Posted in History

End Of An Era …..

  • Pictorial highlights from some of my many blogging adventures with Come Step Back In Time. (More images at end of article).

I published my first article on Come Step Back In Time in July 2011 and after 5 incredible years this post will, sadly, be my last. I have thoroughly enjoyed every second of writing this blog but the time has now come to embark on exciting new  challenges. I will always be very proud of Come Step Back In Time and this blog will remain live for as long as the WordPress platform continues to exist.

This blog contains 185 articles, most of which are long read. Final word count stands at 280k, equivalent to 3 full-length novels or 3 PhDs. Phew! No wonder I have bags under my eyes.  At the end of this post, I have curated some of my favourite articles.

Come Step Back In Time will always have a very special place in my heart. It has brought me great creative joy, new friendships as well as many media opportunities, on television, radio, podcasts and in print, including BBC, ITV and Channel 4, to name but a few. 

Thank-you to each and every one of you that have read Come Step Back In Time, taken the time to comment, e-mail me, follow my blog(s) and offer me fabulous opportunities. I will always be extremely grateful for your support.

If you wish to contact me, my e-mail address will still be: astepbackintimeinfo [@]


Honour Roll: My Favourite Come Step Back In Time Articles 

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

Top 10 Tips For Starting A History Blog

©Come Step Back In Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Come Step Back In Time






Posted in Country House, Film, History, Maritime History, Vintage, World War Two

Southampton & The Basque Refugee Children of 1937

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  • Basque children arrive at Southampton aboard the liner, SS Habana, having been rescued from the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.  May 25th, 1937.

I am extremely pleased to finally be publishing this article which I have been researching, on and off, for about a year now. Since the plight of migrant children continues to dominate European news headlines, it felt like the perfect time to crack-on and write-up my notes. Regardless of your political views about refugees, economic migrants or asylum seekers, this is a heart-warming, true story, fundamentally about humanitarianism.

The successful evacuation of 3,840 children to Britain from the war-torn Basque region of Spain in May, 1937 is an event in our nation’s history that we should justly be proud of. As the narrator states in the British Pathé film below: ‘Britain has always been a safe haven for exiles’. Perhaps we should all bear this phrase in mind when formulating an opinion about the plight of families fleeing war-torn countries.

  • British Pathe film from 1937, ‘Tragedy of Civil War – Basque Refugee children arrive in England’.  Film shows the children arriving in Southampton as well as the temporary reception camp at Stoneham Farm, Eastleigh, near to the city centre. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.

In 1937, Spain was engaged in Civil War and had been since 17th July, 1936. The political background to the War is complex but I recommend listening to Melvyn Bragg’s BBC Radio 4 documentary on the topic from the In Our Time series, broadcast in April 2003, which clearly sets-out the facts.

At first, the British government did not want the Basque refugee children to come, intervention could be seen as an act of taking sides. The government wanted to maintain a neutral reaction to this conflict. The Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, William Cosmo Gordon Lang (1864-1945), also found himself in a difficult situation, he too had to adopt the Church of England’s neutral position whilst supporting humanitarian initiatives for the Spanish women and children.

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  • Bombing Of Guernica In Spain, April, 1937. The event inspired Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting, ‘Guernica’.

On 26th April, 1937, the non-militarised Basque town of Guernica was heavily bombed. This was one of the first aerial bombings by Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe. The town was devastated and over 1,600 people killed. Archbishop Lang happened to be in the Basque region at the time, reporting back on the children’s harrowing plight. Public conscience was stirred and the British government were forced to back down.

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  • ‘Guernica’, a mural oil-painting on canvas by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), completed in June 1937, as a reaction to Nazi Germany’s bombing of the town. The painting is housed in Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofia.

Originally, the Home Office only gave permission for 2,000 children to be evacuated to Britain. However, since France had already given shelter to between 16,000 and 18,000 refugees, supporters argued that it was not unreasonable for Britain to ‘do her bit’ and take-in 4,000 children.

