Breakfast with Samuel Pepys in Salisbury

THE BOSTON TEA Party in Salisbury’s High Street serves great coffee and tasty breakfast dishes. It is housed in the premises of what used to be The Old George Inn. This hostelry is in a building, whose construction is said to have begun in the 14th century. Most of the older part of the former tavern straddles a pedestrian footway leading from the High Street to a modern shopping mall and its associated multi-storied car park.

The entrance to The Boston Tea Party is via a shop beneath a building that looks newer than the older looking half-timbered edifice straddling the passageway mentioned above. A staircase leads to a dining area above the shop, which is where we enjoyed breakfast one morning in March 2022. This room has a decoratively patterned plaster ceiling and the remains of an old inscription in gothic script. As we were leaving, I saw a notice that advised customers that if the section, where we ate, was closed, customers should proceed up to the ‘Great Hall’. I was intrigued.

The Great Hall is one of the historical marvels of the city of Salisbury.  Its ceiling is supported by beams cut from old ships’ timbers. The Inn has been rebuilt several times. However, the beams that exist today include wood from trees that were felled in the mid-15th   century (www.buildingconservation.com/articles/george/inn_conservation.htm). Some of the walls are covered with wood panelling decorated with carvings and there are at least two elaborately carved wooden fireplace surrounds. Other decorative features include plasterwork covered with intricate bas-relief designs, and a lovely bow window overlooking the High Street. The hall is overlooked by a gallery with a balustrade. There is also a window with stained glass that includes a depiction of a royal coat-of-arms and the name of a king, probably Edward VI, who reigned from 1547 until 1553. According to the historicengland.org.uk website:

“On lst floor the south room has early C17 plaster work friezes on beams and carved wood overmantel. Projecting to east on north side open hall through 2 storeys. C15 hammerbeam roof, arched braces to collars. Heavy scissor bracing visible on 2nd floor lath decorated wall plates and spandrels. 2 rooms with tie beams and kingposts with 4-way struts.”

Over the centuries, The Old George Inn has had many visitors including William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, Samuel Pepys, and Charles Dickens. It is believed that Shakespeare and his players, whilst on their way to Wilton, rehearsed “As You Like It” in the garden of the inn. Samuel Pepys spent one night at the inn but moved to another after having argued with the innkeeper over his bill.

Once upon a time, the Great Hall of the Old George Inn would have been filled with guests enjoying tankards of beer and ale and hearty meals. Today, in its reincarnation as The Boston Tea Party, the place is bustling with customers drinking cappuccinos and chai lattes as the consume trendy delicacies such as poached eggs on smashed avocado and ‘The Vegan Boss’. Whether or not you are thirsty or hungry, a visit to the Great Hall is a ‘must’ before or after you have viewed the cathedral.

A perfect pub

IT MIGHT BE OBVIOUS to many that the village pub is, along with the local parish church, often the social hub of small settlements all over England. Since the outbreak of the covid19 pandemic, we have not made our usual annual long trip to India. Instead, when public health regulations have permitted, we have been taking the opportunity better our knowledge of the country where we live, England, by making frequent trips to different parts of the land. On all these excursions, we have stopped for food and drink at pubs in many small places. Some of these pubs have become more like restaurants than traditional village social centres, but many still act as communal living rooms where local people gather to drink and chat together.

Inside the Pig and Abbot

In Cavendish, a small village in Suffolk, there are two pubs. One is more of a restaurant than a traditional pub. By the way, it serves very excellent food. The other pub serves no food except packets of potato crisps. When we visited it, we were told that it only offers drinks. This pub was full of locals talking to each other quite animatedly. One, whom we overheard, claimed to be having a fantastic sexual relationship with a French lesbian, in whose house he had done some plumbing work.

One pub, which we have visited more than half a dozen times since early 2020, is in south Cambridgeshire. The Pig and Abbot at Abingdon Piggots, a village with about 60 households not far from Royston, successfully combines being a meeting place for locals with being a place where very well prepared, tasty food may be enjoyed, either in a small restaurant area or at tables near the centrally located bar.

The current owners, Mick and Pat, have owned the pub for almost 20 years. Pat is a superb cook and warm hostess, and Mick is a knowledgeable and charming host. He told us that the early 18th century building in which his pub is located used to be the local dower house, in which the wife of the lord of the manor lived after she was widowed. Back in those days, women usually outlived their husbands. The dower house was far from being a peaceful retirement home for widows of lords of the manor. It was a hive of activity. It was in the dower house at Abingdon Piggots that bread was baked, and other food prepared, not only for the manor house, but also for all the local families that worked for the lord of the manor. The manor, which had been in the Piggott family, many of whom have memorials in the local church, ended up in the hands of the De Courcy-Ireland family. In the early 20th century, a descendant of the Piggott family, who had inherited the manor married the Reverend Magens De Courcy-Ireland (died 1955). Mick told us that the dower house became a pub during the second half of the 19th century.

While we were enjoying a superb lunch during a recent visit to the Pig and Abbot, we asked Nick how many of the local villagers used the pub regularly. He told us that of the 60 households, 10 were regulars. We wondered whether we were amongst his customers who lived furthest away from the village. He said that we are, but his furthest customer, a former resident in the village, a biologist, now lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. However, whenever he is in England, he makes a point of visiting the Pig and Abbot. Despite this outlier and us, most of the regulars do not come from afar, and I noticed that Nick seems to know most of his customers by their first names.

Of the many pubs that we have visited during our extensive roaming around the English countryside, the Pig and Abbot has become our favourite. From its warm welcoming staff, to its great food and drink, to its range of well-chosen decorations, and to its lovely wood burning fireplaces, it ticks all the boxes, making it a perfect pub. Visiting the Pig and Abbot gives one a wonderful idea of what has made the English country pub such a successful institution over many centuries.

On the wagon – no longer!

IN THE CENTRE of Warwick, there is a building with superb examples of Victorian decorative terracotta work. High on its façade, in terracotta lettering are the words “coffee” and “tavern” because this edifice began its life as a coffee house back in 1880.

Designed by a Warwick architect Frederick Holyoake Moore (1848-1924), it was constructed for a local manufacturer and philanthropist Thomas Bellamy Dale (1808-1890). He was mayor of Warwick three times and:

“…was a philanthropist in every sense of the word, for his name was connected with the principal benevolent institutions of England, of which he was a generous supporter; as a public man he took a very active part in the sanitary improvements of the borough of Warwick, and in the adoption of the Free Library Act. He was a generous supporter of every useful institution in the town, and, though exceedingly charitable, was most unostentatious in all his benefactions.” (www.mirrormist.com/t_b_dale.htm)

In the 19th century, alcohol consumption was considered to be responsible for the ill-health of poor people and detrimental to their general well-being. Dale built his coffee tavern and hotel to offer an alternative to alcohol and pubs. His establishment had:

“…a bar and coffee room on the ground floor with service rooms at the rear; a bagatelle room, smoke room and committee and club room on the first floor, and rooms for hotel guests on the second floor.” (www.ourwarwickshire.org.uk/content/article/coffee-tavern-warwick).

The place was designed to keep people away from alcohol, “on the wagon”.

Now, all has changed. Today, the building still offers refreshments and hotel rooms, but does something that the late Mr Dale, who encouraged people to become teetotal, would not approve. Customers at what is now named “The Old Coffee Tavern” can now enjoy not only coffee but also a full range of alcoholic drinks. He might be pleased if he knew that when we visited its pleasant lounge decorated with colourful tiled panels, we chose to sip coffee rather than drinks containing an ingredient that did not meet with his approval.

Gin and tonic by the pulpit

NAPOLEON BONAPARTE DIED in captivity on the tiny island of St Helena in the south Atlantic. While he was imprisoned on the island, Lieutenant General Sir Hudson Lowe (1769-1844) was the Governor of St Helena. He was buried at St Mark’s Church in North Audley Street in London’s Mayfair, where a commemorative plaque can be found by the main entrance. St Mark’s was built in the Greek Revival Style in 1825-28, designed by John Peter Gandy (1787-1850). In 1878, the church architect Arthur Blomfield (1829-1899) made considerable alterations to its interior including adding a timber vaulted ceiling over the nave.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the size of St Mark’s congregation diminished significantly. In 1974, the church was made redundant, and this is how it remained until 1994, when the church was used by The Commonwealth Christian Fellowship. It continued to serve this group until 2008. After that, it was used as a venue for occasional events. In about 2019 after a 5 million Pound restoration programme, the church underwent a surprising reincarnation.

After passing beneath the grand portico supported by two columns topped with ionic capitals, one enters the church’s large vestibule. Since 2019, this has become a marketplace selling upmarket Italian delicatessen goods. Entering the body of the church is rather like taking part in a Fellini film. The floor of the nave is filled with tables and chairs and people drinking and dining. The side aisles, north and south, contain several kitchens, preparing and serving a wide variety of foods, from Turkish to Thai. On the north side of the chancel, just behind the neo-gothic stone pulpit, there is a gin bar, and facing it on the south side of the chancel, there is another bar providing alcoholic refreshments. Look upwards and you can admire the splendid timber roof supports. The wide gallery surrounding the nave at the first-floor level is home to more food stalls, each offering tempting looking fare at not unreasonable prices, especially by local Mayfair standards.

In 2019, the church became home to a branch of Mercato Metropolitano, whose first venture was converting a 150,000 square foot disused railway station in Milan during the 2015 World Expo in that Italian city. The idea of the company was:

“The development of the first Mercato Metropolitano was carefully planned to retain the site’s original appearance, which nurtured the local community’s affection for a special part of their urban history.”

 (https://www.mercatometropolitano.com/mmarketplace/#the-mercato-story).

And this is what has been done at the former St Mark’s in Mayfair. Many of the church’s fittings (for example, the tiled floors, the stained glass, the monuments, the pulpit, and the sacred paintings at the east end of the chancel) have been preserved. Entering the church is like entering the scene of a lively gargantuan feast. Seeing the large number of customers on a weekday lunchtime demonstrates that Mercato Metropolitano have successfully created a great place to meet, eat, and drink. It is highly original and exciting, both visually and gastronomically.

In Chapter 21 (verses 12-13) of the Gospel according to Matthew, we learn that:

“…Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”

I just cannot help wondering, as many of you might also be doing, what The Good Lord would have made of what can now be seen inside the Church of St Mark’s in Mayfair.

The writing on the wall

WE USED TO DRIVE to France during the early 1960s when I was a child and before the M2 motorway was in use. The first part of the drive was from London to Dover and prior to the opening of the M2, it was a slow journey because the main road went through numerous small towns in Kent instead of bypassing them, which the M2 does. To break the tedium of the lengthy drive, I used to count how many Esso filling stations we passed as well as the number of Fremlin signs along the road. I liked the name Fremlin, but in my childhood, I was unaware that this was the name of a brewery based in Maidstone (Kent) and founded in 1861. It is a long time since I passed the time on journeys by counting signs such as Esso and Fremlins, whose name appealed to me. Recently, we drove through the centre of Hertford (in Hertfordshire) and I spotted several buildings bearing a name that intrigued me because we have friends with the same name (as surname). The name is McMullen and it, like Fremlins, is the name of a brewery.

Peter McMullen (1791-1881), the son of a Scottish nurseryman, founded his first brewery at Railway Street in Hertford in 1827. It was his wife’s idea. She suggested that it would be better to open a brewery rather than to continue his hitherto rather unsatisfactory life poaching and undertaking failed apprenticeships (www.mcmullens.co.uk/about-us/our-history).  Given that the first railway station opened in Hertford in 1843 (www.hertford.net/history/railway.php), Railway Street must have had another name when the brewery was established. The business was expanded in 1860 by his sons Alexander and Osmond McMullen, when they took over the brewery. They bought some other breweries and opened several pubs run by tenants. By 1910, McMullen was one of 1284 brewing companies that were in business in the UK. By the 21st century, it was one of the 38 of these that remains.  Now in 2021, it is run by the sixth generation of Peter McMullen’s family (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McMullen%27s_Brewery).

