Tuesday, 17 December 2019

A Victorian Cartoonist's Christmas

Victorian Christmas cartoons tended to lack the rough, sometimes raunchy humor and social satire of their Georgian predecessors. Victorian images of Christmas were more often sentimental, nostalgic, pious, and domestic. They focused primarily on the comfortably well off, and the holiday as a time of merry family celebration. Well behaved children were an important part of the scene. There were exceptions, as we shall see.

An example of the sentimental family scene is this Punch cartoon by John Leech (1817-1864), "A Family Group, Baby Stirring the Pudding." The large-headed Mr. Punch is at the center, helping "Baby," surrounded by admiring adults and children.

The 1840s saw several important developments in the creation of today's Christmas traditions. That decade saw the introduction of the first Christmas cards, by Henry Cole, a British civil servant. This one below, said to be the very first, shows a prosperous and respectable family enjoying a holiday meal. 

The publication of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens in 1843 helped reinforce the sentimental trend. John Leech's illustration of Mr. Fezziwig's Christmas party conveys a nostalgic view of the time when Ebenezer Scrooge was his young employee. The jolly, humane Fezziwig dances under the mistletoe in a room full of happy revelers. Dickens implies that this is how Christmas could be, or rather, should be. 

Fezziwig's party stands in sharp contrast to the Christmas day meal of the Cratchit family. The occasion is pious, sentimental, loving, but meager -- meager at least until the reformed Scrooge shows up with presents, a big turkey, trimmings, and a raise for Bob Cratchit. Now enlightened, Scrooge makes Christmas what it should be.

The decorated Christmas tree began to take front and center in portrayals of the holiday during the Victorian Age. The Hanoverian monarchs had introduced the Christmas tree from Germany in the 18th century. But few of the British adopted the German tradition until the reign of Queen Victoria. Illustrated magazines and newspapers helped popularize the practice to a wider public. An example shows Victoria, her consort Prince Albert, and their children surrounding and admiring a Christmas tree. 

The Royals' Christmas dos did not always receive such positive portrayals. The 1840s was not only a time of the emergence of some modern Christmas traditions, but also of the Hungry Forties, great political and social unrest, the democratic movement known as Chartism, and the Irish Famine. 

The cartoon below, from a radical newspaper, pictures the royals and company gorging themselves on a giant Christmas pudding, or "Blom Buddin" as Prince Albert calls it. Albert is presented as a freeloader helping himself the "good tings of Angland." 

Victoria hands a plate of plum stones to John Bull, the "cook" of the pudding, and says he can lick the dish and suck the stones when the family have finished. Bull represents the people who have created the country's wealth but live on crumbs.

Victorian Christmas images, such as this one by John Tenniel from Punch in 1883, occasionally focused on those for whom the holiday was just another day of deprivation and poverty. Here, Father Christmas confronts a poorly dressed child who lives in a cellar and knows nothing about him.. "This must be altered," he says, presumably meaning such dire poverty as well as ignorance of the Great Present Giver.

Some Christmas Cartoons could be positively frightening, in a humorous way, at least. An example is George Du Maurier's Christmas cartoon in Punch, 1865. The caption refers to a naturalist who says that children should not read fables and fairy tales but read natural history instead. "Here is the result [of reading natural history] on the youthful mind" Du Maurier comments, no doubt tongue-in-cheek. 

Thursday, 12 December 2019

The Previous Lives of Pubs: A church that became a pub, for a time

NB: The church in this article did have a life as a pub, but is now a Miller and Carter Steakhouse.

Churches seem to be prime candidates for conversion (no pun intended) into other purposes. Just as numerous bank branches have closed down in recent years due to the growth of online banking, a decline in attendance has forced a lot of churches to shut their doors to worshippers. 

As congregations have shrunk, so have church budgets. Churches are expensive to maintain, heat, and light, and some have been unable to carry on in their original function. 

Hundreds of former churches have been demolished or converted into homes and businesses of all sorts, including restaurants, galleries, a climbing center in Manchester, and a circus school in Bristol. Others have become pubs. 

