Tag Archives: Victorian entertainment

Shepherd in Chelsea

Thomas Hosmer Shepherd is one of the few artists in our collection who seemed equally happy in Chelsea and Kensington. It could be argued that his Chelsea watercolours have the edge for the variety of the subject matter, although some of these views are familiar from the work of other artists. Take Gough House as an example.

Gough House 238A

We’ve seen it before in the paintings of Mariane Rush. She painted Gough House from different angles, even from old prints and her imagination. Shepherd’s view is more exact, his trees less exotic, but he does allow a certain darkness about the place. Gough House was built in 1704 but the Gough family didn’t own it until ten years later. It lay adjacent to the later building Walpole House – susequent researchers wish that Shepherd (or Rush) had painted that.  In 1790 Gough House was a girl’s school (inevitably) . The grounds were gradually absorbed in the 19th century by the building of the Embankment and the laying out of Tite Street but the house itself partly survived into the 20th century as The Victoria Hospital for Children

The Chelsea Bun House in Grosvenor Row was the home of the Chelsea Bun but also had a museum of curiosities, not the only one in the area.

Chelsea Bun House 167A

The Bun House was run by several members of a family named Hand. The often quoted figure of a quarter of a million buns sold on Good Friday 1829 is probably apocryphal but the buns themselves “a zephyr in taste, fragrant as honey” sound  a little more interesting than the modern version.

Below, a view of St Joseph’s Convent, Cadogan Street occupied then by the Sisters of Mercy. Boys and girls’ schools and alms housas were later added and the street now also has a Catholic Church, St Mary’s.

St Soseph's Convents and Schools, Cadogan Street 172A

Some of this building still survives. Another building with ecclesiastical connnections is now gone, Winchester House, home of the Bishop of Winchester after the destruction of Winchester Palace. While the Bishop lived there it was outside the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, but by 1825 Earl Cadogan’s estate had acquired it. After its demolition, Oakley Street was built, running south from the King’s Road to the river right through the former house.

Winchester House 150A

Some clerical figures strolling on the left perhaps, and one of Shepherd’s running dogs on the other path.

East of the point where Oakley Street met the river was a grand terrace of houses we’ve seen in Hedderly photographs. The house with the signs is Don Saltero’s Tavern,  once home to an even more famous museum of curiosites.

Cheyne Walk - Don Saltereo's 151A

James Salter (“Don Saltero” was his exotic alter ego) had been a servant of Sir Hans Sloane. The original coffee house was further east near Lawrence Street but he finally moved to 18 Cheyne Walk. He died in 1728. The collection was sold in 1799 and by the time Shepherd painted this picture the house was just a tavern.

The collection itself deserves a post of its own, which I may do one day but let me just give some random examples from the 1734 version of the catalogue:

21 Petrified crab from China; 27 The Worm that eats into the Piles in Holland; 31 A piece of rotten wood not to be consumed by fire; 67 A pair of Nun’s stockings; 69 A Nun’s Whip; 70 the Pope’s infallible candle; 76 A little Lobster;102 A curious snuff box, adorn’d with ivory figures;119 the Hand of an Egyptian Mummy; 135 An Ostritch’s Leg; 142 A Cat of Mountain; 302 A Whale’s pizzle: 305 A Batt with four Ears

As you can see, it was a collection you’d want to see if you could. I once displayed the whole list in the gallery at Chelsea Library. In the end though the whole lot sold for £50.

We now begin a walk along the riverside, one of the most illustrated parts of Chelsea [link]

Another familiar view shows the pre-Embankment riverside heading towards the Old Church. The river was wider, and maybe gentler at this time.

Chelsea waterfront 152A

Getting closer to the church you can see the Sloane Monument and the terrace leading up to it, both photographed by Hedderly. (plus other posts under his name)

Chelsea Old Church 145A

Shepherd gave the dog some time off and puts a horse in this one. Arch House, the covered way to Lombard Street is just visible.

