30 September 2010

Three fair ladies of Italy

From a return visit to the Cast Court at the Victoria & Albert Museum, three casts of medieval and Renaissance Italian sculptures:
SONY DSC1860s cast of a marble bust of an unknown woman, perhaps Sigligaita Rufolo, from the Cathedral at Ravello on the Amalfi coast in southern Italy, c. 13th century. 

Cast of a marble bust of a pensive woman, perhaps Ippolita Maria Sforza, first wife of King Alfonso II of Naples, by artist Francesco Laurana, c.1472.  The cast was taken around 1889-94 from the original, which was later destroyed in Berlin in 1945. 

SONY DSCA marvellously haughty personage carved by sculptor Andrea dell’Aquila in the second half of the 15th century.  The original is in the Bode Museum in Berlin, where this cast was taken in 1889-91.

The last grand night ascent at Vauxhall

SONY DSCOn Friday 17 September 1858, Captain W.H. Adams Jr piloted the great Royal Vauxhall Balloon for one last impressive show of night-time ballooning from the famed but now much-diminished Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.  A splendid advertising poster from the time is displayed at the Museum of London alongside its excellent exhibit dedicated to the Gardens.   

Adams had ballooned before at Vauxhall in 1856, but this was to be a special occasion, because the long tradition of pleasure gardens was coming to an end.  London was remaking itself.  This was the year of the Great Stink and the Joseph Bazalgette’s far-reaching modernisation of the city’s antiquated sewerage system, to the great benefit of public hygiene and the cleanliness of the Thames.  The Gardens, too, did not form part of the new image of progressive London.  After an abortive closure in 1841 due to the bankruptcy of its owners, the Gardens were finally closed for good in 1859 and the land sold for development to feed the need for building work in ever-expanding Victorian London, at the time the largest city in the world. 

But what does this tell us about the Gardens and the place early aviation had in the public consciousness? 


John Timbs’ 1855 book Curiosities of London recorded the early origins of the Gardens in ‘about 1661’ and visits thereafter by noted diarists like Evelyn and Pepys, and notes:

In England’s Gazetteer, 1751, the entertainments are described as ‘the sweet song of a number of nightingales, in concert with the best band of musick in England.  Here are fine pavilions, shady groves, and most delightful walks illuminated by above 1000 lamps’ […]

[Author Oliver] Goldsmith thus describes the Vauxhall of about 1760: ‘The illuminations began before we arrived; and I must confess that upon entering the Gardens I found every sense overpaid with more than expected pleasure: the lights every where glimmering through scarcely moving trees; the full-bodied concert bursting on the stillness of night; the natural concert of the birds in the more retired part of the grove, viewing with that which was formed by art; the company gaily dressed, looking satisfied, and the tables spread with various delicacies – all conspired to fill my imagination with the visionary happiness of the Arabian lawgiver, and lifted me into an ecstasy of admiration.  ‘Head of Confucius,’ cried I to my friend, ‘this is fine!  This unites rural beauty with courtly magnificence’.

This lavish setting for night-time public recreation encouraged many thousands of fashionable Londoners – or at least, those who could afford the entrance fee – to journey to Vauxhall to see and be seen.  It was popular with the young and not-so-young for courting purposes, because the many bowers and walks presented the perfect opportunity for genteel romance. 

Canaletto painted a delightful daytime scene of the Gardens in around 1751, depicting small groups of immaculately-dressed worthies strolling along the grand walks at Vauxhall.  The men boast ubiquitous curled white wigs, knee-length coats and fine britches tucked into knee-high white stockings, while women hobbled under the weight of enormously wide bustle dresses almost as wide as their height, which may have helped keep amorous gentlemen at a certain remove when walking side by side in public.

Timbs also notes that two of Fanny Burney’s novels boast Vauxhall scenes, including her famed Evelina, published in 1778 and quoted here in an extract in which the young heroine reveals how little of London she has actually seen:

‘Pray, Miss,’ said the son, ‘how do you like the Tower of London?’