One of them once occupied the Muswell Hill Presbyterian Church (later United Reformed Church). Opened in 1903, it served its original function until the 1970s. The Neo-Gothic structure was "saved" from demolition or worse when the O'Neill's chain converted it into one of their Irish pubs. 

From outside it looked like the church it once was, except for the O'Neill signs and logos. The handsome terracotta and flint façade was left virtually untouched. 

Inside, the basic structure also largely remained, but the altar was replaced by a large bar, the pews by chairs, tables, and slot machines. Hymns gave way to pop music. Worship of beer took the place of worship of the Deity.

One can only imagine what the church's founders would have thought of the transition. But perhaps after a pint and some reflection, they would see it as preferable to destruction. 

Other pubs that had previous lives as churches, include the Oran Mor in Glasgow, and the Church Café and Bar, formerly St. Mary's Church of Ireland, in Dublin.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

The Previous Lives of Pubs: The Opera House, Royal Tunbridge Wells

Most British pubs were originally designed to be pubs. But many, especially in recent years, began their lives as something else: banks, churches, houses, and in this case, an opera house.

The Opera House, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Tunbridge Wells, or Royal Tunbridge Wells, has been a popular place to visit since the 17th century. Its original attraction was its chalybeate springs, which were reputed to provide health benefits. By the 18th century it had grown into a town with lots of other attractions: inns, dancing, and gambling. Many among the leisured classes came to be entertained and enjoy the nearby countryside. In the 19th century, the visits of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and other royals helped boost the town's image. 

View of the famous Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells

On a short holiday to Tunbridge Wells not long ago, I paid a visit to the Opera House. Almost immediately, I found myself up on the stage. A true story. If you go to the Opera House, you too can be up on the stage, or down in the stalls if you prefer. That's because this spectacular venue is a pub. But it began its life as a real opera house in 1902, seven years before the town was awarded its "Royal" prefix. The structure designed by John Briggs is a combination of Neo-Georgian and Edwardian Baroque. It had a seating capacity of 1100 for opera.

The later history of the building encapsulates much of 20th century British social history. In the 1930s, it became a cinema. It was hit by a bomb in World War II. The bomb didn't explode but did considerable damage. The building was renovated and reopened as a cinema after the war. In the 1960s, it was threatened with demolition but was saved by being transformed into a bingo hall. In 1966, it gained the protected status as a Grade II listed building.

The bingo craze subsided, and in 1996 Wetherspoons acquired the Opera House, adding it to its large chain of pubs. It still hosts occasional opera performances. The stalls (ground floor) and the stage are the main seating areas,. The balconies and boxes are seldom used, although they were packed in 2018 for England's games in the World Cup. If you are in Tunbridge Wells, the Opera House is definitely worth a visit.

A view of the stage.

The stalls and balconies (and bar).

Some of the boxes.

Stalls and balconies.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Carew Manor, where Tudors came to play.

How would you like to go to school in a mansion where Tudor Kings and Queens once stayed? In the grounds of Beddington Park in Surrey sits a large red brick building of considerable interest. Today it houses Carew Academy, but for centuries it was the seat of the aristocratic Carew family. 

Visitors to the manor included Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Elizabeth I, and James I. They came to hunt, fish, meet lovers, and discuss politics.

The rise of the Carews of Beddington dates from the late 14th century, when Nicholas Carew arrived in the area. He was a descendant of the Carews of Carew Castle in Pembrokeshire. He married the daughter of the manor's owners and the estate passed into his family. Nicholas rose to the high post of Keeper of the Privy Seal. 

Sir Richard Carew, who owned the house from 1492 to 1520, either created or greatly enlarged the park now known as Beddington Park. In St. Mary's Church, next door to the manor, the Carew family chapel contains the impressive tomb and effigy of Sir Richard.

Richard's son, Sir Nicholas Carew was a favorite of Henry VIII and a member of his Privy Chamber. Henry hunted and courted Anne Boleyn at Carew Manor, while still married to Katherine of Aragon. After Henry had Anne executed for alleged adultery in 1536, he courted Jane Seymour at the manor. (Image: Sir Nicholas Carew, by Hans Holbein the Younger)

Unfortunately for Sir Nicholas, Henry had him executed as well, for alleged treason. He was beheaded on Tower Hill in March 1539. One popular explanation is that Carew beat the king at bowls. The real reason has to more with politics. Carew had alienated the king by championing Princess Mary, daughter of Henry and Katherine of Aragon. 

