The Thames, Britain’s Great River – Part Three

“Bagatelles” for Piano Opus 1 (1) by Valentin Silvestrov (courtesy of Gio):

 

“There are dark shadows on the earth,
but its lights are stronger in the contrast.”
Charles Dickens, “The Pickwick Papers”

“Songs My Mother Taught Me” by Antonin Dvorák, performed by Camille Thomas who dedicates this video to the children all around the world and to UNICEF (courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon – DG):

This week we return to the endlessly fascinating River Thames. A studio guest Samuel L. Jackson was impressed with the backdrop of ITV’s This Morning show, telling the boss Martin Frizell “I love your CGI. That screen is fantastic.” Replied Frizell: “No, actually that’s the real Thames. That’s the river out there.”

“When The Thames Froze” by Smith & Burrows:

The Thames, like all big rivers, attracts winter fog and mist. In past centuries, it was prone to freezing solid. One of the freezes in 1683 was described by a few diarists of the time, including Pepys. The Thames became land. There were market stalls everywhere on the frozen water, children played football, and the ice was estimated as 45cm thick. Fish could be seen suspended in the ice. It was such an extraordinary event that verses were written to commemorate it:

Behold the wonder of this present age,
A famous river now become a stage:
Question not what I now declare to you.
The Thames is now both fair and market too.

Courtesy of Museum of London:

 

“What Power Art Thou” (The Cold Genius) by Henry Purcell (courtesy of AntPDC):

 

As the Thames’ flow has increased in later times, it is predicted that the river will never freeze again. London was devastated after two World Wars, and while rebuilding the capital, many old and beautiful structures were demolished. But public interest in preserving London’s architectural heritage saved many of these. Here, I will feature a few less known but very much worth visiting when coming to London. And please remember when admiring the interesting places featured below, none would exist if it would not be for one of the greatest of rivers — The Thames.

YE OLDE CHESHIRE CHEESE

This pub, regarded as the most beautiful in Britain, is situated next to Wine Court, at   145 Fleet Street, EC4A  2BU

It was built in 1667, just after the Great Fire, and its rambling interior gives a rare glimpse of what taverns were like in 17th and 18th century London. Outside, its circular 19th-century lantern marks the pub’s entrance. To the right of the entrance is a list of the 15 monarchs who have reigned during the pub’s lifetime. Another list proudly gives the names of famous visitors; from Dr Johnson and his friend Boswell to Dickens, Tennyson, Thackeray, Hood (the man who knew everything), Thackeray, Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Conan-Doyle, Chesterton, and many, many others.

To the right, there is the Gentlemen’s Bar, a dark room with an open fire, where Charles Dickens used to sit. Above the fireplace hangs a large 1829 portrait of William Simpson, a former waiter, which was commissioned by the clientele of the time as an expression of esteem in which the old retainer was held. Dickens who was a frequent visitor used this pub as a model for a pub in his book ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.

Why should you read Dickens? (courtesy of TED-Ed):

To the left is the Chop Room resplendent with high-backed oak settlers where are served famous meat puddings that were mentioned in Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga. In this room are Dr Johnson’s chair and Dictionary.  A grand late 18th-century staircase leads to a series of panelled upper floor rooms that are used for private dining. Downstairs in the basement, there are vaulted cellars which pre-date the pub and are believed to originate from the earlier 13th century.

For many years the pub was the home of Polly, a parrot given to speak in foul language. After she died, age 40, in 1926, she was stuffed, and is now sitting in the ground floor bar. Her death was announced to a distraught public by BBC Radio and in 200 newspaper obituaries around the world. The Sunday Review launched a competition to mark her death. The winning epitaph read:

‘Enough! No maudlin tear be shed
Not all of Polly shall be dead.
Though silent here upon the shelf
I stand in memory of myself,
A special prize was awarded for:
Our talking parrot, native of the East
Has now gone West.’

