A charming chapel preserved

WHEN RUDYARD KIPLING (1865-1936) died in London’s Middlesex Hospital, his body was placed in the hospital’s chapel before being taken to be cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium, Charles Carrington wrote in his biography of Kipling that just as his coffin, draped with the Union Jack flag, arrived at the crematorium:

“… the followers of Saklatvala, the Indian Communist who had been cremated just before Rudyard Kipling, were singing the Red Flag.”

Kipling was not a sympathiser of Communist ideas and ideals.

Middlesex Hospital in the Fitzrovia area of London, where Kipling breathed his last, no longer exists. Founded in 1746, it provided medical care on a square plot of land bounded one one side by Mortimer Street between 1757 and 2005. In 2008, almost all of the hospital was demolished. The only part of the complex, which was preserved, is the Fitzrovia Chapel, in which Kipling’s body reposed briefly. Between 2012 and 2016, a new development, Fitzroy Place, consisting of flats and offices, was constructed on the hospital’s site.

The small Fizrovia Chapel, beautifully restored, stands in a small garden in the middle of the new development, dwarfed by the buildings around it. This gem of a Victorian ecclesiastical construction was designed by the Gothic Revival architect John Loughborough Pearson (1817-1897) and was ready for use by 1892 (although the interior decoration was not fully completed until 1929). The chapel’s spectacular colourful interior must be seen to be believed. Its magnificent appearance is the result of skilful use of mosaic, marbles of different types and colours, and amazing decorative motifs inspired by early Italian, Byzantine, and Moorish architecture. Some of the metal lampshades that hang from the decorative ceiling seemed to have been influenced by the types of lamps typical of Turkish tradition.

The chapel is maintained by The Fitzrovia Chapel Foundation. It is open on most Wednesdays for public viewing as well as during the occasional exhibitions and concerts that are held within it. This charming place is also available for hire for weddings, fashion shoots, book launches, and other events.

Until we attended an exhibition in the Fitzrovia Chapel in late May 2022, we had no idea that this small architectural gem existed. Along with nearby All Saints in nearby Margaret Street, the Fitrovia, a treasure chest with its sparkling golden ceiling, should not be missed by lovers of Victorian architecture and/or fine mosaic work  (as well as masterful use of inlaid stonework).

A Victorian hospital and Florence Nightingale

OF CRIMEAN WAR fame, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) established a nursing school in what is now St Charles Hospital in North Kensington in 1884. In that time, the hospital near the northern end of Ladbroke Grove was called ‘the St Marylebone Union Infirmary’. It was so named because it was built to serve the poor of the parish of St Marylebone. It had to be put up outside the parish because there was no room available to build a hospital within it. This institution was opened in 1881 by the then Prince (future King Edward VII) and Princess of Wales. A very informative website, https://ezitis.myzen.co.uk, revealed that the hospital was:

“… three storeys high, with a central block and four pavilions.  It had accommodation for 744 patients … and 86 resident staff (the Infirmary also had 82 non-resident staff).”

In 1923, the hospital was renamed the ‘St Marylebone Hospital’ and the next year, the then Minister of Health and future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) opened an extension, which had just been completed. By 1926, some wards had bedside wireless sets installed.

The hospital was given its current name when the London County Council took over its running in 1930. During WW2, wards on the top floors were closed, but the hospital suffered little damage from enemy bombing. After the war, St Charles served as a general hospital, but by 1998, there were very few beds for in-patients. Currently, the establishment is run by both the Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust and the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. Now, it is known as St Charles’ Centre for Health and Wellbeing. Most of its patient care is out-patient and since the development of vaccines against covid19, it is also a ‘vaccination hub’.

The original edifices were designed by Henry Saxon Snell (1831-1904). In grey weather, the late Victorian buildings of St Charles with their brickwork and neo-gothic decorative features present a somewhat gloomy or even ominous appearance. In bright sunlight, although they do not seem particularly welcoming, they have a certain charm. The website, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol37, describes the architecture in more detail:

