A shaft of autumn sunlight gave a radiance today to what is in any event one of the more arresting buildings in Fitzrovia. Now a hotel, this was built in 1901 as the Howard de Walden Nurses' Home on Langham Street (just opposite the 'Yorkshire Grey'). This is 'a neo-Gothic hygienic aberration' in the vinegary judgement of Nikolaus Pevsner - but I'm all for aberrations in the modern streetscape, and happily Ftzrovia provides them in ample measure.
A posting about India - not least because it's Diwali. I bought this wonderful book about Raj-era Simla for £4 yesterday at a stall on Queen's Crescent in Kentish Town. It's from the high water mark of Empire - published in Calcutta in 1904, almost equidistant in time from the Rebellion/Mutiny of 1857 and independence and the end of the Raj ninety years later.
The book's been bashed around a bit, but it's complete, including hugely evocative photographs and illustrations, and a folding map. Simla was the summer capital of British India, replete with Viceregal Lodge. It was where all the Brits who could manage to hid away from the sun during the summer - up in the hills, within sight of the Himalayas. The presence of thousands of army officers, civil servants and above all their wives defined colonial-era Simla.
It tells its own story that a large part of this book is about amateur dramatics in Simla. And lo an behold, here's Colonel R.S.S. Baden Powell - yes, that Baden Powell, really! - taking to the stage in Japanese dress. The book records: '"The Geisha", in which General Baden-Powell, of Mafeking fame, played with Miss Turner and Mrs Elsmie, was an extremely popular production ...'. Indeed!
What badge, I hear you wonder, did scouting's founder get for this performance? Answers on a postcard please.
And as an encore, here's the 1902 cast photo from 'Floradora' at Simla's appropriately named Gaiety theatre
It's not all white mischief in the hills. The book also has explorations of Indian traditions and customs - a photo of a wrestling match, for instance - and plenty of landscapes and townscapes of a Simla long gone, along with its amateur strollers:
Here's another one - a purple burst of HOPE, on the Athlone Street bridge facing west. It's in a very different style to the more emblematic HOPE around the place, detailed here, and I'm still seeking your help in locating more HOPE and finding out what it was all about.
Come on, someone must have some of the answers!
My favourite HOPE is on the other side of this same bridge - here it is again:
A truly wonderful handbill from the Reform movement of 1884 - issued by the printing trades unions and, remarkably, 'Printed during the progress of the Procession by Members of the Amalgamated Association of Pressmen'. This from the days when resolutions were submitted 'at the second sound of the bugle' ... surely that sounded dates even 130 years ago.
This is a photo of the procession, with what I take to be Nelson's Column in the distance. The Third Reform Act - which received Royal Assent in December 1884 - greatly extended the franchise, particularly in the countryside. Women remained excluded from the vote.
Subsequent legislation redrew constituency boundaries, giving more seats to London and other cities.
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