Parkes’ Restaurant—eating place of the swinging sixties

Beauchamp_Place_In his Good Food Guide of 1961-62 Raymond Postgate describes the trendy Parkes’ Restaurant at Beauchamp Place (above) in Kensington as ‘ a personal restaurant, dependent upon Mr Ray Parkes, the chef and owner, who offers in his basement at high prices what is claimed to be , and up to date is, haute cuisine.’

Postgate then complains of the ‘ exasperating whimsicality ‘ of such named dishes as ‘ Mr Goldstein’s Prawns’ (15/6), ‘Ugly Duckling’ (25/-), ‘Sweet Mysteries of Life’ (21/-). However, Postgate admires the fact that the ‘very inventive ‘ Parkes was always creating new dishes and provided such large helpings that ‘ the place isn’t quite as dear as it sounds’. Some Jot readers who dined at Parkes’ might recall what these whimsically named dishes actually were.

Parkes is credited with being a pioneer of the nouvelle cuisine revolution that properly began in the seventies, but the conventionally named dishes cited by Postgate, including ‘fillet of beef en croute’ and ‘duck and truffle pate’ don’t sound particularly ‘ nouvelle’. Nevertheless, in his time Ray Parkes was rightly considered an ‘original genius ‘. Egon Ronay described him as ‘ absolutely unique ‘, and the author of British Gastronomy, Gregory Houston Bowden, wrote: ‘ Many experts rate him almost on a par with the chef that he himself admired most, Ferdnand Point of the ‘Restaurant de la Pyramide’ in Vienne.

In addition to his eccentricy as a chef, Parkes was also unusual in that he had no licence. Diners were invited to bring their own wine. Another attraction for the many show-biz clientele that tended to eat at Parkes’ was the fact that it might be open until 2.30 in the morning. [R.M.Healey]

The Riviera Revisited (1939)

FullSizeRenderFound — a 30 page holiday brochure by Charles Graves – The Riviera Revisited. [London], [1939]. Probably written in 1938 and portraying a relaxed lifestyle, with plenty of good food and booze. Olive oil is not recommended as sun protection! After WW2 Charles Graves wrote 2 longer books on the Riviera – The Royal Riviera and (again) The Riviera Revisited… The picture of bathers at Eden Roc is from the booklet.

A Summer’s Day.

Juan-Les-Pins is the only resort I have ever visited four years in succession. I can think of no greater compliment. It has an admirable beach. It has a summer and winter season, like practically every other place on the Riviera. But whereas six or seven years ago the clientele was mainly English and American, it is now largely French, which I find charming. Somehow the prettiest girls from Paris go there for their summer holidays, and the restaurant of the casino has indubitably the best hors-d oeuvres in the world. The man who makes them is worth a fortune to any London restaurant or hotel. He stuffs everything with everything else. Pimentoes, aubergines, sardines, olives, tunny fish and so on. The casino is famous for the light-hearted character of its gambling. In the summer you wear white flannels or anything else. The croupiers smile (a distinct rarity). The champagne cocktails are first-class. The lobsters are as fresh as God made them; so are the crayfish. Let me quote from “And the Greeks”: Continue reading

An artist among the Charing Cross Road bookshops

IMG_3272Found in the art instruction magazine The Artist (London, November 1934) an interview with the artist and art therapist Adrian Hill about his recent oil painting ‘In Charing Cross Road.’ Here are a few extracts -most of Hill’s talk is about  technique, but there are some insights on the choice of subject:

… there were some who questioned the impulse behind the work, and wondered whether the scene was worth the skill and discernment that the artist had brought to the task

I admit that I shared a little of this feeling. Charing Cross Road is a central and important thoroughfare, but it must rank in the C3 class amongst London highways. Indeed, there is so little of the beautiful or the picturesque about the neighbourhood that I asked Adrian Hill if the idea of sitting down to paint it came to him suddenly, or if he had deliberately hunted for such a subject.

“No, I wasn’t looking for it,” he said. “It came to me. It was a gift from the London traffic. I was waiting to cross the road when I suddenly found it in front of me, complete in design and detail, asking to be painted.”