‘I have never been to it, Sir’

‘Goodness,’ exclaimed he, ‘not seen the Tower! – why, may be, you ha’n’t been o’ top of the Monument, neither?’

‘No, indeed I have not’

‘Why, then, you might as well not have come to London for aught I see, for you’ve been no where’

‘Pray, Miss,’ said Polly, ‘have you been all over Paul’s Church yet?’

‘No, Ma’am’

‘Well, but, Ma’am,’ said Mr Smith, ‘how do you like Vauxhall and Marybone?’

‘I never saw either, Sir’

‘No – God bless me! – you really surprise me, – why Vauxhall is the first pleasure in life!  – I know nothing like it.  – Well, Ma’am, you must have been with strange people, indeed, not to have taken you to Vauxhall.  Why you have seen nothing of London yet.  However, we must try if we can’t make you amends’

Clearly in Burney’s tale it was unthinkable that anyone might not have partaken of the delights of Vauxhall, and indeed it was remiss of anyone to have not experienced them.  (The Gardens also feature prominently and are often referred to in Thackeray’s 1847-8 masterpiece, Vanity Fair). 

The second edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, published 1777-84, described the Vauxhall Gardens as ‘celebrated all over Europe for the entertainment they afford’ and set the scene as follows:

A noble gravel-walk, of about 900 feet in length, planted on each side with very lofty trees, which form a fine vista, leads from the great gate, and is terminated by a landscape of the country, a beautiful lawn of meadow-ground, and a grand Gothic obelisk […]

To the right of this walk, and a few steps within the garden, is a square, which, from the number of trees planted in it, is called the grove; in the middle of it is a magnificent orchestra of Gothic construction, ornamented with carvings and niches, the dome of which is surmounted with a plume of feathers, the crest of the prince of Wales. In fine weather, the musical entertainments are performed here. At the upper extremity of this orchestra a very fine organ is erected; and at the foot of it are the seats and desks for the musicians, placed in a semicircular form, leaving a vacancy at the front for the vocal performers. The concert is opened with instrumental music at six o’clock; which having continued about half an hour, the company are entertained with a song; and in this manner several other songs are performed, with sonatas and concertos between each, till the close of the entertainment, which is generally about 10 o’clock. A curious piece of machinery is exhibited about 9 o’clock, in a hollow on the left hand, about half-way up the walk already described, representing a beautiful landscape in perspective, with a miller’s house, a watermill, and a cascade. The grove is illuminated in the evening with about 1500 glass lamps; in the front of the orchestra they are contrived to form three triumphal arches, and are all lighted, as it were, in a moment.

However, in the 19th century the Gardens entered a steady decline.  Charles Dickens, in Sketches By Boz in 1836, offers a wry critique of the Gardens in a relatively unfamiliar daytime visit, which in Dickens’ mind dispelled all the mystery and glamour of the place:

We walked about and met with disappointment at every turn; our favourite views were mere patches of paint; the fountain that had sparkled so showily by lamp light presented very much the appearance of a water pipe that had burst; all the ornaments were dingy and all the walks gloomy.  There was a spectral attempt at rope dancing in the little open theatre; the sun shone upon the spangled dresses of the performers and their evolutions were about as inspiriting and appropriate as a country dance in a family vault. 

In the same chapter Dickens describes the impressive launch of a balloon, during the period in which the Gardens were a prominent launching-place for balloon adventures:

Just at this moment all eyes were directed to the preparations which were being made for starting. The car was attached to the second balloon, the two were brought pretty close together, and a military band commenced playing, with a zeal and fervour which would render the most timid man in existence but too happy to accept any means of quitting that particular spot of earth on which they were stationed. Then Mr. Green, sen., and his noble companion entered one car, and Mr. Green, jun., and HIS companion the other; and then the balloons went up, and the aerial travellers stood up, and the crowd outside roared with delight, and the two gentlemen who had never ascended before, tried to wave their flags, as if they were not nervous, but held on very fast all the while; and the balloons were wafted gently away, our little friend solemnly protesting, long after they were reduced to mere specks in the air, that he could still distinguish the white hat of Mr. Green. The gardens disgorged their multitudes, boys ran up and down screaming 'bal-loon;' and in all the crowded thoroughfares people rushed out of their shops into the middle of the road, and having stared up in the air at two little black objects till they almost dislocated their necks, walked slowly in again, perfectly satisfied.

