Return of the Glockenspiel

Masks

Hidden alphorns sounding out from the rooftops of Leicester Square!

The Glockenspiel

The Glockenspiel

Now what is going on?  Quite why the Swiss Ambassador chose to invite me to the Inauguration of the Glockenspiel, now returned to Swiss Court, I have little idea – but I thank him and I’m certainly pleased he did.   Considering it an honour to the ABA, I was certainly going to attend.   Originally positioned on the corner of the old Swiss Centre, the Glockenspiel, with its revolving Swiss herdsmen set against an Alpine backdrop, the arms of the cantons, twenty-seven bells and four Swiss Jacomas representing bellringers, all topped off with a Swiss Railway clock, now reappears as a free-standing unit – ringing out and performing daily to amuse and entertain Londoners and visitors.  (Not to mention providing a convenient meeting-point and telling us the time).

Uniforms

Uniforms

Proceedings began with a rather outlandish procession of folkish people in swisswear with (variously) masks, uniforms, drums, cowbells, yokes and cigars – all making hell of a racket – beating their way into the vicinity of the clock and penning us in a circle.  Flown in specially for the day, they let it rip.

Mask

Mask

Dignitaries

Dignitaries

The ten-metre high structure is a renewed gift from the Swiss Confederation (not forgetting the Principality of Liechtenstein) and

The Alphorn

The Alphorn

was cordially accepted by the Mayor of Westminster, with speeches from her, the Ambassador and various other dignitaries.  Former Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, regaled us with reminiscence of his time in London in the sixties, recalling Frank Ifield yodelling his way to the top of the charts with I Remember You-oo and even giving us a snatch of the song.  And then the real music began.  I stood startled and amazed as the blonde alphornist stormed out the lead in a full-on jazz session – the singer floating above the rhythm in a mixture of yodelling and scat.  A snatch of Tiger Rag on an alphorn?  Well, yes – but golly, it was good.

A Curious Colony

A Curious Colony

We adjourned to the new W Hotel in Wardour Street – Swiss wines and nibbles – and now we come to the bookish part. The occasion doubled as the launch of my good friend Peter Barber’s ‘A Curious Colony’ : Leicester Square and the Swiss.  Peter, as we know, is head of the Map Library at the British Library – but he is also a formidable researcher of the history of the Swiss Community in London, then as now a community which has a special connection with Leicester Square and its neighbourhood.  In the book  he charts not only the history of the Swiss in London, but also to some extent the return influence of the British on Switzerland – Swiss tourism a virtual invention of mad nineteenth-century British mountaineers and winter-sporters.

Swisswear

Swisswear

All in all, an excellent and rather moving day.  A celebration of dear old, chaotic and welcoming London as a “a roost for every bird” as Disraeli had it.  A celebration of peace and amity between two independent and quirky nations, both long wedded to democracy.   And a reminder from someone that Swiss bells are made to last – “May they ring out for a thousand years”.        

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About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice introduced in 1997, served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College. He teaches annually at the London Rare Books School, University of London. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. A major essay on the same subject also appeared in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011”. More recently, he contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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