“The excellent plain brickwork, strong selfconfident design, and assured functional planning and detail make St. Charles Hospital a most significant building for its period. It occupies a rectangular site of three and a half acres near the north-west end of Ladbroke Grove … The buildings are planned on the pavilion principle, each block being, as far as compatible with facility of communication, isolated from the others. There are five parallel pavilions, the central administrative block being flanked on either side by two blocks of wards. The central block is surmounted by a massive tower, 182 feet in height, which forms a prominent landmark when viewed from the north and west. The chimney-shaft from the boilers below is carried up inside this tower, the upper part of which has a corbelled stage derived from northern Italian work of the Middle Ages. The tower contains a number of large tanks, providing storage for 25,000 gallons of water pumped from a well 500 feet in depth … The pavilions on either side of the tower are linked to each other by cast-iron galleries and canopied walks. A block of buildings situated at the entrance contained the residences of the medical officers, and over the spacious arched gateway in the centre there was a chapel 60 feet long by 30 feet wide, with a boarded wagon-roof of trefoil section. In a report on the infirmary written by Snell, he described the elaborate systems of heating and ventilation. Open fires heated coils of pipes containing water which then circulated, humidity also being contrived so that air would not be dried, a great advance for the time. The lighting was by gas, and fumes were carefully vented away. This ‘Thermhydric’ system, patented by the architect, included upright flues in the external walls, inlets being provided for fresh air which was warmed as it entered, and air was also admitted directly through the walls into skirtingboxes between the beds, while flues carried off the foul air and the products of gas combustion.”

Although it was clearly an advanced building for its time and it is not far from the much-visited Portobello Road, this hospital is unlikely to be on many visitors’ itineraries. However, lovers of Victorian architecture might enjoy seeing it even if they had no clinical requirement to do so.

Two historic hotels by the sea

MOST OF SOUTHEND in Essex was built after the Victorian era. The town on the estuary of the River Thames was and still is the nearest seaside resort to London. According to “Encyclopaedia Britannica”, Southend:

“…became fashionable as a seaside resort when visited by Princess Charlotte of Wales in 1801 and by her mother, Princess Caroline (wife of George IV), in 1803.”

Originally, Prittlewell, once a village north of Southend but now one of its suburbs, was the only settlement in the area now occupied by the modern town of Southend. South east of it on the coast was a tiny village called Leigh, which is now the much larger Leigh-on-Sea. The resort now known as Southend-on-Sea was developed at the end of the 18th century in Prittlewell’s  southern district of South End. Today, more than seven miles of buildings extend from Leigh-on-Sea through Southend to Shoeburyness.

The High Street, part of a road heading south from Prittlewell, runs from near Southend Victoria Station towards the sea, ending at the edge of a steep slope that falls to the seashore below. Various roads and a lift can be used to descend this incline. At the top of the slope, the High Street meets the eastern end of Royal Terrace. At the corner where these two streets meet, stands the Royal Hotel. Next to the hotel and lining Royal terrace, numbers 1 to 15 were built in the 1790s at the same time as the hotel. These were backed by the Royal Mews, a road still in existence. These constructions were part of a then new phase of development of the town, which was known as ‘New Town’.

The hotel, a fine Georgian edifice, opened with a grand ball in 1793.  Princess Caroline House that adjoins the hotel. number 1 the High Street, is a listed building, which looks as if it is contemporary with the hotel. The gardens on the slope in front of the hotel and the Terrace are known as The Shrubbery and were originally for the exclusive use of residents in the Terrace, but now they are open to the public. According to www.southend.gov.uk/historic-southend/history-southend/2:

“The Terrace was named “Royal” following visits by Princess Caroline, wife of the Prince Regent, in 1803 and for a short time attracted fashionable society. But difficult access from London by road and river discouraged further development until the construction of the railway in 1856. Royal Terrace is the only surviving Georgian terrace in Southend.”

Just east of the High Street and dominating the shoreline is the massive Park Inn Palace hotel, formerly the The Metropole. Built in 1901, this hotel that looks like an oversized liner had 200 rooms, a billiard room, and a splendid ballroom. During WW1, it was temporarily used as a Royal Naval Hospital. An online article (http://beyondthepoint.co.uk/first-world-war-southend-the-palace-hotel/) related:

“The Palace Hotel was built in 1901 and served great use in the war effort. Messrs Tolhurst; the owners of the hotel, were generous enough to offer the building up for free as a naval hospital for the rest of the war. Its glorious five star interior would’ve been quite bizarre with hospital beds placed amongst its lounges and ballrooms. It held possibly the world’s first purpose-made x-ray department. It recently underwent refurbishment by Park Inn to bring it back to its former glory.”

Both hotels overlook both the sea and Southend Pier. The older, Royal Hotel, is less of a blot on the landscape than the Palace hotel.

