Hugh Martin’s grave in Shanghai

Last weekend, I found the remains of my previous life in Old Shanghai. Here is where and how.

Song Qin Ling memorial on Hong Qiao Road is an important remembrance site in Shanghai today, built on the location of the International Cemetery. This spot was by far not the only cemetery in Old Shanghai, but all the others have disappeared or being transformed into parks. Cemeteries in Old Shanghai included today’s Jing An park near Jing An Temple in the former international settlement, today’s Huai Hai Park on Huai Hai lu in the former French Concession, and the former jewish Cemetery now replaced by Ming Tian Guang Chang, the Marriott Hotel on people Square.

Tombs in the memorial

The former international cemetery is now part of the memorial. As explained on signs in the park, the cemetery was severely damaged in during the cultural revolution. So an effort was made to recreate a foreign cemetery at this place. The approximately 600 graves are not the original onces, nor are they in their original location. It is a nice effort to remember life and death of foreigners in Old Shanghai. Names on the grave seems to come from farious nationalities, including British, Russians, Germans, Japanese, Portuguese and English (or American) among others. One of the famous people I noticed was Henry Morris, who owned the North China Daily News and build the Morris Mansion (today part of the Intercontinental Ruijin Hotel).

The most surprising part was to find a tomb with my name on it… nearly. Although my French name is Hugues Martin, most English speakers call me “Hugh Martin”, so I was really stunned and thrilled to discover a tomb with “Hugh Martin” written on it. The discovery was an opportunity to search into the life of Mr Hugh Martin in Old Shanghai.

Hugh Martin spent his entire career with firm Noel, Murray and Co Ltd, “Auctioneers, Piece Goods and General Brokers and Commission Agents”. The first trace I found of the company is directory of Asian trading firm from 1904, but it was formed earlier by Mr GW Noel and Mr WC Murray. They seemed to have been former employees of Jardine Matheson but I could not confirm it. Hugh Martin was certainly British like his employer. He is mentioned in the directories from 1925, as a director with EW Noel being managing director. At that time the company was located at 10/16 Ezra Road (a small street behind the Bund), having moved from 78 and 79 Szechuen lu a few years before. Hugh Martin was living at 89 Peking Road, a few blocks away. Although he was mentioned in the Hong List, the Shanghai directories, he was not included in the VIP section, the Shanghai Who’s Who.

His big break probably came with the departure of EW Noel, as in 1928 he is listed as the director of the firm, located at 11 Hankow Road (today Hankou Lu, right behind the Bund). From that point, his names is part of the Shanghai Who’s Who, meaning that he really has a place in Shanghai foreign society. In 1931, he is a tenant in the brand new and highly fashionable Cathay Mansion. “An apartment with a bedroom, sitting room and a bathroom could be rented for $400 (Shanghai Dollars) a month. Servants were provided and by ringing a bell, a “boy” would come and take orders for meals.” Salary for Europeans where about $300 dollars at the time, thus he must have been really well off by then. He was surely a member of “The Club”, meaning the Shanghai Club on the Bund (Today Waldorf Astoria Hotel). Living across the Cercle Sportif Français, he was probably also going there for evening cocktails as the French Club (as it was also named) was one of the liveliest venue in the city at that time.

Hugh Martin was still listed as a director in 1941, but does not appear on the lists in 1947. I can only assume that he died in Shanghai during WW2. With his grave included in today’s International Cemetery, he will be in Shanghai forever.

French party at the Cathay

Old Shanghai high society life was a succession of parties and social occasions. With my second Old Shanghai party in less than two weeks, my social agenda recently looked a bit like old times.

Last Friday was the first general assembly of the “Société d’Histoire des Français de Chine”, the French association about Old Shanghai. Besides the formality of re-electing the association’s board, it was the opportunity for gala diner with an Old Shanghai dress code in one of the icons of Old Shanghai. The party took place in the Cathay Hotel magnificent Art Deco ballroom (today the Fairmont Peace Hotel).

Following French tradition, the party was a high level gala diner with Old Shanghai style cocktails, several courses with matching wine and Champagne at the end. The party was a real success thanks to the hotel team and corporate sponsorship, mostly drink companies, as well as my own company’s contribution, EXPATRIMO.

Shanghai star Jazz singer Anne Evenou and her band performed class jazz songs during much of the diner, perfectly matching the Old Shanghai atmosphere. This was another session of time travel in Shanghai after last week night out at the French Club.

