Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day 2020

All our walks this March have a women’s theme. There are spies and socialists, politicians and pacifists, suffragists and scientists, medics and mystery writers.

And of course we take you to to some lovely and lesser known London places.

Our new Newsletter is now out and you can see a complete list of forthcoming walks here.

#womenshistorymonth #IWD2020

Dorothy L Sayers’ Bloomsbury

The second of our new Wednesday Walks! this week

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.

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Some well-thumbed Dorothy L Sayers novels

Lord Peter Wimsey’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?

Click here to book

Helping Hands

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Helping Hands by Alec Peever 2001

This sculpture of clasped hands on Three Mills Green by Alec Peever,  commemorates four tragic deaths in an industrial accident one hundred and sixteen years ago today.  On 12th July 1901 three workmen and the Managing Director of the nearby Nicholson’s Gin Distillery met a tragic end.

Today Three Mills is a picturesque spot, a time warp just minutes from the busy Bow Flyover, but it is also part of our earliest industrial heritage. There have been wind and tidal river mills on the site since medieval times, grinding flour, corn and even gunpowder. By the 1730s a distillery was established and gin (made popular by the Dutch king of England, William III) was produced here.  From 1872, the business was owned and run by J&W Nicholson of Nicholson’s Gin fame.

Three Mills

Clock Mill at low tide

On 12th July 1901, Godfrey Maule Nicholson, Managing Director of the distillery, Albert Dawkins, the foreman and two other workers went to open up a sealed well on a corner of the site to see if it could be used again.  The well had fallen out of use a couple of years previously when the London County Council built a sewer nearby and the water dried up.  Recently, Mr Nicholson had learned that the sewer was no longer in use and he wanted to see if it would be possible to use the well again.  It was a hot summer and the additional water supply would be useful.

A ladder was put down the well and 26 year old Thomas Pickett, one of the labourers, descended with an 11 foot measuring pole to test the water level.  As Thomas climbed back up and passed the pole to his foreman, he suddenly collapsed and fell back into the well. Without thought, 29 year old Godfrey Nicholson quickly climbed over and was trying to pull Thomas clear of the water when he too was overcome and fell in.  Before Albert Dawkins, the foreman could follow, the second labourer, Joseph Barbour, stopped him suggesting that the men may have been overcome by fumes.

As Dawkins and Barbour ran off to get a rope, and ignoring their entreaties not to go too far down the well un-roped, a third workman, 35 year old George Frederick Elliott descended to try to recover his colleagues but he too was overcome and fell into the water. Despite the, by now obvious, dangers from noxious fumes a fourth man, 24 year old Robert Arthur Underhill, climbed down in another attempt to rescue his fellows and he too slumped into the water.

Thankfully, a rope was found and although the next man down, Job Vanning was also quickly overcome by the gases, he could be pulled clear by his colleagues and escaped drowning. When he recovered he said there had been no apparent smell but he had felt suddenly sleepy.  He had no recollection of being pulled out of the well.

The Fire Brigade retrieved the bodies of the four men who were certified dead at the scene by local doctor Francis J Hilliard.  At the inquest held the following Saturday, the jury returned verdicts of accidental death for all four men and expressed regret that the precaution of lighting a candle to test for the presence of gas, had not been employed.

The Coroner, Mr Attwater praised the bravery of those who had gone down the well to try to rescue their colleagues and the courage of Mr Vanning.

Alec Peever’s sculpture, erected in 2001, one hundred years after the tragedy, replaced an earlier monument a short distance away at the exact site of the well. This is now marked by a simple plaque.

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Site of the well

Stone tablets from the original monument have been incorporated into the new memorial, including the following inscription:

“Of your charity pray for the souls of Thomas Pickett, Godfrey Maule Nicholson, Frederick Elliott and Robert Underhill, who lost their lives in a well beneath this spot on 12 July 1901. The first named while in the execution of his duty was overcome by foul air. The three latter successively descending in heroic efforts to save their comrades shared the same death.”

