One of the joys of last September’s trip to Ireland, England and the North Atlantic was a chance to spend some time with our friends David and his diplomate Jeremy in London. Unfortunately it was only an afternoon but as always with these two gentlemen it was one of fine food, good conversation and a great discovery. Both Laurent and I have come to the conclusion that if David recommends something – to read, to hear, or for an exploration – then it is more than worth investigating. In this case he suggested a trip to the Chelsea Physic Garden after lunch.
As well as giving us a chance to wander through the streets of Chelsea (David is an inveterate walker/hiker) it also allowed us a peek into a hidden treasure that David has mentioned several times on his blog. And a treasure it is! Founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries it was created to train apprentices in the identification and use of medicinal plants. The oldest botanic garden in London (and second in England only to the 1621 Garden at Oxford) it became internationally important in the study of botany and the exchange of plants. Amongst those that used the Garden in their studies was Sir Hans Sloane who was to become the first doctor to be granted a hereditary title. In 1712 he bought the land on the banks of the Thames that the Society had been renting from Charles Cheyne and lease it in perpetuity to the Society for a rent of £5 annually.
Though it was late fall the Garden was still a pleasure to stroll through and view the late blooming flowers, the variety of medicinal and ornamental plants, and the quiet pleasures of a green space on a Sunday afternoon. And I should add lavender scones with tea on the terrace of the Tangerine Dream Café and further conversation with David.
We bid our adieus on Royal Hospital Road and as if we had not walked enough Laurent and I decided a stroll back to the Hotel was in order. I hadn’t been along the Embankment in that area since my first trip to London back in 1969. At that time the statue of Sir Thomas More – perhaps tellingly with his back to Chelsea Old Church – had just been dedicated.
Unfortunately Evensong was being celebrated so we did not go into the church. It would have been the perfect opportunity to see some fascinating monuments and to perhaps take a peek at the only chained books in any church in London: a copy of the Vinegar Bible (1717), two volumes of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1684), a Prayer Book (1723) and Homilies (1683) given to the church by Sir Hans Sloane. Many of the monuments were damaged when a parachute bomb exploded nearby in 1941 collapsing the tower onto the nave of the church.
A goodly number of the monuments have been painstakingly restored and recently a tablet to Sloane was commissioned and dedicated. I found the Vicar’s remarks at the dedication an incredible encapsulation of the history of the church.
“We have given this great man the best spot we could find. The new plaque is beside the tomb of the family of the squire who picked up the crown at the battle of Bosworth and presented it to the knight who then handed it to the new Tudor King. The tablet is within a few feet of the tomb which Thomas More prepared for himself and his wives and opposite the capitols designed here in Chelsea by Holbein himself. It’s near the spot where Henry VIII stood with Jane Seymour, where Lady Jane Gray received communion every Sunday, where the “illegitimate” and endangered Princess Elizabeth said her private prayers and where James 1 stood as godfather. It’s a handshake away from the pulpit where Wesley preached when Anglican pulpits were closed to him.”
Just looking over the pictures from our trip and doing a bit of research into Old Church makes me think that a return visit would not go amiss – to have another meal with David and Jeremy, see the garden in spring, and explore this corner of English history.
But in my title I mentioned “pantry”. What does a garden, Chelsea Old Church and Sir Hans Sloane have to do with food? Well for many years now I’ve been following a blog called Lost Past Remembered by Deana Sidney – a New York based production designer who also has a passion for history and food. Deana writes sporadically but when she does it’s beautifully researched and presented and always fascinating. As well as providing – as she always does – an interesting recipe with this posting she introduced me, and I would dare say most of her followers, to Richard Bradley and his book The Country Houſwife and Lady’s Directory in the Management of a House and Delights and Profits of a Farm. Bradley was an 18th century botanist and one of the few of the period who had not gone to university. His life was short but he contributed much to many of the practices that we follow to day in the name of ecology.
But back to the serendipitous connection that has me joining the Physic Garden and this obscure botanist: Sir Hans Sloane. Sloane was a patron of Bradley’s and seemed to be constantly getting him out of financial scrapes as well as obtaining positions for him. Sloane was secretary of the Royal Society in 1712 when Bradley was elected at the young age of 24 to the the Fellowship. He thought highly of the man’s work if not of his constant need for money – including after his death to take his widow and child out penury.
A click on the frontispiece and title page of Bradley’s opus for the good country women of England will take you to Deana’s fascinating post on the life of this remarkable man as well as Another Way of dreſſing Pigeons.
On this day in 1976: The Troubles: Gunmen shoot dead ten Protestant civilians after stopping their minibus at Kingsmill in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, UK.