In light of this anniversary, I was recently browsing my bookshelves and came across a copy of Studies of Shakspere by Charles Knight (1851), I completely forgot I had this book. I am always thrilled when my collection manages to delight and surprise me. I have been buying secondhand books for over 30 years now. I began in my teenage years and, back then, could often be found in a dusty bookshop rather than partying hard at a disco (I grew-up in the 70s and 80s when discos were still ‘a thing’!)
I wouldn’t describe Studies of Shakspere as a ‘light read’ (yes, that is how ‘Shakespeare’ is spelt here, before you all rush to post a corrective comment below). It is a book to ‘dip in and out of’ which is the way I mostly like to engage with my books anyway.
During one of my bedtime browsing sessions, I came across the writings of Mrs Elizabeth Montagu nee Robinson (c.1718-1800). Quoted in Knight’s book, alongside other notable writers and critics of the Georgian era, Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Martin Sherlock and David Hume (1711-1776), Elizabeth has a powerful voice. A female critic of Shakespeare? I was intrigued to find-out more.
English writer Mrs Elizabeth Montagu nee Robinson. Published by Payne. January, 1760.
Brilliant in diamonds, solid in judgement, critical in talk.
(Hester Thrale (1741-1821) writing to Fanny Burney (1752-1840) about Elizabeth Montagu)
Elizabeth was a Yorkshire-born social reformer, arts patron and leading light of the Blue Stockings Society. She wasn’t a great fan of marriage and didn’t harbour particularly strong romantic feelings for men. However, despite these opinions on romantic entanglements, men adored her. They were drawn to Elizabeth’s wit, intelligence, beauty and charisma.
Women were just as fascinated by Elizabeth. In her social circle of Age of Enlightenment luminaries, fellow writer, Hester Lynch Piozzi (1741-1821) gave Elizabeth the highest of charm ratings, 101 out of a possible 120. Mrs Piozzi also credits Irish intellectual, Elizabeth Vesey (1715-91), with adoring Elizabeth as much as she hated her own husband. This was, after all, also the age of the romantic friendship when women of a certain class could indulge intense, platonic, relationships with her own sex.
Hannah More (1745-1833) English religious writer and playwright, and member of the Blue Stocking circle of intelligent educated women, being introduced to Society by the Duchess of Gloucester. Wood engraving, 1753.
Elizabeth was a leader of the famous Blue Stockings Society. The Society, which started in the 1750s, was a very tight-circle of women who met in the London homes of fashionable hostesses such as Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey (c1715-1791) and Frances Boscawen (1719-1805).
In the 1770s, Elizabeth Montagu hosted salons in Hill Street, London, which became home to some of the best salons in London. Her salons attracted the biggest literary and creative names of the age: Samuel Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, David Garrick and Horace Walpole.
The name ‘Blue Stocking’ was first used as an abusive term to insult the Puritans of Cromwell’s ‘Little Parliament’ in 1653. In Elizabeth’s time, it was used to describe botanist, Benjamin Stillingfleet’s (1702-71), who is thought to have turned-up to one of Elizabeth’s salons wearing blue woollen stockings. This style of stocking would normally have been worn by working men, gentlemen normally wore formal, white silk stockings
Elizabeth and her fellow Bluestockings were also important Arts Patrons, supporting a whole host of female authors: Elizabeth Carter; Hannah More; Frances Burney; Anna Barbauld; Sarah Fielding; Hester Chapone and Anna Williams. The Blue Stockings promoted friendship, philanthropy, education (particularly of women), arts patronage and creativity.
Prior to her marriage Elizabeth Montagu had many suitors, all of whom found their advances and declarations swiftly dismissed. The following extract is from Elizabeth Montagu, the Queen of the Bluestockings: Her Correspondence from 1720-1761 (2 Vols, London: John Murray, 1906) by Emily Climenson). Elizabeth writes to her sister Sarah Scott nee Robinson (1723-1795), about one such unlucky suitor, Mr Brockman of Beechborough:
Poor Mr B [Mr Brockman of Beechborough] really takes his misfortunes so to heart that he literally dying, indeed I hear he is very ill, which I am sorry for, but I have no balsam of heartsease for him, if he should die I will have him buried in Westminster Abbey next the woman that died of a prick of a finger, for it is quite as extraordinary, and he shall have his figure languishing in wax…..upon my word I compassionate his pains, and pity him, but as I am as compassionate, I am as cold too as Charity…. I am very sorry if the poor man is really what you think, unhappy; if his case is uneasy I am sure it is desperate; complaint I hope, is more the language, than misery the condition, of lovers.
To speak ingenuously you men use us oddly enough, you adore the pride, flatter the vanity, gratify the ill-nature, and obey the tyranny that insults you; then slight the love, despise the affection, and enslave the obedience that would make you happy: when frowning mistresses all are awful goddesses, when submissive wives, despicable mortals.
On another occasion, in 1742, Elizabeth wrote to Rev. William Friend expressing her characteristically strong opinions on marriage, flattery of the female sex, love, the superficiality of physical attraction and other matters of the heart.
Flattery has ever been the ladder to power, and I have detested its inverted effects of worshipping one into slavery, while it has pretended to adore one to deification. If ever I commit my happiness to the hands of any person, it must be one whose indulgence I can trust, for flattery I cannot believe.
I am sure I have faults, and am convinced a husband will find them, but wish he may forgive them; but vanity is apt to seek the admirer, rather than the friend, not considering that the passion of love may, but the effect of esteem can never, degenerate to dislike. I do not mean to exclude love, but I mean to guard against the fondness that arises from personal advantages….
I have known many men see all the cardinal virtues in a good complexion, and every ornament of a character in a pair of fine eyes, and they have married these perfections, which might perhaps shine and bloom a twelvemonth, and then alas! (Ibid.)
Despite her views, Elizabeth did wed. In 1742 she married Edward Montagu (1692-1776), grandson of the Ist Earl of Sandwich (1625-1672). It was a financially and socially advantageous union despite their 28 year age gap (Elizabeth was 22, Edward 50). For the most part, it was an amicable union that produced one son, John (b.1743), whom Elizabeth doted on. She was devastated when he died a year later. The couple had no more pregnancies or children.
Elizabeth kept a female companion who performed in the role of servant. By all accounts, the young woman was not happy in her ‘role’ and escaped, as soon as possible, into marriage. Some theories put forward have suggested that Elizabeth’s female companion was actually her only sister, Sarah Scott nee Robinson (1723-1795).
Sarah was a prolific writer, more so than her sister Elizabeth, publishing her works anonymously. Sarah’s most famous publication was her utopian novel A Description of Millenium Hall and the Country Adjacent (1762), closely followed by the sequel The History of Sir George Ellison (1766).
In 1751, Sarah married mathematician and tutor to the Prince of Wales, George Lewis Scott (1708-1780), a marriage Elizabeth disapproved of vehemently. Elizabeth felt so strongly about the marriage, that she became temporarily estranged from her sister. Elizabeth’s instincts were correct. George was a bit of scoundrel but details of what actually went wrong with the marriage are sketchy. It is thought the marriage was one of convenience. There were also rumours that he had attempted to poison Sarah. The couple separated in 1752.
Elizabeth had strong, well-informed, opinions on many topics but none more so than on the subject of literature. One of Elizabeth’s most celebrated publications was Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare (1769). It is this book which is quoted and referred to in my copy of Studies of Shakspere by Charles Knight (1851).
In her writing, Elizabeth confidently defends Shakespeare’s texts against French writer Voltaire’s (1694-1778) attacks. Elizabeth earned literary recognition for this essay and by 1785 it had run to 4 editions. Originally published anonymously, it was thought the book had been written by Joseph Warton (1722-1800) but by 1777, Elizabeth’s name appeared on the title page.
In the essay, she endorses Shakespeare’s writings as a vehicle to promote morality and educate the masses. She also declares, that although Shakespeare’s plays lack formal and classical structure, they do have a natural simplicity and truth of expression.
Below are a few extracts from Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare, quoted in Studies of Shakspere by Charles Knight (1851). Knight refers to Elizabeth’s attack upon Shakespeare as being rather a ‘maudlin defence’ (p.542) and its ‘half-patronising, half-vindicating tone is very well meant’ (p.543). In fact, Elizabeth praises Shakespeare’s genius for most of the essay, declaring him to be the ‘greatest poet’.
Elizabeth also wrote specifically on his characters, plots and quality of verse. The extract below makes reference to Shakespeare’s lack of formal education. Elizabeth does not hold back with her intellectual snobbery:
Our author [Shakespeare], by following minutely the chronicles of the times, has embarrassed his dramas with too great a number of persons and events. The hurly-burly of these plays recommended them to a rude, illiterate audience, who, as he says, loved a noise of targets. His poverty, and the low conditions of the stage (which at that time was not frequented by persons of rank), obliged him to this complaisance; and, unfortunately, he had not been tutored by any rules of art, or informed by acquaintance with just and regular dramas. (Ibid. p. 542)
Our author is too much addicted to the obscure bombast much affected by all sorts of writers in that age…There are many bombast speeches in the tragedy of ‘Macbeth’ and these are the lawful prize of the critic. (Ibid. p.542)
On Julius Caesar:
The quarrel between Brutus and Cassius does not, by any means, deserve the ridicule thrown upon it by the French critic [Voltaire]….but it rather retards than brings forward the catastrophe, and is useful only in setting Brutus in a good light. (Ibid. p542)
On William Shakespeare:
It has been demonstrated with great ingenuity and candour that he was destitute of learning: the age was rude and void of taste; but what had a still more pernicious influence on his works was, that the court and the universities, the statesmen and scholars, affected a scientific jargon. An obscurity of expression was thought the veil of wisdom and knowledge; and that mist, common to the morn and eve of literature, which in fact proves it is not at its high meridian, was affectedly thrown over the writings, and even the conversation of the learned, who often preferred images distorted or magnified, to a simple exposition of their thoughts.
Shakspeare is never more worthy of the true critic’s censure than in those instances in which he complies with this false pomp of manner. It was pardonable in a man of his rank not be more polite and delicate than his contemporaries; but we cannot so easily excuse such superiority of talents for stooping to say affectation. (Ibid. pp. 542-3)
Elizabeth Montagu’s house in Portman Square, London, c1800
In 1777, Elizabeth began work on Montagu House in Portman Square, London and moved there in 1781. Suring this decade her salons became increasingly more opulent attracting an even wider circle of literary luminaries. She called the mansion in Portman Square her ‘temple to virtue and friendship’. Samuel Johnson called her the ‘Queen of the Blues’.
Elizabeth died in Montagu House on 25th August, 1800. She left most of her property and money to her nephew, Matthew Montagu, 4th Baron Rokeby (1762-1831). He published a collection of his aunt’s letters in 1809, The Letters of Mrs Elizabeth Montagu, with Some of the Letters of her Correspondents.
The exhibition explores Joshua Reynolds’s (1723-1792) painting techniques, pictorial compositions and narratives through the display of twenty paintings, archival sources and x-ray images. Paintings Conservator for The Wallace Collection Reynolds Research Project, Alexandra Gent, gave us a comprehensive and fascinating insight into some of the surprise discoveries encountered whilst working on the collection’s Reynolds paintings over the last four years. There are twenty paintings on display in the exhibition, twelve of which are from The Wallace Collection, others are on loan from collections elsewhere in the UK, Europe and the USA.
With support from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, TEFAF, the Hertford House Trust, various private donors, and Trusts and drawing on the research expertise of the National Gallery in London and the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, the exhibition spans most of Reynolds’s career and includes portraits, ‘fancy’ pictures (young children in a variety of guises) and history painting.
The exhibition has been curated by Dr Lucy Davis, Curator of Old Master Pictures at the Wallace Collection, Professor Mark Hallett, Director of Studies in British Art at the Paul Mellon Centre and Alexandra Gent. Ms Gent explains why this research project has been so fascinating as well as challenging:
One of the things about Reynolds, and the reason it was started as a research project, is that his painting technique is quite notorious amongst conservators as being tricky to deal with….So to have a really good understanding of the way the paintings had been made and constructed and what materials had been used was really important to make informed decisions about which paintings to treat. The paintings as a group hadn’t been restored for a very long time, a few of them had had minor treatments but none of them had really been cleaned since they’d entered the Wallace Collection in the mid-19th century.
Although Reynolds is notorious for using wax, we only found wax in small amounts on paintings. The Portrait of Miss Jane Bowles appears to have a varnish layer on it that is made from wax, and we think that this is original and really interesting to see Reynolds use as a varnish layer.
It’s been a real privilege to work on these paintings, they’re a really wonderful group of paintings by Reynolds.
(‘New Perspectives on Joshua Reynolds’ by Lorna Davies, The Portman, Spring, 2015, pp.18-19)
In 1755, Reynolds had a hundred and twenty sitters, in 1758 he had a hundred and fifty sitters. He charged some of the highest prices by any painter working in London at that time but still the commissions kept on coming. In 1760, he earned between £6,000 and £10,000 per annum, working seven days a week, eight hours a day. (Source: The 17th and 18th Centuries Dictionary of World Biography Vol.4, edited by Frank N. Magill, 2013, p.1161)
Reynolds often produced multiple versions of his paintings, worked over a length of time, sometimes four years. It was not unusual for him to work on two similar pictures side-by-side. He also encouraged his subjects to perform roles that would reveal an aspect of their personality, actresses he depicted in character such as Mrs Abington as Miss Prue, (c.1771-1772). Mrs Frances Abington (1737-1815) with her coquettish gaze as Miss Prue, the silly, awkward country girl from William Congreve’s (1670-1729) comedy Love For Love (1695).
