This Grade II*-listed building is the former site of the offices of publisher, John Murray, who published four of Jane Austen’s six novels including Emma (1815), Mansfield Park (1814), Persuasion (1818) and Northanger Abbey (1818) (the last two after Austen’s death on 18th July, 1817).

Murray, whose offices were located here from 1812 onwards, published, along with Austen, many of the great literary names of the age including everyone from Lord Byron to Sir Walter Scott and Washington Irving (the company also later published the likes of Herman Melville and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

The John Murray with whom Austen dealt (and it seems her brother Henry must have played a considerable part in getting Murray to publish his sister’s works given Murray had already won considerable fame with the publication of Byron’s epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1811) was actually John Murray II, of whom Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra: “He is a rogue, of course, but a civil one”.

His father John Murray I had founded the business in Fleet Street in 1768 and his son, John Murray III, continued it after his father (in fact, there were a succession of John Murrays down to John Murray VII).

The business was acquired in 2002 by Hodder Headline, itself then acquired by the French Lagardère Group. John Murray is now an imprint of Hachette UK.

PICTURE: Google Maps

Lost London – Alsatia…

November 28, 2014

A Thames-side slum area located between Temple and Whitefriars Street (and south of Fleet Street), an area previously occupied by the Whitefriars Monastery, Alsatia was known as something of a lawless district where residents resisted any intervention by City officials.

The district came into existence following the dissolution of the monastery by King Henry VIII (he apparently gave the buildings and land to his physician Dr William Butts) and the area, despite some initial efforts to build substantial houses there, eventually degenerated into an overcrowded slum (apparently even when the priory was still existent, some of the surrounding areas had been somewhat disreputable).

The right of sanctuary apparently existed in the area which meant that debtors and criminals who entered gained immunity from arrest while they remained here.

Authorities were certainly loathe to enter the district given the strength which residents showed in resisting any attempts to grab hold of wanted persons and the maze-like narrow thoroughfares of the area and it became mockingly referred to as Alsatia in a reference to Alsace, a much disputed region on the French-German border which was historically outside normal legal jurisdiction.

Among those who took refuge here was Daniel Defoe – he is said to escaped here in 1692 after he was wanted by authorities for writing seditious material.

There were several attempts to clean up the slum but these had little effect (although the Great Fire of London did burn through here in 1666) and in 1608, King James I confirmed the area’s liberties in a formal charter. The rights remained in place until 1697 when they were abolished by an Act of Parliament (along with those of other liberties), although the area maintained its disreputable character for some time after.

Alsatia was mentioned in several books including in Thomas Shadwell’s 1688 play The Square of Alsatia and Sir Walter Scott’s 1822 novel, The Fortunes of Nigel, and the term continued to be used to refer to run-down neighbourhoods until late in the 19th century.

A Jacobean mansion located in Kensington’s Holland Park, Holland House was first built in 1605 for Sir Walter Cope, Chancellor of the Exchequer for King James I. 

Sir Walter apparently entertained the king and his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, at the property – then named Cope Castle – on numerous occasions at the property and reportedly hosted the king the night after his son, Henry Frederick, the Prince of Wales, died in 1612.

Its name came with a later owner – the ill-fated Henry Rich, Cope’s son-in-law, who was made the 1st Earl of Holland in 1624 and was later executed for his role in supporting the Royalist cause during the Civil War during which the house was occupied by parliamentary troops.

The home was later used by various family members – among luminaries associated with the property are the essayist Joseph Addison who died there in 1719 as well as, in later years, the likes of Lord Byron, Benjamin Disraeli, Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott, all of whom visited the property during the property’s golden age in the 19th century when it was an important social gathering place.

The house was largely destroyed in a bombing raid in September 1940 and passed into ownership of the local authority. A youth hostel is now housed inside the restored east wing of the building while other buildings are used for a restaurant and function centre – all set within the 22 hectare (55 acre) Holland Park. Some of the ruins provide a backdrop for open-air theatre performances and concerts in summer.

WHERE: Holland Park (nearest tube stations are Holland Park, Kensington High Street and Notting Hill); WHEN: 7.30am to 30 minutes before dusk (check signs by entrance); COST: Park entrance is free (house is not open to the public); WEBSITE: www.rbkc.gov.uk/leisureandlibraries/parksandgardens/yourlocalpark/hollandpark.aspx