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.