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Pankhurst, Richard Keir Pethick (1927–2017), historian and scholar of Ethiopia Imagen
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Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

(Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead.)—Thanks her for helping to arrange for the safe birth of her son.

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Transcript

Dearest Emmeline,

I am only allowed to write to Silvio so slip in a note for you to sign.

Yes dear friend he is a fine healthy beautiful Child perfect in every way. Yet I am told if I had not come here {1} when I did I should not have brought him out alive. And that I could not have done so without Lady Barretts help in the nick of time as it was.

So dear it seems I owe him to you and Silvio {1}–You first and through all.

Thanks thanks and love.

Till Friday

Sylvia.

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This letter was evidently written shortly after the birth of Sylvia Pankhurst’s son Richard on 3 December 1927. A few of the words are indistinct.

{1} The reference is to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, where Lady Barrett was a consultant surgeon. See PETH 9/61.

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

(3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex?)—Sends news of Richard’s health and development.

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Transcript

Boxing Day

Dearest Emmeline,

The spirit moves me to write to you to say that in spite of plenty of anxieties I feel a flood of happiness today. Raddie {1} and Richard are in the garden. It is warm and spring-like.

Richard has not had so much as a cold this winter! He is bright and well. Instead of having the doctor like last year he was able to make Christmas presents for his friends and dress the tree Mrs Brimley {1} brought him. He stitched over a pencil drawing on paper tacked to the ribbon to make me little calendar banners. Then we tore the paper away, and the red ribbon was left. He was greatly pleased.

He looks straight and tall. His brows are straight, and his thoughts are kind. He puts bread and cheese by the mousehold†, crumbs for the birds, milk for the cat. He brought his money box to me to buy a present for Daddy. He has his own ways and his own character. He does things one would never think of and says: “I have a good idea.” I gaze at him, amazed, and say to myself: where have you come from, little man? He is physically joyous as I never was—plunging into nearly cold water with a zest—not every day—but when he feels like it (other days prefers warm) {2}. He loves to “dance” and jump and climb.

It is a daily marvel this new person—like noone else—himself. One realises the miracle more when one knows one bore him. I look at his father—the boy is not him—not me—new entirely. How have you—so entirely—individual—sprung from us? I ask it to myself so often. This year when I heard the carol singers I thought so often of waiting for him at Hampstead. How wonderful it all was. How you came to make his happy arrival safe and all that one could desire. So I feel a great flood of gratitude and joy.

With love
Sylvia P.

What I feel so vividly of his being a new person is true of all the children I know, but it comes home so forcibly when every day one sees it in a close intimate way one felt generally before—not with this piercing astonishme[nt] {3}.

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{1} Reading uncertain.

{2} ‘other … warm’ interlined. Brackets supplied.

{3} A small piece of the paper has been torn away.

† Sic.

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

West Dene, 3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex.—She was too upset to attend Lady Pethick-Lawrence’s cremation, but has written tributes for the press.

(Letter-head of the New Times and Ethiopia News. Sylvia Pankhurst is named as Editor.)

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

West Dene, 3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex.—She and Richard are moving to Ethiopia. Explains the reasons for the decision.

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Transcript

‘West Dene’, 3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex, England
May 1st.

Dear Fred,

I am going away to Ethiopia for a long time and shall have to say goodbye to you and everyone. Probably I shall never return.

Richard was asked to take a post at the University College of Addis Ababa. I thanked the Emperor but wrote that I could not spare Richard. That is a couple of years ago. Then I began to think it would be best for us both to go. I could be of more use to them there than here I think. This has been agreed. The Emperor is making all arrangements for us.

It means ending “New Times and Ethiopia News” which has completed twenty years, but I hope to run a monthly there and to write some books.

In many ways I am sad to go—to part with dear friends—and packing and disposing of house and goods is a terrible toil. But it seems best.

Perhaps I shall have an opportunity to see you to say goodbye before I go.

We expect to leave about June.

With love from Richard and from
Sylvia.

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Letter-head of the New Times and Ethiopia News. Sylvia Pankhurst is named as Editor. At the head Gladys Groom has written, ‘P-L. replied personally 5/5/56’.

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

P.O. Box 1896, Addis Ababa.—Describes her new house and the local soil and flora. Richard is teaching history at the University College of Addis Ababa. Discusses plans for the Ethiopia Observer, and the effects of the stopping of the Suez Canal on Ethiopian trade.

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Transcript

P. O. Box 1896, Addis Ababa
19 November 1956

Dear Fred,

After the weariness of an hotel, we at last have a charming house surrounded by eucalyptus trees. We reach it up an avenue of eucalyptus and there is a row of them bordering our land all round and quite a wood behind the house. We have some geraniums some of which grow 8 feet high and mean to have more. They bloom all the year round here. We have a few roses and hope to have any more as well as other flowers. There is a room in front, as you will see from the photograph {1}, which has windows the entire length. This is where I work. There is a little veranda where we have lunch and a round summerhouse with a thatched roof with a window on two sides. I believe that will be a good place for writing on chilly days of which there are many. At present it is used by a man who does odd jobs and gardening. Later there will be a house for him built in Ethiopian style. They make a rather elaborate framework of thin would {2} and new plaster the walls outside and in until they are quite thick. Such houses are warm and durable. The plaster they use is very elaborate; they make a sort of pudding on the ground of the earth mixed with water; after stirring and waiting several days they sprinkle into† it with chopped grass, and finally it becomes a durable plaster which will last it is said for twenty years or more without repair when applied to the walls.

The earth is very light here; much of it is red. It is volcanic. It is very deep; one can see where the streams have worn it away 10, 20 or even more feet of earth often without a stone, which looks as though it had been cut artificially it is so sheer and straight. Where they are cutting new walls one can see high banks on one or both sides, all fine earth with hardly a stone. This is like the earth the Blue Nile carries to the Sudan and Egypt from the Ethiopian highlands.

Towards the end of September one suddenly sees all the fields, all the grass by the roadside, golden yellow with the so-called Maskal flowers. They come out at this season, the anniversary of the bringing to Ethiopia of a piece of the “true cross” found by the Empress Helena in Jerusalem. These flowers last only a couple of months or so at that season and then disappear. That is whey they are called Maskal flowers. Maskal means the Cross. It is curious that though the plants bearing these flowers grow from one foot to ten foot high according to whether they are in a field or just by the roadside without much soil or moisture one does not notice them till suddenly the hills and valleys are all golden yellow. The green buds do not show among the green and the flowers all seem to burst out together. They are born† on branches sticking out from the main stems which are frail and slender. They make an amazingly beautiful show. About the same season yellow acacia and the little golden balls of the mimosa come into bloom and Addis Ababa which was all blue-grey-green becomes glorified with gold.

Richard is teaching at the University College of Addis Ababa Economic History, African History and Ethiopian History. He is studying hard as well as teaching.

I suppose by this time you will have had a copy of our new monthly “The Ethiopian Observer”. We have devoted the first issue to the Emperor’s visit to the Ogaden and to Somali problems. The second issue will be Addis Ababa: Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s plan for it, a survey of population, History of the town and descriptons as it is, poem inspired by its history. The third issue will be devoted to the Ethiopian woman: history, education, prospects. The fourth will be Public Health in Ethiopia. The most difficult thing here is to find efficient secretarial assistance.

We often think of you and all friends at home. What an awful mess about Suez! {1}

With love from us both
Affectionately Sylvia P.

The stopping of Suez Canal is ruinous to this country. Coffee is their greatest export—after that hides, skins, oilseeds, honey, beeswax and various agricultural products. Coffee is far and away the greatest source of revenue. It goes in largest quantity to U.S.A., after that Britain and Europe. The East does not take it. The Emperor’s visit to India, Japan, etc., is opportune and some trade will result, but not to compare I fear with coffee. Transport problems in this mountainous land make cereals a costly export and cereals can be obtained much more cheaply from the great farms, highly mechanised elsewhere on the great plains.

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Letter-head of the Ethiopia Observer. Sylvia Pankhurst is named as the Editor. A few changes have been made to the punctuation.

{1} PETH 9/68.

{2} This is the apparent reading. Presumably the intended word is ‘wood’.

† Sic.

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

P.O. Box 1896, Addis Ababa.—Is glad he likes Rita, whose knowledge of languages, particularly those of her native Rumania, is very useful to Richard. Refers to her own prior interest in Rumanian literature.

(The date is that of the postmark.)

Letter from Richard Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

P.O. Box 1896, Addis Ababa.—His mother’s death came without warning, while her mind was still full of plans. He will publish the issues of the Ethiopia Observer already in hand, and then close it. Invites Pethick-Lawrence to contribute to a memorial issue. His mother will be buried with the victims of the Graziani massacre.