Thursday, 29 June 2017

Crossness Pumping Station

 SE2 9AQ

Sunday 25 June 2017

Crossness is rather difficult to reach except by car, so I was lucky enough to be offered a trip there as a birthday treat.Navigating was made a little more complex by the fact that Belvedere Road had been renamed (we were pleased to see) Bazalgette Road since the A-Z we were using was printed.

We walked along the footpath from the car park, noticing gradations in the atmosphere from whiff to pong, but not quite to stench, before reaching the handsome buildings of this 1865 temple to modern hygiene.

The way in is through a mock-up of a sewer, complete with several rats, and we saw that there was an exhibition called 'The Great Stink', a History of London's sewage and its treatment.  But we decided to begin with the real things and look at the exhibition later and so, equipped with hard hats, we entered the sumptuously decorated octagonal home of the four great beam engines.

For those of you who don't know about London's sewage, here's a brief summary:  from the earliest years, houses had cess pits, which were emptied by night soil workers, who carted the contents off for use as fertiliser in the fields around London.  The rivers of London, though hardly delicious, had rainwater in them, with a few dead cats and so on.  As the city grew, and as rich people invested in the amazing, modern water closets, cesspits began to leak, or overflow. and the Thames became appallingly polluted. 

During the 1860s, the young engineer Bazalgette offered a solution, and the Metropolitan Board of Works, whose logo embellishes every wall, built these pumping works. Sewage - and waste water - flowed through newly constructed sewers across London, to be pumped into reservoirs and held until the tide began to go out, when it was released into the Thames to flow out to sea.  And before you wrinkle your noses and say 'how disgusting' you need to know that this went on till 1886, and was replaced by 'disposal at sea' from sludge ships until 1998, less than 20 years ago.

Anyway, back to the beam engines.  Of the four royally named engines, Prince Consort is the one that is operational (though only to demonstrate, rather than actually pumping any sewage) Albert Edward, Alexandra and Victoria are being restored by the committed volunteers, some of whom were available, in period clothes or in hi-vis jackets, to explain what was going on.

It's possible to climb down to see the bottom of each thrust of the pumps, and to see the water storage for generating steam; then one can climb up to admire the great beams from above. James Watt and Company were the suppliers of the machinery.  The pumps were subsequently operated by gas, and then electricity, before smaller, diesel engines made them redundant

One of the people in period dress was female, and we were told that she was the school teacher at the school provided for the children of the workers.  Crossness was a long way from the nearest town, and so cottages were built here to house the pump labour force;  the school also provided for the children of Woolwich Arsenal.

When we had seen enough of the great machines, we headed out into the exhibition, which told the whole story of London and its sewage. 

The title, The Great Stink, comes from the period when the Thames was so polluted that MPs could not bear to go out onto the terrace, and declared that 'something must be done'.  

There were portraits of Mr Bazalgette, as well as Thomas Crapper (the firm still in business today), Joseph Bramah, and other lavatorial pioneers.  Each section was independent, so if there was a crowd round one exhibit, it was easy to move on and come back later without losing any threads.

We were interested in the section about Dr John Snow, the man who demonstrated that contaminated water, rather than miasma, was causing cholera (somewhat apt, considering the news from Yemen).

We also very much enjoyed the area with handsome 'thrones' and cistern chains, as well as the repellant description of the various ways inn which people coped until lavatory paper was invented. This research had been done by a student on work experience, and we thought it would enhance any CV or UCAS personal statement: mussel shells? sand?? a lace hanky??? presumably the last only for people with more money than sense, or possibly compliant domestic staff for wash days

There was a simple but effective screen which showed you what happens when any lavatory is flushed, as well as quite detailed maps of the pending and much needed new sewer system.

Then we saw information about how the workers lived; although sadly their cottage have gone, there were photos and ground plans of the comfortable accommodation for workers families.  We could have stayed longer, but decided, after a brief wander through the garden (sweet scented herbs, rather a good planting plan, we thought) and a distant view of the solar panels which occupy the space where the reservoirs were, to miss out on the workshops where the volunteers do their maintenance, and head for home.

It had been a really memorable visit, and a reminder to thank the engineers of the past who ensure that we don't even have to think about 'what happens next' when we visit the loo.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Museum of the Order of St. John

St. John’s Gate
St. John’s Lane
London EC1M 4DA

Friday June 16 2017

After our travel travails of last week we thought we would try an easier option and head into town, more specifically Clerkenwell and a double dose of culture with the Museum of the Order of St. John and the Charterhouse, of which you will hear another day.

The Museum of the Order of St John is tucked into one side of a gateway Arch – the surviving remnant of the Tudor period of a still more ancient foundation. We had taken a tour to see more of the building (excellently led by Susan – many thanks), but the core museum galleries are accessible daily and give the history of the institution and display some of its artefacts. The Museum has been recently renovated and there are short films with St John’s volunteers contributing to the story.
Firstly, and to clarify any Dan Brown created misconceptions, the Order of St John was founded in Jerusalem before the Crusades to offer hospitality and care to pilgrims who made the trek to the Holy Land – the Knights Templar were there to guard the temple (of the Holy Sepulchre) and were altogether more pugnacious, and NOT the subject of today’s museum.

