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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.


Cordwainer is a small ward in the City of London named after the cordwainers, which were professional shoemakers who lived and worked in this area. Streets within its boundaries are, amongst others, Bow Lane (formerly: Cordwainer’s Street), Pancras Lane, and part of Watling Street. The word cordwainer was derived from ‘Cordovan’, meaning fine leather produced in Córdoba. Historically, there was a distinction between cordwainer (maker of shoes and boots) and cobbler (repairer of footwear). The Guild of Cordwainers was in existence by 1272 and obtained a Royal Charter in 1439.

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During the Second World War, radio was a vital tool of political power. By 1936, four million French citizens possessed a wireless in their homes with the choice of various main and local stations. After the invasion, the Nazis took hold of the dominant Radio-Paris, and Vichy gained control of stations in the south. To win the war of the radio waves (‘la guerre des ondes’) was judged as important as dominating the battlefields. From 1940 to 1944 Radio-Londres broadcast up to five hours a day from the BBC to occupied France. The station was operated by Charles de Gaulle’s Free French who had established their headquarters at no. 4 Carlton Gardens, Westminster. It opened its daily transmissions with the legendary words: ‘Ici Londres! Les Français parlent aux Français’. De Gaulle himself had made his famous appeal to the nation on 18 June 1940 to rise against the occupation. Radio-Londres was the voice of the French Resistance.

A group of young Free Frenchmen, including actor Jacques Duchesne (real name: Michel Saint-Denis, founder of the London Theatre Studio in 1935), painter Jean Oberlé, journalist and politician Maurice Schumann, entertainer Pierre Dac, Romanian-born composer Francis Chagrin and others (all close to De Gaulle) broke with broadcasting traditions and produced programs peppered with personal messages, satirical sketches, songs, and jokes. Jean Oberlé’s jingle ‘Radio-Paris ment, Radio-Paris ment, Radio-Paris est allemand’ (sung to the tune of ‘La Cucaracha’), first broadcast on 6 September 1940, was particularly memorable. Of deep significance was the contribution made by singer and songwriter Anna Marly. Born Anna Yurievna Betulinskaya on 30 October 1917 in St Petersburg she was a Russian refugee in France who made a successful career as a performer. After capitulation, she fled to London with her Dutch husband, Baron van Doorn, whom she had met whilst performing at The Hague. In London she joined up with the Free French. There she came across Emmanuel d’Astier de La Vigerie, a leading figure in the resistance, who had heard her sing the ‘Chant des partisans’ in Russian. He requested a translation of the song with the intention of using it as a replacement for ‘La Marseillaise’ which had been banned by the Nazis. It quickly established itself as the surrogate anthem of the French resistance both in France and Britain.

Radio-Londres broadcasts would begin with some ‘personal messages’ which were often amusing, confusing, or without apparent context. They were coded communications to underground agents. The station strongly supported the V for Victory campaign as an act of subversion. The idea was launched by the liberal politician and broadcaster Victor Auguste de Laveleye who was spokesman for the Belgian government in exile at Eaton Square, Belgravia. He also acted as newsreader for Radio-Belgique (Radio-België) which became the voice of Belgian Resistance. In a broadcast of 14 January 1941, he asked all Belgians – Flemish and Walloons – to choose the letter V as a symbol of unity in adversity: V for ‘Victoire & Vrijheid’. It was the start of the ‘Campagne des V’, which saw V graffity appearing in many urban settings in Belgium and the Netherlands. By July 1941, the emblematic use of the letter V had spread through occupied Europe. The campaign was endorsed by Winston Churchill in a speech of 19 July 1941.

Illustrator Maurice Van Moppès was born on 6 January 1905 in Paris, the son of an antiquarian. Between 1940 and 1943, under the initials MVP, he wrote a series of parodies on famous songs in which he ridiculed the German invaders and their French collaborators. Published as a booklet in 1944 entitled Chansons de la BBC, it was parachuted by the RAF into France in order to raise morale and encourage resistance. It included such songs as ‘La Chanson du Maquis’ (written together with Francis Chagrin). During the blitz on London, he wrote lyrics to the opening bars of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony calling it ‘La chanson V’ (the opening motif of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony became a powerful symbol for the Allied forces: the short-short-short-long rhythmic pattern correspond in Morse code to the letter V). It was broadcast on Radio Londres on 1 June 1944 when the Allied forces sent the first messages to occupied France of an imminent invasion. Shortly before the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944, Radio Londres read out the first stanza of Paul Verlaine’s poem ‘Chanson d’automne’ to let the resistance know that the invasion would begin within twenty-four hours: ‘Les sanglots longs / Des violons / De l’automne / Blessent mon coeur / D’une langueur / Monotone’. The final three lines of the poem were a specific call to action to the French Resistance.

