A lady in Hampstead and Boy George

GROVE PLACE IS a short street running southwest from Hampstead’s steeply inclined Christchurch Hill. We often walk along it on our way to the lovely café at nearby Burgh House. A building containing numbers 29-31 Grove Place has often attracted my attention because its roof is topped with a couple of cupolas, each supported by four carved wooden pillars. These stand on either side of a grand central façade. The edifice bears a plaque, which is in an excellent state of preservation, that reads:

“This stone was laid by Mrs Sarah A Gotto on the 13th of July 1886 being the 50th Yr of the reign of her majesty Queen Victoria”

Elsewhere on the wall facing Grove Place there is a metal shield, painted black, which bears the following:

“1871. SPPM”

I was a bit puzzled by this because 1871 was some years before the stone was laid by Mrs Gotto.

I was pleased to discover that this building has been described in a book I possess, “The Streets of Hampstead” by Christopher Wade. He revealed that it was converted in 1970 from Bickersteth Hall, a hall built for the nearby Christ Church in 1895, and named after a former vicar, who later became the Bishop of Exeter. This gentleman was Edward Bickersteth (1825-1906), who had been vicar of Christ Church in Hampstead from 1855 to 1885 (www.praise.org.uk/hymnauthor/bickersteth-edward-henry/). Wade adds that it is confusing that the 1871 St Pancras shield and the 1886 Mrs Gotto plaque have been placed on the building. So, it seems that Mrs Gotto might have had little to do with laying the first brick of the building, but I wondered who she was.

Wade describes Sarah Gotto as Mrs Edward Gotto. Edward was most probably Edward Gotto (1822-1897), a civil engineer and architect who entered a partnership with Frederick Beesley in 1860 to create the engineering firm of Gotto and Beesley, which flourished for 30 years and carried out drainage works in towns all over the world including  Rio de Janeiro, Seaford, Trowbridge, Evesham, Huyton and Roby, Redditch, Brentford and Cheshunt; and the drainage and water-supply of Campos (Brazil), Oswestry, Leominster and Cinderford (www.gracesguide.co.uk/Edward_Gotto). According to his obituary, Mr Gotto lived in Hampstead in a house called The Logs on East Heath Road. Built in 1868, The Logs, was as I have described elsewhere (see https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2021/02/01/finding-boy-george-and-bliss-in-north-london/), much later home to the comedian Marty Feldman and the singer Boy George. Edward’s wife Sarah was born Sarah Ann Porter (1829-1901; https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/L1Q6-7NL/major-harold-ralph-gotto-1868-1957), She and Edward had eight children, one of whom was Harold Ralph Gotto. He was born in 1868 in Hampstead and later became a major in the British Army.

All of this is interesting enough, but none of it explains (to me) why Sarah is commemorated by the plaque on the house in Grove Place. If anyone knows the reason, I would be pleased to hear from them.

A pottery and a prison

HAMPSTEAD IN NORTH London is full of interesting nooks and crannies.

At the west end of Well Walk in Hampstead, near the lower end of Flask Walk, there is a corner building with a Georgian shop front. It is now a small theatre but was once the Well Walk Pottery, which occupied this place for many years. The pottery was started by the potter Christopher Magarshack in 1959. According to Bohm and Norrie, writing in their “Hampstead: London Hill Town”, published in 1980, Elsie, the widow of the Russian Jewish translator and writer David Magarshack (1899-1977), lived there. She bought this corner building, which had formerly been Sidney Spall’s grocery shop in 1957, for Christopher to use as his pottery. His father, David, left his birthplace Riga, then in Russia in 1918 and later lived above the shop. Elsie died in 1999, aged 100. In addition to selling pottery there, the pottery also held classes for ceramicists, some of whom now have good reputations. David’s daughter Stella, a fine artist, was the Head Art Teacher at King Alfred’s, a ‘progressive’ school situated between Hampstead and Golders Green. In 2016, aged 87, she was brutally attacked in the street close to her home. Now, the premises is to be home to a theatrical enterprise, The Wells Theatre. Its present owners have decorated one of its windows has been  decorated with a pictorial history of the premises.

Before returning uphill along Flask Walk towards the pub, you will pass a pair of doors covered in metal studs arranged neatly in geometric patterns. According to an article in the January 2018 issue of “Heath and Hampstead Society Newsletter”, this pair of studded doors:

“…is supposed to have come from Newgate Prison,”

The prison closed in 1902.

Two freedom fighters in London’s Hampstead

PLATTS LANE WINDS its way between London’s Finchley Road and West Heath Road in Hampstead. It follows the route of a track between Hampstead Heath and West End (now West Hampstead). This track was already in existence by the mid-18th century. According to a historian of Hampstead, Christopher Wade, the thoroughfare was first called Duval’s Lane to commemorate a 17th century French highwayman. Louis (alias Lodewick alias Claude) Duval (alias Brown) who was, according to another historian, Thomas Barratt, famed for being gallant towards his victims, many of whom he robbed on Hampstead Heath. Barratt related:

“It used to be told that, after stopping a coach and robbing the passengers at the point of the pistol on the top of the Hill, he would, having bound the gentlemen of the party, invite the ladies to a minuet on the greensward in the moonlight.”

Duval was hung at Tyburn soon after 1669.

Over time this track’s name became corrupted to Devil’s Lane. A pious local resident, Thomas Pell Platt (1798-1852), probably put an end to that name after he had built his home, Childs Hill House, nearby in about 1840.

Platt graduated at Trinity College in Cambridge in 1820 and became a Major Fellow of his college in 1823. While at Cambridge, he became associated with the British and Foreign Bible Society and was its librarian for a few years. He was also an early member of The Royal Asiatic Society (founded 1823) as well as a member of The Society of Antiquaries of London. In 1823, he prepared a catalogue of the Ethiopian manuscripts in a library in Paris. In addition, he did much work with biblical manuscripts written in the Amharic and Syriac languages. Apart from being a scholar, he was an intensely religious man. He died not in Hampstead but in Dulwich.

Platt lived near the lane named after him for quite a few years. The same cannot be said for a later resident of Platts Lane, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), who was born in Moravia (now a part of the Czech Republic). Masaryk added the name Garrigue to his own when he married the American born Charlotte Garrigue (1850-1923) in 1878. A politician serving in the Young Czech Party between 1891 and 1893, he founded the Czech Realist Party in 1900. At the outbreak of WW1, he decided that it would best if the Czechs and Slovaks campaigned for independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire. He went into exile in December 1914, staying in various places before settling in London, where he became one of the first staff members of London University’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, then later a professor of Slavic Research at Kings College London.

In London, Masaryk first lived in a boarding house at number 4 Holford Road in Hampstead (http://tg-masaryk.cz/mapa/index.jsp?id=285&misto=Pobyt-T.-G.-Masaryka-1915-1916). In June 1916, he moved from there to number 21 Platts Lane, which was near to the former Westfield College where his daughter Olga was studying. The house, the whole of which he rented, became a meeting place for the Czechoslovak resistance movement in England. Masaryk stayed in Platts Lane until he departed for Russia in May 1917. It is possible that he returned there briefly when he made a visit to London in late 1918. On the 14th of September 1950, the Czechoslovak community affixed a metal plaque to the three-storey brick house on Platts Lane, which was built in the late 1880s. It reads:

“Here lived and worked during 1914-1918 war TG Masaryk president liberator of Czechoslovakia. Erected by Czechoslovak colony 14.9.1950”

Actually, Masaryk only used the house between 1916 and 1917. The year that the plaque was placed was a century after Masaryk’s birth year. The day chosen, the 14th of September, was that on which he died in 1937.

