Author Archives: Dave Walker

Shepherd in Chelsea

Thomas Hosmer Shepherd is one of the few artists in our collection who seemed equally happy in Chelsea and Kensington. It could be argued that his Chelsea watercolours have the edge for the variety of the subject matter, although some of these views are familiar from the work of other artists. Take Gough House as an example.

Gough House 238A

We’ve seen it before in the paintings of Mariane Rush. She painted Gough House from different angles, even from old prints and her imagination. Shepherd’s view is more exact, his trees less exotic, but he does allow a certain darkness about the place. Gough House was built in 1704 but the Gough family didn’t own it until ten years later. It lay adjacent to the later building Walpole House – susequent researchers wish that Shepherd (or Rush) had painted that.  In 1790 Gough House was a girl’s school (inevitably) . The grounds were gradually absorbed in the 19th century by the building of the Embankment and the laying out of Tite Street but the house itself partly survived into the 20th century as The Victoria Hospital for Children

The Chelsea Bun House in Grosvenor Row was the home of the Chelsea Bun but also had a museum of curiosities, not the only one in the area.

Chelsea Bun House 167A

The Bun House was run by several members of a family named Hand. The often quoted figure of a quarter of a million buns sold on Good Friday 1829 is probably apocryphal but the buns themselves “a zephyr in taste, fragrant as honey” sound  a little more interesting than the modern version.

Below, a view of St Joseph’s Convent, Cadogan Street occupied then by the Sisters of Mercy. Boys and girls’ schools and alms housas were later added and the street now also has a Catholic Church, St Mary’s.

St Soseph's Convents and Schools, Cadogan Street 172A

Some of this building still survives. Another building with ecclesiastical connnections is now gone, Winchester House, home of the Bishop of Winchester after the destruction of Winchester Palace. While the Bishop lived there it was outside the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, but by 1825 Earl Cadogan’s estate had acquired it. After its demolition, Oakley Street was built, running south from the King’s Road to the river right through the former house.

Winchester House 150A

Some clerical figures strolling on the left perhaps, and one of Shepherd’s running dogs on the other path.

East of the point where Oakley Street met the river was a grand terrace of houses we’ve seen in Hedderly photographs. The house with the signs is Don Saltero’s Tavern,  once home to an even more famous museum of curiosites.

Cheyne Walk - Don Saltereo's 151A

James Salter (“Don Saltero” was his exotic alter ego) had been a servant of Sir Hans Sloane. The original coffee house was further east near Lawrence Street but he finally moved to 18 Cheyne Walk. He died in 1728. The collection was sold in 1799 and by the time Shepherd painted this picture the house was just a tavern.

The collection itself deserves a post of its own, which I may do one day but let me just give some random examples from the 1734 version of the catalogue:

21 Petrified crab from China; 27 The Worm that eats into the Piles in Holland; 31 A piece of rotten wood not to be consumed by fire; 67 A pair of Nun’s stockings; 69 A Nun’s Whip; 70 the Pope’s infallible candle; 76 A little Lobster;102 A curious snuff box, adorn’d with ivory figures;119 the Hand of an Egyptian Mummy; 135 An Ostritch’s Leg; 142 A Cat of Mountain; 302 A Whale’s pizzle: 305 A Batt with four Ears

As you can see, it was a collection you’d want to see if you could. I once displayed the whole list in the gallery at Chelsea Library. In the end though the whole lot sold for £50.

We now begin a walk along the riverside, one of the most illustrated parts of Chelsea [link]

Another familiar view shows the pre-Embankment riverside heading towards the Old Church. The river was wider, and maybe gentler at this time.

Chelsea waterfront 152A

Getting closer to the church you can see the Sloane Monument and the terrace leading up to it, both photographed by Hedderly. (plus other posts under his name)

Chelsea Old Church 145A

Shepherd gave the dog some time off and puts a horse in this one. Arch House, the covered way to Lombard Street is just visible.

Lindsey House 146A

On the other side of the bridge, the dog returns in this view of Lindsey House, built in 1694 but substantially altered over the years. The Brunels, father and son lived there for several years in the early 19th century.

Turner's House 119 Cheyne Walk 147A

Further along Cheyne Walk at number 119 (the house in the centre) was rented from 1838 by the painter J M W Turner. The rail on the roof was supposedly the point from which he watched the river, particularly at sunset.  He lived there almost incognito only visited by a few friends such as Leopold Martin, son of the painter John Martin. It’s not recorded whether the misspellings at Alexander’s are what Shepherd actually saw or whether Shepherd himself was a poor speller.

Time-journeys along this stretch of river often end here:

Cremorne Gardens 1852 148A

The Cremorne Pleasure Gardens, where I imagine there were no dogs allowed, apart from the performing variety [link]

Cremorne Gardens 1852 149A

Shepherd doesn’t show the crowds. Perhaps he’s imagining a quiet afternoon at Cremorne. These two ladies, the gentleman and the boy can have their pick of the chairs. A few figures make their way out of what I assume is Ashburnham Hall, part of the old estate now convereted into an exhibition area.. This is the genteel version of the Gardens. Some edifying displays in the hall, a chance to sit quietly, almost in the country with only the sound of the wind in the trees and the river in the background. Later the entertainments will begin and presumably Cremorne won’t be so quiet or so staid.

