IT IS PLEASANT to stroll beside the Thames along Chiswick Mall. Occasionally, we take a look at the graveyard of Chiswick’s St Nicholas Church. On a recent visit to this place, we walked deeper into it than usual and spotted a grave marked by a remarkable sculpture.
The idyllic, romantic, leafy churchyard by the river is chock full of graves. Several of them caught my attention. One is that for the artist William Hogarth, who lived close-by. His monument is protected by a cast-iron fence. An urn on a plinth decorated with an artist’s palette and brushes. It was erected after the death of his sister in 1781 (who is also commemorated on this monument) and was restored by a William Hogarth of Aberdeen in 1856. Another painter, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740-1812), who was born in Strasbourg, is buried with his wife Lucy de Loutherborg (née Paget). Like Hogarth’s, their decaying monument on the north side of the cemetery is surrounded by cast iron railings. In 1789, Philippe gave up painting temporarily to develop his interest in alchemy and the supernatural. Later, he and his wife took up faith-healing. The remains of yet another painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), lie in the cemetery.
Private Frederick Hitch (1856-1913) is less famous than these artists. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his brave actions during the Battle of Rorke’s Drift (January 1879) in the Anglo-Zulu War fought in South Africa. He is also buried in this large cemetery.
Amongst the more recent graves is the one with the unusual sculpture. It is that of Baronet Percy Harris (1876-1952), who was a Liberal politician. Son of a Polish immigrant, he was born in Kensington, and died there after a long career in parliamentary politics. According to a website listing British Jews in WW1, Percy was Jewish, yet his grave is distinctly Christian in sentiment. Aesthetically, his grave is the most remarkable one in the cemetery next to St Nicholas. It includes a semi-abstract, vorticist carving of The Resurrection of the Dead, created by the sculptor Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1903-1973) in the 1920s. Harris had acquired it for display in his garden long before it was moved to adorn his grave.
Although Percy Harris was born Jewish, he is buried in the graveyard of a Church of England parish church. Despite searching the Internet, including reading his extensive entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, I cannot determine whether or not he converted to Christianity sometime during his life.
I HAVE WATCHED AND GREATLY enjoyed many plays by Tom Stoppard. So, it was with high expectations and great excitement that I booked good tickets for his latest play, “Leopoldstadt”, which is about a tragic period during Austria’s history, a time that interests me greatly. The play follows the history of a Jewish family living in Vienna between the late 19th century and about 1955. Like many Jewish families living in Germany and Austria, they were determined to appear increaslingly less Jewish and ever more like their gentile neighbours, a process known as ‘assimilation’. As Amos Elon demonstrates in his wonderful book, “The Pity of it All”, the more assimilated the Jewish people became, the less they were tolerated by their mostly anti-Semitic neighbours. Stoppard’s play attempts to portray this sad state of affairs in “Leopoldstadt”. His play was more like a history lesson than a compelling work of drama.
“Leopoldstadt” was being performed in London’s magnificent Wyndhams Theatre. Frankly, although there were a few wonderful scenes in the play, I was mostly disappointed. Although it was clearly a heartfelt and moving exploration of part of his family’s history, Stoppard has written far better and subtler plays in the past.
NOT MUCH REMAINS of Ramsey Abbey in a part of Cambridgeshire, which used to be in the former county of Huntingdonshire. Like most of the monastic institutions in England, Ramsey Abbey was ‘dissolved’ by Henry VIII. Ramsay was closed in 1539.
Founded in 969 by Bishop Oswald of Worcestershire (died 992), this abbey in the Fens achieved great importance, rivalling Ely and Peterborough. Three centuries before the first college (Peterhouse) was established at Cambridge in 1284, Ramsey was a renowned centre of scholarship. In addition to theological matters, the scholars at Ramsey studied a wide range of other subjects. One of the most eminent scholars, Abbo of Fleury (c945-1004), was brought to Ramsey by Oswald in 985. Abbo brought much knowledge from both the Classical world and the Arabic world to Ramsey, where he stayed for 18 months. Another leading scholar was Byrhtferth (c970-c1020), who was well-known for his studies of English history. He also wrote a scientific compendium in about 990. This included material about mathematics, properties of matter, astronomy, and medicine.
Geoffrey of Huntingdon, who lived in the 13th century, was Prior of Ramsey Abbey for about 38 years. He was a scholar, with great fluency in the languages of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. When the Jewish people were expelled from Britain in 1290, he bought from them as many Hebrew texts as he was ablee to find, including from the synagogues at Huntingdon and Stamford. Under Gregory’s influence, Ramsey became a centre of Hebrew studies. From the books and texts collected at Ramsey, a priest, Laurence Holbeach (died c1420), compiled a Hebrew dictionary in about 1410.