It would be tempting (but unjustified) to suggest that the legendary entertainer and Free France broadcaster Pierre Brac came up with the idea of Verlaine’s poem as a coded message. Born André Isaac in Châlons-sur Marne on 15 August 1893 into an Alsatian Jewish family (his father was a butcher), young Brac mastered the violin. Unfortunately, his left arm was injured in action during World War I (his brother Marcel died in action) and he was obliged to forget his musical hopes and ambitions. Dac became a cabaretier known as ‘Le roi des loufoques’ (The king of crackpots). Having escaped France via Spain, he joined Radio-Londres, broadcasting bitingly satirical songs, and deriding Nazi ideology and the German war machine. Pierre Dac was an unlikely hero of the French Resistance.

By late 1944, Allied victory in France sounded the end of Radio-Londres. What stands out in this period is the European spirit that was emerging amongst those who had been exiled in Britain. To them, London was a catalyst. Most refugees returned home, grateful towards their host country, and with one resolution in mind: this shall never again. Europe must unite. Churchill agreed. In a speech delivered at the University of Zurich on 19 September 1946 he called on European countries, including Germany, to form a regional organisation for security and cooperation on the Continent. Today, that unifying spirit has evaporated. Memories are short and political egos overbearing. Darkness has fallen. The Brexit Betrayal has killed the flame and reduced Europe to the level of trade figures, car sales, currency fluctuations, and the V fingers that signify ‘fuck off you foreigner’. The dogs are loose. Prejudice barks, bigotry bites. Crackpots are back in charge. Bring out the violins. This shall never happen again.

 

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[The images in our blog are always anonymous. I make an exception for the first and the last image. The last is a photo of Jewish musicians who were forced to play while the victims of the Nazis were marched to the gas chambers. The first image shows a nice portrait of the infamous Farage. I honor the musicians, what I think of Farage, well … – Paul Dijstelberge]


With the passing of the Aliens Act of 1905, Britain was the first European state to establish a system of immigration control at the point of entry. It defined certain groups of migrants as ‘undesirable’. The Act was passed in response to anxieties about the impact of ‘aliens’, particularly Jews fleeing from persecution in Tsarist Russia, who were said to have introduced unprecedented levels of criminality.  Traditionally, crime had been associated with poverty among indigenous urban populations. By the 1890s, increasingly, criminal behaviour was seen as a result of liberal attitudes towards immigration. The cause of crime in Britain’s large cities was to be found in the racial character of foreign arrivals. In the public imagination a toxic mix was brewing of fear of terror, anxiety about anarchism, and antipathy towards foreigners. The rise of racism was imminent.

Militant anarchism caused panic. Newspaper headlines spread news of bombings and murders across Europe and in America (Chicago). Governments feared the spectre of an internationally coordinated anarchist revolution. International terrorism made an explosive appearance. The word terrorism was first used in English in 1795 in a specific sense of government intimidation during the Reign of Terror in Paris. With the 1798 Irish Rebellion the term acquired a broader interpretation, referring to the ‘systematic use of terror as a policy’. By the mid-nineteenth century, terrorism began to be associated with non-governmental groups. A few decades later it was generally understood as the use of indiscriminate violence in order to achieve a political or religious aim.


In the 1840s movements for democracy swept the Continent. Italy, France and Poland stood on the brink of revolution. Activists encouraged uprisings and failed. Many European revolutionaries ended up in exile in Britain. London became the home of other nation’s ‘terrorists’. One of the earliest groups to utilise urban guerrilla techniques was the Fenian Brotherhood, founded in 1858. Irish nationalists planted bombs on the inner circle tube line in 1883 and 1885, but it was the 1897 Aldersgate explosion that had fatal consequences – killing one and injuring sixty. Anarchist theorists had developed the concept of ‘propaganda of the deed’ (physical violence in order to inspire mass rebellion). Attacks by various anarchist groups led to a number of assassinations, including that of the Russian Tsar. During the nineteenth century, powerful and relatively stable explosives were developed. The use of dynamite became synonymous with terrorism and central to anarchist strategic thinking. In fact, the word ‘dynamitist’ preceded that of terrorist.


