Monthly Archives: December 2017

Christmas in a T-shirt: St Maarten

Methodist Church, Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

Methodist Church, Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

When my friend Jenny and I cruised the eastern Caribbean in 2011, one of our stops was in the tiny town of Philipsburg in the divided island which is the Dutch Sint Maarten in the south and the French St Martin in the north.

I’d have liked to explore both halves of this fascinating place, which was named by Christopher Columbus and has been divided since the Treaty of Concordia of 1648.

But when you’re on a cruise you can’t afford to miss the boat.

So Jenny and I settled for refreshing cool drinks at the Fire House [https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g147347-d2618585-Reviews-Firehouse_Bar_and_Restaurant-Philipsburg_Sint_Maarten_St_Maarten_St_Martin.html], a shrine for emergency workers on holiday.

It sits on the Boardwalk, overlooking the beach and the beach-umbrellas.

But even the sunny, unassuming Philipsburg has history connections I can recognise.

One block in from the Boardwalk, on the Voorstraat [Front Street], stands Philipsburg Methodist Church, which at the time was celebrating its 160th anniversary.

I’m used to nonconformist churches in Britain having annual anniversary festivals, but I wasn’t expecting to see one in the Caribbean.

In fact, there seems to have been a Methodist presence on St Maarten since the mid-eighteenth century.

There has been a chapel on Voorstraat since 1851, hence the anniversary, though the present building, with its tile-hung façade, slim porch and stubby little tower, is a reconstruction of 1957.

There are images of its galleried interior at http://filipdemuinck-kristelpardon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/the-methodist-church-of-philipsburg-st.html.

I wrote this article, and last year’s article on Martinique, before the Caribbean suffered significant hurricane damage in 2017.

Following Pevsner’s footsteps

Wentworth Woodhouse, West Wing, Long Gallery

Wentworth Woodhouse, West Wing, Long Gallery

I’ve known Ruth Harman for a long time, ever since she worked in Sheffield Archives and patiently tutored me when I knew even less about historical research than I do now.

Latterly she went on to co-write, with John Minnis, the Pevsner City Guide for Sheffield (Yale University Press 2004):  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sheffield-Pevsner-City-Guides-Architectural/dp/0300105851/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509034870&sr=8-1&keywords=Pevsner+City+Guide+Sheffield.

In recent years I’ve occasionally encountered her, notepad in hand, investigating historic buildings across the former West Riding in preparation for her edition of Pevsner’s Buildings of England:  West Riding:  Sheffield and the South (Yale University Press 2017):  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Yorkshire-West-Riding-Sheffield-Architectural/dp/0300224680/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509032022&sr=8-1&keywords=Pevsner+West+Riding+South.

It’s apparent that you turn up all sorts of strange facts when you revise a Pevsner:  Ruth once proudly told me that she’d found a lighthouse in the landlocked West Riding:  http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1971566.

I was privileged to attend the launch of Ruth’s book at Wentworth Woodhouse in September, and it was only when I handled a copy that I realised the scale of her achievement.  Sir Nikolaus Pevsner himself, in 1959, covered the whole of the West Riding in 610 pages;  a revision by Enid Radcliffe seven years later added forty-two more pages.

Ruth’s 841 pages cover, in much more detail, only the southern half of the old West Riding, from the southern boundary of Sheffield to the outskirts of York, and from Blackshaw Head near Todmorden in the west to Adlingfleet, beyond Goole in the east.

(The equivalent volume for the northern half of the West Riding was published in 2009:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Yorkshire-West-Riding-Architectural-Buildings/dp/0300126654/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1509032672&sr=1-1&keywords=Pevsner+West+Riding+North.)

The invitation to the book launch also gave me the opportunity of a conducted tour of Wentworth Woodhouse where, for the first time in all the years I’ve known the building, back to when it was a teacher-training college, I set foot in the formerly private West Wing, the so-called “Back Front”.

