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.

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Show me the money

Vintage postcard image of interior Royal Mint, London. Posted 1909.

Dear Athel, This is to wish you a Merry Xmas and all the rest of it. I am afraid it will be very late, but I have had an exam on which has taken all my time. I went over the Mint in the summer, they have three melting houses of which this card shows one. Please give my love to Aunt Amy.
Alan. [ Card posted Dec. 18, 1909 to Perth, Western Australia.]

Vintage postcard image of exterior Royal Mint, London. Posted 1906.

The Royal Mint on Little Tower Hill [London] is a massive building from designs by Johnson and Smirke, erected in 1811 on the site of an old Cistercian Abbey. Here gold, silver and bronze are melted, standardised and manufactured into the current coin of the realm, the process being a most interesting one.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

The annual output is enormous; in 1906 the issue of imperial pieces was over 100,500,000, and at the same time 12¼ millions of foreign coins were struck.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

The pure metal is melted down and mixed with the necessary alloys on the premises, the room in which this operation is performed being most jealously placarded to prevent inspecting visitors either touching the hot metal or purloining any of the precious contents.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

The metal is first cast into long bars, these are then passed through powerful rotary presses, emerging after each operation a trifle thinner and a little wider, and so on until the standard thickness for “blanks” – as an unstamped coin is called – is attained.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

These are fed through a machine which stamps out the disc of the desired size, the “waste” being then sent back to the melting room.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

The “blanks” from the cutting machines are fed into a trough, and from thence are automatically passed into a position where they are pressed on both sides simultaneously by steel dies, and then thrown out – a complete coin.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

An ingenious piece of mechanism is the counting machine which effects, at a marvellous speed by an automatic process, the accurate counting of the manufactured coins, thus saving much valuable time.

The coloured images make up a set of postcards issued by Raphael Tuck & Sons circa 1907.

The Royal Mint moved out of London to South Wales in the early 1970s, ending 1100 years of its history in the Tower Hill area. You can still visit the “new” premises and enjoy “the Royal Mint Experience” – just like any other factory tour – but don’t expect free samples of the product as you leave.

Johnson and Smirke’s 1811 Grade II listed building and 5 acres of land within its surrounding wall was sold last month to the People’s Republic of China. It will be transformed over the next two years to become the new Chinese Embassy.

 

The Hotel Cecil

I thought I would share this old postcard of London’s Embankment featuring the Hotel Cecil because, as you may be aware, the Royal Air Force had its first headquarters there when it was formed, by combining the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, on 1st April 1918.

Image from a 1920s postcard of the Embankment with Hotel Cecil and the Savoy.

The Hotel Cecil (left) in the 1920s. The Savoy is next door.

Why did the Air Force set up shop in a hotel? Because the building had been requisitioned by the government who needed office space for all the extra administrators required to organise a world war.

The Hotel Cecil was one of those late-Victorian buildings associated with the Liberator Building Society scandal and the fraudster Jabez Balfour, but that subject is literally a book in itself. If you want to know more, I suggest you follow the link and read a review.

Searching for the hotel’s subsequent history can lead to confusion. Various sources will tell you it was built between the Embankment and The Strand in 1886 – or (majority opinion) from 1890-1896. It was one of the biggest and most luxurious hotels in the world at the time with 600, “more than 800”, or 1000 rooms. The Liberator Society built it as a hotel – or as offices, and another company finished it as a hotel when Liberator collapsed. Facts and “alternative facts”. You choose.

The Shell-Mex oil consortium bought the building in 1930, demolished the river frontage and replaced it with Shell-Mex House, a structure from the monolithic school of Art Deco architecture. The Strand entrance was retained even though it was completely at odds with the new block.

Embankment_Shell

The Embankment in the 1930s.

In 1937, Arthur Mee wrote, “This remarkable block of offices has a noble entrance from the Strand, and its courtyard is one of the sights of London by night. It has ten floors with a total floor space of 380,000 square feet, and any one of its 16 lifts runs up to the roof, from which are splendid views of South London to the Kent and Surrey hills, North London to Harrow and Hampshire, and the panorama of the East”.

Modern specifications say Mee was two floors short (at least). These were added after WWII when height restrictions were relaxed. Mee’s “noble entrance from the Strand” is “not of special interest” to Historic England today but Shell-Mex House gets a Grade II listing. And just to add more confusion, the entire complex is now commonly known as 80 The Strand.

Embankment_SM

Oxford Circus

Sepia postcard image of Oxford Circus, 1920s or 30s.

Oxford Circus, London. Junction of Regent Street and Oxford Street. One of the principal shopping centres of the world. Noted for its magnificent Buildings.

[Oxford Street] has seen in our time a marvellous transformation, for those who are not even old remember the day when men smiled at Mr. Selfridge coming from America and setting up his great shop at the wrong end of Oxford Street where nobody came. People come today in their thousands and hundreds of thousands, and all the world knows Selfridge’s, the greatest shop in England that has no need to put its name on it. Its massive row of stone columns stretches for 500 feet along the street. Its windows are one of London’s annual shows at Christmas, and in summer its roof is a daily delight.
‘London’, Arthur Mee, Hodder & Stoughton, 1937.

Postcard image of Oxford Circus from Regent Street c. 1930s.

Approaching Oxford Circus from Regent Street.

London’s Gaiety Girls

In the “seventies” [1870s] there was a wonderful galaxy of talent at the old Gaiety Theatre, Nellie Farren, Kate Vaughan, Edward Terry, and Royce forming a matchless quartette.

