Little-BritainThis central – and rather unassuming – London street owes its name to the French – not British – who apparently once lived in the area which lies just south of Smithfield.

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.

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There’s quite a few whose London residence (or otherwise) is commemorated by more than one blue plaque. So, breaking away from our usual ‘one plaque’ format, here were listing five of those who have made the grade…

William-Wilberforce-blue-plaque1. William Wilberforce (1759-1833). The late 18th century and early 19th century politician and anti-slavery campaigner tops our list with three English Heritage blue plaques. The first is at 111 Brookwood Road in Battersea – the site of Brookwood House where Wilberforce resided during his anti-slavery campaign. The second is on Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common, the church where Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect with whom he is associated worshipped. And the third is on a property at 44 Cadogan Place in Chelsea where Wilberforce died.

2. Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Like Wilberforce, the 18th century lexicographer Dr Johnson has three English Heritage blue plaques to his name. The first, on his famous Gough Square property in the City of London we’ve already mentioned (see our earlier post here), while the second is on a property at 8 Russell Street, Covent Garden, then occupied by bookseller Thomas Davies, which was where Dr Johnson famously first met James Boswell in 1763. The third time Dr Johnson’s name appears, more unusually, is on a plaque commemorating Essex Street – Dr Johnson is among a number of names listed on it for his role in establishing an “evening club” at the pub, the Essex Head, in the street in 1783.

3. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703): The 17th century diarist seems to pop-up everywhere in central London so it’s not surprising there are two plaques in the English Heritage blue plaques scheme dedicated to him (although both are located in the same street – one he apparently liked very much). The plaques are located at number 12 and number 14 Buckingham Street in Covent Garden and both mark the site of a Pepys residence.

4. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941): The writer, publisher and literary critic’s name appears on two properties – at 29 Fitzroy Square in Fitzrovia where Woolf lived between 1907-1911 and on Hogarth House at 34 Paradise Road in Richmond where she and Leonard Woolf lived between 1915-1924 (and also where they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917).

5. William Morris (1834-1896): The poet and artist has two English Heritage blue plaques to his credit – the first on 17 Red Lion Square in Holborn where Morris lived in a flat from 1856-1859 with Sir Edward C Burne-Jones, and the second on Red House in Bexleyheath where he and his wife Jane Burden lived from 1860-1865.

PICTURE: Spudgun67/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0 (image cropped)

Much has been made about the dearth of women featured on blue plaques in this 150th year of the scheme – according to English Heritage, only 13 per cent of the 900 odd blue plaques in London commemorate a woman.

Fanny-Burney-plaqueAmong them are ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn, suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, socialite Nancy Astor, and, in recent times, cookery writer Elizabeth David.

The oldest surviving blue plaque commemorating a woman, however, is that commemorating what is today a less well-known name, that of Fanny Burney.

Burney (1752-1840), who was known as Madame D’Arblay after she married, was a widely applauded novelist who was also noted for her diaries which record her involvement in the literary circles around Samuel Johnson and the Bluestocking Group.

The blue plaque commemorating her residence at 11 Bolton Street in Mayfair was erected in 1885 by the Society of Arts (which means that like others erected by the society, later the Royal Society of Arts, it’s brown not blue).

Burney, whose most profitable work, Camilla, was published in 1796 after she had spent five years as Second Keeper of the Robs to Queen Charlotte, lived in the house following the death of her husband, the Frenchman Alexandre D’Arblay.

She spent 10 years here – from 1818 until 1828 – and had apparently thought it would be her last residence but she went on to move into three further properties after this one.

PICTURE: Simon Harriyott/CC BY 2.0

Samuel-Johnson-plaqueThere is only one official blue plaque in the square miles of the City of London – that which marks the property of lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson in Gough Square (he always did like to stand out from the crowd) – and, like many of the plaques in the scheme, it’s not even blue.

Samuel-Johnson-plaque2The plaque was among the 35 erected in the first 35 years of the scheme – this one in 1876 – and was done so by the Society of Arts which then ran the scheme (later the Royal Society of Arts). In common with most of the first 35 plaques, it is brown in colour.

In 1879, just three years after this plaque was erected, the Society of Arts came to an agreement with the Corporation of the City of London that the corporation – the governing body of the square mile – would commemorate sites of historic significance within its boundaries and the agreement has stood ever since.

The hundreds of “blue plaques” since erected by the City of London Corporation are rectangular in nature and commemorate everything from structures like the long-gone historic gate of Aldgate (88 Aldgate High Street) to homes of the notable such as martyred Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas á Becket (86 Cheapside).

There’s a searchable database of all the City of London plaques which can be found here.

And, of course, Dr Johnson’s house, which he lived in from 1748-59 which compiling his famous A Dictionary of the English Language (the first comprehensive English language dictionary), is now a museum – for details of that, see our earlier post here.

Eighteenth century physician Dr Richard Mead is noted not only for his attendance on the rich and famous of his time – including royalty – but also for his philanthropy, his expansive collections and, importantly, his contributions in the field of medicine.

Born in Stepney, London, on the 11th August, 1673, as the 11th of 13 children of nonconforming minister Matthew Mead, Mead studied both Utrecht and Leiden before receiving his MD in Italy. Returning to England in 1696, he founded his own medical practice in Stepney.

He married Ruth Marsh in 1699 and together the couple had at least eight children, several of whom died young, before her death in 1720 (he subsequently married again, this time to Anne, daughter of a Bedfordshire knight, Sir Rowland Alston).

Having published the then seminal text – A Mechanical Account of Poisons – in 1702, the following year Mead was admitted to the Royal Society. He also took up a post as a physician at St Thomas’ Hospital, a job which saw him move to a property in Crutched Friars in the City – his home until 1711, when he relocated to Austin Friars.

It was after this that he become friends with eminent physician John Radcliffe who chose Mead as his successor and, on his death in 1714, bequeathed him his practice and his Bloomsbury home (not to mention his gold-topped cane, now on display at the Foundling Museum – see note below).

Following Radcliffe’s death, in August of that year Dr Mead attended Queen Anne on her deathbed. Other distinguished patients over his career included King George I, his son Prince George and daughter-in-law Princess Caroline – in fact he was appointed as official physician to the former prince when elevated to the throne as King George II – as well as Sir Isaac Newton, lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, Sir Robert Walpole and painter Antoine Watteau.

Mead, who had been named a governor of St Thomas’ in 1715 and elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1716, was over the years recognised as an expert in a range of medical fields – including, as well as poisons, smallpox, scurvy and even the transmission of the plague.

Among the many more curious stories about Dr Mead is one concerning a ‘duel’ (or fistfight) he apparently fought with rival Dr John Woodward outside Gresham College in 1719 over their differences in tackling smallpox and others which concern experiments he conducted with venomous snakes to further his knowledge of venom before writing his text on poisons.

Dr Mead was also known for his philanthropy and became one of the founding governors of the Foundling Hospital (as well as being its medical advisor) – a portrait of him by artist Allan Ramsay (for whom he was a patron), currently hangs at the museum.

Dr Mead, who by this stage lived in Great Ormond Street in Bloomsbury (the property, which backed onto the grounds of the Foundling Museum and which Mead had moved into after his first wife’s death, later formed the basis of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children), is also noted for the large collection he gathered of paintings – including works by Dürer, Holbein, Rembrandt, and Canaletto, a library of more than 10,000 books, antiquities and classical sculpture as well as coins and jewels, all of which scholars and artists could access at his home (it took some 56 days to sell it all after his death).

While Dr Mead – who died on 16th February, 1754 – was buried in the Temple Church, there is a monument to him – including a bust by Peter Scheemakers – in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey.

Dr Mead is currently being honoured in an exhibition at the Foundling Museum – The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Meadwhich runs until 4th January. There’s an accompanying blog here which provides more information on his life and legacy.

Famous as the home of the Apollo Club, the Devil – more completely the Devil and St Dunstan or The Devil and the Saint, thanks to its sign which showed the saint tweaking the Devil’s nose with pincers – was a Fleet Street institution.

The-Devil-TavernLocated at number 2, Fleet Street close to the Temple Bar, the tavern’s origins date back to at least 16th century but it was Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonson who made it home to the literary dining club known as the Apollo Club (the moniker comes from the name of the room in the tavern in which the club was located).

As well as Jonson, members of the club are said to have included William Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope and Dr Samuel Johnson. Samuel Pepys is also said to have frequented the tavern.

