Jane Austen featured numerous London locations in her novels. Here’s five…

Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury. In Emma, the main protagonist’s married sister, Isabella, lives here with her lawyer husband John Knightley and children. Isabella is well pleased with her home, noting “We are so very airy”.

Hill Street, Mayfair. Admiral Crawford, uncle of Henry and Mary Crawford, lives in this street in Mansfield Park.

Harley Street, Marylebone (pictured). John and Fanny Dashwood took a house in this street for the “season” in Sense and Sensibility.

Bond Street. Well known to Austen, she has Marianne, then upset over Willoughby (who has lodgings here), visit here on a shopping trip in Sense and Sensibility.

Grosvenor Street, Mayfair. The Hursts have a house in this fashionable West End street in Pride and Prejudice and here Jane Bennet visits Caroline Bingley hoping to see her brother Charles. Read the rest of this entry »

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This Grade II*-listed pub originally dates from the early 18th century but the current building was constructed in the 1860s and still retains many features dating from that period.

The name for this pub, located at 18 Argyll Street just south-west of Oxford Circus, comes from John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll, one of the Duke of Marlborough’s leading generals and the owner of the land on which the street (and pub) now stands.

The London mansion of the dukes was located where the London Palladium now stands and there is a legend that there was a tunnel between the house, which was eventually demolished in 1864, and the pub.

While the pub has undergone some alterations since it was built, mid-19th century features inside include etched glass separating the booths and an ornate plaster ceiling.

The pub is now part of the Nicholson chain. For more, head here.

PICTURES: Top – Russell Davies/Flickr/; Right – Michael Flynn/Flickr/(CC BY-NC 2.0)

It’s said to be the “only reasonably certain portrait from life” – a sketch by Jane’s older sister Cassandra which purportedly depicts the artist.

Found on display in Room 18 of the National Portrait Gallery, the pencil and watercolour sketch dates from about 1810 and was purchased by the gallery in 1948 for £135.

The image was the basis for a late 19th century water-colour image of Jane which was created by Maidenhead artist James Andrews who traced Cassandra’s sketch.

Andrew’s image had been commissioned by Jane’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, and he used an engraving of it – made by William Home Lizars – as a frontispiece to his biography, A Memoir of Jane Austen.

It is an image of that engraving which features on the new £10 polymer banknote going into circulation tomorrow.

The decision to use the later image rather than the original has attracted some criticism – not for the subject but for the fact that, as historian Lucy Worsley told The Sunday Times, it represents “an author publicity portrait after she died in which she’s been given the Georgian equivalent of an airbrushing”.

There has, we should also note, been some criticism of the choice of quote on the note – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading” comes from Pride and Prejudice and was uttered by the deceitful Caroline Bingley who really has no interest in reading at all!

WHERE: Room 18, National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place (nearest Tube station is Charing Cross or Leicester Square); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: Free (donations welcome); WEBSITE: www.npg.org.uk

PICTURE: Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen (pencil and watercolour, circa 1810 – NPG 3630) © National Portrait Gallery, London

Jane Austen was known as a patron of London’s theatre – in some cases attending shows several times a week while in the city (despite the fact that many, based on her writings – in particular Mansfield Park, believe she wasn’t really a fan).

She is known to have visited a number of West End establishments to see performances. They included:

The Lyceum Theatre: Jane visited this Wellington Street theatre more than once and expressed her frustration on one occasion of her failure to see the incomparable Sarah Siddons perform there.

The Covent Garden Theatre: The theatre Jane attended was a second iteration, opening in 1809 on the site of what is now the Royal Opera House adjacent to the market as a replacement for the previous theatre which, dating back to 1732, had burned down.

The Theatre Royal Drury Lane: The oldest of London’s theatres still in use, Jane saw the great actor Edmund Kean famously perform here as Shylock in the Shakespearian play, The Merchant of Venice, in 1814.

 

Jane Austen is known to have patronised many shops while in London (mainly concerned with fabrics) – here’s just a few…

Twinings – The Austen family is known to have bought their tea from the famous merchant’s 300-year-old premises which still stands in the Strand near Temple Bar; a letter survives which Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra in reference to an order.

