Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A Glass of Water: the horrors of Clapham Junction

I just posted to the A Wren-like Note weblog one of Maxwell Gray's first story sales, A Glass of Water, which originally appeared in One and All, a weekly periodical sold in railway stations, around 1880.

It can hardly be viewed as an advertisement for railway travel, telling of the misadventures of a newly-wed couple on the way to their honeymoon, who become separated when the husband gets out of the train to get his wife a glass of water. The labyrinthine "Smasham Junction" in the story is based on (in the author's words) "an experience of the horrors and perils of Clapham Junction", one of the busiest stations in Europe. It's actually in Battersea, but - see the Disused Stations account - at the time it was built it was named after the then more upmarket Clapham in an attempt to attract a higher class of clientele. It was a complex station even at the time of writing:
CLAPHAM JUNCTION is in the direction of St. John's Hill, at the north-eastern extremity of Wandsworth Common. "The station itself which was at first one of the most inconvenient, was re-built a few. years ago, and now with its various sidings and goods-sheds cover several acres of ground." It is one of the most important railway junctions south of the Thames, offering facilities to persons desirous of travelling not only to any part of the Metropolis but to all parts of England. Easy access can be had to the eight different platforms for "upline" and "downline," etc., on entering the tunnel. Booking office for Kensington, Metropolitan line, etc., on the ground floor at the north end of the tunnel and facing No. 2 platform; Booking office South-Western line No. 5 platform; Booking office Brighton and South-Coast No. 8 platform; also Telegraph office ditto ditto.

At the Junction there are thirteen waiting rooms, two refreshment bars, two cab ranks, two carriage roads to the Junction from St. John's Hill. Nearly 1,000 trains pass through the Junction daily. The staff of railway employees are respectful and obliging to passengers; there is none of that bull-dog growl in reply to questions which characterize some men with surly dispositions who fill public positions.

" Evil is wrought from want of thought
As well as want of heart."

London, Brighton and South-Coast Railway: Station Master, Mr. John B. Carne ; South- Western Railway : Station Master, Mr. Thomas Green. West London Extension Railway : Battersea Station, High Street.
- p151, All about Battersea, Henry S Simmonds, Ashfield, 1882, Internet Archive allaboutbatters00simmgoog).
See A Wren-Like Note for A Glass of Water.

- Ray

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Wonders of the Isle of Wight: growth of a meme

Another image from the pleasant booklet, c.1910, Isle of Wight: Forty-one camera studies of the nooks & crannies, bays & chines of the garden isle, produced by the Photochrom Company of London and Tunbridge Wells (see previously, Nooks and crannies - an ill-fated housing boom).

This is one of the many incarnations of the 'Wonders of the Isle of Wight' - "Cowes you cannot milk, Lake you can walk through, Freshwater you cannot drink, Needles you cannot thread, and Newport you cannot bottle" - though the number and choice of locations has been variable.

The earliest precursors I can find appear in the 1850s-60s, where a number of comic journals contain variants on this pun:
A Truism.—There is one remarkable feature in the Isle of Wight, not generally known, which is, that any person who visits there may obtain mutton from Cowes.
- True Briton: A Weekly Magazine of Amusement and Instruction, Issue 6, Sep 8, 1853

