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.

1 comment:

LondonGirl said...

I had no idea that Disraeli was born in Holborn! the house in Red Lion Square I did know of - I walk past the plaque regularly.