Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, History

Top 10 Tips For Starting A History Blog

©Come Step Back In Time

Since March 2016, I have been the History Editor at Bloggeration (@Bloggeration_) an on-line magazine for bloggers across the globe. Editor in Chief is the fabulous Sarah Moody (@Sairey_bearey ) of The Prosecco Diaries whom I met last year when I attended one of her Blogger workshops in London. You may remember reading my article about this event?

Bloggeration has been incredibly successful since its launch a few month’s ago and whether you are new to blogging or a seasoned pro, there is something for everyone in the magazine. New content is posted daily. Bloggeration‘s Twitter account (@Bloggeration_) is very active, a great way to meet other bloggers too.

Every Sunday between 9.30 and 10.30 am (GMT), a different Editor hosts #BloggerationChat – a themed Q&A covering a wide range of blogging topics. #BloggerationChat has even trended on Twitter! I will be hosting a history-themed #BloggerationChat on Sunday 8th May and Sunday 22nd May, so do drop by and connect, it will be lovely to meet you there.

My first feature article for Bloggeration was a long-overdue ‘how to’ guide to starting a history blog. The full article can be found, here but below are some of my top 10 tips if you want to start history blogging:

  1. Some history bloggers are academics but many are graduates, heritage professionals, amateur or local historians. A PhD is not a pre-requisite for writing a successful blog, but a passion for the past definitely is;
  2. Engage your readers by presenting fascinating subjects in a lively and innovative way. Use a mix of film clips, podcasts, quality illustrations, Pinterest boards and Periscope. Generate interest in your posts using Instagram and Twitter.  I also recommend looking on Twitter at #Twitterstorians for all the latest history news and articles, a good place to find other history bloggers too;
  3. Create a niche. The quirkier the content the quicker you will find an audience. Feature hidden histories or lesser known individuals from the past. Take note of current affairs – straplines can inspire you to research fascinating backstories;
  4. Blog upcoming historical anniversaries. Best website for checking future anniversaries is the Mary Evans Picture Library;
  5. Explore the history of your local area. Visit your library and historic locations near to your home. Take photographs and share on-line via Twitter, film a Vlog or for more immediacy, Periscope. If you are based in England then look-out for the Blue Plaque Scheme run by English Heritage;
  6. Rummage in your local charity shop or boot sale for books, magazines, artefacts and objects. Research your finds, document results in your blog. History blogging is actually a fairly low cost pastime in comparison with lifestyle blogging;
  7. Delve into your own family’s history for inspiration. Talk to family members about their memories of the past. Ask if they have any photos or objects they would be willing to have featured in a blog post. This will also give your history blog a unique and very personal edge;
  8. Use plenty of illustrations in your blogs and be copyright aware. (For a full explanation of this point as well as details of copyright safe image resources, see my original article). Since writing my original article, I have discovered an additional image  safe resource. The New York Public Library. Search their image catalogue but make sure you do so by marking the ‘Images In The Public Domain’ tick-box. It is a fantastic database and easy to use. NYPL have released over 180,000 images into the Public Domain;
  9. Quality not quantity. History bloggers tend not to post daily. Articles take a lot longer to research, write-up and curate illustrations. If you are averaging two or three a month then I salute you!
  10. Be a proof-reading Ninja. Your readers will quickly lose confidence in you if articles are full of spelling and grammatical errors or broken web links.
  • For my comprehensive feature article on how to start a history blog, click here.

Good luck if you start a history blog.  Leave me a comment below or Tweet me (@emmahistorian) if you do, I would love to hear about how you are getting-on and am happy to answer any blogging related questions.

©Come Step Back In Time






Posted in Activity, Aviation History, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, Film, History, Maritime History, Museum, World War Two

Solent Sky Museum, Southampton – Spitfires & Flying Boats –

  •  Film by British Pathé, ‘Vivid Demonstration’ (1936), shot at Eastleigh Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport) on 26th March, 1936. Film features Vickers Long Range Bomber and a Spitfire prototype. This was the Spitfire’s 2nd test flight. Film also shows pilot Jeffrey Quill getting into the Spitfire. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.

Saturday 5th March will be the 80th anniversary of Spitfire’s first test flight from Eastleigh Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport), Hampshire which took place on 5th March, 1936. The first Spitfire test flight lasted 8 minutes. Southampton Airport will be marking this momentous occasion, a Spitfire will take-off from there on Saturday on an 80th birthday flight.

Me in conversation with R. J. MItchell at Solent Sky Museum. ©Come Step Back In Time
Me in conversation with R. J. MItchell at Solent Sky Museum. ©Come Step Back In Time

It will first  fly close to the resting place of its Chief Designer R. J. Mitchell (1895-1937). Continuing along the river Itchen to Southampton Water where it will pass near to the site of the old Supermarine factory in Woolston where many thousands of the aircraft were built.  Onwards to Portsmouth harbour before flying back on itself to Southampton Airport.

According to Southampton Airport’s website, the Spitfire should be visible, around the Solent, between 11 am and 12 noon on Saturday 5th. Subject to weather conditions, there will be good vantage points along the River Itchen, Weston Shore, Hythe, Royal Victoria Country Park, Lee on Solent and Cowes (Isle of Wight).

Solent Sky Museum have a rare Spitfire on display, the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mk24 PK683. One of the last of its type to be produced, PK683 saw service with the RAF in Malaysia, and is in almost original condition. ©Come Step Back In Time
Solent Sky Museum have a rare Spitfire on display, the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mk24 PK683. One of the last of its type to be produced, PK683 saw service with the RAF in Malaysia, and is in almost original condition. ©Come Step Back In Time

Afterwards, head down to the brilliant, hidden gem that is Solent Sky Museum, Southampton  (Twitter: @SpitfireSolent). On Saturday 5th, this multi-award winning Museum will be open from 12.30pm (admission charges apply) for a packed afternoon of activities to commemorate the Spitfire’s 80th anniversary.  A new exhibition will also open on Saturday, ‘Southampton and the People’s Spitfire’, containing over 100 photographs documenting Southampton’s Blitz.

This exhibition will focus on Southampton’s role producing the Spitfire in ‘Southampton’s Blitz’. During the Battle of Britain, in 1940, Southampton was heavily bombed and the Supermarine factory was destroyed. Spitfire production was dispersed to any local site with enough floor space to produce Spitfire components. The exhibition also commemorates the heroic efforts of local residents to maintain Spitfire production at all costs.

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  • The Spitfire production line at the Vickers Supermarine Works in Southampton, 1940.

There were 20, 531 Spitfires built, the last one rolled off the production line in 1947.  Surviving examples are extremely rare (there is one in Solent Sky Museum – Mk24 PK683). The first Spitfire prototype was originally called “The Fighter” F.37/34 but subsequently this changed to prototype K5054.

Captain Joseph “Mutt” Summers (1904-1954) piloted the first Spitfire test flight in 1936. Mutt joined Vickers Aviation Ltd in June 1929, a year later he became chief test pilot at Supermarine Aviation Works. Jeffrey Kindersley Quill (1913-1996), piloted the second test flight on 26th March, 1936 (see film at top of article). Jeffrey was known as “Mr Spitfire” and was Mutt’s assistant. In January, 1936, he began working at Vickers and its subsidiary Supermarine.


R. J. Mitchell's cigarette case which he had with him whilst watching Spitfire's first test flight on 5th March, 1936. Artefact is not normally on display to the public at Solent Sky Museum so was very privileged to see and handle it. ©Come Step Back In Time
Two views of R. J. Mitchell’s cigarette case.  He had the case with him whilst watching Spitfire’s first test flight on 5th March, 1936. Artefact is not normally on display to the public at Solent Sky Museum so have been very privileged to see and handle it. ©Come Step Back In Time

  • ‘Solent Sky Museum Seeking Stories Recalling World War Two’ by Shan Robins (That’s Solent TV) featuring an interview with Museum Director Sqn/Ldr Alan Jones MBE CRAeS RAF Rtd. Alan also introduces some special Spitfire related artefacts from the Museum’s deep archives. Uploaded to You Tube 13.2.2016.

I recently assisted on and participated in several films made by Shan Robins (Senior Broadcaster at That’s Solent TV) shot on location at Solent Sky Museum. It was a wonderful opportunity to find-out more about some of the Museum’s most famous exhibits.

  • ‘The Schneider Trophy’s Influence on the Design of the Spitfire’ film by Shan Robins (That’s Solent TV) featuring Museum Director Sqn/Ldr Alan Jones MBE CRAeS RAF Rtd.  Uploaded to You Tube 4.2.2016.

  • ‘Flying Boats: A Look Back at a Bygone Era’ by Shan Robins (That’s Solent TV) featuring an interview with myself made on location at Solent Sky Museum, which is also home to the ‘Beachcomber’, a flying boat originally built in 1943 as a Short Sunderland Mk3, but in 1947 was converted to operate commercial flights with passengers. Uploaded to You Tube 18.2.2016.

There are many exhibits at Solent Sky that fascinate me but the Beachcomber is by far my favourite. In 2012, I wrote an article about the Beachcomber.  On my recent visits to make the above films, I made sure I spent some more time looking around this lovely vintage flying boat.

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Flying Boats and Southampton

In the summer of 1919 (16th August), Supermarine operated Britain’s first commercial flying boat service from the Royal Pier, near Southampton docks. The first flights were local, to Bournemouth, Portsmouth and Isle of Wight, on a Channel Mk.1 aircraft. In September, 1919, Supermarine operated its first international flying boat service from its premises at Woolston travelling to Le Havre.

The service to Le Havre did not operate for long, starting-up again in September 1923 when flying boats serviced the route between Woolston and Cherbourg. In 1924, British Marine became Imperial Airways who continued to operate flying boat services from Woolston. Between the 1924 and 1958, Southampton became one of the busiest flying boat ports in the world.

Before the jet age really took hold, towards the end of the 1950s, flying boats were the popular, if most expensive, method of travel overseas. Only the wealthy could afford the ticket price as well as spare the time needed to complete the  journey.  Travelling to the other side of the world by flying boat could take eight days or more. Some of the journey would have to be made via ship or other modes of transport until flying boats were servicing more routes. Eight days may seem a long time now but actually, back then it was considered extremely quick!

  • Film by British Pathé, ‘Flying Boat – Sydney Aka New Empire Flying Boat Leaves Sydney For Southampton’ (1938).

Like the Spitfire, the flying boat is also celebrating a big birthday this year. On 3rd July it will be the  80th anniversary of Imperial Airways’ first Short C Class flight from Southampton which took place in 1936. Imperial Airways’ first revenue flight took place on 6th February, 1937 and henceforward, Hythe (near Southampton), became the airline’s home base. Only 42 of this type of flying boat were built.

In the new C Class ‘boats, passenger comfort took precedence. A smoking cabin at the front of the aircraft was fitted out like a lounge, with chairs facing each other around small tables. Behind this was a galley, where a steward delivered restaurant quality meals on china plates. Amidships was the “promenade” deck with large, high-placed windows where passengers could stand and see their sights. In all, 24 passengers could be carried.

All this luxury came at a high price, however. The round trip from Southampton to Australia cost as much as a small house in 1937…. Today, aircraft travel at upwards of thirty thousand feet, and frequently all that is visible is clouds. In the C Class, though, there was no pressurised cabin, so flying took place at low level for the whole of the journey. This enabled Imperial Airways to make scheduled flights almost into sight-seeing tours.

(‘Southampton: The Gateway to The Empire’ by Chris Smith, The Solent Sky magazine, Summer 2014, pp. 16-19)

This first C Class flight took place over Southampton Waters. Southampton was  chosen as the location for an international “marine aeroport”, or “airport”. As the name suggests, the first airports were actually located at seaports, Southampton being one of the first.

Airports were originally not the landlocked complex of buildings and terminals that we know today. Historically, that type of airport would actually have been known as an aerodrome. In the 1930s, Southampton’s aerodrome was based at Eastleigh and is today Southampton Airport.

  • British Pathé film, ‘Empire Flying Boat (Imperial Airways) ‘Centaurus’ leaves for flight to New Zealand from Southampton’ (1937). Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
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  • Imperial Airways flying boat ‘Centaurus’ at Hythe, Hampshire with its five- man crew. The plane flew to Egypt, Iraq and Singapore bringing India to within 2 and 1/2 days air-travel from Britain. L to r Flt Clerk R Doel, First Officer A Richardson, Captain J Sheppard, Wireless Operator L F Mitchell and steward E W Rowcliffe. 1938.

In March 1937, Imperial Airways Limited (1924-1939) started their twice-weekly services to Alexandria and later that year to South and East Africa. These aircraft were maintained at the Hythe flying-boat base until early 1938 when operations moved to Folland’s hangar at Hamble which could now handle five C Class boats at any one time.

From May 1938, arrangements were made for passengers to embark directly onto the aircraft from a pontoon at Berth 101 in Southampton New Docks, doing away with having to board from a launch. Departures to Sydney, Australia left at 5.15am. For early-morning take-offs buoys equipped with electric lights were strung out to indicate the ‘runway’. (Source: Flying Boats of the Solent and Poole by Mike Phipp, 2013, p.46)

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  • A snapshot photograph of a an Imperial Airways flying boat moored to a jetty in Southampton harbour, taken by an unknown photographer in about 1935.

