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  • Jeremy Bentham and his new walking stick.

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 29 January 2014

    From the start of January until the middle of June Jeremy Bentham’s stick is on display in a different part of UCL, in the Octagon Gallery, as part of the ‘Collecting – Knowledge in Motion’ exhibition.

    Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon.

    Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon.

    While sorting out the paperwork for this in December it struck me just how unfair it was to take an old man’s walking stick away from him for 6 months! After all Bentham had named his stick ‘Dapple’ and so obviously had quite an attachment to it. The least I could do, I thought, would be to find him a suitable replacement.

    But where can you find a replacement walking stick in London? I didn’t want to buy one, as then I would have two sticks after June. The Institute of Making at UCL had a walking stick carving course last year, but only had part of a stick. No good. Should I make one myself? It took me a whole term at school to make a tent peg so given the 6 month time period I thought that was out.

    'Dapple' being photographed for the Octagon Exhibition.

    ‘Dapple’ being photographed
    for the Octagon Exhibition.

    Luckily, however, another opportunity presented itself. Last year UCL became the lead partner, along with the University of the Arts London and the London Museums Group, in an Arts Council England funded project called ‘Share Academy’. The project aims to build mutually beneficial and sustainable links between the higher education sector and museums across London. There are 26 funded projects currently going on involving the smaller London Museums and academics from UCL and UAL. The website provides lots of information and is well worth a look.

    That means that there were 26 potential London museums who I could approach about finding a replacement walking stick. I emailed a few of the partners and luckily one got back to me. With not one stick but the choice of half a dozen!

    A detail of the new stick, showing a Japanese figure.

    A detail of the new stick,
    showing a Japanese figure

    Bexley Heritage Trust is a charity that runs two historic properties:- Dansen House and Hall Place and Gardens, in the London Borough of Bexley. Dansen House is a restored Georgian Villa, while Hall Place is a Grade 1 listed Tudor Country House built in 1537 by Sir John Champneys, a former Lord Mayor of London. Both are stunning. The Heritage Trust also care for a Social History Collection, and from this I was able to find a stick I think the old radical would approve of.

    The new stick features 3 carved Japanese figures (samurai maybe?), which is much more interesting than Bentham’s original stick (sorry Dapple). I think it looks great in the box, and should give Mr Bentham something new to ponder, for the next few months anyway.

    Bentham enjoying his new walking stick.

    Bentham enjoying his new walking stick.

    On February 14th (Valentines day) I will be speaking with  Professor Philip Schofield, Director of the Bentham Project, at the Museum of London as part of their Valentines day extravaganza! We will be discussing the auto-icon and Jeremy Bentham’s philosophy on pleasure and pain, plus with the Cheapside Hoard exhibition on at the same time it should be a great evening out.

    Nick Booth is one of the Teaching and Research Curators at UCL.

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