St Pancras Town Hall is an interwar classical building by the architect A.J. Thomas (of whom I know little). The façade is a little clunky but in the warmer months it’s adorned with arrangements of flowers that soften this stern civic edifice with a bit of welcome frivolity.
When the Metropolitan Borough of St Pancras was merged with the neighbouring bailiwicks of Hampstead and Holborn to form the London Borough of Camden in 1965 this was chosen as the town hall of the new entity, so it’s now referred to as Camden Town Hall.
But of course of all the buildings under the patronage of the fourteen-year-old, fourth-century martyr Pancras, the most prominent is the international railway station across the Euston Road (below) that connects this metropolis with the rest of the continent across the Channel.
The sun put its hat on this weekend, and after a delicious and vaguely German breakfast by King’s Cross on Saturday I fancied a little canalside wandering. Walking the Regent’s Canal from the new Central Saint Martins all the way to Paddington, I stumbled across the Catholic Apostolic Church in Little Venice (above). It has been over ten years since I popped in to the former Edinburgh outpost of this strange and fascinating denomination, now much reduced in numbers since its apex in the late Victorian period. (more…)
Sun, sand, champagne, Scotland: there’s not much more you could ever want, but to have an alignment of these four in the month of October is rare. It had been quite some time since the Cusackian feet had last graced the cobbles of the beloved ‘auld grey toun’ – the Royal Burgh of St Andrews – but a friend got in touch on a Monday morning with the provocative text “Scotland Friday?” I couldn’t resist. (more…)
Above: The 600th Anniversary Mace.
Below: The University’s three medieval maces:
St Salvator’s College, 1461; Faculty of Canon Law, circa 1450; Faculty of Arts, 1416.
ST ANDREWS University already boasts the world’s finest collection of medieval maces, but a new ceremonial mace was added to the university’s hoard recently. In honour of the University’s six-hundredth anniversary, the Most Rev Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh, has presented the institution with a new ceremonial mace on behalf of the Catholic Church.
“This completes a triple recognition of the University St Andrews,” said Dr John Haldane, the University’s professor of philosophy.
“During his visit to Scotland at the outset of this decade, Pope Benedict referred to the university beginning to mark the 600th anniversary of its foundation, then last year Pope Francis sent a message of congratulation, and now his office has granted permission for the inclusion of his coat of arms on the head of a mace commissioned to mark the completion of several centuries and the beginning of who knows how many more.”
The silver mace with gold rose details was crafted by Hamilton & Inches of Edinburgh, who also constructed the mace of the Faculty of Medicine at St Andrews over a half-century ago. Their master silversmith Jon Hunt designed the mace, in consultation with Prof Haldane.
The mace’s head is reminiscent of Brunelleschi’s dome of Florence Cathedral, recalling St Andrews’s links with the Continent which were foremost in the University’s first century and a half while it was a Catholic institution. Atop the head a saltire design is incorporated, referencing the apostle who gave his name to both the Royal Burgh and the University as well as the country who’s first university St Andrews is.
Heraldic shields display the arms of the University and of Pope Francis who invoked “upon all the staff and students of the University, past and present, the abundant blessings of Almighty God, as a pledge of heavenly peace and joy”. (more…)
Britain’s leading Catholic publication, the Catholic Herald, will be relaunching as a magazine before the end of this year. Invites have already gone out to an event celebrating the change to be held in early December.
The relaunch might be interpreted as a move against the Tablet, which styles itself “the international Catholic weekly” and has been nicknamed “The Bitter Pill” by English Catholics for its widely perceived lack of faithfulness to Catholic teaching. The Tablet is associated with the country’s old liberal Catholic elite, counting among its trustees such figures as Chris Patten and Sir Gus O’Donnell. A Herald reader, meanwhile, is more likely to be young, intellectual, and strongly influenced by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
When told of the news, one young churchman welcomed the change as a good move for the generally orthodox Herald against its looser rival. (more…)
Legislatures often have their own symbols. Often these are appropriated or stylised versions of national emblems. Stormont uses a flax plant. Some time ago Westminster adopted the Tudor portcullis which now represents the Parliament of the United Kingdom — in green for the Commons or in red for the Lords.