Let’s go one step further and pass through the gardens onto the westernmost stretch of the King’s Road. St Mark’s College was built right across from the entrance to Cremorne. As a teacher training college the authorities there naturally deplored the licentious activity in the evenings at Cremorne and the Principal of the College was one of the main objectors whenever Cremorne’s licences were up for renewal. (Although the main reason for the closure of Cremorne was probably a decline in profitability and the desire of developers to build housing on the site.) The days of seasonal  outdoors entertainment on the scale of Cremorne were coming to an end.

On the Fulham Road side of the College site was the chapel:

St Mark's College Chapel 138A

It looks like another tranquil spot. But London was growing around all the quiet places Shepherd depicted and the modern city was taking over. The only animals in this picture are a small flock of birds.

Postscript

Shepherd brings together many strands of Chelsea history. I’m almost certainly going to pick one of those up next week, I’m not sure which one right now.


The ruins: a traveller in antique land

“I met a traveller from antique land” – one of the most evocative opening lines in literature. Shelley was  thinking of ancient Egypt but by the early decades of the 20th century the civilisation of ancient Egypt had a secure place in history, literature and the popular imagination. The unknown places of the world were far from Europe and North Africa.

I have been fascinated by this week’s pictures for years. This blog is partly about photography itself and how quickly photographers grasped the possibilities of the medium. One of those possibilities is to bring the distant near. By 1912 travellers had ventured further in terms of distance than Sir Marc Aurel Stein but few of them had been so far into places which were largely unknown to Western imagination.

These pictures remind me of places from fiction like the plateau of Leng in H P Lovecraft’s stories, or the planet Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s Dune series . At one point I was thinking of using them for a Halloween story. But the more I looked at them and dipped into the text of Stein’s enormous two-volume work “Ruins of Desert Cathay”  (MacMillan, 1912) the more I realised that these pictures didn’t need any embellishment from me. They tell their own story of a traveller in an unknown land searching for semi-mythical places.

The daunting mountains in the background were just the start of the journey.

Watch station at foot of Mintaka Pass with Sarikolos 32

There were deep gorges to navigate where unfamiliar rivers ran.

Bridge across Yurung-Kash River in gorge near Khushlash-Langae 65

Stein’s expedition travelled through the mountains north into Turkestan, the westernmost region of what was then the empire of China. In this region the cultural influence of India, both Hindu and Muslim met Buddhism and Chinese Confucianism, with British and Russian Christians adding to the the mix.

Muhammadan shrine and cemetery on road to Kasgar

There were towns and cities already familar to travellers here.

Mosque and avenue of Poplars near Borache, Khotan

Geographers, archeologists and scholars had visited before. Stein was all of those, and although he was a small man of Hungarian descent he was also in some senses Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. After trekking across the mountains he and his party were glad to arrive in Kashgar where they were known from previous visits and could stay with Macartney , the British resident.

The party picked up workers for hire as they went. Pathans and Gulabs:

Pathan and Gujar carriers from Kolandi

Locals from further on:

Wakhi head-men and carriers at Kok-Torok with Dash

[Head-men and carriers from Kok-Torok, with Stein's dog Dash. Stein had several dogs on his expeditions, all of them called Dash]

Slightly more expensive was some administrative assistance from the secretary, Chang Sso-Yeh who was there to read Chinese texts. (He and Stein communicated in the one language they had in common, the local tongue Turki, which was difficult for both of them though in different ways.)

Chaing Ssu-Yeh Chinese secretary 39

From Kashgar the expedition moved on into desert territory.

They uncovered wooden structures from the sand – unexpected remnants of houses and settlements.

Door with wood-carving in sand-buried ruin at Niya site

 

Room in ancient residence at Niva site

After much effort they excavated stone structures.

Remains of ancient wall on erosion witness - Endere site104

Most of this ruin was under the sand.

Part of a wall. Stein always included expedition workers in his pictures to give a sense of scale, But they also convey the loneliness of these desert spots.

Ruined tower with remains of wind-eroded dwelling in forground - Endere site 105

They passed through desolate places where the sand had been blown into random patterns.

View from ruined stupa at Lop-Nor across wind-eroded ground

And found more ancient ruins.

Ruin of ancient stupa at Lop-Nor

Although it’s an effect of the photographic process the blank skies above these scenes add to the impression of the party making its way through a vast empty space with occasional outcrops of decay, remnants of fallen civilisations. There might be room for a few dark imaginings:

The sand of the desert of Yondo is not as the sand of other deserts; for Yondo lies nearest of all to the world’s rim; and strange winds, blowing from a pit no astronomer may hope to fathom, have sown its ruinous fields with the gray dust of corroding planets, the black ashes of extinguished suns. The dark, orblike mountains which rise from its wrinkled and pitted plain are not all its own, for some are fallen asteroids half-buried in that abysmal sand. Things have crept in from nether space, whose incursion is forbid by the gods of all proper and well-ordered lands; but there are no such gods in Yondo, where live the hoary genii of stars abolished and decrepit demons left homeless by the destruction of antiquated hells.

[Clark Ashton Smith: The Abominations of Yondo] [Smith was writing in the 1930s when distant and inaccessible places could be made to seen sinister and threatening as in his friend Lovecraft's At the mountains of madness which depicts impossibly tall mountains in Antarctica. That story was nearly turned into a film by Guillermo del Toro. I'd love to have seen that.]

Looking through Stein’s book the page headings alone tell a mysterious story: Records from a hidden archive….Last days at a dead oasis……….Arrival at a frozen lake…Heads of Colossal Buddhas…Story of a magical elephant……..Ancient temples of Miran…..Last drink for the animals……Goblins of the Gobi…The town of the dragon

This picture shows the camels eating reeds as  they came to the edge of one of the desert regions the expedition crossed.

Camels grazing on frist reeds after crossing Lop-Nor Desert - Copy

An overgrown structure is disovered near the same spot.

Circumvallation of small fort of Merdek-Shahr, overgrown with reeds

But also in this region there were  more complete finds.

Ruin of domed Buddhist shrine enclosing stupa at Miran

A stupa, and below at a site called Miran:

Remains of colossal figures of seated Buddhas in ruined shrine at Miran

The remains of colossal figuures

Stucco head of colossal Buddha figure at ruined shrine Miran

No Ozymandias here but evidence of a great civilsation now fallen,

With its placid satues of Buddha, its strange beings depicted on frescos:

Frescoes of winged figures from dado of ruined shrine at Miran

(Stein puzzled over these almost Greco-Roman style images.)

And its own demons

Vaisravana Demon-King of the Northern Region

[Vaisravana, the demon king of the northern region]

At Miran

Base of Buddhist shrine at Miran

The edge of the Chinees empire

Ruin of ancient watch tower near westrn end of Tun-Huang Limes 153

A watch tower, and below, a fort.

Ruin of ancient Chinese fort 154

I’ve only taken you on part of the journey. There was still the Cave of a Thousand Buddhas and other wonders to see.

Stein and other explorers and archaeologists brought back a great deal of material before the Chinese government closed the region.  Was it theft or preservation? I couldn’t say. For me the treasure is in the pictures of unknown places from long ago and the strangers who ventured into them.

Postscript

So we finally made it on the far journey. Having made this selection I looked again and found many more images I could have used , and this was just in Volume 1. Stein was a remarkable man. I won’t pretend to have done him justice here, but the photographs show some of the distant places of the world which are now also distant in time. Next week we’ll be back in K and C.

My background reading was Peter Hopkirk’s excellent Foreign devils on the silk road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


An actor’s life for me: Lena Ashwell

The first time I read the name Lena Ashwell was in connection with a production in 1902 of the Japan-set drama The Darling of the Gods. The second time I came across her was on a walk through 1970s Westbourne Grove  where I encountered the former home of her troupe the Century Players. And then of course there was the role of the Lena Ashwell Players in entertaining troops in the Great War. So it became inevitable there would be a blog post about her. I’ve found this before. A person who seemed obscure or forgotten turns out to have a rich and fascinating history. (And why hadn’t I heard of them before?)  I found so many pictures I decided to concentrate on her pre-war career this time

The director Herbert Beerbohm Tree took Lena to dinner with our friend Yoshio Markino to get some advice on turning Japanese for the part of Yosan.

Darling of the Gods with Beerbohm Tree - Copy

She writes in her memoirs: “The movements and manners and make-up were taught to us by the most attractive and gentle of mankind , Yoshio Markino. Having read of the vegetarian diet and generally small demands of the highly evolved, I watched with envy and admiration that he had only a glass of milk for his lunch….Until I read his book on his life I had no idea that he was starving and that the one glass of milk was all he could buy. Pride may sometimes seem foolishness to the practical, but at the same time it is wise.”

She also says that Tree had not wanted her in the part and that it was the author David Belasco who had insisted on her. Experiences like this may have been the deciding factor in her becoming an actor-manager as she did for her  next project. But before all that she was a promising young actress in the late 19th century….

Rosamund in Sowing the wind 1894

As part of George Alexander’s company she appeared in a play called Sowing the wind in which she understudied the lead to begin with but later took over as a leading lady on a tour. In Ireland during winter the stages were very cold. “Sowing the wind is a costume play and my dress was very thin. The first act took place in a garden and the garden seat on which I had to sit was painted iron – it was almost imposible to prevent a squeal as one sat upon the freezing surface.”

Despite such hardships she was starting to get good notices. She worked for Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. at the Lyceum. In King Arthur “I had a short scene with Ellen Terry in the first act and had to be a corpse in the third….I can still see Sir Henry’s voice as he lifted the veil off my face…The winter was very cold and I had a horrible fear that one night I might sneeze; so a young doctor gave me a spray to use which very nearly ruined my life. I suppose at first it was not realised that cocaine was a dangerous drug.”

Elaine in King Arthur

She was back at the Lyceum in 1896 to play the Prince of Wales in Richard III. Although he deplored the idea of an actress in a male role George Bernard Shaw singled her out for praise as “an actress of mark.”

4 roles - Copy (2)

The memoirs are full of anecdotes about the knockabout lives of young actors. Lena thrived in the life and had a growing reputation.

One of her first big sucesses was in Mrs Dane’s Defence,  with Charles Wyndham. Lena played the title role. “None believed Mrs Dane would be a success. I was a dark horse and Mrs D ane was a woman with a murky past.” But: “Wyndham said that the applause when the curtain fell was the most tremendous he had ever known”

Mrs Dane in Mrs Dane's Defence 1900

The King visited the play, and outside the theatre she saw her own face on rows of picture postcards. She was tasting the celebrity life like any modern actor. “I was pursued by detectives. Wherever I went they were there, watching me in restautants, waiting outside my house, following me in cabs…Whilst I was away in Berlin one of my servants had been bribed to report all my movements”

There were other examples of the celebrity life which would be recognizeable today:

Best dressed 1908

As you can see from the pictures Lena was an attractive young woman. But like many young actresses she worried about her looks. She writes that on the way to a dinner party where she would be introduced to John Singer Sargent she repeated the mantra: “I am very beautiful. I AM very beautiful. I stepped out of the four-wheeler, passed up the staircase, the door was flung open, Miss Lena Ashwell was announced – I caught my foot in something and still bravely repeating the formula fell headlong into the room. The rest is silence.”

