Friday, 30 September 2011

The Brimstone Butterfly's Open House London 2011: 19 Princelet Street Revisited

The moment you step through the door of 19 Princelet Street you know you are entering an uncommon building. Unlike the late Dennis Severs house in nearby Folgate Street, which traces the rise and fall in the fortunes of a former silk merchant’s house over the centuries by the way the rooms are staged, 19 Princelet Street is genuinely close to terminal decline. But all is not yet lost.

The house was built in 1719 by one Samuel Worrall. Three years later he sold it to John Neville. Incredibly, the house stayed within the same family until 1979, although they acted as landlords rather than residents. The earliest tenants were the Ogiers. They, like so many of their neighbours, were Huguenots who had fled religious persecution on the Continent and used their talents to set up a flourishing silk industry in Spitalfields, which was then just outside the City of London. The 17th century historian John Strype, who provided a fascinating account of the household of the Tudor archbishop Thomas Cranmer at Lambeth Palace, came from such a background himself.

Spitalfields continued to attract waves of the dispossessed from Ireland, Europe and beyond right up until the present day. When the silk industry collapsed the grand houses, which had once contained a single family and their servants, were subdivided into a myriad of rooms for workshops and living quarters, the idea being to cram in as many people as possible.

In the 19th century Spitalfields became synonymous with the worst social deprivation. The once elegant Georgian Terrace houses had become slums. In a sense that was what saved a number of them: the inhabitants were simply too poor to tear them down and build accommodation more suited to their needs and the landlords were uninterested in acts of social philanthropy.

Irish weavers had arrived in Spitalfields in the opening decades of the 18th century after their own linen industry was in a slump. They were followed in the 19th century by the Jews who, like the Huguenots before them, were escaping persecution. The Jewish community left their mark on 19 Princelet Street in a most singular fashion. In 1869 they built a synagogue on to back of the house and over what would have been the back garden. More recent refugees have included Bengalis and Somalis. The history of the area and its eclectic population led to the decision to turn the current 19 Princelet Street into a Museum of Immigration and Diversity.

The museum hopes to attract match funding, a programme whereby they would need to raise 25% of the total £3 million it will cost to transform the dilapidated building if they want to secure Government funding for the remaining 75%. When I spoke to the guide on Saturday she was confident that they would eventually achieve that goal.

The upper walls of the narrow entrance hall were painted a sage green and a brown paint had been applied to the wall beneath the dado rail. The matchwood panelling was a mixture of Victorian and Georgian. Next to the staircase were two modern iron girders holding up the ceiling. It required a certain nimbleness and a leap of faith on my part to walk between them, fearing one false move and I would literally bring the house down. The less agile visitor could walk through the door by the front room and around the side if they so wished..

The shuttered front room on the ground floor was filled to the ceiling with lumber, mainly consisting of the wooden pews that had once been placed on the floor of the Synagogue. The back room, as indeed all of the open rooms, contained exhibits for the house’s new role as the Museum of Immigration and Diversity. Thus, there was a suitcase and visitors were asked to write down which items they would take with them if forced to suddenly flee their homes. This was part of the museum’s “SUITCASES AND SANCTUARY” exhibition, designed by school children to offer, according to the publicity “powerful lessons for how we think about asylum seekers, for political debate, for community relations and human rights”
From the English Heritage: Heritage at Risk Register

The far wall of the back room opened up onto the ground floor of the Synagogue. From the beams hung three chandeliers of copper, blackened with age and grime and topped with what appeared to be a double headed eagle. The multi-coloured panes of the roof light were grubby and the glaze cracked in places. I was told that the vaulted sides of the ceiling had once been resplendent with gold stars on an azure background. Now the walls were of a faded yellow.

A few pews had been placed by the walls to allow the weary visitor a momentary respite. Some were numbered and others had built in boxes beneath the seats which were provided with keyholes. I had no idea what the congregation would wish to lock up.As I sat down on one of the pews I looked up at the boards along the side and beneath the metal grills of the Ladies’ Gallery, the latter screening the women from the gaze of the men folk below. They bore a number of inscriptions. One recorded the donations made by the Ladies Holy Vestment Society in 1910 and 1911. I was intrigued about this society and after doing a little research discovered that the synagogue at Dalston in North East London had set up a similar society a few years earlier. In his 1910 work The Dalston Synagogue: an historical sketch" the author I Landau wrote:

“On September 28th, 1905, the Secretary of the Synagogue, Mr. Isaac Goldston, on his own initiative sent a circular to the ladies of the Congregation, inviting them to form a Ladies Committee, whose tasks, among others, should be the care and proper
keeping of the Holy Vestments and the provision of the floral decorations of the Synagogue and Succah. Subsequently, this Committee, at the request of the Board of Management, formed themselves into a permanent institution under the style and title of "The Ladies Society."  

Another sign had been painted in memory of Fanny Rinkoff who died on 18th April 1953. Her family had subsequently donated £7 to the synagogue.

