Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Streets of Old Lambeth: Streatham - The Road South

A visitor to London, exploring the Borough of Lambeth, and having visited Brixton, can take any one of several buses (159, 133, 333, 118) southwards to Streatham Hill. The railway station here opened in 1856, as part of the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway, the arrival of which made this area of south London more attractive to London's burgeoning population of commuters. Even before this, however, horse-drawn omnibuses had opened up Streatham to residential development; and, going back to the Eighteenth Century, it was a place to which Londoners came to "take the waters" from local springs; and where the wealthy built their mansions, away from the smoke and noise of the City, yet close enough to commute on horseback, or by carriage.

The current A23 (Streatham Hill, which becomes Streatham High Road as we move south) was a minor Roman Road connecting London to Portslade (now part of Brighton and Hove) on the south coast. In the Seventeenth Century, it was "improved" as a coaching route running through Croydon and East Grinstead to Lewes and the port of Newhaven. England's first supermarket (Express Dairies Premier Supermarket) opened here in 1951.

The stables of the Red House Coaching Inn, Streatham, by William West Neve, 1884. Image: Praefectus Fabum (licensed under CCA).

Streatham Public Library. Photo: Matthew Black (licensed under CCA).

Streatham High Road in 1895 (image is in the Public Domain).

Bomb damage in Streatham, caused by a German Zeppelin raid in September, 1916. Photo: Imperial War Museum, HO 101 (image is in the Public Domain).

To the east of the road, two churches stand opposite one another. Saint Leonard's dates back to Saxon times (Estreham is mentioned as a village in the Domesday Book of 1086, its sheep producing wool to make habits for the monks of Bec-Helloun Abbey in Normandy), but only the Fifteenth Century tower predates 1831. The second, taller, church is the Roman Catholic Church of the English Martyrs, opened in 1893, to serve the large community of Irish origin, many of whom worked on the railways which their grandfathers and great-grandfathers had helped to build.

Saint Leonard's Church. Photo: Robert Cutts (licensed under CCA).

The interior of Saint Leonard's Church. Photo Stephen Craven (licensed under CCA). 

Continuing south along the road, and passing Streatham railway station on the right, we come to Streatham Common, one of the many green spaces that make the London suburbs a pleasant place to live. Most of its mature trees were planted in the late Nineteenth Century. Overlooking the common is Park Hill House (not accessible to the public): it was built, in 1830, by the banker and silver-merchant, William Leaf; but was home, from 1851 to 1899, to the sugar-merchant and philanthropist, Sir Henry Tate. Born in Liverpool, the son of a Unitarian minister, Tate was a self-made man, who endowed not only Streatham's and Brixton's public libraries, but also the Tate Gallery, Liverpool Royal Infirmary, Liverpool University, and the University of London's Bedford College for women.

Streatham Common. Photo: Noel Foster (licensed under CCA).

Autumn on Streatham Common. Photo: Nicky Johns (licensed under CCA).

Park Hill House, Streatham (image is in the Public Domain).

Sir Henry Tate, by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, 1897. Image: Tate Britain (Public Domain).

We have now completed our exploration of the Borough of Lambeth. From outside Streatham railway station, one can take a bus (159, 133, or 118) back to Brixton, and then the Victoria Line to Vauxhall, walking across Vauxhall Bridge into the City of Westminster.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

The Story of London in 50 Novels: 8 - "The House of Doctor Dee," by Peter Ackroyd

London during the Sixteenth and early Seventeenth Centuries was a bustling port, with ships arriving on a daily basis from the most dynamic cities of Europe: Stockholm & Copenhagen; Rotterdam & Antwerp; Bordeaux & Seville; Genoa & Venice. These ships brought furs, timber, wine, silks, and spices, but, just as importantly, they brought knowledge and information, and they brought books. Following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turk in 1453, waves of Greek immigrants settled in Italy, some of them bringing manuscripts from the Byzantine Imperial Archives. Many found work as tutors, teaching Greek to the children of  aristocrats and wealthy merchants, and some, at least, of these, must have found their way to England. The brightest among these immigrants, however, set to work translating the classic works of Greek philosophy, mathematics, and literature into Latin. These works soon appeared in Italian, English, Dutch, and French translations.

