On memory, migration and the idea of Europe

Newcastle cathedral from Mosley Street.
Image: JimmyGuano, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons

In a part of Newcastle that once was central but is now on the edges of the real business of the city is the cathedral of St Nicholas. It is an unassuming building, dark and quiet inside, and attracts relatively few tourists. But it remains part of my own pilgrimage trail when visiting my native city, the venue of what as a schoolboy seemed to be interminable carol and Founder’s Day services.

On a recent visit, on a grey day just before Christmas – a break from the swirl of Christmas shoppers in Northumberland Street and the glaring palace of light that is the Eldon Square shopping arcade – I found a remarkable war memorial, tucked away in the far corner of the north choir aisle. In this cathedral of St Nicholas, patron saint of sailors and of merchants, is a memorial to a particular group of sailors with a largely unknown connection to the north east: the Danish merchant navy. Behind it lies a story of migration and memory, of people, things and places, and of what it is to be European.

When in April 1940 Denmark was occupied by the German navy, there were many Danish ships in British ports, and more again still at sea. Those already in port came under British protection, and many of those at sea also put into British ports. Newcastle became the temporary home of the Danish merchant fleet, based at the so-called ‘Danish pool’ in St Nicholas’ Buildings, opposite the cathedral, outside which flew the Danish flag. There the sailors were received after the short climb up the Castle Stairs from the quayside, and from there they were sent out. In the meantime they could spend time in their social club, in the same building. The club’s kitchen turned out hundreds of smørrebrød at a time; a photograph survives of a visiting British government minister playing billiards. In all, somewhere between three and four thousand Danish seamen sailed from Newcastle in those five years.

St Nicholas’ Buildings, from Westgate Road, with later additions .
Image: Andrew Curtis/geograph.co.uk, CC BY-SA 2.0, from Wikimedia Commons

In 2005 the Danish frigate HDMS Triton arrived on the Tyne before the VE Day Commemorations, its crew disembarking and walking up the hill to the cathedral to attend a special service; the Danish consul in Newcastle thought the Newcastle events were the largest outside Denmark itself. On the banks of the river to greet the Triton was Paul Jorgensen, then 80 years of age. Jorgensen had sailed with the Danish fleet, met and married a Newcastle woman and lived still in Wallsend, a short walk from the river. Bruno Jensen Hansen, aged 89 and one of the very last surviving veterans, travelled from Canada to Newcastle to attend a similar service in 2015. At sea when Denmark was invaded, his ship put into Newcastle. Placed in lodgings in the city, he met Phyllis, another local girl, and the two married. Hansen served in the Atlantic convoys bringing essential supplies from the USA, and in 1942 spent ten days in a lifeboat after his ship was torpedoed.

After the war, minds turned to the business of memory. There had been a Danish congregation in Newcastle since the nineteenth century, meeting for a while in the Sailors’ Bethel, built in red brick in Horatio Street on the north bank of the river in 1877. (Now hemmed in by new apartment blocks on the regenerated Quayside, it houses a consultancy firm, part of the new Tyneside of the knowledge economy.) In recognition of the number of Danes now living in the city, a new mission church was built by the Danish Seamen’s Church in Foreign Ports, and consecrated in 1949. (Further down the coast in Hull, the seamen’s church had been destroyed by German bombing. Rebuilt in 1954, like the cathedral it was dedicated to St Nicholas.)

The new building in Newcastle contained a memorial wall to those seamen who had died, along with a book of remembrance, one name on each page. One page was apparently turned each day. It seems that several of the widows and other relatives travelled to Newcastle for the consecration of the church, and the sight of them walking around the city moved one local woman to set up what became the Newcastle Anglo-Scandinavian Society.

By 1968, seamen were spending less time in port before sailing again, and the decision was taken to close the church, leaving the resident Danish population without church services. At this point began a peregrination of the memorial itself that parallels that of the men it commemorates. The memorial wall was shipped to Copenhagen to the Frihedsmuseet, itself little more than a decade old, created to bring together the traces of Danish resistance both in Denmark and at sea. At some point it moved again, this time to the Frøslev museum near the German border, a former prisoner of war camp which after 1945 became an internment camp under Danish control.

