Sunday 30 September 2012

Bison to Bedlam is back!

This exhibition of Crossrail archaeology first appeared for just a few days in July. I visited and loved it so I'm delighted that it's back. The objects on display range from 55-million-year-old amber to twentieth-century railway crockery.

This time, the exhibition is running for most of October. It's accompanied by a programme of seminars on Wednesday evenings. More details are here

You may want to look out for these objects, and don't miss the history of Crosse & Blackwell

Practical information: the exhibition runs from 2 to 27 October 2012. 
Opening hours: 11am-7pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and 10am-5pm on Saturdays.
Venue: Crossrail Visitor Information Centre, 16-18 St Giles High Street, WC2H 8LN (behind Centrepoint).
Admission free.

Further listening: Londonist Out Loud offered an audio 'view' of the exhibition. 

Friday 28 September 2012

Held to account

St Botolph Aldgate has a very fine memorial for Robert Dow, who died aged 90 in 1612. He was a member of one of the London livery companies, the Merchant Tailors; the inscription also records his charitable giving, penny by penny. The careful accounting shows that he gave £2,958, 10 shillings and 8 pence to the Merchant Tailors for their poor members; £320 to Christ Hospital; £50 to St Sepulchre's parish, £100 to St John's College, Oxford, and £100 to Queen Elizabeth's Hospital in Bristol - a total of £3,528, 10 shillings and 8 pence. Other charitable gifts are not enumerated but included donations to prisons and pensions to parishioners. 

Dow's charity came with conditions. For example, sixty poor people in Aldgate received three shillings and fourpence each, handed out annually. On the death of a recipient, the replacement was chosen with the aid of four 'ancient and discreet' neighbours. This procedure was apparently necessary to avoid the wardens being overwhelmed by petitioners since 'the Poor in these Days are given unto too much Idleness and little Labour to get, and much seeking after Alms, how little soever it be'.

The recipients went through a procedure described in John Strype's Survey of London. They had to be at the church before 9am on the appointed day (although if they were too ill to attend, they could send a neighbour to collect the money for them). They answered to their names and were then shut in the north or south aisles; the church was emptied of other people and locked. The pensioners received the money in turn, their name was crossed off the list, and they went into the body of the church. 

Before they could leave, they were exhorted by the minister using words Dow had written:
GOOD PEOPLE, mark what I say to you, the Giver of this Charity, with the Advice of the Church Wardens, and other good Men of the Parish, have thought you most worthy of the same, where a great many other have need of it. You are, therefore, to give God Thanks, and to behave your selves in this manner, that is to say, you shall upon the Sundays come to Church to Morning and Evening Prayer, without you have great Let, and upon other Holidays appointed for Prayer; and there you shall, with all Reverence and Devotion, give your selves to hear the holy Prayers and Commandments of God, with other the divine Scriptures read unto you; and likewise to the holy Word of God, when it is preached there. You shall live in all charitable and christian sort with your Neighbours, and be Peace and Love-makers to your power. Considering with your selves that you be aged, and therefore most meet for you to give good Example, and be ready prepared to go hence when God shall call you. If you observe and follow this good Counsel, you shall all have this Pension so long as you live, and have need of it. But if you be found in any Default, this Charity, and any other Charity given you in this Parish, shall be taken from you for ever, and shall be bestowed upon more worthy Persons.
Next, they had 'humbly' to kneel and join in the Lord's Prayer before saying 'God reward all good Benefactors, and bless the worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors'. The church doors were then finally opened and they could leave in threes, clutching their charity money. The minister and churchwardens were paid eight pence each for their part in the proceedings.

The parish of St Botolph's had a significant population of poor people in the seventeenth century, making Dow's charity all the more important - and he gave the equivalent of millions of pounds today. At the same time, the conditions attached to it not only limited the pool of potential 'deserving' recipients but also seem designed to reinforce a social structure which required the lower classes to be humble and grateful when they received support necessary for their survival.

