Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The Streets of Old Westminster: "Strange Woods:" - St James's Park & Buckingham Palace

A visitor to London, having walked along the Victoria Embankment, can walk along the northern side of Parliament Square, and cut through Great George Street into St James's Park. One of the many things that I love about living in London, in comparison with other great World cities, is the expanses of green space and mature trees to be found even at the heart of the metropolis. St James's is just one of the eight Royal Parks of London (though there are many other green spaces), and covers an area of almost 57 acres, with a stretch of fresh water running down its centre.


St James's Park, looking east towards Whitehall. Photo: Colin, licensed under CCA.


Originally an area of marshland, on either side of the River Tyburn (a left-bank tributary of the Thames, now almost completely invisible), the land was purchased by Henry VIII, and drained during the reign of James I. In James's time, it housed a menagerie, through which camel, crocodiles, and an elephant roamed. "Birdcage Walk," which runs along the southern edge of the park, is named for the aviaries that once lined its route. It was through St Jame's Park that his son, Charles I, too his last walk, from St James's Palace to his execution at Whitehall, guarded by Oliver Cromwell's soldiers.

When Charles II came to the throne in 1660, he had the park redesigned by the French landscape architect, Andre Mollet (a contemporary of the more famous, and more expensive, Andre Le Notre), with a canal at its centre. Charles was known to promenade his mistresses here, and it soon became the custom that favoured gentlemen of the court were given keys  to the park, so that they might use it for similar assignations. It was the Russian Ambassador to the court of Charles II who first presented pelicans to live in the park, and there are still pelicans there today, although they may not be descended from the original birds.


Mollet's original drawing of the layout of St James's Park (Image is in the Public Domain).


St James's Park in c 1680, reproduced by F.T. Smith in 1804 (Image is in the Public Domain).


The courtier, libertine, and poet, John Wilmot, the Second Earl of Rochester, summed up the park's Seventeenth Century reputation in his poem, "A Ramble in St James's Park:"

"Much wine had passed, with grave discourse
Of who f****s who, and who does worse
(Such as you usually do hear
from those that diet at The Bear),
When I, who still take care to see
Drunkenness relieved by lechery,
Went out into St James's Park
To cool my head and fire my heart.
But though St James has th'honour on't,
Tis consecrate to p***k and c**t.
There, by a most incestuous birth,
Strange woods spring from the teeming earth ...
...Each imitative branch does twine
In some loved fold of Aretine,
And nightly, now, beneath their shade
Are buggeries, rapes, and incests made ..."


John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, by Peter Lely, c 1677. Photo: Victoria & Albert Museum 491-1882 (Image is in the Public Domain).


In the Eighteenth Century, the eastern end of the canal was filled in to make way for Horse Guards' Parade; and the entire park was redesigned by the architect, John Nash, in the Nineteenth - the straight canal became a more sinuous "lake," and an ornamental bridge was added. The bridge was in the Oriental style popular at the time, and had a pagoda at its centre, which burned down when a fireworks display, to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon, went catastrophically wrong. 


St James's Park, by Joseph Nickolls, 1771-72. Photo: Royal Collections Trust (Image is in the Public Domain).

The Pagoda and Bridge in Saint James's Park (Image is in the Public Domain).

St James's Park in 1833, by W. Schmollinger (Image is in the Public Domain).


The Ornithological Society of London endowed the park with a much wider assortment of exotic wildfowl, as can be seen today, and also built the Birdkeeper's Cottage, which still stands.


The Birdkeeper's Cottage. Photo: Peter K. Burton (licensed under CCA).



At the western end of the park, a series of opulent Seventeenth Century residences were replaced, in 1703, by a single estate, known as Buckingham House. This was bought by George III, in 1761, as a retreat for his Queen, Charlotte. When George IV ascended the throne, he employed John Nash to convert it into a palace worthy of a King. Nash's works included the Marble Arch, which was moved to its present location (where the Tyburn gallows had once stood) in 1847, to make way for a new East Wing to the Palace, which is the main facade presented to the public today.


Buckingham House in 1710 (Image is in the Public Domain).

Buckingham Palace in 1837, by John Woods (Image is in the Public Domain).


