Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The thankful old lady of Topsham

While skimming topographical references, I ran into Elizabeth Jane Brabazon's Exmouth & its Environs, an 1866 travel account which takes a side-excursion to Topsham that wasn't entirely to the author's taste. Directed on a pleasant field walk to "the Countess Weir’s grand house", she finds she has been sent to a pub; and she has a run-in with smoky lodgings and the Panglossian "thankful old lady of Topsham".

Monday, 29 December 2014

River light

Pardon the rather hackneyed scenery shots ... but the last couple of days have seen the bright, crisp, and calm high-pressure weather that brings out the Exe at Topsham at its most photogenic.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Getting well in Bournemouth

Horace Dobell's 1886 The Medical Aspects of Bournemouth and its Surroundings must win some kind of prize for a location account whose illustrations make the reader least likely to want to go there. They contrast strongly with those in Sydney Heath's 1915 Blackie guide Bournemouth, Poole & Christchurch, which is illustrated by EM Haslehust's delicate but luscious watercolours.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas 2014

Best wishes of the season to all JSBlog readers.

- Ray

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

St. Lawrence Well

St. Lawrence Well is another poem from the illustrated anthology The Vecta Garland, and Isle of Wight souvenir, by Newport tinsmith, ironmonger and poet Albert Midlane. This concerns a stranger who came to the well for a drink, and left scurrilous lines - mild ones, anyway - on finding it locked up.

The Statue in the Block

A nice piece of Christmas Eve Gothic from Maxwell Gray's 1893 The Last Sentence. In this episode from the novel, the protagonist - the respected barrister Cecil Marlowe - isn't much enjoying a jolly village Christmas with upper-crust friends who include his fiancée Cynthia Brande. He's a worried man, as a secret from the past has caught up with him: his existing marriage to the Breton peasant Renée Kérouac. While he knows she has sought him out, having recognised her at an ice-skating party, he is unaware that she has been stalking the happy gathering from the garden, during the overnight blizzard.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Banish embarrassing moypish!

karrimor.com, retrieved 22/12/2014
Department of inexplicable errors: the mysterious "moypish" that Karrimor X lite Windproof Running Tights protect you from.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Soap film photographs #1

Further to the previous post - Professor Boys' Rainbow Cup and other marvels - this evening I made a trial attempt at photographing soap films. This was just using the usual Canon Ixus pocket camera, handheld, looking at a detergent film in the handle of a corkscrew. The setup is dark background, and strong reflected light at an angle.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Professor Boys' Rainbow Cup and other marvels

More on bubbles... A recent post at Ptak Science Books - Bubble Aeronautics - put me in mind of a book from childhood: RM Abraham's Easy-to-do entertainments and diversions: With cards, string, coins, paper, and matches (Dover Books, c. 1962). It had a good section on experiments with bubbles, with a recipe for soap solution that "for the best effect ... should be made according to the following formula recommended by Professor Boys".

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Diamonds in the sky

I don't normally enthuse about adverts, but this current Sony 4K "Ice Bubbles" one, showing soap bubbles freezing in cold air, is very pretty, though I'm not sure quite what to make of it.

Mount Misery

Mount Misery is another interesting topographical poem from the 1860 The Vecta Garland, and Isle of Wight souvenir. A number of locations have this name: notably the highest points of St Kitts (renamed Mount Liamuiga on its independence in 1983) and of West Point Island in the Falklands). Midlane's Mount Misery, however, isor rather wasonly a mile and a half north-east of Newport.

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Dropping Rock

similar elsewhere
Another Blank, Missing and Empty Thing - another rock disappeared from history - the Dropping Rock, a spring that was formerly a well-known fixture of St George's Down, near Blackwater, a couple of miles south of Newport, Isle of Wight. It's the subject of one of the poems in Albert Midlane's 1860 The Vecta Garland, and Isle of Wight souvenir.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Albert Midlane's Vecta Garland

Looking for topographical images of the Isle of Wight Undercliff (in the search, so far unsuccessful, of finding an identifiable image of Gore Cliff at the location of Chad's Rock prior to the 1853 blasting) led to me an illustrated poetry anthology The Vecta Garland, and Isle of Wight souvenir, by Albert Midlane.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The timeline of Chad's Rock

Another post inspired by the interesting category History of Blank, Missing and Empty Things at John Ptak's blog Ptak Science Books: the fate of "Chad's Rock" (aka Chad Rock), a picturesque monolith on the Isle of Wight Undercliff that regularly appears in paintings and photos of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but which no longer exists.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Isle of Wight: Heaton Cooper / Hope Moncrieff guide

Another nice example of what's findable on the Internet: the fairly rare 1908 A&C Black guide, Isle of Wight. The text is by Ascott Robert Hope Moncrieff (1846-1927), a regular contributor to the Black's Guide stable, but also a prolific writer of gung-ho adventure stories for boys. The book is probably better known, however, for its exquisite series of plates from water-colours by the landscape painter Alfred Heaton Cooper (1863-1929).

