Following on from the Keeping a lid on it blog post, Jill Saunders reveals more about the outer side of the iron coffin lid and its decorative detail.
Joanna Robinson looks back at the creation of the Dickens: Dark London app. Joanna is a PhD student working collaboratively with the Museum of London and the English department at King’s College, London.
There must be a strange sense of anticlimax when an exhibition ends. Museum staff have followed Dickens and London through every stage – the months of research and careful planning, the hype surrounding its opening, and finally (as of Sunday 10 June 2012) an empty space where it has been. Yet this one is special, as even after the exhibit is dismantled Dickens and London will leave two of its own relics to tell future generations of its existence. The first is William Raban’s film The Houseless Shadow, and the second is the app developed to work alongside the exhibition, Dickens: Dark London.
There has been such an explosion of Dickens-related adaptations, documentaries, and exhibitions this year that the first concern of the team building the app was to do something new and exciting. The app offers an innovative and unique way to engage with Dickens, partly because it is interactive. Each issue is plotted onto a map of London in 1862, which links in with google maps on your phone, and is overlaid with modern satellite images of the capital, so that you can trace how the city has changed and links our own era to that of Dickens.
Yet when you tap on one of the hotspots on the map, you are taken to editions of a unique graphic novel, which follows Dickens as a character as he wanders through the streets of London. The interactive nature of the app made it possible for users to compare Dickens’s account to their experience of the modern metropolis. For example, edition one uses a sketch focused on an iconic part of London’s topography, the Seven Dials in Covent Garden. Nothing could be so different from Dickens’s representation of poverty and depravity as the now gentile and exclusive location of boutique shops and expensive accommodation.
Dickens and London laid emphasis on the darker elements in Dickens’s writing, and the direction for the app aimed to recreate this mood. The illustrator for the app, David Foldvari, conveys a sinister style in his portrayal of 19th century London; he likes to work from photographs but then changes them into grotesque caricatures, much like Dickens’s writing. His starting point was a selection of engravings from the era to help him build an imaginative picture of how London used to look. He would send his draft illustrations and then any glaring historical errors would be fed back – for example where characters should have smoked clay-pipes rather than cigarettes – but a certain amount of artistic licence was granted, as it still had to have the feel of a graphic novel. Dickens’s fictionalised city was thus re-imagined through the darkness of this medium and the result is grimy and visceral.
The next debate was how to bring these illustrations to life. It was decided that if we could get a well-known actor to read as Dickens’s narrative voice then the app would prove accessible to an even wider audience. We were lucky enough to enlist the help of Mark Strong, whose success in villainous roles assured us that he would be able to do dark well. Even so, during the recording sessions the direction was always to make his voice darker and gloomier still. So much so that he joked his wife was teasing him about it, but the result made Dickens come to life in a completely new way.
Each adaptation of Dickens has claimed its place in the bicentenary celebrations, but I think that this app has a particular resonance with his original publications: it appears in a serialised format, it is illustrated, it is accessible, but most importantly it moves. The choice to follow Dickens through the streets in a graphic format is precisely what his original writing invites the reader to do. We observe with him the changing scenes that he responds to, and can appreciate that throughout his life Dickens was never responding to a static landscape.
You can download Dickens: Dark London from iTunes. The first edition, Seven Dials, is free while each remaining edition is available to download at £1.49.
After our recent Initial Investigations blog post, Jill Saunders tells us more about the conservation work on the iron coffin from St Bride’s, this time focusing on the coffin lid.
The lid of the coffin had key features relating to the object’s anti-theft function with iron pegs all the way around which would spring and catch under a ledge on the coffin base, keeping the casket locked tight. Though the main pegs were quite robust, the catches were more vulnerable and we had to be mindful of them during treatment and any manoeuvring. In addition to small corroded losses and a build up of corrosion products (which would be expected), the lid displayed signs of damage appearing to be caused by force. There was a missing peg revealing a circle of fresh iron and potions of the sheet metal were caved in and curled round. Though we cannot be certain how or when this damage occurred we suspect that it was caused at the time of excavation or shortly afterwards by archaeologists forcing the coffin open. The peg could have also been knocked off at a later date. Eg moving the object around the tight paces and stone walls of the crypt.
As mentioned in my first blog, Conservation Introduction, we knew that this object had to be prepared for display and then long term storage back at the crypt so we were concerned with its general appearance and aesthetic features and wanted to offer some protection against wear and tear and environmental conditions. After preliminary dust removal using a brush and vacuum, there remained a great deal of unsightly bulbous orange/brown iron corrosion products which disrupted the flat surface and obscured manufacturing features such as join edges, rims and the pegs too (Fig. 2). In order to minimise the risk of damage it was important to approach the object with the least possible force and work up until a successful result was achieved. We began simply brushing and found that stiff brushes were able to remove a significant amount of the very bubbly upper-most corrosion.
However some lower levels were more stubborn. We used a type of rubber named Garryflex which contains abrasive grit to work more on these areas and the action also helped to reduce the pale corrosion dust created by the brushing which was trapped between the crevices of the uneven surface.
Because of the pegs, the lid had been placed on its board front side down with the inside cover visible and pegs sticking up. However from brief visual examination during transportation we knew that the other side had some traces of decoration. We were hence careful not to press down too hard and tried to minimise movement in the object during our corrosion reduction on the inner lid.
We reached a point where we were making little difference to the appearance of the object so that the possible damage to the outer side by vibrations of the cleaning action and amount of time spent reducing corrosion could not be justified to continue work. We did consider using a harsher abrasive such as sand paper to further wear down remaining compacted corrosion products which caused irregularities in the surface but this seemed unnecessary. We were happy with the appearance achieved, having removed the orange/brown bulbous pale corrosion which is generally considered undesirable. It was not our intention to remove all signs of degradation from the lid as its age and history were fundamental to its perceived values and its status as ‘archaeological object’ admits imperfection and signs of object biography. Also we wanted to avoid risk of revealing fresh metal as this would be unsightly and could create active corrosion cells. Though we felt that we would want to lacquer the object and this side was now ready for that process, we were concerned for the features on the outer side and wanted to investigate and secure them ASAP.
Watch this space for the next entry covering the outer side of the coffin lid with decorative remains: Turning over a new lid.
In the run up to the opening of our new exhibition, Our Londinium 2012 at the Museum of London, illustrator Olly Gibbs talks us through how he created his illustrations for the exhibition’s marketing campaign. We challenged Olly to create four different designs – two modern objects made up of Roman object doodles, and two Roman objects made up of modern object doodles, find out how he did it below…
Hello all, Olly Gibbs here! I have been kindly asked to give you lucky people a glimpse into the creation of the latest illustrations for the upcoming Our Londinium 2012 exhibition at the Museum of London. A quick bit of background info about my work is that it normally revolves around machinery and motifs of machines but in a doodle and detailed style. The challenge here was developing the style to incorporate the Roman and modern objects that were to be included in the exhibition into the work. This was very much a new direction for me and I was pretty surprised by the final result in that the pieces still looked very much like my original style!
To begin with I was treated to a tour of the Museum itself to get my head around the scale of the project as well as finding out more about what kind of objects I would be dealing with, this included the likes of a sarcophagus and a bust of Hadrian. The key part of my illustrations is the level of detail I try to put into them. A new challenge again for this project was doing enough detail that would work on an enlarged format as well as printed small – this required a lot of trial and error and printing! Not only that but I needed to get the perspective spot on, as well as adding depth to the objects. For me, the final posters where it works best are the amphora and helmet which required attention to detail to add a 3D feel to them.
My first attempts for the illustrations weren’t as detailed as the finals, using larger objects and less of them. The number of layers on each of the illustrations soon grew especially when I needed to create the illusion of a corner or round surface. Many hours were spent looking at pixels and there’s a lot of hand drawn dots and small objects put in there for this effect! A lot of work was involved but the outcome is very worthwhile! In addition, each object needed to be historically accurate so there was a lot of time spent getting all the features correct – this was key for the centurion helmet plume which took on a few different shapes of helmets in the Roman era.
I was very pleased with the final outcome of the illustrations and it was fun working with the Museum on the project as well as meeting the Junction youth panel who chose me for the project! Cheers guys, I’m looking forward to seeing it all come together, the rest of you are in for a treat!
Our Londinium 2012 opens at the Museum of London on Friday 22 June 2012, entry is free.
Following on from our recent blog Protecting the bodies of the dead, Jill Saunders, Museum of London Conservation Intern and UCL MSc student, gives an update on the conservation work on the iron coffin from St Bride’s.
As Interns, working at the Museum of London from October 2011 – Jun 2012, both Jon (Readman) and I have worked on a tremendous range and quantity of incredible artefacts. However nothing has quite come close to the iron coffin from St Bride’s and we were very excited to have the challenge of such a large and demanding object. Before even seeing the coffin we had quite a lot of information to work with regarding the purpose of conservation work and we conducted literary research and held professional dialogues to begin to understand the object’s historical and material significances. It was important to start thinking about all of these points:
• The object had to be prepared for open display in the Museum of London’s Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition (opening on 19 October 2012) and would be likely to remain on permanent open display at in the St Bride’s crypt. Without the environmental control and physical barrier provided by a case we knew that the iron and any delicate features would need special protection, and because the object was always going to be displayed and not hidden away in storage, we knew that it would be important to make aesthetic features, such as decoration, as clear as possible for the public to see and enjoy.
• We were soon aware of the unique status of the object which simultaneously increased the importance of preservation and potential benefit of investigations.
• Though the coffin was now empty, we had to be prepared for possible traces of human remains and show due respect considering the past use of the object.
We made an initial visit to the crypt at St Bride’s church, Fleet Street, to view the coffin and, taking plenty of photographs, we carried out a preliminary assessment of key features and began thinking about potential conservation issues…
…noting slots where possible slats were once present, now lost:
…considering locations of possible decoration and handles as indicated by corrosion and other deterioration products:
…locating key decorative features needing protection:
….and assessing general condition:
From the information gained on this first visit, and in consideration of key object contexts and significances, we put together a preliminary ‘Treatment Proposal’ for St Bride’s to gain their official approval before the coffin was removed to the lab and treatment could begin. This document is a way of compiling and presenting all sorts of information about an object from past socio-historical significances to current material condition to ensure proposed treatment actions are balanced and well considered. At this stage we suggested action under four headings: ‘Cleaning and Excavation’; ‘Consolidation’; ‘Repair and Support’; and ‘Corrosion Inhibition’ and St Bride’s were satisfied to give us the go ahead.
Watch this space for the next entry covering the transportation of the coffin and lid from St Bride’s to the Museum of London: Crypt to Laboratory.
Following on from her blogs about William Raban’s film Nightwalks, the key objects within our Dickens and London exhibition, Dickens’ family portraits, and London pubs, this week PhD student, Joanna Robinson, looks at policing in Victorian London. Joanna is a PhD student working collaboratively with the Museum of London and the English department at King’s College, London.
‘And now the strokes began to fall like hail upon the gate, and on the strong building; for those who could not reach the door, spent their fierce rage on anything—even on the great blocks of stone, which shivered their weapons into fragments, and made their hands and arms to tingle as if the walls were active in their stout resistance, and dealt them back their blows. The clash of iron ringing upon iron, mingled with the deafening tumult and sounded high above it, as the great sledge-hammers rattled on the nailed and plated door: the sparks flew off in showers; men worked in gangs, and at short intervals relieved each other, that all their strength might be devoted to the work; but there stood the portal still, as grim and dark and strong as ever, and, saving for the dints upon its battered surface, quite unchanged.’
(Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2003), p. 533.)
This scene from Barnaby Rudge, where the rioting mob attack and ultimately destroy Newgate Prison, is a climactic moment in the text even for modern readers, yet for Dickens’ contemporaries this incident would have had an even sharper resonance. During the Victorian period, Newgate acted as a kind of cultural metaphor for criminality, as it was the site of public executions in front of massive crowds, yet it simultaneously held a subversive appeal. Newgate novels became a popular genre, with William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard causing a sensation and the reissue of Oliver Twist on the back of the bandwagon. However, in his 1841 Preface to Oliver Twist, Dickens rejects his association with Sheppardism, and the sensational elements that were now being linked with his own work. For many of Dickens’readers, the city slums he depicts were as foreign as Victorian Imperial concerns overseas, and Dickens prided himself on creating a window into the suffering that existed on the doorsteps of the rich. Newgate novels, on the other hand, were meant to be exhilarating reads, creating a sense of danger and the exotic for many of their readers. Meanwhile, they could offer the poor a hero from among their own class.
The door from Newgate Prison, which Dickens describes as grim and obdurate in the passage above, features significantly in the Dickens and London exhibition. Once round the first corner in the exhibition, you see it looming impressively in the centre of the space. Indeed, when you remember that people tended to be shorter two centuries ago, it is clear what a gloomy and imposing shadow it must have cast on prisoners. Yet what really struck me about it was the decision to place it next to the Watchman’s Box from Furnival’s Inn. The two of them seem to vie for attention – both impact pieces with a central location in the exhibition – or so I thought. But when chatting to a group of MA students, none of them had felt very affected by the box, or hadn’t realised what it was. Watchmen were basically security guards, who patrolled the streets at night in an effort to keep order before the Metropolitan Police Force was initiated in 1829. However, public opinion of them was not high. Policing in Victorian London was a difficult task, and many people felt unprotected by these supposed figures of authority. This made me wonder whether the underwhelmed reaction of these students to the box was in fact appropriate.
In contrast to the Watchman’s Box, the door from Newgate really does look threatening; indeed, John Betjeman described the prison as ‘deliberately sombre and fortress-like.’ It seems as if the prison was designed to create a severe enough impression to be an effective deterrent of crime in itself, especially if the minimal police force was not making the streets any safer. It’s really almost comical to see the two objects side by side, as they form such a stark contrast to our own surveillance society. Yet Newgate at least must have had some effect. As Dickens shows in the passage above, the door from Newgate is the greatest obstacle in the way of complete anarchy from a Metropolitan mob, and its symbolic significance in this passage reveals the real feeling of authority that it generated amongst the Victorian public. Indeed, even now when the door is out of context and contained in an exhibition, it is difficult not to shiver at the thought of being shut behind it.
Following on from her blogs about William Raban’s film Nightwalks, the key objects within our Dickens and London exhibition and Dickens’ family portraits, this week PhD student, Joanna Robinson, looks at London pubs then and now. Joanna is a PhD student working collaboratively with the Museum of London and the English department at King’s College, London.
Coming, as I do, from a small village, the local pub has been a central feature in the landscape of my childhood. And being ignorant, as I am, I assumed that having a local was a big thing for most people. Yet although, needless to say, my experience of different pubs has been extended significantly in London, I have never found a pub in the city with such a community feeling. London’s huge population and high prices seem obvious reasons for the shifting clientele, yet it made me wonder what the pubs were like in Dickens’ day, when the city was smaller and it was safer to drink beer than water. Would attempts to shelter from cholera have fostered a community in spite of the dislocating effects of the city?
During the nineteenth century the ever increasing industrialisation of urban spaces had a massive knock-on effect on pubs. For instance, the expansion of the railway meant that historic coaching inns died a slow death. Moreover, in an attempt to control the social problems caused by the unlicensed production of gin, the Gin Act of 1751 relegated the sale of gin to licensed vendors. Thus by the 1820s the fashion for gin palaces replaced squalid Georgian gin-shops. Gin palaces were designed as an escape from the often wretched conditions of home, and featured all the mod-cons including gas lighting.
The Dickens and London exhibition showcases old pub signs from Dickens’ era, which (given the exhibition’s intention to reveal the seamier side of the city that inspired Dickens) hints that these pubs were less than reputable locations. Indeed, the sign for The Bull and Mouth, used in The Pickwick Papers, is really quite creepy! This and the sign from the Goose and Gridiron are displayed beside a modern copy of the crescent moon sign from an eighteenth century Mercer’s Shop, which was for many years a feature of Holywell Street. In Victorian Babylon, Lynda Nead examines Holywell Street’s association with obscene literature and lower-class subversion in detail, and with this in mind it seems to me that the exhibition is keen to emphasise the links between pubs and the lower-classes in Dickens’s work. However, knowing that (especially as a student) dives are often the best places for a good night out, I was keen to see how Dickens actually used pubs in his novels. Could a gin palace or a coaching inn gone to seed be the Victorian equivalent of that brilliant bar that you love in spite of having to throw away your shoes afterwards?
In David Copperfield, the reader is presented with several different drinking establishments in the course of David’s Bildungsroman. The first, which seems closest to my idea of a local, is The Willing Mind in Yarmouth – Mr Peggotty and Ham frequent it fairly often, yet contrary to the scenes of vice that we may have expected in London, it is a community hub. Well, for the men at least. Compared to the scenes describing a gin shop in the Seven Dials section in Sketches by Boz (another poor community) we may be inclined to believe that Dickens thought a rural setting conducive to moral behaviour. Indeed, even within the text a comparative city location could be The Golden Cross, which used to be at Charing Cross. Contrary to its rural counterpart, this inn is a liminal space, and David feels strange and isolated here until he runs into his old school fellow, Steerforth. However, from Steerforth onwards, The Golden Cross is repeatedly linked to meetings with disreputable people – it is outside it that David first rediscovers the prostitute Martha, for example. To me, Dickens seems to be giving a fairly clear message – respectable people do their drinking in private. The real scenes of conviviality are when Mr Micawber is mixing punch for his friends, something that Dickens himself frequently did for his associates. In these scenes the atmosphere is inclusive and jovial – even the women and children are allowed to share in the fun.
Although this is a brief synopsis, I believe we can historicise the division between community-focused rural pubs and the bustling dislocation of those in the city back to Dickens’s era: then, as now, the city forces people to seek inclusivity in small groups of friends rather than a communal location. Nevertheless, even in the city Dickens’ legacy can help to create an imagined community between those eras, as modern-day Londoners visit the pubs that claim him as an ex-patron such as Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street. When you walk into these places, even if you know no one in the room, you can feel linked not only back to Dickens, but to anyone who has raised a glass to him there. Therefore, if the job of a local pub is to help you to feel connected to a place, then even disconnected Londoners may feel an affinity through a shared history.
In the run up to the opening of At Home with the Queen on 25 May, participant, Miles Landesman, tells us about the history of his Queen memorabilia (The Queen by artist Graham Dean) and what it means to him.
I first saw The Queen, by artist Graham Dean, at Nicholas Treadwell’s art gallery in 1975. At that time Treadwell was promoting Superhumanism amongst the artists working for him. Superhumanism defines any work that is urban and unorthodox, be it angry, humorous, quirky, or ironic.
My father, Jay Landesman, was a man who appreciated unusual art. He bought the painting because he enjoyed the way it portrays the Queen. It is surreal, full of irony and I think the setting is marvelous. Dean has painted the Queen satirically, in caricature. She wears a plain headscarf and jumper and her body is wrapped in the British flag. Our Queen must keep warm in the changeable British climate! She sits in the gardens at Buckingham Palace – note the corgis under an old oak tree in the far distance – on a mock-medieval throne with her British mug of tea at her side. Note also the padding on the arms of the throne – our Queen must be comfortable! She smiles a wide, typically royal, toothy grin. The book she is reading is like a secret scrap book. The small tear on the cover reveals three letters, ‘uee’ and the rest is covered. We can recognise that these letters belong to the word ‘Queen’, but what’s inside? We can only imagine; the book is private. Has she collected newspaper clippings about herself? Is she smiling that fixed smile at us because she is playing being ‘The Queen’, with flags, estate, corgis, throne and tea? What she thinks and feels we can only imagine.
The Queen spent many years in Jay’s basement flat. She was always there to greet me as I entered his room, illuminated by soft lamplight. I know she was one of Jay’s favourites. He loved the royal family and found the painting stimulating and I agree with his judgment. I think it is one of the most appealing works, making you stop and take notice. It hung above Jay’s bed opposite a couple of ‘destruction’ art pieces, one of them a deconstructed piano. The Queen is so tongue-in-cheek and very characteristic of its time. Unlike God save the Queen by designer Jamie Reid, for example, which has been printed time and time again on t-shirts all over London, Dean’s work has not been used in a derogatory way. It doesn’t incite anarchy, or poke fun at the serious, stiff-upper-lip monarchy. The Queen is happy and clearly loves promoting herself and her country’s Britishness. She has kept me company, emitting a benign aura over all who meet her, family and friends alike. She has entertained our guests at all the dinners and parties we have had over the years. As the drinks flow her smile seems to get wider and wider. She seems to say, ‘Come on, don’t take life so seriously! Look at me, I’m enjoying my life and so can you. Long live Britannia!’ She is definitely part of the family, and since we’ve moved her upstairs she looks better than ever.