Meanwhile the book of remembrance was taken to another Danish seamen’s church, in London’s Docklands. This church was in Ming Street, formerly King Street but renamed in recognition of the Chinese community. Built in 1867, it was a short walk from the North Dock, now overlooked by the Museum of London’s Docklands base, in the shadow of the towers of Canary Wharf. It too had been bombed, and restored in 1948 by Caröe and Partners (W.D. Caröe was the son of the Danish consul in Liverpool).

When this building too was closed in 1980 and later demolished, there were other possible homes for the book in London, not least the Danish Church near Regent’s Park. However, the Newcastle congregation, by this point meeting in the German Lutheran church in the Shieldfield area in the east of the city, approached the Lord Mayor and the Provost of the cathedral.

As a result, the book found what will hopefully be its permanent home, and the present memorial was created with funding from the Danish shipowners’ association, and unveiled in 1982. Designed by the cathedral architect, Ronald Sims, its four pieces of Westmorland slate represent the Danish islands, surrounded by sea. In 2002 a new stained glass window was added above it, again at the initiative of the Danish church in Newcastle. Made of glass both from the north-east and from Denmark, it is based on the design of one of the vestments in Aarhus cathedral, and includes the arms of the three ports of Aarhus, Copenhagen and Marstal. Above it hangs the Dannebrog, the same Danish flag that marked the entrance of the ‘Danish pool’ during the war.

The Danish memorial in Newcastle cathedral.

Why tell this story, and why tell it now, this mixture of obscure local history and personal travelogue? I tell it because it is a story of Britain in Europe, at a time when recollection of such stories is at a discount.

In June 2016, the moment when it became clear to me that the Brexit referendum was lost was when the result for Newcastle was declared, a bare Remain majority of 50.7% in a university city. The results were less close elsewhere on the Tyne: in North Tyneside (53.4% to leave), South Tyneside (62%), and in Gateshead, Newcastle’s poor relation over the water, 56.8%. To grow up in Gateshead in the 1980s was to feel different, to feel very distant from London and its concerns. Insofar as the European project has been one made on the Eurostar between London and Brussels, for many in the north east it had, and continues to have, nothing to do with them. And on Boxing Day, after they had opened the Christmas presents bought in Eldon Square and Northumberland Street, European friends and neighbours in Newcastle as elsewhere were reminded of the need to apply to remain in the homes they had made in good faith, acting on promises already made by the UK and now broken, and to pay for the privilege.

This story is an ‘island story’, that mode in which so much English history is told. But it is not one of isolation, but of connection, of the migration of people and things, and the memories that attach to them. It is a story of the sea, and of the river as the symbolic centre of a certain idea of Tyneside, of ships and coal and the working man. But it is not a story of empire, but rather of the provision of safe harbour, of hospitality, of co-operation in the face of a common enemy. And it is part of the conjoined story of two nations which joined the EEC at the same time in 1973, entering into a new community with their former enemy, a community born in the rubble of conflict. The idea of Brexit was articulated – but did not have to be so framed – in terms of English isolation, of our exceptionalism, of how we did not ‘feel European’ in the way others might do. But that feeling, such as it is, is not a given, but a product of the stories we tell ourselves. Another idea of Europe and our place in it is possible, and this is just one of its many small stories.

Sources
Mindersmærke og Mindevinduet for Danske Sømænd [Leaflet, Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, Newcastle upon Tyne, c.2002]

Baird, C. (2017). “En broget skare” danske krigssejlere i Newcastle upon Tyne. M/S Museet for Søfarts årbog, 71, 33-58. https://tidsskrift.dk/mfs_aarbog/article/view/96612

Newcastle Anglo-Scandinavian Society, a history [Internet Archive]
https://web.archive.org/web/20170425201518/http://www.newcastleangloscan.org/How%20it%20all%20began%20(1).pdf

BBC News on the church of St Nicholas in Hull
http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/humberside/hi/people_and_places/religion_and_ethics/newsid_8207000/8207884.stm

On the history of the Danish church in London
http://www.stgitehistory.org.uk/danishchurch.html

The Survey of London, volumes 43-44 on Ming Street [British History Online]
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp113-117

Newcastle Evening Chronicle: 7 May 2005; 10 May 2015.

The Danish Church in Newcastle [Internet Archive]
https://web.archive.org/web/20110413075604/http://www.danskekirke-newcastle.co.uk:80/

Existing Web archives: an orientation

Web archives are fast becoming the fundamental source with which the history of the Web is written. Scholars coming to them for the first time are in need of some orientation, however, since those archives are brought into being by many different organisations for varying purposes and by different means. Their scope and structure also vary widely, as do the means of first locating and then using them.

My chapter in the new Sage Handbook of Web History aims to provide just that orientation.

It begins with a brief historical sketch of the development of Web archiving over the last 20 years, which I discussed at greater length here. It then moves on to outline the different means by which these archives are created, and what implications those differences have for how they must be interpreted. It outlines the varied kinds of collections in existence, and the different questions of method that this variety raises for scholars. Finally, it details the means by which scholars may first locate archived Web content, and (once located) how it may be used.

Along the way, it raises several points of necessary critical engagement for Web historians regarding the archived Web as a new class of primary source. Some of these issues have their analogues in print, manuscript or other sources; a scholar needs to understand who produced an object, whether it be a book, a manuscript, a painting or a PDF. But some of the issues presented here are peculiar to the archived Web, and must be thought through afresh.

The technologies that are used to create archived Web resources fundamentally shape those resources, and so understanding those technologies is a prerequisite to understanding the archive. Crucial also is an understanding of how the archive is structured: along national lines, by the institution or sector that created the content, by format or by a more general subject.

Finally, users must also understand something of the means by which they discover, search within, view and analyse archived objects, since those means are both relatively new and in a state of flux and development. That thinking will be greatly enabled by close collaboration between scholars and archivists: a partnership of mutual benefit which shows welcome early signs of growth.att

[See also, in the same volume, ‘Religion in Web history‘, my essaying of an agenda for the religious history of the Web.]

On not enjoying the Vatican Museum

A bronze relief panel of the meeting of Paul VI and the Patriarch Athenagoras (probably), in the Vatican Museum

In 1964 there was an historic meeting in Jerusalem. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches had been formally separated for nine centuries when Pope Paul VI and Athenagoras, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, met in that most symbolic of cities. The meeting was a significant step towards the Joint Declaration of 1965, which rescinded the reciprocal excommunications of 1054 that are often taken as the trigger of the Great Schism.

In the Vatican Museum, there is a relief panel that depicts the meeting of the two men. At least, I think there is; I think I saw it there in June of this year. But I was at the time in the grip of the ceaseless torrent of visitors that surges through the Museum to reach the Sistine Chapel, therein to be prodded and scolded into prayerfulness by the staff. I saw the panel at the top of a staircase but was swept away downstream by the flow, and had to press myself against the wall of the stairwell to take this picture.

Maquette for Jacob Epstein’s Madonna and Child (Cavendish Square) in the Vatican Museum

Similar contortions were necessary to see another piece of particular interest to me: this maquette for the large statue of the Madonna and Child that hangs in Cavendish Square in London. To take this picture, I was pressed against the display case as the throng streamed past behind me, able neither to step back nor to stoop down to look at it. ‘There are some paintings by Chagall in this section’ I heard one guide say, ‘but we don’t have time to look at them.’

Galleries are often busy, I understand that; the private contemplation of great works of art in cool hushed galleries is a luxury which was for too long unavailable to most people. But Christian organisations have two particular reasons to take their art seriously, neither of which seems to be at all influential in the Vatican Museum. Much of the collection in Rome is specifically Christian art: treatments of Christian subjects, like Epstein’s Madonna. Such art is largely made to prompt reflection both in the believer and in those who are not: edification and evangelism together. It is hard to imagine conditions less conducive to either kind of reflection than those that I found in the Vatican Museum.

