Science Museum (2)

Inside the Science Museum, I went up to the top floor to see the exhibition of Indian photography.   But first, I admired the grandiosity of the entrance hall:-

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I was interested that they have retained the old – presumably 1920s – display cases in the Wellcome display Journeys through Medicine:-

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I liked the fake Merman:-

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And the early nineteenth-century phrenological heads:-

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Best of all, I liked the Aviation gallery in what looks like an old aircraft hangar on the roof at the back:-

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Science Museum (1)

I had arranged to visit the Science Museum yesterday.

Although I worked for twelve years on the other side of the road, I realised how little I knew about the history of the Science Museum.   Originally, it was the Museum of Patents, attached in a little cottage to the Brompton Boilers, when the South Kensington Museum opened in 1857, and at a time when the South Kensington Museum was much more eclectic than it has since become, including collections of Animal Products, Food, and Building Materials.   Stephenson’s Rocket was put on display in 1862.   The collections gradually moved across the road to the site of the 1862 International Exhibition, producing the binary divide between art and science on either side of Exhibition Road.   The Science Museum was officially separated from what had become the Victoria and Albert Museum on 26 June 1909, owing to the support of Robert Morant, the former tutor to the Crown Prince of Siam, who had become an energetic and reformist Permanent Secretary in the Board of Education aged 40.   Work on the new building started in 1913, but was interrupted by the First World War and only opened in 1928:-

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The traditions of the Science Museum have always been rather different from those of the V&A because Sir Henry Lyons, who was Director in the 1920s was much more interested in the needs of ‘the ordinary visitor’ rather than those of the specialist and was an early advocate of interactive displays, establishing a ‘Children’s Gallery’ in 1931.

What I was interested in is how the Science Museum handles voluntary donations. One has to queue in line as if to buy a ticket, and then is asked for a donation:-

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It is genuinely voluntary, much more so than its equivalent at the Metropolitan Museum, which has recently been abolished. Is it a way of ensuring higher contributions from visitors ?

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Geoffrey Scowcroft Fletcher

I acquired a handsome copy of Geoffrey Fletcher’s City Sights at the weekend, which has made me curious about exactly who he was and his life. The answer is that he studied at the Slade just after the war and was then a Rome Scholar in 1948. The UCL Art Museum has a painting by him dated 1945 entitled The Paying Guest, which already shows his taste for low life. In the 1950s, he contributed drawings to the Manchester Guardian and, in 1958, drawings of London to the Daily Telegraph in a column called ‘London Day by Day’. His reputation as a writer and illustrator was made by the publication of The London Nobody Knows in 1962. I’ve discovered that I’ve got two copies of the paperback, the first, published in 1965 for 6/-. It is an exploration of what he describes as ‘the crummier areas’ of London. ‘This, then, is the obscure, hardly-to-be-thought-of city; the London, very largely, of the hot August pavement and the pleasures of the mean, interminable streets’. I owe him a debt of gratitude because he first introduced me to Limehouse and Stepney Green. The book was made into a film starring James Mason in 1967. What happened to him later in his life is not clear except that there were exhibitions of his work in northern cities, including, Manchester, Oldham and Blackpool and his work is extremely well represented in British public collections. He died in 2004 and his archive is held by Islington Public Library.

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Charles I (3)

I was asked last weekend about the history of the equestrian statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square.   The answer is relatively straightforward.   It’s by Hubert Le Sueur, who came to London in the retinue of Henrietta Maria in 1625. The statue was commissioned by Lord Weston, the Lord Treasurer, who agreed a contract with Le Sueur ‘for the casting of a Horsse in Brasse bigger then a great Horsse by a foot, and the figure of his Maj King Charles proportionable full six foot’. A plate under the horse’s left foot gives the date, 1633. After the execution of the King, it was ordered to be broken up by the brazier, John Rivet, who did a good trade in knives and forks supposedly made from it. But, in fact, he kept it, it was bought by Charles II, and erected in Charing Cross in 1675:-

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Clichy Estate

It’s strange how one can live in a part of London and still not know it.   This morning I walked from the library to the farmer’s market by way of the Clichy estate – a model of the post-war redevelopment of Stepney, still surviving intact.   I was thinking about Gavin Stamp’s late conversion to the welfare state as himself a product of the 1944 Education Act, educated at Dulwich College at the state’s expense (I am quoting Jonathan Meades), and the fact that post-war planners thought that they were constructing the New Jerusalem:-

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Dublin Capitals

I was incredibly impressed by the quality of the carving of the capitals on the door surrounds, as well as the delicacy of the fanlights, in Ely Place and found myself photographing one after another, not least because each was so different in character.   The street was laid out in 1768:-

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Turning east, one comes into Baggot Street:-

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And then into Fitzwilliam Street, the subject of a famous planning enquiry in 1965, chaired by Hugh Casson, which recommended the demolition of a long run of Georgian houses, supported by John Summerson, the author of Georgian London, who famously dismissed the street as ‘simply one damned house after another’, a comment for which some have never forgiven him.   The buildings which replaced the Georgian houses designed by Stephenson Gibney & Associates (Gibney was President of the Royal Hibernian Academy) for the Electricity Supply Board have now themselves been demolished and are to be replaced by a modern version of a Georgian front by Grafton architects.   Sic transit.

Ending in Merrion Square:-

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Anglesey

I am not the type normally to take photographs out of the windows of aeroplanes – not least because I could never match the maestro of the genre, Scott Mead, who has an exhibition of his from all over the world at Hamilton’s Gallery.   But this morning I happened to look out of the window as we were flying over Anglesey and there it was so perfectly laid out, so miniaturistically and so complete, that I could hardly resist snapping it:-

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