Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas: Illustrated London News

"What I Saw in the Fire" - Albert Crowquill

My very best wishes of the season to all readers of JSBlog.

I was interested to find that the Internet Archive has full sets of The Illustrated London News for several years in the early 1860s - worth reading for the quaint illustrations as much as the text - and each year this magazine featured a Christmas supplement with seasonal engravings. One of my favourites is this trippy - in fact quite Boschian - piece by "Albert Crowquill", What I Saw in the Fire , from the 1861 supplement (see here for zoomable source). "Albert Crowquill" was the pseudonym of the inventive and prolific illustrator Alfred Henry Forrester (1804-1872), who worked for a number of magazines including Punch, as well as illustrating books.

More about him later maybe - but for the moment, check out the Christmas supplements of The Illustrated London News: 1860 / 1861 / 1863 / 1864 / 1865.

"What I Saw in the Fire" - detail

"The Private View"- JA Fitzgerald

"Uncle John with the young folk: 'All prizes and no blanks!' - AB Houghton

"The Bachelor's Christmas Dinner" - JT Lucas

"Outdoor Relief" - GB Goddard

- Ray

Friday, 20 December 2013

Crofton House, Titchfield

View Larger Map - the site of Crofton House

John Ptak's blog Ptak Science Books has an interesting category History of Blank, Missing and Empty Things, and this applies very well to the site of Crofton House, a now-demolished mansion near Titchfield, Hampshire.

I remember Crofton House; around 1970, it still existed - a run-down and abandoned 'haunted house' down a lane off the Titchfield Road a bit north-west of Stubbington - and despite signs of occupation in an adjacent wing, I used to sneak in with friends to explore it. It was undoubtedly dangerous; the big curving stairs at the back of the entrance hall were held together by little more than the carpet; the floorboards were rotten; there were sharp laths sticking out of the walls; and so on. There were also grounds, with a half-collapsed conservatory, an area packed solid with overgrown rusting cars and lorries, sheds containing crates of machine parts (apparently abandoned), and lots of climbable trees overlooking the fields. After several visits, I recall being chased out with threats of calling the police; bright red KEEP OUT! signs appeared on the lane, and ultimately a fence. I forgot the place, and when I left my home town after university in 1977, I never had cause to revisit the area.

But when Google Earth came on the scene, I was browsing old haunts. I saw the main house was gone, and I wondered what had happened to it. I tried to find out the history, without success. But I just asked in The Gosport Area, a new Facebook group for discussing memories of the town where I grew up, and somehow the process of asking cleared a mental blockage. I'd been unwittingly sabotaging the search by the assumption that "Stubbington" was a keyword; once I'd switched this to "Titchfield", results started to appear - enough to put together a brief account of the vanished house. Its history, like the villas of the southern Isle of Wight, is one of a heyday in the era of country mansions, followed by decline and decrepitude after that era ended.

Crofton House, 1897 OS map. Historic map data is (© and database right
Crown copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd. (All rights reserved
2009). Low-resolution image reproduced for small-scale non-profit
use under the terms described in the Old Maps FAQ.
So, firstly, I found a very brief description in Pevsner:
CROFTON HOUSE, set back to the W of the Titchfield road, is a five-bay, three-storey, yellow brick mansion of c.1800. The three centre bays project slightly and are surmounted by a pediment, with fretted brickwork pattern under the cornices and slopes of the pediment (a local mannerism). A delicately composed building, unfortunately derelict at the time of writing
- Hampshire and the Isle of Wight: The Buildings of England, David Wharton Lloyd & Nikolaus Pevsner, 1967
At least with what I can find online, the traceable story does go back to "c.1800". The oldest map I can find it on is 1797 - this one, which has a "Crofton Ho" marked - but I haven't so far traced the builder. However, the successive owners in the 19th century are well-documented in newspapers archived in the Nineteenth Century British Library Newspapers database. The first reference is to
On Sunday last died, JAMES MILL, Esq. of Crofton House, near Titchfield, Hants.
- The Morning Post, London, February 10, 1806
Its sale after Mill's death provides a detailed description of the house and environs.
That elegant, modern, well-constructed COPYHOLD VILLA, known as CROFTON HOUSE, most delightfully situate on an eminence, with one mile and a half from the Sea, one mile of Titchfield, nine of Southampton, three of the market town of Fareham, and 76 miles from London, in a beautiful and much-admired part of the county of Hants; commanding interesting marine views, extending to the Isle of Wight, the Needles, &c, and diversified prospects of the rich surrounding country, which abounds with game, the roads good, and the neighbourhood select and social; with pleasure ground embellished with full-grown forest trees and plantations, green house, walled garden in perfection, coach houses, stabling, and all suitable offices; farm house at short distance, with capital barns, stabling, granary and buildings and attached pasture and arable land; containing in the whole Thirty-Three Acres, with 13 Acres and a Half of Leasehold, held till Michaelmas 1811, and 4? Acres till 1807, in addition. The Villa present two handsome elevations, and contains a lofty, cheerful entrance hall, with admirable staircase, excellent well-furnished dining and drawing room, each 28 feet by 20 feet, breakfast parlour, library, boudoir, numerous family bedchambers, dressing and powdering rooms, water closets, and servants apartments; the domestic offices are of the best description, with good cellaring, and the whole well supplied with water. The purchaser may be accommodated with the appropriate Furniture, Farming Stock, &C, at a valuation.
- The Morning Post, London, August 23, 1806
("Copyhold", I didn't know, is an archaic form of land tenure based on manorial rights and law. It was finally abolished, and absorbed into modern freehold and leasehold).

The buyer was the elderly William Gemmell, who died early in 1820 aged 87 (he was buried in Titchfield on April 4 1820), and Crofton House then went up for sale again; an ad appears in the Morning Post of May 23, 1820. The next owner was a gentleman of Irish roots, Thomas Naghten (or Naghton - c. 1783-1832 - see RootsWeb, TheNaughtons in Ireland). The house was occupied by his family after his death, but a few years after the death of his daughter Louisa on February 17 1848 (aged 21), the house again was advertised for sale (Hampshire Advertiser, August 11, 1855) along with all of its contents. The ad gives an interesting glimpse of the accoutrements of a mid-Victorian mansion:
MESSRS. GREEN (28, Old Bond-Street, London,) having Sold the Estate, have received instructions from the Proprietor to SELL by AUCTION, on the Premises, Crofton House, Titchfield, near Fareham … without the least Reserve, the Excellent HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, comprising extending frame mahogany dining tables, sideboard, and set of 14 chairs, rosewood and Spanish mahogany loo, card, occasional, writing and other tables, cabinets, cheffioneers [sic], teapoy, sofas, settees, rosewood chairs and easy chairs, costly gilt console table, set of three white and gold window cornices, damask and other hangings, Brussels, Turkey, and Kidderminster carpets, billiard table and appurtenances, capital bed chamber furniture, including prime beds and bedding, mahogany wardrobes, basin and dressing tables, drawers, cheval and dressing glasses, &c. &c. - The appendages of the domestic offices, capital brewing and dairy utensils, double actions mangle, greenhouse plant, garden seats, implements, iron roller; four prime cows, one short horn heifer, two powerful cart horses, waggon, hay and spring carts, harness, rick cloth, iron land roll, swing ploughs, corn stadle, with iron pillars, harrows, and numerous other instruments and effects.
- Hampshire Telegraph, December 15, 1855 
(A "loo table" is a tip-up table originally for playing the card game loo. "Cheffioneer" is evidently a garbling of chiffonier. "Teapoy" is also a table).

The new owner, who evidently didn't like the decor, was a Major Wingate (Major Sir George Wingate, KCSI, b. 1812, who'd had a distinguished career as an engineer officer in the East India Company). After his death on February 7th 1879, the next owner was a "Major Boyd" (some sources say "Colonel Boyd"); he died some time in the 1880s, and his widow married the Rev. Rupert W Pain in 1889 (see the Hampshire Advertiser, January 09, 1889) Crofton House remained with the Boyds into the 20th century; Who's Who lists it as the address of a Lt.-Col. Charles Purvis Boyd, J. P, who died in 1914. It finally went up for auction at an executor's sale ("re Mrs RGC Boyd, Decd.) on June 25th 1930. The Times ad for Jun 16, 1930, has the only image of the house I've been so far able to find.

Kelly's Directory for 1935, listing private residents in the Crofton area, gives the then occupant as Kenneth Charles Rees-Reynolds, who Google finds to have been a London-based chartered surveyor, and director of various companies, who died in 1963. Whether he owned/occupied the house until then, I don't know, but the decaying house and motor scrapyard I saw in 1970 suggested the house had been neglected for longer than 7 years. Its eventual end is documented in a later book:
Crofton House near Titchfield, long derelict, has, alas, been demolished after fire damage; it was a delicately composed Classical house in yellow brick.
- Buildings of Portsmouth and its environs, David Wharton Lloyd, 1974
The remaining wing of Crofton House, that adjacent to the walled garden, has been redeveloped as mews residences. The lane, like so many lanes I remember from childhood, is now gated.

Addendum: Should anyone want to pick up this topic and run with it, a National Archives search shows that the Northumberland Record Office has records of the Crofton House Estate:
Thomas John Armstrong Papers
NRO 309/H1/33  6 November 1888
The Crofton House Estate, Titchfield, near Portsmouth, (Hants)
Incl plan, and elevation of house 
Addendum: Ryan Allen, whose family owned Crofton House in its latter days, has kindly sent me a photo.

Crofton House, image reproduced courtesy of Ryan Allen
Crofton House (detail), image reproduced courtesy of Ryan Allen

Modern aerial view from Bing Maps
- Ray

Monday, 16 December 2013

London Devonian Year Book 1913-1915

A while back I looked at the London Devonian Year Book 1910-1912, a compilation of the annual publication of the London Devonian Association, edited by Richard Pearse Chope. As I said then, the whole flavour is very DWM (Dead White Males - admittedly then living). But apart from being a Who's Who of the (mostly male) great and the good among early 20th century Devonians, it's a very rich lode of Devon-related historical material, with some good articles amid the adulatory gush about Devon and its offspring. Articles apart, it has a lot of material that could be of interest for historical or biographical research, such as listings of Devon-related organisations and people.

I've since noticed that the Internet Archive has the full set from 1910-1918. See London Devonian Year Book 1910-1912 for previous contents details. Moving on:

In the 1913: A Devonian "Common of Saints" (page 51), "Fair Devon" (page 63), Miss MP Willcocks as a Novelist (page 64), The Civil War in the West (page 73), "A Devon Wife" (page 80), John Gay and the "Beggar's Opera" (page 81), Thomas Newcomen, and the Birth of the Steam Engine (page 94), The Newcomen Engine (a poem by Erasmus Darwin, page 104). Some Recent Devonian Literature (page 105), and "Drake's Drum" (page 135).

In the 1914: Captain Robert Falcon Scott, R.N., C.V.O. (posthumous tribute, following Scott's death on his South Pole expedition, page 22), Sir William Henry White, K.C.B., F.R.S., LL.D. ("late chief constructor of the Royal Navy", page 27), National Memorial to Sir Francis Drake (page 30), Drake in History, Song, and Story (page 36), "Drake's Drum" — Henry Newbolt (page 64), The Romance of Devon (a historical and geographical overview, page 65), "Devon, our Home" (poem, page 83), "Jan Pook's Midnight Adventure" (page 84), Devonians in London (page 85), Okehampton Castle : The Keep (page 105), Some Recent Devonian Literature (page 114).

Send-off dinner to Captain Scott at the Hotel Cecil, June 16th 1910
In the 1915 (an issue not surprisingly focusing on World War One): Devonshire Patriotic Fund (page 17), An English Volkslied (page 20), Notes and Gleanings (page 31), Devonshire and the War (page 38), "Waggon Hill " — Henry Newbolt (page 57), Devonshire Dialect and Humour (page 58), Thomas Savery, F.R.S., Engineer and Inventor (page 75), "Drake's Drum" — Henry Newbolt (again! - page 85), The Saints of Devon, Part I. (page 86), Okehampton Castle : The Residential Buildings (page 110), English Folk-music ("with special reference to the Folk-songs of the West Country", page 121),  Some Recent Devonian Literature (page 137).

An English Volkslied is a satirical and topical parody of Widdecombe Fair:
An English Volkslied
[According to a German map of England, only Devonshire and Cornwall will remain British territory at the end of the war.]

(Tune, "Widdecombe Fair.")
Jan Bull, Jan Bull, give me thy grey coast,
All along Channel and up the North Sea,
For I'm planning to gobble your island on toast —
Yorkshire Pudding, Norfolk Dumpling, Welsh Rarebit,
Southdown Mutton Dorset Butter, Kent Hops,
The Roast Beef of Old England and all !
The Roast Beef of Old England and all !

And what will be spared to Jan Bull of your greed ? —
Cornwall and Devonshire's cider and cream ;
I cannot spare more, I've too many to feed —
There's Joachim, and Adalbert, Eitel Friedrich,
Bethmann-Hollweg, Von Moltke, Francis Joseph,
The Kronprinz, Meinself, Gott und all,
The Kronprinz, Meinself, Gott und all !

The Globe.
The Devonian Year Book:
- Ray

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Paignton Pier fire explained?

While browsing pamphlets this afternoon in the excellent Topsham Bookshop, I couldn't resist taking a photograph of this picture in an old guide to Paignton, showing the 1919 pier fire, chiefly because of having a chuckle at the name of the act advertised on the pavilion roof. Maybe the pier was torched by outraged Paigntonians!

- Ray
See Wikipedia if you don't get the allusion.

Friday, 13 December 2013

A Wren-like Note: officially launched

Just to make the news official: my biography A Wren-like Note: the life and works of Maxwell Gray, went ahead with the planned launch on December 3rd. The sales page is now online - here - and gives a preview of the book. is both a support site for the book and a general resource page about the Isle of Wight author Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett). You'll find a brief biography (abridged from the first chapter of the book); links, where findable, to her major works, related reading including minor works and articles about her; the only known interview; a live map of places in her life and works; a gallery of scans from an illustrated edition of The Silence of Dean Maitland; and an ongoing series of blog posts on Maxwell Gray topics.

- Ray

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Bookmark purge

One of an occasional purge of bookmarks that I've found very interesting, but not sufficient to build a blog post around.
- Ray

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Babylon is Fallen

Just purging some bookmarks, I rediscovered Ted Chiang's SF story Tower of Babylon, brilliantly imagining the practicalities of building of the Tower of Babel. This in turn reminded me of Alasdair Gray's collection Unlikely Stories, Mostly, which has a two-part fable on the same theme: The Start of the Axletree and The End of the Axletree, which uses the building of the Tower of Babel, and the evolving social structures within its workers and management, as an allegory for the development of human civilisation. The bookmarks also included several links for the hymn tune Babylon Is Fallen, which concluded the Topsham production of Tony Harrison's Mysteries earlier this year. It's a very catchy tune, open to considerable variation in style, whether the powerfully raw close harmony of Swan Arcade ...

... Sacred Harp devotional part singing ...

... or this grim anti-capitalist anthem by Plunderphoenix: Babylon muß fallen:

The tune is quite often claimed to be a 17th century Shaker hymn, but attribution doesn't seem to reliably track back further than the 1870s and William Edward Chute ...
His tune BABYLON IS FALLEN was printed in The Musical Million 6 (December 1875) and in Hauser's Olive Leaf (1878), where Hauser states that Prof. William E. Chute, then living in St. Thomas, Ontario, “composed the tune out of an old theme, and is too modest to claim any originality, but I do it for him."
- The Makers of the Sacred Harp, David Warren Steel, Richard H Hulan, University of Illinois Press, 2010
However, in an interesting Google Groups discussion on the tune - music for SH 117 BABYLON IS FALLEN - Gabriel Kastelle plausibly suggests a relation to an Irish tune called Reilly's Reel (see YouTube for basic tune, and this rather academic Celtic Trio arrangement - Babylon is Fallen fits perfectly with it).

Since 1991, it has been included in The Sacred Harp, a continually accreted collection of traditional American devotional choral singing (see Sacred Harp and Shape Note Singing and Wikipedia's article, Sacred Harp). I'm not sure what to make of the Sacred Harp tradition. Its choral music is not intended as a performance, and it's participatory and highly inclusive of all levels of ability: highly positive aspects that it's hard to disagree with. But as a musician used to striving for a polished performance, I find it sounds gratingly ramshackle. I guess you have to be in the mindset to appreciate it or not care about that.

- Ray

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Fake Topsham on Mystery Map

The ITV two-part programme Mystery Map aired recently: see Mystery Map: Ben Shephard and Julia Bradbury talk ghosts, UFOs and weird happenings. The second episode looked potentially of interest, as it covered the mystery of the "Devil's footprints" incident of 1855. The account, however, was very cursory. It was filmed in part by the River Exe in Topsham, using fake snow in Topsham Museum's garden to attempt to recreate the horseshoe-like prints. The snow, however, wasn't the only thing that was fake; I'm sure I'm not the only viewer to be puzzled by the shots of this location visited by Julia Bradbury and identified as Topsham:

""the village church of Topsham, in Devon"
"the church at the heart of sleepy Topsham"

Anyone who lives here will immediately spot it's not Topsham. Despite superficial similarity, Topsham church (St Margaret's) looks like this, with the tower on the side, not the end:

St Margaret's Church, Topsham. Image by David M Lear, licensed for reuse
under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license
The church featured in Mystery Map is actually that of the nearby village Clyst St George. See Google Maps:

View Larger Map

Whatever the reason (filming permission issues? Wanting the location to look more folksy? Sheer poor research?) it was lazy and unprofessional of the programme-makers to make this substitution without explanation. For readers in the UK ITV region, the relevant episode of Mystery Map can be seen on ITV Player until around Dec 27th; the Devil's Footprints section is in the third segment.

Screen shots reproduced as fair use for the purposes of criticism and review.

- Ray

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Sporting mistakes

A few posts back - None so fast as stroke - I mentioned a reference to Maxwell Gray in the 1923 article, Novelists' sporting blunders, which concerns sporting bloopers in novels. I just managed to hack the whole article out of the Google snippet view.
Novelists' sporting blunders
Curious mistakes in good stories

Ouida's classic hero, who rowed twice as fast as his fellows in the Boat Race, is the supreme example of the errors into which authors who venture to deal with a phase of sport of which they are ignorant may fall. But Ouida was not much more ignorant than most of her contemporaries, and mid-Victorian literature teems with similar blunders.

Writers, however, of a later date are expected to be meticulously accurate in all of their references to or descriptions of sporting events. Everyone plays some sort of game or follows some sport nowadays, and it is therefore astonishing to find that even modern authors are guilty of errors which are obvious to the most casual reader.

Maxwell Gray's Boat Race
Maxwell Gray, the author of "The Silence of Dean Maitland," makes a curious reference to the Boat Race in "The Great Refusal," published in 1906.
Once he remembered — on a boat-race day — when every coster cart fluttered light or dark blue ribbons and the colours were in shop windows and ladies' dresses, and expectation was on tiptoe for the result of that five minutes' swift sweep over Thames waters — he remembered thinking that the sixteen god-like youths smiting the river with strokes too swift to count were, after all, of real flesh and blood like himself.
These inaccuracies are the more inexplicable as it does not require a knowledge of rowing to know that about twenty minutes is the average time for the race from Putney to Mortlake, and that it is perfectly easy to watch and count the strokes of the oars as they are seen rowing past.

How many extras?
Mistakes in scoring at a cricket match may sometimes be made, but it is not for a author who is describing a match to make them. And of all authors, Mr. P G. Wodehouse, himself no mean cricketer, should be the last to fall into this sort of trap. In that most delightful of school-books, "Mike," Mr. Wodehouse describes how, in the third over of a House match, the bowler bowled three wides, in addition to which a leg-bye had already been run. Yet.—
At four o'clock, when the score stood at two hundred and twenty for no wicket, Barnes, greatly daring, smote lustily at a rather wide half-volley and was caught at short-slip for thirty-three. As Mike had then made a hundred and eighty-seven.
Now, thirty-three and a hundred and eighty-seven added together, would appear to make two hundred and twenty, as Mr Wodehouse no doubt realized. But what has happened to those four extras, of which we have already been told, to say nothing of others which most inevitably have been given during the course of play!

An incredible catch
Mr Wodehouse’s mistake is, of course, due, not to ignorance, but to carelessness. But Mr Ian Hay, in relating the earlier cricketing fortunes of “Pip,” makes a couple of statements which has, as a practical cricketer, can scarcely expect his readers to swallow. The first relates to a House match.
One of the batsmen played just inside a ball from the Hivite fast-bowler, Martin. The ball glanced, off his bat, and almost at the same moment Pip became conscious of a violent pain , suggestive of red-hot iron in his right armpit. He clapped his hand to the part affected, and to his astonishment drew forth the ball to a storm of applause.
If not physically impossible, this feat is quite incredible. Good fielders—and “Pip” was one—do not catch cricket balls in their armpits, a feat which would in any case to be possible only to a professional contortionist. It should be added that the scoring in this match is as peculiar as in Mr Wodehouse’s book.
RG: A quick aside: the author of this article, JPH, is completely wrong on this point. I don't know much about cricket, but a quick Google shows there are plenty of examples of fielders catching in the armpit. On with the rest of the piece ...
Advice from a Flapper
The other incident concerns “Pip’s” Blue for Cambridge. He is a left-handed bowler, and the Cambridge captain is not quite sure whether to play him against Oxford, The heroine — at this stage about sixteen years old — takes the matter in hand, and tackles the captain boldly:
"Have you ever tried him round the wicket?” asked Elsie."With his run he would pass behind the umpire just before delivering the ball." The captain was fairly startled this time. He turned and regarded the ingenue beside him with undisguised interest and admiration.”
Well he might! For this flapper of sixteen has already advised “Pip” to bowl around the wicket, to that hero’s undisguised wonder and amazement. But does Mr Hay really think that the old Blues and other great men who had a hand in training “Pip” would have suggested a device which, as a matter of fact, left-handed bowlers have nearly always adopted?

But enough of criticism. The story, after all, is the thing, and such faults affect our pleasure no more than Conan Doyle’s racing mistakes in "Silver Blaze" affect our interest in Sherlock Holmes. One of the most popular writers of school stories, the late Talbot Baines Reed, was incredibly careless as to the accuracy of the many sporting events he had to describe. But his stories still sell well and remain popular, and perhaps to notice such faults is to be hypercritical.
- JPH, Novelists' sporting blunders, page 580, T.P.'s and Cassell's Weekly, Volume 1, 1923
The mistakes may well be egregious to those who know about such matters, but the author's assumption that every reader knows likewise, or cares, is if anything weirder than the mistakes.

As I mentioned in None so fast as stroke, the citation of the rowing story to the much-ridiculed Ouida is false. Apart from Maxwell Gray's The Great Refusal (Internet Archive ID: greatrefusal00gray), the books referrred to are Ian Hay's 1917 "Pip": a romance of youth (Gutenberg #34136), and PG Wodehouse's 1909 Mike (Gutenberg #7423), the first of his four his"Psmith" novels.

Conan Doyle himself acknowledged the technical errors in the 1892 racing-related Silver Blaze:
Sometimes I have got upon dangerous ground, where I have taken risks through my own want of knowledge of the correct atmosphere. I have, for example, never been a racing man, and yet I ventured to write 'Silver Blaze', where the mystery depends upon the laws of training and racing. The story is all right, and Holmes may have been at the top of his form, but my ignorance cries aloud to Heaven. I read an excellent and very damaging criticism of the story in some sporting paper, written clearly by a man who did know, in which he explained the exact penalties which would have come upon all concerned if they had acted as I described, Half would have been in jail and the other half warned off the turf forever. However, I have never been nervous about details, and one must be masterful sometimes.
- Sidelights on Sherlock Holmes, Memories and Adventures, 1924.
Conan's Doyle's sporting paper reference isn't immediately findable, but a post in a Digital Spy forum, A-Z of Horse Racing (Part 2) - 65918576 # 2389 - explains the issues:
Holmes is an accessory after the fact to the crime of horse theft. He's also guilty of concealing a horse with a view to manipulating its price in the betting market.
Furthermore the rules of racing do not permit a horse to run against description i.e. if it has a silver blaze it must run with one. What the Winchester stewards were doing allowing this to happen one can only wonder. They should resign in shame. Holmes should be warned off for life and never allowed to investigate a case involving racehorses ever again.
Talbot Baines Reed was yet another example of a massively prolific but virtually forgotten 19th century author. He specialized in school stories, which mostly first appeared in the Boy's Own Paper, but were later published in book form by the Religious Tract Society. However, as the Wikipedia article says (see Talbot Baines Reed / School stories) they weren't overtly moralizing or religious like some of their predecessors. Nevertheless, they dealt in clichéd boarding school dramas and motifs ...
"... the stolen exam paper, the innocent who is wrongly accused and ultimately justified after much proud suffering, the boating accident, the group rivalries, the noble friendships. Adult characters are largely stereotypes: a headmaster known as "the Doctor" and modelled on Thomas Arnold of Rugby, "the jabbering French master (pointed beard and two-tone shoes)", the popular games master, the dry pedant, the generally comic domestic staff ..."
-  Quigly, Isobel. The Heirs of Tom Brown: The English School Story. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1984
... that have been widely recycled ever since, right up to the piss-poor Harry Potter series. Many of Talbot Baines Reed's books are on Project Gutenberg (author #9657). I can't say I care enough about the genre to search them for sporting mistakes.

- Ray

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

To Brixham

Would you believe, we've been down in Devon for around 18 years, and had never been to Brixham?

We finally went on Monday. It could scarcely be easier from Topsham: a straight-through train along the coast to Paignton, and out the door of the station to the bus station, from which a 12 bus goes to Brixham. The Brixham terminus is at the harbour end of Lower Brixham ("Fish Town" - as opposed to the historically separate Upper Brixham, nicknamed "Cow Town"). I don't terribly like overcast autumn/winter days, and out-of-season coastal towns can feel very run-down - but it was a very pleasant afternoon. From the slightly shabby view over the car park ...

... a short walk takes you to the quay, with its replica of the Golden Hind.

From there you can potter left to look at the fishing quay ...

... or go right to the other side of the harbour, where the dockside path or higher roads take you to Prince William Marina, the half-mile breakwater, and ultimately to Berry Head. We saved the last for another day (it's not far, but at 3.30pm the dusk was already starting to set in).  but did get to the end of the breakwater.

Lower Brixham is built up the limestone sides of an inlet, and the vista that opens up as you walk along the Berry Head road is a delight, almost Mediterranean in style, with intriguing glimpses up the steep flights of steps between the pastel-coloured houses.

From the breakwater - though it wasn't the best day for it - you have a panoramic view right across Torbay, to Torquay and beyond.

We must definitely visit on a brighter day.

- Ray

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Nooks and crannies - an ill-fated housing boom

click to enlarge
This is the cover of a pleasant booklet, Isle of Wight: Forty-one camera studies of the nooks & crannies, bays & chines of the garden isle, produced by the Photochrom Company of London and Tunbridge Wells. It's undated, but circa 1910. The cover has a cut-out revealing the first image, a location that's one of my obsessions, Blackgang Chine, a now-destroyed coastal ravine near the southern tip of the Island.

click to enlarge
The image, taken from the headland called Blackgang Bluff, looks across the chine to various clifftop villas in the near distance, part of the mid-Victorian development of Blackgang, and off into the distance over the 'Back of the Wight'. The row of houses at the right is called Cliff Terrace, which is presumably the "terrace of lodging-houses" described in Edmund Venables' 1867 A guide to the Undercliff of the Isle of Wight, Shanklin and Blackgang (page 67). There were further villas at Lowcliff, hidden by the cliffs at the right of the photo - compare the view I posted a while back:

Low-resolution image reproduced in accordance with dissemination statement: McInnes, R. 2008. Art as a tool in support of the understanding of coastal change. The Crown Estate, 106 pages, ISBN: 978-1-906410-08-7 First published 2008. Click to enlarge
click to enlarge
All of the cliffscape in the foreground has been destroyed by coastal erosion over the 20th century. Cliff Terrace itself has been truncated, and is one of the few remnants of a fairly ill-fated Victorian development boom.

Apart from finding the picture interesting, I returned to the topic because I hadn't fully realised the extent of the speculative developments and land dealings going on in the Isle of Wight in the 1830s-40s. I already mentioned the land turnover at Bonchurch in that period, associated with the breakup of the manorial estate - see Brannon on Bonchurch and ... in the Isle of Wight #1. Similar moves happened with the breakup of the "Buddle estate" near Niton; an advertisement in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle for September 11, 1847 offers the individual sale of a portfolio of plots "with an extensive frontage to the Coast, affording a grand sea view, and admirably adated for the erection of Marine Villas".

The Newport agent managing the sale, Mr Francis Pittis (later Sir Francis Pittis, mayor of Newport), must have done extremely well out of such deals, because the same issue shows him handling the sale of recently-built properties at or near Blackgang: the "Italian style" South View House (previously mentioned here); the "Gothic villa residence" Lowcliff Lodge (the large house at bottom right of the colour image above) and Lowcliff Cottage at its drive entrance. Around the same time (Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian, October 16, 1847) he handled the sale of the estate of James Barlow Hoy, whose 38 lots included pasture land and houses in the area of Blackgang and Chale; and in the Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian of May 19, 1849 he has further ads for the recently-built Southlands (with "15 acres of pasture land, part of which is composed in terrace walks, pleasure grounds, and gardens, and includes the most valuable and desirable building sites") as well as the Blackgang Hotel itself (now part of the offices of the Blackgang Chine amusement park), Blackgang Farm, and various nearby properties.

The whole development, looking in hindsight, seems wildly shortsighted. Even then, the land was known to be unstable, with a particular major slip in 1799 taking out 100 acres and Pitlands Farm at Blackgang. Only a few years before the boom, the author Robert Mudie, in his The Isle of Wight: its past and present condition, and future prospects (c. 1840) commented extensively on the 1799 slip, and the high probability of future ones - see page 100 onward - saying that
the fate of this [farm] however ought to give some warning to those who are erecting villas between the land-slip and the chine; for, though these may be founded immediately on the rock, and that rock may have the appearance of stability. appearances in such a place are not to be depended upon; and it is very possible that the leveling of a flat area for a villa and its patch of lawn, may tend to admit the water in the vertical fissures and cutters of the rock, and thus hasten some such catastrophe as that to which we are alluding.
Mudie was right, but it all took longer than he feared. As it happened, none of the affluent buyers ever fell off a cliff while in occupancy; the larger villas outlived the era of the gentleman mansion owner, and generally succumbed quietly to property blight and dereliction / demolition long before the cliff reached them. Southview, for instance, suffered minor damage from the 1978 landslip, and was destroyed by fire (how it started appears unknown) shortly after. There don't seem to be any easily findable records of what happened to Southlands or Lowcliff. But one notable villa from this era, Five Rocks, is still extant, and houses the goblin-haunted "Rumpus Mansion", one of the theme park features.

The Carisbrooke Castle HistoricImages site has some very impressive views of Blackgang in the early 1900s (you can see higher resolution if you select an image, right-click, and view it in Windows Photo Viewer; from the terms of use, this seems to be OK as long as you don't use them for anything). This one in particular - #1766 - also shows Cliff Terrace and Lowecliffe, with other buildings in positively scary locations at the foot of the chine.

Update, 1 Nov 2014
I've found a deal more about Lowcliffe and Southlands: see Lowcliffe and Southlands: from cradle to grave.

- Ray