A bust of Apollo was mounted over the door to the room and a verse of welcome on the wall – they apparently still exist inside the bank of Child & Co (now part of the Royal Bank of Scotland) which now occupies the site on which the tavern once stood. The ‘rules’ of the club – which have been penned by Jonson – also apparently hung over the fireplace (and the name of the club lives on in Apollo Court over the road).

The tavern is also noted for its associations with ‘Mull Sack’ (aka chimney sweep turned 17th century highwayman John Cottington) and hosted concerts and other important gatherings including that of the Royal Society which held its annual dinner here in 1746.

It was demolished in the 1787 when the site was annexed by the neighbouring bank. A plaque can now be seen on the bank’s wall in Fleet Street.

PICTURE: Open Plaques

Isaac-Newton

Eduardo Paolozzi’s 1995 statue of Isaac Newton which stands on the British Library’s piazza in King’s Cross has been granted a ‘voice’ as part of a new project called Talking Statues. Visitors who swipe their smartphones on a nearby tag will receive a call from the famous scientist – voiced by Simon Beale Russell – as part of the initiative which is being spear-headed by Sing London. It is one of 35 different statues across London and Manchester which will be brought to life by a range of public identities. Among the other statues in London which have been brought to life are Samuel Johnson’s cat Hodge in Gough Square (voiced by Nicholas Parsons) and Dick Whittington’s Cat in Islington (Helen Lederer), John Wilkes in Fetter Lane (Jeremy Paxman), the Unknown Soldier at Paddington Station (Patrick Stewart) and Sherlock Holmes outside Baker Street Underground (Anthony Horowitz). The British Library and Sing London are also holding a competition to give William Shakespeare a voice by writing a monologue for the statue in the library’s entrance hall which will then be read by an as yet unannounced actor. Entries close 17th October. For more, visit www.talkingstatues.co.uk

PICTURE: British Library

Following on from our post last week, we take a look at a couple more of London’s buildings that had some sort of association with William Shakespeare…

St-John's-Gate St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell (pictured): This former gatehouse into Clerkenwell Priory was at the time of Shakespeare home to the Master of the Revels and where the playwright would have had to have brought his plays for official government approval. Thirty of the Bard’s plays were licensed here and the Master of Revels during all but the final few years of Shakespeare’s career was Edmund Tilney (or Tylney), who served in the post under both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. The gatehouse was later used as a coffee house and pub among other things and is associated with everyone from artist William Hogarth (his father Richard ran the coffee house), Dr Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens. These days, the gatehouse is part of the Museum of the Order of St John (for more on that, see our earlier post here).

Staple Inn, Holborn: OK, there’s no direct link at all between Shakespeare and this building on High Holborn but it was built during his lifetime – in 1585 – and as such is one of very few surviving examples of buildings of his era. Its name comes from the fact the site where it stands was originally a covered market where wool was weighed and taxed (the word ‘staple’ apparently relates to the duty on wool introduced in 1275). It later became an Inn of Chancery – a medieval school for lawyers which fed students through to the Inns of Court (in this case mostly Gray’s Inn), and it was members of the Society of Staple Inn who built the new building here in the 1580s. The building – which still boasts a grand hall – survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and, albeit with considerable damage, the Blitz. Since the late 1800s, it has been home to what’s now known as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. The building, which was restored in the 1990s, is a great example of an Elizabethan-era structure and gives some sense of what Shakespeare’s London was like.

While the first official records of this Bankside pub only date from 1822, the pub’s history goes back much further. Like many pubs in London, nailing down its exact origins is tough but the story goes that it was named The Anchor by seventeenth century merchant Josiah Child.

The-AnchorChild owned the brewhouse which had been established in 1616 by James Monger at a site known as Dead Man’s Place (close to where the original Globe Theatre had stood before burning down in 1613) and was also a merchant who supplied the navy with everything from masts and spars to stores and beer. Hence the name The Anchor.

It’s speculated that William Shakespeare himself might have had a drink here and it’s believed to be from this pub – “a little alehouse on Bankside” – that diarist Samuel Pepys witnessed the destructive power of the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Dr Samuel Johnson – apparently a close friend of later brewery owners, Henry and Hester Thrale – was among regular drinkers. Other patrons, according to the pub’s website, included the artist Joshua Reynolds, Irish poet Oliver Goldsmith, actor David Garrick and Irish statesmen Edmund Burke.

The pub was apparently rebuilt a couple of times after being destroyed by fire. The brewery, meanwhile, rose to become one of the largest in the world before it was finally demolished in 1981 leaving the pub, the brewery tap, still standing.

Refurbished in recent years, the pub today contains a room dedicated to The Clink prison, the Bishop of Winchester’s lock-up which was located in nearby Clink Street.

The waterside pub at 34 Park Street is now part of the Taylor Walker chain. You can find out more about it here.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro/Flickr

In contrast to some of the grand homes we’ve featured as part of this series (and there are many more that we haven’t, meaning we might have a future series solely dedicated to them!), comes the rather more humble City home of lexicographer and renowned wit Samuel Johnson.

Gough-SquareThe brick townhouse at 17 Gough Square – which lies between Fleet Street and Holborn – was actually built in the late 17th century (before the Hanoverian accession) for wool merchant Richard Gough.

Johnson – who apparently had at least 17 different London residences – didn’t move in here as a tenant until 1748 and stayed for more than a decade until 1759 (seven years after the death of his wife – for more on Johnson, see our earlier ‘Famous Londoners’ post). It was during his tenancy here that he compiled his famous text, A Dictionary of the English Language. The first comprehensive English language dictionary, it was published in 1755.

The four level property, which is now a museum and has been set up as it was in Johnson’s day, was used by the writer as a residence as well as a workplace and the top floor garret is where six copyists worked transcribing the entries for the dictionary.

As well as the rather spectacular staircase, the property features furnishings from the period as well as portraits, prints and other Johnson-related memorabilia. There is a plaque which was placed on the exterior of the property by the Royal Society of Arts in 1876.

After Johnson vacated the premises, the property was used for various purposes including as a small hotel, B&B and a printer’s workshop. It had fallen into disrepair by the early twentieth century but was saved by MP Cecil Harmsworth who restored it and opened it to the public in 1914 (the small curator’s house was built after this). The house was damaged during World War II bombings – when it was used as a canteen by fireman – but survived. It is now operated by a charitable trust.

Outside the house in Gough Square is a statue of Johnson’s cat Hodge (see our earlier post here) and the property is only a short walk from the historic pub Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (see our earlier post here).

WHERE: Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square (nearest Tube station Chancery Lane, Temple, Farringdon and Blackfriars);  WHEN: 11am to 5.30pm (May to September); COST: £4.50 adults/£1.50 children (5-17 years)/£3.50 concession/£10 family; WEBSITE: www.drjohnsonshouse.org

Playwright. Actor. Theatre manager. David Garrick stands out as a towering figure of the theatrical world in the 18th century and is remembered, at least in part, for his friendship with the irrepressible lexicographer Samuel Johnson.

Born on 19th February, 1717, in Hereford to an army officer (with French Huguenot roots) as the third of five children, Garrick attended school in Lichfield, north of Birmingham, including, at the short-lived Edial Hall School where Dr Johnson himself taught Latin and Greek. It was during his youth that he first took an interest in the stage, appearing in George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer.

When the school closed due to lack of funds, Garrick accompanied Dr Johnson to London (they had become friends) and there he and his younger brother Peter established a wine business (Peter eventually went back to Lichfield to run part of the business from there). While the business wasn’t a great success, Garrick took to acting in amateur theatricals and eventually – according to Peter Thomson, writing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – made his professional debut acting incognito in a pantomime in London in March, 1741, although Garrick apparently said placed his debut in Ipswich that summer when he was acting in Thomas Southerne’s Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave (meanwhile the first performance of one of his dramatic works – Lethe, or Aesop in the Shades – had taken place at Drury Lane the previous year).

His breakthrough role came later that year – in October – when he appeared in London on the stage of the unlicensed Goodman’s Fields Theatre in the title role of Richard III. Soon acclaimed by the likes of Alexander Pope and William Pitt as the greatest actor of his time, further roles followed at Goodman’s Fields and at the famous Drury Lane Theatre as well as in Dublin (where he started an ultimately ill-fated love affair with Irish actress Peg Woffington who returned with him to London where he continued acting at Drury Lane).

Having also performed for a season, at the rival Covent Garden Theatre, in April 1747, Garrick entered into a partnership with James Lacy for the ownership of the Drury Lane Theatre. The first performance was apparently by Garrick himself, reading Ode to Drury Lane Theatre, on dedicating a Building and erecting a Statue, to Shakespeare – a piece written by Dr Johnson.

It was two years later – on 22nd June, 1749 – that he married a German dancer Eva Marie Veigel. They lived at a house at 27 Southampton Street and Garrick’s increasing wealth led him to buy a country property in Hampton, today in south west London, in 1754 which became known as “Garrick’s Villa”. Considerably altered, the Grade I-listed property still stands there today (albeit having suffered extensive damage in a 2008 fire) along with the summerhouse he built to house his collection of Shakespearian memorabilia – known as Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare, it’s open to the public over from April to October.

Meanwhile, as well as managing the theatre, Garrick continued acting and writing plays. In September, 1769, he staged the Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford-upon-Avon, celebrating 200 years since the playwright’s birth – even though it was five years too late and was ultimately a bit of a disaster, he took his celebration of Shakespeare back to Drury Lane and there it was a huge success.

Garrick, who moved from Southampton Street into the newly built Adelphi Terrace in 1772, remained manager of Drury Lane until his retirement in 1776 during which time it became widely acknowledged as the country’s leading theatre. He died at home on 20th January, 1779. His wife outlived him by 43 years. The couple had no children. Garrick was subsequently interred in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey – the first actor to receive the honour.

Garrick’s legacy was enormous – not only is he famed for bringing a new ‘realistic’ style to the profession he so loved, he set new standards in the arts of public relations and was also an instrumental figure in having Shakespeare recognised as England’s national icon. Legend goes that he was also the actor responsible for the phrase “Break a leg!” – apparently so engrossed in a performance of Richard III that he overlooked the fact he’d fractured his bone.

Garrick’s name lives on in the Garrick Theatre (still operating in Charing Cross Road) and the Garrick Club, and there’s memorial to him on his former home in Adelphi Terrace.

Where is it?…#45

September 28, 2012


The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Congrats to Mike, Debbie, Janet, and Zoe (on Facebook), this is indeed the back of the statue of Hodge the cat in Gough Square in the City of London, just outside Dr Johnson’s House at No 17. One of the cats of the famed lexicographer, Dr Samuel Johnson, Hodge had his own moment of stardom in James Boswell’s Life of Johnson in which Dr Johnson is heard remarking that he’s had better cats than Hodge before, apparently in response to Hodge’s reaction, stating that he was “a very fine; a very fine cat indeed” (Johnson was apparently unusual for his love of cats; Boswell did not suffer the same love). This bronze statue of Hodge, by sculptor Jon Bickley and placed here in 1997, has Hodge sitting on a copy of Dr Johnson’s famous dictionary and beside him is some empty oyster shells, referring to Dr Johnson’s habit of buying oysters for his cats to eat. For more on Dr Johnson’s House (where Dr Johnson lived from 1747-59), see www.drjohnsonshouse.org.

This small pub, found down a laneway – Ely Court – off Ely Place in Holborn, is considered by many one of London’s hardest to find. The name – which describes a bishop’s headwear – comes from the fact that the building was built by Bishop Goodrich of Ely, who lived in nearby Ely House, for his retainers.

The original premises dated from 1546 but the current building on the site reportedly dates from about 1773 (about the date on which the bishop’s residence nearby was demolished). Interestingly, the pub was actually part of Cambridge – the city of Ely, and the Bishopric, being based there – which meant that the licensees once had to go to Cambridge for renewal.

In 1576, part of the property, along with a substantial part of the bishop’s estate, was leased to Sir Christopher Hatton, favorite of Queen Elizabeth I (and the man after whom nearby Hatton Garden is named – more on that another time), on order of the Queen herself.

Indeed the bar still houses the remains of a cherry tree behind glass. The tree is said to have marked the  border between Sir Christopher’s land and the Bishop’s land. Sir Christopher, incidentally, is said to have danced around it during a May Day celebration the Queen though this tale may simply by apocryphal.

Both Charles Dickens and Dr Johnson are said to have been customers here. The pub, which features dark  panelling on the walls, still evokes a sense of the past with its olde world furnishings and fittings (and absence of more modern fittings like blaring TVs). Great place to pass a few hours in on a chilly day!

For more on the pub, see http://yeoldemitreholburn.co.uk.

First laid out in the mid 17th century, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, on the east bank of the Thames just south of Lambeth, rose in fame to become one of London’s leading public entertainment venues.

The gardens, initially known as New Spring Gardens, are believed to have opened around the time of the Restoration of 1660 on a site which had been formerly an estate owned by vintners John and Jane Vaux (Jane was apparently widowed).

Initially apparently no more than an ale-house with a garden attached, the gardens grew to span several acres and featured a central hub and long avenues for strolling. Admission was initially free with money made from food and drink sold there. Among the earliest recorded visitors to the gardens was John Evelyn in 1661, describing it as a “pretty contrived plantation” and diarist Samuel Pepys, who wrote of a visit he made on 29th May, 1662 (he is known to have returned numerous times).

From 1729, the gardens came under ownership and management of John Tyers, entrepreneur, property developer and patron of the arts, and it was he who, until his death in 1767, oversaw the transformation of the area into an arts hotspot which included sculpture (in particular a fine statue of the composer Handel), music, painting and architecture. Thanks partly due to the patronage of Frederick, Prince of Wales, the gardens become the fashionable place to be seen.

The variety of entertainment on offer at the gardens – the name of which was only officially changed to Vauxhall Gardens in 1785 – grew substantially over the years: from concerts and fireworks displays to performances by tight rope walkers and lion tamers and even re-enactments of famous battles. The gardens became renowned as site for balloon ascents and, for its architecture – the number of buildings there grew over the years to include a rococo ‘Turkish tent’, Chinese pavilion, and, another rococo building, the Rotunda (where concerts could be held in wet weather). There was also a cascade and private ‘supper boxes’ for those who could afford them; those who couldn’t could dine at tables set under the trees.

From the outset, Vauxhall was known as a place where the sexes could mix freely and, therefore, for romantic assignations – in fact, one area of the gardens became known as the ‘Dark Walk’ for the fact it was, unlike other areas of the gardens, never illuminated by lamps and it was in this area, frequented by prostitutes, that many of the more illicit liaisons took place.

By the late 1700s and early 1800s, the gardens, one of a number of pleasure gardens in London, had reached the height of their popularity with reportedly more than 60,000 people said to have  attending a fancy dress party held one night in the late 1700s.

Those who attended events in the gardens included royalty as well as the likes of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell (see Thomas Rowlandson’s image above, Vauxhall Gardens, showing the likes of Johnson and Boswell, along with Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, and the future King George IV, at the gardens in about 1779) as well as, much later, Charles Dickens (by the time Dickens visited, however, the heyday of the gardens was already well over).

The gardens closed in 1859 due apparently to declining popularity and were eventually replaced with housing. After being badly bombed in World War II, however, the site once again returned to being a garden, known as Spring Gardens. The gardens (pictured) still occupy the site not far from Vauxhall tube station – part of them is used by the Vauxhall City Farm as paddocks for horses and livestock and they also contain a multi-use games court.

For an authoritative and comprehensive work on the Vauxhall Gardens, try David Coke and Dr Alan Borg’s Vauxhall Gardens: A History. There’s also much more information on David Coke’s website here. There’s also a detailed history here.

David Coke is curating an exhibition at The Foundling Museum, The Triumph of Pleasure, which looks at the way in which the gardens and the establishment of the Foundling Hospital in 1739 “changed the face of British art forever”. Runs from 11th May to 9th September. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

PICTURES: Wikipedia and David Adams

There hardly seems to be a pub in London which doesn’t claim some connection with the Victorian author but we thought we’d confine ourselves to five pubs with more well-established credentials…

• Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. This pub is a Fleet Street institution with parts of the current building dating back to 1667 when it was rebuilt following the Great Fire. Dickens was among numerous literary figures who frequented the premises – the pub is perhaps most famously associated with the lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson (although there is apparently no recorded evidence he ever attended here); other literary figures who came here include Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – and, according to a plaque in Wine Court, worked out of the pub for a period while producing his journal All The Year Round.

• The One Tun, Saffron Hill. Said to have been established as an ale house on its present site in 1759, the pub was rebuilt in the mid-Victorian era  and was apparently patronised by Dickens between 1833 and 1838. It’s also apparently the inspiration for the pub called The Three Cripples in Oliver Twist (The Three Cripples was actually a lodging house next door to the One Tun and didn’t sell ale). For more, see www.onetun.com

• The George Inn, Southwark. Dating from the 17th century, the George Inn in Borough High Street is the last galleried coaching inn left standing in London and is now cared for by the National Trust (and leased for use by a private company). Dickens is known to have come here when it was running as a coffee house and he mentions it in the book, Little Dorrit. For more, see     www.nationaltrust.org.uk/george-inn/.

• George & Vulture, Castle Court (near Lombard Street). Established in the 18th century on the site of an older inn, this well-hidden pub was not only frequented by Dickens but is mentioned in The Pickwick Papers more than 20 times.

• The Grapes, Limehouse. Formerly known as The Bunch of Grapes, there has been a pub on the site for almost more than 430 years. Dickens was known to be a patron here (his godfather lived in Limehouse) and mentioned the pub – renamed The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters – appears in his novel Our Mutual Friend. For more, see www.thegrapes.co.uk.

• Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Place. This pub dates from the mid 1500s by Bishop Goodrich of Ely to house his retainers and later rented out to Sir Christopher Hatton (it still houses the remains of a cherry tree which Sir Christopher is said to have danced around during a May Day celebration with none other than the future Queen Elizabeth I). Dickens (and the ubiquitous Dr Johnson) are both said to have drunk here.

• And lastly, The Dickens Inn in St Katharine Docks. It’s worth noting up front that Charles Dickens had nothing to do with this pub – dating back to at least 1800, it was once a warehouse and is thought to have been used to either house tea or play a role in a local brewing operation – but it was his great grandson, Cedric Charles Dickens, who formally opened the pub in 1976, apparently declaring, “My great grandfather would have loved this inn”. For more, see www.dickensinn.co.uk.

This list is by no means comprehensive – we’d love to hear from you if you know of any other pubs Dickens frequented…

The most acclaimed tragic actress of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Sarah Siddons is best remembered for her iconic role as Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth.

Born in 1755 into the theatrical Kemble family (her father was an actor and theatre manager and many of her 11 younger siblings, including John Philip Kemble, also went on to be actors) in Brecon, Wales, Siddons first began appearing with Kemble’s company while still at school. Still only a young teenager, she also began a romance with one of the company’s actors, William Siddons.

The liaison was discouraged by her parents (as was the idea of her acting) and in 1770 she was sent into service with a family in Warwick. She had kept up correspondence with Siddons, however, and, after her parents withdrew their opposition to the match, they were married on 26th November, 1773.

The couple rejoined Kemble’s company initially but were soon working for another, Chamberlain and Crump, and it was while doing so in the spa town of Cheltenham that Siddons’ abilities came to the notice of famed actor, playwright and theatre manager David Garrick.

Invited to London, her initial foray into acting there, however, fell flat and, following a short-lived season at Drury Lane Theatre which resulted in her services no longer being required (it is believed the fact she had two very young children at the time, having only just given birth to the second, didn’t help her performances), Siddons instead headed to the country and worked in places like York, Manchester and Bath, rebuilding her somewhat battered reputation.

It proved a successful move for when she was invited back to London in 1782, her now not just restored but blossoming reputation preceded her. To much acclaim she performed in the title role in David Garrick’s play, Isabella, or, the Fatal Marriage.

It was to be the first of many high profile roles – the most famous of which was to play Lady Macbeth – and Siddons soon rose to become the most sought-after actress in the city, a position which allowed her to mix among the elite of society (among her friends were counted lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson and philosopher Edmund Burke and she even appeared before King George III and Queen Charlotte). Venerated as a “cultural icon”, her star continued to climb in the 1780s and it was in 1783-84 that she sat for a portrait, The Tragic Muse, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (pictured).

Her personal life, meantime, was another matter and in 1804, Siddons and her husband – who had increasingly spent time apart during the preceding years, formally separated (William died in Bath four years later). She had also experienced the deaths of many of her children – in fact, only two of her seven children were to outlive her.

Siddons retired from the stage in 1812 – her final moving performance was, you guessed it, as Lady Macbeth – but continued to appear on special occasions until 1819.

She died in June, 1831, and, following a huge funeral, was buried at St Mary’s Cemetery at Paddington Green. There is a statue of her at the grave. Siddons is among those actresses currently featured in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition The First Actresses – Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons. The exhibition runs until 8th January (an admission charge applies). For more information visit www.npg.org.uk.

For further reading – Robyn Asleson’s A Passion for Performance: Sarah Siddons and Her Portraitists

PICTURE: Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse by the Studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1784  © National Portrait Gallery, London

This is the first in our new special series looking at 10 of the best of London’s small museums. We’re not including houses once lived in by famous people (that will be the subject of a later series), but rather those museums which contain some of the city’s most eclectic collections yet still tend to fly a little under the radar when it comes to the crowds…

First up, we take a look at the Museum of the Order of St John. The museum – which was reopened in late 2010 following a £3.7 million redevelopment – is located in St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell (pictured), the Tudor era gatehouse of the order’s once substantial London priory.

Told inside is the story of the order, from its founding in the 12th century as the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem with the aim of caring for sick pilgrims who had travelled to the Holy Land through to its later role as a military order and its Middle Ages moves – following the capture of Palestine by Muslim forces in 1291 – to Cyprus, then Rhodes, and eventually Malta, along with its current work through the charitable foundation of St John Ambulance.

Exhibits include weapons and armour, paintings and illuminated manuscripts (such as the Rhodes Missal of 1504), coins, furnishings, ceramics, silverware and textiles. There is also a 16th or 17th century bust of Jean de la Valette, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller from 1557 to 1568 and famed for leading the order to victory in the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 (he is remembered still in the name of the island nation’s capital, Valletta).

As well as the gatehouse (which, following the Dissolution, was used for various purposes including being the childhood home of 18th century artist William Hogarth and, at another time, housing a printing press used by famed lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson), the museum’s assets also encompass the 12th century crypt under what was once the priory church (it’s located just to the north across Clerkenwell Road). It’s well worth a visit for the stunning 16th century tomb effigies alone.

WHERE: The Museum of the Order of St John, St John’s Gate, St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations is Farringdon); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday (tours are held at 11am and 2.30pm on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday); COST: Free (a small donation for guided tours); WEBSITE: www.museumstjohn.org.uk.

The man behind what is perhaps the most famous quote about London – “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” – Samuel Johnson was a noted writer, critic and raconteur of the 18th century whose work included a then unparalleled English language dictionary.

Often simply referred to as “Dr Johnson”, Johnson was also the subject of one of the most famous biographies ever written – that of his friend James Boswell’s aptly named Life of Samuel Johnson.

Born in 1709 in Lichfield, Staffordshire (the home is now a museum), Johnson – who often struggled with poor health and depression – was the son of a bookseller who managed to help fund his brief time at Pembroke College in Oxford before lack of funds meant he had to leave without a degree (he was later awarded an honorary degree).

He worked with his father and as a tutor before eventually, in 1737, heading to London with his friend and former pupil, actor David Garrick, and there worked for the rest of his life as a writer producing works including magazine articles and essays, poetry, sermons, and biographies.

In 1746, he was commissioned to produce the dictionary and rented  a property at 17 Gough Square, not far from Fleet Street, where he would spend the nine years working in it. Published in 1755, the dictionary was a remarkable work which not only won him acclaim ever since but also resulted in King George III granting Johnson a modest pension for the rest of his life (he had previously been arrested for debt).

The Gough Square house is these days open to the public and includes an exhibition on Johnson’s life, particularly with regard to his time there (there’s a statue of his cat Hodge in the square itself). Other sites which Johnson is known to have frequented include Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street, the Anchor Inn in Bankside, the Theatre Royal Covent Garden (now the Royal Opera House) in Bow Street where the Beefsteak Club met, and St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell where he once had an office.

Johnson married an older widow, Elizabeth Porter, in 1735, but she died in 1752 and it was following her death that Francis Barber, a former Jamaican slave, moved in as his servant, eventually becoming Johnson’s heir.

Johnson’s friends included some of the great luminaries of the time, including artist Joshua Reynolds, philosopher Edmund Burke, poet Oliver Goldsmith, and, of course, Boswell.

Following a series of illnesses, Johnson died in 1784 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The 300th anniversary of his death was marked with a series of events last year including a re-enactment of the walk Johnson and Garrick made from Lichfield to London.

Dr Johnson’s House (17 Gough Square, nearest tube is Temple, Holborn or Chancery Lane) is open Monday to Saturday, 11am-5.30pm (5pm from October to April). Entry costs £4.50 an adult, £3.50 for concessions, £1.50 for children and family tickets are available for £10. For more information, see www.drjohnsonshouse.org.