Posts Tagged ‘middlesex’

panoramaSamuel Leigh (1780 – 1831) was a bookseller based in the Strand during the early decades of the the 19th Century. He specialised in travel guides. In 1829 he published an extraordinary book: Panorama of the Thames from London to Richmond. It mainly comprised a 60 foot long sheet which folded out concertina style, although some editions were made up of a series of individual sheets. On this ribbon of paper was printed a hand coloured aquatint of both banks of the Thames, facing one another, so one bank is always upside-down, depending on which way you hold the book. Approximately 15 miles per bank, 30 miles in all. This was, of course, immediately before the railways and almost half a century prior to Bazalgette’s embankments. Bridges across the river were still relatively few. It is therefore a marvelous visual record of the Thames of the late Georgian era.


Fast forward to the early 21st Century and we find a man called John Inglis doing a very similar recording project, except, of course, using photography. His idea was virtually the same as Leigh’s, except – remarkably – at first he was blissfully unaware of the earlier work. Once Leigh was brought to his attention, it fundamentally transformed his own project in a most exciting way. Using rapidly improving web technology, the old and the new could exactly mirror each other in a tool that could prove both invaluable and entertaining to everybody from curious Londoners to serious historical researchers. This of course involved a massive increase in the workload and extension of the project timeline. With meagre funds, the project has relied on a dedicated band of volunteers.

One of the challenges was to obtain a best possible digitised version of Leigh. Using six surviving copies, the team took high resolution shots of the best bits of each, and then digitally repaired them for colour correction, staining, cracks, folds and so on.

This done, the team has now reached a key stage of the project: the book. Panorama of the Thames: A Riverside View of Georgian London by John Inglis and Jill Sanders is now published by Thames and Hudson. Apart from some nonedescript countryside parts of the riverbank, this book contains all of Leigh, both banks. The authors have departed from Leigh by treating each bank separately. This is something of a sacrifice it can be argued, but I think the correct decision. It has freed up space for text entries describing all notable buildings and structures, many of which no longer exist. The panorama has been divided into sections, with short introductions. The overall result is image rich with text relatively light and for me, that balance is perfect.


The tome is large, quite weighty and simply wonderfully produced. Lavish. There is great pleasure between its covers. This is more than a book: it is a treasure. Treat yourself.

Westminster, just five years prior to the Commons and Lords being destroyed by fire.

Westminster, just five years prior to the Commons and Lords being destroyed by fire. ©2015 Panorama of the Thames Limited

Hammersmith Terrace.

Hammersmith Terrace. ©2015 Panorama of the Thames Limited

The short-lived Millbank Penitentiary, now the site of Tate Modern.

The short-lived Millbank Penitentiary, now the site of Tate Britain. ©2015 Panorama of the Thames Limited

A beautiful panorama featuring St Paul's and old Blackfriars Bridge.

A beautiful panorama featuring St Paul’s and Rennie’s Waterloo Bridge, then very new. ©2015 Panorama of the Thames Limited

Panorama of the Thames: A Riverside View of Georgian London (256pp) by John Inglis and Jill Sanders is published by Thames and Hudson with a cover price of £30. It’s available on Amazon and Waterstones.

This publication is the first book from the project. More are planned. The ongoing Panorama of the Thames project is here. Check it out; have a play.



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Just downriver of Tower Bridge you have Wapping on the North bank (Middlesex, as was) and Bermondsey to the South (Surrey). To generalise a bit, the Wapping side has traditionally been about docks and wharfs – logically goods needed to load and offload near the consumers and manufacturers – that’s to say the City of London and what we know as the East End. The Bermondsey side tended to be where ships were manufactured, fitted out and repaired. Here were the homes and neighbourhoods of shipwrights and associated trades craftsmen.


Before the modern docks were built from the beginning of the 19th Century, this section of the Thames was choked solid with thousands of vessels – an unbroken forest of masts and rigging of merchantmen with service vessels, river taxis, lighters and the like weaving between them as best they could.

Today at low tide, archaeologists go down to the river’s beaches and try to make sense of past from the valuable but shifting clues left behind. Last Thursday professional archaeologists and volunteers from Thames Discovery Programme (TDP) hit the mud on the Bermondsey side to study a section. All tape measures, clipboards and wellies. One of their number, Eliott Wragg, gave a public tour of the area and the operation to about 20 of us “civvies”. We kicked off with a nice surprise: some ruins of an ancient manor house or possibly a hunting lodge dating from around 1350 . I knew of this building but not exactly where it was. Now I do.


