The Old Curiosity Shop

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Retracing our steps….we shortly arrive at Portsmouth Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields. At No. 14 will be found (for a short time only) a small old-fashioned house, on the front of which is painted an inscription, “The Old Curiosity Shop, Immortalised by Charles Dickens,” now occupied by Mr. H. Poole, dealer in wastepaper. This is said to be the house assigned by the novelist for the residence of Little Nell and her grandfather, with whose pathetic history we are all familiar—

“One of those receptacles for old and curious things, which seem to crouch in odd corners of this town, and to hide their musty treasures from the public eye in jealousy and distrust.”

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It cannot, however, be regarded as absolutely certain that this particular house was the author’s intended “local habitation” for one of the best-known and loved of his creations. The tale itself concludes with a reference to Kit’s uncertainty as to the whereabouts of the place:—

“The old house had long ago been pulled down, and a fine broad road was in its place. At first he would draw with his stick a square upon the ground to show them where it used to stand. But he soon became uncertain of the spot, and could only say it was thereabouts, he thought, and that these alterations were confusing.”

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[A lady, personally acquainted with the great novelist, has informed the author that she was once taken by Mr. Dickens to No. 10 Green Street (approaching Leicester Square from the east)—at the corner of Green and Castle Streets, behind the National Gallery—the business of curiosity-dealing being then and there carried on. Mr. Dickens himself localised this house as the home of little Nell, pointing out an inner room—divided from the shop by a glass partition—as her bedroom. The premises are now rebuilt.]
‘Rambles in Dickens Land’, Robert Allbut, S.T. Freemantle. 1899.

Images top to bottom:
1. This old photograph reproduced on a postcard may have been made in the 1870s.
2. New tenants Gill & Durrant, successors to H. Poole photographed c.1912-1914. The shop was threatened with demolition at the time Allbut wrote that it would be there “for a short time only”. It was saved, but Mr. Poole had already moved to new premises.
3. Another tenant – who needs to fix that roof urgently! Could be early 1920s. I think the lady in the doorway is dressed in Victorian style for maximum Dickensian effect.

The old shop today is surrounded by the brick and glass of the London School of Economics and in need of more maintenance. Modern opinion agrees with Allbut that it had no connection to Dickens. In fact Steve Draper claims in this post that it was rebranded in 1868, when it was a bookshop, to increase trade.

That dicussion is a distraction from the building’s real historic value. Here is a 17th (some say 16th) century structure that has survived the Great Fire of London and the bombs of two world wars. Surely that deserves better than a Grade II listing.

H.M.S. President

Coming along the [Thames] Embankment from Westminster, we notice the change on the lamps, which now bear the City arms, and there is a medallion of Queen Victoria where the famous Square Mile begins. On the right we come to the training ship President, which rises and falls with the tide so that sometimes, walking down Temple Avenue, we see it rising up in front of us and at other times hardly see it at all.

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At times we may see an Admiral’s flag flying from this training ship, for every Admiral appointed to the Admiralty for any special work is officially appointed to H M S President, the nearest ship available.
‘London’, Arthur Mee. Hodder and Stoughton, 1937.

HMS President 1

You won’t see the President at all now, at any stage of the tide. This WWI submarine hunter, launched in 1918, was sold out of the Royal Navy in 1988 and after several years in private ownership was moved to Chatham dockyard two years ago. Since then a preservation society has been trying to save her from the breakers but, checking their website, it looks like their battle may have been lost and this historic ship will be reduced to scrap. Recent news is hard to find. The society’s last message on their Twitter account was posted in September.

Photos © Mike Warman, 1970.

The Edwin Fox

From ‘Shaw Savill Line, One hundred years of trading’, Sydney D Waters. Whitcombe & Tombs, 1961. (Abridged)

[One of] the many remarkable ships owned by Shaw Savill & Co. was the Edwin Fox, whose hulk, now 105 years old, has been lying for many years at Picton, port of Marlborough [New Zealand]. She was built of the best Burma teak-wood in 1853 in Sulkeali, a province of Bengal. She was laid down to the order of the Hon. East India Company, but while still on the stocks was sold to Sir George Edmund Hodgkinson of Cornhill, London.

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Originally a full-rigged ship, later a barque, Edwin Fox carried troops to the Crimean War, convicts to Australia, and passengers to India.

The ship continued to trade to India and the Far East until 1873 when she was chartered by Shaw Savill & Co. …. After clearing the Channel she was damaged in a gale in the Bay of Biscay. The crew broached some cases of spirits and became so drunk that the passengers had to man the pumps as the ship was leaking badly. She was towed into Brest and there repaired.

The Edwin Fox was purchased by Shaw Savill & Co. in 1875 and during the next decade she made a yearly voyage out to New Zealand, firmly establishing her reputation as a ‘slowcoach’. …. in 1880 she arrived at Lyttelton with twenty saloon, twelve second-class and seventy-seven steerage passengers, all of whom were full of complaints about their accommodation. In the following year she was 139 days on passage from London to Bluff.

Some years later the rapidly growing frozen meat trade gave new employment to the ship.

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In 1885 The Edwin Fox was fitted with refrigerating machinery and, stripped of her rigging but with lower masts still standing, was used as a freezing hulk in various New Zealand ports.

Finally she was towed to Picton under engagement to freeze for the Wairau Freezing Company. In 1899…. she was converted into a coal hulk and loading stage and moored at the foot of the hill on which the freezing works stand. There she lies, a relic of a past era and a never-ending source of interest to sightseers.

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The Edwin Fox in Shakespeare Bay, Marlborough Sounds, in 1983.

This story has a happy ending. Twenty-five years after Mr. Waters published his book and three years after these photographs were taken, the hulk of the Edwin Fox was saved from total disintegration. It is now housed in its own covered dry dock on Picton waterfront, only a few minutes walk from the Cook Strait ferry terminal, and is still a never-ending source of interest to sightseers.
Read full details of the ship’s fascinating career on this page from the New Zealand Maritime Museum.

Wanganui: river city.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Wakatipu reflections

Friday Flashback to 1979

If you ever get to visit Queenstown in New Zealand’s South Island, you won’t know where to point your camera first. The area is a photographer’s paradise. Lake Wakatipu is a good place to start in any season, whatever the weather.

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A very cold morning in August 1979. I was grateful for the red boat to inject some warmth into the scene.

The Remarkables make a spectacular backdrop and you won’t have much trouble finding an angle to fit them in. An Australian travel writer once noted that if they were located in a less reserved country they’d be called the Bloody Astoundings.

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Winter sun disolves the clouds to reveal the jagged face of the Remarkables.

You probably shouldn’t expect to find tranquil urban scenes like this, today, anywhere close to town. It’s safe to say, without linking to boring pages of stats and charts, that Queenstown’s resident population has at least doubled in the past 40 years – and is expected to double again in the next 40, although it’s anybody’s guess where they’re going to live with the area bursting at the seams already. And then you can add the tourists….. These images were made when most of the daytime action was still on the skifields, before Queenstown became the self-styled, year round, all seasons ‘Adventure Capital of the World.’

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 The Cecil Peak barge moored at Queenstown wharf. This is an essential piece of farm equipment for the station across the lake which has no road access.

Now we have tandem paragliding, zip lines, and – heaven help us – the hydro attack, not to mention people jumping out of perfectly functioning aircraft at 15,000 feet. Before the bungy was invented there was the lake, Earnslaw cruises, amazing scenery, and fresh mountain air. They’re still there if you want them.

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Cecil Peak is on the left, Walter Peak with cloud cap at centre. The red funnel at right belongs to the vintage lake steamer t.s.s. Earnslaw.

Next Friday – a flight to Milford Sound.

Old Whaling Days

Friday Flashback to 1983.

In my post about Wellington’s friendly whale (9th July), I mentioned that New Zealand’s last shore whaling station closed as recently as 1964. This is how it looked nineteen years later.

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It sits in Fisherman’s Bay, Arapawa* Island, Marlborough Sounds, on the edge of Tory Channel. East Head and the exit to Cook Strait are in the background. If you travel from Picton to Wellington on the ferry today you’ll see what’s left of it from the port side.

The station was established in the 1920s by Joe Perano, a local fisherman who decided to go after something bigger, and the business continued with his sons in charge after Joe’s death in 1951.

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It was a calm summer’s day when I visited but the corrugated iron cladding creaked and banged with every puff of wind that wafted in from the Strait. It has been removed in the years since then, leaving only the skeleton of the processing factory. The Department of Conservation took responsibility for the site in 2010.

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A rusting harpoon head that should have been in a museum was just lying on the floor among the rubble. The Peranos are credited with introducing the explosive harpoon to New Zealand, followed by an electric version. I don’t know which this was – it had a hollow core – but it looked brutal.

The island has a long association with shore whaling. An easy walk back down a dusty track from here brings you to the neighbouring bay, Te Awaiti, where John Guard and Joseph (George) Toms established the first shore station in the country in 1827.

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Guard moved to Port Underwood about three years later, leaving Toms – “a noted disciplinarian” – to rule over the unruly in the small settlement. He was known by several names during his life, a fact that has spawned numerous confusing and confused web pages.

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The fenced grave site at Te Awaiti for George Toms, son Joseph and his wife Harriet.

You can rent self-catering accommodation on the island, where the Perano family once had a farm, but be aware the only way in or out is by boat (or helicopter if your budget stretches that far) and there are no shops. Bring you own food supplies.

* Arapawa Island has been known officially by the more phonetically correct spelling of Arapaoa since 2014. Most of the web sites I’ve seen haven’t caught up with that yet.

The Wreck of the Yankee

“Were you here when the Yankee went on the reef?”
“Oh, yes,” Powell shook his head sadly.

The battered hull of the famous round-the-world yacht still remains as a prominent landmark just beyond the harbour at Avarua.

Yankee wreck 1

The Yankee was a steel hulled German pilot vessel, taken over as a prize of war, and acquired by Irving Johnson and his wife who took young people as working, paying crew on voyages around the world and their adventures appeared frequently in National Geographic and the sparkling, white-sailed Yankee was the dream ship of all the adventurous young who wanted to explore far away places.

“The Yankee under the Johnsons was immaculate. White dacron sails, white hull, varnished woodwork and gleaming brass. She was a picture.

“One day [in 1964] a large sailing ship came into view and as usual everyone started to speculate on what ship it might be because even then a ship of 117 tons and 97 feet was a rare sight and at first it was thought that the ship was the Yankee but as it came closer we could see the hull was grey and when it went to its engines after dropping sails the diesels belched black smoke.

“When the small boats were put over and came in, they were dirty with broken gunwales and with water sloshing around the bottom. There was no way that Irving Johnson could be on board and later the word drifted around that it was the Yankee all right but the boat had been sold to Windjammer Cruises and was being run out of Miami. It was as ratty as it could be.

Yankee wreck 3“At first the trades were from the east and then gradually started to swing slowly to the north with the wind getting stronger. By this time the Yankee was snubbing to her anchor and rolling badly and I thought it was time the skipper got away….but the crew had picked up a batch of local girls and there was a marathon party going on board. I said to my wife, ‘The Yankee is going ashore tonight.’

“When I woke up the next morning at the first light in the sky and I could feel the wind I told my wife, ‘The Yankee has gone on the reef.’ And I called our daughter who was a photographer at the time and told her to get her camera and go down to the beach because undoubtedly the Yankee was on the rocks and she could take news pictures which would be very valuable. And she did and they were.”

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“A bit later I took my bicycle and rode down to the main road and there she was.”
Powell heaved a heavy sigh and shook his head again, “I wanted to cry.”

Condensed from ‘How to Get Lost and Found in the Cook Islands‘ by John W. McDermott, Waikiki Publishing Company, Inc. 1979.
Images from 1981.

Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, whose luck got worse with time, finally went bankrupt in 2007. Founder, Michael Burke, died of pneumonia at 89 in 2013. According to this Wikipedia page, the remains of the Yankee were cut up and removed in 1995.