Category Archives: Biography

Blog extra: Fanny and Josephine

You’ve got another blog extra this week, something I shall do occasionally for slighty tangential subjects.

When I wrote about Frances Burney’s Evelina a couple of weeks ago I mentioned a book I’d looked at by a lady named Josephine Kamm – Fanny Burney: a story biography (Methuen 1966). The book was a narrative about Fanny’s life posibly intended for readers of school age. Mrs Kamm wrote a number of educational books and stories for young adults.

Like the 1903 Evelina, Kamm’s book was illustrated by an artist in this case someone named Biro. Truth be told the illustrations are not in the same league as Hugh Thomson, by a long way, but they did have a certain nostalgic quality for me. They reminded me of the sort of pictures you used to see in children’s books and encyclopedias, and magazines like Look and Learn which we used to have when I was a bookish kid back in the stone age. I expect it was a whole lot cheaper to hire a professional artist to create new illustrations for a book than it was to source and pay for existing artwork, especially if you were aiming at a younger audience.

I almost included one of the pictures in the Evelina post, but that was long enough already and the Biro pictures would have suffered in the comparison. Biro was not a great illustrator in my opinion but the pictures do fit well with the text and there is that nostalgic interest in the way books used to look, which I thought was worth sharing with you in a blog extra, as plenty of people have looked at the Evelina post.

01 Kamm p33

Fanny writing in her journal having narrowly avoided being forbidden to keep one by her father and stepmother. (I’ve read the relevant section to make sure I’ve got this correct. If I was using my just look at the pictures method I would have made this one Fanny writing Evelina in secret by candle light).

As one of Hugh Thomson’s illustrations for Evelina was coloured in a later edition, I have arranged for some of Biro’s to be coloured so they look even more like those in the books of my younger days.

02 Kamm p67 col

Fanny and her father. She has just confessed to having the found a publisher for Evelina. Biro gives her a peeved expression – her father was not that interested at the time. He liked it a lot more later.

03 Kamm p89

Here Fanny sits in the grounds at Chessington reading Evelina to Mr Crisp, a family friend.

04 Kamm p102

Fanny and Dr Johnson. What every author needs – an eminent fan.

Miss Burney looks so meek and is so quiet” said Mrs Thrale, that no-one would suspect what a comical girl she is.” “Oh she’s a toad! ! cried Dr Johnson with a hearty laugh, ” a sly young rogue with her Smiths and her Brangtons!” (Two sets of comic characters in the book)

05 Kamm p118 col

After her identity as the author of Evelina is discovered Fanny  becomes famous. After the publication of her second novel Cecilia Fanny’s portrait is painted by her cousin Edward. Compare Fanny’s pose with the engraving based on the portrait in the Evelina post.

06 Kamm p137 col

Fanny and Queen Charlotte. This is her last night in the Queen’s household, where she had not been happy. But the two of them are momentarily overcome by emotion.

07 Kamm p151

The reunion with her husband Alexandre D’Arblay in in France in 1801. The coach journey has an anecdote about an old woman travelling with Fanny who is smuggling clothes into France by the method of wearing many layers of them underneath a hooped skirt.

Going off on another tangent I remember reading a post by a style blogger who overcame baggage restrictions in a similar way on a flight from Sweden to the UK. ( This is the link:  http://flyingsaucer.typepad.com/flyingsaucer/2010/04/saying-goodbye-to-sweden.html ) (Have any readers ever done this? I should add that I hadn’t looked at this blog for years and that the author has made some improvements since 2010)

08 Kamm p167a col

Fanny and the Queen again in 1817. Although the Queen and General D’Arblay seem to have aged, Fanny is still depicted as a fashionable young woman, as sometimes seems to happen in screen adaptations. Mrs Kamm doesn’t deal with Fanny’s later life, or the famous medical procedure she undertook in France. (For understandable reasons probably).

So although it’s not an extensive set of images like Thomson’s, Fanny is the heroine in another graphic story. I hope you found the contrast interesting. the 1903 Evelina was obviously a more upmarket work, but Josphine Kamm and Biro did their work too.

Postscript

The colouring was done by my wife Cathryn who has been colouring in as a hobby for several years, well before they started calling it art therapy. My thanks to her for bringing those childhood books back to life. I was tempted to have all the pictures in colour but I thought I should give the unimproved Biro a chance as well.

Make a comparison for yourself:

01 Kamm p33 col

This week’s regular post will be published on Thursday but possibly not till the afternoon as I have to touch base with our guest blogger.

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Haigh – A handsome stranger arrives at your hotel

This week we have a returning guest blogger, crime writer Dr Jonathan Oates whose most recent book is about another murderer with Kensington connections.
cover

Imagine this: you are staying in a hotel in London as a permanent guest. Although flying bombs and V2 rockets are raining down on London – this being the autumn of 1944 – and despite the more mundane difficulties of rationing, petrol and clothing restrictions, life isn’t too bad. Of course it was better before the war…however, the hotel, the Onslow Court Hotel, is located in a fashionable part of London; namely south Kensington, where some of the old exclusiveness survives in an increasingly egalitarian world.

Onslow Court Hotel 109-113 Queen's Gate - Copy

Then one day a new guest arrives. He isn’t like the majority of guests. He’s male for a start and is young; a mere 35 years old. What strikes one immediately about him is how neat his appearance is. His shoes always shine and his black hair and neat little moustache is always glossy. He’s perhaps a little on the short size, about five feet six inches, but he’s always ready to smile and reveal his flawless white teeth. His clothing is immaculate, too. As one got to see him about the place, it was obvious that he had at least a dozen well made suits. He often wore a garment; perhaps socks or his tie, that was red. And he clearly had money; the hotel charges £5 5s per week plus a ten per cent service charge.

JGH - Copy
Now it might seem to the suspicious that he is a spiv, one of those black market merchants who knows how to make a quick profit certainly, but is socially uncouth and has little knowledge of the higher things in life. He’ll stay in the hotel for a few days or weeks and then scarper, dodging the hotel bills, no doubt, even though Miss Robbie, the manageress, is sharp enough.

Onslow Court Hotel

Well, my sceptical friend, you would be mistaken. He drinks but little. Some wine with dinner and a sherry beforehand, but never to excess and never beer. He doesn’t smoke much. He never swears or speaks loudly, he never turns up at odd hours having been to a night club. And he never loses his temper. Even when he accidentally knocked a woman wrist, spilling her drink and then having her stub out her cigarette on his hand, he was perfectly calm.

He is always at ease with all he meets, both staff and fellow guests. He can talk about many subjects. Classical music for one, and especially works by Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Mozart. He’s a good performer on the piano, too. He can discuss the Bible and religious topics and is always free with quotations from Ecclesiastes. Not that he’s a church goer, or tries to force his views on others. He can talk about engineering and various projects he’s working on.

You see, he’s an engineer by profession. The Liason Officer of Union Group Engineering, who used to operate from Eccleston Square. You know of them? No? Well, never mind. The place was bombed in the war, so the emergency war headquarters had to shift. They have branches all over the south of England, in Crawley, Horsham, Putney, places like that. Not that our new friend needs to soil his hands, which are, like the rest of his appearance, always spotless.

All this explains why he isn’t serving his country in His Majesty’s forces, as all young and healthy men should be. He’s working on a number of patents which will enable the war to be won sooner than otherwise, and that’s no bad thing. In any case, during the Blitz he was employed in fire watching down Victoria way.

Well, all this is very good, but where is he from? Who are his people and where was he educated? He doesn’t like to bore people too much with his autobiography, but he’s let a few things slip out into casual conversation over meals. He was born in Yorkshire, his father was a colliery manager and he was brought up in his parents’ faith, as a Plymouth Brethren. It had been a strict boyhood, having to follow the rules of the ‘Peculiar People’. But he had had a good education, attending Wakefield Grammar School and then taking a BsC degree at Leeds University.

Our friend often goes out to meet his friends. There was a young chap called McSwan, rather like him in some ways, and they often went to the Goat pub on the High Street. He went away after a while, though. I think it was Africa or was it America? Well, he was never mentioned again. Then there was that couple, Dr and Mrs Henderson. A smart pair, indeed, and from the same social strata as McSwan. They didn’t stay around too long and went to South Africa, I gather. However, their, and surely our, friend looked after their dog Pat for some time.

Donald McSwan

The one constant friend of his, who sometimes comes for tea – but never stays overnight of course – or even goes up to his room (no woman ever does) is Miss Stephens. Unkind people have mentioned that she’s half his age, but as he’s the perfect gentleman, that can never be an issue. He’s so attentive to her, advising her on her dress, her hair and make up, before taking her out to a concert at the Wigmore Hall, the Albert Hall or to the ballet, before escorting her parents’ home in Crawley. A delightful girl and a perfect couple.

I should add that he’s been seen with other young women in the evenings when he’s not seeing his young friend. Nothing wrong in that; his girl has a regular 9-5 office job and lives in Crawley, as I have said. He also writes each week to his parents in Leeds. Such a good boy.

Now I gather you have a little money to invest, and could do with a little extra income in these difficult times. I think John, that’s his name, would be more than happy to show you one of his new inventions down at his workshop in Crawley. He can drive you down in his Alvis sports car, you can see his plans there, perhaps have a quick bite to eat at The George there, and be back at the Onslow for a late dinner. Ready to accept the offer?

Mrs D-D 1

Had you done so, as did Mrs Henrietta Helen Olivia Robarts Durand-Deacon, aged 68 and a widow living at the hotel, you would never have left Crawley, alive or dead. The workshop is only a scruffy shed in a back street, in a yard full of rubbish. You would be shot, your body stripped of any valuables and tipped into a drum. He would then transfer acid there to dissolve your corpse, returning a few days later to throw what was left among the rubbish in the yard. There won’t even be a grave stone to mark your grave. You have ceased to exist because your killer, who has done this five times before, believes that if there’s no body a charge of murder cannot be made.

Crawley storehouse interior - Copy

John was John George Haigh, the acid bath murderer and alleged vampire who killed for money, but also a plausible and attractive man who was able to convince several people that he was their true friend. He was also a liar; who never attended university, wasn’t a leading light in a non-existent engineering company and had a substantial record for theft and forgery, as well as having abandoned his wife and baby daughter.

Read more about Haigh and those six people he slew – one being a former suffragette, another a homosexual with a criminal record, another was a man accused of murder, abortion, flagellation and drug dealing – in Dr Oates’ new book, John George Haigh: The acid Bath Murderer. A Portrait of a serial killer and his victims. This is the first book on the topic to be written with the benefit of police, prison and Home Office papers once closed to researchers.

Waxwork of Haigh at Madame Tussaud's - Copy

[Waxwork model of Haigh]

Postscript (DW)

Dr Oates (whom God  preserve) of Ealing will be giving a talk on Haigh in the historic lecture theatre at Kensington Central Library on March 12th. Admission is free. Further details here. Jonathan also contributed a post to the blog about John Reginald Christie.

The drawing of the Onslow Court Hotel is from the Local Studies collection. the black and white  photos are from The Trial of John George Haigh by Lord Dunboyne (William Hodge, 1953) which I found in the Biography Collection of Kensington Library.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this slice of true crime. Next week,  a more uplifting topic, probably.


One man’s war: Randle Barnett Barker 1870-1918

This week’s guest blogger is writer Lucy Yates who is working with me in our Local Studies department on a World War 1 project. She has been looking at some of the unique material in our archives.

‘The Regiment doesn’t now exist’. Exhausted, depressed, this is the opening of the letter Lieutenant Colonel Randle Barnett Barker wrote to the William Davison, the Mayor of Kensington, on 30th April 1917.

Page 35 Volume 7 - Bottom Half
The Mayor of Kensington would have been distraught to hear such harrowing news. He was the one who had raised the 22nd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, also known as ‘The Kensingtons’, rallied recruitment meetings and mounted a campaign to encourage men to join up, using striking posters such as the one below.

Kensington Battalion Poster  A3

The Mayor of Kensington was assiduous in his efforts to make sure they were well equipped, ordering and paying for uniforms out of his own pocket from the last supplies of khaki Harrods had. He sent them briar pipes at Christmas and in one of the scrapbooks he kept he pasted a copy of this magazine, which would have been sent out to amuse the troops at the front.

Page 34 Volume 6

The bearer of the bad news about the Battalion’s near annihilation, Colonel Randle Barnett Barker, was a career soldier who’d served in India but retired from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in 1906. Born in 1870, he was 46 at the time of writing the letter and he was the Lieutenant Colonel of 22nd.

Major R Barnett-Barker

Colonel Barker can be seen reading the lesson from his wooden stand at the camp in Roffey near Horsham. This is where the 22nd were based before they embarked for France on 6th November 1915.

Colonel Barker at Roffey - Church Parade p73

The figure who stands out on the right is Captain Alan McDougall, who, according to G.I.S. Inglis’s excellent and exhaustive book, The Kensington Battalion, would be killed during the heavy shelling of Delville Wood in the early hours of 4th August 1916. Parties searching for his body came back empty-handed until a boot sticking out of the ground was recognised and his body recovered. The light and composition make this a sombre scene.

Below, the Kensingtons at Roffey:

Dave 2

Note that the picture has been marked up with crosses and ticks after the war to indicate those who died and those who survived.

Here the Kensingtons can be seen practising digging trenches, a skill which would prove vital when they reached France.

Dave 1

The offensive, which was to prove so disastrous for the 22nd, was the struggle for Oppy Wood. This was a dense patch of forest which contained nests of German machine guns and trench mortars. In May 1917, the 22nd Battalion had failed to dislodge the Germans from this strategic position and casualties had been high. And to top it all the Germans had launched gas attacks to finish off any survivors lying out wounded in No Man’s Land. Colonel Barker’s letter to the Mayor of Kensington continues in an unsurprisingly despairing vein, ‘I am very depressed at losing all my gallant friends … Haven’t closed my eyes for 48 hours, so tell any doctor that says it’s an impossibility that he’s a liar’.

Page 36 Volume 7 - Top Half

On Friday 4th May 1917 The Times reported, ‘The battle has flared up again, and the Germans are again getting heavy punishment’. Unfortunately, as we have seen, this was not entirely what the under-strength 22nd Kensington Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers were dishing out.

In his official report, Colonel Barker writes, ‘I wish to place on record the splendid gallantry of Second Lieutenant Jeffcoat…It was entirely owing to the excellent report he sent me on the situation that I was able to push up the 23rd R. Fus. and so capture practically the whole of the objective given me.’ However, in a second letter to the Mayor he provides a less sanitised account: ‘He was running about on top of the trench, encouraging the men, till he fell blown to bits. They brought him to my Headquarters. He had one leg blown off and the other half off. Half his face was gone and one eye… I told him I would move Heaven and Earth to get him a VC.’ Colonel Barker adds, ‘I am sick of these bloody battles and everything connected with them’.

Page 39 Volume 7

Page 40 Volume 7 - He had one leg blow off

This usually stoical man adds, ‘This murder of heroes is appalling. I have had my Regt. more or less wiped out 3 times besides heavy casualties in other battles, but this last time to have it annihilated is more than I can bear – 60 men at the outside left…’ A full battalion would have numbered 1007 men.

Page 40 Volume 7 - This murder of heroes

However, according to The Kensington News later that month, there were some bright spots for the 22nd Battalion – tales of gallant self-sacrifice amongst the slaughter.

Page 36 Volume 7- Bottom Half

However, the story behind this impressive display of leadership was rather different, as Colonel Barker records on 6th May 1917.

Page 48 Volume 7

The newspaper account allows the more obvious assumption that this was a German bomb when actually Barker’s letter reveals this to have been an unlucky accident during grenade throwing practice. Rather than ‘rushing forward to seize the bomb and throw it out’, Barker’s account reports that the Corporal was trying (very sensibly) to run away. The newspaper account concludes that ‘by sacrificing himself Lieutenant Wright saved his men from the full effects of the explosion’, whereas Barker reports that the trench was empty except for the two men. He writes that Lieutenant Wright ‘was an extraordinary brave and plucky fellow but a damned fool’, a truth which feels much more human than the newspaper account of daring-do and noble sacrifice.

This picture from a periodical shows  Barker and his men in action.

Dave 3

The 22nd Battalion never really recovered from the heavy losses it sustained and was disbanded on 5th February 1918. The Mayor of Kensington wrote to Field Marshal Douglas Haig on 6th February pleading for the Battalion to be kept together but it was too late.

Six weeks after the Kensingtons were disbanded, Barker was killed during the Second Battle of the Somme on 24th March 1918. The entry in the Brigade HQ diary reads simply, ‘Shells began to fall in and around Guendecourt at 5.45pm. Brigadier General R. Barnett Barker, DSO and Captain E. I. Bell, MC (staff Captain) were killed by a shell.’ It would be another eight months before the end of the First World War.

 The 22nd Royal Fusiliers Old Comrades’ Association were still visiting Lietenant Colonel Barker’s grave in France as late as 1930.

Colonel BB's grave p73

No one who fought in WW1 now survives, so this Centenary is a crucial point at which lived events start to crystallise into history and we begin to decide how this war will be remembered.

Randle Barnett Barker’s letters suggest that war is more confused and horrifying than any neat re-creation of black lines pushing across on a map can convey and for this, for his honesty and for returning to these events a human dimension, we owe him a great debt. It’s hard not to discern in these letters a lesson in the messy futility of war. Siegfried Sassoon puts it better than anyone could:

Good-bye, old lad! Remember me to God,

And tell Him that our politicians swear

They won’t give in till Prussian Rule’s been trod

Under the Heel of England … Are you there? …

Yes … and the war won’t end for at least two years;

But we’ve got stacks of men … I’m blind with tears,

Staring into the dark. Cheero!

I wish they’d killed you in a decent show.

Postscript

 If you’d like to know more we’re creating a website featuring more material from our collection which will be launched in January 2015 at www.kcworldwar1.org.uk

The website will also feature photographs and family memories of Kensington and Chelsea during World War 1 .You’ll be able to upload your content directly onto the website but we’d also be pleased to hear from you now if you would like to contribute photographs or family stories.

Most of the images in this week’s post come from a set of scrapbooks put together by William Davison who served two terms as Mayor of Kensington. There are also some from a scrapbook created by members of the Old Comrades Association of the Kensingtons who had many reunions after the war and organised visits to former battelfields and war cemeteries. DW


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.


The Princess at the Pheasantry

152 King’s Road is the address of the grandest looking pizza restaurant in London. The wall in front is surmounted by a pair of eagles, a couple of caryatids  and a quadriga and the entrance is flanked by two more carvings of classical figures.These household gods may have protected the building during its mixed history.  The Pheasantry has proved to be a survivor.

It has seen difficult times as in these pictures from 1974 and 1970 when the threat of demolition was looming over it.

Pheasantry  1974 9731

Pheasantry 1970

The Pheasantry is so called because a farmer named Evans formerly sold live pheasants from the site. But the building served all kinds of purposes in its day. The cabinet makers and interior design company of Felix Joubert and his family worked from  there for many years. From 1932 until the mid 1960s it was a nightclub. You can make out the words Pheasantry Club above the door.

The club closed in 1966 when the then owner Mario Cazzini died. It was in 1969 when Bevis Hillier wrote: “what a profoundly insipid name for this perverted palace, which might be a chapel of Beelzebub, Aleister Crowley’s pied a terre, A creche for Rosemary’s baby or a finishing school for vampires…”

It was probably none of those things but does seem to have been a lively haunt for the bohemian crowd in Chelsea in the 50s, 40s and the 30s.

Kellys 1933

Note the old Chelsea exchange name Flaxman and the three categories  of members. (Artists paid the least). Then look at the entry below the advert.

One of the other tenants of the building was the Russian Academy of Dancing: proprietor Madame Seraphine Astafieva.

Astafieva signed photo

Princess Serafine Astafieva to give her her proper title died the following year, 1934. Her Academy had been at the Pheasantry since 1916.

Although she had been a dancer herself Astafieva’s main fame is as a teacher. Dame Margot Fonteyn spent the last year of Astafieva’s life at the academy. Another dame, Anna Neagle had also attended. But the most famous of her pupils were Anton Dolin and Alicia Marks who we now know as Dame Alicia Markova.

Copy of Astafieva prepares pupils including Markova for the Ypres Ball 1922

This pictture shows Astafieva (on the right) preparing some of her pupils for the Ypres ball of 1922. The young Markova is among them, possibly the one at the front but I’ll leave that to the experts. The year before both Dolin and Markova had been spotted by Serge Diaghilev at Astafieva’s studio. Markova was only ten at the time. After auditions for the choreographers Nijinsky and Balachine she joined his company in 1925.

Diaghelev had been a friend of Astafieva’s since her days in the Russian Ballet. She joined the company in 1909 and when it came to London in 1911 she took on a role created for Ida Rubinstein, Cleopatra.

Astafieva as Cleopatra 01

Astafieva as Cleopatra 02

Astafieva was not apparently a great dancer but was tall, beautiful and she had the right kind of exotic look for that period . The fin de siecle decadence of the 1890s hangs over pictures of her as well as the aura of the early sex symbols of the silent cinema like Theda Bara (who also played Cleopatra, in 1917). This pair of images shows Astafieva as an early vamp.

Astafieva 02

Astafieva 03

Astafieva was born in 1876. She was related to Tolstoy and it is said that it was he who suggested when she was recovering from an illness that she would benefit from entering the Imperial School of Ballet in St Petersburg.

Copy of Astafieva

It’s hard to date the pictures we have of her in the collection, most of which come from a display donated to the Library by the writer and photographer Nesta MacDonald. So I don’t know quite when this last picture of Astafieva was taken. Probably later than the previous ones judging by the costume. But it shows her as she might have liked to be remembered best – as a dancer.

Astafieva 05

Postscript

The Pheasantry deserves a post of its own but I thought I’d start with Princess Astafieva as a tribute to the (presumably) late Nesta MacDonald. Nesta was sometimes difficult to cope with as the people who tried to demolish the Pheasantry discovered but her first love was the world of ballet.

Postscript to the postscript

January 2015. We now know of course that Nesta Macdonald was still alive when I wrote this post and that she died only a few days ago, aged 100.


Mrs McCulloch’s house

If last week’s post about postcard photography was about the value of the close examination of photographs this week’s is about the value of curiosity. A few weeks ago we received a small packet contain a badly creased photograph and a few pages from an old magazine. They came to us by a circuitous route. A lady who had worked in a building demolished in 1971, 184 Queen’s Gate had kept them and sent them to the Bulgarian Embassy which now occupies 186-188 in the same street. The Embassy had no use for them so they passed them to the Mayor’s Office who in turn sent them to us. I looked at them and became curious:

Copy of 184 Queen's Gate interior with Mr and Mrs McCulloch seated

Mr George McCulloch and his wife Mary are sitting in one of the many rooms in the house they had built full of paintings they collected. They look like a prosperous late Victorian or Edwardian couple (the photo could have been taken as early as 1894 but no later than 1907).  They look grand but relaxed and a little casual. Look at Mr McCulloch with his hand in his pocket. Mrs McCulloch is wearing a smart dress but she looks comfortable enough with her feet up on a footstool. Have a closer look at her:

Just Mrs McCulloch 01

She’s a woman in early middle age – she would have been called handsome by her contemporaries I think with what you might call strong features and a determined expression.

Mr McCulloch liked to get behind the camera as well and he took other pictures of his wife and his art collection. Here she is in another, in front of another group of paintings.

Copy of 184 Queen's Gate interior with Mrs McCulloch seated

Did Mr McCulloch intend to step in and occupy the empty chair himself?

Just Mrs McCulloch 02

She looks as though she’s dressed to go out but has still found time to sit down with one leg crossed over the other settling herself patiently while her husband takes his picture. In another picture she looks slightly less patient:

Just Mrs McCulloch 03

She stands clutching her gloves. It seems to me that she might be in a hurry to get somewhere else. There is something about Mrs McCulloch which told me that while she was comfortable enough in her expensive dresses and her grand home she had also experienced a different kind of life.

By the way I’m not entirely dead to the significance of the pictures on the wall.  Just over her left shoulder is Ophelia by J W Waterhouse.

ophelia

Go back to the picture of Mr and Mrs McCulloch – the central picture is the Garden of the Hesperides by our very own Lord Leighton.

Garden of the Hesperides

For the record, George McCulloch, who had made a fortune from mining in Australia was a serious art collector who owned a number of famous paintings.

If you can spot any more well known works in these pictures let me know. I’d  like to know the identity of the pictures hanging in this domed dining room particularly the one in the centre with the two lions.

Copy of 184 Queen's Gate interior

Mr McCulloch died in 1907 leaving over £400,000 to his widow. These were the days when that was a lot of money. But Mary Agnes McCulloch had not always had that kind of wealth. She was born Mary Smith, the daughter of a miner in Broken Hill, Australia and had married a man named Frans Mayger. Mr and Mrs Mayger worked for George McCulloch as handyman and housekeeper in his house at Mount Gipps near Broken Hill. Frans died when he fell from a horse and Mary moved to Melbourne. But she met George again there and he brought her with him to London. They were married at the Strand Register Office in 1893.

George’s pictures were sold for about £130,000 (a disappointing figure apparently as he had spent about £200,000 amassing the collection). Mary married again to the Scottish artist James Coutts Michie, who had been an artistic adviser to Mr McCulloch. It is his name which starts to appear in Kelly’s Street Directory for 184 Queen’s Gate after 1907.

Queen's Gate PC422 - Copy

184 is the third imposing house from the right.

But we’re not finished with Mrs Mary Coutts Michie yet. During the First World War she turned her house into a hospital with 168 beds for servicemen. Several houses in the area were also converted and she ran the Michie Hospital, as it became known, herself.

Is this her in the picture below with the staff of the hospital?

Michie Hospital staff

It may be wishful thinking on my part but the woman in the matron’s uniform has the same determined look as Mrs McCulloch the art collector’s wife.

She was awarded the OBE for her work during the war. Her third husband died in 1919. Her son Alexander rowed for England in the 1908 Olympics and survived the Great War. In 1925 she was back in Broken Hill, donating a picture to the local art gallery.

Remember at the start of the post I told you about a creased photograph? I’ve had a try at mending the image with Photoshop:

Mrs McCulloch close up adj - Copy

This photograph, which I have held in my hand, is something which quite probably Mary McCulloch held in hers. She is perfectly comfortable in the sumptuous evening outfit she is wearing but she has the air of someone who could ride a horse, do housework or run a hospital if she wished and would be perfectly happy to do so.

She’s not in Who Was Who or the Dictionary of National Biography and I haven’t yet been able to find out the date of her death but for the moment my curiosity about Mary Agnes Smith Mayger McCulloch Coutts Michie is satisfied.

Postscript

Coincidence: Many of George McCulloch’s artworks were bought by Lord Leverhulme, whose garden was the venue for some of Margaret Morris’s dancers a couple of weeks ago.

Quirky fact I couldn’t work into the main text: according to Kelly’s along the road from Mrs McCulloch’s house at 169 Queen’s Gate was an apartment house where a man named Edward Ittison Pronk lived. It’s a bit silly of me to find this amusing but I had to pass it on.

My thanks to Isabel who speculated with me about the identity and background of the lady in the pictures and heard the facts come out in installments.

The picture of the Michie Hospital staff comes from Wikipedia.