The diner was also a great way to advertise numerous activities of the “Société d’Histoire des Français de Shanghai” including walking tours of Old Shanghai and well as conference and research in the topic.

Night out at the French Club

Old Shanghai has been back in fashion in the city for many years now, but so far it was mostly about architecture and famous people from the past. What was missing was a true popular event involving the Chinese public interested in the topic, just like the annual Napier Art Deco Festival in New Zealand that I attended in 2010. The Shanghai Style Fashion Festival that took place from 15th to 18th June is definitely along the same line and was great fun to attend.

Dressed up for the night

Taking place in the former “Cercle Sportif Français“, today’s Okura garden hotel it merged an exhibition of Old Shanghai furniture and interiors, talks about the topic and evening events gala style events. Most of the participants followed the 1920-30’s dress code, adding to the atmosphere of the location.

Old Shanghai interiors

The event combined several rooms exhibiting Old Shanghai furniture and interior, talks about the topic and daily evening parties including small scenes about Shanghai daily life, and Old Shanghai inspired fashion shows.

The live bing band

A unique feature was the presence of a live big band, a rare occasion in Shanghai, that also helped creating the right atmosphere. That is particularly true on 16th June, the Swing dance evening.

Dancing through the night, like in the 1930’s

With the enthusiasm of the real Swing dance club supporting the event, people dressed up and an original ballroom from the 1920’s, it really felt like a time travel to Old Shanghai. This is very much how a night out in the Canidrome Ballroom, or the Paramount must have felt like. Congrats to the organisers for the event and looking forward to the next edition.

Vegs in a can

One of my recent post was focused on a market garden supplier to Park Hotel, Jardin Français. As mentioned in a comment, getting safe vegetables in Old Shanghai was not such an easy task. “Honey pots”, i.e. human defecation was collected all over Shanghai and used as fertilizer. The daily morning collection was still going on for years when I lived in the Former French Concession, until around 2010. The modern version of the collectors were riding bikes but I am sure the Old Shanghai version were just walking with a stick over the should supporting two buckets on each ends.

This recycling of human manure was causing vast hygiene issues including epidemics. One solution was to buy vegetables from a safe place, such as Jardin Français that is the topic of an earlier post. Another one was to eat imported canned vegetables.

The idea of cooking food in a seal container was invented by French man Nicolas Appert to feed troops for the Napelonic wars. It was massively used for preserving fishes with many factories located in Britany. Food was preserved in glass jars and later in metal boxes, but canned food remained a luxury items. The process of “double seams” lead to the creation of the modern tin in the beginning of the 20th Century and was largely used during World War I. After the war, canned food companies turn to the civilian market, expanding their range of products to satisfy new customers.

Canned food was available in Old Shanghai, as shown in ads below from the “Journal de Shanghai” 21st March 1928. Although Cassegrain is still famous today for it’s canned vegetables, the Nantes based company definitely had a much larger range then. Advertised products are mostly canned fish, as well as staple of French Cuisine including Tripes, Cassoulet and Choucroute. Cassegrain was available in China much earlier, as the company website shows Cassegrain canned food was used to supply Russian Troops during Port-Arthur siege in the Japano-Russian War in 1904-05 (Port-Arthur was located close to Dalian in Liaoning province of China).

Another famous French brand of canned food was Rödel from Bordeaux. The company still exists with its main factories also in Britany. This brand must have been of very high level, as below ad was found in Feb 1932 magazine of the Cathay Hotel. The list of canned products is mostly fish, French “Plats cuisinés” (ready made French dishes) and “patés & truffles” (I am sure this also meant fois gras). Vegetables were peas (still one of main canned vegetables) and “Autres légumes”, i.e. other vegetables.

Also much less mainstream as Cassegrain, Rödel still exists today focusing on high quality canned Sardines. None of the ads mentioned canned milk or dairy products that seem to have been the speciality of Dutch companies as well as Australia & New Zealand companies. This was the focused on an older article, “Milk and Butter“.

Jardin Français

A recent post on this blog was focused analyzing a day of Park Hotel accounting. One the pages in the booklet particularly attracted my attention, a receipt from “Jardin Français”.

As the subtitle states it, Jardin Français or French Farm, was a market garden in the West part of the French concession. It offered “sanitary own grown vegetables, asparagus, fruits and special lettuces at any seasons and times”. This actual voucher was for chicory salad, and another one was for eggs. This was probably a premium place to get quality western vegetables, serving the hotels and the high level residents, something like today’s organic farming.

