Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Longwood House: Open Day

On 23rd July Michel held an open day at Longwood House, attended mainly by local Saints, most of whom had not visited the House for a long time, and some of whom had never visited before.

As I have said on previous occasions, I am full of praise for the way that Michel is continuing to involve local people in the French properties on St Helena.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Congleton: Salix Babylonica, St Helena and Sir Thomas Reade

Homefield, Sir Thomas's House in Congleton (left, foreground), behind it is St Peter's church

"all around them the once-trodden ways have vanished, while those who thronged their ways, and even the memory of those who thronged those trodden ways, are dead" - Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

And so, in dreadful weather, at the end of our tour of the Napoleonic associations in the North West of England, we arrived in Congleton, birth place of Sir Thomas Reade, whose splendid memorial in Congleton Church (click to enlarge image) indicates how his widow wished him to be remembered.

Modern scholars might question whether Sir Thomas was quite as instrumental in ridding Tunisia of slavery as the memorial claims.

Sir Thomas's widow, Agnes Clogg (1804-1867) of Manchester.

The eighteenth century Anglican church of St Peter's, its internal layout and furnishing reminiscent of Congregational and Lutheran churches I have visited, contains a number of memorials to the Reade family, obviously of some importance in Congleton, and Sir Thomas's mother, who died in his childhood, is buried in a family vault beneath the church floor.

Sir Thomas Reade (1782- 1849).

The portrait, previously shown in black and white, is in the keeping of a descendant.

My thanks to Sue Dale for allowing me to copy her image of it.

Since our visit Albert has published a comprehensive and very fair account of the life of Sir Thomas which perhaps, taken in isolation, might suggest an importance in the annals of the British Empire that is I think not strictly merited!

Salix Babylonica

Willow tree, formerly within the boundary of Sir Thomas's garden, now in the grounds of Burns Garages in Congleton.

Sir Thomas's garden, now somehat reduced in size

Local legend has it that the willow was grown from a cutting brought back by Sir Thomas Reade from the site of Napoleon's grave on St Helena.

Since our visit a local expert has now confirmed that the tree is indeed a salix babylonica, very rare in the United Kingdom, taken presumably from Asia by the Honourable East India Company to St Helena, where it now no longer exists.

Albert has informed me that as well as in France other trees claiming to have been rooted from St Helena cuttings exist in New Zealand, and formerly even in the Duke of Wellington's garden at Grafton in Kent.

Plaque in New Zealand attesting to trees taken from St Helena cuttings brought by François Le Lievre who arrived in New Zealand in 1838 aboard a whaling ship

There was also such a tree in Kirkconnel Hall, Dumfries (close to Lockerbie), the house of Dr Arnott, with whom we began our tour of the northwest. This tree had to be destroyed to make way for a new road, but the owner of the house, now a hotel, took a cutting and has planted it in his garden.

KirkConnel Hall Hotel, formerly the home of Dr Arnott, somewhat extended since he lived there.

With all the cuttings taken from it, it is no wonder perhaps that the original tree on St Helena no longer exists.

All that remains to satisy the most sceptical is for a comparison of the DNA of all the trees claimed to have descended from cuttings of the one at Sane Valley on St Helena! For my part I am as satisfied as I need to be that local legend is correct, and that for whatever reason, the intrepid Sir Thomas, a Loyalist to the last, brought a cutting from Sane Valley, the site of the grave of Napoleon, that "miserable outlaw" whom he affected to despise.

My thanks again to Sue Dale and Albert Benhamou for providing so much information and for leading me to a place I might never have visited. Despite the weather it was a fascinating end to our tour.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

William Hesketh Lever: The Napoleon of Soap

William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925)

a veritable Napoleon in his grasp of all factors dominating any problem to be tackled (1)

North West England Tour Part 3: The Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight on the Wirral.

A special place, visited many times since I was introduced to it by friends some 25 years ago; but this time, attempting to guide Albert Benhamou and in unequal competition with his satnav, we temporarily lost our way among the pleasant streets of Port Sunlight.

The Napoleon Collection

Lord Leverhulme had a life long passion for Napoleon which the Lady Lever Art Gallery would not wish to make too much of.

So in the sculpture gallery the busts of Napoleon, numerically in the ascendant, are intermingled with, among others, those of Wellington, Sir Walter Scott, Marie Antoinette and another hero of Lever's and of fellow Liberals of his generation, the Grand Old Man, William Ewart Gladstone.

Napoleon and Gladstone.

So to the Napoleon Room, now about half its original size, and rather crammed with furniture and other objects which are observed through an open doorway.

The Napoleonic association with most of these objects is unfortunately rather questionable. Some certainly came from Malmaison, and some were once owned by Cardinal Fesch, Napoleon's rather unlikeable uncle, but there is in all honesty little here to excite that kind of Napoleon enthusiast who would like to see, touch, smell and of course photograph things seen, touched, maybe smelt, although not photographed by the great man himself.

What to me at least is more interesting in this case is the subject rather than the object of the passion, if such it was.

Miniature portraits of Napoleon's family.

On the left of the doorway to the Napoleon Room,

overlooked on previous visits,

evidence I think of the depth of Lord Leverhulme's interest in Napoleon,

which is to some extent obscured by the artistic eclecticism on display in the gallery as a whole.

In the centre of the wall opposite is William Quiller Orchardson's St. Helena 1816 - Napoleon dictating to Count Las Cases the Account of his Campaigns. My earlier blog, Soap, Art and Napoleon: The Lady Lever Art Gallery contains a better image.