The run of Mrs Dane came to an end with the death of Queen Victoria.

Lena returned to Her Majesty’s Theatre to appear in an adaptaion of Tolstoy’s novel Resurrection. The character of Katusha is an innocent girl, later tried as an accessory to murder,who becomes a drunk in prison,  redeems herself in the hospital prison ward and ends up as “a saint in Siberia”

Resurrection 1903

Beerbohm Tree was Prince Dimitry.  Lena says “He had never been through the mill and remained in many ways an amateur.” The famous man sounds a bit trying to me. “During the love-scene in the first act he would amuse himself by unfastening all the hooks which did up my peasant’s dress at the back, leaving me to walk up the stage with my bodice unfastened. Even pins could not deter him, and at last I had to be sown into my frock.”

Enough to drive you to drink..or smoking.

Katusha in Resurrection

Despite the distractions she also perfected a desperate scream for the scene in which Katusha is sentenced to exile in Siberia, which during rehearsals sent people at the theatre running to see who had been hurt. The play Leah Kleschna was written for her by CMS McLellan as a result of her performance.

She remained with Tree at the same theatre for Darling of the Gods. After that she intended to start her own company with her friend the American actor Robert Taber but during  the run of Darling he died at the age of only 38. This was a devastating blow. Not only were they friends but they could have formed a lasting stage partnership.

Bonnie Dundie by Lawrence Irving  with Robert Taber

This was them in 1900 in a play called Bonnie Dundie.

Lena  eventually went ahead with the play,  Leah Kleschna, a drama about a woman burglar.

Leah Klescha 1905

The production was not entirely successful despite being put on in London and New York.  Also a financial failure though “tremendously interesting” was The Shulamite, set in south Africa and first performed in Chicago

The Shulamite with N McKennel-Elsie Chester- Henry Ainley

Lena came back from America ill and disheartened. This was when she met her future husband Dr Henry Simson. (She was not yet divorced from her first husband)

Lena encouraged Cicely Hamilton to write a comedy, Diana of Dobson’s about a shop girl who inherits a small amount of money which enables her to escape the drudgery of retail life for a short while.

Diana of Dobson's - Copy

Lena was thankful to play in a comedy at last.

I’m drawing to a close with a play at the Globe Theatre for which Charles Frohman engaged most of Lena’s company: Madame X.

Madame X 1909

It was another big drama ” I reduced the audience to tears; strong men broke down and sobbed aloud in the boxes; they laid out stores of handkerchiefs. I had many wonderful letters including one from Ellen Terry full of praise especially of my high, high death.”

Madame X

The play was produced, I was interested to note by Dion Boucicault, who we came across as the owner of Hereford House and Coleherne Court. So this post has begun and ended with a link to another, an early case of six degrees of Kevin Bacon. More connections: Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree was the father of film director Carol Read, who lived in Chelsea, and the grandfather of Oliver Reed who appeared in the classic Chelsea film I’ll never forget whatsisname. (Both via Tree’s mistress May Pinnet Reed)

There’s much more to Lena Ashwell’s life which we’ll save for another day.

Postscript

This week’s pictures come from Margaret Leask’s book “Lena Ashwell: actress, patriot, pioneer” ,2012, and from Lena’s own “Myself a player” 1936. Thank to Westminster City Archives for loaning me the first and to Kim for transporting it to Kensington. The second I naturally found in our own Biographies Collection, a bona fide treasure trove of rare biographies and the envy of many a library. I found the subjects of two future blog posts down there this afternoon.

Attentive readers will remember that I promised you a post far from Kensington and Chelsea this week. Like all good actors Lena Ashwell found a way to push herself into the spotlight first. But the traveller in antique land will appear soon.

Postscript to the Postscript

I’ve been asked to point out that Margaret Leask’s book is published by the University of Hertfordshire Press (www.herts.ac.uk/uhpress ) and that pictures number 2 (Sowing the Wind), 5 (Mrs Dane’s defence), 6 (Best dressed actresses), 7 (resurrection), 10 (Leah Kleschna) and 13 (Madame X) are taken from that book.  And also that Michael Joseph published the Ashwell memoirs.I’m  happy to do that.


Mr Menpes I presume

Mortimer Luddington Menpes is having a bit of a renaissance in his home country. This year there were two exhibitions devoted to his work one in Adelaide, the city of his birth and one in Melbourne. We contributed some images to one of them, and they sent us a copy of the book of the exhibition, which is where most of this week’s pictures come from. My colleague Tim and I also got an invitation to the private view. But it was a bit far to go, which was a shame. It would have been good to see the place Menpes came from. He was born in Port Adelaide in 1855 and came to England when he was 20. Although he lived the greatest part of his life in the UK there was always something of the outsider about Mr Menpes and he never lost an Australian artist’s feeling for light and colour.

