Monday, 25 February 2013

Making connections

All the genealogical research I've been doing recently has stemmed from a desire to write about my own family. The family history research is intended to provide a firm skeleton of dates and other facts on which to hang a more subjective view of a family. I've been sorting through all the letters and other ephemera that have come down to me, to sieve out anything of interest. The above is a small advert for my great grandparents' 'Bazaar' which was a mini department store they owned in the 1920s. As well as stocking fancy goods, they also ran a 'servants' registry' and a lending library and sold the metal goods that my great grandfather made in his tinsmith's workshop.
The shop was in the market place in Richmond, Yorkshire. I've marked it with an arrow in the photo above. It was next to the King's Head hotel and for that reason tends to crop up in photos, albeit quite often cut in half. The Bazaar was a precursor of shops like Woolworth's and in fact Woolworth's took the premises later. Later still, when Woolies was in its heyday and moved to an even bigger shop, the site was taken over by 'Mr Coleman & Mr Morris', a kind of one-off Poundland-style shop. Now it's a W.H. Smith's.
View from the top of the market place. The shop is just to the left of the butter cross, next to the bigger hotel building

Among my old bits and pieces I found a receipt from the shop:
This sheet hasn't been used as a receipt but to jot down the name of a supplier: Hübscher of 41 Seibensternstrasse in Vienna. Their specialities are noted: manicure, cufflinks, handbags and fountain pens.
When I looked Hübscher up online I found an account of the company history.
This is the Hübscher & Co shop on a smart street in central Vienna:
The shop at 41 Siebensternstrasse, Vienna (now Siebensterngasse, I think)
The photo is from the website of Huebscher & Co, a 'prominent and successful international professional services consulting firm' and it's dated 1938 -- the year that Hitler's Germany annexed Austria. The website tells the story in some detail:
     "Hübscher & Co., as the company was originally named, was created by Jewish brothers Jacob and Julius Hübscher. As the Nazis gained power before the start of World War II, Hitler annexed the Huebscher family's native Austria in March, 1938.
     Jacob knew it would be dangerous to live as a Jewish business owner in occupied Austria, so two days after the German annexation, he proceeded to stand in line at the U.S. Embassy to register his wife and two sons for visa applications -- that turned out to be a key life-saving decision and action.
     'My father knew what was in store for us,' said Jacob's son, Herbert Hübscher. Because he and his brother were born in Vienna, the boys received their visas first and left behind their parents -- to live with family members in America.
     The boys arrived in New York on November 8, 1938, just one day before the Nazis undertook the most vicious action yet against the Jews. On November 9, 1938, the infamous Kristallnacht, also known as Night of the Broken Glass, took place.
     On Kristallnacht, Nazi stormtroopers and civilians alike systematically pillaged, vandalized and burnt Jewish stores, homes and synagogues throughout Nazi Germany. Countless Jewish men were arrested and Jacob Hübscher was among them. The Nazis had already seized the Hübscher & Co. business, never to be returned to the brothers who successfully ran it for over a decade.
     After several weeks of physical abuse Jacob was released from prison. He and his wife received their US visas the following year. World War II officially began on September 1, 1939 and the Hübschers were able to escape the Nazi regime only a month later, by fleeing to America.
     'They barely got out,' said Herbert. For over a year, he waited in New York for his parents to arrive [...]
'It was a very difficult situation, we came with nothing,' said Herbert about the Huebschers' new life in America. 'My father did have a strong business education though.' With his business experience, Jacob was able to slowly build an accounting practice in New York. 'It was not easy,' Herbert recalls. 'But it was life-saving.'
     For 60 years, the Hübscher family business name lay dormant. Today, Huebscher & Co. is [..] owned and operated by Eric Huebscher, son of Herbert Huebscher and grandson of original owner, Jacob Huebscher. 'The continued naming of our company is in tribute to my Grandfather, my Father and their entire family,' said Eric. The Hübscher name stands for strength, perseverance and old-fashioned hard work, just as it has for nearly 100 years."

I'm so glad to be able to connect back to my great grandparents through letters and other relics. I'm sure the Huebscher family feel just as strongly. My great grandfather knew a thing or two about 'old-fashioned hard work' too.
1914 photo of my great grandfather (right) in his workshop with two assistants. He was making equipment for a new fish and chip shop at the time

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Just an old photo

Last Monday I was in the big fleamarket in Brighton, going through some boxes crammed with old photographs. I was looking for photos with something special or cute about them, a young couple kissing, perhaps, or an adorable child with a dog. It was clear that someone -- or more likely lots of people -- had already been through them before me, stripping out all the 'good' photos. What was left were mostly boring shots, people with their heads cut off, shadowy sitting rooms, bland landscapes. But I kept on looking through them.
     All the time I was sorting through them (my husband had gone off with the kids for an hour), I was wondering how these photos came to be thrown in a box, uncherished, disowned. I suppose people die and either their relatives don't want their photos or don't think to save them when their houses are cleared. That would be one of the saddest things that could happen after my death. I always tell myself that my photo albums are the things I'd try to save if disaster struck. I now have family photos going back to the 1890s and they're very precious to me.
     So I bought a few photos for a few pence each and brought them home.
This is the back of the photo at the top of the post. It's been torn out of an album, having been taken on 30th May 1969. I don't know where the couple were posing or who took the shot, although it looks like an old person's handwriting -- actually two people's, as the two names are written in different styles. And very formally, too, with middle initials included. Perhaps they each signed their own names before giving the photo to a new acquaintance?
     They are Mr Lionel Ivan Long and his wife Ethel Maud. 
     Lionel was born on 21st January 1896 near Checkendon, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. His mother was Ellen Sabina Long, nee Dare, born 1855 in Toller Porcorum, a beautiful little village in Dorset whose name means 'Toller [the local river] of the pigs'. His father was Arthur Long, born in Bristol in 1860 and a gardener at Wyfold Court near Checkendon. The family lived in Wyfold Cottage, in the grounds of the big house.
Wyfold Court was an incredible example of Victorian Gothic built for Robert Trotter Hermon-Hodge, 1st Baron Wyfold, a Tory MP and freemason, between 1872 and 1876. By 1911 Lionel's father was Head Gardener, almost certainly at Wyfold Court. But by 1930 the house had been turned into Borocourt Hospital, a mental asylum which was later the subject of an undercover television documentary which alleged appalling treatment of patients there. It was eventually closed down and subsequently converted into upmarket apartments in the 1990s.
     By 1911, Arthur and Ellen and their three sons, William, Frank and Lionel, had moved to Sonning Common, not far from Wyfold. Now aged 15, Lionel was working as a grocer's assistant.
     In Spring 1926 Lionel married Ethel Westrope. Ethel was born in the ancient town of Ashwell in Hertfordshire, not far from where I now live. Her father, William Montfort Westrope, was a farmer from Steeple Morden, very close to Ashwell. The family lived in various small towns and villages in Cambridgeshire and after Lionel died in 1974, Ethel spent the rest of her days in Cambridge. She died in 1995, aged 96.
      These are just a few scraps of information gleaned from publicly available records. But I like the idea of bringing lost photographs to life and I almost begin to imagine that I knew Lionel and Ethel, just a little.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Bright in Brighton

I actually felt the warmth of the sun on my back earlier this week. It seemed so long since the sun had warmed my bones and I just didn't want to move in case I broke the spell.
We went down to Brighton for a couple of days. It's the perfect place to mooch round and I know my way around well enough now not to feel like too much of a tourist.
We strolled on the pier, me with my 'Martin Parr' glasses on, trying (and failing) to capture kitschy moments.
boy playing air hockey on the pier
I love taking photos in fairgrounds although cameras aren't always very welcome. I was once asked, rather gruffly, if I was from the RSPCA while taking a shot of goldfish in bags. I think these have disappeared now, which is no doubt a good thing. This time I tried to get a good picture of the bucking bronco but none of the men that clambered on it looking so cocky stayed on for more than a second -- their time being announced wearily by the MC.

The penny falls took our money, having hypnotised us as usual. I'd love to know what the average annual income is from one of these machines. Do the amazing structures of coins ever just collapse and spew out of the machine? I don't think so.

We went to see the 'Biba and Beyond' exhibition at Brighton Museum (on till 14 April if you want to catch it). I absolutely loved this.
Quite often fashion exhibits leave me cold -- or only admiring the skill and flair of the designs but not really feeling them. With Barbara Hulanicki's clothes, I just longed to be living in the early Seventies and to have the tiny frame that it seemed you needed to wear them. I adore her doll-like Biba look and the way she mixes Edwardian, Deco, even medieval references.
It probably helps that I'm obsessed with early David Bowie at the moment. It all chimes in.

