The Unexpected Return of Dennis Severs

I wrote at length about Dennis Severs’ House in my book Victoriana. You can read the chapter in an earlier post. The house is an extraordinary creation that defies easy explanation. Is it a museum? Is it a work of theater? Is it an artwork that the viewer enters into? It is all of these things.

The Guardian reports that curators have recently discovered “hundreds of cassette tapes stuffed in cupboards” containing narration of the original house tour given by Severs, who died in 2000. The headline reads: “Dennis Severs’ House recreates his eccentric tours based on found tapes.”

These recordings “have been distilled down to create a new tour” by The Gentle Author who writes the Spitalfields Life blog. An actor will conduct the tours in place of Severs.

Dan Cruickshank is quoted as saying, “Dennis was an amazing character and his spirit does live on with these tapes. There is life after death, he is back from the grave … We have resurrected him. We’ve brought Dennis back, and he would love that.”

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.”

Millais at Home

Rupert Potter was a longtime friend of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir John Everett Millais. A barrister by trade, Potter was a very talented amateur photographer, as was his daughter, the author Beatrix Potter. He made a series of portraits of Millais during the 1880s in Millais’s London studio and house at 2 Palace Gate, Kensington.

Potter visited Millais in July of 1886, capturing the artist at a moment of leisure during work on the painting Lilacs and a portrait of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, which appear on easels.

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.

Three Cheers for the Old Prayer Book

In early 2019 The Times reported a revival of traditional Anglican worship among younger churchgoers in Britain based on the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. I commented on the article at the time. The evidence was anecdotal but encouraging.

This week The Daily Mail reports that Marylebone Parish in London has seen its congregation grow exponentially after returning to the Prayer Book.

A Church of England parish has boosted its flock 20-fold after adopting traditional services abandoned by most Anglicans.

By 2010, St Marylebone in central London had seen its regular congregation fall to just six people.

But since the Rev Canon Dr Stephen Evans began to conduct services from the 500-year-old Book of Common Prayer attendance has risen.

It now stands at 100-plus, despite virus restrictions.

Dr Evans says the old prayer book’s ‘rich liturgical and linguistic heritage’ clearly still has wide appeal.

Perhaps more parishes will try this experiment.

Books from Boots

Sir John Betjeman wrote, “Think of what our Nation stands for, / Books from Boots’ and country lanes, / Free speech, free passes, class distinction, / Democracy and proper drains.” It is one of the poet’s many unexpectedly precise evocations of midcentury English life.

On Twitter, Anne Louise Avery wrote an interesting history of the lending libraries at Boots pharmacies during the first half of the twentieth century:

I remember asking my mother, who grew up in the 30s & 40s, about the Boots library, and she said, of course, that’s where we all got our weekly novels. At the time, Boots was as much associated with reading as it was with Calamine lotion and Friars Balsam & Syrup of Figs.

The “Boots Book-Lovers’ Library” was a circulating library which began in 1898, as one of the innovations applied to the family business by Jesse Boot’s brilliant, socially-conscious wife Florence.

Often taking her children to work with her, a cot squeezed into the corner of her office, Florence wanted to boost literacy levels amongst the poor and working class, enabling cheap, widespread access to books.

She began by installing a small revolving bookcase in the Nottingham Boots in Goose Gate, then established a proper library in the Pelham Street branch of the city.

There were 3 types of membership, priced from 3d. All members received a token & date of renewal, which could be attached to the borrowed book through the distinctive hole in the spine, the token then acting as a bookmark…

By the 1940s, there were over a million subscribers, 38 million books were exchanged in one year. The libraries were cosy, welcoming, with rugs and fresh flowers and trained librarians to help.

The Boots Booklovers Library closed in 1966 following the passage of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, which provided for council-funded local libraries.

Lambeth Palace Library as it Might Have Been

The library of Lambeth Palace contains the great collection of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the records of the Church of England. It has historically been kept in the palace complex but this year a purpose-built edifice was erected to house it.

Mock-ups of the design were released well in advance so it will surprise no one that the finished building is cold, institutional, and modern. But it might have been very different.

The architect Francis Terry recently shared designs on Twitter that he had submitted to the project. Terry’s vision for the library was a lovely Victorian gothic building sensitive to its surroundings and in keeping with the Tudor and Gothic survival/revival layers of Lambeth Palace itself.

This is Terry’s design:

This is the design that was built:

Terry describes his plan in an essay for UnHerd, writing:

Back in 2015 there was a competition to design a new library for Lambeth Palace. My scheme was up against the great and the good of the architectural establishment. I decided to design a Gothic style library reminiscent of the other buildings of Lambeth Palace. To avoid a huge tower with no windows overshadowing the garden, I decided to put all the archive space underground. It was a concept that would be more detailed and rationalised if my design was chosen by the judges. It is extremely rare for traditional designs like mine to win prestigious architectural competitions and so it came as no surprised when my scheme was rejected at the first available moment.

The winning design strikes me as distinctly inappropriate for an ecclesiastical setting.

The First Christmas Card

In 1843 Henry Cole sent the first Christmas card. Cole was a British civil servant, later the founding director of the Victoria & Albert Museum. According to an article on the V&A website, he was “instrumental in reforming the British postal system, helping to set up the Uniform Penny Post which encouraged the sending of seasonal greetings on decorated letterheads and visiting cards.”

The same year that Dickens published A Christmas Carol, Cole commissioned a properly Pickwickian illustration by the artist John Callcott Horsley, which he reproduced on 1000 cards. These were “offered for sale at a shilling a piece, which was expensive at the time, and the venture was judged a commercial flop.” Though we now know it was ahead of its time.

Twenty-one copies of the card have survived. One of them is on display at the Charles Dickens Museum in London through April 2020 as part of the exhibition Beautiful Books: Dickens and the Business of Christmas.

London Windows in New York

The London glaziers firm James Powell and Sons of Whitefriars, commonly called Whitefriars Glass, produced windows for Anglican churches on both sides of the Atlantic during the interwar period. James Humphries Hogan, who was chief designer at the time, devised windows for the cathedrals of Hereford, Rochester, Exeter, Carlisle and Winchester.

In the 1920s Hogan traveled extensively in the United States, setting up a satellite office in New York. Among other commissions, he designed windows for Saint Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue, arguably the finest stained glass in the city. These windows recently underwent complete restoration from the lead cames to the nine million individual pieces of glass.

An example below features the Powell and Sons “white friar” maker’s mark.

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.