... all the tea in China
Look up! That should be the motto when you are walking around central London.
Here's the wonderful signage above Twinings, the top class tea merchant, where the Strand turns into Fleet Street. We might now associate tea as much with India and Sri Lanka (once Ceylon), But China was where tea was born as a beverage, and it's still comfortably the world's biggest producer, with India in second place. (Turkey, Iran and Argentina are all in the top ten of growing countries - fancy that!)
Twinings have been trading here, they say, since 1706. When the Chinamen appeared, I'm not quite sure - it feels more Fu Manchu than 18th century. Anyone know?
The Ayahs' Home in Hackney
What an astonishing photograph! It appears in George Sims' Living London, published in three volumes from 1901. The Ayahs' Home at that time was on King Edward's Road, close to the southern end of Mare Street.
Ayahs are Indian nannies - hundreds came over with British colonial-era families returning from India, and quite a few ended up abandoned, or homeless as they sought new employment. An ayahs' home seems to have been set up in Aldgate from the 1820s or a little later. The home had moved to a large house at 26 King Edward's Road by 1891, when it came under the management of the London City Mission.
This photo of the exterior of the Ayahs' Home appeared in the London City Mission magazine in 1900. The mission of course was trying to save souls as well as help the distressed - and clearly seeking to reassure its donors that this was a well-run enterprise.
The building still stands - none of the signage survives, but otherwise it is much as it was when ayahs sought refuge here a century and more ago. I went down to King Edward's Road today - this is what No. 26 looks like:
The First World War made it all but impossible for ayahs to return home. And during or more probably just after the war, the home moved one-hundred yards or so to slightly bigger and more modern premises at 4 King Edward's Road. And that building too is still standing - again with none of the old signage, but with the porch and rudiments of the exterior design little changed, and perhaps even the same railings:
Its not clear when the Ayahs' Home closed - perhaps in the mid-1920s, though one imagines that the problem of stranded ayahs may well have persisted into the 1950s. Perhaps as the Indian population in the UK grew, ayahs were able to seek help from within the community.
You can find out more about the Ayahs' Home at the following sites and in an article by Suzanne Conway in a volume entitled Children, Childhood and Youth in the British World. And thanks to the Geffrye Museum in Dalston - it was a mention of the Ayah's Home in their current exhibition 'Swept under the Carpet?: Servants in London Households, 1600-2000' which put me on this track.
The Hammersmith Socialist Society
To Kelmscott House by the Thames this weekend - where this quotation from William Morris's socialist parable News from Nowhere adorns the very spot where Morris's Hammersmith Socialist Society gathered 130 years ago.
Kelmscott House is a wonderful Georgian riverside pile on Upper Mall in Hammersmith - it's where Morris (socialist, conservationist, writer, designer) lived from 1879 until his death in 1896.
The coach house (to the left and out of shot in this photo) and basement are the headquarters of the esteemable William Morris Society. Their part of the building is open to the public on Thursday and Saturday afternoons - and today the garden was open as well. There's a small but very nice shop there too.
The coach house was where the Hammersmith Socialist Society held its weekly indoor meetings - there were also outdoor speaking pitches nearby. Morris was a key figure in libertarian socialism, and his Socialist League (the Hammersmith Socialist Society was initially the local branch of the League) - although it never had more than a few hundred members - was a hugely important organisation in the annals of the British left.
One of the gems in my eclectic collection of political pamphlets is this Statement of Principles, an eight-page publication issued by the Hammersmith Socialist Society in 1893. On the back is a map showing the location of Kelmscott House, where Morris's memory - and his influence as a writer, designer and political thinker and activist - is still celebrated. The cover masthead is, I'm fairly sure, by Walter Crane.
Another call to the past
I should have spotted this before ... another of those rare examples of old London 'letter' exchanges visible on signs. This is the Arosfa Hotel in Bloomsbury - MUSeum 2115. I think this is simply the nicest of these survivals I have come across.Don't you reckon?
What makes this particularly wonderful is that the Arosfa Hotel is still in business - this isn't some ghostly relic, but the sign (OK, the number has changed, but let that be) of a working, functioning, thriving business.
And in case you are wondering - and I certainly was - the hotel's website says the name means 'resting place' in Welsh ... a language widely spoken in Bloomsbury!
Not all that far away, on Whidborne Street south of St Pancras and King's Cross stations, there's another survivor - this is quite the most entrancing street corner in central London. And there still you can see the phone number, hand painted and now rather faint (wouldn't you be after all those decades?) TERminus 4577.