This painting is now flanked by portraits of Wellington and Nelson, the decision I suspect of some Museum director trying to achieve political balance.

The Napoleon Room also contains a little known painting by George Richmond, the nineteenth century portrait artist, of Napoleon reading his letter of abdication. This painting, overlooked unfortunately by Albert and I, used to be hung close to a bust of Lord Leverhulme himself, in Thornton Manor, his house on The Wirral.(2)

Outside the Napoleon Room, and apart from the busts there are other Napoleon objects, including two death masks.

Not enough here perhaps to excite the most devoted Napoleon enthusiasts, and I have to admit that my attachment to this gallery has more to do with its other collections: the nineteenth century art, the Wedgwood, and the Chinese collection in particular.

The model village which Lever created, with the Art Gallery at its centre, is itself worth a visit, as too is the Port Sunlight Museum opposite.

Thoughts on Lord Leverhulme and Napoleon

The appeal of this Napoleonic collection for me lies more in what it suggests to us about Lord Leverhulme, and about the enduring fascination of Napoleon for a section of English society throughout the nineteenth century and up to the First World war.

Significant I think is the presence of this fellow, whom I do not recall having noticed on previous visits:

Oliver Cromwell no less,

would not have been welcomed in the homes of many people, wealthy or otherwise,

and certainly not in staunch Tory or Anglican households. (3)

Nor I think in Catholic households, but that is another issue!

The missing piece in the jigsaw is almost certainly Lever's nonconformist roots: he came from a Congregationalist background.

In our secular age it is difficult, perhaps even for art historians, to appreciate that deep divide in English life, culture and politics between established church and nonconformity which endured well into the twentieth century.

The words attributed to Isaac Foot, staunch Methodist, famous West Country Liberal, and father of Michael Foot, perhaps best summed it up:

"I judge a man by one thing, which side would he have liked his ancestors to fight on at Marston Moor?".

I think I can guess how Lord Leverhulme, despite his ecumenical approach to religion, would have answered that question.

Those brought up in a culture in which Cromwell was a hero not a villain, who saw history in terms of a struggle for freedom against despotic monarchs, and contemporary politics as a struggle against Tory parson and squire, were inclined to have a more favourable view of Napoleon, who had created a society open to talents and protected the rights of property, than those on the other side, and a far more favourable view too than the emerging socialist left, to whom Napoleon was a counter revolutionary and a militarist and, like the Liberals themselves, on the wrong side of the class divide.

There was never any doubt where Lord Leverhulme stood politically: a loyal Liberal, elected reluctantly in 1906 to Parliament, a supporter of the creation of a state pension and of votes for women, although a suffragette burned down one of his houses, and concerned like Gadstone to find some solution to the Irish problem. His paternalism and imperialism, evident in his company's much criticised dealings with native labour in the Congo and his well meaning but disastrous attempts at social engineering after his purchase of the Isle of Lewis, were part of the same territory as his philanthropy and his concern to improve the lot of his workers, of which the village at Port Sunlight and the Lady Lever Art Gallery were shining examples. By any standards he was one of the most remarkable people to emerge in that short period when British industry and innovation still dominated the world.

Lord Leverhulme died of pneumonia in 1925, the same illness which in 1913 had struck down his wife, to whom the Art Gallery was a memorial. Sleeping and bathing in a room open to the elements could not have helped.

30,000 people are said to have attended his funeral.

The Company he founded lives on, bearing his and his wife's names, and the Leverhulme Trust still offers support for education and research. (4)
1. Attributed to Thomas Mawson, Landscape Architect who had worked for Lever, cited in Adam Macqueen, The King of Sunlight, How William Lever Cleaned Up the World (Corgi, 2004) pp 155-5.

2. "Lord Lever’s bust stood next to Napoleon reading his letter of abdication(1860, oil on canvas) by George Richmond, where the words ‘Napoleon/care sat on his faded cheek’ are hidden from view on the reverse of the stretcher.The bust of Elizabeth {Lever's wife] was next to Millais’ painting of another Napoleonic subject, The Black Brunswicker (1860, oil on canvas), a picture of fated love that stresses the private, domestic repercussions of war, where a woman clings to her lover, trying to prevent him leaving for the battle of Waterloo. Alison Yarrington, ‘Solvitur ambulando’: Lord Leverhulme, Sculpture, Collecting and Display

3. Alison Yarrington again, in her study of Lord Lever's collection which perhaps raises as many questions as it answers, points out that at one point in his Music Room there was a life size bust of Cromwell next to Lever's own bust, and close by was Ford Madox Brown’s St Ives A.D. 1630– Cromwell on his Farm. Yarrington op cit

4. Lever was raised to the peerage as Viscount Leverhulme in 1918. Hulme was his wife's name.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Maiden Visit of QM2 to St Helena

This video of St Helena was made when the Queen Mary 2 visited St Helena at the end of March 2010. I have seen numerous photo shows and videos of the island made by travellers, and this is one of the best that I can recall.

The video is focused on Jamestown, Longwood and Napoleon's Tomb, and is I think all the better for that. Most visitors to St Helena try to include everything in their photographic narratives, perhaps because they have come a long way and expect it to be a once in a lifetime experience. Gerard, probably because of the constraints of a short visit from a cruise ship, has not fallen into that trap.

He is clearly an ocean liner enthusiast, and has an interesting blog on the subject. Many thanks to him for sharing his video of St Helena, and to Michel for featuring the visit on his latest blog.