King Edward III’s manor house. Possibly.


Archaeologists at work.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey.

Eliott explains.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey.

Rudder of an 18C frigate, re-purposed as part of wharf or dock structure.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey.

Heading upriver.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey.

“A Fine Summer’s Day in London”

Fellow LH Member Hannah Renier and I really enjoyed our outing with the TDP as we did at Vauxhall a few months ago.  We managed to squeeze in some mudlarking while we were at it. I was very excited to find my first clay pipe stem; an hour later we’d amassed dozens. Obvious, really, that “finds” should be more plentiful just down from the City.

Thames Discovery Programme, Bermondsey

Eliott, Hannah, Eddie the dog.


Some of the stuff we found. Crockery bits, rusty nails, clay pipe stems.


The Thames Discovery Programme is an archaeological group comprising around 300 volunteers and a tiny complement of full-time staff (2.5 members, to be precise). Its mission is to record, measure, monitor the largest archaeological site in Britain: the Thames foreshore. A major part of its remit is public engagement: walks, talks, site visits. With a little training, you can join them as a FROG (Foreshore Recording and Observation Group), i.e. volunteer. Or just tag along for an outing as we did. It’s all on their web site.

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This is what Sir John Betjeman called the Harmondsworth Barn near Heathrow. The largest timber-framed structure in England, dating from 1426, this amazing symphony in oak was being used as intended as recently as 1978. Quite remarkable. The barn measures 192 feet by 37 feet and is 39 feet high. As you enter, you appreciate immediately what Betjeman meant.

great barn harmondsworth

When built it was owned by Winchester College, itself endowed some 37 years previously by our old friend, the energetic William of Wykeham (d. 1404), Bishop of Winchester (“manners makyth man”). It is believed that the oak almost certainly originates from Kingston upon Thames since records show timber being procured there at the correct date for a barn in Harmondsworth by John atte Oak and William Kypping. This information is the more tantalising when we consider that Wykeham had holdings in Kingston, including a palace.

The Grade 1-listed barn was recently rescued by English Heritage and is run by the Friends of the Great Barn at Harmondsworth who have been looking after the building since 2006. It is open and free to visit throughout this summer on the second and forth Sundays each month 10:00 – 17:00.

We discovered that Harmondsworth village is particularly rich in ancient buildings. The local medieval church of St Mary’s is lovely. One can easily imagine their harvest festivals for centuries on end featuring produce from the massive barn next door.

More information.

great barn harmondsworth cathedral of middlesex

great barn harmondsworth cathedral of middlesex

great barn harmondsworth cathedral of middlesex

great barn harmondsworth cathedral of middlesex

great barn harmondsworth cathedral of middlesex

great barn harmondsworth cathedral of middlesex

great barn harmondsworth cathedral of middlesex

great barn harmondsworth cathedral of middlesex

st mary's harmondsworth

St Mary's Harmondsworth. Mostly medieval, with a Georgian cupola embellishment.

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emi logoLast month saw the demise of yet another of Britain’s former industrial giants. Sony Corporation and Universal Music Group bought the only remaining shiny jewels off the corpse of what was once the mighty EMI Group, for almost 80 years a world leader the fields of music recording and publishing as well as electronic research, development and manufacturing. At its height in the 1960s, EMI employed 14,000 people at its 150 acre Blyth Road headquarters in Hayes, Middlesex.

It is sadly ironic that this year marks the centenary of the Blyth Road plant and the 80th anniversary of the founding of EMI itself, in March 1931.

his master's voice

"Nipper" the dog.

But re-wind to 1897 when gramophone inventor, the German Emile Berliner, founded the Gramophone Company in London. Among the firm’s early artists were Nellie Melba and Enrico Caruso. In 1899 the Gramophone Company adopted the iconic picture of His Master’s Voice by British painter Francis Barraud as a trademark logo. But first they asked him to change the image of the gramophone from a cylinder format to their own disk format. Adverse business conditions during the Depression caused the Gramophone Company to merge with its rival Colombia Phonograph Company in 1931, forming Electric and Musical Industries (EMI).

