You know how it is when you think you know a place, and then you're taken by surprise ...
Well, I always thought that I knew the Jericho locality of Oxford fairly well. I spent a few weeks in the summer of, gulp, 1977 doing a project for the Oxfordshire Museum about working class housing there. Yesterday, I was back in Jericho - a very occasional visitor there in recent decades. I popped in at the spell-binding St Barnabas, took a stroll across Port Meadow, and walking down Walton Street on my way back, stumbled across the entrance to St Sepuchre's cemetery. I don't recall ever noticing it before.
It's one of three Oxford cemeteries opened in the 1840s or thereabouts, as the church graveyards become congested beyond redemption. St Sepulchre's has its own Wikipedia entry, and a very impressive website (as befits north Oxford). It's now hemmed in on all sides, largely by modern buildings fronting on Waltonwell Road. Among the gravestones, one stands out - featuring a racing car heading in to the sunset.
The story of Frankie Tayler's life and death have captured the attention of other bloggers - here's one. And it is a remarkable, and tragic tale. Frankie, a machenic on the MG racing team, died in 1934 at the age of 28 - his widow Phyllis, whose ashes are also interred here, lived another 66 years. And there's also another memorial plaque, I suppose also an internment of ashes, from 2009 - of Margaret Knight, aged 96, who I imagine was Frankie's sister.
The story of Frankie Tayler's death on the Isle of Man is told on the board by the entrance to the cemetery - and I've posted that below.
Kaye Don (Kaye Ernest Donsky) lived until 1981, and was quite a celebrity as a car and speedboat racer and later set up Ambassador motorcycles. His entry in Wikipedia gives a detailed account of the accident on the Isle of Man, for which he was sentenced to four months in jail for manslaughter. He was released early on health grounds.
One of the happier consequences of this blog has been the bringing together of two distant wings of a large and scattered family. It's quite a story.
Some time ago I wrote about Dorothy 'Dorf' Bonarjee, an Indian-born poet and artist, who studied at London and Aberystwyth, won an award at an Eisteddfod, eloped with a French artist, and made her life in southern France. Her niece Sheela Bonarjee, who lives in north London, is a friend - and has on her wall a wonderful painting of her aunt which I can't resist posting again at the foot of this article. She also has the enchanting painting above, which I saw for the first time today.
That initial blog of mine captured the attention of Quentin Surtel, the grandson of Paul Surtel. Paul and Dorf were together for seventeen years. Paul married again (to Quentin's grandmother) and there was a breach between the two wings of the family. Quentin is now trying to trace details of his grandfather's early life, details which Paul was reluctant to share with his immediate family for fear of annoying his second wife. This morning, at Sheela's place, I had the pleasure to meet Quentin, and see some of the hugely evocative family photos he has brought with him.
The mesmerising photo on the right is dated July 1922, and it shows Dorf with her and Paul's son, Denis, who died in infancy. They also had a daughter, Claire Aruna Surtel, who was a journalist in Marseilles. The photo on the left is undated, clearly later, and shows Dorf in Indian dress, as she is in the portrait below. It raises all sorts of questions in my mind about identity - a woman from an elite Indian family, educated in Britain, living in bohemian style in France, and making a point of wearing a very smart sari.
Dorf didn't marry again after the break-up of her marriage to Paul - now a much sought after artist. Aruna never really knew her half brothers. Paul Surtel died in 1985, in his early nineties. By the time Quentin traced the other side of his grandfather's family, Aruna was a few months dead. But the barrier between Paul Surtel's two families has now been overcome.
I also met this morning Dominique Baron-Bonarjee, Sheela's niece (and so Dorf's grand niece), and a London-based performance and installation artist who, as with her great aunt, has associations with France, India and the UK. 'Dorf was a rebellious woman', she says, 'and so am I'. She's also pursuing the family history - and the Bonarjees have quite a tale attached to them - and has used some of that story in her art. (If you click here, the first two images on the carousel feature photos of Dorf, and others in the family).
And that uncompleted portrait of Dorf - it's unsigned, and while the assumption is that Paul Surtel was the artist, that's not absolutely clear. It is bewitching. See for yourself.
So, where do you think this marvellous bookshop can be found? Rabat? Belleville? Wrong - it's on a back street at the northern end of Bloomsbury, not far from Euston Road.
It's wonderful to come across the exotic, the remarkable, in the off-the beaten-track corners of central London. The Maghreb Bookshop has been here since 1987, and the shop's website declares: "here you can find the unfindable".
Too good to be true? You'll have to pop in and find out.
I came across this grand old sign this morning. I hadn't spotted it before. A huge sign on the gable end of a wall at the eastern extremity of Clerkenwell Road, near the Old Street roundabout, now overlooking a petrol station. It's about a century old, and graces the side of what was once St Luke's school building.
Finsbury is now a forgotten area - constantly confused with Finsbury Park, about four miles away. The Borough of Finsbury was created in 1900 out of the vestries of Clerkenwell and of St Luke's to the east. Then in 1965 it became the most southerly constituent of the London Borough of Islington.You can get a better sense of the size and situation of the sign from this photo on the right.
Islington Council, bless them, has done a bit of digging into the story of the building and the sign - copied below from this site:
The site of the Shell petrol station at 198-208 Old Street EC1V 9FR has been identified by Islington Council as a ‘Site Specific Allocation’ (BC21) in the Bunhill and Clerkenwell Area Action Plan (draft 11-2010). We make this written comment further to a drop-in consultation meeting with a planning officer on 9th December, 2010 at Finsbury Library. East flank wall window of St. Luke's school building 188-194 Old Street EC1V 9FR
A window in the flank wall of our premises on the third floor of St. Luke's school building overlooks the Shell site. This window dates from 1912, with the rest of the building having been constructed in the 1870s & 1880s. A previous outline planning application submitted by Shell UK in 1999 (to which we objected) proposed only a small light well to accommodate the presence of this window. Such an accommodation would represent a serious deterioration of the light and aspect to our window and premises, which we use for educational purposes. We would ask that the Site Allocation for the Shell site should be subject to a constraint requiring that any future development of the Shell site should take full account of this window and not be allowed to result in an unreasonable deterioration of the light and aspect that it provides.
Finsbury Van & Wheelworks sign
There is also a historic sign (dating from the early 20th century) on the East flank wall of St. Luke's school building. This sign points to the site of the ‘Finsbury Van & Wheelworks’ formerly located to the rear where 196 Old St. now is. Our landlord has gone to the trouble of repairing this sign. It would be good to preserve the visibility of this sign from the street as an interesting indicator of the former industrial history of the area. So many of the older buildings in the immediate area have gone due to wartime bombing or unsightly 1960s redevelopment. Much has been lost including the magnificent former St. Luke’s asylum, the ‘City of London Lying in Hospital’, and the Almshouses in Bath Street. What little remains should be preserved. This sign does not appear on the list of ‘Historic items’ in the draft Area Action Plan (Appendix 3) and we feel that it should be included there and that this sign should be taken into account as a constraint in the specification of Site Allocation BC21 on heritage conservation grounds.
... or something like that.
It's just about exactly 25 years since I achieved the post I most coveted in my early career in journalism - Political Correspondent. And for the World Service, which still had its own foothold in the Lobby, its own desk in Parliament (in an overflow office known as The Dungeon, where in the evenings the smell of fried fish wafted up from the watchroom below), and its own access to the movers and shakers.
This was still Thatcher's reign. Heseltine had by then stormed out of her cabinet - Lawson and Howe were still to follow. The political capital gained by her 'victories' in the South Atlantic and over Scargill's miners, and in three successive elections, was being frittered away amid a raft of party squabbles, particularly over Europe, and poor policy decisions, of which the Poll Tax was the worst.
There was an incendiary air to politics - and on occasions a whiff of grapeshot on the streets. It was a truly stirring time to be a pol corr.
I had come across Mrs T at a Commonwealth conference in Harare - and she seemed much more charming and relaxed than I had expected. (I could say the same for Robert Mugabe). But there was little charm in her despatch box performances. And on the one occasion I got to interview her, no charm at all. Here's what happened.
Downing Street's press office, under the irascible but immensely likeable Bernard Ingham, was perpetually running feuds. After an environmental summit conference in London, No. 10 - for reasons I never uncovered - was determined to deny both BBC TV News and ITN's 'News at Ten' the big PM sit down interview which was standard fare at the close of such events. So the broadcast interviews went to Channel 4 ... and the World Service. And a callow and inexperienced World Service pol corr, who in his anxiety had perhaps over rehearsed his questions, got a rare chance to interrogate Margaret Thatcher.
She sensed my nervousness - and pounced. I still haven't summoned up the courage to listen back. I remember, as the interview was spiralling out of control, staring intently at Mrs Thatcher's face and in my panic-induced reverie seeing it transform into the Gerald Scarfe caricature with the Concorde nose. When, in response to my killer question, she disdainfully replied: "I don't think you've been listening to what we've been saying", I could feel the blood freeze in my veins. It was a chastening experience.
Mrs T was of course the commanding British political figure of the second half of the last century - and in terms of eminence, ranks alongside Churchill, Lloyd George, Disraeli, Gladstone and Blair as the epoch-defining Prime Ministers of modern times.
This evening, I got home just as the World Service was broadcasting my half-hour obituary programme for Mrs Thatcher - first assembled a decade or so ago, and freshened up a year or two back. It brought back a host of memories. 'Love her or loathe her, no one was indifferent to Margaret Thatcher.'
For many of us who spent time at Westminster - politicians and Lobby alike - it feels as if part of our past has slipped anchor.
Another wonderful find - in the same place that I chanced upon Claude Cockburn's Reporter in Spain.
This cheap pamphlet was published in Dublin in 1916, in the period between the Easter Rising and the start of Sir Roger Casement's trial for high treason. Casement, a British civil servant, was alleged to have sought German support for an Irish rebellion. He was convicted, and hanged at Pentonville prison on 3rd August 1916.
This is a scarce title - notable for the cover portrait by G. Atkinson, and for Redmond-Howard's measured account of Casement (the pamphlet's sub-title is 'a character sketch without prejudice').
This copy is very fragile, the covers are loose and frayed - but it is a wonderful echo of a hugely important and contested moment in British history.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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