Posted in Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, Historical Hair and Make-up, Museum, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War Two

Interview: Gloria Holloway From Vintage Hair Lounge

Glamourous vintage pin-up model, Miss Scarlett Luxe with the co-owner of Vintage Hair Lounge, Gloria Holloway. ©Come Step Back In Time
Glamourous vintage pin-up model, Miss Scarlett Luxe, with co-owner of Vintage Hair Lounge, Gloria Holloway. ©Come Step Back In Time

Southampton-based Vintage Hair Lounge, is one of southern England’s leading providers of vintage hair styling and make-up.  Founded in 2010 by mother and daughter team, Gloria and Sharon Holloway. Sharon originally worked as a top criminal barrister but retrained, in the early 2000’s, to work as a  hair and make-up artist in film, television and theatre. Gloria has been a hairdresser all of her life, spending many years as head of hair and beauty at Isle of Wight College.

Gloria and I at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Me interviewing Gloria at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers

In 2015, I had the privilege of interviewing Gloria at the vintage extravaganza that is, Goodwood Revival.  Gloria has had a long and illustrious career in the hair and beauty industry, spanning over 5 decades.  I am delighted to share with you here, highlights from my interview with Gloria.

In 1960, aged 16, Gloria began her training in historical hair and make-up for television at the BBC’s prestigious in-house academy. Gloria explains:

It was an excellent 2 year training scheme. We were taught to do everything ‘properly’, paying particular attention to historical accuracy and techniques. Unfortunately, in the year I finished my course, the BBC raised the age they employed training academy graduates, from 18 to 21. I was very disappointed that I couldn’t begin working for the BBC straightaway and would now have to wait 3 years to put my skills into practice.

However, this early setback didn’t stop Gloria from continuing with a career in hair and beauty. Returning to her family home on the Isle of Wight, Gloria set-up her own salon, with help from her parents. Gloria has fond memories of these early years:

We opened the salon in 1962/63. I really enjoyed working in a salon environment, chatting with customers and finally getting to use the skills I learned at the BBC. The 1960s was also a very exciting time to be a hairdresser. Hairstyles were changing so fast. Clients became more adventurous with their choice of cut, colours and styles. When I first started working, ‘beehives’ were very popular.

  • British Pathe film, ‘Luxury Hairdressers’ (1964). Uploaded to You Tube, 13.4.2014.

Gloria’s beehive updos are now legendary amongst her Vintage Hair Lounge clients. Quite simply, Gloria is the Queen of Beehives. Afterall, Gloria learned her techniques first-hand, back in the 1960s. In the last few years, Gloria has seen the beehive hairstyle make a comeback. This is thanks, in part, to being popularised by a number of celebrities from the entertainment industry.

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  • British singer, Amy Winehouse, performs at the Glastonbury Festival 28th June, 2008. AFP Photo/Ben Stansall. Amy’s iconic hair style was a modern-take on the 1960s beehive.

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  • British singer Adele was also a fan of the beehive hairstyle. 24th February, 2013. Credit: Jason Merritt.

At Vintage Hair Lounge’s pop-up salon, the beehive is still one of their most requested styles. Luckily, the team has Gloria’s first-hand knowledge of how to recreate the original look. Gloria advises that:

A traditional beehive doesn’t have a French pleat! A common mistake with modern-day versions. The hair should be smoothly swept upwards, blended at the top and sides, it should also be teamed with a fringe. Backcombing is the key to a really good beehive.

It was such a joy speaking with Gloria about her career, she is a remarkable lady with an indomitable spirit.  As a social historian, I had many questions to ask relating to various aspects of hairdressing in the latter half of the 20th century. Gloria explains:

Dressing hair properly was very important in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1950s, hats were worn high on the head with hair in a French pleat. In the 1960s,  Vidal Sassoon liberated women’s hairdressing.  Haircuts were less complicated and a modern-take on the 1920’s ‘bob’ became popular too. Hats were still worn in the 1960s but less fussy and not so old-fashioned. In the Swinging Sixties, young people liked wearing berets and ‘baker boy’ hats.  I used a lot of ‘Plix’ by L’Oreal setting lotion in the salon. I also remember creating the unusual ‘cottage loaf’ hairstyle quite a lot. 

Advert for Plix setting lotion by L'Oreal. The setting lotion of choice for professional hairdressers in the 1950s and 1960s.
Advert for Plix setting lotion by L’Oreal. The setting lotion of choice for professional hairdressers in the 1950s and 1960s.
Gloria Holloway creating the perfect 'beehive' hairstyle at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Gloria Holloway creating the perfect ‘beehive’ 1960s hairstyle at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers

When I teach 1960s hair styling techniques on courses at Vintage Hair Lounge, I am very particular about backcombing. Nowadays, backcombing is often taught incorrectly. If not done properly, the hair will become tangled and impossible to work with. Each section of hair should be backcombed in stages all the way from root to tip and in one direction. Don’t drag the hair. This method ensures that you create strength and structure in the hair. This gives you a strong base from which to build your style. Backcombing is important when creating 1940s Victory Rolls too. You don’t need rollers to create them, just backcomb, control and shape the roll.

Example of Gloria's technical expertise in creating the perfect Victory Roll. Model is Miss Scarlett Luxe. Goodwood Revival 2015. Gloria with one of her former students, Mellisa Holme. Mellisa was working at Vintage Hair Lounge's pop-up salon at Goodwood Revival 2015. Mellisa now runs her own salon on the Isle of Wight, Six Hair Studio and Upper Six, Ryde, Isle of Wight. ©Come Step Back In Time
Example of Gloria’s technical expertise at creating perfect Victory Rolls. Model is Miss Scarlett Luxe. Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

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  • Miss V. Neels of Southsea, Hampshire works on a model to create the ‘cottage loaf’ hairstyle during a teen hairdressing competition at the Park Lane Hotel, London. 25th April, 1960.

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  • British hairdresser Vidal Sassoon (1928-2012) creates a long bob with a soft fringe for actress Janette Scott (b. 1938). 4th January, 1963.

  • British Pathe film ‘Artists in Hair Styles’ (1962). Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.

Beehive hairstyles emerged in the late 1950s, peaking in popularity during the early 1960s. Although, according to trendsetting booklet, with it: trends for ’63 (1962) : ‘Out for the with-its are bouffants and beehives. Out, too, is back-combing: it’s harmful to the hair. In are blonde and light brown shades to tone with the natural look of the new fashions’ (p.19).

Also in the early 1960s, new setting lotions, hair sprays and colourants began to emerge for professional as well as amateur home stylists. Hair spray had been around since the 1940s but by the 1960s it was mass-produced and very cheap.

Colouring your hair at home, in a wider range of shades than before, also become a reality. I found a wonderful article, ‘What it’s like to colour your hair’, in my vintage magazine collection. The article appears in a popular British weekly, Woman, (11.3.1961). Unlike today, in the early 1960s, there were only 2 options for colouring your hair at home, temporary water rinses and semi-permanent rinses. Permanent tints had to be done at a salon.

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  • A selection of popular 1960s hairstyles. Images from my own private collection of magazines, Woman (March, 1961) and Woman’s Day (April, 1964).

The article in Woman magazine has the following advice for the home hair styling enthusiast: ‘Girls who “go a new colour,” say they feel new personalities too. It’s fun to experiment first with rinses, before going a new colour for keeps. Colour choice is huge….. If you want to dye, check that your skin-tone won’t quarrel with the new colour… check that your hair isn’t too dry…check that you can afford the upkeep…check that you and your hairdresser are the best of friends.’

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  • Gloria Holloway during the 1960s. All images courtesy of Gloria Holloway.

Gloria married in 1966. In 1969, Gloria was approached by the Isle of Wight College who were setting-up a new hairdressing department. Gloria explains:

By the time the college approached me, I was managing 2 salons on the Island. I thought that the new department at the college was an exciting development in hairdressing education. I had always enjoyed teaching in my salons. I accepted the position at the college, initially working there part-time. When I started at the college there as no in-house salon but eventually I set one up.  I was Head of Department and Head of Student Services at the college for 26 years.

Until the end of the 1980s, Gloria was the owner and innovator of 4 Isle of Wight salons (Marina Dawn, Monroe Hair). Today, Gloria is still a highly regarded lecturer and trainer in hairdressing, continueing to work closely with hairdressing training providers in both college and salon environments to improve industry skills.

Gloria with one of her former students, Mellisa Holme. Mellisa was working at Vintage Hair Lounge's pop-up salon at Goodwood Revival 2015. Mellisa now runs her own salon on the Isle of Wight, Six Hair Studio and Upper Six, Ryde, Isle of Wight. ©Come Step Back In Time
Gloria with her former student, Mellisa Holme, at Vintage Hair Lounge’s pop-up salon, Goodwood Revival, 2015. Mellisa runs her own salon,  Six Hair Studio and Upper Six, Ryde, Isle of Wight. ©Come Step Back In Time

Gloria’s passion for passing on her knowledge to the next generation of hair stylists has never diminished. Gloria now regularly teaches students about historic hair styling and techniques on Vintage Hair Lounge’s wide range of courses. Gloria tells me:

Hairdressing is a fantastic career! It allows you to be creative, meet new people and travel the world. It is never too late to master the skill. It is a wonderful thing to be able to make someone ‘feel good’ about themselves by simply doing their hair nicely.

Gloria's former pupil, hairdresser Mellisa Holme, creates the perfect 'beehive' at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Mellisa Holme, creates the perfect ‘beehive’ thanks to expert tuition from Gloria. Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Mellisa's client is utterly thrilled with her 'beehive'. Gloria's former pupil, hairdresser Mellisa Holme, creates the perfect 'beehive' at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Mellisa’s client is utterly thrilled with her authentic ‘beehive’. Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers

When Gloria and Sharon started Vintage Hair Lounge, in 2010, they had a salon in Southampton High Street but in 2012 they closed that salon.  Going forward, this enterprising and dynamic duo, now operate their business, predominantly, as mobile specialists and trainers in vintage hair and make-up. Their HQ is based at Southampton’s Solent Business Centre, facilities include an in-house photographic and training studio.

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That’s Solent TV, ‘Talk Solent’, chat show, pictured (L-R) presenter, Shan Robins, myself, Gillian Tully (CEO of Film Expo South), Sharon Holloway (Co-Owner of Vintage Hair Lounge). November, 2015.

There are many unique aspects to Vintage Hair Lounge’s business model. It comes as no surprise that education and training still remains at its core. Gloria and Sharon run courses for both professionals and the general public. Keep an eye on their website for forthcoming courses as they sell-out very quickly! Click here.

Sharon Holloway with model, Miss Scarlett Luxe at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Sharon Holloway with model, Miss Scarlett Luxe. Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Model, Miss Scarlett Luxe. Hair and make-up by Vintage Hair Lounge. ©Scott Chalmers
Model, Miss Scarlett Luxe. Hair and make-up by Vintage Hair Lounge. ©Scott Chalmers
  • ‘Vintage Hair Lounge to be stocked in the British Museum’.  Film by That’s Solent TV.  Uploaded to You Tube 20.1.2016.

Vintage Hair Lounge also has a sister company, VHL Distribution an independent cosmetics distributor based in the UK. VHL Distribution has recently formed new partnerships for distribution in Europe with Australian based brand Eye of Horus Cosmetics (Twitter: @eyeofhorus_mu), and French brand Féret Parfumeur (Twitter:  @FeretParfumeur) for distribution in the UK. Other heritage brands on VHL Distribution’s portfolio include: Papier Poudré Limited (Twitter: @papierpoudre) and Barba Italiana (Twitter: @barbaitalian #barbaitaliana).

©Scott Chalmers
Eye of Horus Cosmetics display. Goodwood Revival, 2015. ©Scott Chalmers

These beautifully packaged, extremely high quality, heritage brands can be found on-sale at vintage retailers, salons and barbers, museums and gift shops.  A selection of these products can also be purchased at Vintage Hair Lounge’s online store.

©Scott Chalmers
Eye of Horus Cosmetics display. Goodwood Revival, 2015. ©Scott Chalmers

Exciting times are ahead for VHL Distribution (see film above). The British Museum has recently selected award winning Eye of Horus Cosmetics to be sold in the gift shop, later on this year, during their major new exhibition, Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds which opens in May.

Regular readers of Come Step Back In Time will know that interest in Egyptology is currently at an all time high.  In July 2015, British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves, published 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.

©Scott Chalmers
Eye of Horus Cosmetics display. Goodwood Revival, 2015. ©Scott Chalmers

Continued interest in Egyptology ensures that Egyptian Revival products, such as Eye of Horus Cosmetics range, will remain popular with beauty professionals and the general public alike. It is interesting to note that Eye of Horus Cosmetics range of illuminating eye makeup is actually based on sacred formulas passed down from the ancient Egyptians.

Gloria Holloway at Goodwood Revival 2015. Model is Miss Honey B'Zarre. ©Scott Chalmers
Gloria Holloway at Goodwood Revival 2015. Model is Miss Honey B’Zarre. ©Scott Chalmers
Model, Miss Honey B'Zarre. Hair and make-up by Vintage Hair Lounge. ©Scott Chalmers
Model, Miss Honey B’Zarre. Hair and make-up by Vintage Hair Lounge. ©Scott Chalmers

Eyeliners in the range are all made with natural waxes and oils and the incredible organic Moringa Oil, a tell-tale product found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Check out the entire Eye of Horus range at Vintage Hair Lounge’s online store.

There are many ways to connect with Vintage Hair Lounge:

Gloria and Sharon Holloway in their pop-up vintage hair and beauty salon at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Gloria and Sharon Holloway in their pop-up vintage hair and beauty salon. Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

 

Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Decorative Arts, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, TV Programme, Vintage, World War Two

The Sultan & The Showgirl – A 1930s Tragic Love Story

Stills from BBC One's, Inside Out South East's 'Sultan and The Showgirl', 1930s set drama-documentary. I was an expert contributor. October, 2015.
Compilation of stills from BBC One’s, Inside Out South East’ s ‘Sultan and The Showgirl’, a 1930s set drama-documentary for which I was an expert contributor.  Broadcast, October, 2015.

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.

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On location with BBC Inside Out South East’ s presenter, Natalie Graham, at The King’s Hall, Herne Bay, Kent. ©Come Step Back In Time

For an excellent short-read about Cissie and the Sultan, check-out BBC article on the couple’s backstory, ‘The sultan and the showgirl: A tragic tale of star-crossed love’ (BBC 31.10.2015).

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Producer/Director Sam Supple (@SamSups) on set. ©Come Step Back In Time
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Behind the scenes on set at King’s Hall, Herne Bay.©Come Step Back In Time
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Still from ‘The Sultan and The Showgirl’, BBC Inside Out South East, October 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

Cissie’s Early Life in Kent

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.

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  • 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

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  • 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.

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  • 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.
What remains of the Pier Head of Herne Bay Pier. Viewed from King's Hall on the seafront, October, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
What remains of the Pier Head of Herne Bay Pier. Viewed from King’s Hall on the seafront, October, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

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.

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  • Herne Bay Pier today, view at sunset.

Herne Bay – 1920s  and 1930s

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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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).

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  • 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.

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  • A line of chorus girls in the cabaret at the Piccadilly Hotel, London. January 1st, 1930.

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  • Follies girls who are appearing in the Grosvenor House cabaret walk their matching Follies dogs in a London park on 19th April 1935. 

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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).

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  • 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.

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  • Sultan Ibrahim of Johor, 15th October, 1930.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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  • Bathers at Saltdean Lido, East Sussex, c.1940.

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  • Dolores Del Rio (1905 – 1983) Hollywood film star and wife of MGM’s Art Director Cedric Gibbons (1893 – 1960). An interior view of their Deco Moderne house, 1935.

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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.

Still from 'The Sultan and The Showgirl', BBC Inside Out South East, October, 2015.
Still from ‘The Sultan and The Showgirl’, BBC Inside Out South East, October, 2015.

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.

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Lydia Cecilia ‘Cissie’ Hill (1913-1940)

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.

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  • Sultan of Johor’s 73rd birthday (17th September, 1946).

    Still from 'The Sultan & The Showgirl', BBC Inside Out South East, October, 2015.
    Still from ‘The Sultan & The Showgirl’, BBC Inside Out South East, October, 2015.
Posted in Event, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Maritime History, TV Programme, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

V.E. Day 70th Anniversary – Memories From My Family’s Photo Album (Kent & Netherlands)

V. E. Day commemorative silk scarf. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
V. E. Day commemorative silk scarf from 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

70th ANNIVERSARY OF V.E. & V.J. DAY – UK COMMEMORATIVE EVENTS

Germany surrendered on 7th May, 1945, and the next day was declared V.E. (Victory in Europe) Day, ending World War Two in Europe. However, for many servicemen and their families, May 1945 was not their war’s end. The Allies were still at war with Japan but on the 6th and 9th August, 1945, the United States dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered, World War Two was officially at an end.

