Tuesday, 18 June 2019

VAN GOGH AND BRITAIN (Tate Britain 27th March – 11th August 2019)


The main entrance to the Tate Britain is reached by ascending the grand stone steps from Millbank. The Thames flowing in the foreground. The entrance to special exhibitions is by way of the side entrance in Atterbury Street, opposite The Chelsea School of Art. This entrance is reached by way of a sloping ramp to the underground level. Along the smooth limestone wall that faces this entrance has been placed a  a large elongated poster advertising the new Van Gogh exhibition. The self portrait of Van Gogh used in the poster is the portrait he painted in 1889, possibly in Arles and most likely the last of his self-portraits. Van Gogh painted forty self-portraits. The self-portrait advertising this exhibition is an intense painting. The eyes, are piercing, and yet have a fragility; a nervousness showing in them. He appears unsure and intense at the same time. The air around the face is dark, vibrating, flowing like a stream of black water surrounding him. The skin colours on his face, bright yellows and pale greens, created with swirling brush strokes, ripple and move like the watery air around it. His hair on the top of his head flames bright red and his beard and moustache almost radiate a heat; the same flaming intensity. The person who painted this is experiencing every atom of himself, every nerve ending is alive  through his skin, his thoughts, the air around him, his hearing and his sight.and enlivened imagination,  All his senses are utilized in creating this portrait and you see the visual evidence. Everything has been transmitted to the canvas through those penetrating eyes and energized brush strokes. He has captured his inner life and a sense of life and aliveness itself.

The exhibition is in two parts, firstly Van Gogh's experience in London and its effects on him as an artist is covered and secondly the exhibition reveals the impact Van Gogh had on British artists especially in the early twentieth century up to the1950s. The radical ideas of religion and politics that was thriving in London when Van Gogh arrived encouraged his interest in religion and his  concern for working class people. As well as working in the art trade he tried teaching and preaching as career paths.


For an exhibiton about Van Gogh there are a considerable number of prints, illustrations and paintings that are by other artists. These were of great importance to Van Gogh ‘s development as an artist. British print makers showed subjects dramatized with light and shade and provided unusual and new ways of composition. Van Gogh studied all these aspects carefully. There are many examples of the pictures Van Gogh was interested in  such as, prints by Gustav Dore that include prints of Lambeth Gas Works, Houndsditch, St Katherines Dock, The Houses of Parliament by Night and a sketch entitled, Coffee Stall- Early Morning. Although Van Gogh was not an artist at this time of his life, in letters to friends and family he often included sketches of places he saw. He was a good writer too. His letters home were detailed and covered art ,and religion as well as recounts of his activities while staying in London. He sketched, The Austin Friars Church London and the small Churches at Petersham and Turnham Green and often sketched figures walking down long avenues of trees. He was a subscriber to The Graphic magazine which was a social reforming newspaper and featured  art work portraying working class life. Van Gogh was taken by the artists who worked for The Graphic and called them,

“ the great portrayers.”


Another part of the exhibition shows rural scenes painted by Constable and Turner that Van Gogh mentions seeing in his letters to his brother Theo. You can  see how Van Gogh learned from these artists and began to look at the landscape the way they did, incorporating many of their compositional techniques.


After looking at the artists that influenced Van Gogh in Britain the exhibition focuses more on Van Gogh’s paintings themselves showing many pictures he painted in Paris and also while in the South of France in Arles. The Paris paintings tend to be darker, portraits of associates, a pair of boots and personal subjects. In Arles , the light and vividness of the landscape explodes from his canvases.

The final part of the exhibition details the legacy Van Gogh left after his death in 1890. Twenty years after Van Gogh died, in December 1910, there was an exhibiton in London called, “ Manet and the Post Impressionists.”The term,” Post Impressionists,” was invented for this exhibition. It introduced Van Gogh’s art to Britain. British artists were greatly influenced by this exhibition. Virginia Woolf wrote,
“ on or about December 1910, human character changed.”


Virgina Woolf’s sister, Vanessa Bell was one of the first artists to take direct inspiration form Van Gogh. A portrait she did of Roger Fry, in 1912, the art critic and member of The Bloomsbury Group is one example. The Vineyard also painted by Vanessa Bell, in 1930 is another example.  Other British artists who were influenced by Van Gogh at this time are also featured. Flower Painting, by Mathew Smith in 1913, Yellow Landscape 1892 by Roderic O’Connor and Miss Jekylls Gardening Boots by William Nicholson in 1920 is almost a straight copy of Van Gogh’s boots he painted in Paris in 1886.


Van Gogh looked at paintings and drawings very carefully  and learned from them. He was not taught how to paint and never took an art course. His learning process was very much brought about by looking and thinking and discovering ways of interpreting what he saw and what he believed. I found the exhibition an inspiration getting a sense of how Van Gogh saw the world.



William |Nicholson, Gertrude Jekyll's Boots.

BOOTS by Van Gogh while in Paris.

During his stay in London between 1873 to 1876 Van Gogh tried various occupations, art dealer, preacher and teacher. He failed at them all, but each provided experiences that influenced what was to come. They helped ignite Vincent into being the artist he became. The process was a journey of self-discovery. Using a religious allegory, Van Gogh would know it well,  the apostles huddled together in the upper room, at Pentecost, after the crucifixion of Jesus. They thought they were failures but they became inflamed and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Van Gogh through his apparent failures was lead to an inflaming of his spirit which was revealed in his letters and his paintings. His paintings, I think show, like the self-portrait used in the poster at the entrance to the exhibition, an inner life aflame with passion and a spiritual awareness of the world around him.

 Vincent Van Gogh arrived in London in May 1873. He was twenty years old. For two years he worked for Goupil art dealers near Covent garden in Southampton Street and later moved to Bedford Row. The company moved to Bedford Row in May 1875 and Vincent wrote to his brother Theo enthusing about the new gallery.

“Our gallery is now finished and it’s beautiful, we have many beautiful things at the moment: Jules Dupré, Michel, Daubigny, Maris, Israëls, Mauve, Bisschop, &c.” 

The Goupil firm dealt in reproductions, which Van Gogh collected himself, but later in Bedford Row they began to sell original paintings too. He wrote often to his brother Theo and in the letters he enthused about his experiences in London. The 13th June 1873.

“Last Sunday I went to the country with Mr Orbach, my principal, to Boxhill; it is a high hill about six hours by road from London, partially chalky and overgrown with box and on one side a wood of high oak trees. The country is beautiful here, quite different from Holland or Belgium. Everywhere you see charming parks with high trees and shrubs. Everyone is allowed to walk there.”

Van Gogh loved British culture and this emerged in the art he created later. He knew four languages including English and spoke and read well in all of them. He read and reread all of Dickens novels and said,

“My life is aimed at making the things from everyday life that Dickens described.”

In his letters to friends and family he mentions by name over one hundred books written in English, Hard Times and A Christmas Carol by Dickens, Macbeth and King Lear by Shakespeare. He also read  George Elliot, John Keats the poet, Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, The Bible  and many more. He was influenced by artists portrayal of British scenes such as Gustav Dore, James Whistler and John Everett Millais. Van Gogh immersed himself in culture while he lived in England visiting museums and galleries. He walked everywhere and sometimes rowed on the Thames with acquaintances for pleasure and travelled on the underground too.


