We’re delighted to welcome Anna Lawrence as a new expert on Placecloud. Anna is an historical and cultural geography PhD student at Cambridge University. She’s interested in plant-human relations and is researching the socio-political lives of flowers in Victorian Britain. She’ll be publishing 15 viewpoints on Placecloud in June 2021.
Anna’s viewpoints will be exploring the literal and metaphorical blooming of flower culture in nineteenth-century London, from the rise of the cut-flower trade in Covent Garden and the flower girls of Piccadilly Circus, to the working-class flower shows of Bloomsbury and Peckham. Flowers were abundant in late-Victorian London, one commentator remarking in 1881 that it had become ‘a city of summer flowers, a floral London, where the beauties of the garden are transplanted to balcony, window sill, and even to house top’.
Religious flower missions believed that the presence of flowers in the streets and the home held a moralising influence over the poor, sick and needy, elevating their minds and souls with their beauty. The work of the Bible Flower Missions is traced to Commercial Street in Spitalfields, where flowers were sent from donors in the countryside for distribution amongst London’s working poor. Another of Anna’s viewpoints takes us to Harp Alley near Covent Garden, home to the John Groome’s Flower Girl Mission clubroom, where flower girls had a space to sit, eat, and arrange their flowers whilst listening to moralising bible readings ahead of their long days on the streets of the city.
The lives of these plants in Victorian London tells us much about how important floral nature was to the inhabitants of the urbanising capital, reminiscent of a nostalgic rural idyll amongst the smoke and brick of the city. The journeys of certain plants in and out of London will also be explored, from the daffodil train which pulled into Paddington Station from Penzance in the spring, to the frozen chrysanthemums sent in blocks of ice on ships all the way from New Zealand for show in the Royal Aquarium, Westminster in 1893. These flowers add colour to the grey smoggy view of Victorian streets, the trailing fuchsias on a young boy’s windowsill in 1880s Westminster inviting us into the blossoming world of urban nature.