Cashmere is as Scottish as clans and kilts - really! A visit to Edinburgh in the past week reminded me just how much the city and its tourist industry makes of Cashmere scarves and similar. Towards the top end of the Royal Mile, as you approach the entrance to Edinburgh Castle, every other shop is proclaiming that it sells the best 'made in Scotland' Cashmere goods. One of the posher shops on what was, as so often up there, a slightly misty morning, boasted of its stock of 'Fabulously Scottish Cashmere'.
And yes, for 'Cashmere' read 'Kashmir'. So, back in the nineteenth century, Kashmir was generally known in the west as Cashmere. Its fine shawls made with goats' wool were prized in western Europe. So much so that from about the 1830s onwards, small mills in the south of Scotland started making scarves, jumpers (aka sweaters) and similar fashion accoutrements from imported Cashmere wool. And that's what they are still doing.
One of the biggest knitwear factories, at Hawick in the Scottish Borders, employs more than 200 people and produces 90,000 jumpers a year - almost all of them made from Cashmere.
Most of the goat's wool now comes from China and Mongolia - though a little of the highest quality pashmina wool continues to be produced in Kashmir itself. And the market? Well in one of those 'coals to Newcastle' ironies, Cashmere scarves made from Chinese wool and sold in Scotland often find their way back to ... China.
Edinburgh city centre is choc-a-bloc with Chinese tourists, many of them high spending. And one of the shops that specialises in Cashmere good had a sign in its window - they are recruiting Mandarin-speaking sales assistants.
Mind you, a few years back a business on Edinburgh's Royal Mile that boasted of selling Scottish-made Cashmere was fined £4,500 when it was discovered that the goods on its shelves had been woven in, yes, China!
All told, Scotland's Cashmere industry is worth about £200 million a year, and for a small place - Scotland's population is about the same as that of the Kashmir Valley - that's an awful lot of finely woven, made in Scotland, money.
Bush House is back in business. The architectural monolith-cum-mausoleum on Aldwych - built in the early 1930s as a (failed) world trade centre - was my workplace for the best part of three decades. When the BBC evacuated a few years back, King's College, very cleverly, took a fifty-year lease on the building. It's still work in progress, but the students are settling in to some corners of the edifice and - armed with a KCL pass - I snuck back in a couple of days back to see what's occurring.
Intriguingly, King's - or at least its Arts and Humanities faculties - seems to be building a brand round the legend: 'World Service' - the global wing of the BBC which was for decades ensconced in Bush House. And there are nice tributes, and photos by Bogdan our former colleague, in what was the Bush House arcade harking back to the BBC's occupancy of this iconic, if annoying, building.
On that arcade, at just the spot I used to queue up at Bush and Fields (or was it Bush Inn Fields) for my lunchtime sarnie, there's now a student cafe. So of course, I just had to have a sandwich in the same psychic spot that I sandwiched in lives past. Bear with me ...
And - what comes around, goes around - the spot on the arcade which was once the BBC shop is now ... a shop.
Morley may not be the grandest town in the country - but it has got one of the grandest town halls. Take a look! It's glorious - and what a statement of municipal confidence in a town which then had a population of, according to the 1891 census, just 35,000.
Morley got its charter of incorporation as a borough at the end of 1885. The new borough council quickly got on with building a town hall. A competition was held for design - the foundation stone was laid in 1892 - and on 16th October 1895, the Morley-born Home Secretary, H.H. Asquith, came to open the building (the photo below was taken on that day).
It's a Grade 1 listed building and said to bear a resemblance to Bolton Town Hall - though the more obvious comparison is with neighbouring Leeds, where a bigger town hall but in similar style was completed in 1858.
So much for the outside. But inside? Even grander! A revelation. Sixteen exquisite pieces of stained glass, most sponsored by individual members of the council, were unveiled in 1902 - and they are there still along with a white marble bust of Queen Victoria, a black marble bust of Asquith and a wonderful staircase.
The council room was closed, but I was able to take a peep into the Alexandra Hall - still in regular use (I see Wayne Fontana is playing there soon). And on the balcony, there's an extraordinary piece of stained glass - I couldn't get proper access, so I've lifted a couple of photos from the web -
H.H. Asquith returned to Morley Town Hall in 1913 when he was made a freeman of the borough. He left Morley when still very young and moved from Yorkshire when he was about eleven. The family worshipped at the Rehoboth chapel on Dawson's Hill - the chapel is long gone, but the crowded and overgrown graveyard remains. I found the gravestone of Asquith's mother Emily, who died in 1888 aged sixty and was obviously keen to be buried back in Morley - though not alongside her husband.
The memorial - not in the top picture, but centre above right - reads 'Also of / Emily Willans / Asquith / widow of / Joseph Dixon / Asquith / who died in London / December 12th 1888 / aged 60 years'. On the other side is an inscription to 'Joseph Asquith of Morley' who died in 1855 aged 77, and his wife Esther.
And on a personal note - my father, a Liberal (like Asquith) was a member of Morley Council for a few years at the close of the 1950s. My grandfather was chairman of Gildersome Urban District Council for quite a while until its absorption into Morley in 1937. He was a JP and chair of the local magistrates' bench when the Queen came to Morley Town Hall on 28th October 1954.
As castles go, Hadleigh Castle isn't quite Framlingham or Pembroke ... these are ruins that really have been knocked about a bit (or more accurately the land is prone to subsidence, so bits keep tumbling down) ... but don't look down on this corner of Essex, 'cos Hadleigh is OK. OK!
I went for a stroll there today with my old mate Martin Plaut - he's taken the black-and-white photos and given his blessing to a couple being posted here. Thank you maestro!
Hadleigh Castle goes back to 1215 - though the bits still (sort of) standing date from 150 years later. Just about as soon as it was built, stuff started dropping off. But there's enough there - particularly one largely complete drum tower - to give it a touch of majesty. Edward III was, apparently, so fond of the place he often stayed here ... hence his nickname, TOKIE, The Only King In Essex.
Just a five minute wander away is Hadleigh Farm, the Salvation Army's first farm colony, set up in the 1890s to give some of those who they were trying to help a break from the squalor of London's slums. It's still an educational farm, with tea rooms attached - and still run by the Sally Army.
And at the end of our walk from Benfleet via the castle, there's the seafood stalls and buzz of Leigh-on-Sea, still pulling in the punters. The tide was out when we were there ... allowing me to take one of my better photographic efforts, don't you think?
Another of the tenuous links with the days when the End End was a Jewish enclave is about to be lost. S. Reiss (it's pronounced Rees) is just about the last Jewish-run business left at the heart of what was once the Jewish East End. It's an old-fashioned men's outfitters on Whitechapel High Street, near the junction with Goulston Street where - until not all that long ago - another old East End institution, Tubby Isaacs' seafood stall, had its pitch.
I got a shock when I saw the 'closing down' posters today as I passed by. I popped in and had a brief chat with Stuart behind the counter. Yes, he said, it's still a Jewish-run concern. No, it's not moving. It's shutting down altogether at the end of September.
I'm tempted to buy a memento - not sure what. Perhaps a trilby, which somehow seems to be a suitable purchase from the last Jewish menswear shop in this part of the city. The trilby I discover got its name from George du Maurier's 1894 novel Trilby - which featured a heroine so named. In the initial stage production, a narrow brimmed hat of this sort was worn - and the term stuck.
If I get one, I'll be sure to post a photo!
Huddersfield Town's first ever match in the Premier League.
Yes, that's FIRST EVER. And their first in the top flight of English football for fully forty-five years. Trust me, I've been counting ...
We were playing at Crystal Palace. There were about 3,000 Town fans, all simply euphoric to see their team in the top tier. "We are Premier League, we are Premier League", they chanted.
By the end of the game, the chant had changed to: "We're leading the League, we're leading the League, Huddersfield Town, we're leading the League." Not just bravado. We really are the Premier League leaders.
We won a tremendous victory against Crystal Place, 3-0. And at the time of writing, we are clear at the top of the League. Alright, only one game played - but still, nowhere better to be at any time in the season than top.
The Town team took a bow at the end in front of the joyous visiting supporters - they deserved it!
And greatly to their credit a few Palace fans - seeing my son and I walk away from the ground in our blue-and-white striped shirts - congratulated us on a match well won.
I'm not at the Bucket List stage of life just yet, but if I was, seeing Town top of the Premier League would deliver a very hefty tick.
And let me share the sweetest of football songs, sung today (repeatedly) as it is at every Town game:
There’s a team that is dear to its followers,
They play in the bright blue and white,
They’re a team of renown, they’re the pride of the town,
And the game of football is their delight,
So all the while upon the field of play,
Thousands gladly cheer them on their way,
Often you can hear them say,
Who can beat the Town today?
Then the bells will ring so merrily,
Every goal will be a memory,
So Town play up and bring the cup,
Back to Huddersfield.
The main square in Carmarthen has a war memorial. Nothing unusual about that. Except it's a tribute to the local dead of the Boer War - and distinctly grander than the tablets on the front of the nearby Assembly Rooms listing the fallen in the First and Second World Wars.
The those world war memorials I mentioned - see if you can spot the difference:
'For King and Empire' became, just a generation later, 'For King and Country', as Britain slowly moved out of the age of Empire.
On the top photo you can see to the right of the war memorial a board with a raised metal plaque - now this is interesting. A celebration of Gwynfor Evans's by-election victory in Carmarthen in 1966 - the first Westminster seat won by Plaid Cymru. It was one of the most sensational by-election wins - a solid Labour majority overturned, and a seminal moment in the rise of Welsh nationalism.
And as you look carefully, it's clear that the plaque depicts a joyous crowd greeting the by-election victor in the very square where it's now located. A winning touch!
Temperance and Billiards ... they don't feel a natural match, do they? Billiards suggests bottles of ale, overflowing ashtrays and an ample measure of the dissolute. I came across this wonderful sign on Battersea Rise in south London, just off Clapham Common, Not a billiard hall any more, of course. Not temperance either. It's a pub.
But it's a splendid building, an unlikely survival. And, I discover, a remnant of what was once a nationwide movement to break the link between billiards and beer.
The Temperance Billiard Hall Company - no, I am not making this up - was set up in Lancashire in 1906. Its aim was to provide a salubrious location for the hugely popular pastime of billiards way from the corrupting influence of alcohol and the licensed trade.
An architect, Norman Evans, designed a dozen or more of these halls in the years before the First World War. There's one in Fulham which is listed; it's also now a pub, cheekily called The Temperance. But as you can see this Battersea Rise billiards hall also has a touch of style about it, with almost an oriental ambience to its tiled frontage complete with cupola. I'm not sure, but I'd guess it's one of Evans's.
As late as 1958, this was one of more than twenty temperance billiard halls in London. P.J. Kavanagh, indeed, wrote a poem entitled 'The Temperance Billiard Hall' - thugh sadly I can't find the text online.
A brave attempt at social improvement - snookered by the popular appetite for something a bit stronger than sasparilla.
Brick Lane is a great place for polemical street art - especially the yard at the back of the now deserted Seven Stars, once a pub which put on strippers at lunchtime. I was there recently with two groups of Oregon students. It's a handy place to pause as you eat your veg pakoras. And for an American, it's a bit like being back home ...
Not that Trump is the only political leader to be traduced -
This is the post I never expected to be able to write - the one with a photo of Toyah Sofaer. But for those of you coming new to the story, let me recap:
Earlier this year, I came across the grave of Victoria 'Toyah' Sofaer in the tiny Jewish cemetery in Chennai in south India. She died in October 1943 aged just 22. Through the magic of the internet, and with the generous encouragement and support of Toyah's family, I pieced together a tragic and deeply affecting story which I've blogged about. She was born into a prosperous trading family in Baghdad - embarked on a transgressive romance with an Armenian man from another trading family - was taken to India by her parents to end the relationship - and died in Chennai 'from a broken heart', in the words of her half-brother Abe, though in what circumstances remains unclear.
More than that, the family had a photograph of Toyah's three brothers and half-brothers taken when she would have been seven. She was in the photograph. But after her death, it was retouched to remove her likeness - and so obliterate any visual reminder of a scandal and tragedy. No one talked about Toyah. No other photographs came to light which the family was confident included Toyah. It was as if any testimony to her life, and death, had been carefully excised. An injustice which Abe in particular, now in his mid-nineties and once close to Toyah, was keen to see rectified.
Last month, a short item I recorded about Toyah for the BBC radio programme 'From Our Own Correspondent' was also posted on the BBC website. It's been viewed more than a million times. The response has been remarkable - one reader tracked down Toyah's death certificate in the Chennai municipal records, another wrote a poem about Toyah, and I'm now in contact with the very small Jewish community in Chennai today.
I owe these photographs, and permission to post them here, to the kindness of Lisette Shashoua. They were taken at the wedding of her parents, Mouzli and Menashy. Mouzli, the bride, was Toyah's first cousin. Lisette, who has taken a great interest in the history of her extended family, was fairly sure this was Toyah. Lydia Saleh, my main point of contact with the family, took the photo to show her father, Abe, and - without prompting - he recognised his half-sister, Toyah, who was two years older than him. He's quite certain it's her.
It doesn't bring her back to life - it doesn't right the wrong done to her - but it does help to honour her memory. I'm very pleased to be part of that.
Lisette has identified those in the photographs. In the one above, standing from left to right: Bertha Haim (Bekhor); the groom, Menashy Shashoua; the bride, Mouzli Haim (Sheshoua); Daisy Shamash. The young girl in the middle of the group is believed to be Dorine Shashoua. Sitting from left to right: Toyah Sofaer; Bertine Shashoua (Khazzam); Violette Haim (Barzel); Marcelle Bekhor (Shamash). Lisette believes the photo was taken in about 1935. There are more details about the family in the wonderful Sephardic diaspora genealogy site run by Alain Farhi, Les Fleurs de L'Orient.
The photo below features the same people but in different positions. Toyah is standing and, as we look, is to the right of the bride.
There may be more to say about Toyah, who knows. But it's so good to look into her eyes.
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