“As far as size is concerned, did you see it as a 24″by 20″?”

“No, I thought at first of making it bigger – about 40″ by 30″ – but it was an experiment in the ay of subject, and I decided to go modest. If ever I do a similar scene, I shan’t hesitate to paint it on a grander scale!”

“You had no misgivings about tackling it inside the studio?”

“None at all. I believe I should have painted it mush less spontaneously and confidently if I had had the subject in front of me. The details would have been so insistent that I should have been led into making a still life study of books instead of an impression of a bookshop, which was what I was after.”

“But I suppose you had to use a model for the books?” Continue reading

Cabaret, Chinese food and national anthems in Yorkshire’s most eccentric pub

Showers John StanhopeAn entry in the 1961- 62 edition of The Good Food Guide describes the exuberant John Showers and his’ inn’, the Stanhope in Calverley Lane, Rodley, south east of Leeds, thus:

‘He fills out the nightly menus with his own essays, and he has written two books about it. Foreign visitors, of which there are many, are liable to be welcomed in their own tongue (Mr Showers’circular green notepaper has Cheerio on it in thirty languages) and escorted to their tables to the sound of their own national anthem. There is a nightly cabaret, by no means undistinguished and not ‘blue’ for which he sometimes writes the script. The dining-room is very small, and serves some English dishes but ignore them ( except for no. 80 ’curried octopus’—so English, don’t you think?) and go for the Chinese food. Try, divided among a party, the Sea Salad (9/-), inkfish with bean sprouts (8/-), Stanhope Special ( based on chicken , pork and water-chestnuts, 8/ 6) or ask for some advice…

Reading the two books in question one will discover that before he opened The Stanhope, the Essex-born Showers was, among other things, a male manikin, bus conductor, and a banana planter. In 1937, inspired by the example of the new king and his consort playing darts publicly he installed a board in his saloon, hoping to attract the upper middle class. Alas, only the local proletariat came to play, and eventually the board was relocated to the tap-room. All of which recalls Basil Fawlty’s disastrous ‘gourmet night’ ! Continue reading

Havelock Ellis on British geniuses

 

Havelock Ellis picFound in a album of cuttings from various East Anglian newspapers in the early twentieth century is a review that appeared in The Leader, December 24th, 1906 of A Study of British Genius by the pioneer sexologist Havelock Ellis. The reviewer gleefully notes that East Anglia seems to have produced a high proportion of geniuses. To make his point he lists in order of greatness those English counties that have contributed most to the making of English men of genius. These were:

Norfolk

Suffolk

Hertfordshire

Warwickshire

Worcestershire

Herefordshire

Buckinghamshire

Cornwall

Dorsetshire

Oxfordshire

Shropshire

Ellis looked at the genius’s place of origin—that is, the district to which his four grandparents belonged. London as a birthplace was ignored altogether. This was because, where information was available, it was nearly always found that the parents had migrated to London. It rarely occurred that ‘even one grandparent belonged to London ‘. Continue reading

Going to the Sales in 1906

olivias-shopping-001Now that the January sales appear to be in full swing it might be valuable to take the advice of the pseudonymous ‘ Olivia ‘, a copy of whose ‘ prejudiced guide to the London shops ‘of 1906 cropped up in a pile of books. This chatty and opinionated, and possibly American-born, veteran of West End emporia, took retail therapy to new heights in her search for quality, elegance and good value. Here’s what she has to say about the vexed matter of sales.

The magic word that stocks our wardrobes, deletes our purses, disorganizes our routine, fascinates us, repels us, delights us, disappoints us twice a year regularly in London—for how much is it not answerable?

The ethics of sales are so disturbing, one time so morally and clearly good, the next minute so conspicuously disappointing and bad, that no woman, I believe is quite settled in her mind regarding them. 

Personally, I find it a delightful thing to buy a pretty piece of stuff ‘marked down ‘.Even when I can buy the same thing fresh and by the yard, and at the identical price, it never thrills as does that remnant with the wrong amount of yards, the torn edge, and the marked down price. There is no doubt we all love a bargain, even when it is only on paper.

