Category Archives: Street life

A Fleet Street Church

fleet-st-st-dunstans

The scene above (from Ackermann’s Repository ) 1812 shows the view west along Fleet Street towards Temple Bar, the point where the City of London becomes Westminster. The Regency Londoner  would have trouble recognizing it today – always assuming they could stand in the same spot without being mown down by the traffic. Temple Bar, after many adventures is now re-erected next to St Paul’s Cathedral and the church whose west end faces us – St Dunstan’s in the West – was demolished and rebuilt in 1830 when Fleet Street was widened by nine metres.

I found a mid-eighteenth century print of St Dunstan’s in a folder I bought at auction a few weeks ago and that image prompted me to look at the one above again. I have to confess an interest in St Dunstan’s – two of my ancestors were in London in 1643, died of the plague and were buried there.

st-dunstans

I love the street scenes these prints show, especially the shops. In the 18th century one you can clearly see the way shops have been built right around the walls of the church itself as was common at the time. Each has its hanging sign and the shop on the far left must be a clockmaker’s. By the time of the 1812 print the shops along the side have been swept away, but the ones of the east end remain.

St Dunstan’s was built in the 12th century, grew and was changed and even survived the Great Fire of 1666 which reached almost to its walls. Samuel Pepys, whose groping is one of his most unattractive features, tried it on with a servant girl while listening to a sermon in St Dunstan’s. She took out a packet of pins in a threatening manner and he took the hint!

Inside there are monuments rescued from the old church and the ring of bells is the original. The only survival of the old church on the outside is the clock projecting from a temple containing the figures of two men with clubs who used to hit a bell every fifteen minutes. It was erected in 1671 by the parishioners as a thank-offering for the escape from the Fire. The clock and the figures are set back a little now, so it is difficult to see them unless you are square in front of them, but they show up well on Streetview. The clock which according to the London Encyclopedia, was the first in London to have minutes marked and to be double sided, was a tourist attraction mentioned by Dickens in Barnaby Rudge and Sir Walter Scott in The Fortunes of Nigel.

When the church was demolished it was removed to the Marquess of Hertford’s Regent Park villa, but it was returned in 1935, thanks to Lord Rothermere the newspaper proprietor who brought it back to the heart of London’s newspaper world, Fleet Street.

 

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The Statue of Charles I – a London landmark Jane Austen would have known

chas-i-in-brass

Standing on the southern edge of Trafalgar Square, facing down Whitehall, and in the midst of a permanent traffic jam, stands the bronze statue of Charles I, looking down towards the place of his execution as he has done since 1675. The surroundings have changed beyond recognition, but every Georgian Londoner and visitor would have been familiar with the statue which appears in numerous prints.

The statue was created by Hubert le Suer in 1633, but it was not erected immediately and by the time of the Civil War it had become a target for the Parliamentarians. It was sold to John Rivett, a brazier, in 1649 on the strict instructions that it was to be melted down. Rivett, obviously both a shrewd political forecaster and a businessman, buried it in his garden and made a great deal of money from small souvenirs allegedly made from the bronze. Charles II acquired it on his restoration and it was erected, more or less on the site of the medieval Charing Cross, in 1675. It can be seen on the map, just below the R of Cross. Behind it is the King’s Mews and the Golden Cross Inn, now occupied by Trafalgar Square. The bulk of Northumberland House is to the east, below the final S of Cross.

chas-i-map

The pedestal is said to have been designed by Wren and carved by Grinling Gibbons.

This print of 1811 from Ackermann’s Repository, shows the view east past Northumberland House and down the Strand.

chas-i-char-x

The statue was obviously a familiar landmark that enabled artists to locate their images. The 1823 print of ‘The notorious Black Billy “At Home” to a London Street Party’ (drawn by Samuel Alken, published by Thos. Kelly) shows it surrounded by lively street life. Despite being shown as white, “Black Billy” Waters (c. 1778–1823) was black and is said to have been a slave who escaped by joining the British navy and who lost a leg in a fall from the rigging. Whatever the truth, he was a popular street entertainer with his characteristic feathered hat and violin.

