A man from China painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds

THERE IS A ROOM in Knole House (near Sevenoaks in Kent), which contains several portraits painted by Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). One of them is a self-portrait. Near to this, there is a portrait of a man with a red cap, seated cross-legged. His youthful face has Chinese features. The sitter is Wang-y-tong (‘Huang Ya Dong’: born c 1753). Reynolds painted him in about 1776.

Wang was one of the earliest known Chinese people to have visited England. He came over following in the footsteps of an earlier Chinese visitor, the artist Tan-Che-Qua (c1728-1796), who arrived in London in 1769. Tan met King George III, and his work was shown at the Royal Academy in 1770. In about 1770, Wang was brought from Canton to England by John Bradby Blake (1745-1773), an employee of the East India Company. Blake was a naturalist and was interested in Wang’s knowledge of cultivating Chinese plants, and their uses. Wikipedia noted:

“Wang visited the Royal Society on 12 January 1775. In a letter of 1775, he is said to be about 22 years old. He was visited at Blake’s house, where he discussed the manufacture of Chinese ceramics with Josiah Wedgwood, and acupuncture with physician Andrew Duncan.”

It also describes how Wang became a page to Giovanna Bacelli (1753-1801), who was a mistress of John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, who owned Knole House. Wang lived at Knole, and was educated at the nearby Sevenoaks School. He returned to China by 1784, at which date he was working as a trader in Canton.

Wang’s portrait hangs amongst those of many famous men painted by Reynolds, including Samuel Johnson and David Garrick, as well as the 3rd Duke. The latter is said to have paid Joshua Reynolds 70 guineas (almost £76) to paint Wang’s excellent portrait. Wang was well-received in England. It would be interesting to learn what he thought about life as he found it at Knole and other places he visited in England.

A merchant’s house near the River Thames

THE FIRST DENTAL practice in which I worked was in the village of Rainham in north Kent. Although I practised there from 1982 until about 1994 and knew that there is another place called Rainham in east London, I never ever visited it. It was only in August 2022 that we drove to Rainham, formerly in Essex, and now in the London Borough of Havering. Situated between Dagenham and Tilbury, the former Essex village contains a few reminders of its past: several cottages; a fine old parish church; and Rainham Hall. It was to see the latter that we travelled through the industrial areas of east London to reach Rainham.

Rainham Hall, now beautifully maintained by the National Trust (‘NT’), was built in about 1729 by John Harle (1688-1742), who was buried in the nearby parish church. Son of a successful mariner of South Shields, who had made his fortune shipping coal from South Shields to London, John became a prosperous businessman in London. Harle came to Rainham (Essex) in 1728, and built the fine brick house, which we see today. As the NT’s guidebook pointed out:

“By aristocratic standards, the Hall is a modest house … The Hall is a rare survivor and a wonderful example of early 18th-century architecture. It was designed as a home, not for the super-rich, but for the ‘middling sort’ of successful marine merchant.”

Between Harle’s death and WW2, the Hall became the property of a series of different people, and occupied by many owners and tenants. During WW2 and until 1954, the Hall was requisitioned by Essex County Council, who used it for various purposes including as a nursery for the children of working women. The Hall was offered to the NT in 1945 and the organisation adopted it 4 years later.

Until the 1990s, the Hall had a series of tenants. Each of them had interests in arts and design. First, the place was leased to the architectural historian Walter Ison (died 1997) and his wife, the artist and architect Leonora Payne. In 1962, they left, and the Hall became home to Anthony Denney (1913-1990). Denney, who trained at the Royal College of Art in London was already an established fashionable fashion photographer and collector of modern art by the time he came to live in the Hall. He helped restore the house. After Denney left the house in 1969, it became home to the architect Adrian Sansom and his wife Marilyn, a cellist. In the 1980s, the Hall’s tenants were the viola player Paul Silverthorne and his wife Mary. They encouraged local residents to use the Hall’s extensive gardens and also did restoration work. Stefan Roman, the film-set designer and his family followed the Silverthornes, and the last tenants were the painter David Atack and his family.

