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:
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;
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;
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;
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;
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;
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;
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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:
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)
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)
A short while ago, I received a Press Release from PR Matters that was so exciting, I just had to share it with you here. New research, conducted by retired 18th and 19th century metallurgist Dr Richard Williams, has proved that a cooking pot in the collection of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust is the oldest known coke iron casting in the western world.
Without using coke to smelt iron, there would have been no Industrial Revolution; the supply of wood was simply not extensive enough. It has previously been assumed that Abraham Darby I (1678-1717) invented the process because wood was already becoming increasingly scarce and coke was therefore generally more economic, but Dr Richard Williams has established that it was, in reality, all about cooking pots.
Dr Williams has been working on behalf of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust as a member of the museum’s Birmingham Advisory Group. The work, published in the journal Historical Metallurgy shows that Abraham Darby’s genius was more commercial than technical (as previously thought) and that he actually first smelted iron with coke, as opposed to charcoal from wood, for just one application.
Working on behalf of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, he comments on what was primarily a technical analysis: “We have now shown how Abraham Darby was the first man to make a profitable business from smelting iron with coke rather than charcoal. He saw an opportunity that no one else did, applied for a patent to protect it and got on with creating the business to exploit it.”
In 2013, I want on an incredible press trip to Ironbridge, Shropshire. I cannot tell you what an astonishing heritage site it is. There are 36 scheduled monuments and listed buildings cared for by The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, spread over a 6 square kilometre site.
The cooking pot which has been the subject of Dr Williams findings, is part of the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron collection. The unique cast iron pot, dated 1714, inspired Dr Williams to wonder how it had been cast in order to have exactly the right metallurgical structure? He saw the relationship between the only patent (see image above) that Abraham Darby filed – about moulding such pots in sand – and his modified blast furnace.
It had been previously thought that the two inventions were entirely independent, but Dr Williams realised that Darby’s patent would only work if the liquid iron he used to pour into his moulds was made with coke.It would not have worked with the previously universally used charcoal.
Darby’s new process was much cheaper than the competitive one, which was most effectively practised on the continent, with a consequently large importation of pots into England. On the continent they used charcoal but, in order to get the right structure in their iron, Dr Williams recognized that they had had to pour their metal into moulds that were very hot, thus being obliged to use an expensive moulding process where the sand grains were bound together with clay, the so-called loam process.
Darby’s patent specifically said that he was going to use no clay and his moulds could thus not be heated. Dr Williams explains that to make most castings, the composition of the iron had to be such that a grey structure resulted rather than a white one, but this was much more difficult when the casting was thin, as with a pot, because the metal cooled more quickly than with a thicker casting.
The iron had to be high in silicon to come out grey, something that was very difficult to achieve using charcoal. But coke did it much more easily and this Abraham Darby already knew, from the work of others before him. He clearly knew it some years before he first set out to make iron himself, because his patent was published in April 1707 and he did not start his coke blast furnace until the end of 1708.
It has not previously been realised – at least in the UK – that moulds used to be regularly heated. Dr Williams could find no reference to it in the English language. There are however many references to it in the French encyclopaedias published in the second half of the 18th century, of which the Encyclopédie of Diderot is the most famous.
To prove his thesis, Dr Williams examined a number of 17th and 18th century pots made with the loam process at the Maison de Metallurgie in Liège. He deduced that all pots bear characteristic markings that establish how they were made and in his paper he demonstrates that the pot in the Ironbridge Gorge Museums, dated 1714 (just six years after Darby’s first blast furnace came on stream) must have been cast using an iron made with coke. With no one else known to be making coke iron at the time, it could only be a genuine Abraham Darby product, the oldest known coke iron casting in the western world.
To begin with, coke iron was only of economic use for the manufacture of cooking pots, but the profit from this activity allowed him and his descendants the time to develop the coke blast furnace for all the other applications for which it became suitable. His first furnace produced just four tons per week. In the world today, more than one billion tons of iron comes out of coke-fired blast furnaces each year.
Abraham Darby I – The Coalbrookdale Company
The Coalbrookdale Company was formed in 1709 by Abraham Darby I (1678-1717), an iron-master who had moved to the region from Bristol in the previous year. His original intention was to lease an ironworks with a view to setting-up a brass foundry – he had been experimenting with making brass pots since 1707 which led to his patent for casting iron bellied pots in dry sand.
He leased the Furnace at Coalbrookdale in 1709 from landowner Basil Brooke of Madeley and his wife Elizabeth, beginning blasting in January of the same year. Until the latter part of the 18th century, the most important industry in the Ironbridge Gorge was coal-mining – the first step on the road to the birth of the Industrial Revolution in the region.
Other coal-using industries utlising the area’s rich natural resources were: lead smelting; tar boiling; pottery making and brass manufacturing. The Tar Tunnel at Ironbridge is open to the public and well-worth a visit. In 1787, miners digging in the area struck a spring of natural bitumen (treacle-like black liquid) which has seeped out of the walls and formed into puddles for over two hundred years. It was money from coal that funded the first ironworks in the area.
Although now a haven of tranquillity, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the area resembled Dante’s Inferno, a scenewhich artist Philip James De Loutherbourg (1740-1812) captured so brilliantly in his iconic painting Coalbrookdale by Night (1801).
Between 1755 and 1780 the iron industry was booming in the region and five new groups of furnaces were set up:
The three surviving groups of iron furnaces mark these different phases in the local iron industry – the earliest, the Darby Furnace at Coalbrookdale …… Bedlam Furnaces (begun 1756-7) were the first of the great new Industrial Revolution furnaces, experimenting with new forms of power, while the Blists Hill Furnaces, begun in c.1832 and closed in 1912, signal the move away from water as a source of power, and eventually the end of smelting in the Gorge.
(Ironbridge Gorge by Catherine Clark, 1993, p.36, published by B. T. Batsford Ltd)
The Darby family were Quakers but did not force their religious beliefs on the workers at Coalbrookdale. The Darbys were known to be good employers as well as savvy business people, their workers rarely went on strike. Education, for both boys and girls, was also important to Quakers – a forward thinking approach for the time:
..adhering strictly to the ideals of self-discipline, frugality and simple faith, attitudes which extended into the conduct of their business. As members of the Society of Friends, Quakers formed a close-knit group, distinct in their way of dress and habits, and tending to socialize as a group. Many of the visitors who came to Coalbrookdale were Quaker associates, and the large houses at Coalbrookdale became a focus for this society.
The houses were built close to the works, but looked out over a more pleasant view of trees, pleasure gardens and a pool with a small decorative iron bridge. For most of their history the houses were occupied for relatively short periods by family members or by works managers; often, as in the case of Abraham Darby III, while they built or altered finer houses elsewhere in rural settings.
Carpenters Row is an example of company housing: built c.1783, it is a terrace of eight cottages, each with a downstairs parlour with a range, a tiny pantry and a bedroom above….Carpenters Row would have provided a relatively good class of accommodation.
(Ironbridge Gorge by Catherine Clark, 1993, pp.40-41, published by B. T. Batsford Ltd)
Darby I’s son, Abraham Darby II (1711-1763), took over the running of The Coalbrookdale Company from his father in 1728. His contribution to the Company’s history is significant. He invented a method of making pig iron using coke which could then be converted into wrought iron:
The molten iron from a blast furnace could be poured direct into sand moulds to produce cast iron goods or cast ingots called “pig iron”. The pig iron was then either melted and cast in a foundry or purified to produce wrought iron that could be shaped by hammering and rolling in a forge.
(Extract from text panel at the site of the Old Furnaces, Upper Works, Coalbrookdale, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust).
For a more detailed overview of Ironbridge, below are links to previous articles I have written about various aspects of the site:
An exciting new Egyptology exhibition opens at St. Barbe Museum, Lymington, Hampshire on Saturday 16th January. In Out of Egypt: exploring the passage from life to afterlife (sponsored by Thesis Asset Management), you can discover more about the religious beliefs and passage from life to the afterlife in ancient Egypt. The exhibition continues until 27th February, 2016.
St. Barbe Museum has had a recent history of producing some really terrific, unusual and cleverly curated exhibitions. I have covered quite a few of them here on Come Step Back in Time, have a browse through my article archive and see the range of fascinating subjects the Museum has covered in its exhibition programming. The press pack I have received for Out of Egypt, certainly looks like 2016 could be St. Barbe Museum’s best year yet for stimulating exhibitions!
Also on show will be items that would have been placed in tombs such as amulets for protection from harm and danger; scarabs symbolising the holy beetle in ancient Egypt and Shabti figures, as well as a beautiful funerary boat.
The exhibition has been designed to appeal to school children and families through a host of activities, while still offering lots for adults to discover and enjoy. Themes include making a mummy, life after death, hieroglyphics, Egyptian numbers, gods and goddesses, Egyptomania – souvenirs and Egypt’s influence on British culture.
The timing of Out of Egypt, couldn’t be more on point. Interest in Egyptology with the general public is now at an all time high. This follows publication, in July 2015, by British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves, of a paper that claims Tutankhamun may not have been alone in his burial chamber. A series of ultra-high-resolution images of King Tut’s tomb (subsequently designated KV62) have revealed what is believed to be the outlines of two doorways, previously blocked and plastered over.
Reeves has suggested that behind these hidden doors there may be a lavish secret tomb belonging to the legendary Queen Nefertiti (the 14th century wife of Akhenaten, step-mother to Tutankhamun). Tutankhamun died at the age of 19, and it is thought that, due to his unexpected death, he may have been buried in a chamber of his step-mother’s tomb.
If Reeves theory is correct (although a number of academics and archaeologists dispute his claims!), this could potentially over-shadow Howard Carter’s (1874-1939) discovery of King Tut’s tomb in November 1922. Excavations to prove Reeves theory have not yet begun, indeed, there is a possibility they may never do so. Why? Well, Dr Zahi Hawasshas, Egypt’s former antiquities minister, not only disputes Reeves theory. He is also adamant that a hole is not to be made in the structure of KV62 in order to carry-out further investigations.
The main tomb is extremely fragile. Any further excavations could cause some of the priceless paintings to completely collapse not to mention potentially damaging the tomb itself. Archaeologists would need to find a way to enter the secret chamber, that has been hermetically sealed for 3,500 years, without causing any harm to the tomb’s infrastructure.
Debates, arguments and theories by Egyptologists will continue to grip the public’s attention over coming months. Keep any eye on global news reports, 2016 could still be the year when one of the greatest archaeological discoveries and Egyptology’s greatest mysteries, is finally solved!
Out of Egypt Workshops
‘Anthony and Cleopatra: Interactive Storytelling’ (February 17th). Join professional actors from Treehouse Theatre for an exciting and interactive storytelling session. Shakespeare’s passionate tale of Antony and Cleopatra is the inspiration for today’s story. There will be plenty of chance to dress up too! Performances are at 10.30am and 1.45pm. This is suitable for youngsters aged 4 – 11 years. £4 child, £3 adults. Advance booking required. Book online for the morning session here Or afternoon session here ;
‘Exploring Egypt: Family Explorer Day’ (February 18th). Discover life in Ancient Egypt and handle authentic objects from the time. This explorer day compliments our exhibition Out of Egypt. Youngsters will also get the chance to make decorative Egyptian cuffs, circlets and mini scarab beads. Usual admission charges apply.
Opening Times and Admission Prices
Out of Egyptat St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery will be open Monday-Saturday, 10am-4pm;
Tickets, which include entry into the museum, cost £6 for adults, £5 for senior citizens and students, £3 for children aged 5-15 years and £12 for a family of two adults and up to four children (including a voluntary gift aid donation); under fives are admitted free of charge;
In October, I took part in a 1930s set drama-documentary, Produced/Directed by Sam Supple, for BBC Inside Out (South East). Filmed on location in and around the attractive seaside town of Herne Bay, Kent which included Edwardian architectural gem, The Kings Hall. The programme explored the ill-fated relationship between Kent showgirl, Lydia Cecily/Cecilia ‘Cissie’ Hill (1913-1940) and the Sultan of Johor (Ibrahim I) (1873-1959). Below is the full documentary as it is no longer available on BBC iPlayer.
Lydia Cecily ‘Cissie’ Hill was born at 2 Kitchener Terrace, Canterbury, Kent on 20th July, 1913 but moved with her family to Herne Bay in 1917. Cissie’s father, George Hill (b. 1882), served in the Royal Navy rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and retiring in 1932 (although he was called up from the Retired List in 1935 and served again until 1946). Cissie’s mother was Florence Cecilia Hill née Benge (b. 1889) who married George Hill on 20th December, 1910 at St. Gregory’s Church, Canterbury.
Until 1927, Cissie lived with her family at 4, Kingsbury Villas in Kings Road, Herne Bay, moving to Hyacinth, Queensbury Drive where they stayed until 1934. She attended Kings Road School, Herne Bay until Summer 1927 when she reached the age of 14 which, at that time, was the national school leaving age.
Holidaymakers at Herne Bay, 1st January, 1890. A view looking out to sea from The Downs in Herne Bay. People are sitting on the hill listening to a band play in an open bandstand. A shelter stands to the right for protection against the harsher weather.
Herne Bay – A Popular Victorian and Edwardian Seaside Resort
August 1921, Herne Bay, three young women in bathing suits enjoying themselves in the sea.
Herne Bay has been a thriving seaside resort since the 1830s with its pier being a particularly popular attraction and destination for tourists visiting the town. Building began on Herne Bay’s first pier, 4th July, 1831, opening in 1832. The pier was originally built to accommodate paddle steamers travelling between London, Margate and Ramsgate.
Unfortunately, the pier’s structure succumbed to storm and worm damage eventually being sold for scrap in 1871. A new wood and iron pier opened on August 27th, 1873, a theatre added in 1884 followed by extensive rebuilding work (completed in 1899) which created the town’s third pier complete with an electric tramway.
Pier Pavilion, Herne Bay, Kent. This view, looking out to sea, shows the Pier Pavilion which was constructed in 1910 after a design competition was launched.
The local Council purchased the pier in 1909 and a Grand Pavilion opened in 1910. Unfortunately, the theatre which had been part of the second pier, was destroyed by fire in 1928 and the Grand Pavilion burned down in 1970. A new sports pavilion (unusual for a pier) opened in 1976. In 1978, storms destroyed the main neck. The pier-head still remains isolated out at sea and is visible from the front entrance of King’s Hall.
In the late 1920s, early 1930s, Herne Bay had limited industry except for health tourism. In the late 1920s, Herne Bay Council created the slogan, ‘our only industry is health-making’. It was also around this time that the Council managed to acquire bathing rights from Hampton Pier in the west to Beltinge in the east. This added to Herne Bay’s kudos as an established seaside resort. By 1931, Herne Bay’s resident population was approximately 14,533.
Poster produced for South Eastern & Chatham Railway in conjunction with Chemins de Fer du Nord (French railways) to advertise Herne Bay as a healthy holiday destination to French tourists. January, 1925.
Out of season, Herne Bay must have seemed a very quiet place for an out-going teenage girl like Cissie. She was an attractive young woman with a talent for performing and trained at a local dance school, perhaps taught by Miss Myrtle Fox? (see photograph below from 1931) Cissie appeared in numerous dancing displays at the old Pier Theatre and elsewhere in Herne Bay. If she wished to further her career as a professional dancer, London would have been her only choice of destination.
Miss Myrtle Fox, a dance instructor at a Herne Bay school practises one of her energetic ballet routines on the beach.February 16th, 1933.
1930s London Nightlife
‘London’s Famous Clubs And Cabarets – “Playtime At The Piccadilly” Aka Picadilly Revels’ (1933). British Pathé film. Uploaded to You Tube, 13.4.2014.
1930’s London nightlife was void of gambling clubs, strip joints or nude shows. Except for the Windmill Theatre which did provide variety nude shows and famously never closed, even during World War Two, opening in 1931, closing in 1964. London did, however, have a thriving cabaret scene. Charles B. Cochran (1872-1951), a Sussex born theatrical manager and impresario, ran one of the most famous cabarets, at the Trocadero restaurant.
British Pathé film ‘Magic Nights’ (1932), filmed during an actual performance of Charles B. Cochran’s Cabaret Show at the Trocadero, London. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
Cochran, the Cameron Mackintosh of his day, was responsible for discovering many new talents and making stars out of them. Some of his high-profile discoveries were Eleanora Duse, Anna Neagle, Gertude Lawrence, Noel Coward, Jessie Matthews and the fame-hungry Dolly Sisters (who notoriously helped Harry Gordon Selfridge (1858-1947) to squandered most of his fortune in the 1920s).
Hungarian born dancers The Dolly Sisters, Jenny and Rosie famous for performing in revues on the twenties. They were discovered by theatre impresario, Charles B. Cochran. Image date, 1st January, 1923.
British Pathé film ‘Playtime At The Piccadilly Hotel’ (1932). Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
Other London venues that had popular in-house cabarets included, The Casa Nuova Restaurant, Casani’s Club, The Cosmo Club, The Piccadilly Hotel and the Grosvenor House Hotel. In the early 1930s, Cissie began work as a professional dancer at Grosvenor House’s cabaret, although exact dates of her employment there are unknown.
Members of the Empire Cabaret troupe appear in ‘Grosvenor Gambols’ at Grosvenor House, London.January 1st, 1930.
It wasn’t until the Summer of 1934 that Cissie met the Sultan of Johor whilst he was staying at the Grosvenor House Hotel. The hotel, on Park Lane, opened on 14th May, 1929 following extensive refurbishment. It was particularly popular with aristocrats, foreign dignitaries, entertainment stars and any wealthy individual who could afford the hefty room tariff. Everyone important in 1930’s society, stayed at the hotel.
