Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Dr Johnson: shedworker

Dr Samuel Johnson, he of dictionary fame, was also a shedworker, or to be more precise, a summerhouseworker. However, it was not actually his. 
In the last quarter of the 18th century, Johnson was a regular visitor to the Streatham Place home in London of brewing magnate Henry Thrale and his wife Hester. The extensive grounds were home to a rather secluded wooden thatched summerhouse and Johnson took a shine to it so much - he sat and read in it, and may also have written some of his book The Lives of Poets - that it was informally named after him. It's not clear when it was built, but a likely date is 1773. Pictured above is an image of it with Johnson inside hard at work by the 19th century artist William Clarkson Stanfield.
After the house was sole in 1825, the Thrales' daughter Susannah took it to her Ashgrove home in Knockholt, Kent. A plaque on the summerhouse, now lost, recorded that: "She erected it on rising ground in the very centre of the grove making all paths lead to it, and making the grove a kind of shrine to Dr Johnson’s memory." Sadly, it was rather neglected and fell into disrepair until it was bought by a Mr WH Wells in 1962 who donated it to Kenwood House where it was restored and re-erected in 1968.

Then tragedy. It burnt down in March 1991. However, using images of the original, London artist Alan Byrne spent more than two years constructing a replica - pictured below - in his back garden in Islington, slates replacing the thatch and with chestnut used for the main build.

Those interested in finding out more should read Shaun Traynor's article in The Author magazine, a piece by good friend of shedworking John 'Shedman' Davies for The Johnson Society about a visit to the replica, and a really thorough history of it by Donald N. Cook in The New Rambler.


  Tuesday posts are sponsored by Garden Spaces, suppliers of                     contemporary garden buildings, offices, gyms and studios, many of 
  which do not require planning

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