Tag Archives: London

Designing the Urban Commons

Went to the launch event for this last night, it has been an interesting few months after a good invitation to people to submit proposals for how urban commons might be designed, created, reimagined, repurposed, preserved. heroish The website with the original call from earlier this year states:

The city itself should arguably be treated as a common: a collective physical and cultural creation by and for its inhabitants. However the range of activities permitted in urban spaces is becoming increasingly narrow. Many streets and squares are now managed by private owners and those held by the state are too often sanitised by public space designs that serve to enhance local property values and business rates. This leaves little possibility for the urban public to be used productively by its communities to sustain themselves materially or culturally. Where today is there space in public for people to work together to produce the city and its resources outside of market demands?

Commoning, the collective ownership and management of resources, is currently being reimagined across social, political and economic debates as a response to this challenge facing all cities today. With Britain’s rich history of common rights, London is the perfect place to test commons out as a vital approach to urban design.

Designing the Urban Commons, LSEI think London is a good place — though in many ways it is a difficult place as struggle of who has a right to public spaces is so very fierce here as the housing crisis grows ever bigger, austerity bites ever deeper and people’s lives become even more precarious. Once diversity of class and race and occupation is lost simply by virtue of who can afford to live in an area and who has been priced out, beautifying public spaces takes on a whole new dimension with its user-base fixed.

The exhibition showed the ten winners, a few of them grappling in some way with these dynamics, though many not. It is a difficult thing to ensure manageable concrete interventions work to counter to the movements of capital and privatisation.

In reality, I think that things like this can often contribute to such movements, many are easily co-opted into placemaking for the elite who can’t manage to create their own own bottom-up ‘culture’ the way it sometimes emerges naturally and vibrantly in cities, often in places where the local residents have had the time and inexpensive space to create. Holding an exhibition at LSE under the gazes of nobel laureate economists doesn’t give me more confidence, perhaps more so because I went there. Truth is, though, after having living in Glasgow, after visiting Liverpool and Sheffield, I find myself jealous of the kinds of shops and the activities (art, music, writing, all that stuff that almost never pays its own way) that can flourish there where ground rents don’t kill everything but boutiques and chain stores.

Unquestionably, however, vibrant public spaces help people find the inspiration and the means of preserving their rights to remain living nearby. Such spaces also inspire people to fight for them, and protect them from privatisation. I quite love imagining how to help facilitate this vibrance, and thinking through just how much is possible through design. Whyte, Jacobs and Gehl among others show a great deal is possible. But only if you’re paying attention.

UrbanCommons_Service-Wash-Headline-Image_AD_TRPOne of the pieces — Service Wash — was certainly a provocation around austerity and its consequences (and while launderettes may be declining in popularity, I rather challenge its premise that they are no longer much used, as they certainly are in my neighbourhood, and I’ve heard that women come for miles to wash clothes with their mums on a Saturday, back to their communities where they can no longer afford to live).

An urban phenomenon, the launderette is a relic of postwar social infrastructure, a provision intended to be egalitarian. Its decline in popularity is countered by an A1 class designation that prohibits change of use…thus explaining the bye-gone-era flavour of your local launderette. The Service Wash utilises the launderette’s quotidian presence proposing an expansion of its established function in favour of those most marginalised by urban renewal – the homeless. The physical inability to clean or be clean can be psychologically punishing; it creates an additional barrier to inclusiveness that the proposal aims to remedy. By partnering with homeless charities and drawing on existing initiatives, the launderette becomes a place to wash both clothes and self for those who have no other means to do so.

I’d prefer a focus on the problem of housing. I’d prefer a different use of words, perhaps, public baths were still being built at the turn of last century for example. But I like not ignoring the large and steady increases of those sleeping rough, I like imagining public places that serve their needs before we build their homes, and I especially like highlighting the negative changes in our society that are causing this increase in people who need public showers along with somewhere to wash their clothes. There was one explicitly battling developers — Commonstruction: A Manual for Radical Inclusivity:

Local community groups are resisting the planned regeneration of Tottenham with the claim that a policy of social cleansing is being used to facilitate a land grab by developers and speculators. The purpose of our design manual is to create a circular reference for various actors in the area that will coordinate collective action and enrich the threatened public life. There are 3 key combinations of spaces that constitute it: • Live-work & Community workshops • Public social spaces • Residential & Start-up spaces

It starts with a land trust…so I like it, though I’m not entirely sure I know exactly what it would be. It provokes questions about how commons are preserved exactly, and what happens when they are too full of activity and new building. I wonder. The winners were profiled on large boards along one wall, it was full enough to make it difficult to get wine and get close enough to the boards to read them properly, space was cleared though as the speeches started.

You can just see here the Reimagining the Lodge poster from the folks at Shuffle whose events, mostly held at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park where the lodge sits are amazing:

Reinventing the Lodge is about creating a place to meet, a place to be and opportunities for things to do. To give people permission to inhabit this undervalued environment in new ways is to cultivate local pride, identity and sense of belonging – the feeling of being at home.

Designing the Urban Commons, LSE I was far and couldn’t see the wonderful Richard Sennet, who I never did manage to see lecture while at LSE. I could hear though: Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 14.25.31I’m not a big tweeter (I left the right hashtag off and everything), but I couldn’t resist this one a bit later (I just make up my own hash tags you see): Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 14.25.31-2It was good, though, to hear about occupy and the struggle over public space. Some proposals fit that better than others, like Saturday Commoning Fever:

Saturday Commoning Fever is an online platform that provides Londoners with means to common in the streets of the city. By simplifying “street rules” in a website rather than hiding in regulation files, we aim to question those rules and challenge them.

I quite loved Rainbow of Desires — not least because it involves theatre of the oppressed and mentions Augusto Boal, but I am quite intrigued by these kiosks and the uses an estate might make of them…

“Rainbow of desires” is a set of small pavilions installed in the open spaces of the Rhodes estate in Dalston. During a period of three months the pavilions are doubling as performative devices and workshop spaces based on the techniques of the theatre of the Oppressed and spaces of communal everyday life (public seating area, an open kitchen, an exchange library, a cinema).

Rainbow-of-Desires-close-up-900x526 There was a proposal to fill the old gasworks with trees (being raised in America it was years before I knew what the hell those things even were, and now I can only think of all the workers suffered there). Good idea, though they are fascinating structures and I sometimes dream of what else they could become…

Designing the Urban Commons, LSE

I did like this little display showing the winners’ physical locations around London, though I couldn’t help but wonder what will happen to it when this is done, and will we be able to play with it then:

Designing the Urban Commons, LSE

A good event, it was wonderful to view the ideas that poured out in response to the call and honestly, can we just put up these notice boards around lamp posts already? UCHeadline-900x900

Save

Sam Selvon’s London

1382607One grim winter evening, when it had a kind of unrealness about London, with a fog sleeping restlessly over the city and the lights showing in the blur as if is not London at all but some strange place on another planet. Moses Aloetta hop on a number 46 bus at the corner of Chepstow Road and Westbourne Grove to go to Waterloo to meet a fellar who was coming from Trinidad on the boat-train.