Buckingham Palace from St James's Park. Photo: Pointillist (Image is in the Public Domain).

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

Sunday, 28 July 2019

The Streets of Old Westminster: The Victoria Embankment - Sanitation and Underground Railways

A visitor to London, exploring the City of Westminster, and having walked along The Strand, can walk through Victoria Embankment Gardens from York Water Gate, and cross the A3211 onto the riverside. We are here immersed in a cityscape in the strictest sense: nothing about the Thames here is "natural," apart from the water itself; in fact, it is very largely the work of one man, Joseph Bazalgette (1819-91), whose monument is to be found here.


The Victoria Embankment in c 1896, Hallwyl Museum (Sweden), image is in the Public Domain.

The Victoria Embankment in c 1930 (image is in the Public Domain).

Joseph Bazalgette, by Locke & Whitfield Photographic Studios, National Portrait Gallery (image is in the Public Domain).


Bazalgette was an engineer, who had cut his teeth on railway construction projects connecting London to the provinces. In 1858, however, he was given a very different problem to solve. The Thames and its tributaries had, since Roman times, served as an open sewer. As the city grew rapidly throughout the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries, increasing volumes of waste were channeled into it. An invisible threshold was crossed in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition: for the first time in British history, more people now lived in its towns and cities, than in the countryside. Utilitarian reformers had, in some instances, accidentally made the situation worse. Many Londoners had used a flushing toilet for the first time on their visit to the exhibition (literally "spending a penny" for the privilege): the reformers now encouraged them to install them at home, and to dispense with cess-pits (which Londoners had used for centuries), in favour of new public sewers, emptying directly into the Thames. Flushing toilets without mains sewers was a disastrous combination, since it more than doubled the volume of toxic waste to be removed. The result was the "Great Stink" of 1858, when conditions became unbearable, even for MPs and peers in the Palace of Westminster, but this, itself came in the wake of major cholera epidemics in 1832, 1848, 1849, and 1854, which, between them, had carried off hundreds of thousands of Londoners.


"Monster Soup," 1828, Wellcome Collection (Image is in the Public Domain). In fact, the presence of such creatures as are shown here would be indications of a healthy estuarine ecosystem: no microscope of the time was powerful enough to show the bacteria, let alone the viruses, that actually threaten human health.

Cartoon of 1858, showing Michael Faraday presenting his card to Father Thames (Image is in the Public Domain). In fact, Faraday, the go-to man of science for so many practical challenges, played little part in finding the solutions to this problem.

Cartoon of 1858 (Image is in the Public Domain).

Punch cartoon of 1858 (image is in the Public Domain).

A young Venetian woman, aged 23, before and after contracting cholera, 1831, Wellcome Collection (image is in the Public Domain). 


Bazalgette, working for the Metropolitan Board of Works, proposed an ambitious solution. He did not know that cholera was caused by contaminated water (few, in his time, even suspected this to be the case), but he did know that people should not be drinking water contaminated by human excrement. A network of sewers were required, with two main channels, one following the northern, and the other following the southern bank of the Thames. The only sensible place to put these, without demolishing large numbers of expensive buildings, was in the space between the high and low tide-marks. The river was thus narrowed and deepened, with the additional advantage that floods became far less frequent.


Bazlgette's sewer system, taking waste far to the east of London. Image: Philg88 (licensed under CCA). 

The construction of sewers at Old Ford, Bow, in 1859 (image is in the Public Domain).

Side-sewer carrying the River Fleet (between Westminster and the City of London). Photo: Matt Brown (licensed under CCA).

The construction of the Victoria Embankment, c 1865 (image is in the Public Domain).


The scale of Bazalgette's ambition was not limited to sanitation. "We're only going to do this once," he insisted, "and there's always the unexpected." He therefore insisted that the pipes be double the diameter that most other engineers thought prudent. The "unexpected" included the astonishing growth of London's population since the mid-Nineteenth Century, and his sewers do still serve us today, although London's authorities, and Bazalgette's engineering successors, are now, one hundred and sixty one years on, building a replacement network. The "unexpected" was one thing, but what Bazalgette did anticipate, and make specific provision for, was no less remarkable. Since he was, necessarily, involved in land reclamation, he made space for an underground railway (today's District and Circle Line), and for services as yet unplanned (water and gas supply pipes, telephone and electricity cables - you may well be reading this courtesy of a fibre-optic cable installed in Bazalgette's "additional" tunnel for unexpected things).