The visitor to Rainham Hall can wander through rooms on the ground, first, and second floors. The various inhabitants of this large but intimate family dwelling have all made modifications to the building, but mostly in keeping with the age and character of the Hall. When we went around recently, many of the rooms were being used to house exhibits relating to the life and work of Anthony Denney. We entered the garden, which was in a sad state because of the lack of rain and the heatwaves affecting most of England. The recently restored stable block will be discussed in a future essay. I am glad that we visited Rainham in Havering. Although it cannot be described as being one of England’s most picturesque places, it is certainly more pleasing to the eye, and has more redeeming features, than Rainham in Kent.

Ten instead of twelve

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

AT FIRST SIGHT, this clock, on the esplanade overlooking the seashore at Folkestone in Kent, looks unexceptional. But look again, and you will see that it is missing the figures ’11’ and ’12’. It is a decimal clock forming part of an artwork.

There are as you know 24 hours in a day and of these twelve are usually displayed on a clock face. For a few years during the French Revolution, it was decided to divide the day into ten hours instead of the usual 24. This was not all: the decimal hour was divided into 100 decimal minutes, each of which consisted of 100 decimal seconds. Midnight became 0 in decimal time, and 1 in decimal time was 2.24 am in the 24 hour system, 2 occurred at 4.48 am, 3 at 7.12 am, and so on. This attempt at revolutrionising time did not last for long in France. It was abandoned in 1805.

The French were not pioneers in using decimal time. They were preceded by the Chinese, who ceased using it in favour of the 24 hour system in 1645.

The decimal clock in Folkestone is one of ten in the town, which were created by Ruth Ewan as part of an artwork named “We could have been anything that we wanted to be”. The Tate Gallery website noted: “The commission comprised ten decimal clocks of different designs installed around the seaside town of Folkestone in Kent. All the clocks were displayed publicly, some in very prominent positions such as the town hall, and others that had to be either assiduously sought out or happened upon by chance, such as those found in a pub or a local taxi. With each clock, Ewan replaced the dials and mechanism to achieve the decimal regulation of time.”

The example, which we saw near a Victorian bandstand on the Esplanade has a decimal clock on one side and a regular one on the other side.

In the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi

RECENTLY, I WALKED in Mahatma Gandhi’s footsteps, neither in India nor in South Africa nor in London, but in southeast England.

I am sure that many years ago, at least once, I travelled by ferry across the English Channel from Folkestone in Kent to a port in France. Whether I was travelling by car or by train I cannot recall. Had I been travelling by rail I feel sure that I would have remembered the pier at Folkestone, but I cannot now recall it. If I reached the ferry by train, it would have had to have been before 2001, when the last ferry sailed from Folkestone.

The first ferry service from Folkestone to Boulogne began in 1843 (https://folkestoneharbourarm.co.uk/history/the-harbour-in-the-19th-century/). Passengers reached the boat from the mainline railway station by local transport. In 1847, a long viaduct was constructed to take a steeply inclined mile long branch line from the main line, which was 111 feet above sea level, to the shoreline. This track crossed the viaduct and a swing bridge, which still exist and separate the Inner harbour from the Outer Harbour. At the seashore, the track ran onto a newly constructed pier, The Harbour Arm, from which passengers and freight could be embarked and disembarked. The pier, which was only fully completed in 1904, had a station, a customs house, and warehousing facilities.

