Let there be light

KENSINGTON COURT IS between the Whole Foods department store and Curry’s electrical store, both on High Street Kensington. The doorway to a brick building with white stone masonry trimmings is beneath a carved stone notice that reads “Electric Lighting Station”.

This was an outhouse converted in 1888 to an electricity generating station by a local resident, an electrical engineer Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton (1845-1940). According to the RBKC website (rbkc.gov.uk):

A dynamo transmitted direct current on bare copper mains through subways to the houses to charge batteries or accumulators. This quickly expanded to become the Kensington and Knightsbridge Lighting Company, housed in a basement below street level and continuing as a substation until 1985. It has since been converted into private premises and the exterior restored. This quickly expanded to become the Kensington and Knightsbridge Lighting Company, housed in a basement below street level and continuing as a substation until 1985. It has since been converted into private premises and the exterior restored.

The original generating equipment was designed and installed by Crompton. Now no longer in use to produce electricity, it is an example of one of the earliest surviving generating stations in the UK.

An oddly named house overlooking the River Thames

WALKING BY THE THAMES along Chiswick Mall is always enjoyable whatever the weather. The landward side of the street is lined by houses, many of them well over 100 years old. One of them is called Said House. At first, I imagined that the ‘Said’ referred to someone or something in the Arab world, but it seems that this is not the case.

Said House on Chiswick Mall

The façade of Said House is dominated by an overly large bay window with a vast single pane of curved glass. The building’s earliest structures date back to the 18th century, but much has been done since to distort its appearance. Pevsner said that the building was Victorian, but “georgianised” in about 1935 by Darcy Braddell (or by Albert Randall Wells [1877–1942]). One of its early inhabitants was an artist, Katherine Parsons. The actor and theatre manager Sir Nigel Playfair (1874-1935) was also one of its inhabitants. It was for him that the modifications, including the western wing with its bay window, were made.

The origin of the house’s name is uncertain, but one source suggests that it is so-called because its title deeds refer to “the said house”. This is the only explanation of the name that I can find having searched the Internet thoroughly.

There is a terracotta urn in an alcove high above the bow window. A passer-by with a strong Irish accent despite having lived in Chiswick for 65 years told me that this was something to do with Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795). This might possibly be the case, but I cannot be certain about it. Wedgwood’s associate Thomas Bentley (1731-1780) did live in Chiswick. According to Lloyd Sanders in his “Old Kew, Chiswick and Kensington” (published 1910):

Bentley was in failing health when, in 1777, he took up his residence at Chiswick, possibly to be near his friend, and three years afterwards he died. He was buried in Chiswick church, where Wedgwood raised a monument to his memory with a medallion portrait by Scheemakers.”

I have not yet discovered precise location of Bentley’s house. But that should not stop you from taking a stroll along Chiswick’s lovely Mall and enjoying the glorious display of flowers in bloom especially during spring and early summer.

Diversity traffic signals at Trafalgar Square

The pedestrian crossing signals in London’s Trafalgar Square are fitted with a variety of different green lights, such as can be seen in the two examples in the photograph. I have not seen these sorts of green signals anywhere else in London. They are a part of a project to promote ‘diversity’ in London.

For more detail, see: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/diversity-pedestrian-traffic-signals#:~:text=Around%2050%20pedestrian%20traffic%20signals,new%20’holding%20hands’%20design)

A remarkable woman from Hong Kong

SERAMPORE NEAR CALCUTTA was a Danish colony, or at least under Danish administration, between 1755 and 1845. It was then known as ‘Frederiknagore’. When we visited the place briefly in 2019, we were struck by the similarity of the type of design of its Church of St Olave (built 1806) and that of the far better-known St Martin-in-the-Fields (built 1721-26) on the east side of London’s Trafalgar Square. Although there are similarities between the two churches, there are also many differences. One of them is that the interior of St Olave’s is far plainer that that of St Martin’s. Even though many thousands of miles apart, there is a tiny aspect of Asia in the church on Trafalgar Square.

In the southwest corner of St Martin’s, I spotted a memorial, which aroused my curiosity. It is a simple green cloth-covered square notice board surrounded by a wooden frame in which various things are carved. These include the words “Requests for prayer”; carved plant motifs; Chinese pictograms; and the words “Praise God for his servant Florence Li Tim-Oi DD. 1907-1992. The first woman ordained in the Anglican Communion 25 January 1944”. There were several notices and a couple of plastic drinking cups pinned on the board.

Florence was born in Aberdeen, Hong Kong during a time that most Chinese parents favoured male children. However, her parents were unusual in that they challenged the then current prejudice against girls. As a student, she joined the Anglican church, probably after hearing a preacher (in Hong Kong) asking for women to dedicate their lives to working for the Christian ministry. At her baptism, she chose her English name, Florence, to honour the late Florence Nightingale. After studying at the Canton Theological College, she was eventually, in 1941, ordained as a deaconess. At that time, she was sent to the then Portuguese colony of Macau to help refugees fleeing there from war-torn China.

When the Japanese occupied Hong Kong, it became impossible for ordained Anglican priests to reach Macau. Although she was not yet ordained, Florence had to perform all the functions normally carried out by an ordained priest. In January 1944, she met Hong Kong’s Bishop Raymond Hall in an unoccupied part of China. There, the bishop, realising that there was no Anglican priest in Macau and that Florence had the ‘gift of priestly ministry’, ordained her as an Anglican priest. In so doing, on the 25th of January 1944, Florence made history by becoming the first woman to be ordained as an Anglican priest. This was 30 years before the ordination of women was permitted by the Anglican Church in the rest of the world. So, her ordination was frowned upon by some leaders of the Anglican Church.

After WW2 was over, Florence lived and ministered in China. In Maoist China, churches were closed (from 1958 to 1974), and during the so-called Cultural Revolution, Florence led a miserable life, as did many other Chinese people. She was sent to a farm to work with chickens and her home was raided several times. After a long time, she was allowed to retire from the farm and was given permission to leave China. In 1983, she was taken to Canada, where she assisted in the religious activities of a church in Toronto. By then, the Anglican Church in Canada had approved of the ordination of women. On the 40th anniversary of her ordination in China, she was reinstated as a priest. In later life, Florence served at the Anglican Cathedral in Toronto, where she lived the rest of her life.

I do not know when the memorial noticeboard commemorating Florence was installed in St Martin-in-the-Fields. However, on the 25th of January 2014, a service was held in the church to mark the 70th anniversary of her ordination as the first female Anglican priest. I am pleased that I spotted the somewhat unobtrusive notice board because if I had missed seeing it, I might never have known about this remarkable woman of faith.

Crypto … coffee

ST MARTINS IN THE FIELDS church is a prominent landmark located on the east side of London’s Trafalgar Square. This 18th century church, which first opened in 1724 and was designed by James Gibbs (1682-1754), hosts many concerts, mostly of classical music.

There is a large crypt beneath the church. Its vaulted brickwork ceilings are supported by sturdy masonry pillars. There are many gravestones flush with the floor. The floor is covered with tables and chairs, which are used by the many customers of the café which uses the crypt as its home. It is a pleasant place to while away the time of day.

The café serves food and drink. The coffee served there is slightly below average in quality and is priced a just little bit higher than average for London. Regardless of price or quality, the crypt provides a pleasant ambience to meet friends or simply to relax peacefully.

A house where music has been played for many centuries

Burgh House, Hampstead, London

Burgh House stands high above the southwest end of Well Walk in north London’s historic village of Hampstead. Here is a little bit about it, an extract from my new book about Hampstead:

“… Burgh House is entered from a steep side street called New End Square. The house, built in 1704, is close to the Hampstead Well Spa (see below). According to Bohm and Norrie, the House is named after its 10th owner, The Reverend Allatson Burgh (1769-1856), who was the vicar of St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London. Burgh, who was keener on music than looking after his parishioners, neglected both them and his house. Thomas Barratt wrote:

“Mr. Burgh was a rector in the city, and the composer of a work on church music, published by Longmans. Burgh House is depicted on five pieces of the Wedgwood service, made in 1774, for Catherine II., Empress of Russia.”