Small injection, small world

WE JOINED A SMALL queue at the vaccination centre, or “hub” as it calls itself, early one sunny but cool morning. All of us were waiting to receive our covid 19 booster vaccine, six months having elapsed since receiving the second of our first two ‘jabs’. Eventually, we were invited into the local hospital, in which the hub is located.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I was directed to a cubicle where a lady, a volunteer vaccinator, was seated. After having been asked some preliminary medical questions and given some advice about possible aftereffects of the vaccine, she said to me, having already noted my name:

“Are you South African?”

“My parents were,” I replied.

“I know a Craig Yamey,” she said.

“He is a relative of mine.”

Then, she said:

“I knew an old gentleman, a Mr Yamey married to a Greek lady.”

“He was my father,” I replied, adding: “How do you know him”

It turned out that the lady’s mother lives next door to where my father lived for the last 27 years of his long life.

Having established that and just before giving me the injection, quite painlessly I should add, she said:

“In that case, I must take very special care of you.”

The world can seem remarkably small, don’t you think?

A hospital without patients

BROTHER PETER IS one of six retired ex-servicemen who reside at The Lord Leycester Hospital, one of the oldest buildings in the town of Warwick apart from its famous, much-visited castle. He explained to us that the word ‘hospital’ in the name refers not to what we know as a medical establishment but to a place providing hospitality. The men, who reside in the Hospital are known as the ‘Brethren’.

The Hospital is contained in an attractive complex of half-timbered buildings that were erected next to Warwick’s still standing Westgate in the late 14th century. They are almost the only structures to have survived the Great Fire of Warwick that destroyed most of the town in September 1694. The buildings and the adjoining chapel that perches on top of the mediaeval Westgate were initially used by the guilds of Warwick, which played a major role in administering the town and its commercial activity. The ensemble of edifices includes the mediaeval Guildhall in which members of the guilds carried out their business. Between 1548 and 1554, it was used as a grammar school.

In 1571, Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532-1588), who lived in nearby Kenilworth Castle, was asked by the queen to clear the streets of Warwick of ailing, infirm, and disabled soldiers, by establishing a refuge (i.e., ‘hospital’) to shelter them. It is said that Dudley persuaded the town’s officials to give him their Guildhall to be used for this purpose. This ended the guilds’ use of the complex of mediaeval buildings, now known as Lord Leycester’s Hospital.

 Initially, Dudley’s hospital provided accommodation for The Master, a clergyman, and twelve Brethren, poor and/or wounded soldiers, and their wives. According to the excellent guidebook I bought, the original rules of the hospital include the following:

“That no Brother take any woman to serve or tend upon him in his chamber without special licence of the Master, nor any with licence, under the age of three-score years except she be his wife, mother, or daughter.”

 To accommodate them, modifications of the interiors of the buildings had to be made. Brother Peter, with whom we chatted, is one of the current Brethren. He introduced us to another of his fraternity, a young man with a scarred head, who had survived an explosion whilst serving in Afghanistan.

Dudley’s arrangement survived until the early 1960s, when the number of Brethren was reduced to eight. By this time, the Master was no longer recruited from the clergy but from the retired officers of the Armed Forces. What is unchanged since Dudley’s time is his requirement, established in an Act of Parliament (1572), that the Brethren must attend prayers in the chapel every morning. They recite the very same words chosen by Dudley when he established the hospital.

We did not have sufficient time to take a tour of the buildings that comprise the hospital, but we did manage to enter The Great Hall, which now serves as a refreshment area for visitors. This large room has a magnificent 14th century beamed timber ceiling made of Spanish chestnut. It was here that King James I was entertained and dined in 1617, an event lasting three days. We were also able to catch a glimpse of the Mediaeval Courtyard, which is:

“… one of the best preserved examples of medieval courtyard architecture in England.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Leycester_Hospital).

The Lord Leycester Hospital is less well-known than the nearby Warwick Castle, which has become something of a costly ‘theme park’. However, the hospital is a far more interesting place to visit, However, you will need to go there before the 23rd of December 2021, when it will be closed for restoration for quite a lengthy period.

Sexey in Somerset

THE RIVER BRUE flows through the Somerset town of Bruton. In the Domesday Book (1086), its name was recorded as ‘Briuuetone’, which is derived from Old English words meaning ‘vigorously flowing river’. In brief, this small town is picturesque and filled with buildings of historical interest: a church; several long-established schools; municipal edifices; an alms-house; shops; and residences. On a recent visit, we drove past a Tudor building that was adorned with a crest labelled “Hugh Sexey” and the date “1638”. At first, I thought it was a sort of joke, rather like ‘Sexy Fish’, the name of a restaurant in London’s Berkeley Square. I walked back to the building after parking the car.

