Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Coincidence No. 489 – Malcolm X

I am travelling to Helsinki to do some work with broadcaster YLE and University of Helsinki about Public Service Media and young people. It is a 3-hour flight so the night before I download three programmes on Netflix on my phone. It is the first time I have done this for months. One is a British movie, ‘Northern Soul’. Another is an episode from Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary series. The other is the first episode of the Netflix Original ‘Who Killed Malcolm X?’. I just picked the first 3 things I fancied watching. I watch the movie on the way out and the Malcolm X doc on the return journey – today, 21st February.

Malcolm X

The documentary starts. Within seconds it becomes clear that he was killed on 21st February 1965. I had no idea. Today is the 55th anniversary of his assassination.

who killed Malcolm X Netflix documentary

Memory and the Internet

I’ve just woken up with the phrase ‘Electrical Discount Warehouse’ in my head. I’m fairly sure that was the name of a shop in the parade of shops in the neighbourhood where I grew up. I was trying to recall it at lunchtime yesterday when talking to my mother about that small group of shops and trying to finish reconstructing it with her. It’s always a surprising reminder of the activities of the Unconscious during sleep when you wake up having remembered something you struggled to recall when awake.

So why was I trying to reconstruct the shopping parade from memory? I was driving past it a few days ago (New Year’s Eve) and when I saw the chemist the name Brian Luckhurst sprang to mind, out of nowhere – haven’t thought about it or him for years. Now I write the name down I can begin to see his bald pate and  his person. From that thought, the sudden emergence of his name, came the question: What else was in this parade when I was a child (c.1969-1975)? It’s the kind of memory game people in prison must play. It reminds me of Terry Waite and John McCarthy.

The neighbourhood was called The Green Man after the local pub. One of my first jobs after university was working in that pub. I went in to get a bar job and the manager took one look at my John Lennon glasses and my lily-white hands and said “Accounts”. I enjoyed doing accounts, because unlike with Literature (Modern & Mediaeval Languages = foreign literature), there was an answer. It was therapeutic. By then the name had changed to The Everglades, shifting from English tradition (Robin Hood, forestry) to American exoticness (the Florida swamps – there was an ingredient I saw in the accounts every week, “jalepenos” that matched this exoticism – I was uncertain what on earth they were). I have no idea what the pub or building is called now – it still stands. The ‘race memory’ of the place is captured in the persistence of Green Man as the local name for the junction. There are no signs anywhere that actually say Green Man.

After the internet and advent of the Worldwide Web parochial memories like this by and large tend to get recorded somewhere or other. Before they were much more likely to die away, existing only in stray photos, perhaps local publications, mainly people’s heads. Some of the early films in my career are really hard to find online – my first was in 1987 (as producer-director-writer). Often there is just one artefact to be found – an image or a reference.

Let’s test that one: (“Adam Gee” “The Best” Melrose) [Melrose = production company]…

It draws a total blank, other than where I have recorded it online (i.e. IMDb). I first remember working online in the mid 90s, a couple of years after making The Best.

Of course the efficiency of the search engine(s) is an issue. Thinking about this I remember coming across the film online. It was on a British Film Institute catalogue but it seems to be too deep or the site too poorly constructed to show up in the early pages of search results.

So the memory of the WWW only gets you so far. And there’s still arguably a merit in capturing certain things from in your head and publishing them online. We all know how trivial things can come to have significant meaning in certain contexts.

So for posterity here is what I have managed to reconstruct of The Green Man – from my own memory, with input from my mother and brother, and prompted by those discussions also from my head:

  • Brian Luckhurst chemist – which started the memory ball rolling…
  • Dr Burke’s surgery – 2 Selvage Lane, what I passed to get to the shops
  • The Railway Tavern pub – not really attached to the parade
  • Pet shop on the corner – I can recall the sawdust on the floor, the smell (not unpleasant), and the owner in his grey lab-style coat (Champions? see below)
  • Eric & Mavis newsagent/sweet shop – the other end of that first row of shops, formerly The Penny Shop (sweet shop)
  • Express Dairy outlet – down an alley beyond E&M
  • window shop? glass?
  • Neptune fish & chips shop – over the road, opposite corner; chips were 5p in 1971 at point of decimalisation
  • Post Office – sold singles (ex-juke box), where I bought my first 45: T-Rex, Solid Gold Easy Action
  • Green Grocer – had a delivery boy who rode a heavy black bike, he turned up later in a rockabilly group called The Polecats (who had a modest hit with a rockabilly-punk cover of David Bowie’s John I’m Only Dancing) – his name was something like Bez (real name Martin)
  • plumbers merchants??
  • launderette??
  • Mautners deli
  • Electrical Discount Warehouse – a slightly later arrival my father was attracted to as a physicist who made electrical instruments
  • bookies???
  • butcher? (Lewis?)
  • Martin’s newsagent
  • Women’s hairdresser (Friends???) – end of the Neptune stretch of shops, so the two sides are: Pet Shop-Eric & Mavis, Neptune-hairdresser
  • The Green Man pub – which gave its name to all this
  • Mobil garage

This represents, I would estimate, over 50% of the shop units at The Green Man junction. If I was banged up in a Beirut cell for a few years, I wonder how much more my mind is capable of retrieving?

