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Pix & notes: South Kensington

My Professor and Mrs. Moriarty live in an end terrace in South Kensington, on a street I invented: Bellenden Crescent. It’s roughly in the location of the real world Pelham Crescent. 

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I spent a lot of time walking around in that neighborhood on my last trip to London, partly because I got a little lost, but also because I get into these moods where I can’t stop walking. One more block, I say to myself; I’ll just walk up to that corner and then I’ll stop for a coffee. But no, I walk on by. I don’t know what that’s about.

Boundaries

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A very Victorian view, if you mentally change the cars to horse-drawn cabs.

I tend to think of the whole stretch between Hyde Park and the Thames as South Kensington, but that’s not really right. London is more finely-grained than that. Google Maps says “South Kensington is an affluent district of West London in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is the most expensive district in London and one of the most expensive districts in the world.” No wonder it’s so clean and quiet! Rich people don’t hang out in public.

It looks like I cheerfully absorb Chelsea into my notion of Kensington. There’s no apparent seam; it’s not like you cross a street and find yourself in a less deliriously affluent neighborhood. I don’t have characters in Chelsea or much interest in the place, apart from the delightful Chelsea Physic Garden which I’ve blogged about and which you must try to visit if you ever can.

Looks like the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea runs from the Chelsea Physic Garden on the Thames in the southeast, north to Hyde Park and the big museum area, on along the south side of the park and then loop up to snag Notting Hill and then straight back down to the river roughly along the A3220.

Begin at the beginning

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Affluent Kensington cow

British History Online tells us “In Doomsday-book this place is called Chenisitun; in other ancient records, Kenesitune and Kensintune. Chenesi was a proper name; a person of that name held the manor of Huish in Somersetshire, in the reign of Edward the Confessor.”

Back in William the Conqueror’s day, the manor of Kensington was taxed at 10 hides. “on the demesnes are four ploughs, the villans have five, and might employ six. There are 12 villans, holding each a virgate, and six who hold three virgates jointly. The priest has half a virgate, and there are seven slaves; meadow equal to two plough-lands; pasture for the cattle of the town; pannage for 200 hogs, and three acres of vineyards”

This was still farmland in Francis Bacon’s time. With the expansion of titled courtiers in the London metro area under James I, a prestige house was built in 1607 by the father-in-law of Henry Rich, Earl of Holland. Baron Rich got himself earlified in 1624, by Charles I, then. He’s the son of Bacon’s contemporaries, Penelope Rich (sister of the Earl of Essex) and Robert Rich, 1st Earl of Warwick.

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Holland House, from British History Online

 

Building booms

Although less than half of the Kensington area was under cultivation by 1840s, it was still mostly green: parks and paddocks and that sort of thing. But by mid-century, the Victorian building boom had spread into that district and the landscape changed rapidly. “Despite a severe hiccup following a financial crisis in April 1847, the transformation of a rural parish into a city suburb was well under way before the siting of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park…” (British History Online.)

“…throughout the years 1862–78 over 200 new buildings (the vast majority of them dwelling houses) were erected each year in southern Kensington…”

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Professor Moriarty’s Bellenden Crescent
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Mark Twain lived here 1896-7

 

One of the major attractions of the area from the mid-Victorian period are the amazing enormous museums and exhibition halls. My Prof. Moriarty and Angelina meet at the International Exhibition Hall here in Moriarty Meets His Match. That’s gone, but the Victoria & Albert Museum, a place you can never get tired of, was established in Exhibition Road in 1852. Enormous, endlessly fascinating, and with possibly the most amazing museum cafeteria in the world. When you go there, have lunch!

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Who lived here, back in the day?

I’ve mentioned London’s Blue Plaques before, right? They’re granted by English Heritage to identify buildings of note, meaning buildings in which a notable person spent some time. Kensington and Chelsea are thick with them, since the borough was favored by the creative class: theater people, like my Angelina Moriarty; scientists who might have worked at one of the big museums; writers galore.

Go here to see the full list of blue plaques for the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

I choose neighborhoods – and sometimes houses – for my Victorian characters from this list. They tend to be a bit far from the sidewalk to photograph well, alas. Not all the plaques you see in London are official English Heritage blue plaques, although I’ve never seen one that might qualify as a form of sedate fake news. Many entities issue plaques, most notably borough governments.

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Sir Nigel Playfair wrote plays you’ve never heard of. Great name, though.

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Pix & notes: Blackfriars

Lady Elizabeth Russell lived in Blackfriars, as you know by now if you’ve been reading this blog. If you just tuned in, here’s Lady Russell, part one and Lady Russell, part two. Those posts are largely based on Chris Laoutaris’s biography of that august personage. A central theme for that book is Lady Russell’s successful obstructing of Shakespeare and Co.’s efforts to establish an indoor theater in “her parish,” so he goes to great lengths to reconstruct the district and figure out who lived where, when. I don’t concern myself with the Shakespeare conflict, but since Lady Russell’s a recurring character in my Francis Bacon mystery series, I want to know how to move my people around in that space. Besides, I love poring over old maps and house plans.

In the beginning

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Baynard’s Castle, kiped from the Londonist, who don’t cite their source either.

In the Middle Ages, there were three castles on the north side of the Thames between St. Paul’s Cathedral and Whitefriars, a Carmelite priory just east of the Inner Temple, which was a redoubt of lawyers even then.

Baynard’s Castle survived through Elizabethan times, during which it was the property of the Earl of Pembroke. It was demolished by the great fire of 1666. Montifiquet Castle was pulled down in 1276 to make room for Dominican friars, who wore black capes. BHO (British History Online) is silent about the third Norman fortification. I’m not sure where it could have been squeezed in. Bridewell Palace wasn’t there yet, but its place was occupied by an inn.

King Edward I and Queen Eleanor lavishly supported the black friars, whose monastery rose up beside the Fleet River, which didn’t stink in those halcyon days. Henry VIII dissolved that monastery along with all the rest, sending the friars packing. Edward VI sold the hall and prior’s lodgings to Sir Francis Bryan, a courtier, afterwards granting Sir Francis Cawarden, Master of the Revels, the whole house and precincts. By that time, Bridewell had been built across the Fleet, which was growing stinkier by the year, what with London’s burgeoning population and booming industries.

Lady Russell’s habitation

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Blackfriars in Lady Russell’s time, as recreated by Chris Laoutaris

Elizabeth Russell’s house and gardens are at the top left, at the corner of Carter Lane and Water Lane. Carter Lane is still there, which helps orient on new maps.

Her neighbors, working clockwise, were Richard Field with his printing press and a nice-sized garden, followed by William de Lawne in the square tower at the top right. The big dashed-line areas on the right are “Part of William More’s mansion and gardens.” Sir William acquired the whole kit and kaboodle from Thomas Cawarden in 1559. His personal chunk of the liberty may have continued off the page toward the east.

St. Anne’s Church, which for Elizabeth’s time was a cramped upstairs chamber, comes next. Coming around the bottom of the dial, we find the mansion of George Carey, Lord Hunsdon, one of Shakespeare’s patrons; Shakespeare’s Blackfriars theatre, comprising seven upper rooms formerly belonging to Wm De Lawne; Farrant’s theatre; and the strangely articulated residence of William Brooke, Lord Cobham. At the far left edge, abutting the west side of Lady Russell’s house, we find two more pieces of William de Lawne’s establishment and one more house at the top right corner inhabited by Peter Buram.

These places must have been pretty nice inside, with lots of oak paneling and diamond-paned windows, though it’s hard to envision the floorplans. We must remember that there are two and three stories in these structures, with floors that don’t always line up. There were other smaller establishments tucked in here and there too, over time, perhaps, like a goldsmith’s shop and other upscale trades.There must have been a lot of jostling among the great and lesser folks alike.

I continue to refuse to try to cram the stuff about Shakespeare into one of my posts… maybe someday I’ll set a book in the conflict, but until then, I can’t face it!

Blackfriars in the middle

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Anthony Van Dyck self portrait

The middle being the centuries between my periods of novelistic interest. I skip swiftly past them.

Bridges were built over the Thames at Blackfriars, the first in 1760. They had to fill in the Fleet Ditch, as it was called by then. They kept trying to rename these bridges, but the people continued to call them Blackfriars, century after century.

Artists enjoyed the district, including Anthony Van Dyck, inventor of the micro-beard, who enjoyed Charles I’s patronage as well.

“The king’s printing-office for proclamations, &c., used to be in Printing-house Square, but was removed in 1770; and we must not forget that where a Norman fortress once rose to oppress the weak, to guard the spoils of robbers, and to protect the oppressor, the Times printing-office now stands, to diffuse its ceaseless floods of knowledge, to spread its resistless ægis over the poor and the oppressed, and ever to use its vast power to extend liberty and crush injustice, whatever shape the Proteus assumes, whether it sits upon a throne or lurks in a swindler’s office.”

The Bridges of Blackfriars

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Blackfriars Bridge over the Thames, early nineteenth century

 A later incarnation was a two-level bridge with carriages below and pedestrians above. The expense was huge and the outcry loud.

“The Quarterly Review, of April, 1872, contains the following bitter criticisms of the new double bridge:—”With Blackfriars Bridge,” says the writer, “we find the public thoroughly well pleased, though the design is really a wonder of depravity. Polished granite columns of amazing thickness, with carved capitals of stupendous weight, all made to give shop-room for an apple-woman, or a convenient platform for a suicide. The parapet is a fiddlefaddle of pretty cast-iron arcading, out of scale with the columns, incongruous with the capitals, and quite unsuited for a work that should be simply grand in its usefulness; and at each corner of the bridge is a huge block of masonry, àpropos of nothing, a well-known evidence of desperate imbecility.””

Whew! Was the architect the first to jump off his bridge, after reading that ungentle review?

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Here’s a bridge over the meandering Fleet, much more than a ditch, at least by Texas standards. Water courses have highly localized names. Ditch might mean, “slow-moving and full of garbage,” in that variety of English. It connects Blackfriars on the right with whatever is on the left… Bridewell or its replacement, presumably. This drawing is Old Blackfriars Bridge. “From the work usually known as ‘James’s Views,’ published May 9, 1825.” Source: Old Manchester, Plate 38. 

 

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Blackfriars Bridge today. Nice, huh?

 

Blackfriars then and now

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Blackfriars on the Agas map, 1561. I think I got those yellow lines right. That’s the Fleet River angling northward to the left of our district of interest.
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Part of Blackfriars on John Rocque’s 1746 map of london. See the word DITCH? That’s our friend the Fleet.
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Blackfriars today. That white road running up the middle is Farringdon Road, built over the Fleet River in the mid-nineteenth century.
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Somewhere in there. The whole area was bombed to smithereens, but property lines are amazingly persistent.
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St. Ann’s church yard. These are persistent too, especially now that working people have to smoke outside.

References

British History Online, Blackfriars: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol1/pp200-219 

Laoutaris, Chris. 2015. Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle that Gave Birth to the Globe. London: Penguin Books.