There were 396 candidates for the post of rate collector for the North Ward in succession to the late Mr Monger. Five attended before the Vestry, and the voting resulted in Mr Henry Stone, 303, New Cross-road, being appointed. A candidate demurred to the stipulation that the collector must live in the Ward, as “he had heard it was not a very nice place.” The chairman, amid laughter, assured him that “Deptford was not so black as it was painted.”I'm not sure whether it's depressing or amusing that some stereotypes are so slow to change!
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Friday, 31 October 2008
Deptford news 1900 (3)
Thursday, 30 October 2008
Deptford news 1900 (2)
DEPTFORD WOMAN’S SKULL FRACTURED
James Perrett, 54, of Giffin-street, Deptford, on remand with unlawfully wounding his wife, Annie Florence, by striking her on the head with some instrument. Mr. Llewellyn Davies defended. – The woman’s skull was fractured, and she had been in the Miller Hospital. She admitted that she was in the habit of drinking, adding, “We’re both as bad as one another.” – [magistrate] Mr d’Eyncourt said the prisoner had received great provocation, and in the circumstances would suffer one day’s imprisonment. There would be a judicial separation, with payment to the wife of 12s a week, the husband to have the custody of the child.HORSE-OWNER SENT TO GAOL.
John Potter, 40, labourer, on remand with working a horse in an unfit state in Creek-road, Deptford. William Randall, of Besson-street, New Cross, was summoned as the owner for allowing the animal to be so worked. – Randall was committed for a month's [imprisonment with] hard labour, and Potter fined 20s and 10s 6d costs.
Indeed, the editor was moved to comment on the first case:
At Greenwich Police Court on Tuesday, a man was charged with assaulting his wife by striking her on the head with some blunt instrument, whereby her skull was fractured. Mr d’Eyncourt remarked that the prisoner received great provocation – which appeared to be true – and, whilst decreeing a separation, sentenced the accused to one day’s imprisonment. We venture to say that no amount of provocation can justify a man in striking a woman.
“The man that lays his hand upon a woman,
Save in the way of kindness, is a wretch,
Whom’t were gross flattery to name a coward.”
Another sad glimpse into Victorian family life is offered by this report:
SLEEPING WITH THE RATSThe fact that the parents appeared to have had little choice but to sleep where they did, and were with their children, seems to have gone unremarked. There is no comment upon what was to happen to the children while their parents awaited trial in prison.
Alfred Malcomber, 50, and Harriett Malcomber, 41, no home, willfully exposing their two children, aged 10 years and 2 years respectively. – P.C. 206M said he found the prisoners sleeping on a manure heap at the S.E. Railway-arches, Trundley’s-road, Deptford. The place was infested with rats – 50 or 60 of them – and some ran over his feet when he aroused the prisoners. – The man said they had been tramping about the country, and could not get a room. – Remanded.
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
Postman's Park (3): Mary Rogers
On 30 March 1899, both companies were running their first daytime service of the year. Travelling to the Channel Islands, the Stella hit thick fog. It was nearing the Casquets reef, notorious for its danger and the number of ships which had been lost there. Although the Casquets did have a lighthouse, the light was not visible due to the weather conditions, while the Stella didn't hear the fog signal until too late. The captain believed that the reef was still several miles ahead, a mistake which had tragic consequences: still at full speed, the Stella ran aground on the Casquets and sank in eight minutes.
Press reports stated that the conduct of those on board was exemplary, with no men leaving the ship until all women and children were in lifeboats - this appears to have been exaggerated as one lifeboat contained a number of men but only one woman, while some women and children seem to have been left on board. Those who made it to the lifeboats suffered a long night in cold seas. One capsized at launch, although survivors clung on to it; finally righted by a huge wave, it was flooded and swept along by the tide for nearly 24 hours before being found. Among those who died during its night at sea were the mother and brother of Bening Mourant Arnold, who survived only because his mother had tied the laces of his football to his shirt collar. Tragically, according to his father's memoir, Bening had sighted the lights of Alderney harbour but because another passenger believed that two red lights meant danger, they rowed away and were carried down the French coast.
Among the 105 who died was Mary Rogers, the senior stewardess. She was born in Frome, Somerset but married a seaman from Southampton. By the time of the disaster she was a widow with two grown-up children and a dependent father; her husband had been washed overboard the Honfleur six years earlier. When disaster struck the Stella, it is said that she calmly got the women out on deck and into lifeboats. One woman was without a lifebelt; Mary gave her her own. She then refused to get into the boat herself, as it was already full and she would not risk endangering it. She waved it goodbye; as the ship went down, her reported last words were, 'Lord, have me.' Her body was never found. (The accuracy of this account has been questioned by Jake Simpkin's research, but whether or not the story's details are all true, her conduct and that of the other stewardess Ada Preston certainly deserved praise; 'the greatest admiration' was expressed by the Board of Trade inquiry.)
