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.
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 the London geography of migration Soho played a central part. Its population has always been heterogeneous. Originally an undisturbed area of rural grassland and fields, once urbanised Soho attracted waves of immigrants who tended to congregate together with their compatriots in close-knit ethnic enclaves. Greek Street is just one reminder of the many people (escaping Ottoman persecution) who were forced to make London their new home. Soho’s Frenchness since the arrival of large numbers of Huguenot refugees has been well documented. Until the 1950s, the area took its character mainly from French immigrants. They had their own school in Lisle Street, a hospital and dispensary on Shaftesbury Avenue, a number of churches, and an abundance of restaurants, cafés, boucheries, boulangeries, patisseries, chocolateries, and fromageries. The signs were in French and so was the language between staff and customers.
Daniel Nicholas Thévenon was born in 1833 in Burgundy where he started his career as a coach-builder. In 1854 he married Célestine Lacoste and in the mid-1850s they bought a wine shop from a relative. The business did not succeed. Facing bankruptcy, the couple fled France for London in October 1863. He assumed the name of Daniel Nicols. Lodging in Soho, he took on odd jobs while his wife worked as a seamstress. By 1865 they took over an oilcloth shop at no. 19 Glasshouse Street, turning it into Café Restaurant Nicols. Having enlarged the premises in 1867, they renamed it the Café Royal. After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/1, many French political refugees settled in or near Soho, and congregated at the Café Royal. Nicols invited his nephew Eugène Lacoste to stock the wine cellar. He laid down London’s finest collection of vintage wines and brandy. The decoration of the café with mirrors, crimson velvet and gilt, evoked the atmosphere of the Paris of the Second Empire. Georges Pigache, a lace maker and political Bonapartist living in London, designed the iconic emblem for the Café Royal with the French imperial crown and the letter N (for Nicols, but also for Napoleon). The sign was displayed on all the glass, china, napkins, and menus. Increasingly, the café attracted a bohemian clientele. Calling themselves the Café-Royalistes, artists such as James McNeill Whistler, Augustus John, and Auguste Rodin met here. During the early 1890s the café was frequented by Oscar Wilde and his circle of friends. By 1892 it was advertising itself as ‘the largest, most brilliant, and best known Anglo-French café in the world’.
Victor Aimé Berlemont ran the Restaurant Européen in Dean Street, Soho. At the outbreak of World War I he bought the pub next door from a German owner who feared internment. By then he was the only foreign landlord left in London. The Berlemont family was in fact Belgian, though it suited them to allow people to think that they were French. The pub, renamed Victor Berlemont until Watneys acquired the freehold after the war and, typically, came up with the boring name York Minster, was universally known as the French pub, or simply ‘The French’. In the 1920s its clientele included singer Edith Piaf, boxer Georges Carpentier, and many ladies of the night (known as Fifis). During World War II the pub a gathering place for the Free French forces and proved to be a valuable centre for communication, as Berlemont kept an unofficial register of the French who passed through London. Whisky could be obtained only under the counter, with a request for ‘vin blanc écossais’. The story that Charles de Gaulle wrote his appeal to resist the Nazis after a good lunch in the upstairs dining-room is a myth, but the General certainly visited the pub at least once. The visit was not a success. The English clients in the pub kept quiet and the Free French stood to attention, while De Gaulle drank a glass of wine.
Victor Berlemont died in 1951. His son Gaston continued the business. He had luxuriant handlebar moustaches and was extremely gallant to women. Beer was dispensed only in half-pint glasses, to discourage its consumption in favour of the more profitable wine that Gaston imported and bottled himself. Those who drank in the house included Dylan Thomas, who unconcernedly left behind the manuscript of Under Milk Wood one night, knowing it would still be there in the morning; Brendan Behan, who was said to have disgusted Gaston by eating his ‘boeuf bourguignon’ with both hands; Augustus John, Max Beerbohm, Nina Hamnet, and Stephen Spender. Later customers were a roll-call of bohemian Soho: Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Caroline Blackwood, the Bernard brothers, and many others. On 14 July 1989 Soho gathered on the pavement outside ‘The French’, not to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, but to mark Gaston’s retirement, aged seventy-five.
The bar in ‘The French’ boasted a superb water urn with twin taps that emitted a trickle of water for pastis or for the absinthe that Gaston was said to keep for his regular Soho Francophiles. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards absinthe had become associated with bohemian Paris. It featured frequently in paintings by such artists as Manet, Van Gogh and Picasso. They drank it in large quantities, joined by such poets as Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine. Spurred on by an odd but vocal alliance of social conservatives, prohibitionists, and winemakers’ associations, the consumption of absinthe became associated with social disorder and degeneration. In 1905, Swiss farmer Jean Lanfray murdered his wife in a drunken rage. His trial became known as the ‘Absinthe Murder’. After a referendum in July 1908, the drink was banned from Switzerland. Belgium (1906), The Netherlands (1909) and the United States (1912) followed the Swiss example. France held out until 1914 (the same year that Pablo Picasso created his cubist sculpture Le verre d’absinthe). Britain never banned absinthe. The reason is clear. The drink was only enjoyed by a tiny number of people (mainly artists) whose spiritual home was Paris rather than London. One of those ‘absintheurs’ was George Orwell. Having arrived in Paris in 1928, he soon learned to dance with the Green Fairy (a lively description of the drinking habit in Paris can be found in chapter seventeen of Down and Out in London and Paris). He brought his liking for absinthe back to London. Bateman Street is a short stroll away from Dean Street and home to a tavern named The Dog and Duck. It was here that the landlord had ‘mysteriously acquired a cache of real absinthe’, and although sugar was rationed, he allowed Orwell and his friends to drink it the traditional way, with water that dripped slowly on to it through a sugar cube.
London owes a great deal of gratitude to French immigrants. They taught beer-drinking England the delights of wine, champagne and brandy. They were connoisseurs and educators. Paris-born André Louis Simon deserves a statue. In 1899 he began an apprenticeship with the champagne house of Pommery & Greno (Rheims) and was sent to London in 1902 to become the firm’s agent. In 1905 he published the first of more than 100 books and pamphlets entitled The History of the Champagne Trade in England, followed by his substantial History of the Wine Trade in England (1906/9) in three volumes. He was a co-founder of the Wine Trade Club in 1908. In 1919 he issued the delightful Bibliotheca vinaria, a catalogue of books he had collected for the Club. Simon believed that ‘a man dies too young if he leaves any wine in his cellar’, and in keeping with that philosophy, only two magnums of claret remained in his basement when he died at the age of ninety-three.