Painter Egbert Jasperszoon van Heemskerk was born in Haarlem in 1634. He settled in London about 1674 and made a career as a genre painter. His contemporary reputation was that of a prolific and skilful painter of tavern and drinking scenes, peasant feasts, and Quakers-meetings. He frequently introduced his own portrait into his pictures.
The loutish tone of his work was appreciated by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, for whom he painted a number of works. Rochester was a member of the drunken Merry Gang at Charles II’s court. His attachment to Heemskerk’s work was in line with his personal behaviour. Heemskerk’s work was also reproduced in engravings, especially mezzotint. He died around 1704, but his reputation endured.
Portrait engraver and draughtsman Abraham Blooteling was born in Amsterdam in 1640. He was the pupil of the engraver Cornelis van Dalen. In 1660 he appears in Paris, where he was apprenticed to the well-known engraver Pierre van Schuppen, himself of Netherlandish birth. This explains the French character of his engravings.
Blooteling came to England in January 1673 on the order of Prince Rupert, then living at the court of Charles II. He was a key figure in the transfer of Dutch mezzotint to England, where the technique was adopted with such success that it later became known as the ‘English Manner’. The subject matter of his mezzotints includes religious, genre and allegorical scenes, but his portraits after works by Peter Lely and Anthony van Dyck were particularly admired.
Increasingly, Blooteling divided his energies between London and Amsterdam. He certainly continued to work for the English market, and quite possibly continued to make London his main base. In his later career he acted more as a publisher than as an engraver. The Hollstein catalogue of prints lists 143 engravings and 138 mezzotints and the National Portrait Gallery holds sixty-eight portraits associated with the artist. Blooteling died in 1690 in Amsterdam.
In June 1672, Charles II issued a declaration in which Dutch artists are invited to move to England. After the Restoration there was an expanding market for paintings in England, especially portraits and marine subjects – but increasingly also for landscapes in the Italianate or northern styles – that could not be satisfied by English artists. Leiden-born marine painter Willem van de Velde (of Flemish descent) responded to the call and left Holland for London to enter in the service of the king. Personal careers counted for more than loyalty or national pride at the time.
He was joined by his son Willem van de Velde the Younger who was to become the most famous of all marine painters, originating a rich English tradition in this genre. Soon after arriving they began their first major commission for the king, designs for a set of tapestries of the recent sea-battle of Solebay during the Third Anglo-Dutch War. He initally he lived with his family in East Lane, Greenwich, using the Queen’s House (now part of the National Maritime Museum) as a studio.
Following the accession of William and Mary this facility was no longer provided, and by 1691 he was living in Sackville Street, now close to Piccadilly Circus. Over the next three decades or so they painted pictures of ships, battles and the sea for the court, the aristocracy and naval officers. Willem the Elder died in December 1693, his son in April 1707.
In 1670, twenty-year old merchant and financier Solomon de Medina, of Portuguese Jewish origin, moved from Middelburg to London. He established a successful business supplying imported silks and other luxury textiles to the rich and famous. From 1689 onwards Medina acted as London factor for Antonio Alvarez Machado and Isaac Pereira, both of similar backgrounds, the ‘providiteurs généraux’ to the army of William of Orange in England and to the land forces of the allies in the Low Countries. In 1697 he moved to Richmond, becoming the first known Jewish resident there.
On 18 November 1699 William III dined at Medina’s house in Richmond, probably at Heron Court. Modern day Heron Square contains the site and some of the surviving buildings of old Heron Court which became the focus of Jewish population in eighteenthth century Richmond. Heron Court itself was once called Herring Court, but the name was changed for reasons of social grace. On 23 June 1700, in recognition of his services, the king knighted Medina at Hampton Court. He was the first professing Jew to be knighted. After the king’s death in March 1702, Medina returned to the Netherlands where he was involved in the food supplies to the allied troops throughout the campaigns of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. In 1711 he was summoned before the parliamentary commissioners for examining the public accounts. Medina admitted that he and his predecessors had regularly paid commission on their contracts to Marlborough. His evidence was used by the Tories to bring about Marlborough’s downfall. Medina died in 1720.
Ticino, the southernmost canton of Italian-speaking Switzerland, is known for its chestnuts. Traditionally, unemployment was high there. For centuries locals gained an additional income from selling roast chestnuts on the streets of cities such as Milan, Genoa or Lyons. The men would return home in spring with the money earned in the previous winter and then, in late summer, work on the next yield of chestnuts. During a succession of poor harvests between 1847 and 1854, large numbers of young men reluctantly left their homes in Valle Leventina or Val di Blenio for other European countries. The 1851 London census shows that a number of Ticinese workers were employed as artisans or waiters. Others continued selling chestnuts, large amounts of which were imported to the West End. Many of these immigrants had travelled by foot over the St Gottard Pass (only open from June to September) and then moved onto Calais via Geneva, Lyons or Paris. The prospect of finding paid work in London’s Swiss-Italian catering industry encouraged a further exodus of emigrants in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Many of them brought political convictions and home hostilities with them.
Hungerford Market, created in 1680, was located between the Strand and the Thames on a site formerly occupied by an estate belonging to the Hungerford family of Fairleigh in Wiltshire. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the old market had become dilapidated and was rebuilt in 1831. It was here that Carlo Gatti, a member of an impoverished patrician family from Marogno in Ticino, opened a French-style café after his arrival in London in July 1847. He was the first in a dynasty of restaurateurs and theatre owners. He began his career selling ‘goffres’ (a kind of waffle sprinkled with sugar) in Battersea Fields and from a stall at Hatton Wall in the Italian immigrant quarter of London.
From there he went on to open a number of cafés in the area which created a stir for their elegant marble tables, plate-glass mirrors, red velvet seating, small string orchestras, and high quality fare at moderate prices. He recruited relatives and locals from Ticino to work as waiters, chefs and managers in his establishments. In the course of the 1850s Carlo became the first mass manufacturer of ice cream, which had previously been an expensive delicacy. By 1858 he claimed to have sold up to ten thousand penny ices a day. Chocolatier Battista Bolla was born in 1819 in Ticino. He established his premises at no. 129 Holborn Hill. In 1849 he joined forces with Gatti. They exhibited their chocolate making machine at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Although imported from France, is was a ‘must see’ novelty in London at the time. Under pressure from his clientele and always willing to expand, by the end of the decade some of Gatti’s outlets began to provide ‘chops and chips’, thereby becoming London’s very first ‘Swiss café-restaurant’. Energetic and garrulous, and in spite of enormous commercial success, ‘Il Gatton’ (The Big Cat) never lost the demeanour and mannerisms of a mountain peasant.
The leading members of the next generation were Agostino and Stefano, the sons of Carlo’s brother Giovanni Gatti. In 1862, when Hungerford Market was demolished to make way for Charing Cross Station, the family was amply compensated, allowing to plan new ventures. The brothers opened a music-hall named Gatti’s Palace of Varieties at Westminster Bridge Road. After 1882 they redeveloped the interior of the Royal Adelaide Gallery to create a café-restaurant with entrances onto the Strand, William IV Street, and Adelaide Street. They installed an electricity sub-station in the cellars. The bar was much frequented by actors and gained a reputation as the Marble Halls because of its rich decoration which gave rise to the line ‘O God bless Gatti and the Marble Halls’. By the 1890s the Gallery was employing between 180 and 200 predominantly Italian-speaking waiters and forty chefs in enormous subterranean kitchens. Of the sons of Ticino who made the long trek to London, the Gatti’s were by far the most successful immigrants – but there were others figures too with an intriguing tale to tell.
Pietro Pazzi travelled from Ticino to Paris after the floods that devastated his valley in the winter of 1868/9. In 1870, most likely in connection with the upheavals of the Franco-Prussian War, he moved to London. Having worked as a waiter first, he opened Pazzi’s Restaurant at no. 271 Seven Sisters Road. The spot was well chosen. Finsbury Park station had been opened in 1869, marking the north-eastern limit of the suburban railway of what was to become the London underground system. Driven by nostalgia and radical political views, Pazzi founded the Unione Semionese in 1875. The union held its meetings and celebrations at his restaurant. The political divisions within his canton of origin were reflected in the London exile community and tore its unity apart. The split became public. Some, like the Gatti family, were hard-line conservatives. Stefano and his older brother Agostino acted as political recruiting agents and regularly shipped their waiters to Switzerland to vote for their conservative allies. Others, like Pazzi, resentful of the poverty that had forced their migration, became radicalised by the anarchist and socialist ideas circulating in the capital at the time.
Ticino did not just produce restaurateurs. Historically, the Ticinese were professional masons, stonecutters, stucco workers and sculptors. One of them, Raffaele Monti had joined the insurgents in the 1848 Italian rebellion. After defeat by the Austrian army, Monti fled to London where he was to remain for the rest of his life. He allied himself with manufacturers of ornamental sculpture and became involved with the Crystal Palace Company, which transferred Joseph Paxton’s exhibition building to Sydenham, Kent, in 1853. Monti provided allegorical statuary for the palace and its grounds. More intriguing is the figure of Angelo Castioni. Born in 1834 in Stabio, Ticino, he had settled in Paris. He took an active part in the 1871 Commune. As a member of the central committee and the commander of a battalion of the National Guard, he was held responsible for the executions of several conservatives. He took refuge in London in 1872. A sculptor who specialised in finishing the work of other artists, he established himself at no. 3 Upper Cheyne Row (his nephew Rudolph Pelli, also a sculptor, lived at the same address). By the 1880s he was assistant to the most eminent sculptor of the age, Viennese-born Edgar Boehm, a close and loving friend of Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s rebellious daughter.
Politically, Castioni remained a radical. In August 1890 he travelled to Tuscany at the request of Boehm to select and order marble blocks directly from the quarry in Carrara. He made a detour to Bellinzona, the cantonal capital of Ticino, where on the evening of 10 September a popular uprising broke out. During the troubles Luigi Rossi, a conservative politician and member of the State Council of Ticino, was shot dead with a revolver by a flamboyantly dressed figure with an enormous red beard. The assassin was Angelo Castioni. With the support of fellow revolutionaries he was smuggled out of the country. Pietro Pazzi actively backed the September revolution and it was rumoured that he had organised the murderer’s quick and safe return to London.
The Swiss government formally requested Castioni’s extradition from Britain. He was arrested and brought before the magistrate at the police court at Bow Street. The extradition treaty with Switzerland, dated 26 November 1880, stated that a ‘fugitive criminal shall not be surrendered if the offence in respect of which his surrender is demanded is one of a political character, or if he prove that the requisition for his surrender has in fact been made with a view to try and punish him for an offence of a political character’. Since the murder had been politically motivated, the request for handover was rejected thus setting a precedent that established the principle of immunity for such crimes in English law.
Following the failure of the September 1891 uprising in Ticino, Pazzi turned his back on his radical past and became an upright British citizen. He died in August 1914, a wealthy man, and was buried as Peter Pazzi in the prestigious Circle of Lebanon vaults at Highgate Cemetery, surrounded by the great and the good of England. In 2015 an unsigned portrait bust of Pazzi was discovered in the family vault, most likely the work of Angelo Castioni and made in gratitude for the help he had received from his benefactor. Having renounced his radical past, Pazzi kept the bust away from curious eyes which may have led to embarrassing questions. He took it to his grave instead.
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.