From left to right, Lady Milbank, famous actor Charles Chaplin, Prince of Wales and Duchess of Sutherland attend the Charity ball for the benefit of British hospitals at Grosvenor House on November 19th, 1931.
The Grosvenor House Hotel was designed in a quintessential British style aimed predominantly at the American market. There were 472 bedrooms and it was the first hotel in London to have a bathroom in every bedroom and the first in Europe to have iced running water in every bathroom.
A six guinea suite at the Savoy Hotel in London. March 1st, 1939.
Other luxury London hotels also competing for wealthy guests at this time included: Claridges (1927, interior design by Basil Ionides (1884-1950)); the Savoy Hotel and Theatre (1929, Basil Ionides) and Strand Palace Hotel (1930, architect Oliver Bernard (1881-1939)).
The Sultan of Johor delighted in the comforts of London society. He liked high-living and loved the bright lights of both Paris and London. When in London, he would often lavish his vast income on dancing girls. However, Cissie was not the only theatrical to catch the Sultan’s eye. In the early 1900s, he fell in love with a former Gaiety girl called Nellie. In 1906, he brought Nellie £30,000 worth of jewels as well as a lease on a mansion at 34 Park Lane.
The Sultan was a regular guest at the Grosvenor Park Hotel, spending long periods of time there where he had his own hotel suite. The Sultan also spent his final years at the hotel, watching television in his suite. He died there on 18th May, 1959. In fact the Sultan’s father, Abu Baker (1833-1895), also died in a London hotel, Bailey’s in Kensington.
The 94 year old Sultan of Johor pictured with his wife and daughter arriving at Tilbury, on the P&O Liner ‘Himalaya’, England, June 2nd 1958.
The Sultan of Johor (1873-1959)
Sultan Ibrahim was born on 17th September, 1873. His mother, Zubaida binti Abdullah (née Cecilia Catharina Lange 1849-1936) was of Danish Eurasion descent and the 2nd wife (m. 1870) of Abu Baker. Abu ruled Johor from 1862, as Maharaja from 1868 and as Sultan from 1886 until his death in 1895.
Sultan Ibrahim’s father, Abu Baker, was a self-confessed Anglophile who modelled his tastes and habits on that of a typical English gentleman. He was a well-known figure in diplomatic circles as well as London society and fostered close friendships with European aristocracy, including Queen Victoria (1819-1901).
Sultan Ibrahim’s father, Abu Baker as depicted in Vanity Fair, January 1st, 1891.
Abu had an allegiance to the British government and Crown but later in his life many civil servants considered him to be ‘pretentious’ and ‘an unreliable potentate.’ Some of this friction may have been caused by his long absences on overseas jaunts and often unfavourable attention he attracted from the foreign press about his private life.
Abu Baker enjoyed the company of women, particularly European women (a trait Ibrahim went on to inherit from his father). On one particular occasion in 1893/4, Abu was sued by Jenny Mighell from Brighton for breach of promise to marry. Abu had courted Miss Mighell under the name ‘Albert Baker’ but during the relationship she discovered ‘Albert Baker’s’ true identity.
Miss Mighell subsequently lodged papers with the British Court in which she declared that Abu/Albert had failed to make good on his promise of marriage. Her claims were dismissed on the grounds that Abu was not subject to British jurisdiction therefore could not be sued under its laws for breach of contract. All this negative publicity proved rather unsavoury for both Abu and the British government.
Sultan Ibrahim was educated privately in Britain and went on to inherit the sultanate in November 1895, aged 22. Like his father, Ibrahim enjoyed the company of women and loved British culture, excelling at cricket, tennis, horse riding and game hunting. Indeed, he even presented pairs of tigers to London Zoo and was a Fellow of Scotland’s Zoological Society.
In Malaya he kept kennels, stables and planted a garden of English roses. He was a bit of a ‘petrolhead’, pioneering motoring in his homeland and where he could often be seen whizzing along the road like Toad of Toad Hall!
Sultan Ibrahim remained faithful to Britain throughout his life and in 1935, on King George V’s (1865-1936) Silver Jubilee, he donated £500,000 towards British defence (nearly £32million in today’s money!). In his palace at Woodneuk in Malaya, he kept a life-size portrait of Queen Victoria (inherited from his father) as well as paintings of other members of the British royal family.
Although he resisted many aspects of British officialdom, he was a strong supporter of British relations. The British establishment also awarded him several honours including, an honorary GSMG (1916), an honorary GBE (1935) and in 1947 was made an honorary major-general in the British Army.
Ibrahim was an imposing figure, a large athletic man with features inherited from his Scandinavian grandfather and Malay and Bugis ancestors. As was common amongst Malayan men, the Sultan had gold teeth inset with small diamonds. The popular press often referred to the Sultan as the ‘Playboy of the East’. He loved life, lavish parties and world travel.
In 1938, Time magazine described Sultan Ibrahim as:
Wealthy, virile, tiger-hunting Sultan of Johor, who was an oriental potentate, is entitled to have at least one attractive British woman staying at his palace on approval. His Highness, while making a round-the-world tour in 1934, was photographed in Hollywood with Mae West, and was the guest in Washing of Mr and Mrs Franklin D. Roosevelt
(Time magazine, 8.8.1938)
Despite his playboy ways, the Sultan possessed an astute political brain, like his father. Like his father, he was prone to bouts of self-indulgence, unpredictability, arguing a lot with his sons. He had 4 sons (1 died in infancy) and one daughter.
Cissie Hill and The Sultan of Johor – Star-Crossed Lovers
Cissie met Sultan Ibrahim in the Summer of 1934 (although it may have been in September 1935, exact meeting dates are disputed) at the Grosvenor House Hotel whilst he was still married to his 5th wife, Sultana Helen Ibrahim.
Cissie was a striking young woman with platinum blonde hair. He brought Cissie expensive jewellery, built her houses and provided her with an income. The British establishment did not approve of Ibrahim’s relationship with the glamorous showgirl and tried to dissuade him from marrying her.
The couple managed to keep their relationship/affair relatively low-key until 1937, when the house in Herne Bay (Mayfair Court) that Sultan Ibrahim had brought Cissie, was broken into. Burglars stole a safe and £5,000 worth of jewels from the property, 2 pieces missing were inscribed “with all my love S.I. “[S.I. = Sultan Ibrahim].
Speculation began to mount that these valuables were possibly part of Cissie’s wedding jewellery. Amongst the stolen items were a Sunray tiara, ropes of exquisite pearls, collars of diamonds and emeralds, wide diamond bracelets of the highest quality.
The burglary hastened the end of Ibrahim’s marriage to Helen, newspapers around the world had a field-day! Finally, on 31st December, 1937 he was finally granted a divorce. Following his divorce from Helen he went to Ceylon and reacquainted with Cissie who was on holiday there with her mother. All 3 of them toured Sumatra and then flew to Singapore on 27th May, 1938, en-route to Johor.
Divorce in 1930s Britain
In 1930’s Britain, it was possible to divorce your spouse, however, the process was by no means easy. English law did not allow for divorce by mutual consent, but rather required proof of adultery, or violence by one party. If either parties ‘colluded’ in order to obtain their divorce, the couple would both be refused a divorce as punishment. Collusion was strictly prohibited and perjury a criminal offence.
However, couples desperate to go their separate ways did find a way around these strict regulations. Either one of the couple (usually but not always the man), pretended to commit adultery. The ‘adulterer’ would travel to a seaside resort for a ‘dirty weekend’. His/her companion would be either a friend or unattached individual, also in on the act.
Once the ‘couple’ arrived at their hotel they would make sure that they were seen by as many people as possible, particularly the hotel’s chambermaid when she brought to their room bed! This type of charade was known as gathering ‘hotel evidence’ and witnesses who had seen the couple together would be called to give evidence in court at the divorce trial.
Ibrahim did have to resort to such measures as this, his position as a high-ranking foreign dignitary meant he could set his own rules. The Sultan was able to divorce Helen in 1937 after first having passed a Special Marriage Dissolution Act by the Johor State Council in order to make the end of the marriage legal.
Mayfair Court, Herne Bay – A Deco Moderne treasure
BBC Inside Out South East, ‘Sultan and The Showgirl’ documentary. Mayfair Court is featured 2 minutes 20 seconds in.
Sultan Ibrahim commissioned a stunning Deco Moderne house for Cissie and her parents at number 2 Clifftown Gardens, Westcliff, Herne Bay. Completed in 1935, ‘Mayfair Court’ still survives today (see documentary) with its blue and white colour scheme.
Cissie was executive owner of Mayfair Court and the two Deco houses at 139 and 141 Grand Drive. She also purchased a number of wide plots in Clifftown Gardens and Grand Drive. When it was first built, Mayfair Court also had a greenhouse (south-western corner) and a concrete tube air-raid shelter, possibly a Stanton shelter.
In 1937, steps and a bedroom were added over the garage to the south end of the property. Cissie lived at Mayfair Court, with her mother, until she died in 1940. Her father, George Hill, also lived there between 1935 and 1937.
1930s British Seaside Architecture
1930’s Britain was an exciting place to be if you were an architect. The pre-war housing boom was in full-swing and Mayfair Court was one of the new style of modern houses being built in Herne Bay. The south coast region of Britain had pockets of similar style, gleaming white villas.
These concrete and steel properties featured radius bay windows, glamorous balconies, nautical flourishes, Crittall window design, stepped stucco door/window surrounds, plenty of glass brick to encourage the sun and light to stream through and illuminated the interior. Some fine examples of this type of architecture exist in Kent (Cliftonville, Margate – Walpole Bay Hotel), Sussex (Grand Ocean Hotel, De La Warr Pavillion), Hampshire (Saltdean Lido and Hilsea Lido).
Mayfair Court is a beautiful example of Deco Moderne architecture, not Art Deco as it is often incorrectly referred. The ‘Moderne’ was actually an American re-invention of Art Deco. Moderne and Deco Moderne buildings embraced all the glamour and modernity of a Hollywood film set (see the work of MGM Art Director, Cedric Gibbons (1893-1960), particularly his set designs for Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Grand Hotel (1932) and Dinner at Eight (1933)).
Gibbons and Del Rio’s LA home (Kingman Avenue, Santa Monica Canyon). There are many similarities between this property and Cissie’s home, Mayfair Court. Both ooze Hollywood glamour. These are homes to see and be seen in, show properties, balconies to pose on and a crisp white and blue colour scheme as backdrop. Mayfair Court would have certainly stood-out from other pre-war modern houses being built in Herne Bay.
Wealthy, upper middle-class, aristocrats and upwardly mobile Britons, favoured Deco Moderne, over Art Deco or Modernist architecture. Art Deco, by the 1930s, had taken on so many variations it was almost unrecognisable from its original 1920s form. Early Art Deco commercial and domestic architecture was, for many traditionalists/fashionable sorts, a tad vulgar with its busy, geometrical shapes and bright colours. An excellent example of early 1930s commercial Art Deco architecture is The Hoover Building, Ealing, London.
It is no surprise that the Sultan should commission Mayfair Court to be designed in the stylish and glamorous Deco Moderne style. The overall effect is a convergence of both masculinity (polished interior surfaces, wooden finishes, monochromatic colour schemes) and femininity (sensuous curves both inside and out as well as elegance of form). Moderne was not as elitist or conservative as Modernism or the Modern style.
The Moderne managed to bridge the hiatus between masculine and feminine cultures. It was a style less purist and less radical but nonetheless fashionable and fun to live in. Many Deco Moderne villas built along the British coastline were commissioned as weekend or holiday homes. Further examples can be found in Essex (Silver End, 1927-8), Holland-on-Sea, Frinton-on-Sea, Hadleigh and Westcliff-on-Sea. Sandbooks in Poole also has some stunning examples of this style of architecture.
NB Mayfair Court is a private residence. Should you decide to visit the property, please remember to respect the owner’s privacy.
Cissie’s Tragic Death in 1940
Miss Hill brought an influence into my life which can never be replaced and which I never wish to forget.
(Sultan Ibrahim quoted in the Sunday Mirror, 10.11.1940)
The Battle of Britain began on 10th July, 1940 and lasted until 31st October, 1940. On the morning of Friday 11th October, 1940, Cissie drove to Canterbury to buy a wedding present for a friend. She first called to pick-up her friend, Miss Margaret (Peggy) K. Clark, at 10.15am.
Upon arrival in Canterbury the pair visited a shop in Burgate Street, Cissie then went to a furrier’s and her friend went on to another store. During an Air Raid, the furrier’s took a direct hit, whilst Cissie was looking at a rug, she was killed instantly. According to local newspaper reports on the bombings in Canterbury that day:
It landed on a well-known furrier’s store, the owner of which together with assistants and customers, were killed. In the bookshop next door, one of the lady partners lost her life. She and another woman were blown clean through into the next shop, that of a tailor, who with an assistant, saved themselves by crouching in a cupboard. The tailor was cut by flying glass. His daughter’s fate was for some time in doubt, but cries for help led rescuers to the cellar into which she had been trapped. She was extricated unhurt through the pavement grating.
(The Kentish Gazette, 19.10.1940)
The Sultan and Cissie’s mother identified her body which had been so badly injured that a positive identification was only able to be made because Cissie was wearing jewellery that the Sultan had given her.
Cissie’s funeral took place at St. John’s Church, Brunswick Square, prior to the interment at the Cemetery, Eddington. The Sultan did not attend the funeral but sent a beautiful floral tribute wreath which was laid in the grave with the coffin.
Good-natured, she [Cissie] gave support to charitable objects and other causes, and she was the means of bringing happiness to people in straitened circumstances.
(Herne Bay Press, 19.10.1940)
Had Cissie married the Sultan, she would have been his 6th wife and known as ‘Her Highness Lady Lydia Ibrahim, Sultanah of Johor’. Such was his grief, the Sultan rarely spoke of Cissie ever again. He moved on in his personal life extremely quickly (much to the distress of Cissie’s family!), marrying his 6th wife, Marcella Mendl, (1915-1982), a young Romanian Red Cross flag seller, before the end of 1940 following a whirlwind romance.
On her death, Cissie left an estate of £16,970 (approximately half a million pounds in today’s money). There was no will.
The 6 Official Wives of The Sultan of Johor
Sultan Ibrahim’s private life was peppered with scandal. He had 6 official wives, 4 of whom became Sultanahs of Johor and two of his wives were of European descent:
1st wife = Maimuna (1876-1909) – married in Singapore 5th October, 1892, aged 19;
2nd wife = Ruqaiya (1880-1926) – married in 1897, aged 24;
3rd wife = Hasana (b. 1877);
4th wife = Intan (d. 1958);
5th wife = Helen Bartholomew Wilson (1889-1978) Scottish. Mrs Wilson’s husband had been a physician in Johor (Dr William Brockie Wilson – a Malayan born Scot). Following a divorce from her doctor husband, she married the 57 year old Sultan in a London Registry followed by a religious ceremony at a Surrey mosque, 15th October, 1930. Their wedding reception was a small affair, 6 guests attending a private dinner at Grosvenor House Hotel. The Sultan insisted that Helen be recognised as Sultanah, she was known as Her Highness Sultanah Helen Ibrahim. In 1935 (the 40th year of his reign), he had his palace, Woodneuk (originally built by his father c.1875), completely rebuilt for his new wife. In the same year, he put her picture, together with his own on a Johor postage stamp as a gift to her on their fifth wedding anniversary. Because Helen had lived in Malaya she was familiar with its culture and customs. When she married the Sultan, she fully embraced life in Malaya, speaking conversational Malay and often seen outside the home which was unusual for ordinary Malay women. The couple were sufficiently prestigious to be invited to the coronation of King George VI (1895-1952) in 1937 (he also rode in the carriage procession at Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953 with his 6th wife). The couple rode in the carriage procession to Westminster Abbey and stayed at the Grosvenor House Hotel. The Sultan divorced Helen on 31st October, 1937 in London. He agreed a divorce settlement of £5,000 per annum and she was allowed to keep her jewellery (not the crown jewels) which were worth £25,000;
Marriages between white, respectable, English women and members of overseas ruling families rarely attracted much criticism in the 1930s. Examples of inter-racial marriages in this period include: Mollie Elsip and Prince Ali Khan of Jaora (1930, Woking mosque), Elizabeth Louise Mackenzie and ‘Pathan Chieftain’, Syed Abdullah.
The Sultan with his 5th wife, Mrs Helen Wilson, during a visit to Berlin in July/August, 1931.
The Sultan of Johor with his 5th wife, Mrs Helen Wilson (1889-1977) whom he divorced on 31st December, 1937.
6th wife = Marcella Mendl (1915-1982) – a young Romanian Red Cross flag seller whom he met in 1940, whilst she was sheltering at the Grosvenor House Hotel during an Air Raid. Marcella converted to Islam and was known as Lady Marcella Ibrahim (1940–1955) and Her Highness Sultana Fawzia binti ‘Abdu’llah (1955–1982). He married her in 1940, when he was 67. In 1941, when Marcella and her new husband arrived for the first-time in Johor, the Daily Mercury (20.1.1941) described her thus: ‘Lady Marcella Ibrahim wore to arrive in Johor, navy jersey crepe dress with a tucked centre panel of turquoise blue, an off the face hat with heart-shaped crown, trimmed with matching blue. Diamond necklet. Black antelope bag and gloves, black ankle-strap shoes, ash-blonde hair, 2 soft rolls above each ear and curled softly on the nape of her neck.’ Marcella spoke German, Malay, French and English. She outlived the Sultan by 23 years and they had one daughter (b. 1950);
British Pathé silent film ‘Sultan of Johor’s Birthday Party’ (1946). Showing the Sultan and his 6th and final wife, Sultanah Marcella, enjoying the ruler’s 73rd birthday (begin 1 min 10 secs in to see the couple). Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
Edited by Kathryn, Code Name Pauline is a fascinating memoir of World War II Special Operations Executive (SOE), Pearl Witherington Cornioley CBE (1914-2008). I do hope that you enjoy this feature article about Code Name Pauline, it has been a pleasure to write this review, it is an excellent book and fitting tribute to a remarkable heroine of World War II.
