Posts Tagged With: London

Tiddy Doll

At the British Museum today I went to see ‘Bonaparte and the British’, I urge you all to go (also it is free so there really is no excuse). I came across this rather marvelous print from the British Museum’s own collection, by James Gillray:

Tiddy Doll: The new French ginger bread-baker, drawing out a new batch of Kings

‘Tiddy Doll: The new French ginger bread-baker, drawing out a new batch of Kings’ Image: British Museum

In this caricature Napoleon is depicted in the guise of an extravagantly dressed ginger bread seller, as it turns out this was actually based on a real person. Tiddy Doll (I’m guessing this was not his real name) famously marched the streets of eighteenth century London selling his delicious gingerbread. But his preferred attire was much more akin to the despotic Emperor depicted in the above image. He famously wore a hat with an enormous ostrich feather (making him instantly recognisable and easy to spot through a crowd), a laced ruffled shirt, a white gold suit and white stockings, with a white apron to top it off. He must have showed up even the flashiest dandy walking the streets of the London in that get up. Tiddy was such a well known character to real Londoners that he was included in the print ‘Southwark Fair’ by none other than William Hogarth.

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Hogarth’s ‘Southwark Fair’. Tiddy Doll is seen in the middle with his huge ostrich feather hat. Looks like he is getting into a spot of bother with the man to his right!

Tiddy Doll so got his name for the various ballads and popular songs which he would sing as he sold his gingerbread; to which he often included his own lyrics. For example:

‘Mary, Mary, where do you live now Mary?
I live, when at home, in the second house in Little Ball Street,
Two steps underground, a wiscum, a riscom, and a why-not.
Walk in ladies and gentlemen, my shop is on the second floor backwards
With a knocker on the door
Here is your nice gingerbread, your spice gingerbread
It will melt in your mouth like a red-hot brick-bat
And rumble in your insides like Punch and his wheelbarrow’

These verses invariably ended with the refrain ‘Tiddy Diddy Doll, lol, lol, lol’, hence the name (still think ‘lol’ is a modern saying?!) Such was his fame that his name was coined in the saying ‘You look quite the Tiddy Doll’, meaning to dress tawdrily or above your station.

In Gillray’s print Napoleon as Tiddy Doll is drawing out of the oven several fat Kings of Europe that he has just produced. More puppet Kings and Queen’s wearing crowns peer out of a basket in the bottom left. A cornucopia beside it is inscribed ‘Hot Spiced Gingerbread! all hot- come who dips in my lukey [sic] bag!’. From the cornucopia pours crowns, coronets, orders and a cardinal’s hat. Such a cutting depiction of Napoleon as the mad and bad King-Maker, controlling Europe through his puppets, who he then discards when he has no further use for them, would have had enormous appeal to London’s working men and women. This was the kind of image which they could read, and relish. I am sure that Tiddy would have enjoyed the recognition and further fame that being named in a Gillray print would have bought to his gingerbread business!

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Categories: 18th Century | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Snow- Physician (1813-1858)

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Image: cartodp.com

By Joe Gardener

There’s an old water pump on Broadwick Street in London’s West-End that you’d probably quite rightly walk by without a second thought if you didn’t know of its significance.  After all, there are rusty old relics like that all over London, aren’t there?

In actuality, the pump is one of the most significant mementos of modern medicine, and it isn’t actually as old as it looks either, it’s a replica.

In the Summer of 1854 cholera was rife in London, killing over five hundred residents of the Central region within two weeks and continuing to spread.  Prominent physicians of the day immediately linked the disease to the ‘Miasma Theory’ that noxious gases in the air were the cause of the disease (Miasma being the Greek word for pollution).

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Local physician John Snow, who was already one of the pioneering doctors in the field of anaesthesia, was sceptical towards the Miasma Theory.  However, with no immediate evidence to the contrary (Louis Pasteur’s ‘Germ Theory’ of disease having yet to be developed), Snow would have had to undertake a little local detective work of his own in order to deduce the real cause of the outbreak.  He did just that.  Through conversations with Soho residents, Snow successfully traced the cholera outbreak to an old water pump on Broadwick Street (then known as Broad Street).

