Swimming at the White House

MY PARENTS, ESPECIALLY my mother, were keen that I learned to swim. It took me a long time to learn this activity. For many years, I was taken to various indoor pools to take lessons with a variety of swimming teachers, some professional and others not. One of the latter was a young Asian lady, who gave me a few lessons in the pool at the White House. This was not the famous establishment in Washington DC but a 1930’s apartment block, now a hotel, near Great Portland Street Underground station in London.

The White House, London

The teacher, who had no success with getting me to swim, lived in the White House and was recommended to my parents by another resident, a family friend, whom we knew as ‘Sakki’. Like my parents, Sakki was born in South Africa and my father told me that his family and Sakki’s were either remotely related and/or in business together. Both Sakki and my father were on the academic staff of the London School of Economics (‘LSE’). Sakki was the anthropologist Professor Isaac Schapera (1905-2003). He had become an expert on the anthropology of indigenous people of Botswana and South Africa. Amongst his many published works was “The Khoisan Peoples of South Africa”, published back in 1930.

Apart from providing me with one of my many swimming instructors, Sakki took a great interest in my sister and me. He gifted me several books, amongst which was several books about the adventures of Hergé’s cartoon character Tintin. These were in French and were volumes that were at the time neither available for sale in the UK nor translated into English. When I graduated with my PhD in 1976, he presented me with a two-volume book about magic, myths, and science.

In the very early 1960s, Sakki joined us on a family driving holiday in France in our smallish Fiat 1100. My mother, who had been involved in a serious car accident in the 1930s, had installed seatbelts in our car, a rare thing for the time. Sakki had to travel in the rear seat with my sister and me. Sakki had his own seatbelt (lap design), and my sister and I were strapped together in the other belt, separated from each other by a pillow. It soon became obvious to my parents that Sakki was not enjoying being confined in the rear of the car with two young children. My parents solved the problem by stopping at regular intervals at roadside cafés so that Sakki could enjoy a glass of cognac. This seemed to help him tolerate the journey, about which I remember little else.

During my childhood, Sakki was a regular visitor to our family home. He used to amuse us kids with comical verses, only one of which I can remember. It sounded to my ears something like this: “Olke, bolke, reeby, solte. Olke, bolke, knor.” While writing this piece, I looked for this on the Internet, and now know that what he was telling us was the words of an Afrikaans song that goes:

“Olke bolke Riebeeck stolke, olke bolke knor…”

Well, now, many years since I last saw Sakki, I know that what he was telling us was not his invention, as I had always believed as a youngster.

Sakki underwent surgery on his vocal cords. This affected his speech badly and drove him to avoid socialising in his later years. However, he did visit our home on at least one occasion after his voice had been affected. I was a young teenager then and I can still remember that when he spoke, all that one could hear was a hoarse, rasping, whisper. After conversing with me for a few minutes, he said to me:

“You don’t have to whisper just because I am talking so softly.”

And then he added:

“I have noticed that everyone with whom I talk gradually lowers their voice to a whisper whilst they converse with me. It is strange how the loudness of my voice affects that of people who are talking with me.”

That people unconsciously adjust their voices to match that of their interlocutors made a great impression on my young mind, and I have never forgotten it.

I do not believe that I ever met Sakki again between 1976 and 2003, when he died. By then, the White House had almost completely changed from being an apartment block to becoming a hotel. Sakki lived there until he died and was one of the place’s last full-time residents from the time before it became a hotel with a few flats.

And, just in case you are wondering, I did learn to swim eventually, not at the White House but in the pool of the old YWCA near to Tottenham Court Road station.

Don’t be fooled by Jack the rip-off

I USED TO PARK our car in Kensington’s elegant Edwards Square when going to work at my dental surgery in West Kensington. From the square, either I walked to work, or I caught a number 28 bus. When I felt lazy, I used the bus. The nearest stop to Edwards Square is outside a row of three Iranian food shops and their neighbour, the Apadana Iranian restaurant, which is a pleasant place to enjoy Persian cuisine. While waiting for the bus, I used to stare idly at the Persian shops with their outdoor stalls where fruits, especially piles of pomegranates, are displayed.