This trait in our feminine character is fully appreciated by the shopkeeper. Therefore, there are sometimes disappointments to be encountered at sales. On the other hand, some of us attempt to remain level-headed in the matter, and are not to be won over. Continue reading

Barbara Lea – a forgotten Fenland poet

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Found – a copy of The Urgent Voice: and other poems by Barbara Lea  (Fortune Press, London 1948.) She lead a short but productive life and is unknown to Wikipedia or any online database apart from Peerage.com who have a good factual entry* on her as, unusually for a Fortune Press poet, she was an aristocrat. The foreword is anonymous and it is just possible it is by Reginald Caton, the founder of the press but is more likely to be by a friend or family member. We append a good East Anglian poem by her after the foreword.

Barbara Lea (nee Pell) was born at Wilburton Manor in the Isle of Ely in 1903. She never lost her early passion for the Fenland, nor for the house in which she was born; indeed, she loved houses and places, before people, witness her poems ‘East Anglia Revisited’, ‘In Time of Trouble’, ‘First Visit’.

She married in 1924 and had five children, the last being born in 1934, and in spite of all the ties of home life, she became increasingly interested and active, in politics and the Women’s Institutes.

When the war started in 1939 she was on the Executive Committee of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, as well as the Worcestershire Committee, and Chairman of the Woman’s Land Army in Worcestershire; a member of the County War Agriculture Committee, and was occupied by a large number of less onerous activities, such as Justice of the Peace, Guardians’ Committee, Parish Council, Parochial Church Council, District Nursing Association, and others too numerous to mention. In 1943 she was awarded the O.B.E. Continue reading

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

London A to Z (1953)

IMG_1381Found – this rare and attractive paperback guide to London published by Andre Deutsch in 1953 and illustrated by Edward Bawden. This extract of three entries gives the flavour
of the book. How many people raise their hats (head-gear?) when passing the Cenotaph in 2016? How many people still possess bowler hats and who could still call its football team ‘poor old Chelsea.’?

BOWLER HAT. The possession on of the correct type of bowler, hairy, not too large and curly-brimmed, is as essential to the young man about town as a pair of trousers. It is worn e either in the hand which is not carrying the rolled umbrella, or, sometimes, even on the head, tilted forward over the eyes at the angle adopted by villains in Victorian melodrama. The most London of all headgear…

IMG_1382CENOTAPH. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the simple and auster national memorial to the dead of the Commonwealth in both world wars stands in the middle of Whitehall.  It is the focal point of the nation’s morning on Remembrance Day. Men raise their hats when they pass it.

CHELSEA. Long famous as the home of artists, London’s nearest approach to a Latin Quarter, is now the favourite area of civil servants and businessmen as well.

An attractive and friendly place, which centres around the Kings Road and runs from Sloane Square down to the river, it’s studded with some very good cheapish restaurants, antique shops, drinking clubs. Both the men and women wear corduroy trousers. It also houses the Chelsea Football Club (at Stamford Bridge), long known as ‘poor old Chelsea,’ the despair and the delight – mostly the former – of its supporters.

Miguel de Unamuno on Fuerteventura

unamunoFound in Essays and soliloquies by Miguel de Unamuno (London: Harrap 1924) this preface written on the windswept Spanish island of Furteventura. The island is now mainly a holiday destination, although there is an impressive statue of Unamuno by the main road and also a life size statue of him on a side street. Unamuno was exiled to Fuerteventura in 1924 by the Spanish Government for his political ideas. His friend J.E. Crawford Flitch visited him there and prepared (and translated) this selection.

Author’s preface

I am writing these lines, today the 6th of June, 1924, in this island of Fuerteventura, an island that is propitious to calm thinking and to a laying bare of the soul, even as this parched land is bare, bare even to the bone. Here I have been confined now for nearly three months, no reason for my confined having been given other than the arbitrary mandate of the military power that is de-civilising and debasing my native country.

