Puzzled Europe | St Martin’s Lane (Covent Garden)

The Enlightenment (‘siècle des lumières’) was the age of European Union proper. Enlightenment was an outlook and an attitude: rational, inclusive, and outward-looking. Geography was its preferred science. Travel, travel-writing, and remote explorations excited the curiosity of the eighteenth century. From dangerous journeys to unexplored parts of the world to the ‘civilised’ passage of Grand Tourists, the age was on the move, both physically and intellectually. The ‘other’ was treated as an intriguing figure, not as a threat or risk. The ambition was to create an open and diverse society by bringing down barriers and borders that obstruct individuals to progress. Enlightenment was both a movement and a state of mind: an intellectual and psychological alliance, not an economic one. Economics alone will not built a community of minds. Instead, it tends to divide and destroy any sense of common purpose or perspective. 

Refugees played a crucial role in the spread of Enlightenment ideas. The Rainbow Coffee House Group was a circle of mainly Huguenot intellectuals who met informally at the Rainbow Coffee House in Lancaster Court, off St Martin’s Lane, where they exchanged books and ideas, and engaged in discussion on philosophical and theological topics associated with the growth of scepticism in early eighteenth century Europe. With links to Paris and the Low Countries, its members formed part of an international web for the free flow of ideas and views. Convention was the enemy. The driving force behind the group was the journalist and biographer Pierre Des Maizeaux. He promoted the circulation of English scientific and philosophical ideas on the Continent through his contributions to French-language periodicals published in the Netherlands, and maintained an impressive network of contacts. Pierre Coste was a close friend of Des Maizeaux and his translations of John Locke and Newton facilitated the spread of their work throughout Europe. Michael de la Roche was a journalist and translator who worked on the first English translation of Bayle’s Dictionnaire critique. He played a major role in the dissemination of English science and philosophy abroad, and conducted a campaign in favour of religious toleration. The unorthodox bias of the Rainbow group extended to its English members which included Richard Mead, a leading figure in the Royal Society, and the freethinking philosopher Anthony Collins.

Cartographer and author Jean [John] Palairet was born in 1697 in Montauban, near Toulouse, into a Huguenot household. The family was forced into exile and settled in The Hague where Jean’s father worked as a (wine?) merchant. Jean was educated in the Netherlands. At some time he entered the Dutch diplomatic service and was sent to London as an agent for the States General. He was in London by 1727 when he married his first wife Elizabeth Dawson. Having published Nouvelle introduction à la géographie modern in 1754, he created an Atlas méthodique on behalf of William, Prince of Orange (son of Princess Anne, daughter of George II) in 1755. The work offered him an entrance in English Royal circles and he acted as French teacher to three of the children of George II at Leicester House. He remained in Royal service under George III and, at the same time, represented the private interests of the Dutch diplomat, garden designer, and Anglophile Jacob Boreel. Another influential publication, also in 1755, was his Carte des possessions angloises et françoises d’Amérique septentrionale. His brother Elias Palairet, a classical and biblical philologist who had studied at Leiden University, also settled in London and preached at the Dutch Chapel at St James’s Palace, Westminster. 

Palairet’s maps had drawn the attention of author and educationist Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. Born in April 1711 in Rouen she had been engaged as governess at the court of Lunéville, residence of Duke Leopold, nephew of Louis XIV by marriage. Her duties were primarily with Elisabeth-Thérèse, oldest of the daughters (who, two years later, would marry Charles-Emmanuel III, King of Sardinia). Presence at court brought her in direct contact with many prominent figures, including Voltaire who became a regular contributor to her Nouveau magasin français (1750/2). Having separated from her husband in 1748, she left France for London. That same year she published her first novel Le triomphe de la vérité. She is remembered for her abridged version of La belle et la bête (better known as Beauty and the Beast), adapted from Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s original and published in her Magasin des Enfants (1756), which has been hailed as the best female fiction published during the eighteenth century. To what extent the Enlightenment advanced female emancipation remains a topic of debate, but there can be no doubt that Mme De Beaumont played a significant role in the process.

In London, Beaumont was close to Henrietta Louisa Fermor, Lady Pomfret, who provided her with numerous introductions. Beaumont’s ideas on education (the use of interactive teaching tools) influenced Pomfret’s daughter, the future Lady Charlotte Finch, who from 1762 to 1793 was governess to the fifteen children of George III and Queen Charlotte. The urge to discover and explore the world was reflected in teaching. Practical map-making was an integral part of (aristocratic) male schooling, but young girls were introduced to geography as well. One of Beamont’s suggestions was that Jean Palairet’s maps should be used in the classroom. Finch took up that idea, possibly in consultation with Queen Charlotte who herself was an avid reader of books on the latest developments in child education. But how to teach map-reading to young brains in a playful manner?

The history of jigsaws started with the production of so-called ‘dissected maps’. Virtually all of the oldest surviving puzzles are made of engraved maps which were hand-cut with a fret (bow) saw into irregularly shaped pieces. They were created as educational tools. Beaumont made part of her income by running private classes which were advertised. Her teaching fee included a cost item for the use of wooden maps. An early commercial publisher of these puzzles was John Spilsbury who was based at Russel Court, off Drury Lane. A former apprentice of Thomas Jefferys, Geographer to the King, he is presented in the 1763 Universal Director as an ‘Engraver and Map Dissector in Wood’. His first puzzle map was called ‘Europe Divided into its Kingdoms’ and featured pieces cut along national boundaries. Charlotte Finch acquired such puzzles on behalf of the Royal family. These were (and remained) costly items. In Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park (1814), the poverty-struck heroine Fanny Price is mocked by two privileged cousins for her inability to ‘put the map of Europe together’ using one of those expensive puzzles. Such was the appeal of the new educational tool that by the end of century London was home to nearly twenty engravers who specialised in puzzle making. As the nineteenth century progressed and new colouring and cutting methods streamlined the manufacturing process, puzzle maps declined in cost and became accessible to a wider public. The use of the term jigsaw itself originates from the later nineteenth century (after 1870).