What extraordinary kind of meat is to be bought in the Isle of Wight? 
Mutton from Cowes!
Puniana: or, Thoughts wise and other-wise, Hugh Rowley, 1867
By 1899, there were three items, as in:
Why is the Isle of Wight a fraud? — Because there's Cow(e)s you cannot milk, Needles you cannot thread, and Freshwater you cannot drink.
-  Children's Corner, Aberdeen Weekly Journal, March 1, 1899
A similar joke was widely syndicated in various newspapers worldwide in 1901, expanded to four items:
Why is the Isle of Wight a fraud? Because it has Needles you can't thread, Freshwater you cannot drink, Cowes you cannot milk, and Newport you cannot bottle.
- Fun and Fancy, The Star [Christchurch, NZ], Issue 7273, 7 December 1901
In 1908, the concept made the jump to pictorial form in a card by William James Nigh, a Ventnor postcard maker, who produced a "The Five Novelties of the Isle of Wight" card:
Needles without Eyes
Saltwater you get from Freshwater
Ryde you can have and not move
Lake without any water
Mutton you get from Cowes
The copyright registration is in the National Archives:
"Photograph for postcard of an arrangement of views with ornamental design entitled 'The Five Novelties of the Isle of Wight'."
Item is a colour postcard and not a photograph. Copyright owner of Work: William James Nigh, 7 Ocean View Terrace, Newport Road, Ventnor, Isle of Wight. Copyright author of Work: William Dederich, Imperial Buildings, Ludgate Circus, London. Form completed 9 July 1908. Registration stamp: 21 July 1908.
- COPY 1/523/345, National Archives
(William Dederich was a fine-art publisher; WJ Nigh & Sons is still extant, now in Shanklin).

The Wonders of the Isle of Wight page at wightindex.com has a nice collection documenting the various incarnations of the idea on postcards since: "Novelties" became "Wonders" (and occasionally "Contradictions" or "Peculiarities"), and increased to as many as eight.

Peculiar Properties of the Isle of Wight: J Welch & Sons, Portsmouth
In the 1930s, the idea was co-opted into use for a Shell Oil advertisement:

As seven, the wonders are featured in the somewhat naff murals, created as a community project in 2008, at the Ryde Esplanade bus and rail terminus.

1st wonder - Thread the Needles

2nd wonder - Newport bottled

3rd wonder - Drink Freshwater

4th wonder - Old Newtown

5th wonder - Milk Cowes

6th wonder - walk in Ryde

7th wonder - Stay dry in Lake
The meme acquired a modern spin in 2012 when it was featured in Ed Petrie's All Over the Place slot on the BBC children's section CBBC.
- Ray

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Morning on the estuary

The weather lately has been variable: a lot of overcast days and rain, but with stunningly vivid mornings and evenings. I took these this morning at 9, before the sun had come round sufficiently to dazzle any attempts to photograph directly down the estuary toward Exmouth.

Looking down the Exe estuary from Topsham Quay
More images below: click to enlarge.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

For Felix

This morning I had news of the death of Felix Grant, my colleague and friend of some 25 years. It wasn't radically unexpected - he told me about his serious health problems on our last meeting (in his own words, his "sell-by date was likely to be in the same territory" as mine) - but that makes it no easier. I didn't often meet Felix in person, but that made no difference; I think he would have appreciated the pertinence of this quote from Philip K Dick.
We are served by organic ghosts, he thought, who, speaking and writing, pass through this our new environment. Watching, wise, physical ghosts from the full-life world, elements of which have become for us invading but agreeable splinters of a substance that pulsates like a former heart. And of all of them, he thought, thanks to Glen Runciter. In particular. The writer of instructions, labels and notes. Valuable notes.

He raised his arm to slow to a grumpy halt a passing 1936 Graham cab.
- Philip K Dick, Ubik, 1969
Felix has been the central and best of these 'wise ghosts' in my life for so long that his absence is hard to grasp. I might write a proper piece when it feels a little less raw.

Here are links to other appreciations:

For Felix... (Kate Raynes at Fiction Fix).
For Felix (at PsychoBabble).
Sad news (fdabristol.co.uk)
Obituary: Felix Grant 1952-2014, Scientific Computing World, February 2014
Thank You Felix (Luke Palmer Arts)

- Ray

Saturday, 18 January 2014

TE Brown and Manx Dialect

Mark Liberman's Language Log post More bee science (which comments on a news story's mistaken description of worker bees as drones) reminded me of a scrap of verse I remember from way back.
What's the gud of these Pazons? They're the most despard rubbage goin,
Reglar humbugs they are. Show me a Pazon, show me a drone!
Livin on the fat of the land, livin on the people's money
The same's the drones is livin on the beeses honey.
- TE Brown
I first encountered this diatribe about parsons in Arnold Silcock's 1952 anthology Verse & Worse: A Private Collection, but I'd never bothered to look into its origins. I'd assumed it was in some folksy US dialect, but far from it. It turns out to be in Anglo-Manx, a now-declining dialect of which the Manx poet, scholar and theologian Thomas Edward Brown was a major chronicler. The above verse is one small segment of "The Pazons", part 5 of a cycle of comic rants - In the Coach - purportedly heard aboard a public coach. It comes from Brown's anthology Old John and other poems (1893, Internet Archive ID oldjohnotherpoem00brow).

He looks an interesting guy. His diaries contain a wonderful and inspirational exposition of what it is to be a writer ...
I must be free free to do what I like, say what I like, write what I like, within the limitations prescribed by me by my own sense of what is seemly and fitting.
... and it seems his works were unusually robust for the time, but he self-censored them in contemporary collections (see The Drama of Storytelling in T.E. Brown's Manx Yarns, Max Keith Sutton, 1991) . The 1998 Fo'c's'le Yarns: An Uncensored Edition of Four Manx Narratives in Verse leads with:
FO'C'S'LE YARNS presents four of T. E. Brown's best Yarns uncensored for the first time. These narrative poems were originally published in 1881 in an edition Brown called an "emasculation" of his best work. George Eliot, Max Muller, Francis Thompson, and W.H. Henley admired his work, yet he was eventually dismissed as too Victorian. These original texts demonstrate the inaccuracy of this characterization with their bold treatment of sex, and their dramatic inclusion of the rough give-and-take between the yarnspinner and his shipmates in the forecastle. The frankness of the Yarns makes them a significant expression of Manx experience and culture, as does their close imitation of the dialect.
Some of the censorship was about expletives - his characters' use of "My God" and the Manx equivalent "My gough" - but I haven't been able to find specifics of what else was involved.

See the Internet Archive - search creator:"Brown, T. E. (Thomas Edward), 1830-1897" - for his many other works.

There are a number of glossaries of Manx dialect, notably AW Moor's 1924 A Vocabulary of the Anglo-Manx Dialect and WW Gill's 1934 Manx Dialect Words and Phrases. Like many regional dialects (such as that of the Isle of Wight), it's greatly declined now, reduced to a regional accent with a few dialect words. Having never heard it, I wasn't sure what kind of accent it would be - I thought it might have affinities with Irish English. In fact it has a lot of similarities to North-West accents, with a twang not unlike Liverpudlian. The British Library has a couple of historical examples, recorded in the 1950s, in its Survey of English Dialects - Amanda Crellin (b. 1878), and John Thomas Teare (b. 1873).

For a modern example, check out the videos by Ben Watterson and Juan McGuinness. While they're a scathing satire on insular attitudes, the general response has been positive, with commentary to the effect that the accent is authentic and only slightly exaggerated. It definitely sounds even more Liverpudlian than the 1950s samples.

- Ray

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The making of Gosport Park

View Larger Map

I'm always fascinated by the landscape stories that it's possible to unearth using readily available sources. Yesterday a question was raised in the Gosport Memories group in Facebook about the origin of "The Dell", a recessed and banked oval of land in Gosport Park, Gosport, Hampshire (see Bing Maps).

With this kind of thing, it's always worth checking the excellent Old Maps map archive site, which readily finds that The Dell and the Park itself existed in 1898 ...

Gosport Park, 1898 OS map. Historic map data is (© and database right
Crown copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd. (All rights reserved
2009). Low-resolution image reproduced for small-scale non-profit
use under the terms described in the Old Maps FAQ.
... but didn't in 1881, when the area was just a tract of common land called Ewer Common, on a peninsula between two creeks, Stoke Lake to the south, and Workhouse Lake to the north.

Ewer Common, 1867-1881 OS map. Historic map data is (© and database right
Crown copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd. (All rights reserved
2009). Low-resolution image reproduced for small-scale non-profit
use under the terms described in the Old Maps FAQ.
This Martin Snape lithograph (found at www.richardmartingallery.co.uk) gives a good idea of what the land was like: heath and very low-grade pasture.

A look in the British Library 19th Century Newspapers archive finds that the land was transformed in the late 1880s, the driver behind the project being Colonel Charles Mumby. See Charles Mumby & Co., Gosport and Portsmouth: Memories Evoked by the Isle of Wight Steam Railway for a good biographical summary. (He wasn't a 'real' colonel, by the way - this was the kind of era when the local bigwig automatically got parachuted into some medium-high rank in the regional volunteer battalion - roughly equivalent to the modern Territorial Army). An all-round Victorian entrepreneur who'd become rich chiefly from mineral water manufacturing in Gosport, he'd risen in the town hierarchy to become chairman of the Local Board (precursor to borough council), and one of his projects was the proposal in 1886 to develop Ewer Common as a public park.
The Chairman said that while at Ewer Common some time ago he thought that this large tract of land which measured nearly 30 acres, would form a very desirable place of public recreation. While paying a subsequent visit to London, he saw the Chief Clerk to the Secretary of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. who were the Lords of the Manor at Alverstoke, and learned from him that no revenue was acquired from the land. He then wrote a letter to the Commissioners stating that the Common was merely used as a squatting place for gypsies and for digging gravel for the repair of roads, and that to his knowledge no common rights had been exercised for many years and he therefore asked whether the Commissioners would be willing to hand over the land for a public recreation ground. A favourable reply had been received, and he now moved that the question be referred to the Roads and Works Committee, for them to negotiate with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners with a view to acquiring Ewer Common.
The Hampshire Telegraph, February 13, 1886
It seems fairly high-handed of Mumby to present the plan at such an advanced stage, and there were objections - particularly from a Mr Treacher, who argued that this, like a previous deal to acquire land for building Thorngate Hall, amounted to misrepresentation and fraud. (I assume his implication was that Mumby was exaggerating the worthlessness of the land in order to get the owners to relinquish it). However, the resolution was passed. Treacher's objections continued over the next few years - chiefly about the general expense and the legality of the funding process:
Mr JF Treacher said that if he went according to his belief, he would oppose the motion [to borrow money to fence the park under construction] tooth and nail, but as the ground was commenced, he would remain neutral. He could hardly say that they had carried out this work in a strictly legal manner, as they had been drawing funds from the general district rate, for which no resolution had been passed. The total sum spent on Ewer Common would have been sufficient to build an Infection Diseases Hospital. Besides the Common was not in a central position, and would only be of use to a portion of the parish.
- Hampshire Telegraph, May 16, 1891
The Park was  completed in 1891, at a total cost of some £3000, and was opened on June 17th 1891.
Wednesday was a red letter day in the history of Gosport. In magnificent weather the new Park at Alverstoke was formally opened to the public. … A piece of land that was useless, except as a camping-ground for gypsies, is now transformed into a well laid-out recreation ground, with a capital cycle track and running path. The track itself, which is about three laps to the mile, is egg-shaped, the curves making easy sweeps. An unsightly gravel pit has been turfed, and will make excellent courts for tennis, the sloping sides sheltering the players, and effectually keeping the balls from straying too far. A spacious carriage-drive runs round the whole ground, and altogether the Gosport Park is an ornament and a credit to the parish.
- Hampshire Telegraph June 20, 1891
The Dell, although not named as such in the account of the opening, is clearly the site of this egg-shaped track.

The Ewer Common peninsula has other historical interest as the site of the former Alverstoke House of Industry, one of the first radially-designed workhouses (hence the adjacent creek being called Workhouse Lake). You can see a detailed ground plan on Old Maps, which has a 1:500 town plan:

Alverstoke House of Industry, 1875-1880 town plan.
Historic map data is (© and database right Crown copyright and Landmark
Information Group Ltd. (All rights reserved 2009).
Low-resolution image reproduced for small-scale non-profit
use under the terms described in the Old Maps FAQ.
Closed after WW2, the workhouse site was used as an industrial unit until its demolition in 1989, and all that remains is its northern gateway, converted into a house. See The Workhouse / Alverstoke for further details and pictures. There's a slight Isle of Wight connection I didn't know about: Valentine Gray, the 'Little Sweep' who's commemorated in Church Litten park, Newport, was a former inmate.

- Ray (with thanks to Christopher Pope and Gary Baltao)

Friday, 10 January 2014

"Old Jervie"

John Ptak's blog Ptak Science Books category - "History of Blank, Missing and Empty Things" - is proving surprisingly applicable. A post by Dave Burnes in the Gosport Memories Facebook group reminded me of the displays my family took me to at HMS St Vincent, the RN training establishment at Gosport - decommissioned in 1969, and now a sixth-form college. One of the highlights of the year was the annual fireworks display on the parade ground - except that I remember being terrified by the huge figure looming out of the smoke.

This was the figurehead "Old Jervie" (or "Old Jarvie" in some sources): the effigy of John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent. The image at right comes from Rob Jerrard's maritime book reviews here. There are better images in the galleries at the HMS St Vincent Association site; in 1946 (see here) he presided over the "Ganges Gym", .in later years, he overlooked the parade ground (see here).

Apart from the facade, the historic buildings of HMS St Vincent have been demolished, and Old Jervie is no longer on the site. I'm pleased to see, however, that he's still extant, and has been moved to the nearby shore establishment HMS Collingwood. See John Oram's Flickr photo HMSCOD_011 - 4 June 2011 ('Old Jervie' - Admiral John Jervis. HMS Collingwood Open Day, Fareham).

- Ray

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Grammatical iconoclasm

Some pleasant bits of grammatical iconoclasm I just ran into:
Firstly, on Language Log - The English passive: an apology - the linguistics professor Geoffrey K Pullum has posted a link to his new paper, "Fear and Loathing of the English Passive", an enjoyable demolition of long-standing beliefs about the passive voice. A brief reminder:

Friday, 3 January 2014

Spring tide

If you're in the UK, you'll be aware of the storm and flood warnings for the south-west over the last few days. For whatever reason, Topsham got off lightly; the weather was dry and calm overnight, so the rivers were up, but not disruptively so. But we went out to look at 8.30, and it was a striking morning: varying between bright sunshine, hail, ominous clouds to the north, and a lovely sunrise downriver.

Wixels, Topsham, looking up the River Exe
The Underway, Topsham, looking down the Exe
looking across the Exe, flooded Exe marshes, and Haldon Hills
looking across the Clyst
Clyst flood plain over Bridge Inn garden
Fisher's Mill, looking between the Clyst bridges
Clyst Bridge, looking upriver (note the almost-hidden arches)
looking down the Clyst wetlands
east bank of the Clyst, downstream of Clyst Bridge
east bank of the Clyst, downstream of Clyst Bridge (the pontoon at left is the normal river's edge)

downstream - the levee on the east bank of the Clyst

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Bracing start

The variability of a maritime climate! In contrast to the picture-postcard Topsham dawn of 1st January 2013 (see Bright start) 2014 had a blustery start with the river brown with sediment, the Exe Marshes flooded, and the rain blowing sideways. But as the cliché goes, there's no such thing as bad weather, just wearing the wrong clothes. The important things are that I finished A Wren-like Note, and got through 2013 in good health and without further cancer treatment - a considerably better picture than we feared at the end of 2012 (see It ain't that kind if you don't know the backstory there). Thanks again to everyone who has given their kind support over the year. My most pressing problem at the moment is deciding on a new project for 2014; the 'other woman' is largely out of our life, but she leaves a major gap!
- Ray