The valour of Elliott, Nicholson and Underhill is also commemorated in Victorian artist, GF Watts’ memorial  to acts of  heroic self sacrifice at Postman’s Park in the City of London.

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Plaque in Postman’s Park

Godfrey Nicholson was buried in his home parish at Holy Trinity Church, Privett, Hampshire where he is commemorated by a stained glass window and a marble plaque.

 

The three workmen who died were all buried locally in Woodgrange Park Cemetery where they appear to have no lasting monument.  Sadly, much of the privately-owned 29 acre cemetery is in a very dilapidated state.

 

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Overgrown and damaged graves at Woodgrange Park Cemetery
Headstones at Woodgrange Park Cemetery
Headstones at Woodgrange Park Cemetery

 Graves are overgrown by brambles, headstones are broken and jumbled and many paths are no longer passable.  Despite efforts by the Friends of Woodgrange Park Cemetery an Act of Parliament passed in 1993 allowed part of the site to be sold off for redevelopment as flats.

New flats on land sold by Woodgrange Park Cemetery
New flats on land sold by Woodgrange Park Cemetery

 The remains of those who had been buried in this area were removed and have been re-interred in the so-called Garden of Remembrance – a long strip of rough, yellowing grass  marked with a single small memorial stone.

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The “Garden of Remembrance” Woodgrange Park Cemetery

Sadly, and perhaps especially after the care taken elsewhere to record the bravery of these four men, a visit to the cemetery where three of them were interred is a profoundly dispiriting experience.

Art and Industry in East London  – guided walk 22nd July 2017 

Art and Industry in East London – new improved version!

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Clock Mill Bromley-by-Bow at low tide

One of the joys, and sometimes frustrations, of walking in London is the speed of change as new buildings go up or hoardings come down and new views are exposed.  The ‘same’ walk can change subtly or significantly over a few months.  My Art and Industry in East London walk never disappoints.  Even the start at Pudding Mill DLR station usually  offers some change as work on Crossrail, or the Elizabeth Line as I suppose I should try to get into the habit of calling it, nears completion.

The former Lock Keeper’s Cottage at City Mill Lock, sold a couple of years ago, is now dwarfed by the new wraparound developments either side.

City Mill Lock
Former lock keeper’s cottage at City Mill Lock

Although work has begun to re-open the off-road path that links to the Greenway it is not yet open, but cutting back to the road gives a great view of the old Yardley box factory.

Former Yardley Box Factory Stratford
The Lavender Seller

Pre-walking the route for the first time this summer there was one change to which I was looking forward very much!  Thanks to the new ramp up from the River Lea up to Twelvetrees Crescent Bridge we can continue along the towpath all the way from Three Mills to Memorial Park with no need for the noisy road diversion along the Northern Approach to the Blackwall Tunnel!

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Gas holders still dominate the skyline on the approach to Memorial Park, but planning notices herald huge changes with the proposed re-development by Berkeley Homes of the old Parcelforce site. Berkeley Homes have recently submitted a hybrid planning application including over 1,000 residential units, retail, business and leisure space, new bridges and a new secondary school.

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Gas Holders Bromley-by-Bow

Heavy pollarding of nearby trees reveals the previously secluded former offices of the Gas, Light & Coke Company and gives a glimpse from the road of the company’s memorial to the employees who lost their lives in two world wars.

Back on the towpath, past Abigail Fallis’s shopping trolley sculpture, ironically close to the Sainsbury ‘online fulfilment centre’ there are no more changes until we arrive at the wonderful green oasis of Cody Dock where there is always something new!

If you want to explore this fascinating area why not join me on Saturday 22nd July?  Advance booking through Eventbrite

Beautifying Bermondsey

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Ada Salter with her favourite flowers

Ada Salter with her favourite flowers  © Oonagh Gay

Oonagh Gay of Crouch End Walks and I were joined by a very interesting group of walkers for our Ada Salter – Beautifying Bermondsey walk for Open Garden Squares on Saturday afternoon.  Instead of our usual circular route that takes in all aspects of Ada’s fascinating life in Bermondsey, we concentrated on her horticultural achievements.

