West London Gardens

‘Little Dorrit’ is one of Charles Dickens’s great novels. My Folio Society Edition of 1986 is, at 834 pages with 72 of Charles Keeping’s exquisite illustrations, so great that I intend to deviate from my normal approach to books in this blog.

The tale has been reproduced so often in books and films and there are so many Internet pages on it that I think I do not need to refrain from any story spoilers, and my observations may or may not be superfluous.

Just as the author published the work in serial form I will do the same with my presentation of Mr Keeping’s drawings. I will write something about each picture as I make my leisurely journey through the weighty tome.

The frontispiece represents Marshalsea Prison.

Wikipedia tells us ‘The Marshalsea (1373–1842) was a notorious prison in Southwark, just south of the River Thames. Although it housed a variety of prisoners, including men accused of crimes at sea and political figures charged with sedition, it became known, in particular, for its incarceration of the poorest of London’s debtors.[1] Over half the population of England’s prisoners in the 18th century were in jail because of debt.[2]

Run privately for profit, as were all English prisons until the 19th century, the Marshalsea looked like an Oxbridge college and functioned as an extortion racket.[3] Debtors in the 18th century who could afford the prison fees had access to a bar, shop and restaurant, and retained the crucial privilege of being allowed out during the day, which gave them a chance to earn money for their creditors. Everyone else was crammed into one of nine small rooms with dozens of others, possibly for years for the most modest of debts, which increased as unpaid prison fees accumulated.[4] The poorest faced starvation and, if they crossed the jailers, torture with skullcaps and thumbscrews. A parliamentary committee reported in 1729 that 300 inmates had starved to death within a three-month period, and that eight to ten were dying every 24 hours in the warmer weather.[a]

The prison became known around the world in the 19th century through the writing of the English novelist Charles Dickens, whose father was sent there in 1824, when Dickens was 12, for a debt to a baker. Forced as a result to leave school to work in a factory, Dickens based several of his characters on his experience, most notably Amy Dorrit, whose father is in the Marshalsea for debts so complex no one can fathom how to get him out.[6][b]

Much of the prison was demolished in the 1870s, although parts of it were used as shops and rooms into the 20th century. A local library now stands on the site. All that is left of the Marshalsea is the long brick wall that marked its southern boundary, the existence of what Dickens called “the crowding ghosts of many miserable years” recalled only by a plaque from the local council. “[I]t is gone now,” he wrote, “and the world is none the worse without it.”[8]

In his introduction to my copy, Christopher Hibbert, speaking of Dickens’s childhood experience, states that ‘throughout his life thereafter Dickens had been obsessed with prisons, prisoners and imprisonment. In England, in America, Italy and France he found his way to the prison in each new town he visited in the way that another man might seek out a museum or a church.’

The jailer of Marseilles Prison takes his little daughter on a tour of the cells.

During my brief spell of residence in Sutherland Place, W2 I served as a Committee member of the local Neighbourhood Association which enjoyed an annual gardens competition. In the summer of 2008 I toured the few streets around my flat making a series of photographic prints of likely contenders on which a small sub-group voted. A set of colour slides from the recently rediscovered cache dated July/August was my basic material. I scanned them this afternoon.

Although these West London properties are highly sought after and very expensive they mostly have negligible gardens. I was genuinely impressed by the ingenuity shown by the nurturing of colourful plants in all kinds of containers laid on paving and walls, on window sills, fixed to railings, and straggling down steps.

I wonder whether anyone will share my favourite. As a clue I will say it was not the stunning header picture.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s deliciously spicy pork paprika; roast potatoes, including the sweet variety, in their skins; firm broccoli; and tender runner beans, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I drank Languedoc Montpeyroux Recital 2018.

