Friday, August 22, 2014

He was my diary

‘My diary again. It’s sad to be going back to old habits I gave up since I got married. I used to write when I felt depressed - now I suppose it’s for the same reason. Relations with my husband have been so simple these past two weeks and I felt so happy with him; he was my diary and I had nothing to hide from him.’ This is Sophia Tolstoy, born 170 years ago today, writing in her diary during the first weeks of her marriage to the famous Russian writer. She would go on to keep a diary for the rest of her life, often using it to vent her frustrations towards L. or Lev. Nik.

Sophia Behrs was born on 22 August 1844, one of a large family. Her father was a physician at the Russian court; her mother was nearly 20 years his junior. Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, already a well-known author in his 30s, became a regular visitor to the Behrs’ household, and, in September 1862 when Sofia was just 18, the couple married. They lived prosperously, on a large estate, at Yasnaya Polyana (200km from Moscow) with many serfs, and had 13 children, eight of whom survived childhood.

Sophia (Sofia, Sophie) was largely a devoted wife, managing her busy household and helping her husband with his manuscripts. The marriage lasted nearly 50 years, but a few days before his death, Tolstoy left the family home after an argument over a desire to give away his property. Sophia continued living on the estate, survived the Russian revolution in relative peace, and died in 1919. Further biographical information can be found at Internet Archive in The Autobiography of Sophie Tolstoi as published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf at The Hogarth Press, Paradise Road, Richmond in 1922. Otherwise, see Wikipedia, or Alexandra Popoff’s Sophia Tolstoy: a biography (Free Press in 2010) on Googlebooks, or reviews of the same book (see The New York Times, for example, or The Huffington Post).

Sophia kept a diary all her life - writing half a million words. For long periods, however, she only made intermittent entries: the most complete, but edited, version in English contains no entry, or just one entry, for 16 of the 48 calendar years. The fact that Tolstoy gave his teenage fiancée his diaries to read so as to conceal nothing from her - even his liaisons with servant girls, and his child by a woman who lived on his estate - is one of the most well known of literary diary stories. He bid her to keep a diary, and, thereafter, they wrote their diaries in order that the other should read them. Sophia, indeed, would try and communicate her anger and anxieties about their relationship to him through her diary; when happy, though, she would often fail to record anything.

Extracts from Sophia’s diary were first published in English in 1928 by Gollancz as The Diary of Tolstoy’s wife, 1860-1891 (translated by A. Werth), with a sequel - The Countess Tolstoy’s Later Diary 1891-1897 - the following year. In 1936, Allen & Unwin, published The Final Struggle, being Countess Tolstoy’s diary for 1910: With extracts from Leo Tolstoy’s diary of the same period (translated by A. Maude). More recently, in 1985, Cape published The Diaries of Sofia Tolstaya, as translated by Cathy Porter and edited by O. A. Golinenko. It was re-published in 1989 by Alma Books with a foreword by Doris Lessing (an informative review can be read on The Guardian website, and a few extracts can be found on the National Public Radio website).

The publisher’s advertising blurb for this latter edition states: ‘Sofia’s life was not an easy one: she idealized her husband, but was tormented by him; even her many children were not an unmitigated blessing. In the background of her life was one of the most turbulent periods of Russian history: the transition from old feudal Russia to the three revolutions and three major international wars. Yet it is as Sofia Tolstoy’s own life story, the study of one woman’s private experience, that the diaries are most valuable and moving. They are a testament to a woman of tremendous vital energy and poetic sensibility who, in the face of provocation and suffering, continued to strive for the higher things in life and to remain indomitable. From the state of the great writer’s stomach and the progress of his work, to the fierce and painful arguments that would eventually divide the couple for ever, Sofia’s Diaries are both compelling and extraordinarily revealing.’

The following extracts are taken from the Alma Books edition. (NB: the dates correspond to the old (Julian) calendar, i.e. 12 days behind the Western (Gregorian) calendar in the 19th century, and 13 days behind it in the 20th century.)

8 October 1862
‘My diary again. It’s sad to be going back to old habits I gave up since I got married. I used to write when I felt depressed - now I suppose it’s for the same reason.

Relations with my husband have been so simple these past two weeks and I felt so happy with him; he was my diary and I had nothing to hide from him.

But ever since yesterday, when he told me he didn’t trust my love, I have been feeling terrible. I know why he doesn’t trust me, but I don’t think I shall ever be able to say or write what I really think. I always dreamt of the man I would love as a completely whole, new, pure person. In these childish dreams, which I find hard to give up, I imagined that this man would always be with me, that I would know his slightest thought and feeling, that he would love nobody but me as long as he lived, and that he, like me and unlike others, would not have to sow his wild oats before becoming a respectable person.

Since I married I have had to recognize how foolish these dreams were, yet I cannot renounce them. The whole of my husband’s past is so ghastly that I don’t think I shall ever be able to accept it.’ [Before their marriage, Tolstoy had given Sophia all his old diaries to read because he did not want to conceal anything of his past. The diaries, apparently, made a terrible impression on the 18 year old.]

31 July 1868 [this is the only entry for 1868 in the published diaries]
‘It makes me laugh to read my diary. What a lot of contradictions - as though I were the unhappiest of women!. But who could be happier? Could any marriage be more happy and harmonious than ours? When I am alone in my room I sometimes laugh for joy and cross myself and pray to God for many, many more years of happiness. I always write my diary when we quarrel. There are still days when we quarrel, but this is because of various subtle emotional reasons, and we wouldn’t quarrel if we didn’t love each other. I have been married six years now, but I love him more and more. He often says it isn’t really love, but we have grown so used to each other we cannot be separated. But I still love him with the same poetic, fevered, jealous love, and his composure occasionally irritates me.’

4 June 1910
‘Too many visitors. Lev Nikolaevich is distraught because the Circassian guard has brought Prokofy in for stealing a beam, and he is an old man who once worked for him. Oh, I’ve had enough of the estate!’

28 October 1910
‘Lev Nik. has left! My God! He left a letter telling me not to look for him as he had gone for good, to live out his old age in peace. The moment I read those words I rushed outside in a frenzy of despair and jumped into the pond, where I swallowed a lot of water, Sasha and Bulgakov dragged me out with the help of Vanya Shuraev. Utter despair. Why did they save me?’

29 October 1910
‘All the children have come, apart from Lyova, who is abroad. They are so kind and attentive, but they can’t help or comfort me. Mitasha Obolensky has come. Seryozha, Ilya and Misha have left. Vanya discovered that L. Nik. had gone to Belev - maybe to see his sister Maria Nikolaevna.’

30 October 1910
‘I cry day and night and suffer dreadfully. It’s more painful and terrible than anything I could have imagined. Lev Nik. did visit his sister in Shamordino, then travelled beyond Gorbachevo - who knows where. What unspeakable cruelty.’

31 October 1910
‘I haven’t eaten or drunk anything for four days, I ache all over, my heart is bad. Why? What is happening? Nothing to write about - nothing but groans and tears. Berkenheim came with some stupid doctor called Rastorguev, and a young lady fresh from medical school. These outsiders make it much more difficult, but the children don’t want to take responsibility. What for? My life? I want to leave the dreadful agony of this life . . . I can see no hope, even if L. N. does at some point return. Things will never be as they were, after all he has made me suffer. We can never be straightforward with each other again, we can never love each other, we shall always fear each other. And I fear for his health and strength too.’

4 November 1910
‘Lev Nik. is worse. I wait in agony outside the little house where he is lying. We are sleeping in the train.’

5 November 1910
‘There is evidently little hope. I am tormented by remorse, the painful anticipation of his end, and the impossibility of seeing my beloved husband.’

7 November 1910
‘At 6 o’clock in the morning Lev Nikol. died. I was allowed in only as he drew his last breath. They wouldn’t let me take leave of my husband. Cruel people.’

22 August 1914
‘My sister Tanya arrived this morning, and her husband came for dinner. Today is my birthday; I am 70.’

7 September 1914
‘I wandered about aimlessly; I can’t do anything with this frightful war on, and my grief and worry for Tanya, my sons and Dora, who is due to give birth any day. I raked up piles of leaves for cattle bedding, gave the day-labourers their receipts and spent the evening doing accounts with Nina.’

27 September 1914
‘My sister is distraught because he son Mitya has also volunteered for the war, as an orderly. Incomprehensible hypnotism! We read aloud Matovitsky’s memoirs.’

30 September 1914
‘I did some typing for my sister. This evening Bulgakov read us his article protesting against the war. It is very good.’

2 October 1914
‘My sister Tanya has left. A beautiful still bright day. I went out and wandered around the estate. People have planted apple trees, gathered up brushwood, raked the dead leaves and swept them into four piles. We read papers. There were six visitors today - some officers and army doctors and two women. They looked round the drawing room and Lev Nik.’s rooms.’

18 October 1914
‘The American consulate has informed me that my grandson Misha has been taken prisoner in Milevic, in Bohemia.’


The Diary Junction (see also I have been indolent)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The cost of stockings

Here is a final selection from the yet-to-be-published London in Diaries (see below for other chapters), this one about Marielle Bennett, a would-be actress, and a Mass Observation respondent during the Second World War. Her diary remains unpublished, and unnoticed within the Mass Observation archive, but it provides a fascinating record of what one unremarkable Londoner was experiencing day-by-day during the war years.

Marielle Bennett and Mass-Observation

Only two decades after the end of the First World War, which had caused so much devastation and death, German aggression again drew Britain into a major military conflict. The Second World War, though, would go on to involve nations across the globe, and be considered as the deadliest conflict in human history. Despite the global nature of the war, Britain with its political centre as ever in London, was very much a dominant and central force, as well as a major military target - just as it had been in the earlier war.

It is no wonder that so many individuals uprooted from normal life and turned into active participants of war, living in adversity and close to killing and destruction, should have chosen to try and record the extraordinary things happening to and around them. There are, thus, many published diaries specifically about the Second World War, and even today, more than 65 years later, newly found or edited war diaries are popular publishing ventures. Only a relatively small number, though, were written in London - but, unlike diaries set in the city during peaceful years, all or most of the Second World War diaries do have much to say about the city itself.