Thursday 27 September 2012

St Katharine Cree

The City of London is well-supplied with churches, but St Katharine Cree is the only Jacobean survivor. It was built in 1630, although the tower is over a century older and survives from the previous building. The unusual 'Cree' in its name is a corruption of 'Christ Church'.

William Laud, Bishop of London, consecrated the church. In 1633 he became Archbishop of Canterbury - and in 1645 he was executed for treason. His attempts to enforce religious uniformity throughout England had helped to precipitate the English Civil War, as he persecuted Puritans for failing to conform. The service he gave and vestments he wore to consecrate St Katharine Cree became evidence of Catholic sympathies in the case against him.

The church has had a happier history. It survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz. Today, it is Ward Church for Aldgate and a Guild Church of the City of London. 

The interior is an unusual mix of classical and gothic elements, reflecting changes in architectural styles at this period. Ceiling bosses showing the arms of livery companies were added during a restoration in 1962. Among the memorials is the monument to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, Elizabethan diplomat, which survived from the earlier building.  Its inscription is a reminder that spelling had not been standardised in 1570, as it concludes 'HE DIED THE XII DAYE OF FEBRUARY IN TEH YEARE OF OUER LORDE GOD A THOWSANDE FYVE HONDRED THREESCORE AND TENNE BEING OF THAGE OF FYFTIE AND SEAVEN YEARE.'

Another intriguing memorial commemorates Samuel Marshall, church organist, who died in 1714 and was buried under the organ, facing the centre aisle. I haven't been able to find out any more about him yet, which is a pity as the inscription hints at a larger story. First, it praises his career as 'a Bright Scholar ... Ornament to ye Choir of St Pauls ... Exquisite Organist of THIS Church, & Master to Other good Organists. His very Artful, Solemn, & Moveing Compositions and Performances ... Great Name and Esteem'. However, it goes on to say he 'Suffer'd much by Over Credulity, Excess of Modesty, & Good Nature & By false Reports'. A loss of faith is even hinted at, until in his 'last Languishing Illness', he 'regain'd that Spirity of piety, for which HE had Been EARLY distinguish'd' so that his last word was a fitting 'Amen'. 

Monday 24 September 2012

Deptford view

While the view of the Seager Distiller Tower in Deptford is not my cup of tea, the view from it is another matter. Its top floor, 27 storeys up, is a viewing gallery from which much of the city can be seen. 

It was particularly interesting to see Deptford itself from this angle. The double curve of the Olympia Warehouse and the spire of St Paul's were easy to spot.

The High Street cuts a diagonal line, with the pink mural and station bridge standing out. A close look shows the Saturday market in full swing. 

Deptford Dame also visited.

Sunday 23 September 2012

Flowers and fireplaces

Osborne House in Devonshire Square, Spitalfields is somewhat older than its Isle of Wight namesake. A house was first built here in the late seventeenth century by Dr Nicholas Barbon. Best known as a pioneer of insurance, he was also a speculator whose houses were often of notoriously poor quality. (He did, however, have a splendid middle name: If-Jesus-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned.) Perhaps because of that poor quality, Osborne House was either rebuilt or refronted in about 1740.

Originally a residential property, the house is now headquarters of the National Association of Flower Arranging Societies (NAFAS). They have retained its original features, including a very unusual fireplace. When the house was restored in 1886, it was described thus:
there is a curious revolving grate on the first floor, having an oval firebox divided by an iron plate into two halves, one half more decorated than the other. The firebox turns on a pivot and either half can be used in the fireplace as desired.

The purpose of the rotating grate is not entirely clear, but it seems that the plainer, smaller side may have been for everyday use, with the more ornate half spun into service on special occasions. 

Other features include this strongroom - the door is made of steel, not wood - and of course, some lovely flower arrangements. 

