A lost landmark and a treasured map

EVER SINCE I CAN REMEMBER, I have been fascinated by maps and collected them. I cannot say exactly why I enjoy them, but one reason is that I get satisfaction from aesthetic aspects of cartography. Another reason is that when I look at them, I try to imagine the reality that they represent, a form of virtual travelling. Whatever the underlying cause(s) of my fascination with maps might be, it is irrelevant to what follows because what I want to tell you is about a shop that I used to love to visit. It was Stanford in London’s Long Acre, a street not far from the old Covent Garden Market and Leicester Square.

Founded by Edward Stanford (1827-1904) in the early 1850s, his business was one of the best specialist suppliers of maps in the UK, if not the very best.  His company’s store on Long Acre opened in 1901, having moved there from Charing Cross. When I used to visit the shop to browse the lovely maps on display in the 1960s, there were two floors open to the public. The ground floor was the main showroom with maps of popular destinations that appealed to the majority of customers. The basement was less attractively arranged but far more interesting to serious travellers and map collectors such as me. There were no maps out on display down there. One had to ask a salesman to show you maps of areas that interested you. I believe it was there that I bought a nautical chart of the extremely remote French island of Kerguelen in the southern part of the Indian Ocean, a place that I had no intention of ever visiting.

In about 1966, my interest in Albania was born. I have tried to explain why this happened in my book “Albania on My Mind”, which I published in 2013, 101 years after Albania gained its independence.   In those days, not much was known in the UK about this small country in the western Balkans. Maps of Albania were not available in most shops, probably because few people visited the place, or were even remotely interested in it. So, I took the Underground from my local station, Golders Green, to Leicester Square. Stanford was a few yards from that station. At Stanford, I enquired about detailed maps of Albania, and was sent to the specialist map department in the basement.

The only detailed map of Albania available at Stanford was a 1:200,000 scale map with the information that it was made:

“Auf Grund der Oesterreichischer-Ungarische Kriegsaufnahmen und der im Auftrage der Albanische Regierung Von Dr Herbert Louis gemachten aufnahmen sowie mit Benützung italienischer und franzoesischer Karten” (i.e., ‘On the basis of the Austrian-Hungarian war recordings and the recordings made by Dr Herbert Louis on behalf of the Albanian government, as well as with the use of Italian and French maps’)

The map, which comes as two sheets, was up to date in 1925. A small map alongside the main map shows which parts of the large map were surveyed by whom and when.        Between 1916 and 1918, the surveyors were the armies of Austria-Hungary, France, and Italy. Some information collected by Baron Nopcsa between 1905 and 1909 is included in the map, as well as data collected by Dr H Louis between 1923 and 1924.

Baron Nopcsa was the Hungarian aristocrat and politician Franz Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás (1877-1933; see: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/history-forgot-rogue-aristocrat-discovered-dinosaurs-died-penniless-180959504/), a founder of paleobiology and a specialist on Albanian studies. This one-time candidate for the throne of Albania created the first geological map of northern Albania. The German Dr Herbert Louis (1900-1985), whose name is prominent on the map, was no stranger to Albania. In 1923, he accompanied the Austrian geologist Ernst Nowack (1891-1946) during his research in the country, and in 1925, he was awarded a doctorate for his studies concerning Albania.

The map looked beautiful, I fell in love with it, and I knew I had to obtain a copy of it, but it was priced at 23/- (23 shillings: £1.15) for the set. That might not sound excessive today in 2021, barely the price of a small bar of chocolate or a cup of tea (in a scruffy café). But in about 1966, it was a huge sum of money for me, many times more than my weekly pocket money. I left Stanford, determined to save up for it and hoping that in the meantime the shop would not run out of copies of it. Eventually, I was able to purchase a set of these maps.

Delicately drawn, covered with contour lines, shaded representations of rocks and mountains, a variety of colours, the map shows how few roads there were in Albania in the 1920s. The tiny black dots, which represented buildings or small groups of them are often shown to be connected by tracks or footpaths, but many of them are a long way from any line of communication marked by the map makers. Most of the names on the map are in Albanian, but a few are also in Italian (e.g., Durazzo [Durres], Valona [Vlora], San Giovanni di Medua [Shengjin], and Santi Quaranta [Saranda]). Some words on the map are also in German.

I treasure this set of maps I bought at Stanford so many years ago and my memory of first being shown them in the basement of the shop. Yesterday, on the 15th of August 2021, first day of the 75th year of India’s independence, we walked along Long Acre, and discovered that although its name on the building is still there, the map shop is not. I had not realised that in 2019 this repository of records of landmarks and one of my favourite childhood haunts had moved from Long Acre to nearby Mercer Walk near The Seven Dials.

