Maundy Gregory – a St John’s Wood Gatsby

IMG_1829Found in a 1955 Punch – a review by the novelist Anthony Powell of Honours for Sale. The Strange Story of Maundy Gregory. (Gerald Macmillan, London: Richards Press 1954). Maundy Gregory had in the 1920s what amounted to a licence to print money. He sold honours, a profession that made a comeback in the Blair years. For £10,000 (about $1 million now) he could get you an earldom; knighthoods were a bit cheaper. You could, in fact, sign a cheque to him in your expected new name–only cashable when you assumed the title. He liked rare books, especially the works of the fantastical Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo.) In some cases (according to AJA Symons in Quest for Corvo) he would pay his agents to track down supposedly unfindable books, money no object. He had a mansion in St John’s Wood which later became the world famous Beatle’s recording studio.

Powell calls him an ‘honours tout’, a ‘real life Gatsby’ and ‘a mad aspect of the 1920s incarnate’. He suggests that anyone  ‘who enjoys a good laugh’ should read the list of  guests at his Derby Eve Dinner at his own club ‘The Ambassador’s.’ Something of a ‘sausage fest’ (i.e. no women) but, as Powell says, Gregory certainly knew how to ‘bring them in.’  The author of the book, Gerald Macmillan, may  be exaggerating when he says it was the most distinguished gathering ever held…

List of guests at Ambassador Derby Eve Dinner, held on June 2, 1931.

Major-General J. E. B. Seely (in the Chair), Sir Austen Chamberlain, Mr. Winston Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, Mr. J. H. Thomas, the Duke of Sutherland, Viscount Craigavon, the Marquess of Reading, Major-General the Earl of Scarborough, Sir John Simon, Lord Southborough, Viscount Elibank, Mr. J. Maundy Gregory, Lord Jessel, Mr. Ralph E. Harwood, Earl Winterton, Lord Queenborough, Lord Bayford, Mr. W. Dudley Ward, Lord Plender, Marquis del Moral, Lieutenant-Commander Sir Warden Chilcott. Continue reading

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Poetry and Jazz at the Festival Hall

A press-cutting for June 1961 found among the papers of Daniel (‘Dannie’) Abse, CBE, FRSL (1923 – 2014) well respected Welsh and Jewish poet who worked as a doctor much of his life. From the days of poetry and jazz, duffle coats and beards. The Tribune (a left -wing weekly) emphasises the youth of the audience, this is from a time when ‘youth’ meant under 30 – the youth movement didn’t really begin until 1963 (see Larkin’s poem Annus Mirabilis.) Another press-cutting notes the presence of the ‘irrepressible’ Spike Milligan ‘the eminent goon poet.’ Press cuttings, like Poetry and Jazz, are surely a thing of the past. Are there agencies still cutting up (and pasting) newspapers that mention their clients?

The Hampstead Poets and Jazz Group whose first recital was such a success at Hampstead Town Hall last February, greatly daring,took the Festival Hall on Sunday for another performance of their unique form of entertainment. Their optimism was well justified, as the hall was just about full; again the majority of the audience was under 30, and they were given the mixture of poetry and jazz much as before, although unavoidably, the intimate atmosphere of the first occasion was lost in the vast auditorium.

The one newcomer was Laurie Lee, himself a young poet in the thirties when the chief pre-occupation was the Spanish Civil War, as these young men, Adrian Mitchell, Dannie Abse, Jon Silkin, Pete Brown, and Jeremy Robson, the organiser, are poets of the sixties under the H-bomb’s shadow. Cecily Ben-Tovim’s drawing shows Mrs Harriet Pasternak Slater reading to the audience…her poems and her translations of her brother Boris Pasternak’s poems… created a sense of quiet lyricism and nostalgia among the young voices of protest and dissent. The jazz group, helped by Laurie Morgan and Dick Heckstall-Smith, added their own special contribution to the atmosphere.

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The Literary Cranks of London – Omar Khayyam Club

We could find no further copies of the 1894 London journal The Sketch which in that year was running a series 'The literary cranks of London.' However the 1899 publication The Book of Omar and Rubaiyat has an essay on the Omar Khayyam Club entitled 'The literary cranks of London' by 'A Member' which is almost certainly reprinted from the series. The book shows a menu card for the society designed by the PRB artist Simeon Solomon. The other club in the series was 'The Johnson Club' - there were possibly more.
Mention is made here of 'The Ghouls' which may pay further investigation... Of the many societies that flourished then the Omar Khayyam is one of the few to have survived and still meets. There is also an American chapter.

