THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

11 posts from October 2017

31 October 2017

The Ghost of William Terriss

Wander the streets of London around Halloween and there’s a good chance that you’ll bump into a number of ghost walks, undertaken in varying degrees of seriousness. Covent Garden station is often included in these walks, as it is said to play host to the spirit of William Charles James Lewin, better known by his stage name William Terriss.

One of the most popular actors of his day, Terriss was murdered outside the Adelphi Theatre in 1897 by the actor Richard Archer Prince. Prince was sentenced to time in Broadmoor (where he died in 1937), while Terris was mourned by his public, with an estimated 50,000 people lining the route of the funeral procession.

Adelphi-theatre-1840

Façade of the Adelphi Theatre, London, by Samuel Beazley, depicted in "New Frontage of the Adelphi Theatre", Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, 7 November 1840, p.289. Public domain,  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adelphi-theatre-1840.jpg

There have been numerous reported appearances by Terriss’s ghost: in 1928 the actor June Howard Tripp, starring in the musical Clowns in Clover, reported that the couch in her dressing room vibrated, and that she felt a ghostly grip on her arm. Theatregoers that night also spoke of a green light manifesting on stage (Rowell, 1987).

A search of the archives of the Ghost Club (Add MS 52258-52273) reveals earlier references to Terriss’s spirit. The Ghost Club (1882-1936) was founded at 5.55pm on 1 November 1882 by Alfred Alaric Watts and William Staunton Moses. A brief history of the Club written by Alfred J Nicholl (Add MS 52273) notes that it was founded “expressly so that persons who might object to any general publication of their experiences might be encouraged to relate them… in strictest confidence”. Members dined together, usually on the first Wednesday of each month. The club was eventually wound up in 1936 due to low meeting attendance.

Ghost Club Rules Crop

Excerpt of the Rules of the Ghost Club, Add MS 52268

Add MS 52272, containing supporting material referred to in the minutes of the Club, has a number of papers regarding visitations made by the spirit of Terriss to Ghost Club member Leonard Francis. Excerpts from Francis’ diary – written up in the distinctive hand of ‘Ghost’ Iltyd B Nicholl, with his annotations – describe apparitions occurring on 30 December 1926 and on 27 January 1927. In his first apparition the ghost delivered a terse message – “I AM WIILIAM LEWIN. I WAS STABBED AT THE ADELPHI THEATRE I CANNOT REST”. 

Apparition text

Annotated excerpt from the diary of Leonard Francis, Add MS 52272

Brothers Nicholl and Francis reported the apparition at the 400th meeting on 5 January 1927, and Brother R H Saunders agreed to investigate further. Notes in the file dated 8 and 11 January describe visits made by Saunders to a medium, in order to consult with the spirit world about the apparition. Saunders had several questions for “the manifesting spirit”, asking whether murder victims felt distress in the life beyond, and whether this would account for the appearance of Lewin’s spirit. On the second visit the spirit reportedly confirmed to Saunders that the Lewin who appeared had been known as Terriss, and had been murdered outside the Adelphi.

Ghost Club File Cover Crop

Report file with details of corresponding minute book, Add MS 52272

According to his diary excerpts Francis subsequently made a trip to Westminster Cathedral to pray for Lewin on January 26, and the following day was visited by the spirit, who “faintly smiled and vanished at once.” I have not been able to find any further references to Lewin (or Terriss) in the subsequent volumes.

The Ghost Club archive is available for consultation in the Manuscripts Reading Room, and will be of interest to anyone studying the spiritualist movement, religious feeling and the history of science in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Alex Hailey

Curator, Modern Archives and Mss

Further reading:

Archive of the Ghost Club, Add MS 52258-52273

Jenny Hazelgrove, Spiritualism and British society between the wars (Manchester University Press: 2000)

George Rowell, William Terriss and Richard Prince. Two Characters in an Adelphi Melodrama (Society for Theatre Research, 1987)

 

27 October 2017

Paper bag reveals forgotten history

This 130 year old paper bag reveals that Indian sweetmeats were being sold in London in the late 19th century, much earlier than most people would expect. This lovely piece of ephemera is one of my favourite items in Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. It is one of many items in the exhibition that illuminate the forgotten story of early South Asian influences on British life and culture.
  Item 29 Evan.9195 paper bag
Evan.9195

The paper bag is at the British Library thanks to the enthusiasms of Henry Evans, a conjuror and ventriloquist, who performed under the stage name ‘Evanion’. He collected this bag as well as posters, advertisements, trade cards and catalogues which give lively insights into popular entertainment and everyday life in the late 19th century. Connecting Stories also features this beautiful poster which gives more details of the Indian themed entertainments on offer at Langham Place – snake charmers, wrestlers and dancers known as nautch girls.

Item 28 Evan.2591 India in London
Evan.2591

A review in The Era newspaper for 16 January 1886 tells us that this ‘exhibition of Indian arts, industries and amusements’ was held under the auspices of Lord Harris, Under Secretary of State for India. The entertainments included a pageant representing the durbar or levée of an Indian potentate. The reviewer was most derogatory about this, complaining bitterly that he could not understand it because it was conducted in Indian languages. He was also unimpressed by the music, declaring that a performer on a tom-tom ‘rapped away like an undertaker on a coffin’! He was much more enthusiastic about a silent comedy sketch and the arts and crafts on display. The reviewer instructs his readers that ‘visitors to India in London should not leave without tasting the quaint Indian sweetmeats made at a stall in the gallery’ which may have been the treats destined for the paper bag at the British Library.

Despite being held under the auspices of the Under Secretary of State for India, all was not well with the organisation of the entertainments at Langham Place. The St. James’s Gazette for 19 February 1886 discloses that Mr W S Rogers of the India in London exhibition was charged with ‘having kept open that building as a place of public resort without first having complied with the requirements of the Metropolitan Board of Works’. Furthermore, it was ‘unfitted for the reception of the public with due regard to their safety from fire, and that the real and only remedy was to pull down the building and erect a new one.’ He was fined £50. Concerns for health and safety evidently came to London earlier than one might have imagined, as well as Indian sweetmeats.

Connecting Stories with logos

Exhibition details are on the Library of Birmingham website 

Penny Brook
India Office Records

Further reading
Evanion catalogue  
British Newspaper Archive 
Asians in Britain web pages

Untold Lives blogs about Connecting Stories:
Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage 
Miss Jenny the cheetah visits England 

 

 

26 October 2017

Gardening in the 18th century: a seed shop in North-East England

Gardening became a popular pursuit in the 18th century. The plants to cultivate rose sharply with new varieties flooding in from abroad, mostly sold as seeds. In the 17th and early 18th century, seeds were sold by greengrocers and street tradesmen but gardening’s increasing popularity meant dedicated seed shops were soon springing up. By the late 18th century most provincial towns had at least one seed shop and many had nurseries too. Seeds were advertised in innovative ways. As well as the usual trade-cards, seed catalogues were printed with sale prices and descriptions of each plant. These catalogues were where most gardeners encountered new plants on offer. All of this is evident in the sole surviving copy of a seed catalogue printed in Houghton-le-Spring, a provincial town near Durham, in 1779: A Catalogue of ...Seeds…with their Season of Sowing, Planting and Culture: Chiefly Adapted to the Northern Climates by seeds-man James Clarke, whom we know little about.

SeedCatalogueTitlePage
This seed catalogue demonstrates the provincial popularity of gardening and the vastly increased demand for seeds outside London. It reveals what plants were grown in northern climates and, in particular, what new cultivars were successfully sold and grown in 1779. A surprising variety of slightly tender fruit is listed, for example. Amongst the assortment of apricots is the Anson's variety – ‘a kind lately introduced into English gardens’. The Brunswick variety of fig described on page 39 was imported from the Mediterranean during the 18th century and is still a very popular cultivar today.

SeedCatalogueFigs
We can also see that gardening was opening up to a wider audience during this period. James Clarke explains in his introductory note that he is ‘deviat[ing] from the common method of seeds catalogues … [his] chief design and wish in this work, is to render the general knowledge of gardening more easily attainable to the young and unexperienced’. He provides thorough guides to growing melons and cucumbers in ‘hot-beds’. Exotic fruits were grown in England long before 1774 but would’ve been a novelty for Clarke’s customers. These guides were indeed unusual. A basic seed list with prices was, as Clarke says, ‘the common method of seeds catalogues’. 

SeedCatalogueCucumbers

So who was James Clarke? He was clearly a shrewd businessman. Providing planting instructions encouraged amateurs to buy his wares, increasing his profit. It also ensured customer success with their seeds, promoting him as a reputable seller. He has, however, proven difficult to trace. Only a marriage license for James Clarke, Houghton-le-Spring, and Elizabeth Purdy survives from 1770. His designation was ‘gardener’, a general term for all those involved in gardens.  

The rise of gardening and its related trades was part of the emergence of consumerism in the late 18th century. Products that were previously seen as essentials were suddenly subject to changing tastes and fashions, fuelling consumer demand and stimulating growth. This little seed catalogue, with its tempting descriptions of growing the latest fashionable exotic crops, is testament to these changes.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

24 October 2017

English Nabob amasses a fortune from salt in Bengal

Anselm Beaumont, an apothecary, arrived in Calcutta as a Free Merchant in 1753 with a chest of Mediterranean coral beads valued at £500. He was aged 38. He lost everything in the Siege of 1756 and was appointed a Factor in the East India Company 'because of his honourable conduct and his great losses in the late general calamity'. He was lent £1000 by each of his friends.

By 1759 he had risen to Senior Merchant and was the Provincial Military Store Keeper which included responsibility for the Mint. In 1763 he was appointed Resident in Midnapore with the task of building the new Fort. The British Library holds a transcript of his Letterbooks containing 217 business letters written between April 1763 and his death in 1776. These reveal that his major mercantile concern was the distribution of salt throughout West Bengal, some on his own behalf and some in partnership with other East India Company officials. A reasonable estimate is that he was distributing at least 10,000 tons a year making a profit of £10,000. He also dealt in opium for China, precious stones and coral imported from leading London jewellers and Indian textiles for export to England, as well as many other commodities.

Fort William in the Kingdom of Bengal
An 18th-century view of Fort William Bengal by Jan van Ryne, 1754 (P464)

He returned to England in 1765 with a fortune probably exceeding £70,000 since he bought Cheadle Park in Staffordshire for £30,000 as a buy-to-let investment. He had considerable problems in recovering his assets when the EIC stopped issuing company bills, resorting to French bills, diamonds and even a respondentia bond on a camel caravan between Basra and Aleppo. He was a close friend of Robert Clive, was portrayed in Benjamin West’s portrait of 'Lord Clive receiving the Grant of the Diwani', and accompanied him in 1773-74 on his travels to France and Italy, where Beaumont purchased 24 antique Roman sculptures, some of which were later purchased by Charles Townley and Lyde Browne for their collections.

The Grant of the Diwani
The Grant of the Diwani by Benjamin West, 1818 (Foster 29)
Beaumont is probably shown on the left side of the painting, head and shoulders in a black suit between an Indian in a turban and a young Englishman in red. He was not present at the ceremony but Clive asked for him to be included in the portrait.

The letters do contain some social news. When asked to make arrangements for a Miss Hyett he writes 'We have at present on hand 8 or 9 spinsters of a former importation not yet disposed & many of this year that I fear will be disappointed in their expectations I hope it will not be Miss Hyett’s Case'. Fortunately four months later he was able to write: 'Miss Hyett has not much depended on the Golden Tales she may have heard of Bengal as she thought proper to engage herself to Capt Pigou before her Arrival & was married soon after'.

 Thomaswaters
Letter from Beaumont to East India Company director Thomas Waters, 16th February 1764 (author's own collection)

After his death, Beaumont’s 'Household furniture, some pictures, china, fine linen, rich wardrobe and other valuable effects' were auctioned by James Christie in a two-day sale followed by a one day sale of his 'Well chosen library in fine condition'. The catalogues show that the six principal rooms in his Argyle Street house were lavishly furnished and his wardrobe included fifteen silk suits, four waistcoats and 140 shirts, of which 66 had not been worn!

Peter Covey-Crump
Independent researcher

Further reading:
P A K Covey-Crump. Typescript transcript of Anselm Beaumont’s letterbooks, 1763-1764, British Library Mss Eur F574

 

19 October 2017

Grimaldi family correspondence

Louisa Edmeads was the wife of a curate at Over, Cheshire. We’ve recently catalogued a collection of her letters to her brother William in London, chiefly 1819 to 1829, dealing with domestic matters – health, clothing, family, neighbourhood gossip, work, and, above all, money. Money for goods from London, for cloth to make William shirts, for postage and transport by canal, for lodgings. This in itself provides a fascinating glimpse into the affairs of an early 19th-century family in straitened circumstances.