Charlotte Finch commissioned a mahogany cabinet to hold several dissected map puzzles which she had acquired for the Royal children (the cabinet has been preserved and is held at the V&A’s Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green). Eight of the maps in her puzzle cabinet were produced from Palairet’s Atlas méthodique and, most likely, dissected to her direction. In a project of Anglo-French participation, promoted by Dutch and Hanoverian Royalty, the map of Europe was cut into a multitude of pieces which were presented to young pupils to be put together again into a unified geographical entity. In our age of division and disintegration, this is a striking metaphor.

Flag Frenzy (Fifth Avenue, New York)~

On the early battlefield flags served the purpose of identification. They gave the protection to those fighting within a single unit and enhanced their chance of survival. During the Crusades a variety of regimental flags were carried by a multi-national company of knights and soldiers as identification signs for individual groupings. Alfred Altdorfer’s _Alexanderschlacht_ (1529) provides a splendid image of the tactical use of military banners. In battle, the fall of one’s flag meant surrender, defeat, death. Enemy flags were coveted as booties as their symbolic value allowed for hype and bragging. Since early armies were made up mainly of mercenaries, the flag was of no particular emotional significance to the individual fighter. The flag’s function was predominantly utilitarian. The complex process of communication in shipping channels gradually gave rise to a standardized language of flag signals to promote safe navigation.

All this changed on the eve of Romanticism. The transformation was hurried along by the mechanization of (uniformed) warfare in which the flag as rallying point was no longer needed. Having lost its strategic purpose, the flag acquired wider allegorical significance. In 1830 Eugène Delacroix painted his political masterpiece La Liberté guidant le peuple. It is considered the ultimate image of the French Revolution without portraying the events of 1789 itself. Instead the artist commemorated the July Revolution which toppled Charles X. The painting presents a woman personifying the Goddess of Liberty who leads her followers forward over a barricade of dead bodies, holding the tricolore in one hand (now the national flag), and a bayonetted musket in the other. Liberty, also known as Marianne, is a symbol of France and the French Revolution. Another minute flag can be seen in the distance flying from the towers of the Notre Dame. The painting is the iconic image of both the ecstasy and sacrifice that revolution represents. The flag embodies the ideals of liberty and equality.

With the stoking of patriotic passion emerged the desire to display the flag as a symbol of civilian passion and emotion. Little more than piece of fabric (the introduction of silk allowed for the popularization of flags), colours and image of the national flag were nurtured as expressing the (racial) identity, ideas, and feelings of the society it represents. Most European countries adopted their national flag in the course of the nineteenth century (Netherlands in 1813, Greece 1822, Switzerland 1889). The frenzy for the flag is a relatively recent phenomenon. Artistic representation ran more or less parallel to political developments. In 1867 Claude Monet painted Jardin à Sainte-Adresse (a seaside resort near Le Havre). It was his first masterpiece. A holiday scene of family members painted in ‘plein air’, the painting was exhibited at the fourth Impressionist exhibition of 1879. From an elevated viewpoint Monet painted the terrace, sea, and sky as three distinct bands, vertically organized by two fluttering flags in the breeze. The image celebrates leisure and relaxation. The technical challenge Monet had to overcome was to suggest atmospheric conditions on canvas. He succeeded in making wind visible. Having raised the weather flag, he initiated his generation’s passion for pennant-painting. The emotive commemoration, , added a new aspect to the flutter of flags. Having been declared a national holiday by the French government, the festivities marked the restoration of national pride after the humiliation of the Franco-Prussian War and the schismatic events of the Commune. France gathered around the tricolore. The flag represented unity and patriotism. French flag-waving inspired an American visitor.

Over the course of his creative life, Boston-born Frederick Childe Hassam (he would later drop his first name) produced over 3,000 paintings, watercolours, and lithographs. Having begun his career as a draftsman for wood engraver George Johnson, he established his first studio in 1882. Working mainly in his preferred medium was watercolour, he depicted scenes on misty days or at dark nights and concentrated on movement (pedestrians, carriages, etc.). Hampered by la lack of formal training, Hassam undertook a study trip to Europe during the summer of 1883. He travelled extensively in order to take note of the Old Masters, creating many sketches and watercolours on the way. In 1885, back in Boston, he created _Columbus Avenue: Rainy Day_. The image of a buzzing city in damp weather conditions indicated Hassam’s ambition to introduce urban themes in the Impressionist manner to an American audience. He returned to Paris and settled near Place Pigalle. One of his Parisian streetscapes was exhibited at the Salon of 1887. Two years later Hassam moved into a studio apartment at New York’s Fifth Avenue and established the reputation of being ‘America’s Monet’. He was instrumental in promulgating Impressionism to collectors and dealers.

Between 1916 and 1919 flags flew from almost every pole in Paris, London, and New York. Hassam composed a set of about thirty paintings showing images of a flag-decorated Fifth Avenue. The first in the series of Stars & Stripes paintings had been inspired by a so-called ‘Preparedness Parade’. War in Europe sparked an American debate on involvement. Theodore Roosevelt advocated expanding the military in anticipation of the spreading conflict, but President Woodrow Wilson preferred a position of armed neutrality. Parades for and against engagement were held around the nation. Hassam supported the idea of intervention. Being an avid Francophile and passionately anti-German, his flag paintings were both deeply patriotic and aimed at encouraging the Allied war effort.