Hither came my friend Mr. J. E. Crawford Flitch to bear me company. He was entrusted by Mr. Alfred A. Knopf with the task of making an anthology or florilegium of my shorter articles and extracts from my more extensive writings which should present a conspectus of my whole literary work. It is he, my friend and translator, who is responsible for the selection of the pieces which form this anthology…

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Miseries of Twenty First Century Life – Travelling

Miseries of travelling picMiseries of Twenty First Century Life (inspired by James Beresford’s 1806 masterpiece).

Miseries of Travelling.

Arriving at Middlesborough station and finding your way somehow to your B & B in some godawful back street, you are show to your room but after unpacking your suitcase, find that a mini-monsoon has prevented you from leaving your room in search of a pub, and with the town centre over a mile away. The TV doesn’t seem to be working, you can’t get a signal on your mobile , so for entertainment you first inspect the walls for perhaps an old steel engraving of a local beauty spot or two and find instead a reproduction of a rural scene by Helen Allingham and a daub of a cat by a girl aged 8; you then turn in desperation to a couple of shelves opposite the bed and find a Goss china souvenir of Harrogate, a lamp made out of a Chianti bottle, a pottery frog and a leaping dolphin hand crafted from grey resin. You look among some likely looking books and find nothing but three scruffy paperbacks of James Herbert, a mint copy of The Maid of Buttermere by Melvyn Bragg, a slimmer’s cookbook with an introduction by Gloria Hunniford, four Joanna Trollopes, two chicklit novels by women called Charlotte Gibbons and Vicki Manderson, an Argos catalogue of 2003, a battered poetry anthology by C Day Lewis, an odd volume of the works of Walter Scott, undated but c 1880, the autobiography of Alan Shearer, a paperback of popular astrology by Dale Winton, a local bus timetable dated 1985, a 1970s guide to Athens and an old copy of This England with several pages missing… [R.M.Healey]

A Parisian Aladdin’s Cave of Children’s Books

Found in a small magazine/ booklet published in Edinburgh 1953.
COLLECTORS ITEMS A BIBLIO-TYPOGRAPHICAL MISCELLANY (No. 2, Vol. 1) this piece on Gumuchian – a collector and dealer in children’s books (now a hot collecting area.) His book Les Livres de L’Enfance (Paris, 1930) is still in print (Holland Press modern reprint, right.) Originals are seldom under 1000 euros.

A Parisian Aladdin’s Cave of Children Books

Short and bearded, and somewhat like Tolous-Lautrec in appearance, Victor Gumuchian was one of the great booksellers of the past fifty years. Gumuchian will probably be known for posterity by his immense two volume catalogue of children’s books, “Les Livres de l’Enfance de XVe au XIXe Siecle,” which he published in 1930. But apart from hi knowledge of juvenile literature, he was a great authority on old buildings and books relating to flying and locomotion. He was a man He was a man of erudition, wide knowledge and versatility. A great traveller and linguist, as well as a writer and dramatist, he was also gourmet and a cook of rare quality. He knew where the best food could be eaten in Paris, or, in fact, anywhere in France.

 How well I remember my first visit to his bookshop in the Rue Richelieu in Paris. A small window, with perhaps a dozen or two rare books on show; inside, a somewhat dull room, lined with glass covered book shelves full of uncommon and interesting books of all centres. At the end of the room was a small door through which he took me, up a dark winding staircase, such as is only possible in Paris, to a door in the first floor. This he unlocked, and switched on the electric light… I was in an Aladdin’s Cave! There were three rooms, leading one into the other, with thousands of children’s books, all in perfect condition, arranged to show the beautiful points of as many as possible, whether an illustration, a binding, or a page of superb typography. These books were the fruit of his three years’ collecting, and the basis of his great catalogue. I was dumbfounded at what I saw. I had never seen, nor shall I ever see again, such a galaxy of treasures: all so beautifully arranged and delighted displayed. From that moment I became, not an enthusiast, but a fanatic – and have remained so to this day.

