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.

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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.

T_warders

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.

HM_London-Pool-a-November

 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.

HM_One-of-Londons-wet-days

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.

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.

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