A Boer War warrior in Warrington

PALMYRA SQUARE IS a delightful rectangular piazza in the heart of Warrington in Cheshire. I use the word ‘piazza’ because the English word ‘square’ includes many squares which are anything but square. The centre of this open space is filled with the pleasant Queen’s Gardens, the Queen in the name being Victoria. It was near the end of her reign that the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (‘Boer War’; 1899-1902), a bloody conflict between the British Empire and the Dutch speaking colonists in what is now South Africa, occurred. In the middle of the eastern half of Palmyra Square there is the statue of a man in a helmet carrying a rifle in his left hand. His right arm points forward, as does his right index finger. The other fingers of his right hand clutch a pair of binoculars. He is wearing knee high boots, standing on a sculpture of a rock, and dressed in an old-fashioned military uniform. As soon as I saw this statue, I guessed (from the style of the uniform) it was connected the Boer War, and when I looked at the plinth upon which the military figure is perched, I discovered that I was right.

The monument was unveiled by General Sir Redvers Henry Buller (1839-1908), in the year before his death. Buller commanded British forces in South Africa during the Boer War. The man depicted on the plinth is Lieutenant Colonel MacCarthy O’Leary (1849-1900). He was killed on the 27th of February 1900 whilst leading men of his regiment (The South Lancashire) during the Battle of Pieters Hill. Richard Danes in his “Cassell’s History of the Boer War” (published 1901) pointed out that the 27th of February was Majuba Day, which was when the British were soundly beaten by the Boers at the Battle of Majuba Hill in 1881. The battle at Pieters Hill, which led to a British victory, facilitated the opening of the road to Ladysmith, which was being besieged by the Boer forces. An informative website (www.alamy.com/stock-photo-statue-of-lt-col-william-mccarthy-oleary-in-queens-gardens-warrington-54385554.html) revealed:

“The Regiment drew many of its recruits from the then-South Lancashire town of Warrington, where Colonel O’Leary was very well known. When the town erected a memorial to the men of the Regiment who died during the war, it chose to feature a sculpture of Colonel O’Leary on campaign in South Africa.”

The statue was sculpted by Edward Alfred Briscoe Drury (1856-1944). Amongst his many other creations is the South Africa Gate on The Mall in London.

The plinth upon which O’Leary stands forever motionless bears a large plaque on which the many members of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the South Lancashire Regiment, who died during the Boer War, are recorded. These include a few officers and too many men of lower rank. Another plaque records the campaigns in which the regiment was involved. Apart from Pieters Hill, these were: Spion Kop, Vaal  Krantz, Colenso Kopjes, Tugela Heights,  Relief of Ladysmith, Botha’s Pass, Laings Nek; and the occupations of Wakkerstroom, Utrecht, and Vryheid. In other words, they took part in most of the important struggles during the Boer War.

The monument stands in a peaceful square in a small town, once in Lancashire but now in Cheshire, just about 400 yards from the River Mersey. As I stood looking at it during an unusual heatwave when the air temperature was between 35 and 37 degrees Celsius, I wondered how the brave men recorded on the plinth, who would have been encumbered with military equipment and inappropriate uniforms, managed to keep on going during the hot weather that they would have encountered whilst struggling against the Boers in the south of Africa.

Look no hands!

SPENCER STREET in Royal Leamington Spa has a building with an intriguing façade. It is not so much the brick and stonework on the building that attracted my attention but a stone statue of a woman with a gold-coloured sphere on her head. She is perched above the centre of the façade of the edifice that bears the words “The Bath Assembly Hall” and the date when it was built: 1926.

Designed by Horace G Bradley (1877-1961), it was originally a dance hall with shop premises. It was typical of the type of dance hall that:

“…flourished in the inter-war period of the C20 and survived through to the 1950s and early 1960s. Cultural changes have meant that the great majority have been demolished or considerably altered when adapted for other purposes. This example, with its boisterous classical decoration, expressed inside and out, survives in a highly intact state. Its façade mirrors the decorative style of the interior which has an integrated and fluid plan.” (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1391731).

Sadly, I did not have enough time to try to enter it.

Look, no hands!

