Friday, 29 April 2011

The History of Battersea and Wandsworth Common

Spencer Park

Until 1850, only about 300 people lived in the area known as South Battersea. The land had originally belonged to the St John family as Lords of the Manor of Battersea. Henry St John became the first Viscount Bolingbroke after purchasing the title in 1712 and the family are commemorated by a number of streets bearing their name. The land was then purchased by Earl Spencer in the 18th Century and their name also lives in in many road and pub names as well as in Spencer Park, where Earl Spencer built a substantial house.

A banker, Robert Dent, bought a significant portion of the Spencer's land at the end of the 18th Century and began an ambitious building programme including several large estates and five grand houses facing the Common on 'Five Houses Lane' - now Bolingbroke Grove. Only one of the houses - the former Bolingbroke Hospital - remains today. One of the five houses was lived in by a successful wine merchant, Matthew Charlie. His granddaughter, Marianne, married a Spanish count and became Countess of Morella. Morella Road is named after her. Dent himself lived in the largest and most impressive of the five houses, Old Park. The horseshoe shaped Dents Road took his name in 1881, though one half was later named Gorst Road after Sir John Gorst, a lawyer and Conservative MP, who lived there.

The opening of the Clapham Junction Railway Station in 1863 made the City accessible and the area became a target for developers. Broomwood House and its substantial grounds gave rise to Broomwood, Montholme, Gayville, Devereux and Hiller Roads. The house, which William Wilberforce lived in for several years, was demolished in 1904.

For more than sixty years 24 Morella Road was home to Ida and Louise Cook, two opera-mad spinsters, who helped to rescue dozens of Jews from Hitler's Germany. Their mission was financed by Ida's career as Mills & Boon's most prolific author, writing 130 novels over 50 years. The sisters were posthumously honoured for their bravery in a ceremony at Downing St in 2009.

Some of this history can be found at the reopened Wandsworth Museum. Click here for some photos

[With thanks for Sullivan Thomas]

Friday, 22 April 2011

Russia: The Wild East

Martin Sixsmith's  Russia: the Wild East - explores the history of this great land and for the first time for me explains why Russia's political attitudes and responses seem often threatening and even hostile to habits of thought that we take for granted, being almost inscrutable to those brought up in Western European (and American) society. Even Winston Churchill called Russia 'A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma'.

The most recent episode deals with their terrible 240 years of slavery under the yoke of the unbelievably cruel and barbaric Tartars (led by a descendant of Ghengis Khan) who laid waste to their beautiful capital, then Kiev, while butchering and burning their way across the country in what was a dark age version of 'total war'. Russia lived under the Tartars' autocratic rule for nearly three centuries during the crucial era in which Europe discovered of the Enlightenment and the Renaissance. Russia not only missed out on those great and civilizing influences, but additionally became attached to the arbitrary and autocratic exercise of power and the subjugation of the judicial process to dictatorial whim - as still pertains today. As Sixsmith says "She would never fully catch up with its intellectual, cultural and social values. Instead, a profound admiration for the Mongol model of an autocratic, militarised state began to enter the Russian psyche.This legacy was so deeply assimilated that its influence has marked the way the country is governed right down to the present day."

Click here for a recent review from the Guardian

Click here for some of Ahkatomova's poems which deal with the fear and cruelty of the now slightly more familiar Stalin terror.

This excellent history reminds me of the even finer America: Empire of Liberty by David Reynolds

Favourite Photographers

Jean Shrimpton at the Dolls' House Museum by Terry O'Neill

I was lucky enough to see two photographic exhibitions in London this week, one of Terry O'Neill's work, and the other of Wim Wenders called Places, Strange and Quiet. Both were fascinating - the Wenders for his vast and atmospheric landscape shots and O'Neill for his wonderful black & white portraits. His photographs had the most immediate impact, as they were all of people well-known to my generation - mostly actors, as well as my favourite model, Jean Shrimpton. Audrey Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, Paul Newman, Frank Sianatra, the Beatles and the Stones taken informally, Marianne Faithful, Brigitte Bardot, Monica Vitti, Sean Connery, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood - all the old favourites, beautifully captured.

Click here for my photos from the Terry O'Neill exhibition and here for the Wim Wenders.

Hampshire in Spring

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Favourite Sculpture

Wanting, Liking, Doing by Luke Dickinson, originally uploaded by onform. Click the heading for his website

See also photos from Barbara Hepworth's Museum here

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Great Churches of the City of London

Most people probably think of the City of London as a grey place of enormous office buildings. Not so; at least it's only partly true. The City is also very beautiful, and its wealth ensures that it stays that way. It's scrupulously clean and well-ordered, partly because so few tourists go there, and if one doesn't care for modern office buildings, one can marvel at the 35 glorious churches. They are mostly by Sir Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke and Nicholas Hawksmoor who rebuilt them after the Great Fire of London destroyed no less than 86 of them. These churches and their often hidden churchyards are the gems of the City, beautifully maintained through their association with one or more of the wealthy Livery Companies. Yesterday I visited St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield, one of the oldest, and was astonished at its near perfect survival since the C13th - in recent centuries through support with the Butchers' Livery company and others. My Livery Company, the Drapers' has had the advowson (right to appoint the priest) of St Michael's Cornhill, since 1503. And on another glorious spring day, I visited St Paul's and was astonished at its scale and magnificence. Click the heading for some photos of St Bartholomew the Great and here for photos of St Paul's.

Favourite Poems - Sowing - Edward Thomas

One of the visitors to this Journal has suggested this spring-time poem by Edward Thomas.

IT was a perfect day
For sowing; just
As sweet and dry was the ground
As tobacco-dust.

I tasted deep the hour
Between the far
Owl's chuckling first soft cry
And the first star.

A long stretched hour it was;
Nothing undone
Remained; the early seeds
All safely sown.

And now, hark at the rain,
Windless and light,
Half a kiss, half a tear,
Saying good-night.

Edward Thomas - Sowing

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Lord Mayor's Lunch for the Soldiers' Charity at the Guildhall

The Lord Mayor gave the now annual lunch at the Guildhall to raise money for the Soldiers' Charity (ABF) on a glorious spring day. The lunch was attended by the Duke of Kent as well as General Sir Nicholas Parker, the head of the army. Over £100,000 was raised by silent auction. Click the heading for some photos from the event.

United Guilds' Service at St Paul's

The City Livery Companies come together once a year to commemorate their origins as religious as well as commercial fraternities at a service at St Paul's Cathedral known as the United Guilds' Service. The ceremony itself dates from the Second World War as described in an earlier post, and brings together the Masters, Prime Wardens, Bailiffs and members of the now 108 Livery Companies together with a representative of the Queen (this year the Princess Royal), the Church, represented by the Bishop of London, and the City Corporation in the shape of the Lord Mayor and his Sheriffs. The Dean of St Paul's leads the service and the sermon is given by a distinguished clergyman, this year the Dean of Westminster. On no other occasion do the Monarchy, the Church, and the commercial and charitable sides of the City come together in such a splendid display of pageantry. Click the heading for some photos of St Paul's, though not of the service itself.