X-ray Image And Infrared Reflectography Use In Painting Conservation
X-ray image: X-rays can penetrate through most parts of a painting but denser materials, such as lead containing pigments and iron tacks, obstruct them. An X-ray image records the areas where the X-rays have been obstructed and these areas appear lighter. These images are useful for revealing paint losses and changes to a painting. However, they can be difficult to interpret because they show all the layers of the painting superimposed.
Infrared reflectography: an imaging method used to ‘see through’ paint layers that are opaque to the human eye. Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with longer wavelengths than those of visible light. Infrared radiation passes through the paint until it either reaches something that absorbs it or is reflected back to the camera. An infrared image can often reveal under-drawing.
Curation of ‘Experiments in Paint’ is excellent. Reynolds’s portraits are accompanied with detailed background to both painting and sitter. Those works on display that have been subjected to detailed conservation analysis are of particular interest.
For example, an X-ray of Reynolds’s slightly unnerving, The Strawberry Girl (1772-1773), revealed that it resembled the version of The Strawberry Girl reproduced in Thomas Watson’s 1774 mezzotint. Reynolds had reworked the figure, lowering the shoulders, painting a fringe of brown hair and developing a more oriental style of turban.
Infrared reflectography of the Wallace Collection’s version of The Strawberry Girl also revealed under-drawing around the hands and in the folds of the drapery. The use of such under-drawing may indicate that the composition of this painting was transferred from an earlier version of The Strawberry Girl.
An X-ray of Mrs Abington as Miss Prue showed that Reynolds had originally intended her to wear a simple bonnet that would have been more in keeping with her role as Congreve’s Miss Prue. Instead the final painting showed her sporting an updo hairstyle fashionable at the time.
An X-ray of LadyElizabeth Seymour-Conway (1754-1825) painted in 1781, revealed that Reynolds updated the sitter’s hairstyle just before the painting left the studio making it look much fuller, as was popular at the time of the work’s completion. The original hairstyle had been smoother and the curls at the neck are higher, similar to those adopted by the fashionable Waldegrave sisters painted by Reynolds between 1780 and 1781.
According to Alexandra Gent, Reynolds used five different sizes of canvas available to the Georgian painter: head; three-quarter length; half-length; full length and Bishop’s half-length (large enough to fit in his mitre!). A popular pose for Georgian sitters was ‘penseroso’, resting with chin in the hand, signalling to the viewer that the subject was refined and contemplative.
“Even a faded picture from Reynolds will be the finest thing you have.” Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827)
Events & Further Information
There is an extensive programme of educational and cultural events taking place at The Wallace Collection to compliment this new exhibition:
‘Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint’ continues until 7th June, 2015. Exhibition opening hours are Monday-Sunday 10am-5pm, entry is free. Join the discussion about the exhibition on Twitter @WallaceMuseum #JoshuaReynolds or Facebook (www.facebook.com/WallaceCollection);
Together with Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), Reynolds established the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768. Reynolds was the RA’s first president until his death in 1792. On the RA’s website there a number of videos and further information about Reynolds’s time there. ‘On the Reynolds trail in the RA archive’ by Amy Macpherson (25.2.15): https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/joshua-reynolds-academy-archive ;
I first discovered The Wallace Collection, by chance, in 2005 whilst working in Portman Square as a corporate researcher. In order to escape the caged existence of my office and reawaken my senses, I regularly took long walks, exploring the surrounding area. There is so much to see, all just a stone’s throw from the craziness of Oxford Street. Attractive squares and stunning architecture as well as more blue plaques than you can shake a stick at!
When I visited the Wallace Collection for the first time, I remember being completely awestruck by the magnificent interior and extensive collection of French eighteenth century painting, furniture and porcelain. The good news is that in the last ten years admission charges have remained the same, absolutely FREE.
View of the north side of Manchester Square, Marylebone, London, 1813. Manchester House is on the left. (Photo by Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
The Wallace Collection is housed in Manchester House, a fine example of Georgian architecture built between 1776 and 1788 for the 4th Duke of Manchester (1737-1788). The original shell of the building was built by Samuel Adams in 1771. It wasn’t until the 4th Duke brought the leasehold in 1788 that substantial structural alterations were made by the architect Joshua Brown.
A few key dates in the history of Manchester House:
1791-95 – house let as the Spanish Embassy;
1797 – 2nd Marquess of Hertford (1743-1822) acquires the house’s lease;
1836-51 – house let as the French Embassy;
1800-1870 – 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800-1870) uses the house to store his private art collection;
1871 – the 4th Marquess’ illegitimate son, Richard (1818-1890), moves back to London from Paris and brings with him a large portion of his private art collection;
1897 – Lady Wallace bequeaths the collection to the British Nation. Lady Wallace (Amélie-Julie-Charlotte Castelnau (1819-97)), married Richard in 1871, she had been his mistress for many years. Upon his death in 1890 he bequeathed to her all his property;
the house opens to the public as a Museum on 22nd June, 1900 (closing during both World Wars);
Photographing at the Wallace Collection, London, 1908-1909. From Penrose’s Pictorial Annual 1908-1909, An Illustrated Review of the Graphic Arts, volume 14, edited by William Gamble and published by AW Penrose (London, 1908-1909). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
The Wallace Collection is one of the most significant collections of European fine and decorative arts in the world and the greatest bequest of art ever left to the British Nation. The collection encompasses old master oil paintings from the fourteenth to the late nineteenth century including works by Titian, Velazquez, Rubens and Van Dyck, princely arms and armour, and one of the finest collections of French eighteenth century art in all media.
The Wallace Collection, Hertford House, London, 1926-1927. Illustration from Wonderful London, edited by Arthur St John Adcock, Volume I, published by Amalgamated Press, (London, 1926-1927). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
The Curious Will of Mrs Margaret Thompson (1777) – The Joy of Snuff!
“Scotch snuff is the grand cordial of human nature”.
Recently, a member of my family passed on to me a copy of Chalfont St Peter Parish Magazine (February, 2015) which included a reproduction of one of the most interesting and amusing examples of an eighteenth Will that I have ever come across. The Will belonged to Mrs Margaret Thompson who died on 2nd April, 1777, at her house in Boyle Street, Burlington Gardens, Mayfair, London.
The Will was discovered in one of the old registers at St. James’s Church, Piccadilly. However, there is no record of the burial of Mrs Thompson in the Burial Register of St. James’s, for April, 1777. Upon arrival at the Wallace Collection last Friday, I made straight for their superb collection of eighteenth century snuff boxes. Mrs Thompson was clearly a lady who adored to indulge in the then fashionable trend of snuff-taking!
‘The French Fireside’, eighteenth century, a young lady indulging in some recreational snuff-taking. From The Connoisseur magazine (February 1905). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Mrs Margaret Thompson’s will (1777):
I Margaret Thompson, etc, being of a sound mind, etc, do desire that when my soul is departed from this wicked world, my body and effects may be disposed of in the manner following, etc.
I also desire that all my handkerchiefs that I may have unwashed at the time of my decease, after they have been got together by my old and trust servant, Sarah Stewart, may be put by her, and her along, at the bottom of my coffin, which I desire may be made large enough for that purpose, together with such a quantity of the best Scotch snuff (in which she knoweth I always had the greatest delight) as will cover my deceased body; and this I desire, and more especially as it is usual to put flowers into the coffin of departed friends, and nothing can be so pleasant and refreshing to me, as that precious powder; but I strictly charge that no one be suffered to approach my body till the coffin is closed, and it necessary to carry me to my burial, which I order in the following manner:
Six men to be my bearers, who are well known to be great snuff-takers in the Parish of St James’s, Westminster; and instead of mourning, each to wear a snuff-coloured beaver, which I desire to be brought for that purpose, and given to them; Six Maidens of my old acquaintance to bear my pall, each to wear a proper hood, and to carry a box filled with the best Scotch snuff, to take for their refreshment as they go along. Before my corpse I desire that the minister may be invited to walk, and to take a certain quantity of snuff, not exceeding one pound, to whom also I bequeath five guineas on condition of his doing so. And I also desire my old and faithful servant, Sarah Stewart, to walk before the corpse to distribute every twenty yards a large handful of Scott snuff on the ground, and to the crowd who possibly may follow me to the burial place – on condition I bequeath her Twenty Pounds. And I also desire that at least two bushels of the said snuff may be distributed at the door of my house in Boyle Street.
I desire, also, that my funeral shall be at twelve o’clock at noon. And in addition to the various legacies I have left my friends in a former will, I desire that to each person there shall be given a pound of the best Scotch snuff, as it is the grand cordial of human nature.
In the eighteenth century, snuff was a tobacco product favoured by the upper classes, snorted directly from the back of the hand into the nostrils. Smoking pipes containing tobacco was associated with the lower and working classes. Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) earned the nickname ‘Snuffy Charlotte’ on account of her love of the brown stuff. She had an entire room at Windsor Castle devoted to her substantial stock of snuff.
Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) is purported to have enjoyed taking snuff so much that she had fifty-two gold snuff boxes in her wedding basket. Joshua Reynolds also indulged in large amounts of snuff, on a regular basis, according to fellow artist Joseph Farington (1747-1821):
January 16th, 1796: Steevens speaking of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ habit of taking snuff in great quantities, said, he not only carried a double box, with two sorts of snuff in it, but regaled himself out of every box that appeared at the table where he sat; and did his neighbour happen to have one, he absolutely fed upon him. When I expected to meet Sir Joshua in company added he always carried an additional allowance.
(The Farington Diary: July 13th, 1793 to August 24th, 1802, Volume 1 by Joseph Farington, p. 184)
Part of Shenstone’s poem, The Snuff Box, 1735, (1840). Facsimile of part of The Snuff Box. Illustration from Historical and Literary Curiosities consisting of Facsimilies of Original Documents, by Charles John Smith, (Henry G Bohn, London, 1840). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
I was recently interviewed by BBC Inside Out (26.1.15 – 16 mins 10 secs in) for a segment to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Winston Churchill’s (1874-1965) death. Inside Out explored what Kent meant to Churchill as well as how he affected the lives of local people who worked for and met him. Churchill brought Chartwell, Westerham, Kent in 1922, the house became his lifelong family home.
Filmed on location at Hever Castle, Kent, I spoke to presenter Natalie Graham about society in 1965 Britain as well as Churchill’s painting legacy. We also discussed his friendship with John Jacob Astor V (1886-1971), 1st Baron Astor of Hever, a fellow politician, neighbour and owner of Hever Castle, one of the many Kent locations Churchill depicted in his art. Churchill encouraged Astor to paint, even giving him an easel as a gift. The easel, along with a paint-box and some of Astor’s artworks are on public display at Hever.
Occasionally with media interviews, one’s content is cut to the core and context of contribution gets lost in the editing suite. This article puts forward some of the fascinating points discussed during my original interview which sadly did not make it into the final edit. These omitted observations provide us with a fascinating glimpse into what society was like in Britain 50 years ago. Churchill’s death marked the end of the old guard and a turning point in the social history of modern Britain.
‘Churchill’s Funeral: World In Remembrance’ (1965) by British Pathe. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
On 30th January, 1965, Sir Winston Churchill’s State Funeral took place at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Churchill was the only commoner of the twentieth century to be given a State Funeral. Fifty years ago, many thousands of people, from banker to hippie, lined the city streets on a freezing cold Saturday. Millions more watched the event at home on their black and white television. Viewing this event as a grainy image would have only added to the general atmosphere of sombre reflection displayed by the viewing public.
In January 1965, there were 17.3 million televisions in private domestic households in Britain (Source: BARB), the same year approximately 16 million licences were issued. Television ownership had significantly increased since the previous televised civic event, the Queen’s Coronation on 2nd June, 1953. In that year, 13 million television licences had been issued.
A family watch television in their sitting-room. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
It was estimated that 350 million people worldwide watched the live broadcast of Churchill’s funeral. In the United States, although there was live television coverage, it had no sound. Viewers had to wait for the videotape to be flown back to New York where it was immediately transmitted to the public in full.
Twenty-four hours before the funeral, London appeared rather subdued, although underground trains were still running, there were no visible signs of an impending civic event. Unlike today where barriers are erected, roads cordoned off and a heavy police presence is the norm. In January, 1965, everything continued as normal with only a few exceptions, flags were flown at half-mast and lights in Piccadilly Circus were turned out after the funeral, a similar gesture to when Churchill’s death had first been announced a week before.
The window of Boots the Chemist in Piccadilly Circus, London, with the London Pavilion opposite, 20th April 1965. (Photo by Bert Hardy Advertising Archive/Getty Images)
After the service, Churchill’s coffin was taken by barge (the Havengore) along the Thames from Tower Pier to Festival Pier then onto Waterloo Station. The coffin continued its journey by train to Churchill’s final resting place, the Parish Church at Bladon, Oxfordshire. The interment was a private, family, affair.
