Gifts from India to an English village

LIFE DEPENDS ON WATER. A few days ago, at the end of March 2021, we drove to a village in Oxfordshire to see two old wells. They are no ordinary wells: they were gifts from India while it was still part of the British Empire.

Maharajah’s Well at Stoke Row

Edward Anderton Reade (1807-1886) was a British civil servant in India between 1826 and 1860. Brother of the novelist Charles Read (author of “The Cloister and the Hearth”), Edward was born in Ipsden, a village in Oxfordshire (www.oxforddnb.com/). He entered the East India Company in 1823. In 1832, he was transferred to Kanpur (Cawnpore), where he introduced opium cultivation to the district. In 1846, he became Commissioner to the Benares Division, a position he held until 1853 when he was moved to Agra.

Edward encouraged genial relations with the local Indian gentry and aristocracy. One of his Indian acquaintances, who became his good friend, was Ishri Prasad Narayan Singh (1822-1889), the Maharajah of Benares, who reigned from 1835 to 1889. During the years before the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (aka ‘First War of Independence’ or ‘The Indian Mutiny’), Reade and the Maharajah discussed much about England including the shortage of water that existed in Ipsden, the part of Oxfordshire where his family lived. Apparently, the villagers in this part of the Chiltern Hills had little or no access to clean drinking water, much as must have been the case for many villagers in India.

During the Rebellion of 1857, the Maharajah remained loyal to the British. In June 1857, the town of Kanpur was besieged by Nana Sahib and his forces. After 3 weeks, the British garrison surrendered under condition that the British inhabitants would be given safe passage out of the town. However, Nana Sahib decided to hold about 120 women and children and kept them housed in a house known as the ‘Bibighar’. This ended badly when some of the hostages were killed. Some of them tried to escape their grizzly end by jumping into a well at the Bibighar. This well became one of the most powerful images of the Rebellion in the minds of those who lived in Britain.

I do not know whether or not it was the tragedy at Bibighar that brought the conversations he had with Reade to the forefront of the mind of the Maharajah of Benares after the Rebellion was over, but in 1862, after his loyalty to the British had been formally recognised, he consulted Reade as to making a charitable gift to the poor people of Ipsden, whose plight he recalled. The Maharajah financed the construction of a well at Stoke Row, not far from Ipsden. It is also possible that the Maharajah remembered the help that Reade had given him when constructing a well in Azamgarh (now in Uttar Pradesh) back in 1831.

Work commenced on the well in March 1863. The well shaft was dug by hand, a perilous job for the labourers as they removed earth from the depths of an unlit and unventilated shaft, bucket by bucket. The shaft, 4 feet in diameter, was 368 feet in depth, greater than the height of St Pauls Cathedral in London, for this is depth of the water table at Stoke Row. Special winding machinery constructed by Wilder, an engineering firm in Wallingford, was installed. It is topped with a model elephant. The mechanism and the well stand beneath an octagonal canopy topped with a magnificent metal dome with circular glazed windows to allow better illumination. It resembles a ‘chhatri’ or architectural umbrella such as can be seen at war memorials on London’s Constitution Hill and on the South Downs near Hove.  The structure, restored in recent times, looks almost new today. Reade, who helped plan the Maharajah’s well, planted a cherry orchard nearby; dug a fish-shaped pond (the fish was part of the Maharajah’s coat-of-arms); and constructed an octagonal well-keeper’s bungalow next to the well. The profits from the cherries harvested from the orchard were supposed to help to finance the well, for whose water the villagers were not charged anything.  The Maharajah’s well at Stoke Row was the first of many such gifts given by wealthy Indians to Britain. Other examples include the Readymoney drinking fountain in Regents Park and a now demolished drinking fountain in Hyde Park, close to Marble Arch. According to the Dictionary of National Biography:

“Reade was wryly amused that an Indian prince should thus give a lesson in charity to the English gentry.”

The well at Stoke Row provided the locals with fresh water until the beginning of WW2, when, eventually, piped water reached the area. It provided 600 to 700 gallons of water every day. The Maharajah’s Well at Stoke Row is relatively well-known compared to another Indian-financed well next to the parish church at Ipsden, where Reade’s grave is located. The well, whose winding mechanism is similar to that installed at Stoke Row, is not covered by a canopy. It stands by a cottage next to the entrance to the churchyard. It was presented to Ipsden in 1865 by ‘Rajah Sir Deon Narayun Singh of Seidpor Bittree’ (I am not sure where this is: these are the words on the well), who had, like the Maharajah of Benares, remained loyal to the British during the 1857 Rebellion.

