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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.

1897-1976

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Durex is the world’s best-selling condom brand. The history of the term may remain obscure but, over time, condoms have been given interesting euphemistic names such as Johnnies, French letters (purses, ticklers), English raincoats, and a range of slang words that fill page after page of the Urban Dictionary. Such exotic references obscure the fact that the first branded sheaths came from Germany. The initial promotion of condoms was a matter of the military. The German army was the first to encourage its use among soldiers, beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century. German manufacturers would become the main producers of condoms and exported their products to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the rest of Europe. World War I interrupted the trade, but even its continuation elsewhere had a German dimension. Julius Schmidt was born on 17 March 1865 in Schondorf and moved to New York in 1882, changing his name to Schmid. He founded Schmid Laboratories in New Jersey in 1883 and later became the main supplier of condoms to the European Allies. By the early 1920s, however, most of Europe’s condoms were once again made in Germany.

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Syphilis was the urban scourge of the late nineteenth century and yet a taboo subject. Ibsen’s treatment of the subject in his play Ghosts was judged to be shocking and indecent. It sparked an outcry of moral indignation. In London the play was performed by Jack Grein’s Independent Theatre at the Royalty Theatre, at no. 73 Dean Street, Soho, on 13 March 1891. More than 3,000 people applied for tickets, and the production became a cause célèbre. In the press it was considered to be repulsive, coarse, and vulgar (The Daily Telegraph referred to the play as an ‘open drain: a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly’), but amongst the audience were literary figures such as George Moore, Oscar Wilde, John Gray, and artists such as Charles Shannon and Reginald Savage – all of them standing in the vanguard in the battle against oppressive Victorian values and hypocrisy. The pressures of war swept all secrecy and concealment aside.

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Family planning was one aspect of consideration in the debate about the use of condoms, but to the authorities the physical health of soldiers was a more urgent issue. During the First World War, venereal disease caused over 400,000 hospital admissions among British troops. Roughly five percent of all the men who enlisted in Britain’s armies became infected. In 1918, there were over 60,000 hospital admissions for VD in France and Flanders alone. By contrast, only some 74,000 cases of Trench Foot (caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary, and cold conditions) were treated by Franco-Flemish hospitals during the whole of the war. Venereal patients required on average a month of intensive hospital treatment which caused a huge drain on the army’s resources. It was not until 1905 that the causative organism was first identified which led to more effective forms of treatment. Until the advent of penicillin in 1943, ‘cures’ for syphilis were based on the use of heavy metals such as mercury or, as the saying goes, ‘a night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime on Mercury’. Safe sex and sexual wellbeing were burning issues at the time.

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Jewish Law has traditionally opposed the practice of birth control. The first mitzvah (commandment) in the Torah is to ‘be fertile and increase’. Condoms are unacceptable, because they block the passage of semen. That did not stop Jewish merchants from getting involved in the profitable rubber trade. Chemist Julius [Israel] Fromm, born on 4 March 1883, was an immigrant of Polish-Jewish descent into Germany. He invented the process for making condoms of liquefied rubber. Launched shortly after the First World War in Berlin, so-called ‘Fromms’ (synonym for condom) came to dominate the market. Mass production started in 1922; his invention of the condom vending machine followed later. Crown on the Condom Empire was his commission in 1930 of a flagship factory designed by avant-garde architects Arthur Korn and Siegfried Weitzman in the Berlin suburb of Köpenick – condoms in the style of Neue Sachlichkeit. In 1938, on the grounds that his supplies of rubber were needed for the war effort, Fromm was forced to sell his business at a fraction of its value to Baroness Elisabeth von Epenstein, Hermann Göring’s godmother. Fromm ended his productive life as a religious refugee in Hampstead Gardens Suburb where he died days after the collapse of the Reich.