Grimaldi letters versos
Letters of Louisa Frances Edmeads (1785-1873) to her brother William Grimaldi (1786-1835). Add MS 89258

The family was, however, an unusual one. Louisa was the daughter of William Grimaldi (1751-1830), descendant of Alessandro Maria Grimaldi, head of the Genoese Grimaldi family, who left Italy for England in 1684. William senior was a renowned miniaturist whose customers included members of the aristocracy, but his finances were a continuing cause for concern to his children. Louisa was particularly anxious for him to leave his unsatisfactory lodgings and set up home with William, or their younger brother, Stacey Grimaldi (a successful barrister):

LFE to WG 9 June 1819 Merely to get rid of this rent
'Merely to get rid of this rent' (Letter from Louisa Edmeads to William Grimaldi, 9 June 1819)

There were other problems. William senior’s enthusiastic 'Methodising' and going out every evening caused friction with Stacey, but there was no hope of inducing him to change his habits. As Louisa writes: 'The arrangements between these two personages keep my mind in a constant state of anxiety & suspense, both by night & by day' (28 June 1819).

At one point Louisa even suggests a stealthy departure from his lodgings:

LFE to WG 17 Aug 1819 to abscond (2)
‘It would be a most unpleasant & painful thing for my Father to abscond but I do not really see any other means by which Mr W. can be brought to any kind of terms' (Letter from Louisa Edmeads to William Grimaldi, 17 August 1819)

There is affectionate exasperation over their father’s ways: 'As long as I can remember he has found occupation in arranging his Enamel Colors - & I doubt if he would ever complete that job if he had 50 years to do it in' (10 August 1822).

Despite tensions, the family worked together to try to solve problems. Louisa constantly urges William to find a better situation  than the one he held with Josiah Wedgwood, at St James’s Square, and issues frequent invitations to Over, and Cricklade, Wiltshire, their home from 1821. Though she writes only disparagingly of her own artistic efforts (she was herself a miniaturist of some ability), there is often a practical side to the letters. She asks William to admire her visiting card box and get his 'varnish person' to finish it; she draws a plan of her new house at Cricklade ('We hope to get in by Sept. – but workmen are great plagues' (9 June 1829)); and she describes in great detail the fabric, cut and style of the shirts she sews for him.

Tantalisingly, there are no letters at all from 1821, perhaps because of some disagreement with Stacey Grimaldi, into whose hands the letters later passed. In that year he published The Toilet, a significant early example of movable book publishing. Designed by William Grimaldi senior, each illustration showed an article from a lady’s dressing table or toilette (apparently sketched from Louisa’s dressing table), in the form of a flap, which the reader could lift to reveal a specific virtue. Despite the correspondence gap, earlier and later letters show that Louisa took a keen interest in The Toilet, which was a great success, even selling copies to local acquaintances.

A fine lip salve crop

A fine lip salve (open - cheerfulness) (3)
A fine lip salve – hand coloured illustration from The Toilet, by Stacey Grimaldi (2nd ed, 1821). When the flap is opened, we see 'cheerfulness' (British Library shelfmark: Cup.410.d.29).

Other highlights include a trip down the salt-mine in Winsford, treatment of her brother-in-law for lunacy, and the protracted process of finding a new curacy ('I write this from Salisbury – which is already swarming with clergymen on the watch for all the crumbs from the Bishop’s table … Edmeads is out for a long morning’s fishing' (30 July 1820)). The letters are a useful new source for local and social historians, and for anyone interested in the untold lives of women of the early 19th century.

Tabitha Driver
Modern Archives and Manuscripts

The Grimaldi family letters (Add MS 89258) are available to consult in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Follow us on Twitter @BL_ModernMSS

17 October 2017

The life and loves of a ‘tremendous literary rebel’, Michael Madhusudan Dutt

Dutt’s colourful life included romantic adventures, a change of religion and travel to Britain and France, in keeping with a man describing himself as ‘a tremendous literary rebel’. His exceptional creative talent led his biographer Ghulam Murshid to praise him as ‘the father of modern Bengali poetry’.

Item 14 add_or_5606 compressed
Michael Madhusudan Dutt, (1824-73)
Watercolour on ivory. Undated
Add.Or.5606

Around 1833, Dutt and his Hindu parents moved to Calcutta where his father’s success enabled him to provide his son with a good education. The young Dutt entered a world of culture and debate. He began his own writing career and developed a love of English literature and a longing to visit Britain. Towards the end of 1842 he was horrified when his parents began to plan an arranged marriage for him, declaring ‘I wish (Oh! I really wish) that somebody would hang me!’ Shortly afterwards, Dutt converted to Christianity, possibly motivated at least in part by a wish to evade the marriage.

