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Vanished London: the Pantheon

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And no, the Pantheon wasn’t just in Rome, London had one! Not exactly the same, but an interesting and curious story nonetheless. Opened in January 1772 on Oxford Street, the Pantheon was a place built for Londoners to meet that could rival the Leisure Gardens in Vauxhall. His garden had a pond with small fish, flowers and fruit trees.

The main hall was a vast rotunda modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and the Pantheon in Rome. As was fashionable in those years, the point of reference was however the ancient world. Considered at the time by many to be the most elegant recent structure in Europe, by recent we mean in 1772.

It was very successful especially among women who at that time could not venture far alone, but being a local they could walk in its gardens undisturbed. But its success did not last long and after a few years it became a theater. Even as a theater it did not have luck on its side, in fact it was almost immediately destroyed by a fire in 1792. It later became a state office, and then a covered market. 

For a short time it was the home of the UK’s National Institute for Improvement of Artifacts which despite its pompous name did not have much success. For thirty years in the mid 19th century, it was a bazaar. In 1937 the building was bought by  Marks and Spencer who had it demolished and built their main shop which you can still see today.

Worked in many sectors including recruitment and marketing. Lucky to have found a soulmate who was then taken far too soon. No intention of moving on and definitely not moving to Thailand for the foreseeable future. Might move forward. Owned by a cat.

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History

There is a real Roman temple in Windsor Park

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About 8 km south of Windsor Castle, still within the large park is Virginia Water, a very beautiful place famous for its lake and waterfall. However, not everyone knows that there is a Roman temple here. The lake is surrounded by a path leading east to Blacknest Gate, which extends along the water’s edge on the south side of the lake where there are several woods. About a mile east of the gate, the avenue leads into a grassy clearing overlooking the water, leading to the ruins of the Temple of Augustus brought from Leptis Magna to what would now be Libya in 1818, restored and erected by Sir Jeffry Wyatville 1824-6.

The temple was seen  by a guy called Warrington who heard that the Earl of Elgin had brought half the Parthenon to Britain, and thought of doing the same with this temple hoping to become a hero in his home country. He had problems with the locals, who wanted to keep the temple, not for artistic or historical interest, but to reuse the marble. So poor Warrington couldn’t get the whole temple. The temple is not only found here, In 1600 600 columns of Leptis were taken by Louis XIV for his palaces in Versailles and Paris.

In ancient times, the city of Leptis reached its greatest importance under the emperor Septimius Severus about 200 years after Christ. At that time it was the third most important city in Africa, after Carthage and Alexandria. The emperor had a new and magnificent forum built and enlarged the quays, as well as giving the city a huge basilica full of ornate carved columns. Thereafter, a dramatic decline began. A large tsunami in 365 devastated Leptis along with much of the Mediterranean coast. This was followed by the invasion of the Vandals in the fifth century and the arrival of Muslim armies in the seventh century which eventually left the city in ruins. Since its abandonment, Leptis had been used as a quarry by the local population and a place looted by the Europeans.

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Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – a pub with a literary history

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Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a Grade 11 listed building at 145 Fleet Street, City of London. There has been a public house at this location since 1538, when Henry V111 was the monarch.  It was called the Horn and like many city pubs burnt down in the Great Fire of London 1666,  but was swiftly rebuilt the following year. The pub is a short walk (about 700 yards) away from both St Pauls Cathedral and Blackfriars tube station. 
 
Photo: © Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
 
There is a single narrow entrance to a building that is deceptively small as it extends up to four storeys. The lack of natural light is evocative of its past history, as a cosy meeting place for famous literary figures.  Charles Dickens liked to sit at a table right of the fireplace on the ground floor, opposite to the bar. The pub is thought to have been referred to in “A Tale of Two Cities” as a dining place for Charles Darnay.   Robert Lewis Stevenson, Antony Trollope, and P. G Wodehouse all referred to the pub by name.  In “The Dynamiter”  Stevenson writes that ‘a select society at the Cheshire Cheese engaged my evenings”.  In Anthony Trollope’s novel “Ralph the Heir”,  one of the characters, Ontario Moggs, is described as speaking “with vigour at the debating club at the Cheshire Cheese in support of unions and the rights of man…”
P G Wodehouse on at least one occasion preferred to dine there, rather than at his club The Garrick. Agatha Christie wrote that her fictional detective Poirot dined with a new client at the Cheshire Cheese in her 1924 story, “The Million Dollar Bank Robbery” adding a description of “the excellent steak and kidney pudding of the establishment.” Oysters and Larks were also on the menu served up in pies. 
 
The Rhymers Club was a group of London-based poets, founded in 1890 by W. B. Yeats and Ernest Rhys. They met as a dining club at the Cheshire Cheese, producing anthologies of poetry in 1892 and 1894.
The founding meeting of the Medical Journalists Association took place at the Cheshire Cheese on 1 February 1967. At that time, doctors who wrote articles under their own name could be reported to the General Medical Council. From an initial membership of 48, the MJA now represents around 500 journalists, broadcasters and editors.
 
Last by not least, the pub had a famous parrot, whose death on October 30th 1926 was marked by worldwide obituaries.  Polly, a grey parrot, of unknown gender, passed out on Armistice night in 1918, exhausted from imitating the popping of champagne corks.  The bird was in the habit of addressing customers as “Rats” and placed orders with instructions to “Hurry Up!” Deservedly Polly holds pride of place as a Stuffed Parrot in the Bar. 

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Spanish Flu in London 1918-1919

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As I was born a Londoner,, my thoughts have been turning in the pandemic, to how Londoners coped with Spanish Flu in 1918. My grandfather returned from WW1, having been gassed in the trenches. He resumed running his grocery business in Hampstead High Street. My grandmother, who was asthmatic, gave birth to her youngest son in 1918.

Whatever their personal circumstances, no word of Spanish Flu causing any problems or deaths, has been passed down through the generations in my family. The Imperial War Museum has a collection of documents bequeathed to the museum by historian and journalist Richard Collier. The collection was made in the 1970s and comprises approximately 1,700 accounts of first hand witnesses of the pandemic. In 1918 half of the population of London was infected with the disease and 2.5% of the population died of it. 

As I researched it, gradually it became clear that Londoners went about their business much as usual.  The flu was not mentioned in Parliament until October 1918 and central plans for dealing with it throughout Britain were not in place.
There was no NHS to protect and hospitals were overwhelmed.  There was some disinfecting of public places and some mask wearing, but no instructions on social distancing, compulsory face covering and general lockdowns in force in 1918. This was despite the horrific effects of the flu, on those who were terminally ill, who turned blue and finally black through suffocation.
       
 Schools were kept open, unless forced to close through the absence of teachers. Public transport was running, with advice to catch later trains, and Churches were open for services. It is unlikely therefore, with this lack of Government action, that my grandfather was wearing a mask while serving his customers,  or restricting the numbers of people from entering his shop at any one time. 
 
Perhaps he went to some public celebrations of Victory of the War, which were held, with no thought to the certainty of spreading the virus.  As was the case in 2020, the Prime Minister of the day, Lloyd George caught the virus and survived. 
Throughout the country, more women died than men, ascribed to it being women who nursed the sick. The Nursing profession suffered heavy losses.  Younger people in their twenties and thirties had more fatalities from the disease than older people, which was thought to be caused by continuing to work when ill.  It is possible though that H1N1A, the Spanish Flu virus provoked an overreaction in the strong immune systems of the young, which led to their deaths. (With Covid 19, the elderly population is the most vulnerable group for contracting severe illness and women have a higher survival rate than men).
 The first published cases in the BMJ came in the form of a case series of the first fifty cases at the Central Royal Air Force Hospital, Hampstead from July 1918. By 1919 228,000 people in Britain had died from H1N1A. Gravediggers throughout the country, worked twenty-four seven to bury the dead. For whatever reason, there was no public memorial in the UK to the 1918-1919 pandemic.
 
In 2021 Covid 19 has already killed over 117,000 people, despite lockdowns, mask wearing and social distancing. The hope is that the vaccines will enable us to overcome it. 

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