April 24, 2017
This narrow City of London passageway which runs between Whitefriars Street and Salisbury Square, just south of Fleet Street, is located in what was the precinct of the former Whitefriars monastery (what later became part of a somewhat lawless area known as Alsatia).
The name of the alley, which can be traced back to the mid-16th century, apparently relates to a hanging sign depicting a sword – hence “hanging sword” – and probably refers to a fencing school (the area was known for them) but it’s also been speculated the name could refer to a public house or brothel.
The alley was previously known as Blood Bowl Alley, a moniker derived from Blood Bowl House, a house of ill repute which once stood in the laneway (and featured in a William Hogarth’s Industry and Idleness series, in a plate depicting the Idle Apprentice, betrayed by a prostitute, being arrested).
The alleyway does get a mention in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – it was here that he located the lodgings of Jerry Cruncher, the messenger for Tellsun’s Bank who makes money on the side as a ‘resurrection man’.
PICTURE: Google Maps
April 19, 2017
We kick off a new series this week looking at 10 of most memorable (and historic) views of London and to kick it off, we’re looking at the views from one of London’s most prominent historic institutions, St Paul’s Cathedral.
There are two external galleries at St Paul’s – the first is the Stone Gallery which stands at 173 feet (53.4 metres) above ground level. Encircling the dome, it is reached, via a route which takes the visitor through the internal Whispering Gallery, upon climbing some 378 steps.
Located above it, encircling the cathedral’s famous lantern (which sits on top of the dome), is the Golden Gallery. It stands some 280 ft (85.4 metres) above the cathedral floor, and can be reached by a climb of 528 steps.
From it – and the Stone Gallery below it – can be seen panoramic views of the City of London and across the Thames to Southwark.
The lantern above, meanwhile, weighs some 850 tonnes and on its top sits a golden ball and cross – the current ball and cross, which weigh about seven tonnes, were put there in 1821, replacing the original ball and cross which had been erected in 1708.
St Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building in London from 1710 into the 1960s (when it was surpassed by Millbank Tower and what is now known as the BT Tower). Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s is not as tall as the original medieval cathedral which reportedly had a spire reaching 489 feet (149 metres) into the sky compared to St Paul’s as it is now, standing to a height of some 365 feet (111.3 metres) above ground level.
WHERE: St Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’s Churchyard (nearest tube station is St Paul’s); WHEN: The galleries are open from 9.30am to 4.15pm, Monday to Saturday; COST: £18 an adult/£16 concessions and students/£8 a child (6-18 years)/£44 a family of four; WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk
PICTURES: Top – Looking up at the lantern with the Golden Gallery around the base; Below – View looking west from St Paul’s down Fleet Street (the spires of St Brides and St Dunstan-in-the-West can be seen).
March 13, 2017
Famous for being the site of the Bank of England – “the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street”, a phrase first coined by playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan – since 1734, there’s a couple of explanations for the origins of Threadneedle Street’s name – and both relate to livery companies associated with textile industries.
The first is that of the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, initially granted livery by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in 1656 and then again by King Charles II in 1664. The company has a coat-of-arms featuring Adam and Eve holding up a shield on which can be seen three needles, hence Three Needles Street, the corruption of which is Threadneedle Street.
The second is that of the Merchant-Taylors’ Company, one of the 12 great livery companies, which was founded by Royal Charter in 1327. Its livery hall has been based in Threadneedle Street since the 14th century.
Either or both could be the reason for the unusual name of this City of London street, which runs from Mansion House north-east to Bishopsgate.
Other famous properties located in the street have included the headquarters of the infamous South Sea Company and the first site of the Baltic Exchange (formerly in the Virginia and Baltick Coffee House) which is now in St Mary Axe.
March 3, 2017
Located on Cheapside (with entrances on Friday and Bread Streets), the Mermaid Tavern is best known for being the home of Elizabethan-era drinking club known as the Mermaid Club (and also as the Friday Street Club or even the ‘Fraternity of Sireniacal Gentlemen’).
Founded in the early 17th century (and meeting on the first Friday of each month), its members included such literary luminaries as Ben Jonson, John Donne and Francis Beaumont.
There are also suggestions it was founded by Sir Walter Raleigh and that William Shakespeare was also a member but modern scholars have cast doubt upon both claims.
The earliest reference to the tavern, meanwhile, dates from the early 15th century.
The tavern, the location of which today corresponds to the corner of Bread and Cannon Streets, burned down in the Great Fire of London but lives on in John Keats’ poem Lines on the Mermaid Tavern.
This Week in London – 500 years of Londoners; images of London under attack; reflections on Europe; and female ‘fighters’ fists…
February 2, 2017
• Rat catchers, trapeze artists and politicians are among the subjects depicted in photographs, prints and drawings which form the heart of a new exhibition spanning 500 years of London’s history. Opening at the London Metropolitan Archives, The Londoners: Portraits of a Working City, 1447 to 1980 includes portraits of unknown Londoners as well as some of such luminaries as author Charles Dickens, engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. Highlights include a rare photograph of Charles Rouse, reputedly the last night watchman (pre-cursors to the Metropolitan Police) still on duty in London in the mid-19th century, an 1830 lithograph of a crossing sweeper, the ‘Old Commodore of Tottenham Court Road’, and a number of photographs shot by George WF Ellis in the mid-1920s including a portrait of feminist and social campaigner Dora Russell. The exhibition, which is part of a series of events marking 950 years of London archives, opens on Monday and runs until 5th July at the LMA in Clerkenwell. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma. PICTURES: Top – A team of sewermen, photographed outside the City Sewers department in 1875. Right – Jack Black of Battersea, noted rat catcher to Queen Victoria, pictured here from a daguerreotype photograph taken for Henry Mayhew’s ‘1851 London Labour and the London Poor’. Both images © London Met Archives.
• The response of artists and photographers to London’s Blitz during World War II forms the subject of a new exhibition which has opened at the Museum of London. Perspectives of Destruction: Images of London, 1940-44 explores how artists and photographers responded to the devastation caused by the massive aerial bombings. Much of the artwork was commissioned by the government’s War Artists Advisory Committee and focused on damage to buildings rather than deaths and injuries to people due to the impact it may have had on public moral. At the heart of the display is nine recently acquired drawings from official war artist Graham Sutherland depicting damage in the City of London and East End between 1940 and 1941. Also on show is a 1941 oil painting of Christchurch on Newgate Street by John Piper and David Bomberg’s Evening in the City of London, dating from 1944, which depicts St Paul’s Cathedral dominating the horizon above a devastated Cheapside. There’s also a photograph of a V-1 flying bomb narrowly missing the iconic cathedral which, along with eight others, was taken by City of London police constables Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs. Other artists with works featured include Henry Moore, Bill Brandt and Bert Hardy. Runs until 8th May. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• A series of installations commissioned from 12 artists – asked to imagine what Europe might look like 2,000 years from now and how our present might then be viewed – have gone on display in the V&A as part of the week long ‘Collecting Europe’ festival. The festival, which only runs until 7th February, includes a range of talks, discussions, live performances and workshops aimed at encouraging debate around Europe and European identity in the light of the Brexit vote. The installations, commissioned by the V&A and Goethe-Institut London, have been created by artists from across Europe. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/collectingeurope.
• Bronze casts of black women’s movement activists’ fists go on display at the City of London’s Guildhall Art Gallery from Tuesday. A Fighters’ Archive, features the work of sculptor Wijnand de Jong and pays tribute to 15 women who were members of various activist groups. The sculpture takes the form of a boxing archive – casts of boxers’ fists collected by boxing academies to commemorate prize fighters – with the fists cast from life. Subjects include Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, Emeritus Professor of Nursing at the University of West London and patron of The Sickle Cell Society, Mia Morris, creator of Black History Month, and Gerlin Bean, founder of Brixton Black Women’s Centre. The fists can be seen until 19th March. Admission if free. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visit-the-city/attractions/guildhall-galleries/Pages/guildhall-art-gallery.aspx.
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December 12, 2016
This pub’s name isn’t too mysterious – it is, of course, named after Albert, Prince Consort to Queen Victoria, and given the date on which the building that now occupies the site was built – between 1862 and 1867, nor is the motivation to name it so – Prince Albert died on 14th December, 1861, leaving a bereft queen and a nation in mourning.
There had been a pub on this site at 52 Victoria Street prior to the current building – it was called The Blue Coat Boy and named after the nearby Blue Coat school – but in the mid-19th century the Artillery Brewery, which was located next door, bought the premises and renamed it.
