Never Forgotten: Tommy Ward’s Elephant

‘Done up like Tommy Ward’s elephant,’ is a common expression in Sheffield. Used to describe someone laden like a beast of burden, the idiom dates back nearly a hundred years, to the days of the local scrap metal merchant and ship breaker Thomas Ward, and Lizzie, his rather unusual employee. As the head of Thomas W. Ward Ltd, one of his company’s most prestigious tasks had been the demolition of the SS Majestic. Built by the White Star Line in 1890 and captained by Edward Smith, who went down with his new ship, the R.M.S. Titanic in 1912, she was turned into scrap at Ward’s Morecambe yard in 1914. A family business, Ward’s brother Joseph was also involved, and was appointed Chairman of the Scrap Advisory Committee to the Ministry of Munitions during the war.

In 1916, having given up his horses for the war effort, Ward hired Lizzie from William Sedgwick, who was struggling to look after the animals of his popular travelling menagerie, after a number of his employees had been conscripted. Indian elephant Lizzie was one of the show’s main attractions, but on a practical level, Ward’s need for her was greater – her immense strength enabled her to undertake the workload of three horses.

For those who had never seen a real elephant before, the sight of Lizzie lugging scrap metal and munitions across the city was an unusual spectacle. However, she soon became a well-known figure, with stories appearing about her exploits in the press, including the occasion when she was accused of breaking a window to steal a pie that had been left to cool, or the time when she was alleged to have pinched and then eaten a cap from the head of a cheeky schoolboy. In February 1916, an article about Lizzie featured in The World’s Fair newspaper claiming that some of the city’s remaining horses, who had crossed her path, ‘were startled by this unexpected ‘dilution’ of their labour, and sniffed and shied as the elephant passed.’ Continue reading

The Whirl Of Life: Vernon Castle’s Walk

At the dawn of the Jazz Age, the birth of recorded sound allowed for the growth of exciting new musical genres, and these modern tunes required fresh ways to move to them. To many who filled ballrooms and dance halls across America in the years before the Great War, no dancer captured the public’s imagination more than Vernon Castle. Alongside his ravishing wife Irene, he caused a rhythmic revolution, and, as another major conflict loomed in 1939, their compelling story inspired the hit musical, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Above: Scene from The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)

Born William Vernon Blyth on 2nd May 1887, as the son of a publican he grew up in Norwich and London, before moving to New York with his actress sister Coralie Blythe (having changed her name from Caroline) and his brother-in-law, Lawrence Grossmith, a music hall performer and the son of the Victorian comedian, actor and composer George Grossmith.

Accepting minor roles under the wing of the legendary vaudeville star and manager Lew Fields, he became professionally known as Vernon Castle, and in 1910, he met Irene Foote, a 17 year-old amateur actress, at the New Rochelle Rowing Club. Though Irene later claimed, ‘I could tell by looking at him that he was not my cup of tea,’ her feelings rapidly changed and within weeks, ‘I realized that he was as much in love with me as I was with him.’ They were married a year later, to the dismay of her father, an eminent New York physician whose objections stemmed from his belief that ‘actors never had any money.’ Spending their honeymoon in England, Irene considered the local women to be ‘dowdily dressed,’ and complained of how she found London ‘inferior to New York.’ Continue reading

Fighting Forms: The Expressions Of Franz Marc

The son of Wilhelm Marc, a successful landscape painter and Professor at the Munich Akademie der Bildenden Künste, and his devout Calvinist wife Sophie, Franz Marc was born in Munich on 8th February 1880. Unsurprisingly, given his background, the younger Marc was fascinated by art from an early age and had seemingly inherited his father’s formidable talent.  Though he had hoped to study theology and become a minister, in accordance with his mother’s wishes, instead Marc chose to read philosophy at university. However, after a year of compulsory military service, a rethinking of his future options, led him to turn his attention back to his first love – art. At the age of 20, he entered the Akademie der Bildenden Künste and his tutors included the renowned illustrator, Wilhelm von Diez, who was to have a profound influence upon Marc’s own work.

In 1903, Marc spent several months in Paris, where he encountered some of the greatest names in Impressionism, but it was the Post-Impressionists, such as Gauguin and van Gogh, who truly seized his imagination. Returning to Munich in late 1903, Marc found his own studio in Schwabing, a bohemian part of the city. It was there that he met the art dealer, Annette von Eckardt, and the two quickly started an affair, despite her being married with two children and nine years his senior. In fact, von Eckardt and her husband, a respected professor of Sanskrit and Indology, acted as Marc’s patrons; but her volatile relationship with the fledgling artist lasted only two years, during which time Marc suffered from bouts of depression and his creativity was adversely affected.

Shortly after the end of his involvement with von Eckardt, Marc befriended two female painters who were both connected to the Women’s Academy of Munich Artist’s Association, Marie Schnür, a 36 year-old teacher there, and her pupil Maria Franck. Attracted to both women, in May 1906, Marc persuaded Marie and Maria to go with him to Kochel am See in Upper Bavaria, to spend the summer painting. Not only did they paint, they also engaged in a ménage à trois, with Marc capturing both his lovers on canvas as they sat gazing at the municipality’s glorious scenery. Continue reading

Faith, Hope And Charity: The Plays Of Ödön von Horváth

‘It just has so often a yearning within – 
but then you go back with broken wings 
and life goes on, 
as if you’d never been there.’

– Karoline in Kasimir und Karoline by Ödön von Horváth (1932)

Born in Fiume in Hungary (now Croatia and known as Rijeka since 1945) on 9th December 1901, Edmund Josef Horvát was the son of Dr Edmund Josef Horvát, a Hungarian diplomat, and his Hungarian-German wife, Mary Hermione Prehnal. The following year, the family moved to Belgrade and another son, Lajos, arrived in 1903. In 1908, they moved again to Budapest, where Edmund and Lajos were schooled in Hungarian. As a reward for his diplomatic service, Dr Horvát was ennobled and sent to Munich. The Horvát children remained at school in Hungary, but changed their name to reflect their father’s new-found status; this meant the addition of ‘von’ in German and another ‘h’ added to their surname in Hungarian.

A year before the outbreak of the First World War, Edmund and his brother moved to Munich, before going to live in Bratislava, and then with an uncle in Vienna. The frequent relocations of his childhood would leave von Horváth without a fixed sense of national identity as he later revealed, ‘If you ask me what is my native country, I answer: I was born in Fiume, grew up in Belgrade, Budapest, Pressburg, Vienna and Munich, and I have a Hungarian passport, but I have no fatherland. I am a very typical mix of old Austria-Hungary: at once Magyar, Croatian, German and Czech; my country is Hungary; my mother tongue is German.’ In fact, von Horváth only learnt his ‘mother tongue’  during his teens in Munich, but it was the only language he wrote in thereafter.

Enrolling as a student at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich in 1919, von Horváth studied German literature and drama, which prompted him to begin writing his own plays; early titles included Das Buch der Tänze (1920). After abandoning his studies in 1922, he divided his time between Berlin and Salzburg and began calling himself Ödön, the Hungarian spelling of his name. From 1924, he was also a frequent visitor to his parents’ new home in Murnau, Upper Bavaria. Continue reading