Author Archives: Dave Walker

Thomson’s miscellany

Since I first encountered the art of Hugh Thomson in the 1903 edition of Frances  Burney’s Evelina I’ve been looking for more of his artwork both online and in the books in our basement stores. Just as with Yoshio Markino there is a treasure trove of material waiting to be discovered when you first encounter a book illustrator.

In Thomson’s case the fascination lies both in the images themselves and the way they recall half-remembered illustrations from children’s books. As a child I moved from Muffin the Mule to Winnie the Pooh to books on Greek and Roman myths to Marvel comics. Thomson’s illustrations seem to me to be half way between classic book illustrators like Rackham and Greenaway and the great artists in the comics, both British and American.

I found several books illustrated wholly or partly by him: the two J M Barrie plays I’ve written about (here and here), the Highways and Byways of London (part of a travel series – he was involved with several others), poetry by his friend Austin Dobson: Rosina, and others, the Mrs Gaskell novel Cranfield and the illustrations he did for the Jane Austen novels.  (I  bought a reprint of his heavily illustrated edition of Pride and Prejudice, well worth checking out) And finally (for now) there was of course the 1931 biography of Thomson by M H Spielmann and Walter Jerrold.

Thomson was born in 1860 in Coleraine in Ireland but spent a large portion of his life in and around London. He died in Wandsworth in 1920. For most of his career he was a prolific and successful artist. The rest of this post is a selection of some of the work I have come across.

One of his late commissions, published posthumously was a set of coloured pictures for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s the Scarlett Letter, a historical novel about a woman condemned to wear the letter A on her clothes for conceiving a child out of wedlock.

Hester Prynne fron the Scarlett Letter

Hester Prynne while “standing on the pillory scaffold recalls ‘her own face, glowing with girlish beauty, and illuminating all the interior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it'”. Below she wears the A for adultery:

hester prynne in the scarlett letter

In 1912 he worked on Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 comedy She stoops to conquer. We’ve already seen Thomson had a particular liking for 18th century settings .

she stoops 006

The play is a tangled story of impersonations, misunderstandings and intrigue over marriage and inheritance. As in Evelina, Thomson captures how we imagine the life and manners of a pre-photographic period. (Thomson studied the history of costume to ensure accuracy).

she stoops 001a

Kate and Constance out and about, looking unsure of themselves. Below, Kate adopts the identity of a maidservant.

hugh-thomson-oliver-goldsmith-s-play-she-stoops-to-conquer-or-the-mistakes-of-a-night-act-3-scene-1 - Copy

Which all ends in tears, by the looks of it.

she stoops 003 - Copy

But never mind. There’s flirting:

She stoops to

And dancing of course, before the play has run its course.

Keep up the spirit of the place.

“She stoops” was Thomson’s “big book” for the autumn. The next year he did Quality Street after a lunch with J M Barrie who described the pictures as “quite delightful” and Thomson, after his death as “a man who drew affection at first sight.”

Still in the 18th century, Thomson’s pictures for Austin Dobson’s the Ballad of Beau Brocade (1892) – one of several books by Dobson which he illustrated.

The old sedan chair from the Ballad of BB

Some comedy business with a sedan chair,

Ballad of beau brocade 02

and a then a carriage,

Ballad of Beau Brocade 02 (2)

After which the young lady needed a bit of lazing around, nodding off in the window seat. William Pitcher singled this picture out for praise noting “with what exquisite lightness and conviction has HT touched in the effect of the short muslin blinds blowing out of (the) window”.

Thomson also worked on Dobson’s collection the Story of Rosina and other verses (1895)

Rosina 005

“Harp-prest bosoms” – a fascinating image. This period  was one where Thomson was frequently sought after by publishers. One asked him to do Washington Irving’s Old Christmas but he thought he couldn’t better Randolph Caldecott’s version.

Rosina 010

Nuns on the trail of a magpie. Why not?

A late piece of work, from 1915, not published at the time:

Caleb Plummer and his blind daughter from the Cricket on the hearth

Caleb Plummer and his blind daughter Bertha from Dickens’s Christmas novella The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)

After Dickens, then Shakespeare. Thomson shows the Merry Wives of Windsor in mischievous good form. (1910).

merry wives 03

Tricking Falstaff into the laundry…

merry wives

and into the water.

merry wives 05

That’s all for now. We’ll see Hugh Thomson again. There are still the London pictures and the Austen books, and all the scenes of rural life. But we’ll leave him for the moment.

It was a great period for book illustrators and there are amazing things to be found in the stores of public libraries and online.

Postscript

As I’m writing it’s another bank holiday, just as when I wrote about Thomson and Fanny Burney’s Evelina. This time a wet one, but still conducive to reading and writing and posting lots of pictures. One more:

Rosalind andCelia Copy

This wasn’t going to be this week’s post – it was going to be next week’s, but I haven’t quite finished the one which will now be next week’s. I was writing two posts over the weekend and got engrossed in the biography.


Walter Burgess presents Homes of the rich and famous

It’s been some time since I last featured Walter W Burgess on the blog. I was recently searching for a picture of Madame Venturi’s house and found one of Burgess’s liveliest street scenes, full of characteristic detail, showing the King’s Road as a quiet suburban road.

Madame Venturi's house

The delivery man with his baskets, the ladies walking a dog straining against the leash, the eccentric tricycle, pursued by another dog (Burgess included many animals in his pictures and often had this little dog somewhere, in this case almost in duplicate.) Madame Venturi’s neat villa with a smoking chimney is right in the middle. (For more on Madame Venturi see last week’s post)

Burgess’s best work has precision (a key skill for an engraver) and a quirky character which saves it from the prettiness of which it might be otherwise be accused. Compare it with the water colourist (and engraver) W.Hosmer Shepherd who covered similar ground.

Burgess had  a bit of a penchant for the houses of local celebrities and featured many in his book of etchings Bits of Old Chelsea (1894), so we can have a Hollywood style tour of Chelsea picking them out. No film stars, but famous names nonetheless.

George Eliot's house

This house, number 4 Cheyne Walk was the home of the novelist George Eliot. She moved in there with her husband John Walter Cross. You might argue that Burgess was pushing his luck in this case. George Eliot (alias Marian Evans and Mary Ann Cross) only lived there for three weeks in December 1880. Her husband, who suffered from depression had thrown himself into a Venetian canal on their honeymoon but survived. Although both of them loved the house with its views of the river, Eliot became ill with a recurrence of a kidney condition she had suffered from for years and died before the year was out. I don’t think that Burgess is suggesting that the woman following another dog in the picture is the author herself.

Cheyne Walk provided many subjects for Burgess. At number 59 was the house of W Holman Hunt.

W Holman Hunt's house 59 Cheyne Walk33A

This was a slightly more modest residence further down Cheyne Walk, close to the Old Church. When Hunt became more famous he moved to Melbury Road in Kensington – from the early Chelsea haunts of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to the more affluent neighbourhood of Lord Leighton.

(Apologies for the wavy picture on the scan. The original is a pencil drawing in a thick mount)

By contrast that other famous member of the Brotherhood, Dante Gabriel Rossetti moved to a big house at the other end of Cheyne Walk.

16 Cheyne Walk Rossetti's house 2

Number 16, also known as Queen House and Tudor House was the house Rossetti moved into in 1862 after the death of Elizabeth Siddall. Rossetti’s brother lived there for a while as did the poet Algernon Swinburne. I’ve mentioned Rossetti’s menagerie before, which included armadillos and wallabies but Burgess’s collaborator Richard Le Gallienne (who wrote the text of Bits of Old Chelsea) reports an incident I’d never heard before attributed to James McNeill Whistler. Apparently Rossetti acquired a zebu (an African species of cow) which had to be conveyed into the garden through the house tied up. It was tethered to a tree, a condition it disliked (or perhaps it never forgot its undignified entry into the property), and one day it managed to uproot the tree and charge at Rossetti who had to climb the garden wall to escape its vengeance. Rossetti never found a buyer and had to give it away although we don’t know to whom.

Once again I cannot say if Burgess intends the muffled up figure standing by the gate to be any of the residents. Intentionally or not Burgess has created a slightly disturbing character.

Whistler himself had several addresses in Chelsea. This is one of the Cheyne Walk ones:

Whistler's house

That could almost be the same figure outside, looking a little like some of the pictures of Whistler.

This is another pencil drawing of number 6 Cheyne Walk, the house of Dr Dominceti.

Dr Dominiceti's house 6 Cheyne Walk 715C

Bartholomew Dominceti bought the house in 1766 and provided therapy with medicated steam baths. There were 30 sweating chambers in the garden and four fumigating bedchambers. Although he attracted many famous names to the house, Dr Johnson decried his work. He left the house encumbered with debt but was remembered by many.

Mr Burgess’s tour takes us away from the river now to Upper Cheyne Row, at the end of which stood the house that Dr Phene built.  The the picture below, “the house where the coal man has just made his delivery” was the residence of the frequently impecunious journalist and poet Leigh Hunt.

Leigh Hunt's house - Upper Cheyne Row 3904

Hunt was supposedly the model for Harold Skimpole in Dickens’s novel Bleak House. Although Hunt was recognisable to all his friends he seems to have remained on friendly terms with Dickens. He was also on good terms with a man who lived round the corner in Cheyne Row , someone who was definitely the greatest Chelsea celebrity of his day.

Great Cheyne Row Carlyle's house 3899

Thomas Carlyle,historian, critic and “The Sage of Chelsea” lived in the house which is now a museum dedicated to him from 1834 (Hunt was at the door to welcome him and his wife Jane as they arrived by hansom cab) In his old age he took frequent solitary walks and has been depicted by other Chelsea artists such as Walter Greaves. This might be him in the view below:

Thomas Carlyle's house 24 Cheyne Row 710B

In deference to the great man, let’s have one more view of the house.

Carlyle's house 3900

I think that plaque is a depiction of Carlyle so presumably this is a later view, after his death and the creation of the museum .

I’ve used this picture before but Belle Vue House, on the right was the home not only of the poet and painter William Scott Bell, an early member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood but also the birthplace of the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell.

Belle Vue House Lindsey Row

Bell bought the house later in his life. Unlike the other members of the Brotherhood, Bell was not championed by John Ruskin but he retained the friendship of Rossetti.

Turner's house 3903

Burgess also takes us to JMW Turner’s house with this small sketch. Turner lived there incognito with his housekeeper Mrs Booth and died there in 1851. Compare the picture with a similar view by W Hosmer Shepherd in this post.

