An illustrious ancestor

QUEEN VICTORIA’S SON Prince Alfred (1844-1900) visited India in December 1869. In his honour several schools in India were founded in his name. In the present State of Gujarat, there are at least 3 still in existence. One is in Rajkot, another in Bhavnagar, and one in Bhuj (formerly the capital of the Princely State of Kutch).

Alfred High School in Bhuj

In Bhuj, we have a friend, Pramod Jethi, who is a historian of Kutch. Some of what I am about to relate is based on information kindly provided by him. Much of the rest is gleaned from what my wife’s family have told me.

My wife’s mother’s great grandfather was one Laxmidas Ravji Sapat (aka Sampat), who was born in the mid-19th century, or a bit earlier. Along with Gokaldas Parekh, Laxmidas was one of the first teachers in the Alfred High School in Bhuj (founded by Rao of Cutch, Pragmalji II in 1870). It is likely that he was its headmaster for a time. I have yet to see it, but his portrait hangs in the school. One of my wife’s relatives, also a descendant of Laxmidas, arranged to have it restored a few years ago.

In 1890, Laxmidas left the school. Later, along with his son-in-law, Cullyanji Murarji Thacker, he went to London (UK) to become a barrister. He studied for the Bar at Middle Temple and was called to the Bar on the 27th of June 1900, along with his son-in-law. Mr Thacker, who was my wife’s mother’s grandfather. The two men received financial help for their studies from the Kutch Royal family.
Both men were members of the Bhatia community in Kutch. Back at the end of the 19th and the early 20th it would have been unusual for a man and his son-in-law to travel out of India together to study.

Laxmidas, after leaving the Alfred School, became appointed as police chief of Bhuj, then diwan (Prime Minister) of Jaisalmer, and after that Chief Justice of Jodhpur. Apparently, he was very successful in reducing dacoitry in the Kingdom of Kutch and also Jaisalmer.

Recognising that the dacoits robbed because they were impoverished and starving, he helped make arrangements that reduced these poor peoples’ need to steal. It was this success that attracted other rulers of Princely States to offer him employment.

Regarding Jaisalmer, I discovered this quote:
“On his retirement, one Laxmi Das Raoji Sapat, who had lately served as Police Commissioner in the Kutch State, was appointed as Dewan of Jaisalmer”
This was in 1903.

As for Mr Thacker, he was successful enough to have owned a large house with two separate kitchens (one veg, the other for meat), and to have employed an English governess for my wife’s maternal grandmother, Benabhai, who married the surgeon Haridas Bhatia FRCS (died of septicaemia whilst on duty in 1926).

Incidentally, Benabhai was sent to London to study at the former Bedford College at the same time as her husband was studying for his FRCS. This contrasts with Mahatma Gandhi, who went to study in London, leaving his wife behind in India.

In January 2023, whilst spending a short time in Bhuj, we took a look at the elegant exterior of the city’s Alfred High School, which adjoins the Bhuj Museum. Badly damaged in the earthquake of 2001, the school building has been well restored. A less attractive, newer building was built to enlarge the school. On a future and lengthier visit to Bhuj, we hope to be able to view the portrait of Laxmidas that hangs inside the school.

The artist’s son in her Majesty’s Indian Navy

ENCLOSED BY IRON railings, the grave of the artist John Constable (1776-1837) stands at the southern edge of the old part of the churchyard of St John’s Church in Hampstead. The famous painter does not lie alone. He is buried with some other members of his family. One of these people is his second son Charles Golding Constable (1821-1879). I became interested in him when I noticed the words “Captain in her Majesty’s (late) Indian Navy”. The inclusion of the word ‘late’ and its position in the inscription puzzles me.

Charles went to sea as a midshipman in the British East India Company’s navy when he was about 14 years old. According to a genealogical website (www.bomford.net/IrishBomfords/Chapters/Chapter33/chapter33.htm/), he:
“…took to the sea, joined the Indian Marine and eventually became a Captain. Around 1836 he left on his first voyage to China and did not return until after his father’s death so missed his large funeral in London. During the 1850s he gained a place in the reference books for having conducted the first survey of the Persian Gulf. He had to struggle with navigation as a youth so he must have shown considerable determination to be entrusted with this survey. Shortly before his survey the Arab sheikhs bordering the southern end of the Gulf gained their income largely by piracy; this was ended by a treaty or truce arranged by the British, and the Sheikhdoms that signed the truce have been called ever since the Trucial States.” A paragraph in the book “Journey to the East” (published by Daniel Crouch Rare Books Ltd.) related this in some detail:
“Commander Charles Constable, son of the painter John Constable, was attached to the Persian Expeditionary Force, as a surveyor aboard the ship Euphrates. On the conclusion of the war [the First Anglo-Persian War: 1856/57], Constable was ordered to survey the Arabian Gulf, which occupied him from April 1857 to March 1860, with Lieutenant Stiffe as assistant surveyor. The survey (Nos. 2837a and 2837b) which contains the first detailed survey of Abu Dhabi, would become the standard work well into the twentieth century. During the time that Constable was surveying the Gulf, the Suez Canal, one of the greatest civil engineering feats of the nineteenth century was under construction.”
Charles was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

While ‘surfing the net’, I found out that sketches made by Charles during his travels have been on sale from time to time in auction houses. His drawings were competent but no match for those executed elsewhere by his famous father.

When John Constable died, his eldest son John Charles Constable became responsible for dealing with his father’s estate. He was then a medical student as well as having studied under the scientist Michael Faraday. According to a website concerning his college in Cambridge (Jesus), John Charles, died suddenly in 1839 after contracting scarlet fever at a lecture in Cambridge’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital, at which a patient suffering this disease was being examined. After his father died, he was left “… numerous paintings and works of art, some of which were known to have adorned his rooms in College.” (www.jesus.cam.ac.uk/articles/archive-month-constable-chapel).
In his will, John Charles left his collection of drawings, paintings, and prints to his younger brother Charles Golding Constable. In 1847/48, Charles was responsible for supervising the dispersal of his father’s studio collection of artworks.

Like the rest of his family, parents and siblings, Charles had lived at several different addresses in Hampstead. Although he was buried with other members of the family in Hampstead, I have not yet found out where he resided at the end of his life.

A station, a friend, a cousin

BEFORE I LEARNED TO drive, I began visiting a friend who lives in the heart of the Cornish countryside, a few miles away from Bodmin. I used to travel by train from London’s Paddington to Bodmin Parkway station, which is a short distance away from the town of Bodmin. My friend, Peter, used to collect me from this small station and drive me to his family’s smallholding deep in the countryside. After passing my driving test in 1982, I began driving to Cornwall. Today, the 10th of October 2022, we dropped off our daughter at Bodmin Parkway station to catch a train to London. This was my first visit to the small station since the early 1980s. It brought back memories of my early visits to see Peter and his family.

Bodmin Parkway station

I met Peter through mutual friends. We clicked. In the years following our first meeting, we saw each other regularly, considering how the great the distance is between our homes. On one visit to Peter’s home, I spotted a photograph of his mother, and remarked that her appearance reminded me of my mother. We thought nothing of this at the time.

In the late 1990s, I began researching the history of my parents’ families. An enquiry to a relative, who lived in Zimbabwe led me to contacting another relative, who worked for New Zealand’s diplomatic service. He got in touch with me and was able to supply information that was missing on one of the family trees connected to my mother’s family. I looked at what he had sent me, and my eyes nearly popped out of my head. For, amongst the people listed in that branch of the family tree were Peter and his children. It turns out that Peter is both my fourth and fifth cousin. The reason for this double relationship is that my mother’s parents were second cousins once removed; they shared a common ancestor. So, it turns out that not only is Peter a good friend but also a cousin. It is interesting that although Peter and I were already good friends, knowing that we are related has enhanced our relationship. Standing on the platform at Bodmin Parkway, waiting for our daughter’s train to arrive, brought back memories of my first encounters with Cornwall, a good friend and his mother’s photograph, and my discovery that he is part of my family.

The place where the artist Tiepolo was born in Venice

GIOVANNI BATTISTA TIEPOLO (1696-1770) is one of my favourite artists. I have been familiar with his works ever since my childhood, when we visited Venice annually from the late 1950s or early 1960s onwards. My parents took me from church to church to see the great master’s paintings, which I prefer to the somewhat more photograph-like paintings of Canaletto.

We used to stay in a pensione on the Fondamente Zattere, a waterfront facing across a wide canal to the Giudecca island. The Gesuati church was a few yards from where we resided in Venice. It contains ceiling panels and a wall painting, all created by Tiepolo. Often, we passed the church and almost always entered it to gaze up at Tiepolo’s ceiling. I cannot remember it, but my sibling recalls that almost every morning, early, my father used to stand quietly and alone in the church for a few minutes.

I became so keen on Tiepolo that I broke my train journey between Ostend and Vienna to spend a night in Würzburg in order to see Tiepolo’s paintings in the city’s Residenz (a palace).

This September (2022), I was walking along a narrow passageway (Calle S Domenico) when I spotted a commemorative plaque above an archway leading into a long narrow courtyard surrounded by tall residential buildings. The plaque recorded that in the courtyard there was the house in which Tiepolo was born on March 1696. Exactly in part the courtyard, the Corte S Domenico, the artist was born, I could not determine. However, I had never seen this place before and was thrilled to have stumbled across the place where one of my favourite artists was born.

My childhood home in north London

I LIVED IN A detached house (see the picture) in north London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb during the first three decades of my life. My bedroom window was that on the first floor facing the street, Hampstead Way. Externally it looks much as it did when I lived there. This is not surprising because the houses in the Suburb are all subject to strict preservation orders,which forbid alterations of the appearances of the exteriors of the Suburb’s buildings.

Although I was privileged to have lived in this part of London, it was never my favourite area of the city because during my youth, it was a dull place to be a child or even an adolescent.

By the way, although the name ‘Hampstead ‘ is part of the suburb’s name, the area is completely different from Hampstead proper: it lacks the vibrancy and vitality of old Hampstead village (or town, if you prefer). As a youngster, and still today, I have always enjoyed my visits to Hampstead Village

Images of my mother’s sculptures rediscovered

MY LATE MOTHER (Helen Yamey: 1920-1980) trained as a commercial artist in Cape Town (South Africa) before WW2. In 1948, she came to London to marry my father. In London, she painted and, according to my father, took lessons from the great Stanley Spencer (1891-1959). Around the time when I was born (1952), my mother began making sculptures. The first of these was a terracotta mother and child. Maybe, she was depicting herself with me in her arms.  By the 1960s, she was working in the sculpture studios of St Martins School of Art, which was then near Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road. There, she was in the company of artists such as Anthony Caro, William Tucker, Philip King, and William Turnbull. At least one of these now famous artists taught my mother how to weld and solder.

My mother exhibited her works in important art galleries at least twice. In late 1961, she exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art in a show called “26 young Sculptors”. In 1962, she exhibited sculptures at the Grabowski Gallery, along side works by Maurice Agis and David Annesley. Although she sold a few of her creations, she did them more for pleasure than for profit.

My mother was a perfectionist. She destroyed much of what she created. However, at some time during the 1960s, she had a series of professional photographs taken of some of her mainly abstract works. These were kept in a yellow Kodak photographic paper box in a drawer in our home in Hampstead Garden Suburb. As a teenager, I used to look at them occasionally and wonder what became of some of the creations recorded in these photos.

My mother died in 1980 and my father remarried 11 years later. After remarrying, he and my stepmother moved from our home in Hampstead Garden Suburb to another house (near Primrose Hill). After the move, I used to ask him what had happened to the photographs of my mother’s sculptures and other family photos. Each time I asked, he would say that they were stored somewhere, possibly in the garage of his new home. After a while, I gave up hope of ever seeing these pictures again because it was clear to me that Dad had little or no interest in these photographs and in addition he could not imagine why anyone else would find them interesting. My father died, aged 101 and 6 months, in 2020. What with covid19 and its associated problems, we did not see his widow, my stepmother, again until recently this year (2022).

When, at last, we met her, she arrived carrying a plastic carrier bag, which she handed to me. To my great delight, it contained the box of photographs described above and another filled with family photographs taken mainly in the late 1950s. My stepmother told me that she had found them when she was sorting things in the garage of the house where she and my father had lived.

The photographs of my mother’s sculptures all bear the name of the photographer: Joseph McKenzie, ARPS (95 Blenheim Gardens, Wallington, Surrey). According to Wikipedia, Joseph McKenzie (1929-2015) is regarded as “father of modern Scottish photography”. More relevantly in the context of my mother’s works, he taught photography at the St martins School of Art.

Some of the photographs have notes written on their backs. The handwriting is my mother’s. One of the pictures, that of the mother and child has the words: “my first ever sculpture, terracotta, mother and child, 24””. Some of the other photos have information about the size and the material of the work depicted.

About 10 years before she died, my mother became disillusioned and practically gave up making sculptures. Although she made a few abstract images in pen and ink and a few carvings in alabaster, her abandonment of sculpture making as a full-time activity left a great hole in her life.

I have taken pictures of the photographs, and they can be seen on:

http://www.ipernity.com/doc/adam/album/1323344

Put it in your pipe and …

ONE OF MY COUSINS, who was on a trip around Europe during his high school years in the late 1960s, met me while he was in London. A keen collector of pipes, he wanted to visit the Dunhill shop in central London’s Piccadilly. We did this together, but I cannot recall whether he purchased a pipe. Since that day several decades ago, I have barely thought about Dunhill or even smokers’ pipes.

Today (8th of February 2022), I was strolling along Uxbridge Street near Notting Hill Gate when I looked at a building that looks as if it might have once been a factory or warehouse. I have often noticed it and wondered about its former purpose. However, it was only today that I noticed a commemorative plaque affixed to it. I am sure that I have never noticed it before; maybe, it was placed recently. The words on it read:

“This building was the Dunhill pipe & cigarette factory 1916-1946.”

Well, that got me interested.

Tim Rich published an article about Alfred Dunhill and his firm in an issue of “The Pipe” (number 2, 1995). Alfred Dunhill (1872-1959) opened his first tobacco shop on Duke Street in 1907. Three years earlier, he had invented a ‘windshield pipe’, which allowed motorists to smoke in draughty vehicles. In 1910, dissatisfied with the pipes he was selling in his shop, he decided to start his own pipe factory. At first, they were made in Mason’s Yard, where today a branch of the White Cube art gallery is located. As business grew, he moved his factory to Notting Hill Gate and later opened another in Plaistow in the East End. The Notting Hill factory “…turned out several thousand Dunhill pipes per week” (https://rebornpipes.com/tag/history-of-dunhill/).

According to Carolyn Hubbard-Ford, writing in a 2014 issue of “The Notting Hill & Holland Park Magazine”, Alfred Dunhill was a major employer in the area. The factory used to be linked by a bridge, now gone, to another building across the road. The bridge was made of metal and low enough for local children to throw balls over it. Alfred’s daughter Mary began working in the factory in the 1920s immediately after she left school. Dunhill’s also had a shop, no longer in existence, close to the factory at 137-143 Notting Hill Gate.

After Dunhill’s moved out of the factory in 1946, the building on which the plaque is attached was converted into offices. In about 2001, the building was again converted, this time to provide residential units.

Small injection, small world

WE JOINED A SMALL queue at the vaccination centre, or “hub” as it calls itself, early one sunny but cool morning. All of us were waiting to receive our covid 19 booster vaccine, six months having elapsed since receiving the second of our first two ‘jabs’. Eventually, we were invited into the local hospital, in which the hub is located.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I was directed to a cubicle where a lady, a volunteer vaccinator, was seated. After having been asked some preliminary medical questions and given some advice about possible aftereffects of the vaccine, she said to me, having already noted my name:

“Are you South African?”

“My parents were,” I replied.

“I know a Craig Yamey,” she said.

“He is a relative of mine.”

Then, she said:

“I knew an old gentleman, a Mr Yamey married to a Greek lady.”

“He was my father,” I replied, adding: “How do you know him”

It turned out that the lady’s mother lives next door to where my father lived for the last 27 years of his long life.

Having established that and just before giving me the injection, quite painlessly I should add, she said:

“In that case, I must take very special care of you.”

The world can seem remarkably small, don’t you think?

Oliver Cromwell’s grandmother

DURING RECENT MONTHS, we have visited several places in East Anglia associated with Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) and his family. These include Huntingdon, where he was born; Ramsey in Cambridgeshire, where his Royalist relative Oliver Cromwell lived; and Cambridge, where some say his head is hidden within one of the city’s colleges. Most recently, we visited Swaffham in Norfolk, where we entered the town’s magnificent parish church.

While looking around Swaffham’s Church of St Peter and St Paul, which was built in 1454 in the Early English gothic style, we came across an interesting funerary monument in a chapel on the south side of the building. The monument contains a sculpture of a woman on her knees with the left side of her face in profile and looking to the left. This monument, covered with heraldic crests, is a memorial to Catherine Stewart, only child and sole heir of Thomas Payne, formerly of Castleacre (Norfolk). Catherine Stewart, who died in 1590, was the second wife of the tithe farmer (a kind of tax collector) William Stewart of Ely, who was buried in Ely Cathedral in 1593.

William and Catherine’s daughter Elizabeth married twice. Her second husband was Thomas Cromwell. Oliver Cromwell, Britain’s ruler, The Lord Protector, between 1653 and 1658, was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Cromwell. Thus, Catherine Stewart, whose monument we admired in Swaffham’s church, was Oliver Cromwell’s maternal grandmother.

Someone working at the museum in Swaffham told us that because his grandmother lived in Swaffham, Oliver Cromwell and his troops avoided damaging it during the Civil War, even though it was a town that supported the Royalists. After the Civil War was over, Cromwell mentioned Swaffham once in his recorded correspondence. When the fighting ended, the draining of the Fens resumed under the supervision of a new organisation of which Oliver Cromwell was a member, The Company of Adventurers for Draining the Great Level of the Fens. In 1653, 150 petitioners from Swaffham, who had asked about certain rights for them and had received notice that their grievances would be redressed, forced the Company’s workmen to cease working on the dykes and began to vandalise the work that had been done already. On the 23rd of April 1653, Cromwell wrote to Mr Parker, an agent of the Company:

“… I hear some unruly persons have committed great outrages in Cambridgeshire, about Swaffham and Botsham … Wherefore, I desire you to send one of my Troops, with a Captain, who may by all means, persuade the people to quiet, by letting them know, They must not riotously do anything, for that must not be suffered: but ‘that’ if there be any wrong done by the Adventurers, – upon complaint, such course shall be taken as appertains to justice, and right will be done.

I rest, your loving friend, OLIVER CROMWELL”  

(Quoted from: “Oliver Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches: with Elucidations”, by Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Carlyle, published 1845)

I was puzzled to see that Cromwell associated the Norfolk town of Swaffham with the county of Cambridgeshire. With help of Google, I discovered that there is a Swaffham in Cambridgeshire: its full name is Swaffham Bulbeck. The latter is near Cambridge and includes the parish of Botsham (Bottisham).

While researching this piece, I came across a paper by Walter Rye with the title “The Stewart Genealogy and Cromwell’s Royal Descent” (http://fmg.ac/phocadownload/userupload/scanned-sources/tgb/Vol02-PDFs/S-3895.pdf), which examined the idea that The Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, had royal relatives. Rye concluded:

“I think therefore, that I have succeeded that Oliver Cromwell’s ‘Royal Descent’ which passed muster with Carlyle and other historians, who have made it a peg on which to hang reflections more or less ridiculous, is a fabrication; and that he really sprang, ex parte materna, from a Norfolk family, probably of illegitimate descent, and certainly of no credit or renown, which had settled in Swaffham long before the alleged Scottish ancestor is supposed to have landed in England with his Royal master and kinsman.”

The Royal relative referred to above was King James VI of Scotland and Stewart is quite a common surname. Others might dispute Rye’s conclusion, but this is not the place to explore this further. Once again, a chance visit to a small town in the English countryside has opened a window to reveal one of the many fascinating aspects of the history of England.

Swimming at the White House

MY PARENTS, ESPECIALLY my mother, were keen that I learned to swim. It took me a long time to learn this activity. For many years, I was taken to various indoor pools to take lessons with a variety of swimming teachers, some professional and others not. One of the latter was a young Asian lady, who gave me a few lessons in the pool at the White House. This was not the famous establishment in Washington DC but a 1930’s apartment block, now a hotel, near Great Portland Street Underground station in London.

The White House, London

The teacher, who had no success with getting me to swim, lived in the White House and was recommended to my parents by another resident, a family friend, whom we knew as ‘Sakki’. Like my parents, Sakki was born in South Africa and my father told me that his family and Sakki’s were either remotely related and/or in business together. Both Sakki and my father were on the academic staff of the London School of Economics (‘LSE’). Sakki was the anthropologist Professor Isaac Schapera (1905-2003). He had become an expert on the anthropology of indigenous people of Botswana and South Africa. Amongst his many published works was “The Khoisan Peoples of South Africa”, published back in 1930.

Apart from providing me with one of my many swimming instructors, Sakki took a great interest in my sister and me. He gifted me several books, amongst which was several books about the adventures of Hergé’s cartoon character Tintin. These were in French and were volumes that were at the time neither available for sale in the UK nor translated into English. When I graduated with my PhD in 1976, he presented me with a two-volume book about magic, myths, and science.

In the very early 1960s, Sakki joined us on a family driving holiday in France in our smallish Fiat 1100. My mother, who had been involved in a serious car accident in the 1930s, had installed seatbelts in our car, a rare thing for the time. Sakki had to travel in the rear seat with my sister and me. Sakki had his own seatbelt (lap design), and my sister and I were strapped together in the other belt, separated from each other by a pillow. It soon became obvious to my parents that Sakki was not enjoying being confined in the rear of the car with two young children. My parents solved the problem by stopping at regular intervals at roadside cafés so that Sakki could enjoy a glass of cognac. This seemed to help him tolerate the journey, about which I remember little else.

During my childhood, Sakki was a regular visitor to our family home. He used to amuse us kids with comical verses, only one of which I can remember. It sounded to my ears something like this: “Olke, bolke, reeby, solte. Olke, bolke, knor.” While writing this piece, I looked for this on the Internet, and now know that what he was telling us was the words of an Afrikaans song that goes:

“Olke bolke Riebeeck stolke, olke bolke knor…”

Well, now, many years since I last saw Sakki, I know that what he was telling us was not his invention, as I had always believed as a youngster.

Sakki underwent surgery on his vocal cords. This affected his speech badly and drove him to avoid socialising in his later years. However, he did visit our home on at least one occasion after his voice had been affected. I was a young teenager then and I can still remember that when he spoke, all that one could hear was a hoarse, rasping, whisper. After conversing with me for a few minutes, he said to me:

“You don’t have to whisper just because I am talking so softly.”

And then he added:

“I have noticed that everyone with whom I talk gradually lowers their voice to a whisper whilst they converse with me. It is strange how the loudness of my voice affects that of people who are talking with me.”

That people unconsciously adjust their voices to match that of their interlocutors made a great impression on my young mind, and I have never forgotten it.

I do not believe that I ever met Sakki again between 1976 and 2003, when he died. By then, the White House had almost completely changed from being an apartment block to becoming a hotel. Sakki lived there until he died and was one of the place’s last full-time residents from the time before it became a hotel with a few flats.

And, just in case you are wondering, I did learn to swim eventually, not at the White House but in the pool of the old YWCA near to Tottenham Court Road station.