Remembering an old friend in London’s Marylebone

MY FRIEND MICHAEL Jacobs (1952-2014) studied history of art at A Level (university entrance examinations) and then later at university. Later, he became a prolific author. When we were in our late teens, we used to visit Hampstead’s second-hand bookshops together. A few days ago (early September 2022), I was walking along Marylebone’s New Cavendish Street when I spotted something that reminded me of one of our bookshop visits in the late 1960s.

There is a building on the northeast corner of New Cavendish Street and Wimpole Street, which caught my eye. As I passed it, I spotted a small plaque giving the architect’s details. It reads: “BANISTER FLETCHER & SONS ARCHITECTS AD 1912” Sir Banister Flight Fletcher (1866-1953) trained at London’s Kings College, University College, the Royal College of Art, the Architectural Association, and Paris’s École des Beaux-Arts. In 1889, he became a partner in the architectural firm founded by his father: Banister Fletcher & Sons. In addition to designing buildings, Banister Fletcher (and his father) wrote a book of great importance.

The book, “A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method”, which was first published in 1896, was republished several times during the 20th century. It was the standard reference work in English on the history of architecture.

Seeing the name Banister Fletcher on the building in Marylebone reminded me of an afternoon in Hampstead during the late 1960s. We were rummaging around the somewhat disorderly collection of books in Francis Norman’s bookshop in Perrins Lane when Michael discovered a copy of Banister Fletcher’s history of architecture, a book that was well-suited for the bookshelf of a student of the history of art. Michael bought it at an extremely reasonable price.

Until I spotted the building on New Cavendish, I had always associated the name Banister Fletcher with that afternoon with Michael in Hampstead. The building I saw is the first example of a structure that I have been able to associate with the author of the history purchased by my late friend.

A fortnight in Yugoslavia in the 1950s

I FOUND A SHELF of rather tatty looking second-hand books for sale outside an antique shop in Great Dunmow (Essex). Each was being sold for 50 pence. Among them, I picked up a copy of a slender volume by Christopher Sidgwick with the title “A Fortnight in Yugoslavia”. Having visited the former Yugoslavia numerous times between 1973 and 1990, I was curious to see what was written about it when the guidebook was published in July 1955. This was only about 7 years after the country detached itself from Soviet Russian domination. In relation to this, the author wrote:

“Since the war ended, the Yugoslavs have I think been acting in perfect character. They are not a people … to be impressed by other people’s size. The war brought them victory on the side of Russia … and they set out with immense courage to re-form their way of living on copybook communist lines. But before long, of course, they found that the printed dogma of Marx did not turn out at all as they were led to expect: and instead of cooking the argument, as other communists have frequently done … their honest Yugoslav common sense came conveniently to hand: when Tito, in Moscow, realised that he was now to toe the line as a satellite country, to live in virtual starvation, while the country’s raw materials were sent off to Russia … he said to Stalin: ‘Rubbish! In that case, we might as well still be under the Habsburgs!’”

Under Tito’s leadership, Yugoslavia went its own distinct way. In his text, Sidgwick asked:

“Is the country a dictatorship? In the sense that it is nothing like Hitlerite Germany, nihilist at root, the answer is ‘no’. In the sense that it is a one-party country, with the state controlling the police, the radio, the press, and education, the answer must of course be ‘yes’.”

Further on, he added:

“… it is clear that broader and broader opinion, differing from the party line, is being permitted and even encouraged.”

And this was as early as 1955. By the time I began visiting Yugoslavia, liberal and alternative voices were becoming quite prevalent.

Although Sidgwick did not discourage the individual traveller, he believed that there was much to be said in favour of organised group travel. Visas were then required, and could be obtained for 11 shillings (55 p) at the Yugoslav Consular Department in Kensington (48 Phillimore Gardens). In 1955, £1 sterling would buy you about 840 Yugoslav dinars, and on entering the country, “…any note exceeding 100 dinars in value is liable to be confiscated from you, so don’t buy higher-value notes even at a good rate of exchange: it’s black money.”

Amongst things you were advised to pack in 1955 were: sunglasses; toilet soap (“cost up to 7/6 (37.5p) a tablet”); half a pound of tea; ear-plugs (“invaluable while travelling or while waiting for the dance-band to close down for the night”); pipe tobacco; an inflatable cushion; and a universal bath plug.

Regarding food in Yugoslavia, Sidgwick mentioned that pancakes were good, and:

“… they have no disgusting dishes – frog, snails, and so on – and local national dishes are always worth trying. Ražniči is veal on toothpicks. Ćevapčići is meat and little mince rissoles. Djuvec is a Serbian edition of Irish stew, highly seasoned with paprikas.”

Well, I have eaten frog in Yugoslavia and I had friends who harvested snails for gastronomic reasons. Sidgwick added:

“Meal-service is almost always slow by our standards, largely, I think because Yugoslavs themselves are in the habit of taking their time over food, enjoying it as a social occasion. In busy restaurants it is unwise to expect to get through dinner in less than ninety minutes.”

I have always eaten well in Yugoslavia, and with my many Yugoslav friends every meal was a joyous social occasion.

The guidebook dedicates most of its travel advice to Croatia and the Dalmatian coast (pages 32 to 51). The rest of the country was described between pages 51 and 62. In the short section on Serbia (pages 58 to 60), Sidgwick wrote:

“To describe Serbia in a page or two is like describing London on a cigarette card: insulting to the inhabitants”

He did it to keep the book short, and I suspect, because in the 1950s few British travellers to Yugoslavia ventured much further inland than the coastal regions.

Who was Christopher Sidgwick? He lived from 1915 until 1978.  He wrote several guidebooks to places such as Germany and Greece. His “German Journey” was published in 1936 and his guide to Greece in 1974. “German Journey” was one of several books written by British writers who visited Nazi Germany to find out about Hitler’s regime and the effect it was having on the country. Unlike others, who judged the country mainly by what had been shown them in Berlin and reported favourably on the regime, Sidgwick wanted to avoid “… ‘thinking that what is seen in the capital […] is representative of that country’” (quoted from “Britain and the Weimar Republic” by Colin Storer). This is probably why he reported on a visit to Dachau’s concentration camp before WW2.

Sidgwick also wrote “Manhunt in Dalmatia”, published in 1959. Amongst his many other books, he wrote “Whirlpools on the Danube”, which was published by in 1937. This was reviewed in the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs by no less a historian than Carlile Aylmer Macartney (1895-1978), a specialist in the history and politics of Central Europe. I guess from this that Sidgwick must have been a significant traveller and observer in his time.  

Finally, although I paid only 50 pence (in Great Dunmow) for this book about a country that exists no longer, its cheapest price on bookfinder.com is 20 times as much. My own recollections of the country and its people are published in my book “Scrabble with Slivovitz”, which is available from lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scrabble-Slivovitz-Once-upon-Yugoslavia/dp/1291457593).

Beyond London’s West End: the story of west London

BEFORE THE YEAR 1800, the West End was truly the western end of London. West of Mayfair and Marylebone, there was countryside: woods, fields, private parks, farms, stately homes, villages, and highwaymen. After the beginning of the 19th century, the countryside began to disappear as villages grew and coalesced and the city of London expanded relentlessly westward. What had been rural Middlesex gradually became the west London we know today.  My new book, illustrated with photographs and maps, explores the past, present, and future of many places, which became absorbed into what is now west London: that is London west of Park Lane and the section of Edgware Road south of Kilburn. Some of the places described will be familiar to many people (e.g., Paddington, Kensington, Fulham, and Chelsea). Other locations will be less known by most people (e.g., Acton, Walham Green, Crane Park, Harmondsworth, and Hayes). Many people have seen the places included in my book when they have looked out of the windows of aircraft descending towards the runways at Heathrow, and many of them will have passed some of these places as they travel from Heathrow to their homes or hotels. My book invites people to begin exploring west London – a part of the metropolis less often on tourists’ itineraries than other areas. “Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London” is aimed at both the keen walker (or cyclist) and the armchair traveller.  

Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London is available as a paperback from Amazon here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/BEYOND-MARYLEBONE-MAYFAIR-EXPLORING-LONDON/dp/B0B7CR679W/:

The road to Wigan Pier and …

WIGAN PIER WAS made famous by the author George Orwell, who published his “The Road to Wigan Pier” in 1936. Recently, we were staying in Widnes (Cheshire), which is not far from Wigan, a town that was in Lancashire when Orwell wrote his book. So, we decided to see Wigan Pier for ourselves.

A quick glance at a map reveals that Wigan is not on the sea, which is where most piers are to be found. The town is inland, and the so-called Wigan Pier is neither a pier nor on the seaside. It is on a part of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in central Wigan. It was originally a landing stage where locally mined coal was loaded onto barges.

