Category Archives: Architecture

Perambulations Through Late Georgian London or, All the Best Sights in One Week. Day One

In 1836 Nathaniel Whittock’s The Modern Picture of London, Westminster, and the Metropolitan Boroughs. Containing a correct description of the most interesting objects in every part of the Metropolis; forming a complete Guide and directory for the Stranger and Resident… was published by George Virtue & Co.

I have half a dozen late Georgian & Regency London guidebooks, but this, on the verge of Victoria’s reign, is the only one that sets out itineraries for the visitor as well as describing the various buildings, parks and institutions of the Capital. I thought it would be interesting to follow his advice, and visit London right at the end of the Georgian era.

Mr Whittock begins by discussing whether it is better to take lodgings or stay at a respectable inn (not a coaching inn, or the visitor will be constantly disturbed, day and night). He concludes that:

The visitor whose time is limited, will find it better to have lodgings without board, as he can take his meals at any time or place, according to his own convenience. The visitor to the metropolis, that has no particular friends to greet him on his arrival, and whose business will only allow him to devote a few days, to the survey of the architectural beauties and splendid exhibitions which surround him on all sides, on his arrival in London, will feel the necessity of so regulating his time, that he may see the various objects that are contiguous to each other on the same day; and, supposing him to have only a week that he can spare for this purpose, we will endeavour to point out the best mode of regulating his hours, so that he may have an opportunity of seeing the greatest number of objects within that time. We will therefore suppose the visitor to have taken apartments near Charing Cross.

In the…directions, it is supposed that the party is in the middle rank of life; the same route would be pointed out to those who kept a carriage, but they would, in consequence, be enabled to visit more objects in the same time, from the facility of conveyance from one place to another.

Monday

A crowded day first ending with a visit to the theatre.

The visitor is advised to commence his perambulation of the metropolis on Monday morning, at half-past nine o’clock.

He will have ample time to see Whitehall, the statue of King James behind it, the Horse Guards, and the Admiralty. 

The bronze statue of King James II now stands in front of the National Gallery. It was produced in the workshop of Grinling Gibbons and erected at the Palace of Whitehall in 1686, two years before James was deposed and fled the country. It stood behind the Banqueting House until 1898 when it was removed and spent some time being shuffled around the Capital before ending up in its present position in 1947. According to A Picture of London For 1807 it is ‘Superior to any statue in any public place in England.’

Walk into St. James’ Park, stand a few minutes to observe the military parade, which always takes place at ten o’clock.

Just such a parade can be seen in the print above of 1809, and one can still do this by walking into Horse Guards between the mounted sentries, under the arch and into Horse Guards Parade.

 Walk through the Park to Storey’s Gate (the point where Horse Guards Road now meets Birdcage Walk); thence, down Princes Street (now Storey’s Gate), and he will see Westminster Abbey, and the New Westminster Hospital, to the greatest advantage. 

The new Westminster Hospital opened in 1834 on the site now occupied by the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. It was immediately struck by serious problems with its water closets and baths which failed to drain properly and caused frequent outbreaks of disease and a terrible stink.

Passing through St. Margaret’s church-yard (Above: Westminster Abbey with St Margaret’s church in front, seen from the north (1810)), he will observe the beautiful entrance to the north transept of the Abbey. The next object that will present itself, is the chapel of Henry VII., and he will arrive at Poet’s Corner at about half-past ten o’clock: the entrance to the Abbey will be open, and he will have an opportunity of hearing the cathedral service performed, and likewise of seeing the beautiful choir of the Abbey; the service is ended about eleven o’clock, and he can then survey every part of this venerable pile, which will occupy about an hour. 

This seems a very short time to view the Abbey! The visitors above, seen in 1805, appear to be taking rather more time to look around.

On leaving the Abbey, at half-past twelve, the stranger may cross the road, to the Houses of Lords and Commons and Westminster Hall, see the interior of them –

The greater part of the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire in October 1834, two years before the publication of this guidebook and the main text describes the makeshift debating chambers that had been made out of what remained. Westminster Hall survived the fire and was attached to the new Houses of Parliament when they were begun in 1840.  The watercolour of the House of Lords from Old Palace Yard, 1834, by Robert William Billings shows the devastation. (Parliamentary copyright)

and at one o’clock find himself on Westminster Bridge, surveying the buildings on the banks of the Thames. If this survey should engender historical reminiscences, the stranger would probably wish to visit the scene of Wolsey’s greatness, and the residence of the primate of England, Lambeth Palace; should he do so, he will find his time occupied till two o’clock. 

This image of 1784 shows Morton’s Tower, the entrance to the Palace with Westminster bridge (opened 1750) in the background.  The tower is instantly recognizable today, even though the embankment has been built up between it and the river and the traffic now thunders past on Lambeth Palace Road.

