Spotted in Old Compton Street, Soho. PICTURE: Kevin Grieve/Unsplash
We’ve reached the end of our series on disease-related memorials in London. But, before we jump into the next Wednesday series, here’s a recap…
With 2020 to be sadly remembered as the year of COVID-19 (and St Paul’s plans to commemorate those who have died in a permanent memorial in the cathedral), we thought we’d take a look memorials and monuments related to disease outbreaks of the past.
First up is a pump in Soho, a replica of the original Broad Street hand pump which lay at the centre of a cholera outbreak in 1854. Its commemorates the efforts of Dr John Snow, whose work in mapping the course of the outbreak lead to him identifying the pump as the source of the outbreak with the well beneath contaminated by human waste from an old cesspit.
The Yorkshire-born doctor’s work, which subsequently led him to have the pump handle removed and thus prevent further spread of the disease, was a breakthrough in preventing the spread of cholera by showing the source was contaminated water (many people had previously thought was spread through the air, the so-called “miasma theory”).
The replica pump was installed in what is now Broadwick Street, just outside The John Snow pub, in 1992 at the behest of the John Snow Society and Westminster Council. It was removed in 2015 as the area was redeveloped and was then re-installed – along with an explanatory plaque – in 2018.
It stands alongside a red granite block in the pavement which is said to mark the exact spot where the original pump was located (there’s another plaque mentioning that on the pub).
There’s also a blue plaque on the pub commemorating Snow’s work to determine cholera was a water-born disease which was erected by the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2008.
Gertrude Bell – an adventurer, archaeologist, mountaineer and diplomat (who was at least partially responsible for the creation of the nation of Iraq) – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the Chelsea home that served as her London based for some 40 years. The three storey Georgian residence at 95 Sloane Street (pictured) belonged to Lady Olliffe, the mother of Bell’s step-mother Florence. Bell, who spent much of her time in the Middle East, used the home as her London base between 1884, when she graduated from Queen’s College, through to her last visit to London in 1925, including during an extended period in 1915 when she managed the Red Cross’s Wounded and Missing Enquiry Department’s office in Arlington Street. Meanwhile, jazz musician Ronnie Scott has also been honoured with a Blue Plaque which marks the site of his first club in Soho. Scott and fellow saxophonist Pete King opened jazz club in the basement of 39 Gerrard Street in Chinatown on 30th October, 1959 – 60 years ago this year. The club remained there for six years before moving to 47 Frith Street in 1965. Musicians including Zoot Sims, Johnny Griffin, Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, Benny Golson, Ben Webster, and Al Cohn all performed at the club while patrons included Harold Pinter, the Beatles, Peter O’Toole, and Spike Milligan. For more on English Heritage Blue Plaques, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/. PICTURE: Google Maps
This West End thoroughfare obviously, now associated with London’s nightlife, owes its name to a windmill which once stood in the vicinity.
The windmill stood for at least 100 years before it was demolished in the late 17th or early 18th century – the rural land on which it stood was known as Windmill fields.
As the area now known as Soho was developed, the street, which runs between Brewer Street and Coventry Street (albeit split into two sections by Shaftesbury Avenue), was gradually constructed and by the early 1680s both sides of it had been developed.
Famous residents include the Scottish anatomist and physician William Hunter, who, built a large house at number 16 in 1767 which featured an anatomical theatre, dissecting rooms, library and museum. It now forms part of the Lyric Theatre and is recognised with an English Heritage Blue Plaque.
An upstairs room in the former Red Lion pub, located on the corner with Archer Street, is famous for being where Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were asked to write a program of action for the Communist League, published in 1848 as The Communist Manifesto.
Meanwhile, the former Windmill Theatre, which first opened in the 1930s and famously “never closed” during the Blitz, was known for its “Windmill Girls” in which nude girls posed motionless in what were known as “tableaux vivants”, has long been associated with risqué entertainment. The establishment was owned by Laura Henderson, the subject of the 2005 film starring Dame Judi Dench, Mrs Henderson Presents.
