02 July 2016

Orientalist architecture in Victorian and Edwardian beach resorts

I have often referred to Orientalist art in this blog, largely that created by late 19th century French, British, German and Russian artists who spent time in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel or further East. Examine for example the markets,  armed male guards and life in the harem.

But there were only two references to Orientalist architecture in this blog. Firstly the Royal Pavilion in Brighton was designed in a style that was a mixture of Moorish, Indian and other tastes, all built in stone and iron. Secondly the pier in Nice was an immense structure with a bold dome, covering a bandstand, concert hall, theatre and sea bathing. The rooms were apparently decorated in exotic Orientalist styles – Japanese, Indian, Turkish and Moorish

Then along came John MacKenzie whose excellent book Orientalism: History, Theory and the Arts proposed that western architecture received genuine inspiration from the East, but in a much more specific way than I had imagined. In the architecture of leisure, Orientalism was particularly prominent in Britain – in bandstands in parks and beach resorts, in kiosks and later in theatres. The influence of Oriental forms, motifs and colours was everywhere, in buildings’ interior decoration, textiles, carpets and light fittings. Architects merely flirted with the East but interior decorators passionately embraced it.

Nowhere was this better seen than in the Victorian bandstands which were once the centre of parks and beach resorts around the UK. The first domed bandstand was made from iron and erected in the Royal Horticultural Society's gardens in South Kensington in 1861.

Parks were becoming increasingly popular places for families to spend their spare time and bandstands provided a musical centre to thrill the tired workers. So popular were they that in the later Victorian and Edwardian eras, a band­stand could draw crowds of up to 10,000. By 1900, 1,200 bandstands had been built in Britain alone. And not just on the beach. Every public park worth its salt wanted a beautiful bandstand - the city of Leeds alone had 18 bandstands in all its parks!

Brighton West bandstand, built in 1866
photo credit: Daily Mail

Wolverhampton bandstand, built in 1896
photo credit: Daily Mail

I also recommended Fred Gray’s book Designing the Seaside: Architecture, Society and Nature to the students. The Orientalism of seaside architecture clearly offered visitors the dream of being in a distant and exotic place, a place of leisure and sexual promise. It was a significant new, grand and opulent style, without needing to reference any one, specific Eastern culture. There was no political or military goal; just fun-filled and fashionable leisure buildings on, or overlooking the beach. The beach, with its focus on health and leisure, was certainly different and more exotic than everyday life in a grey inland city.

Only one quibble remains in my mind. The bandstands, which were often inspired by the expansion of the empire into India, were primarily utilised by the 25,000 brass or military bands in the UK. I wonder if the military bands at least partially reminded the holiday makers of Britain’s colonial battles and victories.

The breakthrough in popularising seaside Orientalism came with Brighton’s West Pier of 1866. Drawing on the nearby Royal Pavilion for its inspiration, designer Eugenius Birch made great use of decorative cast iron in a partly-copied and partly-invented style called Ornamental. Cast iron lampposts encircled with serpents, Indian style openwork screens (an almost direct imitation of the Pavilion’s own screens although in iron rather than stone) minarets, pinnacles and domes were all in a vaguely oriental conception.

Following his West Pier experiment, Birch took the Oriental theme further in the large Hastings Pier pavilion of 1872. Seized by other pier des­igners, pleasure pier Orientalism in Britain reached its peak with Mr St George Moore’s Marine Palace of 1901, built on Brighton’s third pier. From piers, Orientalism spread to a wide range of seaside buildings including bandstands, seafront shelters, pavilions, winter gardens, theatres and concert halls. The Royal Pavilion in Brighton might well have been the inspiration, but the Pavilion was architecture for a privileged elite. The piers and bandstands, on the other hand, were pleasure centres for a widening mass of ordinary families on holidays.