Fitzrovia, a district bounded by Oxford Street to the south, Great Portland Street to the west, Euston Road to the north, and Tottenham Court Road to the east, had been a centre of international radical politics for some time. Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man was published during his residence at no. 154 New Cavendish Street in reply to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. The author lived at no. 18 Charlotte Street. The area was a hotspot of Chartist activities after the Reform Act of 1832. After the failed 1848 revolutions, waves of German and Russian revolutionaries settled there. Swiss and Italian immigrants added to its cultural mix. It was a choice destination for French political exiles. From France, there were two main waves of migration separated by a generation. The first were supporters of the Revolution of February 1848 when the Second Republic was founded by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte. The second group of about 3,000 refugees arrived in the early 1870s after the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871. Many of these ‘compagnons’ remained in London until an amnesty in 1895 allowed some to return to France. 


Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was the first political philosopher to call himself an anarchist. Although various thinkers have contributed to the formulation of the doctrine (including William Godwin), nineteenth century anarchism retained a strong Gallic flavour. Between 1880 and 1914 a considerable number of French-speaking anarchists lived in exile in London. These individuals had escaped intense post-Commune repression. Until the 1905 Aliens Act, Britain maintained a liberal approach to the containment of radicalism which, to a certain extent, allowed French residents in Fitzrovia to remain politically active. Charlotte Street and Goodge Street were the main axis of anarchism. Political refugee and author Charles Malato, a French anarchist of Neapolitan descent, described the area as a small anarchist republic. There were, however, plenty of worries amongst the local population about that ‘foreign lot’. 


Myths surrounding potential terrorist activities were reported endlessly by the popular press which led to poisonous public debates surrounding the asylum granted to international anarchists. Police spies, known as ‘Les Mouchards’, regularly patrolled the streets of the area. One of their prime suspects was the bookseller Armand Lapie at no. 30 Goodge Street. His shop was the main meeting point of French anarchists in the capital. In his book Van anarchist tot monarchist Alexander Cohen, the Dutch Francophile, has left a lively retrospective account of this shop where every early evening anarchists gathered to wait for the owner’s return from the depot with a load of French, Italian and Spanish newspapers. Gallic anarchists also brought their passion for eating and drinking with them. If London was a taste, it was not to the liking of French refugees.


Political exiles introduced gastronomic delight to Charlotte Street and to no. 67 in particular. There, in a three-story building, Victor Richard ran a grocer shop named ‘Bel Épicier’. He kept a shop in Paris when he was caught up in the events of the Commune. Although in his fifties, he fought bravely on the barricades, but in the brutal aftermath he was forced to flee. He settled in Charlotte Street. This colourful figure made a roaring success of his business, stocking Anjou wines, coffee, mustards, pâtes, and cornichon from his native Burgundy. His shop took on a central position among the community of refugees, many of whom were either destitute or in dire financial trouble. They knew that they could expect help in one way or another from the ‘generous Burgundian’. 

In political philosophy, anarchism advocates the idea of a stateless society. The state is harmful to the individual. Politicians are parasites. Education of the masses would cause government to wither away as a superfluous entity. Anarchism in practice, however, demands firm structures and a strict organisation. The London congregation of anarchists proved the value of tight networks and practical minds. This was exampled during the early 1890s by the international school for refugee children at no. 19 Fitzroy Square. The school was run by Louise Michel, the ‘grand dame’ of anarchy, who had fought on the barricades in defence of the Commune. This former Parisian teacher was exiled to London where she lived at no. 59 Charlotte Street. The guiding committee of the school included the exiled Russian Prince Peter Kropotkin, Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta, and English socialist William Morris. Staff and members of the committee aimed at keeping children away from religiously oriented state schools. The ideal was to produce broad-minded and creative youngsters who respected the freedom of others. The curriculum consisted of French, German, and English, as well as music, drawing, sewing, and engraving. The school was closed down when the police raided the school in 1892 and found bombs in the basement. They had been planted there by Auguste Coulon, a school assistant who turned out to be a police spy. To the authorities, the end justified the means.


Notorious among local Continental immigrants was the figure of Tours-born Martial Bourdin. He had moved to London around 1887 to join his brother Henri who worked as a tailor in a workshop at no. 18 Great Titchfield Street. Martial attended meetings at the Autonomie Club in Windmill Street, the chief refuge of foreign anarchists arriving in London. For a time Bourdin was secretary of the French-speaking section of the club. Having spent time back in France and later in America, he returned to London where he resumed his lodgings at no. 30 Fitzroy Street in late 1893. In the afternoon of Thursday 15 February 1894 he entered Greenwich Park and walked towards the Royal Observatory with a parcel under his arm. The bomb exploded prematurely. He died at the nearby Royal Naval Hospital. Bourdin’s act caused panic. Home Secretary Herbert Asquith, fearing that the funeral at St Pancras cemetery might be turned into a demonstration, gave orders to prevent any procession from following the hearse. Speeches at the graveside were forbidden. Public opinion demanded an immediate change in immigration policy.

Modern interest in the fate of this French anarchist derives from Joseph Conrad’s remodelling of him as Stevie in The Secret Agent (1907). The novel sustained his dubious reputation as the man who tried to blow up the Observatory – which seemed an odd target even by terrorist’s standards. Conrad confirmed in fiction what many at the time had come to accept as a fact: a terrorist is a mentally unstable anarchist who carries a parcel wrapped in brown paper (i.e. a bomb) under his arm. 


The family name Gollancz originates from the town of Golancz in west-central Poland. It is also the name of a prominent Jewish dynasty of London immigrants which has a varied but distinct literary reputation. 

Rabbi and scholar Hermann Gollancz was born at Bremen on 30 November 1852. He came to England when his father was appointed rabbi of the Hambro Synagogue in Leadenhall Street, City of London. Hermann was the first Jew to obtain the degree of Doctor of Literature at London University. In 1902 he was elected Goldsmid Professor of Hebrew at University College London. He was the first British rabbi to be granted a knighthood. On retirement he presented his valuable library of Hebraica and Judaica to the University (which is housed as a separate collection within the splendid Mocatta Library). 


His younger brother Israel Gollancz was born in London. A Shakespeare scholar, he was Professor of English Language and Literature at King’s College from 1903 to 1930, and a founder member and the first Secretary of the British Academy. He edited the so-called ‘Temple’ Shakespeare, a uniform edition of the complete works in pocket size volumes. It was the most popular Shakespeare edition of its day. 

Hermann and Israel were brothers to Alexander Gollancz, a wholesale jeweller, who was father to publisher Victor Gollancz, born on 9 April 1893 at no. 256 Elgin Avenue, Maida Vale. Having rejected the orthodoxy of his parents, Victor became an independent thinker and an advocate of women’s rights. In 1918 he joined the publishing house of Benn Brothers (founded by the liberal politician John Benn: Gollancz recruited H.G. Wells for his employers), before starting his own firm in 1928. His publishing methods were revolutionary. 


In collaboration with Stanley Morison, he devised a striking typographical dust jacket featuring black and magenta on a brilliant yellow background, which was used on most of his titles. Gollancz was primarily an educationist, and his main concern as a publisher was to encourage an awareness of current affairs and, above all, send a socialist message. In 1933 George Orwell issued his debut novel Down and Out in London and Paris with Gollancz, his first publisher.


A significant undertaking that involved Gollancz was the foundation of the Left Book Club (LBC) in 1936. Housed at no. 14 Henrietta Street, it aimed at combating the dual threats of Nazism and Fascism in which authors like Arthur Koestler and George Orwell took part at a time when the need for the dissemination of left-wing politics was keenly felt among British intellectuals. The venture was an immediate success on its establishment, with 6,000 subscriptions after a month and a membership of 40,000 by the end of its first year. Gollancz was also actively engaged with a number of German writers in exile in London during the war (including Hilde Meisel).


