Archive for the ‘Kensington’ Category

Pauline Boty, the Anti-Uglies and Bowater House in Knightsbridge

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Pauline Boty on her bed in 1963.

At 2.00pm on Monday, 8 July 1968, and nine days before the world premiere, three of the Beatles arrived at a press-screening of Yellow Submarine. It was at the 102-seat cinema situated inside Bowater House in Knightsbridge, a massive post-war office block that was distinctly ‘carbuncular’ in appearance. It had been built a decade before in 1958 by the developer Harold Samuel for the Bowater-Scott Corporation the world’s largest newsprint company, and the building completely dominated the adjacent Scotch Corner junction.

John Lennon was the Beatle missing at the film-screening, and he was almost certainly at home completely stoned, although Paul, George and Ringo jokingly posed for the photographers with a life-size cardboard cutout of John’s cartoon character. Harrison told reporters that because of the bad reviews of the Magical Mystery Tour the previous year, the Beatles from now on would only appear in animated form. He then tried to avoid answering a question about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi but McCartney interrupted and said that the episode was just ‘a phase’ and that ‘we don’t go out with him anymore’.

The Beatles at Bowater House in 1968. Spot who’s missing.

Three hours later the three Beatles were driven to the EMI studios at Abbey Road where they started another version of Ob La Di Ob La Da (there had already been three days of aborted sessions). At the studio, according to The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn, they were joined by Lennon:

“John Lennon came to the session really stoned, totally out of it on something or other, and he said ‘Alright, we’re gonna do Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’. He went straight to the piano and smashed keys with an almighty amount of volume, twice the speed of how they’d done it before, and said ‘This is it! Come on!’ He was really aggravated. That was the version they ended up using.”

Bowater House in Knightsbridge in 1958.

Bowater House, except maybe in size, was not an impressive building and now would be seen as typical of so much unimaginative post-war architecture springing up around London during the fifties and sixties. It is unsurprising that thrift and speed often took precedence over quality and taste when so much of the capital still had to be rebuilt after the war.

In 1959, Mies Van der Rohe was in London and in a taxi on his way to receive a gold medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. His fellow passenger Erno Goldfinger pointed at the newly built Bowater House and said, ‘This is all your fault.’ To which Van der Rohe responded pointedly, “I was not the architect of that building.’

Just after Bowater House had been completed in 1958, and not half a mile up the road in South Kensington, a twenty year old Pauline Boty began her first year at the Royal College of Art in South Kensington. Boty was at the School of Stained Glass but had originally wanted to study painting but dissuaded because, especially as a woman, it was far harder to be accepted at the RCA as a painter. It’s worth noting that when in 1962 the specially designed, and much-complimented, RCA building opened next to the Royal Albert Hall there were no women’s toilets in the staff room. It was a man’s world, even at art college.

Pauline Boty in 1958, the year she started at the Royal College of Art.

Not long into Pauline’s first term, the rector of the RCA, Robin Darwin (the great grandson of Charles Darwin incidentally) invited an ex-RAF pilot called Ian Nairn to give a talk about architecture. Nairn had made his name with a special issue of the Architectural Review called ‘Outrage’ a few years earlier in 1955. The point of his lecture was that bad buildings weren’t just disappointing but should be seen as unacceptably offensive. He persuasively got his point across and the Stained-Glass students despaired that the general public were seemingly indifferent to what was being built around them.

After the lecture Nairn and a handful of Stained Glass first-years namely Pauline Boty, William Wilkins, Ken Baynes and Brian Newman, but also some other RCA students such as Barry Kirk, Ken Roberts, Ron Fuller and Janet Allen, thought it was about time something was done and Anti-Ugly Action was born.

Ian Nairn’s Outrage published in 1955.

On Wednesday 10th December and choosing not to travel too far across the capital to make their point, not that they particularly needed to and they were art students after all, the Anti-Ugly Action or the Anti-Uglies as they quickly came to be known, marched down towards Knightsbridge Green accompanied by a bass drum beating out a funereal rhythm with everyone shouting ‘Outrage, Outrage, Outrage’. On the way they stopped outside the recently completed Bowater House and clapped, waved and gave it three cheers in appreciation of the architecture. It’s difficult to understand today their appreciation of this building as even Ian Nairn, who was actually on the demo that day, would later describe Bowater House as:

A curate’s Egg. Walls with a good deal of trouble taken over the materials and proportion, yet a roofline which is laissez-faire at its worst. This perhaps should be the average. Alas, it is far above it.

Bowater House, 1965.

The view through Bowater House from the Hyde Park side.

Their first target was Caltex House designed by a subsidiary of the Alliance Assurance Company and completed the previous year in 1957. It occupied the site of what used to be Tattersall’s auction yard which had been in the area since 1766 when Richard ‘Old Tat’ Tattersall (presumably that’s where the phrase comes from) opened his auctioneers near Hyde Park Corner, then on the very outskirts of London.  As a nod to the horses that once were traded at Tattersall’s, Caltex House was adorned by a sculpture of horses called Triga by Franta Belsky and made of metal-coated reinforced concrete.

Caltex House in 1958.

The Anti-Uglies outside Caltex House, December 1958.

Caltex House on Knightsbridge Green, 2013.

Tattersall’s auction yard in 1865.

Bidding in progress at Tattersall’s horse auctions in November 1938.

The second part of the Anti-Uglies’ protest that day, called ‘Operation Two’, was outside Agriculture House at 25-27 Knightsbridge. It was a monumental neo-Georgian building that was the headquarters of the Farmers’ Union and built just a few years previously in 1954. It had replaced two properties both badly damaged during the war. At number 25 a prestigious London showroom of the designer Betty Joel had once stood. The building featured a modernistic shopfront of plate glass and coursed slate and ‘shiprails’ to the first floor windows. Next door, at number 27 had been the once prestigious Alexandra Hotel which the journalist and former London editor of The Manchester Guardian James Bone, in 1940, once recorded as ‘that prim hotel of suites in Knightsbridge … probably the last hotel in London where country people still come up “for the season”’.

Betty Joel showroom at 25 Knightsbridge, 1938. She produced lavish interiors for the offices and boardrooms of Coutts Bank, Claridges, the Daily Express and Shell.

Agriculture House

Knightsbridge in 1958 with Agriculture House in the distance. This is what it would have looked like when the Anti-Uglies were protesting outside.

The Caltex Building and Agriculture House were both built in parts of Knightsbridge that had suffered badly from bomb damage. At around 12.30am, 11 May 1941 the Alexandra Hotel was hit by a single high explosive bomb. It smashed straight through five floors of the opulent hotel and detonated in the heart of the building resulting in twenty-four fatalities and sixteen people seriously injured. Three years later in 1944, and up the road at Knightsbridge Green, a V1 missile exploded which left 29 casualties and 6 dead.

Between 1955 and the time of the Anti-Uglies protest new large office buildings had changed the appearance of the Knightsbridge Green area considerably. Although the LCC wanted to go further, much further. There were already plans submitted where the road junction at Scotch Corner was to be turned into a huge gyratory-system comparable to those at Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner. The massive roundabout would have been overlooked by three tower blocks more than 400 ft high.

The relatively diminutive 308 ft high Basil Spence-designed tower that is part of the Knightsbridge Barracks in Hyde Park that exists today was originally designed to just be part of a ‘visually appealing group’ along with the LCC tower blocks. By the late sixties, in the light of changed economic conditions and fashion, the great majority of the plans, which would have destroyed much of Knightsbridge, were thankfully dropped.

The day after the Anti-Uglies’ protest The Times talked not of the terrible architecture but of the students’ unusual clothes, describing them wearing:

“Lumpy coats, blue jeans, hats like tufts of gorse, and one case, green boots.’

However a more supporting John Betjeman wrote in the Daily Telegraph:

Art is coming into its own again after the worship of science and economics. What is more important, the art of architecture is at last coming in for the public notice it deserves.

It wasn’t just the newspapers and television reporters who found the protest difficult to understand, members of the watching public were confused too. Caltex house featured a retail parade of six shops, one of which was Bazaar, Mary Quant’s second shop. During the demonstration a perfectly dressed shop-assistant-cum-model emerged from the recently opened boutique to ask what the chanting was all about. She could only respond to the Anti-Uglies answer with ‘but you’re all so ugly yourselves!’

Daily Express, March 16th 1959.

This was patently untrue, at least as far as Pauline Boty was concerned, and she appeared in the Daily Express a few months later on March 16th 1959 in the William Hickey column next to a headline: ‘Of all Things She is Secretary of the Anti-Uglies’. Boty told the Express:

I think the Air Ministry building is a real stinker, with the Farmers’ Union HQ, the Bank of England [a huge curved block along New Change by Victor Heal, which has now been demolished] and the Financial Times as runners-up.’ And her own home? ‘A 1930s semi in Carshalton , normally termed “desirable”, sighed Boty. ‘I don’t approve, of course, but I daren’t say anything or daddy would be upset.

The photograph accompanying the article was taken by Lewis Morley, then a frustrated painter, but who would famously go on to take the iconic picture of a naked Christine Keeler astride a backwards-facing chair. He recalled:

Someone decided Pauline should be photographed to publicise Anti-Ugly Action. I took several photographs of her that day, showing a blonde, vivacious girl, filled with joie de vivre. She was stunning, a major factor in why the article found a place in the Express.

Pauline was also interviewed at one of the protests by the BBC TV local Friday evening news roundup ‘Town and Around’ and was asked: ’ What’s a pretty girl like you doing at this sort of an event?’. Instead of kicking him in the shins, Pauline smiled and said that the building was an expensive disgrace. The interviewer said that he had been told that it was very efficient inside, ‘We are outside’ she countered.

Pauline Boty by Michael Ward

At the time of the Anti-Ugly protests Pauline Boty was twenty years old, born in 1938 in suburban Carshalton in Surrey. The youngest of four children she won a scholarship for the Wimbledon School of Art when she was sixteen and went on to study there despite her father’s very strong reservations about her choice of career. Due to her good looks, personality and blonde hair her friends at the college called her the ‘Wimbledon Bardot’.

Brigitte Bardot was already famous to the British public, she had appeared in Doctor at Sea in 1955 and had actually already made seventeen films when ‘And God Created Woman’ made her an undoubted international star in 1957. It was directed by her husband Roger Vadim who had been Bardot’s lover since she was fifteen: “she was my wife, my daughter, and my mistress,” he once wrote. Although by the time the film was released, she was none of those things, and Bardot was living with her co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant and having an affair with the musician Gilbert Bécaud. Boty jokily enjoyed the comparison with the French actress and Charles Carey, Boty’s tutor at time, once recalled a younger student going up to her in the canteen at Wimbledon and asking her why she wore so much red lipstick: ‘ ‘All the better to kisssss you with,’ she said, and chased him out of the room.’

In 1957 one of Boty’s paintings were shown at the Young Contemporaries exhibition alongside Robyn Denny, Richard Smith and Bridget Riley and the following year she was accepted at the RCA. Although studying Stained Glass, Boty continued to paint at her student flat and in 1959 she had three more paintings selected for the Young Contemporaries exhibition.

Pauline Boty in front of a poster for the Blake, Boty, Porter, Reeve exhibition. Photograph by John Aston.

 

The two years after her graduation were perhaps Boty’s most productive, she had started to develop a personal ‘Pop art’ style by now. Her first proper group show ‘Blake, Boty, Porter, Reeve was held in November 1961 at the A.I.A gallery at 15 Lisle Street (where the restaurant Fung Shing is now) and may have been the first proper British Pop Art show, although the word ‘pop’ wasn’t used in contemporary reviews.

Pauline Boty with her painting ’5,4,3,2,1″ Which featured Cathy McGowan and the words “Oh for a Fu…” Boty was actually a dancer on the early episodes of the show.

In 1962 Boty appeared in a film that was part of the BBC TV arts series Monitor. It was directed by Ken Russell and called Pop Goes the Easel, originally the title of a 1935 Three Stooges film. As well as Boty, it featured the artists Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips and is now an important contemporary description of the relatively short-lived British ‘Pop Art’ movement. It was actually the first British documentary to use popular music as a soundtrack and the James Darren song’ Goodbye Cruel World’ used over shots of the four artists enjoying themselves at Bertram Mills Circus inside Olympia at the beginning of the film was also the title of one of Pauline’s recent collages featured at the AIA gallery the previous November. Boty said in the film:

It’s a horrible thing when people just look at my paintings and walk away and that’s it. I’d like my things to relate to everybody in the end. Things like beer cans may become a new kind of folk art; they’re like paintings on pin-tables: something else that people haven’t really looked at before.

Peter Blake and Pauline Boty from Pop Goes the Easel. 1962.

Pauline from Pop Goes the Easel.

Pop Goes the Easel by Ken Russell for the Arts series Monitor in 1962.

The Wimbledon Bardot. 1963.

