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.”

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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.

Sidmouth

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.”

Sidmouth_Ladram

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”.

 

Ancestral Bones

The town of Esher, in the English county of Sussex, is known today as a commuter town on the outer reaches of London’s suburban sprawl but in 1902 it was described by Charles Harper as “a pretty village” and a “charmingly rural place, with a humble old church behind an old coaching inn, and a new church, not at all humble, across the way.”

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The old church of St. George in Esher, parts of which date to the 16th century.

“The old church of Esher”, he writes, “long since disused and kept locked and given over to spiders and dust, has a Royal Pew, built for the use of the Princess Charlotte and the Claremont household in 1816. It is a huge structure, in comparison with the size of the little church, and designed in the worst possible classic taste; wearing, indeed, more the appearance of an opera-box than anything else.

The authorities (whoever they may be) charge a shilling for viewing this derelict church. It is distinctly not worth the money, because the architecture is contemptible, and all the interesting monuments have been removed to the modern building, on a quite different site, across the road. …..

The reflections conjured up by an inspection of Esher old church are sad indeed, and the details of it not a little horrible to a sensitive person. There is an early nineteenth-century bone-house or above-ground vault attached to the little building, in which have been stored coffins innumerable. The coffins are gone, but many of the bony relics of poor humanity may be seen in the dusty semi-obscurity of an open archway, lying strewn among rakes and shovels. To these, when the present writer was inspecting the place, entered a fox-terrier, emerging presently with the thigh-bone of some rude forefather of the hamlet in his mouth. “Drop it!” said the churchwarden, fetching the dog a blow with his walking-stick. The dog “dropped it” accordingly, and went off, and the churchwarden kicked the bone away. I made some comment, I know not what, and the churchwarden volunteered the information that the village urchins had been used to play with these poor relics. “They’re nearly all gone now,” said he. “They used to break the windows with ’em.” And then we changed the subject for a better.
Charles G. Harper. ‘Cycle Rides Around London’, 1902.

photo from wikimedia

Note: Follow the Royal Pew link to see the present condition of the old church.

Appledore, North Devon.

Earlier this month (7th) I posted a short item about the Old Tower at Lynmouth and quoted from a book called The North Devon Coast by Edwardian travel writer Charles G. Harper. This is such an interesting book, written in a comparatively ‘modern’ style for the period, that I’ll dip into it from time to time as matching images are added to ‘the collection’.

Appledore

Appledore, situated on rising and woody ground on the banks of the Torridge, is a pretty and picturesque old hamlet, with a considerable coasting trade of its own. Salmon-fishing is to be had here from May to September, and plenty of barges are still built in the old shipyards at the water’s edge.
[Tuck’s Oilette postcard c.1906. From a painting by H.B. Wimbush]

Harper wasn’t in the business of selling postcards, or picturesque old hamlets, so he told it as he saw it.

Appledore (whose name has really nothing to do with apples, but derives from two words meaning “water-pool”) stands at the very entrance to the Torridge estuary. On the opposite side is Instow.
Appledore is a decayed port; a fishing village long past its prime. Time was when its ship-owners waxed rich in what the natives still call the “Noofunlan’ Trade,” but that was long ago, and it is scarce possible even the hoariest inhabitant recollects those times. But the buildings, the quays are reminiscent; the whole place mumbles, quite plainly in the imaginative ear, “Has Been.”
This is, however, by no means to hint that Appledore is poor, or moribund. Vessels are repaired in its docks, a quarry is in full blast on the hillside, and the fishermen fare out to sea in pursuit of the salmon and cod. The less adventurous gather the edible seaweed known to epicures as “laver,” or at low water ravish the tenacious cockle and mussel from their lairs.
But, in general, Appledore has resignedly stood still since the “Noofunlan'” trade ceased, and remains very much what it was at the time of its ceasing: only something the worse for wear. Bideford may exchange cobbles for macadam, and even, in choice spots, wood pavement, but Appledore’s lanes, which are of the dirtiest, the steepest and most rugged description, still retain their ancient knobbly character. In short Appledore is a curiosity, and one not in any immediate likelihood of being reformed out of that status, for it is at the very end of things. So its white-washed cottages will long, no doubt, continue to give a specious and illusory character for cleanliness to it, as seen across the river from Instow; and “Factory Ope,” “Drang,” and other queerly named lanes will survive for generations yet to come.
‘The North Devon Coast’, Charles G. Harper. Chapman & Hall Ltd., 1908.

Here’s a link to modern Appledore.

The Business of the Actor

English playwright and actor, Sir Arthur Pinero, writes about ‘The Theatre in Transition’ in 1932.

Marie Bancroft. PRG-280-1-5-179

Marie Bancroft.

As a youth I climbed one night up to the sixpenny gallery of the Standard Theatre in Shoreditch. The Bancrofts and their company were “starring” for a week in that huge house….. From my remote seat I listened to Marie Bancroft as Polly Eccles in Caste. Her lightest whisper was as audible as her loudest tones. She might, so it seemed, have been holding me by the button-hole and imparting something to me that nobody else was expected to hear. Far off as was the stage, I felt that if I had held out my hand I could have grasped hers. And I am sure that every member of the audience had exactly the same sensation.

Her method, acquired after years of training, was the method of Mrs. John Wood, now almost forgotten, of

Vintage postcard of Mrs. (Madge) Kendal, Victorian/Edwardian actress.

Mrs. (Madge) Kendal

Ellen Terry and (both happily still with us) Dame Madge Kendal and Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, and of many others I could cite. It was the method of the old actors and actresses generally – the ABC of their equipment. They knew that acting is an enlargement of life to be viewed from a distance, not a reproduction of nature confined to the limits of the small space of the stage. In the delivery of their dialogue they appeared to be talking as people talk in a room. But they did not make the mistake of pitching their voices as though the walls of the room were the extreme range within which their voices had to travel. In short, they had learnt, in their rough school, that the business of the actor is to act. …..

The theatre is now engaged in a struggle for existence with the films. To all appearance, the fight will be long and bitter. Nobody can say how it will end, what conventions may be sacrificed, what new features may be encountered, what new forms evolved. Those of us who love the play as we have known it must be a little fearful lest it should cease to be a medium for the serious exposition of life and character, or should be allotted only the task of dealing with subjects which may uplift the soul but certainly do not cheer it. Whether eventually the silent films conquer the talking, or the talking the silent, is not, to my mind, of great importance. What is of importance is the fact that the “pictures,” for the moment at any rate, have captured the masses who formerly were the faithful supporters of the regular theatre, and who are now content with the thrills and humour furnished by mechanical process.

Image sources:
Marie Bancroft, State Library of South Australia
Mrs. Kendal, a postcard in my collection.