This prison dates from the time of King Richard II (1377-99) and stood off Borough High Street (just to the north of the Church of St George the Martyr) in Southwark until the mid 18th century when it moved to a new premises.

The prison, originally based in two houses apparently known as the Crane and the Angel (Angel Place bears witness to the latter), was first used for those convicted at the travelling court of the King’s Bench.

The prison was burned several times during periods of unrest and was upgraded during the reign of King Henry VIII. Among those imprisoned here were the reformer and martyr John Bradford who was held here before being burned at the stake in 1555 during the reign of Queen Mary (when it would have been known as the Queen’s Bench).

By the 1600s, it had become a debtors’ prison and in the mid-17th century – during the Commonwealth it was known as the ‘Upper Bench’ –  it reportedly held around 400 inmates who carried a collective debt of £900,000.

As with other prisons, the comfort of prisoners depended very much on their financial circumstances – those with money were able to live quite well. Those imprisoned here during this period included the dramatist Thomas Dekker and the King of Corsica, imprisoned in 1752 for debt (he died only four years later).

A Parliamentary inquiry in the 1750s revealed a host of problems with the prison including overcrowding, the practice of extortion by prison officers, promiscuity and drunkenness among prisoners and other irregularities, all of which led, in 1758, to the prison being closed (and later demolished) and moving to a new premises in St George’s Fields, Southwark (we’ll deal more with that facility in an upcoming post).

PICTURE: St George the Martyr on Borough High Street near where the first King’s Bench stood.

The later years of the life of Japan’s greatest artist, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), is the subject of a new exhibition at the British Museum. Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave features his iconic print, The Great Wave (c1831), along with works he created during the last 30 years of his life until his death at the age of 90. Around 110 works – major paintings, drawings, woodblock prints and illustrated books depicting everything from iconic land and seascapes, to deities, mythological creatures, flora and fauna, and beautiful women – will be on display with about half the artworks changed over midway through the exhibition due to conservation reasons. Alongside The Great Wave, other key works, which come from the British Museum’s own collection as well as loans from Japan, Europe and the US, include Hokusai’s print series, Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji (published around 1831-33), a depiction of Red Shoki (the demon queller) – borrowed from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and his brush drawing manual Hokusai manga. The exhibition, which opens today, runs until 13th August in Room 35. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: British Museum

The fashions of Cristóbal Balenciaga are on show at the V&A in the first ever UK exhibition to explore his work and influence. Marking the centenary of the opening of Balenciaga’s first fashion house in San Sebastian and the 80th anniversary of the opening of his famous Paris house, Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion focuses on the latter part of his career in the 1950s and 1960s, a period during which he dressed some iconic figures and introduced revolutionary shapes such as the ‘baby doll’, the tunic and the sack. More than 100 garments and 20 hats are featured with highlights including ensembles made for Hollywood actress Ava Gardner, dresses and hats belonging to Sixties fashion icon Gloria Guinness and pieces worn by one of the world’s wealthiest women, Mona von Bismarck. Opens on Saturday and runs until 18th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/balenciaga.

British female cartoonists and comic artists are celebrated in an exhibition on now at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury. The Inking Woman features the work of more than 80 artists as it traces the evolution of British women in their role as satirists, humorists and story-tellers. Among them are Mary Darly, 18th century print seller, artist and the author of the first book on the art of caricature, Principles of Caricatura (1762), Marie Duval, an early artist for the 19th century magazine Judy, Sally Arts, Grizela and Kathryn Lamb – cartoonists for mainstream publications like Punch and Private Eye, political and joke cartoonists, strip cartoonists and caricaturists and comic artists and graphic novelists. Runs until 23rd July. Admission charge applies. See www.cartoonmuseum.org.

• An eight foot high snail will be touring The Royal Parks from the end of the month as part of The Royal Park’s Mission: Invertebrate. Funded with £600,000 from the People’s Postcode Lottery, the project aims to inspire people with the “amazing story of nature’s unsung workforce” and help park managers gain better insight into the 4,100 invertebrates species which live in The Royal Parks’ 5,000 acres. The snail, which will be visiting the parks during the half-term break and summer holidays, will bring with it interactive story-telling and a range of free, creative activities. For a full itinerary of the snail’s wanderings, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/be-involved/mission-invertebrate/family-programme.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

This Grade II-listed pub owes its name to the fact it was from where “medicinal waters” taken from nearby springs were taken to be bottled before being sold to coffee houses and taverns across London at threepence a flask.

