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Posts Tagged ‘Leicester Square’

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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Guest post by LH member Mike Rendell. This article was first published in our Members’ Newsletter from February 2015.

In 1775 my ancestor went to Leicester Square to see an exhibition of natural curiosities at a museum recently opened by Ashton Lever. He wrote “Went with Wife, Daughter and Son Francis to see Sir Ashton Lever’s Collection of Natural Curiositiers, and curious they indeed are. Din’d at a beefstake house.”

Lever, who went on to be knighted by George III, had been a remarkable magpie of a collector of everything from stuffed birds, historical artefacts, fossils, shells and other natural history items. For a number of years in the early 1770’s he had exhibited them to casual callers at his home at Alkrington House near Manchester. He was used to getting more than 1000 visitors in a single year, scrambling to inspect his vast collection which filled over 1300 glass display cabinets. Running an open house with that number of visitors cannot have been easy. He hit on the idea of bringing the collection to a wider audience – and that meant opening a museum in London. He chose Leicester House, and took a lease of the premises in 1774. He then spent time and a considerable amount of money, in adapting it as a suite of display rooms, twelve in all, leading off a staircase in one long gallery. Walls were knocked down, doorways opened into wide archways, so that visitors could walk through from one room to the next without hindrance, looking at the 24,000 exhibits, mostly displayed in glass cabinets.

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View of Sir Ashton Lever’s Museum in Leicester Square, 1785.

He opened to the public in February 1775, giving it the name ‘Holophusicon’ (a made-up word from the Greek ‘holos’ meaning ‘whole’ and ‘phusikon’ meaning ‘of nature’). It must have been an extraordinary sight, with stuffed animals such as elephants and monkeys, alongside fossils and shells, stuffed birds, and Oliver Cromwell’s armour. Captain James Cook was apparently an admirer of the erudite Sir Ashton, and gave him a considerable amount of material brought back from his first and second voyages. This helped fuel a mania for Oceania – the public were enthralled at the display of artefacts from Tahiti etc, all displayed in a special Otaheite Room. After Cook died on his third voyage, further items were purchased for display in a Sandwich Islands Room, with weapons such as clubs and spears, ceremonial robes, paddles, utensils and so on.

The public were required to pay a fee – either by taking out an annual membership at a cost of two guineas, or by paying a single entrance fee of a quarter of a guinea (5/3d). Sir Ashton was forced to reduce this to half a crown (2/6d) because of falling visitor numbers. Poor Sir Ashton, he spent more and more money on his exhibits until the obsession got quite out of hand – the exhibits were independently valued at over £50,000. Facing bankruptcy, Sir Ashton wanted to sell the collection to the British Museum, which had opened thirty years earlier, but the trustees declined. It was also offered to the Empress Catherine II of Russia but she too turned down the chance to acquire the display as a single collection. Following the example of the jeweller James Cox, who had tried to sell his exhibition of automata by private lottery, in 1784 Sir Ashton applied to Parliament for permission to “dispose of the contents of his Museum, as now exhibited at Leicester House, by Way of Chance.”

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Sir Ashton Lever.

Parliament approved the scheme but only eight thousand tickets were sold, at a guinea each, out of a planned figure of 36,000. It was a pretty poor return for a man who had laid out thousands of pounds over many years. The lottery prize was drawn in March 1786 and went to a Law Stationer called James Parkinson, who got some 26,600 exhibits including over 1850 ethnographic items from the Pacific. After a year at Leicester House, where the entrance fee was dropped to one shilling a head, Parkinson decided to relocate the collection to the Rotunda in Albion Street, on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge. He dropped the name ‘Holophusicon’ and called it the Leverian Museum. By then Sir Ashton had died, and had nothing further to do with the museum which bore his name. For twenty years the exhibition continued to amuse and amaze the public at 3 Blackfriars Road, but in declining numbers. In 1806 the decision was made to sell the entire collection by auction. Once again the British Museum declined to have anything to do with it, and instead this remarkable collection was spread to all corners of the globe, furnishing many important museums with the cornerstone of important collections. These include Museums in Vienna, Honolulu, Berlin, Wellington and Sydney. The auction lasted a full 65 days, with the collection divided into 7879 lots. It raised a mere £ 6,642 13s 6d. For anyone wanting more information about the collection and the way it was divided up, have a look at Adrienne L. Kaeppler’s book Holophusicon, the Leverian Museum which came out in 2011. She is Curator of Oceanic Ethnology at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and she has put together a remarkable detective work in establishing ‘what went where’.

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A guest post by LH Member Colin Davey.

Forget your Silk, your Garrow’s Law, your Rumpole of the Bailey. For a real dose of legal stimulation, enter the world of conveyancing.

Perhaps you are not convinced. London renters might say that since conveyancing is related to home ownership, its more suitable entertainment connection should be Game of Thrones or some equivalent fantasy world.

However, those who have been lucky enough to own a freehold property will probably at some point have encountered that mysterious creature, the restrictive covenant.

Imagine the scene. Your property purchase is moving steadily forward, the survey has been done, and your mind is turning to whether that new king-size bed with built-in TV will manage the turn in the stairs, even in pieces ready for easy home assembly.

At that moment your solicitors present their report on title, and inform you gravely that the property is affected by an 1838 restrictive covenant under which the land cannot be used for glue making, rag boiling, beer brewing, or any other noxious or noisome activity.

Luckily your solicitors follow immediately with robust advice that the restriction is unlikely to have an adverse material effect on the value of the property, advice surely alone worth the entire fee they will earn from the transaction.

So does that mean restrictive covenants are not to be taken that seriously?

Not at all. We might change the scenario to a developer building an estate of new homes. As the developer goes forward phase by phase, it wants to ensure that homes already built and sold are not altered externally to damage the character of the estate (for which substitute damage the potential sale prices of subsequently built properties). Thus it imposes restrictive covenants covering what cannot be done to the earlier built homes.

Which brings us to Leicester Square and the 19th century case of Tulk v Moxhay.

The case may be old , but it is not to be dismissed for that; indeed, it might deserve the accolade groundbreaking.

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Leicester Square circa 1790. British History Online

First, some background. The area in and around modern day Leicester Square was during earlier years the subject of a labyrinthine web of conveyances, wills, codicils and settlements, peppered with periodic trips to the courts.

One aspect of the development of the Leicester Square area will be relatively well-known – Leicester House, built 1631-35 on the northern side of today’s square, for Robert Sidney, second Earl of Leicester.

The land used for the building was four acres acquired by Lord Leicester in 1630 from Hugh Audley. From his dates (1577-1662) we could presume this Hugh Audley to be the same as he who bequeathed to Mary Davies the 500 acres that became the foundation of the Grosvenor family’s London fortune.

The Tulk name first appears in the mid to late 1700s, when a property interest in the area was acquired by James Stuart Tulk, described as being of Tottenham, merchant.

In 1808 a successor, Charles Augustus Tulk sold the gardens of the square for £210 to Charles Elms, a dentist living around the square. The conveyance contained an obligation for Elms to maintain the gardens “uncovered by any buildings”.

Under Elms’s ownership, the gardens degenerated, to the evident disquiet of surrounding owners.

Various transmissions of ownership then took place – this is critical to the legal argument that followed. Finally in 1839 one John Inderwick, ivory turner, sold the gardens to Edward Moxhay.

Inderwick, who was subject to the obligation to maintain the gardens “uncovered by any buildings”, attempted to impose the same obligation on Moxhay. Moxhay refused to accept the obligation; this was not surprising, as Moxhay was a builder. After various negotiations, Moxhay eventually acquired the gardens free of the obligation.

After completion of his purchase, Moxhay started immediately to cut down trees in the gardens. Tulk responded by seeking an injunction to restrain Moxhay from despoiling or building on the gardens.

The case was heard in the Court of Chancery. Connoisseurs of Jarndyce v Jarndyce may prick up their ears at this point, but in this case at least, the parties appeared to have been spared the law’s delay.

Tulk’s problem was that he could not enforce the maintaining the gardens “uncovered by any buildings” covenant contractually against Moxhay. Up until Moxhay’s purchase there was a chain of indemnity. In other words, if there is A, B, C, D and E in the chain covering a piece of land, and a covenant is passed on each time the ownership of the land is transmitted from A down to E, then, in theory, at least, A can (indirectly) enforce the covenant against E by virtue of the chain.

I say in theory, because anyone can immediately see that the procedure is pretty clunky. What happens if, for example, C cannot be traced? Tulk wanted a direct remedy against Moxhay to stop him in his tracks, and this is what the court, presided over by the Lord Chancellor, gave him.

The court was able to reach this outcome through ruling that:

  • Tulk retained other land in the area that could benefit from the restrictive covenant
  • The covenant “touched and concerned” the land for which it had been imposed; in other words it related directly to the land
  • The covenant had been intended to “run with the land” – here, Elms had entered into the original covenant both for himself and for future owners of the gardens.
  • Moxhay had notice of the covenant.

The case has been overlaid by subsequent decisions refining the application of the law created by the court, and today notice to subsequent owners is achieved by registering the restrictive covenant against the ownership of the affected land when the covenant is first imposed. But the case is a good example of courts, counter intuitively to the perception today by many of how the judicial system functions, achieving an appropriate result.

The case of Tulk v Moxhay was not the end of aggravation concerning the use of Leicester Square Gardens, but that is enough of the law for now and for this article.

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Leicester Square, yesterday (08/03/2017).

The case may not be as exciting as some that have gone through the courts, and the restriction discussed may not be as racy as the context for the same word in the film you can see promoted (if you peer carefully) in the photograph above of today’s Leicester Square, but I think that it is a story worth telling.

© Colin Davey

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The brainchild of Pete Berthoud of Discovering London, qualified Westminster Guide. The idea: to enjoy London when it’s at its most empty, bereft of public transport. The rest of the nation tucked up in their beds, dreaming about what Santa has bestowed. Setting off from Brentford at 05:30 precisely, it took 26 minutes to reach Waterloo Place. We renedezvous’d with our intrepid companions at Admiralty Arch and then, led by Pete, enjoyed a two hour mooch around the silent streets of one of the world’s busiest cities, finishing up back at Trafalgar Square for celebratory hot chocolate, bacon butties, single malt, fine cognac, cigars and Quality Street.

A minicab here, some dozing tramps there. Peering through the window of the occasional building we saw the odd night security guard faithfully at his post. They were our only company. Lovely. I’d do it again.

Update: Matt Brown, who was on our tour, has written eloquently about his take on proceedings, here. Blogger Ian Visits appears to have had the same bright idea as us and written it up here.

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