To conclude this Sunday morning reflection on memory, individual and group recall, and the internet, let’s see what the Web can find visually of these fragments I have retrieved…

One tiny picture of The Green Man pub from a personal collection of pub pictures in the locality (personal local history site)

Green Man pub Hale Lane Edgware

Green Man – Hale Lane, Edgware

A shot of the pet shop part of the parade froma specialist bus site

221_RM1397_HaleLa_NStreet_r green man mill hill

Alan Le???? was a second hairdresser I think. To its left in the image seems to be some kind of office (solicitor? accountant?) – the pet shop is behind the back of this 221 Routemaster bus. The phone number on the office is 0181 so after the expansion of 01 London numbers to 081 to 0181 making this around 1995 so the photo must be misleading in that the bus was vintage at this juncture.

A good picture of the pub from well before my time (must have been rebuilt in the 30s) from a pub wiki

Green Man mill hill hale lane

T. Gill was the publican

Another early photo of the pub from the local authority archives

Green Man pub mill hill hale lane

There seems to have been a garage attached – the Mobil garage ended up on the other side of the pub

A more recent photo of The Green Man building from Tripadvisor labelled “Greenman, Edgware (As it used to be called)”. This iteration is (ugh) The Jolly Badger.

welcome-to-the-jolly badger Green man, Edgware (As it used to be called)

You can see the clapboard fabric of The Green Man building and the Mobil garage (now a different brand).

the green man pub

the green man pub harvester

So, so far, only one image from the era in question – the very first one, small and black & white.

The Everglades Hale Lane NW7 04 1983

Although this one looks old it is labelled 1983 and Everglades, so just before I worked there with the jalapenos.

I just found by chance this reference to the pet shop on a local blog:

4. The Pet shop at The Green Man. I’m sorry to say I can’t recall the name of this. Please leave a comment if you can. I was never allowed to keep pets, but we loved fishing and this was the place I bought my first floats, fishing line and maggots. I had acquired a fishing rod at a local jumble sale, one of the old bamboo style efforts, with a cork handle and rubber bung on the end. It came with a Hardy reel, which I soon found out was a fly fishing model. I traded this for a more suitable coarse fishing model, having restored it to working order. I recently saw a similar model on sale for nearly £200. I think I didn’t get the best of that deal!

Glyn Burns said…
I think the pet shop at the Green Man was called Champions.

5 August 2019 at 05:44

king neptune fish and chips mill hill green man

survives little changed

Bottom line, just the one tiny contemporary photo; establishments that have survived the decades; personal memories.

Here at King Neptune is an apposite place to conclude as it is the Fisher King at the very end of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land who says:

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

As one commentator puts it: “the king will do his best to put in order what remains of his kingdom”. The gathering of fragments. Of memories. Striving for order. Constructing and reconstructing visions and patterns. Setting the lands in order.

I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
                  Shantih     shantih     shantih

A Box update

49257399871_f26a48eb72_k

The good & knowledgable folk at Great War Forum have teased out a few details from this one including so far:

  • more than one regiment is represented – Fusiliers, RAMC, Artillery, possibly Norfolks
  • there are men in hospital blues – sitting in front on the right, right end of the first row and second right in the middle row; possibly also middle right of the back row
  • it might be that the civilian couple are home-owners who let their home be used as a convalescence facility

 

Update to Dive into The Box

This update to my post of 22nd December concerns the Empire Studio(s).

The Photographers of Great Britain and Ireland 1840 to 1940 website kindly informed me that there were 2 studios called Empire Studio in Cardiff and Edinburgh, plus 5 in London, and about 10 in other parts of the country. The London ones were active 1909 – 1932.

The London ones were:

  1. 60 High Street, Stoke Newington, London N
  2. 491 New Cross Road, New Cross, London SE
  3. Empire Studios – 106 Shoreditch High Street, London E – 1922-27
  4. 133a High Street Deptford, London SE
  5. Empire Studios – 305 Kentish Town (Road?), London NW – 1931-?

My guess was Shoreditch, being closer to Dagenham, but the dates aren’t right for what is evidently a WW1 photograph.

49257399871_f26a48eb72_k

I’ve been to visit the Kentish Town site and the Shoreditch one over the last two days, taking advantage of the quiet time in the city between Christmas and New Year.

Here’s the Kentish Town site:

site of the Empire Studios photographic studios

305 Kentish Town Road

The Art deco flourish seems to match the 1931 opening

site of the Empire Studios photographic studios

And here’s the Shoreditch site:

site of the Empire Studios photographic studios

106 Shoreditch High Street (right)

Nothing left of the building but you can see from 107 what it may well have looked like. I like the fact it is now More Joy as JOY is a resonant word for me – my daily mantra is “I will enJOY my day”.

Talking of buildings no longer there, yesterday I also went to seek out 8 Praed Street as featured in yesterday’s post. My great-grandfather’s tobacconist is no more – it’s under the Hilton hotel.

49278919311_613efa5454_k

8 Praed Street, Paddington (right)

That’s the name of the game – some stuff survives, other is but a memory.

Remembering Kristallnacht

The night of 9th/10th November 1938 was Kristallnacht in Nazi GermanyThe night of 9th/10th November 1938 was Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany. The Kristall/crystal part of the name refers to the broken glass from the smashed windows of Jewish shops, businesses and synagogues. Jewish homes, schools and hospitals were ransacked, damaged and destroyed. Over 250 synagogues and 7,000 businesses were attacked. 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

The event was widely reported, pretty much as it was happening, largely by foreign journalists working in Germany. With what impact is a moot point.

Kristallnacht was made possible by the support, funding and protection afforded the National Socialists by corporate Germany. Five years earlier (on 20th February 1933 at the palace of the President of the Assembly on the banks of the Spree in Berlin) 24 leading industrialists had attended a meeting with Hitler and Göring. In the wake of it they coughed up money and other support. In doing so they cleared the way for the rise of the Nazis and ultimately Kristallnacht and the Holocaust. This key event is brilliantly spotlighted in Eric Vuillard’s Prix Goncourt-winning novella (récit) The Order of the Day/L’Ordre du Jour.

The brands at that meeting included:

  • Allianz – the insurance and financial services multinational which sponsors the stadium of our local rugby team, Saracens
  • Opel – their cars are now sold in the UK under the Vauxhall brand – they’re even sold in Israel, under their own name
  • Bayer – the multinational pharma company with the motto “We exist to help people thrive” – wrong people in 1933
  • BASF – whose tapes I used to use to make mixtapes as a teenager
  • Agfa – whose film I used to use as a budding teen photographer
  • Siemens – the multinational manufacturer with the motto “Ingenuity for life”
  • IG Farben – broken up after the war on account of having supplied the gas for the gas chambers among other evils – the main successor companies are Agfa, BASF, Bayer and Sanofi (motto: “Empowering Life”)
  • Telefunken – a tellies and hifis name from my youth

So the brands (and their logos) long outlived the Jewish businesses with the broken shop-windows, the people who ran them and the congregations that filled those synagogues.

A great irony is that another sledgehammer wall smashing event took place in Germany on 9th November – the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

allianz_logo-history

The evolution of an eagle-based logo

Allianz-logo

The Eagle has Landed

Logo_Hitler nazi eagle

Nazis loved eagles too – this eagle is looking the other way

Opel-logo-2009

Blitzkrieg means lightning war

second-world-war-nazi-germany-the-waffen-ss-symbol

Nazis loved lightning too

bayer-logo-1904

A cross-based logo (1904)

Logo_Bayer

The cross has persisted

Nazi-NSDAP-Logo

A cross-based logo – Hackenkreuz (= hook cross)

BASF-logo

IG Farben (which created bad chemistry) morphed into BASF among others

IG_Farben_Logo

IG Farben dissolved after the war

ig farben luftschutz helmet

An IG Farben Luftschutz helmet – oddly familiar

AGFA-Logo

Another recipient of IG Farben

Siemens-Logo

Life?

SANOFI-Logo

Life? Another recipient of IG Farben

Telefunken logo

Lightning strikes thrice

 

A Day in Dublin

Sweny's chemist pharmacist drugsture Dublin Ulysses James Joyce

Following a meeting with RTÉ in the Docklands in East Dublin I had the afternoon free to wander the city. On the way in to the centre from the airport the bus passed the end of Eccles Street where Leopold Bloom lives and is having breakfast in the second chapter of ‘Ulysses’. An hour later I walked across Holles Street where the maternity hospital is where another chapter of the Greatest Book Ever takes place. After that I looked into the window of Sweny’s the pharmacist where Bloom buys his lemon soap (and they still sell it in waxed brown paper). In a couple of hours I am heading back there for a ‘Ulysses’ reading group as it is now a volunteer-run centre dedicated to the book. It is just opposite the back entrance to Trinity College, Dublin where I am due at a lunch at noon.

Yesterday I also passed the Ormond Hotel (which, if I had my bearings right, is largely a space on the North bank of the Liffey at Ormond Quay, having been pretty much demolished since my last trip to Dublin) where the music-centred chapter of the novel occurs, the chapter which is the focus of the long-running Charles Peake seminar at Senate House, University of London which I attend every month. It takes the group several years to get through a chapter as it is a close-reading approach – we cover just a dozen or so lines per two hour Friday evening session.

proclamation of the irish republic

Back to Friday afternoon, I passed the old Ormond Hotel on the way to Kilmainham Gaol where the leaders of the Easter Rising were imprisoned in 1916. There I met my younger son who was also over, meeting his cousins. I had the great honour in the course of the visit to read to him (he has severe dyslexia so I am in the habit of reading to him) one of the surviving twenty copies of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, a poster size text printed in two sections, and then parts of the original letters written by the condemned men as their last words. These are displayed in dim light for preservation but the lighting also adds to the vibe. A particularly resonant one is by Joseph Plunkett to his girlfriend who he recognises he should have married – signed “Your lover, Joe”. My son is an Irish citizen hence the honour of introducing these things to him. Later in the afternoon we passed the GPO in O’Connell Street where I concluded my history to him of the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. (Which reminded me that I wanted to ask my RTÉ colleague how the preparations are going for the tricky centenary of the Civil War. When I was over speaking to the RTÉ Board in December 2017 they were just starting to address the project with the President that same day.)

We went back into town via the Irish Museum of Modern Art, taking the Luas (tram) back to the river. My son is really interested at the moment in wild/open water swimming and imagined swimming the Liffey. I told him about Yeats’ energetic painting of a swimming race in the National Gallery of Ireland.

IMG_6382 finnegans wake 1st edition 1939 james joyce

1st edition (1939)

I rounded off the day seeing both a 1939 1st edition of ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ (€2,000), which I sent to Finn Fordham who leads the monthly Wake seminar at Senate House I also go to fairly regularly, and a 1922 1st edition of ‘Ulysses’ from Shakespeare & Co., Paris, 1 of 750 copies, with the famous (among a small but dedicated circle) Greek blue cover (€30,000) at Ulysses Rare Books shop off Grafton Street. I’ve seen and even handled the ‘Ulysses’ 1st edition in that fabulous shop before – this one has only been in a month. If I was rich I would buy one alongside a powder blue Mark 2 Jag. My son wanted to know how Joyce had managed to fill 700 pages with two people’s wanderings around Dublin for just one day.

img_6383

I concluded the day in another book shop, The Winding Stair, named after the other Yeats’ volume of poetry. For the last 15 years the book part has shrunk to just the ground floor and the 1st and 2nd floors up the eponymous stairs have become a really good Irish restaurant with a view of the river, quays and Ha’penny Bridge. In the past the dining room, where I enjoyed Irish duck and Irish trout this evening, used to be covered in bookshelves full of second-hand volumes. Now just a couple of shelves of books tip a hat to that literary past. The tome I acquired from here that comes first to mind is Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man’, a vintage Penguin paperback. Every book becomes a friend.

iew from The Winding Stair restaurant Dublin

View from The Winding Stair

Art Vandals 3: From suffragette to fascist

Weapon: Meat cleaver

Reason: Political, gender political

venus-and-cupid-diego-velazquez Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery painting slashed vandalised

Venus and Cupid by Diego Velazquez

Today I went on a guided historical walk around the East End of London entitled ‘Anti-Fascist Footprints’ led by David Rosenberg, a specialist in East End history, husband of a former colleague of mine at Channel 4. During the tour we walked right past the offices of Little Dot Studios in Whitechapel’s Plumbers Row where I have been working since the company moved from Shoreditch towards the end of last year. David and I recently co-interviewed a veteran of the 43 Group anti-fascist group out of the East End. A (to me) surprising connection came up on the walk this afternoon – one of the photos David showed of a group of women BUF (British Union of Fascists) members included a certain Mary Raleigh Richardson who was on my radar from a completely other angle – as an Art Vandal.

Mary Richardson was the Suffragette who slashed the so-called Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery in 1914.

The Rokeby Venus is the nickname of The Toilet of Venus aka Venus at her Mirror aka Venus and Cupid painted by Velázquez between 1647 and 1651. It resides in London’s National Gallery. It is the only extant female nude by the Spanish artist. It reached these shores in 1813 when it was purchased by the MP John Morritt for £500 and hung in his home, Rokeby Park, Yorkshire. In 1906 the newly created National Art Collections Fund acquired it for the National Gallery, its first significant campaigning win.

Eight years on, on 10th March 1914, Mary Richardson marched into the National Gallery and slashed the canvas seven times with the distinctly domestic weapon of a meat cleaver. Her action was prompted by the arrest of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst the day before. There had been earlier warnings of an attack on the National Gallery collection, so the plan may already have been in place. Richardson’s slashes were deepest between Venus’ shoulders but covered her back and buttock too. The attack earned her the nickname Slasher Mary in the press. The London Times described a “cruel wound in the neck” and feminist commentators have remarked that the contemporary reports sound more like injuries to an actual body rather than a pictorial representation, indicating that both the incident and the painting have come to take on an emblematic dimension.

