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Imperial Project

Richard Drayton, 19 September 1996

Kew: The History of the Royal Botanic Gardens 
by Ray Desmond.
Harvill/Royal Botanical Gardens, 466 pp., £25, November 1995, 1 86046 076 3
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... Brown permission to level her mother-in-law’s follies. The Dowager Princess then employed William Chambers to build her own: a remarkable range of buildings, including a mosque, a gothic cathedral, an alhambra and the Pagoda, which is the finest survival of these follies. The third Earl of Bute, more distinguished as a natural historian than as a ...

The Undesired Result

Gillian Darley: Betjeman’s bêtes noires, 31 March 2005

Betjeman: The Bonus of Laughter 
by Bevis Hillier.
Murray, 744 pp., £25, October 2004, 0 7195 6495 6
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... Yes, he’s madly upper crust. In the minority were those impressed, such as Stephen Spender and William Plomer. Betjeman wrote to the latter thanking him. ‘Fuck Wain and the prig in the Times who was probably Griggers’ – Geoffrey Grigson, another in his rogues’ gallery. ‘I’ve gone away to escape further blows.’ His publisher hoped to ...

Anything but Staffordshire

Rosemary Hill, 18 September 1997

Rare Spirit: A Life of William De Morgan 1839-1917 
by Mark Hamilton.
Constable, 236 pp., £22.50, September 1997, 0 09 474670 2
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... William De Morgan’s Life, death and reputation form a curious episode in the history of taste. He died, in 1917, a famous Edwardian novelist, and was almost forgotten. Nearly half a century later he was rediscovered as a great Victorian ceramist. Appropriately, the technique in which he excelled as a potter, lustre, is one that has itself been several times lost, rediscovered and discarded again by different civilisations ...

Bang, Bang, Smash, Smash

Rosemary Hill: Beatrix Potter, 22 February 2007

Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature 
by Linda Lear.
Allen Lane, 584 pp., £25, January 2007, 978 0 7139 9560 2
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... Their friends included the ageing Radical John Bright and Elizabeth Gaskell’s widower, William. But smart society was closed to them and this was something that Beatrix’s mother, Helen, seems to have minded deeply. A grim-faced little woman, she apparently occupied herself entirely with a round of calls and with ordering and re-ordering her ...

Under the Soles of His Feet

Stephen Alford: Henry’s Wars, 4 April 2019

The English People at War in the Age of Henry VIII 
by Steven Gunn.
Oxford, 297 pp., £35, January 2018, 978 0 19 880286 0
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... my father.This passage is very close indeed to the translation in the Matthew Bible of 1537 (by William Tyndale) and there are just two differences from the King James Bible of 1611 (‘evil occurrent’ in place of ‘any evil plague’; ‘purpose’ for ‘am determined’). But this version is from the Great Bible of 1539-40, ‘the Bible appointed to ...

He K-norcked Her One

August Kleinzahler: Burroughs and Kerouac’s Novel, 28 May 2009

And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks 
by Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.
Penguin, 214 pp., £20, November 2008, 978 1 84614 164 5
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... evil and intelligent buncha bastards and shits in America’. The group included Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Lucien Carr and David Kammerer. In August 1944, Carr stabbed and killed Kammerer. Near the end of And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, a lightly fictionalised and surprisingly engaging account of the murder and of the months ...

Abecedary

James Francken: Ian Sansom, 20 May 2004

Ring Road: There’s No Place like Home 
by Ian Sansom.
Fourth Estate, 388 pp., £12.99, April 2004, 0 00 715653 7
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... and the sound of the curlew’s song’. What he finds is a murky Irish town that is ‘like Bedford, or Batley, or Basildon in Essex’: ‘It’s a place that is good of its kind, but that no one would want to visit and that sensitive teenagers long to leave, or at least to write graffiti on.’ Its heyday has passed, the old buildings replaced by a ...

British Worthies

David Cannadine, 3 December 1981

The Directory of National Biography, 1961-1970 
edited by E.T. Williams and C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 1178 pp., £40, October 1981, 0 19 865207 0
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... intervals, the volumes plopped from the press, 63 in all, from Jacques Abbadie in 1885 to William Zuylestein in 1900, containing some thirty thousand pages on which 650 contributors recorded the details of 30,000 lives. And, as with the painting of the Forth Bridge, once this great Victorian monument was completed it was time to start all over ...

