Ladies to Love – A Valentines Top 10

Those who remember our Valentine’s Day blog post of Handsome Chaps from History from last year (if not, refresh your memory here), will recall that we promised a similar list of ladies the minute we find an excuse. Well, that excuse has finally arrived, so on Valentine’s Day 2017 let’s kick off our Top 10 of Charming Chapesses with…

10. Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923). Born in Paris to a courtesan mother and unknown father, Sarah Bernhardt rose to become the greatest star of the 19th century theatre, earning the nickname ‘The Divine Sarah’. Although not a conventional beauty, she had talent and charisma in abundance, and was equally at home in both tragedy and comedy. She didn’t shy away from roles such as Hamlet usually reserved for male actors, and was not averse to scandalous productions either, performing in John Wesley De Kay’s ‘Judas’ in New York in 1910. Mary Magdalene, a lover of Pontius Pilate, then of Judas Iscariot, moves on to Jesus whereupon Judas betrays him to the Romans in a fit of jealousy. Even more shockingly, Bernhardt was cast in the title role.
9. Annette Kellerman (1887-1975) Australian professional swimmer Annette Kellerman was once dubbed ‘The Perfect Woman’ for her body’s closeness to the measurements of the Venus de Milo. She discovered a love of swimming in childhood when taken by her parents to the local pool to help the muscles develop in her painfully weak legs, and rapidly progressed to giving swimming and diving exhibitions. Her prowess did not go unnoticed by Hollywood, helped greatly by her provocative championing of a new tight-fitting swimming costume for women. It was so shocking that in 1907 Kellerman was arrested on a beach in Massachusetts for indecency. In 1916 she scandalised further by appearing fully nude in ‘A Daughter of the Gods’, the first million-dollar film production.
8. Elisabeth, Empress of Austria (1837-1898). Elisabeth stands out in the roll call of European royalty as unusually beautiful. At 5’8” she was tall, and maintained a strict exercise and beauty regime. She was an impressive horsewoman, riding for hours every day, and drilling on balance beams in front of huge mirrors. Her beauty cult transformed her into an icon. Unhappily, Sisi’s life with the Emperor Franz Joseph was a tragic one. She was stifled by rigid court rules and tyrannised by her mother in law who prevented her having any say in the care of her own children. Her only son died in a suicide pact, an event Sisi never recovered from. She was assassinated in 1898 by an Italian anarchist, ensuring her place in the myth of doomed beauty.
7.Christabel Pankhurst (1880-1958) Intense, dynamic, radical and beautiful, militant suffragette and women’s rights campaigner Christabel Pankhurst inspired complete devotion from her followers. While this no doubt sprung from a shared desire to bring about a state of female emancipation, Pankhurst’s striking good looks and passionate nature can’t have been too much of a turn-off.
6. Cleo de Merode (1875-1966). Cleo de Merode combined talent as a ballet dancer with glamour and stunning good looks to become one of the most famous and imitated women of the Belle Epoche. Born in Paris, she was painted, sculpted and photographed by the pre-eminent artists of the day, including Toulouse-Lautrec, Giovanni Boldini and Felix Nadar, but her reputation was sullied by the public admiration of King Leopold II of Belgium. Salacious gossip spread that she’d become mistress to the 61-year-old, unwanted rumours which Cleo was never able to shake off.
5. Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000). Hedy Lamarr, the Austrian and American film star, was not only exceedingly beautiful, but also a brilliantly talented inventor. On screen her sparkling sexuality riveted audiences. Off it, she helped to develop a method of transmitting radio signals by frequency hopping that many years later became an important element in modern communication technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Brains and beauty – what more could one desire in a dinner companion?
4. Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond (1647-1702). The great 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys called Frances the greatest beauty I ever saw. While at court as lady-in-waiting to King Charles II’s new bride Catherine of Braganza, she caught the eye of the Merry Monarch who became infatuated with her. To avoid becoming another of Charles’s mistresses, she eloped with the Duke of Richmond, an injury that wounded Charles deeply. He forgave her, and later commissioned a medal of Britannia modelled upon her profile that came to adorn British coinage for centuries.
3. Lily Elsie (1886-1962). Edwardian singer and actress Lily Elsie caused a sensation with her starring role in operetta ‘The Merry Widow’ in London in 1907, and became one of the most photographed women of the Edwardian era. Once again, the Venus de Milo was invoked as the perfect standard of beauty with whom Elsie compared admirably. The Atlanta Constitution newspaper writing in 1915 went on to say that, “everyone agrees that Lily Elsie has the most kissable mouth in all England”.
2. Louise Brooks (1906-1985). Compared with some, Louise Brooks’ film acting career was relatively short, lasting from 1925 to 1938 with four of those years absent from the screen. Her early retirement from film preserved her sleek, glamorous, stylish image as an icon of the Jazz Age. Today, her role as Lulu in German silent film ‘Pandora’s Box’ in 1929 is her most well-known. The film is a dark, lurid tale of seduction, murder and downfall with a lesbian fling thrown in for good measure. Although poorly received at the time, it was rediscovered in the 1950s to great acclaim, with French film archivist Henri Langlois famously commentating that, “there is no Garbo, there is no Dietrich, there is only Louise Brooks”.
1. Anna May Wong (1905-1961). Actress Anna May Wong had star quality in abundance but as a Chinese American woman in the overtly racist climate of twenties and thirties Hollywood, she was never going to be allowed to play the happy romantic lead opposite a white actor, and discriminatory casting denied her major roles even when the characters themselves were Chinese. But she had an exquisite, elegant beauty and a screen presence in which she radiated exotic sensuality, outshining Gilda Gray in ‘Piccadilly’ (1929) and matching headliner Marlene Dietrich in ‘Shanghai Express’ (1932) arched eyebrow for arched eyebrow. Our top Valentine’s Day date.

The Brothers Robinson

The William Heath Robinson Museum opened in Pinner in October last year, the culmination of many years’ fundraising by the West House and Heath Robinson Trust.  Regardless of how familiar you are with the work of the so-called, ‘Gadget King’, this lovely museum is well worth the trip to the further reaches of the Metropolitan line.  Located just five minutes or so from Pinner station, the museum’s graceful modern building sits within the picturesque Pinner Memorial Park. Divided into three main spaces, one room is devoted to its rolling programme of exhibitions,  another tells the story of Heath Robinson’s career as an illustrator with a third dedicated to workshops and education.

WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON Artist and illustrator, shown working in his studio. Heath Robinson's prolific career spanned five decades. During this time, he produced countless illustrations for The Sketch and The Bystander as well as other ILN magazines. He is quoted as saying, 'I was fairly launched on my career' of Bruce Ingram's decision to publish his illustrations in The Sketch in March 1906. He is best-known for his ingenious contraptions but his work extended to the themes of golf, cricket, war, gardening and more. Date: 1872 - 1944

WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON Artist and illustrator, shown working in his studio. Heath Robinson’s prolific career spanned five decades. During this time, he produced countless illustrations for The Sketch and The Bystander as well as other ILN magazines. He is quoted as saying, ‘I was fairly launched on my career’ of Bruce Ingram’s decision to publish his illustrations in The Sketch in March 1906. He is best-known for his ingenious contraptions but his work extended to the themes of golf, cricket, war, gardening and more. Date: 1872 – 1944

The area’s connection with Heath Robinson is deeply felt.  Though he was born in Stroud Green, North London, he moved to Hatch End, near the country village of Pinner with his young family in 1908, an area where his older brother Tom – also an illustrator – was already living.  In 1918, Will, as he was known, moved to a larger house in Cranleigh, Surrey, but his decade spent in Pinner saw him flourish and find permanent fame as an illustrator, and where, arguably, he produced some of his finest work.

Blog 8

Pinner is no longer the rural idyll it was when Will moved there almost 110 years ago, but it retains a village-like air of tranquility and order, and despite the plethora of chain restaurants now occupying the quaint buildings, the delightfully ancient Queen’s Head pub on the high street, where Will and his friends would regularly congregate for a drink, continues to do a roaring trade.  In fact, Will and his two elder brothers Tom and Charles, would form part of a group jovially entitled the Loyal Federation of Frothfinders.  Together they would go on long walks around the Middlesex countryside with convivial breaks along the way at convenient hostelries, a sort of glorified, bucolic pub crawl.  It seems fitting therefore, that as part of the museum’s latest exhibition, ‘The Brothers Robinson’ which explores the shared and separate talents of Tom, Charles and William Heath Robinson, Paradigm Brewery of Hertfordshire have brewed and bottled a special Frothfinders beer, a move that would most certainly have pleased these ale-loving brethren.

A rather lovely illustration by Charles Robinson, showing a bride and groom arm in arm among an arcadian landscape. Date: 1933
A rather lovely illustration by Charles Robinson, showing a bride and groom arm in arm among an arcadian landscape. Date: 1933

Here at the library, we also have strong connections with William Heath Robinson and his equally talented brothers.  Mary and Hilary collected many children’s books from the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of British publishing when lavish gift books were gloriously illustrated and expensively bound.  Tom, Charles and Will worked both separately and collaboratively on numerous titles we hold here including volumes of Hans Anderson’s Fairy Tales (Will), Old-Time Stories by Charles Perrault (Will) and A Child’s Christmas (Charles).

Children crowd round the window of a Toy Shop to look at the sale bargains within. Date: circa 1908
Blog 11
Blog 9

Beyond book illustration, it was as a cartoonist that Will found true fame, admitting in his autobiography, ‘My Line of Life’ (also owned by the library), “I was fairly launched on my career as a humorous artist” of Bruce Ingram’s decision to publish him in The Sketch.  The Sketch forms part of the Illustrated London News archive housed and managed here at the library.  His series of First World War cartoons in the magazine, as well as the Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, also part of the archive, were hugely popular, prompting soldiers to write to him with suggestions for further absurd contraptions with which to foil the dishonourable machinations of the Germans.  Many of Will’s Great War cartoons for The Sketch featured in the museum’s first exhibition, ‘Heath Robinson at War’, together with examples of his work from the Second World War when he was still contributing illustrations to The Sketch, underlining his long association with the title.  The ILN’s run of The Bystander is also a great source for his cartoons during the 1920s, as is The Strand while his advertising work for brands such as Hovis, Ransome’s Lawnmowers and Mackintosh Toffees, appears frequently.

Perhaps most surprising are many of the exquisite illustrations Charles Robinson contributed to the ILN magazines during the 1920s and 30s; his themes, oozing fantasy, are far more adult and sophisticated than the children’s books he is best known for, but retain his trademark romantic watercolour style.

Beautiful illustration by Charles Robinson showiong a sailor and a lady friend peering over the edge of a ship to see a bevy of beautiful mermaids in the sea below. Date: 1939

Beautiful illustration by Charles Robinson showiong a sailor and a lady friend peering over the edge of a ship to see a bevy of beautiful mermaids in the sea below. Date: 1939

Blog 7

This new exhibition in Pinner promises to display more than sixty pieces of work by the brothers, many of them not previously seen.  We pulled together our own selection for you to enjoy here, with a reminder that images by William Heath Robinson and Charles Robinson are available for licensing through Mary Evans.  In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to do one weekend soon, why not make a trip to Pinner?

‘The Brothers Robinson’ runs from 21 January 2017 to 26 March 2017 www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org

Bizarre Best Wishes – the Weird & Wonderful World of Victorian Christmas cards

Children attacking a large pudding on a Christmas card. Date: circa 1890s

10997093: Children attacking a large pudding on a Christmas card. Date: circa 1890s

For any student of Christmas festive facts, they will know that first Christmas card was designed in 1846 by John Calcott Horsley at the request of Sir Henry Cole, later Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum.  About one thousand hand-coloured copies were produced, printed by Mr. Jobbins of Holborn and published by Joseph Cundall of Old Bond Street.  The design incorporated two scenes of charity flanking a central picture of a typically Victorian family cheerily raising a glass to toast the recipient of the card.  Although Horsley’s card is the acknowledged ‘first’ Christmas design, another, even earlier card, was designed by Mr. W. N. Egley, and sent by the artist to friends and family in 1842.  Whichever can claim to be truly the first Christmas card, they triggered a trend that became a festive tradition as familiar as trees and mince pies.

These early examples had been private ventures but by the 1860s the firm of Messrs. Goodall had begun to issue Christmas cards to the trade.  In the decades that followed, Christmas card sending rose to prodigious proportions.   During the Christmas period of 1882 for example, more than 14,000,000 letters and packages were delivered in the London area alone.  Such was the demand for new designs of good quality that in 1879, card publishers Raphael Tuck held an exhibition at the Egyptian Hall in London, with well-known Academicians as judges and 500 guineas in prizes.  The contest attracted nearly 900 entrants and was so popular that a second and grander competition, judged by Sir John Millais and Marcus Stone, was held in 1882.  This time £5000 was awarded in prizes.  The result was that many famous artists, including Stone, George Clausen, G. D. Leslie and W. F. Yeames, entered the Christmas card market, with one firm paying out £7000 for drawings in a single season.  Years later, a 1936 interview with Desmond Tuck of Raphael Tuck published in The Sphere, revealed that each season the company rose to the challenge of creating no fewer than 3000 original Christmas card designs, achieving this with a permanent staff of fifteen designers, freelance commissions from outside artists and licensing works from art galleries and museums.  Tuck were undoubtedly market leaders.  They exclusively produced the royal family’s Christmas cards each year and ensured that the designs were distributed to the press who duly published them (many featured patriotic scenes or historic royals from the past), and they pioneered novelty cards alongside more sedate, traditional designs.  In 1901, The Tatler magazine commented on a box of Christmas cards sent by the canny marketeers at Raphael Tuck:

“All Raphael Tuck’s cards are pretty and artistic, but what struck me as the most ingenious were the expanding cards, i.e., those cards by which a slight manipulation can be transformed into ships, soldiers and horses of a real shape and form.”

An 1842 design for a Christmas card by Mr W. N. Egley, though the general consensus is that the first was by John Calcott Horsley for Sir Henry Cole in 1846. There is some debate over whether this one was designed in 1842 or 1848. Nevertheless, a very early example, perhaps the earliest! Date: 1842

11657256: An 1842 design for a Christmas card by Mr W. N. Egley, though the general consensus is that the first was by John Calcott Horsley for Sir Henry Cole in 1846. There is some debate over whether this one was designed in 1842 or 1848. Nevertheless, a very early example, perhaps the earliest! Date: 1842

Reputedly the first Christmas card, this was designed by Horsley in 1843, and a coloured version sent out by Sir Henry Cole in 1846 Date: 1843-1846

10021527: Reputedly the first Christmas card, this was designed by Horsley in 1843, and a coloured version sent out by Sir Henry Cole in 1846 Date: 1843-1846

The designing room at Raphael Tuck & Sons, fine art publishers of prints, cards, Almanacks and postcards, staffed largely by women. Tuck were one of the leading card and postcard publishers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Date: 1903

11657260: The designing room at Raphael Tuck & Sons, fine art publishers of prints, cards, Almanacks and postcards, staffed largely by women. Tuck were one of the leading card and postcard publishers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Date: 1903

Several examples were shown but it is notable that not one single card appears to us to be particularly festive – there are donkeys on the sands of a coastal resort, a Chinese pleasure boat, circus horses and their riders,  a man-o-war in full dress and eighteenth century dandies carrying a lady in a sedan chair.  Not a single snowflake or twinkling bauble in sight.

211657259 (left): Adolph Tuck, Sir Adolph Tuck, 1st Baronet (1854-1926), fine art publisher and chairman of Raphael Tuck & Sons, pictured with his son passing a design for a Christmas card in 1903
10999514 (right): Invoice from Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd, to Mr Frank Blackley, for the supply of one hundred greetings cards, total cost ten shillings and ten pence.

We have an eye-bogglingly varied array of historic Christmas cards in the archive representing this rich period in card publishing.  Many have arrived via our representation of the fabulously bonkers David Pearson Collection featuring designs that range from the mildly inappropriate to the unashamedly weird, most from the late 19th and early 20th century.  We may blame our modern-day sensibilities and taste for laughing at such unfathomable festive themes, but even in 1894, Gleeson White, editor of The Studio, wrote a monograph on Christmas cards in which he commented on the increasingly bizarre and inappropriate styles of card available to consumers.

“It is amusing to note the pictorial accompaniments, considered fit to illustrate the very mundane wish for a ‘A Happy Christmas’.  To accompany this prosaic and wholly carnal greeting we find, often, monsters of nightmareland, pictures of accidents dear to the farce writer, and in short, the subjects, which are in vulgar parlance weird and alarming on the one hand and distinctly uncomfortable on the other.”

Gleeson White, aesthetically sensitive, might have been particularly averse to ‘jokey’ and strangely macabre cards but there was undoubtedly a market at a time when the scale of card-sending meant that designers had to cast about for novel ideas and not all card buyers were discerning enough to prefer the worthy work of an Academician.   Nevertheless, whoever came up with murderous frogs and dead robins, cards in the shape of a hand gun or plucked turkeys lying limp and lifeless on kitchen scales, had perhaps spent rather too long at the drawing board, scraping the brandy barrel of festive ideas.  We don’t care.  Whether it’s Christmas or not, weird Christmas cards continue to be a source of great mirth and amusement at the library.  We’re just waiting for a mischievous someone to select some for a cool and off-beat Christmas card selection box.  We’ll be at the front of the queue.

9

A saw on a Christmas card -- the basis of a fairly excruciating pun. Date: circa 1890s

6

Little dog with a toy gun on a New Year card. circa 1890s

4  A frog murders another frog for money - a somewhat bizarre Christmas subject ! Date: circa 1880

5

Designing the Jazz Age – Gordon Conway & Mary Evans at the Fashion & Textile Museum

blog7

The Fashion and Textile Museum, a flamboyant landmark on London’s achingly hip Bermondsey Street, has been a mecca for fans of fashion history ever since it was opened by designer Zandra Rhodes in 2003. Now part of Newham College of Further Education, the hot pink and orange building, a former warehouse, does not own a permanent collection, nor is it particularly large compared to behemoths like the V&A, but it packs a punch with continually crowd-pleasing exhibitions complemented by a creative and engaging programme of talks and workshops. In the last couple of years, exhibitions have celebrated the history of swimwear, Liberty of London and Italian knitwear brand Missoni. This autumn, the museum has turned its attention to the glittering, glamorous Jazz Age combining exquisite original garments from the collection of Mark and Cleo Butterfield with photographs of the era’s icons by American photographer James Abbé, curated by Terence Pepper.

blog3

Not only that, we were delighted to be invited to curate a display of fashion illustrations for the exhibition, bringing an important facet of the 1920s fashion industry into focus. The pictures selected were all full-colour illustrations by American designer, Gordon Conway, who was commissioned by The Tatler and Britannia & Eve in the late 1920s to produce a series of designs, most of which were published under the simple title of ‘A Tatler Fashion’. Both magazines now form part of The Illustrated London News archive housed and managed here at Mary Evans, and are an authentic reflection of the tastes and aspirations of a widening class of consumers who were keen to try new fashions and sample modern freedoms that had previously been beyond the reach of their mothers and grandmothers. Conway herself was the epitome of the stylish, modern girl – very much practising what she preached.

blog6

Born 18 December 1894 in Cleburne, Texas, USA, Gordon Conway (1894-1956) was the only child of John Catlett Conway and Tommie Johnson. Educated in America and at finishing school in Switzerland, she showed a special talent for drawing and it was at a dinner party in 1915 that her doodles on a menu card impressed the writer Rufus Gilmore, who recommended her to Hepworth Campbell, art director of Vanity Fair. Though she lacked any prolonged formal art training, Campbell was struck by the fresh and modern linearity of her drawings. Fearing that further art lessons might dilute her distinctive style, he commissioned her to provide artwork for the magazine, where her designs, drawn from imagination, led her to be described as, ‘the artist who draws by ear.’

blog4

Having launched her career in America, by 1921, she had travelled to Europe with her new husband, businessman, Blake Ozias, where she divided her time between London and Paris, keeping studios in both cities. Tall, red-haired, sophisticated and stylish, Gordon Conway personified the svelte flappers she drew, and courted publicity – alongside her famous pet cat, ‘Mr Fing’ – as part of an effective marketing drive that was to lead to multiple commissions during the 1920s period. She provided designs for theatre posters and programmes for productions in London and Paris; sketched for a number of well-known couturiers and, championed by Edward Huskinson, editor of The Tatler, contributed original designs to his own magazine and other titles in the same ‘Great Eight’ publishing group – Eve: The Ladies’ Pictorial and The Bystander. She also excelled in costume design for cabaret and theatre, dressing performers The Dolly Sisters, Gladys Cooper and her good friend, Dorothy Dickson among others. Towards the end of the decade she became more heavily involved in costume design for the British film industry, establishing the first autonomous in-house costume department at the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation studios where, as executive dress designer she produced costumes for a succession of pictures including the futuristic ‘High Treason’ and ‘There Goes the Bride’, starring Jessie Matthews.

blog5

Gordon Conway worked hard, refusing to ever miss deadlines set by her demanding clients, while also maintaining a hectic social life. Overwhelmed by such a schedule she suffered a heart attack in late 1933 which was to curtail her output. Plagued by ill-health, she divorced her husband and retired in 1937, returning to the USA to live with her beloved mother Tommie at Mount Sion in Caroline County, Virginia, an eighteenth century property inherited from her father’s family.

We were able to see the Gordon Conway display in place for the first time at the opening night of the exhibition, which also allowed us a sneak preview of the breath-taking clothes on display. Jazz Age is a pure delight, its disparate elements pulled together with such a deft touch by curator Dennis Nothdruft and exhibition designer, Bethan Ojari that it feels cohesive and thoroughly steeped in 1920s atmosphere. Themed around the silent screen, this common thread is reflected in two opening tableaux – a cinema (complete with usherette uniform), flanked by a coven of twinkling black flapper dresses. Following this, the first display in the main area offers a mouth-watering array of evening coats and opera cloaks mirroring an illustration on the wall of theatre crowds in London’s West End, painted, coincidentally, by Fortunino Matania for The Sphere, another magazine held in the ILN archive. A set of wispy pastel coloured dresses and tennis costumes, contrast with the sexy frivolity of boudoir fashions and the sophistication of beaded and embroidered evening dresses on the upper level, while a wedding party in delicious, soft, orchard colours surround a shimmering Medieval style bridal gown. The most heavily sequinned dresses were displayed flat in glass cabinets to ward against the inevitable stretch and sagging that would occur should they be hung from a mannequin. Other than that, all clothes, which are in astoundingly good condition, are shown unconfined by glass cabinets, with each vignette scene, ranging from cocktail hour to Chinatown after dark, quietly enhanced by superb background paintings (the work of Paul Stagg and his team, carried out in Sanderson paints and strongly reminiscent of A. E. Marty or Georges Barbier in Gazette du Bon Ton). A display of occasional and dressing tables covered with period objects and artefacts provide a nostalgic narrative to the rapid social change undergone from the closing of the First World War to the dawn of the Second. Who knew Mum deodorant was already a thing in the 1920s? And presiding over all these fabric treasures is a chorus girl swinging from a suspended, glittering crescent moon. Should one’s mind wander back to the present day, a large screen playing a flickering 1920s dance routine on an endless loop reels us back in.

blog2

The photographic element of the exhibition includes a wall of female icons from the era most captured by equally famous snappers from Cecil Beaton to Man Ray. The James Abbé exhibition in an adjoining upstairs room, brings together some of the most glamorous stars of the period from the Dolly Sisters to Dolores, Mary Pickford to Rudolf Valentino. Abbe’s carefully constructed images convey the iconic status of his sitters, and the bold, sexually-charged confidence of this new age. To browse this gallery is akin to walking into a temple of assembled gods and goddesses.

The following day, with the exhibition officially open, I went back to the museum to take part in a panel discussion alongside the other contributors, Cleo & Mark Butterfield, Terence Pepper, Jenny Abbé, and curator Dennis Nothdruft . Talking about the genesis of the library, I also explained how fashion, as a barometer of social change, was a real strength of the library and that seeing the beautiful dresses and clothes on display brought the magazines and other fashion ephemera in our archive to life. There seems to be much cross-pollination and synergy in this collaboration. Pictures by James Abbé for instance, were frequently published in The Tatler, and Mary Evans contributor Gary Chapman, expert on the Dolly Sisters, assisted with the exhibition and will giving talks as part of its accompanying lecture series. With so many connections, we are proud to be associated with the museum’s 1920s Jazz Age. Furthermore, we feel our involvement would have delighted our founders Mary and Hilary Evans, who were always keen to share their passion for history with others. We hope Gordon Conway too would have been pleased to have been part of an exhibition that celebrates this dazzling period in fashion history – and the part she played in it.

blog1

Jazz Age at the Fashion & Textile Museum runs until 15 January 2017 http://www.ftmlondon.org/
Prints and cards featuring Gordon Conway illustrations are available to buy in the museum’s shop.

