Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Disappearing Cannon At The Tower of London

Walking around London it is easy to see many of the major changes to the city. The constant building, new towers adding to the skyline, however sometimes small changes can go unnoticed although they still have a profound impact on the character of an area and memories of the past.

One such change is the disappearance of the cannon that once lined the walkway running along the River Thames in front of the Tower of London.

I had not really noticed how much had changed until I was looking through some of my father’s photos and found the three photos from 1947 that I feature this week.

In the first, a range of cannon lined the river. I remember these from childhood walks and school visits, and for years before they had been a feature that no visit could ever have been complete without climbing one of these cannon.

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I walked down to the Tower one recent Sunday to see how much had changed. The weather was dull and rain was expected, so the lighting was not that good. The following photo is my 2015 photo from roughly the same position. The majority of the cannon have been removed, although a couple remain, looking rather sad up against the approach to Tower Bridge at the far end of the photo.

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I do not know when they were removed or why, I can only guess. Perhaps health and safety considerations, although falling was an accepted risk of climbing anything as a boy. An understandable reason could have been damage to the cannon. Making more space in this area is possible as it really does get crowded at the peak of the tourist season. Or perhaps the fact that they all seemed to be pointing directly at City Hall on the south bank of the river may have made certain occupants rather nervous.

What ever the reason it is a loss of some of the character of the place.

Standing at this point, it is fascinating to consider the incredible amount of change that the Tower of London has seen during the centuries. Just in the last 70 years the changes have been remarkable.

Whilst here, my father also took the following photo. I do not think this was to capture the south bank of the river as the warehouses must have seemed a rather fixed feature of day to day London activity, rather it was probably to photo the ship that was about to pass under Tower Bridge.

What the photo does show is the amount of change along this part of the river, which in 1947 still consisted of rows of cranes and their associated warehouses along with a steady stream of cargo ships mooring alongside. The warehouses on the left of the photo are the ones that lined Pickle Herring Street which I featured here.

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The following photo shows the same scene today. I was able to position the photo accurately using Southwark Cathedral. If you look to the far right of both photos, you can just see the four spires on the top of the tower of Southwark Cathedral.

I doubt that anyone looking across at this view in 1947 would have expected this scene to host Europe’s tallest building in the decades to come.

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The next photo my father took followed the ship as it passed under Tower Bridge.

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It was just about to pour with rain when I took the following photo so the lighting is very poor. Apart from the missing cannon, the scene is much the same today. The top of the old Anchor Brewery building behind the southern approach to Tower Bridge provides a convenient reference point to get the right position for the 2015 photo.

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The walk between the Tower of London and the River Thames is still a great place to watch activity on the river and the view along the south bank, however with the removal of the cannon it has lost some of its character and childhood memories.

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Window Shopping At Hamleys – Christmas 1951

A brief post to say thank you for reading, commenting and subscribing to my blog over the last year and to wish you a very Happy Christmas.

Here are three photos my father took in the run up to Christmas 1951, looking through the window of Hamleys toy shop in Regent Street showing a group of window shopping children and their parents.

Hamleys 1 Hamleys 2 Hamleys 3

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London Ghosts

I read this week that sales of printed books are rising and that their demise at the hands of the eBook reader is hopefully not going to turn out to be true.

I love printed books. Not just to read, but also as a living record of information added by those who have owned the book. Many of the London books in my collection have annotations along with cuttings from newspapers and magazines over the last 70 years that add to the original text contained within the pages of the book.

The 1975 edition of Dan Cruickshank’s “London: The Art Of Georgian Building” has newspaper articles inserted detailing the destruction and development planned for London’s Georgian buildings during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The 1923 edition of Historic Streets of London by Lilian and Ashmore Russan has the comment “Rot !!! confused with Battle Bridge N.W.1”  against the entry for Battle Bridge Lane in Bermondsey which states that it “Marks the place where the Romans defeated the Iceni, under Queen Boadicea, in the year AD61”

Rather than a one off read, books can therefore be a repository for new information as well as something to challenge and correct.

One such book is “Unbidden Guests – A Book of Real Ghosts” by William Oliver Stevens published in 1949. As well as the contents of the book, my copy is also stuffed full of newspaper and magazine articles recounting ghost stories from the last 60 years, and for this week’s post, as we approach the shortest day of the year when darkness falls over London from the late afternoon, here are a few of those articles, a sample from a series printed by the London Evening News in the run up to the Christmas of 1957.