Newton’s – A linen drapers formerly located at 14 Coventry Street just off Leicester Square. Jane is known to have visited here with her sister Fanny.

Wilding & Kent – Upmarket drapers, located in Grafton House on the corner of New Bond and Grafton Streets. Jane, who is known to have visited frequently, complained of the queues there.

Layton & Shear’s – A fashionable mercer’s shop located at 9 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, conveniently located next door to where Jane lived for a time with her brother Henry.

There are others – this is just a sample!

 

As you may have realised (the new £10 banknote anyone?), this month marks 200 years since the death of Jane Austen in Winchester on 18th July, 1817, so to mark the occasion, we’re looking at 10 sites of interest from Jane Austen’s London. To kick off our new Wednesday series, we’re looking at one of the locations where she is known to have resided while in London – number 10 Henrietta Street.

Number 10 in those days was the location of a bank – Austen, Maunde and Tilson – in which Jane’s older (and favourite) brother Henry was a partner. Above the bank’s offices was a flat Henry moved into after the death of his wife Eliza in 1813. It was also where Jane stayed when visiting publishers in the summer of 1813 and again in March, 1814, the latter when she was working on the proofs of Mansfield Park.

As well as a dining room at the front on the first floor, it had a sitting parlour, small drawing room and bedchambers (Jane is known to have stayed in one on the second floor). She described the property as “all dirt & confusion, but in a very promising way”.

Austen is known to have visited nearby theatres including the Lyceum and the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane while staying in London and during 1813 also visited the “blockbuster” exhibition of Sir Joshua Reynold’s paintings at the British Institute in Pall Mall ( a fascinating reconstruction of which can be found here).

A City of Westminster Green Plaque (erected in partnership with the Jane Austen Society) commemorates Jane’s stay here.

PICTURE: Diane Griffiths/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The Ship & Shovell just off the western end of the Strand takes its name from Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell who lived nearby in May Street.

Shovell (1650-1707), like the more famous seaman Horatio Nelson, was a rare achiever – he joined the navy at the age of 13 as a cabin boy and rose to earn a commission, an unusual accomplishment at a time when most were purchased.

Described as the “best officer of his age”, he was eventually made Commander in Chief of the English Fleet having taken part in the capture of Gibraltar as well as Barcelona, but was killed after a disastrous shipwreck off the Isles of Scilly in 1707.

The story goes that when his flagship, the Association, foundered, he had washed up on St Mary’s Island and was killed by a woman for the emerald ring he was wearing – she apparently later confessed (we’ll take a longer look at Sir Cloudesley’s fascinating life in an upcoming Famous Londoners).

The pub itself, located at 1-3 Craven Passage close to Charing Cross and Embankment, originally dates from around 1740 but has been updated several times since, most latterly after, having been left derelict for more than 15 years, it was restored and reopened in 1996.

Another part of the pub was opened across the street a couple of years later, making this a rather unique set-up in that it’s apparently the only London pub with two sections facing each other from either sides of the laneway.

Part of the Hall & Woodhouse group. For more on the pub, see http://shipandshovell.co.uk.

PICTURE: Andrew Bowden/CC BY-SA 2.0

London was agog. Gathering at what is now the Theatre Royal in Haymarket on the evening of 16th January, 1749, the city’s inhabitants were ready to experience a most amazing spectacle as a man would not only play a “common walking cane” as if it were any instrument but, apparently shrinking himself, step inside a common, ordinary sized wine bottle placed upon a table.

Spurred on by newspaper advertisements promising a night of “surprising things” (which also included the promise of the performer taking on the likeness of any person, living or dead), it was with great expectation that the crowd, which included the Duke of Cumberland, settled into their seats in the theatre, having willingly paid at least two shillings (and some substantially more) for the privilege of being present.

When the time came for the curtain to rise and nothing happened, there were no doubt some who thought it merely a tactic of the performer to build suspense. But the crowd was getting restless and soon after began booing and stamping their feet in their annoyance.

