Jonas Hanway is famous for being the first man in London to dare carry an umbrella publicly, but there was much more to the life of this merchant, traveller and philanthropist.

Hanway was born in mid-1712, in Portsmouth on England’s south coast, and he was still just a child when his father Thomas, whose job involved ensuring the supply of food to the Royal Navy, died in 1714.

Hanway’s family may have subsequently settled in Hampshire but in 1728 Jonas himself was in London. There, it is speculated that he stayed with his uncle Major John Hanway (after whom Hanway Street, which runs off Tottenham Court Road, is named) in Oxford Street briefly before he was packed off as an apprentice to the English ‘factory’ in Lisbon, Portugal.

Hanway is said to have spent more than a decade in Lisbon learning the job of a merchant before returning to London in 1741. He joined the Russia Company as a junior partner in 1743 and subsequently headed off to St Petersburg where he planned and then launched an expedition to Persia via Moscow and Astrakan with hopes of selling English broadcloth in exchange for Russian silk and evaluating the trade potential of the region.

But his caravan robbed by Khyars, allies of the Turkomens, before he even reached Persia and he was forced to flee in disguise along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea until he was rescued by fellow merchants.

Returning to St Petersburg, Hanway spent the next five years working there before returning to England, via Germany and the Netherlands.

Back in London, he continued working with the Russia Company (as well as penning an account of his adventures in Russia and Persia in 1753 – it was the most popular of several books he wrote).

He also started venturing into philanthropy, becoming a governor of the Foundling Hospital and founding The Marine Society – an organisation to ensure the ongoing supply of sailors for the Royal Navy – in 1756. In 1762 he was appointed a commissioner for victualling the Royal Navy, a post he held for a couple of decades.

Hanway was also an instrumental figure in the founding of Whitechapel’s Magdalen Hospital for women who had become pregnant outside of marriage which opened in 1758. Other causes among the wide variety he was vocal on included helping ensure poor children were better looked after through the keeping of better records, advocating for better working conditions for child chimney sweep apprentices, and calling for an end to tea drinking (a cause which saw him cross swords with none other than Samuel Johnson).

Hanway died on 5th September, 1786, and was buried in the crypt of St Mary’s Church in Hanwell. A monument to him, sculpted by John Francis Moore, was erected in Westminster Abbey in 1786 in commemoration of his philanthropy.

As for that umbrella carrying? While women had apparently been carrying them in public since 1705, Hanway become the first man to do so in the early 1750s following a trip to Paris. Despite the public opprobrium he attracted – particularly from the hackney coachmen, whose business his habit threatened if widely adopted – it was Hanway who, evidently, had the last laugh.

PICTURE: A portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote (1785) © National Portrait Gallery (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

A forgotten door built for festivities surrounding the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 has been rediscovered in the Houses of Parliament. 

The door, hidden behind panelling in cloister formerly used as offices by the Parliamentary Labour Party, was originally constructed to allow guests at the coronation to make their way to his celebratory banquet in Westminster Hall.

It was subsequently used by the likes of Robert Walpole, often referred to as the first Prime Minister as well as architect-led rivals Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger, and diarist Samuel Pepys.

The door and passageway behind it survived the fire which destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster in 1834 but it was thought the passage had been filled in during restoration works after the Palace of Westminster was bombed in World War II.

Liz Hallam Smith, an historical consultant from the University of York who is working with the team undertaking the renovations, said they were trawling through “10,000 uncatalogued documents relating to the palace at the Historic England Archives in Swindon, when we found plans for the doorway in the cloister behind Westminster Hall”.

“As we looked at the paneling closely, we realised there was a tiny brass key-hole that no-one had really noticed before, believing it might just be an electricity cupboard,” she said. “Once a key was made for it, the paneling opened up like a door into this secret entrance.”

In the small room behind the door, the team discovered the original hinges for two wooden doors some three-and-a-half meters high that would have opened into Westminster Hall. They also found graffiti, scribbled in pencil by bricklayers who worked on the restoration of the palace in 1851 following the 1834 fire.

One section reads “This room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale” and another, “These masons were employed refacing these groines…[ie repairing the cloister] August 11th 1851 Real Democrats”, the latter a reference suggesting the men were part of the working class male suffrage Chartist movement.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the House of Commons Speaker, described the find as “part of our parliamentary history”: “To think that this walkway has been used by so many important people over the centuries is incredible.”

PICTURE: Sir Lindsay Hoyle and the door (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

 


The statue of ‘Jacob’, a working dray horse, represents the horses who once worked at John Courage’s Anchor Brewhouse in Bermondsey near Tower Bridge.

