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.
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.
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.
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.
[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]
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.
In 1589, drainage engineer Humphrey Bradley, born in Bergen op Zoom, Brabant, of Anglo-Dutch parenthood (his father John was concierge of the English trading house there and had married Anna van der Delft), was engaged on a number of local drainage schemes in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, anticipating the methods that would later be applied by Vermuyden.
It was Bradley who drew up one of the earliest comprehensive plans for the drainage of the Fens, but his efforts foundered upon the rocks of vested interest and political manoeuvring. His two children were baptised at the Dutch Church in London, but he left England in 1594. He moved to France where he gained a practical monopoly of land drainage throughout the country. He presided over extensive drainage work in the Auvergne, Languedoc, and Saintonge. Bradley died in 1625.
Botanist and mathematician Henry Fox Talbot produced his first successful photographic images in 1834, without a camera, by placing objects onto paper brushed with light-sensitive silver chloride, which he then exposed to sunlight. By 1840, Talbot had succeeded in producing photogenic drawings in a camera, with short exposures yielding an invisible or ‘latent’ image that could be developed to produce a usable negative. This made his process a practical tool for subjects such as portraiture and was patented as the ‘calotype’ in 1841. Talbot’s negative-positive process formed the basis of almost all photography on paper up to the digital age. His work was certainly not a solo effort. Major inventions rarely are.
Nicolaas Henneman was born in Heemskerk in the Netherlands on 8 November 1813. Having worked in Paris for a while, he arrived in England around 1835. He was employed as valet to Fox Talbot at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, where he assisted the photographer in preparations and printing, and he took many photographs himself. He accompanied Talbot on expeditions around Britain, and in 1843 the pair ventured into France, securing important photographs later published in The Pencil of Nature (1844/6: the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs).
Later that year, Henneman left Talbot’s employ to set up the world’s first dedicated photographic printing works at no. 8 Russell Terrace in Reading. Unable to sustain that operation he moved to London in 1847, this time in a business largely owned by Talbot, but called Nicolaas Henneman’s ‘Sun Picture Rooms’ at no. 122 Regent Street. In 1848 he was joined by the young chemist Thomas Augustine Malone, and by the next year Henneman & Malone were billing themselves as ‘Photographers to the Queen’. While Henneman taught many successful photographers, he never achieved true artistry himself. In the increasingly competitive world of the 1850s he lost out. By 1859 financial difficulties forced him to shut down his business.
His lasting claim to fame is his involvement in the publication of the first photographically illustrated book on art. To the three volumes of text of William Stirling’s Annals of the Artists of Spain (1848) was added a limited edition volume of sixty-six photographic illustrations. These were the first photographs ever published of Spanish paintings, drawings, sculpture and prints, by artists including El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo, Zurbarán, Ribera and Goya, in addition to examples of architectural designs and book illustrations. The photographs were taken by Henneman who used the Calotype process invented by Talbot. The book has become extremely rare. Only fifty copies of the Annals were produced, and their deterioration, due to daylight, chemicals and other factors, began immediately.
Henneman was not the only immigrant from Northern Europe who made an impact on the history of the photography book in Britain. Oscar Gustaf Rejlander was born in 1813 in Sweden, but nothing is known about his early life. He apparently studied art in Rome in the 1830s and supported himself there by working as a portrait painter and copyist of old masters. He was in England by 1841.
In 1845 he had settled at no. 42 Darlington Street, Wolverhampton, where he opened a painter’s studio. He took up photography in 1853 and two years later began to exhibit his photographic compositions consisting of portraits, landscapes, nudes, anatomical studies, and subject pictures. His genre photographs earned him the reputation as one of Britain’s leading photographers. His ‘Night in Town’ (also known as ‘Homeless’), depicting a child in rags huddled on a doorstep, was used by the Shaftesbury Society for over a hundred years to highlight the plight of homeless children.
In the spring of 1862 Rejlander moved to London and settled in Malden Road, Chalk Farm. On the relationship between photography and painting, he insisted that artists had as much to learn from photography about observation and draughtsmanship as photographers had to learn from painting about composition and expression. Contemporary critics described him as ‘the father of art photography’. As a portraitist Rejlander photographed several illustrious sitters, including Alfred Tennyson, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Henry Taylor, Charles Darwin, Gustave Doré, and Prince Albert.
In 1868 he opened a richly furnished studio opposite Victoria Station. It was soon after this move that Charles Darwin entered his shop and asked for his cooperation. Rejlander was commissioned to supply Darwin with nine illustrations depicting people in various emotional states for The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).
The photograph illustrating ‘mental distress’, that of an agitated infant boy dubbed ‘Ginx’s Baby’ by critics, became a best-seller after Rejlander also created versions on cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards. The title for the photograph was taken from a popular satirical novel about an orphaned boy by radical Victorian author John Edward Jenkins. The striking image of this helpless working class child soon became part and parcel of the Victorian social and political debate on poverty, charity and social justice. Photography took on a new relevance. It suddenly dawned upon critics and observers that certain photographic images have the power to influence public opinion and determine or change its course. A single shot can strike deeper than a million words.
Livorno Jews have played a prominent part in the emancipation of the Jewish religious and civil community living in London. David Nieto was born in January 1654 in Venice, but spent his early professional life in Livorno. In 1701 he was called to London as haham (chief rabbinical authority) of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish congregation which that year had moved to the newly built Bevis Marks Synagogue at no. 4 Heneage Lane.
An intellectual with a keen interest in astronomy and the scientific thinking of Newton, he spent most of his energy on helping crypto-Jews who, newly arrived from the Iberian Peninsula, were returning to open Judaism. One of his successors was Raphael Meldola who was actually born in Livorno in 1754. His son David served as Chief Rabbi for over twenty-five years until his death. He was a co-founder of the London Jewish Chronicle.
The word milliner, meaning a maker of hats, was first recorded in reference to the products for which Milan and the northern Italian regions were well known (i.e. ribbons, gloves and straws). The haberdashers who imported these popular products were called ‘Millaners’. Another staple import from Italy was the straw bonnet, associated with the name of Leghorn (Livorno), which became popular in England owing to the patronage of the stunningly beautiful Irish-born sisters Maria and Elizabeth Gunning. Leghorn bonnets, made from straw turned into a sparkling bleached white, became the height of fashion. They played a notable part in England’s fashion history of the age.
During the eighteenth century Italian immigrants dominated the London hat trade, both as sellers and makers. A strong impulse had been given to Anglo-Italian trade through the establishment, in 1740, of a branch of the great Venetian and Levantine banking house of Treves in London, and consequently Italians, chiefly Jews, were flocking into the country throughout the 1740s. Moses Vita (Haim) Montefiore was a Sephardic Jew who had emigrated from Livorno to London in the 1740s, but retained close contact with the town. He was involved in the bonnet trade and laid the foundation for the wealth of this notable Italian family in London.
Benjamin Disraeli, grandfather of the politician, author and Conservative Prime Minister, was born in Cento, near Ferrara, in September 1730. He moved to London in 1748 where he was employed in the counting-house of Joseph and Pellegrin Treves in Fenchurch Street. Soon after, he established himself as a merchant. He had brought with him a sound knowledge of the traditional Italian straw bonnet trade and he specialised in the import of Leghorn hats, Carrara marbles, alum, currants, and other merchandise.
For a decade he devoted himself to his import business, which he carried on at no. 5 Great St Helens. In 1769 the business had become one of the leading London coral merchants (a trade dominated by Jews). He also acted as an unlicensed broker at the Stock Market. In 1779 he invited two partners and together they founded the firm of Disraeli, Stoke & Parkins which became successful dealers. When, in 1801, plans were laid out to build new premises at Capel Court for the Stock Exchange, Disraeli was appointed as a member of the Committee for General Purposes entrusted with the plan of conversion.
Michael (Meyer) Solomon was a Bishopsgate manufacturer, and one of the first Jews to be admitted to the freedom of the City of London. Solomon’s family had arrived in England from Europe, possibly Holland or Germany, sometime at the end of the eighteenth century. Aaron Solomon had started a hat business in London in 1779. Michael and his family lived among a well-established Jewish community at no. 3 Sandys Street, Bishopsgate, and his considerable wealth allowed him to be accepted by London society. His main business concern was as a manufacturer of Leghorn hats.
Three of his children, Abraham, Rebecca and Simeon, were notable painters. Simeon was identified with the Pre-Raphaelites through his friendship with D. G. Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and Algernon Charles Swinburne.
He was one of several notable artists in the Pre-Raphaelite circle commissioned by the brothers George and Edward Dalziel who ran a highly productive firm of engravers to produce drawings for their projected illustrated Bible. The project was never completed, although the illustrations appeared in Dalziel’s Bible Gallery (1880) with narrative captions. His life ended in tragedy. In 1873, Simeon was arrested in a public lavatory and charged with committing buggery. Although the incident was not reported in the newspapers his public career was effectively at an end. Most of his former friends disowned him and he began a precarious existence which led him to the workhouse and dependence upon institutional and family charity. In May 1905 he collapsed on the pavement in High Holborn and died shortly after.
Evidently, not all of the Livornesi were hat makers. Domenico Angelo Tremamondo was an immigrant from Livorno who, after arriving in London, established a School of Arms in Carlyle Street, Soho. He also ran a riding school in the rear garden of the house (where Johann Christian Bach was a tenant). As an instructor of swordsmanship to royals and aristocrats he turned fencing from an act of war into an elegant sport.
In 1763, he published the popular and often reprinted folio École des armes with forty-seven splendid plates after draughtsman John Gwynn, a founding member of the Royal Academy. Around 1785, his Eton-educated son Henry Angelo took over the running of the fencing academy (Sheridan, Fox and Lord Byron were among his many pupils). He moved the academy from his fathers’ residence in Carlisle House, first to the Royal Opera House in Haymarket and then, after a fire in 1789, to Bond Street, where he shared premises with the former champion boxer John ‘Gentleman’ Jackson (to whom boxing-mad Lord Byron referred to as his ‘corporeal pastor and master’). In 1828, looking back at his life, he wrote a series of entertaining Reminiscences that give a unique insight in the urban eccentricities of his time. Henry was a full-blooded Londoner. Social and intellectual integration demands little more than a generation. After all, it took two generations for an immigrant’s descendant to become Prime Minister of the nation.