Well travelled paints

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT you might find by chance. While sorting through possessions in our storage unit, or ‘go-down’ as it is called in Indian English, I came across a wooden case. It contains artists’ paint brushes; tubes of oil paint, already used; pencils sharpened with a knife rather than a sharpener; a portable palette stained with usage; a couple of glass bottles; a tin containing Fortis brand thumb tacks (made in the USA); and various other items used for creating oil paintings. One of the pencils is marked “sanguine”. Pencils of this type are like charcoal sticks but a little harder. They can be used to draw lines and are also smudgeable.  On the lid of the box, there is a label issued by the Union Castle shipping line. It informs us that the case was travelling Cabin Class in Cabin number 464 on the Pretoria Castle from Cape Town to South Africa.  The name of its owner is “BS Yamey”.

BS Yamey was my father, an art lover who never ever created an oil painting in the 101 years of his life. The box most likely belonged to my mother, HB Yamey, who was a trained artist, both a painter and later a sculptor. My mother left South Africa in early 1948 and married my father on March the 16th 1948 in London. No doubt, the artists’ case was amongst her belongings being shipped from South Africa to her new home in England.

The Pretoria Castle on which the artistic materials travelled had its maiden voyage, soon after my parents married, in July 1948 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretoria_Castle_(1947)). Constructed in Belfast, it was probably the only ship ever launched remotely. The wife of General Jan Smuts (1870-1950) launched the ship by sending a radio signal from her home in the Transvaal to the shipyard in Ulster (www.bandcstaffregister.com/page4349.html).

The dating of the launch means that the case travelled to England no earlier than July 1948. It is labelled with my father’s name and a cabin number. I assume that this means that it is likely that he travelled with it. As the ship was renamed in 1966, we can say that the case made the voyage before that year. Now, my parents spent most of 1950 in Montreal, Canada, and then returned to London by 1951. Possibly, my parents returned to South Africa for a visit between their marriage and my birth, but I have no evidence of this.  I was born in 1952, and as far as I can recall from what I have been told, my parents did not return to South Africa until 1955, when I was taken along as well. We travelled by sea, but I have no idea on which vessel we travelled and whether the artist’s case travelled with us. So, because my parents are no longer around to tell me about this case, the date of its journey from the southern to the northern hemisphere must remain a mystery.  

Sexey in Somerset

THE RIVER BRUE flows through the Somerset town of Bruton. In the Domesday Book (1086), its name was recorded as ‘Briuuetone’, which is derived from Old English words meaning ‘vigorously flowing river’. In brief, this small town is picturesque and filled with buildings of historical interest: a church; several long-established schools; municipal edifices; an alms-house; shops; and residences. On a recent visit, we drove past a Tudor building that was adorned with a crest labelled “Hugh Sexey” and the date “1638”. At first, I thought it was a sort of joke, rather like ‘Sexy Fish’, the name of a restaurant in London’s Berkeley Square. I walked back to the building after parking the car.

I looked at the sign, and my curiosity was immediately aroused. The crest bears a pair of eagles with two heads each, double-headed eagles (‘DHE’). Now, as some of my readers might already know, the DHE is a symbol that has fascinated me for a long time. This bird with two heads has been used as an emblem by the Seljuk Turks, the Byzantine and Holy Roman Empires, Russia (before and after Communism), the Indian state of Karnataka, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, and some people in pre-Columbian America, to name but a few. In the UK, several families employ this creature on their coats-of-arms. These include the Godolphin, the Killigrew, and the Hoare families, to name but a few. Each of these three families has connections with the county Cornwall, which, through Richard, Earl of Cornwall (1209-1272) and King of the Germans, had a strong connection with the Holy Roman Empire, whose symbol was the DHE.  Until I arrived outside the building in Bruton, Sexey’s Hospital, I had no idea about the existence of the Sexey family nor its association with the DHE.

Sir Hugh Sexey (c1540 or 1556-1619) was born near Bruton. He became royal auditor of the Exchequer to Queen Elizabeth I and later King James I, and amassed a great fortune. After his death, much of his wealth was used for charitable purposes in and around Bruton. Two institutions that resulted from his money and still exist today are Sexey’s Hospital, outside of which I first spotted the crest with two DHEs and Sexey’s School (www.sexeys.somerset.sch.uk/about-us/the-sexeys-story/). The school, which is now housed in premises separate from the hospital (now an old age home), was first housed in the same premises as the hospital.