In the years leading up to the First World War flags and banners had become the symbols of an intensely felt nationalism. Flag desecration was its inevitable correlative. In 1914 futurist artists began a hate campaign against the Austro-Hungarian Empire which controlled a number of former Italian territories. In September, Umberto Boccioni, seated in the balcony of the Teatro dal Verme in Milan, tore up an Austrian flag and threw it into the audience, while Marinetti waved an Italian flag (although there are contradictory reports on the incident). The outbreak of war further encouraged flag worship. Patriotism became idolatry. In 1915 [Giacomo Balla]() painted _Bandiere all’altare della patria_ (Flags at the altar of the motherland). Flags symbolized various extreme political cults. Music and banners emerged as powerful tools in the nazification process. Consecration fanfares and flag songs were composed in honour of the Führer and performed during tightly organized rallies. Anthem of the Nazi Party was the Horst-Wessel-Lied, also known as ‘Die Fahne hoch’ (Flags on high – from its opening line). Flags achieved the status of a graven image. The Blutfahne was originally the banner of the fifth Sturmabteilung (Stormtroopers). After the crushing of the Munich Putsch in November 1923, it was soaked in blood. Restored upon Hitler’s release from prison in 1925, the blood flag was idolized asd a ‘sacred’ Nazi relic.

Erich Fromm, born in Frankfurt am Main into a Jewish family, moved to Geneva after the Nazi takeover and from there, in 1934, to Columbia University in New York. He had observed the mass psychology of flag-waving from nearby. In _The Sane Society (1955) he insisted that nationalism is ‘our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity’ – patriotism is its cult. Just as love for one individual which excludes the passion for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of one’s attachment to humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship. Waving the banner of nationalism is politically and morally pervert. It causes xenophobia, emboldens bigotry, undermines democracy, and creates demagogues. Nationalism limits the individual as being the sharer of a distinct group based on such indicators as language, religion, or ethnicity. It builds – either for real or in a metaphorical sense – a protective wall around its members to keep out ‘others’, because newcomers threaten their way of life, take their jobs, rob their properties, rape their daughters, or block their GP appointments. The other in our midst means bother, a person not to be embraced but to be treated as suspect. The foreigner is a threat – he is to be registered, controlled, marked, and made visible. His status has to be settled.

The Cosmopolitan Mind : Palace of Westminster (Westminster)


The Renaissance held music in high regard. It played a prominent part in religious, court and civic life. The interchange of ideas in Europe through ever closer economic and political contact brought about the creation of new musical genres, the development of instruments, and the advancement of specialist printing. By about 1500, Franco-Flemish composers dominated the domain. Most prestigious among them was Josquin des Prez who, like fellow artists at the time, travelled widely. The intensity of international encounters led to stylistic developments that have been qualified as truly European. By the beginning of the sixteenth century Antwerp had developed into an international hub of musical activity. The important initiatives were undertaken by the church. Antwerp Cathedral employed twelve choristers who lived in a private house where they received instruction from a singing master. At the beginning of the century this office was held by Jacob Obrecht, famous for his polyphonic compositions. His prolific output consists of some twenty-six masses, thirty-two motets, and thirty secular pieces, not all texted. Antwerp also employed a company of fiddlers for both secular and ecclesiastical performances. Musicians from all over Europe chose Antwerp as their home, amongst them a number of English composers.


Peter Philips had moved to the Continent as a refugee. He was one of many Catholic musicians who left England for Flanders. A prolific composer of sacred choral music, he was made organist to the Chapel of Archduke Albrecht in Antwerp. In 1593, he travelled from the Southern Netherlands to Amsterdam to ‘see and heare an excellent man of his faculties’. The man he referred to was Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, a composer and organist known as the ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam’. The latter had converted to Calvinism in 1578, but remained sympathetic to his old faith. Another refugee in Flanders was Hereford-born John Bull. Appointed chief musician to Prince Henry in 1611, he furtively disappeared to Flanders after the death of his patron in November 1612. Bull later explained his flight because of the accusation of Catholic sympathies made against him. He moved to Brussels where he was employed as one of the organists in the Chapel of Archduke Albrecht VII, sovereign of the Habsburg Netherlands. From September 1615, he held the post of organist of Antwerp Cathedral. In December 1617 he acted as city organist at ‘s Hertogenbosch. Bull’s reputation rests mainly on his keyboard music. The composition of God Save the Queen has been attributed to him.


Antwerp was renowned for its printing. Originally, all music was notated by hand. Manuscripts were costly and owned exclusively by religious orders, courts, or wealthy households. That all changed in 1501 when Venetian printer Ottaviano Petrucci published Harmonice musices odhecation, the first significant anthology of (100) polyphonic secular songs. The availability of notation in print boosted the development of instrumental music for both soloists and ensembles, and engendered the creation of new genres. In Flanders, Tielman Susato was the first printer to gain esteem for producing music books. Nothing is known about the date or place of his birth – he may have been Dutch or German. Details about his activities begin in 1529 when he was working as a calligrapher for Antwerp Cathedral. He also played the trumpet and was listed as a ‘town player’ in the city. In 1541, he created the first music printing company in the Low Countries which he combined with selling musical instruments from his home. During a prolific publishing career he was responsible for twenty-five books of chansons, three books of masses, and nineteen books of motets. The indefatigable Christopher Plantin was also active in printing music and produced some of the finest choir-books of his day. From the 1570s onwards, the Bellerus and Phalesius families were leading printing houses within the domain. The whole contemporary repertoire was made available by Antwerp presses: vernacular song books and psalms as well as polyphonic secular and religious music. Composers from all over Europe had their work printed in this, the most musical of all cities at the time.