19B Route de Say Zoong is now located on Changshu lu. Above map shows that 19 was just South from the Route Ratard / Route de Say Zoong corner, today Julu Lu / Changshu Lu. It is located on below map from 1939. This was definitely a shop, but not the garden itself, which was probably a few miles away, in the countryside.

After writing the original post on this topic, friends from MOFBA came with a advertising for Jardin Français at a different address, published in “The China Press” from 9th March 1934.

From “The China Press” from 9th March 1934

The earlier incarnation of Jardin Français was closer to the center, and probably moved West along with the development of the city, and maybe (just like today) rents increase. I like the “prices reasonable”, which sound to me like a literal translation of “Prix raisonnables” in French but sounds kind of funny in English.

This is the exact same corner, today Julu lu / Changshu lu. On my back it the other side of Julu, Changshu lu 17, i.e. 17 Route de Say Zoong. Numbers on that street have not been changed. The large building is numbered 55 but covers a large area, so it surely encompasses 19, and 19B. This was the location of the Jardin Français shop in 1938. The actual building was probably a 2 story long building with many shops, that is common in Shanghai even today.

More Aquarius advertising

I have encountered another newspaper cut with advertising for Aquarius recently. With it design depicting a modern Shanghai women sipping a soda, it is probably from Old Shanghai time. The theme of modernity and luxury through drinking Aquarius is very similar to the other ads I found.

However the design seems very late in the period, probably more 1940s that earlier. Thus, I would guess the ads was designed in the 1945-1949 period, but I have no further information so far.

Park Hotel accounting

Park Hotel was the most modern hotel of Old Shanghai. The iconic building from Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec, overlooked the race course on a prime location and was the closest competition to the Cathay Hotel (today Peace Hotel). I got a unique inside view of how the business worked through a rare find.

Employing a large number of people and keeping the operation running to please guests was, and still is, a massive task for hoteliers. Long before computers, hotels had to keep a daily clear and detailed accounting system, this is exactly what I found in an antic market. The stack of papers in above picture is the full account of Park Hotel activity for 22 Oct 1938.

1938 was a dark time in Old Shanghai, as the Japanese army had already landed in Shanghai in August 1937 and surrounded both the International Settlement and the French Concession. Crossing out was difficult and dangerous for most Chinese people. Business for the hotel, was probably much down, at least for short term accommodation as there was little visitors from abroad already and not so much travel in China. Still the accounting file gives out a lot of information.

Spending accounts for Park Hotel 22 Oct 1938 part 1
Spending accounts for Park Hotel 22 Oct 1938 part 2

First columns on both pages details the spending of the hotel in terms of food (vegetable, meat, eggs, poultry) on first page. Second page is dedicated to beverages (water, wine, beer), as well as other expenditure. Details of fresh products bought by the kitchen are displayed below.

Second column includes supplier names including a few famous brand like EWO Brewery (EWO is the Chinese name of Jardine & Matheson). Dairy farms include Laiterie Delicate, Scotch dairies and Standard milk Co. Bread supplier was Paul Tchakalian (one of the famous Russian bakery in Shanghai). The hotel also purchased items from the famous Sincere department store.

The above sheet details the purchase from the kitchen. When comparing with the above one, it is clear this is not by far the only purchase from the hotel. I would assume this one was cash purchase from markets or local vendors.

The Park Hotel shopping list was still large, with 29.5 lbs (more than 13 kgs) of beef fillet, 38.5 lbs (17 kgs) of veal leg, and 39 lbs of chicken (about 5 to 7 chickens). Sea fish consumption must have been high as the hotel also bought 45 lbs (20.5 kgs) of Sole fish and 42 lbs of Cod fish (19kgs).

Since I am not a specialist on hotels or F&B, comments and comparison with today’s hotel purchase are more than welcome.

Culty diary advertising

In post Shanghai Milkman, I wrote about milk delivery in Old Shanghai, and Culty Dairy, a farm located in the former French Concession. Culty dairy was advertising its products in the “Journal de Shanghai”, the French newspaper in Old Shanghai. Below ad is from 8th December 1928.
“Culty milk. Drink it daily brings good health”. Simple but effective!

Culty dairy ad, 1928

2025 Paris World Congress on Art Deco

Shanghai 2015 World Congress on Art Deco was a major event for the Old Shanghai lover community. Bringing dozens of delegates US, the Americas, Europe and Asia, it focused the Art Deco World’s attention to Shanghai heritage, thanks to organizer Historic Shanghai. It was also a great meeting place for Art Deco people and an introduction to the very few Art Deco societies in France and other European countries to ICADS (now Art Deco International). As explained to post “Art Deco in France” from 2014, Art Deco was not really well recognized in Europe then, particularly in France.

French speaking gathering of the 2015 World Congress on Art Deco

French speakers taking part to the Shanghai 2015 World Art Deco congress gathered for an informal meeting after one of the Congress diners at the former Cercle Sportif Français (today the Okura Garden Hotel). The conversation moved to the plan of having the World Congress on Art Deco in Paris in 2025, that seemed like a distant dream.

Now in 2021, Art Deco in France has gained a lot of exposure in the last years following the first Art Deco exhibition in Paris in 2015, “1925, when Art Deco dazzled the World“. This was followed by a massive Bauhaus exhibition in 2017 “L’esprit du Bauhaus“.

Another major event was creation of Paris Art Deco society, with a Facebook group with 6000 members. A new Art Deco society has opened in Vichy and the media exposure around the re-opening of the renovated Villa Cavrois in Lille area in 2015 shows that Art Deco is now getting a lot of attention in France.

Villa Cavrois, Croix near Lille

The best part is that the 2025 World Art Deco Congress in Paris has been confirmed, starting on 28th April 2025. An early version of the project has already been presented. This event will mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of the original exhibition and will be a great boost for Art Deco in France. The dream from Paris is now becoming reality. Surely a Shanghai delegation will join!

In April 2021, Art Deco International (formerly ICADS) has also introduced the first World Art Deco day, on 28th April. The date was chosen as the anniversary date of the opening of the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Old Shanghai French Consulate

“La Concession Française de Changhaï”, the Shanghai French Concession was officially created by the Whampoa treaty in 1844. It became much real at the arrival of the first French Consul Général, Charles de Montigny in 1847. One of the main task of the Consul was to open a Consulate General, and later to build an actual building to host the Consulate.

As seen on above map, the original French Consulate building was not on the Bund, a little behind, within the plot of the Catholic missions. This plot is where the current Saint-Joseph Church is, on Sichuan Nan Lu. The Consulate moved a few years later to a location on the “Quai de France”, the French Bund.

French Consulate in Shanghai in the late 19th Century

The new consulate building of classic style, was probably built in the mid 1860s as the French Concession was extended on the river side in 1861. From that point, Quai de France, or French Bund, became much longer and with more traffic. The street on the left side of the Consulate became “Rue du Consulat” (today Jingling Dong Lu). Although I could not find the actual date of construction of this building, it did not last very long as a new Consulate was built on the same plot but closer to the river and the French Bund, opening in 1896, when Paul Claudel was the French Consul in Shanghai.

The new building was of neo-classical style, matching buildings on the Bund, a few hundred meters away. It was asymmetrical with a round extension on the side on Rue du Consulat. Actual French people were only a few hundreds in the French concession at that time.

The building was the office of the French Consul as well as his family home. If the area was not so busy when this consulate building opened, it was very different in the 1930s as Jacqueline Meyrier, daughter of Consul General Gustave Meyrier ,who was born in Shanghai in 1927 and lived in Shanghai from 1932 to 1936 and from 1945 to 1950. As stated in her interview by Didier Pujol, “She remembers the noise coming from the Quai de France which was always filled with coolies carrying loads off the boats.” The Rue du Consulat was the main road in the East of the French Concession, and was next to Route Colbert were the godown (warehouse) of Butterfield and Swire was located, so the area must have indeed been noisy.

This version of the French Consulate lasted the longest, and the building continued to be used long after the Consulate closed in 1950. A French friend told me the story of the destruction of the building in 1982, when he tried to keep a few pieces of the original building. Unfortunately, those remaining pieces have been lost over the years. The former French Consulate building was replaced by an unimaginative office building.

Former French Consulate location

Fortunately, this building was renovated and a neo-art deco style top was added in 2006, occupied by ICBC bank. The ground level of the building reminds of the style of the former Consulate building, including the metal fence around the plot. Maybe it is an hommage to the former building in the same spot. The neighbouring building, the former office of the Messageries Maritimes still stands, being now the seat of the Shanghai archives.

I also wrote an article about the former British Consulate a while ago, follow the link to read it.