IT IS PLEASANT to stroll beside the Thames along Chiswick Mall. Occasionally, we take a look at the graveyard of Chiswick’s St Nicholas Church. On a recent visit to this place, we walked deeper into it than usual and spotted a grave marked by a remarkable sculpture.
The idyllic, romantic, leafy churchyard by the river is chock full of graves. Several of them caught my attention. One is that for the artist William Hogarth, who lived close-by. His monument is protected by a cast-iron fence. An urn on a plinth decorated with an artist’s palette and brushes. It was erected after the death of his sister in 1781 (who is also commemorated on this monument) and was restored by a William Hogarth of Aberdeen in 1856. Another painter, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740-1812), who was born in Strasbourg, is buried with his wife Lucy de Loutherborg (née Paget). Like Hogarth’s, their decaying monument on the north side of the cemetery is surrounded by cast iron railings. In 1789, Philippe gave up painting temporarily to develop his interest in alchemy and the supernatural. Later, he and his wife took up faith-healing. The remains of yet another painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), lie in the cemetery.
Private Frederick Hitch (1856-1913) is less famous than these artists. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his brave actions during the Battle of Rorke’s Drift (January 1879) in the Anglo-Zulu War fought in South Africa. He is also buried in this large cemetery.
Amongst the more recent graves is the one with the unusual sculpture. It is that of Baronet Percy Harris (1876-1952), who was a Liberal politician. Son of a Polish immigrant, he was born in Kensington, and died there after a long career in parliamentary politics. According to a website listing British Jews in WW1, Percy was Jewish, yet his grave is distinctly Christian in sentiment. Aesthetically, his grave is the most remarkable one in the cemetery next to St Nicholas. It includes a semi-abstract, vorticist carving of The Resurrection of the Dead, created by the sculptor Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1903-1973) in the 1920s. Harris had acquired it for display in his garden long before it was moved to adorn his grave.
Although Percy Harris was born Jewish, he is buried in the graveyard of a Church of England parish church. Despite searching the Internet, including reading his extensive entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, I cannot determine whether or not he converted to Christianity sometime during his life.
BEDFORD GARDENS IN Kensington is a short street connecting Kensington Church Street at its eastern end and Campden Hill Road up the hill at its western end. The facades of many of the buildings along this thoroughfare are at least partly hidden behind foliage that can be very luxuriant in the warmer seasons of the year. We have walked along this street frequently, but it was only recently that we noticed two commemorative blue plaques, which record that someone famous lived in the buildings to which they are affixed. Also, we looked at one building, which has no commemorative plaque, but does merit at least one.
A rich network of leafy wisteria branches covers the façade of number 4 Bedford Gardens on the north side of the road. Partly hidden by this vegetation, there is a circular blue commemorative plaque that informs the viewer that the composer Frank Bridge (1879-1941) lived there. He did so for many years in this house that was built in the late 1830s (www.rbkc.gov.uk/virtualmuseum/general/default.asp). What little I have heard of his compositions has not appealed to me.
Further along the road and on its south side, there is a blue plaque on number 27. It tells us that William Beveridge (1879-1963), “architect of the Welfare State”, lived in this elegant brick house from 1914 to 1921. During this period of his life, this Liberal politician left the Board of Trade in 1919 to become Director of the London School of Economics, a post he held until 1937, a year or so before my father arrived at that institution as a post-graduate student from Cape Town.
Many years ago, if my memory serves me correctly, a friend of mine, who was studying history of art at the Courtauld Institute, spent several weeks as a lodger in the home of the art historian John Pope-Hennessy (1913-1994). I remember visiting my friend there once back in the 1970s. The famous art historian, whom I did not meet, lived for some years in Bedford Gardens (www.kensingtonsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/Annual-Report-1994.pdf) at number 41 ( according to a letter published in the “Times Literary Supplement” of October 29 1976). If there is a commemorative plaque for Pope-Hennessy on Bedford Gardens, I have not yet found it.
One house in Bedford Gardens that deserves a commemorative indication is a tall brick building with large studio windows on several of its five storeys. Built in 1882, it bears the numbers 77 and 79. A sculpted head, looking like a classical Greek or Roman carving, is mounted centrally in the façade above the first-floor windows. This building was once used as artists’ studios; it might still be used by artists. According to an incomplete list (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedford_Gardens,_London) of notable people who resided in Bedford Gardens, number 77 was used by the artists Robert Colquhoun (1914-1962), Robert MacBryde (1913–1966), Jankel Adler (1895–1949), and John Minton (1917-1957). Ronald Searle (1920-2011) also had a studio there but lived in nearby Bayswater and then Notting Hill (http://ronaldsearle.blogspot.com/2012/07/at-home-with-searles.html).
Minton lived at number 77 from 1943 to 1946 along with Colquhoun and his partner MacBryde (https://artuk.org/discover/artists/minton-john-19171957#). Colquhoun served as an ambulance driver in the Royal Army Medical Corps during WW2, but after suffering injuries in 1941, he moved to London where he shared studio space and his life with MacBride. The pair, who met at Glasgow School of Art in the 1930s, where their lifelong romantic relationship began, shared a house with Minton and after 1943 also with Jankel Adler ( http://www.blondesfineart.com/robert-colquhoun-artist). The parties these artists held at 77 Bedford Gardens were well-known in the artistic circles of London in the 1940s.
“The late C19 saw a sharp rise in the number of artists’ studios in London, particularly in Camden, Hampstead, St Johns Wood and Kensington and Chelsea … Speculative studio development … started in the late 1860s in Camden, moving to Kensington in the 1870s, with the Avenue, Fulham Road built by Charles Freake (Grade II), and reaching a peak in the 1880s and 90s. By 1914, when the market virtually dried up, there were some 150 properties of this type in London ranging from pairs to groups of as many as thirty. Of these, approximately sixty multiple studios in Kensington and Chelsea contained 293 individual units. Consequently the number of artists recorded in these studios is extraordinarily high, counting many artists of great merit.”
77 Bedford Gardens was one of these developments. Today, few artists apart from the most successful of them could either afford a studio in this street or to live there. The accommodation in this short thoroughfare is now at the higher end of the property market. However, it costs nothing to stroll along this attractive little road, along which quite a few famous people have lived, and it is a pleasant thing to do.