Weird & Wonderful London 3


A friend of mine recently moved into Petticoat Lane without realising it.

It’s not her fault; the lane doesn’t technically exist. Petticoat Lane Market was started over 400 years ago by the French Huguenots who sold petticoats and lace from the stalls (there are still lace sellers there). The prudish Victorians changed the name of the lane and market to avoid referring to woman’s underclothes. Although the street was renamed Middlesex Street two centuries ago it’s still known as Petticoat Lane, and was called that because of a saying that you could be robbed of your petticoat at one end of the lane and have it sold back to you at the other. It was still famous for its songbirds when I was a child.

Who remembers this disastrous 1973 look for Carnaby Street? After its largely accidental eruption as a centre for dedicated followers of fashion in the late 1950s the street fell out of fashion, favour and fortune. In an effort to revive it Westminster Councillors, never the hippest of civil servants, had it pedestrianised and then covered it in a weird rubber coating that slowly became caked with chewing gum.

You would never have known there was a war on. In 1943 a lavish production of ‘Peter Pan’ at the Cambridge Theatre had some pretty hefty fairies flying about, courtesy of the man who had patented the first theatrical flying machine back in 1898. JM Barrie tested the harnesses himself during rehearsals. London’s theatres stayed open as much as they could during the war. There was a big classical revival and renewed interest in Shakespeare (esp. Henry V, understandably).

I remember throwing up after doing this. The Rotor at Battersea Fun Fair was coated in red rubber and slung you against the wall with the centrifugal force of the spinning drum before dropping the floor away from you. It was not a remotely pleasant experience, and like several other things in Battersea’s pleasure gardens, felt distinctly dangerous. The place was shut in the mid-1970s after a fatal crash on the Big Dipper. It also turns up in Peter Walker’s serial killer film ‘Frightmare’.

Look out, debs on the march. What a weird ritual this was. If you were an upper crust female ripe for the plucking you could be introduced to royalty at a formal ball and then sent out into the ‘season’, a set of toff events where you could be shoved into the arms of the nation’s most eligible (ie richest) chinless landowners. It had started in the middle of the 18th century and was still going when this photograph was taken in 1955, but it was only three years away from being abolished – by the Queen herself, who deemed the ritual outdated.

Finally an old favourite of mine; sheep being driven from Hyde Park, along Piccadilly, to Green Park in 1931. Up until 1935 you could find sheep all over London, being led from one green site to another, or to a livestock market. It was common to see them wandering across Waterloo Bridge and on Holborn Kingsway. Surely it’s time to bring them back?


18 comments on “Weird & Wonderful London 3”

  1. Jay Mackie says:

    Hi Chris

    Off topic I know but have you any updates yet on a release date for your single volume definitive collection of short stories you talked about before?

  2. SteveB says:

    I remember that Carnaby Lane thing! My God that’s a blast from the past!

  3. admin says:

    Jay, the definitive collection is sent to my existing publisher as a courtesy (it’s an unlikely sell for them) and I’m still waiting for them to come back.

  4. J. Folgard says:

    I love that series of posts Chris, really love it. Thank you for this -I’m not british so I guess this seems even stranger to me, it’s like snapshots from another world!

  5. Brian Evans says:

    The theatre flying thing is called the Kirby Wire after George Kirby. Not to be confused with Kirby Grip which is a type of hair curler.

    The Deb “season” always was a cattle-market, or up-market prostitution if you prefer.

    The roller coaster in Battersea Park also featured in the Peter Sellers film “The Wrong Arm of the Law”. Manchester had its equivalent at “Belle Vue” It went about the same time as the one in Battersea.

  6. Roger says:

    “The Rotor at Battersea Fun Fair”, If that was people’s idea of fun, what did they think wasn’t fun?
    Aren’t sheep driven over London Bridge once a year still, just to emphasise the principle that they can be?

  7. snowy says:

    “If that was people’s idea of fun, what did they think wasn’t fun?”

    Mid 50’s [judging by the dresses, not my area of expertise, dresses would have lasted for years anyway so any date is only provional.]

    Lets have a peek at what you would have got on the TV if you had stayed in on Sunday 16th May 1954.


    4.00 From London

    A visit to the Tower of London to join the thousands who congregate on Sunday afternoons to sit by the river or to wander through the ancient fortress.

    4.30 From the Studio

    All over the country nurserymen are getting ready for the Chelsea Flower Show, which opens in London in ten days’ time. A West-Country grower shows some of the plants to be exhibited and demonstrates how they are packed.

    5.0-5.55 app. Children’s Television

    The Magic Horse
    A shadow picture film by Lotte Reiniger.

    Children’s Newsreel

    The Tower of London
    A visit to one of London’s most historic buildings.