The Free German League of Culture (FGLC = Freie Deutsche Kulturbund) was founded in 1939 at an informal meeting held at the Hampstead home of the Jewish refugee lawyer and painter Manfred [Fred] Uhlman. Aiming to represent all German exiles irrespective of religion or race, it was the foremost cultural and socio-political organisation representing anti-Nazism in Britain during the war. On arrival, these refugees were considered enemy aliens and most of them had suffered the pain of internment, either in the Isle of Man or as far adrift as Canada or Australia. At its peak, the League had some 1,500 members. It included a youth wing, the Freie Deutsche Jugend; it created a university in exile, the Freie Deutsche Hochschule; and it formed the core of the Free German Movement which planned for a democratic post-war Germany. The League was formally constituted at a meeting on 1 March 1939, when Uhlman was appointed chairman (later that year he was replaced by the novelist Hans Flesch-Brunninger), and four honorary presidents were elected: the painter Oskar Kokoschka, the drama critic Alfred Kerr, the novelist Stefan Zweig and the film director Berthold Viertel. The FGLC was advertised as politically neutral (to avoid interference from the British authorities), describing itself as an ‘anti-Nazi, anti-Fascist, non-party, refugee organisation’. From December 1939, the FGLC had premises of its own, at no. 36a Upper Park Road, Belsize Park. It was wound up in 1946.


In 1960 Gollancz published Fred Uhlman’s autobiography The Making of an Englishman whose ironical title points to the author’s struggle, as a Jewish intellectual from Stuttgart, to adapt to a life of exile in a British environment that felt completely alien to him. The book contains a vivid account of his internment experiences as an enemy alien at Hutchinson camp, Isle of Man (where he befriended Kurt Schwitters), a description of the depression and frustration he suffered, which was fuelled – even in retrospect – by a sense of outrage at the injustice of his treatment.

A prominent member of the German League was the communist author Jan Petersen. Born Hans Schwalm on 2 July 1906 in Berlin, he led a resistance group of anti-Fascist writers between 1933 and 1935. Being placed on the Nazi death list, he was forced to emigrate to Switzerland, France, and then to England. He was deprived of his German citizenship in 1938. Between 1940 and 1942 he was interned in Canada as an enemy alien by the British authorities. 

Petersen is remembered for an extraordinary act of bravery. In 1934 he had finished the manuscript of his novel Unsere Strasse, a true story about life on Wallstrasse in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg and an account of left wing resistance to Nazism just before Hitler’s ascension to Chancellor. To get this ‘explosive’ manuscript safely out of Germany was a huge problem. He made two copies, sending one to Hamburg where it was to be taken to England by a German soldier, but was eventually thrown into the Channel to avoid discovery. Friends failed to smuggle a second copy into Czechoslovakia. Finally, Petersen pulled off a dangerous trick himself. Dressed in ski clothes to look as though he was going on holiday, he set off for Prague. At the border, the SS guards searched his rucksack, only to find two tasty fruit cakes. Baked inside was the manuscript which remained undetected. The creative process demands courage and commitment. Few authors would have pushed the limits as far as Petersen dared. Translated into English as Our Street, the novel was published in 1938 by Gollancz’s Left Book Club. Petersen returned to East Berlin in 1946 where he was awarded a number of literary prizes in the course of his career. There he died in November 1969. His novel was republished by Faber & Faber in 2010.

01
The nomadic lifestyle of the artist is a recurrent theme in contemporary literature and aesthetic thinking. Modern philosophy of art tends to depict the artist as a citizen of the world, a global mind, as the eternal traveller. This view is a relatively recent one. In Classical culture, he would have been identified as the inhabitant of a specific polis or city. Even during the humanist era outspoken cosmopolitanism remained the exception.

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The term cosmopolitanism first appeared in the sixteenth century. Guillaume Postel visited the East on the orders of François I to collect manuscripts for the French Royal collection. In De la République des Turcs (1560) he gave a detailed and sympathetic account of Turkish culture. The book itself was signed by Guillaume Postel Cosmopolite (to later historians he became known as ‘le Gaulois cosmopolite’). One may find use of the word on occasion during the seventeenth century, but it was not until the Enlightenment that intellectuals came to regard themselves as proud members of a transnational ‘Republic of Letters’. In the eighteenth century, cosmopolitanism indicated an attitude of intellectual sophistication and open-mindedness. A cosmopolitan mind was not a follower of a particular religious or political authority, but an independent thinker and a man of the world. More often than not, he was a multi-lingual person who was at home in all European capitals. The 1789 Declaration of Human Rights was the result of cosmopolitan modes of thinking.

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Artistic migration before and even during the Enlightenment was motivated by much more mundane considerations. The artist moved away from home out of economic necessity and in search of patrons. He had to make a living. Traditionally, London had been a destination for those who were artistically gifted. In Tudor times, Continental artists and musicians were lured to sell their skills to royal and aristocratic households. During the reign of Charles I and particularly since the Restoration a seemingly unending number of Flemish and Dutch painters, engravers and sculptors joint the court or aristocratic estates. The ‘glorious’ seventeenth century produced too many artists in the Low Countries and not enough clients. The market simply was too small for such an overwhelming presence of talent. It was a period of cultural overproduction. For many young artists there was only one solution to their predicament: relocate, move elsewhere, and find a more equal playing field where their talent would be acknowledged. Or, to put it more crudely, find a place where they could earn money, get some commissions, and make a living. And move they did. They moved in their hundreds. They headed for Italy, Sweden, Germany, even for Russia – most of them crossed the Channel. It is interesting to note that English ambassadors in the Low Countries regularly functioned as ‘scouts’ who informed the court and gentry about the talent they had spotted whilst performing their diplomatic duties. Or they tried to encourage artists to move to England with the promise and prospect of employment and/or commissions.

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The courts of Charles II, James II, and William and Mary employed numerous foreign artists and craftsmen, and as a result English late seventeenth-century taste in interior decoration was decidedly Continental. In March 1709, a competition was announced to decorate the dome of Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral. The most coveted contemporary commission, it attracted bids from British and foreign artists. In March 1709, a competition was announced to decorate the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

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By 1710 the field of competitors was narrowed down to two candidates, James Thornhill and Venice-born Antonio Pellegrini (a director of Godfrey Kneller’s newly founded art academy in Queen Anne Street, 1711), each being required to execute their proposed designs on a model of the cupola. On 28 June 1715 Thornhill was awarded the commission by a Whig dominated committee.

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Archbishop Thomas Tenison’s pronouncement ‘I am no judge of painting, but on two articles I think I may insist: first that the painter employed be a Protestant; and secondly that he be an Englishman’, may not have an identified source, but it does echo a growing patriotic (anti-alien) sentiment which was put into words in the Weekly Packet of June 1715 by suggesting that the committee’s decision will ‘put to silence all the loud applauses hitherto given to foreign artists’. Others would argue that it reflected growing confidence in British native ability. As a consequence, the number of immigrant artists was dwindling rapidly.

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At that time, foreign in painting meant Italian – more specifically: Venetian. Decorative and portrait painter Giacomo Amiconi [Jacopo Amigoni] was born in Naples of Venetian parents in 1682. By 1711 he had established himself as an artist in Venice. Having worked all over northern Europe, he arrived in London in 1729. As an architectural decorator Amiconi joined forces with Gaetano Brunetti working on Lord Tankerville’s house in St James’s Square in early 1730 and on the Duke of Chandos’s residence at Cavendish Square in 1735. He painted a Banquet of the Gods on the ceiling at Covent Garden Theatre as well as a fresco above the stage (lost with the 1782 renovation). He was identified with Italian opera through his close friendship with the castrato Farinelli who was resident in London from 1734, and his marriage in May 1738 to opera singer Maria Antonia Marchesini (known as ‘La Lucchesina’).

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Amiconi’s work was fashionable in aristocratic London, but the established taste for Italian opera and for Venetian Rococo painting had started to decline by that time. A movement was in the making in favour of a more robust style in music, theatre and art. His staircase decoration for the Spanish ambassador at Powis House, Great Ormond Street, sparked controversy in 1734. The artist was attacked by James Ralph in the Weekly Register as one of those foreigners who painted in an overblown manner, compared with the more wholesome qualities of English art. Amiconi left London for Venice in August 1739 having been supplanted by Hogarth as decorator of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Foreigners were less welcome than they had been previously.

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Between 1732 and 1734, Amiconi occupied a house in Silver Street, Soho (now: Beak Street; the occupant is named in the rate books as James Amicony). When the latter encouraged fellow artist Antonio Canaletto to move to London, the latter settled in Silver Street as well. The Canal family, whose Venice lineage is traceable from the mid-sixteenth century, were ‘cittadini originari’, a class immediately below the patrician. Its most famous son was Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto.

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His first dated work is a large ‘Capriccio of Classical Ruins and a Pyramid’ (1723), which already surpasses anything in this genre produced by his contemporaries. It shows an imaginary landscape (capriccio means ‘fancy’) with arched Roman ruins supported by Corinthian columns, through which a church with a campanile can be seen while small figures are digging around. Further back a pyramid and Roman statue are depicted. From the start architecture and architectural elements played a dominant part in his paintings. Just like his predecessor Luca Carlevarijs, the first of the great Venetian view painters, Canaletto realised that the demand for prospects of the city among foreign visitors offered a viable commercial opportunity. Throughout his career, in creating his urban panoramas he took the liberty of including distortions in order to ‘improve’ reality for pictorial effect and, of course, saleability. He also developed the additional skill of depicting ceremonial events and festivals.

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From the late 1720s to the early 1750s Canaletto’s fortunes were bound up with the figure of Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice. The latter was one of the foremost collectors in the city who, over three decades, acquired fifty paintings by the artist, which he housed in his impressive palace on the Grand Canal. They were eventually sold en bloc to George III in 1762, along with 142 of the artist’s superb drawings. By 1730, Smith was acting as an agent in the sale of Canaletto’s work to English collectors which resulted in a constant flow of commissions throughout the decade that marks the peak of the painter’s career. With the constant demand for Canaletto’s work came a need to delegate various tasks to assistants. One of those, in the late 1730s and early 1740s, was his nephew Bernardo Bellotto, the only artist to rival him as the greatest Italian view painter of the eighteenth century. Canaletto’s studio was turned into a factory of art. With the ever increasing demand for paintings, the artist’s studio was rationalised in a quite a remarkable manner. It became a kind of early industrialised work-floor with a proper division of labour amongst specialised employees who worked on a production line of art. Canaletto had learned from his predecessors. The example of Rubens’s studio is well documented. Similar ways of working were introduced by Anthony van Dyck or Peter Lely in their London studios. All this, of course, long before the notion of the ‘division of labour’ was discussed by the Scottish socio-economic philosophers of the eighteenth century.

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The outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1741 restricted travel to Venice. As a consequence, the number of commissions for painted Venetian views diminished. In May 1746 Canaletto moved to London. There he was to remain for ten years as a resident at no. 16 Silver Street. Although his English paintings vary in quality, he soon found himself as busy as he had been in the 1730s. Like many artists before him, Canaletto was an economic migrant. Art does not acknowledge borders, neither physically nor intellectually.
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In the London geography of migration Soho played a central part. Its population has always been heterogeneous. Originally an undisturbed area of rural grassland and fields, once urbanised Soho attracted waves of immigrants who tended to congregate together with their compatriots in close-knit ethnic enclaves. Greek Street is just one reminder of the many people (escaping Ottoman persecution) who were forced to make London their new home. Soho’s Frenchness since the arrival of large numbers of Huguenot refugees has been well documented. Until the 1950s, the area took its character mainly from French immigrants. They had their own school in Lisle Street, a hospital and dispensary on Shaftesbury Avenue, a number of churches, and an abundance of restaurants, cafés, boucheries, boulangeries, patisseries, chocolateries, and fromageries. The signs were in French and so was the language between staff and customers.

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Daniel Nicholas Thévenon was born in 1833 in Burgundy where he started his career as a coach-builder. In 1854 he married Célestine Lacoste and in the mid-1850s they bought a wine shop from a relative.  The business did not succeed. Facing bankruptcy, the couple fled France for London in October 1863.  He assumed the name of Daniel Nicols. Lodging in Soho, he took on odd jobs while his wife worked as a seamstress. By 1865 they took over an oilcloth shop at no. 19 Glasshouse Street, turning it into Café Restaurant Nicols.  Having enlarged the premises in 1867, they renamed it the Café Royal. After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/1, many French political refugees settled in or near Soho, and congregated at the Café Royal. Nicols invited his nephew Eugène Lacoste to stock the wine cellar. He laid down London’s finest collection of vintage wines and brandy. The decoration of the café with mirrors, crimson velvet and gilt, evoked the atmosphere of the Paris of the Second Empire. Georges Pigache, a lace maker and political Bonapartist living in London, designed the iconic emblem for the Café Royal with the French imperial crown and the letter N (for Nicols, but also for Napoleon). The sign was displayed on all the glass, china, napkins, and menus. Increasingly, the café attracted a bohemian clientele. Calling themselves the Café-Royalistes, artists such as James McNeill Whistler, Augustus John, and Auguste Rodin met here. During the early 1890s the café was frequented by Oscar Wilde and his circle of friends. By 1892 it was advertising itself as ‘the largest, most brilliant, and best known Anglo-French café in the world’.

