Author Archives: Dave Walker

18th Century escapades: Evelina and Fanny

First, let’s sort out the local connection. Fanny, or more properly Frances, Burney the 18th century novelist lived in Chelsea twice. Once with some of her family in an apartment at Chelsea College when she finished working as Second Keeper of the Robes for Queen Charlotte, and later in her life at an address in Lower Sloane Street.

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Which is good for me because although Frances Burney / Madame D’Arblay was a very remarkable woman and one of the first great English novelists, this week’s post is really about a particular edition of her first novel Evelina.

Now I’ve written nearly 200 of these posts you must have had all my basic thoughts and the variations on them. One thing I seem to say quite often is that things in the past resemble things in the present. People seem to do the same things in the past as they do now and the things they entertained themselves with are like the things we use now for the pursuit of happiness.

One day I went to the Reference store looking for a book illustrated by someone who is nothing to do with this post. In an odd corner of the Dewey Decimal Classification you can find novels, plays and poetry all together at one number, 741.64 classified by the artist who illustrated them. And there I found a 1903 one volume edition of Fanny Burney’s Evelina illustrated by Hugh Thomson.

000 Evalina cover

The late 19th and early 20th century was a boom time for illustrated books including new editions of classic works.

000a Evalina title page

Evelina is a long narrative about a naive young woman trying to find her place in the high society of 18th century England. She encounters a number of unreliable and sometimes lecherous suitors, highly strung older women,embarrassing relatives and her one true love, from whom she is separated by circumstance until the end. There is even a mystery about her parentage to be solved.

But I didn’t actually read Evelina. I just looked at the pictures.

'Evelina' by Fanny Burney.

This edition is lavishly illustrated by Thomson, full of pictures (more than 50) of its young heroine. So many in fact that I began to see it as an early form of the graphic novel, following the protagonist through her series of adventures. To illustrate my point I will have to set before you quite a few of pictures of the eponymous heroine. Thomson’s skill is to make her attractive and glamorous in a variety of moods. Just like the heroine of a comic. Which gets me back to the pleasures of the past resembling the pleasures of the present.

006 Madam May I presume

Thomson of course is looking back at the 18th century  from a modern era. From 1903 as well as from 2015 it looks like an exotic and sophisticated time, whose inhabitants gave themselves over to the pleasures of witty speech, flirting with the opposite sex and promenading around London looking good. I remember that impression gained from books (and films) like Tom Jones, the memoirs of Casanova, and the introductions to Penguin editions of books like Humphrey Clinker (Smollet – another Chelsea man) and Tristram Shandy. I’ve always been a great reader of introductions.

007 At Ranelagh

Evelina and her friend join the throng at Ranelagh Gardens – one of the great places to see and be seeen. (See this post, this one, or this one for more 18th century amusement.)

008 Is that he

There are Balls and Assemblies where the fashionable elite and their hangers on disport themselves.

011 Hark you, Mrs Frog, you'd best hold your tongue

There is some physical comedy, on this occasion on board a coach.

014 the young ladies began to examine my dress

Fashion notes from new friends

015 Doubtless Ma'am everything must be infinitely novel to you

Life at the theatre, Burney’s great passion. (She wrote a number of plays, very few of which were ever performed.)

019 For Heaven's sake what is the matter

Virtue threatened by an unwelcome suitor (aboard another coach).

023 Pray ladies don't be frightened for I will walk my horse

Some outdoor scenes, with a comedy buffoon.

024 Sir Clement caught my hand

And indoors again with yet another unwelcome suitor.

026 Mr Mirvan I have brought a petitioner

Introductions….

030 M Du Bois walked by the side of the chair

Colourful transport…

033 Mr Smith ran away with me

A bit of running around in panic.

034 The Misses Braughtens screamed

Uncertainty….

037 as fast as ever they could tear her along

Jeopardy….

039 I've the greatest mind in the world to box your ears

The heroine turns feisty.

043 we were moved on between them

Then gets in more trouble, this time in Kensington Gardens.

045 A shower of rain made us hasten

Where some inclement weather causes more panic.

047 Rolling his eyes in thankfulness towards heaven

After all her tribulations she returns to the security of home.

050 Planning for the futureBut soon ennui sets in.

055 Lord Mervan cought my hand

And the unwelcome attentions follow her.

