Tag Archives: Royal Hospital

The Pageant in colour

 

Tickets - Copy

 

In the early years of the 20th century a fever was sweeping through the country – pageant mania,. At http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/ you will find accounts of the Sherborne Pageant of 1905, “the mother of all pageants” and many others including Chelsea’s own Historical Pageant of 1908, the first in London.

Chelsea Historical Pageant poster 1732

Loyal readers will remember that I have written several posts about the Chelsea Pageant, mostly through the eyes and lens of the photographer Kate Pragnell, one of the first professional woman photographers. Feel free to go back to those posts and see some of the odd  sights such as St George and  a small lion (and the Dragon), druids, Romans, grey nuns and black nuns, Tudors and Stuarts, Nell Gwynne and several incarnations of Elizabeth I. In this post I’ll be mostly looking at the artwork of the Pageant.

Cassivelaunus and the Druids 1st episode Caesar's Crossing

The Chelsea Pageant was an event held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital to celebrate the history of Chelsea in ten episodes of dramatic performances, music and dancing. The performers were largely amateurs and the organisers were the great and the good of Chelsea, headed by Earl Cadogan but including two crucial figures in Chelsea Local History, Reginald Blunt, the historian and journalist who was one of the founders of the Chelsea Society and J Henry Quinn the Librarian at Chelsea Library. That’s what you see on the face of it, a festival of local history and identity.

May Day in Chelsea Fields circa 1500 3rd episode May day Revels the Miracle Cart

But is there something deeper at work? At the optimistic start of a new century, looking forward to social and technological progress was some part of the Edwardian psyche yearning to connect with the stories of an older country. Look closely at the picture above, one of the commemorative set of postcards. On the Miracle Cart can you see a devil?

The funeral of Anne of Cleeves 6th episode

Why opt for a procession of black clad figures? What posessed this number of women to dress as nuns for the occasion?

Chelsea Pageant 1908 Nuns - Copy

We know that there were 1200 performers in the Pageant, most of them amateurs, all playing their part in the tableaux and ceremonies, all engaged with the mammoth task. Not to mention committee members, set constructors, authors of the ten episodes, musicians, dancers and designers. The sketches of the costume designer have survived.

Lady Sandys p37 - Copy

His conception of Lady Sandys,….. and a photograph of the design as it was executed

Episode 4 Lady Sandys (2)

The Princess Elizabeth:

Princess Elizabeth p45 - Copy

Along with a remnant of the dress material

Material - Copy (2)

I found it slightly harder to locate the woman who wore the dress but I think she’s in this picture:

Elizabethan group

The one on the far left. I like this image.  The women look like “ordinary” people and although the pose and the setting are far from authentically Tudor/Elizabethan the women look as though they belong in those costumes and feel comfortable in the fantasy. (Edwardian cosplay?)

Actually, I’m wrong about that. It’s a great picture and I couldn’t leave it out but I’ve now had a good look through a copy of “The Book of Words” as the longer version of the souvenir of the Pageant was called and I found this captioned picture of the actual Princess Elizabeth, played by a woman named Dawne O’Neill. Perhaps they used the dress pattern several times.

princess elizabeth

A full cast list was never provided by the organisers but we have identified some of them from an autographed copy of the Book of Words

I don’t thnk this one is in the picture either:

Lady Jane Grey p46

Here are some of the characters in postcard form:

Catherine Parr interceding for Lord Dudley 5th episode with Princess Elizabeth and Lady Jane Gray

Catherine Parr intercedes for Lady Jane. And as a photograph:

Episode 4 Catherine Parr intercedes for Lady Jane Grey

You can see the “real” Princess Elizabeth not doing too much acting third from the left and the other one behind her thinking “That could have been me”.

The signature of the designer, Tom Heslewood  appears on some of these pictures like this one:

Lady Mary Howard p62 - Copy

Which was easier to find:

Episode 7 - Copy - Copy

Heslewood himself took part in the Pageant as an actor too, and secured a good role for himself:

Charles II 79 reverse

Opposite an equally well known partner:

Nell Gwynne p79

Here they are with Nell persuading the King to build the Royal Hospital

Charles II Nell Gwyn and the old soldiers 8th episode Nell persuades

In the actual grounds of the Hospital of course. I’ve used this picture before but it belongs here:

Chelsea Pageant 1908 Episode 8 Founding of Chelsea Hospital 1681

I’ve wandered away from interpretation and gone back to simply admiring the pictures, colour and monochrome, and being grateful that J Henry Quinn and his staff took care to assemble a small archive about the Pageant.