V.E. Day commemorative pins, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
V.E. Day commemorative pins, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 2015, Britain will be marking the 70th anniversary of V.E. Day Victory in Europe and from Friday 8th May 2015 there will be a three-day weekend of commemorative events across the country. At 3pm on 8th May, national two-minute silence will mark the moment Winston Churchill (1874-1965) broadcast to the nation the news that war was officially over. (Follow UK events on Twitter: @DefenceHQ – hashtag VEDAY70)

Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Souvenir V.E. Day brochure, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Victory souvenir postcard, 1945. Private collections. ©Come Step Back In Time
Victory souvenir postcard, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

One of the most poignant of these V.E. Day 70th events will be the lighting of a hundred beacons at various locations around Britain from Newcastle to Cornwall. In the skies above London, there will be an aerial display of Spitfire and Lancaster bomber planes, and cathedral bells will also ring-out across the country.

VE day party May 8th 1945. Cuckoo farm , Boxted , Colchester.  Victory in Europe day 8th May 1945. A celebration party at Cuckoo Farm near Colchester Essex England. party was held for the local community by the Joy family who owned the land . Mum in the middle of the picture would be waiting till August for VJ day and the end of the second world war. Colchester's new football stadium is at this location today. Image courtesy of Glenn Pattinson (Glenn's Flickr account is full of lovely heritage images, click here).
V.E. day party, May 8th 1945. Cuckoo farm , Boxted , Colchester, Essex. This celebration party was held at Cuckoo Farm (near Colchester Essex England).  The party was for the local community hosted by the Joy family who owned the land. Glenn Pattinson’s mother is in the middle of the picture, however, she would be waiting until August for V.J. day. However, for various reasons, her husband didn’t return home until February 1946. A lot of service people were kept in India after August 1945 because of the country’s internal religious and political problems.  The British Raj was coming to an end and there were increased social tensions. Colchester’s new football stadium is at this location today. Image courtesy of Glenn Pattinson (Glenn’s Flickr account is full of lovely heritage images, click here).

People are also being encouraged to organise street parties within their local community, similar to those organised 70 years ago. Although I am sure trestle and picnic tables will be employed in 2015 rather than dismantled Morrison shelters which were used in May, 1945! To help inspire you, I have curated a selection of ‘rationbook recipes’ from my own collection of 1940s cookery books. (Click here) I have also collated a Pinterest board packed full of inspiration to help you create a 1940s style look, for both men and women. (Click Here)

Souvenir invitation for a children's V.J. party, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Souvenir invitation for a children’s V.J. party, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother with her sister on the beach at Hythe, Kent, in the late 1930s. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother with her sister enjoying a fun-filled Summer on the beach at Hythe, Kent, late 1930s. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandfather (left) with a friend at Hythe beach, Kent before World War Two. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandfather (left) with a friend at Hythe beach, Kent before World War Two. ©Come Step Back In Time

 FAMILY HOLIDAYS IN HYTHE KENT, BEFORE WORLD WAR TWO

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Family holiday, bungalow, opposite Hythe seafront, Kent. Photograph taken after World War Two. ©Come Step Back In Time
Grandmother in the porch at the bungalow in Hythe, Summer 1956. ©Come Step Back In Time
Grandmother in the porch at the bungalow in Hythe, Summer 1956. ©Come Step Back In Time

Before war was declared in 1939, my grandparents enjoyed carefree summers in Hythe, Kent at the family’s holiday home, a bungalow located on Dymchurch Road, directly opposite the seafront. The bungalow still exists today, with its original name, but is no longer in our family.

The lady standing-up is my great, great, grandmother.  Photograph is dated c.1911.
The lady standing-up is my great, great grandmother Verena Chads (Nee Jennings) who brought the Hythe bungalow in 1929. Photograph is dated c.1911. ©Come Step Back In Time

My great, great grandmother (pictured above, standing) Verena Jennings (b.1864) cut a formidable figure. She was an educated lady of independent means with a portfolio of properties across London. She married into the Chads dynasty, an illustrious naval family but later divorced her husband, an unusual step for a woman in Victorian England. Her ex-husband later took his own life for reasons which I feel it entirely inappropriate to discuss on a public forum such as this. However, she did receive a substantial divorce settlement and lived out the rest of her days enjoying a comfortable standard of living.

Verena Chads (Nee Jennings) a successful businesswoman, my great, great grandmother. ©Come Step Back In Time
Verena Chads (Nee Jennings) a successful businesswoman, my great, great grandmother. ©Come Step Back In Time

My great, great grandmother did not enjoy living in London during the Summer months and decided to purchase a holiday home on the Kent coast which she could live in from Easter until September.  She had always enjoyed trips to the seaside during her childhood. In 1929, now in her 65th year, she purchased a new bungalow that had just been built on a plot of land not far from Hythe Ranges, on the Dymchurch Road. The bungalow was the first to be built on that plot and was sold by local Hythe estate agents C. R. Child & Partners , the firm still exist today.  Incidentally, it was one of the first sales that this estate agent made in 1929, their inaugural year.

My late grandmother in 1930s (Verena Chads' granddaughter) in the garden of the Hythe bungalow. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother (centre) with her sister and friend enjoying Hythe beach in the 1930s. ©Come Step Back In Time

Great, great grandmother named the bungalow ‘Multum-in-parvo’ which is Latin for ‘much in little’. The bungalow remained in the family until the early 1970s. Every Easter she would come down to her Hythe seaside retreat. Compared to her usual standard of living in a large, smart central London townhouse with servants, conditions at the bungalow were primitive and servantless.

My late grandmother in 1930s (Verena Chads' granddaughter) in the garden of the Hythe bungalow. ©Come Step Back In Time
Verena Chads’ granddaughter, my grandmother (1930s) in the garden of the bungalow at Hythe. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 1929, the bungalow had a large garden, no sanitation, an outdoor toilet, no electricity or running water (rain water was collected in a vast metal container and boiled for daily use). Perishables were stored in a meat safe, which was corrugated with a grill on the front, as there was no refrigeration nor suitable marble-lined larder at the property. My mother tells me that apparently it became a family tradition, started by great, great grandmother, to take oysters and a pint of Guinness, most days at 11am.

  • Guinness advert. A print from the Illustrated London News, 12th December 1936. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
My grandmother with her best friend in the garden at the Hythe bungalow. ©Come Step Back In Time
My grandmother with her best friend in the garden at the Hythe bungalow before World War Two. ©Come Step Back In Time

It was necessary to shop on a regular basis in order to eat fresh produce. A local farm in Palmarsh, close by the bungalow, provided the family with dairy products and the milkman called at the bungalow most days. A kitchen range was fitted after World War Two and in 1955, gas was connected to the property and finally in 1958, water and electricity. By the 1960s, basic mod cons had been installed.

1916 Swift motorcar similar to the one great, great grandmother brought for use whilst she was in Hythe. Image from my own private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
1916 Swift motorcar similar to the one great, great grandmother brought for use whilst she was in Hythe. Image from my own private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

The fishmonger and butcher also made home visits. Great, great grandmother grew quite friendly with the fishmonger which resulted in her hiring him as a chauffeur during the Summer months. She then brought a World War One Swift motorcar, although she didn’t drive herself, the fishmonger drove her around when she was at the bungalow. In exchange, she allowed him to drive the car for his own use from October until March. When she died, the fishmonger brought the Swift and continued to use it.

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  • 4th June 1938: A little girl at London Waterloo Station makes enquiries for trains to the seaside during the Whitsun Holidays. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Before World War Two, great, great grandmother used to journey down to Hythe from London Victoria on the East Kent Coach. She travelled with many of her possessions, including her beloved parrot. She would alight at Red Lion Square, Hythe and continued the rest of her short journey to the bungalow by train, alighting at Botolph’s Bridge, an unmanned halt close by. This halt opened in 1927 and closed just before World War Two in 1939, it didn’t re-open after the war. For a couple of years she travelled by train to Sandgate until it closed in 1931. The family also often made good use of Romney Hythe and Dymchurch light railway line (RH&DR) when visiting the bungalow.

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  • August 1922: A family paddling in the sea at Dymchurch, 9 miles up the Kent coast from Hythe. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
My late grandmother on Hythe beach in the 1930s.
My late grandmother on Hythe beach in the 1930s. ©Come Step Back In Time

RH&DR opened for public use on 16th July, 1927, when the inaugural train travelled from Hythe to New Romney. The 8 miles between Hythe and New Romney was covered in double tracks. In 1927, St. Mary’s Bay had its own RH&DR station known as ‘Holiday Camp’ due to its location near to several holiday and boys camps, popular in the area at that time. St. Mary’s Bay was known (and still is!) for its lovely beaches, perfect for bathing.  In 1928, the RH&DR line was extended to Dungeness via Greatstone, creating a main line ride of 13.5 miles.

My great, great grandmother's copy of Hythe, Sandgate, Folkestone, Dymchurch, New Romney Guidebook, from 1927-8. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
My great, great grandmother’s copy of Hythe, Sandgate, Folkestone, Dymchurch, New Romney Guidebook, from 1927-8. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

Another reason that attracted my great, great grandmother to Hythe in 1929 was its obvious potential as a popular, smart, seaside resort. During the 1920s Hythe had begun to invest in its tourist infrastructure and in May, 1924, the ‘Bathing Establishment’ had been converted into a restaurant and tea room, The Pavillion. It was then leased by Mrs Farmer and a music and dancing licence was granted.

Hythe has had a long history as seaside resort, emerging first in the Georgian period. In the Hythe, Sandgate and Folkestone Guide (1816) it was stated:

In the immediate neighbourhood of Hythe there is a pleasant walk called Marine Grove, leading to the sea-side, and another denominated Sir William’s Wall, where both visitors and the inhabitants frequently form agreeable promenades (especially in the summer evenings), and to which the refreshing coolness of the sea-breezes are extremely inviting…..

(Hythe: A History by Martin Easdown & Linda Sage, 2004, p.69)

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  • High Street, Hythe, Kent, 1890-1910. The High Street in Hythe contains the Smugglers Retreat (on the right) which was demolished in 1907. Popular belief has it that a light was lit in the projecting upper storey window to signal to smugglers off the coast that it was safe to land. (Photo by English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

The arrival of Hythe as a respectable watering place really began in 1854, when the Corporation opened the Bathing Establishment behind the sea front in South Road at a cost of £2,000…They [the baths], catered for the craze amongst the wealthy that the bathing in, and drinking of, seawater could cure all their ills. Indoor baths had grown in popularity as a more comfortable alternative to sea bathing whilst, unsurprisingly, the drinking of seawater was in decline in 1860. However, the recommended daily does for any partakers was 1/2 pint of seawater mixed with milk, beef tea or port wine….The [bathing] machines were hauled to and from the sea over Hythe’s steeply shelving shingle beach either by horses or by using a winch.

(Ibid. pp.69-70)

Views of Hythe from My great, great grandmother's copy of Hythe, Sandgate, Folkestone, Dymchurch, New Romney Guidebook, from 1927-8. Family collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Views of Hythe from My great, great grandmother’s copy of Hythe, Sandgate, Folkestone, Dymchurch, New Romney Guidebook, from 1927-8. Top: Military Canal, Middle: Esplanade, Bottom: Ladies’ Walk. Family collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 1938, Stade Court Hotel and Four Winds Restaurant opened on West Parade, Hythe. The buildings were designed in the fashionable 1930s Art Deco minimalist style popular at the time. Leisure facilities began to increase in town and on 26th May, 1930 the Grove Cinema showed the first talking picture. The cinema was nicknamed ‘The Shack’ on account of its appearance but closed on 1st March, 1958.

On 12th June, 1937 the Ritz Cinema opened on the corner of Prospect Road and East Street. Another Art deco modernist-style building which could hold 858 patrons. Canal Hall in Hythe was another popular tourist destination, this time for dancing, opening its doors also in the 1930s.

Hythe’s spectacular, Venetian Fête, was one of the highlights in the Summer season calendar (and still is!). The event takes place on Hythe’s Royal Military Canal. The first Venetian Fête took place on 27th August, 1890 on the suggestion of Hythe reporter Edward Palmer who thought a parade of illuminated boats on the Canal would be an excellent tourist attraction and a showcase for local trades.

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  • 5th September 1935: The ancient pageantry of the Cinque Ports, Councillor E C Smith, mayor of Hythe, sets out in his barge to welcome visiting mayors during the Hythe Venetian Fête at the Royal Military Canal in Kent. (Photo by Horace Abrahams/Keystone/Getty Images)

The event continued every year until World War One when it stopped and restarted again in 1927. Unfortunately, in 1927, there were complaints from locals who were unhappy about the 8 hour closure of the canal banks during the procession. The event did not take place again for 3 years but in 1934 there was a big revival and the annual procession drew large local and national crowds. The last one before the outbreak of World War Two was on 30th August 1939.

My late grandmother and her niece on Hythe beach in the 1930s, before war broke-out in 1939. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother and her sister on Hythe beach in the 1930s, before war broke-out in 1939. ©Come Step Back In Time
  • British Pathe film showcasing women’s swimming costumes from 1939. Uploaded to You Tube, 13.4.14.
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  • 22nd October 1938: Young Muriel Richards, just one of the children sent to Dymchurch in Kent in anticipation of the start of World War Two. The storm clouds are gathering in Europe and the Summer of 1939 was to be the last time my family holidayed in Hythe until 1946. The evacuee in this image wears a label round her neck for identification. Original Publication: Picture Post – Album Of A Teacher In The Crisis – pub. 1938 (Photo by Merlyn Severn/Picture Post/Getty Images)
My late grandmother in World War Two, with some splendid victory roll curls! ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother in World War Two, with some splendid victory roll curls! ©Come Step Back In Time
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  • 8th April 1940: Despite the war, painters brighten up the sea front at Folkestone in hope that there might be an influx of tourists during Summer season. Sadly, this frontline town struggled to attract the tourists as the war progressed. It wasn’t long before it became a militarised zone. (Photo by Arthur Tanner/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

HYTHE & SURROUNDING AREA DURING WORLD WAR TWO

On 3rd September, 1939, World War Two was declared. At the time 1,000 children were staying at St. Mary’s Bay Holiday Camp, near Dymchuch and had to be immediately evacuated. The Sands Motel in ‘The Bay’ had two large naval guns mounted on the front of it, pointing out to sea. The guns were disguised to appear like two adjoining houses having false roofs and wooden chimney pots. The defences along the sea wall were reinforced as iron scaffolding was erected and mines fixed to it. Both The Sands Motel and the children’s holiday camp took direct hits from enemy bombs.

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  • 1940, Kent. With the threat of German invasion imminent, a Coastal Guards detachment on the cliffs between Dover and Folkestone, are given a demonstration in the use of petrol bombs (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

During World War Two, Britain’s coastline was vulnerable to enemy invasion, particularly in the south or east. As soon as war was declared, beaches were planted with mines, barbed wire and other obstacles. Access to front-line coastal towns like Dover and Folkestone were heavily restricted.

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  • 1940, barbed wire defences on the coast of Folkestone and Dover (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Due to the location of my family’s bungalow, directly opposite the seafront on Dymchurch Road and close to the Hythe Ranges, this meant that visiting the property during the war was very much restricted. Definitely no holidays (the beach was out of bounds anyway!), local people and property owners had to obtain a resident’s pass to both visit as well as travel back and forth to their homes. My mother recalls that some of these visits made by her grandmother to inspect the bungalow meant that she had to be accompanied by military personnel to do so.

The Hythe Ranges have been used for live firing for nearly 200 years, they are one of the oldest ranges in Britain and are still used by the military today. There are two Martello Towers on the site as well as a “Grand Redoubt” fortification at Dymchurch which was built in 1800 as a defence structure in case of an invasion by Napoleon (1769-1821). During World War Two, the Martello Towers in Hythe resumed their role as a defence structure. They were used as look-out posts and armed with anti-aircraft guns and searchlights.

The Hythe School of Musketry, founded in March 1853, now known as the Small Arms School Corps (SASC). In 1939, the SASC took over responsibility for defences in the area:

A sea mine and boom defence system was installed in Hythe Bay and a minefield land on the seaward side of Hythe Gasworks. The beach was defended with a gantry of scaffold poles with attached mines and six-inch gun emplacements were located on the Promenade. Ladies Walk Bridge was demolished as a defensive measure, and others were disabled. The Royal Military Canal was enmeshed in barbed wire.

  • ‘Toy Train Goes To War’ (1944). Short film featuring the RHDR before World War Two carrying holiday crowds and then refitted for its important role in wartime when, according to my mother, one of the cargoes it transported was ack-ack guns. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014

One of the RHDR engines, Hercules, was converted into an armoured train using guns salvaged from crashed aircraft. As the threat of invasion loomed, the Small Arms School was largely exiled to Bisley. Hythe became a prohibited zone and could be entered only with a valid resident’s pass: The district south of the Royal Military Canal was cleared and declared strictly out of bounds.