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Isle of Wight photo tours - Victorian-style

With the sheer ease of photography nowadays, it's easy to forget the complications that the hobby presented in the late 1800s. I just found a nice batch of Photographic News articles in which amateur photographers of the time describe their Isle of Wight visits. The details are sometimes geeky, but often interesting in their descriptions of the technical problems and general impressions of the Wight by Victorian photographers.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Kestyns of Cather Castle

Further to the brief comment in Carisbrooke Castle #1, I just checked out Robey F Eldridge's 1897 The Kestyns of Cather Castle, a novel by an Isle of Wight author, which turns out to be available as a PDF from the British Library.


I love it when memories drop into context, years later. On the bus yesterday, I was talking with Clare about school memories, and a recollection surfaced: How Supersmart ate the Elephant. This is a story concerning a jackal who finds a dead elephant, but is unable to bite through its hide. He succeeds eventually, by variously tricking other animals who come along. It's a good yarn, and I Googled it when we got home.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Carisbrooke Castle #1

We visited the Isle of Wight at the weekend, and despite a poor prognosis for the weather, Saturday 15th turned out to be a beautifully fresh and changeable autumn day, and we went to Carisbrooke Castle (for me, this was a revisit after a gap of around 50 years).

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Imitation Game

Further to the post That is All You Need to Know, we just went to see The Imitation Game, the historical thriller based on Alan Turing's central role in the cracking of the German Enigma code in World War 2.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Annals of the Poor

I've resisted reading the Rev Legh Richmond's 1814 Annals of the Poor, as it's a compilation of classic 19th century pious literature - not my cup of tea at all. However, it's also a classic of Isle of Wight literature, with ties to real locations and people, so I thought I'd finally give it a go.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Stephen Reynolds in Sidmouth

An edited cross-post from the Devon History Society site: The Great War: Stephen Reynolds in Sidmouth was a Sid Vale Association talk by Dr Nigel Hyman, exploring the little-known contribution of Reynolds (best known for his semi-autobiographical account of Sidmouth fisher-folk, A Poor Man's House) to the organisation of the inshore fishing industry during World War One. I dug into some background about Reynolds' life and works, and found some nice images in his 1910 Alongshore.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

1873 ads: a selection from Shaw's

A nice crop of adverts from the 1873 Shaw's Tourist's Picturesque Guide to the Isle of Wight. Unlike the locally-targeted ads in Shanklin Spa: A Guide to the Town and the Isle of Wight, these are general-purpose ones that must have appeared in the whole UK stable of Graphotype-illustrated Shaw's guides.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The lucky escape of Kerenhappuch Newnham

Parachute Petticoat trope
A steep flight of steps scales the cliffs, along which the pedestrian may proceed, and from which he can get a very extended view; but he will have to be careful, as not long since a girl, named Karanheippuck [sic] Newnham, was blown from the cliff, but her clothes, becoming inflated, broke her fall, and she alighted unhurt on the shore below, and was afterwards known as "Happie Ninham."

Monday, 3 November 2014

Shaw's Tourist's Picturesque Guide to the Isle of Wight

A pleasant set of images from Shaw's Tourist's Picturesque Guide to the Isle of Wight (pub. London, The Graphotyping Company, Limited, 7, Garrick Street, W.C. Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., Stationers' Hall Court, 1873).

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Southlands: Puseyites and Polynesian princesses

A bit more about Southlands, the long-disappeared marine villa at Blackgang, Isle of Wight: one segment of its short history links in to the story of two notable figures in Victorian Anglo-Catholicism, and that of a tragic exchange visit.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Lowcliffe and Southlands: from cradle to grave

I've touched on this topic a couple of times before, but I just found in Isle of Wight County Press Archive an editorial that's quite enlightening about the fate of Lowcliff (aka Lowcliffe aka Lowecliffe) and Southlands, two villas built in the 1800s on the unstable cliff terraces near Blackgang, Isle of Wight.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Giant angry owl - "Yarp"

A couple of Sundays back we were in Wells, Somerset - England's smallest city - as Clare had been shortlisted in a writing competition. Unfortunately she wasn't placed, but it turned out to be a pleasant day out, as I hadn't been to Wells since I was about 7.

Monday, 27 October 2014

"Oxford Somerset" - a mystery Topsham author

Further to the identification of "Richard Gray" as Jasper Salwey (see Salutation Inn), a correspondent just drew my attention to another mystery author with a Topsham pub connection: the strangely-named "Oxford Somerset".

Sunday, 26 October 2014

That is All You Need to Know

That is All You Need to Know trailer
We were in Salisbury again last week, to see That is All You Need to Know, a production by Idle Motion at Salisbury Arts Centre telling the story of the Bletchley Park codebreakers.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Topsham church records

I've been doing some website work for the Devon and Cornwall Record Society, and in the process ran into some interesting Topsham-related material that could be of considerable use to researchers. Like many churchyards, that of St Margarets, Topsham, has suffered over the years: headstones have been variously moved or destroyed, or have fallen flat; and of those remaining, the majority are nearly illegible through weathering.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Colossal landscapes

The simulacrum 'Cliff' I mentioned in a previous post - see Devon cliff faces - reminded me of a section in the first volume (1863) of The Picture Magazine, an easy-read compilation of syndicated images. Pursuit of the source leads to a venerable genre of anthropomorphic landscapes.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Terror of Topsham ... no

Sorry (at least to hopeful Topsham enthusiasts). The recently-discovered sunken wreck from the Franklin expedition - see The Terror of Topsham ... perhaps - has turned out to be ... its sister ship the Erebus.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Devon cliff faces

I quite like Goodrington Sands, Torbay (see Coast: Brixham to Paignton - part 2). While it's a popular beach, it's not as full-on commercial as Paignton itself, and the northern end - Goodrington & Youngs Park - has areas of definite quaintness, even gentility. In connection, I found a pleasant postcard in Topsham's antiques emporium highlighting a radical development around 1930.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Secret of the Desert: across Arabia by chariot-boat-tank

I wrote previously about the author Edward Douglas Fawcett, after seeing Kevin Dixon's Torquay’s Other History post The Science Fiction of Edward Douglas Fawcett, and linked to his 1893 novel Hartmann the Anarchist; or The Doom of the Great City. As an update, I just found among the growing collection of digitised works at the British Library another of his SF works, the 1895 The Secret of the Desert, or How We Crossed Arabia in the “Antelope“.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Salisbury tower explained

I've been meaning to check out the prominent Italianate tower that you can see from the Salisbury-Exeter train a few minutes out of Salisbury - I'd been speculating a Catholic priory or abbey - but it turns out to be the village of Wilton's extravagantly-designed Church of England parish church of St Mary and St Nicholas.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Devonshire magazine Oct/Nov 2014: Goat Island

I've briefly mentioned East Devon Coast & Country magazine before; a few issues back it was rebadged as the Exeter, East & Mid Devon issue of the Devonshire magazine, part of the larger Prestige Media stable. It always impresses me as one of the very few of the glossy advertorial magazines with good-quality editorial content, usually on topographical/historical topics, and this month's was no exception.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Lion's Mane and other seaside fun

“Here is a book,” I said, taking up the little volume, “which first brought light into what might have been forever dark. It is Out of Doors, by the famous observer, J. G. Wood. Wood himself very nearly perished from contact with this vile creature, so he wrote with a very full knowledge. Cyanea capillata is the miscreant’s full name, and he can be as dangerous to life as, and far more painful than, the bite of the cobra. Let me briefly give this extract.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014


Just a piece of stream-of-consciousness that led to some literature I'd quite forgotten... I saw an old Daily Mail article about the very cute cat Venus, who is a chimera - an organism composed of genetically distinct patches. It's not unusual in animals, but unusual to have such a distinct facial division: blue-eyed ginger tabby on the left, green-eyed black cat on the right. She even has a Facebook page.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

False books at Killerton

Saturday's Telegraph review section featured Charles Dickens's well-known "List of imitation book-backs" that he ordered in 1851 from the bookbinder Thomas Robert Eeles to fill some shelves at Tavistock House. This reminded me to transcribe the titles of a similar set of spoof book spines I saw last year, concealing a cupboard in the library at Killerton House. They're not quite as creative as Dickens's, but still fun.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Full English

The Full English Digital Archive is a free searchable online archive of early 20th century English folk arts manuscripts. Largely Heritage Lottery funded, it's part of the larger Full English project of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS),  and went live on 20th June 2014.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Langstone Rock - to the smugglers' caves (perhaps)

Concluding a trio of posts about Langstone Rock at Dawlish Warren: today I had a second look, with the help of the low spring tide, and found a surprising detail not visible from any of the viewpoints looking down - a perfectly straightforward way into the cove between the two sections of the Rock.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Devon rocks - Erme estuary

Yesterday - thanks to a friend who gave us a lift - we walked a short section of the South West Coast Path above the Erme estuary, South Hams, a location with multiple designations: South Devon Heritage Coast, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Monday, 22 September 2014

Langstone Rock - live visit

After yesterday's virtual and historical tour of Langstone Rock (Langstone Cliff - civilised lunch and a missing elephant), today we walked from Dawlish Warren to Dawlish, and had a look at the real thing.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Langstone Cliff - civilised lunch and a missing elephant

I recently went to a Ladies' Probus lunch at the Langstone Cliff Hotel, above Dawlish Warren (it was the President's Lunch, to which spouses are invited). It's a very pleasant location, with a view across to the High Land of Orcombe and Sandy Bay. It also has a verandah perfect for 3D photography, and some interesting coastal history nearby.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Franklin: streamlining a ballad

I got so absorbed in the maritime details that I forgot the important point that the Franklin expedition got into the English folk tradition. After the loss of the expedition, Jane, Lady Franklin, sponsored seven expeditions to find what had happened to Franklin and his crew. This inspired the 1850-ish broadside ballad that evolved into the folk song Lady Franklin's Lament aka Lord Franklin aka The Sailor's Dream.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Terror of Topsham ... perhaps

A major piece of archaeological news: BBC News reports Sir John Franklin: Fabled Arctic ship found. This is the discovery by Parks Canada of one of the two lost ships - the HMS Terror or the HMS Erebus - from Franklin's disastrous 1845 expedition in the search of a Northwest Passage.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Confectionery clones

We shop regularly at Aldi  - an excellent store - where I'm always mildly amused by the thinly-veiled clone products in its Dairyfine confectionery range, which have echoes of similarity in both typography and naming.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

We'd erode and fall in green ...

... or, Kate Bush meets coastal geomorphology. The Express & Echo, Exeter, is one of many publications to report on the coastal erosion threat to the singer's mansion in the South Hams, Devon: Kate Bush faces a battle to save Devon clifftop home from falling into the sea (September 03, 2014).

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Thane Yost and the will to win

Not a Thane
Department of weird attributions: many post-2000 me-too inspirational books, and tens of thousands of web pages, have the quotation "The will to win is worthless if you do not have the will to prepare" attributed to a "Thane Yost". It sounds like a character out of SF/fantasy, and a quick Google finds no such person. What is going on?

Monday, 1 September 2014

Littlecombe Shoot: down among the plats

View Donkey Sanctuary to Beer in a larger map

I felt energetic on Friday, and repeated - with some side explorations - the Sidmouth to Beer 'lite' walk of almost exactly a year ago. In part I wanted a closer look at the ruins of Weston House as described in the previous post; in part I wanted to explore the unique landscape of the plats at Littlecombe Shoot.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

It ain't that kind: two years on

A brief progress report: as regular readers will be aware, two years ago I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer of unknown primary (CUP), which is generally bad news. However, due to a good response to palliative treatment and, it seems, a fairly unaggressive flavour of CUP, things have so far gone far better than we dared hope for.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Weston House: a ruined Devon villa

Yesterday I took a closer look at the remains of Weston House, which is a few minutes' walk from the Donkey Sanctuary at Weston, near Sidmouth, East Devon. Given general trends either to demolish or to renovate derelict buildings, it's unusual to see the extant remains of a house ruined in a fire nearly two centuries ago.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

St Margaret's Church: 3D

Following the experiments in 3D photos in woodland vistas - see Undercliff - there and back again: 3D - I took a few stereopairs in St Margaret's Church, Topsham.