The house of Thomas More was also long gone by the time Burgess was working but there may have been remants of it, such as this mulberry tree in the grounds of a Catholic seminary in Beaufort Street. A picturesque view in any case.

A corner of Thomas More's garden

Heading west again the tour takes us out of Chelsea for a final celebrity resident.

Sandford Manor House Nell Gwynne's house 719C

Sandford Manor, in Fulham, is often said to have been the home of Nell Gwynne, the mistress of Charles II, and a key figure in Chelsea history and/or mythology, so I couldn’t leave her out. However very few of the many biographies of her mention this. One says that a great many houses have been associated with her, too many to be entirely credible.

But let’s think of “pretty witty Nell” as she was sometimes known walking in her garden. One of these days she can have a post all to herself.


Old Chelsea – more photographs from the Miscellany

This week’s post is a belated sequel to one I did a couple of years ago called Forgotten Chelsea – scenes you’ll never see, in which I concentrated on views which no longer exist. They all came from original photographs pasted into one of our scrapbook sets – Chelsea Miscellany. I’m returning to the same source this week to reward Chelsea enthusiasts for their patience in putting up with so many recent Kensington-based posts and to present a few more vanished places along with some that have survived but have changed considerably since the pictures were taken. They all have some kind of interesting feature or connection.

We start in the same part of Chelsea in which I finished the last post.

Earl Street and D'Oyley Street 1895 CM707

The corner of D’Oyley Street and Earl Street where there was a fascinating shop front. Above the shopkeeper are metal signs for the Weekly Despatch, the People and the Weekly (word obscured) Echo. By his feet are adverts for soft drinks: Batey’s Ginger Beer (and Ale), Batey’s Kola, Batey’s Limo (that’s one I’d like to try) and something called Coda.

Earl Street and D'Oyley Street 1895 CM707 - Copy

But also some hard news on the billboard: why did Lord Rosebery resign? Well apparently he lost a confidence vote, called an election and was resoundingly defeated. Archibald Primrose was a protege of Gladstone, the first chairman of the London County Council, a Foreign Minster and successor to Gladstone as Prime Minister (both old Etonians by the way). A right leaning Liberal but according to Wikipedia a man who had three ambitions in life: to win the Derby (well, to own the winning horse), to marry an heiress and to be Prime Minister. He did them all. These events date the picture to 1895 or 1896.

Heading in the opposite direction from last time, westwards, we stop off here on a much grander street:

St Leonard's Terrace house CM683b

The interest here is not number 19 St Leonard’s Terrace, a perfectly good house which takes up most of the picture, but the door to number 18 on the left, the house of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, not to mention the Lair of the White Worm which made a curious Ken Russell film, and the Jewel of Seven Stars which was turned into one of my favourite Hammer films, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. Stoker wrote both of those at number 18 where you can find a blue plaque, but wrote Dracula next door at number 17. He also lived in a house in Cheyne Walk which makes him suitable for a blog post of his own one of these days.

Jumping to the other side of the King’s Road we come to a curious view of the garden of a house in Jubilee Place.

Rockery and figures from Cremorne in garden in Jubilee Place CM699b

The collection of masonry and plants are an early case of reclamation. Like fireplaces and garden features are recovered and traded today these items all came from the Cremorne Gardens, the visitor attraction down by the river.

A closer look shows a series of gargoyle heads around window spaces.

Rockery and figures from Cremorne in garden in Jubilee Place CM699b - Copy

And one of the toughest looking garden gnomes you’ve ever seen. I wonder if Dr Phene had a man at the sale.

Nearby was Marlborough Road, a street I’ve featured before looking crowded, but here is what must be an early morning view.

Marlborough Road 1900 CM687a

The men in the centre deserve a close up.

Marlborough Road 1900 CM687a - Copy

I imagine they must be waiting to load up the trolley for a delivery. Across the street is a manufacturer of boots. There were a few of those in Marlborough Road so I can’t quite pinpoint the building next door with an excessive number of pipes on the wall and some odd devices on the roof. Perhaps one of those steampunk imventors lived there.A little girl is at the door, knocking for entry possibly.

You can see a pair of girls in this picture of a quiet street.

King Street St Luke's Scholl on right CM697b

This shows King Street, a narrow road which ran north from Cale Street. On the right are the entrances to the two St Luke’s Schools (Boys and Girls) which were behind St Luke’s Church, Sydney Street.

We had better have a look now at the King’s Road.

King's Road south side from Town Hall eastwards and Flood street 1900 CM659c

I should have included this one in the recent transport related post. Looking east along the King’s Road from the Vestry Hall / Town Hall it shows a two animal version of the horse bus festooned with adverts. The two horses must be working hard with a full upper deck of passengers to pull.

If we turn off the King’s Road onto the northern section of Church Street, where there were (and still are) a wide variety of interesting houses.

Church Street west sid enorth of King's Road demolished 1912 CM673a

I’m not entirely sure if this is a view from the front or the rear of the house. It’s an interesting looking house and it does have one of my favourite photographic features – a person standing in a window. A close up shows more detail.

Church Street west sid enorth of King's Road demolished 1912 CM673a - Copy

Above the stone lions (are they exactly the same?) stands a woman in white, wearing a uniform, possibly a nurse or a maid watching the photographer at work. Was he aware of her looking at him? I almost avoided calling her mysterious but you can’t avoid that word with faces at the window. They just have that ghostly quality about them. The next time you look she could be gone.

The picture below is definitely a rear view.

