Sunday, 28 October 2018

Drilling for Oil and Gas in Willesden?

This intriguing story takes us off our usual area to Stonebridge Park.

In 2017, Nick Grealy, CEO of London Local Energy (LLE), applied for a fracking licence to drill for shale gas on the old White Heather Laundry site at Stonebridge Park. Not surprisingly, this caused considerable opposition from local environmental groups. Brent Council along with Sadiq Khan the mayor of London, were also against the idea, and it does not appear to have gone any further. LLE was registered at Companies House on 9 May 2017 and dissolved on 16 October 2018.

But why did LLE choose the site?
The White Heather Laundry was established in Alric Avenue in 1898, apparently by three young men from Oxford or Cambridge University (newspaper reports differ). In January 1911 they sank a well to supply water for the laundry on their two and a half acre site. At 2,225 feet this is one of the deepest artesian wells ever drilled in this country, and is reflected today by the name of a road on the old site, Artesian Close.

In 1912 Walter Bridges, a consultant engineer to the White Heather Laundry, told the press they had found water above the London clay but it was too muddy to be used for washing, so they continued drilling. After encountering hard water in the chalk layer, they found softer water suitable for their needs at a greater depth. They were very surprised when on 9 September 1911 they found traces of petroleum at a depth of about 1,700 feet. The company decided to continue searching and if successful, Bridges said this would be the first oil well in Britain. But their efforts failed to find enough oil to make its extraction commercially viable, and the well was only used to provide water to the laundry.

The White Heather Laundry provided a high-class laundry service for many years. But when the ladies of London sent their undergarments to be ‘got up’ or cleaned in Paris, business at the Laundry suffered a downturn. In 1905 as clever publicity stunt, they held an exhibition of washing of ‘Fine Lingerie’ in the Grafton Art Galleries to show they could compete with Paris. They subsequently won contracts to deal with the laundry of the royal family, and in 1926 the Duke of York visited the works at Stonebridge Park where he saw the King’s shirts being ironed in the ‘royal wing’. Over time they held several Royal warrants, including those for The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The London Gazette records that the White Heather Laundry (London) Ltd was wound up in 1973.

In his application Grealy chose the old White Heather Laundry site for LLE fracking because of the oil found here.

Second Attempt
In 1947 a second attempt to find oil was made in the centre of the Gibbons Road Recreation Ground, which was only about 400 metres away from the White Heather site. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company paid £8,000 (worth about £300,000 today), to their subsidiary D’Arcy Exploration, to drill the well with a 94-feet high derrick. D’Arcy had previously drilled exploratory wells in several parts of the country. 
The 94 feet derrick in Gibbons Road Recreational Ground, 1947

The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company became British Petroleum (BP) in 1954.

On YouTube there is a short film clip by Pathe News about the well. The commentator wrongly says that four years ago oil was found on a nearby laundry site. In fact, the White Heather Laundry well was sunk 36 years earlier.

Once again it seems that they found insufficient oil to make it a commercial venture.

Despite opposition, recently fracking licences have been granted to several companies who are looking for shale gas around the country. Their operations are being closely monitored for any disturbances in the earth. The national news reported that on 26 Oct 2018, Cuadrilla halted their fracking at Preston New Road near Blackpool for 18 hours, as the British Geological Survey monitors registered a small quake of 0.8 magnitude two kilometres underground, which was over the prohibited limit of 0.5. It remains to be seen if any of the schemes proves viable.

Rather oddly, there is also a Willesden Green in Alberta Canada, situated between Calgary and Edmonton, where there is considerable oil drilling.

We would like to thank John and Sandra Westbrook and John Mann for alerting us to the story about drilling for oil in Willesden in 1947.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Clive Donner, film director

Clive Donner was born in the Priory Nursing Home at 43 Priory Road West Hampstead, in January 1926. He grew up in 31 Peter Avenue, Willesden Green, where his parents Alex and Deborah Donner, lived for most of their lives. Alex was a concert violinist and Deborah ran a dress shop. Clive attended Gladstone Park junior school and Kilburn Grammar school. He became interested in film when he accompanied his father to a studio recording session. While at Kilburn Polytechnic he made an 8mm film about a boys’ sports club. In 1942 he was working as a shipping clerk when his father who was recording the music for The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), asked Michael Powell the director, if he could find a job for Clive at Denham Studios. After several rejections he got a job as a junior assistant editor for the Sydney Box film On Approval (1944). He gained experience and formed a close friendship with Fergus McDonell, who later edited several of Donner’s films.