THE OMAR KHAYYAM CLUB

By A MEMBER

The literary cranks of London are as the sand of the sea-shore for number, and yet they have rather diminished than increased during the last few years. The Wordsworth Society no longer collects archbishops and bishops and learned professors in the Jerusalem Chamber to solve the mystery of existence under the guidance of the great poet of Rydal, and one is rather dubious as to whether the Goethe Society has much to say for itself to-day, although in its time it has crammed the Westminster Town Hall with enthu- siastic lovers of German literature. The Shelley Society one only hears of from time to time by its ghastly bur- den of debt,a state which perhaps reflects the right kind of glory upon its great hero, whose aptitude for making paper boats out of Bank of England notes, if apocryphal, is, at any rate, a fair exemplification of his capacity for getting rid of money.And as to the Browning Society, with its blue-spectacled ladies, deep in the mysteries of Sordello, if the cash balance, which is said at Girton to have been expended in sweetmeats, had any existence, at the London centre, one knows not what confectioner at the West End has reaped the benefit. There are, however, some fairly flourishing organizations at this moment. One of them is the "Sette of Odd Volumes," another the Johnson Club, to say nothing of the "Vaga- bonds," the " Ghouls," and the latest comer, the Omar Khayyam Club.

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The Literary Cranks of London – The Vagabond Club

The second of a series on 'The Literary Cranks of London' this published in  The Sketch on Aug. 29th, 1894. Written by a member George Brown Burgin (1856-1944), novelist, critic and journalist. There are various photos of him in the National Portrait Gallery collection. He was sub-editor of the humorous journal The Idler from 1895 to 1899. He wrote over 90 novels but there is no Wikipedia page for him. However there is quite a bit online on him including various quotations such as his claim that: 'It is much more comfortable to be mad and know it than be sane and have one's doubts.' The Vagabond Club was founded around the blind poète maudit Philip Bourke Marston and boasted such distinguished members as Jerome K. Jerome, Robert Barr, Conan Doyle, Barry Pain,  and Israel Zangwill. No women. It is interesting that Burgin mentions, without opprobrium, that  it contained 'misogynists'...

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The Literary Cranks of London – The Cemented Bricks

I came across this oddly named literary coterie quite recently in a catalogue by the august bookseller and writer John Saumarez Smith in a scholarly note about one of its members - the writer (anthologist) Robert Maynard Leonard (1869 - 1941) who among other things was secretary to the Anti-Bribery League, which sounds like something from a G K Chesterton short story. Members of the 'Cemented Bricks' included Richard le Gallienne, Walter Jerrold, Sir John Parsons, Lord Amulree and Joseph Knight. The web yields very little about them except this page from The Sketch of 13/2/1895 bought for the price of a mocha latte on eBay. It remains unknown to Google books and even Brewster Kahle (praise his name) has not archived it... At the same time we bought another in the series of 'Literary Cranks of London' on 'The Vagabond Club' which will follow later.

The Literary Cranks of London.

The Cemented Bricks.

The Cemented Bricks.! Who or what are they? Is it a new order of Hod-fellows, or is it a building society?

That question, or series of questions, was put to me by a lady three years ago. This article will supply the answer.

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Leslie Shepard on Charles Fort

Although Leslie Shepard (1917 – 2004) was a passionate devotee of early cinema, he  is probably best known today for his books on Dracula, Indian mysticism, the supernatural, paranormal  and British street literature, on which he was a world expert. He was a born collector who amassed a huge library of books and ephemera, much of which is now in academic libraries. The portion  which escaped this fate seems to have been sold at auction over a period of years and it was at auction a couple of years ago that I acquired a large box containing part of his penny ballad archive—possibly the detritus.

It goes without saying that Shepard was a fan of Charles Fort, that indefatigable collector of facts concerning the paranormal, and probably in the 1960s, as he reports in this typed article of 1974, which may have appeared in INFO, a successor to Doubt, the house journal of the American-based Fortean Society, that Shepard was recruited into the latter. Shepard had relished the early issues of Doubt, but in the article he complained that in the later numbers natural skepticism towards scientific dogma was transformed into something:

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