Sunday, 4 September 2016
After my last little digression I'm minded to talk less about London and more about Londons. All existing alongside each other, on top of each other, under and over each other. Constantly updating itself in order to deal with the changes taking place around itself, sometimes of course initiated within the city itself. Perhaps one of the most important of these changes is marked by a small blue rectangular plaque in a small and obscure sidestreet situated between Cornhill and Lombard Street. The plaque reads "on this street between 1680 and 1778 stood Jonathan's Coffee House, the principal meeting place of the City's stockbrokers". Here it was a little after the Great Fire of London destroyed the old city that new systems of trade and business grew up. These systems have spread across the globe and are now shown in the skylines of the world - the market, modern capitalism started here in this tiny cramped alley. The fact that this was a coffee house is not entirely insignificant. Coffee, one of the commodities that can loosely be bundled together under the title "colonial groceries). These groceries; coffee, tobacco, cotton and most significantly sugar were grown in the West Indies, an area that the powers of the world at the time jealously guarded. The profits to be made from these crops was enormous but the risks were high and the returns not always immediate. What this meant is that a whole raft of ancillary services quickly appeared around these producers; insurance, credit banking and investment houses to share the risk. Underpinning this industry were those who worked and died in enormous numbers in the West Indies, while slavery was a social institution dating back to the classical world however chattel slavery where those subject to the system are effectively treated as just another animal (a belief that was strengthened through pseudo-science), another resource to be exploited. They died throughout misuse, starvation and disease transplanted from Africa as they had no natural immunity to West Indian diseases. While some plantation owners lived in the West Indies many were absentee landlords reaping a reward from their investments. The vast sums made subsidised extravagant lifestyles, they purchased political and social positions. Positions that ensured that they could influence those in power. This also meant hat funds were available for investment in other industries, other trading ventures. Such ventures were orchestrated at places such as Jonathan's Coffee House. Sometimes these were moneymakers. Sometimes, as with the South Sea Bubble... they didn't. In 1748 Jonathan's burnt down. In 1761 a club was formed was formed to trade stocks. In 1773 the club built its on building in Sweetings Alley. This eventually became the institution of upright gentlemen that we call the Stock Exchange
Monday, 8 August 2016
A thankfully rather cooler day saw me undertake the Clerkenwall walk for Andrew Duncan's excellent Walking London. Its an immensely interesting and historic area with huge chunks of medieval London hidden in plain view. The first of these is St. John's Gate built in 1504 as the Southern entrance to the Priory of St. John - OK so it was heavily restored in the 19th century but hey beggars can't be choosers. The knights of St. John were crusaders - Knights Hospitallers charged with tending with those taken ill on the long journey to Jerusalem, after the expulsion of Christians from the Holy Land they left for Rhodes and later Malta. It was here in 1877 that the St. John's Ambulance Brigade was initiated. After a wander through Smithfield the next stop was the Church of St. Bartholomew the Great - founded in 1123 what remains is roughly half of the original building - demolished as part of the dissolution of the monasteries in 1543. The church was originally part of a priory associated with St. Bartholomew's Hospital -both institutions were initiated by Rahere a mysterious figure sometimes credited as Henry I's jester. The churchs Tudor frontage was erected as part of Richard Rich's restoration of the area, he benefited from the Dissolution by buying up land that used to belong to the church. The church itself is a star of stage and screen well screen having featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994),Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Shakespeare in Love, The End of the Affair, Amazing Grace, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Other Boleyn Girl, Sherlock Holmes, Snow White and the Huntsma, and worryingly Avengers: Age of Ultron. The third complex is just the other side of Cloth Fair (no guesses as what used to occur there). Charterhouse was a Carthusian priory for twenty five or so monks founded in 1371 and then dissolved in 1537. This was a traumatic event involving the hanging, drawing and quartering of the Prior and ten monks being transported to Newgate gaol where they either starved or were executed. The impressive remains are typical of "the type of large rambling 16th century mansion that once existed all round London" as Pevsner says. The buildings became an almshouse and school in 1611 endowed by Thomas Sutton, the Master of Ordnance in Northern Parts. His idea was to fund a home for eighty male pensioners ("gentlemen by descent and in poverty, soldiers that have borne arms by sea or land, merchants decayed by piracy or shipwreck, or servants in household to the King or Queens Majesty"), and to educate forty boys. The institution gained a reputation for medical knowledge the institution was one of the original seven english public schools defined by law in 1868. The school was transplanted to Godlaming in Surrey in 1872 the buildings being used first by the Merchant Taylors School and then Barts Medical School. While these remnants remain much of what surrpunded them originally has vanished - a reminder of the transitory nature of urban existance. This also means that plaques such as that to Susanna Annesley sited on Tabernacle Street that I was after is no longer there - in fact its now construction site annoyingly.
Monday, 1 August 2016
As if to emphasise the cosmopolitan nature of Bayswater I've been looking through Lived in London too find rather depressingly that I missed about half the plaques (or at least half of English Heritage's listed plaques in the area). They are an interesting cross-section: an Italian ballet dancer a South African writer, an Austrian singer, a Russian political thinker, and American writer and an Italian scientist not to mention King George Tupou V of Tonga. There is also on Albion Street a plaque to Sir Charles Vyner Brooke, the third and last white Rajah of Sarawak who assumed the title on the death of his father in 1917. He was a Cambridge man. He shared power both with his brother and nephew and devolved many of his powers to his advisor and an administrative body. The country developed public service and legal systems based on the British model. He took a surprisingly modern approach to cultural matters, banning Christian missionaries and encouraging indigenous traditions. Brooke fled when the Japanese invaded, first to Australia and then to London where he spent the rest of his life ceding his power to the British Crown in 1946. This was a contentious issue the transfer being opposed both by his nephew who acted as Rajah Muda (Crown Prince) and by the majority of the Council Negri or Parliament. Sarawak became part of Malaysia shortly after his death. Albion Street is, needless to say a way from rubber plantations and tropical heat and you can't help but think of those who experienced the shrinking of Empire. How do you comprehend these seismic social changes? You're no longer the master of all you survey with an automatic right to dictate to all and sundry on pretty much any aspect of their lives.
Saturday, 23 July 2016
Last weekend was a scorcher, we'd already arranged to stay over in leafy Wimbledon so that we could get us to the cricket at Lords in good time and M was working in the charity shop in the morning I bagged an early ticket into Liverpool Street. i was pre-armed with a Bayswater walk from the excellent http://www.london-footprints.co.uk/ . I was actually in search of the blue plaque for Hertha Ayrton in Norfolk Square. Bayswater is an interesting area - cosmopolitan area with large Brazilian, French and Greek communities - the latter being marked by the presence of St Sophia's Greek Orthodox cathedral and a blue plaque on Queensborough Terrace dedicated to Constantine Cafavy. The area is littered with some pretty monumental Victorian townhouses - now subdivided or converted into tourist hotels. To the North lies the Hallfield Estate designed by Denys Lasdun and Lindsay Drake necessitated by bombing around Paddington station, its a striking contrast. There are some interesting old / new old terraces marking the point marking bomb damage. Another mark of this dark period is the plaque at 3-8 Porchester Gate facing Hyde Park. It marks the site of the Czech government in exile military intellegence division. The Czech government in exile set up by Edvard Benes was recognised by the allied forces while Czechoslovakia was under German occupation. On our visits to Prague we found in the New Town on Resslova street the squat, dark Church of St. Cyril and Methodius. It's here where Operation Anthropoid, which was formulated all those miles away overlooking the park came to an end. The old crypt has been converted into a museum - in fact the last time we visited there was an armed forces day so plenty of uniforms thereabouts. Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich aka The Butcher of Prague, The Blond Beast and the Hangman (which gives a flavour of his personality) was botched, a catalogue of errors with Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš being parachuted into the wrong area of what was then the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The men managed to make their way to Prague and were sheltered by Czech resistance fighters before embarking on their assassination attempt on 27th May 1942. Despite malfunctioning weapons they wounded Heydrich and made their escape. They were eventually tracked down in the Church and knowing what would happen to them if captured fought to the death. Sadly that wasn't the end of it and the German occupiers sought reprisals most notably against the village of Lidice where the population were executed or deported to concentration camps and the village itself was levelled.
Friday, 10 June 2016
Well the exam is done for this year which means that I get a life back for approximately three months before academes siren call means a reoccupation of my office. It also means the occasional London trip for more plaque based fun. Our last trip out was to Southwark courtesy of the excellent London Walks http://www.walks.com/ on my birthday. We'd picked Darkest Victorian London which started on the North side of the river at Monument tube surrounded by steel and glass before decamping south of the river to what was then London's dark underbelly. A river away from the city where fortunes were made and the money-god reigned supreme. Here, is another London, one as wretched and squalid as anywhere in the Empire - quite a boast looking at the spread of pink across the globe. Southwark was where all the industrys that the respectable folk didnt want on their doorstep. This was the London of Henry Mayhew and Charles Dickens. Cross Bones graveyard was full at the time that Dickens was writing - it was "completely overcharged with dead". The site became used for commercial buildings and from 1991 to 1998 was excavated by the Museum of London in preparation for the Jubilee Line extension. They found a crowded site with burials piled on top of each other. Many had died from poverty diseases - smallpox, TB, Paget's disease and Vitamin D deficiency. A high proportion of the deaths were of newborns and a further significant demographic were middle-aged women. It's been postulated, most notably by John Constable that these were local prostitutes. The famed Winchester Geese who inhabited the notorious Southwark Stews. Constable, inspired by the idea of the 'outcast dead' composed the Southwark Mysteries to keep the memory of these people, the dregs of their society, alive. The Southwark mysteries have been performed at the Globe and Southwark Cathedral and have engaged the local population who have initiated a series of non-religious rememberences. Its an interesting idea. We memorialise the 'worthy', those who have pushed themselves to the top rather than those they have clambered over, those they have exploited. The local prostitutes were nicknamed Winchester Geese after the Bishop of Winchester who had his palace in Southwark. It's still there and very atmospheric. It was those people who did most of the working, most of the living and most of the dying but theyre are not remembered, they are in fact very deliberately overlooked I mean who wants to remember THEM? It obscures the picture that those in control wan to give doesnt it?
Sunday, 26 July 2015
Leytonstone is a long way from the target rich environment of central London. A journey east from Stratford rather than the rather more usual West - OK so we'd earlier trailed around the Spitalfields Vintage Fair - parting with the folding stuff only for a leather flower for M and a story in a box "Not all who wander are lost" for me from - https://www.facebook.com/littleiudea . Worship Road is a thoroughly unremarkable terraced street and in many ways the blue plaque that marks number 14 may seem out of place. It marks the birthplace of Harry Beck, an engineering draftsman with London Underground. Just another working Londoner who adapted his knowledge, of electrical circuits to create what was voted in 2006 as the second favourite British design of the 20th century - the Tube map. Used thousands, tens of thousands of time a day by Londoners and others to navigate the capital - and many many times more when you see the influence that it has had on various other Metro maps from around the world (Beck also worked on designs for the Paris Metro map). This influence is traced in Mark Ovenden's excellent "Metro Maps of the world" and has also been cited in comparison with the work of Piet Mondrian as a nexus of art and commerce. And its freaking everywhere - we ourselves have a London Underground bedset not to mention a copy of the London Game (strongly recommended in assisting the small people in London navigation). The map came about as a sparetime project that Beck embarked upon in the early 30s. He submitted the idea to Frank Pick, the then head of London Underground and responsible for the creation of the iconic LU designs that persist to this day - a fact acknowledged in Beck's blue plaque utilisation of LUs house font - New Johnston. It was revolutionary in that unlike pretty much any other map it doesn't represent geographical accuracy. Beck reckoned, quite rightly that for your average commuter what was important was how to get around the city: how to get from one station to another, and the changes needed to manage that feat. A side effect of this that I've found is that many Londoners are blissfully unaware of how close some Tube stations are to each other. His idea was initialled trialled in 1931 and given its first release in 1933. It has of course been continually updated and that is where the trouble started. In 1960 the Victoria Line was added to the map without his knowledge by a publicity officer, Harold Hutchinson, this and numerous other tweaks angered Beck. He embarked upon legal proceedings, trying to regain control of his creation. This stress adversely affected his wifes health. He gave up the fight in 1965 and the responsibility for the map passed to another designer Paul Garbutt. In his redesigning of the Underground map Garbutt returned to Becks earlier ideas while taking account of the increasingly complicated reality of subterranean London. Beck however continued to work on designs for the Underground map until his death in 1974. Sadly his work was only recognised posthumously - every LU map now bears the legend "This diagram is an evolution of the original design conceived in 1931 by Harry Beck". He has a locomotive named after him, and has been featured on stamps and a substantial presence in the London Tansport museum in Covent Garden - but surely his most meaningful memorial are the millions of safe journeys made on the tube.
Tuesday, 21 July 2015
There are those who will say that todays posts is a blatant attempt to draw attention away from a dismal England performance at Lords, and they may very well be right. 37 overs with Stuart Broad batting at number 8 top scoring with 25 runs is simply not good enough. Not against a mediocre side, and Australia while not in the pantheon of earlier Ashes teams are not that. After a couple of days away from work we had a quiet day at home today - well M did. It was open day at the Abbey and I wandered into town and took a stroll around the theatre of screams. I decided to pick up this seasons away strip. Theres something something vaguely transgressive about black football shirts even in the modern eras of technicolour refs. I didn't however linger as I had a date at the Arts Picturehouse. For once it wasn't one Casablanca to look forward to but sadly will be missing Sunset Boulevard in a couple of weeks time - don't think well be giving A Clockwork Orange a go. It was Oliver Hirschbiegel's 13 minutes. Hirschbiegel's Downfall is a terrifying insight into the last days of the Reich. 13 minutes an account of its establishment and the bravery of anyone swimming against the stream in those kinds of circumstance. It has the dreaded words "based on a true story" attached to it - words that send a chill down anyone with two braincells to rub togethers spine. It equates to an admission of "OK, so we sexed it up a little" on behalf of the filmmaker. The real Georg Elser, the focus of the film, seems a rather more nuanced figure. Elser attempted to assassinate Hitler on 8 November 1939 in the early stages of the second world war. His motives seem unclear - the film seems to cast him as a conflicted Christian who was trying to avoid greater bloodshed by disposing of Der Fuhrer. The truth seems somewhat more confused. Elser was a member of the Federation of Woodworkers Union and the Rotfrontkämpferbund, the Communist paramilitaries that opposed the Nazis in the politically polarised 1930s but Elser attested that he never attended any more than a couple of times. While he voted Communist it was only because he felt that they defended the rights of German Workers. His Christian credentials seem less than convincing as well. He was raised as a Protestant but dodnt regularly attend church until his plans were in motion. In short he seems what I guess we would now call a lone wolf killer. Someone who saw the Nazis and Hitler in particular as sure to lead Germany into darkness. After seeing Bonhoeffers plaque a while back I couldn't help but see parallels - although of course the two men tried to oppose Nazi tyranny in very different ways. I guess that 13 minutes asks that hypothetical - if killing one man could save millions would you do it? Of course Hitler didn't die - 8 people did. however. Elser shared Bonhoeffer's fate - on 9th April 1945, in the death throes of the Reich he was eliminated perhaps at the personal behest of Hitler at Dachau where he had been transferred after spending the war years at Sachsenhausen.