20th July 1873 to Theo.
“There are some good painters here, though, including Millais, who made ‘The Huguenot’, Ophelia, &c., engravings of which you probably know, they’re very beautiful. Then Boughton, of whom you know the ‘Puritans going to church’  in our Galerie photographique.I’ve seen very beautiful things by him. Moreover, among the old painters, Constable, a landscape painter who lived around 30 years ago, whose work is splendid, something like Diaz and Daubigny. And Reynolds and Gainsborough, who mostly painted very, very beautiful portraits of women, and then Turner, after whom you’ll probably have seen engravings.”

 He lived for a while in a small terraced house in Stockwell near the Oval Cricket Ground. The house has a blue plaque commemorating his stay there. He became friends with the daughter of the landlady and enjoyed the company of three Germans living in the same house.
2nd July 1873 to Theo.

“The neighbourhood where I live is very pretty, and so peaceful and convivial that one almost forgets one is in London.
In front of every house is a small garden with flowers or a couple of trees, and many houses are built very tastefully in a sort of Gothic style.
Still, I have to walk for more than half an hour to reach the countryside.
We have a piano in the drawing room, and there are also three Germans living here who really love music, which is most agreeable.”


 At Groupil, who were expanding their trade in prints and original artists while he was with them, provided the opportunity for Van Gogh to see illustrations of modern subjects that included the use of light and shade. He learned about the British , “black and white,” tradition. Van Gogh himself collected over two thousand prints.These prints  provided compositions that were new. When Van Gogh was dismissed from the firm of Groupal he started preaching and teaching in places as diverse as Isleworth in London near Richmond and in Ramsgate in Kent.

The Richmomd Local Historical Society, which covers the area of Richmond and Isleworth,  have researched the places Van Gogh frequented in Isleworth and some of the people he was associated with during his time in London.

When Van Gogh first arrived in 1873 at the age of twenty he lodged in 87 Hackford Road, north of Brixton in Stockwell near The Oval Cricket ground. He fell in love with the landladies daughter Eugenie. He spent the first two years working for the art dealer, Groupil, first in Southampton Road and later in Bedford Street on the west side of Covent Garden. He was dismissed from Goupils in January 1876. There is no evidence for why he was asked to leave.Before moving to their office in London he had worked for Goupil in Paris. Photographs of him at this time show him slightly disheveled in appearance which does not  fit the image of an art expert and art salesman. Van Gogh went on to try other ways of making his living. He was an earnest, intense young man. He first turned to teaching at a school in Ramsgate, from April 1876, run by a gentleman called Mr Stokes. Stokes later moved his school to Isleworth located on the north bank of the Thames just west of Twickenham and Richmond, a few miles from the centre of London. He lived at Linkfield House number 183 Twickenham Road. There was a problem though, Mr Stokes did not keep his promise to pay Van Gogh after his first months trial. He left and joined another school nearby at Holme Court, 158 Twickenham Road run by a congregational minister, the Reverend Thomas Slade Jones. Jones paid him a salary of £15 a year plus board and lodging. Van Gogh felt a strong religious calling. He was the son and grandson of Dutch Reform pastors. In July 1876 he wrote to Theo,

“being a London missionary is rather special. I believe; one has to go around among the workers and the poor spreading God’s word……….Last week I was in London a couple of times to find out the possibility of my becoming one ( missionary)….I may well be suited to this… To do this however I have to be at least 24 years old and so in my case I still have a year to wait.”

 He continued as a teacher and spent time sketching, sketches were included in his letters to Theo and other friends and family members. Reverend Slade Thomas thought Van Gogh had a calling to be a pastor. He served at the congregational church in Chiswick Road Turnham Green. Early in October 1886 Van Gogh began to help  Slade Jones with his parish work. He visited the sick, became an assistant teacher at the Sunday School and he helped with the mid week adult Bible studies.

There are records of him attending prayer meetings at the Methodist Church in Kew Road Richmond. Fourteen letters, from July to November 1876 to his brother Theo, are lengthy, exuberant and have many scriptural references Their intensity and emotions could, however, reflect a bipolar episode. There is a possibility he preached at the Vineyard Congregational Church Richmond in December 1876. When he returned to Holland for Christmas in 1876 his health was poor. His parents persuaded him not to return to England. A job was found for him in his uncle’s book shop in Dordrecht. He never returned to England again.

The letters of Vincent Van Gogh: http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/

TATE BRITAIN 27 March – 11 August 2019 “The EY Exhibition, "Van Gogh,and Britain.”

Friday, 17 May 2019


Henrietta Street Wednesday March 2nd 1814 to Cassandra.
“Places are secured at Drury Lane for Saturday but so great is the rage for seeing Kean that only 3rd and 4th rows could be got. As it is in a front box however, I hope we shall do pretty well- Shylock- A good play for Fanny.” Jane Austen.

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Edmund Kean
Edmund Kean had debuted Shylock just two months previously, on January 26th and had become an instant sensational hit and achieved mythological status. Drury Lane had been on the verge of bankruptcy and the management gambled on Kean to help rescue the theater. Covent Garden theatre, close by, under the management of the actor John Philip Kemble was  successful and Drury Lane needed to match that success. Edmund Kean had been performing with a touring theatre group in the West Country ( Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall) at the time. The management at Drury Lane were prepared to try out new talent.  Kean was proved to be their saviour.
Edmund Kean was born in March 1789 in the borough of Westminster, London. The exact date is unknown. His mother was Ann Carey, an itinerant actress and his father was Edmund Kean, who suffered mental problems and was a dissolute young man who died at the age of 24. Edmund was  adopted by his uncle, Moses Kean’s mistress Charlotte Tidswell.  She gave Edmund an early stage training and a basic education but she failed to give him a steady disciplined home. At times he lived the life of a waif and stray.
On the 8th June 1796 his name, which appears on a surviving bill, shows that he played Robin in a performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor.  On Easter Monday 1804, at the age of 14, he acted at the Sheereness theatre working for Jerrold’s company, for a mere few shillings a week.In 1805 he played in the amusement hall in Camden Town. He later played for Michael Atkin’s company in Belfast. In 1806 he played minor roles at the Haymarket Theater. He went on to join a company run by Miss Baker. In 1808 he married Mary Chambers, a fellow member of the theatrical company. Between 1808 and 1813 he was a member of various companies on the West Country circuit including the companies of Beverley, Watson, Cherry and Hughes. He played many different types of role providing him with an important apprenticeship as an actor. His roles included, tragedy, comedy, opera, farce, interlude and pantomime. He lived this strolling player life for ten years. He suffered many privations, living in poor conditions, not always eating properly. He took to drink and became an alcoholic. While he was with Henry Lee’s company, performing in Dorchester ( Dorset) on the 15th November 1813, he was seen by Arnold, the Drury Lane manager. This lead to him being taken on at Drury Lane Theatre.  

The Drury Lane Theatre.

An actress of the time, Helen Faucit, describes him as,
 “ a pale man with a fur cap, and wrapped in a fur cloak. He looked to me as if come from the grave. A stray lock of hair crossed his forehead, under which shone eyes which looked dark, and yet as bright as lamps. So large were they, so piercing, so absorbing, I could see no other future.”
By the standards of the time he was unsuited to the great tragic roles. The style epitomised by the great actor theater manager of the day John Philip Kemble was a declamatory style, artificial and statuesque. Kean invented a new style full of passion, feeling and emotion. Kemble’s style became defunct.

