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This Artistic Family and Artists in London

Taken from  The Life and Times of the Dibdin - Aglio Family

The idea for this article came from the study of the letters to the Aglio family. Not only was it possible to become aware of where the family lived at certain times but also it was possible to geographically position a number of their contacts and acquaintances. 

It became apparent that a number of artists were living in the Regents Park area of London in the mid 1800's and obviously although not amongst the very rich they seemed to be comfortable.

We are considering the "Victorian Era" and poverty was rife in London and although there is little reference to it amongst the family archives, one or two comments in William Joseph Dibdin's autobiography ring through ones memory. Particularly his reporting on the occasion he visited the Crossness Southern sewage Outfall across Plumstead Marshes, with a  Mr Ward, a stern old lawyer, distributing picture cards to children of workmen on the site. He referred to the situation as being worthy of Dickens.

Aglio arrived in England in 1803 and settled and worked for a short while in Cambridge however by 1805 he and moved to London and in 1805 married Letitia Clarke, the daughter of Robert Clarke, an Alderman of London and possibly  one time mayor.

In 1814  they settled in a new house at Edwardes Square in Kensington where they  lived until 1820.

Taken from 1822 ordinance map but the train lines were added in 1891 
Link to overall map of London 1882

This map of London shows how sparsely built on the West End was and how London seemed to have stopped at Kensington Gardens and Chelsea..
Edwardes Square can just be seen above Earls Court on the left hand side. Agostino and his wife obviously chose in their early days to have settled in what must have seemed like a village. 
The present day occupants of the Square recently (in 2014) celebrated the 200th birthday of the square and it was recognized that Aglio was responsible for the design of the square gardens.

It will be observed that the Square was not laid out in the traditional London Square pattern with straight paths and classical borders but with gentle curves. It is interesting to note that this style was repeated by Aglio's Great grandson, Lionel Dibdin, in the 1920's when designing the lay out for housing estates in the Surrey area. 

All three of Agostino and Letitia's children, Augustine, Emma Walsh and Mary Elizabeth were born at Edwardes Square but it seems that in 1820 they moved elsewhere but the address is unknown.

The next recorded address in London, we have at present, is that in 1838 that Mrs Aglio received letters at 2 Osnaburgh St, near Regents Park, however during those years between 1820 and 1838 Aglio had had a fairly busy time. He had done some theatre backdrop painting and done decoration at Woburn Abbey. He then spent 4 years travelling in Europe making facsimiles of the Mexican Antiquities during which time we have no idea how his family managed other than it is expected that Letitia had support from her family. In the early 1830's he was working on the Town hall an Manchester and it seems that his wife and possibly family were living with him just outside the city. 

By 1838 the family had returned to London and at that time he became involved in work associated with Queen Victoria. He drew and painted pictures of the coronation and then was brought into the Summerhouse Project. It is through this work that we get insights into his contact and relationships with other artists of the time and it is possible to build up a picture of where they all lived.

Osnaburgh Street is located very nicely on the South East corner of Regents Park and it is from here that Aglio must have carried out his work and the young family must have enjoyed the London life. Through the Buckingham Palace - Summerhouse job and the letters associated with it we get some idea of the artist community that he was part of. 
Research by Daniel Boeckmann
  indicates that he was working with the following artists 
Charles Eastlake, William Etty, Edwin Landseer, Clarkson Stanfield, Daniel Maclise, Thomas Uwins, Charles Leslie and Sir William Ross and that within the archives are letters from six of these.

Addresses of these artists includes several in Fitzrovia and others in central London near either Regents Park or Hyde Park The following map from before the Second World War  shows some of the areas of interest. Current maps some some changes as a result of the war destruction to the centre of London and of course new building work. No 2 Osnaburgh probasbly does not exist.

Refer to the database of letters for details of addresses and the contents of them for some idea of how involved Aglio was with the activities associated with the Summerhouse Project.

The one mystery address in that of C.R.Leslie, 12 Pine Apple Place, as to date no current reference to that place can be found. 

Augustine must have met and married, in 1846, Margaret Absolon, John Absolon's sister, from his fathers home and they when married moved not too far away up the road to Oval Road in Camden Town. At that time John Absolon may well have moved to Cornwall Crescent on the South West corner of Regents park having been living in Jermyn Street of Piccadilly in 1841. Later the Absolon family moved to Palace Gardens and then to Palace Gate, all residences comfortably central for London life. Reference is made in an article written some time ago within the family that John's father, also John Absolon, had lived with his family in Bond Street .