As I sat in my pew I admired the slender crimson twisted barley-sugar iron columns which held up the Ladies Gallery above. On the floor I could see traces of old linoleum, whose unexpectedly bright colours made me think momentarily that the floor had been painted. I was amazed at first to see iron grills embedded in the floor, looking straight down into the basement. But then I reasoned that as only men would have walked around the ground floor of the synagogue when it had been used as such, the women’s modesty was not compromised.

Access to the Torah ark on its raised platform was barred by an ornate ironwork gate. The wooden Torah ark in its arched recess was shut fast.

Whilst seated I overhead a guide pointing to one woman, who had apparently lived in the building with her grandparents as a child. It was hard to deduce her exact age so I could not be sure of she was in her 60s or older.

I retraced my steps back in to the entrance hall and down a flight of steep stairs to the kitchen. I noticed there was a tap and small basin built into the wall at the top of the stair so that the men could wash their hands before going to SHUL, the Yiddish word for a Jewish House of Prayer.

The shallow stone sink in the kitchen is original to the house. The exposed brickwork hearth had the remains of a Victorian iron range and a 1920s oven, acquired from an upper room when the house was multi-tenanted, placed in front of it. There were wooden battens and a blocked up window in the wall dividing the kitchen from the back room. On a small screen on an upper wall a video loop showed school children giving examples in story form of persecution.,

When I walked out of the kitchen to the back room I passed a locked door bearing the legend” Please do not shake door it is fragile”.

You can see traces of glass in the boarded up window between the kitchen and the back room. The latter held the copper for washing clothes but was also crammed full of architectural features and flagstone floor tiles, all of which were being stored until they could be used in a future renovation. More iron girders held up the ceiling, which was pitted with large holes revealing the plaster and lathe underneath.

There were more examples of the items in the main hall of items making up the “SUITCASES AND SANCTUARY” exhibition.  At the far end of the basement a notice had been placed on a door and announced that it was the “Loo (executive).”  The urinals were beyond.

Having explored the basement I returned up the steep stairs to the ground floor. I daintily stepped through the two iron girders in the hallway and up the stairs to the first floor. I noticed that instead of wooden steps I was walking on ones made of stone.

To enter the bedroom I walked along the Ladies Gallery and into what would have been the back of the silk merchant’s house. The room had been staged as a bedroom as part of the LEAVE TO REMAIN installation which, according to the publicity material is a “wry look at asylum in Britain today by three contemporary artists in exile.” .The walls were painted a muted brown and dingy cream. A rather unprepossessing mattress was on the floor. Affixed to the 18th century panelling was a sequence of images of people and jumbled up below them were their comments on immigration. The idea was for the visitor to try and match the comment with the speaker. Also scattered around the room were phrases emphasising the essential loneliness of the immigrant in a foreign land. I later told one of the guides that the statements were just as relevant to anyone who has ever felt isolated, poor and marginalised. For example the comment that “I had a real fire once” suggested that the tenant in his rented bedroom was too poor to be able to afford one anymore. It is something more and more people will relate to if they have to endure another bitterly cold winter in this country on the scale of the last one. The exorbitant energy bills will force many to go without their heating for fear of the resulting cost being too great for them to meet. Likewise, the reference to the lonely immigrant being told not to worry because things would get better sounded all too familiar and patently untrue.  

For me, the one spark of good cheer amidst this litany of gloom was the cast iron grate in the fireplace. It was extremely pretty and elegant with its garlands of roses. I believe it dates from the Regency period. I came across an identical one a day later when I was at Marble Hill House

We could proceed no further than this bedroom although there are other rooms in this house. Their fragile state makes them unsuitable for general access. I would have loved to have ventured upstairs to see the weavers’ garrets but most of all to explore for myself the legendary Rodinsky’s Room.  It became something of a cause célèbre in 1980 when a locked room was opened up for the first time since 1969. It has last been lived in by a certain David Rodinsky, a Jewish scholar. His story had partly inspired the installation in the room immediately below. Rodinsky's room had been inexplicably abandoned in a hurry to the extent that a pot of porridge was found on the stove and a half drank mug of tea was left on a table. What added to the mystery was that Rodinsky himself had seemingly vanished into thin air, there being no apparent trace of him after that date. The author Rachel Lichtenstein wrote a fascinating account of the event in her book “Rodinsky's Room,” which also resolves the mystery of what really happened to David Rodinsky. The images above of Rodinsky’s Room were taken from postcards on sale at the museum.Rather amusingly, the man who sold them to me from a stall across the road differentiated the two images on the grounds that one was known as the "messy one." I will leave you, Gentle Reader, to decide which is which.

Just as I left the bedroom I noticed the pipes for gas lighting. I remember a school friend had such Victorian pipes in her house. The gas still flowed through them, but they were no longer used for lighting.

The parts of the Ladies’ Gallery supported by the crimson sugar-barley columns were inaccessible, probably because they were too fragile to be walked upon by the multitude. So I made my way back down the stairs and into the Synagogue for a final look around. In the hall, I fell into conversation with one of the volunteers. If they raised their £3 million would they make the place pristine? Or, would they strive to retain some of the building’s quirky charm, whilst rendering it safe and enabling it to be open on a more regular basis? I asked. Definitely the latter was the reply. 19 Princelet Street is on the Heritage at Risk register maintained by English Heritage. It is to be hoped that they succeed in their quest to secure the future of this most intriguing of London museums.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Brimstone Butterfly’s Hampton Court: Yet more secrets of the palace.

I have written before about how the Brimstone Butterfly had heroically resisted the temptation to explore the upper floor of the former Grace and Favour apartment which now serves as the Members’ Room at Hampton Court. The way had been roped off and a sign marked private placed in front. That was then. When I next entered the Members’ Room it was in the company of three elderly people who seemed to be a couple and one of their relatives. Between the four of us we were unable to unlock the door and had to prevail upon a warder to help us. We then made ourselves coffee which they proceeded to drink in the dining room and I drank mine sat in one of the armchairs by the drawing room. After a quarter of an hour or so they left leaving me free to explore the former Grace and Favour apartment again on my own.

On a notice-board in the kitchen I found a list of residents of what had been known as apartment 32. In 1959 it was sub-divided into two apartments numbered 32A and 32B respectively. The apartment had been formed out of the suite of rooms granted to William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland. The latter became infamous as "the Butcher of Culloden" at the battle of Culloden in 1746 for his cruel treatment of Jacobites, the supporters of the exiled House of Stuart.

The first occupant of the grace and favour apartment 32 was George Ferdinand Fitzroy, the 2nd Baron Southampton. It seemed that Grace and Favour Apartments at Hampton Court Palace were very much a Fitzroy family perk as his granny, great granny and daughter-in-law all found themselves in the privileged position of being housed in such genteel surroundings. His mother-in-law, Mrs Keppel had the Stud House. Given that another Mrs Keppel was the mistress of King Edward VII and her great granddaughter, Camilla Parker-Bowles, was also a royal mistress but one who went on to marry her Prince (Charles) it seems most percipient that Mrs Keppel should be given the royal Stud House to live in.

William V, Prince of Orange, was the next to set up home in the apartment having been forced into exile in 1795. In Sir Nathaniel Wraxall’s” Historical Memoirs” published in 1815, the author gives the following account of his acquaintance with the prince.

“This prince has become so well known to us, since his precipitate retreat from Holland in the winter of 1795, by his long residence in England, that it is unnecessary to enter into any minute details relative to his character and qualities. Even at the period to which I allude, he neither inspired public respect nor excited private regard. His person, destitute of dignity, corresponded with his manners, which were shy, awkward, and altogether unfitted to his high situation as stadtholder. If he displayed no glaring vices, he either did not or could not conceal many weaknesses, calculated to injure him in the estimation of mankind. A constitutional somnolency, which increased with the progress of age, was too frequently accompanied by excesses still more injurious or fatal to his reputation; I mean those of the table, particularly of wine. I have seen him at the Hague of an evening, in a large company at Sir Joseph Yorke's, in the situation that I here describe. In vigour, ability, or resources of mind, such as might enable him successfully to struggle, like William the Third, with difficult or tumultuous limes, he was utterly deficient. If William the Fifth had possessed the energies of that great prince, we should neither have been engaged in war with Holland, as happened towards the close of 1780, nor would the stadtholderate have been overturned in 1795, and the Seven Provinces, which successfully resisted all the power of Philip the Second, have ultimately sunk into an enslaved province of the Corsican ruler of France."

Wraxall ended his damning observations by adding: "After arriving in this country under a dark political cloud, and after residing here many years, without acquiring the public esteem, or redeeming his public character, finally and precipitately quitted England under a still darker cloud; only to bury himself in the obscurity of Germany, there to expire, forgotten and almost unknown.”

Poor Nathaniel Wraxall got slung into jail for a while because of his forthright comments about the leading personalities of the times, which is why his second volume was published posthumously.

I have no idea how a member of the French Parliament managed to wrangle himself a grace and favour apartment at Hampton Court but somehow Louis de Curt, a member of the Assemblée Nationale Constituante of 1789 managed it, moving in nine years later.

In 1802 Admiral of the Fleet, Sir James Hawkins-Whitshed and his good lady wife were the next to move in. As far as I am concerned James’ chief claim to fame was that he was pallbearer at the funeral of my near neighbour, (had not the centuries divided us) Admiral Lord Nelson, in 1806.
Ceiling and frescoes in the Wolsey Closet

Anna Maria, Lady Hill, a widow moved in 1843. Four decades later she had installed her widowed daughter, her granddaughter, her grandson along with two lady’s maid, a cook, a housemaid and a footman. She had use of Wolsey’s Closet which she treated with neither grace nor favour having had the walls and frescoes whitewashed and turned the little chamber into a butler’s pantry to the horror of the Lady’s Pictorial reporting on the subject in 1892.

