In September 1962 an unmarried woman received this colourful postcard of Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester from a male friend.
The message on the reverse of the card read:
Here I am in the middle of the Derbyshire Moors, very flat and featureless on top but deep, steep sided valleys are fairly impressive. I came out here for a breath of fresh air, Manchester is oppressive; the top of the moor really is unbelievably flat, and certainly doesn’t reward the climb.
Last term I ran a short course for adult learners called ‘Tourist London Since 1800’ at Bishopsgate Institute. As with all the courses I deliver, I selected a range of original sources from the Institute’s library and archive collections to direct the learning process and each week students explored a different theme using tourist guidebooks, restaurant guides, and so on.
The final week’s theme was ‘Nights Out in London’. As I gathered materials for the session, I stumbled upon this slim pamphlet.
This was an item I hadn’t seen before. Attracted by the cute jester on the front cover, and overlooking the rather dog-eared appearance otherwise, I popped the pamphlet on to the top of a set of materials on pubs, clubs and dining out at the very last minute – and started to deliver the class without having looked inside this one item. Honestly, this is not how I usually plan my sessions.
As the group started to explore the sets of archive materials laid out for them, one student called me over to share an incredible find. On every page of ‘Tabarin Club’ someone had annotated the illustrations with droll remarks. With the kind permission of Bishopsgate Institute, I’ve reproduced this fabulously acerbic set of marginalia here for your enjoyment over the bank holiday weekend.
These scribbled lines smartly undermine the formal, almost pompous, tone of the printed content that outlines the facilities offered at the Tabarin Club (‘special care has been given to the proper ventilation to ensure a refreshing and invigorating atmosphere…’). They also offer insight into popular catchphrases and comic conventions of the 1920s.
I would like to thank my eagle-eyed student Jacqui Ross for bringing these previously overlooked notes to my attention – and now also to yours. As is often the case with original historical sources, this item asks more questions than it answers. Most obviously, who wrote the comments? Were they based on personal experience of nights out at the Tabarin Club (“why do we do this?” “you’re not going home yet sweetie…”)?
And what else can we discover about the Tabarin Club? Street directories from the 1920s give the club’s stated address of 31 Tottenham Court Road as the Rector’s Club rather than the Tabarin. Yet the production of a high quality brochure of this type suggests a degree of permanence or longevity as opposed to a short-lived residency. This useful website mentions the Tabarin in the body of a longer piece of writing on London’s interwar jazz clubs but otherwise I’ve been unable to find out more about the club. Anyone able to provide fresh insight is invited to comment below. Similarly, anyone wishing to get their hands on this and dozens of other original sources on the history of ‘London at Play’ is encouraged to sign up for my next archives-based course at Bishopsgate Institute, starting on Monday 9 May. This annotated pamphlet will also be featured in a session delivered as part of Duckie’s Quite a Lot of Balls weekender on 7-8 May.
Most regular users at the British Library have a favourite seat. It appears that this has always been the case. In 1928 the mysterious ‘W’ sent a postcard from the British Museum in London to a female friend or relative in Ireland, in which he explained where he usually sat to carry out his research. The front of the card shows the Reading Room with its distinctive circular layout. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the British Library had been located in the great court at the British Museum but it 1997 it moved to purpose-built library premises near Kings Cross.
The rear of the postcard is covered in cramped handwriting and signed Y.E.L. W; that is, your ever loving ‘W’ (William? Walter? Wilfred?).
The message is dated 23 January 1928. It includes a description of the British Museum reading room (‘a beautiful, large, roomy place, well-warmed…’) as well as some incomplete data on ‘W’s research topics and processes. In full, the message reads:
Many thanks for sending the Gazette, which I was glad to receive; the report of Mr Hammond’s Dublin Anniversary address has raised one or two interesting new lines to me. I shall be glad of any help, and thank you for thinking of it. I have most of the literature now; but if any old magazines (July 1927; or before October 1926) are available (without trouble), I should be happy to receive them. I see in the leaflet “Who is sufficient…” the snap of nine of the Lisburne family. Olive seems quite happy with her companions!
Liley [?] says, in a note, that, if I write to you before she does, I have to say thank you very much for the photo. They are evidently very pleased.
Thank you for your letter of Saturday. The “idea” you raise is just the very thing, and I hope that it will be possible. HBR returns this week – he is away in the South – and perhaps we can get things fixed up more definitely soon. The weekend or so will be to me much more than “restful”! I am really glad, too, to come and see the works.
We had rather a quiet Sunday evening, with 14 in; but it was nice to have it quieter and less crowded.
This is P.P.C. [picture postcard] no.7 (I think!). The Reading Room is a beautiful, large, roomy place, well-warmed and well provided with splendid desks. It holds about 400 or 500 seats. The picture is taken from the entrance (the passage under the clock is the Inner Library). I usually sit on the left of the entrance. The round shelves in the centre hold the Catalogue. The room is usually crowded. I am hoping (despite 2 or 3 meetings this afternoon and evening) to write a short letter and to post it tomorrow. D. sends her love (and W.D., too!). Y.E.L. W.
The postcard recipient is a Miss Dodwell. Her address is given as Manor House Home, a children’s home in Lisburn near Belfast in Ireland. Manor House Home opened in 1927, the year before this postcard was written. ‘W’ expresses an interest in coming to ‘see the works’ a hope that suggests Miss Dodwell is involved in managing the home in some way. But there is no way of knowing this for sure from the message, just as there is no way of discovering, without further research, whether ‘W’ and Miss Dodwell were sisters, cousins, comrades, friends or sweethearts.
I’ve lived in London for more than thirty years. Here are my suggestions for cheap days out in the city, based on my own interests and aimed at independent travellers curious to discover some of the less obvious London attractions.
Day One. Holborn
From Holborn Station, head for Lincoln’s Inn Fields to visit Sir John Soane’s Museum and the Hunterian Museum then explore the green spaces of the Inns of Court. Carry a copy of Bleak House (1853) and call in at the Dickens Museum afterwards. The October Gallery is also worth a visit, not least for the ladies toilets! Finally walk to Judd Street to the Patisserie Deux Amis where you can pretend to be a character in a French film – Thérèse Desqueyroux works well.
Day Two. Hampstead Village
Turn left out of the station and stroll down Flask Walk. Call into Keith Fawkes second-hand bookshop and pick out a cheap paperback. Get completely lost in the back streets before heading to the Heath for a picnic. If it’s rainy you can visit the Freud Museum or Keats House Museum or pop into the Flask or the Holly Bush for a port and lemon as though you’re in a Patrick Hamilton novel.
Day Three. Deptford (market days are Wednesday and Saturday)
Take a Docklands Light Railway train from Bank or Tower Gateway to Deptford Bridge. Sit at the front and imagine you’re the driver. Enjoy the glass and water dockland views out of the train window. Walk from Deptford Bridge station to the High Street and spend the day hunting out pop-up art projects or looking for bargains in the market stalls or independent shops. Peter and Joan’s at number 119 is an Aladdin’s Cave of colourful wools, cute buttons and gorgeous fabrics. Call in at Cafe Selecta for a mug of instant coffee (90p) and two slices of toast and marmite (90p) served by friendly staff then make your way to St Paul’s Church to admire the beautiful Baroque architecture of this landmark structure.
Day Four. From Kensington to Covent Garden
Start the day with a breakfast tea in Benugo’s at the Victoria and Albert Museum. If it’s sunny you can sit in the courtyard. Otherwise stay inside to enjoy the mirrored and tiled beauty of the Morris room. Then you might go mainstream and explore the museums at South Kensington – or you might head directly to the tube station to take a train to Covent Garden. From here it’s a short walk along Long Acre to Freemason’s Hall where you can join a tour of the grand art deco building (free, advance booking recommended). Afterwards walk back along Long Acre until you get to the Rose Street turning where you will find Bageriet. It’s worth awkwardly sharing a table to enjoy the delicious coffee and cinnamon buns in this small Swedish bakery.
Day Five. West End
From Great Portland Street tube station walk to the Royal Institute of British Architects where there is a varied programme of talks and temporary exhibitions. Next get completely lost wandering through the back streets of Fitzrovia and the West End. Head vaguely south and go into as many pubs and cafes as you like. Clutch a copy of Roland Camberton’s Scamp (1950) to read in quiet moments. The eventual aim is to reach the National Portrait Gallery and make your way up to the café – not for the food but for the amazing view across slate city rooftops and Trafalgar Square. Go at a quiet time when you only need to order a drink rather than an expensive meal. End the day by strolling to the Thames to watch the sun go down from Westminster Bridge, in a Whistler-ish style.
Day Six. East End (vintage market at Spitalfields takes place on Thursdays)
From Liverpool Street station, cross the road to the Bishopsgate Institute to look over the daily papers under the glass dome in the atmospheric Bishopsgate Institute library. Or bring along a copy of Alexander Baron’s King Dido (1969, set in 1911) to read. Leave the building by the side entrance then enjoy a slow stroll around Spitalfields Market’s vintage stalls before calling in at the Town House on Fournier Street for tea in the basement. Next wander through the back streets of Spitalfields towards Whitechapel. You’re on the leisurely lookout for Victoria Cottages near Deal Street. Once you’ve discovered them, return to Brick Lane for a bargain-price filled bagel from the Brick Lane Beigel Bake. If you can set it up in advance, arrange a visit to Dennis Severs’ House as part of your East End excursion.
Day Seven. Greenwich and the River (vintage market on Saturdays and Sundays)
Take the river bus to Greenwich. Read Howard Clewes The Long Memory (1951) ahead of the trip to add an element of mild peril as you travel past re-purposed warehouses and battered old barges. On arrival at Greenwich, visit the Clocktower outdoor market to rummage through boxes of twentieth-century musical scores or crates of crockery, brooches and badges. Next, make your way to the curious Fan Museum before striding up the steep slopes of Greenwich Park to take in the panoramic views of London and the Thames from outside the Royal Observatory. For afternoon tea and cakes, Royal Teas Café is recommended.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to spending seven days in London but I hope it will provide some ideas for new and old visitors to the city. Feel free to add your own suggestions below!
In 1954, Julian Watson of Holland Park Avenue in London received a postcard from Hove in East Sussex, showing the promenade as it would have looked c.1905. The image included strolling men in straw boaters and women in extravagant headgear. It claimed also to feature King Edward VII’s favourite seat.
The message on the reverse of the card read: ‘Back Monday. Weather too awful. Hope you’re well. H.’