Folkestone from top to bottom.

Charles G. Harper points his caustic pen at Folkestone, England, and its social divide.

….modern Folkestone, as distinguished from the old fishing-port, wears in its most prominent residential parts the appearance of an unregenerate South Kensington. Cubitt [the architect], that great conjurer with bricks and mortar (not forgetting the plaster) was the author of both. He bade arise both Cromwell Road and the intensely respectable and extremely expensive mansions that front upon the Folkestone Leas – or Lees, as I grieve to find them frequently spelt.

Folkestone Lees-2

Now the Folkestone that in these times centres upon the Leas notices sometimes that the sea does, in fact, incidentally stretch away out and down there, and it knows – ah, yes – that there is a harbour. Sometimes you start from it for the Continent, don’t you know!

F_harbour

The ferry ‘Invicta’ leaving Folkestone for Boulogne. c. 1906.

But from the austere and exclusive Leas the tripper element is entirely banished, and those sedate and dignified fashionable visitors who promenade beside the lawns between the old church of St. Eanswythe at the eastern extremity and the huge Hotel Metropole and the Grand at the western end seem to take their pleasure as solemnly as though it were one everlasting Church Parade.

F_leas shelter

There are people, it is true, of a lower social status, and of a more primitive and joyous nature, who come to Folkestone, and patronise the very fine pleasure pier, and do not disdain the beach and the simple old delights of the seashore; and there are still other people who patronise a “switchback” contrivance down below; but these are folk who stay somewhere in back streets, who have no sort of commerce with the refined life which distinguishes the Leas.

F_pier

The fine pleasure pier down below.

Sometimes, it is true, some of the Olympians of these heights descend by the lifts that communicate directly with that geographical and social underworld, and occasionally the primitive people of down yonder ascend by the same means from the Lower Road to explore this rarefied region, and both are impressed by what they see and hear. But they mingle no more than oil and water will do. The very bands understand to a nicety the differences of ideals and outlook, and render Grieg, Wagner, and classical music above, while to the Lower Road audiences they discourse strains of a simpler and more popular kind.
‘The Kentish Coast’, Charles G. Harper. Chapman & Hall, Ltd. 1914. [Abridged]

F_beach

The Leas above and the beach below with the lifts (left) in between.

Illustrations from vintage postcards in my collection.

 

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Tintern Abbey

From ‘Coming Down the Wye’ by Robert Gibbings. 1942.

It was evening when I stepped ashore by the old Anchor Inn at Tintern, the evening of the harvest moon. On that night, in less prosaic times, lovers came from far and near to whisper promises to each other while, from the west end of the abbey, they watched the full moon fill the great empty circle in the head of the eastern window.

Tintern Abbey 1-3

The building was glowing in the evening light, warm as the rose-tinted walls of Petra. After sunset a shimmering veil of mist filled the valley, through which the church appeared tenuous and unsubstantial.

I wandered among the idle pillars and arches while the evening lost its light. Dew began to fall. Owls called from wood to wood ‘Oo, ooloo oo. Oo, ooloo oo.” It grew darker. A pig grunted; a calf bellowed. Still darker. A woman and a man palavered on the road. Dark cars rushed past in the darkness. ‘Oo, ooloo ooloo oo.’

Then over the high, wooded, eastern hill came the moon, golden in the deep indigo sky. Steadily it grew from a shallow crescent to a fuller arc, then to a half circle, to three-quarters, to the full sphere of light. I was alone, and had no wish for whispers from any one. From the southern meadow I watched the shadows creep into the aisles, and the transepts emerge from dark shapes of their own creating.

Tintern Abbey 4-3

As the mist cleared away the church stood revealed in the moonlight, so calm, so still, yet no calmer than the bones of those who lie beneath its turf; priests, deacons, laymen, all who, in their own way, have swelled the universal song of praise. Some of us worship life because we fear death, some of us worship death because we fear life. There is room for us all. Jackdaws now praise God where once the white-robed monks sang hymns.

