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Charles Chusseau-Flaviens, Photographer

May 9, 2021
by the gentle author

Petticoat Lane

Photographer Charles Chusseau-Flaviens came to London from Paris and took these pictures, reproduced courtesy of George Eastman House, before the First World War – mostly likely in 1911. This date is suggested by his photograph of the proclamation of the coronation of George V which took place in that year. Very little is known of Chusseau-Flaviens except he founded one of the world’s first picture agencies, located at 46 Rue Bayen,  and he operated through the last decade of the nineteenth and first decade of the twentieth century. Although their origin is an enigma, Chusseau-Flaviens’ photographs of London and especially of Petticoat Lane constitute a rare and precious vision of a lost world.

Petticoat Lane

Sandys Row with Frying Pan Alley to the right

Proclamation of the coronation of George V, 1911

Crossing sweeper in the West End

Policeman on the beat in Oxford Circus, Regent St

Beating the bounds for the Tower of London, Trinity Sq

Boats on the Round Pond, Kensington Gardens

Suffragette in Trafalgar Sq

Photographs courtesy George Eastman House

You may also like to take a look at

Dennis Anthony’s Petticoat Lane

C A Mathew’s Spitalfields

My Source Of Inspiration In Lockdown

May 8, 2021
by the gentle author

Fiona Atkins, curator of Town House Gallery in Fournier St, reveals a personal inspiration that she discovered during lockdown

In common with many, I found this last lockdown the hardest. It was winter and London was grim. Unlike the first lockdown, I knew it was going to last a long while. I am lucky enough to have a garden and, if you had asked me what was the one thing that sustained me, I would have said that was it.

Yet one day towards the end of March, when I found myself in a low mood triggered by news of variants and further waves of infection, I came across a photo of an old Afghan bridal dress while browsing online, struggling to lift my mood. Our last family event before Coronavirus loomed on the horizon was my daughter’s wedding and this dress, with its wonderfully bright pink and swirly skirt, instantly brought back the joy of that day which seemed so very distant then.

I must confess I know little about Afghan wedding customs or traditions, but my mother and grandmother were good seamstresses who taught me when I was a child and I have started sewing again during this last year.

When I examined the dress, I grew fascinated by the volume and quality of work involved in the panel on the reverse and by the evidence of the several ‘hands’ involved in making the garment, and – by contrast – the roughness of some of the stitching and the patching used here and there. I could see the passage of time in the making and re-making of this dress.

As I came across more of these old Afghan wedding clothes, for men as well as women, my despondent mood was displaced by the excitement of discovering these exuberant creations with their wonderful embroidered panels, braids and silk fabrics. I ended up buying them all and they are now on display in the gallery at Town House in Fournier St, as my special source of consolation in lockdown.

Drawing inspiration from this experience, the theme for this summer’s Open Exhibition is ‘one thing that helped me through lockdown.’ I wanted to strike as positive a note as possible as we leave restrictions in June.

Submission is open for another week until next Sunday 16th May and Fiona Atkins’ collection of Afghan dresses is on display in the gallery until the end of May.

You may also like to take a look at 

Richard & Cosmo Wise’s Collection

Rachael South, Chair Caner

May 7, 2021
by the gentle author

Rachael South at her workshop in Dalston

It never fails to inspire me when I meet someone who finds joy in the work they do – and Rachael South, third-generation chair caner, is a prime example. The chain of events that led me to Rachael was extraordinary and the resultant visit to her workshop proved a rewarding outcome.

One day, I published a picture of an unknown man in a suit sitting on the kerb mending a cane chair, which came from David Sweetland’s A London Inheritance, where he writes a weekly commentary upon his father’s photographs of London. The picture fascinated me because of its similarity to the age-old images of chair menders to be found in the Cries of London series of prints published in these pages. Imagine my surprise when his granddaughter, Rachael, got in touch, naming him as Michael South and explaining that she carries on the trade to this day which was taught to her by her father, who had in turn been taught by her grandfather.