Flourishing musical life in Antwerp and Brussels did not go unnoticed at the Palace of Westminster. Henry VIII himself had received a thorough musical education and was a dedicated patron of the arts. He was accomplished at the lute, organ, and virginals and, apparently, sang as well. Henry recruited the best musicians to join his court. A number of Flemish musicians figured amongst the many Europeans that were attracted to take part in music making in and around London. Dyricke Gérarde [Derrick Gerarde] arrived in England in 1544. Little is known of his life, but almost his entire musical output is contained in manuscript at the British Library. These manuscripts constitute one of the largest collections of polyphony by a single composer to have survived from the Elizabethan era. His achievement however was overshadowed by the reputation of a Flemish composer who had arrived in in the capital some two decades previously.


Lutenist Philip van Wilder was first recorded as a resident in London in 1522. By 1529 he was a member of the Privy Chamber, the select group of musicians who played to the king in private. During the second quarter of the sixteenth century Van Wilder oversaw secular music-making at the court, a position that brought him close to Henry VIII. He taught playing the lute to Princess (later Queen) Mary and subsequently to Prince Edward (later Edward VI). At the time of Henry VIII’s death in 1547 Van Wilder was Keeper of the Instruments and effectively head of the instrumental musical establishment at Westminster, a post later known as Master of the King’s Music. The upkeep of the Royal instruments at Westminster was a heavy duty. The scope of that task becomes clear from the inventory of Henry’s possessions at his death, listing thirteen organs, nineteen other keyboard instruments (virginals and clavichords), and several hundred smaller wind and string instruments including viols, lutes, and recorders.

Tudor Musicians

Van Wilder continued to enjoy Royal favour during the reign of Edward VI. He was granted a coat of arms and crest and, in 1551, authorized to recruit boy singers for the Chapel Royal from anywhere in England. Three years after his death in February 1554 an anonymous tribute was paid to the musician and printed by Richard Tottel in his collection of Songes and Sonettes (1557), commonly known as ‘Tottel’s Miscellany’, containing the following line:

Laye downe your lutes and let your gitterns rest.
Phillips is dead whose like you can not finde,
Of musicke much exceeding all the rest.

In an age of wandering artists and scholars, the Renaissance was an internationalist movement united by a common (Latin) language. Its civic life teaches our age the salutary lesson that a nationalist message is one of disengagement. The appeal to nativist emotions conceals the yearning for a flawless world that never was or will be. The cultural strength of a country manifests itself in participation – that is, in the openness of borders, the assimilation of non-native concepts, and the embracing of external influences. It takes a cosmopolitan mind to be a patriot.



The Scum of Europe (Batty Street – Tower Hamlets)

From 1881 onwards the mass exodus of Jews from Eastern Europe to London turned Whitechapel and surrounding boroughs into massive immigrant communities. The arrival of newcomers transformed these areas. Living in poverty, settlers were accused of bringing dirt and disorder with them. Streets strewn with decomposing fish and rotting vegetation were classified by commentators as ‘Jewish’ as though there was a connection between filth and faith. Lack of accommodation led to rent rises and overcrowding which provoked racial agitation. In February 1886 The Pall Mall Gazette warned that ‘foreign Jews … are becoming a pest and a menace to the poor native born East Ender’. With a number of churches turned into synagogues, the clergy feared for the future of Christianity. In 1902, Cosmo Gordon Lang, Bishop of Stepney, accused immigrants of ‘swamping whole areas once populated by English people’. The term ‘swamping’ in the context of immigration would cause renewed controversy during the Thatcher era.

Local inhabitants expressed a sense of isolation which in turn intensified discord. Policing Whitechapel proved problematical because of language barriers. The want of Yiddish among police officers hampered the maintenance of law and order, and impeded investigations into the perceived presence of political agitators. Instead, officers acted as surrogate social workers. They monitored the movement of migrants and were required to brief politicians on socio-economic conditions in the immigrant ghettos. The East London Jewish population was a largely self-surveilling community. The newcomers, though quarrelsome and noisy at times, were hard-working and home-centred – not given to brawling or boozing. This contributed to high rates of social mobility within the community. Territoriality and inter-communal conflict were the main causes of public disorder. Collective resistance to prevent Jewish settlement was rife and the general trend was towards segregation. Rival gangs battled for control of the street. Sections of the borough tended to become either all Jewish or remain Anglo-Irish.

East London immigrants produced individual criminals, but no criminal classes. Urban villainy in the later nineteenth century was an urgent problem, but the reported crime-rate amongst immigrants remained comparatively low. Who was responsible for the ‘new’ wave of wrongdoing? Finger pointing journalism – Daily Mail style – started there and then. Immigrants came to be treated as potential burglars, armed robbers, sex offenders, or murderers. Their crimes were reported in hysterical detail and with a great deal of moral indignation. On 14 November 1864 twenty-four year old Cologne-born Franz Müller was executed before crowd of 50,000 cheerful spectators outside Newgate prison. He had murdered Thomas Briggs, a City banker who was travelling on the 9.50pm North London Railway from Fenchurch Street. The assailant – a tailor by profession – took his gold watch and spectacles and threw the victim’s body from the compartment. It was the very first killing on a British train. His hanging was one of the last public executions in London.

Israel Lobulsk was born in Warsaw in 1865. Having experienced the horrors of the 1881 Christmas pogrom in the city, he left Poland and arranged a passage from Frankfurt to London in exchange for work on a cattle boat, arriving penniless in 1885. Adopting the name Israel Lipski, he worked as an umbrella maker and was one of fifteen persons living in a house at no. 16 Batty Street, running off Commercial Road, East London. In June 1887 one of the other tenants, Polish immigrant Miriam Angel, a pregnant woman who lived one floor below Lipski, was found murdered with nitric acid (_HNO3_ or aqua fortis) poured down her throat. When the police arrived, they found Israel Lipski under the bed, unconscious, with the same corrosive liquid in his mouth. It was concluded that after committing the crime, he had tried to kill himself. Lipski denied any involvement. The case caused furore and touched upon the issue of unrestricted Jewish immigration. A two-day trial took place at the Old Bailey before James Fitzjames Stephen, a well-respected judge. Lipski was poorly defended and, after just eight minutes of deliberation, he was found guilty by members of the jury. Observers raised doubts about the trial’s fairness, but Lipski was hanged on 22 August 1887 at Newgate prison. The execution was carried out by James Berry (during his seven years in office he was responsible for 131 hangings). When the black flag was raised, a crowd of over 5,000 persons gathered outside the prison burst out in jubilation. Thereafter, ‘Lipski’ became a term of ethnic abuse against Jews.

Fear turned into panic in 1888 with a spade of barbaric murders in Whitechapel. The hunt for Jack the Ripper was the talk of the day. Who was this maniac? Surely not an Englishman. Public hysteria, whipped up by unscrupulous politicians and populist press barons, created a Lynch’s Law mentality.

Intense xenophobia made people decide to seek vengeance against a community of aliens in their midst. Hatred of foreigners became mixed up with vitriolic antisemitism. The British Brothers League (BBL) was formed in May 1901 along paramilitary lines with the support of numerous (Conservative) politicians. Using the slogan ‘England for the English’, the movement organised marches and rallies and called for closure of Britain’s borders. London, it was argued, had become the ‘dumping ground for the scum of Europe’. The Gothic metaphor was prevalent in anti-immigration writings, evoking the spectre of racial conflict and painting a hellish picture of cultural ruin. Britain’s identity was at stake. The Eastern Post and City Chronicle headlined BBL activities and demanded that the government end the ‘foreign flood which has submerged our native population of East London’. Within months the league claimed 6,000 members. Parallels with present-day movements are too close for comfort.

Borders, Migration and Linguistics

Language is a ragbag of terms and phrases that are handed down, created or borrowed over a long period of time. A loanword is a term adopted from a donor language and incorporated into a recipient language without translation. Loanwords are immigrants. They arrive in alien surroundings, adapt to the new vocabulary, integrate and become domesticated (spelling, pronunciation, etc.), at times losing part of their original meaning. In English, loanwords (mostly nouns) appear in a variety of contexts, such as trade, art, fashion, food, technology, war, etc. Such words tend to be taken from a field of activity where the foreign culture has a dominant role, hence the many Italian words in the sphere of music and opera, or French terms in that of ballet.

When the Merchant Adventurers set up headquarters Bruges in 1344, it marked the beginning of a long period of commercial and artistic interaction between the Low Countries and England. Contacts were intense. In order to defend their interests, foreign merchants united in ‘Hansen’, including the powerful ‘Flemish Hanse of London’. From 1463 to 1469 William Caxton stayed in Bruges as governor of the Merchant Adventurers. He learned the art of printing in Flanders and, on his return, installed the first printing press near Westminster Abbey in 1476. Later, when Elizabeth I provided a safe haven to Protestants from the Low Countries who had escaped Spanish persecution, the country received their skilled industry and commercial experience in return. Refugees introduced new trades to local economies, such as Canterbury silks, Norwich stuffs, or Yarmouth herring. Flemish and Dutch professional craftsmen and artists were enticed to cross the Channel. English ambassadors in the Low Countries functioned as industrial and artistic ‘spies’. The brain drain existed long before the term was invented. It is clear from Johan Frederik Bense’s impressive Dictionary of the Low-Dutch Element in the English Vocabulary (1926) that many early words borrowed from Flemish/Dutch belong to the economic and commercial domains.

In 1519, Jan Ympyn returned from a twelve years stay in Venice where he had been sent by his merchant father to learn commercial practices and the art of bookkeeping. Ympyn settled in Antwerp where he prospered as an exporter of silks, woollens, and tapestries. Much of his business was directed towards England. Today he is remembered as the author of the first Flemish manual on bookkeeping, entitled Nieuwe instructie ende bewijs der looffelijcker consten des rekenboecks, published posthumously in Antwerp in 1543. Four years later this manual was translated into English as A Notable … Woorke, Expressyng and Declaryng the Forme how to Kepe a Boke of Accomptes or Reconynges. The last word is literally adopted from the Dutch/Flemish word ‘rekening’. Reckoning is one of those loanwords that in the course of time began a ‘life of its own’. This book is the oldest extant text on accounting in English. It has been suggested that merchant and financier Thomas Gresham, resident in Brussels in 1543, had been responsible for the translation, but the claim has not been substantiated.

Under the Treaty of Nonsuch in 1585, Elizabeth I decided to intervene directly in the war between the United Provinces and Spain. She sent Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, with some 5,000 troops to assist the Dutch. For years to come, English troops were stationed in Flushing (Vlissingen). During the eighty years of struggle many new weapons, strategies, systems of fortification, and other innovations in the art of warfare were introduced. To British soldiers and mercenaries, the Dutch experience was crucial in their personal career development. The first substantial Dutch-English dictionary (31,000 entries) was compiled by the soldier and scholar Henry Hexham in 1648 and is entitled A Copious English and Netherduytch Dictionarie. He was responsible for introducing many Dutch military terms into the English vocabulary, including booty (buit), beleaguer (belegeren), quarter-master (kwartiermeester), knapsack (knapzak), plunder (plunderen), and tattoo (taptoe).