Not too far away from Masaryk’s Hampstead home, there is a place on West End Lane that used to be called The Czechoslovak Club before it became the Czechoslovak Restaurant and currently Bohemia House. Here you can see a portrait of Masaryk and enjoy yourself sampling Czech beers and food. The establishment is within the Czechoslovak National House, which was founded as a club in 1946.

The houses where Czechoslovakia’s freedom fighter lived in London still stand in Hampstead. However, that is no longer the case for another freedom fighter and founder of a new nation, who lived near Platts lane on West Heath Road, the wealthy barrister and founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948). In the 1930s, Jinnah practised law in London. One of his biographers, Hector Bolitho (1897-1975) wrote (in 1954):

“One day in June 1931, when Jinnah was walking in Hampstead, he paused before West Heath House, in West Heath Road. It was a three-storied villa, built in the confused style of the 1880s, with many rooms and gables, and a tall tower which gave a splendid view over the surrounding country. There was a lodge, a drive, and eight acres of garden and pasture, leading down to Childs Hill.

All are gone now, and twelve smaller, modern houses occupy the once-pretty Victorian pleasance. Nearby lives Lady Graham Wood, from whom Jinnah bought the house; and she remembers him, on the day when he first called, as “most charming, a great gentleman, most courteous…

… In September 1931 Jinnah took possession of West Heath House, and he assumed the pattérn of life that suited him. In place of Bombay, with the angers of his inheritance for ever pressing upon him, he was able to enjoy the precise, ordained habits of a London house. He breakfasted punctually and, at nine o’clock, Bradbury was at the door with the car, to drive him to his chambers in King’s Bench Walk. There he built up his new career, with less fire of words, and calmer address, than during the early days in Bombay.”

It was at West Heath House that Jinnah entertained Liaquat Ali Khan (1895-1951), another of Pakistan’s founding fathers and its first Prime Minister, who had arrived from India. Bolitho wrote:

“A great part of the fortunes of Pakistan were decided оn the day, in July 1933, when Liaquat Ali Khan crossed Hampstead Heath, to talk to his exiled leader.”

Bolitho recorded that Liaquat’s wife recalled the occasion:

“Jinnah suddenly said, ‘Well, come to dinner on Friday.’ Sо we drove to Hampstead. Іt was a lovely evening. And his big house, with trees—apple trees, I seem to remember. And Miss Jinnah, attending to all his comforts. I felt that nothing could move him out of that security. After dinner, Liaquat repeated his plea, that the Muslims wanted Jinnah and needed him.”

At the end of the evening, Jinnah said to Liaquat:

“’You go back and survey the situation; test the feelings of all parts of the country. I trust your judgment. If you say “Come back,” I’ll give up my life here and return.’”

Jinnah returned to India in 1934, and Pakistan was created in August 1947.

Judging by Bolitho’s description, Jinnah’s Hampstead house could not have been very far from the house which Masaryk rented in Platts Lane, which, like Jinnah’s garden, is close to, or more accurately on, Childs Hill. I have found Jinnah’s house marked on a map surveyed in the 1890s. It was located on the west side of the northern part of West Heath Road, about 430 yards north of Masaryk’s residence on Platts Lane.

It might come as much of a surprise as it was to me to learn that the founders of two countries, each of which was founded soon after the ending of World Wars, both lived in Hampstead for brief periods in their lives.

Black abolitionists in Westminster

WESTMINSTER ABBEY IS costly for tourists to enter. Currently (November 2021) the entrance ticket ranges in price from £10 for a child to £24 for a full-price adult ticket. Without doubt, the Abbey is well worth a visit, but if you do not feel like spending so much money, its neighbour, the St Margaret’s Church is also full of interest but charges no entry fee.

Because the present Abbey was once the church attached to a monastery, St Margaret’s was built in the 11th and 12th centuries to provide a place of worship for the (non-ecclesiastical) residents of Westminster. When the residential population of the area declined, it became what it is now, the parish church for The House of Commons. The first church on the site was built in the Romanesque style, but when this deteriorated in the 14th century, it was replaced by the present structure built in the Perpendicular (gothic) style. Since then, like many old churches it has undergone various modifications over the centuries.