To see more Gordon Conway images click here

Hell’s Belles – Bell Ringing & the Gender Question

Engraving showing a view of the peal of bells in St.Paul's Cathedral, London, 1878. Date: 12 October 1878

Following the news this month that bell ringing is facing a national recruitment crisis, bell ringer and picture researcher Lucinda Moore turns to the archive for a historical look at bell ringing, seen through the lens of the current ringer shortage.Even a quick glance through the wealth of bell ringing images on the Mary Evans website does reflect a historical gender bias in favour of male ringers, with many of our pictures showing bands of exclusively male ringers. It was once thought that historically, poorly cast and unwieldy bells could only be managed by big strong men, making male ringers the norm, with women only starting to ring in the very late 19th and early 20th century once bells became easier to handle. However, ringing expert and author Steve Coleman debunks this idea, attributing the all-male bands to the patriarchal structure of society at the time, and to women not being given the opportunity or time outside of the home to become ringers, rather than a lack of physical strength.
Happily, as the 20th century progressed and new opportunities opened up, women began to take up bell ringing. A 1926 article in The Illustrated London News cheerfully entitled ‘The Belles of St Clement’s!’ suggested the changing attitudes, with a band of young, fashionably attired female ringers depicted at St Clement Danes church in the Strand, London. The ILN deemed the sight of female bell ringers sufficiently interesting and unusual in 1926 to dedicate a whole page to their endeavours, and in another post-WW1 article, included a small picture of a lady bell ringer as part of a spread of pictures showing women doing jobs usually performed by men. 21st century bell ringing is inclusive to a fault, with proto-ringers being generally welcomed to the tower (and later, the pub) with a big bear hug of bell ringing enthusiasm, regardless of gender.

 

The interior of the ringing chamber at St Paul's Cathedral, London. The twelve bells of the north tower can be seen here, about to be rung by an all male band of ringers. Date: 1903

 

Physical strength or even age need not be a barrier to learning. Though some bells are heavier to ring than others, and need more ‘oompf’ to get them going, these days brute force is not the key to good bell ringing. The sight of seasoned senior citizens expertly ringing not just their own bell, but also calling out to help correct the mistakes of other ringers, is not uncommon. Starting young is universally acknowledged as being beneficial, with children as young as 10 (often hailing from what are known as ‘ringing families’) able to ring impressively complicated methods.

 

triple

 

Fear can be an obstacle to recruitment, but such fears are for the most part unfounded. It’s a commonly held misconception that bell ringing is dangerous, with some fearing suddenly being whisked up towards the ceiling on the end of a wildly flailing rope. Whilst all hobbies have an element of risk, so long as the basics of safety are observed and the bells are respected, bell ringing is pretty safe.  However, the archive does have its share of depictions of sensational bell ringing accidents in the days before health and safety: these dramatic illustrations from the French magazine Le Petit Journal give a flavour of campanological crises on the continent.
double
In spite of the difficulty of recruiting new ringers, there are many virtues to learning the ancient art of campanology. No costly or special kit is required; just a regular commitment and a willingness to learn. Much has changed in the world of ringing since these historical pictures were produced, but the simple pleasure that being a ringer brings has not. Whether it’s on grounds of your sex, strength, seniority or of safety, there were some significant barriers in the past to learning to ring, but they are thankfully no longer an issue: why not give it a try?

Cream of the Crop – the Pond’s Society Girls

Illustrations depicting women using various Pond's skincare products, available in jars for use at home, or tube for when travelling. Date: 1935

Buy a glossy magazine today and you’ll be guaranteed to find at least a third of its pages are given over to advertisements.  But this is nothing new.  Advertising have kept the wheels of magazine publishing turning for over 150 years.  Some titles in the ILN archive, particularly The Tatler, are bulging with hundreds of ads in every issue, and in many cases, they’re just as fascinating as the features and photographs in the main body of the magazine, offering an acute, in-the-moment snapshot of readers’ interests and aspirations.  Many of the most successful brands are still going, testament in part to their canny marketing campaigns through the years.

 One of the beauty brands with remarkable longevity is Pond’s Cold Cream, the origins of which stretch back to the mid-19th century when an American pharmacist, Theron T. Pond developed Pond’s Extract, containing witch hazel, which claimed to act as a panacea against all manner of ailments from haemmorhoids to painful feet.  By 1904, the company had created a beauty product, Pond’s Cold Cream, designed to cleanse the skin, and an accompanying Vanishing Cream to soften and ward against the dire effects of cold or hot weather in equal measure.  It was a two-step skincare regime that formed a blueprint for skincare systems developed by countless cosmetics companies since.   The company would also introduce a ‘freshener’ (toner), vitamin cream and powder to complement their flagship lotions.

Pond’s face creams enjoyed a steady success until the 1920s when increased competition from expensive brands launched by Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden caused Pond’s to re-think its low-key advertising campaign. The solution was to embark on a testimonials campaign that was to rally (with, presumably, substantial cash incentives) the support of firstly stage actresses, and then well-known, wealthy socialite beauties of the 1930s.  If economical, fuss-free and effective Pond’s was good enough for the blue blooded ladies of the land it was good enough for anyone.  As a marketing premise it was remarkably effective but did not come cheap; Pond’s regularly spent three times as much as Elizabeth Arden on its annual advertising.

various

 

Every week during the 1930s The Tatler carried an advertisement for Pond’s, with most of the personalities endorsing the creams already familiar faces in the magazine’s society pages.  We hold alternative portrait images of many of these women at the library, if not from the ILN archive, then through the pictures taken by society photographer Madame Yevonde whose archive we represent.

The accompanying copy is flattering to the point of obsequiousness.  Each lady, countess or duchess is lauded for her sportiness, busy lifestyle, her jet setting or exquisite beauty.  Their personal anecdotes are laughably old-fashioned as they witter about how Pond’s helped to fix ruddy cheeks after exertion on wind-swept hockey pitches, or helped them achieve a vision of loveliness for their first debutante ball.

The Duchess of Leinster (the Duke’s second of four wives), American socialite Agnes Rafaelle, recounted her girlish worries about her first Yale University Ball:

“If you knew how much American girls long to go to Yale University Dances – or ‘Proms,’ as they call them – you’d realise my excitement at receiving an invitation to the midsummer prom. I’d never been to one before but I knew it was necessary to look your very loveliest if you were to win the approval of critical college boys!

I found myself muttering ‘Pond’s, Pond’s, lots and lots of Pond’s’ over and over again. Even more than a smart frock I had to get a smart face!

There was a fortnight to do it in. Each night I cleansed with Cold Cream. And during the day I smoothed on Vanishing Cream to ward off roughness and lines.  You should have seen the difference in my skin the night we motored out to Yale!  No blemishes, no dryness – soft as velvet!  The ‘prom’ proved gayer than my wildest dreams – everyone ‘cut-in’ on my dances.  I’m sure I had the best time of any girl there.”

The sporty Countess of Warwick relied on Pond’s to maintain her ‘flawless skin’ at all times whether ‘At Cannes or Cowes, Goodwood or Gleneagles,’ while Lady Smiley, the former Nancy Beaton, sister of Cecil, tells of ‘what a marvellous time I had’ at a Christmas party aged sixteen, all because of Pond’s. “I’m sure that’s why I’ve kept my skin free from dryness and little worry lines – the curse of a fine skin like mine,” she modestly confided. “People tell me my skin still looks as young as it did at sixteen.”  Lady Marguerite Strickland, just back from a sporting holiday of walking, golfing and riding was relieved to find her ‘dazzling’ skin had survived due to Pond’s.  Lady Bridgett Poulett made no apologies for her views on the importance of appearance:

“To be successful socially or professionally depends not only on one’s brain but on one’s looks,” she lectured, “There’s no excuse for an ‘ugly duckling’ in any family… The first essential to beauty is a fresh , clear youthful complexion and I’ve no patience with the woman who doesn’t make the best of her looks when it’s so simple.”