The street is also home to the Trocadero complex, originally built in 1896 as a restaurant by J Lyons and Co – of Lyon’s Corner Houses fame – to cater for theatre crowds on the site of what had been the Argyll Assembly Rooms, an establishment which become notorious as a meeting place for prostitutes and their customers. The Trocadero was redeveloped in the 1980s into a shopping and entertainment complex. There are now plans to build a hotel on the site.
Other landmarks include the Soho Parish School – the only school in Soho – which, located at number 23, traces its origins back to 1699 as well as St James Tavern, said to be built in the late 1890s on the site of an earlier tavern, The Catherine Wheel.
• An altar cloth which may have once been part of a dress worn by Queen Elizabeth I goes on show at Hampton Court Palace (pictured) this Saturday. The Bacton Altar Cloth, which was discovered in a church in Bacton in rural Hertfordshire, has undergone two years of conservation work and will be displayed alongside a portrait of the “Virgin Queen” featuring a dress of similar design. The altar cloth has long been associated with Bacton-born Blanche Parry, one of Queen Elizabeth’s servants who became her Chief Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber. Records show the Queen regularly gave her discarded clothing to Parry and for years there has been speculation that the altar cloth was part of one such discarded item. Historic Royal Palaces curator Eleri Lynn, an expert in Tudor court dress, was able to identify previously unseen features and studied the seams of the fabric to show it had once been part of a skirt. Further research – including an examination of the dyes used in the item – have added weight to the theory it was once part of a dress. The altar cloth, on loan from St Faith’s Church in Bacton, can be seen until 23rd February. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: David Adams.
• A photographic exhibition of the first ‘golden’ decade of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – featuring images of legendary British and American jazz singers – opens at the Barbican Music Library on Saturday. Ronnie Scott’s 1959-1969: Photographs by Freddy Warren, which marks the club’s 60th anniversary, features Warren’s photographs of the likes of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Zoot Sims, Cleo Laine and Tony Bennett. Warren was the in-house photographer at the Soho club from the opening night in 1959, when it was based in Gerrard Street, and documented the construction of the new site in Frith Street in the mid-1960s along with the arrival in London of big American stars. The exhibition includes rare vintage prints – some which were salvaged from the walls when the club was renovated in 2006, Freddy Warren’s original contact sheets, and previously unseen prints specially produced from the original negatives. The exhibition is free. Runs until 4th January. For more, see www.barbican.org.uk/your-visit/during-your-visit/library.
• An exhibition exploring how western artists have been inspired by the Islamic world opens at the British Museum today. Inspired by the east: how the Islamic world influenced western art features paintings by leading ‘Orientalists’ including Eugène Delacroix, John Frederick Lewis and Frederick Arthur Bridgman as well as less well-known pieces like British artist Edmund Dulac’s original illustrations for a 1907 edition of the Arabian Nights, and ceramics by Frenchman Théodore Deck, who in the late 19th century created a range of pieces directly inspired by Islamic originals. The display also includes contemporary reactions to the imagery of Orientalism by Middle Eastern and North African female artists such as Lalla Essaydi’s Women of Morocco triptych and Inci Eviner’s 2009 video work Harem. The display can be seen in The Sir Joseph Hotung Exhibition Gallery until 26th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
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This Soho square was laid out in the late 17th century, possibly by Sir Christopher Wren, and by the early 1700s most of the buildings surrounding the square were complete.
The name of the square is said to be a corruption of ‘gelding’ – the area, once apparently known as Gelding Close, was previously used for the grazing of geldings (there’s also a story that the gelding was featured on a nearby inn sign which locals objected to, renaming it ‘golden’).
It was, at first, the place to be among the well-to-do – among early residents were Barbara Villiers, the Duchess of Cleveland and mistress of King Charles II, James Bridges, who became the 1st Duke of Chandos, and Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, a favourite of Queen Anne.
