This exhibition in the Somerset town of Frome was planned to coincide with the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. The interesting angle taken by the organisers was to place local history onto an international picture. The main part of the exhibition was actually called ‘Britain in Palestine’ and was displayed at SOAS in London a few years ago. This exhibition has a local element added with memories and photographs of Frome people who served in Palestine during the British Mandate in the police or the army or people who now live in Frome who had relatives or past connections with the country.
The photographs are black and white as you would expect and there is a large amount of writing to wade through but it is an important period. Once again, it seems, the ending of the British rule of part of the world ends in an ugly way; the complications of the promises made to both Jewish and Muslim leaders did not help matters.
The people included here were soldiers, policemen, refugees, clerics and people of faith, tourists and civil servants. Some went there because they were commanded to while others headed to the country for the heritage or the promise of a new life. The hopes of Jewish people, some desperate from the effects of war, were hard to reconcile with the hopes of the Arab inhabitants who lived there.
At the centre of the problem was a British politician who believed he had the right to make decisions about a part of the world his country ruled. Oh, the British Empire!
In Manchester on Armistice Day so I went to the Imperial War Museum North in time for the eleven o’clock two minutes’ silence. I am a frequent visitor to the IWM in London but this was my first visit to this northern version. I was impressed. It was the right place to be to mark the eleven o’clock silence.
I spent the time beforehand looking at the exhibits which focused on the effects of war on the innocents who got caught up in conflict through no fault of their own. The exhibits of the Kindertransport were particularly moving but so too were the artefacts of evacuees and the stories of families torn apart by wars of one sort or another.
The Cold War exhibit just seemed to serve as a reminder that the actions of politicians at these times lead to untold misery for so many. The museum is careful to stick to facts and not apportion blame but the inclusion of a ‘room’ specifically on the impact of war on people other than the military is a wise move.
In one corner of the museum, a doorway of suitcases acted as the perfect reminder that war always leads to upheaval and, for many, the loss of home and security.
The Imperial War Museum North is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
I finally made it to the home of Rudyard Kipling, now held in trust for the nation by the National Trust. I have long wanted to visit, mostly because I like his work. The house itself is interesting because it has many of the original items of furniture. His wife had no need of the place on his death so left it to the nation.
Rudyard Kipling lived here from 1902 until his death in 1936. By this stage, he was world-famous and privacy was the main priority. Around the house are artefacts from India and artwork associated with the country. Some pieces were by his father, the artist Lockwood Kipling, made to illustrate his books. There are also prints of the Detmold brothers’ illustrations for ‘The Jungle Book’.
The house dates back to Jacobean times but Kipling came here when he was a rich man; he could afford to buy the house and sufficient grounds to ensure privacy for himself and his family. It was from here that his son John left for the First World War and here, of course, that the family heard the news of his death. John Kipling’s name is on the war memorial in the village.
At one time, Kipling was the highest paid writer in England. There is a Rolls Royce car on show here making the point that he was a wealthy man. Best of all was the study where he wrote in long hand. His desk has a view over the Sussex countryside and he worked surrounded by books, many of them about India.
This house is worth a visit especially as there is a clear sense that the writer actually lives here. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
The Royal Pavilion in Brighton is an amazing building if only because it looks so out of place in a southern English seaside city. The gateway at the southern end was not part of the original John Nash design although it complements the exotic aspirations of the building. Rather, the gate was a gift from the people of India for ‘caring for her sons’ during the First World War. The Pavilion was used as a hospital for the wounded so, leaving aside the idea that the Indians came to the aid of the Empire when Britain was under threat, it was a generous gift from the people of India.
The rooms may have been elegant, full of beautiful objects and of huge historical importance but I was most impressed by the corridors of Osborne House. The bronze statues were great with Fredinand Barbedienne’s statue of Silenus and the infant Bacchus a favourite. This was a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria.
The head of Prince Alemayehu of Abyssinia fascinated me. I read Elizabeth Laird’s fictionalised life of the young boy who was taken into exile by the British when the empire was at its height. Yet again we have a young man, supposedly taken under the wing of the Queen when he should have been ruling in his own country. In this case the bronze by Francis John Williamson was commissioned by Victoria after the death of the prince at a young age.
To be surrounded with such opulence must be an assault on the senses but maybe you stop seeing them after a while.
Walking through Osborne House recently, I was impressed by the number of art works that were gifts from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria, bought by the Queen or, as is the case with this picture, commissioned by Prince Albert.
‘Cardinal Wolsey at the Gate of Leicester Abbey’ was painted for the Prince by Charles West Cope. It depicts the downfall of the once powerful Cardinal who was Henry the Eighth’s right hand man until he fell from grace. He was ordered back to London and passed through Leicester on his way. The painting shows the diminished health and status of the man.
The painting is dated 1847 and it was displayed at the Royal Academy in 1848.
In (or on) the Isle of Wight so I visited Osborne House for the first time in about thirty years. I remember parts of my previous visit but did not remember the Durbar room, the most impressive addition to the house in Queen Victoria’s time!
I was on the lookout for the portrait of Duleep Singh having read the novel based on his life by Navtej Sarna. The location of this painting by Winterhalter is significant as the boy Maharajah was taken under the wing of the Queen when he was taken away from the Punjab and his mother at the age of ten.
The painting was commissioned by Victoria using the services of German artist Franz Xaver Wintherhalter, a court painter who worked for European royalty. This work is dated 1854.
Surrounding the portrait were other paintings of Indian people, mostly men, collected or commissioned by the Queen for her house. Her status as Empress of India is reflected by the fact that India came to her; she never visited India herself. There are princes, military types and servants represented here with little differentiation by rank. Their position is all due to ethnicity.
As is usual on visits such as this, I came away wanting to know more about the unsung parts of history. The painting of the man with the long hair was intriguing because he was shared a name with Duleep Singh. Victor Albert Jay Duleep Singh was his son and the godson of the Queen. It was painted by Sydney Prior Hall and presented to the Queen by Duleep Singh at Christmas 1879. Apparently, Her Majesty was much taken with the boy’s long hair but he had been given a short back and sides before attending school. The painting was created with the help of a photograph that had been taken of him before his hair cut.