The Leeds Mummy

Leeds is an unlikely place to find a three-thousand year old Egyptian mummy. But the coffin containing the embalmed remains of Nesyamun, a priest of the ancient god Amun, was brought to Leeds in 1823 having been unearthed near Thebes in Egypt. It became the star exhibit in the newly formed Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society’s museum on Park Row (“The Philosophical Hall”) which also housed rooms for the society’s meetings, a hall for lectures and recitals, and an extensive library.

Although his coffin bears an inscription praying for Nesyamun’s freedom of movement in an eternal afterlife, it was probably not anticipated by the tomb-scribes that his soul’s wanderings would bring him to West Yorkshire. His mummified remains, however, have not since been allowed to rest in peace.

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Park Row, Leeds, 1882, by Leeds artist John Atkinson Grimshaw. Public domain

The Philosophical Hall, built in 1821 to a neo-classical design by Leeds architect R. D. Chantrell, appears in the left-foreground of Atkinson Grimshaw’s wonderfully moody, and appropriately spooky, evocation of late-Victorian Park Row (above). So successful was the Philosophical and Literary Society, and its museum, that the hall was substantially enlarged and renovated in 1862 by architects Dobson & Chorley, who gave it the impressive porch we see in the painting. The splendid Italian-gothic Beckett’s Bank appears opposite (designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, who also built the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station in London).

On visiting Leeds in 1896, The Builder magazine praised Park Row “for its remarkable succession of large and dignified buildings”, adding, “…it is not often that one meets with a modern city street which can show so large a proportion of buildings that are worth notice.” For almost 150 years Park Row was home to the earthly remains of Nesyamun, the “Leeds Mummy”, but, inevitably, few of the street’s buildings “worth notice”, now remain.

By the time of its renovation in the eighteen-sixties, the Philosophical Hall’s museum (according to its historian, E. Kitson Clark) “…was equal, if not superior, to that of any other provincial institution. It comprised 7,000 geological, 1,300 Mineralogical, 6,000 Zoological specimens, and the most remarkable Mummy in the kingdom.”

Other notable exhibits were the skeleton of a female elephant, late of Wombwell’s traveling Menagerie, and those of an Irish elk, an Ichthyosaurus and a Plesiosaurus, plus the stuffed bodies of a young lion, an armadillo and a boa constrictor, also acquired from Wombwell’s. The bones and teeth of a “Great Northern Hippopotamus”, discovered in a brick-yard at Wortley, were featured, as were two skulls of extinct bears, a slab of Breccia with prehistoric flint implements from the Dordogne Valley, and mummies of crocodiles, plus implements and bones from a tumulus on Esketh Moor, near Thirsk. The Archaeological Room displayed a magnificent collection of Greek Marbles, Roman Altars and Querns, together with a tessellated Roman pavement from Isurium (Aldborough, Yorkshire).

Entry was cheap and, “The Museum attracted thousands of visitors, many of whom were in the humbler walk of life, whose decorous conduct…deserved commendation” (presumably their “decorous conduct” was not normally to be relied upon!). A photo of the Zoological Room shows an impressive space well-lit by skylights, with large exhibits in the middle, surrounded by a good many (now terminally old-fashioned) glass display cases at floor level, and a further course of collections running  along a gallery above.

It may seem perverse to bomb someone who has already been dead for three-thousand years, but on 15th March 1941 a German air-raid shell exploded in the Philosophical Hall and disturbed Nesyamun’s slumbers. The building’s frontage was destroyed and three floors towards the front collapsed, so that the curator found himself conducting an archaeological dig in the wreckage of his own museum.

Although the glass case surrounding Nesyamun’s coffin was shattered, the coffin and the mummy within were largely undamaged. Rubble was swiftly cleared, exhibits were recovered, and damage done to taxonomic figures (such as that of Mok the Gorilla, late of London zoo) was repaired. Much of the building, and its essential structure, remained intact, so that the museum’s lunch-time music recitals in the lecture hall were resumed after just a few months’ work, and the whole building was reopened by the Lord Mayor in June 1942.

Given this, it is maddening that the Philosophical Hall was closed in 1965, and demolished the year after, to make way for the atrocious HSBC building that now occupies its spot. The hall had been transferred into the ownership of Leeds Corporation in 1921 and that body never properly restored the frontage, settling for a temporary concrete render that gave it a “makeshift appearance” (according to the Yorkshire Post in 1953). The glorious Beckett’s Bank building, opposite, was demolished around the same time to make way for an anonymous NatWest Bank.

Today’s City Museum (including Nesyamun, and the Great Stuffed Bengal Tiger) was opened in the Mechanics Institute building on Cookridge Street in 2008. Good effort though this is, it only displays a tiny fraction of the collections on show in the old building (the rest is in storage), which could claim to be a natural and local history museum of national importance. Also lost is the architectural quality of the Philosophical Hall itself, and its quality as a centre of municipal cultural and intellectual life. Meanwhile Nesyamun slumbers on – indifferently and indestructibly – as the millennia roll past.

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A reconstruction of how the coffin of Nesyamun might originally have appeared. By Tomohawk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sources:

Books: The History of 100 Years of Life of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, E. Kitson Clark (1924); The Coffin of Nesyamun, the “Leeds mummy, Belinda Wassell (2008); Building a Great Victorian City, Leeds Architects and Architecture, 1790-1914; West Yorkshire Architects and Architecture, D. Linstrum (1978).