Imperial Airways established their services as four times a week to India, three times to East Africa and twice to Durban, Malaya, Hong Kong and Australia. On 5th July 1937 their first Transatlantic service was started with flights from the UK by Imperial and from the USA by Pan American.  In September 1939, Imperial Airways transferred their aircraft and services to Poole Harbour.

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  • Photograph from 1936. A Flight Steward aboard the giant flying-boat, ‘Canopus’ serves breakfast to passengers in their bunks. Imperial Airways’ Canopus was on the Alexandria-Athens service. It cruised at 200mph and carried 16 passengers in night stages.
Advertising poster for Imperial Airways (1939). On display at Solent Sky Museum, Southampton.
Advertising poster for Imperial Airways (1939). On display at Solent Sky Museum, Southampton.

In the pre-war era, flying with Imperial Airways was everything you would expect it to be, if you had money that is. Passengers who flew regularly with the airline were even allowed to have their valet with them. If you didn’t have a valet to look after your every in-flight need, then you would be looked after by a Flight Steward. In these early years of seaplane travel, all Stewards were male.

Facilities on-board these early flying boats were not luxurious but were adequate. The Short Calcutta and Kent flying-boats were equipped with twin-burner oil stoves, there were no cooking facilities on the Empire ‘boats. Restaurant standard meals were prepared locally in ports across the world, decanted into vacuum flasks and stowed for service in either hot boxes or ice chests.

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  • Steward preparing lunch in the galley of an Imperial Airways, Short L.17 Scylla, a landplane version of the 38 passenger Kent flying boat. The London-Paris route, 1934.

Fruit juices were transferred from the vacuum flasks into serving jugs, bread rolls and Ryvitas were placed in baskets. Food was always served on china plates. Preserves and butter were put on plates and covered with doilies. White linen table cloths and serviettes, metal cutlery, side plates and cruets were laid-out on the tables in each of the cabins.

In 1937 and 1938, Imperial Airways even served Christmas dinners to their passengers, in 1938, Thanksgiving dinner was also provided, popular on the transatlantic routes. All meals were accompanied by wine, spirits, cocktails, soft drinks, hot beverages (tea, cocoa, coffee, chocolate, Bovril, OXO and Horlicks).  Below are examples of Imperial Airways’ dinner menus. First is from 30th August 1938 and second one is from flying boat ‘VB Corsair, date unknown but late 1930s:

Grapefruit or Consommé Princess

Roast Pheasant and Watercress

Lamb Cutlets and Mint Sauce

Roast Chicken, York Ham

Green Salad Beetroot & Apple Salad

Fresh Fruit Salad & Cream

Cheese Cheddar, Gorganzola, Gruyere

Toast Imperial  Assorted Biscuits  Coffee


Pâté de Fois Gras or Grapefruit

Roast chicken, Ox Tongue, York Ham

Russian Salad

Peaches Melba, Golden Figs

Cheese – Cheshire, Camembert, Kraft

Toast Imperial  – Assorted biscuits – Coffee

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  • Imperial Airways, the Short L.17 Scylla, was a landplane version of the 38 passenger Kent flying boat. Flight Steward attends to his passengers on the London-Paris route, 1934.

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  • The Mayoress of Southampton christens the ‘Southampton.’ Naming ceremony of the RMA ‘Southampton’, at which a libation of wine from a silver ewer is poured over the aircraft. The ceremony took place at the new flying boat base at Southampton docks (Berth 50) which allowed passengers to step ashore straight into the airport buildings. Officially opened by Lord Nathanon on 14th April, 1948.

After World War Two, Imperial Airways became the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). The last C Class retired in c.1947. A new marine air terminal was built for BOAC at Berth 50 in Southampton’s docks with bars, lounges and dining rooms, and a direct rail line was established to London Waterloo. However, in 1948, BOAC gradually started to replace their flying boats with modern land aircraft. Their flying-boat services, from Southampton, finally ended in the autumn of 1950.

  • British Pathé film, ‘Flying Boat Deck'(1948). Showcases the new BOAC Marine Terminal in Southampton. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.

Following BOAC’s decision to no longer operate a flying boat service out of Southampton,  Aquila Airways, an independent airline,  stepped-in and filled that gap, well at least until 1958.  Aquila Airways  Ltd was formed on the 18th May 1948 by Wing Commander Barry Aikman and operated from Hamble Beach, adjacent to the former Folland slipway.

Aquila serviced the popular route between Southampton and Madeira, initially under a BOAC Associate Agreement. Aquila also provided charter flights carrying ships’ crews. In 1948, Madeira could only be reached by ship, there were no direct flights. When Berth 50 at Southampton docks became vacant, Aquila moved in. By 1951, the airline had 12 aircraft.

At the beginning of 1949 Aquila purchased the remainder of BOAC’s Hythes and parked them on the beach at Hamble. Aquila was able to make use of Berth 50 at Southampton Docks and G-AGEU Hampshire departed on a proving flight to Funchal Bay on 24th March. Its deluxe cabins with thirty-one seats were served by three stewards, with a cocktail bar available.

(Flying Boats of the Solent and Poole by Mike Phipp, 2013, p.120)

Me behind the cocktail bar from an Aquila flying boat (1948-1956), RMA Hadfield. ©Come Step Back In Time
Me behind a cocktail bar from Aquila flying boat RMA Hadfield (1948-1956). ©Come Step Back In Time

Aquila went on to operate further routes at Capri, Santa Margherita and Montreux at Lake Geneva. All areas difficult to access via land planes. Aquila Captain Christopher Blackburn commented on the holiday atmosphere on many of these routes:

By 1957 we had quite a network of routes in operation, and were anticipating our best year. We had a tie-up with Club Mediterranee and took loads of passengers every week from Marseilles to Palermo and Corfu. This was the most enjoyable of all….The passengers were always in a holiday mood and the girls, whom we always invited up to the flight deck, often wore nothing more than a bikini. If one had a skirt on we found that the solution was for the pilot to open his window just as she was coming up the ladder, sometimes with revealing results!’

This and other passenger and crew reports demonstrate that these were truly golden days of air travel, and completely unlike modern “cattle class” operations. As a bizarre example, one regular passenger aboard Aquila Airways would insist on doing the washing up after her evening meal on board!… Air Hostess Shirley Passmore recalls that: ‘It was nice to be able to make a pot of tea and sit down and drink it with the passengers, or just walk around and chat with them and play with the children.’

(‘Southampton’s Eagles: The Last Flying Boat Airline’ by Chris Smith, The Solent Sky Magazine, Summer 2015, pp. 12-13)

Shirley was an air hostess for Aquila Airways, Southampton during the 1950s. Ivor was a flight engineer, the couple met during a practice boat-drill in 1953. When they married, they had a marzipan flying boat on top of their wedding cake.

Many stars of stage and screen flew with Aquila in the 1950s including: Harry Secombe; Terry Thomas; Trevor Howard; John Huston; Bernard Miles; Peter Butterworth; Janet Brown and John Mills.

On the whole, flight safety records for flying boats were relatively speaking, quite good. However, in late 1957, Aquila’s Short Solent flying boat RMA Sydney crashed into the side of a quarry, Chessell Down, on the Isle of Wight, due to engine failure. All 8 crew were killed, along with 35 of the 50 passengers. Aquila never quite recovered from the tragedy and ceased operations on 30th September, 1958. (Source: Ibid. p.13)

The golden age of international flying boat travel from Southampton slowly drew to a close. The flying boats could no longer compete, in terms of cost, speed and flying times, with planes like the de Havilland DH 106 Comet, a British jetliner introduced in 1952. Occasional flying boat pleasure flights still took place over the Southampton Water.

Indeed the Beachcomber made 17 passenger flights from September 5th to 9th in 1977. Operating from Calshot (the old RAF flying boat base near Southampton), well to be precise, some 4 miles from the moorings at Calshot. This was due to opposition from the Southampton and Solent authorities who did not permit flying boats to operate over Southampton Water at this time. (Source: ‘”Beachcomber”: The Story of a Sandringham and Sunderland Civil Conversions Operated In Australia by Vic Hodgkinson, p.13)

Captain Andrew Evans once wrote: ‘flying boats, in particular, had a special place in the hearts of those who travelled in them, though sadly today they are almost forgotten.’ (Source: Eagles Over Water: From Solent to the Sun – Story of Aquila Airways Ltd by Norman Hull, 1994, p. 85)

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Posted in Activity, Event, History, Literature

Bloggeration Workshop With Penguin Books UK – The Power Of The Booktuber

Location of Bloggeration’s workshops, the O Gallery, a spacious and stimulating studio space beneath the O Bag Factory in Crouch End, North London. Image copyright – Come Step Back In Time.

Being a blogger is a lot of fun and extremely rewarding. However, sometimes it can be a lonely and frustrating experience. I began blogging in 2011 and July, 2016 will be Come Step Back In Time’s 5th Blogaversary. I also set-up a 2nd blog, retro food for the modern cook Viva Blancmange, in 2013. I honestly have had a brilliant experience blogging over the years, visited incredible places, met fascinating people and researched unusual topics I may never have found otherwise. However, I am now at a bit of a crossroads.

I hope 2016 will be my best blogging year yet but in order for this to happen I need a new direction for the content on both of my websites.  This means changes in my writing practices and methods. I also need to be more integrated within the friendly, but close-knit, blogger community. Exchanging ideas with other writers, being more interactive with you, my readers and, of course, embrace all the new and exciting possibilities offered by digital media.

In light of these plans to reboot my blogs, I have been actively looking for top notch blog events to participate in to help inspire my transition. To this end, I am happy to say I struck gold first-time around and wanted to share my experience with you here.

I recently attended a day’s ‘Bloggeration’ workshop, run by Sarah Moody (@Sairey_bearey ). Sarah blogs full time at The Prosecco Diaries and runs Bloggeration (@Bloggeration_ ) which is a fantastic initiative that aims to build blogging communities, offering support and advice to bloggers to help them get the most out of this great adventure. If you are a lifestyle blogger, then Sarah’s workshops also provide an opportunity to pitch and connect with relevant, pre-selected and trusted, brands.

Sarah was a drama teacher before going freelance and has worked with many top brands and written for Cosmopolitan, The Guardian and Blogosphere magazine (a must for all pro-bloggers! Available from WH Smith). Sarah is also studying for her PhD in social media communication, therefore very well-placed to impart her ‘pearls of blogging and digital media wisdom’.

If you have been blogging for a while and are in need of inspiration or guidance to move on to the next level, then I highly recommend Bloggeration’s workshops. They take place at O Gallery, a spacious and stimulating studio space beneath the O Bag Factory in Crouch End, North London.

Bloggeration’s workshops are currently free to attend, brilliantly organised and offer plenty of opportunities to network with other established bloggers, exchange ideas and pitch to brands (if that is the direction you wish to take your blog).

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A selection of lovely bags, watches and bracelets on display in the O Bag Store above O Gallery. O Bags are the hottest accessory trend from Italy that you play a role in designing and customising. The Crouch End branch is the UK’s first, and although you can buy online (, it’s a unique and fun experience to visit the store and create your own accessories with the help of friendly consultants. Image copyright – Come Step Back In Time.


Delicious pizzas to keep us going, provided so generously by Basilico Pizzas (@basilicopizzas). Image copyright – Come Step Back In Time

Each workshop lasts six and half hours, from 10.30am-5pm. No need to bring a pack lunch, you will be watered and fed on hearty fayre.  There are competitions and chances to win prizes throughout the day! You also receive professional advice from Sarah, tailored specifically to your own blog. Topics covered at previous Bloggeration workshops include: crafting; lifestyle; parenting; health; fitness and wellness. The workshop I chose to attend was sponsored by Penguin Books UK. Keep an eye out on Bloggeration’s Twitter account (@Bloggeration_) for updates on 2016’s workshops.

Let me introduce you to the talented bloggers who joined me at Bloggeration’s workshop:

These beauties were provided by flower subscription service, Bloom & Wild ( – @bloomandwild). This photograph won me a three month subscription to Bloom & Wild and I gave the prize to my lovely mum. Image copyright – Come Step Back In Time.
Refreshments for workshop participants provided by British heritage tea brand, Ringtons ( – @Ringtons). Image copyright – Come Step Back In Time.


Such generous goodie bags provided for us by Penguin Books UK (@PenguinUkBooks) and Bloggeration (@Bloggeration_). Image copyright – Come Step Back In Time.

During the afternoon, Junior Campaigns Officer at Penguin, Stephenie Naulls (@stepheniejayne), answered our questions about book blogging and booktubing. We were told about Penguin’s new booktubing initiative, Penguin Platform (@PenguinPlatform), a place for young adults, to share, create, discover and debate.

  • ‘Introducing Penguin Platform’. Uploaded to You Tube 2.4.2015.

We were also introduced to exciting new Penguin book titles already out as well as those available in 2016. Stephenie was engaging, honest, open and keen to develop positive relationships with established, as well as up-and-coming bloggers/booktubers of all ages and interests.

The workshop took the form of a two-way dialogue with Stephenie encouraging attendees to put forward suggestions on how Penguin can improve their relationship with bloggers/booktubers in the future.  Stephenie explained that Penguin books are urging bloggers and booktubers to get in touch with them. Stephenie is your first point of contact in this regard (@stepheniejayne).  It was very heartening to see collaborations with bloggers being taken seriously and respectfully.

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We were also given an insight into how the publishing world works. Penguin do not accept unsolicited manuscripts and if you want the team to look at your writing then you will first need to secure a literary agent (so please lovely readers don’t ask Stephenie to read your latest literary offering!).