"Madge (Margaret Absolon) was born in 1813 and at the age of two and a half was lifted from her cot to see the sashes of the windows of the street lined with lighted candles. The impression of these illuminations in honour of the victory of Waterloo remained with her all her life."
Her father, John Absolon Senior, was so strict that when Beau Brummel and the Prince Regent had visited a neighbour’s house, he sent his three teenage daughters away immediately to a Boarding School in the country village of Brixton.
See Article regarding the Artistic Family Dynasty

While living at 4 Oval Road Augustine Aglio set up as a photographer in partnership with his brother in law's son Hugh Wolfgang de Mansfield Absolon for a couple of years. They had premises in 201 Piccadilly which is thought to be on the south side of the street in the block between Green Park and the Ritz. Apparently this was in about 1852 just after the invention of the Collodion Process for photograph making.

It must have been quite a pleasant journey to work from Camden Town, down through the side of Regents Park, round Park Crescent and down Regents Street to Piccadilly Circus. Alternatively he could have travelled down through Fitzrovia - Fitzroy Square, Upper Charlotte Street, Soho Square and Shaftesbury Avenue, passing on the way any number of the homes and probably the studios of artists known to his father and possible to himself.

It is also noted in the article about the family of Artists, written by Marian Montford, a daughter of W.J.Dibdin, that Thomas Colman Dibdin was a contempory of Aglio and there is every reason to believe that TCD and his family visited Augustine Aglio up in Camden Town. 
See Artistic Family Dynasty.

Thomas Colman was born in Bletchworth near Box Hill in Surrey but after a short stay in the City in his twenties he moved to New Bond Street before moving up to Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia. In 1850 he moved to The Polygon in Somers Town which was situated between Euston and St Pancras Station.

See summary of places of Residence of members of the family


[London : 1878 (or later)]. An attractive antique print of Somers Town in the mid nineteenth century - the Polygon was the home at various times of both William Godwin and Charles Dickens - and the birthplace of Mary Shelley. Engraved by Joseph Swain (1820-1909) from an earlier source and originally produced for the part-work "Old and New London" (London 1873-1878).

The previously referred to article regarding the Artistic Family Dynasty also mentions that young William Joseph Dibdin visited Augustine Aglio with his father at 4 Oval Road and this is where he would have met his wife to be Marian Aglio.

 "The younger children of the Dibdins became very friendly with the three Aglio sisters, Laetitia Marian and Mysie. Marian Aglio and William Joseph Aglio first met aged nine and ten respectively. He teased her by putting her pet cat over the wall, but he also climbed over the wall to get it back."

From Artistic Family Dynasty
"When he came up from Banstead Thomas Colman Dibdin always looked up his old friend John Absolon and his [John Absolon’s] brother in law Augustine Aglio. As the elder members of his large family left home T.C.Dibdin and his wife brought the younger children back to London and settle in Chalk Farm where a lively laughter loving family with musical, artistic and scientific interests. Their home was a centre of attraction to many comtempories." 

So now we know the whereabouts of four members of the family living in central London and knowledge of another eight artists that lived close by, including areas such as in Charlotte Street and Fitzroy Sq. all within reasonable walking distance of each other and the Parks of London. It is worthy of note that Fitzroy Sq comes up as a place of residence of a member of the Fleuss Family, Oswald Fleuss who was a stained glass artist but he was working in the area later in the century.

It is of interest that amongst all the artist that we know about in relation to the Aglios, and T.C.Dibdin we have no reference to William J Turner of John Constable although both may have been within their circle of acquaintances bearing in mind that they were both in London at the time and that Charles R.Leslie was a close friend of Constable who sadly had died in 1837. There is an oblique reference to Turner under a painting in a scrap book of Aglios's.

So what was life like in London at the time?

A look at maps of the town over the years can give an indication of population densities and hence the qualities of life lived by people in various areas and we can be fairly confident that for those living around the West End and the Royal Parks life was not too difficult. Aglio himself must have overcome his bankrupcy problems of the 1830's and with the help of his wife's support and his own work must have offered his family  a reasonable quality of life.

See Map of London 1882

We can imagine the scene, with the help of pictures from that time. These London Parks that include Regents Park, HydePark, Kensington Gardens and St James' Park are all referred to as Royal because of having been acquired by Henry VIII and so had a well  to do atmosphere about them.



It may be worth mentioning at this point that the first open space made specifically for the general population in South Lewisham was Mayow Park with pressure and financial support from Rev.William Taylor Jones, T.C.Dibdin's brother in law.

There is evidence that in later years T.C. Dibdin worked for Rev.W.T. Jones at Sydenham College where the latter was head. Jones had talked Dibdin into donating 6 sketches of the site of the park which sold at £5.0.0 each for the venture.
Mayow Park in Sydenham in 1878.

