Silence at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

The UK government has given final approval to a development plan that will convert the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a hotel with drastic architectural changes. The foundry operated on Whitechapel Road from 1739 until it was sold in 2017. Big Ben and the Liberty Bell were cast on the premises. Heritage groups attempted to intervene. In 2018 I covered a proposal by the UK Historic Building Preservation Trust to acquire the foundry and continue manufacturing bells.

All efforts have come to naught. Campaigners for Save The Whitechapel Bell Foundry wrote on social media that this decision “destroys the possibility of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry ever having a future as a fully working foundry.”

Van Rensselaer Manor

From the year 1630 until well into the nineteenth century the Van Rensselaer family were lords of the manor of Rensselaerwyck, a vast fiefdom in upstate New York, around Albany. Killian Van Rensselaer had acquired the land from the Dutch West India Company ten years after the Mayflower landed and it remained in the family through successive Dutch, English, and American governments. I described the later years of the manor at length in my biography of James Fenimore Cooper, a friend of the family.

The manor house was dismantled in the 1890s and rebuilt as the Sigma Phi fraternity house, called Van Rensselaer Hall, at Williams College in Massachusetts. Unfortunately it was torn down by the college in the 1970s. The only surviving fragments of the house were interiors donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The wallpaper of the great hall has been used to reconstruct the room in the American Wing. On a recent visit to the museum I took the opportunity to photograph the furnishings in detail.

Lost Monuments of St Paul’s

Long ago a reader commented with an interesting historical and, it turns out, archaeological question:

Visited St. Paul’s Cathedral today in hope of finding the epithet of our ancestor John Cawood who was Queen Mary’s and Queen Elizabeth’ royal printer in the 1500’s. He was a member of St. Faith under St. Paul’s Church and supposedly buried there. By chance do you have a listing of those who were buried there or other information.

Every monument that survived the Great Fire of 1666 is accounted for and John Cawood’s is not among them so we have to assume it was lost in the destruction of Old St Paul’s. Thankfully a description of the Cawood monument survives. Payne Fisher, who was poet-laureate to Oliver Cromwell, recorded all of the memorials, their locations and descriptions, in his book The Tombs, Monuments, &c., Visible in S. Paul’s Cathedral (and S. Faith’s Beneath It) Previous to Its Destruction by Fire A.D. 1666.

According to Fisher, the Cawood memorial was located “over the Pillar” in the “Eastern part of the Church.” The epitaph read as follows:

JOHN CAWOOD, Citizen and Stationer of London, Printer to the most renowned Queen’s Majesty, ELIZABETH; married three wives, and had issue by JOANE the first wife onely, as followeth, three sons, four daughters; JOHN his eldest Son being Bachelour of Law, and Fellow in New Colledge in Oxenford, died 1580; MARY married to GEORGE BISHOPPPE, stationer; ISABELL married to THOMAS WOODCOCK, stationer; GABRAEL, his second Son bestowed this dutifull Remembrance of his deare Parents 1591, then Churchwarden; SUSANNA married to ROBERT BULLOCK; BARBARA married to married to MARK NORTON; EDMUND third son died 1570.

He died 1 of Aprill, 1572 he being of Age then 58.

Fisher’s book can be read in its entirety online.

Stonehenge Undermined

Associated Press reports:

The British government went against the recommendations of planning officials Thursday, approving controversial plans for a road tunnel to be built near the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge in southern England.

As I wrote back in 2018:

The lifespan of concrete is remarkably short. Modern reinforced concrete needs repairs after only fifty years. In the fullness of time the decay of the tunnel will destabilize the landscape around Stonehenge. Assuming this generation wishes to bequeath the monument to posterity the risk is unacceptable.

A regrettable outcome.

Update (July 2021): The High Court has ruled against the consent order; there is new hope for the old stones.

Around Plymouth

A few more pictures from this summer’s wanderings in Plymouth, Massachusetts, during the quadricentennial of the Mayflower landing:

Above is the view out to Cape Cod Bay from Plimoth Plantation, a recreation of the first English settlement circa 1620. It was built in the 1950s by Henry Hornblower II, an archaeologist, Harvard man, and investor with the family firm of Hornblower & Weeks.

Below is a reconstruction of the Jenney Grist Mill in downtown Plymouth. It stands on the site of the original mill that served the early colonists.

Across from the grist mill and up a long walk is Burial Hill, the site of the first English fort, and cemetery. A number of Mayflower passengers are buried here including Governor William Bradford and our family patriarch Richard Warren.

Visible from Burial Hill is the steeple of the First Parish Church, recently taken under the custodianship of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

See also: The Mayflower Quadricentennial and Plymouth Rock, 1920.

