Category Archives: 18th Century

Mr Railton returns

After a lengthy gap, we’re back with the artist and book illustrator Herbert Railton. I recently bought a copy of a book which combines three interesting characters: Railton, and blog favourite Hugh Thomson who both created illustrations for “Coaching days and coaching ways” (1893) by the entertainingly named W. Outram Tristram. It was he who wrote the final book Railton worked on, the fascinating, “Moated houses”, which was featured in the first post about him. I’m sure I’ll come back to the Railton/Thomson team-up in a future post but first I want to look at Railton’s Kensington connection.

One of his other projects was an illustrated edition of Leigh Hunt’s “The Old Court Suburb” (1855 / 1902) a rambling historical account of Kensington. Railton did most of the topographical pictures in the book. The Library possesses many of his original sketches for this project.

I have to say at this stage that Railton’s delicate and almost impressionistic pictures can be hard to scan. It is often easier to use the published versions, which have firmer lines. In this post I’ll use some of each. I’m concentrating on one location, Holland Park and Holland House.

If you’ve never encountered Railton’s work before this is a quite characteristic piece. The house is solid and rendered in some detail but at the same time it’s a little vague, glimpsed through some kind of summer haze, the foliage blending into the architecture. The one below is actually called “A peep at Holland House”

The house is even more indistinct. The focus of the picture is the sculpture of an urn, like a funery urn at the edge of the hedge frame.

If you know the park you’ll recognize the summer ball room turret, but perhaps not the wild trees and hedges which threaten to overwhelm it.

In the context of Hunt’s book, Railton’s illustrations work well in contrast to those of the other two artists, Claude Shepperson and Edmund J Sullivan, who were given the task of doing pictures of people from Kensington’s past.

 

Chloe and Delia admiring the flowers.

A bit of courtly behaviour.

After which the ladies and gentlemen could go on to some picturesque spots in the grounds, such as the famous sundial.


(Some of the originals are on this coloured paper. I don’t think it’s any kind of age-related deterioration but it does add a pleasingly antique feel to the pictures).

Lord Camelford, memorialised with a Roman altar, perished in a duel conducted in the grounds. There is a view of the wild looking site of his death in the first post.

We can head back to the house via the Dutch Garden.

And see some more details

The Oriel front, and the Terrace.

Even when Holland House was a private house, the grounds had visitors who might not be guests of the family. After their tour they might stroll to a nearby tavern, like this conveniently located hostelry.

See how once again Railton brings the picture to a point with some birds, in this case some fairly free range chickens.

When he wrote the Old Court Suburb, Hunt was also not far away ftom the house.


Edwardes Square (The name is from the family name of the first Baron Kensington. The square was laid out in 1811.) is just down the road . Here is another view.

Two girls stroll along next to the garden railings. Railton could manage figures well enough but he was sparing in his use of them.

When the illustrated edition of Hunt’s book was published, tourists were an established part of London life.

Note the editor, our old friend Austin Dobson, the go-to guy for scholarly introductions in those days.

Railton’s fellow illustrator Mr Edmund J Sullivan put a lady visitor (dressed in the fashions of the 1850s) in a couple of his pictures  who doesn’t seem too happy.

Here she looks like she’d like to sit down if the sign permitted.

(Is she bracing her back with her right hand, completely ignoring the guide book in her left, and waiting for her companion to get on with it so they can get to the gift shop?)

And here she (or a similar lady) looks a little melancholy, perhaps remembering those she mourns herself.

These two pictures have intrigued me since I first looked at the book, so forgive me for letting Mr Sullivan squeeze a few pictures into Mr Railton’s post. I wish he’d been able to develop the theme as an interesting contrast with the  topographical pictures but Railton was the headline act on this bill.

Postscript

Posthumous apologies to Claude Shepperson I suppose for not including any of his pictures in the post. Unfortunately, they’re a bit dull. By contrast, I’d like to see more of Edmund Sullivan’s’ work.


18th century escapades – Lady Walpole’s curious grotto

Whenever I start to write about the paintings of Marianne Rush I have a tendency to wander off into fantasy. As I recently had a very pleasant meeting with a distant relative of the lady I feel an obligation to anchor this post in reality as far as possible. So let’s be clear. The picture below is not a painting by Rush, (we’ll get to her later) although there’s something about the trees and the foliage in the foreground which reminds me of her work. This is a black and white photograph of a water colour by another artist (possibly unknown) of “Mrs Aufrere’s house in the Stableyard, Chelsea”, about 1780. It shows the entrance to the Coal Creek, a kind of canal which ran a short distance into the grounds to the west of the Royal Hospital, and on the corner, the Octagon Summer House.

The house which may be visible in the distance used to be called Walpole House, and had been one of the residences of Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (but don’t get him confused with the previous Earl of Orford, Edward Russell, who had been Walpole’s mentor and whose title died out. Walpole took the title himself as a tribute to his old friend). Walpole is regarded as the first Prime Minister and the longest serving in that role. (He is the father of Horace Walpole, author of the Castle of Otranto, the first “Gothic” novel and builder of an extraordinary house, Strawberry Hill  in Twickenham which fortunately you can read about elsewhere) Walpole and his first wife Catherine (Horace’s mother) used the house and garden for entertaining and filled both with extravagant collection of furniture, decorations and exotic trees and plants.

I have here next to me a small pamphlet entitled…. well, instead of copying all that out let’s use the medium of the digital image.