chas-i-black-billy

By the middle of the 19th century street life was rather more decorous and this undated Victorian engraving shows a pristine Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery (with columns recycled from Carlton House).

chas-i-vict

Today the traffic around the statue is unrelenting, and so often jammed solid, that bus and taxi passengers have ample opportunity to study Charles in all his melancholy glory!

chas-i-pic-a

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Catching a Cawchery in a Slap-Ang Shop – Eating In the Regency Underworld

lodgingsYou are slumming it in Regency London – perhaps you’re in cheap lodgings avoiding your creditors, or dodging a furious father armed with a shotgun or your gambling habit has got the better of you and you are seriously out of pocket. You have found your cheap lodgings – a miserable, unheated room that you share with bedbugs, fleas, mice and the other inhabitants of your straw pallet – now you need to find something to eat. [The print above is of Logic’s lodgings in one of the Tom & Jerry tales by Pierce Egan. Note the dome of St Paul’s behind and the pawnbroker’s shop with its three gold balls on the left.]

A respectable eating house with a decent daily ordinary might be within your means, otherwise you’ll be looking for a grubbery and, in this kind of area, it is probably a hand-in-pocket shop where ready money is expected and no credit is given or even a slam-bang or slap-ang shop, the lowest form of cook shop. Even if you are clammed, sharp-set or positively gutfoundered, you’ll still be hoping that it isn’t run by a cook ruffian, a really bad cook who’ll beat all to a todge, or unrecognisable mess.

If all you can afford is buster and beeswax or bread and cheese, it will taste better if it has been toasted to make a Welsh rabbit or, failing the cheese, you may have to make do with a scratch platter or tailor’s ragout of bread and sliced cucumbers slopped in vinegar.

If there’s a smell of cooking meat the chances are it will be a sheep’s head  – baked to make a Bloody Jemmy or Field Lane Duck or boiled with onions which makes a German Duck. But that might be too expensive so you settle for a galimaufry, a hodge-podge of leftovers or a cawchery, a stew (best not to investigate the ingredients). If you are lucky it might be padded out with some naked boys – rather lumpy dumplings. Below is a detail from “Tom and Jerry Masquerading Among the Cadgers in the Back Slum in the Holy Land” with the diners tucking into their food next to the stove while a riot breaks out in the background.

slum eating

Just when it all seems hopeless and you are contemplating a diet of flummery – oatmeal and water boiled to a jelly – one of your friends turns up with a loan and you can foul a plate and polish a bone with them and treat yourselves to an alderman – a fine roast turkey with a garland of sausages in place of the alderman’s chain of office.

As for what you’ll drink with your alderman, that’s another story – but the chances are you’ll be washing it down with a tankard or two of heavy wet.

GroseFrancis Grose toured the back-slums and the rookeries of London in the 1780s collecting cant and slang terms for his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,  assisted (or possibly supported) by his servant Batch. Judging by his portrait Grose had sampled plenty of naked boys, aldermen and Bloody Jemmys himself. He inspired a number of imitators (and downright plagiarists) but all these late Georgian slang dictionaries are arranged in alphabetical order of the terms defined.  Regency Slang Revealed  takes four of them and organises them thematically, with an index – the perfect guide for the explorer of the Regency underworld. Regency Slang Revealed Cover MEDIUM WEB

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Pray Remember Guy Fawkes!

 

Pyne Guy Fawkes

 

The 5th November is the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 when a group attempted to blow up the House of Lords, along with King James I, during the State Opening of Parliament. The aim was to install James’s nine year old daughter Elizabeth as a Catholic head of state, but the conspirators were betrayed and Guy Fawkes, who had been guarding the thirty six barrels of gunpowder stacked in the cellars under the Lords’ Chamber, was captured.

Most of the conspirators managed to get out of London but were found and, after a fight, some were killed and the others captured. At their trial in January 1606 the eight survivors, including Guy Fawkes, were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. With the popular feeling so strong against Roman Catholics at the time, celebrations on the  anniversary of the discovery of the plot rapidly became a fixed part of the calendar and persisted nationally. Bishop Robert Sanderson (d.1663) preached, “God grant that we nor ours ever live to see November 5th forgotten, or the solemnity of it silenced.” By 1677 Poor Robin’s Almanac had the verse:

“Now boys with

Squibs and crackers play.