Cross-section of the Victoria Embankment at Charing Cross, showing the railway tunnel (lower left), sewer (lower right), and service tunnel (upper right). Image is in the Public Domain. 

Tube Map of 1908, with the District Line shown in green, by Dodo van den Bergen (image is in the Public Domain). 

The District Railway at Charing Cross, 1914, by Charles Sharland (image is in the Public Domain).


Bazalgette's scheme, starting in 1858, required 10,000 labourers to build eight miles of intercepting sewers, and 1100 mils of street sewers. By the time that Claude Monet arrived in London in 1871, as a refugee from the Franco-Prussian War, the work was largely complete, and London had, not only a fully functioning sewer system, but an underground railway; life free from cholera; and an elegant water-front to match the finest in Europe.


The Thames below Westminster, by Claude Monet, c 1871. Image: National Gallery (Public Domain).

Bazalgette's memorial, on the Victoria Embankment. Photo: Lonpicman (licensed under GNU).

"Cleopatra's Needle," on the Victoria Embankment. Erected by PharaohThutmose III, at Heliopolis, in c 1450 BC, it was given to Britain by Egypt in 1819, to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon, and was erected here in 1878. Photo: Ethan Doyle White (licensed under CCA).


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

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

The Streets of Old Westminster: Lundenwic and The Strand

A visitor to London, exploring the City of Westminster, and having walked along Whitehall, can turn to the east and walk along The Strand, passing Charing Cross Railway Station on the right. This was the main street of early Saxon Lundenwic, the trading port that replaced the Roman city of Londinium, which had been abandoned following the collapse of Roman administration in Britain in the early Fifth Century AD. Whereas Roman ships, sailing to and from the Mediterranean, tied up at stone wharves in the old city, the very different vessels that plied the "Whale Roads" of the early Middle Ages, connecting Lundenwic to the markets of the North Sea and the Baltic, were beached on strands. "The Strand" was, literally, the strand, in the sense of a beach, before the Thames was embanked in the Nineteenth Century. Lundenwic, a settlement of wooden buildings, extended from Saint Martin-in- the-Fields in the west to Saint Clement Danes in the east: traces of it have been found in archaeological excavations over the past hundred years, and can be seen in the Museum of London.


Map of Lundenwic, Museum of London (Image is in the Public Domain).


Nothing of Lundenwic (other than the course of The Strand itself) is visible on the ground today. There is, similarly, little to see of most of the opulent great houses that, throughout the Middle Ages and into the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, lined the road that connected the Royal courts of Westminster and Whitehall to Fleet Street and The City: including the London residences of the Dukes of Lancaster; the Earls of Essex and Arundel; and the Bishops of Durham, Exeter, Carlisle, Chester, Worcester and Bath. The grandest of these palaces was the Savoy, which was owned by John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, until it was destroyed in the "Peasants' Revolt" of 1381: the name, alone, survives as The Savoy Hotel, which remains one of London's most exclusive addresses.


The Strand in 1822, showing Saint Mary-le-Strand and Saint Clement-Danes behind, Museum of London (Image is in the Public Domain).


The Strand in 1593 (the Norden Map). British Library (Image is in the Public Domain).

Arundel House from the north, by Wenceslas Hollar, 1647 (Image is in the Public Domain).

Durham House in 1806, by John Thomas Smith (Image is in the Public Domain).

Plan of the Savoy Palace in 1736, from W.J. Loftie (1878) Memorial of the Savoy (Image is in the Public Domain).


The one palace that can still be visited is Somerset House, originally built by Edward Seymour, first Earl of Hertford, and later Duke of Somerset, in 1549. It was sequestered by the Crown, following Seymour's execution in 1552, and subsequently occupied by Anne of Denmark (the wife of James VI and I); Henrietta Maria (the wife of Charles I); and the Parliamentary General, Thomas Fairfax. In its current, neo-Classical, incarnation, it was designed by Sir William Chambers, with new wings being added in 1831 and 1856.


Somerset House, by Jan Kip, 1722 (Image is in the Public Domain).

The terrace of Somerset House, by Canaletto, 1750 (Image is in the Public Domain).


"Old money" gave way to "new" in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, and, by the mid-Nineteenth Century, The Strand was very much the domain of entrepreneurs, whose primary business was popular entertainment. One such was Carlo Gatti, an impoverished Swiss immigrant who came to London in 1847, and sold chestnuts and waffles from street stalls. He went on to introduce the ice cream to British consumers for the first time, selling one-lick portions in wafer shells from a stall in Hungerford Market.


Old Hungerford Market, 1805 (Image is in the Public Domain).

A vendor of ice-cream, 1870s, British Library (Image is in the Public Domain).



The market was badly damage by a fire in 1854, but Gatti was insured. He built a music hall with the proceeds of his pay-out, and sold the site to the South-Eastern Railway Company in 1862 at an enormous profit (Charing Cross Station now stands on this site). He opened a second music hall, "Gatti's in the Road," in 1865; and a third, "Gatti's in the Arches," in 1867. In 1871, he returned to Switzerland, a millionaire.

Katie Lawrence at Gatti's, by Walter Sickert, c 1903 (Image is in the Public Domain).

Poster for Gatti's (Image is in the Public Domain).


Another of these entertainment tycoons was Sir Richard d'Oyly Carte, who leased the Opera Comique, off The Strand, in 1874, and who went on to promote the works of William Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. Like Gatti, he reinvested his early profits, opening the Savoy Theatre in 1881: with seating for 1300 people, this was the first public building in the World to be lit by electricity. With the profits from The Mikado, in 1889, he opened the Savoy Hotel, on the site of John of Gaunt's old palace, employing the dream-team of Cesar Ritz as Manager, and Auguste Escoffier as Head Chef. D'Oyly Carte had to fire both for lining their pockets at his expense, but they did not remain in disgrace for long, going on to found the Ritz Hotel.


The Savoy Theatre, 1881 (Image is in the Public Domain).



To the east of Charing Cross Station, Villiers Street slopes down towards the Thames (it is named after George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham (a favourite of James VI and I, and subsequently an adviser to his son, Charles I). Watergate Walk leads off to the east, and brings us to York Watergate, which gave access to Villiers's palace from the river, the preferred means of transport for the wealthier residents of Seventeenth Century London. 


The York Water Gate (1626). Photo: Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net), licensed under CCA.

The Adelpi from the River, by Henry Pether, c 1850, Museum of London (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.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Story of London in 50 Novels: 13 - "The Giant O'Brien," by Hilary Mantel

London's seasonal fairs, of which Bartholomew Fair was the best known, had, since Medieval times, been a focus for public entertainment, as well as social interaction and commercial transactions. Storytellers and performing bears, jugglers, musicians, and fortune tellers, all vied for the attentions of stall-holders and revelers. Later, as "London" became more than just "The City," and as burgeoning theatres and shopping arcades attracted increasing numbers of people to "The West End," entrepreneurs from across the British Isles, and from further afield, began to think in terms of "curiosities" that they could "exhibit" for the entertainment of an eager (and sometimes gullible) public.

Throughout the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, there were "sapient pigs," trained to perform calculations, spell out words, and even tell fortunes, by picking up cards with their mouths; "mermaids," created by stitching together the desiccated torsos of monkeys with the tails of fish; and a whole host of bearded ladies, hermaphrodites, and "freaks of nature."


Advertisement for "Toby the Sapient Pig," 1817 (image is in the Public Domain).


Often suffering from disabilities or serious illnesses, the living "exhibits" were mercilessly exploited for the profit of others. Some "exhibitions" were overtly racist, as in the case of Sara Baartmans ("the Hottentot Venus"), a woman from southern Africa, who was exhibited in London and Paris between 1810 and 1815.


Caricature by William Heath (1810), of Sara Baartman, with the politicians, Richard Sheridan (in green), and Lord Grenville (image is in the Public Domain).



Charles Byrne (1761-83), the "Irish Giant," was born in County Tyrone, and arrived in London in 1782. He was 7'7" (2.31 metres) tall, the result (we now know) of the pituitary tumour that would take his life just a year later. He was exhibited at Spring Garden-gate, Piccadilly, and Charing Cross, and, on his death, his body was acquired, contrary to his own wishes (he had asked to be buried at sea), by the surgeon, John Hunter. Despite recent attempts to secure a burial for his remains in accordance with his wishes, his skeleton is still on display in the Hunterian Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields (the remains of Sara Baartman, by contrast, were returned to South Africa for burial).


Charles Byrne (centre), flanked by the Knipe brothers (twin giants), by John Kay, National Portrait Gallery D14755 (image is in the Public Domain).

The Hunterian Museum, with Charles Byrne's skeleton at the end. Photo: Paul Dean (StoneColdCrazy) - licensed under GNU.

John Hunter, portrait by John Jackson (1815), after a lost original (1786) by Sir Joshua Reynolds: National Portrait Gallery 77 (image is in the Public Domain).



Hilary Mantel's novel, The Giant O'Brien is based on Byrne's life story, but, by changing the name, she gives herself free license to invent the many details that history has not remembered about the real man (we know almost nothing of Byrne's background, character, or life in London beyond his public appearances).



In the novel, the life-stories of the giant, Charles O'Brien, and that of the surgeon, John Hunter, are juxtaposed. Both are outsiders in London, but, whilst the dour Scot is a calculating man of science; the Irish giant is a man steeped in traditional story-telling and folklore, a generous and engaging character with an original perspective on London life. Whether this reflects the personality of the real Charles Byrne is open to question (he is unlikely to have had much learning of any kind, and may have suffered from mental impairment as a result of his condition), but what is certain is that London in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries was a meeting place for people from many different backgrounds, and with sharply contrasting outlooks on the world.

"London is like the sea and the gallows. It refuses none. Sometimes on the journey, trapped in the ship's stink and heave, they had talked about the premises they would have at journeys end. They should be commodious, Vance said, and in a fashionable neighbourhood, central and well-lit, on a broad thoroughfare where the carriages of the gentry can turn without difficulty. 'My brother has a lodging in St Clement's Lane,' Claffey said, 'I don't know if it's commodious.' Vance blew out through his lips. 'Nest of beggars,' he said. 'As to your perquisites and embellishments, Charlie, they say a pagoda is the last word in fashion'  ... 'Will you have a story?' the Giant soothed them. For the time must be passed, must be passed" ... The Giant did not stop to ask what kind of story they would like, for they were contentious, like fretful children, and were in no position to know what was good for them. 'One day,' he began, the son of the King of Ireland journeyed to the east to find a bride.' 'Where east?' Vance asked, 'East London?' 'Albania,' the Giant said. 'Or far Cathay.'" 

"Seventeen forty-eight saw John Hunter, a set-jawed red-head astride a sway-backed plodder, heading south towards the stench of tanneries and soap-boilers. He came to London across Finchley Common, with the gibbeted corpses of villains groaning into the wind ... At the top of Highgate Hill he came to the Gatehouse Tavern, and observed London laid out before him. The evening was fine and the air mild." 

"London is ringed by fire, by ooze. Men with ladders carry pitch-soaked ropes in the street, and branched globes of light sprout fro the houses. Pybus thinks they have come to a country where they do not have a moon, but Vance is sure they will see it presently, and so they do, drowned in a muddy puddle in Chandos Street." 

"That summer the Giant grew rich. He washed in Castille soap, and made the purchase of some decanters. His followers ate green peas and strawberries. Joe Vance played with the writing set, and Pybus, Claffey, and Jankin haunted the skittle-alleys, the cock-fighting, the prize-fighting, the dog-fighting, and the bull-baiting. 'If we go on so,' said Claffey, grinning, 'we will have tamboured waistcoats like the quality, and silver buckles to our shoes.' 'What do you mean, if we go on so/ I am not likely to shrink.'

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