There’s that word “curious”. The final line refers to a separate sale of “exoticks”. Regretfully we don’t have a copy of that. The exoticks, were the many plants and small trees which had grown in the garden, along with exotic fruit like pineapples, which were popular and expensive items for the leisured classes of the day.

Walpole died in 1745, hence the sale. His wife had died in 1737. Without intending to malign either of them, it seems that though the marriage had begun as a happy one, the two had gone their own way in its latter years. Walpole also had children by his mistress Maria , who became his wife after Catherine’s death.

I had no trouble finding images of Sir Robert. Here he is looking as grand as possible

Although we have a print showing Lady Walpole it proved slightly harder to find. Fortunately there are other images of her online. She was famed as a great beauty, but not as notorious as a slightly later celebrity.

The sale catalogue backs up the notion that the Walpoles enjoyed an extravagant and sumptuous lifestyle.

Have a look at the contents of ” the taffetty bedroom

Fabric wall coverings were popular with those who could afford them.

The contents of the “worsted damask bed chamber”:

The senior servants’ rooms were less ornate, although they had the basics, and probably wouldn’t have complained about the “feather beds”.

 

Also listed is “the red room in the garden

That would be one for the 18th century version of World of Interiors.

When writing this post I’ve relied heavily on an article on Walpole House written by the late David Le Lay for the Chelsea Society Annual Report in 2013. David and I spent an hour or so one afternoon examining prints of the Royal Hospital looking for a glimpse of the House on the western side. This print by Maurer seems to offer a view.

You can see the summer house again, on the extreme right, and to the left a single storey building with a row of windows which might be the Orangery.  The house itself could be behind that. A close -up helps a little.

But let’s not worry too much about the elusive house. According to an early volume of the Survey of London the house couldn’t be seen from the river.

With the garden buildings in mind let’s turn at last to Marianne Rush.

She calls this the “Green House”, not a glass house as we would think of today, although some doubts creep in here. The building in the pictures looks a little like the Orangery, which still exists. But the architect, Vanburgh,  favoured round headed windows. At any rate it was a building containing many plants and fruit trees, with paintings and objects, and space for entertaining.

According to Thomas Faulkner in his History of Chelsea (1829) “Lady Walpole took great delight in improving these gardens and spared no expense in procuring natural and artificial curiosities from foreign parts. Her grotto exited much of the attention of the curious at that time.” 

“During the King’s absence in Germany one summer Queen Caroline frequently honoured Lady Walpole with a visit, and dined in the green-house, which was laid out with choice flowers and plants, and hung with some of the fine paintings which were afterwards removed by the Earl of Orford.”

In August 1729 the Walpoles entertained the Queen and several other dukes and princesses. ” A kitchen was built on purpose in the stable yards…with above 20 places for fires etc. The Fruit for the Dessert was collected for a week previous from all Quarter of the Town…there were several Barges of fine Musick playing all the Time. After which they returned to the Green House where the illustrious company were entertained with a Ball and afterwards supp’d in the same place.” According to the Monthly Chronicles, quoted by Alfred Beaver in his book Memorials of Old Chelsea. An exaggerated account? Well you wouldn’t get all that in here:

It’s not clear whether Marianne ever actually saw some of the buildings she painted but she seems to have been quite careful in her work and if she never actually saw the Ranelagh Rotunda for example she would have been familiar with it from prints and engravings. We give her the benefit of the doubt.

The grotto is a little more problematic. Here is Marianne’s painting. Look carefully.

Is that something like a Hindu deity beside the urns? Maybe not.

As David Le Lay and others who have written about it (I also looked at an article in a 2004 periodical called Follies) have said, it’s not quite clear where the grotto actually was. There are some half-buried arches on the grounds but they don’t look much like Rush’s picture and it’s hard to imagine the grotto in its heyday when it was much celebrated and compared favourably with Queen Caroline’s own grotto. There were even some verses in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1734.

[Scan from Faulkner, which was clearer and didn’t obscure the name W-lp-le.]

 

 

And rival Grotto Caroline.” Decorating your grotto with shells was a bit of a thing back then. I looked at an article in Country Life for 1944 (February, when there was still some time before D-Day to think about grottos) showing some examples, which mentions Lady Walpole’s grotto, but of course had no pictures.

There are no signs of any shell decorations in Rush’s interior.

So perhaps this view is speculative, or just imaginary, although Rush did like that trope of 18th century water-colourists, the empty room.

The summer house too looks  quite deserted, apart from that bust. She’s taken care with that glimpse of the view outside and the light entering the small room. Can I  see a hint of the windmill on the south bank?

Rush’s view of the exterior is a useful point at which to stop, as it provides the opposite point of view from our first picture, and does seem to look like other views of the summer house. There’s the windmill again. (There really was one – it appears in several prints.)

Marianne got this one right so perhaps she knew more than us. But. as I’ve found, an aura of mystery still clings to her and her paintings. And I like that, as you’ve probably realised.

Postscript

I have used the Rush pictures before in one or two of the imaginative posts I used to write when I started the blog so it’s good to get back to seeing them as views of reality. When they were first acquired by the library in the 1920s it was because they provided a valuable look at a whole series of buildings which no longer existed. I am still very taken with their visionary qualities though, and it seems quite appropriate that we’re not quite sure about Lady Walpole’s grotto. We were high on word count and low on pictures this week so I’m going to find a furnished summer house and lie down now. Oh, and I don’t think I’ve ever had to say this but as this is a complicated business I should add that any errors are mine and are not attributable to any of the sources I’ve used.

This post is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Marianne Rush herself and David Le Lay, a friend of Chelsea.


Thomson and Goldsmith

Regular readers of the blog will know that I’ve developed something of an obsession with the Irish artist and book illustrator Hugh Thomson and I’ve featured his work in a large number of posts since I first came across the 1903 edition of Fanny Burney’s novel Evelina and was fascinated by the illustrations. Since then we’ve looked at some of his “big books” – Quality Street, the Admirable Crichton (JM Barrie), School for Scandal (Sheridan), As you like it (Shakespeare), as well as the Highways and Byways series (London), and his illustrations to the poetry of his friend Austin Dobson. As a fan of his work I’ve graduated from looking through the Library’s collection, borrowing books from my colleagues at Westminster and even buying a few (relatively) cheap editions on Ebay. This post won’t be  the last time you’ll hear about Thomson but the book featured today is the last of the “big books” that I really wanted to see. It’s the 1905 edition of Oliver Goldsmith’s celebrated comedy “She stoops to conquer”.

006-a1s1-tell-me-constance-how-do-i-look-this-evening

Kate and Constance, protagonists of the main story and the sub plot respectively. “Tell me Constance, how do I look this evening?” How Kate looks is one of the themes of the play. She dresses modestly to please her father, fashionably to please herself and she adopts the dress and persona of a maid to win the heart of Mr Marlow, her father’s choice of husband.

Marlow is a little diffident with young women of his own class but rather more relaxed with women he perceives to be lower class. Here is Kate with Mr Hardcastle.

016a-a3s1-well-my-dear-i-see-you-have-changed-your-dress-as-i-bid-you

“Well my dear I see you have changed your dress as I bid you.”

Below, she asks for the maid Pimple’s view of the outfit.

018-a3s1-tell-me-pimple-how-do-you-like-ny-present-dress

“Tell me Pimple, how do you like my present dress?” Note the bundle of keys to indicate her role as housekeeper.

As a fashionable young lady her attitude to Mr Marlow is quite combative and he seems a little intimidated.

012-a2s1-you-were-going-to-observe-sir

“You were about to observe, Sir?”

He loosens up when he thinks she is a maid.

019-a3s1-never-saw-a-more-sprightly-malicious-eye

“(I) never saw such a sprightly malicious eye.”

I should add that her stepbrother Tony Lumpkin has convinced Marlow and his friend Hastings that they are staying at an inn when they come to the Hardcastle house. Kate is playing up to this, even though she thinks Tony is an idiot. (Which he is.)

007a-a1s2-i-loves-to-hear-him-sing

His mother intends that he should marry Kate’s friend Constance but he prefers the barmaid at the local inn where he carouses with some low companions. (That may be her serving the drinks.)

Mr Marlow’s behaviour gets a little out of hand.

020b-and-why-not-now-my-angel

And there are, inevitably, tears shed.

021-a4s1-by-heaven-she-weeps

“By Heavens she weeps”. Mr Marlow learns his lesson.

Tony takes some stick from Constance.

013a-a2s1-what-do-you-follow-me-for-cousin-con

But he does help her to get together with the man she loves, Marlow’s friend Hastings, after a subterfuge over some jewelry, leaving himself unencumbered by his mother’s expectations.

023a-a4s1-and-you-you-great-ill-fashioned-oaf

The confusion over the house is resolved by the arrival of Marlow’s father.

024-a5s1-and-how-did-he-behave-madam

Kate and Marlow are in love.

025-a5s1-does-this-look-like-security

So it all works out. This is a comedy of manners so you can expect a pleasant denouement. I can’t help wondering about how it would look if it was staged in the costumes of a later era, when Mr Marlow’s  liking for a woman dressed as a maid would have different connotations, but don’t let me drag 21st century tropes into this. Let’s leave them in an idyllic, idealised version of the 18th century, courtesy of the 20th century eye of Hugh Thomson. It’s fitting that we should come back to the home of Evelina. It was probably Thomson’s favourite period, and it seemed to be much liked by his contemporaries.

020a-a3s1-keep-up-the-spirit-of-the-place

 

Hugh Thomson himself was not entirely happy with the finished book. He was “bitterly disappointed with the way in which the prints have been killed by the colouring and strength of the border framing them.”   (One reason why I always crop pictures, but the plates look fine to me.) The critics didn’t really notice: “it was clearly ordained from the beginning of time that Goldsmith’s comedy should be illustrated by Mr Hugh Thomson.” and “in the whole of his career Hugh Thomson’s art was never more advanced and developed than at the present time.”

I can’t leave out this picture, another of Thomson’s  favourite subjects, young women moping around, this time with a book.

015a-a2s1-i-have-seen-her-and-sister-cry-over-a-book-for-an-hour-together

“I have seen her and sister cry over a book for an hour together”

Postscript

Oddly enough I can remember studying this one at school. I recall nothing of the lessons except a class read through. This was usually an embarrassing moment in an all boys school and relieved at not getting one of the female roles I momentarily threw off my usual diffidence and read the character of the servant Diggory in my impression of the voice of Arthur Mullard (anyone remember him?) to a certain amount of amusement from my classmates and weary tolerance from the English teacher.

000c-title-page

You’ve already seen a number of links to other posts featuring Thomson’s work. There’s just one more for you which overlaps with this one and several others but it has enough unrepeated images to interest the completists. As I said I can’t promise this is the last of Thomson (if I ever buy a copy of his version of the Merry Wives of Windsor you can be sure of seeing that one), but it’s very nearly the end. Of course there’s still Cranford, Peg Woffington, Scenes from Clerical Life, not to mention all of Jane Austen’s novels. And Goldsmith’s novel The Vicar of Wakefield. I was hoping to have a look at Norma Clarke’s new book “Brothers of the quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street” before publishing this post but the library hasn’t got it yet and I’m waiting for some more information on the post I originally intended for this week so Mr Thomson has jumped in to help out

One of the pleasures of writing a blog is to follow the things that interest you as far as you can in the hope that readers will also be interested. You can’t hope to make other people interested in a topic without being interested in it yourself. Expect a flurry of posts about book illustration in the near future but If you’re not as fascinated by the subject as I am don’t worry. plenty of other things will be coming along soon. That’s why I enjoy my day job. You never know what questions you will be asked today.


Thomson and Sheridan

004 heading

The 1911 edition of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s A School for Scandal  was one of the first of a series of classics illustrated by Hugh Thomson  in a larger format. Preceded by the Merry Wives of Windsor (1910), it was followed by She stoops to conquer (1912) [pictures from both here] , Quality Street (1913) and the Admirable Crichton (1914). Although intermittently troubled by illness during this period Thomson had hit a sweet spot, and was peaking in his art.

School for Scandal took Thomson back to his favourite time and place, 18th century London, which he had explored before in his illustrations to Fanny Burney’s Evelina. This time he was back in colour:

002a frontispiece Lady Teazle

This picture of Lady Teazle disembarking from a sedan chair caused a minor controversy when it was suggested by a reader that the custom on arrival was for the attendants to lift up the hinged lid of the chair to accommodate tall hairstyles, big wigs and hats. Thomson responded that Lady Teazle,” a very impulsive young woman, stooped and issued in one movement as soon as the chair was set down.” And furthermore, he was well aware of the hinged roofs, as shown in this 1892 illustration to Austin Dobson’s The Ballad of Beau Brocade.

The old sedan chair from the Ballad of BB

The earlier work looks sketchy by comparison with the subtle depiction of costume and facial expression in the later book.

006a strong tea and scandal

Thomson had come into his “comic” style. By which I mean his graphic style, light and comedic, reminiscent of a comic strip or a modern graphic novel. The Edwardian version of the 18th century, the antique filtered through the modern. (Just as steampunk style filters Edwardian and Victorian fashion and design through a 21st century sensiblity.)

Or whatever you like. Maybe they’re just entertaining illustrations, and Thomson had found his favourite subject matter. Attractive young women, ridiculous young men with a smattering of eccentric older players, all of them better dressed than they have a right to be, in an accurate but romantic version of period fashion.

021 But I leave my character behind me - Copy

The School for Scandal is a play of course, not a novel like Evelina so I couldn’t quite ignore the actual story (there was a nagging feeling that I’d seen it performed once at the National Theatre but that could have been some other play of the period featuring fops and gossips,) although I did let most of it sink into the background. All I really needed to know, courtesy of Thomson, was that it featured sneaking around on dark staircases,

009 So I slipped out and ran hither - Copy

a bit of public hilarity,

012 fit of laughter - Copy

some cardplay (an innocent young woman up against a practised and probably unscrupulous player-

020 Maria sits down to piquet - Copy

She looks like she’s holding too many cards to manage. You can’t make out the cards in his hand but he’s got a dozen of them. It’s piquet of course, a game I’ve only ever read about.),

some polite  flirtation (with a bit of fan work),

025a There - my note of hand will do as well

and a little reminiscence about days gone by.

026 Sophy laughed at me for thinking of marrying - Copy

Note the lapdog on the sofa compared with the more robust spaniel in this picture.

Thomson  often illustrates things that aren’t actually in the action, like this:

014 Fairly quarrelled before the bells had done ringingA great portrait of a bit of early marital discord worked up from a couple of sentences. It’s a flashback in fact, pretty cinematic for 1911.

He can also do the stagey farce stuff.

031 Hung I perceive with maps - Copy

Lady Teazle hiding behind a screen illustrated with maps.

032 Lady Teazle - couldn't I steal off - Copy

Peeping out, trying to sneak away unobserved.

034 One day when I called here - Copy

Getting caught in flagrante. Look at that arm behind her.

035 Lady Teazle, by all that's wonderful - Copy

Unsuccessfully attempting to brazen it out, feeling ashamed.

038 See, she is in tears

Tears before bedtime,

and finally some kind of resolution, bidding a farewell to the school for scandal.

041 Make my respects to the scandalous college - Copy

I’ve noticed that the illustrations aren’t as frequent as the book enters the final stretch, something I’ve observed before. Thomson had great respect for the authors of the works he illustrated. (J M Barrie certainly appreciated Thomson’s work –“I delighted particularly in his pictures for Quality Street, and it is the figures he created that I see in that street now, with himself walking among them, uuderstanding them better than the people of today, perhaps understood better by them.” ) But I suspect that the creation of a lively and entertaining set of images was his main purpose. As I’ve said before, for this reader the pictures are what matters most. They tell a perfectly good story by themselves.

 

Postscript

I don’t have to thank anyone for providing a copy of the book this time. I bought a relatively cheap copy, a bit tatty, but complete. Thomson’s versions of As you like it and She stoops to conquer aren’t quite so easy to get. But I’m on the lookout. I like my obsessions.

Next week with any luck we should be back in living memory with a set of photos curated by my colleague Isabel.

