Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Wrestling for a Poultry Pun

This boy wrestling a goose above the Midland Bank headquarters is a visual representation of the street below, Poultry. The road may be dominated by financial institutions today, but its name harks back to the days when it was home to poulterers - as well as a large number of taverns, and even a notoriously dirty, malodorous prison.

The pair were designed by Edwin Lutyens, sculpted by William Reid Dick, and appeared in 1936. The goose hasn't been subdued yet!

William Reid Dick was born in Glasgow, so it's appropriate that a version of this sculpture is now in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. At the time he undertook the commission, Dick was president of the Royal Society of British Sculptors, trustee of the Tate Gallery, and a Royal Academician. He had been knighted the previous year, and would go on to become Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland. As well as his public sculpture, he was renowned for his portrait work, some of which is now in the National Portrait Gallery collection.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Wilton's Music Hall

Yesterday, Wilton's Music Hall held an open day: a wonderful opportunity to explore this Victorian treasure near Tower Bridge. Now celebrating its 150th birthday, it is the oldest surviving grand music hall and the former home of Champagne Charlie.

The hall was built behind John Wilton's pub the Prince of Denmark (and neighbouring properties purchased for the land to their rear), and hosted a huge range of acts from opera to circus. Quickly built in 1859, and more quickly rebuilt after an 1877 fire, the auditorium did not have its own frontage but was entered through the pub. Since the latter was apparently the first in London to have mahogany fittings, it was also known as the 'Mahogany Bar'. The music hall had some similarly glamorous touches including barley twist columns which still survive, and a huge, elaborate gas chandelier which does not.

'Champagne Charlie', a 'swell' in evening dress carrying vintage Moet & Chandon, must have looked at home in such surroundings. His real name was George Leybourne, a former factory worker whose performing career began in northern music halls. He was rumoured to have been commissioned by Moet to write and sing in praise of champagne, and certainly did much to associate the drink with glamorous, fashionable life - especially as he himself lived the lavish lifestyle he sung of, drinking champagne and riding in a carriage drawn by four horses. However, the song was more enduring than Laybourne's own success for he died penniless in 1884 at about the time Wilton's music hall also reached its end.

New safety legislation caused the closure of many pub music halls at this time, and Wilton's barely outlasted John Wilton's death in 1880. The building found other uses: soup kitchen for the striking dockers of 1889; Methodist mission hall; and anti-fascist headquarters in the 1936 Battle of Cable Street. During the Second World War the building served as a local shelter; it was then a rag warehouse before being abandoned.

Wilton's Music HallSir John Betjeman, a founder of the Victorian Society, campaigned to save Wilton's from demolition in the 1960s and it is now listed. However, the building is deteriorating - its atmosphere of faded glamour and picturesque decay belies deeper structural problems. Wilton's Music Hall Trust are working hard to preserve this special space, described in World Monument Watch's list of 100 most endangered sites as a 'rare and remarkable monument to working-class leisure in nineteenth-century London'.

For more of my Wilton's Music Hall photos click here; there's another account of the open day here.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Postman's Park (42): PC Percy Edwin Cook

We're nearly at the end of this series, as we look at the one remaining plaque in the Watts Memorial - aptly, the last to be added. However, still to come are the Park's missing memorial; a look back at what we might have learned from these stories; and suggestions for further reading. As an aside, the Park itself is now beginning to look really spring-like, so it's a lovely time to visit!


However, it was in autumn that two workmen entered an inspection chamber in Addison Avenue, Kensington. Once inside, they were overcome by poison gas. As other cases have demonstrated, such gases are no respecters of rescuers: when PC Percy Edwin Cook descended in an attempt to rescue the men, he too was overcome.

Addison Avenue offered a genteel location in stark contrast to the tragic drama enacted there. Leading off Holland Park Avenue, it is the road to the west of Norland Square. Both were part of the Norland Estate, built from 1839 as a speculative venture by solicitor Charles Richardson. The latter man raised loans and began building, as well as selling building leases to others including fellow lawyer Charles Stewart, a wealthy barrister and MP. The major difficulty these speculators faced was attracting people to live so far out of London. Although they did succeed in the end, Richardson himself had gone heavily into debt and went bankrupt. He reappeared in Glasgow in 1855 as a seller of patent medicines (bankrupts are not allowed to practice as solicitors). However, he soon bounced back and in 1857 he was back in London with his old law partner. By 1927, though, this slightly dubious early history of the estate had been forgotten, while improvements in public transport meant that Addison Avenue was very much part of London.

P.C. PERCY EDWIN COOK, METROPOLITAN POLICE, VOLUNTARILY DESCENDED HIGH TENSION CHAMBER AT KENSINGTON TO RESCUE TWO WORKMEN OVERCOME BY POISONOUS GAS 7 OCT 1927.

For all Postman's Park posts, click here.

Friday, 27 March 2009

A poetical debate: Deptford 1836

In 1836, the issue of Church of England income was receiving a great deal of attention. Much of this debate was triggered by non-conformists, understandably unhappy at having to pay various taxes to the established church.

On the national level, there was reform to the tithe system which had required one-tenth of the produce of land to be paid to the church. The Tithe Commutation Act allowed tithes to take the form of a fixed monetary payment; maps and assessments of lands subject to tithes were produced and remain important historical sources.