Charles Ritchie, a Canadian diplomat now largely remembered for his diaries, was in London during the war, and his diary - The Siren Years - is witty and readable. Anthony Weymouth, a physician who also worked for the BBC, gives a detailed but far dryer account in his Journal of the War Years. Frances Partridge, one of the Bloomsbury Set, published her diary under the title A Pacifist’s War. Colin Perry was just a lad, but his Boy in the Blitz, first published in 2000, is a lively, youthful take on London during 1940.

One of the most well-known of Second World Diaries, although not published until the 1980s, is that by Nella Last, a housewife in Barrow-in-Furness. Last was one of 500 or so individuals who responded to a call by the social research organisation Mass-Observation to write about their lives. It had been launched in 1937 to record life in Britain, ‘an anthropology of ourselves’, according to the founders. With little funding, it relied on volunteers to keep diaries or reply to open-ended questionnaires. Researchers also recorded, anonymously, people’s conversations and behaviour at work, in public places, and at sports and religious events.

Mass-Observation worked throughout the war producing thousands of reports and a series of published books. After the war, its emphasis shifted away from social issues towards consumer behaviour, and, in 1949, Mass Observation was registered as a limited company, and eventually incorporated into an advertising firm. The Mass Observation Archive is now held at the University of Sussex, and holds all the material generated between 1937 and 1949, with a few later additions, from the 1950s and 1960s. The project was re-launched in 1981, and today continues to collect information aimed at providing a structured programme through which ‘ordinary’ people can write directly about their lives, and at creating ‘a resource of qualitative longitudinal social data’.

Nella Last’s diary written for Mass-Observation was exceptional because of the quality of her writing, its editors said at the time of publication, but also for the length and regularity of Last’s writing. In fact, many of the diaries delivered to Mass-Observation were bitty and intermittent in character, and only very few have been published. While Last’s is not set in London, there is at least one published Mass-Observation diary that is: Love & War in London by Olivia Crockett, billed as London’s answer to Nella Last.

Another London diary in the Mass Observation Archive - but unpublished - was written by Marielle Bennett. As with Crockett’s diary, Bennett’s is also a blend of private feelings mixed with her reactions to the war and its effect on people and places. It opens in August 1939 with sporadic entries until October, and restarts in the summer of 1940 for a couple of months. The following year, she writes to Mass-Observation: ‘I have been very slack. . . however I will make a fresh attempt starting from this month.’ She restarts in May 1941 for a few weeks. There are also a few entries in 1942, 1946 and 1947.

Not much is known of Bennett, other than that revealed in her Mass-Observation diary. The start of the war finds her living with her parents at 53 Upper Park Road, NW3; but, by the middle of 1941 she is staying out of London near Barnet. She was separated from her husband in the mid-1930s, and in 1940 reverts to her maiden name (Vaughan). She calls herself an actress, though there is a little evidence in the diary of her working, at least until after the war, though she does visit, and write about, the theatre often. In the spring of 1941, Bennett’s grandmother dies, and thereafter many pages of the diary relate to her efforts to sell or trade her grandmother’s jewellery and clothes/furs.

From the start of the diary, Bennett shows an interest in psychology. She attends some ‘brilliant lectures’, but then, having decided to try and train as a psychiatric social worker becomes very depressed when trying to analysis herself. She abandons her training for a while, but returns to studying books at home, and making weekly visits to a therapist. She makes the acquaintance of various people who have known Jung or Freud, and in June 1941 becomes much more serious about her therapy, taking a more intensive series of sessions with her analyst, often thinking about her dreams, and doing ‘psychic paintings’.

There is a persistent sense in Bennett’s diary that she is writing for an audience (i.e. Mass-Observation, to whom she sends what she calls ‘reports’) not only because of the occasional comment such as ‘Sorry this report is so trivial but nothing of importance has happened to me,’ but also because of a vague sense, here and there, of her making an effort to provide information and observations. Nevertheless, on reading the diary, one feels very close to her, as though one is there with her, making curtains out of black satin, having trouble finding suitable clothes to wear in the air-raid shelter, and being frustrated that she no longer wants to go to the cinema because all the films are ‘only slightly covered propaganda’.

Mother bought many yards of black satin
1 September 1939
Walked over the heath and saw the balloon barrage etc. Help my parents to put up rolls of brown paper and tape for the black out. Does not prove to be very successful.

2 September 1939
Mother bought many yards of black satin, which we made into curtains all the after noon, which proved to be more satisfactory, but really hate all the preparation and found it very wearisome. Not that quite a number of acquaintances seem to be enjoying themselves, the sense of responsibility and having something to do seems to make them feel more important. [. . .] Went to the cinema, difficult to get home in the dark.

3 September 1939
Hear the Chamberlain speech out of my window from a neighbouring wireless. Do not listen after I hear we are at war. The air-raid warning came as rather a surprise. Did the proscribed things, closing windows etc. Mother worried because my father is driving some greyhounds to the country and she did not know where he was. However all is over.

Gas masks; the cost of stockings
30 September 1939
I met my friend, who is at present touring in a comedy, we did some shopping. I discovered that stockings are up 1/-, my usual 3/11 cost 4/11. The colours were not good either and little selection. The assistant told me that their usual 1/6½ ones will soon be sold at 2/11 and are not fashioned (fully). [. . .]

After tea I went with my family to the pictures. I carried a gas mask for the first time as I did not know whether I could get in the films and I knew my father would not want me to have a long argument, which I should have done had I been alone. The films were “Hound of the Baskervilles” and another with Jackie Cooper and Freddie Bartholomew. Very patriotic and upholding of the military tradition in American. Very obvious and silly film, I thought.

1 October 1939
At six I went over to a friend’s flat in Westminster. The bus was slow. Noticed an ARP warden on duty outside the flats. Walked over to Chelsea via the embankment to see an acquaintance. She said she was hoping to go to Rumania for the Quakers to help with the refugee problem. Had dinner. Was told of a young man who has decided to join up because he cannot bear the thought of carrying a civilian gas mask down Oxford Street! Had a bottle of claret and went to bed.

How little meat one gets at Maison Lyons
3 October 1939
Noticed what little meat one gets nowadays in the 1/6 luncheon at Maison Lyons. Was telephoned by a pacifist friend who invited me to a meeting.

4 October 1939
Went to the hair dresser. The shop was so quiet, I was there four hours and only saw two other customers. The head man has been called up for the Territorials. The second who did my hair said “I was going to join the navy, but my girl doesn’t want me to, she says let the others go first.” Then he said his parents want him to return to S. Africa where he can get a job. He said “supposing the U Boats get me?” and remarked that he would hate to leave all his friends as he has been here many year.

7 October 1939
I stayed in most of the day and refused to go to the cinema with my parents. I have decided not to go to this form of entertainment while it continues to be only slightly covered propaganda. I’d prefer to keep my money and see a theatrical show. For the most part thank God the theatre is still fairly free.

Not all shows are musicals or comedies YET
13 October 1939
Went to “Music at Night”. The Westminster was fairly full. In the programme the management appealed for support and good attendances otherwise they will be “One of the war’s first casualties.” Excellent show, do not think they will have to worry. But getting home was awful, pouring with rain and so few buses. However it was worth it to me. I noticed a good many uniforms in the audiences, women as well as men. I do not know whether this is the type of play appreciated during war time, but it was certainly gratifying to know that all shows are not musicals or comedies YET.

14 October 1939
Noticed a local shelter has been pulled down and is being rebuilt. Spoke to a tobacconist who said the heath is ruined now owing to the trenches and guns etc.

Air-raid suits going out of fashion
26 August 1940
Start out with the intention of buying an air-raid suit for me. First we went to Bournes but they had nothing I liked. Then to Dickens and Jones who had the very thing at 41/2 guineas but we could not afford more than 2. Then to Swan and Edgars where they were horrible, trying to be very feminine instead of tailored, bits of fur and coloured scalves hanging about. Then to Weiss in Shaftesbury Avenue. The sales girl said they had gone out of fashion and most women prefer trousers and a sweater now. They had nothing suitable either. Some terrible things like striped pantaloons at 16/11. Eventually, rather hot and cross, I made up my mind to give up the idea and buy something else with the money.

28 August 1940
Called for Mother and we went together to Victoria and picked up tickets for the matinee of “Cornelius” Had lunch at Zeeta’s, service very slow, think the girls are inexperienced and overworked. The theatre was a superb show. Beautifully produced and the type casting excellent. In fact I have not enjoyed anything so much for ages. The audience was pathetically small and had to applaud like mad.

Bombs in Kentish Town, Kilburn and Fitzjohns Avenue
29 August 1940
Heard from the charwoman that Kentish Town got a bomb. That accounted for the noise being so near. Also heard that Smiths factory at Cricklewood had got some. Charwoman said that everyone “turned as white as a sheet.” Her husband will watch from the doorway but when she goes near he has “a fit”.

30 August 1940
After a quiet night I went up to Hampstead in the morning to order a new book that Priestly recommended on the wireless “The End of Economic Man”. [. . .] Father rang up [. . .] he had heard that our district had been bombed. However he said Fitz Johns Avenue had shattered windows, we did not verify this.

31 August 1940
Hear that Kilburn has been bombed. Stay in for first warning. I set off to meet a friend, but first took some old silver to a place where they buy metal for Spitfires, at first the man only offered me 2/3, I protested as it was 4 pieces. [. . .] Eventually we compromised and I took 9/-. I believe he would have gone to 10/- but I did not persuade him. He said he would lose over the deal. I bet he does!! He said he was going to close the shop next week as he does not like the raids and he thinks they are going on indefinitely. He was a lively old man and I liked him. he told me to get out of Hampstead on account of the Jewish refugees as Hitler would be after them. [. . .]

‘Dirty swine, everyone ought to be killed’
Met my best friend - an actress is who now married and just about to give birth. I am to be the godmother. We intended to go to coffee and then a doctor in Queen Anne’s Street, but we had just met when the warning went, as were in Evans, we sheltered there. Very comfortable. The first shelter I’ve been in. My friend varnished her nails most of the time [. . .]