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Victor Aimé Berlemont ran the Restaurant Européen in Dean Street, Soho. At the outbreak of World War I he bought the pub next door from a German owner who feared internment. By then he was the only foreign landlord left in London. The Berlemont family was in fact Belgian, though it suited them to allow people to think that they were French. The pub, renamed Victor Berlemont until Watneys acquired the freehold after the war and, typically, came up with the boring name York Minster, was universally known as the French pub, or simply ‘The French’. In the 1920s its clientele included singer Edith Piaf, boxer Georges Carpentier, and many ladies of the night (known as Fifis). During World War II the pub a gathering place for the Free French forces and proved to be a valuable centre for communication, as Berlemont kept an unofficial register of the French who passed through London. Whisky could be obtained only under the counter, with a request for vin blanc écossais’. The story that Charles de Gaulle wrote his appeal to resist the Nazis after a good lunch in the upstairs dining-room is a myth, but the General certainly visited the pub at least once. The visit was not a success. The English clients in the pub kept quiet and the Free French stood to attention, while De Gaulle drank a glass of wine.

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Victor Berlemont died in 1951. His son Gaston continued the business. He had luxuriant handlebar moustaches and was extremely gallant to women. Beer was dispensed only in half-pint glasses, to discourage its consumption in favour of the more profitable wine that Gaston imported and bottled himself. Those who drank in the house included Dylan Thomas, who unconcernedly left behind the manuscript of Under Milk Wood one night, knowing it would still be there in the morning; Brendan Behan, who was said to have disgusted Gaston by eating his ‘boeuf bourguignon’ with both hands; Augustus John, Max Beerbohm, Nina Hamnet, and Stephen Spender. Later customers were a roll-call of bohemian Soho: Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Caroline Blackwood, the Bernard brothers, and many others. On 14 July 1989 Soho gathered on the pavement outside ‘The French’, not to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, but to mark Gaston’s retirement, aged seventy-five.

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The bar in ‘The French’ boasted a superb water urn with twin taps that emitted a trickle of water for pastis or for the absinthe that Gaston was said to keep for his regular Soho Francophiles. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards absinthe had become associated with bohemian Paris. It featured frequently in paintings by such artists as Manet, Van Gogh and Picasso. They drank it in large quantities, joined by such poets as Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine. Spurred on by an odd but vocal alliance of social conservatives, prohibitionists, and winemakers’ associations, the consumption of absinthe became associated with social disorder and degeneration. In 1905, Swiss farmer Jean Lanfray murdered his wife in a drunken rage. His trial became known as the ‘Absinthe Murder’. After a referendum in July 1908, the drink was banned from Switzerland. Belgium (1906), The Netherlands (1909) and the United States (1912) followed the Swiss example. France held out until 1914 (the same year that Pablo Picasso created his cubist sculpture Le verre d’absinthe). Britain never banned absinthe. The reason is clear. The drink was only enjoyed by a tiny number of people (mainly artists) whose spiritual home was Paris rather than London. One of those ‘absintheurs’ was George Orwell. Having arrived in Paris in 1928, he soon learned to dance with the Green Fairy (a lively description of the drinking habit in Paris can be found in chapter seventeen of Down and Out in London and Paris). He brought his liking for absinthe back to London. Bateman Street is a short stroll away from Dean Street and home to a tavern named The Dog and Duck. It was here that the landlord had ‘mysteriously acquired a cache of real absinthe’, and although sugar was rationed, he allowed Orwell and his friends to drink it the traditional way, with water that dripped slowly on to it through a sugar cube.

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London owes a great deal of gratitude to French immigrants. They taught beer-drinking England the delights of wine, champagne and brandy. They were connoisseurs and educators. Paris-born André Louis Simon deserves a statue. In 1899 he began an apprenticeship with the champagne house of Pommery & Greno (Rheims) and was sent to London in 1902 to become the firm’s agent. In 1905 he published the first of more than 100 books and pamphlets entitled The History of the Champagne Trade in England, followed by his substantial History of the Wine Trade in England (1906/9) in three volumes. He was a co-founder of the Wine Trade Club in 1908. In 1919 he issued the delightful Bibliotheca vinaria, a catalogue of books he had collected for the Club. Simon believed that ‘a man dies too young if he leaves any wine in his cellar’, and in keeping with that philosophy, only two magnums of claret remained in his basement when he died at the age of ninety-three.

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