Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.

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A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

The Red Mass in Edinburgh

The opening of Scotland’s judicial year was marked this past Sunday by the Archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh offering the customary Red Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral.

This year Archbishop Leo Cushley was joined by Lord Drummond Young and his fellow Senators of the College of Justice, Lord Uist, Lord Doherty, Lord Matthews, and Lady Carmichael.

Gordon Jackson QC, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, and Austin Lafferty of the Law Society of Scotland joined many sheriffs, QCs, advocates, solicitors, trainee solictors, paralegals, and law students.

“These men and women serve the nation in a high office and come here to ask the Lord’s blessing upon this year’s work that they carry out on our behalf,” Archbishop Cushley noted in his homily.

“Know that we appreciate the difficult and complex tasks that you have and the duties that you perform – which are very onerous – on behalf of us all and that you be assured of our prayers and our support for all that you do to apply the law of the land with virtue and with justice and with mercy.”

Source: Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh

September 27, 2016 2:45 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

The Old Cannon Brewery

Robert Gwelo Goodman is one of my favourite South African artists whom you might recall when I introduced you to one of his paintings of the Groote Kerk in Cape Town. It’s not surprising that he lived in a unique dwelling — an old brewery in the verdant Cape Town suburb of Newlands, nestled as it is in the nape of Table Mountain.

Now Gwelo’s old brewery is up for grabs. (more…)

June 9, 2016 8:55 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Die Ou Swaai Pomp

The old water pump at the corner of Prince Street and Sir George Grey Street in the Cape Town neighbourhood of Oranjezicht was part of the system created by the Swede Jan Frederik Hurling in the 1790s for his farm, Zorgfliet. This particular structure was erected at the pump site in 1812 to a design by Louis Michel Thibault, embellished with a water-sprite gargoyle attributed (inevitably) to Anton Anreith.

It was operated by swinging the wooden handle on the side to and fro, hence why it is known as a swaai, or “swinging”, pump.

The photo above is the work of the Cape photographer Arthur Elliott whose work not only documents the early architecture of the Cape but more often than not manages to do so in an artistic and evocative manner.

Elliott is especially valuable considering how many of these structures faced the wrecking ball in the intervening century since he took his photographs, though — as you can see from a Google StreetView capture below — the Old Swaai Pump is still in its place today and is a monument protected by national and provincial law.

June 9, 2016 8:54 am | Link | No Comments »

A Baroque Church Portal

This church portal in the Oude Kerk of Amsterdam was originally in the Nieuwezijds Kapel, or Church of the Heilige Stede. That church was originally built in commemoration of the 1345 Miracle of Amsterdam, but after the ‘Alteration’ of 26 May 1578 — when Amsterdam’s Catholic city government was deposed and replaced by a Calvinist one — it and all the city’s other churches were taken over by the new Protestant administration.

In 1908 the elders of the Protestant congregation of the Nieuwezijds Kapel decided to demolish the fifteenth-century church and build a smaller one on the site, while building shops on the remainder of the site to prevent the resurgent Dutch Catholic church from building any chapel or shrine on it. This seventeenth-century baroque enclosed portal was then transferred to the Oude Kerk where it remains today.

Despite the anti-Catholicism of the Nieuwezijds Kapel elders in 1908, the Miracle of Amsterdam is still comemmorated every year on 15 March when thousands of pious Hollanders march in the evening Silent Procession (Stille Omgang). This year’s procession attracted 7,000 participants.

April 26, 2016 10:10 am | Link | No Comments »

An Old Name Returns to Banking

or: What Daniel O’Connell has to do with the 2008 Banking Crisis

Daniel O’Connell was a remarkable man by any stretch of the imagination, and is most often recalled for his part in bringing about the Relief Act of 1829 which emancipated the Catholics of Great Britain and Ireland from an officially oppressed legal status. Among his many achievements, however, was in London in 1825 founding the National Bank of Ireland.

As the RBS Group’s website notes, O’Connell:

…helped draw up the agreement that established it, spoke at public meetings to drum up support for it, invested in it, attended its first board meetings and, in 1836, was appointed its governor. He became an important figurehead for the new bank and there was even a proposal, not implemented, to put a bust of O’Connell on the bank’s notes.

The National Bank was created with the aim of injecting cash into the rural economy in Ireland, and its charter ensured that half of its returns would accrue to local shareholders in the country. O’Connell, not the best manager of financial affairs, ended up accruing huge personal debts to the bank and had to be quietly bailed out by several others (commencing a tradition of surruptitious banking amongst the nation’s major politicians).

Anyhow, the National Bank expanded across Britain and Ireland. In 1966 its Irish core was sold to the Bank of Ireland, and the English and Welsh branches were acquired by the National Commercial Bank of Scotland (which was a 1959 merger of the National Bank of Scotland and the Commercial Bank of Scotland). This, in turn, merged into the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1969, with the superfluous National Bank branches being turned into Williams & Glyn’s Bank the following year. (more…)

April 15, 2016 4:00 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

St Pancras Town Hall

St Pancras Town Hall is an interwar classical building by the architect A.J. Thomas (of whom I know little). The façade is a little clunky but in the warmer months it’s adorned with arrangements of flowers that soften this stern civic edifice with a bit of welcome frivolity.

When the Metropolitan Borough of St Pancras was merged with the neighbouring bailiwicks of Hampstead and Holborn to form the London Borough of Camden in 1965 this was chosen as the town hall of the new entity, so it’s now referred to as Camden Town Hall.

But of course of all the buildings under the patronage of the fourteen-year-old, fourth-century martyr Pancras, the most prominent is the international railway station across the Euston Road (below) that connects this metropolis with the rest of the continent across the Channel.

April 11, 2016 11:00 am | Link | No Comments »

Canalside Wanderings

The sun put its hat on this weekend, and after a delicious and vaguely German breakfast by King’s Cross on Saturday I fancied a little canalside wandering. Walking the Regent’s Canal from the new Central Saint Martins all the way to Paddington, I stumbled across the Catholic Apostolic Church in Little Venice (above). It has been over ten years since I popped in to the former Edinburgh outpost of this strange and fascinating denomination, now much reduced in numbers since its apex in the late Victorian period. (more…)

April 4, 2016 7:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Suid-Afrika

Suid-Afrika — ’n kleine bietjie van Hemel.

February 24, 2016 10:15 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Germania

I’ve been reading Golo Mann’s History of Germany Since 1789 — cracking stuff.

This depiction of Germania, the personification of the German nation, was for a stained-glass window in the Reichstag building, built between 1884 and 1894 in Berlin and since 1999 home once again to the German parliament.

February 22, 2016 9:05 am | Link | 7 Comments »

Haus Altmark

While the remarkable rebuilding and rehabilitation of Dresden is of a much more recent vintage, the historicist design of Haus Altmark (Herbert Schneider, 1953-1956) in that city is another good example of the Socialist Classicism of the DDR.

(c.f. Leipzig Opera House)

February 15, 2016 11:00 am | Link | 1 Comment »

Smuts at Leiden

For quite some time, Leuven — in what is currently known as Belgium — was the only university in the Netherlands. It is still (barely, some argue) a Catholic university, and after the Protestant revolt sealed its rule over the northern part of the Dutch realms, William the Silent founded a university at Leiden as a Calvinist academy in 1575.

Leiden University has had strong links with South Africa from the earliest days. Ds. Johannes de Vooght — in the 1660s, the second leraar of Cape Town’s Dutch Reformed congregation — studied here, as did numerous predikante of that period and onwards, including Ds. Petrus van der Spuy, the first NGK minister to be born in South Africa.

South African politicians studied here aplenty: Sir Christoffel Brand (first Speaker of the Cape Parliament); Jan Brand (fourth president of the Orange Free State); Marthinus Steyn (sixth and final president of the O.F.S.); and Nicolaas Diederichs (third staatspresident of the Republic of South Africa).

Probably the first South African to be granted an honorary degree by Leiden (c. 1830) was Antoine Changuion, the founder of the Dutch language movement which advocated preserving Dutch as the cultural language of the Afrikaners against the emerging Afrikaans.

It was in 1948 that Leiden granted the greatest Afrikaner — Field Marshal Smuts — a Doctorate of Law honoris causa. Smuts was on his way back from Cambridge where he had been granted the honour of being installed as Chancellor of the University. Even Die Burger, a Nationalist paper opposed to his Verenigde party, found the event worthy of a caustic near-compliment:

“We may differ from him on many issues, but the honour which he has won for the Afrikaner does not leave us untouched.”