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Hairdresser and tobacconist Siegmund Jacoby was born around 1835 in Berlin into a Jewish family. He married Henrietta [Jetta] Meyers and the couple moved to London at some time in the 1860s. His son Daniel followed him in the same profession. A year after the death of his father in September 1885, Daniel and four others were charged with violent robbery at the Euston Road business of the elderly Jewish diamond merchant Julius Tabak. He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. He was released and, a reformed character, set out to build a career and start a family. The 1891 census shows him living at no. 95 High Street, St Pancras. His son Lionel Alfred Jacoby was born in 1894, and he too took up the same line of work. In 1915, having his name changed to Lionel Alfred Jackson, he founded the London Rubber Company, selling condoms and barber supplies that were imported from Germany and America. He operated the firm from his father’s hairdresser and tobacconist shop. By 1920, he had opened a shop at no. 3 Mincing Lane and a wholesale surgical rubber business at no. 183 Aldersgate Street. There is some irony in the name of the first location: it is a corruption of Mynchen Lane, so-called from the tenements held there by the Benedictine ‘mynchens’ (nuns) of the nearby St Helen’s Bishopsgate church.

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Why a barber/tobacconist? Condoms could be openly marketed as birth control devices in Britain, but there were social factors that inhibited sales. Condoms were available at local chemists that usually had female shop assistants. Many men were embarrassed by asking a young woman for a packet of condoms and bought them at the barber shop. They were generally requested with the euphemism ‘a little something for the weekend’. Boots, the largest pharmacy chain in Britain, stopped selling condoms altogether in the 1920s, a policy that was not reversed until the 1960s. Business was brisk, in spite of opposition to the product – and there were some prominent critics of condoms. Moralists rejected all methods of contraception. At the 1920 Lambeth Conference the Church of England condemned ‘unnatural means of conception avoidance’. The Bishop of London complained of pollution, because of the huge number of condoms discarded in alleyways and parks, especially after weekends and holidays. Feminists resisted all ‘male-controlled’ contraceptives. Freud disapproved of birth control methods on the grounds that failure rates were high and that their use diminished sexual pleasure. Concerned about falling birth rates after the First World War, the French government outlawed all contraceptives, including condoms. Contraception was also illegal in Spain and Ireland. European militaries nevertheless continued to provide condoms to their members for disease protection, even in countries where they were illegal for the general population.

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Jackson was greatly helped by the 1930 Church of England ruling that birth control could be used by married couples. London Rubber’s first latex condom for sale in Britain was an export from the American Youngs Rubber Company in 1929. By 1932, London Rubber had become Europe’s first manufacturer of such condoms using the latest liquid latex dipping technology. These were made at their factory in Shore Road, Hackney, and branded Durex. The name was formed from the first two letters of the words DUrability, REliability, and EXcellence. Lionel Jackson died in 1934 and his brother Elkan (born: Maurice Elkan Jacoby) became Managing Director of the company. In 1937 the London Rubber Company moved to Chingford. At this time the company had about fifty percent of the British condom market. With the outbreak of World War II, it became impossible to acquire condoms from Germany. London Rubber Company expanded at enormous pace to meet the high demand for Durex condoms that were issued by the government to British servicemen. In 1968, the company was the largest manufacturer of dipped rubber goods (balloons, rubber gloves, paint brushes, surgical footwear, toothbrushes, soaps, and other products) in the world, employing over 2,000 people. In 2007 its last remaining condom factory was closed and production moved to China, India and Thailand. From the East End to the Far East – Durex has stretched itself from one end of the globe to the other.

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Botanist and mathematician Henry Fox Talbot produced his first successful photographic images in 1834, without a camera, by placing objects onto paper brushed with light-sensitive silver chloride, which he then exposed to sunlight. By 1840, Talbot had succeeded in producing photogenic drawings in a camera, with short exposures yielding an invisible or ‘latent’ image that could be developed to produce a usable negative. This made his process a practical tool for subjects such as portraiture and was patented as the ‘calotype’ in 1841. Talbot’s negative-positive process formed the basis of almost all photography on paper up to the digital age. His work was certainly not a solo effort. Major inventions rarely are.

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Nicolaas Henneman was born in Heemskerk in the Netherlands on 8 November 1813. Having worked in Paris for a while, he arrived in England around 1835. He was employed as valet to Fox Talbot at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, where he assisted the photographer in preparations and printing, and he took many photographs himself. He accompanied Talbot on expeditions around Britain, and in 1843 the pair ventured into France, securing important photographs later published in The Pencil of Nature (1844/6: the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs).