The Pageant itself was not the sensation of the year. This was London after all with many competing attractions for the pleasure of the people. The ticket prices were high, the organisers couldn’t get the grounds for as long as they might have wanted, but it was a critical success and remains a colourful event in the history of Chelsea.

Queen Elizabeth attends a masque 7th episode Faerie Queen

Postscript

I’ve enjoyed going back to the Pageant after a long gap. There is still plenty of material to look at and a few stories to tell.

If you don’t mind indulging me this week’s post is dedicated to the memory of two school friends of mine: Carl Spencer who died in 1999 and Ian Thompson who died last week. Both of them were taken suddenly from their families and friends.

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Bignell’s people

This week we’re back with the skilled eye of John Bignell and if there is a theme to this collection it’s “ordinary” people going about their lives barely realising that a photographer can take a moment of that daily life and turn it into something permanent.

World's End c1958 jb46

A group of men standing outside a pub  in 1958 waiting for it to open, bantering with each other. A regular activity that by time, memory and the photographer’s art becomes emblematic of all the men who have ever waited outside a pub.

Peter Jones  JB3 vmbp0125

A pair of women look  into a  window at the Peter Jones store on a quiet morning.

Demolition in Manresa-Kings Road c1955 JB296

A lone man hacks away at a wall. Dangerous work, perched on top of a crumbling building that you yourself are making more hazardous to stand on. Did Bignell see the poster for the 1958 film The Last Days of Pompeii? A classical case of destruction echoing the destruction of a building in Manresa Road? The star of the film was former bodybuilder Steve Reeves, the hero of many sword and sandal epics. Reeves played Hercules on several occasions. Is it stretching a point to say that the man above the poster is engaged in a Herculean labour? Probably. You can find lots of fascinating and possibly unintentional details in photographs just like when you walk down a familiar street and notice some telling detail in a building or a shopfront.

Magrie's forge Dovehouse Street c1951 jb122

In Magrie’s forge in 1951 a moment of high concentration

Man on bench in Dovehouse Street jb45

Not far away on Dovehouse Street a man resting on a bench looking for all the world like he’s using a mobile phone. Except that it’s  still the 1950s. One of those poses we always had ready for when the relevant technology emerged. As if I had been blogging in 1966. Speaking of the sixties:

Royal Avenue opposite Crapper's 1960s jb89

Royal Avenue: a trio consult a map or a guide book, a couple of genuine hippies, a woman surprised or a bit shocked at something she sees. But not at that dog behind her and what he’s doing. There used to be a sign forbidding “illegal dog fouling” in Royal Avenue. It’s one of those phrases that fascinates me because it can be read a number of different ways, like “hot bread shop” or “building alarmed”. Perhaps it’s me.

King's Road jb29

I’m not entirely sure where this street market was. My first thought was that it was opposite Royal Avenue. Before they built the mini shopping mall there was an open area like this with a Sainsburys and a Boots (and a shoe shop?). The mall was built in the late 80s or early 90s with a big Virgin shop at its heart, But I wonder about the building behind it, a residential block not really visible on this picture. Any suggestions?

Couple JB4

Back on the King’s Road, a cool looking girl and a man with big ears.

King's Road c1961 jb62

A collector for the British Red Cross meets up with one of those end of the world guys you used to see on London streets. I’m not sure what the earnest young man (who looks like a young version of Michael Gove) is saying. Is it an impromptu theological discussion, or is he resolving a dispute? We may never know.

King's RoadWellington Square jb24

Not far away geographically but in the previous decade a couple pose for the camera in Wellington Square.

Below, a picture Bignell has set up:

St Pancras rail strike day

A pensive child in a near deserted St Pancras Station. Bignell’s writing on the back of the print says “rail strike day”, which explains the quietness of the scene. The girl is cooperatively looking away from the camera, probably at one of her parents. Perhaps the photograph was a welcome distraction from the tedium of waiting for a train that might not come.

Victor Sylvester's - girls dancing

This picture of a Victor Sylvester dance class is not exactly set up but it’s a pleasing image of the girls having to dance with each other because you could never get the boys to go to these things.

The all girl sporting picture below is more unexpected:

Cricket at Duke of York's jb75

Cricket practice outside the Duke of York’s Headquarters.

Nearby, at the Royal Hospital:

Oak Apple Day Royal Hospital jb98

Oak Apple Day, according to Bignell’s note. A very effective picture – the two Pensioners standing at ease echoing the line of bandsmen. The conductor in the background provides the only sense of movement.

Finally, another puzzle.

Unknown shop front with bus reflection

Who are these four sixties people? Where was that shop? The bus, I’m told, doesn’t look much like a London bus. Again I’m happy to hear any ideas about people or location.

Postscript

Hardly anything to add this week. Bignell’s book Chelsea Photographer can still be found from second hand dealers although prices vary considerably.

 


The ladies and the gentlemen: figures in the landscape

Before the photograph came the engraved print: etchings, mezzotints, aquatints and all the rest. These were on the whole meant to be accurate views of their subjects, reliable likenesses of a person or a building. But it’s not quite the same as a photograph, is it? Looking at last week’s picture postcards I thought of the earlier, pre-photographic views of Kensington Gardens and of course Kensington Palace. Here’s a good example:

Kensington Palace 1750s GS17AA

As is often the case the architectural view was enlivened by the addition of some figures. We know that the ladies and gentlemen of 18th century society entertained themselves by walking around in fashionable places, taking a look at their friends and acquaintances and being seen by them in turn. So the view of this happy crowd, walking, talking and even sitting is not actually unlikely, there’s just something a little staged about it. These people are like extras milling around the star of the picture – the Palace. I imagine them biding their time, waiting to see if they could get a piece of the action for themselves.

Copy of Copy of Kensington Palace 1750s GS17AA

What is the persuasive looking gentleman in the group on the right saying to his companions? Is he asking them to join him on an expedition into the Palace? Are the seated group ready to watch them?

This is another view of the Palace:

East front of Kensington Palace with part of the Great Lawn 1744 CPic44a

Another idle group wave fans, greet each other or lounge on the ground which can’t have done much for their fine clothes. Compare them with this group:

Oblique perspective view of the east front of Kensington Palace with part of the Great Lawn 1744 CPic44d

The Palace and the trees across the lawn are almost identical. Another group of slightly better rendered visitors have wondered into shot. Remember etching is hard work. It’s not pen and paper, it’s scratching the image on a sheet of metal, in reverse. (I simplfy a complex and multifarious process – experts please forgive me) If the background is the same and you can enliven the view with a different cast so much the better.

I do find these people fascinating though especially the women sweeping across the grass in their strange wide skirts. The period is slightly wrong but it puts me in mind of the Draughtsman’s Contract where a mystery is suggested by drawings of a house and garden but never solved by its protagonist. The Draughtman in the film would have appreciated this view:

Distant view of Kensimgton Place with part of the Garden and the Queen's Temple as seen from the side of the Serpentine River CPic153a

Here the Palace is reduced to a feature in the distance with our attention occupied by a section of the Serpentine and the Queen’s Temple across the water. One of those follies loved by aristocrats and landscapers seen in many country estates, it would have been ideal for one of the Draughtman’s assignations.

Kensington Palace Cpic 0640 res600

In this one some actual gardening is going on at the right of the picture.  The strollers ignore the workers though, and we ignore them in favour of the frantic activity by the birds in the foreground. A fight on the left? An attempt to take off on the right?

If we pull out and take a wide view of the Palace we get something like this:

Kensington Palace print

The pattern of the ornamental garden is revealed and the picture looks more like a plan but it’s still full of those figures wandering around. Last year at Marienbad,anyone? (I’m taking a stab in the dark there – I’ve never actually seen the film but one of the famous images from it is a large ornamental garden). The feature that always strikes me is that the Palace is set in what appears to be an empty landscape with no sign of London. Those distant hills are the etcher’s equivalent of stock footage. Or maybe I’m missing some convention of this kind of picture.

One of the conventions is the idealised landscape. Here’s one:

the Pavilion south view CM2228

A solitary figure looks back at his house, his lake, his cattle and his picturesque crumbling “priory”, specially built as a ruin as was the custom of ambitious land owners. The Pavilion, the building in the distance was constructed by Henry Holland in 1789 and survived into the 19th century as Chelsea grew around it and the grounds had their final incarnation as a cricket ground. (That’s a story for another day if ever I heard one). But nothing could stop the growth of the Cadogan Estate. (To orientate yourself I think Sloane Street runs a little to the right of the Pavilion which gave its name of course to Pavilion Road)  I can’t help thinking that even before development the grounds were not as extensive as they appear in this view. (The Pavillion survived until 1874 when it was demolished to make way for Cadogan Square and its surrounding streets)

Further south we’re on safer ground. As Kensington has its Palace, Chelsea has the Royal Hospital:

Royal Hospital and Rotunda CM2184 no legend

Here too the landscape is crowded. The main focus of activity is the variety of craft going to and fr,o some speedy and some slow. In the distance people walk in the grounds, perhaps heading for that other fashionable rendezvous point the Rotunda.

Ranelagh Rotunda interior B1570

Inside the ladies and the gentlemen parade around or take refreshment by the big fire. Look closely:

Ranelagh Rotunda interior B1570 - Copy (3)

More bowing and gesturing with fans. A sizeable group listens to the orchestra.

Ranelagh Rotunda interior B1570 - Copy (2)

There are a couple more instances of the fan gesture in this detail. In some ways these figures repeat themselves at the whim of the artist.  At other points they  show a life of their own. Look at the woman in the group of three between the child and the woman in green, how she leans back slightly to whisper in her  friend’s ear. A small number of lines suggest this recognizeable movement.

Ranelagh Rotunda interior B1570 - Copy - Copy

Inside the world of the print the inhabitants live their lives.

View of Chelsea Waterworks 1752 250B

Here a group of them pay a visit to the Chelsea Waterworks, enough of a technological marvel to warrant some early tourism.

Further down the river in Battersea others come and go at a jetty.

View taken near Battersea Church looking towards Chelsea 1752 96B

In the distant background you can see Chelsea Old Church with its cupola. On the shore a woman, her son and their dog get ready to board, a servant carries their bag:

View taken near Battersea Church looking towards Chelsea 1752 96B - Copy

The group of three women and a man on the right meet up with a man who points their way out of the picture all together. Perhaps all these decorative figures in the idealised landscapes of the etching are looking for a way out.

Postscript

The Chelsea art collection was recently moved to Kensington Library making it easier for me to find pictures like the last two. During my search I came across an image I found quite startling which might form the basis of a future post if I can find some more like it. Watch out for that. If you’ve never seen the Draughtsman’s Contract it’s worth a look. Just don’t expect a solution to the mystery (if there was one).


Games for May: the Pageant and the Queen 1908

If the past really is another country and they really did do things differently there, photographs can sometimes show just how different it could be. In this collection of images you seem to have all the ingredients for a supernatural drama. A creepy giant figure, people in costume, with a teenage girl, ready for sacrifice right out of one of those stories about a folk tradition gone bad as in the Wicker Man….

A procession of enigmatic robed men…….

Some sinister nuns….

Druids….

Women in classical costume ready for a fertility rite…..

A ceremony beside an ivy-covered wall. Isn’t that a maypole?

All the while an audience watches from the shadows, waiting for the conclusion of the ritual. As always in a supernatural story  in the style of M R James  there is a framing narrative in which the editor asserts that it’s all true. A library is just the place for uncovering secrets and just like in a story I discovered these pictures a few years ago at the bottom of a dusty box which had been sitting untouched for years in a basement room. Would I lie to you?

Some of the other pictures I found make things clearer.

You can figure out who the man in the right is supposed to be. And the woman in the centre is more concerned with having her photo taken than looking at the King.

The nuns look much less sinister in a group photo. And as for the women in white….

They are of course the court of Queen Agnes the May Queen of Whitelands College, a teacher training college which was founded in Chelsea in the 1840s. The art historian John Ruskin was instrumental in starting the tradition of an annual coronation for the May Queen. Queen Agnes was crowned in 1909. The ivy covered wall was in the courtyard of the College on the King’s Road.

And the rural setting of all the costumed performances was the grounds of the Royal Hospital. The event was the Chelsea Historical Pageant of 1908.Note the presence in this photo of some people in “modern” dress who break the spell. The historical fancy dress costumes actually take the people out of their own time into a special zone – an “any” time where it’s difficult to say exactly what the year is.

As if to prove this point, here’s a picture which could easily have been taken at almost any time in the last century.

So whatever strange activities they got up to in the past, perhaps it wasn’t so different then.

The photographs, discovered in one envelope were by Kate Pragnell about whom I know nothing except that it’s good she was there. She may have taken some of the official photographs of the events but these are the candid shots from behind the scenes.

By rights you should have had a Kensington post this week but there have been so many modern topics recently that I thought it would be a good idea to go further back in time and now that we’re in autumn take a look at some long gone summers. The kids in the last picture had the twentieth century in front of them. How far did they get?

Postscript

Other posts about the Chelsea Historical Pageant:

Kate at the Pageant 1908

Kate at the Pageant 2: Tudor dreams

Kate at the Pageant 3: an adventure at Ranelagh

Whitelands College posts:

Rite of Spring: Mr Ruskin’s May Queen

The May Queens of Whitelands:return to the hidden kingdom

 

 


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