Church rates were another controversial area. Parishioners had to pay these for the upkeep and maintenance of the church; the rate was set by the churchwardens and had to be paid by occupiers of land or houses in the parish. In St Paul's, Deptford that year, there was a very public dispute over the level of the rates. It was particularly galling to non-conformists to have to pay towards items for St Paul's which their own chapels disapproved of or rejected. Thus when Lieutenant Roberts (a member of the local gentry and naval officer living in the High Street) claimed 'I contend that the expenses objected to are Essentials', an anonymous author was provoked to publish a poetic riposte:
We would gladly relieve
Those who do not believe
The doctrines we preach,
Or the forms that we teach
From all charges which are not prudential;
But ours I contend
(Tho' for them we expend
Three-hundred a year,)
And will make it appear
To RELIGION are highly essential.

The beadle's (don't laugh)
Lac'd coat, hat and staff,
Keep naughty boys quiet
Who in church-time would riot,
And they give him a look potential
To frighten the poor,
As from door to door
We insist on the rate
For our CHURCH of STATE:
Are not those to RELIGION essential?

Stop the coaches and four?
What becomes of the poor?
Drink no vestry wine?
Our church must decline;
Then will flow fast your tears penitential:
If no banner wave,
Not a soul shall we save,
None would come to our fold
But for books bound in gold:
You must own then that these are essential.

This church was long reared
E're an organ appeared;
For eighty years more,
No lights passed that door;
RELIGION had then no credentials,
But since we've had fine
Flags, music and wine,
Cock'd hats, lace and coaches
,
She boldly approaches,
For all these are OUR CHURCH'S essentials.
Only in 1868 were non-conformists' grievances properly addressed, when the Compulsory Church Rates Abolition Act made the rates voluntary.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Myddelton and the New River

This statue, gazing out from the southern tip of Islington Green, commemmorates London Welshman and water entrepreneur Sir Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631). His greatest achievement was the New River, literally a new river (or canal) for London.

Although from a privileged background - his father was governor of Denbigh Castle and an MP - Hugh was the sixth son, so was apprenticed to a goldsmith. Honours followed: he became Royal Jeweller to James I, alderman, Recorder of Denbigh, and eventually its MP. In 1622 he was made a baronet. According to tradition, he smoked tobacco with his friend Sir Walter Raleigh, thus helping to promote the habit.

Myddelton's success was not only political but also financial. He was a successful merchant, a banker, and invested in Welsh lead and silver mines. His great achievement, the New River, was to be a source of clean water for the city: a healthful alternative to the Thames, which doubled as drinking source and sewer. The scheme had already been begun by Edmund Colthurst, but he had been left without funds when the City's Court of Aldermen lost their nerve and refused further funding. Believing in the importance of a pure water supply for London, Myddelton took on the project of providing it - but he soon ran into similar problems and construction was halted. Undaunted, Myddelton persuaded the King to fund half of the cost; much of the rest came from 29 'adventurers' who bought shares in the New River Company. On 1 December 1613, the first of the water flowed through 42 miles of canal from Amwell Springs, Hertfordshire to a point near Sadler's Wells in Islington. Present at the ceremony was Hugh's brother Thomas, the Lord Mayor elect.

Ten feet wide and four deep, taking a circuitous route along the 100-metre contour line so that the water flowed by gravity with a drop of less than six inches in each mile, and passing over valleys in lead-lined wooden aqueducts, the New River was an impressive engineering achievement. As a business, it was less successful: problems included the appeasement of landowners who feared it would flood and ruin their land; leaks which wasted about a quarter of the water; vandalism (the wooden mains were often above ground); intermittent supply (as little as two days a week in the early years); fish in the pipes due to lack of filtering; and an initial lack of customers willing to pay for the water. Investors would have to wait 20 years to see any profit, by which time Myddelton himself was dead. Nonetheless, despite this slow start, the New River Company was a powerful financial force in London by the end of the seventeenth century. Among those benefitting from the company's success were the Goldsmith's Company to whom Myddelton had left a share for the needy, 'especially to such as should be of his name, kindred and country'.

Only as recently as 1904 was the New River Company's water supply business taken over by the Metropolitan Water Board. The river no longer follows its original course in London, but the northern part still brings water to the Stoke Newington reservoir.

Further reading on London's water: Bazalgette 'placed the river in chains'

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Postman's Park (41): the deadly Thames

Given that the Thames was probably more polluted in the nineteenth century than it is today, its popularity as a place to swim is a testament both to the hardiness of children and to the need for adequate swimming pool provision. However, disease was not the only risk faced by river users: Postman's Park also records a number of river deaths. We've already considered the heroic acts of Samuel Lowdell, bargeman, and Joseph Onslow, lighterman, who died rescuing drowning boys; young David Selves and John Clinton were trying to save friends when they succumbed.


Boating also posed its own risks, especially given the high volume of river traffic in the nineteenth century: we saw how Ernest Benning died after his boat capsized, while the Rev Garnish perished attempting to rescue the victims of a boating collision. A similar incident was that in which Herbert Peter Cazaly drowned. A thirty-year-old stationer's clerk, he was out with a friend rowing their boat on the Thames when he saw two boats almost collide. A man in one of the boats raised his oars, overbalancing the boat which capsized. He and his companion were thrown into the river; one of them clung onto the upturned boat but the other, a non-swimmer, was in real difficulties. Cazaly jumped in to rescue him, but the panicked man pulled him under and both were drowned.

HERBERT PETER CAZALY STATIONER'S CLERK WHO WAS DROWNED AT KEW IN ENDEAVOURING TO SAVE A MAN FROM DROWNING, APRIL 21 1889.