Went to the Hollyrood and had two lagers. Telephoned another friend and then the sirens sounded again. We could not get back into the pub so we chased along Oxford Street to the Horseshoe where we went down the dive and had another and waited for the all clear. I went to the lavatory then, to find the attendant, a woman about 50, in an uproar. “Dirty swine, everyone ought to be killed, they are not fit to live. We ought to have killed them after the last war. Inhuman devils.”

4 September 1940
The pub was in uproar, because a very familiar figure - a man of about 40 - who I have often seen there came in in battle uniform of a private. Everyone teased him saying “Nice bit of stuff” and things like that. He seemed to think that nothing fitted him at all, and said his boots must have been worn in the evacuation of Dunkirk.

The whole of our street cordoned off
5 September 1940
Our char woman came today. She was very amused because a whole lot of children were shut in an air-raid shelter whether yesterday or the day before. “You could ‘ear the kids screaming fit to bust theirselves.” At last they were rescued by the warden, who must have inadvertently shut them in.

9 September 1940
The whole of [our] street was cordoned off [after a bomb in the night] and people from outlying districts came and peered over the ropes at us as though we were exhibits. We ourselves had to either tell the police when we left home that we should be returning in a few minutes, or else we had to produce our identity cards. We had huge squads of demolition workers to pull down the remains of the house [no 54], and the occupants who seemed to have either been away at the time or to have escaped with slight injuries stood outside and collected all the things that were still “collectable”, clothes were tied up in bundles and taken off. Of course nothing was much good from 54, but the house next door 56 was not quite so badly damaged. A baby and its parents usually live in that house but luckily had spent the night on the opposite side of the street and had not been injured. Some children had cuts and I saw several people walking round with cuts and bandages. I went up the street to post a letter and the demolition men must have taken a dislike to me in my trousers and one called out “Pleased with yourself aren’t you?” Which rather upset me, as altho’ I am terribly pleased to have escaped so narrowly, I am awfully sorry for the other people. Still perhaps I do look pleased with self. I hope not!

Mum nearly caught in trial gas attack
8 May 1941
We are now sleeping out of London and returning every day. We started to do that from April 17th after the heavy raid on London.

21 May 1941
Went into west end. Had an appointment with a psychologist with whom I am studying analytical psychology.

24 May 1941
I came home for lunch and then Mother went to Kentish Town to buy some things. She could not get any emerald green sating ribbon for a new night gown I am making. On her way back she was nearly caught by a trial gas attack the ARP had organised at the end of this road. She had no gas mask and they were laying out the people who had gone out without gas masks on the pavement as though they were casualties.

News full of aeroplanes and guns and ships
30 May 1941
Won at darts. Have done so for several evenings. My father’s greyhound came in second in the rerun for the Wembley Gold cup. It came in first in the first run. Very disappointing. One of the last dogs turned round and ran in the wrong direction causing the judges to ask for a rerun. The race was broadcast and naturally we were very excited when it won [on the first run]. Still second wasn’t bad, but hard luck on my father.

2 July 1941
Went to the films with my people and saw “Kipps” which I thought very good, and thank god not about the war. I got so fed up with all the propaganda we had to sit thro’ first. MOI film about WAAFs and another about Merchant ships and the news just full of aeroplanes and guns and ships.

Giving the boys something to look at
5 July 1941
A WAAF friend of mine telephoned that she was in Paddington waiting to go through to another depot. [. . .] I was in my bath when I got the message, but I dressed and hurried to Paddington in very quick time and we had a drink or two at The Norfolk Hotel, and she told me what terrible head aches she has had since she went on the gas course a fortnight ago. We went up to the services cloak room in Paddington Station and I was amused to find the room literally covered in photographs cut from Magazines like “Lilliput” of nude women. The cloak room attendant said it “gave the boys something to look at.”

21 July 1941
Had several conversations with people who expressed the opinion that “life isn’t worth living now”. Complaints about money, food queues, lack of cigarettes, and rationing of clothes seemed to abound.

23 July 1941
Then we went to see ‘Blythe Spirit’ which is one of the best productions I have ever seen. Margaret Rutherford as the medium was superb. I do not know when I have seen a more amusing and yet realistic characterisation. I could go over and over again and not get bored with that show. My friend saw a man come into one of the boxes towards the end of the play and look around at the audience intently and then make a great show of lighting a cigarette. She said it must have been Noel Coward as no one else would do it quite like that but I was too interested in the play to worry about the author! After that we went to get tea at The Prompt Corner only to find it closed. I was not surprised at that as all the places I hope to find seem closed. Eventually we got some at a nasty little cafe in Charing Cross.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Upper Slaughter’s squire

Francis Edward Witts, rector and squire of Upper Slaughter, in the Cotswolds, died 160 years ago today. Though not an especially remarkable character, he kept a diary for much of his life in which he recorded many details about the natural world, people he met, the fast-changing society around him, and his own life. When it was first published in the 1970s, the publisher claimed it shed ‘new light on a fascinating period of social history’.

Witts was born in 1783, in Cheltenham, the eldest son of the high sheriff of Oxfordshire. His parents moved to Edinburgh in 1795; and between 1798 and 1800, the family spent their winters at the court of the grand duke of Saxe-Weimar, where Witts attended a school for foreign students. After returning to England, he studied at Wadham College, Oxford, and was ordained deacon in 1806 and priest in 1807. The following year, he married Margaret Backhouse, and they had one child.

Witts was rector of Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire, from 1808 until his death, and was vicar of Stanway, about 10 miles away, from 1814 to 1854. He was also squire of Upper Slaughter, and became a long-serving justice of the peace. In 1852, he was appointed deputy lieutenant of Gloucestershire. He died on 18 August 1854. There is a little further biographical information available at the The Oxford Times, or, indeed, through the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (although this requires a library card log-in or a fee). The manor house he occupied is now a hotel called Lords of the Manor.

Most biographical information about Witts comes from his diaries, and it is unlikely he would be remembered but for those. He left some 90 notebooks which were first edited by David Verey and published in 1978 by Alan Sutton as The Diary of a Cotswold Parson. Verey acquired access to the notebooks through Francis Witts, a great-great-grandson of the diarist. In 2008, Amberley began publishing a fuller edition - The Complete Diary of a Cotswold Parson - as edited by Sutton, owner, at the time, of Amberley. Some eight volumes of the edition have been published to date (I believe - I can’t find any evidence of volumes 9 and 10 being for sale, new or secondhand), each one a hefty tome, and having a hefty price.

Verey writes in his introduction to the original edition: ‘. . . Maybe [Witts] confided his daily activities to his diary rather than to his wife. It must have occupied quite a considerable time in his busy life, as he wrote at unnecessary length to our way of thinking. To make every point twice may be good practice in a sermon, but not in a diary. In making my extracts therefore I have had to reduce his verbosity - though not I hope his wit - for the sake of our readers. I have also endeavoured to use only those passages which illuminate the history of the city and county of Gloucester, paying special attention to the people Witts met, for they were the breath of life and Witts was a social being. Particulars of his day-to-day work, which take up the greater par of what he wrote, have, therefore, to some extent been excluded from these pages, owing to a certain dryness and greater suitability for the serious social historian, as have also the descriptions of his travels in other parts of England which do not have any direct application to Gloucestershire.’

The ONDB provides a useful idea of the diary’s contents: ‘[It] exhibits his full participation in local social and cultural life. Witts enjoyed dining out, and travelled in all weathers and by every means of conveyance - horse, phaeton, carriage, stagecoach, and steam train. He recorded new roads, buildings, and the spread of towns. Witts and his son both became keen botanists and conservationists, and he also helped organise the musical life of Cheltenham and Gloucester, attending many concerts. Quietly religious, Witts disapproved of hunting parsons and was generous to his parishioners. He records that he relied upon ‘three checks to the frailty of our nature; self-examination, prayer and professional study’.’

3 January 1820
‘Left Upper Slaughter for Bath in the hope that another course of the waters may essentially strengthen my dear wife’s constitution. Having sent forward my manservant and horse we travelled post with Edward and a maid. The weather very cold, frost and snow; more of the latter between home and Cirencester and between Petty France and Bath, than between Cirencester and Petty France. The road very slippery and though a horse fell in the chaise in the streets of Tetbury, we providentially escaped any accident.’

27 April 1821
‘The overseer of Halling brought up two gipsies, casual poor in their parish in order to their being examined to their settlement. Merach Lock the husband swore that he was born under an oak on Halling down as he had heard from his mother, being an illegitimate child and knowing nothing of his father; also that he was recently married to his wife Mary which whom he had cohabited twenty years, having by her six children. It seems that the Parish of Halling has little or no chance of proving him settled elsewhere. On examining the woman, she swore all the children to be Merach Lock’s - Lucas and Adam being born like their father in the Paris of Halling - Eve at Cold Ashton - Sarah at Brimpsfield - Temperance at Hawkesbury - Joanna at Cranham. The law was strictly interpreted and removal orders were made in respect of the last four children, sending them to their respective birth places.’

5 September 1826
‘The Stratford and Moreton railway was opened this day for the conveyance of goods from the former to the latter place, and a vast concourse of persons assembled at Moreton-in-Marsh. The market of this town, disused for a very long period, has on this occasion been revived with great spirit and will in some respects be injurious to the market at Stow-on-the-Wold. At an early hour in the evening all the provisions of the town were exhausted, the roasted ox demolished and neither bread nor beer to be had for love or money. The committee preceded the coal waggons with a band of music, and all was joyous. Behind the scenes, however, the proprietors have reason to mourn over mismanagement, exhausted means, and scant hopes even of distant remuneration; but the public will doubt be considerable gainers.’

29 September 1826
‘They say the march of intellect is wonderful these days. Men navigate by steam, tram carts travel by steam; but this is nothing to the present fashion of travelling by paper kites. To-day we witnessed the experiment made at Gloucester. For some days I had noticed two large paper kites hovering over the town. They were hoisted by a school master who amused himself with mechanical pursuits, letting off balloons etc. The wind being westerly, was favourable for an excursion to Cheltenham so he orders out his gig, or rather I think it was a four wheeled chair, attaches it to two paper kites, mounts with two or three companies and away they go, not very rapidly, not at a very regular pace, but progressing.’

