Archive

19th century

 
Ticino, the southernmost canton of Italian-speaking Switzerland, is known for its chestnuts. Traditionally, unemployment was high there. For centuries locals gained an additional income from selling roast chestnuts on the streets of cities such as Milan, Genoa or Lyons. The men would return home in spring with the money earned in the previous winter and then, in late summer, work on the next yield of chestnuts. During a succession of poor harvests between 1847 and 1854, large numbers of young men reluctantly left their homes in Valle Leventina or Val di Blenio for other European countries. The 1851 London census shows that a number of Ticinese workers were employed as artisans or waiters. Others continued selling chestnuts, large amounts of which were imported to the West End. Many of these immigrants had travelled by foot over the St Gottard Pass (only open from June to September) and then moved onto Calais via Geneva, Lyons or Paris. The prospect of finding paid work in London’s Swiss-Italian catering industry encouraged a further exodus of emigrants in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Many of them brought political convictions and home hostilities with them.

 

Hungerford Market, created in 1680, was located between the Strand and the Thames on a site formerly occupied by an estate belonging to the Hungerford family of Fairleigh in Wiltshire. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the old market had become dilapidated and was rebuilt in 1831. It was here that Carlo Gatti, a member of an impoverished patrician family from Marogno in Ticino, opened a French-style café after his arrival in London in July 1847. He was the first in a dynasty of restaurateurs and theatre owners. He began his career selling ‘goffres’ (a kind of waffle sprinkled with sugar) in Battersea Fields and from a stall at Hatton Wall in the Italian immigrant quarter of London. 


From there he went on to open a number of cafés in the area which created a stir for their elegant marble tables, plate-glass mirrors, red velvet seating, small string orchestras, and high quality fare at moderate prices. He recruited relatives and locals from Ticino to work as waiters, chefs and managers in his establishments. In the course of the 1850s Carlo became the first mass manufacturer of ice cream, which had previously been an expensive delicacy. By 1858 he claimed to have sold up to ten thousand penny ices a day. Chocolatier Battista Bolla was born in 1819 in Ticino. He established his premises at no. 129 Holborn Hill. In 1849 he joined forces with Gatti. They exhibited their chocolate making machine at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Although imported from France, is was a ‘must see’ novelty in London at the time. Under pressure from his clientele and always willing to expand, by the end of the decade some of Gatti’s outlets began to provide ‘chops and chips’, thereby becoming London’s very first ‘Swiss café-restaurant’. Energetic and garrulous, and in spite of enormous commercial success, ‘Il Gatton’ (The Big Cat) never lost the demeanour and mannerisms of a mountain peasant.

The leading members of the next generation were Agostino and Stefano, the sons of Carlo’s brother Giovanni Gatti. In 1862, when Hungerford Market was demolished to make way for Charing Cross Station, the family was amply compensated, allowing to plan new ventures. The brothers opened a music-hall named Gatti’s Palace of Varieties at Westminster Bridge Road. After 1882 they redeveloped the interior of the Royal Adelaide Gallery to create a café-restaurant with entrances onto the Strand, William IV Street, and Adelaide Street. They installed an electricity sub-station in the cellars. The bar was much frequented by actors and gained a reputation as the Marble Halls because of its rich decoration which gave rise to the line ‘O God bless Gatti and the Marble Halls’. By the 1890s the Gallery was employing between 180 and 200 predominantly Italian-speaking waiters and forty chefs in enormous subterranean kitchens. Of the sons of Ticino who made the long trek to London, the Gatti’s were by far the most successful immigrants – but there were others figures too with an intriguing tale to tell. 


Pietro Pazzi travelled from Ticino to Paris after the floods that devastated his valley in the winter of 1868/9. In 1870, most likely in connection with the upheavals of the Franco-Prussian War, he moved to London. Having worked as a waiter first, he opened Pazzi’s Restaurant at no. 271 Seven Sisters Road. The spot was well chosen. Finsbury Park station had been opened in 1869, marking the north-eastern limit of the suburban railway of what was to become the London underground system. Driven by nostalgia and radical political views, Pazzi founded the Unione Semionese in 1875. The union held its meetings and celebrations at his restaurant. The political divisions within his canton of origin were reflected in the London exile community and tore its unity apart. The split became public. Some, like the Gatti family, were hard-line conservatives. Stefano and his older brother Agostino acted as political recruiting agents and regularly shipped their waiters to Switzerland to vote for their conservative allies. Others, like Pazzi, resentful of the poverty that had forced their migration, became radicalised by the anarchist and socialist ideas circulating in the capital at the time. 