Clive was called up in 1944 and served three years in the Army ending as a sergeant in the education corps. After he was demobilised, he got a job assembling the daily rushes at Pinewood Studios. Then he worked as first assistant editor on two of David Lean’s films, Passionate Friends (1949) and Madeline (1950). Donner greatly admired Lean for his instance on the highest standards of film making. By 1951 Donner had become an editor on films such as Scrooge (1951), Genevieve (1953) and I Am a Camera (1955).

The Secret Place, Belinda Lee and a young David McCallum (1957)
He made his debut as a director on The Secret Place (1957), a realistic film about a policeman’s son whose infatuation with a young girlfriend of a crook, leads to his inadvertent involvement in a jewel robbery. Donner used location shooting, much of it filmed at night, which prefigured the British new wave films that emerged in the next few years. Because he was offered few exciting films, he was glad to be released from his contract with Rank to work in the new field of television advertising. He also directed episodes of Danger Man (1961) starring Patrick McGoohan. His first popular film was Some People (1962) about working-class teenagers who formed a rock band in Bristol.

Poster for The Caretaker

In 1963 he used a small budget from a consortium including; Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Noel Coward, Peter Hall and Peter Sellers, and others who each put up £1,000, to make an film adaptation of his friend Harold Pinter’s play The Caretaker (1963). This was shot in black and white in an empty house in Hackney by the stylish cinematographer Nicolas Roeg. With excellent performances from Donald Pleasance, Alan Bates and Robert Shaw, it won an award at the Berlin Film Festival and established Donner’s reputation as a director. During the 1960s he lived in a flat at Weymouth Street, Marylebone.

Clive Donner with the cast of What's New Pussycat (Getty Images, 1965)

Donner’s biggest box office hit was What’s New Pussycat (1965), one of the first ‘Swinging London’ films which was actually filmed in Paris. It was a farce starring Peter O’Toole, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Romy Schneider, Capucine, Paula Prentice and Ursula Andress. The title comes from Warren Beatty’s phone call salutation to his female friends, and it featured the hit song by Tom Jones, which was written by Bert Bacharach and Hal David. Beatty was going to play the notorious womaniser, but dropped out and the part was offered to Peter O’Toole. The role of crazy psychiatrist Dr Fassbender was planned for Groucho Marx, but O’Toole wanted Peter Sellers who had recently achieved success as Inspector Clouseau.

Bewigged Peter Sellers and Clive Donner in Paris (1965)

Clive Donner was given a budget of over £6M by an American producer to make Alfred the Great (1969), with David Hemmings in the lead role. Three years later Clive married Australian-born Jocelyn Richards who had worked as costume designer on the film. They bought a country cottage at Speen in Buckinghamshire, and a house at 6 Melina Place, off Grove End Road in St John’s Wood.

Jocelyn Rickards photographed by Alec Murray

Jocelyn designed the costumes for films which defined the 60s, including Look Back in Anger (1959), From Russia with Love (1963), The Knack (1965), and Blow Up (1966). She had studied art in Sydney and travelled to England in a converted troop ship with ‘rats in the wardrobe and crabs in the pool’. She arrived in London in 1949 and continued her relationship with Australian fashion photographer Alec Murray. 

During the 50s she had affairs with the philosopher AJ ‘Freddie’ Ayer, and the writers Graham Greene and John Osborne who described her as a woman of ‘passionate intelligence and emotional candor’. She was called ‘one of the most exciting women in London’ by Greene’s biographer Norman Sherry. She met Clive Donner while they were making Alfred the Great and they remained together for the rest of their lives.

Veruschka in a Jocelyn Rickards dress for Blow Up (1966)

With the downturn in film attendances, Clive Donner turned to the theatre, directing Shakespeare, and revivals of two of Pinter’s plays. He returned to film, making several spoofs including Vampira (1975) and Charlie Chan and the Dragon Queen (1982).

Donner was better employed by BBC TV where he made an excellent adaptation of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male (1976) starring Peter O’Toole. This was Donner’s favourite film. In the 80s he continued to work in television both in England and America but these programmes did not match the quality of his earlier work.

Rogue Male, on the cover of the Radio Times (1976)

By 2000 Donner had sold his cottage and the St John’s Wood house and moved to a flat in Rainville Road Hammersmith. When their health deteriorated, they moved to the Sunrise Assisted Living home in Virginia Water, where Jocelyn died of pneumonia in July 2005, and Clive died from Alzheimer’s on 6 September 2010.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Mrs Bernard-Beere, the Victorian actress

The streets of Kilburn and West Hampstead were home to literally hundreds of actors, actresses and musical hall artistes. A handful were very successful, but the majority were hardworking performers who made their living touring the country. They used professional newspapers to advertise their ‘availability’ often giving a friend or relative’s address where they could be sure of receiving a letter, as their nomadic lives made it hard and expensive to maintain a permanent home. When they rented accommodation, it was generally for a few months at a time, to fulfil a local engagement.