These were written by Leslie Thomas who would later find fame following publication of his book The Virgin Soldiers in 1966. At the time of these articles, he was a feature writer for the London Evening News. He worked for the paper from 1955 to 1966 when the success of The Virgin Soldiers convinced him that he could make a career as an author.

These stories of London Ghosts are written in a suitably dramatic form and most have an illustration of the haunting to draw in the reader. I like to imagine Londoners reading these articles as they make their way home in the evening on a cold, dark and foggy December night when anything would seem possible.

The first story is from 1926 when a Mr Gibson, a night watchman guarding roadwork’s in Church Hill Road, Barnet saw the ghost of Sir Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex as a skeleton clad in a metal breast plate and black cape coming up the road towards him.

There were two Sir Geoffrey’s in the 12th century, the elder inheriting lands in Essex, Middlesex and Hertfordshire. His political scheming resulted in him being accused of being a traitor. Sir Geoffrey and his followers carried out guerrilla warfare, travelling on roads to London through Enfield Chase and Barnet. On his eventual death his body lay in Old Temple, Holborn for 20 years without burial. The second Sir Geoffrey had a fortress at Barnet and apparently fell from a tree and drowned in his own moat.

An old house in East Barnet called the Grange was allegedly built on the de Mandeville’s old fortress and when excavations disturbed the foundations of the old building the haunting started, including the stamping of footsteps and clanking of spurs, along with sightings as witnessed by the poor night-watchman.

The Evening News story concludes with a party of local people including a councillor spending the night at the night-watchman’s hut in Church Hill Road. Although nothing was seen, just after midnight the party heard a rumbling like that of many hoof beats and the ground shook.

A chilling tale from Barnet and I doubt the night watchman ever returned if the illustration is an accurate portrayal of his night on Church Hill Road.

London Ghosts 1a

London Ghosts 1b

The next tale is from Pond Square, Highgate and starts with the experience of Aircraftman Terence Long in December 1943. Walking through Pond Square he heard the sudden pulling up of a carriage and then a frightening shriek.  Moonlight revealed the sight of a ghostly chicken – “It was a frightened, squawking fowl, dashing about in frenzied circles, half running, half flying, and shivering.”

The unlikely story of the chicken goes back to the 17th century when Francis Bacon was riding through the snow covered streets of Highgate. Pondering scientific questions, he suddenly asked his coachman to stop and fetch a chicken. The chicken was killed, and Bacon promptly stuffed it with snow and then put it in a bag filled with more snow. This experiment was following Bacon’s observation that the grass underneath snow always appeared fresh and he wondered whether snow and the cold could help with the preservation of food.

Whilst working on this experiment in the cold Highgate night, Bacon collapsed and was taken to the home of Lord Arundel in Pond Square where he died a few days later.

The chicken has since been seen many times in Pond Square, although why the chicken continues to haunt rather than Francis Bacon is a bit of a mystery.

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London Ghosts 4a

The next story moves into central London, to Covent Garden underground station and tells the story of the ghost of the Victorian actor, William Terriss.

On November 24th 1955, the foreman ticket collector Jack Hayden was in the staff mess room which was divided in two with a partition which included a door when, “This door was open and in the other section of the room there appeared the figure of a tall man, grey of face and wearing white gloves.” Jack Hayden and a colleague who had also seen the ghost were shown a photo of Terriss and immediately recognised him. William Terriss had been murdered at the nearby Adelphi Theatre.

Along with the ghost story, this cutting from the Evening News includes a fascinating advert for “Trips by Trains” and includes:

– Football excursions to see Sheffield United play Leyton Orient from St. Pancras. Grimsby Town play Charlton from King’s Cross and Colchester United play Brentford from Liverpool Street.

– There is a train leaving Paddington to see the Passing-Out Parade of Naval Apprentices at H.M.S Fishguard, Torpoint

– A Sunday timetable of trains, mainly with buffet cars from the main London stations

– weekday trains to the “Hants & Dorset Resorts”

This was when a train ticket from Waterloo to Bournemouth would have cost 15 shillings.

London Ghosts 3

The next story is from south London and starts with the terrifying headline “It came to Battersea and terrorised a family until they did what it wanted.”

The haunting at the house in Eland Road, Battersea owned by the Robinson family, started on the 27th November, 1927 with breaking glass in the Conservatory, which was followed by flying coal, pennies and soda, loud noises and bangs, furniture falling in all directions, broken windows and door panels.

Mr Robinson called in the Police who were also subjected to flying coal, but could not do anything to help, so “the Robinsons spent the most miserable Christmas of their lives in a house that was full of flying coal, pennies and soda.”

