Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Missing Plaques of Old #London Town No.8: Carl Eberstaller – A Very European London Tale

We all know and love London’s plaques – blue or otherwise. They pop up on our London Walks like cultural buttons waiting to be pressed by our London Walks guides.

Regular Daily Constitutionalists will know that we have already rounded up 100 of ‘em for our Plaque of the Week series (search “Plaque of the Week” in the top left corner of this window).

London Walkers often ask about them. Why are some blue and some green? How do property owners feel about them? How can one “qualify” for a plaque?

Our mission in this, our occasional series, is to extend this conversation… by issuing our own plaques to those who have been left out. You may have a thing or two to say on such matters. As usual, get in touch via email or on Twitter @londonwalks.

David writes…

Famously, it’s the only house in London with three blue plaques.

Now it’s the only house in London with four blue plaques.

The fourth one – Carl’s – has gone up as a bit of whimsicality.

And a bit of cheekiness.

And a bit of poignance.

Poignance first. I was poking around – as is my wont – in some “primary documents” (as they’re called).  In this case the 1911 census. Wanted to see who was in the Virginia Woolf house in Hyde Park Gate after her father, Leslie Stephen, died (in 1904) and later that same year Virginia and her siblings decamped to Bloomsbury. 

It’s a lot of house, 26 rooms. So just the running costs…

Anyway, when Carl Eberstaller was there it was a hotel.

Carl was a 22-year-old pantry boy.  Born in Austria.

And now we open up the poignance tap all the way. This lone, single document – the 1911 census return for 22 Hyde Park Gate – is the only record, the only trace, in this country, of Carl Eberstaller. A 22-year-old pantry boy from Austria.

And now he’s keeping company – blue plaque-wise – with Virginia Woolf. What would he have made of that?

Here’s to you, Carl.

And what happened to you, Carl? We get this sole glimpse of you in 1911.

1911. The Great War is 40 months away. 1200 days separate April 2, 1911 (Census Day) from the guns of August 1914. You would have been 25 in 1914, Carl. Did you go home and enlist? Were you drafted?

The pantry boy in Kensington who donned a pickelhaube.

Were you killed in the war, Carl?  A statistic. One of 17,000,000 statistics.

Might be records in Austria. But London’s my patch.

There are a couple of other Carl Eberstaller morsels that can be toothpicked from that 22 Hyde Park Gate census return.

There was another Austrian Carl working at the hotel. Carl Ruppert, a 22-year-old waiter. The other waiter, 19-year-old Joseph Schenircher, was also Austrian. Were they home town pals? Had one of them found his way to 22 Hyde Park Gate first and then written to the other two, “come on over, this place is all right – I can get you a job”?

Were they Viennese? Or wide-eyed village lads come to the biggest and most important city in the world?

Did the war do for all of them?

Final note. Well, two notes.

It’s interesting how international the staff was.

The kitchen boy was Dutch.

The cook was British but she’d been born in New York.  Her name was Bernice Alice McNeill. She was 36 in 1911. She was the mother of three children. Her children were all dead. You think Bernice McNeill’s life wasn’t a vale of tears?

The Housekeeper was from Scotland.

One of the chambermaids was from Dublin.

And then there’s that tell-tale detail about the other Chambermaid, 30-year-old Emily Knightly. She’d been “brought up in the Foundling Hospital.” Virginia Woolf left Kensington for Bloomsbury. Emily Knightly left Bloomsbury for Kensington. The paths of those two young women crossing – teases us out of thought, doesn’t it? Virginia Woolf growing up in a 26-room house. Emily Knightly being brought up in the Foundling Hospital.

Finally, the ten guests that night. It’s a glimpse of another world.

Mostly British, but internationally so.

John Armstrong was retired from the Ceylon Civil Service. He’d been born in Dublin.

Lt. Col. Alfred Walter Warden had been born at sea.

The Colvins, mother and daughter, had been born in India.

Finally, Mary Leslie Daly. From Rhode Island, USA. Mary was a dual national. American by birth. British by virtue of her parents’ Britishness.


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