Tuesday 31 December 2013

More reviews of 2013

Having shared my own look back at 2013, here are similar reviews from some favourite blogs. What better way to gently see in 2014 than by looking back on some of the most interesting articles of last year?

As a regular visitor to France, I really enjoy two (English-language) 'invisible city' blogs. Both, Invisible Paris and Invisible Bordeaux, have looked back on their favourite posts of the year, as well as their most popular (Paris, Bordeaux).

Back in London, IanVisits shares his top ten posts of the year. Londonist lists the best London books, top London art exhibitions, and biggest stories of 2013. It also has a charming review of the year in sketches by Lis Watkins.

If you'd rather listen than read, then excellent weekly podcast Londonist Out Loud has a compilation of 2013's best bits

London Historians looks back not at features but at some of its excellent events - so many that they're divided into parts one, two, three and four.

Finally, time to look forward with Londonist's - entirely plausible - predictions for 2014!

Sunday 29 December 2013

Review of 2013

As the new year approaches, it's time to look at what has happened here in the last year. First, this year's top five most-read posts:

  1. Walking Rotherhithe Tunnel (unofficial subtitle: I did it so you don't have to). Since thinking of the experience still makes my lungs smart, it's good that I've been able to share it painlessly with so many people!
  2. Much more pleasant was my visit to the London Sewing Machine Museum. Highly specialist, yet absolutely fascinating, this museum highlights not only mechanical but also social history: a real hidden gem. 
  3. Fabulous ceramics make Lloyd's Bank on Strand the finest cashpoint in London. Discover its story in Tea, Fish and Finance.
  4. It's a film star, an engineering marvel, and a thing of beauty, so St Paul's Cathedral Geometric Staircase deserves its place on this list. I saw it on a triforium tour of the Cathedral which also took in the library and Great Model.
  5. No London-y list would be complete without the Underground, especially in its 150th birthday year. It's represented here by the Edwardian beauty and missing apostrophe of Barons Court underground station.

It's always nice to see older posts still being read, and here are the five most-read this year:
  1.  Perhaps Downton Abbey accounts for the rising popularity of a post on servants' bells, inspired by a visit to the wonderful Tyntesfield.
  2. One of my favourite London transport stories, Drama on Tower Bridge combines my favourite bridge and a heroic double-decker bus driver.
  3. Shippams of Chichester features the finest clock-with-wishbone-ornament you'll ever see!
  4. An Edwardian souvenir of the Tower of London made for a fascinating photograph - its row of hansom cabs particularly caught my eye.
  5. Perenially (un)popular is what may be London's ugliest example of facadism - although it has strong competition from this year's winner of the Carbuncle Cup!

My pages on ghost signs and Postman's Park were joined by a new page, unusual London places to visit

Outside these pages, I share more information on similar topics on Twitter and the Caroline's Miscellany facebook page. A more unusual offshoot is a serial novel inspired by a post title, Victoriana and the Telectroscope. Created and co-ordinated by Ralph Hancock, it's now up to chapter 9! I contributed chapter three; why not add a chapter yourself?

Finally, and most importantly, huge thanks to everyone who has read and commented throughout 2013. My very best wishes for 2014!

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Time and Talents, Bermondsey

The Time and Talents association has rather special premises in a former Rotherhithe mortuary - but used to occupy an equally interesting building in nearby Bermondsey. Today, it is a charity providing community services for young and elderly people; when it was founded in 1887, it focused on encouraging privileged young women from the West End to help others, especially factory girls. 

It was part of a wider settlement movement which created such London institutions as Toynbee Hall, all aimed at getting middle-class people to live and work among the poor they were trying to help, forming connections with them and sharing knowledge. Many settlements had religious connections too, and Time and Talents was an Anglican organisation founded by Minna Gollock, who was active in missionary work and sought to promote women's status and involvement in the missionary movement.

By 1899, Time and Talents had found permanent premises in Bermondsey Street which it would occupy for over sixty years. The building now on the site was completed in 1908 in Arts and Craft style, and included a hostel for young women as well as space for 'healthy recreation'. Its name is proudly emblazoned across the facade in rather wonderful lettering. 

Cross of Sacrifice, Tyne Cot
The architect was Sir Reginald Blomfield. His varied practice included country houses such as Chequers; school and university buildings; The Quadrant, Regent Street; and the Menin Gate memorial in Ypres. Many of the Crosses of Sacrifice in First World War cemeteries were designed by him, including the one at Tyne Cot Cemetery, Flanders, which incorporates a German blockhouse in its base. Blomfield was also a friend of leading members of the Arts and Crafts movement including Edwin Lutyens and William Morris - although when he built Time and Talents, he was already moving away from that style towards Classicism.

Today, the Bermondsey Street building houses studios and flats. The work of Time and Talents continues in Rotherhithe, but its former home in Bermondsey remains a tangible - and eye-catching - part of the streetscape.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Seasonal gift ideas

If you're looking for the perfect gift for a London history enthusiast, then here are just a few ideas.

The first is actually international in scope: the Ghost Signs calendar has contributions from several continents as well as some London favourites. It costs £19.99 and can be ordered online.

I've mentioned Amelia Parker jewellery in previous years - not only does it look lovely, but it's made from centuries-old clay pipes found on the Thames foreshore. Her range has now expanded to include wallets, phone and spectacles cases, and light pulls.

After visiting the amazing Crystal Palace Subway this year, I'm particularly appreciative of Matt Bannister's artworks, which feature not only the subway but also the park's famous dinosaurs and sphinxes. They are available as prints and cards - and for those who prefer something less South-East London-y, there are designs featuring Boudicca's statue in Westminster, the City dragons, and even Victoria and Albert.

Designers London Kills Me have a wide range of products, among which are cushions, slate placemats, prints and more with London designs. 

For other London-y ideas, Londonist has a 'Santa's lap' series with some very desirable city-themed gifts.

Finally, why not give the gift of London Historians membership? Benefits include a great events programme (this year, for example, I enjoyed guided walks, a visit to GF Watts' gallery in Compton, and several History in the Pub evenings of talks, quizzes and entertainment. See more of their events in a review of the year, part one and part two), a monthly newsletter, and various members' discounts.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

A 'Victorian' serial novel

I've always greatly enjoyed, and learned much from, the comments on this blog. Perhaps the best response yet is that to the post Victoriana and the Telectroscope. Inspired by the title, Ralph Hancock has written the first chapter of a 'Victorian' serial story; Hugh B has added the second. They're great - launching us into a transatlantic tale with an army major, a daring young girl, and some sinister exterminators! Do read them, and if you're inspired to add chapter three...

** Update: you can now read the chapters here, and submit your own contributions by email! **

** And a second update: I've contributed chapter three. Over to you for chapter four! **

** FINAL UPDATE: the novel is now complete! **

Monday 9 December 2013

Gladstone's orphans

William Ewart Gladstone, four times prime minister, is known for his championing of Irish Home Rule, his rivalry with Benjamin Disraeli, his enthusiasm for cutting down trees, and his evangelical Christianity. The latter famously inspired his mission to reform London prostitutes, going out on the streets to talk to them and offer them accommodation, medical treatment and employment. (This attracted a great deal of almost certainly unjustified scepticism, although he did admit that part of the purpose of this work was to put himself in the way of temptation and resist it.)

However, William and his wife Catherine Glynne Gladstone also engaged in another philanthropic act which is less colourful and therefore less well-known. It also connects the capital with a small village in North Wales, just a few miles from Chester. 

As a regular visitor to the London Hospital, Whitechapel, Catherine saw at first hand the effects of the 1860s cholera epidemics on the East End poor. She founded an orphanage for the children of cholera victims, in a large house in Clapton. It also took in convalescent patients, and the convalescent home later moved to Woodford Hall, Essex, in 1866. Adults and children were sent here from the London Hospital in the East End to recover from illness or surgery. The home moved to Mitcham in 1900, eventually closing in 1940.

As for the orphaned boys, Catherine sent them from Clapton to a new orphanage in the Gladstones' home village of Hawarden. Initially, she took a dozen boys from London to the village and accommodated them in a former coach house; Gladstone paid for their keep. (The couple also accommodated unemployed Lancashire mill girls and elderly women on their estate.) The orphanage continued for many years, and seems to have taken in other children in need of a home. A guide to the village of 1890 describes it as housing twenty to thirty boys and being 'hard by the Castle [the Gladstones' home] and across the yard'. 

A plaque in the village church commemorates Sarah Jones, who was 'for 16 years Matron and Mother of the Orphans in Mrs Gladstone's Home'. Since she died in 1885, she must have worked at the orphanage for a significant part of its existence.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Victoriana and the Telectroscope

There are still a few days left to catch Guildhall Art Gallery's Victoriana exhibition, which ends on 8 December. I finally visited today, and enjoyed it very much. The works are not from the nineteenth century, but rather demonstrate The Art of Revival: contemporary pieces with Victorian inspiration. 

As well as a host of media - taxidermy, letterpress, engravings, colourful ceramics, kinetic sculptures and a zoetrope-inspired installation - there is a strong steampunk current running through much of the work on display. There are also plenty of major names: Yinka Shonibare is inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray, Paula Rego by Jane Eyre. The work of Paul St George is fun, and partly takes up the themes explored in his Telectroscope which linked London and New York in 2008. In fact, it was the first thing I blogged about - as a taste of his work, here it is again. 


Earlier this week, I went to City Hall to look at/through the telectroscope, an art installation which is on the riverbank until Sunday. The story is:
Hardly anyone knows that a secret tunnel runs deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean. In May 2008, more than a century after it was begun, the tunnel has finally been completed. An extraordinary optical device called a Telectroscope has been installed at both ends which miraculously allows people to see right through the Earth from London to New York and vice versa.
Okay, something tells me this might not really be done by a long, long tunnel and some mirrors. Nonetheless, you truly can see New Yorkers at the other end (by Brooklyn Bridge) in real time - there were some very excited people waving at friends when I was there - and it's a fun idea. See it in lots more detail on the website.

Sunday 1 December 2013

The Charterhouse

The Master's Cloister, looking into the Tudor Great Hall

Among London myths, 'built on a plague pit' is perennially popular. The Charterhouse has a better claim than many, at least to being built beside one: Charterhouse Square was originally a 14th-century burial ground for victims of the Black Death. Part of the land, unused for burials, later became the site of a Carthusian monastery, founded in 1371 by Sir Walter de Mauny. 'Charterhouse' is a corruption of 'La Grande Chartreuse', the order's mother house.
The Great Chamber

When Henry VIII dissolved England's monasteries, some of the monks were executed for refusing to conform to the Act of Supremacy; others starved to death in Newgate Prison; while the Charterhouse was converted into a private house. The Duke of Norfolk bought and further altered it. Finally, in 1558, it took on a new role - one it still performs four centuries later. 

Tudor Great Hall - fireplace detail

Thomas Sutton was apparently the wealthiest commoner in the country, having made his fortune in money-lending, coal mines and munitions. He used his wealth to found a charity which was to provide housing for 80 men and schooling for 40 boys. Originally the site was to be outside London, but the Duke of Norfolk's son was selling Charterhouse to build a new home at Audley End, and Sutton bought it from him. When he died in 1611, most of his fortune was bequeathed to the charity - so it's no surprise that his heirs contested the will. However, with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chancellor among the charity's governors, Sutton's wishes were carried out. While the school moved to Surrey in the nineteenth century, having grown far beyond forty pupils, the almshouses are still thriving on the original site. (Officially, it is still called Sutton's Hospital.)

Wash House Court

The result of this history is that the Charterhouse is a charming mixture of eras and materials - mediaeval stone, tudor brick, seventeenth-century wood panelling. 

Tudor Great Hall
Before they moved out of central London, the boys of Charterhouse School would play football in the Norfolk Cloister. Apparently the rules of football, notably throw-ins and the offside rule, were first developed here. 

Norfolk Cloister

Because it's still home to a number of 'brothers', the Charterhouse is usually closed to the public. However, it opened its doors last month for an exhibition on Philanthropy in the City of London. (In fact, the Charterhouse is just outside the City, but only by a step or two!) Although the exhibition has now finished - I only made it on the last day - the guided tours will resume in January and can be booked. 

The Londonphile and Londonist have also visited. 

Tudor Great Hall - the brothers eat all their meals here