When Ramsey was dissolved in 1536, the dictionary was amongst the many scholarly works taken (or stolen) from the monastery by Robert Wakefield (or ‘Wachefeld) of Oxford, where he taught Hebrew from 1530 until his death. Wakefield, who died a year later, was a renowned English orientalist and Hebraist who taught at famous universities including Cambridge, Oxford, Paris, Louvain, and Tübingen. What became of this dictionary, I have not yet been able to discover.
Whether the dictionary remains in existence or not, I cannot say, but I do know that by visiting the small town of Ramsey, the visitor can see some remains of the former abbey. These include the remains of a gatehouse, which is now looked after by the National Trust and the Church of St Thomas à Becket, now a parish church. The latter was already constructed in the 12th century. It was probably originally built as a hospital or infirmary for the abbey, but by 1222, it had become a parish church. The aisles were rebuilt in the 16th century and the current west tower was built in 1672. The church contains some lovely stained-glass windows both behind the high altar and on the eastern part of the southern wall. These windows, created in the early part of the 20th century, were made by Morris & Co, a company founded by William Morris.
The former abbey has a connection with Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), who was born in the nearby town of Huntingdon. In 1540, the estate of the former Ramsey Abbey was sold to Sir Richard Williams (1510-1544), also known as ‘Sir Richard Cromwell’. This man, who was Oliver Cromwell’s great grandfather, demolished most of the abbey, which was:
“… turned into a quarry, the lead from the roofs being melted down into fodders and ingots for sale to the highest bidder. Gonville and Caius college in Cambridge was built from the stone and Kings and Trinity were partly rebuilt. Stone from the Abbey also found its way into many local churches and other buildings” (https://ramseyabbey.co.uk/richard-cromwell/)
Richard’s son Henry built a Tudor house on the former abbey’s grounds. Henry’s son Oliver (born 1562), who was an ardent Royalist, much to the embarrassment of his nephew Oliver Cromwell, the famous Parliamentarian and ruler of England (the ‘Lord Protector’), lived in the house his father had built. This, the manor house, was sold to Coulson Fellowes in 1737 by the then owners, the Titus family. In 1804, the architect Sir John Soane enlarged the house. The building was further enlarged in 1839. Now the building houses Ramsey’s Abbey College. Currently the building looks far from being Tudor and by looking at its exterior, one cannot guess that it contains some remains of the early mediaeval abbey, on which it was built.
As a notice beside the remains of the gatehouse aptly states:
“After existing for nearly four centuries as the grounds of a private residence it is most fitting that a large part of the abbey site is now occupied by the Abbey College. The eighty or so monks in their black habits have been succeeded by a far greater number of students. Across the generations Ramsey has been the home of scholars who have sought to expand their knowledge of the world …”
I am certain that Bishop Oswald would be pleased to know although his scholarly establishment was closed by a King with dubious intentions, Ramsey continues to be a place of scholarship.
LESS THAN 580 FEET long, Rathbone Street runs parallel to part of London’s Charlotte Street. Short though it is, it is not lacking in interest. The quiet thoroughfare was originally named ‘Glanville Street’, before being renamed Upper Rathbone Place, and then its present name (www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol21/pt3/p12). Rathbone after whom Rathbone Place and Street were named was a carpenter and builder, Thomas Rathbone (died 1722), who lived in a house on the Place around 1684. Rathbone Street was laid out 1764-65 (www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/architecture/sites/bartlett/files/chapter31_hanway_street_and_rathbone_place.pdf). During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Rathbone Street was occupied by various artists including the sculptor M Bordier and the painter John Rubens Smith. Today, various vestiges of the past can be seen on the short street.
The Marquis of Granby pub at the southern end of Rathbone Street was named in honour of Lieutenant-General John Manners, Marquess of Granby (1721-1770), who fought heroically at the Battle of Warburg (1760) during The Seven Years War (1756-1763). He became Commander of the British Army in 1766. There are many pubs named after him because, it is said, he set up many of his soldiers as publicans when they retired from military service. The pub bears old boundary markers marking the demarcation line between the parishes of St Pancras and St Marylebone. The pub now stands in both the Boroughs of Camden and Westminster. In the past, the pub’s customers have included Dylan Thomas and TS Eliot. The building housing the pub was already built by 1765.
