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).

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The King’s English

This snippet from ‘The Days Before Yesterday’ by Lord Frederic Hamilton supports the fact that “received English“, the accent of the English upper classes we know today, is a comparitively recent development from the mid-19th century.

lord-frederic-hamiltonIn the “seventies” [1870s] some of the curious tricks of pronunciation of the eighteenth century still survived. My aunts, who had been born with, or before the nineteenth century, invariably pronounced “yellow” as “yaller.” “Lilac” and “cucumber” became “laylock” and “cowcumber,” and a gold bracelet was referred to as a “goold brasslet.” They always spoke of “Proosia” and “Roosia,” drank tea out of a “chaney” cup, and the eldest of them was still “much obleeged” for any little service rendered to her, played at “cyards,” and took a little stroll in the “gyarden.” My grandfather, who was born in 1766, insisted to the end of his life on terming the capital of these islands “Lunnon,” in eighteenth-century fashion.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton. Hodder and Stoughton, London. 1920.

I’m no linguist but this ‘sounds’ like the accent of the West Country, the counties of Somerset and Devon that had an influence on English pronunciation in Elizabethan times. Modern research suggests this was the original sound of Shakespeare’s plays.

Happy Motoring

Class, certainly…. and thrilling performance too!

A Mercury car advertisement from 1950.

The 1950 Mercury is “better than ever” in every way. With its 8-cylinder, V-type, 110 Hp., “Hi-Power Compression” engine, it’s better in performance. Better in economy, better in handling ease, safer too.

See this “better than ever” Mercury. Feel its new comfort. Get behind the wheel and drive it … you too will say, “It’s Mercury for me!”

New “Safe-T-Vue” instrument panel, Improved “Merco-Therm” Fresh air ventilating and heating system.

New push-button door handles and rotary locks mean easy opening and positive closing.

Now available … smart new Mercury Station Wagons and Convertibles.
Readers Digest, April 1950.

And if you take really good care of your Mercury, it might still be around next century.

Mercury 51

1951 Mercury photographed in 2014.

Or you can turn it into a seriously cool street rod…..

Street rod (hotrod) car based on a 1949 Mercury. (Editorial use only)

Art on wheels inspired by a 1949 Mercury.

Do you have any Mercury memories?

The ties that bind

Another Friday Flashback

Here’s an old maritime tradition you don’t see anymore – coloured streamers from ship to shore when a passenger liner is about to leave her berth.

RMS Edinburgh Castle departing Cape Town, South Africa, in 1971

They’re supposed to have originated as a symbol of ties to family and friends, gathered on the dock to wave goodbye, and the breaking of them as the ship pulled away on its journey to distant lands. A poignant reminder of past times when some of those passengers were emigrants and would never return.

In later years, cruise ships adopted the practice to add to the carnival atmosphere at the start of a cruise but a combination of factors has put a stop to it in the past decade or two – the demise of ocean liners, restricted port access to non-passengers for security reasons, and environmental concerns. Now you can attract a nasty fine for throwing streamers and the rolls appear in museum collections.

The ship pictured here in more carefree days is the R.M.S. Edinburgh Castle (Union-Castle Line) leaving Capetown, South Africa, in the early 1970s. The “Eddie” had her maiden voyage seventy years ago. A you can see, that was in the era before rivets went out of style.

RMS Edinburgh Castle departing Cape Town, South Africa, in 1971

Three conveniently placed dock workers complete the composition as the Edinburgh Castle backs away from her berth.

RMS Edinburgh Castle departing Cape Town, South Africa, in 1971

The white ship in the background is P+O’s Orsova.

Ed_Capetown harbour

Capetown harbour filtered through the window of a Cessna light aircraft. The “Eddie’s” red funnel can be seen at the dock below. The ship is berthed port side to the dock instead of the more usual starboard.

The R.M.S. Edinburgh Castle was scrapped in 1976.

Forties Fashion

During the Second World War clothes, along with almost everything else, were rationed. The adult allowance in Britain was fixed at 36 coupons a year when this advertisement appeared in 1943. It was reduced to 24 by the end of the war.

Advertisement from the Sphere magazine, 1943.

Shoppers were urged to buy the best quality they could afford because the clothes would in theory last longer, give better value for money and save coupons. This “practical” coat eliminated half the annual ration in one sale. The shoes would suck up another seven. If you exhausted your allotment before the end of the year, second-hand clothes were coupon free. So were fur coats for some very strange reason.

The price of £13. 17 shillings might seem like a bargain now but that is the equivalent of £584 today and amounted to more than two week’s wages for the average worker – although probably not for people who shopped at the upmarket Debenham and Freebody .

If you think the fashion-conscious had it tough in 1943, have a look at this page about the weekly food ration. Could you get by on that?

Ration coupons were slowly removed after the war as the British economy recovered but the country didn’t see the last of them until 1954.

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.

B_Imperator

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.

Ja_wide

Ja_cross

Ja_Mville

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

Da_gate

Da_bridge

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