Mrs Charlotte Dallison moved in after the death of Lady Hill in 1886. Like the former resident, Charlotte was not averse to treating the place with less than due reverence. In direct contravention of the rules she kept two paying lady boarders in the apartment along with her two children and six female servants.

In 1914, a year after Charlotte had resigned the apartment, Ethel, Lady Bedford moved in. She was the widow of a former Governor of Western Australia. Her successor in 1923 was Mrs Maude Stokes the widow of Vice-Admiral Robert Henry Stokes. There was a gap of two years before Mrs Dulcie Arbuthnot moved in 1934.

Eugenie Dudley Ward, later Lady Godfrey-Fausett, lasted a year before moving out in 1947. The Victoria and Albert museum hold the copyright on this delightful image taken at her wedding on 11th April 1907. Her late husband had been an equerry to George V. George’s son, the future Edward VIII was a godparent to their youngest son, David Frederick. Edward’s dalliance with another Dudley Ward, Freya, who had married into the family, ended when he became embroiled with Wallis Simpson.

Of the more recent residents I shall maintain a discreet silence, suffice to say that I have determined that my own shade will haunt this place when I have shuffled off this mortal coil.

And so it was that I found myself once more alone in Apartment 32. A rope no longer barred the stairway and the Private sign had been moved to one side. As I stood on the bottom tread and looked up I could see that the door to one of the rooms on the upper floor had been left wide open. This was far too good an opportunity to miss. Consequently, I hurried up the stairs and made my way in to a large chamber above the vaulted roof of the gateway. The very size of the room and its large gothic arched stone window signalled that it must have been used by Henry VIII as I had established on an early visit that this floor constituted the king's own "Privy chamber and inward lodgings.". Despite the 18th century panelling and fireplace, the room was certainly grand enough for a king, even if it now served as a staff meeting room. I durst not linger so I quickly sped along the corridor, steering clear of the open window before scurrying downstairs and sinking heavily into the sofa with a sense of mission accomplished.

Now that my long held wish to see what lay beyond the doors to the Privy Chamber in the Great Watching Room had been met, I decided I would make my way to the suite of Georgian Rooms fashioned for my namesake Caroline, Princess of Wales and her husband, the future King George II. I now realise that Caroline’s husband was the lover of Henrietta Howard, who built her splendid house at Marble Hill with the wages of sin. Caroline had tried to persuade Henrietta to remain as George’s mistress as she feared a less accommodating women might succeed her but Henrietta was adamant.

Caroline herself was immortalised in the children’s nursery rhyme:
Queen, Queen Caroline,
Washed her hair in turpentine,
Turpentine made it shine,
Queen, Queen Caroline.

I have related elsewhere how a member of staff told me she and others had unexpectedly come across the distinct smell of turpentine emanating from the Georgian apartments one foggy day.Caroline was thought to use it to treat body lice. Her bathroom is notorious for another aroma. In her bathroom I caught the unmistakable scent of a woman's perfume. Whether it was lavender or rosewater I could not say, but it was certainly evocative of an old fashioned fragrance. It was very strong and yet, curiously, it could not be detected in the adjacent rooms, despite the corridor between them being wide open. I remarked on the phenomenon to a warder sitting in the small private chapel within the Georgian Rooms. He said many people had noticed the perfume in Caroline’s bathroom but occasionally it was as if it followed people around, He said an Italian woman had just told him she felt she had been pushed in the back and her camera had failed to work all the time she was in the room. Anxious to test this for myself I hurried back to the bathroom, this time detecting the perfume in the corridor. Caroline neither pushed me nor prevented my camera from working but then perhaps she knew better than to antagonise a future neighbour and namesake.

I also took the opportunity to take a picture of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII’s entwined initials in the wooden screen which dominates one end of the Great Hall. Although Henry attempted to eradicate all traces of her within the palace, he may have thought he might as well wait and see if he could find another woman with the initial A to marry before ruining the screen altogether.

Now that I knew about the extant Tudor spiral staircase that linked Henry’s apartment with the Wardrobe on the ground floor, a warder kindly left me alone to photograph it, enabling me to take some more pictures and a little video. The poor lighting made it especially difficult to capture images on video. The uppermost surface of the treads is covered with nondescript linoleum but I find the underneath of the wooden.treads, as seen from above, fascinating. My best example to date of an extant Tudor spiral staircase  was at Eastbury Manor House, where I captured on video  my somewhat laboured efforts to climb to the very top.

I shall return to the subject of the grace and favour apartments anon when I relate my recent visit to one of the largest grace and favour apartment in the palace, said to be haunted by the ghost of Edward VI's dry nurse..

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

I am a camera

Back in March I related the tale of how the Brimstone Butterfly had been persuaded by my Filmmaker friend to shoot some footage for a short film he had been commissioned to make. It was destined for a Video Arts Festival in Amsterdam. As the film was so well received it encouraged my friend to submit a revised version to a number of other festivals around the world. To date it had been shown, or will be shown shortly, at all of the festivals listed below. 

A clip of me features prominently in the trailer for the Milan Festival. I am shown wearing one of my silk brocade corsets made to a traditional Victorian design. Given that wearing a new steel boned corset is akin to breaking in a leather shoe, I really suffered for my art.I was amused to see re-reading my original post chronicling the origins of the filming that I had been adamant that I would not be shown in a corset. But I was eventually persuaded to "corsets" (sic) worth it.

The Filmmaker re-edited the film according to the artistic demands of the different festivals. Consequently, I have no idea which version is shown where other than the original one, which inspired all the others. However, certain key images are included in all of them, such as the footage of me gazing enigmatically out across the wharf in Woolwich whilst the wind gently wafts the veil of my 1910 hat around my face. Likewise, all the films include footage of me in a corset and slipping out of my 19th century kimono, which I bought years ago from Liberty in London. The kimono is a highlight of my own take on the late 18th century best selling satire "Voyage autour de ma chambre" I suggested I wore the kimono in the film as it provided a strong visual link with some earlier footage taken in the Far East.

Somewhat to my alarm the Filmmaker is very keen on portraying the different textures of human flesh. That is all very well when showing a man’s rugged features but less flattering when a High Definition lens is filming unflinching close-ups of my own skin. Indeed there was one shot which I failed at first to  recognise as being the skin on my own face.

The Filmmaker had to get releases from various modern composers so their music could be used on the soundtrack. Unfortunately he was unable to get permission to use some of the haunting music he had used in the original film. The composer insisted that the film should not be shown commercially, which meant it could not be appear on a DvD collection of the event. Other composers have been found in his stead all of whom have signed waivers.

If my friend becomes a famous commercial director in years to come, I will always know that I played a small part in his success. Anyway, he had better become famous. I want this film to me showing at his retrospectives around the world for generations, thereby ensuing my own tiny fragment of immortality.  

London Spanish Film Festival
                 Shortlisted Finalist Selection

Rushes Soho Shorts Festival
                 TenderFlix Film Competition, Shortlisted Finalist Selection, Soho Curzon, London, UK

Festival Baumann
                 Finalist; Barcelona, Spain

Flash Forward Film Festival, Milan Italy
                 Shortlisted Finalist Screening

CologneOff 2011 International New Media Festival
                 Ongoing international Screenings, Shortlisted Finalist Selection

VisualContainer TV, Milan, Italy
                 Online Independent Artists Television

(A)FEFV Festival de Cine, Krk, Croatia
                 Art & Culture Laboratory [KUL]

CAZ Project Space Gallery, Penzance, UK
      Digital Peninsula Finalist Selection

Proyector2011 Festival Internacional de Videoarte, Madrid, Spain
                 Special Mention Finalist

IDISM Concepts Expose, Amsterdam, Netherlands
                 Commission based project - Electronic – Sound Arts Commission based project

Our film is also scheduled to appear in the 24th edition of the Festival Les Instants Vidéo in France in November. Not bad for a little film made in a hurry and on a shoe string back in March. 

As part of the London Spanish Film Festival my friend’s film, Tour(Scape) will be open the selection being shown on Tuesday 4th October 2011 at 6.15

The screenings will take place at

Rich Mix:

35 – 47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA

020 7613 7498.

This is how the official programme describes his film:


UK/China | 2011 | col | 7 min

Dir. Cristóbal Catalán

with Hanson Irgen Gioro and Caro Riikonen

“A dark trip into memories of ourselves and 'others' in a world of shrinking geographies”.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Brimstone Butterfly's Open House London 2011:Lambeth Palace

The Brimstone Butterfly has visited the medieval Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the archbishops of Canterbury, on a number of previous occasions but always as part of the Open House London weekend. In the past such visits had necessitated queuing for lengthy periods and without any certainty of gaining admittance. This year places were restricted to those who had managed to book a ticket online. When I applied at 3 o’clock in the morning a few days earlier, I was delighted to discover that I had secured the very last ticket.

I entered the palace by passing under the stone vault of the red bricked Morton’s Tower. This principal gateway on the North-West front of the palace was named after Archbishop John Morton. The latter had the gateway built in the 1490s, during the reign of the first Tudor King, Henry VII. Archbishop John Morton is known to have lived in his eponymous Tower and held audiences there in the large chamber above the archway. Certain 16th century “house guests” were unlikely to have relished their time spent in Morton’s Tower as it was also a prison. In one chamber, on the ground floor, can still be found the iron rings in the wall to which those who had fallen foul of ecclesiastical authority were chained. On the external walls the diaper pattern, formed of black bricks amongst the red and so beloved of Tudor architecture, is clearly visible.

Past Morton’s Tower a little shop had been set up in a tent. In the past I purchased honey produced by bees kept in hives in the palace grounds. This time I bought some strawberry and champagne jam which constitutes manna from heaven in my book.
The first building we entered was the Great Hall. During the English Commonwealth the medieval hall had been demolished. With the Restoration of Charles II his new archbishop, Juxon, decided to rebuild the hall in the medieval style in 1660. Thus, it has a traditional oak hammer beamed roof but with the imposing addition of a 17th century lantern light. The development of stone and brick fireplaces in walls had removed the need for such banqueting halls to have a hole in the centre of the roof for the smoke to disperse through from the open fire below. Juxon had intimations of his own mortality because he added the following codicil to his will: "If I happen to die before the hall at Lambeth be finished, my executors to be at the charge of finishing it, according to the model made of it, if my successor shall give leave."

If Samuel Pepys is anything to go by then Juxon’s last wishes were observed. On 22nd July 1665 Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:
“Thence I by water to Westminster, and the Duke of Albemarle being gone to dinner to my Lord of Canterbury’s, I thither, and there walked and viewed the new hall, a new old-fashion hall as much as possible. Begun, and means left for the ending of it, by Bishop Juxon”.

By the time Samuel Pepys popped by, William Juxon had popped his clogs. Yet it is his gold weather wane, displaying his family crest that can be seen on the roof of the Great Hall today. As such it is something of an embarrassment for modern sensibilities for his escutcheon features 4 blackamoor heads. Furthermore, in the Great Hall Juxon left behind two life sized busts of blackamoors carved from wood. The guide on duty, in contrast to those at the Archbishops of Canterbury’s former palace at Croydon, was at pains to point out that this did not mean that Juxon or his family were slave owners. Rather, such “Moorish” heads were simply seen as being exotic. Whereas I could accept the wooden busts as being simply indicative of a taste for the unusual, I think it a somewhat flimsy explanation as to why the Archbishop would employ such motifs in his family crest.

Now an important library, the Great Hall was once used for entertaining and hospitality. According to  Thomas Allen in his “The history and antiquities of the parish of Lambeth, and the archiepiscopal ...” published in 1826 a certain Mr Seymour complained to Henry VIII that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, failed to live up to the dignity of his rank when it came to  hospitality. He later had to eat his own words as it were and confessed to Henry: “I do remember that I told your highness, that my lord of Canterbury kept no hospitality correspondent unto his dignity; and now I perceive I did abuse your highness with an untruth. For, besides your Grace's house, I think he be not in the realm of none estate or degree, that hath such a hall furnished, or that fareth more honourably at his own table."

The 17th century historian John Strype, whose Huguenot family had fled religious persecution on the Continent and settled as silk merchants in East London and whose name survives on in a street near Petticoat Lane today, wrote about the level of hospitality that Cranmer maintained. Strype relates that Cranmer’s household included the following officers with some wonderfully archaic titles: “steward, treasurer, comptroller, gamators, clerk of the kitchen, caterer, clerk of the spicery, yeoman of the ewry, bakers, pantlers, yeomen of the horse, yeomen ushers, butlers of wine and ale, larderers, squilleries, ushers of the hall, porter, ushers of the chamber, daily waiters in the great chamber, gentlemen ushers, yeomen of the chamber, carver, sewer, cup-bearer, grooms of the chamber, marshal, groom-ushers, almoner, cooks, chandler, butchers, masters of the horse, yeoman of the wardrobe, and harbingers.”

In addition, Strype noted that “"there were generally three tables spread in the hall, and served at the same time: 1st. The archbishop's table, at which ordinarily sate none but the peers of the realm, privy counsellors, and gentlemen of the greatest quality. 2. The almoner's table, at which sate the chaplains, and all the guests of the clergy, beneath diocesan bishops and abbots. 3. The steward's table, at which sate all other gentlemen. The suffragan bishops were then wont to sit at the almoner's table. Besides this hospitality, he administered proper relief to the poor at his gate.”

From the Great Hall we walked up the Gothic revival wooden staircase with the sage green walls to the Guard Room or Great Chamber. I believe the staircase and hallway must have been refurbished in the 1830s at the same time as the Guard Room. But before we entered the Guard Room we passed through a barrel vaulted corridor decorated in a pleasing scarlet colour. A door had been left open at the far end of the corridor and from its balcony I could catch a glimpse into the Chapel below. The Guard Room itself was filled with portraits of various archbishops down the centuries. Not all of them had been as fortunate as John Morton who, like his predecessor Thomas Bourchier, died peacefully in his bed at Knole, when it was still one of the many palaces owned by the archbishops until Henry VIII took a fancy to it and nabbed it for himself. A number of Morton’s successors might have well have wished they too had maintained a small army to protect them from their political enemies, as had been the right of earlier archbishops. The arch braced roof in the Guard Room is medieval in origin and as such was built 400 years before the walls themselves. This was not a sign of a divine miracle but the ingenuity of a Victorian architect, who had the 15th century roof kept in place with supports whilst news walls were built all around it. The early 19th century engraving of the Guard Room was done before these renovations. Consequently, the frame of the original medieval roof beams is now supported with modern beams and the current oak wainscoting is only half the size it was. Possibly the most intriguing item on display was an empty tortoise shell. The living animal the shell formerly housed was given as a present to Archbishop Laud in the 1630s. In 1753 the ancient tortoise was accidentally prematurely unearthed from its hibernation by a gardener and so died.  Still, it lived far longer than its master, William Laud, who had been beheaded on Tower Hill on a charge of High Treason over a hundred years earlier.    