If England will not have them all, 2,000 will be landed at Bordeaux en route, and the rest will be brought to Southampton arriving Saturday. [22nd  May, 1937).

(The Daily Echo, 18.5.1937)

The people of Southampton rose to the challenge as one might expect from a Port town with a long history of welcoming migrants fleeing persecution. The town needed to pool all of its human resources to pull-off a successful reception and create a suitable base camp for the children. The children only needed accommodation in Southampton for a couple of months, as the plan was to send them on to new foster homes and country houses throughout Britain until hostilities in Spain had ceased.

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  • Volunteer helpers cleaning a house in preparation for the arrival of Spanish refugees, 1937.

Although the British Government now supported an evacuation, they made it perfectly clear that once on British soil, they would not be held responsible for the children’s welfare. Of course, such declarations just served to fuel the cause. Southampton’s citizens rallied and several days before the refugees were due to arrive, 1,000 of them gathered at the town’s Guildhall to pledge their help, support and donate money.

I found the following quotes from regional newspapers in a clippings folder at the Local Studies Centre of Southampton Central Library. They detail how local people rose to this challenge.  Organisations, such as the Scouts, Guides, Boys Brigade, YMCA, Salvation Army and Quakers lent their support. Southampton’s school children collected eggs and the town’s local co-op donated food and clothes. An egg-storing depot was set-up at Messrs A. E. Turner’s store, London Road, Southampton. High-profile supporters of the evacuation were The Duchess of Atholl, the Cadbury and Rowntree families and King George VI.

Southampton’s response in personal service and in gifts has been magnificent, but there are still several urgent needs unfilled. One of these is a caravan or hut for the use of V.A.D. nurses and as a medical examination room.

(The Daily Echo, 18.5.1937)

Gifts of vegetables toys, clothes, etc, are, of course, warmly welcomed, and there is a caravan just outside [of the Stoneham transit camp, near Southampton] for the receipt of gifts. The generous spirit  of local folk is above praise; hundreds have been working all hours of the night, and even if they go out of their way to engage a cook or collect a string of cars which turn out to be unwanted, they take it all most philosophically. 

The spirit of the camp is admirable: one recognised many of Southampton’s  leading spirits at work on humble jobs or helping in the shepherding of children: so long as they are useful they do not mind. Even trained nurses were cheerfully filling palliases  with straw on Sunday, because that was the most urgent task. Incidentally, someone had the bright idea of turning Sunday afternoon’s curiosity to account, and went round with a tin bowl. He collected £5 in pennies.

(The Hampshire Advertiser and Southampton Times, 29.5.1937)

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  • Three young orphans from Bilbao arrive at Southampton aboard the liner Habana. May 23rd, 1937.

On Thursday 20th May, 1937, the SS Habana sailed from Bilbao, France with approximately 3,840 children on board accompanied by 80 teachers, 120 helpers, 15 Catholic priests and 2 doctors. The ship was only meant to carry 800 and conditions on-board were very cramped. It was a tough voyage, many suffered sea-sickness, diarrhoea, particularly around the Bay of Biscay.

SS Habana arrived in British waters on Saturday 22nd May, lying-off of Fawley, where it awaited English health authorities to clear its passengers so that it could dock at Southampton Port. Early on Sunday 23rd May, SS Habana finally left her anchorage and docked at Berth 106, arriving just before 8am.

The children were given medical examinations then immigration officers took details of their names and parentage, fixing labels to their wrists before they were allowed to troop down the Habana’s gangway onto the safety of Southampton Docks. The children were helped by white-uniformed, Spanish, Red Cross nurses.

Once the children had disembarked onto Southampton Quay, they boarded a long line of Hants and Dorset Motor Services buses which the company had loaned for such purposes. Next stop was Southampton Corporation Baths on Western Esplanade, where a host of volunteers bathed them in disinfectant and gave each child a fresh set of clothes.