Even the riverbank was not reliably safe. A boy playing on the bank at Westminster fell into the water. 21-year-old Edmund Emery jumped into the water from a passing steamer, in an attempt at rescue. The boy survived but Emery did not. The Watts Memorial records not only his bravery, but also his precise address:

EDMUND EMERY OF 272 KING'S ROAD CHELSEA, PASSENGER, LEAPT FROM A THAMES STEAMBOAT TO RESCUE A CHILD AND WAS DROWNED JULY 31 1874.


For all Postman's Park posts, click here.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Ada Lovelace Day: Hertha Marks Ayrton

Today is the very first Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging on women in technology. Ada Lovelace herself was taught mathematics by Mary Somerville, who introduced her to Charles Babbage. They corresponded about his Analytical Engine and Lovelace went on to publish her own notes about the early computer: one section was in fact the world's first computer programme. Lovelace died in 1852, aged only 36.*

Among her many successors was Hertha Marks Ayrton, who excelled in electrical engineering and was also a suffragette. Born in Portsmouth in 1854 to a poor Jewish family, she was encouraged by feminist campaigner Barbara Bodichon to study mathematics at Girton College, Cambridge. Ayrton didn't receive a degree because Cambridge University wouldn't award them to women until 1948, a quarter-century after her death.

Nonetheless, she did achieve a BSc, by studying in London. After her marriage to physicist William Ayrton she worked with him on electricity. Her speciality was arc lamps and she made significant improvements to their technology, as well as inventing the Ayrton Fan for dispersing poison gases, used in the trenches of the Great War. Ayrton also devised and solved mathematical problems, and invented a draftsman's device for dividing lines into equal parts.

Ayrton's notable firsts included being the first woman member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers and the first woman to read a paper in person to the Royal Society. She succeeded in combining all this scientific work with an active role in the suffragette movement and with motherhood - her daughter was named Barbara Bodichon Ayrton after Hertha's first mentor.

* Meet Ada today, and see Babbage's Analytical Engine every day, at the Science Museum.

Portrait of Hertha Marks Ayrton by Mme Darmesteter from Wikipedia Commons.

Monday, 23 March 2009

News round-up (3)

Ready for British Tourism Week, the Mayor of London has announced Only in London, a campaign which focuses on the lesser-known, quirkier features the city has to offer. Already online is a list of 100 things which make London unique.

The Mayor's own suggested itinerary was rather predictable:

Only in London can you visit the historic Houses of Parliament in the morning, ride the London Eye in the afternoon, and see a wonderful West End Show before deciding which of the world’s cuisines to sample in its many restaurants.

The list is more inspiring and has taken care to include places most Londoners won't have visited (Eastbury Manor House, Himalaya Palace cinema) although there are too many obvious choices in there as well (St Paul's, the Tower of London, the British Museum). Less excusable is the duplication: number 24 is 'a show at the O2' but three entries later comes 'Michael Jackson in concert at the O2'. Nonetheless, have a look and you're sure to discover somewhere you haven't been before!

News round-up (2)

Here's a great project for those of us who love fading wall adverts: Sam Roberts of the Ghost Signs blog is working to establish an online archive of them. He's been talking to the History of Advertising Trust, has begun collecting material, and wants you to get involved.

You can:
  • submit your photos to the flickr group (contact Sam for an invitation);
  • build up background information about your photos;
  • suggest ways of funding the project.
For more information/to contact Sam, click here.

Read more about the pictured Peterkin Custard ghost ad here and here.

News round-up (1)

Deptford featured in yesterday's New York Times as, surprise surprise, an up-and-coming area. In between recommending clubs, pubs and the Deptford Project cafe, the article managed to refer to the area as 'an inglorious corner of south-east London', 'unpolished', and 'London's Wild West'. Ah well, they're tapping into a very old tradition!


Sunday, 22 March 2009

Postman's Park (40): holiday danger

The nineteenth century saw the beginning of annual holidays for working people. However, such vacations posed their own dangers, not least by taking people to unfamiliar landscapes and waters. The sea off Boulogne, Lincolnshire's quicksand and a Devon riptide took their toll. Another two holiday deaths are recorded in Postman's Park.


John Cranmer Cambridge was described by those who knew him as endowed with the gift of sympathy and happy in the service of others. He went to Ostend with his brothers and sisters; ferries sailed to this popular Belgian resort from Dover. It featured a Kursaal (casino) and long, sandy beaches and had been patronised by the Belgian royal family: an unlikely setting for tragedy.

The siblings were bathing on the beach one day when they heard shouts from a man and woman who had got into difficulties in the sea. John knew that the current could be dangerous, but didn't hesitate to enter the sea while his brothers and sisters looked for a boat. Initially, the rescue was successful: he helped the woman onto the boat. Unfortunately, he then disappeared from view and his body would only be recovered later. He was buried in Ostend, but is also commemorated here on the Watts Memorial. Always particularly impressed by self-sacrifice for strangers, the memorial makes particular mention that in this case they were foreigners too:

JOHN CRANMER CAMBRIDGE AGED 23, A CLERK IN THE LONDON COUNTY COUNCIL WHO WAS DROWNED NEAR OSTEND WHILST SAVING THE LIFE OF A STRANGER AND A FOREIGNER, AUGUST 8 1901

The English resort of Teignmouth was to prove equally dangerous for holidaying police constable Harold Frank Ricketts. This Devon town had become fashionable in the Georgian period, and its popularity further increased with the coming of the railway in 1846. In 1916, it must have seemed a pleasant retreat from war-obsessed London and its Zeppelin bombing raids - although Teignmouth would by no be means untouched by World War I, with over 175 men from the town losing their lives.

