Temple Church

The Temple at the gate of the City [of London] lies in the historic Square Mile but is not of it. As the City belongs to itself, like a kingdom within a kingdom, so it is with the Temple, the sanctuary of the legal world. It owns the land it stands on, it governs itself, it gives the police no trouble, and it allows us all to enjoy its beautiful domain.

It was the home of the Templars who formed themselves into an Order of Chivalry 800 years ago to guard the Holy Tomb and protect the pilgrims. It was granted to the knights of St John in 1324, and in turn they left it to the lawyers, who hold it in perpetuity. It is now the home of two Inns, Inner and Middle Temple, the rough dividing line being Middle Temple Lane, which runs from Fleet Street to the Thames Embankment. The Inner Temple Gateway stands close by and leads us to the famous church.

Temple churchExcept for St. Bartholomew’s and St John’s in the Tower, Temple Church is the oldest in London, the finest of the five round churches left in England from the days of the Crusaders, who built them in the style of the church they loved in Jerusalem, the Holy Sepulchre. Only a few steps from Fleet Street, this little round church has looked much as it is since the day it was consecrated by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem [in 1185]. Half a century more and the choir [Chancel] was added to the nave (the Oblong to the Round), and through all the changing centuries these walls have stood while all around has changed.

The porch has been refashioned and has one round and two pointed arches, but the doorway within it is a gem of Norman building, with a fine array of recessed shafts and mouldings and the flower of Norman ornament is in its lovely decoration… In it hangs a massive door about 400 years old, covered with scrolled hinges and ironwork ornament; it swings to our touch yet weighs two tons and a half, and is opened by a key which weighs five pounds.

Round church Cambridge-2

Round church at Cambridge

It opens on to a forest of clustered columns and an arcade of pointed arches circling round us in the nave……. The mosaic of red and blue glass shining in the triple east window is a delightful vista from the west doorway.

A small Norman doorway leads to a stairway at the top of which is a tiny cell in the thickness of the wall, four feet long and under three feet wide, lit by two slits in the stone. It is said to have been a place for solitary confinement in the days when the Templars were extremely strict. Here refractory brothers were confined in chains and fetters, and it is said that Brother Walter le Batcheler, who bore the standard for King Richard into Jerusalem, was here starved to death for disobedience to the Master of the Temple. [The crime was embezzlement and the year was 1301].

But it is on the floor of the Round that the eye of every visitor falls. Here lies an impressive array of Templars [in stone], perhaps the best preserved collection anywhere. Most of them wear chain mail and coats, with shields and swords, as on their crusades.

Under the floor are the remains of a 13th century chapel.
‘London’, Arthur Mee. Hodder & Stoughton, 1937.

Round church-3

Little Maplestead Church in Essex, one of four medieval English round churches still in use today. The fourth is in Northampton.

London’s Temple Church was badly damaged by fire during World War II and its restoration lasted until 1958. The conical roof seen in the first postcard above was a Victorian addition and was not replaced.

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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.

H.M.S. President

Coming along the [Thames] Embankment from Westminster, we notice the change on the lamps, which now bear the City arms, and there is a medallion of Queen Victoria where the famous Square Mile begins. On the right we come to the training ship President, which rises and falls with the tide so that sometimes, walking down Temple Avenue, we see it rising up in front of us and at other times hardly see it at all.

HMS President 2

At times we may see an Admiral’s flag flying from this training ship, for every Admiral appointed to the Admiralty for any special work is officially appointed to H M S President, the nearest ship available.
‘London’, Arthur Mee. Hodder and Stoughton, 1937.

HMS President 1

You won’t see the President at all now, at any stage of the tide. This WWI submarine hunter, launched in 1918, was sold out of the Royal Navy in 1988 and after several years in private ownership was moved to Chatham dockyard two years ago. Since then a preservation society has been trying to save her from the breakers but, checking their website, it looks like their battle may have been lost and this historic ship will be reduced to scrap. Recent news is hard to find. The society’s last message on their Twitter account was posted in September.

Photos © Mike Warman, 1970.

A London Excursion

This undated vintage postcard is part two of an unknown number of cards written as a letter and posted in an envelope.

Regent Street

“2/  Yesterday Will Humphries, another and I went into London – Had a fine ride on the Motor Busses & Electric trams which are very cheap to ride on – we went all the way from Barking to Victoria Station for 6d & from here to Barking for 5d. Last week we had a day at Southend by the sea – it is a great place for picnicers. Crowds go there from London. We have been getting a lot of rain since July – hardly any summer.

We get fairly easy times here, about 20 minutes light exercise each morning & half hours on “Arts & Crafts” at Y.M.C.A. – either basket making, carving, drawing or writing (illuminated etc). I chose the latter, and others if we like we can please ourselves. There are fine Recreation Rooms – Y.M.C.A. & War Contingent Assn. – Miss Mira McNab is helping in the latter!
Please give my kind regards to Mrs & Mr Wensley & family”.

The writer and recipient are a mystery but this fragment may tell us more than just the price of London bus fares. The second paragraph reveals these three men were undergoing rehabilitation at an army hospital in England during the First World War. Assuming the Association is for the New Zealand Contingent (not Australian or Canadian), then we might have an identity for Will Humphries.

