The Laird of Abbotsford

[Sir Walter] Scott was now [1810] in receipt of £1,300 a year as clerk of session, and when the lease of Ashestiel ran out in May 1811, he felt justified in purchasing, for £4,000, a farm on the banks of the Tweed above Gala-foot. This farm, then known as Clarty Hole, became Abbotsford, so called because these lands had belonged of old to the great Abbey of Melrose; and in his own mind Scott became henceforth the Laird of Abbotsford.

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During [1817] the existing house of Abbotsford had been building, and Scott had added to his estate the lands of Toftfield, at a price of £10,000. He was then thought to be consolidating a large fortune, for the annual profits of his novels alone had, for several years, been not less than the cost of Toftfield.

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The house of Abbotsford was not completed and finally rid of carpenters and upholsterers until Christmas 1824; but the first time I saw it was in 1818, and from that time onwards Scott’s hospitality was extended freely, not only to the proprietors and tenants of the surrounding district but to a never-ending succession of visitors who came to Abbotsford as pilgrims. In the seven or eight brilliant seasons when his prosperity was at its height, he entertained under his roof as many persons of distinction in rank, in politics, in art, in literature, and in science as the most princely nobleman of his age ever did in the like space of time.

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Scott’s diary from November 1825 shows clear forebodings of the collapse of the [publishing] houses of Constable and Ballantyne. In December Scott borrowed £10,000 on the lands of Abbotsford, and advanced that sum to the struggling houses; on January 16, 1826, their ruin, and Scott’s with them, was complete.
On May 15 Lady Scott died, after a short illness, at Abbotsford. “I think,” writes Scott in his diary, “my heart will break.”

Abbotsford 4

An expedition to Paris in October, to gather materials for his “Life of Napoleon,” was a seasonable relief. The “Life of Buonaparte” was published in June 1827, and secured high praise from many…… It realised £18,000 for the creditors, and, had health been spared him, Scott must soon have freed himself from all encumberances.
‘Life of Sir Walter Scott,’ John Gibson Lockhart, published 1837/’38 in seven volumes.

Sir Walter Scott, author of such classic novels as ‘Rob Roy’ and ‘Ivanhoe’, died at Abbotsford on 21 September 1832.

Profits from the ‘Life’ were donated by Lockhart, his son-in-law, to the creditors.

Abbotsford (“just a short train ride from Edinburgh”) is now in the care of a charitable trust and still attracts thousands of “pilgrims” every year.

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The Old Curiosity Shop

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Retracing our steps….we shortly arrive at Portsmouth Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields. At No. 14 will be found (for a short time only) a small old-fashioned house, on the front of which is painted an inscription, “The Old Curiosity Shop, Immortalised by Charles Dickens,” now occupied by Mr. H. Poole, dealer in wastepaper. This is said to be the house assigned by the novelist for the residence of Little Nell and her grandfather, with whose pathetic history we are all familiar—

“One of those receptacles for old and curious things, which seem to crouch in odd corners of this town, and to hide their musty treasures from the public eye in jealousy and distrust.”

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It cannot, however, be regarded as absolutely certain that this particular house was the author’s intended “local habitation” for one of the best-known and loved of his creations. The tale itself concludes with a reference to Kit’s uncertainty as to the whereabouts of the place:—

“The old house had long ago been pulled down, and a fine broad road was in its place. At first he would draw with his stick a square upon the ground to show them where it used to stand. But he soon became uncertain of the spot, and could only say it was thereabouts, he thought, and that these alterations were confusing.”

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[A lady, personally acquainted with the great novelist, has informed the author that she was once taken by Mr. Dickens to No. 10 Green Street (approaching Leicester Square from the east)—at the corner of Green and Castle Streets, behind the National Gallery—the business of curiosity-dealing being then and there carried on. Mr. Dickens himself localised this house as the home of little Nell, pointing out an inner room—divided from the shop by a glass partition—as her bedroom. The premises are now rebuilt.]
‘Rambles in Dickens Land’, Robert Allbut, S.T. Freemantle. 1899.

Images top to bottom:
1. This old photograph reproduced on a postcard may have been made in the 1870s.
2. New tenants Gill & Durrant, successors to H. Poole photographed c.1912-1914. The shop was threatened with demolition at the time Allbut wrote that it would be there “for a short time only”. It was saved, but Mr. Poole had already moved to new premises.
3. Another tenant – who needs to fix that roof urgently! Could be early 1920s. I think the lady in the doorway is dressed in Victorian style for maximum Dickensian effect.

The old shop today is surrounded by the brick and glass of the London School of Economics and in need of more maintenance. Modern opinion agrees with Allbut that it had no connection to Dickens. In fact Steve Draper claims in this post that it was rebranded in 1868, when it was a bookshop, to increase trade.

That dicussion is a distraction from the building’s real historic value. Here is a 17th (some say 16th) century structure that has survived the Great Fire of London and the bombs of two world wars. Surely that deserves better than a Grade II listing.

Bridging the Forth

“If I were to pretend that the designing and building of the Forth Bridge were not a source of present and future anxiety to all concerned, no engineer of experience would believe me. Where no precedent exists, the successful engineer is he who makes the fewest mistakes.” Benjamin Baker.

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1887

One specially noteworthy feature about this in-all-respects-wonderful bridge is that the cantilevers …. have been built steadily out from the piers without any even temporary support from below. These mighty segments of steel arches have been built out into the air—into empty space…. Day by day fresh sections have been added on, the workmen perched on any convenient projection performing their duties at a giddy height above the flowing water. There was no scaffolding. Steam cranes were run on tramways out to the end of the finished portion of the cantilevers and then the steel plates to be next riveted on were hauled up from punts floating in the estuary below.

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May 1888

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August 1888

It is a curious thing that there is seldom so much wind at the top of the bridge as lower down. When it was too strong to work on the lower members, the workmen used to go to the top for shelter. “I went up on a breezy day this week,” writes a contributor, “and on the platform on the top of the cantilever pillars, 570 feet high, there was scarcely a breath of air. So soon as you get above the cliffs which confine the Firth at its narrowest point, the wind distributes itself, and what is a fresh breeze at the water’s level is only a faint zephyr at the top of the structure. It is a pity that when the bridge is completed the hoists which carry you soaring up, with only a couple of wires to steady the cage, must be removed, for a charge to see the view might produce a useful revenue.

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Early 1889

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June 1889

The greatest engineering work of its kind, and perhaps of any kind, the world has yet seen completed one of its stages on October 10th [1889], when the south cantilevers of the Forth Bridge—those between Queensferry and Inchgarvie—were successfully joined. Advantage was taken of the fine day to carry out this interesting and delicate operation, which had been delayed by recent cold and storms. At the last moment there was a gap of three-quarters of an inch between the bolt holes, but by means of hydraulic jacks and by lighting a fire of naphtha waste in the trough of the girder, the necessary expansion was secured. Mr. Arrol struck the first bolt, and the rest were immediately thereafter driven home.

It is of interest to record that the three engineers who created the Forth Bridge are all self made men. Sir John Fowler, who is in his 73rd year, was born at Sheffield. To him London owes its under ground railway system. Sir Benjamin Baker, although still young, has carried out important works in Canada and at the Cape. Sir William Arrol was originally a piercer in a Paisely cotton mill, and when he received the freedom at Ayr the other week he mentioned that 30 years back he entered the same town a poor blacksmith in search of employment. In 1868 he started in business in Dalmarnock road, Glasgow, with a capital of £85 saved from his wages. With this he bought an engine at £18, and a boiler at £35. For some time his staff consisted of himself and a workman. Seventeen years passed away and his staff numbered 4300, engaged on the Forth Bridge.

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1890

“It is now seven years, or nearly seven years, since the foundations of this bridge were commenced, and until two years ago we had to endure not only the legitimate anxieties of our duties, but the attacks and evil predictions which are always directed on those who undertake engineering work of novelty or exceptional magnitude. When I was carrying out the Metropolitan Underground Railway I was told it never could be made, that if it was made it never could be worked, and that if it was worked no one would travel by it. M. De Lesseps, of the Suez Canal, was warned that if the canal was made it would be quickly filled up with desert sand, and the harbor of Port Said would be filled with Nile mud….. It is very curious to watch the manner of retreat of these prophets of failure when results prove they have been mistaken”. Sir John Fowler at the opening ceremony, 4th March 1890.

Text has been edited from various newspapers of the time. Images were produced by Valentines. The letter card that provided the first five was “bought at the Forth Bridge from Miss Ewart’s Ferry Tea Rooms”. The ferries continued in business until the road bridge opened in 1964. A third bridge was added in 2017.

The Forth (Rail) Bridge still carries up to 200 trains a day.

Pioneers at Brooklands

aeroplane at brooklands

One portion of Aerodrome Brooklands showing motor track. No hangers shown although plenty up the other end.

The banked race track at Brooklands in Surrey, England, opened in 1907 and was the first purpose-built motor racing circuit in the world. The land inside the track was used by pioneer aviators for their flying experiments and became an aerodrome in 1909.

The message on this old postcard has no signature or date but the mention of “plenty” of hangers suggests a date of about 1912 when there were several flying schools based there.

I can only guess at the aircraft’s make and model. All suggestions welcome.

The place for girls

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Oamaru
Aug. 24th 1914.

Dear Mum,
Here is a few views of the place I live in. Am having a very decent time here but the work is a bit monotonous. May go to a dance tonight. We are having lovely weather here. I have only 1 letter since I have been here so things are pretty slow. Tell Jim this is the place for girls. It is better than Wellington. Went over the gardens on Sunday, they were very nice.
Love to all
Gordon.

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The monument at the centre of Gordon’s postcard is in honour of local troopers who served in the South African (Boer) war. It was unveiled in 1905 and is one of the most impressive of its type in New Zealand. The statue at the top was sculpted by Carlo Bergamini using Trooper David Mickle Jack as his model.

Oamaru is famous for its locally quarried sandstone (as well as girls). Much of the town was built with it but none was used in the memorial. Granite and marble for that were sourced from as far away as Europe.

The Troopers Memorial was moved in 2008 to make way for road improvements. It migrated 40 metres south and turned through 180 degrees to face north, the opposite direction from that shown on Gordon’s postcard.

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Troopers Memorial, Oamaru, New Zealand. December 2013.

 

Be Careful Out There

Down here in the Southern Hemisphere, the Christmas/New Year period coincides with summer holidays and road trips, so here are a few useful tips to keep you safe on the highway. Northeners can file them away for later.

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Drive carefully past animals. The highway is free to the wandering dog, restive horse and un-led cow, and the responsibility for avoiding accidents rests with the motorist. When passing animals it is best to do so slowly and be on the alert. Cows and dogs may be moved by sounding the horn, but making “shoo-ing” noises is more effective. A trick used on the continent is to disengage the clutch, and at the same time, press the accelerator. The sound of the racing engine is the best warning of all. When passing restive horses sound the horn when some distance away to attract the attention of the driver or rider, and then quietly proceed past the animals.

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Take the off side of the road when meeting led horses. It is the usual practice when leading horses to keep to the right so that the animals and man in charge of them face the oncoming traffic. When some distance from the animals the motorist should sound the horn to attract the attention of the man in charge. Pass the animals on the off side, giving them a wide berth, and proceed cautiously, with the minimum of noise so as not to frighten them.

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Carry an efficient fire extinguisher readily accessible. An efficient chemical fire extinguisher is an essential accessory. Light, compact, and easily operated, they are procurable from any up-to-date garage for a few shillings. The device used should be of the type recommended for automobiles and charged with a fluid compound to deal with petrol fires. To be effective the extinguisher must be fitted in such a position that it can be easily reached in the event of a fire, therefore it should not be fixed under the bonnet, near the petrol tank or under the seat. The running board, or near one of the doors, are the best locations for it.
‘Safety First’ cigarette card set by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1934.

Up on Christmas Creek

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Photograph by Burton Brothers c.1890. Te Papa collection.

The stream with the season-appropriate name lies to the west of Dunedin, New Zealand. It flows under the rail bridge in the picture and joins the Taieri river on the other side.

The engine and its train of wagons belonged to the Otago Central Railway which, according to the Cyclopedia of New Zealand’s volume of 1905, had “been the subject of heated controversy….the funds for its construction have been obtained at various times only after bitter struggles with the promoters of rival provincial undertakings. [The province of] Otago understands its importance and has long since proved her determination to sacrifice many another public interest rather than fail in the great work of opening up the central districts of the province, and bringing them within easy range of the coast and the [provincial] capital”.

“….the promoters of the line hold that great ultimate benefits would accrue to the colony as a whole, through the exploitation of mineral and agricultural wealth, and the facilitation of the already extensive and lucrative tourist traffic”.

Work had begun on the track in 1879 but, due to terrain and shortage of money, it advanced only 100 miles over the next 23 years – “less than five miles a year”. The writer thought the hardest part had been done and “it does not seem that there is any special difficulty involved in the formation of the line, as far as Clyde, 130 miles from Dunedin. It is altogether a great undertaking; and its completion is in every way essential to the ultimate prosperous development of the province”.

The railway did reach Clyde eventually, finally arriving at Cromwell and its surrounding agricultural land by 1921. It had been 42 years in the making. Meanwhile roads had improved and the traffic moved from rails to trucks and cars. The line struggled to compete for business.

The Clyde to Cromwell section was closed in 1980 to make way for the Clyde hydro dam and what is now Lake Dunstan. The track from Clyde to Middlemarch was removed in 1991 and has since been developed into the Otago Rail Trail, a popular route reserved exclusively for cyclists and walkers.

You can still ride the train as far as Middlemarch as it winds up through the rugged Taieri Gorge and over the bridge at Christmas Creek. It’s one of the region’s major tourist attractions. Book early to avoid disappointment.

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