The Ipsden well is deep but not nearly as deep as that at Stoke Row. A lady, who lives in the cottage beside the well, told us that she had tasted water from the well and it was ice cold, deliciously clean, and tasted pure, having been filtered by many feet of chalk through which it has seeped. She said that once a year, the local water board opens the well and takes a sample of its water to check its purity.

Both wells are worth visiting. We parked in Benares Road in Stoke Row close to the Maharajah’s gift. After viewing the well head and its surroundings, we bought hot drinks at the village’s shop-cum-café, which his run by a couple of friendly people from Zimbabwe. I am grateful to Dr Peter U for bringing the existence of this unusual well to my attention.

From Bombay to London

MY MOTHER-IN-LAW STUDIED medicine at the Grant Medical School in Bombay. One of her fellow students, Perin, was her good friend. Perin, a member of Bombay’s Parsi religious community, was related to the Readymoney family, Parsis, who were prominent and successful in Bombay. You might be wondering why I am telling you this and what it has to do with anything of greater interest. Well, bear with me and join me in Regents Park.

Cowasji Jehangir Readymoney

The Broad Walk is a long straight promenade that stretches from the Outer Circle near Marylebone Road at the south of Regents Park northwards through the park to Outer Circle next to the London Zoo. Near the south eastern corner of the Zoo, there is a gothic revival style Victorian water fountain on the Broad Walk. Well-restored recently, it is no longer working. The structure, which is made of pink granite and white stone, looks like a typical flamboyant 19thy century public drinking fountain that can be found in towns all over England, but closer examination reveals that this is not so typical. Amongst its many decorative features there is a cow standing in front of a palm tree; a lion walking past a palm tree; the head of Queen Victoria looking young; and the head of a moustachioed man wearing a cap of oriental design.

The man portrayed on the drinking fountain was its donor, Sir Cowasji Jehangir Readymoney (1812-1878), who was related to my mother-in-law’s friend from medical school. Readymoney was born into a wealthy family that had moved to Bombay from the Parsi town of Navsari (in present-day Gujarat), close to where the first Parsis might have landed in India many centuries earlier. Cowasji began working as a warehouse clerk at the age of 15. Ten years later, he had become a ‘guarantee broker’ in two leading British-owned firms in Bombay, a lucrative position. By the age of 34, he was trading on his own account. In 1866, he was appointed a Commissioner for Income Tax. This form of taxation was new and unpopular in Bombay, but Cowasji made a success of its collection.

In recognition for his services to the British rulers of India, Cowasji became a Justice of the Peace for Bombay and, soon after, was made a Companion of The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India. He was a great philanthropist, providing money for building in Bombay: hospitals; educational establishments; a refuge for the destitute; insane asylums; and decorative public drinking fountains. In addition to these good causes in Bombay, he made donations to the Indian Institute in London. In recognition of his philanthropic works, he was made a Knight Bachelor of the United Kingdom in 1872.

Three years before being knighted, Readymoney financed the construction of the drinking fountain in Regents Park. It is his face that appears on it.  It was, as a noticed affixed to it reveals, his:

“… token of gratitude to the people of England for the protection enjoyed by him and his Parsee fellow countrymen under British rule in India.”

The Parsi community in India, like the Jewish people in that country, was and still is a tiny proportion of the Indian population as a whole. It felt that its survival would be ensured by showing allegiance to whomever was ruling India, the British in Readymoney’s lifetime. The fountain was inaugurated by Princess Mary of Teck (1833-1897), a granddaughter of King George III, under whose watch the USA was detached from the British Empire.

The fountain, which makes for an eye-catching garden feature, was designed by Robert Keirle (1837-1914; https://borthcat.york.ac.uk/index.php/keirle-robert-1837-1914-architect?sf_culture=en), architect of The Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association. Keirle also designed a drinking fountain for another Indian, The Maharajah of Vizianagram. This was erected in 1867 at the northern edge of Hyde Park, close to Marble Arch, but it was removed in 1964 (https://theindiantrip.com/uk/vizianagaram-city/info). All that remains of it today is a small stone memorial, which I have walked past several times.

Usually, we spend several months in India, the country where my wife was born, but because of the current pandemic we will have to delay our next trip, for goodness knows how long. Seeing things in London with Indian association, like the Readymoney Fountain in Regents Parks helps us, in a strange way, to maintain out ties with a country for which both of us have great affection.