Lindsey House 146A

On the other side of the bridge, the dog returns in this view of Lindsey House, built in 1694 but substantially altered over the years. The Brunels, father and son lived there for several years in the early 19th century.

Turner's House 119 Cheyne Walk 147A

Further along Cheyne Walk at number 119 (the house in the centre) was rented from 1838 by the painter J M W Turner. The rail on the roof was supposedly the point from which he watched the river, particularly at sunset.  He lived there almost incognito only visited by a few friends such as Leopold Martin, son of the painter John Martin. It’s not recorded whether the misspellings at Alexander’s are what Shepherd actually saw or whether Shepherd himself was a poor speller.

Time-journeys along this stretch of river often end here:

Cremorne Gardens 1852 148A

The Cremorne Pleasure Gardens, where I imagine there were no dogs allowed, apart from the performing variety [link]

Cremorne Gardens 1852 149A

Shepherd doesn’t show the crowds. Perhaps he’s imagining a quiet afternoon at Cremorne. These two ladies, the gentleman and the boy can have their pick of the chairs. A few figures make their way out of what I assume is Ashburnham Hall, part of the old estate now convereted into an exhibition area.. This is the genteel version of the Gardens. Some edifying displays in the hall, a chance to sit quietly, almost in the country with only the sound of the wind in the trees and the river in the background. Later the entertainments will begin and presumably Cremorne won’t be so quiet or so staid.

Let’s go one step further and pass through the gardens onto the westernmost stretch of the King’s Road. St Mark’s College was built right across from the entrance to Cremorne. As a teacher training college the authorities there naturally deplored the licentious activity in the evenings at Cremorne and the Principal of the College was one of the main objectors whenever Cremorne’s licences were up for renewal. (Although the main reason for the closure of Cremorne was probably a decline in profitability and the desire of developers to build housing on the site.) The days of seasonal  outdoors entertainment on the scale of Cremorne were coming to an end.

On the Fulham Road side of the College site was the chapel:

St Mark's College Chapel 138A

It looks like another tranquil spot. But London was growing around all the quiet places Shepherd depicted and the modern city was taking over. The only animals in this picture are a small flock of birds.

Postscript

Shepherd brings together many strands of Chelsea history. I’m almost certainly going to pick one of those up next week, I’m not sure which one right now.

Advertisements

Visitor attraction: in the Crystal Palace 1851

When I first visited London in the 1960s we stayed with my uncle who lived in Crystal Palace. The first place he took us to was the park, where the stone dinosaurs immediately became one of my favourite things in London. Up the hill from the unlikely versions of the ancient animals were the TV mast, another source of wonder and the remains of the structure which gave the area its name: the Crystal Palace.

Sphinx (2)

Before 1936 when some mishap caused it to burn down it looked like this. Joseph Paxton the designer of the great glasshouse had moved the whole thing from Hyde Park to an obscure site in Sydenham, south London. He expanded the main building, added two towers at either end (designed by Brunel) and built an ornamental park around it.

crystal palace

Despite its destruction (and who is to say it would have survived the War, and the post war dislike of Victorian structures that saw the disappearance of the Euston Arch among many others?) it remains a familiar image and occupies a small but permanent niche in the popular imagination.

We don’t usually remember where exactly it was originally located, but this is the spot:

location cpic192

It faced the main road between London and Kensington

cpalace 1

And although photography was in its infancy, many pictures were taken including calotypes by the Fox-Talbot company. There are plenty of photographs of the interior but by technical necessity they show it empty, without people. The essence of a visitor attraction is the people who come to it in their hundreds, and you can only get a sense of that from prints and lithographs.

Plate 4 The transept centre-left - Copy

The transept had been built around the tree after an MP had complained about its possible destruction but it actually added to the general effect. The fountain was constructed out of crystal glass.

The statues were cast in plaster.

Plate 4 The transept right side higher view - Copy

There was an appreciative and colourful throng of visitors. This view shows the height of the structure, the strangeness of some of the objects – a lighthouse reflector, the Ross telescope, the Colebroke Dome  and in the centre the Queen and the Prince Consort, the premier celebrities of the day.

