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 – Talking Shakespeare; Dickens’ letter in support of ‘fallen women’; and, wallpaper at the Geffrye…
May 5, 2016
• Guildhall is hosting an “open mic” Shakespeare day this Tuesday as part of commemorations marking the 400th anniversary of his death. Speeches, Soliloquies and Songs from Shakespeare will be opened with recitals from actors Simon Russell Beale and John Heffernan before members of the public will have their chance to recite their favourite piece from Shakespeare. Participants are invited to sign up by emailing email@example.com or calling 020 7332 1868. The event will run between 10am to 12pm and 1.30pm to 3.30pm at the Basinghall Suite in the Guildhall Art Gallery. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visit-the-city/attractions/guildhall-galleries/Pages/guildhall-art-gallery.aspx.
• A letter written by author Charles Dickens to the governors of the Foundling Hospital has gone on display at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. The letter was written to the governors in support of an application for a new matron and touches on Dickens’ belief that the downward path of a ‘fallen woman’ wasn’t irreversible and inevitable but that reform was possible. Tempted to Virtue: Dickens and the Fallen Woman can be seen until 22nd May. In a related event, Lynda Nead, curator of the recent exhibition, The Fallen Woman, will join Jenny Earle, programme director at the Prison Reform Trust, in discussing the hidden stories of vulnerable women in the 19th century and today on 21st May. This event is free but booking is essential. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
• An exhibition celebrating how wallpaper is made is running at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch as part of London Craft Week. The Craft of Wallpaper demonstrates the variety of processes being used to make wallpaper in today’s world and features papers by some of the UK’s most innovative makers including Claire Coles, Elise Menghini, Helen Morley, Identity Paper, Juliet Chadwick, Linda Florence, Erica Wakerly, Fromental, CUSTHOM, Tracey Kendall and Graham & Brown who are showcasing six of their most successful wallpaper designs: from its first design in 1946, Original, to the 2016 Wallpaper of the Year, Marble. You’ll have to be quick – only runs until Sunday. For more, see www.londoncraftweek.com.
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February 22, 2016
As with so many London locations, the name Camden Town comes from a previous landowner – but more indirectly it originates with the great 16th and 17th century antiquarian and topographer William Camden.
The story goes like this: late in his life William Camden – author of Britannia, a comprehensive description of Great Britain and Ireland – settled near Chislehurst in Kent on a property which became known as Camden Place.
In the 18th century, the property came into the possession of Sir Charles Pratt, a lawyer and politician (among other things, he was Lord Chancellor in the reign of King George III), who was eventually named 1st Earl of Camden.
It was Pratt who, having come into the possession of the property by marriage, in about 1791 divided up land he owned just to the north of London (which has apparently once been the property of St Paul’s Cathedral) and leased it, resulting in the development of what became Camden Town (Pratt, himself, meanwhile, is memorialised in the name of Pratt Street which runs between Camden High Street and Camden Street).
In 1816, the area received a boost when Regent’s Canal was built through it – the manually operated, twin Camden Lock is located in the heart of Camden Town.
Although it has long carried a reputation of one of the less salubrious of London’s residential neighbourhoods (a reputation which is changing), Camden Town is today a vibrant melting pot of cultures, thanks, in no small part, to the series of markets, including the Camden Lock Market, located there as well as its live music venues.
Past residents have included author Charles Dickens, artist (and Jack the Ripper candidate) Walter Sickert, a member of the so-called ‘Camden Town Group’ of artists, and, in more recent times, the late singer Amy Winehouse.
Of course, the name Camden – since 1965 – has also been that of the surrounding borough.
February 8, 2016
Grimaldi was born in Clare Market, London on 18th December, 1778, the son of actor and clown Joseph Giuseppe Grimaldi (known simply as the “Signor”), and Londoner Rebecca Brooker, a dancer who was more than 50 years younger than Grimaldi when she become one of a string of mistresses.
Joe was groomed for the stage by his father from an early age and made his debut at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in late 1780. He was soon also working at Drury Lane Theatre, running between the two to make performances (at the same time, he did attend a theatrical academy in Putney known for educating the children of performers).
Joe’s father died when he was just nine-years-old and he became the family’s main breadwinner and while he was still able to work at both Sadler’s Wells and Drury Lane, his pay was cut after his father’s death meaning the family had to move out of their home in Holborn and into the slum of St Giles where they took lodgings in Great Wild Street.
In 1799, having met three years before, he married Maria Hughes, the eldest daughter of Richard Hughes, the proprietor of Sadler’s Wells Theatre. The newlyweds moved to a home at 37 Penton Street in Pentonville. It was not to be a long-lasting marriage – Maria died during childbirth on 18th October, 1800.
Further hardship was to come soon after when, while performing at Drury Lane Theatre, he accidentally shot himself in his foot and was forced to bed to recover. But there was a silver lining – his mother employed a dancer, Mary Bristow, to look after him during his rehabilitation and they formed a bond which led to them being married on 24th December, 1801.
After recovering from his injury, meanwhile, he had resumed his hectic schedule at London theatres as well as country venues and it was during this period that he redesigned the way in which he painted his face – adopting a white face design still used by many clowns today – and created the iconic clown which he named simply ‘Joey’.
In 1802, his only child was born – Joseph Samuel, known simply as ‘JS’ – and from the age of 18 months, he was introduced to the theatre, making his own acting debut at Sadler’s Wells in 1814.
In 1806, Joe played what is arguably his most famous roles – as both Bugle and the Clown in Thomas Dibdin’s Harlequin and Mother Goose, which opened at the Covent Garden Theatre on 29th December, 1806, and ran for the next two years.
Financial need saw him continue to take on roles in London and elsewhere but finally, in 1823, ill health – the consequence of his many years of physically abusing his body for his act – forced him into retirement. In 1828, two farewell benefit performances were held in which he had a limited role, his last was at Drury Lane on 27th June.
The last years of his life were marked with tragedy – relations which his son were strained (and they spent years estranged) before JS died on 11th December, 1832, at just the age of 30 while his wife died in 1834.
Grimaldi spent the last years of his life living alone in Southampton Street, Islington, before he was found dead in his bed by his housekeeper on 1st June, 1837. He was buried in St James’s churchyard, Pentonville, on 5th June, 1837 – the area is now Joseph Grimaldi Park and features, as well as his grave, a coffin-shaped memorial (pictured, top) that plays musical notes when danced upon (it’s apparently possible to play his signature song, Hot Codlins when “dancing upon his grave”).
Described as being the pre-eminent entertainer of his day, Grimaldi is credited with transforming the role of the Clown in pantomime and ushering in a whole new era in the art of clowning. His legacy – still remembered by clowns everywhere – received a boost when after his death, Charles Dickens edited his memoirs in 1838.
He is remembered in an annual service held on the first Sunday in February every year in Holy Trinity Church, Hackney (the Sunday just past), an event which is attended by clowns in full get-up.
For a detailed look at the life of Grimaldi, see Andrew McConnell Stott’s The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi: Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain’s Greatest Comedian.
December 21, 2015
Published 172 years ago this December, the five part morality tale centres on the miserly Londoner Ebenezer Scrooge who, following several ghostly visitations by the likes of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, becomes a changed man and recaptures the essence of what Christmas is all about.
The book – whose characters (said to have been partly based on people he knew in real life) also include the abused clerk Bob Cratchit and his ever positive youngest son, Tiny Tim – is based in London.
Among key locations mentioned in the book is Scrooge’s counting house, said to have been located in a courtyard off Cornhill (it’s been suggested this is Newman’s Court, thanks to a reference to a church tower, believed to be St Michael’s Cornhill – pictured), the home of Scrooge (it has been speculated this was located in Lime Street), and the home in Camden Town where the Cratchits celebrate their Christmas (perhaps based on one of Dickens’ childhood homes in Bayham Street). City of London institutions like the home of the Lord Mayor, Mansion House, and the Royal Exchange are also mentioned.
The book, which apparently only took Dickens six weeks to write while he was living at 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone, was first published on 19th December, 1843, by London-based firm Chapman & Hall. Based at 186 Strand, they published many of Dickens’ works – everything from The Old Curiosity Shop to Martin Chuzzlewit – along with those of authors such as William Makepeace Thackeray and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
A Christmas Carol‘s first print run of 6,000 sold out any Christmas Eve that same year and sales continued to be strong into the following year. Despite its warm reception by critics and popularity among the public, the book’s profits were somewhat disappointing for Dickens who had hoped to pay off his debts (he also lost out when he took on some pirates who printed their own version two months after its publication; having hauled them to court Dickens was apparently left to pay costs when they declared bankruptcy).
Dickens would later give some public readings of the book, most notably as a benefit for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children (his last public reading of the book took place at St James’s Hall in London on 15th March, 1870, just three months before his death).
The book, which has apparently never been out of print, went on to become something of a Christmas classic and has been adapted into various films, theatre productions, radio plays and TV shows (one of our favourites is The Muppet Christmas Carol, dating from 1992).
November 16, 2015
There’s a couple of different suggestions as to how Bleeding Heart Yard – a small courtyard located in the Farringdon area of the City of London, just north of Ely Place – obtained its rather descriptive – and gory – name.
The more prosaic answer is that it was named after an inn which, from the 16th century, stood on the yard and had a sign showing the heart of the Virgin Mary pierced by five swords.
The more interesting answer, on the other hand, is that the name commemorates the horrible murder of Lady Elizabeth Hatton (of the famed Cecil family), second wife of Sir William Hatton (formerly known as Newport), and, after his death, wife of Sir Edward Coke.
The story goes that her corpse was found here on 27th January, 1626, with the beating heart torn from the body.
A version of the legend – albeit with a slightly different protagonist – appears in a story published in Bentley’s Miscellany in 1837 which told of how the wife of Sir Christopher Hatton (he was actually the uncle of Sir William Hatton), made a somewhat ill-conceived pact with the Devil to secure wealth, position and a mansion in Holborn. The Devil dances with her during the housewarming party at the new home and then tears out her heart, found beating in the yard the next morning.
The yard also features in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit where it is the location of the home of the Plornish family.
August 10, 2015
OK, the first thing to note here is that despite the name of this pub, located in St Katharine Docks, it has nothing to do with the famous 19th century novelist Charles Dickens. Well, not directly, at least.
That said, it still has an interesting history – dating back to at least the turn of the 19th century (although there is the suggestion it may be older), it is thought to have formerly been used as a brewery building or a tea warehouse and stood on a site about 70 metres east of its current location.
A brick ‘skin’ was built over the top of the timber building in the 1820s to bring it up to modern standards. It survived the Blitz but was slated to be demolished in the 1970s when the site was to be redeveloped.
But help was at hand and in 1976 the building was saved when it was painstakingly moved to its current site. The building was reconstructed to resemble what the inn’s owners called a “three storey balconied inn of the 18th century” (although there is something doubt whether such buildings ever existed like this in the 18th century).
Ah, and to Dickens. While the writer himself is not known to have visited the building, he did know the area well and its likely he would have frequently passed by it during his lifetime (in fact, when his grandson, Cedric Charles Dickens, formally opened the inn in May, 1976, he is quoted on the inn’s website as saying that: “My Great Grandfather would have loved this inn”.)
Spread over three levels with balconies on the upper two, the inn originally featured a sawdust covered floor and candlelit dining on the balconies. Both practices have since come to an end but the building does offer some great views of the dock and nowadays contains several different facilities including a tavern, pizzeria and restaurant called The Grill. There’s also a suite of function rooms.
Among the famous the establishment claims as visitors in more recent times are the late Joan Rivers and singer Katie Melua.
For more information, see www.dickensinn.co.uk.
May 18, 2015
We’ve mentioned this Covent Garden pub, redolent with history as it is, before but we thought it worth a second look.
There’s not much mystery surrounding the origins of the name – the Christian symbolism of the sign is fairly obvious and the symbol, which was used by the Templars and is also that of the Middle Temple, was apparently a reasonably common one for pubs. But the Lamb & Flag hasn’t always been its name.
While there’s been a pub on the site dating as far as back as the 17th century (the building was survivor of the Great Fire of 1666), it was apparently only named the Lamb & Flag in 1833.
Prior to that it was apparently known as the Cooper’s Arms (in what we assume was a reference to barrel-makers) and at one time in its long history was nick-named the ‘Bucket of Blood’ thanks to the location being used for prizefights.
The core of the present, Grade II-listed, building at 33 Rose Street is said to date from 1772, but the brick facade is 20th century. A narrow passageway known as Lazenby Court, which dates from the late 17th century and connects Rose Street to Floral Street, runs alongside it.
Regular patrons have included author Charles Dickens (one of the many London pubs he apparently attended not infrequently) and other famous associations include the poet John Dryden – he is famously associated with Rose Street thanks to the fact he was beaten up there twice in 1679 after upsetting people with his satires (the pub’s upstairs room is named after him).
For more on the pub, see www.lambandflagcoventgarden.co.uk.
March 23, 2015
There’s been a pub on the site of this Soho institution since before the 1700s, although the current building at 7 Greek Street is believed to date from the start of the 20th century.
The pub’s name is an ancient one – it refers to two landmarks, the Rock of Gibraltar on the north side and Mount Hacho or Jebel Musa on the south side (there is apparently some dispute over which), that mark the entrance to the Mediterranean and are together known as the Pillars of Hercules. The name apparently comes from a legend that Hercules created the Strait of Gibraltar between them when pushed the two pillars apart apart and so separated Europe from Africa.
There’s been several pubs in London which have borne this name although this particular premises does get a mention in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (a street which runs under the pub’s archway is named after one of its characters, Dr Manette). There was apparently a similarly named tavern on the site of what is now Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner (that one gets a mention in Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling).
According to a sign on the pub, this Pillars of Hercules was also frequented by nineteenth century poet and cricket lower Francis Thompson, author of the poet The Hound of Heaven.
The current half-timbered pub – located just to the south of Soho Square – has apparently continued as a favoured locale for literary types. Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan are among more recent writers who have visited (along with Clive James who referred to it in the title of his collections of literary criticism, At the Pillars of Hercules).
November 24, 2014
Such was the renown of Gladstone – who served as PM in stints between 1868 to 1894 (he resigned the final time at the ripe old age of 84, dying just over four years later) – that his name also adorns monuments, parks, streets and geographic features around the world as well as his fair share of pubs (including the William Gladstone in the heart of Liverpool).
Gladstone is recalled in the pub’s name but also in a large images of his face adorning the external walls.
The pub is located at 64 Lant Street (the street is famous for being where Charles Dickens lodged while his father was imprisoned in nearby Marshalsea Prison), less than a minutes walk from the Tube station.
Along with food and a pint, ‘The Glad’ these days offers live music several nights a week and boasts a long list of names – some you’ll know, some you won’t – have played there. For more on the pub, check out www.thegladpub.com.
This Week in London – Gothic literature at the British Library; founder of War Graves Commission honoured; and, New Year’s Eve tickets on sale…
October 2, 2014
• The UK’s largest exhibition of Gothic literature opens at the British Library in Kings Cross on Saturday (4th October), marking the 250th anniversary of the publication of the breakthrough book, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will feature manuscripts and rare and personal editions of Gothic classics like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist as well as the work of contemporary writers like Angela Carter and Mervyn Peake. There will also be Gothic-inspired artworks by the likes of Henry Fuseli and William Blake and modern art, photography, costumes and movies by the likes of Chapman Brothers and Stanley Kubrick. A range of literary, film and music events will accompany the exhibition which runs until 20th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/gothic/. PICTURE: Percival Delivering Belisane from the Enchantment of Urma, Henry Fuselli. © Tate.
• The founder of the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, Sir Fabian Ware (1869-1949), has been honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home in Marylebone. Sir Fabian lived at the early 19th century Grade II-listed terraced house at 14 Wyndham Place between 1911 and 1919. It was during this period that he served with the British Red Cross in France and first began recording the graves of soldiers killed in battle. In 1917, the Imperial War Graves Commission was formed with the task of reburying the war dead in permanent cemeteries in France. Knighted in 1920, Sir Fabian was to be director of graves registration and enquiries at the War Office during World War II and it was at this time that he extended the war graves scheme to civilians killed in the conflict. The commission changed its name to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1960. Today it cares for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 153 countries. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.
• New Year’s Eve in London will be a ticketed event for the first time this year with 100,000 tickets being made available to the public with each costing a £10 administration fee – the entire sum of which will apparently be used to pay for the ticketing system. Making the announcement last month, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson’s, office, said the growth in numbers of those who have gathered to watch the fireworks on the Thames – from around 100,000 in 2003 to an estimated 500,000 last year – has put an enormous strain on transport and safety infrastructure and meant people have had to turn up earlier and earlier to get a good view, facing hours waiting in cold and cramped conditions, or risk being among the “hundreds of thousands” unable to get a good view or even see the display at all. Booking tickets – people may secure up to four – will guarantee “good views of the celebrations and a better visitor experience”. To book tickets, head to www.london.gov.uk/nye.
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September 1, 2014
Stories abound about this historic Hampstead pub – one of London’s oldest, not the least about the origins of its name.
Theories about the name include that it was named for a Spanish ambassador attending the court of King James I who sought shelter here during an outbreak of plaque. Others suggest it was named for a Spanish landlord – Francisco Perrero – or for two brothers who once owned it (that is, until one of them died in a duel they fought over a woman).
Whatever the truth, the atmospheric pub, located on the edge of Hampstead Heath, has apparently been around since 1585 and the stories about its connections with the famous (and infamous) number even more than those about its origins.
Highwayman Dick Turpin is associated with the pub (some stories suggest he was born here, although this seems unlikely) and the establishment is known to have played an important role in sparing nearby Kenwood House, then the home of Lord Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice, during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780 – apparently it was the action of the landlord, Giles Thomas, in throwing open the cellars which diverted the attention of would-be rioters from the task at hand to one perhaps more enjoyable.
The pub also features in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and in Bram Stoker’s Dracula while among those who frequented it were painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and Lord Byron as well as John Keats who, the story goes, wrote Ode to a Nightingale in the rather extensive garden.
Located in Spaniards Road, this Grade II-listed pub, as well as the main building, features an old toll house on the other side of the road which contains a horse trough (it has been suggested that Turpin stabled Black Bess there but take such claims with a grain of salt!).
Well worth a visit for refreshments after a stroll on the heath. For more, see www.thespaniardshampstead.co.uk.
PICTURE: Philip Halling/Wikipedia
July 26, 2014
The Devil in the Marshalsea, Antonia Hodgson, Hodder & Staughton, 2014
A murder-mystery set among the desperate and dangerous denizens of London’s Marshalsea Prison in 1727, The Devil in Marshalsea tells the story of lad-about-town Tom Hawkins who is tossed into the notorious prison for debt.
Hawkins’ only chance of escape is to find the killer of one Captain Roberts, who died in the jail before his arrival, and it’s a task that brings him into conflict with, and under the suspicion of, many within the prison walls.
There’s plenty of historical detail and the book delivers an insightful look into what life in Marshalsea would have been like – although as Hodgson points out in an historical note at the start, this is not the Marshalsea of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit – that wasn’t opened until 1800 on a different site while this one was located between Mermaid Court and what is now Newcomen Street in Southwark.
The characters are largely based on actual people – Hodgson goes to the trouble to describe the background to each in some explanatory endnotes – and their stories criss-cross the main narrative.
There’s plenty of twists along the way and the story plunges on at a cracking pace as Hawkins has to confront his worst fears and struggles to discern who is friend and who is foe in a world where everyone appears to be driven by their most base desires.
An enlightening read and, as is the case with a good murder-mystery, hard to put down. A terrific debut.
To buy this book, follow this link The Devil in the Marshalsea.
10 sites from Shakespearean London – 7. Shakespearean connections in the Elizabethan world – St John’s Gate and Staple Inn…
July 16, 2014
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, 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.
10 sites from Shakespearean London – 6. Shakespearean connections in the Elizabethan world: The George Inn and Middle Temple Hall…
July 9, 2014
Today we’re taking a look at a couple of still extant London buildings which have strong associations with playwright William Shakespeare…
• The George Inn, Southwark. Located at 75-77 Borough High Street, the George Inn is London’s last remaining galleried inn. The current building has its origins in the late 17th century after the original inn, which can be traced back to at least the mid-1500s – was destroyed in a fire in 1676. Now owned by the National Trust, it is leased out and remains open as a public house – part of the Greene King chain. While its known for its connections with 19th century writer Charles Dickens – he was a patron of this establishment and mentions it in Little Dorrit (a fact we mentioned in our series on Dickens back in 2012), the inn (or at least the previous version of it) also has Shakespearean connections with its prime Southwark location meaning it’s quite possible Shakespeare himself may have visited. Whether that’s the case or not, it is known that the premises served at time as a theatre of sorts in his day with acting troops performing in the courtyard while audience members could stand in the courtyard and watch or pay extra for a seat in the gallery. For more on the inn, see www.gkpubs.co.uk/pubs-in-london/the-george-inn-pub/.