According to the school’s website:

“…a two headed spread eagle is taken from the seal used by Hugh Sexey later in his life which can be seen on his memorial on Sexey’s Hospital …”

The article then considers the DHE (‘spread eagle’) as follows:

“Traditionally the spread eagle was considered a symbol of perspicacity, courage, strength and even immortality in heraldry. Prior to notions of medieval heraldry, in Ancient Rome the symbol became synonymous with power and strength after being introduced as the heraldic animal by Consul Gaius Marius in 102BC (subsequently being used as the symbol of the Legion), whilst it has been used widely in mythology and ancient religion. In Greek civilisation it was linked to the God Zeus, by the Romans with Jupiter and by Germanic tribes with Odin. In Judeo-Christian scripture Isa (40:31) used it to symbolise those who hope in God and it is widely used in Christian art to symbolise St John the Evangelist. An heraldic eagle with its wings spread also denotes that its bearer is considered a protector of others. Sexey’s seal and crest may have included the spread eagle to symbolise the family’s Germanic heritage.”

Some of this is in accordance with what I have read before, but I need to cross-check much of the rest of it, especially the Greek and Roman aspects. The final sentence relating to Germanic heritage seems quite sound, as the DHE was an important symbol in the Holy Roman Empire.

There is a sculpted stone bust of Sir Hugh Sexey in the courtyard of his hospital (really, almshouses), which was built in the 1630s. This portrait was put in its position in the 17th century long after his death. Above the bust, there is a carved stone crest bearing two DHEs, which was created by William Stanton (1639-1705) from London. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (‘DNB’):

“ Later in the seventeenth century a stone bust of Sexey, together with a coat of arms (that of the Saxey family of Bristol, with which he had no known connection), was placed over the entrance hall…”

The plot thickens as I now wonder whether the DHEs are related to the Sexey family or that of the above-mentioned Saxey family. A quick search of the Internet for the coats-of-arms of both the Sexey and the Saxey families revealed no DHEs except on crests relating to Bruton’s two Sexey foundations.

One family that was involved in the history of Bruton and whose crest bears the DHE is Hoare. They took over the ownership of the manor from the Berkely family in 1776. This is long after Hugh Sexey died and is therefore unlikely to be the reason that William Stanton included the DHEs on the crest above Sir Hugh’s bust. So, as yet, I cannot discover the history of the DHEs that appear all over Sir Hugh’s hospital and neither can I relate them to any other British family that uses this heraldic symbol. But none of this should mar your enjoyment of the charming town of Bruton.

Building site or archaeological remains?

MANY SMALL PLACES in East Anglia have disproportionately large churches. Cley-Next-The-Sea (‘Cley’) is no exception. Its parish church of St Margaret of Antioch is one of the largest in northern Norfolk. It stands atop a hillock, which used to be an island only reachable by boat. The boats that reached Cley were not only those of locals but also foreign vessels bringing valuable cargos to Cley. According to Marjorie Missen, who has written a detailed guide to the church, it was at Cley:

“… that strong links were made with Hanseatic traders and it was in some measure due to their wealth that today we are able to wonder at the size and magnificence of St Margaret’s.”

Without doubt, this church is both impressive in size and contains much of remarkable beauty. Most of the church was built during the 14th and 15th centuries. Its external walls are of flint with stone dressing. Amongst the things that caught my eye during our first and, as yet, only visit to the church were the beautiful, vaulted ceiling of its south porch; the stone carvings on the 15th century font: they depict aspects of the Sacrament; the wood carvings on some of the choir stalls (miserichords); and stone carvings of musicians on the tops of columns lining the nave. However, what first attracted my attention to this church was part of its exterior.

A roofless gothic structure projects from the south side of the church at the place where one would expect a transept. This structure is affixed to the main body of the church but is blocked off from it. Once upon a time, this might have been accessible from within the church when or if it it formed the south transept. I have so far been unable to find any definitive explanation for the abandonment of the south transept and its decay. Ms Missen wrote:

“The large scale work on the transepts and nave are unlikely to have begun before about 1315, or even later. Although the transepts have been in ruins for some centuries the delicacy and tracery of the south window can still be appreciated.”