Plate 3 The British Nave right side

Plate 3 The British Nave left side cut off on left - Copy (2)

They’re on a relatively informal visit in this lithograph.

Plate 3 The British Nave right side - Copy

Bystanders keep a discreet distance from the Royal party while getting as close as they think is correct on both sides of the Nave.

Plate 3 The British Nave left side complete - Copy

The exterior of the building appeared squat and monotonous but the interior seemed Tardis-vast.

Foreign nave

Above the ground level were galleries, some stuffed with curious objects.

Canada

Others quiet and ecclesiastical:

Stained glass gallery

And others weirdly intimate:

Austria

Victoria and Albert had paid a more formal visit on the day of the Palace’s Inaugeration in May.

Plate 2 The Foreign Nave left side

They entered the Palace through iron gates and proceeded through the crowds to take their place under a giant canopy.

Plate 1 The Inaugeration centre-left - Copy

Victoria wrote in her diary: “the glimpses of the transept through the iron gates..(the) myriads of people filling the galleries and seats gave us a sensation which I can never forget.” In a letter she said “The sight…was incredibly glorious, really like fairyland.” Other commentators spoke of the intoxicating effects of, forms, colours and noise.

When I think of a Victorian glass house I think of the Palm House at Kew Gardens, full of vegetation and damp air, like being in a jungle. I can’t quite imagine an even bigger version full of light, artificial colours and people.

Inaugeration Plate 1 detail of crowd new scan

The opening ceremoney,Victoria said “fills me with devotion more so than any service I have ever heard”. She visited the Exhibition many times, going one day and starting off the next in the exact spot she had left off, until she had seen almost everything.

After six months in October of 1851  police cleared the building for a final time. There was a last private ceremony to close the building which Victoria “grieved not to be able to be present”. (Albert had advised aginst it.). She did go back to look at it again with all the exhibits removed “the beauty of the building was never seen to greater advantage.”

Interior

The following year after much debate as to its future the Palace moved to Sydenham, deep in the suburbs, and after seventy years or so, one day its story came to an end.

The ruins of the Crystal Palace, London, after it was burned down - 30 November 1936

Postscript

We were over the border in the City of Westminster this week but as a forerunner of Albertopolis the Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition are of some interest to the history of Kensington and Chelsea. And I liked the set of lithographs which were too big for me to scan in one piece but had some irresistible details. I started out with them but the more I read the more pictures I wanted to add, so you get a  bumper crop of images this week.

John McKean’s book Crystal Palace (1994) was particularly informative, and was where I found the quotes from Queen Victoria.


Death defying feats – a day at Cremorne

The time machine has been parked in Mr Hedderly’s back yard (we have a special arrangement with him –we’re promoting his work in the 21st century). We’re here for another three weeks. Put down that instalment of the Old Curiosity Shop, we might as well go out. This is the first era of mass entertainment after all. Music halls, panoramas, dioramas, exhibitions, zoos and menageries, gambling, any amount of sport to watch or play. Or we could go to a place where there is music, dancing, fireworks, performing animals, balloons, plays, ballets, magic, freaks, prostitutes and above all stunts – death defying feats. That’s Cremorne Gardens – not quite the greatest show on earth…but close enough.

Her? If you’re lucky I might get Mr Rossetti to introduce you to her later. In the meantime check out the show bill.

In the afternoons it’s all harmless stuff. Educational even.

It’s that sea bear (or walking fish) I want to see. Arctocephalus Ursinus no less. You or I might be slightly let down to see the fish / bear in the flesh.

Later in the evening the real fun starts.

I can’t help feeling that actual necromancy might be asking a little much even from the renowned professor, but I would be prepared to be convinced. I could do without the dogs and monkeys but the fireworks could be good. Mr Whistler the American artist is said to like them. His sometime friend Walter Greaves painted him at Cremorne, but that’s a story for another day. I’m waiting for the next event. This should be worth seeing.