When Moses sit down and pay his fare he take out a white handkerchief and blow his nose. The handkerchief turns black and Moses watch it and curse the fog. (1)

Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners (1956) is grand. The writing, the characters, the thoughtfulness. The invitation into experiencing a London so particular to the Windrush generation’s time and place. The humour, the tall-tale aspect as though you were listening to these stories spoken aloud. The home truths. How when you come you stay in a hostel at first:

When Moses did arrive fresh in London, he look around for a place where he wouldn’t have to spend much money, where he could get plenty food, and where he could meet the boys and coast a old talk to pass the time away — for this city powerfully lonely when you on your own. (29)

How you find your way around London, into the places and the neighbourhoods you can live in and be accepted to a certain extent. The reflection on class and race and how these fit together.

The place where Tolroy and the family living was off the Harrow Road, and the people in that area call the Working Class. Wherever in London that it have Working Class, there you will find a lot of spades. This is the real world, where men know what it is to hustle a pound to pay the rent when Friday come. The houses around here old and grey and weatherbeaten, the walls cracking like the last days of Pompeii, it ain’t have no hot water, and in the whole street that Tolroy and them living in, none of the houses have bath. You had was to buy one of them big galvanise bath and boil the water and full it up, or else go to the public bath. Some of the houses still had gas light, which is to tell you how old they was. All the houses in a row in the street, on both sides, they build like one long house with walls separating them in parts, so your house jam up between two neighbours: is so most of the houses is in London The street does be always dirty except if rain fall. Sometimes a truck does come with a kind of revolving broom and some pipes letting out water, and the driver drive near the pavement, and water come out the pipes and the broom revolve, and so they sweep the road. It always have little children playing in the road, because they ain’t have no other place to play. They does draw hopscotch blocks on the pavement, and other things, and some of the walls of the buildings have signs painted like Vote Labour and Down with the Tories. The bottom of the street, it had a sweet-shop, a bakery, a grocery, a butcher and a fish and chips…

It have people living in London who don’t know what happening in the room next to them, far more the street, or how other people living. London is a place like that. It divide up in little worlds, and you stay in the world you belong to and you don’t know anything about what happening in the other ones except what you read in the papers. Them rich people who does live in Belgravia and Knightsbridge and up in Hampstead and them other plush places, they would never believe what it like in a grim place like Harrow Road or Notting Hill…People don’t talk about things like that again, they come to kind of accept that is so the world is, that it bound to have rich and poor, it bound to have some live by the Grace and other who have plenty. That is all about it, nobody does go into detail. A poor man, a rich man…

It have a kind of communal feeling with the Working Class and the spades, because when you poor things does level out, it don’t have much up and down. A lot of the men get kill in war and leave widow behind, and it have bags of these old geezers who does be pottering about the Harrow Road like if they lost, a look in their eye as if the war happen unexpected and they can’t realise what happen to the old Brit’n. (59-61)

There are tales of stealing pigeons, catching seagulls. Eating well. Spur of the moment marriages. Mistakes. Unexpected aunts transforming a street and suddenly the corner store works on credit. The courage needed to find your way on the tube. The good times of London, the thrill you get sometimes thinking to yourself I’m here, I’m really here, and is fine:

So, cool as a lord, the old Galahad walking out to the road, with plastic raincoat hanging on the arm, and the eyes not missing one sharp craft that pass, bowing his head in a polite ‘Good evening’ and not giving a blast if they answer or not.This is London, this life oh lord, to walk like a king with money in your pocket, not a worry in the world. (75)

Galahad is who Moses met on the train. This is as much his story. His musings on race — what better way to think about how it is constructed, how meaningless it is and yet still shape our lives?

And Galahad watch the colour of his hand, and talk to it, saying, ‘Colour, is you that causing all this, you know, why the hell you can’t be blue, or red or green, if you can’t be white? You know is you cause a lot of misery in the world. Is not me, is you, is you! I ain’t do anything to infuriate the people and them, is you! Look at you, you so black and innocent, and this time so you causing misery all over the world.

So Galahad talking to the colour Black, as if is a person, telling it that is not he who causing botheration in the place, but Black, who is a worthless thing for making trouble all about. (77)

A new happiness for me every time I go to Piccadilly Circus, a fictional memory overlaid on my own but such a good one:

Always, from the first time he went there to see Eros and the lights, that circus have a magnet for him, that circus represent life, that circus is the beginning and the ending of the world. Every time he go there, he have the same feeling like when he see it the first night, drink coca-cola, any time is guinness time, bovril and the fireworks, a million flashing lights, gar laughter, the wide doors of theatres, the huge posters, everready batteries, rich people going into tall hotels, people going to the theatre, people sitting and standing and walking and talking and laughing and buses and cars and Galahad Esquire, in all this, standing there in the big city, in London. Oh Lord. (79)

This is what I do love about London, even if Bayswater Road is now far out of reach for people like me:

The changing of the seasons, the cold sl9icing winds, the falling leaves, sunlight on green grass, snow on the land, London particular. Oh what it is and where it is and why it is, no one knows, but to have said: ‘I walked on Waterloo Bridge,’ I rendezvoused at Charing Cross,’ Picadilly Circus is my playground,’ to say these things, to have lived these things, to have lived in the great city of London, centre of the world. To one day lean against the wind walking up the Bayswater Road (destination unknown), to see the leaves swirl and dance and spin on the pavement (sight unseeing), to write a casual letter home beginning ‘Last night, in Trafalgar Square…’

What it is that a city have, that any place in the world have, that you get so much to like it you wouldn’t leave it for anywhere else? What is it that would keep men although by and large, in truth and in fact, they catching their royal to make a living, staying in a cramp-up room where you have to do everything — sleep, eat, dress, wash, cook, live. (133-134)

p85112_d_v7_aaAnd then there is Pressure (1975), the story of Tony just graduated from school and looking for work and Notting Hill in the 1970s and the life of a kid born in London to Trinidadian parents who believe this will open doors for him despite the colour of his skin. It is the first feature length British film by a Black director, Horace Ové, and cowritten by him and Selvon. It is a slow, but powerful engagement with racism, with the friendships built across race amongst the working class kids growing up together, with Black Power and Black realities in London of the time, of the tensions between generations and family born in one world and family born into another. It is rice and peas versus fish and chips. It is conformity to white masters and a white world and consolations in Jesus versus taking one’s place by right as a British citizen. It is how to take that right through collective action, but the limited numbers still engaged in that action. It is more serious than Lonely Londoners, a little more angry, less of good times even in poverty and more of struggle and frustration. More racist cops. More beatings. More complexity. It stays in one neighbourhood, perhaps you sense the tightening down of community, there is none of this sprawling across London that the life of hustling brings many of the characters in The Lonely Londoners. These characters, too, are absent in depth, there is no Big City, no Cap here though an echo of their younger selves perhaps, but instead a kid trying to make his own way, discovering racism for himself, working through his own identity slowly but surely.

Save

Americanah

20939941I quite loved Americanah — this story of Ifemelu and Obinze, funny that the fact that it has become a best seller gives me a little more respect for people in general and possibly also the literary establishment. Funny also that my love of it made me realise what a wonderful book it is, as so much of the dramatic arc is centered on relationships in a difficult world and that is not usually something that will grip my attention.

I like my relationships solid and healthy and consisting of mutual respect and taking care of each other — I like them as things I don’t have to think too much about but can just trust. I hate drama in them. I don’t like to spend time talking through them or thinking about them or knowing about how other people do it (or fail to). So I kept wanting an element of the fantastical, a crime, I kept bumping into my own limitations. But I loved this book all the same.

Of course, it is about lots of other things, race and class and loneliness and immigration and shame and the things we do for money and the things that break us and how we heal those breaks or fail to, how we name our integrity and keep it, what we do when it slips. It is about love. It is about change. About being brave.

There was lots to think about, I loved the stories of Nigeria, of the US East Coast, but perhaps because I live in London now, am a little more removed from everything that I was in the US, I can’t help but quote these:

In London, night came too soon, it hung in the morning air like a threat, and then in the afternoon a blue-grey dusk descended, and the Victorian buildings all wore a mournful air. In those first weeks, the cold startled Obinze with its weightless menace, drying his nostrils, deepening his anxieties, making him urinate too often….Sometimes he would stop outside a tube station…and watch the people brushing past him. they walked so quickly these people, as though they had an urgent destination, a purpose to their lives, while he did not. His eyes would follow them, with a lost longing, and he would think: You can work, you are legal, you are visible, and you don’t even know how fortunate you are. (227)

This too rings so true, breaks my heart:

The wind blowing across the British Isles was odorous with fear of asylum seekers, infecting everybody with the panic of impending doom, and so articles were written and read, simply and stridently, as though the writers lived in a world in which the present was unconnected to the past, and they had never considered this to be the normal course of history: the influx into Britain of black and brown people from countries created by Britain. (258)

I also loved Ifemelu’s blog posts on race in the U.S., they were both funny and perceptive, a bit like Black Girl Dangerous:

Job Vacancy in America — National Arbiter in Chief of “Who is Racist”

Here’s the thing: the manifestation of racism has changed but the language has not. So if you haven’t lynched somebody then you can’t be called a racist. If you’re not a bloodsucking monster, then you can’t be called a racist…Or maybe it’s time to scrap the word “racist.” Find something new. Like Racial Disorder Syndrome. And we could have different categories for sufferers of this syndrome: mild, medium, and acute. (315)

This quote is just because I know someone like this:

There were people who were born with an inability to be tangled up in dark emotions, in complications, and Iloba was one of them. For such people, Obinze felt both admiration and boredom (249).

My disinterest in complicated relationships has nothing to do with lack of emotions, and this made me smile as I feel the same.

Anyway. I am looking forward to everything else she has written.

Save

The Delights of Bohemian London

Bohemian LondonAnd I do not use the word ‘delight’ very often in the same sentence as Bohemian, and this first quote shows why, describing a tiny Moorish cafe:

Dark hair, dark eyes, sallow-skinned faces everywhere, here and there a low caste Englishman, and sometimes, if you are lucky, a Bohemian in emerald corduroy, lolling broadly on his chair and puffing at a porcelain pipe. Sit down near him, and it is ten to one that you will be engaged in a wordy battle of acting, of poetry, or of pictures, before the sediment has time to settle in your coffee. (122)

It’s all there, the search to inhabit the quaint or the exotic, the dress that attempts both, but also the fascination and joy in all night discussions of things like words. It describes a life of relative poverty, but one you drop down into and you don’t drop all the way — you realise that when they still have a maid or at least someone to bring them their dinner. It’s a mixed bag, but this book has all the best of it. Besides, even C.L.R. James loved his first stay in Bloomsbury.

And then, the poignant, painful self-abandon when at last you are conquered, and a book leads you by the hand to the passionless little man inside the shop, and makes you pay him money, the symbol, mean, base, sordid in itself, but still the symbol that the book has won, and swayed the pendulum of your emotions past the paying point.

I remember the buying of my “Anatomy of Melancholy” (that I have never read, nor ever mean to–I dare not risk the sweetness of the title)… (137)

I have been conquered that way so many times.

On Fleet Street, that I love:

Indeed, Fleet Street, brave show as it is today, must have been splendid then, seen through old Temple Bar, a turning, narrow thorough-fare, with high-gabled houses a little overhanging the pavements, those pavements where crowds of gentlemen, frizzed and wigged, in coloured coats and knee-breeches, went to and fro about their business. There would come strutting little Goldsmith in the plum-coloured suit, and the sword so big that it seemed a pin and he a fly upon it. There would be Johnson, rolling in his gait, his vast stomach swinging before him, his huge laugh bellying out in the narrow street, with Boswell at his side, leaning round to see his face, and catch each word as it fell from his lips. There would be Doctor Kenrick, Goldsmith’s arch enemy, for whose fault he broke a stick over the back of Bookseller Evans, and got a pummelling for his pains. There would be the usual mob of young fellows
trying as gaily then as now to keep head above water by writing for the Press.

And then think of it in a later time, when Hazlitt walked those pavements, with straight, well-meant strides, as befits a man who has done his thirty miles a day along the Great North Road. Perhaps, as he walked, he would be composing his remarks on the oratory of the House of Commons, which he was engaged to report for Mr. Perry of the Morning Chronicle. Or perhaps, if it were Wednesday, he would turn in at Mitre Court, or meet a slim-legged, black-clothed figure with a beautiful head, Charles Lamb, coming out of the archway, or hurrying in there, with a folio under his arm, fresh from the stall of the second-hand bookseller. Perhaps Lamb might be playing the journalist himself, writing jokes for Dan Stuart of the Morning Post. You remember: “Somebody has said that to swallow six cross-buns daily, consecutively, for a fortnight would surfeit the stoutest digestion. But to have to furnish as many jokes daily, and that not for a fortnight, but for a long twelvemonth, as we were constrained to do, was a little harder exaction.” Or, perhaps, you might meet Coleridge coming that way from his uncomfortable lodging in the office of the Courier up the Strand. Coleridge knew the ills of journalistic life. De Quincey “called on him daily and pitied his forlorn condition,” and left us a description of his lodging. De Quincey had known worse himself, but this was evil enough. “There was no bell in the room, which for many months answered the double purpose of bedroom and sitting-room. Consequently I often saw him, picturesquely enveloped in nightcaps, surmounted by handkerchiefs indorsed upon handkerchiefs, shouting from the attics down three or four flights of stairs to a certain * Mrs. Brainbridge,’ his sole attendant, whose dwelling was in the subterranean regions of the house. There did I often see the philosopher, with the most lugubrious of faces, invoking with all his might this uncouth name of ‘Brainbridge’ each syllable of which he intonated with long-drawn emphasis, in order to overpower the hostile hub-bub coming downwards from the creaking press and the roar from the Strand which entered at all the front windows.

***

And now there are these different Fleet Streets, one on the top of the other, dovetailed together indistinguishably. A building here, an old doorway there, the name of a side street, brings back a memory of one age or another. This tavern, for example, was given its name as a jest by a gay-dressed fellow in long locks, with a sword swinging at his side. there is the street of the White Friars. That building was designed by a subject of Queen Anne. Lamb walked past while those offices were still cradled in their scaffolding.

On a sunny morning there is no jollier sight in all the world than to look down Fleet Street, from a little below the corner of Fetter Lane on that side of the road. The thorough-fare is thronged with buses–green for Whitechapel, blue going to Waterloo Bridge, white for Liverpool Street, gay old survivals of the coaching days… (154)

I love our red buses but this still fills me with a desire for colour-coding…

This is youth and joy and excitement in words, paintings, life lived to the fullest in long nights drinking and talking and drinking and talking some more. It is a different kind of devotion to literature or art, made possible by relatively cheap lodgings (oh London, you don’t know what you are destroying) and some limited freedom from the life of toil. It is life best in its full flush of youth, when a small sum earned from an article feels like gold and is spent on wine before age and children and the fight for survival has stripped all the joy away (Gissing makes this world hard to imagine in New Grub Street, but I believe that at times and for some it was really there).

It is an age long gone I think. But we still laugh and stay up all night talking over wine. Just not as picturesquely.

There is a description of the loveliest wedding party ever in Soho, gossip and chit chat galore. Plenty to smile at. But this is also an immensely erudite collection of who said what where in these little corners of the city Ransome loves.

So back to Fleet Street, he gives a list of pubs and clubs and the people who met there and the poems and epigraphs that they wrote, the discussions they had and, well, it is inspiration to go drinking I must say. But you cannot do them all at once, as he writes:

To sup with ale at the Cheshire Cheese, to drink at the Punch Bowl, at the Green Dragon, at the Mitre, at the Cock, at the Grecian, at the George, at the Edinburgh — in short, to beat the bounds of every tavern in Fleet Street, from Ludgate Circus to the Strand, that is a festival too peripatetic to be comfortable, an undertaking too serious to be lighthearted.

But one at a time? Oh yes. The Cheshire Cheese is already much beloved by me, so I shall just end with the description of that one:

 ar down on the Fetter Lane side of the street there is the Cheshire Cheese, still the dirty-fronted, low-browed tavern, with stone flasks in the window, that it was even before Johnson’s time. Here, so people say, Johnson and Goldsmith used to sup and be merry with their friends. Perhaps it vv^as the haunt of one of the talking clubs of which neither of them was ever tired. Although it is nowhere written that Johnson crossed the threshold, it is very unlikely that the man who asserted that “a tavern chair was the throne of human felicity” could have neglected such an opportunity as was his. For he lived for some time in Wine Office Court, in whose narrow passage is the entrance to the tavern, and I doubt if he could have passed it every day without finding some reason for encouraging it. Indeed, with Macaulayic logic, they show you Johnson’s corner seat, the wall behind it rubbed smooth by the broadcloth of innumerable visitors, “to witness if they lie.” It is a pleasant brown room, this, in the tavern, with Johnson’s portrait hanging on the wall, old wooden benches beside good solid tables, and a homely smell of ale and toasted cheese.Here many of the best-known journalists make a practice of dining, and doubtless get some sauce of amusement with their meat from the young men and girls, literary and pictorial, destined to work for the cheap magazines and fashion papers, who always begin their professional career by visiting the Cheshire Cheese for inspiration. Up a winding, crooked, dark staircase there are other rooms, with long tables in them stained with wine and ale, and in one of them the Rhymers’ Club used to meet, to drink from tankards, smoke clay pipes, and recite their own poetry. (161-162)

Save

Morrison’s Child of the Jago

I am not sure why I loved Child of the Jago so much more than Tales of Mean Streets. That had artistry and skill and eschewed the spectacular and violent — I was worried that this novel focusing on the violence of the true slums (actually a rarity in East London contrary to popular legend) would edge us more into sensationalist territory which rarely fails to piss me off (especially after reading Burke). But it didn’t. A Child of the Jago

The novel itself works well, almost proto-noir of the kind with a heart like Crumley or Chandler. It is based on intensive research — while Morrison came from the working-class East End, it was very different from the streets and courts of the Old Nichol described here under a different name. He turned to Father Jay Sturt, who had established a parish there and figures large in the narrative (and some of his paternalism got a little annoying to be honest). Sturt himself had written about the place in Life in Darkest London (1881), The Social Problem and Its Solution (1893), and A Story of Shoreditch (1896). Hard to find, sadly. He helped Morrison meet the residents, and he visited homes, drank in pubs, listened to stories, learned to make match matchboxes, Morrison invited people to his home in Loughton and made recordings of how they spoke (at least I think I read that right — it is just possible given the date, so are those lying around somewhere? Can you imagine the treasure that would be?). Morrison himself notes that he set ‘traps’ of particularly bad incidents that he thought reviewers would call out as impossible — and made sure all of them were things that he could document actually happened.

jagoA square of two hundred and fifty yards or less–that was all there was of the Jago. But in that square the human population swarmed in thousands. Old Jago Street, New Jago Street, Half Jago street lay parallel, east and west: Jago Row at one end and Edge Lane at the other lay parallel also, stretching north and south, foul ways all. What was too vile for Kate Street, Seven Dials and Ratcliff Highway in its worst day, what was too useless, incapable and corrupt–all that teemed in the Old Jago. (45)

And he gives us a map! Along with descriptions of this place, you can only be glad it was torn down to become the London County Council’s Boundary Street Scheme:

Front doors were merely used as firewood in the Old Jago, and most had been burnt there many years ago. If perchance one could have been found still on its hinges, it stood ever open and probably would not shut. Thus at night the Jago doorways were a row of black holes, foul and forbidding.

Dicky Perrott entered his hole with caution, for anywhere in the passage and on the stairs, somebody might be lying drunk against whom it would be unsafe to stumble. (48)

It’s treads are missing, the rails gone from the sides, the interior cold and damp, grim and soul destroying. Morrison describes a world run by two families, the Ranns and the Learys, where no one is in work, where women pick up wealthy drunks and bring them home to the ‘cosh’ from their husband. Everyone else lives on various levels of hustle. At the top — the high mobsmen. There is much left unsaid, but a surprising amount actually said. You navigate this place alongside a tiny little boy named Dicky Perrot who questions none of it, dreams only of a piece of cake and knows well that to get it he must steal it. I was snared by this longing because of my own immense love of cake. I remember a time when I too wanted nothing more in the world than a piece of cake though I know it can’t compare. I have eaten today, and well. I ate yesterday and the day before. I can buy cake whenever I want. I am blessed.

As if the cake weren’t enough, when in trouble Dicky pours his troubles into the ears of Jerry Gullen’s donkey, his beloved Canary. He can’t trust anyone else with pain and tears and weakness. That too is something I know, though I know it can’t compare. I was never beaten by my father. I had places to be alone and cry.

So you cheer him on through his life of crime, celebrate his exploits, mourn his shreds of innocence and exploitation by the horrible Mr Weech, who later destroys any chance of honest work. You feel superior when the good Father has no idea at all what is going on and is confirmed in his prejudices. I like that this book takes him down a bit.  Too quickly you jump ahead in time and it ceases to be quite as good a story, but still an important one. It has memorable fight scenes of all descriptions and more evil and poverty and death and despair and occasional kindnesses than you could ever ask for.

All that, and in addition he makes fun of liberals and ‘missionaries’ who come slumming down to the East End:

Other young men, more fortunately circumstanced, with the educational varnish fresh and raw upon them, came from afar, equipped with a foreign mode of thought and a foreign ignorance of the world and the proportions of things, as Missionaries. Not without some anxiety to their parents, they plunged into the perilous depths of the East End , to struggle–for a fortnight–with its suffering and its brutishness. So they went among the tradesmen’s sons and the shopmen, who endured them as they endured the nominal subscription; and they came away with a certain relief, and with some misgiving as to what impression they had made, and what they had done to make it. But is was with knowledge and authority that they went back among tose who had doubted their personal safety in the dark region. The East End, they reported, was nothing like what it was said to be. you could see much worse places up West. The people were quite a decent sort, in their way: shocking Bounders, of course, but quite clean and quiet, and very comfortably dressed, with ties and collars and watches. (54)

A fortnight. Ha. I am only sad this shit still happens all the time, but people call it something else and go to Guatemala or Burkina Faso instead. There is none of that attitude here, which is why it is so good, and why it rings true the way many another story does not. I can’t really understand why Morrison has not won wider acclaim, perhaps I’ll read some London and refresh my memory as to whether this really is so much better. Because I think it probably is.

Save

Olympic Park Apocalypse

Stratford station spits you out, once you find how you get out, into the mall. You strive to get out of that too. To find grass.
You are ordered to be in charge. You do not look like any of the people inhabiting these artistic depictions of their ideal person.

Olympic Park, Stratford

You find a theme park after the plague has destroyed humanity.

Olympic Park, Stratford

The architecture of overpriced (at any price) ‘luxury’ feels as apocalyptic, though this one is vaguely authochthonous.

Olympic Park, Stratford

You feel unreal. A two-dimensional drawing in architectural renderings. It is not pleasant.

Olympic Park, Stratford

Architectural renderings, however, would hold more life than the real Olympic Park on a warm and sunny bank holiday in Spring.

Olympic Park, Stratford

Olympic Park, Stratford

You cannot slide down this monumental absurdity charging extortionately for access to its top. Ah, public art.

I came here seeking public space. So what did work?

The cafe far away down the other side of the stadium. Made of containers (which I do quite love and have written about before), containing potential art and potential performance space — yet another of those pianos you can just walk up to and play, but these facilitate performance rather than opportunities for learning and practice which I might prefer seeing given how few kids have access to a piano at home.

No one was playing the piano, no one was in these ‘art’ spaces.

Olympic Park, Stratford

The bike shop seemed to be doing well however.

Olympic Park, Stratford

It was decently busy, but not what I expected for this kind of day. You have to search it out, if I hadn’t known it was there and wanted to visit, I don’t think we ever would have made it this far. The food and coffee were good, the cake quite nice, the feel of it comfortable if small. What I loved most was the space round the back, raised beds full of plants, the feeling of being in a garden and a little piece of breathing green in the middle of the city:

Olympic Park, Stratford

Olympic Park, Stratford

I loved these places for sitting and eating — the railroad ties were quite comfortable, the concrete somewhere to rest cups and plates and bags and books, also extra seating. I love good design.

Olympic Park, Stratford

After lunch we walked back, tried to get to the train station taking a direct route and avoiding the mall — it was not signed and it was not easy, at one point we realised we were on the wrong sidewalk curving down beneath the road we wished to travel and they didn’t bother creating a place where pedestrians could cross from one to the other. We followed two builders as they dodged round the car barriers and nimbly leaped the narrow depressing ditch full of rubbish between the two. Pedestrians enjoying a sunny day are not really the user group this park planned for somehow. Or else they decided all paths must go through the mall.

In no scenario there is the planner a winner.

This road was clearly not really meant for much pedestrian traffic, yet provided the best view of the owl-like aquatics centre and this look out into the wastelands of Stratford.

IMG_2110

Olympic Park, Stratford

Olympic Park, Stratford

I rather liked the empty and open nature of it, but they could do so much more with this green space. Instead I imagine they will build more terrible buildings.

I thought I liked this bridge once, but from this view it felt uncomfortably like watching ants…

Olympic Park, Stratford

All in all this entire space makes you feel small, two-dimensional, shallow. I am not surprised it sat almost empty for the most part. Where they have done well is along the canal banks, which were beautiful and where possible it did invite people to sit and enjoy…though mostly on the grass. There were also some fabulous large wooden seats big enough to stretch out your legs and sit two to a seat. But not enough. Some of these small details were delightful, but not enough to make this space work as somewhere you would much like to just be.

Save

Limehouse Through Five Centuries

This is quite a wonderful and curious little history of Limehouse written by J.G. Birch, rector of St Anne’s Limehouse (one of my favourite Hawksmoor churches), in 1935. It is written part for the love of curious fact and part to takes issue with how Limehouse has been described by others — Burke’s titillating and orientalist descriptions in Limehouse Nights, or Walter Besant’s ‘sweeping assertion concerning the whole riverside population of East London: “thieves all–to a man.”‘ I just finished Besant’s East End, and it is indeed infuriating.

The Thames from Limehouse Bridge

This on the other hand, while no modern or definitive history by any stretch, is still full of details (perhaps too many details of great men and their exploits) and tantalising glimpses to be followed up perhaps. Like this one, about a brief uprising:

In 1697 there were some stormy times on the Limehouse quaysides, and news was brought to the Admiralty that “the mob in Limehouse intended to rise to demand the seamen’s pay.” History does not record how far Lord Lucas was successful in dealing with the situation and so we can only wonder what Mr John Coltman of Three Colt Street, who imported currants from France in the Zante frigate, thought about it all and what strenuous work Mr. Robert Hamlington, the constable, was called upon to do (25).

I rather fancy having a look for this dagger, and l rather hope it is one of the objects that have just come on display at the National Maritime Museum as a special exhibit of Trinity House:

In 1632 William Geere left the Dagger House, to pay £5 among the poorest merchant seamen’s widows annually on Michaelmas Day, and those who are curious about the tragic story which gave the house in Three Colt Street (since rebuilt) the name and sign it still bears, the Dagger House, must be content to know that there is a tradition that one brother killed another (presumably ancestors of the Geeres) in the house which formerly stood there, and to know that the dagger which used to hang outside it is still preserved at Trinity House on Tower Hill (29-30).

I love this look at transport, almost more for the knowledge that Commercial Road was so busy in 1935 — the level of traffic it bears today feels entirely modern and is truly terrible, I don’t know if it is comforting to think of it just the same almost one hundred years ago.

We find that the hamlet was linked to the city of London, not as now by Commercial Road (which was only completed in 1810). but by the famous Ratcliff Highway, and where now roars the ceaseless traffic from Dockland to the City along Commercial Road (and perhaps no thoroughfare in the world bears a heavier stream) then ran Rose Lane! (51-52)

Sad to think it once was full of roses.

This is a splendid quote from Christopher Wren, damning the practices of churches in which they rented seating — there have been some improvements, there is no doubt:

A church should not be so filled with pews but that the poor may have room to stand and sit in the alleys, for to them equally is the Gospel preached. It were to be wished that there were to be no pews but benches, but there is no stemming the tide of profit and the advantage of pewkeepers, especially since by pews in the chapel of ease the minister is chiefly supported. (58-59)

And I quite love this author, who condemns these old practices and wrestles with his church and its design — though I am not sure I agree with this entirely.

…and yet not from the very first has Limehouse Church really been felt to be, as it should be, the church of the poorest of its parishioners as truly as of the more wealthy residents. Possibly the great flight of seventeen stone steps to the church door has contributed towards disappointing the hopes of Christopher Wren and proved something of a stumbling-block to less prosperous parishioners. The indifferently clad like a less conspicuous approach. (59)

He rounds this off with nice note at the end on changes in Limehouse — namely his relief at the end of the old tradition that the Rector drive to to the church in a carriage and pair, even though the rectory stood only a couple hundred yards away

‘We think this strange Victorian custom certainly did not survive the 1880s. “Rectors,” said an old pew-opener, bewailing the degenerate days of 1887– “Rectors are more of a working class nowadays.” What an unintentional compliment! (152)

There is, as you would imagine, a good history of the church, yet sadly none of the fascinating speculation on Hawksmoor and all of his occult leanings. The foundation stone for St Anne’s was laid in 1712 and completed in 1724. Apparently there is a legend that because Hawksmoor was building St Anne’s Limehouse at the same time as St George’s-in-the-east and Spitalfields, and St George’s Bloomsbury that the drawings for the latter and for Limehouse were mixed up.

St Anne's Limehouse

There is sadly, nothing at all about the pyramid. I had forgotten that there was a fire — sad, but these old prints are quite wonderful.

Burning of St Anne's, Limehouse

There is a mention of Dickens of course, writing Our Mutual Friend, setting Rogue Riderhood near Limehouse Hole (just a memory even then), drinking at the Grapes which still stands and was the model for the ‘The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters’, though the Harbour Master’s house was pulled down in 1923.

Harbor Master's House, Limehouse

But my favourite things of all, the best things I’ve read in a very long time, are these excerpts from the master of the workhouse’s diaries:

October 7th, 1833Two of our boys, the younger Brown and Mafflin, refused to work this morning, because I did not let them out yesterday, and now they are on the top of the dead house, and will not come down. Mafflin could not have got there without assistance as he had got the log on.

October 22nd, 1833The boy Mafflin having done no work yesterday had no supper, and directly after, about half a dozen of the boys mounted upon the slates, and began singing as loud as they could, as if in bravado. Being dark I could not tell who they were, except that Stiles and Mafflin were the leaders.

October 28th, 1833 — Stiles and Mafflin were keeping up a fine game, on the roofs, all yesterday morning. In the afternoon not being able to bear it any longer I caught Mafflin, gave him a rope’s end, and locked him up; the other was afterwards more quiet.

November 7th.– Mafflin and Blackburn went away over the wall again yesterday; theyw ere on the roof of the Laundry in the evening during prayer time, but I have not seen them since. (106)

Mafflin has all of my respect and admiration, and I shall raise a toast to him the next time I am able.

Near the end is this extraordinary picture of the area from this time, when the church was the tallest thing for miles. Now it is dwarfed by buildings that have been developed all around it, you catch glimpses of it here and there. How different this whole place must have felt… (this wouldn’t scan properly for some reason, so a picture with my shadow was the best I could do)

IMG_2077

Save

A Beginning Infrastructure of Death

930118In thinking about cities and how they work I never considered death in its proper light, and what burial and its infrastructure requires in a crowded metropolis. Having  just finished Necropolis: London and its Dead,  that has certainly changed. Neighbourhoods founded on putrescence, typhoid, bones emerging from the ground along with noxious gases and flying beetles, all of these things were unknown to me and dwelt upon at greater length here.

Daniel Defoe's Monument
Daniel Defoe’s Monument, Bunhill Fields

I enjoyed this book, though it is more an historical presentation of quirks and facts around death and burial that does not much interrogate that history. It relates portions of A Journal of the Plague Year, for example, as essentially the straight transcribing of Henry Foe’s diaries without discussion of claims that it is one of the earliest novels, and just how much of it is fiction flowing from the pen of nephew Daniel Defoe, the actual author, who was five during the events described. There is no exploration of what drove George Walker and Edwin Chadwick to exhaustively catalog burial grounds and campaign against them, or Isabella Holmes to dedicate her life to cataloging them so that they might be converted into public parks. Views on death are presented as essentially monolithic, though changing over time. Nothing is ever monolithic.

So with that caveat, here are a collection of just some of the more interesting facts. There was something about a writer’s skull, I can no longer remember now, in fact numerous stories about skulls, bodies left to science, bodies stolen, bodies mummified on public display. I never knew that during the French Revolution people took an entire month destroying the tombs of the Bourbons and the bodies within them, then continued back through the dynasties. I appreciate that kind of revolutionary commitment to such unpleasant work, clearly all of those kings inspired an immensity of fury among their people. Fascinating on a different level was the business of death, though this is hardly a robust political economy of burials and cemeteries:

In addition to existing burial grounds, new ones were founded as speculative ventures by entrepreneurs, These were either attached to existing churches and chapels, or created on plots purchased by developers. There were fourteen of these by 1835, including Spa Fields, Clerkenwell, which had started life as a tea-rooms but was then converted to the rather more profitable purpose of human burial: New Bunhill Fields, Islington; Victoria Park Cemetery, Bethnal Green at Cambridge Fields (five acres); and Sheen’s New Ground in Whitechapel (two acres) (97).

Architects and planners were quick to take note of Loudon’s suggestion. Joint stock companies devoted to the foundation of new cemeteries sprang into being…Cemeteries had become a form of property development (125)

It is interesting to think of this in relation to the new business of cremation, how hard the possibility of it had to be fought for (aided by Shelley’s untimely death, interestingly enough), how that impacted land use in the city and suburbs. In addition to Walker, Chadwick and Holmes there is another figure to investigate further — Stephen Geary (1797-1854), who over the course of his career designed one of London’s first public houses — The Bell in Pentonville Rd, moved on to design London’s first ‘gin palace’, opened near Aldgate in 1830, and then moved on into cemetery design and formed the London Cemetery Company. He became a teetotaler and I presume slightly less fun all around in his third phase of work, but I love how this can be seen as a progression through alcoholism but also on more metaphysical levels.

To find and read, there is Charles Dickens the ‘City of the Absent’ and the ‘Soul of London’ by Ford Maddox Ford.

Unexpected was the discovery that Victorian mourning dress was actually poisoning people — the veil was ‘Originally made from crape, this oppressive garment frequently afflicted wearers with asthma, catarrh and even cataracts as a result of exposure to the black dyes.’ (208) That seems worth more study as well.

At the end there comes a description of Charlie Brown’s lavish funeral within recent East End memory, owner of the pub the Railway Tavern found at the corner of Garford St in Limehouse. It’s like she doesn’t quite know what to do with this rowdy outpouring of emotion that doesn’t fit into her schematic, like that over the funeral of the Krays (or of Princess Diana). There is story in Morrison’s Tales of Mean Streets that exemplifies the spirit of what funerals meant to the poor of the East End, if not the widespread actions of those who are grieving. But I also couldn’t help remembering Maud Pember Reeves describing the pennies laid by in societies for the burials of family members, her incomprehension of it until investigation proved the decision as sound as any other. These kinds of nuances and outside sources not directly related to the business of dying and Dickens as old standby aren’t much in evidence in here and would have added a good deal I think.

I wanted to note also that I never found Bunhill Fields a gloomy place as she does — somehow that made me question every judgment in here. I find Bunhill Fields quite a wonderful place, unlike say Norwood which I do find overwhelming and creepy. That was the last cemetery I visited and I almost decided once and for all I am no longer fascinated by such places as I once was. But I do love these smaller burial grounds, and all these other cesspools of human remains now made such beautiful and welcome pockets of green filled with flowers, and so I will spend more time tracking down Isabella Holmes, who made that possible.

Bunhill Fields Cemetery

Bunhill Fields Cemetery

William Blake's Monument

John Bunyan's Monument

Bunhill Fields Cemetery

Save

Save

The Deathly Surprise on Portugal Street

Portugal Street and Clare Market are now partially (or entirely) surrounded by the London School of Economics, inoffensive if not particularly picturesque streets. As noted in my post on The Pickwick Papers, this area is described by Dickens with Pickwick and Sam wandering more or less happily through it when attending upon the business of their court case. As below:

With this direction, and having been furthermore informed that the hostelry in question was situated in a court, happy in the double advantage of being in the vicinity of Clare Market, and closely approximating to the back of New Inn, Mr. Pickwick and Sam descended the rickety staircase in safety, and issued forth in quest of the Magpie and Stump.

Or:

In a lofty room, ill-lighted and worse ventilated, situated in Portugal Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, there sit nearly the whole year round, one, two, three, or four gentlemen in wigs…These gentlemen are the Commissioners of the Insolvent Court, and the place in which they sit, is the Insolvent Court itself.

I knew, of course, that this area had also been a terrible slum, but for the most part cleared and rebuilt by the late 1800s. Emmeline Pankhurst resided for a while in St Clement’s Inn, which she described as ‘a big rambling building’ where she could take refuge in a rooftop garden. Until 1903 the building had been attached to the Inner Temple as accommodations and offices for solicitors. A few years later it had been sold and the first London Women’s Social and Political Union offices were to be found there, within the apartments of socialists and WSPU members Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and her husband. Their offices later moved to 40 Kingsway, near where Portugal street joins it. I have read a great deal about all of this. Reading Catherin Arnold’s Necropolis, however, pointed me in a completely different direction, as though I were reading about another place entirely rather than this same tiny network of streets:

Clement’s Lane.—This is a narrow thoroughfare on the eastern side of Clare Market ; it extends from Clare Market to the Strand [note: this is before the redevelopment of Aldwych and Kingsway — Aldwych is here shown at the bottom of the map, the Strand is just beyond it] and is surrounded by places, from which are continually given off emanations from animal putrescence.

lse2

The back windows of the houses on the east side of the lane look into a burying ground called the ” Green Ground,” in Portugal Street, presently to be described ; on the west side the windows (if open) permit the odour of another burying place —a private one, called Enon Chapel —to perflate the houses ; at the bottom—the south end —of this Lane, is another burying place, belonging to the Alms Houses*, within a few feet of the Strand, and in the centre of the Strand are the burying ground and vaults of St. Clement Danes; in addition to which, there are several slaughter houses in the immediate neighbourhood: so that in a distance of about two hundred yards, in a direct line there are four burying grounds; and the living here breathe on all sides an atmosphere impregnated with the odour of the dead. The inhabitants of this narrow thoroughfare are very unhealthy; nearly every room in every house is occupied by a separate family. Typhus fever in its aggravated form has attacked by far the majority of the residents, and death has made among them the most destructive ravages.

The soil of this ground is saturated, absolutely saturated, with human putrescense. On Saturday the 27th April, 1839, at 5, p.m. I went, accompanied by a friend, to Nos. 30 and 31, Clement’s Lane, and, upon looking through the windows of the back attics, we saw two graves open, close to the south-eastern extremity of this burying ground. Several bones were lying on the surface of the grave nearest to us—a large heap of coffin wood was placed in readiness for removal, and, at a small distance, a heap covered with coarse sacking, was observed, which, when the covering was taken off, proved also to be long pieces of coffin wood, evidently not in a decayed state. The nails were very conspicuous. Several basketfuls of this wood were taken to a building at the south-west extremity of the ground. We were informed that this sight was by no means a novel one ; it was commonly—almost daily, observed.

(*) This place is, I believe, filled with dead; many of the coffins being near the surface.

This is from Gatherings from grave yards; particularly those of London: with a concise history of the modes of interment among different nations, from the earliest periods. And a detail of dangerous and fatal results produced by the unwise and revolting custom of inhuming the dead in the midst of the living. By G.A. Walker, surgeon. 1839.

He quotes a correspondent to The Times (25 June 1839):

Dear Sir,

Passing along Portugal Street on Saturday evening, about ten minutes before seven, I was much shocked at seeing two men employed in carrying baskets of human bones from the corner of the ground next the old watch house (where there was a tarpaulin hung over the rails to prevent their being seen, and where they appeared to be heaped up in a mound), to the back of the ground through a small gate.

There is more on this little area from this interview, found in Report on the sanitary condition of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty’s principal secretary of state for the Home department by Edwin Chadwick, published 1843:

The man had lived in Bear-yard, near Clare-market, which was exposed to the combined effluvia from a slaughter-house and a tripe factory. He was a bird- fancier, but he found that he could not rear his birds in this place. He had known a bird fresh caught in summer-time die there in a week. He particularly noted as having a fatal influence on the birds, the stench raised by boiling down the fat from the tripe offal. He said, “You may hang the cage out of the garret window in any house round Bear-yard, and if it be a fresh bird, it will be dead in a week.” He had previously lived for a time in the same neighbourhood in a room over a crowded burial-ground in Portugal-street ; at times in the morning he had seen a mist rise from the ground, and the smell was offensive. That place was equally fatal to his birds. He had removed to another dwelling in Vere-street, Clare-market, which is beyond the smells from those particular places, and he was now enabled to keep his birds. In town, however, the ordinary singing birds did not, usually, live more than about 18 months ; in cages in the country, such birds were known to live as long as nine years or more on the same food.
–footnote quoting Vide General Sanitary Report p 103 and note p 106

The ‘Green Ground’ they describe sat at Carey St and Portugal St, alongside a workhouse (handy) until it was occupied and expanded by King’s College Hospital beginning in 1840  (it moved to Camberwell in 1913).  It is now occupied by the LSE library quadrangle — some details are on the London burials site, and a brief history from the LSE point of view (and shorn of most of its earthy disgustingness) can be found here, which states that the bodies were actually moved after 1852 to be reburied in the suburbs. But to return to Clement’s Lane — and the infamous Enon Chapel that once stood here — I return to Walker, who was quite a bit more lurid than his partner Chadwick:

Enon Chapel. —This building is situated about midway on the western side of Clement’s Lane; it is surrounded on all sides by houses, crowded by inhabitants, principally of the poorer class. The upper part of this building was opened for the purposes of public worship about 1823; it is separated from the lower part by a boarded floor: this is used as a burying place, and is crowded at one end, even to the top of the ceiling, with dead. It is entered from the inside of the chapel by a trap door; the rafters supporting the floor are not even covered with the usual defence —lath and plaster. Vast numbers of bodies have been placed here in pits, dug for the purpose, the uppermost of which were covered only by a few inches of earth…Soon after interments were made, a peculiarly long narrow black fly was observed to crawl out of many of the coffins; this insect, a product of the putrefaction of the bodies, was observed on the following season to be succeeded by another, which had the appearance of a common bug with wings. The children attend ing the Sunday School, held in this chapel, in which these insects were to be seen crawling and flying, in vast numbers, during the summer months, called them “body bugs”… (154-155)

There is much more, but do you need much more? For the ending of the story I give you a summary from the most excellent blog from The Order of the Good Death by Carla Valentine, Technical Curator for Barts Pathology Museum:

The new tenants who took over the lease in 1844 knew of the chapel’s history and capitalized on it by appealing to Londoners’ obvious tolerance for the macabre. They placed a layer of brick over the original wooden floor, lay down new wooden floorboards, and opened the space as a ‘low dancing saloon’ for teetotallers, cheerfully advertising “dances on the dead” as well as gambling. An old leaflet stated: “Enon Chapel – Dancing on the Dead – Admission Threepence. No lady or gentleman admitted unless wearing shoes and stockings” The Poor Man’s Guardian, in 1847, described this new venture as a ‘Temperance Hall’ which held plain and fancy dress balls accompanied by an efficient band: “Quadrilles, waltzes, country-dances, gallopades, reels are danced over the masses of mortality in the cellar beneath” [8] The venue was particularly popular for its annual boxing day bash.

url

These dances continued until around 1848 when philanthropist, sanitary reformer and surgeon, Mr George Alfred Walker of Drury Lane, bought the chapel which was in the immediate neighborhood of his surgery. In 1839 he’d written, “My reflections upon leaving the masses of corruption here exposed, were painful in the extreme; I want language to express the intense feelings of pity, contempt and abhorrence I experienced. Can it be, thought I, that in the Nineteenth Century, in the very centre of the most magnificent city in the universe, such sad mementoes of ignorance, cupidity, and degraded morality still exist?” [8] At his own expense (£100 – quite a substantial sum for the day) he began having the bodies exhumed and buried properly in a single pit in Norwood Cemetery. (Mr Walker, who had studied at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, was passionate about the abolition of intramural interment and wrote many books on the dangers of disposing the dead among the living.)

The process of exhumation at Enon became a spectacle when the remains were piled up and a “pyramid of human bones was exposed to view” near the premises, visited by 6000 people.

It was at this time, with the human remains finally being removed, that it was calculated over 12,000 bodies had been given eternal ‘rest’ by Mr Howse.

I wish I felt the bravado in dancing over dead was simply that, and not a smelly insect-filled attraction for privileged slummers, all those who preyed on them, and the people who wished to stare at both in macabre surroundings. Or that it were not emblematic of a most desperate poverty and complete failure of local government.

There is more horror (though not the same degree of horror) about the vaults in St Clement Dane Church in the Strand. There is more reporting of testimony on the burial grounds here and stretching west to Drury Lane (the same grounds where Lady Deadlock expired at the gate in Bleak House–at least here the burial grounds were not forgotten and Tom’s All Alone evokes some of the misery of this area’s poverty, but clearly not enough) to be found in this article from The True Tablet, 5th November 1842, like this occurrence — again from Enon Chapel:

There were some men repairing Clement’s-lane ; they asked me to give them a few baskets of rubbish, which I did, and they picked up a human hand, and were looking at it, and there were crowds collected ; it did not appear to have been buried probably a month; it was as perfect as my hand. The sexton, when he found there was likely to be a piece of work, ran out and snatched it away, and blew me up for letting them have it.

I am sure there is a great deal more in multiple places in fact, but not sure I can read any more.

I don’t even know where to begin in processing this. Not least because this stench and smell and presence of bodies and slaughter houses and typhus appears neither in Dickens, who I trust for detail and published The Pickwick Papers in 1836, nor in descriptions of the area from the Booth notebooks — though perhaps I shall look again, make sure of their date (which of course was earliest 1848). The bodies under the Enon Chapel where exhumed and reburied by George Walker himself, who marked their new location in Norwood Cemetery. What about these other burial grounds? Was the smell taken for granted? Was this so much a part of life? Was it too offensive to describe? I can see that Dickens’ light-hearted if critical tones stretching to rank sentimentality would certainly have been dragged down a bit at the first sight of a dismembered corpse or description of death by typhus surrounded by body bugs. Still, Arnold mentions a short story by Dickens that I want to track down, ‘The City of the Absent’. For later.

My cynical self may mock, but my romantic side insists both there should be some feeling about such a terrible place beyond the general soullessness of it today, and that there should be some sign, some memorial — that we should work harder at remembering ‘the good old days’ that weren’t very good after all.

Save

The Best Description of London I Have Ever Read

At least, as long as I don’t think too hard about how this is marketing London to the world. But it is totally plagued with landmarks.

This is the place where the contemporary and the nostalgic come together side by side and sometimes blending in with each other. The same can be said about London’s excellent boutique hotels. Grown from Centuries of leadership, London has collected and amalgamated the best of all worlds – people and things. A great metropolis yet each borough has a homely and distinct feeling. Because of that and its great influence over western culture, London is a city plagued with landmarks that are worldwide recognizable. Walk along the Abbey Road zebra crossing that was featured in one of the Beatles albums; be wondered by the magnificent Buckingham Palace, the monarch’s permanent residence in London, or visit the House of Parliament the place where the British laws are made, and where one of the most important landmarks of the capitol of England is located: The Big Ben. Stroll along Covent Garden the first luxury neighborhoods of the city; drop by Trafalgar Square, one of London’s greatest architectural set pieces, or visit the London Greenwich Royal Observatory, where the time of all over the world is measured. Some of the marvelous boutique hotels you can find in London are the 54 Boutique Hotel, the Bingham, Hotel 55 London, the San Domenico House Hotel and the Beaufort Hotel Knightsbridge.

Epoque Hotels Website

For lots more on London…