Tag Archives: Kensington Gardens

The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens

My friend, colleague and occasional co-blogger Isabel Hernandez has been promising me a post for weeks but has been suffering from creative difficulties. To solve the problem she turned to a different topic and surprised me with this charming piece.

 

“Shall I tell you something about some of the little people who live in the Elfin Oak?”

 Something about childhood and summer days triggered my interest in the Elfin Oak recently. In looking for something the other day, I came across a little inconspicuous book by Elsie Innes called, The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens, which she wrote in 1930. The author is, of course, the wife of the artist Ivor Innes. The man who sculpted the animal and fairy figures of this well-known feature found by the Princess Diana children’s playground, near the Bayswater end of the Broad Walk. If you ever wondered about the story behind all those little figures, including their names, this is where she imaginatively gives them life. I had no idea this existed, but then I guess I always had my own inklings as a child as to who they are. I don’t say ‘were’ because thanks to two major restorations over the decades, these little figures are preserved and continue to delight children and adults alike. A little more about that later.

Before I show you some of the lovely illustrations from the book I thought I would give you a little background as to the origins of this marvelous park artifact. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the hollowed out oak log. To some it was a mystifying object, but not so out of place that it doesn’t almost compliment that other familiar feature, Peter Pan. It is said that Kensington Gardens is home to the fairy folk. And why not? London’s Parks have a history that goes way back before we inhabited them. Once upon a time this was all ancient woodland.

Below is an image taken in 1967. It is important to note that the Elfin Oak is not a native of Kensington Gardens. This ancient oak was originally brought from Richmond Park in response to an appeal to improve facilities in the Royal parks – the Lansbury Appeal. It was unveiled in 1930 by the Mayoress of Kensington, Mrs Robinson, as reported in the Kensington News.

Its age varies according to whatever source you’re reading. In researching this I came across several different estimates: from 100 years to 1000 years. Many fanciful journalists I would imagine, in some reports, just made it up. Yet perhaps nobody really has a definitive answer. If I had to bet on the age (I did always wonder), I think perhaps it is between 400-600 years of age, but I’m no expert. That’s my fanciful notion. Trees are wonderfully long-lived and oaks have been venerated throughout history as being strong and durable. Another interesting tree fact about Kensington Gardens is that few old oaks remaining in the park are pre-1850. Many of the oaks you see today were planted since.

 

 

Below, taken a little earlier (1966), the half-tree trunk looks a little worse for wear, but in actuality this was probably post restoration which was undertaken by the late comedian, Spike Milligan. He is largely responsible for the campaign to keep the Elfin Oak preserved on two occasions. In the early 1960’s he was so shocked by the deteriorating condition of the tree that he undertook the repairs and restoration of the oak stump and its little figures at his own expense. Later in the 1990’s he led a campaign to raise money to restore it again and succeeded:

“We spent two years restoring the tree. That was 30 years ago. Alas it got into a sorry state again and needed attention to ensure its permanent survival.” After thanking his various contributors, he adds, “So there is now hope for the wee folk of England.”

Note the huge slide in the background. Something of a health & safety nightmare these days, but I do recall a few bumps and bruises after playground visits occasionally.

 

 

The black and white photographs do not do the sculpted figures justice as their colour is obviously muted, but the gnarled knots and twists within the oak itself probably look more contoured in black and white.

 

 

The tree is comprised of fantastical creatures: gnomes, elves, witches and animals of the forest. They all have a story. The plaque by the tree reads:

“Originally carved in 1911 and maintained for over 40 years by sculptor Ivor Innes.” He carved out his creations by chipping and scraping the distortions of growth and grain. And yet there came a point eventually in the years afterwards when the little figures began to look a little shabby and neglected. The oak log itself was reconditioned to stave off the onslaught of insects feeding off the dead wood. It was given a coating of creosote, a kind of wood tar, its branches were covered with lead and blackened, and the base of the tree was given a concrete floor. But the sculpted figures were also in desperate need of attention. Every few years they were painted, but the ravages of time took their toll.

 

 

If you’re wondering why the Elfin Oak is in a cage it is probably partly because soon after renovations took place in 1966, it was discovered that the fairy king had gone missing. A little bell which Spike Milligan had found in the ruins of Knightsbridge barracks and included, had gone too. Either a theft had taken place or the fairy king decided he needed to go and attend to affairs elsewhere with a bell, and gone gallivanting. The cage in actuality is a protective addition.

 

 

In colour the tree stump and figures look a lot more cheerful. Also this was post renovation. A huge difference to what it looked like before it was lovingly restored.