I looked at the sign, and my curiosity was immediately aroused. The crest bears a pair of eagles with two heads each, double-headed eagles (‘DHE’). Now, as some of my readers might already know, the DHE is a symbol that has fascinated me for a long time. This bird with two heads has been used as an emblem by the Seljuk Turks, the Byzantine and Holy Roman Empires, Russia (before and after Communism), the Indian state of Karnataka, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, and some people in pre-Columbian America, to name but a few. In the UK, several families employ this creature on their coats-of-arms. These include the Godolphin, the Killigrew, and the Hoare families, to name but a few. Each of these three families has connections with the county Cornwall, which, through Richard, Earl of Cornwall (1209-1272) and King of the Germans, had a strong connection with the Holy Roman Empire, whose symbol was the DHE.  Until I arrived outside the building in Bruton, Sexey’s Hospital, I had no idea about the existence of the Sexey family nor its association with the DHE.

Sir Hugh Sexey (c1540 or 1556-1619) was born near Bruton. He became royal auditor of the Exchequer to Queen Elizabeth I and later King James I, and amassed a great fortune. After his death, much of his wealth was used for charitable purposes in and around Bruton. Two institutions that resulted from his money and still exist today are Sexey’s Hospital, outside of which I first spotted the crest with two DHEs and Sexey’s School (www.sexeys.somerset.sch.uk/about-us/the-sexeys-story/). The school, which is now housed in premises separate from the hospital (now an old age home), was first housed in the same premises as the hospital.

According to the school’s website:

“…a two headed spread eagle is taken from the seal used by Hugh Sexey later in his life which can be seen on his memorial on Sexey’s Hospital …”

The article then considers the DHE (‘spread eagle’) as follows:

“Traditionally the spread eagle was considered a symbol of perspicacity, courage, strength and even immortality in heraldry. Prior to notions of medieval heraldry, in Ancient Rome the symbol became synonymous with power and strength after being introduced as the heraldic animal by Consul Gaius Marius in 102BC (subsequently being used as the symbol of the Legion), whilst it has been used widely in mythology and ancient religion. In Greek civilisation it was linked to the God Zeus, by the Romans with Jupiter and by Germanic tribes with Odin. In Judeo-Christian scripture Isa (40:31) used it to symbolise those who hope in God and it is widely used in Christian art to symbolise St John the Evangelist. An heraldic eagle with its wings spread also denotes that its bearer is considered a protector of others. Sexey’s seal and crest may have included the spread eagle to symbolise the family’s Germanic heritage.”

Some of this is in accordance with what I have read before, but I need to cross-check much of the rest of it, especially the Greek and Roman aspects. The final sentence relating to Germanic heritage seems quite sound, as the DHE was an important symbol in the Holy Roman Empire.

There is a sculpted stone bust of Sir Hugh Sexey in the courtyard of his hospital (really, almshouses), which was built in the 1630s. This portrait was put in its position in the 17th century long after his death. Above the bust, there is a carved stone crest bearing two DHEs, which was created by William Stanton (1639-1705) from London. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (‘DNB’):

“ Later in the seventeenth century a stone bust of Sexey, together with a coat of arms (that of the Saxey family of Bristol, with which he had no known connection), was placed over the entrance hall…”

The plot thickens as I now wonder whether the DHEs are related to the Sexey family or that of the above-mentioned Saxey family. A quick search of the Internet for the coats-of-arms of both the Sexey and the Saxey families revealed no DHEs except on crests relating to Bruton’s two Sexey foundations.

One family that was involved in the history of Bruton and whose crest bears the DHE is Hoare. They took over the ownership of the manor from the Berkely family in 1776. This is long after Hugh Sexey died and is therefore unlikely to be the reason that William Stanton included the DHEs on the crest above Sir Hugh’s bust. So, as yet, I cannot discover the history of the DHEs that appear all over Sir Hugh’s hospital and neither can I relate them to any other British family that uses this heraldic symbol. But none of this should mar your enjoyment of the charming town of Bruton.

May the 8th

SIXTY-NINE YEARS ago on the 8th of May 1952, a lecturer in economics at the London School of Economics was sitting anxiously in the ante-chamber of an operating theatre in the Royal Free Hospital, which was at that time in London’s Grays Inn Road. It is now part of the Eastman Dental Hospital, the post-graduate dental school of University College London, where I have attended courses.

The lecturer looked up from what he was trying to read to distract himself when the gloved surgeon came out of the operating theatre, and talking to himself, but loud enough to be heard, said:

“Shall I use the Simpsons or the Kiellands?”

He was referring to forceps used to deliver babies. My father, who thought that the question had been addressed to him, replied:

“I am sorry I can’t help you with that. I am only an economist.”

The surgeon gave him a withering look, and returned to the operating theatre, where the economist’s wife was lying, deeply anaesthetised. In the end, the surgeon decided to deliver the baby with a Caesarian section.

That baby was me. The economist was my father. That I am writing this today is at the very least a minor miracle, as I will explain.

Back in the early 1950s, one did not argue with medical practitioners; they always knew best. My mother had informed her physician when I had been conceived, but he did not believe what she had said. I can imagine the doctor thinking: “what would she know? Only a woman.” So, when my mother did not give birth when she expected, at about nine months after conception, the doctor told her to be patient as he thought she had another month to go

After I had been ‘in utero’ for ten months, my mother began getting worryingly ill. Eventually, those who claimed to know best admitted her to hospital and I was delivered. Both my mother and me had developed symptoms of toxaemia. It was touch and go as to whether we would both survive, but we did.

Because I had been inside the womb for a month longer than I should have, I was born with several problems. One of these was a cerebral haematoma, which I hope has resolved itself by now. Years later, my mother told the school that I should not play rugby for fear of disturbing this. The other thing was that my neck was bent over to one side; I had a torticollis. The medics told my mother that it was incurable and that she should get used to the idea that I would just have to live with the distortion.

If I am not misrepresenting my late mother, I am certain that she would not have been happy living with a distorted child. She was a sculptor and decided that the doctors were wrong about being certain that my neck condition was incurable. Every day, she stretched my neck gently and gradually it began to grow in the normal way. I am incredibly grateful that she did this.

Getting back to my first days on earth, I had to spend the first fortnight in an incubator. In those far-off days, visiting babies in incubators was limited if it was allowed at all. My mother was exhausted after the traumatic birth and, given that she would not have been able to see me much whilst I was in the incubator, she and my father took a holiday in Cornwall. I only learnt about this a few years ago, Had I known about it when I was younger, who knows but I might have had a rejection complex. My behaviour might be considered unusual at times, but I feel it would be unfair to blame that on my spell in the incubator in London while my parents relaxed in Cornwall.

Well, there you have it: the story of the first few days of my life. Of course, I cannot remember any of it, but what I have told you was related to me by people who were around at the time.

Gray’s Anatomy

ON OUR WAY FROM Hyde Park Corner to Lowndes Square (in London’s Belgravia), we wandered along a thoroughfare that was new to us, Kinnerton Street. This gently winding road is lined with mainly picturesque buildings and is punctuated by narrow cul-de-sacs, such as Capeners Close and Ann’s Close. At its southern end, the buildings along Kinnerton Street look newer than the others.

The street was originally built for dwellings of those who serviced the far grander buildings that line Wilton Crescent and Wilton Street on the Grosvenor Estate, that began to be built on in earnest during the 18th and early 19th centuries.  Kinnerton is the name of a village in Cheshire associated with the Grosvenor family who developed the Estate that includes large parts of Belgravia and Mayfair. Until well after the middle of the 19th century, the street, which was occupied by servants, shopkeepers, tradesmen, and animals, was rather a slum. In more recent years, the street, once the home of the poorer classes, has become gentrified.

Although we were unaware of it when we visited Kinnerton Street, it occupies an important place in the history of medicine. St George’s Hospital was founded in 1733 and later located in a building designed by the architect of London’s National Gallery, William Wilkins (1778-1839). It now houses the upmarket Lanesborough Hotel, which is a few yards from Kinnerton Street.

From the start of 19th century, medical education in England became more structured than before. Pupils at St George’s Hospital were:

“… required to learn anatomy at either Hunter’s, Lane’s, Carpue’s or Brookes’ schools of anatomy, which were private academies set up for this purpose.” (https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/4c9f3048-475c-3201-9c0b-8a593ec59dc6).

