Dartmouth Castle

It’s time we heard from my favourite Edwardian travel writer again. Charles G. Harper can always be relied on for a droll observation or caustic comment. This post finds him in Dartmouth, Devon.

The little coach that runs daily from Dartmouth to Kingsbridge has a steep climb up out of Dartmouth. Here the pedestrian certainly has the advantage, for, tracing his coastwise way round through the woods of Warfleet creek, where a disused limekiln by the waterside looks very like an ancient defensible tower, he comes at last upon the strangely grouped church of St. Petrox, the Castle, and the abandoned modern battery, all standing in a position of romantic beauty, where the sea dashes in violence upon the dark rocks.

Dartmouth Castle 1

The “garrison” of Dartmouth Castle in these days is generally a sergeant of garrison artillery retired from active service, or in some condition of military suspended animation not readily to be understood by a logically minded civilian. It is a situation worthy of comic opera : in which you perceive the War Office erecting batteries for defending the entrance to the harbour, and then, having completed them, furnishing the works with obsolete muzzle-loaders, capable of impressing no one save the most ignorant of persons. Then, these popguns having been demonstrated useless, even to the least instructed, they are removed at great expense, and their places left empty : it having occurred in the meanwhile to the wiseacres ruling the Army that, in any case, under modern conditions, a hostile fleet would be able to keep well off shore and to throw shells into Dartmouth, without coming in range of any ordnance ever likely to be placed at the castle.

So the sergeant-in-charge, who lives here with his wife and family, and is apparently given free quarters and no pay, on the implied condition that he makes what he can out of tips given by tourists, is not burdened with military responsibilities.

Dartmouth Castle 2

The present incumbent appears to have developed strong antiquarian tastes, is learned in the local military operations of Cromwell’s era, and a successful seeker after old-time cannonballs and other relics of strange, unsettled times.

You cannot choose but explore the interior of the Castle, for as you approach there is, although you may not suspect it, an Eye noting the fact. The Eye is the sergeant’s, and there is that way about old soldiers which admits of no denial when he proposes that he shall show you over. You are shepherded from one little room to another, peer from what the sergeant calls the “embershaws” (by which he means embrasures), and then, offering the expected tribute for seeing very little, depart.
‘The South Devon Coast’, Charles G. Harper. Chapman & Hall Ltd, 1907.

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The Gift of Prophesy

This editorial in the Otago Daily Times looked ahead 110 years and put faith in human ingenuity to solve predicted problems, with surprisingly accurate results.

THE Otago Daily Times. FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 1872. (abridged)
Our weekly contemporary in Melbourne has lately been enacting the part of alarmist upon the subject of the exhaustion of the coal fields of England, and the consequent decay of the British Empire. Following in the steps of an able writer in the Quarterly Review, the Australasian draws a dismal picture of the effect which the loss of her coal supplies must inevitably have upon the leading industries of the mother country, and sees in prophetic vision her workshops and manufactories, with the helots that inhabit them, flying to those lands blessed with larger stores of the necessary article.

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Professor W. Stanley Jevons. 1835-1882

It will be remembered that some seven years ago Professor Jevons alarmed the world a good deal by sounding the first note of alarm concerning England’s coal mines becoming exhausted, and a Royal Commission was appointed to take stock of the resources. Its report concluded that by 1982 England’s mines would be exhausted; but the writer in the Quarterly is by no means satisfied with so lengthy a tether, and proves incontestably that 1945 will see an end of England’s greatness. The difference, indeed, will seem to most of us something like that once discovered to exist betwixt tweedledum and twedledee. By the time that the 39,000,000,000 tons of coal which all think are still to be found in England are exhausted, the want of fuel will make but little difference to those who are now eagerly debating the subject. We can indeed imagine some selfishly-minded matron piling on the lumps all the more profusely on the drawing-room fire, in the fear of not getting her full share of what is left. Beyond the increase in coal bills due to this cause, we do not see any great reason for alarm in this generation.

In all seriousness, it does seem as if this sort of dismal prophesying of England’s decadence towards the end of the next century, owing to the consumption of all her coal, was rapidly reaching the ridiculous. No doubt, not many among us will remember when something of a panic was created by the discovery that the supply of timber by means of which the wooden walls of Old England [navy ships] could be constructed was running short, not only in England, but in Europe. We were then familiar with the gloomy phrases that warned us of a time when we should no longer be able to bid defiance to the world upon the sea. England, however, manages still to get along without exhausting the last oaken plank or bulwark.

Can any one doubt that long before the last ton of coal sends its smoke to heaven, science will have discovered some method of storing and applying heat without the use of so costly and cumbersome a material as coal? It certainly requires less faith in the future, and demands a far less implicit confidence in the resources of genius, to suppose that this will be done, than it did some fifty years since to conceive of iron ships floating upon the water.

If we consider how largely even the discovery of a partial substitute for coal — a discovery, for instance, which would place at our disposal some means of moving ocean steamers without its aid — would alter the whole condition of things upon which these dismal calculations are based, we shall realize more profoundly the absurdity of predicating the decline of England from such a cause. It is indeed only by trading upon the historical fact that each nation in turn has risen to its zenith and then declined, that such ill-omened prophets of evil obtain a hearing at all.

That England must one day yield her supremacy among the nations is probably as certain as anything in the world; but if history repeats itself, and if the lessons of experience have any value, we may safely declare that she will not do so from any such cause as the loss of her coal. ….

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Coalmines and iron works in Victorian England. Source: historywebsite.co.uk

We should suppose that the enormous increase in the price of coal at home, which, by the last accounts, had reached as high as 40 per cent advance on last year, was the moving cause for stirring up the outcry again. There is about it something of the judicious puff with which Weston and Holloway have made us familiar. Gather your rosebuds, or rather fill up your coal cellars, while ye may. Professor Jevons and his congeners have warned us that the supply of coal will soon be exhausted and it is the duty of every prurient householder to procure an immediate supply of this indispensable article.

We will not follow the writer into his particularly unreal description of the coalheavers of the Black Country, whom he describes as helots, and then as Israelites, doomed to make bricks without straw. Of all the labouring classes at home, we should have thought them the last to whom such terms might be applied. A certain sturdy independence of character, a habitual indulgence in luxuries of the table, a mild partiality for bull-dogs, &c., &c., were the peculiarities which we thought used to mark them more especially. But it is plain that the writer in question is earnestly desirous of having a fling at the ‘Philistines of the London press, who, it seems, are accustomed to ask, concerning these helots—Am I my brother’s keeper?’

Let us hope that ere this he has succeeded in making an amicable arrangement with his coal merchant, and that notwithstanding the melancholy predictions of which he is so full, some twentieth century Micawber will find it possible to earn a precarious livelihood as a coal merchant until something better turns up, even though he should not begin until 1945.

1945 did see “an end to England’s greatness” but not because of a lack of coal. The “mother country” was almost bankrupt after two world wars, a situation that none of these writers could have foreseen. India gained independence in 1947 and the rest of the Empire followed over the next 20 years.

Coal mines began to close in the ’70s and, by 1982, slag heaps on what had been some of the most productive coal fields were being landscaped and planted with trees.

Cultural vandals

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Kilpeck Church

Leominster, Pembridge, Weobly, Eardisland; all have exquisite churches dating from the twelfth, thirteenth, and fifteenth centuries. Kilpeck, on the other side of the river [Wye], has another, which, although one of the smallest in England, is one of our richest examples of Anglo-Norman Romanesque architecture.

Unfortunately, Victorian prudes defaced many of the quaint corbels that encircle the outside of the building*, but that is nothing to what happened at Shobdon when, in 1753, the second Lord Bateman pulled down a church which was at least the equal of Kilpeck, and probably grander. He did this not only in order that he might indulge his taste in ‘Strawberry Hill Gothic,’ but also that he might have some ruins as features in his park, a form of absurdity then very fashionable.

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Kilpeck Church

We read in one of Horace Walpole’s letters of the same year to Richard Bentley: ‘A little way from the town are the ruins of Llantony Priory: there remains a pretty old gateway, which G. Selwyn has begged, to erect on the top of his mountain, and it will have a charming effect.’ Walpole himself was, of course, the arch-priest of this kind of vandalism, but the high-water mark of stupidity and insincerity was probably reached by ‘one of the most notorious debauchees of the age,’ who added a church spire to a country cottage in order that there should be a point of focus in the vista from his windows.

The noble Bateman has left us the present Shobdon church, which, though dedicated nominally to the Almighty, was more certainly intended for the greater glory of his lordship. It certainly helps to perpetuate his memory.

I am surprised that his lordship allowed the fine old Norman font to remain in the church, but perhaps he thought of it as ‘a feature,’ as he certainly regarded the carved doors and tympana of the old church when he re-erected them on the summit of a windswept hill. There, exposed to frost and rain, these carvings, in soft stone designed for the interior of a building, have slowly mouldered so that they are now but ghosts of their former glory.
‘Coming Down the Wye,’ Robert Gibbings. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1942.

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Llanthony Priory

*Gibbings’ assertion of an attack by Victorian prudes may be a mistaken impression. In fact, the carvings at Kilpeck are known for their remarkable state of preservation.

Parcel Post

Ellen Hawley’s post “A quick history of the Royal Mail” had me digging out this old cigarette card about a delivery experiment from the late 19th century.

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British Post Office Centre-Cycles

A number of Centre-Cycles (five-wheeler carrier machines) were used by the Post Office in the Horsham area in 1883, about the time of the introduction of the parcel post.

Above the small wheels of the Centre-Cycle were brackets supporting large baskets for carrying correspondence and parcels. Because of the arrangement of its four small wheels clustered round the centre big wheel, it was familiarly known as the “Hen and Chickens.”

These Centre-Cycles were not generally successful and their use was discontinued.
(Number 11 in a series of 50 cards issued by John Player & Sons in 1939.)

Can’t imagine why they didn’t catch on. They look so light and manoeuvrable!

Temple Church

The Temple at the gate of the City [of London] lies in the historic Square Mile but is not of it. As the City belongs to itself, like a kingdom within a kingdom, so it is with the Temple, the sanctuary of the legal world. It owns the land it stands on, it governs itself, it gives the police no trouble, and it allows us all to enjoy its beautiful domain.

It was the home of the Templars who formed themselves into an Order of Chivalry 800 years ago to guard the Holy Tomb and protect the pilgrims. It was granted to the knights of St John in 1324, and in turn they left it to the lawyers, who hold it in perpetuity. It is now the home of two Inns, Inner and Middle Temple, the rough dividing line being Middle Temple Lane, which runs from Fleet Street to the Thames Embankment. The Inner Temple Gateway stands close by and leads us to the famous church.

Temple churchExcept for St. Bartholomew’s and St John’s in the Tower, Temple Church is the oldest in London, the finest of the five round churches left in England from the days of the Crusaders, who built them in the style of the church they loved in Jerusalem, the Holy Sepulchre. Only a few steps from Fleet Street, this little round church has looked much as it is since the day it was consecrated by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem [in 1185]. Half a century more and the choir [Chancel] was added to the nave (the Oblong to the Round), and through all the changing centuries these walls have stood while all around has changed.

The porch has been refashioned and has one round and two pointed arches, but the doorway within it is a gem of Norman building, with a fine array of recessed shafts and mouldings and the flower of Norman ornament is in its lovely decoration… In it hangs a massive door about 400 years old, covered with scrolled hinges and ironwork ornament; it swings to our touch yet weighs two tons and a half, and is opened by a key which weighs five pounds.

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Round church at Cambridge

It opens on to a forest of clustered columns and an arcade of pointed arches circling round us in the nave……. The mosaic of red and blue glass shining in the triple east window is a delightful vista from the west doorway.

A small Norman doorway leads to a stairway at the top of which is a tiny cell in the thickness of the wall, four feet long and under three feet wide, lit by two slits in the stone. It is said to have been a place for solitary confinement in the days when the Templars were extremely strict. Here refractory brothers were confined in chains and fetters, and it is said that Brother Walter le Batcheler, who bore the standard for King Richard into Jerusalem, was here starved to death for disobedience to the Master of the Temple. [The crime was embezzlement and the year was 1301].

But it is on the floor of the Round that the eye of every visitor falls. Here lies an impressive array of Templars [in stone], perhaps the best preserved collection anywhere. Most of them wear chain mail and coats, with shields and swords, as on their crusades.

Under the floor are the remains of a 13th century chapel.
‘London’, Arthur Mee. Hodder & Stoughton, 1937.

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Little Maplestead Church in Essex, one of four medieval English round churches still in use today. The fourth is in Northampton.

London’s Temple Church was badly damaged by fire during World War II and its restoration lasted until 1958. The conical roof seen in the first postcard above was a Victorian addition and was not replaced.

Nostalgia for the open road

W. MacQueen Pope, in ‘Give Me Yesterday’ (Hutchinson, 1957), remembers the transport of his youth before World War One.

cycleCycling ran through several crazes but it never died out. It had come to stay. And it was a very pleasant exercise indeed, in those now seemingly distant, quiet and peaceful days. One skimmed along, almost without effort; one coasted downhill and even on the flat when speed had been attained, and later one free-wheeled. One was carefree, death did not lurk at every corner, at every crossing. There was space, there was room, there was freedom.

You rang your bell, a musical enough little chime, when you went round a corner and only the very careless pedestrian who had not yet got bicycle conscious or a yapping dog who had aversions for bicycles, or who had been taught to attack them, could do you any damage. And very, very seldom could they do it. You got very expert in dodging aged ladies and gentlemen who stepped off the kerb right in front of you and, if only a moderately good rider, you could land that dog a fine kick if he came too near, without dismounting, and send him off howling.

In the country the main danger came from chickens, who never will get traffic conscious…… And in the very unlikely chance of running someone down, well nobody got hurt much and little harm was done. True, you did not cover anything like the distance a car will take you to-day or a motor-bicycle. But you did not want to do it. The country was very near to London then. Places which are now vast teeming suburban towns were little old sleepy villages clustering round the church and a forge and with old inns where beer which was nectar could be obtained. Those who did not know beer before 1914 have not the slightest idea what it was really like.

Cartbridge, Send

The “little old sleepy village” of Send in Surrey, England, with the New Inn at right.

The roads were clear. There were wagons which lumbered along, vast haywains, with a fragrant load aboard which you could smell because petrol fumes did not pollute the air. You got the scent of the fields, the woods, the hedgerows. There was a good deal of dust but nobody minded that.

You got a welcome in an inn; and if you could not get a cocktail or a coca-cola, you could get an honest ale, gin and ginger beer, the ginger beer out of stone bottles and delicious, and any of the old-fashioned drinks you wanted. I don’t remember tonic water being in demand, but maybe it was and I missed it.

You could have a little country run and cycle home in the twilight and the gathering dusk of the pre-Daylight Saving period and really get fresh unpolluted air. You might stop and sit on a gate. There would be peace all around; no noise of grinding machinery, no roar and explosions from motor-bikes, no sound of violent gear changes and rumble of great lorries. Only perhaps in the distance, a train whistle. You would hear the owls, and high overhead the faint screaming of the swifts – who seldom seem to sleep – and you might glimpse a bat weave by. But you would smell the Land; you would get a breath of Nature.

(Retrieved from ‘They Saw It Happen’, Editor, Asa Briggs. Basil Blackwell, 1960).

Royal gossip

Edward VIIThe trustworthiness of the batch of scandalous items about the Prince of Wales and Royal family, which are retailed by the Press Association on the arrival of each San Francisco mail, may be gauged by that of the abominable story that Miss Mary Anderson, the American actress, had refused to be presented to the Prince of Wales for fear of being talked about. At the time we scouted this assertion as very improbable, and now it turns out to be one of those half-truths which is ever the blackest of lies.

The Prince and Princess sent for Miss Anderson to come round to their box between the acts during the performance of “Ingomar” [at the Lyceum Theatre]. The actress respectfully declined, on the ground that she never left her retiringroom between the acts. At the end of the piece the Prince and Princess went behind the scenes, and Miss Anderson was presented to them. Subsequently Miss Anderson and her nieces went to stay with the Princess. Out of such materials is the scandal which fills the American papers composed.
‘Otago Daily Times’ (Dunedin, New Zealand), 5 January 1884.

The photograph, from a postcard by Rotary Photographic, shows the Prince of Wales in later life as King Edward VII (1901-1910). It was loyal and patriotic of the writer to defend him against fake news but history tells us that the Prince and his many mistresses were capable of creating enough scandal already without the Press Association inventing more. When he died, his long-suffering wife is alleged to have said “Well at least now I’ll know where he is.” Although that might just be gossip.