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text 2016-06-11 17:00
London the Biography: The chapter on Waste Matter - Shit Paintings?!
London: The Biography - Peter Ackroyd

It's a giggleworthy subject if you're in elementary school, but it's one that social historians find lots of er, material in - how people dealt with waste. And when you have a city the size of London that's a vast issue.

 

I'm afraid this will end up more than one post because wow, such material.

 

p 333

"...London memoranda in Samuel Pepys's words from Seething Lane: "Going down to my cellar, I put my foot in a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr. Turners house of office is full and comes into my cellar."

 

Londoners are fascinated by excrement. ...in English of the same century [of Thomas More] homage was paid to human excrement with the nickname of "Sir-reverence." In the late twentieth century those quintessentially London artists, "Gilbert and George" of Spitalfields, arranged large exhibitions of their Shit Paintings."

 

And for more on those artists: 

 

Gilbert and George: Everyone Said We Wouldn't Last

Telegraph, 7 Jul 2014

"...Although Gilbert and George may be very clean, their art is not clean at all. Over the years they have made pictures featuring sperm; urine; penises – their own; faeces – again, their own; and pubic lice. It’s odd to think of their collectors – who often pay in excess of £1 million for one of their pictures – sitting in some chichi Manhattan apartment with one of their enormous turd pictures on the wall."

 

Oh and the toilet WAS the trash can for everything - ponder your own trash use with that in mind, especially thinking about what throwing out the weekly trash would mean.

 

p 334

"In the period when Pepys was complaining about the substances in his cellar, the privy was being used in most households for kitchen and domestic as well as human refuse."

 

I always love how this is rarely if ever covered in romance or history novels - the people wearing lovely satins and silks at diner would retire to the next room and pee in a corner. Hopefully in a container - but not always, sometimes literally on the floor in a corner, or in the fireplace. All male groups at dinner would often just use a pot brought in a room while the rest continued to eat and talk. And of course public lavatories were long board benches with holes where you'd sit right next to someone and do what you needed to. It wasn't just a rich/poor thing - the rich weren't really more hygenic or careful.

 

Now that last bit I didn't get just from this book at all - but annoyingly I can't remember which couple of books I culled it from. Sadly there's no big book of poo in history I can recommend - and er, I think I'll wait til after lunch to google...

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text 2016-06-04 18:40
Another London Quote: I Needed to Share the Odd Details
London: The Biography - Peter Ackroyd

I griped a bit about the book but now realize that I didn't really share any reasons as to why I'm reading it. Here's a bit of the kind of info that I'm drawn to - and it gives you a sense of the details Ackroyd likes to share:

 

p 164-5:

 

"As long as the city has existed there have been entertainers and entertainments, from the street ventriloquists who cast their voices into their hands to the "man with the telescope" who for twopence would allow you to look at the heavens on a summer's night. Performers balanced on the weathercock of St. Paul's steeple; there were midnight dog shows and duels of rats; there were street jugglers and street conjurors, complete with pipes and drum; there were performing bears and performing monkeys dragged through the streets of London upon long ropes. In the late eighteenth century a pedlar exhibited a hare dancing upon a tambourine, while another entertainer displayed "a curious mask of bees on his head and face."...

 

...There have always been wonders and curiosities. John Stow recorded the minute skills of a blacksmith who exhibited a padlock, key and chain which could be fastened around the neck of a performing flea; John Evelyn reported seeing "the Hairy Woman" whose eyebrows covered her forehead, as well as a Dutch boy who displayed the words "Deus Meus" and "Elohim" on each iris. In the reign of George II, it was announced that "from eight in the morning til nine at night, at the end of the great booth on Blackheath, a West of England woman 38 years of age, alive, with two heads, one above the other... She has had the honor to be seen by Sir Hans Sloane, and several of the Royal Society. Gentlemen and ladies may see her at their own houses as they please." The advertisement has been taken from a pamphlet entitled Merrie England in the Olden Time. So the unfortunate creature was taken to the London houses of the rich to be inspected at closer hand. ...As Trinculo says upon first confronting Caliban, on that enchanted island strangely recalling London, "when they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian."

 

It's going to be a while before I lose the mental image of a rabbit dancing on a tambourine and a man wearing a mask of bees.

 

The treatment of so-called "freak show" workers has a long (sad) history - sometimes, if the workers weren't exploited by managers, they could actually make money, save it up, go on to have a better life outside the business. But what they had to put up with to earn that wage... If you are interested in the stories of such folk with LOTS of historical sources referenced, I recommend any/all of the following by author Jan Bondeson:

 

  • A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities
  • The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History
  • The Two-Headed Boy and Other Medical Marvels

 

Bondeson focuses a bit more on the medical conditions and the science history, but the human stories are well described. 

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text 2016-06-03 19:04
London the Biography: Sharing the Online Book Wealth
London: The Biography - Peter Ackroyd

I mentioned this in the last post, but now I've actually sat down and started looking up old books that are referenced in this book. And I've found a lot. And I'm just starting.

 

Usually when this sort of thing happens I add it to my (huge) bookmark folder for online ebooks and tell myself that I'll eventually share the links. But I'm horrible at getting around to that, so bah, I'll just pop in and share what I've found in the past hour.  

 

First a quote from Ackryod's book:

 

p 114: "Antiquarianism might itself be considered outmoded, therefore, except for one curious ceremony which is conducted every year at the church of St. Andrew Undershaft. Here rests John Stow's tomb, with a memorial figure of the Tudor antiquarian resting upon it. He holds a quill pen in his hand and every year, at the beginning of April, the Lord Mayor of London and a distinguished historian proceed to the memorial where a new quill is placed in Stow's hand. So the city honours one of its greatest citizens, with the changing of the quill a solemn token of the fact that the writing of London's history will never come to and end."

 

And now, some random old books. Am linking Open Library's website because, while all of these have links to read the original book online (you'll see images of the actual scanned book page), they have great links where you can download directly in the format of your choice. I'm hooked on them because I can wirelessly send to my kindle via a link. Down side: often the downloadable versions have scanning errors (wrong letters, garble here and there) - and you'll miss out on the great illustrations or photos that some of the books might have. (I usually read via ereader and check the original for images. So far majority of books with images don't hae them in downloaded version.)

 

Unknown London by George Walter Bell (1919)

Which I am going to read first because there's a chapter on the head of the Duke of Suffolk. And a photo of the mummified-looking head in the frontpiece. Definitely has my attention. [tumblr me: omg guys I bumped into a book with a decapitated head! Score!]

 

Because I understand those of you who just want to cut (grim accidental pun) to the chase, I'll link you to the wikipedia section called: The Head. Note that wikipedia quotes from this particular text. Though it cites the book in reference, you'd never know it was waiting to be read at archive.org, but that's wikipedia for you. (Yes I could link it myself but then I'd have to go look up my password and that'd take up reading time.)

 

Er none of the following have quite the weirdness of Unknown London. Or the promise of weirdness - I've not yet read any of these, remember.

 

London Vanished and Vanishing by Philip Norman (1905)

Illustrations are really nice paintings.

 

Old and New London by Walter Thornbury (1887)

 

Highways and Byways in London by Mrs T E Cook (1920)

Nice to find a woman author amongst all the guys.

 

Curiosities of London Life by W and F G Cash (1857)

 

History of London by Walter Besant (1894)

 

And, again randomly, I bumped into the following on a non London related search, which it is yet again the case that a woman author is mostly ignored because we don't have translations - or at least not of her own writing. So here's a two volume bio - by a gentleman who wrote it in French, but his work was translated. Go figure.

 

The Salon of Madame Necker vol 1, and vol 2.  (1882)

wikipedia link: Susan Curchod, or Madame Necker

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text 2016-06-03 15:08
When Books Tease!
London: The Biography - Peter Ackroyd

London is one of those long books that I love but as usual, sends me off to google. There are SO many other books referenced in the text that sound fascinating - and you have to wonder, is this book as interesting as it sounds from this quote? Is the interest aided mainly because Ackroyd loves the subject, or would I find it readable even if this book hadn't made it sound good? And for older books that might be out of copyright and online - well, I always have to go look to see if I can find the book, or at least read an excerpt. Of course finding them is the trick.

 

This often leads to websites which will sell you the books but that have little info about the contents - IF I actually can find any info about them online, that is. And that brings me to one book tease - the review that doesn't tell you anything, just hints at info. I'm not linking because I'm not wanting to spotlight this person, there are SO many people that do this. Example, not an exact quote:

This book contains many stories of this European city that I'd heard before, some that I haven't. It's a fascinating city, and I really want to make time to visit it someday.

I'd have been the slightest bit happier if there'd been mention of at least one or two of the stories this reviewer had heard - or hadn't. A noun, a place name, a person, maybe? Then I'd have something to go on and understand the star rating. As it is I have nothing to glean from that (except that this person wants to travel), and no one else reviewed this particular old book. So...yeah. Set that aside and moving on to other books I can find out more about.

 

The other book tease is done by authors when they cite something in the text, but there's no footnote. Ackroyd has an entire chapter at the end of this book that's an essay on his sources - but there's no way to tell within the text exactly where some of his references come from - unless he cites the book and author. (And then you'll know that much, but not where in the book that quote comes from.) Here's an example of a tease without a source:

 

p 111: "...At the very beginning of the nineteenth century a London journalist known as "Aleph" wandered down Lothbury, recalling its previous "tortuous, dark vista of lofty houses" lit only by oil lamps; since Aelph's journey it has changed many times, yet it still remains unique and identifiable, most particularly with its recurrent "darkness" and loftiness."

 

Yes, I'll get around to googling that. But just from previous reading and knowing how many newspaperfolk in that area used single names (or humorous pseudonyms) - you're not going to find them easily unless the author published multiple articles, in online-accessible papers. Or so I've found from past searches like this. (Will update if I find anything later.)

 

More babble later, am being paged to go help...

 

LATER:

 

Aelph apparently (I think) wrote London Scenes - ah ha, here we go:

 

London Scenes and London People

 

Had to look through several ugly .txt docs before I finally found that link - it's at archive.org. It would have helped to know that Aelph was a pen name of William Henry Harvey, 1811 - 1866. That's if archive.org is correct with that author name/date. I only know that the wikipedia page for him only mentions his botany work. And see, I think it's NOT the same Harvey - because other sources note: "William Harvey, wood-engraver, illustrator and writer of verse for children." Soooo, hmmm.

 

This is now become the mystery of Who is Aelph? Or Which William Harvey?

 

Which is again why I say footnotes: I read them, I love them. If you care enough to cite authors, please footnote so that I may then go read their books too. Don't be a tease about it.

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review 2015-09-17 11:31
London: The Biography - Peter Ackroyd

A rather good book if you are just looking for a "good read", but quite difficult to sift through if you want something to actually look for hard facts about London in. ( )

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