Carew had also fallen afoul of Thomas Cromwell, the king's chief minister. With those two against you, your days were numbered. Anyway, Henry never let friendship get in the way of a good beheading. Cromwell himself soon fell to the axe.

The king confiscated Carew's estates, and the manor fell into other hands for a time. It was recovered by his son, Sir Francis Carew (1530?-1611) in 1554, during the reign of Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary). 

Mary's successors, Elizabeth I and James I, visited Carew Manor during Francis' time, Elizabeth at least fourteen times. It is likely that royal visitors hunted deer in the large manor park, now Beddington Park and beyond to Mitcham.

An oft-told story relates that Francis delighted Elizabeth by presenting her with cherries out of season. Cherries were a symbol of virginity, the perfect gift for the Virgin Queen. Elizabeth's long-time favorite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester also visited in the 1580s, and enjoyed fishing for trout in the nearby River Wandle. (Image: Robert Dudley)

Despite entertaining royals, Francis avoided involvement in politics, perhaps because of his father's fate. He served in one parliament, but never held any government position or received any favors from the monarchs, a fact he was apparently quite proud of. His stance may have hurt the family's revenues, however.

Francis substantially rebuilt the house. He created a renowned garden and added what is believed to be England's first orangery. He never married. After his death, the manor passed to his nephew Nicholas Throckmorton, on condition he change his name to Carew. 

The Carews fell on hard times during the following decades. They backed the losing Royalist side in the Civil War  of the 1640s and mismanaged their wealth. 

The house became rundown, and another Nicholas Carew undertook major rebuilding in the early 18th century, adding to the family debt. Soon after the work was completed, a fire destroyed the interior of one of the wings. Debts piled up, exacerbated by reckless gambling. In 1859 the house was sold.

After undergoing major alterations, Carew Manor reopened in 1866 as the Royal Female Orphanage. That era ended in 1939, and as mentioned above, it is now a school, Carew Academy. Little of the original structure remains, but the 15th century great hall with its arch-braced hammer beam roof survives and is Grade 1 listed.

The hall is occasionally open to visitors.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

The Anti-Fascist Cartoons of David Low

David Low (1891-1963) was one of the great political cartoonists of the 20th century.David Low, Cartoonist Born in New Zealand, he emigrated to Britain in 1919. In 1927 he joined the staff of London's Evening Standard. He took the job on condition the paper's owner assured him he would have complete freedom from editorial interference. 

Low remained at the Evening Standard until 1950. He is perhaps best remembered for his cartoons of the 1930s and early 40s. lampooning the dictators Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, and British architects of appeasement, Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax. 

In 1937, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels told Halifax that Low's cartoons were damaging German-British relations. Halifax promised to try and restrain Low, with little effect as it turned out. Indeed, Halifax himself became one of the chief targets of Low's satire. 

In the first cartoon, from July 1936, Low draws Hitler advancing towards his goals of expanding German military power and territory by walking along the backs of the "spineless leaders of democracy" who are nothing more than "Stepping Stones to Glory." 

Hitler had already violated key terms of the Treaty of Versailles (1919). After gaining power in 1933, he massively expanded the size of the German military, violating the clause restricting its size and weaponry. In 1936, he ordered German soldiers to occupy the Rhineland on the French border, which the Treaty had declared a demilitarized zone. The other powers did nothing. 

Lack of spine remained a theme in another cartoon, which blasts the appeasement policy of British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax. The policy veered between conceding the "legitimate" demands of Hitler and Mussolini and warning them not to demand more or resort to military action. 

Here, Halifax, in bed under piles of foreign office dispatches, is approached by his butler carrying breakfast and newspapers. The butler's question and the items in the wardrobe make Low's point. 