And I hope the photo below will explain why you need to hightail (meaning hurry, rush - an American origin word originating from the raised tails of running animals such as deer and rabbits) it down to Whidborne Street before it is irrevocably altered in some way.
It's a beer in case you're wondering. An Indian beer. But a bit like the Norwegian grey, this particular bird is dead, deceased, nailed to its perch.
I came across the Rosy Pelican label on the internet and it made me all nostalgic. It was Mark Tully's favourite beer, as I recall, and became mine too when I started living in Delhi in 1993.
In those distant days, a driver would be despatched to a rather sordid wine shop to get a case of whatever beer happened to be in stock - if any was in stock. It was pot luck.
Kalyani Black Label was the most common beverage - passable, but nothing special. A whole lot better though than Guru or - and yes, it really did exist - a brew called Grandma's Punch. If you were lucky, a case or two of Kingfisher would emerge from the car boot, Many thought that the ultimate. But my preference was for the richer, tastier Rosy Pelican - the name and the label were of course part of the attraction, but it was very pleasant to imbibe too.
My old mate Daniel Lak, I notice, gives Rosy Pelican a mention in his excellent book India Express - here's the link - but rather woundingly describes it as a 'slightly musty lager'. From the citizen of a country which brought us Molson and Labatt, all I can say is, perhaps some gentle recalibration is necessary.
I don't know why Rosy Pelican faded away -a pity ... but glad to be reminded of its (and my) heyday.
What a powerful book this is! Published in May 1944, Ela Sen's short stories - 'all culled from real life' - represent the profound tragedy and misery of the famine which ravaged Bengal in 1943 and claimed up to three million lives. The text is overshadowed, however, by the deeply shocking and emotive images of Zainul Abedin. 'Drawings from life', the book asserted. He used Chinese ink and paper made from rags to capture these desperate depictions of the human impact of famine. They are both the starkest images of the famine, and the defining work of one of Bangladesh's most highly regarded artists.
Zainul Abedin was still in his twenties when he made these drawings - some of the originals are in the British Museum, whose website records that Ela Sen's book was banned by the British authorities, presumably because of its impact on wartime morale. There is no doubt that British alarm about the prospect of a Japanese invasion of Bengal from Burma - and so their determination to ensure that stocks of grain and boats for river transport couldn't fall into the enemy's hands - contributed to the scale of the tragedy.
There are about a dozen Zainul Abedin drawings in the book, most of them spread over a double page. This image of a young child seeking sustenance from an emaciated and dying mother bring to mind the similar - and similarly unsettling - artwork of Sobha Singh.
This image - which I have blogged about before - was also published to accompany a first-hand account of the famine ... in this case the journalism of Freda Bedi for 'The Tribune', which was published as Bengal Lamenting. And in this book too, the image is more haunting than the words.
In the 1940s, both Zainul Abedin and Sobha Singh had links to the progressive writers' movement, and were clearly on the left. Abedin has come to be regarded as the founding father of modern art in Bangladesh. He died in May 1976.
I've been able to find out much less about Ela Sen - if you can help, do get in touch.
Calling the past
There's a heartening number of old shop signs that have been uncovered - and kept by new businesses. This example is on Holloway Road, towards the Highbury end - more-or-less opposite that very grand Islington library. It apparently used to be a butcher's shop and is now one of those 'vintage' emporiums.
There aren't too many 01 numbers visible either - but here's one below off Oldhill Street in that enclave between Stoke Newington and Clapton (and there's an 081 also on a signboard of a Oldhill Street business which appears still to be trading). The 01 code for London was introduced from 1959, and the three letter area codes were phased out from the mid-60s. 01 was superseded by 071 and 081 in 1990. 0171 and 0181 came were introduced in 1995, and 020 five years later.
A wonderful, fragile survival from the 'liberation' of Burma from Japanese rule at the end of the Second World War. This was the administration's news sheet - normally published every day but Monday. They made an exception on this Monday to bring news of Japan's formal surrender at an airfield near the capital.
'Even before the signature of the instrument of surrender,' another report reads, 'all fighting on the Burma front came to an end on Friday night.'
And one of the allied troops in Rangoon folded up this news sheet as a souvenir and brought it home - .and by some circuitous route, this ended up at the ephemera fair in Bloomsbury last weekend, where I bought it.
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