In Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous 1886 story, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,the address of the home of Dr Henry Jekyll (and his alter-ego Mr Edward Hyde) is simply given as a square in Soho – then a rather seedy district.
Dr Jekyll is said to have bought the property from the heirs of a “celebrated surgeon”. Like the man himself, the house has two characters and features a “blistered and distained” rear entrance used by the dastardly Mr Hyde.
In a BBC Scotland documentary broadcast several years ago, author Ian Rankin identified the house in which Jekyll and Hyde lived as being based on that which pioneering Scottish surgeon and anatomist John Hunter (1728-1793) lived in on the east side of Leicester Square.
Hunter leased both the property at 28 Leicester Square (the present number 28 – the ground floor of which is a pub – is pictured) and another behind it (it fronted onto what was then Castle Street) in the 1780s. He then spent a good deal of money joining the two properties together, creating a complex of rooms which included space for his thousands of specimens (now in the Hunterian Museum) as well as an anatomy theatre. It was at the rear Castle Street entrance that he apparently received human cadavers, brought by so-called “resurrection men” for dissection.
“In the book, Stevenson gives a detailed description of the layout of Dr Jekyll’s home,” Rankin said in the documentary. “It is identical to John Hunter’s.”
He added that, despite Hunter’s “fame and respectability” – he was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to King George III and was one of London’s most sought-after doctors, “Hunter still demanded a constant supply of cadavers for his growing anatomy collection and teaching”.
“Naturally Hunter’s new home, in Leicester Square, was purpose-built for a surgeon’s double life.” Or for the respectable Dr Jekyll and brutish Mr Hyde.
Interestingly, the previous owner of Dr Jekyll’s home us said to have been a Dr Denman – there was a Dr Thomas Denman who was a contemporary of John Hunter who was a pioneering obstetrician.
The Leicester Square property later became the site of the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art (more of that in an upcoming Lost London post).
PICTURE: Top – Number 28 Leicester Square as it is today/Google Maps; Below – A ground floor plan of John Hunter’s residence made in 1792 (drawn in 1832) © Wellcome Images/CC BY 4.0
This Week in London – London’s World War I transport in focus; Museums at Night; and, Tony Hancock remembered…
May 15, 2014
• Opening tomorrow, a major exhibition at the London Transport Museum will take an in-depth look at the role transport played in London during World War I – from how London bus drivers took their vehicles to the front lines to the advance of women into the transport workforce for the first time and, of course, how Londoners fared under the deadly aerial attack of the Luftwaffe. Key among the objects on display as part of Goodbye Piccadilly at the Covent Garden site will be ‘Ole’ Bill’ – a 1911 bus on loan from the Imperial War Museum which was requisitioned for the front and, taking its name from Bruce Bairsfather’s popular cartoon character, featured regularly in Armistice Day parades until the 1960s. Other highlights include World War I recruitment posters, a 1914 female bus conductor’s uniform and a newly acquired piece of ‘trench art’ – a decorated Daimler bus steering wheel. Runs until 8th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.
• The annual Museums at Night event kicks off tonight and runs until Saturday night. Among the premises participating this year is the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields which is showing a selection of rarely seen materials from its archives, the Banqueting House in Whitehall, Keat’s House in Hampstead and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at University College London which is running a murder mystery event Friday night. Some events are ticketed and some have an admission charge so check out the website before you go. For more, see www.culture24.org.uk/places-to-go/museums-at-night.
• The late comedian Tony Hancock was honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in South Kensington on Monday on what would have been his 90th birthday. Hancock, famous for Hancock’s Half Hour on radio and TV, lived on the fourth floor of a Grade II-listed building at 20 Queen’s Gate Place with his wife Cicely Romanis between 1952 and 1958. It was the longest time he lived at any property in London and coincided with the most creative and successful period of his career with the show first board cast on BBC radio in 1954 and also appearing on TV from 1956 onwards. Hancock died in 1968. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.