Actress Mrs Bernard-Beere was successful enough to afford a permanent London home that she left empty when touring. In 1883 she was at 63 York Terrace, Regent’s Park; by 1890 her home was a cottage on Marylebone Road. She next moved to West Hampstead, renting No.8 Carlton Mansions in West End Lane, from April 1899 to 1902. The block of flats was newly built and today is the Francis Gardner Hall for student accommodation, near the corner of Gascony Avenue.

Mrs Bernard Beere in 'A Life of Pleasure', 1893

She was born Fanny Mary Whitehead in 1851, the daughter of Francis Wilby Whitehead, artist and picture dealer of King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth. On 6 October 1874 Fanny made her first and on the face of it, very good marriage, to Army officer Edward Cholmeley Dering, the son of Sir Edward Dering, MP. She had been working for the caterers, restaurant and theatre owners Spiers and Pond, where she ‘attracted the admiration of Mr Dering’. However, the marriage was not advertised as usual in the newspapers. Fanny was about eight months pregnant at the time and subsequent events indicate that so far as Edward was concerned, it was a means of gaining custody of his child. Daughter Janet Elizabeth Adela was born on 12 November but tragically Edward died on the 17th. His obituaries noted he had been ill for only two days before his death at their home in 6 Jermyn Street. He left less than £1,000 to his brother George Edward Dering, the guardian of baby Janet who he named as his only next of kin. The newspapers mention Dering’s first wife and his parents, but the fact he had married again and had a child was conspicuously absent. It was said Fanny received a generous annuity, but this probably ceased after her daughter Janet died the following January. She was to be Fanny’s only child.

Fanny was an attractive and charismatic actress, who developed a dedicated following. Reviews reveal she was capable of great acting. Indeed, she was once called ‘the English Bernhardt’ for her performance in ‘Fedora’ but reoccurring illness and nerves limited her career to some degree. There is no indication why she decided to become an actress and sources differ as to whether she began acting before or after her first marriage. Accordingly, her first appearance on stage is reported at the Opera Comique under Mr Hingston, who managed it from October 1872 to December 1873. Or it was in late 1877, at the Gaiety Theatre, in ‘School for Scandal’.

It is generally agreed that Fanny trained under the American elocution teacher Herman Vezin with help from Willie Wilde, Oscar’s brother. To begin with, she was described as an ‘awful stick’ but Fanny worked hard on training her voice. She became successful and appeared with some of the leading theatre companies such as the Bancrofts and Beerbohm Tree.

‘Fedora’ and Floria in “La Tosca” were perhaps her best roles: while Mrs Sternhold (“Still Waters Run Deep”), Peg Woffington (“Masks and Faces”), Lena Despard (“As in a Looking Glass”) and Mrs Arbuthnot (“A Woman of No Importance”), were other major successes for ‘Bernie Beere’ as she was known. At various times she was also a producer of plays and a theatre manager. Less certain are claims that the poet Thackeray was her godfather and that he called her as a child, ‘the little actress’.

In August 1876 Fanny married for a second time. Many reports call him ‘Bernard Beere’ because she adopted this as her stage name, but in reality, he was Edward Beer. The marriage took place at the fashionable St George’s Bloomsbury when the couple were living at nearby 23 Alfred Place. The marriage certificate describes him as a merchant and he seems also to have been a traveller, probably working for his father Isaac’s provision business.

Fanny had many admirers. In November 1887 the sudden death of banker and MP Lord Wolverton was widely reported in the press. The rumours that circulated about the contents of his will were mostly incorrect, including the bequest of large sum of money to his friend Mr Gladstone. Another paper described, ‘a trifling legacy of £500 is all that Mrs Bernard Beere is to have’. In fact, that would have been worth around £60,000 today. When the will was published in February 1888, Fanny’s name did not appear. That’s not to say she didn’t benefit: the Pall Mall Gazette commented, ‘Like so many wills Lord Wolverton’s is remarkable only for its omissions’, further noting ‘the absence of those provisions that has been expected on personal grounds, although possibly it was more seemly that they should be provided for privately’.

By 1890, Fanny had moved into Church Cottage alongside St Marylebone parish church at No.17 Marylebone Road. A reporter described it as, ‘a delightful bijou residence. It is a tiny labyrinth of rich and strange things. The walls are hidden beneath a collection of photographs with the friendly inscriptions of celebrities. Her favourite room is known as the Red Room, and to this only friends and visitors of distinction are admitted. There is one of the hugest armchairs ever made, in which Mrs Bernard Beere can coil herself at will’. It’s possible her second marriage didn’t last long as no mention was made of any husband when Fanny was interviewed at Church Cottage. (The house was still standing in the 1950s).

