Picture frame maker Abdon Ercolani was born Sant’Angelo in Vado (in the province of Urbino) in 1853/4. He moved to London around 1897 in search of work, and was joined by his family in 1898. He settled at no. 27 Claremont Road, Walthamstow. Given that his death has not been traced in Britain, it is possible that he retired to Italy, leaving his sons to continue the business as cabinet manufacturers until the eve of the Second World War.
His son Lucian Randolph Ercolani, furniture designer, was born in St Angelo, Tuscany, on 8 May 1888. Lucian Ercolani attended a Salvation Army school in East London. By 1906, he was working in the Salvation Army joinery department, producing staircases and handrails. In 1910, Frederick Parker employed him at his furniture workshops in High Wycombe (the ‘furniture capital’ of England). In 1920, he joined a local consortium there known as Furniture Industries. In the late 1940s, Ercolani developed a range of mass-produced which became a household name in post-war Britain (and which continues today). Lucian died in June 1976.
Vigo Street (originally Vigo Lane) is a short street running between Regent Street and the junction of Burlington Gardens and Savile Row. It is named after the Anglo-Dutch naval victory over the French and Spanish in the 1702 Battle of Vigo Bay, northern Spain, during the opening years of the War of the Spanish Succession. The street has strong literary connections. Publishers John Lane and Elkin Mathews were in partnership in Vigo Street. Together they – notoriously – published The Yellow Book (volumes one and two) in 1894.
Later they founded The Bodley Head and continued to publish the work until it ceased in 1897. When the partnership ended, both publishers continued to have premises in Vigo Street. Mathews published the first editions of a number of important literary works, including Yeats’s The Wind among the Reeds in 1899 and James Joyce’s Chamber Music in 1907.
The story of Penguin Books is well-known – in part at least. Its creator Allen Lane had learned the book trade at The Bodley Head, no. 8 Vigo Street, where he was employed by his uncle John. He became a director of the firm when John Lane died in 1925 and was appointed chairman in 1930 while still in his twenties. In 1934, returning from a weekend in Devon, he was upset to find nothing in the Exeter station bookstall that was worth reading on his journey back to London. He decided to re-publish quality titles in cheap paperbacks and settled for the name Penguin Books.
The covers were to be green for detective stories, orange for fiction, and blue for non-fiction, with the title in plain lettering on a broad white band across the middle. He adopted an alternative approach to typography and cover design by appointing Jan Tschichold (born Johannes Tzschichhold on 2 April 1902 at Leipzig) as his typographer.
After Hitler’s election in Germany, all designers had to register with the Ministry of Culture. Soon after Johannes had taken up a teaching post at the Munich school for German master printers, he was denounced as a ‘cultural bolshevist’. He and his family were placed in ‘protective custody’, but they escaped to Basel where he worked as a freelance typographer. He stayed in Switzerland for most of his life and became a master of his art.
Between 1947 and 1949 he lived at the Old Mill House, Mill Road, West Drayton, working on the typographical re-design of Penguin Books by imposing on its printers high standards of design and page make-up, consistent with mass production. He was also an accomplished designer of type. Sabon (1966/7) remains to this day one of the most popular typefaces for bookwork. Allen Lane’s venture proved successful. On New Year’s Day 1936 he created Penguin Books as a separate company. In 1950 a leader in The Times saluted him for making up for the loss of Empire by using the English language and classy paperbacks to spread British influence worldwide in a form that was less objectionable, but just as powerful as the earlier imperialism. To any non-British observer such statements remain incomprehensible, because in reality the creation of Penguin and the wider flourishing of post-war publishing in Britain was a truly cosmopolitan affair through the active participation of refugees from the Continent.
Typographer Hans Schmoller was born on 9 April 1916 in Berlin into a Jewish family. His father was an eminent paediatrician and a pioneer of infant welfare clinics. Having finished his early education in 1933, he intended to study art history but university entry was banned for Jews. Instead he began an apprenticeship as compositor in the Jewish book-printing firm of Siegfried Scholem. From October 1937 to February 1938 he attended a course at the Monotype Technical School, London. Knowing that he could not return to Germany (both his parents died in concentration camps), he accepted a job at the Evangelical Missionary Society in Basutoland (now Lesotho) as manager of its press. He established a reputation as a fine designer and typographer throughout South Africa where he was co-founder of the Imprint Society for the Advancement of the Graphic Arts. He was interned from July 1940 to April 1942 as an enemy alien.