Dolce far niente 1885-86 p45

“Dolce far niente” is a portrait of Whistler’s mistress Maud Franklin wearing an oriental robe.  Menpes was generally under Whistler’s influence in London. This picture, A little Shop in Chelsea is thought to be influenced by Whister’s view of Maunder’s fish shop in Cheyne Walk.

Copy of A little shop in Chelsea 1884-87

But Menpes annoyed his master in 1887 when he travelled to Japan. The influence of Japanese culture in Britain had been felt since the 1862 Exhibition in South Kensington but Whistler thought that Japan belonged to him, artistically speaking. Menpes went past the master to explore the source for himself. (He slipped away leaving a letter for Whistler and avoided a confrontation in person. This did not prevent Whistler later denouncing him)

Flower of the tea 1887-88 p63

He was able to visit the the elderly painter Kawanabe Kyosai, talk with him through an interpreter and observe him at work on a number of paintings. Menpes incorporated  Japanese style and techniques into his own work. His pictures of Japan show this influence but at the same time he retains a Western sensibility, as in this picture of two women.

Two geisha girls 1896-97

By the time of his exhibition of his Japanese pictures in London in 1888 Menpes was also a practioner of drypoint etching.

Later in life he concentrated on etching and print making.

Venice of Japan 1897

This example is called Venice in Japan.

He employed a technique of sketching pictures quickly to capture scenes spontaneously which was useful for his travels. This picture, the Woman with a Jar, is an example of his ability to observe and record a moment of everyday life.

The girl with the jar 1887-88

His travels later took him back to Japan but also further afield. This etching is a view in China.

Rich only in colour China 1907-08

This one is entitled “An old bridge in Mandalay”

Old Bridge Mandalay 1911-13

He also ventured into India, another of the trips he turned into a travel book.

Blue was the sky above us -Benares 1889-91

“Blue was the sky above us – Benares”

He also travelled to Mexico,and back in Europe visited Paris and Venice.

St Mark's piaza 1909-11

But there was also London, where he had built the Japanese House and where the river was one of the main subjectsof his work.

Below, “A distant view of the city”.

A distant view of the city 1886-89

The riverside in the heart of London, at Limehouse.

Limehouse 1886-89

Is that the Hawksmoor Church, St Anne’s visible on the horizon in this view?

Not forgetting his trips beyond the tidal Thames into the calmer countryside up river.

Goring 1909-11

Compare this etching of Goring with the coloured illustration in his book The Thames which appears in this post. (5th picture, but you won’t have any trouble spotting it)

I haven’t touched on his portraits, but he also made himself a leading exponent of that art as well. This 1920 sketch “A woman with a cigarette” , a portrait of the actress Thelma Ray, the first wife of Ronald Colman, shows his continuing ability to catch a fleeting moment.

Woman holding a cigarette - Thelma Raye 1920

But for all his other work it’s probably as “Japanes Menpes” that Mr Menpes is best remembered.

The Parasol 1887-88

 

Postscript

The exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia has just finished, so you can’t go to it now, but here is a glimpse:

Menpes exhibition

My thanks to Julie Robinson, the Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Gallery, for sending us a copy of the exhibition book/catalogue, “The World of Mortimer Menpes: Painter, Etcher, Raconteur”, a very useful adition to our Menpes collection. Now that Menpes is getting some of the attention he deserves I think we’ll hear a lot more about him. I haven’t finished with him on the blog either so you can expect to see more of his work here in the future.

If you are in Melbourne in the next few months you could try a different Menpes exhibition: http://www.grainger.unimelb.edu.au/exhibitions/  A review of it: http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/voice/mortimer-menpes-and-grainger-a-shared-love-of-japan-20140807-3d9n4.html

I’m thinking of doing something way out of Kensington and Chelsea next week. We’ll see how that works out.


The Chelsea Murders: fiction in Kensington and Chelsea 2

Lionel Davidson was a famous writer in his day, although not much mentioned these days. Many of his books are still in print though. He was big in the 60s. He wrote what you might call international thrillers -The Night of Wenceslas (1960) set in cold war Czechoslovakia, The Rose of Tibet (1962) set in India and Tibet and A long way to Shiloh (1966) set in Israel and Jordan. They were all bestsellers. The paperbacks were published by Penguin which made them look serious, like Len Deighton novels. (People sometimes forget now how innovative and influential Deighton was with books such as the Ipcress File and Billion Dollar Brain). Davidson himself is a literary ancestor of the modern authors of spy novels and techo-thrillers.

Chelsea Murders 01 - Copy (2)

The covers of his books from the 60s and 70s tell their own story:

LionelDavidson covers

In the centre a classic Penguin crime cover – green for crime. On the left a later Penguin edition typical of the early 70s – the arty but somewhat gratuitous notion of a map projected on a naked body was used on a series of Davidson novels. On the right the semi-surreal hardback cover for the Sun Chemist also typical of books from Jonathan Cape

In 1978 Cape published another Davidson crime thriller (with a tasteful cover ) in another exotic setting – The Chelsea Murders.

Chelsea Murders 01 - Copy - Copy

The novel begins with a lone woman who is surprised by a grotesquely masked man and killed. But she is not the first victim.

Unknown woman from JB2 02

Previously another woman was murdered in Jubilee Place, and a man in Bywater Street.

Jubilee Place 17817 23

The police begin to wonder if  a maniac is killing people in Chelsea.