 

 

So who are these little figures? The illustrations below are all the work of Ivor Innes. His talent was not confined to sculpture. As you will see below, he really did have a flair for illustration too. I really think they are rather charming and I will now let Elsie tell you who they are in her own quaint, inimitable way…

“High up in the tree is a little old witch. She is Wookey. She has three large jars of magic potion – one red – one yellow – and one blue. The red brings health, the yellow wealth, and the blue happiness.”

 

 

“And everyone wants some of the most precious potion of all, from the blue jar, for that brings great happiness, such as love, sunny hours, merry thoughts, and sweet memories”

 

“Down in a hollow in the old tree trunk lives a little grey woman, Mother Cinders.”

 

 

“Nearby is the Gnomes’ Stairway, going up the steep side of the old trunk. At the top under the arch is Huckleberry, a strong little fellow, carrying a heavy sack of fresh berries for the feast of the king of the gnomes. And halfway up the steps is Nimble Toes climbing over an awkward knobbly ledge. Just below him, Russet is resting his sack of acorn flour. And lower down still, just beginning to climb, is the Dew Carrier, with his little pail strapped to his back.”

 

 

“It is usually very, very difficult to see fairies and they do not often show themselves to prying eyes. A dainty wee fairy is on a ledge of the old oak tree. She is Harebell.”

 

 

“Here is Dandy-Puff, a little imp dressed in yellow; Pointed Ear, an elf in green, clinging under the ledge; Hideaway, in the shade below; and Snuggles, a pixy peeping out from the corner edge. The Little People call all this part of the tree Sunny Corner.”

 

“On an outstanding branch of the oak the Green Woodpecker has pecked at the hard wood with his strong beak.”

 

 

Sly Fox is curled up close beside a rabbit hole, fast asleep, but the fat little bunnies are afraid to venture out.”

 

 

“Up at the very top of the tree a raid on the Crow’s nest has been going on. The pixies have just succeeded in getting an egg. On Midsummer Day the fairies hold a special Revelry. You hear them in the rippling brooks; you feel them in the passing breeze; and you see them in the moonlight when night brings the full moon, and they dance and sway in fairy rings to ravishing elfin music, or they frolic and gambol and float in misty wreaths on the hillsides.”

 

 

“Hidden away in the roots of the tree, you may discover the Leprechauns’ Crock of Gold, near where two little mice are scampering about. Do not touch the fairy gold, or try to steal it, for it will only turn to dead leaves if you do, and luck will always be against you.”

“The Brown Owl looks out from his favourite nook. He is the colour of the tree itself that he is at first difficult to notice. He and the White Barn Owl above him always share in the night revelry of the Little People, swooping and flitting silently round the tree whilst the feasting is in progress.”

 

 

“Between these two wise owls there is a little man poring over a very large book. He is Quips, and he keeps the records, and writes the Fairy Lore. Every wise saying and doing of the elfin folk is recorded by Quips. So now you know how Fairy Tales come to be written.”

 

“There is one more creature who has made a home for himself in the Elfin Oak. He is the Wild Brown Rabbit, friend of all the fairy folk; his long ears are quick to hear the slightest sound, and if danger approaches the stamp, stamp of his strong hind foot is heard on the ground, the warning signal for all the little people to get into hiding.”

 

“It is at night after the playground has closed that the feasts are prepared; the fairies dance, and the pipers play, and the owls wake up, and all the little elves and brownies, gnomes and pixies, leave their hiding-holes and play and dance in the moonlight round the Old Elfin Oak.”

Should you happen to take a stroll through Kensington Gardens at any point with a little time to spare, go and take a look at the Elfin Oak. It has been a few years since I visited Ivor Innes’ whimsical creation, but I’m pleased to say that my enthusiasm for the old tree has not dissipated with age. In fact, part of me still clings to that imaginative lore of old. However you fashion myths and fairy tales, there is always a way to tell the story. The Elfin Oak is simply an interpretation of somebody’s vision of a fairy tale. It may appear a little dated now, but it remains unique, and like Peter Pan, it will never really grow old with new generations always discovering it for the first time.

 

Postscript by DW

Isabel has done me a favour by having this week’s post ready to go. The fact that the subject has no connection with the terrible events of last week is fortunate. Last week I felt it was inappropriate to post anything in the face of the massive trauma suffered by the people of North Kensington. But is it any better to carry on after a respectful silence? Remember, I work for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea so it’s also inappropriate for me to enter into any controversy. So let me just say this.

It is clear that the Grenfell Tower fire is a major event in the history of this borough which will not be forgotten by anyone who lives or works in this area or in the rest of London.