And as for the vast stock of works that are not on Christian themes, catholic theologies of art have often tended to stress that any beautiful thing can point beyond itself, to the creator God without whom there could be nothing of beauty. But that pointing also requires that the viewer has time and space in which to see the thing properly. This test, too, the Vatican Museum sadly failed. If its custodians took the reasons for the existence of their collection seriously, it would not have failed that test.

Religion in Web history

My chapter in the new Sage Handbook of Web History is now published. I summarise it here.

The literature on the phenomenon of religion in computer-mediated contexts is now very large, having built up over two decades. That literature is also produced both in, and in the spaces between, more than one discipline: Internet Studies, which concerns itself with the nature of the medium); the sociology of religion; and from scholars of religious studies concerned in particular with the relationship between religion and the media in general. The disciplinary labels vary between countries, but however it is named, little of this writing concerns itself directly with the kind of questions that most preoccupy historians.

This essay surveys the current state of Web history as it relates to religion, and falls into two halves.

Its first half attends to some debates of particular historical and methodological note with which the emerging history of religions on the Web may fruitfully be brought into conversation. These include debates concerning both the Web itself as a technological system, and religious responses to technological change in general.

It then sets out some points of contact between Web history and three key themes in contemporary religious history: secularisation; religious radicalism; and the place of religion in civic life and the law. It also argues for a fresh integration of the Web, and the archived Web in particular, with the study of offline religion, in pursuit of an ideal state in which the archived Web is merely one of many kinds of primary sources with which historians work.

The second half then takes a fourfold schema of different aspects of religions as they may be studied. The first of these is doctrine and religious knowledge: the symbols and forms of words that describe the divine, the world, the human person and their interrelations. Second are religious organisations and their representatives (clerical or lay). Third is religious practice: communal and solitary activities of prayer, worship and other rituals. Finally, the section on religions and the Other deals with the modes in which religious people and organisations encounter those outside: as potential proselytes, as discussion partners about wider social issues, and as antagonists. In each case, I identify the current state of research and set out elements of an agenda for future Web history research.

[See also, in the same volume, my introduction to existing Web archives.]

The politics of memory, local and national: the Battle of Bosham Clock

Nestling on one of the reaches of Chichester harbour, the life of the village of Bosham is peculiarly dominated by the changing tide. At high tide the road around the narrow channel becomes impassable; sometimes the cars of unsuspecting visitors are engulfed by the water that changes the appearance and even the sound of the village. Legend has it that it was in Bosham that Canute ordered the tides to cease, yet still they continue to rise and fall.

Although the visitor does not see it when arriving from the main road between Chichester and Portsmouth, the village is dominated by the parish church. Overlooking the meadow that separates it from the quay from which sailing boats are launched each weekend, the church of the Holy Trinity can be seen from north, south and west. Also on the green is the village war memorial, one of the great many made after 1918 which had to be modified, not always comfortably, to accommodate the dead of the second generation; some of those lost in both conflicts were lost to the sea. And despite the apparent givenness of the scene, Bosham was the scene of a remarkable controversy lasting from 1945 until 1947 over how the village dead should be remembered.

Quay Meadow, Bosham.
Image by ianpudsey [CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

The dispute centred over a proposed memorial, a new clock face on the church tower. It ended in a hearing in the consistory court of the diocese, in which disputes over alterations to churches were settled, after which the clock was in fact approved, made and installed. The papers of that hearing illustrate the full range of local opinion on how a small community should remember its dead, when grief remained raw.

But this was not merely a local dispute, as the idea provoked a national campaign in opposition that engaged the English establishment at the highest level. Letters to the Times were written; representations were made to the diocesan chancellor (to whom it fell to settle the case). Which should win out: the national guardians of the architectural heritage of the nation, or a local community? And with whom in that community did authority rest?

******

The names of the Bosham dead of both world wars are recorded both on two brass plates in the church, and on the memorial on the meadow: thirty names from the first conflict, forty-two more from the second. Some names appear in both lists; others more than once, such as the three Stubbington brothers, all killed in the second conflict. Among them were the names of sons of both the two opponents in the controversy: the vicar, and the lord of the manor.