The business was established by the Wells Trustees which had initially intended the waters to be solely for the use of the Hampstead poor. That idea, however, soon developed into a lucrative trade in bottled water with distribution across the city apparently handled by an apothecary, a Mr Philips, from his base at a Fleet Street tavern.

Known initially as the Thatched House due to its roofing material (and later as the Lower Flask to distinguish it from The (Upper) Flask in Highgate), the pub was famously mentioned in Samuel Richardson’s novel, Clarissa.

The current premises at 14 Flask Walk was built in 1874 – designed by Cumming and Nixon – and among its public rooms are a grand saloon bar and a conservatory.

Part of the Young & Co’s chain since 1904. For more, see www.theflaskhampstead.co.uk.

The Flask in an image taken in 2014. PICTURE: Adam Bruderer/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Methods employed by world renowned 18th century Venetian painter Canaletto in creating his evocative images of the city where he lived are the subject of a new exhibition which opens at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace tomorrow. Canaletto & the Art of Venice showcases the findings of recent research in an exhibition which focuses on the Royal Collection’s remarkable group of paintings, drawings and prints by the artist – a collection obtained by King George III in 1762 from dealer (and the then-British Consult in Venice) Joseph Smith. Royal Collection Trust conservators used infrared technology to uncover previously hidden marks on drawings, providing new insights into Canaletto’s artistic techniques and casting doubt on a long held theory that he used a camera obscure to achieve topographical accuracy in his work. The exhibition, which features more than 200 paintings, drawings and prints, displays his work alongside that of contemporary artists Sebastiano, Marco Ricci, Rosalba Carriera, Francesco Zuccarelli, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta and Pietro Longhi. Runs until 12th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Canaletto, The Grand Canal looking East from Campo San Vio towards the Bacino, c.1727-8, from a set of 12 paintings of the Grand Canal. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

• A rare ‘First Folio’ of William Shakespeare’s work – widely regarded as one of the most perfect copies in existence – will be available for viewing before an outdoor performance of Twelfth Night next month. Five actors from acting company The Three Inch Fools will perform the comedy in the St Mary Aldermanbury’s Garden on 1st June at 7pm, the same garden where Henry Condell and John Heminges, two of the Bard’s co-partners at the Globe Theatre and the men behind the production of the First Folio in 1623, were buried. Those attending the performance will be given the chance to view the folio in the nearby Guildhall Library before the performance. Tickets to this one night only opportunity can be purchased from Eventbrite.

Author and naturalist William Henry Hudson, whose work so inspired author Ernest Hemingway that his name was referenced in Hemingway’s first novel The Sun Also Rises, has been commemorated with a City of Westminster Green Plaque in Leinster Square, Bayswater. Born the son of British parents in Argentina, Hudson came to Westminster after leaving South America in 1874. An early support of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, his books on the English countryside became famous and helped foster the back to nature movement of the 1920s and 1930s.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

A towering figure of the scientific world, Faraday made significant contributions to understanding the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry and was a key figure at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in the 19th century.

Faraday was born in Newington Butts in Surrey (now in south London, part of the Borough of Southwark) on 22nd September, 1791, and, coming from a poorer family, received only a basic education before, at the age of 14, he started an apprenticeship as a bookbinder.

The job proved, however, to be something of a godsend, for Faraday was able to read a wide range of books and educate himself – it was during this time that he began what was a lifelong fascination with science.

In 1812 at the end of his apprenticeship, he attended a series of lectures at the Royal Institution by the chemist Sir Humphry Davy. Subsequently asking Sir Humphry for a job, he eventually was granted one the following year – in 1813 – when Sir Humphry appointed him to the post of chemical assistant in the laboratory at the RA (the job came with accommodation).