The next day there was a grand account of the ascent in the morning papers, and the public were informed how it was the finest day but four in Mr. Green's remembrance; how they retained sight of the earth till they lost it behind the clouds; and how the reflection of the balloon on the undulating masses of vapour was gorgeously picturesque; together with a little science about the refraction of the sun's rays, and some mysterious hints respecting atmospheric heat and eddying currents of air.

Despite this decline, or perhaps because of it, the organisers spared little expense in laying on grand spectacles for the attending worthies, in the hope that Vauxhall would maintain its reputation as the place for fine folk to indulge in public recreation.  And it is noteworthy that one of the grandest shows available in the Victorian world – the fiery night-time ascent of a hot-air balloon – was booked in 1858, in the hope of concluding the Vauxhall story with a theatrical flourish.

Hence the appearance of the fine advertising poster above, calling the public’s attention to the ‘Last Grand Night Ascent!’ of the venerable and famous Royal Vauxhall Balloon.  In November 1836 the balloon had flown three aeronauts (including Mr Charles Green, mentioned by Dickens above) from Vauxhall across the English Channel to Weilburg in Nassau, Germany.  The international journey of 608km in 18 hours caused a great sensation and made a celebrity of Green and his balloon, which was for a time renamed the Great Nassau Balloon.  It also set a distance record for ballooning that was not bested until 1907.  (The Charles Green Salver is still awarded to mark notable feats of ballooning today).  In the 1870 book Wonderful Balloon Ascents, by the splendidly pseudonymous Fulgence Marion (aka Monsieur Camille Flammarion), one of Green’s passengers recounts the spectacle of crossing the Channel:

"It was forty-eight minutes past four," says Monk-Mason, "that we first saw the line of waves breaking on the shores beneath us. It would have been impossible to have remained unmoved by the grandeur of the spectacle that spread out before us. Behind us were the coasts of England, with their white cliffs half lost in the coming darkness. Beneath us on both sides the ocean spread out far end wide to where the darkness closed in the scene. Opposite us a barrier of thick clouds like a wall, surmounted all along its line with projections like so many towers, bastions, and battlements, rose up from the sea as if to stop our advance. A few minutes afterwards we were in the midst of this cloudy barrier, surrounded with darkness, which the vapours of the night increased. We heard no sound. The noise of the waves breaking on the shores of England had ceased, and our position had for some time cut us off from all the sounds of earth." 


While hot air ballooning remained a spectacle of public interest in the 1850s, the limitations of ballooning as a form of transport meant that it never become commonplace.  While balloons did prove useful for military observation purposes, it was not possible to reliably direct the flight of balloons until the early 1900s, and even then lighter-than-air flight by ballooning was soon eclipsed by the growing confidence of heavier-than-air fliers following the Wright Brothers’ historic success in 1903.  In a way, then, it is somehow fitting that the faded glory of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens was celebrated by a mode of transportation that was in its own way already approaching obsolescence.

Historian David Coke records the scene at the Gardens’ final night in 1859, and what came afterwards:

Vauxhall Gardens finally closed after the 'Last Night for Ever' on 25 June [July?] 1859. Many reasons are given for this. The proprietors at the time blamed the magistrates who continually banned their most popular attractions as either too dangerous, or too disruptive to the newly-respectable neighbourhood of Kennington. But other factors certainly played a part: Vauxhall Gardens itself had become run down and tawdry, and was considered old-fashioned; the railway, which ran past the main entrance, had made travel further afield much easier and cheaper; seaside towns, with their Vauxhall-like piers were becoming fashionable; and, finally, the site itself was too valuable as property, and the blandishments of developers eventually persuaded the proprietors to cut their losses and sell the lease.

