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De Keyser: a London Hotel and the Royal Prerogative

On Tuesday, the UK’s Supreme Court will issue its judgment on a case about whether the Government needs Parliament’s permission (most likely in the form of an Act of Parliament) in order to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union and begin the process for the UK to leave the EU. The court case included numerous references to an incident in  London in the Great War – watch out for the name ‘De Keyser’ in the judgment if you’re inclined to read the whole thing. This is the story of the prominent London hotel of that name during the Great War, which provides a precedent for one of the key principles in the Article 50 case.

The Royal Hotel was founded by Joost Constant Fidel Armand de Keyser in 1845 on the Victoria Embankment next to Blackfriar’s Bridge. De Keyser was a Belgian who came to the UK in the 1830s to escape turmoil in Belgium. His son Polydor de Keyser followed him after his initial schooling in Ghent and – after the death of his elder brother – joined the family business. Polydor is often cited as the founder of the hotel, which doesn’t seem to be accurate but perhaps reflects his prominent role both in the history of the hotel and in his adopted city.

Polydor de Keyser 'The Lord Mayor', as depicted by Spy in Vanity Fair, November 1887

Polydor de Keyser ‘The Lord Mayor’, as depicted by Spy in Vanity Fair, November 1887

And Polydor certainly was prominent in the life of the city. To quote from his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography:

As president of the Belgian Benevolent Society he promoted the British section at the International Exhibition on Hygiene and Lifesaving, held at Brussels in 1876, for which he was made a knight of the order of St Léopold; he was later raised to commander. He was a founder of the Guildhall School of Music and an early president of its management committee. In the autumn of 1887 he became lord mayor of London, the first Catholic to hold this office since the Reformation… His mayoralty coincided with Queen Victoria’s jubilee and the silver wedding of the prince and princess of Wales. His desire to celebrate this latter event was frustrated by the period of court mourning which followed the deaths of Kaiser Wilhelm I and (shortly afterwards) Friedrich III, though he was later able to present the royal couple with a silver model of the Imperial Institute. He was knighted in December 1888.

De Keyser accepted the task of presiding over the organization of the British section at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889. His efforts bore fruit; the British exhibitors made a good showing at this very successful event, located close to the brand-new Eiffel Tower, and the French government created him a chevalier of the Légion d’honneur. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, the Royal Geographical and the Statistical societies, a member of the Loriners’, Butchers’, Innholders’, Poulters’, and Wyre-Drawers’ companies, and held high masonic office.

Along with his father, and after the latter’s death, Sir Polydor also oversaw the expansion of the Royal Hotel. The DNB describes its growth: “The hotel was rebuilt to five storeys in 1874, decorated in the best French taste, with 230 guest rooms and a vast dining-room to seat 400 people. Another wing was added in 1882, making it the largest in London with a total capacity of 480 guests. It had a second dining-room, seating 250, many recreation rooms, gardens, and accommodation for 150 staff.”

De Keyser's Hotel from Blackfriar's Bridge, from A London Inheritance blog post

De Keyser’s Hotel (the large curved-fronted building) from Blackfriar’s Bridge, from A London Inheritance blog post

Sir Polydor de Keyser died in 1898 and is buried in Nunhead Cemetery in South London. The hotel lived on under the stewardship of Polydor Weichand de Keyser, the nephew and heir of Polydor and his wife Louise.

When war came, the Royal Hotel – which was widely known as de Keyser’s Hotel, was badly hit. From June 1915, the De Keyser Hotel Co Ltd was in the hands of a ‘Receiver and manager’ appointed by the Chancery Court.

Times were hard. As a writer in The Sphere put it on 22 January 1916:

The misfortune of having a foreign name is exemplified in the case of that old-established institution the De Keyser Hotel, hitherto the favourite haunt of opulent European people of all nationalities. Although the proprietor and founder of this caravanserie was a Belgian and sometime Lord Mayor of London, and although the staff contains no enemy waiters or Germans who have been naturalised, the hotel has suffered to such an extent since the war opened that a receiver and manager has had to be appointed by the Chancery Court. It is understood that a new company has been formed to carry on the business under the auspices of Mr R.C.Vaughan, recently the successful manager of the Grand Pump Room, Bath, and it is hoped that when it becomes known that the hotel is in all respects English in its ownership and managership there may return an era of prosperity such as the hotel formerly enjoyed for so many years.

