Sunday, 28 July 2013

After the Crash (1923)

In November 2012 (Muriel ... and After the Crash) I posted a brief critique of Maxwell Gray's short story After the Crash, "written about 1908 or 1910" but not published until her final book, the 1923 story collection A Bit of Blue Stone.

After the Crash, while I think it has weaknesses, is an interesting story, both as an example of the "Where London Stood" genre, and as a personal milestone for Maxwell Gray. She'd spent her whole career writing mainstream fiction - chiefly melodramatic romances with a certain amount of social commentary - but in her 60s broke out of that frame and wrote a single post-apocalyptic SF story that powerfully crystallises her own fears (expressed in earlier works) of disastrous consequences of the social changes brought by the 20th century.

I've posted a scan - see After the Crash - at the official site for my biography of Maxwell Gray, A Wren-like Note.

- Ray

Friday, 26 July 2013

Lanes and landscape

Under the railway bridge, West Town Farm
I mentioned I had a backlog of photography.The above rather post-apocalyptic image is of the viaduct over the long-closed Teign Valley railway, at West Town Farm, near Ide (a village southwest of Exeter).

I went there in June with Clare for a workshop on site-specific writing co-run by Oriana Ascanio of  Resident Writers and Christine Duff of OrganicARTS. I've delayed writing about it because, to be honest, writing spontaneously in situ is not at all my kind of thing - I'm not a fast writer, and I tend to visit places and write later, after reflection and research. Nevertheless, it was a thought-provoking afternoon out. The location touched on a lot of issues I've mentioned previously, particularly the idea of the rural landscape as a construct; and the tension between rural England's role as an economically viable productive resource and as a kind of aesthetic experience for visitors and incomers (a conflict which manifests, for instance, in the controversies over windfarms, solar farms, and polytunnels). See previously: Rural photography - the shaping of aesthetics and Views of the countryside.

West Town Farm looks to me a successful compromise between different functions of the countryside. It's a working farm (producing organic beef, pork, potatoes, apples, squash and pumpkins) but also focuses on environmental stewardship to protect the landscape as a niche for wildlife, as well as hosting various educational and artistic projects (see the West Town Farm website for background).

As part of the visit, we were given a tour of the farm trail, which showcases the various aspects and habitats of the farm. Probably the most distinctive was the railway cutting, maintained as a habitat for badgers and bats. I did a runner from the writing exercise, pleading the not-entirely-untrue excuse that photography was my preferred medium, just to have another look at it alone.

At the moment, I'm finding landscape exploration a continuing fascination. I've found it a coping strategy with my CUP to avoid introspection, which rapidly leads to feeling depressed, and though you might think being alone in the countryside would foster introspection, I've found quite the opposite: for me, immersion in landscape drives out the 'internal' in favour of the experience, and I can go for hours without remembering more than momentarily that I have a terminal condition. I've never so fully understood Dr Johnson's comment:
Boswell. "But is not the fear of death natural to man ?" Johnson. "So much so, Sir, that the whole of life is but keeping away the thoughts of it." He then, in a low and earnest tone, talked of his meditating upon the awful hour of his own dissolution, and in what manner he should conduct himself upon that occasion: "I know not (said he,) whether I should wish to have a friend by me, or have it all between God and myself."
- Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791
I'm not in denial. I can think about it and discuss it whenever needed. But I'm not letting it dominate my life, and "keeping away the thoughts of it" at other times is part of that.

Anyhow, back to West Town Farm. The cutting, especially the part under the viaduct, has a very "Where London stood" feel. When you think about, however, the line closed in 1958 and the cutting would be completely overgrown if it had been left untouched - as you rapidly find when you reach the south-eastern end of the farm trail section. In fact the cutting, like the rest of the farm, is a tightly-managed habitat, both environmentally and artistically.