M. Gumuchian died in America in 1949, after a series of great misfortunes and after a long illness that caused him much suffering.

A rare friend whom I can never forget.

The Golden Dustmen of Dickens’ time

Dust heap Somers TownA central character in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend (1865) is Nicodemus Boffin, nicknamed ‘The Golden Dustman ‘ because of the wealth he inherited from his old employer John Harmon, who had made his fortune as a Dust Contractor at Somers Town. These famous rubbish piles stood where the filthy Maiden’s Lane (now roughly York Way) joined onto Pentonville Road, near where Kings Cross station now stands. Here, just about anything could be found—‘dust ‘ was a Victorian euphemism; there was more likely to be dead dogs ,cats, horses, discarded pots and pans, crockery, shoes, boots, old clothes and all sorts of debris from the surface of roads, including grit, horse dung, dog dirt, as well as the human excrement collected by the scavengers. All this so called ‘dust’, once separated, could be sold to various factory owners for large profits. Dickens, who loved exploring London, once lived in Doughty Street, which is just a mile from the famous Somers Town dust heaps, and must have known them well. He also became friendly with a wealthy Dust Contractor from Islington called Henry Dodd who, at his death in 1881, left a fortune of £111,000. It has been argued that the character of Boffin was based on Dodd.
A contemporary sketch of the Somers Town site is dated 1836, but doubtless contractors had been adding to the muck heaps for many years up this date. Scavengers are depicted clambering over the filthy heaps in search of the more valuable items to sell on, a process that still takes place in some third world countries. It is interesting to find, therefore, a London Times classified advertisement of December 6th 1820, when Dickens was a boy of eight, requesting Dust Contractors to tender for a contract in Chelsea.

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Group Captain F.C. “Griff” Griffiths and the Maquis

71wD8UA294LFound loosely inserted in his book Winged Hours this account by Group Captain F.C. “Griff” Griffiths (1913-1996) of his time in France with the Maquis and his attempts after the war to trace members of the French Resistance who had helped him escape. In April 1943, Frank Griffiths, then a Squadron Leader, was posted to No. 138 Special Duty Squadron to take part in SOE ‘drops’ taking men and supplies to resistance organisations in occupied Europe. On the night of the 14/15 August 1943 his Halifax aircraft serial JD180 was brought down when flying low over Annecy (near the French/Swiss border) by small arms fire from an Italian Alpini corporal. He was one of two survivors and escaped his Italian captors and was subsequently sheltered by the Maquis and eventually escaped over the border to Switzerland, returning to England around Christmas 1943. The problem with tracing his brave saviours after the war was that none of them had used their real names…

PYRENEAN PICNIC

One of the sad things about Escaping/Evading experiences is that to protect our helpers we did not wish to know their real names or to remember addresses. We thus failed to make contact with many of them after the war.

For over 43 years I endeavoured to trace a helper with whom I had formed a strong rapport. All I knew of him was that his name was “Antoine” (obviously a nom de guerre) and that his French was difficult to understand because he was a Catalan.

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Oswell Blakeston on Drinking in the City

Posted by jotter HB this piece by Oswell Blakeston – of whom his partner Max Chapman said- “.(he had) a quick eye for the bizarre and the outrageous”. The portrait of him is by fellow avant-garde film maker Bruguiere.

george-eastman-house-bruguiere-series-1379746538_bBut of course ‘drinking in the City’ means different pleasures to different people. One can drink the whole fascination of a nation’s trade with the gentlemen who (say) leave their bowler hats on the mantelpiece in The Capataz in Old Broad Street. They may look ‘ordinary’, these quietly cultured men, but they have much strange lore, and maybe one deals in tea leaves which have been grown on a mountain called ‘The Thousand Acres of Cloud’ and another in furs caught by trappers in a landscape that is so chill that words turn into icicles. One may imbibe in the City in tall rooms with one great sheet of mirror behind the bar and stand next to dark-suited clerks who know all about jungles where the vegetation gasps for air or about Arctic wastes that exist as fables agreed upon.

Oswell Blakeston, the pen name of Henry Joseph Hasslacher (1907-85), was an editor, travel writer, film critic and poet. He also wrote cookery books, including Edwardian Glamour Cooking Without Tears (1960).  – lib.utexas.edu

The Book of the City, a collection of essays, was published by Ian Norrie (d. 2009), the owner of the High Hill Bookshop in Hampstead. (We have more from Ian Norrie in recently purchased archives.) [HB]

A Georgian Giles Coren 2

More extracts from an anonymous ‘Review of Taverns , Inns, Coffee Houses and Genteel Eating Houses’ published in the New London Magazine, July and August 1788. The web has done part of the work  by publishing the first part of this survey of eating places, which appeared in the June 1788 issue of The New London Magazine. Luckily, the second and third parts of this series remain offline. So here are some of the highlights of this witty and very politically incorrect survey of eateries in late Georgian London. See our earlier posting A Georgian Giles Coren for more..

Spread Eagle, Strand.

Long noted among the society of the humorous and intelligent. The rooms are here remarkably spacious. Indeed they are in stile. As to the bill of fare, it abounds with every article in the season, from a mutton chop to a bustard or John-dory. The wines are all pure and well flavoured. If there be any preferable to others, it is the sherry and the port. The master and waiters are as civil and patient at four in the morning as at eight in the evening; and the prices of the various articles are very moderate.

58791Toy, Hampton-court.


Pitch-cock eels are here in the utmost perfection. Being in the vicinity of the palace, it is ever frequented in the summer months, by the great, the dissipated and the inquisitive. The apartments are airy, the bill of fare is rich and diversified.
The wines are all excellent. If the bill appears stretched sometimes, strangers cannot much repine, as they have always the best of everything for their money, and likewise the utmost alacrity of attention. The guests would rather pay a guinea at the Toy, from experience, that fifteen shillings for the same fare any where contigious.1)

August 1788

 Windsor Castle, Richmond.

 Long has this house been in estimation. Rigby, who often formerly used to bait here, en tete a tete, used to say “ that further up you may fare worse! “ . The apartments are all spacious, and the view from behind a most luxurious landscape! Good eels, good fowls, and good venison, are found here. The various courses are all served up in style, and there is not a wine but what is of the highest flavour, and best quality. The stables too are excellent in equestrian accommodation; and that is no secondary consideration with a man of feeling, who feeds his horse himself, while the cuisineur is preparing his own feed. The charge is by no means extortionate, and there is as grateful a fair hair’d curtsey at the bar to be had for a shilling as for a guinea. In the left front parlour is a room befitting even Middleton himself. It was lined by India, at least in painting—the panels were formed for the room, and then sent out for Asiatic gilding!

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A Ghost Story of Princes Risborough

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Catalogue of 1997 Contents Sale

From some papers relating to the Grubbe family of Priory House, Blythburgh, Suffolk and Horsenden Manor, Princes Risborought, Buckinghamshire this true ghost story with diagrams etc., The haunted Horsenden Manor is now inhabited by a rock musician, one Jay Kay of the band Jamiroquai. A Ghost Story and some Considerations thereon. L.C. Grubbe, Southwold, Suffolk. The following pages may be of service to seekers after the truth about ghosts and indeed interest many people not yet attained to the omniscience necessary in order to exclude such things altogether from the pale of possibility. I say ‘omniscience’ because in a universe so vast as ours, one must manifestly know everything that is there, before he can assent positively what is not. The discoveries constantly being made by science of secrets that for ages have lain concealed in our midst prove the immensity of the fields open to exploration as well as the dense ignorance about them in which the human mind is still wrapped. Every new fact brought to light concerning nature and her resources is as a window added to the chamber of human consciousness opening on visas of possibility never before entertained, and stretching away again into the dim haze of the absolutely unknown. What I have to relate is a very plain matter of fact story. In a secluded part of one of the midland counties stands an old country house, the home of many generations of my family, out of whose hands it passed some 60 years ago. Possibly the site has been occupied ever since Roman times, for Roman masonry was found in the foundations during alterations, but he present main building though added to and in some part of the 7th century altered is probably the same as stood during the civil wars. I am however only concerned with a certain small portion of it, which during my grandfathers time bore the reputation of being haunted, though neither he nor his children have ever been accused of undue prejudice in form of what is to my mind miscalled ‘The Supernatural’. Continue reading