To get to Lambeth Palace at this time the visitor would either have to cross Westminster Bridge and travel south down the southern bank of the Thames or go down the northern bank and take the ferry across: there was no Lambeth Bridge until 1862.

On leaving the palace, if he continues down Canterbury Place, he will, in a short time, arrive at Bethlem Hospital; to some, the interior is interesting, if so, it will occupy half an hour.

This was the New Bethlem Hospital moved from Moorfields in 1815. It was closed in 1930 and the site became a park with the centre of the old building retained as the Imperial War Museum.

 Near the same spot, is the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb,

This was a pioneering institution, founded in 1792 to educate two hundred children who, up until then, had been dismissed as ‘idiots’, incapable of learning or earning their living. They were taught lip-reading, reading, writing, arithmetic and useful trades. It lay between Mason Street and Townsend Street and its modern incarnation as The Royal School for Deaf Children moved to Margate in 1902.

the Philanthropic Asylum –

The Royal Philanthropic Society built the asylum in 1792 in an attempt to help the children of convicted criminals and street children who had resorted to begging or crime.

and other charitable foundations, the whole of which may be visited, and the party return home over Waterloo Bridge, (This was the original 1817 bridge. The present one was opened in 1942) observe the grand front of Somerset House, and arrive at their lodgings by half-past four o’clock, dine, and finish the day by visiting Drury Lane Theatre.

Hopefully the intrepid tourist was not so worn out by their hectic sightseeing that they could not appreciate the atmosphere at Drury Lane Theatre, shown here.

If you wish to follow this route yourself you will find more details in Walking Jane Austen’s London Walk 6 or Walks Through Regency London Walk 8. The area around the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb is described in Driving Through Georgian Britain in the section on the Dover Road.

To be continued…

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Bathing Machines to Beach Huts

The very first reference to a bathing machine was in 1721 when Nicholas Blundell wrote of “a conveniency for bathing in the sea” and the first image is in a picture of the beach at Scarborough by John Settrington in 1735 where two different types of ‘machine’ are being drawn in and out of the sea by horses (or perhaps donkeys). A detail is shown above.

In 1753 there was the first use of the term “bathing machine”. This was applied to the improved version devised by Benjamin Beale at Margate. This had a canvas hood on hoops that could be let down on the seaward side of the machine allowing bathers a private space to swim unobserved. One can be seen billowing like a cloud from the machine depicted on a souvenir flask.

Not every seaside resort adopted the Beale type of machine and many had no hood or protection for the modesty of the bather at all, as can be seen in this image of an apprehensive lady being guided down into the sea by two dippers. She may well look apprehensive – not only are they about to plunge her vigorously under the water but this is the chilly sea off the Yorkshire coast – probably Scarborough again. (From The Costume of Yorkshire by George Walker 1814).Costume of Yorkshire by George Walker

The bathing machine persisted in use right through the 19th century and into the twentieth up to the 1920s, although with the adoption of bathing costumes that managed to combine a reasonable degree of decency with functionality for swimming, the modesty hood vanished. This image from the 1880s shows the beach at Cromer with ranks of machines drawn up on the sand.

Many people regarded the ban on mixed bathing, prevalent in most resorts, as outdated and prudish, especially as British resorts were losing ground to more sophisticated Continental seaside towns where mixed bathing was the norm. In Dieppe there were elegant striped changing tents and gradually variations on these lightweight beach shelters displaced the bathing machine, making a drier, more comfortable place for the whole family to change and shelter. These are at Bexhill on Sea in 1919.

The first beach huts as we would recognise them today were erected at Felixstowe in 1895. They were called ‘tents’ but were actually wooden. A guidebook of 1919 explained that they “…serve[d] as snug and pleasant rooms where one could work, read or dream in the shade, close to the sea.”

At Bournemouth in 1908 the Undercliff Drive was created and a row of huts, ten feet square, for day use was built by the town council. They called them ‘bungalows’ and advertised them as providing families with “a storeroom for books, spades, pails and all the impedimenta of seaside life and facilities for simple meals.” They had glazed front doors and a sitting area sheltered under the overhang of the roof. They lined the promenade with a wide walkway before the beach, where traditional bathing machines continued to be drawn up.

From then on the beach hut as we know it today developed. Many were built by the municipality, and came with numerous rules and regulations, but some were constructed privately, especially where there were areas of foreshore with unclear ownership. In some cases they spread, unchecked – the origins of the little community of Jaywick Sands in Essex where many of the little bungalows, even today, show a close resemblance to overgrown beach huts.

Below are the famously colourful huts at Wells Next the Sea in Norfolk, sheltering against the pine trees on the dunes.

Bathing huts are iconic features of the British seaside resort and yet, even when they are municipally owned or controlled, they manage to have such individual characteristics and personalities, reflecting the fantasies and secret worlds of their occupants. They were the ideal setting for a collection of beach-read novellas I contributed to with five writer friends. Beach Hut Surprise gives six glimpses into the beach huts of Little Piddling, a South Coast resort from the Edwardian era to the present day.

 

 

 

 

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The Story of a Square 8: Manchester Square: the place for excellent duck shooting – or possibly Beatle-spotting?

Many people will be familiar with the rich and wonderful Wallace Collection of art, objets d’art, furniture and armour in Manchester Square, but I have to admit to never giving the square itself a thought as I visit the collection, let alone that the location of the house might be due to its convenience for duck shooting.

W H Pyne duck hunting

The square was developed between 1776 and 1788 and named for the 4th Duke of Manchester. He had ordered the house on the north side of the square built because of the excellent duck shooting in the area. My immediate reaction was disbelief until I located the position of the square on Roque’s map of 1747. The position is marked in red and all the standing water in the area is coloured in solid blue. These were ponds left by digging clay for brick and tile making and there are far more ponds just beyond the boundaries of the area shown. There was actually a tile kiln just to the south of the square. (The pond above was drawn by W H Pyne and published by Pyne & Nattes in 1804.)

location of Manchester Square on Roque's map

Manchester House itself, now called Hertford House after the 2nd Marquess of Hertford who bought it in 1797, stood on the northern edge of the square and it is the focus of this image published in Ackermann’s Repository in July 1813.

Manchester House 1813

The artist is standing at the entrance to what was Berkley Street (now Fitzharding Street) which leads westwards Portman Square (developed 1764-84) and opposite is the entrance to Hinde Street, leading to Marylebone Lane.

In the Roque map the ancient winding course of Marylebone Lane leads up to the Marylebone Gardens, opened in 1650 and a popular resort. ‘A pretty place,’ according to Samuel Pepys. It was popular for cock fighting, bear baiting, bowling and bare knuckle boxing and it was here that Dick Turpin kissed schoolmaster’s wife Mrs Fountayne, telling her that she now had something to boast about. By 1738 they were enlarged and became much more respectable and famous for their music. They closed in 1778 and the site now lies under Devonshire Street and Beaumont Street.

By the time of Horwood’s map (1799-1818) the entire area was developed and in the section below the only similarities with Roque’s map are the curving lines of Marylebone Lane and the triangular shape of Marylebone burying ground at the top centre. In the period between the two the area of the burying ground was extended south.

Ackermann’s Repository is cool about the remainder of the square: “The other three sides of the square are composed of neat, respectable dwellings, which have nothing of particular notice.” Certainly, the London Encyclopedia records no interesting inhabitants until the middle of the 19th century, although the staircase of number 20 was the location of the cover shoot for the Beatles’ Please Please Me.

The 2nd Marquess of Hertford who bought Manchester House in 1797 had been British Ambassador in Vienna and Berlin and the 3rd Marquess was one of the Prince Regent’s cronies and advised him on the acquisition of works of art, especially Dutch Old Masters and Sèvres porcelain. The 4th Marquess was another collector and connoisseur who lived a reclusive life in Paris and bought up art and furniture that was, post-Revolution, unfashionable. It was this fabulous collection, including works by Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard that he left to his illegitimate son Richard Wallace.

Wallace, knighted in 1871 for his philanthropy, removed the collection from France to Hertford House because of his concerns for the stability of France following the Franco-Prussian war. Following his wife’s death the collection was opened as a national museum in 1900.

 

 

 

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The Story of a Square 7: Finsbury Square

In my occasional series on the history of London Squares I am going eastwards to Finsbury Square, shown outlined in green in Horwood’s map of c1800.

Finsbury Square was built between 1777 and 1791 in an attempt, according to The London Encyclopaedia, to ‘recreate a West End atmosphere near the City’. The principal architect was Charles Dance, but others were involved, and each side of the Square was different. It was severely damaged during World War II and now none of the original buildings remain, nor the circular central garden.

It was built on the land marked on Roque’s map (1740s) below as Upper Moor Fields.

This was originally part of a larger marshy fen or moor outside the City walls which was fully drained in 1527. It ran from immediately north of the City walls and ditch, with the Wall Brook, draining into the City ditch, on the eastern side and a causeway (now the A501, City Road) to the west. Where the causeway met London Walls was the Moor Gate, built 1414 by the Lord Mayor Falconer ‘for ease of citizens that way to pass…into the fields…for their recreation.’ The print shows it at the time of its demolition in 1762.

On the western side Cheselstrete, now Chiswell Street, came in at a right angle to an area of the Moor called Mallow Field, bounded on the east by the parish boundary between St Leonard Shoreditch (east) and St Giles Without Cripplegate (west). The eastern part of the moor in St Leonard’s parish was simply called The Moor and, by the time of Roque’s map, was built over.

