Saturday, 29 September 2012

Finials on Washing Lines ...

Father Basil Jellicoe (1899 – 1935) was a clergyman in the Church of England, a housing reformer best known for his housing work, which started when he was a Missioner at the Magdalen Mission in Somers Town, London.

Somers Town street
 It was here, west of the British Library, that Jellicoe founded the St Pancras House Improvement Society (as it was originally known) and several other housing associations in London, Sussex and Cornwall.

Somers Town is the area between the three mainline north London railway termini: Euston (1838), St Pancras (1868) and Kings Cross (1852, together with the Midland Railway Somers Town Goods Depot (1887) next to St Pancras, where the British Library now stands.

St Pancras Railway Station
When I was visiting my mother at St Pancras Hospital I would walk up through the Somers Town housing estate, past Old St Pancras Churchyard where Mary Shelley was originally buried, and where the Hardy Tree is to be found ...

... in the mid 1860s, the young Thomas Hardy was in charge of the excavation of part of the graveyard, in the course of the construction of the Midland Railway’s London terminus, he placed the gravestones around the sapling – now known as the Hardy Tree.

Thomas Hardy tree, Old St Pancras churchyard

Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, their daughter Mary Shelley, the architect Sir John Soane, and Charles Dickens, as a child, amongst others have lived within the auspices of Somers Town.

Over the years from the late 1780s when the first housing appealed to middle class people fleeing the French Revolution, new housing continued to be built amongst the fields, brick works and market gardens on the northern fringes of 1780s London, marking Somers Town (pre the railways) as a good neighbourhood.

Wyvern Finial - c/o
An Urban Veg Patch blog
York Rise, Somers Town
Within a hundred years the houses were multiple occupation, and overcrowding was severe with whole families sometimes living in one room, as confirmed by the social surveys of Charles Booth and Irene Barclay.

Jellicoe’s St Pancras and Humanist Housing Association wanted to prove that the poorest tenants could live in good quality homes: where the properties were more than just housing ... there could be plenty of outside space for gardening, leisure, works of art and sculpture.

The sculptor Gilbert Bayes (1872 – 1953) is remembered for his interest in colour, his association with the Royal Doulton Company, and his work in polychrome ceramics and enamelled bronze.

Thistle Finial for
washing line post c/o
Urban Veg Patch blog
Bayes was commissioned to decorate the courtyards and gardens in the new housing developments being created in the 1930s.  Bayes and Jellicoe were inspired by folklore, the Bible and medieval romances ... so many of the streets are named after saints, and any sculptures and art works reflected these interests.

Ceramic finials were created by Bayes to decorate the top of washing-line posts ... and the British Library had allocated a tiny (well large pillar base!) plinth  to remind us of the Humanist Housing Association’s aspirations of the 1930s for their community housing – this, I found, near the British Library’s cloakrooms!

The tiny display at the British Library
c/o Phillip Dawson Flickriver photos
Here I found my inspiration for this post to remind us of days gone by ... Somers Town cut through by the railways, 20th and 21st century roads and developments ... the new St Pancras International station is here ...

... yet being remembered for the fine New Sculpture movement sculptures that tied in with the changes being encountered through the Art Nouveau period and enlightened thinkers of the early 1900s.

Rose Finial c/o
Urban Veg Patch blog
Jellicoe and his associates wanted the slum housing conditions to be improved, and ... if suitably desirable ... then perhaps the residents would take greater care of their properties and area.

The 20th century saw other changes in Somers Town, some good some bad – as is to be expected, now with our more ‘enlightened’ approach to life Somers Town has retained its diverse cultural communities.

Dolphin Pub in Somers Town
Jellicoe’s concern for social improvement in housing and living conditions, while his connections with philanthropic patrons and artists during his life, enabled an area of London to develop a uniqueness that we see today in the district ...

... and one that is fortunately available to us via a minute display that I found downstairs at the British Library with extra information via modern technology that is the internet.

Washing Lines will never look the same again ...

Flickriver photos of Somerstown by Phillip Dawson

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Diane said...

Great post and certainly washing line as you say will never look the same again. Never thought of brightening up the washing line but this now makes me look at it in a new light :-) Take care and have a good weekend Diane

MorningAJ said...

They are amazing. They remind me of some of the Victorian engineering works I've seen. Have you ever been to Papplewick Pumping Station? The ironwork is highly decorative, as well as functional. There's a lot to be said for decoration. It brightens life immensely.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Diane - the post is certainly food for creative thought ... something that was omitted come the 1950s and 1960s when those ghastly tower blocks were erected ... what a lovely genteel area Somers Town must have been. No - I too will look at washing lines in a different (bare) light!

@ Morning AJ - what an amazingly beautiful place the pumping station is .. I can quite see why you directed me in this direction.

Victorian ironwork, brickwork and buildings are extraordinary - quite beautiful in the amount of work and thought that went in to their buildings ... even for a water pumping station.

The Pumping Station has brightened my day!

Cheers Diane and Anne - washing line and pumping stations will brighten my thought days in future. Great to see you both - enjoy the weekend .. it's sunny and lovely here ... Hilary

Jo said...

You mean its finally stopped raining?

Unfamiliar with that part of London. Its odd to decorate washing lines, rather quaint I suppose.

Betsy Wuebker said...

So much value in ornamenting and uplifting the everyday with beauty like this! What a lovely street scene from Somers Town you've chosen; who wouldn't love to live on it? You can really see the "Royal Doulton" in these finials, too.

Patsy said...

Interesting post (as always) Hilary.

I'd not heard of washing line finials before. They're great. I especially like the thistle one.

Luanne G. Smith said...

I remember walking by the old railroad depot building when I visited the British Library. So impressive. Also interesting to read up on some of the history of the area. And that tree is so fascinating with all the gravestones lined up around it.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

My clothesline looks so boring now.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jo .. well it has down here, but Spain is under deluge (serious floods)- great thought to encourage people to be interested in art though.

@ Betsy .. you're so right - I'd imagine the area would have looked beautiful .. Somers Town in parts does look like this street - thankfully I found the picture.

I am fascinated to find out how much cross-fertilisation there is between the different arts ... you can see here pottery, colour mixing, art, sculpture etc .. then environmental and cultural encouragement amongst the peoples ..

@ Patsy - they are fun aren't they .. and nor had I - but that tiny little display was such fun to see.

@ Luanne - glad you could relate to the area .. there was so much going on when Mum was in the hospital .. but I managed to have a little look around.

@ Susan - well there's a chance for you - a radio aerial .. highly decorated with Af4fo insignias? I might even pop over and see your washing lines updated into the 21st Century!

Cheers Jo, Betsy, Patsy, Luanne and Susan .. great to see you - enjoy Sunday .. Hilary

Anonymous said...

What an interesting post. I'd never heard of the Thomas Hardy tree before. How interesting it looks with all the headstones around the base.

Sue said...

oh Hilary I love the finials (there's another new word for me). They'd certainly make hanging out the washing an artistic endeavour rather than a hundrum everyday experience.

The Thomas Hardy tree with the headstones, contrasts sharply with the cemeteries I've recently seen in central Australia. There's so much green! I never did find him an easy read, Perhaps his works are an acquired taste.


writing and living by Richard P Hughes said...

I assume the photo of the Thomas Hardy Tree is current. Hard to believe the headstones were left that way. Sometimes, life is stranger than fiction.

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,
Ah, a visual reminder of a location I haven't been to in many a year.
And to think that ceramic finials were used to adorn the top of washing line posts. It kind of puts my clothesline to shame. Although the 'wee folks' in my garden have been known to hang out on my clothesline.
Thanks for another interesting take on our world and Somers Town in particular, this time.
Cheers and enjoy Sunday.

Deniz Bevan said...

I can't believe it, I hadn't known about this! I'll definitely have to visit Somers Town next time I'm in London. And the Hardy tree!

A Lady's Life said...

The Thomas Hardy tree is very interesting hmmm

Juliet said...

Finials for washing line posts! What a fascinating idea. I am especially interested in the Hardy tree. Even though I did my PhD on Thomas Hardy, I never heard this story, so it has special interest to me.
PS Haven't been receiving your posts - again! - and then this one arrived.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Susanne - many thanks .. it's surprising where we find people in life! Who would have thought of Hardy being associated with the works of building a railway.

@ Sue - it would be fun to have different finials to cheer the days along - but anyone who appreciated art would enjoy looking at them.

I can imagine your cemeteries .. rather like those in South Africa.

I struggled with Hardy too - and must have another go.

@ Richard - yes the stones were placed around the tree when I used to walk through the graveyard to get into St Pancras Hospital to visit my mother.

The stones are definitely neat aren't they .. whether they were expected to be there 150 years later is another matter. Shows the strength of tree as it pushed past the stones ..

@ Gary - glad the post brought back some memories. Our washing lines aren't pretty are they ..

Oh yes I've had 'wee folks' occasionally decide they need a wash and have given them an airing to dry off.

I enjoyed my walks through Somers Town - I was always in a rush .. but perhaps now one day I can go back and have a closer look.

@ Deniz - that's wonderful that you feel inspired to visit the Old St Pancras Church and churchyard .. check out my other post as basic background.

They've now revitalised the little park there too - so Camley Street Natural Park and St Pancras Gardens are linked together ... this is in the 5 years since I had to visit my mother up there. Part of the redevelopment for Eurostar and Olympics greening ...

@ A Lady's Life ... that Churchyard gets lots of visitors .. the Beatles even filmed there ...

@ Juliet - Good gracious .. you are very learned if your PhD was on Thomas Hardy - you must know him backwards and inside out.

He sounds as if he's quite a complicated writer, changing his texts ... yet he was self taught but contributed to developing the Oxford English Dictionary - so presumably was extremely intelligent and knowledgeable about many things.

Great comments - thanks so much for visiting .. cheers Hilary

Paula RC said...

There had been some great thinkers and shakers in our wonderful history, Hilary. Thank you for sharing this with us and to think even the humble washing line was turned into a work of art amazing!

Len Lambert said...

You take such beautiful photos, especially the one of St Pancras Railway Station. Thank you for sharing all this info with us and the photos! :)

Lynn said...

I am in awe of that Hardy tree. How wonderful - and thank you for such a great post, Hilary.

jabblog said...

What fascinating facts you find. It shows again what a diverse city London is.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Humanist Housing Association, fascinating. It's very inspiring how human beings eventually get around to doing the right thing. Such an association was a huge move in those days, I'm sure. Bravo to them.

Thanks for such an interesting post, Hilary.

Annalisa Crawford said...

Those gravestones around the tree are a bit gruesome actually - I'm glad I've seen a picture rather than the real thing!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Paula - it does beggar some belief doesn't it - a decorated washing line using Royal Doulton!

@ Len - sadly they're always someone elses ... I try and use Wikipedia ones and give credit where not ..

@ Lynn - the Hardy tree is certainly sturdy have burst through the grave stones and stayed that way ...

@ Janice - many thanks ... London has lots to offer and has been showcasing old, new and diverse this year in particular ..

@ Joylene - there were the people like Rowntree, Cadbury .. who set up housing associations for their workers - but there must have been many many more working benefactors around - tapping into family connections etc ... Jellicoe was one.

@ Annalisa - I'd wonder where the bones went ... I'm not sure if they are in the Old St Pancras Church .. I've the church brochure somewhere and when I get to it .. I'll check!

Delighted everyone's enjoying the decorated washing lines - what amazes me is that some of the finials have survived at all.

Cheers Hilary


This was right up my street literally, where I live Mary Shelly's son owned the land the house I live in also he owned a Manor along the street which is now my surgery. I have seen Mary's newer burial place at St Peter's in Bournemouth where the heart of Percy her husband is buried also her mother and father.
Last but not least her son also called Percy.
I have written a poem about our area and the Shelley connection with our area. will put it on my new blog in time.

Thanks for stopping by lovely to hear from you.

Theresa Milstein said...

Somers Town is full of history. I can't believe how many famous people touched it in some way. Thanks for sharing!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Yvonne - yes I always remember your connection with the Shelleys and their removal from the Somers Town/Old St Pancras Churchyard down to Bournemouth.

@ Theresa - and I never mentioned half of those connected with living in Somers Town .. glad you enjoyed it.

Cheers to you both .. Hilary