During WW1, the Harbour Arm played an important role in the conveyance of military personnel and materials between war-torn Europe and the UK. In December 1915, the famous spy Margaretha Geertruida Zelle (‘Mata Hari’; 1876-1917) was prevented from boarding a vessel at Folestone bound for France by Captain S Dillon of the Secret Intelligence Service. Another famous person, of far greater historical significance than Mata Hari, stepped of a vessel, the SS Biarritz, onto the Harbour Arm on the 12th of September 1931. This passenger was a Gujarati, the only member of the Indian National Congress, Mohandas K Gandhi (1869-1948), going to London to attend the Round Table Conference. A picture taken at the time (www.alamy.com/mahatma-gandhi-alighting-at-folkestone-kent-england-united-kingdom-uk-12-september-1931-old-vintage-1900s-picture-image346793736.html) shows him, dressed in white robes and a dhoti, stepping along a gangplank. The curved platform of the station on the pier, which still exists, is clearly visible in the picture. He is shown walking towards a group of policemen and reporters, some of whom are holding unfurled umbrellas. His arrival at Folkestone on a rainy day is also recorded in a short but amusingly commentated newsreel film (https://youtu.be/P6njRwz_dMw), which also illustrates the rapturous reception he received in the streets of London.

Far more recently, another arrival at Folkestone has hit the headlines. On the 19th of October 2021, a large puppet called Little Amal (‘amal’ meaning ‘hope’ in Arabic), over ten feet in height, first made its appearance in the UK in Folkestone. Little Amal has been carried on foot all the way across Europe from Turkey (www.creativefolkestone.org.uk/whats-on/the-walk-one-little-girl-one-big-hope/) as part of an exercise to raise the public awareness of the plights of refugee children fleeing their native lands. On British soil, she plans to tour the country for a while. Little Amal did not arrive, as Gandhi did, on a cross-channel ferry bound for Folkestone, but she did make her first an appearance on the Harbour Arm (www.kentonline.co.uk/folkestone/news/little-amal-coming-to-town-255932/). She was greeted by the actor Jude Law.

Folkestone harbour was heavily bombed during WW2 and then the pier was repaired after the war ended. Passenger services to France resumed in 1946, but limitations of the harbour’s depth, which prevented the docking of larger ferries, and the development of roll, on roll-off ports elsewhere, led to Folkestone’s gradual decline as a port. These factors and the completion of the nearby Channel Tunnel resulted in the ending of Folkestone’s life as a passenger port by 2000. After this date, the Harbour Arm and its buildings fell into decline and became dilapidated.

In 2014, the Department of Transport closed the railway line ad the facilities on the Harbour Arm. The following year, it was acquired by the Folkestone Harbour & Seafront Development Company (www.folkestoneseafront.com/). This organisation has tastefully restored the Harbour Arm and its buildings as well as the viaduct leading to it across the water. The rails on the viaduct have been preserved but submerged in the walkway in such a way that their top surfaces can be seen. The sinuous platforms and their canopies have been repaired, as have the signal box (now a café) and the old Customs House. Beyond the station, the pier runs out to sea towards a lighthouse. All along the pier, there are several eateries. Also, there is an artwork by Antony Gormley.  What was once a busy transport hub has now become a delightful leisure facility, which along with Folkestone’s transformation as an artistic ‘creative hub’ has turned the town into a place well worth visiting, a far cry from what it was when Gandhi set foot on its pier. My wife and I wondered whether Little Amal, who is quite tall, will have as much influence on the future of the world as did the short man from India, who arrived in his dhoti at Folkestone in 1931.

I am pleased to have walked where Gandhi once stepped in Folkestone because I have also followed in his footsteps in various places in India including his birthplace Porbandar in Gujarat, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Bombay, Madras, and Bangalore. In London, I have often walked by Friends House on Euston Road, passing the very door through which he left the building to greet his admirers back in 1931. In all these places, there are ample monuments and other reminders of the Great Soul (the Mahatma), but, as far as I know, Folkestone is yet to materially commemorate his brief presence there.

They are only there for the beer

DESPITE LIVING IN KENT for eleven years and having visited the county numerous times, it was only in October 2021 that I first stepped inside an oast house. Dotted all over the county with their tall conical (sometimes pyramidical) roofs surmounted by distinctive cowls, they play(ed) an important role in the production of beers.

An oast house with conical roof

Hops are the flowers (or seed cones) of the hop plant known by botanists as Humulus lupulus, a member of the Cannabaceae family of plants, whose members include Cannabis, the plant which is the source of marijuana. Only the flowers of the female hop plant are used in beer making. When dried to a well-defined degree, hops are added to the beer-making process both to add flavour and because of their antibacterial effects that prevent unwanted organisms growing whilst the beer is being brewed.

Traditionally in England, hops are dried out in oast houses. Picked hops are laid out on perforated drying floors in the upper levels of the oast house. A wood or charcoal fired kiln on the ground floor of the oast house produces hot air that drifts upwards through the layers of drying hops and then escapes through the cowl at the top of the oast house’s conical roof. The cowl has a vane that catches the wind and rotates the cowl so that the wind continuously draws the smoke from the kiln up through the oast house. The air that carries the smoke upwards is drawn into the oast house through perforations in the brickwork at the lower levels of the building. The tall conical design of the roof increases the draught of air through the hops. The drying process must be carefully monitored so that the hops are removed before they are dried out too much.

The earliest known record of hop cultivation was in a document dated 736 AD. It referred to hops being grown in Germany. The use of hops in beer production seems to have taken off in a big way by the 13th century. Before hops became used routinely in beer production, a mixture of herbs and flowers, known as ‘gruit’, was used for the same reason as hops. In Germany, hops became favoured over gruit in the early 16th century because unlike the latter, which were subject to taxation, the former were not (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hops).

Hops were introduced to England during the 16th century. The oldest description of an oast house (more accurately, a building for drying hops) was written in 1574. What was described was different in design to what we recognise as an oast house today. The earliest surviving oast house was built sometime during the following century. Today, hops are no longer dried in oast houses. They are processed in industrial premises that are not nearly as picturesque as oast houses, many of which have now been repurposed as dwellings and for other uses.

On the estate of Sissinghurst Castle, a former manor house rather than a castle, a set of former oast houses has been tastefully modified by the National Trust to create an exhibition space that includes information about oast houses and hop drying. Although the kilns are no longer present, the internal structures of the tall roofs have been preserved. By entering the exhibition space, I managed to see inside an oast house for the first time. I would be curious to see within an oast house that still contains its kiln and other equipment, but what I saw at Sissinghurst began to quench my thirst for knowledge about these curious looking buildings, which were only there for the beer and can be seen throughout the landscape of Kent.

The Zigzag path

MUCH OF FOLKESTONE, a seaside town in Kent, is perched on slopes leading down to cliffs overlooking the shoreline. The Leas, a wide promenade running along the top of the cliffs to the west of the centre of the town, affords fine views of the beaches and rocks far beneath it. Various staircases, a lift (out of action nowadays), and paths lead from The Leas down to the seashore and the park that runs alongside it. The most fascinating of these, The Zigzag Path, begins close to a cast-iron bandstand a few yards west of the statue of the scientist/physician William Harvey. I loved it so much that I walked down it three times in the three days we spent in Folkestone recently.

With five hairpin bends and a couple of short tunnels as well as blind ending caves, The Zigzag Path takes pedestrians down from the Leas at 150 feet above sea level to lower than 42 feet above the sea. The path is like a winding mountain road in miniature and provides endlessly changing views of the seashore and the trees and other vegetation growing near it. In more detail:

“The path is in five sections, and covers a substantial vertical area of about 75 metres across and 50 metres high.   It incorporates steps, seats, plant pockets, low walls, and with tunnels, arches and caves at each turn.” (https://pulham.org.uk/2014/10/13/chapter-40-1920-21-the-leas-zigzag-path-folkestone-kent/).