One of the theatre’s staff then appeared on stage to inform them the performer had not arrived and that all entrance fees would repaid  – his comments were apparently answered by a wit who claimed they would pay double if the magician could enter a pint bottle instead of a quart bottle. Further catcalls followed and before long someone apparently threw a candle, setting the stage curtains on fire. Panic broke out among those in the theatre as people sought to escape but for some rage took over as they realised that they had been the victims of a hoax.

The theatre was destroyed as people tore up the seats and smashed the scenery, carting what they could out into Haymarket where it was burnt in a bonfire. The theatre manager called out the guards but the rioting was largely over by the time they arrived. There were apparently no casualties, apart from the theatre itself, although the Duke of Cumberland did, it was said, lose a jewelled sword.

Apparently a bizarre hoax, attention quickly turned to who was behind it. It was commonly believed that it had been the 2nd Duke of Montagu, a notorious practical joker, who had placed the advertisement in order to win a bet that he could fill a theatre by promising something impossible such as a man being able to step inside a bottle. Yet to this day, the identity of the hoaxer remains something of a mystery and the case went on to be cited in reference to the gullibility of the London populace.

PICTURE: Kbthompson at English Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

The dualistic nature of the property fits with that of Jekyll and Hyde and while Leicester Square isn’t usually considered part of Soho, it’s at the least very close by.

“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

 

This Fitzrovia pub, famous for its literary connections (more about those in a moment), takes its name from a popular 18th century military hero.

marquis-of-granbyJohn Manners, the Marquis of Granby, played a key role for Britain during the Seven Years War – between Britain and her allies and France and hers – and, thanks to his popularity among the soldiers who served under his command, had numerous pubs named for him (he apparently also had a hand in setting up many old soldiers as publicans).

In his most famous battlefield exploit, while leading a series of cavalry charges at the Battle of Warburg in 1760 (in actions which saved the day), he apparently lost his hat and wig and was forced to salute his commander, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, without them.

All of which explains why the pub sign doesn’t show him wearing a hat and why soldiers from his former regiment, the Blues and Royals, have the unique privilege in being able to salute while not wearing headwear. The fact Manners was bald also apparently led to the coining of the phrase, “going at it bald-headed” – a reference to his fearlessness.

The pub, located at 2 Rathbone Street (on the corner with Percy Street – the address was formerly known as 38 Percy Street), is famous for its literary clientele during the years between the two World Wars – among those who drank here were writers Dylan Thomas and TS Eliot. They apparently shared the space with some low-level gangland figures.

For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/themarquisofgranbyrathbonestreetlondon.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0/

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A scene from Chinese New Year celebrations heralding the Year of the Rooster held in central London last weekend. PICTURE: Garry Knight/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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The upmarket department store chain John Lewis traces its origins back to 1864 when the man himself opened a drapers at 132 Oxford Street (later renumbered, it’s the site of the current store).

Originally from Somerset and brought up by an aunt after he was orphaned at a young age, Lewis served as an apprentice to a linen draper in Wells as a teenager before he moved to London to work as salesman for an Oxford Street draper, eventually becoming a silk buyer. He apparently turned down offer of partnership in that business, deciding instead to put out his own shingle.

Lewis slowly expanded his business into neighbouring properties and diversified into a growing range of goods – everything from clothing to furniture to kitchen china. By 1895 he had rebuilt his original shop, which now had fronts on Oxford and Holles Streets, into a multi storey department store with retail showrooms as well as a warehouse and a restaurant for customers.

More than 40 years after he opened his first shop in London, in 1905 Lewis acquired Peter Jones in Sloane Square. His sons, John Spedan Lewis and Oswald, became partners in the business in 1907. Oswald was later bought out but John, particularly while convalescing following a riding accident, began to think about how he could improve staff wages and working conditions.

However, his new ideas led to conflict with his father (known to be a tough employer) and so, in 1914, Spedan Lewis took over total control of the Peter Jones business in exchange for no longer taking any part in the Oxford Street store. Instead, turning his attention to the Sloane Square business, he introduced a profit-sharing scheme for employees as well as a representative staff council and other initiatives including the introduction of the weekly in-house magazine, The Gazette.