The four storey building, which is now Grade II-listed (and dwarfed by the glass towers surrounding it), survived the Blitz and is the only building remaining from the first phase of the development of Victoria Street (and redevelopment of the area which had been a slum known as Devil’s Acre), only a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.
Inside, the Victorian features include ornate ceilings and hand-etched frosted windows and wrought iron balconies. Also of note is the Prime Minister’s gallery – including some who were patrons here – as well as memorabilia including a House of Commons Division Bell and one of Queen Victoria’s napkins.
For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/albert-victoria/c6737/.
December 5, 2016
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.
Correntee 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
November 28, 2016
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.
This Week in London – New museum on policing in the Square Mile; the 801st Lord Mayor’s Show; and maps on show at the BL…
November 10, 2016
• Stories including that of Catherine Eddowes, one of the victims of the notorious Jack the Ripper whose tale is brought to life through a virtual hologram (pictured), that of the Houndsditch Murders which claimed the lives of three police officers, and those of the more than 70 horses which have served in the City of London Police are among those told in the new purpose-built City of London Police Museum. A collaboration between the City of London Police and the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Library, the new facility covers the 177 year history of the men and women charged with policing the Square Mile. Other stories highlighted in the museum include that of the recruitment of women into the force, the impact of the two World Wars on policing in the capital (featuring photographs taken by City of London police officers Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs), the force’s tackling of terrorism and the progress of its communications, uniforms and kit and the victory of the City of London Police as the winner of the Olympic gold medal for the tug of war in 1920 (which, given the event was dropped, leaves them as the current champions). Entry to the museum, which opened this week at Guildhall, is free. For more, see www.cityoflondon.police.uk/about-us/history/museum/Pages/default.aspx. PICTURE: Courtesy City of London Police Museum.
• The Lord Mayor’s Show takes place this Saturday, kicking off with a river pageant followed by the grand procession through City streets and fireworks over the Thames. The 801st Lord Mayor’s Show celebrates the election of Andrew Parmley as the 689th Lord Mayor of the City of London. This year’s procession, which kicks off at 11am and runs from Mansion House down Cheapside to the Royal Courts of Justice – where the Lord Mayor swears allegiance to the Crown – and back again at 1pm via Victoria Embankment, features 6,500 participants, 180 horses and 164 vehicles including steam engines, fire engines and a tank. The Show’s Pageantmaster, Dominic Reid, is celebrating his 25th consecutive show this year (his father organised 20 shows before him). The river pageant, featuring the QRB Gloriana, sets off from Westminster at 8.30am with Tower Bridge opening in salute at 9.25am. The fireworks display, which takes place over the Thames between Blackfriars and Waterloo, starts at 5.15pm. The tradition dates back to 1215. For more, see https://lordmayorsshow.london.
• A major new exhibition looking at the history of the 20th century through maps has opened at the British Library in King’s Cross. Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line features maps ranging from the first sketch of the London Underground dating from 1931, to declassified Ministry of Defence maps from the Cold War era, John Betjeman’s personal set of Ordinance Survey maps from the 1920s, a Russian moon globe from 1961 and EH Shepard’s first map of the Hundred Acre Wood (home of Winnie the Pooh). Other highlights include 3D relief models of the Western Front from 1917, a dress made of World War II escape maps printed on silk, an aerial photograph of Liverpool with targets marked used by the Luftwaffe, a map of the Atlantic Ocean floor from 1968. The exhibition, which runs to 1st March, is running in conjunction with a series of events exploring how maps continue to shape and influence our world. Admission charge applies. For more, follow this link.
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This Week in London – Emma Hamilton’s life explored; artist self-portraits; and, National Trust garnitures…
November 3, 2016
• 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.
