Pamela Hansford Johnson 1912-1981 was born and lived at 53 Battersea Rise the ground floor of which is now a pleasant cafe with a little garden called Tim’s Kitchen. She was author of 27 novels, a critic and a Proustian scholar
Wendy Pollard is her biographer. I got our library on Lavender Hill to order it, as a matter of principle, and hogged it for months! I was intrigued to read the first paragraph in the introduction to it. Some years ago, idling while on holiday in a second-hand bookshop in Galway, I came across a penguin edition of a novel called Too Dear for My Possessing. The name of the author, Pamela Hansford Johnson ….
This could have been Kenny’s or Charlie Byrne’s -well known Galway bookshops.
Pamela was the daughter of Amy née Howson, an actor and singer with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, and Reginald Johnson, a colonial administrator who worked as chief storekeeper on the Baro Kano Railway in what is now Ghana. He was frequently absent, and she grew up with her mother’s family of actors and theatrical administrators. Her mother’s father, C E Howson, worked for the London Lyceum Company, as Sir Henry Irving’s Treasurer.
Pamela described her home in the first of the autobiographical essays contained in her book Important to Me, as “a large brick terrace house”on Battersea Rise. Battersea Rise runs between Clapham Common down and across the valley of Northcote Road/St. John’s Road and up to the Roundhouse pub going over the railway line near the site of the awful Clapham Junction railway disaster in December 1988 when 35 people were killed and 500 people injured when three trains collided.
The house had been bought by her grandfather in the 1890s, a time when she claimed “it looked out on fields where sheep might safely graze. But by the time I was born, the railway had come, and the houses had been built up right over the hills between it and us. Not pretty, I suppose.” I think her description of the house looking out on ‘fields where sheep may safely graze’ was somewhat fanciful for 1890 as Battersea Rise was a main road then and the streets in behind, Lindore and Almeric, had been built on the former mansion and grounds of the Ashness family by Thomas Ingram the most prolific of Battersea’s Victorian developers according to the Survey of London. The railway had come in 1863.
The delightful painting by Leonora Green entitled View from my window looking across at the Northcote pub up Battersea Rise towards number 53 is very much how it would have been in Pamela’s day.
Most commentators claim Pamela was born in Clapham which is wrong. We are used to such confusions and some of us get more irritated than others about this! Of course, Battersea Rise is close to Clapham Common and, with its leafy, rustic connotations, is why our station got misnamed. Again I would quibble with the Survey of London comment ‘No doubt for snobbish reasons residents usually gave their addresses as being in Clapham, Clapham Common or Wandsworth, but Battersea very seldom, unless Battersea Rise, a name with cachet’ . I wonder how Pamela referred to where she came from.
Her grandfather Charles had come from Australia in the 1870s and his family had been involved in theatre and musical entertainment there. He went on to work as an administrator for Henry Irving who had attracted his attention when Charles was playing in the orchestra of the Lyceum in London. Bram Stoker, who had been a civil servant and part time critic in Dublin became Irving’s theatre manager but the two two men clashed. Charles referred to Stoker as Irving’s secretary and Pamela related:One day he came home with a greyish volume in his hands, and said to his children, ‘Stoker has written a beastly book. It’s all about people who suck other people’s blood and lunatics who eat flies.’ He put it straight on the fire. It was, of course, the first edition of Dracula. (Important to Me: Personalia (1974 pp.67-68)
This Irving connection was important in Pamela’s early life and the hallways of their house were hung with Irving ephemera – photographs, playbills, programmes and costume sketches . This and the anecdotes she would have heard came into play in her novel Catherine Carter (1952).
Pamela related that as Irving liked to deck his stage with good-looking people her grandmother Helen and her three daughters occasionally got non-speaking roles in his more lavish productions which toured. I was not impressed by a badly punctuated letter sent from Dublin from said grandmother Helen : Begorra and bejabers here we are right here! And don’t I like Dublin faith and I do especially the jaunting cars and the whiskey and the Guinness stout.
When Amy and Reginald married they joined Amy’s mother and her sister Kalie at 53. Pamela considered herself classless and thought of herself and family as Bohemians but admitted in her memoirs that: I am afraid that my family was afflicted with a degree of snobbery : the thought of ‘marrying into trade’ afflicted them.
Pamela was christened at St Marks Church Battersea Rise and she attended services there.
It has now become evangelical under the vicar Paul Perkins and runs an Alpha course for well-off but unfulfilled adherents and has been accused of homophobia Maverick church deepens C of E divide over gay marriage ..
Her father died suddenly when he came back on leave and his widow was left with debts and economies made. All manner of lodgers were taken in and PHJ wrote:
Pamela had attended Clapham County Girls School and began writing then. She wrote a poem called The Curtain which was published in a magazine The Town Crier when she was fourteen and it is unlikely the editor knew it was from self-asssured a young teenager who became an acclaimed novelist.
She thrived at school and loved theatre and novels and wrote in Important to me .
There was serious talk of marriage. Dylan had told her he was the same age as her in his first letter, was actually not yet nineteen when their correspondence began and thus too young to marry at that time without his parents’ permission. Her mother erroneously and dramatically claimed to Phillip Snow, brother of PHJ’s second husband that they had got to the steps of Chelsea Registry office and she followed them there and had forbidden the marriage!! Their stormy relationship and his letters to Pamela are recounted in the biography and he does come across as a young brat. They used to meet in the Six Bells on the Kings Road.
In later life Pamela invoked where she was brought up. In June 1957, dining with C. P. Snow, at the Governor General’s residence in Malta, she recorded in her diary her impression of an‘exceedingly glamorous’ evening—‘lights in trees, beautiful garden….Oh,a long way from Clapham Junction’ (272). When visiting Eton after Philip, her son by Snow, had won a scholarship there, she observed: ‘O, a long way from Clapham Junction!’ Commentator Nicolas Tredell concludes: “This might suggest a snobbish disdain for low origins but come as the base by which to measure her upward mobility”
PHJ left Battersea when she was 22 in 1934 and so I finish this second literary connection to Battersea Rise. However, there is a conversation planned as part of the Battersea Society events for next year on Pamela Hansford Johnson.
Battersea Rise runs from the corner of Clapham Common Northside up to the Roundhouse pub and forms part of the south circular road. The literary connections are associated with the section from the junction at the bottom of the Hill which is slightly more salubrious. This is alluded to by Pamela Hansford Johnson one of our three authors who lived here as did John Walsh -journalist and author – whereas EM Forster once visited the house called Battersea Rise in which his paternal great grandparents had lived and which he commemorated in the book Marianne Thornton who was his patron and great aunt.
In the Survey of London Battersea,which has become somewhat of a bible for those researching the area, dubiously states: No doubt for snobbish reasons residents usually gave their addresses as being in Clapham, Clapham Common or Wandsworth, but Battersea very seldom, unless Battersea Rise, a name with cachet.
I think that remark about Battersea residents, even the more recent ones, about their address is wrong and subjective. It has been businesses that have often used Clapham in their title. I know that the naming of Clapham Junction in Battersea has caused confusion. This was noted at the time of the disturbances in 2011 when reporters referred to riots in in Clapham High Street opposite Clapham Junction station. The is a campaign about getting the name right.Battersea Junction – the ‘SW11tch’ campaign continues …
BATTERSEA RISE HOUSE and EM Forster
Battersea Rise House was bought in 1792 by Henry Thornton who was a banker and one of the celebrated Clapham Sect. Much of this information has come from the Survey of London. Battersea – The Bartlett
Henry Thornton (1760-1815) was a philanthropist and economist. In 1780 he entered his father’s counting-house, and two or three years later became a partner, then he joined the bank of Downe, Free & Thornton, of which he was an active member until his death. In 1782 Thornton was elected MP for Southwark, and he held the seat until the end of his life. He was an influential member of the ‘Clapham Sect’, and a friend, supporter and cousin of William Wilberforce. In 1792 he bought a house at Battersea Rise on Clapham Common and lived there initially with Wilberforce. In 1796 Thornton married Marianne Sykes. Wilberforce went to live at Broomfield (later Broomwood) House on his marriage in 1797.
Henry and Marianne had nine children including Marianne, who didn’t marry and was great aunt to EM Forster. Her sister Laura married the Rev. Charles Forster. The marriage of Charles and Laura Forster produced Edward Morgan Llewellyn Forster, an architect, who married Lily and their only son was Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970), novelist and man of letters. There was a mix up with the names at EMs christening who came to be known as Morgan. His great aunt Marianne, known as Monie left him £8,000, which enabled him to go to Cambridge and be financially independent enough to exist as a writer. He repaid his debt by writing her biography in 1956.
Two of Thornton’s brothers, Samuel and Robert, owned villas on Clapham Common Southside and Thornton’s aim in buying Battersea Rise House and the land surrounding it was to create a community of like-minded and high-minded friends. Two substantial houses, Glenelg and Broomfield later renamed Broowoood were built in the grounds, with Wilberforce moving into Broomfield House when he married in 1797.
Battersea Rise House became the centre of, and meeting place, for the Clapham Sect dedicated to, in Wilberforce’s words “the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners”. Thornton was the prime organiser and financier of the campaign and Wilberforce provided its heart and charismatic leadership. God and Mammon easily went hand in hand.
Battersea Rise House became hallowed as the shrine of the ‘Clapham saints’. They used to attend The Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common which is close to Trinity Hospice.
possessions and Thornton family memories. The house has often been described as‘Queen Anne’.
This is the background to the Battersea Rise House that EM wrote about. He understood the significance of home and house which is reflected in Howards End and in his attachment to his own home Rooksnest.
His book is based ‘almost entirely upon family papers’. Parts of Forster’s narrative call into question the family values. His decision to focus upon her rather than one of his more publicly famous ancestors enabled him to emphasise the private implications of public life and give pride of place to the inner life. She had lived there most of her life with her brother and his family till the rift occurred.
Christopher Tolley has written an account of this book. Marianne Thornton: E. M. Forster and Clapham Domestic Biography: The Legacy of Evangelicalism in Four ..
EM did not share his predecessor’s particular religious views and this is why he identified more with Marianne and her more down-to-earth attitudes. He also questioned inherited wealth, the wealth that he felt produced the imaginative poverty of Henry Thornton and his spiritual materialism. EM was an avowed Humanist which is, of course, one reason why he would appeal to me. E M Forster – British Humanist Association
Forster wrote about his Humanism in a famous essay entitled What I Believe. He was President of the National Council for Civil Liberties, now Liberty. Forster called himself a humanist, and was President of the Cambridge Humanists from 1959 to his death. He was a Vice-President of the Ethical Union in the 1950s, and a member of the Advisory Council of the British Humanist Association from its foundation in 1963.
His work and viewpoint were summed up in a series on British Authors (Cambridge University Press) as:“the voice of the humanist – one seriously committed to human values while refusing to take himself too seriously. Its tone is inquiring, not dogmatic. It reflects a mind aware of the complexities confronting those who wish to live spiritually satisfying, morally responsible lives in a world that increasingly militates against individual’s needs. Sensitively and often profoundly, Forster’s fiction explores the problems such people encounter.” He shared many ideas with, and was friendly with, members of the Bloomsbury Group.
John Walsh, journalist and author of The Falling Angels – a memoir of growing up second generation Irish on Battersea Rise refers to EM Forster when talking of Battersea Rise and contrasting it with his own view of it growing up there in the sixties. Sin sceal eile – it is another story in this trilogy of literary connection and Battersea Rise.
Last things and final flings.
I came across the website Silversurfers – Over 50s Lifestyle & News Website I looked for the section on last things – end-of-life, death, funerals and memorials in their Lifestyle section – well where else! Alas, there was none. Does it mean that the over fifties are not ready to face their mortality?
My every day work revolves around death, funeral arrangements, bereavement, giving talks about our ceremonies and pastoral visits to non-religious people who are dying. I have given thought to what I want when I am dying and for my funeral and what I most certainly do not want like embalming, a hearse, men in black, wreaths etc.
The funeral business is still fairly conservative and many people who are planning a funeral go along with what’s being offered in those very busy and stressful few days in which to organise one.
We all need to be open to talk about death and to let those who will be making decisions for us and with us to know our wishes and thoughts on this crucial and inevitable phase of our life. I think that everyone should be concerned to let their next of kin know what are their end-of-life and funeral wishes. It would make things easier for them knowing that they were carrying out your expressed wishes and would confirm for other people that what was happening was what you wanted.
Our generation is very aware that we are living longer than previous generations and what might be in store for us as medical science intervenes. We are aware of diseases like cancer, Alzheimers and of the proliferation of residential care homes for elderly people. The majority of us do not want to die in hospital but it is where the majority of us die. I believe that it since the inception of the NHS after the war that these changes occurred. People mostly died at home and were cared for by family and friends after their death before the Funeral Directors took over this role. We have to start taking back control from those to whom we have handed it over.
We also know that some older people are breaking records and achieving things unheard of for our own parents and grandparents. We enjoy cruises, adventure holidays, attend UEA groups, book clubs, theatres, cinema and concerts, join choirs, embark on new hobbies, go fishing and have embraced the internet and new technologies. But we also need to face our mortality and plan for that too.
There are some great websites on this. One is Final Fling, founded by Barbara Chalmers, after attending a few bad funerals. It is for “people who like to be in control of life and death decisions” It suggests “Sort your paperwork, make plans, leave instructions, tell your story. Save others the bother. Know your options and stay in charge. And meantime, live life to the full”. Final Fling https://www.finalfling.com/
There is the very informative and entertaining one, founded by Charles Cowling, The Good Funeral Guide http://www.goodfuneralguide.co.uk/
It has a useful section plan and structure a non-religious ceremony.
The Natural Death Centre is helpful The Natural Death Centre. It has information on suppliers of crafted coffins eg. Respect Everybody Shrouds and http://www.feetfirstcoffins.co.uk
I think that researching and talking about the possibilities of what can happen at a funeral long before one’s time is fascinating. I do not like the standard coffin with ornate metal-looking plastic handles that are not even designed to be handled. To me it is another example of the fakery of funerals. I have a cardboard coffin in the attic. I would like to have a coffin coffee table but my family wouldn’t. I did once contact IKEA asking if they would consider producing a flat pack coffin. The reply told Madam that ‘the item she referred to is not one that is in our the future product plans’.
We do not have to have a funeral at all but could have a memorial ceremony instead. All FDs should be able to oblige but Poppy’s Funerals in London specialise in them.Alternative Funerals – Simple Cremation – Poppy’s Funerals …
Transport options for those who would like to eschew the black hearse and limousines are vans, estate cars and motorcycles http://www.motorcyclefunerals.com and vintage lorries http://www.vintagelorryfunerals.co.uk
One of the first changes that I would love to see happening is that non-religious funerals should be happening in people’s homes, gardens in residential homes, in pubs, community venues, hotel function rooms, gardens etc with a small group going to the crematorium for a brief committal and returning to the venue and reception afterwards.
This way there is not the time constraints of the crematorium, more scope for slide shows, music and speakers in a place that is not solely for the purpose of disposal of dead bodies by cremation. So often people do return to a pub or hotel for funeral ‘afters’ (it is not a wake!)
So, I think that we need to be talking about what we would prefer to happen and not accept the traditional sombre Victorian black funeral derived from a standard Church of England service or a Catholic mass. I think that all funerals should be about celebrating the person and include their lifestory and thoughts and memories of them from family and friends. There should be some humour in funerals as there is in life. A good funeral will include laughter as well as tears and sadness. Those attending should learn something new about the person who had died – their home and family life as well as well as their work life and their social life and interests.
It is good to hear about the person from different perspectives from spouses, children and grandchildren, colleagues and friends. It is often said to me that the person who has died would have appreciated the service. The obvious response is that we should be holding such dedication ceremonies while people are alive! I like to collect memorable phrases from funerals that I call ‘Oh bits from obits’ eg “ After father died mother and I enlisted in the Indian Army in Gwalia”. or “When Lawrence was told by his instructor to get a feel for the pedals he duly went down on his knees to touch them” ‘Oh bits from obits’.
I hope that some of you are ready to start the conversation on last things. So, Silversurfers let’s get creative, have fun and get talking about how you want your final fling.
When I saw this crazy gimmicky pool which is part of the Battersea/Nine Elms development I checked out these two letters from 1987 from my archives which I had retrieved for the 1000 Londoners film crew. www.1000londoners.com/londoners/jeanne-rathbone/
These letters are from 1987 when I served on two somewhat farcical and short-lived committees organised by Wandsworth Council Planning Department which related to two community committees for the Battersea Power Station site.They had long titles.
BATTERSEA POWER STATION
PROPOSED LEISURE AND ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE
COMMUNITY SPACE STEERING GROUP and the other was
The Community Space Steering Group letter
Battersea in Perspective Mural by Brian Barnes
We used to joke about where our COMMUNITY SPACE was going to be – attached to one of the walls or suspended between the chimneys
I recalled getting a call from Ernest Rodker who said: ‘ I am ringing about Battersea Power Station’ and I thought he was going to suggest that we should occupy it. I said:’Ernest, we could never heat the place’.
Margaret Thatcher Foundation
Remarks re-naming Battersea Power Station | Margaret Thatcher …
Thatcher’s laser launch
Mrs Margaret Thatcher sparked a four-engine fire alarm yesterday at the naming of the project to redevelop Battersea Power Station, south London, as the biggest tourist attraction in Europe.
Armed with the biggest laser gun in Britain, she fired a beam which detonated two mid-air maroons and dropped a white curtain to reveal the building’s new name, picked out in flame, while purple smoke plumes billowed from two of the 337 ft chimneys.
The explosions caused four fire engines, a fire boat, an emergency rescue tender and several ambulances to race to the scene after 999 calls from alarmed local residents.
The power station, styled by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, is the biggest brick building in the world. Its main hall could accommodate a 22-storey building or engulf St Paul’s Cathedral with ease.
Mr John Broome, chairman of the Alton Towers leisure park, north Staffordshire, has taken five years since the power station closed to develop his scheme for its regeneration.
When completed in 1990 it will include 200 rides, shows and exhibitions, London‘s biggest ice rink, restaurants, shops and conference facilities.
Outside there will be acres of pleasure gardens and “white knuckle” rides. The complex will be linked by windowless bullet trains to Victoria Station.
Mrs Thatcher, wearing a white helmet, toured the eight floors of the gutted building, appearing on rusty iron platforms and plywood walkways high above her audience.
She earlier hailed Mr Broome as a man of enterprise and vision. However, just as she was saying that the building could contain 500 jumbo jets, one passed unhelpfully overhead.
Suggestions for the name of the building have included Alton Towers II, Tower Inferno, the Battersea Powerhouse and South Chelsea Fun Palace. However, in spite of the flamboyance of the launch, it is to be known simply as The Battersea, London.
Mr Broome promised that his project, already employing 1,000 on site and 4,500 jobs in future, would be opened at 2.30pm on May 21, 1990.
Mrs Thatcher said: “We have seen the past today. We will be back again in two years time to see the future.”
When completed in 1990 it will include 200 rides, shows and exhibitions, London’s biggest ice rink. The complex will be linked by windowless bullet trains to Victoria Station.
Suggestions for the name of the building have included Alton Towers II, Tower Inferno, the Battersea Powerhouse and South Chelsea Fun Palace. However, in spite of the flamboyance of the launch, it is to be known simply as The Battersea, London.