My quest led me to an old workshop in Shacklewell Lane where Rachael spends her days caning and upholstering chairs by the light of a large window. “The family lived in Ladbroke Grove but was Irish in origin, I believe there were a lot of Irish immigrants there at one time,” she revealed to  me, talking as she worked at her caning, “Michael, my grandfather, was a prizefighter and bare-knuckle boxer, but over time the chair caning took over as his boxing career waned. He had a pedlar’s licence and  walked up the hill from Ladbroke Grove to work around Kensington and Knightsbridge. They may have been travelling people once, because I was told it was called ‘Gypsy Caning.’ You can do it in the street because you don’t need any tools, just a knife and a block of wood or hammer to knock out the pegs.”

Certainly, chair caning has been carried out upon the streets of London for centuries and Rachael delights in the notion of being the inheritor of this artisan tradition, which suits her independent nature very well and guarantees a constant income as long as she chooses to do it.

“Terry, my dad, wanted to stay on at school and train as a draughtsman but at fourteen my granddad said, ‘You’ve got to get a job,'” Rachael admitted to me. “He had been brought up doing chair caning and he managed to get an apprenticeship with Mrs Shield, who was a celebrity decorator of the time – before setting up his own upholstery workshop in Harrow where he trained six apprentices”

“My dad taught me caning when I was fourteen. I used to go along to his workshop and I liked it, because I’m quite a patient person and the upholsterers were a good laugh,” Rachael recalled fondly,” and when I went to Art College, it was what I did to make money – I lived in Hammersmith and went round all the antiques dealers and they supplied me with enough caning to see me through.”

Employed as a textile designer, Rachael soon felt the need for freedom and set up her own workshop as upholsterer and chair caner. “I’ve never been without work and I have three people working with me. I’m fifty-two now and I’ve been caning chairs for thirty-eight years,” she confided to me proudly, “I can’t turn work away because I know I can do it and  people are always so delighted when I give it back to them. I say, ‘That’s it done for another generation.'”

Rachael’s grandfather Michael South (1905-1964) at work in Kensington, sitting on his tool box

Michael worked with a pedlar’s licence in West London –“He had many brothers and sisters. One called Samson used to ride a motorbike on the wall of death and another called Danny had only one ear.”

Rachael’s father Terry South at work in his workshop in Harrow in the seventies

Rachael South at work today in Dalston

Terry South and Rachael at his workshop in 1978

Rachael sets to work with cane soaked in water for flexibility

Michael always went to work dressed in a suit and leather shoes

Rachael with a bundle of reeds

“Israel Potter, one of the oldest menders of chairs still living” – as portrayed by John Thomas Smith in Vagabondiana, 1819

Photo by John Thomson from Street Life in London, 1876: Caney the Clown –  ”thousands remember how he delighted them with his string of sausages at the yearly pantomime, but Caney has cut his last caper since his exertions to please at Stepney Fair caused the bursting of a varicose vein in his leg and, although his careworn face fails to reflect his natural joviality, the mending of chairs brings him constant employment.”

“Old Chairs to mend!” by Thomas Wheatley, seventeen-nineties

“Any Old Chairs To Mend! & Green and Young Hastings!” by Sam Syntax

“Old Chairs to mend, Old Chairs to Mend!” by J. Kendrew

“Chairs to Mend!” from The New Cries Of London, 1803

The kerbside mender of chairs, who ‘if he had more money to spend would not be crying – “Chairs to mend!’ is one of the neatest-fingered of street traders. Watch how deftly he weaves his strips of cane in and out – how neatly he finishes off each chair, returning it to the owner, ‘good as new.'” from London Characters, 1934

William Marshall Craig’s Itinerant Traders in their Ordinary Costune, 1804 : “Chairs to mend. The business of mending chairs is generally conducted by a family or a partnership. One carries the bundle of rush and collects old chairs, while the workman seating himself in some convenient corner on the pavement, exercises his trade. For small repairs they charge from fourpence to one shilling, and for newly covering a chair from eighteen pence to half a crown, according to the fineness of the rush required and the neatness of the workmanship. It is necessary to bargain for price prior to the delivery of the chairs, or the chair mender will not fail to demand an exorbitant compensation for his time and labour.”

Chairmender  at corner of Prince Orange Lane, Greenwich from Charles Spurgeon’s Londoners

From Julius Mendes Price’s London Types, 1919

From The Cries of London, early nineteenth century

Archive photos of Michael South © A London Inheritance

Cries of London courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

Contact Rachael South for chair caning and upholstery

How Old Is The Bethnal Green Mulberry ?

May 6, 2021
by the gentle author

The public hearing of our Judicial Review recommences at the High Court at 10:30am today, Thursday 6th May.

Click this link to watch the hearing live

Please note you must not make any recording of any part of this hearing and to do so would be a contempt of court.

Nurses dance round the ancient Bethnal Green Mulberry in the grounds of the London Chest Hospital, 1944 (Courtesy of the Royal London Hospital Archives)

This is a transcript of the Bethnal Green Mulberry lecture delivered at the Garden Museum in Lambeth by Julian Forbes Laird of Forbes Laird Arborcultural Consultancy. Julian is an expert witness in matters arborcultural and editor of the British Standard in tree conservation.

This lecture is in four parts. I am going to begin by looking briefly at the planning context. Then I will consider how old people think the Bethnal Green Mulberry is, before presenting the available evidence for dating it and offering a little bit of ancient history at the end.

1. THE PLANNING CONTEXT

Is it a Veteran Tree? And there are two definitions that might concern us. The most important is that from the National Planning Policy Framework. It references “trees which have great age, size or condition and potentially exceptional value for wildlife in the landscape or culturally.”  The British Standard for trees in relation to design, demolition and construction – for which I was a technical editor – has another definition,“trees that by a recognised criteria show features of biological, cultural or aesthetic value.”

The bible on this subject is by Dr Helen Read. She is the Ecologist for the Corporation of London and looks after number of very old collections of trees and individual trees as part of her work. Natural England published her book ‘Veteran Trees: A Guide to Good Management,’ in which she includes, ‘How to spot your Veteran Tree.’  The features she identifies are loose bark, dead wood, holes in branches and holes for wildlife. She also draws attention to trees which are large for their species, trees which have an old look, a pollard form which indicates historic management, and have known cultural or historic value. That the concept of a Veteran Tree promoted by Natural England.

Self-evidently, the Bethnal Green Mulberry ticks so many of the boxes that define a Veteran Tree that I think it is outside the range of professional opinion to say otherwise. The Bethnal Green Mulberry is a Veteran and the proposal to relocate it is unlikely to succeed. The tree will either fall apart or die, or possibly both.

2. HOW OLD IS THE BETHNAL GREEN MULBERRY?

Probably not as old as Stonehenge. Roman? No. Vikings? No. Tudor? It has been suggested that it is a Tudor tree. Bishop Bonner was a Tudor bishop of London, and the question is, “Is it his tree?” Certainly, many people believe it to be so. Conversely, is it a tree of about one hundred and fifty years old contemporary with the building of the London Chest Hospital? The latter two are the most likely suggestions.

In Crest Nicholson’s case, in the first planning application they provided a site investigation report. This identified the soil type to be plastic clay. Plastic clay is a type of soil. Unfortunately, it was read slightly differently by the archaeologists. Instead of reading plastic clay with glass and concrete inclusions it was clay with plastic, glass and concrete inclusions. The archaeologists decided this meant the soil was modern and therefore the tree sitting in the soil had to be modern as well. Which is credible if it had said plastic inclusions but it did not. It said plastic clay.

So the soil has fragments of glass and concrete and does that mean it is modern? Consider the Pantheon in Rome, it was built in AD125 and is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The Romans knew how to make concrete. So glass and concrete in soil do not date that soil.

3. THE EVIDENCE FOR DATING THE BETHNAL GREEN MULBERRY

We are going to look now at the available evidence for dating the Bethnal Green Mulberry.

We are going to start by comparing the morphology of the Bethnal Green Mulberry in two photographs published below, one from the nineteen-thirties and the other from three years ago. In the photo from the thirties hospital fundraising pamphlet, you can see the stem of the tree goes off at an angle. Very clearly, there should have been another bit and that has gone.

If you look at the photo of the tree as it stands today, you will see precisely the same angle change. The missing branch was gone by 1930. This has a number of important implications. Firstly, the Bethnal Green Mulberry is patently much older than seventy-five years. Secondly, the failure of the crown only happens in mulberry trees after they are about one-hundred-and-twenty-years old. I have never seen a younger mulberry collapse. So when the Bethnal Green Mulberry suffered a crown failure prior to 1930, at the time of its failure it would be at least one hundred and twenty years years old.

Here we come to the famous inkwell preserved in the archive at the Royal London Hospital. A brass plaque notes that the inkwell’s base was cut in 1911 out of a broken bough from what was reputed to be Bonner’s Mulberry. If we take 1911 as the date when the bough fell off – although it could be before that – and you wind back one-hundred-and-twenty years, you get to around 1800. This is fifty years before the London Chest Hospital was built. In order to arrive at a planning-relevant judgement for the age of the Bethnal Green Mulberry, we need to understand how old it probably is. The youngest probable age of the Bethnal Green Mulberry is around 1800.

The other point to consider is that a tree planted as a sapling in the eighteen-fifties when the hospital was built was very unlikely to have sufficient stature to have had the legend of Bonner’s Mulberry attached to it. That legend would only be attached to the Bethnal Green Mulberry because it predated the hospital. So we have got the tree predating the Chest Hospital. When the hospital was built, the legend was already in place.

The Forestry Commission dating method produced by the Forestry Commission’s Research Dendrologist is a complicated series of calculations. Applying this method to the tree is fraught with difficulty because at the moment the tree only has about 680mm stem diameter. In the photographs, you can see there is quite a lot of the stem missing. So any measurement you make of the stem today is going to be a false record as to the maximum girth and therefore the likely age of the tree. At its peak, I estimate that the tree would probably have been about 800mm at its peak.

The Forestry Commission dating method also requires allowance be made for senescence. As trees age or suffer structural failures, they grow much more slowly. The minimum possible rate of growth of a tree is 0.5mm a year in its stem. A tree can only put on a fraction of growth over ten years and barely change its stem measurement.

If you start from what I believe to be a correct ballpark of 800mm stem diameter and you then allow that the Bethnal Green Mulberry has lost between fifty to one hundred years’ growth, this gives an estimate of three-hundred-and-fifty to four hundred years old for its age. This raises an interesting question – If it is too old to be planted by Bishop Bonner, where did the Bethnal Green Mulberry come from?

The Mulberry not a native British species and to propagate Mulberries in this country requires cuttings. You cannot grow them from seed. What this means is that the Mulberry which stands before us today could be a cutting of Bonner’s tree, preserving a cultural link.

There are three principal eras of introduction for Mulberries into this country. First, the Romans, secondly during Tudor times and thirdly King James’ introductions in the seventeenth century. If our tree is Bonner’s Mulberry, dating from the sixteenth century, it necessarily predates the King James’ introductions, so we can cross out number three. Therefore the chances are that it was a Tudor introduction, that is the most likely conclusion.

Yet there is another possibility which is a lot more fun, so now we are now going to delve into ancient history.

4. A HISTORY LESSON

Even before the Romans arrived, there were well established trade links between London and Colchester. The major obstacle to the movement of goods and services at the London end was the River Lea. In winter, the road heading out of London towards Colchester was often barred by the spreading Lea and the marshes of Hackney and Bow. The road immediately south of the former London Chest Hospital site is Old Ford Road which is the route to the old ford over the River Lea. In pre-Roman Britain, this would have been a necessary and important river crossing between the two trading centres.

When the Romans invaded Britain in AD43, they had to deal with the increasingly belligerent Catuvellauni who they had their tribal base in Colchester. The route of the invading army which came up from Kent into London would have taken them over the old fords of the Lea on their way to lay siege to Colchester. That was the only road. Later the Romans made a new road, still called Roman Road today, possibly because the old road was prone to flooding.

The Romans believed that Mulberries had beneficial effects on the gastro-intestinal system and a fair amount of of their writing about medical plant use has survived, recording this benefit. Mulberries were imported not simply because they thought they were pretty, they liked the shade or they liked the taste, but because they believed it was actually good for their troops to have it. They planted Mulberries at their military bases.

Let us consider the site of the former London Chest Hospital in Roman times.

It occupies relatively high ground compared to the marshes to the east, so it is a site which remained dry all year round. I would suggest that this was why it was subsequently occupied by the Bishop of London’s palaces. Higher ground permits a better view, high enough to get a good view of Old Ford Road around a hundred metres away. So you have a dry site with a good view of traffic on the road which makes it an obvious location for a Roman garrison outpost. The Illustrated London News recorded Roman tiles and bricks being discovered during the demolition of the Bishop’s Palace and the construction of the London Chest Hospital

Early in the fourth century, under Constantine the Great, the Roman Empire converted to Christianity which reached our shores around the same time. The Romans left Britain in 410AD but remains of their culture survived at least years after that. By the sixth century, the site of the former London Chest Hospital was owned by the early church. The name of ‘Bishopsgate’ in the London Wall reveals this as the portal by which the early bishops of London travelled to and from their seat at Bishop’s Hall.

The occupants inherited whatever the Romans left behind and the monks who attended the bishops were well known as herbalists. They read Latin texts about the medicinal uses of plants. This is why Mulberries are found in the physic gardens of monasteries and abbeys, because of their medicinal use. So if the Romans had planted Mulberries at the former London Chest Hospital site, they could have survived – their longevity is such – to span the gap between when the Romans left and the occupancy by the monks of the early church.

If you study the engraving of Bonner scourging a heretic from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, there is a tree in the background, the Bethnal Green Mulberry of legend perhaps. This engraving was made in 1563, contemporaneous with the events it records. So there is no reason to doubt that Bishop Bonner had a Mulberry in his garden at the former London Chest Hospital site. The engraving shows a tree that could easily be a Mulberry. It could be something else but what reason is there to doubt it?  If someone were to make up that detail, it could be an oak tree or a lime tree.

So where did Bonner’s Mulberry come from? Was it a Tudor import or was it propagated from the scion of Roman stock, discovered in a weeded-over orchard by the first monks who inherited the site from the Romans? If the latter is the case, the Bethnal Green Mulberry could be a direct lineal descendant of a tree from the time of Constantine – a tree that preserves in its DNA the original import, a tree that bore ancestral fruit which fed the legions of Roman that watched over ancient London.

The Bethnal Green Mulberry, 1930 (Courtesy of the Royal London Hospital Archives)

The Bethnal Green Mulberry, spring 2015

Inkwell made in 1911 from a branch of the Bethnal Green Mulberry (Courtesy of the Royal London Hospital Archives)

This engraving of the completed London Chest Hospital published by the Illustrated London News on June 28th 1851 shows the fully-grown Mulberry tree to the left of the main building (Courtesy of Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives)

Illustration of Bishop Bonner scourging a heretic from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 1563

Graphic by Paul Bommer

Click here to read my feature in The Daily Telegraph about the scandal of the Bethnal Green Mulberry

Click here to read my feature in The Evening Standard about the scandal of the Bethnal Green Mulberry

Read more here about the Bethnal Green Mulberry

Here We Go Round The Bethnal Green Mulberry

A Plea For The Bethnal Green Mulberry

The Bethnal Green Mulberry

A Letter to Crest Nicholson

A Reply From Crest Nicholson

The Reckoning With Crest Nicholson

The Haggerston Mulberry

The Dalston Mulberry

The Whitechapel Mulberry

The Mile End Mulberry

The Stoke Newington Mulberry

The Spitalfields Mulberry

The Oldest Mulberry in Britain

Three Ancient Mulberry Trees

A Brief History of London Mulberries

Bethnal Green Mulberry At The High Court

May 5, 2021
by the gentle author

The public hearing of our Judicial Review commences at the High Court at 2pm today, Wednesday 5th May. Proceedings will run until 4:30pm this afternoon and recommence tomorrow at 10:30am.

Click this link to watch the hearing live

Please note you must not make any recording of any part of this hearing and to do so would be a contempt of court.

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It was April 24th 2015 when I first encountered the Bethnal Green Mulberry, the oldest tree in the East End. Little did I imagine then where that introduction might lead.

Today – thanks to generosity of our supporters – a Judicial Review commences at the High Court of Tower Hamlets’ decision to grant permission to Crest Nicholson for their redevelopment of the former London Chest Hospital, including digging up the five hundred year old Bethnal Green Mulberry. Top QC Richard Harwood OBE will be leading our case, dissecting the six ways in which we believe Tower Hamlets Council acted unlawfully in approving this planning application.

It has been a long and eventful journey over the past six years since April 2015, including photographing many other historic London Mulberries, gathering a petition of over 16,000 signatures, welcoming Dame Judi Dench as patron of our campaign and breaking my right arm, falling out of a Mulberry Tree in Bethnal Green while picking fruit.

We have taken cuttings from a scion of Shakespeare’s Mulberry Tree, grown from a branch rescued by David Garrick in 1770 when the tree planted by the bard in Stratford Upon Avon in 1610 was cut down. My good friend, nurseryman Lyndon Osborn of Columbia Rd Market, has kindly taken the responsibility of rooting these cuttings and, once they are ready, we shall be distributing them to our supporters this summer.

The wonderful Kitty Travers of La Grotta Ices has made Mulberry sorbet with fruit harvested from historic London Mulberries and this summer we shall also be distributing large pots to supporters who chose this option.

It will be a few weeks after today’s Judicial Review before the verdict is given. The Secretary of State’s decision on the Public Inquiry into the future of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry will also be announced this month.

In response to over 7000 objections to the proposed Truman Brewery development for an ugly shopping mall with four floors of corporate offices on top, Tower Hamlets council have deferred their decision until June to consider the impact of scheme upon local businesses and the community.

I hope that the outcomes of the Bethnal Green Mulberry Judicial Review and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry Public Inquiry will serve as a lesson to Tower Hamlets Council not to ignore public opinion and planning policy by approving the Truman Brewery redevelopment.

If they act unlawfully again, as we believe they did in the case of the Bethnal Green Mulberry, then the Truman Brewery application is likely to result in further legal action. A pattern is becoming evident.

Visit www.battleforbricklane.com

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Click here to read my feature in The Evening Standard about the scandal of the Bethnal Green Mulberry

Click here to read my feature in The Daily Telegraph about the scandal of the Bethnal Green Mulberry

Read more here about the Bethnal Green Mulberry

The Fate of the Bethnal Green Mulberry

The Bethnal Green Mulberry

A Letter to Crest Nicholson

A Reply From Crest Nicholson

The Reckoning With Crest Nicholson

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SIGN OUR PETITION TO SAVE THE BETHNAL GREEN MULBERRY

Bluebells At Bow

May 4, 2021
by the gentle author

With a few bluebells in flower in my garden in Spitalfields, I was inspired make a visit to Bow Cemetery and view the display of bluebells sprouting under the tall forest canopy that has grown over the graves of the numberless East Enders buried there. In each season of the the year, this hallowed ground offers me an arcadian refuge from the city streets and my spirits always lift as I pass between the ancient brick walls that enclose it, setting out to lose myself among the winding paths, lined by tombstones and overarched with trees.

Equivocal weather rendered the timing of my trip as a gamble, and I was at the mercy of chance whether I should get there and back in sunshine. Yet I tried to hedge my bets by setting out after a shower and walking quickly down the Whitechapel Rd beneath a blue sky of small fast-moving clouds – though, even as I reached Mile End, a dark thunderhead came eastwards from the City casting gloom upon the land. It was too late to retrace my steps and instead I unfurled my umbrella in the cemetery as the first raindrops fell, taking shelter under a horse chestnut, newly in leaf, as the shower became a downpour.

Standing beneath the dripping tree in the half-light of the storm, I took a survey of the wildflowers around me, primroses spangling the green, the white star-like stitchwort adorning graves, a scattering of palest pink ladies smock highlighting the ground cover, yellow celandines sharp and bright against the dark green leaves, violets and wild strawberries nestling close to the earth and may blossom and cherry blossom up above – and, of course, the bluebells’ hazy azure mist shimmering between the lines of stones tilting at irregular angles. Alone beneath the umbrella under the tree in the heart of the vast graveyard, I waited. It was the place of death, but all around me there was new growth.

