Category Archives: Quirky stuff

Facial Hair through the Ages

November 1st

To mark the beginning of ‘Movember’, here’s a look at some of the facial hair styles adopted by the  Tudors and Stuarts, ranging from “boyish” to “strictly no-nonsense”, by way  of the peculiarly popular “rakish”.

Top row, left to right: Christopher Marlowe; “The Laughing Cavalier”; Francis Drake.

Middle  row, left to right: William Shakespeare; James I; James I’s “favourite” George Villiers, the First Duke of Buckingham.

Bottom row: Henry VIII; William Cecil, Lord Burghley; Thomas Cranmer.

(Click image to see full-sized original)

Facial hair through the ages

Facial hair through the ages

How “Of Alley” Got its Name



The story may be said to have begun at least as long ago as 1237 or thereabouts, when a house was built on the banks of the Thames for the Bishops of Norwich.  The  house was later handed over by Henry VIII to his brother-in-law Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk,  during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, and then by Queen Mary to the Archbishop of York  in 1556, at which point it  came to be known as “York House”.  York House was then in turn owned or occupied by Sir Nicholas Bacon, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, from 1558; by his son Francis Bacon, from 1617;  by  George Villiers Senior, the First Duke of Buckingham, from 1621; by Villiers’s widow, from 1628;  by General Sir Thomas, Lord Fairfax, during the Civil War; and eventually by Villiers’s son, George Junior, the Second Duke of Buckingham, after the Restoration  (by which time he had married Fairfax’s daughter Mary).  The house  survived the Great Fire of 1666.  However, it was substantially demolished in the 1670s, whereupon Nicholas Barbon re-developed the site, and in deference to its former owner set out new streets named George, Villiers, Duke and Buckingham –  and an alley named Of!


(Incidentally, of York House, only the Water Gate, believed to have been designed and built by the master-mason Nicholas Stone in 1626, survives to this day, in  Victoria  Embankment Gardens).



A Beautiful Mind

Continuing yesterday’s Second  World War theme, today I took time out to go to the “Codebreaker: Alan Turing’s life and legacy” exhibition at the Science Museum in South Kensington (which runs until October 21st 2013).
Turing was a brilliant but eccentric, and troubled, mathematician, cryptanalyst, logician, philosopher and pioneer computer scientist, now widely regarded by those in the know as one of the more important and influential figures of the twentieth century.  To the general public, he is perhaps best  known not so much for his work on artificial intelligence and information technology as for that on military intelligence and code-breaking during the Second World War, at  Bletchley Park.  He and his  equally oddball fellow academics at Bletchley Park (“Station X”) enjoyed the unlikely but more-or-less unqualified support of Churchill,  who clearly understood more than most the vital significance of the intelligence they generated  (“Ultra”).  (At the same time, though, remarking, rather archly, that although he knew he had asked for no stone to be left unturned in putting together the team, he had not expected to be taken quite so literally).  It has been estimated that the work of the team at “Station X” may have cut short the war by up to two to three years, and saved countless thousands of lives.  Perhaps the team’s most notable successes were the breaking  of the German Navy’s “Enigma” code, using  a prototype computer called a “Bombe”, which was a decisive factor in the victory in the Battle of the Atlantic; and the breaking of the German Army High Command’s “Lorenz” code, using the first fully programmable computer “Colossus” (actually designed by the essentially entirely  unsung Bill  Tutte and Tommy Flowers).
Statue of Turing at Bletchley Park
Sadly, after the war, Turing was persecuted over his homosexuality to such an extent that he eventually took his own life, eating a poisoned apple, in 1954.  This is  ironic in that  Turing’s  research  on “artificial intelligence” almost certainly came  about, by way of his musings on “the nature of spirit”, as a  result of his  reaction to the tragic  death of the fellow schoolboy he  loved.
Note.  On a related note, readers may be interested to know that there are memorial plaques to Turing in Maida Vale, on the house in which he was born in 1912, and in Richmond, on the house in which he lived from 1945-47.  Also that much of the hardware used at Bletchley Park was manufactured at the former Post Office Research Station in Dollis Hill.

Property Boundary Markers

I’ve had a number of questions about property boundary markers recently.
Most of those I’ve seen in and around the City of London have been parish boundary markers.  The most common types of these are brass plaques affixed to buildings, typically a little above head height – here are some examples:
St Katherine Cree
St Lawrence Jewry

St Mary Le Strand
St Stephen Coleman Street
St Clement Danes
(The anchor on the St Clement Danes plaque, the Katharine Wheel on the St Katharine Cree one, and the gridiron on the St Lawrence Jewry one, allude to the respective methods by which the nominate saints were martyred; the encircled cockerel on the St Stephen Coleman Street plaque, alludes  to the “La Cokke on the Hoop” brewery that stood on Coleman Street in the fifteenth century). 
At least one that I’m familiar with, though, is in the form of a carved inscription more or less at street level 
Christ Church (and St Sepulchre)
And another is reminiscent of a milestone.
St Clement Danes and St Dunstan in the West
Brass shields bearing coats-of-arms also mark the boundaries of the properties of the livery companies. 
Armorers’ and Brasiers’ Company
Readers interested in further information are referred to the following web-site: