Yes, this is the Albert Hall - NW5 style.
I went on a Lockdown cycle ride this morning - a jaunt round a corner of Kentish Town which, shamefully, was new to me. This is the area east of Malden Road and south of Queen's Crescent. And wheeling along Bassett Street, I came along this extraordinary building in the middle of a row of three-storey mid-Victorian villas.
This is Kentish Town Evangelical Church, a 'Bible-believing 'congregation according to its website which has been based here for approaching fifty years. The building is of course much older, and with a bit (well, a lot) of help from the Camden History Society's Streets of Gospel Oak and West Kentish Town, I've been able to piece together some of its history.
So, Bassett Street was built in the 1860s and was initially known as Winchester Street. What is now the evangelical church was built by 1865 as a temperance hall, taking the name of the Albert Hall (Albert of course was Queen Victoria's consort and died in Deceber 1861) a few years before that other place with the same name.
Within a few years, the building had become a 'Strict' Baptist church - and it was used by several varieties of Baptist down to 1930. It subsequently became a children's mission.
The moniker of the Albert Hall didn't last for too long - but perhaps it's time for this rather grand title to be resumed!
A really choice piece of ephemera - which throws light on the personal, the social, the political and the global.
During the Boer War, roughly 120 years ago, the British notoriously rounded up tens of thousands of civilians - particularly women, children and the elderly - and kept them in what amounted to concentration camps. They were insanitary and the diet was very poor. More than 27,000 people - mainly women and children - died in these camps.
Very few adult men were detained in this manner, largely because Boer men were either combatants or likely to be seen by the British as potential combatants. 28,000 Boers were detained as Prisoners of War (and thousands more surrendered to the British) - and in a chapter of this grisly conflict which is rarely talked about, almost all of them were shipped out of South Africa to detention camps in other parts of the world, largely to deter escape.
Initially, these prisoners were held on the tiny Atlantic island of St Helena, where Napoleon was detained and died. When that proved too small, prisoners were sent to Bermuda in the Caribbean, to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and to India. Several hundred Boers who fled to Mozambique to escape the fighting ended up in detention in Portugal.
This sliver of paper is a permit giving Lieutenant Jones standing permission to enter the Boer camp at Bellary and talk to the PoWs. Bellary is a city in the south Indian state of Karnataka, half-way between Bangalore and Hyderabad.
These rather grainy images of the Bellary camp are from the excellent angloboerwar.com site.
Another site records these details:
'A camp for 821 prisoners was in operation at Bellary, in Madras Command, between May 1901 and August 1902. The men were accommodated in barracks, and tents with thatched roofs, surrounded by barbed wire entanglements. During the 15 months of the camp's life three prisoners broke parole and were subsequently recaptured, and another was shot one night trying to escape from the hospital. Although conditions within the camp were described as generally good, the health of the prisoners was indifferent, despite having the use of a 50 bed hospital at the station: during 1902 smallpox accounted for two deaths and the hospitalization of six men.'
Some of these Boer camps in India even issued their own informal currency notes - I found this image on the net.
It's all evidence of a classic Imperialist strategy - bringing one part of the Empire into play to help out with problems in another.
This is the note that accompanied an intriguing array of maps and charts delivered by the postman in the past week. And as Jane says: better late than never.
Back in 2001, I wrote to a Captain Wimbush, a veteran of the British Indian army, to ask whether he had any memories of serving in or around Kashmir. I was researching what became my book A Mission in Kashmir - an account of the opening salvos of the Kashmir conflict in 1947, and particularly of a massacre at a Catholic mission in which an off-duty British army officer and his wife were among those killed.
As far as I can make out, I never heard back from Captain Wimbush. I didn't think too much of it - it's in the nature of research that many leads are dead ends.
But very recently I heard from Jane who now lives in Captain Wimbush's old house. In a big Lockdown sort-out, she had come across my old letter. And with huge kindness and generosity, she parcelled off to me Captain Wimbush's maps and charts relating - as best as I can tell - to his service in the North West Frontier and (perhaps) Afghanistan between the world wars.
In the inter-war period, the Frontier was the most turbulent of the extremities of the British Raj and there was a specific Frontier Force (known as the Piffers) to keep it under control. The maps which Captain Wimbush and his colleagues appear to have relied upon were first drawn up in some cases as early as the 1860s. The cartography at the time of the Afghan wars and the initial incursions into the tribal areas on the border of what's now Pakistan and Afghanistan served the British army - it seems - until independence in 1947.
Alongside the maps, there's this wonderful chart, marked 'CONFIDENTIAL', which lists the various Frontier tribes and their fighting strength. It specifies where each tribe is located and whether these are Pathans or otherwise. It also lists which British official or agent had responsibility for each group.