The statue on top of the building represents Terpsichore, one of the nine Greek Muses. She was the patron of lyric poetry and dancing, so her image was appropriately chosen to adorn a dance hall. Something that interested me about the statue became obvious when I used the zoom on my camera. I noticed that although her hands are close to the sphere on her head, they do not touch it. The gold ball seems to be attached to her head by a single rod. The scantily dressed Muse is depicted looking down on the street far below. Maybe, she is thinking “I can balance the ball on my head, look, no hands.”

Unveiled at last

THE CORONET CINEMA in London’s Notting Hill Gate was renamed The Print Room a few years ago. Once a cinema, it is now a theatre. Like other theatres, it was closed for a long time during 2020 and early 2021 because of the covid19 lockdowns. During this prolonged period of closures, a statue was placed upon the dome that stands above the theatre’s main entrance. In my book “Walking West London” (freely available as a pdf file from https://adamyamey.co.uk/walking-west-london/), I wrote about the Coronet/Print Room as follows:

“… the former ‘Coronet Cinema’. This was designed as a theatre by WGR Sprague (1863-1933) who designed many of London’s theatres. It opened in 1908. By 1923, the Coronet had become a cinema, and remained so for many years. Apart from the screen, the fittings inside the auditorium were those of an unmodernised Edwardian theatre. Until smoking was banned in all public places, the Coronet was one of the last cinemas in London which permitted smoking (but only in the balcony seating). Between 2004 and 2014, the Coronet doubled up as both a branch of the Kensington Temple Church and, also, as a cinema. And, in 2015 the Coronet reverted to being used as a theatre, now called ‘The Print Room’. This sensitively restored theatre puts on interesting plays, which are well-produced. The bar, which is located beneath the stage in what was once the stalls area of the cinema, is worth visiting to see its ever changing, tastefully quirky décor. In 2020, the theatre was redecorated and a statue by the British sculptor Gavin Turk (born 1967) has been placed upon the dome above the building’s main entrance. The new artwork replaces one that was removed many decades ago.”

When I wrote this, the sculpture was enshrouded in a tarpaulin. Only recently, the covering has been removed and the sculpture can be seen in all its glory. The artwork depicts the artist Gavin Turk posing as the famous artist Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) just as he appears his sculptural in the Annenberg Courtyard of Burlington House in the grounds of the Royal Academy. When seen from the east, the new sculpture looks like a painter holding a palette and his brush. However, when seen from the west, the viewer might be led to believe that the statue is of a man holding a gun. I feel that the sculpture is a great addition to the landscape of Notting Hill Gate, but a bit too high above ground level to be able to see it easily with the unaided eye.

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.

A miniature man with a big story

FROM A DISTANCE, the small stone statue in Folkestone’s Kingsnorth Gardens looked like an oriental character, maybe a Hindu god or a Chinese warrior. Getting near to it, you can see that it depicts a small man in armour. The sculpture’s left hand rests on his waist and he holds a stout staff in his right. On the top of his hat or helmet, there perches a female figure, which on further examination proves to be a sphinx. And what fascinated me most was seeing that his breastplate has a double-headed eagle in bas-relief. This curious statue is supposed to be a depiction of Sir Jeffrey Hudson (1619 – c1682).

Jeffrey Hudson

Hudson was baptised in Oakham in the county of Rutland, which used to be one of England’s smallest counties. Maybe, this was appropriate because Jeffrey was only 30 inches tall when he reached the age of 30 years. However, he eventually reached the height of 42 inches (www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1129288). Despite his shortness, which might have resulted from a disorder of the pituitary gland, he was perfectly proportioned and therefore a dwarf.  Small as he was, his life story (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Hudson) reads like a tall tale.

Aged 7 years, Jeffrey was presented to the Duchess of Buckingham, who welcomed him into her household. Soon after his arrival in this august household, the Duke and Duchess entertained King Charles I and his young wife, Queen Henrietta-Maria (1609-1669), at a party in London. The highlight of the evening was the arrival of an enormous pie:

“…two footmen enter the hall carrying a glorious pie, gilded in gold leaf, 2ft high and 2ft wide. The pie is placed before the queen and, as if in labour, it begins to move. A small hand pops through the crust, and a fresh-faced boy emerges with a cheeky smile, dark brown eyes and light brown hair. He wears a miniature suit of armour and marches up and down the banqueting table waving a flag. He returns to the queen and gives a bow.” (www.historyextra.com/period/stuart/amazing-life-jeffrey-hudson-queen-henrietta-maria-dwarf/)

The queen was so delighted by the dwarf that the Duke and Duchess presented her with Jeffrey as a gift.