In "Cause Precedes Effect," below, European leaders, including Mussolini in black cap. give Hitler the Nazi salute while parading with his army. The Versailles Treaty, key clauses of which Hitler had violated, is carried in front, along with a banner. The caption, "17 Years of Lost Opportunity" refers to the leaders' failure to act decisively to preserve the Treaty's promises of democracy and world peace. 

In March 1938 Germany annexed Austria and the other powers did nothing, reasoning that Austrians were Germans. In September 1938, after threatening war, British and French leaders met with Hitler and Mussolini in Munich. With Chamberlain pushing the French, they agreed to Hitler's demand that Germany be allowed to annex the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. The Sudeten region had a German majority and Hitler claimed that the Czechs were oppressing them. 

In return, Hitler promised to make no more territorial demands in Europe. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, arrived  back in London waving the agreement, and saying he had brought "Peace in Our Time." Low mocked the Munich Agreement by implying that it amounted to destroying a strong defensive wall and replacing it with Hitler's worthless paper promise. Chamberlain and Halifax are at left holding the rope which Conservative sheep are jumping over.

How worthless Hitler's promise was became clear within a few months. The Nazis occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia and began making territorial demands on Poland. Low predicted as much at the end of 1938 when he portrayed Hitler as Kris Kringle collecting European nations, pictured as children of the "French-British Family," as presents for Germany. 

Shortly before invading Poland, Hitler negotiated a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. The Nazi-Soviet Pact took many observers by surprise. In Mein Kampf Hitler had denounced "Jewish Bolshevism" as one of the greatest threats to the "Ayran Race" and threatened to invade and destroy the Soviet Union. 

Hitler only agreed to the pact because his generals feared getting stuck in a two front war as in the Great War of 1914-18. Stalin, who had tried and failed to form an anti-fascist alliance with the Western Powers, agreed to the pact in return for being allowed to annex eastern Poland and the Baltic States. 

Here, Low portrays Hitler and Stalin meeting each other in Poland, with a dead Polish soldier lying between them. Their greetings to each other indicate the underlying animosity between the two dictators. 

Indeed, Low was convinced that the Nazi-Soviet partnership could not last. In "Someone is Taking Someone for a Walk" he predicts, correctly, that they were insincere in their new friendship and would soon be enemies again. 

In May 1940, Hitler invaded France and the Low Countries sweeping aside the French and British armies.Within a few weeks, France had surrendered. Several hundred thousand British and French soldiers escaped to Britain in what became known as the "Miracle of Dunkirk." But there was no hiding the fact that Nazi Germany had achieved a tremendous victory. Most of Continental Europe was soon under his control or allied with him.

As the scope of the disaster in France became clear, Chamberlain's Conservative government fell and a National Government led by Winston Churchill replaced it. Churchill was also a Conserative, but the new government was a coalition of Conservative, Labour, and Liberal MPs. 

Low cheered the creation of the new government with the cartoon, "We're Behind You Winston," emphasizing national unity in face of the fascist threat. Churchill leads, followed by leaders of the three major parties. Chamberlain and Halifax, first and third behind Churchill on the left, remained in the war cabinet for the time being, and Halifax in particular pushed for a negotiated peace. Chamberlain was soon removed by death from cancer. In 1941, Halifax was packed off to Washington as British ambassador.

With the fall of France, Britain  found itself with no allies in Europe, facing not only Germany but Fascist Italy. Mussolini, who had formed a pact with Germany in 1936, joined Hitler in the war as soon as it became clear France was finished.

Low illustrated Britain's dire situation in "Very Well, Alone," with a British soldier on a rock surrounded by stormy seas, vowing defiance. Britain would remain alone for a year, until Hitler betrayed Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. A few months later, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the USA into the war, which would last another four years.

Many more of Low's cartoons can be found on various online sites.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Punch Goes to War: World War I

The British humorous and satirical magazine Punch began its long and influential run of publication in 1841. Among other things Punch helped give the word "cartoon" its modern meaning as a humorous picture. Cartoons were a mainstay of Punch as it commented on the events of the day. Some may not seem funny today. Some were racist or xenophobic. But the cartoons were generally designed to raise laughter among the magazine's readers.

