Hatters they are, but mad they most definitely are not (more on that connection later). Lock & Co Hatters, which describes itself not only as London’s oldest hat shop but the world’s oldest, has been serving the city’s hat needs since James Lock first opened the doors at number six, St James’s Street, in 1765.

Lock took over the premises after completing an apprenticeship as a hatter with Charles Davis, son of Robert Davis who had opened a hatters in St James’s Street in 1676. Lock had married Charles’ sister Mary in 1759 and, along with his new bride, had inherited his father-in-law’s business. In 1765, they and their growing family moved across the road from that premises to No 6, previously a coffee house.

The shop soon established itself with the city’s elite and its client list grew to include the likes of Lord Grenville, Prime Minister between 1806-07, and, most famously, Admiral Lord Nelson, who first visited the shop in 1800 to order his signature bicorne – a “cocked hat and cockade” – with a specially built-in eye shade (Nelson had lost his eye at the Battle of Calvi). Nelson’s final visit, incidentally, would take place in September, 1805, when he settled his bill before setting sailing to Spain where, wearing one of Lock’s hats, he would lose his life – and become part of a legend – in the Battle of Trafalgar.

But back to the Locks. James Lock died in 1806 and it was his illegitimate son, George James Lock (aka James Lock II), who inherited the business which continued to flourish (clients around this time include the Georgian dandy Beau Brummell). George’s son, James Lock III and his younger brother George took over in 1821, and in 1849, they were commissioned by Edward Coke to create a hard-domed hat for his gamekeepers – the result was the iconic Coke hat (known to some as the Bowler hat, a name which came from Southwark-based Thomas and William Bowler whom Lock had commissioned to make the hat) .

The Lock & Co hat business continued to pass down through the family and the list of the famous who purchased hats in the store continued to grow – Oscar Wilde bought a black fedora there to wear on his US lecture tour (and due to his later incarceration was unable to pay his bill which was settled more than 100 years later by one of his fans after this news was included in an article in The Times) while Sir Winston Churchill wore a Lock silk top hat on his wedding day and also purchased his trademark Cambridge and Homburg hats there.

In 1932, film star Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, moved in above the shop (and naturally bought some monogrammed hats which were sold in 2011 as part of his estate) while Charlie Chaplin purchased hats there in the 1950s and, impressively, in 1953, Lock worked with jewellers Garrard and Co to design the “fitments” for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation crown.

A warrant from the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, followed (in 1993, Lock & Co received its second Royal Warrant, this time from the Prince of Wales.

Others among Lock’s more high profile clientele over the years have included Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of US President John F Kennedy, and Lock’s Coke hat even made a famed appearance on the silver screen as the headwear of the Bond villain Oddjob in Goldfinger.

The firm, meanwhile, has continued to grow, acquiring Piccadilly hatters Scott & Co in the 1970s.

Lock’s association with Lord Nelson was remembered in 2012 when it designed a hat for his statue atop Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square which featured a full-sized Olympic torch and which, due to popular demand, was left on the admiral for the duration of the Olympics.

Interestingly, it is also claimed that James Benning, a member of the Lock family and a servant of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) – writer of Alice in Wonderland, was the inspiration behind the ‘Mad Hatter’.

PICTURES: Top – Jeremy T. Hetzel; Right – Matt Brown – both licensed under CC BY 2.0.

 

Advertisements


The Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south celebrates the 200th anniversary of its public opening this year. It is the oldest public picture gallery in all of England.

The origins of the gallery back owe their existence to an art dealership run by a Frenchman, Noël Desenfans, and his Swiss friend, painter Sir Francis Bourgeois. In 1790, the men were commissioned by King Stanislaus II Augustus of Poland to form a royal collection of art for him.

They spent five years doing so but in 1795, the king was forced to abdicate and the two dealers were left with the collection. They began searching for a new home for it but failed to find one and following Desenfans’ death in 1807, Sir Francis decided to leave the collection to Dulwich College (apparently on the advice of his friend, actor John Philip Kemble). The college had been founded in the early 17th century as the ‘College of God’s Gift’ by Edward Alleyn, actor and theatre entrepreneur, who had left it his estate.