However, for this London police officer, his holiday in Teignmouth would prove fatal. Ricketts was taking his annual leave in the town when he attempted to rescue a boy who had got into difficulties swimming in deep water. Sadly, Ricketts would die trying to save him.

PC HAROLD FRANK RICKETTS, METROPOLITAN POLICE, DROWNED AT TEIGNMOUTH WHILST TRYING TO RESCUE A BOY BATHING AND SEEN TO BE IN DIFFICULTY, 11 SEPT 1916


For all Postman's Park posts, click here.

Friday, 20 March 2009

A 1950s Sunday outing

Back in 1954, south-east Londoners had quite a choice of days out by bus. From as little as four shillings, London Transport would take them (and one child under 3 at no extra cost) to a selection of destinations. Windsor and Hampton Court are still attracting visitors today, as is Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire. Richmond is another pleasant destination of course, although we'd probably tend to go by tube or train rather than special bus trip.

What really stands out is London Airport - now better known as Heathrow. Many of us find flying from there enough to discourage returning for a day trip! Even the little-known but rather nice Visitor Centre closed a few years ago, and the 'small exhibition' at Heathrow Academy doesn't seem a proper replacement.

However, things were very different in the 1950s. Civil flights from the airport had only begun in 1946; before that, Croydon Airport had been used. The first slab of the current runway was ceremonially laid by the Queen in 1953, and the first permanent terminal building was still a year away, so London Airport was an exciting, forward-looking place of interest even to those who couldn't afford to fly from it. Add to that the joys of plane-spotting (admission to visitor enclosure, 6d), or even pleasure flights and conducted tours of the airport, and it's no wonder that the destination seems to have been a popular one. Indeed, the Ward Lock guide to London agreed that 'the excursion is well worth making'.

Even the bus departure points remind us of a past era. Lewisham passengers could board from Botti's Cafe, Rennell Street - there's still a bus stop, but the cafe is gone. The Deptford Broadway stop was outside Seager's, a now-closed distillery being replaced by high-rise flats. Holland Gin had been distilled here since the nineteenth century, although the use of the site as a distillery probably pre-dates that. Seager's Gin took over the premises in 1922, but closed in the 1950s and the site was for many years an industrial estate. Like much of that part of Deptford, it is now in the throes of redevelopment - presumably the plans don't include a coach stop for daytrippers!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Old Kent Road, the Midge and the hangman

John Edgington & Co on the Old Kent Road was known as a manufacturer of tents, flags and tarpaulins. Among their products in the late 1940s, they offered the Midge:
This tent (the lightest and most compact of its type obtainable) covers an area of 40 square feet and will accommodate two campers. Having only one pole and one guy-line, it is the quickest and easiest of all tents to erect. When packed, the tent is little larger than a Swiss Roll; erected, it measures 7 ft. 6 ins across its extreme width, 6 ft. deep and 5 ft. high. Fitted with overlapping doors, at the apex of which, protected by the porch, is an insect-proof ventilator.
Less obvious products like shipping bags for sewing machines and rick cloths to cover straw ricks were also made - but perhaps their most specialist item was hangman's rope. They received the government contract to supply these ropes in 1888; before that, the hangman had supplied his own. Each rope was made individually from Italian hemp; from the 1920s, the noose was covered with chamois leather and the ends of the rope with gutta percha. The firm even appeared in Picture Post in 1948, in an article on the death penalty (which Parliament had just debated suspending for five years). Their work ended for good in 1964, when the last hangings took place, although the death penalty was not permanently abolished until 1969.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Postman's Park (39): saving adults from fire



Not only children but also adults at risk from fire have prompted incredibly heroic and determined rescue efforts. We have already seen how Police Constables Robert Wright of Croydon and George Funnell of Hackney, and firemen Joseph Andrew Ford and George Lee, died in similar attempts; Sarah Smith maybe did or didn't attempt to put out a fellow dancer's burning dress.

The efforts of one Mrs Yarman (her first name is not recorded) were astonishing, if ultimately doomed. When she and her husband awoke to find their house on fire at two in the morning, they managed to get downstairs through the flames. However, as soon as Mrs Yarman remembered that her 77-year-old mother was still sleeping upstairs, she was determined to save her. She crawled through thick smoke up the stairs, but her husband pulled her back halfway. He then rushed out for help, and as soon as he was gone she made two more attempts. The second time, a police constable dragged her from the flames but she was already too badly burned to survive. Three days later, she died. It is perhaps particularly sad that although her husband's name and occupation are recorded on the plaque, her own are not.

MRS YARMAN, WIFE OF GEORGE YARMAN LABOURER AT BERMONDSEY, REFUSING TO BE DETERRED FROM MAKING THREE ATTEMPTS TO CLIMB A BURNING STAIRCASE TO SAVE HER AGED MOTHER DIED OF THE EFFECTS MARCH 26 1900


George Frederick Simonds showed similar bravery although his rescue attempt and death were swifter. He was a general dealer in Prebend Street, Islington and friends with Mrs Corke, an elderly widow who lived nearby. When he saw that her house was on fire, he immediately rushed in to save her but became overwhelmed by smoke. He did make an attempt to escape from the staircase window but missed his footing and fell eighteen feet into the yard below. Meanwhile, Mrs Corke had escaped from the back of the house.

GEORGE FREDERICK SIMONDS OF ISLINGTON RUSHED INTO A BURNING HOUSE TO SAVE AN AGED WIDOW AND DIED OF HIS INJURIES, DEC 1 1886.


James Bannister rushed into a burning draper's shop in Bow to rescue a shop assistant overcome by smoke. However, he was also overcome and died.

