An urban view — 24 November 2009

All men like to collect and catalogue ‘stuff’ and Victorian gentlemen were no different from today’s men. Amongst their collections could be found animal skulls, fossils, shells, a miniature book or maybe a small timepiece. They would display their finds in a cabinet , a cabinet of curiosities. In the same spirit of inquiry CabbieBlog gives you its London Cabinet of Curiosities.

Rose Square A pastiche of a pastiche
In Rose Square on the Fulham Road all is not what it seems. When these very smart apartments are finally pulled down, it will reveal a 21st century re-working of a mid 19th century re-creation of a Tudor college or cloister. It was built originally for a hospital for consumptives in 1844 by architect F. J. Francis who promptly vanished into Victorian obscurity.

Ely Place The Holborn Fens
Ely Place is the archetypal London street, tall, prosperous Georgian buildings, solid trustworthy, elegant and private, it’s even gate and guarded by a beadle. His tiny one-roomed lodge is nothing more than a door, a window, a fireplace and a chimney which is curiously supported by the window. This quiet cul-de-sac was the site of the Palace of the Bishops of Ely in Cambridgeshire, and therefore out of the jurisdiction of London.

1561712927_d09325835c Elizabethan Toolshed
This octagonal building was designed as a summer house to form part of a £200 improvement in 1886 of what was then a private square. It is now one of the most picturesque garden sheds you will find in London. A fountain previously stood on the site with four jets, representing the Thames, Severn, Tyne and Humber rivers, but has vanished just as have Centre Point’s fountains nearby.

Old Curiosity Shop The Old Curiosity Shop
This charming one-bay, two-story, 17th century shop with an overhanging upper story is conspicuously picturesque but obliterated by the dull buildings towering around it. In Dicken’s story of the same name, Little Nell and her grandfather fled the shop leaving it in the hands of the evil dwarf Quilp. Dickens described the shop as ‘the old house was a patch of darkness among its gaily lit neighbours’. Today the roles are reversed, Portsmouth Street where it stands, is one of the bleakest, most anonymous byways in central London.

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(4) Readers Comments

  1. I was hoping you can let me know how I can fing photo on 22 Ely Place. My Great Grandfather lived there 1891. His name was Charles Ernest Hicks. Thank you Cathy

    • I’ll see if can find a picture of 22 Ely Place.

      Will get back to you


  2. It’s amazing what curiosities and treasures one can find in London when one begins to poke around and you obviously have an eye for such things. I hope to read more of your discovered gems.

    Of the items you mention this time, the one I am most familiar with is the Old Curiosity Shop. I agree about the bleak surroundings: the poor thing seems lost among characterless modern structures. The rather over-demonstrative label of it as the model for the shop in Dickens I find off-putting and therefore never photograph it. (It makes me wonder whether it really is Dicken’s shop or whether the owners are merely trying to kid tourists).

    • The Old Curiosity shop looks too pristine and I often have wondered if it is genuine. Likewise the “Elizabethan” shops opposite Chancery Lane station have either been very poorly restored or are just fake. I suspect the latter.

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