Thursday, 29 January 2009

Adieu for now

I won’t be blogging again until Monday but while I'm away you might be interested in this news item about a rare 18th-century guide to amputations and operations from 1712, recently discovered in Lichfield by Hansons Auctioneers. Hansons seems to be enjoying an extraordinary run of luck at the moment, having also turned up a guide to dentistry from 1770.

And if that's isn't enough medical reading material, The Doctor is always ready with his scalpel. Ouch!

Above: William Hogarth, The Country Inn Yard; or, The Stage Coach (June 1747).

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Word of the Week: Finger Post

A parson: so called, because he points out a way to others which he never goes himself. Like the finger post, he points out a way he has never been, and probably will never go, i.e. the way to heaven.

From: Captain Grose's 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

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Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Georgian Liverpool: Part 5

Having enjoyed our detour down Rodney Street, we thought we'd take a look at the Gothic Anglican Cathedral, which is futuristic by Dr Moss's guide book's standards, having been built between 1904 and 1978. You can see from what an imposing edifice it is (it was freezing cold and getting towards dusk when I took the photograph above, and the steam issuing out looked especially eerie).

What we particularly wanted to see was The Oratory (below), which stands at the front of the cathedral, beside the descending pathway into St James's Cemetary. This is the cemetary's former chapel; its purpose was to accommodate funeral services prior to actual burial, and it also housed monuments to the dead.

It was designed by John Foster (1786-1846) in the Greek Revival style, though sadly, the burial ground has since been abandoned, as you can see from the undergrowth. We couldn't get near it because it's fenced off, but you can view the interior on appointment.

After a look around the graveyard, we emerged up the other side of what's known as St James's Mount, a ridge overlooking the city. We were just about to leave when my boyfriend spotted a little grassy area which caused him to pause and flick through Dr Moss's guide (below).

We'd come across St James' Walk: an area developed in 1779 as a place of fashionable amusement. It was half-covered in undergrowth (not to mention the cathedral itself, which, as you can see from the picture below, was built partially on top of it), but the pathways were unmistakeable.

Here we are standing at the entrance to the walk, which Dr Moss describes as: 'a gravelled terrace, 400 yards long. It has been compared to the terrace at Windsor. From hence we have a very extensive prospect, across the Mersey, of the north part of Cheshire'. The view is still pretty splendid today, though clearly not as extensive. Moss adds that you were obliged to enter on foot because a horse-block was placed near the entrance.

Below is the view looking back at the 'entrance' from the terrace. Moss's modern author/editor, David Brazendale, adds that: 'Some visitors came in search of the mineral spring which had been discovered in the rock wall of the quarry [i.e., St James's Cemetary] and which was reputed to be beneficial in the treatment of eye infections.'

A glimpse through a gap in the hedge (below) revealed tree-lined walks reminiscent of the pleasure gardens of the 18th century. We were pretty excited by the discovery of this 'engaging spot' and the knowledge that this is probably the closest we'll get to visiting Vauxhall or Ranelagh, though of course, St James's Walk wouldn't have quite been on the same scale!

This is the end of our formal tour, but as some of the buildings were so interesting (I haven't even mentioned the Lyceum and the Catholic Church, which is now the Alma de Cuba nightclub) I plan to do a couple of isolated posts on them. Hope you enjoyed our guide to Georgian Liverpool in the year 1797.

Photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Dictionary Disaster

We knew that the exterior of the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum in Lichfield was due for a spruce-up to celebrate the great lexicographer's tercentenary year, but what we weren't prepared for was the big, slightly illiterate sign erected on the side of his house. Don't even get me started on the practice of omitting apostrophes because you don't know how to use them properly. What would Dr Johnson have thought of this? No wonder he looks fed up (below).

Photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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Monday, 26 January 2009

Staggering Posterity

I was totally fascinated by Lydia Syson's review in Saturday's Guardian about Wendy Moore's new book Wedlock: The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore. It tells of Bowes' abusive marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney: an extraordinarily calculating and brutal man who, in 1777, tricked her into marriage after apparently fighting a duel to defend her honour. Years of abuse followed, but she finally escaped Bowes with the help of one of her own female servants. As Syson says:
Riches, beauty, wit, and an excellent education bought Mary Eleanor Bowes anything but liberty. As Moore shows, nothing could save her from the fate of legal nonentity that she shared with every other married woman of her time. Neither could anything spare her the merciless scrutiny of a celebrity-obsessed press that flourished on scandal, and judged the countess author of her own woes. Years later Mary wrote a prototype misery memoir, recalling the tortures she endured, including a horrific abduction. It was a counterpoint to the Confessions her husband had bullied out of her and then published. She rightly imagined her cathartic Narrative would "stagger the belief of Posterity".
The book isn't released until March in the US, but it's worth looking out for.

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