Cristoforo Buono Core is also known as the Italian Salamander (Salamanders were credited in folklore with the ability to bathe unharmed in flames). No photographs this week but we do have an artist’s rendition of the event:

Some of the ladies and gentlemen are standing a little closer than modern health and safety regulations and maybe common sense would allow I think. (Ladies, remember those scare stories in the equivalent of Daily Mail about crinoline fires?) This is basically a man in protective clothing I suppose so it’s just a case of good equipment and strong nerves,but I wouldn’t want to try it. As it turned out Coro was in more danger from a disgruntled former partner (Francisco Filliponi, the Emperor of Fire) who later tried to kill him with poisoned strawberries.

If we’d come on another afternoon we might have seen strong nerves and a high degree of skill.

She was a tightrope walker who went by the name of the Female Blondin. A few years before our visit in August 1861 she attempted to cross the river from Battersea to Cremorne. I don’t think Death literally accompanied her but it was a close run thing. The rope seems to have become a little slack over the final third of the course. She stopped and was forced to climb down the guide ropes to be rescued by one of the boats.

The engraving makes it look as though the river was thick with boats but there would still have been plenty of open water. Onlookers reported that the daring young woman wept tears of frustration when she was forced to climb down, cutting her hands in the process. She was vindicated later in the month when she successfully crossed both ways. Now that’s entertainment.

Our final act today moves from calculated risk to an idiotic disregard for safety, and brings us back to balloons, a Cremorne favourite. Jumping from a balloon with an improvised parachute can be done as was demonstrated at Cremorne by a Mr Hampton as early as 1839. But in 1874 in the final decade of the Gardens a Dutchman named Willem de Groof attempted a far trickier feat, jumping from a balloon wearing a set of homemade wings attached to a kind of wooden platform, intending to glide safely to earth. You wouldn’t really have wanted to see the result.

De Groof fell to earth in Sydney Street near St Luke’s Church (see last week’s post). He died a few days later. The proprietor of Cremorne at the time, John Baum was probably grateful the tragedy occurred outside his grounds as he already had financial troubles along with respectable citizens trying to shut down the Gardens on the grounds of immorality. De Groof was the subject of many stories like the one above and even a narrative poem. So we end with a salutary tale.

Now what about that immorality? Back to the night of our visit, Derby Day 1865. On the show bill it says “dancing will continue till the close of the Gardens”. Dancing and whatever else went on in the grottos and the shadowy corners of the gardens. Let’s leave them to it and get back to the Time Machine. Unless you fancy one last dance?

Author’s note

I’m sure that readers of this blog are not quite as interested in the number of page views as I am but nevertheless I want to tell you that this week we passed 20,000 page views since the beginning of the blog. And 21,000, and 22,000 and 23,000. In fact it was a busy couple of days, thanks to a post on Metafilter, some tweeting and some Facebook activity. So thanks to everyone who passed the link to the Linley Sambourne post on in any way.

Sometimes I follow my own obsessions when I’m selecting pictures and writing posts, but I also take note of what readers seem to like. So if you want more Linley Sambourne, more Hedderly, more Cremorne, more empty streets and more picture of 1970s Kensington and Chelsea let me know.


Gigantic: the Earl’s Court Wheel

If you’ve ever been to Vienna you might have seen the Wiener Riesenrad. Or if you’ve seen the film the Third Man you’ll remember Orson Welles famous speech: “in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock”  which he delivers while he and Joseph Cotten are riding one of the compartments in the Riesenrad. Constructed in 1897 and miraculously still surviving despite wartime damage and attempts to demolish it the Riesenrad is one of the oldest examples of a Ferris Wheel. The original Ferris Wheel designed by a naval engineer called William Graydon was built for the Chicago Exhibition in 1893. (It was taken apart and reassembled twice in its lifetime the last being at the World’s Fair in St Louis, another film connection although it doesn’t appear in Take me to St Louis.) The European rights to the patent were acquired by Walter Bassett another ex-navy man who was the director of a UK engineering company. It was Bassett’s company that built the Riesenrad and other versions of the Ferris Wheel in Paris, Blackpool and of course Earl’s Court.