Faraday’s ‘apprenticeship’ under Davy – which included an 18 month long tour of Europe in his company – was critical to his future success and from 1820 onward – having now settled at the RA, he made numerous contributions to the field of chemistry – including discovering benzene, inventing the earliest form of Bunsen burner and popularising terms like ‘cathode’ and ‘ion’.

But it was in physics that he made his biggest impact, making discoveries that would, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “revolutionise” our understanding of the field.

Faraday, who married Sarah Barnard, the daughter of a silversmith, in 1821 and was thereafter an active member of the Sandemanian Church to which she belonged, published his ground-breaking first work on electromagnetism in 1821 (it concerned electromagnetic rotation, the principle behind the electric motor). His discovery of electromagnetic induction (the principle behind the electric transformer and generator) was made in 1831 and he is credited with having constructed the first electric motor and the first ‘dynamo’ or electric generator.

Faraday, who would continue his work on ideas concerning electricity over the next decade, was awarded numerous scientific appointments during his life including having been made a member of the Royal Society in 1924, the first Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution, from 1833 until his death, scientific advisor to lighthouse authority for England and Wales – Trinity House, a post he held between 1836 and 1865, and Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, a post her held between 1830 and 1851.

He also, in 1825, founded the Royal Institution’s famous “Friday Evening Discourses” and the “Christmas Lectures”, both of which continue to this day. Over the ensuring years, he himself gave many lectures, firmly establishing himself as the outstanding scientific lecturer of the day.

Faraday’s health deteriorated in the early 1840s and his research output lessened although by 1845 he was able to return to active research and continued working until the mid 1850s when his mind began to fail. He died on 25th August, 1867, at Hampton Court where he had been granted, thanks to Prince Albert, grace and favour lodgings by Queen Victoria (she’d also apparently offered him a knighthood which he’d rejected). He was buried in Highgate Cemetery.

Faraday is commemorated with numerous memorials around London including a bronze statue at Savoy Place outside the Institution of Engineering and Technology, a Blue Plaque on the Marylebone property where he was an apprentice bookbinder (48 Blandford Street), and a rather unusual box-shaped metallic brutalist memorial at Elephant and Castle. And, of course, there’s a famous marble statue of Faraday by John Henry Foley  inside the RI (as might be expected, the RI, home of The Faraday Museum, have a host of information about Faraday including a ‘Faraday Walk’ through London’s streets).

PICTURE: Adambro/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

 

Another of London’s protected views is that from the Grade II-listed statue of General Wolfe in Greenwich Park.

The panoramic scene takes in much of the park itself as well as The Queen’s House and the Old Royal Naval College and across the River Thames to London’s Docklands and around to St Paul’s Cathedral (the key point in London when it comes to protected views).

The bronze statue, which stands on a terrace just outside The Royal Observatory (home of Greenwich Mean Time) atop a stone plinth, was created in 1930 and commemorates General James Wolfe (1727-1759), whose victory in the Battle of Quebec (also known as the Battle of the Plains of Abraham) with the French secured Canada for the British.

Wolfe has local links – he and his father apparently lived in a house on the edge of the park and he is buried in St Alfege’s Church. The statue, unveiled by the Marquis de Montcalm, a descendant of the commander-in-chief of French forces who also died at the Battle of Quebec, was a gift from the Canadians and was designed by Dr Tait Mackenzie.

The statue’s plinth incidentally is pitted with bomb fragments from a bomb which exploded at the Royal Observatory during World War II.

WHERE: Greenwich Park (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark – other nearby stations include Greenwich, Maze Hill and Blackheath); WHEN: 6am to at least 6pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx

PICTURES: Views from the statue of General Wolfe via Flickr (top – Roman Hobler/CC BY 2.0/image cropped; bottom – Garry Knight/CC BY 2.0)

Wishing all our readers a very happy Easter!