Plymouth Rock, 1920

A hundred years ago this year for the tricentennial of the Mayflower landing, a neoclassical portico by the architectural firm, McKim, Mead & White, was erected over Plymouth Rock.

The lead architect on the project was partner William M. Kendall. It was Kendall who had chosen the inscription, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” for the New York City General Post Office building designed by the firm in 1912. The line, taken from a description by Herodotus of the Persian postal couriers, has become the unofficial motto of the US Postal Service.

Kendall was the son of classicist Joshua Kendall, and a Mayflower descendant.

See also: The Mayflower Quadricentennial and Around Plymouth.

The Mayflower Quadricentennial

As 2020 marks the 400th anniversary of Mayflower landing at Plymouth Rock, we traveled to Cape Cod Bay this summer for a quiet commemoration. My children descend on their mother’s side from the Mayflower passenger Richard Warren, so it was an occasion to pay regards to their sixteen-times great grandfather. Not to mention a welcome respite: sea mist and cool gray skies throughout.

The original Mayflower returned to London with her captain and was probably demolished in Rotherhithe around 1624. But in the 1950s a replica museum ship was moored at Long Wharf near Plymouth Rock where it remains a popular tourist attraction. Mayflower II is seaworthy, having sailed from England where she was built, following her predecessor and namesake. But in the lead-up to the quadricentennial the ship underwent extensive restoration at Mystic seaport in Connecticut. A crew member told me that approximately seventy per cent of the wood is new.

This past week was the homecoming for Mayflower II which returned to Plymouth on Monday.

See also: Plymouth Rock, 1920 and Around Plymouth.

At the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow

This year is the bicentennial of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The story first appeared in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which was published in serial between 1819 and 1820.

To mark the occasion, I attended a dramatic reading of the story at The Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The church itself features prominently in the story. It was an old feature on the landscape when Irving lived nearby in Tarrytown. Built in 1685 by Frederick Philipse, the Lord of Philipse Manor, whose vast patroonship extended south all the way to Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx, the building is still owned by the Dutch Reformed parish in Tarrytown.

Machen on Architecture

In 1987, The Prince of Wales famously excoriated the shortsighted city planners and developers who rebuilt London after the Second World War. “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe” he said. “When it knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.”

Decades earlier the weird-fiction writer and sometime Londoner Arthur Machen expressed similar sentiments. In the Spring 2019 issue of Faunus, R.B. Russell quotes a letter by Machen to Montgomery Evans around the end of the War. Machen writes:

And that brings me to the confession that I don’t curse the Germans very fiercely for their London destruction so far as the new buildings are concerned. It is we who destroyed London & wrecked the Strand, pulled down the Adelphi, abolished Clifford’s Inn (pre-Great Fire), built flats where Clements Inn once stood with green lawns. You can remember the old Café Royal: it wasn’t Germans who ruined it. And as for the Wren churches in the City: it was with great difficulty that the Bishop of London was restrained from pulling many of them down & selling the sites 20 years ago.

The Last Stage Coach

In 1950 American photojournalist Jack Birns crossed the Swiss Alps to document one of the last stagecoach services in Europe, running between towns along the Simplon Pass. He had first encountered this survival from an earlier age of transportation six months earlier while photographing a journey on the Orient Express.

Stagecoaches served a vital function for the remote Alpine towns carrying passengers, mail, and supplies as similar coaches had done for centuries. Birns’s report was published in LIFE magazine in 1951. Shortly thereafter the service was discontinued, the horse-drawn coaches replaced by motor-buses.

Photographs in the series capture the scenic, often perilous, journey over mountains, through villages, towns and cities, but they also capture the lives of the coachmen and their passengers.

The journey begins at Brig in Switzerland. Coaches would depart from there at 7:20 each morning and were due to arrive at Iselle in Italy by 6 o’clock in the evening. Passengers paid 7 Swiss francs and 40 centimes for passage, about two U.S. dollars in 1951, or twenty dollars today.

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At certain points along the route sleighs were used instead of coaches to cross otherwise impassible snow. Pictured below: coachman Anton Bruchi (center) hands over the mail to sleigh driver Johann Zenklusen.

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The road over the Simplon Pass was constructed by Napoleon’s engineer Nicolas Céard between 1801 and 1805. One of the four short tunnels built at the time has an arched extension for use when heavy snow interferes with travel along the main road.

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Napoleon’s memory looms large on the Simplon Pass. Pictured below: Coach driver Edouard Theiler and a barmaid pose with a milk cup used by the Emperor at a hotel in Gstein-Gabi and the coin which he used to pay for it. Theiler had been driving coaches for thirty years when Birns met him.

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Hospitality in the towns along the route was rustic and simple but no doubt much appreciated by passengers and coachmen alike.

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End of the line: the coach crosses the Italian border and Theiler enjoys a well-deserved drink at a café in Iselle.

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