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Later that year, Henneman left Talbot’s employ to set up the world’s first dedicated photographic printing works at no. 8 Russell Terrace in Reading. Unable to sustain that operation he moved to London in 1847, this time in a business largely owned by Talbot, but called Nicolaas Henneman’s ‘Sun Picture Rooms’ at no. 122 Regent Street. In 1848 he was joined by the young chemist Thomas Augustine Malone, and by the next year Henneman & Malone were billing themselves as ‘Photographers to the Queen’. While Henneman taught many successful photographers, he never achieved true artistry himself. In the increasingly competitive world of the 1850s he lost out. By 1859 financial difficulties forced him to shut down his business.

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His lasting claim to fame is his involvement in the publication of the first photographically illustrated book on art. To the three volumes of text of William Stirling’s Annals of the Artists of Spain (1848) was added a limited edition volume of sixty-six photographic illustrations. These were the first photographs ever published of Spanish paintings, drawings, sculpture and prints, by artists including El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo, Zurbarán, Ribera and Goya, in addition to examples of architectural designs and book illustrations. The photographs were taken by Henneman who used the Calotype process invented by Talbot. The book has become extremely rare. Only fifty copies of the Annals were produced, and their deterioration, due to daylight, chemicals and other factors, began immediately.

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Henneman was not the only immigrant from Northern Europe who made an impact on the history of the photography book in Britain. Oscar Gustaf Rejlander was born in 1813 in Sweden, but nothing is known about his early life. He apparently studied art in Rome in the 1830s and supported himself there by working as a portrait painter and copyist of old masters. He was in England by 1841.

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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.

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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.

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In 1868 he opened a richly furnished studio opposite Victoria Station. It was soon after this move that Charles Darwin entered his shop and asked for his cooperation. Rejlander was commissioned to supply Darwin with nine illustrations depicting people in various emotional states for The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).

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The photograph illustrating ‘mental distress’, that of an agitated infant boy dubbed ‘Ginx’s Baby’ by critics, became a best-seller after Rejlander also created versions on cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards. The title for the photograph was taken from a popular satirical novel about an orphaned boy by radical Victorian author John Edward Jenkins. The striking image of this helpless working class child soon became part and parcel of the Victorian social and political debate on poverty, charity and social justice. Photography took on a new relevance. It suddenly dawned upon critics and observers that certain photographic images have the power to influence public opinion and determine or change its course. A single shot can strike deeper than a million words.

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Bevis Marks Synagogue - London, England

Livorno Jews have played a prominent part in the emancipation of the Jewish religious and civil community living in London. David Nieto was born in January 1654 in Venice, but spent his early professional life in Livorno. In 1701 he was called to London as haham (chief rabbinical authority) of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish congregation which that year had moved to the newly built Bevis Marks Synagogue at no. 4 Heneage Lane.

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An intellectual with a keen interest in astronomy and the scientific thinking of Newton, he spent most of his energy on helping crypto-Jews who, newly arrived from the Iberian Peninsula, were returning to open Judaism. One of his successors was Raphael Meldola who was actually born in Livorno in 1754.  His son David served as Chief Rabbi for over twenty-five years until his death. He was a co-founder of the London Jewish Chronicle.

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The word milliner, meaning a maker of hats, was first recorded in reference to the products for which Milan and the northern Italian regions were well known (i.e. ribbons, gloves and straws). The haberdashers who imported these popular products were called ‘Millaners’. Another staple import from Italy was the straw bonnet, associated with the name of Leghorn (Livorno), which became popular in England owing to the patronage of the stunningly beautiful Irish-born sisters Maria and Elizabeth Gunning. Leghorn bonnets, made from straw turned into a sparkling bleached white, became the height of fashion. They played a notable part in England’s fashion history of the age.

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During the eighteenth century Italian immigrants dominated the London hat trade, both as sellers and makers. A strong impulse had been given to Anglo-Italian trade through the establishment, in 1740, of a branch of the great Venetian and Levantine banking house of Treves in London, and consequently Italians, chiefly Jews, were flocking into the country throughout the 1740s. Moses Vita (Haim) Montefiore was a Sephardic Jew who had emigrated from Livorno to London in the 1740s, but retained close contact with the town. He was involved in the bonnet trade and laid the foundation for the wealth of this notable Italian family in London.