Art and football

MY MOTHER OFTEN TOLD ME that if one did not buy Premium Bonds, there was no chance of winning any prizes. Likewise, if one did not play the Football Pools, promisingly large financial prizes could not be won. The Football Pools is a form of gambling based on trying to predict the results of football (soccer) matches. My mother knew nothing at all about football. So, she paid a monthly fee to let someone else fill in the Pools forms on her behalf. Once, she won about £13 (or was it £30?), thus proving to me and the rest of the family that by participating it was possible to win occasionally. What she did not mention was that she was spending far more on submitting Football Pool forms than she ever recouped in winnings. Her argument was that if she gave up on the Pools, she would miss winning one of the enormous prizes that other folks sometimes collected. One of the biggest Football Pool companies was Littlewoods, which also owned a retail chain. This was once owned by the family of Sir Peter Moores (1932-2016). Some tiny proportion of the money that my mother spent on Littlewoods Pools would have helped Sir Peter to create a fine collection of art. Although my mother did not live long enough to have known that, she would have been pleased because she was a painter and a sculptor during her short adult life.

Sir Peter bought Compton Verney House and its extensive grounds in Warwickshire in 1993. I will relate his role in the history of this estate later. Compton (meaning ‘manor’ or ‘large farm’) Verney was granted to Robert Murdak in 1150. Until 1582, when the manor was taken over by Richard Verney, who died in 1490, it was known as ‘Compton Murdak’. Richard’s grandson, Richard Verney (1465-1527) renamed the estate (and the long-since vanished village near it) ‘Compton Verney’.

The Verneys built a large manor house at Compton Verney in Tudor style in about 1442. In about 1711, George, Baron Willoughby de Broke (1659-1728), a Verney, rebuilt the manor house at Compton Verney. Its designers were the master stone-masons John Townesend (1648-1728), briefly a Mayor of Oxford, and his son William (1676-1739), who worked on several major buildings for the University of Oxford. The baroque edifice they created is what we see today.

My namesake, the architect Robert Adam (1728-1792), made major alterations to the recently built ‘new’ Compton Verney House. Visitors to the house enter via the magnificent ground floor hall he designed, Splendid as it is, it is easily rivalled by the work he did at Kenwood House in North London. This might be because during the 1950s, the house in Warwickshire was allowed to deteriorate.

The well-maintained grounds of Compton Verney are spectacularly beautiful. They were artfully designed by Lancelot (‘Capability’) Brown (1716-1783). Not only did he plant fine trees but he also invented a machine for transporting mature trees in order to transplant them in positions chosen for artistic effect. To achieve the effect that Brown and his patron desired, the new gardens eliminated all traces of an earlier formal garden and a mediaeval chapel that had existed until he began work on the garden in 1768. An obelisk and a few partially submerged gravestones stand on the site of the old chapel.

After WW1, in 1921, The Verney family sold their estate to the soap manufacturer Joseph Watson (1873-1922). After his death, Watson’s son sold Compton Verney to Samuel (a cotton magnate) and Gita (a German opera singer and a Nazi sympathiser) Lamb in 1929. During WW2, the estate was used by the military as a centre for experimenting with smoke-screen camouflage.

After the end of WW2, the estate fell into disrepair. In 1958, Harry Ellard, an industrialist from Wolverhampton, bought Compton Verney but never lived there. The place continued to decay seriously. In 1983, the property developer Christopher Buxton bought the estate, planning to redevelop it as a centre for performing opera. His plans did not materialize. The future of Compton Verney was beginning to look exceedingly bleak. This changed in 1993. For it was in that year that some infinitesimally minute fraction of what my mother spent on Littlewood’s Football Pools helped to save Compton Verney.

In 1964, Sir Peter Moores set up the Peter Moores Foundation, whose aim it was to assist opera, the visual arts, and education. In 1993, the Foundation acquired Compton Verney. A year later, conservation experts began restoring the old house to enable it to become a modern gallery. They also designed a modern annex to serve as an exhibition space as well as to house a collection of British Folk Art and the Marx-Lambert Collections. The gallery was opened to the public in 2004 and the grounds were finally restored in 2016.