Sigoules and Eymet

I spent most of the afternoon scanning and labelling another selection of colour slides from the recently rediscovered boxes. Apart from the two of Michael and Heidi, which I now think were taken twelve months later, these were all made in August 2008. During that summer I spent three weeks at various French bookings with my son and his family, saw them on their way to Spain, and stayed another week with my friends Maggie and Mike at Eymet in Aquitaine. As told in https://derrickjknight.com/2012/06/04/the-gite-from-hell/ this set of circumstances was instrumental in prompting me to buy

No 6 rue St Jacques, Sigoules. Mike is seen here opening the door for my viewing.

On this trip I took a few of the many walks around the town and its streets over the next few years. There were hardly any hillside slopes lacking prolific vineyards; vigorous sunflowers flourished in flatter fields; rustic stone buildings provided age-old charm,

My friends had moved from No 6 to be nearer the amenities of Eymet, a veritable English enclave.

Although I had to help Maggie with a pronunciation confusion when she was buying from a fruit seller, there seemed to be more English than French voices heard in Eymet’s popular market. In later years I found it easier to root out second-hand English books on the stalls than French ones.

This was also the occasion of the first of my ramblings around Eymet’s streets and lanes (rouelles). Most French towns and villages have splendid war memorials of which this is a fine example.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s perfect paprika pork; scrumptious savoury rice; and tender runner beans, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Shiraz.

Hard Times

Early yesterday morning Jackie photographed some of our current garden blooms. Each is labelled in the gallery.

We decided to hold these back to today because of the quantity we had published of the St John the Baptist Cemetery photographs. Later, Elizabeth e-mailed me a selection of hers.

This is her take on the inserted death medals;

she also added her version of the House memorial carved lilies;

she was intrigued by the cremation plaques and their offerings from loved ones and from autumn;

I had refrained from photographing these daffodils, but she made the best of them.

I spent much of today finishing reading

Christopher Hibbert in his knowledgeable and informative introduction places this work in the context of Dickens’s time and his works. He tells us that this begins the writer’s focus on social ills.

This is a well wrought story which largely keeps a good pace and culminates in conclusions with surprises and revelations which I will leave open to anyone wishing to read the book for the first time. The descriptions are good. Despite the harshness of the theme the author’s wry humour is much in evidence. I felt that the dialogue of two characters was irritating enough for me to skim them. One was conveyed in the supposed vernacular; another wath ath thpoken with a thevere lithp. The first indicated the humble origins of the man; the thecond I imagine wath a clownith interval. (I do apologithe WP, but I ethpect you get my point).

Regular readers will need no introduction to the exuberant, animated, illustrations of Charles Keeping, ever faithful to the text, and unbound by the page formats.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s variation on Cottage pie, with the addition of mashed potatoes and cheese; crunchy carrots and cauliflower, with tender cabbage, firm Brussels sprouts and tasty gravy. The Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Shiraz.

Nature’s Palettes

On a bright and sunny afternoon we drove to the Parish Church of St John the Baptist on Church Lane, Boldre, where we met Elizabeth for a wander round the cemetery. These two images are Jackie’s.

She also pictured largely lichen-covered arboreal delights, and

various gravestones and crosses,

including the Burton family memorial to father, mother, and five year old son. Col. William Henry Burton (late Madras), according to the London Gazette, retired on an Indian pension and extra annuity in December 1890.

She finally focussed on the Chisman Brothers’ lichen-splashed memorial bench. Cecil died suddenly aged 40. I don’t know about William.

I, too, focussed on various flora;

on general views; on individual lichen and moss layered stones;

and on the House family monument of which Jackie had featured the semi-profiled lilies.

We still cannot make out the identity of either this little girl photographed on our last visit or the person watched over by this spotted angel.

Nature has converted wood and stone into palettes on which to apply her own gentle hues.

Unfortunately I have to report that, despite the warning sign, dumping even occurs on hallowed ground.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s creative cottage pie flavoured with cumin and thyme, and topped with potato and parsnip slices; flavoursome Brussels sprouts; crunchy carrots and meaty gravy with which she finished the Sauvignon Blanc and I drank Barossa Valley Shiraz 2017.

Notting Hill Carnival

When Brian of https://equinoxio21.wordpress.com/2021/01/12/carnival-of-carnivals/ posted his Brazilian feature a couple of days ago his photographs sent me on a search for a set of my own colour slides from August 2007. I spent rather too much time on what seemed a fruitless exercise until, overnight, I remembered some forgotten boxes.

This was the year of Jessica’s death and my return to London to try to set up home alone once more. My usual meticulous filing system broke down. Consequently I kept slides unidentified in the processor’s little boxes. When Jackie and I were reunited in 2009 she helped me identify the contents, although I have never incorporated them into my archival system. Jackie had remembered this process and thought it was possible that she had labelled one box Notting Hill Carnival.

Indeed she had.

Today I scanned them.

For a couple of years I lived in Sutherland Place, very close to this corner where one of the sound units was situated. In 2007 I was one of only two residents who stayed at home for the Bank Holiday weekend. The other woman wore earplugs and, as the music shook our houses, advised me to do the same. The sound from the speakers was actually painful.

I do hope this young lady occupying one of the floats still has her hearing.

The wonderful light on this August day, and the sparsity of some of the clothing belies the fact that the temperature was very cold. When I left my spot on the railings beside St Stephen’s Mews to go home to use the lavatory and add another layer of clothing

I was able to reclaim it on my return. Two years later that would not have been possible. I couldn’t get near any of the floats, and when I left my flat I had to prove that I lived in the road in order to pass the barrier to reach home. 2007 may well have been the last manageable year of such a popular event drawing visitors from all over the country.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s wholesome savoury rice; a rack of ribs in barbecue sauce; and crisp tempura prawns with which she drank for of the Cabernet Sauvignon and I drank more of the Shiraz.

Tracking Sunset

The day was still grimly dark by the time we left to deliver Elizabeth a tub of Jackie’s chicken and vegetable stewp. (Interested readers will note that I have changed my spelling from stoup, because stewp is what google recognises and who am I to argue?)

Whenever the vehicle in front of us seems especially slow for no apparent reason, it is quite probable that a cyclist will be pedalling along ahead.

So it was today on School Lane. Even when the towed trailer on the road reached a wide enough section of the narrow winding route to be able to pass safely, the rider pulled more into the centre.

A pleasant young lady riding her pony crossed Pilley Street to open the gate for equine access, closed it again while waving to a van driver, then, with a friendly greeting, entered Burnt House Lane ahead of us.

We found Elizabeth happily working in her garden, enjoyed a short conversation, and set off to track the now almost visible sun towards the setting hour.

Glimmers were seen from Burnt House Lane;

a little lower from Warborne Lane;

Walhampton was blessed with Jesus Beams;

sunset wasn’t far off beyond the silent coastal preservation machinery;

and all but retreated behind the clouds at Barton on Sea.

We had begun our trip following a bicyclist along School Road – on Grove Road, Barton, we tailed a unicyclist who kept well out of our way.

This evening we dined on oven fish and chips and baked beans with which we both drank Marlborough Cabernet Sauvignon 2019.

‘Why Do Swans Have Such Long Necks?’

On another darkly dank afternoon, after visiting Milford on Sea Pharmacy we returned home via Keyhaven.

From Saltgrass Lane we watched geese, gulls, and other waterfowl fishing,

flying, and floating fast on the tidal current. The colour picture in the first gallery and the first two in the next are Jackie’s.

Walkers, dogs, and cyclists exercised at safe distances. The Assistant Photographer provided the first image of this set.

Swans tend to gather under the bridge linking the lane with the spit.

Today they were accompanied by

cygnets, no longer Hans Andersen’s Ugly Ducklings, but yet to shed their cinnamon plumage and acquire an orange beak.

This one is not too big to avoid mother’s sharp reprimand.

Emma, West Sussex recently wondered why swans have such long necks.

Today’s observations suggest that it is to enable them to reach the river bed.

