Tragedy in Sweden

PARR HALL IN the heart of Warrington (Cheshire) is a concert hall designed by local architect William Owen (1846-1910). It was built for the townspeople by Joseph Charlton Parr, descendant of the founder of a local bank. The benefactor was a prominent member of his family’s bank, Parr’s, and Warrington’s Mayor between 1901 and 1903. A plaque on the wall of the hall facing Palmyra Square commemorates his generosity. A much larger and newer plaque, actually a frieze, also outside the front of the hall, serves a sadder purpose.

In May 2013, a new rock band was formed in Warrington. Called Viola Beach, it had four members: Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe, and Jack Dakin. Frankie Coulson and Jonny Gibson were initially members, but they left the group to concentrate on their university studies. Reading of this, I was reminded of one of my father’s students at the London School of Economics: Mick Jagger. Unlike Coulson and Gibson, he could not afford to remain a student as his band was becoming so successful. Incidentally, The Rolling Stones performed at Parr Hall in November 1963.

In June 2016, the band’s debut album, “Viola Beach”, was released. Consisting of 9 tracks, it reached the number 1 position on The UK Albums Chart in August of that year. However, the band were never to learn of their success. In February 2016, the members of the group and their manager were on tour in Sweden. In the early hours of the 13th of February, the car in which they were travelling failed to stop at the closed barriers of a bridge across the Södertälje Canal. The roadway of the bridge was lifting to allow the passage of a vessel in the canal. The car carrying the band plunged into the water 98 feet below. The driver, the band members, and its manager, were all killed.  The memorial outside Parr Hall, which portrays the band members and their manager in bas-relief, was sculpted by Tom Murphy. It was unveiled in September 2021.

Had they not met their end so prematurely, I wonder whether Viola Beach formed in a town on the Mersey might have gained some of the success enjoyed by another now much more famous Merseyside band: The Beatles.

From Peter Pan to Skanderbeg and some fake windows

BETWEEN LANCASTER GATE and Queensway, at the corner of Bayswater Road and Leinster Terrace, there stands number 100 Bayswater Road, which was built in 1820 and was the home of the author JM Barrie (1860-1937) from 1900 onwards. It was here close to Hyde Park that he wrote “Peter Pan” as a play in 1904 and as a novel in 1911. It is worth wandering along Leinster Terrace and its continuation Leinster Gardens.

Almost opposite Barrie’s home but a little north of it is number 74 Leinster Terrace. It was here that the American author Francis Bret Harte (1836-1902) lived and died. He had settled in London in 1885. Northwest of this house and on the south corner of the Terrace and a passageway called Craven Hill Gardens, there is a Greek restaurant that has long intrigued me. It is called Mykonos and has the Swedish words “Kalle på Spången” written on it in several prominent places. This is the name of a well-known Swedish film made in 1939, in which a character called Kalle owns and runs a pub. Formerly called Zorba’s, it was closed in 2017 because of hygiene problems. Now (2022) called Mykonos, it looks as if it is no longer in business. It also bears a sign with the name of a Swedish County, Skåne, in which the inn that figures in the film was located. Unless it was to attract Swedish tourists, I am not clear why this Greek restaurant associated itself with a Swedish film. North of the restaurant, Leinster Terrace becomes Leinster Gardens.

Real windows on the left and fake windows on the right

Much of the west side of Leinster Gardens is lined by Victorian terraced housing with neo-classical features.  Close examination of numbers 23 and 24 reveals that unlike their neighbours on either side, the windows do not have glass panes. Where the windowpanes should be, there are painted blanks. These two houses in the terrace were demolished when the subterranean London Underground lines were being built in the 1860s. The façades of numbers 23 and 24 have no building behind them. They hide a ventilation shaft that provides air to a section of the Circle and District lines running between Bayswater and Paddington stations. By walking along Craven Hill Gardens west to Porchester Terrace, which runs parallel to Leinster Gardens, you can see the featureless rear of the fake façade and beneath it you can just about see the tracks of the railway.

Moving north along Porchester Terrace, you can see number 30, which is adorned with a sculpted lion and some lion heads. It was here that the family of the author Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) moved from Hampstead in 1830, when he was six years old. Collins’s father, William Collins (1788-1847) was a painter, whose paintings at one time exceeded those of John Constable in value. Another artist, John Linell (1792-1882), a friend of William, lived a few doors north of this at number 36 from 1830 until 1851. Many years later, this house was occupied by the photographer Camille Silvy (1834-1910) between 1859 until 1868.