The name ‘Wigan Pier’ might have originated when a train carrying excursioners to the seaside was delayed at Wigan and they saw a structure that looked like a pier, as the following (from http://www.wiganarchsoc.co.uk/content/Projects/WiganPier.htm#Folklore )  described:

“…not long after leaving Wallgate Station, an excursion train from Wigan to Southport, was delayed on the outskirts of Wigan and passengers saw a long wooden structure that reminded them of Southport Pier. This structure would have been the 1,050 yard long wooden gantry … It was built in the late 1880s and carried a double line of rails from Lamb and Moore’s Newtown Colliery high across the River Douglas, the canal and the Wigan to Southport Railway line, to Meadows Colliery by Frog Lane … It certainly would have been easy to see this wooden gantry from a train heading towards Southport.”

I cannot say whether or not this is the true origin of the name, but it is a good story.

We took a road to Wigan Pier and after going around the town’s one-way system and several roundabouts, passing a huge Asda store a couple of times, we arrived at a series of old warehouses labelled Wigan Pier, and parked next to the canal. The Orwell visitor centre, which we were led to believe existed, is no more. A passer-by, with whom we chatted, told us that any memorials to Orwell and his book had disappeared a few years ago. Likewise, the collieries: these have been closed down long ago. Where they were there are housing estates, factories, and shops.

The warehouses close to where the coal used to be loaded many years ago, were inaccessible. They are being redeveloped to create a leisure ‘hub’. This will include (according to hoardings surrounding the old buildings): a beer tap house; conferences; live music; canal tours; festivals; a food hall; and an ‘artisan deli’. I am not sure what is meant by an artisan deli, but whatever it is, I am sure that should George Orwell ever make his way back along the road to Wigan Pier, he would be truly astonished by it.

A house where music has been played for many centuries

Burgh House, Hampstead, London

Burgh House stands high above the southwest end of Well Walk in north London’s historic village of Hampstead. Here is a little bit about it, an extract from my new book about Hampstead:

“… Burgh House is entered from a steep side street called New End Square. The house, built in 1704, is close to the Hampstead Well Spa (see below). According to Bohm and Norrie, the House is named after its 10th owner, The Reverend Allatson Burgh (1769-1856), who was the vicar of St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London. Burgh, who was keener on music than looking after his parishioners, neglected both them and his house. Thomas Barratt wrote:

“Mr. Burgh was a rector in the city, and the composer of a work on church music, published by Longmans. Burgh House is depicted on five pieces of the Wedgwood service, made in 1774, for Catherine II., Empress of Russia.”

Between 1858 and 1884, Burgh House became the headquarters of the Royal East Middlesex Militia. After having been put to a variety of uses, the house became used as a cultural centre in 1979. It now contains a small art gallery, a café, a shop, and a Hampstead Museum. The Reverend Burgh would have been pleased to know that today his former home also hosts many fine concerts of classical music.

From the bottom of the garden of Burgh House, the ‘Wells Tavern’ pub can be seen dominating the view along the gently inclined Well Walk. Known as ‘The Green Man’ until 1850, when it was rebuilt and renamed the ‘Wells Tavern’, a pub has stood on his spot since at least 1762. The pub’s name reflects one of the reasons that Hampstead became popular in the 17th century.  Apart from enjoying clean air, people were attracted to the mineral water springs issuing chalybeate (iron-rich) water that were beginning to be exploited in Hampstead at that time…”

My book is called

“BENEATH A WIDE SKY: HAMPSTEAD AND ITS ENVIRONS”

YOU CAN BUY the paperback or ebook (Kindle) from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

Hampstead: a town on a hill

Hampstead High Street

A town on high

Home of famous artists and authors

Hampstead by name

ENJOY my new book which takes a fresh look at north London’s Hampstead: its sites, its personalities, its character, and history. “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

A NEW book about Hampstead in north London

AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON WEBSITES:

e.g.: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

Hampstead is one of the highest places in London. There, the heavens are vast
and wide. Beneath this expanse of sky is an area with an eventful past and a
vibrant present. This book takes a fresh look at the locality and shows that
Hampstead is richly imbued with historical memories and has been home to a
multitude of fascinating and noteworthy people. Many books have been written
about Hampstead. Doubtless, there will be more. This one is different. It looks
at Hampstead from unusual as well as familiar viewpoints and gives the reader
a richer appreciation of what makes the place both delightful and intriguing.
This volume explores a wide variety of subjects, familiar and obscure, as well as
some which have never been described in other books about the locality. Here
is a fresh and at times quirky look at this place on a hill, one of London’s
treasures: a district, which is familiar to many people, yet full of surprises.
Although the bulk of this book is about Hampstead, there are also sections
describing some of its environs.

By reading this book, you can find out why John Constable, Samuel Johnson, Boy George, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi, Peter Sellers, Henry Moore, Maxim Litvinov, General de Gaulle, Stanley Spencer, Thomas Masaryk, Lee Miller, Agatha Christie, Jim Henson, Ian Flemming, Ernő Goldfinger, and many others, both famous and familiar, were all connected with Hampstead.

The book has several sections:
1. a brief survey of Hampstead’s general history and geography.
2. an introduction to Hampstead’s main thoroughfares with some
reminiscences of the area as it was during my youth.
3. the largest section of the book is a collection of chapters about
various aspects of Hampstead’s past and present. Recently, a friend of mine
bemoaned the fact that Hampstead High Street and Heath Street are lined with
branches of shops and cafés that can be found all over London. He is right. So,
if you wish to capture the true character of Hampstead, you need to stray into
the side streets and explore, which is what I hope this book will stimulate you to
do.
4. The last few sections of the book deal with some places of interest near to
Hampstead: Primrose Hill, North End, Go
lders Green, and Highgate.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PREFACE … 7
INTRODUCTION: OH NO, NOT IN HAMPSTEAD … 7
SOME GEOGRAPHY AND HISTORY … 13
HEATH AND HIGH STREETS WITH SOME MEMORIES … 25
SATURDAY STROLLS … 25
PERRINS LANE, THE EVERYMAN, AND LOUIS … 34
DISCOVERING HAMPSTEAD … 41
A HOUSE ON HEATH STREET AND THE KIT CAT CLUB … 41
A CHURCH ON HEATH STREET … 45
FLASK WALK AND THE HAMPSTEAD SPA … 46
MORE ABOUT THE SPA … 56
THE VALE OF HEALTH … 60
POETS AND THE VALE OF HEALTH … 70
FRENCH CONNECTIONS AND ST MARYS ON HOLLY WALK … 76
ARTISTS IN HAMPSTEAD: ROMNEY, CONSTABLE, AND OTHERS 84
MODERN ARTISTS AND THE ISOKON … 95
BOLSHEVISM AND HEATH STREET … 109
A SINGER AND A PHILOSOPHER ON BRANCH HILL … 114
JUDGES WALK … 118
WHITESTONE POND … 122
EAST HEATH ROAD AND SOUTH END GREEN … 126
SIR HARRY AND ROSSLYN HILL … 137
PILGRIMS LANE AND MORE ON ROSSLYN HILL … 143
NEW END, CHOLERA, AND GROVE PLACE … 150
FITZJOHNS AVENUE AND SWISS COTTAGE … 155
SHEPHERDS WELL … 171
CHURCH ROW … 174
GRACIE FIELDS, FROGNAL WAY, AND FROGNAL … 179
WEST HEATH ROAD AND PLATTS LANE … 187
WEST HAMPSTEAD … 193
SHOOT UP HILL … 198
PRIMROSE HILL … 201
NORTH END AND GOLDERS GREEN … 211
NORTH END AND GOLDERS HILL PARK … 211
POETS AND GOLDERS GREEN … 228
LIFE AND DEATH ON HOOP LANE … 232
HIGHGATE … 241
CODA … 273
SOME BOOKS CONSULTED … 275
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS … 278
INDEX … 279

Bridges over troubled waters: the Florence Flood 1966

I HAVE JUST finished reading a book about an incident that made a great impression on me and my close family many years ago. The slender volume, “Florence. Ordeal by Water” was written by Kathrine Kressman Taylor (1903-1996), who was an eye-witness to the event that troubled our family so much. The book was first published in 1967.

During my childhood, my parents, who were keen on the art of the Italian renaissance and Italy in general, took my sister and me to the city of Florence every year (until about 1969), except 1967. Visiting churches, museums, and art galleries was not exactly my ‘cup of tea’ when I was a child, especially when I knew that my best friend was enjoying what sounded to me like a far more exciting holiday than mine. Now with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that the experiences that my parents gave me were actually far more valuable than anything I could have gained from annual holidays at a seaside resort in North Wales, where my friend went every summer.

I mentioned that in 1967, we did not make our annual visit to the city on the River Arno, Florence (Firenze). This was because the city was severely affected by a flood in November 1966. This inundation was caused by heavy storms and ill-advised opening of a dam on the River Arno upstream from Florence. The water caused much damage. I remember that when my parents heard that it had happened, they appeared to be as devastated as if a close, much-loved friend or relative had died suddenly.  They decided that visiting the stricken city in 1967 was inadvisable, so we returned in 1968. What we found in 1968 was distressing. The flood water, which had become mixed up with central heating fuel oil, had stained the walls of the city’s buildings, leaving a tide line at the often-high levels that it had reached. These marks remained for several years. In low-lying parts of the city, the water had reached the upper floors of buildings. In addition to damaging the buildings, the water also destroyed many irreplaceable works of art. Dad was particularly upset about the heavy damage suffered by a crucifix painted in about 1265 by Cimabue, which hung in the Church of Santa Croce. He used to mention this often. I felt that this affected him more than the damage to the rest of the city.

Miraculously, the surging waters of the Arno in spate and laden with tree trunks and other heavy debris did not significantly damage any of the many lovely bridges that cross the river. This is unlike what happened at the end of WW2 when the retreating Germans destroyed all the bridges except the Ponte Vecchio.

Kathrine Kressman Taylor, whose book I have just read, was living in a palazzo in Florence when the great flood hit the city. Her book is a diary of what she and the Florentines experienced when the waters of the Arno almost destroyed the city, and the aftermath. It is a compelling account of the tragedy, filled with vignettes and anecdotes that illustrate the true horror of what happened. What shines out in her account was that despite overwhelming odds, the Florentines refused to be defeated by the events that rendered many homeless and caused an even greater number to lose all their worldly possessions and their livelihoods. As soon as the oil-filled, filthy waters began to subside, the citizens of Florence as well as foreigners who had become trapped there began to work on restoring the city.

Reading Kressman Taylor’s account has given me a much clearer idea of the extent of the disaster than I had as a youngster just after it had happened.

By the way, I must mention how I ‘stumbled’ across this marvellous book about Florence. A friend had given me a copy of the recently republished novella, “Address Unknown”, by Kressman Taylor. First published in 1938, this book subtly drew her readers’ attention to the plight of Jewish people in Nazi Germany. Having read and enjoyed it, I looked to see what else the author had written. When I saw that she had written about the flood that had upset us so much in 1966, I had to read it, and I am pleased that I did.

An author’s angst

UNTIL NOW I HAVE been self-publishing my books satisfactorily using a print on demand company called ‘X’. I typed the manuscript on Microsoft Word using one of X’s many templates and then uploaded it to the site. In the past, X convert the uploaded document to a .pdf file. As conversion from Word to ‘pdf always results in changes in formatting, I have always had to make modifications of my Word manuscript, often several times, before I am happy with the proofs provided by X. It was always a little time-consuming but, in the end, I produced a printed book that was, if not perfect, always satisfactory.

Now, all has changed. X will no longer accept manuscripts uploaded in Word. Instead, authors are required to submit their manuscripts in the .pdf format after fulfilling extremely detailed formatting specifications, which I must admit are beyond my technical abilities at present. I discovered that a well-known on-line trading company offers a self-publishing process, which permits authors to upload their manuscripts in the Word document format on their downloadable Word templates. I tried this, but the proofs generated by the company’s publishing system looked disastrous, to say the least. Maybe, I could have tried modifying my manuscript’s layout, but there did not appear to be a facility for doing so and, I could foresee hours if not days of frustrating work ahead.

I have spent several months writing my latest book, and even longer researching it, and now I would like people to be able to enjoy it and, I hope, comment on it. So, as many people often say in India: “What to do?”

Well, here is my current solution. I am going to upload my manuscript to one of my personal websites and make it downloadable for anyone who cares to read it. It will be downloadable free of charge because I write for pleasure rather than for profit and I value the thought that people might find what I write of interest. It is more important for me that my writing gets read rather than gets sold. Eventually, I hope to be able to produce a satisfactory paperback version of my latest work, but in the meantime, watch this space!

If anyone can offer me a simple solution to my problem, I would be grateful to see your suggestion!