Other views of London give a sedate and comfortable feeling such as this view of mail leaving the General Post Office in St Martins-le-Grand in the City of London.

This view of Cheapside in 1823 shows quite a lot of traffic and is a bit crowded but there is still a aire of elegance about the scene.

Monet's scene of Westminster and the River Thames shows activity as well as the delightful view but in no way gives us an insight into that other side of London that anyone with the slightest knowledge of Victorian London will be aware of. A mile or so from these views of calm and elegance, were the scenes of dereliction and immense poverty that were so well portrayed by Gustav Dore in his illustrations of London.

From the many  pictures by Gustav Dore from the Book "London" published in 1872 showing the depth on poverty and hardship in London, just two.

The picture on the left is titled "Found in the Street"  and that above " Scripture Reading in a Night Refuge". These scenes and a couple below demonstrate the extreme other side of London compares with those above, probable generally experienced for the Aglio Family and other artists of the time.

William Joseph Dibdin, when describing one of his visits to the works at the Southern sewage outfall near Plumstead Marshes refers to the Dickensian nature of the experience when his colleague acts charitably.

Although in the 1840's and 1850's his father appears to be sufficiently well off to be living in the centre of town  or in leafy Banstead, it seems that later in the 1860's money was not so available. William Joseph refers to having to leave school at 14 years old because his father could not afford for him to stay on and tried to teach him to be an artist. It seems that he had capability but because of his poor sight which could not in the 1860's be corrected he could only manage to paint copies of his father's work. Thomas Colman Dibdin had a total of 12 children.

From WJDibdin's autobiography 

" On the removal of our family from Banstead to London, Kentish Town, I went for 12 months to a school in Fortess Terrace but, when at 14 years of age, I had the opportunity of obtaining a clerkship with the London and North Western Railway at Camden Station and knowing that my father had a hard task to keep a large family going I asked to be allowed to accept it.

Much against his wish my father consented and I went one day to the office and on asking what time I was expected to be there on the next day, was staggered to be met with the question " Oh! I suppose you can be here at five o’clock", I meekly answered "Yes Sir" and was there the next day at five am. And so ended my school days and I entered on my life’s work."

At this time the family was living in Belsize Road Kilburn which at the time would have been just on the edge of the built up area of London. See Map of London 1882

It may have been that he travelled across to Camden Town station by train or he may have had to walk the two or so miles. This may have been his first encounter with the more difficult side of life in London 

Again from WJDibdin's autobiography 

"The strangeness of my surroundings was great and the roughness of the men about me, at first, seemed unkindness itself, especially from those and, not a few, who seemed to think that nothing could be done without the most violent language and there was brought home to me in sad earnest the physical defect I had always suffered from, but largely unknowingly, my short sight. As my normal focus of clear vision is only about four inches and spectacles for children were practically unknown, I soon found that I was not quick enough to scan invoices and hand written documents with the rapidity required and many were the trials I underwent because of my necessary slowness. The defect became so marked that eventually I had to have spectacles and then one’s life was almost a burden. In those days (1864), I suppose I must have been the only boy in London wearing spectacles and it seemed to be the bounden duty of every passing labourer etc in the street to pass remarks as if I was a wicked person who wouldn’t see properly with his own eyes, but must, in some spiteful and cowardly way, employ outside aid. I was naturally a nervous child in many ways and the constant annoyance had the effect of still more conducing to personal isolation and a desire to work quietly away from vulgarity. In fact the position was so acute at times that I would gladly have accepted my Father’s wish to follow his artistic work, had it not been for the very fact that my eyesight prevented my obtaining a clear view of the thing to be copied. In those days optical science was in its infancy and there was no such thing as a cure for astigmatism etc. Had I been supplied with the corrections to eyesight I now enjoy my whole life might very possibly, and I think certainly, have been very different, but I made the best of things and did my best."

Life was such that William at the age of nearly 17 years old was driven to emigrate to Australia and he spent about 7 years there until he was 24 and his mother wrote to him saying that his father was missing him.

For insights into the life of William Joseph Dibdin, growing up and working in Victorian London and as a leading member of the London County Council Engineering Department do read his autobiography .

Included in his writings are insights into the battles he had over the quality of the gas supply in the city and the corruption that he fought within the LCC.


A beautiful view of the new London Embankment after Bazzelgette had built, on the North bank, a sewer and train tunnel alongside the Thames, so narrowing the river,  with a road on the top, between Westminster and Blackfriars.

Deepening a Sewer in Fleet Street. 1845