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Review: The Church in Madras (Rev Frank Penny) 1904-12

October 16, 2015 1 comment

‘The Church in Madras’

A 3-volume red hardback set (I.88.1) housed in Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Wales.

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Written by Rev Frank Penny from 1904. Final volume published in 1912.

Frontispiece: Presented by the Secretary of State for India (1905, Vol 1-2), Presented by the Secretary of State for India in Council (1912, Vol 3).

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Vol 1    1640 – 1805     Inc. St Mary’s, Madras, page 81

Vol 2   1805 – 1835     Inc. St Stephen’s, Ooty, page 320

Vol 3    1835 – 1861     Inc. All Saint’s, Coonoor, page 169

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It was thrilling to see on page 196, the word ‘should’ written in pencil in the margin by William Gladstone replacing ‘shall’, proving that Gladstone himself read these volumes!

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The East India Company (EIC)

The EIC was neutral about Christianity and its work, but their Charter of 1698 (renewed in 1792 by William Wilberforce) required them to employ Chaplains. These, in turn, had to be approved by the Bishop of London and had to be from the Protestant Communion.

However, the EIC officially discouraged and sometimes prevented the work of missionaries and Christian mission. The Royal Danish Mission and the SPCK (mostly Germans) worked in the south of India for the ‘Great principle of the duty of promoting Christian Knowledge’. There was therefore a marked difference between the work of the EIC Chaplains and that of the SPCK missionaries.

Fifteen Churches were built within the bounds of the Madras Presidency by the Company and six or eight more were built privately.

By 1835-61, 41 Churches had been built in India.

See also – Bishop Stephen Neill, ‘The History of Christianity in India’.

Travel: San Thome Basilica, Madras (now Chennai)

October 14, 2015 Leave a comment

Just yards from the beach, south of Chennai, this Church is traditionally built near to or over the site where ‘Doubting’ Thomas, the Apostle to India, was reputedly martyred in AD72, having come to India in AD52.

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This large white Roman Catholic Cathedral dates from 1896, and was given the status of Basilica in 1956.

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It is one of only three churches worldwide said to contain the tomb of one of the twelve disciples of Jesus.

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Marco Polo recorded a chapel on the seashore during his travels in Asia in 1293. The original small church was built by the Portuguese in 1523. The Prelates on this brass plaque in the Basilica date back to 1600.

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Travel: All Saint’s Church, Coonoor, Tamil Nadu

October 13, 2015 3 comments

Coonoor was one of three Hill stations established by the British Raj in the Nilgiri Hills in Southern India. Elevation 1720m.

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The Church was dedicated in 1851 and opened in 1854. A distinctive cream-coloured English-style Church in India.

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‘A charming and restful spot of great natural beauty’ (The Church in Madras). 

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My journal entry (October 2014):

After lunch, we visited All Saints Church, next door to the Gateway Heritage Hotel. This was quite a revelation – a beautiful interior, well looked after and clearly still well used. It has a dark wood, vaulted roof space, lots of stained glass and is well painted both inside and out. Someone opened up for us. So glad that he did. The large and reasonably well tended graveyard contained the usual poignant memorials to those who died in India – from the military, the church and the planter community. All far from home’

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Travel: St Stephen’s Church, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

October 12, 2015 2 comments

Ooty or Ootacamund in the Nilgiri Hills was one of three Hill stations in the area favoured by the British Raj. Elevation 2240m.

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Ootacamund became the summer headquarters of the Madras Presidency, nicknamed ‘Snooty Ooty’.

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The Church was dedicated in 1829, opened at Eastertide 1831 and is the oldest church in the Nilgiris.

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It has a beautiful dark wooden ceiling with huge beams hauled by elephant, following the capture of the city palace of the conquered and feared enemy of the British, Tipu Sultan, in Seringapatam over 100km away.

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My journal entry (October 2014):

We arrived at St Stephen’s Church, a cream-coloured, somewhat squat building dating from 1831. Climbing the steps, we entered the Church after first removing our shoes. It had a gorgeous dark wood interior with white paint and the usual array of brass memorial plaques. Outside, I wandered through yet another unkempt Anglican, colonial graveyard full of decaying tombs and headstones, now in the hands of CSI but utterly uncared for and overgrown. How many relatives know anything about any of these graves? There must be thousands of such spots all across India, gradually fading away into the past’.