Today, more than four years since I retired and even longer since I last stood at the bus stop, we visited the Iranian stores to buy a bunch of fresh tarragon. While my wife was making the purchase, once again I stared idly at the colourful shops, some of whose windows are filled with stacks of tins of Iranian caviar from the Caspian Sea. It was then I noticed something I am sure I have never seen before.

What I saw was a newish circular blue commemorative plaque on the wall between one of the shops and Apadana. The plaque reads as follows:

“Kensington & Chelsea. JACK THE RIPPER 1891-1899. Also known as Dr SSA Hasbro. Surgeon & Restauranteur LIVED HERE”

At first sight, this looks like one of many commemorative circular blue plaques, which can be found all over London. On closer examination, there are several things that are worrying. Rarely, if at all, do these blue plaques in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea bear the words “Kensington & Chelsea”. Often, they bear the words “English Heritage” or “Greater London Council” (or one of its predecessors: GLC or LCC).  Another problem is the dates given. Do they refer to the period that Dr SSA Hasbro lived in this spot, or what? The next problem is that the true identity of Jack the Ripper has never been determined. As for Dr SSA Hasbro, all references to this name on Google direct one to the plaque under discussion, including an article by Lucy Elliott.

Ms Elliott wrote an article about blue plaques in “The Kensington Magazine” (September 2020 issue). With regard to the plaque for Dr SSA Hasbro above the Iranian establishments in High Street Kensington, she wrote:

“It is not known when this suddenly appeared but certainly gives visitors to the area, pause for thought (and quite enough consternation for the residents too). Definitely a fake.”

She is most probably right.

It is a little bit worrying is that the so-called Jack the Ripper, who is commemorated on this misleading sign, is said to have been a restauranteur and the plaque is almost directly above the Apadana restaurant.

A benevolent dentist

BEING A RETIRED dentist, I could not resist viewing a special exhibition held at the Museum of Freemasonry in Freemasons Hall in London’s Queen Street near Covent Garden. As a curious Londoner, visiting an exhibition in this imposing building had an additional attraction: a chance to see inside an edifice I have walked past many times, always wondering about it without ever entering it. I was alerted to the special exhibition by a message from a friend in Bombay, who keeps a close eye on current cultural events both in Bombay and London. She thought that this show would interest me because it is about the activities of a dentist, Bartolomeo (also known as ‘Bartholomew’) Ruspini (1728-1813).

Born near Bergamo in northern Italy, son of a minor member of the aristocracy, Ruspini was recognised as a surgeon by The College of Physical Sciences in Bergamo in 1758. He decided to specialise in dentistry and to further his skills, he travelled to Paris, which was then recognised for its training in this field. In those days, dentistry was not a recognised profession as it is nowadays. Most people who had dental problems, sought the assistance of hairdressers, blacksmiths, and others without any professional training. To distinguish himself from these untrained people, he called himself a ‘surgeon dentist’(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartholomew_Ruspini). Today, the people, whom you might call ‘dentists’ are in fact ‘dental surgeons’.  I was qualified to practise dentistry, and one of my dental degrees was ‘Batchelor in Dental Surgery’.

Ruspini arrived in England by May 1752. He married his first wife, Elizabeth Stiles, in 1757, five years before he was accepted as a member of The Burning Bush Lodge of the Freemasons in Bristol. Later, Ruspini went on to establish several new Freemasons lodges (https://rmsghistoryextra.wordpress.com/tag/elizabeth-orde/).  By 1766, he was practising in London under the patronage of the mother of King George III. He had already treated royalty, so great was his reputation as a healer of dental problems.  His acceptance into high society was no doubt facilitated by his renunciation of Roman Catholicism and his second marriage, in 1767, by which time his first wife had died, to Elizabeth Orde. The couple were to produce nine children, five of whom survived infancy. Two of his sons became surgeon dentists.

In an England, which was then not particularly friendly to foreigners, Ruspini was accepted well because of his good nature, excellent clinical skills, and great ability to get on well with people and to ‘network’ in high society. He was highly regarded as a Freemason. His skills on the dance floor, delight in display, and flamboyant character made him a wonderful masonic master of ceremonies. In keeping with the ideals of Freemasonry, Ruspini exhibited much benevolence: hospitality, generosity, kindness, and charity. An example of the latter was his important involvement in the founding of the Royal Masonic School for Girls (in 1788).