Judge not…

23 Forman Street, Nottingham

23 Forman Street, Nottingham

Photo:  Harriet Buckthorp

Diners at the Foreman Street, Nottingham, branch of Prezzo [https://www.prezzorestaurants.co.uk/restaurant/nottingham-forman-street/?s=Nottingham%20NG5,%20United%20Kingdom&lng=-1.1390802999999323&lat=53.00821670000001&f] are mostly unaware of the history of the site.

In the late nineteenth century 23 Foreman Street was a well-known brothel, distinguished as the scene of the demise of Sir Charles Henry Watkin Williams, a High Court judge who, according to a pointedly satirical memorial card, “departed this life suddenly at Mrs Salmands” on the evening of July 17th 1884 aged 55.

After dinner at the Judge’s Lodgings he had gone to visit a young lady called Nellie Banks at Mrs Salmands.  There is a factual account in Reynolds’s News, July 27th 1884.

The gangster ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, in his compendium of criminality, Mad Frank’s Britain (Random House 2012), p 107, felicitously describes what happened:  “the old gentleman gave a sort of grunt and she thought he’d come, but he’d gone”.

By the time the police returned Sir Watkin Williams’ corpse to the Judge’s Lodgings too many people knew what had happened for the story to be concealed.

The borough coroner, Mr Arthur Brown, was clearly under considerable pressure to limit his inquiries, and he had to lean hard to make the inquest jury fulfil their oath to establish “when, where, how, and by what means” the judge had met his death.

It appeared that Sir Watkin suffered from aneurism of the aorta and, according to his doctor’s recommendation, he really should have been more careful.

Reynolds’s News and many other papers reported the affair with circumspection, under a headline “DISCREDITABLE DEATH OF A JUDGE”, in an article more than a column in length that invited readers to use their imaginations.

The memorial-card broadsheet was altogether more succinct:

…in eight feet deep of solid earth

Sir Watkin Williams lies.

He lost his breath,

which caused his death,

‘twixt Nellie Blankey’s thighs.

Nellie Banks was an enterprising young lady.  My friend Stewart tracked her down in the Boston Guardian dated August 2nd 1884 where her name is meticulously rendered in inverted commas:

She was the housekeeper of a farmer at Butterwick who, in the early part of this year, absconded with a large sum of money and with [the] young lady in question made a trip to Paris.  He was on his return to this country apprehended as a fraudulent bankrupt aboard an Inman Line steamer as he and “Nelly” were about to emigrate to America.

She is described as aged 22, pale and slender and about five feet high.  She would have thrived in an age of reality TV and social media.

Nothing much remains of Mrs Salmand’s premises, but the story gives an entertaining twist to dining at Prezzo.

Under Unter den Linden

Berlin U-bahn:  U55 shuttle

Berlin U-bahn: U55 shuttle

My first encounter with the Berlin U-bahn (the underground system, as opposed to the S-bahn overground lines) was the strange little U55 shuttle between Hautbahnhof and Brandenburger Tor.

Cavernous halls lead to an enormous two-platform station.  One of the two platforms is fenced off and unused.

Into the other trundles a two-car train which shuttles back and forth every few minutes.

It’s very useful, but the station is completely out of proportion with the train.

And it’s the exact opposite of the cramped and crowded Times Square-Grand Central shuttle in Manhattan.

The trains are actually modernised museum-pieces.

It was only when I walked down Unter den Linden, where the central reservation is a building site, that I realised a short but vital underground link is under construction.

By 2019 there will be a service between Hauptbahnhof and the transport hub at Alexanderplatz where the U5 underground line currently terminates:  http://www.projekt-u5.de/en.

The 1½-mile link will bring stations to the major tourist spots on Unter den Linden and Schloßplatz, and so take road traffic and some pedestrians out of the crowded tourist area.

Then they’ll no longer have to crane the U55 rolling stock in and out of the tunnel for overhaul like they do on the Waterloo & City Line in London.