Eyes facing the ocean from Madeira

STARING OUT TO sea at Calheta on the Portuguese island of Madeira is a bronze bust of a man wearing 18th century clothing and a bow tie. The sculpture depicts Sebastián Francisco de Miranda y Rodríguez de Espinoza (1750-1816). Born in Caracas in what is now Venezuela, Miranda became a military leader and a revolutionary fighting for his country’s liberation from Spanish rule. Regarded by many as the forerunner of Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), the great liberator of several Spanish South American colonies and born in Caracas, Miranda ended his life in a Spanish prison in Cadiz.

The plaque below the bust in Calheta records (translated from the Portuguese on a website: https://statues.vanderkrogt.net/object.php?record=ptma108):

“The Sons of the municipality of Calheta in the lands of Venezuela at the bicentenary of the Independence in honour of its precursor ‘Generalisimo, Sebastian Francisco de Miranda’ ‘The most universal Venezuelan’”

I interpret this as meaning that the bust was erected by descendants of people from Calheta, who had emigrated to Venezuela.

The bust was created by the Venezuelan sculptor Julio César Briceño Andrade, who was born in Caracas in 1950. It was unveiled in Calheta by Lucas Rincón Romero, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Portugal, on the 5th  July 2011.

Miranda was the son of a man, who had migrated to Venezuela from the Spanish Canary Islands. His mother was born in Venezuela. Although, he crossed the Atlantic several times, I do not know whether Miranda ever set foot on the island of Madeira.

Like those from Calheta, who migrated to Venezuela, many others have migrated from Madeira to various parts of the world over the years. I have been told that many of the Portuguese speakers in South Africa had their roots in Madeira. Having seen the bust in Calheta, clearly Venezuela was another destination.

Now, with difficulties that Venezuela has been facing, some its citizens with Madeiran heritage are returning to the island as can be seen in an article published on-line (www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/madeira-an-island-of-refuge-for-venezuelans-of-portuguese-origin/):

“No one knows the exact figure but the authorities in Madeira consider that about 6,000 Venezuelans of Portuguese descent have taken refuge on their island, where they found themselves in an extremely precarious situation. “They arrive with nothing, many are sick, these are people lacking a great deal,” said the President of the Portuguese archipelago, Miguel Albuquerque. These people are second or third generation Portuguese, descendants of those who left Madeira decades ago in search of a better life in Venezuela. They are now making the opposite journey.”

Reading this made me think about South Africa, to which many Europeans, including my parents’ families, travelled in search of a better life. After the ending of apartheid, many of their descendants have left the country because they had become concerned about their futures in a land where Europeans no longer hold the upper hand.

A poet in Hampstead and Rome

THE SHORT-LIVED POET, John Keats (1795-1821) resided briefly in Hampstead in what is now called Keats House. In my new book, “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” *, Keats:

“… took a great liking to Hampstead and settled there in 1817. He lived in Wentworth House, which was later renamed ‘Keats House’. The house in Keats Grove was built in about 1815 and divided in two separate dwellings. One half was occupied by Charles Armitage Brown (1787-1842), a poet and friend of Leigh Hunt and the other half by Charles Wentworth Dilke (1789–1864), a literary associate of Hunt and a visitor to his home in the Vale of Health. Keats became Brown’s lodger. This was after Keats had visited his neighbour Dilke, with whom he became acquainted following an introduction by the poet and playwright John Hamilton Reynolds (1784-1852), who was part of Leigh Hunt’s circle of friends.”

Keats remained in Hampstead until 1820, when, ailing, he left for Italy to try to improve his health. Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), who lived in Hampstead’s Vale of Health, noted in his autobiography that Keats died in Rome and was buried in the English Protestant cemetery near the monument to Gaius Cestius. Amongst his graveside mourners was the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), who also had spent time in Hampstead.

Had Keats not travelled to Italy, he would have probably died in Hampstead. If that had been the case, it would have been likely that he would have been buried in the graveyard of St John’s, Hampstead’s parish church on Church Row, where the artist John Constable rests in peace.

Bust of Keats in St Johns, Hampstead

Within the church there is a memorial to Keats, a bust, dated 1894, within 100 years of the poet’s birth. A gift from admirers of Keats in the USA, it was the first memorial to Keats in England. The story of the bust is related on the church’s website (https://hampsteadparishchurch.org.uk/data/keats_bust.php) as follows:

“Anne Whitney, a Boston sculptor (1821-1915) carved her original bust of Keats in 1873. The marble bust was inscribed Keats and not signed. It was exhibited the same year at Doll and Richards, Boston. It was owned by the artist until 1915 when it was bequeathed to Fred Holland Day. Day exhibited it at Boston Public Library in the loan exhibition of his Keats memorabilia in 1921 to mark the centenary of the poet’s death. The Keats bust was given by Fred Holland Day to Keats House and Museum shortly before he died, and its arrival was acknowledged by Fred Edgcumbe the curator of Keats House and Museum on 2 November 1933, the day of Day’s death. The marble replica of the bust inscribed KEATS AW (monogram) 1883 was carved by Anne Whitney in 1883. It was exhibited by F. Eastman Chase, Boston, and presented by Americans, as the first memorial to Keats on English soil, to Hampstead Parish Church on 16 July 1894. The bust remained in position until March 1992 when it was stolen. It was seen by Judith Bingham, the composer, when it was about to be auctioned at Finchley in May 1992. It failed to reach its reserve, Judith Bingham recognised its identity and it was returned to the Parish Church.”

The Keats bust is near the Lady Chapel, in which I saw a remarkable painting by Donald Chisholm Towner (1903-1985), who lived in Hampstead, in Church Row from 1937 until his death. The church’s guidebook revealed:

“The Altar Piece in the chapel was painted by Donald Towner of Church Row, in memory of his mother. True to the medieval tradition Towner used a local resident as the model for Mary, his nephew for John and his own mirror image for Christ.”

What is remarkable is that the three figures are depicted standing in Church Row. St John’s church can be seen in the background.

Apart from the bust and the painting, the church is well worth visiting to see its lovely architecture and to enjoy its peaceful atmosphere.

*My book is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

A bust among the books

A WHITE STONE BUST depicting a man wearing a jacket and a waistcoat is perched on a pile of books carved in the same material and stands on a marble pedestal in the centre of the open access bookshelves in the public lending library on Hornton Street in London’s Kensington. His face has copious mutton-chop sideburns but neither moustache nor beard. The person depicted is James Heywood (1810-1897), who founded the first public library in Kensington in about 1870. His sculptural portrait in the library was created by Middlesex born James Adams-Acton (1830-1910), some of whose other busts include representations of Emperor Caesar Augustus, John Wesley, and ‘Pharaoh’s daughter’ (www.artuk.org/discover/artists/adams-acton-john-18301910).

Heywood, who was born in Manchester, was a man of many achievements (www.gracesguide.co.uk/James_Heywood). Son of the banker Nathaniel Heywood, James studied at the universities of both Edinburgh and Geneva before joining the family bank at Manchester. On inheriting a large sum from his uncle, he left the bank and matriculated at Trinity College Cambridge in 1829, where he continued to study but did not graduate. In 1838, he was admitted to the Inner Temple in London, where he was called to the Bar but did not practise as a barrister. In that same year, James became a founder member of the Manchester Geological Society. The next year, he was one of the founders of the Manchester Athenaeum, which provided reading rooms and lectures.

Heywood’s interests also included statistics as can be seen from the citation that was presented in 1839, when he was a successful candidate for Fellowship of the prestigious Royal Society  (https://catalogues.royalsociety.org/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=EC%2f1839%2f08&pos=6).:

“James Heywood, Esq of Trinity College, Cambridge, residing at 17 Cork Street, London, Barrister of the Inner Temple, author of a Report on the Geology of the Coal District of South Lancashire, published in the Transactions of the British Association, & also of a Report on the state of the population in Miles Platting, Manchester, published in the Journal of the Statistical Society of London; a gentleman much attached to science, being desirous of becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society, we the undersigned, do, from our personal knowledge, recommend him as deserving of that honor, & as likely to be a useful & valuable member.”

So, by 1839, Heywood was residing in London. In addition to his scientific work, he was involved in politics. Between 1847 and 1857 he represented the constituency of Lancaster Northern. He was a member of the Whig/Liberal Party. In 1859, he moved to Kensington (Kensington Palace Gardens), where in about 1870 he established Kensington’s first free public library at Notting Hill Gate. Heywood was a Unitarian. His home in Kensington was close to the current location of a Unitarian church, which was only established on this site in 1887. However, before that, in 1867, the Unitarians began meeting in Kensington at Sir Isaac Newton’s old home, now demolished, in Church Lane. The history of the Kensington Unitarians, found at  www.kensington-unitarians.org.uk/images/EssexChurchInKensington_forInternet.pdf reveals that:

“The congregation was growing under the Chairmanship of James Heywood, MA, FRS, MP, ‘one of Kensington’s most distinguished citizens’…”

The church moved to its present site near the Mall Tavern in the 1880s.

The free library, which Heywood created in Kensington and was opened on the 15th of August 1874, was located at ‘106, High Street, Notting Hill”, according to “The Catalogue of Mr James Heywood’s Free Public Library”, published in 1879 (and viewable on Google Books). The ‘High Street’ is now named ‘Notting Hill Gate’. If the numbering was the same then as it is today, then 106 would have been on the north side of the street just west of Pembridge Road, roughly between where Tescos and Mark and Spencers Simply Food stores stand currently. Today, the Notting Hill Gate branch of Kensington’s public libraries stands on the corner of Pembridge Road and Pembridge Square.

Heywood’s library was open seven days a week and before receiving a book, an applicant had to fill in a form with the following wording:

“I REQUEST TO READ

Name of books ….

Date …. Signature of applicant .…”

Reading books in the library was free of charge but borrowing them required a monthly payment of sixpence (2.5 p) and one penny (about 0.5 p) per book borrowed. The catalogue included a very respectable variety of books and periodicals. I was pleased to note that there was a book about Albania, “Travels in Albania and Other Provinces of Turkey” by Lord Broughton, Baron John Cam Hobhouse Broughton (1786-1869), who accompanied Lord Byron on his trip through the Balkans at the beginning of the 19th century.

Given his important contribution to the development of public libraries in Kensington, it is entirely appropriate that James Heywood is commemorated in the main branch of the library system of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is also worth noting that like his pioneering establishment in Notting Hill High Street, the library is not entirely free for borrowers. Although books may be borrowed free of charge, other items including DVDs can only be borrowed after making a payment.

A hero of Chile in Richmond-upon-Thames

BETWEEN OUR FRIENDS’ house in Richmond and Richmond Bridge, which crosses the River Thames, is but a short walk, taking not more than five minutes at a leisurely pace. Yet, during this brief walk that I took yesterday, on the day that my mother would have been one hundred years old, I spotted three old things that were new to me.

The first thing I noticed for the first time is a small single-storeyed building on Church Terrace close to the Wakefield Road bus station. What attracted me to it was a stone plaque set within its stuccoed façade that stated:

“The Bethlehem Chapel built in the year 1797.”

It is still in regular use. I picked up an information leaflet from a plastic container next to its locked door, and this provided me with some information about the place, whose façade looks original but has otherwise been substantially updated.  The interior of this non-Conformist place of worship appears to be similar to what it was when it was first built but considerably restored and modernised a bit (see images of the interior on the video: https://youtu.be/kIYuxaMyZsA).

John Chapman, market gardener of Petersham, where currently the fashionable, upmarket Petersham Nursery flourishes, built the chapel for an independent Calvinist congregation. It was opened by William Huntingdon (1745-1813), a widely known self-educated Calvinist preacher, who began life as a ‘coal heaver’ (https://chestofbooks.com/reference/A-Library-Of-Wonders-And-Curiosities/William-Huntingdon.html). Because of this, the chapel, which is the oldest independent Free Church in the West of London, is also known as the ‘Huntingdon Chapel’. By Free Church, the leaflet explains:

“We do not belong to any denomination. We are an Independent Free Church, which means that we are not affiliated to any organised body like the Church of England, Methodists or Baptists etc.”

More can be discovered about the congregation and its beliefs on the chapel’s informative website (http://bethlehem-chapel.org/index.html).

Between the chapel and the bridge, there is an Odeon cinema with a wonderful art deco façade. This was designed by the architects Julian Leathart (1891-1967) and W F Granger and was opened in 1930. It was originally named the ‘Richmond Kinema’, but this was changed to the ‘Premier Cinema’ on the 29th of June 1940:

“… to enable the removal of the Richmond name on the cinema, in case German parachutists landed nearby.” (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/6260)

In May 1944, the cinema’s name was changed to the ‘Odeon’. Before it was converted to a triple screen cinema in 1972, its huge auditorium was able to accommodate 1553 seated viewers.

Crossing the main road in front of the cinema, we descend Bridge Street towards Richmond Bridge, but before stepping onto the bridge, we turn left and enter Bridge House Gardens. This open space was the site of the now demolished Bridge House, which was the sometime home of a Jewish family:

“Moses Medina (nephew of Solomon Medina and three times treasurer of Bevis Marks) lived at Bridge House from the 1720s to 1734, having lived previously at Moses Hart’s old house. Abraham Levy lived there from 1737-1753. Levy was a wealthy merchant of Houndsditch.” (www.richmondsociety.org.uk/bridge-house-gardens/).

Solomon Medina (c1650-1730) followed the future William III to England and became “…the leading Jew of his day” according to Albert Hyamson in his “History of The Jews in England” (publ. in 1928), a book I found in the second-hand department of Blossom Book House in Bangalore. Medina became the great army bread contractor in the wars that followed his arrival in England. He was knighted for his services, thus becoming the first professing Jew to receive that honour. His reputation was called into question because it was alleged that he had bribed John Churchill (1650-1722), the First Duke of Marlborough (see “Marlborough” by Richard Holmes, publ. 2008). Moses, his nephew, was a rabbi at the Bevis Marks synagogue in London and thrice its treasurer and also involved in his uncle’s bread contracting, supplying this food to Marlborough’s forces in Flanders (https://forumnews.wordpress.com/about/bank-of-england-nominees/).

Bridge House was demolished in 1930 to create the present area of parkland. Well, I did not know about the Medina connection with Richmond when we visited the Bridge House Gardens. What attracted my attention as soon as I set foot in the small park was the bust of a man looking across a flight of steps and out towards the river below it.

The bust depicts a man wearing a heavily decorated military uniform with tasselled epaulettes. It is a representation of General Bernado O Higgins  (Bernado O’Higgins Riquelme), who was born in Chile in 1778 and died in Peru in 1842. Bernado was an illegitimate son of Ambrosio O’ Higgins (c1720-1801), who was born in Sligo (Ireland) then became a Spanish officer. He became Governor of Chile and later Viceroy of Peru. Bernado’s claim to fame is that he was a Chilean independence leader who freed Chile from Spanish rule after the Chilean War of Independence (1812-1826). He is rightfully regarded as a great national hero in the country he helped ‘liberate’.  But, what, you might be wondering, is his connection with Richmond?

O Higgins studied in Richmond from 1795 to 1798 and while doing so, lived in Clarence House, which is at 2 The Vineyard, Richmond. Whilst in Richmond, he studied history, law, the arts, and music (https://www.davidcpearson.co.uk/blog.cfm?blogID=632) and met  Francisco de Miranda, who was active amongst a London based group of Latin Americans, who opposed the Spanish crown and its rule of colonies in South America. The bust was inaugurated in 1998 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the departure of O’ Higgins from Richmond. Our friends told us that once a year, a delegation of Chileans arrives by boat at Bridge House Park to celebrate joyously in front of the bust of their national hero. As they arrive, another boatload of people arrives to join the celebration: members of the administration of the Borough of Richmond.

No far from the memorial to the great O’ Higgins, there is another remarkable sight close to the river: a tree with a small notice by its roots. To me, it did not look exceptional, but the notice explains that this example of Platanus x hispanica (aka ‘London plane’):

 “… is the Richmond Riverside Plane, the tallest of its kind in the capital, and is a great tree of London.” First discovered in the 17th century, this hybrid of American sycamore and Oriental plane, was planted a great deal in the 18th century. The plane growing near to the bust of O’ Higgins has a record-breaking height. What I cannot discover is the date on which the notice was placed. So, being the sceptic that I am, I wonder if any other plane trees in London have exceeded the height of this one since the notice was installed.

All of what I have described can be seen in less than ten minutes, but as I hope I have demonstrated, a great deal of history is encapsulated in that tiny part of Richmond.