Ticino did not just produce restaurateurs. Historically, the Ticinese were professional masons, stonecutters, stucco workers and sculptors. One of them, Raffaele Monti had joined the insurgents in the 1848 Italian rebellion. After defeat by the Austrian army, Monti fled to London where he was to remain for the rest of his life. He allied himself with manufacturers of ornamental sculpture and became involved with the Crystal Palace Company, which transferred Joseph Paxton’s exhibition building to Sydenham, Kent, in 1853. Monti provided allegorical statuary for the palace and its grounds. More intriguing is the figure of Angelo Castioni. Born in 1834 in Stabio, Ticino, he had settled in Paris. He took an active part in the 1871 Commune. As a member of the central committee and the commander of a battalion of the National Guard, he was held responsible for the executions of several conservatives. He took refuge in London in 1872. A sculptor who specialised in finishing the work of other artists, he established himself at no. 3 Upper Cheyne Row (his nephew Rudolph Pelli, also a sculptor, lived at the same address). By the 1880s he was assistant to the most eminent sculptor of the age, Viennese-born Edgar Boehm, a close and loving friend of Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s rebellious daughter. 


Politically, Castioni remained a radical. In August 1890 he travelled to Tuscany at the request of Boehm to select and order marble blocks directly from the quarry in Carrara. He made a detour to Bellinzona, the cantonal capital of Ticino, where on the evening of 10 September a popular uprising broke out. During the troubles Luigi Rossi, a conservative politician and member of the State Council of Ticino, was shot dead with a revolver by a flamboyantly dressed figure with an enormous red beard. The assassin was Angelo Castioni. With the support of fellow revolutionaries he was smuggled out of the country. Pietro Pazzi actively backed the September revolution and it was rumoured that he had organised the murderer’s quick and safe return to London.

The Swiss government formally requested Castioni’s extradition from Britain. He was arrested and brought before the magistrate at the police court at Bow Street. The extradition treaty with Switzerland, dated 26 November 1880, stated that a ‘fugitive criminal shall not be surrendered if the offence in respect of which his surrender is demanded is one of a political character, or if he prove that the requisition for his surrender has in fact been made with a view to try and punish him for an offence of a political character’. Since the murder had been politically motivated, the request for handover was rejected thus setting a precedent that established the principle of immunity for such crimes in English law.
Following the failure of the September 1891 uprising in Ticino, Pazzi turned his back on his radical past and became an upright British citizen. He died in August 1914, a wealthy man, and was buried as Peter Pazzi in the prestigious Circle of Lebanon vaults at Highgate Cemetery, surrounded by the great and the good of England. In 2015 an unsigned portrait bust of Pazzi was discovered in the family vault, most likely the work of Angelo Castioni and made in gratitude for the help he had received from his benefactor. Having renounced his radical past, Pazzi kept the bust away from curious eyes which may have led to embarrassing questions. He took it to his grave instead.

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In the London geography of migration Soho played a central part. Its population has always been heterogeneous. Originally an undisturbed area of rural grassland and fields, once urbanised Soho attracted waves of immigrants who tended to congregate together with their compatriots in close-knit ethnic enclaves. Greek Street is just one reminder of the many people (escaping Ottoman persecution) who were forced to make London their new home. Soho’s Frenchness since the arrival of large numbers of Huguenot refugees has been well documented. Until the 1950s, the area took its character mainly from French immigrants. They had their own school in Lisle Street, a hospital and dispensary on Shaftesbury Avenue, a number of churches, and an abundance of restaurants, cafés, boucheries, boulangeries, patisseries, chocolateries, and fromageries. The signs were in French and so was the language between staff and customers.