The SOE was officially disbanded on January 15th, 1946 on orders from the new prime minister, Clement Attlee (1883-1967). All personnel files were sealed until 2004, 4 years before Pearl’s death and less than 10 years before the publication of Code Name Pauline.
I don’t like blowing my own trumpet. I find it really difficult, but at the same time I want people to know what really happened.
(Pearl Witherington Cornioley)
What you hold in your hand is not a history book. It is a piece of history. History books are often written by people who were not there. This is the testimony of someone who not only was there but who actively participated in what happened… Pearl Witherington was an agent of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a British wartime organization that secretly trained and sent agents into Nazi-occupied countries during World War II.
Toward the end of her life, however, she [Pearl] began to feel that her story might be inspiring to young people in difficult circumstances. French journalist Hervé Larroque approached her in 1994 with the idea of writing her memoir, and as their acquaintance progressed she felt she could trust him to handle her story properly. He conducted multiple interviews, some with Pearl alone and others including Pearl’s husband, Henri Cornioley, from December 1994 through June 1995. The transcript of those interviews was published in French by Editions par exemple in December 1995, with the title Pauline, one of Pearl’s wartime code names….Pearl was adamant that her story not be altered, I have taken great care to change as little of her own wording as possible.
(The above extract was written by Kathryn J. Atwood, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013. ‘Editor’s Note’, pp. xi-ii)
Born Cécile Pearl Witherington in Paris on 24th June, 1914, the eldest of four daughters of an expatriate English couple. Pearl had a difficult childhood and limited early education, not attending school until she was 13. Sadly, Pearl’s father succumbed to drink and in order to support her family, she went out to work as a secretary.
When the Germans invaded France in 1940, Pearl was employed as a shorthand typist to the attaché at the British Embassy. She wanted her family to be safe and decided to escort them back to England, arriving in Liverpool, July 1941. Now living in England, Pearl joined The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (the WAAF) but found her role in the Air Ministry rather pedestrian.
I knew I could help in the war effort, even if I didn’t know exactly how things were going to work out. But I thought that I could be much more useful in France, pushing the Germans out, than in England doing paperwork. I applied to the Inter-Services Research Bureau via the head of the air attaché, who was a friend and my former boss at the British Embassy in Paris.
(Pearl Witherington Cornioley, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013, p.33)
In 1943, Pearl managed to persuade the SOE(F) (the division for French operations) to take her on, after all she had many of the qualities required for the role, a fluent French-speaker, plenty of common sense, could think on her feet and as it turned out, was rather handy with a gun!
Pearl’s timing in joining the SOE was fortuitous. From June 1943, SOE’s recruiting system changed to a more comprehensive, largely psychological, assessment process. Methods used were based on War Office and Air Ministry experience in acquiring officers well after the first rush of volunteers had passed. Therefore, under the new system, Pearl’s character, practical skills and varied life experiences, took on greater importance and this only served to strengthen her application. Both male and female applicants were always treated equally in the SOE.
The process of initial tête–à-tête was scrapped. Instead, candidates went before a students’ assessment board composed largely of psychologists, with whom they stayed for several days while their characters and capacities were thoroughly probed….
After the board, candidates were either sent on to paramilitary training or politely returned to the places whence they had come…Both private interviewers, such as Jepson, and the official board were prepared to treat women on a perfect equality with men. This was usual in SOE. The organisation was far in advance of the recent fashion; for clandestine purposes, there were several tasks that women would perform a good deal better than men.
(SOE: The Special Operations Executive 1940-46 by M.R.D. Food, 1984, p.60)
Pearl completed her seven weeks’ training in armed, and unarmed combat and sabotage and was soon on active operations in France. Pearl recalls:
….I spent seven weeks shut up in one of the special SOE schools. Training focused on the life of a secret agent and the necessary skills for surviving in France. We started the day with physical training at 7 am and worked until late in the evening. When they had finished with me I was exhausted…. Our training was very good on the whole. We were also sent to Manchester, in the north of England, to learn how to parachute. One of boys said to me, “You’ll see, it’s an extraordinary experience. you feel the whole world belongs to you.” But it’s not true! I was quickly back on the ground and second time I fell more heavily than the first, as if I had fallen 10 feet.
(Pearl Witherington Cornioley, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013. pp. 34-35)
Following her training and on the night of September 22nd/23rd, 1943, Pearl had to put her new skills to use when was “parachuted in” to France from an RAF Halifax, landing near Chateauroux, in the southern Loire. She was 29 years old.
After that, she [Pearl] lived an unusual life for seven months. Most of the time, traveling on night trains, she went to deliver messages, the content of which she rarely understood. She accompanied people as a guide, transported materials, and communicated back to London via coded radio messages. She was what was called a “courier.”
( Hervé Larroque, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013, extract from the ‘Preface’, p.xv)
As an SOE agent Pearl was referred to as “Wrestler”; her nom de guerre in France was “Pauline”; in wireless transmissions to Britain she was called “Marie”. Her false papers declared her to be the representative of a cosmetics firm, Isabelle Lancray, her backstory being that this was the firm that her future father-in-law had established with a partner. She joined the Resistance group known as “Stationer”. Her role was to act as a courier carrying coded messages.
The Stationer network was large and Pearl’s vital work with them cannot be underestimated. Throughout Code Name Pauline, Kathryn has written detailed text panels which help the reader contextualise Pearl’s memoir. These are very useful inclusions for the reader, particularly due to the nature of some of the historical intricacies contained in Pearl’s story.
Kathryn’s explanation of the Stationer network is particularly useful. Clearly written, the text cuts through the various complex strands of this subject and sets-out the key facts of this important movement in the history of French resistance. Kathryn writes:
The area covered by Stationer was large partly because it worked close and cooperated – liaised – with several nearby Resistance networks. Sometimes Pearl’s courier work overlapped with liaise work within these networks on behalf of Stationer. The Stationer network had liaised most closely with the Headmaster network, and a few months before Pearl’s arrival, Headmaster’s leaders had been arrested. Stationer filled in the gap, making the work of the already large network even larger and the trips for its couriers longer.
Although all SOE agents entering occupied countries acquired new identities – including a new name, a new personal history, and pretense of new employment- that they had to memorize until the details were second nature, couriers perhaps had an especial need of them since they were constantly out in public.
(Kathryn Atwood, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013, pp.49-50)
Whilst working in occupied France, Pearl reconnected with an old flame, Henri Cornioley, a Frenchman she had met before the war and they became engaged. They went on to work together in the Resistance and after narrowly escaping death in the summer of 1944, they both made it to England, marrying later that year on 26th October. They had a daughter together, Claire.
In 1945 pearl was appointed a military MBE and in 2004, at the British Embassy in Paris, the Queen presented her with a CBE. In 2006 Pearl was awarded her Parachute Wings, the insignia of the Parachute Regiment. Henry Cornioley died in 1999 and Pearl died on 23rd February, 2008.
Although aimed at young adults, Code Name Pauline is an inspirational book for anyone interested in reading more about a shrewd, intelligent, selfless and remarkable individual who served her country during World War II. Code Name Pauline also provides a brilliant, first-hand glimpse into a secret world rarely spoken about in public by those who were there.
I don’t consider I did anything extraordinary. Even today when people say, “You know, you did some incredible things, they weren’t easy,” I still don’t believe it’s true. I did it because I wanted to, because it was useful, because it had to be done.
(Pearl Witherington Cornioley, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013, p.153)
Kathryn lives near Chicago, USA but is a self-confessed Anglophile with a particular interest in writing about remarkable women from history. In Women Heroes of World War I, Kathryn writes about the extraordinary feats of courage and selfless acts of heroism shown by daring girls and women from around the world (including the USA, UK, France, Russia, Belgium, Romania and Australia) during World War One. Biographical profiles featured are brought to life through the use of engaging narrative, dialogue, direct quotes, document and diary excerpts.
Although Women Heroes of World War I is primarily aimed at the young adult market (12+) it will also appeal to the budding adult historian looking for a solid introduction to aspects of this complex period in world history. Parents of young adults will also enjoy reading this book.
The book is divided into four sections, ‘Resisters and Spies’, ‘Medical Personnel’, ‘Soldiers’ and ‘Journalists’. Women featured include: Edith Cavell; Louise Thuliez; Emilienne Moreau; Gabrielle Petit; Marthe Cnockaert; Louise de Bettignies; Elsie Inglies; Olive King; Helena Gleichen; Shirley Millard; Maria Bochkareva; Flora Sandes; Marina Yurlova; Ecaterina Teodoroiu; Mary Roberts Rinehart and Madeleine Zabriskie Doty.
On 12th October this year, it will be the 100th anniversary of the death of British nurse Edith Cavell (1893-1916). When war broke-out in 1914, Edith went to Belgium and treated injured soldiers whether they were British, French or German. She even hid nearly 200 British, Belgian and French soldiers from the Germans by keeping them safe at the nursing school and clinic where she lived.
Edith also ran a secret ‘underground’ group that helped Allied soldiers escape capture by the Germans and receive a safe passage to neutral Holland. She hid her private diary by sewing it into a cushion to prevent the secret of the hidden soldiers from getting out. Edith’s activities were eventually uncovered. In Women Heroes of World War I, Kathryn Atwood describes Edith’s arrest:
On the afternoon of August 5, officers from the German secret police – Pinkhoff and Mayer – arrived at the clinic and, after a thorough search, found a letter from Edith’s mother in England that had been transmitted after the occupation of Brussels through the agency of the American Consul. It was not much, but they used it as grounds for arrest. After unleashing a lengthy tirade intended to terrify everyone within hearing, the police took Edith to Saint-Gilles prison, where she was kept in a tiny cell and interrogated on three separate occasions. When she admitted that she had used the clinic to hide healthy Allied soldiers, the Germans realized that Edith was eligible for the death sentence. Under the German penal code, “conducting soldiers to the enemy” was considered treasonous and a capital offense.
(Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics by Kathryn Atwood, 2014, published by Chicago Review , pp.30-1)
Ten weeks later, on October 7th, 1915, Edith was tried and sentenced to the death. In the early morning of October 12th, 1915, she was executed at the Belgian national shooting range, Tir National.
Although some of the stories in Women Heroes of World War I are well-known, like Edith Cavell and Gabrielle Petit’s for instance, many are not quite so familiar to us, for example:
17-year-old Frenchwoman Emilienne Moreau (1898-1971) assisted the Allies as a guide and set- up a first-aid post in her home;
Russian peasant Maria Bochkareva (1889-1920) who joined the Imperial Russian Army by securing the personal permission of Tsar Nicholas II (1868-1918), was twice wounded in battle and decorated for bravery, and created and led the all-women combat unit the “Women’s Battalion of Death” on the eastern front;
American journalist Madeleine Zabriskie Doty (1877-1963) risked her life to travel twice to Germany during the war in order to report back the truth;
Surgeon Elsie Inglis (1864-1917) founded the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service and bravely stood up to the invading Germans while caring for sick and wounded in Serbia;
Flora Sandes (1876-1956) the only British woman to serve as a soldier in World War One. She enlisted in the Serbian army after working in the ambulance service that was the first volunteer unit to leave Britain. The Serbian army was one of the few in the world to accept women. She became a Corporal and then a Sergeant-Major.
Kathryn’s research is impeccable, the text is written with care, precision and flare, carrying the reader along on an enthralling historical and biographical journey. Drawing upon original sources, for example, documents, personal diaries, photographs and direct quotes, providing a glimpse into the lives of this pioneering group of women, a number of whom had a relatively short lifespan.
Each chapter contains background information panels providing further detail on key historical events referred to within the text (see below). A clever idea to embed this information within each relevant chapter, saves research time whilst you are reading. At end of each chapter is a ‘Learn More’ resources section with useful websites and suggestions for further reading. Readers will also find a useful ‘Glossary’ at the back of the book.
Interview With Kathryn J. Atwood – April 2015
What first inspired you to write about this incredible group of women?:
Actually, it was my editor at the Chicago Review Press, Lisa Reardon, who first suggested I write a sort of prequel to my first book, Women Heroes of World War II. I initially dragged my heels on the idea because the only heroines of World War One that initially came to my mind were nurses and while I was certain they’d been exceptional human beings, I didn’t want to write an entire book on women who played a single role.
But then one of our sons gave my husband an interesting Christmas gift: Flyboys, a film about some American pilots who flew for the French during World War One before the U.S. became officially involved. While it’s not exactly the Saving Private Ryan of World War One films, the excellent period details made me want to more thoroughly understand the war.
Then one night, after I’d initiated my search for women’s stories, I turned on the television to see Matthew Crawley [Downton Abbey] in that amazing replica of the Western Front. It was the first time I’d encountered Downton Abbey and it fuelled my determination to write the book. It also turned me into a Downton fan … although in my opinion that second season has remained by far the most compelling!
Whose story did you first discover?
I already knew the outline of Edith Cavell’s story but the second woman I decided to include was Gabrielle Petit. I discovered her through a query to the Ypres Great War Museum when one of their knowledgeable volunteers, Freddy Rottey, sent me a packet of English-language articles about Petit.
He admitted that most of it was hagiography, written shortly after the war, but reading between the exaggerated lines, I could tell there was a great story there. So I purchased more recently written French-language biographical materials and handed them to my Francophile husband for translation.
Why do you think so many of these stories have remained untold for so long?
Women’s history is like an iceberg: when a particular era has passed into history, all that’s showing above water, so to speak, are the roles that men played. Studying women’s roles lets one see what’s underwater, the entire mountain of ice, the entire time period.
And if the heroines of World War Two are hardly remembered, those of the first have been completely snowed under. World War Two is generally considered a more compelling study because of its element of good vs. evil. However, the World War One was fought and supported by young people of such noble aspirations and calibre, it’s not only shameful that their lives were destroyed in such devastating numbers but that their stories are not more widely known. I hope my book might help remedy that situation!
Which individual’s story has touched/inspired you the most and why?
Gabrielle Petit. Her early life was so chaotic and difficult she tried to end it. But while working for British Intelligence during the war, her passionate nature found a focus which resulted in a patriotism, so winning it resonated for decades afterwards.
She was beloved and mourned by Belgians of various ethnicities who generally couldn’t agree on much else. She also directly inspired Belgian resistance during World War Two: so many flowers appeared at the foot of her statue in Brussels that the Germans posted a sentry there! And Brussels native Andree de Jongh, having grown up on stories of both Petit and Cavell, created an escape network that rescued hundreds of Allied airmen during World War Two.
What would you say are the key character qualities that all of the women you have written about have in common?
The women in my World War One and World War Two collective biographies were compelled into action by powerful conviction and they had the courage to follow their instincts in order to find a way to do what they thought needed to be done.
If you could invite 5 of the women you have written in Women Heroes of World War I to a dinner party, hosted by your good self, who would you choose and why?
For elegant conversation, initially reserved, perhaps, but eventually taking a fascinating turn, I would invite Edith Cavell, Louise de Bettignies, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Helena Gleichen, and Madeleine Zabriskie-Doty. For a more animated, visceral conversation I’d choose Gabrielle Petit, Maria Bochkareva, Louise Thuliez, Elsie Inglis, and Olive King. I might decide to sit between the latter two as Olive King left the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, founded by Elsie Inglis, because she felt inhibited by the many regulations!
If all these women were alive now, what life lessons do you think they would impart to their female counterparts in 2015?
I find it quite astonishing that they enthusiastically supported the wartime causes of nations who were at that moment denying them equal rights and accepting their services simply because there was no one else to do the job! Perhaps they would have a collective message about seizing windows of opportunity and following one’s conscience.
What does history mean to you and why is it so important, do you think, to keep the past alive for future generations, particularly young adults, to discover?
While technology and societal norms change, human nature doesn’t. That’s why “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” A positive variation of that thought, and what I try to accomplish with my books is this: those who admire the heroes of the past just might become heroes themselves.
History is full of stories of people who made courageous choices in the midst of difficulty, who gave their time and effort – and sometimes their lives — for something higher than themselves. That’s inspiring no matter what one’s age but it’s particularly important for young people in search of something that matters.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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).
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.
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.
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.
An X-ray of LadyElizabeth 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.
“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:
‘Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint’ continues until 7th June, 2015. Exhibition opening hours are Monday-Sunday 10am-5pm, entry is free. Join the discussion about the exhibition on Twitter @WallaceMuseum #JoshuaReynolds or Facebook (www.facebook.com/WallaceCollection);
Together with Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), Reynolds established the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768. Reynolds was the RA’s first president until his death in 1792. On the RA’s website there a number of videos and further information about Reynolds’s time there. ‘On the Reynolds trail in the RA archive’ by Amy Macpherson (25.2.15): https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/joshua-reynolds-academy-archive ;
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!
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.
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)
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.
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);
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)
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.
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)
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.
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!
‘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)
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.
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)
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)
I was recently interviewed by BBC Inside Out (26.1.15 – 16 mins 10 secs in) for a segment to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Winston Churchill’s (1874-1965) death. Inside Out explored what Kent meant to Churchill as well as how he affected the lives of local people who worked for and met him. Churchill brought Chartwell, Westerham, Kent in 1922, the house became his lifelong family home.
Filmed on location at Hever Castle, Kent, I spoke to presenter Natalie Graham about society in 1965 Britain as well as Churchill’s painting legacy. We also discussed his friendship with John Jacob Astor V (1886-1971), 1st Baron Astor of Hever, a fellow politician, neighbour and owner of Hever Castle, one of the many Kent locations Churchill depicted in his art. Churchill encouraged Astor to paint, even giving him an easel as a gift. The easel, along with a paint-box and some of Astor’s artworks are on public display at Hever.
Occasionally with media interviews, one’s content is cut to the core and context of contribution gets lost in the editing suite. This article puts forward some of the fascinating points discussed during my original interview which sadly did not make it into the final edit. These omitted observations provide us with a fascinating glimpse into what society was like in Britain 50 years ago. Churchill’s death marked the end of the old guard and a turning point in the social history of modern Britain.
‘Churchill’s Funeral: World In Remembrance’ (1965) by British Pathe. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
On 30th January, 1965, Sir Winston Churchill’s State Funeral took place at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Churchill was the only commoner of the twentieth century to be given a State Funeral. Fifty years ago, many thousands of people, from banker to hippie, lined the city streets on a freezing cold Saturday. Millions more watched the event at home on their black and white television. Viewing this event as a grainy image would have only added to the general atmosphere of sombre reflection displayed by the viewing public.
In January 1965, there were 17.3 million televisions in private domestic households in Britain (Source: BARB), the same year approximately 16 million licences were issued. Television ownership had significantly increased since the previous televised civic event, the Queen’s Coronation on 2nd June, 1953. In that year, 13 million television licences had been issued.
A family watch television in their sitting-room. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
It was estimated that 350 million people worldwide watched the live broadcast of Churchill’s funeral. In the United States, although there was live television coverage, it had no sound. Viewers had to wait for the videotape to be flown back to New York where it was immediately transmitted to the public in full.
Twenty-four hours before the funeral, London appeared rather subdued, although underground trains were still running, there were no visible signs of an impending civic event. Unlike today where barriers are erected, roads cordoned off and a heavy police presence is the norm. In January, 1965, everything continued as normal with only a few exceptions, flags were flown at half-mast and lights in Piccadilly Circus were turned out after the funeral, a similar gesture to when Churchill’s death had first been announced a week before.
The window of Boots the Chemist in Piccadilly Circus, London, with the London Pavilion opposite, 20th April 1965. (Photo by Bert Hardy Advertising Archive/Getty Images)
After the service, Churchill’s coffin was taken by barge (the Havengore) along the Thames from Tower Pier to Festival Pier then onto Waterloo Station. The coffin continued its journey by train to Churchill’s final resting place, the Parish Church at Bladon, Oxfordshire. The interment was a private, family, affair.
People watch from their garden at Winston Churchill’s funeral train. 1965. (Photo by Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images)
The carriage that transported Churchill to Oxfordshire was a 1931, Southern Railway luggage van (n. 2464). It is now on display in the National Railway Museum, York to mark this 50th Anniversary. What interests me most about this carriage is, like Churchill, it had a long service history. During World War Two it transported vegetables and newspapers across the country. At the end of its life, this humble work horse was redeployed to perform one more public duty, perhaps the most important in its history, to deliver Churchill to his final destination on life’s journey.
Churchill’s coffin being loaded onto a train at Waterloo Station, London, before travelling to Blenheim Palace and Bladon after his State Funeral, London, 30th January 1965. The train was pulled by a Battle-of-Britain-Class locomotive named ‘Winston Churchill’. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
28th January 1965: Two members of the Womens Voluntary Service serving free cups of tea to the crowds of people queuing to see Churchill lying in state at Westminster Hall in London. The sign reads: ‘You’ve got a long wait. Free Tea! Or give what you can’. (Photo by Philip Townsend/Express/Getty Images)
My stepfather, who was working in Westminster at the time, paid respects to Churchill at Westminster Hall during his lying in state period. Dad told me that he and his work colleagues were expected to visit Westminster Hall, it was their civic duty, despite the tedium of queuing for hours on end, “at least we were given free tea whilst we waited!”, he remarked.
Many thousands of people also made the pilgrimage to London to pay their respects to a man who was so instrumental in freeing Europe from Nazi tyranny. In sixties Britain, a new generation of young people were now able to enjoy the benefits of living in a free and liberal society thanks to the sacrifices made by their parents and grandparents during World War Two.
My mother, a baby boomer, came of age in 1965. She remembers her family, neighbours and friends all watching the funeral on a black and white Bush television that had been purchased for the occasion. A number of the shops in her home town closed their shutters and a few shopkeepers put black crepe ribbons around their windows. Some employers also gave their staff the morning off of work to watch the funeral.
My mother recalls several older members of her parents’ generation wearing a black armband as a mark of respect, a tradition that had pretty much fallen out of favour with the public since George VI’s death in 1952 when this practice was commonplace.
Like so many who watched Churchill’s funeral on that wintry day in 1965, my mother particularly remembers the image of cranes along the Thames lowering their arms as the coffin, on board the Havengore, passed by. Although, this scene was orchestrated and paid for by the state rather than being a spontaneous heartfelt gesture from the ‘working man’. The dock workers who operated the cranes were actually paid to perform this manoeuvre. Some refused to do it as a point of political and personal principle.
‘A Year In Our Time’ (1965) by British Pathe. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
Churchill’s death marked the end of the old order and everything it represented, particularly Victorian conservatism. 1965 was the year that modern Britain began. Educational reforms gathered pace, new secondary modern comprehensives were created to provide a fairer system of learning for all. In hindsight, some educationalists acknowledge that the comprehensive system didn’t really work, it simply created a greater social divide within the secondary sector.
Labour MP Roy Jenkins (1920-2003) became Home Secretary in 1965. Jenkins immediately began to push forward with new legislation such as the abolition in Britain of capital punishment and theatre censorship, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, relaxing divorce law, suspension of birching and the legalisation of abortion.
The contraceptive pill first came to Britain from the United States in 1961 but until 1964 it was only available to married women for the sole purpose of regulating menstrual problems. In 1964/65 right through until the early 1970s ‘the pill’ revolutionised women’s (and men’s!) sexual freedom thanks to restrictions being lifted on the medical conditions for which the pill could be prescribed. Women could now take charge of their family planning, putting childbearing ‘on hold’ in order to pursue careers and educational opportunities if they should so wish. It wasn’t until 1974 that, controversially, ‘the pill’ became available to all women, for free, at family planning clinics.
‘The Pill’, 1965. A photograph showing a factory line of women packing boxes containing the contraceptive pill, taken by Chris Barham in 1965 for the Daily Herald newspaper. 8 million birth control pills were produced weekly at G.D. Searle’s High Wycombe pharmaceutical firm. This particular brand has the trade name ‘Ovulen’. The contraceptive pill was first distributed in Europe in 1961- recommended solely for regulating menstrual disorders in married women. By the late 1960s, however, ‘the Pill’ had come to symbolise social change, sexual liberation and women’s fight for equal rights. This photograph has been selected from the Daily Herald Archive, a collection of over three million photographs. The archive holds work of international, national and local importance by both staff and agency photographers. (Photo by Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)
28th September 1965: US actress Raquel Welch in London, in front of a poster promoting her latest film ‘One Million Years BC’. (Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)
‘Matchbox Cars’ (1965) by British Pathe. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
The Beatles go to Buckingham Palace to receive their MBEs, London, 1965. Film by British Pathe. Uploaded onto You Tube 13.4.2014.
In popular and consumer culture, 1965 was a landmark year. The Beatles film Help! debuted in London and The Sound of Music , directed by Robert Wise, was released. Mary Quant introduced the miniskirt from her shop Bazaar on the Kings Road in Chelsea, London. Sony marketed their ‘CV-2000’, the first home video tape recorder. Children’s toy ‘Spirograph’, developed by British engineer, Denys Fisher (1918-2002), was first sold.
Sony CV-2000 half-inch reel-to-reel videotape recorder. In 1965, Sony launched a domestic videorecorder, the CV2000, which would record a 30 minute monochrome 405-line tv programme on a reel of tape. It was very expensive (several thousand pounds in today’s terms) and complicated to use so it never caught on for home use. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images).
1965: A high street supermarket with shelves laden with tinned food. (Photo by Jackson/Central Press/Getty Image.
The 1960s was when supermarkets first appeared on British high streets. Customer self-service replacing shopkeepers in taupe overcoats (a la Arkwright) who individually selected and wrapped your purchases for you. Asda opened its first supermarket in Castleford, Yorkshire in 1965. Some might say that the supermarket concept, which began in this decade, altered the retail landscape of our high streets forever.
New range of central heating boilers, 1965. In a studio photograph, a model adjusts her new Autostat 502 model central heating boiler from the Victory range of gas-fired domestic heating boilers. (Photo by Paul Walters Worldwide Photography Ltd./Heritage Images/Getty Images)
c.1965: A housewife places a plate on the ledge between the kitchen and the dining room while her husband sits at a table in the dining room, England. The woman stands behind a stove. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Popular restaurant group PizzaExpress, founded by Peter Boizot, opened its first restaurant in London’s Wardour Street in 1965. Boizot was inspired by a trip to Italy and brought back to London a pizza oven from Naples and a chef from Sicily. Also this year, Kentucky Fried Chicken opened an outlet in Preston’s Fishergate, the first American fast food chain to open in Britain.
The scene outside Wandsworth prison the day after Ronald Biggs, one of the Great Train Robbers, escaped with three other prisoners. Biggs made his escape by jumping through a hole in the roof of the furniture van shown here, onto mattresses, and then out of the back of the van into a waiting car. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images).
On 7th January, 1965, identical twin brothers, Ronnie and Reggie Kray (1933-1995 & 2000) are arrested on suspicion of running a protection racket in London. On 8th July, Great Train Robber, Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Biggs (1929-2013), escaped from Wandsworth Prison having only served 15 months of his 30 year sentence. Biggs scaled the prison wall with a rope ladder and dropped down into a waiting removal van. He fled to Brussels by boat, then on to Paris where he had plastic surgery and obtained new identity papers. The following year Biggs arrived in Australia where he lived until 1970 when he fled once more, this time to Brazil, a country which did not have an extradition treaty with Britain. He didn’t return to Britain until 2001 where he was re-arrested and imprisoned but released on compassionate grounds, 6th August, 2009.
A search is carried out on Saddleworth Moor for missing children Keith Bennett (top right), Pauline Reade (bottom left) and John Kilbride (bottom right), October 1965. All three were the victims of Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The Moors murderers, Ian Brady (1938- ) and Myra Hindley (1942-2002) carried out their gruesome crimes between July, 1963 and October, 1965. Their victims were five children aged between 10 and 17 – Pauline Reade, John Kilbride, Keith Bennett, Lesley Ann Downey and Edward Evans—at least four of whom were sexually assaulted. The pair were arrested on the morning of 7th October, 1965. Their trial was held over 14 days beginning on 19th April 1966, in front of Mr Justice Fenton Atkinson.
On 8th November, 1965, The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act suspended capital punishment for murder in England, Scotland and Wales, for five years in the first instance, replacing it with a mandatory sentence for life imprisonment. When sentencing Brady and Hindley in 1966, the judge passed the only sentence that the law allowed: life imprisonment, the public were outraged.
Entertainment, Personalities, London, 29th June 1965, Five hopeful young women about to start rehearsals for West End roles in ‘Passion Flower Hotel’, L-R: Karin Fernald, Jean Muir, Jane Birkin, Francesca Annis and Pauline Collins (Photo by Bentley Archive/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
14th February 1965: Pop singer, pirate radio station operator and would-be member of parliament, Screaming Lord Sutch (David Sutch) dancing at the Black Cat Club in Woolwich. (Photo by Pace/Getty Images)
7th October 1965: Actress Britt Ekland sitting on the Mini her husband Peter Sellers (1925 – 1980) bought for her birthday, at the Radford Motor Company showroom, Hammersmith, London. (Photo by David Cairns/Express/Getty Images)
‘Diane Westbury is Miss Great Britain’ (1965) film by British Pathe. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
‘Avengers Fashion Show in 1965 – “Dressed To Kill”‘ by British Pathe. Uploaded by Vintage Fashions Channel, You Tube, 9.9.2011.
It will be seen that matters cycling occupy an important place in The Rambler. The cycle may be described as the key to the country. Certainly there is no way of learning and knowing the country equal to cycling. In fact without cycling we are absolutely at a loss to understand how the great majority of the dwellers in large cities in this Kingdom could see anything of the country except occasional flying glimpses of it from the train.
However, if a prominent position is given to cycling let it be distinctly understood that the paper will not be filled with cycle puffs and cycling advertisements, nor with accounts of runs by clubs of whom no one ever heard, nor with lengthy reports of the rulings of the various cycling associations.
Everything in The Rambler relating to cycling will be treated of only by experts. For example, in the first number will be found contributions by F. T. Bidlake, M. A. Holbein, and many other well-known writers. We need only mention that the paper will be edited by Mr Charles P. Sisley, the best cycling Editor of the day, and our readers will understand that any statements regarding cycling may be depended upon, as nothing will be allowed to appear on the subject which has not passed his very critical cycling eye.
(The Rambler magazine, Vol 1. No. 1, 22nd May, 1897)
Recently I got the urge to purge my vintage magazines and ephemera. Sorting my collection always takes twice as long as it really should, I stop to read all the advertisements, articles and classifieds just in case there is a great story hiding in the column inches. I came across a rather dog-eared but nonetheless charming copy of The Rambler from 22nd May, 1897, Vol 1 No. 1, first edition. A penny weekly magazine devoted to outdoor life and articles about cycling in the countryside feature heavily.
By the 1890s cycling had become extremely popular in Britain, particularly with women, as it offered them an escape from house and husband. This was also the age of suffragism, socialism and the civil rights movement. Many female campaigners used bicycles as their preferred mode of transport. The bicycle represented, freedom, mobility and independence.
Cycling, c1890. French illustration of a lady in ‘Rational’ cycling dress of knickerbockers and gaiters, giving her small daughter a ride on the saddle of her bicycle. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)
In my edition of The Rambler, all illustrations depict the female cyclist wearing long skirts, conservatively dressed, modesty preserved. However, in the 1890s, cycling for some women provided an opportunity to make a political statement via their mode of dress. In 1881, The Rational Dress Society was formed, spearheaded by Lady Florence Harberton (1843-1911), Mary Eliza Haweis (1848-1898) and Constance Wilde (1859-1898) (wife of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)). The Society’s mission statement read:
The Rational Dress Society protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly-fitting corsets; of high-heeled shoes; of heavily-weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible; and of all tie down cloaks or other garments impeding on the movements of the arms. It protests against crinolines or crinolettes of any kind as ugly and deforming….[It] requires all to be dressed healthily, comfortably, and beautifully, to seek what conduces to birth, comfort and beauty in our dress as a duty to ourselves and each other.
In 1892 free-spirited traveller and advocate of the outdoors, Miss Lillias Campbell Davidson, established the Lady Cyclists’ Association. Davidson was well-placed to head-up this new organisation and in 1896, her Handbook for Lady Cyclists was published. Previously she had written Hints for Lady Travellers (1889) in which she recommended the following dress code for ladies embarking upon cycling tours:
Wear as few petticoats as possible; dark woollen stockings in winter, and cotton in summer; shoes, never boots; and have your gown made neatly and plainly of flannel without loose ends or drapery to catch in your [bicycle]… Grey is the best colour, or heather mixture tweed, which does not show dust or mud stains, and yet cannot lose its colour under a hot sun.
Below are a few of my favourite quotes from The Rambler:
And she smiled sweetly: “How frightful I must look!” exclaimed the young woman cyclist who had fallen into a muddy excavation in the street. “You look,” exclaimed the panting but infatuated youth who had lifted her out, “like 150 pounds of extracted honey!”.
Queen Victoria and cycling: of the ladies in the Royal household Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Albany was perhaps the first to start the fashion of cycling, for in 1884 the Queen presented her with a valuable little tricycle, and displayed much interest in the course of instruction, which took place in the grounds. It is stated that Her Majesty, herself unable to resist the temptation, mounted in private and took a turn round her beautiful domain at Osborne.
A small but important matter: When having the bell attached to the handle-bars of a machine, be careful in seeing that it is within easy reach of your thumb without moving either hand from the grips. The bell should be rung without a moment’s hesitation if danger has to be avoided, and very frequently a second or two lost in reaching it, if near the centre of the bars, means a bad smash. A small bell again is not much good. It is better to purchase, within reasonable limits of course, a bell the clang of which can be heard without difficulty, instead of a tinkling little affair, the sound of which is drowned by the noise of ordinary traffic.
Formidable enemies of cyclists: The most formidable stinging insect in Britain is the hornet. Its attack is really extremely painful, but it is not very often encountered. Wasps are really more of a nuisance than hornets, for though less virulent they are more abundant, and will sometimes sting without provocation, being apparently subject to fits of bad temper.
Learn to ride with your mouth shut and breathe through your nose. To ride a long journey quickly and with comfort, eat beef steak and bread, taking no drink at the time. When very thirsty drink only hot tea, and take bread or toast with it. A good thirst quencher is to put the wrists in cold water.