London Trivia: Frozen out

On 12 January 1789 with the Thames frozen due in part to the river being both broader and shallower than today, a frost fair was in full swing. The ‘Little Ice Age’ lasting from 17th to 19th-century ice fairs were regularly held, the first being in 1608. Frost fairs were often brief as rapid thaws swiftly followed as it did on that day when melting ice dragged a ship anchored to a riverside public house pulling the down and crushing five people to death.

On 12 January 1828 whilst under construction Isambard Brunel’s Thames Tunnel flooded and 6 men died. Brunel himself was fortunate to escape

John Bishop and Thomas Williams who lived at 3 Nova Scotia Gardens, Spitalfields were notorious 19th century body snatchers

The Monument stands on the site of St Margaret’s, the first church to burn down during the Great Fire of 1666

In 1926, suicide pits were installed beneath tracks due to a rise in the numbers of passengers throwing themselves in front of trains

In 1536 in consideration to his wife Henry VIII converted Anne Boleyn’s sentence of death by burning to that of beheading at Tower Hill

A young David Robert Jones went to Burnt Ash Junior School, Bromley in the mid fifties, he is better known today as David Bowie

In 1830 Michael Boai, aka the ‘chin chopper’, gave a concert at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly playing tunes by tapping his chin

Arsenal (originally opened on 15 December 1906 as Gillespie Road) on Piccadilly line is the only station named after a football team

On 12 January 1866 The Royal Aeronautical Society was formed in London, the society’s objectives were “for the advancement of Aerial Navigation and for Observations in Aerology connected therewith”

19th Century Spitalfields was world famous for silk weaving, so much so that Pope Pius IX ordered a seamless silk garment from there

Nineteenth century parish records show Fanny Funk (1859) and Eleazer Bed (1871) as being born In Whitechapel

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Once a torrent of ink

It was Caxton’s apprentice, the appropriately named Wynkyn der Worde, who first set up shop in the area of Fleet Street. William Caxton (the first Englishman to print books in London) had worked in Westminister working for rich patrons. Wynkyn after a little legal wrangling inherited the business upon Caxton’s death and in 1500 decided to build up a business producing relatively inexpensive books for a mass market, declaring:

“I am going to make a torrent of ink run through ze streets of London. I will drown out all ignorance . . . I will be ze father of Fleet Street!”

And so he did.

By the time of his death in 1534/5, Wynkyn had published more than 400 books in over 800 editions, though some are extant only in single copies and many others are extremely rare.

Fleet Street was to become synonymous with print and publishing, but broadsheets, as we know them, were still a long way off. Politics and religion were a no-no for the presses, so ‘execution prints’ (gory details of hangings, drawings and quarterings) and quasi-scientific pamphlets thrived.

After 1695, journalists were free to criticise government policy or satirise the Church without ending up pilloried, gaoled, or having various body parts chopped off.

The Daily Courant was first published on 11th March 1702 by Edward Mallet from his premises “against the Ditch at Fleet Bridge”. This is now Ludgate Circus beneath which lie the buried waters of the Fleet, once clogged up with dead dogs, raw sewage and suicide victims. This is the primordial ooze out of which the Gutter Press arose, an irony probably not lost on Levenson witnesses seeking newspaper restrictions.

Fleet Street was an ideal location for the London press. Ever since Tudor times, the street was renowned for its profusion of ale-houses and taverns and by 1700 there were 26 coffeehouses. Little changed for over 250 years and a contemporary account by Bill Hagerty a former Fleet Street editor can be found here.

Because Fleet Street was one of London’s main arteries transporting people and mail between Westminster and the City, these became lightning rods for political, financial, and overseas news. Journalists capitalised upon this and would mingle and eavesdrop in local establishments, returning to their offices with fresh gossip.

In 1862 Bradshaw’s Illustrated Hand-Book of London described a visit to The Times as:

“A visit to the office during the time the huge machine is at work, casting off its impressions at the rate of 170 copies a minute, will present a sight not easily to be forgotten. From five till nine in the morning this stupendous establishment, employing nearly 300 people daily on its premises is to be seen in active operation.”

By 1900 most of the national newspapers were located in or near Fleet Street, alas today Fleet Street is a pale imitation of its former self. The printing offices have been replaced by blue plaques, including one for the Courant.

It’s a testament to the impact of what was started by Wynkyn der Worde over 500 years ago and evolved into an uncensored press that ‘Fleet Street’ endures in the British lexicon as a metaphor for the newspaper industry – even though one of the few publishers still left on Fleet Street is the London office of D.C. Thomson & Co., creator of the Beano.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 27th November 2012

Bridging the Gap

The inability of Transport for London at taking on a project cannot be better demonstrated than the work to replace the 160 yards long Ardleigh Green Bridge on the A127 in Romford. Work began on the 24th September 2014, after interminable delays and changes of builders, the bridge was finished on 30th March 2019, four-and-a-half years of construction chaos, in comparison is a project nearby that TfL didn’t manage. The QEII Bridge, when completed at Thurrock, was the longest cable-stayed single-span suspension bridge in Europe. A four-lane road deck carried by two pairs of steel and concrete masts 276ft tall, founded on 175ft high concrete piers sunk into the Thames. At an overall length of nearly 2 miles, it took only 3 years to build. We should never let the hapless TfL near another bridge project again.

At the Midnight Hour

With all this talk of air pollution I would like you to consider another pollution, also found in London – light pollution.

When I was young the Milky Way was easily visible at night above our heads. In fact, I even managed to gain a boy scouts astronomy badge.

Today the moon is barely visible and during a lunar eclipse, the glorious red hue is almost washed out.

This video by Nicholas Buer shows how the Universe could look above London without light pollution. Here city shots were captured during the day and processed to appear to be night, then night sky shots from a dark sky location, taken at the correct latitude to London merged to give these spectacular views.

But there is a serious issue here, apart from the aesthetics. When working nights I would regularly hear blackbird song near petrol stations, they were confused as to the time of day; clearly, without sleep, their life expectancy would be impaired.

For it has been proved that artificial light is having a detrimental effect upon the natural world. Evidence shows that artificial light at night (‘ALAN’) interferes with insect development: movement, foraging and their reproductive success; and is one of the factors contributing to the 75 per cent loss of insect life over the last 30 years. Light pollution has also been shown to affect fish, birds (as with the blackbird), and mammals.

As you might expect, nocturnal creatures are badly affected, just try to recall the last time you saw a hedgehog.

Near cities, cloudy skies are now hundreds, or even thousands of times brighter than they were 200 years ago. We are only beginning to learn what a drastic effect this has had on nocturnal ecology.

Christopher Kyba, light pollution research scientist.

Featured image: London Night Sky Tower Blocks by Stephan Guttinger (1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

Taxi talk without tipping

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