Not far away from Porchester Terrace and close to Queensway, a sculpted bust of a man in a distinctive helmet stands on a plinth at the corner of Inverness Terrace and Porchester Gardens. This depicts Albania’s most highly regarded hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg (1405-1468), who defended his native Albanian territory from the invading Ottoman armies for a few years.

Between Peter Pan’s birthplace and the monument to Albania’s national hero is a few feet more than one third of a mile on foot. Yet in this short distance, there is much to see. This is what makes London such a fascinating place in which to live.

Adam in the garden

WHEN I WAS BORN, my parents wanted to call me ‘Adam’. That was in the early 1950s. However, Mom and Dad were worried that Adam was a relatively unusual first name in those far-off days and that with such a name I might have been teased at school. As it happened, I only attended schools where the pupils were addressed by their surnames and mine, Yamey, was subject of a lot of mirth amongst my schoolmates. In view of their concerns, I was named ‘Robert Adam’, but have always been called ‘Adam’. My father, an economist, was all for calling me ‘Adam Smith Yamey’ in memory of the father of economics Adam Smith (1723-1790), but my mother was not keen giving me this name. The choice of Robert was possibly influenced by the fact that one of my mother’s brothers bore this name. It is also very vaguely possible that the name ‘Robert Adam’ was chosen in memory of another man who was alive during Adam Smith’s lifetime, the architect Robert Adam (1728-1792).

Garden House by Robert Adam at Osterley Park

Maybe because I share his name, I have grown to like and appreciate the architecture and interior decors created by the 18th century Robert Adam. However, you do not need to be called Robert Adam to enjoy Adam’s great works.

Last year, we visited Osterley Park on an extremely rainy day and were able to wander around the interior of Osterley Park House (https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2020/11/02/at-home-with-adam/). Built by the merchant and founder of London’s Royal Exchange Sir Thomas Gresham (c1519-1579) in about 1575, the house was extensively remodelled by the Child family, who owned it, during the 1760s and 1770s. The remodelling was to the detailed designs of Robert Adam.

When we visited the house on that rainy day in November 2020, we omitted walking around the house’s fine semi-formal gardens. On our recent visit, the house was not open because of covid19 prevention measures and there was no rainfall. So, we wandered around the lovely gardens. Like so many other 18th century landscaped gardens attached to stately homes, that at Osterley contains several buildings that were placed to add to the picturesqueness of the grounds.

The Doric Temple of Pan with four columns and four pilasters was built in the 18th century, probably to the design of the Scottish-Swedish architect William Chambers (1723-1796), who was born in the Swedish city of Gothenburg. Between 1740 and 1749, while in the employ of the Swedish East India Company, he made three voyages to China, where he learnt Chinese. A major rival of Robert Adam, he was an exponent of neo-classicism, of which the small Temple of Pan is a fine example. The interior of the temple, which we were unable to see because of covid19 prevention measures, contains, according to Nikolaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry:

“… mid c18 interior plasterwork with Rococo flourishes and medallions of Colen Campbell and Sir Isaac Newton.”

The front of the temple faces across a lawn towards a structure, 175 yards away, designed by Chambers’ rival Robert Adam: The Garden House.

Adam designed the Garden House in about 1780. It has a semi-circular façade with five large windows within frames topped with semi-circular arches. Pevsner and Cherry describe these windows as “five linked Venetian windows”. A balustrade tops the façade and almost hides the conical roof. Between the windows, there are roundels containing bas-relief depictions of classical scenes with bucolic themes. The building was part of Mrs Child’s Flower Garden. The National Trust, which manages Osterley Park, notes in its website (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/osterley-park-and-house/features/the-garden-house-at-osterley-park-and-house) that the Garden House’s original purpose was:

“… a display house for the collection of rare trees and shrubs that were housed here in the 18thC. The main type of plant that we always grow and display in this building is lemon trees as we have historic evidence that 45 lemon trees were on show here in the 1780’s. We choose to have a mixed display of other interesting specimens alongside the lemons so as to give a greater display and range of interest for our visitors. All of these plants are known to have been either at Osterley in the 18thC or to have been available to grow at that time.”

Although it is not as spectacular as Adam’s interiors of Osterley Park, the Garden House is both delightful and elegant, a fine feature that enhances the appearance of the formal part of the gardens. This and other buildings designed by the same architect makes me proud to have been given, maybe accidentally, the name Robert Adam Yamey.