Edmund Kean generally portrayed villains in Shakespeare plays.He played Shylock in the Merchant of Venice wearing a black beard and played the part as a frenzied embittered monster, evil and armed with a knife. His performance was a sensation.It was this performance soon after it had debuted at the Drury Lane Theatre that Jane Austen went to see.
“We hear that Mr Kean is more admired than ever. The two vacant places of our two rows are likely to be filled by Mr Tilson and his brother General Chownes.” Wednesday March 2nd 1814.

10 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, where Jane Austen stayed with her brother Henry.

Edmund Kean went on to play a succession of villains such as Richard III, Iago, Macbeth and also played Othello and Hamlet. Apart from Shakespeare he successfully played Sir Giles Overreach in Philip Massinger’s “A New Way To Pay Old Debts.” He was Barabas in Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.
 Nothing about his performance was improvised. Everything was technically planned. He measured out the number of footsteps he would have to take to various positons on the stage. He used his voice, creating tones, semitones, rests, forte, piano, crescendo and dimuendo like a musical score. For parts of a play he would play his character in a low key bland sort of way but then at key moments  he would let the full force of his emotions rip. Kean used his own forceful and turbulent personality to help portray these characters. He repeated each performance almost identically. We, in the 21st century, would have found his performances very strange. Nowadays acting is a naturalistic style.
Kean was always admired as an actor but he became more and more unpopular as a public figure. He was a megalomaniac and a turbulent ungovernable genius.  He feared losing his place at the head of British Theater and jealousy towards his rivals drove him. At his height he earned £10,000 a year an enormous amount of money. However, in 1825 he was sued for adultery with a woman whose husband was an alderman of the city of London and a Drury Lane administrator. The press turned against him. There were hostile demonstrations outside of the theatre. The last eight years of his life were a slow decline with drink and other excesses.

The Theatre Royal Richmond upon Thames built in 1899 near the site of the theatre Kean performed in.

Edmund Kean, often performed at the theatre in Richmond. In October 1814  after a season in Dublin which followed his sensational debut at Drury Lane he performed his Shylock at Richmond. He appeared again at Richmond in 1817 and then at various times until 1829. During 1830  Kean had a farewell season in London followed by a tour of the provinces. He had always wanted to manage his own theater. In 1831 The Kings Theatre in Richmond, a previous name for the Theatre Royal Richmond, came up for rent and he took it on. He lived in the house next door. 

Covent Garden Opera House on the site of the Covent Garden Theatre.

As well as his commitments to the Richmond Theatre, Kean still performed in London at the Haymarket and toured the country. On March 25th 1833 he was performing Othello at Covent Garden and his son Charles was playing Iago. He collapsed during the performance. A few weeks later he died at his home in Richmond upon Thames.
A plaque commemorates him inside St Mary Magdalen’s church in  Richmond. In 1904, when the church was being refurbished an extension was built over the spot where Kean was interred His body was exhumed and he was reburied at All Saints Church in the village of Catherington in Hampshire, just north of Portsmouth.
So what did Jane Austen think of Edmund Kean’s acting?
 To Cassandra. Saturday 5th March 1814
“ We were quite satisfied with Kean. I cannot imagine better acting, but the part was too short and excepting him and Miss Smith. I shall like to see Kean again excessively and to see him with you too- it appeared to me there was no fault in him anywhere; and in his scene with Tubak there was exquisite acting.”
Praise indeed.

 The plaque inside St Mary Magdelene's Church, Richmond upon Thames, where Edmund Kean was first buried.

 He died  on May 15th 1833, eight days before his own mother.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019


Reverend Charles Bridges Knight, Marianne Knight, (nephew and niece of Jane Austen) and George Hill, their nephew.
Helena Horton, writing in the Daily Telegraph on the 11th January 2019, announced that, “ Lost photographs of Jane Austen’s nieces and nephews have been discovered in an old photo album.”A lady called Karen Ievers bought the album on E-Bay, paying $1000. She thought she was buying an album of 19th century aristocrats, interesting and valuable in their own right but she had no idea how special this particular album would turn out to be. Karen recognized the names penciled at the bottom of some of the photographs. She sent them to a leading historian, Dr Sophia Hill, at Queens University Belfast. It turned out that the photographs are of some of Jane Austen’s nephews and nieces and members of their families. The album was put together by Lord George Augusta Hill who married two of Jane Austen’s nieces, Cassandra Jane Knight and Louisa Knight , two  daughters of Jane’s brother Edward Knight. Dr Hill suggests that the novels of Jane Austen,” foreshadowed the chequered love lives of these family members.”

Jane’s brother Edward  married Elizabeth Bridges (1773–1808) on 27 December 1791, and they had eleven children . Fanny was the eldest but there followed, Edward ( junior), (1794–1879), George Thomas(1795–1867), Henry (1796–1843),  William (1798–1873), Elizabeth (1800–1884), Marianne (1801–1896), Charles (1803–1867), Louisa (1804–1889), Cassandra Jane (1806–1842) and Brook John (1808–1878).    

Photography got going in Britain in the late 1830s with Fox Talbot at Lacock Abbey. He invented a process using  salted paper. This was the calotype process. Louis Daguerre, in France, had also invented the daguerreotype process by this time. The French government, in 1839, gave the world free rights to  the process. They also published detailed instructions about how to create a daguerreotype .
Are the pictures Fox Talbot calotype pictures or daguerrotypes? Looking at the photographs printed in The Telegraph it is impossible to tell which process was used. Both techniques were available  and both inventions had been developed to the stage where they took a few minutes to produce an image. Both processes came into public use about the end of the 1830s. 

One picture shows an image of Lady Knatchbull, nee Fanny Knight, who was Jane Austen's favourite niece.

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Lady Knatchbull (Fanny Knight)

Fannys face in the picture, her demeanour, her dress style; can we get a glimpse of the person? The young, vibrant, hungry for life young girl Jane Austen, her aunt, knew, in this picture of her in old age? Jane Austen wrote a number of long personal letters to her niece and Fanny wrote to her aunt revealing her inmost thoughts, hopes, desires and passions.

In a letter written between Friday 18th and Sunday 20th November 1814 Jane wrote to Fanny a long letter  giving her advice about her infatuation with a young man. Fanny has described the young man to her aunt in a previous letter because Jane knows a lot about him already.  He was sober and shy and he appeared to have ,”evangelical” religious leanings. In this letter Jane looks at all the positive things about the young man highlighting the good things about his character. She discusses the various Evangelical beliefs and ways of worship, the good and the bad, speculating what his attitudes might be.But then Jane gets realistic,

 “ I shall turn round and entreat you not to commit yourself farther and not to think of accepting him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather marrying without affection.”

In a following letter, ten days later, on the 30th, Jane has not been able to let the subject go. She is worried about her niece making the wrong decision.

“ When I consider how few young men you have seen.” 

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A watercolour painted by Cassandra Austen of her niece Fanny.

Jane is serious, advising Fanny to stand back and take a long cool look at the situation. Fanny appears to have taken her aunts advice. She did not marry  for another six years. She became Lady Knatchbull when she married Sir Edward Knatchbull in 1820. There are other details in Jane's letters to Fanny about family and friends and what various people, they both know, are doing. The letters often start,

“ My dearest Fanny,” and invariably show a lot of affection.”

Cassandra wrote to Fanny after Jane's death. Sunday 20 th July 1817.
“My Dearest Fanny- doubly dear to me now for her dear sake whom we have lost. She did love you most sincerely and never shall I forget the proofs of love you gave her during her illness in writing those kind, amusing letters at a time when I know your feelings would have dictated so different a style.”
Nine days later on Tuesday 29th July, after Fanny had replied to Cassandras first letter, Cassandra writes,

“ My dearest Fanny, I have read your letter for the third time and thank you most sincerely for every kind expression to myself and still more warmly for your praises of her who I believe was better known to you than to any human being besides myself.”

