SPENCER STREET in Royal Leamington Spa has a building with an intriguing façade. It is not so much the brick and stonework on the building that attracted my attention but a stone statue of a woman with a gold-coloured sphere on her head. She is perched above the centre of the façade of the edifice that bears the words “The Bath Assembly Hall” and the date when it was built: 1926.
Designed by Horace G Bradley (1877-1961), it was originally a dance hall with shop premises. It was typical of the type of dance hall that:
“…flourished in the inter-war period of the C20 and survived through to the 1950s and early 1960s. Cultural changes have meant that the great majority have been demolished or considerably altered when adapted for other purposes. This example, with its boisterous classical decoration, expressed inside and out, survives in a highly intact state. Its façade mirrors the decorative style of the interior which has an integrated and fluid plan.” (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1391731).
Sadly, I did not have enough time to try to enter it.
The statue on top of the building represents Terpsichore, one of the nine Greek Muses. She was the patron of lyric poetry and dancing, so her image was appropriately chosen to adorn a dance hall. Something that interested me about the statue became obvious when I used the zoom on my camera. I noticed that although her hands are close to the sphere on her head, they do not touch it. The gold ball seems to be attached to her head by a single rod. The scantily dressed Muse is depicted looking down on the street far below. Maybe, she is thinking “I can balance the ball on my head, look, no hands.”
The Albanian community in the UK has been in the country long enough for some of their children to have been born in the country. It would be easy for the first generation born in the UK, who have to attend British schools and mix with non-Albanians, to begin to forget their cultural heritage. However, thanks to various organizations that some of the children of Albanian heritage attend, Albanian language and cultural traditions are being kept alive in the UK. On the 27th of October 2018, I was invited to attend the finals of the, which was held in a school hall in London’s Chalk Farm.
The Albanian Ambassador to the UK, Mr Qirjako Qirko, was one of several well-known personalities who introduced the show in Albanian. He ended his speech with a few words in English. The gist of what he said was as follows. He thanked the Queen and her Government for allowing Albanians to maintain their traditions and language, which is not the case in every other country. The show which followed the speeches certainly demonstrated that despite being far from their traditional homes and many years away from them, the Albanian community is encouraging their children to keep alive the traditions of their forefathers.
The show consisted of a series of performances by young people whose parents came from Albania or Kosovo. There were songs (traditional and contemporary Albanian as well as renderings of current and not so current popular songs in English). Small troupes of youngsters in traditional Albanian garb performed traditional Albanian dances. Others danced routines that they had choreographed themselves. Several youngsters declaimed poetry in Albanian. Naturally, the quality of performance was not uniform. Some of the young people were dazzlingly competent, the rest were not bad. None of the performers was shy or overtly lacking in confidence. Each of them performed with an enthusiasm that was refreshing to observe. The large audience around me encouraged each of the contestants as they performed on stage, cheering and clapping to the rhythm of the music. The five judges praised and gave friendly encouragement (in Albanian) to each of the performers when their act was over. Three of the judges were for singing, one for poetry recital, and one for dancing. The atmosphere in the hall was joyful and friendly. Everyone who passed my wife and me, greeted us warmly even if they had no idea who we are. It was great to discover that the famed hospitality of the Albanian people has been preserved in its British diaspora.
Many, if not all, of the performers, who sung or recited in Albanian or who dressed up in traditional costumes and performed the dances of their ancestors, use English in their day to day life. They have given up parts of their precious spare time to learn Albanian and to help Albanian cultural traditions remain vital and vibrant. They set an example that many children of British ancestry might profitably follow.