The Courage horses – responsible for delivering beer from the brewery to pubs in London – were stabled beside the establishment, near where the monument now stands in Queen Elizabeth Street. Though the brewery buildings remain (and are now apartments), the stables do not.

Jacob, the statue, was installed by Jacobs Island Company and Farlane Properties in 1987 at the centre of the residential development known as ‘The Circle’ to commemorate the history of the site. The monument, which was delivered to the site by helicopter, is the work of artist Shirley Pace.

Jacob’s name apparently comes from Jacob’s Island which was formerly located in the area.

The area where the brewery stood was formerly part of the parish of Horsleydown – a moniker that is said by some to have derived from “horse-lie-down”, a description of working horses resting nearby on the south bank of the Thames before crossing London Bridge into the City of London.

PICTURES: Top – Nico Hogg (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); Right – Marc Pether-Longman (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

We published part I of this two-part article last week. Part II follows…

Marshal had made his name as a knight and, was still in the retinue of Henry, the Young King, heir of Kind Henry II, when he again rebelled against his father (and brother, the future King Richard I).

This was despite a brief rift with the Young King following an accusation that Marshal had slept with Henry’s wife Marguerite (the truth of which remains something of a mystery). Despite their falling out, William and Henry had repaired their relationship to at some degree when, still in rebellion against his father, on 7th June, 1183, the Young King died of dysentery at just the age of 28.

In a dying wish, Henry had asked William to fulfil his vow to go on crusade to the Holy Land. This Marshal duly did, undertaking a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and spending two years in the Middle East before returning to England at around the end of 1185.

On his return, he entered the household of King Henry II and was on campaign with him in France in 1189 when the King died at the age of 56.

Marshal’s allegiance was now with his son and heir, King Richard I, the “Lionheart”. He subsequently confirmed his father’s permission for Marshal to marry his ward, the wealthy heiress the 16-year-old Isabel of Clare which Marshal, now 42, quickly did, returning to London to claim his bride who was then living at the Tower of London. It’s believed they may have married on the steps of St Paul’s.

Somewhat controversially, when Richard I set off on the Third Crusade, Marshal remained behind in England, appointed as co-justiciar to govern in the king’s absence. Thanks to his marriage, Marshal was now a major landholder with his base at Striguil Castle (now Chepstow) in the Welsh Marches and he assembled a household befitting of his status. In 1190 his wife Isabel gave birth to a son, ‘Young’ William.

Marshal managed to successfully navigate the dangerous politics of the time as, in the absence of King Richard, his younger brother John manoeuvred to gain power and, following news that Richard had been captured on the way home from the Holy Land and was now imprisoned in Austria, went so far as to open ally himself with the French King Philip Augustus.

Richard was finally released for the exorbitant ransom of 150,000 silver marks and when he arrived back in England, Marshal returned to his side, joining the King as he dealt with the fallout, both in England and France, from John’s treachery (John, meanwhile, was back in his brother’s camp, having begged his forgiveness).

His kingdom largely restored, Richard died in April 1199 after being struck with a crossbow bolt while campaigning in Limousin. Following his death, Marshal supported John’s claim to the throne over his ill-fated nephew Arthur and at John’s coronation he was rewarded by being named, thanks again to his marriage, the Earl of Pembroke – the title of earl being the highest among the English aristocracy.

Pembroke  in southern Wales now became his base but following John’s coronation Marshal spent considerable time fighting for the King on the Continent in an ultimately unsuccessful campaign that ended with the English largely driven from France. When Marshal then tried to keep his lands in Normandy by swearing an oath to King Philip, not surprisingly he fell from John’s favour.

Marshal then turned his attention to his own lands in Wales and in Ireland which he visited several times to assert his claim by marriage to the lordship of Leinster. But he again crossed John when he visited in early 1207 without the King’s permission and when John summoned Marshal back to England to answer for his impudence, his lands in Leinster were attacked by the King’s men. John’s efforts to seize Marshal’s Irish domains, however, failed and the King was eventually forced to back down, leaving Marshal to strengthen his position in Ireland.

John and Marshal’s relationship deteriorated even further in 1210 after Marshal was summoned to Dublin to answer for his role in supporting William Briouze, a one-time favourite of the King who had dramatically fallen out him (and who eventually died in exile in 1211 while his wife and eldest son were starved to death in Windsor Castle on John’s orders).