He moved to London in 1947 where he was appointed manager of the bindery and assistant to Oliver Simon at The Curwen Press, Plaistow. There he designed many handsome catalogues and book jackets. In 1949 he replaced Jan Tschichold as typographer at Penguin Books and acted as head of production from 1956. From 1960 to his retirement in 1967 he was a director of the company. During his Penguin years Schmoller played a crucial role in post-war British typography. Some of his outstanding achievements include Buildings of England (written by the historian Nikolaus Pevsner, himself a Jewish immigrant) and The Complete Pelican Shakespeare.
London in the 1950s liberated British artists. The Bohemian underworlds of Fitzrovia and Soho were brimming over with ideas and movements: Neo-Romanticism, Social Realism, Pop Art, the Kitchen Sink School, Abstract Expressionism and others. Soho symbolised the energy of a city in intellectual and artistic ferment after the shell-shock of war. In the midst of it all were large numbers of displaced refugee intellectuals and artists who were desperate to build up a new career and identity.
London turned into a cosmopolitan melting pot. Situated on the corner of Old Compton Street and Dean Street, Café Torino was a favoured spot for many of the political and art sects prevalent in London in the mid-1950s. Its marble-topped tables were home to exiled Spanish Republicans, anarchists and communists plotting the overthrow of Franco. To them the house was known as the ‘Madrid’. Above all, it stood as a testament to the enduring influence of cafés on the creative life of post-war Britain. Cafés like Torino were part of the birth of British ‘cool’. Torino had been run by the Italian Minella family since before the war. Officially it was a restaurant serving pizza, spaghetti and risotto, but clients could talk for hours over a small cup of coffee without being disturbed. One of its regulars was Germano Facetti.
Graphic designer Facetti was born on 5 May 1926 in Milan. He was arrested in 1943 by the Germans as a member of the resistance and for putting up anti-Fascist posters. He was deported to the labour camp of Mauthausen, Austria, which he survived. There he met Lodovico di Belgiojoso who later invited him to join his BBPR architectural partnertship in Milan (another partner Gianluigi Banfi had died in the camp). He moved to London in 1952 where he took evening classes in typography at the Central School of Art & Design. By the late 1950s he was art director at Aldus Books, Fitzrovia, and working as an interior designer. His planning for the Poetry Bookshop in Soho motivated Allen Lane, director of Penguin, to hire his services in 1960.
Facetti was instrumental in re-designing the Penguin line, in particular Penguin Classics, introducing photo-typesetting, the ‘Romek Marber grid’, offset-litho printing, and photography to their paperback covers, that set the benchmark for exemplary design in the publishing world. He helped establish the Design and Art Directors Association in London in 1963. Working at Penguin until 1972 (when he returned to Milan), his book covers gave an unmatched visual impact to a series of paperbacks that would make a lasting impact on British cultural life.
Romek Marber was born in Poland on 25 October 1925 into a Jewish family. In 1939, he was deported to the Bochnia ghetto. In 1942, Marber was saved from being sent to the Belzec death camp by Gerhard Kurzbach (a commander who is credited with saving many Jews). He eventually arrived in Britain in 1946. He followed a course in Commercial Art at St Martin’s School of Art in the early 1950s and attended the Royal College of Art in 1953.
During the late 1950s, his work for The Economist impressed Penguin’s art director Germano Facetti who, in 1961, commissioned him to design covers for Simeon Potter’s Our Language and Language in the Modern World. Facetti has taken credit for the re-styling of Penguin books during that decade, but the essential new look of modern Penguins was the work of Romek Marber. Facetti asked Marber to submit a proposal for a new cover approach for the Penguin Crime series. His arrangement was adopted for much of the rest of the Penguin line giving that publisher its distinctive visual unity throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Marber retired in 1989, becoming a Professor Emeritus of Middlesex University.
A German ‘cultural bolshevist’, an Italian communist, a German and a Polish Jew – these refugees created the iconic look of a famous publishing institution. Penguin was (and remains) a great British team in the premier league of culture – most of its star players had been foreigners.
Gauden Road (Clapham)
Chess player Vera Menchik was born on 16 February 1906 in Moscow. Her father was Bohemian and the manager of several estates owned by the nobility in Russia. His English wife Olga worked a governess. After the Revolution her father lost his livelihood.
The marriage broke down and in the autumn of 1921 Olga and her two daughters returned to Hastings to live with her mother. Vera joined the Hastings Chess Club in March 1923. In January 1926 she won the first Girls’ Open Championship at the Imperial Club in London with her younger sister Olga coming third. She won the first Women’s World Championship in 1927 and successfully defended her title six times in every other championship held during her lifetime (losing only one game). She was a member of the West London Chess Club.