People watch from their garden at Winston Churchill’s funeral train. 1965. (Photo by Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images)
The carriage that transported Churchill to Oxfordshire was a 1931, Southern Railway luggage van (n. 2464). It is now on display in the National Railway Museum, York to mark this 50th Anniversary. What interests me most about this carriage is, like Churchill, it had a long service history. During World War Two it transported vegetables and newspapers across the country. At the end of its life, this humble work horse was redeployed to perform one more public duty, perhaps the most important in its history, to deliver Churchill to his final destination on life’s journey.
Churchill’s coffin being loaded onto a train at Waterloo Station, London, before travelling to Blenheim Palace and Bladon after his State Funeral, London, 30th January 1965. The train was pulled by a Battle-of-Britain-Class locomotive named ‘Winston Churchill’. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
28th January 1965: Two members of the Womens Voluntary Service serving free cups of tea to the crowds of people queuing to see Churchill lying in state at Westminster Hall in London. The sign reads: ‘You’ve got a long wait. Free Tea! Or give what you can’. (Photo by Philip Townsend/Express/Getty Images)
My stepfather, who was working in Westminster at the time, paid respects to Churchill at Westminster Hall during his lying in state period. Dad told me that he and his work colleagues were expected to visit Westminster Hall, it was their civic duty, despite the tedium of queuing for hours on end, “at least we were given free tea whilst we waited!”, he remarked.
Many thousands of people also made the pilgrimage to London to pay their respects to a man who was so instrumental in freeing Europe from Nazi tyranny. In sixties Britain, a new generation of young people were now able to enjoy the benefits of living in a free and liberal society thanks to the sacrifices made by their parents and grandparents during World War Two.
My mother, a baby boomer, came of age in 1965. She remembers her family, neighbours and friends all watching the funeral on a black and white Bush television that had been purchased for the occasion. A number of the shops in her home town closed their shutters and a few shopkeepers put black crepe ribbons around their windows. Some employers also gave their staff the morning off of work to watch the funeral.
My mother recalls several older members of her parents’ generation wearing a black armband as a mark of respect, a tradition that had pretty much fallen out of favour with the public since George VI’s death in 1952 when this practice was commonplace.
Like so many who watched Churchill’s funeral on that wintry day in 1965, my mother particularly remembers the image of cranes along the Thames lowering their arms as the coffin, on board the Havengore, passed by. Although, this scene was orchestrated and paid for by the state rather than being a spontaneous heartfelt gesture from the ‘working man’. The dock workers who operated the cranes were actually paid to perform this manoeuvre. Some refused to do it as a point of political and personal principle.
‘A Year In Our Time’ (1965) by British Pathe. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
Churchill’s death marked the end of the old order and everything it represented, particularly Victorian conservatism. 1965 was the year that modern Britain began. Educational reforms gathered pace, new secondary modern comprehensives were created to provide a fairer system of learning for all. In hindsight, some educationalists acknowledge that the comprehensive system didn’t really work, it simply created a greater social divide within the secondary sector.
Labour MP Roy Jenkins (1920-2003) became Home Secretary in 1965. Jenkins immediately began to push forward with new legislation such as the abolition in Britain of capital punishment and theatre censorship, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, relaxing divorce law, suspension of birching and the legalisation of abortion.
The contraceptive pill first came to Britain from the United States in 1961 but until 1964 it was only available to married women for the sole purpose of regulating menstrual problems. In 1964/65 right through until the early 1970s ‘the pill’ revolutionised women’s (and men’s!) sexual freedom thanks to restrictions being lifted on the medical conditions for which the pill could be prescribed. Women could now take charge of their family planning, putting childbearing ‘on hold’ in order to pursue careers and educational opportunities if they should so wish. It wasn’t until 1974 that, controversially, ‘the pill’ became available to all women, for free, at family planning clinics.
‘The Pill’, 1965. A photograph showing a factory line of women packing boxes containing the contraceptive pill, taken by Chris Barham in 1965 for the Daily Herald newspaper. 8 million birth control pills were produced weekly at G.D. Searle’s High Wycombe pharmaceutical firm. This particular brand has the trade name ‘Ovulen’. The contraceptive pill was first distributed in Europe in 1961- recommended solely for regulating menstrual disorders in married women. By the late 1960s, however, ‘the Pill’ had come to symbolise social change, sexual liberation and women’s fight for equal rights. This photograph has been selected from the Daily Herald Archive, a collection of over three million photographs. The archive holds work of international, national and local importance by both staff and agency photographers. (Photo by Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)
28th September 1965: US actress Raquel Welch in London, in front of a poster promoting her latest film ‘One Million Years BC’. (Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)
‘Matchbox Cars’ (1965) by British Pathe. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
The Beatles go to Buckingham Palace to receive their MBEs, London, 1965. Film by British Pathe. Uploaded onto You Tube 13.4.2014.
In popular and consumer culture, 1965 was a landmark year. The Beatles film Help! debuted in London and The Sound of Music , directed by Robert Wise, was released. Mary Quant introduced the miniskirt from her shop Bazaar on the Kings Road in Chelsea, London. Sony marketed their ‘CV-2000’, the first home video tape recorder. Children’s toy ‘Spirograph’, developed by British engineer, Denys Fisher (1918-2002), was first sold.
Sony CV-2000 half-inch reel-to-reel videotape recorder. In 1965, Sony launched a domestic videorecorder, the CV2000, which would record a 30 minute monochrome 405-line tv programme on a reel of tape. It was very expensive (several thousand pounds in today’s terms) and complicated to use so it never caught on for home use. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images).
1965: A high street supermarket with shelves laden with tinned food. (Photo by Jackson/Central Press/Getty Image.
The 1960s was when supermarkets first appeared on British high streets. Customer self-service replacing shopkeepers in taupe overcoats (a la Arkwright) who individually selected and wrapped your purchases for you. Asda opened its first supermarket in Castleford, Yorkshire in 1965. Some might say that the supermarket concept, which began in this decade, altered the retail landscape of our high streets forever.
New range of central heating boilers, 1965. In a studio photograph, a model adjusts her new Autostat 502 model central heating boiler from the Victory range of gas-fired domestic heating boilers. (Photo by Paul Walters Worldwide Photography Ltd./Heritage Images/Getty Images)
c.1965: A housewife places a plate on the ledge between the kitchen and the dining room while her husband sits at a table in the dining room, England. The woman stands behind a stove. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Popular restaurant group PizzaExpress, founded by Peter Boizot, opened its first restaurant in London’s Wardour Street in 1965. Boizot was inspired by a trip to Italy and brought back to London a pizza oven from Naples and a chef from Sicily. Also this year, Kentucky Fried Chicken opened an outlet in Preston’s Fishergate, the first American fast food chain to open in Britain.
The scene outside Wandsworth prison the day after Ronald Biggs, one of the Great Train Robbers, escaped with three other prisoners. Biggs made his escape by jumping through a hole in the roof of the furniture van shown here, onto mattresses, and then out of the back of the van into a waiting car. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images).
On 7th January, 1965, identical twin brothers, Ronnie and Reggie Kray (1933-1995 & 2000) are arrested on suspicion of running a protection racket in London. On 8th July, Great Train Robber, Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Biggs (1929-2013), escaped from Wandsworth Prison having only served 15 months of his 30 year sentence. Biggs scaled the prison wall with a rope ladder and dropped down into a waiting removal van. He fled to Brussels by boat, then on to Paris where he had plastic surgery and obtained new identity papers. The following year Biggs arrived in Australia where he lived until 1970 when he fled once more, this time to Brazil, a country which did not have an extradition treaty with Britain. He didn’t return to Britain until 2001 where he was re-arrested and imprisoned but released on compassionate grounds, 6th August, 2009.
A search is carried out on Saddleworth Moor for missing children Keith Bennett (top right), Pauline Reade (bottom left) and John Kilbride (bottom right), October 1965. All three were the victims of Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The Moors murderers, Ian Brady (1938- ) and Myra Hindley (1942-2002) carried out their gruesome crimes between July, 1963 and October, 1965. Their victims were five children aged between 10 and 17 – Pauline Reade, John Kilbride, Keith Bennett, Lesley Ann Downey and Edward Evans—at least four of whom were sexually assaulted. The pair were arrested on the morning of 7th October, 1965. Their trial was held over 14 days beginning on 19th April 1966, in front of Mr Justice Fenton Atkinson.
On 8th November, 1965, The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act suspended capital punishment for murder in England, Scotland and Wales, for five years in the first instance, replacing it with a mandatory sentence for life imprisonment. When sentencing Brady and Hindley in 1966, the judge passed the only sentence that the law allowed: life imprisonment, the public were outraged.
Entertainment, Personalities, London, 29th June 1965, Five hopeful young women about to start rehearsals for West End roles in ‘Passion Flower Hotel’, L-R: Karin Fernald, Jean Muir, Jane Birkin, Francesca Annis and Pauline Collins (Photo by Bentley Archive/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
14th February 1965: Pop singer, pirate radio station operator and would-be member of parliament, Screaming Lord Sutch (David Sutch) dancing at the Black Cat Club in Woolwich. (Photo by Pace/Getty Images)
7th October 1965: Actress Britt Ekland sitting on the Mini her husband Peter Sellers (1925 – 1980) bought for her birthday, at the Radford Motor Company showroom, Hammersmith, London. (Photo by David Cairns/Express/Getty Images)
‘Diane Westbury is Miss Great Britain’ (1965) film by British Pathe. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
‘Avengers Fashion Show in 1965 – “Dressed To Kill”‘ by British Pathe. Uploaded by Vintage Fashions Channel, You Tube, 9.9.2011.
In October 1964, in the Evans’ small Blackheath home, Mary clambered onto a stool to reach the top shelf of a clothes cupboard in order to retrieve an engraving for the BBC. By this time, every last corner of their home was stuffed full of the antiquarian books, prints and ephemera that were the personal passion of Mary and her husband Hilary, and became the foundation of Mary Evans Picture Library; thus valuable engravings were forced to share a home with Hilary’s casual wear.
The library grew rapidly throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 1975 was a key year when Hilary and Mary were founder members of both the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA), the industry’s trade organisation, and the Picture Research Association. In the same year they published the first edition of The Picture Researcher’s Handbook, which ran to eight editions.
Hilary and Mary’s daughter, Valentine, joined the company in 1992 and her three young children are frequent visitors to the library.
This year, Mary Evans Picture Library celebrates its 50th anniversary. Earlier in the Summer I received an invitation to attend an Open Day at the Library’s premises in Blackheath, London. Such a wonderful opportunity to visit this unique, family-owned, historical picture library whose core philosophy since opening, in 1964, has been:
to make available and accessible all the wonderful images created for people to enjoy over the centuries which were originally published in books, on posters, in advertisements, or as prints.
The Library have more than half a million images currently available online and five hundred new images are added every week. A quick glance at the end credits of a documentary or pictures featured in an editorial will reveal Mary Evans Picture Library to be one of the main contributors.
The building that now houses this priceless collection was formerly the Parish Hall of All Saints’ Church on Blackheath. It is designed in the Arts and Crafts style by architect Charles Canning Winmill (1865-1945).
There is something really quite special about the Library. Upon entering you are immediately transported into a maze of corridors and staircases leading to room after room of historic treasures. This vast collection is presided over by a team of friendly, knowledgeable staff who are passionate about the priceless ephemera they are custodians of:
Few working offices feature desks surrounded by a fine collection of coronation mugs, a melted wax fruit display, an original Edison Phonograph and a broomstick in full flight suspended above the heads of staff.
The set-up of our office is unashamedly individual, and the archive of postcard folders, rare books, boxes of ephemera and racks of bound magazines is as integral to the working space as the computers and desks, squeezed, as they are, into the last available corners.
The main room downstairs will always be known as Mary’s office…. Conducting a tour of the library invariably involves squeezing past colleagues, step ladders, Missie the dog, someone preparing lunch or a private researcher hidden behind five large volumes of Illustrazione Italiana from the 1880s.
(Fifty; 50 Pictures for our 50th Birthday , 2014, Mary Evans Picture Library)
Mary Evans Picture Library also manage a number of private collections. At the Open Day I was thrilled to meet some of these contributors which included:
Fashion artist Anne worked for a range of prestigious clients during the 1980s and ’90s. Anne studied fashion and design at the University of Brighton (1970-73), St Martins School of Art (1975-1976) where she was trained by Elizabeth Suter and Colin Barnes. In 1993 Anne studied at the Royal College of Art, London, undertaking a Research Degree by project. During her long and high-profile career Anne’s clients have included Harrods of Knightsbridge, Fortnum and Mason, Garrards Crown Jewelers, Burberrys, the Sunday Times, Vogue, Cosmopolitan Magazine and more.
The archive of the LFB (The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority) is managed exclusively by the Mary Evans Picture Library. The collection contains extensive documentation of the fire service in London from the nineteenth century to the present day. Subjects covered by the images include: World War Two, the Blitz, 1936 fire at Crystal Palace, fire-apparatus from Selfridges Department Store (1966), historic fire-fighting equipment and vehicles.
For more information about the LFB archive, click here.