Amongst the first buildings on the site was St Peter's Church, Kennington Lane, which is located roughly on the site of the Neptune Fountain at the end of the Grand South Walk. The rest of the area was divided up into three hundred building plots, and Vauxhall Gardens disappeared, apparently for ever. In the Blitz, however, the site was cleared, and is now a park, with a city farm at one end, allowing us to see the extent of the original gardens. Vauxhall Gardens, and the surrounding streets, are now, 150 years too late, a conservation area.

Now the site of the Gardens is blocked off from the Thames not only by busy railway lines and Vauxhall Station, but also the Albert Embankment and the modernist edifice of the MI6 headquarters.  But for several decades in the 19th century, up to Captain Adams’ flight in September 1858, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens could stake a claim of being London’s original airport, and a very stylish one at that.

22 September 2010

Something in the air

Recent reports that Wellington will have free public wi-fi along the waterfront during the 2011 Rugby World Cup have been followed up in Auckland with proposals for… well, public wi-fi that you have to pay for:

The proposal would achieve coverage in 732 sites in 62 locations compared to the 150 nodes currently in place.

Current zones covered are Viaduct Basin, Westhaven, Aotea Square, Karangahape Road, Ponsonby Road, Parnell Rise, Newmarket, Remuera Road and Albert Park. Services are also delivered in cafes and restaurants within these zones.

The plan calls for a $3 per hour cost, up to 60 megabytes, a $6.50 per day for 160 megabytes or a weekly $30 per week for 1.2 gigabytes.

A central city service in Auckland, set up in time for the Cup tourist trade, would help to avoid New Zealand’s main international hub being reported as technologically backward, much as South African systems were criticised during the recent football World Cup when travellers first encountered the antiquated South African telecommunications network with its huge roaming data charges

Naturally, in the locked-up world of telecommunications in New Zealand we have to take whatever we can get, but I’d still like to think that the forward-thinking proposals being implemented in Wellington might be matched with a similar sense of vision in Auckland.  But then public services have never been Auckland’s strong point.

I have an alternative proposal for net-hungry travellers visiting Auckland in 2011 and on the lookout for free wi-fi.  And it’s one that the Council should perhaps be promoting more vigorously, given that they already provide free wi-fi across Auckland City, but most people don’t know about it.  Visitors should step into one of the city’s many libraries and avail themselves of the excellent free wi-fi, which is currently capped at 100mb per day.  They might even read a book while they’re at it. 

Alternatively, and this may be a step too far for most data-hungry travellers, they could simply opt to spend their time on holiday watching rugby and seeing the sights rather than surfing the net.  Heresy, I know. 

16 September 2010

His finest hour

SONY DSCToday is Battle of Britain Day – the 70th anniversary of the peak of the Luftwaffe’s attempts to batter the Royal Air Force into submission in preparation for Operation Sea Lion: the invasion of England.  On this day in 1940 the aerial conflict over south-eastern England reached its peak.  The continued failure of the Luftwaffe to break the British air defences, coupled with heavy German losses, soon convinced Hitler to turn eastwards and refocus his attentions on the invasion of Russia. 

This 70th anniversary was marked in London with the dedication of a permanent memorial to one of the Battle of Britain’s heroes – the unveiling of a statue of Sir Keith Park (1892-1975), a New Zealander who achieved greatness in the Royal Air Force and who made an enormous contribution to the defence of London and the south-east of England from the German aerial threat.

With many hundreds of enemy aircraft swarming to attack London, official statements indicated that while there were numerous RAF casualties, the Luftwaffe suffered disproportionate losses in its attacks on 15 September.  (These figures are as published and were exaggerated for propaganda purposes, but German losses were still substantial – perhaps 60 aircraft on 15 September).