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Benjamin Disraeli, grandfather of the politician, author and Conservative Prime Minister, was born in Cento, near Ferrara, in September 1730. He moved to London in 1748 where he was employed in the counting-house of Joseph and Pellegrin Treves in Fenchurch Street. Soon after, he established himself as a merchant. He had brought with him a sound knowledge of the traditional Italian straw bonnet trade and he specialised in the import of Leghorn hats, Carrara marbles, alum, currants, and other merchandise.

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For a decade he devoted himself to his import business, which he carried on at no. 5 Great St Helens. In 1769 the business had become one of the leading London coral merchants (a trade dominated by Jews). He also acted as an unlicensed broker at the Stock Market. In 1779 he invited two partners and together they founded the firm of Disraeli, Stoke & Parkins which became successful dealers. When, in 1801, plans were laid out to build new premises at Capel Court for the Stock Exchange, Disraeli was appointed as a member of the Committee for General Purposes entrusted with the plan of conversion.

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Michael (Meyer) Solomon was a Bishopsgate manufacturer, and one of the first Jews to be admitted to the freedom of the City of London. Solomon’s family had arrived in England from Europe, possibly Holland or Germany, sometime at the end of the eighteenth century. Aaron Solomon had started a hat business in London in 1779. Michael and his family lived among a well-established Jewish community at no. 3 Sandys Street, Bishopsgate, and his considerable wealth allowed him to be accepted by London society. His main business concern was as a manufacturer of Leghorn hats.

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Three of his children, Abraham, Rebecca and Simeon, were notable painters. Simeon was identified with the Pre-Raphaelites through his friendship with D. G. Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and Algernon Charles Swinburne.

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He was one of several notable artists in the Pre-Raphaelite circle commissioned by the brothers George and Edward Dalziel who ran a highly productive firm of engravers to produce drawings for their projected illustrated Bible. The project was never completed, although the illustrations appeared in Dalziel’s Bible Gallery (1880) with narrative captions. His life ended in tragedy. In 1873, Simeon was arrested in a public lavatory and charged with committing buggery. Although the incident was not reported in the newspapers his public career was effectively at an end. Most of his former friends disowned him and he began a precarious existence which led him to the workhouse and dependence upon institutional and family charity. In May 1905 he collapsed on the pavement in High Holborn and died shortly after.

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Evidently, not all of the Livornesi were hat makers. Domenico Angelo Tremamondo was an immigrant from Livorno who, after arriving in London, established a School of Arms in Carlyle Street, Soho. He also ran a riding school in the rear garden of the house (where Johann Christian Bach was a tenant). As an instructor of swordsmanship to royals and aristocrats he turned fencing from an act of war into an elegant sport.

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In 1763, he published the popular and often reprinted folio École des armes with forty-seven splendid plates after draughtsman John Gwynn, a founding member of the Royal Academy. Around 1785, his Eton-educated son Henry Angelo took over the running of the fencing academy (Sheridan, Fox and Lord Byron were among his many pupils). He moved the academy from his fathers’ residence in Carlisle House, first to the Royal Opera House in Haymarket and then, after a fire in 1789, to Bond Street, where he shared premises with the former champion boxer John ‘Gentleman’ Jackson (to whom boxing-mad Lord Byron referred to as his ‘corporeal pastor and master’). In 1828, looking back at his life, he wrote a series of entertaining Reminiscences that give a unique insight in the urban eccentricities of his time. Henry was a full-blooded Londoner. Social and intellectual integration demands little more than a generation. After all, it took two generations for an immigrant’s descendant to become Prime Minister of the nation.

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Hell is a city much like London, Shelley wrote in 1819. The imagination cannot conceive a viler criminal than he who should build another London like the present one, nor a greater benefactor than he who should destroy it, George Bernard Shaw concluded some eighty odd years later. To a number of nineteenth century social commentators London was the capital of degeneration. The urban poor were described as stunted and rickety. They were scarred by sores and scrofulous lumps, the stigmata of sickness.