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Daniel Nicholas Thévenon was born in 1833 in Burgundy where he started his career as a coach-builder. In 1854 he married Célestine Lacoste and in the mid-1850s they bought a wine shop from a relative.  The business did not succeed. Facing bankruptcy, the couple fled France for London in October 1863.  He assumed the name of Daniel Nicols. Lodging in Soho, he took on odd jobs while his wife worked as a seamstress. By 1865 they took over an oilcloth shop at no. 19 Glasshouse Street, turning it into Café Restaurant Nicols.  Having enlarged the premises in 1867, they renamed it the Café Royal. After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/1, many French political refugees settled in or near Soho, and congregated at the Café Royal. Nicols invited his nephew Eugène Lacoste to stock the wine cellar. He laid down London’s finest collection of vintage wines and brandy. The decoration of the café with mirrors, crimson velvet and gilt, evoked the atmosphere of the Paris of the Second Empire. Georges Pigache, a lace maker and political Bonapartist living in London, designed the iconic emblem for the Café Royal with the French imperial crown and the letter N (for Nicols, but also for Napoleon). The sign was displayed on all the glass, china, napkins, and menus. Increasingly, the café attracted a bohemian clientele. Calling themselves the Café-Royalistes, artists such as James McNeill Whistler, Augustus John, and Auguste Rodin met here. During the early 1890s the café was frequented by Oscar Wilde and his circle of friends. By 1892 it was advertising itself as ‘the largest, most brilliant, and best known Anglo-French café in the world’.

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Victor Aimé Berlemont ran the Restaurant Européen in Dean Street, Soho. At the outbreak of World War I he bought the pub next door from a German owner who feared internment. By then he was the only foreign landlord left in London. The Berlemont family was in fact Belgian, though it suited them to allow people to think that they were French. The pub, renamed Victor Berlemont until Watneys acquired the freehold after the war and, typically, came up with the boring name York Minster, was universally known as the French pub, or simply ‘The French’. In the 1920s its clientele included singer Edith Piaf, boxer Georges Carpentier, and many ladies of the night (known as Fifis). During World War II the pub a gathering place for the Free French forces and proved to be a valuable centre for communication, as Berlemont kept an unofficial register of the French who passed through London. Whisky could be obtained only under the counter, with a request for vin blanc écossais’. The story that Charles de Gaulle wrote his appeal to resist the Nazis after a good lunch in the upstairs dining-room is a myth, but the General certainly visited the pub at least once. The visit was not a success. The English clients in the pub kept quiet and the Free French stood to attention, while De Gaulle drank a glass of wine.

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Victor Berlemont died in 1951. His son Gaston continued the business. He had luxuriant handlebar moustaches and was extremely gallant to women. Beer was dispensed only in half-pint glasses, to discourage its consumption in favour of the more profitable wine that Gaston imported and bottled himself. Those who drank in the house included Dylan Thomas, who unconcernedly left behind the manuscript of Under Milk Wood one night, knowing it would still be there in the morning; Brendan Behan, who was said to have disgusted Gaston by eating his ‘boeuf bourguignon’ with both hands; Augustus John, Max Beerbohm, Nina Hamnet, and Stephen Spender. Later customers were a roll-call of bohemian Soho: Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Caroline Blackwood, the Bernard brothers, and many others. On 14 July 1989 Soho gathered on the pavement outside ‘The French’, not to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, but to mark Gaston’s retirement, aged seventy-five.

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The bar in ‘The French’ boasted a superb water urn with twin taps that emitted a trickle of water for pastis or for the absinthe that Gaston was said to keep for his regular Soho Francophiles. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards absinthe had become associated with bohemian Paris. It featured frequently in paintings by such artists as Manet, Van Gogh and Picasso. They drank it in large quantities, joined by such poets as Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine. Spurred on by an odd but vocal alliance of social conservatives, prohibitionists, and winemakers’ associations, the consumption of absinthe became associated with social disorder and degeneration. In 1905, Swiss farmer Jean Lanfray murdered his wife in a drunken rage. His trial became known as the ‘Absinthe Murder’. After a referendum in July 1908, the drink was banned from Switzerland. Belgium (1906), The Netherlands (1909) and the United States (1912) followed the Swiss example. France held out until 1914 (the same year that Pablo Picasso created his cubist sculpture Le verre d’absinthe). Britain never banned absinthe. The reason is clear. The drink was only enjoyed by a tiny number of people (mainly artists) whose spiritual home was Paris rather than London. One of those ‘absintheurs’ was George Orwell. Having arrived in Paris in 1928, he soon learned to dance with the Green Fairy (a lively description of the drinking habit in Paris can be found in chapter seventeen of Down and Out in London and Paris). He brought his liking for absinthe back to London. Bateman Street is a short stroll away from Dean Street and home to a tavern named The Dog and Duck. It was here that the landlord had ‘mysteriously acquired a cache of real absinthe’, and although sugar was rationed, he allowed Orwell and his friends to drink it the traditional way, with water that dripped slowly on to it through a sugar cube.

