Friday 25 April 2008

The Bergheims of Belsize Court

A brief trip into Daunt Books yielded the latest contribution to local history - Finding the Bergheims of Belsize Court by Mary Shenai.

It's a great romping read of the discovery of a family and a house - now all gone from the landscape of Belsize. Essentially this is the story of the author's journey in finding out about this family - Mary Shenai lives locally and was given a album of photographs and sought to find put the story behind the people and the places.

I found myself enjoying the booklet, and it has lots of little observations and comments that reflect on just how much the author enjoyed writing it. The text might have benefited from tighter editing, but that would have risked losing the intimacy that comes through of Mary's role and passion in tracing the story through the decades.

It's worth getting for anyone interested in Belsize, late victorian England, musical history and the issues around informal patronage, german and jewish migration and a few other sideline stories that are gripping (the murder is an amazing piece of spice!).

The Bergheims were clearly a family of substance, respected, established up-standing people of the community. The folk of whom Victorian England was often so pleased and through the pages their story leaps out - Jerusalem, the maids and valet so common to the era, musical recitals and the daily routine of waited-upon house service and the crisis of maintaining the heated greenhouse for orchids during the first world war... It is 'of a type' and quite a special insight into the life and times.

There are some special local links - St Stephen's Church, volunteering at New End Hospital during the war and some are left teasingly hanging: "Another later occupant of Belsize Court was Mathew Foster [MP]".

I found myself slightly wanting at the end - no pictures or full details of the photo album itself - I so wanted to see it, hold it, have that sense of smell and that is probably the only gap for me ... But this publication is an endeavour of love and my tube journeys to work have been the richer for it.

So get down to your local Daunt Bookshop - or other independent bookshops - at £9.99 it is a great read and well produced.

Finding the Bergheims of Belsize Court
By Mary Shenai
Belsize Conservation Area Advisory Committee, 2007
ISBN 978-0-9539421-1-4

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