Does this design remind you of the images on the lower part of the screens?

001 cover

Oh, and Lady Teazle didn’t get to do the prologue. Here she is now.

005 prologue

Oh, that’s a long speech, Lady T. Maybe next time…


Christmas days – The return of the villainous cherub

My first post featuring the Cherub hasn’t proved to be one of my most popular pieces. Possibly too whimsical, or just a bit weird. But the search never really ends and when I found him again twice in as many weeks it seemed that I couldn’t avoid laying him before you again in one of these short posts for Christmas.

This is the usual idea of a cherub:

title from Ballad a la mode 2 - Copy

As drawn by Bernard Partridge for a volume of poetry by Austin Dobson. A chubby little chap with wings and a toy bow and arrow, doing Cupid’s work.

My cherub looked like this:

William Cecil Lord Burleigh 1738 with villainous cherub and dog B301

The portrait of William Cecil, Elizabeth’s spymaster is not for me the point of this engraving. The amoral child clutching his caduceus and his demon dog grasping a key are the real subject matter.

I looked for further occurences and found this:

John Pym 307

The same sinister boy sitting underneath the bland features of Sir John Pym up to no good at all with his flashes of lightning and his new friend the predatory goose. He is about to make a magical gesture of some sort I’m sure.

And as I say I’ve found him again so I can bring together all four of his appearances in this post.

Ann of Cleves 760A - Copy

There he is, skulking beneath Ann of Cleeves (a Chelsea resident – the Flanders mare as Henry VIII called her), his hand on the crown while he looks to see who is watching him. His insect wings are like those of Partridge’s cherub but instead of helping him with Love’s work they give him the power of flight so he can make off with the crown.

There is a final metamorphosis to see.

 

Charles Howard Earl of Northampton Lord Hugh Admiral and Lord of the Manor of Chelsea 762 - Copy - Copy

This is possibly the most sinister verision yet. His lower limbs have become tentacles and he has acquired a tail, along with a trident for further mischief. He reaches for another crown as if about to imitate the Deep Ones and snatch it away, heading for the abyssal depths.

I’ve referenced Lovecraft, but we could also be reminded of Robert Aickman and the inhabitants of the dark church in his story the Cicerones. You could imagine the engravings as actual sculptures hiding in the dark corners of an ecclesiastically dubious place of worship awaiting the unwary traveller.

But I’ve read a lot of that sort of thing and now my mind makes me lean in that direction. No doubt there are perfectly rational explanations for all of the Cherub’s manifestations.

 

Further Christmas reading:

M R James – Lost hearts / Casting the runes (to name but two, in Collected Ghost Stories and many others)

H P Lovecraft – The shadow over Innsmouth (in several Lovecraft collections)

Robert Aickman – The Cicerones (currently in print in the collection The Unsettled Dust. Also made into an unsettling short film by Jeremy Dyson starring Mark Gatiss – find it on YouTube)

Clive Barker – Anything from the Books of Blood (still the most startling debut in horror fiction)

Clark Ashton Smith – Anything you can find really.

 

To re-inforce the Christmas spirit, these short posts will be accompanied by seasonal greetings from a number of soft toys. Today with HP Lovecraft in mind Happy Christmas from the Great Cthulhu and the less well known Great Old One, Little Cthulhu.

DSC_5802

See you tomorrow.


Illustrating Austin – Hugh Thomson and Bernard Partridge

Henry Austin Dobson was one of those indefatigable literary men with which the 19th and early 20th centuries abound. I first came across him as the man who seemed to write all the introductions to the books I was looking at and who seemed to know everyone on the literary scene of his day. The first pieces I read were his introductions to the 1903 edition of Fanny Burney’s Evelina and the 1902 version of the Old Court Suburb, Leigh Hunt’s history of Kensington. I warmed to him and his many introductions partly because as I’ve said elsewhere I am an inveterate reader of introductions (sometimes ignoring the actual text).

His day job was as a civil servant in the Board of Trade, and his career progressed successfully. But he also found time to be a prolific biographer, a poet and an all purpose man of letters. He was the leading figure in a small group of poets who were introducing the verse forms of French poets such as Francois Villon into English. His main interest was the 18th century both in his poetry – The Ballad of Beau Brocade, the Story of Rosina – and his biographies – Henry Fielding, Richard Steele, Oliver Goldsmith, Horace Walpole, Samuel Richardson, Fanny Burney, Thomas Bewick, William Hogarth. Those last two indicate that he was just as interested in the artists of the 18th century as the literary figures.  He was a friend and supporter of an artist we’re quite familiar with by now, Hugh Thomson.  But this post, which features illustrations to two editions of Dobson’s poetry also features the work of another leading book illustrator, Bernard Partridge.

Ninette I feel so sad

Partridge has a heavier style with a more serious tone but the subject matter is not too different. Well dressed young women moping about are still a feature which he shared with Dobson and Thomson. So, more 18th century ennui. Proverbs in Porcelain and other poems was published in 1893. It’s more of a set of short verse dramas than poems. In fact most of Dobson’s poems tell stories, which is why they are so suitable for illustrating.

“The Ballad a la Mode” has two cousins flirting with each other. The Baron reads a poem to the Countess about a maiden missing out on love.

But there's some sequel - Copy

Which is sad, but afterwards the course of true love runs smooth for the two languid aristos.

 

perfidy - from Ballad a la mode - Copy

 

In “The cap that fits” a trio of toffs elegantly slag off some female passer by.