By the mid 18th century, however, the trendy crowd had moved to developments further west and the square subsequently became noted for the high number of foreign delegations which made their base here, including those of Bavaria, Russia, Genoa and Portugal, as well as foreign artists including Swiss painter Angelica Kauffmann – the first female member of the Royal Academy, and Anglo-Irish painter (and later Royal Academy president) Martin Archer Shee.
Other famous residents have included dancer Elizabeth Gamberini, singer Caterina Gabrielli and Scottish anatomist John Hunter (his former home is one of two marked with English Heritage Blue Plaques in the square). Thomas Jefferson, later a US president, stayed in Golden Square during March and April, 1786, in his only visit to London.
A couple of houses in the square – then occupied by the Bavarian minister Count Haslang – were attacked during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots. These properties were bought by James Talbot, the Roman Catholic Bishop for London, in 1788, so the Roman Catholic Church in Warwick Street could be build in the gardens behind.
The square had deteriorated somewhat by the time Charles Dickens placed it in his late 1830s story Nicholas Nickleby as the home of Ralph Nickleby, and it become the location of numerous boarding houses and small hotels as well as various professionals.
By 1900 the square had become closely connected with the wool trade with as many as 70 firms connected with it located here. Several such firms are apparently still located here but the square is better known these days for companies associated with the movie business.
The middle of the square was dug up for an air raid shelter in World War II but it was paved afterwards and the statue of King George II, attributed to John Van Nost and erected here in 1753 as part of beautification project (it has been suggested the statue actually represents King Charles II but that remains a matter of conjecture), returned to its place in the middle.
None of the original houses now remain but there are a number of residences which still have at least elements dating from late 18th century rebuilds including numbers 11, 21, 23 and 24.
The oldest existing French patisserie in London is said to be Maison Bertaux, based in Greek Street in Soho.
The premises, where you can still indulge in delights including eclairs, croissants and delectable fruit tarts, was founded in 1871 by one Monsieur Bertaux, apparently a French communard from Paris.
It lies at the heart of what was then the city’s French community and located at number 28, stands next door to another Soho landmark, the Coach and Horses pub.
Bertaux apparently ran the business until 1909 and it’s since passed through a number of hands with current owners, sisters Michele and Tania Wade, reported as having taken over in 1988.
Famous patrons have reportedly included writers Virginia Woolf and Karl Marx, actors Steve McQueen and Nicole Kidman, artist Grayson Perry and musician Bob Geldof. The patisserie also famously made Lily Allen’s wedding cake and hosted the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s 25th birthday party.
Bastille Day celebrations are, of course, a highlight of the year.
For more, see www.maisonbertaux.com.
PICTURE: Google Maps.
Andrew Baker, author of the recently published From Bean To Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain, talks about some of his favourite chocolate spots in London…
The Queen’s favourite chocolates, for example, are made by the Prestat company in a marvellous factory crammed with delicious and exotic ingredients – and almost in the shadow of the prison at Wormwood Scrubs. As well as Her Majesty, Prestat’s lovely truffles were a favourite of the author Roald Dahl, of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…but this particular chocolate factory remains off-limits to visitors.
The same goes for the premises in Bethnal Green at which Phil Landers is currently the only person in the entire metropolis making chocolate from scratch, or “from bean to bar” as the technique is properly known. Phil’s lovely bars are available from his website and might be said to be the authentic taste of London chocolate.
But one place where you can both enjoy the finished product and – from time to time – watch it being made and chat with the master behind it is Paul A Young’s eponymous shop at 143 Wardour Street (pictured).
This long-established thoroughfare has existed along its present course since at least the 16th century, and in its time has been justly celebrated as a location for the stars of the music industry (David Bowie and The Jam, among many others) and the movie industry, which still retains a hefty presence.
PICTURE: Google Maps
But Young’s lovely purple corner shop has become a celebrated place of pilgrimage for fans of all things chocolatey.
The ginger-bearded, twinkly and genial Young has become one of Britain’s best-known chocolatiers through frequent appearances in print, online and on television, most notably making the treats of yesteryear in the deliciously nostalgic series The Sweet Makers.
But there is substance behind the fluency and charm: years of training as a pastry chef, working at an early stage with the superstar chef Marco Pierre White, and years of experience in the kitchens of his shops.
There are branches in Camden and Threadneedle Street in the City, but the most substantial outpost of his empire is here in Soho. This is a must-visit location not only for fans of filled chocolates – for Young is one of the finest exponents of those of those in the world – but also for barflys, because he stocks a full range of bars made by the wonderful Cleethorpes bean-to-bar maestro Duffy Sheardown. What is more, Young serves an enormously tempting cup of hot chocolate ladled, in the winter months, from a glorious copper cauldron steaming in the shop window. What better way to lure in customers on a chilly day?
The Barnsley-born Young is often to be found exploring new flavour combinations in the kitchen in the shop’s basement. There are frequent chocolate-making classes here as well, and there is no-one better at imparting, in a kindly and witty manner, the mysteries of tempering and ganache-making.
But he is at his best inventing wonderful new combinations of fine chocolate and delicious fillings, and it would be a foolish visitor to London who departed the capital without sampling at least several of Young’s most celebrated truffles – the Marmite version, for example, which I adore, the beer and crisp version made with Camden’s Brewdog ale, or the homage to his roots in the Yorkshire tea and biscuit truffle.
These and many, many more are laid out in mouthwatering rows in the Wardour Street shop, freshly made and so to be consumed as soon as possible. That is not a difficult piece of advice to heed.
From Bean To Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain: is published by AA Publishing.
A pub is believed to have stood on this site at 28 Rupert Street – now in Chinatown – since at least 1739 and is believed to have been updated substantially in about 1850. While the blue posts themselves are long gone, the building itself is now painted blue.
It has been suggested that the blue posts were simply placed out the front to mark the pub’s location before street numbering systems were introduced – as in, “it’s the place with the blue posts out the front”, but there are a number of other suggestions for the origins of the name.
One is that the blue posts were used as border markers for the royal hunting ground which once stood or Soho. Another, perhaps more likely than the aforementioned, that they marked locations where you could hire sedan chairs from in times gone by.
Whatever the reason for its name, this small, Grade II-listed pub, which is located on the corner with Rupert Close, underwent a complete transformation in early 2018 by the team behind the Israeli eatery, The Palomar.
As well as a small pub in ground floor of the building, it also boasts a cocktail lounge on the upper floor called the Mulwray (apparently named for the character, Evelyn Mulwray, played by Faye Dunaway in the movie Chinatown) and a small restaurant in the cellar called Evelyn’s Table (another Chinatown reference).
The Rupert Street establishment is one of several pubs with the same name in West End – others include one located nearby in Berwick Street, another in Newman Street, and yet another in Bennet Street in St James’s. And that’s just those in near proximity. So whatever the blue posts represented, it was clearly a relatively common feature in the area.
For more, see http://theblueposts.co.uk.
And so we come to the final in our series looking at London sites which tell part of the story of Mary Shelley, writer of Frankenstein, the book which this year marks its 200th anniversary. Of course, one of the most influential figures in her life was her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, so to finish the series, we’re taking a quick look at three sites memorialising him in London…
1. Poland Street, Soho. Shelley lived at number 15 after he was expelled from Oxford University in 1811 for publishing a pamphlet on atheism. He wasn’t here long – in August he eloped with Harriet Westbrook, then just 16, to Scotland. The building, which stands on the corner with Noel Street, features an English Heritage Blue Plaque and there’s a massive mural on its side, Ode to the West Wind, which takes its name from a poem he wrote in 1819. It was painted by Louise Vines in 1989. PICTURE: Google Maps.
2. Broadwick Street, Soho. The impressive Spirit of Soho mural on the corner with Carnaby Street was created in 1991 and restored in 2006. It features the images of numerous famous figures from the district’s history. As well as the likes of Casanova and Marx, Shelley also features – located a couple of people to the right of Casanova (here seen in red) at the base of the mural’s central panel. PICTURE: Dun.can (image cropped; licensed under CC BY 2.0)
3. Westminster Abbey. There’s no memorial to Mary Shelley in Westminster Abbey but in Poet’s Corner – located in the South Transept – you will find a small memorial to her husband. The joint memorial (which also commemorates John Keats) was designed by sculptor Frank Dobson and unveiled in 1954 by then Poet Laureate John Masefield. It simply features two plaques – one bearing the name Shelley and the other Keats with their birth and death years – linked by a “swag of flowers” attached to a lyre at the top of each plaque.
And that brings and end to our series on Mary Shelley’s London (although, of course there are still more sites associated with Shelley to explore!) . We’ll recap the series next week before launching our next Wednesday special series…
• The largest free-to-view motor show in the UK comes to Regent Street on Saturday showcasing vehicles from the past 125 years. The Illinois Route 66 Regent Street Motor Show, the key event in the Royal Automobile Club’s London Motor Week, features more than 100 pioneering vehicles, some of which date from pre-1905, which parade in a Concours d’Elegance judged by Alan Titchmarsh. There will also be retro F1 and Le Mans racers, “celebrity” vehicles such as ‘Herbie’ and the time-travelling DeLorean from the Back to the Future film franchise while manufacturers such as Renault and Triumph will be displaying their latest designs. Iconic US street machines on show as part of the Visit Illinois display will include a Ford Thunderbird, Dodge Charger, Pontiac Trans-Am, 1957 Chevy Pick-up and a pair of Harley Davidson Sportsters. There’s also activities for children including a state-of-the-art display by Scalextric. Among the anniversaries being marked at the show are the 80th anniversary of the Volkswagen Beetle and Jaguar anniversaries including the 70th anniversary of the XK120 and Mk C Saloon and the 50th anniversary of the XJ. Held on Regent Street between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus, the free show runs from 10.30am to 4pm. For more, head to http://regentstreetmotorshow.com. PICTURE: One of the vehicles on show in 2011 (Garry Knight; licensed under CC BY 2.0)
• A series of vibrant Japanese woodblock prints of orchids, first published in 1946, are on show at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at Kew Gardens. One of four art exhibitions currently on display as part of the gallery’s 10th anniversary, Rankafu: Masterpieces of Japanese Woodblock Prints of Orchids is believed to be the first major exhibition of Rankafu woodblock colour prints outside Japan. Other exhibitions showing simultaneously at the gallery feature a series of 20 highly intricate graphite drawings of veteran oaks by Mark Frith, a series of works focusing on the smaller details of trees such as leaves, seeds and fruit, and a display of the work of Pandora Sellars whose complex compositions have been described as “botanical theatre”. The four exhibitions can be seen until 17th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.
• The first UK retrospective of Russian-born American photographer Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) has opened simultaneously at the Jewish Museum in Camden and The Photographers’ Gallery in Soho. Roman Vishniac Rediscovered spans his career from the early 1920s to the late 1970s and features his well-known images of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. Other items on show include recently discovered vintage prints, rare and ‘lost’ film footage from his pre-war period, contact sheets, personal correspondence, original magazine publications, newly created exhibition prints and his high magnification photography known as ‘photomicroscopy’. Runs until 24th February. For more, see www.jewishmuseum.org.uk or www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk.
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This grand mansion, which once stood on the south side of Soho Square (then called King’s Square), was built for James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (and ill-fated illegitimate son of King Charles II) in the early 1680s during the early development of the square.
The three storey brick house stood around three sides of a courtyard (some suggest it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren).
The house, which was left unfinished, stood empty for some time after the duke’s death before, in 1689, part of it was briefly turned into a chapel for Huguenot refugees, known as the L’Église du Quarré (they located in 1694).
The house was sold by the Duchess of Monmouth to Sir James Bateman, Lord Mayor of London and a Sub-Governor of the South Sea Company, in 1716, and subsequently remodelled, apparently to the designs of architect Thomas Archer.