Despite the fact Briouze’s had apparently been on his lands in Ireland for 20 days after they’d fled England to escape the wrathful King, Marshal managed to come out relatively unscathed by the affair – but he was forced to relinquish a castle and place some of his most trusted knights and eldest sons in the King’s custody.

By 1212, however, Marshal was back in royal favour – his sons were freed the following year – and in 1213 he led his forces in support of King John who was facing revolt in England and a possible invasion from France (Marshal subsequently remained in England to guard against attack from the Welsh while the King was in France).

In 1215, Marshal was involved in the creation of the Magna Carta – his name was the first the English lords to appear on the document – and some have even suggested he was one of its principal architects (although this may be overstating his role).

He remained loyal to John in the subsequent strife but he was in Gloucester when King John died in 1216.

Marshal subsequently supported the claim of King John’s son, King Henry III, to the throne and, named as a ‘guardian of the realm’ (a role which was essentially that of a regent), he played an instrumental part in taking back the kingdom for Henry, including successfully leading the royalist forces against a French and rebel force on 20th May, 1217, at Lincoln – a battle which brought about a quick resolution to the ongoing war.

Marshal spent the next couple of years working to restore the King’s rule but in early 1219, at the age of 72, fell ill and retreated to his manor house at Caversham.

He died around noon on 14th May. His body was taken to London via Reading and after a vigil and Mass at Westminster Abbey, he was interred in the Temple Church.

Marshal’s place of burial was due to an agreement he had made with the Templars back in the 1180s in which he agreed to enter their order before his death in exchange for the gift of a manor. The master of the Templars in England, Aimery of St Maur, had apparently travelled to Caversham before his death to perform the rite.

Marshal’s wife Isabel died the following year and sadly, while he had five sons, the Marshals gradually faded from history, the lack of male heirs in the family eventually leading to the break-up of the family lands.

A towering figure of his age – seen by many as the epitome of what a knight should be, Marshal’s story – despite a minor mention as Pembroke in Shakespeare’s King John – has largely been forgotten. But his influence on the world in which he lived – and hence the shaping of our world today – was significant.

With thanks to Thomas Asbridge’s The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones

PICTURES: Top – An effigy believed to be that of William Marshal in the Temple Church, London (Michael Wal –  licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0). Lower – The Temple Church in London in which William Marshall was buried. PICTURE: David Adams

Famously associated with Leadenhall Market, Old Tom was a gander who for several decades was a popular figure at the City of London marketplace.

Said to have been born in the late 1790s, he was brought to London among a massive contingent of birds from the Continent the aim of being fattened up for the market block.

The story goes that when the time came for the chop, however, Tom did a dash and apparently held off his pursuers for several days, avoiding becoming one of the 34,000 hapless geese which were apparently slaughtered in a two day period. His doggedness in defying the blade led to sympathy among the workers at the market who decided to let him be.

Feed on tidbits from local inns, Tom took up residence and became something of a favourite among those who worked there. He apparently lived to the the ripe old age of 37 or 38-years-old and when he died in 1835, such was the love for him, that Tom lay in state at the market to allow people to pay their respects before his burial at the market. His obituary was published in The Times, referring to him as the “chief of geese, the poulterer’s pride”.

Old Tom is mentioned on a plaque at the entrance to Leadenhall Market (pictured) which tells something of his story and there’s also a bar within Leadenhall Market itself which serves as a memorial – Old Tom’s Bar.

Some also believe that the two identical statues of a small boy grappling with a goose (pictured below) which sit atop the former Midland Bank headquarters building, located at 27 Poultry (and now hotel called The Ned) – just a few hundred paces from the market, also commemorate the gander.

The website of The Ned, however, suggests the statues, designed by Sir William Reid Dick for the architect Edwin Lutyens was actually inspired by Boethus’ famous sculpture of a boy playing with a goose which can be found in the Vatican.

Maybe it’s both?

PICTURES: Google Maps

Looking down Brushfield Street towards Christ Church Spitalfields. Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the church was built between 1714 and 1729. PICTURE: Jack Bassingthwaighte/Unsplash

Britain’s Baroque culture – spanning the period from the Restoration of King Charles II to the death of Queen Anne in 1714 – is the subject of a new exhibition which opened this week at Tate Britain. British Baroque: Power and Illusion – the first major exhibition on the subject – shows how magnificence was used to express status and influence and features works by painters including Sir Peter Lely, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and Sir James Thornhill as well as designs, prints and wooden models of the works of architects like Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanbrugh. The importance of portraiture, the visual differences in Protestant and Catholic worship and the illusions contained in painted baroque interiors are all explored in the display along with how the subject of war was dealt with through heroic equestrian portraiture, panoramic battle scenes and accompanying propaganda. The exhibition, which is being accompanied by a programme of events, runs until 19th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Godfrey Kneller, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, c1706, National Portrait Gallery, London.