The most likely candidate, from a short list of three, is George William Humphries who was a 20 year old farm worker when he enlisted in 1915. He was posted to Egypt first and then to France where he was wounded in the back two months after arrival. Patched up and stabilised in Boulogne, he was transferred to a hospital in Sheffield, England, on 27th June 1916 where he stayed until September. He arrived at Hornchurch convalescent hospital in Essex on 20th.

This fits in with the fact that their route to London approached from the east – “from Barking to Victoria Station” and “from here to Barking” (see map for Hornchurch). Humphries shipped out to New Zealand on 13th November, giving us an approximate date of October 1916 for the postcard.

George William Humphries was discharged from the army on 17th March 1917, unfit for service due to wounds received. He died in Napier in February 1961.

If anyone knows more about Miss Mira McNab, and why she deserved an exclamation point, please leave a comment.

Yeomen of the Guard

Mantled in hoary grandeur and serenity, the Tower crowns the Pool of the mighty waterway that makes London the first and richest of the ports of the world. Sentinel of London for 25 generations, it stands magnificent and unmatched, defying Time as it has defied the fret and scour of a hundred thousand tides swirling turbulent past its defences.

Tower

In its day, a fortress, a royal residence, and a state prison. The White Tower, the oldest part of the present fortress, dates from soon after William the Conqueror. (postcard caption)

Here, where kings ruled a nation that knew not Parliament, our Law had its cradle. Here is still the home of the forerunners of our first regular Army, the Yeomen of the Guard. As Yeomen warders they still guard the Tower, still carry out the nightly ceremony of the King’s Keys as performed without a break for over 600 years.

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Postcard by Valentine c. 1908.

It is all done by candlelight, a tallow candle flickering in a lantern carried by a drummer to enable the Chief Warder in his Tudor bonnet and scarlet cloak to lock the gates, and, the keys having been saluted by the troops, to carry them for the night to the King’s House. After that no one may enter or leave the Tower without the password, which, changed each night, is known, apart from the garrison, only to the King.
‘London’, Arthur Mee, Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., 1937.

The Pool of London is no longer the hub of commerce on the Thames but the Ceremony of the Keys has survived to entertain curious tourists every night at 10 p.m. You’ll need to book your ticket well in advance, or hope for a cancellation in the next twelve months. And don’t worry, visitors are escorted to the the gate when the ceremony is over and you will be allowed to leave.

1920s London

You’ve probably never heard of a photographer called Harry Moult, and there’s no reason why you should. I stumbled on his work by accident while trawling through Te Papa‘s online collection looking for ‘new’ old material. There, in the middle of all that New Zealand imagery, was a sepia-toned photograph of Cannon Street railway station in London.

Canon Street Station

[Railway station and bridge]. From the album: Photograph album – London, 1920s, Te Papa (O.032049)

I learned that the creator of this foreigner was Harry Moult (1878-1946), a Wellington electrical engineer by profession, who took up photography in middle age and quickly revealed a hidden talent. These atmospheric impressions of London were recorded on a business trip to Britain in the late 1920s when the capital was a more polluted, foggy city than it is now.

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 London Pool – a November morn, 1920s, London, Te Papa (O.031862)

The difference in light between smoggy London in winter and his own bright and breezey Wellington would have been the first thing he noticed on arrival and he emphasised this in his prints.

HM_Winter-sunshine

Winter sunshine, 1920s, London, Te Papa (O.031868). Victoria Embankment with Big Ben silhouetted in the mist.

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One of London’s wet days, 1920s, London, Te Papa (O.031867). Viewed full size, this is an impressionistic image. All movement, and nothing is sharp.

There are many more examples of Moult’s work, at home and abroad, on file at Te Papa. Just follow the link on his name.

Lambeth Bridge

Lambeth BridgeIn 1879, King Edward, then Prince of Wales, opened Lambeth Suspension Bridge; and on July 19th, 1932, his son, King George V, declared open its £936,000 successor. A great throng watched the barriers lift at the Royal touch, and to the sounds of sirens and cheering, the King and Queen, escorted by Life Guards and outriders, passed ceremoniously across. The graceful steel structure, carried on granite piers, is ornamented at either end with pylons each topped by a gilded pineapple.

Heavy traffic was slow to make use of Sir Reginald Blomfield’s fine new bridge, but in July, 1934, 10,222 vehicles were recorded within twelve hours.
Cigarette card caption, W.D. & H.O. Wills. 1935.

Thousands of Londoners have yet to receive the surprise of a first walk over Lambeth Bridge. It has the great merit of blotting out the bridge at Charing Cross as we look eastwards down the Thames.

London has nothing to show more majestic than the sight from this bridge. We see the towers of Westminster clustering together as one great group, with over 1000 feet of the noble facade of the Houses of Parliament joining up with the walls of the Abbey, picking up its incomparable eastern windows as we walk to bring them into view. We see three great cathedral churches, two palaces, two domes, and upstream and downstream are ancient towers and new facades, the familiar scene of yesterday and the new scene coming on.
‘London’, Arthur Mee, Hodder and Stoughton. 1937.

From a postcard.

The towers of Westminster.