The Bosham war memorial on Quay Meadow.
Image: Peter Webster (2007)

The general idea of a memorial clock had been in the mind of the vicar, A.L. Chatfield, very soon after the end of the war, if not before. Chatfield had himself won a Military Cross, and his son, John Anthony Cecil Chatfield had been killed by shellfire near Caen in northern France in July 1944. As well as on the plate in the church, his loss was recorded amongst the dozens of others from his school, Lancing College, a short train ride away from Bosham. He had been mentioned in despatches.

George Bell, bishop of Chichester, was by this time already known as an encourager of the contemporary arts in his diocese. Emboldened by a conversation with Bell during a visit, Chatfield put the idea to the church’s Parochial Church Council in November 1945, and announced his intentions in the parish magazine in January 1946. A public meeting was held in the village hall in early February, at and after which objections were raised; already the key issues were in view.

The local artist Helen Reid objected on the grounds that it would spoil the appearance of the tower (although the design was not yet finalised). Others, she thought, favoured an alternative idea that had begun to circulate, that of a social centre in the village for returning servicemen: ‘wouldn’t that be a practical tribute, for it would be for those who came back to enjoy.’ (This predisposition towards ‘useful’ memorials was widespread in England at this point.) However, she stressed that it would be ‘such a pity to have any strong divergence of ideas over anything as sacred as a War Memorial’ and invited Chatfield and his wife to take tea.

Despite these early signs of trouble, Chatfield was undeterred. In March, on Bell’s advice, the idea went before the Sussex Churches Arts Council, a body unique to the diocese and set up by Bell to advise churches on new works of art. The Council approved the idea in principle, but suggested modifications to the design, sketched by F.C. Eeles, a member of the Council, but also secretary of the national Central Council for the Care of Churches. A revised design then went in October to the Diocesan Advisory Committee, the body with the legal responsibility for regulating alterations to churches, which recommended that it be approved.

The clock in Bosham church tower.
Image: Peter Webster (2007)

In the meantime, an alternative memorial scheme was being put in place, following a further public meeting in May. An appeal was instituted in July to fund (in this order): the addition of the names of the war dead to the existing village memorial (a very common practice); the reconditioning of a play area nearby, and to raise £2500 for a new village social club. The manifesto document of the fund still at this stage stressed its non-denominational character; there was no wish to cut across memorials that the churches in the village might wish to make themselves.

In February 1947, the statutory invitation for objections to the granting of the faculty seems to have been the trigger that turned a smouldering local dispute into a full-scale fire. The argument was made that the church was a Saxon one (which was correct, in part) and as such any addition to it would be too incongruous; one correspondent thought it a ‘desecration’. Chatfield responded that, although the church was indeed very old, the cladding on the tower in fact dated from the nineteenth century. Even if that had not been the case, ‘if your Norman and Early English Church builders had all declared Bosham Church unique and added nothing for us today – I’m afraid there would be very little for us to be proud of – do please try to see things ahead – it is only fair to the future generation.’

Others suggested that, whatever form it took, ‘a war memorial should have the general approval and support of the parish as a whole and not be a source of dissension thereto’. Several hundred names that had by now been added to a petition against the clock. Chatfield, however, believed them to be mostly those of day-trippers and of the growing number of temporary holiday residents in the village. Were the wardens and PCC to be overridden in parochial affairs, he asked, by outsiders who ‘merely indulge themselves in occasional residence at Bosham for any purpose other than that for which a church was built and continues to exist?’ Implicitly implicated in this was Rupert Guinness, the second earl Iveagh, lord of the manor, who was listed among the principal objectors. Iveagh’s father, the industrialist Edward Guinness, had been created the first earl in 1919 and bought the lordship at some point after that. The family seat was in Norfolk; the second earl himself was resident near Woking, some fifty miles away.