While his closer studies of the water from the pump failed to conclude it as the source of cholera, his work nonetheless convinced locals who subsequently removed the pump’s handle.  A dot map that Snow drew up helped his cause; the map displayed all of the cholera cases in the area as clusters of dots atop the location in which they occurred, with the heaviest clusters centreed around the pump. 

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Image: mapsmaniac.com

Ultimately, it has never been completely concluded that pump was the direct cause of the outbreak because although cases rapidly declined after its removal, many residents had already begun to leave the area through fear of cholera.  However, it is to this day widely assumed that John Snow’s water pump was indeed the cause.  Later research found that the pump was placed in close proximity to an old, dilapidated cesspit which had begun to leak faecal bacteria due to neglect.   Furthermore, the nappies of a baby who had contracted cholera from another source had also been disposed there.

Like all thwarted criminals, the pump was ultimately removed.  Snow went on to refer to the Soho cholera outbreak as “the most terrible outbreak of cholera which ever occurred in this kingdom.”

The pump which currently stands on Broadwick Street is a replica of John Snow’s pump, complete with a plaque commemorating the physician’s hand in ending the outbreak.  Thankfully, it doesn’t function.

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Image: ph.ucla.edu

The nearby Samuel Smith’s public house was eventually renamed The John Snow in his honour and local legend even tells of a resident ghost; that of a sickly looking man with red eyes and a sallow face who sits in the darkest corner of the pub.  A former victim of the outbreak or simply a regular who’s had a bit too much?

 John Snow was born in York in 1815 to William and Frances Snow and from the age of 14 studied in Newcastle, where he first encountered cholera through a severe and fatal outbreak in the nearby town of Sunderland.  In 1837 he moved to London where he lived on Frith Street, a short walk from the cholera water pump.  He lived as a teetotal and vegetarian for much of his life and never married.  John Snow died in 1858 from a stroke at the age of 45.

Every year, the John Snow Society remove and replace a water pump handle to symbolise the continuing struggles faced in the study of public health.

Categories: 19th Century, Medicine Men | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

1819 painting by Alfred Clint. Collection: NPG. Image: poetry foundation

1819 painting by Alfred Clint. Collection: NPG. Image: poetry foundation

By Joe Gardner

Being a Londoner, I have walked passed a fair few blue plaques in my time.  Dickens delivered his articles to this address.  John Keats practiced medicine here.  Peter Cook used the toilet of this restaurant on route to a gig.  But my runaway favourite adorns the wall of a beautiful little townhouse – now an Italian bistro – on the corner of Poland Street in Soho.

Image: plaques of London

Image: plaques of London

You have to be careful with blue plaques; often the historical celebrity you’re reading about ‘Lived in a house on this site’, so the place they resided is as dead as they are (I’d walked past what I long assumed to be Mozart’s house many a time before this damning realisation), or they ‘Stayed here’ or ‘Visited here’ etc.  That’s why I love the little house on Poland Street so much:  ‘Percy Bysshe Shelley; 1792-1822; Poet; Lived Here.’  It is his home, as it was (Italian restaurant aside).  He slept under that roof, he gazed from those windows.  Whenever I pass it on my idle wanderings I can picture the young Romantic Poet seated by his window, fretting over a draft or nipping out the front door in pursuit of a much needed beverage.  That’s what history does to people; it comes alive as it makes itself known.

The house on the corner of Poland Street, Soho. Image: London Remembers.com

The house on the corner of Poland Street, Soho. Image: London Remembers.com

I’m fascinated by Shelley.On top of his staunch vegetarianism, his ahead-of-the-times socialist philosophies and the fact that he wrote Ozymandias; the greatest short poem ever penned, Shelley was a remarkably interesting being in his own right.  Much like his aforementioned contemporary Keats, much of Shelley’s poetry had roots in a more scientific background.  Obsessed with all things science thanks in large part to his astrology and magnetism lessons at school, as a boy he’d conduct myriad experiments that would often end in explosions.  If that’s not incredible enough, as he grew older he developed an interest in what he referred to as the ‘Occult Sciences’; he began experimenting with gunpowder and electricity, often even using his own body as a conductor of electrical current.  Contemporaries noted that his dwellings were frequently cluttered with science and astronomy apparatus.  It is understood that Shelley was even concerned with theories of life on other planets and, perhaps most interestingly, galvanism and bodily reanimation.  I find it incredible that someone as synonymous with dusty old poetry was so eccentric and pioneering in a completely different field of study, as a hobby.