Mrs Thatcher said: “We have seen the past today. We will be back again in two years time to see the future.”
Mrs T never did come back to see the future of that fantasy scenario.
We do need some public artworks in Battersea/Nine Elms that commemorate Battersea’s radical political and social history. We need to remember the amazing, long-lived and indomitable Charlotte Despard who was aPoor Law Guardian and who was so committed to the poor of Nine Elms which had a large Irish population as she opened her two homes at 99 Wandsworth Road and 2 Currie Steet as canteen, youth club, classes and a nurse. One of her biographer’s Andro Linklater tagged her as Socilaist, Suffragette and Sinn Feiner. She was a tireless suffragette who endured prison sentences, an anti- fascist campaigner, a pacifist, she was anti-vivisection, a vegetarian and after her time in the Republic of Ireland after the civil war went to Belfast where she died aged 95.
Other Battersea notables people included Albert Mansbridge, founder of the Workers Education Association, John Archer, Thomas Brogan, Walter Rines – first Balck London Mayor in 1913, first Irish Nationalist Catholic Mayor in 1912 and tailor to the King and PM Chamberlain in 1905 the latter featured in a Californian newspaper. Caroline Ganley, a working class women, was first elected as councillors in the 1920s, became MP for Battersea in 1945-1951, the only serving MP to celebrate with her husband her 50th wedding anniversary in the House of Comons, became President of the London Coop, served as a JP, continued as a Councillor in Battersea till it was abolished in 1965 when she was 85 years old.
Battersea’s radical socialist heritage of first ‘direct works’ building, maternity hospital, own electricity generation etc along with our industrial heritage should be remembered and honoured by signage and public sculpting, mosaics and murals in this regeneration.
So, come all you developers and celebrate the wonderful heritage of Battersea and eschew the extravagant, vanity projects like the garden bridge and commission artists to honour and commemorate those great pioneers and characters of Battersea and what has been obliterated of our past.
Here is a video of me from 1000 Londoners produced by Chocolate Films. I had encountered Chocolate Films when they screened The optimist of Nine Elms from 1973 which starred Peter Sellers and was followed by a fascinating Q&A with the director Anthony Simmons
It was very enjoyable working with the young film makers most of whom were A level students. Although this is part of the 1000 Londoners it is also part of their NINE ELMS past and present. Number 96 is of Brian Barnes, Battersea’s own muralist and fellow campaigner concerned with Battersea’s heritage.
Chocolate Films organised an outdoor pop up cinema on Saturday 19th September in the evening of the morning that we had the unveiling of the plaque to Hilda Hewlett.
The large inflatable screen was showing a still of Brian Barnes mural ‘Battersea in Perspective’ which, of course, featured Hilda and and one of the planes from 1911 when she had her gained her pilot’s licence – the first British women to do so.
It was a balmy evening with a purple/pink sky. I was interviewed again about the campaigning then and now. I said I don’t like the word apathy to explain disengagement and feelings of powerlessness.
One obvious difference is the use of technology and videos. I mentioned the recent engagement of young people in the Scottish and Irish referenda and the JC election as Labour leader a reason for hope and referred to the Suffragettes and Femen tactics.
Met Sumi Tikaram at both events.
There were the 4 local 1000Londoners films of Brian, Gabriel, Ted and Jeanne. Then after interviews the London Calling shorts- interesting, moving but subjects were nearly all male. The Two Dosas was very funny.
We finished a busy but interesting day with a drink at the Duchess which is opposite the Power Station which is usually quiet on a Saturday – only us three and had a lovely chat with the two bar women.
Anna Parnell is one of my favourite Irish Nationalist heros along with Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. We went to a play entitled The Ladies Cage in 2007 in the Finborough Theatre which was about Anna and women’s role in Irish political life at that time. The title referred to her regular bulletin to the Celtic Monthly of her visits to the Ladies’ gallery in the House of Commons when she lived in London for a spell studying art and at the time her brother Charles had become MP for Meath. The play was by a group called Scary Little Girls and the play written by Maureen McManus with input from Margaret Ward, Irish women’s historian. We enjoyed the play and as I was leaving the theatre I noticed Mike Leigh beside me and I asked him if it gave him any ideas for a film!
As usual I have used various sources for this post. This is from Anna Parnell – Our Wicklow Heritage
Anna Parnell was born at Avondale near Rathdrum on 13 May 1852, the tenth of eleven children of John Henry and Delia Parnell. Her father died suddenly when she was seven years old, and the Parnells found themselves in much reduced circumstances. The heavily indebted Avondale estate, inherited by Anna’s thirteen-year old brother Charles Stewart Parnell, was let, while the family moved to a series of rented homes.
Like most girls of their class at the time, Anna and her elder sister Fanny were educated at home by a succession of governesses. They were, however, fortunate in that their American mother permitted a degree of independence rare at the time, and both girls were encouraged to read widely and to pursue their studies in literature, history and politics. In particular, Anna and Fanny shared with Charles a keen interest in Irish nationalism, and at the age of sixteen Fanny published her first poems in the Fenian newspaper, the Irish People. She became a prolific author of verse, much of it on patriotic themes, and her most famous poem, ‘Hold the harvest’, published in 1880, was described as the ‘Marseillaise of the Irish peasant.’ However, her health was poor and, though politically committed, much of her short life was spent out of Ireland.
New York Ladies’ Land League
With the outbreak of the Land War, Anna moved from being an observer of political events to a participant. The Irish National Land League was founded in 1879, with Parnell as president, and the aim of securing ‘the land of Ireland for the people of Ireland’ by a programme of peaceful and constitutional action. In the short term, however, a series of poor harvests and falling agricultural prices left many tenants facing eviction for non-payment of rent, and in 1880 Parnell arrived in New York to seek Irish-American support for the campaign and to relieve hardship. Anna and her sister Fanny were already in the US, and immediately threw themselves into the effort, working closely with Michael Davitt, the Land League’s secretary and principal organiser. In an effort to maximise American support, Fanny decided to establish a women’s league, and in October 1880 the New York Ladies’ Land League was founded, with Delia Parnell as president, and Anna and Fanny spearheading a successful campaign which raised thousands of dollars for transmission to Ireland.
The Ladies’ Land League
In late 1880 Anna returned to Dublin, where the expectation was that the government would shortly take the decision to imprison the leaders of the Land League. Inspired by the example of the American women’s organisation, Davitt proposed to establish a similar body in Ireland, which would keep the agitation alive and distribute grants to evicted tenants and their families. With some reluctance, Parnell and the other leaders agreed, and on 31 January 1881 the Ladies’ Irish National Land League was founded, with Anna Parnell as its effective leader. When arrests began shortly afterwards, the Ladies’ Land League set about its appointed task of processing applications, supplying money for relief purposes and distributing literature. Finding the Land League records to be deplorably kept, the women compiled their own ‘Book of Kells’, with detailed information on every Irish estate, described by Davitt as ‘the most perfect system that can be imagined.’ In spite of the male executive’s ambivalence and criticism from some Catholic church leaders and many newspapers, numbers grew rapidly, with more than five hundred branches of the Ladies’ Land League throughout Ireland by the beginning of 1882. Members included the poet Katherine Tynan and eighteen-year old Jennie O’Toole from Baltinglass, who as Jennie Wyse Power would play a leading part in the nationalist movement and in the early years of the Irish Free State.
In October 1881 Parnell himself was arrested together with most of the leaders of the Land League, and in retaliation issued the No Rent manifesto. The Ladies, who had not been consulted about this move, were faced with the prospect of trying to enforce a policy which had little chance of success, but they soldiered on, assisting evicted tenants and their families, organising the provision of huts in which they could be housed, and providing for growing numbers of male prisoners and their dependents. In December the Ladies’ Land League was also suppressed and a number of their members were arrested and imprisoned, but the ban failed to end their activities: as the nationalist United Ireland pointed out, while the men of the Land League had ‘melted away and vanished the moment Mr Forster’s policemen shook their batons’, the women ‘met persecution by extending their organisation and doubling their activity and triumphing.’
As the campaign dragged on, relations between the Ladies and the Land League worsened. With evictions giving rise to widespread agrarian violence, Parnell’s need to reach a resolution with Gladstone became more pressing, and in April 1882 he and the other leaders were released from gaol as part of an agreement to end the agitation. Shortly afterwards the Ladies’ Land League, disillusioned by the outcome of the campaign, expressed its wish to disband, and after prolonged wrangling succeeded in doing so. The gulf between the Land League and the Ladies was epitomised by the estrangement between Anna and her brother which lasted until his death ten years later. According to his wife, Parnell regretted the breach, and tried unsuccessfully on a number of occasions to repair it, but Anna ignored his letters and refused to acknowledge him when they met accidentally. After his death, however, she did write to the Irish Times to object to the choice of Glasnevin as his burial place: his body ‘belonged to the Irish people’, she said, only if their having killed him gave them a title to it.
Her sister Fanny’s death in July 1882, combined with the stress of the campaign and its aftermath, left Anna in a state of physical and nervous collapse, from which she did not recover for several months. For the rest of her life, she lived mainly in England, sometimes under a false name and at times in considerable poverty. Although she remained in contact with former Ladies, such as Jennie Wyse Power, she played little part in nationalist politics, and the response when she did campaign for the Sinn Fein candidate in North Leitrim in 1908 persuaded her that ‘the character of Irishmen is at present incompatible with any great change for the better in Ireland.’ However, Michael Davitt’s charge, in The fall of feudalism in Ireland, that the Ladies had encouraged agrarian violence, galvanised her to produce her own account of the Land League years, The tale of a great sham. In it she argued that the Land League in fact failed in its objective by neglecting to pursue the No Rent Manifesto to its logical conclusion. She also complained about the hostility of the Land League leaders towards the Ladies throughout the campaign: regarding the women as subservient assistants rather than equal partners, they had relied on them to carry on Land League policies in their absence while seeking to reassert control over them as soon as this should become practicable. Failing to find a publisher for her work, she entrusted the manuscript to Helena Molony, editor of the nationalist woman’s paper Bean na h-Eireann. Molony, too, was unable to get the work published, and in the upheavals which followed, the parcel disappeared from view.
Death and reputation
In 1910 Anna moved to Ilfracombe in Devon. On 20 September 1911 she accidentally drowned while swimming, and was buried in the churchyard there a few days later. Her passing received little attention: as Katherine Tynan wrote a few years later, ‘her life ought to have been written, for she was a great woman, and yet I think that she herself would have preferred that her name be writ in water.’ And so, for many years, it was. The centenary of the Land League in 1979 passed with scarcely a mention of Anna Parnell, and it was not until the publication – finally – in 1986 of the rediscovered Tale of a great sham that a reassessment was possible of a woman regarded by some contemporaries as the equal in ability and judgement of her celebrated brother, and without question a central figure at a pivotal moment in Irish history.
History Ireland Irelands History Magazine.
by Danae O’Regan, a post-graduate student of Irish Studies at Bath College of Higher Education.
Anna’s League was not merely a fund-raising organisation but a militant force. She trained rural women to come out of their homes and play an active role in withholding rent, boycotting, and resisting eviction. When resistance failed she organised the provision of temporary housing and support for those evicted. She also provided support for Land League prisoners and their families. The women of the League faced hostility on all sides, from government forces, the church, the press, and probably, indeed, from most of their contemporaries, but Michael Davitt was to say in The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland (1904): ‘Everything recommended, attempted, or done in the way of defeating the ordinary law and asserting the unwritten law of the League…was more systematically carried out under the direction of the ladies’ executive than by its predecessor’. But their success had its disadvantages. Anna’s methods were exceedingly expensive and funds were running low. Rural violence had increased to such an extent that the British government began to panic. Irish politicians began to see the activities of the women as a danger to their long-term plans. Finally, as part of the Kilmainham Treaty, Charles Parnell agreed to do away with the League. In 1882 it was dissolved. Anna never again had any communication with her brother.
The images that have survived
Anna had become a modern, militant woman activist. But this was not what the nineteenth century wanted of a woman. When she disappeared from politics her male colleagues must have given a sigh of relief, and society quickly forgot her.
Social attitudes have now reversed. Anna has taken over the role of heroine for our times, and Fanny has been moved to the sidelines. In a way one can see that these Parnell sisters mark a watershed for women in the political sphere. Both were equally effective activists in their different ways, both were probably equally important to the work of the Land League, and the two types of female action they represent continued into the twentieth century. Times were, however, changing. The traditional philanthropic middle class woman, of which Fanny was an outstanding example, did not disappear, but it is Anna, prepared to challenge authority, break down barriers between male and female spheres of public life, and pave the way for radical change, who speaks to us most clearly today.
Adrian Mulligan The Ladies Land League and the development of Irish Nationalism. The crucial role they played has been at best relegated to a historic footnote ignoring the history of poiltical activism by such Irish women contributes to a situation today in which they are woefully under-represented in the Republic of Ireland , as evidenced for example by the fact that of 166 TDs most recently elected only 21 are women.
I found this strange piece by St John Ervine (1883-1971) published in 1925. He had a particular hatred for Delia Parnell and accused her of being the source of her children’s antipathy to England and English domination of Ireland.He was a playwirght, biographer and critic from a working class Belfast who was a socialist Home Ruler in his youth and friend of fellow Fabian George Bernard Shaw but became a rabid Unionist in later years. He had a plaque commemorating him in East Belfast March this year.
Parnell: His Family by St John Ervine Published by Ernest Benn Ltd, 1925
They had a distinguished ancestry on their father’s side and on their mother’s side, but they had inherited from it a physical weakness and a strongly emotional and morbid nature which impelled some of them dangerously near to lunacy. It was their misfortune that their easily-disturbed minds should have been dominated, during their most impressionable years, by a mother who could give them no better purpose in life than to “hate England,” and was herself mentally unbalanced.
Mr. Barry O’Brien, her son’s biographer, met her in 1896, two years before she died of burns at Avondale. She was then over eighty years of age, and “animated by one fixed idea, a rooted hatred of England; or rather, as she herself put it, of ‘English dominion.’” When Mr. O’Brien enquired of her why her son had such an antipathy to England, she replied, “Why should he not? Have not his ancestors always been opposed to England? My grandfather Tudor fought against the English in the War of Independence. My father fought against the English in the year 1812, and I suppose the Parnells had no great love for them… It was very natural for Charles to dislike the English; but it is not the English whom we dislike, or whom he disliked. We have no objection to the English people; we object to the English dominion. We would not have it in America. Whey should they have it in Ireland? Why are the English so jealous of outside interference in their affairs, and why are they always trying to dip their fingers in everybody’s pie? The English are hated in America for their grasping policy; they are hated everywhere for their arrogance, greed, cant and hypocrisy. No country must have national rights or national aspirations but England. That is the English creed. Well, other people don’t see it; and the English are astonished. They want us all to think they are so goody-goody. They are simply thieves.”
A review by Myles Dungan of Patricia Groves, Petticoat Rebellion – The Anna Parnell Story states:
She was portrayed as the wilful extremist to her brother’s canny pragmatist, the strident harpy to her sister’s gentle poet. For many years it was the fate of Anna Parnell to be compared unfavourably to her tragically short-lived brother and sister, Charles and Fanny. In fact she was, according to Roy Foster, ‘in many ways . . . the most formidable character in the family’. Anna Parnell was principled, resourceful, dogged and, ultimately, disappointed and disillusioned by those who had been happy to capitalise on her indefatigable energy and organisational abilities.
Five people attended her funeral, her family being unaware of her death. Later her sister, Theodosia Paget, erected the headstone and a plaque was placed on it in 2002 by the Parnell society with a quote from Anna: –
- Patricia Groves, Petticoat Rebellion – The Anna Parnell Story, Mercier Press , Cork, 2009.
- A. Parnell, Tale of a Great Sham, Dublin, 1986.
- Jane Côté, Fanny and Anna Parnell: Ireland’s patriot sisters, Gill and Macmillan Publishers, Dublin, 1991.
- Jane Côté & Dana Hearne, Anna Parnell in Mary Cullen & Maria Luddy (eds.)
- Women, power and consciousness, Dublin, 1995
- Danae O’Regan, Anna and Fanny Parnell in History Ireland, Spring 1999.
- Margaret Ward, Unmanageable Revolutionaries: women and Irish nationalism, Pluto Press, London, 1983
London Mayor, and wannabe PM Boris, gushingly extols the Jeremys in his Evening Standard election interview on behalf of the Tory White Boys Network. He cringingly praised Paxman as ‘ a genius’ and saying he is ‘absolutely brilliant. So is Clarkson. Bring back the Jeremys’. It has become ‘de rigeur’ for Tory politticians to show their laddish machismo, as Cameron did, by endorsing the petrolhead misogynist bigot Clarkson. These guys enjoy being called rotweillers and grumpy old men. They see them as terms of endearment. I am nauseated by the adulation of these powerful, over paid middle class, establisment, media figures like this pair of Jeremys.
I had blogged about anti-Irish racism Anti-Irish racism. | Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone and being invited to speak on News Night about it when an Irish maths professor Des MacHale brought out another of his dreadful Irish joke books. His Worst Kerryman Jokes book published by Mercier Press is available on Amazon for 69p.
This was sometime in the 90s when I was still doing my Sheela-na-Gig act. What I am about to reveal is that Paxman is really quite cowardly and was seemingly threatened by this Irish comedienne.
“Anyway, getting back to my anecdote this nutty Professor of Maths from Castlebar has a most nerdy obsession to collate puerile jokes, mainly ethnic and Irish compilations as a sideline probably to ingratiate himself with his students or just to gain attention. He was invited to be a spokesperson in defense of racist/ethnic jokes/humour and given further opportunities for remuneration over and above his salary from the University Of Cork. However, on this occasion he was not available for comment for the Newsnight programme so they invited a Welsh Professor to defend the position that Irish jokes are not racist and me, as a comedian Sheela-na-Gig, to put the opposite view.
As I was invited as a comedian I asked Paxman if I could do two very quick visual gags with an English and Irish reference. In my act I used a novelty penis and made a further gag about how it made me think of the Irish deputy Prime Minister who was called DICK SPRING and for balance I showed the British audience a packet of cigarettes called MAJOR implying the Irish were ‘taking the mickey’ by naming a cigarette packet after John Major the Prime Minister at that time.
When I spoke to Paxman for the briefing he reacted vehemently against this and he put his researchers on ‘handbag duty’ to make sure that I didn’t make a move to reach for my props. Perhaps he doesn’t like to be upstaged or his programme seem to irreverent I was disappointed.
I compared the Irish and the Welsh stereotypes saying that the Irish being portrayed as stupid, drunken, violent and potential terrorists had more serious effects compared to the Welsh being depicted as ‘sheep shaggers’. He got caught in a ‘have you stopped beating your wife’ scenario by having to reply that he didn’t mind at all if he was perceived as a ‘sheep shagger’ !!
I have this abiding memory of Paxman and team viewing me as a potential hijacker and being under surveillance to make sure I didn’t reach for my handbag. Women’s handbags and their contents can be dangerous.
I do hate these powerful interviewers/talk show hosts who play god. Smarmy Gay Byrne with The Late, Late show was my Irish bete noir. Here he is interviewng Fry recently and he looked askance/gobsmacked by the response he got.