Between 1858 and 1884, Burgh House became the headquarters of the Royal East Middlesex Militia. After having been put to a variety of uses, the house became used as a cultural centre in 1979. It now contains a small art gallery, a café, a shop, and a Hampstead Museum. The Reverend Burgh would have been pleased to know that today his former home also hosts many fine concerts of classical music.

From the bottom of the garden of Burgh House, the ‘Wells Tavern’ pub can be seen dominating the view along the gently inclined Well Walk. Known as ‘The Green Man’ until 1850, when it was rebuilt and renamed the ‘Wells Tavern’, a pub has stood on his spot since at least 1762. The pub’s name reflects one of the reasons that Hampstead became popular in the 17th century.  Apart from enjoying clean air, people were attracted to the mineral water springs issuing chalybeate (iron-rich) water that were beginning to be exploited in Hampstead at that time…”

My book is called

“BENEATH A WIDE SKY: HAMPSTEAD AND ITS ENVIRONS”

YOU CAN BUY the paperback or ebook (Kindle) from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

From his garden to his grave

IT IS PLEASANT to stroll beside the Thames along Chiswick Mall. Occasionally, we take a look at the graveyard of Chiswick’s St Nicholas Church. On a recent visit to this place, we walked deeper into it than usual and spotted a grave marked by a remarkable sculpture.

The idyllic, romantic, leafy churchyard by the river is chock full of graves. Several of them caught my attention. One is that for the artist William Hogarth, who lived close-by. His monument is protected by a cast-iron fence. An urn on a plinth decorated with an artist’s palette and brushes. It was erected after the death of his sister in 1781 (who is also commemorated on this monument) and was restored by a William Hogarth of Aberdeen in 1856. Another painter, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740-1812), who was born in Strasbourg, is buried with his wife Lucy de Loutherborg (née Paget). Like Hogarth’s, their decaying monument on the north side of the cemetery is surrounded by cast iron railings. In 1789, Philippe gave up painting temporarily to develop his interest in alchemy and the supernatural. Later, he and his wife took up faith-healing. The remains of yet another painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), lie in the cemetery.

Private Frederick Hitch (1856-1913) is less famous than these artists. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his brave actions during the Battle of Rorke’s Drift (January 1879) in the Anglo-Zulu War fought in South Africa. He is also buried in this large cemetery.

Amongst the more recent graves is the one with the unusual sculpture. It is that of Baronet Percy Harris (1876-1952), who was a Liberal politician. Son of a Polish immigrant, he was born in Kensington, and died there after a long career in parliamentary politics. According to a website listing British Jews in WW1, Percy was Jewish, yet his grave is distinctly Christian in sentiment. Aesthetically, his grave is the most remarkable one in the cemetery next to St Nicholas. It includes a semi-abstract, vorticist carving of The Resurrection of the Dead, created by the sculptor Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1903-1973) in the 1920s. Harris had acquired it for display in his garden long before it was moved to adorn his grave.

Although Percy Harris was born Jewish, he is buried in the graveyard of a Church of England parish church. Despite searching the Internet, including reading his extensive entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, I cannot determine whether or not he converted to Christianity sometime during his life.

Don’t even think about doing these things

AS A SPECIAL TREAT when I was a young child, I was allowed to feed the pigeons on Piazza Signoria in Florence (Italy), a city we visited annually during my childhood. My parents used to purchase paper cones filled with corn kernels for my sister and me. We used to put a few of these in the palms of our hands and allow the pigeons to perch on our fingertips whilst they fed on the corn. Looking back on this activity, which gave me great pleasure, I am surprised that my health and hygiene conscious mother allowed what the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, called ‘rats with wings’ to risk sullying our hands and harming our health.

Oddly, when we were kids, we fed the pigeons in Florence but never fed their cousins that flocked around Trafalgar Square in London. Today, the 25th of April 2022, my wife and I walked across Trafalgar Square and observed that nowadays there are signs that indicate that feeding pigeons is forbidden. However, this activity, which I enjoyed as a child on holiday in Florence, is not the only thing forbidden in Trafalgar Square. The lovely fountains in the square now contain signs in the water, on which the words “No Entry” are written. Yet another activity in the square is no longer allowed. There are signs to deter visitors from climbing on the sculptures of the lions that lie at the base of Nelson’s Column. So, when you next visit Trafalgar Square with plans of feeding the pigeons, or bathing in the fountains (even to celebrate New Year), or straddling a lion, do not realise any of them: they are all outlawed.