Christmas at home this year

WILL BAXTER WAS a teacher at the University of Cape Town, whilst my late father was studying for a BComm degree before WW2. Will, recognising my father’s academic excellence, persuaded my father’s mother that she and her family would do well to subsidize my father continuing his studies in London. When he presented his case to Dad’s mother, my grandmother was at first surprised and said that my father’s siblings were even brighter than him. By all accounts, my father and his three siblings were well-endowed with brain power. My grandmother agreed, but before Dad was able to set off for London, there was another hurdle. Dad had become articled to an accountancy firm in Cape Town. Leaving this would have involved breaking a legal contract between him and the firm. Will spoke to the senior partners and managed to get Dad released from his contract. Then, the year before WW2 started, Dad sailed to England and enrolled for higher studies at the London School of Economics (‘LSE’). With the exception of a few of the war years and one year in Montreal (Canada), Dad spent the rest of his life in London, where I was born.

Will Baxter returned to the UK and taught at the LSE and became a firm family friend. My earliest reminiscences of him were at Christmas time. Until I was in my mid-teens, we used to visit Will and his wife at his home in the Ridgeway in Golders Green on Christmas morning. We used to have warm drinks in the living room in which there was always a large, decorated Christmas tree.  Will always had wrapped presents ready for my sister and me, always books. I cannot remember which books I was given, but I do recall that every year my sister always received a beautiful hardback edition of one of the classic British novels by authors such as Jane Austen or one of the Bronte sisters.

The Baxters’ front garden had a gate supported by brick pillars. When I was about 3 or 4, we visited the Baxters one morning (not on Christmas Day), soon after the mortar between the bricks had been renewed. It was still wet, and Will inscribed a small ‘A’ in the mortar to record how high I was on that day. Year after year when we visited the Baxters, the letter was there in the set mortar, but my height had increased considerably. After many years, several decades, it disappeared after Will and his second wife, his first having died many years previously, had had the pillars refurbished.

Always after our Christmas morning visit to the Baxters, we walked or drove over to my mother’s sisters’s home, where we ate a festive lunch, often featuring roast goose. In addition to my close family and my aunts, other people attended this party. These included my aunt’s in-laws, various people we knew who had no close family in London, and my uncle Felix, my mother’s brother.

Felix, more than many of the other adults, truly enjoyed our Christmas lunches. He entertained us kids, my two cousins, my sister, and me, by tales of ‘Turkey Lurky’, ‘Goosey Lucy’, ‘Ducky Lucky’, and similarly named fowl. However, as we grew older, he failed to realise that we had become a little more sophisticated and blasé to enjoy this type of entertainment. At the end of the main course, he used to interrupt the adults’ conversation by standing up, thumping the table, and singing a song about bringing us some ‘figgy pudding’. I noticed that it always annoyed the adults and especially my aunt who was already stressed enough already, having produced a magnificent meal for 15 or more people.

After lunch, we retired to the living room to open presents, and always enjoyed. Felix always felt it necessary to entertain us, his nieces, and nephews, after lunch. To this end, he brought along packets of coloured inflatable balloons. He inflated them and asked one of us to hold them at their necks whilst he knotted them. Next, he twisted and tied the balloons together to make sculptures of animals. I hated these balloons because I could not tolerate the goose-pimples that the squeaking of the balloons set off in me, and still do today. One of my cousins did not enjoy this balloon experience because of the risk that a balloon might pop noisily. It is probably to our credit that none of us, his nephews, ever told him how much we disliked the balloons that Felix always brought with him.

Christmas lunches at my aunt’s house ceased many years ago. For many years, I spent Christmas enjoyably with the family of my PhD supervisor and his wife, with whom I became close friends. Then later, we often spent Christmas in India, in Bangalore where my in-laws live. This year, we had planned to do the same, but, in common with everyone else, this plan had to be abandoned for reasons that need no explanation.

I have celebrated Christmas Day at my aunt’s house, in Paris, in Méribel-les-Allues, in Manhattan, in Bangalore, in Stoke Poges, in Belgrade, in Wrocław, on a ‘plane to Sri Lanka, in Cornwall,  and in Cochin, but until this year, never at home. So, this year is a first for me: Christmas at home.

Walking past wallabies

FILTHY SLIPPERY MUD deterred us from exploring a section of the path running beside a stretch of Dollis Brook in north London. After abandoning our attempts to negotiate this slippery, squelchy, wet path, we decided to visit Golders Hill Park, one of our favourite open spaces in north west London. I have been visiting this park since I was a small child, for over six decades. Formerly, the park was the grounds of a mansion, built for Charles Dingley (1711-1769), long since demolished (see: https://adamyamey.co.uk/waugh-and-pitt-hampstead-north-end/).

We sat on a bench near to the North End Road entrance to the park, which is close to where the demolished mansion once stood. From our bench, we had a fine view of the gardens, lawns, and mature trees, sloping away from us. It is a view that reminded us of the landscaped gardens that sweep away from fine mansions such as can be seen at Compton Verney (in Warwickshire), Osterley Park, and Kenwood House. I mention Kenwood House in particular because the man who had a hand in landscaping its grounds, Humphrey Repton (1752-1815), was also involved in the design of the gardens, now park, of the former mansion at Golders Hill.

