Saturday, 29 August 2015

Bruce Castle Museum

Lordship Lane
Tottenham  N17 8NU

Wednesday August 25th 2015

Linda had decided that the boxes would have to look after themselves for the time being and headed from one Lordship Lane to the other in search of some local history.  The Bruce Castle Museum, essentially Haringey Borough’s archive showcased in an old manor house, was something of a last minute decision  which could only happen once the Tube strike had been suspended.

A 243 bus  took us from Wood Green station and dropped us very close to the landscaped park which surrounds Bruce Castle – of course it was raining so we started by diving into the Tower –originally erected by Sir William Compton,  the owner  in 1514-6, it is thought, as a Falconry centre or Mews. Whether Compton lived here is not very clear and the house/site is named indeed for the Bruces of Scotland.  It’s a sturdy but not showy round tower now used as an art gallery where local artists can exhibit.  Jo, who had found her recent trip to the Royal Academy underwhelming, approved of many of the works which included some bits of garden fork and hessian framed and arranged to form a ‘conversation piece’. With too many pictures for too few walls at home we were not in the market today and went into the main building. This is the solid Tudor brick edifice.

The exhibition is free but photography was not allowed and we did not wish to embarrass the custodian by defying this. As in a lot of local history/ borough museums many of the displays are arranged thematically showing both the history and diversity of the borough. Like all the London Boroughs they celebrate 50 years but without a map, and not being locals, it was sometimes difficult for us to locate specific bits of the borough (this is the borough where Harringay is part of Haringey) – we were finally driven to borrow  a map off the custodian and established that is bordered by Enfield in the East, Barnet to the West, and Camden, Islington  & Hackney to the south.  Highgate woods and the River Lea form natural boundaries. 

So the early archive photos show such events as hay-making in Highgate, fishing on the River Lea (Haringey’s eastern border) and sheep on Tottenham Marshes, where  believe it or not, there is still wildlife. The New River is also an important man-made feature of the borough.  Apart from its clusters of villages, it developed fairly late as a residential area, but when it did, offering homes at cheaper rents than the slums of Inner London, it became a residential area for ‘persons of the first respectability’.  The population went from 46,441 in 1881 to 71,343 ten years later so building became one of the main forms of employment.  This included the impressive rebuilding of the Archway Bridge, such a memorable landmark in the borough, even if liable to road clogging issues.
Like most local museums  Bruce Castle illustrates the local industries – Lebus furniture gets another mention  (see our earlier visit to the Walthamstow local archive), Barratts , a huge confectionary factory later taken over by Northern firm  Bassetts  as in  liquorice allsorts (confusing but bear with me)  and the Samuel  South Potteries Samuel South Potteries.   Jo and I both remembered Spong mincers and bean slicers, having only just, and very reluctantly passed this family heirloom onto a charity shop…Pride of place is given to Gestetner - a firm which invested heavily in their own technology and who did not see photocopying coming …

The local employees needed their leisure time and amongst photos of children playing and works outings there  is a brief history of Tottenham Hotspur  Football Club which has had a presence in the borough since 1882 when local school boys and cricketers were moved to play football and set up the club. 
Impressively the residents of Haringey raised £700.000 during the Second World War to fund HMS Hotspur – of course. 
The other memorable site in the borough is of course Seven Sisters – legends vary about the origins of this and it seems related to both seven actual sisters who then planted seven trees at Tottenham Green – most recently in 1996. Nowadays it must be harder to find seven sisters than locating healthy tree specimens.

Naturally there are sections on the growth of first primary then secondary education within the borough and broadly speaking health and welfare – there are no major hospitals within the borough  though there are local health facilities.  Bathsua Makin was an early advocate of education for girls and located her school within the borough.

Both World Wars are covered with local testimony and photographic examples . Most interesting is the story of  Walter Tull, who was a black trail-blazer both as a Tottenham footballer and First World War officer. Also unique to the borough is the fact that during the first war Alexandra Palace was used to house first Belgian war refugees and then prisoners of war/internees.

After viewing the archives and artefacts you are invited into the ‘Invention Centre’ which houses a series of interactive (some more than other) exhibits featuring local inventors. These included
Rowland Hill – the inventor of the Penny Post – who was a local as wase Luke Howard the cloud man – he categorised rather than invented clouds of course. We had fun failing to press the correct button to put a suitable cc engine into a variety of machines  (as engineered by the Prestwich factory),    but did correctly answer enough questions to get us the length of the New River.  In the adjoining room you can play at designing your own post box or stamp.

Upstairs there were two special exhibitions – one looking at the history of conscientious objectors within the borough and the processes they went through , another showcasing 700 years of art from Haringey’s churches -  including some artefacts rescued from French churches during the revolution and a splendid window from the factory of William Morris (almost a local lad) at St Philips, meanwhile Constable painted All Hallows.