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The ‘great unwashed’ were said to be indifferent to the filth in which they lived and bred. To some observers they constituted a distinct type, a race apart, a threat to civil society. Whilst other scientists suggested that the environment had a major impact on degeneracy, thereby implying that improvement was possible, hard-line eugenicists on the other hand argued that the sole cause was heredity. They claimed that morality arises from the law of the preservation of the species. Only that what lifts a person to a higher level of mental or physical perfection can be considered as moral. Altruism and humanitarianism are impediments to evolutionary progress. Social Darwinists fanned fears that a horde of degenerates was dragging the nation down into biological decline. The ‘survival of the un-fittest’ was a peril that had to be confronted. Gymnastics provided one solution.

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During antiquity sport had been praised for preparing soldiers with the training they would require in battle. In the early modern period the state’s primary justification for declaring any sports to be lawful, even in the face of opposition from religious zealots, was based upon the ancient argument that they provided men with the physical conditioning necessary to their engagement with the enemy. The military of the British Empire had a long tradition of involvement in sport. Along with exercising and drilling, it was one of the few other activities for troops posted in colonial settlements in Australia and India. Sport also became a tool in the battle against urban degeneration. The dual aspects of military capability and social regeneration are part of the early history of the European obsession with sporting activities.

The 2012 London Olympic Games saw British gymnasts make history by producing the best results since the foundation of British Gymnastics (also known as the British Amateur Gymnastics Association) in 1888. The adoption of gymnastics in Britain was facilitated by immigrants. As a specific discipline of physical exercise, it had been developed in Germany by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn with the aim of improving the fighting fitness of the army. Known in Germany as ‘Turnvater Jahn’ (father of gymnastics), he was troubled by the humiliation of his native land by Napoleon. He argued that the practice of gymnastics would restore the physical strength and with it, the pride of his countrymen. He opened the first ‘Turnplatz’ (open-air gymnasium) in Berlin in 1811.

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Young gymnasts were taught to regard themselves as members of a kind of guild for the emancipation of their fatherland. The ‘Turnverein’ (gymnastics association) movement spread rapidly. One of the youngsters brought up in this tradition of physical exertion was Ernst Ravenstein who was born in Frankfurt am Main on 30 December 1834 into a family of engravers. Having completed his studies, he moved to London in 1852 where he was employed as a cartographer at the Ministry of War. He retired in 1872, declining the position of chief cartographer at the Royal Geographical Society because he was refused permission to smoke on the premises. In spite of that, he remained an active member of the Society as cartographic editor of the Geographical Magazine. He also sat on the councils of the Royal Statistical Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He briefly taught as Professor of Geology at London’s Bedford College (1884/5). His work on migration influenced geographers, demographers and sociologists. In 1902, Ravenstein was the first scientist to receive the Victoria gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society.

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Ravenstein also had a passion for sport. His 1893 ‘Oarsman’s and Angler’s Map of the River Thames’ was reprinted nearly a century later. In 1861 he founded the ‘Deutsche Turnverein’ (German Gymnastic Society) in London and was its President until 1871. In that capacity, he established the ‘Turnhalle’ (German Gymnasium) at no. 26 Pancras Road. The building – now listed – was designed by Edward Gruning and constructed in 1864/5 for use by the Society. It was funded solely by the German community in London. In its first year the Gymnasium attracted 900 members, of whom 500 were German, 203 English, 67 Scottish and the rest spread across different nationalities. On 7 November 1865 the Liverpool Mercury reported the formation of the National Olympian Association (NOA). Its inaugural meeting was held at the Liverpool Gymnasium in Myrtle Street. This meeting was the forerunner of the modern British Olympic Association. In 1866, the newly built German Gymnasium was one of three venues in London to host the first ever national Olympian Games held during the modern era. The NOA lasted until 1883 and its Olympian Games ‘were open to all comers’. The undertaking influenced the thinking and ambitions of young Pierre de Coubertin.

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German gymnasts helped increase awareness of physical education during the Victorian era, but ultimately the British would adopt a form of gymnastics which had its roots in Stockholm rather than Berlin. This was partly because German gymnastics were geared towards military needs. The battle for ideas on physical exercise in Britain was won by another immigrant.

