Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Relatively Confused

Visitors to The Blackden Trust will recognise this portrait.  He looks at you as you come in through the oak door into the middle room of the Old Medicine House. This, we have told our visitors, is Griselda Garner’s great–grandfather, Myer Salaman, who was the first Jewish Freeman of the City of London.  I have the framed strip of vellum that states, ‘Myer Salaman, of London, Fanmaker was admitted into the freedom aforesaid … on the 23rd day of February on the 45th Year of the reign of Queen VICTORIA, And in the Year of our Lord 1882 …’   

I wasn’t absolutely certain that the portrait was of Myer.  A few weeks ago, when I was looking for other information in the family tree, I spotted ‘Meyer Solomon, first Jewish Freeman of the City of London 1831’.   I was thoroughly confused.  Meyer was Myer’s uncle.  Which of these two was the rightful claimant to the honour of First Jewish Freeman of the City of London?    I asked, Richard Morris, the Chairman of Trustees and academic sleuth par excellence, for his help.  He found twenty-four Solomon and Salaman Freemen of the City of London.   Curiouser and curiouser. 

An authority on 19th century costume and fashion advises that ‘the sitter's forward sweeping hairstyle and its length and the height of his collar and cravat point to the earlier part of the century’ - too early for him to be my great-grandfather, Myer, who wasn’t born until 1836. 

If this is not Myer, could it be his father, Isaac Salaman?   There is a logical line of ownership of the portrait from Isaac to me. 

Then Richard found a website called ‘Missing Portraits’ on which there was this portrait.

What Richard didn’t know was that it is a site created by a second cousin of mine, who like me, is one of Myer’s great-grandchildren.   I have never met my cousin, but we are now talking and he thinks that this portrait is of Isaac Solomon, who was Meyer’s brother and Myer’s father.   The hairstyle and fashion detail in this case suggest that the portrait was made at the end of Isaac’s life.  He died in 1872.  We know that the portrait was by the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Simeon Solomon, who was Meyer’s son, which makes him Isaac’s nephew and Myer’s cousin.  

Are these two portraits of the same man?   Is this Isaac Salaman, my grandfather’s grandfather, the ostrich feather manufacturer, who made a fortune that the next three generations lived off and used philanthropically to support the arts?

I do hope so.  It would be fitting to have him presiding over our endeavours.

The portrait by Simeon Solomon is in a private collection.
For more information about the portraits and the artists go to:

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Gooseberry Godfathers

‘Gooseberry godfathers’ is how I think of my two gooseberry-growing friends. Between us we hope to establish a living archive of Frank Carter’s prize-winning cultivars and to preserve the accumulated skill and wisdom of local veteran growers for future generations.  The culture of Gooseberry Shows that once dominated the lives of men in rural Cheshire is dying out; undermined by the First World War and further eroded by the Second World War.  But the godfathers are determined to keep it alive for as long as they can.  So they have given The Blackden Trust fourteen of the seventeen cultivars developed by Frank on Blackden soil in his lifetime and are searching out the remaining three.   They patiently show me each stage in the process of growing prize-winning berries and I record what they tell me, both in these pages and also on the website.  That way something will be saved.

An essential part of the growing of gargantuan gooseberries is spraying with the right insecticides and fungicides at the right time.  This for me is the most difficult aspect of the whole procedure.  The rest of the garden is free from chemicals, but these prize-wining cultivars were developed for weight of gooseberry at a time when the negative effects of chemicals had not been recognised.   Unlike most modern varieties, these have little resistance to disease.  

As one of our gooseberry godfathers sprays, the other trains the branches with specially made supports to get the optimum spacing both horizontally and laterally. 

The berries need light and air to grow well.

The trees sprayed and supported, the godfathers tell me that now is the time for the magic fertilizer to be sprinkled round the trees.  No gooseberry grower ever reveals what he feeds his gooseberries!   A supermarket bag is held out.  I am shown the contents: a small quantity of amorphous, granulated, grey matter.  What, I am asked, do I think it is?  I have no idea.  Is this a secret I have to earn the right to know?    A great laugh from both of my mentors.  ‘Dried seaweed!’   Dried seaweed maybe, but what else? I wonder.

You can find out more about Frank Carter and his prize-winning gooseberries at

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Perverse Plants

Snowdrops are usually the first flowers in January.   Their luminous white carpet emanating light, just as the days start to lengthen.

Not this year!  As you can see, just a few flowers are beginning to show above the grass. 

And the winter jasmine, a flame of colour during the dull winter months is barely flickering this year.

So why is the japonica covered in vibrant red blossom, glistening ‘like coral’?   March is the month for japonica: March when, ‘The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers’, as Henry Reed describes the intense activity of bees in spring.   I planted the japonica in homage to his poem, Naming of Parts.

To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
          And to-day we have naming of parts.

There are two voices in the poem: that of the NCO instructing recruits on the parts of a rifle; and the thoughts of the recruit who is distracted by the signs of spring outside. It is a wonderful poem of contrapuntal images and emotions.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
          They call it easing the Spring.

The japonica is trained against the wall of the room that was the parlour, when the medieval hall was first built, and is now the room in Toad Hall where we sit with our friends.  There is a radiator on the other side of the two-brick thick wall.  Perhaps the japonica is benefiting from the heat we are losing.  I wish we could ensure that the bees would be around to go ’backwards and forwards’ to pollinate the flowers.

I have quoted only two verses of the poem.  The complete poem can be found at: where you can hear Frank Duncan and Henry Reed reading Naming of Parts.