JAMES BANNISTER OF BOW, AGED 30, RUSHED OVER WHEN AN OPPOSITE SHOP CAUGHT FIRE AND WAS SUFFOCATED IN THE ATTEMPT TO SAVE LIFE, OCT 14 1901.

Finally, returning to the theme of men in uniformed service with which we began, John Slade was a private in the Royal Fusiliers. This was a local infantry regiment formed in 1685, also known as the City of London Regiment. However, unlike the firemen and police officers killed in the line of duty, Slade was off-duty when he rushed into his own home to save others from fire; he too died in the attempt.

JOHN SLADE, PRIVATE 4TH BATT ROYAL FUSILIERS OF STEPNEY, WHEN HIS HOUSE CAUGHT FIRE SAVED ONE MAN AND DASHING UPSTAIRS TO ROUSE OTHERS LOST HIS LIFE, DEC 26 1902.


For all Postman's Park posts, click here.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Changing faces of fashion

As architectural fashions change, buildings in one style may find themselves making way for those in another. However, the transformation doesn't always require something as brutal as demolition. A recent post on Invisible Paris about buildings' pasts reminded me of this facade in Camberwell Green. There's no need for 'archaeology' to discover its previous existence, as the pre-Art Deco look of the building can still be spotted above the first floor or right next door!

It seems to have been the Changing Rooms fix of its day: fed up with that boring Victorian shopfront? Why not update it in an instant? There's no need for any structural change, just some characteristic geometric styling overlaid onto the first floor windows. As long as no one looks up further than that, we'll be fine...

Of course, there's another, later layer of change below, with the plate glass windows and modern shop front. This building is unlikely to stop evolving just yet.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Deptford from the Thames

The Thames Clipper allows Londoners to combine commuting with sightseeing, and is a great way to see Deptford's riverfront.

Convoys Wharf was built on the site of a former cattle market, to receive shipments of newspaper; it is now used by News International for storage. There are plans to redevelop the site with a mix of residential, retail and business premises. Olympia Warehouse, a cast-iron building erected in 1846, is to become an arts centre. The inclusion of three high-rise buildings has been particularly controversial. However, nothing has happened as yet.

Paynes and Borthwick Wharves have been torn down, except for the Paynes Wharf facade, but the development is in a similar state of limbo, leaving this stretch of riverfront looking desolate. Again, though, the development plans are for high-rise buildings.


This little area of Thames waterfront may not be as photogenic as Greenwich, but it is rich in history: here was the first Royal Dockyard, the first large-scale power station, a huge cattle market, a hospital for tropical diseases, a place frequented by royals, privateers, foreign visitors and the poorest dock workers. Their traces are visible but often precarious. Well worth taking the Clipper for a view from the water!

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Postman's Park (38): died saving children from fire

Mr and Mrs Kennedy had a laundry at Edward's Lane, Stoke Newington Church Street. They and their children lived on the premises, made up of two small houses. At about 3.30 one morning, a fire began and was spotted by the police who gave the alarm to the occupants. Amelia, at 19 perhaps the oldest of the children, went through the passage joining the two houses to wake her brothers before returning to wake her sister. However, she was overcome and died in the house; meanwhile, her sister escaped. The cause of the fire was unknown and the premises uninsured.

At the inquest, it emerged that the fire engines only began fighting the fire 40 minutes after the police originally gave the alarm. The reasons were apparently that first, horses had to be obtained and second, the water plugs in the road were blocked. They had been choked with granite when the road was repaved. The inquest verdict included a recommendation that the horses should be kept at the fire station and the plugs constantly visited to ensure they were in working order.

AMELIA KENNEDY AGED 19 DIED IN TRYING TO SAVE HER SISTER FROM THEIR BURNING HOUSE IN EDWARD'S LANE STOKE NEWINGTON, OCT 18 1871

The instinct to save children from house fires seems to have been as strong as it was dangerous. We have already seen Alice Ayres die saving her nieces and nephews, while Ellen Donovan perished attempting to save a neighbour's children. Four other deaths recorded in Postman's Park followed a similar pattern:


When Alice Maud Denman's house in Hackney Road set on fire, her six children were sleeping inside. She and Arthur Regelous tried to rescue them, but both adults and four of the children died. Only two children survived the blaze.

ARTHUR REGELOUS, CARMAN ("LITTLE PETER") AGED 25 WHO WITH ALICE MAUD DENMAN, AGED 27, DIED IN TRYING TO SAVE HER CHILDREN FROM A BURNING HOUSE IN BETHNAL GREEN, APRIL 20 1902.


Elizabeth Coughlam knocked over a paraffin lamp, which set her clothes alight. Afraid that they would set the house on fire and menace her two children who were asleep upstairs, she hurried outside with clothes and lamp blazing. Her efforts succeeded, but at a terrible cost: despite the attempts of neighbours to save her, she died in hospital that day from her injuries.

ELIZABETH COGHLAM AGED 26, OF CHURCH PATH STOKE NEWINGTON, DIED SAVING HER FAMILY AND HOUSE BY CARRYING BLAZING PARAFFIN TO THE YARD, JAN 1 1902.

Finally, eight-year-old Henry Bristow was a cabinet-maker's son who lived in Walthamstow. When his mother left the house on an errand, she put Henry in charge of his three-year-old sister. The little girl knocked over a paraffin lamp, setting her clothes on fire. Henry tore them off, but his own clothes caught alight in the process. He was seriously injured and died from his injuries in hospital. More happily, his little sister made a complete recovery.


For all Postman's Park posts, click here.