Madame Venturi's House 318 Kings Road CM1606

Demolition is under way as the handwritten caption tells us. It returns us  to an image I used in the Forgotten Chelsea post

Kings Road north side opposite Paultons Square CM655c

The two storey villa with tall chimneys in the centre of the picture opposite Paulton Street was the house of Madame Venturi.

Madame Venturi was the wife of an Italian patriot and the friend of another, She was also a friend of the nationalist Joseph Mazzini (and his biographer), the Irish politician Charles Stewart Parnell and Tom Taylor, the editor of Punch.

Madame Venturi's House 318 Kings Road pulled down April 1911CM1606

She was also an associate of Whistler. She apparently persuaded Thomas Carlyle to sit for a portrait and she owned some of Whistler’s pictures.She wrote this about the artist’s book Ten o’clock lecture:

‘There is one most amazing and ever renewed delight in this book – the dear, impossible butterfly; now gentle as a sucking dove, now defiant dangerous as a wasp; now artful as a mousquito [sic] that pricks so delicately you don’t know where the sting entered, yet the flesh blisters and cannot forget that it did enter with a vengeance; now coy, now pert now playful, now rampant, now defiant, but always new, always graceful and gentle.”

She died in 1893 so she never saw the picturesque ruin her suburban villa became as the old Chelsea became part of modern London.

 

Postscript

Finally, a further addition to the 2012 post in which I used this picture:

The Woodman D'Oyley St before 1897 CM707 detail

Which of course shows the Woodman public house in D’Oyley Street. I mentioned at the time that the wooden sign visible in the picture had survived and was in our archives. I said I would put it in a post when we had a photograph of it but I never followed that up. So to remedy that here is a photo taken as part of the National Public Catalogue / BBC Your paintings project:

LW_KCLS_362

The lighting shows the sign, which is pretty big, as it could never have been seen by patrons of the pub.

Whistler’s correspondence, where I found the information about Emelie Venturi at:  http://www.whistler.arts.gla.ac.uk/


The dead magpie, and other garden mysteries

A couple of weeks ago, sitting on the bench I thought I saw  through the trees at the opposite edge of the garden the distinctive black and white colouring of a magpie. It had been weeks since I last saw one, well before the hot spell. That one had been dead. I took several photos of the corpse like a corvid CSI, marvelling at the blue green colours in the black feathers. Had a cat got lucky? There was one prowling around in the distance looking suspicious. But then cats always look as if they’re up to no good. It’s a predator thing. The magpie was stiff, so was probably not a recent kill.

DSC_5515

I wondered if the crows had something to do with it. They had been the exclusive masters of the garden before the magpies came. During the spring I had often counted magpies and recited that familiar rhyme to myself, once getting as far as seven. After the death the magpies disappeared just as if they couldn’t stand to be where their fellow had died. Two of the crows strutted around as if the magpie spring had never happened.

DSC_5704

DSC_5534

Of course the magpies could have just moved on somewhere else as the weather got hotter. I hadn’t seen any of the green birds (feral parakeets, now natives of west London) for a while either. The wood pigeons carried on regardless with their usual business. These are not your standard London pigeons – the rats with wings. The wood pigeon is cleaner, sleeker, a bit larger, with a longer and more curved beak. A lot more middle class than the standard winged urban scavenger. They prefer big gardens and tall trees as found in a large communal garden.

DSC_5535

The garden is a large rectangle with housing blocks on the two long sides surrounded on three sides by more blocks. A single tower faces the main road. There was bomb damage during the war and many of the old late Victorian apartment blocks were replaced with modern versions in the 1970s. A single detached house (a forgotten building if ever there was one) was demolished in the 60s to make way for the tower.

The garden is what remains of a large estate which is called a Park on early maps. The trees are tall, as tall as the blocks except for some recent plantings (a big tree went down in October 1987) and an old mulberry tree thought to be the remains of a failed 18th century silk production scheme. (Every mulberry tree in Chelsea is attributed to the same venture – apparently one of the reasons the plan failed is that the trees were the wrong kind of mulberry and turned out to be repugnant to silk worms).

There is some evidence of former landscaping in the form of half-buried stone borders.

DSC_5525

And then there are the drain pipes.

DSC_5537DSC_5712

Three of the large trees have drain pipes embedded in them, almost absorbed into the bark. Why do trees need drain pipes?

Now about that forgotten building…

1963

This single mansion built in 1884 was demolished in 1965 although I think these photographs were taken in the winter of 1963, possibly by John Bignell.

There’s some snow on the ground

That tree is still there. It all looks a bit Dickensian.

On the main road a couple of pedestrians trudge through the slush.

It was a fairly grand residence.

Elm Park House before demolition 1963 Bignell 001

Another feature of the modern garden is the occasional feature which indicate what lies below, small..

DSC_5523

…and large.

DSC_5544

Three underground chambers used for parking.

DSC_5695

Hot water pipes run through them meaning  that snow never lingers too long in the garden.

Long ago when the garden was a Park another house sat among the trees.

Old Park House Warton Park

It was painted by our old friend Marianne Rush.[link] [link]

Postscript

This is another summer vacation post so there wasn’t much research involved. Those pictures which may or may not have been taken by John Bignell have not been seen much. The colour pictures are by me.

I hope David Brady will like this post.


Thomson and Barrie: The admirable Crichton

The recent post about Hugh Thomson’s illustrations to J M Barrie’s play Quality Street attracted quite a bit of attention in an otherwise quiet month so I was happy to take up an offer to do the same with Barrie’s other play of 1901/02, The Admirable Crichton. This was one I had heard of, thanks to the 1957 film version starring Kenneth More, seen many years ago on one of those Sunday afternoons of childhood when you’d watch anything that was on. The final scene has remained in my memory, but no spoilers yet.

1901 had been a good year for Barrie. Quality Street opened in New York and he finished Crichton while he was attending rehearsals for Quality Street. Within a short space of time he had two plays on the London stage. He and his wife were in the process of moving out of their Gloucester Road house to another house in Leinster Gardens, Bayswater which was close to Kensington Gardens, a favourite haunt of both of them.

Crichton is an odd sort of story. It was described as “a fantasy in four acts” but it is also a satire or maybr even some kind of parable about the rigidly stratified structure of Edwardian society. It begins with a portrait of an aristocratic household with the mildly eccentric Lord Loam, his three daughters and Crichton the butler a man who knows his place and wishes everyone else would stay in theirs.

001 p38 Lord Loam - My friends I am glad to see you all looking so happy

Here Lord Loam addresses his family, some friends and his staff at one of his regular teas at which the family serve the staff. Everyone  is uncomfortable with this arrangement but him.

Lady Mary’s fiance Lord Brocklehurst has an uncomfortable conversation with Tweeny the “in between” maid.

002 Brocklehurs and Tweeny - what sort of weather have you been having in the kitchen

Lord Loam has also annoinced that on the forthcoming sea voyage his three daughters will have to share one lady’s maid between them. The whole thing leaves the Ladies Mary, Catherine and Agatha shocked and dismayed.

003 I have decided --- one maid between them

And then really quite tired.

008 The ladies are at rest until it is time to dress

This portrait of  the indolent trio in a state of profound relaxation is one of Thomson’s best. It’s curious to see him portraying contemporary dress.

The next time the three are pictured together is after the party is shipwrecked on an island. They still look pretty relaxed.

009 They have a sufficiency of garments

Of course the hapless aristos are not really equipped for life in the wild.

013 Lord Loam - Not one monkey had sufficient intelligence to grasp my meaning

Lord Loam cannot get the monkeys to understand him. Just as the story has now moved into the realm of fantasy Thomson’s illustrations shift into another mode to show a partly realistic, partly magical setting.

Crichton and Tweeny of course turn their hands to the business of staying alive on the island.

010 Tweeny-  Look what I found

Their practical skills and the ability to cook food changes the group dynamic and puts Crichton in a leading role.

014 One by one they steal nearer to the pot

After a couple of years on the island Crichton is in charge and goes by the title the Guv.

Tweeny now runs the household.

016 Tweeny had dressed wisely for an island

While the three sisters have become able hunters.

017 We've some ripping fish for the Gov's dinner

This is all very reminiscent of Never Never Land.

020 We were chasing goats on the big slopes and you out-distanced us all

Lady Mary now callede Polly hunts down a goat.

Crichton asks her to marry him to general consternation.

????????????????????????????????????

At almost the exact moment they hear the sound of a ship. Lady Mary wants Crichton to ignore it so they can all stay in the wild world. But Critchton does his duty as he sees it and sets off a signal to the rescuers. They return to their old social positions back in London for the final act.

026 Well were you all equal on the island

They all deny the truth despite an interrogation from Lord Brocklehurst’s mother. Barrie playe around with the ending. At one tiem it was suggested that Crichton and Tweeny went off together to run a pub in the Harrow Road. In the first version I looked at, the limited edition, he simply announces his intention to depart and turns out the light.

The first actress to play the role of Lady Mary was  Irene Vanbrugh who has featured on the blog before in this post about Trelawny of the Wells.

Irene-vanbrugh-Admirable-crichton-1902-mary

She looks a little like Peter Pan in this photograph and even more so in this picture, which was much reproduced at the time:

Van1

The first Peter Pan was actually Nina Boucicault the daughter of the impressarion Dion Boucicault (we’ve  met him before at his house in the Old Brompton Road).

From a modern standpoint the play looks like a quaint comedy of manners, but writing in 1922 H M Walbrook called it “one of the most penetrating dramatic social pamphlets of the day.” For me it’s an interesting foray into a fantasy world which never seemed too far away with Barrie. And I wonder what influence Thomson’s illustrations had on later works.

Postscript

Thanks once again to Peter Collins of Westminster Central Reference Library for suggesting the Admirable Crichton and loaning it to me. And thanks to Kim for transporting it.


A secret life of postcards special: first gear

When I do posts featuring picture postcards I normally focus on the people in the pictures, zooming in on the street life of the ordinary passers by. I have looked at a few buses along the way in an incidental way. But this week I thought I would concentrate on images involving transport, mostly of buses but also a few other ways of getting around in the golden age of the picture postcard. That era spans the transition from the horse drawn bus to the motor bus. You can see both in this picture:

Cromwell Place

Cromwell Place is the point near South Kensington Station where a number of bus routes converge. If you look on the right of the picture you can see one of the towers of the Natural History Museum. But never mind that. Let’s look at the buses.