Fanny Knight, Lady Knatchbull, was very dear and close to her aunts and Jane in particular.
I hope with Aunt Jane's advice ringing in her ears Fanny made a match as good as Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a relationship that grew and developed a deep love and understanding. 

A portrait of Sir Edward Knatchbull, Fannys husband.

A portrait of Fanny's husband, Sir Edward Knatchbull,  shows a gentle looking man with kindness in his face. Lets hope Fanny married him for love. She was his second wife, and step mother to five of the six children from his first marriage to Annabella Honywood. One child died as a baby. She also became the mother of five children she herself bore him. Where is Aunt Jane when you need a baby sitter?

Georgina Prettyman the niece of Lady Knatchbull (Fanny Knight)

Another photograph depicts Georgina Prettyman, daughter of Edward Knight (junior), Fanny's brother and Mary Dorothea Knatchbull, Fanny's step daughter. The elopement and marriage of Georgina's parents was a scandalous affair. It was not technically incestuous. 

You wonder if the photograph was taken inside or outside? The shadow on the left of her face as we look at the picture, is not strong. We can see her features, including her eye, very clearly. It looks like natural light was used. The backdrop gives nothing away. It is a light and neutral wall probably to make the portrait of Georgina stand out  of the picture. There is nothing decorative apart from the Grecian urn and a triangle of drapery to the left. The picture would look extremely stark and austere if the Grecian urn and the  piece of floral drapery were not there.  The picture is a portrait of Georgina dressed in a large voluminous dress. It is impossible to say the colour because the picture is black and white, We can only see it is a dark colour. with even darker, perhaps black,  lace trimmings. A perfectly starched bonnet with broad long white tabs surround her head and face. Her hair is silky smooth with not a hair out of place. Her face is serene. She looks calm and placid. Every part of this picture has been staged and on the part of Georgina,acted. 

The picture is a portrait in the style of the 18th century portrait painters and this is the purpose of the picture , an elegant staged, portrait, taking its precedence from art portraits. The science used to create the picture is something new though. A science which was already branching out into other purposes for recording images. Daguerre and Fox Talbot took architectural pictures, street scenes, rural landscapes and pictures of everyday life.  Documentary photography was in its infancy and it was just a short step to news photography.

Edward Knight ( the cause of scandal), Marianne Knight ( nephew and niece of Jane Austen) and a young George Hill., son of Lord George Hill and Louisa (Knight), Marianne's and Edward's nephew. )

Pictures in the album, show Jane's niece and nephew Marianne and Edward.  When their mother died in 1808,  Edward (junior), and George, another of Fanny's brothers, were staying in Southampton with Jane and their grandmother. Jane was with them when they received and read a letter from their father informing them of their mother’s death.

Monday 24th Tuesday 25th October 1808 written to Cassandra from Castle Square Southampton.
“His letter was read over by each of them yesterday, and with many tears, George sobbed aloud, Edwards tears do not flow so easily; but as far as I can judge they are both very properly impressed by what has happened. “

Later in the letter Jane recounts an adventure they had rowing on the Itchen River and other activities. She kept the two boys occupied.

“ We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry  up to Northam where we landed, looked in to a 74 and walked home and it was so much enjoyed that I had intended to take them to Netley today, the tide was just right for our going immediately after noon shine but I am afraid there will be rain; if we cannot go so far, however, we may perhaps go round from the ferry to the quay. I had had not proposed doing more than cross the Itchen yesterday, but it proved so pleasant, and so much to the satisfaction of all, that when we reached the middle of the stream we agreed to be rowed up the river; both boys rowed a great part of the way, and their questions and their remarks, as well as their enjoyment, were very amusing; George’s enquiries were endless, and his eagerness in everything reminds me often of his uncle Henry. Our evening was equally agreeable in its way; I introduced, “speculation,” and it was so much approved that we hardly knew how to leave off.”
Writing from Henrietta Street in Covent Garden on Thursday 16th September 1813 Jane relates to Cassandra the goings on in London with her nephews and nieces. She took the girls,  Fanny and Marianne, to a dentist in London, a Mr Spence.

“ The poor Girls and their teeth!- I have not mentioned them yet, but we were a whole hour at Spence’s and Lizzy’s were filed and  lamented over again and poor Marianne had two taken out after all, the two just behind the eye teeth, to make room for those in front.- When her doom was fixed, Fanny Lizzy and I walked ionto the next room, where we heard each of the two sharp hasty screams. – Fannys teeth were cleaned too- and pretty as they are Spence found something to do with them, putting in gold and talking gravely- and making a considerable point of seeing her again before winter. “

Another scandalous affair occurred. When Cassandra Jane Knight died Lord George Hill married her sister, his sister in law, Louise.  You were not supposed to marry your sister in law. The couple were ostracized because of this.One picture features Lord George Hill with an austere looking Reverend Charles- Bridges Knight, the vicar of St Nicholas Church,Steventon at the time, Marianne and George Hill.

Lord George Hill with Reverend Charles- Bridges Knight, Marianne Knight and George Hill, the son of Lord George, . ( This looks like St Nicholas, Steventon Parish Church.)

Jane described some of her nephews and nieces on a visit to her brother Edwards estate at Godmersham, eight miles from Canterbury in Kent. Elizabeth, her brother’s wife along with some of the children greeted her on arrival at the house.

Wednesday 15th to Friday 17th June 1808
“.Elizabeth, who was dressing when we arrived, came to me for a minute attended by Marianne, Charles, and  Louisa, and, you will not doubt gave me a very affection ate welcome. That I had received from Edward also I need not mention, but I do, you see, because it is a pleasure. I never saw him look in better health, and Fanny says he is perfectly well. I cannot praise Elizabeth’s looks but they are probably affected by a cold. Her little namesake has gained in beauty in the last three years, though not all that Marianne has lost. Charles is not quite so lovely as he was. Louisa is as much as I expected, and Cassandra I find handsomer than I expected though at present disguised by such a breaking out that she does not come down after dinner. She has charming eyes and a nice open countenance, and seems likely to be very lovable. Her size is magnificent.”

The importance of this photograph album is immense. It puts real faces to some of the people Jane Austen knew and loved.

Jane Austen's Letters ( New Edition) Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye Third Edition Oxford University Press.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

JANE AUSTEN’S LEGACY (Born 16th December 1775)

 To Commemorate Jane Austens Birthday 243 years ago on 16th December 1775

Jane Austen ( Her statue in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Chawton.)

Jane Austen has quite some legacy and it is ever increasing in diversity and scope.  Hollywood films, BBC TV adaptations, stage plays and what I term, "spin off novels," that mostly reinvent Fitzwilliam Darcy. There are, indeed, zombie versions of Pride and Prejudice. Many academics appear to be making a nice living from Jane Austen. Numerous societies have been set up. The original, Jane Austen Society, was founded in 1940 by Dorothy Darnell with the express purpose of raising funds to save Chawton Cottage, Austen’s last home.  Jane Austen societies are so well known they have become acronyms, JAS, JASA, JASBRA, JASNA. I think the most recent must be JASI, the Jane Austen Society of India. Japan and Pakistan have societies too. These are just the ones I know about.The various societies hold annual general meetings and produce online magazines. There are also Jane Austen Festivals around the world. The most important of all being the Jane Austen Bath Festival. Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s  5th great niece, has begun, The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, to promote reading and writing in third world countries and in disadvantaged communities around the world. 

Jane Austen’s books were written from her own perspective within the society she grew up in. Her father belonged to that educated strata of society that was both talented and productive but was not a landowner. He was a clergyman. To be a clergyman in the 18th century was not so much a religious calling more an occupation that an Oxford educated boy, who had very little inherited wealth and no inherited rank, could go into. It was a strata of society in the 18th century that was uniquely situated to enable a person to associate with many parts of society, aristocratic and poor. Jane had friends who were landowners and members of the lesser aristocracy but she also knew and associated with the poor in Chawton where she lived at the end of her life.  
Sometimes the titles of Jane Austen’s novels describe the human aspects that the novel is going to discuss, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. Emma, is about an individual’s journey in human relationships, consisting more of failures than successes. Mansfield Park is a demonstration of how somebody honest, truthful, timid and perceptive can triumph. Jane Austen’s unfinished novels each explore different aspects of the world in which she lived. “The Watsons,” explores the social and psychological machinations of the, “ball.” “Sanditon,” is about the development of a new type of settlement during the 18th century, the seaside resort.  We still learn from Jane Austen through her novels.

Related image

Belfast during The Troubles.
This understanding of human relationships and the stresses and strains, traditions and attitudes that play as forces on these relationships are the message about writing that we should take from Jane Austen. It is women's writers of today who write about communities and women's experiences within those communities that carry on Jane's legacy today. The winner of this year’s Man Booker prize for literature, Anna Burns, wrote a novel called, “Milkman." It is set in Northern Ireland during, “The Troubles.” She describes her novel as ,” psycho political with rules of tribal identification.” A young 18 year old girl negotiates the difficult world of her community with its unspoken rules that if broken could get her killed and the male chauvinist patriarchal society that she exists in. If we think that the world of Jane Austen is hierarchical and patriarchal it has nothing on  Northern Ireland during, “The Troubles.”

St Ives, Cornwall.
The world of the novelist is becoming less class ridden. Jane Austen wrote from a social position, as a lower middle class woman in the 18th century. She was reluctant to even have her name as, the author, on the first editions of her novels. Writers such as Natasha Carthew , a working class country writer from Cornwall,  writes about single mothers living on a council estate in Cornwall.We find the experiences and relationships in these novels applicable to our own lives. 

Writing should  come out of all sorts of existences. Jane Austen produced writing, that was a commentary on the way people related to each other in her time. There was an honesty about what she wrote. I think she would relate completely with writers such as Anna Burns and Natasha Carthew writing today.

Setting out on the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation Walk.

Caroline Knight’s, Jane Austen Literacy Foundation is non profit making. Her aim is to make money to provide e-readers and e libraries to developing communities, such as Ghana. E-readers are a technology that can provide an extensive library of non fiction and fiction for children who have hardly any access to books. The teachers in these communities are provided with training. This is something that can increase  educational experiences and opportunities tenfold for these children. The foundation also provides volunteer literacy mentors. The role of a mentor is to support children with their writing. Through encouragement and making suggestions to help the children develop their writing skills, the young writers can grow in confidence and develop ,”a voice,”which can be heard by whoever reads them. Both these things, providing the e-readers and supporting children with their writing, are two ways that enable children to observe, reflect and communicate and this makes a difference and helps them develop as human beings. Jane Austen made a difference through words and writing. Caroline is continuing Jane Austen’s legacy in a meaningful way.

If all the Jane Austen societies around the world used the name of Jane Austen to help develop writers and readers from all parts of society, then they would be doing something really powerful and exceedingly useful. Authors, such as Anna Burns and Natasha Carthew  and also Jane Austen Literacy Foundation founder,Caroline Knight,  are the real Jane Austen legacy.

“The Troubles,”refers to a violent thirty-year conflict framed by a civil rights march in Londonderry on 5 October 1968 and the Good Friday Agreement on 10th April 1998.  At the heart of the conflict lay the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

Emma, by Jane Austen, first published 1811, Published in Penguin Classics 1996
Milkman, by Anna Burns, published by Faber and Faber 2018
Only the Ocean, by Natasha Carthew, published by Bloomsbury 2017

The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation:         https://janeaustenlf.org/

Monday, 29 October 2018

INDIA ( Delhi, Jaipur, Karauli and Agra)

Hotel Goodtimes in the Karol Bagh area of New Delhi where we stayed.

Marilyn and I have just returned from ten days in northern India. We toured the,” Golden Triangle,” from Delhi to Jaipur, on to Karauli, Agra and finally back to Delhi. We travelled with a company called, Intrepid. Emily, one of our daughters, has toured with Intrepid in South East Asia and also Cuba. They create tours that provide cultural and social experiences. Marilyn and I both felt that we saw and experienced so much in a short period of time. Our tour gave us a real insight into India.

On the evening of the first day, we met our group in a meeting room of the, Hotel Good Times, situated in the Karol Bagh  area of New Delhi,. Sabyasachi Pathak was our leader for the trip. We called him Sab throughout our ten days. He always had a great smile on his face and was alert to our needs and ready to answer all our questions whatever they might be. He asked us to introduce ourselves and to speak a little about why we wanted to visit India. Chris, who comes from Bristol went first. She talked about India being on her bucket list. Richard, from Australia, went next, said something similar and so did Elli from Michigan. I mentioned being inspired by seeing lots of documentaries featuring India. Marilyn said she had always wanted to visit India since she was a child. Rattana, from Thailand, had always wanted to go to India too. And so we went round introducing ourselves. Sab told us a bit about himself and how he had got involved with Intrepid. he has an MBA in tourism management and is a qualified Himalayan guide and mountaineer. He is a great example of the young educated Indians driving India forward. Sab went through our itinerary for the next eight days.  By connecting with different cultures we begin to see different points of view.  The world becomes a better place.

That first evening Sab took us to a local restaurant where we did some more socialising. We were a    diverse group with different backgrounds and experiences but what was evidently the same for all of us was that we were positive and friendly.  By the end of the night we were all laughing and  joking together and getting on like a, “house on fire.” It couldn’t have been a better start. We all went off to our rooms for the night enthused for the coming adventures.

The streets of Old Delhi.The wiring is a sight to see.

Our first day consisted of an urban walk in the old part of Delhi. This part of Delhi has fading glory. Old buildings, cracked pavements, leaking gutters and crumbling walls, line every street. Masses of cables, like tangled spaghetti are looped  along the side of each road, sagging between staggering telegraph poles straining under the weight. Road side vendors, colourfully dressed, squat beside piles of coconuts, some cook food in large steal cauldrons over gas burners. There were varied arrays of fruit, and spices, vegetables and pulses and also stalls selling clothes. One lady was steam ironing shirts by the road side using a hefty ornate iron that was heated with coals inside its capacious bulk. It must have been very heavy to wield. There were shops selling wedding clothes, The wedding market is big business. There were wedding card shops that designed and created personalized cards.All our senses were assaulted. There were the smells, the colourful sights and the incessant sound of car and motor bike horns. Traffic talks to each other in India. 