An extraordinary document. And well worth the wait!
This anniversary comes at another moment of national crisis - which has both curtailed today's celebrations, and stopped the concerts, parades, street parties and other gatherings, and also given it much more emotional heft. On all sides, we have been bombarded by comparisons between the war and this pandemic. The Queen made that quiet point when she ended her broadcast with the words of Vera Lynn's totemic wartime song: 'We'll meet again'.
The level of casualties is akin to a war. In the US, more have died from COVID than perished in Vietnam. New York has suffered a heavier loss of life - much heavier - from the virus than on 9/11. Here in London, we're told that the past four weeks have witnessed a heavier death toll than during the worst four weeks of the wartime Blitz.
But let's not kid ourselves. This virus is desperate, cruel and will blight us all for some time to come - but it's nothing like war. Wartime casualties were disproportionately the young - COVID hits disproportionately at the old. Does that make a difference? Yes! All lives matter - but there is a more intense tragedy about young lives unlived than long lives brought to a premature end.
And the scale is something different. 450,000 British lives were lost - military and civilian - in the Second World War; twice that number in the First World War. Even when the excess deaths arising from this pandemic can be reliably measured, the figure won't - I trust - be on that scale.
More than anything else - unlike my father and grandfather, I have never worn a military uniform, nor have I ever been asked or expected to do so. The Lockdown of the last few weeks is puny beside the social and economic dislocation that accompanied mass mobilisation, and the trauma nothing like as immense as taking civilians and training them to do battle and to kill.
Of all wars, the one which ended 75 years ago was brutal, global - but with a profound moral justification. There was something uniquely evil about Nazi Germany, its concept of racial superiority and the way in which that was realised in the shaming tragedy of the concentration camps and gas chambers.
I'll have all this in mind during the two minutes silence coming up - and I'll bow my head to the generations which went through so much more than we have.
I came across this tiny lapel 'flag' while sorting through old papers at the weekend. Do you remember flag days, when you would be solicited to give a few coins for a good cause and would get one of these little flags for your lapel? I don't know whether this is something my grandmother kept and handed down (it was alongside a flag for a children's charity in Glasgow, the city where my mother was born and spent her first nine or so years) or an item that was given to me when young, when I already had a reputation as a collector.
The flag is a little battered, as you can see, but it's remarkable that such a fragile and ephemeral item has survived at all for more than a century.
The arrival of Belgian refugees in the early stages of the First World War was the biggest single refugee influx Britain has ever experienced. About 250,000 Belgians came over to Britain when their country was invaded by the German army. There were refugee centres across the country - and some refugee colonies which operated almost as if part of Belgium (French or Flemish spoken, Belgian currency and stamps used).
The Belgian refugees are not much remembered because they almost all returned home to Belgium - indeed they weren't given much choice - within a year of the war ending. But look hard, and there are some remnants of their presence - for example, the Our Lady of Hal Catholic church in Camden, named after a pilgrimage site in Belgium and run until the 1980s by a Belgian religious order. It continues to display in a side chapel a relief bust of King Albert placed there by 'the Belgian colony in Great Britain'.
And the best known of these Belgian refugees - well he's fictional, but we have all heard of Hercule Poirot!
I came across this wonderful document today while looking through my father's books. Moorhead Mills, Booths' Mill, was the last of the seven mills in the industrial village of Gildersome outside Leeds to close. As I recall, it specialised in billiard table cloth and army uniforms and eventually succumbed in the late 198os (I think 1989).
The mill - quite a sizeable one as you can tell from these aerial photos - was demolished and sold for building. It was on the Gildersome Lane end of the village not far from Matty Barker hill.
The first two of these aerial photos are undated. The third is from 1928 - and it shows the house were I grew up. Hilly Croft on Gildersome Lane was built as a mill owners' house - though my parents bought it in 1960 when, as I recall, the previous owners went bankrupt.
My father's family had a worsted mill on Gelderd Road at the other end of the village. This which closed earlier, probably in the 1970s - and like all the seven Gildersome woollen mills, has also been demolished. But towards the end of his working life, and quite by chance, my father (Arthur Whitehead) had a go at turning round Moorhead Mills and giving it a new lease of life. To his disappointment, though not his surprise, he failed.
He was in charge as the mill closed - and I guess that's how he came to have this certificate. It's quite small, the size of a paperback book, but such an evocative reminder of the mills.
The 'tanks for attack' campaign, by the way, was one of several wartime savings scheme intended to boost the war effort. I wonder how much money you had to raise to count as 'specially meritorious service'?
I am posting below a couple of photos of Moorhead Mills at about the time it closed . These are included with the permission of Chuck Soderlund who runs a truly excellent website on the history of Gildersome. He in turn got these images from the mill historian Peter Munthe Webster.