    Trojan Out West

    Presenter (Out of Doors): Sir Stephen Tallents
    Commentator (From London): Richard Dimbleby
    Presented by (From London): Keith Rogers
    Commentator (From the Studio): Eric Hobbis
    Presented by (From the Studio): Nicholas Crocker
    Animator (Children’s Television: The Magic Horse): Lotte Reiniger
    Commentator (Children’s Television: The Tower of London): Stephen Wade
    Choreography (Children’s Television: Trojan Out West): Margaret Dale
    Music composed and conducted by (Children’s Television: Trojan Out West): Arthur Wilkinson
    Decor (Children’s Television: Trojan Out West): Richard Henry
    Producer (Children’s Television: Trojan Out West): Naomi Capon
    The Dancers (Children’s Television: Trojan Out West):
    Trojan, the horse: Michael Boulton
    Trojan, the horse: Gary Burne
    His Trainer: Julia Farron
    The Cowboys: Alexander Grant
    The Cowboys: Ray Powell
    The Cowboys: Peter Clegg
    The Villain: John Hart

    6.30: Last Week’s Newsreels repeated at the following times:

    Monday’s edition, 6.30 app.
    Tuesday’s edition, 6.44 app.
    Wednesday’s edition, 6.58 app.
    Thursday’s edition, 7.12 app.
    Friday’s edition, 7 26 app.
    followed by Weather Chart and Interlude

    7.45: Bridge Across Silence

    Programme written by Charles Parker.
    In the United Kingdom there are thirty thousand people who are totally deaf. Viewers visit one of the centres devoted to their welfare, both material and spiritual, to see something of the way in which the deaf and those who serve them bridge the gulf that separates them from the world of sound.
    Service conducted by the Rev. T. H. Sutcliffe.
    Introduced by Edward Chapman.
    Service conductor: The Rev. T. H. Sutcliffe
    Presenter: Edward Chapman
    Writer: Charles Parker
    Producer: Barrie Edgar

    8.15: What’s My Line?

    with Isobel Barnett, Barbara Kelly, David Nixon and Gilbert Harding trying to find the answers.
    Panellist: Isobel Barnett
    Panellist: Barbara Kelly
    Panellist: David Nixon
    Panellist: Gilbert Harding
    Presented by: Dicky Leeman

    8.55: The Comedy of Errors

    By William Shakespeare.
    Adapted as a play with music by Lionel Harris and Robert McNab.

    Errors abound in this youthful piece (Shakespeare was probably only twenty-six when he wrote it), but it is less a comedy than a farce which makes no claim to probability. Indeed it simply states the improbable and makes no attempt to justify it.
    That statement occurs very early in the play, so it is as well to be prepared for it. The scene is a magistrate’s court in Ephesus, where the Duke is about to sentence Aegeon, whose crime is that he comes from Syracuse, it having been agreed that there shall be ‘no traffic to our adverse towns’. Given an opportunity of explaining why he has broken the ban, Aegeon says that in Epidamnum his wife became:
    “The joyful mother of two goodly sons; And, which was strange, the one so like the other As could not be distinguished but by names.
    And to add to the confusion: That very hour, and in the self-same inn, A meaner woman was delivered Of such a burden, male twins, both alike.
    To complete the circle: These, for their parents were exceeding poor, I bought, and brought up to attend my sons.”
    So there are two pairs of twins and, Aegeon goes on to explain, the pairs were parted during a shipwreck. He is in Syracuse to try to find his missing son. Viewers will not be surprised to learn that he is here, and that the other son has also arrived – and both have their twin servants. The errors that ensue are many and involved.
    Tonight’s version is a musical one, with solos, duets, choruses, and some dialogue converted into lyrics. The shape of the play remains unchanged.
    Author: William Shakespeare
    Music: Lionel Harris
    Music: Robert McNab
    Music composed by: Julian Slade
    Music arranged by: James Turner
    Orchestra conducted by: Eric Robinson
    Decor: James Bould
    Producer: Lionel Harris
    Solinus, Duke of Ephesus: Gerald Cross
    Aegeon, a merchant of Syracuse: Richard Vernon
    Antipholus of Ephesus: David Peel
    Dromio of Ephesus: James Cairncross
    Antipholus of Syracuse: Paul Hansard
    Dromio of Syracuse: James Cairncross
    Angelo, a pawnbroker: David Bird
    Angelo’s assistant: Roy Skelton
    Merchant: Richard Burrell
    Dr. Pinch: Gerald Cross
    The Abbess Aemilia: Lally Bowers
    Adriana, wife to Antipholus of Ephesus: Joan Plowright
    Luciana, her sister: Jane Wenham
    Luce, servant to Luciana: Esther Lawrence
    A courtesan: Christie Humphrey
    Town crier: Paul Garner
    Officer: Patrick H. Organ
    Hostess of ‘The Porcupine’: Helen Miscner
    Dancer: Barbara Grimes
    A nun: Patricia Routledge

    10.25: Family Concern

    Introduced by John Mills.
    This film shows an example of the work of the Soldiers’, Sailors’, and Airmen’s Families Association.
    Presenter: John Mills

    10.40: News
    (sound only)

    And that was your lot!

  8. Brian Evans says:

    Flippin’ heck Snowy. If is was like that every night there would never be a need to go out!