Mary became a national hero. Feminist Frances Power Cobbe proposed a memorial; £570 was raised and the money was shared between Mary's family and the construction of a memorial on the quay at Southampton. Mary also has a stained glass window in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral; a memorial was placed on the harbour wall at St Peter Port, Guernsey in 1997. William McGonagall, best known for his poem on the Tay Bridge Disaster, was also moved to verse on this occasion although he did not mention Mary Rogers. In his inimitable style, he begins:
Rather more elegantly, Mary's plaque on the Watts Memorial reads:'Twas in the month of March and in the year of 1899,Which will be remembered for a very long time;The wreck of the steamer "Stella" that was wrecked on the Casquet Rocks,By losing her bearings in a fog, and received some terrible shocks.
MARY ROGERS, STEWARDESS OF THE STELLA, MAR 30 1899, SELF SACRIFICED BY GIVING UP HER LIFE BELT AND VOLUNTARILY GOING DOWN IN THE SINKING SHIP.
Following the disaster, the two steamship companies finally agreed to co-operate. They ran services on alternate days, pooling ticket receipts: there would be no more racing. As for the Stella, its wreck was rediscovered in 1973 by divers Richard Keen and Fred Shaw. They kept its location a secret until it was rediscovered by John Ovenden. With David Shayer, he has published a book on its discovery.
For all Postman's Park posts, click here.
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
Deptford news 1900 (1)
The courts were a major source of news for the local paper, so today we'll start with a few theft-type offences. First, 21-year-old coal porter John Finley of Tanner's Hill was caught with a roll of copper wire belonging to the railway. Unfortunately, he couldn't come up with a good explanation for how he came to possess it - the police didn't believe his claim that he found it in his employer's chaff house.* Eventually, he admitted that he had stolen it and was brought before Greenwich Magistrates' Court who remanded him in custody.
More seriously, homeless Bartholomew Murphy broke into the Walter Arms beerhouse on Addey Street. He woke the occupant, Jesse Skudder, when he went into his bedroom at 1.30am; Skudder asked him, "what are you doing here?" Murphy's answer was an unconvincing "I don't know" - he had had to scale a wall, cross the wash-house roof, and force the kitchen window with an iron bar before reaching the bedroom. Skudder dressed and gave chase, only to be threatened with a knife, before fetching a policeman. Murphy claimed he was drunk that night and didn't know what he was doing. The magistrate committed him for trial at the South London sessions.
Finally, there was the Victorian equivalent of eBay fraud: George Hypolite le Bluff sold greenhouses and chicken houses by mail order from Trundley's Road. However, dissatisfied purchasers apparently found that after they'd sent the money, the goods didn't turn up. His alleged victims included Dr Collins of Aylesford, Kent; rector's wife Mrs Belcher of Frampton Cotterell, Bristol; and an unnamed miner from the Rhondda Valley. He was committed for trial at the Crown Court.
* A chaff-house was an outbuilding used to store animal fodder.
Monday, 27 October 2008
8 facts on knitting history
- Because knitted items are perishable, nobody knows when knitting began. Estimates range from millennia ago to the 11th century (while knitting-like work certainly dates back to the 5th century).
- Since knitted stockings were a major export industry in Elizabethan Britain, knitting schools were set up to teach the poor a marketable skill.
- During the Second World War, people were encouraged to knit balaclavas, gloves, etc for soldiers, using wool unravelled from old clothes. See some of the patterns on the V&A website: they include balaclavas with ear-flaps for telephone operators and mittens with one separate trigger finger.
- Knitted items were found on the wreck of the Mary Rose, including a jerkin, fragments of woollen hose, and several knitted beret-style hats.
- Fair Isle jumpers were knitted by whole families in the Scottish islands. They became fashionable in 1922 when the Prince of Wales wore one to play golf.
- The knitted fisherman's jumper was not unique to Scotland: Guernseys or 'ganseys' were knitted in many parts of the British Isles until recently, using 5-ply wool and five needles.
- Among the knitted items which have fallen out of fashion is the tea cosy, which fits over a teapot to keep the contents warm. Its first documented use was in 1867.
- Knitting is mentioned in Jane Austen's Persuasion.
Sunday, 26 October 2008
Postman's Park (2): Alice Ayres
For all Postman's Park posts, click here.
Updated Dec '08 - thank you to Geoff Ayres for further information.
Friday, 24 October 2008
London 1904 on film
This amazing film of Londoners in 1904 was shot by Charles Urban to show Australians what life in London was like. It stayed hidden and forgotten in a Canberra archive until discovered by Professor Ian Christie. Londonist points out that the film is particularly unusual among early cinema for featuring ordinary people rather than staged performances. It's an amazing window into life a century ago, complete with Edwardian outfits and cheeky children (note the boy on the bridge in the second scene)!