As Europe moved towards what would become a world war just before and during 1914, however, its cartoons became increasingly serious in tone and message. As the war unfolded, Punch would become an important tool of British propaganda. 

The cartoon below, "The Boiling Point," appeared in Punch in October 1912.  It was reacting to the dangerous situation created by the first of two Balkan Wars in 1912-13. The wars were related to the long decline of Ottoman Turkish power in the region. Several countries, including Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece, had won their independence from the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century. They were intent on expanding their new states at the expense of the Ottomans, and then each other.

The cartoon reflects fears, correct as it turned out, that the Balkan conflict might spill over and ignite a wider war. In the foreground, left to right, Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary strive to keep the lid on the boiling pot. Behind them, Britain and France look on anxiously. 

Within less than two years these fears had materialized. As is well known, the spark that ignited what became The Great War was the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz -Ferdinand, in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, on August 28, 1914. The assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was a Bosnian Serb with links to an extremist Serbian nationalist organization. 

Serbian nationalists had long sought to unite the South Slavs or Yugoslavs into a Greater Serbia. The territory they craved included Bosnia-Herzogovina, Slovenia, and Croatia, all currently part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

Austrian leaders sought to use the assassination as a pretext to destroy the Serbian nationalist movement. They issued an ultimatum to Serbia that led to war at the end of July, a war that quickly engulfed all the great European powers. The cartoon below, "The Power Behind" shows the Austrian double-headed eagle about to pounce on the defiant Serbian cock, while the Russian bear emerges from behind a rock. 

Russian determination to protect Serbia brought Germany into the war on behalf of its Austrian ally. Germany also declared war on Russia's ally France, a move dictated by the war plan of the German High Command, the Schlieffen PlanMeanwhile, Germany virtually assured Britain's entry into the war by invading France through neutral Belgium on August 4. 

The German government had asked Belgium permission to cross their country. Belgium refused. The German Army, committed to its war plan, marched into Belgium. Britain demanded an immediate withdrawal, then declared war on Germany when the demand was ignored. 

Punch applauded Belgium for its defiance in the cartoon, "Bravo Belgium," published on August 12. The farm boy represents "Little Belgium" protecting his farm from the German brigand, identified by the sausages hanging from his pocket.

In order to whip up British support for the war, the British government and media reported many instances of German "atrocities" in Belgium. Some were real; others invented. 

Punch contributed numerous cartoons to the patriotic effort, including the two below. In the first, from August 23, 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II stands over Belgian civilians he has just shot, holding the German Imperial flag. His revolver is still smoking. The illustrator, Bernard Partridge, had long produced unflattering images of the Kaiser and that would continue throughout the war.

The second cartoon portrays Germany as a barbaric ogre who has torn Belgian neutrality to shreds, protesting he had to attack Belgium in self-defense. The sign behind him says: "World Power or Decline," reflecting the view of Germany's leaders that they were encircled by enemies intent on their destruction. Both cartoons feature burning and destroyed buildings in the background. 

Though the Belgians put up stiff resistance, the German Army overwhelmed them. Within days, the small British Expeditionary Force had arrived to aid the Belgians and French. They fought their first engagement at Mons in Belgium on August 23. During the next two weeks, they and their French allies were 
pushed back by superior German numbers to the outskirts of Paris. 

Reinforced by additional French troops, the allies counterattacked along the River Marne on September 6. Over the next week they pushed the German Army back about 40 miles (65km). The Battle of the Marne was a major victory for the Allies, but the Germans reformed their lines along the River Aisne and began to dig trenches. The Allies followed suit. The line of battle would soon stretch from the Belgian coast to the Alps and would not shift significantly for the next four years. A war of movement became a war of stalemate and attrition, with millions of casualties.  

Punch seemingly made light of the horrors of the war in "The Incorrigibles," by Frederick Henry Townshend. A new soldier arrving at the British trench line is greeted by an "Old Hand" in a waterlogged trench, who assures him that he will have a jolly good time at the front. 