Amongst the many fascinating things within the church, which are described in an excellent booklet by Tony Willoughby and James Wilkinson, several things particularly attracted my attention. First of all, several of the windows in the south wall of the church contain superb modern stained glass designed by the painter John Piper (1903-1992) and created by Patrick Reyntiens (1925-2021). The were installed in 1966 to replace Victorian windows that were destroyed during WW2. Piper’s windows alone are a good reason to visit the church.

Another thing that caught my eye is a pair of doors on the north side of the church. These are covered with red leather, each one embossed in gold with a portcullis, surmounted by a crown, the symbol of Parliament. Some of the prayer kneelers are also decorated with this symbol.

Amongst the many tombs and funerary memorials within the church, there is one to the artist Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677). Born in Prague, he left the city when the Emperor Ferdinand the Second ordered Bohemian nobility to convert to Roman Catholicism or leave the country. A highly prolific and much-admired artist, creator of many works including detailed views of London, he died a poor man in Westminster. His monument is on the north wall.

Amongst the many memorials on the south wall there is an oval plaque commemorating the fact that in 1759, Olaudo Equiano (aka Gustavus Vassa) was baptised in the church when he was a slave owned by a sea captain, Michael Henry Pascal. Equiano (c1745-1797) was a black African slave, who gained (purchased) his freedom in 1766. After numerous adventures, which he related in his autobiographical work “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano”, published in 1789 in London, he became active in the nascent movement to abolish the slave trade. In addition to his book, he wrote a great number of pamphlets and letters to the press.

Whereas I was able to spot the plaque for Equiano with no difficulty, I was unable to see the grave of another abolitionist, also a former slave, Ignatius Sancho (c1729-1780), who was born on a slave ship and is buried in the churchyard of St Margaret. He married a West Indian woman, Anne Osborne, in St Margaret’s, ran a grocery shop in Westminster, acted, composed music, and wrote against slavery using the pseudonym “Africanus”. He was the first black Briton to vote in a parliamentary election. He cast his vote both in 1774 and 1780.

In addition to these two black abolitionists, the church contains memorials to two men who tried to alleviate the suffering of slaves in the Americas, Richard Burn (c1744-1822) and Thomas Southerne (1660-1746). The latter was one of the first writers in English to denounce slavery.

I hope that what I have written above will help to distract you from the idea of visiting only Westminster Abbey and to encourage you to make plenty of time to explore St Margaret’s.  

On the wagon – no longer!

IN THE CENTRE of Warwick, there is a building with superb examples of Victorian decorative terracotta work. High on its façade, in terracotta lettering are the words “coffee” and “tavern” because this edifice began its life as a coffee house back in 1880.

Designed by a Warwick architect Frederick Holyoake Moore (1848-1924), it was constructed for a local manufacturer and philanthropist Thomas Bellamy Dale (1808-1890). He was mayor of Warwick three times and:

“…was a philanthropist in every sense of the word, for his name was connected with the principal benevolent institutions of England, of which he was a generous supporter; as a public man he took a very active part in the sanitary improvements of the borough of Warwick, and in the adoption of the Free Library Act. He was a generous supporter of every useful institution in the town, and, though exceedingly charitable, was most unostentatious in all his benefactions.” (www.mirrormist.com/t_b_dale.htm)

In the 19th century, alcohol consumption was considered to be responsible for the ill-health of poor people and detrimental to their general well-being. Dale built his coffee tavern and hotel to offer an alternative to alcohol and pubs. His establishment had:

“…a bar and coffee room on the ground floor with service rooms at the rear; a bagatelle room, smoke room and committee and club room on the first floor, and rooms for hotel guests on the second floor.” (www.ourwarwickshire.org.uk/content/article/coffee-tavern-warwick).

The place was designed to keep people away from alcohol, “on the wagon”.