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London owes a great deal of gratitude to French immigrants. They taught beer-drinking England the delights of wine, champagne and brandy. They were connoisseurs and educators. Paris-born André Louis Simon deserves a statue. In 1899 he began an apprenticeship with the champagne house of Pommery & Greno (Rheims) and was sent to London in 1902 to become the firm’s agent. In 1905 he published the first of more than 100 books and pamphlets entitled The History of the Champagne Trade in England, followed by his substantial History of the Wine Trade in England (1906/9) in three volumes. He was a co-founder of the Wine Trade Club in 1908. In 1919 he issued the delightful Bibliotheca vinaria, a catalogue of books he had collected for the Club. Simon believed that ‘a man dies too young if he leaves any wine in his cellar’, and in keeping with that philosophy, only two magnums of claret remained in his basement when he died at the age of ninety-three.

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Painters’ brush maker Joseph Derveaux was born in France. Details about his birth and background are not available, but he was in London by around 1789 and established in business at no. 18 Charles Street, St James’s Square.

Fellow French immigrant and outstanding artist Philip Jacques De Loutherbourg owned hundreds of Derveaux’s brushes, which appeared in his studio sale after his death in 1812 described in Peter Coxe’s sale catalogue (18-20 June) as ‘French tools of the finest quality, manufactured by Derveaux’ (Lugt 8209). To have a brush maker identified by name in a sale catalogue is exceptional. The reputation of Delveaux at the time must have been considerable. There are no further details about him

1789-1812

 

 

Travels from France to Italy through the Lepontine Alps, 1800,

Engraver and landscape painter was born at Chambéry in 1755. He entered the engineering school at Mezières and, in 1775, joined the Sardinian army as an engineer. At this time Sardinian territory extended into what is now Provence, and Beaumont was working as a hydraulic engineer at Nice, where he met the Duke of Gloucester who engaged him in 1780 as a teacher of mathematics to his children.

Beaumont then accompanied the Duke on his travels in the Alps. A few years later he travelled through the Maritime Alps from Cuneo in Italy to Nice by the newly constructed road across the pass of Lanslebourg. In the 1790s he went through the Lepontine Alps, from Lyons to Turin. Beaumont’s accounts of these journeys show a lively interest in the classical and geographical history of the area. Published in folio, these accounts are embellished with maps drawn by himself and by drawings in simple and sepia-washed versions, the latter coloured by Bernard Lory the elder.

The books were printed in London by C. Clarke and sold by the bookselling firm of Thomas and John Egerton at their office at no. 32 Charing Cross (opposite the Admiralty). Once settled in London, Beaumont went into partnership with Thomas Gowland and employed Dutch artist and diplomat Cornelius Apostool as engraver. Between 1787 and 1806 he published a series of views Switzerland, Mediterranean France, and Piedmont. He afterwards took to landscape painting. Under the Empire he retired to La Vernaz in the Haute Savoie where he reared sheep. He died in 1812.

1780-1806

 

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Botanist and mathematician Henry Fox Talbot produced his first successful photographic images in 1834, without a camera, by placing objects onto paper brushed with light-sensitive silver chloride, which he then exposed to sunlight. By 1840, Talbot had succeeded in producing photogenic drawings in a camera, with short exposures yielding an invisible or ‘latent’ image that could be developed to produce a usable negative. This made his process a practical tool for subjects such as portraiture and was patented as the ‘calotype’ in 1841. Talbot’s negative-positive process formed the basis of almost all photography on paper up to the digital age. His work was certainly not a solo effort. Major inventions rarely are.

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Nicolaas Henneman was born in Heemskerk in the Netherlands on 8 November 1813. Having worked in Paris for a while, he arrived in England around 1835. He was employed as valet to Fox Talbot at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, where he assisted the photographer in preparations and printing, and he took many photographs himself. He accompanied Talbot on expeditions around Britain, and in 1843 the pair ventured into France, securing important photographs later published in The Pencil of Nature (1844/6: the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs).

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Later that year, Henneman left Talbot’s employ to set up the world’s first dedicated photographic printing works at no. 8 Russell Terrace in Reading. Unable to sustain that operation he moved to London in 1847, this time in a business largely owned by Talbot, but called Nicolaas Henneman’s ‘Sun Picture Rooms’ at no. 122 Regent Street. In 1848 he was joined by the young chemist Thomas Augustine Malone, and by the next year Henneman & Malone were billing themselves as ‘Photographers to the Queen’. While Henneman taught many successful photographers, he never achieved true artistry himself. In the increasingly competitive world of the 1850s he lost out. By 1859 financial difficulties forced him to shut down his business.

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His lasting claim to fame is his involvement in the publication of the first photographically illustrated book on art. To the three volumes of text of William Stirling’s Annals of the Artists of Spain (1848) was added a limited edition volume of sixty-six photographic illustrations. These were the first photographs ever published of Spanish paintings, drawings, sculpture and prints, by artists including El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo, Zurbarán, Ribera and Goya, in addition to examples of architectural designs and book illustrations. The photographs were taken by Henneman who used the Calotype process invented by Talbot. The book has become extremely rare. Only fifty copies of the Annals were produced, and their deterioration, due to daylight, chemicals and other factors, began immediately.

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Henneman was not the only immigrant from Northern Europe who made an impact on the history of the photography book in Britain. Oscar Gustaf Rejlander was born in 1813 in Sweden, but nothing is known about his early life. He apparently studied art in Rome in the 1830s and supported himself there by working as a portrait painter and copyist of old masters. He was in England by 1841.

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In 1845 he had settled at no. 42 Darlington Street, Wolverhampton, where he opened a painter’s studio. He took up photography in 1853 and two years later began to exhibit his photographic compositions consisting of portraits, landscapes, nudes, anatomical studies, and subject pictures. His genre photographs earned him the reputation as one of Britain’s leading photographers. His ‘Night in Town’ (also known as ‘Homeless’), depicting a child in rags huddled on a doorstep, was used by the Shaftesbury Society for over a hundred years to highlight the plight of homeless children.

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In the spring of 1862 Rejlander moved to London and settled in Malden Road, Chalk Farm. On the relationship between photography and painting, he insisted that artists had as much to learn from photography about observation and draughtsmanship as photographers had to learn from painting about composition and expression. Contemporary critics described him as ‘the father of art photography’. As a portraitist Rejlander photographed several illustrious sitters, including Alfred Tennyson, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Henry Taylor, Charles Darwin, Gustave Doré, and Prince Albert.

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In 1868 he opened a richly furnished studio opposite Victoria Station. It was soon after this move that Charles Darwin entered his shop and asked for his cooperation. Rejlander was commissioned to supply Darwin with nine illustrations depicting people in various emotional states for The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).

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The photograph illustrating ‘mental distress’, that of an agitated infant boy dubbed ‘Ginx’s Baby’ by critics, became a best-seller after Rejlander also created versions on cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards. The title for the photograph was taken from a popular satirical novel about an orphaned boy by radical Victorian author John Edward Jenkins. The striking image of this helpless working class child soon became part and parcel of the Victorian social and political debate on poverty, charity and social justice. Photography took on a new relevance. It suddenly dawned upon critics and observers that certain photographic images have the power to influence public opinion and determine or change its course. A single shot can strike deeper than a million words.

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01London has always attracted the weird and wonderful. Throughout its history, the city has known countless oddballs and fruitcakes. In the eighteenth century foreign visitors to the capital were often surprised by the frank, if not rude attitude of its population. Society celebrated eccentrics and social rebels. It ridiculed affectation. Hypocrisy was considered an evil. That seems to be a lasting legacy. Cities in general tend to breed conformity, but that encourages single individuals to stand out and be unusual. The passion to be different supplies the air and breath that are essential to the vitality of London life. Loonies are the lungs of an urban culture.

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One such characters was an Irish immigrant into London by the name of James Salter. He had formerly been a barber and a valet to Hans Sloane, before opening a coffee house at no. 59 Cheyne Walk, at the corner of Lawrence Street, in 1697. By 1715 he had moved his coffee house to the west side of Danvers Street, and then in 1718 to its final location at the newly-built no. 18 Cheyne Walk, close to Sloane’s manor house which stood at numbers 19-26 (the mansion was demolished in 1760). He named his Chelsea establishment Don Saltero’s Coffee House. The owner (most likely with a passion for Italian opera) was famous for his punch, he could play the fiddle, and would shave, bleed and draw teeth. He was an Irishman of all trades. Part of the attraction of the coffee house was the display of a large collection of unusual objects and curiosities.