In 1598, Richard Haydocke, former English ambassador to The Hague, translated Paola Lomazzo’s Trattato del’arte della pittura. Searching for an English equivalent for the Italian paese, he recalled the word landschap from conversations with artists in the Low Countries, the second syllable in the word being derived from scheppen (to create). His Tracte Containing the Artes of Curious Paintinge introduced a new set of terms in the vocabulary of the English art critic, first landscape, soon to be followed by seascape, cloudscape, riverscape, and townscape, all terms conjuring up the image of the Flemish or Dutch artist contemplating his surroundings and creating scenery, clouds, rivers and urban views in paint.

Certain loanwords have not survived or are rarely used. They appear in the dictionary, but seem lost in a mass of entries, isolated, ignored. Because they are exceptional, such terms tend to hint at a notable event or happening. One particular word tells a story of political intrigue. In its early days Tyburn was a country village in Middlesex, close to the current location of Marble Arch. Until 1783 it served as London’s primary public place of execution. The first recorded hanging took place in 1196 and concerned the charismatic figure of William Fitz Osbert, known as ‘William Longbeard’, the populist leader of London’s poor who was apprehended after a mob uprising against the rich. It was one of the first explosions of urban violence in England. Early executions tended to be of a political nature. Order had to be protected at any cost, hence the public displays of punishment. Tensions within society grew with an increasing influx of refugees into London and elsewhere. It created anxiety among the authorities that certain aliens might have immigrated ‘under the colour of religion’ and could be agents or spies. Such suspicions were not unjustified. Impostors had tried to claim the English throne on a couple of occasions. In both instances a foreign connection was evident. There was the failed attempt by Lambert Simnel, a young pretender to the throne of England and most likely of Flemish descent, whose supporters were beaten in the Battle of Stoke Field in June 1487. Simnel was imprisoned for life, but Henry VII pardoned the young man and gave him a job in the Royal kitchens.

Tournai-born Perkin Warbeck was possibly an illegitimate son of Henry IV. He called himself Richard Shrewsbury, Duke of York. Various European monarchs accepted Warbeck’s claim to the English throne in order to pursue their own diplomatic objectives. In 1497 he landed in Cornwall with a small army of men hoping to capitalize on local resentment in the aftermath of a recent rebellion against the war taxes imposed by Henry VII for his Scottish campaign. As the rebels had been heavily defeated, Perkin found little support for a renewed uprising. He was captured and hanged as a traitor at Tyburn. The story of events was dramatized in 1634 by John Ford in a play entitled The Chronicle Historie of Perkin Warbeck: a Tragedy. In 1830, Mary Shelley wrote a story about him. A linguistic link to the impostor remains. ‘Landloper’ is a Dutch/Flemish word for vagabond or vagrant. The word was first recorded in Britain in the early sixteenth century and used by Francis Bacon in Henry VII (1622) when referring to Warbeck: ‘He had been from his Child-hood such a Wanderer, or (as the King called him) such a Land-loper’. It may well be that Perkin had brought the word with him when he crossed from Flanders to England.

The integration of loanwords can be controversial. In the circle of linguistic sticklers such terms are frowned upon. They suffer hostility and discrimination. Purism is the practice of defining one variety of language as being of intrinsically higher quality than others. By definition, the purist is a prophet of doom. An invasion of foreign words is a sign of decline, fatal to a nation’s cultural wellbeing. He/she strives for a form of prescriptive linguistics, aiming to establish a standard language that is resistant to change, and immune to foreign importation. Purists are the border agents of language, overseeing the strict control of the movement of words. Their record is just as poor as that of the UK Border Agency itself. They have failed in the past and will continue to do so. Nations and languages do not live in a vacuum, but they flourish in a continuous interactive relationship with other countries and peoples. Freedom of movement and exchange are the essential characteristics of a dynamic culture. Mapping the spread of loanwords offers an insight into the balance of power between nations and the migration of peoples at any given period in time.

Collar the Lot : Alexandra Palace (Haringey

Traditionally, four persons are known in English common law: natural born subject; denizen; alien friend; and alien enemy. In his Commentaries on the Law of England (1766) William Blackstone, Professor of English Law at Oxford University, summarised the position of the latter in times of conflict: ‘alien enemies have no rights, no privileges’. The Crown in other words possessed absolute power over alien enemies. When Mussolini declared war in June 1940, Churchill ordered to ‘collar the lot’. Mass internment followed. The precedent had been set during World War I.

On 4 August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. The next day Parliament passed the Aliens Restriction Act, transforming every foreigner born in Germany or Austria-Hungary into an enemy alien. This person was not permitted to send letters; he could not travel more than five miles from the police station at which he had registered; he could not carry a camera, or own a car, a motorcycle, or a carrier pigeon; he was forbidden to obtain military maps or possess a gun. To many, mere registration of enemy aliens did not settle the issue. In the years preceding the war, newspapers had sounded the alarm about nefarious Germans. Since 1870, the British image of Germany had changed drastically. The old stereotype of a nation populated by philosophers, composers, and drunken students, had transformed into one of military brutes, megalomaniac scientists, and spymasters. Germans were considered a dose of bad germs. As early as 1909, papers had reported (imaginary) Zeppelin sightings and warned of the threat posed by an expanding German navy. Lord Northcliffe, owner of both the Daily Mail and the Times, further stoked the fear of invasion, warning that German waiters and barbers lurked at the heart of a hidden spy network.

Pressured by Parliament to arrest all enemy aliens as prisoners of war, British Home Secretary Reginald McKenna initially refused. Internment, he noted, was reserved for those who were military personnel or seen as dangerous to the nation. On 7 May 1915, however, a German submarine torpedoed the British ocean liner Lusitania, killing more than a thousand civilians. Riots erupted in the streets of London and across the British Empire, from Johannesburg to Melbourne. Looters ransacked German bakeries, butchers and pubs. In Liverpool, police had to take citizens of German descent into protective custody. Political resistance to mass internment vanished overnight. Less than a week after the Lusitania’s destruction, the government announced that male enemy aliens – whatever their status or profession – would be rounded up. Many of them had settled years before, some families had been in Britain for generations. Tens of thousands of men were registered and locked up for the duration of the war. In north London, Alexandra Palace became a holding camp for up to 3,000 aliens. Eventually, they were sent to the village of Knockaloe on the Isle of Man which was turned into a complex of wooden sheds housing 25,000 internees. They were not soldiers, but low-grade hostages who were forced to endure their miserable fate and the breaking up of family life. The majority of those interned left Britain after the war or were deported. Many never saw their relations again.

Ironically, some immigrants were amongst the most ardent champions of internment. Emma Orczy was born in Hungary into a noble family. She was fifteen years old when her father took the family to London. She became a blockbuster author. Her novel The Scarlet Pimpernel was phenomenally popular. Between 1906 and 1940, she wrote fourteen sequels to the story. During World War I, Emma showed loyalty to her adopted country by founding the Active Service League, an organisation that urged women to make the following promise: ‘I do hereby pledge … to persuade every man I know to offer his services to the country, and I also pledge myself never to be seen in public with any man who … has refused to respond to his country’s call’. It was up to women to send their men to the trenches. Novelist William Tufnell Le Queux was born in Southwark in 1864, the son of an immigrant from Chateauroux in central France. Educated on the Continent, he became a prolific writer. From about 1905 he was a self-proclaimed patriot and Germanophobe. In 1906 Le Queux wrote for Lord Northcliffe’s Daily Mail a serial titled ‘The invasion of 1910’ (later published in book form). It warned of German atrocities and urged the introduction of compulsory military training. At the same time, politicians and newspaper editors became fixated on the idea that German prisoners in Britain had a pleasant time while British prisoners of war in Germany suffered brutal treatment. Internment deteriorated into organised xenophobia. The impact of such hysteria, which resulted in mass deportation of German civilians at the end of the conflict, would survive well beyond 1918.

Who were the victims? George Sauter was born in 1866 at Rettenbach, Bavaria, and studied art at the Royal Academy in Munich. He moved to London in 1895, having worked previously in Holland, Belgium, France and Italy. He married Lilian Galsworthy, daughter of the writer of the Forsyte Saga, and was appointed Honorary Secretary to the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers during Whistler’s presidency. Having lived in London for two decades but not become a British citizen, Sauter was interned with his son Rudolf (who became an artist in his own right) at the Alexandra Palace in December of 1915 and repatriated to Germany in early 1917. He never returned to Britain. George Kenner was born Georg Kennerknecht on 1 November 1888 in the small town of Schwabsoien, Bavaria. He moved to London in 1910 where he furthered his education at the Lambeth School of Art. With a British partner he set up the art company Waddington & Kennerknecht at no. 73 Farringdon Street. He was interned in May 1915. He was permitted by the camp authorities to use his skills as a professional artist. He created 110 paintings and drawings of his experiences as a civilian prisoner of war. It is the most extensive and moving collection of this nature that has survived. Kenner was transported to Knockaloe in June 1916 and sent back to Germany in a prisoner exchange in March 1919, four months after the Armistice. He never returned to Britain and eventually moved to Cheltenham, Pennsylvania.

Not all internees left Britain altogether. Carl Bartels was born in Stuttgart in 1866 into a Protestant family. He father was a woodcarver from the Black Forest. Having married Mathilde Zappe in 1887, the couple visited Britain on their honeymoon and decided to stay. He settled in Haringey, north London, and soon gained acclaim as a sculptor and woodworker. His reputation was enhanced when he won a competition to design two copper birds for the twin clock towers of Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building. His designs were brought to life by the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts. After the Lusitania tragedy, Bartels was imprisoned at Knockaloe, even though he had been a naturalised Briton for more than twenty years. After the war Bartels was repatriated to Germany and separated from his wife and children. He regained residency in 1931 when his nephew’s employer offered permanent employment. Ironically, his designs were used in the modernisation of the RMS Mauretania, a sister ship of the Lusitania, although the building of the ship was scrapped in 1934. During the Second World War he made artificial limbs for injured servicemen.

The First World War was a watershed moment in the treatment of civilians during times of conflict. In the summer of 1914, concentration camps were a defunct concept. By the end of the war, they stretched across six continents. In only four years, mass detention of innocent civilians had been legitimised all over the world. Every nation has a black era or shameful episode it would prefer to exclude from historical accounts. For Britain, mass internment (and deportation) is one of those occurrences which has barely been acknowledged.

The Greatest Revolution since Gutenberg Printing House Square (City of London)


The history of printing is a radical one. The invention of Johann Gutenberg’s movable type is generally referred to as a printing revolution. It quickened the spread of literacy in Renaissance Europe and contributed to the Reformation. Printing stands at the forefront of various revolutionary developments, both in a political and a socio-cultural sense.


Seen from a different perspective, the printing trade has been at the forefront of the organised labour movement, creating trade unions, and being involved in the establishment of industrial relations practices. The art and skills of printing were relatively stable for a long time, but they have undergone many transformations since. At the end of the eighteenth century printing was still performed on wooden presses which were not only slow and cumbersome, but also produced an inconsistent impression. Attempts were made to mechanise the process. The use of a rolling cylinder to overcome manual strain and increase speed in printing was suggested as early as 1616 by Faustus Verantius in his remarkable study Machinae novae. It would take another two centuries before a practical printing cylinder machine eventually emerged.