Maritime Greenwich will celebrate 20 years of UNESCO World Heritage Listing with a “spectacular” lighting event next Tuesday night. The lights will be switched on at 8.30pm on 18th April, illuminating landmarks including the Cutty Sark, the Queen’s House, National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory as well as the Old Royal Naval College. The event, the first in a series to mark the 20 year anniversary this year, is the first time all the buildings have been lit up in unison and is a one night only event. Greenwich Park and the grounds of the National Maritime Museum and Old Royal Naval College will be kept open until 10pm to give visitors more time to witness the historic event. Maritime Greenwich was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997 due to its role in the progression of English artistic and scientific endeavour in the 17th and 18th centuries. The event takes place from 8.30pm to 11pm (Cutty Sark will be lit until 11pm) and is free to attend. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk. PICTURE: RMG

 A memorial garden to Princess Diana has opened at Kensington Palace, marking 20 years since her death. The temporary ‘White Garden’ – located in what was formerly the Sunken Garden which often featured floral displays admired by the Princess – features flowers and foliage inspired by memories of the Princess’s life, image and style. The garden, which can be seen from a public walkway, complements the exhibition, Diana: Her Fashion Story, currently on show in the palace. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/.

Mark Wallinger’s work, Ecce Homo – a life-sized sculpture of Jesus Christ with his hands bound behind his back and a crown of barbed wire on his head, has been placed at the top of St Paul’s Cathedral’s west steps for Easter. The sculpture, which will be at the cathedral for six weeks, represents Christ as he stands alone, waiting for judgement and a sentence of death. The sculpture is being presented by the cathedral in partnership with Amnesty International and the Turner Prize winning artist to highlight the plight of all those currently in prison, suffering torture or facing execution because of their political, religious or other conscientiously-held beliefs. The statue first appeared on the Trafalgar Square Fourth Plinth in 1999. For more, see www.stpauls.co.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

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/

cummings-barograph1Acquired last year by the Science Museum, this rare Georgian clock records changes in air pressure and is one of only four of its type made by London clockmaker Alexander Cumming.

cummings-barograph2Dating from 1766, the clock (pictured) sits in a seven foot tall decorated case, believed to have been made by London cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale. Inside is a barograph – comprised of two tubes of mercury in which a float rises and falls as atmospheric pressure changes and the data is recorded on the clock dial which rotates once a year.

Scottish-born Cumming, who constructed his first barograph clock on the orders of King George III a year before this one in 1765, designed this clock based on ideas first outlined by Royal Society founding member Robert Hooke.

Following Cumming’s death in 1814, the clock was purchased by meteorologist Luke Howard – known as the ‘father of scientific meteorology’ – who used it to observe atmospheric pressure at his homes in London and Ackworth. The data gathered was published in his book Barometrographia  in 1847.

While it has previously been loaned for display at the museum, it now forms part of the permanent collection.

WHERE: Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk

PICTURES: Courtesy of the Science Museum.

Lemuel Gulliver, the ‘hero’ of Jonathan Swift’s 1726 book, Gulliver’s Travels, wasn’t a native Londoner but moved to the city for work and lived in several different locations before embarking on his famous voyage to the land of Lilliput.

lemuel-gulliverAccording to the book, the Nottinghamshire-born Gulliver studied at Emanuel College (sic) in Cambridge before he was apprenticed to London surgeon known as James Bates after which he spent a couple of years studying in the Dutch town of Leiden (spelt Leydon in the book).

Returning to England briefly, he spent the next few years voyaging to the “Levant” before returning to London where he “took part of a small house in Old Jewry” (Old Jewry lies in the City of London runs between Poultry and Gresham Street) and married Mary Burton, daughter of a Newgate Street hosier.

His master Bates dying, however, a couple of years later and with a failing business, he took up the position of surgeon on two different ships and it was when he eventually returned to London that he moved to Fetter Lane – which runs north from Fleet Street – and then from there to Wapping where hoping to retire from the sea and “get business (presumably he meant medical cases) among the sailors”.

But it was not to be and so, in 1699, Mr Gulliver set off on the voyage accounted in the famous book.

The name Fetter Lane, incidentally, has nothing to do with fetters (ie chains) – see our earlier post for more. And it’s also worth noting that the author, Jonathan Swift, also visited and lived in London at various times of his career – we’ll take a more in depth look at his experiences in a later post.

PICTURE: Lemuel Gulliver, depicted in a first edition of Gulliver’s Travels/Wikipedia.

1-_the_great_exhibition_india_no-_4_by_joseph_nash_ca-_1851_royal_collection_trust_c_her_majesty_queen_elizabeth_ii_2016

A new exhibition celebrating the life of John Lockwood Kipling – described as an “artist, writer, museum director, teacher, 2-_lockwood_kipling_with_his_son_rudyard_kipling_1882__national_trust_charles_thomasconservationist and influential figure in the Arts and Crafts movement” as well as being the father of world famous writer Rudyard Kipling – opens at the V&A in South Kensington on Saturday. The exhibition is the first exploring the life and work of Kipling (1837-1911) who campaigned for the preservation of Indian crafts as well as being a craftsman himself (his terracotta panels can still be seen on the exterior of the V&A) and an illustrator of his son’s books. Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London features paintings of the Indian section of the 1851 Great Exhibition as well as objects which were on display (the exhibition was visited by Kipling while a teenager), Kipling’s sketches of Indian craftspeople observed during his many years living in India as well as objects he selected for the V&A while there, designs and illustrations for books, and furniture he helped his former student architect Bhai Ram Singh design for royal residences Bagshot Park and Osborne. The free exhibition, a collaboration between the V&A and the Bard Graduate Centre in New York, runs until 2nd April (it will be on display at the Bard Graduate Center, New York, from 15th September this year). For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/kipling. PICTURES: Top: The Great Exhibition, India no. 4, by Joseph Nash/Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016 ©; Right: Lockwood Kipling with his son Rudyard Kipling, 1882/© National Trust, Charles Thomas

Anyone named Emma will receive free entry into the National Maritime Museum’s exhibition on Emma Hamilton this weekend in honour of the 202nd anniversary of her death on 15th January, 1815. Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity shines a light on the remarkable woman who overcame poverty to become one of the most famous international celebrities of her age. The display features more than 200 objects on loan from public and private collections as well as from the museum’s own collection including paintings, personal letters, prints and caricatures, costumes and jewellery. Simply bring proof that your name is Emma – such as a passport, driver’s licence or utility bill – and gain free entry on 14th and 15th January. The exhibition runs until 17th April. Admission charges usually apply. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/emmahamilton.

Members of the public will be granted a close-up look of the ceiling of the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich this April. The hall, described as the “Sistine Chapel of the UK” is undergoing a two year transformation which includes conservation of Sir James Thornhill’s famous painted ceiling. As part of the project, a series of ceiling tours will be launched on 1st April this year with visitors taken up close via a lift where they can see the conservators at work. For more, see www.ornc.org.

Send all items for consideration to exploringlondon@gmail.

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.

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

 

st-dunstans-clock

We reintroduce an old favourite this month with our first ‘Where’s London’s oldest’ in a few years. And to kick it off, we’re looking at one of London’s oldest public clocks.

Hanging off the facade of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street is a clock which is believed to have been the first public clock to be erected in London which bears a minute hand.

The work of clockmaker Thomas Harris, the clock was first installed on the medieval church in 1671 – it has been suggested it was commissioned to celebrate the church’s survival during the Great Fire of London and was installed to replace an earlier clock which had been scorched in the fire. Its design was apparently inspired by a clock which had once been on Old St Paul’s Cathedral and was destroyed in the fire.

Like the clock it replaced, this clock sat in brackets and projected out into Fleet Street which meant it was able to be seen from a fair distance away (and being double-sided meant the black dials could be seen from both the east and the west). Like the Roman numerals that decorate it, the two hands, including the famous minute hand, are gold.

To the rear and above the clock dials are located the bells and striking mechanism. The bells are struck on the hours and the quarters by ‘automata’ – Herculean figures, perhaps representing Gog and Magog (although to most they were traditionally simply known as the ‘Giants of St Dunstan’s’), who do so using clubs and turn their heads.

Such was the attention these figures attracted that when the clock was first installed the area became notorious for pick-pockets who apparently went to work on unsuspecting passersby who had stopped to watch the giants at work.