Ruspini had his main residence at 32 Pall Mall in London, but also visited Bath frequently. He was famed for his patented styptic, a substance that stemmed haemorrhage. He also created a dentifrice as well as an elixir for easing toothache.

In 1768, Ruspini published the first edition of his “Treatise on Teeth”. I found a copy of its eighth edition whilst searching online. The book is well-written and easy to read and, in many places, not too out of date. It would do first-year dental students no harm to read this informative book, well at least as far as the sections on “The Disorders of the Teeth”.  This section has become somewhat dated, but not altogether so. For example, the author advises that disorders might arise from:

“… any particles of food that stick between the teeth and putrify … the excessive use of smoking and chewing tobacco … sugar, when used immoderately, is another enemy of the Teeth … All mineral exhalations are also very pernicious, as we see by daily experience in all those persons who work in any of the quicksilver, lead, or copper mines etc…”

Of the causes of caries (tooth decay), Ruspini gives several, but does not mention sugar in connection with this common problem, despite what he wrote in the quote above. However, he did consider that sugar was important in another disorder:

“Children who eat too much sugar, or sweetmeats, generally have their gums corroded; confectioners and chemists are subject to this disorder …”

Although much can be criticised as being out of date in his book, Ruspini did a wonderful job of describing concisely and clearly what was known about dental anatomy and pathology in his time. Part of the book is dedicated to clinical case studies. One of these concerned:

“…Captain Nelson, of the Royal Navy, whom I accidentally met at Portsmouth…”

Ruspini cured him of a painful fleshy growth in his mouth, which other surgeons had wrongly diagnosed as syphilitic.

The book ends with adverts promoting Ruspini’s styptic balsam, elixir, and dentifrice powder. A copy of this book and another about his styptic are on display at the special exhibition in the beautiful library at Freemasons Hall. Other exhibits included documents, drawings, cartoons, and a few other objects. For me the great thing about the exhibition was not its contents but introducing to me a truly remarkable member of my profession.

Members of the public visiting Freemasons Hall in Queen Street are encouraged to see the magnificent collection of items and documents relating to freemasonry before seeing the exhibition dedicated to Ruspini. The museum contains a rich variety of exhibits, many of them displaying the Freemasons’ passion for the use of symbols, and most of them objects of great beauty. Not knowing anything about Freemasonry, this first visit to the museum was for me more a dazzling visual experience than a learning opportunity. On a subsequent visit, I hope to spend much more time examining the artefacts and their informative labels.

The Freemasons Hall is a ‘larger-than-life’, exuberant work of architecture and construction. It is the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England as well as the Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Masons of England. The present building was designed by the architects Henry Victor Ashley (1872-1945) and Francis Winton Newman (1878-1953). It was built between 1927 and 1933 to commemorate the 3,225 Freemasons who died whilst on active service in WW1. Some say that the building is art-deco in style. This is the case, but there are also many elements in the design suggestive of a modern version of neo-classicism.

I am grateful to my friend in Bombay for introducing me to Ruspini and by doing so, giving me a reason to visit the remarkable London headquarters of the Freemasons.

Soho and a straight horizon

WALKING ALONG CHARING CROSS ROAD in central London recently, a memory of my childhood sprung into mind. When I was about eight years old, I was told off by my art teacher at school because the horizon on my painting was not straight enough for her. She told me that I should have used a ruler. When I related this incident to my mother, she was quite annoyed because, in her opinion, it did not matter whether a horizon was drawn ruler straight or not. I hoped that she would not complain to the school about her feelings about the ineptitude of the art teacher. I do not recall that she bothered to do so.

My mother was an artist, whose works became increasingly abstract as she grew older. Before WW2, she trained to become a commercial artist at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town (South Africa). Her earliest works, which I have never seen, were hand-painted posters, advertisements for the latest films (movies). In 1948, she followed my father from Cape Town to London, where he had taken up an academic post at the London School of Economics. They married in 1948 and, according to my father, Mom took painting classes with the now famous Stanley Spencer (1891-1959). Interestingly, I never heard my mother mentioning these classes.