And bonfires blaze

Turns night to day.”

By the early 19th century the visible elements of the celebration – the bonfire, the effigy of the “guy” with small boys parading their own homemade versions and begging for “A penny for the guy” and the setting-off of fire crackers – were still as popular as ever. The idea of a bonfire, fireworks and the opportunity for a party was doubtless as appealing then as it is now and perhaps few people thought about what was being represented and the horrors of either the planned explosion or the hideous end of the conspirators.

I love the detail in the picture at the top of this post. It is from Pyne’s The Costumes of Great Britain, 1805 and shows urchins parading their guy. He is dressed in old clothes with a handful of firecrackers pushed into his coat front. in the background another guy has been hung over the bonfire with his hands full of firecrackers. In the right foreground are a group of tradespeople. A man carries a joint of meat in a wooden hod on his shoulder, too preoccupied to look up, but a girl selling something from her basket, a cooper with barrel hoops over his shoulder and his tools tucked into the front of his apron and a woman blacking boots look on in amusement. The shoe-black is wearing a soldier’s uniform jacket, two scarves over a white cap and a voluminous black skirt. Her pot of blacking is on the stool beside her and she is rubbing it into a boot with a small brush.

My copy of Observations on Popular Antiquities: chiefly illustrating the origin of our Vulgar Customs, Ceremonies and Superstitions by John Brand has the following for November 5th: “It is still customary in London and its vicinity for the boys to dress up an image of the infamous conspirator Guy Fawkes, holding in one hand a dark lanthorn, and in the other a bundle of matches, and to carry it about the streets begging money in these words, “Pray remember Guy Fawkes!” In the evening there are bon-fires , and these frightful figures are burnt in the midst of them.” The original edition was 1795, but the editor of the 1813 edition has added “Mr Brand was mistaken in supposing the celebration of the fifth of November to have been confined to London and its neighbourhood. The celebration of it was general.”

Cruickshank guy

Almost thirty years after the print by Pyne was published Cruickshank’s little image for November in London shows a very similar guy, although this one has a clay pipe in his mouth. Another guy is being carried in the distance on the right and he is wearing a tall white dunce’s cap which may be intended to represent the hats worn by heretics burnt at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition.

It is obviously November – fog is swirling in the street, the figure in the centre has his nose and mouth muffled and the advertisements pasted to the boarded-up window are for cloaks, greatcoats and furs. There is also an advert for fireworks.

 

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Bartholomew’s Fair

The George Cruickshank monthly print for September is a lively image of the Bartholomew fair, held at Smithfield from 1133 until Victorian moral outrage finally suppressed it in 1855.

Barth fair
Its origins were in the cloth fair which provided much of the income for the priory and hospice dedicated to St Bartholomew that eventually became today’s Bartholomew’s Hospital (“Barts”). The fair, one of the largest in the country, was held for three days from the eve of St Bartholomew’s Day (24th August). With the change of calendars in the 18th century the date slipped to 3rd September.
At the same time as the cloth fair the Corporation of London held a cattle fair at the same site and eventually, after many wrangles and the Dissolution of the monasteries, the Corporation took over the whole event.
By the 17th century the fair was more a vast funfair than a cloth or cattle sale and even the Puritans did not try and shut it down. By the time Charles II was on the throne it lasted for three weeks of carnival and downright disorder.
Everyone, rich or poor, went to the Fair, including Samuel Pepys who records numerous visits over the years. On September 2nd 1664 he watched the rope-dancing and bought combs for his wife and her maids.
Entertainments included theatrical performances, jugglers, magicians, stalls selling every kind of trinket, animal shows, food stalls, freaks and vast amounts of drink. The print for a fan dated 1721 shows a rather tidy and sedate fair, but does illustrate some of the activities – rope dancers, Faux the conjuror, rides in a dog cart, an early form of Ferris wheel, a peepshow of the Siege of Gibraltar and a stall selling “toys” – not children’s playthings but adult novelties and trinkets. Dolls known as Bartholomew Babies were one of the most popular souvenirs.

V0014666 Bartholomew Fair, site of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Bartholomew Fair, site of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London, pictured in 1721. Aquatint with etching, c. 1800. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

V0014666 Bartholomew Fair, site of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
images@wellcome.ac.uk
http://wellcomeimages.org
Bartholomew Fair, site of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, pictured in 1721. Aquatint with etching, c. 1800.
Published: –
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

By the later 18th century Richardson’s booth was considered to have the best theatrical entertainments. He charged 6d admission (most others only charged a penny) and the tent was lined with green baize, illuminated by 2,000 lamps and the ushers were dressed as beefeaters. One can be seen to the right of Cruickshank’s print.
A visitor in 1825 records seeing “four lively little crocodiles hatched from eggs at Peckham by steam, Wombwell and his menageries [and] a glass blower in a glass wig blowing tea cups for 3d each.” An account of the money made by stallholders in 1828 gives an idea of the type of sideshows – the Pig-Faced Lady earned £150 (at 1d a time), the Panorama of the Battle of Navarino, £60 and the Chinese Juggler, £50. Wombwell’s Menagere made £1,500.
Cruickshank’s image shows a daytime scene with many children in the crowd – although even then the place is crowded and the bull-baiting appears to have got completely out of control. The coloured image by Pugin and Rowlandson for the Microcosm of London in 1801 shows a much darker, night-time scene, hinting at danger, debauchery and sin.

Microcosm Barth Fair
The Victorians certainly did not approve. In 1840 a committee regulated the booths and increased the rents and forbade “giants and dwarfs”. City notables ceased their support and by 1850 it was so reduced that it was no longer worth having an opening ceremony. In 1855 it ceased to exist, leaving only its name as a bye-word for uncontrolled fun for every class.

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All About April – Fools and Showers

April showers

These days April is famous for its showers and its fools, and I love this illustration by Cruickshank showing two ladies caught out in the rain while everyone else is either sheltering under an archway or buying a new umbrella from J. Gingham, Umbrella Depot. I’m not sure what the three lads are doing – possibly they are up to some kind of April Fool’s Day prank. As always with these tiny Cruickshank drawings the fun is in the details – behind the pieman with his basket is a shower bath standing outside T. Brass, Ironmonger. And, of course, the scene is set in St Swithin’s Lane. There is a real lane of that name in London, running between Cannon Street and Lombard Street in the City. St Swithin’s Day is July 15th, but the connection with rain was obviously too much for the artist to ignore.

St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ‘twill rain nae mare.

For April Fool’s Day in the Georgian era I turned to Observations on Popular Antiquities, Chiefly Illustrating the Origin of our Vulgar Customs, Ceremonies and Superstitions by John Brand (1813). They don’t write titles like that any more. Brand considered it to be of Druidical origin (but then he considered a great deal was) and comments that it was observed from ancient times all over the kingdom, and in France. “The wit chiefly consists in sending persons on what are called sleeveless errands, for The History of Eve’s Mother, for Pigeon’s Milk, with similar absurdities. ” He quotes rather a charming little love poem, dated 1798:

To  A Lady, who threatened to make the Author an April Fool

Why strive, dear Girl, to make a Fool,

Of one not wise before;

Yet having ‘scaped from Folly’s School,

Would fain go there no more.

Ah! if I must to school again,

Wilt though my teacher be?

I’m sure no lesson will be vain

Which though canst give to me?

And finally, as we are buffeted here in England with a windy beginning to the month, I’ll leave you with this delightful little watercolour sketch. It isn’t signed or dated, unfortunately.

Windy weather

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Going to the Library In Georgian London

In a recent post I used two of Cruickshank’s delightful monthly views of London to illustrate the state of the streets. When I looked at March I found it showed the effects of March gales on pedestrians passing the doors of Tilt, Bookseller & Publisher, which made me dig further into my collection to see what I had on access to books.