February 5, 2016 9:25 am | Link | 5 Comments »

The Umbrella

The Umbrella
Paul Henni

[Photo by and copyright of Paul Henni]

February 3, 2016 10:37 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Keeromstraat 14

Keeromstraat 14, Kaapstad

This Cape Town house was built in 1751 for Hermanus Smuts who sold it on to Johan Jacobus Graaff, the woodworker who collaborated with South Africa’s greatest architectural duo, the sculptor Anton Anreith and the architect Louis Michel Thibault.

Thibault is believed to be responsible for the addition of the upper story and the current façade, seen above through an archway of the High Court.

The building next door was designed by the pioneering Afrikaner architect Wynand Hendrik Louw (1883-1967) for De Nederlandsche Club te Kaapstad, the city’s club for Dutch businessmen and expatriates. Louw was also the architect of the Dutch Reformed Church at Napier in the beautiful Overberg.

February 2, 2016 8:45 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Leipzig Opera House

The Leipzig Opera House is the swansong of Socialist Classicism as an architectural style. The 1954 plans of the architect Kunz Nierade had to be toned down mid-construction, with some of the sculptural adornment simplified, as the official aesthetics of the German Democratic Republic shifted towards a more aggressive modernism.

While the Soviet Union provided the more well-known examples of Socialist Classicism, the Germans rather typically (but sparsely) excelled their Russian overlords. Admittedly, the quality was inconsistent: the Karl-Marx-Allee has some fine details but the overall plan leaves me cold, though postmodernists Philip Johnson and Aldo Rossi have praised it.

I enjoy the restrained classicism of this building, though the flatness of the façade leans a little towards the dull, with only the projecting portico providing a bit of comforting depth. Critics have pointed out the lack of light-and-shadow contrast during the daytime, and have tended to prefer the building’s nighttime appearance. It’s worth mentioning that the snowflake-like hanging lamps in the building’s foyer have a significant place in the design history of East German lighting fixtures (a subject about which I know now more than I ever expected).

The finality of Socialist Classicism’s end cannot more clearly be emphasised when comparing the Leipzig Opera House with the assaulting brutality of the Neues Gewandhaus concert hall (1977) across the Augustusplatz in a style we associate more closely with the DDR period. That the similarly styled Palast der Republik in Berlin — possibly the building most readily associated with East Germany’s socialist regime — has been completely demolished to be replaced by a reconstruction of the old city palace is a reminder of the hopeful possibilities we have at hand.

February 1, 2016 9:10 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Sieg für die Schönheit

Sieg für die Schönheit

January 29, 2016 9:25 pm | Link | No Comments »

Alles Sal Reg Kom

Helmut Starcke, Alles Sal Reg Kom
1961; Acrylic on board, 34.8 in. x 24.8 in.

A man festively attired in a Tweede Nuwejaar outfit in patriotic colours (orange, white, and blue) stands in front of a side wall in Cape Town bearing monarchist posters urging voters to vote ‘No’ in the 1960 republic referendum.

The painting’s title – Alles Sal Reg Kom – means “everything will be alright”.

January 28, 2016 10:20 am | Link | 2 Comments »

The Accession

Henry Harris Brown, Proclamation of the Accession to the Throne of His Majesty King George V at Dublin, June 1911
c. 1911; Oil on canvas, 68 in. x 76.9 in.

A triumphant painting, but a last hurrah. The central figure is Sir Nevile Wilkinson, the last ever Ulster King of Arms & Principal Herald of Ireland, exercising the duties of his office by proclaiming the accession of the new king at Dublin Castle.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty and its legislative acts neglected to make provision for transferring this ancient office to the new Irish Free State, but Sir Nevile carried on regardless for nearly two decades, even issuing two dozen grants of arms on the day before his death in 1940.

After his death, the Oireachtas created the office of the Chief Herald of Ireland to continue the granting of arms, and in some sense the Chief Herald is a spiritual successor to the Ulster King of Arms.

(Image copyright of the Fusilier Museum, London; via Fr Guy)
January 22, 2016 11:20 am | Link | No Comments »

Die Staatsrede

Staatspresident Jacobus Johannes Fouché giving the staatsrede from the throne of the Senate within the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town.