Stone sculpture by Adam Yamey’s mother

I was born in 1952, and it was around then that my mother began creating sculpture. One of her earliest sculptures was in terracotta and its subject matter was a mother, seated, holding a child, maybe me. During the late 1950s and early part of the 1960s, my mother worked in the sculpture workshops at St Martin’s School of Art, which was then located on Charing Cross Road. The Sculpture Department was then under the directorship of Frank Martin (1914-2004), whom my mother referred to as ‘Mr Martin’ when talking to us at home.  It was there that she worked alongside sculptors, who have since become quite famous. These included Menashe Kadishman (1932-2015), Buky Schwarz (1932-2009), Philip King (1934-2021), and Antony Caro (1924-2013). The latter two helped her learn how to weld and create sculptures in metal, a medium she preferred. It was probably at St Martins that my mother met the sculptor Elizabeth Frink (1930-1993), who also taught in the Sculpture Department. She and Mom became close friends. ‘Liz Frink’, as she was known in our family, was a regular visitor to our home in northwest London.

My mother used to work at St Martins several days a week. She used to do a lot of the family’s food shopping nearby in Soho’s Old Compton Street. Vegetables were bought from a French greengrocer, and meat from a Belgian butcher called Benoit Bulcke. This butcher, according to Mom, knew how to cut meat correctly, unlike most English butchers. As a young child, I accepted that this was the case if Mom said so. The butcher and the greengrocer no longer exist. However, three other stores she frequented are still in business: The Algerian Coffee Store; Camisa; and Lina Stores. My mother was an early disciple of the cookery writer, Elizabeth David (1913-1922), and her encouragement of the preparation of French and Mediterranean dishes. The proximity of St Martins to Old Compton Street was convenient for my mother, as the shops along it provided many ingredients, which were hard to find elsewhere in London in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Riding high above London

DOLLIS BROOK IS one of the two main tributaries of the River Brent, which in turn is a tributary of the River Thames, which it enters at Brentford. Dollis Brook rises near the A1 dual-carriageway at Mote End Farm and then flows southwards towards Brent Park, where it is joined by another stream, Mutton Brook. Both brooks are lined with pleasant green spaces containing footpaths that follow the streams. Thus, they are lovely green corridors providing much-needed rustic relief from the relentless built-up suburbia through which the streams flow.

Nether Street is road running west and downhill from Finchley Central Underground Station. After reaching a small roundabout, it continues as Dollis Road. The latter descends ever more steeply until it runs under a tall brick arch, part of the Dollis Brook Viaduct (also known as ‘The Mill Hill Viaduct’). The road runs beside a stretch of Dollis Brook, which at that location is only a few feet in width – rather a miserable little stream. However, the viaduct with its 13 arches, each with spans of 32 feet, traverses a veritable steep sided gorge, maybe created over time by the waters flowing in the humble Dollis Brook, or, more likely, by glacial drift (“Nature”, 9th of November 1871: http://www.nature.com/articles/005027c0.pdf). This amazing viaduct, a masterpiece of brickwork, carries Underground trains on a spur of the Northern Line running between Finchley Central and Mill Hill East stations.

Designed by John Fowler (1817-1898) and Walter Marr Brydone, who was Engineer-in-Chief for the Great Northern Railway (‘GNR’) from 1855-1861, the viaduct was constructed between 1863 and 1867, when the first train ran across it. The line that now carries Northern Line trains over the viaduct was originally built by the GNR, as was the viaduct. As trains traverse the viaduct, they are at one point 60 feet above the ground. This point must be close to where both Dollis Road and Dollis Brook pass beneath the arches,

We have often driven beneath the viaduct, but it was only in August 2021 that we decided to park near it and examine it as closely as we could. We had recently visited the impressive granite railway viaduct near Luxulyan in deepest Cornwall and been amazed by its grandeur. We had not expected to find a bridge in north London that is almost as awe-inspiring.  As I gazed upwards at its tall arches, I admired the Victorian bricklayers, who must have had to work at ever-increasingly dizzying heights as they constructed it. The viaduct is certainly a sight worth seeing, and whilst you are in the area, much pleasure can be gained by taking a stroll along the paths that run close to Dollis Brook.

Mediaeval in a modern metropolis

A SHORT REMNANT OF the old Roman city wall, which used to surround London, runs just south of the church of St Giles Cripplegate, which itself is on the southern edge of the Barbican complex. The garden of Salter’s Hall lies where once a moat ran along the outer side of the wall. And on the other side of the wall, between it and the wide road called London Wall (the A1211), there are the remains of a mediaeval structure, which look as if they might have been the lower part of a gothic tower. These ruins can be examined close-up or a few feet away, seated at a table under the awnings of Barbie Green, an Australian-style, contemporary eatery, which serves good coffee. The restaurant is relatively new, but the ruins have been there far, far longer. Oddly, although we have passed this area often, it was only yesterday, 16th of August 2021, that we first noticed them.

A notice next to the ruins explains that they are all that remains of the tower of St Elsyng Spital, which was also known as ‘The Hospital of St Mary within Cripplegate’ (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/london/vol1/pp535-537). This hospital was founded in 1330 by the merchant, a mercer, William Elsyng as a college for priests and to provide shelter and other assistance to London’s homeless blind people (https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.538317). A victim of the Black Death, he died in 1349.  Following his instructions, after his death it became an Augustinian priory, which survived until it was dissolved in 1536 during the reign of King Henry VIII. After its dissolution, the parishioners of the nearby St Alphage Church, which had become derelict, purchased the church of Elsyng’s establishment. According to the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, the 14th century tower, whose remains we saw, was incorporated into the structure of St Alphage. St Alphage was demolished at the end of the 16th century and its parishioners used what was left of Elsyng’s priory church, which was eventually replaced by a newly built church on a different site in 1777 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Alphege_London_Wall).

The well-maintained ruins consist of several tall gothic arches connected to each other by walls made of roughly hewn stones and mortar. Most of the arches are arranged around what was once the base of a tower. This mediaeval site is surrounded by modern buildings, lies beneath a sinuous elevated oxidised metal walkway. It is sandwiched between the fragment of London’s Roman Wall and the busy London Wall dual carriageway. Part of the joy of stumbling across this relic of pre-Reformation architecture is that unlike so many others we have seen on our travels, it is in the heart of a modern metropolis rather than a rustic environment.  

Small though it is in comparison with its modern surroundings, finding this reminder of London’s distant past, founded long ago by a philanthropic merchant, was a delightful surprise. Even today, so many centuries later, philanthropy thrives in the heart of the old City of London in the form of the descendants of the guilds, of which The Salters, whose hall I mentioned above, is just one example of many.

PS: The nearest Underground station is Moorgate

A lost landmark and a treasured map

EVER SINCE I CAN REMEMBER, I have been fascinated by maps and collected them. I cannot say exactly why I enjoy them, but one reason is that I get satisfaction from aesthetic aspects of cartography. Another reason is that when I look at them, I try to imagine the reality that they represent, a form of virtual travelling. Whatever the underlying cause(s) of my fascination with maps might be, it is irrelevant to what follows because what I want to tell you is about a shop that I used to love to visit. It was Stanford in London’s Long Acre, a street not far from the old Covent Garden Market and Leicester Square.

Founded by Edward Stanford (1827-1904) in the early 1850s, his business was one of the best specialist suppliers of maps in the UK, if not the very best.  His company’s store on Long Acre opened in 1901, having moved there from Charing Cross. When I used to visit the shop to browse the lovely maps on display in the 1960s, there were two floors open to the public. The ground floor was the main showroom with maps of popular destinations that appealed to the majority of customers. The basement was less attractively arranged but far more interesting to serious travellers and map collectors such as me. There were no maps out on display down there. One had to ask a salesman to show you maps of areas that interested you. I believe it was there that I bought a nautical chart of the extremely remote French island of Kerguelen in the southern part of the Indian Ocean, a place that I had no intention of ever visiting.

In about 1966, my interest in Albania was born. I have tried to explain why this happened in my book “Albania on My Mind”, which I published in 2013, 101 years after Albania gained its independence.   In those days, not much was known in the UK about this small country in the western Balkans. Maps of Albania were not available in most shops, probably because few people visited the place, or were even remotely interested in it. So, I took the Underground from my local station, Golders Green, to Leicester Square. Stanford was a few yards from that station. At Stanford, I enquired about detailed maps of Albania, and was sent to the specialist map department in the basement.

The only detailed map of Albania available at Stanford was a 1:200,000 scale map with the information that it was made:

“Auf Grund der Oesterreichischer-Ungarische Kriegsaufnahmen und der im Auftrage der Albanische Regierung Von Dr Herbert Louis gemachten aufnahmen sowie mit Benützung italienischer und franzoesischer Karten” (i.e., ‘On the basis of the Austrian-Hungarian war recordings and the recordings made by Dr Herbert Louis on behalf of the Albanian government, as well as with the use of Italian and French maps’)

The map, which comes as two sheets, was up to date in 1925. A small map alongside the main map shows which parts of the large map were surveyed by whom and when.        Between 1916 and 1918, the surveyors were the armies of Austria-Hungary, France, and Italy. Some information collected by Baron Nopcsa between 1905 and 1909 is included in the map, as well as data collected by Dr H Louis between 1923 and 1924.

Baron Nopcsa was the Hungarian aristocrat and politician Franz Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás (1877-1933; see: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/history-forgot-rogue-aristocrat-discovered-dinosaurs-died-penniless-180959504/), a founder of paleobiology and a specialist on Albanian studies. This one-time candidate for the throne of Albania created the first geological map of northern Albania. The German Dr Herbert Louis (1900-1985), whose name is prominent on the map, was no stranger to Albania. In 1923, he accompanied the Austrian geologist Ernst Nowack (1891-1946) during his research in the country, and in 1925, he was awarded a doctorate for his studies concerning Albania.

The map looked beautiful, I fell in love with it, and I knew I had to obtain a copy of it, but it was priced at 23/- (23 shillings: £1.15) for the set. That might not sound excessive today in 2021, barely the price of a small bar of chocolate or a cup of tea (in a scruffy café). But in about 1966, it was a huge sum of money for me, many times more than my weekly pocket money. I left Stanford, determined to save up for it and hoping that in the meantime the shop would not run out of copies of it. Eventually, I was able to purchase a set of these maps.

Delicately drawn, covered with contour lines, shaded representations of rocks and mountains, a variety of colours, the map shows how few roads there were in Albania in the 1920s. The tiny black dots, which represented buildings or small groups of them are often shown to be connected by tracks or footpaths, but many of them are a long way from any line of communication marked by the map makers. Most of the names on the map are in Albanian, but a few are also in Italian (e.g., Durazzo [Durres], Valona [Vlora], San Giovanni di Medua [Shengjin], and Santi Quaranta [Saranda]). Some words on the map are also in German.

I treasure this set of maps I bought at Stanford so many years ago and my memory of first being shown them in the basement of the shop. Yesterday, on the 15th of August 2021, first day of the 75th year of India’s independence, we walked along Long Acre, and discovered that although its name on the building is still there, the map shop is not. I had not realised that in 2019 this repository of records of landmarks and one of my favourite childhood haunts had moved from Long Acre to nearby Mercer Walk near The Seven Dials.

Poetry on a wall

Yesterday, Sunday the 15th of August 2021, we noticed an attractive wall painting not far from the large Liberty shop on Great Marlborough Street. It is the Soho Mural in Noel Street, the eastern continuation of Great Marlborough Street. With the title “Ode to the West Wind”, it was created in 1989 by Louise Vines and The London wall Mural Group, whose telephone number (on the circular blue patch) was then 01 737 4948 (now, the number would begin with 0207 instead of 01).

More information about this mural and its quote from the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley can be found at http://londonmuralpreservationsociety.com/…/ode-west-wind/

Poetry and a Chinese supermarket

GERRARD STREET IS THE HEART of London’s Chinatown. We often visit it to eat delicious dim-sum and other dishes at our favourite restaurant, The Golden Dragon, which has both indoor and covered outdoor dining spaces. One of our favourite dishes, which was introduced to us many years ago by my sister, is steamed tripe with chilli and ginger. It might sound off-putting, but, believe me, it tastes wonderful. Our visits to Gerrard Street always include a visit to Loon Fung, a Chinese supermarket. This well-stocked establishment bears a commemorative plaque that I only noticed for the first time today (12th August 2021). Partially hidden by a string of Chinese lanterns, it informs the passerby that the poet John Dryden (1631-1700) lived on the spot where we purchase pak-choi, chilli sauce, black bean paste, and a host of other ingredients for preparing Chinese-style dishes at home. I suspect that Dryden was unlikely to have ever come across any of these exotic ingredients back in the 17th century.

According to the English Heritage website (https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/…/blue…/john-dryden/):

“Dryden lived at 44 Gerrard Street with his wife Elizabeth (c. 1638–1714) from about 1687 until his death in 1700. His years there were difficult: his conversion to Catholicism in about 1685 meant that he was unable to take the oath of allegiance after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. As a result he lost his position as Poet Laureate, one he had held for 20 years. He found himself in financial difficulties but remained highly active in London’s literary world.Dryden usually worked in the front ground-floor room of the house, and it was here that he completed his last play, Love Triumphant (1694), the poem Alexander’s Feast, or, The Power of Musique (1697) and translations such as The Works of Virgil (1697). In the preface to the latter, Dryden likened himself to Virgil in his ‘Declining Years, struggling with Wants, oppress’d with Sickness’…

… Number 44 was built in about 1681 and re-fronted in 1793, before being redeveloped in about 1901. At the same time number 43 was demolished, a deed described in the press as ‘a hideous and wonton act of vandalism’ …

… The plaque, though damaged, was immediately re-erected on the new structure. It is unique among surviving Society of Arts plaques in its colour – white, with blue lettering.”

Well, I can add nothing to that informative quote. So, ext time you wander along Gerrard Street do look for this and other reminders of the area’s history. It was a place where several other well-known writers and artists resided several centuries ago.

A conspiracy at the crossroads

DUNCHURCH IN WARWICKSHIRE is located where the old road between Oxford and Leicester crosses that between London and Holyhead. This charming village was a place where, in its heyday, up to forty carriages a day stopped to change their horses for a fresh team. This was done at the various coaching inns in the village. One of these hostelries, which is still in business today, is The Dun Cow, where we ate a good English breakfast. Some of this inn’s previous guests included the engineer George Stephenson (1781-1848) and his son, another engineer, Robert (1803-1859), who dined at the hotel on the 23rd of December 1837. Their dinner was to celebrate the completion of the Kilsby Tunnel on the Birmingham to London Railway, a project supervised by Robert.

While we were wandering around the graveyard of Dunchurch’s St Peters Church, which dates back to the 12th century, we asked a gardener working there about where one of Dunchurch’s former famous characters had once stayed. He told us that he had no idea. Half-jokingly but with some earnestness, he added: “…we could do with another one like him.”

Guy Fawkes House in Dunchurch

The man about whom we were asking had associates, who were staying at the village’s former inn, The Lion Inn, in the early 17th century, the year 1605 to be exact. It was in early November of that year that those waiting at The Lion in Dunchurch were wondering about their colleague who was 79 miles away in London.

The fellows at The Lion were waiting to hear whether their co-conspirator Guy (Guido) Fawkes (1570-1606) had been successful in blowing up the House of Lords in London. He was not, and the conspirators waiting in Dunchurch were arrested. Had the plot to blow up Parliament and along with it the Protestant King James I succeeded, the men at The Lion were to have travelled to nearby Combe Abbey to seize Princess Elizabeth (1596-1662), who became Queen of Bohemia. As an informative website (www.ourwarwickshire.org.uk/content/article/rugby-school-science-teaching-around-1900-2) explains:

“In 1605 the monarch was James I; the Princess Elizabeth was his eldest daughter and sister to the future Charles I. In 1605 she was nine and being educated by Lord Harington at Coombe Abbey. She wasn’t a Catholic, but the conspirators planned to convert her and use her as their figurehead … Her main importance with regard to British history is that one of her grandsons (the son of her youngest daughter Sophia of Hanover) became King George I.”

The man about whom we were chatting with the gardener was neither of the Stephensons, who dined at The Dun Cow, nor the Duke of Wellington, who also stayed in the village, nor Lord John Douglas-Montagu-Scott (1809 – 1860), whose statue stands facing The Dun Cow. He was referring to Guy Fawkes, but this time a Guy Fawkes who completes the job before being arrested!

The former inn, a lovely half-timbered edifice is now a private house, named ‘Guy Fawkes House’, even though the famous man never lived there. The rest of the village contains several old thatched cottages, a thatched bus shelter, and the old village stocks. Close to the town of Rugby, this village is well worth a visit.