After the grand orchestra of the hills through which the Wye finds its course Tintern may seem but the reed-song of a boy, yet no chord of praise was ever better tuned. The ruin is so perfect now that it is difficult to believe it could ever have been nobler. I, for one, could not wish one more stone upon another.

Follow these links for more information about Tintern Abbey in Wales, the Anchor Inn and the river Wye.

A Glorious Holiday

A letter card from Torquay, England, 1948.

Torquay harbour

Dear Mother & Father,
We’re having a glorious holiday, I don’t think I want to work again. The weather is perfect, blue skies, sunshine, and a cool sea breeze, not too warm for walking about. We’ve been to Plymouth, and this afternoon we’re going on a sea cruise. Wish you could see the scenery round here.

Torquay Meadfoot

We’re sitting in deck-chairs, sun-bathing while I write, that’s the reason for the bad writing.

Torquay sands

We’ve filled in the 8 days very well, in fact we’ve been ready for our food and our bed, of course the sea air always affects Nancy.

Torquay prom

We’ll be leaving here at 7.20 a.m. on Sat. and hope to get to Darlington by 9.30 p.m., then we’ll have to start married life proper.

Hope father is well again now,
Cheerio! for a week or two,
Love Nancy & K.

Nancy and her new husband would have been ready for another holiday after their 14 hour journey from the south coast to Darlington in the north east of the country.

Although the letter was posted in 1948 – the year Torquay hosted the Olympic yachting events – the photographs probably date from the 1930s. Updating postcard images wasn’t a priority in Britain between 1939 and 1945.

The Skirl of the Pipes

Are these Highland gatherings, these Highland games (I have never been able to discover the difference, if any, between “gatherings” and “games”), ancient and traditional? If they are, then history is remarkably silent on the point. Was it ever the pastime of the Highlander to hurl the trunks of pine trees about the countryside? Somehow I doubt it. Indeed, I harbour a suspicion that Highland games are only about 100 years old….

Braemar Pipe band

To put it bluntly, I do not believe that the Highland Gathering is ancient nor that the Highland Games are traditional, although they have undoubtedly become a tradition. They are also one of Scotland’s very best advertising media.

Let me hasten to add that this does not mean that I dislike or disapprove of Highland Games. On the contrary, I love them. As a spectacle I do not think they can be bettered anywhere in the British Isles.

Braemar duoWatching the games, the observant onlooker cannot fail to notice a marked difference in interest between the Scots in the audience and the foreigners in the audience, especially among the women. The kilt, it is apparent, arouses emotion in the foreign female breast; the Scots female…. appears to be quite unmoved….the Scots, male and female, are much more interested in the pipe music and the dancing.

This, surely, is because both are, in fact, ancient and traditional, technical and very highly skilled. You have to be an initiate to understand the finer points of either. I like watching Highland dancing, which I find both graceful and energetic: but the technical points are a closed book to me. I love the barbaric music of the bagpipes, but I am quite unable to distinguish between the playing of one competing piper and another on the platform. They sound exactly alike to me. But they do not to the Scots.

Braemar Pipers

Text edited from an article by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald (1900-1981) published in the ‘Sphere’, September 21, 1957.

Images from the Royal Braemar Gathering 1984.

Now You Has Jazz*

Friday Flashback says Happy Birthday.

Welsh jazz fans are gearing up for their annual treat next weekend (9th – 11th) when the Brecon Jazz Festival celebrates its 35th anniversary. I was lucky enough to be there for the first one.

Brecon jazz festival 1

A band called Adamant, from Cardiff, leading the first parade down High Street.

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It was a modest programme compared to this year’s offering but everybody had so much fun they decided to do it again.  And again……

*’Now You Has Jazz’ is a classic performed by Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong and his “ensemble” in the 1956 movie ‘High Society’. Watch.

A Greate Poole

Two impressions of Llangorse lake in Wales. Text from 1942, images from 1984.

…..during the one short break in an otherwise continuous downpour I visited Llangorse Lake, a stretch of water some five miles in circumference.

Llangorse lake in Wales.

This lake is also known as Savadden, and in a Harleian MS. of about 1695 we read that: ‘In the greate Poole call’d Llyn Savathan once stood a faire citie which was swallowed up by an Earthquake and resigned her stone walles into this deep and broad water, being stored most richly with fish in such abundance as is uncredible…. and indeed the fishermen of this place have often times taken up goodes of severall sortes from the very harte of the Poole but whether these might be goodes that ware cast away is unknowne but we have never heard of any such mischance in oure times.’ The story is probably derived from the remains of ancient lake dwellings which have been identified on an island on the north side of the lake. This island, wholly artificial, was connected with the shore by a causeway of stones and piles, with probably a drawbridge. On it have been discovered the bones of red deer, wild boar, and cattle.

Llangorse lake, Wales, summer 1984.

It is told, to-day, that when the lake is rough the buried church bells can be heard ringing under the water. When I asked a man who had his dwelling by the lake if he had ever heard the bells he replied ‘bunkum.’ When I asked him if it was true that the waters of the river Llynfi, which enter the lake, do not mix with the lake water, but flow through unstained, he replied ‘bunkum.’ When I asked him if the lake was not celebrated for its miracles he replied ‘bunkum,’ and with that amount of information I reached home before the next downpour.
‘Coming Down the Wye’, Robert Gibbings, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. 1942.

Llangorse lake, Wales, summer 1984.

We’ll stay in Wales (where it doesn’t rain all the time) for this week’s Friday Flashback.

Fortress Dover

Dover has ever, from Roman times, been a place of arms, and was, an old chronicler tells us the “lock and key of the whole kingdom.” That being so, it has always behoved us to make it one of the most strongly fortified places on our coasts. On either side of the deep and narrow valley in which the town lies, the great chalk downs and cliffs rise steeply and massively, and all are in military occupation. The morning drum-beat reverberates from the Western Heights to welcome the rising sun, and the Last Post from the Castle sounds the requiem of the departed day; and in between them the tootling and the fifing, the words of command, the gun-firing, and all the military alarms and excursions of a garrison-town help to convince even the most timid that we are being taken care of.

Dover Castle, Kent, England. Photo by W. H. Stamford of Dover.

Image from a vintage postcard. Original photo by W. H. Stamford.

Dover Castle, that “great fortress, reverend and worshipful,” sits regally on the lofty cliffs ….. It occupies a site of thirty-five acres within its ceinture of curtain-walls, studded at intervals with twenty-six defensible towers, of every size and shape. The chief entrance to the Castle precincts is by the great “Constable’s Tower,” also variously styled Fiennes, or Newgate Tower, to distinguish it from the Old Tower, formerly the principal entrance. Besides this imposing array there were, and there remain still, profoundly deep ditches outside the walls. In midst of all these outworks, rising bold and massive as the great keep of the Tower of London itself, is the Palace Tower, or Keep.

Off Dover

Painting “Off Dover” by W. Cannon in 1904. From a postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons posted 17 August 1905.

The most ancient and venerable object here – supposed to have been built A.D. 49 – is the Roman pharos, or light-house, one of two that once guided the ships of the Roman emperors into the haven that was situated where the Market-place of Dover now stands. The other, of which only the platform and one fragment of stone have been found was situated on the western heights.

Many generations have tinkered and repaired the Roman pharos, whose original tufa blocks and courses of red tiles still defy the elements and the ravages of mischievous hands, while the casing of flint and pebbles set in concrete, added some two centuries ago, long since began to decay. The Roman windows were altered by Gundulf [William the Conqueror’s architect], and the upper story would seem to be the work of Sir Thomas Erpingham, the Constable of Dover Castle in the reign of Henry the Fifth, for his sculptured shield of arms appears on it.
Extracts from ‘The Kentish Coast’, Charles G. Harper, Chapman & Hall Ltd. 1914.