2 April 1826
‘We walked to Over Bridge to view the site of the new bridge over the Severn, building under the direction of Mr. Telford, by the County. The work is in progress; many labourers, excavators, etc. were employed. On one side the masonry of an abutment is in a forward state, on the other they are driving the piles. There were collected great heaps of fine stone ready squared in large blocks, of different sorts, for the foundation and superstructure. A steam engine was erecting, and several cranes were in operation, lifting masses of stone from the barges in which they were conveyed.’

The Diary Junction

Friday, August 15, 2014

Innumerable ripples; countless diamonds

Here is a fourth sample chapter from the yet-to-be-published London in Diaries, this one about Thomas Cobden-Sanderson, a bookbinder associated with the late 19th century Arts and Craft movement. His diary, more than any other, reveals a passionate relationship with London’s most important (historically and geographically) feature: the River Thames.

Thomas Cobden-Sanderson, bookbinder by the Thames

No feature of London - not even St Paul’s or the White Tower - has as much physical presence or historical importance as the river Thames. Indeed, it has been around much longer than the city itself, and has been the most significant factor in the city’s growth over the years. Many of the diarists in this collection mention the river, but none have as vital or as spiritual a connection as Thomas Cobden-Sanderson, and none write of it as romantically, as here: ‘What I should like to convey is the intense energy, sparkling, crisping, into moments of whitest, brightest light, again and again and again, everywhere over the surface of the the outstretched sheet of water.’ He was an extraordinary man in many ways, abandoning a legal career, he took up with William Morris’s Arts and Craft movement, becoming a highly-skilled bookbinder and printer. Apart from lyrical descriptions of the river, it figures often in his exquisitely-written diary for more practical reasons, whether because he is walking with his lover along the Embankment, setting up a business in a house with a garden that runs down to the riverbank, or secretly at night drowning blocks of valuable metal type.

Thomas James Sanderson was born in 1840, at Alnwick in Northumberland. His father, James, was a district surveyor of taxes who worked his way up to become a Special Commissioner of Income Tax at Somerset House. After grammar school, Thomas studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, aiming to enter the church, but he left without taking a degree, apparently in protest against the examination system. After a period of soul searching, he was called to the Bar as a member of the Inner Temple, where he worked throughout the 1870s. He was involved in establishing the powers, rights and obligations of the London and North Western Railway Company, a task which debilitated his health, and led him to go abroad to recuperate.

In Siena, in 1861, he met Janey Morris (wife of William who, still in his 20s, was in the process of launching a new-style company to supply decorative arts). Janey was with two daughters of Richard Cobden, a well-known British manufacturer and statesmen. The following year Thomas married the younger Cobden daughter Anne (she was 29 at the time, and he 41), and, out of respect for her father, changed his own surname to Cobden-Sanderson. Soon after, he left the Bar and, eager to work with his hands in the spirit of the evolving Arts and Crafts movement, took up a suggestion by Janey Morris, to train as a bookbinder. He and Anne lived first in Hendon and then in Hampstead; and they had two children, Richard and Stella. 

Cobden-Sanderson took his new craft to the highest level, binding classic works of literature in simple but sumptuous floral designs with gold on leather. Unusually, he chose which books to bind, and sold them through Bains in the Haymarket. By the late 1880s, his bound books were much in demand from American buyers. Both Thomas and Anne were early socialists. Anne became a leading campaigner for woman’s suffrage, and was arrested in 1909 for picketing outside 10 Downing Street (and kept a diary while in prison). She also did much to press for various improvements in children’s well-being. 

In the early 1890s, Cobden-Sanderson started the Doves Bindery at 15 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, a small house with a garden running down to the Thames, not far from William Morris’s Kelmscott House. At first, he employed several professional binders to work on individual books as he had done, but, in 1890, he launched, in partnership with Emery Walker, the Doves Press, and thereafter the Bindery worked more mundanely to cover printed editions. Between 1900 and 1917, the Doves Press produced 50 classic titles (Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, the Bible, etc), all in the so-called Doves Type (designed by Walker) and all austere, characterised by a lack of illustration and ornament, in reverence to the literature itself.

Although the partnership with Walker, who had other interests, had been dissolved in 1908, it allowed Cobden-Sanderson to continue using the Doves Type until his death, at which time it would revert to Walker. Fearing his ex-partner might not use the type in a way he thought fitting, Cobden-Sanderson chose to destroy it. He did this during many nights in the latter half of 1916 by throwing the metal blocks into the Thames. Subsequently, he wrote to Walker’s lawyers, and his actions became public knowledge. Cobden-Sanderson died in 1922, and Anne was left to settle, at some personal cost, the legal action brought against her husband by Walker.

Throughout most of his life Cobden-Sanderson kept a regular diary. This was edited by his son, Richard, and published in 1926 in two volumes as The Journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, 1879-1922. They reveal the author as a spiritual man, high-minded and intellectual, lacking perhaps a little in humour and colour himself, though the details that emerge of his life and those of others in the Arts and Crafts movement are immensely interesting, not least those about the early life-changing suggestion by Janey Morris and those about the disposal of the Doves Type. And through all of his life, apparently, and the diary, runs the River Thames which regularly inspires him to flights of literary fancy.

Annie back from Chelsea
31 May 1883
Yesterday Annie and I walked together on the Embankment towards Westminster, I to the Long Gallery, she to the Abbey to wait till I had done. But the day was so lovely, the sun so bright, the river so attractive, that when I suggested that we should walk on the river-side of the road, she suddenly bethought herself of Walter Sickert at Chelsea, and should she not go by water to see him? I backed her up, and so at the next pier we parted; she went down the landing steps - the tide was very low - and I continued along the Embankment, looking back from time to time. Presently her steamer approached the pier, paused and came off again - I watched it approach, and a wave of a parasol drew my eyes to my darling. I waved my hand and hat, and smiled to her. [. . .]

Here there came a knock at the door, and my diary fell to the ground as I rushed to open it. It was Annie back from Chelsea. We embraced, and then she hurriedly began to tell me of a girl whom she had met on the steamer, red-haired, consumptive, Scotch, an envelope folder or sorter, returning from the Brompton Hospital where she was an out-patient. (She ought to be an in-patient, but could get no letter). [. . .] She got 1d. for 1,000 envelopes, and, when well, made 12s a week.

Why don’t you learn bookbinding?
24 June 1883
Yesterday afternoon we called at the Morrises, and in the evening supped with the William Richmonds, where we again saw the Morrises. I was talking to Mrs Morris after supper, and saying how anxious I was to use my hands - “Then why don’t you learn bookbinding?” she said. “That would add an Art to our little community, and we would work together. I should like,” she continued, “to do some little embroideries for books, and I would do so for you.” Shall bookbinding, then, be my trade?

26 June 1884
I am now the proprietor of a workshop! On Saturday I signed an agreement by virtue of which I became on Tuesday last the tenant under Mr Williams (of Williams and Norgate [a bookseller]), of three rooms of the second floor of 30 Maiden Lane, being part of the back premises of Williams and Norgate’s shop in Henrietta Street at £50 per annum.

23 July 1884
On Monday, Morris and the Hyndmans came to lunch with us, and I afterwards went with them to Hyde Park to take the opportunity of the Liberal demonstration to spread socialistic literature and to hold an open-air meeting. This last was a fiasco, being brought to an ignominious close by an ugly rush of the crowd.

27 August 1885
On Saturday Annie and I went to the meeting for the protection of young girls, in Hyde Park. Mrs Morris was in the procession of the Ladies’ National Society, and Morris in the brake of the Socialist League.

A body of art which quite startles
2 April 1886
I went on to St James’s to see the Graham pictures on view at Christie’s. Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Millais and F. Walker - prodigious performances. They, and the works of Millais and Holman Hunt on view in Bond Street, constitute a body of art which quite startles by its greatness.

24 December 1886
Yesterday I went into town to do some shopping. I called at Bain’s [booksellers]. He told me with great joy that he had only one of my books left - The Gospels!

28 March 1891
On Wednesday last I went to the British Museum to see a collection of drawings arranged by Sidney Colvin, and later I went to Hammersmith to see Morris. I found Mrs Morris very happy, for he was very much better. He was having his supper - oysters etc. When he finished, I went into his room, and found him sitting in a chair by the fire with a large silk handkerchief spread over his knees. He looked - despite his supper! - a little empty, his clothes hanging somewhat loosely upon him. But he was cheery and hopeful, and fell to talking about the new book (The Glittering Plain) now in the course of printing at the Morris Press. It promises to be a very beautiful book. [The Glittering Plain, a novel by Morris, is considered to be one of the first in a genre now called fantasy.]

The occasional sound of an oar turning 
4 April 1891
Last Sunday I visited Morris’s printing press. Morris was a little down; not up to talking. 

The Press has been set up in a little cottage opposite The Doves, and next door to Sussex House [Upper Mall, north bank of the Thames in Hammersmith], and is worked by two compositors and one pressman - of course all by hand. I saw the new type, and the sheets, paper and vellum, already printed The Glittering Plain.

4 July 1895
I am reading Pater’s study of Dionysus. It is delightfully silent. From the window I see the lights on and beyond Hammersmith Bridge, and the lengthened reflection on the dark river, and I hear the occasional sound of an oar turning in the rowlocks; but the tide is low, and the otherwise-sounding river is still, sounding only with the passing toiling barge, and alive with moving lights. On my table are my tools, and a glass of tiger-lilies given to me out of our garden by my cleaner, Mrs Mansel.

William Morris in a bathchair
11 October 1896
Morris is dead. He died on Saturday 3rd October at 11:30 in the morning. I saw him alive in Riverscourt Road the preceding Monday. I had been to the Bindery to get some of my books for the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, and I was on my way to the Gallery on my bicycle, when on turning the corner into Riverscourt Road I saw before me, going in the same direction, Morris in a bathchair, with a shawl across his shoulders [. . .].  I had never seen Morris in his chair before. It was a strange sensation to see the strong man so reduced. Yet he looked clear of complexion and ruddy red, and though he said not a word he yet lifted his gloved hand and waved me farewell as I mounted again and turned and bade him good-bye. . . a last good-bye.