Saturday 22 September 2012

Below Moorgate

A new development is being built at 8-10 Moorgate in the City of London and, like most such major projects, involves an archaeology dig. Yesterday and this morning, Museum of London Archaeology invited the public to have a look at the site and some of the finds.

We know, but tend to forget, that the city is largely built upon bits of earlier city. Not only is there material evidence of this here, with traces of Roman and mediaeval occupation, but the difference in street level reinforces the point. The archaeologists are working at what would have been floor level to the Romans, but is well below the road today.

The Walbrook, one of London's 'lost rivers', ran through this site. Darker soil indicates areas of river or marsh, with lines of wooden posts marking revetments to hold the water in check; evidence of buildings has been found on the lighter dry land - not only wooden pilings but also a piece of stone wall were visible this weekend. 

The Walbrook was important to the Romans. Londinium grew up either side of it, with the Temple of Mithras on its banks, and its waters possibly served as both drinking supply and sewer. The less-salubrious contents would have included industrial waste: the upper section of the Walbrook, marshy and liable to flood, was not good to live beside but did offer a suitable water supply for manufacturing, so the Romans set up glass, pottery and leatherworking businesses on its banks. 

Particularly exciting to see was a well-preserved, square wooden Roman well. The waterlogging of the area may have made life a little more difficult for the builders and occupiers of the past, but it also preserved the organic traces they left behind: not only wood but also leather, for example. However, what makes the survival of this wood in good condition particularly significant is that dendrochronology may allow us to discover exactly when the well was built. 

Used as a rubbish dump, built over, culverted by Bazalgette, and renamed the London Bridge Sewer, the Walbrook is now hidden from view. These remains of life along its banks will soon disappear too, as the site becomes home to yet another layer of building, but the public opening allowed Londoners a brief, tantalising glimpse into its past.  

IanVisits was also there. 

Friday 21 September 2012

Ironmongers' Hall

Best-known for its brutalist concrete bulk, the Barbican has also absorbed some historical treasures. (Whether they have been engulfed or integrated probably depends upon your view of the main structures.)

Among these survivors is Ironmongers' Hall, home of one of the City of London's livery companies. Although the Ironmongers have been around since the fourteenth century, their hall has been replaced several times over the centuries. Indeed, their premises' history is perhaps one of surviving against the odds only to face unexpected threats! 

From 1457, their premises were on Fenchurch Street. They survived the Great Fire of London with nothing more than scorching. However, the next hall there, built in 1745, was damaged by a First World War bombing raid in 1917. The Company moved to Aldersgate Street, building new Tudor-style premises designed by architect Sydney Tatchell.

The current hall was built in the 1920s, as evidenced by a rather fine drainpipe dated 1924 (the building actually opened in 1925). Above the door is the company crest. It includes two lizard/salamander supporters; according to Walter Thornbury, writing in 1878, 'The lizards should properly be salamanders, but the Ironmongers insist on the lizards'. The significance of salamanders is that they were believed in the middle ages to be able to survive fire.

Amazingly, the ironmongers had better luck in the Second World War than the First: although the surrounding buildings were destroyed in an air raid in 1940, Ironmongers' Hall survived. A final threat would come in the 1960s, when compulsory purchase was suggested to make way for the Museum of London. Happily, the museum was built without harming the Hall, and both now coexist within the Barbican complex. 

Wednesday 19 September 2012

London List 2011

English Heritage have published a lovely booklet detailing the buildings they listed in 2011. It's available as a PDF download here; London news website Snipe have helpfully put it online here

Among the buildings to gain listing protection last year were some I've featured on this blog, including:
There are lots more in the booklet, including some I'll definitely be seeking out. Do have a look and see if any of your own favourites are there!

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Monday 17 September 2012

Illumina at Hestercombe

For the last two weekends, the gardens at Hestercombe in Somerset have been lit each evening by local artist Ulf Pedersen. With torches and camera flashes strictly forbidden, and just enough light for visitors to find their way by, the whole of the gardens were available as a canvas. 


Thursday 13 September 2012

Lost window

It's famous as the place our umbrellas end up - not to mention dentures, pushchairs and parcels - so no wonder TfL's Lost Property Office on Baker Street has an unusually interesting window display. 

The capsule history of telephones is particularly appealing. It takes us from a rather robust set lost in 1936, through the brick-sized cellphones of the 1980s, to the much smaller portables many of us misplace today.

To the younger viewer, this phone may seem to be missing a keypad, but for those of us who remember real telephones it's the dial which is conspicuous by its absence. My first thought was of the era when calling somebody involved picking up the handset and asking an operator to connect the call. However, dial telephones were already becoming the norm by the 1930s: with its metal base and magneto handle, this is more likely to be some kind of field telephone. Turning the magneto would send a ringing signal to the other telephone or to an operator.

Half a century later, someone lost another kind of portable telephone - this time with no wires. The network was analogue, and the handset was anything but pocket-sized. There was a reason these were nicknamed 'bricks'! 

Motorola had released their first phone, the 8000X, in Britain in 1985; this model, the 8000S, appeared a year later. Cheaper than the original, it still cost around £1,000 and weighed nearly a kilogram. Nonetheless, there were over 50,000 mobile phone users in Britain by 1986. See the Motorola in action in this wonderful promotional video:

Tuesday 11 September 2012

The Case of the Larcenous Lodger

Having lodgers was common in previous centuries, and having lodgers steal from their landlords was by no means rare. Here's a case from Deptford, heard at the Old Bailey in February 1819:
JOSEPH KNOTT was indicted for stealing, on the 16th of February, one flute, value 18 pence; one pair of shoes, value 1 shilling; one looking-glass, value 1 shilling; one pair of trowsers, value 4 shillings, and one hat, value 4 shillings, the property of William Hockerday . 
WILLIAM HOCKERDAY . I live at Deptford; the prisoner lodged there. On the 16th of February he left the house, and never returned. I missed my property at the same time. He had given notice that he was going.
JAMES CAMPER . I am a pawnbroker. On the 16th of February the prisoner pledged a flute with me - I live at Ratcliff.
JOHN LINES . I am beadle of Limehouse. I apprehended the prisoner at Limehouse. He said he took the things to a house in Limehouse. I went and found them there.
(Property produced and sworn to.)
GUILTY . Aged 45.
Fined One Shilling, and Discharged.
This was hardly the crime of the century, and identifying the culprit probably didn't take a lot of thought. One of the most interesting features of the case is the sentence. A shilling was less than a tenth of the value of the stolen goods, and equivalent to less than £100 today. Nothing in the record suggests that the prisoner offered either a good account of events or character witnesses. He was in court the day after the crime, so there was no issue of time served on remand. Perhaps he looked particularly contrite, pathetic or appealing in the dock. 

Sunday 9 September 2012

Somerset Stik

The work of street artist Stik can mostly be seen around London - especially in Hackney and Shoreditch, although the picture below is at the Phoenix Garden, St Giles. He also has work in Bristol, but it was a surprise to come across this image in Glastonbury. Stik has explained in an interview, 'I love the buzz of painting in a small town where word spreads fast.

In fact, the picture has been painted here twice - the first time, graffiti was added and the council painted over it. Let's hope that it gets to stay this time!

Thursday 6 September 2012


If you walk through the Aldgate underpass, you'll see an informative, if stained, sign. However, the information may not be of much value unless your last visit was over 15 years ago...

So, which is more shocking - that it hasn't been taken down yet, or that it has survived legible and intact for so long?

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Ghost signs (78): Merchants established

On Chalk Farm Road, overlooking the Regent's Canal, is a ghost sign overpainted in rather patriotic colours. The message is pure business, at least as far as it can be deciphered. The words 'merchant' and 'established' are clear; there are traces of another sign written underneath; the rest of the message is now obscure. The year the business was established does seem to begin with (of course) a 1, and to include a 4.