FROM THE STREET, the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill Gate does not look like much from the aesthetic viewpoint. However, although the box-like building containing the cinema is typical of unexciting 1960s architecture, the auditorium is a real treasure. Its beautifully decorated interior was converted in 1911 from a former Italian restaurant, which had been designed in 1861 by William Hancock. The ceiling is adorned with plaster mouldings depicting fruits and foliage. The dull exterior housing this lovely auditorium contains in addition to the cinema, the foyer, and offices. It was built in 1962 by the architects Douton and Hurst. Unlike the walls and ceiling, the seating in the cinema is modern and comfortable. One small problem is that there is not much of a rake so that if you are unlucky enough to have someone tall in front of your seat, your view of the screen might be obstructed if you do not lean to the left or right.
To celebrate the 1st of August (2022), we watched a prize-winning film made in Iran in 2021. Its title (in English) is “Hit the Road”, and it is a ‘road movie’. Its four main actors, who are the characters making a long journey across Iran, are superbly credible. Although it portrays the stunning landscapes of Iran beautifully, there is much more to it. Subtly and intelligently, it reveals how delicately the filmmakers view the sophisticated nature of Iranian life and culture. It is easy to make the mistake of viewing Iran solely as a menace and threat to western civilisation. This film and others that I have seen, which were made in Iran after the downfall of the Shah’s regime, might occasionally have aspects critical of the current status quo, but they also demonstrate that the great cultural heritage for which Persia has been known for many centuries persists today. “Hit the Road” does allude delicately at several problems that plague Iran today, but so gently are these allusions made that they were either missed or ignored by the censors in the country where the film was made.
“Hit the Road” should not be missed. If you are in London, why not see it at the Gate, and before the lights dim enjoy the well-conserved early 20th century décor of the auditorium.
WHEN RUDYARD KIPLING (1865-1936) died in London’s Middlesex Hospital, his body was placed in the hospital’s chapel before being taken to be cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium, Charles Carrington wrote in his biography of Kipling that just as his coffin, draped with the Union Jack flag, arrived at the crematorium:
“… the followers of Saklatvala, the Indian Communist who had been cremated just before Rudyard Kipling, were singing the Red Flag.”
Kipling was not a sympathiser of Communist ideas and ideals.
Middlesex Hospital in the Fitzrovia area of London, where Kipling breathed his last, no longer exists. Founded in 1746, it provided medical care on a square plot of land bounded one one side by Mortimer Street between 1757 and 2005. In 2008, almost all of the hospital was demolished. The only part of the complex, which was preserved, is the Fitzrovia Chapel, in which Kipling’s body reposed briefly. Between 2012 and 2016, a new development, Fitzroy Place, consisting of flats and offices, was constructed on the hospital’s site.
The small Fizrovia Chapel, beautifully restored, stands in a small garden in the middle of the new development, dwarfed by the buildings around it. This gem of a Victorian ecclesiastical construction was designed by the Gothic Revival architect John Loughborough Pearson (1817-1897) and was ready for use by 1892 (although the interior decoration was not fully completed until 1929). The chapel’s spectacular colourful interior must be seen to be believed. Its magnificent appearance is the result of skilful use of mosaic, marbles of different types and colours, and amazing decorative motifs inspired by early Italian, Byzantine, and Moorish architecture. Some of the metal lampshades that hang from the decorative ceiling seemed to have been influenced by the types of lamps typical of Turkish tradition.
The chapel is maintained by The Fitzrovia Chapel Foundation. It is open on most Wednesdays for public viewing as well as during the occasional exhibitions and concerts that are held within it. This charming place is also available for hire for weddings, fashion shoots, book launches, and other events.
Until we attended an exhibition in the Fitzrovia Chapel in late May 2022, we had no idea that this small architectural gem existed. Along with nearby All Saints in nearby Margaret Street, the Fitrovia, a treasure chest with its sparkling golden ceiling, should not be missed by lovers of Victorian architecture and/or fine mosaic work (as well as masterful use of inlaid stonework).
I ENJOY ENTERING CHARITY SHOPS (shops selling used goods to raise money for good causes) to browse the books they have on sale. Even if I do not find anything of interest or buy anything, I find these visits both satisfying and therapeutic. Yesterday, to satisfy my craving for the browsing experience, I stepped into a local charity shop which I have entered many times before, often with only a day or two’s interval between visits: usually finding that the stock of books has barely changed, and not expecting to find anything worth purchasing. This time, my gaze fell on a large old book on a shelf. What caught my eye was the title on its wide spine: “Gazetteer of India”. Because I have a great interest in India, I always look at books about the country and this was no exception.
The book has 1015 pages of text printed in a tiny font. Eagerly, I looked for its date of publication and to my great delight I discovered that it was published in 1857. For those who are not familiar with it, this is the year when the so-called ‘Indian Mutiny’, or, as it is known nowadays, the ‘First War of Independence’, began on the 10th of May. The book’s full title “A Gazetteer of the Territories Under the Government of the East-India Company and of the Native States on the Continent of India” was soon to become out of date because following the ending of the ‘Mutiny’ in 1858, the British Government took over the ruling of India from the East India Company.
The book by Edward Thornton (Esq.) was published in response to the desire of the General Courts of the East-India Company to have “… an authentic Gazetteer of India [that] should be offered to the British public in a cheap and convenient form…”. Thornton had already published a four volume “Gazetteer of India” in 1854. The book I found yesterday contains much of the information that was published in the multi-volume edition. The book that I purchased is an original edition, which is rarely offered for sale in the second-hand book market. A facsimile edition was published by the British Library in the 21st century. Fortunately for me, whoever had priced my copy had no idea of its true worth, which is unusual because often those who run charity shops often check the market prices of old books.
Edward Thornton (1799-1875), the author of the gazetteers is, apparently, often confused with the better-known Edward Parry Thornton (1811-1893), who was an administrator in India where he lived on and off between 1830 and 1862. ‘Our’ Edward of the gazetteers worked at East India House (which stood in London where today the towering Lloyds building now stands) between 1814 and 1857, where he was head of its Maritime Department from 1847. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography includes this information about him:
“Among his publications were gazetteers of the territories held by the East India Company and the ‘countries adjacent to India on the North-West’, and a six-volume History of the British Empire in India (1841–5). He was also responsible for entries in the eighth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica on Indian subjects, which have also been attributed to Edward Parry Thornton. This Edward Thornton died at 1 Montpelier Street, Brighton, on 24 December 1875.”
You can rest assured that I will not be reading all 1015 pages of my new ‘treasure’, but I will enjoy dipping into it to read about places I have visited or hope to visit in the future. One of the first places I looked up was Tranquebar in Tamil Nadu, which we visited in February 2020. Formerly, it had been a Danish colony in India. Thornton wrote:
“ … The settlement of Tranquebar was ceded to the British government in 1845 by the King of Denmark, for a pecuniary consideration … the superiority of the British over Danish administration is attested by the growing prosperity of the district, and the large increase in the amount of the government revenue…”
This “government revenue” did not benefit the British in general but rather the coffers of the East India Company.
Of Bangalore, which I have visited more than 50 times in the last 26 years, Thornton wrote a whole page that includes the following:
“… The town is tolerably well built, has a good bazaar, and is inclosed [sic] by a wall, a ditch, and a broad fence of thorns and bamboos…”
Thanks to my friend, an excellent guide to Bangalore, Mansoor Ali, I knew of the existence of the fence (hedge) of vegetation mentioned in the quote but did not realise it was still in existence as late as 1854/7. This hedge is marked on some maps of Bangalore created during the 19th century. According to a map dated 1800, the circular hedge surrounding Bangalore ran through present day Yeshvantpur in the north. Kengery in the west, and almost at Madiwala in the south east. I have no idea when the hedge disappeared, but it was clearly after the time when Thornton knew of its existence. I look forward to much more delving in my latest literary acquisition.
Finally, my copy of Thornton’s book has an ex-libris sticker that bears a coat-of-arms and the name ‘John Harrison’. Harrison is a common family surname. A quick look at Harrison coats-of-arms displayed on Google reveals that the crest in my book is similar but not identical to that of the “Yorkshire Arms” of the ‘James River Harrisons’, which originated in the north of England. They settled on the James River in Virginia in the 1630s. If my book was once owned by a member of that family, I wonder how it ended up on a shelf in a charity shop in West London.