The steep path was built for Folkestone Corporation in the early 1920s. The first attempt was not brilliant. So, the Corporation employed Mr Pulham of the company of James Pulham & Son, who specialised in the construction of rock gardens, follies, and grottoes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Pulham_and_Son). The company’s founder, James Pulham (1820-1898) was the inventor of a manmade (anthropic) rock-like material known as Pulhamite.  This composite material simulates the appearance of natural rock so successfully that sometimes geologists are fooled by it. Pulhamite is a mixture of sand, Portland cement, and clinker, which is sculpted over a core consisting of rubble and crushed bricks (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulhamite). The Zigzag Path was built with Pulhamite. While walking down the path, I spotted several places where the surface of the Pulhamite had worn away leaving fragments of brick exposed. If I had not seen this, I would have found it difficult to believe that the path was not created using natural rock. Recently, interesting ironwork railings have been added to the side of path facing the sea. These incorporate metal features that resemble plant tendrils wrapping around a support.

The wonderful Zigzag Path is just one of many of the Pulham’s ornamental creations. A full listing can be found in “Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy: The Pulham Legacy: Rock Gardens, Grottoes, Ferneries, Follies, Fountains and Garden Ornaments” by Claude Hitching and Jenny Lilly. A visit to Folkestone would not be complete without experiencing the beautiful and rather fantastic Zigzag Path, preferably by descending it. If you decide to ascend it, you will have done sufficient exercise not to need to visit the gym that day.

Blood on the wall

GRIPPING A HEART with the fingers of his left hand and his right hand on his chest, he stands in knee breeches, motionless on a plinth and staring out to sea. This bronze figure is a statue of the great scientist and first to give a scientific description of the way blood circulates through the heart and blood vessels, William Harvey (1578-1657), who was born in Folkestone, Kent, where his sculptural depiction stands. The commemorative artwork was created by the sculptor Albert Bruce-Joy (1842-1924) and made in 1881.

The heart in Harvey’s hand

Son of a Folkestone town official, William Harvey began his education in the town, where he learned Latin. Next, he attended The Kings School in nearby Canterbury before matriculating at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge. After graduating in Cambridge in 1597, he enrolled at the University of Padua in northern Italy. There, he graduated as a Doctor of Medicine in 1602. Harvey became a physician at London’s St Bartholomew Hospital, and later (1615) became a lecturer in anatomy. In addition to his teaching activities, he became appointed Physician Extraordinary to King James I. It was in 1628 that he published his treatise, “De Motu Cordis”, on the circulation of the blood, work that remains unchallenged to this day. In 1632, he became Physician in Ordinary to the ill-fated King Charles I. In 1645, when Oxford, the Royalist capital during the Civil War, fell to the Parliamentarians, Harvey, by now Warden of Oxford’s Merton College, gradually retired from his public duties. He died at Roehampton near London and was buried in St. Andrew’s Church in Hempstead, Essex.

Folkestone, formerly a busy seaport, has restyled itself during the last few years. It has become a hub for the creative arts. Works by various contemporary artists, some quite well-known including, for example, Cornelia parker, Yoko Ono, and Antony Gormley, are dotted around the town and can be viewed throughout the year. Every three years, even more art can be found all over the town as part of The Creative Folkestone Triennial. This year, 2021, it runs from the 22nd of July until the 2nd of November. As one wanders around the town, one can spot artworks in both obvious locations and some less easily discoverable places. This year, the London based artistic couple Gilbert and George have exhibited several of their colourful and often thought-provoking images. And this brings me back to William Harvey.

High on a wall just a few yards behind the statue of Harvey, there are two images by Gilbert and George. Both were created in 1998. One is titled “Blood City” and the other “Blood Road”. Both relate to blood, its corpuscles, and its flow. It is extremely apt that they have been placed close to the image of the man who did so much to increase our understanding of blood and its circulation through the human body.

Gardening and me

I LOVE GARDENS BUT I am not, and never have been, a great gardener. As a child, I used to mow the lawn and cut parts of the privet hedge surrounding our garden in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Neither of these activities endeared me to gardening. In 1983, I became a homeowner in Gillingham, Kent. My house had a 180-foot-long garden which was about 30 feet wide. About 120 feet of it was lawn bordered by narrow beds and the rest of it was, I imagine, once dedicated to growing fruit and vegetables. On taking possession of my new home, I was determined to make a success of the garden.

For a few weeks, I dug up weeds, hoping to clear a space to plant potatoes and onions. Day after day, I would return home from a session of pulling out teeth and other dental activities and then get down to pulling up weeds. It was disheartening to discover that a patch, which I had cleared a day earlier, was already becoming refilled with weeds. What I did not know at the time was that my garden was infested with a weed that was extremely difficult to eradicate manually or even with chemicals. The smallest fragment of this horrendous plant was enough to ensure its rapid and thorough propagation.

After a while, I abandoned my grand ground clearance plans and lowered my ambitions. I decided to clear a small patch to grow some parsley, a herb that was only available in local shops at Christmas time. I planted the seeds as instructed on the packet, watered them as required, and inspected the parsley patch every day.  Soon, tiny green shoots began appearing. I was horrified. I thought that once again the weeds were beginning to defeat me. So, I plucked them out to clear the ground for my parsley to have the best chance of its survival. It was only later that I realised that what I had regarded as weeds was in fact the parsley I was hoping to grow.

My solution to managing my garden was simple and effective. I began visiting garden centres to buy fast-growing shrubs. I had decided to let them compete with the weeds instead of me. This plan was successful. Soon, I had plenty of attractive plants that were growing larger in height and volume at high speed.

The long lawn proved problematic after a while. I bought an electric mowing machine that trimmed the grass nicely. However, it was not long before I began sneezing violently whilst mowing the lawn or even driving past a lawn that was being mowed. I tried mowing while wearing a paper face mask such as is commonly seen today during the covid19 pandemic. The mask proved to be useless even though it covered nose and mouth. My solution was to abandon mowing and just to let the grass do ‘its own thing’.

My neighbours were not happy about my wild looking garden, which, incidentally, became a haven for butterflies. They complained to me. My solution was to mow a winding path, the width of the mowing machine, through the savannah that was developing on my lawn. I explained to my neighbours that this was a carefully conceived plan to create a wildlife garden. I am not sure that this convinced them, but the level of complaining diminished. My neighbours were not so keen on wildlife as the following will demonstrate. One evening, someone living in my neighbourhood rang my doorbell. He asked me whether I wanted to contribute some money to help pay for the hire of a professional gun man to shoot the local foxes. I sent him away empty handed.

One evening, I returned from dinner with friends and as it was a pleasant night, I stepped out into my garden. I was surprised to smell burning but could see no fire. On the next morning, I met one of my neighbours and mentioned the burning to him. He told me that he had extinguished the fire before it reached my house. He said that the elderly lady who lived on the other side of my house had become fed up with the state of my garden and had set fire to it hoping that might prevent the spread of weeds from my garden to hers.

What is interesting is that when I came to sell my house back in 1995, at a time when the property market in the area was sluggish, it was the garden that appealed to the buyers. Apart from the fact that the house was the kind that they were seeking, it was the prospect of taming the garden, which the estate agent had described as being “in its natural state”, that appealed to the buyers. Sometime after the purchase was over, we dropped in to say hello to the new buyers. They showed us the garden. It looked as if it had been sprayed with a strong herbicide. The grass had gone, so had the atmosphere of wildness; the garden seemed sterile. However, I noted that all my shrubs had been preserved.

Now, I do not want you to get the impression that I have something against gardening. I do not like doing it, but I admire those who do it. Gardening is a complex art form in which human beings have to harmonise with nature to produce aesthetically pleasing results. Not only does the geometry of the laying out of plants have to look good, but garden planning must take into consideration the passage of time, the seasons, meteorology, the behaviour of pests and weeds, and ecology. In addition, there is also the distribution of form, colour, and odour that must be planned. And above all, the maintenance of healthy growth adds to the complexity of gardening successfully. A successful garden is multi-dimensional artform involving all the six senses as well as the relentless passage of time and the endless changes in the weather.

