Monday, December 14, 2009

Frederick Rolfe, Born on Cheapside


Cheapside is one of the most characterful streets in London. It's also were Frederick Rolfe was born, his family had a piano making and tuning business there. He lived at a couple of different addresses on Cheapside but was born almost opposite St Mary le Bow church, clearly visible above on the right of the street. I love to find pictures of places related to my authors, as close to contemporary as possible. This one is a bit of a treasure. It's a tinted photograph which has been 'framed' by being pasted to one side of a piece of bevelled glass (which is why the reproduction here isn't great). This was a common enough form of displaying a photograph at the time but obviously extremely fragile and when the glass was broken the photograph most often went too. So it's lovely to have found this one with its original stand-up back as well.

There's something a little ironic about Rolfe being born within the sound of Bow Bells, in fact, almost next door to them, which is, of course as Cockney as it is possible to be. Love him as a Corvine might, there's no doubting Rolfe's social pretention and desire for upward mobility and it's amusing to think he was a Cockney, perhaps the stereotype of the poor but contended working classes.

"'I do not know'
Says the great bell of Bow."

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