Saturday, 8 May 2010

Elephants on parade.

After having spent last Monday with Mandip at Tate Modern, more of which anon, we parted company at the Millennium Bridge.  As it had turned into a fine albeit blustery afternoon, I decided to take a stroll along the Thames path. However due to   work being carried out on one of the bridges crossing the Thames, I had to take something of a detour along unfamiliar streets and stumbled came across some almshouses, whose existence I had hitherto been unaware of. 

In his will of 1731 Charles Hopton, a wealthy fish-merchant, left money so that almshouses could be erected to provide homes for poor single men in his parish. Unlike Sir Robert Geffrye’s grander almshouses across the river  (A farewel to almshouses)Charles Hopton’s more modest almshouses still provide social housing today. From what I could ascertain from my restricted view from outside the gated entrance, the almshouses follow a similar pattern to those at Shoreditch, in that they form a range around a central building block, presumably the site of the original chapel.

Echoing the Biblical story of the Widow’s Mite, when the Widow Simon died in 1798 she left, amongst other bequests, a cottage for “four poor women.”( A farewell to almshouses )As a poor spinster of this parish I might one day be eligible to walk across the road and take up residence in Elizabeth Simon’s Georgian almshouse. It used to be the custom that when the well-to-do died, a diamond shaped board, emblazoned with the deceased person's coat of arms and known as a hatchment, would be hung for a time from their place of residence. Some of these hatchments have found their way into the local parish church. Thus, there is one on display for Elizabeth Simon as well as for Sir William Hamilton and Horatio Nelson; the latter two gentlemen being the husband and lover of Emma Hamilton respectively. There is also a hatchment for King Charles I. As we share the same initials, I rather fancy the idea of recycling his regal hatchment for my own use should the occasion arise. The parish church of St Mary the Virgin also contains a fine memorial to the Tudor courtier Sir Gregory Lovell, depicting him with his two wives and nine children from these marriages. For quite some time I was under the delightful misapprehension that Sir Gregory had been a personal hairdresser to Queen Elizabeth I. It did seem rather odd that Queen Elizabeth should have shown such marked favour towards Sir Gregory. She is said to have visited his former house along my road on at least three occasions in the 16th century, whilst en-route to her palace at Nonsuch. Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth was known to have been more than a little vain and even a Queen of England might think it prudent to keep on friendly terms with the man tending to her precious locks. Except that Sir Gregory was never her hairdresser. I had confused coiffeur, from the French for hairdresser, with cofferer, the latter referring to a principal officer at Court and in Sir Gregory’s case, a treasurer. 

One of King Charles II’s embroiders has a tomb in the graveyard outside the church of St Mary the Virgin. History does not reveal whether the Merry Monarch would pop by the neighbourhood whenever he needed an item of clothing darned. If he had done so and I had been in possession of a time-machine I would have exchanged a few choice words with him regarding his lamentable decision to hand over Henry VIII’s magnificent Nonsuch Palace to his erstwhile mistress, Barbara Palmer. The philistine had it pulled down and the material sold off for scrap to pay off her gambling debts. But then the Stuarts always were more than a little jealous of their Tudor counterparts, knowing they could never hope to live up to their glorious reputation.

Whilst I was photographing Charles Hopton’s almshouses, Mandip sent me a  text-message stating she had just seen "the elephants". I did not have a clue as to what she was talking about and wondered if she had been secretly imbibing gin from a concealed hipflask all day. It was only when I got to the Southbank and saw a small herd of exotically painted elephants that I realised she must have seen similar sights on her way home. There are 260 such elephants dotted around London to raise money for the Elephant Family charity. At the end of the summer they will be auctioned off in the hope of raising two million pounds for the elephant charity. If I had the space and equally importantly the money, I would be solely tempted to bid for one. That would be one elephant in the room that everyone would be talking about.     

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