In 1527, a boy named John Dee was born in the shadow of the Tower of London, the son of a merchant family of Welsh descent. As a child, he probably spent time on the London docks, and developed a prodigious gift for languages. By the time he began his studies at Cambridge in the 1540s, he could read both Greek and Latin, and probably French, German, and Dutch as well.

Doctor John Dee, Ashmolean Museum, anonymous portrait (image is in the Public Domain).

He became one of the first fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge, following its foundation in 1546, and began the tradition, which survives at Cambridge to this day, of staging Greek plays in the original language. His production of Aristophanes's Peace gained him a reputation as an illusionist or magician (nobody was quite sure which), as he sent an actor into the roof-space of Trinity College, clinging to the back of a giant beetle, probably with the assistance of college porters who had served as Petty Officers in the Royal Navy. 

The logo of Venice's Aldine Press (image is in the Public Domain). Aldines were the Penguins of their day. Working in partnership with the Doge's brother, the publisher, Aldus Manutius had a monopoly of books printed in Greek on Venetian territory: he played a key role in establishing a pan-European and multi-lingual market for the Greek classics in Renaissance Europe. 

The Aldine Latin translation of the works of Herodotus (image is in the Public Domain).

Despite his Cambridge connections, and his extensive European travels (Louvain, Brussels, Paris, Krakow, Prague), Dee remained, for much of his adult life, a Londoner, accumulating a vast library at his home in Mortlake. He was a philosopher, an alchemist, an astrologer, and a mathematician; an early English enthusiast for the philosophy of Plato, but also for the more esoteric ideas of "Hermes Trismegistus," a supposed Egyptian contemporary of Moses. Like many of his generation, Dee made no distinction between what we would call "science," and what we might think of as "occult" activities. He believed in a harmonious synthesis of all forms of human and divine knowledge: he taught Euclidian mathematics to navigators; but he also experimented in communication with angels. The British Museum holds a collection of objects that he used for these experiments, including an obsidian mirror, probably seized by a Spanish conquistador from an Aztec priest in Mexico.

Crystal ball, believed to have been owned by John Dee. Photo: British Museum (non-commercial license CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0).

The "Seal of God," believed once to have been owned by John Dee. Photo: Geni (licensed under GNU).

The "Corpus Hermeticum," translated from Greek to Latin by Marsilio Ficino in 1471 (image is in the Public Domain). Thought by Ficino, and by his patron, Cosimo de Medici, to have been written by an ancient Egyptian sage, the original is probably a Roman forgery of the 1st Century AD. Ficino's translation was a key source for Dee's occult experimentation.

Peter Ackroyd's novel, The House of Doctor Dee, brings together two London-based stories, both narrated in the first person: the first by a fictional modern character, Matthew Palmer; and the second by John Dee himself. The connection between them arises from Palmer's inheritance, from his father, of a house that once belonged to Dee (although Ackroyd uses artistic license to move this from Mortlake to Clerkenwell - nothing, in fact, remains of Dee's actual home). The worlds of the Sixteenth and Twentieth Centuries come together, as Palmer researches and imagines the ghosts of London Past; and Dee divines and imagines those of London Yet to Come.

"But why was I thinking about these people, as I sat in the house at Clerkenwell? They were no more than phantoms conjured up out of my weakness, their voices less real to me than the shape of this ground-floor room and the texture of its thick stone walls ... I heard myself talking into the air in my sudden exaltation: 'Let the dead bury their dead' ... Then I noticed something ... And there came upon me a curious fear - that there were, somehow, shadows where no shadows should have been. No, they were not shadows. They were patterns in the dust, caught suddenly in the changing light of that summer's evening."