By this time the company had been operating out of its Hayes HQ for some 20 years. The next several decades saw it become a huge operation as it scooped up – and made deals with – existing successful labels. EMI acquired Parlophone and Capitol, and established licensing agreements with RCA Victor, Columbia and Tamla Motown giving it an astonishing roster which included: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley, Adam Faith, The Beach Boys, the leading Tamla Motown artists and – most famously of all – the Beatles. By the time it signed Robbie Williams and the Spice Girls in the 1990s, EMI had also acquired Virgin Music and in the 1970s taken on Pink Floyd, Queen and Deep Purple.

The other arm of its music business was publishing. From its earliest days EMI Music Publishing steadily purchased music catalogues making it a world-leader with a massive revenue stream through royalties.

sir godfrey hounsfield

Sir Godfrey Hounsfield (1919 - 2004)

So far, so glam. For many, the more interesting part of the EMI business was its research and development. Effectively founded by the inventor of the gramophone, the Blyth Road laboratories were instrumental in developing early television technology and made a crucial contribution to the invention of radar during World War II. During the same period, legendary engineer Alan Blumlein invented stereophonic sound although it took several decades before the technology took off. The labs were subsequently heavily involved in the invention of electronic tape and transistor era computing. But the biggest achievement of all was probably the invention of the CT-scanner in the early 1970s. It soon became known as the EMI Scanner and its inventor, EMI engineer Sir Godfrey Hounsfield jointly won the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his work. Story goes that the EMI Scanner’s ultimate failure commercially was due to American hostility resulting from EMI Records having the Sex Pistols on its roster. EMI dropped the punks from the label, but too late. One can’t help wondering whether this story has a whiff of Concorde about it, that is to say “Not Invented Here”.

emi apprentices 1955

EMI apprentices, circa 1955.

So where did it all go wrong for this massively successful British company? Well, it’s complicated, and this sort of thing is not my forte. But classic things. The organisation had become too bloated globally with duplication among a huge number of business units; it was over-reliant on its music publishing assets relying on momentum from these with “Best Of…” releases while its current crop of artists were not being profitable; it didn’t understand, appreciate or quickly adopt new music distribution and monetisation offered by the Internet. In 2006/2007, EMI sustained a £260 million loss, a situation likely to get worse not better. The group was picked up by private equity firm Terra Firma for £3.2 billion (!), but despite urgent cuts, rationalisations and divestments there was no saving the group when many of its key artists turned their back on the label, among other problems. Many may celebrate a private equity company getting a bloody nose, but the upshot of all this is the final demise of a once-great British company. For a better analysis of what went wrong at EMI, read this piece in the Telegraph from January 2008, by former Virgin Music employee Robert Sandall.

EMI Group Archive Trust
Middx.net for old photos of EMI factory and staff
Chambers London Gazetteer by Russ Willey (on Dawley, near Hayes – site of EMI HQ)

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A good day for West London. First, the 157th Boat Race showing off our beloved neck of the woods to the world at large. Helicopter’s eye view of wonderful bridges and Thameside sites. It’s surprising how much greenery still exists in these built up areas. The Boat Race organisers no doubt kindly arranged the start for 17:00 hours so many of us could get home sharpish in time from the 31st West London Local History Conference.

The conference is sponsored by local history societies:
Barnes & Mortlake
Brentford & Chiswick
Fulham & Hammersmith
West Middlesex Family History Society

This year’s theme was Scientists & Innovators in West London History. The near sell-out audience were treated to talks on a variety of absorbing topics: Dr John Dee, an Elizabethan scientist from Mortlake, the remnants of whose library give us one of the biggest bodies of source evidence for Western natural philosophy in the late 16C;  George III’s scientific instruments from Kew (now in the Science Museum); the history of Price’s, the biggest candle manufacturer in the world during the Victorian era, which finally shut down as recently as 2000, although its brand name lives on; the potions, powders, pharmaceuticals and popular grooming products of McLeans and Beechams of the Great West Road (now part of GlaxoSmithKline); innovative 18C nursery gardeners in West London who nurtured pineapples, pears and elm trees.

west london history conferencewest london history conferencewest london history conferencewest london history conferencewest london history conference

My favourite was Price’s candles. We take candles for granted, today they are fripperies. But not so long ago, except for open hearth fires, they were our only source of artificial light. Beeswax candles we all know about. But it was interesting to discover how the 19C chemists at Price’s went to enormous lengths to find alternatives to the stinky and cheaper tallow-based models. Now I feel educated on the topic.

At just £8 for a full day’s worth of fascinating local history, this is terrific value. We congratulate the organisers for a fabulous conference and look forward to next year.

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