The day after the fire we were asked by a newspaper for a picture of the tower. We couldn’t find one initially. There are always things you can’t find and the Lancaster West Estate doesn’t seem to have been photographed very much by us. But I did finally think of somewhere we hadn’t looked and found a couple of images from 1983, probably taken by someone in the planning department. Here is one of them with Grenfell Tower in the centre, with (left to right) Frinstead, Markland, Dixon and Whitstable

Any image of the old tower now looks poignant.

This is usually a quiet time of year for the blog. People have other things to do in the summer. But since last Wednesday page views have shot up and North Kensington topics are the most popular. I hope readers are finding something positive in these snapshots of history. So we’re going to continue posting. As it happens I was intending to do a post on the artist Herbert Railton, followed by a series of posts based on a recent donation, a collection of photographs of Chelsea, which will fascinate those of you who are interested in the area. But that doesn’t mean I or my team are ignoring the north of the borough or trying to forget. That could never happen. I have lived and worked in the borough for more more than thirty years. Isabel lived in North Paddington for a similar period. For both of us this part of London is our home.

 


The secret life of postcards 6

As this is the sixth outing for this series of posts let’s start with something different.

This is another aspect of the secret life of postcards – the writing on the back. JH (?) is sending the 1906 version of an instant message. With two deliveries a day in some places it could be fairly close to instant. “Monday’s coming too fast for me now. Had a ripping time this year. Plenty to see. Very hot here today.”

Quicker by telegraph of course but you probably wouldn’t use a telegram for such an inconsequential message. And you wouldn’t get the picture along with it.

A coloured version of a photo of St Luke’s Church in Sydney Street. More from JH later.

One of my great pleasures with picture postcards is the details, where you might see a lively street scene, the early numbers of Kensington High Street with an unexpected close up of a thoughtful young man.

You can see another view of two of the same buildings below, the London and County Bank (“pungently Burgundian” according to the Survey of London, one of my favourites of their pithy descriptions – I was once asked if it had ever been a church. Built as a bank I’m afraid, but you can’t help speculating about a little know Cathar sect which somehow made it to London and was the scene of some sinister events..well I can’t anyway once the suggestion arises)

Next to the bank was Madame Kate Ker-Lane’s  court dress emporium.

You can see the ornate lettering  better in close up.

 

And is that Madame Kate at the window on the left? The presence of the two policemen indicates that some event was happening that day and a procession might be about to pass by.

Off the high street, a little way up Campden Hill a more ordinary scene. Campden Hill Court, on Holland Street. Flats are available…

 

 

A flower cart, a woman pushing a pram and a lamp post. The photo crops down into a nice composition.

 

 

Close by is Airlie Gardens. Looking up at the glassed in room above the porch (a conservatory?) you would like to see another figure looking down at the photographer.

 

 

There is the hint of someone or something at that window but you can’t really be sure. It could just be some kind of ornament.

 

 

But that pile of cases must have a story to tell. Someone moving in? Or out? Or off on a trip?

For the start of a journey you might go down to the station, the entrance to the arcade just where it is today.

Plenty of travellers on their way in or out, or pausing at the entrance.

 

Here are some local travellers in Church Street, taking the bus.

 

A crowded upper deck.

 

 

If all the modes of transport were crowded with people, you could stroll to Kensington Gardens.

 

 

A trio of friends taking a leisurely walk near the fountains.

 

 

As well as zooming in on postcards you can also zoom out.

Below, a woman strides out on a quiet street, a typical day in Kensington.

 

 

Look at the wider picture though and you can see she is in Philbeach Gardens. The metal spire of St Cuthbert’s Church rises above the houses, and a section of the Great Wheel at the Earls Court Exhibition.

 

 

While we’re in that neck of the woods what about this unlikely view in the Cromwell Road area?

 

 

A motley group of people stand in the middle of an apparently deserted road. On the back of the card a message for a younger relative of the sender.

 

Master Paddie Law, of Oswestry gets the distressing news that HM(WM?) has been digging in his garden

Shall we get back to our friend JH?

Here is another of those coloured postcards he favoured, showing the statue of Carlyle in the gardens by the embankment on Cheyne Walk, with a curious young boy looking at the photographer.

 

What did JH have to say?

 

 

“Having a fine time. Better than doing sheets(?) all over London every day. Just what Richardson would like over at Putney seeing the crews practice”. For the University Boat Race I assume. A pleasant way to spend an afternoon in suburban London, at the end of which you can send a postcard to Mr Joyce in Brighton.