"We were so close to the waterside that we would take our quadrant ... down Water Lane to Blackfriars Stairs where, among the barges and the herring buses, we called out 'Westward! Westward! until one of the passing watermen noticed us. The wherry took us by the open fields beside Lambeth Marsh where, with the quadrant established upon firm earth, we would make various observations of the sun's progress. Sometimes, coming or going, we were close to falling into the Thames over head and ears with the cumbersomeness of the quadrant, but we always escaped onto dry ground ... There were sly citizens who were accustomed to call us sorcerers or magicians for all this measuring ... 'They had nothing to do with what is vulgarly called magic.' I took more wine to consume the fire within me. 'Mine are wonderful sciences, greatly aiding our dim sight for the better view of God's power and goodness. I am, by profession, a scholar, sir, and not some magician or mountebank.'"

"Now look upon this. Look upon the world without love. I awoke and found myself in as black a night as I have ever known; but I was not in my chamber. I was walking abroad, with the help of a lantern and candle, and now stood below the wall of the city. The stone rose before me like the face of that idol discovered in the Devonshire mines, yet as I raised my lantern I saw all the wrinkles, cracks, crevices and flaws that lay within the ancient stones ... I passed in through the More Gate even as there came the sound of a horn, and one blown with such force that the echo redoubled again in the dark London air. I knew these streets so well that without any light I could have made my way but, when I put up my lantern by All Allowes in the Wall, I saw many citizens walking slowly through the lane there in long gowns and velvet coats. Each one held a wax candle lighted in his hands, and sighed continually as if his bowels might break ... Why did they walk and moan continually, down Wormwood Street and Broad Street?"

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Streets of Old Lambeth: Brixton - From Countryside to "Inner City"

A visitor to London, exploring the Borough of Lambeth, and having arrived at Vauxhall Bridge, can turn southward, and cross the roundabout to Vauxhall Underground Station. From here, on the Victoria Line, it is just two stops to our penultimate port-of-call within the borough, Brixton.

In the Eighteenth Century, Brixton was open countryside, producing food for the London markets, and known, especially, for its strawberries. There is even a windmill, close to the station, built in 1816, at just the time that the whole character of the district was set to change, prompted by the construction of Vauxhall Bridge, which opened the area up to commuters. The houses built by developed along Brixton Road and Brixton Hill, and on the roads leading off from them, attracted wealthy residents: Whitehall civil servants; proprietors of West End shops; City solicitors and architects.

The Brixton "Hundred" in 1760, by Eman Bowen (image is in the Public Domain).

Ashby's Mill, Brixton, in 1864 (it was built in 1816) - image is in the Public Domain.

Sheep grazing on Rush Common, 1892, close to the site of the Tate Library (image is in the Public Domain). 

Brixton Road from Acre Lane, 1883. Photo: Lambeth Archives (image is in the Public Domain).

Brixton Road, 1907 (image is in the Public Domain).

The arrival of the Chatham, London, and Dover Railway in the second half of the Nineteenth Century provided a further boost to the burgeoning suburbs: in 1880, Brixton's Electric Avenue became the first street in London to be lit by electricity; and residents soon had the benefits of a public library (courtesy of the sugar magnate and philanthropist, Sir Henry Tate); and one of the first purpose-built cinemas in England (then the Electric Pavilion, now the Ritzy).

Electric Avenue, Brixton, in 1895. Photo by Frederick Rolfe (image is in the Public Domain)

Tate Library, Brixton (image is in the Public Domain).

The arrival of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) to open Brixton's Tate Library, 1893 (image is in the Public Domain).

The upper reading room of the Tate Library (image is in the Public Domain).

Charles Booth's (1889) "Poverty Map" of Brixton, but there is little poverty here: Yellow indicates "upper middle class;" red "lower middle class;" and pink "fairly comfortable, good, ordinary earnings." Image is in the Public Domain.

The Ritzy Cinema, Brixton. Photo: C. Ford (licensed under CCA).

By the early years of the Twentieth Century, however, wealthier residents were moving further out from the centre of London, into leafier suburbs. Many of Brixton's grand houses were subdivided into flats, and some fell into disrepair. Others suffered bomb damage in both World Wars.

Bomb damage in Brixton, following a raid by German airships, September 1916. Photo: Imperial War Museum H098 (image is in the Public Domain). 

In the aftermath of the Second World War, a new wave of immigrants arrived in Britain from the Commonwealth territories of the Caribbean. Many had fought on the British side in the war, but they now returned to fill an acute labour shortage in the British Isles. 492 of these people arrived in London on the steamship, the Empire Windrush, in June 1948. They were initially accommodated in the Clapham South Deep Shelter (which had served as a bomb shelter during the Blitz), and, since the closest labour exchange was in Brixton's Coldharbour Lane, and cheap rental properties were available nearby, many settled in Brixton, finding work in the National Health Service, and in London's transport infrastructure.

West Indian airmen in the Second World War. Photo: Imperial War Museum (non-commercial license) CH11478.

A reception at the Colonial Office for West Indian women of the ATS, hosted by the Duke of Devonshire (foreground, centre). Photo: Imperial War Museum (non-commercial license) D21361.

The Empire Windrush. Photo: Michael Griffin (image is in the Public Domain).

In fact, the Windrush was only ever a symbol (albeit a powerful one) for a wider social and cultural phenomenon. Its arrival did not mark the beginning of Caribbean immigration to the British Isles (around 15,000 West Indians had worked in Britain's munitions factories during the First World War), and many more immigrants arrived, over the coming years, on subsequent crossings, or by air. Many were shocked by the racism that they encountered in England, with politicians, such as Enoch Powell, and, later, neo-Fascist organisations such as the National Front and British National Party, whipping up fear and hatred of anyone who was not white.

Nurses in London, 1954 (image is in the Public Domain).

A West Indian family in Brixton, 1950s (image is in the Public Domain).

Over the course of the 1970s, Brixton became increasingly impoverished. The term "inner city" (which never referred, as one might expect, to the Cities of London or Westminster, but rather to the run-down residential suburbs, with high immigrant populations) became associated with urban decay, poor housing, and high unemployment and crime. All of these factors contributed to the riots that broke out in Brixton in April, 1981, but the spark was ignited by "Operation Swamp," a Police initiative to crack down on street crime, making extensive use of the "Sus Law," allowing them to stop and search people at will. This law was applied in a blatantly discriminatory way, with the public humiliation of young black people by a Police force that was overwhelmingly white. Over the course of a number of days, several hundred people were injured; more than 150 buildings damaged; and 100 vehicles burned.

Th 1981 Brixton riots. Photo: Kim Aldis (licensed under CCA).

In the decades that have followed, Brixton has been extensively regenerated, and efforts made to heal the wounds. The reform of the Metropolitan Police happened more slowly than many would have wished, but it is now a very different organisation to that whose officers struggled to force their way along Brixton High Street in 1981. Black and Caribbean culture are celebrated in Brixton, yet the shadow of racism has not altogether been swept away. The British Home Secretary was recently forced to resign, over a scandal in which Caribbean immigrants of the "Windrush Generation" were denied access to essential services, and, in some cases, threatened with deportation, because they found themselves unable to prove their right to remain in a country in which most of them have worked and paid taxes for the whole of their adult lives. 

Mural, celebrating Brixton's rural past, by artists Mick Harrion and C. Thorp. Photo: Leticia Golubov (lemanja75, licensed under CCA).

Mural at Brixton Station, by artists Karen Smith and Angie Biltcliffe. Photo: Leticia Golubov (lemanja 75), licensed under CCA.

Lambeth Town Hall, Brixton, opened 1908. Photo: Steve Cadman (licensed under CCA).

Windrush Square, Brixton. Photo: Felix-felix (image is in the Public Domain).

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Impressionists in London

A major exhibition currently open at Tate Britain highlights the London works of a group of (mainly) French painters living in London in the second half of the Nineteenth Century. Not all of the works on display are, in the strictest sense, "Impressionist:" there are Impressionist masterpieces by some of the best known figures of the movement, such as Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro; but there are also works by members of their extended social circle, such as James Tissot, who are not conventionally regarded as "Impressionists;" and works by non-French artists, such as the American, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who were, to a greater or lesser extent, influenced by the movement in general, and, more specifically, by their own social contacts with its key members. Together, these artists furnish us with a distinctive pictorial vision of late Victorian London, its outlying residential districts as well as the city's most prominent landmarks.

The Houses of Parliament, by Claude Monet, 1900-1991, Art Institute of Chicago (image is in the Public Domain).

The subtitle of the exhibition is "French Artists in Exile, 1870-1904," and its starting point is the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, which devastated much of France. The Siege of Paris, in particular, which lasted from September 1870 to January 1871, left large areas of the capital in ruins, and its population on the brink of starvation. Many French people, including the artists, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and James Tissot; together with the art-dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel (who sold many of their works to American collectors), found a welcome in London.

The devastated district of Saint-Cloud, Adolphe Braun (image is in the Public Domain).

Parisian restaurant menu for Christmas Day, 1870. Some of the meat had been procured from the city zoo, and delicacies available for those who could afford them included stuffed donkey head; elephant consume; rib of bear; and haunch of wolf.

The art-dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1910. 

The war itself was followed by a left-wing uprising, the Paris Commune, which was violently suppressed by the right wing government of the Third Republic. Some of the artists, including Tissot, had direct or indirect links to the uprising, and preferred exile to the reprisals that they feared at home. For its part, the British government and people seem to have had few concerns about the influx of refugees, welcoming the contributions that they made to the nation's cultural life, whilst keeping tabs on any who might be tempted to stir up political dissent within Britain.

Barricades in the Rue de Rivoli, Pierre-Ambroise Richebourg, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (284087 - licensed under CCA).

"Holyday," by James Tissot, 1876 (private collection, image is in the Public Domain). Tissot established a studio in fashionable Saint John's Wood, with iced Champagne available in the waiting room.

Bath Road, Chiswick, by Camille Pissarro, 1897, Ashmolean Museum (WA 1951.225.4 - image is in the Public Domain).

Old Chelsea Bridge (actually Battersea Bridge), by Camille Pissarro, Smith College Museum of Art (image is in the Public Domain). 

Nocturne in Blue and Gold, Battersea Bridge, by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Tate Collection (image is in the Public Domain).

Molesey Weir (near Hampton Court), by Alfred Sisley, National Gallery of Scotland (Na 2235 - image is in the Public Domain).

For many of the artists, their stay in London as refugees, however brief, was the beginning of a long association with Britain. Claude Monet's most famous images of the capital, for example, were created not by the penniless thirty-year-old refugee, but by the mature (and financially successful) artist, who returned three decades later, staying and dining in the luxury of the Savoy Hotel.

Charing Cross Bridge, by Claude Monet, 1899-1901, Saint Louis Art Museum (image is in the Public Domain).

Charing Cross Bridge, by Andre Derain, 1906 (image is in the Public Domain). Derain was set to London by his dealer, Ambroise Vollart, with a commission to produce thirty views of London, inspired by Monet's earlier works.

The paintings produced between 1870 and 1904 by French Impressionists; their compatriots; and their British and American admirers; placed London on the artistic map of Europe, the sweep of the Thames, and the distinctive buildings along it, as familiar as images of Paris or Rome, Florence or Venice, Vienna or Saint Petersburg.

The EY Exhibition, "Impressionists in London," is open at Tate Britain until the 7th May.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.