Now, all has changed. Today, the building still offers refreshments and hotel rooms, but does something that the late Mr Dale, who encouraged people to become teetotal, would not approve. Customers at what is now named “The Old Coffee Tavern” can now enjoy not only coffee but also a full range of alcoholic drinks. He might be pleased if he knew that when we visited its pleasant lounge decorated with colourful tiled panels, we chose to sip coffee rather than drinks containing an ingredient that did not meet with his approval.

Piling it on along the canal

NEEDING BREAKFAST ON our way from Warwick to visit Baddesley Clinton House, we chose to stop at the Hatton Locks Café, which we had noticed on our road map. What we did not know is that the café is located next to the uppermost of a flight (or series) of 21 canal locks. The locks are situated on a stretch of the Grand Union Canal that was, when it opened in 1799, the Warwick and Birmingham Canal, which was built to carry locally mined coal for use in power stations and nearby factories (https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/canal-history/history-features-and-articles/the-history-of-hatton-locks). It became an important transportation link between London and The Midlands.

 The 21 locks are spread along an almost 2 mile stretch of the canal and the towpath along this section of the waterway is popular with cyclists, walkers, and their dogs. Some of the locks are narrow. They were built when the canal was first constructed. Other locks on the flight are far wider. They were built in 1932 and allow two craft to use the lock simultaneously. The newer locks were built at a time when the canal system began to have to compete with motorised road and rail transport.

The café is about 310 yards northwest of a small car park and is reached by walking along the towpath. Near the café, there are some unusual looking tables and benches made of old timber. Most of the timber pieces are planks with a short semi-circular projection at one end. These wooden piles used to be driven into the floor of the canal between parallel wooden blocks that held them straight upright against the walls of the waterway. Their purpose was to prevent the banks of the canal from being eroded by the water flowing past them. Nowadays, they have been replaced by coir matting that serves the same purpose because it is considered to be more eco-friendly that timber. The wooden piles were driven into place by a mechanised hammer system aboard a motorised boat that plied along the canal. One of these boats, now disused, has been preserved near the café.

The locks on the Hatton Flight looked different from the many other canal locks we have seen on our travels around the country. Each lock is flanked by what looks like a pair of tall, stout candles. These things house the mechanisms that control the flow of water into the locks and are operated by canal users equipped with a special handle or windlass that fits onto a projection that is linked to the gearing that operates the valve.

The Hatton Locks Café is a real treat, both visually and gastronomically. Both inside and outside, it is decorated with a profusion of objects, some folkloric, some whimsical, and others related to the life and traditions on the canal. A team of friendly workers produce simple but excellently prepared English breakfast items as well as very acceptable coffees. So good was our breakfast that we made a detour to return to this place on the following morning. Most of the clientele seemed to be locals, many of whom were on friendly terms with the staff. Although we had only been once before on a busy morning, the staff remembered exactly what we ate and drank on the day before. When we are next nearby, we shall certainly visit this wonderful establishment again. On our next visit, we will join the other walkers and stroll past all the 21 locks.

Look no hands!

SPENCER STREET in Royal Leamington Spa has a building with an intriguing façade. It is not so much the brick and stonework on the building that attracted my attention but a stone statue of a woman with a gold-coloured sphere on her head. She is perched above the centre of the façade of the edifice that bears the words “The Bath Assembly Hall” and the date when it was built: 1926.

Designed by Horace G Bradley (1877-1961), it was originally a dance hall with shop premises. It was typical of the type of dance hall that:

“…flourished in the inter-war period of the C20 and survived through to the 1950s and early 1960s. Cultural changes have meant that the great majority have been demolished or considerably altered when adapted for other purposes. This example, with its boisterous classical decoration, expressed inside and out, survives in a highly intact state. Its façade mirrors the decorative style of the interior which has an integrated and fluid plan.” (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1391731).

Sadly, I did not have enough time to try to enter it.

Look, no hands!

