Wavy walls and Hercule Poirot

SADLY, THE CHARTERHOUSE was closed to the public when I walked through London’s Charterhouse Square on a Monday in July. As I walked clockwise around the grassy space in the middle of the (not so square) square, I spotted a building with a curvy brick façade with windows, many of which have both curved steel frames and glass panes.

The building, a block of flats which has Art Deco features, is called Florin Court. Although it looks recently built, it was constructed in 1936. It was designed by Guy Morgan (1903-1987) and Partners. Morgan had worked with the better-known architect Edwin Lutyens until 1927. Two years earlier, Morgan and Partners designed another block of Art Deco style flats in Highgate Village: Cholmeley Lodge. Although I was unable to enter Florin Court, I have read (on Wikipedia) that it contains 120 flats; it has a communal library, roof garden as well as a basement swimming pool. The reason that the structure looks so new is that it underwent extensive restoration work in 2013.

Florin Court has a connection with the author Agatha Christie as the following (from https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1390634?section=official-list-entry) related:

“Best known as ‘Whitehaven Mansions’, its exterior used as the residence of Hercule Poirot in the television adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novels.”

I have never watched this television show, but I am pleased that I stumbled upon this lovely example of Art Deco architecture in the heart of one of the older areas of the City of London.

A Soviet in Hampstead: Maxim Litvinov in north London

Here is an excerpt from my new book about Hampstead in north London:

For many centuries, Hampstead has been the haunt of people involved in creative pursuits. So, it was no surprise that the former Express Dairy opposite Louis (patisserie) had at least one interesting cultural connection. In February 1916, the Bolshevik revolutionary Maxim Litvinov (1856-1951) proposed to his future wife Ivy Low in the café inside that branch of Express Dairy. Ivy, a novelist, was born, please note, in 1889 (she died in 1977). At the time he became acquainted with Ivy, Litvinov was with Lenin in London. Ivy did occasional typing for Maxim, and it was not long before they were attracted to one another. Passionate about cinema, he took her to watch films with him and one day he ‘popped the question’ in the Express Dairy. After they married, they lived in Hampstead until the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in October 1917. They did not return to Russia immediately because in January 1918 Maxim Litvinoff was made First Proletarian Envoy to the Court of St. James’s.

According to Zinovy Sheinis in his biography of Maxim first published in 1988, Maxim often went to Hampstead to meet his friends the Klyshkos, who lived on Hampstead High Street. Nikolai Klyshko (1880-1937) was a Bolshevik revolutionary of Polish parentage, who had settled in London and was a fluent Russian speaker.  For a brief period, Litvinov lived in Hampstead with Klyshko and his English wife. Sheinis wrote about Maxim’s meeting with Ivy:

“They had met at a friend’s house. Then at a gathering of the Fabian Society. Litvinov was impressed by her knowledge of Tolstoy and Chekhov. Putting on weight, red-haired, of average height, well-mannered, and not very talkative, he made a big impression on the young writer. Her mother, the daughter of a colonel in the British Army, naturally wanted a different match for her daughter and certainly did not want to see her married to an insecure emigre from Russia. As for his religious background, Ivy Lowe simply never gave it a thought. She was herself from a family of Hungarian Jews who had taken part in the Kossuth uprising; in her girlhood she had been a Protestant, then had been converted to Catholicism. The choice of religion was her private affair and concerned no one else.”

After their marriage, they lived in a house, owned by Belgian refugees, in Hampstead’s South Hill Park (number 86). While there, Sheinis related:

“Friends sometimes gathered there in the evenings to discuss the political news; then an argument would flare up, developing into a fierce squabble. It always seemed to Ivy that her husband and his guests would any moment start flinging chairs at one another. At the very height of the dispute, when it was almost at boiling-point, she would leave the kitchen, go into the room, and announce that tea or coffee was ready. The disputants would calm down and drink their tea in peace.”

