Author Archives: Dave Walker

Halloween story: the stranger

This week’s guest blogger is Marianne Collins, former Librarian at the J____ Street Library, now Head Archivist at the European Institute of Esoteric Studies, She presents an episode of library history with a few local connections.

The Victorian psycho-geographer Henrietta Cole-Elliott is best known for her two London tours “West London walks”(1895), and “Burial grounds of the secret city” (1900) but before she wrote either of those she published a study of folklore, “Follies and fancies of old London” (1885). There was a copy in the Reference store but I had never looked inside. The folklore collection wasn’t usually of much use to my customers. It was my assistant K who brought it up for a visitor. The next day she drew my attention to a page the customer had photocopied. This was the relevant paragraph:

“At the Lion Tavern, Old Brompton, in the days before May Day, a dress and bonnet were hung before the inn sign. A girl no more than twenty years of age was chosen for the honour of wearing the garments on the appointed day. She was carried around the garden at the rear of the inn amid much celebration and then she would enter the stand of trees at the rear of the property where she would spend the night alone. In the morning she would return to the inn and deposit the dress and bonnet in a chest prepared for the purpose. It was commonly believed that on some occasions the girl who returned was not the one who left.”

K said to me, what does that remind you of?

Red Lion Tea Gardens Brompton 1782 2537

It was one of the watercolours in the Fletcher collection, “pictures by an unknown lady”. There were 20 pictures, mostly of locations in west London in the 1830s or 1840s. (The unknown lady remains unidentified but my predecessor had suggested it was Lavinia Fletcher, the traveller who was the first European to visit the city of Khotan. ) The artist sometimes left copious notes on the backs of her pictures and in this case there were a few  lines of handwriting.

“One Tarlington, a disgraced man and a scholar forced a girl  to be carried from his premises tied like a captured animal into his woods where she was exchanged for a woman from Faery who served him in all his designs.”

K had a second question. “Did you know this?” She produced a card from the manuscripts index: Elliott-Cole, Henrietta: papers relating to publications. 765301. “She wanted to see that too.”

“Did you show her the painting?”

“No, I only thought of it this morning. There was something odd about her, really.”

There often is, I thought. We went down to the archives room to look at the manuscript box, and the accessions register. While I unpacked the box K told me about the woman.

” I thought she was wearing some sort of costume. It was a bit like those steampunks we met at Olympia. No goggles or anything, but she was wearing this old looking dress, brown, and a hat, sort of shading her eyes. Then she noticed me looking at the hat and she took it off. She was gorgeous actually, like a model or something. And she had a nice smile…”

“But?”

“There was something strange there0. She was just too charming, I suppose, as if she was making me like her.”

“Did you like her? You made every effort to help her.”

“That was the annoying thing. I did like her. But afterwards I couldn’t think why.”

The accessions register told me that Mrs Cole-Elliott had deposited  a varied bunch of material: papers, drawings, photographs, a travel diary and some odd objects. The date of the deposit was 1936, so she had evidently lived to a good age. I resolved to look for more about her – maybe there had been a biography. As I sorted through the material a kind of story emerged. The ceremony at the Lion Inn had evidently preoccupied Mrs Cole-Elliott long after she had first written about it. She came to believe the event was far from the harmless folk ritual she had first imagined it to be. She found a longer narrative in a letter from a Miss Fletcher in which it was clear that the girl selected for the May Day ceremony was usually unwilling and that she was bound to the pole on which the dress was hung when she was paraded around the garden to the delight of “a jeering mob”.

From a hand drawn map it was clear that when the Lion was pulled down in the 1850s the house built on the grounds was C—- Lodge. The Fletcher family owned the Lodge but never lived there much. In the 1880s it became a school, or women’s training college, under the auspices of yet another Fletcher. This was the time when John Ruskin started the May Day Festival at Whitelands College. That was intended as a Christian event with some influences of old England. The High Mistress at C— Lodge was so taken with the Whitelands Festival that she instituted a version of her own, the Queen of the Lillies.

Mrs Cole-Elliott believed some influence had flowed the other way, and that pupils from C____ Lodge later attended Whitelands. She notes that the costumes in this picture resemble what is know about the ceremonies at the Lion

010c Flower girls 1903

Although she admits these young women look particularly harmless and free of occult influence. She was not so sure about other images.

009a Masque 1902

This is the first of a series of pictures in which she picks out certain individuals in which she is interested.

She had done all she could to find out about the exact nature of the celebration for the Queen of the Lillies to little avail. She evidently believed that there were little or no Christian elements. But nor were there any stories about missing girls or unusual practices. She found one account from, 1887,in the diary of Amelia Jones, a girl from the north of England. Amelia’s friend Isabel was pleased to be chosen as Queen of the Lillies and even more pleased when the High Mistress presented her with a special dress for the occasion. Amelia reports that Isabel went “into the trees” at the end of the ceremony accompanied by herself and another friend , but she expresses surprise that anyone could spend the whole night in the narrow stand of trees against the rear wall, all that was left of the wood at the rear of the Lion. (Other accounts speak of a substantial copse of trees in the garden )Nothing more of any interest happens. Isabel returns in the morning, gives the dress back and life goes on. Amelia never mentions her again.

Mrs Cole-Elliott was able to verify that Isabel Morgan never took up teaching or any other profession. A woman of that name took part in the Chelsea Festival of 1908. Cole-Elliott seems have been convinced that the Festival was a cover for some kind of esoteric activity. But she presents no actual evidence.

Episode 10 group

There is a question mark on the back of this over-exposed picture.

And a series of them on this one,

episode 6 Nuns

The manuscript box also contains this photograph, evidently from one of the summer schools run by the dancer Margaret Morris.

Plate 34

Mrs Cole-Elliott’s note on the back of the photograph reads: “right,standing”.

Again, she implies that Morris’s  choreography had some ritual significance. She records meeting Morris herself on the occasion when the dancer took a party of people around the then derelict house of Dr Phene. I suppose she must have asked about Isabel Morgan.

Henrietta Cole-Elliott proved herself to be a tenacious woman. She instituted correspondence with Arthur Machen and W B Yeats. She attended the ceremonies in Redcliffe Gardens of the splinter group of the Golden Dawn formed by Dr Falk. Was she looking for more information, or was she hoping to meet someone?

One of the last pictures in the collection is a photograph of this anomorphic painting by Austin Osman Spare:

AOS - Woman with red hair 1930s - Copy

“None of the women in these pictures look alike to me”, said K.

“Well that would be the point, wouldn’t it? The Fairies or the Fair Ones of the Fae or whatever you want to call them are supposed to be able to adopt a pleasing guise if they wish. Remember that scene in True Blood?”

“I stopped watching that. I prefer Lost Girl.”

We agreed to differ on that point. There was some talk about Hemlock Grove after that, and then she asked the crucial question.

“So our woman Henrietta believed that Isabel Morgan found her way into a wood which didn’t exist any more and was exchanged with a fairy?”

“That would be about it.”

C— Lodge closed as a school in the early 20s. The house became a private residence and eventually was used occasionally for guests of the Cyanography Institute. Today, part of the Institute’s archive is kept there, below the empty apartments. I found a picture of it from the early 1900s and it looked pretty grim.

C Lodge 1902

The photographer, Jubal Freeman,  had his back to the copse of trees at the rear, but I suppose he had no idea it might be of more interest than the house.
I decided to go there and made arrangements with the archivist, a lively woman with a sense of humour bu no interest in the history of the site. As we toured the empty rooms she made a joke about the upstairs rooms being reserved for the Galactic Ambassador, something I once heard said about a building in Bloomsbury owned by the Theosophists. She was very interested in talking about security and CCTV as there had just been a break-in. Some petty cash was taken from the office, a laptop and, from the archive room a box containing the dress worn by Queen Isabel in 1887. I wondered if a human being might really want to go to another plane of existence and what a fairy, if there were such things, would do with her immortal life in our world, and whether she might eventually get bored and want to go home, and how she might achieve that. But it was no good talking to the no-nonsense archivist about that. I thought I might share my thoughts with K later.

DSC_4521
I suspected that we would never know the end of this story, but one Saturday morning I went down to the basement to look at the CCTV for the day of the woman’s visit. The new camera system was quite expensive, installed as a result of a violent incident. It was possible to zoom in quite closely. I found the woman in the brown dress and hat. I only had K’s description to go on but the woman seemed more remarkable than K had said. She wasn’t beautiful at all to my mind. She was thin and her clothes were baggy on her. Her features were sharp and narrow, her eyes too large. Her hair was very fine. She smoothed it with her hand after removing the hat. You could clearly see that her ears were pointed. So were her teeth when she smiled at K. Perhaps the glamour, if that’s what is was, didn’t work on video. Whatever her intentions had been, or were still, I was glad she hadn’t made contact again. I never told K about what I saw.

 

Books by Henrietta Cole-Elliott:
Follies and fancies of old London (Wilder,1889)
West London walks (Black, 1895)
Burial grounds of the secret city (Black, 1900)
Esoteric churches of London (Morchester House, 1905)
Visitors from Faery (novel) (Cyanography Press, 1922)
Techniques of astral travel (Cyanography Press 1925)
Biography: City traveller: the life of Henrietta Cole-Elliott by Maria Fletcher (Hermes Press, 1938)

 

Postscript

Despite Mrs Cole-Elliott’s assertions The Whitelands College May Queen Festival has never been associated with any form of occultism.

C_____ Lodge was recently the subject of an extensive conversion which included a series of basements. The building collapsed as a result of the underground development and the work has been suspended pending the outcome of a court case. 

The painting by Austin Osman Spare is from Phil Baker’s excellent biography of Spare. AOS: the life and legend of London’s lost artist (Strange Attractor,2012).  I don’t normally do promotion here but I must mention that Phil Baker will be taking  part in an event at Kensington Library: “Lord of strange deaths: the life and work of Sax Rohmer, creator of the arch-villain Fu Manchu” along with London historian Antony Clayton (Subterranean City ) and Gary Lachman, biographer of P D Ouspensky and author of many books on occult matters. It’s on Thursday December 11th. Further details here. I will certainly be there.

Finally, as I always say at this time of year normal service will be resumed next week. DW


Adventure: playing out in Telford Road

Adventure playgrounds were a feature of childhood/adolescence which passed me by really. I wasn’t brought up in London and they were mostly I think a phenomenon of urban life. I saw plenty of them when I first came to London in 1973 – brightly painted constructions of wood, behind fences, teeming with kids and I had the vague sense of having missed out on something. If you come from a small town, urban life, even the life in what might be called “deprived” areas looks exciting.

So when my colleague Tim showed me a packet of photos of the Notting Hill Adventure Playground in Telford Road that he’d retrieved in the course of an enquiry, I was fascinated by these scenes of communal play. The blogging cells in my brain immediately recognised them assomething you had to see.

NHG Adventure 011

Most of these pictures come from a large packet of photographs donated to theLibrary in 2000. They’re hard to date precisely but they seem to fall into two main groups, one from the early 1960s and one from the late sixties or early seventies. The Notting Hill Adventure playground was started in the late 1950s on some waste ground in Telford Road.

The first adventure playground seems to have been built in Copenhagen in 1943 by a landscape architect, C T Sorenson who noticed the propensity of children left to their own devices to avoid purpose built playgrounds and resort to building sites and waste ground. He thought that by making waste building materials available, children could have play that had an element of risk without being life threatening. In pragmatic Scandinavian  fashion he showed that this was also a way to reduce vandalism and other forms of juvenile delinquency.

London, which had plenty of bomb sites in the post war period was an ideal place for adventure playgrounds to spring up, and the idea spread to many cities.

NHG Adventure 009

This umbrella leap is from 1963 – the image was used as part of an appeal for the London Adventure Playground Asociation.

In the early days children, under the supervision of a warden built from scratch.

NHG Adventure 002

Young builders were enthusiastic.

NHG Adventure 005

NHG Adventure 010

Ambitious structures were erected.

NHG Adventure 012

The play began. Climbing, swinging and just hanging around. It reminds me of womble, muck and sneedball – the games played in Quentin Blake and Russell Hoban’s “How Tom beat Captain Najork and his hired sportsmen”. I would have inserted a quotation at this point to convince you but I can’t find a copy of the book right now. Maybe later.

NHG Adventure 014

NHG Adventure 013

NHG Adventure 008

The playground outgrew its original  site and the Council provided a larger one where Telford Road and Faraday Road intersected with Wornington Road. The new site was a little more structured.

NHG Adventure 026

There was  a building for indoor play with on site facilities.

NHG Adventure 024

But the playground retained its makeshift character.

NHG Adventure playground  Wornington Road south side 1969 KS292 - Copy

That tower visible over the wall in a picture which I can date precisely, from 1969 brings me back to the advenure playgrounds I remember from London in the early 1970s. It has a slight counter-cultural air about it, like many  places in North Kensington in that period.

Despite the difficulties in presenting pictures from across a period of ten or more years these images all show that communal play has something timeless about it, whether it involves climbing unsafe structures:

NHG Adventure 020

Messing about with building materials.

NHG Adventure 025

Or just hanging around with your friends.

NHG Adventure 004

These pictures show the irrepressible nature of childhood.

And of course, the adventure:

NHG Adventure playground  Faraday Road north side 1969 KS337 - Copy

 

Postscript

Despite the changes in the streets around it the Notting Hill Adventure Playground continues to do its work.

I observed last week that Chelsea people have long memories. This also applies to North Kensington people so if you recognise yourself, or anyone else in these pictures let me know.

You can find a documentary about the playground from 1960 here: http://www.nhh50.com/?videos=this-is-our-playground-1960 on the website of the Notting Hill Housing Association and on YouTube.

Next week it’s the annual Halloween story when we stray away from fact and let imagination have a go at some pictures. Don’t believe anything you read.


Forgotten streets of Chelsea

I’ll have to start by qualifying that title. Chelsea people have long memories so I should really say streets forgotten by some people. For others the streets demolished in 1969/70 to clear the area for the building of the World’s End Estate will never be forgotten, and for others still the act of demolition never be forgiven. But for those of you who don’t remember, or those who never knew let me just say there was an enclave of streets in the west of Chelsea which no longer exist. This 1935 map shows them and gives you the roll call of streets which have passed into history.

1935 OS map X29 World's End streets - Copy

Raasay Street, Bifron Street, Vicat Street, Dartrey Road, Seaton Street, Luna Street – all gone now, and somehow the names themselves are redolent of another time and an older, slightly rougher version of Chelsea. The stub of Blantyre Street lingers on at the edge but you can see that the five (or six) sided shape is now a sunken island among the more familiar names like Edith Grove and Cremorne Road.

Our photographer John Rogers went down there in 1969 and caught those streets in their final transition from a living neighbourhood to an empty shell. You may have seen pictures of some of these streets before. (I did a post on the general history of the World’s End). But this post is purely concerned with the last days of these almost forgotten World’s End streets.

World's End looking north 1969 KS1913

1969. Look at that woman waiting to use the phone. If she could step into 2014 and stand in pretty much the same spot she would see more or less the same buildings. But if she turned around and looked behind her…

St John's Church World's End 1969 KS1848

She would see St John’s Church and Mission Hall at the intersection of Blantyre Street and Dartrey Road. If she looked to her left and she could see Blantyre Street.

Blantyre street looking east 1969 KS 1878

A street full of parked cars which leads tothe last few numbers of Cheyne Walk. (What’s that large one on the right?)

Check the map. You can turn right from Blantrye Street into Seaton Street.

Seaton St looking south 1969 KS 1896

The tree at the end is on the embankment overlooking the houseboats.

Seaton St east side 1969 KS 1900

In Seaton Street there’s all sorts of semi-erased football graffitti on the wall next to the Chelsea Corner Cupboard including the incomplete inscription Osgood Aven(u)e which must be a reference to Peter Osgood. (“Osgood is God” vied with “Clapton is God” as mottos on the wall  back in 1969)

Behind Seaton Street was Luna Street,

Luna St West side 35-37 1069

where you could still kick a ball down the street if you wanted to. Dartrey Road ran north to south.

Dartrey road looking south 1969 KS 1832

Those tower blocks in the distance are on the Battersea side of the river. Running west from Dartrey Road was the oddly named Raasay Street.

Raasay Street south side 1969 KS1790

Here you can see the first signs of demolition. This is a closer view of the same scene.

Raasay St north side 1969 KS 1793

Mixed rags and scrap metal still available.

In Bifron Street houses were already vacated.

Bifron street looking West 1969 KS 1795
Some signs of a road closure as a truck gets ready to go.  And below, the interior of a house is laid bare.

BIfron street north side 1969 KS1798

In Vicat Street (Vicat sounds like the name of a dissolute Victorian aristocrat) the process is further along.

Vicat St North side 1969 KS 1813

You can almost smell the dust rising in this picture and the ones below.

Vicat St South Side 1969 KS 1807

Wallpaper is still visible on the walls of those exposed rooms, and debris in the street.

Vicat St South side 1969 KS 1810

The empty A F Stokes shop, along with some more unsuccessfully executed football related graffitti. It all looks quite forlorn.

So let’s go back, away from the devastation. If that woman is still in the phone box she can look west and see this view.

Dartrey terrace 1969 KS 1845

Still a little life left in those World’s End streets. The corner of a pre-war car, second hand goods, fish and chips plus whatever they sold at Gandalf’s Garden. All gone, not so very long after these pictures were taken.

Postscript

Don’t think I’m down on the World’s End Estate. I’ve been inside and there are some very nice flats there. And the view is astonishing. I’ve no doubt that living conditions some of the houses in the demolished streets must have been pretty grim. But there is aways a price to be paid for development.


Mr Griffen in his studio

Although some people liked my post about Francis Griffen back in July as it turned out there still seems to be little known about him. One reader made a comment about buying  some greetings cards featuring paintings by Griffen. I was already aware of this set, of five pictures. They were originally published by a Mr T G Stanton in the 1990s. I think the same gentleman made an offer to buy our Griffen collection about the same time. (We declined. Apart from our general policy about art works, the collection was donated to the Library by Griffen’s widow.) This is one of the pictures:

An August night 1923

An autumn night, 1923. A completely finished work, as opposed to most of the pictures in our collection. For me, it is reminiscent of one of  Yoshio Markino’s night time pictures of London.

Griffen liked street scenes showing ordinary life in progress but his other major interest was in industrial settings, and this is also reflected in the set of cards.

King's Cross Goods Yard 1937

A fascinating view of King’s Cross goods yard in 1937. Note the man on the horse, and the tram just visible on the right.

Griffen’s Chelsea pictures are less finished but just as effective.

The river Good Friday 1934 2059

This 1934 view of the river looking west is immediately recognisable with St Mary’s Church and the railway bridge but  Griffen has found an angle which doesn’t include Lots Road power station.

The picture below shows a familiar Chelsea scene in 1935, Sloane Square looking towards the original Peter Jones building.

Sloane Square Jan 1935 2063C

It also features a fine example of a group of one of Griffen’s favourite slinky women.

Sloane Square Jan 1935 detail

He captures them and the look of 30s fashion in a few pencil strokes. The quite large dog (maybe a German shepherd, or an Alsatian as they used to be known ) is a realistic touch, obviously much more than a fashion accessory. There’s another fashionable woman in this picture.

Lombard Terrace 1934 2067C 02 - Copy

This is Cheyne Walk looking towards the Old Church. (Incidentally, I’ve had to crop this one a little bit so if the compostion doesn’t look quite right blame me not Griffen)

In the last Griffen post you saw a view of the ruins of the church after the bomb incident that virtually destroyed it. Griffen also recorded the aftermath of another major bomb incident in 1944 at the Guinness Trust buildings in the King’s Road.

Griffen- The Ruined Guinness Trust KingsRoad May 13 1944

This is a rough pencil sketch of the scene some weeks after the incident which was on February 23rd. A couple of bombs had fallen, one fracturing gas and water mains, the other causing the collapse of housing blocks. 76 people lost their lives that night. A volunteer fireman named Anthony Smith won the George Cross for his efforts in saving people and risking his own life by entering collapsed and flooded basements.

This 1953 etching is a view of a house near the Old Church.

Griffen - House next to Old Church June 1953 2065C

Griffen’s work on the details of the house is quite meticulous.

The next two images show work in progress, two versions of the same basic view.

Griffen - Chelsea Polytechnic may 29 1939 2107AGriffen - Chelsea Polytechnic march 01 1939 2104A hand wiped

The pictures are both labelled “Chelsea Polytechnic” but this may not refer to the subject, which looks a little more like Old  Church Street to me. They are dated 1939.

Griffen - In Grosvenor Road July 1951 2098A

This rverside view is called “In Grosvenor Road,1951″, a location just outside Chelsea.

The title of this week’s post promised you Griffen in his studio. And here he is:

Griffen 2054C

A self-portrait of a working artist looking out on his neighbourhood.

Finally, a couple of classic Chelsea images. This is a 1912 picture of a famous sight in Oakley Street.

Griffen - Dr Phene's house Oakley Street 1912 2078A

Dr Phene’s house, ten years or so before its demolition.

Another subject tackled by many local artists, Albert Bridge.

Albert Bridge 2052D 01 (2)

Once again I find myself thinking of Yoshio Markino who painted the bridge from a similar angle. This picture is quite large but I wanted to use it so I scanned it in two sections. You can just see a line on the right. I hope that doesn’t spoil the view.

Postscript

The two greetings cards were published in 1998 part of a set of five by the aforementioned T G Stanton.

I mentioned the reader who made a comment on the last Griffen post to whom I sent a copy of the first image. She mentioned that she had bought the cards in the UK but was now back in Mongolia. I couldn’t help but wonder what Griffen would have thought of his having an admirer who lived so far from his home in Chelsea.


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.


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