21 August 1897
How superbly beautiful the river is at this moment! There is a high wind blowing the surface into innumerable ripples, each of which catches instantly and reflects a dazzling gleam from the sun, so that there are as it were countless diamonds at play, reflecting and deflecting rays of brightest light, so that the river’s face is an ever shifting . . . 

What I should like to convey is the intense energy, sparkling, crisping, into moments of whitest, brightest light, again and again and again, everywhere over the surface of the outstretched sheet of water.

Education: shall we at last transform it, and with it our vision of and dealings with the world? Shall we have the energy of the light I see in dazzling brilliance playing upon the reflecting facets of the water, and play with the earth our home, and its dwelling-place, the infinite voids of space? Education will be transformed. “Arts and crafts” will invade and overcome literature and science and commerce, and with our own eyes we shall re-see the universe, and with our own hands and brains we shall re-create it afresh.

My writing splutters and fails of the mark.

Hampstead hideous with affluent vulgarity
28 September 1897
A cold mist this morning shuts out the sun, and only the near trees, now so yellow, are visible, and the outlines of the bridge. [. . .] On Sunday I went to Hampstead, and lunched with the Kapteyns, and had tea with Blomfield, and looked over the wall at the old house and home, No. 49. It looked very pretty, but Hampstead is becoming every moment more hideous with affluent vulgarity. I wheeled along the Finchley Road to the cemetery, and went and stood by the dear, quiet grave of Father and Mother.

21 January 1898
The sea-gulls - or river-gulls? - are sweeping in wide curves to and fro over the river - the river slides smoothly on its course - the wintered trees, arrested, placidly wait for the spring, the sky overhead is one continuous veil of stationary cloud.

All life at its best is poetry
9 May 1905
I have just seen Swinburne pass through the [British] library into the Large Room preceded by a lady and Watts-Dunton. Swinburne had on a grey, large, soft felt hat. His head, too, seemed vast, his shoulders, on the other hand, seemed slight and very sloping, and his figure plump but small. He walked without moving his body, or arms, which were held down straight at his sides. So passed our greatest living poet. I rose from my seat to see him, and pondered upon the insignificance and significance of things. The library remained as undisturbed as the surface of a lake and its whole body of water by the entrance of an undistinguishable pebble.

30 May 1905
The poets are the supreme craftsmen - the poets at their best. But all life at its best is poetry.

26 July 1908
Yesterday there was a procession, or series of processions, in support of the Licensing Bill. Annie with Stella went off early to join in it under the Suffragist banner. [. . .] I took the Turnham Green omnibus at the top of Rivercourt Road, and drove to Hyde Park Corner. There I got down, for already a procession blocked the way. I stood at the gate and watched the passing whirl; not a great stream, but great “the cause.”

25 August 1908
I went the other night to a concert at Queen’s Hall. It was a Promenade Concert, and a Wagner night. The Hall was packed. To get in I had to go to the end of a long queue extending round the building. I paid 2s., and got a seat in the balcony. The music was very loud, and filled the Hall like a great sea, and beat up into our ears as the sea does into the caves and hollows of the shore. [. . .]

Having resolved to close the Bindery next year, it seems to follow as a matter of course that I should close the Press also. But whereas I seemed to come naturally, after twenty-five years, to the former resolve, to come to the latter seemed to be against nature, there are so many great books to print and so few to bind.

Westminster Cathedral and St Paul’s 
12 October 1908
Yesterday was a lost day, save that in the morning I was at Westminster Cathedral and St Paul’s - the former, by the way, was the finer. St Paul’s seemed littered up with columns and architectural ornament, and the arches under the dome hideous in the meanness of their junctions coming down together, and [William Blake] Richmond’s decoration has not enlarged them. The effect of the Cathedral, on the other hand, with sun and shade and enclosed atmosphere, was quite beautiful. In both, however, the singing was enchanting.

14 October 1908
I came [to Kew Gardens] to see the great lily. But one had flowered and passed away in a day, and the next would not flower till to-morrow. I walked around the tank and saw the blossom of the flower to be, and its vast leaves outspread upon the water, slowly born and quickly dead, and so on from age to age.

Annie must not go to prison again
30 January 1909
Annie has just been in to say that Mrs Pankhurst has been proposing on the telephone to come and see her this afternoon. The Women’s Social and Political Union want Annie now to speak on their platform, perhaps “to go to prison.”

1 February 1909
I was at Kew on Saturday, and walked through the flower-house; lilies, lilac, azaleas, camellias, carnations, all, and others in sweet flower; and around them, outside, the bare dreaming trees, whose time is yet to come.

On Sunday afternoon, yesterday, Mrs Pankhurst called. She was gentle and affectionate, but, as it seemed to us all, tired. The prison immurement seemed to have damped her fire. [. . .] This is an odious result of prison, and an argument against its use as a weapon of revolt. Annie must not go again.

The Red Flag at the Albert Hall
20 November 1913
Last night I went to the Albert Hall to hear Larkin [Jim Larkin, an Irish trade unionist then heavily involved in the famous Dublin Lock-out dispute], and was disappointed. When he was speaking a raid was made on the hall by some “students” from outside. Suddenly a sound of running feet arose in the corridor, then the attention of the whole audience was concentrated on a dense commotion at one of the entrances to the hall and the passage leading down from it, and from all parts of the hall men rose from their seats and rushed towards it. The scrimmage continued with a dead sound of the struggle, but, as I remember, otherwise in silence. But from above women leant over from the balconies, and looking upon the struggle applauded. As it went on - I witnessed it from a box - limelights burst out in various parts of the hall, and finally the organ contributed its roar to the ear, playing “The Red Flag.” At last victory was cheered by the audience, and Larkin resumed his speech. The students had been driven out; but outside they raided the electric works, and tried to put out the lights of the hall, fortunately unsuccessfully. I was disappointed; not in this, which was highly dramatic and thrilling, but in Larkin’s speech.

12 December 1913
Last night Annie and I went to see and hear Anatole France [French novelist and man of letters] at the Suffolk Street Galleries, at the invitation of the Fabian Society. Bernard Shaw in the chair. Anatole France looked like an affectionate old fox, and spoke with great animation, and many smiles and many wrinkles. He was, or seemed to be, short and stout and bent and grey. Justice, Pity, Mercy, Love - these are things as wonderful as are the flowers of the field and the stars of heaven.

13 December 1913
Clear for London, and cold. Yesterday morning as I walked through Kensington I paused in front of a “provision” shop, and looked at the birds - shot, and hanging with their heads downward - golden plovers, pheasants, partridges. Pitiful sight.

The great fight at Olympia 
1 July 1914
On coming home last night between 10 and 11 o’clock after dining with Stella, I at once felt myself in an atmosphere of excitement - motors were rushing past, and newspaper boys and men were rushing about on foot, and crying hoarse, and to me unintelligible, cries. As I proceeded towards Addison Bridge - I was on my bicycle - the crowd and excitement became so great that I had to get off and walk close to the kerb. Presently the crowd was impenetrable. I asked the reason why. The great fight at Olympia - which was indeed all lighted up; Bombardier Wells had just knocked Bell out in the second round, and that was it! I pulled to the side, and leaning my bicycle against the wall on the bridge, waited the passing of the crowd. Such a crowd! Old and young, rich and poor, evening dress and filth, and men, almost all, or boys, but some women on foot, in the latest limpest evening dress, some in motors; all hurrying by as if all were bearers, to some remote other world, of long expected news. [Wells beat the Australian Colin Bell, for the heavyweight championship of the British Empire and a purse of £10,000. The New York Times headline for a report of the match ran: Women flock to fight at Olympia.] 

5 August 1914
Europe and the world are now in the hands of statesmen and warriors, who have enslaved - and are now hurling against each other their enslaved - human beings, drilled to destruction. Death, not Life, and Death in another form than in times of peace, now fills to their utmost limits the minds of men, and spreads itself over all the aspects of life.

A gun mounted in peaceful Green Park
9 October 1914
A few moments ago, as I passed into [Hyde] Park, a regiment of recruits marched by - it brought tears to my eyes.

8 February 1915
In the Green Park, newly erected, there is an enclosure and platform, and on the latter, with its muzzle appearing above the screen, is mounted a gun. In the midst of Peaceful Green Park.

24 January 1916
This morning I walked to Kensington through the Park. At Hyde Park Corner three guns mounted on trucks passed. Horrible looking weapons, apparently for high firing. Walking on, I saw a company of soldiers doing bayonet practice, piercing sacks with a thrust of their bayonets. I had just passed the gardens on the other side, where the flowers of spring were just piercing the grass. How beautiful they were; how horrible the bayonets.

This evening I began its destruction
31 August 1916
The Doves Press type was designed after that of Jensen; this evening I began its destruction. I threw three pages into the Thames from Hammersmith Bridge. I had gone for a stroll on the Mall, when it occurred to me that it was a suitable night and time; so I went indoors, and taking first one page and then two, succeeded in destroying three. I will now go on till I have destroyed the whole of it.

9 February 1918
Just returned from Bow Street whither I went at 2pm to stand by Bertie Russell, on trial for some writing which I had not seen in some obscure pacifist journal. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in the second class. He appealed, and Frank and I bailed him out, otherwise he would have gone straight to prison. To prison, to solitary confinement, day and night in a locked cell. There was not a crowded court, only a gathering of friends, mainly women. [. . .] Bertie sat in front of the dock with his co-defendant, a young lady editor and proprietor of the journal in question, The Tribunal.

11 November 1918
The bells are ringing, and the guns have ceased.

12 November 1918
All London went merrily mad yesterday. I was indoors all day. All London merrily mad; all Germany?

The Oxford-Cambridge boat race
31 March 1921
The race was rowed yesterday, and after a terrific struggle - first Cambridge leading, then, at Hammersmith Bridge, Oxford, then beyond Chiswick, out of sight, Cambridge - Cambridge finally won by a length, but never once, or hardly once, was daylight seen between the boats. The crowd was immense, for the day was fine, and it was expected that the race would be a great race. We had a great crowd, and all the morning was taken up in preparing tea - cakes, tables, etc. - and arranging seats and benches in the garden. We were to be “at home” from 4 to 6pm - the race being at 5 or thereabouts - and by 4 I was exhausted, and retired to the parlour to rest.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I was utterly amazed!

