Monday 28 February 2011

Petitioning for work

In the nineteenth century, a job application could be a very public process - and as one John Sandom of Union Street, Deptford found out, it could hinge on more than qualifications alone. When William Parrell, Vestry Clerk of St Nicholas, died in 1810, a new clerk had to be appointed. Sandom wanted the job, but he faced a strong rival.

First, Mr H Karmock had worked for the late clerk, which must have made him something of an inside candidate. Second, Karmock had made it known that if he got the job, he would financially 'alleviate the sorrows of the family of Mr Parrell'. This offer seems to have had quite an effect, because Sandom responded with not one but two printed circulars. The first was rather grudging in tone:
if you should consider that Claim as entitled to your Support, (being made in favour of Persons who never were Parishioners of St. Nicholas, in Opposition to mine who am a Parishioner, and whose family has paid Rates and Taxes in your Parish for upwards of Sixty Years, and contributed to the Support of that very Place I now solicit,) that I will allow Mrs. Parrell to receive such Portion of the Emoluments of that Office, as the Parishioners in Vestry shall think fit, and I will perform its Duties with the strictest Attention.
Summarised, his offer seems to be 'if you must support these non-residents, then fine, I'll give them whatever you think I should - just give me the job!' However, that clearly wasn't enough to reassure the friends of Mrs Parrell because a week later, he circulated another letter:
As many of the Inhabitants of this Parish have been induced to promise their Votes (purely with the idea of serving the Widow and Family of your late deceased Vestry Clerk,) to the Gentlemen who so very humanely solicited on her Behalf, I again beg Leave to call your Attention to that Subject and request it may not be understood that by the Appeal I have made to you, I wish to oppose the Proposition of supporting Mrs. PARRELL and her Family: ... I made the Offer of allowing Mrs. Parrell to receive such Portion of the Emoluments of that Office, as the Parishioners in Vestry should think fit, (which I again repeat) ...
Unfortunately, even the second letter was not enough to win the job for Sandom. A year later, he was complaining that an annual election had been promised but there was now an attempt to rescind that order. It seems that at the meeting to elect the new vestry clerk, Karmock's supporters had suggested he be appointed for one year. A new election in 1811 would have given Sandom a second chance, but dark dealings were afoot:
it is plain this Order was only proposed to deceive you, with the idea of another election on next Easter Tuesday, that the proposer might the more easily bring in the present Vestry Clerk to the Situation; and having accomplished that, they now wish to establish him, and deprive others of the opportunity of becoming candidates, by deceitfully withdrawing it at this period.
Sadly for Sandom, his appeal seems to have failed. The next notice in the series is for an election following the death of Karmock in 1816. Six years after his original attempt, Sandom was undaunted and circulated yet another letter seeking support. There are no further documents to say whether he succeeded; after reading his rather whiny appeals, I'm not sure whether I want him to or not!

Who was Sandom? He appears in the London Gazette in 1813 as a solicitor in Union Street. However, his legal business was perhaps little more successful than his would-be parish career: by 1842 he was again in the London Gazette, having moved to Southwark two years earlier and gone out of business. This notice was of his impending bankruptcy.

Sunday 27 February 2011

From the archives: bara brith

It's almost St David's Day, so what better time to take another look at one of my favourite Welsh specialities?

One of Wales's most famous specialities is bara brith, or 'speckled bread'. The speckles are dried fruit; the bread is a sweet tea bread. It supposedly originated when dried fruit was mixed into the last of the bread dough for a treat.
There are endless variations on the recipe, with each region having its own. One major difference is the use of either yeast (mainly in the north) or baking powder (in the south). Some versions call for mixed dried fruit, others sultanas, and the spices also vary. My family's recipe contains no butter and has the fruit soaking overnight in black tea, but others disagree. There's even controversy on how to eat it: although tradition apparently dictates otherwise, many people enjoy it spread with butter.

The teabread has a South American connection too. Welsh immigrants to Argentina brought the recipe with them, and it is still made there today although it has gained a Spanish name, torta negra.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Random statue 11: James Walker

This bust stands alongside Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, and it could hardly be more appropriately placed. Although James Walker was born in Falkirk in 1781 and studied in Glasgow, his working life as a civil engineer was spent in London's docklands. Initially employed by his uncle who constructed the East India and West India docks, Walker was engineer of the Surrey Commercial Docks from 1810 until his death in 1862. (He also worked on a number of projects including canals, the old Vauxhall Bridge and, as chief engineer of Trinity House, lighthouses.)