 

PETRIE  MUSEUM  OF EGYPTIAN  ARCHAEOLOGY

Located at Malet Place, Bloomsbury,  WC1E  6BT

The Petrie Museum is a treasure trove of over 80,000 objects covering 7000 years of ancient Egyptian and Sudanese artefacts. It was started by the writer Amelia Edwards, who in 1882 co-founded the Egypt Exploration Fund dedicated to research and preservation of ancient Egyptian monuments. She endowed the Edwards Chair of Egyptology, the first to be established in Britain. The first appointed Professor was William Petrie (1853-1942), the most renowned Egyptologist, who excavated many of the most important sites including Tanis, Abydos, and Amarna, the city founded by the monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten.

Petrie’s collection was intended for academic use, but after his retirement, his successor added to it extensively. In the early 1950s, it was recovered from wartime storage and moved into its present home in Malet Place, and is part of the Science Library of University College. The collection is full of some of the oldest Egyptian objects and many ‘firsts’, including the earliest example of worked metal, the first worked iron beads, the earliest example of glazing, the oldest wills on papyrus and one of the earliest fragments of linen along with a beaded dress of a dancer from 2400BC, a suit of armour from the royal palace in Memphis and the world’s largest collection of Roman mummy portraits from the first and second centuries AD.

The Museum is open:
Saturday – 1 – 5 pm
Sunday and Monday closed
Tuesday to Friday  1 – 5 pm

Excavating in Egypt (courtesy of NationalMuseumsScotland):

 

JAMES  SMITH  &  SONS

Hazelwood House, 53 New Oxford Street, WC1A  1BL

When I lived and worked in London, on Charing Cross Road, I passed the shop in New Oxford Street every day. Even on the outside, it looks striking. The firm’s beginnings are equally interesting. In 1830 James Smith & Sons opened his first umbrella shop of Regent Street. It was so successful that his son, also called James, opened a second shop in New Oxford Street. It was followed rapidly by six other businesses in other parts of London, including a hatter and a barbershop.

The first man in London reputed to carry an umbrella was Jonas Hanway, a traveller and philanthropist. Many leading figures of that time who bought their umbrellas in the by-now famous shop of James Smith & Sons included Lord Curzon, Gladstone, and Andrew Bonar Law. The company was one of the first to use the famous Samuel Fox frames, the first steel umbrella frames created in 1848. In addition to umbrellas, Smith’s specialised in making canes and military swagger sticks, as well as ceremonial maces for tribal chiefs in South Africa, Nigeria, and elsewhere.

Their attractive and eye-catching shopfront and the interior are beautifully preserved examples of a high-class  Victorian West End shop, with cast-iron cresting to the faceted gilt and glass fascias, inscribed brass sills,  elaborate black and gilt lettering to the upper panels of the windows and a splendid traditional box sign. Inside, the original mahogany counters and display cases are stocked with an array of highest quality canes, sticks and umbrellas, most of which are still manufactured in the basement.

James Smith & Sons is the largest and oldest umbrella shop in Europe, and its shopfront and interior one of the landmarks of central London.

Best Of British (courtesy of DW Euromaxx):

 

Origin of the umbrella (courtesy of Draw The Life TikTak):

 

PS  Umbrellas have inspired many artists –  Gene Kelly, Rihanna and her catchy song, and the art of Pete Rumney, below:

“Singin’ in the Rain” performed by Gene Kelly (courtesy of Turner Classic Movies):

CHURCH  OF  ST  JAMES  THE  LESS

Thorndike Street  SW1V  2PS

The Church of St James the Less is one of London’s finest Victorian churches, built in 1859-61 by George Edmund Street, later the architect of the Royal Courts of Justice. The church has a distinctive short pyramidal spire with four corner spiralets above a high tower and is enclosed by elegant railings. Inside it is pure Gothic, with walls of banded red and black brick arches, a floor of red and yellow glazed tiles, and short, opulent granite columns with stiff-leaf carved capitals carrying notched and moulded brick arches.

 

Over the font is an exuberant gilded wrought-iron canopy that was shown at the 1862 Exhibition. The carved stone pulpit is widely regarded as one of the finest works of Thomas Earp, an architect and sculptor, working in the late 19th century. There is also a wonderful brick vault over the crossing and chancel. Above is a magnificent, vast mosaic of the Last Judgement by George Frederic Watts. The stained glass windows depict the apostles and biblical scenes.

The church is surrounded by Lillington Gardens. The Church of St James the Less is only 10 minutes walk from Victoria underground or 5 minutes walk from Pimlico tube. Access can only be gained via Moreton Street, turning into Thorndike Street.