This fallen rock is not left in the middle of the path by accident; it was a conscious choice. Originally intended to be sculpted, it was left by the artist untouched as an artwork in itself, and it now supports an Ansel Adams style fern. No doubt the same aesthetic is behind the fallen trees crossing the path, but not obstructing it. This knowledge doesn't detract, however, from the powerful atmosphere of the place, one of complete isolation and seclusion, despite it being only half a mile from the busy A30, and a mile from Exeter itself. It feels as if it could be many miles - or even centuries - from civilisation:
Mounds of earth are said to still exist in the woods, which originally formed the roads for these machines, but they are now so low, and so covered with thickets, that nothing can be learnt from them; and, indeed, though I have heard of their existence, I have never seen one. Great holes were made through the very hills for the passage of the iron chariot, but they are now blocked by the falling roofs, nor dare any one explore such parts as may yet be open.
- Richard Jefferies, After London, 1885, Project Gutenberg ID 13944

One positive aspect of the afternoon was a brief conversation with another of the course members, Clare Bryden. She runs a number of blogs, all of which put me to shame in terms of creativity and committment to real social causes - particularly sustainability - but one of them, And the end of all our exploring ("will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time") shows we share an interest in the connections between past and present landscape.

A trio of posts in particular interested me - collectively tagged Woodwater Lane - which document her exploration, in present and historical past, of a lane at the south-east of Exeter. Though cut by railway and roads, partially erased by development, the lane is still traceable.

The posts link to some extremely cool cartographic resources. I already knew about the Historical Maps section of the A Vision of Britain through Time site, but not the British Library Georeferencing site. This is a user-contributed project to correlate old maps with current Google Earth ones. Contributors identify common data points across an area of interest, then software adjusts for scale and distortion to bring the maps into coincidence. The result is then visible as an overlay, with a slider button to fade between old and new.

The example used in the Woodwater Lane exploration is this 1801 map of Exeter, and there are many more accessible through a convenient graphical map finder. Ones that connect with previous JSBlog topics include Niton (Isle of Wight), 1793; Shanklin, 1793; Axmouth, Devon, 1806; Ottery St. Mary, Devon, 1806; Exmouth, 1801; and Torbay, Devon, 1802.

- Ray

Monday, 22 July 2013

Seeking details: Devonport "Hindoo" Calvinist Chapel

Following the recent post Devonport Column open to public, I was interested in a historical loose end: are there any detailed records of the Mount Zion Calvinist Chapel that formed part of John Foulston's development of a new Devonport town centre?

As you can see, three of these structures still exist: the Parthenon-inspired town hall (now Devonport Guildhall); the Egyptian-style library (now the Oddfellows Hall); and the 124-foot column commemorating Devonport's rebadging from its previous incarnation as "Plymouth Dock". But the chapel, built over 1823-1824, was demolished in 1902 due to its poor condition (see

A number of contemporary accounts describe it, and it sounds rather cool:
This strange-looking edifice was designed by Mr. Foulston, in what he called the Hindoo style.
- page 65, History of the town and borough of Devonport, Richard Nicholls Worth, 1870.

Mount Zion Chapel, a Calvinist meeting-house, built in the fantastic Hindoo style. The front, ornamented with pinnacles and fancifully embellished, possesses a very pleasing appearance.
- page 5, The Plymouth and Devonport guide, Henry Edmund Carrington, 1828.

Mount Zion Chapel exhibits an ingenious adaptation of Mahomedan architecture to christian purposes. It was erected in 1823-4, at a cost of about £2000. The spectator will, no doubt, remark upon the singular commixture of styles, as shewn in the proximity of the several buildings just described, and which seem as if they had here met in parliament, to prefer the respective claims of their Greek, Egyptian, and Oriental constituents. The assemblage, though strange, is certainly picturesque ; and, if we hesitate to recommend the repetition of such experiments, we are far from regretting, that in this instance they have been made.
- Nettleton's guide to Plymouth, Stonehouse, Devonport, and to the neighbouring country, 1836 (Internet Archive ID nettletonsguidet00wigh).

Mr. Rowe * gives the following description of the exterior of this building :—" It is designed by Mr. Foulston, after the Hindoo style, with the ornaments and accompaniments appropriate to that fantastic manner, but of massive and bold proportions. These are so judiciously arranged, that the whole front presents a highly-effective and pleasing appearance; and the building, though placed in juxta-position with the fine portico of the Town-Hall, maintains its rank, and seems to suffer nothing from a contrast, which would be destructive to many buildings, in which bold and picturesque effects had been less the objects of the architect's attention." This Chapel was commenced in November, 1823, and finished in July, 1824, at a cost of about £2000.
- page 32, Devonshire & Cornwall illustrated, from original drawings by T. Allom, W.H. Bartlett, &c., with historical and topographical descriptions by J. Britton & E.W. Brayley. John Britton, Edward Wedlake Brayley, 1832.
* This refers to the Rev. Samuel Rowe's 1821 Panorama of Plymouth; or, Tourist's Guide to the Principal objects of Interest in the Towns and Vicinity of Plymouth, Dock, and Stonehouse, which is not online.

All these accounts, however, are lacking in decent pictures; the chapel only gets a supporting role in general pictures of the assemblage of Foulston buildings in Ker Street, Devonport. I've found these online:

from Devonshire & Cornwall illustrated (1832)
from John Foulston, The Public Buildings of the West of England (1838)
cited at
from Nettleton's Guide (ibid)
Did anyone ever get a complete picture, external or internal, of what sounds like a remarkable building?

Addendum: For more investigation, see Foulston's "Hindoo" chapel, Devonport; I visited the Devon and Exeter Institution, and had a look at Foulston's own 1838 account, The public buildings erected in the West of England as designed by John Foulston F.R.I.B.A.

- Ray

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Backdated: Tennyson Trail

See Tennyson Trail.

I have a bit of a backlog of photography. This is a temporary link to a new backdated post: photographs of our walk on part of the Tennyson Trail, Isle of Wight, at the beginning of June.

- Ray

Friday, 19 July 2013

Coast: Teignmouth to Dawlish

Further to Shaldon: sea, sand, and subterranea: a few more impressions of Teignmouth. Like many southern resorts, it's a mix of styles; once you get away from the obvious resort frontage, it has a much older section at its southern end, leading to its working harbour and Back Beach, where houses back directly on to the Teign's shore. I've been meaning to visit for a long time, and was pleased to find it hadn't been concreted over; the recently-completed tidal flood defences looked pretty unobtrusive. I won't write in any detail on this: instead, I recommend checking out Angela Williams' detailed accounts at her Literary Places blog: In the footsteps of John Keats / Keats at Teignmouth / More on Keats at Teignmouth.

Click any image to enlarge
Sea front, with The Ness beyond
The Riviera - see history
Northumberland Place
The Back Beach
The Back Beach
The Back Beach

Considering the temperature being well over 80°F, a walk perhaps wasn't the greatest of ideas, but I stocked up with plenty of water and finished the afternoon by following the South West Coastal Path to Dawlish. It's a slightly fragmented section, diverted inland by general terrain, the railway, and residential development (various upmarket clifftop houses), but it's still of interest.

The first stretch runs along the sea wall, parallel to the railway, as far as the promontory Hole Head. There the railway goes into Parson's Tunnel, and the Coastal Path diverts inland up Smuggler's Lane. A number of accounts - I've not been able to track a primary source - have variants on this ...
According to local folklore there is a cave down near the Parson and Clerk rocks that leads to a tunnel which has an exit in the grounds of this house, Sunnylands. Rumour has it that when the railwaymen were building Parson’s Tunnel they blocked off the entrance to the smuggling tunnel.
- South Devon Railway - Discovering Britain
... but as I've said, I don't buy into this smuggler obsession. Historically, the well-off regularly had tunnels dug for practical and fanciful reasons (check out, for instance, the 5th Duke of Portland, the Williamson Tunnels, Undermount, and the previously-mentioned Lord Clifford of Ugbrooke). In the 19th century Hole Head saw the building of a string of large villas - Sorrento, Derncleugh, Holcombe House, Edencliff and Peak House (see Holcombe Conservation Area - Character Appraisal) - the owners of any of which might have seen the opportunity for beach access via a private tunnel.

There is a slight literary connection here: Maurice Drake's 1915 The Ocean Sleuth is a crime novel concerning, in part, the switch of a batch of real and counterfeit notes from a train stopped in the Parsons Tunnel. It's worth checking out for the detailed description of the narrator's exploration of the railway and its tunnels in aid of solving the mystery: see the Internet Archive ID oceansleuth00drakrich.

Click any image to enlarge
Teignmouth, looking north
Hole Head, Parson & Clerk, Shag Rock
Hole Head
Tunnel entrance at Smuggler's Lane

Smuggler's Lane ascends steeply up to the main Teignmouth-Dawlish road; you follow that for a little, past the private enclave of  Holcombe Drive, and then you can either follow the road (I did) or rejoin a coastal section that soon returns to the road. Just before you reach Dawlish, the path leads into a little park at the top of Lea Mount, which has great views back to the Parson and Clerk, and forward toward Dawlish.

Click any image to enlarge
The path goes under the railway
Walled-up tunnel by Smuggler's Lane toilets
Another excavation on Smuggler's Lane
Holcombe Drive - no access
Aargh ... here be smugglers
... and here
View back from Lea Mount
Coastal path above Shell Cove
From the park at Lea Mount, you can then take various landscaped paths down to the sea wall at Dawlish, and then on to the railway station.

Click any image to enlarge
Dawlish, from Lea Mount
Park, Lea Mount
Information board
Dawlish, descending Lea Mount
down the cliff path
looking back
Lea Mount, and Kennaways rail tunnel
From Dawlish railway station
A geographical/historical note: it's interesting as a contemplation on changing attitudes to consider the reaction if someone suggested nowadays cutting a major railway route - this is the classic 'Riviera Line' - through coastal scenery, and considerably unstable coastal scenery at that. Brunel's route ran into problems from the start - the Morning Chronicle documented a landslide blocking the line near Smuggler's Lane in December 1852 - and this has continued ever since. See Landslips on the Teignmouth to Dawlish Line at Devon Heritage: part 1 / part 2 / part 3.

The railway wasn't all that's been affected. These are more or less the same strata as those which collapsed with the destruction of Ridgemont House at Babbacombe (see An afternoon in Torquay #1), and there's been repeated coverage of a similarly threatened house above Horse Cove in Dawlish (see Huge landslip leaves £1.75 million luxury cliff-top mansion closer to the edge, This is Cornwall, February 10, 2011). I don't know what Horse Cove looks like now, but I visited it in August 2007, before the recent landslips. It's not normally accessible on foot, but at low tide I waded round from the public beach at Coryton Cove. Apart from a sea cave and various drainage outflows, it had an interesting, but inaccessible, entrance in the cliff. I've no idea of its purpose, but I'm not assuming smugglers.

Horse Cove, Dawlish - see Geograph for attribution
The landscaped paths down Lea Mount to the sea wall at Dawlish date from the late 19th century and remodelling to stabilise the cliff after a tragedy. This pre-1885 view - Dawlish, Rocks and beach, Coryton's Cove - from Francis Bedford's Devonshire Illustrated stereoscopic series shows an accident waiting to happen: a high-tide path, running under an overhang, used by swimmers visiting the "gentlemen's cove", as it was called (bathing was segregated) . The 1869 Cornelius's guide - Dawlish has a contemporary description of the spot (see page 46).

Following unheeded warnings from the Reverend RHD Barham, rocks above the overhang collapsed in 1885, killing three of a party of women and children preparing for a picnic lunch.

Fatal accident thro' the fall of earth from the rock at Dawlish
Illustrated Police News, Sept 12, 1885

See the Devon History Society weblog - 1885: Dawlish "death trap" - for a fuller account.

- Ray

Monday, 15 July 2013

Shaldon: sea, sand, and subterranea

The Ness and Shaldon, from Teignmouth Pier
It being another fine day (and Clare not being a fan of the heat) I took myself out this afternoon for a look at Shaldon, which I've never visited. Shaldon is the village on the other side of the mouth of the Teign estuary from Teignmouth, and is reached by a small ferry from the delightful Back Beach that adjoins the working section of Teignmouth Harbour (more on that later). I particularly wanted to check out so-named Smugglers' Tunnel that gives access through The Ness, the promontory of Permian breccia, to Ness Cove behind. It got into the news at the end of March when two people were trapped at Ness Cove by a landslip at the beach end of the tunnel. As you can see from the BBC account - Two women rescued from Ness Cove after landslip - it didn't actually block the tunnel, just the access steps. It's back in service now.

The tunnel is a short walk from the ferry landing, just a little uphill from the Ness House Hotel at the end of a short driveway behind the public car park. There's an old limekiln by the entrance.

It's not a scary tunnel; it's solidly-bricked and well-lit, wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side; it takes only a couple of minutes to reach the beach.

There's a first straight section (with a ventilation shaft on its right) descending gently, then a junction and bend of about 30° right followed by a similar slowly-descending section, then a bend of 30° left leading to a flight of steps, then finally a sharp bend left to the beach exit.

Looking back along main entrance section

Looking up the air shaft

The steps
And out at Ness Cove
Here's a YouTube video of the walk-through (not by me):  

And so to the puzzles. Firstly, what's the tunnel's origin? Various official websites call it "an original smuggler's tunnel" (see, Teignbridge District Council, and Shaldon Devon). But this reeks of the regional obsession with linking to alleged smugglers any small, obscure, picturesque or unusual way of reaching a beach. One more likely theory is that its purpose was carting limestone that had been shipped to Ness Cove:
... the so-called Smugglers' Tunnel ... A ruined limekiln at the entrance suggests the reason it was cut.
- Smuggling in Devon and Cornwall: 1700-1850, Mary Waugh, Countryside Books, 1991
Another is that its purpose was private beach access for Lord Clifford, whose marine villa was the house now occupied by the Ness House Hotel (see British Listed Buildings ID 461032). This is the purpose cited in a number of 19th century regional guides, of which this is the earliest I can find:
The Ness now forms a pleasant little lawn to the marine cottage of Lord Clifford, situated just under it. His lordship has cut a tunnel 210 feet long through the base of the cliff, large enough for a carriage drive, communicating with the beach outside.
- page 195, The route book of Devon, 1846
The courses of the various incarnations of this tunnel would make for a bit of interesting historical detection. As described in Mary Waugh's Smuggling in Devon and Cornwall: 1700-1850, the present tunnel is clearly diverted - there must be a further tunnel segment behind that green wall at the junction. Then there's the larger, but blocked, second tunnel entrance at the beach end, to the left of the current public one: presumably this was the original, "large enough for a carriage drive".

A peek through the barred entrance
Furthermore, this is intriguing: what appears to be another ventilation duct in the woods next to the South West Coastal Path round the Ness, just a few yards uphill to the east of the Ness House Hotel, and nowhere near the beach tunnel.


Addendum: Clare and I revisited on August 2nd, and I spotted an information board I somehow missed on the first visit. The Ness at Shaldon had considerable development as a WW2 defensive position, with various buildings and bunkers. I suspect that explains the pipe, and there is an outhouse in the pub garden backing on to the slope below it. See the sign (click to enlarge):

See also Teignmouth and Shaldon: revisit.

- Ray