Bateman died in 1718 and his eldest son, William (later 1st Viscount Bateman), lived here until 1739. The property was late let to a succession of dignitaries – including the French and Russian ambassadors – and briefly was under consideration for use as a boy’s school.
It was eventually demolished in 1773 and Bateman’s Buildings now occupy the site. A plaque identifies the site as the former location of the mansion.
PICTURE: An 18th century engraving of Monmouth House.
It was then sold to Belgian chef Victor Berlemont and it’s at this point that some say the name, previously said to have been the Wine House, was changed to the York Minister (although there seems to be a bit of confusion about when the name changed).
Its French associations, meanwhile. were given a big boost during World War II when General Charles de Gaulle and Free French Army officers, in London following the fall of France, made it their HQ. In fact, some say that it was in this pub that de Gaulle wrote his famous speech against the Vichy settlement.
While it was often informally called the “French pub” thereafter, the name didn’t officially change until it reopened after a fire in 1984.
M Berlemont’s son Gaston, meanwhile, had succeeded his father in running the pub many years earlier – there’s a story that when he walked into the pub after World War II, still dressed in his uniform, his father handed over the keys and left him to it. A well-loved Soho identity, the moustachioed Gaston remained at the helm until 1989 when the pub passed into the hands of some French House regulars.
Located at 49 Dean Street, The French House is known for its Bohemian links, particularly with the literary and artistic set. Dylan Thomas is said to have accidentally left his handwritten manuscript Under Milk Wood here while others associated with the pub include Irish poet and playwright Brendan Behan, artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, writer John Mortimer (of Rumpole fame) and actor Tom Baker (of Dr Who fame).
For more, see www.frenchhousesoho.com.
The countdown continues…
Come back tomorrow for the next two…
And so we begin our annual countdown of the 10 most popular (new) posts of the year, starting with number 10…
Come back tomorrow for the next two!
The moniker of this Soho street owes its origins to the Greek Orthodox Church – London’s first – which was built in the area following an influx of Greeks in the 17th century.
The street was laid out in the 1670-80s and along with taverns, coffee houses and tradesmen’s workshops, also had some aristocratic tenants such as the 5th Earl of Anglesey. Casanova stayed in the street when visiting in 1764 and writer Thomas de Quincey, author of Confessions of an Opium-Eater, also lodged here temporarily.
Other tenants have included Josiah Wedgwood who had a warehouse and showrooms here from 1774 to 1797. Number 1, the House of St Barnabas, was once the home of twice Lord Mayor of London, William Beckford, and also the location where Sir Joseph Bazalgette commenced work on designing the city’s famed sewer system (it was then the offices of the Westminster Commissioners Sewers). It’s now a private members club.
The church, meanwhile, was soon taken over by the French Protestants who came into the area and eventually demolished in 1936. A remnant of the church, an inscription which was once embedded in the wall of the church, was salvaged and apparently taken to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Sophia in Bayswater.
Current premises based in the street include pubs like the Pillars of Hercules (number 7) and Coach and Horses (number 29) as well as establishments such as The Gay Hussar restaurant (number 2) and French patisserie Maison Bertaux (number 28).
In Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous 1886 story, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,the address of the home of Dr Henry Jekyll (and his alter-ego Mr Edward Hyde) is simply given as a square in Soho – then a rather seedy district.
Dr Jekyll is said to have bought the property from the heirs of a “celebrated surgeon”. Like the man himself, the house has two characters and features a “blistered and distained” rear entrance used by the dastardly Mr Hyde.
In a BBC Scotland documentary broadcast several years ago, author Ian Rankin identified the house in which Jekyll and Hyde lived as being based on that which pioneering Scottish surgeon and anatomist John Hunter (1728-1793) lived in on the east side of Leicester Square.