One of the first beers brewed by Mcmullen, which has been available since 1833, was Mcmullen AK. This and several other brews are cask ales. The company also produces bottled beers including McMullen Hertford Castle, which is named after Hertford Castle, where Queen Elizabeth I visited frequently during both her childhood and her reign. The castle still exists: the remains of an early motte; Norman encircling walls; the so-called Gatehouse, built by Henry VIII; and other more recent additions. Incidentally, the Castle was the home of The East India Company College between 1805 and 1809, which then moved to Hailey, also in Hertforshire. The college’s presence in Hertford was before McMullen began producing beer in the town.

The company produce an IPA (Indian Pale Ale), suitable for exporting to tropical climes, but I do not know whether this was ever shipped out to India. The company’s history relates:

“The McMullen relationship with IPA can be traced back to the 1800’s when Peter McMullen recorded the brewing of an East India Pale Ale with connotations of the brew being commissioned to quench the thirst of the British Army at the East India Company College originally in Hertford.” (www.mcmullens.co.uk/blog/2019/04/mcmullen-rebranding#.YJKaSrVKhPY)

Well, you do not have to travel as far as India to sample beer brewed by McMullen. It can be drunk in pubs in the English counties of Hertfordshire, Essex, Buckinghamshire, Kent, Middlesex, Berkshire, Bedfordshire, and more (www.mcmullens.co.uk/our-locals).

After seeing the name of our friends prominently displayed on buildings in Hertford, I rang them and asked them whether they are related to the brewing family. As far as they know, they are not, but they did tell me that there used to be a pub near where they live in north London, which did serve McMullen’s beers, but sadly that has now gone out of business.

Next time, we visit the charming town of Hertford, one of the things I plan to do, which I have not yet done, is to sample some of McMullen’s beer or maybe beers.

PS: One building prominently bearing the name McMullen in Hertford was part of a former seed merchants, A McMullen, established by a brother of Peter Mc Mullen.

Fingers in the cup: taking the water in Slovakia

THE ONLY MINERAL WATER you can get in London’s Hampstead today is bottled water from a shop or supermarket. In the 18th century, people came to Hampstead to imbibe the allegedly curative iron-rich chalybeate waters available from the spring in Well Walk or at the elegant spa rooms established on that street. Walking along that thoroughfare where once people flocked to take the water, which rivalled that which is still available at Tunbridge Wells in Kent, I remembered an experience in the Slovakian part of Czechoslovakia, before that country split into the separate Czech and Slovak republics in 1993.

With a friend, I drove to what was then Czechoslovakia in about 1992. The objects of my trip were to visit a country I had never been to before and to collect information about music in Czechoslovakia to help my friend, the late Michael Jacobs, who was writing a new edition of “The Blue Guide to Czechoslovakia”. 

Bardejov, Slovakia

The furthest east place in which we stayed was the small town of Bardejov in north-eastern Slovakia. We did venture a bit further towards the edge of the country, to the Dukla Pass where there was a Soviet Russian victory over the Germans during WW2, but only as a day excursion.  

At Bardejov, we booked into a hotel just outside the centre of the old, picturesque town. The accommodation was part of a spa complex, where people came to take the curative spring waters that issued from beneath the ground. My friend and I were keen to sample these, not because we were unwell, but out of curiosity.

The waters were dispensed in a building a few yards away from the hotel. It was late afternoon when we entered the tap room. A tubby woman in white uniform indicated that she was just about to close up for the day, but somehow, we communicated to her that we only wanted to taste one or two of the different spring waters. She was happy to oblige. She picked up a small porcelain beaker, and before filling it with some water from one of the springs, she rubbed the inside of the vessel with her (un-gloved) middle and index fingers. Seeing this, my travelling companion decided to give a miss to tasting, but I took a swig of the metallic tasting water.

I handed the beaker back to the attendant, who wiped it again with her two fingers, before filling it with water from another spring. I cannot remember that there was much difference between the tastes of the two waters I sampled. After thanking her for letting me try the waters, we returned to the hotel. At the back of my mind, I had two thoughts. One was that I hoped that I did not get ill after drinking from a glass that had been ‘wiped’ with fingers that had probably wiped many peoples’ beakers during the day. The other thought was that perhaps it was something in the lady’s fingers that gave the healing powers, rather than the spring waters themselves. I did not get ill but will probably never get to know whether my wild idea that it was the lady’s fingers that had curative properties, rather than the spring water, held even a grain (or drop) of truth.

A long time has passed since that visit to Czechoslovakia, but that brief experience at the spa near Bardejov lingers in my memory. Thinking about it makes me wonder about the  hygiene of the conditions prevailing when people came to Hampstead to take the waters in the 18th century, when not much was known about the role of microbes in the transmission of diseases.

This brings me back to the present, when in the UK cafés can only serve hot drinks in disposable cups. Often these are covered with special lids with orifices through which the drinks can be sipped without removing them. I always remove these lids for two reasons. First, I do not like sipping through a tiny hole and, second, I wonder about the cleanliness of the server’s fingers, which place the lid on the cup. I will leave you with that worrying thought.

Late arrival in northern Greece

FOR SEVERAL YEARS, mainly in the 1970s and early 1980s, I used to join my former PhD supervisor, Robert, and his wife, Margaret, at their favourite camping spot on some rough ground a few yards south of the northern Greek seaside town of Platamon, a few miles south of Katerini. Robert favoured this spot because it contained colonies of a form of desert ant, whose behaviour and ecology he studied. Robert and Margaret followed a predictable daily routine.

After breakfast, which could only be eaten after all had taken a dip in the sea, Margaret usually set up a deckchair or a folding sunbed under the canopy attached to one end of the caravan and began reading one of the huge numbers of paperbacks that were stacked on shelves inside it. When not reading, she repaired Robert’s socks. Throughout the year, she collected his damaged socks, and saved them to mend. It helped fill the long hours at Platamon when there was no one apart from Robert with whom to chat. He was too busy watching and studying the ants to talk to her during the day. This was why she welcomed others, like me, to join them in Platamon. 

Lunch varied little at Platamon. Almost always we ate sliced tomatoes dressed with sweetish vinaigrette. The tomatoes, which were both large and delicious, were bought from the ‘tomato man’. He was a Greek fellow who wandered along the shore with his donkey laden with tomatoes and other vegetables. Robert used to practice speaking Greek with him while he weighed out tomatoes on a hand-held weighing machine. The ‘tomato man’ did not appear every day, but the ‘goat man’ did. He wandered along the shore with his heard of goats, and always stopped to greet Margaret and Robert, who appeared not to mind when the goats stepped all over the area in which he was trying to conduct observations.

After lunch, everyone did whatever they felt like. Margaret sheltered in the shade. Robert, bringing to life the words of the refrain of Noel Coward’s song “Mad dogs and Englishmen …”, continued watching his ants out in the noonday sun. It is curious that these ants, which are so active at the hottest time of the days are referred to by some as ‘Englishmen’.

At about tea-time, we all took another bathe in the sea, which was by then pleasantly warm. Often after bathing and when we had tea and biscuits (just as if we were still in England), we would set off for Platamon in the Land Rover. Our first stop was the level-crossing at the southern edge of the village. There was a water tap close to the road that crossed the tracks that linked Greece to the rest of Europe. We used this to fill the large jerry cans that stored our drinking and cooking water. The water was then ‘sterilised’ by adding generous, but unmeasured, handfuls of small white chlorine releasing water purification tablets to it. Some of these tablets looked quite old to me. I suppose that they must have been effective because none of us ever got sick after drinking this water. During the water collection, Robert practised his Greek with the railway workers who looked after this manually operated level-crossing.

From the railway crossing, we drove into Platamon – or ‘Plat’ as my two friends called it – and parked. Margaret used to make a beeline for the railway station where, if she was lucky, she might discover a single copy of an English newspaper that was usually 2 or 3 days out of date. Few English speakers visited this seaside resort; there was little demand for the English press. Most of Platamon’s numerous visitors came either from Thessaloniki or from towns like Skopje and Bitola in what was then land-locked Yugoslav Macedonia.

Margaret left Robert to do most of the shopping in ‘Plat’. He had his favourite shops in Platamon. Typically, his choice of shop was dictated by the friendliness of its salespeople, which he considered more important than the quality of their merchandise. The three shops that he usually visited in the Greek village were a butcher, a fishmonger, and a grocery store, whose walls were lined from floor to ceiling with what seemed like every conceivable food and household product. One or two of its owners had lived in Australia and spoke English well, but with an odd accent that was neither fully Australian nor fully Greek. Each shop provided Robert with an opportunity to chat in Greek, which he did fluently but with a less than perfect accent. His attempts were much appreciated.

After my first visit to Platamon, I used to join Robert and Margaret there often during my rambles around the Balkans. I used to arrive at Platamon by train, never sure whether they had either reached it safely and/or were still camping in their usual spot.

Once, I disembarked at Platamon station at about 11 pm, and began walking towards the place where I hoped to find my friends. The grocery that Robert patronised was still open at this late hour. Its owners recognised me as I approached and beckoned me to join them at the small table where they were drinking beer out of tiny (shot) glasses suitable for spirits. They offered me a glass, which was the same size as theirs and filled it with the smallest amount of beer that I have ever drunk. After we had imbibed together, I walked through and then beyond the town to the place a couple of hundred yards south of the Platamon Beach Hotel, where I hoped to find my friends. I reached the darkened camp site where Robert and Margaret were fast asleep under the canopy outside their caravan, protected only by mosquito netting. Without disturbing them, I pitched my tent and fell asleep.

Next, morning, they were genuinely surprised to discover my tent pitched close to them. It was lucky for them that I was not someone who was visiting them with ill intention. They slept quite unprotected under their canopy and used to leave the caravan unlocked while they were away from it. Rural Greece was truly a safe place in those days.

Robert and Margaret stopped visiting Greece as they approached the end of their lives in the first decade of this century. The vacant land upon which they camped was owned by the inhabitants of a small village, Pori, on the slopes of nearby Mount Olympus. For all the years that my friends camped there, nothing was ever built on the land and it was never fenced in. Today, where we camped and sat drinking Martini whilst the sun set is now built upon. It is the site of Nea Pori. After many years, the villagers of Pori decided to make use of their seaside plots. I believe it would have broken my friends’ hearts had they arrived to discover where they loved to camp had been built on, probably destroying the habitat of the ants that Robert studied and wrote about in learned publications.

A fountain with a history

I LOVE WALKING IN LONDON because there is so much to see. Even when walking along a street that is familiar to me, a route that I have tramped many hundreds of times before, I see things that I have never noticed before. These are details that have been staring me in the face for years, but which I have unconsciously chosen to ignore. Then, I notice them and wonder why it has taken me so long to do so. During the strict phase of the covid-19 ‘lockdown’ when our walks have had to be confined to our neighbourhood, the number of interesting hitherto unnoticed details that I have ‘discovered’ for the first time has been enormous. Today for the first time, I walked along a road in Kensington, one which until now I have only driven, or been driven, along.

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Marloes Road runs south from Wright’s Lane (which links it with High Street Kensington) to the busy Cromwell Road.  It joins the latter a few yards west of a large branch of Sainsbury’s supermarket chain. This non-descript temple of retailing stands on the site of the long-since demolished West London Air Terminal, which was operational between 1957 and 1974. It served British European Airways passengers, who checked-in there before travelling by bus to Heathrow Airport. Today, there is no sign of, or memorial to, the building, which had six storeys above the terminal concourse.

On the west side of Marloes Road, I spotted a Victorian drinking fountain embedded in the wall of a building. This now non-functional water source bears the date 1893 and a plaque that reads:

“Lord from thy blessed throne

The griefs of earth look upon

God Bless the Poor

Teach them true liberty

Make them from strong drink free

Let their homes happy be

God Bless the Poor”

This was erected near the gates to St Mary Abbots Workhouse in February 1894 by the Church of England Temperance Society, no doubt to encourage the thirsty to reach for water rather than ale or gin. Constructed mainly with white Portland stone, the fountain was designed by the long-lived architect T Philips Figgis (1858-1948). His other works include two with which I am familiar. One of these is the domed Kennington Underground Station on the Northern Line. The other, which I have never entered but have often seen, is St Ninians (Presbyterian) Church in Golders Green. Its name has always intrigued me. I have yet to meet someone named Ninian. Built in 1911, soon after Golders Green began growing in earnest, the church has been re-named as Shree Swaminarayan Hindu Temple and was used as a Hindu temple between 1982 and 2013. The same sect of Hinduism was responsible for erecting the spectacular Shree Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, close to a well-known temple of commerce, IKEA on the North Circular Road,

As for the St Mary Abbots Workhouse to which the fountain designed by Figgis was attached, this has an interesting history. From about 1726, Kensington had a parish workhouse. This was located on Gloucester Road just south of Kensington Gore, the eastern continuation of High Street Kensington. In 1849, this was replaced by a new building on Marloes Road (which was then a part of Wrights Lane). This was under the care of the Kensington parish of St Mary Abbot. The workhouse, constructed in Marloes Road to the designs of Thomas Allom (1804-1872) in a combination of Jacobean and Elizabethan styles, must have been an impressive sight to behold.

Between 1871 and 1992, the former workhouse became part of St Mary Abbot’s Hospital. The hospital was one of four that closed when the newly built Chelsea and Westminster Hospital opened on Fulham Road in 1993. The site occupied by the former hospital and its predecessor, the workhouse, is now part of Kensington Green, an upmarket gated community protected by high security. Part of the palace-like edifice designed by Allom remains standing, but I could not see it from Marloes Road because it is surrounded by other buildings.

I would not have come across of any this information had I not spotted the well-conserved drinking fountain whilst casually strolling along Marloes Road. I took photographs of it just in case it proved interesting, which, certainly, it has turned out to be. Thus, a disused water source has given rise to a fount of historical knowledge.

Taking the plunge

MOST COFFEE DRINKERS will be familiar with the cafetiere or French press (‘caffettiera a stantuffo’ in Italian and ‘Stempelkanne’ in German). The earliest versions of this were patented in the 1920s. For those not familiar with these devices, let me explain how they are used. Coffee grounds and hot water are introduced into an open topped cylindrical vessel, often made in glass but also in metal and plastic. After waiting for the coffee to brew, and people argue how long this should be, a plunger that snugly fits the opening of the vessel is placed on the surface of the hot coffee mixture. The plunger has a metal sieve that does not permit the passage of coffee grounds through it. This plunger is attached to a metal rod, by which pressure can be exerted to drive the sieve through the liquid towards the bottom of the vessel. As it moves downward, the coffee grounds become separated from the liquid (the brewed coffee) above it. Then the coffee, free of grounds, can be served.

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In the early 1960s, the cafetiere became a fashionable way of preparing and serving coffee. My mother and her sister were quick to buy one for each of their homes. They were elegantly designed with clear glass vessels and shiny steel holders with black handles. And, the coffee they produce is good.

My mother kept using our cafetiere until disaster struck. It did not happen to her but to her brother-in-law. One evening after dinner, my uncle began plunging the filter through the hot coffee when something slipped causing the plunger to descend far too rapidly. As it shot down into the boiling hot coffee, the liquid shot up onto my uncle’s arm and caused him serious burns. Hearing of this unfortunate event, my over-cautious mother decided that far from being useful, the cafetiere was a potentially lethal weapon. So, our cafetiere was decommissioned, never to be used again. My uncle’s family continued to use their cafetiere(s) despite the accident.

Many years later, my wife and I were entertaining guests one evening. My wife had filled a large glass cafetiere with coffee and hot water and told me to plunge the filter whilst she sat down with our friends. Usually when you press the filter plunger into the brew, there is some resistance as the coffee grounds begin the reduce the flow of water through the fine filter mesh. On this occasion, I encountered some resistance as expected but then something unexpected happened. Each time I applied pressure and then released it, the filter disc began rising up towards the opening of the glass vessel. This happened repeatedly and it became increasingly difficult to depress the filter. It seemed as if the coffee was fighting back, pushing the filter plunger upwards.

Eventually, I managed to force the plunger down sufficiently and I served the coffee, somewhat mystified. After the guests had left, I examined our weirdly behaving cafetiere. I removed the plunger and found a deformed stainless-steel spoon amongst the compressed coffee grounds. The formerly straight stem of the spoon had become bent into a ‘U’ shape. I had applied sufficient pressure to the plunger to bend the spoon. I felt as if I had become Uri Geller, famous for his spoon bending tricks. Fortunately, and amazingly, the glass vessel of the cafetiere did not break or even crack.

Breakages are common amongst the glass vessels used in cafetieres. It is not the making of coffee that breaks them but dropping them on hard surfaces does them no good. We now use cafetieres with stainless-steel vessels. Not only do these not break but also many of them have double walls to help keep the coffee warm.

The importance of being British

HBY 60s 36 HW BLOG

I HAVE ONLY VISITED CRETE once, and that was in the late 1960s with my parents and sister. We were based in Heraklion and made excursions from there around central Crete, visiting sites including Knossos, Matala, the windmills of Lasithi, Malia, Aghios Nikolaos, and Phaistos. This piece concerns three memories of my late mother on that visit.

The first recollection is of the rather non-descript but very comfortable hotel where we stayed in Heraklion. It had its own swimming pool. My mother, who could not swim, and was always a bad sailor, could not bear to look at the pool; it made her feel seasick seeing its water.

The next memory is of a hot day somewhere in the Cretan countryside. We were all thirsty and ready for a drink. We passed a house with a garden. Some people were sitting at a table sipping the tiny cups of coffee that Greeks favour. They were drinking what many people call ‘Turkish Coffee’, which many Greeks prefer to call ‘Greek Coffee’ or even ‘Byzantine Coffee’.

My mother walked up to the gate leading into the garden and using one of the few words of Greek that she knew, called out:

Kafenion?

Kafenion (καφενεῖον) is the Greek word for ‘café’. Another Greek word she knew well was ‘siga’ (σιγά), which means ‘slowly’. She used it almost in every car that we were being driven in Greece. She was terrified that others driving her would have an accident because as a child in South Africa she had been involved in a dreadful car crash.

Getting back to my story, the coffee drinkers invited us into the garden and asked us to join them. My mother was mildly embarrassed to discover that this was a private house, not a ‘kafenion’. Soon, we were all supplied with Turkish Coffee. One of our hosts spoke rudimentary English. He had been a sailor when younger and excitedly told us that he had been to ‘Kong Kong’, in his own words.

Then, my mother noticed a single brightly coloured flower in the hedge surrounding the garden. She pointed at it, exclaiming “oreia” (ωραία), the Greek word for ‘lovely’. Our hosts burst out laughing. They found my mother’s reaction to the flower hilarious. One of them took Mummy to the flower and showed her it was artificial, attached to the hedge with a fine wire.

The third thing I recall about our Cretan odyssey relates to a commodity that was in great demand recently here in the UK: toilet paper. When we used to visit Greece in the 1960s and 1970s, there were usually people sitting at the entrances to public toilets. These folk, often elderly women, were there to sell sheets of toilet paper to people about to make use of the facilities.

We were in one small Cretan village when my mother needed to answer Nature’s call. We found a public convenience. An elderly toilet paper vendor was sitting by its entrance. My mother rummaged in her handbag for small change. While she was doing this, the lady asked my mother:

“Deutsch? German?”

My mother answered:

“British.”

The lady handed her some toilet paper and would not accept the customary two Drachma payment.

We were in Crete at least twenty years after the German occupation of the island had ended in spring 1945. The Germans had perpetrated many horrific deeds on the Cretan population. The woman outside the toilet was certainly old enough to have had strong memories of that ghastly time. Had my mother been German, she would have had to pay for the toilet paper. Being British, she was like the great writer Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) who fought the Germans in occupied Crete, a representative of  a nation which helped rid the island of its unwelcome occupiers. This toilet attendant’s small act of kindness towards my mother helped drive home how awful it was to have been occupied by the Germans during WW2.