Terence Stamp – What a gent!

Albany – the gentleman’s residence just off Piccadilly.

In 1966, Terence Stamp moved into Albany, a warren of bachelor apartments, just off Piccadilly.    Stamp was a 28-year-old cockney son of a tugboat pilot. He had become famous for starring in starring in films such as Billy Budd and Modesty Blaise. He was also dating top model Jean Shrimpton. As he unpacked his boxes in his fancy new flat he knew he’d arrived.

Albany started life in 1774 as a grand mansion on Piccadilly built for Viscount Melbourne. In 1802 it was expanded and converted into 69  apartments known as ‘sets’. They were for gentlemen only who had to adhere to a strict set of rules. Over the years they relaxed the rules and even allowed lady visitors in 1880. When Stamp arrived he willingly conformed to the rules. No whistling, no prostitutes, no noise, no pets, no children. No conversation along the passageways. He did rather flout the rule of no publicity. 

He marvelled at the numerous famous people who’d lived there previously: Lord Byron with his parrot (presumably not classed as a pet), William Gladstone, Aldous Huxley, Lord Snowdon, not to mention its inclusion in fictitious works by Dickens and Oscar Wilde.

Lord Byron settled in with his parrot

Today, the Albany trustees allow women to live amongst them. As long as they’re the right sort.

Some sets are held as freehold. In 2017, one apartment went on sale with an asking price of £7m. 

As for Terence Stamp, things didn’t go so well for him in the beginning. Jean Shrimpton dumped him, and his career started to pale, especially in comparison to that of his former flatmate, Michael Caine. After three years he set off to India to find the meaning of life.

Stamp squeezed his mark on her mushroom risotto

Yet he still retained his set of rooms. In the 1980s he befriended Princess Diana when her marriage to Prince Charles had foundered. Stamp enjoyed entertaining Diana at his apartment. In spite of rumours that they became lovers, he insists that he behaved like a gentleman at all times. On one occasion he cooked a mushroom risotto and squeezed out the letters HRH in black and white from two tubes of truffle paste. She was thrilled with the result.

Siemens Brothers in London

Wilhelm Siemens left Germany for London in 1843. Aged 19, he had trained as a mechanical engineer. He had little money but a head full of half-formulated inventions. 

His brothers had got off to a good start. Werner Siemens had set up the first company in Germany to make electrical telegraphs.  Carl Siemens went off to build a telegraph network in Russia.

William Siemens

Wilhelm opened a branch of brother Werner’s company, Siemens & Halske in England. He prospered. By the age of 40, there was no going back. He fell in love with a Scotswoman called Anne Gordon. He married her and became a naturalised Englishman known as William.

In 1863, Wilhelm opened the Siemens Telegraph works in Woolwich, south-east London.  Here they made cables and developed gas engines. Their factory and the number of workers it employed grew and grew. 

They later built a special cable-laying ship called CS Faraday. They named it to honour Michael Faraday, William’s mentor. They laid telegraph lines from Prussia to Tehran. In 1881, they built a new electric generator. This was to power the world’s first electric street lighting. They also demonstrated the first electric indoor lighting in London’s Savoy Theatre.

C.S Faraday – great cable laying ship.

William Siemens died in 1883, just after Queen Victoria honoured him with a knighthood.

The Siemens company continued to flourish. They laid the first telephone cable across the English Channel in 1891 so London and Paris could talk to each other. They built the telephone system for the General Post Office. They set up the cable for the outside radio broadcast of 1937 Coronation of King George VI. 

the war caused problems for german company siemens in london

The onset of war caused problems. The company was still in German ownership, so their power was taken away and held in trust throughout World War One.

This happened again in World War Two. Siemens Brothers, which employed 9000 workers in the Woolwich factories, was put in trust.  They supplied cables and equipment to develop radar. Several factory buildings in were bombed.

Although Associated Electrical Industries bought the British company of Siemens Brothers and Co. Ltd in 1955, Siemens still operates today as a multinational conglomerate.

The Woolwich business closed in 1968. Many of the factories and warehouses still exist. The buildings have been let out for various industrial purposes. But now plans are afoot to redevelop the whole site. There will be apartment blocks, studios and workshops for start-up companies. 

Spooky Tulips (nothing is what it seems)

Spooky tulips image
Can you feel a chill in the air?

When Rev R.W. Hardy from Canada turned up at the Queen’s House in Greenwich he was not looking for ghosts. He was here for the Tulip Stairs – the first supported spiral staircase in the country. It was 1966 and he’d read in his guidebook that Inigo Jones had built this architectural marvel in 1635.

We must take a photograph to show the folks back home, he said to his wife. We’ll wait until no-one’s around. And did you know that they named it wrongly? Those wrought iron flowers in the railings are actually fleur-de-lys.  The Rev liked to know something that others didn’t.

Back in Canada, he eagerly collected the developed photos, only to reel back in shock. The photo had two weird ghostly figures that he didn’t see at the time.

Queen's House Greenwich
Queen’s House, Greenwich

He sent a copy of the photo by airmail to the Queen’s House. Astonished, they arranged for investigators from the Ghost Club to hunt down any roaming spirits. Alas, they found none, and the spooky photo has been lost.

But some visitors to the house report a definite chill in the air when they climb those Tulip Stairs.

Shocking Mr. Gill

Eric Gill 1882-1940

Eric Gill, who died 80 years ago today, was a highly successful English artist. Famous for carving stone sculptures and designing typefaces. 

He was a socialist, a pacifist, a devout Roman Catholic and a prolific artist.

In 1914 he carved the Stations of the Cross for Westminster Cathedral. These are depictions of the 14 stops that Jesus made on the way to his crucifixion. Westminster Cathedral is the main Roman Catholic Church in England. 

On the wall of the building 55 Broadway, near St. James’s Park Station. Until recently this was the head office of London Transport. Carved in 1929 it depicts the North Wind.

North Wind on 55 Broadway.

In 1932 he  produced a number of carvings for Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, close to Oxford Circus Station.  Above the entrance a sculpture depicts the sorcerer Prospero and the spirit Ariel from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Prospero holds on to the free spirit Ariel.

In 1928 Gill designed this typeface, known as Gill Sans which is still used today.

After Eric Gill’s death, his diaries revealed some shocking information about his private life. He confessed that he had sex with his sisters, his two teenage daughters and his dog. 

Looking at these images, we see that in spite of all this he carved like an angel.