After a dispute between the surgeon and anatomist Samuel Armstrong Lane (1802-1892), who had graduated at St George’s and ran one of the anatomy schools (at 1, Grosvenor place; https://livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk/), and the authorities at St George’s Hospital, the latter decided to set up its own dedicated school of anatomy, whose activities it could control.  This led to the physiologist and surgeon Sir Benjamin Brodie (1783-1862) buying a house on Kinnerton Street.

Brodie leased the house to St George’s Hospital for use as an anatomy school. It housed an anatomy theatre, a lecture room, and a museum. Until Lane’s school closed in 1863, it was one of two rival anatomy schools serving the students of St George’s. Even though students were taught medicine at St Georges from its inception, a medical school was not formally established until 1834. It was housed in the house on Kinnerton Street and inaugurated in 1835. During the opening ceremony, an Ancient Egyptian mummy was dissected. The school remained in Kinnerton Street until it was moved nearer to Hyde Park Corner in 1868.

Where exactly was the school? Ruth Richardson wrote in her “The Making of Mr Gray’s Anatomy” (published in 2008):

“In addition to its unostentatious frontage on Kinnerton Street, the medical school seems to have had its own discreet rear entrance. Old maps show there to have been an access way bridging the Serpentine River at the back of the building, by which deliveries and collections could unobtrusively be made. It connected to Williams Mews which still joins William Street via an alley … Today, though, this way across the old river has disappeared, entirely blocked by a high wall … The Kinnerton Street Medical School was a large, austere, functional place. Renamed, it still stands, dark and private, enclosed within its own solid walls.”

Based on this information, I looked at a map surveyed in 1869 and found College Place, which was located between Kinnerton Street and the short William Street. It does not appear on current detailed maps. The northern end of William Mews lay close to College Place. A modern description of Kinnerton Street (https://issuu.com/chestertonhumberts/docs/low_res_grosvenor/66) includes the following:

“Studio Place, renamed in 1931, was built as College Place in 1844. It contains Bradbrook House, which until the 1890s, was a series of schools of anatomy.”

In case you were wondering, the Serpentine River, mentioned above, was another name for the now subterranean River Westbourne, a tributary of the Thames. From the eastern end of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, it flows south between William Street and William Mews.

All of this, interesting as it is, becomes more interesting to the general reader, who, even if not connected with medical science, will likely be aware of  the book, “Gray’s Anatomy”, whose title inspired that of a TV series. Written by Henry Gray (1827-1861), this famous textbook of anatomy, which is still used, was first published in 1858. The first edition was dedicated to Brodie, who established the anatomy school in Kinnerton Street. In 1842, Gray enrolled as a student at St George’s Hospital and it is highly likely that he honed his knowledge of anatomy at Kinnerton Street. By 1853, Gray had been appointed a lecturer of anatomy.

In a review of a book about Gray, Caroline Rance wrote that:

“Gray worked with Henry Vandyke Carter on ‘Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical’ for twenty months in 1855-7, dissecting cadavers at St George’s Dissecting Rooms in Kinnerton Street. Carter, struggling to finance his medical studies, was a talented artist who relied on commissions such as this to keep his own body and soul together.” (https://vulpeslibris.wordpress.com/2009/03/12/the-making-of-mr-grays-anatomy-bodies-books-fortune-fame-by-ruth-richardson/).

By walking down Kinnerton Street, as we did recently, maybe we were walking where once the famous anatomist, Henry Gray, used to enjoy a spot of fresh air after hours of dissecting corpses or whilst walking to his home on nearby Wilton Street.

Pond life

WE MADE THE MOST of the shortest day of the year, 21st December 2020, by leaving our house before sunrise, which was supposed to happen at 8.05 am but did not do so visibly because of the grey skies and incessant rain. We drove to South End Green (Hampstead) and parked just above the largest of the Hampstead Ponds (Pond number 1).

Despite the sheets of rain and the sombre sky, the houses across the pond were reflected in the water  where swans and other waterfowl were taking a swim. We splashed along a waterlogged path to the next pond, Pond number 2, which is also overlooked by a few houses, whose inhabitants have an enviable view over the water and the slopes of Hampstead Heath beyond. We stood on a wooden viewing platform and heard a ‘splosh’ near us. It was a cormorant taking a dive. It emerged a few moments later further out in the pond. Several other cormorants could just about be seen through the rain, resting on a tiny island in the pond.

