Wellington at Walmer: “you will be delighted with this possession. It is perfect of its kind…”

Walmer Castle in Kent was constructed as an artillery fort in 1539-40 under the orders of Henry VIII. It became the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in the eighteenth century. The post of Lord Warden was created at a time when there was no formal navy; the Warden was in charge of five port towns on the southeast coast of England and required to supply ships for The Crown. Over the years, the Castle was gradually modified from a military fortification into a private residence. Various Prime Ministers and prominent politicians have been appointed as Lord Warden; today the role is an honorary title.

Etching of Walmer Castle c. nineteenth century. iStock.com

The Duke of Wellington accepted the role in 1829. The Marquis of Camden wrote to him in August of that year, in a letter marked “most private” respecting the position:

I learn from my neighbour Lady Aboyne, that Lord Liverpool becomes weaker after every attack & cannot be expected to live long.

Upon the idea that you may not be aware of some circumstances relative to the office of Warden of the Cinque Ports – I think it right to inform you, that altho’ the salary was abolished in 1817, the office still exists, that a very trifling salary is annexed to it, but it gives the possession of Walmer Castle & the patronage of Dover…

[MS 61 WP1/949/20]

The incumbent previous to the Duke of Wellington was the second Earl of Liverpool who died in December 1829. During the first half of that year, the Duke corresponded with him respecting the practical matters of the handover. Liverpool instructed Wellington that he would write to the servants “to say that at present you continue them” [MS 61 WP2/220/28]: we don’t know for how long this was the case. He also had the furniture valued and on 8 July 1829 Wellington sent Liverpool a draft for £1136 10s to cover the cost; that’s over £125,000 in today’s money! [MS 61 WP2/220/49]

The Duke felt the Castle required some repairs and initially it was unclear who was going to foot the bill, since this was not a private home but an official residence in consequence of his position. The Duke dealt with the matter in his customary honest and matter-of-fact manner:

There is no doubt that the Ordnance both built and repaired this Castle; and the discovery would be made if the old books were searched, and it is certainly true that in my time we painted Deal Castle on the application of Lord Carrington. But I see the objections to such a system. If Walmer Castle is repaired at the expence of the Ordnance, the other buildings occupied as houses by the officers of the Cinque Ports must be repaired equally. It is true they have salaries. But I don’t think that would signify. It would not make the line sufficiently clear.

I think then that the best arrangement would be, that I should give the house the repairs necessary to keep the house wind and water tight under the sanction of the Treasury, to be executed by the Ordnance and paid by me, and with the permission to charge to my successor a certain proportion of the expense. Of course I must pay for the ordinary casual repairs.

Let me know if you concur in their mode of proceeding and I will put it in train accordingly. It is absolutely necessary to do something this autumn or the house will fall down.  

Wellington, Walmer Castle, to [Henry] Goulburn: the arrangements for repairs to Walmer Castle, 22 Jul 1829 [MS 61 WP2/220/54]

The Duke in fact had a guest at Walmer before he had stayed there himself. In May 1829, the Duke of Rutland wrote to Wellington respecting his:

most kind and friendly offer of Walmer Castle as a styptic to my hayfever.”

[MS 61 WP1/1019/24]

At the end of his visit he again writes to the Duke, now in glowing terms concerning the residence:

I cannot quit this place, without endeavouring to impress upon you my sense of your kindness in [?persuading] me, with three friends to occupy your Castle. The alteration which even a sojourn of five days here has affected on me is marvellous and I go away as well as I can desire to be. I am quite convinced that if I had been here early in the month of June I should have entirely escaped the unpleasant visitation of Hay Fever.

You will be delighted with this possession. It is perfect of its kind, and I anticipate that your residence here will place you in a state of perfect independence of health and strength. I never saw a place better kept. The pasture is beautiful, and the garden admirably cropped – all possible credit is due to the house keeper and gardener, for their strict attention to their duties. I am convinced they must be excellent servants.

Letter from the Duke of Rutland to Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, thanking Wellington for allowing him to use Walmer Castle, 6 July 1829 [MS 61 WP1/1030/32]

And Rutland was right in his prediction. While the Duke had grand residences at his disposal – Apsley House in London and Strafield Saye in Hampshire – he clearly had a soft spot for the Castle and he stayed at Walmer every autumn from his appointment as Lord Warden until his death in 1852 at the age of 83.

William Pitt drilling the militia at Walmer Castle, Kent, 1803
William Pitt drilling the militia at Walmer Castle, 1803. iStock.com

Why did Wellington like Walmer so much?  It appears that its coastal location was a significant factor. In 1832 the Duke reported to Lord Melville that the combined fleet was visible from Walmer Castle: the strategic position may have appealed to his military training. [MS 61 WP1/1238/15]

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, sea air was considered to have great health benefits. As we have already heard, the Duke of Rutland found his visit worthwhile. The Duke’s attempt to persuade Lord Rosslyn to visit paints a picture of a seaside idyll:

Our weather here is delightful, and is improving daily. Possibly it might do you good to pass a little time near the sea. I should be delighted to see you and you might come to Margate by the steam boat with ease. Your own carriage might meet you there or I could send mine for you.