The above immigration procedures may seem a little draconian by modern standards but you have to remember that the living conditions these refugees had left behind were so grim, many of them had become malnourished and vulnerable to disease. All sensible precautions had to be taken to ensure no communicable diseases were inadvertently brought into Britain and worse still, spread throughout the transit camp at Stoneham Farm.

In one of the local newspaper reports, I found an account of life in the war torn Basque region, given by a 15 year old girl from the town of Azkoitia in the province of Gipuzkoa.

Nine months ago, I was living with my father and two brothers in Azkoitia, where my father was a magistrate. Now my father is in Bilbao, one of 300,000 refugees from the war zone. My brothers are fighting in the Basque Army against the Fascists. When the fighting began all around my home we had to evacuate the village. My father and I went to Guernica.

We lived there for eight months – mostly underground – until in one air raid the whole town was wiped out.  What had a short time before been a pretty market town was reduced to a mass of flame and ruin. Incendiary bombs fell side by side with high explosives. Panic and bloodshed were rife. All the people in the houses next to that in which I was are now dead.

(Southern Daily Echo, 24.5.1937)

Another account was given by a couple of Roman Catholic priests who had accompanied the refugees to Britain. Benito Juan Sarakoetxea and Padre Gabriel Manterola told reporters at the Southern Daily Echo that the people’s diet had been very poor indeed, food was scarce. Daily rations consisted mainly of fish, black bread and water with some milk made available to children.

They also recalled how citizens were so afraid they were living in the safety of their cellars. In fact since 31st March, 1937, the children had been bombed every day except for three days, leaving many of them now in a heightened state of anxiety.

Southampton residents were asked not to visit the Docks or line the streets to greet the children. This was not an unfriendly gesture but instead one designed to ensure the children were not over-whelmed. Although, from some of the newspaper reports I have read, local children did cheer and wave as the buses transported the refugees to Stoneham Farm.

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  • Stoneham Farm temporary transit camp, May 1937.

The temporary reception camp was located at Stoneham Farm, near Eastleigh, just outside of Southampton. A local farmer, G. H. Brown, lent a parcel of farmland to the cause. The site, run by volunteers, was efficiently organised with 400 bell tents and plenty of facilities although it did take a few days for the terrified youngsters to settle.

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  • Traumatised Basque refugee child arrives at Stoneham Farm temporary transit camp, May, 1937.

In the period leading-up to the refugees arrival, local citizens rallied around to get the Stoneham land ready. Local plumbers laid water pipes, carpenters constructed simple structures and Dockers dug latrines. Depots for food, clothes and toys were set-up all over Hampshire, supported by cricket clubs, churches and women’s organisations.

Unsurprisingly, the refugee children were unused to a structured, daily routine. Many of them had, for quite a considerable amount of time, been running wild due to the horrific circumstances back home. There were some instances reported that whilst at Stoneham Farm camp, some children had been caught stealing from local orchards. Another incident detailed several boys having stolen communion wine from the temporary on-site church tent!

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  • Refugees lining-up to receive their meal at Stoneham Farm transit camp, Eastleigh. May, 1937.

The children were well-fed at the camp, diet consisted mainly of scalded milk, bread, boiled meat and potatoes with peas and onions. Each child was given a daily amount of milk equivalent to 1 and 1/2 pints. There was also plenty of fruit and sweets (thanks to Rowntrees). Cadbury’s also sent down 12,000 chocolate, 12,000 bars. Meals were cooked by local people under supervision of a team of ex-army and navy cooks.

There were many daily activities to keep the children occupied including boxing (organised by ex-heavyweight champion, Joe Beckett), a cinema and Spanish/English lessons.  Entertainment was organised by Spanish-speaking actor Neville Towne. The artist, Augustus John (1878-1961), visited the camp everyday and sketched the children.  A tannoy system was also installed, to keep everyone updated with news from Spain. This was not always very well-received and on occasion very distressful.

