The Old Curiosity Shop

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Retracing our steps….we shortly arrive at Portsmouth Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields. At No. 14 will be found (for a short time only) a small old-fashioned house, on the front of which is painted an inscription, “The Old Curiosity Shop, Immortalised by Charles Dickens,” now occupied by Mr. H. Poole, dealer in wastepaper. This is said to be the house assigned by the novelist for the residence of Little Nell and her grandfather, with whose pathetic history we are all familiar—

“One of those receptacles for old and curious things, which seem to crouch in odd corners of this town, and to hide their musty treasures from the public eye in jealousy and distrust.”

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It cannot, however, be regarded as absolutely certain that this particular house was the author’s intended “local habitation” for one of the best-known and loved of his creations. The tale itself concludes with a reference to Kit’s uncertainty as to the whereabouts of the place:—

“The old house had long ago been pulled down, and a fine broad road was in its place. At first he would draw with his stick a square upon the ground to show them where it used to stand. But he soon became uncertain of the spot, and could only say it was thereabouts, he thought, and that these alterations were confusing.”

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[A lady, personally acquainted with the great novelist, has informed the author that she was once taken by Mr. Dickens to No. 10 Green Street (approaching Leicester Square from the east)—at the corner of Green and Castle Streets, behind the National Gallery—the business of curiosity-dealing being then and there carried on. Mr. Dickens himself localised this house as the home of little Nell, pointing out an inner room—divided from the shop by a glass partition—as her bedroom. The premises are now rebuilt.]
‘Rambles in Dickens Land’, Robert Allbut, S.T. Freemantle. 1899.

Images top to bottom:
1. This old photograph reproduced on a postcard may have been made in the 1870s.
2. New tenants Gill & Durrant, successors to H. Poole photographed c.1912-1914. The shop was threatened with demolition at the time Allbut wrote that it would be there “for a short time only”. It was saved, but Mr. Poole had already moved to new premises.
3. Another tenant – who needs to fix that roof urgently! Could be early 1920s. I think the lady in the doorway is dressed in Victorian style for maximum Dickensian effect.

The old shop today is surrounded by the brick and glass of the London School of Economics and in need of more maintenance. Modern opinion agrees with Allbut that it had no connection to Dickens. In fact Steve Draper claims in this post that it was rebranded in 1868, when it was a bookshop, to increase trade.

That dicussion is a distraction from the building’s real historic value. Here is a 17th (some say 16th) century structure that has survived the Great Fire of London and the bombs of two world wars. Surely that deserves better than a Grade II listing.

Up on Christmas Creek

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Photograph by Burton Brothers c.1890. Te Papa collection.

The stream with the season-appropriate name lies to the west of Dunedin, New Zealand. It flows under the rail bridge in the picture and joins the Taieri river on the other side.

The engine and its train of wagons belonged to the Otago Central Railway which, according to the Cyclopedia of New Zealand’s volume of 1905, had “been the subject of heated controversy….the funds for its construction have been obtained at various times only after bitter struggles with the promoters of rival provincial undertakings. [The province of] Otago understands its importance and has long since proved her determination to sacrifice many another public interest rather than fail in the great work of opening up the central districts of the province, and bringing them within easy range of the coast and the [provincial] capital”.

“….the promoters of the line hold that great ultimate benefits would accrue to the colony as a whole, through the exploitation of mineral and agricultural wealth, and the facilitation of the already extensive and lucrative tourist traffic”.

Work had begun on the track in 1879 but, due to terrain and shortage of money, it advanced only 100 miles over the next 23 years – “less than five miles a year”. The writer thought the hardest part had been done and “it does not seem that there is any special difficulty involved in the formation of the line, as far as Clyde, 130 miles from Dunedin. It is altogether a great undertaking; and its completion is in every way essential to the ultimate prosperous development of the province”.

The railway did reach Clyde eventually, finally arriving at Cromwell and its surrounding agricultural land by 1921. It had been 42 years in the making. Meanwhile roads had improved and the traffic moved from rails to trucks and cars. The line struggled to compete for business.

The Clyde to Cromwell section was closed in 1980 to make way for the Clyde hydro dam and what is now Lake Dunstan. The track from Clyde to Middlemarch was removed in 1991 and has since been developed into the Otago Rail Trail, a popular route reserved exclusively for cyclists and walkers.

You can still ride the train as far as Middlemarch as it winds up through the rugged Taieri Gorge and over the bridge at Christmas Creek. It’s one of the region’s major tourist attractions. Book early to avoid disappointment.