Newspapers: The Builder, 12/12/1896; Leeds Mercury, 17/12/1862; Yorkshire Evening Post, 27/3/1941, 2/3/1942; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 24/3/1941, 28/3/1941, 24/6/1942, 7/7/1941, 3/8/1944, 15/7/1953

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The Cardigan Arms

The Cardigan Arms, on Kirkstall Road, is the last of Tetley’s once much-vaunted Victorian “Big Three” Burley pubs to still be in business. Along with the Rising Sun (now derelict) and the Queen Hotel (now a supermarket) the Grade II listed Cardigan was described as “superb” in a 1988 survey of old Leeds pubs. With its five rooms, each of individual character, and its fine original tiling, woodwork, glasswork and brasswork, the place remains a tremendous (and rare) example of the late Victorian gin-palace.

It is, however, unlikely to last long in its current shabby and unloved condition, exacerbated by the flooding it suffered when the River Aire burst its banks on Boxing Day, 2015. Its closure would be a frightful loss, especially so since the Cardigan name features prominently in Leeds’s history. Indeed, the failings of the 7th Earl of Cardigan (famous for leading the charge of the light brigade and known to some as the “Homicidal Earl”) were indirectly responsible for the present building’s existence.

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The Cardigan Arms by Tim Green, taken 20th January, 2017: https://www.flickr.com/photos/atoach/31617447153

An earlier “Cardigan Arms” stood on the same spot from about 1806, when a turnpike road was laid from Leeds to Kirkstall (Kirkstall Road). This was probably a coaching inn, as it was then surrounded by fields and the nearest village (Burley) was some way distant. Despite the building of the Leeds-Harrogate railway line viaduct nearby in the 1840s, the inn stayed beyond the reach of urbanisation for a long while. Whilst Leeds was advancing rapidly towards it by the late 1880s, its setting was still predominantly countrified in character. “Cardigan Field” opposite then housed sports recreation grounds, and horse-drawn omnibuses trundled sedately past.    

Up to then this had all been Brudenell land. The Brudenell family, hereditary earls of Cardigan, owned over half of what was then termed the township of “Headingley cum Burley”, as part of the vast former Kirkstall Abbey estates they had inherited in 1671. This accounts for the many appearances of “Brudenell” and “Cardigan” in local place-names, though their family seat was actually at Deene Park in Northamptonshire and they had extensive further lands there and elsewhere.  

In 1837, James Thomas Brudenell came into his inheritance as the 7th Earl of Cardigan. Tall, lean, golden-haired and luxuriantly be-whiskered, his likenesses in portraiture offer a caricature of the dashing Victorian cavalry officer. But the man himself seems to have been a caricature of the arrogant, aristocratic cad. As a serial adulterer and philanderer he was often the subject of high-society scandal, and, as an acrimonious bully with a bad temper he often attracted the hatred of brother army officers. And it was his penchant for duelling that earned him the sobriquet “the Homicidal earl”.

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James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan by Sir Francis Grant

Even the 7th earl’s one moment of glory, when he led the charge of the light brigade at the Crimean War battle of Balaclava in 1854, was tempered by the fact that the enterprise was a suicidal disaster. Of the 673 men and horses who began the charge, 113 men and 475 horses were killed and many more badly injured. Cardigan, who was undoubtedly brave, maintained that he acted correctly, though the debate about who was at fault continues.

And the earl had a similarly cavalier attitude to financial prudence, since his excessive gambling and extravagant high-living saddled the family with huge debts on his death in 1868. The Yorkshire lands were by then heavily mortgaged. His highly eccentric widow Lady Adeline Cardigan, to whom he left a life-interest, set out to match him in excess and dissipation, which landed the estate in ever-deeper financial trouble.

This occasioned a sale by auction of all the Cardigan lands in Leeds, which took place over four days in December 1888 at the Albert Hall (the lecture theatre at the Mechanics Institute, Cookridge Street– now Leeds City Museum). The old Cardigan Arms, together with a substantial building plot behind it, was sold to Mr William Child for £6,250. Another notable lot, offered for sale the same day, included the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey. In truth it was a good time to sell, because agricultural land was depressed in price but land released for house-building was at a premium. And Leeds was on the verge of a huge building boom.

Within a few short years, the old Cardigan Arms found itself within a newly developed quarter (described in 1897 as “a rather superior residential neighbourhood” by Jackson’s Leeds guide) and had electric trams running to-and-fro outside. The sports grounds of Cardigan Fields opposite disappeared under acreages of terraced housing (now demolished and replaced by shopping and leisure facilities). The ramshackle old inn had become dilapidated, however, and was not up to catering for an urban population, and the magnificent replacement we see today was built in 1895. The architect was Thomas Winn, of Albion Street, and the licensee was Mr Benjamin Greaves.

I remember many jolly evenings spent in the “Cardy”, in the days when it was warming and well-patronised and welcoming. I re-visited it one recent lunchtime to find myself one of only two customers, and no real ales on tap. A couple of other people were there doing some redecorating, apparently in preparation for the pub to be closed for a while for use as a film set. This historic building should surely be refurbished to act as a living entity, not relegated to being an occasional museum-piece film backdrop. The Adelphi in town shows just what can be done with such places.

(There is an initiative afoot to buy the Cardigan Arms and turn it into a community owned pub: https://www.cardiganarms.coop/)

Sources:

Books: “Jackson’s Guide to Leeds” (1897); “The Brudenells of Deene”, Joan Wake (1953); “The Homicidal Earl: the life of Lord Cardigan”, Saul David (1966); “The Rise of Suburbia” ed., F.M.L Thompson (1982); “Old Inns and Pubs of Leeds”, Barrie Pepper (1988); “Chapters in Headingley History”, Michael Collinson; DNB entry on “Brudenell, James Thomas”.

Newspapers: Leeds Mercury, 12/12/1888, 25/8/1894, 8/9/1894; Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer, 15/12/1888; Yorkshire Evening Post, 23/8/1894.

Maps: Lands belonging to the earl of Cardigan (J Dickinson, 1711); Ordnance Survey Maps (Leeds, 1852, 1893 & 1908).

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A North Street Curio

The North Street area of Leeds is a bit of an inner city nowhere-land these days. Few people live there, and a recent visit one afternoon finds it largely bereft of pedestrians. Very little of the original nineteenth-century built environment remains, though one curious survivor does still stand. With its elegant classical frontage cleaned and restored the building in question looks prim, almost sterile. One can imagine it having been a high-class drapery shop, or an insurance office, or even a non-conformist chapel. But it actually started out life as a pub, and it appears to have been a very lively one at that.

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The former Smithfield Hotel, North Street. By Tim Green

Built in 1861, the Smithfield Hotel was named after the Smithfield Cattle Market which then occupied the land opposite that is now called Lovell Park. In those days it was commonplace for livestock to be driven through city streets, and the market held a Cattle Fair twice a week when some 500 heads of cattle, and 4,000 sheep and lambs might be displayed. There was also a General Fair half-yearly and the Great Show of the Smithfield Club annually.

The Smithfield’s bars must have regularly been thronged with farmers and drovers and dealers and auctioneers. The densely populated surrounding area provided a large potential customer-pool too, accommodating as it did the maze of overcrowded dwellings and tailoring sweatshops that constituted the Leylands. And the hotel backed onto the extensive Smithfield Ironworks of engineering firm Thomas Green & Sons.

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Smithfield Hotel 15th April 1897. By kind permission of Leeds Library and Information Services, www.leodis.net subject to broadcaster agreement

Surmounted by a tower, fitted with an illuminated clock, the place was a sizable and imposing establishment. On the ground floor it had a vaults, a taproom, a snug, a main bar and a kitchen. The first floor had a billiard room, three sitting rooms, and a bathroom. Spacious ale, spirit and coal cellars were in the basement, and outside was a brew-house, a coach house and a stable block. On the second floor were six bedrooms, though the hotel does not seem to have been primarily residential. No paying guests are recorded as staying there on census night in 1871, when John Maude, the Hotel Keeper, was in residence with his wife Bessy and their daughters Polly, Annie, Isabel and Emily. A cook, a house maid, a groom and a waiter also lived-in.

Sufficient event occurred there from time-to-time to involve the courts and to excite press interest. One evening in 1866, a knife changed hands in the taproom that was later-on used to desecrate St. Matthew’s Church in nearby Little London. In 1868, a tramp who loitered about “that excellent hostelry” and was given to sleeping in its brew-house, fell into a beer-vat of boiling water and was scalded to death. In 1876, a drover enjoying a glass of beer there trod on the paw of a retriever lying under his settle and was badly bitten by the dog, which turned out to have rabies. He contracted “the usual symptoms of madness [hydrophobia] and he died in great agony”.

In 1885 the then landlord, Councillor William Metcalfe, was attacked with a stick in his own bar by an obscenity-spouting drunk. In court the offender quoted extensively from the Psalms, which did not prevent him being jailed for three months. In 1894 William Fawcett, who succeeded Metcalfe as publican, was summoned for having permitted music to be played on the premises without a licence. In 1903, Fawcett endured a night-time kitchen fire at the hotel that caused significant damage.

Of course, the place was not wholly subject to untoward happenings. It also hosted a wide range of social activities. A Four-in-hand club met there, before setting off on country outings. Messrs Oliver & Appleton, auctioneers of Albion Place, regularly held land sales by auction in one of the upstairs sittings rooms, and sales of all kinds of property were advertised to take place on the premises. Public meetings on contentious issues of the day were conducted there, as were political debates at election times. Billiard competitions were popular, and the Smithfield Club conducted its general proceedings and planned its livestock shows there.

By 1886, having such a noisome facility as a cattle market in the central area come to be considered an inconvenient nuisance by the city fathers and it was closed, its home being transferred to Gelderd Road. The five-acre site was then converted into the Recreation Ground that is now Lovell Park. The Smithfield Hotel had been much frequented by those having business at the market, and it is likely that the place was never the same again. It was finally closed as licensed premises in 1927, probably suffering from a further loss of clientele as more prosperous elements moved northwards out of the Leylands into Chapeltown.   

Later, it was for long the entrance block to Thomas Green & Son’s Ironworks which, in turn, closed down in 1975. Despite its striking appearance, the former hive of local life seems strangely invisible in its present incarnation as offices. It sits there rather forlornly, unnoticed by passing motorists and bus passengers and largely unremarked upon in folk memory.

Sources:

Books: “The Changing Face of Leeds”, B. Godward; “Jackson’s Guide to Leeds”, R. Jackson; “Leeds. A Historical Dictionary of People, Places and Events”, D. Thornton; “A History of Modern Leeds”, ed., D. Fraser; “Images of Leeds (1850-1960)”, P. Brears.

Newspapers: Leeds Intelligencer: 23/6/1866. Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer: 31/10/1874; 31/11/ 1874; 6/4/1875; 25/6/1886; 16/7/1927. Leeds Times: 21/9/1861; 28/9/1861; 4/7/1868; 7/2/1885. Yorkshire Evening Post: 30/5/1894; 10/11/1903. Leeds Mercury: 31/8/1861; 25/9/1862; 4/7/1868; 12/6/1876; 7/11/1903; 31/12/1903.

Leeds Directories: White’s (1866); Porter’s (1872); Kelly’s (1881, 1900, 1904, 1927, 1929).

1871 Census.

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Fairmount

Opposite Lister Park’s stately Prince of Wales gate on North Park Road sits an unpretentious, but rather lovely seven-house terrace named “Fairmount”. When it was built in 1853, out of Bradford’s fine honey-coloured local sandstone, it stood alone in what was then a rural setting, overlooking Manningham Hall, home of the landed Lister family. There was then no Lister Park, nor yet a Cartwright Hall, and what is now North Park Road was a country track known as Hesp Lane. Sadly, Fairmount is not so fair now, being unoccupied and in a state of semi-dereliction.  