Here is a third sample chapter from the yet-to-be-published London in Diaries, this one about Abul Hassan, a Persian ambassador in the early part of the 19th century. He was the first Persian envoy to England in 200 years, and he became something of a London celebrity.

Abul Hassan, Persian ambassador and society favourite 

‘I was utterly amazed! If such a situation had lasted for several days in one of Iran’s cities, 2,000 or more people would have been executed by now.’ This is Abul Hassan, a Persian ambassador writing in his diary about the aftermath of a riot he had witnessed on London streets. Such a reaction is hardly surprising given that most of his family had been murdered only a decade earlier in a bloody power struggle. More surprising, perhaps, is how much of a celebrity he became in London society, still then dominated by the court of King George III. The diary is rich in detail about the city and its people, and often displays a naive, but intriguing, quality in that much of what he saw was so very different from his familiar Persian world.

Mirza Abul Hassan Khan was born in 1776 in Shiraz when it was still the capital of Persia. For a generation his mother’s brother Haji Ibrahim, was the most influential minister in the country, and Abul Hassan married one of his daughters. In 1801, following a power struggle, Haji Ibrahim was murdered (in a vat of boiling water), and most of the rest of the family killed. Abul Hassan was imprisoned and saved from death by a last minute reprieve. He fled abroad, and only returned after receiving a royal decree of forgiveness and favour. 

In 1809, Abul Hassan came to London - the first Persian envoy to do so in 200 years - to secure the ratification of an Anglo-Persian treaty. His mission lasted eight months, longer than he expected, but throughout his stay he was attentively entertained by his official host, Sir Gore Ouseley, a diplomat and linguist. (Later, Ouseley would return with Abul Hassan to Persia to become the British ambassador there, and, in 1814, would help negotiate an important treaty between Russia and Persia.) While in London, Abul Hassan became something of a society favourite, for he was tall, dark and handsome, wore rich silken robes, and had a very long beard. His name regularly appeared in the daily newspapers, and members of the royal family gave parties in his honour.

Some ten years later, in 1819, Abul Hassan returned to London to revitalise Anglo-Persian relations. Following the defeat of Napoleon, the British had concluded an alliance with Russia, and were less interested in the Persian connection. He again attracted much social interest, all the more so this time, for having an alluring young companion, allegedly bought in the Constantinople slave market. He stayed 10 months this time, but his visit was not a diplomatic success. On returning to Tehran he acted as an adviser to the Shah on foreign affairs and, in 1824, became Persia’s first foreign minister. He died in 1846.

While abroad, Abul Hassan kept a diary, hoping it might be of use to future ambassadors. The original manuscript is no longer extant, but copies were made for circulation in the Persian court, and then copies of those were also produced. In the 1980s, Margaret Morris Cloake translated one owned by Abul Hassan’s great-great-great-granddaughter and this was published in 1988 by Barrie & Jenkins as A Persian at the court of King George, 1809-10. It includes a copy of the beautiful portrait of the author (held in the British Library) by Sir William Beechey, who lived in Harley Street, one street west of where Abul Hassan was staying. On visiting Beechey for the first time, Abul Hassan noted his 13 children were all ‘pretty as shining stars’. Another portrait by Beechey of Abul Hassan kneeling in a red cloak sold at auction in 2006 for over £180,000.

The diary text itself, as translated by Cloake, is a wonderfully fresh portrait of London in the year before George III finally lapsed into madness and his son took over as Prince Regent. On the diplomatic side, Abul Hassan records his meetings with government ministers and officials of the East India Company, which had been trading with Persia since the early 17th century. Constantly frustrated by delays in the ratification of the Anglo-Persian Treaty, he nevertheless eventually achieved his diplomatic aims. On the personal side, though, the diary reveals an intelligent, cultured, observant man, but one very unused to European ways. 

Gold and azure, divs and peris
21 December 1809
This morning I went out with my friends in the carriage to see the sights of London. Splendid houses line both sides of the street. They all look alike; the name of the owner is painted on each door. I saw no humble dwellings, only fine houses of four storeys. The first storey is built of stone and the other three of brick and stucco. The ceilings are decorated with gold and azure; and the walls are covered with designs of wild beasts and birds, divs and peris [names in Persian mythology for demons and fairies]. The windows are glazed with matching panes. Stables and carriage-houses are conveniently placed behind each house. 

When we reached the centre of the city, a bridge of massive stones [Westminster Bridge] came into view which spans a river like the one at Baghdad. Words fail to describe it! After crossing the bridge, we came to a street with shops built to the requirements of the various trades. Outside the shops there are signs. If anyone wants to buy something, the shopkeeper opens the door for him; and then the customer, without bargaining, makes his selection, pays for it and returns to his carriage. Because of the cold weather, as well as for fear of thieves, drunkards and madmen, shop doors are kept shut, except to allow customers to enter. Both sides of the market street are closed off by nicely carved balustrades to prevent horse-riders from crossing on to the pedestrian pavement.

Everything is regulated by time
Above the entrance to each house, large round glass lanterns are suspended from iron hooks. One man is responsible for cleaning the glass of the lamps; another looks after the wick and the oil; and at sunset a third comes with a ladder and sparking torch - in the twinkling of an eye the lamps are lit. The owners of the house pay the lamplighters a monthly wage which enables them to live comfortably. It is truly amazing that in winter it is so dark in this city that the sun is invisible and lamps must be lighted day and night. Indeed, the eye is dazzled and no one need carry a hand-lantern even when going out in the evening.

Every man, whether of high or low estate, wears a watch in his waistcoat pocket; and everything he does - eating or drinking, or keeping appointments - is regulated by time. Factories (and bakeries) and livery stables all have fixed hours of work which are strictly adhered to; and each one has a large clock fixed to the wall which strikes the hours.

Servants do not disturb their masters’ privacy until summoned.

These are only a very few of the customs of the inhabitants of London. They are recorded here because it is my hope that this journal will prove to be a useful guide for future ambassadors.

At Hyde Park and the King’s Theatre
28 December 1809
Because I was feeling bilious and sad, Sir George Ouseley took me out to a place called Hyde Park: it is a vast open field, which in spring becomes a flower-garden with green lawns two miles square. Paths surround it, where men and women may walk for pleasure and relaxation. Other paths are reserved for horse-riders and carriages.

It happened that my horse shied and I almost fell to the ground; but my mehmandar [official guide/escort] skilfully managed to control it. He said that tomorrow he would arrange for me to have a gentler mount. They have truly splendid horses in England; but it is a pity they clip short their manes and tails.

30 December 1809
After dinner we went to the Opera, which is a grand theatre like nothing I have seen before; it has seven magnificent tiers, all decorated in gold and azure, and hung with brocade curtains and paintings. [This was the King’s Theatre in Haymarket, the largest theatre in England at the time. It burnt down in 1867, and was replaced with another, which was demolished a few decades later to be replaced by Her Majesty’s Theatre, built in 1897, which is still extant.]

Dancers and sweet-voiced singers appeared one after the other to entertain us, acting and dancing likes Greeks and Russians and Turks. Their music and songs banished sorrow from the hearts of the audience. It is amazing that although 5,000 people may gather in the theatre, they do not make a loud noise - when they enjoy a song they clap their hands together; if they think the singing bad, they say ‘hiss’.

The Bank of England’s ‘notes’
5 January 1810
Accompanied by Sir George Ouseley [. . .] I drove in my carriage to the Bank, which is near the India House in the City of London. The magnificent building was crowded with people, including some 400 soldiers on parade who are employees of the Bank. [. . .]

A most extraordinary thing is the fact that they print thin pieces of paper each one of which is given a particular value from one toman to 1,000 [tomans]. These printed papers are called ‘notes’, and they are just as valuable as gold. Some 200 clerks work from morning till night making these notes, which are printed with certain marks which make it extremely difficult to forge them. Just as it is impossible to create a likeness of the Incomparable Creator - so it is with these notes! [. . .]

I found the bank - with its vast organization of clerks, soldiers and labourers - more impressive than the Court of a powerful Sultan.

Where it is pleasant to walk in all seasons
9 January 1810
Many London houses are built around ‘squares’: these are large, [. . .] enclosed by iron railings as high as a man and set vertically a hand’s breadth apart. The streets between the houses and the square are wide enough for three carriages to drive abreast; and streets for carriages, horse-riders and pedestrians lead out from each corner. Each square belongs to the owners of the houses surrounding it, and only they are allowed to go in. On each side there is an iron gate which the residents - men, women and children - use when they wish to spend some time walking and relaxing within. The squares are pleasant gardens, planted with a variety of trees and beautiful, bright flowers. Most squares also have pools of water and wide, straight paths to walk along. Three gardeners are kept busy in each square repairing paths, plantings trees and flowers and tending the shrubs. At night street lamps are lighted - like those outside each house. The doors and windows of all the houses look out on to the square. It is pleasant to walk there in all seasons.

King Lear and Grimaldi at Covent Garden
12 January 1810
On either side of the lofty stage [Covent Garden theatre, recently rebuilt] are galleries with painted ceilings. Although somewhat smaller than the Opera, the decoration is more elaborate. Musicians banished sorrow from our hearts with their songs. It seemed strange that the audience reacted to some of the tunes with such boisterous applause that it could be heard by the cherubim in heaven, but to others they appeared totally deaf.

The manager of the theatre, Mr Kemble [John Philip] acted the part of a King of Britain who divides his kingdom between two of his daughter, leaving the third without a share [this was a much-altered version of King Lear].

Next, several multi-coloured curtains were lowered, and from behind these curtains - in the manner of Iranian acrobats - appeared the fantastic figures of divs and peris, of birds and beasts. No one watching their antics could possibly have retained his composure. Grimaldi, a famous clown, performed an act which I shall never forget: he would leap from a high window and just as easily leap back up again, returning each time as a different character and causing the noble audience to laugh uncontrollably.

Walking around the theatre, my companions and I saw beautiful ladies, beautifully dressed, casting flirtatious glances from their boxes. Then we left the theatre by the King’s door and came home.

