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London Dictionary of Immigrants

At the beginning of the 1880s, Barcelona was a rapidly expanding city of about 350,000 people. Its medieval walls had been knocked down only twenty years earlier. Catalonia developed into Spain’s economic dynamo. Prosperity mushroomed. A self-confident region strove to re-establish its identity by invigorating local culture and language. Barcelona was the engine of change and modernity. The embellishment of the city was ambitious. Having been selected to host the 1888 World Exhibition, the authorities were willing to consider unconventional views of young architects and designers. The period from 1880 witnessed the flowering of ‘La Renaixença’ (the Catalan Renaissance). Identified by a flair for innovation, it was driven by a passion to make Barcelona distinct from Madrid in every conceivable manner.

Catalan modernism was a coalition across the artistic spectrum, although primarily associated with architecture. Nowhere else in Europedid Art Nouveau leave and equally strong building legacy. The movement was pushed forward by Lluis Domenech i Montaner, director of the Barcelona School of Architecture (where he taught Gaudi). His essay ‘In Search of a National Architecture’ (1878) is a seminal text in the history of the modernism. The challenge was to create a peculiar style that would set Barcelona apart from other world cities. Catalan architecture came to be characterized by a preference for the curve over the straight line, a disregard of symmetry, a passion for botanical shapes and motifs, as well as a return to Arabic patterns and decorations. The style is both colourful and ostentatious. It stands in contrast to the minimalism of modernist construction in northern Europe.

The new Catalan style proved perfectly suitable for an Iberian graveyard. Lloret de Mar is an unattractive coastal resort on the Costa Brava. It once was a ship building hub and a centre of trade with the New World. Many youngsters left the town for Cuba or elsewhere in the Americas to make their fortune. On their return, they became known as ‘Indianos’. On 25 April 1898 America declared war on Spain following the sinking of the battleship ‘Maine’ in Havana harbour. Hostilities ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in December 1898. As a result Spain lost the last remnants of its colonial Empire – Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and other islands. The remaining Indianos returned home. Wealthy, cosmopolitan, and often closely related to the Barcelona social elite, they strove to mark their status. They put up the money to create a grand cemetery. In 1892, the project was commissioned to Joaquim Artau i Fàbregas, a disciple of Gaudi. The architect transferred the latest urban planning trends to the interior of the ‘city of the dead’. Avenues, promenades, and squares were lined with modernist tombs and sculptures. The new cemetery opened in November 1901: Catalan funerary art had come alive.

Three decades later death arrived with fury in Catalonia. General Francisco Franco was a devout Catholic, but as commander of Spain’s Foreign Legion in Morocco he permitted his troupes to commit atrocities. In 1936 he led the insurrection against the government. During the Civil War intellectuals, photographers, and artists travelled to Spain offering support to the Republicans. Robert Capa, Langston Hughes, André Malraux, Willy Brandt, Emma Goldman, John Dos Passos, and many others joined the international brigades. Never before had an armed conflict been reported in such detail. Ernest Hemingway arrived in 1937 to cover the war. Three years later he completed For Whom the Bell Tolls, the greatest novel to emerge from the battle. Global participation proved fruitless. Following the fall of Tarragona on 15 January 1939, a mass exodus started on the routes leading from Catalonia to France. Some 465,000 people crossed the border. By the end of March, Franco declared victory and received a congratulatory telegram from the Vatican. Once established Head of State, Franco’s propaganda machine praised him as a crusader. Ecclesiastical support convinced him of a divine mission to eradicate liberals and left-wingers from the country. Committed to a policy of institutionalized revenge, Franco rejected any idea of amnesty. As late as 1940 Spanish prisons held countless political inmates waiting for execution.

Numerous Republicans sought refuge in Britain. In the late 1930s, after the German blitzkrieg of Guernica, refugees from the civil war began settling in North Kensington, close to the Spanish Republican government in exile which remained active until 1945. Anti-Franco meetings were held at El Hogar Español (the Spanish House) in Bayswater. Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove were centres of Hispanic settlement: London’s ‘barrio Español’. There is some irony here. Known prior to 1740 as Green’s Lane, the name Portobello is derived from Puerto Bello, a harbour town situated near the northern end of the present-day Panama Canal. The port was captured by the English Navy from the Spaniards in 1739 and victory over a maritime rival was met with jubilation throughout the country. George Orwell lived in a grotty flat atno. 22 Portobello Road before he set out to join the Spanish Republicans. In 1938 he would pay Homage to Catalonia.