These particular arguments of principle were given a particular intensity by the presence on both sides of those who had been bereaved. Chatfield received several letters from the bereaved, both in favour and against. Chatfield wrote to Iveagh with a list of 33 names of the bereaved who were supporting the scheme, urging him to drop his ‘wholly inadequate, also extremely inconsiderate’ objections. ‘To proceed with any proposal’ Iveagh replied ‘in the face of strong opposition from so many, including those, like myself, are among the bereaved, introduces an element of discord, wholly at variance with what should be our feelings in regard to a memorial. While the present generation lasts, it would emphasize discord, when a memorial should be an expression of unity of purpose.’ The plaque in the church bears the name ‘Elveden’: Iveagh’s son Arthur, viscount Elveden, killed while part of an anti-tank regiment at Nijmegen in the Netherlands in February 1945.

The stone in the churchyard below the clock face. The text reads;
‘I ring for you the passing hours
Dweller and stranger on your way
I ring remembrance for the men
Who died to win your liberty
And though the warriors’ sun be set
Its radiance lingers with us yet
Turn here to prayer before you go

If this had been the extent of the dispute, it may well be regarded as merely an unusually bitter local disagreement; the issues of principle involved were repeated in other places. It was however further complicated by the intrusion of influential national opinion. Resident in the manor house next to the church was the architect Grey Wornum, and it was apparently at Wornum’s instigation that a letter was sent to the Times, objecting to an ‘incongruous addition’. The letter suggested that the various watchdog bodies had been caught napping, and that the last line of defence was to dissuade the diocesan Chancellor, Kenneth Mead McMorran, from granting the faculty. ‘Time is short, and if this last defence is to be effective it is desirable that public opinion should reinforce local opinion. To that end, Sir, we address you and your influential readers.’

Wornum had been assiduous in gathering signatories; as well as Iveagh, the list included the prominent architects A.E. Richardson, Charles Holden and W.H. Ansell (the latter a former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects). Another signatory, the architect Lionel Pearson, had designed the memorial for the Royal Artillery at Hyde Park Corner. Also on the list were Sir Alfred Munnings, President of the Royal Academy; the Slade professor of fine art at UCL, Randolph Schwabe, and the former director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, Sir Sydney Cockerell. The letter was followed by several others in support, expressing the hope that ‘the opposition to the scheme may be overwhelming, and that we shall hear no more of it.’

The effect of this pressure was felt in Bosham. One of Chatfield’s most vocal correspondents despaired of the fact that the vicar would not accept the judgment of such a group of ‘eminent signatories’ as those of the Times letter. It wasn’t only Chatfield who was to feel the pressure; enquiries were made to the Diocesan Advisory Committee by Walter Godfrey, of the National Monuments Record. The secretary of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings also made an enquiry to the chancellor’s office, but was warned that the matter was sub judice. Undeterred, the Society’s chairman, Viscount Esher wrote directly to Macmorran, strongly deprecating the proposal, and was instructed again that the matter could not be discussed.

So it was that George Bell’s chancellor was caught in a near-perfect storm. The village locally had been divided over the appropriate form of memorial, and of the proper relation of beauty and utility; in play was the issue of the right relation between a church, its parishioners and an historic building; all this was mixed with a liberal portion of local grief. As Macmorran made clear in his judgement, he had in addition been caught between a correctly administered process of deliberation by experts within the diocese on the one hand, and the precipitous intervention of national bodies on the other; a case in which different parts of the ‘establishment’ were in disagreement. He was to rule, in June 1947, in favour of the former, and against those, like Esher, who ‘ought to have known better’ than to try to pressurise him.

Bosham at low tide.
Image by ianpudsey (CC BY 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Few in the village now know of the story of the ‘Battle of Bosham Clock’, and it seems that memories of the dispute faded relatively quickly. Only three years later, in 1950, Grey Wornum was also to lose a child: his daughter, Jenefer, who had lived at the manor, drowned in the sea off the Australian coast at the age of 23. It would seem that he made his peace with the church enough to design a set of gates in her memory, described in a nearby tablet as his last work before his death in 1957. And so the clock, weathered now as its designer had anticipated, still looks out at the tide as it rises and falls in Bosham Channel.

The papers relating to the consistory court case may be consulted at West Sussex Record Office in Chichester. To learn more about the national involvement of the Church of England in war memorials after 1945, see this article from 2008 on war memorials, bombed churches and the Church of England, 1940-7.