Jeffrey joined the collection of live ‘curiosities’ that the queen kept in her court. There were two other dwarves, a giant porter, and a monkey, to list but a few. As Jeffrey grew up, he was educated, learned to ride and shoot, and joined in the court’s leisure activities. After the Civil War broke out in 1640 Jeffrey travelled to France with the queen and members of her household. By 1644, Jeffrey had become fed up with being a ‘pet’, a ‘curiosity’, and the butt of cruel jokes. In October of that year, he challenged a man called Crofts to a duel. Out of contempt for tiny Jeffrey, Crofts brought water squirt guns to the duel. However, when hit in the forehead by Jeffrey’s water emitting weapon, Crofts fell down dead.

Duelling was already banned in France. The queen sent Jeffrey back to England. Soon after leaving her court, Jeffrey was on a ship that was attacked by Barbary pirates. He was captured and enslaved. Nothing is known about his life in slavery. However, he is recorded as being back in England in 1669. He lived in Oakham for several years, returning to London in 1676. Convicted for being a Roman Catholic, he spent a long time in the Gatehouse Prison, which used to be in the gatehouse of London’s Westminster Abbey. He died a pauper sometime after being released. Thus ended the life of a very small man.

We wondered what Hudson’s connection with Folkestone was and why the town is blessed with a statue depicting him as he must have looked when he emerged from a pie. It turns out that he has no known connection with the town, but his statue has stood there since Victorian times and was placed in Kingsnorth Gardens in 1928. What we see today is a replica of the original, which had deteriorated over the years (www.gofolkestone.org.uk/news/welcome-return-of-sir-jeffery-hudsons-statue-to-kingsnorth-gardens/). As for the double-headed eagle on the statue’s breast plate and the sphinx on his head, I need to look into this at a later date.

He paid with spears and swords

MALDON IN ESSEX is best known for the sea salt, prized by cooks and gourmets, which is produced nearby. The town perches on a hill overlooking a marshy inlet of the River Blackwater and the River Chelmer, after which Chelmsford is named, flows through a lower section of the place. We have visited Maldon several times over the last 18 months and always walked along part of its promenade that provides attractive views over the marshes and streams watered by the Chelmer and the Blackwater. However, it was only during our most recent visit (August 2021) that we walked the entire length of the promenade to its end point, which is out of sight of the town. The promenade ends abruptly, a bit like the end of a pier. There at the furthest extremity of the walkway, there is a tall statue. It depicts a man in a helmet, brandishing a sword in his right hand, holding a circular shield in his left, and looking out to sea.

The statue overlooking the sea is a sculpture of Byrhtnoth, Ealdorman of Essex, an Anglo-Saxon aristocrat or high official, who lived during the reign of Ethelred the Unready (c996-1016). Byrthnoth died during the Battle of Maldon on the 11th of August 991. The battle was fought by the Anglo-Saxons against an army of Viking invaders. It is said that before the battle, the Vikings offered to sail away if they were paid with gold and silver. Byrhthnoth was recorded as replying that he would only pay the attackers with the tips of his men’s spears and the blades of their swords.

After the battle, the then reigning Archbishop of Canterbury, Sigeric the Serious, advised Ethelred to pay off the Vikings instead of continuing the fight against them. According to an article on Wikipedia, this payment of 3,300 kilogrammes of silver was the first example of the so-called Danegeld in England. This was a ‘tax’ paid to the Vikings in exchange for them desisting from ravishing the territory which paid it.

So, the statue depicts a participant in a defeat of the English (Anglo-Saxons), and much loss of life amongst the Viking invaders. It was created by John Doubleday (born 1947) and unveiled in 2006. Byrhtnoth stands on a tall cylindrical base decorated with bas-relief depictions of scenes of life in the 10th century and moments during the Battle of Maldon. A plaque embedded into the promenade’s pavement near the statue gives more background to the historical event. It reads:

“Byrthnoth, represented by the figure standing on this monument, was the principal voice in rejecting the policy of appeasement which dominated the court of King Ethelred in the closing years of the 10th century. The leading military figure of his time; he was probably aged 68 when he confronted the Vikings at the battle of Maldon. He surrendered his life in defence of the people, religion and way of life represented in the lower relief panel of the column. Above it you will see aspects of the battle in which he died. Around the base is a quotation from his final prayer as recorded in the surviving fragment of the poem ‘The Battle of Maldon.’”

The poem, mentioned above, was written in Old English. However, much of it has now been lost.

Apart from the statue, Maldon has much to offer the visitor. Along the quayside, there are several old Thames Barges with their maroon/brown sails and a lovely pub, The Queen’s Head Inn. Church Street climbs from the riverside to the High Street which is lined by several old houses; a disused church, now a museum; an attractive parish church; and plenty of decent places to eat and drink. Within easy reach of London, this is a delightful place for a day out or as a base for exploring rural Essex.

King Alfred gazes over Winchester

KING ALFRED RULED the West Saxons from 871 to c886 and king of the Anglo-Saxons from c886 to 899. He was known as ‘Alfred the Great’. Amongst his many achievements was encouraging education and proposing that primary education was taught in (Old) English, rather than Latin. Winchester was Alfred’s capital and the place where he was buried there for a while. After the Norman Conquest in 1066, his remains were removed to Hyde Abbey near Winchester. This was destroyed in 1538 during the Reformation. Despite this, his grave remained intact until 1788, when the land where he was interred was redeveloped to build a jail. Since then, the whereabouts of his remains is unknown.

Despite, the disappearance of his bones, King Alfred dominates the centre of Winchester in the form of a huge statue near to the city’s cathedral, rich in gothic features, and its Guildhall, which is richly adorned by Victorian gothic features. The statue was erected in 1899. A plaque at its base reads:

“To the founder of the kingdom and nation D. October DCCCI. Winchester and the English name MDCCCI”

DCCCCI, being Roman for 901 and MDCCCCI, being Roman for 1901.

The tall bronze statue was designed by Sir William Hamo Thornycroft (1850-1925), a sculpto who might have been unknown to me had I not become aware of him whilst walking near London’s Holland Park back in 2017. He was an important figure in the New Sculpture movement, whose members’ oeuvres bridged the gap between the neo-classical tradition, popular during the 19th century, and early modernist trends at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the next.

I was roaming around Kensington taking photographs of buildings of interest prior to writing a piece about them when I spotted a plaque on a house in Melbury Road. Number 2a was Thornycroft’s studio, which was designed by his friend, the architect John Belcher (1841-1913).

Although I did not realise that they were created by Thornycroft before I wrote this today, I am familiar with two of his other creations: the statue of Oliver Cromwell outside The Houses of Parliament and “The Sower” at Kew Gardens. His Alfred statue is far larger than the other two.

I wonder what the great king would have thought if he knew that at his feet today, there is a short-term car park and that his capital’s cathedral now charges a fee for visitors to enter within it.

An actress on the village green

SHE SITS THERE MOTIONLESS, day after day and year after year, watching the traffic on Westway either rushing past or crawling along in a traffic jam. In her heyday, before being captured in stone, instead of the noise of motor vehicles, she would have enjoyed the sound of the applause given by audiences in dimly lit theatres. She was the actress Mrs Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), and her carved stone statue stands facing the elevated Westway in Paddington Green, just west of the Edgware Road.

Mrs Siddons

Paddington Green used to be part of an expanse of ancient wasteland located in an area now bounded by the Regents Canal, the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal, and Edgware Road, but now much of this wasteland has been built upon. Writing in 1867, John Timbs noted:

“Paddington Green, now inclosed and iron-bound, was the green of the villagers, shown in all its rural beauty in prints of 1750 and 1783. Upon a portion of it were built the Almshouses, in 1714; their neat little flower-gardens have disappeared. South of the green is the new Vestry -hall. At Dudley Grove was modelled and cast, by Matthew Cotes Wyatt, the colossal bronze statue of the Duke of Wellington … it is thirty feet high, and was conveyed from the foundry, upon a car, drawn by 29 horses, Sept. 29, 1846, to Hyde Park Corner.”

Dudley Grove was in Paddington. What is now left of the wasteland consists of St Mary’s churchyard and next to it a small grassy area, still known as ‘Paddington Green’, and marked as such on a map drawn in 1815. It contains the statue of Mrs Siddons. The first written record of the Green is dated 1549. The Green contained a mediaeval chapel, now long-since gone. It has been replaced by St Mary’s Church, which was built in the Georgian style, in 1788. It was designed by John Plaw (1745-1820), who emigrated from London to the North American Colony of Prince Edward Island in 1807. His church in Paddington was later modified in the 19th century but restored to its original shape (a Greek Cross in plan) in 1970 under the guidance of the architect Raymond Erith (1904-1973), amongst whose other creations was the current form of the Jack Straws Castle pub in Hampstead.

The present church is the third in the area, which was halfway between the ancient villages of Paddington and Lilestone. The old Manor of Lilestone (or ‘Lilystone’) included the present Lisson Grove and extended as far as Hampstead. The earliest church was taken down in about 1678. The second church, which replaced it, can be seen in old drawings. It was a simple edifice with a single aisle and a small bell tower at one end. Edward Walford, writing in the 1880s, described it as:

“… not unlike the type of country churches in Sussex…”

The poet and preacher John Donne (1572-1631) preached his first sermon in the first church in 1615 and the painter William Hogarth (1697-1764) was married to Jane Thornhill (c1709-1789) in the second in 1729 without her parents’ knowledge.

Next to the western end of the church there is a single-storied rectangular, brick building decorated with trompe-l’oeil grisailles, one of which depicts Mrs Siddons. Today, this houses the Phileas Fox Nursery School. Built on the site of the old, now demolished, vestry hall (parish council meeting place), this building, the  church hall,  in a late Georgian style was designed by John Quinlan Terry (born 1937), an architect of the ‘New Classical’ style favoured by Prince Charles, and built in 1978-81.

Apart from the statue of Mrs Siddons on Paddington Green, most of it is surrounded by buildings or roads built either at the end of the 19th century or long after. At the eastern side of the Green there is what looks like a pair of either early 19th or possibly 18th century houses. The reason Mrs Siddons is commemorated on the Green is that she is buried in the adjoining St Mary’s Churchyard. Her gravestone is contained within a cast-iron enclosure that looks like a small cage. For some time, the actress lived in Paddington in a house which used to stand in the area around Westbourne Green, which is near the current Westbourne Park Underground station.  

Mrs Siddons was highly acclaimed as an actress by many. The critic James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) had reservations as he remarked in his autobiography:

“Want of genius could not be imputed to his sister, Mrs Siddons. I did not see her, I believe, in her best days; but she must always have been a somewhat masculine beauty; and she had no love in her, apart from other passions. She was a mistress, however, of lofty, of queenly, and of appalling tragic effect. Nevertheless, I could not but think that something of too much art was apparent even in Mrs Siddons; and she failed in the highest points of refinement.”

Although the poet and playwright Joanna Baillie (1762-1851), shared Hunt’s opinion about her, others held her in higher regard.

The statue of Mrs Siddon in Paddington Green was sculpted by the French sculptor Léon-Joseph Chavalliaud (1858-1919). In the 1880s, he moved to London from France and lived south of the Thames in Brixton. His Mrs Siddons, based on a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, was unveiled by the actor Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905) in 1897. It was the first statue of a woman, who was not royal, to be put up in London.

Paddington Green, like its close neighbour Paddington Station, figures in the history of London’s transportation. For, it was from here that the coachbuilder George Shillibeer (1797-1866) ran London’s first omnibus service to The Bank of England in 1829. He had got the idea from Paris, where he had been asked to design carriages that could carry up to 24 passengers at any one time.

The Paddington Green police station building stands a few yards east of Paddington Green. Constructed in 1971, this used to provide local policing services as well as an interrogation centre for terrorist suspects. Suspects accused of terrorist activities were brought here for questioning from all over the UK. Although it was refurbished in 2009, the station was closed in 2018. The building’s future is in the hands of property developers, who plan to build new housing on its site.  

Until the beginning of the 19th century, Paddington Green was a bucolic environment on the edge of what was then London. Now, surrounded by buildings and highways, it is a green but noisy oasis in a highly urbanised area.

A Venezuelan in London

KARL MARX, MAHATMA GANDHI, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Ho Chi Minh, Benjamin Franklin, Simon Bolivar, Giuseppe Mazzini, and many other figures, who have caused major changes either in their own countries or in the wider world, have spent time living in London. Now I will introduce you to yet another man who lived in London and is celebrated as a liberator of the country in which he was born.

Despite having spent twelve years studying at University College London, I have not bothered to explore nearby Fitzroy Square until this year, 2021. The only part that I knew about while I was at college was the Indian YMCA, located in a building that was built the 1950s, where one can still enjoy Indian cuisine at below average prices. I shall write about this establishment in the future, as I will about Fitzroy Square. But now I will concentrate on a person, whose statue stands at the south east corner of the square, facing the Indian YMCA at the north end of Fitzroy Street.

Francisco Miranda

The statue, dressed in 18th century attire, depicts Francisco de Miranda (1750-1816), standing with his left leg forward and a scroll in his right hand. Bare headed, his left hand is over his chest above his heart. Born in Caracas in the Venezuela Province of the Spanish colony of New Grenada, his full name was Sebastián Francisco de Miranda y Rodríguez de Espinoza. He was born into a wealthy family and educated at the best schools. Following a clash between his father and the aristocratic elite, Francisco travelled to Spain in 1771. Francisco studied in Madrid and in 1773 his father bought him a captaincy in the Spanish Army. He took part in military actions in North Africa, but his superiors considered that he devoted too much of his attention to reading and was also involved in various abuses of authority (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_de_Miranda).

Miranda was next sent to the Americas and was involved with the Spanish in the American War of Independence. In 1782, he was involved in the Capture of the Bahamas. His superior, Galvez, was upset that this had begun without his permission and arrested Miranda. It might have been this clash with Spanish officialdom that made Miranda begin to consider being involved in the quest for independence of the Spanish colonies in Latin America. With his involvement in the failure of the Spanish invasion of Jamaica in about 1782, the Spanish authorities wanted to arrest Miranda and take him to Spain. Fearing that he would not be tried fairly, he fled to the British colonies in North America in July 1783. In what was to become the USA, he met with, and became acquainted with the ideas of, leaders of the American independence struggle, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Samuel Adams.

Between 1785 and 1780, Miranda stayed in Europe, first landing in London in February 1785. In London, the Spanish authorities kept a close watch on him. Between 1802 and 1810, he lived near to Fitzroy Square at number 58 Grafton Way, to which a commemorative plaque is attached. The building is next door to the current home of the Consulate of Venezuela (“Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela”). It was in number 58 that Miranda met the great liberator of Latin America, Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) in 1810. It was also in 1810 that the Venezuelan patriot, philologist, jurist, and poet, Andres Bello (1781-1865) lived in this house. Bello had arrived in England with Bolivar as part of an expedition to raise funds for revolutionary activities in Latin America.

Miranda travelled around Europe and took an active part in the French Revolution between 1791 and 1798, when, disillusioned with the revolutionary movement, he returned to London. Back in London, at Grafton Street, Miranda had two children, Leandro (1803-1886) and Francisco (1806-1831). Their mother was his housekeeper Sarah Andrews, who became his wife.

From 1804 onwards, Miranda became actively involved with freedom struggles against the Spanish in the Caribbean and in what was to become Venezuela. He returned to Venezuela, along with Bello and Bolivar, when the First Venezuelan Republic was proclaimed in April 1810. It was short-lived.  Miranda, who was briefly Dictator of Venezuela, was arrested, along with Bolivar, by the Spanish in mid-1812. Bolivar was released, but Miranda was shipped to Spain, where he died in prison in Cadiz in 1816.

Miranda’s statue next to Fitzroy Square was erected in 1990. It is a copy of one made by the Venezuelan sculptor Rafael de la Cova (c1850-c1896) in 1895 (www.londonremembers.com/memorials/francisco-de-miranda-statue). As the statue was erected in 1990, eight years after I finally completed my studies at University College and I had not been near Fitzroy Square since 1982, it was hardly surprising that it was only this year that I first saw it, one of several statues depicting liberators of Latin America, which are dotted around in London.