March
For the middle and upper classes in Georgian London reading was a significant leisure pastime, whether the book was a collection of sermons, a political dissertation, a scientific work or a scandalous novel full of haunted castles, wicked barons and innocent young ladies in peril.
To have a library, however modest, was the mark of a gentleman, but not everyone could afford every book that they wanted, or wanted to own every book that they read.  The subscription circulating library came into existence to satisfy the reading habits of anyone who could afford a few pounds annual subscription and who required “Rational Entertainment In the Time of Rainy Weather, Long Evenings and Leisure Hours”, as the advertisement for James Creighton’s Circulating Library at no.14, Tavistock Street, Covent Garden put it in October 1808.

No doubt the elegant gentleman at the foot of this post would have satisfied his reading habit from one of these libraries. (He is sitting in his garden with a large bee skip in the background and is one of my favourite designs from my collection of bat-printed table wares. Bat printing refers to the method, by the way, and has nothing to do with flying mammals!)
The only bookshop and circulating library of the period that survives today is Hatchard’s in Piccadilly. It was established in 1797 and shared the street with Ridgeway’s and Stockdale’s libraries. The photograph of a modern book display in Hatchard’s was kindly sent to me by a reader who spotted my Walking Jane Austen’s London on the table.Jane Austen in Hatchards. Henshaw (2nd from the right, 2nd row from the front).
Circulating libraries ranged in size from the modest collection of books in a stationer’s shop to large and very splendid collections.

At the top end of the scale was the “Temple of the Muses”, the establishment of Messrs. Lackington and Allen in Finsbury Square. The print shows the main room with the counter under the imposing galleried dome and is dated April 1809. The accompanying text, in Ackermann’s Repository, states that it has a stock of a million volumes. The “Temple” was both a book shop and a circulating library and the pLackingtonsroprietors were also publishers and printers of their own editions. As well as the main room shown in the print there were also “two spacious and cheerful apartments looking towards Finsbury-square, which are elegantly fitted up with glass cases, inclosing books in superb bindings, as well as others of ancient printing, but of great variety and value. These lounging rooms, as they are termed, are intended merely for the accommodation of ladies and gentlemen, to whom the bustle of the ware-room may be an interruption.”
Richards libraryCirculating libraries advertised regularly in all the London newspapers and the advertisement here is a particularly detailed one from a new firm, Richard’s of 9, Cornhill and shows the subscription costs which varied between Town and Country. Special boxes were provided for the transport of books out of London, which was at the cost of the subscriber. Imagine the excitement of a lady living in some distant country house when the package arrived with one of the two books a month her subscription of 4 guineas had purchased!

Reading bat bowl

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The Perils of the Pavement – Winter in Georgian London

February always seems to bring muddier, messier weather than January, perhaps because the ground is already so sodden. Negotiating the slushy snow, puddles and potholes as I crossed the street in my local market town this morning made me think about what London streets were like at this time of year in the early 19th century.Snowfall
The first print is from Richard Deighton’s London Nuisances series – A Heavy Fall of Snow – with the unfortunate gentleman getting a load of snow on his hat from the men clearing the ledge above the shop he is passing.
Rather appropriately the establishment belongs to Mr Careless, a skate maker, and pairs of skates are hanging in the window. The engraving shows very clearly the flagstones of the pavement, as opposed to the much rougher cobbled street surface which is just visible above the caption.
For all the accident with the snow, this seems a very clean and tidy street. For a rather more likely pair of images I’ve copied two of a monthly series of prints of London street scenes by George Cruikshank (thanks to Stephen Barker for the identification!). They were cut out and pasted in an album, hence the clipped corners. Except for the style of the women’s dresses and the gas lamp they could be any time from about 1800.

