Dorothy L Sayers’ Bloomsbury

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Some well-thumbed Dorothy L Sayers novels

If the name Dorothy L Sayers simply conjures up an image of Edward Petherbridge or Ian Carmichael portraying a ‘silly ass’ aristocratic sleuth with a monocle, perhaps it is time to think again.

Lord Peter Whimsey’s fast cars and ample wealth may have been created as wish fulfillment in hard times, but Sayers’ reality was much closer to that of her fictional heroine Harriet Vane, an independent woman of limited means trying to make a career as a writer.

D L Sayers’ own life and the London in which she lived and worked shine through several of her novels and short stories. Pym’s agency in Murder Must Advertise is modeled closely on Benson’s where Sayers worked for many years as a successful copywriter, and in Gaudy Night it is Sayers’ own first floor bedsit overlooking Mecklenburg Square that is home for Harriet.

When we first meet Harriet in Strong Poison she is on trial for her life, accused of murder.  Is there any parallel with Sayers’ own life? Is this literary revenge on her own faithless lover?

Despite murder Sayers’ writing often has a light touch and ready wit.  Miss Climpson’s “cattery” of female investigators disguised as a secretarial agency appears in several stories and is a nice nod to Sherlock Holmes’ Bow Street Irregulars, the street urchins who are his eyes and ears. Miss Murchison’s nail-biting infiltration of the Bedford Row office of a murderous solicitor makes the heart beat faster!

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This walk explores places Sayers lived and worked and her personal and professional life unfolds and interweaves with that of her characters.  Fact and fiction overlap on the walk as they do in the novels where, for one example, fictional pathologist James Lubbock shares a strikingly similar career with real-life Bernard Spilsbury, each living in the same Bloomsbury Square and each acquiring a knighthood at much the same time. Why not join Sue on this walk through Bloomsbury to find out more?

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The next two Dorothy L Sayers’ Bloomsbury walks are in October and part of the Footprints of London Literary festival 2019

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“Wildlife” along the River Lea

A version of this post first appeared on the Footprints of London blog.

 

Section 13 of The Capital Ring between Stoke Newington and Hackney Wick may be one of the shortest but it is certainly richly varied. Most of the route overlaps the Lea Valley Walk.

The River Lea once divided Middlesex from Essex and is now the boundary between the London boroughs of Hackney and Newham and Waltham Forest. The walk follows the towpath separating the River from Walthamstow Marshes. Saved from development in 1980s they are now a Site of Special Scientific Interest as one the last surviving natural marshlands in the London area – a home to over 400 plant species, many small mammals, birds and invertebrates. Once common grazing lands, they are once more grazed in summer, so you may be lucky and see the small herd of Belted Galloway cattle.

The Yellow Terror,on the other hand, is neither flora nor fauna but the nickname of the tri-plane that A V Roe invented and constructed under the railway arches that cross the marsh. When it flew 900 feet across the Marsh on 23 July 1909 it was the first all-British powered flight.

Now mostly recreational and increasingly residential, this part of the Lea was once heavily industrialised with many timber and furniture factories nearby, now marked only by local street names such as “woodmill” and “larch”.

The last leg of the walk follows the Hackney Cut and our surroundings change again.  As we pass along the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to conclude our walk at Hackney Wick we are right back in urban east London with cafes, improvised art installations, graffiti and a few vestigial remains of local industry.

It’s a great walk and there is always something surprising.  The last time I walked along here I was a bit taken aback by some of the “wildlife” I encountered!  Why not join me on 30thJune and see what we encounter.

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New walks added….

 

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We have added some new dates for walks over the coming weeks and put up a list of the women focussed walks that we offer.

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Sylvia and Winston

SYLVIA at Old VicI was recently fortunate enough to see ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company’s production of SYLVIA at The Old Vic.  Maria Omakinwa, who  had stepped into the title role of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst at very short notice,  put up a great performance.  It was very refreshing to to see a vibrant musical performance of women’s history enjoyed by a predominantly young audience.  Edith Garrud, Islington’s “Jiu-Jitsu Suffragette” putting Emmeline Pankhurst’s bodyguard through their paces certainly lent itself well to dance!

