The Cockpit

Today’s small revelation comes courtesy of A.L.Rowse (pages 59-60). In the description of Whitehall, in the reign of Charles II, I find that:

… there were chapels and costs, the Queen’s apartments and the Duke of York’s and, no less important, Lady Castlemaine’s at the Cockpit — for that was her abode: on the site of the garden of 10 Downing Street.

For all sorts of innuendos and implications, that seems very appropriate.

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Filed under History, London, reading

Long-term economic … what?

Look, I don’t want to hammer at this. Too much.

What I’m getting at is a simple question: what is this magnificent Tory “Long-term economic plan”?

The Tory’s own attempt at a definition is on their own web-site:


That got them through the election campaign, and — as Larry Elliott succinctly derived it:

To amend Abraham Lincoln’s famous saying, in a UK general election you don’t need to fool all of the people all of the time, you just need to fool enough of the people for the duration of a six-week campaign.

Round about now the wheels start to fall off that abortion. Notice, for example, the conflation of “capping welfare” and “working to control immigration”. Not, note as well, the more pointed, direct and verbally-efficient “controlling immigration”  — this on the day we learn Margaret Thatcher’s government enters the surreal:

Britain’s National Archives on Friday released a 1983 government file called “Replantation of Northern Ireland from Hong Kong,” which showed British officials discussing a far-fetched proposal to settle 5.5 million Hong Kong people in a newly built “city state” between Coleraine and Londonderry in the uncertain years before Britain handed back the former British colony to Chinese rule.

This, we are assured was a Civil Service “joke”. That’s ignoring the parallel fact that the great Edward Pearce (who lives just down the road from Redfellow Cott), about the same time, was suggesting the solution for Hull was to hand it over to the Hong Kong Chinese.

So I, for one, am not convinced that this “Long-term economic plan” is worth the paper it hasn’t been printed on. Even Stalin and the East Germans put their Five Year Plans into written form.

Except …

… and I do so hope someone points this pout to Gids Osborne.

This “Long-term economic plan” had a prior existence, out of the same putative 18th-baronet’s mouth:

A generation ago, the very idea that a British politician would go to Ireland to see how to run an economy would have been laughable. The Irish Republic was seen as Britain’s poor and troubled country cousin, a rural backwater on the edge of Europe. Today things are different. Ireland stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking, and that is why I am in Dublin: to listen and to learn.

For good reasons Osborne’s speech of 23rd February 2006 has been purged from Tory records and Tory thinking.

Still, we know now what Osborne’s “Long-term economic plan”, Mark One, was about:

Some will quibble there: all capitalism involves cronies. Chomsky nailed that in one:

What’s capitalism supposed to be? Yeah, it’s crony capitalism. That’s capitalism, you do things for your friends, your associates, they do things for you, you try to influence the political system, obviously. You can read about this in Adam Smith. If people read Adam Smith instead of just worshipping him, they could learn a lot about how economies work. So, for example, he’s concerned mostly with England, and he pointed out that in England, and I’m virtually quoting, he said the merchants and manufacturers are the principal architects of government policy and they make sure their own interests are well cared for, however grievous the effects on others…

So, next week, when Osborne spouts his umpteenth “emergency budget’, there’s just one more question, at the heart of the “long-term economic plan”:

Cui bono?

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., George Osborne, Ireland, Tories.

Batting order

GregoryOne of the great miscues must be wikipedia’s entry (see right).

The whole entry is 275 words of text. More than an arithmetical half is about Gregory as a sportsman, and particularly as a cricketer.

2291Meanwhile, I picked up Colm Tóibín’s monograph,  Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush.

It’s not a treatise on dental care: the title is from a letter Lady Augusta Gregory wrote to W.B.Yeats, after the Abbey Theatre performed Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, which provoked riots:

“It is the old battle, between those who use a toothbrush and those who don’t.”

Being Tóibín, what we get is a beautifully-expressed and concise study of Lady Gregory and her background, of life at Coole Park, of the relationship with Yeats, and how the Robert Gregory poems were conceived.

Tóibín’s account of Robert Gregory differs considerably from the W.B.Yeats “authorised version”.

Yeats’s appreciation of Robert Gregory was not reciprocated (page 83):

Between her husband’s death in1892 and Robert’s coming of age ten years later, Lady Gregory worked to clear the debts on the estate. From 1902, Robert was the owner of the house and the estate, although she had a right, according to Sir William’s will, to live in the house for her lifetime. There was an intermittent conflict between Robert’s interest in being master in his own house, seated at the top of his own table, and his mother’s interest in having Yeats at the head of the table, offering him the master bedroom and devoting her household to the cause of the poet’s comfort.

Things got worse:

In her biography of Lady Gregory, Mary Lou Kohfeldt wrote that “Robert Gregory was startled one evening when he called for a bottle of an especially fine vintage Torquey laid down by his father to find it was all gone, served bottle by bottle by his mother to Willie over the years.” 