In 1944 Vera still held the title of women’s world champion. On 27 June of that year Vera, Olga, and their mother were killed in a German bomb attack which destroyed their home at no. 47 Gauden Road, Clapham. The trophy for the winning team in the Women’s Chess Olympiad is now known as the Vera Menchik Cup.
The site of Tyburn Tree at the junction of Edgware Road and Oxford Street was for over 700 years a place of execution. Until 1783 Tyburn served as London’s primary place of hanging, burning and gibbeting. Public displays of executions were once a vital part of the criminal justice system which relied upon fear of retribution.
The main purpose of severe penalties for even relatively minor crimes was that they would serve as a deterrent. After re-development in the mid-1800s the area became known as Tyburnia. It was laid out with grand squares and cream stuccoed terraces. Thackeray described this residential district as ‘the most respectable district of the habitable globe’. Not a place one would expect political radicalism to manifest itself – and yet, it did.
On a left-hand corner in Westbourne Terrace one of the last of the original detached houses still stands (now turned into flats). The splendid mansion is named Orsett House. On the evening of 10 April 1861, the property was ablaze with light from thousands of gas-jets, and packed with celebrating Russians, Poles and other émigrés from the Slav nations, as well as a few English radical thinkers, and fellow exiles such as Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini and French socialist Louis Blanc.
It was a grand occasion to celebrate the Emancipation Reform under Alexander II which effectively abolished serfdom throughout the Russian Empire. Over the portico of the house two banners flew in the wind with messages of The Free Russian Press on one, and Freedom of the Russian Peasant on the other. Host and organiser of this red hot European party was Alexander Herzen, the first self-proclaimed Russian socialist and the most significant of all the activists who spent years of political exile in nineteenth century London.
Herzen was born in 1812 in Moscow at a time that the city was being evacuated in the wake of the defeat by Napoleon’s armies. He was the illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner and a German woman whom his father had met while in diplomatic service. In 1829 Herzen entered the University of Moscow to study natural sciences and became the leader of a small group of radical students. In 1834, he and his closest colleague, the poet Nikolai Ogarev, were arrested. He spent six years in prison. In January 1847 Herzen left Russia for Paris with his entourage (wife, three children, his mother, a tutor, and two female dependents) and most of his capital – hardly a stereotype case of revolutionary exile. None of them would see Russia again.
After the disillusion of the failed 1848 revolution, Herzen moved to London and lived in the capital for some twelve years, first alone, and then with his family, accompanied by the German writer Malwida von Meysenbug, who acted as housekeeper and governess to his children from 1853. Malwida Rivalier von Meysenbug is an intriguing person in her own right. She was born on 28 October 1816 at Kassel in Hesse. Her father, Carl Rivalier descended from a family of French Huguenots and was the principal minister for two Archdukes of Hesse-Kassel. He was granted the vacant Meysenbug title and was later raised into the Habsburg aristocracy. The ninth of ten children, she broke with her family because of her political convictions. She was an avowed democrat and supported demands for constitutionalism in the German states. During the years preceding the 1848 revolutions in Europe, Malwida was more radical than many male revolutionaries in that she advocated equal opportunity for women in education and employment. When Meysenbug moved to Berlin she was placed under police surveillance for mixing in ‘suspicious’ company. Forewarned in May 1852 of her impending arrest she fled by way of Hamburg to London where she became a prominent member of the refugee community. She supported herself by writing romantic novels and short stories with underlying themes of egalitarian utopian societies. More significant are her Memoiren eines Idealistin, the first volume of which she published anonymously in 1869 (followed by two subsequent parts in 1875 and 1876).
Throughout his stay in the capital, Herzen moved around between dozens of addresses, before settling at Orsett House in November 1860. His life in London was conducted mainly in Russian circles, but he remained a private figure who concentrated on intellectual and propaganda work. In the spring of 1853 he established the ‘Free Russian Press in London: to our Brothers in Russia’. Its printing press was initially housed alongside that of Democratic Poland published by the Polish Democratic Society at no. 38 Regent Square. The arrangement with this society of fellow exiles lasted almost eighteen months, until December 1854 when it was feared that the bailiffs might move in. The Free Russian Press moved to no. 82 Judd Street (in 1857 the office moved to no. 2 in the same street). It was here that the work of the Press took off. In 1855, he published the first volume of Poliarnaia zvezda (The Polar Star). Much of the first volume was written by Herzen himself, although it also contained letters by Michelet, Proudhon, Mazzini, and Hugo, and the correspondence between Belinsky and Gogol.
In April 1856 his former comrade Nikolai Ogarev arrived in London and joined Herzen in working on the Press. It was at no. 2 Judd Street that the Free Russian Press built its reputation with the publication of the weekly newspaper Kolokol (The Bell) which ran from 1865 to 1867 with a circulation of up to 2,500 copies.
During Herzen’s residence at Westbourne Terrace numerous compatriots travelled to London to visit him, including Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Nekrasov, Bakunin, Vasily Botkin, and others. On Sundays, Orsett House was the place to be. The family remained at the residence until June 1863, and then moved out again, this time to Elmfield House, Teddington. Herzen’s inability to settle in exile reflects the restlessness of his mind. He finally left England in 1864. Herzen is the author of a set of magnificent memoirs entitled My Past and Thoughts which are an irreplaceable time document for the European socio-political developments of the day. His presence in London does not take up a prominent part in these memoirs. What the metropolis offered him was anonymity. To him, London was ‘adapted for training one away from people and training one into solitude’. This suggestion implies a paradox of political exile: by its very condition it denies the here and now, it looks forward by always looking back, escaping into an almost Confucian dream. Exile and nostalgia are not synonymous, but they stem from similar experiences. They are stories of loss and memory. Nostalgic memory may bring some solace, but the sigh of separation from place, language and culture is forever present. This pain hits exile and newcomer alike. It weighs heavier on the former who lives in anticipation of an imminent return home. The exile is – psychologically at least – banished for the short term. He hates the past, despises the present, and dreams of the days ahead. He seeks consolation in futurity. Utopia is a dissociation from the here and now. Living in the present in order to effect social change is a more difficult task. Herzen was well aware of the challenge and this realisation gives his memoirs their lasting relevance.
Over time, there have been two – maybe unexpected – places in the workplace where women earned early positions of responsibility, although their achievements were gained almost by default. Both printing and photography were in their early stages of development open to all newcomers. These were fresh fields of skill and technology and as such unhindered by the authority of strict regulations, laws or prejudices to deny anyone access (as was the case in more traditional professions and forms of art). Marginalisation was not an issue. Both women and immigrants found free entry in these domains of activity.
Since at least the late sixteenth century women had been participants in the printing trade. This included boarding youngsters serving as apprentices and journeymen as well as tasks in the shop itself, from keeping books to overseeing the sale of printed matter and stationery. A small number of women became masters of offices, running the entire business by themselves. In most cases they succeeded to their positions as widows after the death of their printer-husbands. These women often ran the offices for a relatively short time before they handed operations over to a member of family or foreman, who in turn would provide an income for the remainder of her life. The early history of American printing supplies a spectacular example of the process. In 1638, the ‘John of London’ sailed from Hull to Boston, Massachusetts. The ship was captained by George Lamberton. On board were clergyman Ezekiel Rogers and a number of families that went on to settle the plantation of Rowley, Massachusetts. The ship also transported the first printing press to North America. It was brought by Reverend Joseph Glover who, when deprived of his position in the Church of England for his non-conformist Puritan beliefs, shipped his family and equipment to the Massachusetts colony. He also paid for the passage of the man in charge of running his press, Stephen Daye, and his son Matthew, an apprentice printer.
Glover did not survive the passage to the New World, leaving ownership of the press to his wife Elizabeth. Settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she established the Cambridge Press. It was an act of great initiative. As a woman, Glover needed special permission from New England officials to open a business. Within the first year in Massachusetts Bay, Daye and son printed a broadside for her entitled ‘The Freeman’s Oath’, probably the first tract published in British North America. Daye printed the first book in the New World, The Bay Psalm Book, in 1640 (only eleven copies survive today). This book was in demand throughout the colony for the remainder of the seventeenth century. In June 1641 Elizabeth married Harvard’s first president, Henry Dunster, who took over operations of the Press until his death in 1654, when the business was turned over to Harvard College.
Intriguingly, a number of Jewish women were among the pioneers of photography. In traditional Judaism, the primary role of a woman is that of wife and mother, the keeper of the household. The typical Jewish woman, sometimes herself a seamstress working from home, was the wife of a craftsman or shopkeeper. She was barely visible in early communal and religious life. Public Judaism was reserved for males. Mass immigration forced changes upon the community. Concentrated in large urban centres women sought employment in textile and tobacco factories, assisted husbands in workshops, or kept shops themselves. Many women combined employment and care of their children by working out of their homes. Increasingly, they made their presence felt by joining the debate on social justice and emancipation. For many middle class women, however, staying indoors remained the norm. Careers outside the home were not encouraged. Women were expected to play a role in philanthropic activities (‘domestic feminism’), while upholding the myth of pure and pious homemakers.
The participation of women in photography goes back to the very origins of the process. Like in printing earlier in history, initially it was a case of partnerships. Several of these female photographers were married to male practitioners or had close relationships with their families. It was above all in northern Europe that women first entered the business of photography, opening studios in Austria, Germany, and Scandinavia from the 1840s. Bertha Beckman was the first Jewish, and perhaps the first European photography professional. In 1843, she established a studio in Leipzig together with her husband. In 1848, on the death of her partner, she took over the operation of their atelier. Thereafter she opened a chain of stores, including one in Vienna and another in New York. Photography flourished in Vienna.
In this city, Adèle Perlmutter-Heilperin together with her brothers Max and Wilhelm founded the Atelier Adèle in 1862. The studio prospered and around 1890 it was named Photographer to the Imperial Court. Dora Kallmus was born in 1881 into a Viennese Jewish family of lawyers. In 1905, she was the first woman to be admitted to the art and design courses at the prominent Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt in Vienna. That same year she became a member of the Vienna Photographic Society. Together with Arthur Benda, she opened a studio in 1907. The Benda-D’Ora Studio was so successful that they started another business in Paris in 1924. Having settled in the French capital, Dora became famous for her society and fashion photography during the 1930s and 1940s. Her subjects included Josephine Baker, Maurice Chevalier, Colette, Alban Berg, and many other prominent figures in French cultural life. Russian-born Ida Kar had settled in London in 1945 and quickly became a leading portrait photographer of the many artists and writers living in Soho during the early 1950s. Her most famous portraits include those of Jacob Epstein and Bertrand Russell. In 1960 she exhibited her work at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, the first solo photography show held in a major public art gallery in London. Women have achieved many ‘firsts’ in the history of photography.
British intellectual and cultural life profited enormously from the departure of Jewish talent from the Continent during the 1930s. The exodus included a number of outstanding women photographers. Gerti [Gertrude Helene] Deutsch was born in Vienna in 1908. She trained as a professional pianist at the Vienna Academy of Music, but her concert career ended when she developed an inflammation of the nerves in her arms. She switched to photography. During the build up towards the Anschluss of 1938 she moved to Paris where she earned a living as a photojournalist. In 1938 she settled in London, working from a studio in New Bond Street, and started photographing for the Picture Post, Britain’s premier photojournalistic magazine.
Her first assignment for the Post was ‘Kindertransport’ (1938), a series of images showing the passage of German-Jewish children to safety in Britain. Her preoccupation with music was reflected in her portraiture. She created images of the most celebrated musicians of the day, including Arturo Toscanini, Benjamin Britten and Yehudi Menuhin. In 1948 she returned to Vienna to document the city after the Nazis surrendered control to the Allies. Gerti Deutsch captured the turbulent 1930s and 1940s in a series of iconic images.
Dorothy Bohm was born Dorothea Israelit in 1924 in Königsberg (now: Kaliningrad), East Prussia, into a German-speaking family of Jewish-Lithuanian origins. She was sent to Britain in 1939 to escape Nazism and studied photography at the Manchester Municipal College of Technology. In 1946 she set up her own portrait studio. Having travelled extensively, she settled in London in 1956, living at no. 15 Church Row, Hampstead. By the late 1950s, she abandoned studio portraiture in favour of ‘street photography’. In 1971, Bohm co-founded (with Sue Davies) the Photographers’ Gallery at no. 16/8 Ramillies Street, Soho, the first independent British gallery devoted entirely to photography. She worked as its Associate Director for the next fifteen years. Dorothy Bohm is generally considered as one of the doyennes of British photography. The splendid careers of these women underlines that, more often than not, emigration functions as a power of liberation and an unshackling of conventional ideas and customs.
Photographer 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. Rejlander supplied Darwin with nine illustrations for his The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). The photograph illustrating ‘mental distress’, that of an infant boy wailing, known as ‘Ginx’s Baby’ after the popular novel by James E. Jenkins, became a best-seller. He died in January 1875 at his home at no. 23 East Cottages, Clapham.