Friday, 28 April 2017

The National Army Museum

Royal Hospital Rd, Chelsea, London SW3 4HT

Thursday 27 April 2017

The newly re-opened National Army Museum passed the first test for 50% of us, by having good cycle racks. This enabled me to recover from the tetchiness which beset me when I found that I was not allowed to walk through the Royal Hospital Grounds (Closed for the set-up of the Flower Show)

The new building is spacious and bright, the facilities excellent, the cloakroom for leaving bags convenient, and so we were all set to explore. 

We were advised to start on the top floor, and that is where many of the interesting exhibits are. It is called 'Society and the History of War'. The layout is basically chronological, with recurring topics treated within each time-section.  And they certainly didn't pull many punches, pointing out that armies have always taken 'souvenirs' or 'loot' from their enemies, whether in the 1640s (where the story begins) or in the present day. Similarly, behaviour which shocks the modern woolly liberal is not avoided. We did not know that expanding bullets date from the 1890s, and that it seemed more acceptable to use them against recalcitrant 'savages' than western enemies. 'Is there such a thing as civilised warfare?' asked the captioning. The Geneva and Hague Conventions of 1864 and 1899 seem to have been rather less applied in colonial wars.

This was the first of several opportunities to use an interactive to 'vote' on what we thought. If I may voice a tiny criticism, the page that gives you how the vote has been going says 'visitor's responses', rather than 'visitors' responses' but no doubt they will sort that out.

We saw arquebuses, as well as the heavy breast plates, or cuirasses, which gave French Heavy Cavalry their name. French regimental flags, as presented by Napoleon were alongside the eagles with which they were replaced as Bonaparte began to think of himself as a Roman Emperor. The skeleton of his horse, Marengo, was also there!

When it came to the first of our several and always disastrous campaigns in Afghanistan, there was a section about Major General Sir William Elphinstone 'the most incompetent soldier who ever became general', according to his contemporary, General Sir William Nott.  (They do all seem to be given titles, just the same...)

The Crimean War told us about the beginnings of useful medical care for the wounded, and the establishment of the Royal Army Medical Corps.  We have an uncle who was in the RAMC during the Second World War. The medical kit on display reminded us how glad we are to be living now, not then.

The 'load and fire a rifle' interactive was under repair, which we didn't mind too much, but we were pleased to see that weapon of enlightened Imperialism, the Maxim Gun. I had hoped to find you a link to the full text of Belloc's 'The Modern Traveller', but all websites seem to quote just the two well known lines ('whatever happens, we have got The Maxim Gun and they have not') . The disaster at Isandlwana also had a section (another inadequate commander, I am afraid) and the display of uniforms which accompanies all the sections turned from red to khaki.

One of several ongoing themes was the effect of armaments research on technology, and the development of communications for war was one example. There was an interesting section about the onset of total war.  Apparently during the First World War the soldiers hated snipers more than any other enemy:  the thought that someone was deliberately targeting individuals was less acceptable than indiscriminate industrila killing. We had never considered that before.

Then we came to the Second World War, which focussed on the Normandy Landings. There was some reference to the need for accurate meteorological forecasting, and a brief mention of the fact that many ships brought the troops across, but, as this is the Army's museum, no other mention was made of Operation Neptune and the remarkable achievement of 15,000 naval vessels (but you have heard me banging on about the neglect of naval history before, so I shall desist)

The obligatory 'dressing up' section, which all museums seem to have, was about camouflage, very well done and actually informative: against a choice of backgrounds (desert, jungle, snow) you could put on some kit and see if you blended. I could wish that other museums spent some time thinking about what dressing up is FOR.

There were then sections on Korea, Malaya, Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan.  We learned that it was during the Malaya conflict that General Templer coined the term 'hearts and minds' in an attempt to persuade populations not to back insurgents. Rules of engagement were discussed here, and we saw some kit for remotely dismantling explosive devices.

The section about war films and other popularising media was very interesting: from the tableaux of 1815 London to much more recent show-biz.  The 'hit parade' included The Grand old Duke of York, Kiss me Goodnight Sergeant Major, and the Manic Street Preachers.

'Landscape of Legacy' offered another view of how war shapes the modern world, with pictures of Blenheim Palace and other monuments to and about war.

Recruiting posters, toys and games also featured, as did advertisements for Cadet and TA opportunities.  Recruiting posters from all periods were alongside a range of prosthetic limbs and 'Help for Heroes' material.  