Once the rain relented sufficiently for me to leave my shelter, I turned towards the entrance in acceptance that my visit was curtailed. The pungent aroma of wild garlic filled the damp air. But then – demonstrating the quick-changing weather that is characteristic of April – the clouds were gone and dazzling sunshine descended in shafts through the forest canopy turning the wet leaves into a million tiny mirrors, reflecting light in a vision of phantasmagoric luminosity. Each fresh leaf and petal and branch glowed with intense colour after the rain. I stood still and cast my eyes around to absorb every detail in this sacred place. It was a moment of recognition that has recurred throughout my life, the awe-inspiring rush of growth of plant life in England in spring.

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At Bow Cemetery

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Find out more at www.towerhamletscemetery.org

The High Days & Holidays Of Old London

May 3, 2021
by the gentle author

On Bank Holiday Monday, let us to consider the high days & holidays of old London in the days before social distancing.

Boys lining up at The Oval, c.1930

School is out. Work is out. All of London is on the lam. Everyone is on the streets. Everyone is in the parks. What is going on? Is it a jamboree? Is it a wingding? Is it a shindig? Is it a bevy? Is it a bash?

These are the high days and holidays of old London, as recorded on glass slides by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and once used for magic lantern shows at the Bishopsgate Institute.

No doubt these lectures had an educational purpose, elucidating the remote origins of London’s quaint old ceremonies. No doubt they had a patriotic purpose to encourage wonder and sentiment at the marvel of royal pageantry. Yet the simple truth is that Londoners – in common with the rest of humanity – are always eager for novelty, entertainment and spectacle, always seeking any excuse to have fun. And London is a city ripe with all kinds of opportunities for amusement, as illustrated by these magnificent photographs of its citizens at play.

Are you ready? Are you togged up? Did you brush your hair? Did you polish your shoes? There is no time to lose. We need the make the most of our high days and holidays. And we need to get there before the parade passes by.

At Hampstead Heath, c.1910.

Walls Ice Cream vendor, c.1920.

At Hampstead Heath, c.1910.

At Hampstead Heath, c.1910.

Balloon ascent at Crystal Palace, Sydenham, c.1930.

At the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens, 1896.

Christ’s Hospital Procession across bridge on St Matthews Day, 1936.

A cycle excursion to The Spotted Dog in West Ham, 1930.

Pancake Greaze at Westminster School on Shrove Tuesday, c.1910.

Variety at the Shepherds Bush Empire, c.1920.

Dignitaries visit the Chelsea Royal Hospital, c.1920.

Games at the Foundling Hospital, Bloomsbury, c.1920.

Riders in Rotten Row, Hyde Park, c.1910.

Physiotherapy at a Sanatorium, 1916.

Vintners’ Company, Master’s Installation procession, City of London, c.1920.

Boating on the lake in Battersea Park, c.1920.

The King’s Coach, c.1911.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee procession, 1897.

Lord Mayor’s Procession passing St Paul’s, 1933.

Policemen gives directions to ladies at the coronation of Edward VII, 1902.

After the procession for the coronation of George V, c.1911.

Observance of the feast of Charles I at Church of St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, 1932.

Chief Yeoman Warder oversees the Beating of the Bounds at the Tower of London, 1920.

Schoolchildren Beating the Bounds at the Tower of London, 1920.

A cycle excursion to Chingford Old Church, c.1910.

Litterbugs at Hampstead Heath, c.1930.

The Foundling Hospital Anti-Litter Band, c.1930.

Distribution of sixpences to widows at St Bartholomew the Great on Good Friday, c.1920.

Visiting the Cast Court to see Trajan’s Column at the Victoria & Albert Museum, c.1920.

A trip from Chelsea Pier, c.1910.

Doggett’s Coat & Badge Race, c.1920.

Feeding pigeons outside St Paul’s, c.1910.

Building the Great Wheel, Earls Court, c.1910.

Glass slides copyright © Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

The Nights of Old London

The Ghosts of Old London

The Dogs of Old London

The Signs of Old London

The Markets of Old London

The Pubs of Old London

The Doors of Old London

The Staircases of Old London