(Hythe: A History by Martin Easdown & Linda Sage, 2004, p.115)

  • Troops stationed in the Hythe area have been provided with a novel leave train. Troops of the command travel to visit the cinema and join main line trains for home leave. (On the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway – Probably at New Romney, Kent) (Photo by Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)

Unsurprisingly, due to its frontline coastal position, Hythe suffered at the hands of the Luftwaffe. During World War Two, in total, there were 19 air raids; 2 bouts of shelling; 11 fallen doodlebugs; 20 civilians killed (3 by a bomb that fell on and completely destroyed the Arcade in the High Street, 4th October, 1940).  On 10th May, 1942, 2 people died when a bomb fell at the back of Trice’s refreshment rooms and on 21st August, 3 others perished when a bomb exploded in the air above Prospect Road and Bank Street. (Source: Ibid p. 115)

One of the worse instances of civilian fatalities took place on 15th August, 1944 when a doodlebug flattened numbers 1-5 Earlsfied Road, claiming 5 lives. In 1941, on the Hythe Ranges, close to our family’s holiday bungalow, 3 soldiers were killed by a bomb whilst practicing there. In April, 1944, all civilians (except those who lived there) were banned from sea by virtue of a 10 mile radius, this was enforced right along the coast of southern England. By the end of 1944, Hythe was a husk of its former self, battle scarred but nevertheless ready to rise again from the ashes and re-establish itself as a popular seaside resort once more.  During the war, many of its residents had boarded-up their homes and moved in land which created a ghost town in their wake.

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  • Evacuee Barrie Peacop enjoys an ice cream as he sits on a mine washed up on the beach at Deal in Kent towards the end of World War Two. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
In the Summer of 1946, my family were finally allowed to return to their holiday bungalow in Hythe. My mother was a toddler at the time and this was her first experience of the seaside. Top left she is pictured giving her favourite teddy bear a bath. Notice behind the garden boundary is covered in barbed wire, left over from wartime. The other 3 photographs show my mother on Hythe beach enjoying a splash around in the sea. ©Come Step Back In Time
In the Summer of 1946, my family were finally allowed to return to their holiday bungalow in Hythe. My mother was a toddler at the time and this was her first experience of the seaside. Top left she is pictured giving her favourite teddy bear a bath in the garden at the bungalow. Notice behind, the garden boundary is still covered in wartime barbed wire. The other 3 photographs show my mother on Hythe beach enjoying her first sea encounter. ©Come Step Back In Time

HYTHE & SURROUNDING AREA AFTER WORLD WAR TWO

Hythe, like the rest of the country, celebrated V.E. Day on 8th May, 1945. A Victory Party was held for local children at the Old Jesson Club, St. Mary’s Bay. Hythe Town Band played as part of the area-wide celebrations, having been disbanded at the start of World War Two following call-up orders.

My family were not allowed to return to their holiday bungalow in Hythe until the Summer of 1946. When they did, it was quite a celebration by all accounts from the photographs I have seen in our archives. Summer 1945, my grandfather was still serving in Holland (more about him in a moment), therefore the Summer of 1946 was the first time all the family was able to come together and celebrate the end of the war. My mother recalls that everyone travelled down to Hythe in April 1946, this month also happened to my mother’s 2nd birthday!

Summer 1946, my grandparents are reunited and enjoyed a wonderful Summer at the bungalow in Hythe, celebrating the end of the war and all the family surviving safe and sound. ©Come Step Back In Time
Summer 1946, my grandparents are reunited and enjoyed a wonderful Summer at the bungalow in Hythe, celebrating the end of the war and all the family surviving safe and sound. ©Come Step Back In Time

The above photographs show my mother’s first experiences of the seaside and playing in the sand. However, she informs me that she was less than happy with her first ‘dip in the sea’. Apparently, a soldier and his friend were walking along Hythe beach and saw my mother and asked if they could take her into the sea for a splash. My grandmother agreed, my mother was scooped-up and as they splashed around a large wave engulfed them all. Mother was really upset, bawled her eyes and the shocked soldiers hastily placed her down on the sandy shore. She is still terrified of water today and has never liked swimming since, only learning to do so when she was in 60th decade!

My grandparents and my mother. All safely reunited after World War Two and having fun on the beach at Hythe. ©Come Step Back In Time
My grandparents and my mother. All safely reunited after World War Two and having fun on the beach at Hythe. ©Come Step Back In Time
In the garden at the bungalow, Summer 1946. My grandfather is in the centre.  ©Come Step Back In Time
In the garden at the bungalow, Summer 1946. My grandfather is in the centre. ©Come Step Back In Time

My mother recalls that despite being allowed back on the beach in Hythe after the war, there were still many dangers present in doing so. Unexploded ordnance, debris such as rusty barbed wire and lots of fire bombs were common sights. Civilians were not allowed to walk on the Hythe Ranges for quite some time after the war and for obvious reasons until the sight was made safe to the public.

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  • 24th December 1945: A bomb disposal officer gently pulling a mine from the sea in Hythe, Kent. (Photo by Hamlin/Express/Getty Images)

In fact there was still barbed wire on parts of Hythe beach and by the bungalow well into the 1960s! Until 1971, just off the coast near Hythe, there was even a large piece of Mulberry Harbour wreckage that had broken-off in 1944. My mother tells me that this large piece of concrete and steel was the size of a small house.

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  • 24th December 1945: A bomb disposal officer with a mine washed up on the beach at Hythe. (Photo by Hamlin/Express/Getty Images)

Mother remembers that as she and her siblings grew-up throughout the 1940s and 1950s, discarded fire bombs and gun cartridges on the beach at Hythe were still a hazard. My grandfather insisted that everyone remained vigilant when playing on the shingle and sand. The more popular resorts in Kent, such as at St. Mary’s Bay and a little further along in Folkestone and Ramsgate, were first to have their beaches cleared of these hazards. It took a while longer for Hythe to be made safe.

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  • 13th November 1944: Authorised by the Town Council, the destruction of concrete tank barriers on the seafront at Ramsgate, Kent, finally begins. They are no longer necessary, and would only impede the return of the tourist trade. (Photo by Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
  • British Pathe film from 1964 featuring the bomb disposal unit operating along the Kent coastline, including Lydd, twelve miles along the coast from Hythe. They are clearing ordinance from World War Two.

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  • 3rd August 1946: The Marquis Trio performing on the sands near Dymchurch, Kent. Original Publication: Picture Post – 4152 – A Girl Drops Out Of The Blue – pub. 1946 (Photo by Merlyn Severn/Picture Post/Getty Images)

My mother remembers that holidays at the bungalow after the war until the 1960s were no-frills affairs compared to today’s beach holiday. Buckets and spades, ice-cream and swimming in the sea were the main activities. For the first decade after the war, people were still suffering the effects of rationing, money was tight and it wasn’t until the latter half of the 1950s when people’s disposable income began to rise. But these early years after the war were a time of carefree Summers, freedom to explore.

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  • August 1955: Holiday-makers on the beach at Dymchurch, Kent. (Photo by D. Peacock/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
My aunt and uncle standing in front of their dad's Ford Zephyr. Galleywood Common. 1955.
My aunt and uncle standing in front of their dad’s Ford Zephyr. Galleywood Common. 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time

In the mid 1950s my grandfather purchased a new, grey, Ford Consul 204E (MKII – 1956) which meant that getting to and from the bungalow at Hythe was now much easier. In addition, photographs in our albums from this point forward, show that Summer holidays based in Hythe now included day trips further afield to places such as Pevensey and Polegate in Sussex.

Family outing to Wannock Tea Gardens, Polegate, Sussex. 1955.
Family outing to Wannock Tea Gardens, Polegate, Sussex. 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time
My family at Pevensey Castle, East Sussex. 1955.  ©Come Step Back In Time
My grandmother, mother and great grandmother (Back, L-R) and my aunt and uncle (front) at Pevensey Castle, East Sussex. 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time

My mother describes this post-war period as a time of simple pleasures, children saving their pocket money and spending it on ice-cream and souvenirs. Her favourite purchase was a doll with a crinoline dress made out of sea shells. Afternoon teas were a treat, fish and chip suppers were the norm and if they wanted candy floss then a trip to Folkestone was necessary. In the 1950s and 1960s, seaside shows at either Hythe Summer Theatre in the Institute or Leas Cliff Hall Folkestone were also included as part of the treats enjoyed by my family.

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  •  A scene from the film version of Dry Rot  showing L-R: John Chapman, Diana Calderwood, Brian Rix, John Slater, and Charles Coleman (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

One of my mother’s favourite theatre trips was to see the play Dry Rot by John R. Chapman (1927-2001). This popular 1954 comedy, about dishonest bookmakers, was part of the repertory theatre in residence which ran over eight weeks at Hythe Summer Theatre in the Institute.

Grandmother (right) with her friend Rita in the garden at the bungalow in Hythe. Summer 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time
Grandmother (right) with her friend in the garden at the bungalow in Hythe. Summer 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time
Daughter of family friend with Inky the poodle in the garden at the Hythe bungalow, Summer 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time
Daughter of family friend with Inky the poodle in the garden at the Hythe bungalow, Summer 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time

After the war, St. Mary’s Bay became popular again with tourists on account of its long sandy beach and The Sands Motel was often booked-up for the whole season. My mother loved visiting ‘The Bay’ to have an ice-cream and also remembers going to Dungeness sometimes too, she said they put an ice-cream kiosk in there after the war. In the 1950s and 1960s there were a number of holiday camps in ‘The Bay’, including Maddieson’s Golden Sands. A friend of my grandfather ran one of these holiday camps after leaving the army. Kent, particularly seaside towns, enjoyed a tourist boom until the 1960s when the advent of cheap foreign lure families away to foreign shores. Britain can never guarantee a rain-free Summer but the Continent could. Many seaside towns struggled to keep going, became shabby and fell into decline.

My family on Hythe beach, Kent in 1956. The annual holiday to Kent was a favourite of my mum. Even Inkie the poodle (bottom left) came too. I think Uncle Victor might have had a few nips of brandy on the journey down, since he has decided to wear a plastic bucket as a sunhat. ©Come Step Back In Time.
My family on Hythe beach, Kent in 1956. The annual holiday to Kent was a favourite of my mum. Even Inkie the poodle (bottom left) came too. I think Uncle Victor might have had a few nips of brandy on the journey down, since he has decided to wear a plastic bucket as a sunhat. Grandmother (front row, 2nd from left), great grandmother (front row, 3rd from left). Grandfather (back row, right-hand side). ©Come Step Back In Time.
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  • 22nd August 1952: A boy dressed as Peter Pan surrounded by fairies floats down the Canal on a barge, one of the attractions at the Hythe Venetian Fête in Kent. (Photo by Stanley Sherman/Express/Getty Images)

During the war, no Venetian Fêtes took place in Hythe, the event restarted in 1946 but due to a lack of available materials to decorate floats there was no procession in 1947, it then took place annually between 1948 and 1954. My grandparents took my mother to the Venetian Fête in 1946 and each year from then on. The Fête would fall at the same time as my aunt’s birthday in August which made it an ideal family outing. From the latter half of the 1950s, it was then decided that because floats were expensive to decorate, Fêtes would take place bi-annually and this has remained the case ever since.

The Venetian Fête was always one of the highlights of my family’s Summer holiday. Even when the bungalow had been sold in the early 1970s, I remember still being taken to see the procession several times as a child on a day trip from our home in Battle and latterly Hastings. No carnival ever came close to the standard of floats that took part in Hythe’s Venetian Fête. In 2015, the Fête will take place on Wednesday, 19th August, 7pm start.

  • British Pathe film showcasing Hythe’s Venetian Fete (1960). Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.

The RH&DR re-opened in 1946 between Hythe and New Romney and in 1947 the Dungeness section was opened by Laurel and Hardy. The New Romney to Dungeness extension was only a single as opposed to a double track because of the shortage of materials after the war.

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  • Laurel and Hardy drive the inaugural train on the New Romney-Dungeness section of the line which had been closed since the start of the war, during the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway’s 21st birthday celebrations. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
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  • c.1956: The size of the Hythe ticket office of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway corresponds with that of the trains themselves. The line boasts the title ‘The World’s Smallest Public Railway’. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
My late grandfather, Sergeant Frederick Langley. I love this photograph because the crease across the middle is where my grandmother folded it in half and kept it on her person during the war. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
My late grandfather, Sergeant Frederick Langley. I love this photograph because the crease across the middle is where my grandmother folded it in half and kept it on her person during the war. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

MY GRANDFATHER – SERGEANT FREDERICK LANGLEY, 314th/29th AA BN ROYAL ENGINEERS, KENT

My late grandfather, Frederick Arthur Langley, was born in 1916. When World War Two broke out in 1939, he joined the 29th (Kent) Searchlight Regiment, a volunteer air defence unit of Britain’s Territorial Army (TA), established in 1935. During World War Two the unit was part of the Royal Engineers.

Grandfather with some of his unit in the early stages of World War Two. Location unknown but likely to be Molash, Kent, c.1941.
My Grandfather (4th from left) with some of his unit in the early stages of World War Two, before he became a Sergeant. Location unknown but likely to be Molash, Kent, c.1941. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

The regiment had its origins in a group of Independent Air Defence Companies of the Royal Engineers formed in the Home counties by the TA during 1924. My grandfather’s regiment was part of the 314th (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Company which was based at Southborough and later Tonbridge, Kent.

My grandfather in camp, c.1941. Location possibly Molash, Kent. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
My grandfather in camp, c.1941. Location possibly Molash, Kent. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

My grandfather’s decision to join this particular regiment may have been influenced by his own father’s military service during World War One. My great grandfather, Arthur Langley, had been a Corporal in the Royal Engineers.

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  • 27th March 1942: Anti-aircraft guns ready for action below the cliffs of Dover as warning is given of approaching enemy planes. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

The 29th Kent Anti-Aircraft command played a vital role in the Battle of Britain (10th July – 31st October, 1940) which was waged in the skies, particularly over southern England. The regiment’s searchlight skills also provided an important first-line of defence along the Kent coast during The Blitz (7th September, 1940 – 21st May, 1941).

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  • 1942: Anti-aircraft gun pits in the walls along Dover’s coastline. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
  • An array of army searchlights illuminate the night sky over London, in the hope of spotting enemy aircraft during World War Two.

In the Winter of 1944, it became evident that the German Luftwaffe was suffering from a severe shortage of pilots, aircraft and fuel meaning that aerial bombardment of Britain could pretty much be discounted. In January 1945, the War Office began to re-organise surplus anti-aircraft and coastal artillery regiments into infantry battalions, primarily for line of communication and occupation duties, thereby releasing trained infantry for frontline service.

In this re-organisation, my grandfather’s regiment became the 631st (Kent) Infantry Regiment, RA. On 22nd January, 1945, the 631st was attached to the 59th AA Bde, which became the 307th Engineer Infantry Brigade. After an initial period of re-training, the 631st was sent to North West Europe in April, 1945 to work under the 21st Army Group and SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) commanded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969).

On my grandparent's wedding day, 23rd March, 1940.  ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
On my grandparent’s wedding day, 23rd March, 1940. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
My grandmother's wedding dress, beautiful thick, blue satin, made by her best friend. My mother and I are currently restoring this dress back to its former glory. ©Come Step Back In Time
My grandmother’s wedding dress, beautiful, thick blue satin, made by her best friend. My mother and I are currently restoring this dress back to its former glory. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

NAZI OCCUPATION OF THE NETHERLANDS IN WORLD WAR TWO

Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10th May, 1940 and the Dutch armed forces (apart from those in Zeeland) surrendered on 15th May. The country’s sovereign, Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962) resided in Britain during the war and whilst in exile managed the Dutch government, which had also escaped there. It was thought the Netherlands would remain neutral in World War Two like it had done in World War One. Therefore an invasion by Germany and the suffering subsequently endured by many Dutch citizens, shocked everyone.

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  • Foreign Royalty, pic: c.1943, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, (1880-1962) Queen from (1898-1948) making a wartime radio broadcast while in exile during World War Two(Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

In 1939 there were 140,000 Jewish citizens in the country, 25,000 of whom were German-Jewish refugees who had fled Germany during the 1930s. Two thirds of the Jewish community resided in Amsterdam.  In the Winter of 1940, all Jews had to be registered. On 1st May, 1942 all Jews were required to wear a yellow star. Only 40,00 Dutch Jews survived the war and 75% of the Dutch-Jewish population perished, one of the highest percentages out of all of the occupied countries in Western Europe.

During the war, approximately 400,000 people went into hiding in the Netherlands some of which were Jewish. One of the most famous of these ‘hidees’ was Annelies Marrie “Anne” Frank (1929-1945) a young Jewish girl from Germany. The Frank family moved from Germany to Amsterdam in 1933 when the Nazis gained control over Germany. In July 1942, the Franks went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookcase in the building where Anne’s father worked.

After two years, the group was betrayed and transported to concentration camps. Anne and her sister Margot were eventually transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died (probably of typhus) in February, 1945. Anne’s wartime diary, The Diary of a Young Girl, was published posthumously.

Less than 2% of the Dutch population sided with the Nazis. Immediately after occupation, democracy was abolished and parliament dissolved. The NSB party (Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging, the National Socialist Movement) a Dutch fascist and later national socialist political party were the only legal political party in the Netherlands during most of World War Two. Members of the NSB were rewarded for supporting the Nazis and as such kept positions of leadership during the occupation.

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  • A Dutch poster from World War Two, depicting a WA man with the words ‘In dienst van ons volk, en gij? Wordt WA man’ (‘In the service of our people, and you? Become a WA man’), c.1943. The WA or Weerbaarheidsafdeling were the paramilitary wing of the Dutch Nazi party NSB, who worked in collaboration with the Germans to arrest Jews and Resistance members. Poster by Lou Manche. (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

In 1943, the Dutch Resistance movement was strong whereas previously recruitment had been slow. In May, 1943, following the Nazi’s introduction of Arbeitseinsatz , every Dutch male aged between 18 and 45 was forced to work in German factories, particularly those bombed regularly by western Allies! Consequently, many eligible men went into hiding. Food was heavily rationed in the Netherlands and the resistance movement played a vital role in raiding distribution centres to obtain ration cards for those men in hiding. The LOLKP was the underground resistance movement organised for people in hiding.

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  • Civilians and armed resistance fighters in a recently liberated Dutch city during World War Two force a traitor to walk the streets with a shameful sign around his neck which reads roughly ‘So we do with those who betray people in hiding,’ Breda, Netherlands, 1944. ‘People in hiding’ refers to Jews and Underground fighters trying to avoid the Nazis. (Photo by Horace Abrahams/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Women were particularly important in the resistance movement, they tended to attract less suspicion. Membership consisted of citizens drawn from a wide range of occupations, religious backgrounds and political beliefs such as butchers, farmers, teachers and housewives.

Radios were confiscated by the Nazis who feared that the English radio broadcasters may give instructions to people of the Netherlands. Only 80% of all radios were ever handed in and many sets disappeared, hidden under floorboards, cupboards, cabinets etc. People became very resourceful and some created simple radio receivers ‘crystal receiver.

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  • 1946  Audrey Hepburn as a teenager with her mother, Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Actress Audrey Hepburn’s (1929-1993) experiences in the occupied Netherlands provide a fascinating insight in what life was like at that time. Her mother was a Dutch aristocrat, Baroness Ella van Heemstra (1900-1984) and her grandfather was Baron Aarnoudvan Heemstra, mayor of Arnhem, 1910-20.

Both Audrey’s parents belonged to the British Union of Fascists but her father was a Nazi sympathiser. When their marriage broke down in 1935, he moved to London and Audrey moved with her mother to Kent where she attended a small private school in Elham.

When war broke out Audrey and her mother moved back to the Netherlands to live in Arnhem as they believed, like many others, the country would remain neutral. In 1940, she used the name Edda van Heemstra in order to distance herself from an English sounding name. Her uncle was executed in 1942 in retaliation for an act of sabotage by the resistance movement. Her half-brother was deported to Berlin to work in a German labour camp and her other half-brother went into hiding to avoid the same fate.

Audrey attended the Arnhem Conservatory for the duration of the war but suffered malnutrition, anaemia, respiratory problems and edema, like many of her fellow Dutch citizens lack of available food had serious health implications. She supported the Dutch resistance and gave ballet performances in secret to collect money for the movement. Sometimes, she acted as a courier of messages and parcels for them, an extremely dangerous thing to do, if caught she would have been tortured and executed.

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  • Resistance grafitti in a street in the Netherlands during the Dutch famine of the winter of 1944-45. The slogan reads ‘Eist Meer Brood’ (‘ask for more bread’). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

During the Winter of 1944-45, famine spread throughout the Netherlands. The famine had been caused by a German blockade cutting-off food and fuel shipments from farm areas. Approximately 4.5 million people were affected and many survived only due to a network of soup kitchens. Food was so scarce that people even ate tulip bulbs and sugarbeets.

In her memoirs, Audrey recalls making flour to bake cakes and biscuits from ground down tulip bulbs. Following liberation in 1945, she became extremely ill after putting too much sugar on her porridge and eating an entire can of condensed milk. It is estimated that between 18,000 and 22,000 people died that Winter.

  • ‘Liberation of Amsterdam’ (1945) (there is no sound) by British Pathe. Allied troops parade the streets, greeted by delighted Dutch citizens after years of Nazi occupation during World War Two. Uploaded to You Tube 22.5.2013.

LIBERATION OF THE NETHERLANDS 

The liberation of the Netherlands began in September 1944. The Allies crossed the Rhine in March, 1945 and Canadian forces entered the Netherlands from the east, liberating the rest of the Nazi-occupied Dutch towns. The Netherlands was largely liberated by the First Canadian Army which included Canadian Forces, the British 1st Corps, 1st Polish Armoured Division alongside American, Belgian, Dutch and Czechoslovak troops.

The 307th Engineer Infantry Brigade, of which my grandfather’s unit was part of, arrived in Europe on 23rd April, 1945. My mother recalls her father saying that conditions travelling across Europe were extremely tough. Food rations were low and soldiers did not always have the right equipment. At one point, soldiers in my grandfather’s unit were so dehydrated that they had to drink water reserved for train engines. The cold was another difficulty he encountered, he had to chew raw ginger to keep warm.

On 5th May, Canadian General Charles Foulkes (1903-1969) and the German Commander-in-Chief Johannes Blaskowitz (1883-1948) reached an agreement on the capitulation of German forces in the Netherlands in Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen. The following day, the capitulation document was signed in the auditorium of Wageningen University, next door to the Hotel de Wereld.

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  • c.1944: A newly liberated Dutch town. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

A chronological list of liberated Dutch towns:

1944

14th  September: Maastricht, Gulpen, Meerssen

16th  September: Simpelveld liberated by the 803rd tank destroyer battalion

17th  September: Sint-Oedenrode, Veghel

18th  September: Eindhoven

19th  September: Veldhoven

20th  September: Nijmegen, Geldrop, Someren, Terneuzen

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  • September 1944: Allied Sherman tanks crossing the newly-captured bridge at Nijmegen in Holland during their advance as part of ‘Operation Market Garden’. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

21st   September: Schijndel

22nd  September: Weert

24th  September: Deurne

26th  September: Mook

27th  September: Helmond, Oss (The battle of Overloon started on 30 September)

5th  October: Kerkrade

6th  October: Ossendrecht

18th  October: Venray

27th  October: Den Bosch, Tilburg, Bergen op Zoom

29th  October: Breda

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  • Dutch Resistance fighters armed with captured German weapons smoke and talk to each other on the street during liberation, Breda, Netherlands, 1944. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

30th  October: Tholen, Goes

1st  November: Vlissingen, Westkapelle

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  • November 1944: Allied assault troops dash through the streets of Flushing (Vlissingen) in the Netherlands to clear out the remaining enemy snipers after the World War Two liberation of the town. (Photo by Worth/Keystone/Getty Images)

2nd  November: Wissenkerke, Zoutelande

6th  November: Middelburg

8th  November: Veere, Koudekerke

3rd  December: Blerick

1945

1st  March: Roermond, Venlo

1st  April: Doetinchem, Borculo, Eibergen, Enschede

3rd  April: Hengelo

5th  April: Almelo

12th  April: Westerbork, Brummen, Deventer

13th  April: Assen, Diepenveen, Olst

14th  April: Arnhem, Zwolle

15th  April: Zutphen, Leeuwarden, Zoutkamp

16th  April: Groningen

17th  April: Apeldoorn

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  • 21st September 1944: Dutch citizens cheering British Sherman tanks in Holland. (Photo by Jack Esten/PNA Rota/Getty Images)

HENGELO & ENSCHEDE IN WORLD WAR TWO

Both Hengelo and Enschede are located in the Overijssel province of the Netherlands. Enschede was one of the first Dutch cities to be captured by the Nazis due to its close proximity to the German border. Enschede had a large Jewish population at the start of the occupation, approximately 1,300, only 500 of whom survived, many went into hiding on local farms with the help of resistance members.

In 1930, Hengelo had a Jewish population of 247 which increased to 360 in 1941 as a result of refugees fleeing from Germany. Jews had lived in Hengelo from the early 1800s onward and their community declared independent in 1830. The community was important in the development of the textile industry in the region.

In August 1941, the Hengelo Synagogue was vandalised by Nazis and members of the NSB. Fortunately, the building’s contents had already been removed and hidden in anticipation of such an attack. In September, 1941, Jews in Hengelo were rounded-up for deportation, this continued until the following summer. In 1951, there were only 86 Jews stilling living in the town.

On April 29th, 1943, workers in Hengelo walked out of their jobs in a protest strike. The Nazis announced that 300,000 Dutch army soldiers, previously captured in 1940 and subsequently released, were now to be recaptured and sent to German labour camps.  Hengelo’s town centre was completely bombed out during an Allied attack on the 6th and 7th October, 1944. The raid killed 200 people. After days of carnage, the strikes resulted in over 180 deaths, 400 casualties, and 900 prisoners of war being sent to concentration camps.

Hengelo Victory Parade 9th May, 1945. One of the photographs in my grandfather's collection, It shows his unit taking part in the event. Eric tells me that: 'The photo was taken in Burgemeester Jansenstraat. The street is there today but it has totally changed so you would not recognise it today.  The church in the far-side of the road was torn down in 1966. During the war civilian administration was located next to the church. Resistance fighters set fire to the administration building [after first being ransacked, then soaked with gasoline]so that the Nazis could not check whether someone had falsified ID cards, which had been issued by the resistance itself. A copy of all issued ID cards was kept at the administration office.'  ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
Hengelo Victory Parade 9th May, 1945. One of the photographs in my grandfather’s collection, it shows his unit taking part in the event. Eric tells me that: ‘The photo was taken in Burgemeester Jansenstraat. The street is there today but it has totally changed so you would not recognise it today. The church in the far-side of the road was torn down in 1966. During the war civilian administration was located next to the church. Resistance fighters set fire to the administration building [after first being ransacked, then soaked with gasoline] so that the Nazis could not check whether someone had falsified ID cards, which had been issued by the resistance itself. A copy of all issued ID cards was kept at the administration office.’
©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

EXHIBITION: 70th ANNIVERSAY OF THE LIBERATION OF HENGELO & ENSCHEDE, THE NETHERLANDS

Last year I posted on my Twitter account (@emmahistorian) a selection of photographs from our family archive featuring my late grandfather. In 1945, he had, together with his unit, been part of the Allied liberation of Nazi-occupied Netherlands. He was stationed in Hengelo, a city in the eastern part of the Netherlands, in the province of Overijssel, from April 1945 for approximately six months.

During the liberation of Hengelo, local citizen Mrs. A. Wilmink (centre)enjoying the company of Allied soldiers . Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/hengelo-1940-1945.php)
During the liberation of Hengelo, local citizen Mrs. A. Wilmink (centre) enjoying the company of Allied soldiers . Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/hengelo-1940-1945.php)

These photographs and associated backstory caught the attention of Dutch historian, Eric Heijink (@ericheijink) (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/enschede/ Twitter: SecondWorld.nl (@operatiemanna). Eric has curated a major exhibition commemorating the liberation of Enschede, 70 years ago this month. The exhibition opens on 1st April at the Centrale Bibliotheek Enschede and continues until 9th May, 2015. There is also a second exhibition at Synagoge Enschede which opens on 1st April and continues until 26th April, 2015.

Poster for new exhibition in Enschede, commemorating 70th Anniversary of liberation from Nazi occupation in the region.
Poster for new exhibition in Enschede, commemorating 70th Anniversary of liberation from Nazi occupation in the region.
Opening of exhibition in Enschede, 1st April, 2015. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/hengelo-1940-1945.php)
Opening of exhibition in Enschede, 1st April, 2015. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/hengelo-1940-1945.php)
Exhibition commemorating 70 years since the liberation of Enschede region, the Netherlands.
Opening of new exhibition commemorating 70 years since the liberation of Enschede region, the Netherlands. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/hengelo-1940-1945.php)
Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/hengelo-1940-1945.php)
Part of the new exhibition at Enschede Central Library until 9th May, 2015. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/hengelo-1940-1945.php)

However, the story does not end here! One of the photographs to be included in the exhibition features a local family from Hengelo, the Schuits, who had befriended my grandfather in 1945, following the town’s liberation. Together with some of his fellow soldiers, grandfather visited the family regularly, resulting in the soldiers forming an affectionate bond with the Schuits.

The Schuit family from Hengelo. Dick and Henrik are the two young boys picture standing-up. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
The Schuit family from Hengelo. Dick and Henrik are the two young boys picture standing-up. My grandfather took this photograph. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
Inscription on back of Schuit family photograph taken by my grandfather. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
Inscription on back of Schuit family photograph taken by my grandfather. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

How do I know this? Well, conversations I have had with my family about these photographs and, more specifically, a lovely inscription written by the Schuits on the reverse of one of the photographs which reads:

To our best English friend Fred Langley in remembrance of his stay at Hengelo, Holland. Family H. J. Schuit.

I am extremely grateful to Eric’s detective work which has revealed that not only does the Schuit’s house still exist in Hengelo but both of the young brothers shown in the photograph are still alive! The eldest brother continues to live in the town. Eric made telephone contact with the youngest of the two brothers, Dick Schuit (79), who remembered my grandfather, “the Sergeant”.

My grandfather, Sergeant Frederick Langley. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
My grandfather, Sergeant Frederick Langley. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

Dick recalls that his parents came in contact with grandfather when trucks from his unit stopped outside their house, not long after Hengelo was liberated. The Schuit family invited him in for tea, together with several of his fellow soldiers, this tradition continued for quite a long time whilst the soldiers were stationed there. The Allies remained in Hengelo from the end of April, 1945, for approximately 6 months.

Allied soldiers by their camouflaged tank during Hengelo's liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/hengelo-1940-1945.php)
Allied soldiers by their camouflaged tank during Hengelo’s liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/hengelo-1940-1945.php)

The Schuit brothers, Henrik and Dick, recall another British soldier, Jerry Barnard, a driver with the Royal Engineers, also being one of these regular visitors. On one occasion, another British soldier, ‘Jeremy’, brought with him a pair of miniature toy soldiers which he had been brought in Brussels and he gave them to Henrik and Dick.

The Schuit family lived next door to the Hotel Lansink in Hengelo, this location had its advantages. The Hotel had been commandeered by the SS as a divisional HQ (2nd Class) which meant that during regular raids on local properties, the Schuits were pretty much left alone. This was just as well as they were hiding a cousin from the Dutch town of Zwolle. The cousin had been employed in Germany but he managed to flee and seek refuge with the Schuits.  He lived in hiding with the family for two months and survived the war.

Sherman tanks on the streets of Hengelo following liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/hengelo-1940-1945.php)
Sherman tanks on the streets of Hengelo following liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/hengelo-1940-1945.php)

The Schuit brothers remember the day Hengelo was liberated. British soldiers walking and others driving tanks down the nearby street of Julianalaan. There was one particular incident involving SS officers who were chased down the street by Allied soldiers as the men fled on bicycles. The soldiers caught-up with the officers (at gun point) and they duly surrendered.

Dick Schuit explained that the British soldiers were billeted in a nearby factory, officers were quartered in Hotel Lansink. Unfortunately, his family do not have any more photographs of my grandfather as it was very rare in 1945 for local people to own a camera. A majority of the photographs that exist from that time were taken by Allied soldiers. My mother has written to the Schuit family who are keen to re-established contact and we look forward to corresponding with the brothers, finding out more about my grandfather’s time in Hengelo as well as what life was like for the Schuits under Nazi occupation.

Allied soldiers enjoying the company of the local people of Hengelo following liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/hengelo-1940-1945.php)
Allied soldiers enjoying the company of the local people of Hengelo following liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/hengelo-1940-1945.php)

I was delighted to provide photographs from our family archive as well as background information about my grandfather for inclusion in the exhibition. It means a great deal to both myself and my family that he will be part of this event, a fitting tribute to a wonderful gentleman who served his country in World War Two. Grandfather was one of the lucky ones, he returned home, uninjured, to his family, after the war ended.

My grandfather's story featured in Hengelo's Weekblad newspaper (24.3.2015, p. 15 - www.hengelosweekblad.nl). Thanks to all the hard work by historian Eric Heijink!
My grandfather’s story featured in Hengelo’s Weekblad newspaper (24.3.2015, p. 15 – http://www.hengelosweekblad.nl). Thanks to all the hard detective work by historian Eric Heijink!
BBC’s V.E. Day 2015 SEASON OF PROGRAMMES

The BBC have also announced (17.3.15) an extensive season of programming across television, radio and online, and a major education project honouring Britain’s Greatest Generation. Some of the major television highlights include:

  • VE Day: Remembering Victory (BBC One – 1×90): Some of Britain’s best-loved figures from stage and screen recall the jubilation of that unforgettable day;
  • Britain’s Greatest Generation (BBC Two – 4×60): This major four-part series celebrates the last survivors of the Second World War, now in their nineties and hundreds, and their achievement in helping to win the war;
  • The BBC At War (BBC Two – 2×60): Debates about the BBC’s role were just as volatile in the 1940s as they are today. In this two-part series, Jonathan Dimbleby uncovers the story of how the BBC fought Hitler – and Whitehall – with a unique insight into one of the story’s leading players – his father, Richard Dimbleby;
  • Savage Peace (BBC Two – 1×60): Only at the war’s end was the true scale of human suffering and misery revealed, and so devastating was the scene that Europe was dubbed ‘The New Dark Continent’. This film will re-examine the aftermath of the War to ask if too much stress has been laid on an optimistic view of victory in Europe with celebratory images of VE day;
  • Fighting for King And Empire: Britain’s Caribbean Heroes (BBC Four – 1×60): In this programme, Caribbean veterans tell their extraordinary wartime stories in their own words. They also reveal how they have faced a lifelong struggle as they helped build Britain’s multicultural society – to be treated as equals by the British government and the British people;
  • World War Two: 1945 & The Wheelchair President (BBC Four – 1×90): David Reynolds re-examines the war leadership of American president Franklin Roosevelt. In this intimate new biography set against the epic of World War Two, Reynolds reveals how Roosevelt was burdened by secrets about his failing health and strained marriage that, if exposed, could have destroyed his presidency.
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  • The cover of a Victory Special issue of Picture Post magazine depicting a mother and her two sons celebrating V.E. Day in Britain, at the end of World War Two, 8th May 1945 (published 19th May 1945). (Photo by Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Country House, Decorative Arts, Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Museum, Review, Theatre History

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

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

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

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  • Engraving from 1873 featuring Joshua Reynolds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

X-ray Image And Infrared Reflectography Use In Painting Conservation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Events & Further Information

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

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

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

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

The Wallace Collection – Main Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few key dates in the history of Manchester House:

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

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

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

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©Come Step Back In Time

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

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

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

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

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©Come Step Back In Time

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

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

Mrs Margaret Thompson’s will (1777):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snapshot of 1965 Britain

Me talking to BBC Inside Out (South East) presenter Natalie Graham about the 50th Anniversary of Winston Churchill's funeral. On location at Hever Castle, Kent. January 2015. Broadcast BBC One, Monday 26th January.
Me talking to BBC Inside Out (South East) presenter Natalie Graham on location at Hever Castle, Kent. Broadcast BBC One, Monday 26th January, 2015. (16 mins 10 secs in).

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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • Churchill Funeral Train Memo. Pg 1, 1965. (Photo by National Railway Museum/SSPL/Getty Images)
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  • 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.

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  • 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)

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  • 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.

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  • Photograph taken during the British Transport Films production ‘London’s Millions’, made in 1965. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
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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 in 'swinging London' c.1965. ©Come Step Back In Time
My mother in ‘swinging London’ c.1965. ©Come Step Back In Time

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.

My mum and family in Cambridge c.1965. ©Come Step Back In Time
My mum and family in Cambridge c.1965. ©Come Step Back In Time

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.

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  • ‘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)
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  • November 1965: Chelsea fashion designer and make-up manufacturer Mary Quant. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
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  • 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.

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  • 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).
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  • Pattern drawn by a member of the Science Museum Workshop staff using a Spirograph, a popular graphic toy that can be used to draw combinations of curves. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
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  • 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.

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  • 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)
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  • 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.

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  • Standing outside the fish and chip shop in two items from the Lee Cecil ‘Jetsetters’ collection are Jackie Bowyer, left, and Judy Gomm, right. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 23rd December 1965: Blue Peter presenters Christopher Trace and Valerie Singleton with the programme’s dog, Honey. Blue Peter is a BBC children’s TV programme. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)

  • ‘Pop Goes The Fashion’ (1965) British Pathe film. Uploaded to You Tube, 13.4.2014.
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  • People/ Fashion, Couple walk hand in hand, the lady wearing white striped jacket and navy blue skirt, and the man a smart suit, Trafalgar Square, London, 1965 (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
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  • 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)
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  • 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)
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  • 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.
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Fashion History, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Literature, Rural Heritage

On Yer Bike! Cycling Tips From 1897

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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.

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  • 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)
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The Rambler, 1897.

 

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.

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The Rambler, 1897.

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.

Stock ties and collars are most invariably
Stock ties and collars are almost invariable with shirts for cycling. Two examples are here portrayed, the one showing the stock in bow form, while the other is simply crossed and caught with a pin. The latter is considered the better style. Many women are advocating skirt straps as shown below. These are of elastic, the loop passing beneath the instep, a method very distinctly advantageous in a high wind. The most useful chatelaine contains scissors, pin case, tablets, pencil and knife. A strap for these is now often found in lieu of a chain. A chronometer is now frequently affixed to the handle-bar. Smart park shoes for riding have Cromwellian flaps. (The Rambler, 1897)
Posted in Activity, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Literature, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War Two

Rationing Fashion in 1940s Britain – Make Do & Mend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 Make Do And Mend Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Lady Reading using a sewing machine at the Women’s Voluntary Services headquarters during World War Two.
My grandmother's 1948 Singer sewing machine. ©Come Step Back in Time
My grandmother’s 1948 Singer sewing machine (Serial No. EE617052). My grandmother ordered this machine as soon as World War Two ended in 1945. Due to the shortage of materials following the war, she had to wait three years before taking delivery of her beloved sewing machine. This machine was my grandmother’s pride and joy which resulted in many, many years of home dressmaking. Home dressmaking in our family is a tradition that has been passed down from my mother to me. ©Come Step Back in Time
Detail of my grandmother's 1948 sewing machine. ©Come Step Back in Time
Detail of my grandmother’s 1948 sewing machine. ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
Posted in Decorative Arts, Event, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, History of Medicine, Horticultural History, Literature, Maritime History, Motoring History, Mrs Beeton, Theatre History, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War One, World War Two

Mary Evans Picture Library – Celebrating 50 Years

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©Come Step Back In Time

In October 1964, in the Evans’ small Blackheath home, Mary clambered onto a stool to reach the top shelf of a clothes cupboard in order to retrieve an engraving for the BBC. By this time, every last corner of their home was stuffed full of the antiquarian books, prints and ephemera that were the personal passion of Mary and her husband Hilary, and became the foundation of Mary Evans Picture Library; thus valuable engravings were forced to share a home with Hilary’s casual wear.

The library grew rapidly throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 1975 was a key year when Hilary and Mary were founder members of both the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA), the industry’s trade organisation, and the Picture Research Association. In the same year they published the first edition of The Picture Researcher’s Handbook, which ran to eight editions.

Hilary and Mary’s daughter, Valentine, joined the company in 1992 and her three young children are frequent visitors to the library.

(Above extracts from Mary Evans Picture Library’s website)

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This year, Mary Evans Picture Library celebrates its 50th anniversary. Earlier in the Summer I received an invitation to attend an Open Day at the Library’s premises in Blackheath, London. Such a wonderful opportunity to visit this unique, family-owned, historical picture library whose core philosophy since opening, in 1964, has been:

to make available and accessible all the wonderful images created for people to enjoy over the centuries which were originally published in books, on posters, in advertisements, or as prints.

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

The Library have more than half a million images currently available online and five hundred new images are added every week. A quick glance at the end credits of a documentary or pictures featured in an editorial will reveal Mary Evans Picture Library to be one of the main contributors.

The building that now houses this priceless collection was formerly the Parish Hall of All Saints’ Church on Blackheath. It is designed in the Arts and Crafts style by architect Charles Canning Winmill (1865-1945).

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

There is something really quite special about the Library. Upon entering you are immediately transported into a maze of corridors and staircases leading to room after room of historic treasures. This vast collection is presided over by a team of friendly, knowledgeable staff who are passionate about the priceless ephemera they are custodians of:

Few working offices feature desks surrounded by a fine collection of coronation mugs, a melted wax fruit display, an original Edison Phonograph and a broomstick in full flight suspended above the heads of staff.

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©Come Step Back In Time

The set-up of our office is unashamedly individual, and the archive of postcard folders, rare books, boxes of ephemera and racks of bound magazines is as integral to the working space as the computers and desks, squeezed, as they are, into the last available corners.

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

The main room downstairs will always be known as Mary’s office…. Conducting a tour of the library invariably involves squeezing past colleagues, step ladders, Missie the dog, someone preparing lunch or a private researcher hidden behind five large volumes of Illustrazione Italiana from the 1880s.

(Fifty; 50 Pictures for our 50th Birthday , 2014, Mary Evans Picture Library)

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

Mary Evans Picture Library also manage a number of private collections. At the Open Day I was thrilled to meet some of these contributors which included:

Me with Anne Zielinski-Old at the open day. ©Mary Evans Picture Library
Me with Anne Zielinski-Old. ©Mary Evans Picture Library

 Anne Zielinksi-Old

Fashion artist Anne worked for a range of prestigious clients during the 1980s and ’90s.  Anne studied fashion and design at the University of Brighton (1970-73), St Martins School of Art (1975-1976) where she was trained by Elizabeth Suter and Colin Barnes. In 1993 Anne studied at the Royal College of Art, London, undertaking a Research Degree by project. During her long and high-profile career Anne’s clients have included Harrods of Knightsbridge, Fortnum and Mason, Garrards Crown Jewelers, Burberrys, the Sunday Times, Vogue, Cosmopolitan Magazine and more.

One of Anne’s many career highlights includes working for Mattel Inc. in California (1997-1998) as an Art Director for Barbie Collectibles. During her time at Mattel Inc. Anne created a Princess Diana Doll and an Elizabeth Taylor Auction Doll which was purchased by actress Demi Moore. I had the pleasure of speaking at length with Anne about her extraordinary career.

  • For further biographical information about Anne, click here.
  • For more information about Anne’s career as a Doll Designer, click here.
  • Browse Anne’s Air Kiss Collection which is managed by Mary Evans Picture Library, click here.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

London Fire Brigade (LFB)

The archive of the LFB (The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority) is managed exclusively by the Mary Evans Picture Library. The collection contains extensive documentation of the fire service in London from the nineteenth century to the present day. Subjects covered by the images include: World War Two, the Blitz, 1936 fire at Crystal Palace, fire-apparatus from Selfridges Department Store (1966), historic fire-fighting equipment and vehicles.

  • For more information about the LFB archive, click here.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

Grenville Collins Postcard Collection

Grenville Collins’ collection comprises over ten thousand images, mostly from before World War One. Grenville has one of the world’s most comprehensive selection of postcards depicting Turkey and the late Ottoman Empire. In the 1960s, Grenville managed rock band, The Kinks, following which, in the 1970s, he lived near Bodrum in Southern Anatolia, Turkey. Included in his collection are several books of postcards by Max Fruchtermann who published Turkey’s first commercial cards in 1895. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Grenville, his collection is outstanding.

  • Browse the Grenville Collins postcard collection managed by Mary Evans Picture Library, click here.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

H. L. Oakley Silhouettes

One of the more unusual collections managed by Mary Evans Picture Library are the silhouettes of Captain H. L. Oakley (1882-1957). Oakley’s great nephew and biographer, Jerry Rendell, attended the open day with some fine examples from his private collection. Jerry has written a book about his great uncle’s work, Profiles of the First World War – The Silhouettes of Captain H. L. Oakley  (2013, The History Press).

Oakley was known as ‘the man with the magic scissors’ who began cutting silhouettes aged just seven years old. He trained at the Royal College of Art. During World War One, he served with the Yorkshire Regiment, the Green Howards, transferring to the 96th (Lancashire) Brigade in May, 1918. Oakley contributed silhouettes and drawings to the trench newspaper, The Dump. His work also appeared in The Bystander (8th March, 1916, ‘Trench Life in Silhouette’).

  • ‘The Man with the Magic Scissors: Oakley of The Bystander‘s Western Front in silhouette’, by Luci Gosling (Mary Evans Picture Library), published 27.8.2013, click here.

Mary Evans Picture Library – A Few Fascinating Facts

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©Come Step Back In Time
  • Mary Evans’ lifelong passion for dogs influenced her collecting habits which has resulted in an eclectic mix of books, objects and assorted ephemera. Mary eventually acquired the Thomas Fall Archive in 2003;
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    ©Come Step Back In Time
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    ©Come Step Back In Time

    ©Come Step Back In Time
    ©Come Step Back In Time
  • The library represents some of the best historical sources of material from around the world. They have exceptionally detailed coverage of the history of many countries, with notably large collections from Germany, France, the United States, Spain and Italy;
  • The library recently launched a superb First World War blog (Picturing The Great War)dedicated to showcasing some of the more unusual and surprising content from the period which is currently held in the collection, click here.
  • In October, 1965, London Life, launched. Although the magazine only lasted fifteen months (closing, Christmas Eve, 1966), it is a wonderful record of swinging sixties London. The library has a complete run of London Life, in five volumes. Each publication reads like a who’s who from the world of sixties music, fashion, media and photography (Terence Donovan, Twiggy, Gerald Scarfe, Jean Shrimpton, Terence Stamp, Ian Dury, Vidal Sassoon, Joanna Lumley, Celia Hammond, Peter Akehurst, the list goes on). These iconic individuals helped shaped London as a vibrant cultural hub during one of the twentieth century’s most dynamic decades. London Life was edited by Mark Boxer, founder of the Sunday Times magazine, the managing editor was David Puttnam (now Lord Puttnam).
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    ©Come Step Back In Time

    ©Come Step Back In Time
    ©Come Step Back In Time
  • The Illustrated London News (ILN), launched on 14th May, 1842, is one of the library’s high profile collections. Although the ILN Picture Library (which also includes The Graphic, The Sphere, The Tatler, The Bystander, The Sketch, The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, The Illustrated War News and Britannia & Eve) remains under the ownership of Illustrated London News Ltd, the back catalogue of publications are housed at the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath. Due to the importance of this world-class collection, it was once known as the ‘Great Eight’.

    ©Come Step Back In Time
    ©Come Step Back In Time
  • Hilary Evans was a world-renowned authority on paranormal phenomena. The library has an excellent selection of images on this topic in addition to Hilary’s own publications in this field: Seeing Ghosts: Experiences of the Paranormal (2002), Panic Attacks: The History of Mass Delusion (2004), and Sliders: the Enigma of Streetlight Interference (2011).
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
  • Vintage fashion is well-represented in the library’s collection with a number of rare publications. They have: a six-volume Le Costume Historique by A.Racinet; Strutt’s Dress and Habits of the People of England;  French fashion journals, Gazette du Bon Ton and Art, Goût, Beauté, both with pochoir fashion plates. The  library also represents designers Hardy Amies (1909-2003) and Victor Stiebel (1907-1976).
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  • Ninety plus volumes of A & C Black colour books, published between 1901 and 1921, are held in the collection. These books have distinctive cover designs which are decorated in gilt and inside, plates have been produced by adopting a three-colour process which was popular at the time.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
  • Mary collected several hundred different editions of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, including a first edition.
©Mary Evans Picture Library
The perfect habitat for this social historian to while away the hours. I truly did get to ‘step back in time’. ©Mary Evans Picture Library
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100 year old stereoscopic viewer which allows the user to see two separate images as one single three-dimensional picture. ©Come Step Back In Time
100 year old stereoscopic viewer which allows the user to see two separate images as one single three-dimensional picture. ©Come Step Back In Time

Think History – Think Mary Evans

Closer to History

Centuries of Inspiration

From Antiquity to Modernity

The Specialist History Source

Visual Documentation of the Past

Picturing the Past

The World of Images

First Choice for History

(Fifty; 50 Pictures for our 50th Birthday , 2014, Mary Evans Picture Library)

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Selection of retail merchandise which has featured images from the collection at Mary Evans Picture Library. ©Come Step Back In Time
Selection of retail merchandise featuring images from various collections managed by Mary Evans Picture Library. ©Come Step Back In Time
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©Come Step Back In Time
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©Come Step Back In Time
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Fashion History, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, History of Medicine, Vintage, World War One

Tea Dresses To Trousers – Fashion For Women: Stories From The Great War Part 13

©Come Step Back In Time.
Lucy Adlington’s illustrated talk at Lymington Library, Hampshire. ©Come Step Back In Time.

Earlier this summer, I attended a superb illustrated talk on women’s fashion in World War One given by History Wardrobe’s Lucy Adlington and hosted by Lymington Library.  Lucy is a writer, actress and costume historian with an insatiable appetite for bringing the past alive, making it accessible to a modern audience.

Lucy has written two marvellous books about ladies’ clothing during this period, Great War Fashion: Tales From The History Wardrobe (The History Press, 2013) and Fashion: Women In World War One (Pitkin Publishing, 2014). 

Lucy also gives illustrated talks on many other aspects of fashion history, including: Gothic; Art Deco; 1700s and the Georgian era; swimwear; Jane Austen; silk; Titanic; suffragettes; 1950s; bridal; World War Two and the 1930s.

  • Details of her wide range of presentations can be found here.
  • Details of her 2014-2015 programme of talks can be found here.
    Lucy Adlington. ©Come Step Back In Time.
    Lucy Adlington. ©Come Step Back In Time.

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Lucy delighted in showing us inside her impressive ‘history wardrobe’ packed full of original and replica clothing, accessories and printed ephemera. Her witty banter was peppered with plenty of fascinating anecdotes from contemporary sources. Lucy explained that it wasn’t only women’s clothing styles that changed between 1914 and 1918, their lives did too, as many embraced new roles in order to support the effort :

 Leisured ladies stepped down from their privileged positions to volunteer in many demanding branches of work, as well as running committees and tirelessly fundraising. Titled ladies swapped their silks for flame-retardant overalls in munition factories. Society girls muffled up in furs and goggles as motorbike despatch riders or ambulance drivers.

(Lucy Adlington, Fashion: Women In World War One, 2014, p.8, Pitkin Publishing)

  • British Pathé, silent film, ‘Women Railway Workers’ (1914-1918). Published on You Tube: 13.4.14;
  • Film clip (July, 2014), Lucy discusses with Michael Portillo, women’s role in the railway war effort in BBC2’s ‘Railways of The Great War’. Click here for clip.

Many of the items featured in Lucy’s collection are rare originals, others are high-quality reproductions. For example, a pair of replica khaki socks for soldiers has been made by World War One knitting expert, Melanie Towne. Melanie is adept at interpreting knitting patterns from this period, which are known for being rather tricky to follow.

Replica khaki knitted socks for soldiers. Knitted by Melanie Towne using original pattern from World War One. ©Come Step Back In Time.
Replica khaki socks for soldiers. Knitted by Melanie Towne using an original pattern from World War One and one of the handling objects in Lucy’s collection.  ©Come Step Back In Time.
©Come Step Back In Time.
©Come Step Back In Time.

One of the many unusual facts I learned from Lucy’s talk was that pyjamas, or ‘slumber suits’, for women, first appeared during this period.  A precursor to the 1940’s ‘siren suit’ and modern-day ‘onesie’. Pyjamas became popular with a number of women in World War One because of their practicality (ease of movement and modesty) during the event of a night-time air raid. In her collection, Lucy has a charming pair of delicate, peach silk and lace pyjamas which would have been worn with a matching boudoir cap and wrapper. Apparently, there were reports of women willing a bombardment just to show off a new pair of pyjamas!

Peach silk and lace pyjamas from Lucy's own collection.
Peach silk and lace pyjamas from Lucy’s own collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Advert for ladies' pyjamas, December, 1915.
Advert for ladies’ pyjamas, December, 1915.

In Britain, aerial bombardments from German Zeppelins began on the 19th January, 1915. Parts of the Norfolk coastline were first to come under attack, followed by the south-east and the North Sea coast over the following months. By the end of the war, Britain had been subjected to fifty-one bombing raids, five hundred and fifty-seven people lost their lives and another one thousand three hundred and fifty-eight were injured.

Advert for coats and skirts, December, 1915.
Advert for coats and skirts, December, 1915.
Corset advert from 1915.
Corset advert from 1915.

A most noticeable feature of the new season’s suits is the preponderance of dressy, semi-tailored styles. These more frequently take the form of three-piece garments, and are particularly graceful and attractive in appearance. The skirts, as those of the dresses, are both short and voluminous, and present a great variety of style.

Tailor-made wool and silk suits, Spring, 1916. Featured in Debenham & Company's 'Spring Fashions, 1916'. Catalogue from Lucy's private collection.
Tailor-made wool and silk suits, Spring, 1916. Featured in Debenham & Company’s Spring Fashions, 1916. Catalogue from Lucy’s private collection.

In many of the more extreme productions, flounced and draped effects, especially over the hips, are frequently shown, while in the simpler forms the desired fullness is obtained by circular and semicircular effects gathered to the waist, or by the employment of gores and sun-ray, knife and box pleatings either finished by a belt or mounted on a full gathered yoke.

Featured in Debenham & Company's 'Spring Fashions, 1916'. Catalogue from Lucy's private collection.
Featured in Debenham & Company’s Spring Fashions, 1916. Catalogue from Lucy’s private collection.
Featured in Debenham & Company's 'Spring Fashions, 1916'. Catalogue from Lucy's private collection.
Featured in Debenham & Company’s Spring Fashions, 1916. Catalogue from Lucy’s private collection.
Tailor-made wool and Featured in Debenham & Company's 'Spring Fashions, 1916'. Catalogue from Lucy's private collection.
Tailor-made wool and silk. Featured in Debenham & Company’s Spring Fashions, 1916. Catalogue from Lucy’s private collection.

A dainty finish is given to many of these garments by a narrow edging of white or light coloured silk showing just below the hem. Finely kilted white lace is employed by one of the leading designers for this purpose with marked effect. While a normal waistline may be said to be the general rule some models show a waist slightly above the natural line.

Street coats in a semi-fitting style.  Featured in Debenham & Company's 'Spring Fashions, 1916'. Catalogue from Lucy's private collection.
Street coats in a semi-fitting style. Featured in Debenham & Company’s Spring Fashions, 1916. Catalogue from Lucy’s private collection.

(All the above quotes are from Spring Fashions, 1916, Debenham & Company)

Advert from 1916.
Advert from 1916.
Original lady's lace-up boots from World War One era, worn by Lucy during her talk.
Original lady’s lace-up boots from World War One, worn by Lucy during her talk. ©Come Step Back In Time
Ladies' leather work shoes. Lucy's private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time.
Ladies’ leather work shoes. Lucy’s private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time.
Blue silk evening shoes from Lucy's collection.
Blue silk evening shoes from Lucy’s collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Pair of ladies' gaiters, World War One. Lucy's private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Pair of ladies’ gaiters, World War One. Lucy’s private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time.

One positive aspect of the war was a tendency to be more tolerant of slightly shabby or out-of-date clothes. All classes and all ages were caught up in the daily struggle to make ends meet; to focus on war work before fashion.

(Lucy Adlington, Fashion: Women In World War One, 2014, p.13 Pitkin Publishing)

Stocking advert from 1915.
Stocking advert from 1915.
Rare surviving example of a mourning hat from World War One. Lucy's collection.
Rare surviving example of a mourning hat from World War One. Lucy’s collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Straw-plaited hat from Lucy's own collection.
Straw-plaited hat from Lucy’s own collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

Working Women

Any woman who by working helps to release a man or to equip a man for fighting does national war service. Every woman should register who is able and willing to take employment….Every woman employed will be paid at the ordinary industrial rates. The pay ranges from 32s, a week including overtime in some of the munition factories to 8s. and 10s. a week in agriculture. There is immediate need for women workers in munition and other factories, in offices and shops, as drivers of commercial motor vehicles, as conductors of cars, and above all in agricultural employment….It is recognized that in many instances it will be desirable that women of the same class shall be employed together, and efforts will be made to organize ‘pals’ battalions’ of labour.

(Daily Mail, 18th March, 1915)

Advertisement for ladies' wrist-watch protectors aimed at the woman undertaking war work.
Advertisement for a ladies’ wrist-watch protector,  aimed at the woman undertaking war work but also encouraging her to buy one for her chap fighting at the front.
Front cover from a rare edition of Vogue, May, 1918. Lucy's own collection.
Front cover from a rare edition of Vogue, May, 1918. Lucy’s own collection.

If the full fighting power of the nation is to be put forth on the battlefield, the full working power of the nation must be made available to carry on its essential trades at home…And this is where women who cannot fight in the trenches can do their country’s work, for every woman who takes up war service is as surely helping to the final victory as the man who handles a gun in Flanders. With a fortnight’s training women can fill thousands of existing vacancies, and also take the places of thousands of men anxious to join the fighting forces but at the moment compelled to keep in civil employment.

(Daily Mail, 18th March, 1915)

Publication from 2nd September, 1915. Lucy's own collection.
Publication from 2nd September, 1915. Lucy’s own collection.
One of the more unusual items in Lucy's collection is this long, thick plait of brown hair. It belonged to one Ethel Haselhurst. Ethel wanted freedom from the impracticalities of having long hair so decided to cut her plait off in 1918. Lucy told us that many women cut their long, pre-war, hair during World War One. Shorter styles continued to be preferred by women after the war. Practicality gave way to fashionability and the boyish cuts of the roaring twenties. When the 'bob' and 'shingle' cuts were de-regar.
One of the more unusual items in Lucy’s collection is this long, thick plait of brown hair. It belonged to Ethel Haselhurst. Ethel wanted freedom from the impracticalities of having long hair so decided to cut-off her plait in 1918. Lucy told us that many women cut their long, pre-war hair during this period. Nursing staff also preferred short hair, particularly near the fighting front where lice were endemic. Shorter styles continued to be popular with women after the war. Practicality soon gave way to fashionably boyish cuts, such as the ‘bob’ and ‘shingle’ became de rigueur in the 1920s.  ©Come Step Back In Time
Uniform belong to midwife Winifred Ingram who wore it during the war. Lucy's own collection.
Uniform belonging to midwife Winifred Ingram who wore it during the war. Lucy’s own collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Sleeve protectors worn as part of midwife Winifred Ingram's uniform. Lucy's own collection.
Sleeve protectors worn as part of midwife Winifred Ingram’s uniform. Lucy’s own collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Details inside one of midwife Winifred Ingram's starched cuffs. Lucy's own collection.
Details inside one of midwife Winifred Ingram’s starched cuffs. Lucy’s own collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
  • I have curated a Pinterest board featuring ‘Women’s Fashion in World War One’, click here.

  • British Pathé, silent film, ‘Women War Workers In A Piggery’ (1914-1918). Published on You Tube: 13.4.14.

  • British Pathé, silent films, ‘Women Munitions Workers’ (1914-1918). Published on You Tube: 13.4.14.

  • British Pathé, silent film, ‘Women’s Army’ (1914-1918). Published on You Tube: 13.4.14.

  • British Pathé, silent film, ‘Women Agriculturalists’ (1914-1918). Published on You Tube: 13.4.14.

  • British Pathé, silent film, ‘Glasgow’s Pageant of Women War Workers’ (1914-1918). Published on You Tube: 13.4.14.
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, Film, History, Literature, Museum, Review, TV Programme

The Enduring Legacy of Charles Dickens

  • A guided tour around Dickens’ Birthplace in Portsmouth, Hampshire with the author’s great-great-great granddaughter, Lucinda Dickens Hawksley. (2012, Telegraph.co.uk/Video)

There are many reasons to love Dickens, but I particularly love him because he’s such a magnificently capacious and versatile writer — gripping storyteller, gorgeous stylist, with such a vibrant command of metaphor and character. As a novelist, in terms of technique, there’s nothing he doesn’t do well. He’s got great intelligence but also has great heart. He’s unruly, predictable, chaotic, exciting. And in that sense he’s inexhaustibly new and inspiring, like Shakespeare. His worlds are big and all-encompassing; he always has something new and surprising to tell us.

(American writer and author Donna Tartt, ‘Dickens’ Influence Lingers With Passage Of Time’ by Kevin Nance, Chicago Tribune, 27.11.2013)

  • Charles Dickens’s great-great grandson, Ian Dickens, introduces this short film about the author’s connections with Portsmouth, Hampshire. (2012, BBC South Today)

Dickens In Portsmouth, Hampshire

New Charles Dickens statue in Portsmouth's Guildhall Square. Sculptor Martin Jenning's made the bronze. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Recently unveiled bronze statue of Charles Dickens by Sculptor Martin Jennings located  in Portsmouth’s Guildhall Square. ©Come Step Back in Time.

By the steps of Portsmouth’s Guildhall, on Friday 7th February, 2014, a life-size bronze statue of author Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was unveiled.

© Come Step Back in Time.
© Come Step Back in Time.

Surprisingly, this is Britain’s first ever statue of Dickens and worldwide only two others are known to exist, one in West Philadelphia’s Clark Park and another in Sydney’s Centennial Park.

Oliver Dickens, the 9 year-old great, great, great, grandson of Charles Dickens. Jane Monk (on right) is Dickens' great, great, granddaughter. Jane has been photographed with all three statues of her ancestor. © Come Step Back in Time.
Oliver Dickens, the 9 year-old great, great, great, grandson of Charles Dickens. Jane Monk (on right) is Dickens’ great, great, granddaughter. Jane has been photographed with all three statues of her ancestor. © Come Step Back in Time.

It is a fitting tribute to Dickens that a statue has now been erected in the city where he was born 202 years ago. The bronze has been created by sculptor Martin Jennings, whose previous subjects include John Betjeman at St Pancras Station in London and Philip Larkin in Hull.

Oliver Dickens with his great, great, great, grandfather. © Come Step Back in Time.
Oliver Dickens with his great, great, great, grandfather. © Come Step Back in Time.

The event was a tremendous success and the stormy weather that has blighted the British Isles recently, stayed away. Clouds parted, television crews gathered and thankfully the sun shone. Perhaps an approving sign sent from above by Dickens himself.

The Pickwick Cycle Club on their Penny Farthings posing for photographs alongside Charles Dickens. © Come Step in Time.
The Pickwick Cycle Club on their Penny Farthings posing for photographs alongside Charles Dickens. © Come Step Back in Time.

Actor Edward Fox and his wife Joanna David gave a wonderful tribute to Dickens which included the reading of extracts from some of his better known novels. Fox played Mr Brownlow in the 2007 BBC television adaptation of Oliver Twist.

Edward Fox and his wife Joanna David who gave a wonderful tribute to Dickens including reading aloud extracts from some of his novels. © Come Step Back in Time.
Edward Fox and his wife Joanna David both gave a wonderful tribute to Dickens including reading aloud extracts from some of his novels. © Come Step Back in Time.

Following an initial ‘rally call’ by Portsmouth’s branch of the Dickens Fellowship, it has taken five years of fundraising, spearheaded by Professor Tony Pointon and the Charles Dickens Statue Fund, to collect all necessary monies. Actress Gillian Anderson, who played Miss Havisham in a BBC adaptation of Great Expectations, is a patron of the Statue Fund.

Perhaps one of the reasons why it has taken so long to immortalise Dickens in bronze, could relate to a clause in his Will stipulating no statues or monuments of him should be built. However, his great great grandson, Ian Dickens, defends the decision to proceed:

It’s no secret that Charles Dickens stipulated in his Will that he didn’t want his friends to erect a lavish monument in the aftermath of his death. But the fact that his work remains so loved and remains so relevant two centuries on, a statue that celebrates that achievement is both fully justified and not a little overdue.

It is not only a tribute to his creative talent, but also reminds us of his passion for reform in social welfare and a desire to see a fairer society. And with it located in the Guildhall Square, thousands of people will be reminded of that essential legacy – and for some, perhaps it will encourage them to read Dickens for the first time.

The house in Landport, Southsea (as it appeared in 1871) where Charles Dickens was born, 7th February 2012.Now the Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum. Image source: The Victorian Web.
The house in Landport, Southsea (as it appeared in 1871) where Charles Dickens was born, 7th February, 1812. Now the Charles Dickens’ Birthplace Museum. Image source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

Charles Dickens was born on the 7th February, 1812 at 387 Mile End Terrace, Landport, Portsea (now known as 393 Old Commercial Road, Portsmouth) and lived in the area for the first three years of his life. The Dickens family also lived at 16 Hawke Street in Portsea (from June 1812) and 39 Wish Street, Southsea (from December 1813).  In 1904, the former family home at Mile End Terrace became Charles Dickens’ Birthplace Museum.

His father, John Dickens (1785-1851), managed the Dockyard’s Navy Pay Office from Christmas 1807 until January 1815 (his family left  during the Winter of 1814). This was a turbulent and expensive time to be living in Portsmouth, Britain’s Navy was still at war with Napoleonic France (1799-1815). Rents across the city, particularly for properties located near the Dockyard, were very high. Landlords seized the opportunity to profiteer from the increased demand for rental property, particularly among military personnel.

John Dickens earned a reasonable living for the time, which in 1809 amounted to a salary of £110 per annum, rising to £220 by the time he left in 1815. However, the rent book for Mile End Terrace does show that John Dickens allowed himself to get into difficulties with the rent and arrears were not uncommon. All this being an early indication of Dickens Sr’s inability to manage the household finances properly.  A pattern of behaviour that would, in later years, lead to some very difficult times for the Dickens family.

Having left Portsmouth as a child, Charles did not return until 1838 when he undertook a three week visit  researching characters for Nicholas Nickleby (1838). In 2012, inspired by the tale of Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens’s great-great-grandsons Ian and Gerald, walked from London to Portsmouth wearing top hats and tracing the same route taken in the novel by Nicholas and his companion Smike. However, there was one small difference, Nicholas and Smike completed their journey in two and a half days, Ian and Gerald took five. The aim of the walk was to raise £50,000 for the Dickens Statue Fund.

Charles Dickens made two further visits to the city as part of a reading tour. In 1858, he recited extracts from A Christmas Carol (1843) at the Music Warehouse in Portsea and in 1866, performed a reading recital which was made-up of passages from Pickwick Papers (1836) and David Copperfield (1849). He gave this recital at St. George’s Hall in Portsea. In 1866, a Portsmouth journalist wrote:

As the greatest novelist of his day and as one who has laboured long and earnestly in his profession, not merely to amuse and gratify his readers, but to instruct and direct them, he has been wonderfully successful and done an immense amount of good.

Dickens was an enthusiastic, amateur actor and prone to over-acting when reading aloud. He loved the theatre and often performed in a company that he himself had set-up.  On the 4th July, 1856, his company entertained Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and her court, also present in the audience were Hans Christian Anderson (1805-1875) and W. M. Thackeray (1811-1863).

  • The Charles Dickens’ Birthplace Museum will be open on Friday 7th February, 2014, 10-5pm. Free admission on this day. At 10.30am on the 7th, the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth and a representative from the Dickens Fellowship will be toasting Charles Dickens’ and giving a few words in honour of the author’s birthday. Additionally, the Museum will be open on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th February as well as between Sunday 16th and Wednesday 19th February. On these days, normal admission charges will apply:
  • If you want to find-out more about Charles Dickens, his family and their lives and work in Portsmouth, there is an illustrated talk taking place at The City Museum on Sunday 9th February (2.30pm, £3 per adult). For more information on this event, click here.

After their early years in Portsmouth, the Dickens family moved house fairly frequently and financially, times were tough.  It is not for us to say whether or not young Charles had an unhappy childhood but what we can say is that it was far from settled and certainly full of adventure, both good and bad. In 1815, John Dickens moved his family to a house at No. 10 Norfolk Street (now 22 Cleveland Street), St. Pancras, London. In 1817, he uprooted his family once more so that he could take-up a post as clerk in the Navy Pay Office at Chatham Dockyard. The family lived initially at No. 2 Ordnance Terrace in Sheerness then moved to The Brook, 18 St. Mary’s Place, Chatham in 1821.

  • A tour around Charles Dickens’s London with actor Simon Callow. (2012, Guardian.co.uk).

Dickens – From Boy To Man

In the Summer of 1822, the Dickens family moved to No. 16 Bayham Street, Camden Town, London. Initially, everything went well for the Dickens family until they fell upon hard times as a result of living beyond their means. Charles Dickens’s father was arrested for debt on February 20th, 1824 and his family (with the exception of Charles) were consigned by creditors to the Marshalsea Prison in Southwark. Charles was sent to work ten hour days at Warren’s blacking-warehouse (3 Chandos Street, Hungerford Market) where he earned six shillings a week pasting labels on pots of boot blacking. During this period, he boarded with a family friend at 112 College Place, Camden and later a garret in Lant Street, Southwark. The income Charles earned helped his family keep their heads above water. John Dickens was released from Marshalsea on 28th May, 1824. The family was reunited at 29 Johnson Street, Somers Town.

Between 1824 and 1827, Dickens attended Wellington House Academy, North London. The Academy fell short of providing young Dickens with a solid educational foundation. In his view it was poorly managed, chaotic and standards of teaching were below what one would expect from such an establishment. Dickens began his professional career in May 1827 when he began work as a junior clerk at law firm Ellis & Blackmore of Holborn Court, Gray’s Inn where he remained until November 1828.

  • Charles Dickens: Literature’s Great Rock Star. (2013, CBS Sunday Morning).
Charles Dickens, 25th June, 1870. Featured in The Tomahawk (London). Image source: The Victorian Web
Charles Dickens, 25th June, 1870. Featured in The Tomahawk (London). Image source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image and text by George P. Landow.

Dickens The Writer And Journalist

Between 1829 and 1831, Dickens worked as a shorthand court reporter on Mirror of Parliament (a rival publication to Hansard) and True Sun. He also enjoyed a successful career as an editor and journalist on the Morning Chronicle and Bentley’s Miscellany. His experiences working for these publications led him to establish his own journals: The Daily News (from October 1845 until March 1846);  Household Words  (from March 1850 until June 1859) and All Year Round (from May 1859 until 1895).

In 1846, Dickens founded another important publication, The Daily News, which continued in print until 1870. Scottish musicologist George Hogarth (1783-1870), whom Dickens had met whilst working on the Morning Chronicle in 1834, was the publication’s music critic until 1866. Dickens went on to marry Hogarth’s daughter, Catherine (1815-1879), on the 3rd April, 1836. The couple had ten children together and set-up home in Bloomsbury.

Between 1837 and 1839 the newlyweds lived at 48 Doughty Street, a residence that Dickens described as ‘my house in town’. Doughty Street has been a Museum dedicated to the life and work of Charles Dickens since it opened in 1925. A number of key events happened to Dickens at the Doughty Street residence. His seventeen year old sister-in-law Mary, died in his arms in one of the upstairs bedrooms, two of his daughters were born here (Mary and Kate) and he wrote Oliver Twist (1837) and Nicholas Nickleby (1838) whilst living there.

  • Presenter Paul Martin takes a tour of Dickens’s Kent including a visit to Gad’s Hill Place, Higham. (2011)

Dickens divided his adult life between London and Kent. He purchased Gad’s Hill Place, Higham, Kent in March 1856 and his family moved there in June 1857. Dickens did not move permanently to Gad’s Hill until he sold his London residence in 1860. Dickens first saw Gad’s Hill as a nine year old boy whilst out walking with his father who apparently turned to the young Dickens and said: ‘If you work hard, you might some day come to live in it.’ The Grade I listed Georgian property became a school from 1924 until quite recently when they moved into new premises.  In 2012, work began on turning Gad’s Hill Place into an international heritage centre.

Dickens's Study at Gad's Hill, Higham, Kent. Image Source: The Victorian Web.
Dickens’s Study at Gad’s Hill, Higham, Kent. Image Source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

Dickens And His ‘Invisible Woman’

Dickens marriage to Catherine was, for many years, a happy union. Unfortunately, over time it deteriorated, leading to their eventual separation in June, 1858. In Victorian England, separating from your wife was an unusual course of action, particularly if you lived your life in the public eye such as Dickens did. On Saturday, 12th June, 1858, Dickens took the unusual step of publishing a statement about the separation. The statement appeared in both the London Times and his own journal, Household Words. The notice puts forward his reasons for separating. The original article, as it appeared in Household Words, is reprinted below:

Three and twenty years have passed since I entered on my present relations with the Public. They began when I was so young, that I find them to have existed for nearly a quarter of a century. Through all that time I have tried to be as faithful to the Public, as they have been to me. It was my duty never to trifle with them, or deceive them, or presume upon their favor, or do any thing with it but work hard to justify it. I have always endeavoured to discharge that duty. My conspicuous position has often made me the subject of fabulous stories and unaccountable statements. Occasionally, such things have chafed me, or even wounded me; but, I have always accepted them as the shadows inseparable from the light of my notoriety and success. I have never obtruded any such personal uneasiness of mine, upon the generous aggregate of my audience. For the first time in my life, and I believe for the last, I now deviate from the principle I have so long observed, by presenting myself in my own Journal in my own private character, and entreating all my brethren (as they deem that they have reason to think well of me, and to know that I am a man who has ever been unaffectedly true to our common calling), to lend their aid to the dissemination of my present words. Some domestic trouble of mine, of long-standing, on which I will make no further remark than that it claims to be respected, as being of a sacredly private nature, has lately been brought to an arrangement, which involves no anger or ill-will of any kind, and the whole origin, progress, and surrounding circumstances of which have been, throughout, within the knowledge of my children. It is amicably composed, and its details have now but to be forgotten by those concerned in it. By some means, arising out of wickedness, or out of folly, or out of inconceivable wild chance, or out of all three, this trouble has been made the occasion of misrepresentations, most grossly false, most monstrous, and most cruel—involving, not only me, but innocent persons dear to my heart, and innocent persons of whom I have no knowledge, if, indeed, they have any existence—and so widely spread, that I doubt if one reader in a thousand will peruse these lines, by whom some touch of the breath of these slanders will not have passed, like an unwholesome air. Those who know me and my nature, need no assurance under my hand that such calumnies are as irreconcilable with me, as they are, in their frantic incoherence, with one another. But, there is a great multitude who know me through my writings, and who do not know me otherwise; and I cannot bear that one of them should be left in doubt, or hazard of doubt, through my poorly shrinking from taking the unusual means to which I now resort, of circulating the Truth. I most solemnly declare, then—and this I do, both in my own name and in my wife’s name—that all the lately whispered rumours touching the trouble at which I have glanced, are abominably false. And that whosoever repeats one of them after this denial, will lie as wilfully and as foully as it is possible for any false witness to lie, before Heaven and earth.

Dickens met Rochester-born actress Ellen ‘Nelly’ Wharton Robinson (née Ternan) (1839-1914) in 1857, a year before officially separating from Catherine.  Both Ellen and her mother were engaged as actresses in the play The Frozen Deep which Dickens was producing for his good friend Wilkie Collins (1824-1889).  It is possible that Ellen was the inspiration for Lucie Manette in A Tale of Two Cities (1859). Ellen became Dickens’s mistress for the last thirteen years of his life. She outlived him by forty-two years and during this time married George Wharton Robinson in 1876. Throughout her life, Ellen remained loyal and discrete about her relationship with Dickens. Even when the Birthplace Museum opened its doors to the public in 1904, Ellen did not associate herself with the event. She remained very much ‘the invisible woman’. Dickens left Ellen a legacy in his Will and his sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth (1827-1917), gave Ellen the pen with which Dickens had been writing on the last day of his life.

A new film, The Invisible Woman,  based on British biographer Claire Tomalin’s 1990 book of the same name, has been adapted for the screen by Abi Morgan and is directed by Ralph Fiennes who also plays Dickens in the film. Fiennes comments about the Dickens/Ternan relationship:

Everyone wags their finger of judgment at Dickens. And yes, he didn’t behave so well, especially in defending himself. You rather wish he’d just shut up about it. But his public self-justification was probably the most uncomfortable thing about it, not that he fell in love with a young girl. My sense is he was flailing around and he felt a bit lost. He sees this girl and he projects so much on to her.

 The thing that led me to make the film was to look at what made this young girl contemplate a relationship with Dickens, a much older man, and come to a point of finally saying, “I’m in this, I’m with you”.

(‘The Invisible Woman: Behind The Scenes’ by David Gritten, The Telegraph, 19.01.2014)

  • The Invisible Woman (2013) – Official UK Trailer. Film is released in UK cinemas on Friday 7th February, 2014.

Dickens died of a stroke (‘Apoplexy’), aged 58, on the evening of 9th June, 1870 at Gad’s Hill Place, Kent. There are two versions of the events leading up to his death. One is that he was taken ill during dinner on the 8th June and placed his favourite couch (which is now in the Birthplace Museum in Southsea, Portsmouth) to reduce the risk to his health from carrying him upstairs to the bedroom. The second version of events suggests that he was visiting Ellen in Peckham and was taken ill. Ellen hired a carriage and accompanied, the now unconscious Dickens, to Gad’s Hill where he was placed on his favourite couch and died surrounded by his family.

'Mr Bumble and Oliver Twist' from Oliver Twist (1837). Colour lithography by Harold Copping (1924). Image source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image by Philip V. Allingham.
‘Mr Bumble and Oliver Twist’ (1924) from Oliver Twist (1837). Colour lithography by Harold Copping (1863-1932). Image source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image by Philip V. Allingham.

Dickens – The Social Commentator

In his writing, Dickens displays great dexterity of skill, combining social commentary with keenly observed characters. He drew upon his own life experiences which ensured believability in his written word. Dickens was also influenced by social researcher and journalist Henry Mayhew (1812-1887) who published London Labour and the London Poor in 1851. Mayhew’s writing had originally been printed as a series of newspaper articles in the Morning Chronicle, the same publication that Dickens had once worked as a reporter on.  Mayhew’s book comprises a collection of  his own detailed data and first-hand accounts, of a wide-range of London’s poor and disenfranchised, from costermongers and street-sellers to sewer-scavengers and chimney-sweeps. The following is an extract from the chapter, ‘Crossing-Sweepers’:

People take to crossing-sweeping either on account of their bodily afflictions, depriving them of the power of performing ruder work, or because the occupation is the last resource left open to them of earning a living, and they considered even the scanty subsistence it yields preferable to that of the workhouse. The greater proportion of crossing-sweepers are those who, from some bodily infirmity or injury, are prevented from a more laborious mode of obtaining their living. Among the bodily infirmities the chief are old age, asthma, and rheumatism; and the injuries mostly consist of loss of limbs. Many of the rheumatic sweepers have been bricklayers’ labourers. The classification of crossing-sweepers is not very complex. They may be divided into the ‘casual’ and the ‘regular’. The regular crossing-sweepers are those who have taken-up their posts at the corner of streets or squares; and I have met with some who have kept to the same spot for more than forty years.

(Mayhew, H. (2010) [1851], London Labour and The London Poor, Oxford University Press, pp. 208-9)

In Bleak House (1853) Dickens presents us with Jo the crossing sweeper a character thought to have been inspired by a real-life crossing-sweep called George Ruby. Chapter 47 of Bleak House, ‘Jo’s Will’, includes a touching account by Dickens of a dying, young, homeless crossing-sweep called Jo.

  • Extract (1 min 40 secs) from Household Words Narrative (1st January, 1850) relates to young crossing-sweep George Ruby who is giving evidence in an assault case against a Police Officer.  Read by Editor of Come Step Back in Time, Emma.
Joe The Crossing-sweep and Mr Snagsby. Photographic reproduction of a line drawing from Dickens' Dream Children, p.221. Image source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
Jo the crossing sweeper and Mr Snagsby. Photographic reproduction of a line drawing from Dickens’ Dream Children, p.221. Image source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
  • Extract (6 mins 41 secs) from Bleak House (1853), Chapter 47 (XLVII), ‘Jo’s Will’. Jo’s final moments. Read by Editor of Come Step Back in Time, Emma.
'Pip waits on Miss Havisham'. Great Expectations. Wood-engraving by Marcus Stone (1862). Image source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
‘Pip waits on Miss Havisham’. Great Expectations. Wood-engraving by Marcus Stone (1862). Image source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
  • Extract (18 mins 47 secs.) from Household Words, January 1st, 1853, Volume 6.  ‘Where We Stopped Growing’ by Charles Dickens. Dickens part-based the character of Miss Havisham on his childhood recollections of the ‘White Woman’ of Berners Street, London. He wrote about the ‘White Woman’ in this article. Read by Editor of Come Step Back in Time, Emma.
  • Extract (2 mins 58 secs.) from Household Narrative the monthly supplement for Household Words, January 1st, 1850.  Another source of inspiration for the character of Miss Havisham was the real life death of recluse Martha Joachim. Her death was reported in his monthly journal, Household Narrative. Read by Editor of Come Step Back in Time, Emma.
  • Extract (2 mins 39 secs.) from the ‘Household and Disaster’ section of Household Narrative, the monthly supplement for Household Words, January 1st, 1850. Another possible source of inspiration for the character of Miss Havisham.  A young lady, Miss Gordon, experiences the unfortunate incident of her ‘light gauze over-dress’ catching fire as a result of leaning too close to the candles on a Christmas tree. Read by Editor of Come Step Back in Time, Emma
'On The Marshes by the Lime-kiln'. Pip visits the Marshes. Great Expectations.  A wood engraving by Marcus Stone (1862). Image source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
‘On The Marshes by the Lime-kiln’. Pip visits the Marshes. Great Expectations (1861). A wood engraving by Marcus Stone (1862). Image source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

Dickens And Serialisation

Dickens is still one of Britain’s best-loved novelists . His body of work has inspired countless adaptations across a wide range of genres. These numerous re-workings help to ensure his writing remains vibrant to successive generations of readers. For many writers of fiction, he is still thought of as the quintessential authors’ author. His works are popular with film-makers, variously drawn to his flare for characterisation as well as his full-bodied plotlines which translate well from page-to-screen. His writing also has an innate sense of theatricality which makes it attractive to a dramatist.

American author Donna Tartt believes that readers are attracted to him because of his versatility as a writer, he shows great intelligence and heart but can also be unruly, predictable, chaotic and exciting. Journalist and writer, Philip Womack, also observes, that:

Dickens’s books are forever metamorphosing into plays, films, musicals; his  characters have permeated the collective imagination. His reputation as a craftsman, as opposed to a hack, has slowly expanded, as critics have begun to appreciate the fictional ground he broke. His influence is paramount.  Mervyn Peake wouldn’t exist without him, nor Iris Murdoch.  Any novel today that has an ensemble cast and concerns itself with social matters is labelled “Dickensian”.

(‘Why Dickens Speaks To Us Now’ by Philip Womack, The Telegraph, 07.02.2012)

It is as well to note here, detailed illustrations created by several artists (notably Hablot Knight Browne (1815-1882), also known as ‘Phiz’), appeared alongside the original novels. Browne produced etchings for ten of the author’s novels and remained one of Dickens main illustrators for over two decades. These illustrations helped bring the characters to life for the Victorian reader and also provide us today with a visual record of the author’s imaginings.

'The Wine-Shop' by Hablot K. Browne ('Phiz'). Illustration from A Tale of Two Cities (1859). Book II, Chapter 6, published in All Year Round, September 1859, (issued 6th August). Image source: The Victorian Web. Image scan and text by Philip V. Allingham. Formatting and image correction by George P. Landow.
‘The Wine-Shop’ by Hablot K. Browne (‘Phiz’). Illustration from A Tale of Two Cities (1859). Book II, Chapter 6, published in All Year Round, September 1859, (issued 6th August). Image source: The Victorian Web. Image scan and text by Philip V. Allingham. Formatting and image correction by George P. Landow.

Many of his major novels were originally written to be serialised in journals. This could be one reason why Dickens is so popular with scriptwriters. The narrative structure of each episode has already been established, cliff-hangers and page turners are in abundance. These particular novels appeared in weekly or monthly instalments in publications such as Household Words and All Year Round.  Serialisation creates a unique relationship between writer and reader, expectations are high on the author to deliver thrilling instalment after thrilling instalment. The popularity of television and radio soap operas today proves that serialisation is still a powerful literary device.

'The Terrible Stranger in the Churchyard'. Pip meets Abel Magwitch in Great Expectations. Etching is by F. W. Pailthorpe (c1900). Image Source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image and text George P. Landow.
‘The terrible stranger in the churchyard’. Pip meets Abel Magwitch in Great Expectations (1861). Etching is by F. W. Pailthorpe (c.1900). Image Source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image and text George P. Landow.

Dickens was a shrewd businessman and clever self-promoter. He created storylines that excited and intrigued his readers. His writing made good business sense too, if the reader liked the story than they would purchase the publication on a regular basis, producing healthy circulation figures and a loyal readership for the journals. Hard Times (1854) boosted the circulated of Household Words and when Great Expectations was serialised, weekly, in All Year Round’, (between December 1860 and August 1861), readers loved it so much that sales skyrocketed. Shortly after the final instalment of  Great Expectations was published, it appeared in three volumes in hardback form to an already established readership.

Volume one of Great Expectations focussing upon Pip’s childhood in Kent and his dissatisfactions set-up by Satis House. Volume two moves forward in time to Pip’s life as a young gentleman in and around Little Britain in London. The final volume features the arrival of the convict, Abel Magwitch, Pip’s attempt to save him and also his desire to forgive Miss Havisham and be forgiven by his brother-in-law, Joe Gargery.

Great Expectations had originally begun as an idea for a short essay written from the perspective of a semi-fictional adult narrator who would recount his experiences in town and country. The material for the story would be inspired by Dickens own childhood in Kent and London. He told his friend and biographer, John Forster:

..a very fine, new, and grotesque idea…I begin to doubt whether I had not better cancel the little paper, and reserve the notion for a new book.. I can see the whole of a serial revolving on it, in a most singular and comic manner.

(Forster, J. (1928), Life of Charles Dickens, Cecil Palmer, p. 733)

The original planned ending for Great Expectations did not result in Pip and Estella ending-up together. However, on the advice of his good friend Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), Dickens altered book’s conclusion to ensure a happy reunion between the two young protagonists.

Dickens On Screen

Each one of Dickens fifteen novels has been filmed at least once and well over four hundred film and TV adaptations have been made so far.  The earliest surviving example of a film adaptation is one inspired by A Christmas Carol (1843) called Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901). This British production was directed by R.W. Paul and had a running time of approximately five minutes. According to early film historian, Graham Petrie, he estimates that during the silent-era, (1897-1927), approximately one hundreds film adaptations were made of novels by Dickens. These ranged from three minutes in length to ninety minutes or longer:

The most frequently filmed titles in the silent-era were A Christmas Carol, The Old Curiosity Shop, The Pickwick Papers, and especially, Oliver Twist, with The Cricket on the Hearth making a surprisingly strong showing – titles that reflect quite accurately the popular preferences of the early years of this century. David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities were filmed some half a dozen times each, while works highly regarded nowadays, such as Bleak House, Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend, appear at most only three or four times.

(Petrie, G. (2001), ‘Silent Film Adaptations of Dickens’, The Dickensian, No. 455)

Unfortunately, only about thirty or so of these early silent film adaptations are known to have survived.  A Dickens novel adapted for the silent screen works surprisingly well. I have recently re-watched my BFI DVD 2-disc set ‘Dickens Before Sound’. Three hours of rare silent dramatisations produced between 1880 and 1929, accompanied by Neil Brand’s  evocative scoring. It is remarkable how the complexities of main plots and subplots, that run throughout a Dickens novel, translate perfectly well from page-to-screen, without the aid of any spoken dialogue. Professional dramatist and Dickens expert, Michael Eaton, observes that Dickens’ prose has inherent cinematic qualities that make it popular with film-makers:

American film director D.W. Griffith (1875-1948) continually cited Dickens’ prose as the paramount inspiration for his cinematic style – in particular the ‘cut-back’, parallel cross-cutting between simultaneous spheres of action. Lillian Gish declared that Dickens was her mentor’s ‘idol’ and Griffith’s wife, Linda Arvidson, famously remembered an argument with Griffith’s Biograph bosses over the editing of his 1911 film, Enoch Arden, based on a poem by Tennyson. When Mr Griffith suggested a scene showing Annie Lee waiting for her husband’s return followed by a scene of Enoch cast away on a desert island, it was altogether too distracting.

“How can you tell a story jumping about like that? The people won’t know what it’s about.”

“Well,” said Mr Griffith, “doesn’t Dickens write that way?”

“Yes, but that’s Dickens; that’s novel writing; that’s different.”

“Oh, not so much, these are picture stories; not so different.’

(Eaton, M. (2011), ‘Old Curiosity Shots’, Dickens Before Sound, BFI, pp. 2-3)

Film historian Michael Pointer believes that the popularity on-screen of Dickens’s novels is attributable to the style in which he wrote:

..[it] does not seem to date, like that of many of his contemporaries…as a great artist, Dickens made his serious social messages more widely known by enclosing them within the context of his stories to make them more palatable, although he risked a mixed reception at the time of first publication.

..the playwright or film-maker is engaged in translating the story into a totally different medium, and within that medium, different rules apply as to form and content…provided the end result is a good dramatic piece that captures and conveys the real spirit of the original, such amputations are frequently justified. Where a novelist can afford to spend several pages describing the thoughts of a character and his mental responses to a particular set of circumstances, a film has to abbreviate such matters and portray many of them usually, using the subtleties of camera angle, frame composition, sound effects, music, and cutting. All such aids need to be skilfully incorporated in the screenplay. In some instances, there are features of the author’s treatment of a story that prove to be almost unfilmable and test the skill of the adapter.

(Pointer, M. (1996), Charles Dickens On The Screen: The Film, Television and Video Adaptations, Scarecrow Press, pp. 1-2 & p.4)

  • Olivia Twist (2013), Trailer

In 2012, to mark the bicentenary of his birth, an initiative was launched to inspire emerging and established film-makers to create new, distinctive and original short films based on the life and/or work of Charles Dickens, ‘The Film London Dickens 2012 Short Production Scheme.’ One production that particularly caught my eye was a contemporary re-telling of Oliver Twist (1838) set in Stoke-on-Trent, Olivia Twist (2013), directed by Arno Hazebroek. The main protagonist has been recast as an eighteen year old orphan from Afghanistan, Olivia (Ellie Mahyoub). She is on the run and finds shelter with Bob Fagin (Martin Alcock) and his gang of mercenary metal thieves. The film is set against a background of the 2011 riots.

Pip tends to his parents grave at the Church on the Marsh. Magwitch (2013), Dir. Samuel Supple. Image courtesy of Viola Films.
‘Pip tends to his parents grave at the Church on the Marsh’. Pip (Benjamin Barnard). Film still from Magwitch (2012). Dir. Samuel Supple. Producer, Debra McGee. Filmed entirely on location in Kent. Image courtesy of Viola Films.

In 2011, award-winning Kent-based production company, Violafilms, made Magwitch (2012). A period film that acts as a prequel to Great Expectations (1860). Shot entirely on location in Kent, this slick and stylish production sets-out to explore further, the relationship between convict Abel Magwitch (Samuel Edward-Cook) and Molly (Candis Nergaard), lawyer Jaggers’s (David Verrey) feisty housemaid.

The film’s writer and Director, Samuel Supple, grew-up in a village just outside of Rochester, Kent.  He remembers visiting St. James’ Church in Cooling as a young boy. In the churchyard there are thirteen, lozenge-shaped gravestones of young children, belonging to two families, who died in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Dickens used the setting as inspiration for his opening chapter of Great Expectations:

..to five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine – who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle…My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard..

(Dickens, C. (1998) [1860], Great Expectations, Oxford University Press, p.3)

Samuel recalls to me his earliest experiences of Dickens’s writing: ‘I first starting reading his books as a teenager. But for quite a number of years I actually thought that his stories were based on real-life events, people and places. I had been taken to various locations across Kent as a boy and my family would point-out places mentioned in some of the novels, so for me, the world of Dickens was a very real place and it began to spark my imagination. His writing now inspires my work as a film-maker.’

Abel
‘Abel Magwitch (Samuel Edward-Cook) in the black-hole of the prison hulk’. Film still from Magwitch (2012). Image courtesy of Violafilms.

I asked Samuel why he had chosen to delve further into the backstory of Magwitch?: ‘I was working on a short documentary about prison hulks for BBC’s Inside Out. I remembered from reading Great Expectations that Magwitch had been imprisoned for fourteen years on the Medway hulks . I decided to revisit the novel. As a film-maker I thought I just had to tell Magwitch’s story. There are many questions that Dickens has left unanswered. Also, a character’s backstory often gets left-out when a novel is adapted for screen. This has happened with previous adaptations of Great Expectations. I once read a quote by David Lean about what inspired him to adapt the novel for cinema, “I am first and foremost interested in the characters.”‘

Magwitch
‘Abel Magwitch (Samuel Edward-Cook) first meets Pip (Benjamin Barnard) in the churchyard.’ Film still from Magwitch (2012). Image courtesy of Violafilms.

David Lean’s (1908-1991) 1946 version of Great Expectations, is acknowledged to be one of the finest, feature-length, adaptations of a Dickens novel. One of the earliest known film versions of Great Expectations, is The Boy and the Convict (1909). A British, one reel, twelve-minute silent film, directed by David Aylott and produced by Williamson Kinematograph Company. Magwitch and Pip feature prominently in this production and key scenes such as the churchyard meeting and Magwitch’s escape to the colonies to seek his fortune, are all included. In 2012, Mike Newell’s version of Great Expectations met with a mixed reception from the critics, some claiming that it lacked the passion of Dickens’s original text.

  • Great Expectations (2012) featurette in which Mike Newell talks about bringing Dickens’s novel to the big screen.

One of the difficulties with adapting Great Expectations for screen, is that it relies heavily upon dialogue and narration to carry the action along. Lean describes some of the literary hurdles he had to overcome in translating the book from page-to-screen:

I imagined Great Expectations as a fairy tale, just not quite true… In writing the script, we read and re-read the novels and made a one-line summary of the actual incidents in each chapter, ignoring all conversation and descriptive matter. Any duplication or similarity of scenes was cut-out. Actual scenes for the film were built-up from this summary. Dickens’s dialogue is perfect for the screen, and almost all of it was taken from the book. Occasionally, an incident has been altered to suit the demands of the cinema. In some cases the actual sequence of events has been interchanged to make for a better balance and dramatic value. Technically, I would say that Oliver Twist was more difficult to adapt for the screen than Great Expectations. The main problem was that of making fantastic, larger than life characters fit into a starkly real setting.

(Pointer, M. (1996), Charles Dickens On The Screen: The Film, Television and Video Adaptations, Scarecrow Press,  pp. 67-8)

I asked Samuel about his own approaches to working with Dickens’s text when developing the script for Magwitch?: ‘I enjoy the process of storytelling. I also think that it is important to explore different ways of adapting a story for screen. I decided to use the book’s original opening scene, where Pip visits the graveyard and meets Magwitch for the first time, as the last scene in my film. I have always felt that Great Expectations is a sequel to a better story. I just explored the text in order to discover what that original story might have been. I used Dickens’s original story to expand the story arc in my own film. For example, I wanted to see lawyer Mr Jaggers (David Verrey) in action, so I wrote a courtroom scene to show that.’

Jaggers
‘Mr Jaggers (David Verrey) in action at Molly’s murder Trial’. Film still from Magwitch (2012). Image courtesy of Violafilms.

‘I think more emerging film-makers should not be afraid of tackling big authors like Dickens. There are so many great works of literature, long since out of copyright, that would make fantastic screenplays. Don’t be afraid to interact and experiment with the text either.’

Abel Magwitch and Molly. Film still from Magwitch (2013). Image courtesy of Violafilms.
‘Abel Magwitch (Samuel Edward-Cook) and Molly (Candis Nergaard)’. Film still from Magwitch (2012). Image courtesy of Violafilms.

‘For example, Dickens’s Molly is not exactly similar to my version of her. No other film-maker has ever tackled the issue of Molly being a Romany gypsy either. I was lucky when it came to casting the role of Molly, actress Candis Nergaard, who plays her in the film, is herself of Romany origin. I wanted Molly to be a forest and field nymph who when she first appears onscreen is filled with passion. In Great Expectations, Dickens describes her as “a wild beast tamed.”‘

Molly (Candis Nergaard). Film still from Magwitch (2013). Image courtesy of Violafilms.
Molly (Candis Nergaard). Film still from Magwitch (2012). Image courtesy of Violafilms.

‘However, through a sequence of events leading up to and throughout standing trial for the murder of Bessie Watts, Molly’s fire within has burned out, by the time the verdict has been read, she has been tamed. In my film, the colour of her costumes reflect her changes of mood. As she goes into a darker world and her journey goes on, her clothes become a darker hue, they go from red to black.’

Molly standing trial for the murder of Bessie Watts. Film still from
‘Molly (Candis Nergaard) standing trial for the murder of Bessie Watts (Lucinda Ryan)’. Judge (Clyde Young). Film still from Magwitch (2012). Image courtesy of Violafilms.

Growing-up and living in Kent, meant that Samuel was able to utilise his extensive knowledge of the region when it came to choosing suitable locations for Magwitch. I was interested to find-out find out from him about these choices of location?: ‘Rochester is a very unique place with a strong Dickensian feel. Walking around the city, I feel as though I have been transported back to Victorian England. I filmed during the Indian Summer of September 2011 and were fortunate enough to have excellent shooting conditions which was just as well, there were many exterior shots. I visited lots of different locations across to Kent before settling on my final choices. I was very lucky, everything came together well. In the opening sequence of the film, I used the same Marshlands in Kent that Lean had used in his adaptation. I chose The Guildhall in Sandwich as the courtroom scene location. I later found-out that its interior had in fact been modelled on the Old Bailey. In the courtroom scene there is a moment when Jaggers is silent and you can faintly hear a bell chiming. This is in fact Sandwich’s famous old clock which has a lot of history and strong nautical connections. It is not difficult to find good locations for filming in Kent. If you do your research you will find somewhere suitable.’

Magwitch.
Magwitch (2012)- Filming on location in Kent. Image courtesy of Violafilms.

  • Watch the full version of Magwitch (2012), written and directed by Samuel Supple produced by Debra McGee (Violafilms – exciting new website will be launching soon featuring new projects in development);
  • You can follow Violafilms on Twitter @ViolaFilms and Facebook.
Charles Dickens surrounded by his characters by J. R. Brown. Pen and pencil drawing. 1889-90. Image source: The Victorian Web.
Charles Dickens surrounded by his characters by J. R. Brown. Pen and pencil drawing. 1889-90. Image source: The Victorian Web. Scanned image and text by George P. Landow.