057 Followed by a party of young men

She goes out again with some unsuitable companions.

059 Presented one of them to Lord Orvill, another to me

But finally. she is reunited with the one good suitor. Reconciliation, and a happy ending

And then there’s the funny bit at the end.

062 Miss Mirvan and I jumped upon our chairs

Featuring that old standby the amusing monkey.

These illustrations are all in the right sequence so although I can’t show them all I hope that you like me can get a decent idea of the story. Or any other story you can make up based on the pictures. Some books are just too long to read the whole thing so I was really very impressed with Thomson’s efforts which not only saved me the trouble but to me have something of the pace of a modern graphic novel.

Postscript

All we need now to save me from having to read the book which I might eventually is a TV adaptation to give the costume designers something to get their teeth into. I haven’t seen a good adaptation of an 18th century novel since the last TV version of Tom Jones , or that version of Fanny Hill on BBC4.

I’m not a complete philistine. I do read some long books. I read all 1000 pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (very nearly an 18th century narrative) so I’m in a good position to urge my friends to stick with the current TV version even if it’s like nothing they’ve ever seen before.

I’m writing this post over the Bank Holiday weekend so please consider it a light hearted excursion into another imaginative version of the past.

The colourised version of the first illustration is from a 1920 edition apparently. The engraving of Miss Frances Burney is from our extra illustrated version of Faulkner’s History of Chelsea. It shows she was as glamorous as Thomson’s depiction of her heroine.

Department of Coincidences

Naturally I did some research on Burney in the biographies collection at Kensington Library (probably the best collection of biographies in any public library in London, but of course I would say that). Along with some serious works I found a “story biography” of Burney by Josephine Kamm who wrote many books of that kind along with some early young adult novels. I was pleased to find this because before her death Mrs Kamm lived in the flat where I now live with my family. I hope she would have approved of what I’ve written (but maybe not).

016 So we've caught you at the glass


Blog extra: May Monarch 2015

You get an bonus post this week, because I was invited to the May Monarch Festival at Whitelands College last Saturday. I was able to attend the new Monarch investiture and see the procession of former May Queens and Kings (just a handful of  kings as yet). I thought I would share some pictures with you so you can see the day in colour, quite a different perspective from the monochrome pictures of the early days.

The first queen I met was Queen Noreen (1955) seen below with a  later queen.

DSC_5395Queen Noreen and another queen
The College had helpfully put up plenty of pictures around the corridors of the building where I found a picture of Queen Noreen in 1955 at the Putney home of the College:

DSC_5506

I also encountered the 1950 queen, Queen Sheila.

DSC_5393 Queen Sheila

And some more recent holders of the office, Queen Natalie and that Queen in blue who I have yet to identify. (My apologies to her – I forgot it. I have made enquiries, but in the mean time if anyone knows……)

DSC_5394 Quenn Natalie and

There were about 30 former Queens, and a couple of former Kings at the ceremony. The picture echoes the many group pictures of former queens I’ve seen in my research.

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In this picture you can see the outgoing queen, Queen Elle sat on the throne while the new Monarch King Qusai (apparently also known by his nickname Q) awaiting his investiture.

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Q is the first Muslim Monarch as far as I know.  The head of the College made a joke referring to the James Bond character Q but I was thinking of the Star Trek character Q, who would have beeen a natural ruler though probably hard to depose. The actual King made a brief but impassioned speech and the charity he will be supporting in his year as King,  Warchild.

DSC_5438

Presentations were made to some of the former queens, and with the new King invested, a group of Morris Dancers led the group out into the spacious grounds at the rear of the college which look out into Richmond Park.

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The dancers are a reminder of the old English and pagan elements to May Day which exist alongside the Anglican ceremony.

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It was a fascinating  morning and a chance to link everything I’ve learned about the May Queen Festival in its Chelsea days with the continuing history of the College and the Festival.

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My thanks to Gilly King, Whitelands College and the University of Roehampton for my invitation.

There will be a more or less normal post at the usual time next week.

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A meal you can shake hands with in the dark: the Arts Club Ball

There comes an affair in the tides of men
When you can’t go back again
Yes there comes a darkness in the affairs of light
When you can’t hold back the night
So you go where your mind will keep
Where the rain plays the restless to sleep
On the notes of a broken piano

1953 street

1950s papier mache apocalypse? Carnival mishap? The set of a Jan Svankmaier film? None of those.

