By Charlotte Kelsted
In April 2018, a generous travel grant from the Palestine Exploration Fund allowed me to carry out an introductory research trip to Palestine. My research explores the attitudes and experiences of British women (colonial wives, missionaries, teachers, nurses and others) who resided in Palestine during the British Mandate (1920-1948), focusing specifically on encounters between these British women and local Palestinian Arab and Jewish communities. I started my PhD seven months ago, and this research trip has undoubtedly been the highlight of my doctoral study thus far.
After arriving into Tel Aviv late in the evening, I spent the first night of my trip at the charming Kenyon Institute in East Jerusalem. The Kenyon Institute, formerly the British School of Archaeology at Jerusalem (BSAJ), was established during the British military administration of Palestine in 1919, as result of a joint effort by the Palestine Exploration Fund, the British Academy and the Foreign Office. The library at the Kenyon Institute contains over 10,000 volumes on the Middle East and is particularly rich in material relating to Mandate Palestine.
Next to the Kenyon Institute is Dar Issaf Nashashibi, an inspiring archive and library devoted to promoting Palestinian cultural heritage. Dar Issaf Nashashibi was my first stop in Jerusalem and I was fortunate to meet Dua, Head Librarian, who was exceptionally helpful. From the top of Dar Issaf Nashashibi one can see Mount Scopus and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Fig. 1). Founded in 1918 and inaugurated under the British Mandate, the Hebrew University has rapidly expanded since the early twentieth century: with 270 students in 1934, in 2017 there were 23,000 students registered at the university.
Next I visited the Mount of Olives to see the Dome of the Rock in all its splendour. This iconic shrine dominates the Jerusalem landscape and as the golden dome sparkled in the midday sun, the adhan from Al-Aqsa Mosque drifted up the Mount of Olives. Setting eyes on this view for the first time was a stirring moment for me, having gazed longingly at a photograph of this view from my desk in Exeter for several months prior to the trip (Fig. 2).
Back in the heart of this remarkable city in the afternoon, I entered the Old City for the first time through Damascus Gate. The atmosphere that greeted me was intoxicating: narrow passageways full to bursting with fervent tourists, locals expertly weaving in and out of the crowds as they attempt to carry out their daily business, clamorous shopkeepers and street vendors selling their wares, young men speeding through the ancient, cobbled streets on motorbikes, popping up behind you without a moment’s warning and the intoxicating smell of cinnamon and other aromatic herbs and spices emanating from the souq.
Escaping the intensity of the Old City, I roamed along the ramparts from Jaffa Gate to Damascus Gate and onwards, finally reaching the Spafford’s Children Centre. I had first heard the moving story of this centre from The Right Honourable Lady Cope of Berkeley at a Remembrance Service for the British Palestine Police in November 2017, and had been looking forward to visiting ever since.
The Spafford’s Children Centre was founded by Bertha Spafford Vester – an ancestor of the Rt Hon. Lady Cope, a patron of the British Palestine Police Association – in 1925 (Fig. 3 – Special thanks to Rachel Lev at the American Colony Archives, for kindly supplying this image).
Bertha’s parents, Horatio and Anna Spafford were pious Christians who moved to the Holy Land in 1881 following the loss of four of their children at sea and another to scarlet fever. On arrival in the Holy Land, Horatio and Anna Spafford founded the American Colony and embarked on a project of philanthropic work to benefit all sections of Jerusalem’s population. In 1925, inspired by the work of her parents, Bertha established the Spafford Baby Home (now the Spafford Children’s Centre). To this day, the centre aims to assist all children and families in need of support, regardless of race or religion.
In the early evening I left the Old City and headed northwards, back to the Kenyon Institute in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. On the way I came across St George’s Cathedral (Fig. 4).
This cathedral was built in the late nineteenth century under the instruction of George Blyth, who had founded the Jerusalem and East Mission (now the Jerusalem and the Middle East Church Association) in 1888. This charming cathedral was the principal Anglican place of worship in the Palestine during the Mandate and thus a focal point for the British community between 1920 and 1948. Taking a moment to envision the British colonial wives, missionaries, teachers, nurses and others who would have congregated at this cathedral – several of whom taught at the adjoining school and college – was the perfect way to end my first day in Jerusalem.