The Hampstead Ponds, three in number, are fed by streams that rise near the Vale of Health, which is about 440 yards northwest of the uppermost pond (number 3), which flows into the second pond and then into the first. These streams, along with those that flow into the Highgate Ponds, are sources of the water that flows in the now subterranean River Fleet, which empties into the Thames under Blackfriars Bridge.  

The idea of damming the streams to make the ponds might have been conceived as early as 1589 (https://guildhallhistoricalassociation.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/the-history-of-the-hampstead-heath-ponds/) but it was only in 1692 that the  Hampstead Water Company  leased the springs that now feed the ponds. The latter, which were used as freshwater reservoirs, were created by damming the streams in the early 18th century. The pond at the Vale of Health was created later, in 1777. Water from these ponds/reservoirs was supplied to users in north London via wooden pipes created by boring holes in elm tree trunks. The Highgate Ponds, which also supply water to the Fleet, were also created by the Hampstead Water Company.

In 1856, the New River Company acquired Hampstead Pond number 1 and the Vale of Health pond, which were by that time becoming less savoury as far as water quality was concerned. Four years later, the Hampstead Junction Railway Company opened what is now Hampstead Heath Overground Station. This was just south of a fourth pond, which was filled in in 1892. In addition, there was another pond in South End Green where a disused 19th century drinking fountain now stands. The pond was filled in in 1835.

Enough of the distant past. Let me tell you how South End Green fits in with my life so far. My mother’s brother, Felix, lived at number 130 Fleet Road. He bought it at an extremely reasonable price because it had a ‘sitting tenant’. Eventually, after the tenant died, my uncle lived on one of the building’s three floors and rented the other two to a couple of Nigerians, who became his close friends. He regarded them as if they were his sons and they looked after Felix as if he was their beloved father.  For a long time, Felix occupied the top flat. He used to visit our flat for dinner regularly and we used to drive him home at the end of the evening. On one occasion, we arrived at his house, and after fumbling in his pockets, he announced that he had left his house keys locked in his home. We asked him what he was going to do. He answered in his South African accent:

“Ag, I do this often. All I need to do is ring my neighbour’s doorbell and they will let me onto their roof. Then, I cross over on to my roof. I keep a stick there so that I can break open my window and climb into my house. So, you don’t need to worry.”

Felix was always creative and inventive. When he grew older and infirm, he moved into the ground floor flat. He began using a stick when out walking. Once, when I was visiting him in a ward in the Royal Free Hospital, which is across the road from his former home, I was present when a physiotherapist visited him. She asked him whether he had a walking stick. He said:

“It’s lying beneath my bed.”

The physiotherapist looked at the stick, and said:

“Well, I have never seen one quite like this before.”

“Ag,” said Felix, “I took a bleddy broomstick and glued an umbrella handle on to it.”

Felix died a few months ago. We miss him greatly.

Sadly, South End Green was  associated with other personal losses. Both my mother, and then many years later, her sister, ended their lives in the Royal Free Hospital.

The rear of Felix’s home once overlooked the LCC Tramway Depot. This was surrounded by the terraced houses on Fleet, Constantine, Agincourt, and Cressy Roads. The entrance to the depot was from the latter. This depot opened for horse-drawn trams in about 1887 and then the system was electrified in 1909. In 1938, trolley buses replaced trams travelling to South End Green and these were replaced by motor buses in about 1960 (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp3-8). Currently the route 24 bus terminates at South End Green, a route which I used when I was younger.

I used the 24, which passed near University College London where I studied between 1970 and 1982, for two main reasons. One was to visit my uncle Felix and the other to visit some friends, who lived in Constantine Road and others who lived in South Hill Park, part of which was built over the pond that was covered over in 1892.

Today, my wife and I enjoyed our visit to South End Green despite the relentless rain. After buying vegetables at a lovely open-air stall close to the station, we paid a visit to the Matchbox Café next to the cobbled area where the route 24 buses rest before setting off. As we waited for the barrista to prepare our hot drinks, we chatted with him through the hatch through which he serves the take-away drinks and snacks. Mirko was delighted to discover that we had visited his hometown Ptuj in Slovenia, which was once a part of the former Yugoslavia. He told us many things about his native place including that a castle north of the town, Borl (Ankenstein in German), was associated with Parsifal, one of the Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table (more information: https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2018/01/an-arthurian-castle-in-slovenia.html). Incidentally, Mirko prepares good quality coffee and richly flavoured hot chocolate. His café is one of many reasons for visiting South End Green, even on a rainy December day.

Rule Britannia!

HAPPY CHRISTMAS !

NOW THAT THE GRAND FINALE of Brexit is nail-bitingly close, maybe our thoughts will turn to patriotism as it is hoped by many, but certainly not all, that Britannia will once again rule the waves, or, at least, the fish that surround our ‘sceptred isle’. Some hope, if you ask me!

James Thomson

Yesterday, the 16th of December 2020, we joined our friends on a walk from their home in Richmond to Kew Gardens. On the way, we walked along a quiet back street, Kew Foot Road, and passed a former, now disused, hospital, ‘The Royal Hospital’, which opened in 1868 (https://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/royalrichmond.html)  and closed recently. In its last reincarnation, it served as a psychiatric day hospital and a mental health resource centre. A plaque on one of its buildings facing Kew Foot Road commemorates that James Thomson (1700-1748) lived and died here. Observant readers will note that his residence in this location antedates the establishment of the former hospital. The hospital was opened as ‘The Richmond Infirmary’ in the pre-existing Rosedale House on Kew Foot Road. According to James Thorne in “Handbook to the Environs of London” published in 1876, this was the building in which Thomson lived.

Thorne wrote of Rosedale House:

“The present house is a large brick house of three floors, – a centre with a small portico reached by a flight of steps, and two irregular wings. The house Thomson occupied was a mere cottage of two rooms on the ground floor, which now, united by an arch, form a sort of entrance hall… It has since suffered many changes, and is by now (1876) the Richmond Infirmary. The garden has suffered as much as the house. Thomson was fond of his garden, added largely to it, and spent as much time in improving it as his indolent temperament allowed.”

Thomson’s cottage became incorporated into the building that served as the first part of what was to become the Royal Hospital.

One room was where Thomson died on the 22nd of August 1748. The other room was where he wrote  his last published poem, “The Castle of Indolence” (text available at : http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu/TextRecord.php?textsid=34286)  during the last year of his life. This poem, written in Spencerian stanzas, had a great influence on the poetry written by Byron, William Wordsworth, and John Keats.  This kind of stanza, employed by Edmund Spencer (1552-1599) in his poem  “Faerie Queen”, consists of nine lines, eight of which are iambic pentameters and the remaining an iambic hexameter, with the ABABBCBCC rhyming scheme (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spenserian_stanza).

Thomson was, as you might begin to realise, a poet. Born in Scotland, and educated at The College Edinburgh, he was planning to become a Presbyterian cleric. At Edinburgh, he joined the Grotesque Club, a literary group. He made friends with a fellow member, the Scottish poet and dramatist David Mallett (c1705-1765) and followed him to London in early 1725.  Thomson had a busy life in London, tutoring, teaching in a school, and writing.

In 1740, Thomson collaborated with Mallett on the masque “Alfred”, which was first performed that year at Cliveden, the country home of Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751), father of King George III. Five years later, the British composer Thomas Arne (1710-1778) modified their work to create an oratorio and then a few years later an opera. The finale of this work by Arne uses Thomson’s words in the now well-known patriotic song “Rule Britannia”.

Thomson wrote the words to “Rule Britannia” whilst living at Rosedale in Kew Foot Road. He moved to the area from his room above the Lancaster Coffee House at Lancaster Court in London’s Strand in 1836, but not immediately to Rosedale. It was in 1839 that he moved along the road to Rosedale (www.richmond.gov.uk/james_thomson).

In August 1748, Thomson took a boat trip from Hammersmith to Kew. During that excursion, he caught a chill. The great Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) describes Thomson’s this excursion in his “Lives of the English Poets” as follows (http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu/BiographyRecord.php?action=GET&bioid=33843):

“The last piece that he lived to publish was The Castle of Indolence, which was many years under his hand, but was at last finished with great accuracy. The first canto opens a scene of lazy luxury, that fills the imagination.

He was now at ease, but was not long to enjoy it; for, by taking cold on the water between London and Kew, he caught a disorder, which, with some careless exasperation, ended in a fever that put an end to his life.”

Thomson was buried in St Mary Magdalene, Richmond, near the font.

I had no idea when we set out for our walk that I would walk past the former home of the creator of the patriotic song, “Rule Britannia” on our way to Kew Gardens, which we entered via the Lion Gate and enjoyed greatly. Each time I visit these fine botanical gardens, my enjoyment of this place increases.