More London Snippets


In 1900 the oldest man in London arrived. He was the mummy of King Mycerinus of the fourth dynasty, and having survived intact since 3633 BC he now lost a finger over the weekend – somebody nicked it.

The British Museum has its darker side, and the flaneurs of London were happy to document the bad with the good. Arthur Mee, the creator of the Children’s Encyclopaedia (for more on that, see ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’ – better still, wait until it’s out in paperback because it has additional sections) was also keen to write a volume on London for younger readers. His use of language is still more sophisticated than most adult books because it was written in 1936 when people still had brains. His book was called ‘London – The Great City Complete’. It had 964 pages, 200 photographs and covered ’29 cities and towns’. That’s right, London was still regarded then as a gathering of cities rather than a single entity.

The British Museum’s methods of obtaining exhibits was highly questionable, but here the author takes this in his stride without a twinge of conscience.

Where in Central London will you find treaties marked with Red Indian totems and a Buddhist staff for sweeping insects from the paths of priests who were not allowed to kill them? That would be here, at the Great House of Friends on Euston Road – ‘a stately portico and a long frontage of purple-grey Luton brick’ – the Quakers’ House. There’s a Tree of Heaven in the garden and the world’s largest collection of Quaker books inside.

Meanwhile, W.S. Scott is investigating ‘The Bygone Pleasures of London’, one of which was the jets d’eau. These had originated in Flanders, then turned up in Spring Gardens at Charing Cross. Hidden in the gardens were recesses where by treading on a spring you released figures of witches, mermaids and animals. It’s not clear if they all rose from water or came out of bushes as well, but they were also install ed in Jenny’s Whim, a large garden on Buckingham Palace Road next to a turnpike bearing the lady’s name. A jet d’eau is exactly what its name implies, a blast of water like the one in Lake Geneva – so was it used to bring these figures up? Further information is hard to come by.

Finally, the Yorkshire Stingo, near Chapel Street.

One of the most famous ‘rural’ tea garden in 18th century London, it was named after a Yorkshire ale and entertained customers with shows. Even the trashiest melodramas an to three and a half hours, with clowns, songs, dances and a ballet. In 1843, 50 performers and horses gave punters ‘Joan of Arc’.

The gardens gave way to a pub of the same name, which has now gone – but the beer survives and is still popular. The nearby market in Chapel Street ensures that the area’s raffish reputation is continued. The flaneurs of London continue to perambulate and write down what they hear, see and discover. New books following the same principles appear all the time.


16 comments on “More London Snippets”

  1. Peter Tromans says:

    The ‘London Snippets’ are very interesting to read, really enjoyed them.

  2. Denise Treadwell says:

    I particularly like the ‘ jets de l’ eau ‘ ! Can they still be seen?

  3. Ian Luck says:

    I’m probably very wrong here, but I enjoyed the Arthur Mee snippet, and thoroghly approve of the repurposing of a coffin as a container of clay antiquities. These tablets were destroyed in their thousands, by superstitious natives, who considered them unholy, blasphemous, and possibly the work of Djinns and devils, liking the Cuneiform writings on them to claw marks.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Perhaps so, Ian, but stealing them is scarcely the answer, even if the locals connive at it. Our museums are full of items belonging to other people. The potlatch was made illegal here for over a generation and ceremonial items which were confiscated at that time were often put into museums. It is only now that these things are being negotiated back to their proper owners. I have sympathy for the nations that have likewise lost history in that way and I’m not from any victim group.

  5. Ian Luck says:

    It seems to me, that a large number of countries blessed with a rich, and ancient past, never valued it. Sites were plundered for their materials, artefacts sold – and yes, I do know about the Egyptian items given as war reparations in Napoleonic times. Mummies were dug up and sold for medicinal purposes, and a huge hill, formed of mummified cats was dug into and used as fertilizer. I don’t agree with theft, but unless it had occurred over the centuries, by ‘tourists’, or rich men on their ‘Grand Tours’, a vast tranche of the past would have just disappeared forever. Had the Rosetta Stone not been ‘acquired’, we probably would still not be able to understand the hieroglyphic texts. The whole thing is an unpleasant grey area, but not new – Greek tombs were reported to have been emptied long in the past.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    So were the Egyptian pyramid tombs and very soon after they were furbished, too. I just wish we would acknowledge that we took these things so that when nations begin to ask after their treasures we would negotiate with honesty and not come up all clean handed as the saviours of historic objects. People were picking up souvenirs and locals, having nothing, handed over little things to pay for next week’s dinner. The fact that other people would later call those little things priceless artifacts is beside the point.

  7. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – This reminds me of something on a record by a band called ‘The Damned’, and entitled ‘Lovely Money’. It features the late British eccentric, Vivian Stanshall, performing dialogue in the manner of a very dodgy tour guide…”How old are the mummified remains? Two to three… They cut his leg off, and counted the rings…” One part of this dialogue rings uncomfortably true, however: “They’d wander, no, no, sashay into a peaceful country, clobber the chiefs, and say ‘Bagsy, this is mine’…”

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Lovely Money was very good, although referring back to a comment Chris heard once, there was a lot of “deep English” in it. My ear for accent isn’t as sharp as it once was. I didn’t get the sashaying in part but the counting leg rings was surely there, as was the bit about not having washed the execution blood off the stones properly. We are such ghouls when we’re tourists. The bit about having stripped the tourists of all their money they can now be happily waved off home was also good.

  9. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – the 7″ single has, on it’s flipside, a different version, where Viv Stanshall’s dialogue is isolated. The Damned are a band that are beloved by my brother and me, and if you only thought of them as noisy punks (which is no bad thing), then to some people, their lyrics and musicianship of some of their later work is astonishing, leaving their punk origins far, far behind. Their album ‘The Damned Black Album’ (1981), was produced by notable film score composer Hans Zimmer, and contains the frankly astonishing 17 minute long track ‘Curtain Call’. 1982’s ‘Strawberries’ contains the ‘Interview With The Vampire’ inspired track ‘The Dog’. 1985’s ‘Phantasmogoria’ contains the lush and cinematic ‘Sanctum Sanctorum’. I loved them even more when I found out that several years ago, a railway company named an engine ‘Captain Sensible’ after the band’s multi-instrumentalist. Oh, and drummer, Rat Scabies, retired several years ago, and now devotes a lot of his time searching for the Holy Grail. Yes, really.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    It is amazing the level of abstruse knowledge out there. So much of it seems to have railways involved, too.

  11. Ian Luck says:

    “We’ve fleeced you good/We’ve bled you dry/We’ve had your money/Now goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!” That line, Helen? Yes, it’s good, and sadly, still true today. That’s why I’m no fan of things ‘Touristy’.

  12. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – I think that if you love something, then you owe it to yourself to learn as much about it as you can. I started collecting records in 1976, and have never really stopped. My brother started in 1979, and still buys records. I loved punk when it first reared it’s ugly head, and my brother loved the ‘Two Tone’ ska revival, and honestly, if you’re not keen on that, then we can’t be friends. I gravitated to the more obscure end of the musical spectrum, as punk led to ‘Post Punk’, and then to ‘New Wave’, and then a lot of bands taking a swerve into ‘Electronic’.Bands with wilfully odd names like: Cabaret Voltaire; Clock DVA; Throbbing Gristle; Section 25; D.A.F.; The Human League; Fad Gadget, etc. And being a bloke, one couldn’t just have the records, oh, no. You had to know the band’s line up, who was who, what they played – in some cases, it was easy; Gary Numan records always credited the musicians, and what gear they played. Landscape and Fashion even listed amplification gear and mixing equipment. Blokes like making lists, and when I saw a company making t-shirts with band line ups on them, I was intrigued, and slightly annoyed that there were no bands I liked listed. For a laugh, I sent the company an e-mail listing 35 bands, some really, really obscure, like ‘Rother and Dinger’, who were the German electronic band NEU!, whose last proper album came out in 1975 (and they haven’t spoken to each other since then). To my surprise, the shirt company came back to me, and said that they would use all of my suggestions, and asked if I’d like £100 worth of various shirts in return. Does a bear wear a silly hat? I’d like that a lot, cheers. The moral of this is that knowing trivial things, and making lists… gets you nice stuff. Possibly. ; )

  13. Helen Martin says:

    Ian, yes that was the line. It sums it all up.
    Yes, if you’re going to be interested in something you should be able to provide info for others. Nice bit with the T-shirts.
    Do you know Joe Keithley? He was lead guitarist & vocalist in D.O.A. and is now running for municipal council for the Greens. Another sometime member of the band, Randy Rampage, has died in the last few hours of an apparent massive heart attack. You can say you heard it here first.
    And I don’t even follow music much.

  14. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – I used to have a copy of D.O.A.’s second album, ‘Hardcore ’81’, which was great, and the spirit of brevity. My favourite tracks were ‘I Don’t Give A Shit’ and ‘Slumlord’. I was also always childishly pleased by the name of the drummer: Chuck Biscuits. That’s a punk name on a par with Captain Sensible, Sid Vicious, or Steve Ignorant. They were easily the first proper ‘Hardcore Punk’ bsnd, and way ahead of the game. I’m sad to hear about Randy Rampage (another top notch name), and hope that Joe (band name redacted) Keithley does well. Thanks for that information.

  15. Ian Luck says:

    ‘Bsnd’? I meant ‘Band’. Damn sausage fingers.

  16. Helen Martin says:

    He was actually Keighley but changed it to Keithley because (according to what I read) “no one could pronounce it properly.” Glad to help. Somehow I can’t help but be in favour of of Mr. Keithley’s candidature as he comes across as completely genuine. He says there’s nothing like becoming a father to stimulate your concerns about the environment.

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