Grenville Collins’ collection comprises over ten thousand images, mostly from before World War One. Grenville has one of the world’s most comprehensive selection of postcards depicting Turkey and the late Ottoman Empire. In the 1960s, Grenville managed rock band, The Kinks, following which, in the 1970s, he lived near Bodrum in Southern Anatolia, Turkey. Included in his collection are several books of postcards by Max Fruchtermann who published Turkey’s first commercial cards in 1895. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Grenville, his collection is outstanding.
Browse the Grenville Collins postcard collection managed by Mary Evans Picture Library, click here.
Oakley was known as ‘the man with the magic scissors’ who began cutting silhouettes aged just seven years old. He trained at the Royal College of Art. During World War One, he served with the Yorkshire Regiment, the Green Howards, transferring to the 96th (Lancashire) Brigade in May, 1918. Oakley contributed silhouettes and drawings to the trench newspaper, The Dump. His work also appeared in The Bystander (8th March, 1916, ‘Trench Life in Silhouette’).
‘The Man with the Magic Scissors: Oakley of The Bystander‘s Western Front in silhouette’, by Luci Gosling (Mary Evans Picture Library), published 27.8.2013, click here.
Mary Evans’ lifelong passion for dogs influenced her collecting habits which has resulted in an eclectic mix of books, objects and assorted ephemera. Mary eventually acquired the Thomas Fall Archive in 2003;
The library represents some of the best historical sources of material from around the world. They have exceptionally detailed coverage of the history of many countries, with notably large collections from Germany, France, the United States, Spain and Italy;
In October, 1965, London Life, launched. Although the magazine only lasted fifteen months (closing, Christmas Eve, 1966), it is a wonderful record of swinging sixties London. The library has a complete run of London Life, in five volumes. Each publication reads like a who’s who from the world of sixties music, fashion, media and photography (Terence Donovan, Twiggy, Gerald Scarfe, Jean Shrimpton, Terence Stamp, Ian Dury, Vidal Sassoon, Joanna Lumley, Celia Hammond, Peter Akehurst, the list goes on). These iconic individuals helped shaped London as a vibrant cultural hub during one of the twentieth century’s most dynamic decades. London Life was edited by Mark Boxer, founder of the Sunday Times magazine, the managing editor was David Puttnam (now Lord Puttnam).
The Illustrated London News (ILN), launched on 14th May, 1842, is one of the library’s high profile collections. Although the ILN Picture Library (which also includes The Graphic, The Sphere, The Tatler, The Bystander, The Sketch, The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, The Illustrated War News and Britannia & Eve) remains under the ownership of Illustrated London News Ltd, the back catalogue of publications are housed at the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath. Due to the importance of this world-class collection, it was once known as the ‘Great Eight’.
Hilary Evans was a world-renowned authority on paranormal phenomena. The library has an excellent selection of images on this topic in addition to Hilary’s own publications in this field: Seeing Ghosts: Experiences of the Paranormal (2002), Panic Attacks: The History of Mass Delusion (2004), and Sliders: the Enigma of Streetlight Interference (2011).
Vintage fashion is well-represented in the library’s collection with a number of rare publications. They have: a six-volume Le Costume Historique by A.Racinet; Strutt’s Dress and Habits of the People of England; French fashion journals, Gazette du Bon Ton and Art, Goût, Beauté, both with pochoir fashion plates. The library also represents designers Hardy Amies (1909-2003) and Victor Stiebel (1907-1976).
Ninety plus volumes of A & C Black colour books, published between 1901 and 1921, are held in the collection. These books have distinctive cover designs which are decorated in gilt and inside, plates have been produced by adopting a three-colour process which was popular at the time.
Mary collected several hundred different editions of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, including a first edition.
The actress Ellaline Terriss poses with a broad smile for a photo postcard issued in London, England, 1910. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
Whilst looking through a selection of British magazines from World War One, I came across a fascinating editorial written by actress and singer Ellaline Terriss (1871-1971). The article (see podcast below) appeared in the December, 1915, issue of Leach’s Lady’s Companion and details her experiences performing to troops on the front line, Christmas, 1914. Another performer who caught my eye, whilst researching this topic, was Lena Ashwell (1872-1957). More about her later on.
Ellaline Terriss was an English actress and singer who had a long career on both stage and screen. Born on 13th April, 1871, to William and Amy Lewin, in Port Stanley, the Falkland Islands. Ellaline’s father tried a number of different occupations, including a merchant seaman, tea planter in Assam, silver miner and sheep farmer. In the 1870s, he returned to Britain with his family and took-up work as an actor using the stage name, ‘William Terriss’.
Unfortunately, William’s acting career was cut short. On 16th December, 1897, he was murdered by a deranged, unemployed actor, Richard Archer Prince who had recently fallen-out with William. The incident took place outside the Adelphi Theatre’s stage door where William was appearing in a play called Secret Service. Richard waited for William in the theatre’s Maiden Lane entrance and stabbed him repeatedly in a fit of jealous rage. William died shortly afterwards from wounds sustained in the attack. Richard was defiant and unrepentant upon arrest:
He has had due warning, and if he is dead, he knew what to expect from me. He prevented me getting money from the [Actors’ Benevolent] Fund today, and I have stopped him!
Richard’s trial was a media sensation. Following the verdict, he was sent to Broadmoor Criminal Asylum for life, living out his days entertaining inmates and conducting the prison orchestra. Richard died in 1936. It is thought that because his victim had been an actor, Richard had got-off lightly. If William had been of ‘nobler profession or birth’, he would almost certainly have been hanged. Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905) remarked: “Terriss was an actor, so his murderer will not be executed.” The ghost of William Terriss is said to still haunt Covent Garden tube station and the Adelphi theatre.
Ellaline’s mother was an actress (stage name Amy Fellowes). Her younger brother, Tom Terriss (1872-1964), also had a successful career as an actor, screenwriter and film director. Tom worked at Vitagraph Pictures, an American company famous for producing many films during the silent era. Vitagraph was brought by Warner Bros. in 1925. Ellaline herself acted in a number of silent films, Scrooge (1913) and David Garrick (1913). She also managed the transition from silent films to ‘talkies’ with Blighty (1927).
Ellaline made her stage debut, aged sixteen, in Cupid’s Messenger at the Haymarket and henceforth became a regular on the London stage. She worked with some of the top theatre impresarios of the day: Charles Wyndham (1837-1919); Sir Henry Irving; W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911); George Edwardes (1855-1915) and Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1852-1917).
In 1893, Ellaline married fellow performer, Seymour Hicks (1871-1949), a partnership which proved to be a strong creative alliance. For Ellaline, 1897, turned into her Annus horribilis. Besides losing her father in the December she also lost a son in infancy and shortly after her father died, her mother passed away.
Ellaline, picked herself up after these personal tragedies and her career continued from strength-to-strength. In 1904, she gave birth to a second child, Betty, a sibling for her daughter Mabel, an Irish girl adopted by Ellaline in 1889. During the Edwardian era, Ellaline was a music hall star, an audience favourite and a bit of a ‘celebrity’. She concentrated on giving music hall tours from 1910.
Ellaline Terriss with her children c.1908. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
During World War One Ellaline continued to perform on the London stage, of particular note is her appearance in the musical comedy, Cash on Delivery, 1917. At the start of the war, she also travelled with her actor husband, Seymour Hicks (1871-1949), to France giving concerts to troops stationed on the front line. Seymour was the first actor to perform on the front line. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his services to entertainment.
National Theatre at the Front. A tent, a roadside, a hospital – anywhere. The price of admission is our gratitude to you.
(Programme header for Ellaline and Seymour’s concert tours along the front line in France, December, 1914)
During World War Two, Ellaline and Seymour joined the newly created Entertainments National Service (E.N.S.A.), entertaining, once again, troops on the front line, this time in the Middle East.
Listen to Emma, Editor of Come Step Back In Time, read an article by actress and singer, Ellaline Terriss (1871-1971), which featured in the December, 1915, issue of Leach’s Lady’s Companion. In this article, Ellaline reminisces about entertaining troops on the front line in France, December, 1914 with her husband, actor-manager, Seymour Hicks (1871-1949):
Lena Ashwell, early 20th century. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Lena Ashwell (born Lena Margaret Pocock 1872-1957) was an actress and theatre manager. Lena studied music at the Lausanne Conservatoire, Switzerland and subsequently the Royal Academy of Music, London. In 1891, she began acting professionally. Her first job as an actor-manager came in 1906 when she worked at the Savoy theatre.
In 1908, Lena married Royal Obstetrician, Sir Henry Simson (1872-1932) who was actually her second husband. Her first had been Arthur Wyndham Playfair (1869-1918) but he divorced her on grounds of adultery, she had been having an affair with actor Robert Taber (1865-1904). Lena supported the women’s suffrage movement.
When World War One broke-out, Lena fought hard to persuade authorities to allow her to provide entertainment for the troops. In 1915, she finally won support for her plans from the Women’s Auxiliary Committee of the YMCA. The first concert party took place in February, 1915. Companies of singers, musicians and actors were soon being sent to France, Malta, Egypt and Palestine.
In 1917, Lena was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her work. In 1918, there were ten permanent concert parties and seven repertory theatre companies touring and entertaining the troops. Lena recalls her experiences entertaining on the front line in her memoirs Modern Troubadours: A Record of the Concerts at the Front (1922):
I found myself in a tent which seemed in the darkness to be far away from everything and everybody. I stood on a table and recited all the poems that I knew, but wished with all my heart that I had learnt many more, as the audience grew and grew, and they sat silently around like hungry children. It was a quaint, gentle, peaceful evening, and curious that on that night I should have been nearer the firing line than at any other moment…the whole experience was so overwhelming, so moving, so terrible that one’s littleness was stunned and could find expression.
In a crowded hut or tent filled with smoke and packed to suffocation, one felt the hunger of the souls of men, the aching, wondering query in their hearts. Many have found some answer now, and “when the barrage lifts,” perhaps we too shall see, “no longer blinded by our eyes.” But we could find no words or tongue to express the suffering of our hearts, the aching sympathy, to see great battalions moving up to the line, and welcome a few men back, to have a concert interrupted with the sudden roll-call of the men who were to join their regiments at once, to see the men respond to their names and go out and up the line, to hear a whole massed audience singing as their last experience before going up to the blood and horror, “Lead, kindly light”; these are not experiences which can be described, they cut too deep into the soul.
The Parish Church of St. Katherine in the New Forest village of Exbury, contains a stunning memorial dedicated to two local brothers who lost their lives in World War One, John and Alfred Forster. Their parents, Lord and Lady Forster of Lepe, commissioned sculptor Cecil Thomas to design the monument. During the war, Cecil had been a patient at the same hospital in London as Alfred. Over a four month period, the two young men became firm friends.
The monument is housed in a Chapel extension, built 1927/8, which is also dedicated to other Exbury parishioners who lost their lives during the war:
George Dobson (Private) 11th Bn. Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regt.) – Died 27th September 1916;
William Warn (Able Seaman) Merchant Marine Reserve, H.M. Yacht Goissa – Died 25th April 1916;
Frederick John Toms (Private) 10th Bn. Hampshire Regt. – Died 7th September 1915;
Edwin Wellstead (Private) 2nd Bn. Hampshire Regt. – Died 13th August 1915;
George Toms (Able Seaman) HMS Narborough R.N. – Died 12th January 1915;
Cyril John Fairweather (2nd Lieut.) 4th Bn. Hampshire Regt. – Died 22nd March 1918;
John Forster (2nd Lieut.) 2nd Bn. Kings Rifle Corps – Died 14th September, 1914, aged 21;
Alfred Henry Forster (Lieut) 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) – Died 10th March 1919, aged 21.
The Forster Family
In 1890, Lord Henry Forster – 1st Baron Forster GCMG PC DI (1866-1936) married the Hon. Rachel Cecil Douglas-Scott-Montagu GBE (1868-1962). Lady Forster was the daughter of 1st Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, Hampshire. The Forsters originally lived at Southend Hall, Bromley until 1914 when Lord Forster found the new, noisy trams unbearable and decided to move away. He leased his home to Brittania Film Company on 17th August, 1914 and it became a thriving film studio.
In addition to John and Alfred, the Forsters had two daughters. Emily Rachel (1897-1979), who married Captain George Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers (1890-1966), the grandson of Archaeologist, Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers (1827-1900) and founder of Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford. Emily became a stage and screen actress using the name, Mary Hinton. There is a memorial plaque dedicated to her in St. Katherine’s Church. Emily also had a sister, Dorothy Charlotte Forster (1891-1983).
One of Emily’s three sons, Michael (1917-1999), gained notoriety in the 1950s when he was put on trial charged with homosexual offences. He was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment. Michael later became instrumental in the 1967 decriminalisation of homosexuality.
Image above from 7th June 1965. Hungarian born actress Eva Bartok (1927-1998) pictured with Mary Hinton (left) in a scene from the London play ‘Paint Myself Black’ at the New Theatre.
Lord Forster was an ambitious gentleman who enjoyed a long and successful political career both as a Conservative M.P. and later as 7th Governor-General of Australia (1920-25). Following the general election in 1892 he became M.P. for Sevenoaks. In 1901, he took-up office as Deputy Lieutenant of Kent then 1902-05, he was Junior Lord of the Treasury. Between 1902 and 1911, he was the Conservative whip.
During World War One, Lord Forster was assigned to the War Office. Between 1915 and 1919 he acted as their Financial Secretary. In 1918-19, he represented Bromley in the House of Commons and in 1919, was given a peerage, 1st Baron Forster of Lepe in the County of Southampton. Lord Forster became Governor-General of Australia on 7th October, 1920, a post he held until 1925 when he moved back to England. Lord and Lady Forster resided at Exbury House, near Southampton, until Lord Forster’s death in 1936, aged seventy.
Because the Forsters had no surviving sons, the barony became extinct upon Lord Forster’s death. Sadly, this was an all too common occurrence for many aristocratic families after the war who were left with no male heir(s) to inherit either property or title.
John Forster – (1893-1914)
John Forster was born on 13th May, 1893. Educated at Eton, John was commissioned in September, 1913 and served as 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps. On 14th September, 1914, at 3am, John’s battalion advanced in thick mist and driving rain to attack the ridge above the River Aisne (Chemin des Dames), the first Battle of The Aisne. When they reached the crest, they were unable to continue further and found themselves pinned down by enemy fire coming from the occupied sugar factory at the crossroads above Troyon.
Alfred Henry was born on 7th February, 1898. Educated at Winchester College (1911-1915), then RMC Sandhurst. He was commissioned in the 2nd Dragoons Guards (Royal Scots Greys) on 19th July, 1916. The following February he went to France and was promoted to Lieutenant on 19th January, 1918. On 17th October, 1918, Alfred fell, seriously wounded, near Le Cateau. He was transferred to Gerstley-Hoare Hospital for Officers at 53 Cadogan Square, Belgravia, London, where he spent five months.
The Gerstley-Hoare Hospital was set-up by Louise Hoare, cousin of politician Samuel Hoare (1880-1959). Louise had joined the British Red Cross as a V.A.D. and together with her wealthy friend, Mrs Adele Gerstley, established the Hospital in January, 1916. It was a Class A Hospital with twenty-five beds, there were three trained nurses, five full-time and twenty part-time V.A.D.s. Mrs Gerstley was the administrator and Miss Hoare the Commandant.
Gerstley-Hoare Hospital was affiliated with Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital at Millbank, London and admitted casualties direct from the front rather than via a military hospital, as would normally be the case. The Hospital closed in April, 1919 and during just over three years of service, treated five hundred and fifty servicemen only two of whom died, Alfred was one of them. He died of his wounds on 10th March, 1919.
During his time at Gerstley-Hoare, Alfred met the sculptor Cecil Thomas (1885-1976), also a patient, the two became great friends. Alfred is buried at St. Katherine’s Church. Cecil designed the stunning tomb dedicated to Alfred which is in the Church’s Memorial Chapel. Such is the quality of the bronze figure that it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1924. The Chapel’s Hanging Lamp, presented by Miss Amy Fergusson, was also designed by Cecil. A model of the tomb is in the V&A, London.
Cecil Walter Thomas OBE FRBS (1885-1976)
Cecil was born 3rd March, 1885 at 24 Hedley Road, Shepherds Bush, London. His father had a gem engraving business in London and Cecil began his training there followed by Central School of Arts and Crafts, Heatherley School of Fine Art and then the Slade. Cecil enjoyed a long and very successful career as a sculptor, medallist, gem sculptor and seal engraver. In 1948, he designed a Seal for the British Transport Commission. Together with artist, Edgar Fuller, Cecil produced the reverse designs for the sixpence, two shillings and half crown. He also received commissions from Faberge.
Cecil designed a sculpture of Rev. Dr Philip Thomas Byard ‘Tubby’ Clayton CH, MC, DD. (1885-1972) a World War One Chaplain who, together with Rev. Neville Stuart Talbot (1879-1943), founded Talbot House. Located in Poperinge, Belgium, Talbot House (better known as Toc H, see images above and below), provided soldiers, fighting on the front lines around Ypres, with a tranquil haven for relaxation and private reflection. Soldiers of all ranks were welcomed. Cecil’s effigy of Rev. Clayton is in All Hallows By The Tower in the City of London where Clayton was vicar from 1922 until his retirement in 1952.
The handsome Pier which your lordship has so kindly consented to open may be taken as an additional proof of the desire of the residents of this place to render their town as attractive and beneficial as possible to the numerous visitors who are in the habit of resorting thither.
It was certainly a singular thing with respect to an enterprise of this novel character, which would have been almost impossible 50 years ago, and if steam and electricity had not brought Hastings so near the metropolis. It was originally intended to associate a harbour with the pier, but that part of the scheme had been abandoned.
It happened he [Earl Granville, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports] had not seen many of the most modern piers, but, as far as his experience went, he had never seen a more beautiful work designed for enjoyment, recreation, and restoration of health. It appeared to him that this was a peerless pier – a pier without a peer, excepting, perhaps, the unfortunate peer who had the honour of addressing them.
He would only add further that he trusted the pier would give enjoyment, recreation, and restoration of health not to hundreds, not to thousands, but to millions of their fellow-countrymen, that it would give some reasonable profit at all events to the shareholders, who had actuated not so much by purely commercial motives as by an honourable public spirit, and that it would confer all the advantages upon that ancient town and delightful watering-place which the promoters of the undertaking had a right to expect.
(Quotes from a contemporary newspaper, 6th August, 1872, reporting on the opening of Hastings Pier)
It was announced last week that the first planks of wooden decking have been laid at Hastings Pier in East Sussex. This event marks the first stage of a £14m project which will result in the historic Victorian pier reopening, Spring 2015. Back in October 2010, this iconic structure suffered 95% damage in an arson attack and its future looked very bleak indeed. But thanks to determination shown by the people of Hastings, a new chapter in the pier’s history has begun, which will see its reinvention as a vibrant seaside attraction, capable of meeting the demands of the 21st Century visitor.
The surviving Edwardian balustrade will be repaired at the Parade Extension, metal trusses, and beams, missing bracing, damaged columns and missing deck sections will also be replaced and/or repaired. The rest of the structure will be rebuilt/refurbished in a new, contemporary, design.
The Grade II listed landmark became property of Hastings Pier Charity (HPC) in August 2013. So far HPC have raised £13.7m but need a further £500k to complete the project. This regeneration enterprise is funded via a combination of £11.4m awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund together £2m raised by public donation and institutional sources. It is hoped that the £500k shortfall will be filled via a Community Share Scheme, whereby members of the public have until early April 2014 to purchase £1 shares (to a minimum value of £100 per person). The first £200k of this shortfall is required to fund a walkway over the sea. Hastings Pier was originally built under an 1867 Act of Parliament which allowed local investors to subscribe to its construction. Back then, a total of £25,000 was raised and the pier cost £23,250 to build.
The rise and fall and rise again of Hastings Pier is now the subject of a major new BBC documentary by Producer/Director Matthew Wheeler.The End of The Pier Show will be shown on BBC2, at 5.30pm, Sunday 16th March. The programme is a celebration of the golden age of the British seaside pier as well as exploring its fascinating two hundred year old history. There are also on-screen contributions from me.
2014 marks the bicentenary of Britain’s first pier which opened in Ryde, Isle of Wight, on the 26th July, 1814. On the 12th July, 1880, a railway opened on the pier and in 1924, Southern Railway took over its ownership. When the pier opened it was extremely popular.
Shortly after Ryde Pier opened, The Royal Pier Hotel was built in the town, specifically to cater for increased number of passengers visiting the attraction. After the Second World War, the pier’s pavilion concert hall was converted into a ballroom, known in the 1950s as the Seagull Ballroom. The structure is now Grade II listed.
I have long had an interest in the social history of piers and seaside culture. Perhaps this is due, in part, to having spent my childhood growing-up on the South Coast of England and taking regular trips to the seaside with my family. I also lived in Hastings for many years and remember its pier very well, so am delighted that it is being given a new lease of life.
Hastings Pier opened on St. Lubbock’s Day, Monday 5th August, 1872. Unfortunately, the day was blighted by torrential rain and storms; perhaps an omen for the pier’s future which has been blighted by fires, storms, bombings and an arson attack. On its opening day, a special train service ran from London Bridge at 08.30am direct to Hastings, costing five shillings for a return fare. The ceremony had all the pomp you would expect from a grand civic occasion in Victorian Britain. One contemporary newspaper article reported:
The rain being heavy the streets were not very crowded, and nearly everyone carried an umbrella. The pier was gaily decorated with innumerable flags floating from the sides, and volunteers and fireman lined the approach to the pavilion. When the Lord Warden arrived at the entrance he was loudly cheered. Protected by a waterproof, he walked up the pier during a pelting rain, being preceded by the Royal Marine band playing, the coastguardsmen, the Mayor and corporation, and the principal functionaries of the pier company. The Countess Granville found shelter from the storm in a bath chair and Mrs Brassey, the wife of the member for the borough, and some other ladies reached the pavilion by joining the procession in the same kind of vehicle.
The pier was located on the Hastings side of the dividing line between Hastings and St. Leonards, opposite the Sussex Infirmary which was eventually knocked down to make way for the White Rock Theatre (opened 1927). The pier’s architect, Eugenius Birch (1818-1884), built many of Britain’s iconic piers including Eastbourne, Bournemouth, Margate, and the former West Pier in Brighton.
Birch was a brilliant engineer who is credited with being the first pier architect to use screw piling to stabilise his structures. Hastings had three hundred and sixty cast-iron columns fixed using this method. Birch’s architectural design for Hastings Pier was in the Alhambra style, a Moorish inspired aesthetic which gave the building an air of exoticism and sought to inspire in its visitors a mix of fantasy scenarios and promise of hedonistic pleasures.
Prior to the Victorian era, a visit to the seaside had been the preserve of well-to-do aristocrats who would have had enough money to support such a trip. These jaunts were predominantly to ‘take the sea air’. Salt-water bathing was considered the very best cure for aches and pains, as well promoting all-round well-being. During the eighteenth century, the concept of a ‘seaside resort’ developed in tandem with the ‘health resort’. King George III (1738-1820) helped to popularise sea bathing and regularly visited Weymouth in Dorset. His first visit was in 1789 when he hoped that the sea water and fresh air would aid recovery from his first attack of porphyria. He continued to visit Weymouth regularly until 1805. The transition of the seaside from a medicinal haven to a resort bursting with leisure pursuits and activities, is perfectly illustrated by the social history of the pier.
Historically, piers have always been revenue generating. Halfpenny would get you onto the pier, sixpence into the pavilion or dance hall at the end and of course a small fee of a penny to hire a deck chair or sit down on the fixed seating lining the promenade deck. Hastings had two thousand six hundred feet of continuous seating and a pavilion with seating enough for two thousand patrons. On both sides of the pavilion there were landing stages that were suitable for pleasure steamers, row-boats and yachts to pull-up alongside. This would certainly have helped to increase visitor numbers to the pier. During its first decade of trading, Hastings Pier was extremely successful and on St. Lubbock’s Day, Monday 6th August, 1883, approximately nine thousand four hundred people passed through its turnstiles in just one day. A healthy footfall for a leisure attraction even by today’s standards. It is no wonder then, local governments in late Victorian Britain considered the pier a worthy financial investment.
The Industrial Revolution had transformed Britain’s travel infrastructure resulting in the expansion of canal ways and of course the development of an extensive rail network connecting inland towns to seaside locations. The pier became the epicentre of any vibrant seaside venue, a pleasure palace where the holiday maker could forget their woes for an afternoon. The greater range of attractions and facilities offered by a pier, the more enticing it would be. Visitors also needed places to stay, eat and shop which meant that the rest of the town profited. A seaside town with its own pier, made good financial sense.
The history of the British pier is also interwoven with the history of class and social conventions. Victorians and Edwardians were fixated with strict codes of conduct and social hierarchy, whether it was in the workplace, travelling, in the home or leisure activities, cross-class interaction was strongly discouraged by the ruling elite. However, the pier is one of the few spaces where these rules appear to have been relaxed a little. Perhaps due in part to the fact that the structure, although connected to the land, was sufficiently distanced from it so as to create a sort of ‘no-man’s-land’ where nobody really knew what rules to adhere to.
The pier became a melting pot of people drawn from all walks of life both male and female. Unchaperoned young ladies could promenade, accompanied by their female companions, with little disapproval. However, liberal attitudes must have been pushed to their limits on Bournemouth pier. In the early 1900s, a bylaw was introduced to prohibit loitering on the pier for the purposes of prostitution!
The Industrial Revolution had also created a new social infrastructure. The emerging middle classes had surplus income and skilled working people were now better paid. Consequently, by the end of the nineteenth Century, Britain’s economy was booming and leisure pursuits were increasingly popular. The Bank Holiday Act of 1871 was passed by Liberal politician and banker Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913) which designated four public holidays every year. The August public holiday (known as St. Lubbock’s Day in honour of Sir John) was traditionally set as the first Monday in the month and remained so for the following hundred years until 1971, when it changed to the last Monday in August and remains in place to this day. A newspaper reporting in 1872 about the new Bank holidays observed:
Employers have found that a day’s re-cooperation is not a day lost for themselves or their servants. The day’s leisure secured, then comes the question, how it is to be enjoyed; and here the facilities are increasing to a manifold extent. The railways running from London put forth tempting programmes of excursions to all the most pleasant places in our isle. Our readers may be glad to be reminded that trains for Dover leave the South Eastern station at London Bridge at 07.55am, and for Margate and Ramsgate at 07.40am. The new pier at Hastings is to be opened on Monday, and a train will run from London Bridge 08.30am, the return fare being five shillings. The Great Eastern will run the usual excursions from Bishopsgate to Hunstanton and to Harwich, Dovercoart, and Walton-on the Naze; and, in common with most other lines, offers an extended time for ordinary return tickets over the Bank holiday.
The Saturday to Tuesday excursions to the Isle of Wight offer a delightful holiday; while for those who cannot spare the time a day trip is arranged for Monday. While thousands will be drawn to the coast by the attractions of yellow sands and the prospect of a dip in the briny, there are a few who will prefer the calmer pleasures of rural scenery. At this season we are looking forward to a more extended holiday than that of a single day, and are preparing for tours in all directions. The Graphotyping company opportunely send us a parcel of their instructive and valuable shilling guidebooks, which we cordially recommend to travellers. All the books are embellished with maps and illustrations.
St. Lubbock’s Day was more popular in the south than the north where ‘wakes week’ were favoured. The wakes week began in the Industrial Revolution and consisted of a week’s unpaid leave, taken during the months of June to September, in which the factories, mills, collieries and other industrial outlets closed to enable workers to have a rest or take a holiday. During wakes week, firms often provided transport to the seaside for their workers. A holiday to the seaside was a popular choice for families if they could afford the return train fares.
Tourist guidebooks during the late Victorian era right-up until the Second World War were very popular. Even during the late Victorian era and for those who could afford it, short trips to Paris, France were also an option. Following the advent of motor travel, at the end of the nineteenth century, tourist guidebooks quickly developed into bulging tomes packed full of endless travel possibilities throughout the British Isles.
By the outbreak of war in 1939, approximately fifteen million people a year were visiting British seaside resorts. These resorts needed to offer the casual day-tripper, as well as the long stay holiday-maker, an excellent range of activities. Resorts became a one-stop destination seeking to satisfy all of your holiday requirements. Competition between towns to attract visitors was very fierce indeed.
Hastings Pier had an impressive selection of facilities including a bowling alley (1910), shooting gallery, bingo hall and from the 1930s a Camera Obscura (so too did Eastbourne Pier). Roller skating rinks could also be found on a number of piers. This was an activity first popularised by the Edwardians and continued to be a favourite with visitors until the 1970s. St. Leonards pier (which no longer exists) had a rink, so too did Boscombe (from the 1960s); South Parade Pier and Clarence Pier in Southsea; Southampton’s Royal Pier (1906); Victoria Pier, Folkestone (1910) had the ‘Olympia’ rink on the shoreline, to the pier’s west.
Bournemouth took a rather novel approach to this craze and instead of a purpose-built rink, they installed hard-wearing, teak decking so that visitors could roller-skate along the length of the pier. Southsea in fact boasted two roller rinks, one at the end of South Parade pier and The Open Air Roller Rink and Dance Floor located at the Bandstand Enclosure on the nearby Common.
Andrew and Robert Pearce, Southsea businessmen and owners of two award-winning bridal shops in the area (Creatiques and Inspired Bridal by Creatiques) recently shared with me their childhood memories of Summers spent in Southsea. Robert told me: ‘My family have always lived in the area and we regularly took trips to Southsea seafront. I loved to roller skate when I was a teenager. I used to skate quite a bit on the rink at South Parade Pier.’ I am grateful to Robert for providing me with the above photograph, taken in the 1920s, showing his grandparents on Southsea beach. South Parade Pier is just about visible in the background. I have also found a charming photograph, from c1908, showing two young ladies roller skating on the pier’s rink. Click Here.
During the Second World War, south coast piers, including Hastings, were breached, usually in the middle section, to hamper an invasion attempt and stop the pier being used as a landing stage. The only time in their history when these structures have been deliberately disconnected from the land. During the war, Hastings Pier was taken over by the armed forces and did suffer quite a bit of bomb damage as well as near-misses by V1 and V2 rockets. The pier re-opened to the public in 1946.
The pier enjoyed a second Golden Age in the 1950s, particularly during the decade’s latter half. Car ownership had increased and Britain was in the midst of a consumer credit boom. Day trips to the seaside were back in vogue and the pier was once again an entertainment hub to be found at the heart of nearly every British seaside resort.
Many big names from the world of variety took-up summer residencies at pier theatres, pavilions or dance halls along the coast. Bournemouth was a favourite of Sid James, Arthur Askey and Freddie Frinton, Brighton attracted light entertainment favourites Dick Emery, Tommy Trinder and Doris and Elsie Waters.
Portsmouth at one time had four piers: The Albert (1847), The Victoria (1842), The Clarence (1860) and South Parade, Southsea (1879). The latter three were pleasure piers and The Albert was used predominately as a landing stage, it no longer exists but today the Harbour railway station operates on the same site. The Victoria was originally built as a landing stage for the steam packet ferry trade to the Isle of Wight and France. When The Clarence opened in 1860, the Victoria’s popularity declined. The current Victoria Pier, dates from 1930.
During Summer months in the 1950s, South Parade Pier had band concerts in the pavilion every Sunday evening, Sid and Woolf Phillips, Tito Burns, Harry Gold and his Pieces of Eight with Sam Costa, Jack Parnell, Dickie Valentine, Lita Rosa and Dennis Lotis were just some of the headline acts. South Parade’s variety acts included Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, Bob Monkhouse and Derek Roy, playing to full houses every night. In 1974, the pavilion and main building on the pier burnt down during the filming of Tommy (1975) dircted by Ken Russell. It had to be rebuilt the following year at a cost of £600,000.
Unfortunately, these halcyon days did not last for long. During the 1960s, cheap foreign air travel and continental package holidays posed a threat to the pier’s survival. Holidaymakers could now jet-off abroad and enjoy guaranteed sunshine by the sea. By the early 1970s, a number of piers had fallen into a state of disrepair, revenue had dwindled and further investment looked unlikely. Sadly, many piers never recovered. Neglect as well as ownership issues were by-products of a British iconic that the public had simply fallen out of love with. It is only in recent years that interest in reviving and restoring these structures has gained momentum. Perhaps driven by the current trend for nostalgia coupled with the popularity of ‘staycationing’ due to the sluggish economy. Whatever the reason, the important point to make is that some of these structures, such as Hastings pier, are now being given a second chance to become a thriving seaside attraction once more.
This rather jolly documentary about Hastings pier was originally shown in the South East region earlier this year. But the demise of the seaside pier is a familiar tale repeated all around our coast and so a wider audience deserves to see it. Much like a stick of rock there are glorious old photos and film clips all the way through it, although the footage of the 2010 fire that threatened to make it Britain’s 42nd lost pier is a sad sight. Happily the much-loved structure is being restored to its glory days when 56,000 people passed through its turnstiles in just one week. Worth watching wherever you live.
I was delighted to be asked to review an exhibition showcasing a collection of precise ink drawings and delicate watercolours by William Heath Robinson (1872 – 1944) whichis currently on at St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire until Saturday 20th April, 2013. The Heath Robinson exhibition is supported by Rathbones investment management services. This exhibition, from the William Heath Robinson Trust, showcases illustrations he produced for works by William Shakespeare, Hans Christian Anderson and Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) as well as for his own books. There will also, of course, be a number of his much-loved designs for eccentric contraptions and humorous drawings.
Heath Robinson has become a byword for the eccentric and rickety inventions which he created. In the 1930s, he was known as the ‘Gadget King’, a remarkable title given that in real life Heath was not very practically minded. He had only ever been abroad once, towards the end of the First World War, when he illustrated scenes from the western front. At the beginning of his career he was ranked with Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) and Edmund Dulac (1882-1953) as one of Britain’s foremost illustrators.
Heath counted among his friends, authors H.G. Wells (1866-1946) and Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), Heath illustrated Kipling’s A Song of The English (1909, published by Hodder & Stoughton), which celebrated Edwardian pride in the Empire. Heath visited Kipling in Sussex to discuss the book. Illustrations from the publication feature in the exhibition.
Heath was born on 31st May 1872 at 25 Ennis Road, Stroud Green, London. His father Thomas Robinson (1838-1902) chief illustrator of Penny Illustrated Paper and his mother, Eliza Heath (1849-1921), an innkeeper’s daughter.The Robinsons had seven children, Heath was their third child. Heath’s elder brothers Thomas (1869-1953) and Charles (1870-1937) also became well-known book illustrators.
Heath attended Miss Mole’s dame-school, Holloway College from 1880 to 1884 and Islington proprietary school from 1884 to 1887. He did not thrive in education, a fact which his father recognised removing him, aged fifteen, from the proprietary school and sending him instead to Islington Art School, where he remained for five years. He won a studentship to the Royal Academy Schools, graduating in January 1897, aged twenty-five.Whilst at the RA, Heath had become an accomplished landscape painter but subsequently struggled to make a living selling his artworks. Heath’s passion for painting remained with him for the rest of his life, in his spare time he continued to produce landscapes, experimenting with effects of light and colour, as well as figure studies in watercolour.
In order to further his artistic career he decided to join his brothers who were already working as illustrators. Although being an illustrator was a respectable profession, it could be notoriously difficult to make a living from. However, Heath had real talent for humorous art which made him much in demand, especially in the world of advertising. He also took the occasional commission for book and magazine illustrations (The Sketch, The Bystander and The Tatler).
Some of Heath’s earliest book illustrations were published in 1897 and by 1900 he had illustrated editions of The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, Fairy Tales From Hans Christian Anderson (1899, published by J. M. Dent)and The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (1900, these illustrations were influenced by the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)). Copies of the Poe publication are extremely rare, a limited edition of only seventy-five copies were produced, printed on Japanese vellum. He illustrated Anderson’s Fairy Tales with his brothers, Thomas and Charles.
Heath’s fortunes improved when he illustrated his own fantasy for children The Adventures of Uncle Lubin (1902, published by Grant Richards). He wrote about this publication in his biography, My Line of Life (1938, published by Blackie & Son): ‘The story is episodic in form, telling the tale of Uncle Lubin, a little old man in a tall hat and long coat, as he attempts to retrieve his nephew, Baby Peter, from the clutches of the wicked bag-bird.’
This book was particularly important, although not a best seller, it did earn Heath enough money to enable him to marry Josephine Constance Latey (1878-1974), the daughter of newspaper editor John Latey, on 30th April, 1903, they set-up home in Holloway Road. As luck would have it, a Canadian by name of Chase Ed. Potter had read Lubin and commissioned Heath to illustrate some advertisements he was writing for Lamson Paragon Supply Company. Heath was paid, in cash, for each drawing.
In 1903, Heath embarked upon his most ambitious project to-date, The Works of Mr Francis Rabelais, commissioned by Grant Richards. The book contained two hundred and fifty-four illustrations, a hundred of which were full-page illustrations, the rest smaller ones. The book was published in 1904 in two large quarto volumes to critical acclaim. Unfortunately, Grant Richards went bankrupt in November 1904 leaving Heath short of the monies that he had hoped to earn.
Heath moved to Pinner, Middlesex, in 1908 and lived there with his family until 1918, residing at Moy Lodge from 1910. Following his move to Pinner and until 1914, Heath continued to produce book illustrations as well as cartoons for The Sketch and The Strand Magazine, amongst other periodicals. He moved to Cranleigh in Surrey in 1918 remaining there until 1929, when he relocated to Highgate, London. In Highgate, he first lived in Shepherd’s Hill and later 25 Southwood Avenue, close to where he had spent a majority of his childhood.
One of Heath’s finest achievements as an illustrator were forty-one pen and ink drawings for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1914, published by Constable & Co). A contemporary review, in The Times Literary Supplement, described the publication as: ‘The most complete and beautiful specimen before us of an illustrated book as a single work of art…’. A copy of the publication is on display in the exhibition. There is an inscription in the front of this book, which is on display in the exhibition, from Heath to his mother: ‘To my good mother with very best wishes from her affectionate son, will.’
In 1915, Heath produced illustrations for The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) (published by Constable & Co). The edition was originally planned as a lavish gift book but due to the economic climate at the end of World War One, it was published as a modest octavo volume. The illustrations are some of Heath’s finest and show a clear influence of Japanese prints. The Japanese style influenced an entire generation of illustrators.
At the end of World War One, despite the market for lavishly illustrated gift books having all but disappeared, Heath’s talents were still in demand. He obtained a number of commissions for illustrations to appear in advertisements and magazines. Between 1903 and 1942, he produced about a hundred advertising drawings for a wide range of products including Mackintosh Toffees, biscuits, asbestos cement roofs, whiskey and paper. He had a particular talent for parodying the processes by which the various products were made as well as contrasting some of the more desirable qualities of these products. The drawings often took the form of ‘before and after’, i.e. unhappy scenes where the product was absent and happy scenes where the product’s inclusion made everything appear better. A campaign of particular note was for Hovis bread.
Between 1920 and 1936, Heath produced over two hundred drawings for Connolly Bros. (Curriers) Ltd, a majority of which are still in the company’s possession. These collection of drawings were published by the firm as Heath Robinson on Leather, to commemorate the company’s 50th anniversary, in 1928, and were reissued to mark the company’s centenary in 1978. The exhibition includes examples of Heath’s illustrations for both Hovis and the Connolly Bros. (Curriers) Ltd. A particularly delightful illustration for the latter is ‘William the Conqueror appreciates the comfort of leather when crossing the Channel’, pen and ink, 1933.
In January 1921, Heath was commissioned by Jonathan Cape to produce colour illustrations for a complete works of Shakespeare. He completed the drawings in June 1922. Unfortunately, only a handful of these colour illustrations still exist, several rare examples of which are in the exhibition. Jonathan Cape could not find an American partner to share the cost of publication and because of the continuing decline in the market for illustrated books, the edition was never published.
In 1927, Heath produced sixteen designs in full colour, based on popular nursery rhymes, which featured on a range of nursery china for Soane & Smith, Knightsbridge. The china was produced by W. R. Midwinter of Burslem, Staffordshire. Examples from this range can been seen in the exhibition. The attention to detail in the frieze of children’s faces is exquisite. This frieze appeared on the inside rim of cups, bowls and around the outside edge of plates and porringers.
Other characters featured included: goblins; Jack Spratt and his wife; Tom, Tom the Piper’s son and the old woman who lived in a shoe. The range was extensive and ran to cereal bowls, saucers, jam pots, sugar bowls, mugs, egg cups and even a tureen. The service was so popular that it was later sold through a variety of outlets, although the later designs were simplified with the frieze of children’s faces replaced by a simple band of dark blue or pale green.
One of my favourite drawings in the exhibition is a pen, ink and watercolour sketch produced by Heath in 1930 for the luxury trans-Atlantic liner, RMS Empress of Britain (1931) operated by Canadian Pacific Steamship Company which was built in Scotland. The sketch is divided into two parts, the top features a suggested design for ‘The ‘Knickerbocker’ Cocktail Bar’ and the bottom half of the sketch is a design for ‘The Children’s Room’. A closer look at the drawing for the Cocktail Bar reveals some of Heath’s humorous touches. This illustration draws its inspiration from experiences of drinking a cocktail, which according to Heath make you affectionate, give you courage, nerve and produce human kindness. There is also a Cocktail Bird, A Pleasant Surprise and Cocktail shaking in the East.
The Empress of Britain operated from 1931 until 1939 as a steam passenger liner designed to carry 1,195 passengers (465 first class, 260 second class and 470 third class). During the summer months it sailed along the England-Canada route. In 1939, it was requisitioned for war work and became a troop carrier. It was torpedoed on 28th October, 1940 by a German U-boat (U-32) on the northwest of Bloody Foreland, County Donegal, Ireland. Mystery still surrounds the cargo it was supposed to be carrying at the time. It was thought to have been a shipment of gold, bound for North America, a fact that has never been proved.
Another intriguing pen and ink drawing, which I last saw whilst an art history undergraduate, is from How To Live In A Flat (1936), by W. H. Robinson and K.R.G. Browne, published by Hutchison & Co. ‘The One-Piece Chromium Steel Dining Suite’ makes a striking social statement about the popularity of flat-dwelling in the interwar years and contains humorous touches by Heath. In the following extract from the publication, explanation is given for another of Heath’s illustrations: ‘A vote of thanks, therefore, is due to Mr Heath Robinson for demonstrating that a certain amount of quiet fun can be extracted even from the last word in geometrical carpetry. Carpet draughts, they tell me, is just the thing for the long winter evenings, and as it can be played sitting-down – will keep the old folks happy and amused while the young people are out at the movies.’ (Robinson & Browne, 1936, p.42).
In 1944, Heath underwent exploratory surgery, following which he returned home to Southwood Avenue, Highgate, where he died of a stroke on 13th September, later on in the same year. He is buried at St. Marylebone cemetery, East Finchley. This quality exhibition is a delight for both children and adults, it is guaranteed to make you smile and raise a chuckle.
Tickets to the Heath Robinson exhibition and St. Barbe Museum, which is open between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Saturday, cost £4 for adults, £3 for senior citizens and students, £2 for children aged five to 15, and £10 for a family of two adults and up to four children; under fives are admitted free of charge. For more details visit www.stbarbe-museum.org.uk or telephone 01590 676969.
Thursday 11th April, 2013, 10.30am-3.30pm there is a Heath Robinson themed Family Explorer Day at St. Barbe Museum. The Museum’s Explorer Days are engaging and fun hands-on creative activities for children and their family, including the opportunity to handle museum objects. Price is included in admission. Day ticket: Adult £4, Concession £3, Child £2, Family £10. For further information, CLICK HERE.
Arts & Crafts Exhibition – 9th March until 13th April, 2013
The Old School Gallery – St. Barbe Museum
An added bonus when you visit the Heath Robinson exhibition, is the Arts and Crafts Exhibition currently on at The Old School Gallery, located in the same building as the Museum. This is the Museum’s first selling exhibition, showcasing arts and crafts by regional artists: Carol-Anne Savage (contemporary jewellery); Victoria Garland Prints (Prints); Mrs Ollie Chappell (Raku Ceramics); Sue Baker (papier mâché fish); Paul Reeves (beautifully turned wooden objects made from wood found in and around the New Forest or from dead or fallen trees) and Michael Turner (stainless steel sculpture). The range of items for sale is excellent and of an exceptionally high standard.
Sue Baker’s papier mâché fish looked striking hung on the white-washed walls of The Old School Gallery. Her inspiration for the fish comes from when she lived in Cornwall: ‘I’ve always enjoyed messing about with paints and drawing, and enjoy the point where craft and art overlap. I fell into the papier mâché interest over twenty years ago. Having tried a few experiments following ideas in a book. I decided I preferred to do my own thing. The fish theme developed from there. Living in Cornwall, where I was born (I moved to Dorset ten years ago), the fish were an obvious choice I suppose. I started making imaginative fish; but the demand for realistic fish grew, so I seem to make them exclusively now.’
A stainless steel lion by Lymington based sculptorMichael Turner, which is positioned in the Museum’s entrance, proved to be a big hit with both adults and children on the Saturday I visited. If you have travelled through Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 in recent years, you may well have seen Michael’s lion on display there. The lion is for sale, price on application.
Michael describes his work thus: ‘I have been a sculptor for over fifteen years now. I enjoy using recycled stainless steel. In our throw away society, it’s great for me to be able to take discarded material and turn it into something beautiful, and every project takes on a new challenge. My inspiration mainly comes from nature in all its forms. I am especially fascinated by insects which I never tire of reproducing, experimenting constantly with different types of finishes on the basic stainless steel. I use polishing, paint and heat effects to produce a unique piece every time. My work is exhibited in selected galleries and recently featured in Harvey Nichols’ London and Edinburgh stores, as well as the Royal West of England Academy.’
In recent years the career of flamboyant French chef, Alexis Benoît Soyer (1810-1858), has attracted considerable interest from historians. There have been a number of biographies published (see ‘Suggested Further Reading’ section) and his own writings are frequently reprinted. Soyer’s life story has also been turned into a bio-drama, Relish, written by James Graham and performed in 2010 by members of The National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at Tramshed, Shoreditch, London.
Alexis packed a lot into his forty-eight years. He began his career at the tender age of eleven as an apprentice chef in the Palace of Versailles. His brother Philippe already worked there as a chef. It made sense for young Alexis to join his brother and take full advantage of an opportunity to train amongst the world’s finest chefs. After Versailles, Alexis worked in several restaurants in France and become second chef to the French prime minister, Prince Polignac.
Following the Second French Revolution of July 1830, Alexis fled to England to join his brother Philippe who was now working as head chef in the London household of Prince Adolphus, 1st Duke of Cambridge (1774-1850). On 24th May 1836, the newly styled Reform Club, Dysart House, 104 Pall Mall, London, next door to the Carlton Club, opened its doors and were looking for a head chef, Alexis was offered the position. Alexis relished the opportunities that such a role could offer to him and began working there in 1837. Together with architect Charles Barry he designed the Club’s spectacular kitchens. He remained at the Reform Club until 1850.
Alexis married the artist Elizabeth Emma Jones (1813-1842) on 12th April 1837. The marriage ended abruptly in 1842 when Elizabeth died of complications following a miscarriage. Alexis was completely heartbroken and threw himself into his work in an attempt to cope with his grief. He died following a stroke in 1858 at his home 15 Marlborough Road, St. John’s Wood, London. He is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.
Alexis was more than a chef, he was a culinary genius, visionary, prolific writer of cookery books, entrepreneur (although he was terrible with money!), inventor of kitchen gadgets and one of the most important figures in the history of mass catering – particularly in relation to army field kitchens. He also wrote a comic ballet, La Fille de L’Orage (The Daughter of the Storm),to flatter ballerina Fanny Cerrito for whom he had a particular fascination. However, the ballet was not one of Soyer’s finest creative achievement and its humourous content was by all accounts pretty terrible.
Below are a just a few highlights of Alexis Soyer’s career:
The first chef to cook using gas;
Catered for two thousand guests at Queen Victoria’s coronation breakfast on the 28th June 1838;
In 1847, during the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-1852), he set-up portable soup kitchens for the starving Irish at the Royal Barracks in Dublin. He cooked and served twenty-six thousand people a day. The portable kitchen carriages were brilliantly clever and subsequently used on the battlefield in army field kitchens. The carriages were pulled by two horses and a driver. Around the driver’s seat there was a reservoir for water which could be drawn from a stream nearby to wherever the carriage came to rest. The water is turned into steam by the heat from a lit boiler. The lower part had a circular steam boiler and the upper part an oven. ‘Within one hour after the fire is lighted the steam would be up and rations for 1000 men could be cooked by baking and steaming in about two hours and the apparatus moved on again, or it would cook whilst on the march’ (Soyer writing in 1854);
He set-up soup kitchens for the destitute Huguenot silk weavers of Spitalfields, London;
He created a range of bottled sauces and relishes for sale to the public – like a Victorian Jamie Oliver!;
He invented a range of kitchen utensils and equipment, including: a stewing pan; cooking clock; baking dish and vegetable strainer;
He invented the famous ‘Magic Stove’ which enabled food to be cooked at the table: ‘….his [Soyer] unique and almost equally celebrated lilliputian apparatus, not inappropriately denominated “The Magic Stove”. The Magic Stove is as simple as it is useful and ingenious. In it there are two spirit lamps – one which rarifies the spirit in a receptacle placed above, and the vapour, thence airing is ignited by the flame of the second lamp. The flame then passes through a bent tube, called the chimney of the apparatus, at the top of which tube the cooking processes are conduced, without any smoke or smut. In this manner, rapid and perfect combustion is produced, and intense heat evolved by means of a self-acting blowpipe.’ (The Leeds Mercury, Saturday February 1st, 1851);
He was commissioned by the Admiralty to investigate logistics of catering on long sea voyages;
He rented Gore House (now the site of the Royal Albert Hall, London) in 1850 and took moved in on Wednesday 1st January, 1851. Gore House was built in the 1750s with interior decoration by Robert Adam. Between 1808 and 1821 it had been the home of William Wilberforce (1759-1833), who was prominent in the abolition of the slave trade. The Countess of Blessington (1789-1849), a novelist, and Count Alfred D’Orsay (1801-1852) lived there from 1836 to 1849. At Gore House, Alexis created the ultimate ‘pop-up’ dining experience called Soyer’s Symposium. His aim was to mass-cater for visitors to the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. He said of the Symposium: ‘It will be my study to devote this establishment entirely for the display of the gastronomic, where I am now making preparations to accommodate thousands daily at my Symposium of all Nations’ (A letter written to The Preston Guardian and published on Saturday January 18th, 1851). After the Great Exhibition, the Symposium was forced to close at a £7,000 loss. Please see the end of this article for more detail about Soyer’s Symposium;
In March 1855 he travelled with Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), on Lord Panmure’s full authority, to the old Barrack Hospital in Scutari, Turkey. He had been tasked with re-organizing the Hospital’s catering. Florence said of Soyer: ‘..others have studied cookery for the purpose of gormandizing, some for show. But none but he [Soyer] for the purpose of cooking large quantities of food in the most nutritive and economical manner for great quantities of people.’ (Florence Nightingale1820-1910 by Cecil Woodham-Smith, 1952, p. 172). ‘He proceeded to attack the kitchens of the Barrack Hospital. He composed recipes for using the army rations to make excellent soups and stews. He put an end to the frightful system of boiling. He insisted on having permanently allocated to the kitchens, soldiers who could be trained as cooks. He invented ovens to bake bread and biscuits and a Scutari teapot which made and kept tea hot for fifty men.’ (ibid. p.172);
He helped redesign Wellington Barracks which opened in July 1858;
Délassements Culinaires. (1845)
The Gastronomic Regenerator (1846)
Soyer’s Charitable Cookery (1847)
The Poorman’s Regenerator (1848)
The modern Housewife or ménagère (1849)
The Symposiorama: Book of Gore House (1851)
The Pantropheon or A history of food and its preparation in ancient times (1853)
A Shilling Cookery Book for the People:Embracing an entirely new system of plain cookery and domestic economy (1855)
Soyer’s Culinary Campaign (1857)
Instructions to Military Cooks (1857) – Pamphlet.
A Few of Soyer’s Recipes
Camp Soup (For Army Catering): Put half-a-pound of salt pork in a saucepan, two ounces of rice, two pints and a-half of cold water, and, when boiling, let simmer another hour, stirring once or twice; break in six ounces of biscuit, let soak ten minutes; it is then ready, adding one teaspoonful of sugar, and a quarter one of pepper, if handy.
New Way of Making Beef Tea: Cut a pound of solid beef into small dice, which put into a stew-pan with two small pots of butter, a clove, a small onion sliced, and two saltspoonfuls of salt; stir the meat round over the fire for ten minutes, until it produces a thickish gravy, then add a quart of boiling water, and let it simmer at the corner of the fire for half an hour, skimming off every particle of fat; when done pass through a sieve. I have always had a great objection to passing broth through a cloth as it frequently spoils its flavour. The same, if wanted plain, is done by merely omitting the vegetables and clove: the butter cannot be objectionable, as it is taken out in skimming; pearl-barley, vermicelli, rice, etc, may be served in it if required. A little leek, celery, or parsley may be added.
Little Fruit Rissolettes: I also make with the trimmings of puff paste the following little cakes: if you have about a quarter of a pound of puff paste left, roll it out very thin, about the thickness of half a crown, put half a spoonful of any marmalade on it, about one inch and a half distance from each other, wet lightly round them with a paste-brush, and place a similar piece of paste over all, take a cutter of the size of a crown piece, and press round the part where the marmalade or jam is with the thick part of the cutter, to make the paste stick, then cut them out with one a size or two larger, lay them on a baking-tin, egg over, place in a nice hot oven for twenty minutes, then sugar over with finely sifted sugar, so as to make it quite white, then put back into the oven to glaze and serve.
Good Plain Family Irish Stew: Take about two pounds of scrag or neck of mutton; divide it into ten pieces, lay them in the pan; cut eight large potatoes and four onions in slices, season with one teaspoonful and a half of pepper, and three of salt; cover all with water; put it into a slow oven for two hours, then stir it all up well, and dish up in deep dishes. If you add a little more water at the commencement, you can take out when half done, a nice cup of broth.
Soyer’s Gastronomic Symposium of All Nations
The transformation of Gore House, Kensington to the people’s palace of gastronomy was an unbelievable achievement by Soyer and his team. It cost diners one shilling to enter the building, half a guinea to dine in the House and less to dine in the grounds. A French-English meal cost two shillings per diner. From 5pm each day, in the main House, private dining parties took place. Soyer produced a book on the Symposium called, The Symposiorama (Book of Gore House). In it, Soyer enthuses about the eating experience that would await diners:
Dinner in the Temple of Danae, lunch in the vintage chamber, supper with the domains of the ice king, eating and drinking everywhere! Why the sight is enough to turn a heart of stone, enough to make a hermit relinquish his roots and black bread, and a teetotaler break his pledge all to fragments.
Coverage in contemporary newspapers of the interior was extensive, below is an extract from The Standard, Monday April 28th, 1851:
You enter the doorway, and stand in the Vestibule de la Fille de L’Orage, you read, ‘Soyer’s Symposium’, struck by arrows of lightning from a hand clenched convulsively over the head. From this you pass into L’atelier de Michel Ange, the walls of which are covered with the existent marvels of architectural and engineering art – the Pyramids, the Palace of Westminster, St. Paul’s, Pompey’s Pillar, the Tubular Bridge, and the like, shouldering each other with amusing defiance of time and concord. Turning to the right, the visitor finds himself in what once, was the Blessington Library, but now La Salle du Parnasse in plainer and less metaphorical English, a spacious dining-room, brilliantly fitted with mirrors, marble consoles, and Grecian vases, the prevailing characteristic of white and gold being extremely effective, and affording a delicate contrast to the ‘Salle des Noces de Danaë, the speciality of which is the Alhambra spirit of the ceiling, displayed in its gorgeous varieties of colour, while gem-like tears cover the pale green walls, dropping, as it were, from the heavily gilt cornice. The eight globes of silvered glass which are to hang here will produce an ensemble, when reflecting the floods of gas with which the salle will be charged of which, we can form but little conception….the ante-chambers of the mansion of which is striped and starred a la Jonathan.. La Cabinet de la Pompadour – embellished with flutings of white and pink, and a triumphant arch of roses and foliage; La Foret Peruvienne, the colour of which is blue.. La Chambre ardents d’Apollon a circular apartment, intended for the Ghebirs, who can, if they like, before they eat their curried spiders, prostrate themselves before the before the brazen sun which fills half the plafond with its circumference..Grotte des Neiges Eternelles encrusted with sparkling pendents…Vintage Palazzo, Italian Saloon enclosed in a trellised gallery overhung with vine leaves, through which the eye looks upon the plains of Lombardy, the fastnesses of Calabris, and the ruins of Campagns…Bourdoir de la Valliere, enter the state bed-chamber, papered with zig-zag stripes and diagonal bands of black velvet and silver lace… Pagode du Cheval de Bronze, Chinese hall, tea-chest, crimson curtains, statuettes of Fo and Buddha, fat-bodied bronzes and lantern.
There were nine acres of gardens at Gore House and Soyer ensured that he packed every inch with dining opportunities. He installed an American bar, serving egg noggs, shandygaffs, mint juleps and brandy smashes. Les Pavillons des Zingari had a Grotto of Ondine showcasing cases of gold and silver fish. The centrepiece of the gardens was the Baronial Banqueting Hall, measuring 100ft long and housing paintings produced by his late wife Emma as well as a selection by Count d’Orsay. It was also possible to dine in the Baronial Hall, a English-French dinner cost three shillings and sixpence. At 2pm, each day in the Hall, hot meat joints, vegetables, Symposium pies, mayonnaise salads, cold meats, hams, poultry, pastry, jellies and creams were served.
Another feature in the grounds were the Pyramids of Morning Dew. Grassy mounds upon which plaster figures were placed, surrounded with layers of vases filled with flowers. Le Pavillon Monstre d’Amphytrion, measuring 400ft long, provided an opportunity to experience Soyer’s brilliance for the logistics of mass catering. This gigantic dining encampment could seat one thousand five hundred diners at any one time. Covering the dining table was an enormous one-piece tablecloth that took two men to carry it across the meadow to the Pavillion and six people to unroll it. The kitchens in the main House had the capacity to roast six hundred joints of meat each day and on the green an ox was roasted every hour. Each night there was also fireworks and music for dancing.
As you can see, Soyer was a culinary genius who has, until now, been overlooked by historians, in favour of that other Victorian cooking genius, Isabella Beeton. Finally, Soyer is emerging from Mrs B’s shadow and exciting historians with his body of work and contribution toward the evolution of Victorian social and domestic cookery. Incidentally, a quick check of my 1915 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management reveals that a number of Soyer’s recipes were included by Mrs B in her publication. These include his recipes for goose stuffing and a sauce for plum pudding.
Suggested Further Reading
The People’s Chef: Alexis Soyer, a Life in Seven Courses by Ruth Brandon (2004), published by John Wiley & Sons;
Relish:The Extraordinary Life of Alexis Soyer, Victorian Celebrity Chef by Ruth Cowen (2007), published by Phoenix;
The Portrait of a Chef: The Life of Alexis Soyer, Sometime Chef to the Reform Club by Helen Soutar Morris (1938), published by The University Press;
The Chef at War by Alexis Soyer (2011), published by Penguin;
‘Hot on the Trail’ by Professor Thomas A. P. Van Leeuwen, Cabinet magazine, Issue 37, Bubbles, Spring, 2010. An excellent and well-written article on Soyer’s field stoves, including images of the Magic Stove, field stoves in the Crimea and the Dublin soup kitchen in 1847. This article inspired me to research Soyer further. For article, CLICK HERE.
My previous article, on the history of Whitchurch Silk Mill, reflects only half the story of this incredible Mill. The Mill has long been an important supplier of bespoke silk fabrics for film, television and theatre costumes. Below is a selection of some of these productions together with details of fabric used and character who wore it.
Sara (Theatre Cheek by Jowl – 1990). Mellefont (Raad Rawl) and Marwood (Shelia Gish). Mellefont’s suit of silk and Marwood’s gown trimmed with silk ribbon.
Cats (Theatre Musical – 1989) – Rayon fringe.
Back to the Future III (Film – 1990). Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen). Clara wore a hat trimmed with silk ribbons woven at the Mill.
The Fool (TV Channel 4 – 1990). Lady Amelia (Maria Aitken). Lady Amelia wore a gown of multi-striped silk taffeta.
Scarlett (BSkyB TV – 1994). Scarlett O’Hara (Joanne Whalley). A gown made of honeybird and black striped silk taffeta.
Middlemarch (BBC TV – 1994). Dorothea (Juliet Aubrey). Dorothea wore a gown of silk cotton moiré. The production also featured a range of other silk fabrics in various colours.
Sense and Sensibility (Film – 1995). Marianne Dashwood (Kate). Marianne wore a bonnet trimmed with silk ribbon.
Jefferson in Paris (Film – 1995) – Maria Cosway (Greta Scacchi) and Richard Cosway (Simon Callow). Maria’s gown had silk ribbons. A jacket worn by Richard was made of silk moiré.
The Portrait of a Lady (Film – 1996). Isabel Archer (Nicole Kidman). Isabel wore a silk cotton moiré taffeta gown.
Titanic (Film – 1997). Ruth de Witt Bukater (Frances Fisher) and Molly Brown (Kathy Bates). Ruth wore a hat with silk satin striped ribbon. Molly wore a hat with a crown of steel-blue and saxe-blue silk taffeta.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (BBC TV – 1999) – Pimpernel’s wife (Elizabeth McGovern). A gown made of silk taffeta.
Aristocrats (BBC TV – 1999). Sarah (Jodhi May) and Louisa (Anne-Marie Duff). Sarah wore a gown of scarlet striped taffeta and a gown of steel-blue and saxe-blue pure silk taffeta. Louisa wore a gown of peach taffeta.
Madam Bovary (BBC TV – 2000). Emma Bovary (Frances O’Connor). Emma wore a gown of purple silk taffeta.
He Knew He Was Right (BBC TV – 2004). Nora Rowley (Christina Cole) and Emily Rowley (Laura Fraser). Nora wore a gown of raspberry silk cotton moiré. Emily wore a gown trimmed with silk ribbons around the waist.
Mary Poppins (Theatre – 2004). Jane (Faye Spittlehouse). Jane wore a gown of champagne silk and raspberry cotton moiré taffeta.
North and South (BBC TV – 2004). Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe). Margaret wore a gown made of silk linen taffeta.
Bleak House (BBC TV – 2005). Lady Deadlock (Gillian Anderson). Lady Deadlock wore a gown made from champagne silk and saxe-blue lined taffeta.
Pride and Prejudice (Film – 2005). Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Dame Judi Dench). Lady Catherine wore a gown of black silk and wine cotton moiré taffeta.
Cranford (BBC TV – 2007) – Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis). A dress made from champagne silk and black cotton moiré taffeta. Dorcas (Julia Sawalha). Dorcas wore a two piece outfit in dark blue/green and a champagne and bleached linen taffeta blouse; a coffee striped silk ribbon trimmed hat which is petrol blue to match her jacket; dark blue and wine silk taffeta dress. Ruby Pratt (Victoria Hamilton) and Pearl Pratt (Matilda Ziegler). At a party in the Golden Lion they wore hats trimmed with black striped ribbons to match their bottle green and black dresses; Pearl also wore a pink and coffee ribbon at the neck of her brown and gold cloak; both wore pink wide satin striped champagne ribbons at the neck of their blouses which were burgundy with coffee coloured floral pattern. Margaret Ellison (Sandy McDade). Margaret wore a grey silk and linen dress while in her father’s office. Laura Timmins (Olivia Hallinan). Laura wore a steel-blue skirt as she walks through a field with her young man.
Becoming Jane (Film – 2007) – Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway). Jane wore a dress decorated at the waist with chocolate and blue silk ribbon.
Gaslight (Theatre The Old Vic – 2007). Bella Manningham (Rosamund Pike). A gown of steel-blue and lilac cotton moiré silk.
The Shadow in The North (BBC TV – 2007). Sally Lockhart (Billie Piper). Sally wore a jacket made from black silk/linen and a bonnet trimmed with black silk taffeta and satin striped ribbons.
Miss Potter (BBC Film – 2007). Mrs Potter (Barbara Flynn). Mrs Potter wore a gown of silk cotton moiré.
Fanny Hill (BBC TV – 2007). Mr H (Hugo Speer). Mr H wore a coat made from champagne silk and gold cotton moiré.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles (BBC TV – 2008). Tess (Gemma Aterton). Tess wore a straw boater trimmed with champagne satin striped woven ribbon.
Garrow’s Law (BBC TV – 2009). Lady Sarah Hill (Lyndsey Marshal). Lady Sarah wore a gown of silk fabric.
Other high-profile productions featuring silk fabrics woven at Whitchurch Mill include: The Piano (Film – 1993); The Madness of King George (Film – 1994) and The Ruby in the Smoke (BBC TV – 2006). In the Café there is a large display of production stills featuring some of the costumes mentioned above.
For more information on Whitchurch Silk Mill, including visitor information, please CLICK HERE.