Friday, 13 March 2009

London Stone

Imprisoned in a metal cage, London Stone is almost invisible to passers-by. It's in a neglected-looking building opposite Cannon Street Station, the former premises of the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation. When the bank was converted to a sports shop, the stone was nearly destroyed by a builder until the manager intervened. What a sorry situation for one of London's oldest mysteries.


Originally, the Stone was much bigger than the lump which survives today; it may have shrunk in the seventeenth century, but nobody knows for sure when or how this happened. It stood on the site of Cannon Street Station until 1742, when it was moved across the road. Half a century later, it was incorporated into a church, St Swithin London Stone, which survived the Blitz but was demolished in 1962. In 2006 it was announced that the current building was to be demolished and the Stone moved temporarily to the Museum of London, although this has not happened yet.

What is the stone's purpose? Nobody knows. The most popular explanation, with some centuries' pedigree, is that it was a Roman milestone from which high roads radiated and distances were measured. Alternatively, was it a prehistoric menhir, or part of an altar built by Brutus the Trojan, mythical founder of London?

In the middle ages, the Stone seems to have assumed a symbolic role as a place to pass laws and make proclamations. According to Shakespeare, Jack Cade struck his sword upon it in 1450 when he declared himself Lord of the City. The first Lord Mayor of London was Henry, son of Eylwin de Londenstane. There is even a myth that the Stone's safety and that of London are connected.

The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers found a more prosaic purpose for the stone in the seventeenth century. They enforced standards of spectacle-making, and substandard pairs were broken on London Stone:
[In 1671] two and twenty dozen of English spectacles, all very badd both in the glasse and frames not fitt to be put on sale... were seized and taken away by the Master and the Wardens by vertue of the Charter of this Company and the Lord Maior's Warrant and carryed to Guildhall and there in the Maior's Court by a jury were found badd and deceitful and by judgement of the Court condemned to be broken, defaced and spoyled both glasse and frame the which judgement was executed accordingly in Canning Street on the remayning parte of London Stone where the same were with a hammer broken all in pieces.
It may be neglected today, but the legend and sense of the Stone's importance does persist. Let's hope that in future, it gets the setting it deserves.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Postman's Park (37): Samuel Lowdell


Much about Samuel Lowdell's death follows a familiar pattern for the Watts Memorial cases, but there is also a rather odd feature.

Lowdell was a 24-year-old bargeman who lived in Bow Common. (Bargemen carried goods on the river, while watermen carried people.) He worked on a barge called the William and Mary, and jumped off it to rescue a boy who had fallen into the river. However, although he was a good swimmer, he was never seen alive again.

His body was found by James Law at Battle Bridge Stairs, near London Bridge. Law, a waterman, spotted his body in the water and towed it ashore. The body was identified as Lowdell, a man who had saved several other people from drowning in the past. The state of the body was described at the inquest: tattoos on the arms, a broken nose caused after death, and the trousers down below the knees. However, nothing more seems to have been said about the strange state of his dress.

SAMUEL LOWDELL, BARGEMAN, DROWNED WHEN RESCUING A BOY AT BLACKFRIARS FEB 25 1887. HE HAD SAVED TWO OTHER LIVES.

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Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Evenings at home

Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management provides advice on all aspects of Victorian middle-class home life. Alongside the famous recipes there is guidance on managing one's servants, choosing one's home ('the neighbourhood of all factories of any kind, producing unwholesome effluvia or smells, should be avoided'), and child-rearing. However, it had never occurred to me that advice was needed on how to spend a quiet evening at home. Mrs Beeton, though, has plenty to say:
Of the manner of passing EVENINGS AT HOME, there is none pleasanter than in such recreative enjoyments as those which relax the mind from its severer duties, whilst they stimulate it with a gentle delight. Where there are young people forming a part of the evening circle, interesting and agreeable pastimes should especially be promoted. ...
Light or fancy needlework often forms a portion of the evening's recreation for the ladies of the household, and this may be varied by an occasional game at chess or backgammon. It has often been remarked, too, that nothing is more delightful to the feminine members of a family, than the reading aloud of some good standard work or amusing publication. A knowledge of polite literature may thus be obtained by the whole family, especially if the reader is able and willing to explain the more difficult passages of the book, and expatiate on the wisdom and beauties it may contain. This plan, in a great measure, realises the advice of Lord Bacon, who says, 'Read not to contradict and refute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.'
Perusing such earnest advice on evening activities, it is difficult not to be reminded of the Grossmiths' Diary of a Nobody, with Charles Pooter's anxiety about suitably respectable language and behaviour. However, there is also a stark contrast between Beeton's vision and the picture the Grossmiths paint of life among those at the lower social end of her readership:
Carrie and I can manage to pass our evenings together without friends. There is always something to be done: a tin-tack here, a Venetian blind to put straight, a fan to nail up, or part of a carpet to nail down - all of which I can do with my pipe in my mouth; while Carrie is not above putting a button on a shirt, mending a pillowcase, or practising the 'Sylvia Gavotte' on our new cottage piano (on the three years' system), manufactured by W. Bilkson (in small letters), from Collard and Collard (in very large letters).

One imagines that recipients of the earnest expatiations recommended by Beeton might secretly envy Carrie Pooter her practise time at the hire-purchase piano.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Mussels on rock and rope

Something I love to do when I'm in Brittany is to go mussel-gathering. The shellfish cover huge areas of rock, literally hanging on by a thread (the byssal thread or 'beard') and at low tide you're welcome to pick enough for dinner.* Of course, I'm very much a lightweight in the world of foot-fishing: real enthusiasts can collect enough varieties of shellfish for a seafood platter!