The 'Wear a Flanders Poppy' poster was dated to the mid 1920s.  We had known that the first few Armistice Days after 1918 were opportunities for parties, and it took some years for sober remembrance to replace them.  This was where we heard some war poetry from the 1914-18 war. A display about Wootton Bassett, newly 'Royal', again took us back to the price that needs to be paid for war.

They we came to a section of anti-war (and anti-army) posters and photos, again spanning a wide historical scope, which was a good opportunity for interactives about what the army is for and how soldiers should behave. 

A section on the reporting of war was also helped by an opportunity to decide whether we would take the press corps with us into action.  We also enjoyed a little game about codes, including the kinds that soldiers of the First World War used to tell their families things that the censors might block.

It was interesting to be reminded of the way that war terminology seeps onto the Home Front.

By the time we headed downstairs to the first floor, we felt we had seen and taken in a great deal, so we rather skipped the Art Gallery, and glanced only briefly at regimental badges and more uniforms.  There was an opportunity to match insignia badges to ranks, but we were only told our score,(low) not the 'right' answers.

This is where there was a brief section about women in the army, illustrated by two iconic posters, one from each of the World Wars, but we felt that there was more that could be said on this issue.

Finally, we came to a wall of very interesting statistics, though we were not clear whether the money values listed were 'modern equivalent' or actual.

We just about had the energy to admire Anna Redwood's Desert Rat Sculpture before heading off home. 

We shall certainly visit again, possibly starting at the bottom to do justice to the areas we rather skimped this time. We thought the Museum had done a good job of bringing itself up to date while remaining thought provoking and challenging.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Salvation Army Heritage Centre

William Booth College,
Champion Park,
Camberwell, London SE5 8BQ

Firstly apologies for the break in service due to a combination of health and holidays coming together with both bloggers otherwise occupied, but we are now back in business though struggling with our remaining museums – many of which have limited opening times or require visits by appointment rather than just turning up…

Jo was nursing a  cold so Linda decided to visit the Salvation Army Heritage Centre which she had not known existed ( not on the LIST you see) until she spotted the notice from the bus – William Booth College lying on a couple of regularly used bus routes  (185 and 176) and opposite Denmark Hill station. Roger kindly took the photos, learning the lesson we had known for some time that photography through glass does not work well…

Any similarity between the College and Battersea Power station or Cambridge University Library is due to the hand of the architect Giles Gilbert Scott, whose design this is. William Booth’s son Bramwell had it built in his father’s memory  and it opened on the centenary of his birth. We  were told you could visit it in more detail during London’s Open House events but the bits we saw today – entrance hall, lift and landing – were excellent examples of Twenties civic architecture. The Museum is on the third floor adjacent to the Library and Archives.
Just inside the museum is a ‘mutoscope’  (a flip book of photos so not quite film) showing the Booth funeral.

As you might expect, the Museum starts with a focus on William Booth, born 1829, and whose observations of the Pawnbroking business made him aware of social injustice. He was already a member of the Methodists (no surprise after our visit to John Wesley’s Chapel) and on his move to London spent time along the Whitechapel Road as an itinerant and very evangelical preacher initially for the Methodists but eventually breaking away from that movement via the Reformed Methodists to the start of The Christian Mission in 1865 which later came to be called the Salvation Army. By this time William had met and married Catherine Mumford, like himself originally from the East Midlands. Unusually for the time Catherine was a preacher also and was very robust about the equal role of women in the church; she was also good at fund raising amongst the richer of the congregation while William preached to the poor. She had also brought with her strong non-conformist views about the evils of drink so abstinence became one of the tenets of the Salvation Army. Tea was always on offer.

Because of this the early meetings and preachers met fierce opposition from the brewing industry in particular and the exhibition has several displays devoted to the opposition ‘skeleton army’ as it was known and posters for and against are shown. However prosecutions for unlawful assembly proved unsuccessful.   
Many of the early meetings were outdoors but as time went on buildings were found – places of worship generally known as ‘halls’.

Music plays a large role for the Salvation Army and there is a significant area devoted to the different instruments (they had their own factory which did not close until 1972) mainly brass of course as this is what sounds best out on the streets. Originally they played the Methodist hymns, but soon developed a repertoire and compositions of their own. Rather sweetly they had a 1960s guitar and vocal group called The Joystrings,  who had hits and appeared on Top of the Pops. They played in uniform which looks very quaint now but even the early Beatles wore matching suits and went through a pseudo military phase before ‘Give Peace a Chance’ took over..