There are two other pubs in Rathbone Street. One of them halfway along it is The Newman Arms, another haunt of Dylan Thomas and also frequented by George Orwell. Established in the 1730s, this pub features in two of Orwell’s novels: “1984” and “Keep the Aspidistra Flying”. Once upon a time, the pub was a brothel. A painting depicting a prostitute in period costume covers a bricked in upper storey window. Across the road from the pub there is a plaque on a building that bears the words: “Hearts of Oak Benefit Society” and the date 1888. This marked the rear entrance to the offices of the Society. Its main entrance was 15-17 Charlotte Street (www.londonremembers.com/memorials/hearts-of-oak-benefit-society-w1). At the north end of the street, there is a third pub, The Duke of York. Bearing the date 1791, it was where the author Anthony Burgess was drinking when he witnessed an attack by a gang bearing razors (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Duke_of_York,_Fitzrovia). The pub’s sign bears a portrait of someone who is far younger than the pub, the current Prince Andrew. This pub is the only one with the name The Duke of York which has a pub sign depicting the current Duke of York. The pub was originally named to honour an earlier Duke of York.
Rathbone Street, short as it is, contains three pubs. Its continuation southwards towards Oxford Street, Rathbone Place, contains two pubs and another drinking place, once a pub but now named The Liquorette, in a stretch of road even shorter than Rathbone Street. Thus, there used to be 6 pubs within a stretch of roadway 364 yards in length.
Returning to the south end of Rathbone Street, its southwestern corner, we reach what first got me interested in this short lane. During WW2, there was a London Auxiliary Fire Station, Sub Fire Station 72Z, on this spot. During the night of the 17th of September 1940, it was hit by a bomb dropped by the German Luftwaffe. The building burst into flames. Seven firemen lost their lives. However, two men were saved by the brave actions of Fireman Harry Errington, who was later awarded a George Cross to recognise his bravery. He rescued two of his comrades from the flaming ruins. Harry Errington (formerly ‘Ehrengott’) was son of Jewish immigrants living in Soho. Harry, son of Baila and Shepsel Ehrengott who arrived in London from Poland in 1908, was born in Soho in 1910 (https://british-jewry.org.uk/New%20Member%20Area/BJ%20News/100806/Microsoft%20Word-B-JNews8final.pdf).
After training to become an engraver, he had to abandon this because his lungs became affected by nitric acid fumes. Then, he joined a relative, a tailor in the Savile Row firm of Errington and Whyte. He became a master tailor. Then, WW2 broke out. Mike Joseph wrote in the “B-J News” of August 2006:
“It was in 1940 that Harry earned true celebrity status. Having joined the Auxiliary Fire Service at the outbreak of the Second World War a year earlier, he was one of several firemen on duty in a basement rest-room during an air raid, when the building collapsed. An enemy bomb had scored a direct hit, and twenty people died, including six firemen; Harry was lucky: he was only knocked out! When he came round, the building was on fire. He could have escaped with little difficulty, but two of his comrades were trapped under rubble: how could he leave them? He wrapped a blanket round his head against the flames and, digging with his bare hands, managed to free one of the men. He dragged him to safety, upstairs into the street, and then, although he was already badly burned, went back and rescued the other man.”
Harry was true to the words quoted from the Book of Joshua, which are written on one of the two commemorative plaques marking the former fire station in Rathbone Street:
“Be strong and of good courage.”
Harry returned to tailoring when the War was over but remained in touch with the London Fire Brigade. When he died in 2004, he was the last surviving Jewish holder of the George Cross.
Though less lively than nearby Charlotte Street in ‘normal’ times, Rathbone Street is worth a detour, if only to quench your thirst in one of its three pubs. I wonder whether Harry Ehrengott and his colleagues made use of any of these drinking holes during the odd quiet moments between their brave firefighting tasks.
SOME ‘POSHER’ JEWISH people in west London tended to live around Bayswater. These prosperous members of the Jewish community arrived in Bayswater in the 19th century as the district began to be urbanised. Many of them had drifted westwards from Bloomsbury and the City (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp264-265). This migration placed them at an inconvenient distance from the synagogues they had been used to attending. So, in 1863, Bayswater Synagogue (at corner of Chichester Place and Harrow Road) was consecrated. This new place of worship was a branch of both the of the Great Synagogue (in the City north of Aldgate) and the New Synagogue (originally near Leadenhall Street, and then later in Great St Helens Street). Like so many Jewish buildings in mainland Europe, this synagogue was destroyed by the forces of Nazi Germany, during WW2.
In 1879, an offshoot of the now demolished Bayswater Synagogue was consecrated in St Petersburg Place, a short distance from the main road known as Bayswater. This, The New West End Synagogue, is now one of the oldest surviving functioning synagogues in Great Britain. At first sight, you might easily be mistaken for thinking that the huge red brick building with Victorian gothic architectural features, a rose window, and twin bell towers, is a church. And maybe that was the intention of the community that commissioned the building. Upwardly mobile Jewish people in Victorian England might well have preferred not to advertise their religious beliefs too much in a society that then had many prejudices against Judaism and other non-Christian religions. The synagogue in St Petersburg Place looks no more exotic or out of place than the Church of St Matthew a few yards north on the same street. In fact, it is another building to the north of these two and within sight of them that is unashamedly exotic in appearance, Aghia Sofia, the Greek Orthodox cathedral on Moscow Road, which was consecrated only three years after the synagogue.
The desire of some Jewish people to ‘meld’ seamlessly with British ‘high society’ was not confined to England. Amos Elon writes about this in his inciteful book about the ‘emancipation’ of Jews in Germany, “The Pity of it All”, and what a dreadful fate it led to. It is my impression that amongst the few Jewish people, mostly of British and German origin, living in Victorian South Africa, there was the belief that economic and social advancement was not hindered by being somewhat discreet about their religious beliefs. This changed during the final few decades of the 19th century when many Jewish people began arriving from parts of the former Russian Empire, many from what is now Lithuania. Often much poorer than their co-religionists, who were already well-established in South Africa, they were far less reticent about expressing their religious beliefs and critical of the ‘established’ Anglo-German Jewish community, who had, in their eyes, become rather too lax about Jewish religious observance.
Returning to Bayswater and its mainly prosperous Jewish families, we can now travel less than a mile northwest to reach the northern end of Kensington Park Road, close to Portobello Road, in nearby Notting Hill, to reach the site of another, now disused, synagogue. This building, still standing but now repurposed, was not designed to mislead the onlooker into believing it was a church. As was the case in South Africa during the last few decades of the Victorian era, large numbers of Jewish people began arriving in London from Eastern Europe, and many of them settled in the crowded East End. In 1902, A Jewish Dispersion Committee, set up by the (Jewish) banker and philanthropist Sir Samuel Montagu (1832-1911), tried to attract some of these new arrivals to settle in areas away from the East End, like Notting Hill (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol1/pp149-151).
The former Notting Hill Synagogue at numbers 206/208 Kensington Park Road was opened in 1900 (www.jewishgen.org/jcr-uk/london/notting_fed/Index.htm), a little ahead of the formation of the above-mentioned committee. Presumably, it was worth opening because there must have been sufficient Jewish presence in the neighbourhood. By 1905, it had 281 members and ten years later, there were 250. Its ritual was Ashkenazi Orthodox, the same as that at the New West End Synagogue, but the congregants were less wealthy than those who attended the latter. Many of them were market stallholders or artisans, such as tailors and shoemakers (http://www.ladbrokeassociation.info/Churchesandotherreligiousbuildings.htm#Synagogue). They lived in what were at the beginning of the 20th century far less salubrious dwellings than many of those, who worshipped in St Peterburg Place. Although I do not know for certain, I doubt there was much socialising between the Jewish communities of Bayswater and Notting Hill.
The Notting Hill Synagogue was housed in a former church hall. Its memorial stone dated the 27th of January 1900 was laid by Sir Samuel Montagu. Although it was a discreet building externally, its interior with galleries for the women and girls was elaborate and attractive as can be seen in old photographs (www.jewishgen.org/jcr-uk/london/notting_fed/Photographs.htm). We have walked past it many times without realising it was once a place of worship until a friend told us recently about its former incarnation.
During WW2, the synagogue was severely damaged by a German bomb. It was restored and reconstructed. During the Notting Hill race riots in the late 1950’s, during the time that the fascist Oswald Mosely (1896-1980) was campaigning as a candidate in the election for the parliamentary seat of the local constituency, Kensington North, he set up his office close to the synagogue. On the 31st of January 1959, one of his supporters daubed the synagogue with the words used by the Nazis: “Juden raus”. Despite these traumatic events, the synagogue continued to thrive until the 1990s, when the size of the local Jewish population had declined. Rabbi Pini Dunner (born 1970), who had been invited to help in performing the ritual in 1992, when the synagogue, under the leadership of its charismatic Stuart Schama, was falling into decline, wrote:
“Notting Hill Synagogue was nothing like any shul I had ever seen. The congregants consisted of a motley group of mainly octogenarian men, characters out of some East End Jewish sit-com, each with his own catchphrase, many of them not quite sure why they were there week after week.”
The synagogue then closed, and amalgamated with the Shepherd’s Bush, Fulham & District Synagogue. Since its closure, the synagogue has been used as a ‘health club’. Currently (March 2021), the building bears the name ‘Teresa Tarmey’, a company that supplies various treatments (www.teresatarmey.com/).
The transformation of the former synagogue into a trendy beauty salon reflects that of Notting Hill from a relatively impoverished area into a prosperous area with high property prices, which is beginning to make Bayswater seem less attractive in comparison. The synagogue in St Petersburg Place continues to thrive. One of my cousins, who lives many miles from it, told me that it was well worth travelling to because its congregation is vibrant and life-enhancing, which is good to know because the mainly residential area surrounding the synagogue is usually rather sleepy.
WHEN I ENTERED HIGHGATE School at the age of thirteen, daily attendance of religious activity was obligatory. Highgate School was basically a Church of England establishment, but by 1965, 400 years after the school’s founding, it recognised religious diversity to some extent. I was offered the choice of attending ‘chapel’ (Church of England), or ‘Roman Catholic Circle’, or ‘Jewish Circle’. In those, now far-off days, the options of ‘Hindu Circle’ and ‘Islamic Circle’ or even ‘Witches Circle’ were not available.
A few days ago, I received a facsimile edition of “The Northern Heights of London” by the Quaker William Howitt (1792-1879), published in 1869. In a short section on religious communities in Highgate, I read the following:
“Some years ago there was a Jewish academy in Highgate, conducted by Mr Hyman Hurwitz. It was the only thing of the kind in the kingdom, except one on a small scale in Brighton. It had generally about a hundred pupils, sons of the chief families of the Jews; and there was a synagogue for their use. There was also a school for Jewish young ladies, established by Miss Hurwitz, the sister of Mr Hurwitz.”
Seeing this, which was information I had never seen before, I reached for my copy of “A History of the Jews in England” by Albert Montefiore Hyamson (1875-1954), published in 1928. I bought my copy of this book in a second-hand bookshop in Bangalore (India) for a mere 200 Indian Rupees (currently just over £2). Hyamson, a civil servant and historian, was an ardent advocate of founding a single state for Arabs and Jews in Palestine, an idea that infuriated many Zionists. Regarding Hyman Hurwitz (1770-1844), he wrote in some detail, which I will summarise and add to.
Hurwitz, born in Posen (now ‘Poznan’ in Poland), was a friend of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), who is buried in Highgate, where he died. They lived near each other in Highgate:
“Coleridge and Hurwitz were neighbors and friends living in Highgate, London, England. There are fourteen letters from Coleridge discussing the work of both Hurwitz and Coleridge, including publishing and editing. One letter dated 17 May 1825 from Coleridge encloses a note from his nephew John Taylor Coleridge regarding publication of Hurtwitz’s work through Mr. Murray. A theoretical discussion on the history of language by Coleridge is the subject of the 16 September 1829 letter. The correspondence also includes a recommendation from Coleridge to Leonard Horner regarding Hurwitz’s position as Hebrew professor at the new University College, London, dated 27 November 1827.” (https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog/FRANKLIN_9954204173503681).
Hurwitz opened The Highgate Academy, a higher school for Jewish boys, in about 1799. Later, on the recommendation of Coleridge, he was appointed the first Professor of Hebrew at University College (London), now UCL, which was founded as a university for Jews, atheists, dissenters, and women, in 1826. Hurwitz’s publications included “Introduction to Hebrew Grammar” (1835), which was the standard grammar for English Jews for many years, and “Hebrew Tales” (1826) as well as “Vindicia Hebraica” (1820).
The school in Highgate was housed in Church House, which I will discuss soon. In 1821, Hurwitz extended the lease on these premises for another seventeen years. Soon after this, he handed over the direction of his school to his assistant Leopold Neumegen (1787-1875), who moved from Highgate to Kew in 1840, where he lived in Gloucester House, and is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Fulham. In 1821 or 1822, Hurwitz moved his home from Highgate to Grenada Cottage in the Old Kent Road (“Marginalia: Camden to Hutton”, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, publ. by Princeton University Press: 1980).
“Coleridge described him as the Luther of Judaism. His eulogies of Hurwitz in his Notebooks and letters were copious from 1816 onwards. The two co-operated in the field of Hebrew learning, each of use to the other as they both well knew. Coleridge relied on Hurwitz for much of his understanding of meanings in the Old Testament, as Hurwitz was authoritative regarding the subtleties of Hebrew, ‘the science of words’ Coleridge’s own phrase. Without his help Coleridge’s vast erudition would have been seriously diminished. And he helped Hurwitz with publication of a least two of his books, one a study of the Hebrew Language, then innovative though ultimately superseded, and the other Hebrew Tales, a best-seller in the 19th century. Coleridge himself contributed three of its many insightful and telling anecdotes. Each of them used the other’s knowledge openly and with attribution.”
So much for the close relationship between a famous poet and a now obscure Jewish scholar. Let us return to Church House in Highgate. Church House is currently number 10 South Grove, next door to the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution, in the heart of Highgate Village. The land on which it stands was once owned by Sir Roger de Cholmeley (c1485-1565), who founded Highgate School in 1565, which I attended between 1965 and 1970. The present building with its red brick façade was built in the early 18th century.
