29 July 2012


Prometheus was punished, and indeed all of mankind, for Zeus sent Pandora with her box of evils to compensate the advantages of fire; but Zeus never took back the fire. … Still, the march of knowledge and technique continues, and with it the social and moral travail. No one can be sure that mankind will survive this painful course, especially in an age when man’s knowledge of nature has far outstripped his knowledge of himself. Yet we can be sure that man will take this road and not forsake it; for although he has his fears, he also has eternal hope. This, it will be remembered, was the last item in Pandora’s box of gifts. David Landes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Revolution in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present

This photograph is the perfect coda to Friday night’s Olympic opening ceremony, which featured huge smoking chimneys rising from the ground to symbolize the dark satanic mills of the industrial revolution and our Promethean progress from pleasant pastures.

(Click image to enlarge)

Here my brother Bill (second from the left) and his teammates pose with a sports shield in the playground of their elementary school, circa 1933, and in the appropriate setting of working-class Bradford, complete with smoking mill chimney in the background. They were, I suppose, beneficiaries of what Jacques Rogge praised in his ceremonial speech, namely Britain’s inclusion of sport ‘as an educational tool in the school curriculum’.

In fact the person responsible for introducing P.E. into the school curriculum was Swedish-born Martina Bergman-Österberg, who in 1885 established the first physical training college in England, in none other than West Hampstead. A significant campaigner for women’s suffrage and emancipation, she is also credited with the introduction of the gymslip as female athletic wear, releasing women from the constraints of the corset, and for introducing a prototype of netball to England – first played in West Hampstead!

The house in which she lived and founded the college was called ‘Reremonde’ and still sits proudly on the corner of Broadhurst Gardens, now sporting a blue plaque and part of the architectural and cultural melting pot that is modern West Hampstead.

Photo by EP

Another former West Hampsteadite of sporting distinction has an unusual place in Olympic history and indeed the women’s suffrage movement. Eustace Miles, who was born at West End House, won a silver medal in real tennis at the 1908 London Olympics, the only time jeu de paume was an Olympic medal event.

A man of eclectic talents and interests, he was an advocate of vegetarianism, or as he called it ‘fleshless food’, and with his wife started the Eustace Miles Restaurant in Chandos Road, near Charing Cross Station. So famous was the restaurant that it was referred to (and parodied) in E. M. Fortser’s Howards End (‘It’s all proteids and body-buildings, and people come up to you and beg your pardon, but you have such a beautiful aura.’) It was also a favourite meeting place for the women’s suffrage movement and breakfasts were often held there to celebrate the release of suffragette prisoners from Holloway.

From The Bystander, 7 August 1907

I close my short homage to the Olympic spirit and its local resonances, past and present, with my ‘Cultural Olympiad’ trophies from the early 1950s with their depiction of Nike, winged goddess of Victory, together with our very own new season’s West Hampstead grapes in praise of the Greek god Dionysus.

Photo by EP

I was awarded these shields for performances given in the little custom-built theatre constructed for the workers in Lister’s Mill in Bradford, dominated by its soaring chimney. This is a picture of the mill before it was salvaged from dereliction and converted into luxury flats.

Photo by EP

And here is an architectural detail I photographed in the last five years, after the restoration and clean-up. Dark and satanic it may have been, but it was also classical or at least Renaissance in style!

Photo by EP

A reprise of my iPad recreation of my childhood vision of a magical sunset over West Bowling. I painted it with my Brushes app this time last year whilst preoccupied with another legacy of the ancient Greeks, Sophocles’ Antigone.

1 comment:

  1. Ah-ha! So gymslips and compulsory netball were all HER fault, were they? I don't suppose she was also responsible for that horror-of-horrors, gym knickers, too?

    Listers Mill is absolutely beautiful. I pass it occasionally and always pause to admire it. Happily, we woke up and stopped demolishing the old mills just in time. Many of them, like Listers, are strikingly handsome and robustly built. They'll still be standing when 20th Century structures are crumbling under the weight of dodgy workmanship.