For me the most significant positive of the Salvation Army was their commitment and sometimes pioneering approach to social work – yes it was very paternalistic and I’m sure the homeless they took in hated being preached at to ‘take the pledge’ but their approach was founded on good principles. William opined that  no-one would be receptive to God on an empty stomach and that philosophy has prevailed. They diversified into all aspects of social work from Aids work to Family Finding and tracing. 

At a very early point in their working with different communities they recognised what was then known as the  'White Slave Trade'  (what we would now call Child Sexual Exploitation)  and two of the officers were even prosecuted as they tried to expose to the government what was going on by ‘purchasing ‘ a 12/13 year old from her mother…

This work continues today as they offer help and support to victims of ‘modern slavery’  alongside continuing work with the Homeless. In 1891 they bought Hadleigh Farm in Essex to offer ongoing employment to men who had passed through their shelters, and this had both a dairy and a brickworks. Today it has diversified into having a Rare Breeds centre and a venue for mountain biking (? Essex?).

From social work it was a small step to an emergency response  role and the photographic display has numerous examples of the Salvations Army’s presence  at many of the key disasters of the last century. Their role, which they also carried out during both world wars, was to offer tea and support not only to the victims, but also to the emergency services who can frequently suffer from the after effects of working in such intense environments.  Staff are trained for such eventualities and though coming out of a mobile canteen they have appropriate training and counselling skills.

Like most of the evangelical religious groups the  Salvation  Army sent missionaries abroad and the movement is now established in over 120 countries worldwide – not surprisingly most strongly in the ‘old dominions’ of Australia and New Zealand. I was pleased to see that when they present at an overseas emergency the Salvation Army ‘uniform’ is reduced to a shield on a T-shirt  for hotter countries.Attempts were made to adapt to lcoal cultures - as in these Chinese fans..

Like many longstanding voluntary organisations we often take their work for granted and forget that it is grounded in a frim philosophy and belief and worship system. I tend to think the quasi-military

 set up of generals and captains sits rather strangely with some of their work  but is I suppose well embedded in the institution which is the Salvation Army and which this little neatly presented museum well explains. 

Friday, 24 March 2017

The Freud Museum

20 Maresfield Gardens. NW3 5SX

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Freud Museum is not excessively signed from the Finchley Road, but two blue plaques on the handsome house meant that Linda and I could not miss it when we arrived in good time for its opening time of 12.00 noon. (one plaque is for Sigmund, and one for his daughter Anna, a pioneer of psychoanalysis for children)
The Museum is reasonably priced at under £10.00 and it is worth having your National Trust card with you as NT members only pay half.  We could have had audio guides for a modest sum, but decided not to; and we were fine, because every room has clear labelling and a summary of key information. We were impressed with the high ceilings and bright rooms of this typical Hampstead house.
You begin in the hall, where there are some of Freud's many Classical and Egyptian heads and other small pieces.  We saw a modern artwork, an interpretation of Freud's coat, and an antique etching 'Head of Moses'.  Freud was very interested in Moses, as his book Moses and Monotheism confirms. The hall also had various family pictures.

Next come the study and library. Another modern art work is here, in the form of casts of the many objects on Freud's desk, at two thirds size, and in white. But all the rest is authentic and belonged to him: amazing numbers of books; African and Asian masks and heads; the couch on which his patients lay (and on which he also used to rest in the year he spent here, the last year of his life) His chair was out of the line of sight of his clients, and he used to look across the room at his archeological treasures while they 'free associated'.  This is how his rooms were in Vienna, before he was forced to leave, which was not until the summer of 1938.
It was interesting to learn how this was made possible:  he seems to have thought that, as an atheist and a celebrity, he would be safe, even after the Anschluss.  But rampant racism is not like that. His house was invaded and looted by members of the SA, and then Anna was imprisoned. He was lucky that his distinguished colleague and admirer, Princess Marie Bonaparte, paid a kind of ransom, which released him and his family and possessions, with an 'exit-only' visa. 

(That bit of information was of particular interest to me:  my dear friend Margit, who taught me German and came from the Sudetenland of Czecholovakia in 1939, showed me her exit visa, with the word 'wiederholt' crossed out and replaced by 'einmals' in nasty purple Gestapo ink. Not that Margit came with her desk, books and treasures, though, just her three year old daughter, Marie-Else)

Anyway, then we headed up the stairs to the sunny half landing, where Anna used to sit and sew, with her mother. Sigmund said that the house was cold, this spot must have been pleasant.  It also has her walking boots (Hampstead Heath is just up the road)

On the top landing, there is a family tree, with photographs, and a reminder that Sigmund's grandsons include the artist Lucien Freud and the chef, MP and TV personality, Clement. Sigmund had six children, and only his daughter Anna remained single. We were also taken by rather a good sketch of Freud by Salvador Dali, which you can see here.

