The British Museum (2)

As yesterday at the Horniman Museum, I attach a totally arbitrary selection of things seen at the BM.


King Nectanebo I:-

Egyptian Standing Male Figure:-

And a painted heron on an alabastron:-


The British Museum (1)

We went to the British Museum today – partly out of a straightforward desire to see it and partly to catch up on its new display strategies. To judge from some of the newspapers, it has had an attack of the utmost wokeness, but we went through the Egyptian and Greek galleries and were disappointed to discover that the labelling was exactly as it was before: indeed, perhaps unchanged since the early 1980s, with no additional information that we could find about the circumstances of the objects’ acquisition, whether through plunder, purchase or archaeological digs, all of which would add to their interest. We missed the African galleries to have lunch, so the only change we detected was a display case of the utmost tastefulness in the Enlightenment gallery which acknowledges the extent to which Hans Sloane, the founder of the British Museum, was a beneficiary of slavery during the time that he was physician to the Governor of Jamaica, invested in the Africa Company, and married Elizabeth Langley Rose, a plantation owner. It felt like a wholly legitimate adjustment of the historical narrative, not exactly dethroning him from his centrality in any account of the British Museum, but acknowledging that, like so many of his generation, he was complicit, both actively through his investments, and passively through his time spent in Jamaica, with the slave trade. I suspect that many of those who have expressed outrage have not seen how it has been done:-


The risks we face

This is much the clearest account I’ve read of the current risks in the spread of Covid-19. The thing I find particularly odd having recently endured Self-isolation myself is that you can only be tested if you have the symptoms already, whereas it seems obvious that the only way to identify the spread of contagion and prevent it is to test those who think they might have it and have had contact with someone who has, get the test and results really fast, without having to drive to John O’Groats, and then get those people to self-isolate, not have to wait until one already knows, and shows the symptoms, that one has it:-


Whitechapel Bell Foundry (50)

The attached post in Spitalfields Life is, as always, a very helpful summary of the state-of-play surrounding the forthcoming Public Inquiry. I think and hope that if you have submitted evidence in the past, it is not necessary to do so again. If you have not, please do.

I am assuming that the Inquiry will revolve round the legitimacy of Tower Hamlets allowing change-of-use from a bell foundry to a boutique hotel. Since no efforts whatsoever were made to keep it as a bell foundry, the foreman, Nigel Taylor, proposed a management buyout and Factum Foundation, an existing foundry, have a well-developed business plan to keep it as a Foundry, I can see no possible legal justification for permitting change-of-use.


The Horniman Museum

We went to the Horniman, which feels psychologically a long way away, although not as the crow flies. I was interested to see its display policy, given that its combination of anthropology and evolutionary natural history is so wildly unfashionable. I thought it was handled well, making it obvious the extent to which its origins lie in Horniman’s wide-ranging interests as a tea planter, but emphasising the benefits of his internationalism and including contemporary works, like an I-phone. The displays were done by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, who also did the Weltmuseum in Vienna.

It begins with a display of Horniman’s beetles, which perfectly conveys his taxonomic interests:-


I liked this wolf eyeing up a bloodhound:-

I can’t remember what these were (the nervous system of a cat ?):-

Guanaco hoof collar:-

Tattooed Memory by Temsuyanger Longkumer:-

Net bags from Oceania:-

Glass spearheads:-

A gut parka:-

A kayak model:-

Agban, the deputy commander in chief of the Benin army:-

And a priest:-


Whitechapel Bell Foundry (49)

One more thing (well, I’m sure there will be others).

I have omitted to mention that Raycliff are employing an American company called the Major Food Group to put in a themed restaurant on the ground floor of the Bell Foundry. This is what they describe as ‘saving’ it. The Major Food Group are best known in New York for turning the historic Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building into a ‘themed’ restaurant called The Pool. Phyllis Lambert, daughter of Samuel Bronfman who founded the Seagram Company, said that the changes the Major Food Group proposed to the Seagram Building would ‘do irreparable damage’. Edgar Bronfman Jr., the former Chief Executive of the company said, ‘What is at stake here is whether ownership trumps preservation, whether deception triumphs over transparency and whether the wealth, power and influence of a building’s proprietors can trample both the fundamental integrity of an historic space and the commission created to protect and preserve such spaces’. An interesting choice of restaurant next to our local mosque and one which will doubtless receive the whole-hearted support of Historic England, who have so consistently applauded everything that Raycliff have proposed on the grounds of its great sensitivity.


Whitechapel Bell Foundry (48)

Things are hotting up on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry front as the opening of the Inquiry approaches. Raycliff are using the resources of their considerable PR machine to distribute fake leaflets pretending that their plan is to ‘Save’ the Bell Foundry. It’s an odd form of salvation to demolish half of it, put a cafe/bar into most of the rest of it, and erect a towering hotel next door, but I suppose these are well known tactics in the media world.

Meanwhile, there is an interesting post on twitter which points out that there are already 15 hotels in E1, our postal district, including a large Travelodge which opened this week next door to us and a 280-room Hyatt Hotel right opposite the Bell Foundry on the Whitechapel Road. I presume that the legal arguments will revolve round whether or not it is legitimate to allow change of use. I would hope that Raycliff’ s expensive lawyers might find it difficult to argue that it is in the public interest to allow the ending of using the Bell Foundry as a foundry, an activity which is increasingly unusual, and converting it into a hotel when there are already over 1,000 hotel bedrooms available in just over a square mile.


Whitechapel Bell Foundry (47)

A month or so ago, I was asked to write a piece about the Bell Foundry as background to Adam Dant’s very beautiful drawing which shows the way in which bells from the Bell Foundry were sent round the world: from Nova Scotia to Barbados; and from St. Petersburg to Sydney; whilst at the same time providing most of the bells for the City churches – not just St. Paul’s, but St. James Garlickhythe and St. Mary-le-Bow. In many ways, Dant’s illustration needs no accompanying text: it tells the whole story graphically. But it gave me an opportunity to review the sorry saga of Historic England choosing not to support its preservation, but instead to lend its support to its bastardisation as a hotel, a shameful episode in preservation history:-


Woolwich by bike

I went on my deferred bicycle ride along the south side of the river from Greenwich to Woolwich: an adventure, past the Royal Naval College, past the Trinity Hospital, almshouses which survive in the lee of Greenwich Power Station:-

Along the track up the west side of Greenwich Peninsula, which is mostly either derelict or awaiting new development, past Richard Wilson’s Slice of Reality and down the east side of the Peninsula which is much more boring – endless blocks of big, nondescript character until one gets to more industrial wastelands, past the Thames Barrier:-

The Faraday Works in Charlton, once the home of Siemens Brothers, who laid the Indo-European cable through Russia to Teheran:-

Looking back, one sees the City in the distance:-

And so to Woolwich for lunch.


Whitechapel Bell Foundry (46)

I am a great admirer of the way the Gentle Author keeps a close watch on new developments in East London in a fearless way. Last night the Tower Hamlets planning committee allowed the demolition of the gas holders by the Regent’s Canal on the grounds that those who objected to the demolition had ‘a vested interest in heritage’. Of course. We all do. Or has it become a sin to want to protect our history ?

Today, in his excellent post, he makes clear the analogies between the way developers get permission for building projects and then break their promises with impunity, which is what is all too likely to happen at the Bell Foundry if Raycliff gets its permission at the forthcoming public inquiry:-