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A Very Special Peking Compound, #1 Hsien Yu Hsiang Hutong, c.1930

Posted: July 28th, 2021 | 3 Comments »

Below are a series of photographs of what i believe is the courtyard home at #1 Hsien Yu Hsiang Hutong (or Fresh Fish Alley). The photos were taken in the 1930s by Orre Nobles (more below). The adddress had interesting strong of tenants starting with Harry Hussey, a Canadian architect (though studied in Chicago) who worked in Peking, Tientsin and elsewhere from around 1911 designing buildings for the YMCA in China, most of which are in what some have called the “Chinese Revival” style (really just a spin on the “Colonial Revival” style in the USA). He also designed the Peking Union Medical College (PUMC), which of course still stands (with various additions and subtractions over the years) just off Wangfujing. Hussey was not universally popular – his design for PUMC was subject to some imposed revisions by the Peking authorities (notably the addition of traditional eaves on the western style buildings, as per the recommendation of the diplomat-scholar ETC Werner) – especially with other foreign architects (notably the Americans Murphy and Dana who thought him unethical and overly powerful due to having Rockefeller backing – PUMC being Rockefeller financed).

After Hussey it seems the rent was taken on by the Australian-born HJ (Harold) Timperley, of the Guardian. Timperley had arrived in China in 1928 and set up a small agency which translated and interpreted articles from the Chinese press while working for the Manchester Guardian. Timperley claimed that before him #1 Hsien Yu Hsiang Hutong, “had been a famous haunt of newspaper folks.” He actually didn’t stay there long, he was to be largely Shanghai-based but lived for a time in Peking, leaving in about 1930. Then the lease moved to the Minnesota-born but Seattle-based printmaker, painter, designer and illustrator Orre Nobles, who had a contract in China with the Fette Rug Co. desiging rugs to be made in Peking and sold in America.

Nobles took these photos during his tenure from about 1930-1931 and then handed the rent book over to Thomas Handforth who is now best remembered for his children’s book Mei Li that was based on his experiences of China (and a real girl he met there) and has remained (at least until recently) a perennial favourite children’s book. It won the Caldecott Medal for illustration. While there Handforth sub-let rooms briefly to a sojourning English landscape artist Derek Hill and the newly arrived in town Harold Acton.

For those who like their hutongs and compound homes tastefully decorated – feast your eyes….

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3 Comments on “A Very Special Peking Compound, #1 Hsien Yu Hsiang Hutong, c.1930”

  1. 1 Michael OKane said at 8:50 pm on July 28th, 2021:

    “Strong of tenants” ?

    Is that a Chinglish usage?

  2. 2 Peggy Hartzell said at 4:22 am on October 28th, 2021:

    Just found a description of the house in Tom Handforth’s first letter to my aunt in June 1931.

  3. 3 Paul French said at 8:07 pm on October 28th, 2021:

    Would love to see if possible –

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