William Kentridge at the Royal Academy of Art in London

THE ARTIST WILLIAM Kentridge (born 1955), son of a prominent lawyer, is a South African. His creations are usually highly imaginative and often politically challenging and critical of the subjugation of non-European African people. This is fascinating given his privileged background – having been brought up in a South Africa where the ‘white’ people were a highly advantaged section of the population until the ending of the apartheid regime (and maybe even now to some extent).

His artworks are frequently dramatic, often employing cinematographic and sometimes theatrical techniques. The messages they convey to the viewers can be both disturbing and humorous, sometimes both simultaneously. Whenever I have seen them, I have been both fascinated visually as well as moved emotionally.

The Royal Academy of Art in London’s Piccadilly has a large retrospective exhibition of Kentridge’s work until the 11th of December 2022. Apart from numerous drawings, tapestries, and other static artworks, there are plenty of his cinematographic installations on display. In fact, there are too many of these installations. Each one is amazing to see, but having so many together in one place spoiled their intended impact. Just as the first chocolate from a box is wonderful, eating all of them at once gives one indigestion, and this was the case with the Royal Academy’s crowded assemblage of Kentridge’s works. Too much was crammed together in insufficient space. To be fully enjoyed, each of his installations should be seen on their own in a sufficiently spacious environment – they need ample room to breathe and express themselves.This overcrowding was a pity because the exhibition does not allow his works to shine in their full glory.

A Turkish delight in London’s Dalston

KINGSLAND ROAD AND nearby in London’s Dalston area is rich in restaurants and other eateries serving Turkish food. Early in this century, “Time Out” magazine rated the Mangal Ocakbasi (now called ‘Mangal 1’) restaurant at number 10 Arcola Street as being one of London’s best Turkish restaurants. For those who do not know, ‘ocakbasi’ means ‘fireside’ and ‘mangal’ means ‘barbecue’ or ‘grill’. When we first went to Mangal, and for many years after that, there were tables alongside the long rectangular pit filled hot charcoal, upon which meat and vegetables are grilled. Recently, the restaurant has been redesigned and the grilling area is no longer alongside the tables.

Lokma

The meat served is top quality. It seems far better than that served in the many other Turkish restaurants we have tried in London. Although there is a wide variety of main courses on offer, the range of ‘starter’ dishes on the menu is not as great as at some other restaurants. If it is starters and meze that you are after, the nearby Umut 2000 (on Crossway) is worth visiting. However, their main meat dishes are not nearly as tasty as those at Mangal in Arcola Street. Having said that, Mangal does serve an excellent freshly grilled aubergine hors d’oeuvre. Desserts are not available, but there are plenty of places along Kingsland Road offering a wide range of very sweet but tasty confectionery.

Our favourite dishes at Mangal are lokma, which is grilled rolled fillet of lamb, and yorgutlu Adana, which is pieces of semi-spicy Adana kebab in a yogurt and tomato sauce with lumps of Turkish bread. The lokma and other kebab dishes are served with generous quantities of fresh mixed salad containing many ingredients. As for drinks, you can bring your own alcohol or buy it from the restaurant. If I order a drink apart from water, I always go for Şalgam, which is a purple-coloured drink containing fermented turnip. This has a deliciously sour taste.

We first ate at Mangal in the early 2000s, when we attended a play in which one of my dental patients was acting. The theatre, The Arcola, was across the road from the restaurant, but has now shifted to larger premises on nearby Ashwin Street (close to Dalston Junction station). We loved the food at Mangal from the very first bite. We have been eating there occasionally ever since then, and the quality of the food has never once faltered. We have been there so often that the older members of its staff recognise us, welcome us warmly, and remember what we like eating. Even though this Turkish delight, frequently patronised by the artists Gilbert and George, is far from where we live in Kensington, it is well worth ‘trekking’ across London to get there.

