30 April 2010

Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw, and Roger Fry at Fitzroy Square, Fitzrovia: Literary London #9

Two plaques are attached to 29 Fitzroy Square, the upper one with the following information:

'George Bernard Shaw lived in this house from 1887 to 1898.

From the coffers of his genius he enriched the world.'

The last sentence is what Shaw's housekeeper, Mrs Laden, wrote on a note that she attached to his gate to announce his death.

While Shaw lived here, along with his unsuccessful novels, he published his early plays: Widowers' Houses (1893), Arms and the Man, (1894) and Mrs Warren's Profession (1898).

The newer blue plaque is more sober:

'Virginia Stephen (Virginia Woolf) 1882-1941 Novelist and Critic lived here 1907-11.'

Woolf moved in here with her brother Adrian before moving on to 38 Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury.

At 33 Fitzroy Square, Roger Fry had his Omega Studios between 1913 and 1919. Fry was a 'member' of the Bloomsbury Group, and soundproofed his walls with seaweed. Wyndham Lewis also used the premises, but left after a strong argument and started the Vorticists.

Charles Dickens and Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia: Literary London #8

The Dickens family lived here, at 22 Cleveland Street (formerly Norfolk Street), on two occasions - the first (from 1816 to 1817), when Dickens was not yet four, and his father worked as a clerk at Somerset House; and the second from 1829 to 1831.

T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, and L'Etoile, Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia: Literary London #7

L'Etoile, at 30 Charlotte Street, was T. S. Eliot's favorite restaurant, and where Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis launched the magazine Blast in 1914.

Coventry Patmore, 1984, and Percy Street, Fitzrovia: Literary London #6

This blue plaque remembers that the poet and essayist Coventry Patmore (1823-96) lived here - at 14 Percy Street - from 1863 to 1894, a stay perhaps so brief because of outside noise disturbing his concentration. Patmore is best known for his poem sequence The Angel in the House (1854-63).Now the Soho Wine Store at 18 Percy Street, this is where Sonia Brownwell, later to be George Orwell's second wife, lived in a flat in the 1940s. He modeled the place Winston and Julia used to share their secret meetings in 1984 on this place.

The Literary Pubs of Fitzrovia: Literary London #5

The Fitzroy Tavern on 16 Charlotte Street was a key drinking spot in the pre-World War II years for such writers as Dylan Thomas, Julian Maclaren-Ross and John Singer, and the artists Augustus John and Nina Hamnett.

Ed Glinert gives an amazing story about the Duke of York on 47 Rathbone Street. On one occasion in 1943, Anthony Burgess and his wife Lynne were drinking there when a razor gang invaded, tipped beer on the floor, smashed glasses and menaced the customers. When Lynne protested about the waste of beer, they poured a large number of pints and challenged her to drink them, which she did. Such was their subsequent respect for her that they paid for the beer and offered Lynne protection from any other gangs.

The Newman Arms on 23 Rathbone Street was the model George Orwell used in the argument about socialism between his characters Gordon Comstock and Ravelston in Keep the Aspdistra Flying (1936), and also the model for the prole pub Winston visits in 1984.

The Marquis of Granby on the corner of Rathbone Street and Percy Street was thought too violent for many literary Fitzrovians, but it appears to be the very reason why Dylan Thomas chose to go there.

The Wheatsheaf, on 25 Rathbone Place, is where the Fitzrovians, tired of the attention they were receiving at the Fitzroy Tavern, felt forced to move to. Here, Augustus John introduced Dylan Thomas to Caitlin Macnamara, who would become his wife. In Anthony Powell's A Buyer's Market (1952), X. Trapnel is modeled on the hard-drinking, frequently in debt, Julian Maclaren-Ross, who wore a teddy bear coat and carried a silver-topped cane. Raynor Heppenstall's character Dorian Scott-Crichton in The Lesser Infortune (1953) is also modeled on Maclaren-Ross.

Tucked away on tiny Gresse Street, the Bricklayers' Arms was a quiet place for the Fitzrovians if the mood so took them. Glinert says that this was known as the Burglars Rest following a buglary in which the culprits drank themselves senseless and fell asleep.

29 April 2010

Great Portland Street, The George, Fitzrovia: Literary London #4

55 Great Portland Street. The George was one of the haunts of Dylan Thomas and lesser would-be scriptwriters.

Langham Street, Fitzrovia: Literary London #3

My posts now are mainly culled from A Literary Guide to London by Ed Glinert (London: Penguin, 2000), which is a mine of information. There's probably too much literary information here in a sense, but of its kind this book is indispensable to anyone who wants to discovery more of London's literary secrets than the blue plaques reveal, and indeed even makes very valuable addenda to them. Any truncated versions I may give of Glinert's literary anecdotes come with a rider: read the book, as this will teach you much more. I only include some of Glinert's landmarks, as there are way too many of them for me personally as I don't live in London, but also because of personal geographical limitations, at times you are bound to hit the rush hour, and there's nothing more boring than looking at a photo with a car or a crowd in the way. A far as I could, I've edited these out of the photos without, I hope, ruining the general impression of the landmark. My next posts come from my brief foray into Fitzrovia, W1, and Bloomsbury, including east Bloomsbury, both WC1. To begin with Fitzrovia, there is a marked difference between this place and Bloomsbury: Bloomsbury tends to be more sedate and quieter, with peaceful squares and parks. Fitzrovia is noisier, more lively, with many pubs (especially to the south around the north-eastern end of Oxford Street), and obviously less relaxed.

25 Langham Street was Doris Lessing's address between 1959 and 1963, and socialist Howard Samuels made it financially possible for her to live here.

40 Langham Street is the site of where Edmund Malone lived from 1779 to 1812. He was a friend of Boswell's and a member of Johnson's Club, and greatly assisted Boswell in his Life.

48 Langham Street, next to the Yorkshire Grey. Ezra Pound moved here after being thrown out of Duchess Street, and mentally wrote The Ballad of Goodly Fere on his way to the British Library, then on Great Russell Street.

John Betjeman and St Pancras: Literary London #1

St Pancras International railway station, Euston Road, London, opened at the end of 2007, and to remember John Betjeman (1906-84), who was Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death, and who had struggled so much to keep the original station when it was under threat in the 1960s, it commissioned a sculpture of him. The statue stands within the station, and was sculpted by Martin Jennings.

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John Betjeman in Cloth Court, London

Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and Thomas Hardy at St Pancras Gardens: Literary London #2

St Pancras Gardens, London, is between Pancras Road and Camley Street, just a few hundred yards to the north-east of St Pancras International. It contains two features of relevance to literary London. A gravestone records that the two anarchist writers, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, are buried there. The west-facing side of the square stone is inscribed 'Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Author of A Vindicaton of the Rights of Woman [1792] Born 27th April. 1750 Died 10th September. 1797'. She died of septicemia soon after the birth of her daughter, the future Mary Shelley (1797-1851), who is most noted for her novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818).

The south-facing side remembers Godwin: 'William Godwin Author of Political Justice Born 30 March 1756 Died 7th April. 1836 Aged 80 years.' The interesting thing here is that, at the time of the inscription, Godwin seems to have been more noted for Political Justice, although today by far his most well known work is Caleb Williams (1794). On the east-facing side is an inscription to Mary Ann, Godwin's second wife.

Also in the gardens is the Hardy Tree. Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) studied architecture under Covent Garden architect Arthur Blomfield between 1862 and 1867, and the Midland Railway line was being built over part of the graveyard, involving exhuming remains and taking the headstones down.

This was Hardy's job, and the headstones surrounding the ash tree would have been placed there at the time. Perhaps understandably, Hardy was far from happy with this work.

25 April 2010

Joseph Whitaker and the Bird Stone, Thieves Wood, Nottinghamshire

The 'Bird Stone' in Thieves Wood is a replacement of the original, which was inscribed:

'This stone was placed here by J. Whitaker of Rainworth Lodge [Nottinghamshire], to mark the spot where the first British specimen of an Egyptian nightjar was spotted by A. Spinks on 23 June 1883. It is only the second occurrence of the bird in Europe.'

Albert Spinks was a gamekeeper who lived opposite the Bessie Sheppard stone on the edge of Harlow Wood. He was firing at a rabbit and the sound caused the bird to fly out, so Spinks shot it. It was only by chance that he mentioned this to Whitaker - a naturalist and writer of sorts - before disposing of it. The very grateful Whitaker salvaged the bird and had it stuffed.

Joseph Whitaker was the elder son of Joseph Whitaker of Ramsdale, where the younger man was born. He was educated at Uppingham School and inherited a love of the outdoors from his father, who was one of the backers of the local boxer Bendigo. Whitaker lived most of his life at Rainworth Lodge, where his house resembled a museum, containing cases of stuffed birds and other natural history exhibits. Whitaker was a keen sportsman, botanist, fisherman and collector of curios. He published a book on medieval dovecotes in Nottinghamshire, although not all the examples were medieval and not all were even in the county. He also had his own deer park and collected deer horns.

Whitaker had a penchant for writing poems, of which this is a mercifully brief example:

'I know the south, I know the north,
I've seen the counties up and down,
Sailed in a yacht all round the coast
From Jura's Isle to Lerwick town,
I've seen cathedrals east and west,
And sung for joy of what I've seen
But the one spot I love the best
Is Rainworth, when the trees are green.

The original Bird Stone that Whitaker put in Thieves Wood was vandalized in the 1980s, and the replacement erected to remind passers-by of the event. At the same time, it keeps alive the memory of one of Nottinghamshire's eccentric characters who furthered our knowledge of birds, dovecotes and other topics.

Mansfield Museum and Art Gallery holds the Whitacker Collection of exhibits in its archive, which include the Egyptian nightjar.

23 April 2010

The Hospital of St John the Baptist without the Barrs, Lichfield, Staffordshire

There may be no literary significance to these almshouses, the history of which dates back to the medieval era, but, it spite of their impressive eight chimneys, they are surprisingly unknown even to people who live in the area.

The oldest, and most interesting part, of the building is the chapel.

The remarkable east window is recent, and is by John Piper, who designed 'The Christ in Glory' in 1984.

D. H. Lawrence and Brinsley Headstocks, Brinsley, Nottinghamshire

This is the site of Brinsley Colliery.

When D. H. Lawrence's father was a miner here, Barber, Walker & Co were the owners. Lawrence famously used to collect his father's pay from a building in Eastwood, a mile away, which has been shown previously on this blog. Of the colliery itself, only the headstocks remain. A boiler and winding engine stood to the right of them, with railway tracks on the left. Over this was a screening plant where the coal would be put into size and quality order and then dropped through onto wagons below. Once they were full, the wagons would pass to the mineral railway line and join the main Langley Mill line, The footpath here is on the track of the old railway line.

Horses and ponies were used throughout the history of Brinsley Colliery. The animals were stabled underground and came out only briefly during the summer. In 1907 there were 47 of them in use at the colliery. In the first part of the 19th century, children, often under 10, would work for up to 14 hours in mines. Where sections of the mine were too low for horses and ponies, children would pull the wagons with a belt fastened to their waists. In 1843 a minimum age of 10 was set for underground juvenile work, this being increassed to 13 in 1877.

On 10 June 1883, two years before Lawrence's birth, there was an explosion in the colliery in which two men - William Dunn, an ostler, and Charles Wright, a laborer - lost their lives. 14 horses were also killed. The accident left an indelible impression on the community, strong enough for Lawrence to incorporate it into an early short story: 'The Odour of Chrysanthemums'.

In 1930 the colliery ceased production, but the shafts were left open until 1970 for the miners to acccess nearby colleries. The headstocks were preserved as an important feature of mining history and moved to the National Mining Museum at Lound in Bassetlaw, Nottinghamshire. On the closure of the museum, they were moved back to Brinsley where they are now part of a picnic area.

By the parking lot here is Vine Cottage, former home of Lawrence's Aunt Polly, whose husband met his death in a mining accident. She features prominently in 'The Odour of Chrysanthemums'.

21 April 2010

Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84) and Lichfield, Staffordshire

Dr Samuel Johnson sits in pensive pose in the Market Place in the center of Lichfield, Staffordshire, where he was born.

On the pedestal to the east side, an inscription reads: 'This statue was presented to the citizens of Lichfield by James Thos. Law Chancellor of the diocese August 1838.' It was sculpted by Richard Cockle Lucas.

Three panels, influenced by Donatello Schiacciato's relief, represent a part of Johnson's life. In 'Listening to Dr. Sacherevel preaching', on the south side, Johnson is shown as a young boy.

'Thus he was borne from school', on the west side. An example of the deference shown by his schoolfriends.

The inscription 'His penance in Uttoxeter market', on the north side, relates to an incident that happened many years before the scene depicted. Johnson had refused to help his father in his bookstall in Uttoxter market, and decided to pay penance for it 50 years later by standing in the square in Uttoxeter all day in the rain.

An old watercolor of the Johnson birthplace.

And several photos of the exterior of the birthplace as it is now.


Michael Johnson, Samuel's father, ran a rather unsuccessful bookselling business on the ground floor of Samuel's birthplace, of which this is a reconstruction.

Lichfield Grammar School, by Paul Braddon, c 1890, which Johnson attended, but of which he retained bad memories.

Johnson married Elizabeth 'Tetty' Porter in 1735, a woman twenty years his senior, and much loved by him.

Johnson had attended Pembroke College, Oxford, for only a brief time due to very poor financial circumstances, and it was difficult for him to find a teaching post without a degree. He and his wife established the private Edial School near Lichfield, which was not a success and had only three pupils, one of whom was David Garrick, with whom he left Lichfield for London in 1737. Tetty followed later.

Johnson published An Account of the Life of Richard Savage in 1744. He had met Savage, who claimed to be the bastard son of Lady Macclesfield, when they had both worked on the Gentleman's Magazine. They used to walk around London together talking about politics, and Johnson only knew him for a year as he had to escape debtors and fled to Wales. He died in Bristol Gaol.

Johnson's famous A Dictionary of the English Language was not the first, but certainly the first of its kind in that Johnson - who spent almost ten years on the task - painstakingly gave examples of the words from works of literature.

Irene: A Tragedy was written at Edial in 1736 and was Johnson's only play, and not performed until 1747, when his friend David Garrick became co-manager of the Drury Lane Theatre. It was published in 1749 and is the story of an enslaved Greek woman who was executed by the Sultan.

'Samuel Johnson Reading the Manuscript of Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield'. Goldsmith met Johnson in 1761, and his success in getting the book published freed Goldsmith from debt. The painting is by Edward Ward and shows Johnson at Goldsmith's house, where he has been urgently called to read the manuscript. With him is Goldsmith's landlady, who had summoned the bailiffs because of her tenant's large debt.

17 Gough Street, London, where Johnson lived from 1748-59. Hetty was not to see the publicaton of the Dictionary, as she died in 1952.

8 Bolt Court, London, where Johnson lived from 1776 until his death in 1784.

Bust of Johnson made in 1777 by Joseph Nollekins.

James Boswell (1740-95) published The Life of Samuel Johnson LlD in 1791. The biography was innovative in that it included complete quotations.

The Boswell statue stands on the opposite (east) side of the Market Square, and is by Percy Fitzgerald, Boswell's biographer and also the editor of Boswell's Johnson. Boswell's face is from a Sir Joshua Reyolds portrait, the rest from a sketch by his friend Langton.

Five other friends of Boswell's are represented in medallions on the top of the pedestal: Edmund Burke, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, Hester Thrale, and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Three of these appear on the north side of the pedestal: Goldsmith, Garrick, and Burke.

A close-up of the Sir Joshua Reynolds medallion on the east side.

A close-up of the Mrs Hester Thrale medallion on the west side.

Below the medallions are three scenes from episodes in Boswell and Johnson's companionship, the first here on the south side being from their visit to the Hebrides.

This scene shows Boswell introducing Johnson to the Literary Club of London, England.

And the final scene on the west side takes place at The Three Crowns, Lichfield, with the pair perhaps a little worse for wear.

At the bottom of the pedestal on the east side is Boswell's coat of arms - a hawk, with the motto 'Vraie Foy', or 'True Faith'.


Below is are links to two posts I've made on Johnson.

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Dr Johnson's House: London #22
Dr Johnson, The Strand: London #31