November 10, 2011
At the top of the Duke of York steps outside number 9 Carlton House Terrace, in a small walled-off enclosure and almost hidden behind the jumble of gardener’s paraphernalia wedged beside it, is the country’s only memorial to a Nazi.
There are mitigating circumstances, however – the most important of which being that this Nazi happened to be a dog.
Shortly after John Nash built Carlton House Terrace between 1827-1832, no.9 became the official residence of the Prussian ambassadors. Prussia House, as it became known, housed diplomats for almost a century before the outbreak of World War 1 forced them all out.
In 1920, however, the ambassadors representing Germany’s new Weimar Republic returned to Prussia House – despite occupation in the intervening years by America and the Swiss, the official history of the German Embassy claims that “everything was found in place as the last Ambassador of Imperial Germany, Prince Lichnowsky, had left it on 6 August 1914, including even the cigarettes in the silver case on the Ambassador’s desk.”
The Weimar Republic’s final chargé d’affaires was 51-year-old Leopold von Hoesch (1881-1936), an old-fashioned diplomat who had become the much-admired German ambassador in Paris after stints in Peking and Madrid.
Von Hoesch did much to improve Anglo-German relations throughout the early 1930s and won the admiration of both of the British foreign secretaries he worked alongside, Sir Anthony Eden and John Simon.
But a year after von Hoesch took up his post in London, the Weimar Republic was no more. In 1933, entirely by proxy rather than choice, von Hoesch became a representative of the Third Reich.
In February 1934, von Hoesch’s beloved terrier Giro died (some reports over the years have claimed he was electrocuted in the garden, but no reliable sources are given) and he was buried in the gardens.
His tombstone bore the inscription:
EIN TREUER BEGLEITER! (A faithful companion!)
LONDON IM FEBRUAR 1934.
Two years later, the Ambassador himself died in the bedroom of the house from a stroke. He was only 55, his life seemingly shortened by the strain of maintaining the Anglo-German relations that were being routinely and savagely tested by the new National Socialist ruling party with whom he was increasingly despairing of.
In his obituary – written in April 1936, at a time when the Nazis were already a worrying spectre in the pages of the newspapers each day – The Times celebrated von Hoesch’s traditional, cultured manner.
He spoke beautiful English in soft, modulated tones, and the theme of all his speeches was the cultivation of better Anglo-German relations…though a bachelor, von Hoesch entertained hospitably at the Embassy, and with his sincerity and personal charm made many friends among English statesmen. He had a distinguished bearing and was always particularly well dressed.
The British Government, in accordance with international diplomatic protocol, effectively gave him a state funeral on his way to the Dover-bound train from Victoria Station. The cortege was led by Grenadier Guards, British government ministers formed part of the funeral procession, and von Hoesch received a 19-gun salute in St. James’s Park bidding him farewell.
Some startling newsreel footage was taken as the funeral procession made its way down the Mall. At the top of the Duke of York steps, German Embassy staff gave the Nazi salute as von Hoesch’s coffin, wrapped in a swastika flag, headed out of Carlton House Terrace towards Buckingham Palace.
The coffin was taken to Germany on the British destroyer HMS Scout. After the triumphant display in London, not a single representative of the Nazi Party attended von Hoesch’s funeral in Berlin. And the next German ambassador couldn’t have been more different from the soft-spoken, charming von Hoesch.
Joachim von Ribbentrop was a key member of the Nazi regime, and while his time in London was short (he was back in Germany within a year), some of the more intriuging stories associated with his stay have proved impossible to confirm or deny.
It is known that Albert Speer oversaw the modernisation of No.9 Carlton House Terrace, but whether he also created a vast swastika mosaic on one of the floors has never been verified (it supposedly remains there to this day, hidden underneath the carpet.) Completely true is that while in London, Von Ribbentrop’s son Rudolf briefly attended Westminster School, where his classmate was Peter Ustinov.
But back to Giro, the unwilling Nazi (if we can entirely forget he was a dog, Giro was more correctly a member of the Weimar Republic.)
None of articles in The Times during von Hoesch’s life or at the time of his death mention either the dog or the gravestone. In fact, the first mention of Giro is to be found in a small news item in December 1966.
At the time, builders were excavating a strip of land in front of no.9 Carlton House Terrace to create a deep underground car park which now cuts between the small patch of ground the gravestone is on and the building. A German man walking down the Duke of York steps noticed the gravestone propped up underneath one of the trees and recalled that von Hoesch was the former ambassador.
It seems likely that the gravestone was picked up from the gardens of the house by a builder as the excavations took place. Not wanting to see the little gravestone destroyed, he placed where it now stands today. At some point in the 1990s, the strange kennel with the misty plexiglass plastic front was fitted over the top to protect it from damage.
But however it got there, one thing is certain; wherever Giro’s mortal remains are now, they’re certainly not underneath that stone.
But I can’t help but feel that’s just as well. It means that little tombstone’s not simply a marker of where a dog is buried, but becomes something much bigger. It’s a memorial not just to a dog that was loved by its master, but to von Hoesch himself – and a testament to how love ultimately endures as hate withers.
When Von Ribbentrop looked out of the windows of 9 Carlton House Terrace in 1936, he may have envisaged a day when memorials to the Nazis covered the whole of London.
Hanged for war crimes a decade later, he probably never imagined that the last vestige of the regime he dedicated his life to would be the gravestone of a terrier that was already sitting in his back garden.
July 13, 2011
St Pancras and Islington Cemetery in East Finchley was opened in 1854 to cater for London’s ever-increasing numbers of dead. The city churchyards of Euston, King’s Cross, Tottenham Court Road, Camden, Islington, Highbury and Kentish Town were full, and to cater for the burials of the council’s citizens, vast out-of-town burial grounds were erected on the outskirts of London.
While St Pancras and Islington followed in the footsteps of Highgate, Nunhead, Kensal Green et al, these were all private enterprises, and this was London’s first publicly-owned cemetery. At 88 acres, it also claims the title of London’s largest.
For the first time, Londoners found that when they died, they would now be laid to rest in a place they had never lived.
The first Pearly King John Croft is to be found somewhere in the tangle of old headstones and ivy that makes up the oldest part of the cemetery; so too are the pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown, Cora Crippen (a semi-professional music hall turn who was most probably murdered by her husband John Crippen) and the Cafe de Paris bandleader Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson, who died when a bomb fell on the club in World War 2 (his ghost is supposed to haunt the venue.)
Even people who had already been buried within the boroughs weren’t safe once the new cemetery opened; many old graves were disinterred and the remains shunted over to the new cemetery. One particularly unpleasant reason for this is trumpeted on a triumphant memorial plaque: Upper Street in Islington was being widened, and the old burial grounds were in the way.
Like most of the large nineteenth-century cemeteries, upkeep of the grounds has been sporadic and often ineffective, and the earliest parts are thick with ivy, beech trees and brambles. One memorial which has been kept clear, however, is that of William French.
Almost nothing is known about French, other than what is written on his memorial. The statue is known as “the Highgate Dog.”
Sacred to the memory of William French, aged 50, who lost his life on July 13th 1896 while saving a dog from drowning in Highgate Ponds. This monument, erected in commeration of his brave deed, was raised by public subscription, and was contributed to by all classes of lovers of dumb animals.
May 4, 2011
Whether one believes a barely-educated glove-maker’s son from Stratford-Upon-Avon could produce the greatest single body of literature in the history of the world or not (and if you want to find yourself unsure, John Mitchell’s excellent Who Wrote Shakespeare? (1996) will give you plenty of conspiracy food for thought), one fact is unassailable: the man known as Shakespeare didn’t write the plays which we can pick up and read today.
That’s not to say the words weren’t his – but if William Shakespeare ever physically wrote any of those words down, nothing has survived. Instead, the plays we know today as ‘Shakespeare plays’ are the work of two men who have been largely forgotten: the actors John Heminge and Henry Condell.
I say ‘largely forgotten’, but in the City churchyard of St Mary Aldermanbury, EC2, is a memorial dedicated to them both.
While the bust of Shakespeare sits proudly on top of the memorial, the plaques on the main body are dedicated to Condell and Heminge.
The text reads:
To the memory of JOHN HEMINGE and HENRY CONDELL, fellow actors and personal friends of SHAKESPEARE. They lived many years in this parish and are buried here.
To their disinterested affection the world owes all that it calls SHAKESPEARE. They alone collected his dramatic writings, regardless of pecuniary loss and without the hope of any profit, gave them to the world.
THEY THUS MERITED THE GRATITUDE OF MANKIND.
The two were Shakespeare’s co-partners at the Globe theatre in Southwark, and on his death in 1616
from the accumulated [plays] there of thirty five years, with great labour selected them. No men then living were so competent having acted with him in them for many years, and well knowing his manuscript, they were published in 1623 in Folio, thus giving away their private rights therein. What they did was priceless, for the whole of his manuscripts with almost all those of the dramas of the period have perished.
There’s no question of an authorship controversy here. The two men state unequivocably that Shakespeare was the author of the plays at a time when many of his contemporaries were still alive. It is one of the strongest refutations ofthe idea Shakespeare was not their author.
If it wasn’t for Heminge and Condell, the works of Shakespeare could have been lost to the world forever. They were the fine thread between us having the work of the world’s greatest writer and it being lost entirely.
How different the world would be if they hadn’t sat down one day, with a pile of dusty papers and half-remembered passages they’d performed a decade before, and thought, “Well, maybe we should try and get the lot of them written down for posterity.” It starts to make me feel ill at the thought of the great works that have been lost forever simply because there was no Heminge or Condell around to save it.
Everytime someone performs a Shakespeare play, there should be a round of applause at the start for the men who ensured that Shakespeare’s words survived.
The Church of St Mary Aldermanbury no longer stands, but was first mentioned in 1181 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren following the Great Fire of London in 1666. Bombed during the Second World War, the stones were removed in 1966, shipped to America, and the church was rebuilt in the grounds of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. It was erected as a memorial to Winston Churchill, who had given his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in the Westminster College gymnasium in 1946.