 

Not young I think

Hortense: Not young I think,
Armande: And faded too :-
Quite faded! Monsieur, what say you?

The cap that fits

He tells them. Wittily, of course.

In “The secrets of the heart” the two pensive young women in the first picture, Ninette and Ninon, wonder about their future loves. Ninette remembers a sad nun from her school days. Dobson of course liked a nun as we saw in a previous post although in this time the idea/image of the nun in a full habit had more iconic force than it would today. There was something both romantic and in some cases sinister about the cloistered life.

She was so pious and so good,
With such sad eyes beneath her hood,
And such poor little feet, – all bare!
Her name was Eugenie La Fere.
She used to tell us,- moonlight nights,-
When I was at the Carmelites.

When I was at the Carmelites

And on the title page Cupid does a bit of moping himself.

 

The secrets of the heart - Copy

 

The Story of Rosina and other verses was published a couple of years later in 1895 and reunited Dobson with Hugh Thomson.

The title poem is about the painter Francois Boucher falling in love with his model, the eponymous Rosina.

 

There are more 18th century settings, including Thomson’s own version of moping by the window.

She then must have looked, as I
Look now, across the level rye, –
Past Church and Manor- house, and seen,
As now I see, the village green,
The bridge, and Walton’s river – she
Whose old world name was “Dorothy”.

dorothy frontispiece

 

But Thomson and Dobson also have some contemporary poetic narratives. An Autumn Idyll is one of them, although the title illustration makes a classical allusion featuring some nymphs and a satyr who look more like late Victorian teenagers.

 

Rosina 004

The poem itself is about some modern inhabitants of the river.

 

Rosina 004 - Copy

Three men, in this case Lawrence, Frank and Jack, with a boat pulled up at a shaded landing spot.

Here, where the beech-nuts drop among the grasses,
Push the boat in, and throw the rope ashore,
Jack, hand me out the claret and the glasses;
Here let us sit. We landed here before.

Once settled, unlike Jerome’s three men, they each recite or sing about a woman.

Dark-haired is mine, with breezy ripples swining
Loose as a vine branch blowing in the morn;
Eyes like the morning, mouth for ever singing,
Blithe as a bird new risen from the corn.

At her feet - autuman idyll - Comp

Better the twilight and the cheery chatting-
Better the dim forgotten garden-seat,
Where on may lie, and watch the fingers tatting,
Lounging with Bran or Bevis at her feet.

You can see photos of the Victorian boating scene in this post, and see what Mortimer Menpes made of it here .

“A dialogue withPlato” is another modern tale.

 

Dialogue with Plato - right

 

The hard working scholar is interrupted by a young lady of his acquaintance leaning in throughthe window to distract him with a question.

 

Dialogue with Plato

 

She succeeds in luring him out for a walk in the woods, which is something he’d far rather be doing anyway, so both of them are happy and Plato can be put aside for another day.

 

 

“Love in winter” provides Thomson with a chance to present another of his charming young women.

 

Rosina 011

 

“Bright-eyed Bella”  wrapped up against the cold.

And there’s a sundial

 

Rosina 012

 

And a lady.

 

Rosina 012 - Copy

I have to say that much of Dobson’s poetry seems inconsequential in comparison with what I know of other eras of poetry, but these volumes place it in a picturesque and pleasant setting, courtesy of two masters of illustration.

 

double

Postscript

There will be one more post based on a book with an introduction by Austin Dobson this year but these two artists will not be involved. It will be close to Christmas.


St Mary Abbots – Kensington’s parish church

This week’s post features the return of regular contributor Isabel Hernandez who has been looking into the history of one of Kensington’s most iconic buildings.

“One of the handsomest churches in the metropolis” ~ The London Journal, 1880

When you live in a place and go about your busy routine, especially in large cities, your perception of what surrounds you can sometimes become clouded. This is true of buildings. When we are not consciously looking for them, their presence often goes unnoticed. Some buildings are not particularly attractive or significant; most are functional structures. The over-familiar landmarks can become so much a part of our everyday existence that we rarely imagine them never being there, and so we don’t give them much attention.

Tucked away at the junction of Kensington High Street and Kensington Church Street stands St Mary Abbots Church. You may have passed it many times; perhaps even fleetingly noticed its quiet presence away from the hubbub of traffic and rushing people, before continuing on your journey to somewhere. You may be a resident and have attended services, recitals, or special occasions celebrated within its walls, you may even have been a passing pilgrim in search of a little quiet meditation away from the madding crowds. Whatever your encounter with St Mary Abbots, it has been a presence in Kensington for centuries.

Below is a photograph taken around 1950 of St Mary Abbots with its stunning tower and spire.

The church from the S.E C.1950's

 

Kensington is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Chenesiton, the manor belonging to Aubrey De Vere. There is uncertainty as to whether or not a church existed in the area in Saxon days but we do know that a gift of land was given to the Monastery of Abingdon by Godfrey De Vere with consent from his family as a testimonial of gratitude towards the Abbot responsible for “having cured him of a former sickness” (Thomas Faulkner, in his History and Antiquities of Kensington, 1820). It is at this point that a Vicarage was ordained and endowed, with patronage eventually given by the Bishop of London.

SMA pub. March1807 by S.Woodburn

(An etching by S. Woodburn depicting St Mary Abbots as it was in 1807)

The medieval church was largely rebuilt between 1683 and 1704. It is not known if it was built on the site of the original church which was granted by the Abbey of Abingdon c.1100. What we do know is that St Mary Abbots has undergone a series of incarnations with rebuilding and repairs throughout its existence, eventually culminating in the church building we know today.

According to a survey done in 1866, when it was clear that the old church was falling apart, “it was found that many of the walls consisted of a thin skin of brickwork encasing a rubble core, indicating that in some cases the medieval walls may merely have been refaced with brick”. The beams were riddled with dry rot and it was clear that the church was no longer fit for purpose. With a growing population, the demand for a suitable parish church meant that something drastic had to be done.

SMA 1840

Here is another (unknown) artist’s creative depiction of about 1840. Occasionally, when you compare an etching or a drawing to an actual photograph, you can sometimes appreciate the accuracy with which a decent artist could recreate an image before the age of photography became the new emperor, even if some details were subject to poetic licence at times, such as the width of Kensington Church Street here. Also, you may find features that may have been illustrated earlier by another artist in the exact same place – the water pump on the left, for example. You will also see it in the image above this one by Woodburn.

St Mary Abbots C.1860's

Here is a photograph of the old church around the 1860’s. The old church is strikingly different to what St Mary Abbots looks like today. To the west you can clearly see the Georgian tower constructed in 1770-72:

“At the top was a battlemented parapet surmounted by a clock-turret on which stood a cupola containing the bells, the whole being topped by a weather vane.” (Survey of London)

There appear to be a few young chaps milling around in the foreground with a horse taking a break from its carriage duties eating out of a nose bag. To the right, along Church Street, there are evidently shops and a few blurred shoppers going about their business. One thing I enjoy about these old photos is trying to ascertain what I’m looking at when I focus on an area and increase the magnitude. To the right of the church you can see a butcher’s shop with a long line of whole pigs hanging from a shop window. Quite extraordinary! Of course, these were the pre-packaging days when organic was the order of the day.

St Mary Abbots 1865

This is one of my favourite photographs of the old St Mary Abbots Church. The image of the solitary figure standing in the doorway makes for a compelling ghost story. But I would think that the lady may perhaps have been in the employ of the church as caretaker in one form or another. Not a ghost at all, even if memory of her is most likely forgotten now.

This photograph was apparently taken around 1865 in the church grounds showing the tower and part of the burial ground one year before the 1866 survey was conducted to ascertain the condition of the building, which was declared unsafe: the vaults and the foundations needed particular attention and were considered an embarrassment.

The vicar, Archdeacon Sinclair, decided that a new church should be built, declaring “…the house that is to be builded for the Lord must be exceeding magnifical…the work is great…for the palace is not for man but for the Lord.”

(The Story of St Mary Abbots Kensington – J. D. Guillam Scott).

The man who was commissioned with the job of creating Kensington’s new church was the leading architect, George Gilbert Scott who was working on the Albert Memorial at the time.

St Mary Abbots 1869

Here is another view of the old church at ground level (1869) from High Street Kensington. Demolition of the old church appears to be underway. Behind the closed gates you can see the remnants of what look like timbers or beams.

G.G Scott chalk by G Richmond 1877

(The chalk study above is taken from the painting by George Richmond for RIBA in 1877)

Sir George Gilbert Scott is probably best known for his Gothic Universal style. His practice was never short of commissions, especially ecclesiastical contracts. They were not considered the most prominent examples of his work, but the scale of his achievements is quite astonishing, to the point where it could be said he was something of a workaholic. When he was approached, after a unanimous decision was taken to rebuild the church from scratch, the project was considered to be in safe hands, even when his original plan was met with both criticism and praise. He drew up a plan with an estimated cost of £35,000 – quite staggering for the time – but after some modification, and funds allowing, the first contract was approved, work beginning with the chancel, the vestry, and the foundations of what would become the present day St Mary Abbots. It was around this time that Scott’s health began to fail him. He became very ill in November 1870 with heart disease and bronchitis and he relied on his son, John Oldrid, to deal with much of the firm’s commissions.

The Scott family of architects have all had a hand in work for Kensington. The son, John Oldrid Scott, and grandson, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, both had designs incorporated into St Mary Abbots, and were well known architects in their own right.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (grandson) is also responsible for the Carmelite Church which is also in Kensington Church Street. It replaced the original building designed by E.W Pugin in 1865-1866, bombed during the war. He is also responsible for Battersea Power Station and the iconic, red telephone box, amongst many other works.

Sir George Gilbert Scott died of heart failure on 27th March 1878 at Courtfield House, Kensington. He was buried in Westminster Abbey with Queen Victoria joining the funeral procession from Kensington on the 6th April.

SMA plan

( G.G. Scott’s plan for the new St Mary Abbots.)

The demand for Gothic-style buildings in the Victorian era led to many churches in South-east England being built of Kentish ragstone, amongst other materials. It is basically hard, grey limestone that was laid down in the cretaceous period and is hard-wearing. Ideal for large structures. Bensted’s Quarry, also known as the Iguanodon Quarry, around Maidstone, is famous for the fossilised remains of an Iguanodon found when limestone was being excavated in 1834. It is from this quarry that the ragstone used to face the church originated (contractor’s report 1881). The quarry was apparently closed in 1872, the same year St Mary Abbots was consecrated.

St Mary Abbots May 1872

A rare image of St Mary Abbots in 1872 before its tower and spire were built. It would be another seven years before it was completed.

Demolition of the old church took place in 1869 after parishioners approved a slightly amended design for its replacement. The main body of the new church was quickly built over the course of three years or so, and considered sufficiently far advanced to be consecrated on 14 May 1872, later completed when the top stone of the impressive spire was laid in an elaborate ceremony by the Rev Edward Carr Glynn on the 15 November 1879 after a special service was held on what was a windy day.

According to the London Journal, several gentlemen of the clergy, churchwardens, and others involved with the project, joined the Rev Carr Glyn and “ascended by a solid stone spiral staircase to the top of the tower and then by ladders up the scaffolding outside the spire to a platform at the top, the Royal Standard flying above all at a height of about 300 feet from the ground, and at a point from which there is a fine view of Kensington Palace Gardens. The top stone was quickly placed in position for lowering, the scaffolding with its rather heavy load of visitors, swaying slightly but perceptively in the high wind.”

I expect that those watching from the ground may have been a little apprehensive of the whole ceremony, let alone readers of the journal describing the event. The London Journal concludes, almost with relief: “It is, perhaps, worth noting that during the ten years the works have been in progress no serious accident has happened.”

SMA details of tower and spire G.G Scott

Unlike their Georgian predecessors, the Victorians tended to be bolder in their architectural statements, and churches were no exception. Before the 13th century, towers were rare on parish churches. By the 13th and 14th centuries they were usually only seen in major towns, or built at the behest of a very wealthy benefactor. Towers and spires serve no real liturgical purpose other than to house the bells.

SMA menworking on spire

(Note the three men working on the spire, including one brave man right at the top)

St Mary Abbots boasts a large tower with spire, situated in the north-east corner of the church. Measurements vary as to its height depending on what you read: “A recent measurement by nautical sextant showed the height of the tower and spire to be approximately 250 feet. The spire is surmounted by a vane. Originally fourteen feet in height.” (Survey of London)

Whatever the accuracy, the vertigo I feel looking at those chaps on the spire is enough to make me understand that yes, the height of the tower and spire is formidable and impressive. The three gentlemen appear to be inspecting the structure at different points. I wonder at the near impossibility of such a feat, but what a view!

SMA 1960 spire view

This photograph (1960) was possibly taken from the Barker’s building opposite and shows in great detail the tower and spire, apparently inspired by St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. From here the peal of ten bells can sometimes be heard harmoniously ringing across Kensington to remind us of St Mary Abbots’ presence.

In the distance, to the right of the tower, you can also see the spire of St Matthew’s church in Bayswater, built in 1881-82. It is of a similar height to St Mary Abbots, measuring around 240 feet. Church building was big business for architectural firms of the period. A growing Victorian population kept the building firms and parish districts busy; the smaller chapels and crumbling older churches could no longer serve the parishioners. The Paddington district, particularly, had one of the highest population densities in London. Most green spaces in West London soon succumbed to the building boom to accommodate this growth.

SMA C.1900

This is the ‘winding and rising vaulted cloistral approach’ to the south door of St Mary Abbots added by John Oldrid Scott in 1889-93. The arched entrance almost looks forbidding – something about gothic tales and fanciful whims to fuel the overactive imagination – but as soon as you walk through, those feelings vanish. The sense of another era and the peace and quiet away from the traffic soon becomes a welcome respite.

SMA 1960 Aerial

Here is another view, of 1960, showing the steeply pitched roof of the church. Unfortunately it is not the original roof. That was destroyed during the bombing of London in WW2. The monument you see in the foreground is a war memorial dedicated to those of Kensington who died in the war. Below the great church are people going places. It does not look busy but I suspect this is a very early morning photographic shot, taken before the rush hour. It is also worth noting that some modifications to that junction have been made since then to accommodate the increasing traffic. London’s noise and bustle is consistent throughout the decades. But one could argue that this is a typical characteristic of any major city.

St Mary Abotts 1984

(c.1984)

The throes of autumn: conjure up a little mist and you could be on the set of a gothic drama. I have often had my lunch here in this quiet garden, away from the fury of traffic and the impatience of people. It looks lonely here. You can still find gravestones scattered around the church ground, mostly just eroded relics of a time and people that once were. But it is never lonely, more of a small sanctuary. And then there is St Mary Abbots, architecturally “a solid and impeccably detailed essay in the Early English style” and yet to me, something of a majestic presence bridging the old Chenesiton and the modern Kensington.

The next time you go for a walk, take a look around. You may find yourself in the presence of a lovely building that you may not have noticed before. Consider it a moment of awareness when the cloak of invisibility suddenly peels away to reveal something interesting.

SMA by W.F.M

Postscript

In this post I have concentrated on the exterior of St Mary Abbots. Many of our historical publications go into great detail regarding the church but I wanted to try and keep to one aspect of the church as indeed there is scope for so much more within our collection: the church interior is equally as fascinating and potentially there are more posts to come.

Most of the quotes I have used are from the Survey of London. I have also consulted Pevsner, and other sources which I have credited above. Not being an architect myself these were invaluable and I would urge anyone who is interested to consult these for further information.

A special thank you goes to Jane MacAllan (SMA archivist) and Pat Wilson (SMA Parish Clerk) who were kind enough to show me around St Mary Abbots over the summer and are a wealth of knowledge. I hope to put that to good use in another future post about the church. And thanks to Dave for being infinitely patient with me on this one.

Postscript by DW

Isabel has no need to thank me for my patience. I know she looked at practically every picture of SMA we have. (And we have a lot).It was worth the wait. Next week is Halloween of course.


%d bloggers like this: