You can see where I've been this week. In the footsteps - well, the paw steps - of the country's most famous cat.
Larry was selected to be the Downing Street Cat from a shortlist of three inmates of the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. Although he now has the title 'chief mouser', he was chosen not because he showed any aptitude for catching mice but because he was good with people. You can imagine the scene if Larry had shown his claws to Gavin Williamson or snarled at Matt Hancock!
My visit to Battersea was to make a donation. Not money, but a slice of history.
Many year ago, I bought at an ephemera stall a fragile handbill from the 1860s soliciting support for a 'Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs'. I was attracted to it because I live not far way from the onetime dogs' home in Holloway. But it turns out that in 1871, this dogs' home moved to Battersea and became ... yes, you've got it.
Battersea's archivist explained that they have vanishingly little in their holdings about the home before it moved south of the river. Well, now they have this -
And if you're curious what the dogs' home looked like in its Holloway incarnation, a drawing of it has survived:
Wonderful! But you can sort of see why the neighbours were keen to wave the home goodbye.
The handbill emphasises that it's for lost and stray dogs only, not for ancient or no-longer-wanted domestic pets ...
Indeed, as you can see, it suggests that if your favourite pootch is getting a little long in the tooth, perhaps the kindest thing would be to put it down. Given the lack of veterinary care at the time, that's perhaps understandable ... but it's the exact opposite of Battersea's current approach.
The home is happy to accept and rehouse unwanted pets, and says the cost of living crisis has sadly prompted more pet owners to wave a fond farewell to Rover or Mogs (the home's name was changed to include cats in 2002). And they only put down animals with very serious health problems or those dogs that are aggressive.to the point of being unhousable.
The Battersea campus is ultra-modern - and indeed the oldest building there, dating from 1905, looks almost comically out of place amid the lines and curves of the new wings and the Battersea Power Station development beyond.
The home also makes use of a row of railway arches, a couple of which used to be the home of a small rail station (Battersea Park Road station, which opened in 1867 and closed in 1916). The station's splendid late Victorian decorated brick is worth a look.
Temperance and Billiards ... they don't feel a natural match, do they? Billiards suggests bottles of ale, overflowing ashtrays and an ample measure of the dissolute. I came across this wonderful sign on Battersea Rise in south London, just off Clapham Common, Not a billiard hall any more, of course. Not temperance either. It's a pub.
But it's a splendid building, an unlikely survival. And, I discover, a remnant of what was once a nationwide movement to break the link between billiards and beer.
The Temperance Billiard Hall Company - no, I am not making this up - was set up in Lancashire in 1906. Its aim was to provide a salubrious location for the hugely popular pastime of billiards way from the corrupting influence of alcohol and the licensed trade.
An architect, Norman Evans, designed a dozen or more of these halls in the years before the First World War. There's one in Fulham which is listed; it's also now a pub, cheekily called The Temperance. But as you can see this Battersea Rise billiards hall also has a touch of style about it, with almost an oriental ambience to its tiled frontage complete with cupola. I'm not sure, but I'd guess it's one of Evans's.
As late as 1958, this was one of more than twenty temperance billiard halls in London. P.J. Kavanagh, indeed, wrote a poem entitled 'The Temperance Billiard Hall' - thugh sadly I can't find the text online.
A brave attempt at social improvement - snookered by the popular appetite for something a bit stronger than sasparilla.
I went today, for the first time in a few years, to the Anarchist Book Fair.- and discovered it as vibrant and crowded as ever. It has a new, and at first glance unlikely, home - in the splendid, mega-expensive redevelopment of the King's Cross Goods Yard. And here on the ground floor of Central St Martin's - which fronts on to the majestic Granary Square - there was room for all a hundred or so stalls, selling books, pamphlets, T-shirts, badges, poetry, art, old clothes ... And as you can see, the place was packed, with the red-and-black bunting adding a touch of distinction to the surroundings.
My favourites among the array of stalls were then handful selling old stuff for which, as any regular readers (are there any?) of this blog will know, I am a complete sucker. Nice to get this copy of Colin Ward's Anarchy - cover by Rufus Segar - from August 1968, looking at the student unrest of that politically scorching summer.
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