 Then there is the poem, Reprisals, written in November 1920, suppressed at Lady Gregory’s wish (if only on poetic merit, rightly so), and published only in 1994 — that itself a 1923 revision: read it here.

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Filed under Ireland, WB Yeats

“Of Alley”

Here’s an odd one.

The Villiers boys were great … err … mates of the Stuarts. Read into that as you will.

VilliersGeorge Villiers was such a handsome youth that James VI and I made him the royal cup-bearer. Gift followed gift. Honour followed honour:

  • 1615 Georgie was a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. Ahem! And knighted.
  • 1616 Sir George was Master of the King’s Horse. And Baron Whaddon. And, soon after, Viscount Villiers. And a Knight of the Garter.
  • 1617 Baron Villiers advanced to an Earldom, with the King’s personal accolade:

You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here assembled. I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had John, and I have George.

  • 1619 He was George, Marquess of Buckingham.
  • The Marquess of Buckingham was made Admiral of the Fleet.
  • 1623 The Dukedom of Buckingham was revived, and conferred on our lad.

Pretty (a good word in this connection) well every subsequent revelation has suggested the relationship between James and Villiers was warm, juicy, even sticky.

In 1622 James presented Villiers with York House, the former palace of the Archbishops of York, in the Strand. Buckingham intended to rebuild in a grandiose manner, but only the Watergate (look for Watergate Walk on the map below) had been completed before John Felton knifed Buckingham in the Greyhound boozer (but generally called “the Spotted Dog”, and now deceased — but look for the plaque on Buckingham House) in High Street, Old Portsmouth. Felton, a former army officer, had been wounded in one of Buckingham’s foreign excursions. Briefly, before he was hanged, Felton became something of a minor celeb.

Come the Restoration

2ndDukeOfBuckinghamWe have Charles II, who also has a Villiers acolyte — George’s son, and another George (that’s him, above). Just as Dad had accumulated, so the son dissipated.

John Dryden nailed him as “Zimri“:

Some of their chiefs were princes of the land:
In the first rank of these did Zimri stand,
A man so various, that he seemed to be
Not one, but all mankind’s epitome:
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts, and nothing long,
But, in the course of one revolving moon,
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon,
Then all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking,
Besides ten thousand freaks that died in thinking…
In squandering wealth was his peculiar art;
Nothing went unrewarded but desert.
Beggared by fools, whom still he found too late,
He had his jest and …

You are awaiting the rhymed punch-line there … they had his estate. Dryden’s chuckle that George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham, had to sell York House to pay his creditors.

In 1674 the site was laid out as streets. Some wiseacre had the new lay-out named after their former owner:

  • George Court;
  • Villiers Street;
  • Duke Street;
  • Of Alley;
  • Buckingham Street.


Sadly, a decent snurffle (and it has to be) has been spoiled by subsequent evolutions:

  • Duke Street is now part of John Adam Street; and
  • Of Alley is now renamed York Place.

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Filed under History, Literature, London

Attack on the guilt pile, and Execution Dock

Electioneering over, back to normal political abuse, what else to do?

It’s here between the desk and the settee, growing and threatening.

Time and leisure to set about the Great Unread.

Straight off the top comes the latest Christopher Fowler.

The Bryant and May series is not only a thrill, and a delight (Fowler is a stylist of distinction), but gloriously informative. Poked into the narrative are numerous anecdotes of old London.

Then there is the tub-thumper:

Fowler quote


London. The protracted summer lately over, and the bankers sitting in Threadneedle Street, returned from their villas in Provence and Tuscany. Relentless October weather. As much water in the streets as if the tide had newly swelled from the Thames, and it would not be wonderful to find a whale beached beneath Holborn Viaduct, the traffic parting around it like an ocean current. Umbrellas up in the soft grey drizzle, and insurrection in the air.

Riots everywhere. Riots outside the Bank of England and around St Paul’s Cathedral. Protestors swelling on Cheapside and Poultry and Lombard Street. Marchers roaring on Cornhill and Eastcheap and Fenchurch Street. Barricades on Cannon Street and across London Bridge. Police armoured and battened down in black and yellow like phalanxes of tensed wasps. Chants and megaphones and the drone of choppers overhead.

Hurled fire, catapulted bricks, shattering glass and the blast of water hoses. It was as if, after a drowsy, sluggish summer, the streets had undergone spontaneous combustion.

Recognise it? On his delicious blog page, Fowler takes his homage a stage further with the allusive metaphoric image borrowed from the Dickensian simile:



It’s Fowler’s persistent, even obsessive, knowledge of the city that gets me every time.

I’ve never quite forgiven him for rubbishing (yes, Noddy Boffin: you are part of the story) the myth about Boudica’s burial under the platforms (Platform 9¾?) of King’s Cross Station. That was a good tale to spin the daughters (despite their engrained cynicism, even then), and then the grandchildren (who currently remain a bit more susceptible, or politely so to one so aged as myself). Now the Young Idea is far more taken by the Harry Potter staircase in the Midland Grand St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

For Boudica alone, Fowler needs a pay-back. So here’s one:

I could have brought Augustine to Wapping, Bryant thought, at the drop of the Thames and just a spit from Tower Bridge, where Captain Kidd was hanged twice before being chained and left for three tides.

Nothing remained of this piratical past except an ancient set of oxidized green steps leading to the muddy foreshore. The flooded ginnels and mildewed alleyways of Bryant’s childhood, once so dauntingly forbidden and mysterious, had been paved over, filled in and floodlit as London homogenized its riverside in the rush to build bankers’ apartments.

The streets were unrecognizable now, colonnaded with blank suburban properties of orange brick. Between them stood a few emasculated warehouses for those seduced by the notion of a loft lifestyle. The wealthy were never there and the rest stayed in. The dead new streets of the Thames shoreline horrified Bryant.

Fowler is bang-to-rights about the soul-less bourgeoisified Wapping: another strike against David Owen, who began the process. I’m less convinced that he has properly identified Execution Dock.

execution-dockExecution Dock

Those same grandchildren, taken on the hydrofoil to Greenwich, needed explanations of what they were seeing. For convenience, I pointed to the E of Sun Wharf as a marker for Execution Dock.

That needed explanation. Piracy and mutiny were tried by the Admiralty Court. Those found guilty (which means virtually all) were consigned to the Marshalsea, before being carted across London Bridge to Wapping. There the offenders would be hanged from a short rope (which meant slow strangulation), and the bodies left until three tides had washed over them. For extra effect, in cases which had attracted particular media attention, the corpse would be tarred and hung in irons at the entry to the Port of London.

Go to the Prospect of Whitby pub (if you must: it’s largely tourists, and there are better joints locally), and you will be assured that the replica gallows and noose is the site:


That’s not my Dear Old Dad’s version.

He was a Thames Division copper only a year or two before the picture below. The River Thames police is (it claims) the oldest official police force in the world. Therefore Wapping Police Station is also the oldest in the world. It’s also another possible site for Execution Dock.


A third site is under the Wapping Overground Station.

Great minds meet alike

There is a confluence of Dr Samuel Johnson, James Boswell and Christopher Fowler about Wapping.

On Saturday, April 12 [1783], I visited him, in company with Mr. Windham, of Norfolk, whom, though a Whig, he highly valued. One of the best things he ever said was to this gentleman; who, before he set out for Ireland as Secretary to Lord Northington, when Lord Lieutenant, expressed to the Sage some modest and virtuous doubts, whether he could bring himself to practise those arts which it is supposed a person in that situation has occasion to employ. ‘Don’t be afraid, Sir, (said Johnson, with a pleasant smile,) you will soon make a very pretty rascal.

He talked to-day a good deal of the wonderful extent and variety of London, and observed, that men of curious enquiry might see in it such modes of life as very few could even imagine. He in particular recommended to us to explore Wapping, which we resolved to do.

It took nine years before Boswell and William Windham fulfilled Johnson’s recommendation; and both were disappointed. Wyndham lamented he had missed a prize fight for the trip:

I let myself foolishly be drawn by Boswell to explore, as he called it, Wapping, instead of going when everything was prepared, to see the battle between Ward and Stanyard, which turned out to be a good one.

Boswell seems to have the same impression as Fowler (and even myself):

Whether from the uniformity which has in a great degree spread through every part of the metropolis, or our want of sufficient exertion, we were disappointed.

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Filed under Charles Dickens, Christopher Fowler, fiction, London, Metropolitan Police, pubs, reading

The cess-pit bubbles over

Yesterday Murdoch’s überTory scandal sheet, The Sun, was offering inducements: Sun190 That should be considered in parallel with Electoral law: Electoral Commission Doubtless a well-paid corporate lawyer will have established why a “case study” doesn’t soon became a barrister’s brief.

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Filed under Murdoch, politics, sleaze., smut peddlers, Tories.

Great misunderstandings of our time

Courtesy of The New Yorker, I find myself asked:

Is this the dirtiest song of the Sixties?

The legend of the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” has been told almost as many times as the song itself has been covered. (There’s no accurate count for either, but both must number in the thousands.) First released in May of 1963, and then re-released that October, the Kingsmen’s version climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart. The song’s popularity among a new generation of rock-and-roll teen-agers brought it to the attention of some concerned citizens. One of them, the father of a teen-age girl, wrote to Robert Kennedy, who was then the Attorney General, to complain about the song’s possible obscenity, prompting an F.B.I. investigation. “This land of ours is headed for an extreme state of moral degradation,” the incensed parent wrote to Kennedy. (Remember this the next time someone tries reminiscing to you about the good old days before pop music was full of sex and vulgarities.)

Allow me to disgust you:

It must be a contender: The Stone’s C*cksucker Blues is 1970, and so can’t qualify.

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Filed under History, Music, New Yorker