Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The lucky escape of Kerenhappuch Newnham

Parachute Petticoat trope
A steep flight of steps scales the cliffs, along which the pedestrian may proceed, and from which he can get a very extended view; but he will have to be careful, as not long since a girl, named Karanheippuck [sic] Newnham, was blown from the cliff, but her clothes, becoming inflated, broke her fall, and she alighted unhurt on the shore below, and was afterwards known as "Happie Ninham."

That version of the anecdote, concerning the Niton area of the Isle of Wight Undercliff, comes from the 1873 Shaw's Tourist's Picturesque Guide to the Isle of Wight, and it appears in other Victorian regional guides. William Henry Davenport Adams recycled it for several of his books. The accounts differ in where exactly it happened, but it seems likely that she was ascending Cripple Path - the footpath up the escarpment face near Niton - and fell off the part half-way up where there was, and still is, a drop with a lot of undergrowth cover at its foot.

Cripple Path - postcard by AR Quinton
You can track the story in Isle of Wight travelogues. Interestingly, she doesn't acquire a name until around 30 years after the event.
In the summer of 1831, a girl, from Bonchurch, walking along the top of the cliff to Niton, was, by a sudden gust of wind, blown over, in the immediate neighbourhood of Mirables. Fortunately she alighted among some underwood, and miraculously escaped, without even a bruise; she pursued her walk to Niton, and was the first to recount the adventure.
- page 158, A Topographical and Historical Guide to the Isle of Wight (WCFG Sheridan, 1833, Google Books 2ScOAAAAQAAJ

From that part of the cliff [above Mirables] ... a young female was blown over into the depth below, by a sudden gust of wind, in the summer of the year 1831. Wonderful to relate, she escaped unhurt, though alighting upon some underwood; the only inconvenience to her (besides the fright), being that she then pursued her walk to Niton by the base of the cliff, instead of along its brow.
- pages 79-80, Barber's Picturesque Guide to the Isle of Wight (Thomas Barber, 1850, Internet Archive barberspictures00unkngoog)

The tourist, if unfortunately encumbered with a carriage, may do well to quit it here, and ascending the cliff, continue along its edge to Cripple Path (taking care to avoid the fate of Kerenhappuch Newnham, who, some forty years since, was blown over the cliff in this place, lest he should not be so lucky as she was, and reach the ground unhurt); where he can again descend, and regain his vehicle. The view of the rough slopes below, the headlands dividing the little bays, and the expanse of ocean beyond is very striking, and should not be missed.
- page 256, The Isle of Wight, a Guide (Edmund Venables, 1860, Google Books shMHAAAAQAAJ).

On the right is the foot-track which leads to Cripple Path, "a way cut by steps in the side of the cliff, and affording seats about half-way down, composed of projecting ledges of the rock, which, though of Nature's forming, are almost artificial in their aspect." We now gain Orchard Cottage (Lady Willoughby Gordon), a semi-brick, semi-stone villa, irregular, but picturesque, with terraced gardens of great beauty; and nearly opposite stands Beauchamp, originally named from the Beauchamps of Ancaster. Near this spot, in the summer of 1831, was blown from the cliff a young girl, named "Karanheippuck Newnham," but afterwards popularly called "Happie Ninham." She fell upon the shore below without receiving any injury save the momentary alarm.
- page 138, The Environs of Ventnor, Nelson's Handbook to the Isle of Wight, (WH Davenport Adams, 1866, Google Books 36hbAAAAQAAJ).

Near this spot, in the summer of 1831, was blown from the cliff a young girl, named "Kerenhappuch Newnham," but afterwards popularly called "Happie Ninham," who still lives in Ventnor. She fell upon the Terrace below without receiving any injury save the momentary alarm.
- page 140, Nelson's Handbook to the Isle of Wight, (WH Davenport Adams, 1870 edition).

Care must be taken not to walk thoughtlessly too near the edge of the precipice. A man once stepped over the cliff in the dark, and though badly injured shortly afterwards recovered; and in 1831 a young girl, of about fourteen, was proceeding along the path on a windy day when she dropped a basket which she was carrying, and in her anxiety to save it from going over the height, she fell over herself, but fortunately alighted on some soft brushwood, and was so little injured that she was able to walk home.
- page 118, Jenkinson's Smaller Practical Guide to the Isle of Wight (Henry Irwin Jenkinson, 1879, Internet Archive jenkinsonssmall02jenkgoog).
"Kerenhappuch" isn't a name easily forgotten. I'd never encountered it before, but it's biblical: Kerenhappuch or Keren-Happuch was one of the three daughters of Job ...
And he called the name of the first, Jemima; and the name of the second, Kezia; and the name of the third, Kerenhappuch.
- Job 42:14, King James Bible
... and a little Googling suggests that it's a characteristically Puritan given name. I haven't been able to find a contemporary newspaper account of the incident, but Kerenhappuch Newnham checks out as real. She was born on 12 Oct 1816 and baptised on 10 Nov 1816 at St Lawrence, and her parents were Hannah and John Newnham, a shoemaker. The 1861 census finds her still living with her father at St Lawrence; and the 1881 census finds her living at Percy Cottage, Ventnor, with her sister Susan, a lodging-house keeper. She died, aged 72, in January 1888. The lucky escape seems to be the sole recorded notable incident of her life.

The Isle of Wight County Press of 22 Jun 1963 carried a fictional piece, Happy Ninham, by the late Stanley Cotton of Niton, which spins out the sparse details into a story of the episode. It concludes similarly:
A few weeks afterwards “Happy” was trying on a new lavender bonnet before the critical eyes of her mother. She turned from the looking-glass and smiled archly at her parent.
    “Mother,” she said; “be I what you’d call ‘purty?’”
    “Don’t stand there lookin’ like a Poll Parrot!” answered Eliza. “Purty? Yes; purty enough in a jineral way. Why do ‘ee ask that?”
    “I was wonderin’ who I be likely to marry. I raly do think that I shall be some gennleman’s wifea rale somebody. Then I shall be ‘membered long after I be dead and gone!”
    “’Membered! You’ll be ‘membered for one thing, mark me! Only as the stupid maid that fell over clift, and lived to tell the tale, and not for naught else!”
- Happy Ninham, by Stanley Cotton, IWCP, Saturday Jun 22, 1963, page 14, (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive archive.iwcp.co.uk). 

But did it happen? I find it very strange that such an unusual name as Kerenhappuch shouldn't be attached to the story right from the start. I also find it interesting that shortly before the story kicked off, a very similar scenario features in the 1828 anonymous novel The Rector of Overton, in which a young child falls, similarly unharmed, from the escarpment that backs the Isle of Wight Undercliff.
Little Henry Wilson, precipitated over the cliff, fell successively on the numerous bushes that grow out of its rugged and perpendicular front, and was at last thrown on a turfy shelf which forms the lower ridge of the truly beautiful scenery
    Two young men of the medical profession, who visited the Isle of Wight to improve their knowledge in botany, had left Shanklin that morning, and had climbed to this lofty situation in search of curious mosses, and other mountain vegetables. They had just discovered something which they considered to be new, when they heard a rush amongst the bushes, almost over their heads, and soon saw a child thrown prostrate and senseless very near them. The height of the impending cliff could not be less than seventy feet in this part; and their first impression, therefore, was, that this must be an accident, and the child killed. They, however, took it up; and, after using some of the common methods, and having examined ll the limbs, they saw the child revive, and found that he was not seriously hurt. The young men then looked up to see if any one was at the top of the cliff, and shouted for near half an hour with all their powers of voice, but shouted in vain; and, at last, greatly embarrassed, they decided to carry their new acquisition with them down to Steephill, where they intended to dine.
- pages 120-121, The Rector of Overton: A Novel, Volume 3 (1828, Google Books 9xxLAAAAIAAJ)
If anyone can offer more data, I'd be very interested.

- Ray

image from The Rector of Overton

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