Here I am photographing the swans.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s scrumptious sausages in red wine; creamy mashed potatoes; crunchy carrots and cauliflower, with firm Brussels sprouts. The Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Shiraz.

All Too Fleeting

On a dank, overcast, yet warmer, morning, Jackie drove us to Ferndene Farm shop where her shopping ran so smoothly that it was only a four-page read in the car for me.

We took a slight diversion on our way home, passing Sammy Miller Motorcycle Musem further along Bashley Cross Road, where

work went on attending to donkeys in a field and pigeons perched on a rooftop.

Historic transport, like this plane on display needed no feeding during lockdown. The motorcycle weather vane was in a constant wheel spin generated by the stiff breeze.

Like any other ungulates in our fields there are always some of these alpacas seen on the Sway road inquisitively spotting me spotting them.

Shortly after lunch deceptive clouds scudded across rapidly changing skies over Downton allowing cerulean patches and brief sunlight. This was all too fleeting. Soon we were back in the gloom.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s succulent sausages in red wine; creamy mashed potatoes; crunchy carrots and cauliflower; and firm Brussels sprouts with which she drank Peroni and I drank The Second Fleet Limestone Coast Shiraz 2019.

A Weak Sun

A weak sun attempted to influence

the cold and gloom of Downton Lane as I walked its length and back this dull, dreary afternoon.

One resident had made a cheerful crab pot and stump arrangement rather like ours; tree fungus decorated another arboreal relic.

Had I had more sense I would have turned back at the stream, but I didn’t, and just about made it home.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s nicely maturing chicken and vegetable stoup with crusty bread fresh from the freezer, with which I finished the Fleurie and the Culinary Queen abstained.

A Prizefighter, A Knacker, And A Menagerist

Yesterday I finished reading the fifth and final of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Books. This morning I scanned Charles Keeping’s faithful, first-class, illustrations.

Christopher Hibbert, in his informative introduction to my Folio Society edition, offers the insight that this work reflects painful experiences of the writer’s own life. Seeking freedom from his phantoms ‘The Haunted Man’ of the novella appeals for forgetfulness. The story reveals that forgiveness is really what is required. Once more this tale has been overshadowed by ‘A Christmas Carol’. It does, however contain much of Dickens’s splendid descriptive writing laced with his wry humour.

Highgate West Cemetery, in September 2008, when I produced the batch of colour slides scanned this afternoon, was nowhere near as oppressively gloomy as the heavy atmosphere that prevailed outside my workroom window.

John Turpin, who wrote the text for ‘The Magnificent Seven’, and I needed to join the above paying group to visit this fine example of London’s Victorian landscaped burial grounds. Although wealthy enough to have afforded these final resting places, I have gleaned no information about the various residents.

Steps lead down to these lower levels which also house the columbarium, from the Latin for pigeon-house, which contains niches for storing funeral urns.

I do not know who warranted this elaborate marker.

These three are memorable for their animals. His mastiff guards the remains of Thomas Sayers.

This is what Wikipedia tells us about him: ‘Tom Sayers (15 or 25 May[1] 1826 – 8 November 1865) was an English bare-knuckle prize fighter. There were no formal weight divisions at the time, and although Sayers was only five feet eight inches tall and never weighed much more than 150 pounds, he frequently fought much bigger men. In a career which lasted from 1849 until 1860, he lost only one of sixteen bouts. He was recognized as heavyweight champion of England between 1857, when he defeated William Perry (the “Tipton Slasher”) and his retirement in 1860.

His lasting fame depended exclusively on his final contest, when he faced American champion John Camel Heenan[2] in a battle which was widely considered to be boxing’s first world championship. It ended in chaos when the spectators invaded the ring, and the referee finally declared a draw.

Regarded as a national hero, Sayers, for whom the considerable sum of £3,000 was raised by public subscription, then retired from the ring. After his death five years later at the age of 39, a huge crowd watched his cortège on its journey to London’s Highgate Cemetery.’ His origins are also related in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Sayers

John Atcheler, commemorated by a horse on a plinth, was reputedly horse-slaughterer to Queen Victoria. Maybe someone was indulging a wry sense of humour.

Menageries were popular in Regency and early Victorian England. The lion resting above the remains of George Wombwell represents a favourite exhibit of that individual who, according to Wikipedia

‘was born in Wendon LoftsEssex in 1777. Around 1800 he moved to London and in 1804 became a shoemaker in Soho. However, when a ship from South America brought two boas to London docks, he bought them for £75 and began to exhibit them in taverns. He soon made a good profit.

Wombwell began to buy exotic animals from ships that came from AfricaAustralia and South America, and collected a whole menagerie and put them on display in Soho. In 1810 he founded the Wombwell’s Travelling Menagerie and began to tour the fairs of Britain. By 1839 it totalled fifteen wagons, and was accompanied by a brass band.

His travelling menagerie included elephantsgiraffes, a gorilla, a hyenakangarooleopards, 6 lionsllamasmonkeysocelotsonagersostrichespanthers, a rhino (“the real unicorn of scripture”), 3 tigerswildcats and zebras. However, because many of the animals were from hotter climes, many of them died in the British climate. Sometimes Wombwell could profitably sell the body to a taxidermist or a medical school, other times he chose to exhibit the dead animal as a curiosity.

Wombwell bred and raised many animals himself, including the first lion to be bred in captivity in Britain; he named it William in honour of William Wallace. In 1825 Warwick, Wombwell, in collaboration with Sam Wedgbury and dog dealer Ben White’s assistant Bill George,[1]arranged a Lion-baiting between his docile lion Nero and six bulldogs. Nero refused to fight but when Wombwell released Wiliam, he mauled the dogs and the fight was soon stopped.

Over the years, Wombwell expanded three menageries that traveled around the country. Wombwell was a regular exhibitor at the annual Knott Mill Fair in Manchester, a venue he sometimes shared with Pablo Fanque‘s circus.[2][3] He was invited to the royal court on five occasions to exhibit his animals, three times before Queen Victoria. In 1847 the Queen Victoria noted the bravery of the “British Lion Queen”, the nickname of Ellen Chapmanwho appeared with lions, leopards and tigers. Chapman married Wombwell’s business rival George Sanger in 1850.[4]

On one occasion Prince Albert summoned him to look at his dogs who kept dying and Wombwell quickly noticed that their water was poisoning them. When the prince asked what he could do in return for this favour, Wombwell said, “What can you give a man who has everything?” However, Wombwell requested some oak timber from the recently salvaged Royal George. From this he had a coffin fashioned for himself, which he then proceeded to exhibit for a special fee.

Wombwell frequented Bartholomew Fair in London and even developed a rivalry with another exhibitor, Atkins. Once when he arrived at the fair, his elephant died and Atkins put up a sign “The Only Live Elephant in the Fair”. Wombwell simply put up a scroll with the words “The Only Dead Elephant in the Fair” and explained that seeing a dead elephant was an even a rarer thing than a live one. The public, realising that they could see a living elephant at any time, flocked to see and poke the dead one. Throughout the fair Atkins’ menagerie was largely deserted, much to his disgust.

George Wombwell died in 1850 and was buried in his Royal George coffin in Highgate Cemetery, under a statue of his lion Nero.

The book George Wombwell (1777 – 1850): Volume One recalls the lion and dog fight in Warwick with well researched evidence, but questions whether it ever actually took place. George Wombwell (1777 – 1850): Volume Two covers Wombwell’s life as the most famous showman, from his arrival in London around 1800 to his death in 1850.[5]

In 1851 a tapir broke out of its den at Wombwell’s Menagerie in Rochdale, causing panic among the spectators.[6]

The cedar of Lebanon in the second and third of these pictures is one of the cemetery’s original plantings.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s substantial, wholesome, chicken and vegetable stoup and crusty bread with which she drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Fleurie.