Noel Streatfeild (1895-1986)

The first book that Dame Jacqueline Wilson, best selling British children’s author, ever bought for herself, was Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes. It is the tale of three adopted sisters from a privileged family who attend a stage school. Wilson explains:

“I was an only child and longed for sisters…I felt as if I were the fourth Fossil sister as I read my way through the book…the three Fossil sisters, Pauline, Petrova and Posy, were all so real I felt I actually knew them.”.

Mary Noel Streatfeild, who was born on Christmas Eve, is best known for her children’s books. She won the third annual Carnegie Medal for her third book, The Circus is Coming (1938). Ballet Shoes, published by J M Dent in 1936, was her first children’s book. It was a commended runner up for the inaugural Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, which is awarded to the year’s best British children’s book, and launched her successful career in writing for children.

The author recalled:

“The story poured off my pen, more or less telling itself…I distrusted what came easily and so despised the book.”.

“Ballet Shoes” (1936) by Noel Streatfeild

Illustration: Ruth Gervis (nee Streatfeild) (1894-1988)

“On Saturday mornings they worked from ten to one at the Academy. As well as special exercise classes and the ordinary dancing classes, there was singing, and one hour’s acting class. For these they wore the Academy overalls. They were of black sateen made from a Russian design, with high collars, and double breasted, buttoning with large black buttons down the left side; round the waist they had wide black leather belts. With these they wore their white sandals.”

Law and order in Richmond

(Information gathered from the website of the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames.)

The first Act to regulate the government of Richmond was passed on 30th April, 1766, and was entitled An Act for the Relief and Employment of the poor, and for repairing the highways, paving, cleansing, lighting and watching the streets…”.

It does not appear to have been very successful for in 1785 a further Act was passed and the trustees were replaced by Vestrymen. From this date there are detailed minutes of the Vestry meetings. The first meeting of the newly constituted body was held at the Greyhound Inn in George Street; thereafter, meetings were at the Parish Room in the churchyard. One of the first tasks of the reorganised Vestry was to order the erection of a watch house. On 30th December, 1793, it adopted Mr Justice Bonding’s system of watching and laid down a rota of “beats” to be walked by the watchmen.

As meeting at the Parish Room proved inconvenient, it was resolved on 7th June, 1790 “that it is expedient to build a new Vestry Office and that the spot on which the houses now stand on the ground purchased for the purpose of a new burial ground is the most convenient place for that purpose.” The surveyor or architect was Mr Faulkner, and it was built by Thomas Taylor. The first meeting in the new office at the corner of Vineyard Passage and Paradise Road took place on 11th April, 1791.

By 1829 the watch was in its final years. Richmond was added to the Metropolitan Police area on 13th January, 1840, and the Vestry was relieved of its duty in that direction, other than collecting the Police Levy. The watch house was closed when the police station opened in 1841. In 1849, the Vestry Hall was enlarged and the police court was added.

Richmond became a borough in 1890. By 1895, the old Vestry Hall had outlived its usefulness and been replaced, for all except its magisterial duties, by the new Town Hall in Hill Street. The Vestry Hall was pulled down and replaced by a new Magistrates Court, plus mortuary, which opened in October, 1896. According to one local paper, “the universal opinion appeared to be that if the exterior…is not exactly calculated to inspire respect mingled with admiration, the interior is very well adapted to its purpose.”

The building’s original function was removed in 1975 to the new Court House in Parkshot, on a site previously occupied by Parkshot Rooms and the swimming baths. The Parkshot Rooms was the later name for a building of 1905 which had been used as offices for the Richmond Board of Guardians.

This was on the site of No. 8, Parkshot. A. Leonard Summers described it as “an unpretentious looking Georgian house, ivy clad, but suitable on account of its quiet and seclusion”. Mary Anne Evans and the philosopher George Henry Lewes lodged here together, occupying a room on the second floor of the home of a Miss Croft. It was during her time in Richmond that Evans began her first novel, Amos Barton (1857), later retitled Scenes of Clerical Life, assuming the pen name of George Eliot for the purpose.

In 2016, the Richmond & Twickenham Times reported that Richmond Magistrates’ Court had closed its doors for the last time on Friday, 18th March. Tony Arbour, a long serving magistrate, told the paper sadly:

“Back then (in 1975), it was the local court…it was full…This was…when police decided which cases to prosecute…It is very sad…in the old days, you would have lawyers from Richmond Green prosecuting.”.

The article ends with an invitation to readers to email their comments on it, and two were submitted. One printed, one deleted…

The hall of mirrors

Pictured: S H Foulkes (1898-1976), born Siegmund Heinrich Fuchs.

In Blue-Eyed Son – the story of an adoption (2004), Nicky Campbell tells how he traced first his birth mother Stella, and then his half sister Esther, who was born before him, had another father, and was adopted into a different family. Now parents themselves, they have met and have begun the search for their respective birth fathers:

“…After a knowing glance she told me that near her house there is a hall of mirrors. It’s a bizarre and disorientating experience. You are surrounded by the strange and surreal. You glimpse yourself and other people coming from all directions in all shapes, all forms and sizes and you’re really not sure who is real and who isn’t. When you find the exit and return to daylight, it’s a good feeling. Esther explained more: “I felt I had just come out of it with Stella, you and the whole regressionary experience.” She explained she didn’t want to go into another hall of mirrors. “I didn’t want to put myself through any more distortions of reality. You think you are looking at other people but, in fact, you’re looking at yourself.”