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  • Boxing practice at the Stoneham Camp. Professional boxer, Joe Beckett (1892-1965) looks on. May 29th, 1937.

Over the following months children were gradually sent to foster families and designated centres, which were also known as ‘Basque Colonies’. There were 94 Colonies set-up across Britain. The children were dispersed to country houses and private homes in: Manchester, Swindon, Scarborough, Cambridge, Brampton, Worthing, Tunbridge Wells, Worthing, Ipswich, Derby, Welwyn Garden City, Birkenhead, Watford, Thame, Watford, Richmond, Birmingham, Newbury and of course Southampton.

The refugees stayed in Britain for 2 years and when the war ended on 1st April, 1939, all, apart from 500 children were returned to Spain. Many children could not be returned as their families either no longer had a home or had been killed. Approximately 400 children settled permanently in Britain. The father of former Conservative MP-turned broadcaster, Michael Portillo, was a Basque refugee.

I was 14 at the time. I cried a lot in the boat on the way over. It wasn’t just me – many children were crying. It was because we knew what was going on with the war, especially in Bilbao. When we arrived in Southampton we were taken to be checked by a doctor, then we went to the campsite at Stoneham. There were so many children to sort out. Our group were sent to Caerleon in South Wales, between Cardiff and Newport. We had a lovely time there, we were very happy in Caerleon because we were one big family. There were 67 of us, and one Spanish lady who looked after us all – we called her our mother. We stayed there for 2 years until the Second World War started and the soldiers needed the rooms.

(Basque refugee, Maria-Louisa Cooper, 84, reminiscing at the 70th anniversary in 2007.)

Further sources:

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  • Basque children being given toys in Watermillock, Bolton. 26th June, 1937.


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

Solent Sky Museum, Southampton – Spitfires & Flying Boats –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flying Boats and Southampton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grapefruit or Consommé Princess

Roast Pheasant and Watercress

Lamb Cutlets and Mint Sauce

Roast Chicken, York Ham

Green Salad Beetroot & Apple Salad

Fresh Fruit Salad & Cream

Cheese Cheddar, Gorganzola, Gruyere

Toast Imperial  Assorted Biscuits  Coffee


Pâté de Fois Gras or Grapefruit

Roast chicken, Ox Tongue, York Ham

Russian Salad

Peaches Melba, Golden Figs

Cheese – Cheshire, Camembert, Kraft

Toast Imperial  – Assorted biscuits – Coffee

Embed from Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in Aviation History, Film, History, Literature, Review, World War One

Featured Author: Kerrie Logan Hollihan – In The Field and The Trenches

Author Kerrie Logan Hollihan. ©Fred Logan
Author Kerrie Logan Hollihan. ©Fred Logan

I was delighted when Ohio-based author, Kerrie Hollihan, contacted me to ask if I would like to review her latest book, In The Fields and the Trenches: The Famous and The Forgotten on The Battlefields of World War One. Published last month by Chicago Review Press, In the Fields and the Trenches is Kerrie’s 6th YA non-fiction work for this excellent publishing house. I have previously reviewed several YA non-fiction books from Chicago Review Press, both by author Kathryn J. Atwood Women Heroes of World War 1 and Code Name Pauline.

Kerrie’s new book is a collection of 18 biographies of young men and women who bravely and selflessly decided, to ‘do their bit’ on the frontline in World War One. Several individuals, featured in In The Fields and the Trenches, went on after the war to become well-known in a variety of occupations from writer to president to film star (J. R. R. Tolkien; Ernest Hemingway; Harry Truman and Buster Keaton). Others were from high-profile families such as The Young Roosevelts or Irène Curie, daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie.

Book Cover

In the Fields and the Trenches is divided into 12 chapters, each short biography is clearly written and very well-researched:

  • The Cowboy: Fred Libby (American);
  • The Daughter: Irène Curie (French);
  • The Wordsmith: J. R. R. Tolkien (South African);
  • The Student: Walter Koessler (German);
  • The Aviatrix: Katherine Stinson (American)*;
  • The Family: The Young Roosevelts (American);
  • The Red Cap: Henry Lincoln Johnson (American);
  • The Pitcher: Christy Mathewson (American);
  • The Showgirl: Elsie Janis (American)*;
  • The Kid: Ernest Hemingway (American);
  • The Captain: Harry Truman (American);
  • The Comedian: Buster Keaton (American).

*Biographies feature later in this article.

Walter Koessler (1891-1966). A German architectural student who was called-up to fight for his country in World War One. Walter served in the German Officer Corps. He brought along his camera to capture many aspects of a soldier’s life on the frontline as well as in the trenches. After the war, he arranged all his photographs in an album ‘Walter Koessler 1914-1918’. This photograph was taken during Walter’s first months as a German Officer. He is pictured here with his motorbike. ©Dean Putney.

Although In The Field and the Trenches is aimed at the YA market, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in reading a fresh perspective on World War One. Hidden histories of extraordinary young people many of whose stories may have been forgotten forever if it wasn’t for writers like Kerrie. The book also includes a very helpful World War One Timeline to contextualize some of the events featured in the biographies.

I notice Kerrie dedicated this book to her grandfather, the inscription reads: ‘Frederick Urban Logan – US Army soldier and bugler in France 1918-19’. World War One is obviously a period in history that has a particularly strong personal connection to Kerrie.

One of Walter Koessler’s photographs. Soldiers washing and doing their laundry in livestock troughs during World War One. ©Dean Putney.

Kerrie writes the mini-bios with skill and clarity, managing to avoid the usual fax-pas of sentimentalizing content. In my view, a common error some authors make when writing historical non-fiction for a YA audience. I have always said, never underestimate the young, they know more than we sometimes give them credit for! Just stick to the facts, young active minds will be able to bring the stories to life for themselves. In her ‘Preface’, Kerrie writes:

Wars are fought by young people, and young people fighting wars make history – in ways great and small…They fought in battles, flew warplanes, killed the enemy, nursed the wounded, and fell in love. One died in combat. The rest came home, their lives forever changed.

Some of them had famous names, but most did not. Some had distinguished themselves in battle and returned as war heroes, while others would reach their prime as writers, businesspeople, scientists, and film stars. One became president of the United States. Another died penniless, estranged from his family.

These men and women lived a century ago. They felt altogether modern, and indeed, for the time they lived, they were. They encountered heroes, cowards, comics, and villains. They learned about human nature – power, greed, death, love, hate, courage, and fear. Like women and men of any age, they came away from a devastating experience with mixed feelings of despair, joy, hatred, loss, and hope. Their stories plainly show how they shared with us the tough journey that we call life.

(In The Field and the Trenches: The Famous and The Forgotten on The Battlefields of World War One by Kerrie Logan Hollihan, Chicago Review Press, 2016.Preface: pp. xv-xvi)

Photograph of the trenches in Winter by Walter Koessler. ©Dean Putney.

I have chosen 2 of my favourite biographies, from In The Field and the Trenches, to share with you here. The Aviatrix – Katherine Stinson and The Showgirl – Elsie Janis.

Katherine Stinson (1891-1977)

In Spring 1912, she became only the 4th American woman to earn a pilot’s license. Early in her flying career she made good money ($1,000 to $2,000 per week) performing acrobatic flying displays using her fabric-winged biplane. An extremely dangerous way for anyone to earn a living let alone a 5ft 5, young woman weighing only 100lbs! She took great pride and care maintaining her own plane and hired only the best mechanicians (known nowadays as mechanics).