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Travel: St Mary’s Church, Fort George, Madras (now Chennai)

October 11, 2015 1 comment

This is the first English Church built in India. It is the oldest English Church east of Suez.

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Clive of India was married in the church, as was Elihu Yale, an early founder of Yale University.

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The barracks were built in 1687 but St Mary’s was begun in 1678. It was consecrated (controversially) by Richard Portman in October 1680. The organ was installed in 1687. The spire was added in 1710.

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The walls are 4ft thick, it was built to withstand siege and cyclone and had a blast-proof roof of solid masonry. The brickwork is 2ft thick.

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The building could accommodate 500 people. The distinctive black granite baptismal font dates from 1680.

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My journal entry (October 2014):

St Mary’s – the oldest English church east of the Suez. So many similarities with St Andrew’s cathedral in Singapore, just not as big. So many brass memorial plaques to those who died, often of sickness and disease, many very young. We strolled in the heat of the beautiful sunlit church garden. A peaceful place. Butterflies. Odd how a mercantile and mercenary Raj took the Church with it as part and parcel of Empire. It was obvious you would think, wasn’t it? Well, as the years have unfolded, no – it was a bad idea!  Felt a little strange that Grandad would have known this church. Presumably as a bandsman, he may even have set foot inside. At the back of the building, I saw an old fading photo of George Town at the time (1905) he would have been there, so very different to today’s Chennai’.

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The great Lutheran Pietist missionary, exemplar and intermediary, Christian Friedrich Schwartz (born 1726) arrived in India in 1750. He is remembered in India fondly and in the stirring epitaph at the base of the large white marble sculpture in St Mary’s (by John Bacon Jr, 1807).

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Schwartz was truly the first Protestant missionary to India, not William Carey as often supposed. Carey arrived in India two years after Schwartz’s death at Tanjore in 1798. Schwartz died a rich man but he left all his wealth to the SPCK for its work in India.

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Social History: George Olliffe at Fort St George, Madras, India

July 27, 2015 1 comment

In 1905 (100 years ago) my grandfather George Olliffe was serving with the British army in Madras (now Chennai) at Fort St George in India. I have blogged his story here. He was a bandsman in the Leicestershire Regiment (1Bn) and was posted to British India in 1903 at a time when the Raj was at the height of its powers on the sub-continent. He left India in 1906.

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Lt-Colonel Webb’s 1912 ‘ A History of the Services of the 17th (The Leicestershire) Regiment’ records, ‘The regiment sailed from Durban on the 7th November 1902 for Madras (from fighting in the South African Boer war), and arriving on the 30th, disembarked on the 1st December and proceeded to Fort George‘. Bandsman Olliffe arrived in Fort St George from Britain four months later on 6th March 1903.

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In October 2014, I went to Chennai. One of the highlights of the trip to southern India was to visit the Fort St George military compound, some of which still houses units of the Indian military.

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It was thrilling for me to walk through part of the Fort where Grandfather must have drilled, to view his old parade ground and perhaps even to look at one of his old barrack blocks.

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This is a photo record of my visit to this evocative place within our own family history:

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The Parade Ground and Drill Square at Fort St George

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Some of the vast walls and ditches surrounding the Fort.

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Another part of the compound adjacent to St Mary’s Anglican Church, the first English church built in India (1678-80).

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The thought that Grandfather may have set foot, perhaps for a parade service, in this very same church was very moving.

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Review – 18 Bookshops by Anne Scott (Sandstone Press)

Quirky, original, wonderful writing;  a celebration of 18 bookshops in the life of the author; half of them set in Scotland with the rest in London (5), Oxford (1) Ireland (2) and New York (1). However, this is a storybook, not a travelogue. Nor is it a bookshop guide, as I thought at first.  I bought 18 Bookshops supposing it to be a book about shops. I was wrong. Instead this is an adventure story – about all that is excellent in making good literature available and of its potential for massively widening our horizons.

The book is beautifully descriptive, and at times deeply insightful about what is of value in literature and bookselling. It also pays homage to that very good office of ‘Bookseller’ in hushed tones.

