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

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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

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.

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.