You’d be forgiven for being put in mind of a different literary man nonetheless associated with the name Shelley, as it is increasingly believed that Mary Shelley’s sci-fi anti-hero Victor Frankenstein was at least partially inspired by her husband’s obsession with electro-magnetics (the philosopher Erasmus Darwin serves as the main inspiration for the character).  It is well known that the premise of Frankenstein was born out of both a nightmare of Mary’s and a friendly ghost story contest proposed by Lord Byron, which in turn ultimately became the classic horror novel.  But the immortal image of the twisted young obsessive, darting about his rooms at Ingolstadt wielding scientific equipment and provoking electrical sparks around him was doubtlessly one that wife Mary was well familiar with.  In short, the most infamous monster story from Western fiction is quite possibly the end result of a wife cheekily turning her frustration at her husband’s manic geekery into something more productive. 

It is also worth noting that the sub-heading of Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus, which of course ties in strongly with Percy Shelley’s epic poem Prometheus Unbound; the titular ancient Greek titan was punished by Zeus for giving humanity the secret of fire and such themes clearly translate from Shelley’s poetic retelling to his wife’s famous novel; the mortal man wielding divine power undeservedly.  Thus I’d like to believe that Percy Bysshe Shelley had more of a hand in the inception of Frankenstein than is commonly surmised.

The reason for my fondness for Shelley is simple; as well as my admiration for his then radical values, being myself someone who continually divides his time between writing literature and geeking up on science and science fiction, I have a century-spanning affiliation with the man.  So whenever I pass that little house with the blue plaque I always give a polite nod and a smile back through time to my favourite literary neighbour.

 

Categories: 19th Century, Heroes | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Angela Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906)

Angela Burdett-Coutts by Julius Jacobs
Today we see female philanthropists on a daily basis in our news and in the pages of our glossy magazines. Think, for example, of Ophrah Winfrey, who has given tens of millions to charities over the years. When one acquires great wealth, it seems the natural step to start dealing it out to those less fortunate. Look back to the age of Victorian charity-giving, and we see a very different kind of philanthropist emerge from the urban sprawl of post industrial England . The emphasis was on moralising the subject, the aim being to help them onto the respectable path of productivity and hard work. Alcoholism, prostitution and vagrancy were seen as the moral ills of society. Women often took it upon themselves to help the ‘lower orders’. None did more, in her own way, than Angela Burdett-Coutts. This is her story.

Born Angela Georgina Burdett in 1814, Angela was the daughter of the Radical and popular politician Sir Francis Burdett and Sophia Coutts, the daughter of the famous banker Thomas Coutts. In 1837 she inherited the vast Coutts fortune on the death of Harriot Mellon, who had married Thomas Coutts in old age. Harriot came from a working background, but enjoyed a position of huge wealth and influence after her husband died, and bagged herself a Duchy to boot when she marryied the Duke of Argyll. She hand-picked Angela to become her sole successor. Angela was a quiet, prim and upright girl, well-educated and level headed. She did not succumb to the frivolities of her class like many of her peers. She became one of the wealthiest women in England, a position that bought her great power, but also a profound sense of duty to those around her who were less fortunate. It was reported that Angela inherited around £1, 800, 000 when Harriot died, making her the richest heiress in the country.
minrec.org Angela<
Image: minrec.org

When Angela came of age, she did not follow the ‘normal’ route for women of her class by marrying and having children. Her vast wealth brought with it suitors, and many asked for her hand. To each she politely refused. Feeling that they were only interested in her for her money, and knowing that under English law the power over wealth was controlled by husbands, Angela retreated into a single, quiet life of philanthropy and friendship. True, she held many lavish parties at her inherited house of Holly Lodge in Highgate, but the majority of her time was spent in companion with people who were both serious and sensible.

londondailyphoto.com Holly Lodge
Image: Holly Lodge, in Highgate.