In 1759, the house came into the possession of Sir John Hawkins (1719-1789), a surveyor and lawyer. Following his death, the house was left to his wife, and then to his son, John Sidney Hawkins, who died in 1842. It was from this man that Hurwitz leased Church House at first between 1800 and 1820, and then for a further 17 years as already mentioned (https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol17/pt1/pp32-38).
Well, I did not know anything about Hurwitz and his Highgate Jewish school when I was at the older educational establishment not many yards away. I used to pass Church House every Thursday morning when those, including me, who had opted for Chapel rather than Jewish Circle or Roman Catholic Circle, attended a morning service at the Victorian Gothic Church of St Michael not far from it.
Hurwitz was born in what was Prussia a couple of decades before my great-great grandfather Dr Nathan Ginsberg (1814-1890), who was born in the Prussian city of Breslau (now ‘Wrocław’ in Poland). Both men were intellectual giants. Neither of them would have been able to teach in German universities without first converting to Christianity. Both of them founded schools for Jewish children, Hyman in London, and Nathan in the Prussian city of Beuthen (now ‘Bytom’, in Poland). Nathan, my ancestor, started his school because he was unwilling to be baptised in order to be eligible to accept the professorships he was offered in Germany. Hyman established his school in London before Jews were able to teach in English Universities, but fortunately for him the establishment of University College with its willingness to accept Jewish people, allowed him to become a professor. I wonder whether my forefather, Nathan, ever considered trying to become a university teacher at the university in London that opened when he was only twelve years old and about which he must surely have been aware as he grew older.
OUR FRIEND MICHAEL G, who has been following my accounts of our motorised rambles around England since the ‘lockdown’ eased in July 2020, recommended that we should visit the village of Barley in northern Hertfordshire, a place he knows well. We followed his suggestion and were not disappointed.
Barley lies surrounded by deep countryside a few miles east of the town of Royston, which is between Baldock and Cambridge, whose station has signs that tell travellers that the city is “The Home of Ruskin Anglia University”. There have been human settlements in the area since the Bronze Age. The name ‘Barley’ has nothing to do with the crop of that name but is derived from the Old English words meaning ‘lea’ or ‘meadow’. There might also have been an Anglo-Saxon tribe based in Hertfordshire to whom this name referred. The Domesday Book recorded the village as ‘Berlei’, which might be derived from ‘Beora’s Ley’, meaning the woodland clearing of the Saxon lord, ‘Beora’ (www.barley-village.co.uk/about). In 2011, the village had a population of 662. It is a small place, bursting with interest.
The church of St Margaret of Antioch stands on a rise surrounded by a vast cemetery with many gravestones in different styles. The church with its curious spire, which we were able to enter, dates from the 12th century, but has many later modifications. In its structure, the viewer may discover elements of different styles of English architecture ranging from the 12th to 19th centuries. The church is pleasant to the eye, but I found the name of the saint of greater interest than the church itself. St Margaret of Antioch, a saint whom I had never encountered before, is also known as ‘St Marina’. She lived in the 3rd to 4th centuries AD and was highly venerated in mediaeval times. According to an online encyclopaedia (www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Margaret-of-Antioch), her story is verging on incredible:
“During the reign (284–305) of the Roman emperor Diocletian, Margaret allegedly refused marriage with the prefect Olybrius at Antioch and was consequently beheaded after undergoing extravagant trials and tortures. Her designation as patron saint of expectant mothers (particularly in difficult labour) and her emblem, a dragon, are based on one of her trials: Satan, disguised as a dragon, swallowed Margaret; his stomach, however, soon rejecting her, opened, and let her out unharmed.”
Well, we had to go all the way to Barley to become acquainted with this saintly lady.
Margaret House, next to the church, is now a home for disabled folk and dementia sufferers. Parts of it closest to the church look quite old. Actually, they are not so ancient. Once the rectory, it underwent many modifications between 1831 and 1833, possibly following a fire. These were supervised and designed by Anthony Salvin (1799-1881), an expert in creating buildings in the mediaeval style (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1347406). Since Salvin’s time, the older building has been joined to a far larger modern edifice.
Across the road from the church and at a lower altitude, we saw a beautiful Tudor building, the ‘Town House’, which was formerly Barley’s guildhall. Sadly, it was locked up. It would have been fascinating to enter this well-conserved (highly restored) building constructed in the early 16th century, but during this time of plague that was not possible. In addition to this fine edifice, a short walk through the village will take the visitor past plenty of fine examples of dwellings that were built in the 17th century or possibly earlier. Many of them have overhanging upper storeys and most of them have their own distinctive appearances.
Barley is home to a family-run bus company called Richmonds. Many of their vehicles are parked either in an open space near to the Town House or another that contains a large garage with the name ‘HV Richmond’ above its entrance. Harold Victor Richmond, a former RAF pilot, acquired the fleet and premises of A Livermore in 1946, and his family has run the company since then (www.busandcoachbuyer.com/richmonds-coaches/). The bus garage is opposite a hostelry with a remarkable pub sign. The sign straddles the road. A beam running between two vertical supports is surmounted by painted silhouettes of a fox being chased by several hounds running ahead of two horses with their riders. Appropriately, the pub is called ‘The Fox and Hounds’. The fox is heading for the pub, which is what we did. Many years before us, the highwayman Dick Turpin (1705-1739) is supposed to have stayed at this establishment. The pub’s interior looks highly modernised. Michael G told me later that the original pub burnt down some years ago and what is seen today is a new building.
Returning to the Town House, we looked at a rock with a circular metal plate attached to it. Placed to celebrate the millennium (2000 AD), it lists some of Barley’s noteworthy personalities. They are William Warham (1450-1532), Thomas Herring (1695-1757), Thomas Willett (1605-1674), and Redcliffe Nathan Salaman (1874-1955). None of these names meant anything to me before we visited Barley.
William Warham and Thomas Herring both served the church in Barley before becoming Archbishops of Canterbury. Warham practised and taught law in London before taking holy orders and also became Master of the Rolls (in 1494), helping King Henry VII with diplomatic affairs. He served the church in Barley before becoming the Bishop of London in 1501. In 1503, he became Archbishop of Canterbury. Herring’s career was almost as spectacular as that of Warham. In 1722, he became the rector of Barley and in 1743 he was the Archbishop of York. Four years later, he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.
The name ‘Redcliffe Nathan Salaman’ intrigued me. I guessed he must have been Jewish and was proved correct when I looked up his biography. Born in Redcliffe Gardens in Kensington (London), son of Myer Salaman (1835-1896), a merchant who dealt in ostrich feathers, he was a botanist and the author of “History and Social influence of the Potato” (published in 1949). Redcliffe studied at St Pauls School in London, then ‘read’ Natural Science at Trinity Hall Cambridge, qualified as a medical doctor at the London Hospital in 1900. He did postgraduate work at the German universities of Würzburg and Berlin before becoming appointed Director of the Pathological Institute at the London Hospital and pathologist to the Zoological Gardens in Regents Park (https://ice.digitaler.co.il/ice2019/28). In 1903, he caught tuberculosis and gave up medicine. It was around that time that he and his family moved to their rural home in Barley, the large Homestall House.
Established in Barley, Salaman began work on plant genetics, guided by the biologist/geneticist and chief populariser of the ideas of Gregor Mendel, William Bateson (1861-1926), Master of St John’s College in Cambridge. Salaman worked on the genetics of that important food item, the potato. One of his major discoveries was of varieties of the tuber that were both high yielding crops and also, more importantly, resistant to the potato’s ‘late blight’ disease, which was the cause of the major 1845 Irish potato famine and other famines in Europe during the 1840s. In 1935, in recognition of his important work with potatoes, Salaman was elected a member of the prestigious Royal Society. His book published in 1949 was of interest because it combined archaeology, genetics and every aspect of the history of the potato.
Redcliffe, his first wife, the poet and social activist Nina Ruth Davis (1877-1925), and their family (six children) kept a kosher household in Barley and observed the Sabbath. They used to travel to London to celebrate Jewish high holidays. In 1926, following the death of Nina, he married Gertrude Lowy. Despite the ‘TB’, Redcliffe lived until he was 80.
The other worthy commemorated in front of Barley’s Town House is the 17th century Thomas Willett. The fourth son of Barley’s rector, a Calvinist, Andrew Willett (1562-1621), he sailed across the Atlantic to the British colonies in North America. He was put in charge of a Plymouth Colony’s trading post in Maine. Eventually, he became one of the assistant Governors of the Plymouth Colony and then the Colony’s Chief Military Officer. After New Amsterdam was handed over to the British by the Dutch in 1664, and the city’s name changed to ‘New York’. Willett became the first Mayor of New York in 1665. In 1667, he became the place’s third Mayor. It is amazing to think that someone born in tiny Barley became the Mayor of what was to become one of the world’s major cities.
Our short visit to Barley proved to be most interesting. Even if history does not fascinate you, this village has plenty to please the eye. I am most grateful to Michael G for bringing Barley to our attention.
About 20 years ago, we drove to Loket, a small town in the western part of the Czech Republic, a part of the country that was once known as ‘Sudetenland’. It was home to a large German speaking minority, which was expelled from Czechoslovakia at the end of WW2.