In 1924, Spedan Lewis was reconciled with his father and so it was that following his father’s death in 1928, he became sole owner of both businesses, bringing them together into a single entity. The famous motto – “Never Knowingly Undersold” – has apparently been in use in the Peter Jones store since it was introduced by Spedan Lewis in 1925.

In 1929, he created the John Lewis Partnership Ltd and while he continued to have practical control of the business, his reforms meant profits were distributed among employees. Twenty-one years later, in 1950, he signed settlement which saw the partnership become the property of the employees.

In 1933, the partnership purchased its first store outside London in Nottingham and it is now regarded as the largest department store retailer in the UK with 46 John Lewis shops including 32 department stores. It also owns the Waitrose supermarket chain.

The flagship Oxford Street store was almost completely destroyed during World War II. The present premises, which features a roof garden, opened in 1961. It features a famous (now Grade II*-listed) artwork – Barbara Hepworth’s Winged Figure – on the Holles Street facade near the corner with Oxford Street.

In 2008 this store was awarded a Royal Warrant from Queen Elizabeth II as “suppliers of haberdashery and household goods”.

This is the final in our current Wednesday series. We’ll be starting a new series shortly.

PICTURE: James Petts/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 2.0

hamleysThis Regent Street establishment – the oldest and largest toy store in the world – dates back to 1760 when Cornishman William Hamley came to London and founded his toy store – then called ‘Noah’s Ark’ – on High Holborn.

Selling everything from wooden hoops to tin soldiers and rag dolls, the business aimed to capture the trade of affluent Bloomsbury families and proved rather successful, attracting a clientele in the early 19th century which included not only wealthy families but royalty.

Such was its success that in 1881, Hamley’s descendants opened a new branch of the shop at 200 Regent Street. The Holborn store, meanwhile, burned down in 1901 and was subsequently relocated to a larger premises at numbers 86-87 in the same street.

Faced with the Depression in the 1920s, the shop closed briefly in 1931 but was soon reopened by Walter Lines, chairman of Tri-ang Toys, and in 1938 was given a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary, consort of King George V.

The premises at 188-196 Regent Street was bombed five times during the Blitz but the shop (and its tin hat-wearing staff survived). In 1955, having presented a Grand Doll’s Salon and sizeable model railway at the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shop was given a second Royal Warrant – this time by Queen Elizabeth II, who has been given Hamleys toys as a child – as a ‘toys and sports merchant’.

The business, which has passed through several owners since the early 2000s, is now owned by Chinese-based footwear retailer C.banner.  The flagship store is spread over seven floors and tens of thousands of toys on sale, located in various departments.

As well as the Regent Street premises (it moved into the current premises at number 188-196 Regent Street in 1981), Hamlets has some 89 branches located in 23 countries, from India to South Africa. A City of Westminster Green Plaque was placed on the store in February 2010, in honour of the business’s 250th anniversary.

The toy store holds an annual Christmas parade in Regent Street which this year featured a cast of 400 and attracted an estimated 750,000 spectators.

www.hamleys.com

PICTURED: Hamleys during its 250th birthday celebrations.

London is illuminated for Christmas. Here’s some of what photographers on Flickr have captured this year…
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Christmas in Regent Street. PICTURE: Michael Reilly/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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Christmas tree in Waterloo Place. PICTURE: William Warby/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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Carnaby Street. decorations PICTURE: Roger/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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Oxford Street under lights. PICTURE: Paolo Braiuca/Flickr/CC BY 2.0  (image cropped).

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A floating Christmas tree at St Katharine Docks. PICTURE: Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The practice of sending Christmas cards really began in the Victoria era and it was in London, in 1843, that the first commercial Christmas cards are widely said to have been designed and printed.

first-christmas-cardThe idea had come from Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who, overwhelmed with the volume of correspondence he was receiving, conceived it as answer to his problem, allowing him to send Christmas greetings to a wide group of people – all at once.

He asked his friend, artist John Callcott Horsley, to design the card and an edition of 1,000 were printed by Jobbins of Warwick Court in Holborn.

The hand-coloured card, published by Summerley’s Home Treasury Office in Old Bond Street, showed a family gathered for a Christmas celebration with two side images showing people engaged in charitable acts and a message, ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You’. Designed as a single flat card (not foldable like they are today), it came complete with ‘To’ and ‘From’ spaces for the sender to fill in.

The cards which Sir Henry didn’t need for his personal use were placed on sale for a shilling each but it was a fairly steep price and that – and the fact that the image of people drinking at the festive season apparently roused the ire of temperance campaigners, helped to ensure the cards weren’t an immediate success.

Nonetheless, further cards were produced in the following years and within a couple of decades, they were being mass produced.

One of Sir Henry’s original cards was reportedly sold at an auction in 2013 for £22,000.

Debenhams’ origins go back to 1778 when a draper’s store started trading at 44 Wigmore Street in London’s West End. Soon run by Thomas Clark and his partner Mr Flint, the shop sold fabrics, bonnets, gloves and parasols. 

debenhamsThe Debenhams name entered the story in 1813 when William Debenham, still young but having already learnt something of the trade at a hosiery in Nottingham, invested in the firm, now known as Clark & Debenham.

Success followed (apparently they expanded into a store across the road, calling one Clark & Debenham and the other Debenham & Clark) and in 1818, the firm opened its first store outside London – an exact replica of the Wigmore Street store in fashionable Cheltenham. This was followed by stores in other locations across England. (The original Debenhams store, which was rebuilt as a department store in the Edwardian era, is now largely occupied by offices).

The firm prospered in the coming years thanks to the demand for mourning attire in the Victorian age and in 1851 underwent another name change when Clement Freebody, brother of Debenham’s wife Caroline, invested in the firm, becoming Debenham, Son & Freebody and later just Debenham & Freebody (when William Debenham retired, it was his son William, Jr, who entered into partnership with Freebody) . At this time a wholesale business was established selling cloth and other items to dressmakers and other large retailers.

The company continued to expand and offices opened in various countries around the world – from Australia and South Africa to Canada and China. It’s said that in 1899, the store even had its own fire brigade and constabulary and around the start of the 20th century it became one of the first businesses to get a telephone.

In 1905, Debenhams Ltd was incorporated and in 1919 the business merged with Marshall and Snellgrove. Knightsbridge retailer Harvey Nichols was acquired in 1920 and seven years later the Debenham family’s involvement ended as the company went public.

Famous faces associated with the store in the early part of the 20th century included King Edward VII, for whom the business supplied coronation robes.

By 1950, Debenhams had become the largest department store group in the UK, owning 84 companies and 110 stores. Between 1985 and 1998, it was part of the Burton Group and it was during this period that it launched the Designers at Debenhams initiative as well as, in 1997, opening the first international franchise store in Bahrain. Debenhams listed on the London Stock Exchange following its demerger with the Burton Group and remain so until 2003 – when it was acquired by Baroness Retail Ltd – before returning to the London Stock Exchange in 2006.

It acquired nine stores from Roches in Ireland in 2007 and in 2009 acquired Danish department store chain Magasin du Nord.

As well as its flagship store in Oxford Street (refurbished for Debenhams 200th birthday in 2013), these days Debenhams owns and operates more than 18o stores in the UK, Ireland and Denmark (these include Browns of Chester which, following its acquisition in 1976, was allowed to keep its name). There are also some 60 franchise stores in more than 25 other countries.

For more, see www.debenhams.com.

PICTURE: Debenhams flagship Oxford Street store dressed up for Christmas.

The Museum of London Docklands is currently running an exhibition exploring the history of the Royal African Company through the story of William Ansah Sessarakoo. But just who was this African ‘prince’ who came to London (albeit only briefly) and caused such a stir through Georgian society?

Born around 1736, William Ansah Sessarakoo was the son of John Correntee, head of Annamaboe, the largest slave-trading port on Africa’s Gold Coast (now Ghana). Correntee had earlier sent one of his sons to France to be educated and the English traders, apparently worried at the close relationship Correntee had with the French, offered Correntee the chance for another of his sons to receive an English education.

portrait-of-william-ansah-sessarakoo-1749-c-national-portrait-gallery-londonCorrentee agreed and his son Ansah subsequently spent much of his time at Fort William, the English base in the region,  learning English and their customs and culture. When offered the chance to send Ansah to England, Correntee again agreed and it was decided he would take ship aboard the Lady Carolina with Captain David Bruce Crichton.

Crichton, however, soon betrayed his trust and instead of taking Ansah to England, sold him into slavery in Bridgetown, Barbados. Back in Africa, his family were led to believe he was dead.

But, well known as he was among the Fante people, Ansah was “discovered” four years later by a Fante trader in Barbados. When news reached Correntee he petitioned the English to free him and honour the original deal to send him to England. Anxious to protect their trade, the English agreed and the Royal African Company, which traded along Africa’s west coast, liberated him and transported him to England.

Upon his arrival in early 1749, he was presented as Prince William Ansah Sessarakoo or ‘The Royal African’. Staying as a guest in the Grosvenor Square home of George Montagu Dunk, the 2nd Earl of Halifax, he made numerous appearances in London society. Most notably, on 1st February, 1749, when he attended a showing of Thomas Southerne’s play Oroonoko which tells the story of an African prince sold into slavery by Europeans who then rebels and, after being forced to kill his wife, is himself executed. Sessarakoo was apparently so disturbed by the similarities between that story and his own, that he left the performance early.

In 1750, Ansah returned home. Within a year of his return he had gained work as a writer at Cape Coast Castle, the seat of English power on the Gold Coast and, using his connections there and abroad, he helped his father in his trading with both the English and French. His relationship with the English soured, however, after a physical altercation with William Mutter, the governor of Cape Coast Castle, over a pay dispute involving watered-down whiskey.

Ansah lived the rest of his life in relative obscurity back in Annamaboe and while there are records he did work as a slave trader during this period, little else is known. While no records exist, it is generally believed he probably died around 1770.

Despite his ignoble end, one of the legacies of Ansah’s visit to London was to show the nobility of the African people – a line of thought which did contribute to the rise of the abolitionist movement in Britain.

The Royal African display, featuring the story of William Ansah Sessarakoo, can be seen at the Museum of London Docklands until 4th June, 2017. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands/whats-on/exhibitions/royal-african.

PICTURE: William Ansah Sessarakoo by John Faber, Jr. c. 1749 © National Portrait Gallery, London

 

liberty1Liberty, now a West End institution, was founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1875 with a vision to transform the way people thought of fashion and homewares.

Born the son of a Buckinghamshire draper, Liberty worked with relatives from a young age before he eventually started work with a women’s fashion house, Farmer and Rogers. Rising to management, when they refused to make him a partner in the business, he decided to strike out on his own and established Liberty & Co at 218a Regent Street, an ‘oriental warehouse’ selling ornaments, fabric and objets d’art. He named the property East India House.

libertyOnly 18 months after he first set up shop – financed with a £2,000 loan from his future father-in-law and employed three staff – he was already expanding his premises into properties to the south in Regent Street to house furnishings and carpets. He eventually took over all the buildings between 140 to 150 and named the extended building Chesham House.

The costume department was introduced in 1884 and together with its director EW Godwin, Liberty created in-house fashions to challenge those of Paris. He is also noted for having encouraged and collaborated with designers like Archibald Knox and William Morris.

Liberty, who took the company public in 1894, was knighted in 1913. He died in 1917, seven years before the current Liberty store – the mock-Tudor building on the corner of Regent Street and Great Marlborough Street – was built.

Designed by Edwin T Hall and son, the shop was built from the timbers of two ships, the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan (and the shop frontage measures the same length as the latter). It was built around three light wells, each of which was surrounded by smaller rooms – many of which have fireplaces and were designed to give the feel of rooms in a house.

Features on the Grade II*- listed building include its weathervane – an exact replica of the Mayflower, which took pilgrims to the US in 1620, decorative shields including the arms of Shakespeare and those of the wives of King Henry VIII, and the clock above the Kingly Street entrance.

Liberty, which is generally acknowledged to have been a powerful influence on 19th and 20th century fashions and tastes, was bought by its current owners, BlueGem in 2010.