(All links open in a new window)

The Basin Reserve

How New Zealand’s oldest cricket ground got its name…..

“Basin Reserve” is the name given many years ago to what is the principal cricket-ground of [Wellington] City. There is no resemblance to a basin about it, nor does it seem as if there could ever have been any; but old residents can remember when it was a large waterhole. The earthquakes of 1855 raised it a few feet*, and in common with the swamp above and below, it has been drained and converted into valuable and dry land. The area of the reserve is ten acres, about half of it being turfed, and the remainder grassed and planted. There is a very large Grand Stand, a band pavilion, and an elaborately pillared and domed drinking fountain.
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897.
*Magnitude 8.2 earthquake raised the ground about 6 feet (2 metres)

Basin Reserve

An Edwardian postcard.

….mention may be made of Kent Terrace, after the Duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria, and Cambridge Terrace, after her uncle, the Duke of Cambridge.
B_TerracesThese two terraces form the right and left sides of what is one of the finest thoroughfares in the Dominion, occupying the site of an early project of the settlement, namely, the construction of a canal to lead from a proposed dock, now the Basin Reserve, to the sea. The great earthquake of 1855….transferred the dock site into dry land, leaving the Basin Reserve, and incidentally the dock scheme, high and dry.

As the result of the earthquake, the Provincial Council in 1857 acceded to a petition to set aside the “basin,” as the swamp was called, for a public park. Dock Street, bordering the south side, was accordingly changed to Rugby Street. The clock in the grandstand was the gift in October, 1890, of the family of the late Mr. Edward Dixon, cordial manufacturer and enthusiastic supporter of cricket ….. The clock is now transferred to the new pavillion.
‘The Streets of My City’, F.L. Irvine-Smith. A.H. & A.W. Reed Ltd. First published 1948.

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Kent Terrace with Cambridge Terrace at right. The area was often referred to as the Canal and Basin Reserve into the early 1870s.
Creator unknown :Glass negatives of Wellington. Ref: 1/2-230265-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22303054

Basin Reserve crowd

Now exclusively a cricket ground, the Basin supported many codes in it’s early days. These subdued soccer fans are some of the estimated 1300 people who turned out on a Tuesday afternoon for a provincial match in June 1913. Maybe they were Canterbury supporters. Wellington 10, Canterbury 0.
Te Papa collection.

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The Basin Reserve at left, c.1937. Kent and Cambridge Terraces are obscured by buildings but they run from the edge of the field to the right of the picture.
Te Papa collection.

Source for the vertical image of Kent and Cambridge Terraces in the 1930s – Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 1/2-090001-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22433150

 

The Edwin Fox

From ‘Shaw Savill Line, One hundred years of trading’, Sydney D Waters. Whitcombe & Tombs, 1961. (Abridged)

[One of] the many remarkable ships owned by Shaw Savill & Co. was the Edwin Fox, whose hulk, now 105 years old, has been lying for many years at Picton, port of Marlborough [New Zealand]. She was built of the best Burma teak-wood in 1853 in Sulkeali, a province of Bengal. She was laid down to the order of the Hon. East India Company, but while still on the stocks was sold to Sir George Edmund Hodgkinson of Cornhill, London.

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Originally a full-rigged ship, later a barque, Edwin Fox carried troops to the Crimean War, convicts to Australia, and passengers to India.

The ship continued to trade to India and the Far East until 1873 when she was chartered by Shaw Savill & Co. …. After clearing the Channel she was damaged in a gale in the Bay of Biscay. The crew broached some cases of spirits and became so drunk that the passengers had to man the pumps as the ship was leaking badly. She was towed into Brest and there repaired.

The Edwin Fox was purchased by Shaw Savill & Co. in 1875 and during the next decade she made a yearly voyage out to New Zealand, firmly establishing her reputation as a ‘slowcoach’. …. in 1880 she arrived at Lyttelton with twenty saloon, twelve second-class and seventy-seven steerage passengers, all of whom were full of complaints about their accommodation. In the following year she was 139 days on passage from London to Bluff.

Some years later the rapidly growing frozen meat trade gave new employment to the ship.

Edwin Fox 2-2

In 1885 The Edwin Fox was fitted with refrigerating machinery and, stripped of her rigging but with lower masts still standing, was used as a freezing hulk in various New Zealand ports.

Finally she was towed to Picton under engagement to freeze for the Wairau Freezing Company. In 1899…. she was converted into a coal hulk and loading stage and moored at the foot of the hill on which the freezing works stand. There she lies, a relic of a past era and a never-ending source of interest to sightseers.