This Museum offers a surprisingly full visit  for a rainy London day – even nicer if sunny as it lies in a well kept park. Apart from the lack of a map – clearly they don’t expect many ‘out of borough’ visitors, my only other criticism would be that there is no mention of any  19th 20th or 21st century incomers to the borough, and the contribution they have surely made. Haringey, like all the London boroughs, celebrated 50 years this year....with some invited graffitti...

Friday, 21 August 2015

Novelty Automation

Novelty Automation
1a Princeton St

Thursday 20 August 2015

With the other two busy, and being just along the road in Princeton Street, I thought I would revisit the wonderful toys at 1a.  Unfortunately, although I waited 15 minutes, the doors did not open at the promised time.  But I thought I might describe what fun Tim and I had some months ago when we first went. If you think this is cheating, stop reading now. I'm not going to say much, as other, better bloggers have been: here's Diamond Geezer's version, for example

Those of us who have known Southwold for more than 60 years enjoy Tim Hunkin's clock on the pier, so it's great to have some more mad examples close at hand.  Tim and I loved 'Pet or Meat':  a family with its sweet little pet lamb.  You spin the dial to see whether or not it finishes up for Sunday lunch with the same family tucking in happily. By the way, the picture in the window purports to show Jamie Oliver having a go, just as the 'Mad Dog' game has Nigel Farage putting his hand into the ravening beasts cage.

The game Tim and I enjoyed most was the money laundering.  You scoop up a load of cash, and try to get it to the top of a Canary Wharf tower block without the regulators stopping you. We thought the game was probably harder than financiers seem to manage in real life...

Meanwhile, you can try the weight loss idea, or if you really want some exercise, find a friend and play cycle-pong. Or visit the Small Hadron Collider to learn about the God particle, or place your foot into a chiropodist machine, or...  but you should try it for yourselves

Entry is free, but stinginess would mean that you could only watch others and not play. Tokens are £8.00 for 10, so you can easily fill 30 minutes.   

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Royal Academy of Music Museum

Wednesday 12 August 2015

The Royal Academy of Music Museum

Marylebone Rd NW1 5HT

With Linda still packing boxes, Mary and I met to visit this small but interesting museum.  It looks a bit like a building site at the moment, but the website had forewarned us, so we weren't worried, and avoided the wet paint as we went in.

Mary was relieved to discover that the Museum had only been in existence for about a decade;  she had feared that she had ignored it for all the years when she brought her son and his trombone for music lessons every Saturday.

The ground floor has three components, of which the first you come to is the shop, which sells sheet music as well as pens/teeshirts/mugs/fridge magnets.  

Then there is a timeline, illustrated with objects and documents, about this venerable institution. Founded in 1822, it has links with pretty well everyone in music that we had ever heard of.  Letters from Liszt and Mendelssohn sit alongside portraits and other items that tell the story of musical education from the time of Beethoven to the present day.

Next we went into the space for temporary exhibitions which, at the moment, is about the music of the First World War. This was very interesting, perhaps especially for what you might call the 'Oh, What a Lovely War' generation.  We know the songs Joan Littlewood included, and here they are:  the sheet music of the songs the soldiers 'adapted' to express their feelings.  Some film footage included the dashing Hetty King, who sang in masculine dress, whether a Jack Tar uniform, or a daringly brief kilt.

We were also surprised to see a couple of very pacifist songs, including a mother's declaration that she hadn't raised her son 'to kill another mother's pride and joy'.

The top floor houses the keyboard collection, and here we met Felipe, who told us about the range of instruments on display.  The exhibition tells the story of the development of the modern piano, and includes a 1764 Kirkman instrument, made in London. We saw a harpsichord, clavichord, virginal, square piano, and various stages toward the kind of grand piano which needs a metal frame to prevent the vibrating springs doing damage to the wood. We were interested to see that there is a workshop on this floor which maintains the instruments.

The middle floor is where the string collection is, and we admired lutes, violins and cellos, as well as a sample of the Academy's collection of music and teaching manuals, some of them centuries old.  Some of the captions discussed the extent to which early instrument makers were aware of what we would term modern scientific knowledge about the speed of sound and the way sound moves.  It is certainly remarkable that a small and intricate bit of wood with added gut and hair can fill an enormous hall with beautiful noise.

All in all, we enjoyed ourselves, and feel the museum should be better known.  We think there was only one other visitor in all the time we were there.  It is open every weekday, from 11.30, and is free;  it is also very near the shopping thrills of Marylebone High Street, so there is no need even to make a special expedition.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Carlyle's House

Wednesday 5 August 2015

     Carlyle's House, 24 Cheyne Row Chelsea SW3 5HL

     This is a property which does not allow photography, so I have embellished this account with pictures taken outside, and you can see lots of images of the inside on the NT website, here.
     It is a very interesting house, which is as well, as we had a certain amount of trouble finding it, and so I was feeling a bit tetchy by the time we arrived.  For starters, we saw only one sign:  this was explained by the fact that this is a conservation area.  Given the amount of parking signage (we were, after all, in Kensington and Chelsea) it seemed an unlikely reason for leaving would-be visitors wandering, but boroughs will be boroughs. 

Our second problem was that we had written down Cheyne Walk, which is what Thomas and Jane Carlyle called it in a lot of their letters. But it is apparently Cheyne Row, though this is the street name at the end of the street where we finally found number 24.


     There is no Blue Plaque, although the area is rather full of them, including the Carlyles' friends, Leigh Hunt and George Eliot, not to mention D G Rossetti.  But there is a bas-relief of the great man on the front of the house.  And he was a great man.  He is not very much read these days, his books being long and detailed, but at the time he was a real best-seller, and much admired.  Dickens said that Carlyle's French Revolution was the one book he reread most often (it's said to have inspired A Tale of Two Cities)

     The house is Queen Anne, built in 1708, and the Carlyles rented it from 1834 until Thomas died in 1881.  After that, a lady with cats occupied it until a Trust was formed in 1895 to purchase it and open it to the public to mark the centenary of his birth.  The National Trust bought it in 1936.  We were told all this by a very friendly volunteer.  There is copious information in every room, with permission to sit down and absorb it all.  All his books, and the innumerable volumes of his and Jane's letters, are also available to read.

    So we started on the ground floor, in the attractive drawing room and dining room, with a china closet off it.  One the walls is a painting of the room itself with Jane sitting at the table, as well as detailed pencil drawings by Helen Allingham of different aspects of the house.

     We learned that Leigh Hunt used to come round frequently, escaping from the chaos of his own home and family round the corner:  Mrs Hunt was not a good housekeeper, and Jane describes her relentless borrowing (and failure to return) of everything from a fender, to silver spoons and food items.  This was the first - but not the last- time Linda and I reflected, as doting mothers/grandmothers, on the benefits of childlessness.  Leigh Hunt wrote Jenny Kissed me for Jane Carlyle.

      The house was full of books, and Carlyle needed somewhere quiet to work.  In 1841 he was instrumental in the founding of the London Library, finding the British Library much too noisy and full of dilettante readers who fidgeted.  He also helped to found the National Portrait Gallery.  A portrait by Whistler hangs in the house, but Carlyle did not think much of it: 'a portrait not of my features but the clothes I had on'.

     Upstairs, you come to Jane's bedroom, with a little dressing room off it, complete with bath a night attire. She also had an upstairs drawing room, with a screen embellished with photographs and pictures taken from books (we were a bit shocked). The information in her rooms is mostly about Jane's female friends and correspondents: Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Mrs Gaskell, and quotes from some of her letters.  Clearly people liked her a lot.  de Quincey called her 'angelic', and Charles Darwin's brother Erasmus said she was 'a divine little woman'. Her epitaph, presumably Thomas's words' say she was 'suddenly snatched from him and the light of his life as if gone out.'  She was very tolerant of his innumerable female fans, and her letters show her acerbic wit as well as her loving nature and general all-round competence, essential if one is to share the life of a celebrity genius.

     Upstairs again, bypassing the second floor, where the custodian lives, we came to the room they had built on to try to provide a quiet work room for Thomas.  The noise was difficult to bear:  they lived very close to Cremorne Gardens, where as many as 15,000 people a day might come to enjoy the entertainments, and riotous behaviour and fireworks apparently disturbed the nights.  The new room was built with a double wall, in the hope that the air in the storage spaces might deaden the din.  It did not work very well, but did release the downstairs library for use as a dining room.  The room is full of evidence of the work he did for his last book, the massive biography of Frederick the Great of Prussia, including the German medal he was awarded.  There was also a list of some of the words that Carlyle invented which are in use today, as well as many he used and we don't. When Thomas gave up the room, it became a bedroom for the servant.

   This was our cue to plunge down to the basement, where the kitchen was.  Jane was not good with servants (they had 34 in the 32 years she live here) and there are some entertaining extracts from her letters on the subject of how difficult it is to recruit, manage and keep servants. There is a range (enough to make any servant give notice, I should have thought) as well as the poor girl's bed, and some other kitchen utensils of the NT's kind.
     Out into the garden, we were able to read about how Jane constructed herself what she called a 'gypsey-tent' out of the clothes props and some sheets, while the building works were going on, and also about a burglary, when the kitchen door was forced and the maid's trunk rifled.  The National Trust is working to ensure that the plants and trees mentioned in the Carlyles' letters are replanted and cared for.

         When it was time to leave, we were surprised that we had spent two hours in this fascinating house.