How German internees took over Alexandra Palace during WW1

PUBLISHED: 10:35 23 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:59 07 September 2010

Alexandra Sports Palace, Winter Internment Camp, 1915-16

Alexandra Sports Palace, Winter Internment Camp, 1915-16

Hornsey s past continues to provide rich pickings for its historical society, as Bridget Galton discovers THE evocative paintings of a German interned at Alexandra Palace during the First World War are the highlight of the latest Hornsey Historical Soci

Hornsey's past continues to provide rich pickings for its historical society, as Bridget Galton discovers

THE evocative paintings of a German interned at Alexandra Palace during the First World War are the highlight of the latest Hornsey Historical Society bulletin (No 49, £5).

George Kenner depicted prisoners of war taking their exercise on the slopes of the Muswell Hill landmark amid sentry posts and barbed wire.

His watercolours show the roller skating rink converted into sleeping quarters, a canteen set up at the foot of the stairs and a makeshift dentist, post office, tailor and barbers created in the hallways.

One of the palace's terraces was fenced off to allow exercise in bad weather and Sunday services were held in the theatre.

The works were unearthed in the Imperial War Museum by amateur local historian Nick McCormick, whose accompanying article describes how Alexandra Palace was used as a camp for "enemy aliens" from 1915 onwards.

The sinking of the Lusitania off the Irish coast on May 7, 1915, sparked anti-German riots and turned the tide of public opinion against German nationals living in Britain.

The British Government, who had previously insisted that German nationals register with the authorities and stay within five miles of their address, now rushed through a haphazard programme of internment.

Kenner, who came to London in 1910 aged 22, was a commercial artist working in the City while studying at Lambeth School of Art in the afternoons.

He was interned on May 12, 1915 - an incarceration that was to last until 1919 when he was returned to Germany as part of a POW exchange scheme.

While a prisoner at Frith Hill, Surrey, Alexandra Palace and Knockaloe on the Isle of Man, he recorded daily life via a journal and series of 112 watercolours and sketches.

He arrived at Alexandra Palace in September 1915 where like his 2,800 fellow prisoners, he slept on a plank bed with a straw mattress. Although the day started at 6am with breakfast at 7.30am, the daily life of inmates was not arduous.

After cleaning their quarters there was a daily inspection at 10am. Internees spent the rest of the morning strolling in the fenced off grounds until noon and returned there from 2pm until 5pm after which they spent their evening playing cards, reading and giving concerts.

Kenner's journal describes how he took an interest with an artist's eye in his surroundings:

"The rooms were big and high, the windows painted green because of the danger from zeppelins. There were halls with rounded glass roofs, a palm garden which served as a hospital and magnificent plaster images decorated the passages. One, the figure of an angel writing on a board 'I know he liveth' remains in my memory."

Other articles in the Bulletin include a series of engravings of Hornsey Church, a history of Crouch End playing fields, and a piece on the early scout movement in Hornsey.

One short article on a grave in Hornsey Churchyard recounts how Harriet Long was the widow of US Army Colonel Joseph Selden, who fought the British in 1812 then became justice of the Arkansas supreme court in 1820.

Four years later he was involved in a fatal duel with fellow judge Andrew Scott on an island in the Mississippi river. His pregnant wife Harriet was left a widow with a young daughter but remarried Englishman George Long in 1827. They returned to England to live in Jacksons Lane, Highgate.

Harriet bore five more children before dying on June 18, 1841, at the age of 39. She is buried with her 40-year-old former slave Jacob Walker who died on August 12 the same year following a smallpox vaccination.

The inscription makes clear that because slavery was illegal in England, Walker was "In America a faithful slave" and "In England a faithful servant of Harriet and George Long and an honest man."

Order your £5 copy of the bulletin from the society at

www. hornseyhistorical.org.uk or call 020-8348 8429.

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