Street JanIn the first, January, the town is experiencing a hard frost. The men in the carts are breaking up ice and taking it away, while three chilly individuals are marching under a placard reading “Poor Froze Out Gardeners” – presumably with no work because the ground is frozen solid. Behind their placard is the ship of W. Winter, Furrier and the shop window on the left is advertising “Soups”. A gang of boys seems to have fallen to the ground while sliding on the ice.Street Feb
The second scene is February and shows the effects of the thaw. Men are shoveling snow off the high roofs in the background onto unwary passers-by and the cobbled street surface is a potholed mess. The lady in the middle with her skirts lifted almost to her knees is wearing iron pattens on her shoes to raise her out of the mire and street cleaners are shoveling mud into a cart behind her. The housewife on the corner is obviously doing her bit to sweep at least a section of the pavement clean. On the right the postman is doing his rounds. Here is one of a pair of late 18th century pattens like the ones being worn.

54.61.127a-b 0004

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Lighting With A Bang

Dighton 2

Richard Dighton’s print of 1821 is sarcastically entitled “One of the Advantages of GAS over OIL” and, as it is from his “London Nuisances” series, demonstates that even thirteen years after the first demonstration of street lighting by gas, the new technology was treated with considerable wariness.

Throughout the eighteenth century scientists were aware of the light produced by both coal, wood and natural gases, but could see little practical use for it. Meanwhile streets contined to be dark, dangerous and crime-ridden, the only pools of light the lanterns put out by householders and the precarious illumination of the link-boys’ torches. SONY DSCOften the link-boys could not be trusted to guide the walker safely home and not into the hands of muggers and pickpockets and the air of danger was intensified by the identification of the boys, plunging their flaming torches into the dark snuffers, with illicit  acts. The presence of a link boy in a painting was enough to alert the viewer to a sexual sub-text. This snuffer is outside Chatham House in St James’s Square.

William Murdoch, an engineer working for Matthew Boulton and James Watt at their Soho Foundry steam engine works in Birmingham is the first person known to have lit a house by gas, although, having tried it at home in Redruth, Cornwell in 1792, he did not seem interested in trying to expand on that use. Instead he used gas to light the interior of the Soho Foundry in 1798 and four years later he illuminated the outside in a spectacular public display.

Meanwhile a German inventor, Fridrich Winzer, known in Britian as Frederick Albert Winsor, took out the first patent for a gas light in 1802. In 1807 he set up a retort in Pall Mall and produced a temporary display of street lighting on January 28th 1807 for the Prince Regent’s birthday. Prinny became a fan of the new technology and gave it his support.

SONY DSC

Coal gas contains hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide and sulphur – smelly, explosive, a fire risk and a definite health hazard and the technology to make it safer lagged beghind the ability to produce it. Gas in homes was very rare until the 1840s and did not really catch on until the 1860s when the gas lighting installed in the new Houses of Parliament allayed public fears. Even then the light was from a flame, in effect a powerful candle – the first gas mantle was not invented until 1885.

Meanwhile some shops risked introducing it. Entrepreneur publisher Rudolph Ackermann rebuilt his  luxurious Emporium in the Strand in 1810 and it was the first shop in London ‘to be lit solely by Gas, which burns with a purity and brilliance unobtainable by any other mode of illumination hitherto attempted.’ But it was slow to catch on , although its benefits for street lighting – and the reduction of crime –  were easily appreciated. In 1812 Parliament granted a charter to the London and Westminster Gas Light and Coal Company and on December 31st 1813 Westminster Bridge was illuminated permanently.

In 1804 Winsor had tried lighting the Lyceum theatre by gas, but it was not until 1817 that it was installed there and at the Covent Garden and Drury Lane theatres. In that year the Chartered Gas Company’s three stations produced 8,500 cubic metres of gas, capable of lighting gas lamps giving the equivalent light of 450,00 candles. Despite the dangers, gas light was here to stay and by 1826 virtually every city and large town in Britain had gas street lighting.

There are still gas lights on the streets of London today. Crown Passage, which runs between King Street and Pall Mall, is still very reminiscent of the network of alleys and courts that crisscrossed the fashionable St James’s area – home to gaming hells, brothels and lodging houses on the doorstep of St James’s Palace and Almack’s Assembly Rooms – and it still has gas light and a gas lighter, although when I met him he was simply setting the timing mechanism that turns the gas on and off these days. The other gas light shown is on the front of a house in St James’s Place, almost opposite Cleveland Court where Henry Austen, Jane’s brother, had his banking premises for a time.

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