I've been censored by YouTube. Or to put it a little less dramatically, an item I have put on my YouTube channel is - I was informed just a couple of hours after the item was posted - to be 'removed'. It has breached YouTube's community guidelines. I'm both surprised and disconcerted.
So, here's the story. During the pandemic I am spending a few hours most days sorting some of my archives - and particularly the huge amounts of audio (and some video and photos) accumulated when I was a BBC News correspondent. I'm posting some programmes, features, interviews and other bits-and-bobs on YouTube. It might seem strange to post audio on a visual platform, but the items get some traffic and I design images, covers, which accompany the audio.
Today I posted a snatch of a minute or so of a jihadi song on a cassette I came across twenty years ago when I visited Muridke. The image at the top of this post is the 'cover' I designed for it. Muridke is a large Islamic centre and seminary outside Lahore in Pakistan which was then - and perhaps still is - closely associated with the Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is banned under anti-terrorism legislation in the United States, the European Union, Britain, India and many other countries (including, nominally, Pakistan).
I was surprised when at Muridke - a rare access to the site for a western journalist - that wailing songs with lots of reverb praising the mujahideen played from loudspeakers. I hadn't expected such a hardline jihadi group to go for song at all. Radio lives on sounds, and I managed to get a cassette of these mujahid songs - as I recall, from a shop on campus. I probably still have it somewhere in the loft.
When I came across part of a song from this cassette on a minidisc I thought it was worth posting - it's hardly commercially available, and such pieces of music are resonant of a time, a place and an issue. I've also posted recently a burst of Naxalite singing from Bihar - a Kashmiri mourning song - chanting by supporters of the assertively Hindu RSS ... you get the sort of thing.
YouTube doesn't specify which part of the community guidelines I - or the item - has breached, but I assume it is the section about 'hateful content'. I don't think anyone at YouTube has examined the song's lyrics; more likely, the word 'jihadi' in the description has alarmed someone there. The song certainly praises the mujahid, the religious warrior, and I imagine that it originated during the conflict in Afghanistan, when western nations armed and supported mujahideen groups to bring down the country's Soviet-backed government.
I am fairly sure I used a snatch from the song in reports I compiled at the time. I wouldn't have thought twice about it. No one complained or expressed any reservations that reached my ears. Now it seems that the posting of the song - even though it's twenty years old and there is no suggestion of sympathy for its message - is entirely impermissible. Shorn of context, the song is clearly more a target of censure than when it's part of the tapestry of a news report.
This is not an open-or-shut issue. Hate speech is wrong and should not be tolerated. But does the posting of this song valorise violence or incite hatred? I don't think so. Can extremism be understood if its cultural expressions are banned from the public arena, even when it's clear that there is no advocacy being conducted? I don't think so.
I do feel stung by YouTube's move. I have appealed - though since you have to make your case in about a couple of hundred characters, I am not expecting a reconsideration. I'll update this post when I hear.
But you can make up your own mind about the song. Here it is:
There's a 'lockdown' on - but that doesn't mean giving up. Indeed, it's a time to turn to passions and enthusiasms for intellectual sustenance - as well as helping family, friends and community through the pandemic.
I've just got hold of one of the key political documents of the nineteenth century. It's simply a twelve-page pamphlet - but it both was the first recognisable party election manifesto and is regarded as the founding document of modern Conservatism.
Sir Robert Peel wrote the 'Tamworth Manifesto' - here's the full text - as a statement of his views to his Parliamentary constituents in December 1834. But it was also intended for much wider circulation. It appeared in the papers and the pamphlet was widely circulated.
Two years earlier, a Whig government led by Earl Grey had seen the Great Reform Bill - the first big measure of Parliamentary reform - through to the statute book. Towards the end of 1834, King William IV dismissed the Whig government and invited Sir Robert Peel to form a Tory administration. Inconveniently for all concerned, Peel was in Rome at the time and the Tory diehard the Duke of Wellington served as acting prime minister for a couple of weeks.
Once back, Peel installed his cabinet but also sought a dissolution of Parliament and fresh elections. The Tamworth manifesto was designed to present his views - and so that of any future administration he led - to the country, particularly on the great issue of Reform which most Tories had opposed.
In the crucial passage of the manifesto, Peel declared:
'I consider the Reform Bill a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question - a settlement which no friend to the peace and welfare of this country would attempt to disturb, either by direct or insidious means'.
Peel was making clear that he had no wish to turn the clock back and undo the measure of Parliamentary reform so recently, and controversially, introduced.
He also expressed what some might see as the key principles of progressive Conservatism. He was content to abide by the spirit of Reform if that meant simply
'a careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, undertaken in a friendly temper, combining, with the firm maintenance of established rights, the correction of proved abuses, and the redress of real grievances'
but he also made clear that he had no sympathy with a process of reform that
'meant we are to live in a perpetual vortex of agitation'.