The statue on top of the building represents Terpsichore, one of the nine Greek Muses. She was the patron of lyric poetry and dancing, so her image was appropriately chosen to adorn a dance hall. Something that interested me about the statue became obvious when I used the zoom on my camera. I noticed that although her hands are close to the sphere on her head, they do not touch it. The gold ball seems to be attached to her head by a single rod. The scantily dressed Muse is depicted looking down on the street far below. Maybe, she is thinking “I can balance the ball on my head, look, no hands.”

Leamington Spa, Heydrich, and the tragedy at Lidice

CLOSE TO WARWICK, there is a town that reminded me both of Brighton on the south coast of England and Mariánské Lázně (Marienbad) in the Czech Republic. The grandiose architecture, mostly neo-classical, of Leamington Spa reminds me of some parts of Brighton and the area around the town’s spa buildings, both new and old, brought faint recollections of visits I made long ago to the Czech spa town to my mind. What I did not know when we visited Leamington Spa was that it does have a not too distant historical relationship with what was once known as ‘Czechoslovakia’.

Czechoslovak memorial in Leamington Spa

SS General Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942) was one of the main ‘architects’ of the Holocaust and in 1942 he was the acting Governor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the area now known as the Czech Republic. In January 1942, he was Chairman of the Wannsee Conference at which the terrible fate of the Jewish people was decided. On the 27th of May 1942, Heydrich was shot at while driving through Prague. During this attack, a hand grenade, thrown into his open top vehicle, exploded. Heydrich was rushed to hospital but died of his wounds or sepsis resulting from them early in the morning of the 4th of June. His senior, the Chancellor of Germany, the dictator Adolf Hitler, was furious.

The assassination attack was carried out by Czechoslovak men who had been trained in England and then parachuted into Czechoslovakia. The men were volunteers, who were members of the Free Czechoslovak Forces stationed in the Warwickshire town of Royal Leamington Spa, where there was a training camp for them. It had been there since 1940. Seven of the Czechoslovak men flew from England in December 1941 and parachuted at various paces over their native land. Two of them, Jozef Gabčík (1912-1942) and Jan Kubiš (1913-1942), carried out the attack in Prague that led to the ending of Heydrich’s life. These two men and the others dropped over Czechoslovakia sacrificed their lives in the struggle to free their country from Nazi tyranny.

In November 2021, we paid a brief visit to Leamington Spa. Amongst its attractions is the pleasant Jephson Gardens, which are close to the spa establishments after which the town gets its name. The Park is named after the physician and philanthropist Henry Jephson (1798-1878), who promoted the superior healing powers of the town’s spring water. An attractive circular neo-classical temple containing a statue of Jephson was erected in his honour in 1849. This stands atop a small mound. Close to it there is another monument, also circular.

The other monument was unveiled in 1968, 50 years after the formation of Czechoslovakia out of the ruins of the failed Austro-Hungarian Empire. The memorial is in the form of a circular fountain. A bowl is supported by a single pillar on which the heraldic emblem of Czechoslovakia can be seen in bas-relief. Something, which at first sight resembles a large mushroom, sprouts upwards from the centre of the bowl. Closer examination of this reveals that it is a sculpture depicting a cluster of open parachutes. On each parachute, there is a name of one of the group of volunteers who parachuted into Czechoslovakia. The monument was designed by John French.

According to a noticeboard close to the Czechoslovak volunteers’ memorial, this small fountain also remembers the thousands of Czechoslovak citizens, who were murdered by the Nazis in reprisal for Heydrich’s death. After numerous arrests were made, two Czech villages suspected of having been involved in the assassination plot, Lidice and Ležáky were literally wiped off the face of the earth by the Nazis. Their innocent inhabitants were mostly killed, but some were sent to concentration camps. These poor people are remembered in Jephson Park, which is such a lovely place that one would not think that it could possibly be even remotely associated with the human tragedies that followed the death of a monstrous member of the Nazi party.