He also wrote that Ivy:

“… was not interested in and did not understand the political activities of her husband and his friends. To her, it was an alien world. In London, after the October Revolution, she asked her husband if he knew Lenin. Maxim replied that he had known Lenin for a long time. But she had no idea that letters from Lenin were coming to their house and that her flat was the headquarters of Bolshevik emigres.”

Later, they lived in a tiny house in West Hampstead. After that, Litvinov, having become a Soviet diplomat, moved from Hampstead. Despite not being officially accredited by the British, Sheinis   noted:

“The Litvinovs were even invited to receptions. Though Soviet Russia was not yet recognised, its powerful influence reached standoffish London, Ivy Litvinova recollected.”

By 1921, the Litvinovs with their two young children, at least one of whom was born in Hampstead, settled in Moscow. Although Litvinov held high governmental posts in the Soviet Union and outside it (as a Soviet diplomat), he and Ivy, like so many other citizens in Stalin’s Russia, were constantly in fear of being arrested and/or killed.

My book about Hampstead, “BENEATH A WIDE SKY: HAMPSTEAD AND ITS ENVIRONS” is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

Benjamin Franklin and Saint Bartholomew

ONE OF LONDON’S FEW remaining pre-1666 (Fire of London) buildings is the church of St Bartholomew the Great close to Smithfield Market. Founded in the 12th century, the building has many Norman (Romanesque) features. It also contains some contemporary artefacts including “Colloquy” (a work made from glass) by Sophie Arkette, and “St Bartholomew. Exquisite Pain” (a work in gilded bronze) by Damien Hirst.

By Damien Hirst

Beyond the chancel at the east end of the church there is the spacious Lady Chapel. During the Reformation (after about 1529), this part of the church was closed off from the rest of it, and used as commercial premises. In the 18th century, it was used as a printer’s workshop owned by Mr Palmer. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), one of the founding fathers of the USA, worked as an apprentice in this printing works in 1725. Then, he was lodging nearby in Little Britain. While he was working in the converted Lady Chapel, he wrote his philosophical pamphlet, “A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.” Franklin wrote:

“At Palmer’s I was employed in composing for the second edition of Wollaston’s “Religion of Nature.” Some of his reasonings not appearing to me well founded, I wrote a little metaphysical piece in which I made remarks on them. It was entitled “A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.” I inscribed it to my friend Ralph; I printed a small number. It occasion’d my being more consider’d by Mr. Palmer as a young man of some ingenuity, tho’ he seriously expostulated with me upon the principles of my pamphlet, which to him appear’d abominable.”

The workshop was purchased by the church and restored as a Lady Chapel in 1897. An information panel next to it provides its history and connection with the young Franklin. It was by pure chance that I came across this London link with the American Revolution on the 4th of July.

Mismatched signals

HOW RIDICULOUS IS THIS?

The newly opened Elizabeth Line is supposed to link east and west London. However if you wish to travel from a station east of Paddington to one west of it (or vice-versa), you have to change trains at Paddington. This is far from simple. The section of the line that runs west from Paddington is on one side of Paddington mainline station, and the section that runs east is far across the mainline station concourse at a lower level.

Platform lighting at Paddington Station (Elizabeth Line)

Today, I asked an official whether the east and west branches of the Elizabeth line will ever be connected, so as not to need to change trains at Paddington. He said that the infrastructure (tracks etc) are already in place, but there is a problem that still needs to be solved. The problem is that the signalling system on the western part of the line is completely different from that on the eastern part. Surely, someone could have solved this problem during the many years it has taken to construct the Elizabeth Line(s)?

St Cuthbert’s extraordinary lectern in London’s Earls Court

HIDDEN IN A residential crescent, Philbeach Gardens, near Earls Court is a late Victorian church, whose exterior is far from attractive. However, St Cuthbert (completed 1888) has an interior which cannot fail to amaze the visitor’s eyes. The church contains what can only be described as an ‘over-the top’ array of decorative features. Some of them are typical of the Gothic Revival style beloved of Victorian church designers, and others that are typical of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which flourished in the last decades of the 19th and the first few of the 20th century.

One item in the church, which is particularly eye-catching, is made of wrought iron and hammered (repoussé) copper. It is a lectern with two large arms on either side of the leather-covered book holder. These are supports for large candles. The lectern is approached by a small set of stairs whose treads have studs on them. The studs are arranged to spell out words, which I found difficult to decipher. The part of the base facing the congregation is an intricately decorated folded screen with Arts and Crafts Style decorative motifs. Most probably handmade, the lectern, although fantastically crafted, has a very slightly amateurish look about it. It is more unusual and eye-catching than beautiful.

I would not have visited St Cuthbert had my friend, the excellent Olsi Qinami, not been conducting the London City Philharmonic Orchestra performing a concert there. The church with its colourful marble pillars and almost surreal interior is well worth a visit even if there is no concert being performed. It is a ‘must-see’ for lovers of Victorian church architecture.

Queen Elizabeth and the Elizabeth Line

THE VICTORIA LINE began carrying passengers in late 1968 when I was 16 years old. I remember when this happened and how exciting it was. Recently a new railway line opened in London: the Elizabeth Line. Originally named ‘Crossrail’, it began carrying passengers several years after it was supposed to have been completed. It is supposed to convey people from east of London to well west of the city. However, what exists now (July 2022) is not exactly what I expected. In order to travel from, say, Shenfield, at the eastern end of the line to, say, Maidenhead, west of London, you need to change trains at Paddington. Currently one section of the new line runs east from Paddington, and the other runs west from that station. Unlike Queen Elizabeth’s long continuous reign, the line named to honour her has a discontinuity at Paddington.

A visitor from abroad wanted to experience the new line today, a Sunday. He was looking forward to seeing the new station platforms on the line that heads east from Paddington. Sadly the section that fruns east from Paddington does not operate on Sundays at the moment. So, we had to head west. The Elizabeth Line trains are new, but the train follows tracks that were laid down as far back as the 19th century. Apart from being over efficiently air-conditioned, the new trains are comfortable and run remarkably smoothly.

We travelled (on a train bound for Heathrow Terminal 5) to Hayes and Harlington station, and from there headed to Barra Hall Park in the old part of Hayes. There, we enjoyed a picnic before walking to the mediaeval parish church, St Mary the Virgin. We had visited it once before, but were completely unprepared for what we saw this time. The hedges lining the path leading to the south door of the church were decorated with bunches of cut flowers. A cardboard cut-out of Queen Elizabeth II greeted us at the door. The lovely church was filled with attractively arranged bouquets of flowers. Quite by chance, we had arrived whilst the church’s 57th annual Festival of Flowers was being celebrated. We were fortunate because we arrived on the 3rd of July, the last day of the festival. The festival’s theme was “A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth”. How appropriate to have travelled to it on the Elizabeth Line.

An Australian artist in London

THE ARTIST DAMIEN Hirst has given London’s art lovers a great gift. In October 2015, he opened his Newport Street Gallery (near Lambeth Bridge) to the public. Housed in a former theatre scenery workshop, which has been beautifully modernised, the gallery puts on a series of exhibitions of artworks (mainly paintings) from Hirst’s enormous personal collection, which he has been creating since the late 1980s. The current exhibition, “Cloud of Witness”, which ends on the 10th of July 2022, is of works by an artist born in Australia, who created many of his paintings in London: Keith Cunningham (1929-2014). I had never heard of him before seeing the exhibition.

Cunningham arrived in London in 1949 and enrolled at the Central School of Art and Design, where he aimed to improve his skills as a graphic designer. In 1952, having developed an interest in painting, he joined the Royal College of Art (‘RCA’), where he worked alongside now famous artists including Leon Kossoff, Joe Tilson, and Frank Auerbach. He exhibited in the prestigious London Group in 1956 and the two years following. This group had been formed as an association of modernist artists, who wished to escape the restrictive criteria of the Royal Academy. In 1964, he was invited to become a full member of the Group, but for unknown reasons he declined. By 1967, he had ceased exhibiting his work and was making his living as a graphic designer and teaching at the London College of Printing. Despite this, he continued producing paintings until his death. He kept his paintings hidden from view in a spare room. So, it is fortunate for us that Damien Hirst acquired many of them and put them on public display this year.