Her philanthropic works are legendary. It is impossible to name them all here. Her first works perhaps are most famous as they so closely involved the help and friendship of Charles Dickens. Together they set up and ran the revolutionary Urania Cottage, which took women off the streets and re-trained them away from a life of prostitution and petty crime. Angela also supported and funded immigration to countries like Australia and Canada. Like many Victorian women of her time, Angela’s charity works often centred on moralising and reforming the lower classes. Although in hindsight this is seen as controlling these charity works were, in Angela’s case, not done out of a preconceived idea of superiority, but a genuine desire to help those less fortunate than herself. She had seen with painful clarity the sufferings of those living in the East End of London, the squalor, the crime and the hardship. She sought to alleviate some of this suffering, and poured money into re-housing, sanitation, schools and training centres, and green open spaces where children could play. She gave generously, but always oversaw the work her money achieved, and so aimed to diminish any mismanagement.

Angela was heavily involved in the establishment and development of both the National Society for the Prevention and Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Without her continued financial support neither of these two now nationally important charities would have survived.

Angela was also a generous benefactor of the Church of England, being herself very religious. She funded several expeditions into Africa with the aim to spread the message of missionaries. Mostly these were failures, Africa being large non-Christian at this time. She founded many bishoprics is Australia and Canada, and was seen as a national hero there due to the thousands who benefited from her funds which allowed them to emigrate. She also set up her own church, St. Stephen’s, in the heart of the West-end, which still stands today.

Angela and Mrs. Brown

In her personal life, Angela was devoted to her former governess and companion Mrs. Brown. She also developed a deep love and affection for the Duke of Wellington, to whom she proposed when she was 33 and he was 78. The proposal may seem shocking to us, but Angela had always had friends of all ages. She had grown up with Harriot happily married to her grandfather, who was double her age. Angela and the Duke were undoubtedly in love with each other and forever in each other’s company. Angela even had her own apartment at Stratfield Saye which had an enjoining staircase to the Duke’s quarters on the ground floor. But the Duke felt he could not accept her proposal, and wrote her a charming letter in which he said:

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‘I have passed every Moment of the Evening and Night since I quitted you in reflecting upon our conversation of yesterday, Every Word of which I have considered repeatedly. My first Duty towards you is that of Friend, Guardian, Protector! You are Young, my Dearest! You have before you the prospect of at least twenty years of enjoyment and Happiness in Life. I entreat you again in this way, not to throw yourself away upon a Man old enough to be your Grandfather, who, however strong, Hearty and Healthy at present, must and will certainly in time feel the consequences and Infirmities of Age.’

His refusal did not break their relationship, in fact it bought them closer together. They remained constantly in touch until the death of the Duke in 1852. In 1878 tragedy struck again when Mrs. Brown passed away. Anyone who knew Angela knew that this would be a devastating blow, as she and Mrs. Brown had been inseparable for years. Angela wrote to a friend of the loss of ‘my poor darling, the companion and sunshine of my life for fifty-two years!’

Greatly shocked and isolated by the death of Mrs. Brown, three years later she shocked the nation in turn by announcing her marriage to the American Ashmead Bartlett. She was 67 and he was only 29. Bartlett had been acting as one of Angela’s secretaries for many years and she had known him since he was a boy. By marrying a foreigner, Angela was forced to forfeit her claim to the Coutts fortune, although she remained handsomely provided for for the rest of her life. Even so, she was forced to stop many of the large annual donations which saw her projects flourish. The social housing schemes and church funds were the first to be halted, causing distress to both sides. But Angela could do not without the companionship of Bartlett, especially as so many of her close companions and family members had now died. Bartlett became and MP for Westminster in 1821, just as Angela had wanted. She herself never involved herself in politics, and was not allowed to involve herself in the business of the bank. Her talents laying in social work and social reform. She was also a skilled writer, which she worked hard at all her life. She published works on social reform and charity work on several occasions; often to great acclaim.

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Angela lived the rest of her long life in quiet companionship with Bartlett, traveling extensively. She spent much of the year either in Brighton or Corsica, but always loved to get back to London. She developed an extensive art collection, including Old Masters and contemporary pieces. When photography developed she kept extensive albums with images of herself and her numerous note-worthy friends, including Henry Irving, Princess Mary of Cambridge Duchess of Teck, Mr. Darbishire (the architect of her Columbia Square), and Sir James Brooke, the Rajah of Sarawak. Angela died of acute bronchitis on 20th December 1906. She lived a long and full life which was not without its personal tragedies and losses. As she married so late, she did not have any children, and so her title died along with her. Edward VII described her as ‘after my mother, the most remarkable woman in the kingdom’.

Categories: 19th Century, Amazing Women in History, Heroes | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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