18 Bookshops - Anne Scott

This volume is a pleasure to handle; a solid hardback beautifully produced and packaged, with orange and black leaves and end-covers, and a black and orange typeface. There are no page numbers but surprisingly it’s easy to find your way around the chapters. I do hope numbers are not added to any reprint as it would so spoil this delicious little book. Here are 18 short chapters to read and savour; it’s very difficult to read this book in a hurry. It’s a book clearly forged in Scotland with a Scottish slant and a Celtic view; and all the better for it.

If you love bookshops, you’ll love this book. It captures the essence and atmosphere of a good bookshop perfectly. We need to guard such treasure before it soon becomes a thing only of its past. You’ll have to buy the book to see which shops are selected and if you know any of them? However, be aware that several of them are from as far back as the 1500’s and many are long gone. Each chapter evokes the wonder and power of literature as seen through the eyes of owners and customers of these very diverse shops. Spanning many centuries and winsomely written, it has real emotional appeal to all lovers of physical books and physical bookshops. In an age of simply clicking a mouse to purchase a book, we need to be reminded of this pleasure.

Chapter 7 contains the delightful story of Robert Louis Stevenson, then aged 5, entering James Smith’s bookshop. Stevenson in his later memoir tells of the transforming effect that this Edinburgh bookshop had on his imagination; ‘the place smelt of Bibles and it was wonderfully dark’. In Chapter 9, another Edinburgh bookshop, the Grail Bookshop is the subject. Anne Scott writes, ‘This bookshop gave me more than just books’. Bookshops do that to you. The chapter evoked strong memories for me of a rather different bookshop, owned by the Church of Scotland and also in George Street where I too spent much of my time. Both these shops are now closed; ‘defeated chiefly by rising rents in George Street’.

Scott writes of ‘a Bookman’ in Chapter 10, not ‘bookseller’. Note that subtle distinction; good book people don’t just sell books. I like that description. I think I’d like to be known as such. She writes of one volume, ‘No-one closes this book unchanged for it releases dreams’.  In Chapter 11, the doorway to an Oxford bookshop is described thus; ‘The entry loudly and harmoniously belled’.  There seems a wistfulness and a longing running throughout the book.

I enjoyed Chapter 12 with its history of bookselling in London (and of Paternoster Row in particular) interwoven into the story of Thomas Davies, a Scot, an actor, a bookseller and quite a character it would seem. Davies was a friend and contemporary of both Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. Johnson’s father had been a bookseller in Lichfield. His son had ‘seen the suffering caused by failing custom, broken orders, lost money, and the fickleness of the trade’. Quite an apt narrative for the book trade! An English Heritage blue plaque is now assigned to Tom Davies bookshop near Covent Garden.

Chapter 14 comes with a good description of a good bookseller: ‘Here is an owner who reads her visitors and leases out time to those who need it, who want it in this place’. For me, Chapter 15 is THE chapter in the book. It’s called ‘Leaving’. I read it twice – it’s beautiful, haunting and sad; a love story involving the author and a bookshop overlooking Waverley Station in Edinburgh. This is very personal writing indeed, with hidden depths in its language, hinting at a monochrome past but now a life transformed by all that’s best in British literature.

Chapter 17 on Kenny’s Bookshop, Galway contains a description of the perfect bookshop, ‘to sit somewhere out of the way and look: to read and buy, and read and leave, and return’.  This shop has now moved online. Anne Scott comments, ‘I send for books, pay in silence online: but the book comes in and is real then, though from whom and by whose hand, I can never know’.

The final chapter covers an occult bookshop in London. For me, this is the poorest of the chapters and sad to end such a delightful book on such an unsatisfactory note.

18 Bookshops is as much about good literature as it is about bookshops; the subversive impact of a well-written book on the mind and the imagination down through the ages. It contains the manifesto of why I personally have been involved with books all these years.

I think I must write my own ‘18 Bookshops’ before it’s too late. It’s not quite the same to describe 18 websites! If I did, I’d have to include a far-too-short visit to Maria Brothers in Shimla, Northern India – a musty, dusty shop full of old volumes and maps left over from when the British left India, where stock crumbled in your hand as you explored but which was a treasure house of old books in which to browse. I still vividly recall this shop as I write.

That’s what all bookshops can and should do – I commend 18 Bookshops to you as a celebration.

Maria Brothers, Shimla, India

Inside Maria Brothers, Shimla

Final note – I do find it offensive – given the subject matter – that this book is advertised by Anne Scott’s publishers as available via Amazon of all places!

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