The Guard Room leads into a small lobby which houses bound copies of Hansard, the official record of Parliamentary debates. The office of Archbishop of Canterbury comes with an automatic entitlement to a seat in the House of Lords and so the office holder is entitled to receive free copies of such papers.

We passed along another corridor that displayed gifts given to various archbishops as well as a couple of 17th century wooden bookcases with metal pierce work, which the guides said had been found in the basement and were assumed to have once belonged to tortoise fancier extraordinaire Archbishop Laud. Along the corridor I noticed a blocked off arched Tudor doorway.
Victorian engraving of prison cell in Lollards' Tower

The corridor led to a flight of stairs and the Lollards' Tower. The latter represents one of the darkest periods of the history of the palace. The Lollards were a pan-European political and religious movement who challenged the authority and teachings of the Catholic Church and sought the right to read and be taught religious texts in their own native tongue. Their efforts met with a savage response from the Church and State. On an upper floor of the Lollards' Tower, which we did not enter partly because of its fragile state having sustained bomb damage during World War Two, is the oak plank lined prison cell complete with  iron rings to restrain prisoners. Some prisoners endured rigorous interrogation before being condemned to a fiery death at the stake. The guides claimed that Richard Lovelace, the cavalier poet, was imprisoned here in the 1640s as a religious dissenter. His experience inspired the last stanza of one of his most famous poems: To Althea, From Prison:

    “Stone walls do not a prison make,
      Nor iron bars a cage;
      Minds innocent and quiet take
      That for an hermitage”  

Others contend that Lovelace was actually held in the Gatehouse Prison at Westminster Abbey. But as that prison was pulled down in 1776, it makes  for a more dramatic gesture to have extant stone walls to point to whilst reciting the poem.

The vestibule in front of the Chapel is known as the Post Room: first, on account of the stout pillar supporting the ceiling and second, because the mail used to be collected from here. The original chute through which mail descended to the collection box in the lower outer wall can still be seen. The post room had been used as an audience chamber by Archbishop Chichele between 1414 and 1443, which would account for the fine wooden ribbed ceiling with carved bosses, ¾ of which is original, the rest having being replaced in recent centuries. I noticed incongruous modern cork tiles on the floor along with an alarmingly wide and long crack in the floor. The 17th century Archbishop Matthew Parker’s black granite tomb is in a corner of the Post Room, although his mortal remains are buried beneath the Chapel floor in front of the altar. His bones were dug up by Parliamentarians during the English Civil War and flung onto a dung heap. At the Restoration, Charles II had them re-interred within the Palace.

The Chapel, along with the rest of the palace at Lambeth, has faced a precarious existence over the centuries, what with rioting, the threat of demolition during the Commonwealth and substantial damage during World War Two. The ill fated 17th century Archbishop Laud installed the black and white chequered marble floor, which today still bears evidence of charring from the incendiary bomb which partially destroyed the Chapel in the 1940s. Laud also erected the ornately carved wooden screen. Laud's coat of arms used to be emblazoned upon the then flat roof. He also replaced the stained glass windows with designs more to his own taste. Not a single pane survived the Commonwealth no more than did Laud himself. The stained glass, along with Laud's altar rail in the Chapel at the Old Palace Croydon, were anathema to the Puritans, who regarded them as clear evidence of Laud's popish tendencies.Thus, they removed the altar rail at Croydon, smashed the stained glass at Lambeth and for good measure removed Laud's head from his shoulders on Tower Hill in January 1645. 

The flat roof was replaced with a vaulted roof in the 19th century by the English architect Edward Blore, who did so much to transform the decaying palace.In the 1980s the English artist Leonard Henry Rosoman was commissioned to paint a mural for the ceiling illustrating key moments in the history of the Church. Basing the design on what Archbishop Morton allegedly had chosen to display in the late 15th century, new stained glass was commissioned for the Chapel windows.
From the right: Chapel, Cranmer'sTower and Edward Blore range
On one side of the altar was the small balcony I had observed earlier from the red barrel vaulted corridor. On the other side could be seen a small room through the open arches. This must be the very room where Thomas Cranmer is believed to have compiled the first ever Book of Common Prayers in English in the 1540s. Underneath Cranmer’s chamber is a small room with a Tudor stone fireplace and 18th century wooden panelling. I now realise that these two small rooms and and the steep ancient stone steps which led us through to the 21st century atrium, were within Cranmer's Tower.  The latter had been built in the middle of the sixteenth century of red brick and Ragstone quoins. (Incidentally, I shot my picture of Cranmer's Tower from the street by standing up on tip-toe, stretching out my arm way above my head and reaching up to the top of  a very high fence and hoping for the best).

The modern glass atrium protected the stone façade of the early 13th century crypt beneath the Chapel. The Crypt was originally used as a cellar to store beer and wine. It was not until enemy bombs during World War Two wrecked the Chapel above that it began to be used for less secular purposes. It has always been prone to flooding, although presumably less so with the construction of the Albert Embankment. Nonetheless, I do recall going to the palace in recent years and being told that the Crypt had flooded the previous week.

We left the atrium and went out into the inner courtyard. In the 19th century the English architect Edward Blore built a turreted range of buildings in the Tudor style and faced them with Bath stone. We were not permitted to enter these buildings as they serve as the private apartments of the current archbishop. Before I first visited Lambeth Palace I would catch sight of these buildings from the 
railway train on its way to Waterloo and think them authentic Tudor buildings.

By the wall of the Great Hall is the white Marseilles fig-tree believed to have been planted as a sapling in the 1550s by Cardinal Pole, when he was Archbishop of Canterbury under the Catholic Queen Mary. Reginald Pole’s mother, Margaret the Countess of Salisbury, was executed by Henry VIII in 1541. Unable to get his hands on her son, who he regarded as an arch traitor, Henry summarily and vindictively executed some of Pole’s closest relatives. Margaret’s own execution became notorious, not simply because by then she was an elderly woman but because it was botched and ended up with her being hacked to death by the axeman.

Last weekend must have constituted my 3rd or 4th visit to Lambeth Palace over the past decade and on each occasion it has only made possible through the good offices of  Open House London. Long may they continue in their magnificent efforts to make more of London’s buildings accessible to the general public, even if only for one day a year. 

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Wellington Arch

The Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner is one of those places Londoners often pass by in their vehicles but rarely visit, perhaps not even realising that the interior is open to the public. The arch was built in the 1820s to a design by the British architect Decimus Burton, not thought to be related to one Maximus Decimus Meridius, “commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife” 

The arch was not built to celebrate gladiators but British victories in the Napoleonic wars. It was later decided to commemorate one of the most iconic figures of those campaigns, the Duke of Wellington, by perching a 28 feet high statue of him riding a horse atop of the arch. It was handily placed for the Duke to steal the odd admiring glance at the equestrian statue from his front windows in Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner. The Duke might have loved the statue but many others thought it was a ghastly mistake as it was completely out of proportion to the overall size of the arch. The critics wanted it taken down. The Duke was adamant it stayed and threatened to resign if he were thwarted. The Duke won that battle but not the war. After his death the statue was dismantled and moved to the army town of Aldershot. A smaller version of the statue was placed opposite Apsley House.

 In 1911 the English sculptor Adrian Jones was commissioned to produce a statue of a quadriga, something the fictional Roman general and erstwhile gladiator Maximus Decimus Meridius would have recognised. A quadriga is a four-horse Roman chariot.  

The statue shows a boy racing the horses, representing a chariot of war, as the winged statue of Peace descends from the heavens. The boy was modelled on the young son of the wealthy philanthropist and celebrated race horse owner Herbert Stern. I do not know whether it was his eldest son, Herman Alfred then a lad of 12, or his younger son, Jack Herbert who was 3 years younger, who was immortalised in bronze.

Before the Wellington Arch was turned into a museum in 1992 it served as a rather cramped though singularly stylish police station for decades and constituted the official London residence of Snooks, the police moggy and mouser-in-chief. Nowadays, as well as being a museum, it can be hired out as a venue for special events.

I arrived after my London film premiere, not for the after film party but because I wanted to visit the nearby Apsley House and thought to kill two birds with one stone. There being inexplicably no luxury limousine to ferry a star of my magnitude from the Soho Curzon cinema to Hyde Park Corner, I had to make do with Shanks’ Pony. As a consequence, I did not relish the prospect of climbing the three storeys to the outer balconies, with their panoramic views, on so humid an afternoon and so took the lift instead. The top storey was devoted to a history of the Wellington Arch and had various mementoes of the building on display such a copy of the wheel hub from the chariot in the shape of a lion's head. Having perused the collection I went out on to the balconies on either side.

I must admit that I did get a sense of vertigo as I strained to capture the best images of the bronze sculpture from the front and the rear. As a consequence, I was quite happy to return back into the arch and descend to the lower floors. 

One floor  displayed copies of the head of the Goddess of Peace and the boy charioteer alongside an exhibition on Blue Plaques, which are affixed to the former homes of a chosen selection of the great and the good. On the ground floor the charioteer’s arm was on display by the English Heritage shop.

From one of the windows I was able to take a picture of the elaborate gates, designed to allow the pathway to be closed to traffic.
Having stopped off at each flight, the idea of walking down the stone stairs to the ground floor was less daunting a prospect than the initial climb to the top.

I took yet more images of the Wellington Arch from afar before wending my way to Apsley House, the London home of the Dukes of Wellington, more of which anon. I have to say I much prefer to have the Quadriga on top of the Wellington Arch than the statue of someone who got rather too big for his (Wellington) boots.