While some of the docks have been drained dry and filled, Greenland Dock is among the survivors. Originally Howland Great Wet Dock, used primarily for refitting ships, its role evolved in the eighteenth century. The increasing number of Greenland whalers using the dock brought it a new name and a new landscape: blubber boiling houses were built alongside to convert whale fat into a desirable oil.

There was further change in the nineteenth century, as Surrey Commercial Docks became the centre of Britain's wood imports. Like its neighbours, the Greenland Dock received cargoes of softwood (deal) from the Baltic; the buildings surrounding it were now - surely more fragrant - deal warehouses. This was the period when Walker was the docks' engineer, rebuilding Greenland Dock and the lock at its entrance in 1851-2, but he probably wouldn't recognise it today. It underwent a major expansion project after his death, extending to double its previous length and depth at the turn of the century so that it could take large cargo ships and ocean liners. Today the dock is used for leisure purposes, although reminders of its past are scattered around. Among these is our bust, mounted on a post a little back from the water's edge.

Click here for all the 'random statue' posts.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Magic mushroom

There are mushrooms scattered around the East End - but they're absolutely not edible! Artist Christiaan Nagel has made the brightly-coloured fungi from polyurethane. Although there are a number scattered around, the Brick Lane example is the one that makes me smile: with that texture and colour, it seems to be made of Wotsits.

Tuesday 22 February 2011


If this isn't your first visit, you've probably noticed that I've redesigned the blog colour scheme. As usual when I do this, I'm not sure how much I like the result, so your feedback is very welcome!

Guaranteed Quality

This uncovered shopfront on Greenwich High Road feels not so much historic as slightly nostalgic. Not for Player's No 6 themselves (I've never smoked them) but for the days when such advertising was the norm for newsagents' facades. It disappeared from view in the 1990s, but examples obviously still hide behind shiny plastic signage.

Monday 21 February 2011

London Peculiar

My family often complain that my Christmas and birthday lists are 'just books'. As if there were anything wrong with that! All the same, it will be easy to diversify thanks to London Peculiar. This online shop has an intriguing selection of unusual objects with London connections.

The Metropolitan Police whistle should appeal to anyone with an interest in crime history, and there's enough London underground and bus memorabilia to please any transport geek. There are maps, restaurant ashtrays, gin bottles, and much more. My first thought was, 'how could anyone bear not to keep these?' The answer is on the website, though: a 'Museum' of items that won't be parted with!

Images from London Peculiar.

Sunday 20 February 2011

From the archives: Grand Pier, Weston-Super-Mare

Weston-Super-Mare's Grand Pier has now reopened. Here, I looked back at the old pavilion and forward to the rebuilding then still underway.

Last year, the Grand Pier in Weston-Super-Mare suffered a fire which destroyed its pavilion. Worse damage was prevented by employee Robert Tinker who went into the burning building to remove gas cannisters. The shops at the land end and the walkway reopened within days, and it was announced that the pavilion would be rebuilt. A new design has been chosen, and it is hoped that the Pier will fully reopen in 2010.

These photographs show the old pavilion. In fact, this was itself a replacement for an earlier building of 1904 which had been destroyed by fire in 1930. A landing stage added to the end of the peir in 1906, intended for boats from Cardiff arriving at low tide, had been little used and was removed after ten years.

The original building's theatre was replaced by a funfair in the second pavilion. It remained as such, with the addition of an amusement arcade, until the fire of 2008. The proposed replacement pavilion will feature rides, an amusement arcade, tearooms and an observation tower.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Deptford Community Forum

Thanks to Transpontine for information on the Deptford Community Forum AGM. It will be held on Tuesday 22 February, 6 for 6.30pm, at the Laban Centre. With various new developments in the area, and the betting shop invasion, there should be plenty to discuss. Cheese and wine are promised!

Friday 18 February 2011

Ghost paint

My love of ghost signs has me scanning any brick wall for traces of paint. Often there are fascinating or beautiful traces which are well worth a photograph, even though they don't fit the 'ghost sign' definition.*

Now those strays have a home on flickr, where l'habitant has established a group for them. It's lovely to browse through - and a new excuse to take even more photographs!

* The ghost signs website defines these as 'remains of advertising that was once painted by hand onto the brickwork of buildings.'