Copy of a letter from Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, to Lord Rosslyn [MS 61 WP1/1186/24]

The Duke was always keen to have visitors at Walmer and entertained on a grand scale. Snippets from various letters give us hints about the sort of events he hosted.

In February 1832, the Duke wrote to Lord Kenyon enclosing a letter he had written to him in November the previous year and neglected to send; note the reason for the delay:

You wrote to me in November last a letter which I received when I was at Walmer Castle. I immediately wrote you an answer which I never closed, principally because my house was full of company at the moment and I was much occupied…

[MS 61 WP1/1216/12]

Despite entertaining extensively, from a personal perspective he preferred a simple existence and lived and slept in a single room:

It is fitting perhaps, since the Duke was so happy at Walmer, that he ended his days there in his modest room.

The Duke’s body was embalmed and he lay in state at Walmer until 10 November; approximately 9,000 visitors made the pilgrimage. He was later transported to London by military escort.

The stories they tell: student songs

As we move into another academic year and one that is rather different, this week’s blog looks at a consistent aspect of student life from the past – student songs.

The origins of academic songs can be traced back to the Middle Ages. One of the most popular examples is the 13th century Gaudeamus igitur (“So Let Us Rejoice”). As with many student songs it is a light heart composition reflecting aspects of university life, with the term “gaudy” (commonly used to refer to college feasts in the United Kingdom) believed to be derived from its opening line. Such compositions continue to be performed during university graduation ceremonies, in the form of graduation hymns, or sung at academic feasts, in the form of drinking songs. Other examples include fight songs, sung by student sports teams, or songs associated with student societies, such as rowing or hiking clubs.

The academic songs associated with the University of Southampton range over its history from the nineteenth-century Hartley Institution onwards and are a reflection of the period in which they were created.

The oarsman's song
The Oarsman’s Song [MS310/46 A2075]

The first item is an example of the songs associated with a sports society. ‘The Oarsman’s Song’ is attributed to Stephen (Steve) Fairbairn (1862-1938), an Australian oarsman, rowing coach and pastoralist. Fairbairn coached at Jesus College, Cambridge, Thames Rowing Club, and The London Rowing Club. He was a prolific writer and is considered to be the master of “sayings” when it comes to rowing. This copy is from a collection of papers related to the University of Southampton Boat Club. [MS 310/46 A2075/7]

There are several examples of College songs, this version –A College Song’ – dates from the very early days of the twentieth century and is dedicated to the students, past and present, of the Hartley University College, Southampton.  The words are written by James Montgomery and the music composed by Charles T.Smith, a Hartley University College student from 1906-08. [MS 1/7/291/23]

‘A Song for Pedagogues’ comes from the Society of Old Hartleyans’ “Happy Days” scrapbook. The song was sung at the Society of Old Hartleyans’ Annual Dinner and was composed by F.C.Lunn, a Hartley University College student from 1914-16. The arrangement is based on “The British Grenadiers”, a traditional marching song of British and Canadian military units. [MS 1/7/291/23]

Amongst the papers of Miss A.Ellis, who was a student at the University College, Southampton, 1927-30, is a manuscript of the ‘Theatre Rag Song’. Whilst the second verse relates to wanting to acquire some “proper college knowledge”, the other two verses focus on food and drink, perhaps reflecting something of the catering available to students at the time. [MS416/3 A4201]

‘The Wessex Students’ Song Book’ compiled for students of the University College Southampton, circa 1942. The book contains a collection of 33 student songs, including another version of the ‘College Song’ which is displayed here. [MS 310/56 A3099]

Finally we have the ‘Southampton Students’ Song Book’ compiled by the Students’ Union Song Book Committee, September 1950. The collection includes most of the old Wessex songs, some from other sources and some written especially for this new song book. The thirty songs are divided into a General Section, Students’ Section, and Ceremonial. [MS310/25 A1062/3]

MS 310/25 A1062/3

We hope that you have enjoyed this brief foray into some of the songs of the past and we would be delighted to know of current college songs or those that students remember from their time at the University.

The stories they tell: The O.R.T. Technical Engineering School, Leeds

James Parkes, whose Library on Jewish/non-Jewish relations is our largest and best-used printed special collection, was a great enthusiast for pamphlets, valuing the immediacy they give to contemporary events and issues. Amongst his collection is a 1940s booklet on the Leeds ORT Technical Engineering School, which tells the story of the last Jewish school to operate in pre-war Berlin and its transfer to Britain.

The O.R.T. Technical Engineering School, Leeds Parkes BZ 6751.J64

The Berlin ORT School had opened in 1937 to provide training in woodwork, motor repair and other vocational courses for Jewish boys, aged 15 to 17, who were barred from attending state or municipal trade schools. To provide some protection from Nazi attacks on Jewish property it had been founded and financed by British ORT, and, surprisingly, it had been approved by Adolf Eichmann, on the basis that its students would emigrate on completing their training.

As measures against the Jews increased and having secured the consent of the Home Office and the Ministry of Labour for the transfer of the school to Britain, Col. J.H. Levey of British ORT travelled to Berlin to try to obtain permission from the Nazis for the move. At the last moment the school’s machinery and tools were confiscated their inclusion having been one of the British Government’s conditions for transfer but despite this a group of 106 boys, about half of the students, and eight instructors, were able to leave Berlin on the 28th August 1939, most not aware that this marked a final farewell to their families. Britain’s declaration of war on Germany six days later prevented a second group from escaping. The school continued to operate, but in June 1943 it was occupied by the SS and most of the remaining students and staff were deported to Auschwitz or Theresienstadt.

School workshop in Leeds

Once in Britain, the students spent a few months at the Kitchener Camp at Sandwich in Kent, before the school opened in Leeds in November 1939, under the auspices of the Joint British Committee ORT and OSE, two Jewish humanitarian organisations, concerned with the training and health of young Jews.

The booklet provides a brief outline of the School’s background, going on to describe its courses, which were open to young Jewish refugees from other European countries. Options included welding, plumbing, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, carpentry and a market gardening course, open to both male and female non-resident students. The booklet also contained a request for donations – the cost of running the school being put at fifty shillings per student per week.

Room in one of the hostels

The amenities of the hostels served to demonstrate the skills that prospective students could acquire as the refugee students had carried out the wiring, plumbing and decorating and had even made some of the furniture. In their spare time, they could choose from a range of recreational activities, which included a school orchestra, choir and theatre. It was left up to individuals to determine their own religious observances, the school being “a Technical School and not a religious educational establishment”.

Kit required by students

The selection of the rules and regulations listed gives a glimpse of life at the school. Many relate to maintaining cleanliness of person and of accommodation as well as the importance of thinking of others and obeying room leaders and staff. Students were not to grumble about the food or to write letters to the press without permission. Going out without a hat – which must not be worn at an anglewas forbidden. Although not among the rules listed, students were also advised not to let themselves be overheard in the street speaking German or discussing the war, for fear of provoking hostility. Throughout there is an emphasis on the gratitude that the students should have for the opportunities provided by the school and the importance of doing nothing to discredit it.

Students outside one of the hostels

The School continued to operate until 1942 when funding it had received from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was lost. British Government policy meant that although some students found work or joined the Army, others were interned, some being deported to Australia. A research project on the school is planned by ORT UK as part of their centenary celebrations in 2021.

The stories they tell: Conrad Veidt

In this week’s blog post, we tell the story of Conrad Veidt, and his journey as an actor, showing items from our Conrad Veidt collection.

Conrad Veidt [MS380 A3064 2/1/20] 

Hans Walter Conrad Veidt was born on 22 January 1893 in the Berlin suburb of Potsdam. His impressive height, high cheekbones and handsomely thin face made him natural casting for sinister or figurative acting roles. 

Conrad Veidt as a baby [MS 380 A3064 1/1] 

Acting Career

Veidt received his basic acting training and stage experience from Max Reinhardt, and appeared aged 20 before World War One at Reinhart’s Deutsches Theatre in Berlin. Veidt acted here before 1914 and after 1916. During 1914-1916 Veidt served in the German army, with illness permitting him to be assigned to Berlin after 1916. 

His career in German film began in 1917, where he made his film debut in Der Spion. In 1919 he played the part of a homosexual in Anders als die Andern, which caused a lot of controversy. Veidt enjoyed a successful career in Germany in the 1920s, becoming one of the highest paid stars in German film. The 1920s showed Veidt gain international success with his roles in expressionist films such as in Der Kabinett des Dr. Calligari. This was his first major role, and by this film, Veidt had already been seen in 15 films.Others included Anders als die Anderen (Different from the Others), Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks), Orlacs Hände (The Hands of Orlac). 

Conrad Veidt as Lord Nelson in Lady Hamilton, 1921 [MS 380 A3064 1/2] 

After forming his own company Veidt took to directing, with one of his works being the film Lord Byron. Veidt was invited by John Barrymore to Hollywood in 1926 and went on to star in 4 films during his time in the USA. He returned to Germany in 1929 where he continued his career.  

An anti-Nazi, Veidt left Germany in 1933 and settled in London. He became a British Citizen in 1939. Here he enjoyed a successful film career in British films until he moved to the United States of America in 1940. In this decade Veidt played his best known roles; Major Strasser in Casablanca and the evil vizier in The Thief of Bagdad. His final film, Above Suspicion, cast Veidt in the role of Count Hassert Seidel who assists an American couple spying for the British secret service escape the clutches of the Gestapo. Veidt starred in more than 100 films. 

Conrad Veidt in The Thief of Baghdad [MS 380 A3064 1/2] 
Adverts for Casablanca film screenings [MS 380 A3064 1/6]

Personal Life

He married three times, firstly to music hall artiste Gussy Hall; then Felicitias Radke, with whom he had one daughter, who are both shown below. His third wife was agent Lily Barter, who he married in December 1980. Veidt died on 3 April 1943.