For the first time since we started the walks in the Spring we were able to use the grasp in Ada’s left hand, carefully crafted by sculptor Diane Gorvin, for some of her favourite dahlias.  These long-stemmed imports, though are not as hardy as the seed-grown, single flowered Coltness variety favoured by Bermondsey Council nurseries in the 1920s that provided the Borough’s famously colourful displays in parks and window boxes.  Bermondsey’s planting was rightly famous and Mr Johns, Superintendent of Gardens had three new strains of dahlia confirmed by the Royal Horticultural Society:  Coltness Purple, Yellow and Salmon.  The salmon-coloured was renamed Bermondsey Gem and the yellow, Rotherhithe Gem.  Coltness mixed dahlia seeds are available from many suppliers – but I haven’t been able to track down any Bermondsey or Rotherhithe Gems.

Mr Johns’ favourite street tree was the flowering cherry and we saw cherries in abundance.

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Cherry Gardens Bermondsey Wall   © Oonagh Gay

The Cherry Gardens of Samuel Pepys day are long gone, but the present Cherry Gardens, a small stretch of garden between River and housing on Bermondsey Wall marks a tussle between the local community and developers that Ada would surely have approved.  Originally ear-marked by the local authority for low-density housing the land was compulsorily purchased in the 1980s by the London Dockland Development Corporation who threatened to obscure the River view and access with high rise blocks.  Cherry Gardens today is part of the compromise reached when local people won out against the LDDC and Southwark Council regained half the land.

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Joyce Salter fishing  © Oonagh Gay

I don’t think the sculptor intended Ada and Alfred’s daughter Joyce to be embellished but when we visited on Saturday she was shaded from the sun by a distinctly contemporary baseball cap and fishing with the local lads. On a previous visit she was listening to music in a way unforeseen at the time of her tragically early death in 1910.

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Joyce Salter with headphones  © Sue McCarthy

And further along the river wall at Providence Square, as Oonagh and I made our way back after visiting the wonderful floating gardens at Garden Barge Square, we met another young person fishing.  This Banksy is much faded and it’s hard now  to see the syringe on the end of his line.

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Banksy’s Fishing Child Bermondsey Wall © Sue McCarthy

And if you would like the full version of this walk, Oonagh is leading the next one on 9th July.  You can book here 

 

Fresh Air and Fun

 

We got both fresh air and fun on yesterday’s Bermondsey walk and some stunning views of the Thames and the London skyline to boot!  Each time I walk these streets  as spring turns to summer and the trees come into full leaf, I marvel at how green Bermondsey is and how forward thinking Ada Salter was.  After almost eighty years Bermondsey’s streets are still tree-lined and the estates full of well-maintained shrubs and playgrounds.

 

 

I was delighted and very touched when Bermondsey  novelist, Mary Gibson gave me a copy of her second novel Jam & Roses, in which Ada features and which covers many of the places we covered on the walk. Mary has now published four novels set in Bermondsey and you can find out more about them on her website http://www.marygibsonauthor.co.uk

 

 

Beautifying Bermondsey 

It was pretty windy when Oonagh led the first of our Ada Salter walks in Bermondsey last week, but that didn’t put off the group who all enjoyed the mix of Garden estate, old warehouses and sunning Thames views upriver. Ada’s trees, planted as part of the Beautification programme should look even better next Saturday with more in leaf. Why not join us and enjoy the Salters’ legacy?

The next walk is on Saturday 13th May at 11am. Click here to book.

New Walks for 2017

After a couple of months of hibernation and planning I’m shall be starting to offer a regular programme of walks again from March. I’m excited  to announce new walks for 2017 about two women I admire  very much.