The 25th Kew Orchid Festival kicks off at Kew Gardens on Saturday in a celebration of the wildlife and culture of Indonesia. Located in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the festival will take visitors on an immersive journey evoking the sights, smells and sounds of Indonesia though a series of orchid displays which include a life-sized animals such as orang-utans, a tiger and a rhinoceros, an archway made of hundreds of carnivorous pitcher plants and an erupting volcano. A programme of evening events featuring gamelan music and traditional dancers as well as cooking demonstrations by renowned author and chef Petty Elliott is also planned – these must be booked online in advance. Admission charge applies. Runs until 8th March. For more, see www.kew.org.

On Now: Hidden London: The Exhibition. This display at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden takes visitors on an immersive journey to some of the secret places in the Tube network. Featuring rare archive photos, objects, vintage posters, secret diagrams and decorative tiles from disused stations, it uncovers stories such as how Churchill took shelter in the Railway Executive Committee’s bomb-proof headquarters deep underground at Down Street station at the height of the Blitz during World War II and how almost 2,000 members of staff, mostly women, worked in the Plessey aircraft underground factory located in two 2.5 mile-long tunnels on the eastern section of the Central line. The exhibition is being accompanied by a series of events including late openings and tours. Runs until next January. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/hidden-london#.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com

Set into a wall of the V&A’s John Madejski Garden in South Kensington are two small plaques – one dedicated to “Jim” and another to “Tycho”. Both, as one of the plaques records, were dogs, at least one of which belonged to the museum’s first director, Sir Henry Cole.

Jim was a Yorkshire terrier who died at Sir Henry’s home on 30th January, 1879, at the age of (as the plaque records) 15 years.

Sir Henry wrote in his diary on that day that “Jimmy”, who died very quietly apparently of “asthma and cold”, had been portrayed in Punch with him (although it was actually in Vanity Fair in 1871) and “was a character in the Museum”.

While Jim’s story is fairly well known, there’s a little more mystery surrounding the identity of Tycho, which the plaques records as a “faithful dog” who who died in 1885.

But according to Nicholas Smith, an archivist based at the V&A Archive and his meticulously researched blog post on the matter, Tycho is also mentioned in Cole’s diary – not as his own dog but as that of his son Alan. Indeed, one diary entry records Tycho fighting with another dog (presumably Cole senior’s) named Pickle. Which as Smith points out, begs the question of why no plaque for Pickle?

Both Jim and Tycho are believed to be buried in the garden where the plaques can be seen (which may explain the lack of a plaque for Pickle).

PICTURE: Steve and Sara Emry (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

 

This Farringdon pub is named after a previous tavern which stood in what had been the grounds of Sir John Oldcastle’s nearby mansion and dated back at least to the mid 17th century. 

Sir John, thought to have been the model for the Shakespearean character Sir John Falstaff, was a leader of the Lollards in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

A trusted friend of Henry, Prince of Wales (later King Henry V), he accompanied the Prince on a military expedition to France 1411 but on returning to England was accused of heresy for his Lollard beliefs and eventually prosecuted.

Imprisoned in the Tower of London, Oldcastle escaped and launched a rebellion against the King but after the rebellion was put down was forced to live in hiding until he was eventually, in 1417, captured and subsequently executed in London.

Housed in a modern building, the pub at 29-35 Farringdon Road, which has a wealth of historical information about the area adorning its walls, is part of the Wetherspoons chain. For more, see www.jdwetherspoon.com/pubs/all-pubs/england/london/the-sir-john-oldcastle-farringdon.

We’ve entered a new year but before we leave 2019 completely behind, here’s quick look at four sites in London that were put on the National Heritage List for England last year…

1. Sainsbury Supermarket, Camden TownListed at Grade II, it was the first purpose-built supermarket to be placed on the National Heritage List. The store was built in 1986-88 as part of Grand Union Complex designed by architectural practice Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners.

2. The Curtain Playhouse, Shoreditch. A scheduled monument, the theatre dates from about 1577 and hosted performances of Romeo and Juliet during Shakespeare’s lifetime, as well as Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour with Shakespeare himself listed as a performer. Archaeological investigations in the years from 2011-16 revealed parts of the stage as well as the wings, galleries and yards and 17th century structures which showed the later use of the site as tenement housing.