The artisans of London excel in every craft 
6 February 1810
I went [. . .] to a glass and mirror manufactory, where we observed stones and other ingredients combined and melted in furnaces to produce clear, jewel-like glass. I enquired about the glass and mirror industry and asked if there were any other, superior, manufacturers of mirrors. The man replied honestly: “English artisans are highly skilled and unrivalled throughout Europe. But the French produce a better-quality mirror because of the different materials they use.” The fairness of the master’s reply pleased me and I ordered two qalians [water pipes] from him. They made two sets for me by hand.

From there we went to a crystal-cutting factory. We looked around and were told the prices of various patterns. English cut-crystal is superior to that of other countries because the English have a greater appreciation of art.

Finally we visited a gunsmith renowned for the manufacture of shotguns and pistols. The perfection of his workmanship is universally recognized - he has no peer in all of Europe.

The artisans of London excel in every craft with the exception of brocade-weaving. But European brocades are rarely used here because their import is prohibited by Royal decree. English leather and metal-work are also of high quality. But prices are high in London. For example: a knife coasts four ‘guineas’. (A ‘guinea’ is the equivalent of one Iranian toman, sometimes more.) Even the drinking water is sold and brings a revenue of 90,000 tomans a year.

Rioting and vandalism in the streets 
6 April 1810
On our way there we saw that lamps were lighted at the door of every house and cottage and that the roads were blocked by a multitude of carriages. I asked the reason for the tumult and I was told that a man called Sir Francis Burdett, who is a member of Parliament for London, had spoken against the Government and the King and caused an uproar in Parliament. He was therefore sentenced to two to three months in prison; if the Council agrees, he will be released after the prorogation of Parliament. This evening his supporters were trying to prevent his arrest: they called for every house to light up and they threw stones at the windows of all those who refused. [Burdett, a very popular politician of the time, had published a letter accusing the House of Commons of excluding the press from debates about the disastrous Walcheren expedition during which thousands of troops sent to the Netherlands to fight the French had died of sickness in the swampy Walcheren region.]

7 April 1810
In the morning it was reported that most of the ministers’ and councillors’ houses were stoned and damaged last night, including those of the Prime Minister [. . .]. The King’s Army was called out to quell the rioting and soldiers of the cavalry and infantry are posted in the city.

I left the house to go riding as usual. I met some English friends and acquaintances who tried to discourage me from going out today. [. . .] I met Mrs Perceval, wife of the Prime Minister, riding in a handsome carriage. She, too, advised me against being out of doors and warned me that today’s rioting was worse than last night’s. [. . .] I did not heed her advice and when I encountered the soldiers they all took off their hats to me as a sign of respect. When I asked why the rioting had not yet been suppressed, they said that the councillors were still deliberating and that without a warrant from the Council they could not remove the criminal from his house to the King’s prison.

I was utterly amazed! If such a situation had lasted for several days in one of Iran’s cities, 2,000 or more people would have been executed by now.

Good business for glaziers
9 April 1810
This morning I heard that Sir Francis Burdett has been arrested and taken to the Tower. Ten to fifteen of his supporters have been killed. His term of imprisonment is three months, after which he will be able to resume his seat in Parliament. In the Tower he is not kept in chains and he may even receive visits from his friends.

Calm was restored to the city and in the evening I went to a party.

10 April 1810
[I was told] the guns destined for Iran have been collected together and are ready for shipping.

We discussed the riots and the fact that the glaziers are doing a flourishing business because of all the broken windows.

Old age in the Chelsea Hospital
16 April 1810
I walked in the Park, enjoying the trees and the flowers. From there we went to a vast three-storey building set in a large wooded park on the river at Chelsea. It is called the Royal Hospital [founded by Charles II in 1691] and it houses retired soldiers over fifty years of age who spend the rest of their lives in peace and comfort. They are provided with clothing and food by the English Government: 500 men sit down together for meals. Most of the men I saw there had suffered wounds in battle and had had an arm or leg amputated.

In addition to these soldiers, 12,000 pensioners live at home with their families: they each receive twelve tomans a year from the Government. Near the Hospital is another large stone building built eight years ago by the second Royal Prince, the Duke of York, for children whose fathers were killed in the wars.

I do not know if the King is a religious man, but God must be pleased with him for building this house and caring for orphans. And his soldiers must be all the more loyal and willing to risk their lives in battle if they can look forward to a comfortable old age in the Chelsea Hospital.

20 April 1810
[Good Friday] Today was an important holy day for the English, the anniversary of the day Jesus (may peace be upon him) was crucified on a gallows with four nails. But there were so many people out in the country that it looked more like the day of the Last Judgement.

A boat launch at East India Docks
21 April 1810
We left Greenwich in a Royal barge and travelled three miles down the River Thames. In many places on the river straight canals have been dug to cut across the meanders and thus shorten the journey. A charge is made to boats for the use of these canals.

The East India Company has constructed its own dock for shipbuilding and for the unloading of merchandise brought from India by ship. When we arrived, some 10,000 people had already gathered to watch the launching of the new ship. [These docks at Blackwall on the north bank had opened a few years earlier.] 

One of the Royal Princes, the Duke of Clarence [and future King Willian IV], who serves in the Royal Navy, was there to launch the ship. He was accompanied by one of his pretty daughters and he introduced me to her.

The Prince struck the bow of the ship with a bottle of wine and she slipped smoothly into the river. There were many guests on board and a young child shouted: “We are off! Goodbye!”.

What they call an ‘exhibition’
27 April 1810
Early in the morning Sir Gore Ouseley and I went to Somerset House, a large and magnificent mansion built of stone, like a small castle, overlooking the river. In one part of the building about 1,000 naval officers and clerks administer the affairs of the Royal Navy.

In another part of the building famous artists show their paintings to the general public, who pay two shillings to look at what they call an ‘exhibition’. The money collected is given to poor painters and their children. By showing their paintings here, artists may gain in reputation and attract sitters to have their portraits painted. The work is well paid.

My portrait by Sir William Beechey was among those in the exhibition.

Gentleman driving in the rain
17 May 1810
I drove my carriage to Cavendish Square, where there was a crowd of some 3,000 people. It was cold and raining heavily. Nonetheless, ten lords and distinguished gentlemen had taken the place of their drivers in splendid and shining four-horse carriages and were preparing to race each other along a road which had been closed to traffic. I was amazed that these gentlemen should choose to dress in livery of carriage-drivers and apparently enjoy driving in pouring rain! My friends assured me that in this season it is the custom for these gentlemen to parade in drivers’ livery and demonstrate how well they can drive their own carriages. Still, I felt sorry for them in the rain.

I thought about this sport and concluded that these young men are trying to impose some kind of discipline on their idle lives: they do nothing all day long but write letters or walk about town twirling their watch-chains; and their evenings are spent at the theatre or at parties, dancing in shoes much too small for them in order to impress the ladies.

There are 900,000 people of low and high estate in this vast city; but it is true that only a small number are dissolute dandies. Compared with other cities, most Londoners are well mannered and sensible; and if there are a few tearaways, they do little harm.

The English are always happy when it rains because it is good for the crops.

The Royal Arsenal at Woolwich
9 June 1810
I went with Sir George Ouseley [. . .] to visit the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich [. . .]. There are not enough pages in this journal to describe its wonders.

We went first to the house of the General commanding the Arsenal. He and several colonels accompanied us to the brass foundry, where they make brass cannon and shot of various sizes. The foundry operates for twenty-four hours a day. We watched as the necessary ingredients were melted in furnaces and then poured into cannon-shaped moulds which are placed near the furnaces. Twelve cannon are cast at one time. The moulds are slightly larger than the size desired: after cooling, the cannon are lifted from the moulds by a six-horsepower crane; a steam-powered metal drill is used to bore the cannon-mouths and to smooth the barrels. There were ten men each working one of these machines: without steam the work would require 100 men.

In another place they make gun-carriages and other things out of iron. The iron is melted in a large furnace and buckets are used to pour the molten iron into moulds. There are steam-driven circular saws made of iron or steel capable of cutting timber into 100 pieces in one minute. Other machines perform other jobs; for example, a special attachment makes it possible to taper an iron bar as easily as if it were wood. The machines and tools in this workshop were invented only two years ago.

In another place lead is melted in huge cauldrons which hang over constantly burning fires. The lead is used to make shells and bullets. Children are employed to make bullets for firearms. In still another place workers prepare gunpowder and grenades.

In several open fields, cannon made of iron or brass are arranged according to size. There are also two yards for the storage of shot, arranged so that you can tell at a glance how many there are. [. . .]

There is also a dockyard at Woolwich where one hundred warships of all sizes are built yearly to replace ships lost to the enemy or which have become obsolete. Because of the high cost of armaments and machinery, the Government is usually in debt and forced to borrow from the public.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

34 heads on London Bridge

Here is a second sample chapter from the yet-to-be-published London in Diaries, this one about a German tourist to London in August, more than 400 years ago.

Duke of Württemberg visits London’s sights

The late 16th century saw an early German tourist, Frederick, soon-to-be Duke of Württemberg, visiting London. His foreigner’s eye gives far better descriptions of the main sights than any London diarist up to this point. He also writes of the inhabitants being ‘magnificently apparelled’, but ‘extremely proud and overbearing’, and of the women being dressed in velvet though they have no bread on the table at home. While visiting Windsor Castle he took a fancy to being made a Knight of the Garter. He then spent five years lobbying the English crown for the high honour, leading him to be mocked in English society, and to Shakespeare satirising him and Germans in general in his play The Merry Wives of Windsor. Another quirky link between Frederick and London is that he is an ancestor of the current mayor, Boris Johnson!

Frederick of Mömpelgard (now Montbéliard in France) was born in 1557. He studied history and philosophy at the University of Tubingen, and then undertook a tour, including in his itinerary, Bohemia, Denmark and Hungary. Soon after he married Sibylla, a princess of Anhalt, and they were to have more than a dozen children. When Frederick undertook a second tour, this time to England in 1592, he was heir apparent to the dukedom of Württemberg, an area in the southwest of Germany centred around the city of Stuttgart. He succeeded to the title the following year and remained Duke until his death in 1608. He is credited with releasing the duchy from the overlordship of the powerful Habsburg Empire. He also tried to establish a new town, Freudenstadt, in the north of the Black Forest, as the Duchy’s capital since it was closer to Mömpelgard than Stuttgart, but he died before his plans were realised.    