What about a woman with a tail?

CACB 001 - Copy

We’ve got one of those.

And an elephant, ready to dance. Some kind of elephant anyway.

1958 elephant

And we’ve got a strange object on wheels with young women balanced on it.

1953

What does it all mean? Well obviously, the Chelsea Arts Club Ball.

It’s a dance.

1954a

It’s a giant costume party.

Some of the costumes look good, like this couple.

1952

Some maybe not.

1955b

(What is that man doing?)

It’s also an artistic event.

Laughing devils break out of…something.

1950

Exuberant costumes.

CACB 1953 008
More exuberant costumes.

Primavera

Maybe we could get those guys out of here. We’ve had enough mishapen heads for one night.

1955c

On with the party. See, it’s in full swing now. How did Richard Nixon get in?

1957

The climax will be spectacular…..

CAC Royal Albert Hall 1954-59 Ronald Searle seven seas

The party stopped in the end but for a long while the fun was endless.

I’m going to a wedding
I’m going to a wedding dressed in black
I’m going to a party
I’m going to party, won’t be back

I’m going to a funeral
I’m going to a funeral dressed in white
I’m going to a nightclub
I’m going to a nightclub to sleep with night

Postscript

For quite a few years the Chelsea Arts Club, that ancient haven for artists and bohemians has kept its archive in our sub-basement. I’ve been happy to look after it. but now they have their own search room which can be visited by the serious researcher and the curious amateur alike.  In remembrance of their stay with us they’ve let me use some of their pictures of the Arts Club Ball. My thanks to Stephen Bartley.

The poet Pete Brown made albums with the group Piblokto including “Things may come and things may go but the art school dance goes on forever” which I referred to in a previous post. His first band was called the Battered Ornaments and from them I got the title of this post, a phrase I have always admired. I don’t believe he ever had anything to do with the the Ball but I’ve always loved his lyrics, particularly the songs he wrote with Jack Bruce. The lyrics quoted above are from “He the Richmond” and “Weird of Hermiston” from the Jack Bruce album Songs for a Tailor.

 


War is over: VE Day

As often happens I had a quite different post in mind for this week but the VE day commemorations reminded me of a publication in our collection, a set of photographs in a loose binding put together by the Ministry of Information sometime during the war. We seem to have just one volume, number 4 in the series. I’ve found this almost random collection of wartime images fascinating so have made a nearly random selection of my own, of images which caught my eye. I started out with the idea of featuring women at war for a reason I’ll reveal later, but there weren’t quite enough so there’s really no proper theme or angle just a few pictures which I hope are unfamiliar enough to be interesting. In the broadest sense of the term these are propaganda images, intended to paint the war effort in a positive light. But I think they go beyond that and show something of the psychology of the nation.

ATS ttraining - Copy

Members of the Auxilliary Territorial Service (ATS) at a gun demonstration. The caption describes “the girls” as “attentive”.

Guards training

Soldiers in the Grenadier Guards, also training, in a dramatically posed picture. “Three fine types”, according to the caption.

ATS volunteers - Copy

The ATS again, on a searchlight.

Home Guard

The Home Guard practice firing on a co-operative RAF plane. The caption assure us that it is not only possible to bring a plane down with guns but that it has already been done.

college

Naval officers at a training college.

Camoflage - Copy

Members of the Women’s Voluntary Service in Edinburgh making camouflage netting.

Howitzer

A camouflaged 12 inch howitzer with a slightly apprehensive looking soldier on board.

Despatch riders - Copy

Royal Navy despatch riders. “The squad is ready for action.”

Bronwen Williams - Copy

Bronwen Williams, described as working in the “experimental section at an aerodrome” clocking up a great many flying hours. The caption makes her work sound mysterious but doesn’t fail to mention that she is “a pretty brunette in her early twenties.”

Mill visit - Copy

A named Flight Lieutenant visits a mill in Oldham where uniforms are manufactured and pays tribute to to the unnamed worker beside him.

Pilots

A debrief of air crew after a raid on Berlin. The flying jacket – always a flattering garment.

Destroyers - Copy

The caption on this image is simply a line of destroyers at sea.

Derna

A group of soldiers walk through a bomb damaged town in North Africa. This is another of those pictures which look casual but show very effective composition.

Finally, back to the ATS.

ATS

A tribute from me, to the lady on the left.

Postscript

As I said at the start I had something different planned this week but I’d always intended to use some of these images so why not  at this appropriate moment.

The answer to last week’s  question was that the last image was of a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1921. The three figures at the back were Titania, Puck and Oberon played by Miss Elizabeth Irving, Miss Iris Hawkins and Miss Mary Grey. I don’t know how often Oberon is played by a female actor but I can see the artistic logic behind it. Now I’ve started wondering if we have any other pictures of productions of that play.


Once upon a time in the 20s – 1: at the Royal Court Theatre

I have a feeling we may be looking at the 1920s quite a lot this year, so I’m getting into the mood with a trip to the theatre. What better place to stop at but the Royal Court, in Sloane Square. What’s on?

HH p1 1921

In 1921 another work by the theatrical master George Bernard Shaw, the only person to win a Nobel Prize and an Oscar. But those came later

Who’s in it?

HH p3 - Copy

Sounds good to me. Do you see the fourth on the bill?

HH p4 - Copy (2)Edith Evans as Lady Utterwood, aged 33 but still looking as if she had just uttered those immortal words: “a handbag?”

Heartbreak House 1923 - Copy

Doing a fine bit of lounging there.

Heartbreak House 1923 - Copy (2)

The action features a Zeppelin raid.

Interval

While we’re waiting, have a flick through the programme.

Ad from Cosi Fan Tutte programme 02 - Copy

Marshall & Snelgrove, already merged with Debenhams by this time, but the name survived until the 1970s

Ad from Cosi Fan Tutte programme 03a

The permanent wave, the look of the moment.

HH p4 - Copy - Copy

Only yards from the theatre…..

Ad from Cosi Fan Tutte programme 04 - Copy

Harvey Nichols, of course still a name we know.

One with the show, a couple of years later.

2nd act

It wasn’t all highbrow stuff at the Royal Court. Here’s Carte Blanche, a revue from 1923.

Carte Blanche 1923 - Copy

As well as the Two Bobs (unknown to Wikipedia), it featured the many faces of Odette Myrtil, playing the fiddle,

Odette Myrtil in Carte Blanche - Copy (2)

and whoever she is here.

Odette Myrtil in Carte Blanche 02 - Copy

We have a programme for the revue but I can’t work out which pieces these costumes come from. I was intrigued by one line in the credits: “Pig kindly supplied by C and T Harris”. No pictures I’m afraid.

But back to more serious stuff. In 1924 Edith Evans was back at the Royal Court playing several roles in Shaw’s five-night epic Back to Methuselah

Back to Methuselah 1924 - Copy

The first section features Adam and Eve. Eve is played by the young Gwen ffrangcon Davies. Hammer filmafficionados may remember as the Countess, one of the sinister house guests in The Devil Rides Out. But here she had an innocent role.

Back to Methuselah 1924 - Copy (2)

It’s Miss Evans who takes the sinister role as the Serpent. Nice costume.

Back to Methuselah is a series of five plays which start in the Garden of Eden but three of which are set in the future as far as 31,920 AD so it’s science fiction (but not as we know it.) Shaw apparently thought it would be read rather than performed but there were productions in New York, Birmingham and London.

Back to Methuselah 1924 02 - Copy

[Cain and Abel]

Below Scott Sunderland and Evelyn Hope play statues of Ozymandian and Cleopatra-Femiramis brought to life by a sculptor. Or are they robots? The press coverage and the synopsis don’t quite tally.

Back to Methuselah 1924 03 - Copy

I cannot imagine what audiences made of the cycle of plays. Perhaps they were ready for Shaw’s wild speculations.

I was intending to leave it there, with the intention of coming back to the theatre in the 20s later. But in case I don’t let me leave you with an image of a play much more frequently performed, on more than one occasion at the Royal Court.

MND 1921 O and T - Copy

You know it, don’t you?

Postscript

No postscript this week.


The May Queens of Whitelands College: the early years

It’s that time of year again when the May Queen Festival is celebrated at Whitelands College in its current home as part of Roehampton University (May 14th) and also when I write my annual post on the College’s time at Whitelands House in Chelsea. As with horror film sequels (Ginger Snaps Back: the beginning, Evil Dead 3: Amy of Darkness etc) the third outing usually goes back in time, so this time the pictures come from the period from the start of the Festival in 1881 to 1900 when its founding father, the art critic and writer John Ruskin died. Although he never actually attended the May Day celebrations Ruskin’s influence is seen strongly in this period when the whole idea was new.

For new readers I should summarise. Whitelands College, a training school for female teachers was set up in 1842 and had its home at Whitelands House in the King’s Road until 1930. The College was highly successful with supporters such as the philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts but it was a strict regime. Charles Kingsley, father of the novelist of the same name and Rector of Chelsea reported an atmosphere of “silence, simpering and stays” at the College under a Lady Superintendent who had previously been in charge of a penitentiary.

Students of 1855 from 1924 WA

[1855 picture, probably half a group photo, reprinted in the 1924 Whitelands Annual]

The first Principal of the College was John Faunthorpe. Academic standards were raised and the College  judged to be the best in England by a government inspector. Perhaps he though the students needed something more than constant learning which may be why in his correspondence with John Ruskin the idea for a May Queen Festival emerged. It would be an annual event which would combine Ruskin’s romantic ideas of old English customs and rituals with the High Anglican tradition of the College. Between the two of them they glossed over the wilder pagan / medieval versions of May Day.

Each year there would be an election and the student judged to be the “likeable-est and the loveable -est ” (Ruskin’s words) would be crowned May Queen and reign for a year. I’ve covered this in my first post but to give you an idea of the tone of the early festival here is a quote from an article in the magazine Leisure Hour from 1886 which tells how the students idolise Ruskin (“the Master”) and how Ellen, the first Queen reacted. “The choice fell on the only girl present in black. She was mourning a dead father. The trembling maiden required some persuasion before she would consent to don the May Queen’s shining attire; and her first act after doffing it was to send off the pure white lilies that had surrounded her, to lie on her father’s new-made grave.” By suggestion the author of this piece links the festival with virginity and death.

You can imagine that the May Queen was an idea which appealed to the idealistic (or sentimental) view of young women which many Victorian men held. But you can also imagine that this was also an idea which the students themselves would appreciate. A day of processions, singing and dancing with one of them getting to be a May Queen, gifts of books for all the Queen’s companions and new white dresses all round. No lessons or exams all day. What’s not to like?

018a flower girls 1897[Revellers 1897]

And of course, as regular ceremonials do, the Festival got more elaborate. Once you’d been a Queen you were part of the history of the College and part of an elite sisterhood, and the former Queens got to come back and take part again.

004d Queen Minnie with Edith and Ellen and Gertrude 1884

These are the first four queens, Ellen (centre back, now out of mourning), Gertude, Edith and Minnie, in 1884. Minnie is wearing a dress which was worn by each queen from 1882 . It’s quite suitable as a robe of office but of course it meant the previous queens had to go back to ordinary white dresses. Minnie was back in civilian dress the following year.

005a Queen Rosa with Queen Minnie 1885

Dowager Queen Minnie is kneeling before her successor Queen Rosa in an act of homage which the annual photographs  show happening every year as the old queen makes way for the new.

007a Queen Margaret Coleman with Queen Elizabeth 1887

From 1888 the Queens used a dress designed by Ruskin’s friend and protege Kate Greenaway A green underskirt had been added to the queen’s robe. In this picture Queen Elizabeth I kneels before Queen Margaret. Below the Queen and her attendants, wearing mostly white versions of ordinary day dress, carrying the long sticks or staffs used in some of the ceremonies.

007d Queen Margaret and attendants 1887

The Queen’s companions are called her chamberlains or sometimes her bodyguards.

The  picture below is of Queen Annie with her own entourage in 1888.

008 Queen Annie Clarke 1888

1888 was the year that local resident Oscar Wilde and his wife Constance attended the Festival, back in his respectable days. Constance returned in 1892 and 1894 the year one of their sons presented a bouquet.

By 1892 they’d finally figured out that each queen would need her own dress. which would be a permanent part of her identity as a May Queen. Below, Elizabeth II establishes her individuality with a unique dress. (It would also make her easy to identitify in future group pictures as the number of former queens grew.)

1892 Queen Elizabeth II DSC_2435

The photographs themselves are by this time I think an important part of the Festival. They help to establish that sisterhood, a group of women bound together by the ceremonies, not just the queens but all the students. Although you glimpse the exterior world in the background of some of the pictures, you can also sense the atmosphere of a place apart.

In the pictures the pagan associations of May Day seem to emerge. A court of women in white decorated with flowers.. a new queen on a throne, renewed each year. A ceremony which might mean one thing to the clergymen officiating and another to the women around them. But let’s not get too Picnic at Hanging Rock.

019e Queen Elsie I and revellers 1897

Revellers, with Queen Elsie, against the background of an ivy strewn gothic wall.

020c crossed sticks 1898

In front of the same wall, the attendants, with their own special uniforms. The Queen now has a train like a bride which has to be carried by an acolyte.

020d procession 1898

The procession from the Chapel featuring the outgoing and incoming queens, and as time went by any others who could attend.

005d Maypole 1900

The Maypole dance. You can just see something of the real Chelsea in the distance as the age-old dance goes on.

004c Queen Eveline and bodyguards 1900

The 1900 Queen, Eveline. Below, she sits on her throne with her court of attendants and older queens.

004b Queen Eveline enthroned 1900

Photographs of the May Queens, and the celebrations have an undeniable charm in themselves, a romantic notion of a hidden place separate from the world outside. Think Hogwarts, or Brakebills or any boarding school story. The pictures are timeless because like fancy dress or theatrical costumes they show women out of their own time and hence more like the women of any time period. Quite a few of the pictures remind me of the 1970s era of folk music, pastoral psychedelia and mystical cults or movements. (Did you hear that Radio 4 programme Black Aquarius the other day? It covered  a whole area of modern interest in the occult in films and television. A May Queen festival could have slotted quite easily into that imaginative zone.) For other viewers they may bring back other decades and other impresions. Probably it makes you look back to when you were young when picturesque celebrations under summer skies seemed like a great idea. Actually as far as I’m concerned it still does, so I’m pleased that the May Queen (Or May Monarch) festival still goes on.

The picture below shows the 1897 Queen Elsie with her predesessor Edith II. (Seen in the procession picture above.)

019d Queen Elsie and Queen Edith II 1897

The two of them look elegant and confident as though the women, students and staff. had finally taken control of the direction of the Festival. Their dresses look a little like the one Lady Gertrude Agnew wore in the painting by John Singer Sargent. The picture also has a certain luxuriousness about it, or even sensuality. This is our moment, they seem to be thinking.

Postscript

As I’ve covered in two previous posts, (here and here) the celebrations carried on getting more elaborate and serious in the Edwardian era reaching a kind of conceptual peak then, and more light hearted after WW1.  The May Day Festival is capable of supporting many flights of fancy and perhaps a few moments of insight from me and others.

I’ve assembled a large number of images on the subject from the Library’s collection and the Whitelands College archives thanks to the help of the Whitelands Archivist Gilly King who graciously allowed us to have copies of the photographs from the May Queen scrapbooks. My thanks to her.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is that the series of images of group photos of May Queens of different years allows you to see individual women as they grow older. Matching them up can be tricky at times.I’ll take you through some of them one day. Maybe that’s next year’s angle. Obsessed, Moi?

Queens featured in this post: Ellen Osborne (1881) Gertrude Bowes (1882), Edith Martindale(1883), Minnie Griffiths (1884), Rosa Ashburne (1885), Elizabeth Blowfeld (1886), Margaret Coleman (1887), Annie Clarke (1888), Elizabeth Hughes (1892), Edith Desborough(1896), Elsie Wilkes (1897), Ellen Rose (1898), Eveline Head (1900)


Frestonia: the past is another country

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away (the past) a brave person of restricted growth and his staunch companions threw off the bonds of oppression and created their own magical land…….

Well, perhaps that’s not the way to tell it. North Kensington, once called by Michael Moorcock “the most delicious slum in Europe” was once a hotbed of community activism. Barricades were built, protests were made, community newspapers were published, councillors were locked in meeting halls. In the days before social media and citizen journalism, people made theselves heard with all the means at their disposal. One of those means was the creation of the Free Republic of Frestonia.

The building of the Westway cut through North Kensington leaving some parts of it a bit stranded. Latimer Road was truncated, Walmer Road was bisected (see this post, which has many interesting comments from former residents) and the area south of Latimer Road was full of empty houses and industrial sites earmarked for development.