Despite a steady stream of people trying to help, police, clergymen and spirit investigators, nothing could be done. There were also newspaper reporters and crowds of “open-mouthed sightseers.”

Members of the family tried to stay in the house, but were gradually driven out. The last to stay, a Mrs Perkins, was hit by a large lump of flying soda – “She ran from the kitchen followed by a tumult of banging’s and a shower of heavy pieces of coal. By this time, almost in tears she cried ‘Alright I’m going’ immediately the noise and the flying coal stopped.”

With the family who lived in the house now gone the spirit was satisfied and peace descended on the house in Eland Road.

London Ghosts 2

Leslie Thomas went on to publish 30 novels until his death in 2014. These articles highlight some of his earliest writings for the Evening News, nine years before publication of The Virgin Soldiers.

They also tell of some of the many possible ghostly encounters you may experience walking the streets of London after dark.

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London Postcards

Back in August, I published a number of London Postcards showing the city during the first decades of the 20th Century. For this week’s post I have another series of postcards from the same time period.

I find these fascinating as they show many different aspects of London and provide a tangible link with those who lived in, or were visiting London.

The first postcard is of a very wintry Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Taken at a time when this was still a working observatory. Very rare to see such snowfall in London today.

The postcard was posted at a very different time of year to the pictured scene, on the 31st August 1905. With a Greenwich postmark, posted to a child in Lowestoft with a birthday wish from his aunt and uncle.

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As well as scenic views, early postcards are also populated by Londoners. This postcard shows Covent Garden with some fantastic detail of a very busy street scene. This was at a time when wearing a hat was almost mandatory, with the type of hat indicating your position in the social structure of the day. The scene is also piled high with baskets ready to transport goods to and from the market.

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The following postcard shows Regent Street at a time when almost all shops had awnings or shop blinds. The shop on the right is the London Stereoscopic Company. Formed during the 1850s, the company started selling stereoscopic photos and viewers and then went into the general photographic business selling cameras, photographic paper and other photography supplies. The company lasted until 1922.

The bus in the foreground is the number 13 covering Finchley Road, Baker Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Charing Cross and Fleet Street. The number 13 bus route today covers many of the same locations.

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Another street scene, this time Holborn (posted on the 18th September 1913).

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All these photos show the main street lamps on islands in the centre of the road. When electric lighting was introduced to the streets of London, the centre of the road was found to be the best location to spread light across both sides of the road. These lighting islands also had other benefits. A report presented to the Vestry of St. Pancras in 1891 covering the use of public lighting by electricity claimed that one advantage of central street lighting in busy thoroughfares is that they regulate the traffic. The report stated:

“Your committee are informed that the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police has suggested that there ought to be a rest at that point to prevent the numerous stoppages and accidents that occur there. The Police seem to be strongly of the opinion that the fixing of rests assists very materially in the regulation of the traffic, and your Committee feel therefore that although at first sight many people may think the lighting from the centre of the road would tend to obstruction, it really assists in facilitating the traffic and preventing obstruction in crowded thorough-fares.”

“Rests” refers to the islands built in the centre of the road where a street lamp could be installed and protected from traffic. They also provided a safe stopping point, or rest, for pedestrians trying to cross the road. The report was written as part of the planning for the installation of electric arc lamps in Tottenham Court Road. The following postcard shows Tottenham Court Road taken looking north from the junction with Charing Cross Road. The buildings on the left, along with the pub are still there.

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The above postcard was sent by a visitor to London from North Wales who “has been seeing the sights and are now going to the zoo.”

Perhaps one of those sights was Leicester Square, much quieter than it is today, possibly a weekend in winter when sitting in, or running through the square was the ideal way to pass the afternoon. The building in the background with the large flag is the original Empire Theatre. Opened in 1884 and demolished in 1927.

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It was not just central London locations that were popular subjects for postcards. The following card, postmarked 1912, shows Clapham Junction. Although the type of traffic has changed, the scene looks remarkably similar today, although the Arding and Hobbs department store on the corner is now a Debenhams.

The sender of the card wrote “On back is the new Arding & Hobbs. Old building burnt down a few years ago.” The new building shown in the postcard was completed in 1910.

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At first glance, the following photo looks to be of Charing Cross Station, although, as the name across the building confirms, it is the original Cannon Street Hotel, forming the entrance to Cannon Street Station.

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To show how similar they are, the following shows Charing Cross Station. This is no coincidence as they were both designed by Edward Middleton Barry who also designed the replica Queen Eleanor Cross which stands in the forecourt of the station. The hotel at Cannon Street has long gone, and the station entrance now looks very different. Charing Cross provides a physical reminder of what once stood in Cannon Street.