To the south of the junction of the causeway with Chiswell Street was the northern boundary of the City, By the 1740s narrow Ropemaker Alley ran along that line to the west and is now Ropemaker Street.

South of the City boundary and north of the Wall was Moor Field, its distorted rectangular shape preserved in the formal landscaped area behind the Bethlem Hospital marked as Moor Fields on Roque’s map. Finsbury Circus (1815-17) occupies much of this area today.

A 16th century illustrated map (below) shows these areas shortly after they were drained. Animals are pastured, archery practice is going on, laundry is laid out to dry and cloth is being stretched on tenterhooks. Finsbury Square occupies the area approximately where the horses are grazing.

By the 1740s the tenter grounds were clearly defined and laid out to the east and north of Upper and Lower Moor Fields and the adjoining Upper Moor Field to the west and, stretching up further north, was The Artillery Ground. The Honourable Artillery Company (who still provide the salutes at the Tower and on state occasions) continue to occupy the site which is now their sports field with the headquarters to the north. In 1672 Moor Gate was rebuilt and made higher so that the trained Bands (the local militia) could march through with their long pikes upright on their way to military exercises on the Moor.

In 1785, as work began on Finsbury Square, Vicenzo Lunardi, the Italian pioneer balloonist, took off from the Artillery Ground with a vast and excited crowd spilling out over the Moor all around. (He landed safely near Ware, in Hertfordshire.)

John Wallis, in his London (quoted below), incorporates  Pennant’s London Improved which mentions Moor Fields, describing the area immediately to the north of Bethlem Hospital as “The City Mall” a popular, tree-lined promenade.

The upper part which had been partly enclosed with a dwarf wall, contained waste, and was long a rendezvous for the boxers and wrestlers that composed old Vinegar’s [a bare knuckle boxer] Ring; and for mountebanks, methodist preachers, old iron stalls, etc.

Upper Moor Field might not, with its military drills, the gunfire of the Artillery Company and its use for such displays as balloon ascensions, fights and scrap iron sales,  seem to be an ideal place to erect a fashionable square. John Wallis in his London: Being a Complete Guide to the British Capital (1810) remarks:

A sudden transformation, as it were, of a marshy moor into the magnificent abodes of some of the wealthiest merchants in the metropolis, cannot be otherwise than interesting to the curious observer.

[An] improvement, truly magnificent, must certainly be admitted in the erection of Finsbury-square, and those new and elegant edifices which now cover all the northern site of ancient Moor-fields. This erection commenced about 1777. After this period the west side being erected first, the others rose with as little interruption as possible, and the whole was nearly inhabited in 1783; the rents, which then produced £4792, in 1797 encreased [sic] to £7598.

It is believed that Finsbury Square was the first public space permanently lit by gas.

The best-known occupant of Finsbury Square is probably Lackington’s Library, known as the Temple of the Muses, in the south-east corner. This vast shop, with a frontage of over forty three metres held a stock of thousands of volumes. I have devoted a post to London libraries, including Lackingtons, and you can read more about it here.

The exterior is shown below, in a print of 1828 when it was no longer owned by James Lackington. It burned down in 1841.

 

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The Sailor Prince & the Society Lady – a Canadian Scandal

My surprise is down to my ignorance, obviously, but when I visited the Maritime Provinces of Canada last month I was intrigued to find myself bumping into two of George III’s sons at what seemed like every turn.

To begin with Prince William, (1765 – 1837), George III’s third son. He was created Duke of Clarence and St Andrews in 1789 and succeeded his brother George IV to the throne as William IV in June 1830. I have to confess that I had always regarded him as a kind of stop-gap between the Hanoverian kings and his niece, Queen Victoria, who succeeded him. In contrast to George IV he appeared to be a much nicer character with good intentions. I knew he had a lively love life and had a mistress for twenty years – the actress Mrs Jordan who bore him ten children all bearing the surname FitzClarence. They split in 1811, apparently because of William’s money problems, and in 1818, after the death of his niece, and heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte, the fifty three year old prince married twenty five year old Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen and joined the race to produce an heir, essential as it was clear that George IV would have no more children.

Against all the odds – their ages and his history of love affairs – this was a happy marriage and William stayed faithful, although it did not produce the hoped-for heir to the throne.

I also knew that William was a sailor. He joined the Royal Navy as a thirteen year-old midshipman and was present at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1780. His naval career, culminating in his appointment by George IV as Lord High Admiral, led to his nickname, The Mariner King. The unkind caricature of 1827 below shows William in the centre and suggests that only the fool of the family is sent into the navy.

Dof C

William was the only member of the British royal family to visit America before or during the American Revolution and George Washington wrote to approve a plot to kidnap him: “The spirit of enterprise so conspicuous in your plan for surprising in their quarters and bringing off the Prince William Henry and Admiral Digby merits applause; and you have my authority to make the attempt in any manner, and at such a time, as your judgment may direct. I am fully persuaded, that it is unnecessary to caution you against offering insult or indignity to the persons of the Prince or Admiral…” Word of the plot reached the British and William suddenly found himself  with a large armed escort.

That was the extent of my knowledge of William, so I was surprised to come across him in the harbour town of Lunenburg in Nova Scotia. We were staying at the historic Mariner King inn, built in 1830, and there I discovered the history of William’s scandalous connection with the province.

William was captain of the frigate Pegasus and put into harbour at Halifax, further along the coast from Lunenburg, in 1786. He was twenty one, of an amorous disposition, and soon found himself in the bedchamber of Mrs Frances Wentworth, aged forty two.

Portrait_of_Mrs._Theodore_Atkinson_Jr._(Frances_Deering_Wentworth)Frances was the wife of the Governor of New Hampshire and, as Loyalists, they and many others had been forced to flee by the American forces. Apparently she was very unhappy in Canada, missed her son who was in London and fretted at her diminished social status. An affaire with a prince must have raised her morale considerably! However, her husband wrote to the King to complain and William was recalled to England. (In the painting above of 1765 by John Singleton Copley she was still married to her first husband, Theodore Atkinson. he was her cousin, as was John Wentworth whom she married withing a week of Theodore’s death. Image in public domain.)

It seems William returned to Mrs Wentworth’s company in 1787 and again in 1788, causing a scandal in Halifax society. She apparently brazened it out  “like a haughty Queen” and her husband John left the city to serve as H.M. Surveyor of Forests, a sinecure presumably organised by the King as a sweetener. He did receive some reward for his patient humiliation when, in 1791, he and Frances visited London. Frances renewed her acquaintanceship with the Prince and he helped secure the appointment of John as Governor of Nova Scotia. John was created a baronet in 1795. (He is shown in the undated portrait below. Artist unknown. Image in public domain.)

Governor_John_Wentworth

So, back to Lunenburg, founded in 1753. The second owner of what is now the Mariner King Inn was an enthusiastic supporter of the new monarch and named his brigantine, The William and so it must have seemed an appropriate name for an inn.

Lunenburg is a World heritage site, still laid out on the original grid pattern of 1753 by army surveyors and full of delightful, well-maintained, houses of the 18th and 19th century – it is well worth visiting if you ever find yourself in Nova Scotia. At the foot of this post is a glimpse of its colourful streets with 18th century houses, ‘updated’ in the 19th century.

In my next blog post I will explore the connection of William’s brother Edward with Canada – and we meet Mrs Wentworth again.

Lunenburg

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Just A Dip in the Street? One of London’s Lost Rivers

Last week, on a visit to London, I got off a bus on Ludgate Hill, walked down to Ludgate Circus and turned left down New Bridge Street towards the Thames, ignoring Fleet Street rising up straight ahead. It is something that workers and tourists do in their thousands every day of the week, but I wonder how many of us think about why there is such a steep hill and dip in the street just there. The clue is in Fleet Street and the valley was, of course, caused by the River Fleet, now flowing under New Bridge Street in the guise of a sewer to its virtually invisible outfall in the Thames.

The map below is a section of Cary’s New Plan of London (1784)

Blackfriars

Travelling about London one tends not to notice its dips and hills. I have posted in the past about taking the 23 bus and experiencing the dip not only of the Fleet but also the Tyburn Brook in Oxford Street. On the map above the streets with ‘hill’ names help us map the course of the Fleet. At the top of Fleet Market, formed when the river was covered over in 1733, Holborn Hill and Snow Hill dip down from west and east and the course of the river continues northwards under Saffron Hill.

New Bridge Streetfull size

The image above is from Ackermann’s Repository May 1812, “from a drawing by that eminent artist in water-colour painting, Mr Frederick Nash.” The artist shows the scene as though he is standing in the middle of Ludgate Circus (although the maps of the time do not give the junction a specific name). The bump of Blackfriars Bridge is just visible in the far distance, Fleet Street is to the right and Ludgate Hill to the left.

“The obelisk at the north end of this street, as shewn in the view, was erected to give safety to the public crossing, in the year 1775, during the mayoralty of the celebrated John Wilkes.” (Wilkes (1725 – 1797) was a  radical, journalist, libertine and Member of Parliament. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of American independence although he grew increasingly conservative with age.) The obelisk has long gone, unfortunately.

The Fleet rises on Hampstead Heath, as does the Tyburn, but there is no trace these days other than the three swimming ponds on the Heath. In the Middle Ages it was still navigable by barges as far as Holborn Bridge, to the north of the section in this map of 1563. Fleet Bridge is named and below it was the Bridewell Bridge , “said to resemble to Rialto at Venice” according to Ackermann’s – it  certainly seems to be covered. Before the Great Fire it was made of wood, but was replaced in stone with two arches.

Blackfriars 1563

Bridewell, which has now vanished, began as a palace and rapidly deteriorated into a prison. I traced its history here.

In 1733 the length between the Holborn and Ludgate bridges was covered and became Fleet Market – the double row of stalls can be seen in Roque’s map of 1738/47 (below). The Fleet Prison shows clearly, middle top, – the curve of the wall is still reflected in the building line today.

Below Fleet Bridge the  Bridewell Bridge has disappeared and the Fleet itself is labelled ‘Fleet Ditch’, an apt name by then – it was a stinking mass of refuse. Pope in his Dunciad writes of it:

Fleet Ditch, with disemboguing streams,

Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames;

The King of Dykes! than whom no sluice of mud,

With deeper sable blots the silver flow.

Or, to quote Ackermann’s rather more prosaic description, “…in the state of a muddy and loathsome ditch, until the building of Blackfriars-Bridge in the year 1768. In the place of this ditch, which had become a serious public nuisance, has sprung up the noble street, exhibited in this view [ie the print above], called New Bridge-street.”

Blackfriars Roque

The original Blackfriars Bridge was begun in 1760 and was finally completed in 1769, although it was open to pedestrians in 1766 and to riders in 1768. It was intended to name it for the Prime Minister, William Pitt, as the remaining inscription still confusingly explains, but popular usage soon had it named for the area, the site of the old Black Friars’ monastery. Repairs took place in 1832, but the bridge deteriorated to such an extent that a new one was proposed. It took years, the building of the Thames Embankment and the demands of the railways, but in 1869 and new bridge was opened. (The parallel railway bridge, just downstream, opened in 1864).

After exploring the area, the marvellous Art Nouveau Blackfriar pub just before the bridge is an excellent place to have lunch and to admire the depiction of the monks who once inhabited the area. (Get there early – it is very popular!)

 

 

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A Splendid Pew and an Encounter With an 18th Century Lady

Some time ago I wrote about the organisation of space inside churches in the Georgian period. Social stratification became very clear in the way seating was organised and splendid box pews were built and were bought and sold or rented out. “To be SOLD, A PEW, in the West Gallery of the Parish Church, at Leeds, well situated for both Hearing and Seeing, and containing Sittings for Five People,” read the advertisement in the Leeds Intelligencer in October 1789.

I was reminded that as well as private pews in the body of the church it was possible to construct even more exclusive accommodation if you had the status and the position in the parish.

I had travelled to the Norfolk church of Holy Trinity, Stow Bardolf, to the south of King’s Lynn, in pursuit of one particular (and startling) memorial – of which more later – and was struck by the family pew of the lords of the manor which is situated like nothing so much as a theatre box next to the choir.

Stow Hall, which was sited within sight of the church, was the home of the Hare family who acquired the estate in 1553. In 1641 they were created baronets and this is probably what prompted them to construct a family chapel on the north side of the chancel with its own exterior door. It has a number of imposing monuments including Sir Thomas Hare who died in 1693 and is shown reclining in full Roman armour but, ludicrously, wearing his wig.

At some point someone had the bright idea of knocking through the wall behind the north choir stall to create the open front of a large family pew, enclosed in wood panelling and with a door into the family chapel. The Hares could therefore walk or drive to the churchyard gate nearest the Hall and enter through their own private door without having to mingle with the lesser folk of the parish.

family pew

Above is the view from the altar steps. Once seated in their pew, high enough to look down on the heads of the choristers below, the family were almost completely private. Behind the pew you can glimpse some funeral hatchments and below them the outside door.

mary hareThe 19th century family would have worshipped under the gaze of the figure of Hope on the memorial to Mary Hare who died in November 1801. Hope is leaning on an anchor (her symbol) which also serves as a reminder that Mrs Hare’s father, Sir Francis Geary, Bart., was an Admiral of the White. The upside-down torch leaning against the urn is a symbol of a life snuffed out. Usually the length of the torch is an indication of the length of the life of the deceased.

In the photograph of the pew you can just see the pointed top of something wooden and that is what I had come to Stow Bardolf to see. At first sight it appears to be a cupboard, almost like a small, rather shallow mahogany wardrobe.dsc09570

Over the door is an inscription which reads:

Here Lyeth the Body of Sarah Hare Youngest Daughter of Sr Thomas Hare Bart. And Dame Elizabth. His Wife And Sister To The Present Sir Thos Hare Who Departed This Life The IX Day Of Apr MDCCXLIV [1743] And Ordered This Effigies [sic] To Be Placed Here.

That is all the warning the unwary visitor has before they open the door and come face to face with Sarah Hare.

dsc09569

She is life-sized, the only wax funerary effigy in the UK outside Westminster Abbey and she died aged eighteen from blood poisoning after pricking her finger with a needle while doing embroidery. Poor Sarah lived long enough to realise that she must make her will and in it she left very specific instructions.