Middlesbrough bandstand, built in 1871
photo credit: Daily Mail

The most loved bandstand was Brighton’s birdcage bandstand, built in 1884 as part of a wider scheme of improvement for the town’s western seafront. Like much seaside arch­itecture of the late-Victorian period, the cake-icing decorat­ion reflected its relaxed, beachy context. The clearly extravagant and Oriental style of the decoration of this bandstand evoked distant lands, particularly some of the Oriental buildings in Southern Spain.

In C19th Britain, cast iron was the most important material used in Oriental architecture; the cast iron decoration could transport people to another distant or imaginary place. But cast iron decoration was never approved by all the critics. John Ruskin, arbiter of mid-C19th taste, thought it was a vulgar and cheap substit­ute for real decoration.

By the interwar years, more modern architectural critics saw seaside cast iron and Orientalism as unfashionable, fussy Victorian mediocrity and a hindrance to the development of modern resort towns. Of the 1,200 bandstands built in the UK by 1900, many were scrapped in WW2. Later others were demolished ..as public parks and seaside resorts declined. Today fewer than 500 remain but a major effort is now being made to restore some of the most beautiful Victorian bandstands to their original Oriental glory.

28 June 2016

Did Australia invent the Milk Bar?

It has been argued that the first business using the name "milk bar" was started in India in 1930 by an Englishman, James Meadow Charles, when he opened Lake View Milk Bar at Bangalore. The concept soon spread to the UK, where it was encouraged by the British Temperance Society to lure people away from the pub; over 1,000 milk bars had opened nationally by the end of 1936.

Now a new book has appeared that focuses on the Australian exp­er­ience. Greek Cafes & Milk Bars of Australia by Leonard Janiszewski and Effy Alexakis (published by Halstead in 2016) reported that during the Great Depression, Greek migrant Joachim Tavlaridis/later Mick Adams migrated from Greece at the age of 14. He accepted low status jobs in restaurants and food shops to save up enough money to build his own business. Food businesses, take-away shops, restaurants and delis were good industries for individual Greek migrants to establish their own financial viability.

These industries also represented community services to thousands of newcomers to Australian shores. Food businesses, often family-owned, allowed newly arrived Greek migrants a way to assimilate in their adopted country, by creating job opportunities. The Greek migrants could learn English and develop skills that would help them integrate into the Australian economy.

Black and White 4d. Milk Bar in Sydney's Martin Place, 1933

Beautiful Wellington milk bar, 1935
Photo credit: Shorpy

The research of Janiszewski & Alexakis reported that Greek migrant Mick Tavlaridis Adam was the first businessman to open the traditional Australian milk bar after returning from a trip to the USA. Adams set up the Black and White 4d. Milk Bar in Sydney's Martin Place in November 1932.

Early milk bars were bars where the product was a non-alcoholic milkshake. Then they added some seating, served snacks and later provided a juke box. They became a place for young people to socialise, and were often located close to picture theatres. They became a social centre for Greeks, as well as becoming an integral part of the local community. Every year for example, Adams gave a day's takings from his milk bar to the local Dellwood Children's Home.

It has been suggested that the temperance movement influenced bus­in­esses to offer milk-based drinks as a way of encouraging Austral­ians away from too much alcohol. And I agree that during the horrible Depression years, any business that enticed male workers away from the pub across the road was a good thing. After all families during the Depression were often unemployed or didn’t have enough money to feed the children.

But the temperance movement, which had been so dominant in the development of Australian coffee palaces in the 1880s-1890s, lost its driving energy after the Great War. Yes many people would rather come to the milk bar and have a milkshake rather than a beer, but that was because milk was healthier and cheaper, not because the customers were committed teetotallers. [The 4d fourpence in Adam' shop name was designed to emphasise the very affordable price set by Adams for the purchase of a milkshake].

So if the influence was not the temperance movement, Janiszewski looked to an American influence instead. He explained that Adams' milk bar was different because it broke away from the sit-down meal affair of other Greek-run businesses of the time. Adams had the idea to efficient take-away table service, to get a lot of customers.

