Friday 30 October 2009

East London Theatre Archive


Some research on East London leads me to stumble across the East London Theatre Archive, run by my old workmates at University of East London. I hadn't realised it was live and online - shame on me!

Enjoy playbills and ads from the wilds of East London, here.

Lost Streets - Bozier's Court (2)


A conversation with a reader takes me back to the picture libraries and I find this great shot from English Heritage of the buildings that delimited the court on the eastern side. (3rd picture, Ref no: CC97/01522) ...

... shame there's no way to link to it directly. The other pics of the corner are obviously post 1900, and I've emailed them about the dates.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Walking about in 1896


Sadly, most films of Victorian life (there aren't many) are either

1. people walking about

2. pictures of the Tower Bridge / Windsor Castle / [other random well-known tourist landmark that hasn't changed in a hundred years]

This falls into that first category, but it's nice enough - crossing Blackfriar's Bridge, courtesy of the BFI:

Lost Streets - Bozier's Court


It's rare for London streets to vanish entirely these days, whereas building projects in the Victorian period removed a good number of slums and the alleys and roads in central London. You only have to look at the main railway stations, or the creation of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue in the 1880s. It's less usual, however, to find such changes in the heart of the West End. I came across this recently:

Of all the London streets which have disappeared, I seem to miss Bozier's Court the most acutely. Bozier's Court was opposite the Horse-Shoe, and led from Tottenham Court Road to Oxford Street; it was supposed to be a short cut, but for me it never was a short cut because it contained such fascinating second-hand book shops. I have an idea it had not the furtive air cultivated by Holywell Street . . .
W. Pett Ridge, A Story Teller : Forty Years in London, 1923
which reminded me of a lost road which I've always found interesting. Ever wondered why the southern end of Tottenham Court Road is strangely wide? It's because a whole (admittedly rather narrow) block of buildings and alley is missing. You can see it in the pic above, and read more here - it was demolished in 1900. Here's a map from 1862 (from Motco):

It was not a street entirely of booksellers in the mid-century. My 1856 directory lists just one:

3 Brittlebank William, hairdresser
4 Ridgway John, writer on glass
5 & 14 Westell Mrs. Jane, bookseller
6 Lear Henry, greengrocer
7 Marchand Maurice, hatter
10 Young William, coffee rooms
12 Ingram Thomas, butcher
13 Butler James, fishmonger
14 & 5 Westell Mrs. Jane, bookseller

Unfortunately, I don't have a later directory to check if more booksellers appeared. I find this in Notes and Queries from 1900 which, at least, shows that the Westells' shop survived for many years:

"The demolition of the block of houses at the junction of the Tottenham Court Road with Oxford Street reminds us that the little passage on the west side of the block, called Bozier's Court, is notwithout its associations. Here, fifty years ago, Mr. Westell, who, we believe, is now the oldest bookseller in London, had a shop which is mentioned in Lord Lytton's ' My Novel. In book vii. chap. iv. of that work we read: ' One day three persons were standing before an old bookstall in a passage leading from Oxford Street into Tottenham Court Road "Look," said one of the gentlemen to the other, " I have discovered here what I have searched for in vain the last ten years—the Horace of 1580, the Horace of the Forty Commentators!" The shopman, lurking within his hole like a spider for flies, was now called out.' The shopman who lurked was the esteemed Mr. Westell, who perfectly remembers seeing the Lyttons, father and son, walk into his shop one day, not to buy a 1580 Horace, but to inquire the price of some three volumenovel."

"Further up the road, in New Oxford Street, we find the shop of Mr. James Westell, whose career as a bookseller embraces a period of over half a century, having started in 1841. Mr. Westell first began in a small shop in Bozier's Court, Tottenham Court Road, and this shop has been immortalized by Lord Lytton in 'My Novel,' for it is here that Leonard Fairfield's friendly bookseller was situated. Bozier's Court was a sort of eddy from the constant stream which passes in and out of Oxford Street, and many pleasant hours have been spent in the court by book-lovers. After Mr. Westell left, it passed into the hands of another bookseller, G. Mazzoni, and finally into that of Mr. E. Turnbull, who speaks very highly of it as a bookselling locality. Mr. Turnbull added another shop to the one which was occupied by Mr. Westell; but when the inevitable march of improvements overtook this quaint place three or four years ago, Mr. Turnbull had to leave, and he then took a large shop in New Oxford Street, where he now is."
Looking at the Times, there's a court appearance for someone keeping a 'disorderly house' in the street in 1871, but nothing too remarkable in that for the West End. A waitress, living at no.13, who attempted to drown herself in the Thames in 1889. Then, finally, in the Era 1879 'Casey, Ball and Sterling' give no.11 as their correspondence address in an advert for an 'American Trio, Comedians and Dancers, Negro Acts. Great Success of their Roaring Sketch, entitled "PONGO."' Then another theatrical advert at the same address in 1882

WANTED for Hippodrome, Madrid, ACROBATS,
Knockabout Clowns, must be good Vaulters combinded. State
how many horses can vault. Apply by letter only. Three day's silence
a polite negative.
Address, PEDRO STERLING, 11 Bozier's-court, Oxford-street, London W.
Personally, I'd like to see Bozier's-court reinstated ... hmm, with the opposite corner being rebuilt for the Crossrail station, it's the perfect opportunity ... must get on the phone to Westminster Council. :-)

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Valentine's Day


By rights, I should save this until February, but I will have forgotten by then. A great Punch cartoon from 1844, with a strong hint of the fantastical about it, that doubtless - if I knew anything about the subject - could be placed in a long line of people-animal drawings.