Rather like music, which I enjoy listening but cannot perform, I gain great pleasure from gardens, but prefer others to create and maintain them.

Remembering Madras

WE PARKED OUR CAR next to Petyt Place close to Chelsea Old Church and the Chelsea Embankment on the River Thames. Our aim was to cross the river to take a stroll in Battersea Park, but before we had gone a few yards, we came across a granite Victorian drinking fountain, which turns out to have connections with India.

BLOG Sparkes

The structure was designed by the architect Charles Barrie (Junior) who lived from 1823 until 1900. He is responsible for many buildings in London and the south-east of England. His father Charles (Senior) was the architect of the Houses of Parliament, which were rebuilt between 1840 and 1876.

The drinking fountain was erected by the widow of George Sparkes of Bromley (Kent), who died in 1878 during his 68th year. Sparkes had been in Madras (now Chennai) in southern India. Seeing this sparked my interest and inspired me to find out more about the man in whose memory it had been constructed.

George Sparkes (1811-1878) was the oldest of the six children of George Sparkes and his wife Ann Alice Wiple.  He was educated at Eton. His great grandfather was John Cator (Senior). George spent his younger years in the Madras Civil Service possibly in association with his relative Peter Cator. The latter, who served as a barrister and Registrar to the Supreme Court in Madras, was involved in education in India and published a book, “Christian Education in India: Why Should English be Excluded?”, in 1858. According to an issue of “Asian Intelligence” dated 1835, Peter donated 10,000 rupees to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in Asia.

Like his relative Peter, George was part of the legal system of the East India Company. He had been a judge.  A book, “The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British India and Its Dependencies, Volume 16”, records that in April 1835, George was appointed ‘assistant judge and joint criminal judge of Malabar’. Malabar, being on the west coast of southern India. Earlier that year he had been appointed ‘registrar of zillah court of Malabar’, a zillah being a subdivision of a British Indian province. The same volume states that George landed in India on the 17th September 1834 having sailed from London on a vessel named ‘Arab’. Just in case you are wondering what the Malabar coast had to do with Madras on the other side of India, let me explain that during the existence of the East India Company, part of the Malabar was under the jurisdiction of Madras.

By 1846, George had returned to his native place, Bromley in Kent. That year, he published “An Easy Introduction to Chemistry”. Its publication was noted in the ‘Books Received’ column of the ‘Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal’ dated 14th of October 1946. Clearly, Sparkes had versatile mind.  Sadly, a review published in “The Chemical Gazette, Or, Journal of Practical Chemistry, in All Its Applications to Pharmacy, Arts and Manufactures” was critical of it, stating that it contained a number of mistakes and had failed to keep up to date with the latest developments in the subject.

By 1851, George, living in Bromley where today stand Bromley’s Central Library and Churchill Theatre, had become Director of the ‘Reversionary Society’. This might have been The Reversionary Interest Society Ltd, which dealt with reversionary interest connected with trust funds.

In the 1850s, George bought number 16 High Street in Bromley. He renamed it ‘Neelgherrries’, his spelling of the Nilgiris, hills in Tamil Nadu to which he would have retreated to escape the heat of Madras in the hot seasons. The author of a website, londongardenstrust.org, wrote:

“Contemporary photographs of Nilgiris in the 19th century show an Indian landscape very similar to the uninterrupted views that Sparkes enjoyed from his house in Bromley.”

Sparkes was a keen gardener and in 1872 he wrote to Charles Darwin, who lived nearby, to discuss the results of his experiments in crossing primula plants. By then, he had been married to his second wife Emily Carpenter (1819-1900), his housekeeper, for seven years. On his death, he left Emily the considerable sum of £140,000 and his house, Neelgherries. She remarried a Mr Dowling, but the union was not a great success. It was Emily who was responsible for commissioning the drinking fountain on Chelsea Embankment. When Emily died in 1900, she:

“… left Neelgherries and grounds to the town of Bromley for ‘education and learning’, in accordance   with George Sparkes’s wishes. In 1906 the Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated £7,500 for a new library in Bromley and this was erected on the site of Neelgherries. The gardens became the pleasure grounds, these were the first Bromley Library Gardens…”

Had it not been for Emily’s decision to provide Chelsea with a public drinking fountain, George Sparkes would most likely have been completely forgotten outside Bromley. I suspect that most people walk past this memorial to an erstwhile Civil Servant of India and textbook writer without giving it a thought. I have done so several times in the past but am glad that I stopped to examine it today.

 

SOURCES INCLUDE:

http://www.beckenhamplaceparkfriends.org.uk/catorsbyPManning.pdf

https://londongardenstrust.org/features/bromleylib.htm

https://www.bblhs.org.uk/east-india-company

Climate changes

BLOG CLIMATE

 

DURING THE 1980s, I lived and worked just over fifty miles south-east of central London in Gillingham, one of the Medway Towns in Kent. Usually, I drove to London on Saturday afternoons after my morning dental surgery session ended at 1 pm. Then, after buying innumerable gramophone records and later also CDs and seeing friends, I would spend the night at my father’s home before returning to Kent late on Sunday evening.

One winter Sunday evening, after visiting friends, who lived in South Hampstead close to the Royal Free Hospital, I began driving towards Kent. When I reached Lewisham in south-east London, snow began falling lightly. I thought nothing of it. By the time I arrived at the start of the M2 motorway, the situation had changed considerably. The motorway was under several inches of fresh snow. The few vehicles travelling at that late hour drove on a pair of groove-like tracks made in the snow by vehicles ahead of me. It was rather like the page in the song “Good King Wenceslas: ‘Mark my footsteps, my good page, Tread thou in them boldly … In his master’s steps he trod, Where the snow lay dinted’.

The snow continued to fall and by the time I reached the motorway exit west of the Medway Bridge, I decided that it might be better to drive through Strood, Rochester, and Chatham rather than along the motorway that by-passed these places along a hilly exposed rural route, which I believed might have been badly affected by the snow.

It was about 2am when I left the motorway. I joined a line of cars that was crawling slowly towards Rochester – a traffic jam at 2 am. Eventually, I drove across the River Medway on the bridge at Rochester. The traffic was slow moving and dense despite the time. I decided to leave the main road and follow a back road that wound around Rochester Castle and avoided the city centre. I drove about fifty yards upwards along a steep snow-covered lane and then the car would go no further. Its wheels were unable to grip the road and I slid down to the bottom of the hill where I had started. There was no choice. I had to re-join the slow procession of traffic crawling through the interlinked Medway towns.

When I reached Gillingham, it was long after 3 am. I turned off the main A2 road and drove, or rather slid, downhill along Nelson Road which was covered with deep snow. At my street, Napier Road, the snow was even deeper and had not been compressed by passing vehicles. I headed towards my house but could not reach it because my car became wedged in a drift of densely packed snow. It remained locked in the snow for over three weeks.

The following day, the Medway Towns were almost paralysed by the snow. However, the only stretch of railway that was still operating was between two neighbouring stations, Gillingham and Rainham, where my dental surgery was located.  I managed to reach my surgery by train in my Wellington boots and wore these whilst treating the few patients who decided not to cancel their appointments. The only patients who struggled through the snow that day were elderly people who considered that cancelling appointments was disrespectful to the professional. All those brave souls, who made it through the hazardous snow, were seeing me about false teeth.

Although the snow did not disappear from the Medway Towns for over three weeks, the rail service to London resumed quite quickly. So, I continued to make my weekly visits to the capital. Fifty miles from snow-covered Gillingham, London was free of snow. Exaggerating slightly, visiting London was like travelling from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. Few of my friends in London could believe that my home in Kent had sufficient snow to keep most skiers happy.

The spectacular change in climates that I experienced that winter when shuttling between London and Gillingham occurred long before the concept of ‘climate change’ became widespread in the public eye.