Sunday, 30 June 2013

Killerton: quorema and knuckle-bones

View Larger Map

I've taken a break from usual habits, and written the first draft of this with an Android tablet, on location - just below the summit of Killerton Clump (aka Dolbury Hill), a wooded hill at Killerton, a National Trust owned stately home and estate a few miles north-east of Exeter. One of Clare's friends kindly drove us out there on Saturday, but as neither she nor Clare were keen on the hill (it was a very hot day - maybe 25°C out of the breeze), we went our separate ways for an hour.

Killerton didn't immediately grip me; I'm not at all a fan of stately homes, and architecturally the frontage is a kind of Borg Cube of a house - apparently a temporary build for another house that never came to be. Inside you're immediately greeted by a huge wallful of Dead White Male portraits - members of a club called Grillion's - and it all seemed rather ominous as a sample of the kind of history we'd get.

However, it did pick up once we got further inside; a particular plus point is that it's a lot more hands-on than many such places. You can play the Bechstein piano and Great Organ, and the Library has a sign saying you're free to take books from the shelves (not, I assume, in the full literal sense of the word "take").

Clare found a cookery book - A Guide to Modern Cookery - with some unusually-named but recognisable dishes such as "The Quorema" (that is, a korma); and I was tickled by some of the titles - Hobbles' On Corns, and Nettles for Nice Noses - which on closer inspection (the books being unremovable from the shelf) turned out to be spoof book spines hiding a cupboard.

I've transcribed the titles in another post, False books at Killerton.

Outside, Killerton is a beautiful example of an 18th-19th century estate, its small formal garden leading out to around 10 square miles of landscaped parkland and woodland, a mix of the straightforward and the exotic (weird things like Tulip Trees, and a 'Deodar Glen' planted to resemble Himalayan forest).

A particular cosy section is the rock garden, a bijou artificial valley in the vicinity of the estate's icehouse and the Bear Hut (a thatched wicker summer-house whose quaintness is somewhat diminished by its history - the name comes from its use to incarcerate a pet bear - and one section's gruesome flooring of deer knucklebones).
Bear Hut
Bear Hut - knucklebone floor

Dolbury - the summit
From there, you can carry on up through woods to Dolbury, a hill-fort at the summit of the dolerite hill north of the house. Some of the literature calls it "an extinct volcano", but it isn't - it's a igneous intrusion, forming a hill by virtue of being harder than the softer rocks that eroded away around it. Unfortunately there's not much to see from the top, which was planted with elms and conifers, now long-established, to make the hill look more imposing - at the expense of killing the view from it. But on a sweltering day, it was a spot of cool and calm, especially on the north-west side of the hill away from the main public garden, with nothing to hear but birdsong and the rustling of trees. It was opportunity for a spot of reflection: on walks at present I get a lot of 'existential moments' about the strangeness of, so far still, being fit and well after last year's diagnosis. What did I reflect? Nothing much. It just feels very good to be enjoying summer.

See The Dolbury Dragon for more about this hilltop.

Behind the hill
To be honest, this kind of "site-specific writing" approach doesn't work for me, except for making notes. I find that doing the research is integral to topographic writing, and without simultaneous Internet access (of which there was none, hill-forts not having Wi-fi hotspots) I find my writing about locations is vague and generalised, without the specifics and quirky details that interest me. So on to those, now I'm back at the main computer ...

The Quorema recipe
First, there was the "Quorema".  A Guide to Modern Cookery (Mary Harrison, pub. Sampson, Low, Marston, 1891) had only a few other examples of Indian recipes, but there's a lot more detail in The Indian Cookery Book (anon, pub. Thacker, Spink & Co, Calcutta, c. 1900, Internet Archive ID TheIndianCookeryBook.- there are a number of editions, the first possibly 1860s). Apart from "quorema", many other names are recognisable - "pellow"/"pooloo", "doopiaja", "cofta-ca-carree", "jhal frezee", and "saug" - alongside un-obvious ones such as "chahkee", "country captain", and "pish-pash". Despite the odd scary ingredient such as mutton brains and udder, the book - written "by a thirty-five years' resident" - clearly comprises Indian cuisine filtered for the English ex-patriate palate ...
Pellows are purely Hindoostanee dishes. There are several kinds of pellow, but some of them are so entirely of an Asiatic character and taste that no European will ever be persuaded to partake of them. It is therefore considered useless to offer instructions how to prepare such as the ukhnee pellow, in which are introduced cream, milk, butter-milk, garlic, and lime-juice; or the sweet pellow, in which almonds and raisins are introduced, in addition to sugar, &c
... with vegetables are boiled for appalling times by modern standards - for instance, "two to three hours" to boil carrots. Otherwise, apart from using what seems excessive oil, the recipes look pretty palatable. The book also has many archetypally English cakes and desserts; Indian pickles and preserves; home-made "liqueurs" (including cocktails and punches); medicinal concoctions; perfumery, cosmetics and dentifrices; and miscellaneous household tips. It's good reading.