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The next postcard is of the Monument, however what I find more interesting about the scene are the people, and also the large amount of advertising on the building to the left. The postcard was posted at the station at Walton on Thames by someone who had just moved into a new house in Weybridge. Perhaps a City worker who had bought the postcard in London.

Postcards from London 2 6The posters include adverts for, Nestles Swiss Milk, Bass beer, the Royal Military Tournament, Regie Cigarettes, Allsopp’s Lager and Triscuit, which if it is the same thing is a cracker produced in America and is still in production today. The building on the corner on the right is the Monument Tavern.

London’s bridges have always been popular subjects for postcards, and the following view is of London Bridge. The bridge shown is that designed by John Rennie and opened in 1831. It was sold in 1968 to make way for the current London Bridge and rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Both the buildings on either side of the end of the bridge are still there, Adelaide House on the right and Fishmongers Hall on the left.

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And the following postcard shows Blackfriars Bridge. The large curved building at the left of the bridge is De Keyser’s Royal Hotel which was opened on the 5th September 1874 by Sir Polydore de Keyser who came to London as a waiter from Belgium and eventually became Lord Mayor of London. The Uniliver building is now on this site.

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The following postcard is titled “The Hanging Gardens of London, Selfridges Water Gardens Looking West”. The roof of the Oxford Street department store, Selfridges, had gardens and cafes during the 1920s and 30s and were a popular location after shopping. The roof gardens were damaged during the last war and never reopened.

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The following postcard shows the London County Council Millbank Estate, and judging by the condition of the streets, this must be soon after construction of the estate finished in 1902. The building halfway down the road on the left is a school. The estate and the school are still in existence and the buildings today look much the same although there is now parking lining most of these streets. The Milbank Estate is Grade II listed. The people in the photo are probably some of the first occupants of the estate.

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Although the Tower of London is the subject of the following postcard, I find the background of more interest as it shows London when the height of buildings was relatively low compared to the City we see today. This postcard has a 1931 postmark and was sent to Belgium by a visitor to London.

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The following photo taken from Bankside shows the north bank of the river with the original wharfs.

Paul’s Wharf in the centre with St. Paul’s Pier in front, the London & Lisbon Cork Wood Company (the smaller building towards the right with the white upper part), and Trig Wharf to the right. The Millennium Bridge now crosses the river here, roughly at the site of the London & Lisbon Cork Wood Company.  The Bankside location has always provided a superb view across the river and has a fascinating history which I wrote about here, mainly involving the transport of coal and other goods on the river hence the lighters on the river in the foreground.

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In the days before the personal ownership of portable cameras, postcards were about the only means of sending a message showing where the author lived or was visiting and as such they provide a fascinating insight into early 20th century London.

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Park Row – Knightsbridge

“Very few of the people who use London ever look at it. But, as they use it, it is continually altering to meet their demands, and so it becomes the record, the expression of the complex personality , of millions upon millions of people.”

The above paragraph could have been written today, but comes from the late 1920’s, from the first page of the book “The Romance of London” by Alan Ivimey. The paragraph that follows the above is though a clear indication of when the book was written, along with the author’s expected audience:

“This book is written for those who have never noticed London before, but are not unfamiliar with that amiable state of mind induced by a pipe of tobacco and a tankard at one’s elbow.”

Alan Ivimey was a writer and journalist who was also the first presenter of the BBC radio programme “Woman’s Hour” from the first broadcast on the 7th October 1946. The Radio Times introduced Alan Ivimey as a specialist “in writing for and talking to women.” He continued being the presenter of the programme for the first three months when presumably the BBC realised the incongruity of having a male presenter as a specialist in writing for and talking to women and Joan Griffiths took over the presenting role.

So what is the relevance of the above to today’s post? The book is from the collection of London books that my father built up and when I was browsing through, I found one of his printed photos tucked in the pages opposite a photo of the same scene in the book. The book tells a story of continuous change in London, but also researching the author provides some background to the social attitudes of the time, also an area of constant change.

The photo in question is shown below. This is my father’s photo from 1948 and appears to show the end of a street, signs of bomb damage on the buildings and a missing row of buildings on the right, presumably again lost through bomb damage.

This photo has been on my list of photos to hunt down the location as it is not immediately obvious. There is a street name sign to the left of the top of the lamp post with the first two words Hyde Park and the last word hidden behind branches of the tree.

I could not find a similar street with the first two words of Hyde Park in any of my pre-war maps.

Park Row 1

There were also two other photos I had scanned from the same strip of negatives of the same street. The first photo is looking further to the right, at the land where presumably houses once stood:

Park Row 6

And the final photo was taken turning further to the right and shows dustbins up against a wall:

Park Row 7

The dustbin on the left has Westminster at the top, so presumably from the council and underneath states that dry pig food should be put in the bin. A leftover from wartime recycling where food waste was used for pig food.

To identify the location of these photos is where Alan Ivimey’s book came to the rescue. The printed copy of my father’s photo was inserted opposite the page in the book, with the title and text:

A Nook Of Old Knightsbridge

Between the Kensington Road, just beyond the Brompton Road fork, and Hyde Park is the narrow entry to Park Row whose 18th century brick and woodwork are painted as prettily as the black-cloth for a scene from The Rivals.

The photo from the book shows the street as it was pre-war. This photo includes the houses that were on the right of the street and are to the same design as the houses on the left, captured in my father’s photo. The second photo above is looking directly at the area once occupied by these houses. This really was a lovely street of 18th century houses.

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The street name, Park Row, in the photo from the book is different to that in my father’s photo, but this did enable me to track down the location.

The street must have been too small to appear in my normal reference, the Bartholomew Street Atlas, however using the 1895 Ordnance Survey maps provided online by the National Library of Scotland I was able to locate Park Row. See the following extract from the map, with the location of Park Row highlighted by the red arrow (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

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In the map, the junction to the right is the fork between Knightsbridge and the Brompton Road, with Knightsbridge running past the Hyde Park Barracks into the Kensington Road and Brompton Road heading south. Park Row is shown as the row of buildings at the end of the street, with the opposite side of the Park Row buildings facing onto Hyde Park. The part of the street leading up to the Park Row buildings is labelled Mill’s Buildings in the map.

Having found the exact location of Park Row I headed to Knightsbridge to see what, if anything remains, however this small part of Knightsbridge has seen considerable change and Park Row, the Mill’s Buildings and Albert Terrace (shown to the right on the map) have long gone.

Park Place, shown on the 1895 map to the left of Mill’s Buildings still exists (although now called Park Close) and maintains its alignment with the street on the opposite side of Knightsbridge so I had a starting point. Working back towards the junction, the following photo shows where I believe the Mill’s Buildings and Park Row were located:

Park Row 5

The 1895 map also shows a Public House almost opposite the entrance to the Mill’s Buildings and the Paxtons Head pub is still in the same position today, also helping to confirm the location.

The entrance to the Mill’s Buildings would have been roughly where the white van is in the above photo with the road to the left occupied by the buildings on the left of the original photo. The Park Row terrace would have been towards the end of this street, probably located around the end of the canopy that now covers the street.

A considerable change from the original street of 18th century houses.

I wanted to know more about this street. I checked the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps to confirm that bomb damage destroyed the buildings to the right, however these maps do not show any damage in the immediate vicinity of Park Row. I have often wondered if the Bomb Damage Maps did record all the bomb damage throughout London as it must have been a considerable task to record every event and area of damage. The Mill’s Buildings were accessed through an alley from Knightsbridge and if the buildings facing on to Knightsbridge were not damaged, I wonder if those surveying the city for damage just did not think to walk through into the Mill’s Buildings? I cannot believe that the buildings was demolished for any other reason soon after the war, with housing being in such short supply.

The Survey of London provides more information on Park Row and explains when the name change happened between the photo from the book and my father’s photo.

In 1776 Ralph Mills, a Knightsbridge carpenter-builder, took a lease on the original buildings and proceeded to redevelop the site. He built 26 houses consisting of Park Row and the Mill’s Buildings.

The houses that made up Mill’s Buildings were superior to those often found in small courts, but by the late 1820s several of the rate payers occupying these buildings were described as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor and aged’.

The Park Row buildings, constructed during the same period were of a higher status and had large bay windows facing onto Hyde Park.

The Chartist, poet and lecturer Thomas Cooper lived at number 5 Park Row and recorded that “We had no access to Hyde Park, but we looked into it from our really beautiful parlour, and had daily views of the Guards, and Royalty, and great people, passing by, in the Park.”

The Survey of London confirms that Park Row was renamed Hyde Park Row in 1939, but does not identify why the name change was made. The Survey also confirms that Park Row was demolished, but not when.

So, thanks to Alan Ivimey and his book, The Romance of London, I can confirm the location of another of my father’s photos, and as suggested by the author at the start of his book, I shall now get out my pipe of tobacco and tankard and finish reading his book with an amiable state of mind.

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