Motor rickshaw drivers were calling out for business as we walked by. Cows, sacred to the Hindus, wandered between the multitude of people. Dented and rusted cars and hundreds of small motorbikes charged here and there, aiming for any space they can see between other moving vehicles. There seemed to be no rules on the road. Pollution is very high in Delhi. We could smell and taste the air. I imagined this seething mass of humanity as a vibrant, living ,"soup," from which anything could emanate. There was something very creative going on. Commerce, begging, crafts, food, all manner of  existence. It seemed a very hopeful place. Seeing the lame, the maimed and the blind beggars was disconcerting though. Seeing families camped by the roadside and some encamped on the grass islands at roundabouts, sometimes babies crawling, partially clothed, along the pavement, grey with the dust off the road was upsetting. 

Children on the street. Heartbreaking.

I talked to Sab about this. The government were offering these people accommodation, food and shelter but very often they were persuaded by local mafias to not take the government offers. The gangs and the local mafias used them for drug running and paid them to continue this life. I did notice that there were no older children on the streets with their families. The thought occurs what has happened to them and how do they fit into this existence of poverty under the influence of local gangs? I asked, “what is the solution?” Sab replied, “education.” I agree to a certain extent. However just being offered education is not enough. Families and communities have to be enthused by the idea of education and what it can do. There has to be a belief in education among those it is offered to. I also wondered, seeing these children and babies crawling on the pavements and in the gutters, some drugged to keep them docile, and families with merely a  tarpaulin for a roof and a few bundles of clothes, why proactive work could not be done by the government? India is becoming and has become a technological powerhouse. It is a wealthy nation. At other times on our trip we saw plenty of examples of the modern India which is growing fast.  We came across this dirt and grime and similar ways of life in the other cities we visited too, Agra and Jaipur.

The Jama Masjid Mosque in Old Delhi.
Sab organized  tours of Delhi for us. We visited the Jama Masjid mosque built between 1644 and   1658 built by Sha Jahan, the fifth Mughul Emperor. It is an enormous red sandstone complex of buildings dominating the old part of Delhi. Although the last of Sha Jahan’s great architectural masterpieces it was the first of the buildings by that powerful Mughul ruler that we were to experience on our trip.   We could see in the distance the vast area occupied by Delhi’s Red Fort. We looked down on the surrounding market area seething with life, vibrant colours and noise.

The streets surrounding the Jama Masjid Mosque.

 On that first day we also visited a Sikh Temple.  We had to remove our shoes and cover our heads as we became part of the congregation.One of the temple guards allowed us to pose with him for photographs. Sikh temples provide food for their congregation and for anybody who wishes to eat. The families on the street therefore have a ready access to free food in this way. We were invited into the temple kitchens and helped prepare the food. Richard and I stirred the enormous cauldrons with a sort of vegetable stew in them. Marilyn, Chris, Elli and Rattana sat cross  legged and made nann bread. The usual cooks looked on. I wonder what they thought? 

Stirring the pot.
On our drive around    Delhi we stopped to photograph the enormous India Gate and the government buildings including the   parliament house and the old Viceroys residence. That evening we had a meal on the roof top of a heritage hotel in the Baragh district. It had been the city home of a Marahaja and contained family portraits and much of the interior had retained its wall hangings, furniture and personal items.

A heritage hotel and restaurant in Delhi. 

 Many of these heritage hotels are still owned by the Maharajas and have become income sources   for them.  Sab organized a brightly dressed dance group from an outlying village to entertain us with their dancing accompanied  by rhythmic drumming and a hand pumped organ. We were encouraged to   join in the dancing which turned into a sort of conga. So our first days in India had begun.

The Maharaja and his wife?

From Delhi we travelled a few hundred kilometers to Jaipur. On the five-hour road trip we had the opportunity to see the countryside and small villages and roadside sellers. The area we travelled into was, Rajastan, an area of India that Sab informed us had never been taken over by the British. The rulers of Rajastan befriended the British and became close allies. We saw camels pulling carts, conical stacks of maize  stalks dotting the landscape, fields bordered by sparsely scattered trees, roadside stalls selling a multitude of colourful fruits and vegetables and cows roaming free by the roadside. Once our driver pointed     out a plume of smoke in a nearby field. A crowd seemed to be gathered around it. He said that a cremation was taking place.

A local cremation.
In the early morning, hundreds of school children, wearing distinctive uniforms and carrying books, stretched long distances, wending their way from outlying settlements to schools in the  larger villages. The idea of education is obviously accepted and a very important acquisition in these outlying areas. Sab told me that the government provided free education along with uniforms and books for these children. 

A girl in her school uniform walking to school.
We witnessed an accident. Two young men had come off a motorbike. Neither were wearing crash helmets. One young man lay there, his head bleeding. We couldn’t help but see it. Many people and a police car were gathered around the two young men who were lying in the road. Elli was worried and upset. I told her that Indian doctors are excellent and Sab said that an ambulance was on its way. This was the only accident, on a relatively quiet country road, we witnessed the whole time we were in India. The mayhem of Delhi and Jaipur traffic produced no accidents. Unbelievable.

We reached Jaipur, the pink city, a bustling ancient city full of life but on a smaller scale to Delhi. We drove by the bright pink coloured ancient city walls and turned down a side street to our hotel, The Arya Niswas. It was an oasis of calm amidst the rubbish strewn pavements , cracked paving stones and street stalls nearby.

Time for tea in Jaipur.

 A well manicured lawn fronted the hotel surrounded by tall gently waving trees, set out with  comfortable tables and chairs to drink tea or a beer. Early on our first morning, Rattana, Marilyn and myself went for a walk. Rattana was very keen to look around. She wanted her early morning exercise.We obtained a map of the city from the hotel desk and decided to walk into the old town. Our hotel was located at the north east corner of an area of narrow alleyways and ornately designed  shops. Monkeys  scrambled up the telegraph poles and lithely sped along roof tops. Cows scavenged amongst piles of debris and here and there a pig snuffled through the piles of rubbish. 

Cow in a Jaipur side street.
The shops were opening up and we     passed workshops and spice emporiums, shops selling beautiful, brightly coloured lengths of cloth, stalls selling water chestnuts and a multitude of pulses and also coconut stalls. We decided, that to be able to get  back to our hotel we would employ a simple strategy ," keep turning right." After walking down the main street for a while taking in the smells and sights and sounds we turned right down a narrow street that    stretched into the distance, 

Fruit and vegetables.
There were shops selling marble statues of Ganesh, Hanuman and Rama and Sita and we also saw a life size carving of Mahatma Ghandi. Every now and then we came across small    shrines and temples with people wearing orange garlands round their knecks and with bright red bindi marks on their foreheads. The bindi mark represents the third eye often meant to ward off bad luck. They were saying their morning prayers, perhaps on their way to their place of work.

Praying at a street shrine in the early morning
 Everywhere we went, whether in Delhi or Jaipur or the other places we were to visit we saw devout Indians of whatever cast  or religion attending their temples, shrines and mosques. Walking on we reached the end of this long     street which took us to the edge of the old town. We turned right and I thought I began to recognize buildings and landmarks. Indeed we were on the right track and arrived safely back at our hotel.

Our time in Jaipur was once again an intense experience. We visited The Amber Fort, which comprises a Mughul palace as well as a fort, just outside of Jaipur. On the way we saw the magical Jal Mahal, a palace set in the middle of a large lake. 

The Jal Mahal palace near Jaipur.
 We were jostled in the streets on our way passing through masses of people celebrating a local festival singing and dancing as they went. Elephants carrying passengers added to the traffic congestion. 

Celebrating in the streets on the way to The Amber Fort.

The Amber Fort is a vast city , palace and fort constructed from yellow and pink sandstones. A corresponding fort faces it from an adjacent hilltop and a wall follows the contours of the surrounding hills,  like The Great Wall of China. It encircles both complexes. The Emperor Akbar made the Amber Fort his capital city. It has ornate halls and rooms decorated with beautiful finely detailed designs. 

Marilyn and I with The Amber Fort in the background.

The Mughul palaces  contain amazing technology. Hollow red sandstone columns had cool running water flowing through them. Vast water tanks hidden on palace roofs were manually filled from nearby rivers and as the water flowed down through channels fountains sprung up in water gardens. Many of the windows in these palaces were made from intricate and finely carved stone lattice work. This enabled cooling breezes to waft through the rooms, giving them the name of, wind palaces. 

Walking in a grand hall at The Amber Fort.

Later on in Agra,the palace within the Red Fort had a bedroom designed for Sha Jahan that contained a double wall with a stone lattice cut into the interior wall. Beautiful maidens would walk through this hidden passage in the morning wearing bangles which they jangled as they walked. This was to waken Sha Jahan. Rich carpets were hung from the walls. The ceilings were covered in intricate coloured geometric patterns. Perfumed air was wafted through the room by sets of bellows and some of Shah Jahans 300 wives and many concubines would be chosen to bathe him in a lotus shaped pool and administer to his every need. Dancing girls would perform before him. It seemed to me that these Palaces were trying create a heaven on earth. However only one person could ever benefit from this and that was the ruler, King or Emperor whose Palace it was. Every other human in the place was there to fulfil his every need. The morality of this concept is thought provoking. It became apparent in the architecture, design and layout of all these different palaces that the Mughul Emperors were treated almost as gods.

The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur. It was built by the Rajput King Sawai Jai Singh II and completed in 1734.[

In Jaipur we chose different ways to spend our time. Marilyn, Elli and Rattana went shopping in the bazars, pestered and enticed into shops to look at the wares the shop keepers demanded they see. They also visited the city palace. Chris, Richard and myself visited the Jantar Mantar, a UNESCO world heritage site. It is a series of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments. The largest of the sundials can tell the time accurately to two minutes. There are instruments which can also make calculations about the star signs. This was the purpose of the great sundials. Accurate times of birth would provide accurate star sign readings for the elites. An enthusiastic guide showed us around and explained each instrument in detail and showed us how it worked. The mental calculations he made were fast and accurate..Chris was keen to know about her zodiac sign and we found the construction for Taurus. Our guide explained how the machine worked. To be accurate not only the time of birth but geographical location needs to be known. John Harrison, in Britain in the 1730s was producing his accurate portable clocks that mariners used to work out longitude and navigate the world.

The cinema in Jaipur.
While we were in Jaipur Sab got us tickets to see a Bollywood Movie. The cinema was a like a palace. The interior was all swirls and curves. The film we saw wasn’t a musical, all singing and dancing, the epitome of what we think a Bollywood movie is. It was a social commentary along the lines of,”Cathy Come Home,” but not as austere and brutal. It had a very happy ending. The plot goes: a poor young man has had an arranged marriage.. A sewing machine he has borrowed from a neighbor is taken back by the neighbour. The young man has been using the sewing machine to earn a living. Jealousy intervenes. He keeps   messing and up and he does not impress his bride. You get the impression she  really doesn’t want anything to do with him. Eventually through various ups and downs he obtains a government financed sewing machine to set himself up in business. He then joins a brand clothing manufacturing company. Things are looking good. However, he clashes with the managing director, a woman. He loses his job.  His  wife decides to take things into her own hands. She reclaims his sewing machine and helps him create new clothing designs. The local community pull together to help him produce a range of clothing and he gets accepted for a fashion design competition. Against all the odds and in competition against the company that sacked him, he wins. The future is rosy. You get the drift? It was an aspirational film to give people hope and to create heroes and heroines. We didn’t have the benefit of subtitles  but we could follow the main ideas in the film. By the way, audiences tend to clap and cheer in India.

Bhanwar Villas at Karauli.

Between Jaipur and Agra is a long drive. Sab arranged to break our journey at a small town called Karauli. Our accommodation was in a magnificent heritage hotel called Bhanwar Villas. It is a 1930s art deco mansion built by the local Maharaja who still owns it. He and his wife arrived while we were there but we didn’t get to speak to them. Marilyn and I were given a small apartment at the back of the property passing through two courtyards with beautiful flower beds, shrubs and fountains. Our room had a sitting room annex and a spacious shower and bathroom. The double bed was so vast Marilyn and I lost each other that night. Just above our bed, hanging over our heads, was a small shrine to Rama and Sita.  

Karauli from the roof of the city palace.
 Sab organized motor rickshaws to take us into town to visit the city palace, which is owned by the same family who owned our hotel. Again it was intricate and beautiful and contained many technological surprises. It had the stone lattices which created cool breezes but it also had a 14th century ,”air conditioning,” machine. Cold water flowed down a wide stone chute and warm breezes flowed over the falling water creating cool air in the rooms.Part of our stay in Karauli was a village walk. From the city palace we started walking through the tightly packed streets towards our hotel. It was dark and all the lights came on in the town and then they went out, but after a while they came back on again and then they went off again. Powercuts and shortages   often happen. Young men started to proposition us and I positioned myself behind Marilyn for obvious   reasons. Richard and I followed behind the group as Sab lead at the front. Once when the lights went out Richard was convinced he felt a hand trying to get his wallet from his pocket. People kept badgering us, mostly in a friendly way. A cow we walked past decided to lick my backside. We looked into darkened workshops and every type of skill and creativity was going on, pottery, weaving, jewelry making, stone carving and food cooking. Marilyn thought it must have been how Medieval London was.

Having a go at block printing fabrics in Agra.

In Jaipur and Agra we visited various workshops. In Jaipur we visited a workshop that cut and polished   gem stones. In the local mountains a whole variety of precious and semi-precious gems are mined, diamonds, rubies, amethyst,amber and agate. The workshop we visited also had a high class shop selling beautifully designed necklaces, earrings and rings. Later in Agra we visited a workshop that used wood blocks and natural local plant dies to create incredible fabrics. Also, in Agra, we visited a shop that sold local   teas and spices.  

Designing a carpet on graph paper.

At a carpet making factory, we saw the carpets from the design stage, drawn on large   sheets of graph paper, to the dyeing of long shanks of wool, to the painstaking weaving of a carpet on a loom. Each tiny thread was tied by hand. A single carpet can take three or four months to complete. The final stage was washing the carpet and trimming it with scissors to make sure every thread was an even  length. Many of these products we saw being made are sold in shops and stores here in Britain. Often    designers from some of the international companies will provide designs to be made up. The whole process starts with the villagers and reaches high class stores around the world and everybody gets fair pay. The Indian Government are sponsoring and encouraging these sorts of local craft based industries. It is a way of bringing wealth to the villages.

Fatehpar Sikri.

 Later, just outside of Agra, we visited the Fatehpur Sikri, a town founded by the Mughal Emperor Akbar and used as his capital, we also had an enthusiastic guide who reminded me of the guide at the Jantar Mantar. This gentleman was sharp witted and able to answer all our questions. We were able to discuss concepts and ideas with him. I don’t know what made me, but I asked him if he had ever been to Britain. He looked at me and just said, “ I am a poor man from a local village. I have no education. All my education I have received is in training to be a guide here.” I felt humbled and silenced. This intelligent, quick witted man was, in his words ,”uneducated.” It reminded me of something Elli spoke to me about. She said that we were lucky to have been born into a western country. I agreed. Life is down to chance in many ways. I think India makes you realise that. But something the people of India have got that we have lost to a great extent is the extended family. There is great community spirit in India and there is a lot of love amongst people. We, in Britain,  have become nuclear and often isolated. Those who love us are not always readily at hand.   Gaining wealth is  not everything it’s cracked up to be. 

An important aspect of Fatepar Sikri is the evidence that Akbar, the Emperor, invented his own religion. He decided to combine, Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Zoroastrian concepts and beliefs into one religion. It only lasted his lifetime but within the walls of his palace are symbols carved on the walls and roofs combing imagery from all the religions. I couldn't help thinking what an amazing idea he had.

The Taj Mahal.

At last, in Agra,we visited one of the highlights of our whole tour, The Taj Mahal situated beside the Yamuna River. The Taj was built by Sha Jahan, the fifth Mughul Emperor in 1632 for his most beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Out of his three hundred wives and many concubines she was his favourite because she had born him seven children including four sons.
We took a bicycle rickshaw along the long approach to the Taj Mahal. I must admit I was almost expecting that when I saw the Taj I would be underwhelmed. Everybody knows what the Taj Mahal looks like.   We have all seen it a thousand times in so many formats. I thought it held no surprises. However when we entered the gardens surrounding the Taj Mahal and I caught site of the mausoleum for the first time, it   took my breath away. It is perfect in symmetry and its shape is elegant and simple. The white marble it   is constructed from almost glows. I felt transfixed by the sight of it.

Sha Jahan was later imprisoned in the Red Fort , just down river from the Taj, when one of his sons Aurangzeb usurped him and killed off his older brothers to take the throne. Aurangzeb spared his father from death.  Sha Jahan was able to view  the Taj Mahal from the  palace windows from within the Red Fort. He longed to be buried next to his favourite wife which eventually came about. When we visited the Red Fort in Agra we could see the Taj Mahal in the distance form the position Sha Jahan would most probably have looked out from. Our guide told us we were lucky to see it. Although it appears large in the distance polution often masks it.
The entrance to the precinct around the Taj Mahal.

We as tourists felt humbled when we were put into a fast track queue to go inside. Many Indians queued for hours in a long snaking line. When we came out Marilyn and I were surprised to be approached,  first of by two teenage sisters. They wanted their photograph with us. Their brother took the picture.     Then a family approached us and wanted their photographs taken with us. I was bemused. After that a mother and little girl approached. The mother wanted her daughter's photograph taken with me. We sat on a stone step together and this little tot just beamed at me. The mother asked where I came from. I told her I came from London. As we walked away I overheard her saying to her daughter. “Remember. He comes from London.” What was going on? I asked Sab later about this. He said that many people visited the Taj from all  over India, many coming from small villages. They have never seen a white person from Europe in the flesh before. They are amazed to see us. I felt very strange about that. We obviously made their day.

On our drive from Agra, as we returned to Delhi from the south, we travelled along a new motorway just like we have in Britain and Europe. We passed the Budhh International Formula 1 circuit , a triumph of modern architecture and then we began passing one high rise after the other. Some of them were the headquarters of multinational companies. Others were modern apartment blocks for the young Indians working in the new high tech industries. This is the new modern India. The contrast with what we had experienced was immense.

In the home of a lovely lady in Delhi who showed us how to cook.

Delhi has many types of urban adventures to offer. In our first two days in Delhi we went on an urban     cooking experience organised by a young guide called, Aman. We visited a family in Old Delhi. The six of us were warmly welcomed into the family's home by the grandmother who hugged each one of us as we entered and placed a bindi mark on our foreheads. We dressed in traditional clothing and the lady of the house invited us into her kitchen    and demonstrated the preparation and cooking of various dishes. We were invited to sit at the family     table and were presented with dish after dish of delicious food. After I had eaten two lots of everything my stomach couldn’t take anymore. The food kept coming. It was difficult to politely say, “enough.” We took photographs of the food preparation and asked lots of questions about ingredients and preparation techniques. Since we have returned home we have been e-mailed all the recipes. Marilyn and I will be    trying out our new culinary skills sometime.

The mosque in the centre of Lodi Park.

At the end of our time in India Marilyn and I added two  extra days onto our trip. We asked Sab to give us suggestions for urban tours. We spent a day with a young man called Ahmid who took us to Lodi Park, a beautiful city park with an ancient mosque and tomb situated in the centre. In the 1930s,  Lady Willington, the wife of the then British Viceroy, had two villages demolished and  the park created on the site to remind her of England. We visited the Qutub Minar, India’s tallest minaret set within the  ruins of one of the seven Delhis that have been built  over the centuries. It comprised the remains of     mosques and various town buildings. Ahmid also took us to the 14century Agrasen Ki Baoli, an area of   temples, including an enormous water reservoir that supplied water to Old  Delhi. 

The highlight of the    day was visiting the house where Mahatma Ghandi lived towards the end of his life.

Ghandi's sleeping and working couch.

 We walked in         Ghandis footsteps to the spot where he prayed daily and where people would gather to pray with him. It was here that a Hindu nationalist shot and killed him. We spent time in the Ghandi museum discovering information about his life, his philosophy, and his views about men and women. We saw his sandals and the stick he used when on ,"The Salt March." There were many photographs and memorabilia of Ghandi throughout his life here. Ahmid then got our driver to take us to the large park in Delhi where Mahatma Ghandi was cremated . We walked barefoot and payed our respects. These urban adventures took us to the heart of Delhi and India.

The site of Ghandi's assassination.
The day before we were to leave we had nothing organized, Marilyn and I decided to walk through the area near our hotel. It is a bustling shopping area with many side streets . Much of Delhi is built on a grid system. We once more made our way through the noise and vibrancy of an energetic Delhi. One street   comprised of shops that sold past exam papers. Great piles of yellow books of exam papers for every      sort of subject. There were private educational establishments all up and down this street.  Another        street focused on jewelry and another on clothing. Each commodity had its own street or part of a street. We decided to have a cup of tea and found a cafe up some stairs over some shops situated on a  busy junction. The café was modern and had an industrial design to it. Artistic graffiti adorned the walls and loud techno music with a heavy beat blared out over speakers. In amongst the traditional  India you  find the modern, young India mixed in. It is often a surprise to stumble across it. Sab told me that he loved loud techno music. This type of music seems to be very popular amongst young educated Indians.

On our penultimate day we wandered the busy streets not far from our hotel.

On our last day we had to get an early morning taxi to the airport. The taxi arrived in plenty of time and was waiting for us outside the hotel. We said goodbye to the hotel staff and off we drove. It was early and the streets were relatively quiet. As we approached the modern Indira Ghandi airport, it has been open eight years, I noticed a solitary old lady crouching on a nearby grass verge in the middle of the road. I asked the driver what she was doing there. He said that she was weeding the verge. I asked, “Is that her job?” He said it was. I asked what she would get paid for doing the weeding. He said, “Oh about 7000 rupees a month.” That is equivalent to nearly £70. “Can she live on that?” I asked. “Oh yes. She only has to buy food.” I wondered where she lived. The taxi driver pointed out a well-manicured hedge running along the side of this pristine modern road with the vast modern airport complex looming ahead of us and suggested we look through the hedge. There I caught a glimpse of tents and shacks. Apparently there is no cost to living there. This is the India of today.

Intrepid Travel: