SUNDAY 10TH MAY 2015
The weekend was one of for recuperation after the long flight from Australia. Fortunately our hosts had nothing seriously active planned other than the Wanstead Village Dog Show. The show was held in the grounds of Christ Church and money raised went into the church restoration funds.
Christ Church was built in 1861 and is known as a chapel of ease, meaning a place of worship for those who cannot make it to the big church of the parish. Chapels of ease were also associated with large manor houses. They provided a convenient place of worship for the family of the manor.
The church is built from ragstone a form of limestone. The ragstone name came from the fact that when split it produced faces with ragged edges. Since Roman times ragstone has been used in roughly squared blocks for building walls and public buildings, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London are built using ragstone.
Maintaining buildings such as the Christ Church is a costly ongoing affair, especially when not only are the elements constantly playing havoc with the buildings but thieves in their hunt for scrap metal cause damage as well. In the past Wanstead church has fallen victim to the scrap metal hunters who go after the lead flashing where roofs meet walls and roofs form valleys. Lead is used in such places because it is malleable and can be shaped to fit irregular surfaces.
Assuming the sheet lead in the above photograph is 1.5mm thick I have calculated that on present London scrap lead prices there is about $10 worth of lead waiting to be picked here, that’s if thieves are prepared to succumb to the wrath of God.
The powers of the Wanstead church have won the battle against thievery to a degree. They have installed sensors that activate an alarm if the lead is disturbed. When the roof sensors are activated a deep god-like voice booms ‘What are you doing’ through a public address system.
Coo-Var Vandalene is a slippery, sticky non-drying paint, which makes a surface virtually impossible to climb. It is used on windowsills, brick walls, gutters and downpipes, in fact any grip point where intruders are likely to grab. Intruders who come in contact with Coo-Var find themselves branded as the paint has a built-in identifier making identification easier. A friend in Sydney could well do with a coating of Coo-Var on his roof as thieves recently climbed onto the roof of his house, two floors up, and removed tiles to gain access. Fortunately they must have been disturbed as nothing was stolen. Unfortunately my friend didn’t know tiles had been removed until it rained and water poured through the ceilings.
Smartwater is a liquid DNA that when painted on valuables such as laptops, jewellery, bicycles and in the case of Christ Church the lead flashing.
In the UK at the moment metal theft is on the increase and it is not only lead flashing that is being nicked. Statues and church bells have been stolen. A statue of Olympic champion Steve Ovett disappeared from Preston Park in Brighton and a statue made by Henry Moore estimated to be valued at $600 000 was stolen from a museum which is believed to have been melted down for scrap value of around $10 000. Even the iconic cast iron London telephone boxes and post boxes have fallen victim to the scrap hunters because being made from cast iron they fetch good money.
Thievery has been going on for a long time in London. The common explanation may be one of cultural inheritance as some areas were renowned for scoundrels and those down on their luck. In the late 1800s areas within the East End were surveyed and the results were rather revealing: there were the middle class areas, poor areas where inhabitants earned eighteen to twenty one shillings per week, very poor areas where the people lived in a state of chronic want and the lowest class comprising ‘occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers and criminals’.
In past times Wanstead had its share of the loafers and criminals as described above but these days it has become one of London’s more desirable suburbs. It is not uncommon for houses to sell for near a million pounds ($2 million).
The house on the right (new) is post WW2, the original was probably destroyed by German bombing during the war.
A semi is two houses sharing a common wall and they were the brainchild of 19th century English father and son architects John Shaw Sr and John Shaw Jr. Following WW1 councils built ‘semi’ plan houses to provide quality houses with space. Most had backyards so a certain freedom was gained and they are now the most common dwelling type in England. The semi should not be confused with the terrace houses which came into being during the 16th century, they were built in rows and their front walls ran right to the property line. Step out of the front door and you were on the street.
There is a certain amount of conformity with regards the semis in England. I suggested to our host that I would like to see a bit of colour splashed about and I was duly informed that it would not do. The fence around the house in the above photograph does not conform and I understand that some local traditionalists are not impressed with the outlandishly kitsch fence.
The East End has a fascinating history and when Bev and I return to London in August we will devote some time to its exploration. The East End is where cockney folk reside and they are easily identifiable even today by their accent: an example: ‘At’s me book you got ere’ or ‘I didn’t see nuffink’. The East End is also the home of Cockney rhyming slang, a dialect of English where words are substituted for other words that rhyme: ‘apples and pears’ is cockney slang for ‘stairs’, ‘plates of meat’ is slang for ‘feet’.
The Cockney accent has long been looked down on and was associated with the poor and uneducated, I can remember when young being reprimanded by a particular uncle who spoke the ‘Queen’s English’: sound your ‘aitches’ and don’t drop your ‘ings’ and it’s not ‘me’, it’s ‘my’.
The Wanstead Village dog show was successful. I’m not sure how much money was raised but judging by the looks on the faces of stallholders they did alright. Nothing untoward happened like a murder, as is often the case at the village fair in the TV series Midsomer Murders. There was an occasional dog scrap but even those were not serious, there was no blood.
My favourite dog at the Wanstead Village was Hector the bulldog. Any dog with bull in its name, such as pitbull or bull terrier were bred for the baiting of bulls. The dog was tethered to a bull and the dog that grabbed the bull by the nose pinning it to the ground was the victor. It was common for the bull to maim or kill dogs at such an event either by goring, tossing or trampling. Over the centuries dogs used for bull baiting developed stocky bodies and massive heads and jaws, typifying the breed as ferocious and savage. Baiting was considered a sport prior to the introduction of the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835.
In the UK there are a number of dogs that are illegal to own and one is the American Pitbull. Fortunately bulldogs are not on the banned list and I can understand why, as Hector was placid and appreciative of a pat.
Hector and his owner starred in the show. They entered in the look-alike section and were awarded second place. His wife said her husband and Hector would have got first place if he had dropped his jaw further and frowned.
The bulldog is often used to represent the UK and was associated with Winston Churchill’s defiance of Nazi Germany. It was known as placid and docile until aroused and then, when drawn into battle, they hang on and never give in.
Another dog at the dog show with a long English background was the Papillon, also referred to as the Squirrel Spaniel. The Papillon breed descends from the toy spaniels and were frequently portrayed in paintings from as far back as the 16th century. They are highly active and dog aficionados say they have a sparkling personality although the one we met today was not bubbling as it was around twelve years old, getting on for such a breed.
This stroller is specially designed for dog carrying, not babies.
The word papillon is French for butterfly and the dog’s fringed upright ears resemble a butterfly’s wings. One of the reasons I am attracted to this little fellow could be I enjoyed the book Papillon, a memoir by convicted felon and fugitive Henri Charriere. The book was published in 1969.
MONDAY 11TH MAY 2015.
Today a trip into old London town, not to see the Queen but to visit the hatters who made Lord Nelson’s hat. No, I’m not as mad as a hatter, I need to know for the next posting when we visit Portsmouth en route to Santander Spain. In past days hatters used mercury in hat making and the ingestion of mercury made them a little insane.
London has not changed very much physically since we were here last in the 1980s. Our last visit was when we were showing our two boys the sights of the world. Leaving Australia we took them to Singapore, Bangkok Thailand, Istanbul Turkey, Munich Germany, Dublin Ireland. I will tell you about our 1972/3 years in England when we return to the UK this coming August after Spain and Morocco.
And now we have family matters out of the way, today we decided to take the Tube from Wanstead to Bank Station.
The underground rail system or the Tube began in 1863 and was the world’s first. It had very humble beginnings because at that time tunnelling techniques were primitive at best. At the start of construction the tunnelling was overseen by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Brunel’s unique name Isambard comes from his father’s middle name and Kindgom from his mother. Isambard is a Norman name of Germanic origin and means ‘iron bright,’ very appropriate in light of his calling.
In my browsing of history I have seen the above image a number of times and have always wanted to show it off and this is the first opportunity I have had. It’s not Brunel’s stature or stance that attracts me but the chain backdrop and his incredible top hat. To me the massive chain is a piece of artwork. Where is it today…I want to touch it.
When researching the Brunel story I came across the above photograph from London’s East End docks and I couldn’t resist including it as it shows the chain against which Bunel was standing. And again the top hats, aren’t they a laugh! Looking at Brunel’s top hat and those on the gentlemen in the above photograph one has to ask why did they wear such ridiculous hats. The answer is, they were a symbol of affluence.
The top hat equated with the upper echelons of society and the captains of the industrial revolution, many of whom became billionaires. The creator of the top hat was thought to be George Dunner (1793) a hatter from Middlesex England, however the man who brought it to prominence was John Hetherington in 1797. The story relating to how the top hat burst onto the London scene is somewhat vague but the story most commonly quoted is as follows: Hetherington by wearing the top hat caused an upheaval, a crowd gathered and the police were forced to intervene and issue a court summons indicating he was disturbing the peace. An officer present at the scene said: ‘Hetherington had such a tall and shiny construction on his head that it must have terrified nervous people. The sight of this construction was so overstated that various women fainted, children began to cry and dogs started to bark’.
The heavy load on Brunel’s head did not stifle his inventing and creative abilities as he invented and built many machines, and one was a tunnelling machine used to build part of the London Underground and the SS Great Eastern was designed by Brunel.
The London underground comprising around four hundred kilometres of track is an organism moving over one billion passengers a year. Many of the travellers are no doubt oblivious to the Tube’s history and its day-to-day workings and because of my unusual bent curiosity I had to find out more and I now share some of my discoveries.
Unusual property items left on trains: Samurai sword, stuffed Puffer fish, a human skull and a coffin. First train carriages: Called padded cells as they had no windows. Bodies in the underground: Over 10 000 bodies are buried under Aldgate Street station in a 1665 plague pit. Torture: When the Circle Line opened in 1884 travellers said taking the underground was a form of torture. Insects/animals: Mozzies in the tunnels have developed into an entirely different species compared to those above. Snakes, deer and of course rats have been seen there too. Pollution: Taking a 40 minute ride on the tube is equivalent to smoking two cigarettes. Music: Classical music was played over the public address system in an attempt to deter youth aggression and vandalism. There was a 33% drop in assaults on railway staff. Excess weight: Carriage suspension rubbers are being strengthened on some trains as the old design was crumbling due to obese passengers adding to the train’s weight. Public announcements: The voice you hear is an automated one whose name is Sonia. The ‘mind the gap’ announcement at Embankment station is the voice of a now deceased male. It was changed after the announcer’s death but retrieved at the request of his widow.
There is one last thing to touch on regarding the London Underground and that is the tube map. Without a copy infrequent visitors like us would easily get lost.
The Tube map was the brainchild of Henry Charles Beck (1902-1974), an English technical draftsman who worked in the London Underground signals office. After presenting his map to the Underground authorities (his bosses) in 1933 they were sceptical the map would be of any use and thus introduced it to the travelling public as a small pamphlet. Since its introduction the Tube map is claimed to have been reproduced in various forms, perhaps up to a billion times. Beck was paid a pittance for his efforts.
While I’m on maps and London, the other map all visitors to London of our era will know well is the A-Z of London. A-Z apps are available these days but a London A-Z atlas, still for sale at kiosks and in bookshops, is handy when finding one’s way around London and has a greater charm.
The A-Z of London first appeared In 1936 and was, according to some, the invention of Phyllis Isobella Pearsall (1906-1996). Phyllis was an artist, writer and publisher and on one occasion when walking around London she got lost so she decided to prepare a reliable street directory (atlas). Popular myth suggests gathering information for the directory involved her walking 3 000 miles, checking the names of the 23 000 streets of London. However Peter Barber, head of map collections at the British Library, is sceptical because all she would have had to do was ask London’s local authorities for their street plans. Regardless, the A-Z Atlas proved popular whereas a Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas and an A-Z her father prepared were not.
There are many other London icons and they include the red London double decker buses, the London cab, the red postbox and the sturdy London telephone box. All have hung on albeit in a modified form, which is surprising in these times of rapid change.
As I mentioned earlier, the trip into London today was to visit the hat shop where Nelson’s grand hat was made. I was curious about it’s shape as in the next post, London to Santander, we embark for Spain from Portsmouth and Portsmouth is the home of the ship Victory which was under Nelson’s command when he was shot by a sharpshooter. I think his hat was his downfall as he was easily identifiable.
It didn’t take a lot of effort to find out that the company Lock and Co in St James Street who made his hat was still in business. The company has been in business at the same location since 1676 and they not only made Nelson’s hat but hats for other notables such as Sir Winston Churchill, Charles Chaplin and Sir Anthony Eden.
On the way to Lock and Co we walked past Buckingham Palace and because BBear had not visited the palace we thought we would do the tourist thing and give her a look.
Lock and Co was easy enough to find and with hesitation I entered the shop. The hesitation came because I was wearing a giggle hat, a soft cotton hat worn by Australian soldiers who fought in Vietnam. The giggle hat is almost indestructible, just the sort of hat needed when travelling as we are.
Upon entering the attendant looked immediately at my hat, no doubt wondering if I intended buying a more classy one. I explained my interest in Nelson’s hat and he replied that I would probably find that information at the naval museum at Greenwich. However another gentleman stepped forward and explained all. Nelson’s hat was the shape it was because he was an officer and wanted to be recognised from a distance. Naval officers wore their hats sideways presenting a full frontal profile and army officers wore their hats fore and aft. At the end of our conversation I was invited to view the original order book in which Nelson drew the hat he wanted. Can you believe I actually saw the sketch Nelson did!
I suggested to the attendants that it would be tempting to remove Nelson’s hat and replace it with a side- pointing American baseball cap. Both attendants threw their arms in the air and exclaimed I couldn’t do it, they probably thought ‘uncouth colonials’.
The original design shows a peak at the front, this was a Nelson special because he wanted to shade his eyes. Maybe an American baseball player’s hat under the bicorn would have suited him just fine.
After Lock and Co we ventured to Nelson’s Column to check his hat. On the way we found a street named Bear Street. BBear was over the moon, or should I say over the sign, that she had a street named after her.
Photographic note re the above photograph: it took only four throws to get BBear in the right place. Bystanders must have thought I was as mad as a hatter throwing a toy bear in the air.
After a successful morning tracking down where Nelson’s hat was made all that needed to be done was have lunch and what a spot we found: a food market in the grounds of St James Church, a church designed by renowned architect Christopher Wren.
Even though we are not yet in Spain I chose Paella because of the QANTAS check-in girl at Sydney airport (see previous post for the story) and as well it looked pretty good. The paella consisted of white rice, green beans, chicken, capsicum, and was flavoured with saffron and rosemary. I spoke at length with the cook and he told me it took four hours to prepare the ingredients and two hours to cook. I think I will add paella to my recipe list when I get home.
Following are a few reflections in the windows of St James Church that took my eye.
Sir Christopher Michael Wren (1632-1723) was an English scientist and mathematician and Britain’s most distinguished architect. He is best known for the design of St Pauls Cathedral. After the Great Fire of London of 1666 he was accorded the responsibility of rebuilding fifty-two churches, a mammoth task indeed.
That’s the end of this post. The next will relate to getting to Portsmouth and the Brittany Ferry trip across the Bay of Biscay to Santander on the north coast of Spain.