We walked around the park, first passing a deserted bandstand. Soon, we arrived in the part of the park, which I loved as a child and still enjoy as I approach my ‘second childhood’. It is a small zoo. Although many would question whether animals are happy to be confined to cages, these creatures provide much pleasure to city dwellers. There is a vast field that contains various types of deer and occasionally a rhea, which looks like a kind of ostrich. Most of the other enclosures in this small zoo are smaller than the deer enclosure.

An enclosure, which used to house flamingos when I was a child, contains a variety of exotic waterfowl including some with long, slender curling beaks. Close to this, there is a larger enclosure in which three or four ring-tailed lemurs pass the time of day.

Another large enclosure, slightly smaller than that where the deer spend their time, contains what for me is the highlight of the zoo. These creatures, which intrigue me, are wallabies. They are Bennett’s (red necked) wallabies (Macropus rufogriseus). If you wish to see these in their natural habitat, you will need to fly to western Australia or Tasmania. I have not yet discovered when these cute looking creatures from ‘down-under’ first began to be displayed in the park, but they have been present in Golders Hill Park ever since I can remember, and that includes the late 1950s. A sign attached to the fence around the area in which the wallabies live describes the antipodean creatures as ‘The Golders Hill Mob’.

During our latest visit today, the 10th of October 2020, we saw a creature we had never noticed before. It was a bird of prey, a Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaguinea), which like the wallabies, is a native of Australasia. According to the notice attached to its cage, this handsome bird uses its beak to kill its prey by hitting it against a hard surface. Well, you learn something new every day.

As mentioned already, Golders Hill Park is amongst our favourite open spaces in London. In my early childhood, I remember being taken to the park and passing the public tennis courts where my parents played occasionally. Seeing the park, its lovely trees, its tiny zoo, and the tennis courts, was as usual an enjoyable experience. It was a good place to remember my parents with great fondness. One of them died forty years ago, and the other quite recently at the ripe old age of one hundred and one years.

What have we come to?

I FIRST MET MY FRIENDS, the brothers, ‘A’ and ‘B’, at the birthday party of another friend ‘C’. This meeting would have been in March 1965. I know this because the celebrations included watching a matinee performance of the film “Goldfinger”, which had been released in the UK a few months before (in September 1964). We saw the film in the now long-since demolished Odeon Cinema in Temple Fortune, which is on the edge of Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’), where we all lived. Sadly, one of the brothers died a few years ago, but the other two friends are still thriving.

BLOG PUT 3

Mutton Brook

Since the major London ‘lockdown’ ended and we have become more mobile, having acquired a motor car, we have made several visits to HGS to see ‘old haunts’. One of these places is the series of public gardens (Northway Gardens and Littleton Playing Fields) that run along either side of a stream called Mutton Brook (it is a tributary of the River Brent that flows into the Thames at Brentford in Middlesex). The Brook runs parallel to Falloden Way, a stretch of the A1 road. Flanking the road that separates HGS into two sections, there is a shopping area appropriately and unimaginatively called the Market Place. During my childhood, the section of HGS north of Falloden Way was affectionately known as ‘Across the Jordan’ because many Jewish people live(d) there. I suspect that today, there is a fairly equal distribution of Jewish households in both sections of HGS separated by the A1.

My friends, A, B, and C, and I used to visit the gardens alongside Mutton Brook in our spare time. In those days, but not now, the water in Mutton Brook had a rather unpleasant smell (sewage or something rotting). One of the attractions in the gardens was a putting green open to the public. For a small fee it was possible to hire a putting implement (a putter) and a golf ball. The brothers, A and B, were very competitive, and C was less so. The three of them managed to complete the course in a respectably low number of well-aimed shots. By the time I had reached the second hole, the others had putted their balls into all 18 of the holes on the course. What I have never been able to understand is why  when my ball was within inches of a hole, instead of falling into the hole, it spun around the circumference of the mouth of the hole without falling into the target area. Well, I was never skilled at any ball games, but I enjoyed the company of my friends.

Back in the 1960s, I believe that there were no refreshment areas in either Northway Gardens or Littleton Playing Fields. This has changed. There is a charming Café Toulous near one entrance to Northway Gardens and the Café Gaya in Littleton Playing Fields. Today, we sat at a table under trees near the latter and enjoyed drinking coffee in the shade. The ambient temperature was 31 degrees Celsius.  In one direction, we could see the spire of Lutyen’s St Jude on The Hill Church in the heart of HGS and in the other, a nursery school that shares the same building as houses the Gaya.

There were about twenty children’s push chairs (buggies) parked in front of the two-storey nursery. This came as no surprise because the school was in use. What was remarkable was the presence of three hefty looking security men, two in uniform and one in ‘mufti’. Each of these fellows had walkie-talkies and the two in uniform seemed to be wearing protective (bullet-proof?) vests over their jackets. They were keeping a very close watch on the kindergarten and unlocked its front door when ever there was something to be delivered.

After enjoying our drinks, we asked the Eastern-European lady working in the café about the security guards. In not brilliant English with a marked accent, she replied:

“Security”.

Flippantly, I asked:

“Are the kids dangerous?”

Not seeing the joke, she explained:

“Private Jewish school”,

And then added:

“All private Jewish schools have security.”