Perhaps the show wasn’t entirely fair to Churchill’s position on women’s suffrage, but Delroy Atkinson’s portrayal of him torn between two strong women, mother Lady Jennie Churchill and wife Clementine was huge fun to watch.

Sylvia Pankhurst’s ongoing connection to Winston Churchill can still be found today on a bridge over the A406 North Circular Road at South Woodford. Since 2012, this has been the somewhat unlikely setting for a group of four public seats of which two commemorate a couple of Woodford’s most famous residents – on the left, Winston Churchill (MP from 1924 to 1964) and on the right Sylvia Pankhurst (resident from 1924 to 1956)

Churchill and Pankhurst benches

Benches commemorating Churchill (left) and Pankhurst (right)

Whereas SYLVIA the musical ends in 1927, soon after the birth of her son Richard; Sylvia the woman was only halfway through a very full life indeed and aspects of that life are depicted on panels that form the back of the seat.

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At the time of Richard’s birth Sylvia was living in Woodford Green with Richard’s father, Sylvio Corio.  Sylvia moved to the area from Bow and the family lived in Woodford Green for more than 30 years, first at Red Cottage on the High Road and later in Charteris Road and scandalised some neighbours by their refusal to marry.

 

The Stone Bomb

Anti-air-warfare memorial Woodford Green at the site of Red Cottage

The ‘ tiresome Miss Sylvia Pankhurst” as MI5 dubbed her, remained active in politics throughout her life. She wrote extensively, supported the Republicans in Spain during the 1930s, campaigned against arial bombardment and was tireless in the campaign against the Italian occupation of Ethiopia.

 

Sylvia died in Addis Ababa in 1960, where she spent the last few year of her life having moved permanently to live in Ethiopia, at the  invitation of Emperor Haile  Selassie.   She was regarded so highly for her work for Ethiopia that she was given a state funeral,  attended by the Emperor himself and other members of the royal family.

 

To find out more about Sylvia Pankhurst and the east London Federation of Suffragettes join Oonagh’s Radical Women of the East End walk on Sunday 2 December.

 

 

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Happy Birthday Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Born on this day 1847 to a family of extraordinary women.

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Sylvia Pankhurst – Everything is possible

The Stone Bomb

Anti-air-warfare memorial Woodford Green at the site of Red Cottage

Excellent evening recently at WORLDwrite in #Hackney to see a screening of their Sylvia Pankhurst documentary.  You can see a clip here: Source: Sylvia Pankhurst – Everything is possible

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Votes for (some) women!

One hundred years ago today, on 6th February 1918,  the Representation of the the People Act 1918 received Royal Assent and passed into law.  The Act almost tripled the size of the electorate to seventy-eight percent of the adult population and gave around forty-three percent of adult women a vote.

“We should greatly prefer an imperfect scheme that can pass, to the most perfect scheme in the world that could not pass.”      Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Pamphlet on Votes for Women 1918

Pamphlet on Votes for Women 1918

The political climate was not yet ready for women to have the vote on the same terms as men.  It took another ten years for women and men to achieve equal franchise, but the 1918 Act did secure the vote for women over the age of 30 who met the property qualification.  This change in the law was the result of  decades of hard work, lobbying and campaigning by more than fifty suffrage societies.

While the militant “suffragettes” of Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union are the best known today, they were by no means the only campaigners: nor were all those who actively supported women’s suffrage female.  Groups, now often overlooked, included Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes, the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, along with many others such as the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association, the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, The Artists’ Suffrage League; and largest of them all, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

It wasn’t until 1928 that all women got the vote on the same terms as men, but before we wait another ten years for that centenary….

….. why not celebrate 100 years of Votes for (some) Women by joining one of our walks?

Suffragette City on 3rd March or 29th April gives an excellent overview of the Suffragette protests immediately before the First World War.

The Garretts of Gower Street on 18th February  or 19th May focusses on Millicent Garrett Fawcett of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and the other extraordinary women of the Garrett family.

Or come to Bow, in the afternoon on 11th February for the  Radical Women of the East End to find out more about Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes.

While on 18th February, in the morning Newington’s Radicals takes us right back to the 1790s and Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman.  

 

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