P.S. For those curious, the recipe for "uknee pellow" - which seems to correspond to the modern Yakhni Pulao - is described in a similar book, R Riddell's 1860 Indian domestic economy and receipt book ("comprising numerous directions for plain wholesome cookery, both Oriental and English, with much miscellaneous matter, answering all general purposes of reference connected with household affairs likely to be immediately required by families, messes, and private individuals, residing at the presidencies or out-stations"). Ukhnee, or Kid Pullow (page 434) doesn't look so dreadful, though it does look complicated, with a lot of boiling of presumably tough meat. Its combination of milk and meat would make it off-limits to Jewish readers of the books, but I don't know to what extent this would have been a mainstream taboo/preference in the mid-1800s.

Deer knucklebone floor - detail
And then there's that knuckle-bone floor. This was the first one I'd ever seen, but Googling finds the idea not unprecedented. This newsletter from the borough of Sandwell, West Midlands, has an article - page 2, Sandwell's archaeologist 'floored' by amazing find - which says that:
Knucklebone floors were in vogue for a comparatively short period from the late 17th - early 18th century and are therefore quite rare. Owners of buildings with simple earthen floors could consolidate and protect them from wear as well as producing a ‘pleasing’ decorative effect by driving animal bones (usually sheep) into the ground surface.
‘Knucklebone floors’ are among the better documented constructional or decorative practices from post-medieval Britain which was fairly widespread throughout the south west and south east of England in the late 17th to the early 18th century, although few have been discovered. 
Other extant examples include the floor of the Hermitage at Bicton Park, Devon; King John's House, Romsey, Hampshire (see Cattle foot floor for blog photo); and the Stiles Almshouses in Wantage, Berkshire. An example was also found during an archaeological dig for the hermitage at Belton House, Lincolnshire (see Belton's wilderness hermitage re-found (p14, National Trust Bulletin, October 2012), but it may have been re-covered; here's a good Flickr image. Though it looks difficult to find, there's a complete gazetteer of known examples in the monograph Diet and crafts in towns: the evidence of animal remains from the Roman to the post-medieval periods (Dale Serjeantson, Tony Waldron, BAR British series, B.A.R., 1989).

For fuller details on Killerton House, check out its main National Trust website: Despite, as I said, not being a fan of stately homes, I found a lot of interest there, in its general topgraphy and botany, and the scope of its estate for walks looks as if it would repay further exploration. There's a more academically-styled description at its National Heritage List Entry (ID 1000694); it has changed remarkably little from the description in an 1883 issue of The Garden:
From Silverton Station, on the Great Western Railway, to Killerton is about two miles, but the walk is a pleasant one, especially after one crosses the stone bridge which spans the river Clyst, fur the road runs between high banks shaded by trees, Ferns being abundant on the banks, the Hart'stongue predominating. Killerton is especially celebrated for its grand old trees, and their grouping has been done with rare taste and skill. There are no sharp, hard lines anywhere. The whole place is an illustration of the way in which art can help or mend Nature. Intending planters might learn useful lessons in bold grouping by studying the planting here. Much of it was done or altered by the late Sir Thomas Acland, in combination with the late Mr. Veitch, of Exeter.

The soil is very fertile, overlying a stratum of rock called honeycomb rock, which is of volcanic origin. In many places the rock is deeply covered; in others it crops up near the surface, but in such cases it cracks into fissures, and the roots of the trees penetrate to a great depth. A curious instance of this was pointed out to me on the Beech Mount, in the deer park. Here a shifting of the surface on the edge of a ravine showed the fissures in the rock as if upheaved by a subterranean force; the roots of the trees had gone down, and from their luxuriant development they were evidently enjoying the feeding ground provided for them below.

Chapel - built of the local dolerite in a style imitating
the Norman-Gothic St Mary's Chapel, Glastonbury
In the grounds surrounding the private chapel, built by the late Sir Thomas in 1811 with stones dug on the spot, are many handsome trees. Several of the common Larch are very fine. One I measured was 12 feet in circumference at 3 feet from the ground, and had an altitude of not less than 130 feet. Here also were several handsome Cedars of Lebanon, transplanted some years ago when they were more than 40 feet high. They are now about 65 feet, and suffered but little check from their removal, having been heavily mulched as soon as the work was done. Near here is a very fine scarlet Oak, and a short distance away in an opening stands a handsome specimen of the Lucombe Oak girthing 17 feet 6 inches. In and around the open glade in front of the chapel are many fine trees, although some of them are comparatively youthful specimens. For instance, here is a Spanish Chestnut planted by the late Mr. Veitch seventy-two years ago which girths 13 feet at 5 feet from the ground. The upright Cypress, C. sempervirens, and C. torulosa are in duplicate 50 feet high; and near the chapel-yard is a hedge of Berberis asiatica, and another of common Box. These I notice just to say how elegant they look growing in a free and open manner, without shearing, the only attention given being to nip off long ends with the knife once a year of so.