Homoeopath and therapist Mathias Roth was born in 1818 in Kaschau (Košice), in the Habsburg Empire, into a Jewish family. Having supported the unsuccessful Hungarian revolt against the Habsburgs he had to flee the country. He arrived in London in October 1849 where, in 1850, he was one of the founding members of the short-lived Hahnemann Hospital at no. 39 Bloomsbury Square which aimed at relieving the poor who suffer from acute diseases by receiving them as in patients (between 1850 and 1852 over 9,000 patients were treated). In 1851 he published

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The Prevention and Cure of many Chronic Diseases by Movements, a long treatise on the philosophical, physiological, and medical foundations of Swedish gymnastics which had been pioneered by Pehr Henrik Ling earlier in the century. Roth developed the concept of scientific physical education, advocating the teaching of physiology, hygiene, and educational gymnastics. The Swedish model offered an alternative to those who were put off by the military connotation of the German version of strengthening the muscles.

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The latter part of the nineteenth century suffered from nerves. As a curative for neurasthenia doctors prescribed fresh air and physical exercise. Organised sports, swimming, weight-lifting, or horse riding, were considered a means of overcoming the perceived crisis of masculinity. In a world where only the fit survive, there was no place for weak men. Muscular activities were supposed to sharpen aggression and increase competitiveness. There was a spiritual dimension to the argument too. Many observers believed that the Church contributed to man’s meekness. They called for a more robust religiosity. The phrase ‘muscular Christianity’ appeared in the late 1850s in connection with Charles Kingsley’s fiction.

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The underlying idea was that the image of Christ communicated by the (Anglican) Church was too effeminate, passive and unheroic. The age of nervousness needed a new Messiah, a figure of power and strength, a leader who would turn feeble followers into supermen of masculinity. There were cultural prototypes. Burckhardt had presented his age with a nostalgic image of the Renaissance Uomo Universale, Nietzsche introduced his Übermensch, and Marxists created their own myths of the Working Man’s might and muscle.

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Friedrich Wilhelm Müller was born a delicate child in Königsberg, East Prussia, on 2 April 1867. Having adopted the name Eugen Sandow, he would become the revered ‘blond god’ of nineteenth century manhood, the ‘father of modern bodybuilding’, and the creator in 1897 of the London Institute of Physical Culture, a gymnasium for bodybuilders. He held the first bodybuilding contest at the Royal Albert Hall in September 1901 (where his friend Arthur Conan Doyle acted as one of the judges). Sandow was a living image of classical sculpture. He himself helped to develop the ‘Grecian ideal’ as a formula for the perfect male physique.

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That same year, Ray Lankester, Director of the Natural History Department of the British Museum, mounted an exhibit displaying examples of all the races of the world. Eugen Sandow represented the Caucasian race. A complete cast of his body was made by the London based Italian firm of Brucciani & Co. and put on a pedestal. The cast represented the ideal type of European manhood: Sandow was superman. A time that was obsessed with the notion of degeneration projected his powerful body as an antidote for neurasthenia. In 1911, Sandow received Royal approval and was appointed Professor of Scientific and Physical Culture to George V.

The physical reconstruction and regeneration of the people, subtitle of his ‘classic’ book Life is Movement (1919), was the ultimate mission of all his undertakings. In early history a desperate search was made for the one medicine that would cure a range of epidemic diseases. Herbs from the East and even tobacco were hailed as ‘miracle’ cures. The late nineteenth century sought for a similar panacea to overcome its social evils. Eugenics promised both diagnosis of and cure for a paradox that was observed by numerous critics of society: on the one hand a firm belief in progress and the confident prediction of ever increasing prosperity; and, on the other hand, the contrast of the depravity of a large part of the population of city-dwellers (Jack London’s ‘people of the abyss’).

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During the late decades of the nineteenth century the ideals of the French Revolution: liberty, equality, and fraternity, had become outdated dogmas that were no longer considered relevant from a scientific point of view. The theory of evolutionary progress had replaced them by the new triad of determinism, inequality, and selection. Social Darwinism is an ideology that uses the concept of the struggle for existence as the basis for social theory. The concept proved fruitful for those liberals who advocated the principle of laissez faire in socio-economic life, as well as for later commentators who set out to justify imperial and racial policies. Eugenics became part and parcel of that theory. Once the politics of brutality had taken over, Europe would pay a heavy price for its ‘scientific’ interest in these fields of research.

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01London has always attracted the weird and wonderful. Throughout its history, the city has known countless oddballs and fruitcakes. In the eighteenth century foreign visitors to the capital were often surprised by the frank, if not rude attitude of its population. Society celebrated eccentrics and social rebels. It ridiculed affectation. Hypocrisy was considered an evil. That seems to be a lasting legacy. Cities in general tend to breed conformity, but that encourages single individuals to stand out and be unusual. The passion to be different supplies the air and breath that are essential to the vitality of London life. Loonies are the lungs of an urban culture.

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One such characters was an Irish immigrant into London by the name of James Salter. He had formerly been a barber and a valet to Hans Sloane, before opening a coffee house at no. 59 Cheyne Walk, at the corner of Lawrence Street, in 1697. By 1715 he had moved his coffee house to the west side of Danvers Street, and then in 1718 to its final location at the newly-built no. 18 Cheyne Walk, close to Sloane’s manor house which stood at numbers 19-26 (the mansion was demolished in 1760). He named his Chelsea establishment Don Saltero’s Coffee House. The owner (most likely with a passion for Italian opera) was famous for his punch, he could play the fiddle, and would shave, bleed and draw teeth. He was an Irishman of all trades. Part of the attraction of the coffee house was the display of a large collection of unusual objects and curiosities.

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The modern museum was preceded by what was known as a cabinet of curiosities. These sixteenth century cabinets were gathered by collectors with different social backgrounds and their contents varied according to the means and interests of the owners: physicians collected anatomical specimens; merchants bought rarities from far-flung trading posts; artists gathered prints, drawings and casts of ancient sculpture. By the turn of the seventeenth century collecting became increasingly an obsession of the wealthy and the well-connected. They were hoarding objects into vast personal collections. Starfish, forked carrots, monkey teeth, alligator skins, phosphorescent minerals, Indian canoes, and unicorn tails were acquired eagerly and indiscriminately. Critical taxonomy was rarely in evidence. The curiosity cabinet performed an educational function, facilitating the dissemination of knowledge. Unlike the museum, the curiosity cabinet was not intended for a public audience, but rather for the educated few. The coffee house museum functioned as an intermediate. The collection was there to attract the paying public into the establishment. It was a business venture in which the craving for coffee was linked to the growing urban passion for collecting curiosities and exotics. The experiment proved tremendously popular.

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Saltero’s soon was frequented by Chelsea’s wealthy and fashionable residents, having received a special notice in the Tatler of June 1709. It was a favourite meeting-place for men like Hans Sloane, Richard Mead, and Nathaniel Oldham. As one of the local sights, the house was visited by antiquarian Ralph Thoresby in 1723 and by Benjamin Franklin about 1724. It also features in a passage of Fanny Burney’s novel Evelina (1778).

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Items on display at the coffee house were donated by Hans Sloane, John Munden, Richard Steele and other Chelsea residents. Salter’s museum was an assemblage of oddities, including a petrified crab from China; medals of William Laud, Gustavus Adolphus, and the seven bishops who resisted James II’s declaration of indulgence; William the Conqueror’s flaming sword; Henry VIII’s coat of mail; Job’s tears (of which anodyne necklaces were made); a bowl and ninepins in a box the size of a pea; Madagascar lances; and last but not least: a hat which had belonged to the sister of Pontius Pilate’s wife’s chambermaid.

