The Shoemaker of Banff

Samuel Smiles, biographer and enthusiast for those who demonstrated the ability to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, was very taken with Thomas Edward, of Banff, Scotland. He name-checked him in Self-Help (1859), as follows: Continue reading

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Object of the Month: September 2017

Now that I spend part of my time in a museum (tough gig, but somebody has to do it), I am getting quite good at pausing mid-stride and staring without actually falling over or causing anyone else to fall over. If I try this in the street, the results are usually not so good, and of course I am completely intolerant if anyone else does it to me  – ‘Come on, Tourist, are you telling me you’ve never seen King’s College Chapel before?’ (Though in fact this happens less and less often, because the Tourists are all reading about King’s College Chapel on their phones, or taking selfies, not breaking stride in awe and wonder at the sight before them.) Continue reading

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Torcello

Assuming anyone can be bothered to make the trip, I think I’d like my ashes scattered at the Secret Cat Place on Torcello. Though alas, even Torcello is going a bit downhill, since today, for the first time ever, there was another couple at the Secret Cat Place when we arrived, sitting down as though they owned it, which – though possible – is unlikely as they were speaking Spanish. Continue reading

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Robert Harrild and Sons

Just as everything is connected to everything else, so one thing leads to another. I was leafing through an ancient copy of Country Life in the doctor’s waiting room the other day, and was electrified to see a photograph of half an Albion press which clearly had the words on it ‘Harrild and Sons’. Having (to my shame) come across the name of Robert Harrild only a week before, I wisely concluded that Fate was nudging me to have a further look at him … Continue reading

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St Antholin’s

4 September 1666 is generally reckoned to have been the most destructive day of the Great Fire of London, during which large amounts of the city on the north bank of the Thames were razed to the ground. The lost buildings included many churches, and it was the determination to replace many of these on their original sites which – as well as insoluble wranglings about land ownership and rights of way – caused the reconstruction of the area to end up being dov’ era, if not quite com’ era. Continue reading

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Father of the More Famous

I’m currently reading a book about Sir Joseph Banks as an Enlightenment figure (yes, I probably should get out more), and was struck by this quotation: ‘Mann [the Abbé Mann (1735–1809), a Yorkshire Catholic convert and savant who became a soldier, then a monk, then a secular scientist] closed his letter by congratulating Banks on “the inestimable blessing of being in a free country”.’ Continue reading

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The Unusual Grand Tour of Sir J.E. Smith

Although, in my previous existence, I had been involved in reissuing the hagiographic two-volume ‘life and letters’ of Sir J.E. Smith (1759–1828), founding president of the Linnean Society, written by his delightfully named widow, Pleasance, I did not actually read it until quite recently. The work was published in 1832, by the firm of Longman at its most expansively partner-ridden: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green and Longman. Continue reading

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