Our local library saved from closure

THE NOTTING HILL GATE public library is close to where we live. It consists of three main rooms. Two of them have beautiful painted stucco ceilings. The third, which might have once had such a ceiling, does not have one now. However, it retains some wood panelling with an upper carved wooden margin. Each of the rooms retains the remnants of fine stucco work on their walls. The library occupies much of the ground floor of a large house at the corner where Pembridge Square meets Pembridge Road.

I asked one of the librarians about the history of the building housing the library. She believed that it had once been a large private residence, which the last owner had given the local authority many years ago. She told me that in addition to the library, the house has fats on its upper floors. Sadly, the ceilings have to be restored often because there are often water leaks from the upper floors.

A few years ago, there was a real risk that this branch library would be closed by the local Council (The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea). Vigorous protests by the branch library’s many users and other locals saved the place from closure. To reduce running costs, the library is not always open, but access is possible at odd times almost every day of the week except Sunday.

Dr Who and me

CHICAGO WAS MY HOME for the last few months of 1963. My father was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago during that period. While we were in Chicago, President John F Kennedy was assassinated. However, that was not the only momentous event that I recall from that time,

My best friend in London, whom I had known for about seven years, Nicholas Gilks who is no longer alive, sent me an airletter in which he wrote that he could not wait for me to come back to London, not because he was just missing me, but because he wanted me to watch the new, exciting television programme that had begun whilst I was away. The programme, which still runs today in 2022, was “Dr Who”. It was first broadcast on the 23rd of November, the day after Kennedy was shot.

Well, “Dr Who” was certainly a fine programme. I used to watch it at the Gilks’s home because we did not have television at our family home, and never ever did. To reach my friend’s home, I walked. On the way, I used an unlit pathway that runs between Hampstead Way and Temple Fortune Lane, where Nicholas lived. Frankly, the ominous Daleks that starred in the programmes every week terrified me so much so that I was afraid of walking home along that pathway in the dark. So, Dr Gilks, my friend’s father, used to accompany me to that dark passageway and waited till I reached the far end of it. For this, I was very grateful.

Today, a sunny Sunday morning, the 20th of November 2022 (almost 59 years after Kennedy’s death), we walked along the Hammersmith riverside and reached the Riverside Studios, where we stopped for a coffee in its superb new café. Standing next to the doorway and pointing its weapons at the tables in the café stands a real-life Dalek. Why is it there you might ask. The answer is that between 1964 and 1968, “Dr Who” was filmed in the Riverside Studios, which was then a BBC studio complex. Furthermore, and worryingly, it was from the water beneath the nearby Hammersmith Bridge that the Daleks commenced their attempt to invade the Earth.

Luckily, the sun was shining brightly and there were plenty of people out and about. So, there was little chance that my childhood fears about the robotic Daleks would be awakened.

A quirky little open space in North Kensington

OVERLOOKED BY GOLDFINGER’S brutalist block of flats and hemmed in by Elkstone Road, Golborne Road, and the tracks of the Great Western Railway, there is a small patch of ground that serves as a little haven. Usually occupied by a few local characters, this space measures about 40 by 13 yards. It is The Elkstone Road Garden Oasis.

A curved wall at its northern end is covered with well painted murals depicting musicians and other figures, who I guess might be portraits of people well-known to those who use the garden. There are plenty of plants in this little oasis. Some of them are plastic artificial flowers picturesquely positioned. Others are real. Some of them have little notices next to them, identifying and explaining something about them. There are also printed notices that contain worthy thoughts about life. Amongst the rather tatty chairs, tables, and a small bookshelf, there is a wooden bench with a label stating that it was donated to a parochial organisation by the Chelsea Physic Garden. An online article published in 2018 (https://communityreporter.net/story/oasis-north-kensington-4-jun-2018-1249) revealed:


“The Elkstone Road Garden Oasis in fact, a small strip of land with a history of being neglected and abused. Originally rescued by the work of MIND volunteers the Oasis is now being managed by the Chelsea Physic Garden, which enjoys a somewhat longer history being created in 1683. Building on the work completed by MIND the Physic Garden, with grants from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Band Trust, City Bridge Trust and Turning Point, seeks to provide the local community with a beautiful space, in which the people who live in this area, adults and children, can enjoy being involved in the world of plants and wildlife. Colville Primary school are already participating in developing the garden, with visits every Thursday by Year three pupils. This is a popular activity and always provides a healthy injection of enthusiasm into the Garden.”