Cover of planning document

[View looking south]

This vacuum was filled in the 70s by squatters who gradually built their own community in the empty houses and vacant sites.

House in Freston Road

[photo by Tony Sleep]

In 1977 the GLC (the Greater London Council, now just a memory but then an economic and social entity which was itself the size of a small country) decided to clear the area for industrial use.

But the inhabitants were prepared to fight back, at first in the usual way.

Freston Road poster HT photo by SS

[photograph of poster taken by Sue Snyder]

But these were ambitious, even visionary squatters who decided to create a new form of protest by declaring a small part of the area an independent republic in a move reminiscent of the film Passport to Pimlico.

Frestonia appliction cover

The members of this collective all became ministers of the government.

Frestonia page 4

And as you can see by this list they all added the suffix Bramley (after Bramley Road) to their names, apparently so they would appear to be one large family who in theory would have to be re-housed together.

When you’re sitting a few miles south of the scene of these events and more than thirty years later, looking at scraps of ephemera, cuttings and photographs  trying to piece them together it’s hard to see what’s serious and what’s ironic. But from what I’ve read and heard although it took the form of a prank Frestonia itself was both real and serious.

Frestonia map

There was an adventure playground:

Omar in Frestonia Garden

And an art gallery:

Carbreaker's Gallery 1979

[Photo by Tony Sleep]

A People’s Hall:

People's Hall

[The People’s Hall sometime in the 1970s, judging from the graffitti]

The hall hosted a National Film Theatre of Frestonia (Passport to Pimlico was one of the first films shown).

And more mundane activities.

Frestonia second hand sale

[A second hand sale. Photo by Tony Sleep (?)]

As you can see from the application to the UN the Foreign Minsister of Frestonia was the charismatic actor David Rappaport, probably most famous for his role in the Terry Gilliam film Time Bandits and his appearances in the last series of Tiswas, although I remember seeing him at the National Theatre in Ken Campbell’s production of the Illuminatus Trilogy. He had something of a gift for generating media interest.

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[article from Kensington News and Post 04 November 1977. And yes, I wondered about that spelling error]

The publicity generated by the declaration of independence served its purpose. The then (penultimate) leader of the GLC, Sir Horace Cutler was in direct touch with the government of Frestonia. (Cutler was a flamboyant character but his fame has been eclipsed by that of his successor.) There was a public enquiry which ultimately supported the creation of a mixed use area providing living and working space. Nicholas Albery (Minister of State for the Environment in the government of Frestonia) in his account of his country in Inside Notting Hill (2001 edition) says: “Frestonia was eventually rebuilt…. with foreign aid from Great Britain channelled via the Notting Hill Housing Trust”

Some demolition took place:

Notting Dale Community Law Centre early 80s HT

[The Carbreaker’s Gallery and the Notting Dale Law Centre awaiting demolition. Is that Henry Dickens Court in the background?]

Many years later the area looked like this, still an area where people live and work. There have been more developments since this picture, taken sometime in the 1990s I think.

Freston Road area - modern photo

(Note all the instances of graffitt visible from this angle, one of which is above a Paint Shop. I should also just draw your attention to the housing block with the rounded shape on the left of the picture, known as the Ark by some of its inhabitants.)

Postscript

As I hinted above this is a sketch of Frestonia loosely pieced together from what I could lay my hands on, rather than any kind of definitive account. I had to employ a certain amount of guesswork about dating. If there’s anything you’d like to add please use the comments section. I’d certainly like to hear more about Frestonia and its residents.

Most of the pictures this week come from the HistoryTalk collection. I’ve identified the photographer if the information was available. The photographer Tony Sleep has a website with many more images at: http://tonysleep.co.uk/frestonia

For further reading take a look at Inside Notting Hill and Melvyn Wilkinson’s Book of Notting Hill.

David Rappaport died in Los Angeles in 1990.

Postscript to the Postscript

Notting Hill Housing (funded by Norland Ward Councillors for City Living Local Life Initiative) are having some History Walk and Talk sessions on Frestonia on 29th April and 6th May at 5.15pm (both days). Photographs taken on the day will be exhibited in a further session on May 27th. Contact Resa on 07931 523607 for further details.


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