Kate Vaughn

Kate Vaughan

Young men, of course, will always be foolish, up to the end of time. Nellie Farren, Kate Vaughan, and Emily Duncan all had their “colours.” Nellie Farren’s were dark blue, light blue, and white; Kate Vaughan’s were pink and grey; Emily Duncan’s black and white; the leading hosiers “stocked” silk scarves of these colours, and we foolish young men bought the colours of the lady we especially admired, and sat in the stalls of the Gaiety flaunting the scarves of our favourite round our necks.

As I then thought, and still think, that Nellie Farren was one of the daintiest and most graceful little creatures ever seen on the stage, with a gaminerie all her own, I, in common with many other youths, sat in the stalls of the Gaiety wrapped in a blue-and-white scarf. Each lady showered smiles over the footlights at her avowed admirers, whilst contemptuously ignoring those who sported her rival’s colours. One silly youth, to testify to his admiration for Emily Duncan, actually had white kid gloves with black fingers, specially manufactured for him. He was, we hope, repaid for his outlay by extra smiles from his enchantress.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton. Hodder and Stoughton, London.

Aldwych

Nellie Farren

Nellie Farren

For a popular burlesque, in the days of Nellie Farren and Connie Gilchrist, of Fred Leslie and Arthur Roberts, the same stalls were filled night after night by the rich unemployed, who afterwards followed their fancies hither and thither and spent quite considerable sums upon them. There was no great stir when marriages followed such aquaintance, and most of them turned out a great success.
‘Gilded Youth’ (essay) ‘Fifty Years, Memories and Contrasts’, Sir Ian Malcolm. Thornton Butterworth, Ltd; London, 1932.

I have to admit, in the interest of accuracy, that the Gaiety shown above in 1913 is not the “old Gaiety Theatre” these two men remembered. That stood across the road on the site of the Morning Post newspaper office at left. It had its last performance in 1903 and was demolished soon afterwards. The new theatre (on the right) had been under construction since 1901 and opened four months after the original closed.

Some of the Gaiety Girls held a reunion in 1950 and what remained of the theatre, just a shell since 1939, was demolished in 1957. The Morning Post building, completed in 1907, is now the One Aldwych hotel.

Marble Arch and the Tyburn Tree

If you buy a picture postcard with a printed caption on the back, you expect it to be short, factual, upbeat and positive. No room for personal opinion. Maybe this caption writer didn’t get the memo.

Vintage postcard by J. Valentine of Marble Arch, London.

Marble Arch, London, – This fine if rather useless ornament of Hyde Park is reminiscent of the triumphal arches beloved of the Romans. The view serves to suggest the superb vistas available in the Park dear to fashion, which covers some four hundred acres, and is encompassed by a carriage drive two and a half miles long.

Arthur Mee, in his book ‘London’ (1937), gives us more detail about the Arch and the gruesome past of the place where it stands. This is the short, less harrowing, version.

At the top of [Park Lane], the meeting place of four great roads, stands the Marble Arch, which changed its address in the year of the Great Exhibition [1851]. Till then it stood at the entrance to Buckingham Palace; now it stands at the head of Oxford Street a few yards away from a little brass plate* which tells us that this was Tyburn Hill. Here were hanged men and women and children, heroes and malefactors, patriots and traitors.

The site took its name from the little river Tyburn, one of whose arms crossed Oxford Street here. Tyburn then lay among the fields, with only a few houses, from one of which the sheriffs watched the executions. Round the gallows were stands with seats, let to spectators at half a crown. Until 1783, when Newgate took its place, Tyburn was the busiest scene in the world of agony and sorrow. It became the frightful clearing-house for criminals of both sexes and of all ages. Upwards of 200 petty offences were punishable with death, and offenders were sent in horrifying numbers to die here in batches, a dozen or more at a time.

Vintage postcard of Marble Arch, London.

The arch was set up by John Nash ten years after Waterloo at a cost of £80,000. Chantrey’s statue of George the Fourth in Trafalgar Square was made for it, but never fixed. The arch was designed after [one] in the Roman Forum, and made of marble from Michael Angelo’s quarries at Carrara. It was orininally intended to symbolise the victories of Trafalgar and Waterloo in its picture panels, but the arch was made an arch of peace instead.

Map
*The little brass plate was replaced by a bigger concrete marker in 1964.

London Notes, 1918

Vintage postcard of Rotten Row, London, by J. Valentine. Used 1918.

Card caption: Rotten Row – a corruption of route de roi, is reserved for equestrians. Is situated near Hyde Park corner.

I seen this row from the other end. I walked right through Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park to Marble Arch. Roy, 16-10-18. [map]

Vintage postcard of Westminster Abbey by J. Valentine.Dec 31st 1918
Dear Louie. After leaving the Albert Memorial behind we passed along Rotten Row where the knobs hang out on horse back of a sunday morning and came to the Abbey. We were all over it and saw the tombs of the different ones buried there. She’s a great joint and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Its an interesting old place.
Love Frank x x x x

Frank may have been an American soldier on his way home at the end of World War One. It seems he was a man given to understatement.
Both cards are by J. Valentine. Although they were used in 1918, the images are probably 12 to 15 years older.

A footnote about Prince Albert and his memorial – many web sites still maintain that Albert’s cause of death in 1861 was typhoid. Modern medical opinion is that Crohns disease, a condition not understood at the time, was the more likely cause. See here and here.