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February 3, 2014
The self-styled “Thief-Taker General”, Jonathan Wild was one of the most famous figures of London’s underworld in the early 18th century, credited by some as being the city’s first organised crime boss.
Born to a family in Wolverhampton, Wild – who had at some point undertaken an apprenticeship as a buckle-maker – was married and had a son when he first came to London as a servant in 1704 and although he returned to the city of his birth after being dismissed, he apparently abandoned his family and returned to the capital in 1708.
Little is known of the first couple of years he spent in London but records show he was arrested for debt in March 1710 and sent to Wood Street Compter where he quickly ensconced himself and was even awarded the “liberty of the gate” – meaning he could leave the prison at night to aid in the apprehension of thieves.
It was also during this period that he came under the influence of a prostitute Mary Milliner. Upon his release in 1712 – thanks to an Act of Parliament passed to help debtors – he lived with her as her husband (despite his earlier marriage – and hers) in Covent Garden.
Acting as her protector when she was on the street, Wild also branched into the business of being a fence or receiver of stolen goods and racketeering offences like extortion. In 1713, he joined Charles Hitchen to be his assistant. Hitchen, who had been suspended from his position as the City’s Under Marshal thanks to his practice of extorting thieves and their victims (it’s thought he may have taught Wild the craft), was then working as a thief-taker.
Wild apparently took to the new role with fervour for when Hitchen was reappointed to his post as Under Marshal, Wild parted from his company and continued his work as a thief-taker, opening his own office in the Blue Boar Tavern in Little Old Bailey.
Wild’s method of operation was simple enough – he would organise thieves to steal items and then, when it was announced that said items were stolen, claimed to have found them and would return them to the rightful owners for a “reward”. At the same time, he’d often also aid the police by bringing to justice thieves from rival gangs (including Hitchen’s, for they were now rivals) or those of his own gang who had crossed him – and in all his dealings manage to keep at arm’s length from the actual business of stealing and receiving.
By 1718, Wild – who wore a sword as a sign of his authority and had pretensions of being a “squire” – was calling himself the “Thief-Taker General of Great Britain and Ireland”. It’s said that more than 60 thieves were sent to the gallows on the back of his testimony including the prolific housebreaker (and jail escapee) Jack Sheppard and his associate Joseph “Blueskin” Blake (who almost succeeded in killing Wild while he was awaiting trial).
Wild’s pursuit of Sheppard was the beginning of his own downfall (although authorities had as early as 1717 passed an Act of Parliament aimed squarely at ending his criminal enterprise, it seemed to have had little effect, at least initially). Sheppard’s demise had been unpopular with the masses and the press of the day – and in February 1725, Wild himself was arrested for assisting in the jailbreak of one of his gang members. Other members of the gang turned against him and eventually, in May that same year, he was sentenced to death for the theft of lace.
Having unsuccessfully attempted to kill himself by drinking laudanum before his execution, Wild was hanged at Tyburn on 24th May before a large and raucous crowd which apparently included an 18-year-old Henry Fielding.
Wild was buried in secret in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church next to his third wife (and one of his many lovers), Elizabeth Mann (she had died in 1718 and he apparently married another woman shortly after). His body was later reported to have been dug up and eventually, following the recovery of a body with a hairy chest from the Thames which was identified as being Wild’s, a skeleton said to have been his was donated to the Royal College of Surgeons (it’s now on display in the Hunterian Museum).
The subject of numerous articles, books and ballads, Wild’s story has been since told numerous times and for varying purposes. Among them are Daniel Defoe’s True and Genuine Account of the Life and Actions of the Late Jonathan Wild, published in 1725, Henry’s Fielding’s ironic The History of the Life of the Late Mr Jonathan Wild the Great (1743), and John Gay and John Rich’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728) which features the character Peachum, said to have been based on Wild.
PICTURE: From “Ticket to the Hanging of Jonathan Wild”/Wikimedia Commons
To read more about Jonathan Wild, see Gerald Howson’s Thief-taker General: The Rise and Fall of Jonathan Wild.
Around London – Tudor and Stuart fashion; Wellington Arch treasures; Hunterian celebrates 200 years; Regent Street and the world; and, Kaffe Fassett at the FTM…
May 9, 2013
• A landmark exhibition looking at fashion in the Tudor and Stuart eras opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow. In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion features everything from a diamond ring given by King Charles I to his then 19-year-old wife Henrietta Maria, an ornate set of armour which belonged to 13-year-old Henry, Prince of Wales (the older brother of King Charles I – he died of typhoid fever at the age of 19), and a diamond-encrusted box in which Queen Mary II kept black fabric patches worn to conceal blemishes or highlight the creaminess of skin. A 58.5 carat pearl, named ‘La Peregrina’ (‘The Wanderer’) and given to Queen Mary I as an engagement gift from Philip II of Spain (and later presented to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton on Valentine’s Day, 1969), is also among the objects on show along with a pendant featuring a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I. The exhibition also features more than 60 portraits from the Royal Collection showing the fashions of the time, including a portrait by Sir Peter Lely of court beauty Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond, who famously refused to become King Charles II’s mistress. Admission charge applies. Runs until 6th October. For more, see www.royalcollection.co.uk. PICTURE: Sir Anthony van Dyck, Queen Henrietta Maria, 1609-69. Royal Collection Trust/© 2013, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
• A medieval crozier and bejewelled ring discovered in Cumbria in 2010 are on public display for the first time in a new exhibition at Wellington Arch. The artefacts, which were discovered at Furness Abbey, are featured in an English Heritage exhibition, A Monumental Act: How Britain Saved Its Heritage, which explores how the Ancient Monuments Act of 1913 helped protect Britain’s historical fabric. Other objects in display include some of the historic artefacts found in the 20 years following the act – a Roman bronze weight from Richborough Roman Fort in Kent and a 13th century sculpture of Christ found at Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. Admission charge applies. The exhibition runs until 7th July. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/.
• The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons is celebrating its bicentenary this year and to mark the occasion, they’re holding a free exhibition focusing on the museum’s collections of human anatomy and pathology; natural history and artworks. The display will consider how the objects in the collection have informed the medical world and fallen under the gaze of visitors who have included surgeons as well as monarchs. The exhibition in the Qvist Gallery at the museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields opens on Tuesday, 14th May, and runs until 9th November. For more, see www.rcseng.ac.uk/museums/hunterian.
• The world comes to Regent Street this Sunday with the ‘InsureandGo The World on Regent Street’ festival. Representatives from countries including Argentina, Egypt, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey and China as well as the UK will showcasing the best of each country’s culture, music and dance, art, food and fashion. Activities will include tango lessons from Argentina, professional henna drawing from Egypt, a steel band from Trinidad and Tobago, and a Chinese drumming performance and lion dancing. The street will be closed for the day. For more, see www.regentstreetonline.com.
• On Now: Kaffe Fassett – A Life in Colour. This exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street celebrates the work of American-born artist Kaffe Fassett and features more than 100 works including nine foot wide knitted shawls, coats and throws, patchwork quilts and a ‘feeling wall’ where visitors can touch the textiles on display. Admission charge applies. Runs until 29th June. For more, see www.ftmlondon.org.
Around London – Notting Hill Carnival; Paralympics comes to town; Albert Adams at the IWM; and, exploring the anatomy of athletes at the Hunterian…
August 23, 2012
• The Notting Hill Carnival – the largest festival of its kind in Europe – takes place in London’s west this Sunday and bank holiday Monday. More than a million people are expected top attend to see the floats, listen to the traditional steel drum bands and sample some of the food found at the hundreds of stalls along the streets of Notting Hill. Sunday, when the costume prizes are awarded, has been designated as Children’s Day and Monday, when the main parade takes place, as Adult’s Day. The festival has been held every summer since 1966. For more, see www.thenottinghillcarnival.com.
• With the memories of the Olympics still fresh in our minds, it’s time to turn our attention to the impending Paralympics and associated events including the 24 hour Torch Relay which hits London next Wednesday, just before the Opening Ceremony. The torch enters London at Watford and and then moves south through the city, taking in many of London’s most famous landmarks as it visits all six boroughs before arriving at the Olympic Stadium. For more on the route, see www.london2012.com/paralympics/torch-relay/route/. Meanwhile, as with the Olympics, those who don’t have tickets to the Paralympics will be able to watch on a giant screen at Trafalgar Square daily between 11am and 10pm where there will also be live music and activities including the chance to try out a range of Paralympic sports. For more, see www.btlondonlive.com/trafalgar-square. Tower Bridge, meanwhile, is undergoing a makeover with the installation of the Paralympics symbol, Agistos, tomorrow following the earlier removal of the Olympic Rings. Historic projections, meanwhile, will once again appear on the Houses of Parliament. Other events taking place around the Paralympic Games include Surprises: What You Will: Pop-Up Shakespeare – which will see Shakespearean characters like Juliet, Hamlet and Puck suddenly appearing and performing at “cultural hotspots” around the city (the exact time and location of the performances will remain a surprise until the day but you can register for updates at www.molpresents.com/surprises or follow @molpresents and @London2012Fest.
• A series of artworks by South African-born Expressionist Albert Adams are on show at the Imperial War Museum this summer. The works on show include the last painting he completed before his death in 2006 – title Abu Ghraib, it was inspired by reports of abuse perpetrated at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq – as well as a series of etchings Adams created between 2001 and 20064 which address conflicts like that Iraq War and Darfur. Admission is free. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.
On Now: Anatomy of an Athlete – Elite sport, surgery and medical art. This exhibition in the Qvist Gallery at the Royal College of Surgeons’ Hunterian Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields features new artworks by world-leading medical artists which explore the anatomy and physiology of elite athletes. The art works come in a variety of forms – watercolour, video and sculpture – and represent the human body in a selection of sports and para-sports. Admission if free. Runs until 29th September. For more, see www.rcseng.ac.uk/museums/.
Around London – New Year’s Eve fireworks; a Resurrectionist diary; and, Russian architecture at the Royal Academy…
November 24, 2011
• Plans for this year’s New Year’s Eve fireworks – marking the beginning of the year in which London hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Games – have been announced by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. The EDF London Eye on South Bank will once again form the focus of the fireworks display and those wishing to attend have been warned to take their places early with some areas filling up by 9pm or 10pm. Parents with young children are advised to consider attending fireworks displays closer to home (for more, see www.london.gov.uk/newyearseve). The display will be followed by a parade on New Year’s Day (for more, see www.londonparade.co.uk). Meanwhile, the annual Christmas Tree lighting ceremony will take place next Thursday. The tree is a gift from the people of Oslo, the Norwegian capital, given annually for more than 60 years in recognition of Britain’s support during World War II.
• On Now – The Diary of a Resurrectionist. This month marks the 200th anniversary of an intriguing diary which offers insights into the work of a group of grave robbers and to mark the moment, the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England is hosting an exhibition featuring extracts from the diary and charting the rise and fall of grave robbing. The exhibition, which is being hosted in the Library Reading Room, runs until 22nd December. There is a special lecture by Kirsty Chilton at the museum from 7pm tonight (24th November, entry fee applies). For more, see www.rcseng.ac.uk/museums/exhibitions/index.html.
• On Now – Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935. The Royal Academy of Arts is hosting this exhibition which looks at the avant-garde architecture which appeared in Russia from 1922 to 1935, and its design origins in the earlier flowering of Constructivisit art which emerged around 1915. Large scale photographs, taken by Richard Pare, are juxtaposed with relevant Constructivisit drawings and paintings as well as vintage photographs. A reconstruction of Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International (known as Tatlin’s Tower) has been built in the Annenberg Courtyard to coincide with the exhibition. Runs until 22nd January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.