Think large hostel rather than hospital, with about 1000 beds it is thought – obviously the folk who had made the long journeys were in need of rest, recuperation and possibly some nursing , and this is what they would have received in the Holy City from c 1078, some 40 years later those offering the service were recognised as Brothers – that is monks, though they were never a silent, begging, academic or even particularly spiritual order . It is not clear for which St John they were named – I like to think it was for the Greek Patriarch now known as St John the Almoner but it is more likely St John the Baptist. The order remained in Jerusalem for about 100 years, then as Crusader power waned moved to Acre and spent the next seven hundred years or so wandering round the Mediterranean – Cyprus, Rhodes, Malta and (after Napoleon evicted them from there) finally Rome. Some of the some of the Museum’s ojects reflect this peripatetic history.

In 1140 the order set itself up in England and Clerkenwell became its HQ and main base. At the time of the foundation this area had several religious foundations – the Carthusians arrived much later   but the orders at St Bart’s and St Mary’s had been founded a few years earlier. Bart's  went on to become a medical foundation while St John’s took some time and changes to find its niche. With ‘Faith Care & Valour’ as its founding principles it was both a very English story and an International one.

The picture which takes pride of place and is conspicuously not one of the many ‘Knights’ who led the Order is rather surprisingly a Caravaggio of the 'Card Sharps'. Originally thought to be  a copy but now officially authenticated, it seems slightly at odds for a quasi religious organisation though of course Caravaggio did flee to Malta after the alleged killing in Rome and was taken in by the Hospitallers there, even becoming one of their ‘knights’ till he started brawling again and moved on to Sicily. This is a very recent loan to the Museum.

Back to Tudor London and the Dissolution of the Monasteries – it would seem by this time the Order of St John was in less than perfect working order and the ‘last Prior’ William Weston did not resist the Dissolution and so there was little bloodshed: the Priory was taken apart amicably with the usual removal of building materials for other ventures – the Church had been in some disarray since the Peasants’ Revolt . What remained was the Tudor gateway built only shortly before Henry VIII started his ‘reforms’. The gateway we were told was used in a variety of ways after the Hospitallers dispersed – Henry kept his hunting gear here – so a kind of shed – while part of the Chapter House was turned into the Office of the Master of Revels, otherwise known as the censor who cast his eyes over Shakepeare’s plays before they were performed. Richard Hogarth opened a coffee shop here but as the ‘gimmick’ was Latin only to be spoken he did not do well, though of course his son William fared better at his chosen field of drawing and prints. For a while the gateway hosted the ‘Jerusalem Tavern’ probably frequented by Dickens and later still it became the parish watch House.

By the mid-19th Century the ‘brand’ was re-established, resurrected even by those sort of Victorians who liked clubs and dressing up but the new British chivalric order has no organisational link with the surviving Hospitallers in Rome, being both non-religious and non-military,  though maintaining the emblematic cross that has been its insignia since the Mediterranean years.  Rather like the stars of the European Union flag the eight points of the equilateral cross represented the different langues or languages spoken round the Mediterranean and further north, where the Hospitallers operated.

The interiors of the building, where the tour goes, are on the whole late Victorian /Arts & Crafts refurbishments of the Tudor exterior so there a lot of emblematic Whitefriars Stained Glass
with the Arms of notable ‘knights’ and the various insignia of the Order – the Cross, the shell for the Pilgrims, the Tudor Rose and the Hypericum – otherwise known as St John’s wort and used then and now (CAUTION advised) as an anti-depressant amongst other things. We usually have the Hidcote variety in our gardens and parks and very jolly it is too.

We had to scoot through the main Chapter Hall (where there was a meeting in progress), which looked very like an ‘old school or college’ dining hall, but could linger in the smaller meeting rooms above the Arch. As ever in these institutions the stairs are lined with portraits of benefactors, worthies etc.

The most interesting room is the Malta room so called because of the large (very dark so not easily reproduced) picture of Valletta harbour named after the admirable admiral Jean Valet who managed to defend Malta against the Turks in a long siege. There are some wonderful Iznik tiles (presumably from the Order’s time in Cyprus or Rhodes) and a Pietra Dura table. The rent for the Order to stay on in Malta was one fully trained Maltese Falcon per year, payable to the Holy Roman Emperor. By this time the order, never deeply spiritual, had branched out into what you might call trade and ‘luxury goods’ exchange round the Mediterranean. The table depicts the lesser pigeon but we all know what a Maltese Falcon looks like thanks to Humphrey Bogart. Spiral stairs lead back down from the Gateway rooms.

Susan, our very knowledgeable guide then stood us in the street to help us orientate ourselves not only to the rooms we had visited in sequence but to the extent the Priory lands had occupied.

The Priory Church, already damaged, was badly bombed – this map gives you an idea of the extent of the Estate, and why Priors were not merely religious figureheads but also important local people with power..
We walked across both the Clerkenwell Road and St John’s Square, where the original outline of the round nave (based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem) is marked in cobbles, and into the church.

Seely & Paget were chosen to rebuild the very war-damaged church and the result is a square airy modernist space – it has neither vicar nor parish so is mainly used for ‘events’ and came as something of an anti-climax after the long history.
The entrance to the small complex (and garden) was done by the Docwra  firm, whose lorries we see digging up roads round London but whose links with the Order of St John  go as far back as the Prior responsible for building  the Tudor gate!     

The crypt offers a bit more atmosphere (and authentic damp underground smell) and two interesting tombs – one of an unidentified Spanish knight of St John carved in alabaster complete with lion and page, imported from the cathedral in Valladolid, the other from the tomb of  the last Prior, William Weston, depicted as a skeletal effigy to remind us all that death is the great leveller.

We did however greatly appreciate the peaceful St John’s garden – a modern evocation of a cloister so with a range of medicinal plants but also with Mediterranean planting to link back to the  900 year old  origins of the St John’s Foundation.  The Museum will give you the range of the Foundation’s history and geography through a range of boards, maps and key exhibits but the tour will give you a greater understanding and detail of a unique London visit.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Forty Hall


Thursday 8 June 2017

Compared to last week, the signage was much more efficient, and both Overground and bus staff knew our destination and could direct us. But the journey was far from perfect.  It took us three hours to get to Forty Hall, thus breaking the 'Andrew Rule' which states that one should spend as long in the place as the journey time. At Seven Sisters, where you change from the Victoria Line to the ex C2C Overground which takes you to Enfield Town once every half hour, the offer was 'White Hart Lane', with no clear promise of Enfield Town until you reached the platform.
It is a relief to be able to say that it was totally worth it.  Forty Hall was rescued in 2010-2012 by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Enfield Council, and the building has been restored to a high standard, with ongoing interpretation and furnishing work to ensure repeat visits.

It's one of the houses built by ex-Lord Mayors of London, in this case Sir Nicholas Rainton.  He chose this country area as it was as far as you could get from London in a day without changing horses (ie not much slower than our journey...) We learned this and many other interesting facts from the signage and recorded conversations with Sir Nicholas. He was a member of the Haberdashers' Company, and grew wealthy trading in fine textiles. In 1640, he had a spat with Charles I who put him in the Tower when he refused to divulge the names of other rich men who might 'lend' the beleaguered King large sums of money. Quite astute, given the outcome of the Civil War.

Since he had no children, the Hall passed to other families, and the renovation has involved removing quite a lot of derelict or Victorian stuff, and replacing it with convincing synthetic materials to show how it would have looked.  On the other hand, the main staircase is of fine oak.

We passed into the dining room, with a handsome plaster ceiling and also with replica food, including a splendid pie with a lid and some marzipan playing cards, apparently a conceit for dinner parties in the seventeenth century,  Linda, who likes marzipan, got a gleam in her eye at this.

We were impressed with the trust that the hall places in its visitors, as few of these things were nailed down or fenced off, the exception being in the upstairs great Chamber, where you need a member of staff with you.  This is because they have on loan from Tate a fine picture of the Carpenters' Room at Forty Hall in the 17th century, and the terms of the loan require supervision of visitors.  But a charming person came and told us all about it while we admired the room.

On the landing, there were some fairly late stained glass windows, dating from the period when the Carrington-Bowles family owned this place. Their canting (punning) coat of arms has a bee and three owls. 

The original design of the house, typical for its period, was to have a circular route on each floor through the various rooms around the central staircase, but later families, keen on privacy, had split some of the spaces, making it necessary to try every door in order to see everything.

Upstairs rooms are furnished in various styles and eventually there will be a room for each of the families and periods of the house's history.

Sir Nicholas Rainton's bedchamber contained not just a close-stool, but also details of his will. And then we came to a Bowles room, with a gramophone and other 50s furnishings. We had passed one dressing up box in the ground floor, and now found a much more exciting one, with opportunities to dress as symbols of the wealth and power of the city.

In several rooms there were board games of the periods of the house available to play, and on the upper landing we were pleased to see a window depicting the ornamental hermit so essential for a proper estate!

The top floor has information about the renovation of the Hall, as well as fine views of the 'countryside' that Sir Nicholas valued.

We went down the servants' stairs to reach the kitchen, which again had replica food to enhance the atmosphere


We had wondered why there were pictures of Elizabeth I around the place, but this was clearly explained.  This is the site of Elsyng Palace, built by Henry VIII and home to the children of his fractured domestic life.  No visible sign of the Palace remains, but a great deal of archeological work has been done to show where it was and what it was like.

We also looked at the spaces which are available to hire, which seemed to be in former barns and stables, before heading out to walk round the water and get some final views of this handsome house.

 Well worth a visit, was our opinion, though perhaps a car might be an advantage given its location.