Unexpected finds at HALS

Jennifer Ayto

A report on the making of a film in 1913 and a description of Abraham Lincoln are records you might not expect to be held at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS).

In 1913, Independent Moving Pictures made a silent movie, Ivanhoe, based on the novel by Sir Walter Scott.[1]  The cast came to England in order to have an authentic backdrop and a woman from Harpenden was an eye witness.

Theodora Wilson’s journal[2] recorded a holiday she took with her aunt around Hereford in August 1913.  She described the journey and the sites they visited:

But a surprise of altogether a romantic nature awaited us at Chepstow castle, which was in some respects the most beautiful we had seen and was certainly enhanced in interest by being in possession of the Knights Templars in full panoply of white mantles and steel armour and also a weird band of Robin Hood and his men posed under the shade of a huge walnut tree within the castle precincts.  It was quite a shock to find all these weird mediaeval men standing about when we had paid a prosaic sixpence and been admitted within the great oak doors!  We found that the meaning was that a party of American actors were rehearsing scenes from “Ivanhoe” for a cinematograph show and had taken the trouble to come over to get the appropriate scenery …..

A bevy of actors were staying in our hotel and another large military party were occupying one room so that ordinary quiet people like ourselves were rather squeezed out of it but the very aristocratic head waiter and the eminently respectable chamber maid of the Beaufort Arms gave us to understand that the American actors were novel tho’ respectable visitors and that they were far more accustomed to the military and county aristocracy“.

Back home in Harpenden, Theodora recorded, in 1918, an event at a local school:

Admiral Sims of the USA navy came down to St George’s school on their speech day and presented the Stars and Stripes to the school in token of a special affiliation between this school and St George’s school in Rhode Island where the Admiral’s home is“.

Accompanying the Admiral was Major Putnam ….  “who gave us interesting reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln… his [Major Putnam’s] father was one of the leaders in New York who got Abraham Lincoln into Congress for the first time… he described his first speech and his uncouth but striking appearance…. a tall man at 6 ft 4 and dressed in ill fitting clothes from a not expert tailor’s shop in the middle western states…. when he shot out his arms you could see  the rough woollen vest beneath the black coat and the worsted stockings below his all to short trousers“.

[1] A copy still exists at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
[2] DE/X1032/8.

This page was added on 24/10/2017.

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