I have read that Davidson never visited Chelsea before writing the book and employed researchers to get the local colour. He lived in Israel by this time so his own knowledge of London may be a little out of date – for example there’s no mention in the book of the punk scene which would have been well established by 1978.

There are some scenes set in Chelsea Library. In the book it’s the reference library at the old Chelsea Library in Manresa Road (well before my time although I have been in the old reference libary with its dark curving shelves and balcony). Here it is in a picture from the 50s 0r early 60s:

Manresa Road- ref - Copy

Several characters visit the library where Brenda the library assistant supplies information about famous local residents to a police detective. Mason notices her shelving – “Very nice bird,(he) thought. Victorian looking, yellow hair, parted in the middle; something a bit classical happened to it at the back.” Artie Johnson who will become one of the suspects notices Brenda in the first few pages of the and notes that she had “the look of a Pre-Raphaelite chick.”

Unfortunately for the police Brenda also tells Mary Mooney, an ambitious young reporter following the case (and are there any other kinds of journalists in thrillers?), and some of the suspects. One of those two women ends up in the killer’s sights but I won’t give away which one.

The exterior of the 1890s building, which you can still see today in Manresa Road:

Library exterior - Copy

When ITV did an adaptation of the book, those scenes were filmed in the new Chelsea Library at Chelsea Old Town Hall. I was already working for the Libraries then, and several years later I was reference librarian there, so whatever Davidson’s personal experience of Chelsea was, I feel like this is a book set more or less  in my own habitat.

There are some characters familiar from the 60s and 70s:

Filming under Battersea Bridge 1970 jb63b - Copy

A group of former art students who are making a film. Two of them and their mentor, a sleazy academic become the main suspects in the series of murders in which it seems that the killer is choosing his victims by their initials which match the names of some of those famous residents.

Rossetti VAW

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, (hence the painting on the cover of the book) is the first of the series which also features James McNeill Whistler, Algernon Swinburne, Leigh Hunt, AA Milne, W S Gilbert and even Oscar Wilde.

DGR was a woman murdered and dumped in the river. Ogden Wu, the owner of a slightly seedy shop selling denim in all its forms like in this market off the King’s Road is one of the later victims:

Chelsea Village Market 1970 - Copy

One of the desperate film makers works for Wu and finds himself even more deeply embroiled in the investigation after his boss’s death.

The police fixate on the suspects fairly early on. They trail them around, create a card index for the case (no mention of a computer in the book), even consult a reference book at the library to trace the provenance of a poem.

As you might expect they spend some time in one of the famous Chelsea pubs of thr era.

Chelsea Potter

Some of the language in the book has dated in a way which modern readers might find distasteful. The character Artie Johnson, the producer of the film is described (by a tabloid journalist ) as “a spade..a real one, all black” and Mooney thinks of him as “a long black cat, his golliwog smile in place under his beehive” (afro, presumably). That’s a phrase you couldn’t use (and wouldn’t want to) these days, but in 1978 casual racism was still prevalent in life as well as literature. The author was not of course necessarily endorsing the attitudes of his characters. Thrillers from previous eras exhibit many archaic attutudes whether it’s the off putting right wing opinions of Dennis Wheatley or the less offensive 1930s mannerisms of Michael Innes. The modern reader has to tread carefully when reading and the modern blogger when recommending books.

In fact I’m not sure whether I’d actually recommend the Chelsea Murders to anyone who wasn’t interested in the Chelsea setting. The local colour is the thing. It’s not quite the 1978 I remember, but then Chelsea in those days probably still contained pockets of previous eras.

Also, the serial killer genre has moved on since 1978 for better or worse. Davidson’s book is also a traditional whodunnit and the two genres don’t work very well together. The motivation of the killer is rather perfunctory and  you get the impression that he is simply play acting.

Although, like the Chelsea Murders, that can sometimes be effective:

Satan triumphant 1958 - Copy

And there is a decent twist at the end.

Postscript

The last picture is unmistakeably one of John Bignell’s arty but playful images, called Satan triumphant (1958). As with many of his pictures there’s no hint as to why it was taken. Some of the other pictures in this post are also by Bignell.

I’ve been tinkering with this post for weeks and reading the book in installments (I hate being obliged to read a book even when it was my own idea) so I’m glad to finally put it to bed. I hope it was worth the effort.


Visitor attraction: in the Crystal Palace 1851

When I first visited London in the 1960s we stayed with my uncle who lived in Crystal Palace. The first place he took us to was the park, where the stone dinosaurs immediately became one of my favourite things in London. Up the hill from the unlikely versions of the ancient animals were the TV mast, another source of wonder and the remains of the structure which gave the area its name: the Crystal Palace.

Sphinx (2)

Before 1936 when some mishap caused it to burn down it looked like this. Joseph Paxton the designer of the great glasshouse had moved the whole thing from Hyde Park to an obscure site in Sydenham, south London. He expanded the main building, added two towers at either end (designed by Brunel) and built an ornamental park around it.

crystal palace

Despite its destruction (and who is to say it would have survived the War, and the post war dislike of Victorian structures that saw the disappearance of the Euston Arch among many others?) it remains a familiar image and occupies a small but permanent niche in the popular imagination.

We don’t usually remember where exactly it was originally located, but this is the spot:

location cpic192

It faced the main road between London and Kensington

cpalace 1

And although photography was in its infancy, many pictures were taken including calotypes by the Fox-Talbot company. There are plenty of photographs of the interior but by technical necessity they show it empty, without people. The essence of a visitor attraction is the people who come to it in their hundreds, and you can only get a sense of that from prints and lithographs.

Plate 4 The transept centre-left - Copy

The transept had been built around the tree after an MP had complained about its possible destruction but it actually added to the general effect. The fountain was constructed out of crystal glass.

The statues were cast in plaster.

Plate 4 The transept right side higher view - Copy

There was an appreciative and colourful throng of visitors. This view shows the height of the structure, the strangeness of some of the objects – a lighthouse reflector, the Ross telescope, the Colebroke Dome  and in the centre the Queen and the Prince Consort, the premier celebrities of the day.

Plate 3 The British Nave right side

Plate 3 The British Nave left side cut off on left - Copy (2)

They’re on a relatively informal visit in this lithograph.

Plate 3 The British Nave right side - Copy

Bystanders keep a discreet distance from the Royal party while getting as close as they think is correct on both sides of the Nave.

Plate 3 The British Nave left side complete - Copy

The exterior of the building appeared squat and monotonous but the interior seemed Tardis-vast.

Foreign nave

Above the ground level were galleries, some stuffed with curious objects.

Canada

Others quiet and ecclesiastical:

Stained glass gallery

And others weirdly intimate:

Austria

Victoria and Albert had paid a more formal visit on the day of the Palace’s Inaugeration in May.

Plate 2 The Foreign Nave left side

They entered the Palace through iron gates and proceeded through the crowds to take their place under a giant canopy.

Plate 1 The Inaugeration centre-left - Copy

Victoria wrote in her diary: “the glimpses of the transept through the iron gates..(the) myriads of people filling the galleries and seats gave us a sensation which I can never forget.” In a letter she said “The sight…was incredibly glorious, really like fairyland.” Other commentators spoke of the intoxicating effects of, forms, colours and noise.

When I think of a Victorian glass house I think of the Palm House at Kew Gardens, full of vegetation and damp air, like being in a jungle. I can’t quite imagine an even bigger version full of light, artificial colours and people.

Inaugeration Plate 1 detail of crowd new scan

The opening ceremoney,Victoria said “fills me with devotion more so than any service I have ever heard”. She visited the Exhibition many times, going one day and starting off the next in the exact spot she had left off, until she had seen almost everything.

After six months in October of 1851  police cleared the building for a final time. There was a last private ceremony to close the building which Victoria “grieved not to be able to be present”. (Albert had advised aginst it.). She did go back to look at it again with all the exhibits removed “the beauty of the building was never seen to greater advantage.”

Interior

The following year after much debate as to its future the Palace moved to Sydenham, deep in the suburbs, and after seventy years or so, one day its story came to an end.

The ruins of the Crystal Palace, London, after it was burned down - 30 November 1936

Postscript

We were over the border in the City of Westminster this week but as a forerunner of Albertopolis the Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition are of some interest to the history of Kensington and Chelsea. And I liked the set of lithographs which were too big for me to scan in one piece but had some irresistible details. I started out with them but the more I read the more pictures I wanted to add, so you get a  bumper crop of images this week.

John McKean’s book Crystal Palace (1994) was particularly informative, and was where I found the quotes from Queen Victoria.


Masks of fashion: Clementina and the room of stars

I’ve wanted to find a good reason to come back to Clementina, Lady Hawarden and her brief career exploring costume, fabric and light within the confines of a few rooms in her house at Princes Gardens. I only recently thought of an obvious way to look at her work as a fashion photographer as I suggested she was in my first post about her.

04 Clementina Maude

Here, in the room with the starred wallpaper, her daughter and principal model Clementina Maude, an elaborate dress draped around her adopts a pose which shows off the way the material falls over her body. You want to call the pose langorous or thoughtful, which is the impression it gives, even though you know the young Clementina had to hold the pose for several minutes while the plate was exposed. Although the photograph has suffered over the years you can still see the contrast between the side directly lit by the light from the window and the greater detail visible on the other side.

04 mario testino

The light is falling from the other side in this picture by one of the modern masters of fashion photography Mario Testino and although the shutter speed was measured in seconds rather than  minutes the same care has been lavished on the model’s pose and the way the dress hangs.

It may have been the search for available light that drew Lady Clementina to the windows of her improvised studio but she comes back to them repeatedly.

06 Clementina Maude

Clementina again in some kind of fancy dress, Bohemian or gypsy perhaps, steps through the shutters from the balcony.

Below, a model negotiates a more complicated arrangement of wooden screens and windows in an equally sparsely furnished 19th century room.

06 Les-Secrets-de-Lambassade-by-Piotr-Stoklosa-10 2011 Calendar of the Polish Embassy in Paris

She has the same attitude of trepidation in this picture from a calendar for the Polish Embassy in Paris by Piotr Stoklosa.

Lady Clementina’s other favourite prop was a mirror.

01 Clementina Maude

As she knew Lewis Carroll (he visited the house and bought several examples of her work), you might want to start on Alice and Through the Looking Glass (not published till after Lady Clementina’s death) and soon there would be several sentences devoted to modern fantasies about the Victorian period. You can do all that yourselves quite easily. I’ll just stop for a while and listen to an album. I’ll pick something non-Victorian like Can, or Wire

When I get back we can remember that mirrors are always mysterious and always slightly threatening. Remember that quote from Borges?

01 Glamour Germany nov 05 Roslyakova

[The file name of this picture tells me it's from Glamour magazine (German edition), November 2005, and the model is Elena Roslyakova]

Here Clementina poses with the same mirror.

07 Clementina Maude

If you look closely I think you can see that her mother has draped that white material with dark stitching on the border (which I pointed out in the first post) over her skirt. She probably isn’t wearing a crinoline underneath. Her mother is trying to achieve a softer shape. You can barely make out Clementina’s reflection.

I’m not sure whether Gisele Bundchen is posing by an actual mirror in the photograph below or whether the photographer has caught the reflection in a window.

07 Harper's Bazaar US June 07  Gisele Bundchen

She isn’t wearing a crinoline either as you can see. The pose, with one foot on the chair brings out the unstuctured flow of the dress. Clementina might not have posed exactly like this but some of her mother’s pictures show that she wasn’t bound by convention when creating her photographs.

Clementina V&A 1862-3

In this variation on a pose featured in the first post Clementina is barefoot and casual looking, as minimally dressed as a modern model, The shadowy light gives her an air of mystery and demonstrates a trust between model and photographer which could probably only have been achieved by a mother and daughter in the 1860s.

Infashion magazine 2010 Evelina Mambetova 8

In this 2010 picture from In Fashion magazine Evelina Mambetova has found a similar kind of pose combining a kind of casual awkwardness with an enigmatic stare.

Can you bear much more of my amateur fashion-speak?

The point for me of looking at old photographs is finding the connection between then and now in the touches of modernity you can detect in photographs taken more than a hundred years ago.

Below, in an ordinary day dress Clementina has a air of 21st century ennui as she stands by the door of the room with the starred wallpaper.

10 Clementina Maude LCH011 1862

Like many of the others the photograph is damaged and sections cut away but you can still recognize the melancholy in the figure which transcends condition and technique. This is one of my favourite Hawarden pictures, and it was hard to find a modern equivalent.

This, perhaps:

07 Sarah Luss inVogue Italia  -Valentino couture spring 2023 – by Gian Paolo  Barbieri 07

[Sarah Luss wearing a Valentino dress from 2013 photographed by Gian Paolo Barbieri for Vogue Italia]

The model’s stare is neutral in this case though the dress is dark enough to create the shadows.

Or this?

10a dior-fall-couture-2012 02

[Dior 2012]

The model looks uncertainly back at the photographer which is effective, but perhaps with some photographs the same look can never be achieved by accident.

Here Clementina poses with an odd but highly decorative set of miniature drawers in a cabinet which was another of her mother’s favourite props.

02 Clementina Maude

Below another model stands in front of an odd cabinet.

02 Vogue Paris June 04  Daria Wervbowy

[Daria Wervbowy photographed for French Vogue in 2004]

Below, Clementina affects to sleep on what looks like a makeshift bed.

03 Clementina Maude

Clementina sleeping was another of her mother’s favourite subjects. She doesn’t look completely relaxed though.

03 woman on c

By contrast, this (unknown to me) model isn’t even attempting to sleep. But I think Lady Clementina would have appreciated the fall of the dress material to the floor and the light coming from behind.

The last comparison is another version of the sleeping model.

05 Clementina Maude

In this case Clementina shows every sign of having actually dropped off while reading a book. Sleep is another mysterious area of life, subject to endless speculation and fantasy. It’s more evidence for me that Lady Hawarden was as preoccupied with the strangeness of existence as any other artist or writer of the period and that the impressions we read into her work – eroticism, feminity, dreams and death are not fantasies of our own construction but part of her intentions.

This is unfortunately another damaged picture showing signs of age. It’s been compared to Lord Leighton’s Flaming June (painted long after Lady Hawarden’s death – could Leighton have seen it?). I haven’t been able to locate a close parallel in modern fashion photography, but I like this picture by Norman Parkinson of  the model Jean Patchett in repose.

05 Jean Patchett by norman parkinson

This is a game you could play endlessly. Why not try it yourself? Here’s one of Clementina playing a classical (or occult?) role with a single star.

Clementina Maude 1863-64

Any suggestions?

 

Postscript

As is often the case I was working on this post along with another speculative one when it occurred to me that I had better write something for this week, and the scanner was temporarily locked in the basement during some building work so it had better be something that was almost ready to go. As a result I didn’t have quite as long to search for images which echoed Lady Hawarden’s work as I thought I would have. Some of them are more exact parallels than others. But you get the basic point I expect. Of course I could have just said “light-fabric-mirrors-women”.

Most of the modern fashion images come from the archives of  http://dustjacket-attic.com/ , one of the best websites concerned with fashion and design, which I highly recommend. http://www.fashiongonerogue.com/ is another good one. Like other bloggers say, if I have infringed anyone’s image rights by using them here just let me know.

I think this may not be the last time Clementina, Lady Hawarden is featured here. The more I look at her pictures the more there seems to be in them. You can see many more at the V&A website: http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/l/lady-clementina-hawarden/

Oh yes, and that Borges quote: “Mirrors and fatherhood are abominable to God, for they multiply the redundant images of Man”. This sentence has been translated in a variety of forms over the years, but this is how I remember it from my first reading of Fictions back in the 1970s. Lady Hawarden and Lewis Carroll might well have had an interesting dinner party with Borges.

Finally, I have a World War 1 piece on the Library blog here.


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