Esther called it the “hall of mirrors”. For my friend Jack at the BBC it is “bother”. They mean the same thing. As to why I wanted to go into the hall of mirrors, take a trip on this emotional helter-skelter or leap on the Elsinore ghost train, Esther says she doesn’t think I really understood why.

“You’re perfectly good at understanding the motivations of others, just hopeless when it comes to your own.” “.

S H Foulkes, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst once quoted: “It is easier to see the other person’s problems than one’s own.”. He later wrote of “Mirror phenomena” as a major therapeutic factor in group-analytic Psychotherapy:

“The group situation has been likened to a hall of mirrors where an individual is confronted with various aspects of his social, psychological or body image. By a careful inner assessment of these aspects, he can achieve in time a personal image of himself not grossly out of keeping with the external and objective evaluation. He can discover his real identity and link it up with past identities.”.

“The Artist’s Wife” (1913): Spencer Gore

The first home of Freddy and Mollie was a flat at 2, Houghton Place, London NW1. In the picture above, Mollie is sitting on the floor of their living room.

Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes first performed in London in 1911. Their popularity led to a fashion in artistic and bohemian circles for a side fastening, thigh length tunic based on Russian costume. The dress worn by Mollie in this picture would have been considered avant-garde.

The American dancer Irene Castle (1893-1969) popularised the bobbed haircut in Britain around 1914, though advanced, daring young women in artistic circles had adopted the style slightly earlier.

The sculptor Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) in 1913 cut the hair of artist, model, and “Queen of Bohemia” Nina Hamnett (1890-1956) into a bob, so that she resembled one of his statues.

“The Child is father of the Man” (William Wordsworth, 1802)

Picture: Cambrian Road, Richmond (1913-14), by Spencer Frederick Gore

My post of 8/12/18 mentioned Spencer Frederick “Freddy” Gore and the Camden Town Group. The Tate’s note on Gore assesses him as in many ways the Group’s most important member.

During his time at the Slade School of Fine Art (1896-99), Gore made lasting friendships with Harold Gilman, Augustus John, Wyndham Lewis, William Orpen, and Albert Rutherston.

In 1904, Freddy’s father, the former Wimbledon tennis champion Spencer William Gore, abandoned his family, having run into business difficulties. The young artist’s uncle, Charles Gore, theologian and Bishop of Oxford, told him that he must give up painting to support his mother and sister; Freddy aimed rather to earn his living as a painter.

In 1909, Gore moved to 31, Mornington Crescent, close to Walter Sickert at No 6. He had met Sickert in Northern France, through Albert Rutherston, and they remained firm friends for the rest of Gore’s short life.

Each acted as best man to the other’s bridegroom. Spencer Gore married Mary Joanna “Molly” Kerr, a dancer from Edinburgh, in January 1912. They had two children: Margaret Elizabeth, born in the year of their marriage, and Frederick John Pym, born the following year.

In the summer of 1913, the artist and his wife and daughter moved to 6, Cambrian Road, near Richmond Park. (The Cambrian Road Gate was to be constructed during World War I for access to the South African Military Hospital, newly built in Richmond Park. When the hospital was demolished in 1925, the entrance was made permanent and public as a pedestrian gate.) Frederick was born early in that first November in Richmond.

Gore painted a series of thirty two landscapes in the Park. It’s thought that his painting outdoors in the cold and wet of the winter months brought on the pneumonia which resulted in his death on 27th March, 1914, two months before his 36th birthday.

When Frederick grew up, he went to Trinity College, Oxford, to read philosophy, but attended the Ruskin School of Art, where Albert Rutherston was Master, almost daily. Rutherston guided young Gore towards a career in art; he would go on to be head of the painting department at St Martin’s School of Art between 1951 and 1979.

Gore’s last solo exhibition was at the Richmond Hill Gallery in January 2009. He died on 31st August, 2009, aged 95. Tim Hilton wrote in his obituary that he “until very late in life was a star at any party…because of his devotion to Russian folk dancing. Sometimes wearing a top hat, Fred in action was an amazing sight. He said that dancing was as much in his blood as was painting.”. His second wife, Connie, introduced him to flamenco dancing.

Hilton also wrote that while Gore revered his father’s memory and for many years was a guardian of his reputation, he “never knew his father”. One likes to think that the weeks between 8th November, 1913, and 27th March, 1914, leave room to doubt that surmise.

Ronald Fairbairn (1889-1964)

The Times of 24th June, 2019, in reporting proceedings to extradite a retired QC to Scotland, noted that Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, QC, the former Solicitor General for Scotland, is dead (since 19th February, 1995).

Sir Nicholas told Stephen Reicher and Nick Hopkins in an interview for their book Self and Nation (2000):

“Mummy smashes your toys like your steel works and your coal industry and your things and she just tells you to shut up. The fact that she throws you sweeties in the form of vast subsidies which the English don’t get, which mummy doesn’t enjoy, just reinforces the psychological idea that she’s trying to keep you quiet when your resentments are justified….This is what happens when the child breaks away, it has to live in a garret doesn’t it? But the motivation is psychological, the search for separate potency.”.

William Ronald Dodds Fairbairn, who was born on this day in 1889 and died on the last day of 1964, was the father of not only Nicky, but of four older children (including twins who died at birth) – and of British object relations theory. Ronald Fairbairn and his wife Mary More-Gordon apparently named their youngest child after St Nicholas, because he was born on Christmas Eve (1933).

According to Nicholas Fairbairn’s autobiography, his father adopted the maternal role after his mother rejected him at birth. Fairbairn describes their relationship – from when he could converse with his father Ronald, for the next twenty years until old age affected his father – like that of twins, his father treating him as “equal and confidant”. Fairbairn credited this relationship as enabling him to “withstand the trauma and rejection I felt…(it) enabled me to feel secure for the rest of my life against any rejection or misfortune…(and) made me profoundly in awe of father figures and left me with a consistent feeling…that I am still a child.”.

In An Introduction to Object Relations (1997), Lavinia Gomez observes that, as was expected of a woman with an upper class background, Mary More-Gordon abandoned her medical training on marriage to Ronald, who was then aged thirty seven. The relationship was deteriorating by the time of Nicky’s formative years.

Ronald Fairbairn regularly worked a ten hour day, breaking briefly for lunch, then wrote until after midnight. Mary became antagonistic towards his work, and fell prey to alcoholism. They reached an uneasy compromise whereby Ronald participated in family holidays, visits, and cultural events. Following Mary’s sudden death in 1952, Ronald had several near fatal bouts of influenza, and developed Parkinson’s disease.

Gomez comments on Fairbairn’s theories:

“In the Freudian view, the absence of otherness means that the baby can only be aware of wanting pleasure; objects, or others, become attached to pleasure secondarily…

In the Object Relations view, the baby’s bliss is simply the absolute fulfilment of her relational needs…

This difference is taken up in the late James Grotstein’s contribution..(1994)..Grotstein suggests that Freudian and Kleinian theory should be taken not as objective fact, but as a retrospective account of how the child or the baby would explain her experience. “There is something creative in me and something destructive”, she might say. “I am moved by forces beyond my control.” “.

Omnia mutantur, nihil interit*

*Ovid: everything changes, nothing perishes

There is currently a fascinating exhibition on the second floor of Holborn Library: Streets of Dickens: Holborn, Hampstead, St Pancras (handy to see in my lunch hour).

Susannah Charlton reports for the Twentieth Century Society that “Holborn Library is a milestone in the history of the modern public library, both as the first large, multifunctional postwar library in London and for its pioneering architecture, with an elegant facade, striking entrance canopy and influential internal planning …

….When it opened on 15 August 1960, it was hailed by the Times Educational Supplement as “a bold and imaginative response to the problems of planning a modern central library”, and was compared favourably with the more traditional Kensington Public Library by both Design magazine and the Library Association Record, among much other positive coverage.

…As English Heritage pointed out in their listing report, Holborn Library is “celebrated as an exemplar by architects and librarians alike.” “.

In Studio Egret West’s current proposal for the redevelopment of the library:

“…96 homes at the heart of the Bloomsbury Conservation Area…are designed as an integral part of this mixed use development, sharing in and contributing to the overall character of the cluster of new buildings…Cockpit Yard becomes a dynamic multilayered street with homes cohabiting the street with artists’ studios (with) a variety of building forms and materials and interjecting into John’s Mews to enhance its character as a diverse London Mews Street.”.

Janet Frame: “The Envoy from Mirror City” (1990)

“On the day of my appointment with Dr Berger at the Maudsley Hospital, Denmark Hill, I walked from Clapham South to Clapham North along Clapham Park Road and Acre Lane, through Brixton along Coldharbour Lane to Camberwell Green, past the rows of dilapidated brick houses; everywhere was grim, dirty with an air of poverty; the voices were strange, the woman in the shop said “luv”, “Here you are, luv,” when I bought a packet of peppermints, Curiously Strong; the women wore headscarves, their faces looked tired; the men were pale, of small build, like burrow animals; beggars sat on the pavement, with cap or tin beside them, waiting for money to be thrown in response to the placard propped against the wall beside them – War Wounded, Stumps For Legs. Blind From Birth. Born This Way. A Wife and Five Children.

I passed a shop that advertised Horse Flesh For Human Consumption. I read the notices in the newsagents, and the chalked menus outside the uninviting transport cafes. I arrived at a square of dried grass bordered with a few shrubs and seats and surrounded by traffic going to Peckham, Forest Hill, Central London, Clapham. I walked up the street to the outpatient department of the Maudsley Hospital where I hoped to find at last the answers to the questions I still asked myself about my “history”. I had to know whether my own views, usually met with polite disbelief or sometimes with sceptical agreement, held any truth or were merely another instance of self-deception.”