The collection of British Folk Art consists of artefacts collected by the art dealer, founder of the Crane-Kalman Gallery, Andras Kalman (1918-2007) and was bought by the Moores Foundation in 1993. The Marx-Lambert Collections, derive their name from Margaret Lambert (1906-1995) and Enid Marx (1902-1998). Unwittingly, most Londoners will be familiar with some of the work created by the designer Enid Marx. She was commissioned to design some of the fabrics that used to cover the seats on the London Underground trains. Lambert was a historian. Lambert and Marx were good friends, who shared an interest in British folk art, which they both collected. It is their collection that can be viewed at Compton Verney.

It was Peter Moore’s love of travelling and collecting artworks that resulted in the fine collection of paintings, sculptures and other artefacts within Compton Verney House and its attached modern gallery annex. His acquisitions fall into four main groups: Northern European (mainly German) paintings and sculpture from the renaissance and earlier periods; British portraits; art from mainly 18th century Naples; and Chinese art. Each group includes works of the highest artistic quality, making a visit to see them at Compton Verney very worthwhile.

Compton Verney also hosts temporary exhibitions. At present (September 2020) until very early January 2021, there is a fine selection of works by Luther’s friend and contemporary, Lucas Cranach the Elder. I have written a little about this elsewhere. In addition to viewing the indoor artworks, the gardens of Compton Verney are a joy to explore. My late mother would have liked seeing Compton Verney, maybe thinking to herself that her involvement with Football Pools had helped to create what the visitor can enjoy today.

Paris

Wallace ladies_500

 

The recent tragic conflagration of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and its resultant degradation of one of the world’s best-known buildings evoked a sensation that I had not experienced since 1976. In that year, there was a devastating earthquake in the Friuli area of north-east Italy. 

We had good friends living in that area. They had taken us to see many  unique masterpieces of Longobard art and architecture that existed in the area. When we first heard the news, we were extremely worried about the fate of our friends, who, luckily, all survived. We were also concerned about the works of art and architecture we had grown to love.  Fortunately, most of these were restored eventually.

Ten years before the earthquake in Friuli, there was a terrible flood in Florence in November 1966. About 100 people were killed, and many, many valuable works of art perished in the oil-filled flood waters. Our family was extremely upset because we used to visit the Tuscan city every year to see old friends and to enjoy its rich artistic heritage.

We did not visit Florence the following year because of the damage, but recommenced our annual visits in 1968. For years after the flood, the height of the flood water levels was visible on the walls of buildings where central heating oil from the city’s boilers and tanks had mixed with the water and made indelible stains.

The fire in Paris brought back feelings of horror and disbelief that i had experienced in 1966 and ten years later. 

The picture illustrating this blog piece is a reminder of another tragedy that hit Paris: The Siege of Paris (1871) and the Commune. During those difficult times, there were great water supply problems. The English philanthropist Richard Wallace (1818-1890) built a number of drinking fountains for the people of Paris. Each was decorated with the four sculpted ladies shown in my illustration.

Already, many people are offering to donate money to help restore Notre Dame to its former glory. Had he been alive, i am sure Richard wallace would have been a willing contributor.

Gift of a Parsi gentleman

FOUNT 1

There is a decorative drinking fountain on the Broadwalk in London’s Regent’s Park. The fountain looks like a typical Victorian gothic structure, which it is. Closer examination reveals bas-relief panels that depict: a bull standing by a palm tree; a lion next to a palm tree; and the head of a man wearing an oriental hat. This fountain would not look out of place in Bombay, which is full of structural souvenirs of the Victorian era. This should not surprise you when you learn that the fountain was a gift of Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Readymoney (1812-78) from Bombay.

FOUNT 3

Cowasjee, who was born in Bombay, received little education before becoming a warehouse clerk in Duncan, Gibb & Co. in that city. In 1837, he moved into a more lucrative job. Nine years later, he opened his own business. In 1866, he became a Commissioner of Income Tax in Bombay. Later he became a Justice of the Peace.

FOUNT 0 352px-Sir_Cowasji_Jehangir_Readymoney_(1812-1878)

Readymoney lived up to his name, becoming very wealthy. He invested huge amounts of money into a wide variety of good causes including social housing (similar to that erected by Peabody in the UK) in Bombay, The University of Bombay and an Indian Institute in London. A year after being made a member of the Order of the Star of India in 1871, he was made a Knight Bachelor of the UK. These honours were awarded to recognise his great philanthropic contributions.

FOUNT 5 Jehangir himself

The fountain in Regent’s Park, which no longer issues water, was erected in 1869, nine years before Readymoney’s death. His main residence was in Bombay’s Malabar Hill district.

FOUNT 4