Floating

Christopher Driver, 6 October 1983

Waterland 
by Graham Swift.
Heinemann, 310 pp., £7.95, October 1983, 0 434 75330 0
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Perfect Happiness 
by Penelope Lively.
Heinemann, 233 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 434 42740 3
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Scenes from Later Life 
by William Cooper.
Macmillan, 258 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 333 34204 6
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Summer at The Haven 
by Katharine Moore.
Allison and Busby, 158 pp., £6.95, April 1983, 0 85031 511 5
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... the Fen country onwards from the 17th century, when Cornelius Vermuyden and his Dutchmen cut the Bedford River, diverted the Ouse, and built the Denver and Hermitage Sluices: ‘They dug subsidiary cuts, drains, lodes, dykes, eaus and ditches and converted 95,000 acres into summer, if not winter, grazing. Practical and forward-looking people, the Dutch. And ...

Too Close to the Bone

Allon White, 4 May 1989

... up to a few years ago. The Parish Survey records in 1722 the ‘Messuage in Cranfield built by Dr William Aspin, with the moat round it and groves of trees adjoining’. There is no clear explanation for the existence or indeed the survival of these moats, since no other local parishes appear to have them. Moat farm was still completely encircled with water ...

Shaw tests the ice

Ronald Bryden, 18 December 1986

Bernard Shaw: The Diaries 1885-1897 
edited by Stanley Weintraub.
Pennsylvania State, 1241 pp., £65, September 1986, 0 571 13901 9
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... plays with Edwin Björkman. Does Shaw dine with his neighbour George Wardle, manager of William Morris’s Merton works, in April 1887? Weintraub reminds us that Mrs Wardle, 26 years earlier, was acquitted in a sensational trial of the charge of murdering her lover. As Shaw grows more cavalier about keeping up the entries, Weintraub grows more ...

You better not tell me you forgot

Terry Castle: How to Spot Members of the Tribe, 27 September 2012

All We Know: Three Lives 
by Lisa Cohen.
Farrar Straus, 429 pp., £22.50, July 2012, 978 0 374 17649 5
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... had an affair.) They shared friends and lovers, or at least lovers-in-law, on occasion. (Sybille Bedford floats around in this book like a benign sapphic putto.) And though residing in different places at different times, all of them moved for more than half a century in the same impossibly glamorous literary and artistic circles in ...

Don’t lock up the wife

E.S. Turner: Georgina Weldon, 5 October 2000

A Monkey among Crocodiles: The Life, Loves and Lawsuits of Mrs Georgina Weldon 
by Brian Thompson.
HarperCollins, 304 pp., £19.99, June 2000, 0 00 257189 7
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... Orphanage’, an enterprise which failed to endear her to the ground landlord, the Duke of Bedford. The neighbours had to suffer a morning hour of organised yelling, designed to let the children ‘get the wickedness out of their systems’. The absurdity to which Georgina was blind now took over. At a social event she ensnared the composer Gounod, in ...

The Need for Buddies

Roy Porter, 22 June 2000

British Clubs and Societies 1580-1800: The Origins of an Associational World 
by Peter Clark.
Oxford, 516 pp., £60, January 2000, 0 19 820376 4
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... for Useful Knowledge – which, stunningly, had Benjamin Franklin, the Sanskrit scholar Sir William Jones and the agriculturalist Arthur Young among its corresponding members – that one-horse Kentish town boasted a humane society, assorted drinking and dining clubs, an agricultural society, concert and music societies, trapball and card societies, a ...

He lyeth in his teeth

Patrick O’Brian, 18 April 1996

Francis Drake: The Lives of a Hero 
by John Cummins.
Weidenfeld, 348 pp., £20, September 1995, 0 297 81566 0
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... from himself) was born of mean Parentage in Devonshire, and had Francis Russel (afterwards Earl of Bedford) for his Godfather, who, according to Custome, gave him his christen name. Whilest he was yet a Child, his Father, imbracing the Protestant Doctrine, was called in question by the Law of the Six Articles, made by King Henry the Eighth against the ...

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