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Barbara Cartlidge: a jewel in the crowd

Extraordinary life of talented Hampstead jewellery designer whose early life was spent under the threat of the Nazis in Germany

09 March, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Barbara Cartlidge and husband Derrick

THE story of Barbara Cartlidge is so breathtaking that one senses even a 300-page, A4-sized coffee table book about her life – published a few months ago – that I have been looking through this week does not quite cover everything you’d like to know about an extraordinary woman who, sadly, has died.

Called Barbara Cartlidge and the Electrum Gallery – a Passion for Jewellery, it outlines an early life spent under the threat of the Nazis in Germany, and then how she came to safety in the UK.

The saddest story tells how her brother Rudi, a campaigning Communist journalist, was hunted by the Gestapo in the 1930s only to find refuge in the US – and then to die in mysterious circumstances in post-war Prague, which he had visited for the funeral of a friend.

More life-giving stories can be found in the book that provide a snapshot of Hampstead and London in the mid-20th century.

Barbara Cartlidge’s brother Rudolf ‘Rudi’ Feistmann

One of the many tales recalls how Barbara – who lived in South Hill Park Gardens, Hampstead – met her husband, Derrick Cartlidge, at the Wheatsheaf in Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia, a pub renowned for its Bloomsbury regulars, Soho gangsters, and where Dylan Thomas and BBC friends would sink lunchtime beers and wash it down with gins.

Barbara was, the story goes, standing at the bar in 1944 when she saw a man come in.

“One May evening in my local I saw this drop-dead gorgeous young man,” she said.

But, as the book reveals, this meeting was not a coincidence.

Barbara had sat for portrait photographer Zoltan Wegner and somehow one of her pictures had ended up in a dustbin in Charlotte Street. A friend of Derrick’s had found the picture and shown it him, and he knew the photographer who had thrown it away. He said he’d tell him who she was for tuppence – the price of a cup of tea – and then said he’d let him know where he could find her for four pence – the price of a spam sandwich. Four months later they married at St Pancras Town Hall.


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