3. Nursemaid’s Tunnel, Regent’s Park. Grade II listed, this is one of the earliest surviving pedestrian subways in London. It was built under New Road (now Marylebone Road) – linking Park Crescent with gardens in Park Square – in 1821 after residents campaigned for its construction due to the dangers of navigating the busy road (especially for children being taken to the playground by their nursemaids).

4. Cabman’s Shelter, corner Northumberland Avenue and Embankment Place. Grade II-listed, this still-in-use shelter was built in 1915 on the orders of the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund. It was based on Maximilian Clarke’s original design of 1882 and is one of just 13 examples to survive in London.

PICTURE: Google Maps.


Lying just to the south of Greenwich Park, this famous common apparently derives its name from the colour of the soil (although some suggest it was the colour of the bracken or even the “bleakness” of the location).

On the route from Canterbury and Dover to London, the sometimes windswept locale has seen its share of historical events over the centuries. As well as hosting remains dating to both the Saxon and Roman eras, Blackheath was where the Danes set up camp in 1011-13 (it was during this time that they murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury, Alfege, probably on the site where St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich now stands).

It’s also where Wat Tyler assembled his peasant army during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, where Jack Cade and his followers camped in 1450 during the Kentish Rebellion, and where King Henry VII defeated Michael Joseph and his Cornish rebels in 1497.

As well as uprisings, the heath has also seen its share of more joyous events. King Henry IV apparently met Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos here in 1400 before taking him back to Eltham Palace, King Henry V was welcomed by the Lord Mayor of London and aldermen here after his momentous victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and King Charles II was welcomed here on his return to London during the Restoration. Less happily, in 1540 King Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves here for the first time.

During the 18th century, both John Wesley and George Whitefield preached to crowds on Blackheath. Meanwhile, legend has it that King James I founded England’s first golf club here in 1600s (the club joined with the Eltham Golf Club in the 1920s).

The heath, which also had a notorious reputation for highwaymen prior to residential development of the area in the late 18th century, has also been the site of fairs since at least the late 17th century.

But it wasn’t until the early 1800s that the “village” of Blackheath really formed, attracting the moderately well-to-do. The area received a significant boost as a residential locale close to London when the railway opened in 1849.

Significant buildings include All Saints’ Church which dates from 1857 and the entertainment venue known as the Blackheath Halls, built in 1895. The Georgian mansion known as the Ranger’s House – which parks on to Greenwich Park – is just to the north.

Notable residents have included early 20th century mathematician and astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, 19th century philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill, seaside cartoonist Donald McGill and polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross. American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne lived at 4 Pond Road in 1856.

Correction: Wesley and Whitefield  preached in the 18th century, not the 19th as originally stated. Apologies for any confusion!

PICTURES: Top – Aerial view of Blackheath (foshie; licensed under CC BY 2.0; image cropped); Below – Looking towards All Saints (Herry Lawford; licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Sitting at the foot of a statue of artist William Hogarth – described on the monument as the “father of English painting” but perhaps best known today for his satirical prints such as Gin Lane – in Chiswick High Road in London’s west is his beloved pug dog, Trump.

Trump, who famously features in Hogarth’s 1745 self-portrait, The Painter and his Pug (now at the Tate Britain), was one of several pugs owned by the artist over his career.

Trump, like the other dogs, appears in several of Hogarth’s works including the self-portrait and the 1746 work Captain Lord George Graham in his Cabin, now at the National Maritime Museum.

The dog was also the subject of a terracotta sculpture by Frenchman Louis-François Roubiliac, created to accompany a bust of Hogarth in 1741. It was later reproduced in porcelain versions and plaster casts of it were sold after Hogarth’s death in 1764. While the original of sculpture of the dog is lost, the bust of Hogarth can still be seen at the National Portrait Gallery.

Hogarth is often said to have compared himself to his dogs and his close connection was noted by others who used it to make fun of the artist including Paul Sandby who, in a 1753 etching, depicted Hogarth as half-pug.

The statue, which stands opposite the intersection with Turnham Green Terrace, is located not far from the country retreat where Hogarth lived – splitting his time between it and his Leicester Square townhouse – between 1749 and his death (now a museum known as Hogarth’s House; the artist is also buried nearby)

The work of Jim Matheison, it was unveiled by Ian Hislop and David Hockney in 2001.

This famous cat, belonging to lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84), is memorialised outside his former home in Gough Square.

Johnson was known for his fondness of this particular cat – his biographer James Boswell, reports, for example: “I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail.”

According to Boswell, Johnson told him that while he had had finer cats, Hodge – who is believed to have been a black cat – was a “very fine cat indeed”. Such was the cat’s renown that poet Percival Stockdale wrote an Elegy on The Death of Dr Johnson’s Favourite Cat.

This statue to Hodge was erected in 1966 by then Lord Mayor of London, Sir Roger Cook. The work of Jon Bickley (who apparently modelled Hodge on his own cat Thomas Henry), it depicts Hodge sitting on top of Johnson’s famous (and massive) dictionary and next to some empty oyster shells (the latter a reference to Johnson’s habit of feeding oysters to Hodge – while this wasn’t unusual, Johnson’s going out himself to fetch them himself – lest his servants resent Hodge – was).

The monument, which has Hodge looking towards his former home, features a plaque which has Johnson’s quote about Hodge – “a very fine cat indeed” – as well as his famous quote about the city in which they lived – “Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Dr Johnson’s former house and workplace at number 17 Gough Square, where he lived for 11 years, is now a museum.

 

Last month marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of leading English novelist George Eliot – actually the pen name of Mary Ann Evans. 

Born in Warwickshire on 22nd November, 1819, Evans was the third child of Robert Evans, an estate manager, and Christiana Evans, daughter of a local mill owner.

Described as a “voracious reader” from an early age, she was a boarder at various schools up until the age of 16 when, following the death of her mother, she returned home to act as housekeeper (she apparently continued her education in the library of Arbury Hall, the property her father managed).

In 1841, when her brother Isaac married and took over the family home, she moved with her father to Foleshill near Coventry. There, they met Charles and Cara Bray – Charles was a wealthy ribbon maker and religious free-thinker who used his wealth to establish schools and hospitals to help improve conditions of the poor.

Thanks to her friendship with the Brays, Evans came into contact at their house, Rosehill, with the likes of Welsh social reformer Robert Owen, Harriet Martineau, often described as the first female sociologist, and American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as German theologian David Friedrich Strauss and German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (in fact, her first major literary work was the completion of an English translation of Strauss’ The Life of Jesus Critically Examined and she also later translated Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity).

Evans, who was a devout evangelical Christian in her youth, lived with her father until his death in 1849. She had questioned her faith some years before but after she’d informed her father she would no longer go to church, they had reached a compromise under which she had been free to think as she wished as long as she continued to attend church.

Following her father’s death, Evans – now 30 – had visited Switzerland and, following her return to England, moved to London to pursue a career in writing.

In London, Evans initially stayed in the Strand home of radical publisher John Chapman, whom she’d met through the Brays. She eventually went on staff at his left-wing journal, The Westminster Review – becoming, in time, Chapman’s right-hand, the editor in fact if not in title, at publication by the time she left in 1854.

At that time she moved in with journalist George Henry Lewes, who had met her several years earlier. He was still married to Agnes Jervis, despite her having born to children to another man, and the new couple’s relationship caused a great scandal, leading many to shun Evans. The couple travelled together to Germany for research and thereafter Lewes and Evans apparently considered themselves married.

While she had stories published in magazines in the years earlier, her first novel, Adam Bede, was published under the pseudonym George Eliot in 1859 (she’d first used the pseudonym on a short story, The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton, published in 1857). Much acclaimed, the public interest surrounding the novel led Evans – who now called herself Marian Evans Lewes – to acknowledge the work as hers – a revelation which came as a shock to many given her unconventional private life but which, despite that, failed to dent the novel’s popularity.

Encouraged by Lewes, she wrote several novels over the next 15 years including The Mill on the Floss in 1860, Silas Marner in 1861, Romola in 1863, Felix Holt, the Radical in 1866 and her most acclaimed novel (sometimes described as the greatest English novel ever written), Middlemarch in 1871-72. Her final novel, Daniel Deronda, was published in 1876.

Celebrated for the depth of her characterisations and her descriptions of English rural life, she was recognised as the greatest English novelist of her time.

The couple, meanwhile, lived in several properties in London – including one in Richmond, ‘Holly Lodge’ in Wimbledon Park Road, Wandsworth (it was the first property south of the Thames to be marked with an English Heritage Blue Plaque), and ‘The Priory’ near Regent’s Park in Marylebone.

Eliot’s success as a novelist saw the couple gradually gain social acceptance – in an indication that can be seen in that Charles Darwin, Aldous Huxley, Henry James and Frederic Leighton were all among those entertained at The Priory in the couple’s latter years together.

Lewes died in 1878 and two years later, on 16th May, 1880, Lewes married John Cross – a longstanding friend who was 20 years younger and who had provided comfort following the loss of her husband.

Following their honeymoon in Venice, the couple returned to London where they lived at a property in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea (an English Heritage Blue Plaque marks the property).

It was to be a short-lived marriage – soon after moving into their new home, Mary Ann (now) Cross fell ill with a throat infection and coupled with the kidney disease she had suffered for several years, she died on 22nd December of that year at age 61.

Eliot was buried in Highgate Cemetery beside Lewes. A memorial stone was erected in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner in 1980.

PICTURES: Top – George Eliot, replica by François D’Albert Durade, oil on canvas, 1850-1886, based on a work of 1850, 13 1/2 in. x 10 1/2 in. (343 mm x 267 mm), Purchased 1905, Primary Collection, NPG 1405; Below – The English Heritage Blue Plaque on the Cheyne Walk property (Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY 2.0))

This marks the 100th anniversary – last month in fact – of the entry of the first woman to the British Parliament.

Nancy Astor, who won the seat of Plymouth Sutton on 15th November, 1919, took her seat in Parliament two weeks later on 1st December, about a year after women won the right to stand as an MP.

Astor, whose husband, Waldorf Astor, had previously occupied her seat (but whose seat became vacant when he was elevated to the House of Lords following the death of his father, Viscount Astor), was the first to take her seat in the House of Commons but not the first elected.

That honour goes to Constance Markiewicz, who won for Sinn Fein in 1918 – while she was detained in Holloway Prison – and who never took her seat in the House of Commons.

The American-born Astor met with a somewhat hostile reception from some – Winston Churchill famously told her MPs had hoped to “freeze her out”.

She delivered her maiden speech on 24th February, 1920, warning the MPs that given some women aged over 30 could now vote, they intended to use it and “use it wisely”.

Astor ended up winning seven elections and, despite being seen increasingly as a figure of controversy in part because of her support – along with her husbands and their associates – of Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement with Germany in the lead-up to World War II, remained MP for Plymouth Sutton until 1945.

She decided not to stand again based on the advice of the Conservative Party – who saw her increasingly as a liability, and her husband.

PICTURE: A Blue Plaque commemorating Nancy Astor on a property at 4 St James’s Square, St James’s (Leo Reynolds (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0/image cropped)

The chapel, which served as the House of Commons from the mid-16th century until it was destroyed in the fire at the Palace of Westminster in 1834, was first recorded as part of the palace in the reign of King John (1199-1216).

It was rebuilt  in the late 13th century, on the orders of King Edward I. The king, apparently impressed by the Sainte Chapelle, built as a royal chapel by King Louis IX in Paris, ordered the chapel rebuilt to rival it.

The two storey, richly decorated stone chapel featured two levels, the upper floor for use of the Royal Family (it could only be entered from the Royal Apartments), the lower for courtiers and the Royal Household – was largely complete by 1348.

The then 15-year-old King Richard II married Anne of Bohemia in the chapel in 1382 and the ill-fated Richard, Duke of York (the younger of the two so-called Princes in the Tower) married Anne Mowbray here while still young children. Richard’s father, King Edward IV, had laid in state here for eight days after his death in 1483. Thomas Cranmer was consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury here in 1533.

The Palace of Westminster was no longer used as a royal residence following the death of King Henry VIII in   and in 1547 it was deconsecrated under the Abolition of Chantries Act instituted by King Henry’s son, King Edward VI, after which it was used as a debating chamber for the House of Commons (which had hitherto been meeting in xxx).

During the Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell had the chapel’s crypt white-washed and, so the story goes, used it for stabling his horses.

The chapel’s architecture was amended several times over the ensuing centuries to better accomodate MPs – it included the addition of extra seats and among the architects who worked on it was Sir Christopher Wren – before the fire of 1834 while completely destroyed the main chapel, leaving just the crypt below and adjoining cloisters.

The crypt, now known as the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, was subsequently restored to its original use as a place of worship (it had been used for various purposes over its life). Interestingly, women’s suffragist Emily Davison had spent the night in a broom cupboard in the crypt in 1911 so, as woman banned from the premises, she could address the House of Commons the next day.

The site of the chapel is now covered by St Stephen’s Hall and its porch, constructed as part of the rebuild after the fire.

To see modern revisualisations of what the chapel may once have looked like, head to www.virtualststephens.org.uk.

 

 

OK, there’s a plethora of monuments in London which depict animals including well-known Animals in War Memorial in Park Lane. But in this series we thought we’d take a look at some of the less well-known monuments or those that are a little off the beaten track. 