Ada Salter: Beautifying Bermondsey

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This year Capital Walks  ventures south of the River to Bermondsey celebrating the life and achievements of  Ada Salter; socialist, pacifist, environmentalist, youth-worker and Quaker.  Ada was the first female Mayor in London and the first Labour woman mayor in the British Isles. Ada loved singing and plants; with her husband,  local doctor and MP Dr Alfred Salter, she made a significant impact on health, housing, employment and labour relations.  The Garden Suburb she created and the tree planting she championed can still be seen today.  Oonagh Gay, of Crouch End Walks, and I have put a route together that explores her achievements and the ethical socialism that underpinned them.

Book Now 13th May 2017

Dorothy L Sayers Bloomsbury

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Back in Bloomsbury, I have been indulging  long-held enthusiasm for the writing of Dorothy L Sayers and developing a walk around some of DLS’s haunts along with those of her alter ego Harriet Vane and other familiar characters from the novels.  See where Peter Wimsey broke his collarbone, where Harriet lived, where her fictional lover Philip Boyes imbibed Strong Poison and find out more about the woman who brought them all to life.

An evening walk at 18:30 on 25th April and for DL Sayers birthday weekend 14:00 on 11th June

A visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden

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I enjoyed the best of the Easter Monday weather with a trip to the Chelsea Physic Garden yesterday afternoon.  After I don’t know how many years of good intentions, I finally got there and was rewarded with a gloriously sunny afternoon.  Many of the more tender plants were still warmly wrapped up in their winter layers of protective bubblewrap, but there were spring bulbs and green shoots poking through the bare earth.

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As children played hide-and-seek among the beds and glasshouses and adults enjoyed tea and very fine cakes from the cafe, it would have been easy to forget that this Garden is more than four hundred years old and not recreational.  The Chelsea Physic Garden was founded by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in 1673 to train their apprentices to recognise and understand the healing properties of the medicinal plants that would be used in their professional lives.

As I walked around, I stopped to read an information board about Carl Linnaeus and the naming of plants when my eye was caught by the paragraph at the end.

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I remembered that Elizabeth Garrett (later Elizabeth Garrett Anderson) had obtained her licence to practice medicine in England through the Society of Apothecaries. In 1815, the Society of Apothecaries was granted the power to conduct examinations, licence and regulate medical practitioners – John Keats, the poet, had been one of the first to qualify in 1816.  So confident were the Society that no woman would seek a medical qualification that, unlike the other bodies able to grant medical qualifications, they did not even specify that women were to be excluded.  Instead of referring only to ‘men’, the regulations of the Society of Apothecaries referred to ‘persons’ and it was this provision that allowed Elizabeth Garrett to gain her licence in 1865. (A loophole that was closed a couple of years later on Valentine’s Day 1867!)

Elizabeth Garrett had been inspired to become a doctor by Elizabeth Blackwell, an English women who qualified as a doctor in America. So I was intrigued to learn of an earlier Elizabeth Blackwell, a Scottish artist and engraver who used the Chelsea Physic Garden to produce A Curious Herbal between 1737 and 1739.

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Scottish Elizabeth had trained as an artist and formed a love match with her cousin Alexander. Alexander and Elizabeth fled to London when it was discovered that he had been practising medicine under a bogus license. In London, Alexander re-invented himself as a printer; again ignoring the regulatory niceties that, for his new profession, required him to have served an apprenticeship and belong to a Guild. Faced by heavy fines and having spent all of Elizabeth’s dowry, Alexander ended up in debtors’ prison and Elizabeth needed to earn enough to support herself and her family.

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Illustration from A Curious Herbal

Learning that a new Herbal was required to describe plants being brought in from the New World, Elizabeth decided to combine her own artistic skills with her husband’s botanical knowledge. She moved to be closer to the Chelsea Physic Garden and set out to provide the illustrations for her Herbal, taking her drawings to Alexander in prison so that he could supply the correct names in Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and German.

Revenue from the first two editions of the book provided enough to secure Alexander’s release, but not to match his spending habits. Alexander ran away again. This time to Sweden where he got himself involved in a conspiracy at the Swedish Court which resulted in his being hanged in 1747 before his wife could join him. Elizabeth lived for another ten years and is buried in All Saints Church, Chelsea.

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