The fashion designer Ossie Clark but then an RCA student wrote about Pauline in the summer of 1962:

The first time she noticed me, sunbathing in her bikini bottom sprawled out in the garden. Philip Saville was her current chap, beau lovers by the score. Freckles, innocent blue eyes, lips so full, a look direct eyeball to eyeball, melt away like Tom and Jerry heavy as mercury down a drain, or foolish as I did then – What subject should she paint? I’d suggested flags of the major powers, (Derek Boshier, Dick Smith, Peter Blake) China, Russia, America. ‘Naa! S’bin done!’ Green as the grass we lay in corn, in sunlight, as the storm clouds lift the golden rays from her smile. Those lips I was eventually to kiss, so soft like crying tears absorbed into a down pillow, maudlin, too pretty. Always swanking.

Philip Saville, mentioned in Clarke’s diary, was a married television and theatre director who usually turned his leading actresses into girlfriends. This time, however, it was the other way round and he encouraged Pauline to act, much to the dismay of many of her friends and art college contemporaries who thought that she should concentrate on her art. She appeared in television plays directed by Saville and appeared on stage at the Royal Court in a play called Day of the Prince by Frank Hilton.

Phillip Saville.

In January 1963 Saville directed a play broadcast on the BBC called the Madhouse on Castle Street which featured Bob Dylan’s first British television appearance as an actor and singer and indeed it was his first trip outside the USA. Phillip and Pauline picked Dylan up from London Airport and he stayed at Pauline’s flat for four days. As was the BBC’s wont, the play is of course wiped now but Dylan was apparently too stoned to remember his lines as Bobby the Hobo and could only sing two of his songs.

It is said that the relationship between Julie Christie and Dirk Bogard in John Schlesinger’s film Darling was partly based on Boty and Saville’s love affair. Ironically Boty would later herself audition for the role eventually played by Christie in the rather dated film.

In June 1963 Saville introduced Boty to a friend of his, the left wing actor and writer Clive Goodwin. Ten days later Pauline sent Saville a telegram which was opened by his wife fearing an emergency, it read: “By the time you read this I will be married to Clive Goodwin. Please forgive me.” . Boty described her new husband in an interview with the writer Nell Dunn (who personally thought Goodwin too dull for her) as:

the very first man I met who really liked women, for one thing – a terribly rare thing in a man…I mean here was someone who liked women and to whom they weren’t kind of things or something you don’t quite know about – and because you kind of desire them they’re slightly sort of awful, because they bring out the worst in you , this funny sort of puritan idea, sort of Adam and Eve and everything.

Pauline Boty in front of her painting of Jean Paul Belmondo in 1964. Photograph by Lewis Morley.

‘Scandal’ – Pauline repays Lewis Morley, using his already famous image of Christine Keeler. 1964.

Pauline Boty, by Michael Seymour, 1962

Pauline Boty by Lewis Morley, 1963.

In June 1965, two months before she filmed a bit part in the film Alfie, Boty found out she was pregnant. During a prenatal examination, however, she was found to be suffering from malignant lymphatic cancer. She refused an abortion but also chemotherapy that may have harmed her baby. Her daughter, who was called Boty Goodwin (so she would always have her mother’s name) was born in February 1966. Too ill to cope with a baby Pauline looked after her for just four days before her parents took over responsibility of their granddaughter.

Pauline Boty’s last painting was entitled Bum, dated 1966, and would have been completed not long before she died. Kenneth Tynan had commissioned it during early preparation of his erotic revue Oh! Calcutta!

Pauline in an uncredited scene in Alfie. She was already pregnant and knew she had cancer when she filmed this scene.

Mr Pauline Boty, Clive Goodwin.

 Goodwin was devastated and never married again. In November 1978, he flew to Los Angeles for various business meetings, including one at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, where he met with Warren Beatty (who was living at the hotel at the time) to discuss the script for Beatty’s upcoming film ‘Reds’. The next day, Goodwin, who had complained about a headache earlier, began vomiting in the hotel foyer before falling unconscious. The clerk and a security guard assumed he was drunk and called the police, who handcuffed him, hauled him outside and took him to the Beverly Hills police station. Goodwin died later that night of a brain haemorrhage, alone in the cell, likely never regaining consciousness.