Eight bells and a bridge

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, busy Fulham in west London was a small country village in the early 19th century. Today, what was once the heart of the village, is the site of two bridges spanning the Thames. One carries the District Line railway tracks and pedestrians, and the other, an elegant stone bridge with five arches carries a road across the river. Known as Putney Bridge, the latter was completed in 1886 and designed by the prolific civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette.

Inside The Eight Bells in Fulham

Prior to the construction of the stone bridge, there was an earlier wooden bridge, known as ‘Fulham Bridge’. With roofed gatehouses at both ends and 26 arches (or openings), it was designed by Sir Jacob Acworth and completed in 1729. Its approach road was Fulham High Street. The bridge has long-since been demolished but a blind-ended, short inlet of the river, now named Swan Drawdock Nature Reserve runs right next to where the old bridge would have once begun.

The Eight Bells pub, which still serves customers, stands on Fulham High Street. Now housed in a Victorian building, it might have been first established as early as the 17th century. When the old bridge stood, it would have attracted much business from folk using the wooden crossing. Things changed when the new, current, bridge was constructed.

The approach to the new crossing, Putney Bridge, was not via Fulham High Street but by way of a new road, the present Putney Bridge Approach (the A 219), which does not pass the front of the Eight Bells. This led to a considerable loss of business for the pub, whose owners received £1000 in compensation: a great deal of money in the late 1880s.

The Eight Bells and its neighbour, a wonderful second-hand book shop, along with a few other shops near Putney Bridge station, although definitely not rural in appearance, retain a ‘villagey’ feel.

A slave trade abolitionist in Fulham

LESS FAMOUS THAN William Wilberforce (1759-1833), but equally important in helping to end Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, was Granville Sharp (1735-1813). Born in Durham, Sharp was apprenticed to a linen draper in London at the age of 15. A scholar at heart, he left his apprenticeship to become Clerk in the Ordnance Office at the Tower of London, a job that gave him more time to pursue his scholarly studies and music. One of his brothers, William Sharp (1729-1810), was a physician, who is believed to have treated King George III.

All Saints church in Fulham

One of William’s patients was Jonathon Strong (c1747-1773), a black slave from the West Indies, who had been badly beaten-up by his master, a lawyer called David Lisle. William and Granville helped tend to Strong’s injuries and paid for him to spend four months in St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Lisle instigated a number of court cases to protect his ‘possession’ of Strong. Granville was deeply involved with making sure he lost them and that Strong became a freed man. The Strong case was the beginning of his keen and active involvement in the movement to abolish slavery. His involvement with this and subsequent legal cases connected with the unjustness of the slave trade gave him the reputation of being a “protector of the Negro”.  

In 1787, Granville became one of the founder members of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Though sometimes overshadowed today by other abolitionists such as Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) played a major role in hastening the end of the slave trade and slavery in places ruled by the British.

By the 1780s, there were approximately 15,000 ‘black’ people in Britain, many of them without employment. Ideas began to circulate that it would be a good idea to form a settlement in Africa to which the Africans could ‘return home’ and live as free individuals. One place that was suggested was Sierra Leone. Granville Sharp was consulted on this and felt that it would be an ideal location to set up a model community for the ‘blacks’. He suggested calling it ‘The Province of Freedom’. Sadly, the well-intentioned province that included a settlement called Granville Town was a failure.

Granville lived long enough to learn that the Act of Abolition received Royal Assent in 1807, but not long enough to know about the final abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire (in 1833). Granville’s brother William had a country dwelling, Fulham House, in Fulham. It was here that the ageing Granville moved after William died. He lived there with William’s widow, Catherine, and her family. It was in this house that Granville breathed his last.

Probably Fulham’s greatest resident, Granville Sharp was buried in the cemetery of Fulham’s parish church (All Saints). His funerary monument, which stands close to the boundary fence of Fulham Palace commemorates him, his brother William, and his sister Elizabeth Prowse. William’s wife Catharine (née Barwick) is also buried beneath this stone, which was restored in 2007.