That just about sums up modern Conservatism.
Peel's Tories emerged as the largest Parliamentary group in the election of January 1835 but they were well short of an overall majority. His administration lasted just three months.
In 1841 Peel regained power and presided over a notably reforming Conservative administration which culminated in his decision to repeal the Corn Laws, so splitting his party and relegating it to the opposition benches for a generation.
If Peel is remembered above all for dividing his party, he also deserves to be recalled for setting down in a few simple sentences its lasting approach to political and constitutional change.
Among the many contributions the remarkable Annie Besant made to Indian nationalism was the establishing in 1914 of the Young Men's Indian Association - a challenge to the YMCA. The purpose of the YMIA was to serve as “a political gymnasium as it were, to equip the youth with a strong body, an informed mind and a noble character".
The following year, the YMIA's HQ opened - Gokhale Hall, on Armenian Street in Madras. Annie Besant paid for the construction herself. It took the name of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a leader of the Indian National Congress and founder of the Servants of India Society, who died in February 1915.
The hall has been sealed off for a decade at least. It's caught up, apparently, in a property dispute - with heritage enthusiasts seeking to block plans for demolition. But as the row rumbles on, one of the main venues of Indian nationalism is sliding rapidly into dereliction.
Annie Besant established the Home Rule League in this hall and it's where she delivered her 'Wake Up, India' lectures. It was also used as a venue by the Justice Party, the pioneer of the Dravidian movement which now dominates the region's politics and a precursor of the anti-caste, anti-religion, self respect movement.
Periyar, the firebrand of twentieth century Tamil radicalism, spoke here. So too did Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India.
Nehru once declared, in tribute both to the building and to Besant: "The Gokhale Hall has been the scene of great achievements in oratory and public speaking as well as music and the fine arts. It has received with open arms persons of every description without distinction of caste, creed, colour or political persuasion. The Hall ever reminds us of the voice of its founder and no one associated with it can ever forget the inspiration of that voice,"
The photograph above - taken from Reddit - dates from 1929. At the centre of the front row is the Urdu writer and poet, Muhammad Iqbal., who died before independence but has been described as the 'spiritual father' of Pakistan.
After independence, the hall became a venue for Tamil music and cultural events. But it is now slipping into dilapidation.
The hall has a caretaker who sits outside the shuttered entrance and keeps all-comers at bay. When I spotted a door leading into the hall ajar and started to photograph through the security grille, he quickly closed this peephole on the hall's once glorious past.
Quite by chance, I came across another YMIA building a short distance away on the splendidly named Second Line Beach Street (aka Moor Street). And I caught just a glance of a statue of Annie Besant - and alongside, a bust of Sir William Wedderburn, a co-founder of the Indian National Congress and colleague of both Besant and Gokhale.
It transpires these items have been retrieved from Gokhale Hall and appear to be well cared for in their new home.
Unlike Gokhale Hall, this YMIA building is still in use. It has a small library (consisting of a locked display cabinet), a gym, a boxing exercise room and - the only part of the building with any activity when I popped by - a room devoted to the table-top game, carrom.
Well, that's it from Chennai for another year. As I write this post, I'm already back in London - earlier than expected because of coronavirus. I am hoping there will be another series of posts from one of India's great cities in a year's time.
Along Anna Salai - Mount Road to those of a particular vintage - and tucked back a little from the furious flow of traffic is a quaint, curious-looking building now more than a century old. It proclaims itself to be the 'first cinema house of South India'.
This was the Electric- "a large corrugated iron shell with a brick facade", according to a comment cited in S. Muthiah's magisterial Madras Rediscovered - which started screening silent films in 1913. Muthiah suggests that a Mrs Klug showed films for a few months a couple of years earlier in a venue called the Bioscope - but let's let that pass.
The shed became the rather fetching building which still stands. Within a couple of years of starting as a movie house, the Electric was sold and became a post office.
The city's much more modern main post office now looms over the original building, which survives as Chennai's philatelic bureau.
I popped in one Saturday morning to see what's left of the (distinctly stylish) interior of the Electric. The bureau wasn't busy - four counters were open, and customers ... there were none.
When an eager assistant asked if she could be of assistance, I guiltily admitted I had come simply to admire the old building not the old stamps.
If the Electric is the ancient, just round the corner on Blackers Road is the modern side of Chennai cinema. The Casino is a striking post-modernist design and it shows movies in both Tamil and Telugu.
Cinemas here as elsewhere have lost some of their pulling power in the digital era, but movies remain popular in South India - after all it's home to one of the world's biggest film industries.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!