POLLOCK’S  TOY  MUSEUM

1 Scala Street,  W1T  2HL

“If you like art, folly or the bright eyes of children, speed to Pollock’s,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson after a visit to London in the 1880s. The museum is a house of wonders, but also a hidden gateway into the magical world of childhood. Benjamin Pollock (1836-1937) was a furrier who, while still in his teens, married Eliza Redington, whose family were printers and bookbinders. The Pollocks inherited the business which contained a mass of copperplate engravings, lithographs, and souvenirs of the stage stars of the time. Pollock adopted the lithograph press, which he operated for over 60 years. By the 1870s, Pollock operated from Hoxton, and his hand-coloured, folk-art designs were legendary. By the 1920s, the leading lights of the London stage beat a path to his door, among them Gladys Cooper and Charlie Chaplin. The famous Diaghilev promoted his Russian ballet in 1927 with decor ‘after Benjamin Pollock’.

In 1951 Marguerite Fawdry bought the entire stock, and together with three other friends who were collectors of dolls and toys, established a museum. It has since flourished in a Georgian house in Scala Street as one of London’s genuine curiosities. Up the narrow staircase is the timeless enchanted word of childhood. Every surface of every room is lined with delightful displays of toys, dolls, board games, mechanical and tin toys, teddy bears, folk toys, tableaux, and even a young girl’s nursery of 1900.

The museum also has a toy shop, both are open Monday to Saturday, 10 – 5 pm, closed on Sunday.

See you next week for more amazing places.

In the meantime, a taster of London, courtesy of Expedia:

41 thoughts on “The Thames, Britain’s Great River – Part Three

  1. Another stellar episode. Pixie dust every where.
    🪄🪄🪄💞🥳

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you, Pat, for your lovely comment! Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great selection of information and music.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What an amazing journey , Joanna. Thank you so much for sharing. “When The Thames Froze” by Smith & Burrows has now been downloaded. I was unfamiliar with their music but after listening to it here, I became a fan. The photos are simply incredible so much to take in. Beautiful. Thanks again.💕

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you, Grace, for your wonderful comments! More to come next week! Greatly appreciated!

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  6. My pleasure , Joanna. Looking forward to it.💕

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Excellent post Joanna. I got carried away looking at the toys, walking sticks, and umbrellas!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you, Peter, for your kind comment! Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  9. What a beautiful gift of part 2 in your series of the Thames River Joanna! Thank you so much for providing such a rich and uplifting post we all need right now filled with wonderful snippets of history. I loved The Gentlemen’s Bar, a dark room with an open fire, where Charles Dickens used to sit. I can imagine many wonderful evenings there and rich exchange. The music was so beautiful to accompany your beautiful work. xo

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you, Cindy, for your wonderful comments and understanding that we need some distraction from the surreal horror unfolding!
    Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Thank you for this chapter on Thames. It webs some exquisite and dreamy architecture which we might not get to even hear of anywhere else, spending time is out of question. There are quiet a few memories and aspirations this essay gives. Music has become the essence of this blog as rich as that image which is only a glimpse of living history that is that 1667 black brick pub. Thank you for a tour in time.

    Narayan x

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Thank you, Narayan, for your wonderful commentary of my post. I might again stress here that writing of interesting and untroubled places, is my antidote to stressful to extreme times in Europe happening just now. Perhaps, it will reassure readers and myself that despots and wars don’t last forever, and always come to sticky end. The tragedy is that it cost lives of thousands or even millions of peoples.
    Thank you, Narayan again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna x

    Liked by 1 person

  13. What a great eclectic mix of London life Joanna, and it’s always good to learn things about London that I didn’t know before – in particular I liked the Smith & Burrows song, the James Smith & Sons umbrella shop and the Church of St James the Less. Great stuff 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  14. You are so welcome Joanna and I’m grateful for that and look forward to part 3 next week-:)💕❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Part 3 is already here, it next week it will be part 4!

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Thank you, Malk, for your generous comments. I love to know which parts were especially of interest to each reader. Brace yourself, more commig next week, that is if Putin does not press the button! And I a not joking here!

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Oops that’s what I meant… thanks 💕❤️💕

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’m already looking forward to the next instalment Joanna. As regards Putin, who knows what he’s thinking. It comes to something when even the Russian people are starting to leave their country. At least blogging is an escape from the worry for a while 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thank you, Malk, you got it in one!
    Things are changing by the minute, now Finland is involved as they are having an influx of Russians leaving their homeland because they dis agree with Putin.

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Your hearts are wonderful! Thank you!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  21. The third installment on The Thames is as interesting and informative as the last two parts. It’s a nice ride right from the Thames freeze of 1683 to the famous pub and its Polly, James Smith & Sons, Church of St. James and Pollock’s toy museum. You have mentioned Thackeray as one of visitors to the pub. I was wondering whether he was one of the ancestors of the present Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray or his family.

    But what fascinated me most is Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Your photos of Akhenaten and Nefertiti reminded me of my trip to Egypt, where I had seen their statues and paintings on papyrus. If I visit London, this will be my first priority.

    The videos on origin of umbrella and Egyptian excavations are riveting, but the last one on London is awesome, a visitors’ guide. Thank you so much, Joanna for your time and efforts to bring out one more absorbing post.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I love the old architecture combined with color, especially the cathedral. I like the fireplace in the pub, as well. You’ve written of more fascinating history here, Joanna. Thanks for sharing these gems from a place you love! 🌞

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thank you, Kaushal, for your wonderful on many counts comments! I did look up William Makepeace Thackeray and while he was born in Kolkata, it is more likely that it could be his father,
    Richmond Thackeray could have left his name behind if he had a son with an Indian woman before he was married, or even after, as the morals of the day were different.
    When I finish The Thames I am going to publish a fascinating story about finding the tomb of Tutankhamun, with many unknown details.

    Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  24. What a great post Joanna! Wonderful presentation!!

    Like

  25. Thank you, Lisa, for your lovely comments! I love history with all the interesting details I can find. After the Thames, it will be Egypt and the extraordinary story of finding an unopened tomb of Tutankhamun.
    Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Thank you, Jyothi, for your kind comments! I am glad that such a seasoned traveler as you, found London interesting. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  27. Another fascinating post, Joanna. I love the quote by Charles Dickens, the umbrellas, and Singin’ in the Rain!

    Like

  28. Thank you, Lauren, for your kind comments. “Singing in the Rain!” does for me every time it rains!
    Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  29. It’s my pleasure, Joanna. I thank and appreciate your efforts for locating Thackerays. I’ll eagerly wait for Tutankhamun’s story.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Thank you Joanna for another great post, and I always enjoy the accompanied music too.

    Like

  31. Thank you, Henrietta, for your kind comments. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  32. A wonderful and a well researched post Joanna.

    Like

  33. Thank you, Rupali, greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  34. Thank you, Dwight, for this marathon reading of my The Thames series, and kind comments. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  35. It was interesting and most informative!

    Like

  36. Thank you, Dwight. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  37. A beautiful and fascinating post, Joanna! From the quaint and out-of-the-way toy museum to the world-famous and magnificent castles and cathedrals, I am enjoying this tour of London conducted by one who obviously knows it intimately. ❤

    Like

  38. Thank you, Cheryl, for your generous comments! Greatly appreciated. There is so much to see in London that you will have to come back a few times more.

    Joanna

    Like

  39. Joanna, I loved the music video “Songs My Mother Taught Me” by Antonin Dvorák. And of course, all of the animals lined up two by two. What a treat for children (and former veterinarians).
    This post featured something for everyone: Egyptian archeology, dolls, umbrellas, canes, toys and books. And to learn the history behind manufacture of umbrellas and the names of a few of their celebrity aficionados. One of my retirement hobbies has been to make walking sticks, but nothing so elaborate as could be found in the James Smith shop on Charing Cross Road. Mine are fashioned from young sapling trees chosen for some distinctive shape, knot or scar and have a tip which can expose either rubber or metal depending on the terrain. “True Tree” is the moniker they carry. Stewart

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Thank you, Stewart, for your wonderful comments! You do have an unusual hobby, and it seems that it requires a sophisticated skill. London has many unknown and interesting places to see and by the time you read all 8 posts, you might be ready to book a reservation!
    Thank you again, Stewart. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

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