This article hints at the difficulties around nationality and Britishness in the Great War. That a hotel with no ‘enemy’ staff (i.e. citizens of enemy states) and no British staff who had been born a Germans that had been run by the Clapham-born nephew of a former Lord Mayor of London was struggling to convince people that it was British tells us something about problems people and businesses suffered if their names and/or backgrounds were at all Germanic sounding. A name that sounds like the title of the hated German Kaiser must have been particularly unhelpful (the pronunciation of the hotel’s name caused a bit of unusual banter during the Supreme Court case).

Advert for De Keyser's Royal Hotel, in the Scotsman, 12 Feb 1916

Advert for De Keyser’s Royal Hotel, in the Scotsman, 12 Feb 1916

An alternative appeal: De Keyser's Hotel as a place for Belgians in London, from Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald,15 April 1916

An alternative appeal: De Keyser’s Hotel as a rendezvous location for Belgians in London, from Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald,15 April 1916

The De Keyser Hotel story that is particularly pertinent today, is not, however, about the difficulties of running a foreign-sounding hotel in London but about the powers of the Government in wartime.

In May 1916, the War Office took over the Hotel to house its growing aeronautics staff – the civil servants supporting the Royal Flying Corps. The Government took over the entire hotel of around 400 rooms – an article about the introduction of British Summertime in 1916 noted that there were 400 clocks in the hotel that would need to be changed by Government clock-winders. This was part of a large-scale take over of buildings and open spaces by the Government, as we have seen before on this blog.

The Government moves in to De Keyser's Hotel, Daily Mirror 18 May 1916

The Government moves in to de Keyser’s Hotel, Daily Mirror 18 May 1916

The Government’s takeover of de Keyser’s Hotel was not a happy one for either party. In April 1916, the Board of Works and the De Keyser Hotel Co Ltd had been in negotiations over the Government renting the hotel but these came to nothing. On April 29th, the Board wrote to the company that they were recommending that the hotel should be requisitioned under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 (the notorious and wide-ranging ‘DORA‘) and the company would receive compensation for losses incurred, to be decided by the Defence of the Realm Losses Commission.

The company wrote back denying the right of the Government to do this. The company’s Receiver wrote on 5 May “it does not seem to me that the acquisition of this building as offices is necessary for the purpose of securing the public safety or the Defence of the Realm”, which was the phrase used in Defence of the Realm Regulation 2 to allow requisitioning of property. he suggested that a reasonable agreement on terms could be reached, or arbitration used. The Office of Works replied reasserting the right to requisition the hotel under DORA and the Royal Prerogative (the remaining powers of the Crown – exercised by the Government – that have not been superseded or restricted by Acts of Parliament) and the need for the company to apply to the Losses Commission.

The company refused to go to the Commission and presented a Petition of Right to the King calling for payment of an annual rent while the Government used the building (£13,520 for the year May 1916-Feb 1917) and asking for “a declaration that your supplicants [the company] are entitled to a fair rent for use and occupation by way of compensation under the Defence Act 1842.” The Attorney General responded for the monarch, reasserting that the DORA powers and Royal Prerogative were sufficient, and compensation scheme was applicable in this case.

The company took the case to court. The first judge sided with the Government, saying that the DORA powers were sufficient, but the Appeal Court overturned that decision. The Government then appealed to the House of Lords. In the UK’s unusual constitution, the highest court in the land was the House of Lords – or more accurately the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, known as the Law Lords, who were appointed to decide important cases (since the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876). This was the arrangement until the creation of the modern UK Supreme Court in 2009 – some of the current Supreme Court Justices were Law Lords before they moved across Parliament Square to their current location.

In May 1920, the Law Lords decided the case in favour of the company. Essentially, they decided that the acquisition of the hotel by the Government had not taken place under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, which did not permit it. The use of the Losses Commission to pay the hotel’s managers was therefore a use of the Royal Prerogative, which was invalid because there was already legislation in the form of the Defence Act 1842 providing for compensation where property was requisitioned by the Crown.