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Fairmount, North Park Road, Manningham, Bradford. Taken on 2nd February 2009 from Lister Park by Tim Green.

Like many northern manufacturing towns, early nineteenth-century Bradford rapidly became a stinky hell-hole in its first flush of industrialisation, so as to prompt an exodus of its prosperous citizens. Conditions were compounded by Bradford’s position in a sort of natural amphitheatre, surrounded by hills, wherein smoke and other noxious discharges hung heavy about the town, which also suffered from overcrowded and insanitary accommodation. Those made prosperous by industrialisation soon escaped to out-of-town sanctuaries, uphill from its halo of pollution.

Several pleasant islands of exclusive development to house the refugees popped-up amid the quiet fields of rustic Manningham in the 1840s and 1850s. One thinks, in particular, of the still-surviving localities built about that time around Hanover Square, Peel Square and Apsley Crescent. Fairmount leapfrogged these to become, in the mid-nineteenth century, the only such residential pocket north of Manningham village, its name surely epitomising the aspirations for leisurely living of its first occupants.

When built, Fairmount terrace was angled deliberately to view picturesque Manningham Hall and its grounds. Its only other near neighbours were isolated villas in the valley of Bradford Beck further below, and Trees Farm uphill to the west. With its private carriageway and communal gardens to the front, it must have been an idyllic situation. But its early residents were far from being leading industrial magnates. The unadorned simplicity of its ashlar (dressed stone-block) construction is reflected in its initial social composition.

“Stuff” (wool) merchants were strongly represented amongst its early householders, which is hardly surprising since Bradford’s growth was founded on the manufacture and retailing of woollen goods. Most Fairmount households were of the middling kind that could afford two or three live-in servants. Bradford’s population of German-born wool traders was represented by F.E. Schlesinger, a worsted and silk-yarn merchant, who lived alone at No 2 in 1861, attended only by a housekeeper. Another stuff merchant, James William Mills, who was apparently behind Fairmount’s construction, preceded Schlesinger at that address, before moving on to one in the Kirklands area of Baildon by 1861.

Fairmount’s refined isolation was successively breached, however, as Samuel Cunliffe Lister began to build the gigantic Manningham Mills in the 1870s, and less exclusive housing than itself was constructed all the way uphill from Fairmount to the new factory walls. Lister himself abandoned Manningham Hall in the 1870s and gave it and its grounds over to Bradford Corporation to make Lister Park, the family seat being demolished and later replaced by Cartwright Hall.

Fairmount was last occupied as a residential care home, which was forced by the CSCI (Commission for Social Care Inspection) to close in 2006 due to multiple failures to meet regulations. In a scandalous case at that time a care worker who had secured employment there, despite having a criminal record for robbery and kidnapping, was jailed for stealing considerable sums from vulnerable residents.

The terrace is in North Park Road conservation area and Bradford Council tell me that they are negotiating with the current owners (property developers) for it to be restored and preferably returned to residential use, either privately or in council ownership. Apparently, two wild cherry trees in the garden are listed with the Natural History Museum Urban Tree Survey. My recent photos below show how far restoration has to go:

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Fairmount, looking East, 19th October 2016.

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Fairmount, looking East, 19th October 2016.

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  Fairmount, looking West, 19th October 2016.

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No 2 Fairmount, where J.W Mills and F.E Schlesinger lived, 19th October 2016.

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Looking through one of the east-facing bay windows at No 1 Fairmount, 19th October 2016. A pair of residents had perhaps just gone upstairs for a nap after taking afternoon tea in the bay when the care home closed? The table-flowers have wilted somewhat.

 Sources and Acknowledgements:

Manningham, Character and diversity in a Bradford suburb, Simon Taylor & Kathryn Gibson, English Heritage (2010); Histories of Manningham, Allerton and Heaton, William Cudworth (1896); Lunds’ Bradford Directory (1856); Post Office Bradford Directory (1916);1861 Census; Telegraph & Argus; Bradford Local Studies Library maps.

I am grateful to Bradford Metropolitan District Council Department of Regeneration and Bradford Local Studies Library for their help in researching this post. 

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In Memoriam

I was in Liverpool recently for a day and decided to go over the water to visit the U-Boat Story museum at Birkenhead, where salvaged German submarine U-534 lies at rest. I went aboard U-534 some years ago at the Historic Warships Museum in Birkenhead, when she was still in one piece. She has since been sliced vertically into four segments, like a shark on a fishmonger’s slab, with head, tail, and middle bits arranged separately, their interiors visible, but not accessible, through transparent partitions sealing their exposed ends. The U-Boat Story is situated at the Woodside Ferry Terminal, which has sentimental associations for my family that I shall describe.

U-534 was sunk at the end of the war on 5th of May 1945, the order having been given for the U-Boat fleet to surrender to the allies as from eight a.m. that morning. She had just left Germany for Norway and was proceeding on the surface in the Kattegat, northeast of Denmark. Fatally for her, she was not flying a flag of surrender. An allied aircraft spotted her and dropped depth charges on her stern, one of which slipped off and exploded below, blowing the hole in her side which drove her to the bottom. Her crew escaped but she remained on the seabed until 1993, when she was raised and brought to Birkenhead. It is not known why the captain failed to fly a surrender flag, nor what final mission he was on, because he later committed suicide without elucidating these mysteries.

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The tail section of U-534, showing the depth charge damage which sunk her. My photo.