The enemy delivered two major attacks on London during the day. Later smaller formations attacked both Portland and targets in the Southampton area.  Our fighters destroyed 176 enemy aircraft (124 bombers and 53 fighters) plus 41 probable and 72 damaged.  AA destroyed 7 enemy aircraft plus 4 probable.  Our casualties are 25 aircraft and 13 pilots killed or missing.

Examining the list of RAF casualties on 15 September gives a picture of the multinational nature of the Battle of Britain.  Of the seven RAF fatalities I found details of on this list, two were foreigners fighting for Britain:

Name Rank Nat Sqn Details
Georges Louis Joseph DOUTREPONT Plt Off Belgian 229 During dogfight, crashed into railway station at Staplehurst in Kent; presumed dead on impact.
Geoffrey Norman GAUNT Plt Off British 609 Aged 24.
Hugh Michael Standford LAMBERT Flt Lt British 25 Killed when Beaufighter R2067 crashed near Biggin Hill.
Gerald Archibald LANGLEY Plt Off British 41 Shot down and killed in combat with Me109s, crashing near Wick House, Bulphan, Upminster.
Ross SMITHER Flg Off Canadian 1 RCAF Shot down and killed by Me109s over Tunbridge Wells in Hurricane P3876.
Thomas Reginald TWEED Sgt British 56 Aged 26.
John Pile WYATT LAC British 25 Leading Aircraftman Wyatt was 32.



One prominent foreigner serving in the Battle of Britain came to epitomise the stalwart and resilient defences that ultimately secured British airspace against a German invasion was the New Zealander, Sir Keith Park.  Leading Fighter Command’s 11 Group, which was responsible for the vital air defences of the capital and the south-east of England, Park coordinated the limited resources of the RAF to achieve air superiority over England against overwhelming odds. 

Park, who was born in Thames in 1892, served in the New Zealand Army at Gallipoli, then transferred to the British Army to serve on the Somme in 1916.  He later transferred once more to the Royal Flying Corps, becoming a highly successful fighter pilot on the Western Front in the remaining years of World War 1.  His military acumen and trustworthiness saw him entrusted with the hardest job in Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain in World War 2.  The RAF quotes one of Park’s esteemed colleagues:

It has been said of him by one of the great fighter leaders of the Second World War, Air Vice-Marshal 'Johnnie' Johnson, that "he was the only man who could have lost the war in a day or even an afternoon". 

Marshal of the RAF, Lord Tedder, said of Park (quoted in NZNUK):

If ever any one man won the Battle of Britain, he did. I don't believe it is recognised how much this one man, with his leadership, his calm judgement and his skill, did to save not only this country, but the world.

After great heroism and substantial losses of life, the RAF turned the tide in the Battle of Britain.  Hitler’s decision, announced on 4 September 1940, to bomb London instead of defeating Fighter Command, ultimately let the RAF off the hook, and led to unsustainable losses for the Luftwaffe.  American author Stephen Budiansky writes in his 2004 book, Air Power:

It was a huge strategic blunder to take the pressure off Fighter Command - “Thank God!” was the reaction of 11 Group’s commander [Park] …  From September 7 to 15, the Luftwaffe lost 298 aircraft, 99 of them fighters, to Fighter Command’s loss of 120.  That marked the end of the Luftwaffe’s daylight attacks on Britain.

Today London offered up a special place in the heart of the city to honour Park and the sacrifices made by those who served alongside him.  Speakers included Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, RAF Chief of Air Staff, New Zealand Minister of Defence Hon Dr Wayne Mapp and British businessman Terry Smith, leader of the campaign to erect a statue in Park’s honour.  Both representatives of the Park family and some of the few remaining living Battle of Britain aircrews also attended, and musical accompaniment was provided by the Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment.  Members of the exclusive Athenaeum Club, next to which the statue has been erected, observed with polite interest from their palatial balcony.  In the skies above Waterloo Place, a vintage Spitfire roared past, waggling its wings, and the curtain was drawn on a statue that will stand proudly in London for many years to come, reminding passers-by of the determination and dedication of a man from faraway New Zealand and the great service he provided to the British nation.    