Thursday, 23 October 2008
Deptford X revisited
I spotted another Polite Metropolis notice outside St Paul's Church (and yes, the phone number is a real one!):
Related post: Deptford X-cels!
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Postman's Park (1): the park
The memorial opened in 1900, with four plaques in place. Watts was personally responsible for a further nine before a committee was formed in 1904 to assist him. He died soon after, but his wife and the committee worked together to place a further forty tablets. The final tablets were unveiled in 1930. Despite occasional suggestions that further plaques should be added, none have been.
Accounts of Postman's Park often quote from some of the plaques, but all the stories deserve our attention - for the bravery they commemorate, for their human interest, and for the snapshot of Victorian England which they offer. I'm therefore going to be posting on each plaque in a more-or-less regular series. However, as we read these tales of Victorian heroism, we can also wonder: why hasn't the tradition continued since the deaths of Watts and his widow to commemorate today's ordinary heroes?
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
Pudding: a poem
Mother Eve's Pudding
If you want a good pudding, to teach you I'm willing;
Take two pennyworth of eggs, when twelve for a shilling;
And of the same fruit that Eve had once chosen,
Well pared and well chopped, at least half-a-dozen;
Six ounces of bread (let your maid eat the crust),
The crumbs must be grated as small as the dust;
Six ounces of currants from the stones you must sort,
Lest they break out your teeth, and spoil all your sport;
Six ounces of sugar won't make it too sweet;
Some salt and some nutmeg will make it complete;
Three hours let it boil, without hurry or flutter,
And then serve it up, without sugar or butter.
(Or in othe words, combine 2 eggs, 6 peeled, chopped apples, 6oz fine fresh breadcrumbs, 6oz currants, 60z sugar, a pinch of salt and a pinch of nutmeg. Boil [tied in a cloth] for three hours.)
Modern Eve's pudding recipes not only fail to rhyme; they also make a rather less frugal dessert in which apples are topped with a sponge mixture.
Image by monkeyc.net, shared under a Creative Commons license.
Another Deptford blogger!
Monday, 20 October 2008
London sightseeing: when did it get so slow?
As recently as the 1950s, Ward Lock's London suggested the following itinerary, apparently to be completed largely on foot, for 'London in one day':
National Portrait Gallery
Whitehall (passing Government Offices, Royal United Service Museum and the Cenotaph).
Houses of Parliament. (Open on Saturdays and Easter and Whitsun Mondays and Tuesdays).
Westminster (R.C.) Cathedral.
Buckingham Palace (exterior).
St James's Park.
St James's Palace (exterior).
Luncheon in neighbourhood of Piccadilly or Leicester Square.
Wallace Collection, Manchester Square.
Drive through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
Lincoln's Inn (walk through).
Law Courts and Temple.
The 1920s had been equally hectic: Enquire Within Upon Everything didn't set out an itinerary but did expect that a visit to, for example, the Tower of London would be grouped with 'St Paul's, the Bank, Royal Exchange, Monument, Mansion House, Guildhall, and so on'. However, such exertions pale beside one Victorian's epic sightseeing.
Related post: Advice to sightseers
Saturday, 18 October 2008
Hydraulic power beyond Limehouse
A little research confirmed that there was a network of underground pipes providing hydraulic power throughout London. The London Hydraulic Power Company was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1871, and only closed in 1977. As early as 1893, six and a half million gallons of water were pumped each week; gradually, the company's reliable service took over from the smaller power plants providing the docks.
As well as its industrial uses (operating machinery such as presses), hydraulic power was indeed used by non-industrial customers such as theatres. In fact, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane had used hydraulic apparatus for a production back in 1829, over twenty years before hydraulic machinery was introduced to Limehouse Docks; with the availability of the piped network, its use took off throughout the West End. The Royal Opera House curtains and Coliseum turntable both used hydraulics, as did the stage machinery in other theatres - hydraulic power allowed new and dramatic special effects. Indeed, late-Victorian 'sensation' productions relied on such effects for their appeal. Theatre Royal Drury Lane's production of The Whip, for example, built up to a dramatic train crash live on stage followed by the running of a horserace (the horses ran on a 'travellator'). Such elaborate effects carried their own risks, of course - on the play's first night, its equine hero 'The Whip' lost the race and the judge's box shot into the air! (Luckily, the rest of the run went more smoothly, and it lasted for 388 performances and a successful tour). More mundanely, but crucially, when safety curtains became standard they were often made of iron - again, the ability of hydraulic power to lift heavy weights was invaluable. This form of power was also quiet, powerful and clean.
Hydraulics continue to be used for lifting and lowering stages such as the Lyttleton Theatre's proscenium stage today, although there is no longer a central supply to draw on. Instead, the underground network of cast-iron pipes (some 150 miles of it) is now owned by Cable & Wireless and carries optical fibre cable.
Image: 'The Whip' (c) The Theatre Museum (Victoria and Albert Museum). For more amazing images from theatre history, visit their PeoplePlay website.
Related post: Limehouse Accumulator Tower
Friday, 17 October 2008
Buying London books
Guildhall Library Bookshop is quite tucked-away and doesn't seem to be terribly well-known: I came across it almost by chance at London Maze. However, it's full of books about London (and pretty much nothing else). You can combine it with a visit to the Guildhall Art Gallery or Clockmakers' Museum.
Aldermanbury, London EC2V 7HH; open Monday-Friday 9.30am-4.45pm.
The Museum of London shop has an interesting and varied selection of books on London history. (You can also visit a few galleries of the Museum, although much is currently closed for refurbishment).
150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN; open Monday-Saturday 10am-5.50pm, Sunday 12pm-5.50pm.
Online, AbeBooks is a brilliant resource for finding second-hand and out-of-print books. It allows you to search through the inventories of booksellers worldwide, and I've usually found what I'm looking for there.
Thursday, 16 October 2008
Grinling Gibbons: Deptford boy made good
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Martial Bourdin and Greenwich's anarchist mystery
Although still able to speak immediately after the explosion, Bourdin didn't say anything about what he had been planning to do. It was assumed that he had intended to blow up the Royal Observatory, but nothing is known for certain. Revolutionary bombings had been a problem throughout Europe in the late nineteenth century: most famously, Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated by bomb in 1881. There had been several anarchist bombings in France in the months before Bourdin's accident; later that year, the president would be assassinated. Bourdin was connected to other foreign anarchists through his membership of Club Autonomie, which police raided shortly after his death - but no one was charged.
We still don't know exactly what Bourdin meant to achieve. His bomb was too small to cause major damage, and the Royal Observatory seems a rather unlikely target. The New York Times pointed out that since Britain was something of a refuge for anarchists, it would be against their interests to commit an outrage here; indeed, Britain's anarchists either ignored the incident or denied involvement in it. Maybe he didn't mean to blow the observatory up at all: it has been suggested that he was attempting to dispose of the bomb before leaving the country or had been duped into carrying it (perhaps by his police-informer brother-in-law). Such an outrage might have served the interests of those trying to pass anti-immigration legislation, or of foreign governments hoping to provoke a British clampdown on anarchist activity. On the other hand, the observatory did represent science and the worldwide regulation of time, while the police assumed that the money indicated an intention to flee the country.
There is nothing in the Park to mark the incident; Bourdin's most lasting legacy is his role in inspiring Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent. As Transpontine has remarked, his story is certainly a contrast to the royalty-focused history of Greenwich Park given to tourists - don't expect it to feature strongly in 2012, should controversial proposals to hold Olympics equestrian events there go ahead ...
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Marshall Hall, the 'great defender'
He had taken his law degree at Cambridge, and was called to the Bar in 1883. (Despite an early interest in acting, he was unable to memorise lines). At first, he made more money from dealing in jewels than from his legal practice. Soon though, matters improved and with the Marie Hermann case his reputation was established. Marshall Hall's talents did not, surprisingly, extend to a strong grasp of the law. Robin De Wilde's profile of him in this year's Inner Temple Yearbook notes that he would openly request his junior to argue difficult points of law.* However, he was good-looking and charming, with a beautiful speaking voice. He also used tricks such as provoking the judge to lose his temper so that the court appeared biased against him and his client, arousing the jury's sympathy.
It is for his murder cases that he is best remembered. One made legal history: defendants had only been able to give evidence in their own defence since 1898, and his client Robert Wood was the first person to be acquitted of murder after giving evidence on his own behalf. In another notorious case, Madame Fahmy shot her Egyptian husband dead in the Savoy Hotel but was acquitted after Marshall Hall attacked the victim's character at trial, not least by playing on racist stereotypes.
However, by no means all of Marshall Hall’s cases ended in success. Most famously, George Joseph Smith was convicted in the ‘brides in the bath’ case in 1915. He had bigamously married at least three women; each would insure her life or make a will in his favour; they would take lodgings in a house with an indoor bathtub; Smith would claim to a doctor that his wife was epileptic or prone to fainting; and soon after, she would drown in the bath, where Smith would discover her. Medical evidence showed that accidental drowning was impossible in the bath tubs involved. Although Smith was only charged with the murder of his first wife, the court allowed evidence of all three deaths to go before the jury: the case was thus hopeless and Smith was convicted and hung.
