Peter Pan and Long John Silver

COCKAYNE HATLEY IS A BIG name for a tiny rural settlement in Bedfordshire, close to the county’s borders with both Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Today, it consists of a small parish church and a few buildings about one hundred and fifty yards away. Its population in 2007 was 75 souls. Over the centuries, the place has had various names: Hettenleia (10th cent.); Hatelai (11th cent.); Bury Hattele (13th-15th cent.); Hatley Port, and then from the 16th century as Cockayne Hatley. The name ‘Hatley’ is from the Old English words ‘haett’ and ‘leah’, meaning ‘woodland clearing on the hill’. The first part of the place name, Cockayne, was added to Hatley in the 15th century after John Cockayne (died 1429), Chief baron of the Exchequer, acquired the manor in 1417.

We travelled to Cockayne Hatley to see its church, built during the 13th and 14th centuries and dedicated to St John the Baptist. It was locked up and we did not have enough time to ring the person who holds the keys. However, we took a stroll around the church’s well-maintained small graveyard and found some graves and memorials of great interest.

A pinkish granite stone records the death of Margaret Lindsay (died 1941), whose husband, Lt Col WG Cooper DSO, died in 19?8. What interested me was its Indian connection. WG Cooper had served in India in ‘The Poona Horse’. He was in 34th Prince Albert Victor’s Own Poona Horse, a unit of the Bombay Presidency. His wife Margaret was born in India, the daughter of Peter Stephenson Turnbull, Surgeon General of the Government of Bombay and later, Honorary Physician to the King. William and Margaret married in Bombay Cathedral. The Poona Horse was founded in about 1820, and served in the two world wars, and after India became independent, it served in the India-Pakistan conflicts of both 1965 and 1971 (by which time Cooper was no longer living).

A white stone memorial close to Cooper’s records the death of Private Herber Saunderson in 1919. A Canadian serving in the 17th (Reserve) Battalion, Canadian Infantry (www.roll-of-honour.com/Bedfordshire/CockayneHatley.html), he was aged 40 when he died. He was born in Cockayne Hatley, and then moved to Ontario (Canada) after marriage.

A few feet away from the Canadian’s gravestone there is a black stone monument dedicated to the memory of the crew of a Liberator KN 736 aircraft, which crashed in nearby Potton Woods on the 18th of September 1945. Four men were killed and three were saved as well as a dog called Bitsa. Local people came to their rescue. None of the men who were killed were buried at Cockayne Hatley.

Apart from the graves with military connections, there is one which has many literary associations. The monument to William Ernest Henry and his family is in the art-nouveau style and is the most prominent memorial in the tiny cemetery.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) was, according to that font of all knowledge Wikipedia, “…an English poet, critic and editor in late Victorian England.” At the age of twelve, he began suffering from tuberculosis. This resulted in him having to have the lower part of his left leg amputated sometime between 1868 and 1869. Incidentally, Henley was looked after by the eminent Dr Joseph Lister (1827-1912), founder of surgical sterile techniques. The amputation led to an important landmark in British literature. Henley was a good friend of the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), author of “Treasure Island” (published 1883). It is said that Stevenson’s well-known character, the pirate Long John Silver, was inspired by his “… crippled, hearty friend” (www.britannica.com/biography/William-Ernest-Henley).

Poor old Henley fell out of a train in 1902. This accident caused a flare up of his tuberculosis, which caused his death in 1903. He was cremated at a crematorium near his home in Woking. His ashes were interred in the graveyard at Cockayne Hatley where his daughter was buried. This brings us back to fictional pirates: not Long John Silver but one with a hook instead of a hand: Captain Hook (created by JM Barrie [1860-1937]), who was an enemy of Peter Pan.

Ernest and his wife Anna (née Hannah Johnson Boyle; 1855-1925) married in 1878. They had one child, Margaret, who was born in 1888. The author of “Peter Pan”, JM Barrie, was a friend of the family during Margaret’s short life. Unable to pronounce the word ‘friend’ the small child called her friend Barrie ‘fwendy-wendy’. As a result of this, Barrie used the name ‘Wendy’ for Peter Pan’s female companion in his famous children’s book, “Peter Pan”. It was published in 1904. Margaret did not live long enough to see it; she died in 1894, aged 5. She was buried at Cockayne Hatley, the estate of her father’s friend, the politician and editor Henry John Cockayne-Cust (1861-1917). The monument to Margaret is on the back of that to Ernest and his wife.

Although our visit to Cockayne Hatley was brief, it turned out to be full of interest. If we had not visited the place, we would have been unlikely to have ever heard of William Ernest Henley and his family’s contribution to the richness of British literature. One of the many things that gives me pleasure during our forays into the English countryside is observing things that trigger my curiosity and often generate new interests for me.

A small town in South Africa

B 11 Barkly East evening BLOG

 

MY MOTHER AND THREE OF HER four siblings were born in King Williams Town (South Africa) in the home of their grandfather Franz Ginsberg, who became a Senator in the South African parliament in 1927. They spend the first few years of their lives in the tiny town of Barkly East in the Eastern Cape. Their father, who ran a general store, was also the town’s Mayor until he died in the early 1930s.

My mother migrated to England in 1947. Her sister, my aunt, and one of her brothers arrived in England in the 1950s. Both of them had vivid memories of their childhood in Barkly East, which they happily shared with me.

In 2003, we made a trip to South Africa in order to see places associated with my ancestors, who migrated there from Europe during the 19th century. We hired a car to travel between these scattered places. One of them was Barkly East.

Before leaving England, I discussed Barkly East with my aunt and noted what she told me. During one of these discussions, she drew a sketch map of Barkly East,  marking on it various places she recalled. I took her map to South Africa with me.

Barkly East was established in 1874. In 1885, my maternal grandfather’s uncle Sigmund Seligmann, who came to South Africa from Ichenhausen in Bavaria in about 1865. His nephew, my mother’s father, took over Seligmann’s store in the first decade of the 20th century and ran it along with Mr Blume.

Barkly East was an important commercial centre for the many sheep farmers and wool producers in the district. It began to decline greatly when the usage of motor vehicles increased and farmers were able to reach the far larger centre the town of East London.

When we arrived in Barkly East in 2003, we found a town with almost empty streets that gave little or no feeling of its once prosperous past. It looked like a place on its ‘last legs’, a bit like London is now during the Coronavirus ‘lockdown’.

On our first day we visited the office of local newspaper,  the Barkly East Reporter,  which was then run by the two Mollentze brothers. They welcomed us and told us a lot about Seligmann’s shop, a place where you could buy everything from a needle to a tractor.

I showed my aunt’s map to the brothers. Despite the fact that she had left the town on the early 1930s, they said her map was very accurate.

Using her map, we found the location of her father’s store, which burnt down in the 1960s. The firm’s wool storage warehouse still stood. It was near to the small street where my mother and her siblings spent the first few years of their lives. It stands next door to the house once owned by Mr Blume.

We were keen to see inside my mother’s childhood home. A young man, probably a teenager,  was sweeping the front porch. His name was Frikkie. We explained our interest in the house. Without hesitation, he showed us around the house despite his parents being at work in their café located near a bridge named after my mother’s father.

It made my spine tingle wandering around the building where my mother was a child. Not having seen it before I was unaware that many internal changes had been made to the building since my mother’s family sold it after my grandfather,  the Mayor of Barkly East, died at an early age.

After my mother’s family left Barkly East, their large house was used for a time as a nursing home before being reconverted to a family residence. My aunt’s two children visited Barkly East in late 2019. They found the old family home, but were unable to enter it. Currently, it houses the offices of the local branch of the African National Congress (ANC). How the tide has changed! In my mother’s childhood, the only non-Europeans who would have entered the house were domestic servants.

We also visited the tiny museum in Barkly East,  where we were welcomed by its curator. Like other curators of local museums in other small South African towns we visited, the curator in Barkly East was concerned about their future in the light of lack of both funding and footfall. She told us about the six or so Jewish families in Barkly East. The last of these, the Bortz family, to leave the town had moved elsewhere a few years before our visit.

The curator said that the Bortz family home had stood empty since they left. Then, after rummaging in a drawer,  she showed us a small metal object in the palm of her hand, and said:

“I know I shouldn’t have done it, but I prised this off the frame of the front door of their empty house long after they left. I took it for the museum. Had I left it there, it would have been taken by someone else eventually. Are you able to tell me what it is?”

It was an empty mezuza, a casing for a prayer scroll that Jewish people attach to the doorframes of their homes and sometimes also within them.

On the last day of our visit to Barkly East,  we visited its extensive cemetery, overlooked by a sad looking shanty town. The small Jewish cemetery containing 11 graves, mostly damaged but identifiable was surrounded by a fence, separated from the resting places of white skinned gentiles. Even after death, apartheid exerted its unsavoury influences. The graves of non-Europeans were in a part of the cemetery well separated from the final resting places of the Europeans.

We left Barkly East, the place where my grandparents enjoyed dinner parties, fly fishing, tennis, and golf, as the snow began to fall on the town. We met many lovely people there during our brief but moving visit to the place where my mother lived for the first decade of her life. I am only sad that she died 23 years before our visit. I would have loved to talk with her about what we saw so long after her childhood.

 

A surprising city

AFTER AN EXCITING DAY exploring Gopipura, an old part of Surat where my wife’s father’s family lived until over 100 years ago, we spent the following day seeing some of the better known historic sights of the city.

The castle on the bank of the River Tapi was built by the Muslim Tughlaq dynasty to defend Surat against attacks by the Bhils. It was later modified by the Mughals, the Dutch, and then the British.

Until the River Tapi silted up, Surat was an important international port city with a very active involvement in import/export activity. The silting up and the British acquisition of what became Bombay led to a decline in Surat’s prosperity. Over the years, its castle gradually fell into great disrepair.

Now, the castle is being painstakingly repaired. About half of it is currently open to visitors. The castle is being reconstructed using materials and techniques that archaeologists have discovered whilst investigating what has been left of the original structure. The result is a brand new version of what was most probably how the castle was before it began to disintegrate.

The rooms inside the castle recreate their original appearanc as deduced from archaeological examination. The rooms house a beautifully displayed collection of items portraying the history of Surat. A magnificent job has been done.

A man at the ticket booth of the castle reccomended downloading an app called “Surat Heritage Walk”, which is a very useful and well designed guide to the historical landmarks of the city.

After viewing the castle from a bridge that crosses the Tapi, which is how trading vessels would have seen it in days of yore, we visited the Christ Church (Church of North India) built in 1824. This simply decorated church has memorials to several Victorians, whi died in Surat.

We drove past the Mughal Sarai constructed in the reign of Shah Jehan. This large building was a hostel where pilgrims travelling between Surat and Mecca could be accommodated. Shah Jehan was first to encourage pilgrims going to Mecca to sail from Surat rather than travel overland or to embark on ships from Persian ports.

The Khudawan Khan Rojo, a mausoleum built in the mid 16th century, is newer than most of the medieval mosques that survive in Ahmedabad but, like them, it is rich in features adopted from Hindu and Jain temple design. The mausoleum contains the grave of its builder, Khudawan Khan, a military commander who was killed while fighting the Portuguese in about 1559/60.

The mausoleum described above is beautiful and impressive, but not ‘over the top’. The mausoleums in the Dutch, Armenian, and English cemeteries, which are close to each other and surrounded by crowded Muslim neighbourhoods, have to be seen to be believed. Many of the mausoleums are flamboyant structures with domes and details suggestive of both the art of India and the orient and also the Greek and Roman empires. These fantastic final resting places of Europeans who became rich in Surat are curiously exotic and ridiculous at the same time. The exuberance of the funerary architecture exceeds that which I have seen in European cemeteries in Calcutta and Fort Cochin. These monuments should not be missed by visitors to Surat.

As we drove between the places described above, we passed numerous old buildings, often in bad states of repair but rich in finely crafted decorative features.

After our tour, we lunched at Shukan, a restaurant that serves vegetarian thalis. As a meat eater I am not usually keen on vegetarian food, but what we were served at Shukan was much to my taste. The chef is a Rajasthani ‘mahraj’ (usually a Brahmin chef). His food was light but well flavoured. Unlike chefs cooking in the Surat traditional way, he used garlic, onions, and crushed peanuts. Yet, his dishes were not sugary as we found in other parts of Gujarat, notably in Ahmedabad and Saurashtra.

Although amongst the larger cities I have visited in Gujarat, Surat has fewer major tourist attractions than others (such as Ahmedabad, Baroda, Junagadh, and Bhuj). However, it has a visually exciting urban texture and vibrancy. The two days we allotted to our first visit to Surat was not long enough. We hope to return for longer in the future.

An empty grave

On one of my frequent visits to Bangalore in India, I was idly flicking through a street atlas of the city when I noticed a small green patch near to the Mysore Road. It was marked ‘Jewish Grave Yard’.

CEMY 1

I knew that there have been large Jewish communities in cities such as Bombay, Calcutta, Cochin, and Poona, but I had never associated Bangalore with a Jewish presence of any size. I visited the cemetery the next day. Surrounded by a huge Moslem cemetery on two sides and two roads, the well-maintained burial ground contains just over fifty graves, and the foundations of the hut which was used to prepare bodies for burial.

The land on which the cemetery is located was donated on the 9th September 1904 by Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore. On that day, Subedar Samuel Nagavkar died, and his is the earliest death recorded on the stones in the cemetery. A notice at the entrance informs us that the land was donated due to the “efforts of the late Mr Rubin Moses”. This might have been the case, but I have reason to believe that this man did not reach India until later.

CEMY 3

Rubin Moses Nahoum (‘Nahoum’ has been dropped by his descendants) left his birthplace, Iraq, to join the California Gold Rush. After the city of San Francisco was struck by an earthquake in April 1906, Rubin left for India in order to become involved in the Kolar goldfields near Bangalore. By 1910, he had opened a shoe store in Bangalore’s Commercial Street. It was to become the largest in southern Asia. The large premises still exist but in another reincarnation: it is now the home of ‘Woodies’ a vegetarian café popular with the numerous shoppers in what is Bangalore’s equivalent of London’s Oxford Street.  The Moses family, who still finance the maintenance of the cemetery, had a prayer hall in the now demolished Rubin House, a building which housed a shoe factory. Any Jew living in, or visiting, Bangalore was welcome to worship there. The most notable of these visitors was a future president of Israel, Ezer Weizman, who was stationed at an RAF base in Bangalore in 1946.

The majority of those buried in the cemetery were born in India and represent the various different types of Jews who lived there. Six of the graves commemorate Jews not born in India, five of them European. When Saida Abrovna Isako, a Russian Jewess, the wife of the proprietor of the Russian Circus, died in 1932, her coffin was brought to the cemetery on a bier drawn by white circus horses. Not far from her grave are those of a number of refugees from Nazi Europe. Siegfried Appel came from Bonn in Germany. His compatriots the dentist from Gleiwitz, Gunther Moritz Rahmer, and his mother Margarethe (née Schuller: the widow of Alfred Rahmer, a soap maker in Gleiwitz) lie close by, as does another German dentist, Carl Weinzweig, who had a practice in Bangalore’s MG Road.

Bangalore has been an important military base for several centuries. So, it was not surprising to discover some graves related to warfare. Yusuf Guetta died age 22 years in 1943. His grave records that he was an “evacuee” from Benghazi, the Libyan town evacuated by the British in April 1941. Yusuf lies next to the grave of Private Morris Minster of the South Wales Borderers Regiment. Morris passed away on the 4th of April 1942, aged 24. I looked up Private Minster on the Commonwealth Graves website and was surprised to find that he was recorded as being buried in the Madras War Cemetery, Chennai. Yet, I had seen and taken pictures of his grave in Bangalore.

CEMY 2

I wrote to the Royal Welch Regimental Museum.  Martin Everett replied, informing me that Morris, son of Solomon and Annie Minster of Salford, joined up maybe as early as 1931, and died in 1942, but not in action. He told me that at the time of his death there were no Welsh Borderers in India. They had all left for Iraq by November 1941. Morris was probably too ill to travel and remained in India. Mr Everett wrote that he believed that his remains had been moved to Chennai. He wrote also that:

“The Madras War Cemetery was created to receive Second World War graves from many civil and cantonment cemeteries in the south and east of India where their permanent maintenance could not be assured.”

Well, I can report that Morris Minster’s grave in Bangalore is certainly being well-maintained. When I enquired about the whereabouts of his body, a member of the Moses family, the last Bangalore born Jew still residing in the city, told me that a few years ago it had been disinterred and transferred to Chennai, as suggested by Martin Everett. My mind was set at rest.

I have published a photographic album showing all the graves in the cemetery, “Buried in Bangalore”.

It is available for purchase from:

http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1126091

Tragedy at the tombs

The Paigah family were involved in ruling the Princely State of Hyderabad in the 18th century. Most of the family is buried within beautiful tombs in a peaceful area south of central Hyderabad

After visiting the collection of tombs, we waited in the rustic street that leads from them to a big highway. Cocks, hens,and goats roamed around. Eventually, an autorickshaw (‘auto’) arrived. We hailed it, then boarded it.

Before heading out of the rustic enclave, our driver stopped by the entrance to a yard. A little boy approached and greeted his father, our driver. The latter gave his son a package. It was rotis, which the driver had specially fetched for his mother. The boy took them indoors to his grandmother and returned to wave goodbye to his dad and us.

We left the area and began speeding along busy main roads towards the city centre.

The auto driver’s mobile phone rang. He pulled up by the side of the road, and answered it. Immediately, he burst into tears, crying uncontrollably.

We asked him what was wrong. He told us that his mother had just died.

Our driver resumed driving. Every few seconds, he wiped tears from his eyes. We told him that we were very sorry for him, and that he must return home. He did so, but only after making sure that we were safely aboard another auto to take us to our destination.

Even though we did not know him from Adam and are unlikely ever to meet him again, his grief was infectious, palpable.