181 years ago today the most famous clown of them all, Joseph Grimaldi, died at his home in Pentonville.
Every year on this day, Clowns International lays a wreath at his grave - it's in Joseph Grimaldi park on Pentonville Road, once the burial ground of St James, Pentonville - in tribute to the man who devised harlequinade, donned the white face paint, and started the tradition of the comic/ melancholic clown.
Grimaldi was the biggest draw of his era, performing particularly at Drury Lane and at Sadlers Wells, He was a stage clown not a circus clown, and the injuries he sustained in his act - alongside a quarrelsome nature and incipient alcoholism - brought an early end to his stage career.
In the 1830s he moved to Southampton Street (now Calshot Street) on the north side of Pentonville Road. Grimaldi popped in most evenings to his local, the Marquis of Cornwallis, and when he lost the use of his legs, the landlord carried him to and fro on his back.
On the evening of May 31st 1837, Grimaldi was carried home as usual. The next morning he was found dead in his room.
There were just five clowns (still sometimes known as Joeys, after Grimaldi) at the graveside today to lay a wreath, raise a laugh, blow a whistle, do a conjuring turn and perform a comic shuffle.
In another corner of the former burial ground there's a curious coffin-shaped (really!) musical installation in tribute to Grimaldi - though it turns out that neither this, nor the gravestone, marks the precise burial spot:
Hot Codlins, Grimaldi's top tune, were baked apples which, 200 years ago, you could buy from street vendors.
Did I say there that no one around today knows how Hot Codlins goes? Wrong!!
A new and exciting acquisition - a bound volume of one of the most important of Chartist periodicals, the Chartist Circular, an unstamped paper published in Glasgow from 1839 to 1842. The volume is almost complete - just a handful of the later issues are missing.
And particularly wonderful, this volume was given to the Chartist leader George Julian Harney in Glasgow in 1846.
John Colquhoun, who presented the volume to Harney, is mentioned in its pages - attending a Scottish Chartist Convention in early 1842. He was a figure of some consequence in Scottish Chartism.
On the title page, there's Harney's ownership signature - such a wonderful association copy. Harney was one of the more left-wing of Chartist leaders and became a socialist and an internationalist. He lived until the closing years of the century.
The periodical is a reminder of how well organised and politically developed the Chartist movement was in its heyday. All the six points of the People's Charter were eventually enacted, excepted the demand for annual Parliaments - though the universal suffrage the Chartists advocated did not extend to women.
The Chartists were keen and effective propagandists and made good use of the press. The first issue of the Chartist Circular, priced at a halfpenny, sold 20,000 copies. The most renowned of Chartist papers, the Northern Star published in Leeds, was much more expensive - because as a newspaper (rather than a journal) it had to pay the stamp tax designed to restrict the readership and impact of the radical press.
'God's Acre': the Chelsea Moravians
This is, believe it or not, just off King's Road in Chelsea. A hidden acre of green space. 'God's Acre', as the Moravians - a Protestant church with its roots in central Europe - describe their burial grounds.
It's also the site of one of a handful of Moravian churches in London. If you haven't been here - and I hadn't until this week - then here's where you go...
The congregation dates back to 1742. It worshipped at Fetter Lane near Fleet Street, and still carries that name. According to its website, the congregation was established by Moravians who had come to London with the intention of moving on to the Caribbean to take the gospel to slave communities there. The Chelsea burial ground was set up nine years later.
During the Second World War, the church suffered severe bomb damage and the congregation dispersed. In the 1960s, they reassembled and began to worship in one of the buildings at their burial ground. They gather here still.
The burials are marked by small, uniform stone tablets in the ground, evenly spaced - quite an impressive statement of social equality and human brotherhood. More remarkably, the burial ground is in four quarters, reserved respectively for married women, single women, married men and single men. So no husbands and wives in neighbouring plots.
There have been 400 hundred interments in this particular God's Acre. As the graves were dug deep, the cemetery escaped the initial ban on burials in Central London and they continued here until 1868. The grounds are still in use for the interment and scattering of ashes.
I have a particular interest in the Moravian church - I went to a Moravian primary school at Fulneck outside Leeds, a community established at almost exactly the same time as the Chelsea burial ground. My parents weren't Moravians and the school certainly didn't proselytise. In my four years there, I don't think I ever set foot inside Fulneck's Moravian chapel, which I now rather regret.
Its main claim to fame back in the day was that the cricketer Sir Leonard Hutton and the actor Diana Rigg had attended the school.
I came across another Moravian church many years later in the most unlikely of places - at Leh in Ladakh, a Tibetan-infused corner of the Indian Himalayas. But that's another story!
In a corner of the burial ground off King's Road, not in the cemetery proper but on it's margins, there's this remarkable grave -
The plaque reads: 'NUNAK AN ESKIMO BOY 1770-1788'
Curious? I certainly am. We'll find out more in Curious Chelsea - a new addition to the Curious stable, with new authors too. Watch this space for more details!
We're talking about ... Jerusalem
This document is 72 years old, but amazingly topical. It's about who rules Jerusalem. The chief justice of the supreme court of Palestine, Sir William FitzGerald, was given this task: "To enquire into and report to the High Commissioner on the local administration of Jerusalem and to make recommendations in relation thereto".
His conclusion - create two boroughs, one Jewish and the other Arab (alas, this version of the report doesn't include a map of the boundary he proposed). Only Arabs gave evidence to Sir William's enquiry, But he came to the unexceptional conclusion: 'I am forced to the regrettable but irresistible conclusion that there is no prospect of the Arabs and Jews co-operating ...'
His recommendation: two boroughs, with an over-arching authority along the lines of the London County Council. 'I see no reason to shrink from the reality of the situation, which in fact I regard as fortunate: one borough will be predominantly Jewish, and the other will be predominantly Arab.'
This wasn't quite partition, but it was a large step down that road. When newspapers bore headlines about the prospect of partition in 1946 and early 1947, they were talking about Palestine - not India.
I got this pamphlet from Oxfam, which has just taken a sizable cache of publications relating to Palestine. Another that I bought is this 1946 list of the Palestine press, which includes publications in Arabic, Armenian, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Polish and a solitary title in Yiddish.
'Sunlight on a Broken Column'
I'm so pleased to have come across this first edition of Attia Hosain's wonderful 1961 novel about personal and political loyalties among Lucknow's Muslim elite a generation earlier amid the rise of the Muslim League. I found it in the Bloomsbury Oxfam Books - a happy hunting ground for me. The dust jacket design is by Sally Bodington.
This is in part an autobiographical novel - it's about a young woman's coming of age, breaking free from the constraints of family and tradition. I was given a copy by the late Ram Advani when I first visited his Lucknow bookshop twenty-five years ago. I read it, enjoyed it, learnt from it - the writing is as elegant as the now lost culture it depicted.
Cecil Day Lewis was Attia Hosain's editor at Chatto & Windus, and Virago has republished Sunlight on a Broken Column in their modern classics series. The title, by the way, is taken from a line in a T.S. Eliot poem.
I've just been reading a quite remarkable novel - a bestseller of its day which is utterly transgressive about gender, sex and (in part) race ... though class barriers, need I say, remain largely immutable.
It's set in India - 'nowhere on earth is there a more dazzling or brilliant arena for life to play itself out than in India', the author declares - written by a woman who used the pseudonym Victoria Cross and was published in 1901. According to Gail Cunningham's introduction to a modern reprint, the book 'sold six million copies, ran through more than thirty editions and remained in print until the 1930s'.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!