28 October 2014

Can People Power save treasured London churches?

Two thirds of the Anglican churches in the City of London should be closed, said a 1994 commission chaired by Lord Templeman. His com­mission was one of many set up to solve the problems which arose when 36 churches served a small city region, with a permanent residential population of 7,000 and a weekday workforce of 300,000. However Lord Templeman made it clear that churches should not be demolished for lack of a congregation. He said 'the buildings are magnificent. They belong not only to the Church of England, but to the City and to the nation. It is out of the question to pull them down.'

He suggested that only 12 churches be retained in active service. The other 24 churches should be transferred to the Reserve List and could be used for libraries, for music, or for business purposes. The com­mission also proposed that the historic endowments of the City churches be redistributed among all the churches of the diocese. At present, the City Churches Fund has an annual income of 3 million pounds, of which a million is spent on the 36 churches of the City, and the remainder distributed among the 1,000 other churches of the diocese of London. In 1994 the then-Bishop of London, Dr David Hope, said he was totally committed to implementing the lively and bold Templeman report.

Coffered dome and supporting arches
St Stephen Walbrook Church
built 1672-9
by Sir Christopher Wren

Historians and architects paid particular attention to the planned moth-balling of those churches designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren. The Great Fire of 1666 had devastated the centre of London, with a loss of old St Paul's and 86 parish churches. Wren, working with commis­sioners appointed by Parliament, was responsible for rebuilding the cathedral and at least 50 of these parish churches.

I realise that not all Wren churches had survived into the current era. St Christopher-le-Stocks was demolished in the late 18th century so that the Bank of England could be located in a perfect position. (Money 1, God 0). Some were lost to Victorian parish rationalisation. Many were destroyed during WW2. But those (23?) Wren churches that remained were historically precious. The Templeman Report wanted only four of the existing churches (none by Wren) to be retained as parish churches in the City of London. Conservationists were offended.

Painted internal dome pierced by windows
St Mary's Abchurch
destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666
rebuilt by St Christopher Wren 1681-86

Could a public outcry save these historical churches from being used as an insurance company or school library?  Friends of Friendless Churches, a charity that saves listed, medieval churches that have been declared redundant in England and Wales, resuscitated itself and launched a vigorous campaign. Regular opening of reserved churches to visitors became possible when responsible persons started watching over them at least weekly. The National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies joined The Friends to organise the watchers serv­ice, starting with St Sepulchre Without Newgate and St Mary Alder­mary. The Friends made repair grants for bells, vestments, pews and visitors’ guides. Signatures were collected, newspaper articles were written and politicians were lobbied. SAVE Britain's Heritage, which itself champions the cause of decaying country houses, redundant churches, old mills and warehouses, town halls, railway stations and asylums, became involved. 

The affected churches also responded. St Lawrence Jewry stopped being a parish church after WW2; instead it became a guild church and the official church of the City of London Corporation. Some of the so-called redundant churches have introduced yoga classes in their spaces - exercise with some of the best ceiling views in London. Others, like St Martin’s, have started jazz nights, one further east offers sea bass and other delicacies in the crypt. One local church, the historic St Sepulchre, is enjoying operatic performances; they love La Traviata apparently. In St Andrews Holborn, the priest set up a counselling service after the financial crisis. St Ethelburga’s Church reopened with a renewed focus and vision; it is now St Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. St Andrew Under­shaft, a fine City building dating back to the eve of the Reformation, has been completely refurbished for religious services, bible study classes and an enormous hospitality mission.

St Lawrence Jewry
destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666
rebuilt by Christopher Wren between 1670-87.

What is the status of the Templeman Commission Report now? Has People Power finally won? Only one brief mention suggested that "the proposals were dropped following a public outcry and the consecration of a new Bishop of London".

25 October 2014

Dutch pottery, tulips, British royalty and an Australian gallery

Early in the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company really did have a vigorous trade with the East and imported beautiful and very expensive Chinese porcelain. Of course only the richest of the rich could afford the early imports.

The Dutch potters did not know about kaolin and could not create porcelain themselves. So they began to imitate Chinese porcelain with whatever technology they had, particularly after the death of the Wanli Emperor in 1620. This was when the supply from China to Europe was interrupted. Delftware was never going to be as fine as real porcelain, but the Dutch tin glazed earthenware pottery was impressive in its own right. It must have worked - by the late 17th century there were 30+ substantial pottery works in Delft alone.

