The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Dec 12, 2007

Flannel Petticoats

Today's the last day of my French classes at the Bishopsgate Institute. For the princely sum of £178 a term, I have learnt how to say that my bicycle has a flat tyre, and ask for a room with a shower and twin beds in the coming week. (If you don't believe me, please form an orderly queue, and I will whisper the equivalent French into your ears as you pass me by.) This is an excellent centre for continuing education. Besides languages, one can learn the finer aspects of photography, travel guidehood, music and yoga. All classes arranged to suit the whim and convenience of the City worker: lunch-hour sessions readily available.

Bishopsgate Institute itself has a peculiar history. Small local charities donated to St. Botolph-Without-Bishopsgate, the parish church, over a period of almost 400 years. In the 19th century, there was a widespread feeling that funds had been misappropriated. A Royal Commission on the charities of the churches in the City of London was instrumental in establishing the City of London Parochial Charities Act of 1883, under which the individual charities were consolidated, and provided for the administration of the income to purposes beneficial to th einhabitants of the parish and the public generally1. The St. Botolph charity was exempted from this and allowed to retain the management of their funds.

Not everyone was happy at this turn of events. As a correspondent in Blackwood's Magazine said, "There was an instance the other day of the alienation of a charitable trust which is so glaring in its foolishness as to catch the general attention. Somebody in Bishopsgate some hundreds of years ago left a sum of money to supply flannel petticoats for poor women. Now, it is almost incredible that so golden an age can have come to Bishopsgate as that flannel petticoats for poor women are no longer required there. The flannel petticoats have been converted into a Free Library! Books may come and books may go, but flannel is a perennial need and it is improbable that any member of the human race, even in the millennium, will be able to do without it. And to think that we have done away with that in order that a number of louts may have a nice warm room in which to read the worst novels and the sporting news in the papers and neglect their natural work! It is impossible to imagine a more unpardonable interference with a dead man's will."

I must hasten to add that the Bishopsgate library does not have novels these days. It is a reference library for free trade and various mercantile aspects of the City of London. Also, the only louts that infest it are people like me waiting for my class to begin and idly peering at Lloyd's Register. Finally, I hope the dead man will forgive me for not wearing flannels. My undies, I swear, are 100% cotton.


1. Bishopsgate Institute - Our History


Post a Comment