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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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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.

Talbot House

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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I spent some time most profitably on Saturday at the Guildhall Library’s inaugural Open Day. It was nice unexpectedly to bump into fellow Members and as far as I can tell, the event was a resounding success. We congratulate the library and look forward to many more of these.

I took in a talk by Assistant Librarian Jeanie Smith on the Lloyd’s Marine Collection (1741 – the present, the most amazing maritime stories) and drank in the displays featuring some of the library’s treasure: a Shakespeare First Folio (one of only 14 complete ones in existence); a John Stow First Edition; the first London Gazette, 1665 (named Oxford Gazette because Parliament had decamped there owing to the Plague); The Great Chronicle of London (1189-1512), a major source for John Stow; Bills of Mortality collection, also 1665; and so on.

Less valuable but more eye-catching and more fun, is London’s Armory from 1677. This is by a fellow called Richard Wallis, “citizen and Arms painter of London.”

London Armory

London Armory

To save your eyesight, the inscription reads:

London’s Armory
Accuratly delineated in a Graphical display of all the Arms Crests Supporters Mantles & Motto’s of every distinct Company and Corporate Societie in the Honourable City of London as they truly bear them; faithfully Collected from their severall Patents which have been approved and confirmed by divers Kings at Arms in their Visitations. A Work never till now exactly perfected or truly Published by any, and will rectify many essential Mistakes and manifest Absurdities Committed in Painting & Carving.
London
Printed for the Author Rich: Wallis Citizen & arms painter of London and are to be sold by him at his Shop against ye Royall Exchange.
1677

The idea here is that Wallis is sucking up to the Members of the companies represented on the right hand panel. When they cough up for their copy, I imagine that he inscribes their name in the blank panel on the left.

The most noteworthy thing, I think, are the two slaves at the foot of the page among much maritime paraphernalia and presided over by Neptune himself. Here is a man celebrating the hegemony of the City of London over lesser peoples of the world. But what of the arms and badges of which Wallis makes such proud boasts? I can’t match any of them with either livery companies, or the great trading companies or City wards. Militia companies?

I’ve sent a note to Guildhall Library and one or two academic historians who are our Members. But I’d also like to throw this open to the floor, so to speak. Please chip in if you know what they are. This is more a fun item than a serious academic exercise, I must point out.

Thanks to The Londonphile who took the pictures for me. 

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IMG_0550bReaders will know that I’m quite the fan of the Guildhall. This position was strongly reinforced yesterday when I had the massive privilege of a tour of the Library with its Principal Librarian, Peter Ross.

The Guildhall Library was founded in the 1420s thanks to an endowment by that man, Richard Whittington, the wealthy Lord Mayor of London. It was, of course, a manuscript library to begin with, until print technology entered the picture at the turn of the 16C.

Then disaster struck in the late 1540s when scalliwag of history the Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector, decided to help himself to all of the collection, transporting it to his palace in three large carts, as recorded by John Stow. There is no record of what became of the collection thereafter. One would like to think that his demise at the executioner’s block was some pay-back for overdue books.

And that was the end of that until a library at the Guildhall was revived in 1820s. A little later a purpose-build home was constructed in 1870 to the East of Guildhall, designed by Horace Jones, the Tower Bridge man. Luckily it took just the one hit during the Blitz, although the books had been removed to safety.

In the 1960s the current library was built as an extension to the West of the Guildhall. Among much else, it houses the records of about 80 of the City’s 108 Livery Companies; records of Lloyds of London; records public companies within the Square Mile; admin records from the Stock Exchange. Plus, of course, many thousands of books and manuscripts, posters, broadsides and miscellaneous ephemera going back centuries. Other functions of the Library are materials conservation and protection, and it has a budget to acquire any historical printed matter relating to the City which comes onto the market.

It is the largest library in the world devoted to a single city.

The Guildhall Library is open to all and welcomes the opportunity to help members of the public with their research. It also hosts small exhibitions and displays (currently there is one featuring objects from the Worshipful Company of Bowyers (ie bow-makers)). There is a programme of talks by academic historians and authors.

My sincere thanks to Peter Ross and Anne-Marie Nankivell for their hospitality. I’ll explore the possibility of arranging a similar thing for a group of LH Members. Keep an eye on the web-site!

Except where stated, all pictures by Anne-Marie Nankivell. 

guildhall library

guildhall library london

Treats in store

guildhall library london

guildhall library london

guildhall library london

guildhall library london

Pic: M Paterson

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