Why did Richardson do it? She told the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the militant suffragette group led by Emmeline Pankhurst, shortly after the incident: “I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history.” The WSPU endorsed the destruction of property as a tactic to draw attention to women’s suffrage. Years later (in a 1952 interview) she added that she didn’t like “the way men visitors gaped at it all day long”.

Richardson’s statement explaining her actions to the WSPU:

“I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas. Mrs Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let every one remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs Pankhurst and other beautiful living women, and that until the public cease to countenance human destruction the stones cast against me for the destruction of this picture are each an evidence against them of artistic as well as moral and political humbug and hypocrisy.”

It’s interesting to note that Venus is not looking at herself in the mirror as we see her reflected face front on – the implication is she is looking at us, the male viewer. This may have inspired Manet’s similar mirror trick in A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, also in a London gallery – the Courtauld – which I wrote about as a Picture of the Month in 2010. In that painting the female gaze defiantly and directly challenges us the male observer. It is worth noting that Richardson did not go for the eyes.

mary Richardson slashed the rokeby Venus velazquez

The cuts were successfully repaired by the gallery’s chief restorer Helmut Ruhemann and the painting was soon back on display.

Mary-Richardson-and-Policemen-national gallery rokeby

Mary Richardson at the National Gallery straight after the attack

Richardson was sentenced to a six month stretch in  prison, the maximum for destruction of an artwork.

Richardson was born in 1882 in Ontario, Canada. She made her way to Bloomsbury via France and Italy.

She bore witness to Black Friday on 18th November 1910 when a march of 300 women to Parliament was violently set upon by the police (much as the anti-fascists were at the Battle of Cable Street we were discussing on site this afternoon). The march started from Caxton Hall near Channel 4 HQ. A certain Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary, rejected calls for a public enquiry after the event – interesting in view of the debate about whether Churchill was a goodie or baddie this last week precipitated by John McDonnell’s comments about Churchill being a villain over the Tonypandy miners’ riots in the very same year (1910).

Black-friday suffragette march attacked by police

Black Friday violence on women marchers

Richardson was also present at the Epsom races on Derby Day, 4th June 1913, when Emily Davison was trampled by the King’s horse. Richardson was chased and beaten by an angry mob but given refuge in Epsom Downs railway station by a porter.

Slasher Mary already had form by the time of the Rokeby attack. She had committed a number of acts of arson; smashed windows at the Home Office; and bombed a train station. She was arrested nine times and received prison sentences totalling over three years. She was one of the first two women force-fed under the 1913 Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, nicknamed the Cat and Mouse Act, in Holloway Prison. I wonder whether it all drove her a bit crazy…

In 1932 Richardson joined the British Union of Fascists (BUF), led by Oswald Mosley. She had come to the conclusion – a real-life Miss Jean Brodie – that fascism was the “only path to a Greater Britain”. She explained that “I was first attracted to the Blackshirts because I saw in them the courage, the action, the loyalty, the gift of service and the ability to serve which I had known in the suffragette movement”. The “Iscariot politicians” comment in her post-art vandalism statement may have been a bit of a giveaway. Richardson rose rapidly through the ranks of the party and within two years (1934) she was Chief Organiser for the Women’s Section of the party. Mosley, in contrast to Hitler’s view that women were fit for Kinder and Küche only, encouraged them to play an active role in the BUF. However Richardson left within two years because she felt disillusioned about the sincerity of Mosley’s policy on women. (Two other prominent suffragettes who took high office in the BUF were Dublin-born Norah Elam and Cardiff-born Mary Sophia Allen.) The BUF, inspired by Mussolini’s Fascists and the whole Italian Futurist vibe, sold itself as a movement of action, youth and dynamism. Its official newspaper was called Action. It is probably in the notion of Action that Richardson’s suffragette and fascist careers meet.

Training at the Women's BUF HQ. Mary Richardson is standing at the back.

Training at the Women’s BUF HQ. Mary Richardson is standing at the back.

 

 

A Day to Remember

Things seem to have aligned for the centenary of the Great War Armistice. 11th November fell on a Sunday this year so the focus was not split between two days. The weather was sunny, autumnal, golden (in contrast to the rain in Paris). I began the day with reflections on the song Poppy Day.

Join-Hands siouxsie and the banshees guards memorial record cover LP album

A while later I went to the house of John Parr, the first British soldier killed in action in World War One. He lived down the road from me in North Finchley from 1909 until 1914. He was 17 when he gave his life. I set out from the front path of his family house to walk to the local annual Remembrance Ceremony at Tally Ho Corner (Siegfried Sassoon would have liked that name – Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man [1928]).

John Parr WW1 soldier plaque Finchley London N12

in front of John Parr’s family home

John Parr WW1 soldier family home Finchley London N12

John Parr’s family home at 52 Lodge Lane, North Finchley

What struck me about the ceremony was the diversity of the young cadets who were its focal point. Many girls, many non-white faces, all integrated into the small units of land, sea and air cadets, cub scouts and the marching band. In an age of donkey politicians, that’s where the hope lies.

Finchley War Memorial

Finchley War Memorial commemorating service personnel of the army, navy and nascent air force

Finchley War Memorial remembrance service 2018

Finchley War Memorial remembrance service 2018

Poppy red

Later in the afternoon I visited for the first time the Tree Cathedral in Whipsnade – perfect timing with the autumn golds. It was designed as a memorial for three friends by Edmund Blyth. Arthur Bailey and John Bennett were fellow infantrymen whose lost lives Blyth decided to memorialise in the form of trees laid out in the shape of a natural cathedral. Francis Holland was a third Tommy pal who died in 1930 prompting him to realise his arboreal vision.

The Tree Cathedral has the shape of a traditional medieval cathedral, but formed of trees. Although it contains beautiful areas, that is not its primary significance. It is managed to emphasise the vigour and balance of individual plants, in patterns that create an enclosure of worship and meditation, offering heightened awareness of God’s presence and transcendence. (Edmund Blyth 1940)

edmund blyth creator of tree cathedral whipsnade

Edmund Blyth

tree cathedral whipsnade

tree cathedral whipsnade

tree cathedral whipsnade

After my visit I sat on a bench at the end of the hornbeam avenue leading to the Cathedral entrance reading from my trusty old copy of The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (first read at school, this copy from university days, with its familiar poppies against black background photographic cover) – Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, John McCrae, Rupert Brooke and DH Lawrence (with whom I share a birthday).

the penguin book of first world war poetry cover

Poppies in the morning and at the going down of the sun. And to conclude, that local setting son, John Parr, more than merits a brief history of his brief life for the record…

the jam setting sons album LP record vinyl cover

Parr was a long way from the Eton Rifles

John Henry Parr was born on 19th July 1897 in Lichfield Grove, Finchley, son of a milkman, Edward Parr, and his wife Alice. He lived most of his short life at 52 Lodge Lane, North Finchley, London N12. He was the youngest of eleven children – just 5’3″ tall.

He left school and went straight to work, initially as a butcher’s boy, then as a caddie at North Middlesex Golf Club. In 1912 he joined the 4th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment – he was just 15 but claimed to be 18.

He was a Private and became a reconnaissance cyclist, riding ahead in search of useful intelligence to convey back with alacrity to senior officers. In August 1914 his battalion was shipped from Southampton to Boulogne-sur-Mer, and then on to a village, Bettignies, sited on the canal to Mons. On 21st August 1914, just 17 days after the Declaration of War, Parr and a fellow reconnaissance cyclist were dispatched to the village of Obourg, north-east of Mons, just over the Belgian border, on a mission to locate enemy forces. It is believed they ran into a cavalry patrol of the German First Army and Parr was killed in an exchange of fire.

With the British army retreating to the Marne after the first battle of Mons (on 23rd August), Parr’s body was left behind. In October 1914 his mother wrote to the War Office enquiring after him but they were unable to tell her anything certain, they may well have been unsure whether he had been captured or killed.

Parr is buried in St Symphorien Military Cemetery, south-east of Mons. The age on his gravestone is 20 (the army didn’t know he was actually 17).

By coincidence his grave is opposite George Edwin Ellison’s, the last British soldier killed during the First World War.

Private_John_Parr_grave_at_St_Symphorien_cemetery

Private John Parr’s grave

tree cathedral whipsnade

The entrance to the Tree Cathedral, Whipsnade

tree cathedral whipsnade

The going down of the sun on a resonant day

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

For The Fallen – Robert Binyon (September 1914)

 

 

Great Girton Girls No.16 – Sarah Marks / Herta Ayrton

After a recent reunion at Girton I decided to get a proper grasp on the history of the institution and read the standard text on the subject of which I had heard much, ‘That Infidel Place’ by Muriel Bradbrook. It’s particularly interesting because it was written in 1969 while revolution was in the air on campuses across the world. (The other name that used to come up a lot was Rosamond Lehmann, for her memoirs I suppose.) It was in ‘That Infidel Place’ I came across Sarah Marks.

Phoebe Sarah Marks Hertha Ayrton 1854 – 1923 British engineer, mathematician, physicist inventor

On that same visit I noticed a portrait on a wall of a woman named Louisa Goldsmid. The name rang a bell and she turned out to be a forebear of mine, closing the circle. A founder of the college, she will be the subject of No.17. She supported Sarah financially during her career.