First up, it’s Dick Whittington’s cat – sometimes portrayed as male cat called Tommy – who can be seen sitting atop what’s called The Whittington Stone at the foot of Highgate Hill in London’s north.

The Grade II-listed monument, the base of which dates from 1821 and was restored in 1935, is said to mark the spot where Whittington, who was said to be about to give up on life in the city after failing to make his fortune and, with his cat in tow, was making his way home to Gloucestershire, heard the famous Bow Bells of London ring out and apparently say to him “Turn Again Whittington! Thrice Lord Mayor of London!”.

Which he did and which become true, apparently thanks to his cat whom he sold for a fortune in gold to someone from a rat-infested land, usually referred to as the Kingdom of Barbary.

Of course, Sir Richard Whittington, while known by many through Christmas pantomimes, was a real person who lived in the 14th and 15th centuries (and was indeed Mayor of London three times) but whether he actually had a cat remains a matter of conjecture.

The sculpture of the cat, made of polished black Kellymount limestone, is the work of Jonathan Kenworthy, and was only added to the top of the stone in 1964.

There is apparently a belief that if the Whittington Stone is ever removed or any harm befall it, it is an omen of disaster.

WHERE: Highgate Hill, near the intersection with Magdala Avenue (nearest Tube station is Archway); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: No.

 

St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street was among the hundreds of historic sites removed from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register this year. Published last month, the register is an annual inventory of historic sites “most at risk of being lost forever as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development”. It shows that while some 310 items have been removed from the list over the past year, some 247 were added, meaning there were 5,073 entries on the list this year, 87 less than the previous year. The Grade I-listed St Bride’s, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666, had needed repairs to both its famous steeple – said to have inspired the tiered wedding cake design – and the body of the church itself. Historic England spent almost £8.5 million on grants to help restore some of the country’s most historic sites over the past year. Among London sites still on the list are the Grade II*-listed Crystal Palace Park, the Grade I-listed St Pancras Church and sections of what remains of London’s Roman and medieval wall. For more, see www.historicengland.org.uk/advice/heritage-at-risk/.

This Bloomsbury pub, not surprisingly, takes its name from its proximity to the British Museum (it’s directly opposite).

Located at 49 Great Russell Street, the Grade II-listed, four storey building was refurbished under the eye of theatre and music hall architect William Finch Hill (and possibly Edward Lewis Paraire) in the mid-1850s in modified French Renaissance style. Along with the exterior, the interior also contains some elements dating from this period.

There has apparently been a pub on the site since the 1720s – it was previously called the Dog & Duck, a reference to the rural nature of the location back then, and was renamed the British Museum Tavern in the mid-18th century before taking its current name when the refurbishment took place in the 1750s.

Famous patrons have apparently included Karl Marx, who frequented it while writing Das Kapital in the British Museum Reading Room. Other famous figures associated with it are Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and JB Priestley.

Ah, and the sign itself (pictured right). It depicts Sir Hans Sloane, a royal physician and MP whose collections formed the basis of the British Museum when it first opened its doors.

Now part of the Greene King franchise. For more, see www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pubs/greater-london/museum-tavern/.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

This City of London square sits on the part of the site of what had been Salisbury House, the town house of the bishops of Salisbury.

The house, which later became known as Dorset House, burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and the square, now at the southern end of Salisbury Court, developed in its aftermath.

Lying just to the south of Fleet Street, the square was once home to the Salisbury Court Theatre in the mid-17th century and John Dryden lived here from 1673 to 1682, a period during which he wrote works including Amboyna (1673), All for Love (1678) and The Spanish Fryar (1681). It was also a popular place for actors to reside given its proximity to the Dorset Garden Theatre which was also built on part of the site of Salisbury House.

There was an alehouse here when King George I acceded to the throne – known as a locale frequented by his supporters, it was famous for an incident in 1716 in which it was stormed by a Jacobite mob during which the landlord shot a weaver (he was acquitted but five rioters were hanged at the end of the court.

Samuel Richardson ran a printing shop lived here from 1723 – Pamela was among the works he wrote here. He later pulled down some old residences to expand his printing operations (and it was in his house that Dr Samuel Johnson and William Hogarth first met).

In 1863, all the houses on the south side were replaced by the Salisbury Hotel and this was replaced in  the 1960s by Salisbury Square House when the square was remodelled and the central area laid out. Only number one remains of the early 18th century houses which once stood here.

The now largely paved square features garden boxes in the middle along with an obelisk commemorating Robert Waithman, Lord Mayor of London between 1823-24. It had apparently originally been erected in Farringdon Street but was moved here in the 1970s.

PICTURE: Google Maps.