Dutt baptism 1843 cropped
Dutt’s baptism at the Old Church, Fort William, 09 Feb 1843
IOR/N/1/64 f.101

Obliged to leave Hindu College after his conversion, he continued his studies at Bishop’s College, still supported by his parents, but unfortunately a rift later developed between him and his father. In December 1847 he left Calcutta for Madras where he struggled to find employment until the father of Charles Eggbert Kennet, an old friend from Bishop’s College, helped him to obtain a post teaching at the Madras Orphan Asylum. Aged twenty-four, in 1848 Dutt married seventeen year old Rebecca Thompson from the Madras Female Orphan Asylum. Today, a relationship between a teacher and a pupil would be considered scandalous, but early marriage was then considered entirely respectable for young women such as Rebecca. The Kennet family seem to have remained on good terms with the young Dutts as they appear as witnesses to the baptism of their daughter Bertha Blanche Kennet Dutt. Their contemporaries were much more concerned by the fact that Dutt, an Indian man, was marrying a girl of British descent, as this was possibly the first time that this was known to have happened.

BL-BIND-005137759-00313 cropped
Bertha Blanche Kennet Dutt’s baptism at St Mark’s Church, Madras (Black Town), 15 Nov 1849
IOR/N/2/C/2 f.130

Dutt and Rebecca had four children together, but when he returned to Calcutta after his father’s death in 1855, he left her and started a new life with another European lady, Henrietta Sophia White. Finally achieving his dream of studying law in England, he was called to the bar in London though he and Henrietta spent much time in France. They eventually died within a few days of each other in Calcutta in 1873. I do not know what became of the unfortunate Rebecca and her children.

The watercolour of Michael Madhusudan Dutt is on display in Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. The exhibition and community engagement are a partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham. They have been generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours and events are on the Library of Birmingham website

Connecting Stories with logos

Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and curator of Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage


Further reading
Ghulam Murshid, Lured by hope: a biography of Michael Madhusudan Dutt / by Ghulam Murshid; translated from Bengali by Gopa Majumdar, ( New Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2003)
Michael Madhusudan Dutt, The heart of a rebel poet : letters of Michael Madhusudan Dutt / edited by Ghulam Murshid, (New Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004)
Clinton B Seely, The slaying of Meghanada : a Ramayana from colonial Bengal / Michael Madhusudan Datta ; translated with an introduction by Clinton B. Seely, (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004)

Find My Past for British India Office collections 
Asians in Britain 

Untold Lives blogs:
Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage 
Miss Jenny the cheetah visits England
Bevin Indian Trainees during the Second World War 
East India Company trade with the East Indies 
Ranjitsinhji, our glorious hero bold 
First World War Indian soldiers' letters in 'Connecting Stories' exhibition 

14 October 2017

JOLIE bookbinders

Every 19th-century bibliophile worthy of the name would have been proud to own at least one bookbinding from the French workshop of Joly.  Some collectors owned many of them, notably the famous art deco jeweller Henri Vever and the wealthy book collector William Augustus Spencer who was lost on the Titanic.

Joly 1
Gold tooled goatskin bookbinding, cover, end-leaves, and doublure of Edmond Rostond, Les Musardises, Paris, 1890

Both Antoine Joly (1838-1917) and his son Robert (1878-1934) trained at the Parisian firm of Gruel, which was celebrated for embracing new styles whilst preserving traditional skills.  Undoubtedly, this was a fine line to tread, but Antoine negotiated it successfully, continuing to do so later in collaboration with his partner Jules Thibaron.  Robert took charge after Antoine’s retirement in 1892, differentiating his work by signing his bindings; Joly fils (i.e. son).
 
According to bookbinding historian Flety the clientele ‘appréciait la perfection de son travail sans prétention de grand art’; a judgement which seems to damn with faint praise, particularly when one examines the binding recently acquired by the British Library (above) and the stunning examples in the New York Public Library.
 
Joly 2 sig x
The signature of Robert Joly

PJM Marks
Western Heritage Collections

Further reading:

Henri Beraldi, La reliure du XIXe siècle. Available online: http://www.archive.org/details/lareliureduxixes03br
Julien Flety, Dictionnaire des relieurs français ayant exercé de 1800 à nos jours, 1988

12 October 2017

The City of Polish Children

How Isfahan in Iran became the City of Polish Children during the Second World War.

Group photo Isfahan

Group photo of older children at one of the children's homes in Isfahan. Reproduced with kind permission from the personal collection of Dioniza Choros, Kresy, Siberia Virtual Museum (http://kresy-siberia.org/hom/element/gradzik-collection/group-photo-at-isfahan-childrens-camp/)

Intelligence summaries prepared by Britain's Embassy in Tehran during the Second World War record details of the journeys made by Polish military and civilian refugees from the Soviet Union to Iran between 1942 and 1944. In these reports, one poignant statistic stands out: in January 1943 the camp in the city of Isfahan contained 2,457 civilian refugees, of which 2,043 were children.

IOR_LPS_12_3504_f71

Extract of an intelligence summary, prepared by the Military Attaché at the British Embassy in Tehran, 21-26 January 1943. IOR/L/PS/12/3504, f71.

Most of Isfahan's 2,000 children were either orphans or were accompanied by their one surviving parent. They were part of the second wave of the evacuation of 25,000 Polish refugees from the Soviet Union in August 1942, where they had been incarcerated since the Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939. After Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 Stalin signed a Polish-Soviet treaty that freed Polish citizens in Russia. After years of incarceration, violence, malnutrition and disease, and with no homeland to return to, the futures of these Polish refugees remained bleak.

In August 1942 thousands of Polish refugees arrived from Russia at the Iranian port of Pahlavi (now Anzali) on the Caspian Sea. The Red Cross and the Polish Government in Exile assisted in the establishment of transit camps for the refugees. To prevent the spread of disease and lice the refugees’ hair was shaved off, and the rags they wore incinerated. New clothes, shelter and provisions were supplied. From Pahlavi the refugees travelled onwards to Tehran, Isfahan, Ahwaz and Mashhad. Children needing the most care were sent to Isfahan, where the climate was thought more amenable to their recovery.

EAP001_7_1

Portrait of Polish refugee children, taken by Abolghasem Jala between 1942-1944. Abolghasem Jala took thousands of portraits of Polish refugees during his time in Isfahan at the Sharq photographic studio. Abolghasem Jala Photographic Collection, Endangered Archives Programme, EAP001/7/1 (http://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP001-7-1)

Memoirs indicate the sympathetic reception given by Iranians to the Polish refugees. One man recalled that the Iranians he met at Pahlavi were ‘well-wishing, very cordial and presented the Polish youth with sundry delicious tidbits’. Another family remembered being ‘warmly greeted by the Persian people with gifts of food, dates and clothes’ upon their arrival in Tehran.

  Naqsh-eJahan Square

Photograph of Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan, in 1925, taken by Walter Mittelholzer. Source: ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv/Stiftung Luftbild Schweiz (http://doi.org/10.3932/ethz-a-000274599_) Public Domain

With its tree-lined avenues and numerous gardens and parks, Isfahan was ideal for healing young lives damaged by war and exile. 

Twenty-one ‘establishments’ were opened across the city for Polish children, many of which were concentrated around Isfahan’s famous Chahar Bagh boulevard. Royal princes, affluent families and the city’s religious institutions donated their palaces, mansions, monasteries and convents for use as orphanages, hospitals and schools. Many establishments had their own gardens that the children made full use of. One former refugee later recalled walking through a ‘paradise of tall mulberry, fig, and quince trees and pistachio bushes’. Eight primary schools and one secondary school were established for Isfahan’s Polish children, as was a technical school training women in tailoring. Scout and Girl Guide groups also proved a popular activity.

Many of Isfahan’s Polish children remained in the city for the duration of the War. Later on they departed for new lives in East Africa, India, Mexico and New Zealand. Memoirs shared by the Polish diaspora indicate a fond regard for their time in Iran, and for Isfahan in particular which, for many, will always be remembered as ‘the city of Polish children.’

 

Mark Hobbs

Content Specialist: Gulf History, Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Primary Sources:

British Library, London. Coll 28/97 'Persia. Diaries. Tehran Intelligence Summaries', IOR/L/PS/12/3504 *currently being digitised for the Qatar Digital Library*

Further reading:

Irena Beaupré-Stankiewicz; Danuta Waszczuk-Kamieniecka; Jadwiga Lewicka-Howells (eds.) Isfahan, City of Polish Children (Hove, Sussex: Association of Former Pupils of Polish Schools, Isfahan and Lebanon, 1989)

Anna D. Jaroszynska-Kirchmann, The Exile Mission: The Polish Political Diaspora and Polish Americans, 1936-1956 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004)

Andrzej Szujecki “Near and Middle East” in Tadeusz Piotrowski (ed.) The Polish Deportees of World War II: Recollections of Removal from the Soviet Union and Dispersal throughout the World (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007)