One of the permanent settlers in Britain was Barcelona-born bookseller, publisher, and scholar Joan Gili. His father Lluís Gili Roig was the founder of a publishing house which became known for its elegant books on art and architecture which included Pablo Picasso’s Tauromaquia (1959). Young Gili had a passion for English literature which led to his correspondence with author and broadcaster Clarence Henry Warren who invited him to England in 1933. He settled permanently in London in October 1934 and went into partnership with Warren to open a bookshop at no. 5 Cecil Court. Known since the 1930s as Booksellers’ Row, the court had a proud cultural history. It was Mozart’s initial London address where he, arguably, composed his first symphony. Long-term residents included T.S. Eliot and John Gielgud amongst others.

When the partnership with Warren was dissolved Gili, now sole owner, filled the shelves with Spanish textbooks imported from Barcelona. Gili was a mediator between London and Barcelona. From Cecil Court flowed articles and commentaries on English literature, there were also regular ‘Letters from England’, and occasional translations into Catalan of pages from D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, T. S. Eliot, and other contemporary writers. He then began to publish on his own account. After meeting Miguel de Unamuno during his visit to England in 1936, he obtained the philosopher’s permission to issue his works in Britain. The first public edition of his Dolphin Bookshop Editions was a collection of Unamuno’s writings selected by Gili himself (1938). This was followed by Federico García Lorca’s Poems, jointly translated by Stephen Spender and Gili, with an introduction by Lorca’s close friend Rafael Martínez Nadal. During the Spanish Civil War the Dolphin Bookshop became a hub where supporters of the Republic met and mingled.

Late 1938 Gili secured the contract to transport from Paris to London the fine library of manuscripts and books collected by the French Catalanist Raymond Foulché-Delbosc. This bibliographical coup made him the outstanding Hispanic antiquarian bookseller of his generation. When the Second World War began in September 1939, Gili was registered as an alien in London. Cecil Court seemed a dangerous place to keep priceless books and manuscripts, and the collection was moved to Cambridge first, and from there to a Victorian mansion in Fyfield Road, Oxford. Having settled there, Gili again took pleasure in hosting numerous Spanish Republican exiles.

On 29 July 1940 a National Council of Catalonia was created in London demanding self-determination for the region within a federal Spain. Gili actively promoted the cause by publishing the first edition of his Catalan Grammar in 1943, when the language was banned by Franco’s fascists. In 1954, Josep Maria Batista i Roca conceived the idea of an Anglo-Catalan Society, of which Joan Gili was a founding member and later President. He became known as the ‘unofficial consul of the Catalans in Britain’. Of the seventy-three titles published under the Dolphin imprint between 1936 and 1996 no fewer than twenty-five were Catalan works, forty were Spanish or Latin-American, five were on art, and three were English works. Joan Gili died in Oxford in May 1998, a passionate Anglo-Catalan to his very last day. Critics of immigration fail to understand that it is perfectly possible for an exile to integrate into a host society without sacrificing one’s identity. In fact, those who succeed in doing so tend to be the most creative and productive of newcomers. At best, resettlement is an extension, not a reduction of individuality.

The age of political muscle during the 1930s led to artistic suppression. The tragedy of modernism became evident with the expulsion of writers and artists from their native countries; and with the migration of books and works of art to be safeguarded from the burning eyes of zealots. During Franco’s regime, modernist ideas were perceived as a threat to the country’s moral fabric. The authorities censored all writing that was at odds with its political and religious stance. Literature went into exile. In Britain, Joan Gili had promoted Spanish/Catalan modernism both as a publisher and a translator of Lorca. His son Jonathan Gili, a documentary film-maker and small-press publisher, was a collector of Iberian printed ephemera. He rescued many first editions and rare examples of Art Deco style in print form. In 2014, a decade after his death, Cambridge University Library acquired seventy titles from his collection. It is a tribute to the Gili family that some of their exiled books – migrants of the mind – have found a niche in one of the world’s prominent libraries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]


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.

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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.
1589-1594