This church was demolished in the early 1800s to allow the widening of Fleet Street and when it was rebuilt in 1830, the clock was absent. Having decided it couldn’t be accommodated in the new design, it had been auctioned off with the art collector, Francis Seymour-Conway, the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, the successful bidder.

He had it installed on his Decimus Burton-designed villa in Regent’s Park and there it remained until 1935 when Lord Rothermere, who had bought the villa in 1930, returned it to the church to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.

There are numerous literary references to the clock including in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield and a William Cowper poem.

royal-african-company• London’s role in the slave trade during the 17th and 18th centuries is the subject of a new display opening at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. Called The Royal African, it tells the story of the Royal African Company, founded as a joint venture between the Duke of York (the future King James II) and leading London merchants in 1672 (the coat-of-arms of which is pictured), through looking in-depth at the life of William Sessarakoo. An African prince, Sessarakoo grew up in a Royal African Company fort at Annamaboe in modern Ghana but when his father sent him to London to be educated, he was tricked and instead sold into slavery in Barbados. He spent four years as a slave until he was freed by members of the Royal African Company who wanted to retain good relations with his father and subsequently brought him to London. The display is being housed in the museum’s London, Sugar & Slavery Gallery and can be seen until 4th June next year. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands. PICTURE: © Museum of London.

• A rare Victoria Cross found on the foreshore of the River Thames has gone on show at the Museum of London in the City. Mystery surrounds the medal which was given for actions at the Battle of Inkerman during the Crimean War. While a number of medals were awarded for actions in the battle, only two have a location recorded as unknown. The first is that awarded to Scottish Private John McDermond from the 47th (the Lancashire) Regiment for saving the life of Lt Col O’Grady Hall who had been injured and surrounded by the enemy which leading a charge against a Russian column while the second is that awarded to Irish Private John Byrne of the 68th (Durham) Light Infantry who rescued a wounded comrade under fire. On show alongside the medal is a record book which details the engraving on each VC issued between 18554 and 1927, the original medal design from the jewellers Hancocks and a modern copy of a VC. The medal, which was found and then reported by Tobias Neto, is on show until 15th December. For more, see http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london.

Sir Elton John’s collection of modernist photography is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Tate Modern in South Bank earlier this month. The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection features more than 150 works from more than 60 artists including Man Ray, André Kertész, Berenice Abbot, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen. Among the subjects show in the images are Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. The exhibition runs until 7th May. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Now a Piccadilly institution, Fortnum and Mason’s origins (which we dealt with in 2011 in a London’s oldest post but couldn’t resist looking at again) famously go back the early 17th century when Hugh Mason rented out a spare room to William Fortnum, a Footman in the household of Queen Anne.

fortnum-masonThe entrepreneurial Fortnum decided to supplement his income by selling Queen Anne’s half-used candle wax (new candles were required every night) for a small profit. It was he who convinced his landlord, who also had a small shop in St James’s Market, to join with him in a joint venture – the first Fortnum & Mason – in Duke Street in 1707.

Initially founded as a grocery store, Fortnum & Mason, which moved to its current site at 181 Piccadilly in 1756, become known for its high quality and rare goods – in particular tea – and during the 18th and 19th centuries supplied the gentry who were in London for the ‘season’. Departments inside the store have included a rather bizarre ‘Expeditions Department’ which apparently supplied King Tut’s finder Howard Carter and a 1922 expedition to Mount Everest.

It has held numerous Royal Warrants since the mid 1800s with the first granted in 1863 when the firm was appointed as grocers to the then Prince of Wales.

A supplier of British officers during the Napoleonic Wars, Fortnums was also active during the Crimean War when Queen Victoria had shipments of “concentrated beef tea” sent to Florence Nightingale for use in her hospitals there.

Other claims to fame include the creation of the first Scotch egg in 1738 as a food for travellers and that in 1886, it became the first store in Britain to stock tins of Heinz baked beans. It also operated a post office between 1794 and 1839 when the General Post Office was founded.

The iconic clock which hangs on the facade of the building was commissioned in 1964 by Canadian businessman Garfield Weston who bought the business in 1951. Every hour models of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason come forth and bow to each other. Other features on the building itself include four colonies of bees which have lived on the roof since 2008 in uniquely-designed hives.

The store, now famous for its luxury food hampers, underwent a £24 million restoration in the lead-up to its 300th anniversary in 2007. As well as the flagship store, it also now operates stores in St Pancras (2013) and Heathrow Airport (2015) as well as, since last year, in Dubai (it did open a store on Madison Avenue in New York in the 1930s but the business was short-lived thanks to the Depression). Fortnum & Mason products can also be found in a growing number of department stores around the world.

The Piccadilly store houses a number of eateries including The Parlour, The Gallery and The Wine Bar as well as, since it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II herself in 2012, the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon – already famous for its afternoon teas.

See www.fortnumandmason.com.

PICTURE: Gryffindor/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

euston-gardensThe name Euston first makes an appearance in London in the Georgian era when Euston Square was laid out north of the City.

The moniker came from the square’s landlord, the Duke of Grafton, who owned a country seat called Euston Hall near Thetford in Suffolk, and apparently derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Efe’s Tun’ meaning the ‘farmstead of a man called Efe’.

The now much altered square (the gardens of which are pictured) was originally developed in the 1820s; in the 1850s the New Road – which had been developed by the second Duke of Grafton, Charles Fitzroy, in the 1730s to take farm traffic off Oxford Street and Holborn – was renamed Euston Road.

It only makes sense then that when the mainline station on that road was developed in the 1830s (it opened in 1837, exactly a month after Queen Victoria became the monarch), it too was named Euston (as was the now long-gone Euston Arch – see our earlier post here).

Euston Underground Station opened in 1907 while Euston Square Underground station, which originally opened as Gower Street in 1863, was renamed Euston Square in 1909.

Interestingly the area around Euston Road also features numerous references to Grafton in honour of the duke – Grafton Street, Grafton Place and Grafton Way among them – while other streets also have links to the names of the dukes’ family – Warren Street (which also lends its name to a Tube station), for example, is named for Anne Warren, the wife of the second duke’s grandson.

PICTURE:  Kevin Gordon/CC BY-SA 2.0

Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Horatio Nelson – hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, is the subject of a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. One of the most famous figures of her time, Hamilton rose from obscure beginnings to the heights of celebrity and is best remembered for the scandalous affair she had with Lord Nelson for the six years prior to his death in 1805. Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity brings together more than 200 objects, many of which have never been displayed before, including paintings, letters, costumes and jewellery. Highlights include works by artists George Romney, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Lawrence, letters from Hamilton and her lovers, betrothal rings exchanged between Hamilton and Nelson, her songbooks and decorative objects. The exhibition, which runs until 17th April, is accompanied by a series of events including walking tours and late openings. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum.

The first-ever exhibition of portraits of artists in the Royal Collection opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow. Portrait of the Artist features more than 150 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and decorative arts including a self-portrait by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1623) which was hung in Whitehall Palace, a portrait of his former assistant Anthony van Dyck (c1627-28), and Cristofano Allori’s work Head of Holofernes (1613) in which the artist appears as the decapitated Holofernes as well as self-portraits by everyone from Rembrandt to Lucien Freud and David Hockney. The exhibition runs until 17th April. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace.

Sir Joseph Lyons, founder of Lyons tea shops and the ‘Corner Houses’ of London – among the first chain restaurants in England, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Hammersmith. Sir Joseph, who lived at the property in the 1890s close to the now-demolished headquarters of his catering empire at Cadby Hall, opened the doors to his first teashop at 213 Piccadilly in 1894. He was knighted by King George V in 1911. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

On Now: Garnitures: Vase sets from National Trust Houses. Being run in conjunction with the National Trust, the display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington explores the history of ‘garniture’ – sets of ornamental vases unified by their design and a specific context. A status symbol for a period between the 17th and 19th century, garnitures fell out of fashion and complete sets are now extremely rare. The display features garnitures loaned from 13 different National Trust houses as well as objects from the V&A’s collection. Highlights include a garniture made in miniature for a doll’s house, an extremely rate 17th century silver set of jars, a Rococo set and Wedgwood ceramics. The free exhibition runs until 30th April. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/garnitures.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.