 

The case helped to establish the extent of prerogative powers. It decided that the Crown could not requisition citizens’ property under the Royal Prerogative without paying compensation. It is also cited as an authority for the key constitutional principle that statute law (passed by Parliament) trumps the Royal Prerogative, meaning that if the Crown used to be able to do something on the basis of the Royal Prerogative but is now has a legal basis to do it under statute, the Prerogative falls into abeyance and cannot be resumed. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is an example of this, ending the Crown’s right to dissolve Parliament (by setting out fixed dates for elections and mechanisms for Parliament to call early elections).

Technical though it sounds, this is a ‘leading’ (i.e. important) case in constitutional law, helping to establish the balance of rights between the citizen and the Government. As Sir John Simon QC (Counsel for the De Keyser Hotel Co Ltd in the case, former MP for Walthamstow, former Attorney-General and Home Secretary, and later Lord Chancellor during the Second World War) wrote in an introduction to a book on the case:

“Leading cases in Constitutional Law are chiefly concerned with establishing the rights of individual citizens in the face of exceptional interference by the Executive, and a heavy crop of judicial decisions on this subject might, at first sight, have been expected in the years 1914-19. But in fact the instances in which such questions were raised and decided by Enghsh Courts are few.”

The ‘Article 50′ case being considered by the Supreme Court touches on the same issue as the de Keyser case. The argument accepted by the High Court was that UK citizens’ rights as EU citizens, conferred by Acts of Parliament, cannot be taken away by use of the Royal Prerogative – i.e. the Government cannot trigger article 50 and therefore remove those rights without a statutory basis for doing so. That (and not whether Brexit should happen) is the gist of the court case. We will find out the Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday morning.

It is not often that a story from London in the Great War has a bearing on 21st century UK politics, but it in this case, De Keyser’s Hotel, its forced acquisition by the Government and the competing arguments about compensation are playing just such a role.

What happened to the hotel itself? In 1920, the site was leased by Lever Brothers as their London headquarters. They demolished the old hotel and built Unilever House in 1930, the building that currently stands on that spot. The blog A London Inheritance tells of the demolition and the new building, with a good set of photos.

Sources:

Disclaimer: I know quite a bit about the Great War and about the constitution, but I am not a constitutional lawyer. I am happy to correct any errors in my interpretation of the de Keyser case and the Royal Prerogative.

 
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Posted by on 23 January 2017 in Famous companies, Places

 

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A long way to Piccadilly

In 1920, a book called 500 of the best Cockney War Stories was published by the London Evening News (“with an opening yarn by General Sir Ian Hamilton”).

Here is one, contributed by R. Allen, a veteran of the Middlesex Regiment (one of its battalions in the 41st Division), living in Finchley after the war. For context you need to know that Swan and Edgar was a department store on Piccadilly; like many famous landmarks it had a trench named after it.

Towards the end of September 1918 I was one of a party of nine men and an officer taking part in a silent raid in the Ypres sector, a little in front of the well-known spot called Swan and Edgar’s Corner. The raid was the outcome of an order from Headquarters demanding prisoners for information.

Everything had been nicely arranged. We were to approach the German line by stealth, surprise an outpost, and get back quickly to our own trenches with the prisoners.

Owing perhaps to the wretchedness of the night—it was pouring with rain, and intensely black—things did not work according to plan. Instead of reaching our objective, our party became divided, and the group that I was with got hopelessly lost. There were five of us, including “Ginger,” a Cockney.

We trod warily for about an hour, when we suddenly came up against a barbed-wire entanglement, in the centre of which we could just make out the figure of a solitary German. After whispered consultation, we decided to take him prisoner, knowing that the German, having been stationary, had not lost sense of direction and could guide us back to our line. Noiselessly surmounting the barbed wire, we crept up to him and in a second Ginger was on him. Pointing his bayonet in Fritz’s back, he said, “Nah, then, you blighter, show us the way ‘ome.”

Very coolly and without the slightest trace of fear, the German replied in perfect English, “I suppose you mean me to lead you to the British trenches.”

“Oh!” said Ginger, “so yer speak English, do yer?”

“Yes,” said the German, “I was a waiter at a restaurant in Piccadilly before the War.”

“Piccadilly, eh? You’re just the feller we want. Take us as far as Swan and Edgar’s Corner.”

German prisoners, September 1918 © IWM (Q 11334)

German prisoners, September 1918 © IWM (Q 11334)

 
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Posted by on 16 September 2015 in Famous companies, Ordinary Londoners

 

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Will Owen’s Old London Town

Men and women at war often long for home. Quite what their image of home is can vary. During the Great War, an effort was made to provide a positive, homely and nostalgic vision of London for soldiers returning here on leave (or passing through).  Illustrator and writer Will Owen produced words and images evoking ‘old London town’.

Freybourg and Treyer; illustration from Will Owen's Old London Town (1921)

Freybourg and Treyer; illustration from Will Owen’s Old London Town (1921)

When service personnel arrived on the leave train at one of the London terminal stations in the last six months of the war, they could pick up the free weekly newspaper ‘Welcome’ from WH Smith. It provided those on leave with practical information about getting around, where they could find accommodation and how they could avoid scammers. Much of the material was produced by the propagandist National War Aims Committee.

Among those things, there was also a regular series called ‘bits of old London town’. This consisted of line-drawings and brief, chatty descriptions of old bits of London – buildings and things in the street that evoke a sense of London’s history.

William Widden Owen was born in Malta in 1869 but grew up in London. In 1881, he lived with his parents Thomas and Mary Elizabeth in Brixton; by 1891 he was a Government Clerk at the Post Office Savings Bank, still living with his parents, now at 35 Mervan Road. In around 1898, he married Irishwoman Margaret Florence; in 1901 they were living in Richmond and by 1911 they were raising their two daughters in Deal, Kent. By then, Owen’s profession is listed in the census as ‘Artist (painter)’ – he was writing and producing illustrations for various magazines.

His wikipedia entry describes his work during the war: “During the First World War he produced cartoons for the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, introducing readers to new terms such as ‘strafe‘, ‘Blighty‘, ‘pipsqueak‘ and ‘brass’.”

He also produced those illustrations for ‘Welcome’.  They range from No 10 Downing Street and the Royal Hospital at Chelsea to the Wapping Old Steps and the London Stone, as well as points at the limit of the urban area of London like Neasden-cum-Kingsbury Parish Church. About the journey to the latter, he writes “A curious fact about Neasden Station is that if you turn to the right you will see nothing but bricks and mortar the whole of the way into London, but turning to the left you find yourself almost immediately in rural England at its truly ruralest.”

The illustrations are mostly street scenes, but there is very little of the streetlife of the war – the food queues and servicemen and women that wartime brought to the streets of London. A solitary exception is the illustration of Shepherd Market off Piccadilly, which shows an officer and a nurse.

Shepherd Market, off Piccadilly; illustration from Will Owen's Old London Town (1921)

Shepherd Market, off Piccadilly; illustration from Will Owen’s Old London Town (1921)

In his thesis on propaganda and the NWAC, David Monger notes the role of these pictures as depicting an idealised British home-front community that servicemen and women were serving to protect.

Owen also continued to create more traditional images for magazines such as The Sketch. Lucinda Gosling’s book Brushes and Bayonets includes several examples.

After the war, Owen continued his work as an illustrator, including for the London Underground. Gosling describes Owen’s most famous work as the creation of the ‘Bisto Kids’.

The "Bisto Kids", Will Owen's most famous creation

The “Bisto Kids”, Will Owen’s most famous creation

Will Owen’s wartime illustrations for ‘Welcome’ were published in 1921 as Old London Town, which is available in its entirety on Project Gutenberg. The book has the rather nice preface, ‘I make no apology for the publication of this little book – on the contrary’.

 

Acknowledgement: Thanks to David Monger for alerting me to the original use of Will Owen’s illustrations, which is covered in his thesis ‘The National War Aims Committee and British patriotism during the First World War’ and more recent articles.