• Middle Temple Hall. Built between 1562 and 1573 by Edmund Plowden (memorialised with monuments in both the hall and nearby Temple Church), this magnificent Tudor hall has survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz and continues to serve the legal profession today. It too was used as a theatre/concert hall in Elizabethan times and later as a site for Inigo Jones’ masques but in terms of the Shakespearean connection, it is known for being where the first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place – on the night of Candlemas (2nd February) 1602. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed the play and it is thought that Shakespeare himself was among the players. For more on the hall, which is only rarely opened to the public, you can visit our earlier posts here and (on ‘Drake’s Cupboard) here or the official website at www.middletemple.org.uk/home/.
For more on the George Inn, check out Pete Brown’s social history Shakespeare’s Local: Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub.
This oddly located church on the Strand is the work of acclaimed architect James Gibbs – the first public project he embarked upon after returning from Italy where he had trained.
While the history of St Mary le Strand goes at least back to the Middle Ages (and it initially stood just south of the current churches’ position on land currently occupied by Somerset House), the construction of the current church – the first of 50 built in London under a special commission aimed at, well, seeing more churches built in the capital to meet the needs of the growing population – began around 1715 (the foundation stone was laid on 25th February, the year after the accession of King George I.)
While building was briefly delayed by the Jacobite rising which broke out in 1715, the church was finally consecrated for use on 1st January, 1723.
Gibbs, who trained under a baroque master – a style which contrasted with the Palladian-style favoured by Lord Burlington and others, had apparently originally intended the church to be in the Italianate style with a campanile over the west end instead of the steeple but this scheme also included a 250 foot high column surmounted by a statue of Queen Anne located to the west of the church which would celebrate the work of the commission (it’s also worth noting that the churches built by the committee – and they didn’t get close to building 50 – were known as “Queen Anne Churches” despite their construction taking place largely after her death).
However, plans for the column were abandoned on the queen’s death on 1st August, 1714, and instead Gibbs – a Roman Catholic who thanks to his supposed Jacobite sympathies apparently finished the project without pay, was ordered to use the stone which had been gathered to build the steeple and, thanks to that, amend his plans for the church into an oblong form rather than the square form he had initially intended. The work shows the influence of Sir Christopher Wren as well as churches in Italy.
The interior has been remodelled several times since its creation. The white and gold plastered ceiling was apparently inspired by the work of Italian sculptor and architect Luigi Fontana on two Roman churches and other features include paintings by American artist Mather Brown (these were put in place in 1785 and are located on panels on the side walls of the chancel – they were restored in 1994), while the crucifix behind the altar was presented by parishioners in 1893.
It the late 1800s, the London County Council proposed demolishing the church so it could widen the Strand for traffic but this plan was abandoned after an outcry led by artist Walter Crane (although the graveyard was removed).
Famous faces associated with the church include Charles Dickens’ parents, John and Elizabeth, who were married here in 1809, and there’s a story that during a secret visit to London in 1750, Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) renounced the Roman Catholic Church by receiving Anglican communion here. The parish currently includes that of nearby St Clement Danes after the church was bombed in 1941 (it’s now central church of the Royal Air Force).
WHERE: St Mary le Strand, Strand (nearest tube stations are Temple, Covent Garden, Holborn, Charing Cross and Embankment); WHEN: Usually open 11am to 4pm from Tuesdays to Thursdays and 10am to 1pm Sundays; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmarylestrand.org.
December 4, 2013
Once at the heart of one of London’s most infamous rookeries or slums, Saffron Hill – located between Holborn and Clerkenwell – is forever associated with Charles Dickens’ 1838 novel, Oliver Twist, and in particular with the arch criminal Fagin.
In the text, Fagin’s den is located “near Field Lane” (the southern extension of Saffron Hill beyond Greville Street) and it is here that Fagin’s young associate, Jack Dawkins (better known as the Artful Dodger), takes Oliver after first encountering him.
As Oliver is led down Saffron Hill, Dickens records his thoughts and it’s worth quoting to get a flavour of the place as he saw it: “A dirtier of more wretched place he had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours. There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time of night, were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming from the inside. The sole places that seemed to prosper amid the general blight of the place, were the public-houses; and in them, the lowest orders of Irish were wrangling with might and main. Covered ways and yards, which here and there diverged from the main street, disclosed little knots of houses, where drunken men and women were positively wallowing in filth; and from several of the door-ways, great ill-looking fellows were cautiously emerging, bound, to all appearance, on no very well-disposed or harmless errands.” (Oliver Twist, p. 55, Vintage, 2007)
Saffron Hill, known as London’s Italian quarter in the 19th century, takes its name from the saffron which was once grown here but which was not to be seen by the time Dickens’ wrote his book. As well as Fagin’s lair, the street is also home to salubrious pub The Three Cripples, Bill Sikes’ favoured watering-hole (The Three Cripples was apparently the name of a lodging house in Saffron Hill during Dickens’ time – it was located next to a pub called The One Tun) .
It’s worth noting that this is only one of many addresses in London associated with Dickens’ characters but the ill-fated Fagin does stand out as one of his most memorable.
PICTURE: Saffron Hill as it is now.
For more on Dickens’ London, check out Alex Werner’s Dickens’s Victorian London: The Museum of London.
August 12, 2013
OK, so they’re not people as such, but the ravens at the Tower of London are renowned the world over.
Known as the “Guardians of the Tower”, there are currently as many as eight ravens living at the tower, lodged in a space on the grass next to the Wakefield Tower.
Legend has it that there must be at least six ravens living at the Tower – should they leave, not only will the Tower fall but the kingdom as well (although we hasten to add that it’s been argued this tradition only started in the Victorian age and that there have been times when the numbers of ravens dropped below the required six, such as at the end of World War II when only one raven remained).
It was King Charles II who first ordered the ravens be protected – an order which must have upset Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed who complained after he found that the birds were interfering with the observation work he was carrying out from the Tower’s north-east turret. He later moved out to Greenwich.
The eight ravens who now live at the tower include Rocky, Merlin, Hugine and the latest additions Jubilee – given to the Tower last year to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – and Grip, named after Charles Dickens’ pet raven.
The birds are looked after by a team of four headed by the raven master, Chris Skaife, who each day feed them 170 grams (six ounces) of raw meat and special biscuits soaked in animal blood.
Not all ravens can cut the mustard to work at the Tower – one recent addition Pearl was apparently bullied by other ravens and had to be withdrawn. And while the birds have the feathers on one wing trimmed to stop them escaping to a new life on the wing, that hasn’t stopped some from doing so including Grog who took off in 1981 and was last seen outside an East End pub.
The oldest raven to ever live at the Tower was Jim Crow, who died at age of 44 in 1928.
WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £21.45 adults; £10.75 children under 15; £18.15 concessions; £57.20 for a family; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.
April 19, 2013
Before Madame Tussaud arrived in London, there was Mrs Salmon and her famous waxworks, one of several such establishments in London.
First sited at the Sign of the Golden Ball in St Martin’s Le Grand – where it filled six rooms – in 1711, the display was relocated to the north side of Fleet Street where it remained until 1795 when it moved across the road to number 17 Fleet Street, now housing Prince Henry’s Room (pictured, room takes its name from Prince Henry, eldest son of the king, who died at the age of 18 and was apparently the inspiration for an inn which previously occupied the building called The Prince’s Arms).
The waxworks were apparently originally run by Mr Salmon – there are references to him being a “famous waxwork man” – but his wife, Mrs Salmon, continued it alone after his death in 1718 until her own death, variously said to have been in 1760 or as late as 1812. At some point after his death, Mrs Salmon is said to have remarried, to a Mr Steers.
While some accounts say the waxworks – which, according to the City of London website remained at the site until 1816 – were taken over by a Chancery Lane surgeon named Clarke after Mrs Salmon’s death (and by his wife after his death), it is also suggested that at some point they moved to Water Lane in east London where they were ruined by thieves.
Whatever its fate, it’s generally accepted that the famous waxworks were visited by the likes of James Boswell and artist William Hogarth. They were also mentioned by author Charles Dickens in David Copperfield.
For more of London’s past, see Philip Davies’ Lost London 1870-1945.
January 25, 2013
Can you identify where in London this picture was taken? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
Well done to Jennifer and Parktown, this is indeed the gateway to the church of St Olave Hart Street, located on the corner of Hart Street and Seething Lane in the City of London. The church – which has a history going back to at least the 13th century – is named after St Olaf of Norway and, as mentioned, is indeed, burial place of the diarist Samuel Pepys. Charles Dickens referred to the church as “St Ghastly Grim” thanks to this rather macabre gateway. For more on the history of the church, see our earlier post here.