In one of the upstairs rooms there was a screen showing various segments of film: an American photographer was able to film the apartment in the Berggasse in Vienna before it was dismantled after 45 years;  there were 'home movies' of the family, with their dogs, with a voice-over by Anna.  Among other things, she explained that Freud's passion for archeology was about 'digging down' through layers to find the truth, just like psychoanalysis.  Throughout the house we had been able to read examples of his work and stories of his patients, like the 'wolf man'.

The other upstairs rooms include Anna's bedroom, with typewriter and desk.  She also used this as a consulting room as did her partner and fellow psychoanalyst Dorothy Burlingham.  There were shelves of Anna's publications, and some of the children's books she used to facilitate communication with her young patients. We saw some colour film of her and Dorothy around the house they bought in Walberswick (and ventured to suppose that they would scarcely be able to afford it now when the village has become 'posh-London-on-sea'). 

There was also a meeting/seminar room and a further room devoted to the current modern art works on display in the house.

Then we went out into the garden, from where we had good views of the back of the house.  The large tent led us to wonder whether the place is licensed for weddings, though we did not inquire.

Although he only lived here for a year, Freud's history and work is well explained and described in this interesting house.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum

The All England Lawn Tennis Club,
Church Road, Wimbledon,
London SW19 5AE.

Thursday March 16 2017

We had, during last week’s trip to the Merton Heritage Museum, picked up a trail/walk leaflet , called the Wimbledon Way which involved a short stroll (2km) through Wimbledon’s heritage to the Lawn Tennis Museum.

As it was a lovely spring day we decided to follow it and I shall take you through the stages very briefly before we went underground into the Museum itself.

The trail starts at the station, which is generously served  by Underground, local and Thameslink services. The Stag which stands outside the station is a reminder of Wimbledon’s woody connections rather than local pub. The roads round the station are very busy with four way traffic and the main shops and services of  Wimbledon including the pretty library, extended since 1887, and nearby Bank Buildings similarly civic and redbrick in that familiar Victorian way. Ely’s the local department store seems to survive, which is quite an achievement.

Leaving some of the bustle behind the trail leads uphill passing large and imposing villas on both sides. Inevitably there was some WW2 bombing and there are more modern infills. Wimbledon High School has been around for nearly 150 years with a range of buildings to match, but what is interesting given how sloped it is is that this was the original site of the All England Croquet & Tennis club.
At the top of the hill we were rather taken with the Toynbee Memorial, which is a water fountain erected in gratitude to Joseph Toynbee  by the working men of Wimbledon . Amongst many campaigns which he supported was to save the common as Earl Spencer was threatening to enclose it.

Wimbledon ‘village’ today is full of expensive and largely independent outlets but originally, judging by the small size of the shops and little cottages, must have been where the working men lived and presumably where the women also went ‘into service’ in the nearby large houses which would have needed plenty of servants to keep them going. You can spot these cottages as you peer down the sides of Church Road which we followed to our destination. Also on the crown of the hill are the now expanded Dog & Fox pub and the very splendid old Fire Station with its very visible clock tower.

Church Road dips and twists downhill affording a good view of the All England Lawn Tennis   Club, which we all know as Wimbledon.
The outside wall has wrought iron inlays depicting groups of period and more modern tennis player silhouettes, which indicates how much the establishment promotes and preserves its heritage, and to some extent its privilege.

There are two possible ways of visiting the site; either you can book a whole guided tour which presumably takes you into the dressing rooms and round the outer courts or, as we opted to do, simply visit the Museum at half the cost – but this does include the opportunity to go into the Centre Court which like Court 1 (currently having a removable roof fitted to be finished by 2019) is only used for the two weeks a year when the Championships take place. Wimbledon is of course the only one of the Grand Slam venues played on grass. The walk underneath the stands is enlivened by wall posters of past winners. Like every great sporting venue since the Colosseum in Rome (and their many other arenas) the circular build with access from below to raked seats is the standard and ideal construction. No lions here, muttered Jo as we peered down a corridor, but we were not encouraged to roam so who knows? (meet by F
red Perry to do this bit) 

Centre Court seats 15,000 people but the All England Lawn Tennis Club only has 500 members – belonging is a similar process to getting membership at Lord’s namely waiting a lifetime for a vacancy to become available unless you are Championship winner… tickets for the June/July championships  are sold via a ballot .