Cromwell Place - Copy

Two motor buses and one horse bus. Before the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC ) absorbed them, bus services were operated by a number of different companies and the buses themselves manufactured in small runs by coach building companies who did other  types of vehicle, hence some variation in design (although features such as the curved staircase at the rear set a pattern which was followed into the 1960s). Here a lone horse bus with the inevitable advert for Pear’s Soap meets up with a couple of buses from the fleet of a company called Union Jack (later, the London Road Car Company).

Turn to the left of the picture and you would be looking down Harrington Road.

Harrington Road PC312 Norfolk Hote

This view would be quite recogniseable today. That grand doorway on the left is still there as is the hotel building. (Then the Norfolk Hotel, now the Ampersand). The low rise building next to it also still exists, and the Local Studies team went for a meal in a resturant on the left very recently. But the young musician crossing the road is presumably no longer with us.

Harrington Road PC312

Nor is the woman in the apron crossing behind the private carriage (or is that two?). The bus, whose driver seems to be making some sort of adjustment to the side of the vehicle, looks like it was on a route involving Turnham Green and Kensington Church Street, so it’s odd to find it at South Kensington. Although route numbers were not introduced until the LGOC controlled most bus traffic, the actual routes were often laid down in the horse bus era.

High Street Notting Hill PC 369

This bus making its way along Notting Hill Gate (with the almost regulation Pear’s advert) terminates at Liverpool Street as many did in this part of London, crossing the west End to get there. Although you can’t really make out the lone animal pulling it, it is another horse bus, with larger back wheels. A little bit of research makes us think it’s a number 7.

Here is a quite sharp detail of a horse bus in Redcliffe Square, festooned with adverts:

Redcliffe Square - Copy

Pears again, a committed advertiser. An LGOC 31, heading towards Westbourne Grove with three wild hats on the top dek.

Further north an unusual view of Holland Park Avenue.

Holland Park Avenue 01

You’ll have to take my word for it, but that’s a 12 going past the skating rink to Dulwich, maybe as far as South Croydon.

As well as the rear staircase the horse buses also bequeathed the larger set of rear wheels to some of the initial motor buses which followed them. (Look back at the Cromwell Place picture). Below, on the other hand is a bus with the same sized wheels at front and rear:

Ladbroke Grove Library PC 1456

It’s waiting at a stop in Ladbroke Grove outside that well known local instituition North Kensington Library.

Ladbroke Grove Library PC 1456 - Copy

You can see that this is a more standardised vehicle, a member of the first class of mass produced buses, a London General B-type. This one is also a number 7, indicated on the baord along with the routee from Wormwood Scrubs to Liverpoool Street. Todays’ number 7s, (Gemini IIIs I’m told) sigh to an  exhausted halt at Russell Square rather than soldiering on all the way to Liverpool Street, as my transport correspondent has it. Generally speaking the epic bus routes of old have been shortened so it’s no longer possible to make lengthy journeys to legendary places like Homerton on a 19 for example. ( I now regret I never did this. I did take a 49 to Crystal Palace once though.)

At this point let’s pause to look at some of the other vehicles on the roads of late Victorian / Edwardian London.

Campden Hill Road PC162

Delivery carts bringing barrels of beer to the Windsor Castle in Campden Hill Road.

Ladbroke Grove funeral

A funeral procession in Ladbroke Grove for William Whiteley, the founder and owner of the Bayswater department store. Whiteley had an illegitimate son named Horace Rayner (paternity was disputed). He was confronted by Rayner at one of his regular inspections of the store. Being asked for financial assistance he ordered the police to be summoned. Rayner shot him. The procession is on its way to Kensal Green cemetery. Rayner was convicted of murder but sentenced to life imprisonment due to the circumstances, and was released in 1919. I had no idea of this when I chose the picture – I was simply struck by the crowds and the carriages.

Ladbroke Road PC 601

By contrast, a fire engine ladder outside the fire station in Ladbroke Road.

Nearby in affluent Kensington Park Gardens, some examples of private transport:

Kensington Park Gardens PC 341

The Church in the background is St John’s. Parked outside one house is this luxurious looking vehicle.

Kensington Park Gardens PC 341 - Copy

The top is down and if the driver or chauffeur is ready to go, the owners can hit the road. Back in the south of the Borough, another couple of cars:

Queen's Gate

As you can see the original buyer of the postcard crossed out Queen’s Gate and wrote in Cromwell Road. look a bit closer:

Queen's Gate - Copy

You can see an inked X marking a spot, possibly where the buyer was staying. He or she was wrong of course. This is unmistakeably the south end of Queen’s Gate where it meets Old Brompton Road in the background.

There is a proud looking man (a chauffeur?) standing in front of the parked car, mug in hand, possibly watching the woman crossing the road. In the middle a chauffeur driven car goes past with a lady in the rear. Not much traffic to contend with on this particular road.

Let’s jump forward in time to another quiet day.

Kensington Church Street PC1532

This is Kensington Church Street looking south sometime in the 1950s.

Kensington Church Street PC1532 - Copy

Four well-dressed ladies wait in the summer sun at a request stop.

Down on the High Street:

Kensington High Street 1953 K61-937

The old Town Hall, Barker’s department store (no scandals there) and parked outside Derry and Toms’ , an RTW on the 31 route on its way to Chelsea. The W stood for wide – these models were a whole six inches wider than previous versions and had been subject to trial runs in case they added to traffic congestion.

Through the medium of detailed information gathering my transport correspondent is able to tell us that this particular bus, RTW372 stayed on the streets on London as a 31 or a 22 until 1966 when it was sold to the Ceylon Transport Board for service in what is now Sri Lanka. I wonder how long it stayed in use.

Speaking of 1966:

Kensington High Street - 1966 K67-100

One of those narrow RTs, comically thin by today’s standards making its way to the same stop. The RTs were actually more numerous than the more celebrated Routemasters. This one, RT2912 had recently come from the Aldenham Works and would subsequently move from Chalk Farm Garage to New Cross in 1968.

We can’t track the individual fates of the old horse buses but you can imagine their mechanical existences were lively:

Cromwell Gdns & Thurloe Square PC315 L-6403

Postscript

My thanks are obviously due to my transport correspondent my son Matthew who has had what you might call an  interest in buses since I first bought him a Corgi model when he was 3. I didn’t realise at the time that this would be  a turning point in all our lives.


One man’s war: Paul Destrube

This week we have another post by my colleague Lucy Yates who has again drawn from the scrapbooks of Sir William Davison (Baron Broughshane) and other sources to find the story of a family at war through the letters of a soldier at the front.

 

‘When I left I could not quite establish whether both your boys had been killed or I should have written to you before. After an action of that sort, when Regiments or even Divisions get intermingled, it takes several days to ascertain whether men are killed, wounded or missing. In this case, however, I’m afraid there is no doubt. Both your boys were buried on the battlefield with many of their comrades’.

Destrube Grave 2

This is the letter Colonel Barnet-Barker wrote to Ernest Destrube on 16th March 1917 after the Battle of Miraumont. Ernest Destrube worked for a French Bank, the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris, on Threadneedle street and had four sons, three of whom were in the 22nd ‘Kensington’ Regiment of the Royal Fusiliers. They are pictured below: Georges, Paul and Guy (right to left):

Destrube Brothers

Paul is in his early twenties in this photo and, despite the old-fashioned moustache, which plants him firmly in another era, it’s possible to see in his mischievous smile a little of the humour which spices the letters from him, which we have in our archive. On 22nd December 1916, Paul writes, ‘Your letter reached me when I was in the middle of a repast – or, well, would you call a dog biscuit and a piece of cheese a repast? Prior to the arrival of your epistle misfortune had been fast overtaking me. Three times the piece of cheese had been brushed from my hand and had fallen, half burying it in mud at the bottom of the trench, and three times it was subjected to a cleansing process on the seat of my trousers. I was able to enjoy in part the humour of the situation, but I am sure that had the catastrophe occurred once more I would have burst into tears.’

Letters to Marion - page 2 - Your letter reached me when

He struggles to maintain a humorous tone, which is honest but not self-pitying, amidst circumstances often far from amusing and it is this candour that makes his letters engaging. Those we have are written by him to a woman called Marian. Of Marian, nothing more is known that the brief note appended to the typed copies of the letters by his father, Ernest – ‘Marian is a young girl Paul made the acquaintance of, when he was near Burton-on-Trent. I believe she is a teacher, pretty girl, well educated. I don’t think they were yet engaged but he was courting her’.

We know a little more of Paul. He grew up in Hampstead and lived at 141 Adelaide Road for a time but he arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 12th March 1913 on the Prince Edward, having sailed from Bristol. He sailed back just over a year later arriving in London on 27th August 1914.

Destrube - Incoming Passenger Lists Aug 1914 - Cropped

The ship which brought him back, the S.S Ionian, did not survive the war and would be sunk by German U-boats off Milford Haven in October 1917.

SS. Ionian

Paul Destrube enlisted at Shepherd’s Bush and after training at Tidworth Barracks was sent to the Western Front. He writes to Marian from there soon after he had arrived. ‘This trip in the trenches I have been fortunate in securing a dug-out with 6 others. Of course it is exceedingly small, measuring no more than 5ft by 4ft., but then I must bear in mind that beggars are not choosers.
… I have not been long up from my post, and I am writing this in the aforesaid dug-out, huddled up in a corner. This sand-bag abode is feebly illuminated by a candle dimly burning. My neighbour, who is yet more uncomfortably cramped up, is falling off to sleep, and his muddy, unshaven and jam smeared face is resting on my shoulder. Occasionally he grunts vigorously, making the paper I am writing upon flutter. I’ve just removed an open tin of jam from under the mud-clotted boot of the fellow opposite me. A fair sized piece of cheese in pinned to the sand bagged wall by means of a cartridge. The bread has all been devoured, but a few broken pieces of hard tack biscuits lie scattered somewhere on the ground beneath this living, semi-sleeping entanglement of men. A bayonet thrust in the wall serves as a candlestick, and the candlegrease is slowly but persistently dripping on the fellow’s forehead who is sleeping directly beneath. With one finger I could swing the bayonet slightly to one side – but I am not going to do so, because it would be a pity to destroy such a charming situation. I’m almost hypnotised as I watch the grease slowly dripping – drip, drip, drip – and still he sleeps …But my reflections have been disturbed; my neighbour is responsible for more grunts and furthermore he’s tried to stretch himself. There – I thought so – he’s kicked the fellow opposite in the stomach, and now they are both grunting. All is quiet again, the dirty, unkissable face is in its old position again – on my shoulder.’ This vivid portrait of life in the trenches is lightly handled but the claustrophic nature of the situation is still born strongly in on the reader.

Letters to Marion - page 4 - I've not been long up from my post

Other letters document times when there was some relief from life in the trenches. It’s a common perception that WW1 soldiers spent nearly all their time in the trenches when in fact 45% of their time was spent out of the trenches, however this is not to suggest this was by any means an easy alternative. In his letter of 5th December 1915, Paul writes, ‘When out of the trenches we are billeted in various houses and farm barns, which have suffered badly from the bombardment of an earlier date. The roof of the one in which I have the pleasure of staying just at present only partially exists, besides which the doors and windows are non-existent. There are 16 who sleep in one room, about as large as your dining room, which has a stone floor. We naturally sleep in our clothes (I have not taken then off since I left England, and see no prospects of doing so in the future), having but one blanket. The mice run all over the place, and at night one can feel them dash over one’s face and head’.
This photograph, as marked in the 22nd Regimental Scrapbook, was taken after the war, however it does show relatively intact buildings so we can only hope this billet in Yvrench, near Amiens, where Paul spent his last Christmas, might have made a pleasant change for him for once.

Cottage where encamped

Regimental histories and accounts of survivors also help to preserve some sense of Paul’s vivid personality. A story recounted in Mufti, the 22nd Regimental Magazine, goes as follows.
‘The Colonel one day on his rounds in the line noticed the L/Cpl and said, ‘Hello, Destrube. Splendid! I see you have a stripe,’ and knowing what one did the other did too, added, ‘Has your brother also a stripe?’
‘No, Sir,’ replied Destrube.
‘How is that?’ asked ‘BB’
Destrube said: ‘Well Sir, it was like this, a circumstance arose whereby it was essential that either my brother or I took the stripe so we tossed for it.’
‘Ah!’, exclaimed ‘BB’, ‘and you won?’
Destrube answered in a very mournful tone: ‘No sir. I lost!’

This story is also reproduced in Geoff Inglis’s brilliantly comprehensive book, The Kensington Battalion (Pen & Sword, 2010) for those who might want to know more about the Destrubes and the fate of their regiment.

The three brothers had survived unscathed since their arrival in France in November 1915 but the family’s luck took a turn for the worst in April 1916 when Georges Destrube was shot by a sniper in the right side of his chest. Paul and Guy had to go over the top to rescue him and then drag him back. Once behind the lines they carried their brother for four hours before they were able to find a safe place to hand him over the Royal Army Medical Corps. They then had to walk four hours back to the front line without knowing if Georges would survive or not.

Letters to Marion - page 6 - Cropped - BottomLetters to Marion - page 7 - Cropped - Top

After Georges was shipped back to Britain to convalesce, only Paul and Guy remained in France. In the weeks before the Battle of Miraumont, Paul was increasingly depressed about his fading prospects of getting leave. He wrote to Marion on 30th January 1917, ‘Sadly I see the chances of four whole months in England slipping through my fingers’.

Lewis Gun Team from Imperial War Museum Collection[Photo Credit: Imperial War Museum]

The Battle of Miraumont was conceived as an operation to capture Hill 130 and put pressure on the German salient at Serre. The furthest advance during the action was 1000 yards and the hill was not taken, however this does seem to have been followed by a German retreat. This was the most costly action the 22nd had yet been involved in and Geoff Inglis calculates that 276 men were killed.

Frederick Palmer - Page 22 Volume 7

Lance-Sergeant F.W. Palmer [above] won the VC at Miraumont for his bravery in dislodging an enemy machine gun and holding out against determined counter-attacks but amongst the dead were Paul and Guy Destrube. Mufti, the Regimental Magazine, records that ‘At Miraumont ‘Plum’s [Vincent Plummer, a Lewis Gun team leader] team were posted in a shell hole under Capt. Pimm and Sergeant Brierly. They saw dear old Axtens wounded by a sniper and then killed by a second shot, while trying to crawl towards them, Brierly got out of the shell hole and fell back dead into Plummer’s arms, shot through the head by the same sniper. Guy Destrube was the next victim and when his brother Paul rushed to his aid he was also killed. The brothers were found clasped in death.’

I’ll leave you with Paul’s own description of the night before he was killed. Here he is, still surviving during one of the coldest winters of the last century, alive a little while longer yet with his brother, Guy, by his side.

Letters to Marion - page 11 - Cropped - BottomLetters to Marion - page 12 - Affectionately yours

There is a real resonance in hearing someone describe things in their own words. It’s harder for them to be a statistic, to be lost among the seventeen million killed in World War One and this surely is why we pick out personal stories It reminds us that every one of those casualties was a unique person who didn’t like potted beef or had red hair or who was a good father, who had things they still wanted to achieve and who hoped to survive the war and return to their lives and the people who loved them. Paul’s story also reminds us of the way in which the war cut off so many futures before they had a chance to unfold. Would Paul have married Marian and had children? We have no way of knowing whether he felt she was the love of his life or simply a casual fling but the war made sure he had no way of finding out either.

Destrube grave

Postscript (DW)

You can see more material from our WW1 archives at http://www.kcworldwar1.org.uk

Lucy will soon be leaving us to work on an exciting new project at a national museum. In the last ten months she has worked on a travelling exhibition, the WW1 website and  done workshops for adults and school students. Not to mention a great deal of original research in our archives and elsewhere. Without her talent and energy none of what has been achieved would have been possible. So I’d like to thank her on behalf of myself and my team and wish her good luck for the future.


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