolusborg, which was renamed Cape Coast Castle under English control.

His actions on behalf of Royal Adventurers for Trade in Africa far exceeded what the company’s backers had expected and Holmes found himself in the unanticipated situation of being reprimanded for capturing Dutch vessels. That said, his achievements were not unwelcome and, along with the wider grievances raised by London merchants and influential war-hungry court factions, they would trigger the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667). The Dutch eventually managed to win back many of the African trade posts Holmes had taken, but they never again had control of Cape Coast Castle; a fortress that, over the next two centuries, morphed into the rotten heart of the British Transatlantic Slave Trade.


revised-1666_Bpb.jpgAdapted from 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire. Rebecca Rideal is a writer, former TV producer and historian. Her first book 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire is published by John Murray and out in paperback today, 23rd February.

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pessimists100 years ago on the Western Front, the now-legendary army padre Philip “Tubby” Clayton and his colleague padre Neville Talbot recognised the urgent need for a soldiers’ club where the troops could hang out and relax with their comrades when behind the lines. A two storey house in Poperinge (“Pop”) was procured and named after Talbot’s brother, Gilbert, who was killed at Ypres on 30 July, aged 23. Talbot House was born.

The top floor became a chapel, using a carpenter’s bench for an altar. Tubby estimated over 100,000 attended there during the war, whether for public service or private prayer. The ground floor was a lounge, library and tea room. Alcohol was not served. Talbot House was for all ranks, indeed all were considered equal, hence it was known as Every-Man’s Club. It was an immediate success and continued until the immediate area became too dangerous towards the end of the conflict, after which Talbot House went mobile, using prefabricated wooden sheds. The original Talbot House exists to this day as a museum.

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Talbot House is celebrated at a new exhibition at the Guildhall Library. It comprises displays of contemporary objects, bits of uniform, letters, pages of Tubby Clayton’s letters, notes and diaries (very neat writing with all the lines caracteristically sloping up to the right in a pleasing way, uniformly so. The hut in the middle of the display is an actual survival: not a replica. The interior is made up as Tubby’s field office.

Talbot House

Talbot House

This display is brilliantly conceived and designed. The signage is logical, clean and informative. The little touches are wonderfully effective, for example the contemporary wallpaper design. The cumulative effect is extremely moving. The Guildhall Library have done great work already on World War 1, including contemporary war memorial photography by their artist-in-residence Simon Gregor (London Historians member). But this Talbot House exhibition is easily the best large display I’ve seen them do. Highly recommended.

Talbot House: An Oasis in a World Gone Crazy a the Guildhall Library runs until 8 January 2016. Entry is free.

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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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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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