Friday, 11 February 2011

Alfred Gibbs Bourne, UCL, and Sir (Edwin) Ray Lankester

Mark Bourne’s account of his great, great grandfather’s experience at UCL under the tutorship of the eminent zoologist, Ray Lankester (1847-1929, top picture), fired my curiousity to know what became of Alfred Gibbs Bourne. As with many of Lankester’s students, he did rather well.

Mark writes: ‘Alfred Gibbs went to Madras in 1886 to join the Presidency College and became Professor of Biology. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1895. In 1903 he was appointed Director of Public Instruction and worked on changes in the secondary education system, introducing the Secondary School Leaving Certificate System. After his retirement, he took charge as director of the Indian Institute of Science. He held this position from 1915 to 1921. He was knighted Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1913.’

Alfred had been in India for less than a year when he received a letter from Lankester, obviously in response to the draft of a paper that he had asked his old tutor to read:

Letter from E. R. Lankester to A. G. Bourne, 18th January 1887

‘I am now going to pitch into you. I think your paper on Earthworms very bad. It is the old complaint I have to make which I have made to you and dozens of younger men – viz. you will not take the trouble to say what you mean – in fact are infernally lazy. Even your reference to “Q.J.M.S.” shows damnable shirking. It ought to be “Quart. Journ. Micros. Sci.” You coolly assume that everyone knows all about the thing before you begin to write. In consequence your paper is most uninteresting. You never explain what the Perichaetes are or in what points they are known to vary – or what remarkable anatomical characters they exhibit. You don’t describe any of your species fully and you give no drawings. You coolly say often at great length with an air of solemnity and importance “The presence of so and so was not determined” which really ought to be written “I am so lazy and careless that I did not trouble to ascertain this important fact – and I won’t even now take the trouble to do it – but prefer to write without doing so”. The whole style of that kind of work is damnable. You have heaps of these worms & have no excuse for sending home slovenly work. ...’

One hopes that Alfred, having spent some years as Lankester’s student and also as his laboratory assistant, was not overly perturbed by this attack on his scholarship. Mark suggests that Lankester, in fact, held his old student in high regard: ‘His letters of recommendation of Alfred to other institutions and publishers (including that very the same paper!) were always very complimentary. I think it was he also who was a proposer for Alfred's membership to the Royal Society.’ And the respect was mutual: ‘Alfred certainly seemed to have a lot of respect for him even when Ray seems to be travelling off to Europe, leaving Alfred (somewhat in the lurch) to deal with a lot of the responsibility for teaching the students.’

Mark also attached a photograph (above) of Alfred’s wife, Emily Tree Glashier (later Lady Bourne). She was an acclaimed botanical artist and teamed up with other artists at Kodaikanal to produce illustrations of the local flora. Many of Alfred's scientific articles were also illustrated by her. For readers interested in 19th century earthworms, here's a link to an original illustrated article by Alfred Gibbs Bourne.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Bayntons of Bloomsbury

Simon Auger contacted me for help in find out more about his maternal ancestors, Thomas (baptised 1718) and Mary (nee Tufton) Baynton (d. 1776) who lived in Field Court, Gray’s Inn between 1767 and 1776 (they also lived, for a very brief time, in Queen Square).

Thomas and Mary came from Wiltshire and were married in Dursley in 1745. Their five children were all baptised in Bloomsbury, at St Andrew Holborn – James Lewis, baptised 1753; Thomas in 1767; John in 1769; Samuel in 1771; Sarah in 1773. Samuel is Simon’s 4x great grandfather. Simon has no information about Thomas’s death or his occupation although Samuel (and possibly also John) became a greengrocer. If anyone reading this blog is a Baynton descendent, we’d very much like to hear from you.

Putting on my historian’s sleuth hat I’m interested in the 14-year gap between the birth of the Baynton’s first child, James Lewis (1753) and their second, Thomas (1767). There doesn’t seem to have been a problem with Mary’s fertility as she had three more children in quick succession so what might be going on here? It’s possible that Mary had a number of miscarriages or stillbirths between her first and second sons and these wouldn’t have been recorded. It’s also possible (and perhaps more likely) that Thomas was working away for much of this period. Perhaps he was in the navy or military. These might be useful lines of enquiry for Simon to pursue.

The lovely picture above (top) shows two 18th century houses in Field Court (thisisforever, Flickr), and the one below depicts a snowy Field Court looking towards Gray’s Inn Square (J D Mack, Flickr). This area is now populated with legal businesses.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Bloomsbury missionary becomes head of a church

Bloomsbury People has featured a number of stories about Bishop Andrew McLaglen, the father of Hollywood star, Victor McLaglen. Andrew McLagen was consecrated in November 1897 as bishop of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church of England (later known as the Evangelical Church of England). This church was formally dissolved in 1997 although it remains active in the US and Canada.

From knowing absolutely nothing about Bishop Andrew McLaglen's background when the first blog about him was posted on 6 August 2009, other than the fact he had been an apprentice missionary in Bloomsbury from 1877-1879, the Bloomsbury Project now has a link to the church through its current Primus and Bishop of California, the Most Reverend Edwin D Follick, who is also Director of University Libraries and University Chaplain, South Baylo University, Anaheim, California. Bishop Ed has sent me a photograph (top picture) of three of the first bishops of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church. It shows (from left) the Most Reverend Lord Leon Checkemian, DD LLD, the first Archbishop; the Right Reverend James Martin, DD LLD; and the Right Reverend Andrew Albert McLaglen, DD LLD.

The photograph was reproduced on the souvenir programme of the 12th Annual Convocation and Dinner of St Andrew’s Ecumenical Research Intercollegiate Fellowship, held at St Andrew’s Collegiate Church, Stonebridge Road, Tottenham, North London, on 4 September 1965. This church was acquired in 1967 by the Church of God but maybe it was later demolished or used for a different purpose because I cannot find reference to a church in Stonebridge Road. Laziness on my part because I haven’t actually been to investigate!

The middle picture shows Bishop Edwin Follick (right) presenting a sculpture to the Most Reverend Charles D Boltwood, DD LLD, Bishop Primus of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church, in 1978. It was Dr Boltwood who wound down the operations of the FPEC in the UK and transferred the church records to North America.

From humble beginnings in Bloomsbury, this story has travelled the world and pulled in more information about Victor McLaglen’s ancestry than I believe was generally known before. And by another strange twist of fate, I was talking to an elderly friend about the Bloomsbury Project and its stories when he informed me that he had known Victor’s daughter Sheila and her husband, and had even met (only once) the great actor himself. His recollection was that Victor arrived, having clearly enjoyed a ‘couple of drinks’!

Finally, I had to include a photograph (bottom) of Victor with his daughter Sheila and son Andrew.

Bloomsbury writer gives Charlie Chaplin idea for film

Some time ago Jenny Woolf contacted me to draw my attention to a book by Thomas Burke (1886-1945) entitled Living in Bloomsbury. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1939. Although the book is now out of print, it’s possible to buy it very inexpensively through Amazon and I’ve just placed an order for a second edition (1947) costing £5.00.

Thomas Burke was a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction, publishing his first short story, ‘The Bellamy Diamonds’ in 1901 at the age of fifteen. He was born in Clapham, South London, and seems to have been orphaned (or at least became fatherless) early in life, ending up in a home for middle-class poor but ‘respectable’ boys. Much of his non-fiction work about London, particularly the East End, is considered to be romanticised but a number of his stories captured the imagination of the burgeoning film industry and were adapted for Hollywood. D W Griffith, for example, used Burke’s short story ‘The Chink and the Child’ from Limehouse Nights (1917) as basis for his silent movie, ‘Broken Blossoms’ (1919), and Charlie Chaplin derived ‘A Dog’s Life’ (1918) from the same book.

I’m not certain whether Burke ever lived in Bloomsbury but he certainly died here – at the Homeopathic Hospital, Queen Square, on 22 September 1945, at the very end of World War II.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Love Letters of Alfred Gibbs Bourne

Mark Bourne contacted me with a fascinating account of his great, great grandfather’s experience at University College London (UCL). Alfred Gibbs Bourne, aged 20 (top picture), was a biology student at UCL in 1879. He studied biology under (Sir) Edwin Ray Lankester (1847-1929) who had been appointed to the chair of zoology in 1875. Alfred subsequently became Lankester’s assistant and worked as his demonstrator. Mark quotes from two journals written by Alfred during this period. He says: ‘The journal is essentially a love letter and was exchanged at several intervals with his wife-to-be, Emily, during an enforced separation to allow them to continue their studies. However, of interest to your project might be some descriptions of his life as a student demonstrator.’

Written on 25th Nov 1879:

'From 2 to 5 the practical zoology class lasts + I have to look after it all, settle what is to be done, provide material + be generally responsible for the whole thing. Ray sometimes does not come in but leaves it all to me. I have three demonstrators to help me, 2 of whom are “swell men" who have taken their degrees at Oxford + are both older than myself so that I feel a little shy of telling them what to do.
On Tuesday + Thursday we have the Ladies' Class + I have to take that myself – Lankester generally giving them a little time. - Oh how I wish my own darling was in it. Wouldn't I take pains over it then – as it is I do my best for them because it will be rather a good thing to say afterwards if they pass their examination that I had something to do with the teaching of the first ladies who ever took a degree.'

In 1878, UCL became the first British university to admit women on the same terms as men.
'You have heard of my Ladies Class - the council have settled that it had better not be continued after Xmas - they have been in the habit of attending Lankester's lectures & then 2 afternoons a week coming to me upstairs for practical work - They have thus asked me to continue with them giving them private lessons - i.e. two of them ... have asked me to take them at home two evenings a week - my first impulse was to say no - chiefly on your account & I would do so in a moment if I thought you would not like it, but then I thought that you had too much trust in me to abstain from teaching 2 young ladies Biology - my great wish to do it lies in the fact they are the first ladies who have gone up for a Science degree & of course if I could pass them well it would be greatly to my credit & I might get more work to do another year & if I stick to Biology it will be very important that I should get plenty of coaching, that's the thing that pays. I hardly like however arranging to coach these women without knowing what my own darling would wish, as all I do will be only a means to make her happy in life & care for her'.
Mark says that as a science student himself (Earth Sciences, University of Oxford), he finds accounts of his great, great grandfather’s life very interesting. He also noticed in our video of the Bloomsbury project, an image of women being taught in 1878 and in fact this image (bottom picture) was taken in the zoology department – notice the animal skeletons on the desks.

The Newsoms of Bloomsbury Square

Raymond Foster recently contacted me with details about his great, great grandparents Samuel John and Jane Hovil Newson who, in the 1850s, lived at number 3 Bloomsbury Square. The photo above shows this lovely square, which is the oldest of London's residential squares, set out in 1665. It was originally called Southampton Square. Here's a link to a panorama of the entire square.

Jane was born in 1807 in the City of London to John and Sarah Sawyer (née Hovil) and baptised at the church of St Botolph-without-Aldersgate. Her grandfather, John Hovil, was a celebrated clockmaker, living and working in Horsleydown, Southwark. Jane went to Cork (Ireland) as a young woman and there married an Italian, Giovanni Berra. He died within a year of their marriage but not before she had established ‘Signora Berra’s School’ on Patrick Street where she taught languages.

Jane subsequently married Samuel John Newsom in 1839. He was a member of a large Quaker family in Cork. They were importers and retailers of tea and coffee. Samuel and Jane left Ireland in about 1845 and settled in Bloomsbury Square where Jane continued to teach languages but whether she set up another school is uncertain (I’m hoping that my colleagues researching the Bloomsbury Project might help here). Raymond states that ‘it is just possible that the Sawyer family (with Dublin connections), living just round the corner in Montague Place, were relatives of Jane, but this is speculative.’

Samuel and Jane had three children. In 1865, their elder daughter, Pauline Genevieve, married John Harwood Thomas, a native of Cork, at St George’s Bloomsbury. Jane died in 1870, in Tavistock Place.

If anyone has more information about this family, please do contact me.

Dr Henry Shuckburgh Roots and the founder of Roget's thesaurus

In a blog last May I discovered some intriguing information about Dr Shuckburgh Roots (1785-1861) who lived at 42 Russell Square in the 1830s and helped in a pioneering operation to repair the disfigured nose of a 40-year-old shoemaker. In searching the web for more information about Dr Henry Shuckburgh Roots, I came across a post by Brian Shuckburgh (2002) also searching for connections to his ancestor. I had hoped that Brian would see the blog and indeed he did and contacted me a week or so later. Brian lives in Honolulu but originally came from Kingston-upon-Thames, home of many Shuckburghs and Roots dating back to the 17th century.

Members of the Roots family came to England with William of Orange in 1688 (the name was originally de Rutz), and settled in Kingston. The Shuckburghs were also an old family, one member being Master of the Kings Buck Hounds under Henry VIII, a circumstance that apparently explained the adoption of the hunting horn as the family crest.

Henry, whose father George was also a doctor, became a Fellow of the Medical and Chirurgical Society (later the Royal Society of Medicine) in 1819. By 1853 he was consulting physician to St Thomas’s Hospital, London, and apparently no longer living at 42 Russell Square. I have found one article by Henry Shuckburgh Roots in the Lancet (1823), in which he tries a number of treatments for an enlarged thyroid in a 19-year-old girl, including the regular application of leeches to the thyroid. Eventually, after attending a talk by Dr Roget, who recommended the use of iodine to reduce the size of the thyroid, he successfully applied this remedy and subsequently reported his results. Interestingly, Dr Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869) was not only a medical doctor but also the creator of the famous thesaurus which bears his name. From 1808, Roget lived at 30 Bernard Street, Bloomsbury (just off Russell Square), with his mother and sister but later moved to 18 Upper Bedford Place (now Bedford Way), Bloomsbury, where he remained until his death.

At the end of Henry Shuckburgh Roots’ paper he gives his address as Grenville Street, Brunswick Square, only a few hundred metres from Russell Square.
The top picture shows a doctor applying leeches to a patient's neck in 1827, about the same time as Dr Roots would have doing the same thing to his teenage patient. The photograph below is dated 1924 and shows a physician using calipers to measure an enlarged thyroid (also called a goitre) in a young girl.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Phantoms, Physicians and Football, part 1

IIn June 2010, Stephen Pewsey of the British Museum contacted me to say that he was writing an article about the history of numbers 42 and 43 Russell Square, home to 'Phantoms, Physicians and Football'. The article was published in a British Museum newsletter and Stephen kindly sent me a copy for the blog and also for our Bloomsbury Project. It's a fantastically researched article (I do have a copy with references) so I'm reprinting it in full in 7 parts. Numbers 42 (right door in the photo above, taken at 1pm today by me) and 43 are now offices of the British Museum but have an extraordinary 200-year history. Here it is:

42 and 43 Russell Square are almost the only houses in the square surviving intact from the Fifth Duke of Bedford’s grand scheme to develop his Bloomsbury Estate around 1800. The houses in the south-west corner of Russell Square, numbers 38-43, are the only largely unaltered buildings in the square, and even No. 39 (which incorporates No. 40) is only a façade, almost completely rebuilt following severe damage in the Blitz.

And what a history! Now the offices of the British Museum’s Visitor & Building Services Directorate, 42-43 were built as townhouses for the gentry, and in their time have been the home of a pioneering surgeon, a Lord Mayor of London, a Consul-General, a famous dancer, and a wealthy merchant who was a close friend of Dickens and Tennyson. These buildings also served as the headquarters of the Football Association, a homeopathic hospital, and the home of the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain, not to mention a wartime role as a cavalry brigade HQ.

Phantoms, Physicians and Football, part 2

Until the end of the 18th century, Bloomsbury was a rural spot on London’s northern fringe, part of a large estate owned by the Dukes of Bedford which was centred on Southampton (later Bedford) House. Great Russell Street was “inhabited by nobility and gentry..(with)..the prospect of pleasant fields up to Hampstead and Highgate”. Montagu House was built in 1675 as a country retreat for the Montagu family but was rarely used, and so was sold in 1754 to house the collections of the new British Museum. There were still fields to the north, but London was growing rapidly, and by 1795 Francis, 5th Duke of Bedford, began planning further building development.

From 1800 onwards, the new estate was laid out. Bedford House was demolished, and a grand square – Russell Square – laid out in its former grounds. Humphry Repton, the great landscape gardener, was paid the amazing sum of £2,750 to design Russell and Bloomsbury Squares. New streets were laid out, including the future Montague Street/Russell Square, at first know as Bedford Terrace. The builder James Burton was employed to surround Russell Square with elegant houses, which he did between 1804-06. The prospect was described in 1805; “Squares, and spacious streets of the first respectability are rising in every direction; and the north side of the parish will, in a few years, contain an immense accumulation of riches, attracted by the grand structures in Russell Square now almost complete....” The photograph above, taken by Carole Reeves on 3 January 2011, shows Russell Square with its central fountain and the Post Office Tower in the background.

The earliest residents of 42-43 Russell Square were of course gentlemen. As it was close to Grays Inn and Lincolns Inn, the area was attractive to lawyers, and so many of them lived in Russell Square that it was nicknamed “Judge-Land”.

In the 1820s, No. 42 was occupied by one Captain William Agnew, a member of the “London Institution for the Advancement of Literature and the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge”, while next door resided James Christian Clement Bell and his family. Bell, a wealthy merchant, was born in Dunkirk in 1788. He married Jane Strangman at St. Pancras, his local church, in 1825, and the 1851 census shows they had at least two children, James junior and Alicia, and all looked after by a butler, cook, lady’s maid, housemaid and footman. Mr. Bell was active in mercantile affairs, corresponding with the Earl of Aberdeen about getting rid of the slave trade. He had also been appointed Tuscan Consul General, which implies he traded with Italy. Tuscany was an independent grand duchy until 1859, so 43 Russell Square has the distinction of having served as a foreign embassy!

Phantoms, Physicians and Football, part 3

Less is known of Jane Bell, though in 1831 she was caught up in a scandal. Society doctor John St.John Long was accused at the Old Bailey of murdering one of his patients , by not providing the proper treatment. After lengthy submissions by leading physicians, Long was found not guilty, thanks largely to a string of character witnesses, including Mrs Bell. She also supported worthy causes connected with her husband’s interests, including a fund for the building of a hospital for sick sailors.

The Bell family were followed in the 1850s by John Petty Muspratt:, a banker and director of the Hon. East India Company, who died at home in 1855.

The Novelli family followed, bringing some scandal to No. 43. Augustus Novelli was already an eminent and well-off member of the Royal College of Physicians when in 1852 his father died, leaving him a fortune of £50,000 from the family’s business interests in Italy and the Middle East. Now a very wealthy man, Novelli gave up his medical practice at Middlesex Hospital and took over the family banking and trading business. With a country house in Aberystwyth and the family business trading out of London and Manchester, Augustus was doing very well. The 1861 census shows his family – wife, two daughters and a son – being looked after by eight servants at 43 Russell Square, and Augustus used his money to buy influence and prestige in the world of the arts. He befriended Tennyson and Dickens, and soon gained a reputation for being a man of exquisite taste and culture. He was a gifted pianist, commissioned works of art and was a prominent donor to worthy artistic causes. To the pre-raphaelite sculptor Thomas Woolner he was “one of the most fascinating men I have ever met, he has the soul of a poet with the profoundest comprehension of business in its minutest details”. Novelli may have befriended the pre-Raphaelites (the Brotherhood was founded in Gower Street, Bloomsbury). He was the first to own, and may have commissioned, the painting illustrated above, entitled 'Fairlight Downs: Sunlight on the Sea' by William Holman Hunt. The painting was purchased by Novelli in November 1858 for £120.

Novelli was also a close friend of James Brooke, the “White Rajah”, absolute ruler of Sarawak in the East Indies, who called him “Prince of British Merchants”.

However, this wealthy well-connected family lived with a terrible burden. An all-too public scandal had engulfed the family in 1850. Augustus’s older brother Lewis had died, leaving a widow, Harriet, and another brother, Alexander, as his executor. Alexander moved into Harriet’s house and made no secret of his desire to marry her, though she rejected his advances. Then tragically one morning, the servants found the strangled body of Harriet Novelli with her clothes all askew and, nearby, the body of Alexander, who had hanged himself. The relatives made an attempt to lessen public interest by claiming insanity was widespread in the family, but the tabloid press wallowed in sordid speculation. The scandal may have been the cause of a personal tragedy for Augustus; his wife Helen went into labour prematurely and their daughter was still-born.

Phantoms, Physicians and Football, part 4

Meanwhile next door at No. 42, another doctor had also been making headlines. Augustus Novelli may have left the medical world once he had gained a fortune, but Henry Shuckburgh Roots found fame within his profession as a pioneering advocate of plastic surgery. In the course of his work at St. Pancras Infirmary, Roots came across a hideously deformed shoemaker, whose nose had been eaten away by the mercury treatment then used as a “cure” for syphilis. Despite the fact that anaesthetics had not yet been invented, the patient was given a skin graft by a local doctor, and survived.

Henry Roots occupied No. 42 in the 1830s, before Augustus Novelli lived next door, so the two doctors never actually met coming down the front steps. Novelli’s neighbour at No. 42, who lived there after Roots, was Sir Chapman Marshall, a Lord Mayor of London no less.

Born in 1786, Sir Chapman was a London grocer who had been knighted in 1831 while serving as Sheriff of London for giving a particularly fulsome and loyal address to the King. He capped this in 1839-40 by serving as Lord Mayor of London.

The 1851 census shows Marshall living at No. 42, a 67-year old widower, being looked after by a housekeeper, cook, housemaid and coachman.

And so for the next half-century, there was a succession of wealthy residents of 42 and 43 Russell Square. At No. 42 the Astons, attorneys and stockbrokers, lived quietly between about 1860-1880, followed by the Mattons. Edward Matton, head of the household, was a Dutch coal merchant. At about this time the house seems to have been subdivided, as Alfred Kendrick, a renowned actor of the late Victorian and Edwardian age, was also recorded living there. The photo above shows Alfred Kendrick (far right) in 'The Scarlet Pimpernel', which opened at London's New Theatre in January 1905.

Next door in the 1870s lived John (later Sir John) Monckton, Town Clerk of the City of London, followed in the 1880s by Richard Poppleton, a well-to-do Yorkshire leather merchant.

There were significant changes to Russell Square in the 1890s. Decorative terracotta work was addded to the houses on the north and south sides; this still survives on the south side. And in 1895 the Trustees received a loan of £200,000 from Parliament so that they could purchase outright all the perimeter properties surrounding the Museum, including 42-43 Russell Square. As long ago as 1851, the architect of the British Museum Sydney Smirke had proposed acquiring the Montague Street and Russell Square properties for additional library space, but the cost then was too high.

Architect Sir John Burnet was commissioned to expand the Museum galleries out to the new perimeter. Under this scheme, the houses of Montague Street and Rusell Square, Bedford Square and Montague Place were to be demolished and replaced with vast colonnades leading to new galleries. Only the Montague Place element of the scheme was completed, built 1906-14 and now of course known as the King Edward Building.

Phantoms, Physicians and Football, part 5

Museum ownership and the Burnet plan meant many changes for 42-43 Russell Square. The great and the good no longer wanted to live in the square, and the process began of converting the buildings into offices and small flats. The 1901 census shows Robert Humphrey, a general labourer, occupying No. 42 and police sergeant Nelson Neame next door at No. 43. The houses also acquired new names during the 20th century; No. 42 became Marylebone House, and No. 43 Chalmers House. For much of the 20th century, the houses were divided between offices on the main levels and small apartments on the top floor.

Around 1910, the eminent archaeologist Herbert Sefton-Jones lived in the flat at the top of No. 42. A leading Quaker, patent attorney and world traveller, he was an active promoter of the League of Nations.

More significantly, the Football Association moved into No. 42 in 1910, and made it their headquarters for nearly 20 years. These were years of expansion for the FA, led by its formidable Secretary Sir Frederick Wall, as it organised links with foreign national football associations and oversaw changes in English football which led to the end of the dominance of northern teams in the Football League. Sir Frederick Wall may have been the globetrotting Secretary, but the real power at No. 42 was undoubtedly Mrs Alice Rule, the resident Housekeeper. Born in Babbacombe, Torquay in 1866, she occupied the top flat with her husband John, described as a “hot water fitter”. There was of course no professional football played during the First World War, and in 1915, the War Office commandeered 42 Russell Square.

Next door, No. 43 was already playing its part in the war effort. It had been turned into a homeopathic hospital in 1910, but when war broke out the building became the headquarters of the South East Mounted Brigade. This territorial unit was sent off to the killing fields of Gallipoli in 1915. The London Homeopathic Hospital had been based in Great Ormond Street since 1859, and in 1911 acquired grand new premises next door to its earlier hospital (picture above shows its new nurses home, 1911). No. 43 Russell Square had also been bought up, to act as a headquarters and medical school for the British Homeopathic Association.

No. 43 had been described in 1909 as comprising “two fine reception rooms occupying the whole of the first floor… one for a lecture-room, the other for a library, while on the top floor is a spacious, well-lighted and suitably fitted research laboratory”. Also living somewhere on the premises (a basement flat perhaps?) was Myron Phelps, a prominent American lawyer and campaigner for Indian independence. However, he was best known as a promoter of the Bah’ai faith; he translated the works of Abdu’l-Bahá, the second leader of Baha’i, into English, which popularised Bahaism in the West.

Phantoms, Physicians and Football, part 6

The Football Association left Russell Square in 1929, but not before numerous stories of hauntings and poltergeist activity had circulated widely. This intrigued the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain, whose local branch in Marylebone began renting No. 42 in 1930. Regular seances took place in the house, including at least one led by Helen Duncan, the notorious fake medium prosecuted in 1942, the last person to be convicted in England under the 1735 Witchcraft Act. The top photo shows her materialising a 'spirit'.

The inter-war years at No. 43 were not quite so exciting; it housed the offices of the London Federation of the League of Nations Union, which promoted peace as the world slid towards another global conflict, and the Inter-Varsity Federation, an evangelical Christian group. However, in No. 43’s top flat lived a very colourful character, Beryl de Zoete. Beryl was flamboyant ballet dancer who dabbled in all kinds of theatrical and dance forms, especially eastern, and would nowadays be called a “luvvie” (lower photo by Cecil Beaton, 1941). In later life she met Arthur Waley, a distinguished orientalist who was an Assistant Keeper at the British Museum. They formed a rather scandalous partnership; he was much younger than she was, and living together unmarried was something shocking in the 1920s. However, the pair’s relationship endured over many decades. The writer James Cahill visited them in 1956 and wrote,

“I went alone to the meeting with Waley, who was living quietly in an upstairs apartment on Russell Square, with his longtime companion Beryl de Zoete. She was a specialist in Asian dance, and quite old by this time; she scarcely spoke, but sat by the stove wearing a cap with a green celluloid shade, reading. The flat was disheveled and comfortable-looking, with a smell of wood smoke.”

During the war, Arthur Waley was employed as a censor at the Ministry of Information, vetting letters and telegrams written in Japanese. He found the work boring, and relieved the tedium by writing to the senders of the letters criticising their sloppy handwriting and poor grammar! He left No. 43 when Beryl de Zoete died in 1962.

Nos. 42-43 fortunately escaped damage in the Blitz, though neighbouring No. 40 took a direct hit and, with No. 39, lay a derelict shell for years until rebuilding merged the two buildings in 1962. The Spiritualist Association had wisely (and perhaps not surprisingly!) foreseen this and built a robust air-raid shelter in the basement of No. 42.

After the war, No. 42 became home to a succession of publishers such as St. Bride's Press. Iliffe Books, Temple Press and Hide Books, mostly subsidiaries of Reed International. Then in 1977 the building became the new home of the German Historical Institute. There was a small private cinema in the basement of No. 42 in these postwar years.

Phantoms, Physicians and Football, part 7

Next door in No. 43, the postwar years saw a succession of small businesses occupying the building. The British Homoeopathic Association maintained a foothold, but in the 1940s shared the building with various horsey organisations, including the National Horse Association of Great Britain, the British Show Jumping Association, and the National Pony Society. Then there was a series of rather odd tenants. General Impex, a company which, imported “first-quality Indian peacock feather…quills with eyes and peacock swords” shared the premises with a Mr Bandman, a German Jewish refugee and bespoke cabinetmaker. By 1958 No. 43 was the headquarters of Dairy Cream Products Ltd, and they were followed in quick succession by Frederick Brand & Partners, structural and civil engineers, and the Bacon Society, which was devoted to the study of Francis Bacon the renaissance philosopher rather than back or streaky! By 1964 the Educational Interchange Council had taken up residence. This was an educational charity which promoted links between schools and colleges around the world, best known for organising exchange visits for students across the Iron Curtain, hence the presence in the building in 1968 of the USSR Working Group on Youth Exchanges with the USSR.

By the early 1980s plans were advancing for the British Library to leave the Museum site, and large scale re-organisation of the main building and peripheral properties was put in hand to make best use of the additional space. At No. 43, the Educational Interchange Council had gone bankrupt in 1979, but an educational purpose was retained when the museum’s Education Service (now Learning & Audiences) moved in. The German Historical Institute moved out of No. 42 in 1982 and the building then was used as a decant space; during the conversion of 1-la Montague Street to a Ceramics Study Centre it was occupied by the Medieval and Later Antiquities Department (now Prehistory & Europe).

Finally, in 1988 the British Museum took over responsibility for managing its own maintenance and works programme, and the new department of Architectural & Building Services – the ancestor of today’s Visitor & Building Services – was set up. Nos. 42-43 were converted into the headquarters of the new service. The Education department were re-located round the corner in 38 Russell square, and Nos 42-43 were internally linked and refurbished. There has been some minor re-organisation of the rooms since then, notably the re-creating of the grand rooms on the first floor fronts of both buildings. The maintenance, estates and facilities teams still occupy the buildings in the 21st century, ensuring that day in and day out, visitors to the Museum can expect a clean, comfortable and safe environment in which to gaze in awe at some of the world’s greatest historical treasures. As the two houses which comprise 42-43 Russell Square begin their third century, it is doubtful whether many of the British Museum’s millions of visitors ever give a thought to the two houses whose staff make their visit possible, and even less likely that they know anything of the fascinating historical cavalcade of characters and organisations which have called the buildings home over the past two hundred years.

Photo shows the Great Court of the British Museum, designed by Norman Foster and Partners, opened in 2000.

Sir Thomas Joshua and Lady Augusta Platt

Way back in October 2008 I posted a blog about the eminent Platt family which can be traced back to the 16th century and most of whose males were in the legal profession and lived in Bloomsbury adjacent to the Inns of Court at Lincolns Inn Fields.

One of those mentioned was Sir Thomas Joshua Platt (1788-1862) and I have just received an e.mail from Alicia Eykyn stating that he was her great, great grandfather.

Sir Thomas Joshua was born in Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury, the son of Thomas Platt (1760-1842) and his wife Catherine. He was educated at Harrow School and Trinity College Cambridge, admitted to the Inner Temple in 1806 and called to the Bar in 1816. He was a King's Counsellor (1834), Bencher of Inner Temple (1835), Serjeant at Law (1845), knighted (1845), and Baron of the Exchequer (1845-56). In 1814, at the age of 23, he married 18-year-old Augusta Cuming at St George, Bloomsbury. Alicia attached portraits of Sir Thomas Joshua and Augusta (above). She wrote: 'I am only just starting my research into the family ... Stupidly, I never asked my mother anything about the family. All that I knew was that the two portraits we have were of my great, great grandfather, Thomas Joshua Platt and his wife Augusta (and a formidable creature she looks too - she always terrified me as a child with her eyes following me around with a disapproving air!) Nine of their children were baptised at St Pancras Old Church between 1815 and 1832. Thomas Joshua, Augusta, and 8 of their children are buried in a vault in Highgate Cemetery. They lived at 39 Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury, from 1832 to 1846, then moved to 59 Portland Place until 1862 when he died.'

Thomas Joshua was described as 'a sensible popular judge, especially successful with common juries and with a large practice on the home circuit' (Harrow School Records). He sounds like a down-to-earth, no-nonsense type of adjudicator.

Alicia continues, 'I can't join the Platts between about 1660 to 1760. The logical link is that the Richard/Hugh/William branch owned masses of land in north London - including what is now St Pancras Station, Farringdon Street Tube, Smithfield Market and all round Holborn. As you know, all the "legal" Platts lived around that area - Bloomsbury - even my grandmother died in Park Crescent, which is at the end of Portland Place - the last home of Thomas Joshua. However, that could also simply be explained by the fact that area is handy for the legal London - the Inns of Court, etc., and as all of them were either legal people or parsons, easy to accomodate in that area!!'

Another descendent of the Platts, Elizabeth Smith, has also contacted me from Australia and I have put her and Alicia in touch, and also with Maurice Byford who sent me the original information about the Platt family. Hopefully, we can pull together more information about this remarkable Bloomsbury family.