In Scotland, however, the unicameral parliament has adopted a crowned banner as its distinctive insignia. (For previous posts on prominent emblems of modern Scottish design, see the Clootie Dumpling and the Daisy Wheel). The crown expresses authority — ultimately the sovereign power of the monarchy — while the corded banner hanging from a pommelled pole displays the Saltire, Scotland’s national flag. While early versions of the emblem were in blue, it is now standard that the symbol be depicted in purple, long a colour associated with Scotland through the national florae of heather and thistle. (more…)
If anything, I am a lover of maps, and as a cartophile it’s a fine thing that I spend half my life in South Kensington. Here you will find two of the best antiquarian map merchants around: the Map House on Beauchamp Place and Robert Frew across from the Oratory and right next door to Orsini. Milling about in front of church after mass today I received a tip-off from a friend suggesting I have a look at the window of Robert Frew, as there was a London Underground map with coats of arms of mostly abolished boroughs.
“Sounds like the sort of thing MacDonald Gill would do,” I said, and sure enough upon investigating earlier tonight it is the work of that inventive designer (and brother of Eric Gill).
The most splendid and ridiculous aspect is that in the central place among the municipal heraldry was a putative coat of arms MacDonald Gill thought up for the Underground: a rabbit rampant. Indeed, given the twin characteristics of being speedy and digging the earth, the rabbit is a perfect animal avatar for the London Underground to adopt. Don’t go looking for this design anywhere in the rolls of Garter King of Arms, though: it’s merely the invention of the creative mind of master map-maker MacDonald Gill.
Flags have been in the news of late, perhaps as a late hangover of the disruptive protests over Belfast City Council’s decision to fly the Union Jack from Belfast City Hall only on the United Kingdom’s designated flag-flying days. Ironically, this would have brought the Six Counties further in line with normal British practice, but disgruntled unionists viewed it as a diminution of “their” flag and a bit of a fracas ensued with the once-traditional death threats and intimidation returning.
The BBC raised the issue of how Scottish independence might affect the Union Jack. (Pedants only refer to the British flag as the “Union flag”, but the Flag Institute points out both terms are perfectly acceptable). Scottish independence would have no automatic effect on the flag whatsoever, but it has provoked a round of speculation over what changes, if any, should be made to the Union flag.
Then Richard Haass, the American diplomat charged with chairing the inter-party talks on unresolved issues in the Six Counties, waded into matters vexillological when he wrote to party leaders seeking their views on the possibility of a new flag for Northern Ireland. (more…)
German university buildings are an (admittedly unusual) obsession of mine, and I’ve often thought that No. 6 Burlington Gardens is London’s closest answer to your typical nineteenth-century Teutonic academy’s Hauptgebäude. And the connection is appropriate enough, as No. 6 was built in 1867-1870 for the University of London in what had once been the back garden of Burlington House (which at the same time became home to the Royal Academy of Arts). Despite the building’s Germanic form, the architect Sir James Pennethorne decorated the structure in Italianate detail, providing the University with a lecture theatre, examination halls, and a head office. Pennethorne died just a year after drafting this design, and his fellow architects described it as his “most complete and most successful design”.
The University of London was founded as a federal entity in 1836 to grant degrees to the students of the secularist, free-thinking University College and its rival, the Anglican royalist King’s College. It now is composed of eighteen colleges, ten institutes, and a number of other ‘central bodies’, with over 135,000 students.
Since its founding, the University had been dependent upon the government’s purse for funding, as well as for housing. Accomodation was provided in Somerset House, then Marlborough House, before evacuating to temporary quarters in Burlington House and elsewhere. It was not until the 1860s that Parliament approved the appropriate grant for a purpose-built home for the University to be erected in the rear garden of Burlington House. (more…)
HOLYROOD IS SUCH a pleasant spot, despite the recent intrusion of an ostentatiously ugly government building designed by a Spanish architect. The other day, while visiting Edinburgh, I heeded the recommendation of the Prettiest Schoolteacher in Clackmannanshire to sample the burger at the Holyrood 9a. It was quite delicious, though not perfect, and was splendidly washed with a pint of Kozel (most un-Caledonian, I concede, but you can get Deuchars in London, you know).
Afterwards, our little party decided to have a little wander down Holyrood Road towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the epicentre of the Scottish monarchy.
Nestled between Calton Hill and Salisbury Crags, the Palace sits at the end of the Royal Mile that runs between it and Edinburgh Castle. With the Old Town to its west, the expanse of Holyrood Park flows off to the south and east of it. (more…)
In the south transept of the Brompton Oratory is the altar dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, perhaps the finest altar in the entire church. It is a favourite place for getting in a few prayers and offering a candle or two or three or four. At the end of Solemn Vespers & Benediction on Sunday afternoon (above) it is where the Prayer for England is said and the Marian antiphon sung.
The Lady Altar was designed and built in 1693 by Francesco Corbarelli of Florence and his sons Domenico and Antonio and for nearly two centuries stood in the Chapel of the Rosary in the Church of St Dominic in Brescia. That church was demolished in 1883, and the London Congregation of the Oratory purchased the altar two years beforehand for £1,550.
The statue of Our Lady of Victories holding the Holy Child had previously stood in the old Oratory church in King William Street, and the central space of the reredos was slightly modified to house it. The Old and New Worlds are represented in the flanking statues, which are of St Pius V and St Rose of Lima — both by the Venetian late-baroque sculptor Orazio Marinali. The statues of St Dominic and St Catherine of Siena which now rest in niches facing the altar were previously united to it, and are by the Tyrolean Thomas Ruer.
From a Pimlico rooftop, Friday afternoon.
At lunch, Friday.
A Saturday Mass in St Wilfrid’s Chapel, the Oratory.
A surprisingly sunny afternoon, yesterday in Ennismore Gardens.
IT WAS LATE summer, neither particularly warm nor cold, and a bit rainy. I hadn’t seen Nicholas in a while but he wasn’t particularly keen on travelling into London. “Why not meet in Winchester?” he suggested, and, never having been to England’s former capital, I thought it was a good idea. I popped on the tube to Waterloo, got on a train, and in no time at all was in the county town of Hampshire. It’s a humanely size town, admirably located, and most famous for its medieval cathedral.
The thieving Protestants, not content with stealing all the cathedrals we built throughout the width and breadth of the land, highten the insult by charging admission to these former shrines and places of worship. I had arranged to meet Nicholas in the Cathedral, though, and the blighters got a good £6.50 out of me. I had a good wander round, though.
These mortuary chests contain the remains of the Saxon royalty of the kingdom of Wessex and later England.
Norman architecture is woefully underappreciated, and might form a useful style to return to today given its relative simplicity. So much Norman architecture was destroyed and replaced by Gothic during later periods of medieval prosperity, but at Winchester the Norman transepts remain.
William of Waynflete, buried here, was a high-flyer in his day. He was, varyingly, Bishop of Winchester, Headmaster of Winchester College, Provost of Eton, Lord Chancellor of England, and founded Magdalen College, Oxford. Not a bad innings.
Richard Foxe chose a more macabre memorial, but enjoyed similar success in this world: he was Bishop of Exeter, then of Bath & Wells, then of Durham, and finally of Winchester. He was Lord Privy Seal and founded Corpus Christi College at Oxford. Foxe and Erasmus sometimes wrote to eachother, and his elaborate crozier is on display at the Ashmolean.
The tomb of Henry Cardinal Beaufort is my favourite memorial in the cathedral. Beaufort — a Plantagenet — was Dean of Wells, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Bishop of Lincoln, Lord Chancellor of England, and finally Cardinal Bishop of Winchester. He was a sometime papal legate for Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia, and most famously presided over the trial of St Joan of Arc.
One of the walls was inscribed with graffiti.
The cathedral is also the final resting place for the earthly remains of Hampshire native Jane Austen, but nevermind that.
Tours of the College were available, but we decided to leave it for another visit, and went on a wander in the direction of the Hospital of St Cross.
The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty is the oldest charitable institution in England and the largest medieval almshouse. The church could be a small cathedral in and of itself, but as we arrived an interment was taking place, so we thought it best that it, too, was left for another day.
A Bill Committee meeting in one of the richly decorated committee rooms of the Palace of Westminster. The Minister is standing, rattling on in an explanatory defence of his government’s bill. Ostensibly these committees exist so that MPs can examine legislation in line-by-line detail and raise questions about whatever points or aspects they believe might cause problems if enacted.
“The question is that Clause 15 stands as part of the Bill.”
The Chairman, an MP of considerable experience, presides, assisted by a retinue of civil servants. He chews a pen and stokes his brow, frustrated by the boredom of the subject at hand. He is perhaps thinking of the weekend and the extreme unlikeliness that he will get down to the coast, and his sailboat, given the inclement weather.
A Scottish Member rises on a Point and the Minister yields the floor. Concerns are expressed about the precise meaning of Subclause 36 Paragraph C and insinuations made about potential costs. The Minister rises and suggests the Member’s criticism is excessively harsh. He then concedes he may have been imprecise in his explanation of the process involved in Subclause 36 Paragraph C.
The Doorkeeper, absurdly and arcanely attired in white tie, tails, and with the royal arms hanging from a gold chain round his neck, wears thick-rimmed glasses and leans back on a desk in a carefree fashion, blissfully paying little attention to the point the Hon. Gentleman has made in response to the proposed amendment.
“Just for the sake of clarity, we are not now talking about Amendment 13?”
“I have no intention of moving Amendment 13.”
“On a Point of Order then, Mr Chair, is it proper that the Member discuss Amendments 21 and 26 when he is not moving Amendment 13, which is the first Amendment to be considered?”
The Chairman corrects that it is perfectly alright for the Member to discuss whichever amendment he would like.
There are at least eleven civil servants in the room. One on the side hands a paper to another. He reads it and nods approvingly before passing it on to the civil servant next to the Chair. Another Member rises to discuss Amendment 54 Clause C.
“There’s an important role for an independent body to exercise scrutiny over this area and it would be wise for it to have a statutory basis.”
The entire proceedings are overshadowed by the continual sound of shuffling papers. One Member doodles on the day’s order-paper. A journalist leaves. The Member stops doodling and consults his iPhone. Then the Minister is grateful for that point. He is surprised but aware, since he was given this junior ministerial role, by the frequency with which this matter has arisen and has spoken before the relevant Select Committee.
Another Member’s face is illuminated by the glow of the iPad he is leaning over.
“Now before I become too Churchillian,” the Minister continues, “I think we’d better turn to the matter of the Amendments. Now the Honourable Member has, perhaps understandably, raised the point…”
A female Member smiles and shares a jest with one of her party colleagues. The Doorkeeper’s shift ends and he is replaced by one of his bearded confrères. The civil servant beside the Chairman folds a paper and stares unthinkingly into the distance.
“In respect for the Hon. Gentleman’s desire for continuing debate and discussion with the relevant authorities…”
“He hasn’t addressed my point about Subsection 2!”
The portly Doorkeeper moves with surprising adroitness in delivering a note from a Member to a civil servant across the room. The Minister’s PPS hands him a relevant paper. The Chairman smiles in response to one of the Minister’s light-hearted remarks.
“I’m sure the Minister will agree that this is not the beginning of the end but merely the end of the beginning.”
“If only!” a Member interjects.
It is 3:32pm. The MPs will be here for hours yet.
Just went to venerate the relics of Don Bosco, which are doing a UK-wide tour organised by the Salesian order. There was quite a crowd waiting for the Saint’s earthly remains to be unveiled at 2 o’clock — suprising for early afternoon on a workday. Before the relics were even made viewable there were pilgrims huddled around the veiled reliquary, whom the organisers eventually had to shoo away in order to organise some proper veneration.
The faithful are able to venerate the relics at Westminster Cathedral from 2:00pm to 8:30pm today and tomorrow only, after which they will spend the next two days at St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark before returning to Italy.
This apartment occupies the piano nobile of a 1716 house designed by Thomas Archer for the Earl of Orford, then First Lord of the Admiralty. He obtained the lease for the site from his uncle, the Duke of Bedford, on condition he tear down the house located there and build a new one. Batty Langley, the eighteenth-century garden designer and prolific commentator hated it, and devoted over 200 words of his Grub Street Journal (26 September 1734) to slagging it off. The Grade II*-listed building looks onto Covent Garden Piazza and has seen a number of uses over the years. (more…)
by ALEXANDER SHAW in London
UNDERSTANDING enables self-preservation, but occasionally leads us out of Eden too. Thus, I’m not encouraging you to understand how London’s water is recycled, I’m merely tempting you to.
Education is like lighting a fire, not filling a bucket. One realisation leads to another:
Q: What happens when the ice cubes melt in a brimming Tumbler of Scotch?
A: Nothing – so the disappearance of the polar icecap won’t raise sea levels. So I can drive an eight-litre Bentley after all.
Q: What happens when two cars each travelling at 30mph collide head on head?
A: The Bentley’s CD player skips a track and someone spends the afternoon picking a Nissan Micra out of the radiator.
Point by point, basic wisdom allows us to unpick the paranoid egalitarian ideas subversively presented by the Marxist GCSE Physics curriculum.
However, I am horrified that, even with my impeccable logic, it has taken me three years to realise that London’s recycled potable water supply harbours a rather dirty secret. It was the lime scale in the kettle which gave it away. We all know that, as with many cities, London recycles its water. But why, after the process of evaporation and recondensation, does limescale remain in the supply? The answer, to my unutterable horror, is that it is not recycled by evaporation.
I’ve given up trying to get straight answers from Thames Water about exactly what goes on. Like the pro-choice lobby and socialist economists, they gloss over all manner of sins with a vast lexicon of euphemisms.
For ‘carbonaceous waste,’ read: diarrhoearic faeces comprised of doner kebabs and salted French fries, crammed past cankerous lips by nail-bitten greasy fingers of obese female students in bus stops at 3am. For ‘nitrogenous waste,’ read: cheap lager, churned through proletarian digestive systems whose uncircumcised owners moan with relief as the steel urinal tangs of ammonia – gobs of chewing gum and Mayfair fag butts collecting at the foot of the drain. After a brief sifting and filtering, these ‘wastes’ then gush out of London showerheads. The final confluence of the city’s vomit is on my own pale, patrician flesh.
It might not disturb me so much if the water were sent back to the same house, or even the same postcode. At least in Chelsea, we would be drinking the urbane fruits of some anorexic supermodel’s colonic. But no, the city’s water is pooled in something called the ‘Thames Water Ring Main,’ which sounds ghastly, and is so huge that it reaches down to somewhere called ‘zone four.’
I have read an account of the process used to purify our sewage on Thames Water’s website. First they filter it ‘through a rake’ (right, OK), and then ‘most of the solids are removed by settlement.’ After that, they skim off the cleaner bit of what, by then, is basically an un-shaken-up shit smoothie and pump it through a gravel pit of bacteria. Then they send it back to my house.
The internet consensus seems to be that, on average, our tap water has gone round this system approximately seven times and, for those who still have diehard faith in the system, people start to feel nauseous when they drink 11th generation water. So yes, it does get muckier each time.
“Well, if we don’t get ill it must be alright,” a friend of mine concluded, taking a defiant swig of the tap water she’d just ordered in a café. It seems this may also be the underlying philosophy of Thames Water. I find it an unsettlingly laissez faire approach.
The U.S Geological Survey discovered that the dozens of trace chemicals – often derived from medication – which slip through modern filtration processes amount to ‘only a thimble full in an Olympic pool.’
Only!?! If that thimble were of blood, a shark would smell it. If it were Polonium 210, it would be enough to wipe out the entire city. And, heavens above, any folk who take homeopathy seriously will consider that sort of dilution the medical equivalent to downing a pint of dysentery or bathing in the cesspit of a Kinshasa prison.
Furthermore, the ‘fresh’ water that is brought in to our supply from the Thames contains the only-slightly-treated sewage of the settlements upstream. I’m going to guess that 95% of the female populations of Reading, Cowley, Slough and Swindon perform some type of medical injunction upon their reproductive system every Saturday (or Sunday morning, God forbid). And, of course, what goes in must come out.
A Drinking Water Inspectorate report submitted to Defra in 2007 proclaims that our UK filtration techniques ‘can result in removal rates of more than 90% for a wide variety of pharmaceuticals.’ Oh, good! Only less than 10% gets back in! Further down the report, we read: ‘Very limited data were available for the concentrations of pharmaceuticals or illegal drugs in UK drinking waters, but data from the rest of Europe and the USA have shown that concentrations in finished drinking water at treatment works are generally =100 ng.l-1’ (which sounds like another euphemism to me). The report continues to say that the filtration processes are ‘not specifically designed to remove pharmaceuticals and several compounds have been reported in finished drinking water.’
The report is available in summary here. I was retching and gagging by the third paragraph.
It comes as little surprise to me that our perverse society seems more preoccupied with the treatment of the ‘sludge’ which is siphoned out, than the ‘water’ which is pumped back in to our taps. The Thames Water reports abound with the ‘European Sludge Directive,’ the worthy ‘good chemical status,’ and not forgetting, of course, the all-important ‘Safe Sludge Matrix.’ I have already expounded upon the true meaning of ‘carbonaceous’ and ‘nitrogenous,’ so I will spare you my reflections on ‘sludge.’
In order for my water to be clean, it must be broken down to a molecular level, de-ionised, re-ionised, blessed by a bishop, and prayed over by a virgin.
However, I have identified two brands of bottled water which almost meet the standards which we must now demanded from natural sources: Tasmanian Rain ($11 a bottle), is captured from the ‘purest skies on earth,’ and doesn’t touch the ground before it gets to the bottle. Only problem is: what if a bunch of Aussies on stag-night fly a smoky old Cessna over the rain catchment facility? Perhaps better is 10 Thousand BC ($14 a bottle) – or the hippy’s dilemma, as I call it – because it’s extracted from a glacier and derives its purity from having been frozen since before the fall of man.
Or, of course, you could just give up drinking water, as I did years ago.
The view of St Paul’s Cathedral as if it had been completed according to the original plans of Wren and with Hawksmoor’s baptistry (which I posted yesterday) reminded me of this capriccio by William Marlow. And then this in turn recalled my 2005 post If London Were Like Venice.
WALKING THROUGH Victoria recently, I was horrified to see the recent renovations and street improvements have led to the disappearance of ‘Little Ben’, the small Victorian clocktower that sat in a traffic island halfway between Westminster Cathedral and Victoria Station. Little Ben is a convenient meeting place in a district that is rather uninspiring and surprisingly lacking in conveniences.
Why, for example, is there no decent pub in Victoria? If you need a meal, Grumbles of Pimlico is walking distance, and they treat you well at Il Posto. But a decent pub atmosphere is not to be had, unless you fancy The Pub Formerly Known as the Cardinal (now styling itself as ‘The Windsor Castle’).
Happily, a simple Google search reveals that Little Ben’s absence is merely temporary: indeed, Little Ben is taking a rest-cure. The goodly folk at Wessex Archaeology have informed us as such.
The clock owes its creation to Gillet & Johnston of Croydon, who built Little Ben in 1892 and erected it in the middle of Victoria Street. It fell victim to a road-widening scheme and was removed in 1964 but, after sitting in storage unappreciated for some years, it was finally renovated and restored to its original location in 1981.
Transport for London is currently working on a significant upgrade to Victoria Underground Station, including a rearranged traffic alignment on surface level, in addition to new entrances and exits and a great big whopping ticket hall sous la terre. When all is finished and done and in tip-top shape, Little Ben will be returned to his traditional location, and some semblance of order will return to this sector of the most unglamorous Victoria Street.