Sir Francis died in 1811 and, under the terms of his will, the paintings left to Dulwich had to be made available to the public to view. There was an existing gallery at Dulwich College (the collection had originally been formed around Alleyn’s collection which included portraits or kings and queens) but, conscious that it might not be ideal for displaying the collection, Sir Francis had left £2,000 in his will to refurbish it and made it clear that should this be required, he wanted his friend, Sir John Soane to oversee the work.

Sir John, visiting the college the day after Sir Francis’ death, inspects the existing building but decides that an entirely new wing will need to be built to house the collection. He submitted numerous designs but the cost – more than £11,000 – was considerably more than the college could afford despite Sir John’s efforts to cut costs and simplify. Eventually, after Margaret Desenfans agreed to donate £4,000 of her own money, the college officials agreed to begin construction.

In 1814, the collection was moved into the building and the following year, the now completed building was opened to Royal Academicians and students.  The public opening came two years later, in 1817, and the same year the Desenfanses and Francis Bourgeois were buried in the gallery’s mausoleum as its founders.

Several additions and renovations have since followed (including works after bombing during World War II). The last major works were carried out in the 1990s after which the gallery was formally reopened on 25th May, 2000, by Queen Elizabeth II.

Those who visited the gallery, many as students, have included some big names in the art world – John Constable, JMW Turner and Vincent Van Gogh. Charles Dickens referenced the gallery in his work, The Pickwick Papers, in which he had Samuel Pickwick visit the gallery following his retirement.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery is now an independent registered charity. Its more than 600 works include one of the finest collections of Old Master paintings in the world by artists such as Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Poussin, Watteau, Canaletto, Rubens, Veronese and Murillo. Collection highlights include Rembrandt’s Girl at a Window (1645), Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s The Flower Girl (1665-70), Thomas Gainsborough’s Elizabeth and Mary Linley (c 1772) and Sir Peter Lely’s Nymphs by a Fountain (early 1650s).

WHERE: Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, Dulwich (nearest rail is West Dulwich or North Dulwich); WHEN: 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday; COST: £7 adults/£6 seniors/under 18s free (additional cost for special exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

PICTURES: Courtesy Dulwich Picture Gallery.


There are several 19th century bandstands in London but we believe the oldest still standing is in Hyde Park.

This octagonal, Grade II-listed, bandstand was originally located in the adjoining Kensington Gardens (near Mount Gate),  having been built in 1869, only eight years after the first ever bandstand in London had been installed in the nearby Royal Horticultural Gardens in Kensington.

It was moved to Hyde Park in 1886 – it can now be found on the north side of Serpentine Road, just to the north-west of Hyde Park Corner – and concerts were apparently held here three times a week in the 1890s. (Another bandstand was erected in Kensington Gardens in the 1930s).

Featuring cast iron decorative columns and a tent roof, the Hyde Park bandstand appeared in the 1935 film, Top Hat, which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (although the building in the film was actually a replica located on a Hollywood soundstage). Others who have ‘played’ the bandstand include the famous trumpeter Harry Mortimer.

The bandstand, which is now one of the oldest in Britain, is still used for concerts on occasion as well as being part of the annual Winter Wonderland event. Check The Royal Parks website for details of when events are scheduled here.

PICTURE: Claire Ward/Geograph/CC BY-SA 2.0


The oldest extant public toilets in London can be found Wesley’s Chapel in City Road.

The gentlemen’s facilities, located off to the side of the chapel, were designed by the famous Thomas Crapper & Co and consist of enclosed wooden-walled cubicles, a series of urinals and wash basins.

The well-appointed toilets were installed in 1899 – more than 100 years after John Wesley’s death and long after many other parts of the Georgian and Victorian complex of buildings (including Wesley’s house) were built – but remain in working order even today.

Crapper, who had founded his company in the 1860s, championed the concept of the flushing toilet (although the idea had already been invented) and was responsible for the invention of the ballcock system. And contrary to common belief, Crapper – who received several royal warrants for his work – did not lend his name to a slang word for excrement – its origins go back much further.

WHERE: Wesley’s Chapel (with The Museum of Methodism and John Wesley’s House), 49 City Road (nearest Tube stations are Old Street and Moorgate; WHEN: 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday/ 12:30pm to 1:45pm Sunday; COST: free (donations appreciated); WEBSITE: www.wesleyschapel.org.uk

PICTURES: Top – Ra Boe/Wikipedia/CC-BY-SA-3.0; Right – James O’Gorman/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (images cropped)

 

tavistock_street_londonNow located on a street of another name, London’s oldest street sign is generally believed to be that of Yorke Street and dates from 1636.

The rather small sign, which is located on a building dating from the 1730s, is now located high up at 34-36 Tavistock Street in Covent Garden (above a blue plaque commemorating author Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859), writer of Confessions of an English Opium Eater).

Another of the oldest signs can be found at the corner of Chigwell Hill and The Highway – it refers to ‘Chigwell Streate’ and bears the date 1678.

PICTURE: The Yorke Street sign is the white oblong at the top right under which can be seen the blue plaque (Via Spudgun67/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

st-dunstans-clock

We reintroduce an old favourite this month with our first ‘Where’s London’s oldest’ in a few years. And to kick it off, we’re looking at one of London’s oldest public clocks.

Hanging off the facade of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street is a clock which is believed to have been the first public clock to be erected in London which bears a minute hand.

The work of clockmaker Thomas Harris, the clock was first installed on the medieval church in 1671 – it has been suggested it was commissioned to celebrate the church’s survival during the Great Fire of London and was installed to replace an earlier clock which had been scorched in the fire. Its design was apparently inspired by a clock which had once been on Old St Paul’s Cathedral and was destroyed in the fire.

Like the clock it replaced, this clock sat in brackets and projected out into Fleet Street which meant it was able to be seen from a fair distance away (and being double-sided meant the black dials could be seen from both the east and the west). Like the Roman numerals that decorate it, the two hands, including the famous minute hand, are gold.

To the rear and above the clock dials are located the bells and striking mechanism. The bells are struck on the hours and the quarters by ‘automata’ – Herculean figures, perhaps representing Gog and Magog (although to most they were traditionally simply known as the ‘Giants of St Dunstan’s’), who do so using clubs and turn their heads.

Such was the attention these figures attracted that when the clock was first installed the area became notorious for pick-pockets who apparently went to work on unsuspecting passersby who had stopped to watch the giants at work.

This church was demolished in the early 1800s to allow the widening of Fleet Street and when it was rebuilt in 1830, the clock was absent. Having decided it couldn’t be accommodated in the new design, it had been auctioned off with the art collector, Francis Seymour-Conway, the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, the successful bidder.

He had it installed on his Decimus Burton-designed villa in Regent’s Park and there it remained until 1935 when Lord Rothermere, who had bought the villa in 1930, returned it to the church to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.

There are numerous literary references to the clock including in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield and a William Cowper poem.

While the designation of London’s oldest public library depends on your definition, for the purposes of this article we’re awarding the title to the Guildhall Library.

Its origins go back to about 1425 when town clerk John Carpenter and John Coventry founded a library – believed to initially consist of theological books for students, according to the terms of the will of former Lord Mayor, Richard (Dick) Whittington (for more on him, see our previous post here).

Guildhall2Housed in Guildhall (pictured above), this library apparently came to an end in the mid-1500s when Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector for the young King Edward VI, apparently had the entire collection loaded onto carts and taken to Somerset House. They were not returned and only one of the library’s original texts, a 13th century metrical Latin version of the Bible, is in the library today.

Some 300 years passed until the library was re-established by the City of London Corporation. Reopened in  1828, it was initially reserved for members of the Corporation but the membership was soon expanded to include”literary men”.

By the 1870s, when the collection included some 60,000 books related to London, the library moved into a new purpose-built building, located to the east of Guildhall. Designed by City architect Horace Jones, it opened to the public in 1873.

The library lost some 25,000 books during World War II when some of the library’s storerooms were destroyed and after the war, it was decided to build a new library. It opened in 1974 in the west wing of the Guildhall where it remains (entered via Aldermanbury).

Today, the 200,000 item collection includes books, pamphlets, periodicals including the complete London Gazette from 1665 to the present, trade directories and poll books as well as the archive collections such as those of the livery companies, the Stock Exchange and St Paul’s Cathedral and special collections related to the likes of Samuel Pepys, Sir Thomas More, and the Charles Lamb Society.

The library also holds an ongoing series of exhibitions.

Where: Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury; WHEN: 9.30am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday; COST: Entry is free and no membership of registration is required but ID may be required to access rarer books; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/archives-and-city-history/guildhall-library/Pages/default.aspx.