Marshall Hall was also an MP for twelve years, but was not a successful politician. His maiden speech, which proposed doorstep deliveries of ale so that children would not have to go into public houses to fetch it for their fathers, was greeted with derision. He died of pneumonia in 1927, surrounded by his family. It is for his criminal cases that he is still remembered today.
* As a King's Counsel, a senior barrister, he would have a 'junior' - a non-KC, not necessarily either young or inexperienced -to assist him in his cases.
Monday, 13 October 2008
St Nicholas's Church is the venue for two works. Yinka Shonibare's White Flag at Half Mast, literally a white flag, flies from the top of the tower. You can view it from below, or climb the narrow spiral stairs to get up close (Saturdays only). I would have loved to do the latter if only for the views over Deptford, but spiral-staircase-specific claustrophobia kept me at ground level! I found the flag rather unexciting, but one advantage of so much artwork packed into a small area is that there's always something else to see. In this case, I just strolled down into the crypt for Matt Stokes' video Cipher whose organ music also echoes rather atmospherically around the church nave.
In the courtyard behind the Deptford Project cafe are a variety of works:
The Creekside Centre also has an assortment of pieces, based upon things found in the creek:
Fran Cottell has placed Golden Balls around Deptford in reference to the golden pawnbrokers' sphere, itself symbolising money. (Deptford Dame has done a better job of spotting them than me). This pair are only a few doors from a couple of genuine pawnbrokers:
An audio tour, Pavement Sonnets, Deptford Scars, links many of the sites. The start is a little off-putting ('this is a walk, not a stroll') but once you're underway the walk is fascinating and full of local history. Download audio files and map here, and start at Ha'penny Hatch footbridge over Deptford Creek (which has one of Cottell's golden balls too).
I've done more than appears here, but still barely scratched the surface of the festival. There's another week to try and catch up! For more information see the Deptford X website.
Related post: Deptford X revisited
Saturday, 11 October 2008
No more blackberries!
The story is that the devil was thrown out of heaven by St Michael on 11 October (Michaelmas Day in the old calendar),* and landed in a blackberry bush. Still angry at that prickly landing, he spits on the berries every anniversary, making them inedible. (In some versions of the legend, he pees on them). Since blackberries are indeed past their best by now, devil's work or not, it's a good day to exchange brambles for bramble jelly!
Friday, 10 October 2008
Deptford's anchor: a potent symbol of the past
Deptford had multiple connections with the slave trade. Just a few examples: Catherine of Aragon arrived here with two slaves when she came to marry Henry VIII's elder brother Arthur; Sir Francis Drake, knighted in the town, played an important part in establishing the transatlantic slave trade with his uncle and Deptford resident Sir John Hawkins; ships built and refitted in Deptford went on to carry slaves across the notorious middle passage from Africa to the Caribbean and America. The traces remain visible: Paul Hendrich has drawn out the symbolism of slavery visible on that monument to civic pride, Deptford Town Hall.
However, the anchor is more than a tangential reminder of Deptford's links to the slave industry. It can also be read as a more direct symbol of the strong connections between Britain's maritime and slave-trading histories, through the figures of Sir Ambrose Crowley and his son and heir John. A leading steelmaster in the early eighteenth century, Sir Ambrose's huge factories foreshadowed the manufacturing advances of the Industrial Revolution. He made his fortune as a naval contractor during the Anglo-Dutch war with France; when that ended, he and his son turned to the transatlantic trade. They had a virtual monopoly on anchor manufacture; other major products included agricultural implements for American and Caribbean plantations worked by slaves, and chains and manacles for slave ships.
Crowley was, therefore, a pioneering figure in England's manufacturing history; a man closely involved with the shipping industries in Deptford and Greenwich; and a key supplier of horrific equipment to the slave trade. This intimate connection between England's industrial, maritime and slave-trading histories is neatly encapsulated by the placement of an anchor in Deptford High Street.
Related post: Sir Francis Drake
Thursday, 9 October 2008
Art history raced
Of course black women have been represented in Western art. However, even when they are there on the canvas they can still be treated as invisible. I've discussed the career of Victorine Meurent, Manet's favourite model and an artist in her own right. In one of her most famous portrayals by Manet, as the courtesan Olympia, there is another women in the image too: a nameless black servant carrying a bouquet. History has been even harder on her than on Meurent: this model's name is not known. Wikipedia refers to "the model" in the painting, as if there were not two women present; a Salon article discusses the painting and the figure of Olympia at length but barely mentions her maid. This is not to suggest for one moment that there are not analyses of race in art: the point is that they have been ignored by these mainstream discussions of such works.
The courtesan's challenge to the viewer is perhaps in part due to her dominant position in the painting, able to ignore her submissive black maid. The maid herself adopts a more traditionally female pose, her eyes turned to the side rather than meeting and challenging those of the viewer. Her face almost merges into the background; more visible are her dress and the flowers she carries to Olympia - the image obscures her even as it portrays her. At a more symbolic level, in the nineteenth century racially "other" women were often viewed as more sexualised than white European women, so that the presence of a black maid functioned to highlight Olympia's own (excessive) sexuality.
To focus upon both figures in the image, rather than to treat the maid as background decoration, is to change the way we read the painting altogether. It shifts from being a portrait of one woman to something more like a narrative work where we ask questions about the nature of the interaction and relationship between the women. Our experience and understandings of the work can then become all the richer.
Thus there are racial as well as gender dynamics to this painting which merit being placed in the foreground. (Nor are they purely historical: see the analysis of a contemporary image here.) It is unfortunate that so many discussions of the image leave them as obscured as the maid herself.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
Drift 08 - art on the Thames
Ghost Bridge particularly appealed, because I have a soft spot for the remains of the first Blackfriars Railway Bridge and loved the idea of its ghostly reincarnation. Unfortunately, I had to agree with Londonist that 'whichever way you view it, it’s just some green lasers across the river.' In fact, not even: from some points you could barely see the lasers and from others the equipment was that bit too visible. A nice idea, and the green light is certainly attention-catching, but...
Saved from Drowning is quite fun, but perhaps less meaningful than it aspires to be. It was not so much a 'steel painting' recalling those who have drowned in the river as a rather wonky mirror.
This piece is Migration. Unfortunately, it is rather unassuming (you might miss it altogether if you weren't looking for it) and is thus overshadowed by its neighbours: London Bridge, the Tower of London and HMS Belfast.
Biggest disappointment was 'Classification Pending', which had sounded lovely - at dusk, mythical creatures are projected into the river under London Bridge. Unfortunately, I couldn't actually see them - and I wasn't the only bemused person gazing forlornly at a Drift 08 map. Perhaps something had gone wrong; perhaps the map didn't pinpoint the spot clearly enough (it's rather vague); or perhaps the creatures are very, very shy. Whichever, this was one piece unlikely to be 'enjoyed by everyone'.
I love the idea of this exhibition. I quite enjoyed spotting a few of the pieces. However, it also felt like a missed opportunity to have some really exciting work in this most public of venues. The plan is for the festival to be an annual event: here's hoping we get something more enticing next year.
Practical info: there's still time to see the exhibition, which is on until 19 October 2008. Works are visible from bridges and walkways; the map (PDF) is here.
Related posts: Deptford X-cels, Deptford X revisited
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
Whatever happened to the Thames Lido?
Obviously the lido never did appear, which is a real shame: it would have been an Olympic-size pool, 40 metres out into the river, which rose and fell with the tide. A clear covering was to offer swimmers all-round London views, and could close to protect them from bad weather. See the architects' image here.
So what went wrong? Unfortunately, it proved just too expensive - and so disappeared like so many British lidos. Instead, the current plan is for an ordinary indoor pool - as part of a controversial high-rise development.
Monday, 6 October 2008
From Deptford Dockyard to the University of London
The Seamen’s Hospital Society was established to care for sailors in the merchant navy and fishing fleets, ie those outside the Royal Navy and its institutions. In October 1821, seven months after the society’s first meeting, a hospital ship came into service at Deptford: HMS Grampus, a former naval vessel. It had been commissioned in 1803 and was employed in the East Indies, the Cape of Good Hope, and as a troopship before its latter career as a floating hospital. The ship’s surgeon, Dr David Arnott, was paid £150 per year. The hospital treated sailors of all nations; during cholera outbreaks it would moor a smaller boat alongside to act as an isolation unit. The ship’s capacity was soon stretched as it treated over 2,000 people a year.
Ten years later, the Society’s hospital moved onto the larger HMS Dreadnought (and then a second ship, also renamed Dreadnought). When it came onshore and took over the former Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich in 1870, it renamed it the Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital and began to employ female nurses for the first time. This hospital would continue providing care to seamen at Greenwich until 1986; today the former premises are part of the University of Greenwich.
Such medical services were important for two reasons. First, in the days before the NHS, people often relied upon charitable institutions to provide medical care. The Seamen’s Hospital Society was one such charity. Second, sailors often had specialist medical needs which the hospital met in two notable ways. One was its campaign for lime juice to be provided to sailors to prevent scurvy; the other was the realisation that as sailors’ work took them around the world, they might contract diseases unfamiliar to most British doctors. The ability to treat such illnesses was central to the development of the Society’s facilities.
In 1890, the Society opened a new branch of the hospital: the Albert Dock Seamen’s Hospital. Here, the London School of Tropical Medicine was established in 1899 by Sir Patrick Manson, who had worked in the Far East and believed strongly in the importance of training doctors to properly treat people dying of tropical diseases. The School moved to central London in 1920. At the same time, the Society created a Hospital for Tropical Diseases near Euston Square; it still exists today, as part of the University College Hospitals NHS Trust. The Society itself also continues to look after the welfare of sailors through grants, a benefits advice line, and the Dreadnought Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital.
Sunday, 5 October 2008
Art history express
If you're struggling to identify some of the images, check them out on this site which matches a thumbnail of each to the title, artist and date.
However, you might notice that only two of the artists were women (Mary Cassatt, an impressionist painter from a wealthy American family, and Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun, a French court painter patronised by Marie Antoinette). Some explanation of that statistic can be found in the story of Victorine Meurent, discussed by novelist V R Main in the Guardian on Friday. She is best known as Manet's favourite model, and it has often been assumed that she was also his mistress if not a prostitute - although she probably never slept with him at all. In reality, Meurent was herself an artist and financially independent - no mean achievement for a working-class woman in the mid-nineteenth century, when women were denied formal artistic training. Indeed, she exhibited at the 1876 Paris Salon (Manet's submission was rejected) and again in 1879, 1885 and 1904. In 1903 she was admitted to the Société des Artistes Français. All her work was believed lost, but one painting has recently been acquired by the museum in Colombes where she lived for the last 20 years of her life with Marie Dufour, a piano teacher.
Despite such odds and obstacles, some women have succeeded as artists throughout history. Matters are improving - slowly - and you can visit an impressive collection of work by contemporary women artists at the online gallery of New Hall College Cambridge's Art Collection.
Related post: art history raced
Saturday, 4 October 2008
London: advice to sightseers
Related post: London sightseeing, when did it get so slow?
1. Before starting on your holiday spend two hours in studying a good guide-book and mapping out a programme for each day of your stay in London. Note that some institutions, as the British Museum, are open free every day; some, as the National Gallery, are open free on certain days and for a fee on others; some, as the Mint and Woolwich Arsenal, are open on specified days and under stringent conditions. These things should be ascertained from the guide-book before leaving home, and your programme modified accordingly.
['Enquire' is never afraid to be prescriptive - take two hours precisely! - or to state the obvious.]
2. Group the sights so as to economize your time. For example, avoid such a programme for a day's doings as this - the Tower; Tate Gallery; Madame Tussaud's; Greenwich Hospital; Hyde Park. To "do" these sights in a day would put a great deal of time to waste.
[To do these sights in a day would require you to sprint non-stop and skip lunch! Perhaps you should have spent more than two hours with the guide book.]
3. Ask your way of a policeman, postman, telegraph boy, or shopkeeper. If you are in a residential quarter, you will be compelled to resort to the courtesy of the casual wayfarer; but in that case take the direction from him and then pass on.
[This is the start of an obsession with not chatting to Londoners, but you might rebel and pause to say thank you.]
4. If you feel that you are taking the wrong road, do not proceed farther until you have ascertained whether you are right or wrong. You have a civil tongue; do not hesitate to use it.
[But only in accordance with (3) - remember not to stand around chatting. A pity you weren't advised to get a map.]
5. If a stranger get into conversation with you in a gallery, or church, or the street, make himself particularly affable, claim that he thinks he has met you before or that he comes from the same town or district as yourself, be on your guard instantly. If further he be joined, apparently by chance, by a friend or two and propose to adjourn for a drink or a meal, and then talk of his prospects and the money he has, and ask you to lend him, for a short while, your purse, or an article of value, merely to show your confidence in him - he having already shown his confidence in them by handing some article to his confederates - be sure you are in the company of "confidence trick" rogues and leave them at once. If you happen on a policeman near by, describe the men to him and tell him where you left them. The information may be useful to him. Avoid all talk with undesirable or promiscuous folk whose appearance and manner you do not care for on acquaintance.
[Londoners will apparently only talk to you in order to rob you, while non-Londoners are incredibly gullible; more surprising to the modern reader is the idea that you might expect to happen on a policeman.]
6. As to tips, at many establishments where only a light repast is served "no gratuities" is the rule. Otherwise the custom is to tip the waiter on the scale of 1d for every shilling of your bill. Thus if your dinner cost 2s. 6d., the waiter's tip would be 2d. or 3d., whichever you please.
[And how do you solve the twopence/threepence dilemma? After so many precise instructions, 'Enquire' has suddenly left us high and dry!]
7. For a short stay it will answer your convenience and save time to put up at a comfortable central hotel rather than lodge in a suburb.
[But if you couldn't work that out for yourself, you're probably still pondering the twopence/threepence quandary.]