I can’t remember the last time I sent a postcard, although I can recall the pleasure of receiving some inconsequential words from a friend. No need to overdo the comparison but this was definitely a form of Edwardian social media.

Postscript

The point of this series is the details found in the pictures themselves, but if it is possible to see the message on the back (some of the postcards are glued down unfortunately) it’s always worth having a look.

 


What Estella saw

`In 1965 a woman died in an old house in Palace Green, a house she had lived in all her life. The house had once been the laundry of Kensington Palace but her parents had just been looking for a pleasant family dwelling. The houses around it had become grander (and more valuable) over the course of the 20th century but for Estella Canziani her house was the family home and garden she had always known.

Estella had done many things in her life. She was a writer on travel and folklore (and local history), a campaigner for the RSPCA and RSPB,  a book illustrator and painter. She painted landscapes, portraits, animals and costumes but what we’re looking at today are paintings of her home and the places around it. What Estella saw were gardens, trees, small animals and rooms full of objects.  She wrote a memoir of her life in the house, her travels and her charity work called  Round about 3 Palace Green (Methuen, 1938)

Here is her garden:

Garden at 3 Palace Green Cpic 580

Estella, encouraged by her parents had a fondness for birds, particularly pigeons and had several as pets. She also had many friends among the birds which visited the garden including pheasants and a parrot.

The rear view of Mr Clementi’s house in nearby Kensington Church Street.

Clementi's House 128 Kensington Church Street Cpic569

The colours of the plants and flowers are what immediately caught my attention. “Flowers on walls have always fascinated me and some of my earliest memories are associated with them.”

Estella’s mother was also a painter.

LSC in studio

Louisa Starr, who was born in Liverpool of American descent married an Italian engineer called Frederico Enrico Canziani. Estella reports that her mother dreamed of an ideal house and recognized it while driving in Kensington Gardens, seeing a board up advertising it to let. She telegraphed to her husband to come back from Paris and they secured the property just five minutes ahead of a gentleman who was also waiting for the office to open. Estella was born there two years later.

The photograph of Louisa in the studio she had built in the courtyard comes from a feature in the Ladies Field of about 1900. This photograph from the same feature shows the garden in Estella’s picture.

LSC in garden fp

Is that Louisa on the stepladder with Estella beside her? Estella is said to be aged 13 in the article which describes her as inheriting her mother’s talent. The young Estella was often around artists. She remembers being kissed while in her pram by Lord Leighton and of visiting him at “his beautiful house in Holland Park Road.” “He gave me rides on his shoulders about his studio to the Arab Hall and fountain…He showed me the stuffed peacock at the foot of the stairs and also the beautiful tiles on the staircase…”

Estella also knew Val Princep and his family who lived next door to Leighton as well as G F Watts, Holman Hunt, Luke Fildes and John Everett Millais. She also recalls visiting the studios of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and W P Frith, and attending fancy dress parties at Walter Crane’s house.

Louisa often signed her paintings with a little pictogram of a star. Estella adopted this motif with the addition of a C. You can see this in the picture of a window at the house below.

Window at 3 Palace Green Cpic562

More plants on walls. The Ladies Field describes the house as ivy-covered. Below Estella is a little older than in the previous picture, seen with her father.

Estella and her father in the garden fp

She is wearing her artist’s smock and carrying a plaette so the picture is posed but the affection between them is quite apparent. The identity of the superflous man standing by them is unknown. The precision of her work can be seen in this line drawing entitled Mulberry trees in the garden at Palace Green.

Mulberry Trees in the back garden at 3 Palace Gren Cpic577

Estella had been told that Queen Victoria had picked mulberries from the two trees in the garden.

Here’s another view from the garden showing the houses beyond the fence and a lone pigeon

Garden at 3 Palace Green Cpic 560 00005 - Copy

Animals and birds, particularly pigeons frequently feature in Estella’s pictures. This one shows the Paddock in Kensington Gardens.

The Paddock 3 Palace Green Cpic574

This view at dusk is looking  from Kensington Gardens, westwards I think.

Kensington Gardens Cpic572 00004 - Copy auto

The distant light of the setting sun, and the frantic activity of the squirrels recalling Rackham’s furtive faeries. Estella painted several fairy pictures influenced by European folklore. Her picture the Piper of Dreams of 1915 was much reprinted and became very popular during the war. In her memoir she recalls being told by Philip Lee Warner of the Medici Society that they had sold 250,00 copies in the first year. There was a signed edition of a thousand (at 2 guineas each) – “the old man who looked after me while I autographed them sat me at a table and passed one to me at a time…he watched carefully to see that I was not getting tired and writing badly and after every hundred gave me a rest…He had worked for Leighton, Burne-Jones and many other artists and explained how he had watched each on to see that their signature was perfect.”

The picture below, of the sunken garden in Kensington Gardens also has an unearthly quality, like an illustration to an Edwardian fantasy.

Sunken garden Kensington Gardens Cpic 566

 

Postscript

We’ll be back at Estella’s house again soon I think. There are many more things to see.

Bookplate K61-238

On an unrelated matter:

On Sunday, a courier handed me a package containing David Bowie’s new album Blackstar. Thanks to the practices of a certain online retailer the album’s tracks were already on my MP3 player although I hadn’t heard any of them yet. This is a contrast with the arrival of the first Bowie album I received in the post, The Man who sold the World which came to me in a large cardboard packet from the first incarnation of the Virgin empire back in the early 70s. I had heard all the tracks on the album on a late night programme on Radio Luxembourg. After listening to it I remember walking down the wide road near our house feeling…. something, not quite realising that the world had changed and that David Bowie would be with me for the rest of my life.

You get more emotional as you grow older I’ve found and quite banal things can move me to tears these days but I was surprised on Monday morning at quite how upsetting the news of Bowie’s death was. I was sad when I heard the news of John Lennon’s death but I was still young and cynical then so I got over it quite soon. I don’t know how long it will take me to regain my equanimity this time. I didn’t play Blackstar on Sunday, there was too much to do. Now I wish I had, so the first time I do play it, it won’t be with the realisation that this is the last word.

Bowie was one of the cleverest pop stars. It’s so like him to deliver one final surprise.

Gimme your hands.


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

Finally…(added 18th June)

There must be lots of examples of period dress on the web but I thought this Polish blogger unintentionally (I assume) captured Thomson’s view of Evelina perfectly:

evelina 01

More images at: http://duchess-milianda.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/szyjemy.html

 


Albert’s companions: art / empire / industry

Last week I noted that the climax of the Albert Memorial, the great statue of Albert took its place at the centre of a large group of other sculptures and figures. This week we’re going to have a closer look at those other statues. This picture shows the rising succession of steps and terraces

K- unknown

It is as though you are entering a sacred precinct in a temple complex. Perhaps you are. The Memorial is located at the apex of a series of great Victoria buildings among them the V&A, the Natural History Museum, the Imperial Institute (the brainchild of Albert’s son) and the Albert Hall which together formed the area in South Kensington called Albertopolis.

Albert is surrounded by guardians representing geography, art, science and religion. The outer ring joined by an ornate fence is the four continents, each represented by a series of figures and an animal.

Albert Memorial - Africa

Africa, behind it the dome of the Albert Hall. This is a fairly partial view of the African continent concentrating on north Africa, with an Egyptian figure mounted on  a kneeling camel. (It was decided not to use a lion for Africa to avoid confusion with the “British” lion, although it might also have strained credulity to place a predatory animal among a group of people.) An engraving of the sculpture reveals a further detail.

Albert Memorial - Africa197

The Sphinx – Egyptian imagery was extremely popular at the time.

America gets another quirky treatment.

Albert Memorial - America

The spirit of America rides the bison wearing a native American head dress. The woman standing is the United States. The seated man is an Aztec and there’s a Canadian woman on the other side. You can’t see the south American cowboy behind the bison. (The relevant engraving is no help in this regard).

Europe’s animal was the bull, possibly a reference to the story of Europa who was abducted by Zeus in the form of a white bull.

Albert Memorial - Europe

The bull is the only male in the group. The spirit of Europe rides the bull holding an orb and sceptre. Britain holds a trident symbolising ocean supremacy. Beside her, peaceful Germany, a home of learning, sits with  a book. This time the engraving shows us the other side.

Albert Memorial - Europe 193

Europe 22 oct 1998

France has a sword for military prowess and Italy, with one finger raised as though shyly making a point, concentrates on the arts and music, with a palette and lyre. The 1998 photo shows that other side.

The last of the four groups was Asia, by John Foley who eventually sculpted Albert. This is the most striking of the four continents.

Albert Memorial - Asia

The woman on the kneeling elephant is unveiling herself not as an allusion to the sometimes explicit sculptures on Hindu temples but apparently because the Great Exhbition was a showcase for goods coming out of Asia. Beside her, a Chinese potter, an Indian warrior, a Persian poet and, unseen, an Arab merchant holding the Koran. You can glimpse him in the engraving.

Albert Memorial - Asia195

After the continents, on the main plinth, the Parnassus frieze. 169 figures of individual poets, painters, musicians, architects, the contemporary idea of the finest or most significant in their respective fields. The carving was all done on the spot by two sculptors, John Birnie Philip and Henry Hugh Armstead.

Frieze - Shakespeare etc

Here Shakespeare lounges next to Homer with Chaucer looking on. At the other end Bach and Handel exchange musical ideas. (Between them Gluck looks overawed by the company).

Frieze - Titian etc

A bunch of Italian old masters stand around. Raphael gets a throne, with Michaelangelo slumped against it deep in thought. (Not his only appearance on the frieze – he’s with the painters here and takes the central spot amongst the sculptors on another panel.)

Frieze - Wren etc
The rule was that no living artists could be depicted, but the Queen made an exception for George Gilbert Scott himself. Modestly, he had himself placed discreetly just above the shoulder of Pugin. Wren is at the centre of this group of architects.

Above the frieze another set of group statues representing industry – agriculture, manufactures, commerce, engineering

Agriculture - Copy

Once again a set of figures engage in the work presided over by an idealised personage – a female muse. You can also see further eminent men on the corners of the frieze.
Manufactures - Copy

Manufactures – Turner sits at the centre of the group underneath.

Commerce - Copy

Commerce, and below Engineering:

Engineering - Copy

Sennacherib the Assyrian king and Cheops stand there discussing building work. Between them, looking a bit weary of the whole thing is Nitocris, a 6th dynasty Egyptian queen holding a model of a pyramid (she was credited with building the third pyramid).

Finally we reach the canopy itself where a set of plain bronze statues representing the  sciences are gathered around Albert like a guard of honour

The lower group each on their own plinth:

lower group

Geometry, chemistry, geology and astronomy.

The upper group: philosophy, physiology, medicine and rhetoric.

upper group

I’ve rearranged the figures so they follow the spatial arrangement of the monument but if you look carefully you can see the figures are the work of two sculptors who took two corners each, our friends Philip and Armstead again.

The canopy is decorated by mosaics of four female figures- Sculptura, Poesis, Pictura and Architectura. I’ve picked the last one for a reason I’m sure you can guess.

Architectura

Then there’s the spire, inhabited by the virtues, almost too high to make out in detail – Faith, Hope, Charity, Humility, Fortitude, Prudence, Justice and Temperance  and above them two sets of angels before you get to the cross at the very top. This drawing shows the arrangement.

Spire

The whole thing is an anthology of Victorian iconography. Is it all a bit much for one man, no matter what he did, or how much he was missed? Well, you decide. The Memorial has proved to be a survivor.

Albert Memorial c1970 PC1397

This was it about 1970 with the ungilded Albert (and the statues on the spire, withthat bluish colour of old bronze.) And here they all are gilded again:  Albert, the angels and the virtues:
Memorial 22 oct 1998 - Copy

 

Postscript
It was a purely factual post this week, and also a picture marathon. I remember many years ago watching an Open University documentary about the Albert Memorial which covered much the same ground. Do you remember how they used to broadcast in the early mornings and early hours of the morning in the dead hours before 24 hour television? Perhaps it was the oddness of the hour or the seemingly random nature of the subject matter but that documentary stuck in my mind. Hence the need, once I’d started, to lay out as much of the whole scheme as I could, for you. I’m taking a couple of team members out on Friday to take a look. It’s a reminder to me that it’s a privilege to work in an area with such a rich heritage.

And I’ve sneaked in the title of a Bill Nelson song.

The Albert Memorial: illustrated by 29 photographs (c1872)

The Albert Memorial, Hyde Park: its history and description by James Dafforne (Virtue & Co, 1878)

The National Memorial to His Royal Highness the Prince Consort (John Murray, 1879)

The two modern colour photographs were by Maureen G Stainton and are copyright by her.


Albert’s memorial

Do you remember the Albert Memorial being enclosed?

Memorial covered 1990s

This curious tower of scaffolding came about as as result of a decision to repair and restore the most famous monument in London. A dangerously large section of lead had fallen from the canopy in 1983. After that, although it took some time for a final decision to be made, it was clear that some extensive work needed to be done. It took place over a period of several years and the restored monument was unveiled in October 1998.

26- 21 oct 98

Albert veiled…

28- 22 oct 98

…and unveiled, impossibly bright.

The restoration brought the memorial back as far as was possible to how it looked in the 1870s. The statue of Albert had been gilded again. My wife and I went down there at the time to take a look at something neither of us had ever seen, having grown up with the black version of the statue. (The gilding was removed during the First World War. The story goes that it was feared the gilding might provide a shiny target for Zeppelins, but it seems more likely it was a result of increasing pollution damage.)