Woe betide anyone who had a bad skin day and ran into Lady Bridgett, who, despite her strident views on cosmetic slovenliness, was hailed by Pond’s as a, ‘brilliant, young favourite in London society…likened to a famous painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds’ (though the advert declined to elaborate further on which particular painting).

double

If Lady Bridgett’s sharp observations, no doubt delivered in a cut-glass accent, are not enough to make us cringe then let me share those of Constance, Lady Moon who, in her Pond’s advertisement, found her creams a godsend while big game hunting in Kenya.

“We had gone hundreds of miles off into Kenya for elephant hunting. In my small mirror I saw my face getting rougher and drier every day.  Then I found – packed away in the luggage by a thoughtful person – several jars of Pond’s Creams.  How my skin changed when I started using them!”

Thank goodness Lady Moon’s maid had the foresight to send her mistress off with a secret stash of Pond’s. And thank goodness Lady Moon’s complexion was restored despite all that strenuous elephant slaughtering.

Upper class stereotypes abound, as well as the peddled rule that social advancement, in the form of engagement and marriage, could only be achieved by looking one’s best. One article in The Tatler around this time instructed women, ‘Beauty is the passport to happiness and all that it signifies, including romance.’  These are adverts that convey despairingly short-sighted ambitions for women of the era, though plenty of beauty adverts of recent times might be accused of the same.  But what is particularly intriguing is that many of the privileged women behind these endorsements led fascinating lives, often a far cry from the polish and poise projected in Pond’s advertising.

Take Lady Milbanke for instance (‘Vivid, gay, utterly charming’). Born Sheila Chisholm in Australia, she met the dissipated Lord Loughborough while nursing in Cairo in 1915 and married him later that year.  ‘Loughie’ was a compulsive gambler, to the point where his father the Earl of Rosslyn, put a notice in The Times declaring he would not be responsible for his son’s debts.  While her husband gambled away their money, Sheila was free to enjoy high society and soon came into the orbit of the Prince of Wales and Bertie, his younger brother – the future King George VI.  For a time, Sheila and Bertie enjoyed a romantic affair, forming a partnership with his brother and his mistress Freda Dudley-Ward.  They dubbed themselves, ‘the four ‘do’s’.   When George V got wind of the romance, he put a stop to it but the pair continued to enjoy a close, platonic relationship.  Sheila married twice more – to Lord Milbanke and then Prince Dmitri Romanoff.  It’s unlikely she ever came close to marrying the future king of England but there was no doubting his feelings about her.  In one letter he wrote, “”Whenever I go into a ballroom I always look around the room hoping to see you, as I know there is somebody missing, and it is so sad not seeing you, and I do so miss you.”

Another Pond’s Cream girl who did marry her Prince was Princess Marina of Greece (‘seen at the smartest functions in London’), who posed with her sister Elizabeth for a 1933 advertisement. A year and a half later, Pond’s had worked its magic.  She walked down the aisle of Westminster Abbey with Prince George, Duke of Kent, younger brother of David and Bertie.  George was killed in a plane crash in Scotland during the Second World War aged 42 when their youngest child, the present Prince Michael of Kent, was just a few weeks old.  Marina never remarried.  Her eldest son is the present Duke of Kent.

bingham

Rose Bingham was hailed as one of the prettiest debutantes of 1931 an accolade which, in this case, was probably true. With Bambi eyes and rosebud lips, Rose was a media darling, frequently photographed for the society pages.  Not only was she a Pond’s girl, but she also appeared in a full page advert for the prestigious Hotel George V in Paris declaring she stayed there because ‘only the best’ would do.  Hollywood came calling and she dabbled in film acting, appearing in ‘The Black Sheep’ in 1935 but not before she had married the 7th Earl of Warwick in 1933.  He too was a keen actor and the couple erected a cinema screen on the roof of Warwick Castle where society mingled with the Hollywood set.  If Rose had been alive today, L’Oréal would definitely have her whispering, “Because I’m worth it,” from our TV screens.  Rose and Fulke Warwick divorced; she lost custody of their son and in 1938 married Billy Fiske, an American bobsled Olympic champion instrumental in developing Aspen as a winter sports resort.  The pair were introduced to each other by David Niven who had starred alongside Rose’s ex-husband Fulke in Paramount picture, ‘The Dawn Patrol’.  The couple’s marriage was happy but tragically short-lived.  A speed freak with lightning reactions, Billy Fiske’s abilities made him a perfect fighter pilot and he became one of just seven US aircrew personnel who fought in the Battle of Britain.  On 16 August 1940, Fiske’s RAF squadron was scrambled to intercept German dive bombers over southern England.  After fifteen minutes in the air, the fuel tank of Fiske’s Hurricane was hit by a German bullet.  Despite suffering severe burns he managed to land his plane but died in hospital two days later aged 29.  Rose married twice more; to Lt. Col. Sir John Lawson in 1945, and, after divorcing him five years later, to Theodore Sheldon Bassett in 1951.  That marriage also ended in divorce.  She died in 1971 aged 59.

alington

Lady Alington, the former Lady Mary Ashley-Cooper, eldest daughter of the Earl of Salisbury, was the essence of the classic upper crust gal. Tall and sturdily built she was hailed as, ‘the best swimmer in London’ according to The Times, winning numerous prizes at the prestigious Bath Club in London.  Indeed, we have several examples in our archive of her swimming prowess including one page featuring her playing a part in a Royal Life Saving Society film featuring a number of well-known society women. According to a profile in The Bystander in 1936, part of a series entitled, ‘Popular Women,’ she was ‘striking in appearance…keen on hunting and racing and an exponent of physical culture that she particularly excels.’  She was also a ‘splendid hostess’ who really knew how to throw a party. ‘Hula’ as she was known to her friends, married Napier Alington, the 3rd Baron, in 1928.  They had one daughter, Marianna (Mary Anna Sturt Marten 1929-2010), but just a few years later the couple had separated.  Napier Alington presented a respectable façade in public, running as a candidate for Parliament, but in private was bisexual, indulged in drugs and had a love affair with Tallulah Bankhead which may or may not have ended by the time of his marriage to Mary.  In any case, the outdoorsy, head girl-like Lady Alington and the louche Napier seemed rather mis-matched.  Lady Alington appeared in a 1931 Pond’s Cold Cream advert (found in a copy of Miss Modern magazine here).   In April 1936, she was featured in The Bystander in a stunning Vivex colour photograph by Madame Yevonde, but just four months later, Lady Alington – fit-as-a-fiddle, swimming supremo, Amazonian Lady Alington – underwent an operation for acute appendicitis and, to the shock of everyone, died.  She was just 34 years old.  Napier was killed four years later on active service with the RAF.

Beauty, wealth, privilege – and Pond’s Cold Cream. None of it, it seems, could protect from the tragic hand of fate.

Follow the link to see more on Pond’s and the women who endorsed it http://www.maryevans.com/lb.php?ref=36706

 

 

Going for Gold – Britain’s sporting ambitions and the 1916 Berlin Olympics that never was

The English 4 x 100 metres relay team who won gold medals at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912. From left to right: D. Jacobs, H. M. Macintosh, W. R. Applegarth and V. D'Arcy. Note the high-waisted shorts and T-shirts emblazoned with a Union Jack. Date: 1912

We are living through a gold rush.  At the time of writing, Team GB has scaled the Olympic Games medal table to reach the dizzy heights of second place.  We’ve dominated the rowing and cycling; there have been medals in track & field, equestrian events and sailing.  More have rolled in from gymnastics and diving – sports where we were once, if not the underdog, then barely a contender.  We can boast Goliaths of sport – Farah, Kenny, Trott, Murray, Ennis-Hill – sports men and women who are the ones to beat, not those who might be in with a chance.  For those who remember Atlanta (one lone gold – Redgrave and Pinsent in the men’s coxless pairs), the Rio Olympics is watched from sofas around the country with a mix awe, nail-biting anticipation and a faint nervousness that we might wake up and find it is all a dream.  Whatever our final position, Britain’s athletes have kindled a renewed sense of national pride.  But while nobody can deny their achievements, there is one factor that has enabled and then assured success – money.  After Atlanta, funding for elite sports increased ten-fold, a long-term investment that has paid off.  Talent has been nurtured and enhanced with the best that money can buy.  It has been estimated that each British medal win costs £5.5 million.  Funding is withdrawn from sports that fail to ‘medal’.  Behind the scenes, it’s a brutal business, but when a Brit wins gold, we are all reaping the feel-good rewards. Perhaps it’s easier to feel the Olympic love when Team GB is excelling?