It’s such a pity that the boat has been cut-up, though I understand there were significant practical difficulties in moving her to the site and showing her without doing so. Better that she is displayed like this, I suppose, than not at all. Going aboard her when she was still intact was a tremendous experience, however, that cannot really be reproduced by the internal cameras now installed. Everything was encrusted in fifty years’ worth of marine deposits that one could touch. There was still tinned food in the galley, and items of clothing hanging up, and bundles of still-readable documents, waterproofed by silt. She was so long and narrow that one could acutely feel the claustrophobia of a confined and dangerous world.

It is fitting that she is housed on the Mersey, given that the Western Approaches command was situated there during the Battle of the Atlantic. My mother was a teenager in nearby Wallasey when the war started and was evacuated to north Wales, their house being completely bombed-out subsequently during the blitz on Merseyside. At the same time my father worked as a shipping-office lad in Liverpool, and thus had occasion to visit vessels limping into port after surviving the U-Boat menace on the Atlantic convoys. He later fought in Burma during its liberation from the Japanese.

My parents first met at the Woodside Ferry Terminal, where U-534 is now displayed, in the early 1950s, as they were queuing for excursion tickets. Sadly, my mother passed away some weeks ago. They had been married for sixty-three years. We are losing our human connection to the nobility and sacrifice of those who endured the war. We do need to remember.

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A Botanical Building

On the road from Leeds to Shipley, I often admire the old Carnegie Library building at Windhill that stands empty and decaying. This fine brown-stone structure has a simple grandeur to it, with its pleasing curves, roof-pinnacles and balustrade-fronted gallery. It was one of many public libraries in the UK financed in Edwardian times by Scottish-American steel baron Andrew Carnegie. But despite Carnegie’s generosity, it strikes me that the likelihood of this building’s ultimate demise was inherent from its beginning.

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Windhill Carnegie Library, Shipley, photo c1968, courtesy of Bradford Local Studies Library.

Windhill library was built in 1905, financed by a £3000 donation from Carnegie and designed by Bradford architect Abraham Sharp. At that time it was not a middle-of-nowhere relic complicating a busy traffic junction, but an integral part of a vibrant local centre of shops, pubs and other community institutions. On opening, the place was distinguished enough to merit a column in The Builder magazine that described its internal splendour.

The front doors apparently led into a vestibule and a hexagonal entrance-hall whose flooring consisted of terrazzo mosaic tiling. Beyond this was the main lending library, flanked by a reference library to one side and a reading room to the other, furnished in varnished pitch-pine and teak. The librarian’s room was situated in a central position on a raised platform to “afford full supervision” (it was, after all, a more paternalistic age!). There was space for 8,000 books and 50 readers. Upstairs there was a student’s room, a ladies’ room, a patent journal room, toilets for both sexes, a tea-room and a lecture hall accommodating 150 persons. Sliding partitions enabled the whole floor to be opened out for greater numbers if need be.

By contrast, I was able to peer inside the library on a recent visit to observe a derelict shell gutted of its original features. Paint is peeling from the ceiling and dangling in shards, and rubbish is strewn across the exposed concrete base. Most of the window glass has been replaced by haphazard boarding, but the building is not weatherproof since several frames on the upper story gape empty. Much of the external woodwork is rotting, and areas of stonework are buckling and crumbling. Somewhere along the line it has lost its tower, and the place may be said to have joined the ranks of those neglected “botanical buildings” that harbour cultures of vegetation growing out of their guttering.

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 My  photos, taken 8th August 2016

Given how well-appointed the structure was initially, it is interesting to note that Carnegie’s contribution to such institutions went no further than funding the actual building work. Also, given his control-freakery regarding the more prestigious philanthropic foundations that bore his name, it is surprising how much the relevant local authorities were simply given the money and told to get on with.

Working through his secretaries, Carnegie stipulated only that local authorities provide the land, set aside ten percent of the building’s cost annually for its maintenance, and sign-up to the Public Libraries Act of 1850 which enabled them to raise a penny rate for the provision of books. No architectural uniformity was imposed, nor was any charter issued setting out how the actual business of a Carnegie library was to be conducted. Concerning grants to build public libraries in New York City, Carnegie declared: “I give you the seed, cultivate it as you will.”

Deciding which localities were to benefit from his bounty seems similarly lax. The field was thrown open to UK applications in 1902, and hopeful local authorities were to send requests to Carnegie’s secretaries. If approved the council signed a pledge agreeing to the basic Carnegie terms, and the money arrived by instalments as work progressed. The amount given to a town was based on the size of its civic population.

The first Carnegie Library in England (which, unlike Windhill, is protected by a Grade II listing) was opened in 1904 at Keighley, and it got £10,000 (to Windhill’s £3,000), which stretched to mounting a marble bust of Carnegie on a pedestal within. Apparently Carnegie toyed with Sir Swire Smith, who was associated with the Keighley application, by initially offering him $50,000 dollars when Smith was staying with the magnate at his Scottish castle of Skibo, only to rescind the offer next morning with a carefree quip.

This incident suggests that Carnegie enjoyed the power his money gave him over people. “The man who dies rich,” he however declared, “dies disgraced.” Free libraries were just one beneficiary of his untiring efforts to divest himself of his fortune towards the end of his life, but many questioned the philanthropic sincerity of someone who had reputedly made his pile ruthlessly and without regard for workers’ rights.

Another ground for criticism of Carnegie returns us to the present plight of the Windhill library building. Because he did not settle permanent endowment funds on such institutions that could finance books, staff and upkeep, Carnegie did not safeguard them against changing times. He built 660 free libraries in Great Britain in total, but a report on UK library provision in 1914 found that some were underprovided as regards the quantity and quality of their book-stock. Revenue from the penny rate was simply insufficient in some cases, and one commentator talked of “overbuilding” leaving many smaller towns with “collections of bricks rather than of books.”

The upstairs floor at Windhill apparently came to be used as a function hall and ballroom, but when the new Shipley library was opened in 1985 the building closed. It was reputedly leased to the Irish Folk Music Society and a Pentecostal church at one time or another, but it was sold to private owners in 2006 since when it has been neglected. The lack of a permanent endowment may prove fatal to its survival. I’ve just looked at a current photo of Carnegie Hall in New York City and am unsurprised to find that it does not have wild bushes growing from its skyline.   

Sources & Acknowledgements:

The Builder, 27th January, 1906, p. 99; Post Office Bradford Directory, 1909; Carnegie by Peter Krass, 2002; Little Boss: a life of Andrew Carnegie by James A. Mackay, 1997; Books for the People: An Illustrated History of the British Public Library by Thomas Kelly, 1977; The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland Vol III 1850-2000; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on Andrew Carnegie; A file of various press sources available at Bradford Local Studies Library.

I am grateful for the help given to me by staff at Bradford Local Studies Library and Keighley Local Studies Library.

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London Pilgrims

Although he was a Frenchman who never learned any English, the illustrator Gustave Doré drew some of the most evocative and enduring images we have of Victorian London. The ones that are most familiar today are those depicting the poverty, alienation and squalor of the emergent industrial metropolis, but there are other, lesser-known ones that celebrate its more opulent and exuberant aspects.

Dore_London 

 “Over London by Rail” Gustave Doré c 1870.

 Houndsditch

 “Houndsditch” by Gustave Doré, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. (1872).

The above two portrayals epitomise the vision of a dismal and desperate (albeit picturesque) urban landscape that we most associate with Doré. But the marvellous volume in which they first appeared, “London: A Pilgrimage”, published in 1872, contains 180 Doré sketches which illuminate a tremendous variety of social groupings and settings.

For the book, Doré, in company with the journalist Blanchard Jerrold who wrote its text, set out to range over London as freely as they might and produce a record of what they found in words and pictures. Over several years they explored the capital’s high-life and low-life, both indoors and out, from the hard-grafting East-End dock landscape to the hushed sanctity of Westminster Abbey.

At one point they attended a garden party in the grounds of Holland House, which was then a sparkling rendezvous of aristocratic society, though it was substantially destroyed by incendiary bombs in 1940 and its ruin now stands in the public open-space of Holland Park.

  Victorian web

 “Holland House, A Garden Party” by Gustave Doré, 1872 http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/dore/london/23.html

“We are Pilgrims,” Jerrold wrote in the book’s introduction, “wanderers, gipsy-loiterers in the great world of London…Under the magic influence of its vastness; its prodigious unwieldy life, and its extraordinary varieties of manners…”.

I would have loved to have been a “wanderer” and a “gypsy-loiterer” in the “great world” of Victorian London. But would I have seen what Doré drew? Well, in the first place I would not have had access to the high-society locations such as Holland House that  Jerrold & Doré’s connections opened up to them. But, more importantly, Doré reputedly worked from memory, and only when he was back in his Parisian studio at that. There is a correspondingly dreamlike, fantastical sheen to his visions that seems at one remove from reality. As with Dickens’ word-invocations of Victorian London, one has to remember that Doré’s output has been filtered through a highly individual artistic imagination.

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The Phoenix Works

I recently visited the refurbished York Art Gallery, with my cultured friend, to see the exhibition, “British Art of the First World War”. It’s a very impressive display, with many large-scale, and strikingly evocative paintings. The kind of images generally associated with the war on the Western Front feature strongly. We can all envision the muddy trenches, the shell-blasted landscapes, the branchless, shattered tree-trunks, and the dispirited, broken soldiery. But there are other, less familiar, depictions of the conflict on view in the exhibition.

 We_are_Making_a_New_World_Art.IWMART1146

We Are Making a New World, 1918, by Paul Nash, collection of the Imperial War Museum, London, IWM Art 1146

The above work, with its ironic title (“We are making a new world”) and its new-day sun rising over a scene of total desolation, epitomises how we have come to picture the war. But my attention was most powerfully drawn to a painting of women war-workers taking a canteen break at the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Co factory at Thornbury in Bradford.

 Flora_Lion_was_a_portrait_painter_who_was_given_access_to_paint_factory_scenes_in_Leeds_and_Bradford_during_World_War_One._The_interior_

Women’s Canteen at Phoenix Works, Bradford, 1918, by Flora Lion, collection of the Imperial War Museum, London, IWM Art 4434

The women pictured are clearly tired, but a strong sense of purposefulness and solidarity shines through all the same. Painted by a female artist, the depiction points the way to a new world that was in the process of being created. The women represented would have been doing the sort of industrial jobs that, before the war, would have been an exclusively male preserve. In wartime, women filled men’s places in all sorts of home-front occupations they were not previously thought capable of, or were not thought suitable for them. As a result of this massive contribution they won (partially) the parliamentary vote in 1918. The prospect also dawned of their entrée into broader walks of life than housekeeping, and into higher occupations than the ones of drudgery and servitude that had hitherto been the norm. Even the most atrocious events are not always without beneficial consequences.

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The People’s Cafe

I am not the first idler on his way into the Adelphi pub to notice that Leeds Bridge House bears a striking resemblance to the (rather more famous!) Flatiron Building in New York City, albeit on a more modest scale. Both are wedge-shaped and built in pleasingly Italianate styles on triangular corner sites between busy thoroughfares. The Leeds version is Grade II listed and was completed in 1881, preceding the arrival of its sky-scraping Manhattan counterpart by twenty years. Perhaps the latter’s American architect, Daniel Burnham, paid a covert visit to Yorkshire in search of some old-world inspiration? Perhaps not, but there is an interesting tale to tell about the early years of Leeds Bridge House as a landmark of Victorian moral paternalism.

 Flatiron

 I am grateful to Jon Howe and Jeffrey Zeldman for this composite image

The site for the building, bounded by Hunslet Road, Hunslet Lane and Waterloo Street, was acquired from Leeds Corporation by local banker John James Cousins on 6th October 1879. It was one lot in a general sale by auction of development land south of Leeds Bridge, and it cost him £1,338. Cousins, who lived at Allerton Park, north of the city, was manager of the Exchange and Discount bank on Park Row, and he hired architects Messrs. Adams & Kelly, also of Park Row, to design a building to fit the unusual shape of the plot. The conveyance to Cousins stipulated that the construction was to be at least forty feet in height, and the site invited something out of the ordinary since it is in the centre of one’s eye-line at the south end of Leeds Bridge.

In his inaugural address to the Leeds Architectural Society in 1881, its president, Mr J.B. Fraser F.R.I.B.A., welcomed the result as “a noteworthy and handsome addition to our public buildings, and very creditable to the architects”. He mentioned it in the context of “the increasing demand for better provision for the bodily comfort and for the improvement of the mental and moral status of the poorer classes.” This is because Cousins conceived the building as a so-called “People’s Café”.

The People’s Café movement, now apparently forgotten, was formed in 1874 “to establish places of resort and recreation for working men, conducted on temperance principles, but sufficiently attractive to compete with the beershop and the gin-palace.” Its promoters included the great nineteenth century Tory social reformer, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, prominent church temperance campaigner Canon Ellison, and hard-line Victorian self-help moralist Sir Charles Trevelyan. The idea was that financial support would be given to suitable men to start such businesses, who would then be left to manage them on a commercial, but strictly temperance basis.

The Leeds “People’s Café” was announced open by an advertisement in the Yorkshire Post of 3rd September 1881, where it was stressed that its “Breakfasts, Diners, Teas and Suppers of the best quality are supplied at prices within the reach of everyone.” It also offered overnight accommodation in the shape of thirty “excellent bedrooms from 4s per week, or 1s per night,” and “Hot and Cold Private Baths, 3d”. The initial manager was a Mr C. Dilly, who had given way by 1886 to a Mr J. Walker.

An impression of their character and facilities comes from a description of a People’s Café newly opened in May 1875 at Whitechapel in London’s East End (this was the second such establishment, the first being in London’s Whitecross Street): “It is bright and cheerful within, and well ventilated. On the ground floor is a good-sized coffee-room, well supplied with little marble-top tables, and upstairs are a reading-room, where also is to be collected a small library, a room where chess, draughts, dominoes, and the like may be played; a room for billiards and also for bagatelle.” It was anticipated that the basement of the Whitechapel café would become an American bowling alley.

The scheme’s initial promoters were sure that people would flock “to make use of such places when the places are ready for them”, but the fortunes of the Leeds establishment suggest otherwise. The Leeds Mercury of 26th September 1888 reported that (after only seven years of trading) the business’s name had been altered to the “Cobden Temperance Hotel”. Taken over by the St James’s Hall Committee and “fitted up” on the same plan as the St James’s Hall (presumably the concert hall in the West End of London), it seems that the premises had, in modern parlance, been “rebranded”.

These new promoters were reported as expecting it to “prove an equally successful venture” as the St James’s Hall itself, and its reopening was graced with a recital of songs by the Temperance Choral Society performed to an assembly of worthies including the manager of St James’s Hall, Mr A. E. Brayshaw. But such high hopes were soon dashed. By June 1895, the ground floor had been converted into shops and the upper stories had fallen into disuse. Cousins died on 1st December 1897, when the main body of the building was still unoccupied. So it remained in November 1901, when his executors sold it to Nelson & Co Ltd (tea merchants of Louth in Lincolnshire). But the cycle of failure persisted, as that company was put into liquidation by creditors’ petition on 7th February 1905.

Thereafter the building was given over to commercial or office use, and eventually dereliction when it narrowly escaped demolition. It has never been returned to the hospitality trade, with or without an alcohol licence. Most likely it was simply built in the wrong place to serve a significant temperance market. Jackson’s city guide of 1889 describes what it quaintly calls “transpontine Leeds” (that is to say the working class suburbs of Hunslet and Holbeck stretching south from Leeds bridge) as “not famous for many of the charms which attract the eye of the beholder…now one vastness of toiling humanity”. Perhaps the citizenry south of the river did not care to be patronised by a dry venue aiming at their moral improvement, when there were any number of wet pubs close at hand.

And however cultured the later Cobden Temperance Hotel may have been, abstaining visitors would surely have preferred to stay at one of several more convenient temperance hotels in the city centre (over twenty are listed as trading there in the eighteen-nineties) rather than venturing into a noisy, dirty and probably rough part of town. Nowadays there is virtually no sign of its initial incarnation inside, apart from a dumb-waiter shaft which runs the full height of the building, presumably from what was originally a basement kitchen, with service hatches on each of its five floors. It is currently tenanted by charitable organisations, so in a way the place has returned to its philanthropic roots.  

Sources & Acknowledgments:

Revised Listed Buildings, City of Leeds, Vol. 2 (The entry for Leeds Bridge House wrongly gives its time of construction as c.1875); West Yorkshire Architects and Architecture, Derek Linstrum, 1978, pp. 370, 379; Leeds The Architectural Heritage, G. Sheeran & I. Beesley, 1993, pp. 40-1; Kelly’s, Post Office and Robinson’s Leeds Street Directories; The Builder, 1874 pp. 225-6, 1875 p. 472, 1881 pp. 676-7; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury for the dates appearing in the text; Jackson’s Guide to Leeds, 1889, p. 207.

I am grateful to the current owner of Leeds Bridge House for giving me sight of the title deeds and for showing me around the building; I am also grateful to the staff at Leeds Central Library Local and Family History Services for their willing help.

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My Beloved Silvestra

I recently blogged about Herman Melville’s character “Bartleby the Scrivener” as being one of Gothic horror. Having re-read Thomas Mann’s short story, “Mario and the Magician”, I find his portrayal of Cipolla the Conjurer similarly unsettling, and I think it is a tale that carries as vital a message for today as it did in 1929 when it was written.

 Kellar_levitation_poster

Harry Kellar was an American magician of the late 19th and 20th centuries, whose devices perhaps bore some resemblance to those of the fictional Cipolla. (Public domain via Wikimedia.)

In Mann’s story, the German narrator and his wife and children are taking a summer holiday at a seaside resort on the Tyrrhenian Sea in Southern Italy. The sun is shining and they should be having a swimmingly good time, but it is the era of Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy and a sense of intangible menace is abroad.

The story begins: “The atmosphere of Torre di Venere remains unpleasant in the memory. From the first moment the air of the place made us uneasy, we felt irritable, on edge; then at the end came the shocking business of Cipolla, that dreadful being who seemed to incorporate, in so fateful and so humanly impressive a way, all the peculiar evilness of the situation as a whole.”

From the start of their stay, small disagreeable incidents multiply so as to enhance their uneasiness. They are treated with such snobbish disregard at the Grand Hotel, in the face of an aristocratic lady’s unjust complaint against them, that they feel obliged to move elsewhere. Their eight-year-old daughter’s fleeting, but innocent, nudity on the beach earns them a public denunciation from a bowler-hatted busybody, who accuses them of insulting the honour of Italy, and they receive a fine from the town authorities for this apparently unconscionable offence.   

Then posters announce the forthcoming performance in town of a magician, “Cavaliere Cipolla”, and the narrator’s children pester him into making a family night-out of it. On the advertised evening the hall is packed, and the performer keeps his audience waiting for an inordinate time before taking to the stage.

When he does appear they see, “A man of age hard to determine, but by no means young; with a sharp, ravaged face, piercing eyes, compressed lips, small black waxed moustache, and a so-called imperial in the curve between mouth and chin.”  He is dressed “with a sort of complicated evening elegance,” and he turns back his cape to reveal “a riding-whip with a silver claw-handle” hanging by a leather thong from his left forearm. On removing his hat and outer garments he is revealed as ugly and deformed.

There is a taste of how matters will develop as Cipolla opens by humiliating a heckler, making him stick out his tongue against his will. When the young man challenges him again later, he forces him to double up as if in colic pain. But the first half of the performance largely consists of the familiar “magician’s” fare, such as tricks with cards, numbers and objects, whereby he correctly guesses things he apparently has no way of knowing. The conjuror’s elaborate patter, delivered in a “wheezing, metallic voice”, is taunting and suggestive throughout, and the way he works the audience is insidiously controlling. He makes jokes, but they are often designed to achieve a targeted individual’s humiliation, and he is careful to only treat lower class spectators in such a degrading way. He is personally boastful, and evinces a bombastic patriotism.

Yet despite the underlying reserve, and antipathy, towards the performer that the narrator senses, “the curiosity of the entire audience was unbounded and universal, everybody both enjoyed the amusing character of the entertainment and unanimously conceded the professional skill of the performer.”

As the evening lengthens the narrator and his wife realise belatedly that the spectacle is unsuitable for their children, but find themselves somehow unable to break away. They rationalise their inertia on the ground that leaving would spoil the children’s evident enjoyment. By the time the intermission comes it is already after eleven p.m. and the children are nodding off, but still they stay.

On his reappearance (after a further tantalising delay), the magician discards the surrounding artifice of trickery and nakedly reveals that his real business is bending others to his will thorough hypnotic suggestion: “An elderly lady in a cane-seated chair was lulled by Cipolla into the delusion that she was on a visit to India and gave a voluble account of her adventures by land and sea.” “A tall, well-built, soldierly man”, is unable to lift his arm, despite his strenuous efforts to do so, after being told by Cipolla that he cannot. A lady with an “ethereal lack of resistance to his power” is encouraged to join him on stage, and she follows his beckoning finger even while her distraught husband implores her to return to her place by calling her name. People are made to dance, “in a kind of complacent ecstasy, eyes closed, head nodding, lank limbs flying in all directions.” Each command is accompanied by a swish of Cipolla’s claw-handled riding-whip.

Events turn ever uglier, and it is well after midnight when they move to a ghastly climax. The children are awake to see a favourite waiter of theirs from a local restaurant, named Mario, be enticed alone up to the stage. The magician interrogates the simple-natured youth insinuatingly, seeking to extract titillating details of his personal life. He prizes out the fact that Mario loves a girl called Silvestra, but that he is unsure of her feelings for him. He plays on Mario’s uncertainties, suggesting that his beloved Silvestra might like to cavort with rougher types than himself. At last he persuades the hapless waiter that he himself is Silvestra. “It is time that you see me and recognise me, Mario, my beloved!” Cipolla entreats his victim, “Kiss me…Trust me, I love thee.” Mario leans down and kisses his tormentor, but then recoils horribly at the act.

I’ll leave you to find out how it ends, if you’re so-minded. The story is, of course, an allegory of the rise of fascism which Mann had witnessed in Italy and which was to be writ larger in his German homeland. But it’s a timeless tale in that there will always be proselytisers of wicked creeds who seek to hypnotise others into false beliefs. Mann emphasised the importance of the crowd-pressure that fascism relied upon in deconstructing individual will. But nowadays you don’t even need to leave your bedroom to be deceived by internet ideologues into believing that they are your beloved Silvestra.      

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