 
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Posted by on 9 January 2015 in Famous companies, Famous People

 

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London buses at war 1914-1918

This week sees the end of London Transport’s “Year of the Bus”, as well as the first year of the centenary of the Great War. In this last post of 2014, we will have a brief look at some of the changes to the life of London’s buses that the years 1914-1918 brought – at war and at home.

Military service

In one of the earliest posts on this blog, we heard of a Londoner who travelled to the Front in 1914 on the same bus that he had used at home – with the same driver! This was just one of many London buses that were deployed with the British Expeditionary Force in 1914 and remained there for the duration.

A London bus (still displaying the LGOC's name) at Ypres in 1914 © IWM (Q 57328)

London buses (still displaying the LGOC’s name) at Ypres in 1914 © IWM (Q 57328)

Wrecked bus at St Eloi in France, only two weeks after leaving Willesden Garage in 1914 (Daily Mirror photo)

Wrecked bus at St Eloi in France, only two weeks after leaving Willesden Garage in 1914 (Daily Mirror photo)

 

The first buses to come into service did so slightly earlier, though – back in London. As soon as the war began, London’s buses were pressed into action. The same issue of the Daily Mirror that carried pictures of the scenes in Westminster on the night that Britain declared war on Germany also showed the Territorial Force using a requisitioned bus to transport men and ammunition – the men sat on the upper deck, while ammunition “from the powder magazine in Hyde Park” (an oddly detailed description for wartime!) was carried inside.

A London bus used to transport Territorial soldiers and ammunition (Daily Mirror, 6/8/1914)

A London bus used to transport Territorial soldiers and ammunition (Daily Mirror, 6/8/1914)

Once the buses did reach the front they were used for various purposes. As well as transporting men to the front, they were also used for transport in the opposite direction – both for regular movement of troops and to move the wounded back to hospital for treatment.

London buses used as amublances in 1914 (Daily Mirror, 13/10/1914)

London buses used as amublances in 1914 (Daily Mirror, 13/10/1914)

It was not only people who needed to be moved around at the front. Pigeons were housed in converted buses:

A former London double-decker bus (B.2125), camouflage painted, used as a travelling loft for carrier-pigeons. Pernes, 26 June 1918 © IWM (Q 9000)

A former London double-decker bus (B.2125), camouflage painted, used as a travelling loft for carrier-pigeons. Pernes, 26 June 1918 © IWM (Q 9000)

Even more dramatic was the change to this bus, stripped entirely of its superstructure and made into the mobile base of an anti-aircraft gun.

 

A London bus after a major re-fit as an anti-aircraft gun-carraige (from Illustrated War News 1916)

A London bus after a major re-fit as an anti-aircraft gun-carraige (from Illustrated War News 1916)

Back in Blighty

The volume of traffic on London’s public transport system in the early twentieth century was enormous. In 1881 41.1 million bus journeys were taken in the capital, along with 40.5 million train journeys; by 1901 the figures were 269.9m bus journeys and 236.5m train journeys plus 340.7 journeys by tram – nearly 850m journeys in total. In 1908 the total number of journeys was 1.36 billion and in 1913 over 2 billion.

Around nine hundred or a thousand London buses went to war during 1914-1918. According to the Metropolitan police’s chief superintendent of carriages, there were 2,277 “motor omnibuses” on the capital’s road at the end of 1918, compared with 3,057 in 1914. This must have made a difference to the availability of public transport in the streets during the war years – with the reductions in civilian train services as well, it was noticeably harder to get around during the war than in the years that preceded it. Bus manufacturing also virtually stopped – turned, like so much other production, to war purposes for the duration. The numbers of passengers, however, continued to grow: 2.37 billion journeys on public transport in London in 1918, 682 million of them by bus

As well as the disappearance of the buses, many of the omnibus workers also went to war. By February 1915, 21% of the men employed in London’s bus and tram services had joined the armed forces and only 3.5 percentage points of the shortfall had been made up.

By late 1915 it was quite obvious that women would be needed to keep London’s transport infrastructure working. The first female bus conductor was taken on by Tilling’s (one of the smaller of the main bus operators) on their No 37 route in late 1915. The London General Omnibus Company (LGOC), the main bus provider in the capital, lagged a bit behind but eventually took on bus female bus conductors in February 1916.

One of the first female London bus conductors (the caption notes that London was behind other towns in employing women this way) (Daily Mirror, 28/10/1915)

One of the first female London bus conductors (the caption notes that London was behind other towns in employing women this way) (Daily Mirror, 28/10/1915)

A few months later, the LGOC started to employ women - in rather unfriendly weather conditions (especially for an open-topped double-decker!) (Daily Mirror, 25/2/1916)

A few months later, the LGOC started to employ women – in rather unfriendly weather conditions (especially for an open-topped double-decker!) (Daily Mirror, 25/2/1916)

As with most expansions of women’s work during the war, this change was greeted with much publicity around women doing their bit and how they could do ‘man’s work’. By mid-1918, the number of women employed on buses across the country had increased from 300 to 4,500 (on trams it was even greater: from 1,300 to nearly 22,000). It was estimated that 90% of conductors on trams and buses were women. Generally, men were retained as drivers and doing some of the heavier (and dirtier) engineering roles. The conducting role was said to be beneficial to the health of those women who did it.

In reality, women were not seen as directly doing ‘man’s work’ as they were not paid the same as men doing the same jobs in transport. The transport companies (including LGOC) said that this was because their female employees were less reliable, less able to collect fares during rush hours, required more staff on duty at any one time and more training, and were subject to more complaints by the public. In August 1918, women transport workers across the country went on strike demanding equal pay with men. They didn’t get it but were given a war bonus.

(Daily Mirror, 20/8/1918)

(Daily Mirror, 20/8/1918)

Just as buses at the front could be caught up in the devastation of war, so too could some unlucky vehicles – and their crews – in London. When bombs fell around Liverpool Street station, one bus was very heavily damaged and its driver and conductor killed.

Michael Macdonagh described the scene in his war diary:

Making my way across Moorgate Street and down London Wall, I came to the place where a bomb dropped in front of a motor-onmibus bound for Liverpool Street Station, and blew it to pieces. Twenty people were on board, including the driver and conductor. Nine were instantly killed and eleven seriously injured. The driver had both his legs blown off and died on his way to hospital. The door of a block of offices was pointed out to me where the housekeeper standing on the steps was killed. The roadway was strewn with the glass of shattered windows.

In the driver and conductor’s well-attended funeral procession the next week, a bus was decked out with garlands in his honour.

Seven hundred omnibusmen attended the funeral of their colleauges killed in the 8/9 September 1915 Zeppelin raid. A decorated bus took part in the procession. (Daily Mirror 21/10/1915)

Seven hundred omnibusmen attended the funeral of their colleauges killed in the 8/9 September 1915 Zeppelin raid. A decorated bus took part in the procession. (Daily Mirror 21/10/1915)

As with so many aspects of London life, the Great War brought big changes to the buses. Transport was one of the major – and most visible – areas of the expansion of female employment, while some of the vehicles went to war in 1914 alongside their male operators.

Sources:

  • Sheila Taylor (ed), The Moving Metropolis: A history of London’s transport since 1800
  • Daily Mirror, 1914-1918 editions and modern story about buses
  • London Transport Museum website
  • Parliamentary papers: Royal Commission on London Traffic (1905, Cd 2597), State of Employment (Feb 1915, Cd 7850), Report from the Select Committee on Transport (Metropolitan Area) (1919 (147)), Women in Industry (1919, Cmd 135),
 
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Posted by on 30 December 2014 in Famous companies, Ordinary Londoners, Women

 

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The YMCA, the Great War and the Bard

On the corner of Gower Street and Keppel Street in Bloomsbury stands the impressive inter-war building of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The site’s earlier history, though, is important in the history modern Shakespearean performances in the capital, linked to the RSC and the National Theatre – and it provided a haven for soldiers and sailors in London in the Great War.

In the years before the Great War, a group of like-minded and well-connected people were campaigning to open a Shakespeare Theatre in London as a venue for the Bard’s plays in the capital. In 1913, Sir Oswald Stoll gave 1616 guineas towards the project (an enormous sum when working men’s wages were around 20 or 30s per week – a guinea was 21 shillings). Israel Gollancz (uncle of the publisher Victor Gollancz) led the project and by early 1914 a site had been found and cleared, and a competition to design the theatre was launched, with a view to opening the theatre in 1916 for the tercentenary of the Bard’s death. In August 1914, the project came to a halt.

