Thursday, 24 April 2014

Spindler's list

Sorry, more DWM - but I just found out more about the career of William Spindler, the German industrialist who figures large in the Isle of Wight Undercliff's 19th century social circuit. Ventnor was the final destination of a far darker story of the dangerous political climate of Bismarck's Germany.

Spindler (c.1838-1889) was a German industrialist who the sake of his health retired to southern England, and ultimately to the Ventnor area. As incomers often do - more zealous than the locals in making plans for the places where they settle - he then proceeded to make waves, by warning Ventnor that it was inferior to a list of other resorts, and if it didn't pull its collective socks up, it would be overtaken by a new town, 'Undercliff'. His obituary in the Isle of Wight County Press tells the story:
So grateful was he to our climate ... that he resolved to spend £100 for the benefit of the town, and after deep consideration decided that it should take the form of a book, This appeared in 1877, under the title "A few remarks about Ventnor and the Isle of Wight, Bournemouth, Torquay, Brighton, Weymouth, Jersey, and Guernsey," and a thousand copies were printed and circulated broadcast amongst the inhabitants of Ventnor. In language kindly severe, he dwelt on the natural beauties and advantages of the Undercliff as compared with the other places before mentioned, and then lashed the local authorities and ratepayers for not developing them. Here is his own language in the closing chapter:

"Ventnor, indeed, would be perfection, if it had more trees, and if the other deficiencies I have spoken of were remedied. If the inhabitants resolved on mutual efforts to develop the natural capabilities of their place, it could not fail to rise beyond the reach of successful rivalry. Nor must they think that they can be allowed to indulge any longer in the carelessness that they have hitherto shown. The 'good old time,' when at a seaside place the sea along sufficed, when people submitted to temporary inconveniences, and even enjoyed them on account of their novelty, is gone for ever. Greater fastidiousness. enlarged wants, and better taste are the characteristics of the present generation. If the inhabitants of Ventnor refuse to satisfy these modern requirements, there is no doubt that another town, 'Undercliff,' will spring up between St Lawrence and Niton. This neighbourhood, and especially the Old Park estate, presents a magnificent field for the enterprises of a capitalist. Although the land near the shore at this spot partakes of the treacherous nature of the whole Undercliff, it may easily be rendered safe by erecting groynes. Taking Bournemouth as a pattern, it might then become the site of a first-rate watering place, uniting Torquay and the green foliage of Bournemouth with the shelter, the climate, and the open sea of Ventnor. Ventnor at present claims the privilege of being the capital of the Undercliff, but if it continues to neglect its duties, another leaseholder will step in, for the natural advantages of the Undercliff are so great, and in our northern latitude confer such as boon on mankind, that Ventnor cannot be allowed to prevent either the invalid or the pleasure seeker from enjoying them."

Naturally the publication of this work caused a great sensation.
- Death of Mr. William Spindler, page 3, IWCP, 7th December 1889 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive
John Morgan Richards' Almost Fairyland quotes the dedication to the work: "To the inhabitants of Ventnor I dedicate this little pamphlet with my most hearty wishes for the prosperity of their town, to which I owe the recovery of my health". But the 130-page tract, listing in comparison the benefits of rival resorts, unsurprisingly didn't go down well. The reaction of the Local Board (the historical equivalent of town council) reads between the lines as "Don't let the door hit you on the way out", though he didn't actually leave the Island permanently, and returned to buy the Old Park Estate in nearby St Lawrence.
Ventnor. Oct. 27
A vote of thanks was then unanimously passed to Mr. W. Spindler for the pamphlet he had printed respecting the town and liberally circulated, and this was accompanied by an expression of regret at his leaving the Island.
The Hampshire Advertiser (Southampton, England), Saturday, October 27, 1877; pg. 8; Issue 3273. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II
Spindler did have a valid point. The Victorian seaside experience was pretty horrible, with regular complaints of damp, verminous lodgings ...
There is an insect that people avoid
(Whence is derived the verb ' to flee');
Where have you been by it most annoyed ?
In lodgings by the Sea.
- Lewis Carroll, A Sea Dirge
... and there was a growing expectation of improved customer service. Ventnor in particular was fairly shabby, having outgrown its infrastructure during its rapid expansion as an invalid resort. Nevertheless, it was bound to ruffle feathers for an incomer, especially a foreign one, to wade in and tell the town how to conduct its business.

However, there's a lot more to Spindler's story than a small-town spat in his retirement.

William Spindler - from Allerlei-Gereimtes und Ungereimtes, 1873

William Spindler is not to be confused with his father, Wilhelm Spindler. I very nearly made this mistake, as do a number of accounts, including the IWCP obituary. Wilhelm Spindler (Johann Julius Wilhelm Spindler, 1810-1873) was the founder of the Berlin-based dyeing, laundry, and - from 1854 - dry cleaning, company W. Spindler, whose massive main factory was in what's now the borough of Köpenick. It was also Wilhelm who established a model town for the 2000 factory workers; called Spindlersfeld after his death in 1873, the district still exists as Berlin-Spindlersfeld, where Spindler's original housing, the Spindlerbauten, has protected status. Wilhelm Spindler is commemorated in several locations, including a bridge, the Wilhelm-Spindler-Brücke.

Wilhelm Spindler had two sons: Theodor Julius William (born c.1838), and Carl Wilhelm Martin (born 1841) - the full names come from Königlich Preußischer Staats-Anzeiger, No 3, 5th Jan 1869 - and the former is the Isle of Wight Spindler. William became a shareholder around 1870; ran the Spindler firm jointly with his brother from 1873; and resigned for health reasons in 1881, leaving Carl in sole charge (source: Chemie-Geschichte / Familie Spindler / ChemiFreunde Erkner e.V.) and furthermore leaving Germany entirely. It seems that the reasons for William's departure from Germany were not just medical. The IWCP obituary says:
In politics, he did not agree with Bismarck, and as proprietor of a powerful newspaper, in which he ventilated his views, he was subjected to much annoyance and the espionage of the Iron Chancellor. Indeed this was ultimately the cause of his leaving the Fatherland, and through overexertion, feeling that his health was failing, he sought a more genial climate.
- Death of Mr. William Spindler, page 3, IWCP, 7th December 1889 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive
This part of the obit checks out. William Spindler was a member of a middle-class left-wing group called the Jakobites (named in honour of the left-wing politician Johann Jacoby), which maintained a democratic weekly journal, Zukunft (Future) at a time when Bismarck's government was increasingly attempting to suppress the growing social-democratic movement (source: page 242My Life, the 1913 autobiography of the Marxist politican August Bebel).

Spindler had been a politically active writer for some years. A look at Google Books finds some of his polemical tracts: the 1866 Millionen-Billionen, Staaten-Soldaten, Zahlen beweisen! ("Millions-Billions, States-Soldiers, Prove your figures!"), a call for economy in private and state spending; the 1866 Die Schule-die Schule, und nochmals die Schule! (The School-the School, and once again the School!), a tract in support of the progressive and secular educational ideas of Adolph Diesterweg; the 1870 Das Asyl für Obdachlose zu Berlin - herausgegeben zum Besten des Asyl-Vereins (The Berlin Asylum for Homeless Women - issued for the benefit of the Asylum Association); and the 1870 Auf dem Schlachtfelde von Custozza (About the Battlefields of Custozza).

He also wrote a book, the 1873 Allerlei Gereimtes und Ungereimtes (Assorted Rhymes and Non-Rhymes) which is online in full at Google Books MNhbAAAAcAAJ, a mix of poems and prose pieces. I've just skimmed - although my German is adequate, I find Fraktur excessively hard work - but it's quite a varied collection including conventional romantic poetry; what look like very competent German translations of Poe's The Raven ...
Mitternacht war's, stürmisch, schaurig /
als ich müd' und matt und traurig
Ueber manch' ein früh'res Streben /
hatt' gegrübelt hin und her
... (the raven says "Nimmermehr") and of Die Andalusierin (The Andalusian), Alfred de Musset's L'Andalouse (see English version); various topographical/nature poetry such as Am Strand (On the beach); and poems dedicated to friends, such as An Edouard Claparède (To Edouard Claparède - the physician and zoologist René-Édouard Claparède, who'd studied in Berlin). There's a large proportion of politics too; the book is dedicated to Johann Jacoby, and reprints texts such as Die Schule-die Schule, und nochmals die Schule! and an anti-Bismarck piece, Der Stein des Grafen Bismarck (The Stone of Baron Bismarck) from the Zukunft journal.

These writings certainly got him noticed, and not in a good way. There was an extended hostile review of the book, with a lot of snipes at Spindler and his Zukunft articles, in the National Liberal newspaper Die Grenzboten (Nationalliberalismus was a political stance that generally favoured more authoritarian government, and was Bismarck's chief ally in the Reichstag). It concluded that Spindler had turned out his old drawers and wastepaper bin, and collected all the trash that fell out, in honour of Johann Jacoby:
Herr William Spindler klopft seine alten Schubfächer aus und wendet seinen Papierkorb um, und sammelt all die Sächelchen, die da herausfallen, zu Ehren von Johann Jacoby. Armer Johann Jacoby, Gott schütze ihn vor seinen Freunden.
- Demokratisches Allerlei von Herrn William Spindler, Die Grenzboten: Zeitschrift für Politik, Literatur und Kunst (pp 304-313, Volume 2; Volume 32, 1873).
The personal and political situation for Spindler became increasingly tense in the 1870s, as he came under official surveillance for his politics. The Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv (The Brandenburg Main State Archive) has records of "Überwachung des sozialdemokratischen Färbers William Spindler" (monitoring of the social-democrat dyer William Spindler) from 1870-1889 - see p.59. Lorenz Friedrich Beck, 1999.

There's an interesting anecdote in Hugo Friedlaender's 1913 book Interessante Kriminal-Prozesse von kulturhistorischer (Interesting criminal processes of cultural-historical significance) which tells of Spindler's brush with the Berlin police. You can read the full text here - William Spindler: backdated footnote - but to summarise, Spindler gave financial help to the relatives of those expelled from the Berlin-Potsdam area under the draconian Anti-Socialist Laws enacted in 1878, which designated Berlin as being under "minor state of siege" and allowed instant expulsion, without appeal, of anyone who called themself a Social Democrat or Democrat. Spindler's aid came to the attention of the police, making him a target for expulsion himself. But according to Friendlander's account, he escaped this by saying that if he were expelled, he'd move to Italy and shut down the factory, making several thousand workers redundant at a time of high unemployment.

In December 1879, the same laws put his book Allerlei Gereimtes und Ungereimtes on the forbidden list, as reported in Amtsblatt der Regierung in Potsdam (Potsdam Government Gazette) in 1880:
Berlin, den 31. Dezember 1879.
Königl. Polizei-Präsidium.
Verbotene Druckschrift.
Auf Grund des § 12 des Reichsgesetzes gegen die gemeingefährlichen Bestrebungen der Sozialdemokratie vom 21. Oktober 1878 wirb hierdurch zur öffentlichen Kenntniß gebracht, daß die im Jahre 1873 im Vertagt von Elwin Staude hierselbft erschienene nichtperiodische Druckschrift: „Allerlei Gereimtes und Ungereimtes" von William Spindler nach 8 11 des gedachten Gesetzes durch die unterzeichnete Landespolizeibehörde verboten ist. Berlin, den 31. Dezember 1879. Königl. Polizei-Präsidium. Bekanntmachungen der Kaiserlichen OberPost-Direktion zu Potsdam.
- Amtsblatt der Königlichen Regierung zu Potsdam und der Stadt Berlin, Stück 2, 9 Jan, 1880, page 13
I don't know the precise timeline of Spindler's eventual departure from Germany, but it seems possible that he jumped before he was pushed. He and his wife had been resort-shopping several years before his formal retirement from the Spindler firm - the Hampshire Advertiser mentions a Mr and Mrs Spindler staying at the Royal Hotel in 1874 and 1875. They also visited the other southern English resorts mentioned in his Ventnor pamphlet: Bournemouth, Torquay, Brighton, Weymouth, Jersey, and Guernsey. He was particularly taken with Bournemouth, and Horace Dobell's 1885 The Medical Aspects of Bournemouth and its Surroundings carries Spindler's enthusiastic testimonial from A Few Remarks:
Mr Spindler, after asking, "Now, what was it that forced me to love the place (Bournemouth) at first sight?" says "Its natural attractions have been developed by man to the utmost. And by what means? Well, by the simplest and in the result the most wonderful:By planting trees, trees, trees, everywhere and everywhere."
Nevertheless, the Spindlers' location of choice was finally Ventnor, where they lived at Medina Cottage, Marine Parade West (source: Almost Fairyland). And that brings us up to 1877, Spindler's pamphlet to the Ventnorians, and his departure to Old Park, St Lawrence.

The town of 'Undercliff' turned out to be another "road not taken". Spindler did, however, plant trees, trees, trees, evidently to lasting effect. There's a very good fuller account of his botanical and landscape contributions to the Old Park locale in this paper by Philippa Lambert - The Landscape of Old Park (PDF) - at the site for Haddon Lake House. He naturalized in September 1887 (ref: London Gazette Naturalization List, October 1887), two years before his death.

- Ray
PS: I did German at school, and added to it with technical German from a few years abstracting science papers. But it isn't great; I'm open to any corrections.

Addendum:YouTube has some interesting videos of the area where Spindler planned to build 'Undercliff', all posted by Isle of Wight Archive.
- Ray

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