Printing House Square in the City acquired its name after the Great Fire of London when the King’s Printer settled there in order to publish official documents and the London Gazette, the official government journal of record. In 1785, John Walter began publishing the Daily Universal Register at the square which was renamed The Times in January 1788. In 1974 the paper moved to Gray’s Inn Road and then to Wapping in 1986. The fifty-four week Wapping dispute during the Thatcher era, along with the miners’ strike of 1984/5, has been one of the worst conflicts in British industrial relations. Target was the newspaper empire of News International (with its flagship publication The Times, and parent to The Sun, The News of the World, and others). Its owner, the Australian tycoon Rupert Murdoch, wanted to introduce technological innovations that would put 90% of typesetters out of work. It was a bitter and violent confrontation. This was not the first time that The Times had been at war with its employees. The introduction of advanced technologies and the restructuring of production processes have hit the workforce hard at times. The workers struck back. Faith in machinery was perceived as the danger; technology was the enemy. Work had lost its dignity; man was reduced to the level of a machine.


In September 1712 a sea-sick German immigrant arrived on a yacht called the Peregrine in Greenwich from Rotterdam. He was fluent in French, but did not and never would speak a word of English. His name was George Louis, the Elector of Hanover – and the new Protestant king of Britain known as George I. The Glorious Revolution had brought William III to the throne. He created the Bank of England and attracted financiers from the Dutch Republic to settle in Britain. The officers in his army were predominantly French Huguenots. He also introduced a strong element of Continental aesthetics around Hampton Court and into the upper strata of society. Queen Anne did not produce an heir – enter King George. The Hanoverians created their own inner circle of German high-society around them, but the tone of their rule was pragmatic, business-like, and industrial. It acquired a Teutonic accent. The emerging industrial apparatus of the Hanoverian state was developed with the aim of strengthening Britain’s role in Europe. The dominant importance of an overseas British Empire emerged later. Amongst the more notable immigrants were industrialists, manufacturers, engineers, chemists, inventors, and skilled workers. Britain donned the hard hat and overalls. This general atmosphere continued under Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (they spoke German at home) and was exemplified in a spectacular manner by the Great Exhibition of 1851, the first international public display of manufactured products.


One of the new arrivals in Britain was Friedrich Gottlob Koenig. The son of a farmer, he was born on 17 April 1774 at Eisleben, in Saxony. After school, he was bound apprentice for five years to printers Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, which today is the oldest surviving music publishing house (founded in 1719). Having spent a year studying physics and mechanics at Leipzig University, he started experiments to improve the art of printing. Not finding any interest in his work at home or elsewhere in Europe, he settled in London in November 1806. Britain was the place to be. Business was booming there. It was an open society, keen to accept bright minds from abroad, eager to accept and develop new technologies, and there were no restrictions to the movement of migrants. The presence of the Hanoverian court was an additional stimulus for young Germans to make the journey across the Channel.


In London Koenig was introduced to Thomas Bensley, a prominent printer in Bolt Court, off Fleet Street, who was interested in improving the firm’s machinery. He brought in two other printers to help finance Koenig’s experiments: Richard Taylor (whose firm is still active under the name Taylor & Francis) and typographer George Woodfall. On 30 November 1807 they signed a business agreement. Koenig was joined by fellow countryman and engineer (watchmaker) Andreas Friedrich Bauer. Together they constructed and patented the first printing machine powered by steam. After some experiments, plans were drawn up and a patent was taken out in October 1811. The press was tested in trial runs at the Koenig & Bauer workshop. The first sheets printed entirely from cylindrical pressure were sheets (G & X) from Thomas Clarkson’s book on the Life of Penn (1814). The trials proved successful. Several newspaper proprietors were invited to see Koenig’s new cylinder machine, but only John Walter of The Times realised its potential. To avoid difficulties with his workers, Walter insisted Koenig & Bauer conveyed, in secrecy, the machine parts to a workshop adjoining The Times offices on Printing House Square. Here it was constructed away from the paper’s composing and press rooms in order to avoid any anti-mechanical demonstrations or angry machine bashing.

Thomas Penn

The printing of the first issue of the paper was a clandestine affair, but nervous rumours were rife on Printing House Square, and the atmosphere at the workplace was tense. At six o’clock in the morning, Walter entered the press room and astonished his employees by announcing the issue of 29 November 1814 had already been printed by steam. He warned against industrial action and promised that wages would be paid until alternative employment could be procured. In the event, the edition passed into circulation with little agitation from the workforce. The strategy of surprise had been a success. Koenig’s cylinder press, the output of which was soon increased to 1,100 sheets per hour, initiated the industrial revolution in printing and the age of the popular press.


Critiques of mass culture, and of the press in particular, began emerging during the late eighteenth century. Writers such as Goethe attacked the banal diversions offered by the newspapers, noting that they were merely a means of escape from social reality. Journalism promoted passivity and conformity. Others offered more positive appraisals of the value of mass media. Karl Marx saw the press as a means of promoting democracy and civil liberties. The press became a contested terrain, with both fervent defenders and severe critics. Some saw it as an instrument of enlightenment, while others rejected it as a vehicle of banality and mass deception. Søren Kierkegaard was a relentless critic of the press. In 1854 he stated that if ‘I were a father and had a daughter who was seduced, I should by no means give her up; but if I had a son who became a journalist I should regard him as lost’. The role of an irresponsible and/or bias press remains a hotly disputed topic to this very day, recently fueled by the deplorable level of reporting leading up to the Brexit disaster.


Friedrich Koenig in the meantime returned to Germany in 1817 where he established a printing press in Wurzburg. The firm was called Koenig & Bauer, after both inventors, making it the oldest printing press manufacturer in the world, as it is still in existence today.