Jo is not a tennis fan but did agree that the Museum was beautifully laid out – it is entirely underground and artificially lit, assuredly for conservation purposes, but again this made photography tricky. It is also circular which makes keeping to a chronology and not missing stuff easy. I on the other hand admire a game which requires so much skill strength and agility (yes I know all sports do) but you are also so self-reliant – there is no-one else to blame for this the most individual and egocentric of sports, and to watch a player rebounding  from a losing position is to watch some-one with huge determination, self-belief and strength of mind. I think the Billie Jean quote, and there are many such from different players is very apt: ‘Tennis is the perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of tranquility’.

Tennis seems to have evolved out of a variety of predecessors including ‘Battledore & Shuttlecock’ real tennis and what the French called ‘Jeu de Paumewhich a bit like Pelota,  was played by hand till some-one thought about a racquet. The French, especially pre-revolution, were leaders in this and the hangover is the number of French words – including Love coming from l’oeuf (an egg). Outdoor tennis was sometimes combined with croquet –  both requiring neatly manicured lawns, and people to maintain them.  Equally equipment to play with  and the leisure to participate – all of which indicates a middle or upper class sport, which it has largely remained.

One of the other attractions for the  Victorians and Edwardians was the fact tennis parties offered opportunities for meeting  the other sex and flirting – think of  John Betjeman’s ‘Joan Hunter Dunn' which epitomises the pre-war image of tennis.
There were championships and competitions before that of course, both All England and International, and we enjoyed the posters previewing the same. Tennis has also always been subject to fashion and style, not only in the clothes but in souvenirs and artefacts and the two Art Deco models are excellent examples of tennis invading the living spaces of the well to do.

The Second World War put a longer break on tennis evolution and here at Wimbledon the car parks were ploughed up for farming, with the championships restarting in 1946. By 1967 professionals and amateurs were playing side by side and nowadays with the intensity of training and travelling it cannot be anything other than a professional sport though local ‘tennis clubs’ still exist.

The history up to this point has been largely documented through some photographs and documents and snippets of real film alongside some reconstructed scenes. The next section, which is far more interactive, looks at the developing technology of the sport – how simple handmade wooden rackets evolved into the highly technical weapons they are today – the same is true of the tennis balls .  As Wimbledon is firmly grassy you do get to play with the ‘covers’, those ground sheets which go on when ‘rain stops play’.   

There are multiple choice questions about the role of the ball boys and girls and even more key – the decisions of the umpire.
Q ‘Do you let players listen to their headphones during the break?’
A. No. They might be getting instructions from their coach.

There is also a machine for testing your reactions to balls coming over the net – we cheated by playing doubles against another visitor who then revealed he had used both hands, and of course we were way too slow..
Round the bend was the section labelled ‘Mainly Whites’ which we originally took to be statement on the (lack of) diversity in tennis but actually refers to the Wimbledon rules that what you wear must be ‘mainly white’. There is the full range of clothes from full length Victorian dresses through the frilly nylon era up to the modern more functional sportswear, and of course there are examples to try on. Note the corset - essential wear!

From here on the museum experience becomes a multi- media one with films running round the top, sound bites from famous players and many examples of signed rackets/ and garments from specific matches or wins…  all this to illustrate how tennis became a celebrity sport complete with autograph hunters in the early days and endorsements as time went on.

Most interesting to me was the hologram of John McEnroe analysing the evolution of tennis play since his day. Somehow the tennis brat of the Seventies and Eighties has become one of the game’s best and most succinct commentators who also knows when to remain silent, and he summarised the strengths and enduring talents of the game’s main players.  I found watching tennis had become a lot less attractive during the Pete Sampras era ( a one-trick gorilla was how I once described him to my children who thought I was being unfair) but has blossomed again since.

Finishing the tour you can gaze at the Championship Cup and for the Ladies – the Plate. The exhibition also includes Kipling’s ‘If’ which is all about ‘holding your nerve’ something that gets played out time and again on the green courts of Wimbledon.

As most of us are unlikely ever to get tickets to see a live match a visit to the museum and almost certainly the tour will enhance your enjoyment and is a must for any tennis fan – of which there are many given the numbers attending today.