A new arrival above the theatre

I HAVE NEVER SMOKED. Therefore, when smoking was banned in cinemas, I was not upset by this ruling. The Coronet cinema in Notting Hill Gate was one of the last cinemas in London to enforce the ban. Smokers sat upstairs in the circle and non-smokers sat downstairs in the stalls. Despite the smoking, it was a delight seeing films at the Coronet because the cinema was housed in what was once a theatre that first opened in 1898. The original interior décor, though in need of some restoration had been preserved.

The theatre was designed by the theatre architect William George Robert Sprague (1863 – 1933), who also designed the Novello and Aldwych theatres in London. Audiences at the Coronet were able to see famous actors such as Ellen Terry and Sarah Bernhardt on its stage. From 1923, the Coronet became used as a cinema, the screen being positioned in the theatre’s proscenium arch. In 2004, the Coronet was bought by Kensington Temple, who used it for prayer meetings. When not being used for religious purposes, films were screened there for public audiences as before.

In 2014, a fringe theatre group, The Print Room, which left its original premises in nearby Hereford Road, acquired the Coronet and began using it as a theatre once more. A new stage was constructed. It covers the area of the theatre where the stalls seats used to be. The audience sits in the steeply raked seats of the former circle seating area. Where the stalls used to be, has been converted to a quirkily decorated bar area. Because the bar is just beneath the stage, the bar is closed during performances to prevent noise from it being heard in the auditorium during a show. All of this has been done without changing what has been left of the place’s old internal décor.

The Coronet occupies a corner plot. Its exterior has neo-classical decorative features with pilasters, pediments etc. There is a dome high above the main entrance, which is located at the corner of Notting Hill Gate and Hillgate Street. For as long as I can remember (about 30 years), the lead-covered dome was unadorned.

The covid19 pandemic began closing London in about March 2020. The Print Room, like all other theatres in the country, closed. As it is close to shops that we use, we passed it regularly. During the summer, the theatre was covered with scaffolding whilst builders redecorated its exterior. By the end of summer, the scaffolding was removed.

Several weeks later, I could not believe my eyes. A statue had been placed on the top of the dome. The figure on the dome appears to be bound by ropes or cables and his or her face is covered by the sort of mask one might wear if one was a beekeeper. The figure is holding what looks like a large open book or an artist’s palette in its left hand, whilst pointing a pen or artist’s paintbrush into the distance with the right hand. Close examination of the sculpture reveals that at present the ropes are holding down a protective covering. I look forward to seeing what is being concealed.

I was curious about the sudden appearance of a statue on the dome. It turns out that when the Coronet was built, the dome did bear a statue (www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/CoronetTheatreNottingHillGate.htm). When it was taken down, I cannot discover, but it was more than 30 years ago. Planning to replace it began in September 2018 (www.rbkc.gov.uk/idoxWAM/doc/Revision%20Content-2133806.pdf?extension=.pdf&id=2133806&location=VOLUME2&contentType=application/pdf&pageCount=1). The planning document submitted by the Studio Indigo architectural practice reveals:

“Historical images and photos of the Coronet show that there was at some point a statue on top of the dome roof. The statue appeared to be of a life size human figure, the details of which were difficult to precise.

The proposals include for a life size bronze sculpture of the artist Gavin Turk as the famous English portrait artist [posing as] Sir Joshua Reynolds. The statue is based on the Alfred Drury sculpture which stands in the Anneberg Courtyard of Burlington House in the grounds of the Royal Academy, and is a design by contemporary artist Gavin Turk. The new statue celebrates the notional idea of a theatrical/cultural building which had a figure calling the people into the venue.”

Looking at old pictures of the Coronet, it seems that the new sculpture will not resemble the original. If the sculpture that now perches on the dome is by Gavin Turk, a leading British sculptor, it will be in good company. Not far away, there is an abstract sculpture by Antony Gormley on the roof of Holland Park school.  

Noticing that a statue had arrived on the dome of the Coronet hit me dramatically. I was very pleased to see it as it will enhance a theatre which is already remarkable for the high quality of its productions. Furthermore, it is heartening that the only remaining elegant edifice on Notting Hill Gate’s main thoroughfare, mostly ruined architecturally in the 1960s and 1970s, is being well-maintained and tastefully improved.