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The modern museum was preceded by what was known as a cabinet of curiosities. These sixteenth century cabinets were gathered by collectors with different social backgrounds and their contents varied according to the means and interests of the owners: physicians collected anatomical specimens; merchants bought rarities from far-flung trading posts; artists gathered prints, drawings and casts of ancient sculpture. By the turn of the seventeenth century collecting became increasingly an obsession of the wealthy and the well-connected. They were hoarding objects into vast personal collections. Starfish, forked carrots, monkey teeth, alligator skins, phosphorescent minerals, Indian canoes, and unicorn tails were acquired eagerly and indiscriminately. Critical taxonomy was rarely in evidence. The curiosity cabinet performed an educational function, facilitating the dissemination of knowledge. Unlike the museum, the curiosity cabinet was not intended for a public audience, but rather for the educated few. The coffee house museum functioned as an intermediate. The collection was there to attract the paying public into the establishment. It was a business venture in which the craving for coffee was linked to the growing urban passion for collecting curiosities and exotics. The experiment proved tremendously popular.

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Saltero’s soon was frequented by Chelsea’s wealthy and fashionable residents, having received a special notice in the Tatler of June 1709. It was a favourite meeting-place for men like Hans Sloane, Richard Mead, and Nathaniel Oldham. As one of the local sights, the house was visited by antiquarian Ralph Thoresby in 1723 and by Benjamin Franklin about 1724. It also features in a passage of Fanny Burney’s novel Evelina (1778).

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Items on display at the coffee house were donated by Hans Sloane, John Munden, Richard Steele and other Chelsea residents. Salter’s museum was an assemblage of oddities, including a petrified crab from China; medals of William Laud, Gustavus Adolphus, and the seven bishops who resisted James II’s declaration of indulgence; William the Conqueror’s flaming sword; Henry VIII’s coat of mail; Job’s tears (of which anodyne necklaces were made); a bowl and ninepins in a box the size of a pea; Madagascar lances; and last but not least: a hat which had belonged to the sister of Pontius Pilate’s wife’s chambermaid.

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The curiosities were placed in glass cases in the front room of the first floor. Weapons, skeletons, and fishes covered the walls and ceiling. A poetical autobiography and account of his ‘Museum Coffee House’ appeared in the British Apollo and in Mist’s Journal (22 June 1723). Salter also published A Catalogue of the Rarities to be seen at Don Saltero’s Coffee House in Chelsea which he offered for sale to his customers (no less than forty-eight extant editions range from 1729 to 1795). This Irishman ran a roaring business. Salter died in 1728 and his daughter went on to run the premises as a tavern until 1758. It continued to attract considerable custom, but in 1799 the collection was sold in 121 lots at auction and dispersed.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the coffee house was described as a ‘quiet tavern’, and in 1867 the property was converted into a private residence. Salter’s ‘Chelsea Knackatory’ was not the only establishment that attracted a curious audience with his exhibition of rarities. He had in fact a rival which is evident from another published catalogue entitled A Catalogue of the Rarities to be seen at Adams’s, at the Royal Swan, in Kingsland-road, leading from Shoreditch Church, 1756. This catalogue lists some 500 rarities, including African artefacts. Visitors to the Royal Swan would be entertained by the sight of Walter Raleigh’s tobacco pipe; the Vicar of Bray’s clogs; an engine to shell green peas with; a set of teeth that grew in a fish’s belly; Wat Tyler’s spurs; Adam’s key of the fore and back door to the Garden of Eden, etc. There was fierce rivalry amongst the proprietors of coffee house museums to catch the public’s ear, eye and purse.

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Cheyne Walk, known as the ‘village of palaces’, is named after the Cheyne family who owned an estate on the site. They were Lords of the Manor of Chelsea from 1660 to 1712. The first houses to be built in the Walk were a row of grand Queen Anne houses. At its creation Cheyne Walk was a desirable place to live and remained so to this very day. It can list a long line of famous residents, including Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards (no. 3); novelists George Eliot (no. 4) and Henry James (no. 21); painter James McNeill Whistler (at various times at nos. 21, 72, 96, and 101); author and social critic Thomas Carlyle (no. 24); Dracula’s creator Bram Stoker (no. 27); Hungarian film producer and Jewish refugee Max Schach (no. 35); pop stars Mick Jagger and Marian Faithful (no. 48); novelist Elizabeth Gaskel (no. 93); engineer Marc Brunel (no. 98); prophet Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf of the Moravian Church (no. 99/100); Anglo-French poet Hillaire Belloc (no. 104); and painter J.M.W. Turner (no. 119).

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The life of poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti is an extraordinary success tale in the history of migration. His father, the scholar, poet and revolutionary Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti, was born on 28 February 1783 in Vasto, Kingdom of Naples. The original family name was Della Guardia. Probably the diminutive Rossetti was given to a red-haired ancestor and, for reasons unknown, stuck. The son of a blacksmith, he made an impressive early career. In 1807 he was librettist at the San Carlo opera house in Naples and was later appointed curator of ancient marbles and bronzes in the Capodimonte Museum. His political poetry caused him trouble. As a member of the revolutionary society Carbonari in Naples, he directed his anger against Ferdinand II who had revoked the Constitution in 1821. Gabriele was sentenced to death. He escaped to England via Malta in 1824 never to see his homeland again. In 1826 he married Frances Mary Lavinia Polidori, the daughter of another Italian man of letters, Gaetano Polidori, Tuscan by birth but Londoner by adoption. The couple lived at no. 38 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia.

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It was here that Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born. The Rossetti children, all born in London, would make a massive impact on British cultural and artistic life. Gabriele was appointed Professor of Italian at King’s College London in 1831, a post he held until 1847.
09 D.G. Rossetti moved into Tudor House at no. 16 Cheyne Walk soon after the death in February 1862 of his wife, the Pre-Raphaelite model Elizabeth Siddall, from an overdose of laudanum. He spent several bohemian years at the place. It was here that he began collecting a menagerie of exotic animals and developed a passion for hoarding antique furniture, blue-and-white china, and vast amounts of bric-a-brac. His former lover and model Fanny Cornforth became housekeeper of the male-dominated daily life at Tudor House.

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Rossetti shared the place with Algernon Charles Swinburne, the ‘demoniac boy’ of poetry. The latter contributed to the dissolute state of the place by drinking past excess to unconsciousness and getting into physical arguments with guests. Whistler, who lived nearby, was a regular visitor. Henry Treffry Dunn, who was Rossetti’s studio assistant and secretary between 1867 and 1880, has left a written account of life in Chelsea in his Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his Circle (Cheyne Walk Life). Dunn illustrated the book himself and his watercolours of Tudor House give a unique and intimate glimpse into the artist’s home – a Chelsea knackatory of chaos and creativity.

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The site of Tyburn Tree at the junction of Edgware Road and Oxford Street was for over 700 years a place of execution. Until 1783 Tyburn served as London’s primary place of hanging, burning and gibbeting. Public displays of executions were once a vital part of the criminal justice system which relied upon fear of retribution.

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The main purpose of severe penalties for even relatively minor crimes was that they would serve as a deterrent. After re-development in the mid-1800s the area became known as Tyburnia. It was laid out with grand squares and cream stuccoed terraces. Thackeray described this residential district as ‘the most respectable district of the habitable globe’. Not a place one would expect political radicalism to manifest itself – and yet, it did.

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On a left-hand corner in Westbourne Terrace one of the last of the original detached houses still stands (now turned into flats). The splendid mansion is named Orsett House. On the evening of 10 April 1861, the property was ablaze with light from thousands of gas-jets, and packed with celebrating Russians, Poles and other émigrés from the Slav nations, as well as a few English radical thinkers, and fellow exiles such as Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini and French socialist Louis Blanc.

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It was a grand occasion to celebrate the Emancipation Reform under Alexander II which effectively abolished serfdom throughout the Russian Empire. Over the portico of the house two banners flew in the wind with messages of The Free Russian Press on one, and Freedom of the Russian Peasant on the other. Host and organiser of this red hot European party was Alexander Herzen, the first self-proclaimed Russian socialist and the most significant of all the activists who spent years of political exile in nineteenth century London.

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Herzen was born in 1812 in Moscow at a time that the city was being evacuated in the wake of the defeat by Napoleon’s armies. He was the illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner and a German woman whom his father had met while in diplomatic service. In 1829 Herzen entered the University of Moscow to study natural sciences and became the leader of a small group of radical students. In 1834, he and his closest colleague, the poet Nikolai Ogarev, were arrested. He spent six years in prison. In January 1847 Herzen left Russia for Paris with his entourage (wife, three children, his mother, a tutor, and two female dependents) and most of his capital – hardly a stereotype case of revolutionary exile. None of them would see Russia again.

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After the disillusion of the failed 1848 revolution, Herzen moved to London and lived in the capital for some twelve years, first alone, and then with his family, accompanied by the German writer Malwida von Meysenbug, who acted as housekeeper and governess to his children from 1853. Malwida Rivalier von Meysenbug is an intriguing person in her own right. She was born on 28 October 1816 at Kassel in Hesse. Her father, Carl Rivalier descended from a family of French Huguenots and was the principal minister for two Archdukes of Hesse-Kassel. He was granted the vacant Meysenbug title and was later raised into the Habsburg aristocracy. The ninth of ten children, she broke with her family because of her political convictions. She was an avowed democrat and supported demands for constitutionalism in the German states. During the years preceding the 1848 revolutions in Europe, Malwida was more radical than many male revolutionaries in that she advocated equal opportunity for women in education and employment. When Meysenbug moved to Berlin she was placed under police surveillance for mixing in ‘suspicious’ company. Forewarned in May 1852 of her impending arrest she fled by way of Hamburg to London where she became a prominent member of the refugee community. She supported herself by writing romantic novels and short stories with underlying themes of egalitarian utopian societies. More significant are her Memoiren eines Idealistin, the first volume of which she published anonymously in 1869 (followed by two subsequent parts in 1875 and 1876).

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Throughout his stay in the capital, Herzen moved around between dozens of addresses, before settling at Orsett House in November 1860. His life in London was conducted mainly in Russian circles, but he remained a private figure who concentrated on intellectual and propaganda work. In the spring of 1853 he established the ‘Free Russian Press in London: to our Brothers in Russia’. Its printing press was initially housed alongside that of Democratic Poland published by the Polish Democratic Society at no. 38 Regent Square. The arrangement with this society of fellow exiles lasted almost eighteen months, until December 1854 when it was feared that the bailiffs might move in. The Free Russian Press moved to no. 82 Judd Street (in 1857 the office moved to no. 2 in the same street). It was here that the work of the Press took off. In 1855, he published the first volume of Poliarnaia zvezda (The Polar Star). Much of the first volume was written by Herzen himself, although it also contained letters by Michelet, Proudhon, Mazzini, and Hugo, and the correspondence between Belinsky and Gogol.
In April 1856 his former comrade Nikolai Ogarev arrived in London and joined Herzen in working on the Press. It was at no. 2 Judd Street that the Free Russian Press built its reputation with the publication of the weekly newspaper Kolokol (The Bell) which ran from 1865 to 1867 with a circulation of up to 2,500 copies.

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During Herzen’s residence at Westbourne Terrace numerous compatriots travelled to London to visit him, including Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Nekrasov, Bakunin, Vasily Botkin, and others. On Sundays, Orsett House was the place to be. The family remained at the residence until June 1863, and then moved out again, this time to Elmfield House, Teddington. Herzen’s inability to settle in exile reflects the restlessness of his mind. He finally left England in 1864. Herzen is the author of a set of magnificent memoirs entitled My Past and Thoughts which are an irreplaceable time document for the European socio-political developments of the day. His presence in London does not take up a prominent part in these memoirs. What the metropolis offered him was anonymity. To him, London was ‘adapted for training one away from people and training one into solitude’. This suggestion implies a paradox of political exile: by its very condition it denies the here and now, it looks forward by always looking back, escaping into an almost Confucian dream. Exile and nostalgia are not synonymous, but they stem from similar experiences. They are stories of loss and memory. Nostalgic memory may bring some solace, but the sigh of separation from place, language and culture is forever present. This pain hits exile and newcomer alike. It weighs heavier on the former who lives in anticipation of an imminent return home. The exile is – psychologically at least – banished for the short term. He hates the past, despises the present, and dreams of the days ahead. He seeks consolation in futurity. Utopia is a dissociation from the here and now. Living in the present in order to effect social change is a more difficult task. Herzen was well aware of the challenge and this realisation gives his memoirs their lasting relevance.

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