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September 30, 2016
It’s an atmospheric image – both literally and metaphorically – that will soon be sitting in wallets and purses across the UK. Painter JMW Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838 is among the most famous artworks hanging in The National Gallery and, as the Bank of England has announced earlier this year, will adorn newly produced £20 notes from 2020 onwards. It commemorates the end of the famous ship, the 98 gun HMS Temeraire, which had played a heroic role in Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and, say reports, had been dubbed the “Fighting” Temeraire ever since (although it’s also suggested the ship was actually known by the crew as the “Saucy” Temeraire) . The oil painting, which Turner created in 1839, depicts the ship being towed away to be broken up (although, while it was actually towed from Sheerness to Rotherhithe in London – a westerly trip, the painting depicts it going eastward). The Temeraire itself is drawn romantically, almost spectrally, while in front of it is a steam tug shown in hard modernity and, of course, in the backdrop is the majestic setting sun, evoking a sense of the end. The painting, which was bequeathed to the gallery by the artist in the 1850s, and which incidentally appeared in the James Bond film Skyfall in a scene in which 007 (Daniel Craig) meets Q (Ben Wishaw) in front of it, can be found in Room 34 of gallery.
WHERE: The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square (nearest Tube stations are Charing Cross and Leicester Square); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily (open to 9pm Saturdays); COST: free; WEBSITE: www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
PICTURE: Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838, © National Gallery, London
This Week in London – Medieval embroidery; Maino on show; former toilet block becomes Kensington Garden’s newest eatery; and, a new Lord Mayor…
September 29, 2016
• Objects associated with some of the most notable personages of the Middle Ages – from King Edward I and his wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile through to Edward, the Black Prince, and martyred archbishop, Thomas Becket – will go on show at the V&A in South Kensington as part of a display of medieval embroidery. Opening Saturday, Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery features embroidered treasures such as a seal-bag which, dating from the early 12th century, was made to hold the foundation document of Westminster Abbey, the Toledo Cope which has been brought back to England from Spain for the first time since its creation in the 14th century and an embroidered vestment associated with Thomas Becket. There’s also the Hólar Vestments from Iceland, the Jesse Cope from the V&A’s own collections (pictured), the Daroca Cope from Madrid and an embroidered tunic worn by Edward, the Black Prince. As well as embroidery, the display features panel paintings, manuscripts, metalwork and sculpture. Runs until 5th February along with a season of events. Admission charges apply. See www.vam.ac.uk/opus for more. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
• Two works by Spanish painter Fray Juan Bautista Maino have gone on exhibition for the first time in the UK at The National Gallery, off Trafalgar Square. The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Adoration of the Kings, dating from 1612-14, have been loaned from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain, and can be seen for free in a display being held in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition Beyond Caravaggio. Each of the paintings measures more than three metres in height and were originally part of a retable (altarpiece) created for the altar of the Dominican church of San Pedro Martir in Toledo. The work took three years to complete and it was while he was doing so that Maino took religious vows and joined the Dominican Order (there’s also a chance he included a self portrait in the work in the form of a pilgrim on the altar’s far left). Can be seen until 29th January. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
• A former disused toilet block has been converted into a new cafe overlooking the 150-year-old Italian Gardens in the Kensington Gardens. Formally opened by Loyd Grossman, chairman of the Royal Parks charity, earlier this month, the cafe has a “living roof” aimed at supporting the biodiversity and wildlife of the gardens and has been designed in sympathy with the gardens and the nearby Grade 2* listed Queen Anne’s Alcove, currently being restored. The Italian Gardens were a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. For more on the cafe, including opening times, head here.
• Alderman Andrew Parmley has been elected as the 689th Lord Mayor of London. In keeping with tradition, he will take up the office after the ‘Silent Ceremony’ in Guildhall on 11th November followed by the annual Lord Mayor’s Show parade through the City the following day.
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September 26, 2016
Sir Thomas Bludworth (also spelt Bloodworth) is usually only remembered as the man who had the unfortunate job of being Lord Mayor of London when the Great Fire broke out in 1666. So, given the fire’s 350th anniversary this month, we thought it timely to take a more in-depth look at his life and career.
Bludworth was born in London in February, in about 1620, the second surviving son of John Bludworth, master of the Vintner’s Company and a wealthy merchant. Trained to succeed his father – his elder brother having joined the clergy, Bludworth was himself admitted to the Vintner’s Company in the 1640s and joined the Levant Company in 1648.
First elected an alderman in 1658, he was discharged when he refused to serve as a sheriff and the following year served as the master of the Vintner’s Company. In 1660, he was briefly arrested along with 10 other members of City of London’s common council after the body refused to pay taxes until a representative parliament was convened.
Elected MP for Southwark later that year, Bludworth among city and parliamentary representatives who sailed to The Netherlands to attend the king, Charles II, in exile, and invite him to return to England. It was while attending the king in The Hague that he was knighted. Re-elected in 1661, he was an active parliamentarian who served in numerous different capacities.
Sir Thomas was twice married and had a number of children including a formidable daughter Anne who eventually married the historically unpopular George Jeffreys, (later King James II’s Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor).
In mid-1662, he was once again made a City of London alderman and appointed one of two sheriffs for the following year. He became Lord Mayor of London in November, 1665, but apparently there was no pageant as was customary due to the plague.
During his year in the office – “the severest year any man had” – he faced both the plague and the Great Fire and his reputation has been largely formed out of his response to the latter thanks in large part his alleged response when woken and told of the fire as being: “Pish, a woman might piss it out!”.
Bludworth was heavily criticised at the time and over the years since his reaction to the fire – including not pulling down homes to create a firebreak and thus prevent the spread of the fire, but it should be noted that had he done so before he had received the king’s permission, he would have found himself personally liable.
Diarist Samuel Pepys’ who, following two encounters in the months before the fire had already described Bludworth as “mean man of understanding and despatch of any public business”, recorded that when he finally brought a message from the king ordering the creation of a firebreak, Sir Thomas seemed like “a man spent”.
“To the King’s message (to create a firebreak by pulling down houses), he cried, like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it’.”
Another eyewitness describes him as looking like he was “frighted out of his wits” during the fire.
Sir Thomas’ own property at Gracechurch Street was among the casualties of the fire but he later built a new mansion in Maiden Lane.
He continued to serve as an MP after the fire and was, perhaps ironically, appointed to a committee working on a bill to provide “utensils” for the “speedy quenching of fire”. In the mid-1670s, he become one of the governing members of the Royal African Company.
Sir Thomas died on 12th May, 1682, aged around 60. He was apparently buried in Leatherhead.
August 22, 2016
Originally named Little Brittany, it was settlers from Brittany in the east of modern France that inhabited the area where the street can be found after the Norman Conquest. Foremost among them apparently was the Duke of Brittany who apparently had a house here prior to the 1500s.
Between the late 15th century and early 18th century, the street was known as a location for booksellers (it was here that Britain’s first daily newspaper, the early 18th century Daily Courant, was printed in the area after moving from Fleet Street).
Famous residents over the years have included the 17th century poet John Milton (there’s also a much-repeated anecdote that has a Little Britain-based bookseller trying to convince the Earl of Dorset to buy as many copies of the apparently immoveable Paradise Lost as he could carry) , a very young Samuel Johnson (the then three-year-old and his mother lodged with a bookseller when she brought him to be touched by Queen Anne as a cure for his scrofula), and Benjamin Franklin who stayed here in 1724.
Literary references included a mention in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations – the office of the lawyer Mr Jaggers were placed here.
St Bartholomew’s Hospital now occupies many of the buildings in the street.
This Week in London – A Queen’s garden party; the Great Fire 350 Festival; and, getting behind the scenes at the Museum of London…
August 18, 2016
• Join Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, for a garden party in the grounds of Kensington Palace this weekend. The celebrations include music, military drills and live performances in a bid to bring the era of the Georgians to life. Visitors can listen to court gossip, learn how to play popular music and devise ways to amuse the queen as they pop in and out of a range of tents set up in the gardens, each of which contains a different activity, from uncovering dress secrets to designing a mini-garden fit for a king or queen. There’s even the chance to sample some Georgian ice-cream in the ice-house. The days will be held from today until 21st August. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/. PICTURE: Via HRP
• The Great Fire 350 Festival – marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London – is underway and there’s a range of events being held in London over this month and next. While we’ll be mentioning some of these a little closer to actual anniversary date, meantime there are bi-weekly walks, a ‘Fire Trail’ treasure hunt and a new Monument app to keep you busy. The latter allows visitors to conduct a self-guided ‘Great Fire journey’ focusing on the fire itself, the commemoration of the blaze and London as we know it now as well as taking users into the minds of Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke – designers of The Monument. Available for download from Android Market and Apple App Store. For more on the events running as part of the anniversary, see www.visitlondon.com/greatfire350/events.
• Take a behind the scenes look at the Museum of London – and see some rarely exhibited objects – in an exhibition which opened late last month. The free display allows visitors to catch a glimpse of some of the work that goes on behind the scenes and see objects usually housed in the museum’s extensive stores including a detailed model of the process engraving department at the Evening Standard newspaper in 1977, an ice-cream maker and moulds from around 1910, and a confectioner’s icing stand from about 1900. The exhibition can be seen until 15th September. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
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August 15, 2016
It’s the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London ands we thought we’d take a quick look at what happened in the aftermath.
With much of the city razed in the four day fire of early September, 1666, attention quickly turned to the rebuilding of the City and within just a few days, proposals began coming in for the recreation – and transformation – of London.
Christopher Wren, John Evelyn and Robert Hooke were among those who put forward new designs for the city along with the likes of one Richard Newcourt, whose proposed rigid grid featuring churches set in squares wasn’t adopted for London but was eventually for the streets of Philadelphia in what is now the United States of America.
None of these plans – Wren’s vision had apparently been inspired by the Gardens of Versailles while Evelyn’s was an Italianate city with wide piazzas – were eventually adopted, however, thanks largely to the difficulty in working out who owned which properties in the city (people had more on their mind, such as survival perhaps).
In October, 1666, King Charles II – who had encouraged many of those left homeless to move out of the City out of fears that a rebellion was in the offing – joined with the City authorities in appointing six commissioners to regulate the rebuilding (a key factor in which was the mandatory use of brick in place of wood).
Their actions were supported by a couple of parliamentary acts – drawn up to regulate the rebuilding and allow for the opening and widening of roads, among other things – and the establishment of specially convened Fire Courts to deal with property disputes (owners had to clear roadways of debris and establish their rights of ownership before they could start reconstruction).
Rebuilding was, not surprisingly, to take years – after all, almost 400 acres had been burned within the City walls and 63 acres outside them with more than 80 churches, 44 livery halls and more than 13,000 houses among the casualties. And it was patchy with new buildings standing alongside empty blocks awaiting reconstruction.
Construction of the many grand public buildings destroyed in the fire, such as St Paul’s Cathedral, would also take years (the cathedral, Wren’s Baroque masterpiece, wasn’t completed until 1711).
PICTURE: The Monument, which commemorates the Great Fire of London, is among the works of Sir Christopher Wren (for more on the Monument, see our earlier post here).
August 1, 2016
The Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro this week, so we thought it a good occasion to recall a Londoner intimately associated with the Olympics, though not as an athlete but as a coach.
Born in Blackheath, Scipio Africanus – ‘Sam’ – Mussabini was a pioneering athletics coach who, in early 20th century, coached 11 athletes to win medals, including five gold, over five different Olympic Games.
Mussabini, the son of a Syrian-Italian father and French mother, was educated in France and worked, like his father, in journalism, writing for sports magazines and specialising in billiards (which he also played to a high standard).
From the 1890s, he started working, first as a cycling coach and later as an athletics coach in south London, based at Herne Hill Stadium.
His first major success as the latter came when young South African sprinter, Reggie Walker, won gold in the 100 metres at the 1908 London Olympics. In 1913, he was appointed coach of the Polytechnic Harriers at the Herne Hill athletics track.
He would go on to train the likes of Albert Hill – he won gold in the 800 and 1,500 metres at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp – and his most famous student Harold Abrahams who won gold in the 100 metres and silver in the 4 x 100 metre relay at the 1924 Paris Olympics – a role which is depicted in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire (the coach is played by Ian Holm).
Mussabini is famous for the comprehensive and systematic approach he took to training his athletes, an approach which covered the athletes’ lifestyle and diet as well as a rigorous training regime, and which saw him use techniques such as using a cine-camera t0 film his athletes in action and then analysing the footage. He is also noted for having ensured female athletes, like world record sprinter Vera Palmer-Searle, received high quality coaching.
As a paid coach in an age when most were amateurs, he was ostracised by the establishment and apparently only started to receive the recognition he deserved well after his death, particularly following his depiction in Chariots of Fire.
Mussabini, who suffered from diabetes, died in March, 1927, at the age of 60. He was buried in Hampstead Cemetery. There is an English Heritage blue plaque on the house he lived in at 84 Burbage Road (it backs onto the Herne Hill Stadium) between 1911 and 1916.
Mussabini was inducted into the English Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011 while the Mussabini Medal was awarded every year between 1998 and 2007 by Sports Coach UK to honour outstanding coaches.