Interesting as this is, it does not provide any reason why the south transept and the north have been blocked off from the church and allowed to become dilapidated.  It has been suggested by Simon Knott (http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/cley/cley.htm) that the transepts, whose construction began in the early 14th century, were never completed because of The Black Death, which reached Norfolk in 1349:

“The most beautiful is that in the south transept, elegant lights that build to a cluster of vast quatrefoils. This was competed on the eve of the Black Death, and is probably at the very apex of English artistic endeavour. But I think that it was never filled with glass. I can see no evidence that the transepts were completed in time for their use before the pestilence, or that there was ever a need to use them after the recovery from it. And, then, of course, the Reformation intervened.”

This seems a quite reasonable theory. Yet, it is only a hypothesis, and so the mystery lives on. Is the south transept a ruin or an uncompleted building? That is the question.

Kit Kat in Hampstead

KIT KAT CONFECTIONERY BARS are familiar to many people and I enjoy eating them occasionally. The ‘Kit Kat’ and ‘Kit Cat’ tradenames were registered by the Rowntree’s confectionery company in 1911, but the first chocolates bearing this name only appeared in 1920. Had you wanted to eat a Kit Kat in the early 18th century London, you would not have been served a chocolate item but a type of mutton pie. The Kit Kat mutton pie was the creation of Christopher Catling (aka ‘Katt’ and ‘Cat’), who had a pie house in Shire Lane near Temple Bar, which used to stand near the present-day Royal Courts of Justice on London’s Strand.

When walking in Hampstead Village recently, we saw something I had never noticed before during at least 60 years of visiting the area. It was wording above the doorway of a house on the corner of Heath Street and the much narrower Holly Bush Steps. The words are: “Kit Cat House” and (below them) “A.D. 1745”. Above one of the ground floor windows, that which is nearest to Heath Street but on the wall facing Holly Bush Steps, there are some painted letters, which I will discuss later.

The Kit Cat Club (also sometimes spelled as ‘Kit Kat’) was an 18th century club whose members were of the Whig political persuasion. Members included  literary men such as William Congreve, John Locke, Sir John Vanbrugh, and Joseph Addison; and politicians including Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Burlington, Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, The Earl of Stanhope, Viscount Cobham, Abraham Stanyan and Sir Robert Walpole, who was Prime Minister between 1721 and 1742. The painter Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723) was yet another member. He painted portraits of 48 members of the club, which are now kept in the National portrait Gallery.

The club is commonly believed to be named after Christopher Catling and his mutton pies, but this is not known for certain. The club’s meetings were held at first in Catling’s tavern in Shire Lane (which no longer exists). Then, they were held at the Fountain Tavern on the Strand, which stood where today stands Simpsons on the Strand, and then later at purpose-built premises at Barn Elms (between Barnes and Fulham). In summer, the members met at the Upper Flask in Hampstead.

The Upper Flask, which was demolished long ago, was a pub located on the corner of East Heath Road and Heath Mount, that is on the south corner of East Heath Road and Heath Street, about 190 yards north of the present Kit Cat House on Holly Bush Steps. It was on the site of the now closed Queen Mary’s Maternity Home that received patients between 1919 and 1975.

Edward Walford, writing in his encyclopaedic “Old and New London” (volume 5, published in 1878), noted:

“The ‘Upper Flask’ was at one time called ‘Upper Bowling-green House,’ from its possessing a very good bowling green …  when the Kit-Kat Club was in its glory, its members were accustomed to transfer their meetings in summer time to this tavern, whose walls – if walls have ears – must have listened to some rare and racy conversations … Mr Howitt in his ‘Northern Heights of London’ gives a view of the house as it appeared when that work was published (1869). The author states that the members of the Kit-Kat Club used ‘to sip their ale under the old mulberry tree, which still flourishes, though now bound together by iron bands, and showing signs of great age…’”

During the later year’s of the Club’s existence, in the first quarter of the 18th century, some of those members who sipped ale under this tree included the poets Shelley and Keats, who lived in Hampstead. Another member, who enjoyed meetings at the Upper Flask, the poet and physician Richard Blackmore (1654-1729), penned these lines about them in his poem “The Kit-Kats” (published in 1708):

“Or when, Apollo-like, thou’st pleased to lead

Thy sons to feast on Hampstead’s airy head:

Hampstead, that, towering in superior sky,

Now with Parnassus does in honour vie.”

So, the Kit Cat Club had an association with Hampstead, but was there any connection between the Club and the house on Holly Bush Steps, which bears the date 1745? The house was built in about 1800 (https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/photos/item/IOE01/15805/21), which is after the period between 1696 and 1720, when the Club was active (https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/73609). It is also after the date above the door, ‘1745’.

An old postcard, published sometime between 1903 and 1930, reveals that the house was once a shop belonging to ‘Francis’. This was J Francis of number 1 Holly Bush Steps. What J Francis sold is not certain but above the whitewash that covers the wall of the ground floor, the remains of an old painted sign can be seen on the brickwork. It reads:

“Libraries” and also “S ?? D”, the two question marks represent letters that have disappeared.  Other letters below the word ‘libraries’ have also gone. I wonder whether it once read ‘Libraries bought and sold’. Interesting as this is, it does not explain to me why the house is so named or the significance of the date 1745. So far, and this might be purely coincidental, the only connection I have found is that Robert Walpole, a member of the Kit Cat Club, died in 1745. However, I am not at all sure that this is why the date appears below the name above the door of the house on Holly Bush Steps.

I enjoy chance findings like that which I noticed in Hampstead and investigating their histories. I am not sure that I am much the wiser about the naming on the house on Holly Bush Steps, but whilst trying to find out about it, I have learnt a little more about the history of Hampstead, a part of London that was important to me during my childhood and which I continue to enjoy visiting. And as for Kit Kats, I would prefer that you offer me the chocolate version, rather than the mutton one.

Moore than meets the eye

“HOW COULD YOU SPEND FIVE DAYS IN MOUNT ABU?”, someone asked me, adding that “one day is more than enough – you see the Jain temple, and that’s it”. How wrong this is. Even a fortnight would not be long enough to absorb all that Mount Abu (in Rajasthan) and its surroundings have to offer. I write this not because I was lucky enough to meet the amazing Dr Arun Sharma, but because even before we met him I had that idea.

Dr Sharma, a local medical practitioner, is an artist who expresses his ideas by composing music, painting canvases, as well as writing poetry and dramas. He is also a mine of information about the history of Mount Abu.

Major General Arthur Thomas Moore (1830 – 1913 or 1923) was a British officer in India. At the age of 26, and serving in the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry, he was awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery at the Battle of Khushab in Persia.

Dr Sharma told us that for many years Moore’s whereabouts in India during a period of 3 or 4 years were completely unknown. After he resurfaced and returned to Europe, he died in his native land Ireland, where he is buried.

The regiment that Moore served has been renamed The Pune Horse, but nowadays it uses tanks instead of horses. Since 1947, it has been involved in over 60 skirmishes and battles and never been defeated. The members of the regiment believe that the spirit of the incredibly brave Moore is their guardian angel.

The regiment was delighted when in 2006, Dr Sharma accidentally stumbled on a cave near Sunset Point in Mount Abu. This cave had inscriptions carved in beautiful handwriting by Arthur Thomas Moore. These inscriptions include the date 1901, which was during the period that Moore had gone missing. What Moore was doing in this cave that Dr Sharma discovered we may never know, but at least we now know that Mount Abu was one of the places he visited during his period of disappearance.

Dr Sharma took us to see the cave, whose restoration he instigated, and proudly showed us the informative memorial plaque he created.

This cave and many more natural and man made historical sights and sites have convinced me that Mount Abu has more to see than most people realise.

I wish to thank Dr Sharma for opening my eyes to the exciting history of Mount Abu and its surroundings.

A few words

 

For the past few months I have been working on the manuscript of my latest book. I am not telling you what is going to be about. You will have to wait to find out!

I was reasonably happy about the way it was going, but a little worried that I was including too much about matters distant to the topic on which I was planning to focus. Some of the less relevant material might easily have been considered controversial and possibly hurt the sentiments of some of my potential readers. This worried me somewhat.

A couple of days ago, an old friend, whom we had not seen for a few months, came to dinner at our home. During the meal, I told him what I was writing about. Immediately, he reacted that what I feared was controversial might easily get me into trouble if my text was read by a certain type of person. 

For a couple of hours, I was downcast. I thought that maybe I should just abandon the project, which has taken up so much of my spare time during the last few months.

Next morning, I woke early, feeling inspired. I turned on the computer and removed the ptentially ofensive material from my draft text. Then, I read through what was left of it, and realised that by trimming it down, my text was far better than it had been before. It had become tighter and more focussed on the subject I want to portray.

I am always amazed how important a very few words of advice can be.