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!
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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