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The curiosities were placed in glass cases in the front room of the first floor. Weapons, skeletons, and fishes covered the walls and ceiling. A poetical autobiography and account of his ‘Museum Coffee House’ appeared in the British Apollo and in Mist’s Journal (22 June 1723). Salter also published A Catalogue of the Rarities to be seen at Don Saltero’s Coffee House in Chelsea which he offered for sale to his customers (no less than forty-eight extant editions range from 1729 to 1795). This Irishman ran a roaring business. Salter died in 1728 and his daughter went on to run the premises as a tavern until 1758. It continued to attract considerable custom, but in 1799 the collection was sold in 121 lots at auction and dispersed.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the coffee house was described as a ‘quiet tavern’, and in 1867 the property was converted into a private residence. Salter’s ‘Chelsea Knackatory’ was not the only establishment that attracted a curious audience with his exhibition of rarities. He had in fact a rival which is evident from another published catalogue entitled A Catalogue of the Rarities to be seen at Adams’s, at the Royal Swan, in Kingsland-road, leading from Shoreditch Church, 1756. This catalogue lists some 500 rarities, including African artefacts. Visitors to the Royal Swan would be entertained by the sight of Walter Raleigh’s tobacco pipe; the Vicar of Bray’s clogs; an engine to shell green peas with; a set of teeth that grew in a fish’s belly; Wat Tyler’s spurs; Adam’s key of the fore and back door to the Garden of Eden, etc. There was fierce rivalry amongst the proprietors of coffee house museums to catch the public’s ear, eye and purse.

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Cheyne Walk, known as the ‘village of palaces’, is named after the Cheyne family who owned an estate on the site. They were Lords of the Manor of Chelsea from 1660 to 1712. The first houses to be built in the Walk were a row of grand Queen Anne houses. At its creation Cheyne Walk was a desirable place to live and remained so to this very day. It can list a long line of famous residents, including Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards (no. 3); novelists George Eliot (no. 4) and Henry James (no. 21); painter James McNeill Whistler (at various times at nos. 21, 72, 96, and 101); author and social critic Thomas Carlyle (no. 24); Dracula’s creator Bram Stoker (no. 27); Hungarian film producer and Jewish refugee Max Schach (no. 35); pop stars Mick Jagger and Marian Faithful (no. 48); novelist Elizabeth Gaskel (no. 93); engineer Marc Brunel (no. 98); prophet Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf of the Moravian Church (no. 99/100); Anglo-French poet Hillaire Belloc (no. 104); and painter J.M.W. Turner (no. 119).

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The life of poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti is an extraordinary success tale in the history of migration. His father, the scholar, poet and revolutionary Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti, was born on 28 February 1783 in Vasto, Kingdom of Naples. The original family name was Della Guardia. Probably the diminutive Rossetti was given to a red-haired ancestor and, for reasons unknown, stuck. The son of a blacksmith, he made an impressive early career. In 1807 he was librettist at the San Carlo opera house in Naples and was later appointed curator of ancient marbles and bronzes in the Capodimonte Museum. His political poetry caused him trouble. As a member of the revolutionary society Carbonari in Naples, he directed his anger against Ferdinand II who had revoked the Constitution in 1821. Gabriele was sentenced to death. He escaped to England via Malta in 1824 never to see his homeland again. In 1826 he married Frances Mary Lavinia Polidori, the daughter of another Italian man of letters, Gaetano Polidori, Tuscan by birth but Londoner by adoption. The couple lived at no. 38 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia.

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It was here that Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born. The Rossetti children, all born in London, would make a massive impact on British cultural and artistic life. Gabriele was appointed Professor of Italian at King’s College London in 1831, a post he held until 1847.
09 D.G. Rossetti moved into Tudor House at no. 16 Cheyne Walk soon after the death in February 1862 of his wife, the Pre-Raphaelite model Elizabeth Siddall, from an overdose of laudanum. He spent several bohemian years at the place. It was here that he began collecting a menagerie of exotic animals and developed a passion for hoarding antique furniture, blue-and-white china, and vast amounts of bric-a-brac. His former lover and model Fanny Cornforth became housekeeper of the male-dominated daily life at Tudor House.

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Rossetti shared the place with Algernon Charles Swinburne, the ‘demoniac boy’ of poetry. The latter contributed to the dissolute state of the place by drinking past excess to unconsciousness and getting into physical arguments with guests. Whistler, who lived nearby, was a regular visitor. Henry Treffry Dunn, who was Rossetti’s studio assistant and secretary between 1867 and 1880, has left a written account of life in Chelsea in his Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his Circle (Cheyne Walk Life). Dunn illustrated the book himself and his watercolours of Tudor House give a unique and intimate glimpse into the artist’s home – a Chelsea knackatory of chaos and creativity.

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01aVigo 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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