However, most Breton mussels are not picked from rocks but farmed by the bouchot method. Wooden piles are placed in the water, and in May or June, ropes are slung between them. Baby mussels attach themselves, and the rope is then wrapped around the wood in a spiral. Since mussels enjoy living between low and high tide levels, the large tidal reach of Brittany's north coast is ideal. After two to three years on their ropy home, the mussels are ready to be harvested.

Legend has it that the first mussel farmer in France was a thirteenth century Irishman, Patrick Walton. Shipwrecked on the French coast, he placed wooden stumps in the water and slung nets between them to catch birds. History doesn't record whether any passing seagulls were caught, but Walton did notice that the wooden posts were soon groaning under the weight of mussels. Mytiliculture (mussel farming) was born.


They may look a little daunting, but mussels are easy to prepare and cook, marinière-style. Soak them in cold water (this gets rid of any sand and excess salt), pull off the beards, and scrape away barnacles. Discard any mussels whose shells are open and don't close quickly when tapped. Now soften some finely chopped shallots and garlic in a large pot, then add a glass of wine and a scattering of herbs. When the wine is boiling, add the mussels. Cover the pot, and in a few minutes the steam will cook the mussels. When most are open, discard the ones which remain closed; serve the rest with their juices and plenty of fresh bread. (Variations include adding cream, curry, and other ingredients such as lardons and mushrooms.)

*However, do check that the area is safe to harvest from; the local tourist office can usually tell you. Mussels are filter-feeders so should be avoided where the water is polluted.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Postman's Park (36): quicksand


Arthur Strange was employed as a carman (delivery driver) by Whiteley’s in London, one of 6,000 employes of the department store which offered a delivery service up to 25 miles. Mark Tomlinson was an assistant at Nottingham City Asylum. However, both had connections to Kirton Holme in Lincolnshire: Tomlinson had been born there, and his family still lived there. His cousin Ida Mumford (herself a Londoner) was engaged to Strange.

On a visit to Lincolnshire, the three of them went with the Tomlinson family's housekeeper, Ida Clayton, to a popular but isolated bathing spot near the neighbouring village of Kirton Skeldyke. The area is one of salt marsh, with dangers including patches of quicksand - sand and clay which presents the appearance of solid ground but is in fact highly unstable due to salt water below the surface. Once stepped on, it becomes liquid and almost impossible to escape.

When the two young women went paddling in the river they fell into a deep ‘hole’ of quicksand. Strange and Tomlinson attempted a rescue but although Strange was initially able to hold onto the women, he soon followed Tomlinson who had sunk immediately. All four were drowned.

At the inquest, the coroner commented that the two men 'did a most noble duty and died a noble death'. Their efforts were later commemorated on the Watts Memorial:

ARTHUR STRANGE, CARMAN OF LONDON, AND MARK TOMLINSON, ON A DESPERATE VENTURE TO SAVE TWO GIRLS FROM A QUICKSAND IN LINCOLNSHIRE WERE THEMSELVES ENGULFTED, AUG 25 1902.

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Sunday, 8 March 2009

Finsbury Bank for Savings


This amazing building is the former premises of the Finsbury Bank for Savings, on Sekforde Street, Clerkenwell. What's perhaps most surprising is how un-banklike it looks: there's little sense of traditional solidity and physical security here. Nonetheless, it was able to attract customers including Charles Dickens.

The architect was Alfred Bartholomew (1801-1845), a watchmaker's son who apparently excelled more at writing than at architecture (he became editor of The Builder, while his Specifications for Practical Architecture ran to at least four editions). Indeed, the Biographical Dictionary of British Architects described this bank as 'his only architectural work of importance'. It is certainly an original legacy, an eye-catching addition to its quiet side street.

As for the daily life of the bank itself, we can learn something from an Old Bailey trial of 1845. William Coleman Balls was convicted of forgery with intention to defraud, and transported for 10 years. He had been secretary to the United Brothers' Provident Society, a club of about twenty members who paid regular contributions, and in return received payments when they were sick. As secretary, he had access to both its minute-book and its bank book, and managed to fraudulently withdraw £30 from their account.

At Balls's trial, the bank's procedure was described in detail: first, the Society would have to send a notice of withdrawal, and the bank would take a week to make the necessary entries in the depositors' book. Then, three trustees of the Society would have to be present in the bank and sign their names as directed by an actuary and a clerk; they would then produce the depositors' book to a manager who would also check their signatures against the Society minute-book. Only after these procedures would they be given a cheque by that manager; and finally, the cheque would be taken to a manager of the pay department, who would give them the amount in gold.

Unfortunately, the rather cumbersome procedure had not proved secure; it relied heavily upon checking the withdrawal against the minute book and upon 'the bona fide nature of the transaction'. Nonetheless, we should perhaps be grateful to the dishonest Balls for allowing us a glimpse into the world of Victorian banks and their customers.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Postman's Park (35): Herbert Maconoghu

One of the side-effects of Britain's activities in India was that the children of those who worked there often spent much of their childhood several continents away from their parents. Lengthy sea voyages meant that a short visit was out of the question, so other ways of filling the school holidays had to be found. Herbert Maconoghu and six schoolmates were sent to the seaside at Croyde in Devon, where they stayed with a woman for the summer break.

It must have seemed an idyllic time. Croyde is an attractive village complete with thatched cottages and gentle, green hills behind. The bay has sandy beaches and dunes: every day, the boys would go to the same bathing spot to swim.