In the early part of 1892, Fanny toured Australia. The Antipodean press had already paid her a lot of mixed attention. In 1888 an Australian reporter judged that, ‘she is nearly at her zenith. I do not think she will last very long. Her nature is one of such a combustible character that she is using up her vital forces very fast’. However, another thought her, ‘the rising actress of the day’. The tour started badly when the first performance of Fanny’s much-loved ‘Fedora’ was brought to a premature close. She had struggled to continue but finally left the stage after two of the supporting actors had to be continuously prompted by her. She told the audience: ‘I trust you will excuse me, I could not finish the part’. Indeed, she prided herself on being word perfect: ‘I have never yet forgotten my words; in fact I shudder to think what would happen if I ever required to be prompted. I think I should lose my wits altogether, and the curtain would have to be rung down’. It was reported her Australian agent lost over £3,000 but Fanny recalled her visit down-under with great affection. An American tour later that year when she was engaged at a basic salary of £500 a week, was also a failure, Fanny returning to England in January 1893. She blamed theatrical mismanagement and being asked to perform in a theatre unsuited to the role she was playing.

Later that year Fanny was engaged to play Mrs Arbuthnot, the character referred to in the title of Oscar Wilde’s play, “A Woman of No Importance”. It opened on 19 April and ran for 118 nights at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. She received very good reviews, the Times going so far as to describe her performance as, ‘one of the most pleasing and most impressive of her creations’. Fanny was a personal friend of Oscar Wilde who called her ‘Dear Bernie’. Two years later, she was one of several sympathisers who wrote to him in Holloway Prison after he had lost his libel case against the Marquis of Queensbury and was awaiting trial for gross indecency.

There are several press reports of Fanny falling ill or having hysterics and having to cancel performances throughout her career, while her increasing poor health during the 1890s often kept her from the stage. It was noted that she missed (at least) the last night of “A Woman of No Importance”. Concerns were raised that she wasn’t strong enough for the demands the work imposed. Fanny told a reporter that, ‘I am distinctly nervous but I believe that adds to the value of my acting when playing a good emotional part’. In 1896 she was so ill that it was feared she might not recover. But she did and returned to the theatre in 1898.

Two years later Fanny married for a third and final time when she was living at Carlton Mansions in West End Lane. On 17 April 1900 a quiet wedding took place at St Mary’s Church in Abbey Road. Aged 34, Alfred Charles Seymour Olivier was several years her junior and gave his profession as that of a ‘Gentleman’, the son of Rev. Canon Dacres Olivier of Salisbury Cathedral. The two close friends who signed as witnesses also gave the bride away and acted as best man: the Reverend Thomas Noon Talfourd Major (vicar of Thundersley in Essex), and Rudolph Doran Holtz. When asked, Alfred said he would prefer his wife retired, but recognising what a loss this would be to the stage, it had been agreed she would continue acting for the time being.

On 18 June 1900 the couple were travelling on a Windsor-bound train that had stopped at Slough station to take on passengers, when the West of England Express ploughed into the rear at full speed, telescoping the last two carriages. 70 passengers were injured and five died. Fanny and Alfred were reported as shaken and bruised, but she was probably more seriously affected than most papers reported, returning to London a couple of days later, she was carried to her train from her Slough hotel in an invalid chair. The accident undoubtedly contributed to Fanny’s declining health in later years.

Reports of her acting are absent until October 1905 when she made a ‘welcome reappearance upon the London stage’, as Mere Michaud in a short run of a sketch entitled “The Spy” at Oswald Stoll’s London Coliseum. The reviews were generally favourable but when Stoll altered part of the programme and Fanny gave a recitation, it was less well received. This was the last time she appeared on stage.

Fanny and Alfred had moved to 41 St Mary’s Mansions, St Mary’s Terrace in Paddington by 1911. He gave his occupation as wine merchant, but she left the occupation space blank. The couple had moved again, to Lauderdale Mansions, when on 25 March 1915 Fanny died at a Maida Vale nursing home, suffering heart failure after an operation for peritonitis. She was buried at St Marylebone Cemetery East Finchley, (now East Finchley Cemetery). That November, her theatrical relics were sold at auction, including personal letters from Oscar Wilde. Her husband Alfred Olivier died in Epsom in May 1922 and was buried alongside his wife.

Fanny merited an obituary in the Times. It called her ‘a fine emotional actress’, but today ‘Bernie-Beere’, her stage roles and many achievements, have largely been forgotten.