What is now the State of the Nation Address has its origins in the speech from the throne (in Afrikaans staatsrede meaning “state reasoning/rationale”) setting out the Government’s legislative programme for the year. The high point of the State Opening of Parliament, it was originally given by the Governor-General (or, in 1947, by the King of South Africa himself) but with the abolition of the monarchy in 1961 the sovereign’s vice-regal representative was abolished and replaced by the Staatspresident as chief officer of the South African state.

Giving a speech from an actual throne was considered too monarchic for a republican polity, so – like in the Boer republics of old – presidents gave their staatsredes standing. Here, State-President Fouché is flanked by the chiefs of the defence staff and police, the Serjeant-at-Arms with the mace, and the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

Of course, much of this was abolished in the 1980s with the constitutional innovations as a last-ditch attempt to entrench apartheid. South Africa is now on its third constitution since the above photo was taken.

It reminds me of how in Ireland almost all the traditions of the Viceroy (viz. the Viceregal Guard of Battleaxes, etc.) were abolished not by the Saorstát or Éire but by the British themselves – in their case by penny-pinching Victorians who found Dublin an easy target for cost-cutting.

January 21, 2016 12:00 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

Caledonian Expedition

Sun, sand, champagne, Scotland: there’s not much more you could ever want, but to have an alignment of these four in the month of October is rare. It had been quite some time since the Cusackian feet had last graced the cobbles of the beloved ‘auld grey toun’ – the Royal Burgh of St Andrews – but a friend got in touch on a Monday morning with the provocative text “Scotland Friday?” I couldn’t resist. (more…)

December 10, 2015 3:37 pm | Link | No Comments »

Letter to the Editor

SIPPING a postprandial Coke last week while flipping through the Irish Times, my wandering eye was drawn towards that newspaper’s report on the Madrid congress of the European People’s Party, the grouping of Christian-democratic and centre-right political parties across the European continent (Madrid congress provides forum for delegates from EU centre-right parties, Suzanne Lynch, Irish Times, 22 October 2015). The correspondent first elucidates some of the purpose of these pan-European gatherings before going on to summarise a number of the issues raised. She ends, however, on a bit of a downer by describing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s “lurch to the far right”, evidenced by his “clampdown on media and internet freedoms, apparent support for the death penalty and hardline approach to refugees”.

This breezy litany of crimes is little more than shoddy journalism. The alleged “clampdown” refers to proposed internet legislation which has been withdrawn while other media laws requiring balance reflect the U.S. broadcasting rules rescinded under Ronald Reagan. The “apparent support” for capital punishment is another damp squib: Orbán called for it to be debated as intellectual speculation — a canny “dog-whistle” political move to gain votes without requiring any legislative action or serious challenge to the E.U. ban on the death penalty. (It was abolished in Hungary at the fall of communism and there are absolutely positively no government plans to bring it back.)

The refugees allegation was the most interesting, however. As it happened, I had attended a small meeting of British MPs and Hungarian foreign ministry officials the day before Ms Lynch’s report was printed. The Welsh MP David Davies gave his first-hand account of visiting the refugee camps near the Hungarian-Serb border and reported that refugees were being well-looked-after, with the quality of the facilities on the whole at least as good as when he was in the British Army, often better. An advisor from the Hungarian Foreign Ministry briefed us on the general situation, which has calmed down immensely since the Serb border has been more or less closed. He noted that broadcast media across the continent showed footage of Budapest police’s treatment of migrants gathered at the railway station without pointing out that the police were responding to violent attacks from a small minority of migrants.

Proprotionate self-defence for officers of the law is the norm across Europe, but this has mattered little when it comes to depictions of Hungary: the bien-pensant official groupthink is that anything Hungary does is wrong, so long as Fidesz is in power. Luckily some voices of dissent have emerged. The novelist Tibor Fischer — no conservative — described in The Guardian the media treatment of Hungary as “hysterical” and “ignorant nonsense”.

Anyhow, I felt obliged to send off my “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” to the Irish Times and it’s very good of their letters staff to print a diverging (if abridged) opinion. The last letter to any editor I succeeded in having printed was in the Times Literary Supplement in 2008 about P.G. Wodehouse’s career in banking at H.S.B.C. Who knows what the next shall bring…

October 27, 2015 11:42 pm | Link | 4 Comments »
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