John Christie of Rillington Place

We have an author event at Kensington Central Library on November 8th. Crime historian Jonathan Oates will be talking about his new book (published October 18th) John Christie of Rillington Place: Biography of a serial killer. This is a definitive account of the Christie murders based on new research. I asked Jonathan to  write something about the case for the blog and he sent me this piece about some of the locations associated with the murders:

Most people have heard of John Christie of 10 Rillington Place, Notting Hill and perhaps have seen the film, made in 1970 and starring Richard Attenborough as Christie and John Hurt as Timothy Evans. The actual street itself is long gone (renamed as Ruston Close in 1954 and demolished in the 1970s; number 10 in October 1970), but there are a number of buildings associated with the case which still stand, though are perhaps less well known and the following is a brief gazetteer.

[10 Rillngton Place: last house on the left]

Below is the Kensington Park Hotel, standing on the corner of Ladbroke Grove and Lancaster Road and the pub which Timothy Evans was fond of drinking in. Unlike many pubs it does not sell food, does not have ‘music’ and does not have a carpet; contrast this to a rather more upmarket and touristy pub on Praed Street near Paddington which was a haunt of Kathleen Maloney, Christie’s fourth victim. Middle class visitors to the KPH may well find themselves out of place.

The public library opposite the pub was the one visited by Ethel Christie on the evening of 8 November, the same day that fellow resident of number ten, Beryl Evans, was strangled. Christie himself had a library card so presumably also visited there. In Pentonville Prison it was said that he mainly read thrillers and that despite his airs, wasn’t much of a scholar, according to a fellow inmate.

The nearby Oxford Gardens is also of importance in the case. Firstly, because at number 41 there lived, for a few months of 1943, Ruth Fuerst, a young Austrian woman who became Christie’s first victim. Less well known is that Christie and his wife lived at number 23 in 1936, whilst Christie was employed as foreman at the Commodore Cinema in Hammersmith. This is the only house in London where Christie lived and which still stands. As with many houses in Notting Hill at this time, it was shared with other families.

Cambridge Gardens, number 108a was the home of the Thorley family from at least 1945-1947. Beryl Thorley, later Beryl Evans, lived there with her parents and brother, Basil. When her mother died, the family broke up, with her father going to Brighton, she marrying Timothy Evans in 1947 and her brother living elsewhere. Basil was convinced that his sister was murdered by her husband, who said to him, ‘I’m sorry, Baz’.

Number 319 Portobello Road was the address of second hand furniture dealer Robert Hookway who bought the furniture of both Timothy Evans and John Christie before the two left the district.  Dr Matthew Odess, Christie’s GP, resided at 30 Colville Square.

Many of the other buildings involved in the case are long gone. The Royalty Cinema, which employed Basil Thorley and which was patronised by the Evanses, has been demolished; it was on 105 Lancaster Road. Others include the house that the Evanses lived in, in St. Mark’s Road, number eleven and another house briefly resided in by the Christies in 1936; 172 Clarendon Road.

[The Royalty Cinema Lancaster Road as a bingo hall in 1972]

Returning to the subject of Rillington Place/Ruston Close, the most detailed source is www.10-rillington-place.co.uk

Postscript- DW

The Library photographer John Rogers visited Ruston Close on December 8th in the last few days before the demolition was complete.

Number 10 had already gone. The rest of the street was about to follow it into oblivion.

Eventually there was new housing on the site. I took these pictures one evening on my way to an appointment in Lancaster Road, hence the poor light – I’ve attempted to adjust the brightness and contrast.

The new street, Bartle Road is not on the old footprint of Rillington Place as the map below shows – the Rillngton Place location was added by researcher Andy Eigendorf. The picture above shows a gap between houses looking through to the location of number 10 but the garden space itself is not on the site of the Christie house.

Careful planning has obliterated all trace of the tragic house. But the murders have not been forgotten.

Jonathan Oates will be joined by John Curnow of the 10 Rillington Place website and retired Metropolitan Police Superintendent Terry Johnson. This should be a fascinating event.

Details of the event on the What’s On page of the Council website:

http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/leisureandlibraries/libraries/libraryevents.aspx

Map detail copyright Ordnance Survey


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