Image: Deal Yard, Bridgwater, Somerset

Thursday 17 February 2011

A Souvenir of London (4)

It's been a little while since we looked at Souvenir of London, an album of Edwardian photographs (click for pictures one, two and three). Let's hurry along to Piccadilly Circus, apparently as much a tourist essential then as now.

The theme of the day seems to have been drinks: Bovril, Schweppes' Proset, and on the bus in the foreground, Dewar's Whisky. Invented in Germany in 1903, Proset was a clear, sparkling drink made from oranges, lemons, raspberries, strawberries and pineapples - but no alcohol, which meant it appealed to temperance campaigners. In 1909 it apparently sold for just two shillings per dozen bottles.

Giant adverts, lots of buses, Piccadilly Circus has hardly changed a bit...

Wednesday 16 February 2011

London street photography

The Museum of London's exhibition of Street Photography begins on Friday, but if you can't wait or can't get there, the BBC has an online slideshow.

One of the photographers featured is Peter Marshall, whose blog Re:PHOTO is fascinating not only for the photographs and events it includes but also for the discussion of how those images were taken. Even better for London history lovers, though, are his websites Buildings of London and especially London's Industrial Heritage. The latter site has photographs of areas including Deptford from 1973-1982; if that sounds rather close to the present then do take a look and get a sense of just how much the city has changed.

Practical information:
London Street Photography Exhibition at the Museum of London until 4 September.
Admission free.

Monday 14 February 2011

Thai sweetness

Here's something sweet (in every sense): Thai fruit carvings and sugar sculptures. They were one of the highlights of the Destinations travel show last weekend.

Sunday 13 February 2011

From the archives: Shippams of Chichester

This post features one of my very favourite clocks. I also really enjoyed the comments, especially those from members of the Shippams family.

Shippams are famous for their jars of paste, and most of us have probably tasted it in a sandwich at some time. However, only those who paid attention to the label will be aware that the firm was founded in Chicheser in the eighteenth century.

The Shippams were prominent grocers and later butchers in the town. In 1892, they expanded by building a factory behind the butcher's shop to manufacture canned goods and potted meats.

The famous metal-lidded glass jar was launched in 1905. Now sterilised, the products had the long shelf life which remains central to their appeal. A later innovation was television advertising: they were among the first companies to use this new medium, in 1955 (see their 1955 'guide to opera' advert here).

Today, Shippams are no longer a family firm and their Chichester factory moved out of the town centre in 2002, but they still have a visible presence within the city walls. This clock in East Street features a fine wishbone; a 1954 company film declared that 'a feature of the factory which always appeals to visitors is the great pile of wishbones. There must be a quarter of a million of them, and twelve hundred new bones come in every day, so anyone who calls can take away a good luck token.'

Friday 11 February 2011

Ghost signs (52): Salvation Army

I've posted a lot of ghost signs this week, but I'm going to end with one more. which I spotted today. This advertisement is for the Salvation Army Hostel for Working Men. Its bottom section is trickier to decipher, but seems to say 'cheap bed and board'.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Deptford betting

London has long been fond of a gamble: in the eighteenth century, fortunes were lost in its gaming clubs while lotteries funded all sorts of state enterprises. Some of the more bizarre bets even made it into the newspapers; this one, from 1761, involved a walk to Deptford.
Last Saturday four Welsh women walked from the foot of Westminster Bridge to the Boot and Crown over Deptford Bridge, and back again, in an hour and three quarters, for a wager of 20l. They were allowed two hours and a half. The wager was between a gardener and a farmer; the gardener laying they performed it.
However, there's nothing amusing about the current invasion of betting shops on Deptford High Street. Betfred is planning to open yet another; Sue at Crosswhatfields has been covering the process in detail. Her latest post has good and bad news.

It also answers the question of why bookmakers want to open so many shops in so small an area. Forget each-way bets on the 3.30 at Epsom: a huge proportion of profits now come from controversial Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, sophisticated slot machines which allow players to gamble on games such as roulette and simulated races. Since only four terminals are allowed in a shop, having multiple shops in an area is surprisingly profitable - as poorer areas like Deptford are discovering to their cost.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Ghost signs (51): underground, overground...