Long before Trellick Tower was constructed in the early 1970s and when Elkstone Road was named ‘Southam Street’, the area now occupied by the open space and that where Trellick Tower now stands was covered with rows of small, terraced houses. Unlike the nearby Meanwhile Garden (running alongside the Grand Union Canal), which is well-documented, the small, rather quirky open space I have described above seems to be slightly ‘off the radar’.

A thatched church and Alfred Lord Tennyson

THE POET ALFRED TENNYSON made his home in the village of Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight (‘IOW’) from 1853 until his death. His presence there attracted many Victorian cultural figures to the village either as residents or as his visitors. In 1907, fifteen years after Tennyson died, the Bishop of Winchester visited Freshwater and decided that the village needed a better church than the rather primitive one being used at the time. The Reverend AJ Robertson, who was Rector of Freshwater in 1907, made a watercolour painting of the type of church he hoped would be built. It included a thatched roof. Such a church as he had envisaged was designed by the architect Isaac Jones of Herne Hill in London, and constructed on land donated by Tennyson’s eldest son Hallam, Lord Tennyson (1852-1928). It was Hallam’s wife Lady Emily (1853-1931; née Prinsep), who gifted the new church’s porch and suggested that the church be dedicated to St Agnes.

St Agnes is the only church on the IOW to have a thatched roof. Much of the building was built using stones from what had once been the home of the scientist Robert Hooke (1635-1703). The use of old stones makes some people believe that the church is older than it really is. One of the old stones has the date 1694 inscribed on it, a reminder of the origin of the stonework. The interior of the building is well lit by natural light through its many windows. The timber framed ceiling is fine as is the beautifully carved chancel screen. The screen with delicate bas-relief carvings of plants was created by the Reverend Thomas Gardner Devitt, who was curate of St Agnes between 1942 and 1946.

In brief, this thatched church is charming. In appearance, it manages to combine a feeling of mediaeval antiquity with the aesthetics of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which was in its heyday when St Agnes was built. Seeing it was one of many delightful experiences we enjoyed whilst spending a week on the IOW.

A house on the Isle of Wight and a plantation in Sri Lanka: chapter 2

THE PHOTOGRAPHER Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879; ‘JMC’) was born in the Garden Reach district of Calcutta (now Kolkata in West Bengal). Her father, James Pattle, was a prosperous English official in the East India Company. JMC and her six sisters, the surviving children of James and Adeline Marie Pattle, had a Bengali ancestor, Thérèse Josephe Blin de Grincourt (1768-1866) She was JMC’s maternal grandmother, a Bengali woman who had married a French man, Ambroise Pierre Antoine de l’Étang (1757-1866, whose presence in Bengal was recorded in “The India Office List 1825” as “De l’Étang, Chevalier Antoine, Knt. St Louis, assist. Stud at Poosa, 1796” (Poosa is in what is now Madhya Pradesh). They married in 1788. At that time, it was not uncommon for European men to have lasting relationships with Indian women. This is well-described in William Dalrymple’s book “White Mughals”. Later, in the 19th century, such interracial liaisons were heavily frowned upon. It was expected that ‘white’ men would only marry ‘white’ women. Incidentally, Thérèse was daughter of a French colonist and his Bengali wife.

As with her sisters, JMC was sent to France to be educated. She remained there from 1818 to 1834, when she returned to India.

Julia Margaret Cameron by James Prinsep

In 1835, suffering from ill-health, JMC travelled to the Cape of Good Hope. This part of what is now South Africa was favoured as a place to convalesce by Europeans based in India. It was in the Cape that JMC met not only the famous astronomer and an inventor of photography Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), but also the man whom JMC would marry in 1838: Charles Hay Cameron (1795-1880). Charles was in the Cape recovering from a malarial illness. A disciple of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, he was a reformer of law in India and education, who also invested in coffee plantations (in 1848) in Sri Lanka.

Julia and Charles married in Calcutta, where she became a prominent hostess in the city’s British Indian society. During the 1840s, she corresponded regularly with John Herschel about developments in the science and technology of photography. He sent her two dozen calotypes and daguerreotypes, which were the first photographs he had ever set eyes on. The Camerons raised eleven children: five of their own; five orphans (children of relatives); and an Irish girl named Mary Ryan (whom they found begging on Putney Heath).

The entire Cameron family relocated to England in 1845, possibly because their two older children had settled there, and Charles had retired. They settled in Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent. They became friendly with one of their neighbours, the poet Henry Taylor (1800-1886), who had worked in the Colonial Office under Robert William Hay (1786-1861), who might well have been related to Charles Hay Cameron’s mother. Later, the Camerons moved to East Sheen, which is closer to London than Tunbridge Wells.

It was through Henry Taylor and Julia’s sister Sara (1816-1887), who was married to Henry Thoby Prinsep (1793-1878), an official in the Indian Civil Service, that JMC was introduced to a set of noteworthy Victorian cultural figures. Henry and Sara had returned to England from India in 1835, and were living in (the now demolished) Little Holland House next to the house of the artist Lord Leighton, near Holland Park in west London. Their home became a meeting place for famous artists, as will be described later. It was here that Sara held a salon for pre-Raphaelite artists, poets, and aristocrats with an interest in artistic activities. At Sara’s home, JMC encountered, amongst other worthy cultural figures, the poet Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892).

Tennyson rented Farringford House in Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight (‘IOW’) in 1853, and purchased it three years later. In 1860, after a long visit to Tennyson on the IOW, the Camerons bought a property next door to Tennyson’s and named it Dimbola after one of their (then coffee) plantations in Sri Lanka. TO BE CONTINUED

Celebrities and criminals in Hampstead

THE ACTOR AND STAGE impresario Gerald Du Maurier (1873-1934) lived in Cannon Hall (14 Cannon Place in Hampstead) from 1916 until his death. His children, who lived there, included the novelist Daphne Du Maurier (1907-1989). The house was built in about 1720 and altered in the 19th and 20th centuries. Despite these changes, it remains an elegant residence in the heart of Hampstead.

The former lock-up

Steeply sloping, narrow Cannon Lane runs alongside the eastern wall of the grounds of Cannon Hall. About halfway down it (between Squires Mount and Well Road), there is a doorway in the wall. There is one semi-circular window on each side of it. Each of the windows is behind a lattice of metal bars. A plaque nearby informs the viewer that this was once a parish lock-up in which prisoners were held temporarily in a dark cell. The lock-up was established in about 1730. In that era, magistrates held court proceedings in Cannon Hall. In 1829, when a police force was set up in Hampstead, court business and prisoners were held in the Watch House on Holly Walk.

At the bottom of the grounds of Cannon Hall, stands Cannon Cottage, which faces Well Road. This was constructed in the early 18th century. Between 1932 and 1934, Gerald du Maurier’s daughter Daphne lived in this substantial residence with her husband Frederick Browning, whom she had just married.

Further west along Well Road, there is what looks like a small factory with skylights. This was built as artists’ studios in the late 19th century. Known as Well Mount Studios, the artist Mark Gertler (1891-1939) moved into number 1 in 1915, and worked there. I am uncertain how long he remained at this address, but I know he had moved from it before he committed suicide.

The places described above can be seen by walking only about 335 yards. This is typical of Hampstead Village (or Town, according to some), which is literally packed with interesting sites, both historical and contemporary. If you wish to discover much more about this fascinating part of north London, you can buy a copy of my informative book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” (from https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92).