I’m reading Hilary Spurling’s biography of Anthony “the English Proust” Powell on the train to Hoxton when the ticket inspector reaches my side. As I rummage for my debit card to show I’ve paid, he notices the book and asks if it’s good (it really is): “Very good writer. I’ve read all twelve volumes of “A Dance to the Music of Time”.”. I can only respond: “I haven’t met many who can say that.”.
Hoxton Station lies just behind my destination, the Geffrye Museum of the Home. My return journey, however, will include a short walk along Dalston Lane – of which more later – to reach Hackney Central Station.
In my post of January 11th, I was learning about Edward III and livery badges. Today I discover that the Ironmongers’ Company is ranked tenth in precedence among the Great Twelve Livery Companies of the City of London. Of the one hundred and eight Livery Companies, these twelve represent those which have almost completely lost contact with their original trades, and now work mainly in the administration of charitable trusts (and in the pageantry of the City). They are called Livery Companies because in the early 14th Century many of them assumed distinctive dress, and Edward III was known to have been clothed in his livery when attending the Merchant Taylors.
Sir Robert Geffery (spelling varies) was twice Master of the Company and was Lord Mayor of London in 1685. He is said by some to have been a Turkey Merchant, and by others to have been in the East India trade – and the distinction matters. James Mather writes:
“The great trading companies that originated in early modern Europe are often seen as pioneers of western imperialism. The Levant Company was different. The East India Company began life as a modest condominium of London merchants but it grew into an imperial leviathan.”.
The Levant Company was formed in 1592 by the merger of the Venice Company and the Turkey Company when their charters expired. Its initial charter, good for seven years, had been approved on 11th September 1581 by Queen Elizabeth I as part of her diplomacy with the Ottoman Empire. Then, in 1588, the Levant Company was converted to a regulated monopoly on an established trade route, from its initial character as a joint-stock Company. A member of the company was known as a Turkey Merchant.
By one means or another, Sir Robert had made a fortune from overseas trade by the time he died in 1704. He left a substantial endowment for almshouses, which were built in Shoreditch, on land in Kingsland Road (a stretch of the A10, which was once Ermine Street, a Roman Road) purchased for the purpose by the Company. The fourteen almshouses and chapel, surrounded by gardens, were sold in 1910 to London County Council and now house the Geffrye Museum. In 1972, the Company built new almshouses in Mottingham, Kent (modelled on Morden College, Blackheath), which were in turn sold to Greater London Council. Today, Sir Robert Geffery’s Trust owns two almshouses in Hampshire, one at Hook and the other at Basingstoke.
Furniture making went on in Shoreditch from the 18th Century, probably reaching its zenith in the mid 19th Century, and as late as the 1980s companies supplying veneers from around the world were still operating in or near Curtain Road and Kingsland Road.
The Geffrye Museum is closed for development until Spring 2020. In the meantime, I join a guided tour of one of the almshouses, restored, which provide “a rare glimpse into the lives of London’s poor and elderly in the 1780s and 1880s”.
After lunch, I ride eight stops on the 242 bus in the direction of Homerton Hospital (opened in 1870 as Homerton Fever Hospital), and walk for five minutes along Greenwood Road to view Navarino Mansions.
British History Online notes that:
“…the middle section of Dalston Lane attracted charitable institutions: at the east end a school of industry in 1803 and among the houses along the middle section an orphans’ asylum in 1832, succeeded by the German hospital in 1845, and a girls’ refuge at Manor House in 1849. The middle and eastern sections of the Lane were largely cut off from the south by the N.L.R. branch line but were linked more directly with the high road by Ridley Road. The land at the western end came to be largely industrial after the opening of Dalston Junction and its diverging railway lines in 1865.”.
Four paragraphs on, we read:
“The 20th Century brought little change until the Second World War. Houses at the corner of Dalston Lane and Navarino Road made way for Navarino Mansions, 300 flats completed in 1905 by the Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Co., for Jews from London’s east end. Dalston Lane lost its last spaces with the replacement of the girls’ refuge by the five-storeyed Samuel Lewis Trust Dwellings in 1924 and further building for the German Hospital. Kingsland High Street underwent such normal changes as the provision of cinemas and the refronting of shops. The slums of Frederick Place were planned for clearance in 1937. On the border with Lower Clapton the L.C.C. compulsorily purchased c. 20 a. for its Pembury Estate, a small part of which was opened in 1938.
Bombing made room for Hackney M.B.’s first estates in Dalston.”.
The Navarino Mansions were refurbished in the 1990s by Hunt Thompson Associates, whose site relates:
“Originally built in 1904 by the philanthropic association of the Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company to accommodate 300 Jewish artisans from London’s East End, these buildings, and the community they housed represent a key moment in social housing history……Navarino Mansions has been owned by the same organisation from construction until the present day and IDS see the estate as the jewel in its portfolio. Its striking architecture saw a move away from “utilitarian” model home design as promoted by the Prince Regent in the 1851 Great Exhibition which focussed on health and modesty. Instead the “in house” architect, Nathan S Joseph, focussed on beauty and the best of the opulent contemporary Art Nouveau/Arts and Crafts Style. The buildings are a strong statement about the power of design and its importance in social housing and contributed to creating a settled population who held huge affection and pride in where they lived.”.
(The Battle of Navarino was fought on 20th October 1827, during the Greek War of Independence, in the Ionian Sea. Allied forces from Britain, France and Russia decisively defeated Ottoman and Egyptian forces trying to suppress the Greeks.)
A A Milne writes of the Teddy Bear who is concerned about his figure:
“He gets what exercise he can
By falling off the ottoman “.
No teddy bear Eddie Izzard. In 2016, at the age of 54, he ran the equivalent of 27 marathons in 27 days. His 707 mile journey to Pretoria was a tribute to the 27 years Nelson Mandela spent in prison, and raised over £1m for Sport Relief. He is principally known as a comedian:
“So in Europe, we had empires. Everyone had them – France and Spain and Britain and Turkey! The Ottoman Empire, full of furniture for some reason.”.