We stayed in a small but cosy hotel with a fine restaurant. One evening, there was a couple of German tourists sitting at the table next to ours. Their pet Alsatian dog, Harry, was sitting under the table at their feet. We greeted them as they seemed quite jolly. We struck up conversation with them and soon we were clinking each other’s wine glasses.
They told us that they hardly ever travelled out of Europe because they did not want to leave Harry on his own. However, they said to us:
“Once, we visited Kenya”
“To see wild animals?” we asked.
They laughed, and then replied:
“The only wild animals we saw were Africans.”
This unsettled us a bit as did Harry who was, by now, licking our ankles with great interest. Somehow, the conversation drifted around to the Jews of Germany. At that time, the German Jewish community, such as it was, was under the leadership of Ignatz Bubis (1927-1999). One of the couple said:
“Whenever Bubis sneezes, Germany must pay the Jews one million Deutschmarks.”
Detecting a move towards further anti-semitic remarks, my wife said:
“By the way, we are Jewish.”
This brought the conversation to a swift end and also led to the couple failing to meet us for coffee and cakes on the next day, as we had planned earlier in the evening.
In a way, it was good that my wife had stemmed the possible flow of anti-semitism, but I was a bit disappointed. I would have been fascinated to discover how deeply they felt about the Jewish people in Germany so long after the end of WW2.
We never discovered the names of this German couple, but privately we christened them ‘Adolf’ and ‘Eva’.
A couple of years later, we revisited Loket and stayed at the same hotel. As we parked outside the hotel, we saw a couple packing suitcases into the back of thier vehicle. Accompanying them, there was an Alsation dog. Yes, you have guessed right. It was Adolf and (und?) Eva packing up to return to Germany. We greeted each other politely, but not warmly.
THERE WERE AT LEAST 3 JEWISH girls in my wife’s school class in Calcutta during the mid 1960s. Then, the city had a sizeable Jewish community, many of its members and their ancestors having migrated from Iraq, especially Baghdad.
Recently, a friend gave me an old book about the Tollygunge Club in Calcutta. Inside it, there is an undated handwritten inscription: “To Maurice, with love from Bob”. My friend did not know who Bob is or was, but told me that the book was part of a collection once owned by Dr Maurice Shellim.
By profession, Maurice was a medical doctor. According to Dalia Ray, writing in her book “The Jews of India”, he was a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians (London), having studied medicine at London’s Guys Hospital. Ray also records that he took part in the functioning of a free medical clinic set up by his coreligionist Dr E Musleah.
After buying a painting by Thomas Daniell (19th century painter of Indian scenes), Maurice Shellim became very interested in Daniell and other British painters in India. Eventually, he published a book about Daniell and his nephew William Daniell: “India and the Daniells: Oil Paintings of India and the East”.
Maurice also published a book about the historic Park Street Cemetery in Calcutta. He had devoted much time and energy to conserving this picturesque resting place for the remains of British families.
In his later years, Maurice and his immediate family moved to London, but he often visited Calcutta.
Most of Calcutta’s Jewish people have left the city to settle abroad. Although anti-Semitism has never been a problem in India, many of Calcutta’s Jewish folk chose to leave in the decades following 1947. Probably, many of them left to improve their economic prospects, but Dalia Ray suggests that because most Indian Jews had been pro British they began to feel that they might begin to feel uneasy in independent India. She also wrote that after the establishment of Israel as a sovereign state, many Jews wanted to fulfil their centuries old desire to reach the Promised Land.
Today, there are very few Jewish people left living in Calcutta.
I would not have been likely to have discovered the story of the remarkable, highly cultured Dr Shellim had I not seen that scribbled inscription in an old book.
PS: ‘Bob’ was most probably Bob Wright, a Britisher who lived in Calcutta for over 30 years. He worked for a large company and was involved in the management of the Tolleygunge Club.
I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend to the annual Chelsea Flower Show. It would not be exaggerating to say that the displays of plants are all quite wonderful.
Among the show gardens, I spotted some fine examples of peonies, some in bud and others flowering. Seeing these brought back memories of my childhood when we lived in a house with a fine garden in north-west London. At one end of the garden, there were several peony bushes. At the appropriate time of the year, these plants produced almost spherical buds.
My sister and I were attracted to these buds and used to pull them off before they could flower. My late mother used to get very upset by our horticultural vandalism, and told us off so severely that I still recall our midemeanours on the rare occasions that I think of peonies, which is not all that often.
You will be pleased to read that I resisted the temptation to pluck any of the peony buds I saw at the Chelsea Flower Show!
And, here is an interesting fact: Peony is the name of a novel by Pearl S Buck. The story is set in China and features a Chinese Jewish family.