Javelin thrower, 1913

Away from the Olympics, the media are already declaring that 2016 is one of the worst years in recent times; terrorism, political instability, the displacement of millions of people fleeing war, all this and more have made our modern age seem much less safe than it was twenty years ago.  And yet this exhibition of human endeavour, the greatest sports show on earth, presents the world at its very best and, for one fortnight at least, gives us all a glimmer of hope.  Another year considered the worst of times was 1916.  A century ago, nobody gave much thought to the Olympic Games, which would in fact have been held that summer in Berlin.  Looking through our archive, there is some fascinating commentary on the Olympic phenomenon in The Bystander magazine.  Launched in 1903 as a sister paper to The Graphic, The Bystander was a society magazine featuring a mix of cartoons, political satire, society gossip, travel, transport – and sport.  In August 1914, just a fortnight after the outbreak of war, The Bystander was commenting on the irony of an Olympics held in Germany.

Opening of the stadium in Berlin, Germany, intended as the venue for the 1916 Olympic Games. Due to the First World War, the Games were never held. Date: 1913

‘In the light of what is happening now it is almost comical to reflect that not so many weeks ago preparations were on foot for the holding of the Olympic Games in Berlin.  I can picture the cynical smile with which those “in the know” in Germany must have watched these preparations.  It is quite conceivable that they were allowed to go on as part and parcel of a gigantic scheme of bluff.  We may even derive some comfort from the reflection that bad as the war is for everybody it will do sport at least one good turn by putting a stop – perhaps for good and all – to its chief bugbear.

The Bystander has always been a consistent scoffer at the Olympic Games, and in sticking to this attitude it has in reality voiced the opinion of the majority of British sportsmen.   The Olympic Games were going to do all sorts of things; in particular they were going, through the medium of sport, to bind the nations of the world together in indissoluble ties of friendship.  It looks like it doesn’t it?  When the British Olympic council in its preliminary report on the Games at Stockholm lamented pathetically at thefailure of the general public of the United Kingdom to take the Olympic Games seriously, it was unconsciously paying a well-deserved tribute to the sagacity of the said general public.’

The general public, not being so blindly optimistic as the British Olympic Council saw that these games, so far from leading up to good fellowship, seemed peculiarly adapted for the production of bad blood and bickering even between countries possessing a common language and origin, and whose athletes are normally upon the best of terms with each other.’

The Bystander’s unusually virulent opinion about the Olympics can be traced back to beyond the hostilities of 1914.  The Games of 1912, held in Stockholm, were a disaster for Britain.  After topping the medals table at the 1908 London Olympics, bagging three times as many medals as the runner-up, the USA, 1912 saw Britain drop to third.  It may sound like a good effort to us today, but USA and Sweden dwarfed Britain’s medal tally.  The USA gained 25 golds to Britain’s 10. While Britain’s total medal haul was 41, Sweden won 65 and the USA won 64.  What followed was a sporting post-mortem in The Bystander more akin to the football punditry we see decipher England’s failures after each international tournament today.

1912 Stockholm Olympics

In its 12 February 1913 issue, F. A. M. Webster, Founder and Honorary Secretary of the Amateur Fields Event Association, picked apart the reasons in an article entitled, ‘Why We Failed At Stockholm’.  The programme of events was a major issue with emphasis on field events and the deletion of cycling (an omission that would certainly affect our medal tally today).

“The real reasons why we do not excel in these particular sports,” admitted Mr Webster, “are, firstly, because they are in most cases very difficult to learn, requiring a deal of practice and unlimited patience, and the young Englishman of to-day prefers sprinting, which is easy to learn; secondly, and, I think principally, because for years the sports-promoting bodies in this country have rigidly set their face against field events on the ground that they take up too much time and the public do not care to watch them.”

 

Olympic Blog 4

Frederick Annesley Michael Webster was in fact, one of the great pioneers of 20th century athletics, writing numerous books on sport, coaching, becoming director of studies at Loughborough School of Physical Training and tirelessly campaigning to have field sports given equal recognition.  His son, Dick Webster, would become a successful pole-vaulter who competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Webster senior had a fight on his hands to encourage interest in field sports.  The response to Britain’s poor performance at Stockholm had led many to suggest they withdraw from the Games completely – that competing but then losing was ‘beneath our dignity.’  Britain’s Olympian representatives had exposed a chink in their country’s armour and that wouldn’t do.  In 1912, Britain still had its Empire.  Its greatness was nurtured on the sports fields of its public schools.  For British sporting prowess to be exposed as so seriously lacking was, in the minds of many, an embarrassing reflection on the country’s diminishing national virility.  It was probably too much to bear for some.  However, the reactions generated seem closer to those of a spoilt child.  The Bystander, following the conclusion of the Games wrote in August 1912:

“Thousands of English sportsmen will thank Mr R. C. Lehmann* heartily for his spirited suggestion that we should withdraw from future participation in the preposterous Olympic Games.  The attempt on the part of Sir A. Conan Doyle and others to make the Olympic Games the test of our sporting efficiency, and to impose the Olympic standard upon our athletes, will be resented as tyrannical. We want only one standard, and that is the British one, in which the thing to be done is not merely to win the game, but to play it like a gentleman.  If we cannot impose our standard on the rest of the world, then let the rest of the world make its own.”

* Liberal M. P & secretary of the Amateur Rowing Association, who had written an article in the same magazine calling for withdrawal from the Games

Olympic Blog 1

Such spoilt, elitist thinking makes uncomfortable reading.  The Bystander, which rarely reined in its strident opinions, supported the unflinching assumption that Britain SHOULD win; that everyone else should play by British rules, and play sports that the British traditionally were good at.   Rather than playing ‘like gentlemen’ these forthright views serve only to expose some British enthusiasts as bad sports.   Thankfully, its views on the subject were often more light-hearted.  F. A. M. Webster himself was given towards a more balanced diplomacy:

“How can we possibly withdraw from these great international gatherings, following upon our disgraceful performances at Stockholm?  Moreover, is there not also a certain political significance attaching to the next Games at Berlin?  Surely the German people would look upon it as a direct affront if we held aloof from the Games for which they are making such strenuous preparations.  Also, it will not do for us to be beaten again as we were beaten last time, especially in Germany.”

Olympic Blog 2

His concerns over the Games in Berlin were tied in tightly with the belief that Germany, along with the USA, was beginning to compete with and in some instances, overtake Britain on the world stage in manufacturing and trade.  The naval arms race that had been building between Britain and Germany in the years leading up to the First World War only made the restoration of national prestige via a display of renewed sporting vigour all the more essential.  Britain’s closest sporting rivals were the USA, Sweden and Finland.  Germany, at the time didn’t come close.  Here was an opportunity to trounce the opposition and prove national potency.  A special committee, including among others, staunch patriot Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was formed to raise funds and steer a co-ordinated training programme for the next Olympic Games in Berlin.  Several aristocrats were roped in to add their voices in support including the hugely wealthy Duke of Westminster who was nominated as chief fundraiser. The notion of a team incorporating all countries in the British Empire was mooted but eventually dropped and an appeal for subscription to raise £100,000 to train a British team worthy of the Berlin Olympics was greeted with derision in some sections of the press.  The Bystander for instance, a champion of sports in which the ‘gentleman amateur’ took part, would have sneered at the idea of trying to buy victory.  Others viewed specialisation as the antithesis of British sportsmanship.  Being a good ‘all-rounder’ was a quality most admired.  But for many, the restoration of British sporting pride was more important.  The Telegraph wrote, ‘it is an affair of honour for this country,’ adding of the ‘deplorable effect’ failure would have.  Nevertheless, the British public failed to support the appeal.  By September 11th 1913, only £7000 of the £100,000 target had been raised.  Today it is difficult to understand such apathy, especially when we know how essential Lottery funding and government grants have been in enabling British athletes to devote their time to training.  But it is worth remembering that Britain’s own sporting calendar in the years leading up to the First World War included fixtures such as Wimbledon, rowing at Henley and cricket at Lord’s which were far more deeply entrenched in the British psyche than the Olympic Games.  The latter was regarded by many as a new-fangled gimmick dreamt up by a Frenchman (albeit based on the games of ancient Greece).

Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, 1912. Sukaniomi, Saaristo, Peltonen, the winner of throwing the javelin .. Date: 1912

Of the fund’s failure, The Bystander wrote in its best ‘told you so’ tone in September 1913:

‘Heartiest congratulations to the British public on their latest use of the gift of Apathy.  Never has it been shown in a better cause than in the contemptuous refusal to subscribe the hundred thousand demanded – rather inconsiderately, if I may say so – by the Duke of Westminster and others for the Olympic Games.  The habit of rushing into the Press for public money had previously aroused protest in a number of quarters, even when, as in the case of Capt. Scott, there was public interest in the background.  In the case of the Olympic Games, there is not only no interest, but there is general sentiment against.  If the national athletes are not fitted, of their own accord, to make a proper show in Berlin or anywhere else, then let us lose the pots and be done with it, or withdraw like gentlemen.  There may be a case for the subscription of public money to the general cause of promoting an athletic renaissance, but such a proceeding will take a very much longer time than lies between us and the next Games.  Any success “bought” at Berlin by mere money will morally not be worth the paper on which the cheques have been written.’


The idea of paying to win seemed to particularly irritate.  What would they have made of today’s shameless injection of cash into British sport?  But the irony that most sportsmen in Britain a century ago were those who had the financial means and leisure to spend time participating was lost on The Bystander which went on to claim ardently:  ‘The whole idea is not only wrong-headed, but sweepingly pernicious, and one to be fought tooth and nail by those who have any desire or hope of keeping English sport clean and undefiled.’

By January 1914, the Special Committee, having singularly failed in their fundraising, was disbanded.  And by July that year, with the heightening crisis in Europe, it was becoming increasingly uncertain that there would be an Olympic Games in Berlin at all.  Instead of proving their abilities on the sports field in Berlin in 1916, thousands of British (and German) sportsmen found themselves playing the so-called ‘Greater Game’on the battlefield.  The fierce debates and efforts towards Olympic reform were rendered pointless and proving national superiority through sporting prowess had quickly become an inconsequential notion.  There were bigger battles to win.

Finding Rupert Brooke – a forgotten photograph album at Mary Evans

Mary and Hilary Evans spent more than fifty years collecting the material that now comprises the library and we’re often asked by visitors what proportion of the analogue archive has actually been scanned. A finger in the wind guesstimate might find us suggesting 15-20%, but the truthful answer to this is we don’t really know.  But what we do know is that it is still possible to unearth incredible treasures containing images that have never made it near a scanner.  While it’s frustrating to find ‘perfect’ pictures hidden away, the fact that we are still lucky enough to experience that sharp thrill of discovery more than compensates.

Image copyright (c) Mary Evans Picture Library
Cuthbert Grasemann in his rooms at Trinity College, Cambridge University (Picture number 11107622)

A case in point is a photo album recently discovered neatly filed and catalogued along with others, but apparently untouched for some years. The stained, green binding was fairly unpromising but inside is a superb collection of photographs dating from the late 1890s to the 1930s.  The picture that particularly caught our eye at first was the interior of a Cambridge student’s room in 1911.  Written above it in ink were the words, ‘My rooms.  K. 5. New Court Trinity College Cambridge. 1911’. It may be Cambridge but even so, the room itself is unlike any student digs we might imagine today.  Ornaments are neatly arranged on the mantelpiece of a large fireplace, the walls are adorned with landscapes, and a collection of ukuleles and lutes. Above the picture rail what looks like a hand painted border shows a maritime landscape that includes St. Michael’s Mount.  A small occasional table is draped with an art nouveau style tablecloth on which are placed framed photographs, presumably of family members.  An elegant seat is enhanced by a rather beautiful looking peacock cushion, and the inhabitant of the room sits in the window, a pet cockatoo perched placidly on his knee.

Pupils and teachers at Fretherne House Preparatory School around 1900. From an album owned by Cuthbert Gasemann who is seated 2nd row, third from left. Date: c.1900
Fretherne House Prep School.  Grasemann is middle row, third from left, seated. (Picture number 11107606)

Further investigation soon confirmed that the album belonged to a ‘C. Grasemann’, the student in the picture. He features in most of the album’s other photographs which neatly chart his life and career from boy to man in a series of evocative images, many of which are excellent quality, printed in a generous 10” x 8” format.  The earliest picture, from 1899, is a group photograph from Fretherne House School (a prep school in Welwyn Garden City up until the Second World War).  Two more of Fretherne House take us up to 1904 as which point C. Grasemann became a pupil at Rugby School.  Another photograph shows him cross-legged in the front row of W. N. Wilson’s House.

Members of the Officer Training Corps band at Rugby school in 1905. Top right of the picture is Cuthbert Gasemann, who appears to be holding a tenor horn. This photograph is one of a number in an album compiled by him. Date: 1905
Members of the Officer Training Corps band at Rugby school in 1905. Top right of the picture is Cuthbert Gasemann, who appears to be holding a tenor horn. (Picture number 11107611)

Every boy is annotated in miniscule, spidery writing.  At Rugby, he was in the OTC band, playing the tenor horn by the looks of one photograph.  He was also in the school orchestra and when he went up to Cambridge, became a rower, a sport well-documented in the album.  Not only are there pictures of Grasemann’s rowing crew in action, but there are some beautiful views of Henley Regatta around 1911.

Rowing crew from a Cambridge University college, 1911. Date: 1910
Grasemann’s rowing crew.  He is seated middle row, second from right. (Picture Number 11107618)

 

Together with photographs of college balls, society dinners, winter sports and a fancy dress party in Switzerland (even one of the famous skating couple Mr and Mrs Edgar Syers) these are images that take us back to that extraordinary pre-war era when a young man of Grasemann’s fortunate circumstances would have had the world at his feet.  Except the world was about to slide towards catastrophe.

Grasemann’s war saw him gazetted on 10 June 1915, joining the Royal Engineers as a Lieutenant. The only wartime pictures in the album are a couple of his marriage to Irene Statham on 19 September 1916, while another photograph of him in uniform with a friendly dog arrived with the message, ‘As we can’t come we send our photo’.  All leave had been cancelled.

grasemannww1

Keen to find out more about who C. Grasemann was, some internet sleuthing revealed he was Cuthbert Grasemann (1890-1962) who after the war became the Public Relations and Publicity Officer for British Railways (Southern Region). Armed with this knowledge, some of the later photographs begin to make sense – one charming photograph of the South East and Chatham Railway Travelling Ticket Inspectors Garden Allotment Prize Giving in Catford in July 1922 for instance, or an annual dinner given to staff of the Superintendent of the SE & C Railway.  Another shows him accompanying Sir Malcolm Campbell as he meets the driver of the Bluebird steam train emblazoned on the front with ‘Welcome Campbell’ (presumably this coincides with one of Campbell’s land speed records in the Bluebird – possibly in 1927). One gathering from 1925, an annual reunion dinner of the Railway Operating Division of the Royal Engineers, indicates how he progressed along his particular career path.   He was also the author of two books, ‘English Channel Packet Boats’ in 1939, and ‘Round the Southern Railways Fleet’ in 1946; clearly his job overlapped happily with an enduring personal interest in transport.

Sir Malcolm Campbell shakes hands with the driver of a steam engine with a special plaque on the front reading, 'Welcome Campbell - The Bluebird Special'. Also in the picture, far left, is Cuthbert Grasemann, PR and Publicity Officer for Southern Railways. Presumably he is the one responsible for this meeting. Date: c.1927
Sir Malcolm Campbell shakes hands with the driver of a steam engine with a special plaque on the front reading, ‘Welcome Campbell – The Bluebird Special’. Also in the picture, far left, is Cuthbert Grasemann, PR and Publicity Officer for Southern Railways. Date: c.1927 (Picture number 11107639)

Even without the detective work to uncover his personal story, the photographs in Cuthbert’s Grasemann’s album are a haunting and redolent memento of a lost era. Turning the pages, L. P. Hartley’s opening lines of ‘The Go-Between’, ‘the past is another country’ spring to mind. Especially in the case of the early photographs, this is pre-war Britain as it once was for a privileged few.  One can’t help wondering about the fates of so many of the boys and men in those photographs.  Who made it through the war, and who didn’t.