Joan Abbay – Art & The Holy Grail

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Found —  a slim volume of poetry from 1927 Lodequest: A Ballad of the Grail (Ancient House, Ipswich 1927) by Herbert Hudson. His wife produced the illustrated cover and also contributed one of the poems. She was Joan Abbay an East Anglian artist, and this is the only example of her work currently online, although it is possible some of her paintings are occasionally sold at auction.

The introduction to the book places the Grail legend in context, quoting from Jessie L Weston’s The Quest of the Holy Grail (1913)- (also an influence on a somewhat better known poem*):

“Every student of mediaeval literature will bear witness that there were strange current stirring in those days, that more was believed,that more was known than the official guardians of faith and morals cared to admit; that much, very much of this undercurrent of yearning and investigation was concerned with the search for the source of life; life physical, and life immortal. I contend that the Grail romances were a survival that period of unrest….The secret of the Grail I hold to be above all a human problem. When seekers after Truth will consent to work together in harmony, doing full justice to each other’s views, then,and not till then, the secret of the Grail will cease to be a secret.” Continue reading

A Georgian Giles Coren

The Red Lion in the 1930s

A Georgian Giles Coren

Extracts from an anonymous ‘ Review of Taverns , Inns, Coffee Houses and Genteel Eating Houses’ published in the New London Magazine, July and August 1788.

The web has done part of my work for me by publishing the first part of this survey of eating places, which appeared in the June 1788 issue of The New London Magazine. Luckily, the second and third parts of this series remain offline. So here are some of the highlights of this witty and very politically incorrect survey of eateries in late Georgian London

July 1788

Brentford Eights, an island in the Thames off Brentford

This is rendered famous for pitch-cock eels. It is likewise celebrated for a very favourite Dutch dish called Vater Zuchee. This dish is composed of perch, parsley-roots and vinegar, served up in a deep dish, with slices of bread and butter. The visitors of the Eights, in gormandising this dish, have no occasion for any other knives and forks than what nature has given them. It is common to eat with digits only.
If any stripling of fortune, whether a coxswain of a barge, or the supercargo of a post chaise, wishes to be indulged, he may be served here with zouchee to the amount of eight shillings a head.

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The Library of J-P Mayer

Found among the papers of  J-P Mayer (1903 – 1992) – this appraisal of his massive library by his friend F.R. Cowell. Peter Mayer was  Professor Emeritus at Reading University and author of books on De Tocqueville, Max Weber, the sociology of films,  and French political thought. He fled to England in 1936 having been a leading figure in the anti-Nazi movement in Germany. He then worked for Britain in the Ministry of Economic Warfare.His library was acquired by us last year, many of the high price items having been taken by Bonham’s auction house. This included a presentation copy from John Stuart Mill to Alexis de Tocqueville and  signed material from Friedrich Engels which made £100,000 plus each. Oddly we (Any Amount of Books, Charing Cross Road) also bought in 2009 a large part of the library of F.R. Cowell another man with a very large and interesting book collection. Both men went on book hunts together, Paris being (then) fertile ground. Mayer also bought heavily while in America. F. R. Cowell was a historian and author of Cicero and the Roman Republic, The Athenaeum, and Leibniz Material for London and many other works on ancient history, horticulture, economics and bibliography. In the accompanying letter (shown) he invites J-P Mayer to join him for a meal at his London club – The Athenaeum (February 1962). It appears that Mayer was trying to sell his library to ‘Boulder’ -presumably the University of Colorado. Evidently the sale never happened and the books stayed in his house in Stoke Poges for another 50 years. The house was near St. Giles church where Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is believed to have been written. It took 5 large vans to move the books. F.R. Cowell’s book collection just two…

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