[Images, clockwise from top left: (1) Dignitaries, incl Sir Stephen Dalton (4th from L), Wayne Mapp (9th) and AVM Graham Lintott, Chief of Air Force (RNZAF) (far right); (2) The statue is unveiled; (3) Dignitaries and veterans pause for official photos; (4) Member of the Band of the RAF Regiment reflects during the dedication ceremony] 

Spitfire flypast:

See also:

Douglas Bader’s air combat report (15 September 1940)

03 September 2010

Rosamond’s Pond

One day in August 1768, a 16-year-old girl living in Poland Street, Westminster, wrote an entry in her private journal about a conversation with a close friend of her deceased mother.  The girl was the daughter of a successful London music master, and she had begun writing in her journal in a few months earlier in March.  The journal itself was addressed to ‘Nobody’, and she outlined her reasoning for this in her first entry:

To whom, then must I dedicate my wonderful, surprising and interesting adventures?  - to whom dare I reveal my private opinion of my nearest Relations?  the secret thoughts of my dearest friends?  my own hopes, fears, reflections and dislikes?  Nobody!

To Nobody, then, will I write my Journal!  since to Nobody can I be wholly unreserved – to Nobody can I reveal my every thought, every wish of my Heart, with the most unlimited confidence, the most unremitting sincerity to the end of my Life!

burney The young woman who wrote these effervescent, deftly-chosen words was young Frances Burney, better known to modern readers as Fanny Burney, who would later in her long and eventful life become a celebrated author, a friend of the legendary lexicographer Samuel Johnson, Second Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte, and an English exile in Paris for 10 years during the Napoleonic wars.  Her last surviving letter, still showing all the signs of her keen intellect and literary talent, was written at the age of 87 in July 1839.  Visitors to Soho may now stroll along an offshoot of Poland Street named after Fanny: D’Arblay Street, which runs between Poland and Wardour Streets, is taken from her married name.  [Portrait: c.1784-5, © National Portrait Gallery and via Burney Texts]           

Setting out on a long life of journal-writing and correspondence in 1768, Fanny’s primary concern at the outset was that the frankness and unedited scope of her private writing should not lead to social embarrassment due to a dreaded breach of privacy.  For women in particular, the art of writing one’s thoughts and feelings held great potential for fraught dilemmas, because one’s standing in society and amongst one’s own kin was greatly determined by the maintenance of good relations and the elaborate standards of politeness that existed at the time.

The conversation Fanny reports with her mother’s friend Dorothy Young is a prime example of the caution with which journal writers operated at the time.  It also provides an excellent example of Fanny’s writing skill, as she recreates the conversation in an entirely plausible fashion and does not stint in granting Miss Young with as much eloquence as herself.  Fanny exclaims that Miss Young ‘very seriously and earnestly advised me to give mine up – heigho-ho!  Do you think I can bring myself to oblige her?’  In this extract, Miss Young speaks first, on the dreadful circumstances that may ensue if Fanny’s journal were to be read by another.  It sounds like she speaks from experience:

‘And suppose any body finds a part in which they are extremely censured?’

‘Why then, they must take it for their pains.  It was not wrote for them, but me, and I cannot see any harm in writing to myself’

‘It was well whilst there were only your sisters with you to do anything of this kind; but, depend on it, when your connections are enlarged, your family increased, your acquaintance multiplied, young and old so apt to be curious – depend upon it, Fanny, ‘tis the most dangerous employment you can have.  Suppose now, for example, your favourite wish were granted, and you were to fall in love, and then the object of your passion were to get sight of some part which related to himself?’

‘Why then, Miss Young, I must make a little trip to Rosamond’s Pond’

‘Why, ay, I doubt it would be all you would have left’

In her dialogue, Fanny alludes to a well-known location in London that has long been forgotten.  Rosamond’s Pond was a secluded spot in St James’ Park a short distance from Buckingham House, the residence of Queen Charlotte that later became known as Buckingham Palace.  While the Pond was a place of assignation for wooing couples, Fanny’s flippant yet pertinent reference to ‘making a little trip to Rosamond’s Pond’ refers to the darker side of the location - the widely-known 18th century practice of jilted or thwarted lovers committing suicide by drowning in its waters.  The reputation of the place must have been widespread for it to be mentioned in the conversation between the young woman and her older friend without explanation. 

The tragic reputation of the Pond led to it being filled in in 1770, to discourage further drownings.  In Edward Walford’s 1878 work, Old and New London: Volume 4, the Pond and its environs are described in more detail:

In the south-west corner [of St James’ Park], near Birdcage Walk, and opposite to James Street and Buckingham Gate, was formerly a small sheet of water, known as "Rosamond's Pond," to which reference is constantly made in the comedies of the time as a place of assignation for married ladies with fashionable roués. The pond was made to receive the water of a small stream which trickled down from Hyde Park, and it is shown in one or two very scarce prints by Hogarth. It was filled up in 1770, soon after the purchase of Buckingham House by the Crown.


It is to its character as recorded above, and as being, in the words of Bishop Warburton to Hurd. "long consecrated to disastrous love and elegiac poetry," that Pope thus mentions it in the Rape of the Lock:—
"This the blest lover shall for Venus take,
And send up vows from Rosamonda's lake."[…]

"Rosamond's Pond," writes the author of "A New Critical Review of the Public Buildings," &c., [published in 1736?] "is another scene where fancy and judgment might be employed to the greatest advantage; there is something wild and romantic round the sides of it, of which a genius could make a fine use, if he had the liberty to improve it as he pleased." […]

"Its romantic aspect, the irregularity of the ground, the trees which overshadowed it, and the view of the venerable Abbey, not only rendered it," writes Mr. Jesse, "a favourite resort of the contemplative, but its secluded situation is said to have tempted a greater number of persons, and especially of 'unfortunate' females, to commit suicide than any other place in London."


In the spirit of investigative journalism, I decided to try to track down the site of Rosamond’s Pond, which ceased to exist 240 years ago, a mere two years after Fanny wrote about it in her journal. 

To set the scene, some background: St James’ Park was founded as a royal deer park by Henry VIII in 1532 and took its name from a leper hospital for women that had operated on the site since at least the 13th century.  The park was opened to the public during the reign of Charles II, and in 1761 the royal family purchased the adjacent Buckingham House for use as the Queen’s residence.

The surrounding area hasn’t changed a great deal since the 18th century, so it was relatively easy to track down using Walford’s directions above and referring to the Rocque map of London in the 1740s, which I’ve used before in my article about Denmark Street.  The enlargement below shows that when the map was published Buckingham House (labelled as the Queen’s Palace in the centre of the excerpt) was at the fringes of built-up London, with its western boundaries flanked by the Five Fields.  If you look closely you can see Rosamond’s Pond labelled as an offshoot at the western end of The Canal that runs through St James’ Park and parallel to The Mall.  (The Pond can also be seen in enlargements of Tirion’s London map of 1754). 

Rosamond's Pond

A few days ago I took my camera down to the park to search for any traces of Rosamond’s Pond.  Unsurprisingly perhaps, given that it’s not been there for nearly a quarter of a millennium, there was no sign, and none of the park information notices nearby, which contain fairly detailed background information and timelines of the park’s history, mentioned it either.  So the following photos of the vicinity will have to suffice. 

Now the area is an innocuous part of the much larger park, used by tourists to stroll from the Palace to the Blue Bridge, which crosses the now undulating canal.  Few who stroll through the leafy park now know the poetic and tragic reputation of this small corner of royal London that young Fanny Burney mentioned in her journal some two and a half centuries ago.   

SONY DSC [Location of Rosamond’s Pond, looking NE towards The Canal]

Stitched Panorama [Location of Rosamond’s Pond, looking SW towards Birdcage Walk]


St James’ Park Landscape history

Frances Burney – Journals & Letters (Peter Sabor & Lars Troide (eds.), London, 2001