Wanting to serve Australia a slice of the American Pie, the Black and White 4d. Milk Bar's main feature was the bar counter with limited seats on one side and milkshake makers on the other. This design was inspired by his observations of early 1930s American soda parlours. For local families who loved establishments like the Black and White 4d. Milk Bar, Adams and other Greek businessmen turned a basic American offering into a an iconic part of Australian culture, with a Greek accent. Dream merchants indeed!

5,000 customers crowded into the Black and White 4d. Milk Bar on its opening day and within five years there were some 4,000 registered milk bars throughout Australia. Mick Adams himself went on to open several more milk bars in NSW (both in Sydney and other regional cities) plus the interstate cities of Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne.

Prahran milk bar today
photo credit: Vice

One of Urban List's five favourite milk bars in Melbourne, 2015

Milkshakes were not new in Australia, so we have to ask what was so special about an American-style milk bar that served nothing else. With its handsome art deco design, the impact of Adams' Black and White 4d. Milk Bar was far-reaching. As they spread across the country, to every town on a railway line, the passion for milk bars spread. And although icecream was not an ingredient of these early milk shakes, the flavours were new and exciting. 

After WW2 ended, milk bars continued to thrive but were radically changed. Although the personal relationship between the customer and the shop owner continued, the milk shake bar and stools were taken away. Much of the clean, open, modern Art Deco look disappeared from the remaining milk bars, to be replaced by an enormous range of products like groceries, soft drinks, newspapers, fish and chips, sandwiches meat pies, cigarettes, Chico rolls and lollies.

As a child in 1955 I was not allowed to eat lollies at home. But if I had a penny pocket-money left over at the end of a week, I could rely on the local milk-bar owner to select 4 small, luscious lollies for me to eat on the way home from school. Thank you Mr Pickering for not telling my mum!

In time, the milk bar was gradually replaced by fast food franchises and shopping malls. Milk bars can still found across the suburbs today, usually within walking distance from most family homes. But now they serve as small Mixed Businesses or Convenience Shops. And they feel cluttered.

25 June 2016

Colonial gold rush architecture: Craig's Royal Hotel in Ballarat

Two amazing events happened in mid C19th that determined the importance of Victoria’s central gold fields. Firstly the leaders of the Port Phillip district had campaigned for Separation (from New South Wales) for a decade. This culminated in a petition being sent by the City of Melbourne in 1849 to the queen in London. Victoria broke away from NSW and formally became a separate colony in July 1851. The population of Victoria was growing rapidly, as were the facilities built to provide services south of the border.

Secondly once gold was discovered in Bathurst NSW in 1851 by Cal­ifornian digger Edward Hargraves, gold fever spread rapidly! In the very same year (July 1851) news of gold finds, in Clunes and then in Bunin­yong and Ballarat, spread goldrush fever to Victoria. Within 6 weeks there were 20,000 men in Ballarat living in tents and shanties. 30,000 ounces of gold were carried by secured coach to Melbourne.

The newly growing city of Ballarat required churches, schools and police stations, but mostly it needed pubs. Thomas Bath (1820-1901), a navy man from Cornwall, arrived in Australia in 1849. He opened The Ballarat Hotel in June 1853, a simple building that was perfectly situated in Lydiard St. Soon called Bath’s Hotel, this establishment was the first (or second) licensed hotel in the Ballarat goldfields.

Craig's Royal Hotel
Note the double storey loggias, towers and detailing.

Resentment on the goldfields was simmering because of the heavy monthly licence fee levied against working men digging for gold. In Oct 1854 at the Eureka Hotel in Ballarat, a public meet­ing was attended by thous­ands of miners; the hotel was burned down and three diggers were gaoled. Miners held a further meeting to demand their rights and the police responded with even more aggression.

Led by Peter Lalor, the miners formed a stockade at Eureka with c500 men. In Dec 1854 the Gold Commissioner organised the police AND the army to defeat the min­ers. It was a total tragedy - martial law was imposed and all armed resist­ance collapsed; 30 diggers and 6 policemen lay dead inside the stockade. Many more later died of their wounds.

The first trials started in Feb 1855 but public opinion seemed to be on the diggers’ side. Most of the diggers were given a light sentence or acquitted. So why include the Eureka Stockade and Rebellion in this post? Because the Eureka Stockade Royal Commission of Enquiry was held in Craig's Royal Hotel in late 1855. When Governor Charles Hotham's Royal Commission report was finally submitted, it presented rather critical judgments about the admin­istration of the gold fields, and particularly the Eureka Rebellion. The report made important recomm­end­ations, mostly sympathetic to the working men in the gold fields. Only one recommendation, to restrict Chinese immigration, was offensive.
Dining Room
Also used for weddings and balls

After the Eureka crisis had passed, Walter Craig purchased Bath’s hotel in 1857 and planned a bigger and more elegant hotel on the same site. By 1862 Craig's Royal Hotel had stone paved stables with 75 stalls and a hay-loft. A handsome Coach Office was added to the hotel where travellers could book coach tickets to all parts of the colony. So busy was Ballarat that 15-20 coaches arrived and left Craig’s Hotel daily.  “There were coaches and cabs, arriving and departing crowded with passengers, at all hours of the day, the street full of drays loaded with produce, waiting their turn at the weigh-bridge, the crowded bar, and nearly every room engaged: see a party of miners dividing their gold; see a committee, all farmers, miners, merchants, passengers, cattle buyers and sellers, all adding to the immense business and connection this Hotel has deservedly obtained”.

Craig's Royal Hotel has always been the scene of glittering social events in Ballarat but the next famous event was unexpected. An American ship the C.S.S. Shenandoah visited Melbourne in January-February 1865 with a mission to enlist Australian men for the Confederate Navy. Perhaps the Americans travelled to the gold fields because they though all those fit young working class lads would make good recruits. The local newspapers barely mentioned the American Civil War - they noticed only visiting American Civil War officers waltzing blushing Ballarat belles around the hotel's ornately decorated ballroom. It was a successful subscription ball, held in the officers’ honour.

Ballarat's connections with the Great and the Good continued in 1867 when Queen Victoria's second son Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh arrived and was hosted at Craig's Royal Hotel. Clearly the prince's ornately decorated room, specially prepared for his visit, was admired. [It must have been. In 1881 the royal princes Albert Victor and George inspected the Ballarat goldfields and chose to stay at Craig’s. As did the Duke of York/later George V and his wife Mary  in May 1901; they travelled by train from Melbourne to Ballarat to celebrate Australian Federation].

Original cedar bar

Also in 1867, the famous Australian poet and horseman Adam Lindsay Gordon created a business arrangement with hotel owner Walter Craig to conduct some of his business at the hotel's excellent stable facilities. Gordon specifically referred to Craig's pony in his poem “The Bankers Dream”.

Walter Craig died in August 1870 and his widow died soon after. Throughout the rest of the C19th, the hotel was sold to many new owners, renovated and expanded. Regardless of who owned the hotel, and despite the intense competition from other hotels, important people visiting Ballarat maintained the fame of Craig’s Royal Hotel. In 1895 the American author Mark Twain visited Ballarat on a world speaking tour. Famous Aust­ral­ian artist Daryl Lindsay (1889-1976), born and raised in the gold fields but too young to remember Mark Twain, recorded the details of the famous American author’s visit as told to him by his father. The most famous of all was Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba who performed from Craig's balcony in 1908.

The photos in this post are modern but it is reasonable to say that each of the major renovation since 1862 has been historically and architecturally sensitive. Extensive alterations and ornate redecor­ations took place in the Edwardian era. All the major structures retained their grand Victorian proportions, especially the main staircase leading to the private dining room and suites.

Imposing Victorian staircase

Bedroom with Victorian furniture and light fittingss

Recently Craig’s has been fully restored once again so that this grand colonial building could retain its former glory. Note the sumptuous Melba Suite and its regal mahogany bed; an Oriental Suite with its elaborately carved, antique Chinese wedding bed; the dramatic archways and marble fireplaces were uncovered; and the original Craig's Bar was preserved, complete with its carved Australian cedar details.