Phoebe Sarah Marks was born on 28th April 1854 in Portsea, Hampshire (England) and died on 26th August 1923 (at the age of 69). She was a mathematician, engineer, physicist and inventor. As a teenager she changed her name to Hertha and in due course married physicist and electrical engineer William Ayrton, so she ended up with the name Herta Ayrton and that’s what’s on her two relatively recent blue plaques. She got the name Hertha from the eponymous heroine of Swinburne’s poem.

sarah marks hertha-marks-ayrton scientist

Phoebe Sarah Marks (known as Sarah) was the third child of Levi Marks, a Jewish watchmaker who fled Tsarist Poland, and Alice Theresa Moss, a seamstress. Sarah’s mother was the daughter of Joseph Moss, a glass merchant in Portsea. Levi Marks died in 1861, leaving Sarah’s mother with seven children and an eighth on the way.

Two years later Sarah went to live with her aunts in London and be educated alongside her cousins. The aunts ran a school in NW London. She quickly developed a reputation for having a fiery personality.

By 1870 she was working as a governess, a profession closely connected with Girton and the rise of women’s university education.

Sarah got involved in the women’s suffrage movement while still a teenager. That’s how she met Barbara Bodichon, who went on to become co-founder of Girton. They came into contact while Sarah was a governess and she came to regard Sarah almost as a daughter. Bodichon paid Sarah’s fees and maintenance at Girton and supported her financially throughout her education and career. She ended up bequeathing her considerable estate to Sarah and Sarah marked her gratitude by calling her first child Barbara Bodichon Ayrton. Barbie as she came to be known was born in 1886. She became a Labour MP and died in 1950. Her own son was the artist, Michael Ayrton (1921-1975).

The Captive Seven (1949-50) by Michael Ayrton (1921-1975) Tate Gallery

The Captive Seven (1949-50) by Michael Ayrton – Tate Gallery

Sarah/Herta went up to Girton College, Cambridge, in one of the early cohorts of undergraduates there. She studied Mathematics.

Her application to Cambridge was supported by the novelist George Eliot. Eliot used her as the model for Mirah Lapidoth in ‘Daniel Deronda’.

Jodhi May as Mirah Lapidoth george eliot daniel deronda tv drama

Jodhi May as the Jewess Mirah Lapidoth in Andrew Davies’ 2002 TV adaptation of ‘Daniel Deronda’

At Girton she set up the Mathematics club, led the choral society, and, ironically for the fiery personality that she was, founded the College Fire Brigade in 1879 (which persisted until the 1930s).

Girton Girls Fire Brigade formed in 1878

The Girton College Fire Brigade formed in 1879 to protect the the isolated buildings which were located 2 miles from the city centre

While still an undergraduate Sarah built a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure meter). She was taught by physicist Richard Glazebrook. In 1880 Sarah passed the Mathematics Tripos but was not granted an academic degree because the University awarded only certificates, not full degrees, to women at that time. Indeed until 1948! [See ‘The Steamboat Ladies’ post]

The following year Sarah/Herta passed an exam at the University of London, which awarded her a Bachelor of Science degree.  This links back to my relative Louisa Goldsmid whose forebears had helped found University College London, a constituent college of the federal University of London. Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid (1778–1859) was a Founder and Benefactor of UCL alongside the likes of Jeremy Bentham and George Birkbeck (my father, a scientist, from the other side of my family than the Goldsmids, in due course went to Birkbeck College to do his PhD in Organic Chemistry).

Back in London Herta made her living by teaching, as well as embroidery. She taught maths at Notting Hill and Ealing High School. She also ran a club for working girls. In addition, she devised mathematical problems for the Educational Times ‘Mathematical Questions and Their Solutions’ page.

In 1884 she patented a line-divider, an instrument for engineering drawing used for dividing a line into any number of equal parts and for enlarging and reducing figures. This was her first major invention and was of use not only to engineers but also to artists and architects. Her patent application was financially supported by that same Louisa Goldsmid and Barbara Bodichon. The line-divider was displayed at the Exhibition of Women’s Industries and received a good deal of press attention. Between 1884 and 1923 Hertha registered 26 patents: 5 for mathematical dividers, 13 for arc lamps and electrodes, 8 for the propulsion of air.

In 1884 Herta began attending evening classes on Electricity at Finsbury Technical College. These were delivered by Professor William Edward Ayrton, a pioneer in electrical engineering and physics education, and a fellow of the Royal Society. They ended up getting married the following year (6th May 1885). After their marriage she assisted him with physics/electricity experiments. She also began her own experimentation into the characteristics of the electric arc.

Electric arc lighting was in wide use in late 19th Century Britain for public lighting. Its tendency to flicker and hiss was a significant problem. In 1895/6 Hertha wrote a series of articles for ‘The Electrician’ linking these defects to oxygen coming into contact with the carbon rods used to create the arc. In 1899 she was the first woman to read her own paper (‘The Hissing of the Electric Arc’) to the Institution of Electrical Engineers. (Early in my career at Channel 4 I collaborated with the IEE on a long-running creative industries talent development project called IdeasFactory which I ran from 2003 to 2005.) Herta was elected the first female member of the IEE (alone in that status until long after her death – the second woman to be admitted was in 1958). In 1902 Herta published ‘The Electric Arc’, a summary of her research on the electric arc.

Helena_Arsène_Darmesteter_-_Portrait_of_Hertha_Ayrton

Portrait of Hertha by Helena Arsène Darmesteter who also died in 1923 and whose mother was the editor of the first Jewish women’s periodical, Marion Hartog Moss, presumably related to Alice Moss. She exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900.

She petitioned to present a paper to the Royal Society but was refused on the grounds of gender – in 1901 her paper ‘The Mechanism of the Electric Arc’ was read on her behalf by renowned electrical engineer John Perry. He proposed her as a Fellow of the Royal Society the following year but this was rejected by the Council of the Royal Society, who decreed that married women were not eligible to be Fellows. Two years on, however, she became the first woman to read a paper before the Royal Society (1904) when she was permitted to read ‘The Origin and Growth of Ripple Marks’ (which was published in due course in the Proceedings of the Royal Society). Herta presented six papers to the Royal Society between 1901 and her death, a final one in 1926 being delivered posthumously.

Herta was the first woman to win a prize from the Royal Society, the prestigious Hughes Medal for original discovery in the Physical Sciences (especially the applications of  electricity/magnetism). It was awarded to her in 1906 for her work on the electric arc, as well as on the motion of ripples in sand and water. She was the fifth recipient of this annual prize. It took until 2008 for the second woman to be awarded the medal.

In 1899 Herta was put in charge of the Physical Science section at the International Congress of Women which took place in London. The following year she delivered an address at the International Electrical Congress in Paris. In the wake of that success the British Association for the Advancement of Science allowed women to serve on general and sectional committees.

Herta’s work on vortices in water and air gave rise to the ‘Ayrton fan’/’Ayrton flapper’ which was used in the trenches of the First World War to dispel poison gas. She fought for its adoption and even organised its production, over 100,000 being used on the Western Front.

Ayrton anti-gas fan [Imperial War Museum]

Ayrton anti-gas fan – waterproof canvas with cane handle. The back has a hinge so it can fit the varying shapes of the backs of parapets, corners of traverses etc. The fan is 89cm long, with a blade 47cm square, and weighs less than 0.5kg.

After the Great War, Herta helped found the International Federation of University Women (in 1919) and the National Union of Scientific Workers (1920).

Her death highlights the wonders of natural science – she died from the bite of an insect (and subsequent blood poisoning) at New Cottage, North Lancing, Sussex. She has a blue plaque at her London home at 41 Norfolk Square in Paddington, placed there in 2007, 84 years after her fatal sting.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? [1 Corinthians]

In February this year a second blue plaque was unveiled at the site of her birthplace at 6 Queen Street, Portsea.

Phoebe Sarah Marks Hertha Ayrton 1854 – 1923 British engineer, mathematician, physicist inventor

In 2015 the British Society for the History of Science established the Ayrton Prize for web projects and digital engagement in the history of science. Which brings us nicely up to the present.

 

The Steamboat Ladies

Girton College Cambridge September 2018I am sitting in the middle of Woodland Court at Girton College, Cambridge, my alma mater. From this bench I have a good view of the college chapel in one corner and the library in the other. Due to its Victorian gothic red-brick style (built 1874-87) everything here looks like a chapel – the library, the dining hall – one of the main reasons I came here was that I had been reading ‘Northanger Abbey’ just before choosing a college, was really taken with it, and thought this infidel place looked like it.

Next year Girty celebrates her 150th birthday and through that I came across the ‘Steamboat Ladies’. The Steamboat Ladies were female graduates of Cambridge and Oxford who were not granted degrees by their university but were awarded them instead by Trinity College, Dublin which was more progressive with regard to equality in higher education.

This took place between June 1904 (the year in which ‘Ulysses’ is set) and December 1907. The ladies were forced to board the steamboat for Dublin because their own universities, at which they attended the women-only colleges of Girton, Newnham and Sommerville, refused to confer degrees upon women.

Trinity College, Dublin started admitting female students in 1904. Cambridge and Oxford ghettoised the women in separate female colleges. Girton sits here on the edge of town, a good cycle ride from the centre, because that’s as near as the women were allowed. Before here it was in Hitchen, an even safer distance away, 35 miles away in Hertfordshire. The University of Dublin had a tripartite arrangement with Oxford and Cambridge of ad eundem mutual recognition.

Students at Benslow House, Hitchin, in 1872. In 1873 it reopened just outside Cambridge and became Girton College.

Students at Benslow House, Hitchin, in 1872. In 1873 it reopened just outside Cambridge and became Girton College.

By December 1907 Trinity College had granted degrees to around 720 Steamboat Ladies. They had all passed the exams at Oxbridge that earned male students a degree.

By the time I came here in 1983 this was 50/50 mixed, the only such college in Cambridge.

Girton College Cambridge officials mistress

Girton founders

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