~ www.libertylondon.com

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Christmas lights are appearing already and shop windows are being unveiled. So in the lead-up to the yuletide celebrations this year, we’re taking a look at eight of London’s most historic department stores.

To kick it off, we’re looking at how it all started for Selfridges, the department store started by American Harry Gordon Selfridge and made famous, in recent times, as the setting for the TV series, Mr Selfridge.

Selfridge, who had been born in Wisconsin in the US, formed the company Selfridges & Co in 1906, having made his way to London from Chicago where he had been extensively involved in the department store Field & Leiter (later Marshall Fields) rising to become a junior partner in the business (he had, after leaving Marshall Fields, apparently subsequently opened his own store in Chicago but not wanting to compete with his former employees, decided to head for London).

As well as drawing on his own resources, he was backed by Samuel Waring of furniture makers Waring & Gillow, who did so on condition that he not sell furniture in his store, a condition respected long after W&G had ceased trading.

Work began on his new purpose-built neo-classical department store at 400 Oxford Street soon after. Featuring rows of columns and taking up a whole block, it was designed by American architect Daniel Burnham whom Selfridge knew from Chicago and wasn’t fully completed until 1928. As mentioned in a previous post, an idea for a colossal tower on the building was never realised.

The grand opening was held on 15th March, 1909, and, a master of the theatrical, Selfridge’s publicity campaigns had ensured a crowd and as many as 30 police officers were apparently required to help hold back the crowds.

Known to his staff as The Chief, Selfridge – who now preferred the name Gordon to Harry, kept the masses talking about his store when in July that same year he put on display the plane French aviator Louis Bleriot had used when making the first flight over water. More than 150,000 people came to see it.

Selfridge, driven by his credo that “the customer is always right”, revolutionised the way the British shopped – particularly women – with his stylish display of goods in-store and in the windows, not to mention store features like the women’s toilets (a novelty for the age), Art Deco lifts, rooftop gardens and the Palm Court Restaurant (destroyed by fire caused by bombing in the 1940s). Other facilities included a post office, theatre booking office, library and an information bureau.

And the innovations kept coming: in 1910, he opened a beauty department inside the ground-floor entrance and in 1911, the Bargain Basement was born. The world’s biggest bookshop became part of the store in 1911 as well as a pet department. He also launched a delivery system using a fleet of horse-drawn vans and then petrol and electric powered vans.

And Selfridge continued to draw crowds with events ranging from a gala charity ball on the rooftop in 1913 to a showing of John Logie Baird’s televisor in 1925. In 1931, the famous clock, The Queen of Time was installed over the flagship store’s entrance.

Selfridge, who was forced to retire in 1939 after losing much of his personal fortune – thanks at least in part to his free-spending lifestyle, died in 1947.

Aside from the flagship store in London, Selfridges stores can now be found in Birmingham and Manchester (two).

PICTURE: Russ London/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 2.5/Image cropped

For more on the history of Selfridges, see Lindy Woodhead’s Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge.

the-coal-holeThis pub’s name is fairly self-explanatorily related to coal but there’s a couple of different versions floating around as to why.

One story, mentioned on the pub’s website, says the name comes from the legend that the pub occupies the space which once contained the coal cellar for the Savoy Hotel – not a great leap given its location on the corner of Carting Lane and the Strand, with the Savoy Hotel just behind.

The other is that it takes its name from the “coal heavers” – men who moved coal – who worked nearby on the River Thames. Again, not too much of a stretch.

Which-ever is true (or maybe both), the current Grade II-listed building at 91-92 Strand dates from just after the turn of the 19th century and, according to a plaque on the property, was apparently briefly known as as the New Strand Wine Lodge.

During Edwardian times it was apparently a ‘song and supper’ club where patrons were encouraged to sing (something like the karaoke bars of today).

Gilbert and Sullivan apparently regularly performed here regularly during Edwardian times and the great Shakespearean thespian, Edmund Keane, apparently started the Wolf Club – ostensibly “for oppressed husbands forbidden to sing in the bath” but apparently as a pretence for considerably more debauched activities – in the basement.

Now part of the Nicholson’s chain. For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/thecoalholestrandlondon

PICTURE: Ewan Munro/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0/Cropped