Or rather, by bus to Wimbledon - and not a womble to be seen! However, I did spot three ghost signs on the Broadway so I'm not really complaining. First was a rather high sign - so high, in fact, that it's difficult to decipher or photograph. Somebody's boots are being advertised, but I wasn't able to work out whose.

Almost next door was a more visible, but also more faded, shopfront. The only clear words are 'furnishers', on sixty-something Broadway, whose products could be bought on hire purchase 'from 2/- weekly'. However, Lucy of Ghost Signs from Bygone Times has done some detective work and discovered that the building was home to the National Furnishing Company, 'complete house furnishers' from the late nineteenth century until 1902, when the building became a dairy and the facade was painted over.

Last, and best, was this sign for the Trueform Boot Co. (Footwear must have been a big seller in Wimbledon past.) Ladies, gents and children were all catered for - and for some time, as this sign has been repainted at least once. The red lettering of the first sign is still faintly visible.

Monday 7 February 2011

Ghost signs (50): Windover Pianos

The British Piano Manufacturing Company made instruments under the Windover brand name. Established in 1877 in Kentish Town, the BPMC manufactured good-quality pianos in London and Manchester.

If you wanted one, it wasn't a cheap item - but a walk down Wandsworth High Street offered a solution. This sign advertised 'Windover Pianos - gramophones records music - strings and small goods - cash or easy terms'. The latter phrase, of course, meant that you could buy your piano on credit.

Sunday 6 February 2011

From the archives: New Cross Road ghost signs

These ghost signs are still real favourites, because they are the local ones I pass all the time. Since writing the original post, I've learned that Redfern's made rubber heels. They have another sign not too far away, on Stanstead Road (left) - thank you to Sam Roberts for pointing me to the Ghost Signs Archive photo from 2002, when it was briefly uncovered.

Here are a few ghost signs which I see regularly, because they're alongside the New Cross Road. The first one is practically opposite my street, and is a nice example of an advertisment for Bryant and May matches. It gives a strong 'Buy British' message: these are 'British matches for British homes'. The order at the bottom to 'save the panels' presumably suggests some kind of promotional gift scheme.

The second sign also refers to matches - Criterion, this time (see a clearer example on the Ghost Signs blog). The text and an image of the matchbox survive in a greyish colour, the bottom layer of a palimpsest. Overlaid are advertisments for 'Redfern's' (I've no idea what the product was) and for Nestle Milk, 'richest in cream'.

Clutten, Swan & Co, Artistic Ticket Writers have painted their publicity over one for sanitary engineers. Palimpsests generally show where a wall was rented for a fixed period, after which a new 'tenant's' advertisement would appear. However, given the trade of the newer advertisers, it's fun to imagine that they were maybe carrying out a 'repossession' for non-payment!

Friday 4 February 2011

Short, sad story

One sentence in a newspaper, dated 10 May 1764, tells a sad tale with several victims.
Ambrose Old, who, a few days ago, was taken up and committed to the Round-house at Deptford, for forging several sailors wills, took a dose of poison while he continued in the cage there, and died within a few hours after.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Saint Suliac

Yesterday, I mentioned that Saint Suliac is officially one of France's prettiest villages - then immediately detoured to some soggy (if intriguing) Viking remains! By way of compensation, here today are some images of the village itself.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Viking village

A climb up Mont Garrot above Saint Suliac, officially one of France's most beautiful villages, offers lovely views of the Rance estuary. I was peering through the trees for one particular feature, though: the remains of a Viking camp.

The Vikings settled at this point in the first half of the tenth century because it gave them control of the river. Up to eighteen longboats could be moored at the fortified encampment. After about fifty years, though, the Vikings left Brittany and moved to Normandy - just over a century later, their Norman descendants would be invading England.

The camp's stone foundations are now visible at low tide. They aren't pristine: in the nineteenth century, damage was done by a local man who wanted to turn the site into an oyster park. (Its history wasn't understood at the time.) However, they are pretty extraordinary: another remarkable survival on the Breton coast.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Eastover changeover

A small stretch of shopping street in Bridgwater, Somerset has undergone drastic changes in recent years. This postcard shows it in the Edwardian period.

Today, there are few common features. Yet in 1950s photographs, the buildings had hardly changed -most drastically, Bouchier's furniture store had become a cinema. The building in the foreground to the right was still the Devonshire Arms, the New Inn was still on the left-hand side. One constant is the view of buildings across the town bridge - although the right-hand one has gained and lost a point to its gable over the years!