This cartoon (and others) show Punch retained some of its old sense of humor. But the humor was becoming darker. Was Townshend simply trying to boost morale in a dire situation? Or was he cynically poking fun at the British stiff upper lip syndrome? Despite the soldiers' words and smiles, it seems hard to believe anyone would consider their situation enjoyable. As the realities of trench warfare sank in over the next four years, the soldiers themselves would produce much dark and cynical humor of their own. 

Thursday, 22 August 2019

POLIMERICKS from Trumpistan: Updated

For some strange reason, I started making up political limericks (hence, polimericks) in my head. Rather than go crazy, I decided to write them down. 

There once was a POTUS arrogant
Who spouted the most nonsense arrant
His mind is quite broken 
His knowledge mere token
And his brain is the size of a currant.  

This fellow called Trump is quite comical
With words he is not economical
They flow from his rump 
Like a fast-flowing dump
What a marvel he is anatomical.

God has sent us a wonderful gift
To save us all from devilish drift
He may be a rapist,
A crook, and a racist
But God knows we're not very swift.
(Thanks to Trumpgelicals for inspiring this poem)

Trump's a racist his critics declare
Trump says my supporters don't care
In fact, they quite like it
No way will I stop it
When my bigotry they all share.

There was an old fogy named Mitch
Who used government to make himself rich.
But that's not the worst
For which he'll be cursed
And called a sonofabitch.

There once was a POTUS, named Herr Trump
Who called the White House a lousy dump.
"There's no golden potty
It's driving me dotty
I guess I will just have a hump."

Trump wants to buy Greenland so I've heard 
Denmark replied, that's completely absurd
His deal thus upended
Herr Trump was offended 
And acted once more like a turd.

Polimericks, c.2020 

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Alaska's Glacier Country: Kenai Peninsula and Resurrection Bay

Two years ago this month I took a trip to Alaska. When my son Alastair got a job there, my other son Colin and I decided to take up his offer to visit him. Colin flew there from his home in Charleston, SC, and I from mine in London. 

It was the longest journey I have ever made. After more than 24 hours of flying and airport delays, I arrived in Anchorage, where I met up with Colin and his friend Morgan.

The following day we made our way to Seward, a small but bustling tourist destination on the Kenai Peninsula, fronting the deep waters of Resurrection Bay. The drive was our introduction to a fabulous landscape. 

The photo below is of Beluga Point, south of Anchorage. The tracks are those of the Alaska Railroad, which runs from Seward all the way to Fairbanks.

We spent the afternoon and evening exploring Seward and recovering from our travels. The next day we took a long boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park, which included breakfast and lunch. We were blessed with fine sunny weather and a high about 60F (16C). 

We were to soon find out that the air on Resurrection Bay and vicinity could be quite a bit colder, especially when the boat was moving fast. Below is a picture of our tour boat, Alaska Explorer -- not taken by me, obviously.

Cold or not, we and many others braved the bow of the boat much of the time, hoping to glimpse as much wildlife as possible. We had hardly left the dock when we were greeted by sea otters, including this little guy enjoying the fine day.

The mist was rising from the surrounding mountains as we went along, making them look like erupting volcanoes. Crew members told us they had never seen anything like it before.

About the same time, we were passing Bear Glacier, one of forty glaciers that descend from the vast Harding Ice Field. The Harding is more than 700 square miles (777 sq. km) in size. Alaska, by the way, is home to 15 percent of the world's glaciers. 

Soon, we were passing harbor seals lolling on the shore, and Steller's Sea Lions on rocky islands. We saw the spouts of fin whales, but they eluded our attempts to get closer. Fin whales are the second largest animals on earth, next to blue whales. 

We also saw lots of sea birds, including horned and tufted puffins, murres, auklets, and shearwaters. And some eagles.

Soon, we passed Aialik Bay and entered Harris Bay, home of several large glaciers, noably Northwestern Glacier, shown in the last four photos.

On our return trip we ran into a pod of orcas, often called killer whales, an unfortunate name.  We also glimpsed a humpback whale, which waved to us with his tail as it dove. 

After a long and eventful day, we returned to port in Seward, and a well earned seafood dinner.