Hunter leased both the property at 28 Leicester Square (the present number 28 – the ground floor of which is a pub – is pictured) and another behind it (it fronted onto what was then Castle Street) in the 1780s. He then spent a good deal of money joining the two properties together, creating a complex of rooms which included space for his thousands of specimens (now in the Hunterian Museum) as well as an anatomy theatre. It was at the rear Castle Street entrance that he apparently received human cadavers, brought by so-called “resurrection men” for dissection.
“In the book, Stevenson gives a detailed description of the layout of Dr Jekyll’s home,” Rankin said in the documentary. “It is identical to John Hunter’s.”
He added that, despite Hunter’s “fame and respectability” – he was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to King George III and was one of London’s most sought-after doctors, “Hunter still demanded a constant supply of cadavers for his growing anatomy collection and teaching”.
“Naturally Hunter’s new home, in Leicester Square, was purpose-built for a surgeon’s double life.” Or for the respectable Dr Jekyll and brutish Mr Hyde.
Interestingly, the previous owner of Dr Jekyll’s home us said to have been a Dr Denman – there was a Dr Thomas Denman who was a contemporary of John Hunter who was a pioneering obstetrician.
The Leicester Square property later became the site of the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art (more of that in an upcoming Lost London post).
PICTURE: Top – Number 28 Leicester Square as it is today/Google Maps; Below – A ground floor plan of John Hunter’s residence made in 1792 (drawn in 1832) © Wellcome Images/CC BY 4.0
Immortalised in a statue in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital on South Bank last year, Mary Seacole is the first named black woman to have a memorial statue made in her image in London.
Mary Jane Seacole (nee Grant) was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1805, the daughter of a Scottish army lieutenant, James Grant, and a mixed-race Jamaican woman who kept a boarding house for invalid soldiers. She was taught traditional medicine by her mother from a young age and travelled extensively, visiting other parts of the Caribbean including Cuba and Haiti as well as Britain – staying in London for about a year around 1821, during which she added to her knowledge of medicine.
In 1836, she married merchant Edwin Seacole (he was the godson of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson – some rumours have it that he was actually his illegitimate son) but he died only eight years later in 1844. She subsequently spent some time in Central America – opening a ‘hotel’ there and aiding in the response to an outbreak of yellow fever – before returning to Jamaica where she apparently provided nursing services at the British Army HQ in Kingston.
In 1854, Seacole returned to England and, amid reports of the hardships soldiers were facing in the Crimean War which had broken out the year before, asked the War Office to send her to the Crimea as an army nurse. She was refused on multiple occasions (some say because of her race; others because she was too late to join the teams of nurses that were sent) and so she headed to Crimea herself.
There, she founded the British Hotel near Balaclava which provided food, quarters and medical care for sick and convalescent officers. She also apparently rode out to the front line of battle where she cared for the sick and wounded and such was her fame that Mary became known as ‘Mother Seacole’, earning a reputation said to rival that of Florence Nightingale.
Seacole returned to England after the war in ill health and poverty and apparently such was her renown that a benefit festival was held in her honour in July, 1857, to raise funds for her to live on. That same year she published her memoir, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands.
Seacole returned to Jamaica in the early 1860s but was back in London by 1870. She died at her home in Paddington of ‘apoplexy’ on 14th May, 1881, and was buried in Kensal Green.
In 2004, Seacole was ranked the greatest Black Briton in an online poll. She has also been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque (located on her one-time residence at 14 Soho Square) and a City of Westminster Green Plaque in George Street on the Portman Estate.
The three metre high bronze statue of Mary, built through funds raised in a public appeal and installed using money granted by the government, is the work of sculptor Martin Jennings. It was unveiled by actress Baroness Floella Benjamin in June last year before a reported crowd of some 300.
A disk behind the statue is inscribed with the words of The Times‘ Crimean War correspondent Sir William Howard Russell, who wrote in 1857: “I trust that England will not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.”
Seacole remains somewhat of a controversial figure with some saying her recent fame has unfairly come at the expense of contemporary Florence Nightingale.