The Newport Street Gallery website (www.newportstreetgallery.com) describes his work succinctly:

“Cunningham’s paintings were produced in London during the post-war period, an artistic environment dominated by the likes of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. A student at the Royal College of Art in the mid-1950s, Cunningham worked alongside major artists such as Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and Jo Tilson.

Cunningham’s sombre paintings, coated in layers of dense, sculptural brushstrokes, are populated by skulls, fighting dogs and darkly altered human figures. Like his schoolmates and teachers at the Royal College, Cunningham was interested in figurative painting, transforming the reality of everyday life into loose, slowly disintegrating forms.

His canvases, like those of Bacon, Kossoff and Auerbach, are covered in powerful strokes of dark pigments conveying strikingly expressive forms. The Cloud of Witness seeks to redefine Cunningham’s role in the London art scene of the 1950s, highlighting not only his ability but also the variety of his inspirations. To this effect, it coincides with the major show at the Royal Academy of Arts, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, encouraging visitors to compare and contrast the works of these two artists.” Having already seen the Bacon exhibition at the Royal Academy and works by other artists mentioned in the quote, I feel that it is a good summary of what we saw at Newport Street. My favourite works in the exhibition were some of the portraits and some of the more abstract works. Undoubtedly, Cunningham was a competent artist, but having seen the exhibition, I can understand why he is not amongst the better-known artists of his generation

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

Mosaics and Greeks in Moscow Road

THE SYNAGOGUE IN Bayswater’s St Petersburg Place, a gothic revival edifice, looks no more exotic or out of place than the Victorian gothic Church of St Matthew built 1881-82 on the same street. In fact, it is another building to the north of these two that is unashamedly exotic in appearance: Aghia Sofia (Saint Sophia), the Greek Orthodox cathedral on Moscow Road. This domed building constructed for a community of prosperous Greek merchants was designed by John Oldrid Scott (1841-1913 and completed in 1877.

The first Greeks began arriving in London at the end of the 17th century. By the late 19th century (according to the website http://www.stsophia.org.uk), members of the Greek community in London:

“… were distinguished for their industry and their business acumen, and … soon became for the most part financially independent. They now wished to enjoy a more comfortable life, both for themselves and their families. They kept their offices in the City, but took up their private residences in other parts of London. The favourite districts were Lancaster Gate and Bayswater. These districts, which today are almost in the centre of the unending metropolis, were then only on its fringe, and to go from the City to Hyde Park, for instance, was considered a long excursion, which was undertaken, normally, only on holidays, as a relaxation and in order to enjoy the fresh country air.

After three decades had passed from the founding of the Church of Our Saviour [in the City near London Wall], no one any longer had his private residence in the City; and whereas previously all had lived within a very short distance of the Church, now five whole miles divided the Church from the residential district of the faithful.

For the men, in particular, who had every day to make the journey to the City, a tiring one with the means of transport then available, it was hard to undergo the same fatigue on Sundays also, when they were supposed not only to perform their religious duties, but also to rest from the labours of the week. Moreover, the number of the Greeks had greatly increased, and there was scarcely room for them all in the Church then existing. These various difficulties made it imperatively necessary to build a new larger Church, situated closer to the residences of the Brothers.”

Just as the Jewish people, who had also settled in Bayswater, far from the older synagogues in the City and established a new one near their new homes, the Greeks did the same. Moscow Road’s St Sophia’s church interior is filled with icons and other religious paintings is colourful and attractive. Instead of frescos on the walls, which were believed to be at risk of damage from London’s damp climate, the church’s interior is lined with mosaics. Some of the earliest of these were designed by Arthur George Walker (1861-1939). In 1926, the Russian born mosaic artist Boris Vasilyevich Anrep (1883-1969) created some more mosaics for the cathedral. The marble floor of the edifice is also attractive.