Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Queen Mum, Gawd Bless ‘Er!

Ann’s on the loose once more with another Foodie London Walk

“Shock, horror. The Queen Mother didn’t like smoked salmon. This, and other titbits about the royal diet, are gleaned from the new official biography by William Shawcross. 1000 pages, and disappointingly little devoted to food. Many guests have paid tribute to the hospitality at Clarence House, but sadly there are no menus here.

The Queen Mother had apparently had a surfeit of smoked salmon over the years, as doubtless all her hosts thought it was a nice safe dish to offer her. Or maybe she had gone off salmon after a fishbone stuck in her throat. Perhaps that fish was wreaking its revenge for the many salmon she had caught in Scottish rivers.

The Queen Mother did like goujons of sole, which she had been served on the State Visit to Paris in 1938, haddock – but not monkfish. It was apparently served once at Clarence House, and a message was sent to the chef – I don’t think we’ll have that again.

She didn’t like coconut, capers and Spanish strawberries (‘taste like turnips’). But one of her favourite dishes was Eggs Drumkilbo. In case you want to run this up at home, it is diced hard boiled eggs, lobster, shrimps, tomato, cream and mayonnaise, served in aspic. I expect it goes well with a glass of gin and Dubonnet.

For more foodie titbits, join my West End Foodies’ walk on Saturday October 3, 10.45 am, Green Park tube, Ritz exit."

(For a sneak peak at Ann in full spate, click our YouTube icon below.)


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Monsters (Part Two)

On this the 121st anniversary of the “Double Event” Richard Walker’s insightful look at the Jack the Ripper Case continues…

“Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde were such a successful double act on both sides of the Atlantic that within just one year Robert Louis Stevenson’s story had been adapted for the stage. The first production was in Boston where the actor, Richard Mansfield triumphed in the creation of Jekyll and his monster Hyde (pictured).

The play was such a huge success that it crossed the Atlantic in 1888 and opened on the Strand at the Lyceum Theatre where Richard Mansfield continued to thrill his audiences.

Mansfield’s transformation from Jekyll into the shrunken, twisted, evil figure that was Edward Hyde with his ‘displeasing smile’ and ‘murderous mixture of timidity and boldness’ was completely terrifying.

However Mansfield's engagement at the Lyceum was forced to close when real life horrors began a mile or so down the road. As far as the newspapers were concerned: ‘There is quite sufficient to make us shudder out of doors.’

A bitter disappointment no doubt for Richard Mansfield. He would have been quite right to take it as an unequivocal testimony to his powers as an actor. Especially when he heard from the police that he had been accused of being the Whitechapel Murderer. One terrified theatre-goer claimed that it was not possible for any actor to make so convincing a stage transformation from a gentleman into a mad killer without truly being homicidal.

There is little doubt that Richard Mansfield was an outstanding actor in everything from Gilbert and Sullivan to the great and testing roles of Shakespeare. The New York Times claimed, 'He was the greatest actor of his hour, and one of the greatest of all times'.

He was not, however, without a modicum of technical help. Mansfield played the first scene as Dr Jekyll while wearing the complete Edward Hyde make-up. The make-up however did not show up in the normal stage lighting. As Mansfield’s transformation started technicians began adding filters to the lighting and slowly the monster was revealed.

Despite this little helping hand, we can’t fail to be impressed that his onstage transformation was so powerful that complaints were made to newspapers. His performance, many believed, was irresponsible and likely to incite some to emulate this theatrical monster in the real world.

Remember that this was not a trick of clever film editing. This actor stood alone on a Victorian stage. Much as the guides of London Walks in the East End every night, conjuring up a vivid picture of the hell on earth that was 19th Century Whitechapel. No costumes, no special effects, without the aid of grubby laminated photographs: just impeccable research and great storytelling powers.”

The London Walks Jack the Ripper Walk meets tonight – and EVERY night – at Tower Hill Tube Station 7.30p.m. (N.B. The REAL Jack the Ripper Walk NEVER leaves before 7.30p.m.)


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Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Monsters (Part One)

Richard Walker patrols the Jack the Ripper case and examines it from the four angles of his main passions: as an actor, a writer, an historian and a London Walks Guide…

Jack the Ripper grips us now just as he did 121 years ago. A strange case. We should be repulsed and yet it is almost as if our repulsion just increases our fascination.

But it is not just the blood and macabre anatomical details that draw us in. The story has two powerful ingredients to hook us.

First, The Monster; the very embodiment of total and remorseless evil. Second, The Detective Story. Count the number of sleuths who have been drawn to solve this crime of crimes. Or perhaps don’t. Even our own London Walks Ripper expert, ex-City of London policeman Donald Rumbelow, would probably hesitate at guessing just how many have pit their wits against Jack.

The Monster and The Detective Story come neatly packaged in this case. It’s a fascinating coincidence, therefore, that contemporary fiction neatly set the stage for Jack’s arrival in the foggy, gas lit London of 1888.

Just one year earlier in 1887 the world’s greatest detective stepped out of the pages of A Study in Scarlet to find a place in our imaginations that was to be as powerful and permanent as that of The Ripper. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes were already weaving the definitive detective stories when Jack was still planning his opening night.

But there was a monster stalking those London streets before either Sherlock Holmes or Jack the Ripper. Mr Hyde was already on his nocturnal prowl. In 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson shocked genteel society with his Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In his slim novella he created fiction’s perfect monster who was, like Jack, the very embodiment of evil…”

Come back for the second gripping instalment tomorrow, the 121st anniversary of the "Double Event"…


(Pictured above: Christ Church, Spittalfields circa 1909. See it on the Jack the Ripper Walk which meets at Tower Hill Tube tonight – and every night – at 7.30p.m. N.B. The REAL Jack the Ripper Walk NEVER leaves before 7.30p.m.)

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Blog Extra (or… London’s Finest)

A Blog Extra on an exceptionally busy London Walks Blog day… week… and month! And a timely Extra, too. David weighs in with this post from out "in the field" via SMS message on his cell phone…

“On this day in London history – 29th September 1829 – the Metropolitan Police Bill became law. With their HQ to be at 4 Whitehall Place, entered from Scotland Yard, the initial force of 3000 men were dressed in dark blue, to give them an image more acceptable to the citizenry than that of the often resented redcoats. Constables were to carry truncheons rather than swords or firearms and were enjoined to be ‘civil and attentive to all persons, of every rank and class’.”

David’s Extra is timely indeed, sandwiched as it is between two posts on the case that gave The Met (as they came to be known) the stiffest test of their first 60 years: The Jack the Ripper case. Scroll down for our Jack-related Plaque of the Week… and come back a little later for the first of an excellent two-parter on the notorious Double Event of the night of the 30th September 1888.

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Plaque of the Week No.6

The Double Event



Commemorating: Catherine Eddowes, victim of Jack the Ripper
Issued by: Unknown
Street: St James’s Passage (formerly Church Passage)
Postcode: EC3
Borough: The City of London

This is no ordinary plaque. But then Jack the Ripper is no ordinary murder case.

A tag? Social commentary or a work of art? A guerrilla plaque challenging the old order of The Establishment so often commemorated on the buildings of London? Call it what you will. Its creator seems to be calling for the renaming of Mitre Square to commemorate one of the two Ripper victims killed on the night of the 30th September 1888 – the night dubbed the “Double Event”. The body of Catherine Eddowes was found near where this “message” is sprayed on the wall. A statement, then? We can follow, it seems to say, in the footsteps of Jack the Ripper all we want: what we will find is not some “gentleman killer”, a butcher, a slayer, a corpsemaker… what we will find are the five women he killed, five women whom Victorian society had first left for dead, before wringing genteel hands in some mawkish operetta of shock at their all-too predictable fate. Reclaiming the streets for the victims? Make up your own mind on the Jack the Ripper Walk nightly at 7.30p.m from Tower Hill station. (N.B The REAL Jack the Ripper Walk never, EVER leaves before 7.30p.m.)

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Monday, 28 September 2009

They Shall Not Pass

Ed Glinert’s on the trail of the blackshirts this Sunday as he relives The Battle of Cable Street…

“This day, this date – Sunday October 4th – back in 1936 was when East London said: ‘No.’

The ‘No’ was to Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, who wanted to march his troops through the heart of the Jewish East End to frighten the residents. Mosley saw himself as a potential fascist dictator to rank alongside Mussolini and Franco, but he wasn’t manic enough to plan a coup. Instead he and his Blackshirts dealt in low-level violence and intimidation.

That summer of 1936 fascist supporters boarded buses in east London throwing off those they suspected of being Jewish. They sent letters to Jewish MPs and councillors explaining how ‘each of you has a lamppost ready and waiting’. BUF members would walk into Jewish-run shops and announce: ‘This won’t be your shop for long. It will soon be ours.’ They announced the march for October the 4th. It would stop at four designated points throughout the East End to rally support, the biggest show of strength the fascists could muster. The Jews were worried that the march would be followed by a pogrom. The communists, with one eye on the Spanish Civil War, which had recently begun, wanted to prevent the fascists organising to gain support. Labour Party leader Clement Atlee warned the authorities that the march would lead to much bloodshed, and urged a ban. The Met drafted 6,000 police officers into the area.

Mosley’s Bentley arrived at Tower Hill at lunchtime on the Sunday and set off for Cable Street. Violence followed, there were mass arrests, the fascists were humiliated. Find out how this Sunday, 4 October. We will be marching from Tower Hill tube at 12 noon.”

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