But there is one more thing that makes this album doubly interesting. Two photographs document a visit to Rugby School by Lord Roberts on 16 February 1906 where he inspected the Rifle Club, an early version of the school’s Officer Training Corps.  Cuthbert Grasemann, who would have been 15 or 16 at the time, can be seen in his bandsman’s uniform standing in line near the back.  In charge of the corps, standing at the front is one 2nd Lt Rupert Brooke.

Lord Roberts, former Commander-in-Chief of the British Army and recipient of the Victoria Cross during the Indian Mutiny, visits Rugby School in February 1906 where he inspects the school's Rifle Club (OTC, Officer Training Corps). The officer in charge of the corps is 2nd Lieutenant Rupert Brooke, poet, who would die in the Aegean during the First World War. Date: 1906
Lord Roberts visits Rugby School in February 1906 where he inspects the school’s Rifle Club (OTC, Officer Training Corps). 2nd Lieutenant Rupert Brooke can be seen standing at the front. (Picture number 11107612)

Brooke is one of Rugby School’s most famous alumni. His father was a housemaster there, and at the time of Lord Roberts’ visit he would have been 18.  Academically gifted, sporty, and with renowned good looks, he would go up to Cambridge in autumn of that year, having won a scholarship to King’s College.  One of the most famous of the Great War poets, the tragedy of Rupert Brooke’s death, from an infected mosquito bite on a French hospital ship in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Skyros on 23 April 1915 caught the public imagination.  Shortly after his death, his poetry collection, ‘1914 and other Poems’ sold 160,000 copies.

With three years separating them, it is unlikely Grasemann was on very close terms with Brooke, but it is clear that he was aware of his significance. Underneath the photograph in which Brooke’s handsome profile is unmistakable, Cuthbert Grasemann has unusually included Brooke’s Christian name in his annotations.  It is probable this album was compiled a number of years after Brooke’s death by which time his name had entered into Great War mythology; a fallen warrior, a ‘young Apollo, golden haired’ as described by the poet Frances Cornford.

Did Mary and Hilary ever notice Brooke’s existence among these photographs? The fact that the entire album has never been catalogued or scanned suggests not; a natural oversight in a collection that numbers thousands and thousands of individual items.  Only on closer examination did I myself notice the picture and it is finds like this that make Mary Evans such a unique place to work.  How they acquired the album in the first place is unknown.  Papers relating to Cuthbert Grasemann are held at the National Archives and the National Maritime Museum.  It seems strange that this album of such exquisite personal photographs should have been sold.  A small pencil inscription on the inside front cover suggests it was bought for £20 – quite possibly some years ago.  Whatever was paid for it, we believe the contents are simply priceless.

Too see a wider selection of photographs from the Cuthbert Grasemann album click here

All images copyright © Mary Evans Picture Library.  Please contact Mary Evans Picture Library is you would like permission to reproduce any of our pictures.

The Dancing World

As rumours begin to rumble over which celebrities might take part in this season’s Strictly Come Dancing, it seems an appropriate moment to highlight a high kicking new collection from Jazz Age cultural expert, collector and author Gary Chapman. Gary’s collection The Jazz Age Club, chronicling cabaret, nightlife, celebrity, fashion and society between the wars is represented by the Mary Evans Picture Library and he has recently acquired a magnificent run of 25 copies of the rare British magazine The Dancing World.

4

It is a remarkable publication spanning the period from May 1920 to at least March 1924 and at the last check, only one copy is held by British Library making this a truly unique find that will be invaluable to researchers of the Jazz Age.

3

The Dancing World was similar to the more enduring Dancing Times but was produced in a much larger 8.5 x 11 inch portrait format, and aimed at a more general, yet sophisticated audience. Naturally, there was comprehensive coverage of the world of dancing, but it also featured fashion, cabaret, film, music, theatre, London society and ran an obligatory Paris column each issue. The stunning colour art deco front covers were drawn by the magazine’s art editor Guiseppe Peres (presumably of Spanish extraction) and each magazine was full of black and white illustrations and numerous photographs. The early 1920s witnessed a frenetic dancing craze in Jazz Age London; The Dancing World allows us privileged access to this most exciting periods of social history.

Mags Row 1

In an advertisement in the Christmas 1921 issue, the magazine set out its mission statement. It was to be the magazine for the stylish dance-goer – amateur or professional – who needed to be informed on all aspects of dancing from the ballet to the ballroom, styling itself as ‘an artistic paper for elegant folks.’ It was intended to be international in scope, to record the up-to-the minute news and views and to forecast the trends of dancing history, stating confidently, ‘It will appeal to the smart set, people of taste and discernment who appreciate style in a professional paper as they do when making a purchase from any of the high grade firms whose announcements are in our columns’.

7

It went on to say in its March 1922 issue, ‘The Dancing World is not full of dry, technical information. Our magazine is artistic, up-to-date, mixing fun, gossip, art and dancing with a skilled hand. It is the only authentic and amusing publication of its kind in existence’.

Camel Walk

With editorial offices at 177a Kensington Hight Street, London, the proprietor was not named. There were several editors – mainly Byron Davies and occasionally Ernest Betts and JB Cooper Reade plus various contributors. Byron Davies was the publicity manager for The Original Dixieland Jazz Band known for playing at the Hammersmith Palais and Rector’s nightclub. Both venues were owned by Canadian William F. Mitchell and American Howard E Booker; Mitchell’s wife Mae was hostess at Rector’s. Both men had an agency in Kensington High Street and from 1920 were clearly wanting to promote both venues and dancing in general to an eager London audience. Given the coverage to both the Hammersmith Palais and Rector’s within the magazine, and the link to Byron Davies and Kensington High Street, it seems logical to assume these men were behind the publication itself.

Frisco Orchestra

Another twist to the tale is that the magazine appeared to publish its last issue in March 1924 when there was sensational news that Rector’s nightclub had been closed. Shady operation tactics were revealed in The Times when the club was struck off the register and ordered not to be used for the purpose of a club for 12 months because it had been supplying intoxicating liquor without a license. This was a blow to William Francis Mitchell, the owner, who had been associated with the club since 1911. In fact in June 1911, both Mitchell and his partner had been prosecuted by the London County Council for conducting the club as a dance hall without a license and it was surprise that in 1924 it still did not have a license. The club had been registered as a company at Somerset house with a capital of £30,000 and Mitchell had paid a further £12,000 to enhance the place. It was one of the very best cabaret and dancing establishments in London with a high class membership and a nightly audience of over two hundred people. What happened to Mitchell’s Palais de Danse empire thereafter is not clear.

2 copy

 

Photographer Robin Dale: Middlesbrough Then, and Now

BLOG3
Image numbers (left to right): 10985769, 10985738 & 10985705

As a native of Middlesbrough, or ‘smoggie’, I am particularly interested in the work of photographer Robin Dale, who Mary Evans Picture Library represents.  Dale documented Middlesbrough and the greater Teesside area during the 1970s in spectacular colour photography.  During this decade, the region suffered enormously from severe industrial decline and Dale’s photographs form a brutally honest record of this period, giving a profound social context to daily life and the highs and lows for those living in Teesside during this era.  The closure of Redcar’s Tata steel works only last year, in what was the final door closing on Teesside’s heavy industry has, once again, brought a new wave of uncertainty to the future of the area.

BLOG2
Image numbers (left to right): 10985702, 10985737 & 10985704

I went back to Middlesbrough in February this year to try and recreate some of Robin Dale’s photographs and was struck by just how difficult it was to find the specific locations where Dale made his work.  Many streets in Middlesbrough have since been torn down and entire communities displaced due to extensive regeneration of the town centre and inner suburbs.  I did, however, manage to recreate to a certain extent the two images below: one of the Sinbad Tattoo Parlour and the other of the Transporter Bridge.  To the best of my knowledge, this is the same building and I find it extraordinary that the premises still operates as a Tattoo parlour, whereas the street is almost unrecognisable.

Tattoo Parlour – Harlington Street, Middlesbrough

BLOG SINBAD

Transporter Bridge

BLOG TRANSPORTER

Whilst I couldn’t find many more exact locations in Dale’s photographs, I think the buildings in my photographs below are certainly reminiscent of the streets, pubs, buildings and places that Dale frequented during the 1970s, and a poignant reminder of the continued struggles of this once thriving industrial area of Northern England.


BLOG MIX

BLOG4
Image numbers (left to right): 10985770, 10985711 & 10985779
BLOG1
Image numbers (left to right): 10985698, 10985736 & 10985701

Click here to see more of Robin Dale’s work.