Standing in front of the mansion and looking southwards across the park the views are very fine, extending for many miles' The park is of considerable extent and well timbered; handsome specimens of English Elm abound. To the left of the mansion, and some 300 yards or 400 yards away from it, is a group consisting of the finest specimens of evergreen Oak in the country. One of the largest measures 13 feet round the trunk, and has a spread of branches of 81 feet, and scattered about in this part of the park are many handsome Thorns. A small formal flower garden fills a sort of recess on the east side of the house, and this is the only bit of really formal gardening I saw at Killerton. But the handsome trees and their picturesque grouping are worth going a journey of many miles to see.

The mansion is a square building, suggestive of comfort rather than architectural beauty. In a glass colonnade is the usual assortment of flowering plants adapted to such structures; also such plants as Bougainvillea glabra, Acacia Riceana, Luculia Pinceana, Heliotropes, and Abutilon Boule de Neige, trained on the wall and roof. The latter plant makes an excellent climber, its white flowers being so useful, and produced most abundantly and continuously when planted in a light position. The walls of the mansion are clothed with climbing plants, among which are Magnolias and the Judas tree, which reaches up to the roof; Chimonanthus fragrans, Banksian Roses, Akebia quinata (quite hardy and flowering freely); and last, but not least, there is the old pink monthly Rose. In the flower garden are apair of nice plants of the hardy Palm, Chamrcrops Fortunei, and to the west of the mansion and only a few yards from it standing on the open lawn is one of the finest Tulip trees in the country. It measures 17 feet round the bole 5 feet from the ground and must be at least 100 feet high, and of handsome proportions.
southward view

There are several acres of dressed ground on the west side of the mansion. Its surface rises upwards like an amphitheatre and it is embellished with trees and shrubs of the most varied and interesting character. Handsome groups of trees, wide stretches of closely shaven velvety turf, deep glades running far back up the hillside with an unseen, unknown termination, arc evidences of taste on the part of a bygone generation. Away far back, many feet above our standpoint is a large, bold group of common Beech, which thrives amazingly here, intermixed with the wild Cherry, which also forms a timber tree, and must be especially ornamental when in flower in spring amid the delicate tints of unfolding foliage. In front of the deciduous trees are masses equally bold of Wellingtonias, Taxodiums, Cupressus Lawsoniana and C. macrocarpa, with the funereal Cypress jutting out into the foreground, and variegated Hollies and lighter lifted low-growing shrubs in front. Rhododendrons also abound, as do many other flowering and evergreen shrubs, which lack of space compels me to pass over.

In a secluded spot with an open space of turf in front is the conservatory, chiefly filled with handsome specimen Camellias, some being as much as 15 feet high and well furnished. East of the conservatory is a small enclosed garden devoted to hardy herbaceous plants called Miss Acland's garden, and a most interesting spot it is.

As we ascend the hillside we come upon a handsome specimen of Thujopsis dolobrata, the best furnished example I have yet seen; it is 17 feet high and of proportionate diameter. Then we come upon a Scotch Fir with a straight and massive trunk 33 feet to the first branch, thougli the branches are drooping to the ground. The bole is 12 feet in circumference and as straight as an arrow; next a Picea cephalonica in cone, a handsome specimen. But the grandest feature in this part of the grounds is the group of Cedrus atlantica, at least 90 feet high, furnished down to the ground, and showing the beautiful silver tint for which this Cedar, when well grown, is remarkable. Pinus insignis, many years old, was green as a young plant, and a fine Araucaria, 54 feet in height, healthier and better coloured than usual, feeling the benefit of the warm sea air.

One of the features of the grounds at Killerton, and a very pleasing one it is, is the mixed groups of climbing Roses, Honeysuckles, Thorns, and other shrubs which mingle in a wild, graceful manner. The outlook from a rustic summerhouse, which occupies a retired spot on the side of the hill, is a most delightful one. Dartmoor, some 20 miles away, is distinctly visible, looming up dark aid drear. To the left is the break in the chain of hills called Sidmouth Gap, through which the sea is visible. Westward are the woodcrowned Woodbury Hills and Woodbury Castle, whilst we have a foreground that cannot be surpassed in the tastefully-planted park.

We leave the dressed grounds, and ascend higher up the hill, and come upon a rockery formed principally from the natural rock, and wild and bold with steep banks and ravines planted with bamboos, Azaleas, Ferns, and other appropriate plants. Far up 40 feet above is also a large natural self-sown bed of the Evening Primrose (Knothera biennis), which here seeds and grows abundantly, giving a bright and pleasant character to the .place. Foxgloves might be added to keep them company with advantage.

Further on we emerge upon an open space where there is a rustic seat, in front of which is a monument erected to the .memory of the late Sir Thomas Acland by a few of his friends. It is in the shape of a Maltese cross, and occupies a pleasant site amid leafy glades, and commanding a charming view up the Exe valley. The Fern glen is an exceedingly pretty and interesting spot. It is a ravine or deep glen, shaded by trees and spanned by a rustic bridge, and is full of very fine specimens of hardy Ferns.

We pass onwards through a Beech avenue noting some extremely fine Chestnuts and a group of Cupressus Goveniana, and grand examples of Taxodium and Cryptoraeria japonica, tlirough a wilderness of natural beauty called the Druids, where we find a plant of Rhododendron Blandfordianum 10 feet high, one of R. Thomsoni 10 feet high and as much through. We pass up through the Beech wood which crowns the summit of the hill, taking note of the fine herd of deer in the park below, through the Deodar glen which contains a handsome healthy lot of trees, the undergrowth consisting of Rhododendrons.
We turn to the left across a wide, open, breezy hill covered with Bracken with Thorns planted thinly among it from which the views are magnificent. The shades of evening were descending as we entered the kitchen garden, but enough light remained to show that there was an abundance of fruit and vegetables.

The pyramid Pears were especially well managed and full of fruit. The walls also were well furnished with healthy trees. The Vines, both the Muscats and others, were producing plenty of fine Grapes, and several other ranges of glass were occupied with healthy collections of Orchids, Ferns, and flowering plants. Mr. Garland grows all his Potatoes and coarser vegetables in the open field, and I saw two acres planted with Regents and Champions looking at the time of my visit remarkably well, and in an adjoining field another acre planted with Onions, Carrots, &c. The Potatoes are planted !1 feet apart in the rows, and never earthed up, Turnips (Orange Jelly and Red Globe) being sown between the rows for autumn and winter use. This system of growing the main crop of roots, Cabbages, &c., in the open field, and leaving the enclosed, sheltered garden for the early crops and things that are benefited by shelter, or which, such as Celery, require to be .near the water supply, is a step in the right direction.

- E. Hobday, The Garden - An Illustrated Weekly Journal of Gardening in All Its Branches, Volume 23, Jan. 13 1883.
- Ray

Thursday, 27 June 2013


A brief aside from yesterday's An afternoon in Torquay #1.

I'm certainly not the first to notice this, but the happenstance of taking a photo from pretty well the exact location of the c. 1850 engraving by Edmund Evans, Watering Places of England - Torquay, from the road to Dartmouth, illustrates an interesting phenomenon: the tendency of some creators of old prints to exaggerate vertical scale. The top image is the undoctored photo; the middle one the same photo with its vertical scale increased to 200%; the lower one the Evans print.
I've noticed this previously with Isle of Wight scenes; I assume the artists did it to give more drama to the scenery. The Torquay engraving above seems to be a colour version of one of an Illustrated London News series, The watering places of England, drawn by Birket Foster and engraved by his friend Edmund Evans (the two went on tour in 1846-47 to research the series).

- Ray

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

An afternoon in Torquay #1

Torquay - click to enlarge
Reading around in connection with the recent post, Legends of Torquay and nearby, gave me a hankering to have another look around the area, so we went over for the afternoon on Tuesday.

Torquay Harbour
I'm not sure I like Torquay. Its harbour frontage has a superficially attractive vista - a dazzling-white town built amid a cluster of hills - but closer inspection reveals it as a clutter of influences: the odd shabbily-maintained trace of Victorian grandeur, a few genuine examples of that grandeur, a few ultra-modern touches, and the whole capped with criminally unaesthetic 1960s-70s tower blocks. It's rather like a smaller, poorer Monte Carlo.

The Pavilion and the temporary English Riviera Wheel
I won't write a dissertation on how it got that way; it's been done plenty of times. But in brief, it developed as a genteel resort, spa, and place of residence in the 1800s (starting in general in the times when European wars made French and Italian resorts out of bounds for upper-class travellers), peaking in late-Victorian times. The 20th century progressively hit it as richer holidayers went elsewhere, and a trend away from long-stay holidays made its grand hotels obsolete. Rich owners' villas also became financially untenable, and were demolished, making way for extravagant developments in the boom of the 60s-70s. These in turn often didn't stand the test of time (see Kevin Dixon's Torquay’s Other History: The Marine Spa, Coral Island & Aqualand for an account of a particular ghastly one. There's a very good account in the Torbay Council's document Torquay Harbour Conservation Area / Character Appraisal (PDF) - reading that, it's hard not to feel nostalgic for Torquay's heyday. There are many images at Terry Leaman's Torquay site - I particularly like this one:

Watering Places of England - Torquay, from the road to Dartmouth
Nevertheless, if you're a fan of landscape, the Torquay area has a lot of interest once you get out of the main town. My favourite part of it is the peninsula to the east, an area of remarkable scenery and geological complexity. It's a hilly and heavily-faulted patchwork of Devonian limestone, Devonian slates and shales, Permian red sandstones, and even an igneous intrusion. This gives rise to spectacular coastline, made even more rugged by historical quarrying activity, and it's only a short bus ride from central Torquay. For a detailed account, see The Coast around Torquay, a field guide by Ian West and Nikolett Csorvasi.

