Monday, 28 April 2008

Friday 25th April 2008 - Thespians

Today’s walk 'Thespians' was about distinguished actors of the past associated with the Holborn area. We started as usual from Holborn Tube Station with our guide Aly, and crossing Kingsway we stopped briefly to hear about an excerpt from ‘The Players Scourge’ written in 1757 by William Law who described actors as follows:- “Play actors are the most profligate wretches, and the vilest vermin hell ever vomited out…they are filth and garbage of the earth, the scum and stain of human nature, the excrements and refuse of all mankind, the pests and plagues of human society, the debauchees of men’s minds and morals.” Obviously he wasn’t too fond of actors! In fact until the mid 18th century actors were considered no more worthy than vagabonds, and until the Licensing Act of 1837 all players, unless contracted in a company, could be subject to charges of vagrancy. A Mr. Hooper was one actor who fell victim when he was arrested in 1735.

The man credited with changing the way actors were perceived was David Garrick, (1717 - 1779) who transformed actors into the celebrities of the mid 18th century. Garrick was not only an excellent Shakespearian actor but also a playwright, producer and manager of the Drury Lane Theatre. He was also a pupil and friend of Dr. Samuel Johnson. He took over the patent to the theatre, in partnership with James Lacy, in April 1747 and they made a failing theatre a huge success. He retired from theatre management in 1776 and when he died three years later, was given a lavish funeral and he was interred in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey. His legacy was perhaps best surmised by the Rev. Nicholas Tindal, the historian, when he said that “The ‘deaf’ hear him in his ‘action’ and the ‘blind’ see him in his ‘voice’". A monument to Garrick in Lichfield Cathedral bears Johnson’s famous comment: “I am disappointed by that stroke of death that has eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and impoverished that public stock of harmless pleasure.” Both Garrick Street and the Garrick Club are named after him.

David Garrick

We then walked down Kingsway and turned right into Kemble Street. This is named for Charles Kemble (1775 - 1854), the youngest son of Roger Kemble. A younger brother of John Philip Kemble, Stephen Kemble and the great Sarah Siddons, he was born in Brecon, South Wales. His first job was in a Post Office but he quickly resigned to become an actor. He lived close by in Great Russell Street. He was originally rather in the shadow of his more famous brother and sister, but gradually achieved independent fame. In comedy he was ably supported by his wife Marie Therese De Camp, whom he married in July 1806. He had a very successful tour of America with his daughter Fanny during 1832 and 1834. His later career was beset by financial difficulties caused by his joint proprietorship of the Covent Garden Theatre. Macready summed him up as “a first rate actor of second rate parts”.

Charles Kemble as Romeo
picture courtesy

We then walked along Kemble Street and turned left into Kean Street, named for Edmund Kean (1789 - 1833) who was regarded in his time as the greatest ever actor. He was born in London the son of an actress Anne Carey, daughter of the 18th century composer and playwright Henry Carey and probably Edmund Kean, an architect’s clerk. His background has been less flatteringly described as “bastard son of Anne Carey, itinerant actress and Street hawker and Edmund Kean a mentally unbalanced youth" who committed suicide at the age of 22.

He made his first appearance on stage aged four in Nouverre’s ballet Cymon, playing Cupid. As a child his vivacity, cleverness and affection made his universally popular. A few benevolent people paid for him to attend school where he did well, but feeling restricted left to go to sea as a cabin boy. Life at sea however, was not to his taste. His acting abilities were already so skilful that he was able to fool the doctors in Madeira that he was both lame and deaf, and was so allowed to return to England. He sought the protection of his uncle Moses Kean, an entertainer who introduced him to the study of Shakespeare. He also received lessons in the principles of acting from Miss Charlotte Tidswell, an actress. He quickly showed his genius in his interpretations of Shakespearean characters which were entirely different from John Philip Kemble, then considered the greatest exponent of these roles.

Edmund Kean

At the age of 14 he obtained an engagement for 20 plays at York Theatre, and shortly afterwards came to the notice of King George III who commanded him to appear at Windsor Castle. He then joined a circus but fell from a horse and broke both legs which left him with swellings in his insteps for the rest of his life.

In 1814 he was given a chance by the Drury Lane Theatre as part of their effort to regain popularity. His performance as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice brought him great fame, and he moved to Piccadilly. He earned an astonishing £12000 per year, which was a huge sum at that time, but his profligate lifestyle damaged his reputation. In 1825 he was named in the case of Cox -v- Kean, for adultery with Charlotte Cox. His wife divorced him and the case aroused such bitter feelings, that he was booed and pelted with fruit on stage. He became dependent on drugs which led to a decline in his powers, and whilst playing Othello to the Iago of his son Charles Kean, he collapsed on stage on 25th March 1833 and fell into his son’s arms. He died two months later in Richmond.

We now crossed Drury Lane and walked into Tavistock Street, then up Gresham Street to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. This is considered the oldest operating theatre in the world. The original theatre opened in 1663 in Bridges Street, now Catherine Street with seating for 700 people. All theatre had been banned during the Cromwellian period, but once Charles II was restored to the throne, he granted patents for legitimate theatre (meaning spoken plays as opposed to opera, dance, concerts or plays with music). One was for the Kings’ Company based at The Theatre Royal and the other was for the Duke’s Company who were based at the theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Thomas Killigrew built the first theatre and among his actors were Nell Gwynn, who became the mistress of the king and Charles Hart. Restoration Comedy was very popular with the public.

Theatre Royal Drury Lane

In 1672 the theatre was destroyed by fire, when footmen annoyed at the increase in prices set fire to the building. It was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1674 to seat 2000 people and it became the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. It was here on 28th September 1745 that God Save the King was performed publicly for the first time, when Bonnie Prince Charlie was landing in Scotland and the country wished to support the English monarchy.

David Garrick became manager in 1747 and remained there until 1766. He introduced a ban of the then custom of spectators sitting on the stage during performances. If they chose to move during the performance chaos would often ensue. If you get the chance to look at the painting by William Hogarth “The Beggars Opera” you can see the audience sitting on the stage.

The interior of the The Theatre Royal in 1808

When Richard Brinsley Sheridan became manager the building was demolished to make way for an even larger theatre which opened in 1794, but this building only survived for 15 years before being destroyed yet again by fire in 1809. The building that stands here today was opened in 1812. It was designed by Benjamin Wyatt to seat 3060. The blue columns along the side of the building were added in 1831. The last major renovation took place in 1922 reducing the capacity to between 2200 and 2300 in four tiers. The theatre closed during World War II, suffering some slight damage and became the Headquarters of the Entertainments National Service Association. The theatre reopened in 1946.

The Theatre Royal Drury Lane is also believed to be one of the most haunted theatres in the world. The appearance of any of the ghosts is said to bring good luck for an actor or production. The 'Man in Grey’ is perhaps the most famous. He appears dressed as an 18th century nobleman with a powered wig beneath his tricorn hat, a dress jacket and cloak, riding boots and a sword. He is believed to be the ghost of the body found in a wall, discovered in 1848 with the knife that stabbed him still sticking in his ribs.

Another ghost is Joe Grimaldi, a comedian, who is a helpful apparition guiding nervous actors about the stage.

Then there is Charles Macklin, but more of him later.

We now walked back to Drury Lane and then turned into Betterton Street. Named for Thomas Betterton (1635 - 1710) he lived in nearby Russell Street. He was Samuel Pepys favourite actor and was considered by many to be the best actor of the entire Restoration period. He was the son of an under-cook to Charles II born in London. He was apprenticed to John Holden, a publisher and then possibly later to a bookseller called John Rhodes who had been wardrobe keeper at the Blackfriars Theatre. In 1659 Rhodes obtained a licence to set up a company of players at The Cockpit Theatre in Drury Lane and it was here that Betterton made his debut on stage. His abilities quickly brought him to prominence and he became a favourite with Charles II. He became a member of and later manager of The Dukes’ Company and then in 1695 set up a cooperative company in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. He retired with ill health but gave a benefit performance which raised £500. His last appearance on stage was in 1710 and he died shortly afterwards and is buried in the Cloisters of Westminster Abbey.

Thomas Betterton

We walked past The Fortune Theatre which stands today on the site of the Cockpit Theatre. It operated from 1616 to around 1665 when it could no longer stand the competition from the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The Cockpit began life literally as a Cock pit or a place where cock fights were held. It was the first theatre in Drury Lane, but having suffered fire damage following riots was rebuilt and rechristened The Phoenix, although the old name still stuck. It closed under the Commonwealth and was used as a school but plays continued illegally. In 1660 with the restoration it could become a theatre once more, but it was shut out of ‘legitimate drama’ by the monopoly of the Kings and Dukes companies and could not compete. There is no record of a play being staged after 1665 and it is not known of what eventually happened to the building.

A plan of The Cockpit Theatre

We now walked on to Macklin Street, our final stop. This is named after Charles Macklin (1690 - 1797) an actor and dramatist born in County Donegal, Ireland. He was one of the most distinguished actors of his day, equally at home in comedy or tragedy. He was best known for his portrayal of Shylock in the Merchant of Venice, and introduced a more natural style of acting, He lived in nearby Bow Street. Two of the best known of his plays are The Man of the World (1781) and Love a la Mode (1759). He was a tempestuous character often involved in lawsuits, sometimes acting as his own lawyer as he did most successfully in his murder trial. He was charged with murdering Thomas Hallam in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, after an argument over a wig. He is said to have shouted at Hallam “Goddamn you for a blackguard, scrub, rascal!” and thrust a cane into Hallam’s left eye, piercing it. Hallam died the next day. He was so skilful in his own defence that he was acquitted and given a fine. It is said he now haunts the spot in the theatre where Hallam died.

Charles Macklin

His exact age when he died is a slight mystery. His wife gave his year of birth as 1690, which would make him 107, however both 1699 and 1710 have been given as alternate dates. Macklin is still remembered today in his native Ireland, with the Charles Macklin Autumn School which is held each October in the village of Culdaff.

Well that’s all for this week. Hope you found it as interesting to read as I did to write!

Friday, 25 April 2008

Wednesday 23rd April 2008 - Hendrix's Holborn

Today's walk was about the Holborn connections of Jimi Hendrix. Jimi was born on 27th November 1942 in Seattle, Washington and died on 18th September 1970 just before his 28th birthday. He is recognized as one of the most influential guitarists in rock music. Click HERE for a website dedicated to Jimi.

We set off as usual from Holborn Tube Station and crossed Kingsway to stand outside Boots - it was here on this site in a small recording studio belonging to De Lane Lea Music Ltd., beneath a bank, on 23rd October 1966 that Jimi Hendrix attended his first recording session.
He had arrived in London on 24th September 1966, having been talent spotted by Chas Chandler formerly of The Animals, and it was he who brought Jimi to London and together they formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience over the next few weeks, with Noel Redding (Bass Guitar) and Mitch Mitchell (Drums). It was here that they recorded Hey Joe and Purple Haze among other great tracks. It wasn't without problems however, as the noise from the music disrupted the bank's computers! In the CD reissue of Stone Free, is a copy of an invoice issued by De Lane Lea Music Ltd. to Chas Chandler which reads as follows:-

To: Recording Session with Jimmy (misspelt) Hendrix per Chas Chandler 21st December 1966:-
4 track recording 3hours at £18.0.0 per hour £54.0.0
600 feet Ampex tape (1/4") £ 1.0.0
1 x 7" Plastic Reel (five shillings and sixpence) 5/6
1 x 5" Plastic Reel (four shillings and sixpence) 4/6
Total: (Fifty five pounds and ten shillings) £55.10.0

We then walked down Kingsway to stand outside No1. Kingsway, formerly the home of Rediffusion Television. It was here that Ready Steady Go was recorded on Friday nights. Before 1965 groups would mime to their songs but from 1965 they performed 'live'.

No. 1 Kingsway

On 13th December 1966 in Studio 9, the Jimi Hendrix Experience appeared on Ready Steady Go, their TV debut, as part of the recording deal they had signed. Also appearing that night were The Troggs, the Mersey Beats and a very young Marc Bolan singing Hippy Gumbo. The show was broadcast across the UK on 16th December 1966 in black and white. Whilst the band were the talk of London they were not really known outside of the capital. This all changed when this programme aired. Unfortunately no recording survives.

We now turned up Drury Lane and eventually came to 135-149 Shaftesbury Avenue. Now the Odeon Cinema, this was once the Saville Theatre, built in 1931, it opened on 8th October that year with a play called 'For the Love of Mike' a play with music by H. F. Maltby. The front of the theatre has a wonderful sculptured frieze by Gilbert Bayes running along for almost 40 metres.

The Saville Theatre (now the Odeon)

It was here in the 1960s that Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles, hired out the theatre for groups to play there. On 29th January 1967, the Jimi Hendrix Experience played there for the first time. They were not top of the bill, that spot was taken by The Who, but it was their most prestigious London gig to date and they had some famous faces in the audience. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were all present and went backstage both before and after the show. They played Hey Joe and a cover of the Troggs song 'Wild Thing' among others. They made a further appearance before the end of the month.

On 7th May 1967 they played another concert at The Saville but this time they were top of the bill. There is a story that a young David Bowie, who was in the audience, wrote a letter complaining about Jimi's appearance to the Record Mirror.

Their next appearance was on 4th June 1967, a concert that made the Jimi Hendrix Experience into a phenomenon. Again they topped the bill. The concert opened with Procul Harum who played their famous song 'A Whiter Shade of Pale'. The Chiffons and Denny Lane were also on the bill. Paul McCartney had been telling everyone that the Jimi and the band would make a great headline act for the Monterey Music Festival and it was this concert that was to guarantee them that booking.

Three days before this concert Jimi got a copy of The Beatles new album, released that day 1st June 1967 - it was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Just thirty minutes before they were due to go on Jimi told Noel and Mitch that they were going to open with the first track. Noel thought he had 'gone daft'. They had had no rehearsal and even worse John, Paul and George were in the audience. However, Jimi emerged on stage in an orange velvet suit and they played a one hour set - including Sgt. Pepper and closed the show by smashing his guitar. It was a triumph. Paul McCartney said "the show was simply incredible, perhaps the best I have ever seen him play." And he added later that the cover version "was one of the greatest honours of my career".

It was at a further concert at the Saville on 27th August 1967 that Chas Chandler was told that the whole band were taking LSD. This was also the day that Brian Epstein was found dead in his flat. A second concert due that night was cancelled as a mark of respect.

Two further concerts at The Saville took place in October 1967, one of which ended with Jimi tussling with a reluctant Noel Redding, before he smashed his guitar and amps.

Jimmy went on to perform at the iconic Woodstock Festival in 1969 before his death in September 1970 at the age of 27.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Friday 18th April 2008 - Covent Garden

It was a cold and windy day for our walk to Covent Garden. We set off from Holborn Tube Station as usual with our guide Aly. After crossing Kingsway we walked down towards Aldwych and then turned right into Great Queen Street. We stopped briefly at the corner of Drury Lane and Longacre for a brief history of the area.

Covent Garden was first settled in the 600s when the Saxons established a trading port to the west of the city, along Fleet Street and the Strand and up Aldwych (whose name may even mean ‘old port’) and across the area we now know as Covent Garden. The settlement, called Lundenwic, was abandoned when the Vikings came, and the land reverted to agriculture. In medieval times the monks from nearby Westminster Abbey used the area as their Convent Garden, a name which stuck and eventually was shortened to Covent Garden. With the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII the land was granted to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford. The Earl lived on the north side of the Strand, an area that boasted numerous mansions built by noblemen and bishops.

In 1586 the 3rd Earl decided to move and built Bedford House, on what was to become Southampton Street. In 1613 the former Convent Garden had a wall built around it and then in the 1630s the 4th Earl of Bedford realised that 17th century fashionable society was moving to the west end, and decided to do some speculative building. He asked the architect Inigo Jones to design him a residential square, based on the Italian piazzas. Jones has studied in Italy and was delighted to have the opportunity to build houses “fitt for the habitations of Gentlemen and men of ability”. It was in effect an experiment in town planning - creating the first public square. The project was supported by Charles II, and the designs Jones created would have a tremendous effect on later buildings in London.

Inigo Jones

We continued into Longacre which at one time had been the hub of the carriage building trade, and later car dealers. Even today you can still see signs saying ’Carriage Manufactory’ at the top of the building now housing Gap and across the road on the corner of another building Connaughts Coachworks.

'Carriage Maufactory' atop the Gap Store

Connaught Coachworks

We now turned into Rose Street, and came to The Lamb and Flag pub, This pub has been there since the 1600s but was originally called The Bucket of Blood (it was here that bare knuckled boxing took place and no doubt saw copious amounts of blood spilt!) There is also a small plaque which refers to an attack on John Dryden in 1679.

The Lamb and Flag

We then walked down to King Street and along to Inigo Place. Here we could see St. Paul’s Church, which was built as part of the new development, and is in fact older than St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was built between 1631 and 1633, the first Anglican church in London since the Reformation, and is now known as The Actors Church and has a number of memorials to actors from stage, screen and television . Its is a very interesting church and well worth a visit. Jones called it “the handsomest barn in England”.

St. Paul's Church from Inigo Place

Jones originally designed the church with the entry facing the Piazza but the Bishop of London objected, wanting the altar at the east end, so a new entrance was designed and built, and the church is entered from the rear. Unfortunately none of Jones’ original houses remain, all the buildings are now Victorian.

We then walked down through an archway on the right into Henrietta Street and turning left walked along to the Piazza to look at the front of St. Paul’s Church.

St. Paul's Church - like a 'Roman Temple'

Jones’ passion for palladian and roman architecture is at once evident . It was the first classical style building in London and looks rather like a Roman temple. The poet John Gay referred to the church in his poem ‘Trivia’ - “Where Covent Garden’s famous temple stands, that boasts the work of Jones’ immortal hands, columns, with plain magnificence appear and graceful porches lead along the square.. There is a large plaque on what would have been the main entrance describing how the church was rebuilt after a great fire in 1795 to Jones’ original design. A little to the left is an inscription carved into the stone which commemorates the very first Punch and Judy show witnessed by none other than Samuel Pepys in 1662 and recorded in his diary. This event is also commemorated in a different way, by the Punch and Judy bar in the market just behind us.

The plaque commemorating the fire
The Punch and Judy inscription

The market itself began in a small way in 1649 but expanded, particularly after the Great Fire of London destroyed the city markets in 1666. In 1670 the 5th Earl and now 1st Duke of Bedford decided to profit from the street sellers and obtained a Royal Charter ‘to hold forever a market’ selling flowers, fruit, roots and herbs. As the market expanded, the residents felt their loss of privacy, particularly as various underworld characters came to the square - thieves, hawkers, prostitutes intruding into their world, and as the private gated squares like Bloomsbury Square were built the residents moved out, leaving Convent Garden to less desirable residents.

During the Cromwellian period theatres had been banned but with Charles II’s restoration theatres were granted licences to open and quickly grew, together with coffee houses and gambling dens. By the 1760s the market occupied most of the Piazza and with the theatres which had sprung up nearby in Drury Lane and Bow Street together with the many public houses, the neighbourhood acquired a rather dubious reputation. The area teemed with all forms of low-life and illicit traders as well as the regular market traders.

When the Fleet market closed in 1826 Covent Garden became even more popular but was very disordered. In 1830 work began on a new market building which was described as ‘a structure at once perfectly fitted for its various uses; of great architectural beauty and elegance’ although at the that time it had no glass roof.

So the market changed character again and was once more a fashionable place. Charles Dickens was genuinely fascinated by the colour and atmosphere of the market and rented apartments on the corner of Wellington and Tavistock Streets where he said “I can slip out at my door in the small hours after any midnight and in one circuit of the purlieus of Covent Garden Market, can behold a state of infancy and youth, as vile as if a Bourbon sat upon the English throne.”

We then walked over to the Jubilee Market which was built in 1985. It was during the excavation of the site that archaeological discoveries were made - the settlement of Lundenwic, with significant Saxon remains, has greatly increased our scant knowledge of the Saxon settlement.

The Jubilee Market

In 1859 Flora Hall was built to house the flower market, but this was converted to a fruit market in 1887 and then in the 1980s became the London Transport Museum.

The Flora Hall now the London Transport Museum

Eventually the market expanded into the houses and shops in the surrounding streets. It became evident even before the second world war that the market could not remain in such a congested part of London but it was not until 1973 that the fruit and vegetable market moved to Nine Elms leaving empty market buildings and vacant premises.

Covent Garden Market then....
....and now

Planners wanted to demolish the whole area but thankfully a vigorous campaign by local residents and the general public prevented this and the market was gradually renovated to become the popular shopping centre it is today. And of course not forgetting the street entertainers who can still be found here daily.

We then walked back towards Russell Street to Bow Street and up to the Royal Opera House. The original theatre, the Covent GardenTheatre was first opened in 1732 by John Rich, who had inherited one of the two royal patents given by Charles II allowing official authorisation for the production of plays. The first patent was granted to Thomas Killigrew who opened the first Theatre Royal on a converted tennis court in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Three years later it moved to it’s present site at the corner of Russell Street and Catherine Street. These two theatres, through fires and riots, held the monopoly of legitimate theatre until 1843.

The first play at the Covent Garden Theatre was ‘The Way of the World’ by William Congreave. In 1807 the theatre was destroyed by a terrible fire in which twenty fireman died, The manager producer at the time was George Frederick Handel, and many of his manuscripts were destroyed by the fire, together with his organ. The theatre was rebuilt but when the prices were increased there were riots by theatregoers who released pigs and pigeons into the auditorium causing chaos. The management admitted defeat and the prices were reduced again.

Fire at the Royal Opera House

A cartoon depicting the riots

In 1847 the Covent Garden Theatre was bought by the Italian composer Guiseppe Persian who presented operas and renamed the theatre The Royal Italian Opera House. It wasn’t until 1939 that it became the Royal Opera House. Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor to the theatre and her carriage would be parked in front of the Bow Street Magistrates Court. However, she did not think it proper for her to be seen pulling up outside a Police Station so she had the building disguised by altering the traditional blue lamps with clear glass lamps. The station still retains it’s disguise today so that it may continue not to offend any modern day opera goer.

A further fire damaged the theatre in 1856 so in 1858 the theatre was rebuilt once again, by E. M. Barry in classical style. He also built the Floral Hall next door in glass and iron, which was meant to be a rival to the Bedford’s flower market. Both buildings are now part of the rebuilt Royal Opera House complex, which was recently completed.

The Royal Opera House Complex

This brought to an end our walk for today, which I found fascinating. I have tried to expand on the subjects discussed to give a slightly more in depth history of the area, as I know Aly doesn’t have the time to include everything. I hope you find it as interesting as I do.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Wednesday 16th April - Masonic Holborn

Today's walk is entitled Masonic Holborn

A bright but chilly day for our walk today around Masonic Holborn. Our Guide Aly decided a ‘Voice Extender’ was a necessity after the large crowd on our last walk, and although we were a little under 30 people this time, with the noise of the traffic it was much easier to hear what he was saying. A definite thumbs up for the Voice Extender.

Firstly, I think a brief word about Masons or Freemasons. Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest secular fraternal societies. Members are taught the rules of Freemasonry by a series of ritual dramas that follow ancient forms and use stonemasons’ customs and tools symbolically. When, where and why Freemasonry began is not known. It is believed to have originated in England, descending from the craft of the medieval stonemasons. Lodges, or groups of operative masons began to accept non-practicing members who gradually took over and adopted the stonemasons’ tools and customs as allegorical teaching aids. Each member belongs to a Lodge. The word is believed to have derived from the shelters that the medieval stonemasons lived in during the winter months whilst working on great buildings such as cathedrals. Medieval stonemasons were ‘free’ men, able to travel wherever they wished to work, hence the term ‘free mason’.

The earliest record of the making of a freemason in a non-operative lodge in England is Elias Ashmole at Warrington in 1646. On 24th June 1717 four London lodges came together at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St. Paul’s Churchyard to form the first Grand Lodge in the world. They called themselves The Moderns. Grand Lodge became the regulatory body for Freemasonry holding regular meetings any publishing regulations.

In 1751 a rival Grand Lodge, calling themselves The Ancients was formed. For 60 years these two lodges co-existed before finally they unified to become the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813.

Only men can become freemasons although there are some linked orders that allow women members. They follow three great principles Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. From the earliest days they have also been concerned with the care of orphans, the sick and the aged.

Our first stop was The Ship Tavern at the corner of Gate Street and Little Turnstile. This is a very old pub dating back to 1549 and was rebuilt in 1923. It was here that on the last Monday in every month from the 1700s that freemasons would meet and in 1786 Lodge 234 was consecrated here by the Grand Master, the Earl of Antrim.

The Ship

Outside The Ship - a brief history

A few short metres away is the Lincoln Sandwich Shop in Gate Street. This was once The Sun public house. Lodge 234 moved briefly to the French Horn in Holborn, the exact location of which is somewhat uncertain, but could possibly be in French Horn Yard to the north of High Holborn. The lodge then moved to the Sun pub.

The Lincoln Sandwich Shop, formerly The Sun Pub

We now turn the corner into Lincoln’s Inn Fields and walk along to Sir John Soane’s house. Sir John was an architect who was asked to survey and value the land in Great Queen Street where the first of the Freemason’s Halls was to be built. Although not a member then, he soon joined and rose to become the Grand Superintendent of Works.

Sir John Soane's house

We now retraced our steps and returned to Kingsway. Although now a large modern building containing Sainsburys and Boots, 129 Kingsway was once The Holborn Restaurant. A huge building containing a vast dining room and a number of smaller private dining rooms and the restaurant was very popular with the local freemasons. In 1886 the Prince of Wales was made Grand Master, a position he held until he became King Edward VII in 1901. His successor was his younger brother the Duke of Connaught who became Grand Master on 3rd June 1902. The Lodge met in the Kings Hall in the restaurant until 1939.

The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in Masonic Regalia

The Duke of Connaught

A short walk back down Kingsway towards Aldwych brings us to Great Queen Street, which is the very heart of Freemasonry in London, with shops, pubs and other buildings with links to freemasons.

The Freemasons Arms, Longacre

The Prince of Wales. Great Queen Street

Central Regalia

We first walk past the New Connaught Rooms. In 1908 The Connaught Rooms were named after the then Grand Master, the Duke of Connaught and became one of the most popular venues for social and corporte events . They were built upon the site of the Freemasons Tavern and in 1910 this building was replaced with the current structure.

The New Connaught Rooms

Next to the New Connaught Rooms stands Freemasons Hall. This magnificent structure is the only Grade II listed Art Deco building in London which has been preserved ‘as built’ both internally and externally. It was built between 1927 and 1993 and is in fact the third hall on the site. It was designed by H.V. Ashley and Winton Newman, following an international architectural competition chaired by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

The 'Inner Building' rises
(picture courtesy United Grand Lodge of England)

The Tower rises
(picture courtesy United Grand Lodge of England)

In 1775 the premiere Grand Lodge purchased No. 61 Great Queen Street, a house with a garden and a further house behind it. A competition was held to design a Grand Hall to link the two houses. The winning design was by Thomas Sandby. In 1820 the hall was extended by Sir John Soane but his work disappeared during the building of the second hall in the 1860s which was designed by Frederick Pepys Cockerill. Further property had been acquired to the west of the original and Cockerill managed to incorporate Sandby’s grand Hall into his design. In fact the grand Hall survived until 1930 when it had to be demolished as it was suffering from severe structural damage following a fire in 1883. Most of Cockerill’s Hall was also demolished to make way for Ashley and Newman’s Freemasons Hall although the eastern end survives as part of the Connaught Rooms.

Freemasons Hall today

Entrance to the Library and Museum

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry is open to visitors at Freemasons Hall.

Well that’s all for today. The next walk features Covent Garden.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Wednesday 9th April 2008 - Homes of Famous People

Todays walk was entitled : Homes of Famous People

We had the biggest crowd of walkers ever today – 66! We set off as usual from Holborn Tube Station, down Gate Street and into Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Our first stop was No. 65 – the former home of William Marsden (1796-1657), (see HERE for more information) Surgeon and founder of both the Royal Free Hospital (in 1828) and the Royal Marsden Hospital (in 1851). He was born in Sheffield and studied at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital under the famous Surgeon John Abernethy. In 1818 he set up a small treatment centre in a house in Gray’s Inn Road which was later to become the Royal Free Hospital. Patients could be treated without paying a fee and with less formality, following his discovery of the problems the poor had in obtaining medical treatment of any kind.

William Marsden

65 Lincoln's Inn Fields

He later turned his attention to cancer sufferers and in 1851 set up another hospital in Cannon Row, Westminster. This grew into the Brompton Cancer Hospital (now the Royal Marsden Hospital Fulham Road site).

Next we moved on to a very familiar building, No. 59-60 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. This was the home of Spencer Perceval KC (1762 – 1812) who was the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated. (More information HERE) He was Prime Minister at a controversial and difficult time (October 1809 to May 1812) with an economic crisis and industrial unrest (not a lot changes does it?) He introduced legislation which was considered by some to be draconian. In the winter before his assassination the Luddite riots were breaking out and he was forced to concede an inquiry by the House of Commons. It was as he was on his way to this enquiry that he was shot in the heart by a man of unsound mind, John Bellingham, who blamed his financial problems on Perceval. He died almost instantly, uttering “I am murdered”. Bellingham gave himself up and was hung a week later. Actually Perceval broke a law on his death – it is illegal to die in the House of Parliament!

Spencer Perceval KC

We now cross through the park to the home of Sir John Soane (1753-1837), an architect whose best known work is the Bank of England, although he also re-modelled the dining rooms of both Nos 10 and 11 Downing Street. His works are distinguished by their clean lines, simple forms, deceptive detailing and skilful use of light sources. His home is now a wonderful museum, which is well worth a visit, with a very eclectic collection of items. He was born in Goring-on-Thames and studied at The Royal Academy and later in Italy. He dies in London, a widower and estranged from his only son, and is buried in a vault of his own design in St. Pancras Old Church. The design of the vault was a major influence on Giles Gilbert Scott’s design for the famous London red telephone box.

Sir John Soane

The Sir John Soane Museum

We now walked through Little Turnstile, across High Holborn and into Warwick Court. Here we find a plaque to Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) who is often known as the “Father of Modern China” – he lived in a house on this site whilst in political exile. He was instrumental in the eventual collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and was the first provisional president when the Republic of China was founded in 1912. He later founded the Kuomintang where he served as it’s first leader. Unusually, he is revered in both mainland China and Taiwan as a uniting figure in post-Imperial China. (see HERE for more information)

Sun Yat-sen

Onward then through Gray’s Inn to Theobalds Road to visit No.22. This was the birthplace of Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-1881), (click HERE for more information) who was a conservative statesman and literary figure of some note. He served in government for three decades, and served as Prime Minster twice, 27th February 1868 to 1st December 1868, and from 20th February 1874 to 21sr April 1880 . (the only person of Jewish parentage to do so thus far – although he was baptised into the Anglican church at the age of 13). His greatest achievement is seen as the creation of the modern Conservative Party, although he was also involved in the purchase of the Suez Canal and the extension of the Empire to include India.

He was also a noted author. He wrote romances mainly, of which Sybil and Vivian Grey are probably the best known today. Sybil was part of “The Trilogy” which also included Coningsby and Tancred.

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield

We then turned along Theobalds Road to Great James Street. No. 24 was the home of one of my favourite authors Dorothy L. Sayers. (1893-1957). (See HERE for further information) She lived in the apartment here from 1921 to 1929 and it was here that she wrote her first novel ‘Whose Body’ which of course was the first appearance of her well known detective Lord Peter Wimsey. She herself was most proud of her translation of Dante’s Divina Commedia, which, unfinished at her death, was completed by Barbara Reynolds.

Dorothy L. Sayers

24 Great James Street

We now continued along Theobalds Road, and then on to No. 17 Red Lion Square. This house not only housed Dante Gabriel Rossetti, (1828-1882) the poet and painter but also both William Morris (1834-1896) poet and artist and Sir Edward C.Burne-Jones (1833-1898) the painter, though not all at the same time.

Rossetti, was a founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt. He aspired to be both a port and a painter, attending The Royal Academy and then studying under Ford Madox Brown. He was always more interested in the medieval than the modern side of the movement and adopted the style of the early Italian painters. He also translated Dante and other medieval Italian poets. In 1850 he met Elizabeth Siddal, who became an important model for the Pre-Raphaelite painters and they married in 1860. When she died in 1862 he was so overcome with grief that he buried all his manuscripts in her coffin. However, seven years later, he regretted his impulse and had his wife’s coffin exhumed and recovered the manuscripts, which fortunately were still in reasonable condition.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

William Morris was also associated with the Pre-Raphaelites and was one of the principal founders of the British Arts and Crafts movement, a pioneer of socialism and a writer of poetry and fiction. He is perhaps best known however for his wonderful designs of wallpaper and patterned fabrics. In the latter years of his life he wrote fantasy novels and was the first to set his stories in an entirely invented fantasy world. It is said J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and James Joyce all drew inspiration from his work. Although never a practicing architect, his interest in the subject led to the founding in 1877 of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings which resulted indirectly in the founding of the National Trust.

William Morris

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (see HERE for more information) was also closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He studied under Rossetti but developed his own style while travelling in Italy with Ruskin and others. Originally intending to become a church minister, under Morris’s influence he decided to become an artist and designer instead. He attended Oxford but did not take a degree. He married Georgiana MacDonald, one of the MacDonald sisters. She made her own woodcuts and was a close friend of George Eliot. Other MacDonald sisters married Sir Edward Poynter, Alfred Baldwin (and so became the mother of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin) and another became the mother of Rudyard Kipling. As well as painting he also worked in a variety of crafts including ceramic tiles, jewellery, tapestries, book illustrations and stage costumes.

Cophetua by Edward Burne-Jones

Our final stop was just a few metres away. A plaque on the side of Summit House shows that John Harrison (1693-1776) lived and died in a house on that site. (see HERE for more information) He was the inventor of the Marine Chronometer which revolutionised and extended the possibility of safe long distance travel on the high seas. A more recent memorial was recently unveiled in Westminster Abbey.

John Harrison

John Harrison was born in Foulby near Wakefield in West Yorkshire and built and repaired clocks in his spare time. He built his first longcase clock in 1713 at the age of 20. The mechanism was made entirely of wood. Three of his early ‘wooden’ clocks still survive. His inventive genius brought about many advances in clock and watch manufacture. But it was a competition to find the solution to accurately measure longitude that was to bring him lasting fame. The British government offered a prize of £20,000, a huge fortune, (roughly £6 million in 2007 terms) to solve the problem. Although he was successful the government never actually paid out the prize although, when he was 80 years old, they did pay him the sum of £8750 for his achievements, but only after he had made an appeal directly to King George III. Two clocks were used – one fixed on London time and the other on local time. When the sun was at it’s zenith they seamen would look at the London clock then work out the time difference between the two to fix their position. His masterpiece was H4, an instrument of true beauty shaped like a large pocketwatch but actually the size of a soup plate. On it’s transatlantic trial in 1761, it was only 5 seconds slow on arrival in Jamaica, but the government believed it was a fluke and refused to pay the prize. On a second trial it was equally as accurate, but the government still believed it was just luck. After years of fighting he eventually petitioned the King and so finally won the day.

The Marine Chronometer

Well that’s all for this week. Hope you enjoyed it.