Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Agnes Ibbetson, Exmouth botanist

Another spinoff from Memorials of Exmouth: Mrs Agnes Ibbetson (née Thomson, 1757-1823) was an outstanding self-taught plant physiologist and polymath: the most prolifically-published female researcher on botany of the early 19th century. It's a pity, then, that the most readily-found contemporary biographical description drifts from listing her achievements into portraying her as an insanely charitable opium-swiller surrounded by an entourage of dotards.

Sunday, 26 April 2015


Some sort of prize for "most egregious appropriation of a literary source" has to go the makers of this 2015 Xbox One advert that just began airing on UK television.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Blackgang: Five Rocks

"Here once was a fine house
Spacious, warm and bright.
Where the island’s lords and ladies
Danced all thro’ the night.
But then the boggarts and the brownies
And elves, in they came.
Took over the mansion
Now things aren’t the same.
It’s dark and it’s gloomy.
The humans have fled.
It’s a fine house no longer.
It’s Rumpus instead!"
- cited from transcript at

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Beauties of the Shore and bogus quotations

I have a regular peeve about misquotations, but I suppose it was more forgiveable a couple of centuries ago when you couldn’t Google sources. Nevertheless, you occasionally run into positively wilful examples that arent explicable by good-faith misremembering, as in DM Stirling’s 1838 The Beauties of the Shore; Or, A Guide to the Watering-places on the South-east Coast of Devon.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Damnation trolley

A spot of technical geekiness for a change: something struck me as very familiar about the "stair-climbing shopping trolley" on the cover of the Late Spring 2015 catalogue for Solutions World, a catalogue of labour-saving devices. It connects, maybe surprisingly, to a 1977 SF movie, and indirectly to a Roger Zelazny novel.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Temple and Tower at Exmouth

If you're in the area of the Imperial Hotel at Exmouth, Devon - on Alexandra Terrace, or its junction with Morton Road and the Esplanade, or the Clock Tower on the Esplanade - you can see an unusual neo-classical building in the grounds of the hotel. This is the surviving member of a pair of Grecian follies built in 1824.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Memorials of Exmouth

Memorials of Exmouth by the Rev. William John Wesley Webb (aka the Rev. William Everitt) is a pleasant and eclectic late 19th century compendium of Exmouth history and trivia - as the author describes it, a "scrap-book ... put together as a History for the Parishioner rather than a Guide to the Visitor. The latter, however, may get from it as much as he cares to know".

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Wilhelmina Stitch on Blackgang

Reading Geoffrey Grigson's 1945 description of Blackgang Chine bazaar (see Blackgang: a whale of a chine), I assumed that his reference to "Fragrant Minutes of verse by Wilhelmina Stitch" was just a general example of the keepsakes sold there in that era. But no: it turns out that there was actually a specific piece of Blackgang Chine merchandise by this bygone inspirational writer.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Blackgang: a whale of a chine

There aren't many roles for whale skeletons in literature, but one appears in Maxwell Gray's 1913 novel Something Afar (published in the USA as The Desire of the Moth), where the author gets in a reference to her native Isle of Wight and a description (fancifully embroidered by Blanche, the protagonist's wife) of the celebrated whale skeleton at Blackgang Chine.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Blackgang Chine, March 2015

Finally, after years of visiting the Isle of Wight, and many walks starting or finishing at the Blackgang Chine bus stop by the giant smuggler, we visited the Blackgang Chine theme park itself. And an interesting visit it turned out to be ...

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Alum Bay

On 31st March - a gusty and cold, but bright, day - we took the bus from Newport to Alum Bay, whose beach I haven't visited since around 1970. Out of season, the chairlift doesn't operate, and I was worried about the climb (what with cough, etc). I was very pleased to find no problems - altogether a pleasant visit to a location rich in geological and literary assocations.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Princess Elizabeth at Newport Minster

Coincidental to the recent celebrations of the discovery and reburial of Richard III, a few days ago we visited the site of an earlier royal reburial: Sts Thomas Minster, Newport, Isle of Wight, which contains the memorial and tomb of Princess Elizabeth Stuart, second daughter of Charles I.