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The Edwin Fox in Shakespeare Bay, Marlborough Sounds, in 1983.

This story has a happy ending. Twenty-five years after Mr. Waters published his book and three years after these photographs were taken, the hulk of the Edwin Fox was saved from total disintegration. It is now housed in its own covered dry dock on Picton waterfront, only a few minutes walk from the Cook Strait ferry terminal, and is still a never-ending source of interest to sightseers.
Read full details of the ship’s fascinating career on this page from the New Zealand Maritime Museum.

H.M.S. Victory

Although the Victory was ordered for the Royal Navy in 1759 and is still in commission as a flagship, she is for ever remembered for just one battle on one day; Trafalgar, 21st October 1805, and her association with one man; Admiral Horatio Nelson.

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Still afloat at Portsmouth in the early 1900s.

V_Nelson…. “in his new flagship, the Victory, [Nelson] had one of the stateliest three-deckers ever built, a vessel in every way worthy to receive him [in 1803]. She had been laid down when he was still in his cradle, had been launched at Chatham in 1765, and had worn the flags of Keppel, Kempenfelt, Howe, Hood, St Vincent and other, lesser, admirals. She had just undergone a large repair which was practically a rebuilding, and was capable of a surprising turn of speed. Had Nelson been offered his choice, he could not have proposed a finer or a lovelier ship.

Such a ship was “tall” indeed, for her main-mast, with its top-mast and top-gallant, rose 175 feet above her deck. She mounted 104 guns, and with all her size and capacity there was not a corner wasted, from the depths of her hold with its ordered stores and well-stowed ammunition to the skid-beams on the spar-deck where the boats were ready for hoisting out by tackle at the word of command.”
‘A Portrait of Lord Nelson’, Oliver Warner. The Reprint Society, 1958. [Edited]

V_KGVThe Victory remained in service after Nelson’s death and the French/Spanish defeat at Trafalgar until paid off in 1812, and was afterwards moored at Portsmouth as either a receiving ship or flagship into the early part of the 20th century. Then, in 1922……

….. “it was discovered that Nelson’s famous flagship, the Victory, was sinking at her moorings in Portsmouth Harbour, and that the timbers of the hull were in perilous condition. She was accordingly moved permanently into dry dock, and thorough measures taken to restore her. A careful study of naval records has enabled the Victory’s appearance at the time of the battle of Trafalgar, and the Admiral’s quarters, to be reproduced.

On July 26th, 1924, before holding the Naval Review at Spithead, the King and the Prince of Wales went over the famous old man-of-war, and inspected the work of reconstruction.”
‘The Reign of H.M. King George V’, 1935. W.D. & H.O. Wills.

H.M.S. Victory

The restored H.M.S. Victory in 1928, the year it was opened to the public.

Victory gun deck

The lower gun deck. The crew slept and ate here too.

“Impressive as the Victory still is, in her meticulously preserved condition at Portsmouth, she is now but a shell of the sea fortress which dominated the Mediterranean. Her immense spread of sail, which gave her speed, has gone forever; her eight hundred and fifty men, who gave her power, are no more than memories.”
Ibid: Warner.

This impressive “shell” has managed to draw visitors by the million since 1928 and, with the help of some expensive, high tech care and attention should continue to do so for many more years.

It could be argued that Trafalgar was as important to Britain in the 19th century as the Battle of Britain was in the 20th, and for the same reason; they both foiled an invasion by a foreign power. Trafalgar Day will be commemorated this Sunday.

I had intended to write more about the ship, the battle, and the Admiral but Mike at A Bit About Britain did it first – and better – with his post on 24th August. I recommend you read it. In fact, if you’re planning to visit Britain, or just want to explore the place without leaving your chair, this blog is essential reading. (And he didn’t pay me to write that).

A Royal Church

Image from a late 1940s postcard by Valentines.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church – Built 1721-26, is perhaps the finest work of James Gibbs. Familiar to all “Listeners” on account of its Broadcast Services.
Postcard by Valentine & Sons, Ltd.

We come now to a place known through the broadcasting world, St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Proudly it stands by [Trafalgar] Square, broadcasting to the millions its message and the music of its bells, alive with every kind of good activity, its crypt open every night to scores of London’s homeless.

It is one of our finest churches, the masterpiece of Wren’s friend and disciple James Gibbs, whose bust (by Rysbrack) is inside. There had been a church here for centuries, and the fields were still green in [Oliver] Cromwell’s day, but St. Martin’s as we see it comes from 1726. Its architecture should be admired from across the square, where the splendid proportions of the classical design are best seen. The impressive portico is one of the best in London, and above it the royal arms remind us that this is the parish church of Buckingham Palace, so that the name of a royal baby born at the palace is entered in the register here.

[The interior is] full of interest, though unhappily so dark that it must always be lit by day. The roof is unusual for curving down in the shape of an ellipse, an arrangement James Gibbs thought “much better for the voice.” It is panelled in blue and gold, and adorned by fretwork. Royal boxes, like open windows, look down on the sanctuary, and between them is an east window of the Ascension with expressive faces.

Plain in architecture but warm in welcome, the crypt is like a second church below the first. It is one of London’s Ever Open Doors, and is used for worship when the crowd is too great for the church itself. In the crypt is a rare little Children’s Chapel, domed and coloured like the vault of heaven, and among the interesting things kept here is a fine model of the church by its architect, waiting to light up for a penny, an old chest, a kneeling Tudor figure, a row of ten kneeling children, a whipping-post of 1752 from Trafalgar Square, and a tablet to a lady of 1687 whose early death led her friends to write of her:
A friendly neighbour and a virtuous wife,
Doubtless she’s blessed with Everlasting Life.
‘London’, Arthur Mee, Hodder and Stoughton, 1937.

In 2006, work began on a two-year £36 million “renewal programme” for St. Martin’s. The crypt is now a cafe and concert area.

A Bath for the Gods

Continuing from Tuesday’s post, following J. A. Froude’s account of his adventures in the geothermal region of New Zealand’s North Island in 1885.

Leaving the White Terrace behind, the guides Kate and Mari led the group on a track past boiling pools where the “heat, noise and smell were alike intolerable”, and steaming cones of mud. “Suspicious bubbles of steam spurted out under our feet as we trod, and we were warned to be careful where we went.”

After lunch beside Lake Rotomahana, Mari ferried them accross the “weird and evil looking” hot lake in a leaky dugout canoe.

The Pink Terrace, the object of our voyage, opened out before us on the opposite shore. It was formed on the same lines as the other, save that it was narrower, and was flushed with pale-rose colour. Oxide of iron is said to be the cause….

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A painting of the Pink Terrace and Lake Rotomahana by Charles Blomfield. The White Terrace can be seen in the background on the other side of the lake. The height and shape of Mount Tarawera has been exaggerated and distorted. (Compare with the photograph at the bottom of the post).

The party landed at the terrace-foot “with no more misfortune than a light splashing”. Some intrepid tourists of the time felt their trip wouldn’t be complete without bathing in the terrace pools and Froude was keen to take the plunge.

To my great relief I found that a native youth was waiting with the towels, and that we were to be spared the ladies’ assistance. The youth took charge of us and led us up the shining stairs. The crystals were even more beautiful than those which we had seen, falling like clusters of rosy icicles, or hanging in festoons like creepers trailing from a rail. At the foot of each cascade the water lay in pools of ultra marine, their exquisite colour being due in part, I suppose, to the light of the sky refracted upwards from the bottom. In the deepest of these we were to bathe. The temperature was 94°F or 95°F. The water lay inviting in its crystal basin.

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Falling like clusters of rosy icicles.

The water was deep enough to swim in comfortably, though not over our heads. We lay on our backs and floated for ten minutes in exquisite enjoyment, and the alkali, or the flint, or the perfect purity of the element, seemed to saturate our systems. I for one, when I was dressed again, could have fancied myself back in the old days when I did not know that I had a body, and could run up hill as lightly as down.

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The bath over, we pursued our way. The marvel of the Terrace was still before us, reserved to the last. The crater at the White Terrace had been boiling; the steam rushing out from it had filled the air with cloud; and the scorching heat had kept us at a distance. Here the temperature was twenty degrees lower; there was still vapour hovering over the surface, but it was lighter and more transparent, and a soft breeze now and then blew it completely aside. We could stand on the brim and gaze as through an opening in the earth into an azure infinity beyond.

The hue of the water was something which I had never seen, and shall never again see on this side of eternity. ….. Here was a bath, if mortal flesh could have borne to dive into it! It was a bath for the gods and not for man.
Extracted from ‘Oceana’, J. A. Froude, Ed. Geoffrey Blainey. Methuen Haynes, 1985.

Froude was right – he would never see the sight again. One year after his visit, this landscape changed forever. More about that tomorrow.

T_pink photo