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Not really exciting, was it, although the Shakespeare might have been fun. You’d only need the info about plant packing if you were into that sort of thing and how many would have been?
    We have a wooden roller coaster called the Big Dipper and there was a much smaller one called, naturally, the Little Dipper. I’m not into roller coasters.
    Some time in the late 1850s there was a newspaper article (I can’t lay my hands on the citation at the moment) about a woman wearing a red shawl who was pursued down a London street by a bullock which had escaped a herd which was being driven through town. The woman darted into a china and glassware shop, closely followed by the bullock. The woman took refuge in the store’s back parlour and someone closed the door on the bullock’s nose. The bullock was lured back into the street and returned to its herd, no glass or chinaware having been damaged. Of course, this was a bullock not a bull.
    Restoring the sheep to the parks would cut down on gas emissions and noise but someone would have to keep the lawns clear for the safety of children and careless adults.

  10. gkbowood says:

    Sheep poop in all the parks!!? no, no …

  11. snowy says:

    So that nobody suffers from complete sensory overload, leading to unwanted spontaneous emissions, I’m only going to cite one of the innumerable highlights delivered to an expectant nation on Whit Sunday 1959.

    2.00: The Weather Situation for farmers and growers followed by: Farming: Silage
    A weekly agricultural magazine for those who live by the land.
    Introduced by Alastair Dunnett.

    A survey of modern trends in silage making and feeding with visits to a number of farms. Special contributors: J.R. Stubbs, County Advisory Officer, Buckinghamshire, N.A.A.S.; S. Morton, dairy farmer, Offchurch, Warwickshire; and R.R. Turner, farm manager, Crewkerne, Somerset.
    Film sequences by the BBC’s Agricultural Film Unit
    From the BBC’s Midland television studio…

    I expect the antimacassars of the nation needed a good hard boiling after mopping up all the excitement that programme would have induced.

    [The sheep in the parks story is quite well documented, they were Scottish, it was a scheme by the Commisioner of Works to save money, questions were asked in Parliament, there are some newsreels in the British Pathe Collection.]

  12. Ian Luck says:

    Some interesting people in that production of A Comedy Of Errors:
    Richard Vernon, best known to people of my age for his brilliant portrayal of Fjord designer, Slartibartfast (Douglas Adams first draft of his name was deemed ‘unbroadcastable because of the word beginning with ‘C’ that it contained’), in ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’.
    David Peel, who played Hammer’s second vampire, Baron Meinster, in the 1960 movie ‘Brides Of Dracula’.
    Roy Skelton, for years the voice of fuzzy gobshite Zippy, in the children’s show ‘Rainbow’. Later was one of the regular Dalek voices on ‘Doctor Who’.
    Joan Plowright, wife of Sir Laurence Olivier.
    And right at the bottom of the cast, as ‘A Nun’ there is:
    Patricia Routledge, best known as the snobby Mrs Bucket (pronounced ‘Bouquet’, of course), in the TV show ‘Keeping Up Appearances.

    I can’t help but wonder if the two hours of Shakespeare, despite a good cast, meant for many people who had recently forked out for a television set, a saunter down the local for a swift half, a fag, and a jellybaby, to avoid catching a bit of culture? The list of shows on TV that night made me think of ‘National Lampoon’s European Vacation’, where the Griswolds are disappointed to find only four channels on their TV in London, and every channel showing footage from a cheese factory.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    I missed Patricia Routledge. It was a pretty good cast but I wonder how good the acting was given the basic camera coverage of the set, as I understand it was then.
    Checking Sunday was probably unfair to the BBC of the time. Sunday afternoon was one time when the agricultural community could be predicted to be as much at rest as they ever are. The tv was a good way to get information to farmers and why not let them see what is being talked about? The CBC did the same thing through the fifties.

  14. Wayne Mook says:

    On Sunday BBC 1 we still have Country File, an odd mix of farming, rambling, eco gubbins and gardening (farmer’s weather for the week as well.), of course there is Antiques Roadshow – I’ll never part with it but will use this now as a way to get my children to do what I want if they want to inherit, OK they’ll sell it, like they’ll mortgage, sorry, release equity from the house their kids hope to inherit. And then a drama followed by the news and then sport, it good to see things move with the times.

    Actually ‘Line of Duty’ was the drama that just finished, which went down well in some quarters.


  15. Ian Luck says:

    Wayne – did you ever see Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s version of ‘Countryfile’? It’s very funny. And you’ll never see John Craven in the same light again.

  16. Ian Luck says:

    Wayne – You mention ‘Antiques Roadshow’. I expect that you will be familiar of the radio version of the show, as imagined by Mark Radcliffe and The Boy Lard (Marc Riley, The Artist Formerly known As ‘Lard’) on their radio show. It was entitled: ‘Is It Worth Owt?’.

  17. Helen Martin says:

    I watch both the British and the American version of the Roadshow for a sight of beautiful or weird things and the amazing stories that go along with some of them.

  18. Wayne Mook says:

    Ian, your right, both of them are great. The two Marks also used to do vague news, which I thought was comedy gold.

    Helen, I watch the programme too, especially for the weird and wonderful stuff.


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