Frederick’s diary - or rather the diary written down for him by his assistant - was first published in German as early as 1602. It was given the following title: A concise and faithful Narrative of the Bathing-Excursion, which his serene Highness Lord Frederick, Duke of Wirtemberg and Teck, Count of Mümppelgart, Lord of Heidenheim, Knight of the two ancient royal Orders of St Michael of France, and of the Garter of England, made, in the year 1592, from Mümppelgart to the far-famed kingdom of England; afterwards returning through the Netherlands back again to Mümppelgart. As it was noted down from day to day in the most concise manner at his Highness’ gracious command, by his private secretary who accompanied him.

This was first translated and published in English in 1865 for William Brenchley Rye’s book England as Seen by Foreigners in the Days of Elizabeth and James the First. At the time, Rye was assistant-keeper of the department of printed books at the British Museum. His long introduction begins: ‘Courteous and Gentle Reader, With all becoming respect we beg leave to introduce to your favourable notice a group of “intelligent foreigners,” who, in the ensuing pages, will discourse, if not very learnedly, at least it is hoped pleasantly and profitably, on the fascinating and attractive theme of Old England - its men and manners, its women and their ways, as they were seen and noted by those observing foreigners during the glorious effulgence of the Shakespearian era.’ 

Rye introduces Frederick’s tour as follows: ‘In 1592, the Count, still intent on the acquisition of wisdom and experience, contemplated another far-distant and more important tour, and this was now in the direction of England. Accordingly, on the 10th of July, he set out with two coaches and several riding horses. His companions included a steward, a counsellor, a physician, grooms of the bed-chamber, his secretary Jacob Rathgeb, the author of the printed journal, with a queue of barber, tailor, &c.’ Of the journal, Rye says: ‘in style and language it is exceedingly obscure and uncouth, the punctuation moreover is wretched. A plentiful crop of difficulties is thereby presented to the translator.’ 

Of passing curiosity is the name ‘bathing-excursion’ given to the tour. The printer of the original German edition, Cellius, as it happened, was also the poet laureate of Tubingen, and he incorporated into the volume his own verse to explain the term:
‘I am called the Bathing-trip, 
For his Highness in a ship 
Bathed in ocean all night long, 
Winds tempestuous blowing strong; 
Roaring waters rushing in,
Drenched his Highness to the skin,
As he shivering sat and sweating, 
Fear with fever alternating.
Ye gentlemen of Germany, who live at home in clover, 
O think upon our good Duke’s straits within the Straits of Dover.’ 

Interestingly, while visiting Windsor Castle, Frederick was greatly attracted by the Order of the Garter - the highest order of chivalry in England - and believed Queen Elizabeth had promised to admit him to the order. However, when she subsequently denied this, he never ceased to solicit her, sometimes by letter, usually by embassy, for the fulfilment of her promise. She did, eventually, admit him, after he had inherited the dukedom and become more prominent, but, in a deliberate slight, he was not informed of his admission in time to attend the investiture at Windsor in 1597. For that event, the newly-written play The Merry Wives of Windsor was performed, and, in it, Shakespeare included several satirical references to Germans (stealing horses), and to a Duke in particular, who is clearly modelled on Frederick.

Linking right to the present, the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is descended from Frederick. This quirky fact was discovered during research for the BBC’s programme (in 2008) Who Do You Think You Are on Johnson.

Along the Thames into London
10 August 1592
The same post carried us as far as Rochester; from thence nearly half a stage forward to Gravesend. Here, having first dined, a small vessel was ordered, and [we embarked] upon the river Thames, which is tolerably broad, and in which there are many swans; these are so tame that you can almost touch them, but it is forbidden on pain of corporal punishment in any way to injure a swan, for Royalty has them plucked every year, in order to have their down for court-use. Into this river Thames there sets also a tide of the sea, which accordingly every six hours flows up and down. We then sailed towards London. Upon the left-hand side of the river we passed the beautiful and pleasant royal Palace of Greenwich, where the Queen moreover is usually accustomed to receive and to give audience to envoys and ambassadors from foreign potentates. 

11 August 1592
London is a large, excellent, and mighty city of business, and the most important in the whole kingdom; most of the inhabitants are employed in buying and selling merchandize, and trading in almost every corner of the world, since the river is most useful and convenient for this purpose, considering that ships from France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Hamburg, and other kingdoms, come almost up to the city, to which they convey goods and receive and take away others in exchange. 

It is a very populous city, so that one can scarcely pass along the streets, on account of the throng. 

The inhabitants are magnificently apparelled, and are extremely proud and overbearing; and because the greater part, especially the tradespeople, seldom go into other countries, but always remain in their houses in the city attending to their business, they care little for foreigners, but scoff and laugh at them; and moreover one dare not oppose them, else the street-boys and apprentices collect together in immense crowds and strike to the right and left unmercifully without regard to person; and because they are the strongest, one is obliged to put up with the insult as well as the injury. 

Velvet clothes but no bread
The women have much more liberty than perhaps in any other place; they also know well how to make use of it, for they go dressed out in exceedingly fine clothes, and give all their attention to their ruffs and stuffs, to such a degree indeed, that, as I am informed, many a one does not hesitate to wear velvet in the streets, which is common with them, whilst at home perhaps they have not a piece of dry bread. All the English women are accustomed to wear hats upon their heads, and gowns cut after the old German fashion - for indeed their descent is from the Saxons.

In the city there is among others a large and remarkable church, called St Paul’s, where there are two choirs or churches, one over the other, but otherwise there is nothing of importance to be seen in it. There are also many other churches here and there; in particular three, where they preach in the French, Italian, and Dutch tongues. 

The Exchange (La Burce) is a palace, where all kinds of beautiful goods are usually to be found; and because the city is very large and populous, the merchants who transact business together appoint to meet each other at that place, of whom several hundreds are constantly to be met with congregated there.

The sweet water is preserved in various parts of the city in large well-built stone cisterns, to be drawn off by cocks; and the poor labourers carry it on their shoulders to the different houses and sell it, in a peculiar kind of wooden vessels, broad at the bottom, but very narrow at the top, and bound with iron hoops.

Thirty-four heads on London Bridge
13 August 1592
Over the river at London there is a beautiful long bridge, with quite splendid, handsome, and well-built houses, which are occupied by merchants of consequence. Upon one of the towers, nearly in the middle of the bridge, are stuck up about thirty-four heads of persons of distinction, who had in former times been condemned and beheaded for creating riots and from other causes. [This practice of dipping the heads of executed men in tar and displaying them on pikes had been going on since the 14th century and would not stop until the mid-17th century.]

14 August 1592
His Highness and suite went in wherries [gondolas] to the beautiful and large royal church called Westminster, situated at the end, outside the city. In order to inspect the same. It is a very large structure, and in particular has a chapel within it which was built eighty years ago by King Henry VII, arched over with carved stone, so elegantly wrought that its equal is not easily to be found: there are inside some beautiful tombs of deceased Kings and Queens, covered all over with gilding, and executed in a most beautiful manner.

In front of this chapel, outside in the choir, are many other monuments of Kings made of marble, of all kinds of curious colours; [ . . .] In this choir stands also the chair in which, for several centuries past, all the Kings and Queens have been crowned: underneath lies a large stone, which is said to be the very one upon which the patriarch Jacob reposed when he saw the angels ascending and descending a ladder reaching to heaven. In the same choir was also shown the sword which King Edward III is said to have carried and used in battle and war; it is an immense blade, like a double-handed sword, so heavy that one can scarcely lift it. [. . .] In this beautiful church the English Ministers, who are dressed in white surplices such as the Papists wear, sang alternatively, and the organ played.

The most magnificent royal palace 
21 August 1592
In the afternoon his Highness was conducted to see the grand and truly beautiful royal Palace called Hampton Court. 

Now this is the most splendid and most magnificent royal Palace of any that may be found in England - or, indeed, in any other kingdom. It comprises ten different large courts, and as many separate royal or princely residences, but all connected; together with many beautiful gardens both for pleasure and ornament - some planted with nothing but rosemary; others laid out with various other plants, which are trained, intertwined, and trimmed in so wonderful a manner, and in such extraordinary shapes, that the like could not easily be found. In short, all the apartments and rooms in this immensely large structure are hung with rich tapestry, of pure gold and fine silk, so exceedingly beautiful and royally ornamented that it would hardly be possible to find more magnificent things of the kind in any other place. In particular, there is one apartment belonging to the Queen, in which she is accustomed to sit in state, costly beyond everything; the tapestries are garnished with gold, pearls, and precious stones - one tablecover alone is valued at above fifty thousand crowns - not to mention the royal throne, which is studded with very large diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and the like, that glitter among other precious stones and pearls as the sun among the stars. 

Many of the splendid large rooms are embellished with masterly paintings, writing-tables inlaid with mother-of-pearl, organs, and musical instruments, which her Majesty is particularly fond of. Among other things to be seen there, are life-like portraits of the wild man and woman whom Martin Forbisser the English captain, took in his voyage to the New World, and brought alive to England. 

In the middle of the first and principal court stands a splendid high and massy fountain, with an ingenious water-work, by which you can, if you like, make the water play upon the ladies and others who are standing by, and give them a thorough wetting. 

The baiting of bulls and bears
1 September 1592
His Highness was shown in London the English dogs, of which there were about 120, all kept in the same enclosure, but each in a separate kennel. In order to gratify his Highness, and at his desire, two bears and a bull were baited; at such times you can perceive the breed and mettle of the dogs, for although they receive serious injuries from the bears, are caught by the horns of the bull, and tossed into the air so as frequently to fall down again upon the horns, they do not give in, that one is obliged to pull them back by the tails, and force open their jaws. Four dogs at once were set on the bull; they, however, could not gain any advantage over him, for he so artfully contrived to ward off their attacks that they could not well get at him; on the contrary, the bull served them very scurvily by striking and butting at them.