During the first eighteen months of the war, the YMCA and other organisations opened up places for soldiers and sailors to relax in London. Many were based around the railway termini (and we have seen that one was opened in 1917 for US servicemen: the Eagle Hut), but in August 1916 the ‘Shakespeare Hut’ was opened by Princess Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein (wife of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a grandson of Queen Victoria).

Advert for the opening of the Shakespeare Hut 11 August 1916 (from the Times)

Advert for the opening of the Shakespeare Hut 11 August 1916 (from the Times)

The Shakespeare Hut, photo by GP Lewis © IWM (Q 28741)

The Shakespeare Hut, photo by GP Lewis © IWM (Q 28741)

The hut was used throughout the war for entertainments and as somewhere for soldiers and sailors to sleep if they had no accommodation in the city. The Times reported in September 1918 that over 2,000 men were sleeping in the Shakespeare Hut each week, the most of any of the YMCA huts whose statistics they listed.

After the war, the huts on the site were made into accommodation for students at the nearby University of London (the site is close to Senate House), mainly Indian students. The site was sold in April 1922 as the site for a new School of Hygiene in the University; as Gollancz (by now Sir Israel) put it, “On the site secured for the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre there will soon arise a Temple of Hygeia”. This new building and others around the university have completely changed the scene around the site of the hut.

YMCA Shakespeare Hut, Gower Street (C)IWM Q 28740

Then: YMCA Shakespeare Hut, Gower Street (C)IWM Q 28740

 

The junction of Gower Street and Store Street today (image from Google streetview)

Now: The junction of Gower Street, Store Street and Keppel Street today (image from Google streetview)

While it was lent (rent-free) to the YMCA during the war years the site had increased in value, and in the years after the war rent had accumulated from the use by Indian students. This money went towards the National Theatre movement and the creation of a New Shakespeare Company, as the campaign for a Shakespeare theatre in London became more closely allied with the one that had already been built in Stratford. Although it never became the site of a Shakespeare memorial theatre, the site was part of the story of the genesis of the National Theatre (eventually established in 1963) and the Royal Shakespeare Company (created in 1961 at the Stratford theatre)

 
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Posted by on 22 April 2014 in Famous companies, Famous People, Places, Then & Now

 

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Commandeered: German offices in London

Early in the Great War, the British Government were able to take extraordinary steps against German citizens and businesses. In 1914-15 many Germans were interned (including some held in Stratford). The Government also commandeered the headquarters of German owned shipping line Hamburg-Amerika in Cockspur Street, Westminster.

Hamburg-Amerika was a transatlantic shipping line founded in 1847 and based in Hamburg, Germany; in the early twentieth century, one of their ships held the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic.  In 1906-07, they had a new London headquarters built at 14-16 Cockspur Street in Westminster. The  building was designed by Arthur T. Bolton, with sculpture by W.B. Fagan (both of them Londoners) – it was a magnificent structure. The website Oriental Passions has a good set of photographs of the facade in a blog post from 2011. The English Heritage Archives have a few photos of the building just after it was built (for example this one of the facade).

At the start of the Great War, this impressive German building was taken into the service of Britain and its armed forces:

War Illustrated, vol. 1, Jan 1915

War Illustrated, vol. 1, Jan 1915

Here is the same section today:

The same section of 14-16 Cockspur Street today

The same section of 14-16 Cockspur Street today

One of the English Heritage Archive photos shows this part of the building in detail before the war. This allows us to see how it was transformed.  The company’s name was removed from the top and a banner with ‘HIS MAJESTY’S ARMY’ erected in its place. Likewise the windows have been boarded up and plastered with recruiting messages – with the words ‘Men of the Empire. Your King & Country Need You. Enlist Today.’

Around this big poster are the usual 1914-era text-based recruiting posters – the picture posters were more common in 1915.  Either side of the door is an unofficial recruiting poster that did have a large picture on it. These were reprints of the poster from a pre-war film about the army, pressed into service in 1914 to serve as a recruiting poster:

Film poster used for recruiting (image built up of two IWM poster images: title and image)

Film poster used for recruiting (image built up of the images of two sections of the poster (c)IWM)

The building’s role as a recruiting office was far from the end of its use by the British Government. By late 1916 (when voluntary enlistment had been replaced with conscription), the Hamburg-Amerika Line section of the building moved from being used by the War Office to being an Admiralty building, according the Prime Minister in response to questions about whether steps were being made to sell the building. Eventually, in July 1917, the building (now being used by the Ministry of Munitions) was sold by the British Government for £60,200 to P&O, maintaining the presence of travel companies on Cockspur Street (reported in Times 1/8/1917). Throughout all this, the British/Canadian Allan Line Steamship Company Limited had continued to occupy the right-hand-side of the building (viewed from Cockspur Street), as they had before the war. Today, that side of the building is the Brazilian Embassy.

When war was declared, German citizens in Britain were subject to restrictions on their liberty. Similarly, German property could be seized by the Government. This prominent building in Westminster was seized and put to the key purpose of the day: recruiting men to fight against the Germans.

 
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Posted by on 21 October 2013 in Famous companies, Places, Recruitment

 

A year of Great War London

This blog has now been going for a year. At the risk of being a little self-congratulatory, I thought it would be good to look back over some of the people, places and events that we have seen in the posts.

Return to the Front: Victoria Railway Station, by Richard Jack.

Return to the Front: Victoria Railway Station, by Richard Jack.

We have met Londoners who performed great acts of heroism, like Revd Noel Mellish, Arthur Feldwick and CLR Falcy. There was also James Collis, who had been stripped of his Victoria Cross but had it restored after his death in the Great War. Lancelot Dickinson Chapmen pretended to have earned the VC.

We also met the Slatter brothers, Reginald Savory (who, contrary to reports, did not die in the war) CO Oglethorpe (who was not a spy), burns victim HR Lumley, war artist Eric Kennington, drowned soldier AJ Duddeidge, propaganda speakers Thomas Harper and the Bishop of London, musician Percy Gayer, youngster H.J. Bryant, and Henry Allingham – who outlived all other British Great War veterans.

Sportsmen played their part in the war, men like Harry Lee, Bob Whiting and Reggie Schwarz.  So too did the Golliwog.

Men from London’s ethnic minorities served in the British army, including young Czech men and the Jewish battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. G.E.K. Bemand and Walter Tull, two of the British army’s first black officers also left the capital to serve in the war.

We also met Hilda Hewlett, an aviator pioneer; Edie Bennett, longing for her soldier husband; hero’s widow Gertrude Jarratt; and brave women like Mary Bushby Stubbs, Sara Bonnell and nurse Beatrice Allsop.

Other soldiers committed crimes like Henry Canham, who murdered his cheating wife, or WJ Woolner the underage soldier who went on the run from the army.

People found out about the war through the Field Service Postcards, letters (read by censors like Martin Hardie) and through films like The Battle of the Somme, the most successful British film of the age.

Familiar London sites and objects took on a different look or role in the war: St James’s Park hosted Government departments, a factory in Silvertown was destroyed in a huge explosion, the London bus went to war, war-workers’ housing was erected in Woolwich, an ice-rink held stores for the Red Cross, town halls played host to Military Service Tribunals, the British Museum was locked up for the duration, a German submarine arrived in the Thames, and the American YMCA ‘Eagle Hut’ opened in Aldwych.

Germans have appeared in London in the form of civilians interned at Stratford, air raiders (who damaged Cleopatra’s Needle), victims of rioting, and the British Royal Family. They also met with Londoners in the British Army in the 1914 Christmas truce. Meanwhile, a mock Iron Hindenburg appeared in Stepney.

And finally, we have seen the first London war memorials of the Great War and the Royal Naval Division’s memorial, and met one of the men depicted on the Royal Artillery memorial. We have seen the arrival of the Unknown Warrior, a protest at the Cenotaph, and seen its Hyde Park predecessor.