Apparently, the previous trend of authors receiving big advances for their book, particularly first-timers, is starting to wane. Stephenie explained it is better, in the long-run, for the author if their literary agent secures them a decent commission percentage for each book sold, rather than a high cash advance. Obviously, there are exceptions to this, particularly if you are a first-time author who already has a large, established readership/audience for your writing (i.e. one of the vloggeratti/bloggeratti or star of a high-profile reality tv show). However, as with all things in life, there is always room for negotiation.

Here is a round-up of Stephenie’s and my fellow bloggers/booktubers top tips for book reviewing:

  • demonstrate to the viewer/reader that you have fully engaged with the book you are reviewing;
  • put across your thoughts in a fun, creative and interesting way using your platform’s unique house style;
  • discuss the characters and themes of the book (sometimes neglected by reviewers!);
  • don’t forget to include information about the type/genre of book you are reviewing, (i.e. fiction, non-fiction, biography, young adult, historical fiction etc);
  • be honest! If you don’t like a book that is fine but don’t just dismiss it without putting forward a carefully considered response as to why? If you love the book, then also explain to your audience, why?;
  • you have a loyal audience who trust and listen to your voice, so use the platform wisely;
  • Stephenie is keen to hear from you, so do get in touch. Her Twitter handle is @Stepheniejayne.

As a post-script to this workshop, I found-out from Stephenie that the famous Penguin logo currently has 6 different poses and the publishing house has very strict guidelines for usage of each one. Who would have thought? For more information about the history of Penguin Books, click here.

Penguin Logos
Penguin Book’s iconic logo since 1935.
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Contents of my brilliant Penguin goodie bag from the Bloggeration workshop. Great titles. I have been reading the harrowing, but very well-written biography, In Order To Live by North Korean defectee, Yeonmi Park.  Image: Copyright – Come Step Back In Time.
A small selection of vintage Penguin cookery books from my own collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

I value all of you, my lovely readers/followers, many of you have been with me since I began in 2011. I hope that you will enjoy 2016’s improved content, across all of my media platforms. I would love to hear from you, so please do leave a comment below or Tweet me (@emmahistorian ) if you have any suggestions of topics you would like me to cover in 2016, on either of my blogs or my You Tube channel.

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There are some lovely vintage clothing shops in and around Crouch End and Highgate, North London. This was one of my favourites, ‘Scarlet Rage Vintage’ ( a stone’s throw from the O Bag Factory. ©Come Step Back In Time



Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Country House, Decorative Arts, Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Museum, Review, Theatre History

Wallace Collection, London: ‘Joshua Reynolds: Experiments In Paint’ Exhibition

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

A room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts.” Joshua Reynolds (1784)

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  • Engraving from 1873 featuring Joshua Reynolds.

It was a pleasure to receive an invitation to an exclusive Bloggers event at the Wallace Collection, London last Friday. This is the first event of its type organised by the museum and it was a great success. The occasion marked the opening of their new exhibition, ‘Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint’, a free exhibition that continues until 7th June 2015.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

The exhibition explores Joshua Reynolds’s (1723-1792) painting techniques, pictorial compositions and narratives through the display of twenty paintings, archival sources and x-ray images. Paintings Conservator for The Wallace Collection Reynolds Research Project, Alexandra Gent, gave us a comprehensive and fascinating insight into some of the surprise discoveries encountered whilst working on the collection’s Reynolds paintings over the last four years. There are twenty paintings on display in the exhibition, twelve of which are from The Wallace Collection, others are on loan from collections elsewhere in the UK, Europe and the USA.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

With support from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, TEFAF, the Hertford House Trust, various private donors, and Trusts and drawing on the research expertise of the National Gallery in London and the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, the exhibition spans most of Reynolds’s career and includes portraits, ‘fancy’ pictures (young children in a variety of guises) and history painting.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

The exhibition has been curated by Dr Lucy Davis, Curator of Old Master Pictures at the Wallace Collection, Professor Mark Hallett, Director of Studies in British Art at the Paul Mellon Centre and Alexandra Gent. Ms Gent explains why this research project has been so fascinating as well as challenging:

One of the things about Reynolds, and the reason it was started as a research project, is that his painting technique is quite notorious amongst conservators as being tricky to deal with….So to have a really good understanding of the way the paintings had been made and constructed and what materials had been used was really important to make informed decisions about which paintings to treat. The paintings as a group hadn’t been restored for a very long time, a few of them had had minor treatments but none of them had really been cleaned since they’d entered the Wallace Collection in the mid-19th century.

Although Reynolds is notorious for using wax, we only found wax in small amounts on paintings. The Portrait of Miss Jane Bowles appears to have a varnish layer on it that is made from wax, and we think that this is original and really interesting to see Reynolds use as a varnish layer.

It’s been a real privilege to work on these paintings, they’re a really wonderful group of paintings by Reynolds.

(‘New Perspectives on Joshua Reynolds’ by Lorna Davies, The Portman, Spring, 2015, pp.18-19)

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

In 1755, Reynolds had a hundred and twenty sitters, in 1758 he had a hundred and fifty sitters. He charged some of the highest prices by any painter working in London at that time but still the commissions kept on coming. In 1760, he earned between £6,000 and £10,000 per annum, working seven days a week, eight hours a day. (Source: The 17th and 18th Centuries Dictionary of World Biography Vol.4, edited by Frank N. Magill, 2013, p.1161)

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Mrs Abington as Miss Prue from William Congreve’s ‘Love For Love’ (c.1771-1772) Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

Reynolds often produced multiple versions of his paintings, worked over a length of time, sometimes four years. It was not unusual for him to work on two similar pictures side-by-side. He also encouraged his subjects to perform roles that would reveal an aspect of their personality, actresses he depicted in character such as Mrs Abington as Miss Prue, (c.1771-1772). Mrs Frances Abington (1737-1815) with her coquettish gaze as Miss Prue, the silly, awkward country girl from William Congreve’s (1670-1729) comedy Love For Love (1695).

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  • Engraving depicting Mrs Frances Abington c.1785. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images)

X-ray Image And Infrared Reflectography Use In Painting Conservation

X-ray image: X-rays can penetrate through most parts of a painting but denser materials, such as lead containing pigments and iron tacks, obstruct them. An X-ray image records the areas where the X-rays have been obstructed and these areas appear lighter. These images are useful for revealing paint losses and changes to a painting. However, they can be difficult to interpret because they show all the layers of the painting superimposed.

Infrared reflectography: an imaging method used to ‘see through’ paint layers that are opaque to the human eye. Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with longer wavelengths than those of visible light. Infrared radiation passes through the paint until it either reaches something that absorbs it or is reflected back to the camera. An infrared image can often reveal under-drawing.

Mrs Mary Robinson (1783-1784). Oil on canvas. The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Mrs Mary Robinson (1783-1784). Oil on canvas. The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

Curation of ‘Experiments in Paint’ is excellent. Reynolds’s portraits are accompanied with detailed background to both painting and sitter. Those works on display that have been subjected to detailed conservation analysis are of particular interest.

Alexandra Gent explains conservation on The Strawberry Girl. ©Come Step Back In Time
Alexandra Gent explains conservation on The Strawberry Girl (1772-1773). ©Come Step Back In Time

For example, an X-ray of Reynolds’s slightly unnerving, The Strawberry Girl (1772-1773), revealed that it resembled the version of The Strawberry Girl reproduced in Thomas Watson’s 1774 mezzotint. Reynolds had reworked the figure, lowering the shoulders, painting a fringe of brown hair and developing a more oriental style of turban.

Infrared reflectography of the Wallace Collection’s version of The Strawberry Girl  also revealed under-drawing around the hands and in the folds of the drapery. The use of such under-drawing may indicate that the composition of this painting was transferred from an earlier version of The Strawberry Girl.

An X-ray of Mrs Abington as Miss Prue showed that Reynolds had originally intended her to wear a simple bonnet that would have been more in keeping with her role as Congreve’s Miss Prue. Instead the final painting showed her sporting an updo hairstyle fashionable at the time.

Lady Elizabeth Seymour-Conway (1781). Oil on canvas. The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Lady Elizabeth Seymour-Conway (1781). Oil on canvas. The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

An X-ray of Lady Elizabeth Seymour-Conway (1754-1825) painted in 1781, revealed that Reynolds updated the sitter’s hairstyle just before the painting left the studio making it look much fuller, as was popular at the time of the work’s completion. The original hairstyle had been smoother and the curls at the neck are higher, similar to those adopted by the fashionable Waldegrave sisters painted by Reynolds between 1780 and 1781.

According to Alexandra Gent, Reynolds used five different sizes of canvas available to the Georgian painter: head; three-quarter length; half-length; full length and Bishop’s half-length (large enough to fit in his mitre!). A popular pose for Georgian sitters was ‘penseroso’, resting with chin in the hand, signalling to the viewer that the subject was refined and contemplative.

Mrs Jane Braddyll (1788) in 'penseroso' pose. ©Come Step Back In Time
Mrs Jane Braddyll (1788) in ‘penseroso’ pose. Oil on oak panel. Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

Even a faded picture from Reynolds will be the finest thing you have.” Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827)

Events & Further Information

There is an extensive programme of educational and cultural events taking place at The Wallace Collection to compliment this new exhibition:

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  • 1748, Sir Joshua Reynolds at his easel working on a portrait. He was elected the first President of the Royal Academy in 1768 and knighted in 1769. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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  • Manchester House, on the north side of Manchester Square, Marylebone, London, 1807. (Photo by Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

  • Fashion Designer, Vivienne Westwood, explaining why she is inspired by The Wallace Collection. Uploaded to You Tube 1.10.2009.

The Wallace Collection – Main Museum

The Wallace Collection, Hertford House, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
The Wallace Collection, Manchester House, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

I first discovered The Wallace Collection, by chance, in 2005 whilst working in Portman Square as a corporate researcher. In order to escape the caged existence of my office and reawaken my senses, I regularly took long walks, exploring the surrounding area. There is so much to see, all just a stone’s throw from the craziness of Oxford Street. Attractive squares and stunning architecture as well as more blue plaques than you can shake a stick at!

The grand, main staircase inside The Wallace Collection, 2015.  ©Come Step Back In Time
The grand, main staircase inside The Wallace Collection, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

When I visited the Wallace Collection for the first time, I remember being completely awestruck by the magnificent interior and extensive collection of French eighteenth century painting, furniture and porcelain. The good news is that in the last ten years admission charges have remained the same, absolutely FREE.

 ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

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  • View of the north side of Manchester Square, Marylebone, London, 1813. Manchester House is on the left. (Photo by Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

The Wallace Collection is housed in Manchester House, a fine example of Georgian architecture built between 1776 and 1788 for the 4th Duke of Manchester (1737-1788). The original shell of the building was built by Samuel Adams in 1771. It wasn’t until the 4th Duke brought the leasehold in 1788 that substantial structural alterations were made by the architect Joshua Brown.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

A few key dates in the history of Manchester House:

  • 1791-95 – house let as the Spanish Embassy;
  • 1797 – 2nd Marquess of Hertford (1743-1822) acquires the house’s lease;
  • 1836-51 – house let as the French Embassy;
  • 1800-1870 – 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800-1870) uses the house to store his private art collection;
  • 1871 – the 4th Marquess’ illegitimate son, Richard (1818-1890), moves back to London from Paris and brings with him a large portion of his private art collection;
  • 1897 – Lady Wallace bequeaths the collection to the British Nation. Lady Wallace (Amélie-Julie-Charlotte Castelnau (1819-97)), married Richard in 1871, she had been his mistress for many years. Upon his death in 1890 he bequeathed to her all his property;
  • the house opens to the public as a Museum on 22nd June, 1900 (closing during both World Wars);
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©Come Step Back In Time

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  • Photographing at the Wallace Collection, London, 1908-1909. From Penrose’s Pictorial Annual 1908-1909, An Illustrated Review of the Graphic Arts, volume 14, edited by William Gamble and published by AW Penrose (London, 1908-1909). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

The Wallace Collection is one of the most significant collections of European fine and decorative arts in the world and the greatest bequest of art ever left to the British Nation. The collection encompasses old master oil paintings from the fourteenth to the late nineteenth century including works by Titian, Velazquez, Rubens and Van Dyck, princely arms and armour, and one of the finest collections of French eighteenth century art in all media.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

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  • The Wallace Collection, Hertford House, London, 1926-1927. Illustration from Wonderful London, edited by Arthur St John Adcock, Volume I, published by Amalgamated Press, (London, 1926-1927). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Magnificent collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century snuff boxes in The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Magnificent collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century snuff boxes in The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

The Curious Will of Mrs Margaret Thompson (1777) – The Joy of Snuff!

“Scotch snuff is the grand cordial of human nature”.

Recently, a member of my family passed on to me a copy of Chalfont St Peter Parish Magazine (February, 2015) which included a reproduction of one of the most interesting and amusing examples of an eighteenth Will that I have ever come across. The Will belonged to Mrs Margaret Thompson who died on 2nd April, 1777, at her house in Boyle Street, Burlington Gardens, Mayfair, London.

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©Come Step Back In Time

The Will was discovered in one of the old registers at St. James’s Church, Piccadilly. However, there is no record of the burial of Mrs Thompson in the Burial Register of St. James’s, for April, 1777. Upon arrival at the Wallace Collection last Friday, I made straight for their superb collection of eighteenth century snuff boxes. Mrs Thompson was clearly a lady who adored to indulge in the then fashionable trend of snuff-taking!