However, after some weeks, a morning bathe went tragically wrong. This may have been due to the changing tides: strong rips can form in Croyde Bay at low tide in particular. Some of the boys were swept out by the current, and two got into real difficulties. Pausing only to shout to a companion, 'You save one boy and I'll save the other', Maconoghu swam out to the rescue. However, his effort was in vain: the two struggling boys and Maconoghu all drowned.

HERBERT MACONOGHU, SCHOOL BOY FROM WIMBLEDON AGED 13, HIS PARENTS ABSENT IN INDIA, LOST HIS LIFE IN VAINLY TRYING TO RESCUE HIS TWO SCHOOL FELLOWS WHO WERE DROWNED AT GLOVERS POOL, CROYDE, NORTH DEVON, AUGUST 28 1882.

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Thursday, 5 March 2009

Ghost signs (15): Hackney furniture


There have been a lot of ghost signs posts recently; this is probably my last for a little while, but I like the way that it's a North London counterpart to the great Jay's Furniture sign in Lewisham. Both suggested furnishing one's home on credit, although the 'easy terms' here are rather more coy than the '4/- a week' offered in Lewisham.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green


Behind its new facade, the Museum of Childhood's building is an interesting piece of Victoriana in its own right. Its iron frame was originally part of the V&A's first, temporary building in South Kensington, and moved to the East End in 1866 to house a trade museum. The ground was purchased using subscriptions from local residents; the iron frame was filled in with red brick and panels illustrating various trades.


Inside, the marble mosaic 'fish scale' floor was made by women from Woking Gaol . The full title of the gaol was the 'Woking Invalid Convict Prison', and it was designed to house those suffering from mental or physical disabilities. The prison had a specialist Mosaics Department whose women earned 1s 2d a day breaking marble for the mosaics. As well as the Bethnal Green floor and work in South Kensington, they also provided a mosaic floor for the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral.

Bethnal Green Museum was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1872, and proved a great success with 1.5 million visitors in the first year. Permanent collections of food, animal products and French art combined with temporary visits by the Wallace, National Portrait and Pitt Rivers collections. The food collection had moved from the main museum and was 'arranged with the express object of teaching the nature and sources of food, representing the chemical composition of the various substances used as food, and the natural sources from which they have been obtained.' Admission to all this was free every day except Wednesday.

However, in the 1920s director Arthur Knowles Sabin began to shift the focus towards children, with exhibits and activities designed for them and the development of a children's collection. This eventually led to the Bethnal Green Museum's transformation in 1974 into the Museum of Childhood.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Ghost signs (14): Dowell's Coals


Walking home tonight, I came across this rather nice sign which has been uncovered after some time behind hoardings. It's on Norway Street, Deptford, near the riverfront: a reminder of the days when the docks were active and coal was vital for local industry.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Ghost signs (13): two from Lewisham

Here are two monochrome signs from Lewisham. The first, on the corner of Ladywell Road, directed shoppers to Bolton & Co general and fancy drapers.


The second is tucked away in the roofline of Lewisham Way. The advertiser, Woolverton & Co wine and spirit merchants, no longer have premises there.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Postman's Park (34): travel deaths

Even in the apparently more sedate days of travel by horse and steam, transport posed many dangers. We have already seen the deaths of Elizabeth Boxall and William Drake from runaway horses; the crew of the Windsor Express and Daniel Pemberton died while working on the railways. This round-up of five similar cases gives a sense of the variety of dangers travel posed.


When James Hewers saw a young man fall in front of a train, he attempted to rescue him but thereby himself in its path and was killed.
JAMES HEWERS ON SEPT 24 1878 WAS KILLED BY A TRAIN AT RICHMOND IN THE ENDEAVOUR TO SAVE ANOTHER MAN
Frederick Alfred Croft, an Inspector on the South Eastern Railway, died in similar circumstances. On 11 January, he was on duty at Woolwich Station; among those waiting for a train were officers in charge of a woman being taken to Barming Lunatic Asylum. As their train arrived, the woman broke free and jumped in front of it. Croft managed to drag her out of the path of the train, but at the cost of his own life.


Another worker on the railways, William Goodrum, was employed by the North London Railway Company. He was the flagman for his team, watching the four lines of track to warn of approaching trains. The other men were clearing the gutterings of the bridge. At 1.30, a train from Kew approached and Goodrum signalled to his colleagues. However, one didn’t hear the warning so Goodrum stepped into the track of the train to shout a louder warning, waving his arms. The labourer finally heard the shout and got off the track, but Goodrum failed to reach safety and was knocked down by the train, dying instantly.

Meanwhile, the roads posed particular dangers to the young. The Watts Memorial commemorates two such cases. First, William Fisher was walking on Rodney Road with his two-year-old brother. When the toddler ran into the street in front of a horse and van, William rushed after him and pulled him to safety but was killed himself.

Similarly, fifteen years later, Soloman Galaman was out with his four-year-old brother. As they crossed Commercial Street, the little boy slipped over. Saving his brother from being run over, Soloman was killed. His last words perfectly fit the Victorian mood of the memorial: 'Mother, I saved him but I could not save myself.'

WILLIAM FISHER, AGED 9, LOST HIS LIFE ON RODNEY ROAD WALWORTH WHILE TRYING TO SAVE HIS LITTLE BROTHER FROM BEING RUN OVER, JULY 12 1886.

SOLOMAN GALAMAN AGED 11 DIED OF INJURIES SEPT 6 1901 AFTER SAVING HIS LITTLE BROTHER FROM BEING RUN OVER IN COMMERCIAL STREET. 'MOTHER I SAVED HIM BUT I COULD NOT SAVE MYSELF'

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