Conrad Veidt with Felicitias Radke and daughter Vera [MS 380 A3064 1/1] 

The Collection 

The collection is formed of material relating to Veidt collected by J.C.Allen. There are eleven volumes of photographs, articles and copies of correspondence, c.1890-1991, compiled by Allen in the 1980s-90s; publicity photographs for Veidt, including for The Cabinet of Dr CaligariThe Thief of BagdadJew Süss and Casablanca; film journals, 1934-9; recordings. 

Adverts for film screenings starring Conrad Veidt [MS 380 A3064 1/6] 

The stories they tell: diaries of Iris Castello on travels to Palestine

In the spring of 1923 and then again in the late summer of 1924 through to the spring of 1925 a young lady named Iris Castello travelled from her home in England to Palestine. She was the niece of Herbert Louis Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel – a Liberal politician who served as leader of the Liberal Party from 1931-5 as well as Home Secretary in the National Government under Ramsay MacDonald from 1931-2. He also served as the first High Commissioner for Palestine from 1920 to 1925 and it was in this capacity that Iris accompanied her uncle and other family members and friends in the course of both official and informal events on their travels through Palestine.

Special Collections hold the diary entries kept by Iris in our collection MS432, documenting her experiences in Palestine and giving us a fly-on-the-wall account of the work of the High Commissioner and the world of the British elite at this crucial period in Middle East history. Iris was based in Jerusalem but ventured far and wide to various places including Nazareth; Amman in what was then the Emirate of Transjordan; Damascus in Syria and Baalbek in Lebanon to name just a few.

Countryside at Bethany from MS84/3, Bundle 1, p1: Iris visited Bethany twice, once in March 1923 and again in January 1925, when she visited the tomb of Lazarus

The diaries range from the mundane and rather prosaic details you’d expect from most amateur writers keeping day-to-day accounts of their travels through a foreign land, such as their notes on the weather, the quality of their bedding, games of badminton, ping-pong and Mah-jong or the tedious and tiresome characters one is forced to endure at parties and other gatherings. However, they also include unique details of historical interest on the characters and settings of 1920s Palestine and the Near East more generally.

Amongst the more prominent characters Iris encountered was the Emir Abdulla of Transjordan, who visited her uncle Lord Samuel on 11th September 1924 and whom she described as “a good looking man with a nice twinkle. He is very worried about the Whabis marching to Taif & came over to discuss with Uncle Herbert.”

Soon after this initial encounter ‘Uncle Herbert’, Iris and others in their entourage travelled to meet again with the Emir at his camp in Amman:

After an early tea Col Cox escorted us to the Emir’s Camp right up on the top of a hill.  Very fresh & cool.  As Uncle Herbert stepped out of the car ‘God Save the King’ was played.  We watched the little Prince and others galloping their horses, it was then prayer hour so we were shown to our tents to remain there till dinner time.

Uncle Herbert had a large tent divided into a bedroom & sitting room.  May & I shared a small tent, so did Professor Wallas & Reggie.  Our tent was furnished with two extremely uncomfortable beds, two chairs & a washstand.  The first thing I did was to anoint my bed thoroughly with Keatings and thus escaped any visitors.

At 7.30 an official dinner party was given.  Decorations were worn.  The Emir looked very magnificent in some sort of military uniform.  We were 30 altogether.  I sat between the doctor and the Chief Justice.  The doctor was an extremely interesting man and spoke excellent English.

The dinner was badly cooked & dull food.  We started off with luke-warm soup, then some sort of pastry, chicken & rice, beans done up, macaroni, fancy rice, mutton done up, a very sickly pudding & dessert.  The Emir must be short of forks because after each course our dirty fork was left for the next course.  Only water to drink.  After dinner we returned to the Emir’s tent and after chatting up for a short time we retired to our tents & bed.  An extremely interesting & novel experience.

Iris also describes in some detail the visit of Lord Balfour to Palestine in March and April of 1925:

The next excitement & a national one was the arrival of the Balfour party.  The city was quite deserted, because all the Arab shops were shut as a sign of protest & the Jewish shops as a sign of rejoicing.  There was no demonstration at all.

Mixed in amongst descriptions of some of the better known characters from modern history are the more obscure individuals who peopled Iris’ world and the manner in which she describes them puts one in mind of an Agatha Christie novel, with all the prejudices and predilections a young English woman of the middle or upper classes of that era might hold. On 26th September 1924 Iris meets a Dr Weizmann who, unfortunately was “not at all what I expected. Very much the Lenin type. Rather silent but this was put down to overwork.” On 3rd March 1923 she met another doctor: “At lunch the doctor became conversational.  I did not like him.” On 1st October 1924 yet another doctor: “I was taken in by Col Holmes (Head of the Railways) a fat jovial man & sat between him and Wing Commander Tyrrell the doctor at Sarafend. Very Irish & rather noisy.”

Jerusalem as it would have looked in the 1920s, from MS84/4 Bundle 6

In her travels through Palestine Iris encountered many of the archaeological excavations that were taking place there at that time, including those in the Valley of Kidron at Jerusalem:

[…] went in the car to the Tomb of Absalom, and from there walked to the City of David to have a look at Macalister’s  Excavations.   No one working, but we found the guardian there whose duty it is to keep visitors away.  He turned into an excellent guide.

We saw the corners of the old wall of David and some very interesting caves that have been discovered & are still being excavated.

Professor Wallas had some difficulty in getting down the rather narrow gangway to the caves, so the guide just lifted him up & gave him a pig-a-back.  No light weight, but a most amusing sight

Iris was invited to many talks and lectures given at the British School of Archaeology including one held by a Dr Karlie on malaria which she deemed ‘rather interesting’; one given by a Mr Garrow Duncan on Mount Ophir that she found ‘wonderfully interesting’; and another by a Dr Grenfell on Labrador that was both ‘interesting and brightly delivered’.

However, both Iris and her uncle also endured talks that were less well received, including Professor Gastang’s fourth lecture on excavations in Jerusalem given on Monday 17th November 1924: “It was boring, but Uncle Herbert expected it to be as he told me to nudge him if he fell asleep.”

The countryside near Jerusalem, from MS84/4 Bundle 6

As a young woman on the fringes of her uncle’s official business in Palestine, Iris’ diaries carry an often light-hearted even flippant tone that allows the reader to enter into the world of British colonial politics in the Near East through the lens of an informal and somewhat unserious yet highly perceptive observer.

The stories they tell: Lady’s Palmerston’s rewards of industry

Mary Mee was the daughter of Benjamin Mee, a London merchant living in Dublin. She married John Temple, second Viscount Palmerston, on 5 January 1783 and they had four children including the future British Prime Minister, Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston. Described as a lively, charming woman and elegant society hostess she had a kind heart and devoted much of her energy and own money to helping the poor of Romsey. This included setting up several schools. Information about her ventures comes mostly from her letters to family and friends.

Hand drawn and coloured reward card given as prizes to children at Lady Palmerston’s School of Industry, c. 1801 [MS62 Broadlands Archives BR183/27]

From the records, it is hard to tell exactly how many schools there were and whether they operated simultaneously or sequentially. She frequently refers to her “girls” and it’s not clear whether she also offered opportunities for boys.

Mary lived many years before the provision of state education at a time when there were very few schools in England. In the 18th century the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge created the first charity schools for children aged 7 to 11 years. ‘National Schools’ were founded by the Church of England from 1811 onwards; a similar venture supported by non-conformist Christians has been established a few years earlier which started ‘British Schools’. Despite this, many children from the labouring class would not have had the opportunity to go to school.

[MS62 Broadlands Archives BR183/27]

Her schools probably didn’t provided an education akin to modern-day establishments; more likely the children would have received practical training that they could then use to generate income, as well as a safe, dry space and a hot meal. She refers to her “school of industry” as well as her spinning schools, specifying one for flax [spun into linen] and one for hemp [commonly used to make sail canvas] which give an indication of the sort of skills the children were learning. In 1803, 55 children had knitted their own stockings.

In 1801 Mary described to her son how the problem was “too extensive for particular charity” and required actions “on a large scale”. [BR21/7/8] And in terms of numbers, it’s clear that Mary was helping a significant number of local children. In 1801 she reports that numbers at her school[s] have increased to 60; by 1803 she has about 100 children “in all my schools”. That same year she also expresses her hope to establish an “early” or “young” school.

MS62 Broadlands Archives BR183/27

It appears that in 1801 she was employing 2 or 3 members of staff : a governess plus a teacher and [?or] sub-governess. The only person referred to by name – and from whom we have one letter – is Ann Rout. In 1802 Mary bought presents for the assistant ladies who attend her school and the following year she tells us she has two spinning mistresses.

It appears Mary took a very modern carrot – rather than stick – approach to motivation, even for the prospective parents attending her lecture on the school rules in 1803: “I have treated them with bread & cheese & to prevent it being a dry lecture I have ordered them some strongbeer.” [MS62 Broadlands Archives BR21/9/6]. PTA’s around the country, please take note!

MS62 Broadlands Archives BR183/27

She writes to friend Emma Godfrey in Jan 1803 that she has been organising rewards for her girls: 60 cloaks are to be cut plus plans to provide a dinner for 75; she was inviting some past scholars to dine. Later that year she held the annual school fete at which, she reports, her own children were waiters. Mary’s two daughters, Elizabeth and Frances, were certainly involved in her work and it is possible that they made the beautiful reward cards, examples of which illustrate this post.

The stories they tell: the Rosicrucian Plays

Alex Mathews The Demon Monk (1939) Rare Books Rosicrucian BF 1623.R7

For the latest in our ‘The stories they tell’ blogs we feature a play, The Demon Monk, complete with an admissions ticket for a charity performance at the Rosicrucian Theatre in Christchurch in August 1939.

The play is one of a number written under the name Alex Mathews by George Sullivan (1890-1942), the leader of the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship (ROCF), whose Library is one of our smaller printed collections. Intended to be both entertaining and educational, the Rosicrucian plays communicated the group’s beliefs. Amongst these were the ability of individuals to access esoteric powers and that reincarnation allowed such powers to be developed through successive lifetimes. In the Demon Monk, a vampire, Liveda, has his soul freed, whilst the positive portrayal of a witch, Mrs Halsall, as a wise woman with supernatural powers, is notable given the links between some members of ROCF and a New Forest coven.

From The Demon Monk

In using drama as a means of bringing the group’s beliefs to a wider audience Sullivan saw himself as continuing a Rosicrucian tradition. He subscribed to the view that Francis Bacon, whom he regarded as a founder of the English tradition of Rosicrucianism, had been the author of Shakespeare’s plays, and that these too could be seen as Rosicrucian texts containing esoteric secrets.

For members of the group, Sullivan provided instruction through the Academia Rosae Crucis. Its programme took the form of three degrees, Licenciate, Bachelor and Doctor, the subjects studied being:  Principles of Rosicrucian Philosophy and History, Mythology and Symbology, Comparative Religion, Oratory and Drama, Alchemy, Therapeutics, Psychology, Mysticism, Occult Science and Principles of Magic. Teaching took the form of lectures and discussions as well as rites and ceremonies which were held in the Ashrama Hall, adjacent to the theatre. For those who could attend neither the Christchurch nor the London ‘chapters’, instruction was also offered by correspondence course.

The ROCF group appears to have been in existence for around thirty years – it was established by Sullivan in Liverpool in the early 1920s and had probably ceased to exist by the late 1950s but its prominence was limited to the period between 1935, when it transferred to Christchurch, and Sullivan’s death in 1942. Without his charismatic leadership, it attracted few new members and inevitably declined as the original members aged.

Two ROCF members later described the influence of Sullivan and his group. Gerald Gardner (1884-1964), a pioneer in the development of the modern pagan religion of Wicca, doubted some of Sullivan’s claims, notably that he was a reincarnation of Bacon, but wrote that it was through a member of ROCF that he was initiated into Wicca at the New Forest coven. Peter Caddy (1917-1994), a co-founder of the Findhorn Community in Scotland in 1962, had a more positive view of Sullivan, describing him as a “being of vast knowledge” whose teachings continued to be of importance throughout his life.

Many of the Rosicrucian plays and other writings by George Sullivan (he also wrote as Aureolis and Muser, as well as Alex Mathews) have been digitised and are available on Internet Archive. There is also a list of contents of the Rosicrucian Collection which reflects the philosophies of Sullivan, the subjects studied by members of the group and their interest in Francis Bacon and Shakespeare.

The stories they tell: the mobile ambulance synagogues

As we mark International Day of Charity 2020 on 5 September, we look at the story of the mobile ambulance synagogues, an initiative of the Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council used to provide welfare support in liberated Europe at the end of the Second World War. Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld, who was the Executive Director of the CRREC and was awarded the British Hero of the Holocaust award in 2013 for his work with refugees, played a leading role in this initiative.

Consecration of a mobile synagogue, 1945

Image of the consecration of a mobile synagogue ambulance from the Annual Report of the CRREC, 1945 [MS183/593/1]. This ambulance was supported from donations from the Jewish community in the USA.

Supported through a fund raising campaign across the Jewish community worldwide, the first of these ambulances was sent to Europe in 1944. The vehicles functioned as both synagogues and as first-aid clinics. Each was stocked with kosher food, clothing and religious requisites. Although originally used by military chaplains on active service for Jewish military personnel, their role was extended to provide relief for Jewish survivors within the liberated territories in Europe.

Mobile synagogue ambulance, Athens, December 1945

Mobile synagogue ambulance at the Central Jewish Board Office, Athens, December 1945 [MS 183/374]

The aim was to provide 50 such mobile ambulance synagogues in total: the CRREC report for November 1945 noted that there were 13 vehicles completed and in operation across Europe at that time. They were at that point in 1945 at work in the following locations: Synagogue Ambulance Number 1 was in France, whilst Synagogue Ambulance Number 2 was in use in Czechoslovakia under the supervision of the Czech Red Cross; Mobile Synagogues Numbers 3 and 4 were working with the British Army of the Rhine; Mobile Synagogue Number 5 was with the Central Mediterranean Forces; Synagogue Ambulance Number 6 operated with the Community Council in Athens; Synagogue Ambulance Number 7 was in use in North Western Germany with the Relief Unit of the Jewish Committee for Relief Abroad; Synagogue Canteen Number 8 was in use in Belgium with the Children’s Homes of the Comité Centrale Israelite pour la Réorganisation de la Vie Réligieuse en Belgique; Synagogue Ambulance Number 9 was in Amsterdam; Synagogue Ambulance 10 was in Poland and 12-13 were en route there; and finally Synagogue Canteen 11 was based in the Netherlands.

Mobile synagogue at Chalcis, December 1945

Mobile synagogue at Chalcis, December 1945 [MS183/374]

By December 1945, Synagogue Ambulance Number 6 had made its way from Athens to the Island of Euboea to support the Jewish community in Chalcis.  Of the Jewish community in Chalcis, only 22 of the 327 members were to perish in the Holocaust, as the remainder were hidden and assisted by their Christian neighbours.

An innovative idea, the mobile ambulance synagogues and synagogue canteens scheme was to prove its worth in contributing to the relief effort in liberated Europe as well as a testament to the work and commitment of those, such as Schonfeld, who initiated it. The archive of Rabbi Schonfeld contains considerable material on the work of the CRREC.

The Stories They Tell: Raiza Palatnik

In this week’s blog post, we tell the story of Raiza Palatnik, and her journey as a Refusenik.  

Raiza Palatnik [MS254/A980/2/16]
Raiza Palatnik [MS254/A980/2/16]

Background Information 

Jews were persecuted in the Soviet Union through much of the 20th century. Extreme nationalism took place in Russia, following the Leninist principle of all Soviet citizens falling into one general populate with no nationality distinctions. In the 1970s, Moscow had a large Jewish population, yet there was only one synagogue. There was no way to become a rabbi or even eat kosher food; therefore Jews were discouraged from learning and practicising their Jewish cultural identity. 

After continual denial, Jews wanted to emigrate from Russia. Although they could apply to leave, the majority were refused permission and were often unable to get a job afterwards, even if they were a qualified scientist or librarian. Instead, the government would assign you a job, such as the roles of stoker, shovelling coal, or elevator operator. 

The Russian government wanted to discourage large-scale Soviet-Jewish migration by imprisoning leaders of the Jewish movement.  

Raiza Palatnik’s story 

On the 14th October 1970, Raiza Palatnik was asked by two men who came to the Library where she worked, to go with them to her apartment. They claimed to be Police Officers of the Criminal Investigation Department. Outside her apartment building, they were met by an Investigator who had a warrant signed by the Prosecutor to authorise a search for stolen items from a nearby school. The search lasted for 5 hours and her typewriter and material on Jewish issues were confiscated. This material included speeches of Nassar before the Six-Day War; the interview of Golda Meir in the New York Times; and a stenograph of Joseph Brodsky’s trial. Upon signing the protocol, Raiza reported that all the items taken were her personal possessions and had nothing to do with the search stated in the warrant, and ordered their immediate return. 

The next day, Raiza was addressed again at her place of work by Investigator Alexiev, who instructed her to go to the KGB office immediately. Here, she was demanded to reveal the names of the people from whom she received the anti-Soviet material. In her response Raiza stated that the search and demands were acts of persecution for her wish to go to Israel, as she had previously submitted a request that her relatives in Israel be located. The interrogation lasted for four hours and she was threatened with arrest if she refused to provide the names. At the same time, five Jews and a Russian woman were asked in a nearby room if they had been provided anti-Soviet literature by Palatnik, whether she had publicly advocated for emigration to Israel, if she had been seen with anybody who had been arrested in Leningrad, Kishniev and Riga. 

Every few days Palatnik would be called in for questioning with psychological pressure, threatening her with unpleasant consequences if she did not speak the truth on who provided her with the anti-Soviet material. After not being told what she was being accused of (in accordance with the Soviet law), Palatnik wrote to the First Secretary of the District Communist Party, and complained against the unlawful procedures and persecutions by the KGB because of her wish to go to Israel. She sent a similar letter to Breznev, but received no responses. Raiza also wrote an open letter on the 20th November, explaining her cause and motivation.  She finished this letter with the following “in my trial I will cry out against all anti-semites in the Yiddish I was taught by my Mother and Father.” 

Open letter of a Jewess, Raiza Palatnik, 20 November 1970 [MS254/A980/2/16] 

On 20th November the KGB searched Palatnik’s parents’ apartment for anti-Soviet literature, and found nothing. In subsequent interrogations Palatnik refused to speak in any other language but her mother tongue, Yiddish, and demanded a translator. The interrogator refused her request, and so Palatnik refused to answer any questions, only stating “nein” in Yiddish.  

In the mean time, the KGB continued to summon Palatnik’s relatives and friends, and even complete strangers, to find out whether Palatnik had been distributing the anti-Soviet literature, and if she was campaigning for emigration to Israel.                        

On 1st December 1970, Raiza Palatnik was arrested by the KGB. Her apartment shared with her sister had been searched for material condemning the Soviet Union. 

The next day, Palatnik’s husband and sister went to the KGB and requested to see documentation that stated what charges were being made against Raiza. After receiving no information from Larionev they went on to ask the Prosecutor, who revealed that Raiza was suspect of “distributing false stories slandering the Soviet State and society, according to paragraph 187 of the Ukrainian code”. 

The KGB later summoned Raiza’s parents. The investigator wanted testimony from her father that his daughter had fallen “under the influence of criminal Zionist elements”. In response, Raiza’s father claimed that this was not the case, and that Raiza was a decent and honest human. He further demanded to see the documentation of the charges made against his daughter, which was refused. Raiza’s brother, Valdimir was also questioned, on Raiza’s mental health. 

In March 1971, Raiza was psychologically examined, and the doctors attested that her mental health was absolutely sound. On 22nd June 1971 the trial of Raiza Palatnik took place, and she was sentenced to two years imprisonment. During her time in prison, Palatnik became very ill, and suffered paralysis in one of her arms. Her daily diet consisted of thin soup of gruel, rotten fish, and tea with and without 20 grams of sugar; cabbage soup made from water and bones; and oatmeal or a small potato with veg, as well as 500 grams of bread distributed daily. She was required to work in a sewing room with over 200 women prisoners, with the work involving the sewing of gloves, overalls and other garments, as well as quilt covers. The equipment used was over ten years old and there was no ventilation, first aid equipment, or disinfectant. 

In December 1972 Palatnik was released. On hearing the news that thirty-five-year-old librarian Raisa Palatnik from Odessa had been arrested for distributing samizdat, (banned literature), a small group of women decided to hold a protest outside the Soviet Embassy in London. From these modest beginnings grew the campaign on behalf of the refusniks. This group became known as the 35’s, and were called the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry. During Palatnik’s time in prison, this pressure group distributed leaflets asking members of the public to protest to help her, as she stood on trial in the Soviet Union. They requested telegrams and letters to be sent to the Soviet Ambassador at an address in Kensington Gardens, London, or to Intourist Moscow Ltd in Regent Street.  

Members of the 35’s demonstrating for the release of Raiza Palatnik 

You can find out more about the group and the material we hold on them at the following links: 

Human Rights and the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry 

Protest stories (3): We Protest! – campaigning for change 

Archivist projects: Cataloguing the Papers of Michael Sherbourne 

Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry collections 


Gifts sent to the Duke of Wellington

Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, victor of Waterloo, was a celebrated public figure. His official correspondence, safely stored in the strongrooms at the University of Southampton, bears witness to the fact that members of the public wrote to him about everything and anything. As well as this, the lucky man received a barrage of gifts! In reality, this was not as good as it first sounds; as we discussed in a previous post on the matter, he was so overwhelmed that he was required to direct staff at Apsley House, his London residence, to refuse all packages. Of course, not all the “gifts” he received were straightforward; many people sent items to Wellington with ulterior motives, as we will soon discover.

A true gift is something given willingly, without payment. Some of the items sent to the Duke appear to be genuinely that: no strings attached. On 3 March 1831, W.Thorpe of Manchester informed the Duke he was sending him one hogshead of cannel [coal] to Apsley House. Thorpe stated that while he had a very large family and a small income, he intended sending a portion of cannel to the Duke every winter as he is indebted to the Duke for “the comfort I enjoy by my fireside”. In his reply, the Duke is grateful but unable to accept gifts and wishes to know how to send payment. [WP4/3/4/11]

Some people chose to send medical supplies to Wellington. This includes J.R.King of Bath who in October 1841 followed up his delivery of a box of lozenges by asking whether the product was efficacious. Does it seem callous to suggest that some people might have ulterior motives in sending these gifts? Wellington’s approbation of your product would be hugely significant; the Duke was nobody’s fool and was acutely aware of the significance of his patronage. [WP2/79/70]

The Duke received his fair share of consumables. William Spicer sent blackberries in August 1842 [WP2/90/98]. Another delivery contained a three brace of partridges from Mr Lowndes of Dover in January 1830. Charles Culling Smith, London Customs — the intermediary — notes that Lowndes is a good politician who admires Wellington as a statesman and a soldier. [WP1/1084/4 and reply WP1/1090/12]

Samuel Triscott [WP2/84/23-4 27] sends a cask of arrowroot from Bermuda and from Sir John Hobhouse, a sample of Assam tea [WP2/73/170-1] along with a note. At this time arrowroot was used in biscuits, puddings, jellies and cakes. When boiled with beef tea or milk it was considered an easily digestible food for children and people with dietary restrictions. Triscott and Hobhouse are not just sending free gifts but aiming to generate trade.

MS 62 Wellington Papers 2/73/171

Other more substantial deliveries include two Shetland ponies send by Thomas Edmundston of Buness in Shetland in August 1842 [WP2/91/32]

Three ponies standing in a field under an oak tree. Etching by J. Scott after B. Marshall. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

At Christmas 1841, the Duke received a boar’s head from Ernest Augustus the King of Hanover. This letter caused us some consternation! Should it be included with the blackberries and partridges as food? Or as miscellaneous other?! And, most importantly, what sort of state was it in when it got to the Duke having been sent from Germany? [WP2/73/92-3

The Hanoverian King hadn’t gone all “Godfather” on the Duke: there really is a Boar’s Head Feast Christmas festival. This ancient tradition of sacrificing a boar and presenting its head at a Yuletide feast may have roots in Germanic paganism. In fact, it’s still celebrated in some public schools and parts of America. Fortunately, we now have no idea respecting the whereabouts of the aforementioned boar’s head; we have no idea what the Duke did with it but hope it’s long been disposed of!