I got a blissful hour on my own in Snoopers' Paradise (cool 4-min video about it here) and bought a few old photos (of which more in a future post). We also walked along the promenade in the gorgeous sunshine to the strangely unattractive new Brighton Marina development to see Wreck-It Ralph which I loved. I'm a complete sucker for pixel art and visual jokes and fantasy landscapes made of sweeties -- plus Sue from Glee and Kenneth from 30 Rock. What's not to love?
After we left Brighton we came home via Chichester and Pallant House gallery, which I've wanted to go to for ages. Unfortunately they were just installing the new Kitaj exhibition, so we missed that, but the permanent collection was definitely worth seeing -- some beautiful British art from the first half of the twentieth century.
Pallant House
Then it was back to normality and -- oh lord -- it's snowing AGAIN as I type this. Make it stop.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Julie Burchill -- can't help but love her

I've just listened to the last five minutes of Julie Burchill's Desert Island Discs which I missed yesterday as I had to tear myself away from the car radio and go in to work. All week I'd been picking up disapproving bluster and mocking laughter on Twitter and elsewhere about what she'd said and the music she'd chosen and I was looking forward to hearing it for myself.
     I don't really care that she is outspoken and sometimes says things just to get a rise out of people, or doesn't stop to think before she mails her copy, I still love her. She embodies the sort of person I'd like to be but am too scared to be -- someone who does what they want to do and says what they want to say and puts honesty before everything else. Clearly this sort of manifesto causes problems, it isn't always the most social of paths, but I can't help but admire her for it.
precious souvenirs
In 1985 I crashed out of a Cambridge PhD which, if I'd stuck to it, might have got me an academic career (I had no idea that that was the case at the time -- I was sleepwalking into academia. I don't even remember applying for the PhD funding; I think the department must have applied on my behalf perhaps. And I didn't understand that by starting on my PhD in 'Dante's philosophy of language and the influence of the radical Aristotelian grammarians' I was entering a system. I didn't even go to the weekly faculty lunches -- not even once -- because they clashed with the meetings of the University Left, to which I was passionately attached.).
me in the mid Eighties in Cambridge
After a year of lonely research, I decided to leave beloved Cambridge, which in the end I loved more as a place to be than a place to study, and I looked, panicstricken, for a job. As a languages graduate with (not sure why not -- it was all part of the sleepwalking) no interest in working with languages, I didn't have much to offer. I applied for any job I thought I stood a chance of getting -- art gallery assistant, running the Stranglers fan club, magazine trainee. I got lucky with a job as an editorial assistant at Virgin Books. I attribute my success to the fact that, the night before the interview, I quickly learned the marks for proofreading and copyediting from the Artists' and Writers' Yearbook and, lo, my lifelong career in publishing was born, entirely randomly.

All this is coming round to say that one of the first books I worked on at Virgin was Julie Burchill's Girls on Film, published in March 1986. I really enjoyed helping to put this together, specially hunting down all the amazing photographs used to illustrate it. Terry O'Neill's photo of Faye Dunaway adorns the front cover, which was designed by my new flatmate Sue, who was the art director at Virgin Books. I've never forgotten my terror when I had to ring Julie Burchill to go through various corrections we wanted to make. It was the first time I'd had to deal directly with somebody famous -- I had been following Julie's journalism slavishly in the NME for years by then (the NME was the single most formative influence on my teenage life). I remember shaking as I dialled her number and being ineffably polite. Her tiny squeaky voice took me completely by surprise and she accepted all the suggested changes very meekly. I could be remembering this incorrectly but I think that the phonecall was possibly followed up swiftly by a cross letter retracting the changes. Like me, Julie didn't like direct confrontation. Anyway, I think it's a great book and it's quite often quoted in feminist film studies.
I've continued to like JB all through her career, whatever she's done. And when I heard that extraordinary voice on the radio yesterday it brought back that intense time in Notting Hill in the 1980s almost viscerally.

Monday, 11 February 2013

I missed the clowns again!

Picture © Joelle McNichol used under Creative Commons
Dang! I've missed the special Clowns church service again. It's held each year on the first Sunday in February at Holy Trinity Church in Dalston. Last year it was too snowy for me to venture into London and I vowed to go this year. I've just realised I've missed it. I'm bitterly disappointed and will ensure I go NEXT year.
     By way of compensation, the photography John Claridge was there and took some absolutely beautiful clown portraits, which are shown on the Spitalfields Life blog today -- do look at them. Utterly memorable.

My earlier post on clowns is easily the most visited of all my posts. So, here, for clown fans, are just a few more: