Haunts of Charles II
I haven’t talked about any books for ages. This isn’t because I’m not reading; I just have a massive backlog and one particular volume that I’m enjoying a lot, but is incredibly dense and it’s just taking me forever.
So while I plough through that in my slow, steady way, I thought I’d mention another little gem I found in the excellent Greenwich Tourist Information Centre and which is a good, quick read.
It’s another cheapie (£2.50) and not from the largest publisher in the world, which immediately endears me to it. Some of my favourite books ever have been published by the tiniest presses around.
It’s a simple premise – James Dowsing looks at the life of Charles II and talks about it from the point of view of the places the merry monarch frequented in and around London. Greenwich and Deptford are covered, of course, and if in not any great depth, in a fresh and personable way. Some haunts are more Chas-worthy than others – for example the Queen’s House has a copper-bottomed reason to be in there, as has the Observatory; the Yacht pub is a little more tenuous. The king is, ‘in his lighter moments’ (did he have any other kind?) believed to have enjoyed a glass or two there, though it’s been rebuilt in unexciting fashion since the last war (why, oh why, do the windows onto the Thames not open?) and it’s only the site you’d be visiting.
Dowsing even mentions Robert Hook’s delightful little summer house halfway up Crooms Hill (we’ve talked about it many times but my useless archives mean I can’t find a single instance at the moment) although he admits it’s more as an interesting relic of the Stuart era rather than somewhere Charles might actually have visited.
I confess I didn’t learn anything about Greenwich that I didn’t already know, but what I did get from this book was a better understanding of Charles’s movements in London and the South East. I read it cover to cover in an hour or so and found it utterly fascinating. The trivia-level is high, including a little box about the prince taking a detour, whilst on the run from the roundheads, to visit Stonehenge, and another covering the history of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the change in its muzzle-shape down the centuries. I kid you not.
The creepy picture of a rather sweaty-looking Chas on the front is, by the way, from the bizarre collection of waxworks of sundry monarchs and others in the basement museum at Westminster Abbey. They were originally made as funeral effigies and are really quite repulsive even today, restored and behind glass, but I have it on good authority that they’re looking the best they have done in years – many of my old London guide books from the 1930s describe them as being moth-eaten, mouldy, dusty and falling to pieces in a most gruesome fashion. Charles is one of the least disgusting, but he still looks quite nasty. I love that they chose that image for the front cover; it sort of reflects the wit with which the book is written.
Sunrise Press is listed as being at 34, Churton Street, London, but the only Sunrise Press I can find is in Devon and doesn’t mention any of Dowsing’s work, being mainly the producer of books about old broadcasting equipment, notably Radio! Radio! and its companion volume Audio! Audio! though, slightly randomly, it also carries a feature about A Psychedelic Trip Around London so it’s not all crystal sets.
Of James Dowsing, I can find little. He seems to have written several guides to West London – Westminster, Belgravia, Pimlico, Regents Park etc. and the seminal The London Cat, it’s Life and Times. He also wrote An Australian’s Britain, so I’m going to make a wild guess and suggest he could be Antipodean.