But let’s go back to the beginning.

Albert, Prince Consort, husband of Queen Victoria died in 1861. The Queen was devastated by her loss, and the nation consumed by her grief and its own, along with a certain amount of guilt at not having appreciated Albert and everything he had done. The 1851 Great Exhibition was indentified with Albert and the work he had done for his adopted country. A national memorial to Albert would best be sited near the site of the Exhibition and also close to the complex of museums and educational establishments in South Kensington that was already known as Albertopolis. Funds were raised and a competition for the design established.

The outstanding design was by the presiding architectural genius of the day George Gilbert Scott. Scott is well known to us now as the creator of a number of iconic buildings such as the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station.

Albert Memorial K75-177 cropped

A giant statue of Albert seated under a gothic canopy

Building began in 1864.

The memorial is a complex structure supported by a massive steel cross with an undercroft.

107

And an elaborate support structure.

114 K-13389p

Massive pieces of stone were assembled on the site.

122 K12389-kB

An overhead crane moved the sections of sculptured stone around.

123 K12389-Bc

All these pieces were slotted together under the direction of Scott and the builder John Kelk.

 

121 K12389m

The structure grew, under another layer of scaffolding.

120 K12389l

It opened in 1872.

Albert Memorial - before statue

This picture shows the memorial before the statue was installed in 1875. The original sculptor,Carlo Marochetti, had produced different designs for the statue, all unsatisfactory. He then died and they had to start again with another sculptor, John Henry Foley, who had created one of the surrounding groups. The absence of the statue of Albert makes you look more closely at all the other sculptures, representing the continents, the arts and sciences, the virtues and a host of famous men. We’ll have a closer look at them next week but just for now let’s say that Albert was placed in the context of all the arts and sciences of the 1860s.

The finished monument in the 1880s, magnificent, grandiose or sinister?

Albert Memorial 1880s

The memorial became a fashionable spot to be seen, as in this 1870s illustration of fashions on the steps of the memorial.

Fashions in Hyde Park a sketch on the steps of the Albert Memorial July 1873

Our old friend Markino depicted the same steps some years later, with a slightly thinner gathering of fashionable Londoners.

On the step of the Albert Memorial COL

It could be argued that perhaps as the monument aged and suffered the ravages of city life, the Victorian taste for excess in decoration, and the Gothic style itself began to seem dated, and odd. Over the weekend I happened to watch the Jonathan Miller film of Alice in Wonderland, which was designed to look like the photographs of that era. Alice is another product of the 1860s, feverish and fantastic. I don’t want to labour the comparison but it may be that hallucenogenic quality shared by Alice and Albert which captured the popular imagination again in the 1960s when we began to appreciate Victorian taste again

When it was clear some major repair work had to be done in the 1980s the possiblity of dissassembling the monument for good was briefly considered. But not seriously  I think. London loves its strange monuments, and remembers that the memorial exists because these two individuals loved each other.

Victoria and Albert by Roger Fenton

 

Postscript

Now, I know what you’re thinking, some of you anyway. The Albert Memorial is not actually in Kensington but across the border in the City Of Westminster. There is a story, probably apocryphal, that Queen Victoria had the border moved so that the memorial and the Royal Albert Hall would be in Westminster. However, the Memorial is in Kensington Gardens, and is closely identified with Kensington by many people. Culturally I think it is just as much a part of Kensington as Westminster.

And of course we have a lot of interesting material in our collection including some images not often seen. So I hope you’ll let me off. Especially as I found so many pictures that I decided to do a second post next week devoted to the surrounding sculptures.

The two books by Chris Brooks about the memorial were invaluable to me with this post. The first image of the covered memorial is from the 2000 book. Photographs 2 and 3 are by Maureen G Stainton and are copright by her. The picture of Victoria and Albert is by Roger Fenton. All other images are from the Local Studies collection.

The Albert Memorial. The Prince Consort National Memorial: its history, contexts and conservation. Edited by Chris Brooks. Yale University Press 2000.

The Albert Memorial by Chris Brooks. English Heritage 1995.

 


Faeries in Kensington Gardens

We’re getting close to Christmas now so what about something a little seasonal?

I don’t much like Peter Pan.  The familiar story of the irritating boy and the nice crocodile who never gets to eat him (or the equally annoying pirate) is a sickly mixture of cliches and sentiment. Before you dismiss me as a grumpy old man can I point out that I have disliked the boy who wouldn’t grow up since I first came across him, well before I grew up. Winnie the Pooh on the other hand I loved and I came to appreciate the writing of A A Milne even more as I grew older. I read those stories to my son when he was young and took him to an ideal venue for Poohsticks on Putney Common.The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland – both classics. I never came across E Nesbitt or George MacDonald as a child but I read some of their work later.We didn’t have Paddington Bear when I was young but we did have another bear, Mary Plain (by Gwynedd Rae). And I didn’t read any of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books until I worked in a library. So I’m no enemy of the classics of children’s literature. But I can’t stand Peter Pan, in any of his incarnations,

Peter Pan of course has Kensington connections.

Kensington Gardens Peter Pan statue PC1386

But the Peter Pan in this picture is not the one featured in the 1905 book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. In that book Peter Pan is a weird baby who ends up living in the hidden world of fairies, birds and other supernatural creatures located in Kensington Gardens unobserved by the daytime visitors and workers.

We have copies of the 1905 and 1912 editions which are probably of most interest for the illustrations by Arthur Racknam, 49 colour plates in the 1905 edition with additional black and white pictures in the 1912 edition.

If you concentrate on the pictures which don’t feature the proto-Pan you find a set of faery images which are beautiful and sometimes grotesque.

The Serpentine

This view of the Serpentine at dusk has the traditional winged fairies you can imagine sharing the same eco-system as insects and birds. These  fairies come from the same place as Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies, out of the deep Victorian imagination, via the Pre-Raphaelites and the darker works of individuals like Richard Dadd.

Rackham also depicts the ordinary world of daytime. He still prefers a gloomy scene though, with grey skies, and mysterious islands.

The island

The three girls in front are keeping their backs to the island so no one will know they are discussing Barrie’s unlikely notions about babies hatching from eggs and turning into birds (or is it vice versa?).

Kensington Gardens ducks PC1353

One of the better themes in the book is the idea of a hidden world beneath the park which children are half aware of already.

Fairies in hiding till dusk

During the day things are happening out of sight. But at night….

The fairies sit on mushrooms

A feast, featuring some non-winged faries adopting a variety of costumes, not worried about mixing with mice creatures. Some images dip into the grotesque.

An elderberry hobbled

Here Rackham is not far from Sidney Sime or Harry Clarke who both illustrated the works of Edgar Allen Poe.

I was particularly intrigued by this picture.

If the bad ones happen to be out

The bad fairies emerge from beneath the trees like crawling insects. Rackham depicts them as an infestation, like ants or termites. Something rotten.

Back in the daylight world the Elfin Oak looks merely decorative, hardly creepy at all.

Kensington Gardens Elfin Oak PC1388

Images like the one below may represent the glamour  cast by fairies to fool us into thinking them beautiful…..

looking very undancey

As beautiful as any mortal woman in the daylight world.

Kensington Gardens 712.5 KEN-JA K65-23

For the children the search goes on. Below a girl called Maimie hides from the adults, so she can stay in the gardens after dark.

She ran to St Govor's Well and hid 2

The spot she’s chosen, St Govor’s Well is a real place

St Gover's Well 712.5 Ken-Pm P1966 L-5638

With some real Edwardian children playing in it.

Touching site Walter Stephen Matthews and Phoebe Phelps

At the end of the book Barrie  tells about the gravestones erected by the proto-Pan and his acolytes to mark the passing of lost children. Rackham undercuts the notion by placing the illustration in a pastoral scene set years before, the 1840s by the look of the costumes.

For me all the imagination in the book is in Rackam’s illustrations and it is they who turn a real place – Kensington Gardens – into an outpost of Faery.

Postscript

Was I a bit hard on the infant Pan? Maybe. But Rackham’s pictures are so much better than the text, They have a weird intensity. Rackham was one of those artists who was rediscovered in the 60s and 70s in glossy paperback editions along with many other illustrators of the Victorian and Edwardian period.

This week saw the soft launch (as they say) of our World War one website: http://www.kcworldwar1.org.uk It’s full of contemporary images and text from the Local Studies collection with the additional opportunity for readers of adding their own text and/or pictures. Like a blog, it will grow over months, maybe even years to form a permanent record of Kensington and Chelsea in the Great War. Take a look, I’m sure there will be something there to surprise you.

Your Christmas surprise on this blog is that next week instead of just one long post on Thursday I’m writing short daily posts starting on Monday. I come across lots of pictures when doing research for the blog which are interesting but won’t fit the 10 or more pictures and a thousand words format I’ve adopted. So next week there will be mini-posts from Monday to Friday. Read them daily or save them up. See you Monday.


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