Even middle class Dutch homes in the 17th century aspired to having fresh flowers on their hall stand. If they couldn't afford a constant supply of fresh flowers, they could commission a beautiful painting of fresh flowers in a pottery vase, and put the painting on their hall stand instead. Ambrosius Bosschaert paintings from the 1620s included gorgeous tulips and other flowers in proud display.

Earthenware vase from Delft, 1695
1 metre tall.
Commissioned by Queen Mary II
Acquired by the NGV in Melbourne

In any case by Feb 1637 that tulip traders could no longer find new buyers willing to pay increasingly inflated prices for the precious bulbs. As this realisation set in, the demand for tulips suddenly collapsed and prices plummeted. Tulip Mania ended but the passion for fresh flowers did not.

A tulip vase, that is a vase with spouts that could hold tulips, could actually hold any flowers in an exuberant display. Let me cite Amanada Dunsmore (Gallery Magazine May-June 2014), who is the senior curator of International Decorat­ive Arts in Melbourne’s most important state gallery, the NGV. She described a very important object, newly acquired by the NGV, as a magnificent seven piece pyramidal flower vase. One metre high, the vase was made in the 1690s at one of the famous earthenware potteries in Delft in the Dutch Republic. This is one of those factories’ most technically and artistically stunning works of art.

The vase stood on a hexagonal base moulded as a columned, classical pavilion, topped with recumbent frogs that supported the six tiers above. Each tier comprised a water reservoir adorned with six open-mouthed, animal headed spouts intended to hold a variety of cut flowers, including tulips and roses. The blue and white palette was inspired by imported Chinese porcelain, yet the decoration on this vase was a mix of European and Chinese motifs, Chinese characters and birds on rocks amid flowering plants, a common decorative motif on 17th century Chinese porcelain.

Stadtholder William of Orange and his wife Mary moved from the Netherlands to Britain and began their joint reign as King William III and Queen Mary II in February 1689.

The many amazing vase-structures reflected Queen Mary II’s great patronage of the Delft potteries and their increasingly exuberant product­ions inspired by Chinese porcelain. Queen Mary’s collection of Chin­ese-style pottery at Kensington Palace numbered almost 8,000 pieces. Her china-mania, as Daniel Defoe referred to it, fed the productions of the Delft factories and encouraged the development of pyramidal vases with spouts. They became increasingly grander in scale towards the end of the century and were commissioned by royalty and nobility all over Europe. The vases became symbols of wealth and prestige at the most elite level.

Earthenware vase from Delft, 1690
1 metre tall.
Commissioned by King William III
Royal Collection, Hampton Court

There are several points I would like to raise, not covered by the NGV description. Firstly why were the earlier 17th century tulip vases small­er and less spectacular than those from the 1680s and 1690s? Pottery skills had not advanced throughout the century and passion for pottery vases had, if anything, marginally gone down with the passing decades.

Secondly why did the nation continue to pour money into monumental flower vases, decades after the tulip sensation ended in the Netherlands? And why did the pottery makers have to wait for Queen Mary II for endless royal patronage? Earlier rulers in the newly independent Dutch Republic must have surrounded themselves with both fine art and decorative arts de jour.

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do know that by the end of the 17th century, Delft faience became very, very popular in the Netherlands. Queen Mary was not alone. Delft potteries were also commissioned by King William III to make impressive tulip pieces to decorate the palaces of his new kingdom across the Channel. Examine (photograph above)  a large tulip vase that was made in the Delft pottery De Grieksche for the stadholder-king, as we can tell from the royal arms.

Earthenware vase from Delft, 1691
1.1 metre tall.
Commissioned by King William III
Royal Collection, Hampton Court

My personal favourite was another tulip vase with the arms of Wilhelm III, 1691. As the photograph shows, it too was made from blue painted faience, is 1.1 m high, and can be found at the Royal Collection, Hampton Court. This vase was more aesthetically pleasing because the spouts were arranged around the vase in horizontal rather in vertical bands, and because the top section resembled a beautiful crown.

21 October 2014

Boer War - anti German sentiment in Australia

Your Brisbane tells a sorry tale. Karl Ernst Eschenhagen (born 1850) was a baker who emigrated from Germany in the 1880s and established one of Brisbane's best hospitality businesses. He started in a George St bakery, opened branches in Edward St and Fortitude Valley and lastly opened a Queen St restaurant that could seat 500 diners.

Ernst Eschenhagen had become a famous baker, restaurateur and caterer. His surname was surmounted on the turret, was painted on both windows and was sunk in brass letters into the footpath. Anyone passing could not help but be impressed. Even the inscription "By Special Appointment to His Excellency" above the door was not a commercial boast but a statement of Vice-Regal fact; his restaurant had catered scores of Government House receptions.

Things turned nasty for Eschenhagen at the turn of the century. As a result of Australia's involvement in the Second Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa, anti-German sent­iment ran rampant, leading to a boycott of the Esch­enhagen business. Before this war started, there was no more popular and prosperous caterer to be found in Brisbane. After the Boer War, his shop was a desert. The business did slowly recover, but Ernst Esch­enhagen took his own life in 1906.

Who knows what part was played by the hatred endured during the war years. During the Second Boer War, there were certainly attacks on Germans in the press, in shops and on public transport in Great Britain, but clearly it happened in Australia as well.

Major FWR Albrecht 
ex Prussian Guard Artillery of Berlin 
leading the artillery unit of the Boer republic of the Orange Free State 
photo credit: Blankwaffen Forum

The 2nd Boer War was a major and very bloody conflict to which Britain and her colonies send 450,000 troops. The 16,500 Australian troops made up over half of the number of troops from participating British colonies. I know quite a lot about the connection between the British, the Australians and the Boers, but nothing about the relationship between the South African Boers and Germany.

By 1884 there were German Imperial colonies in Africa, for example in present day Ghana, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Namibia and Botswana. Perhaps that partially explains why, during the second Boer war, there was great German support for the Boer struggle. As The Soldier’s Burden has shown, the Boers were armed with weapons made by Mauser and Krupp. Major FWR Albrecht, the officer commanding the Orange Free State artillery, was a German army man. And note that the German Freikorps of Volunteers and officers fought on the Boer side.

There was no official monetary aid from the German govern­ment. However Boer emissaries toured Germany during the war, collecting funds for Boer soldiers and later for their widows and orphans. Pro-Boer associations met in bars and meeting halls like The Burenwirt, M√ľnchen. I am assuming they were raising money, as well as raising beer steins. Countless postcards were printed in Germany during the war, both to raise funds for the Boers and to make fun of the British. Many books were published during and after the war; Pro-Boer associat­ions, German volunteer combatants and novelist wanted to publish their version of history in the German language.

Boers armed with German made 1896 Mauser rifles posing behind a small mortar
photo credit: The Warfare Historian

In the latter stages of the war, the Kaiser's support waned as he recognised that alienating the British by supporting a small nation on the tip of Africa was potentially more trouble than it was worth. Nonetheless once the war ended, Boers still chose to flee to German South West Africa to avoid surrendering to the British. 

Even if we agree that German support (financial, equipment and volunteers) was vital to the Boer effort, we still have to ask vital questions:

1. How did Australian citizens, going about their daily business in Melbourne or Brisbane, know about semi-secretive German activities on behalf of the Boers? Aus­t­ralian newspaper journalists in South Africa did send back articles that mentioned German soldiers but was that enough to incite anti-German behaviour 10,000 ks away?

2. There was no shortage of Boer supporters in France, Netherlands and Belgium, so why did Australian citizens not seem to develop an antipathy towards these nations and their vast overseas colonies? The nationalistic Transvaal Irish Brigade marched into South Africa to support the Boers and to oppose the British. How did Australians react to Irish immigrants in Australia?

3. Did Australian citizens target all people with German surnames, regardless of how many decades they had been in Australia and whether they were Australian citizens or not? How widespread were the anti-German feelings spread around Australia, particularly in the large communities of German-speakers near Adelaide?


I still wonder about the surviving Boer fighters and their ongoing relationship with Germany. Note that at the outbreak of WW1, only a decade after the Boer War ended, the Germans equipped the Burenfreikorps and supported Manie Maritz when he went into open rebellion to topple South Africa's Union Government. Even in the 1920s and 1930s there was still a strong Boer force waiting for the moment that South Africa would shake off British influence. Certain sections of Boer society were involved in Right wing organisations that were loosely copied from the Freikorps.