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).

Advertisements

The new college

Dartmouth as a port of call for liners died hard, but the last line of steamships, the Donald Currie service [Castle Line] to the Cape, went, and now it is divided between being a favourite yachting station and the home of the new Royal Naval College, which, transferred from its picturesque and makeshift old home aboard the Britannia and Hindostan, now crowns the hill and nobly dominates the whole of Dartmouth in the great range of buildings overlooking the Dart.

D_ships

The Hindostan, left, and Britannia c. 1900.

The ferryman who puts us across the Dart is full of information and as full of regrets about the Britannia and Hindostan, the new Naval College, and the changed conditions of seafaring life, but with a sardonic smile he thinks the cadets will learn their business as well ashore as they have done afloat. “Why not?” he asks.
“They don’t want no sailors nowadays. There was a time when a sailor was never without his marlinespike an’ mallet. Now they’re all bloody Dagoes and Dutchies in the merchant sarvice, an’ engineers and stoke-hole men, with cold chisels, ‘stead of knives, in the Navy. For a sailor – when there were sailors, mind you – to be without his knife, why, he might every bit as well up’n give his cap’n a clump auver th’yed, so he might. An’ up there” – he jerked so contemptuous a thumb over his shoulder that it was almost a wonder the new flagstaff on the new central tower did not wilt – “up there them young juicers is fed up with ‘lectricity ‘n things no Godfearing sailorman in my time never heerd of.”

D_Naval college

The new Naval College c. 1905, the year that it opened.

Although it is designed in the Paltry Picturesque Eclectic Renaissance or Doll’s House style, with ornamental fripperies and fandangalums galore, the Naval College has the noblest of aspects, seen from down the harbour, or across the Dart from Old Rock Ferry. Planted on the wooded summit of Mount Boone, the long range of buildings, backed by dark trees, sets just that crown and finish upon Dartmouth which suffices to raise the scenic character of the place from beauty to nobility.
‘The South Devon Coast’, Charles G. Harper, 1907.

Dart estuary

The Royal Naval College and Dartmouth “from down the harbour”.

D_Naval college 2

c. 1925.

Updated 22nd March 2019

The training ship system originated during the Crimean War, when the two-decker Illustrious was used for training seamen for the Royal Navy. The superior type of sailor it produced encouraged an extension of the scheme to officer training, for which purpose the three-decker Britannia, lying near by in Hasler Creek, Portsmouth, was acquired as a sort of annexe. Moral objections to Portsmouth as a resort for cadets on shore leave eventually secured the removal of Britannia to Portland, where the social atmosphere was more congenial to parents if not consequently to their sons. Wind and tide compelled the final move to the sheltered waters of the River Dart in 1863.

Extra accommodation, necessitated by the increasing number of boys wanting to be naval officers, was provided by an old teak-built two-decker, the Hindustani [sic], moored astern* of Britannia and joined to her by a gangway. Some shore installations were added, mainly recreational. Then Britannia herself was replaced by a bigger ship taking the same name, the former Prince of Wales [in 1869].
‘Scott of the Antarctic’, Reginald Pound, 1966.

*As you can see in the photograph above, Hindustan was moored ahead of the ‘new’ Britannia, not astern.

Wanganui: river city.

Wanganui

Wanganui, New Zealand, from Durie Hill.

The Wanganui of 1897 is a charming spot, desirable alike as a place of residence or as a health resort. The old settlers, who bore the burden and heat of the day during the anxious days when houses were first robbed and then fired, farms wrecked and lives sacrificed, have mostly passed away. Little is known by the present generation of the hardships endured by the pioneers, who braved the dangers and endured the privations which fell to their lot, and thus paved the way for the advantages of these later times.

Situated in latitude 39°57″ south and in longitude 175°5″ east, and being distant from Wellington 151 miles by rail and 102 miles by sea, the borough is on the right (or north) bank of the Wanganui River.

Wanganui river

Looking down river from the north bank.

The population of Wanganui, as disclosed by the census of 1896, was 5936. This would, however, be much increased by including the suburbs, not forgetting those on the south bank of the river, with which the borough is connected with a splendid iron bridge, 600 feet long, supported on seven cast-iron cylindrical piers, and constructed at a cost of £32,000.

Wanganui_Vic Ave

Victoria Avenue at the north end of the bridge.

Wanganui is about four miles from the Heads, the river being navigable for vessels of light draught for fifty-nine miles, to Pipiriki, with which there is a regular steam-service.

An important station on the Wellington and Napier to New Plymouth railway lines, there is regular communication with all parts of the North Island inland, in addition to the steamer traffic by the West Coast.

Wanganui wharf

A slow day at the town wharf.

Referring to this sunny spot, a writer in the Otago Witness says:—“Suddenly sweeping round a bend of the hillside road you have been shooting down for the last ten minutes, lovely Wanganui and its stately river, spanned by the cylinder bridge, and all the spires and homes among the plantations, come into view; and after the visitor has admired the natural charms of the place his next impression is a firm conviction that Wanganui has all the elements of a vigorous, prosperous, and contented town”.
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897.

Wanganui_Cooks Gdns

Part of the town seen from Cooks Gardens, with a good breeze blowing to dry the washing in the back paddock.

The photographs, all from the Te Papa collection, were made between 1901 and 1906.

Wanganui is now, officially, Whanganui.
Check the location with this North Island map at Lonely Planet.

 

Boulogne-sur-Mer

My last post, about Folkestone on the south coast of England, included a vintage postcard image of the cross-channel steamer Invicta leaving for Boulogne in France, so I’ll follow that today with a few postcards of the ship’s destination.

Boulogne quay

The harbour as you see it here, before the First World War, was completely destroyed by British bombers in the Second, when Boulogne was occupied by German troops.

Boulogne fish quay

Buying fresh fish straight off the boat. The ferries are now gone from Boulogne (and Folkestone) but the rebuilt harbour is still the premier fishing port in France.

Boulogne beach

There isn’t enough room to plant a deck chair on this beach thanks to the bathing machines (ladies changing rooms on wheels) for hire.

B_aurevoir

The caption for this card says the locally owned paddle steamer Au Revoir is arriving even though, at first glance, it looks like it’s leaving. Look closely at the wake and you can see she’s going backwards. It seems that steamers entered Boulogne harbour stern first and reversed to their berths.

B_au revoir 2

The Au Revoir began life in 1896 as the Calais, a night ferry on the Dover to Calais route, before being sold to Boulogne interests in 1911. She was used as an excursion steamer and tender to trans-Atlantic liners for the next three years. Taken over by the French navy in 1914 she served as an auxiliary patrol vessel until torpedoed and sunk, with the loss of three crew, two years later.

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.

Show me the money

Vintage postcard image of interior Royal Mint, London. Posted 1909.

Dear Athel, This is to wish you a Merry Xmas and all the rest of it. I am afraid it will be very late, but I have had an exam on which has taken all my time. I went over the Mint in the summer, they have three melting houses of which this card shows one. Please give my love to Aunt Amy.
Alan. [ Card posted Dec. 18, 1909 to Perth, Western Australia.]

Vintage postcard image of exterior Royal Mint, London. Posted 1906.

The Royal Mint on Little Tower Hill [London] is a massive building from designs by Johnson and Smirke, erected in 1811 on the site of an old Cistercian Abbey. Here gold, silver and bronze are melted, standardised and manufactured into the current coin of the realm, the process being a most interesting one.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

The annual output is enormous; in 1906 the issue of imperial pieces was over 100,500,000, and at the same time 12¼ millions of foreign coins were struck.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

The pure metal is melted down and mixed with the necessary alloys on the premises, the room in which this operation is performed being most jealously placarded to prevent inspecting visitors either touching the hot metal or purloining any of the precious contents.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

The metal is first cast into long bars, these are then passed through powerful rotary presses, emerging after each operation a trifle thinner and a little wider, and so on until the standard thickness for “blanks” – as an unstamped coin is called – is attained.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

These are fed through a machine which stamps out the disc of the desired size, the “waste” being then sent back to the melting room.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

The “blanks” from the cutting machines are fed into a trough, and from thence are automatically passed into a position where they are pressed on both sides simultaneously by steel dies, and then thrown out – a complete coin.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

An ingenious piece of mechanism is the counting machine which effects, at a marvellous speed by an automatic process, the accurate counting of the manufactured coins, thus saving much valuable time.

The coloured images make up a set of postcards issued by Raphael Tuck & Sons circa 1907.

The Royal Mint moved out of London to South Wales in the early 1970s, ending 1100 years of its history in the Tower Hill area. You can still visit the “new” premises and enjoy “the Royal Mint Experience” – just like any other factory tour – but don’t expect free samples of the product as you leave.

Johnson and Smirke’s 1811 Grade II listed building and 5 acres of land within its surrounding wall was sold last month to the People’s Republic of China. It will be transformed over the next two years to become the new Chinese Embassy.

 

A Parisian Boulevard

This hand-coloured postcard image of the Boulevard Montmartre in winter is very evocative of time and place. It was probably made between 1906 and 1913 but, unfortunately, there is no record of publisher or photographer so I can’t give well deserved credit where it’s due.

B_Montmartre

A message on the back adds to the time capsule effect. It’s number 2 in a series of cards posted together as a letter so we have no beginning, no end, no idea who wrote it or to whom. What we do know is that he was a soldier and it was a remarkably upbeat, chatty letter in the circumstances.

“…. to Mick a few weeks ago and he was also quite well. We are now in billets, having come out of the trenches about a week ago and having a good time. We are having showery weather at present and it is pretty muddy but it isn’t very cold yet. I didn’t know that Mrs Hynes had moved up to…..”

It’s like turning the dial on a time machine radio. A fragment of conversation drifts in from the Great War and then fades out again as we search for the station we’re trying to find.