An Irish taxi

With St. Patrick’s Day coming up this weekend I thought I’d get in early and share these impressions of an Irish jaunting car from 1935.

A J. Valentine postcard from 1935.

Postcard by J. Valentine from 1935.

Postcard by J. Valentine from 1935.

Postcard by J. Valentine from 1935.

Postcard by J. Valentine from 1935.

Postcards by Valentines.


Trouble with Trams

Driving hazards in 1934, when British traffic rules and road designs were still evolving.

Image from a 1934 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills. Safety First series.

Tramcars are built with a considerable amount of overhang at each end, and for that reason the ends swing out for some distance when they round a curve. Do not pass a tram when it is nearing a corner or crossing a junction, as its rear platform may strike the side of your car. It is not safe to rely on the driver giving the correct hand signal, and even if he does so the bulk of his vehicle will hide his hand from you. Never follow a tram closely for it is fitted with very powerful magnetic brakes and should it stop suddenly you may be unable to avoid a collision.

Image from a 1934 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills. Safety First series.Some towns have by-laws that compel all traffic to stop when a tram stops, so as to avoid danger to any passengers who may be entering or alighting from it. In other districts the procedure is left to the discretion of the motorist who may stop, proceed cautiously or pass the tram on the off side. Of these three alternatives the first is the safest, for among the tram’s passengers there may be an old person or an irresponsible child. Passing round the off side of the tram has its dangers as one may meet another tram proceeding rapidly in the opposite direction.

It is always inadvisable to motor along a tram track, for tramlines, especially if they are wet, are most “skid-provoking.” Often, too, the lines are worn to a sharp edge which cuts the tyres. If you have the misfortune to get your wheels caught in the tram track (as in the case illustrated), pull out gradually.

Image from a 1934 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills. Safety First series.

Grip the wheel firmly, but gently, and change the direction of motion as gradually as possible. Avoid use of the brakes, take your foot off the accelerator and press down the clutch pedal so that the car rolls along, for rolling road wheels, that have no power transmitted through them, do not skid.

Source: Safety First, a series of 50 cigarette cards issued by W.D. & H.O. Wills.

Edwardian Society in Sidmouth

From ‘The South Devon Coast’ by Charles G. Harper. 1907. (Abridged)

Before Torquay, Teignmouth, Exmouth, and other places had begun to develop, Sidmouth was a place of fashion, and the signs of that early favour are still abundantly evident in the town, which is largely a place of those prim-frontaged, white-faced houses we associate with the early years of the nineteenth century. It belongs, in fact, to the next period following that of Lyme Regis, and has just reached the point of being very quaint and old-world and interesting, as we and ours will have become in the course of another century.


And now, in this town which ought to be jealously preserved as a precious specimen of what the watering place of close upon a century ago was like, the restless evidences of our own time are becoming plentiful; older houses giving way to new, of the pretentious character so well suited to the age, and in red brick and terra-cotta.

Why, confound the purblind, batlike stupidity of it ! red brick is not wanted at Sidmouth, where the cliffs are the very reddest of all Devon. We need not give the old builders of white-faced Sidmouth any credit for artistic perceptions, for they could not choose but build in the fashion of their age, but, by chance, they did exactly the right thing here, and in midst of this richest red of the cliffs, this emerald green of the exquisite foliage, this yellow of the beach, deep blue of the sea, and cerulean blue above, planted their terraces and isolated squares of cool, contrasting whiteness. It was a white period, if you come to consider it, a time of book-muslin and simplicity, both natural and affected, and although Sidmouth was fashionable it was not flamboyant.

Sidmouth is in these days recovering something of its own. Not perhaps precisely in the same way, for the days of early nineteenth-century aristocratic fashion can never again be repeated on this earth. But a new vogue has come to it, and it is as exclusive in its new way as it was in the old; if not, indeed, more exclusive. More exclusive, more moneyed, not at all well-born, jewelled up to the eyes, and only wanting the final touch of being ringed through the nose. Oddly enough, it is a world quite apart from the little town; hidden from it, for the most part, in the hotels of the place. Most gorgeous and expensive hotels, standing in extensive grounds of their own, and all linked together in a business amalgamation, with the object of keeping up prices and shutting out competition.

It is not easy to see for what purpose the patrons of these places come to Sidmouth, unless to come down to breakfast dressed as though one were going to a ball, and dressing thrice a day and sitting in the grounds all day long be objects sufficient. From this point of view, Sidmouth town is a kind of dependence to the hotels, an accidental, little known, unessential hem or fringe, where one cannot wear ball-dresses and tiaras without exciting unpleasant criticism.

Bullion without birth, money without manners are in process of revolutionising some aspects of Sidmouth, and it is quite in accord with the general trend of things that the newest, the largest, the reddest, and the most insistent of the hotels should have shoved a great hulking shoulder up against the pretty, rambling, white-faced cottage in Woolacombe Glen*, where some earliest infant months of Queen Victoria were passed, and that it should have exploited the association by calling itself the “Victoria.”


Ladram Bay is reached either by cliff-top or along that tiring beach; or, greatly to be recommended above all other courses, by boat from Sidmouth, one of whose boatmen, with the pachydermatous hands that would scarce feel any effect from rowing fifty miles, will take you there if you give him a chance.

Ladram Bay was undoubtedly made expressly for picnics. There cannot be the least question of it. Geologists write profound things about the raised beach and the pebbles Triassic, Silurian, or what not jargon that compose it, but Nature most certainly in prophetic mood designed beach, natural arch, and caves for lunch and laughter, and as a romantic background for flirtations.

*Harper frequently referred to “Woolacombe” Glen and cottage in chapter 6 but the actual name was Woolbrook, after the stream, or brook, that flows through the glen. Curiously, he got that name almost right as “Woolabrook”. There is a Woolacombe Bay on the North Devon coast and a Woolcombe Lane off present-day Temple Street in another part of Sidmouth. Was it there in 1907?

Whatever the reason for his confusion, “Woolacombe” took root in Harper’s mind and made it all the way to print. Perhaps nobody else in the production line knew enough about Sidmouth to stop it. Woolbrook cottage, with additions, is now the Royal Glen Hotel.

The postcard of Sidmouth Esplanade probably dates from around the time it was sent – 1908 – but the registration number in the left corner shows the photograph was taken in 1887. The cream coloured York Hotel at left was built in 1807 and has since annexed neighbouring buildings to become today’s Royal York and Faulkner.

The senders of both cards gave their impressions of local weather.
From Sidmouth in January 1908 “We must be nearing the North Pole”.
From Ladram Bay in August 1907 (late summer) “The wind is a bit cold, but the waves are lovely”.


The Spoils of War

Cigarette card image of the Cunard ship RMS Berengaria.In the 1920s, and into the 30s, British and American shipping companies were able to boast that they operated the biggest trans-Atlantic passenger liners afloat. It was a source of national pride. They didn’t advertise that some of them had been built in Germany for the Hamburg-America Line before the outbreak of world war and handed over to the victors as part of the peace settlement. Cunard’s Berengaria, which had sailed under the German flag for over a year as Imperator, was one.

C.R. Vernon Gibbs takes up the story in his book ‘Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean’, (1952).

[Imperator] began a trio of Hamburg-American ‘giants’ which remained the world’s largest liners until 1935. The others were Vaterland (afterwards the United States Line’s Leviathan), and Bismarck (later the White Star Majestic). The subsequent vessels were given extra beam to improve watertight sub-divisions in the light of the Titanic disaster.

Work on Imperator started in August 1910. The ship was launched in May 1912 and began her maiden voyage thirteen months later. The Ambrose Channel up to New York had been deepened just in time to take her and she worked from Cuxhaven [at the mouth of the river Elbe], not Hamburg. A novel detail was a gilded figurehead in the form of a German eagle, but this proved a nuisance, was often damaged and finally removed.


Imperator c. 1913, before the figurehead was removed.

Imperator and her consorts were the first big German turbine liners and nothing was spared to make them the most luxurious ships afloat. The after funnel was a dummy. Uptakes of the other two were split and rejoined above the boat deck so as to avoid passing through the dining saloon.

The beginning of August 1914 found her lying safely in the Elbe, where she stayed until surrendered to the victorious Allied Powers. She ferried American troops homewards between May and August 1919 and was then laid up at New York, to be transferred to Great Britain the following February. The Cunard Line operated her on the Southampton route throughout 1920 and needed the ship to replace the lost Lusitania, but was in no hurry to buy. The Bismarck was also for sale and the only possible purchasers for either were the Cunard and White Star companies. To avoid outbidding each other, the Cunard and White Star bought Imperator and Bismarck jointly from the Government in February 1921.

The Cunard sent Imperator to the Tyne for reconditioning and conversion to oil fuel. She returned to Southampton with her speed improved to run alongside Mauretania and Aquitania, clearing the port as Berengaria* for the first time on April 16th, 1922.

Cunard White Star liner Berengaria, ex-Imperator.

Postcard of Cunard ship Berengaria, ex-Imperator, in drydock at Southampton.

The ex-Imperator completed her last voyage in March 1938 and was sold for breaking up at Jarrow six months later. The final stages of dismantling took place at Rosyth [Scotland] in 1946.

Postcard of Cunard ship Berengaria, ex-Imperator

*Berengaria, after whom the ship was named, was the wife of King Richard I of England – Richard the Lionheart.

Riding the rails

This piece of history rolled through the region today so I thought I might share a few impressions. It’s a Ja locomotive built for New Zealand railways in 1956.




And, just for good measure, here’s one I prepared earlier – in better weather (3rd Dec.). A Da Diesel loco from 1957.



Both locomotives are maintained and operated by the Steam Incorporated railway society north of Wellington, New Zealand. Their excursions are almost always booked out.

Wellington panorama

One of the finest views of the city is to be obtained from Mount Victoria, and the Centennial Look-out near the summit, which is to be officially opened on Friday at 3 p.m., gives fine panoramic vistas.


On one of the piers there is a bronze bust of the Duke of Wellington, after whom the city is named.


On another pier is the bust of the founder of Wellington, Edward Gibbon Wakefield.


A further link with the Duke of Wellington is stone from the demolished Waterloo Bridge over the Thames, which the Duke officially opened* in 1817. The stone forms the base of the memorial, which consists of a concrete shelter, surmounted by a large hood. Lines pointing to places of interest round the city will be drawn on the top of the wall, while a telescope has been bought for use from this commanding spot.
Wellington Evening Post. 12 March 1940.

*The Duke didn’t open Waterloo Bridge. He accompanied the Prince Regent who performed the ceremony.

Mount Victoria is still the best place for 360° “panoramic vistas” of Wellington and should be on every tourist’s itinerary. Driving up the narrow road from Oriental Bay to the top can add to the experience! If you’re more than reasonably fit, and have the time, you might like to walk up the winding track through the “bush.”


This view looks out across Evans Bay to Wellington airport with Cook Strait beyond. The area to the right of the runway was the site for New Zealand’s Centennial Exhibition from November 1939 to May 1940. Construction of the present airport began in 1958.

To find the Centennial Lookout on Mount Victoria, walk back down the road from the car park and past the communications mast. The Lookout is on the rise to your right.

Queen of the Sea

The cruise season is underway again in the southern hemisphere. Just thinking about this annual invasion of floating palaces made me nostalgic for the time (not so long ago) when cruise ships were much smaller and looked like ships, not multi-storied apartment blocks on a barge.

A brief search through the files came up with one example that was based at Southampton, England, and very popular in the 1960s and ’70s.

Reina del Mar (1955) from a postcard.

The Reina del Mar wasn’t even built for cruising but evolved into the trade. Launched in 1955 as a passenger/cargo vessel, she spent her first eight years sailing between Liverpool and the west coast of South America for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, at a loss. The route, like many others at the time, lost business to airlines and jet travel. The company reluctantly decided to withdraw her from service in 1963 and she was chartered for cruising by the Travel Savings Association, a partnership headed by South African millionaire Max Wilson. This episode deserves a page of its own and is well explained here.

The Reina’s new role called for an extensive refit.

Reina del Mar in 1964 with TSA logo on funnel. Card by J. Arthur Dixon.

1964. The Reina del Mar in TSA livery after her refit. Postcard by J. Arthur Dixon.

The cargo holds were converted to cabin space and the superstructure extended forward above them to form the Coral Lounge, claimed to be the biggest public room on any ship then afloat. The box-like structure between the bridge and the funnel was a cinema, perhaps not the best place to put it. Every movement of the ship could be felt at that height, making it difficult to concentrate on a movie when the Reina was “on a roll” (and not in a good way). The postcard above was sent from Gibraltar in 1964. The cryptic message on the back says –
“11.45 p.m. Monday Oct. 26
….as you can see we are on a Med. cruise. 1st stop Gibraltar at 2 p.m. 2nd stop Naples Thurs., Palermo Sat., Lisbon Nov 4th. The passage Friday very rough, alright now.”
Seems like the Bay of Biscay lived up to its reputation on Friday (not a good movie night). It isn’t always like that.

Sadly, the TSA organisation collapsed a year later but not before Wilson had given the British cruise “industry” a much needed shake-up. One of his partners, the Union Castle Line, took over the Reina del Mar charter and she appeared in company colours soon afterwards.

The Union Castle cruise ship 'Reina del Mar' in Grand Harbour, Malta, c. 1971

Grand Harbour, Malta. 1971.

Union Castle eventually bought the Reina in 1973, just in time for an oil crises that saw fuel prices quadruple. This made the company’s only cruise ship uneconomic and she was scrapped in 1975 – at 20 years old. From that point on cruise ships would be built using the economy of scale to keep fares affordable. More passengers on more decks.