She was to be buried by six poor men of the parish who were to be paid five shillings each. “I desire to have my face and hands made in wax with a piece of crimson satin thrown like a garment in a picture, hair upon my head and put in a case of Mahogany with a glass before.” Her grieving family carried out her instructions to the letter. After the first shock on opening the cabinet it is very moving to come face to face with a woman of the 18th century shown just as she was, without any attempt to make her look ‘perfect’. Sarah has a double chin, a rather severe mouth and a mole on her right cheek and she looks beyond the viewer as though failing to notice that we are there. Her right hand looks swollen – perhaps a result of the infection that killed her.

An unsettling, but fascinating, encounter with a real woman.

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Just the Thing For the Garden

Now the drought is over I am returning to the garden in an attempt to rescue the parched remains and thinking it might be time for a makeover. And where better to turn for landscaping tips than Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts?

Of course, it does help if one has several acres and significant financial resources, to say nothing of strapping young men with spades and wheelbarrows…

Pyne 10002

But I will not be put off by the lack of acres and wheelbarrows (the one on the left is by W H Pyne) because the issue for February 1800 informs me that “Great diversity of surface may, in general, be obtained at no objectionable expense, if the labour be discreetly governed. To sink the valley and raise the hill is a good rule, when properly applied; in which case, the advantages produced are so immediate and striking, as amply to compensate for every exertion for every exertion: hence plants and trees obtain the appearance of several growths, as they are situated on greater or lesser elevations and produce varieties of incident, and opposition of light, shadow, form and colour, that cannot be effected on level ground.”

Apparently, once I have excavated and elevated I will have created something ideal for “garden seats, temples and alcoves… suited to retirement and study.” I don’t think a temple would work, but Ackermann helpfully illustrates an “alcove” that might fit in. It would certainly startle the neighbours.

Gardening

 

“The style of this little building is light and elegant, but of no specific architectural character; and from its arrangements and design, should be rather splendid in its furnishings than otherwise. The pillars are of iron, and from them are suspended china pattera, of rich colours: the chains are gilt, as is the terminal of the roof. The scale-like forms of the roof-covering are of thin lead, and might be richly painted: indeed the whole should be so decorated as to become highly ornamental, and be in splendid harmony with the accompanying parterres and flower-beds.”

Somehow I think this might be more the scale of project that my resources will run to – another Ackermann print, this time from September 1820

1820 gardening001

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Taking A Cold Plunge

In 1702 Sir John Floyer wrote A History of Cold Bathing, promoting immersion in cold water as a cure for just about any disease then known, from scurvy to cancers. Hot springs had never entirely gone out of fashion – the heat must have been a great benefit for all kinds of aches and pains – but bathing of any kind had fallen victim to the displeasure of the church after the Reformation. Partly this was because of the connection with bathing in ancient holy springs and partly because washing the body, let alone taking all one’s clothes off and engaging in a pleasurable activity, suggested sin.

Some bathing houses and plunge pools survive from the 17th century, so the pleasure of bathing, or the belief in its benefits, had never entirely gone away, but it was the 18th century that saw the explosion of the cold bathing craze.

The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEBAs I found when I was researching for my book The Georgian Seaside: The English Resorts Before the Railway Age, sea bathing did not really take off until the mid-18th century, but the same aristocrats who visited spas began to build bathing houses and plunge pools on their own estates decades earlier.

The country was stable under the Hanoverians, there was money to indulge in improvements in their grounds and, as well as the health benefits, an architecturally interesting bathing house made an attractive ‘eye-catcher’ in a landscaped park.

I was lucky enough to stay in one of these delightful buildings at the beginning of the month – The Bath House bathhouse-exterior-main-600x400at Walton in Warwickshire, now a Landmark Trust property.

Sir Charles Mordaunt of Walton Hall ordered the bathing house which was completed in 1755. It sits on a hillside in woodland with a glorious view in front and the romantic gloom of the trees behind. The spring-fed plunge bath is approximately 3.5 metres square and deep enough to come up to my shoulders. The chamber is deliberately rustic to appear as though it is a natural cave with a rugged ceiling, vast blocks of stone and a precipitous stair to the room above. Apparently Sir Charles was not averse to people assuming it was of Roman origin – the Fosse Way runs close by.

Bath pool

One of the diseases supposedly cured by cold water bathing was gout and as a sufferer, Sir Charles may have hoped this would help. But he was also undoubtedly influenced by fashion and an element of competition with the many wonderful houses and parks in the area, such as Compton

Bath House entrance

Bath House deerVerney.

The water from deep in the hill, was absolutely icy, the sort of cold that makes your bones ache. But it is also perfectly clear and the flow is strong enough to keep the pool constantly refreshed. The wildlife appreciate it too – there are bats in the ceiling, the Landmark Trust thoughtfully provides a net for frog-removal, and the fallow deer, like these two twin fawns, come to the outfall on the lawn below to drink.

The approach to the Bath House is from the back, through the woods, so there is an element of surprise as you walk in to the incredible drawing room above the bathing chamber.

In contrast to the rough-hewn basement the drawing room is an elegant jewel box with a high ceiling, wide widows and fabulous decoration. Great swags of seashells, each almost 3 metres across, decorate the walls and the ceiling has a mass of thousands of plaster ‘icicles’.Bath House Interior 2

Sir Charles was very fortunate to have the advice and practical help of Mrs Mary Delaney, famous for her exquisite flower pictures created in cut paper. She was also an expert in shell-work, then very fashionable for grottos, summer houses and follies and she sourced shells for the Bath House from the West Indies, Naples, Ireland and the Channel Islands. The swags were mounted in boards by Mrs Delaney herself helped by her sister and Sir Charles’s two daughters.Bath House interior

When the building was taken over by the Landmark Trust it had been severely damaged by vandals and the swags and icicles had to be re-made. The interior is now restored to its former Georgian glory and staying there is a wonderful experience. We slept with the shutters open so that when we woke we could look up into the gorgeous ceiling before tip-toeing to the window to see if the deer and their fawns were on the grass below. I have to confess that one dip in the pool was enough and it was fortunate that there were no neighbours – the screams of anguish were so loud!

Bath House swags

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Living In History

For those  who are fascinated by the past, or who write about it or who just want to reach out and touch history – I have a recommendation for you – The Landmark Trust.

I’m just back from a stay in one of their properties – Calverley Old Hall in the village of the same name just outside Leeds. This ancient manor house is now stranded in the middle of 20th century development which only added to its air of faint melancholy and mystery.Calverley exterior

The part of the building we were staying in was built at the time of the English Civil War, so we spent our evenings beside the massive hearth dating from about 1640 (see below) or enjoying a bottle of wine at the long table under the beams. But that’s not the best bit – part of the building goes back to 1300 and there’s a 15th century Great Hall and chapel (seen above) and a heart-wrenching story about a father who, in 1604, lost his mind and killed his two sons (and came to a dreadful end). True, the older parts are only viewable from the outside and through the windows, but the entire place was priceless for firing this writer’s imagination.

Calverley interior

The Landmark Trust specialises in saving historic buildings which have lost their purpose and, in some cases, almost their hold on existence. They restore what they can and convert, with integrity, the building as holiday accommodation. There is no TV or radio, phone or wifi, just peace, atmosphere and a well-stocked library relevant to the location. The decoration and furnishing is true to the building as well, with a seemingly endless supply of characterful antiques and near-antiques from their store.

Calverley Old Hall was our 6th Landmark and we are already looking forward to number seven, The Bath House, a mid-18th century folly near Stratford on Avon, built over a bathing pool formed from a natural spring. (One half of the party is completely unimpressed by my remarks that 18th century gentlemen would have splashed happily in the pool in a state of nature and is refusing to assist with my researches into this.)

Pigsty exteriorThe others? There was The Pigsty (above) overlooking Robin Hood’s Bay – a miniature Classical temple with a spectacular view built by an eccentric farmer in 1891 for some very pampered pigs. You can see the view below:

Pigsty view

Lock Cottage (below), built 1790/1815 on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, has a wheelbarrow provided to transport luggage and provides all the entertainment of watching the passing holidaymakers negotiating the flight of locks with various degrees of skill (and colourful language).

Lock Cottage

Iron Bridge House (about 1830) is right at one end of the famous Iron Bridge. It is the building right in the middle of the picture.

Ironbridge exterior

There were lovely glimpses of the river and close-ups of the bridge itself  as you can see through the right-hand living room window.

Ironbridge interior

Then there was Beckford’s Tower overlooking Bath with spectacular views from the top of the tower, all 276 feet of it.

Beckfords tower exterior

Built by eccentric connoisseur and collector William Beckford it was later given to a Bath church as a graveyard, so one could lie in bed, or in the bath on the ground floor (middle window), and virtually read the gravestones. A little macabre perhaps, but no ghosts were encountered. The living room (below) has been decorated in a colour scheme true to Beckford’s Regency taste.

Beckford's tower interior

Finally we enjoyed the Prospect Tower, built in 1808 near Faversham by General, later Lord, Harris of Seringapatam as a folly and tea house. In the Edwardian period it became a changing room for the 4th Lord Harris who was an enthusiastic cricketer. It still overlooks the cricket pitch of his home, Belmont Park.

Prospect Tower exterior

There is something very special about living in ancient buildings, I find. Partly it is the tranquility and the lack of modern distractions so my mind can wander freely, part is the thrill of imagining the past inhabitants who looked out of this window, or huddled round that fire in flickering candlelight or gazed out over that view. Why not give it a try?

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