After her death Pauline Boty’s paintings were stored way on her brother’s farm and were almost thrown away more than once. For someone so well known in the art-world in the early sixties Boty and her work were almost completely forgotten. In the early 1990s the art historian David Mellor watched Pop Goes the Easel and wondered what had happened to Boty’s paintings. He tracked them down and some were exhibited in a 1993 Barbican exhibition called The Sixties Art Scene in London. Boty Goodwin, who was now at art college in Los Angeles, came to the Private View.

Incredibly, the Barbican show was the first time Pauline Boty’s work had been exhibited since she had died. Time Out included in their review of the exhibition:

Boty’s paintings shower with critical blows the macho stance of Pop.

Boty Goodwin at the Barbican exhibition in 1993.

Boty Goodwin had been brought up initially by Pauline’s parents but from the age of five by her father. She was eleven when Goodwin died and she moved back to Carshalton for the next few years. Boty eventually moved to Los Angeles in the late 1980s where, following her mother’s career, she went to Cal Arts. Unfortunately the Boty/Goodwin family tragedies still continued and in 1995 she died in her studio of a heroin overdose. She was only 29.

Over fifty years after the protests it’s interesting to look at the buildings in Knightsbridge that upset the Anti-Uglies so. Agriculture House, never a particularly popular building, was eventually demolished in 1993 for two separate properties that architecturally don’t seem to be much of an improvement, but are of a size more respectful of the area. Along with its equine sculpture celebrating ‘old Tat’ and his auction yard, Caltex House still stands and is still stodgily unexceptional and dull as when it was built, despite a facelift in 2001.

One Hyde Park overlooking Scotch Corner, 2013.

For some reason the One Hyde Park security man didn’t want photographs taken from the Knightsbridge pavement. 2013.

Jacob Epstein’s last sculpture ‘Rush of Green’. Now moved round the back of the building. 2013.

Bowater House, the building that the Uglies cheered as they walked past, was demolished in 2006 without too many people mourning its loss at the time. It’s replacement One Hyde Park was called by its once idealistic architect Lord Rogers, “a 21st-century monument” – although a monument to what no one really knows, but it seems to be some kind of celebration of the ostentatious ultra-rich and the ever-growing widening gap between the rich and poor in London. Two years ago in 2010 at the height of the credit crunch a penthouse flat in the building sold for £140 million.

Somehow One Hyde Park has managed to make people remember Bowater House almost fondly. Firstly for it’s opening in its centre that enabled anyone to drive or walk though onto Hyde Park, and secondly the sculpture ‘Rush of Green’ placed in the centre of the road for everyone to see. It was the last work by the sculptor Jacob Epstein and he was still putting the finishing touches to it on the day he died in 1959. Rush of Green has now been placed round the back of the buildings by a small road that leads to Hyde Park, although it’s cleverly designed to look private so hardly anyone uses it.

If Pauline Boty was alive today and the Anti-Uglies were still protesting I suspect that One Hyde Park, a building architecturally more suited to Qatar and Abu Dhabi than Knightsbridge, would have been first on their list.

“Outrage! Outrage! Outrage!”

Pauline Boty’s last painting from 1966. ‘Bum’.

 

Thank you to Eve Dawoud who introduced me to Pauline Boty and Adam Smith’s unpublished (why?) Now you see her – Pauline Boty – First Lady of British Pop.  A gallery of photographs of Pauline Boty by John Aston can be found here and at the National Portrait Gallery here.

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The Cenotaph, Alfred Rosenberg, Ada Emma Deane and the Ghost Hunter Harry Price

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

The Madame Tussaud’s wax work of Hitler being taken to Marylebone Magistrates’ court as evidence used towards the conviction of three men and a woman. 1933.

At Madame Tussauds on the Marylebone Road a pot of red paint was poured over a wax effigy of a man who had just been made Chancellor of Germany three months previously. A hand-drawn notice was hung around the neck and it read: “Hitler, the Mass Murderer”. Three men and a woman, not overly hasty in trying to escape, were soon arrested and remanded in custody.

The next day, on 14 April 1933, at the Marylebone Magistrates court, Mrs Bradley who was one of the protestors, was charged with assaulting and obstructing the police. She told the court that the paint-throwing was intended as a protest against “Herr Rosenberg’s representation of a murderous Government”. She was eventually discharged but not before supporters in the court had started shouting in unison, “down with Hitler, down with Hitler”.

“Herr Rosenberg” or Dr Alfred Rosenberg, to give him his full name, was editor-in-chief of the Nazi daily newspaper Volkischer Beobachter. He had inspired the paint-throwers’ wrath by laying a wreath at the base of the Whitehall Cenotaph after which he had stepped back, raised his right arm and given a Nazi salute.

