A Persian carpet and a Socialist

The Victoria and Albert Museum houses a huge, antique carpet from Ardibil (in Persia).It was made in about AD 1539, and is one of the oldest accurately dated carpets.

You will need to read my book “Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London” to discover the link between this carpet and a Socialist activist, who lived in Hammersmith.

Buy your copy of my book at Lutyens & Rubinstein (Kensington Park Road) OR from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/BEYOND-MARYLEBONE…/dp/B0B7CR679W/)

A bridge in London waiting for repairs

In the middle years of the 1720s, Daniel Defoe described Hammersmith as a village that was growing into a small town:

“… and some talk also of building a fine stone bridge over the Thames …”

It was almost 100 years after Defoe speculated that a bridge across the Thames would be built at Hammersmith. A suspension bridge was constructed between 1824 and 1827. It was the first of this type of bridge to be constructed anywhere near London and the first to span the Thames. James Thorne, writing in 1876, that in outline and simplicity of style, it:

“… remains the best-looking-bridge of its kind on the Thames …”

The bridge was designed by William Tierney Clark (1783-1852), who had been guided in his development of bridge construction techniques by Thomas Telford and John Rennie, who designed the old London Bridge that now stands in Lake Havasu City in Arizona. Clark also designed the suspension bridge (1832) across the Thames at Marlow and the impressive Széchenyi (Chain) Bridge which crosses the River Danube to link Buda and Pest. The latter resembles Clark’s Hammersmith Bridge as depicted in old engravings.

In 1883-37, Clark’s Hammersmith Bridge was replaced by a newer one designed by Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891). According to Cherry and Pevsner in The Buildings of England. London 2: South, Bazalgette:

“… re-used the piers and abutments. Iron-framed towers clad in cast iron partly gilt, with Frenchy pavilion tops, and elephantine ornament at the approaches … The deck stiffening girders were replaced in a major overhaul in 1973-6.”

This bridge, which was built for use by horses and carts, pedestrians, and the occasional cyclist, long before the advent of heavy motor vehicles such as busses and lorries. It has been closed for repairs several times, causing much nuisance for those who live on both sides of it. In April 2019, Hammersmith and Fulham Council closed the bridge to all motorised traffic. This was done following the discovery of serious cracks in the pedestals that support the bridge. It remained open for pedestrians and cyclists until August 2020, when a heatwave caused further deterioration. Then, the bridge was closed to all users.  

A variety of schemes have been proposed for repairing the bridge and there was some disagreement as to who would pay for the work. In June 2021, Hammersmith and Fulham Council came to a cost-sharing deal to complete the rehabilitation of the Victorian bridge. In July 2021, the bridge was reopened for use by cyclists and pedestrians until 2027. In February 2022, I stepped on the bridge for the first time since it closed. The view from it is marvellous, especially upstream where one gets a good view of the historic buildings lining the waterfront between Hammersmith and Chiswick.

A riverside café

SITUATED CLOSE TO the River Thames footpath between Hammersmith Bridge and Chiswick’s St Nicholas Church, in whose cemetery the artist William Hogarth is buries, is the popular Elder Press Café.

A ‘breakfast bun’ at the Elder Press Cafe

From the outside, it seems that this is a small establishment, but this is misleading. Behind the narrow shopfront facing the the Black Lion pub, the café extends a long way. It surrounds an inner courtyard with tables and chairs.

In addition to drinks and delicious patisserie items, the place offers a range of savoury dishes, which I saw being served to those on tables neighbouring ours. The food looked healthy as well as delicious. Service was attentive and friendly and prices were not exorbitant.

From Norway to Bengal

Doll hse

 

We were attracted to the latest theatrical production at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith (West London) because it was a play set in Calcuttta (Kolkata) in the late 1870s. It was not any old play set in Victorian Bengal, but a new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s the Dolls House (first performed 1879), which was originally set in a Norwegian town in the 19th century.

What we saw at the Lyric was a new version of Ibsen’s play created by the playwright Tanika Gupta. In Ibsen’s play the main protagonists are Nora Helmer, her husband Torwald Helmer, Dr Rank, Nora’s school friend Kristine Linde, and one of  the employees in Torwald’s bank, a desperate widowed father, Nils Krogstad. In Gupta’s play Torwald becomes Tom Helmer, an Englishman, who has married Niru,  a Bengali beauty, and has become a senior official in the British administration of India. Dr Rank remains Dr Rank, but is also an Englishman. Kristine becomes Krishna Lahiri, an impoverished widow and schoolfriend of Niru. Nils Krogstad is transformed into Mr Kaushik Das, a widowed Bengali father of four children and a lowly employee in Tom’s office.

In its new guise, Gupta’s Dolls House sticks to the spirit and main ideas in Ibsen’s plot but causes it to be played out in the steamy tropical climate of Calcutta. Gupta explores the relationship between the representative of British imperialism and his very sweet Indian wife. The arrival of Krishna and then Mr Das on the scene soon unsettles the happy home life that the Helmers had been enjoying. Without giving the story away, Mr Das, whom Tom does not like, holds a secret that could bring about Tom’s downfall if revealed. Tom is blisfully ignorant of the threat that Das poses, but the opposite is the case for Niru, whose great anxiety Das stimulates.

Although I had some reservations about the new version of the play, I enjoyed it and the often excellent performances of the actors. What fascinated me was how successfully Ibsen’s play had been ‘relocated’ from the gloom of Norway to the colourfulness of Bengal without losing the feeling that it was a play inspired by Ibsen. By translating the play from one cultural milieu to another, Gupta has preserved and enhanced Ibsen’s messages about the role of women and social class. She has added another fascinating ingredient: the portrayal of British racism towards Indians in pre-independence India. I feel that many of the Anglo-Saxon members of the audience might have been blissfully unaware of their ancestors’ unpalatable attitude to Indians they ruled. They would have left the theatre better informed about this blot on Britain’s history.

 

The play is on at the Lyric until 5th October 2019.

See: https://lyric.co.uk/shows/a-dolls-house/

 

Image adapted from lovetheatre.com