8. Arrange your programme so as to leave the evenings free for the theatre, or music hall, or concert, or the fireworks at the Crystal Palace.
[Assuming you are not just too tired and penniless having sprinted from one end of London to the other, handed your wallet to a new 'friend' for no obvious reason, offended the waiter with your mean tip and then had to travel back to your hotel in the outer suburbs...]
Friday, 3 October 2008
Peter the Great in Deptford (3): the statue
The Peter the Great Tercentenary Committee was formed, and it originally intended to run an open competition. However, the monument actually erected is a gift from the people of Russia. It was designed by two Russian sculptors, Viacheslav Bukhaev who was responsible for the architectural elements and Mikhail Chemiakin, (or Shemyakin) responsible for the sculptural elements.
Chemiakin had gone into exile from Russia in 1971 after his art was condemned by the Soviet authorities. He settled in New York, but his work has been exhibited in Russia since the Soviet Union broke up, and he and Bukhaev had already created a Peter the Great monument for St Petersburg. His original plan for the Deptford sculpture supposedly involved court jesters baring their bottoms, but the actual monument has restricted itself to one dwarf jester holding a ship and globe, while Peter carries a telescope.
The statue was unveiled by Prince Michael of Kent in June 2001 on land given by Fairview Homes. However, it was not the Committee's only achievement. They also formed the Peter the Great Educational Trust, whose educational aims included developing cultural and academic links between Russia and Great Britain.
For more detailed information on this and many, many other South London monuments, Public Sculpture of South London by Terry Cavanagh is an invaluable reference book.
For all Peter the Great posts, click here
Thursday, 2 October 2008
An apt anniversary: the collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank
The bank had been founded in 1839 and by the time of its collapse, had 133 branches. Dividends to shareholders had been generous, reaching 12% in June 1878. It even issued its own bank notes. It was therefore one of Scotland's largest banks, and appeared to be a great success.
However, on 2 October that year the directors announced the bank's closure. Despite the £8 million in deposits they had declared a few months earlier, the overall picture was much bleaker: those deposits were far outweighed by the bank's liabilities. Indeed the real story was one of poorly secured loans (sound familiar?), lots of risky investments made in the hope of putting things right, and £6 million of liabilities. (The bank's liquidators actually recovered more money than they might have expected for some of its US investments, thanks to the efforts of American banker John Stewart Kennedy). It had kept going by a mixture of fraudulent balance sheets and secret purchases of the bank's own stock to keep up the share price.
Unlike modern businesses, the City of Glasgow Bank was not a limited company - in other words, the liability of its shareholders was not limited to a certain amount by law. Consequently, the 1,600 or so shareholders were liable for an unlimited amount, so when the Bank's debts had to be repaid every shareholder had to pay their full share. Almost all of them went bankrupt, with unhappy effects on Glasgow's economy. In January 1879, the bank's directors were all convicted of fraud and sentenced to imprisonment.
As a result of the collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank, changes were made to the banking system. Independent auditing became a requirement, while limited liability was introduced - effectively shifting the risk from the shareholders to the depositors. However, more fundamental lessons seem not to have been learned yet.
Wednesday, 1 October 2008
Hestercombe House Gardens
In the early twentieth century, Hestercombe had three superb gardens: an eighteenth-century landscape garden, creating an idealised natural landscape with waterfall, lake and architectural 'seats' (pretty shelters to sit in); a Victorian shrubbery and terrace; and most famously, an Arts and Crafts formal garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens. While Hestercombe House has survived the last century pretty much intact, the gardens were not so fortunate. During the war, army barracks were built on the land, while the Crown Estate felled a number of trees in the 1960s. The number of gardeners had declined to two.
Happily, the gardens are now restored. The work was begun by Somerset County Council, who in 1973 undertook the initial restoration of the formal gardens. Their endeavours were hugely assisted by the discovery of the original planting designs in a potting shed drawer; there were also photographs of the garden from Country Life. The eighteenth-century landscape gardens, designed and laid out by Copplestone Warre Bampfylde in the 1750s, had to wait until the 1990s; their restoration has been directed by Philip White. He noticed the remnants of the garden - a disused waterfall and the remains of buildings - in the early 1990s, and remortgaged his house to fund the initial work in 1997. (Further funding would later come from the National Lottery.) There were no detailed plans available this time, but Copplestone Warre Bampfylde was a gifted amateur artist who had painted the garden he created. Just over ten years later, the garden has regained its glory and is a magical place to stroll or sit and enjoy the views.
The Hestercombe Gardens Trust now manages the site, with Philip White as its Chief Executive, and has yet another project planned: the restoration of the eighteenth-century water mill.
Related post: Hestercombe House