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  • ‘The French Fireside’, eighteenth century, a young lady indulging in some recreational snuff-taking. From The Connoisseur magazine (February 1905). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

Mrs Margaret Thompson’s will (1777):

I Margaret Thompson, etc, being of a sound mind, etc, do desire that when my soul is departed from this wicked world, my body and effects may be disposed of in the manner following, etc.

I also desire that all my handkerchiefs that I may have unwashed at the time of my decease, after they have been got together by my old and trust servant, Sarah Stewart, may be put by her, and her along, at the bottom of my coffin, which I desire may be made large enough for that purpose, together with such a quantity of the best Scotch snuff (in which she knoweth I always had the greatest delight) as will cover my deceased body; and this I desire, and more especially as it is usual to put flowers into the coffin of departed friends, and nothing can be so pleasant and refreshing to me, as that precious powder; but I strictly charge that no one be suffered to approach my body till the coffin is closed, and it necessary to carry me to my burial, which I order in the following manner:

Six men to be my bearers, who are well known to be great snuff-takers in the Parish of St James’s, Westminster; and instead of mourning, each to wear a snuff-coloured beaver, which I desire to be brought for that purpose, and given to them; Six Maidens of my old acquaintance to bear my pall, each to wear a proper hood, and to carry a box filled with the best Scotch snuff, to take for their refreshment as they go along. Before my corpse I desire that the minister may be invited to walk, and to take a certain quantity of snuff, not exceeding one pound, to whom also I bequeath five guineas on condition of his doing so. And I also desire my old and faithful servant, Sarah Stewart, to walk before the corpse to distribute every twenty yards a large handful of Scott snuff on the ground, and to the crowd who possibly may follow me to the burial place – on condition I bequeath her Twenty Pounds. And I also desire that at least two bushels of the said snuff may be distributed at the door of my house in Boyle Street.

I desire, also, that my funeral shall be at twelve o’clock at noon. And in addition to the various legacies I have left my friends in a former will, I desire that to each person there shall be given a pound of the best Scotch snuff, as it is the grand cordial of human nature.

In the eighteenth century, snuff was a tobacco product favoured by the upper classes, snorted directly from the back of the hand into the nostrils. Smoking pipes containing tobacco was associated with the lower and working classes. Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) earned the nickname ‘Snuffy Charlotte’ on account of her love of the brown stuff. She had an entire room at Windsor Castle devoted to her substantial stock of snuff.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) is purported to have enjoyed taking snuff so much that she had fifty-two gold snuff boxes in her wedding basket. Joshua Reynolds also indulged in large amounts of snuff, on a regular basis, according to fellow artist Joseph Farington (1747-1821):

January 16th, 1796: Steevens speaking of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ habit of taking snuff in great quantities, said, he not only carried a double box, with two sorts of snuff in it, but regaled himself out of every box that appeared at the table where he sat; and did his neighbour happen to have one, he absolutely fed upon him. When I expected to meet Sir Joshua in company added he always carried an additional allowance.

(The Farington Diary: July 13th, 1793 to August 24th, 1802, Volume 1 by Joseph Farington, p. 184)

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  • Part of Shenstone’s poem, The Snuff Box, 1735, (1840). Facsimile of part of The Snuff Box. Illustration from Historical and Literary Curiosities consisting of Facsimilies of Original Documents, by Charles John Smith, (Henry G Bohn, London, 1840). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
A sneaky self-portrait in The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
A sneaky self-portrait in The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Posted in Activity, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Literature, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War Two

Rationing Fashion in 1940s Britain – Make Do & Mend

The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time

  • June 1943, Berketex Utility Fashions. Those shown in the picture were designed by Norman Hartnell (Photo by James Jarche/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

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  • World War Two Utility clothing for women, c.1942. Photograph by James Jarche. (Photo by Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)

Every now and again, scavenging in local charity shops pays dividends. Lurking behind a glut of seventies kitsch my mum (Queen of retro scavenging!) found two cloth-bound publications. She had a ‘hunch’ they might be something special and was right.  The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft (1946) and The Complete Book of Sewing: Dressmaking and Sewing For The Home Made Easy by Constance Talbot (1948). Both books cost the princely sum of £2. Mum had struck gold again and I am very grateful that she combs her local charity shops on a regular basis.

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  • ‘Make Do & Mend’ World War Two poster. (Photo by The National Archives/SSPL/Getty Images)

These books are superb examples of the 1940s ‘Make Do and Mend’ culture. A trend borne out of economic necessity and inspired by government legislation. Home dressmaking became extremely popular in the 1940s. In recent times, this approach to needlecraft has returned, although is now referred to as ‘upcycling’ or the ‘pre-loved, re-loved’ trend. Whatever term you choose, it still makes perfect economic sense.

During World War Two, clothes rationing come into effect in Britain on the 1st June, 1941, lasting until March, 1949. Initially, clothes were rationed on a points system and no clothing coupons were issued. Britons were asked to handover their unused margarine coupons if they wanted a new item of clothing.

  • ‘Mrs Sew and Sew’ (1944) British Pathé, Ministry of Information Government film. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.

When clothes rationing first began, the government allowed each adult enough coupons to buy one new outfit a year. However, this standard issue soon became unworkable, as the years of rationing progressed you would be lucky if your coupons purchased you a coat, let along a whole new outfit!

  • ‘Make Do & Mend Trailer’ Aka Clothing Coupons Trailer (1943) British Pathé. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.

Coupon values for women: lined coat over 71 cm in length (14), jacket or short coat (11), wool dress (11), non-wool dress (7), blouse, cardigan or jumper (5), skirt or divided skirt (culottes) (7), overalls or dungarees (7), apron or pinafore (3), pyjamas (8), nightdress (6), slip, petticoat or combination undergarment (4), corset (3), stockings (2), ankle socks (1), pair of slippers, boots or shoes (5).

  • A book of clothing coupons dated 1947-8, plus three sheets of coupons

Coupon values for men: unlined cape or mackintosh (9), raincoat or overcoat (16), jacket or blazer (13), waistcoat or cardigan (5), wool trousers (8), corduroy trousers (5), overalls or dungarees (denim) (6), dressing gown (8), pyjamas or nightshirt (8), wool shirt or combination (one piece undergarment) (8), shirt or combination, not-wool (5), socks (3), collar or tie or two handkerchiefs (1), scarf or pair of gloves (2), slippers or rubber galoshes (4), pair of boots or shoes (7).

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  • ‘Deft Darns’ by Mrs Sew and Sew, 1939-1945 (Photo by The National Archives/SSPL/Getty Images)

In order to make a purchase, the shopper handed over their coupons as well as money. The more fabric and labour that was needed to produce a garment, the more points required. Children’s clothes had lower points value, pregnant women were given an extra allocation for maternity and baby clothes. Furnishing fabrics were also used for dressmaking until they were placed on the ration too.001

The government tackled the problem of clothing civilians in three ways, rationing, Utility and Austerity. In 1943, the British Ministry of Information issued a Make Do and Mend pamphlet which was:

…intended to help you to get the last possible ounce of wear out of all of your clothes and household things…No doubt there are as many ways of patching or darning as there are of cooking potatoes.

(Hugh Dalton’s Foreword from Make Do and Mend by The Ministry of Information (1943))

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  • Mannequins parading before service women are showing the latest Utility fashions and the ‘731’, an artificial silk-plated stocking called ‘Mr Dalton’s Stocking’ after the President of the Board of Trade, Hugh Dalton. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

During the first week of February 1942, the Utility Apparel Order came into force, all garments produced would now be marked using a ‘CC41’ label (‘Controlled Commodity 1941’).  It carried a reference to 1941 because the mark had been designed by artist Reginald Shipp during the early planning stages for Utility dress. In 1942, 50% of all clothes produced came under the Utility scheme by 1945 this number had risen to 85%.

Clothes have simply got to last longer than they used to, but only the careful woman can make them last well. If you want to feel happy in your clothes as long as they last, start looking after them properly from the very beginning.

(Make Do and Mend by The Ministry of Information, 1943)

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  •  June 1943. Models wearing Berketex Utility fashions designed by Norman Hartnell (Photo by James Jarche/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

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  • Utility Clothes,1943. A model leans against a window sill as she shows off her mustard-coloured wool Spectator dress, costing eleven coupons. She is also wearing a dark-coloured turban and holding a handbag with a large metal clasp. (Photo by Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer/ IWM via Getty Images)

Top 10 Make Do And Mend Tips

A selection of tips and hints from Make Do and Mend (1943), advice that is just as useful in today’s cash-strapped times. Upcycle your wardrobe don’t go out and buy something new, most importantly, look after the clothes that you do have:

  1. Mend clothes before washing them or sending them to the laundry, or the hole or tear may become unmanageable. Thin places especially must be dealt with, or they may turn into holes;
  2. For grease use a hot iron on a piece of clean white blotting paper placed over the stain [brown parcel paper is excellent when used this way to remove candlewax from fabric];
  3. Use dress shields to protect clothes from perspiration, but don’t leave shields in when putting clothes away for any length of time [this also cuts down your dry cleaning bills for silk/satin dresses/blouses. Simply remove the dress shields and wash those in hot soapy water];
  4. When folding clothes, put bunched-up newspaper [or tissue paper] between the folds to prevent creases;
  5. Never hang knitted wool or silk clothes, wet or dry. Store them flat in a drawer, and dry on a flat surface. Spread them out flat in the open air after shaking them gently, to air them;
  6. Remember that even the smallest scraps left over from your renovations will come in useful for something: patching, tea-cosies, coverings for buttons, hanging loops, binding for buttonholes, trimmings, kettle holders, polishers, and so on;
  7. Open the front of a blouse which has become too tight, and put in a contrasting button band, complete with collar. Or, if it has long sleeves, make them short, and use the material left over for your button band;
  8. A useful skirt can be made from a dress, the bodice of which is past repair. Cut it away at the waist, make a side placket and mount it on a Petersham band. The best parts from the bodice can be cut into a belt to finish the waistline or to make patch pockets on the hips. Pocket patches would hide any defects in the front;
  9. A man’s discarded waistcoat can be made into a woman’s jerkin by knitting a woollen back and sleeves. Beige with chocolate-brown, or canary coloured sleeves and back on a black pin-striped waistcoat would be very effective;
  10. Felted or matted wool. Have you a hopelessly-looking, thoroughly shrunk and matted old jumper or jacket? Unpick the seams carefully, don’t unravel it. You can then treat it just like cloth, cutting it out from a paper pattern. If, of course, it is not matted all over, you must tack the parts where stitches are likely to run, before cutting. Machine round the edge of the pattern and join up by hand. This keeps the garment firm and stops it from stretching. This cloth will make boleros, waistcoats, children’s coats, caps, gloves, capes, hoods, indoor Russian boots and many other articles. Old white wool, dipped in cold, clear coffee, will make attractive accessories.
From my copy of The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time.
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time

How To Make A Wrap-Around Turban (The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948))

Use soft woollen, a wool jersey, or a very firmly woven rayon crêpe. A yard of 40-inch material will make two turbans. Cut the turban 36-inches long and half the width of the material. Fold at A and seam the folded end. With a series of gathers, gather this seam into a 2  1/2 inch measure. Place the gathered material at the beginning of your hairline in the centre front, mark the turban, as shown at B. Split the unfinished end through the centre of the fabric up to the mark on the material, so that the ends can cross and wrap around the head. Tie the turban and make sure you have split it so it ties at the most becoming angle. When the effect is just what you want, hem the unfinished edges.

  • February 1943. Model wearing a dress, Green Park is the colour and herringbone allies with plain yoke. The dress costs sixty shillings to buy. (Photo by James Jarche/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

How To Make A Pill-Box Hat (The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948))

Cut a band and a circle of buckram as shown in the diagram. To get the size, measure the head with a tape measure. Use this measure on line A of the diagram, and cut a strip of paper, shaping it as shown in the diagram. Join the ends of the band and place it over a piece of paper as you can outline on that paper the circle formed by the band. This circle is the top of the crown. When you have fitted the paper band to the head in the effect you like, cut a band and a circle from the buckram with these patterns. Cover them with fabric and join the two pieces with small stitches which do not show. Line the hat with pieces cut by the same patterns and seamed together.

  • Hats Aka ‘Make Do & Mend’ Hats (1942) British Pathé. Some Utility fashion ideas from Anne Edwards, fashion editor of Woman magazine. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.

The term ‘Mend and Make Do’ – a familiar phrase – sums up all possibilities for helping a worn garment to last just a little longer. This chapter, devoted to all aspects of garment renovation, shows how imagination and the application of small fashion touches can make the repaired garment still a pleasurable one to wear.

(Extract from The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft (1946)

The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time

Replacing Frayed Collars (The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948))

Collars can be turned by ripping the seam which holds the collar in place. Reserve the collar, turn it over, and replace it. Baste it before sewing and try it on to see that the collar fits properly round the neck. Or a new collar of contrasting material or fur can be sewn on top of the old one, and in that case the trimming can be extended down the front edge of the coat.

Imperial War Museum London – ‘Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style’ Exhibition

 A new exhibition, ‘Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style’, opens at the Imperial War Museum, London on Thursday 5th March, 2015 and continues until Monday 31st August, 2015. Artefacts (300 of them) include accessories, photographs, film, artworks, interviews and clothing. On display will be key pieces of uniform from the men’s and women’s services as well as more unusual items such as gas mask handbags, blackout buttons, a bridesmaid’s dress made from parachute silk and an underwear set made from RAF silk maps for Countess Mountbatten. Click here.

  • April 1944. (Photo by Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)

    ©Come Step Back in Time
    The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft (1946) ©Come Step Back in Time
The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft (1946) ©Come Step Back in Time
The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft (1946) ©Come Step Back in Time

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  • Lady Reading using a sewing machine at the Women’s Voluntary Services headquarters during World War Two.
My grandmother's 1948 Singer sewing machine. ©Come Step Back in Time
My grandmother’s 1948 Singer sewing machine (Serial No. EE617052). My grandmother ordered this machine as soon as World War Two ended in 1945. Due to the shortage of materials following the war, she had to wait three years before taking delivery of her beloved sewing machine. This machine was my grandmother’s pride and joy which resulted in many, many years of home dressmaking. Home dressmaking in our family is a tradition that has been passed down from my mother to me. ©Come Step Back in Time
Detail of my grandmother's 1948 sewing machine. ©Come Step Back in Time
Detail of my grandmother’s 1948 sewing machine. ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Film, History, Rural Heritage

Brimstone & Fireworks – Britain’s Winter Festivals & Customs


  • Short film I made showcasing the 2012 Festival of Samhain at Butser Ancient Farm, Waterlooville, Hampshire.

It is not a secret that I am happiest in Wintertime, if it snows, even better. My birthday falls at this time of year and it is said one often prefers the season you were born in. There are also a number of festivals and customs associated with Winter in Britain, usually involving fire, fireworks and some rather quirky rituals. They are not everybody’s cup of tea, but for me as a social historian they hold a particular fascination. Here are a few of my favourites.

Halloween, Wickerman and The Feast of All Hallows

Halloween is actually Celtic in origin and dates back to the pre-Christian era (1st to 5th centuries AD). Some of the earliest references to traditions associated with Halloween, have been passed down from Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) and Roman historian, Tacitus (56-117 AD). Both writers attacked early Druid practices:

..that unless for a man’s life a man’s life be paid, the majesty of the immortal gods may not be appeased; and in public, as in private life, they obsene an ordinance of sacrifices of the same kind. Others use figures of immense size, whose limbs, woven out of twigs, they fill with living men and set on fire, and the men perish in a shoot of flame.

(Commentarii de Bello Gallico, Book VI, by Julius Caesar)

..slake the altars with captive blood and to consult their deities by means of human entrails.

(Annals  by Tacitus)

The ‘figures of immense size, whose limbs, woven out of twigs, they fill with living men and set on fire’, you might recognise as the ominous ‘Wickerman’. This tradition was immortalised in British director Robert Hardy’s cult 1973 horror film, The Wicker Man.

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  • Pagan blessing at a Wickerman Festival. For over ten years now the Wickerman Festival, an annual alternative music event, is held in July near Dundrennan in Dumfries and Galloway. This is the area associated with the 1973 British film. Thankfully today, no live sacrifices are made by way of burning men (or women) inside the wicker structure!

Halloween (or Hallowe’en if you want to spell it correctly!), derives its name from the eve of the feast of All Hallows which in the Christian calendar is 1st November. The Roman Catholic Church refer to it as a Holy Day of Obligation, compulsory attendance at Mass. The feast of All Hallows dates back to c.875 AD.

The end of October and the beginning of November was also a time when farmers reduce their  livestock. These slaughtered animals were preserved using either salt or smoke. Also at this time, the final grain harvest of the year would be brought in and winter ale brewed.

Celtic Festivals of Beltene and Samhain

In the Book Of Rights (10th Century), it states that taxes and maintenance payments by foreigners in Ireland and Scotland were due to the authorities at the end of October and beginning of May. These two events were accompanied by feasting, they were known respectively as Beltene  (31st April) and Samhain (31st October). It also made good business sense to collect taxes from farmers at the end of October as this was when their crops were harvested. There was an ancient custom of placing a bowl of milk and some bread for the Faerie who would visit at Samhain, to forget would bring dire consequences to the homesteader.

Samhain was once considered to be the beginning of the year. The old year finished at sunset on 31st October and the new year began at sunset on 1st November. This time ‘no man’s land’ created a culture where normal rules of behaviour did not apply. This is also when fire-festivals traditionally took place.

Bonfire Night

In England, 5th November is known as Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night. Tradition dictates that large bonfires are lit and an effigy of a man, known also as a Guy, is burnt. The origin of this tradition is normally associated with commemorating a foiled attempt by Guido Fawkes (1570-1606) and his associates to blow-up the parliament of King James I (1566-1625) in 1605. To celebrate the fact that the King had survived, people lit bonfires across London. On 21st January, 1606, the Observance of 5th November Act was passed which created an annual public holiday. The Act remained in force until 1859.

Across central/Eastern Sussex, parts of Surrey and Kent, bonfire festivals take place, organised by Sussex Bonfire Societies. These festivals take place annually between September and November, usually accompanied by a public firework display. Some of the most famous Bonfire societies are located in Lewes, East Sussex. There are currently seven active societies in the town, the first bonfire festival took place there in 1661.

There are many rituals and customs observed at Lewes Bonfire celebrations, you can read more about these here. Battle, East Sussex, also has its own society and the earliest known records of an organised bonfire celebration taking place in the town, dates back to 1646. More information about the Battel Bonfire Boyes (as they are known collectively!) can be found here.

  • Short film I made (shot on my digital stills camera), Battle Bonfire and Firework Display from 2012.

Antrobus Soulcakers

Light a fire and strike a light

For in this house there’s going to be a dreadful fight

Between King George and the Black Prince

And I hope King George will win

Every year in Antrobus, Cheshire the tradition of soulcaking or souling occurs. The Antrobus Arms and other pubs in surrounding villages host a traditional ‘mumming group’ who perform a number of plays each night from All Souls Eve (1st November) and the following two weekends:

  • a traditional hero/combat play including sword fighting with the Black Prince who has just been revived by the Doctor;
  • Dick the Wild Horse of Antrobus, the real star of this tradition, causes mayhem when he arrives at each venue much to the delight of onlookers.

Blackening your face, when participating in a number of these winter traditions, meant that you could not be recognised, allowing for the opportunity to be more mischievous. Traditionally, on the 1st and 2nd November, children in Antrobus would dress-up and knock on villager’s doors singing the rhyme below. In return they would be rewarded with spiced cakes or money.

A soul-cake, a soul-cake

Have mercy on all Christian souls for a soulcake.

(The soulcaker’s chant spoken when helping yourself from the cake pile)

Punkie Night

In Hinton St. George, Somerset, on the last Thursday in October, the children of the village carry lanterns in a procession around the village chanting a special rhyme, begging the villagers to give them candles for their lamps.

It’s Punkie Night tonight
It’s Punkie Night tonight
Adam and Eve would not believe
It’s Punkie Night tonight

Give me a candle, give me a light

If you don’t, you’ll get a fright

These ‘Punkies’ lanterns are hollowed-out mangold or mangel-wurzel (a cultivated root vegetable) and are carved to represent trees, houses or faces. It is believed the origin of this custom is thought to stem from a time when wives in the village would go in search of their drunk husbands who had been lost on the way from Chiselborough Fair.

This tradition closely resembles customs we associate with modern-day Halloween, hollowed out lanterns with candles and trick or treating by children.

Burning The Clavie

Thought to be either Pictish, Celtic, Viking or Roman in origin, this tradition takes place on the 11th January each year in Burghead, Moray, Scotland.  Under the old Julian calendar (until 1752), the 11th January was when the Christian New Year began.

The clavie is made from a tar barrel sawn in half, the staves of a herring barrel and a six foot salmon fisherman’s pole, called a spoke. The half barrel is fixed to the spoke with a nail hammered home with stone (no iron hammer allowed). The barrel is then filled with tar and pieces of wood. The staves of the herring barrel is then filled with tar and pieces of wood. The staves of the herring barrel are used to secure the clavier to the spoke and to provide a cage for the carrier to get his head through.

The clavier is lit with burning peat, and it is then carried around the village by a series of men before being carried up a hill where fuel is heaped on so that a large fire is created. The embers are then scattered on the hillside where people scramble for glowing portions. Each one is said to bring good luck to the finder.

(p. 9, The Festival of Hallowe’en by T. P. Concannon, Butser Ancient Farm, 1998)

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  • Burning of the Clavie, Burghead, Moray, Scotland.
A Halloween picture from my family archive. On the right is my grandmother c.1920s. ©Come Step Back in Time
A Halloween picture from my family archive. On the right is my grandmother c.1920s. ©Come Step Back in Time

Posted in Activity, Aviation History, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, History, History of Medicine, Literature, Maritime History, Motoring History, Review, Vintage, World War One

The Lost Generation: The Young Person’s Guide To World War I by Martyn Barr (2014) – Review

©Martyn Barr – Out Of The Box Publishing Ltd
©Martyn Barr – Out Of The Box Publishing Ltd

The Lost Generation: The Young Person’s Guide to World War I (2014), by award-winning Kent author, Martyn Barr, is the latest educational publication from Out of The Box Publishing. Martyn, a PR and design consultant, established Out of The Box Publishing Ltd in 2009, to produce and market his own books which, since then have included:

Extracts from The Lost Generation.
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr – Out of The Box Publishing Ltd

The Lost Generation is a beautifully illustrated and thoroughly researched softback publication which tells the story of World War One from a British perspective. Although the guide is aimed at young students (Key Stages 3 & 4), it also offers an excellent introduction, to such a complex period in world history, for the budding adult historian wanting to ‘dip their toe’ into this topic.

Regular readers of Come Step Back in Time will know that so far this year I have written many articles on World War One. I wish I had discovered The Lost Generation earlier, it would have saved me a lot of time (although never wasted!) ploughing through numerous academic tomes on the subject. What I really needed in the beginning was a straightforward introduction to inspire me continue on my research journey. The guide covers the war’s origins, as played out in a far-flung corner of Europe, right through to its bloody and bitter conclusion.

At a wallet-friendly price of £5.99 (including Free second class postage), The Lost Generation is an essential addition to your history bookshelf.  Fifty pence from every copy sold will be donated by Martyn to The Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal.

Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr - Out of The Box Publishing Ltd
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr – Out of The Box Publishing Ltd

Inside The Lost Generation, are 62 pages, over 70 photographs/illustrations and a fold-out map on the back cover – ‘Taking Sides: A Europe Divided’ – illustrating a fractured Europe divided into allied powers, central powers and neutral countries.  The text is well-written and the layout is user-friendly. Some of the World War One topics Martyn covers include:

  • Motives for war;
  • Assassination of the Archduke and Archduchess, Franz Ferdinand and his wife, in Sarajevo;
  • Home front propaganda;
  • White feather campaign;
  • Pals battalions;
  • The ‘Old Contemptibles’;
  • Key Battles on the Western Front (Mons, Marne, Ypres, Passchendaele, Neuve Chapelle, Loos, Verdun, Somme, Jutland, Camrai, Amiens);
  • The Gallipoli campaign and siege of Kut-al-Amara;
  • Life in the trenches;
  • Women at war;
  • War horses and animals on the frontline;
  • Prisoners of war;
  • Aviation;
  • The postal service;
  • Poetry;
  • Medicine.
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr - Out of The Box Publishing Ltd
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr – Out of The Box Publishing Ltd

Writing about The Lost Generation, Martyn comments:

A century has now passed since the outbreak of ‘the war to end all wars’ in 1914. The fertile fields of France and Belgium, where millions died, are no longer muddy, pock-marked quagmires. Nearby, row after row of white headstones mark the spot where men (and often boys) made the ultimate sacrifice… a practice repeated in many other countries across the globe.

Providing a guide to the First World War for today’s generation has been a challenge. The Lost Generation offers an overview of the war as it progressed, as well as a series of features that help flesh out the story. It has not been possible to cover every single battle and event, but I’ve tried to include the most significant from Britain’s perspective.

(p. 4, Teachers’ Resource Guide by Martyn Barr, 2014, Out of The Box Publishing Limited)

Interview With Martyn Barr

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Martyn about his work as an author:

Why did you decide to write The Lost Generation?

Although I am not an expert on this topic, I have always been interested in World War One and because 2014 is the 100th anniversary of its outbreak, it seemed like the right time to publish a book on this topic. It felt like a big responsibility at times, tackling such a complex topic. I wanted to write a guide, told from the British perspective which had depth and challenged the reader but didn’t go into a huge amount of detail.

I am not a teacher or a historian. I am an author with a background in writing and design. I understand how important book design is in publishing. Design layout in a book impacts upon the reader experience, it needs to be cohesive and engaging.”

Although The Lost Generation is aimed at the younger student of history, do you think it also has wider appeal?

Yes, very much so. I always consider my readership carefully. I ask myself ‘what would they want to see inside a history book about World War One’? Modern generations of youngsters do not want to read lots and lots of text, they prefer snippets. I also wanted to produce a publication that appealed to both teenagers and adults.”

Do you offer on-line resources for teachers to accompany your publications?

“Yes we do. Supporting educational material is available to teachers after they have purchased their publication(s). We then provide password details so that they can access the relevant Resource Guide on-line. Material included in these guides is cross-curricular.”

Tell me a little bit more about your unique concept of corporate sponsorship to facilitate the publication process?

Many of our publications are sponsored by companies. As part of their package, we provide each sponsor with 500 copies of the book they have helped to publish. It is entirely up to the company concerned what they choose to do with these publications. In the case of The Lost Generation, which was sponsored by Fenwick Limited, they have decided to distribute their copies, for free, to local schools in Kent.”

Reviews – The Lost Generation

Fenwick Limited chose to sponsor The Lost Generation to mark Group Trading Director Hugo Fenwick’s term as High Sheriff of Kent, 2014. He says:

I was pleased to lend my support to this project to ensure that the current generation recognises the huge sacrifices made by their forebears 100 years ago to secure their freedom. The government has pledged to fund an educational programme to create an enduring legacy and I think this book supports that admirably.

Martyn presents a brutally honest account of the First World War, and has pitched it perfectly for a teenage audience. He has managed to achieve this without dumbing down the material in any way, so I’m sure adults will enjoy reading it too.

The Lost Generation has been well-received by both the general public and historians alike. Dr Will Butler from the University of Kent at Canterbury, who also fact-checked the book prior to publication, comments:

This book is a valuable guide for a youth audience, or anyone approaching this subject for the first time. It is richly illustrated, covers a significant amount of detail, and avoids those well-trodden myths of the First World War, to provide a concise history of the topic.

Amber Rudd MP for Hastings and Rye writes:

A detailed and well-written book and resource to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. Martyn has succeeded in producing a fitting tribute to all those who bravely gave their lives for our freedom.

Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr - Out of The Box Publishing Ltd
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr – Out of The Box Publishing Ltd

Teachers’ Resource Guide – The Lost Generation

Martyn has written a Teachers’ Resource Guide to accompany The Lost Generation. Packed full of useful support material. Upon purchase of The Lost Generation, password details to access the on-line guide can be found on p.51, it is the last word that appears on that page. Generous educational discounts are also offered to schools and colleges, depending on quantities purchased. Details of these offers together with details of how to purchase individual copiesclick here.

Canterbury Cathedral In Times Past: Remembering WWI

Remembering World War I will be at the centre of this year’s event; examples from the rich collections at the Cathedral Archives will be on display to tell the story of life in the Cathedral City between 1914-1918. The exhibition will feature manuscripts, photographs and patient records illustrating the Voluntary Aid Detachment hospitals; a series of documents relating to the War Work Dept; letters from soldiers from the front; the diary of a cavalry officer and WWI pilot; artefacts relating to HMS Kent; details of how the casualties of the war were remembered, and the construction of the memorials in the Cathedral and in the City. Activities for children will include making a remembrance poppy and lavender bag.

(Canterbury Cathedral Website, published 18.8.2014)

On the evening of Tuesday 7th October, Martyn will be signing copies of The Lost Generation, at Canterbury Cathedral as part of their ‘Canterbury Cathedral in Times Past: Remembering WWI’. This free public event begins at 5.30pm with Evensong sung by the Cathedral Choir and at 6.30pm various activities and displays begin inside the Cathedral. The event ends at 8.40pm.

Canterbury Cathedral holds these open evenings annually but this year’s event commemorates World War One. Visitors will also be able to try their hand at a number of skilled crafts including applying gold leaf, carving stone, and brass rubbing. Free guided and audio tours will be on offer and there will be visits to the private chapels, the Bell Tower, the organ loft, and the choir practice room. For further information about this event, click here.

Author Martyn Barr ©Tim Stubbings
Martyn Barr in the Cloisters at Canterbury Cathedral. ©Tim Stubbings
Posted in Activity, Event, Film, History, Literature, Theatre History, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

Ellaline Terriss & Lena Ashwell – Entertaining Troops On The Front Line: Stories From The Great War Part 12

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  • The actress Ellaline Terriss poses with a broad smile for a photo postcard issued in London, England, 1910. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Ellaline Terriss

Whilst looking through a selection of British magazines from World War One, I came across a fascinating editorial written by actress and singer Ellaline Terriss (1871-1971). The article (see podcast below) appeared in the December, 1915, issue of Leach’s Lady’s Companion and details her experiences performing to troops on the front line, Christmas, 1914. Another performer who caught my eye, whilst researching this topic, was Lena Ashwell (1872-1957). More about her later on.

Ellaline Terriss was an English actress and singer who had a long career on both stage and screen. Born on 13th April, 1871, to William and Amy Lewin, in Port Stanley, the Falkland Islands. Ellaline’s father tried a number of different occupations, including a merchant seaman, tea planter in Assam, silver miner and sheep farmer. In the 1870s, he returned to Britain with his family and took-up work as an actor using the stage name, ‘William Terriss’.

Unfortunately, William’s acting career was cut short. On 16th December, 1897, he was murdered by a deranged, unemployed actor, Richard Archer Prince who had recently fallen-out with William. The incident took place outside the Adelphi Theatre’s stage door where William was appearing in a play called Secret Service. Richard waited for William in the theatre’s Maiden Lane entrance and stabbed him repeatedly in a fit of jealous rage. William died shortly afterwards from wounds sustained in the attack. Richard was defiant and unrepentant upon arrest:

He has had due warning, and if he is dead, he knew what to expect from me. He prevented me getting money from the [Actors’ Benevolent] Fund today, and I have stopped him!

(December, 1897)

Richard’s trial was a media sensation. Following the verdict, he was sent to Broadmoor Criminal Asylum for life, living out his days entertaining inmates and conducting the prison orchestra. Richard died in 1936. It is thought that because his victim had been an actor, Richard had got-off lightly. If William had been of ‘nobler profession or birth’, he would almost certainly have been hanged. Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905) remarked: “Terriss was an actor, so his murderer will not be executed.” The ghost of William Terriss is said to still haunt Covent Garden tube station and the Adelphi theatre.

Ellaline’s mother was an actress (stage name Amy Fellowes). Her younger brother, Tom Terriss (1872-1964), also had a successful career as an actor, screenwriter and film director. Tom worked at Vitagraph Pictures, an American company famous for producing many films during the silent era. Vitagraph was brought by Warner Bros. in 1925. Ellaline herself acted in a number of silent films, Scrooge (1913) and David Garrick (1913). She also managed the transition from silent films to ‘talkies’ with Blighty (1927).

Ellaline made her stage debut, aged sixteen, in Cupid’s Messenger at the Haymarket and henceforth became a regular on the London stage. She worked with some of the top theatre impresarios of the day: Charles Wyndham (1837-1919); Sir Henry Irving; W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911); George Edwardes (1855-1915) and Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1852-1917).

In 1893, Ellaline married fellow performer, Seymour Hicks (1871-1949), a partnership which proved to be a strong creative alliance. For Ellaline, 1897, turned into her Annus horribilis. Besides losing her father in the December she also lost a son in infancy and shortly after her father died, her mother passed away.

Ellaline, picked herself up after these personal tragedies and her career continued from strength-to-strength. In 1904, she gave birth to a second child, Betty, a sibling for her daughter Mabel, an Irish girl adopted by Ellaline in 1889. During the Edwardian era, Ellaline was a music hall star, an audience favourite and a bit of a ‘celebrity’. She concentrated on giving music hall tours from 1910.

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  • Ellaline Terriss with her children c.1908. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images) 

During World War One Ellaline continued to perform on the London stage, of particular note is her appearance in the musical comedy, Cash on Delivery, 1917. At the start of the war, she also travelled with her actor husband, Seymour Hicks (1871-1949), to France giving concerts to troops stationed on the front line. Seymour was the first actor to perform on the front line. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his services to entertainment.

National Theatre at the Front. A tent, a roadside, a hospital – anywhere. The price of admission is our gratitude to you.

(Programme header for Ellaline and Seymour’s concert tours along the front line in France, December, 1914)

During World War Two, Ellaline and Seymour joined the newly created Entertainments National Service (E.N.S.A.), entertaining, once again, troops on the front line, this time in the Middle East.

Ellaline Terriss, December 1915.
Ellaline Terriss, December 1915.
  • Listen to Emma, Editor of Come Step Back In Time, read an article by actress and singer, Ellaline Terriss (1871-1971), which featured in the December, 1915, issue of Leach’s Lady’s Companion. In this article, Ellaline reminisces about entertaining troops on the front line in France, December, 1914 with her husband, actor-manager, Seymour Hicks (1871-1949):

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  • Actress Ellaline Terriss with her actor-manager husband, Sir Edward Seymour Hicks, c.1910. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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  • Ellaline Terriss in the role of Duc de Richelieu in ‘The Dashing Little Duke, London, c. 1909. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

  • Silent comedy film featuring Seymour Hicks, Ellaline Terriss and Stanley Logan.
    An Off Moment Of Well Known Folk (1922). Uploaded to You Tube by British Pathe, 13.4.2014.

Lena Ashwell OBE

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  • Lena Ashwell, early 20th century. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

Lena Ashwell (born Lena Margaret Pocock 1872-1957) was an actress and theatre manager.  Lena studied music at the Lausanne Conservatoire, Switzerland and subsequently the Royal Academy of Music, London. In 1891, she began acting professionally. Her first job as an actor-manager came in 1906 when she worked at the Savoy theatre.

In 1908, Lena married Royal Obstetrician, Sir Henry Simson (1872-1932) who was actually her second husband. Her first had been Arthur Wyndham Playfair (1869-1918) but he divorced her on grounds of adultery, she had been having an affair with actor Robert Taber (1865-1904). Lena supported the women’s suffrage movement.

When World War One broke-out, Lena fought hard to persuade authorities to allow her to provide entertainment for the troops. In 1915, she finally won support for her plans from the Women’s Auxiliary Committee of the YMCA. The first concert party took place in February, 1915. Companies of singers, musicians and actors were soon being sent to France, Malta, Egypt and Palestine.

In 1917, Lena was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her work. In 1918, there were ten permanent concert parties and seven repertory theatre companies touring and entertaining the troops. Lena recalls her experiences entertaining on the front line in her memoirs Modern Troubadours: A Record of the Concerts at the Front (1922):

I found myself in a tent which seemed in the darkness to be far away from everything and everybody. I stood on a table and recited all the poems that I knew, but wished with all my heart that I had learnt many more, as the audience grew and grew, and they sat silently around like hungry children. It was a quaint, gentle, peaceful evening, and curious that on that night I should have been nearer the firing line than at any other moment…the whole experience was so overwhelming, so moving, so terrible that one’s littleness was stunned and could find expression.

In a crowded hut or tent filled with smoke and packed to suffocation, one felt the hunger of the souls of men, the aching, wondering query in their hearts. Many have found some answer now, and “when the barrage lifts,” perhaps we too shall see, “no longer blinded by our eyes.” But we could find no words or tongue to express the suffering of our hearts, the aching sympathy, to see great battalions moving up to the line, and welcome a few men back, to have a concert interrupted with the sudden roll-call of the men who were to join their regiments at once, to see the men respond to their names and go out and up the line, to hear a whole massed audience singing as their last experience before going up to the blood and horror, “Lead, kindly light”; these are not experiences which can be described, they cut too deep into the soul.

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  • Lena Ashwell, actress, c.1900. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

The Concert Party

by Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)

(Written in Kantara, April, 1918, based on a Concert Party at an Egyptian Base Camp, 1914, attended by Siegfried Sassoon, given by Lena Ashwell and her Concert Party)

They are gathering round …

Out of the twilight; over the grey-blue sand,

Shoals of low-jargoning men drift inward to the sound,—

The jangle and throb of a piano … tum-ti-tum …

Drawn by a lamp, they come

Out of the glimmering lines of their tents, over the shuffling sand.

O sing us the songs, the songs of our own land,

You warbling ladies in white.

Dimness conceals the hunger in our faces,

This wall of faces risen out of the night,

These eyes that keep their memories of the places

So long beyond their sight.

Jaded and gay, the ladies sing; and the chap in brown

Tilts his grey hat; jaunty and lean and pale,

He rattles the keys … some actor-bloke from town …

I hear you catting me”; and “Dixieland” …

Sing slowly … now the chorus … one by one

We hear them, drink them; till the concert’s done.

Silent, I watch the shadowy mass of soldiers stand.

Silent, they drift away, over the glimmering sand.

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  • Lena Ashwell, c.1904.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Film, History, History of Medicine, Maritime History, TV Programme, Vintage, World War One

Folkestone 1914 & 2014 – Time Bleeds: Stories From The Great War Part 9

Film poster for Time Bleeds (2013).  Experimental documentary by Kent-based Viola Films. Directed by Samuel Supple and Produced by Debra McGee. Image courtesy of Viola Films.
Film poster for Time Bleeds (2013). Experimental documentary by Kent-based Viola Films. Shot on location in and around Folkestone.  Directed by Samuel Supple and Produced by Debra McGee. Image courtesy of Viola Films.

  • Emma, the Editor of Come Step Back in Time, reads ‘A Letter From Folkestone by Miss Moneypenny’, written in August 1914 and reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald (30.9.1914) – A snapshot of life on the home front in Folkestone, at the beginning of World War One.

Monday 4th August, 2014, marked the Centenary of the outbreak of World War One. A hundred years ago the coastal town of Folkestone became one of Britain’s most important front-line locations. A gateway to France and the Western Front, eight million troops passing through there during the war.

The new Memorial Arch, Folkestone. Monday 4th August, 2014. ©Come Step Back in Time.
The new Memorial Arch, Folkestone. Monday 4th August, 2014. ©Come Step Back in Time.

In undying memory of the many million officers and other ranks, both men and women forming The Naval, Military, Air and Red Cross Services of the King’s Imperial and Colonial Forces who crossed the seas in 1914-1919 to defend The Freedom of The World (dedication taken from the Harbour Canteen books).

(Inscription on one of the memorial plaques close to Folkestone’s Memorial Arch)

I visited Folkestone on Monday to witness the day’s commemorative events which had been organised by Folkestone-based educational charity, Step Short. His Royal Highness Prince Harry unveiled a steel Memorial Arch on The Leas, alongside Folkestone’s seafront, as well as laying a wreath at the nearby war memorial.

©Come Step Back in Time.
©Come Step Back in Time.
Monday 4th August, 2014. Memorial Arch, Folkestone. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Monday 4th August, 2014. Memorial Arch, Folkestone. ©Come Step Back in Time.

WW1 At Home Remembers: World War One At Home – BBC (2014)

©Come Step Back in Time.
©Come Step Back in Time.
One of the Hurst Green Shires which was part of the BBC World War One At Home pop-up event in Folkestone Harbour car-park, Monday 4th August, 2014. ©Come Step Back in Time.
One of the Hurst Green Shires who took part in the BBC World War One At Home pop-up event in Folkestone Harbour car-park, Monday 4th August, 2014. ©Come Step Back in Time.

In the car park of Folkestone Harbour, a tented complex formed part of BBC World War One At Home’s Live Event.  For more information about this BBC initiative, which is currently touring the UK until the end of September, CLICK HERE. I took the opportunity of visiting the Imperial War Museum’s (IWM) cabin which is also part of this BBC heritage pop-up. The IWM’s ‘Lives of The First World War’ project is an excellent idea, allowing members of the public to research life stories of those who served in Britain and the Commonwealth on both the home and fighting fronts. These individual stories can be from your own family or somebody you wish to research and be remembered. The researcher then has the opportunity to contribute their findings to the project’s vast on-line public database.

I took the opportunity on Monday to visit the Imperial War Museums pop-up genealogy tent to research my great, great grandfather who served as a Corporal in the Royal Engineers during World War One. ©Come Step Back in Time.
On Monday, I took the opportunity to visit the Imperial War Museum’s pop-up genealogy cabin, to research my great grandfather who served as a Corporal in the Royal Engineers during World War One. ©Come Step Back in Time.

My great grandfather was a Corporal in the Royal Engineers during World War One and I had hit a bit of a block with my research. On Monday, access to public records was free to search in the IWM’s mobile exhibit and I was able to view my ancestor’s medal record as well as obtain his correct service number. I am looking forward to moving my research to the next level. For more information about this interactive IWM project, CLICK HERE.

The firing squad scene.
The firing squad scene, Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.

On Monday, I also met-up with Kent director, Samuel Supple, whose World War One experimental documentary, Time Bleeds (2013), was filmed on location in and around Folkestone using a cast of local people. The film was shown on giant screens throughout the town as part of the day’s events.

©Come Step Back in Time.
©Come Step Back in Time.
BBC live Q & A panel in Folkestone Harbour, Monday 4th August, 2014. ©Come Step Back in Time.
BBC live Q & A panel, hosted by Clare Reeves, in Folkestone Harbour, Monday 4th August, 2014. ©Come Step Back in Time.

Samuel also participated in a series of live panel Q & A’s organised by BBC Radio Kent in conjunction with BBC World War One At Home. Afterwards he took me on a tour of Folkestone  pointing out various locations that had provided him with inspiration to create Time Bleeds. Mr Supple certainly knows his World War One local history!

This property (now private flats) was once a British Red Cross Auxilary Hospital. Manor House Hospital is situated on The Leas, Folkestone.
In World War One, this property (now private flats), on The Leas, Folkestone, was a British Red Cross Auxilary facility. It was known as Manor House Hospital. Photograph taken Monday 4th August, 2014. ©Come Step Back in Time.

During World War One, the above property situated on The Leas, Folkestone and now private flats, was Manor House Hospital. Samuel told me that it was a chance conversation with a librarian about a former VAD at Manor House, that begin his creative journey to Time Bleeds. An extraordinary diary/scrapbook belonging to VAD, Dorothy Earnshaw, has survived and can be viewed on-line HERE.

When Samuel looked at the album, several years ago, he was struck by the level of detail contained in the document. This artefact provides us with an insight into the intense emotional bond that exists between carer and patient as well as being a snapshot of life in a home front hospital during wartime.  Samuel remarked: ‘The album reminded me of how we use Facebook and social media today to record our daily lives, leaving comments for our friends and loved ones. Documenting our thoughts, hopes and activities. There is a convergence of time and in that moment the idea came to me for Time Bleeds.’

The Silver Screen Cinema, Folkestone. Some exterior scenes for Time Bleeds were shot here. ©Come Step Back in Time.
The Silver Screen Cinema, Folkestone. Some exterior scenes for Time Bleeds were shot here. ©Come Step Back in Time.

Time Bleeds is an experimental documentary inspired by real-life wartime events in Folkestone and the aim of the project was to reconnect its participants with their own World War One heritage. Samuel also drew inspiration from contemporary works such as ‘The War Game’ (1965) by Peter Watkins and ‘Self Made’ (2010) by Gillian WearingTime Bleeds is a collection of interwoven stories drawn from either personal archives or local public records and explores the questions:  “What if we forget?”; “What happens if these stories are lost forever?” and “What would happen if 1914 Folkestone became Folkestone in 2013 – would time bleed?”

A 16 year old boy
A 16 year old boy bids farewell to his mother at Folkestone Harbour Station, 1914. Scene from Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.

Time certainly did appear to ‘bleed’ on Monday in Folkestone. Khaki clad living history groups mingled with royalty, civic dignitaries, war veterans and members of the general public wearing rain coats and clutching umbrellas. A heady mix of uniforms and casual attire, time had merged, for just one historic, but important, day.

After World War One. Peace returns to The Leas, Folkestone in the 1920s. It is once again a thriving seaside resort.
After World War One. Peace returns to The Leas, Folkestone. In the 1920s, it is once  again a thriving seaside resort.
Monday 4th August, 2014. The Leas, Folkestone. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Monday 4th August, 2014. The Leas, Folkestone. ©Come Step Back in Time.

  • Listen to Director, Samuel Supple, discussing Time Bleeds in 2013, with BBC Radio Kent host, Dominic King.
Still from Time Bleeds
Folkestone harbour. Still from Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.
Director of Time Bleeds, Samuel Supple, revisits some the film's locations on Monday 4th August, 2014. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Director of Time Bleeds, Samuel Supple, revisits some of the film’s locations on Monday 4th August, 2014. ©Come Step Back in Time.

I have myself become very interested in Folkestone’s many fascinating home front and military World War One stories. Regular readers may remember an article I wrote earlier this year about the infamous White Feather Campaign (featured in Time Bleeds) which began in Folkestone. A notorious and controversial wartime Campaign, the brainchild of conscriptionist Admiral Charles Cooper Penrose-Fitzgerald (1841-1921). On 30th August, 1914, Penrose-Fitzgerald galvanized into action thirty women in Folkestone, many of whom were holidaying there, encouraging them to hand-out white feathers to men not in uniform.

Monday 4th August, 2014. Folkestone Harbour. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Monday 4th August, 2014. Folkestone Harbour. ©Come Step Back in Time.

The importance of Folkestone as a centre of military intelligence in World War One is another topic that has dominated my reading this year. I assisted with research on BBC Inside Out documentary, The Spies Who Loved Folkestone presented by writer Anthony Horowitz whose Alex Rider series of spy novels have captivated a whole generation. This drama documentary was Produced by Samuel Supple.

Because of its location, Folkestone was an ideal target for German spies. The town provided a point of entry and departure to Britain. Not long after war was declared in 1914, Germany lost its entire network of spies in Britain and was keen to re-establish its espionage infrastructure. If you were caught and convicted of spying, death by bullet in The Tower of London was the most likely outcome.

Spy-mania in Folkestone, as well as across the rest of Britain, was rife. Local newspapers were full of stories of suspected spies. Local Kent hoteliers, Mr and Mrs Wampach, (proprietors of Wampach Hotel, 33, Castle Hill Avenue, Folkestone), were victims of persecution. Their hotel was requisitioned for war service between 1914 and 1918 and the couple were subsequently treated unjustly by the authorities. The Wampachs were actually from Luxemburg and had themselves lost a son (Cyril Constant Julian) in the war. The distrust of non-British subjects was not just a national obsession, it became one’s patriotic duty to ‘weed-out the aliens’, otherwise you could find yourself the subject of suspicion.

Security, particularly in ports such as Folkestone, was extremely tight. The area was populated with Civil Police, custom officers, Aliens officers, Embarkation officers and Military Police. If you travelled by car from Folkestone to London in 1914, you would liable to be stopped by Special Constables no less than twenty-four times during your seventy mile journey. The arteries of subterfuge were well and truly blocked (or so the authorities thought!).

The British Intelligence Services were established in 1909. During World War One, Folkestone was full of British counter-intelligence officers. The town became HQ of a tripartite bureau, including French and Belgian intelligence officers and was under the control of Colonel George Kynaston Cockerill (1867-1957). The British section was based at 9, Marine Parade, and headed-up by the notorious renegade spy, Captain (later Major) Cecil Aylmer Cameron (1883-1924).

Spy-mania found a fertile soil in unbalanced brains. A girl of sixteen would confess to her mistress that she had fallen into the toils of a master-spy, who would beckon to her through the kitchen window with gestures that could not be disobeyed, and she would go out for the night, returning with a wonder story of gags and blindfolding, of a black motor-car and a locked room in a distant suburb, and the discovery of a soldier’s gloves in her box, did nothing to shake her story.

(‘Truth About German Spies: How They Came To England’, The World’s News, 12.7.1919)

  • BBC Radio 4’s major new drama series, Home Front, began transmission on Monday 4th August, 12 noon. This is by far BBC radio’s most ambitious production to date. The show’s Editor is Jessica Dromgoole. There are six hundred episodes, across fifteen seasons and these will continue to air until 2018. Although the stories are fictional, they are rooted in historical truth. The first season is set in World War One Folkestone. CLICK HERE;
  • For more information about Folkestone in World War One, see Step Short’s website;
  • For more information about Viola Films, CLICK HERE;
  • For more information about BBC’s World War One At Home initiative, CLICK HERE.
©Come Step Back in Time.
Folkestone’s Road of Remembrance, in World War One it was called The Slope Road. ©Come Step Back in Time.
©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time

The Day

By Henry Chappell

YOU boasted the Day, and you toasted the Day,
And now the Day has come.
Blasphemer, braggart and coward all,
Little you reck of the numbing ball,
The blasting shell, or the “white arm’s” fall,
As they speed poor humans home.

You spied for the Day, you lied for the Day,
And woke the Day’s red spleen.
Monster, who asked God’s aid Divine,
Then strewed His seas with the ghastly mine;
Not all the waters of the Rhine
Can wash thy foul hands clean.

You dreamed for the Day, you schemed for the Day;
Watch how the Day will go,
Slayer of age and youth and prime,
(Defenceless slain for never a crime),
Thou art steeped in blood as a hog in slime,
False friend and cowardly foe.

You have sown for the Day, you have grown for the Day;
Yours is the harvest red.
Can you hear the groans and the awful cries?
Can you see the heap of slain that lies,
And sightless turned to the flame-split skies
The glassy eyes of the dead?

You have wronged for the Day, you have longed for the Day
That lit the awful flame.
‘Tis nothing to you that hill and plain
Yield sheaves of dead men amid the grain;
That widows mourn for their loved ones slain,
And mothers curse thy name.

But after the Day there’s a price to pay
For the sleepers under the sod,
And He you have mocked for many a day —
Listen, and hear what He has to say:
What can you say to God?

  • Henry Chappell (1874-1937), known as the ‘Bath Railway Poet’, found fame after the above propaganda poem, about suspected German atrocities during the war, was published in the Daily Express, 22nd August, 1914. The poem was subsequently published in an anthology of his work in 1918, The Day and Other Poems.

    One of the many crocheted poppies that decorated Folkestone's Road of Remembrance (called The Slope Road in World War One). August, 2014. ©Come Step Back in Time.
    One of the many crocheted poppies that decorated Folkestone’s Road of Remembrance.  4th August, 2014. ©Come Step Back in Time.

Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Film, History, Museum, World War One

For The Fallen Film Challenge – Create A Short Film Inspired By People & Events Of World War One

©Come Step Back In Time.
©Come Step Back In Time.

  • Geoffrey Malins’ camera, from Dan Snow’s Battle of the Somme. (2012, Discovery Channel). Clip published 9.11.2012.

… I set my camera up behind what I thought quite a safe screen, to film a general view of our front line, but I had hardly started exposing when, with murderous little shrieks, two bullets whizzed close by my head—quite as near as I shall ever want them. Dropping as low as possible, I reached up, and still turning the handle finished the scene. Then followed several pictures of scouts and snipers making their way across the ground, taking advantage of any slight cover they could get, in order to take up suitable positions for their work. By this time the light was getting rather bad, and as it was still raining hard I made my way back.During the return journey, an officer who accompanied me showed himself unknowingly above the parapet, and “zipp” came a bullet, which ripped one of the stars off his coat. “Jove!” said he, with the greatest of sang-froid, “that’s a near thing; but it’s spoilt my shoulder-strap”: and with a laugh we went on our way.

(Malins, G., (1920), Edited by Warren, L., How I filmed The War, extract from Chapter 1, Part 2)

For The Fallen – ‘Film Challenge’

Create A Ten Minute Film Inspired By People and Events of World War One

With the wealth of material recently published about World War One, have you felt motivated to make a film inspired by what you have seen or read? If so, then For The Fallen ‘Film Challenge’ is for you. The Challenge is open to both novice as well as professional film-makers. It is completely FREE to enter and you have until the 30th June, 2014, to complete your film.

The final edit must be no more than ten minutes in length (including opening and closing credits) and can be filmed on a traditional digital camera or even your iPhone. Full details of the Challenge and an application form can be downloaded here. The ‘Film Challenge’ is run by Viola Films, the Royal Engineers Museum and Blue Town Heritage Centre, Sheerness. This project has been made possible by monies received from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and IdeasTest (Creative People and Places).

If you do decide to enter, you may find my series of World War One articles, Stories From The Great War, a good source of inspiration for your film. Even if you do not wish to enter the Challenge, then I hope you will still find these articles a stimulating read. They are packed full of new material and images from this fascinating period in history and there are plenty more articles in the series coming very soon. Articles published on here so far are:

Of course, Film Challenge entrants are by no means restricted to the above topics.Your final story choice is completely up to you and I would urge you to consult as wide a range of sources as possible. Be original, innovative and don’t be afraid to take creative risks.  My articles are designed merely to help set you off on your own journey of discovery.

I am an experienced social historian and blogger. I spend quite a considerable amount of my time hunting for unusual stories, particularly at the moment relating to World War One both front line and Home Front perspectives. I know the research process very well, from initial find through to delivering a completed story.

Filming Under Fire: The War Photographers and Cameramen Who Captured World War One

There were many heroes in World War One and not all of them were soldiers. Professional photographers and cameramen also risked their lives everyday working in trenches along the front line, knee-deep in mud with bullets whizzing all around. These brave men experienced the same danger levels as their fellow soldiers and were equally at risk of death or injury. If it wasn’t for their heroic efforts, we may not have had such an extensive library of stills and film footage available to us today.

The opening quotation is taken from the edited memoirs of one of World War One’s most prolific cameramen, Geoffrey Malins (1886-1940). Malins, together with his assistant John Benjamin ‘Mac’ McDowell (1878-1954), were official cinematographers assigned to the Western Front by the War Office (British Topical Committee for War Films).

Risk of serious injury and death. Staying alive and Death was always close-by war photographer and cinematographer. Staying alive and ahead of risks. Still no definite news. The heavy firing continued. I noticed several of our wounded men lying in shell-holes in “No Man’s Land.” They were calling for assistance. Every time a Red Cross man attempted to get near them, a hidden German machine-gun fired. Several were killed whilst trying to bring in the wounded. The cries of one poor fellow attracted the attention of a trench-mortar man. He asked for a volunteer to go with him, and bring the poor fellow in. A man stepped forward, and together they climbed the parapet, and threaded their way through the barbed wire very slowly. Nearer and nearer they crept. We stood watching with bated breath. Would they reach him? Yes. At last! Then hastily binding up the injured man’s wounds they picked him up between them, and with a run made for our parapet. The swine of a German blazed away at them with his machine-gun. But marvellous to relate neither of them were touched. I filmed the rescue from the start to the finish, until they passed me in the trench, a mass of perspiration. Upon the back of one was the unconscious man he had rescued, but twenty minutes after these two had gone through hell to rescue him, the poor fellow died. During the day those two men rescued twenty men in this fashion under heavy fire.

(Malins, G., (1920), Edited by Warren, L., How I filmed The War, extract from Chapter 14, Part 2)

McDowell was not Malins’ first assistant, this had been Portsmouth film-maker, Edward ‘Teddy’ Tong (1886-1962). However, after arriving on the Western Front in November 1915, Tong found the working conditions very difficult to deal with and was invalided home the following month with influenza. McDowell was Tong’s replacement, together Malins and McDowell shot one of the most iconic films of the war, The Battle of The Somme (1916).

McDowell, like Malins, was a risk-taker, putting himself in mortal danger to secure the perfect shot. According to the officer in charge of the two cameramen, it was noted that during filming: ‘Mr Macdowell [sic] ran considerable risks, I have seen Mr. Macdowell have very narrow escapes, notably from machine-gun bullets on July 1st when trying to cross ‘no man’s land’ behind the advancing infantry, and several times from shells, including one shrapnel recently at Guillemont. He has also been gassed (shell gas).’ (News on Screen, “John Benjamin McDowell (Mac)”. – Accessed: 4th April, 2014)

When The Battle of The Somme was shown in British cinemas, late Summer 1916, it attracted audiences of 20 million. This silent film was a mix of live action footage and dramatic reconstructions, although the latter was only discovered to be the case, by historians, many years later. According to writer and broadcaster, Francine Stock: ‘The film remains one of the most watched in British cinema history, even bigger than Star Wars (1977)’.

The judges for the Film Challenge don’t expect your own film-making experiences to mirror that of Malins, McDowell and Tong but could there be a story buried in the text of Malins’ memoirs just waiting for you to bring to life on-screen?

Finding Inspiration For Your Short Film

For some of you, finding inspiration for your project will be a fairly straightforward process, indeed your ‘light bulb’ moment may have happened some time ago. For others, these early stages of planning and deciding on your story may appear a little overwhelming. The important thing is not to panic, easier said than done I know.

There is plenty of help available to you via various on-line resources as well as through attending one/more For The Fallen masterclass(es) taking place over the coming weeks. However, it is not an entry requirement of the Film Challenge that you attend these masterclasses, the workshops are just there to offer you additional help. If you are attending, make sure you ask your tutors plenty of questions, be inquisitive, talk to fellow participants, exchange ideas (don’t be precious) and above all be ready to engage in the creative process with an open mind.

Being posted to the project’s website soon will be interviews with the masterclass tutors. There will also be online surgeries to help you with your scripts and answer any production queries you may have. This will be a particularly useful resource as the pre-production process begins to gather pace over the next few months. Also keep an eye on For The Fallen’s Twitter account (@InfoFallen) for regular updates relating to the Film Challenge as well as Tweets about interesting aspects of World War One history.

The range of written resources and material objects now publicly available from this period is vast. The source of inspiration for your film could come from a single line of text or a poem found in a handwritten diary/letter, an object in a museum, a photograph from a family album, a painting or illustration, a conversation with a friend or relative, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks or original film footage.

It could even be a building, ruin or notice that you come across whilst out walking. This has happened to me quite a lot, in fact the subject matter for some of the best articles that I have written were found this way. Take a picture of what has captured your interest so that you can refer back to it at a later stage and make sure you make a note of the location too. It is all too easy to get carried away with the thrill of an exciting find, only to discover when you get back home that you have forgotten where you found it in the first place. Archivists and librarians don’t like ‘woolly’ descriptions of locations or objects when they are trying to help you with your research. There are so many brilliant stories out there from this period, just waiting to be retold by you.

Once you have found several possible story leads, follow-up the find by researching the item’s back-story. Where possible, look at contemporary source material first (as a case study see my recent article ‘Beatrix Brice Miller and “The Old Contemptibles“). Since many newspapers and publications are now digitized, accessibility is less of an issue these days. Textbooks are useful but there is nothing more exciting than reading contemporary texts. A word of advice though, it can be all too easy to get bogged down with this topic, don’t get side-tracked by complex academic texts detailing military manoeuvres (unless of course this is your bag!).

Keep to the simple facts of your story, you can ‘flesh it out’ at a later stage. Deciphering handwriting from this period is sometimes a challenge even to the experienced historian but don’t be put off engaging with diaries or letters, it can be a very rewarding experience.

The Film Challenge – A Few Tips And Hints Before You Begin

Although there is a limited amount of time in which to complete your film, the Challenge is just that and not a race (remember the parable of the tortoise and the hare? We all know how that story ended!). Focus upon enjoying the collaborative experience, yes you may find it frustrating and at times stressful but whatever happens along the way, you will reach the end with more knowledge than when you began. That in itself is a reason to take part. Whether you are a seasoned professional or a first-time film-maker this might be the start of a whole new creative chapter for you.

The rules of the film challenge are clear. Make sure you read them thoroughly before hurling yourself into the planning process. The judging panel are not looking for a historical film, a straight rendition of a real-life event or biopic of an individual (remember, the time limit for your film is ten minutes). However, your inspiration must come from real people and events in World War One, whether on the front line or at home, military or civilian.

How you interpret your story is entirely up to you, this is where your creativity will need to ‘kick-in’. The restrictions you will encounter are part of the challenges you should embrace. Think about your available resources (material and human), equipment, budget, timeframe etc, etc.

The ‘Film Challenge’ is about finding an interesting story angle and translating it to screen in an innovative way. Challenge your audience to look at and experience World War One in a new way. If you enjoy period films or fancy having a go at making one, then this IS permissible within the Challenge’s rules you just need to think ‘outside the box’ as to how you going to make it happen. Make sure that the final edit fulfils the entry requirements. How you interpret the rules is up to you. If you are unsure, get in touch with the For The Fallen team for clarification.

Don’t forget there are many different genres of film-making, horror, thriller, comedy, drama, documentary, drama-documentary, etc. just make sure that the style you select is the most appropriate for re-telling the story you have chosen (the For The Fallen team will guide you on this). Who knows, the films that you make now, may be watched in another hundred years’ time and will become an important digital record of your response to the Centenary commemorations just like Malins’ body of work?

I was kneeling filming the scene, when I heard a shell hurtling in my direction. Knowing that if I moved I might as likely run into it as not, I remained where I was, still operating my camera, when an explosion occurred just behind me, which sounded as if the earth itself had cracked. The concussion threw me with terrific force head over heels into the sand. The explosion seemed to cause a vacuum in the air for some distance around, for try as I would I could not get my breath. I lay gasping and struggling like a drowning man for what seemed an interminable length of time, although it could have only been a few seconds.

At last I pulled round; my first thought was for my camera. I saw it a short distance away, half buried in the sand. Picking it up, I was greatly relieved to find it uninjured, but choked with sand round the lens, which I quickly cleared. The impression on my body, caused by the concussion of the exploding shell, seemed as if the whole of one side of me had been struck with something soft, yet with such terrible force that I felt it all over at the same moment. That is the best way I can describe it, and I assure you I don’t wish for a second interview. Noticing some blood upon my hand, I found a small wound on the knuckle. Whether or no it was caused by a small splinter from the shell, I cannot say; in all probability it was, for I do not think striking the soft sand would have caused it.

(Malins, G., (1920), Edited by Warren, L., How I filmed The War, extract from Chapter 4, Part 1)

  • Conditions in the trenches, from Dan Snow’s Battle of the Somme (2012, Discovery Channel). Clip published 9.11.2012.

Key World War One War Cameramen And Photographers

  • Tom Aitken (photographer). Originally worked as a journalist on a Glasgow newspaper. He was assigned to the Western Front in December 1917 and worked alongside McLellan;
  • Christina Broom (photographer). Thought to be Britain’s first female press photographer. Broom was self-taught and began her career in 1903, whilst in her 40s. Unlike her male contemporaries, Broom did not work on the front line. Instead she remained in Britain and charged soldiers tuppence for her photo postcards. These keepsakes were very popular during the early twentieth century for the soldiers to give to their family and sweethearts. Broom also photographed Rudyard Kipling’s son, John;
  • Ernest Brooks (photographer). Brooks was the first British official war photographer. Assigned to the Western Front in 1916 direct from the Daily Mirror. He used a hand-held camera to capture his subject matter;
  • John Warwick Brooke (photographer). He worked at the Topical Press Agency and was the second official war photographer to be assigned to the Western Front in 1916. Between 1916 and 1918 he took over 4,000 photographs;
  • John Benjamin McDowell (cinematographer and photographer). He worked with Geoffrey Malins on the Western Front but for reasons unknown has been airbrushed out of Malins’ memoirs How I Filmed The War (1920);
  • David McLellan (photographer). He worked on the Daily Mirror. He was assigned as an official war photographer and sent to the Western Front in December 1917, remaining there until the end of the war;
  • Geoffrey Malins (cinematographer and photographer). Apart from his body of work as a photographer on the Western Front, Malins worked with his assistant McDowell on the 1916 film The Battle of The Somme. The film was commissioned by War Office (British Topical Committee for War Films) and combines live action footage with dramatic reconstructions. When the film was shown in British cinemas in late summer 1916, it was extremely successful, reportedly over 20 million people watched it;
  • Edward ‘Teddy’ George Tong (cinematographer). Tong’s time on the Western Front was brief (November-December 1915). He worked alongside Malins but couldn’t cope with the conditions in the trenches and was invalided home with influenza, being removed from his post as ‘War Office Official Kinematographer,’ in August 1916. He was replaced on the Western Front by McDowell. Tong was eventually medically discharged from service in December 1917 on the grounds he was suffering from neurasthenia (morbid condition of the cerebral nervous system). He did continue to make films until 1934 when he retrained to become a master baker.

Further Resources

The Modern War Photographer And Film-Maker