The Great Wheel (also called the Big Wheel and my favourite the Gigantic Wheel) was constructed at the Earls Court Exhibition.

The Exhibition grounds had been squeezed onto surplus railways lands west of Warwick Road. They opened in 1887. One of the first attractions was William Cody’s Buffalo Bill Rough Riders and Redskin Show. There were also “national” exhibitions – French, German and Italian – a concert hall and a switchback railway. The spectacles became increasingly ambitious under the new proprietor Imre Kiralfy who rebuilt most of the buildings on the site. It was he who brought in Walter Bassett to create the Earls Court Great Wheel. Construction began in 1894.

 Here is the Great Wheel going up:

The Wheel was open for passengers in July 1895. It was 300 feet in diameter weighed 1100 tons and was propelled by two steam engines. A complete revolution took about 20 minutes.

Here is the Wheel in action seen from the Exhibition grounds:

And here is the view from the railway:

The oddest views are the ones showing the Wheel towering above nearby streets such as this one:

The excitement generated by the Wheel seems to almost exactly like the feelings we had about the London Eye. There is something about the concept of riding high into the air in a closed compartment suddenly seeing the familiar city from a new angle which transcends the barriers of time which separate us from the pleasure seekers of the late 19th century. The Wheel had its detractors who thought it “vulgar”, “foolish” or “insane”. So not much change there. It ran successfully for several years. (There was one incident when the Wheel got stuck for a few hours but the passengers were compensated and came away happy.)

Like many such attractions the Wheel had a limited lifespan. Bassett was brought back to demolish it in 1906-7.

Here it is going down:

The Earls Court exhibition site has been re-modelled and rebuilt several times since the demise of the Great Wheel and a new development is being planned at the moment.  But wouldn’t it be good if the Great Wheel had survived like the Riesenrad and the London Eye had a slightly battered older cousin waving at it from the west of London?


Night flight 1861: runaway balloon at Cremorne

This is a detail from a James Hedderly photograph. Among the trees on the right you can see the firework platform of Cremorne Gardens, one of the great entertainment attractions of Victorian London now gone almost without trace. There seem to be very few photographs of the place at all although there are plenty of prints on posters and handbills and illustrations in magazines like the Illustrated London News. So we think we know what it looked like and we think we know what it was like to visit the place. Mass entertainment as we know it today began in the nineteenth century in the pleasure gardens and music halls of Victorian cities. 

The staples of Cremorne were music, dancing, variety shows and fireworks. At first these would have been enough to pull in the crowds. But the various proprietors of Cremorne also needed spectacle. Death defying stunts were provided on a regular basis including performers such as the Female Blondin, the Flying Man and the Italian Salamander. I’ll return to those three on another occasion but for our first visit to Cremorne I want to talk about the first great sensational obsession of proprietors and punters alike – balloons.

Balloons were the first invention that got us into the air and although they had been in regular use since the eighteenth century for military and scientific purposes as well as the occasional spectacular public show it wasn’t until places like Cremorne started regular shows that large numbers of people got a chance to see them in action on a regular basis.

Here’s an early poster advertising a balloon event and a later print of a balloon taking off near the fireworks platform.

Of course once you’ve seen a balloon ascend a few times it might start to seem too easy and just not thrilling enough. Mr Green, the Nassau Balloon man livened up proceedings by taking “a lady and a leopard” up with him as passengers.  Later someone asked themselves what if we suspended something from underneath the basket? A horse maybe? Or a cow? How about a woman in classical costume riding the cow while the balloon ascends? She can then represent the goddess Europa whose sacred animal is the bull – educational as well as spectacular. This actually happened and I wonder how they persuaded the woman in question, a Madame Piotevin that it would be perfectly safe to sit on a terrified animal while ascending hundreds of feet up in the air dressed as a Greek goddess.  Other variations on the theme followed including the trip I’m going to describe now.