How sad it is that nowadays, even kindergartens filled with tiny tots are considered to be at risk from attack. This was never the case when my friends and I knocked golf balls around the now non-existent putting green on the bank of Mutton Brook. What have we come to?

Me and maps

MY LOVE OF MAPS started soon after I was able to read. I was given a book that fascinated me for many years. It was called “The Map that came to Life” by HJ Deverson and R Lampitt. First published in 1948, it follows a couple of children walking through the countryside with their dog, guiding themselves with an Ordinance Survey map. On each page, there is a bit of their map and an illustration showing the terrain which is on that portion of the map. Not only did it teach me something about map reading but it helped me to visualise in three dimensions what is being represented in two dimensions on a map. It was one of my favourite books during my childhood.

MAP 1

From the age of eight years onwards until I was thirteen, I attended the Hall School, which is near to Swiss Cottage (in northwest London). Although there was a lot that I did not like about this academically top-rate establishment, I am grateful for at least one thing. One day when we were learning about Ordinance Survey maps in a geography class, our teacher gave us an exercise that stimulated a hobby that lasted until my late teens. The exercise was to draw an Ordinance Survey map of an imaginary place making correct use of the various symbols that appear on the real maps. Of all the academic tasks I was required to perform at the Hall School, this was the best.

Inadvertently, our geography teacher had sparked off a new craze for me. That was drawing maps of imaginary places. I was inspired not only to emulate Ordinance Survey maps but also to create maps of imaginary places in the styles of the ever-increasing number of maps that I had begun acquiring as a passionate map collector. I drew these maps using pencils, water-colour paints, biros, and fine-tipped Rotring pens (such as are used by architects and technical draftsmen).  Drawing maps occupied much of my precious spare time, time which my friends spent socialising and meeting members of the opposite sex.

After a while, I began drawing maps of an imaginary country, a socialist republic behind the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’. In addition to creating maps of my geographic invention, I produced illustrations, tourist brochures, and so on. Be patient because  I shall say much more about this imagine land in future postings.

When I began studying at university in 1970, my map drawing activities ended. However, my fascination with maps has never diminished. While sorting things at home, I have found the maps and drawings I made during my teenage years. Gradually, I will share some of these with you, dear readers.

I began this piece with a mention of a book that described a map that came to life. It was first published before I was born. Today, the authors’ concept has almost become reality with Google Maps. This useful service provides fairly detailed maps, which at the click of a ‘button’ become aerial views of the area that has been mapped out. At the click of another button, you can travel (virtually) along the streets on the maps and see the buildings and other things along them. While the maps do not really come to life, the Google mapping service has brought us closer to that happening for real. Let us wait and see what the future brings in the way of remote realisation of life in places on the map.

Start right

MY MOTHER WAS ALWAYS CONCERNED that my sister and I had good shoes when we were children. We used to go to a shoe shop in the Market Place, which is in the heart of Hampstead Garden Suburb, where we lived. It was a store that sold the Start-Rite brand of footwear. What none of us knew in those far-off days was that the company was established in 1792 by James Smith in Norwich. His grandson, James Southall, gave the firm its name.

START RITE

Start-Rite shoes had a good reputation for making sure that shoes it sold fitted the wearers well. I remember having my feet measured both for length and width. The shoes were available in several different widths for each length.  For example, a size four shoe could be obtained in any of five widths, ranging from ‘a’ to e’. Thus, the shop assistant could ‘fine tune’ selecting the correct size shoe to fit a child’s feet. Also, the shoes were durable.

The shop in the Market Place had a machine that I was always dying to try. It was a tall box with two holes at its base and a viewing window at its top. The idea was that a child put on a pair of shoes, and then inserted his or her feet into the two holes. The shop assistant would then push a switch and look into the observation windoe at the top of the box. The machine produced x-rays which passed through the child’s shod feet and onto a fluorescing screen. By observing the image created by the radiation, the assistant could assess how well the shoes fitted. ‘Quel horreur’, you might be thinking if your mind operates in French.

Well, that is what my mother thought. Although not a scientist and having had little education in science, my mother knew very well that radiation was dangerous. After all, she knew all about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What she might not have known is that the bone marrow cells in children’s skeletons are very sensitive to ionising radiation but being a cautious caring mother, she took no chances. Therefore, I was never able to see the bones of my feet in the device in that or any other shoe shop.

I outgrew Start-Rite shoes long ago. The shoe shop in the Market Place no longer exists, nor are those foot x-ray machines still in use. However, one thing endures. That is my memory of posters advertising Start-Rite shoes, which were pasted on the walls and hoardings of London’s Underground stations. They showed a couple of small children with arms interlinked walking towards infinity along a straight road bordered by fences and rows of trees. I still think that this is one of the most depressing adverts I have ever seen. The captions on the poster are “Children’s shoes have far to go” and “Start-Rite and they’ll walk happily ever after.”

I started ‘rite’ and since then, I  have been walking happily ever after, but cannot erase the depressing image on the poster from my mind.

EVERYONE NEEDS GOOD NEIGHBOURS

I HAVE BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH INDIA since my earliest days. This association was unconscious for the first 18 years of my life, that is before I met Indians, including my future wife, at university. During my childhood and until I was 30, I lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’) in the shadow of the tall conical spire of St Judes Church. This brick edifice that can be seen from all around the HGS and many other places in northwest London was designed by Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) the husband of Lady Emily Bulwer-Lytton (1874–1964), who was a daughter of the 1st Earl of Lytton, a former Viceroy of India. It was Lutyens who was given the task of designing New Delhi, the new capital of British India, between 1912 and 1930.

 

H0

St Judes Church by Edwin Lutyens

The construction of St Judes began in 1909, a year after our family home at 36 Hampstead Way was built. The church was consecrated in 1911, but not completed until 1935, after Lutyens had finished working on New Delhi. The north side of the church lines one side of the grassy Central Square, which was also laid out by Lutyens. The north side of the square is lined by the south side of the Free Church, a domed edifice designed by Lutyens. Its construction began in 1911 but was not fully completed until 1960.  As a child and for many years later, I had no idea that Lutyens had an important connection with India. In general,  I do not like the buildings designed by Lutyens in either HGS or in New Delhi. The only one of his buildings that appeals to me is Castle Drogo in Devon.

A recent visit to the HGS brought back several memories that I will share with you. Our house at 36 Hampstead Way looks much as it did when I was a child. In those days, and still today if you look carefully, the name ‘Inverugie’ can be discerned above the front porch beneath layers of whitewash. When my parents bought the house back in the early 1950s, they did not like the name and had it covered with paint. Despite many repaintings, it can still be seen if you know where to look.

When I was a child, our neighbour on Hampstead Way was the elderly spinster Miss Reinecke. Our other immediate neighbours on Hill Close were the very elderly Mr and Mrs Palmer. They sold the house to a young family, Mr and Mrs ‘S’. I used to babysit their children when I was a teenager. It was an easy way to make some pocket money because their children were always asleep when I arrived, and they never woke up while I was on duty. On one occasion, I was baby-sitting long enough to listen to the five long-playing records (LPs) that contained an entire performance of Wagner’s “Mastersingers of Nuremberg”. We rang on the doorbell the other day. Although Mr S could not recognise me at first, once he knew who I am, he remembered all sorts of things. He told me that all of the other houses in Hill Close have changed hands, sometimes several times, since we sold the house in the early 1990s.

A house at the top end of Hill Close used to be occupied by one of my father’s colleagues at the London School of Economics (‘LSE’), Professor Percy Cohen (1928-1999).  He was born in Durban, South Africa, and after obtaining a degree in social anthropology, he moved into the field of sociology. Occasionally, he used to stop his car and pick me up to give me a lift a part of the way to University College London, where I studied for many years.

A few steps lead up from the Cohen’s end of Hill close to a footpath that runs between hedges. When I lived in HGS, there was a tennis court on the south side of the path. All of the houses on Hill Close, including ours, had access to this court. In the second half of the 1960s, I used to play tennis there after school with three of my friends. We used to play in the fading light of the late afternoon. What with poor light and the well-worn markings on the hard court, there were often arguments about whether a ball had landed inside or outside the lines. Today, the court has disappeared and has been replaced by a well-manicured lawn, which is used by residents of a block of flats on South Square.

The footpath that begins at the end of Hill Close disgorges at South Square. A house on the corner of the footpath and South Square was once occupied by the Zacharias family. Mr Zacharias was a US diplomat. My sister and his daughter, Missie, became good friends. I enjoyed spending time with Missie’s brother, and my parents got on well with his. Occasionally, we would be invited to parties at their house. At one of these, we were introduced to Patrick Gordon Walker (1907-1980), who was an important British Labour politician. I remember being impressed at the time. I realised he was a famous person but had no idea why he was. Eventually, the Zacharias family returned to the USA. Just before they left, they came to our house to give us many half empty bottles of liqueurs and spirits.  My parents stored them in a cupboard in my father’s study. They were not keen drinkers. The bottles remained untouched, gathering dust for many years. They were still there when my father sold the house. I hope someone managed to enjoy their contents rather than chucking them away.

Henrietta Barnett School and the HGS Institute line the eastern side of Central Square. Until our recent visit, I had never noticed a stone plaque inserted in the wall of the school building. It reads: “This stone was unveiled by Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret on 2nd July 1957 to commemorate the jubilee of The Hampstead Garden Suburb, 1907-1957”.

I was 5 years and two months old on the 2nd of July 1957. I remember that day well. I was spending the day at my mother’s sisters house near Wildwood Road in HGS. Sometime that morning, she took me and my young cousin to Wildwood Road and seated me on a piece of street furniture, a metal cupboard fixed to the pavement, which contained equipment needed for telephones. She handed me a Union Jack flag attached to a blue wooden stick. When the fancy car carrying Princess Margaret drove past, I waved the flag. You might wonder how I remember so much about that flag. The reason is that it was stored in my aunt’s downstairs bathroom for many years afterwards and I saw it each time I used the room.

Southway leads east from the south-east corner of Central Square. Harold Wilson (1916-1995), Prime Minister between 1964 and 1970 then again from 1974 to 1976, lived in a semi-detached house on Southway until 1964, when he moved to 10 Downing Street, closer to his workplace. Unlike his minister Gordon Walker, I never met him. The brickwork on the former Prime Minister’s home in Southway includes three bricks inscribed with letters. One reads “HCP”, another “AEP”, and the third “1909”, which might be the year the house was built.

Bigwood Road intersects South Way and leads south to Meadway, crosses it,  and then becomes  Meadway Close. One of my father’s close colleagues at the LSE, Lionel Robbins (1898-1984), lived in a substantial semi-detached house on this cul-de-sac that ends close to the Hampstead Heath Extension. Lord Robbins was an important twentieth century British economist. I cannot tell you about his contributions to economics because I only knew him as a friend of our family.

Lionel was over six feet tall and his wife, Iris, was truly short. He drove a tiny Mini and Iris drove a far larger vehicle. My mother knew that Robbins was fond of spaghetti. My parents were fond of Italians, and often invited my father’s Italian postgraduate students, amongst which was the former Prime Minister of Italy, Romano Prodi, to our home for dinner. Almost always, they invited Lionel Robbins as well. This was because my parents knew that most of my father’s Italian students were in awe of the great Lionel Robbins. At these dinner parties, my mother served spaghetti which Robbins enjoyed, and the young Italian guests sat around the great man enjoying his presence and the opportunity to chat with such a famous economist.

Almost opposite the home of the Robbins was the home of my school friend at Highgate School, Timothy Clarke. Tim is the younger brother of Charles Clarke, who became head boy at Highgate School before studying at Cambridge University. A member of the Labour Party, Charles served as Home Secretary between 2004 and 2006 in Tony Blair’s government. Once a Head Boy, always a Head Boy! I lost contact with Tim after we left Highgate. Whenever I pass his childhood home, I remember that there was a stylised metal sailing ship attached to its front door. When I passed it recently, I noticed that the door was no longer decorated with a ship.

We had parked our car near the intersection of Hampstead Way and Meadway, opposite a house on the north-east corner of the intersection. The building is a kind of terrace containing three or four houses. I never knew anyone who lived there, but I do remember that whenever there was to be a general election, somebody in that group of houses always put up an orange poster promoting the Liberal Party. Despite this and Harold Wilson living in the Suburb, the majority  of voters in the Hendon South Constituency, in which HGS is located, always voted for the Conservatives. When I was young, our MP had a memorable name: Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (1903-1985). I wonder whether his name subconsciously inspired me to take up dentistry. He held Hendon South from 1945 until 1970, when he retired from politics.

We drove away from the Suburb, a place that I found dull in my youth, with many memories revived in my head. I hope that you have enjoyed the selection I have shared with you.

 

Shakespeare in the forest

BIG WOOD SEEMED large to me when I was a child. Although it does not live up to its name, it feels like a big wood once you enter it. Located in the heart of Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’), this woodland and the much smaller nearby Little Wood are quite ancient. They were part of a forest that was at least 1000 years old, part of land given to Wealdhere, who became Bishop of London late in the 7th century. The woods and surrounding land remained church possessions until 1911, when they were leased to the HGS Trust by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. According to the londongardenstrust.org website:
“When Hampstead Garden Suburb was being planned in 1907, its instigator, Dame Henrietta Barnett, was committed to providing green spaces within the housing, planting trees and preserving those that existed. When additional land was acquired to extend the Suburb in 1911, Big Wood was leased from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and preserved as woodland. In 1933 Finchley UDC took on the freehold.”

BIG 12

Stage and auditorium of Little Wood Theatre

There is a report that circus elephants used to be kept in a field that existed between Big and Little Woods before the construction of houses in this location (now Denman Drive North and South). Colin Gregory wrote (www.hgs.org.uk):

“Before leaving this story, we should pay our respects to one of the last occupiers of Park Farm: the circus proprietor Lord’ George Sanger … His descendants continued the circus in operation until the 1960s. It is said that when he owned Park Farm he allowed the circus animals to winter on his land. An elderly resident of Denman Drive – constructed in 1908 on what was once Westminster Abbey’s land – used to recall ‘elephants grazing’ in the field between Big Wood and Little Wood, before Denman Drive North and Denman Drive South – constructed in 1912 on what was once the Bishop’s land – were completed.”

We re-visited the woods recently on a hot sunny afternoon. We entered Big Wood from the end of Temple Fortune Hill. At this entrance to the tiny forest there is a wooden gate that was put up to commemorate the 29 residents of HGS who died during WW2.  I do not remember seeing this gate when I was a child in the 1960s. Often in those days, my friends and I used to play in the woods, which I recall as being dark and dingy.

Lopa and I walked leisurely from one end of Big Wood to the other along good paths in about five minutes. This made the wood seem far smaller than its name suggests. However, when we wandered off the main tarred paths onto the numerous dirt tracks, made uneven by semi-exposed roots, threading their way amongst the trees, tree stumps, broken branches, and clumps of stinging nettles, the wood seemed dense and dank despite the fine blue sky above the tree tops. Calls of hidden birds punctuated the silence.  On these small paths, we lost all sense of direction and managed to get lost within the tiny area of woodland.

We had asked some locals how we could reach Little Wood from Big Wood and they had told us to follow a certain path, which they pointed out. We set off along it, but it kept bifurcating every few yards and we were clueless as to which of the two branching paths was the one to follow to arrive at Little Wood. Eventually after going around in circles, we gave up and left Big Wood via Oakwood Road, which is appropriately named as many of the trees in the two woods are oaks. We entered Little Wood from Denman Drive North, the continuation of Denman Drive South. These differently named sections of the same stretch of road link the two woods and must pass close to the field where circus elephants once grazed.

Little Wood, whose history is the same as that of Big Wood, contains one of London’s lesser-known performance spaces, a small open-air theatre.  This was created in 1920 by the Play and Pageant Union, one of two drama groups that later merged to form the Garden Suburb Theatre. It was restored in 1997, and now looks like it would benefit from some more restoration. The stage is a clearing in the woods surrounded by trees and bushes. The audience sits on a circular stepped auditorium consisting of three layers of paving stones set in a curve around the stage.

The theatre in Little Wood occupies an important place in my memories of childhood. It was here when I was about ten years old, back in the early 1960s, that I first saw a performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It must have been on a summer evening when I watched this with a sense of wonder that still lives with me. Apart from the odd logs, there were no other props. The actors and actresses appeared on, and disappeared from, the simple stage almost magically, popping through gaps between the trees and bushes surrounding the theatre.

I cannot begin to imagine what The Bard was thinking when he created The Dream, but I feel sure that he would have approved of its being acted out in on the sylvan stage in Little Wood. Furthermore, I think that he would have appreciated a play that contains six amateur actors in its plot being performed by a troupe of amateur actors such as we were watching that far-off evening. Since watching that play in Little Wood so many years ago, I have seen several other performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and only one has given me as much pleasure as that. It was a recent staging of the play directed by Nicholas Hytner at the relatively new Bridge Theatre near London’s Tower Bridge. In that recent show, as the theatre’s publicity said:

“The theatre becomes the forest – a dream world of flying fairies, contagious fogs and moonlight revels.”

And, the result at the Bridge was more than wonderful, although seeing the play in a real forest (Little Wood, in my case) is hard to beat.

Returning to the little theatre in Little Wood the other day, though it was out of use during the Covid-19 pandemic, it kindled many happy memories. Although I had not visited that theatre for many decades, it looked just as I remembered it.

The Angel Hotel

BLOG BURY

SOME CLOSE FAMILY FRIENDS used to live in Cambridge. My father had known Cyril S, a ‘don’ at one of the older colleges, since they were both students at the University of Cape Town. Every now and then in the 1960s, we used to be invited to eat Sunday lunch with the S’s in their lovely Victorian house in Cranmer Road. The S family always kept Siamese cats. Their litter tray filled with a greyish coloured gravel occupied part of the black and white tiled floor of the spacious ground floor toilet close to the house’s main entrance. Whenever I used that toilet, I was always afraid that I might step into the litter tray that was usually studded with feline waste deposits. I do not think that I ever did intrude on that part of the cat’s territory.

On one occasion, Cyril invited us to see his rooms in the college. When we were leaving, he said that we could walk across the grassy quadrangle, instead of around it as most ‘ordinary mortals’ must. He told us proudly:
“This is one of the privileges of being a don. I am allowed walk across the grass and I can take my guests with me.”

We could have driven easily straight to Cambridge from our home in northwest London, but we did not. Instead, we used to spend the Saturday night before our Sunday rendezvous in the Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds, a small city in Suffolk.

In those far off days, the ivy-covered Angel Hotel opposite the Abbey Gardens was an old-fashioned provincial hotel. The rooms had a curious ‘safety’ feature. The reason I put the word safety in inverted commas will become obvious when I tell you about the feature. Each room had a harness next to its window. The harness was attached to a strong cord, which was connected to a winding mechanism. Had there been a fire, each occupant of a room would in turn fasten the harness around his or her waist, and then climb out of the window. The mechanism was designed to lover the person slowly to the ground outside. The lowered harness could be cranked back up into the room for the next person to escape. Long before we did, the author Charles Dickens stayed at the Angel.

As a child, I could not understand why it was necessary to spend a night in Bury St Edmunds, when the following day we could drive back to London without a stop-over. many years later, it dawned on me that we were not actually breaking a long journey, but it was a way that my parents enjoyed having a night away from home.

Yesterday, the 28th June 2020, we made a day trip to Bury St Edmunds. After eating exceptionally well-prepared fish and chips bought at the amusingly named ‘The Cod Father’ fish and chips shop, run by Bulgarians, we strolled into the centre of the city. The ivy-clad Angel Hotel stands opposite the impressive mid-14th century Abbey Gate. Passing through the Gate tower, one enters the Abbey Gardens. This attractive park is filled with strange looking fragments of what was once a huge abbey complex. Most of them look like oddly shaped piles of stones. They are the rubble cores of what had once been covered with carved masonry. The masonry that adorns the exteriors of mediaeval churches and abbeys is simply a covering for structural cores consisting of rubble and cement of some kind. On some of the fragments in the Abbey Gardens, it is possible to discern the slots into which the carved masonry was placed. However, most of the rubbly remains have disintegrated to become forms that give little clue as to their original shapes.

There is more to the city than the Angel Hotel and the gardens containing the ruins of the abbey. Near the Abbey, there is a cathedral, St Edmundsbury, surrounded by pleasant grounds. At one side of the grounds there is a well-preserved Norman gateway with splendid Romanesque architectural features and a pair of gargoyles that depict serpents with their forked tongues. In the centre of the lawns in the cathedral grounds, there is a fine statue of St Edmund clutching a cross close to his chest. This was sculpted in 1976 by Elizabeth Frink (1930-1993), who was born in Thurlow, which is near to Bury St Edmunds. Frink was a close friend of my late mother. I remember meeting ‘Liz’ at our home, where she was a regular dinner guest.

Seeing the Frink sculpture (for the first time) and the Angel Hotel yet again reinforced my long-held affection for Bury St Edmunds and revived happy memories of the place and our visits to the family of Cyril S, who died suddenly in 1974. His death deprived the world of a lovely man with a great sense of wit and humour.

Some years later, I was staying with Cyril’s widow in Cranmer Road, when she made me a Bloody Mary cocktail. It was the first time I had tried this delicious concoction, and hers was one of the best I have ever tasted.

Red rover

MY GRANDMOTHER LIVED a serene life in Port Elizabeth in South Africa. Born in the 1890s, she came with her parents from what is now Lithuania to what was then the Cape Colony. She married my father’s father in Cape Town. She raised four children and also helped her husband run a general store in Tulbagh, a small town, almost a village, near Cape Town. When her husband died young in 1931, she continued running the shop for a few years before marrying a widower who lived Port Elizabeth (‘PE’). Through this  second marriage, she acquired three stepsons and her fifth son. Hers was a tough life to begin with. By the 1960s, when the children had grown up and dispersed, she began living a quieter life in PE.

GRANNY red-rover-ticket john harper

Once every couple of years Granny used to visit her son, my father, and his half-brother in the UK. Although I met her when I was three years old, I only remember her from the time I was about nine. She used to sit in our ‘lounge’ (colonial term for ‘sitting room’) and did little except meet people. Every day in the late afternoon, she enjoyed a glass of whisky before the evening meal. It was in our home that she first ate bacon. My mother, although Jewish, was far from observant and was almost unaware of dietary rules. We ate ham and bacon regularly. She served bacon quite innocently to Granny, who had not encountered it before, enjoyed it, and appeared unperturbed to discover that this delicious food item was derived from pigs.

I was about ten when I suggested to Granny that we went on an outing together. It was an outing quite unlike any granny had ever done before or was ever likely to do again. I suggested that we should buy Red Rover tickets and then set off into the unknown. Few readers will be familiar with Red Rovers. So, I will explain. A Red Rover ticket allowed the holder unlimited travel on London Transport’s red buses for a whole day. In the early 1960s, an adult Red Rover ticket cost six shillings (30 pence) and children paid half of that. To my surprise and joy, my not too sprightly seventy-year-old grandmother agreed to the plan.

We set off from the bus station at Golders Green one morning and travelled to Chingford, which at that time was the terminus of the long 102 bus route. Then, another long bus journey through dreary parts of north-east London ended at Ponders End. By this stage, both Granny and I had enough of being jerked around on double-decker buses, but we had to face a couple more tedious bus journeys in order to get us back to Golders Green. For the rest of her life, Granny would recall this trip and the name ‘Ponders End’. When my father’s half-brother moved to a new house to north-east London, we were both amused because it was not far from Ponders End.

Many decades later, about two years ago, I decided walk south along the River Lee Navigation canal, starting near Waltham Abbey. After walking slowly for almost a couple of hours along the canal, which is flanked by large reservoirs, many electric pylons, and occasional industrial buildings, I reached the lock system at … Ponders End. Although I could not remember what Ponders End was like back in the early 1960s except that it was dismal, I found that although there had been much new construction, it had remained dismal.

I am glad that I got the idea of using a Red Rover out of my system. Until the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic in London, my wife and I loved using London’s superb bus system. Since mid-March, we have not boarded a bus. Now, it is mandatory to wear a face covering on public transport. We see people waiting at bus stops, their noses and mouths covered by everything from a fairly useless single-use paper mask, such as I used when treating dental patients, to colourful home-made fabric coverings. However, things go wrong once these masked passengers enter the bus. We have noticed that many people travelling on buses that pass us have removed their face coverings once they are on board. Also, many bus drivers do not wear them.  So, if you were to gift me a Red Rover, you can be sure that I will not be using it in the foreseeable future.

 

Photo from john-harper.com