After the indulgence of hog roast and mulled wine, ballet dancers and celebrity guests at yesterday’s Highgate Christmas Festival in Pond Square, it would be easy to sleep through most of Mitzvah Day, being gently lulled out of one’s hangover by memories of Highgate’s ‘beautiful people’, surrounded by a haze of twinkling lights. But Mitzvah Day is just as important in terms of promoting community cohesion, and North London’s Jewish community have today been out working hard, carrying out acts of kindness which benefit some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
It is pretty shocking that in 2013 Highgate, one of London’s most affluent suburbs, has need of a food bank and a soup kitchen, which help meet the primary needs of some of our neighbours worst affected by the recession. The hidden homeless, the visible homeless, and those living in sheltered accommodation are just some of the members of society which Mitzvah Day volunteers in Muswell Hill today helped provide vital provisions for. And with Christmas approaching it is time to plan ahead to make sure that on that day of all days of the year those in need are not left hungry, cold or lonely.
109 years ago this month an 80 year old lady, living in ‘poor lodgings’ in Highgate (probably more accurately describable as a slum dwelling with no heat, little light and plenty of rats) suffered a violent fall.
As a newspaper at the time noted ‘there were no hands to help her but those that took her to the workhouse infirmary and thence to the workhouse mortuary.’ In a week when new research by the Campaign to End Loneliness reveals that some GPs are receiving up to 10 visits a day from patients who are suffering loneliness-related depression, this lady’s story – her name was Julia St George – seems even more pertinent.
Miss St George’s death in St Pancras Workhouse Infirmary, which ended years of ‘terrifying loneliness and bitter neglect’, was noted by several newspapers. But for the fact that the lady in question had in her youth been a famous actress, her death (and later life) would have gone unrecorded and unnoticed, like those of so many other people in her position without family, friends or the wider support of their community.
Like many young women of her generation, Miss St George (born 1824) began her career ‘in service’. But this ‘domestic servant willing to make herself useful by singing and dancing’ harboured dreams and ambition, and but a short time later found herself the darling of the London stage – upon which she first stepped in 1849. In 1850 she played the female lead in Cymon and Iphigenia at Covent Garden where according to a contemporary reviewer she ‘sang and acted with a spirit that surprised and delighted us all.’ Miss St George also performed in comedic plays such as “Novelty Fair; or, Hints For 1851 by the authors of “Valentine and Orson,” “Whittington and his Cat,” “Cinderella,” &c, &c., &c” in which she played Britannia, and at the height of her career was described as ‘one of the finest burlesque actresses of her day’.
She performed on the touring circuit, which had been so enabled by the rise of the railways, and gained fans all over the British Isles one of whom described her adoringly as ‘a perfect dream of loveliness.’
PRINCE’S THEATRE ROYAL : Miss Julia St George, the popular actress and vocalist, made her bow to a Glasgow audience on Thursday evening, in a fairy extravaganza by Planche, entitled The Golden Branch. Added to a petite but graceful figure the fair debutante possesses a rich voice, combining sweetness with power, which was displayed to much advantage in the effective execution of the songs incidental to her part, no less than three of which were rapturously encored by a large and fashionable audience. 1852 Weekly Review and Drama Critic, Edinburgh
Miss St George even had the honour of playing Pauline to the great actor Henry Irving’s Claude in the Lyceum Theatre’s production of “The Lady of Lyons” (incidentally the Lyceum was later managed by Bram Stoker, author of Dracula).
See below for the only extant recording of Henry Irving’s voice:
But the role which seems to have become the highlight of her career was that of Ariel in Phelps’ Sadlers Wells production of “The Tempest”, in which she can be seen below in the only known surviving image of her. As the Wairarapa Daily Times reflected in 1904 “The old men of the London clubs have been reminded by her miserable death to talk of the most beautiful Ariel they ever saw. And their most beautiful Ariel has been carried to her last rest from the doors of the workhouse mortuary.”
That Miss St George died in obscurity for lack of a little care and support from her neighbours is a tragedy, and a sad epilogue to her death is the fact that her mother also died at a great age from a fall – but from the window of her lodgings in Scotland. One cannot bear to think of the grief of Miss St George, forgotten by the world which once so coveted her appearances, and unable to support herself in old age let alone her desperately hungry mother. But if this sad tale has depressed you, there is a lot that you can do to help vulnerable and lonely people in North London this winter.
Support The Haberdashery Cafe in Crouch End who are providing free Christmas dinners for isolated older people this Christmas Day
Contribute to the Camden New Journal Xmas Hamper Appeal and help make sure everyone in Camden gets a Christmas
Get involved – and have fun – with Julia Hines’s Age UK Barnet Secret Postcard Sale
Donate food and toiletries to the Camden Food Bank and help a local family in need
Support the Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen with donations of food, money or your time
Visit Camden Volunteer Centre’s site to find out how you use your time to help your neighbours this Christmas
Sign up to support The Campaign to End Loneliness