Clare at Babbacombe
We took a bus to Babbacombe, where there's a clifftop green giving a classic view of Oddicombe Beach with its limestone headland, Petit Tor Point, and insecure formation of red Permian sandstone and breccia. The latter is currently in the news for its ongoing landslip, which at the time of writing has half-destroyed a property, Ridgemont House (under complicated financial circumstances - see Why you should never buy a house in a blind auction: Sea of red as landslide claims more of Torquay cliff face, taking with it £154,000 home) and is threatening its neighbour, Tor Cottage.

However, Babbacombe isn't all drama. Steps descend the wooded cliff from Babbacombe Downs ...

Déjà vu here - all our days out seem to involve steps like this
... to a gastropub, The Cary Arms, from which a reasonably stiff climb takes you up through more woodland to the section of the South West Coast Path that skirts the several bays and promontories of the Torquay peninsula.

Oddicombe Beach from The Cary Arms

Ascending ...
... and we meet the upper path (looking back to Babbacombe).

View Larger Map  

To be continued...


Bayan time (19): new angles for TOPJAM

On Sunday I played again at TOPJAM, the very friendly open music sessions that have been meeting at various venues around Topsham for some three years now. I think it's finally found its niche at The Nelson, a hitherto neglected pub whose open-plan layout gives plenty of room to circulate for musicians, their gear, audience and other pub-goers.

The standard at TOPJAM is very high, but the bayan has always gone down well as something different from the standard guitar-vocals combination.

I haven't mentioned the bayan much lately - not through loss of enthusiasm, but because I've largely just been getting on with solid practice that wouldn't be very interesting to describe. A real breakthrough, however, was playing in the accompaniment band that the musical director Ben Beeson put together for The Mysteries in April. The general demands of this project - tight schedule, wide mix of genres, and repeated semi-public and public performance - jogged me into a variety of new areas of playing: improvisation, a lot more confidence in locating left-hand chords, more exploration of the possibilities of right-hand chords, singing while playing, and general experience at playing in front of people (if you've been following these bayan posts, you'll know that hitherto I've felt like the character Invisible Boy in Mystery Men who has a super-power that only works when no-one is looking).

I hadn't realised the sheer cumulative effect until playing on Sunday. I took a break from the instrumental 'party pieces' like Por una Cabeza and Libertango, and brought along some new material, my own vocals-bayan arrangements of Careless Love, Autumn Leaves, and a parodied version of Is This the Way to Amarillo. It went excellently; my hands felt a trifle shaky afterward, but I felt completely comfortable while performing (for the first time, really) and wasn't bothered by distractions. And they liked the songs!

If you're a musician in the area, and haven't encountered TOPJAM, check them out on Facebook (

Gallery from TOPJAM, Sunday 23/6/2013 - click to enlarge

Jamie Boyle and Alex Kumar

Max Jurczyk

Daniel and Hannah Durdin

Hannah Durdin

Ray Girvan

Jamie with the Durdins

Anna-Marie Waite and Mark Christopher Taylor

Mark Christopher Taylor

Anna-Marie Waite

Neil Ebdon and Ben Beeson

the collective band

Neil Ebdon

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Aargh! Two Sunflowers

I just ran into an ongoing misattribution story in yesterday's i newspaper: School librarian puts the world straight on fake William Blake poem ("Misattribution of verse started by students on internet is finally corrected by blogger", Richard Garner, The Independent, 20 Jun 2013). The story also appeared on the BBC website: School librarian finds fake Blake poem (Sean Coughlan, 20 Jun 2013), and the story has also been taken up by the Poetry Foundation: A Case of the Wrong Blake.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Legends of Torquay and nearby

Torquay c. 1850 - Legends of Torquay frontispiece
I think I just spotted a bibliographic connection. Kevin Dixon's excellent Torquay's other history series featured a recent post, A deal with the Devil at Daddyhole Plain, mentioning an 1850 book called Legends of Torquay. and a story about a demon-hunter set at Daddy's Hole, a coastal chasm at Torquay.

The book is online in Google Books - Legends of Torquay, &c (1850, ed. anonymous, pub. Torquay, RT Wreford, Braddons Row. London, Whittaker & Co., Ave Maria Lane). It's a very slim volume of three stories: The Mysterious Chamber! - a legend of Ilsam; The Demon Hunter! - a legend of Daddy's Hole; and the poem Berry Pomeroy Castle. The distinctly literary stories reek of being 'made-up' legends rather than retellings of authentic ones, and in this immediately recalled the also anonymously-compiled Legends of Devon (1848, ed. and author(s) anonymous, pub. London: Whittaker and Company, Exeter: Holden - Wallis, Dawlish LA Westcott) that I mentioned in the blog post Parsons unknown about two years ago.

The particular point of the shared London publisher, Whittaker, along with the same regional origin and general flavour, strongly suggest to me that the two books were compiled by the same person. As I mentioned in the previous post, the 1868 Notes and Queries had a brief correspondence in which it was revealed of Legends of Devon ...
The legends in question were severally composed by members of a very agreeable little private society, some thirty years ago, of whom I was one. The lady who collected and printed them, and was also one of the contributors, is dead, and so are some of her associates; and to give the names (even if I had permission), would interest few now. But I can say pretty confidently from memory, that they were each and all original whims of the moment, and not reproductions of popular legends.
- Jean Le Trouveur [pseudonym]
I can't find anything at all about Legends of Torquay &c., except for a brief advert for it in Trewman's Exeter Flying Post for June 6, 1850.

I also suspect some authorial crossover with Lays and Legends of the West: A Series of Papers on Some of the Less Known of Our Local Traditions, &c., &c., with Minor Poems of a Miscellaneous Character (1850, ed. Frank Curson [Curzon in later editions], London: Whittaker and Co. Exeter: Curson and Son; Falmouth: Lake) which has a similar Westcountry / Whittaker publication trail, and a largely similar mix of inauthentic-smelling folklore. For example, its story A Night in the Cathedral is an abridged version of Dicky Cross, the idiot of Exeter in Henry Glassford Bell's 1832 fiction anthology My Old Portfolio; or Tales and Sketches, and the character Geoffry Arundel, central to the other Exeter-based story The Yellow Head, appears in no historical or folklore source prior to Lays and Legends of the West.

- Ray

Friday, 14 June 2013


You find some intriguing details in Victorian accounts of the Isle of Wight:
Undermount, Bonchurch
This beautiful demesne of H. Mitchell, Esq., is situated in one of the most charming parts of the Undercliffe, screened from the north and east by lofty hills and ivy-covered rocks. It is approached from the main road by a unique carriage drive forming a tunnel cut through the solid rock of a lofty crag, the tunnel being decorated with shells and antlers.
- Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening - Volume 31 - Page 419, 1895
The Undermount tunnel
The tunnel still exists as does Undermount, subdivided, and Clare and I had a delightful opportunity to step into its history last Sunday, when the present owners of one of the houses very kindly showed us the grounds. As I've mentioned, Bonchurch is built on tumbled landslip terrain, one of whose features is The Mount, a large slipped mass of rock capped with a crag. The shelter of its southern coastal-facing side appealed to 19th century developers, favouring it as a site for one of Bonchurch's more impressive Victorian mansions.

View from George Brannon's Vectis Scenery, 1848 New Edition
(scan from - Undermount is the left-hand foreground house.
The house's history is altogether interesting, a microcosm of the 19th century gentrification of Bonchurch. According to the British Listed Buildings entry for the western wing of the building (ID 420595) it was originally a farmhouse, converted into a cottage orné around the 1820s, then further modified. This would match the timeline of the first major personality to put a stamp on the location: Joseph Hadfield, a silk merchant of Northern stock, who settled in Bonchurch with his wife Amelia Caroline around 1800. He bought the leasehold on a couple of farms, Marepool and Macket(t)s, and made various changes to Bonchurch; Alan Champion's monograph Notes on the relationships between the families of Worsley, Tollemache, and Hadfield in the Isle of Wight mentions he built another house, Upper Mount (now called Peacock Vane) and drained the withy bed that is now Bonchurch pond. Hadfield is commemorated in one of the names for the summit crag on the Mount, "Hadfield's Lookout".

Detail from print in Brannon's Vectis Scenery, 1840 edition
This view shows both Hadfield's Lookout (left, with flagpole)
and Pulpit Rock (centre, with cross)
Hadfield moved on to Ventnor, selling the lease to James White, vicar-turned-writer and friend of Charles Dickens, adding it to the latter's property portfolio that comprised basically all of Bonchurch. White had married Rosa Hill, heiress to the manor of Bonchurch, and then embarked on a series of legal manoeuvres to overturn a clause in his father-in-law's will forbidding breaking up the estate, thus leading to wholesale development of Bonchurch from the 1830s. This wasn't a universally-liked move: the Isle of Wight populariser George Brannon and the poet John Gwilliam both protested this in print (see previously Brannon on Bonchurch and ... in the Isle of Wight #1).

White's problems with the estate would probably make a long saga, starting with a private local Act of Parliament, passed 21st June 1836, entitled An Act to enable the Reverend James White and the Persons for the Time being entitled to certain Estates situate in the Parish of Bonchurch in the Isle of Wight in the County of Southampton, devised by the will of Charles Fitzmaurice Hill, Esquire, deceased, to grant Building Leases (see The Law Journal), via at least one piece of litigation over rights of way - White vs Leeson - to a second Private Act in 1843, An Act to confirm Two existing Leases ... etc. In modern terms, it appears at first glance a piece of egregious land profiteering, but such private Acts to overturn land settlements were pretty routine in the 19th century; inheritors of long-standing estates were often stuck with large tracts of land that were inherently unprofitable (because of restrictions on profitable land development such as building) and impossible to break up for sale. The situation only ended with the 1882 Settled Land Act, that allowed landowners to sell more or less as they pleased (see Great estates and Private Acts). Anyhow, that's another story.

Compton Undermount
The next major change to the location came from Sir John and Lady Pringle (Sir John Pringle of Stitchill 5th Bt. and his second wife Lady Elizabeth née Elizabeth Maitland Campbell). They bought the house in the early 1850s and made extensive upgrades in 1857: the access tunnel through The Mount, the lodge outside, and a taller, sumptuous, new western wing to the house, Compton Undermount, with a conservatory winter garden (see again the Listed Buildings entry, and also page 90, The Isle of Wight, David Wharton Lloyd, Nikolaus Pevsner, 2006).

Queen Victoria is said to have stayed a night at Compton in 1857, but I haven't yet verified this. I get the impression a deal of doubtful information has accreted to the history of Compton via news articles and estate agents' hype. One website says Lady Elizabeth had been Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria: it seems not; this was a different Lady Elizabeth Campbell née Baillie. Nor was she, as another site says, a bridesmaid of Queen Victoria (their names are well-documented - see this Esoteric Curiosa blog reprint from Lady's Realm, 1899). Another detail that so far doesn't check out is that Sir John Pringle was connected to the "Pringle fashion company": again it seems not, as Sir John was an ex-military man, and the founder of Pringle of Scotland wasn't anything to do with the Pringle aristocrats, but one Robert Pringle, a thoroughly self-made entrepreneur who started out as an apprentice stocking maker. I think more research is needed on the precise VR connection.

Undermount tunnel
Over the 19th century, the location acquired a high reputation for its gardens ...
Early one evening we passed through a gate under an arch, or rather through a tunnel of massive masonry. It looked as if we might be making our way into a dungeon. At the other end, however, we emerged into a wide and lovely expanse of lawn, grove, and garden ; here a large circle inclosed with a wire screen, the screen wreathed with flowering plants ; there a high wall lined with wall-fruit — peaches, apricots, apples, and pears ; here a path disappears in a bower of branches interlacing overhead, and at the other end leading you out on the edge of the cliff above the sea ; and in the midst of all a mansion, with greenhouse full of fine tropical plants, and festoons of delicate vines hanging from the ceiling.
- WP Breed, Aboard and abroad in eighteen hundred and eighty four, 1885, Internet Archive ID aboardabroadinei00bree
.... particularly under the ownership of Henry Michell, who bought the house from the late Pringles' estate in 1883 (ref: The Times, Friday, Jan 01, 1909).


The front commands a splendid view of the  English Channel, as seen through the stately elms and lesser ornamental foliage plants which abound to the water's edge. Passing through ranges of orchid houses, ferneries, stoves, and vineries, stopping only to notice a splendid house of maidenhair ferns in varieties, we reach a vinery containing chrysanthemums reserved for exhibition cut blooms. Mr. Frank Orchard, the gardener, is at home amongst the chrysanthemums. Having previously won honours in other parts of the country, he entered for and secured the Isle of Wight challenge cup last year for thirty-six cut blooms, and is now preparing for the final tussle next week at Ryde. The collection here comprises about 700 plants of all sections. The principal show is in the magnificent conservatory attached to the residence, amidst lofty palms and tree ferns, and overhung with Bougainvilleas, Cobaias, Jasminums, and other creepers which hang suspended from the iron girders that support the dome. The effect is grand, and the approach to the reception rooms is flanked on the right and left by two well-arranged groups on a raised stone balcony, others being dotted amongst the ferns and Pr???s, a group of Pompons around the fountain basin beneath, and well-trained standard chrysanthemums on the balcony steps, the whole being very effective far into the winter months.
Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening, Volume 31, age 419, 1895
The Garden at Undermount Bonchurch Isle of Wight with St Boniface in the distance
A Foord Hughes, Wikigallery, permitted non-commercial use
Moving on to the 20th and 21st centuries, the house saw a temporary decline, weathering military use in World War 2 (when the tunnel was sandbagged and used as Bonchurch's air raid shelter), temporary conversion into flats, and storm damage. It has now been extensively renovated and turned into private homes. Compton Undermount's award-winning restoration by Charmian Shenton has been featured in a number of newspapers and magazines (e.g. the Isle of Wight County Press); and Undermount, the eastern wing that we saw, is a sensitive modern adaptation, with beautiful gardens leading down to the communal clifftop lawn with private steps to the sea. Part of it is a superior holiday let: check out Undermount, Bonchurch.

My particular interest in the location sprang from topographical descriptions, and it was very strange to see that the tunnel's peculiar decorations still exist. They're not merely shells and antlers, but also fossils, clusters of flints, and the odd skull.

A cow skull, I think
The owner of the end house at Undermount, Richard Dewhurst, also showed us up the path - distinctly risky in places due to ivy-obscured sheer drops - to the summit of The Mount. While it's quite overgrown, there are still good views across Upper Bonchurch to St Boniface Down above, and steps lead up to Hadfield's crudely-castellated lookout at the summit of the crag (John Albin's 1831 A Companion to the Isle of Wight mentions that Hadfield had "placed a flag-staff on the summit of [this] most picturesque rock, and built a small battery adjoining to it"). By 1849, this was gone:
In the grounds of one of the latter, Undermount, stands an isolated rock, surmounted by its mimic battery and flagstaff, which has formed one of the themes of admiration of nearly every guide-book hitherto published. The little fort is, however, now dismantled, and its tiny artillery, whose iron mouths used to breathe their sulphurous defiance to each petty privateer of the enemy which came in sight during the last war, is now removed from its proud station, and has become the occupant of a saluting battery in the grounds of Mountfield, on the cliff below.
- The 'Undercliff' of the Isle of Wight : its climate, history, and natural productions, George A. Martin, M.D., London : J. Churchill, 1849 (Hathi Trust).
I only just made the connection: Hadfield's Lookout gets a mention in John Neal's 1830 Authorship: A Tale - Internet Archive ID authorshipatale01nealgoog - in which the narrator climbs a rock with a flagstaff in "Bowchurch", and marvels at the landscape. See, previously, A New Englander hates on the Sandrock.
The view was delightful, and rich, and various, and like nothing I had ever seen before. I remember thus much, and I remember too that whatever there was to see, I saw, and that before the day was well over, I (But for my life I cannot say now whether it was while I stood on that rock or after I had peeped over and crawled away) among a multitude of things, the memory of which had escaped me before my head was on the pillow that very night, I saw — a huge high wall— so huge as to appear like a part of the foundations of our earth, and so high that I mistook a white cloud sailing over the top, for smoke. It was like the vapor that follows the discharge of cannon that are too far off to be heard ; a wall stretching over leagues and leagues of territory ; cottages underneath my very feet (I could have jumped through the roofs) grouped here and there among the trees and the rocks and the gushing water and the wild shrubbery, as if they were copied from old pictures ; on every side of me the bulwarks of an empire, great square blocks which appeared as if they had been wrought by the hands, or piled up where they lay by the power of giants ; here a cottage or two garnered up in the holes of the rocks, and there half a dozen more literally folded among the ruins of what appeared like the overthrown barrier of a huge citadel — a barrier overthrown by flood, or by earthquake, or by fire from above — not by the wrath of mortal man ; here a heap of the greenest foliage I ever saw, overhanging a roof, the loveliest I ever saw (not seven feet high), and a little bit of smooth rich turf, yet greener than the foliage of the young trees, and as lively as the plumage of a parrot — ' Green to the very door ' — and hedged about with flowering shrubs and great rocks, much higher than the roof, and scattered clumps of blackberry — bushes, with never a bit of a pathway to be seen, so that you could not conceive how the people got there alive, nor how they got the children there that you saw laughing and rolling about, or hiding in the shadow of the rocks, or creeping half sideways over the smooth turf.

All this I did see, and I saw it either while I was on the top of that rock, holding by the flag-staff, afraid to move lest the rock should tip over among the houses, and afraid to let go, lest I should be blown away ; or I saw it, after I had escaped ... 
I've featured this image before ...

Bonchurch: Undermount Rock aka Flagstaff Rock aka Hadfield's Lookout
from Rambles in the Isle of Wight, John Gwilliams, 1844
... but here's the real thing:

Hadfield's Lookout aka Flagstaff Rock, Bonchurch
at the summit

View across Upper Bonchurch

View over lodge: the railings mark the edge of a major drop to the driveway
The afternoon - we'd previously taken in The Devil's Chimney and The Chink -was a delightful piece of closure on one of my long-standing Isle of Wight topographic obsessions.

I'd like to thank again Richard and Maxine Dewhurst for very generously showing us around, and giving permission for photography and writing up the visit.

Compton Undermount, the tunnel and Hadfield's lookout are private property and not open to the general public.

See for details of accommodation.

Addendum, May 2014: I just found this nice image from Charles Tomkins' 1796 A Tour to the Isle of Wight, which actually shows Hadfield's Lookout.

- Ray