On July 24th 1861 the aeronaut Mr Lythgoe was scheduled to take paying passengers for a flight in his balloon. Mr Arthur Vivian and his friend Noel Anderson “having been disappointed a month before at Crystal Place” put their 5 guineas down to make sure they would secure a place. But the afternoon of 24th July turned out to be cloudy, windy and looking like rain. By 4.00pm Mr Lythgoe was on his way home, but after “a gleam of sunshine” Mr Adams, the secretary authorised the inflation of the balloon and Mr Lythgoe was summoned back.  The balloon took a long time to inflate and Mr Lythgoe had some misgivings but Mr Adams thought it would be a great climax to the evening’s entertainment if they set off after the fireworks at 10.30pm. “Several bystanders now endeavoured to dissuade us” according to Mr Vivian but despite strong winds and a torrential downpour they set off at 10.45.

Night flights had been done before. The adventurous Mr Green had set off fireworks from above to the general delight of the crowds. On one occasion he ascended at night during a heavy rainstorm. He and all his equipment were soaked. He was blown off course as far as Harrow where he was rescued, dirty and dishevelled by “four young ladies” who had been following the balloon from below.

All went well at first for Mr Lythgoe and his companions. At 1000 feet they could see London laid out underneath them like a map, the streets and squares “distinctly traced by the lines of gas light” and the sounds from below, carriages and carts, human voices and even music strangely clear. They shouted out themselves startling unsuspecting animals and people below. They went higher, up to 8000 feet, now much colder.  They thought they might be 20 miles or so from London as they descended and threw out the grappling iron. They stopped for a moment but with a loud crack the rope to the grappling iron broke. They were swept upward “at a frightening pace”. “Our situation was now anything but pleasant”. Without a grappling iron the only way to land was to descend and “run the balloon against a tree or other sharp object” and burst it. The first time they tried this they crashed into some trees. Vivian was momentarily stunned and regaining consciousness found Anderson gone, flung out of the basket when they touched the ground. The balloon was ascending again “at the most awful velocity” with most of their ballast gone. Lythgoe reckoned they got to 17000 feet before they could regain control and begin to descend. They were travelling through banks of cloud. Vivian thought he could hear water below. Lythgoe assured him they could be nowhere near the sea, but a break in the cloud cover showed that they were in fact above the ocean. After this terrifying realisation there was a moment of relief. They were heading towards the shore. Once over land again a landing was imperative. They climbed out of the basket and clung on to the ropes so they could drop immediately when they were close enough to the ground. The balloon bounced along, the basket hitting the ground only to be pulled up again until Lythgoe saw them about to hit a windmill and gave the order to let go. They landed “comparatively unhurt” and tried to follow the balloon. But after Lythgoe fell into a dyke they sought shelter at a cottage “not far from Southwold”. Once they persuaded the occupants that they had arrived by balloon they were given some welcome hospitality by the farm labourer and his family. At dawn they borrowed some clothes and went out time looking for debris from the balloon. They found Vivian’s umbrella among other items. Back in their own dry clothes by 6 am they made their way to Darsham Station and caught the 7.20 train which connected with the London express. They were in London by 10.00am “without hats and coats, to the great astonishment of many bystanders”. Anderson turned up at 1pm. He had been thrown into a field of beans in Essex and had made his way by omnibus and train back to Cremorne to enquire after the fate of the balloon. The three men were re-united later in the day.

Mr Vivian wrote an entertaining pamphlet about “our balloon adventure” with some observations about future safety precautions. Mr Lythgoe foreswore further night ascents.

It’s an excellent account with all the Victorian virtues, boldness, calmness in the face of adversity and some modesty in the telling of the story. I’m glad Mr Vivian saw fit to record the adventure. I can’t help wondering though if a modern balloon party faced a similar situation, and found themselves reluctantly transported from Central London to Suffolk on a stormy night whether the transport system would get them back by 10.00am the following morning.


%d bloggers like this: