Thursday, October 31, 2013

The famous composer who worked in a shop

Invoices bearing letterheads can often be found among boxes of ephemera at auctions, but rarely does one come across an invoice on which a letter has been appended, especially one signed by a famous Italian composer. But when that composer is also the part-owner of probably the most famous piano retailers in Georgian London, you’ve got something rather special.

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) composed around 110 piano sonatas and was greatly admired by Beethoven. In 1798 he became a partner with Collard and Collard in a company that boasted the patronage of both the Royal Family and the East India Company. With a manufactory in Tottenham Court Road and a shop at 26, Cheapside, Clementi, Collard and Collard were for many years the best know musical instrument makers in London and as such were the go-to establishment for well heeled musical amateurs throughout the Empire.

This particular invoice, which was for 'An elegant new Piano Forte of 6 Octaves…with round corners on six legs', is  addressed to 'John F Halahan, MD, Assistant Surgeon, Royal Artillery, Montreal', and is dated August 17th 1824. It reveals that the full cost, with packing case included, came to 42 guineas, but this was reduced to £31 10s for cash. Additional expenses included freight charges of a mere £1 2s 6d and insurance at £1 11s 6d. Dr Halahan had already handed over 30 guineas cash as a down payment, leaving a balance of £14 6s 6d.

The piano was evidently a present for the surgeon’s brother, which is confirmed by a letter on the reverse of the bill dated 2 September, which Signor Clementi probably dictated to an accounts clerk.

It must be assumed that the instrument was duly shipped onto the ‘Harlequin ‘ (Captain J Hall ) and reached its new owner safely in time for Christmas. As for Clementi, later on that same year ‘the father of the pianoforte’ had the honour of having his symphonies featured in 5 of the 6 Concerts of Ancient Music held at the King’s Theatre.

In the end, Clementi retired from his shop and in 1830 moved to Lyncroft House (still there), on the Stafford Road just outside Lichfield. By 1832 he was living in Evesham, where he died aged 80. [R]

John Cowper Powys' Bookshop Rant

Found on a late 1960s bookmark from the renowned Holland Park bookseller Peter Eaton adapted from essays of John Cowper Powys in his 1938 work Enjoyment of Literature.
An over the top rant with a lot of incendiary keywords... but a rant would not be a rant if it wasn't slightly unhinged: take it away JC!

What a history of human excesses a second-hand book-shop is! As you 'browse' there– personally I can't abide that word, for to my mind book-lovers are more like hawks and vultures than sheep, but of course if its use encourages poor devils to glance through books that they have no hope of buying, long may the word remain!–you seem to grow aware what a miracle it was when second-hand book-shops were first too often happens that the books an ordinary man wants are on the 'forbidden shelves'. But there is no censorship in a second-hand book-shop. Every good bookseller is a multiple-personality, containing all the extremes of human feeling. He is an ascetic hermit, he is an erotic immoralist, he is a Papist, he is a Quaker, he is a communist, he is an anarchist, he is a savage iconoclast, he is a passionate worshipper of idols. Though books, as Milton says, may be the embalming of mighty spirits, they are also the resurrection of rebellious, reactionary, fantastical and wicked spirits! In books dwell all the demons and all the angels of the human mind.

It is for this reason that a bookshop--especially a second-hand bookshop--is an arsenal of explosives, an armoury of revolutions, an opium den of reactions. And just because books are the repository of all the redemptions and damnations, all the sanities and insanities, of the divine anarchy of the soul, they are still, as they have always been, an object of suspicion to every kind of ruling authority.

In a second-hand bookshop are the horns of the altarwhere all the outlawed thoughts of humanity can takerefuge! Here, like desperate bandits, hide all the reckless progeny of our wild, dark, self-lacerating hearts. A bookshop is a powder-magazine, a dynamite-shed, a drug store of poisons, a bar of intoxicants, a den of opiates, an island of sirens.

Of all the "houses of ill fame" which a tyrant, a bureaucrat, a propagandist, a moralist, a champion of law and order, an advocate of keeping people ignorant for their own good, hurries past with averted eyes or threatens with his minions, a bookshop is the most flagrant.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The 100% office (1930)

This is from an uncommon self improvement work from circa 1930 The 100% Office (Efficiency Magazine, London) by the prolific Herbert N.

Casson. He had obviously been taking his own medicine as he appears to have written over  60 books on these lines, as well as producing a monthly magazine on efficiency, not to be confused with Health and Efficiency.

Among his works are 52 Ways to be Rich, The Meaning of Life, The 12 Worst Mistakes in Business, The Romance of Steel, 12 Tips on Window Display, Will Power in Business etc., He was at the beginning of a business that is still going strong. Below is a sample of his advice to the 1930's office worker. The office appears to have a machine for addressing letters but otherwise no technology as we know it...

The 100% Office 

How to use the present moment as it flits past – that is the eternal problem, for all ambitious workers want to make the best use of their lives. There is in reality no time but NOW.

Time, in itself, is nothing.Time is what you do with it. It is the raw material out of which we create ourselves, and the problem is to use ALL of it wisely - in work, sleep and recreation.

For this reason, therefore, to make better use of our time, we may use a stop-watch to good purpose.


After many experiments in various offices, we find that the following are fair standards of what ought to be done in one hour:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The correct British way to make tea

From The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book (Odhams, London 1933). It called itself 'the book of a million facts' and was a sort of Google of its day. It advertised itself as covering 'the main interests of humanity…no essential subject is left out.' To test this I checked if it had instructions for making tea, as few things are more essential. Sure enough a third of the way through at page 414 it has this:


It is the easiest thing in the world, yet nine people out of 10 do not manage to make a success of it. First of all the water must be freshly drawn from the tap. That left already in the kettle is flat and lifeless. It must be quickly boiled and poured over the tea just as it reaches boiling point. Give preference to a pot of either earthenware or aluminium ware, as the two kinds that make the best brew, and let the pot be thoroughly heated before the tea is put in. This is generally accomplished by pouring boiling water into the pot and then pouring it out again. A way that comes to us from China, and an excellent way too, is to put the tea into a perfectly dry pot, and let pot and leaves get hot together by leaving it on the rack or any other warm place.

That's it. They might have added the measurements - usually one heaped teaspoon for each person and 'one for the pot.' Once the water has been poured (during a 'rolling boil') 4 or 5 minutes is the brewing time and a tea cosy can be used - but they seem to have fallen from favour. The fresh water should be taken ('drawn') from the cold tap; the Queen Mother is said to have had her tea made with still Malvern water.
The pouring of the water while it is boiling is the quintessential bit. The writer Kyril Bonfiglioli, in one of his Jersey based thrillers, has a character say something along the lines of 'you can kill me or you can give me tea made with water that hasn't come to the boil…'

Monday, October 21, 2013

E.V. Lucas remembered

Sent in by a sharp-eyed jotter this aside on the slightly  forgotten writer and belle-lettrist E.V. Lucas (not to be confused with E.V. Knox who was known as 'Evoe.')

Portrait of E.V. Lucas by the
Canadian artist J. Kerr-Lawson
R .G .G. Price revealed some jaw dropping facts about E. V. Lucas (1868-1838) light essayist, biographer of Charles Lamb and lover of dogs, cricket and long country walks, in his excellent History of Punch (1957). On page 194 we find the following remarks on his fellow Punch stalwart:

'More than any other Punch man, he adopted a mask for his work…His literary personality was light, charming and kindly. He appeared as a lover of Georgian week-end cottage life, a bit of a scholar, a bit of a dog lover and a stalwart defender of what he considered the better human impulses. In private he was a cynical clubman, liking to entertain peers to sumptuous meals with champagne and brandy, very bitter about men and politics and the decadence of modern art. He was a great ‘trouncer ‘ of outspoken books  and was rumoured to have the finest pornographic library in London….’ 

Eh ? Anodyne E.V., author of At the Shrine of St Charles and of Quaker stock, is ‘rumoured to have the finest pornographic library in London.’ Well, in 1957 Lucas had been dead for 19 years , which meant Price was safe from litigation,  but some of his friends and fellow Punch men, might have objected. But they didn’t, as far as I know, and this rather astonishing slur (if you wish to call it that) remains unchallenged to this day.

Incidentally, what happened to Lucas’s curiosa ? 

Thanks H. This library never surfaced to my knowledge and its existence may be apocryphal. On the other hand it could be gathering dust in an attic or warehouse somewhere. The claim of 'having the finest collection of erotica in London' has been made of others - I have heard it made of a fringe member of the Bloomsbury Group.

Among his many works probably the most interesting and valuable is the fantasy The War of the Wenuses. Translated from the Artesian of H. G. Pozzuoli a book he wrote with Charles L. Graves (Arrowsmith, Bristol, 1898.)

 Noted by Locke and by Currey, who writes: 'A fine parody of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. Earth is invaded by beautiful Venusian women. "A 'Punch-style' parody in which the natives of Venus, young ladies, invade earth (in giant crinolines) in a quest for sartorial improvements, devastating all males with the dreaded 'mash' glance.'

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hope Mirrlees The Counterplot (1925)

Found in the Donald Rudd collection of detective fiction at the back of Death of a Millionaire (Collins 1925) amongst the publishers announcements of forthcoming books this summary of the plot of the very rare Hope Mirrlees novel The Counterplot. These publishers advertisements  are useful to dealers, scholars, collectors etc., as they are able to ascertain what a book is about without the tedium of reading it. Also they are particularly useful for collectors of fantasy to see whether there is any supernatural content. Hope Mirrlees did write one fantasy Lud-in-the Mist published by Collins in 1926. This novel was described by Neil Gaiman as 'one of the greatest fantasy novels ever written.' Her novel The Counterplot contains within it a 100 page play. Hope is also celebrated for her ultra modernist long poem Paris (Hogarth Press 1919).

The Counterplot

The Counterplot is  a study of the literary temperament. Teresa Lane, watching the slow movement of life manifesting itself in the changing interrelations of the family, is teased by the complexity of the spectacle, and comes to realise that her mind will never know peace till, by transposing the problem into art, she has reduced it to its permanent essential factors. So, from the texture of the words, the emotions, the interactions of the life going on around her, she weaves a play , the setting of which is a Spanish convent in the 14th century, and this play performs for her the function that Freud ascribes to dreams, for by it she is enabled to express subconscious desires, to vent repressed irritation, to say things that she is too proud and civilised ever to have said in any other way.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Perils of Irony

From a Bookman's Budget by the estimable Austion Dobson (OUP 1917). The case was reported in the Westminster Gazette of 1916 but has a slightly  Dickensian ring.


Irony, which Byron described as a ' master-spell ', 
and Mrs. Slipslop called 'ironing'* is at times an 
awkward edged-tool.There is no better illustration 
of this than an anecdote of the late Lord Justice
Bowen. Once, when acting as a Puisne Judge, there 
came before him the case of a burglar who, having
entered a house by the top-story, was afterwards 
captured below stairs in the act of sampling the silver.
The defence was more ingenuous than ingenious. The 
accused was alleged to be a person of eccentric habits,
much addicted to perambulating the roofs of adjacent 
houses, and occasionally dropping in 'permiscuous' 
through an open skylight. This naturally stirred the
judge to caustic comment. Summing up, he is reported 
to have said : "If, gentlemen, you think it likely that
the prisoner was merely indulging an amiable fancy for
midnight exercise on his neighbour's roof; if you think
it was kindly consideration for that neighbour which led
him to take off his boots and leave them behind him before
descending into the house ; and if you believe that it was
the innocent curiosity of the connoisseur which brought him
to the silver pantry and caused him to borrow the teapot,
then, gentlemen, you will acquit the prisoner!" To Lord 
Bowen's dismay, the jury did instantly acquit the prisoner. 

*Byron must have remembered this when he said that the 
irrepressible Mme de Stael was ' well ironed ' by Sheridan at 
one of Rogers's breakfasts. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Iced Soda Water Soup

From the fearless British reporter Noel Barber the first Briton to reach the South Pole since Scott. Found in The Artists and Writers Cookbook (Contact Editions, Sausalito 1961.) His other recipe is not for the fainthearted - a meal in Malaya with Dyak head-hunters.

Contributors to this uncommon (but not valuable) anthology includes: Man Ray, Pearl Buck, Marcel Duchamp, Burl Ives, Marianne Moore, James Michener, Paul Bowles, Harper Lee, Kay Boyle, Upton Sinclair, Richard Wilbur, Lawrence Durrell, Robert Graves, Malcolm Bradbury (from whom this book came-- he gives a recipe for Yorkshire Pudding) William Allen White, Max Eastman, Katherine Anne Porter, Simenon, Lin Yutang, Sir Shane Leslie, S.I. Hayakawa, Sam Francis and many more. The recipe sounds abit bit like a very savoury Lassi. Barber's advice to use as much soda water as you like could be the making or breaking of this hearty soup. The tone of this Daily Mail reporter is very much of his time..

Iced Soda Water Soup 
I tasted this first in a village in Persia, the morning after an earthquake in which several thousand people were killed in a vast area between Teheran and the Caspian Sea. Since my knowledge of Persian is considerably less than my knowledge of arithmetic, the only thing I could do (after tasting the soup and finding it delightful) was to watch the villagers make it for me all over again and write down just what I saw.

I had raced there to beat my competitors. I flew from London to Teheran, drove 11 hours and as I could get no further because of landslides, slept in the car, then did another 5 hours on horseback.

It was hot, dusty and terrible. I breakfasted off some chocolate and processed cheese and reached the village - which was in the centre, the heart of the devastated area - at noon. Hardly a house was left undamaged, and in one of the few skeletons that stood, pointing up like a rotten old tooth, friendly peasants made me lunch – starting with this soup. It is an ideal super hot day – it should be eaten cold, because it is a peasant dish, you may vary the ingredients to suit yourself.

Three jars or 1 1/4 pints of yoghurt
Quarter pint of cream
One heaping tablespoon full of raisins
One heaping tablespoon full of dill or if unobtainable parsley
One heaping tablespoon of chopped onion
1 1/2 medium cucumbers
Three hard-boiled eggs
Soda water as desired.

Chop all the ingredients very fine and place in a bowl. Mix with the yoghurt and the cream and  add as much soda water as you like just before serving. For six.

Buying a pair of jeans in 1829

Cotton cords, Drills, Fustians, Jeans etc.,

This classified ad from the Chelmsford Chronicle of 17 April 1829 shows that you could buy a pair of jeans from the Regency equivalent of Primark at 88, Whitechapel High Street, just 'thirteen doors down from Brick Lane'.

Chances are, your new jeans wouldn’t have been made in a sweat shop in the far east, but would have arrived at the London Docks ( just down the road from Whitechapel) on a boat from Genoa, the word jeans being derived from ‘Genes’,  the French word for the Italian seaport.*

Nor would your 1829 strides have been made of denim, which was made into pants (trousers) for Californian gold miners by Levi Strauss around 1854--ironically, Strauss was born on 26 February 1829, a couple of months before this ad appeared. The OED maintains that the 1829 cloth was originally known as 'jean fustian', which was abbreviated to jeans. It’s likely that back then your average Regency buck-- Corinthian Bob or whoever-- wouldn’t have been seen dead in a pair of jeans (or in Whitechapel High Street, for that matter) and would have associated them more with sailors from Wapping or Shadwell dock workers.

*The word 'denim' is also of French origin. It comes from the name of the sturdy fabric called serge, made in Nîmes, France, by the André family. Originally called Serge de Nîmes, the name was soon shortened to denim...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I once met Jane Grigson

Sent in by faithful jotter R.M.Healey. My nearest thing to this was walking through Elizabeth David's hall past some serious antiquarian cookery  to get to the garret of her sister to buy some books. Belgravia?

I met the woman who has been called one of the greatest writers on food in the twentieth century in the early autumn of 1985. But I wasn’t so much interested in her own writings, but in her husband, the poet and critic Geoffrey Grigson, twenty three years her senior, who was slowly dying.

Earlier that year I had compiled a festschrift for Grigson’s 80th birthday and he had sent me a letter of thanks dictated by his daughter Sophie, who had not yet embarked on her own career as a TV chef and food journalist. At that time I hadn’t fully realised how ill he was (I think it was prostate cancer) because I plagued Jane with letters and phone calls begging to visit them both. Eventually, she relented and one weekday in October my girlfriend and I caught the coach from Victoria to Swindon. 

Jane met us and we all drove back to that legendary farm house in Broad Town, whose name on the letterhead was capable of striking dread into the hearts of literary editors and literary enemies alike. We were shown around the house and garden , beginning, I think with the garden, which Grigson had lovingly created almost from scratch, and which features most significantly in his wonderful series of essays, Gardenage (1952).

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Stars on Carnaby Street 1965

From Swinging London's Fabulous Magazine 23/10/1965 a piece by Sheena McKay on starspotting around Carnaby Street. The beginnings of a new celebrity culture. 30 years before this type of piece would be full of Lords and Countesses. Sheena Mckay may or may not be the Booker shortlisted novelist...

 If the stars don't come to you, the next best thing is to go to them. And the best place to find them is about 11 o'clock in the morning while they're doing their shopping in London's Carnaby Street, the centre of all clothes lines. 
OOOH, smashin' a whole morning out of the office wandering round Carnaby Street with Fab photographer Fiona looking for groups looking for gear! What cooud be lovelier, eh?
There is only one place for a man to get the right sort of clothes - from the many little boutiques scattered in and around the narrow little lane just behind Regent Street. 
Pete Townshend walked into Lord John's boutique drinking a pint of milk which he'd borrowed from his manager's doorstep. He'd had no breakfast. Half a dozen assistants scuttled around pulling out different jumpers, coats and trousers for The Who to try on. Their efforts were rewarded as Pete left with thee pairs of trousers and a shirt, John with two pairs of trousers and two shirts, and Roger a three-quarter chorduroy coat, a crew necked sweater, an order for a suit made to measure and six pairs of special trousers. Over £100 - just like that! Keith Moon was in Bournemouth but I'm sure he'll make up for his absence next time he's in town. 

 Ayshea was downstairs in Lord John's trying on loads of sweaters but couldn't find anything she liked so she trotted down to John Stephen's largest boutique at the other end of the street and tried on some hats instead. It just wasn't her day and she didn't find anything she particularly liked. 
Outside John Stephen's store we ran into Graham Nash

Friday, October 4, 2013

Barbarossa's Pike

On this day 5th of October 1162 the Emperor Barbarossa threw a tagged baby pike into a pond. Weighing 350 pounds, the same pike was caught and eaten in 1397, having lived for 235 years.

Source: The Gourmet's Companion by Ross Leckie (Edinburgh 1993) Actually Leckie gives the dates decades after Barbarossa's death so have adjusted the dates (from 1262 to 1162). Possibly file under myths and legends -
or fisherman's tales...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

London's first boutique

From Gear Guide (Hip Pocket Guide to London's Swinging Fashion Scene) published in London in May 1967.

Bill 'Vince' Green was a stage portrait photographer who specialised in taking shots of body-builders. One of  his problems  was finding briefs that were brief enough and close fitting to show off the body beautiful to the best effect. There seemed to be no solution to his problem until Vince started making the briefs himself. He tried using stretch material intended for women's roll -ons and other unlikely cloths.  it was really only a part time activity for Vince, but his name spread -  people started turning up and asking for briefs to order in unusual materials. Even visiting royalty  sought him out and were fitted with swimwear.  In 1954 he visited Paris  and was struck by the clothes of the beat Left Bank student fraternity  and cafe society - young people who lived it up through the night in the cafes wearing dark glasses and a lot of denim.  

Denim took Vince Green's fancy. He discovered that  people  were actually bleaching their denims and sitting in baths to shrink them to body-hugging shapes. It seemed a great idea and Vince  decided to sell denim made like this. In October 1954 he opened up a boutique selling pre-shrunk pre-bleached clothes. At the beginning the trade was highly amused and though it a quickly passing gimmick. But soon he was supplying his denim wholesale to big stores like Harrods. Today over a decade later, this particular gear style is still very popular in many different forms. Is not surprising  and new as Vince probably thought. In the days of the great army of the Russian Czar's the officers were known to sit in  the hot baths to soak their sealskin trousers before a big parade or ball.

Bouncing boutiques.

Vince's  was probably the first boutique. It was quickly known to the new money earning young who where prepared to spend plenty of their earnings on looking good. Enough of them went to his place to ensure the success of his new venture.

But it was the next move the probably had the greatest effect on really getting the gear seen moving. An assistant to Vince – John Stephen – moved away and worked in a number of other small clothes shops specialising in new clothes in the Notting Hill and Baker Street district of London. These new little shops, bright, gay and intimate (unlike the traditional big clothes store or specialised shirt or men's shop) proved to be very successful. Stephen decided to set up on his own. He came back to Soho, the area where Vince had started, and opened a one room boutique on a second floor in Beak Street [after a disastrous fire at this shop his sympathetic landlord offered him a store round the corner in Carnaby Street, until then a row of dowdy shops,-- the rest is history…]

More info at A Dandy in Aspic (thanks for pic)