Rosenberg was described by Reuters at the time as ‘one of the Nazi “Big Five,”’ and acting on Hitler’s behest, and as his unofficial Foreign Secretary, he was visiting the capital ostensibly to discuss the deadlock of the Disarmament Conference. In reality the visit was more about gauging British opinion of the new German National Socialist regime.

Alfred Rosenberg and Hitler

Rosenberg’s wreath was made of lilies and laurel leaves and was draped with a band in the German imperial colours and which included a black swastika but it wasn’t in position long before it was grabbed that evening by James Sears – a war veteran and a prospective Parliamentary candidate for southwest St Pancras. Sears promptly ran the two hundred yards down Derby Gate and threw it into the Thames. The river police did manage to retrieve what was left of the wreath but it was thought to be too damaged to be of any worth and it was, seemingly without much thought, rather casually thrown away. Sears was later charged with theft but fined only a paltry two pounds.

The next morning the Daily Telegraph reported that a female singer at Covent Garden burst into laughter on hearing of the fate of the Nazi wreath. The singer wasn’t named by the paper but it was probably Lotte Lehmann who had a Jewish husband and was appearing in Sir Thomas Beecham’s Rosenkavalier at the time. Her reaction, however, infuriated some of her more Nazi-sympathising German colleagues.

In Berlin the British Ambassador Sir Horace Rumbold, an astute and perceptive critic of the National Socialists, was brought before an incensed Hitler. Why, asked the German Chancellor, had the English court imposed such a pathetic and lenient sentence on the desecrator of his wreath? The ambassador, one presumes rather bravely, informed him that there had been an unmistakeable change in British public opinion about Germany based on concepts of freedom and consideration for other races. Not entirely surprisingly Sir Horace was asked to resign a few weeks later.

Sir Horace Rumbold

.

Dr Alfred Rosenberg wasn’t the only person to give a fascist salute at the Cenotaph. On the 10th September 1934: A party of 280 Italian tourists who laid a wreath on the Cenotaph, Whitehall, London gave the Fascist salute after doing so. The Italian Football team would do the same a month later.

20th January 1936: Bearing a swastika flag, German ex-servicemen marching to the Cenotaph in London to lay a wreath. They were guests of British ex-servicemen. George V died the same day.

The Cenotaph had originally been built in 1919 for the first anniversary of the Armistice and was intended just as a temporary monument and initially been built of wood and plaster.  It was such a success with the public, who piled wreath after wreath of flowers around the monument that the architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens was asked to rebuild it in Portland stone for the following year.

All religious imagery was avoided and it was simply inscribed with the words “The Glorious Dead”. It was once calculated that if the British dead from World War One had marched by the Cenotaph four abreast it would have taken them three and a half days to march by.

Footage of the funeral of the unknown warrior at Westminster Abbey.

July 1919. The temporary Cenotaph being erected in Whitehall

Sir Edwin Lutyen’s temporary Cenotaph in 1919

Three quarters of a million British soldiers were killed during WW1 with one and a half million men seriously injured. Almost a third of all the boys and young men aged between 14 and 24 at the beginning of the war would end up being killed. It is entirely unsurprising that after the war there was an almost tangible sense of a ‘lost generation’ hanging over the country.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose son Kingsley had been injured at the battle of Somme and like so many of his contemporaries had died in 1918 of pneumonia, wrote in 1926:  “The deaths occurring in almost every family in the land brought a sudden and concentrated interest in the life after death. People not only asked the question, ‘If a man dies shall he live again?’ but they eagerly sought to know if communication was possible with the dear ones they had lost. They sought for ‘the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still’.

In 1922 on 11 November a sixty year old woman called Ada Emma Deane, with the help of her nineteen year old daughter Violet, set up a camera on top of a wall near the corner of Richmond Terrace with Whitehall. From this position she took two photographs of the large crowd around the cenotaph. The first picture was taken just before the annual silence commemorating the Armistice while the second photograph was taken with a long exposure during the entire two minutes. When the photographs were developed one showed a mass of light over some of the audience while the other purported to show a ‘river of faces’ and an ‘aerial procession of men’ floating over the bowed heads of the crowd.

The Armistice ceremony by Ada Deane

The Cenotaph Armistice ceremony in 1922 by Ada Emma Deane

The images were commercially printed together and distributed amongst spiritualists and other believers of spirit photography of which there were many so soon after the war. Spirit photography had been around for almost as long as photography itself. The long exposures in the early days of photography often produced accidental ghostly images as people came in and out of shot. But so soon after the First World War it was as popular as ever before.

Ada Emma Deane lived at 151 Balls Pond Road in Islington and was already fifty-eight years old in 1920 when she bought an old worn-out quarter-plate camera for nine pence. Her husband had left her a few years previously and she had brought up three children on her own by working as a servant and charwoman.

When the children had grown she took up other interests including breeding pedigree dogs, but also spiritualism. After visiting a local seance in Islington a medium had predicted that Deane would become a psychic photographer and, lo and behold, in June 1920 she produced her first ‘psychic’ picture. Her reputation soon spread amongst the spiritualist community and she became one of Britain’s busiest photographic mediums.

Ada Deane in 1922 with ‘ghostly’ image.

However a final plate was taken by Fred Barlow on his own half plate camera using his own photographic plate of his wife, Ada’s daughter Violet, Ada and Fred himself. He arranged the group, took the picture and developed the plate and upon seeing the negative image he saw Ada Deane’s drapped spirit guide “Bessie” appear above her whilst above her daughter Violet Deane her spirit guide “Stella” also appeared.

According to the Society of Psychical Research, which had been formed by a group of Cambridge Dons in 1882 to scientifically investigate the miry world of telepathy, hypnotism and the survival of the soul, Deane would eventually hold over 2000 sessions. At about the same time as Ada Deane her rather odd photography career, a forty year old man called Harry Price joined the Society. Incidentally the SPR still exists to this day and has included members such as Carl Jung, WB Yeats, Charles Dodgson and Alistair Sim.

Price had married a relatively wealthy heiress called Constance Mary Knight twelve years previously in 1908 and had decided to use his newfound independent means to become a psychic investigator. He was an amateur but adept conjuror and photographer and used this expertise to quickly become the Society’s leading expert at exposing duplicitous and fraudulent mediums – especially “spirit” photographers.

Harry Price

Harry Price and Constance in 1908

The most famous of these was a former docker called William Hope, described, not without snobbery by the Illustrated London News at the time, as ‘a niggardly, coarse-mouthed man’. Hope had been producing ‘spirit’ photographs since 1905 and would have been Ada Deane’s major influence. In 1922 Hope extraordinarily agreed to be tested by Price under the auspices of the SPR.

Hope wrote to Harry Price requesting him to bring a half-dozen packet of ¼ inch plates for the experiment – “Imperial or Wellington Wards are considered preferable”. He added, however, that he would have to use his own camera.

Imperial Ordinary Plates

Imperial Plates

Imperial Plates

Price quickly visited the Imperial Dry Plate Co. Ltd in Cricklewood and discussed with them a way of devising an incontrovertible test for Hope. Price wrote to the SPR:

“We have decided as the best method that the plates shall be exposed to the X-Rays, with a leaden figure of lion rampant (the trade mark of the Imperial Co) intervening…Any plate developed will reveal a quarter of design, besides any photograph or ‘extra’ that may be on the plate. This will show us absolutely whether the plates have been substituted.”

On the 24th February 1922 Price, bringing with him his x-rayed Imperial plates, visited William Hope. After a verse of ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ and a long improvised prayer by the photographer, Price was taken to the dark-room. Here Price surreptitiously marked the plate-holder he had been given with a pin-pricking instrument on his thumb. He also noticed that Hope, while away from the safe-light and presumably thinking he couldn’t be seen, had slipped the plate-holder into his breast pocket and then seemingly taken it out again.

When they returned to the studio and Hope had developed the print Price noticed the pinpricks had disappeared and the Imperial logo had failed to appear. Although a strange ghostly female apparition had.

Harry Price with ghostly apparition by William Hope

Later that day Price developed his unused plates and saw the remaining parts of the Imperial logo. He also noticed that the glass of the plate Hope had developed was made of thinner glass although Imperial had confirmed with him that the original plates were all made from the same piece. This was, at last, unassailable proof that Hope was a charlatan and a cheat.

The reverse of the photograph reads: ‘Why is the child always pushing to the front?’ and ‘Do we get messages from the higher spirits?’; perhaps questions the women wanted answering. One of the sitters, at Hope’s request, has signed the plate for authentication.

A photograph of a group gathered at a seance, taken by William Hope (1863-1933) in about 1920. The information accompanying the spirit album states that the table is levitating. In reality, the image of a ghostly arm has been superimposed over the table using a double exposure.

Harry Price published the findings in the SPR’s Journal in May and also printed the exposure in a sixpenny pamphlet called Cold Light on Spiritualistic Phenomena. The result was a worldwide sensation and it made Harry Price a national celebrity.

Ada Emma Deane was not discouraged by the exposé of William Hope and continued with her supernatural photography. Within two years, however, she had a downfall of her own. This time without the help of the now famous psychic investigator Harry Price.

In 1924 Ada Deane again photographed the Cenotaph ceremony during the two minutes of silence. At the request of her spiritual guides she had been ‘storing up power’ by refusing any other sittings for the preceding three weeks.

By now Ada Deane’s annual cenotaph photographs were eagerly awaited and the Daily Sketch had to outbid its rival Daily Graphic for the right to reproduce her latest picture.

Ada Deane’s Armistice picture 1924

At first the newspaper simply asked of the faces: “Whose are they?”, but two days later  the newspaper answered its own question with a front page headline:

HOW THE DAILY SKETCH EXPOSED ‘SPIRIT PHOTOGRAPHY’.

The Daily Sketch

The newspaper had noticed that the faces in the crowd that Deane had ‘photographed’ were not brave fallen soldiers but were actually cut-out pictures of footballers and boxers that were all very much alive. The newspaper wrote:

The exposure of truth in regard to alleged spirit photography, which deeply interests and affects multitudes of people, would not have been possible if the Daily Sketch had not, at the risk of some obloquy to itself, submitted the pictures to the rigorous searchlight of publicity, and thereby set at rest the minds of thousands who at various times have been tempted to believe in ‘spirit’ photography.

The Daily Sketch quickly challenged Deane to produce some ‘spirit’ photographs using the newspaper’s own equipment. They even offered £1000 to charity if she managed to produce them under fair and scientific conditions. Not entirely surprisingly she emphatically refused.

One of the sportsmen in the picture was Sengalese-born ‘Battling’ Siki who was briefly Light Heavyweight champion when he knocked out Georges Carpentier in 1922. He died in 1925 in New York in mysterious circumstances having been shot in the back twice.

After the Daily Sketch’s exposure of her fraudulent activities Ada Deane rarely publicly produced her spirit photographs again. She later wrote:

It was a sorry day for me when I discovered this photographic power. My life has lost all its ease and serenity. Before I was respected and happy in my work, though poor; and today I am poor and look back on twelve years of worry and trouble and am a cock-shy for any newspaper penny-a-liner… I admit that many of the results obtained through me (in a way I have not the least inkling of) have every appearance of having been produced by trickery but I do no more understand how or why than you do.

Ada Deane had a relatively long wait before she had the chance to prove spirit photography once and for all and appear in someone else’s photograph (a chance, as far as we know, she hasn’t taken) and died at the age of 93 in Barnet in 1956.

Harry Price, who always enjoyed his celebrity status a little too much to be of any real importance in proper scientific research on the supernatural, nonetheless set up his own National Laboratory of Psychical Research at 16 Queensberry Place in South Kensington (the building is now occupied by the College of Psychic Studies) in 1925. It’s aim, Price wrote, ‘was to investigate in a dispassionate manner and by purely scientific means every phase of psychic or alleged psychic phenomena.”

College of Psychic Studies today at 16 Queensberry Place, South Kensington.

In 1938 its equipment and library was transferred to the University of London where it still resides. Ten years later, Price died of a massive heart attack while sitting at his desk in his house in Pulborough.

William Hope, even after Harry Price had seemingly proved him nothing but a fraudster, retained some loyal followers including author and spiritualist-believer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle even wrote a book called ‘The Case for Spirit Photography’ where he went to great lengths to argue the case for Ada Deane and William Hope.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Ada Deane

Alfred Rosenberg (his name incidentally is originally Estonian) was captured by Allied troops after the war. He was tried at Nuremberg and found guilty of the not insignificant crime of “conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war crimes; and crimes against humanity”. Rosenberg was the only condemned man at Nuremberg, who when asked at the gallows if he had any last statement to make, replied with only one word: “Nein”. His body was cremated and the ashes, much like his wreath sixteen years previously, were deposited in a nearby river.

A dead Dr Alfred Rosenberg following his hanging for war crimes

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