When World War One started, she wanted to work as a pilot for the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). She applied twice and was turned-down on both occasions. In 1916, she decided to take her biplane on an ocean liner and sail to Asia performing display shows. In 1918, she went to work for the US Post Office as a pilot. In May, 1918 she flew to raise money to pay for Liberty Bonds to help with the overseas war effort:

The army might have forbidden her to fly in France, but the US government knew that a flying schoolgirl could appeal to Americans’ hearts and open their pocketbooks. Put to work as an airborne publicity stunt, Katherine flew from town to town on a campaign to sell Liberty Bonds to help pay for the war. She also raised $2 million for the American Red Cross, and she ended that fundraising journey by landing on a white cross in front of the Washington Monument.

(Ibid. p.58)

In July, 1918, she piloted the 1st airmail flight in western Canada, from Calgary to Edmonton. However, she still wanted to ‘do her bit’ in France. If she wasn’t allowed to be a pilot, then she would offer her services as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. She joined the ambulance corps in August, 1918 and was soon sent to France.

After the war, she got permission to work as a pilot and fly mail between Paris and General Pershing’s army headquarters. Unfortunately at that time, the Spanish Flu pandemic was sweeping across Europe and North America. She succumbed to the virus and ended-up in a Paris Hospital. As it turned out, during the war she had, unbeknown to her, also contracted tuberculosis and her health was now ailing. She spent years convalescing.

Whilst in a sanatorium in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she met Miguel Antonio Otero Jr, who had been a pilot in World War One. They married in 1927. She went on to become an architect.

5-2 EA-10-3181-4
Poster celebrating Katherine Stinson’s success in flying the 1st sack of Airmail in Western Canada in 1918. ©City of Edmonton Archives (Alberta, Canada)

Elsie Janis (1889-1956)

She first set foot on stage when at just 2 and 1/2, dancing in church socials. A child star from the get-go, she could sing, dance and act. Her mother, Janice Bierbower, was a typical stage mum who managed her daughter’s career, travelling everywhere with her. A professional stage career took her all the way from Broadway to Europe and back again.

In 1917, aged 28, she was in London with her mother, their maid and her Pekingese, Mousme. Despite not having permission from the US government to visit Europe, she decided to make the journey anyway. Afterall, she was a big star and surely no-one would refuse her entry?

She travelled with her mother to Bordeaux, France, arriving without official approval but helped by the YMCA. She immediately began rehearsing with a pianist and gave concerts to the troops. She became the sweetheart of the AEF. Kerrie writes:

Elsie was a trooper and performed up to nine shows in one day. She entertained on makeshift stages and tabletops, and she felt just as comfortable taking her show into hospital wards. She always opened her act with that same question, “Are we downhearted?” Bold, brash, and talented, she sang, danced, did a few imitations, and cracked jokes for the troops.

(Ibid. p.115)

Not everything went well whilst they were in France. She refused to wear a uniform and one occasion in Provins, on her way to entertain 2,000 US troops at Chaumont, both her and her mother were arrested on suspicion of spying. This incident could have been avoided had she worn military attire. French officials examined the pair’s paperwork and after much fuss, eventually allowed them both to proceed.

Being in France must have been heart-breaking for her. In 1916, her British boyfriend, actor and singer, Basil Hallam Radford (b.1889) had been killed during the Battle of the Somme. He was a member of the Royal Flying Corps.

After World War One, she continued her career on stage and the silver screen, Women in War (1940) was her last film. When her mother died she married Gilbert Wilson, moving to Hollywood in 1936. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Elsie Janis and 'her boys', dressed as World War One veterans from the US, Britain and France. In 1920, Elsie reprised her wartime experiences in a show. Image courtesy of Kerrie Hollihan. Author's own collection.
Elsie Janis and ‘her boys’, dressed as World War One veterans from the US, Britain and France. In 1920, Elsie reprised her wartime experiences in a show. Image courtesy of Kerrie Hollihan. Author’s own collection.

There are many ways to connect with Kerrie and her writing:

  • Follow Kerrie on Twitter (@Kerriehollihan);
  • Visit Kerrie’s website;
  • Visit ‘Hands on Books’ blog. Kerrie, together with fellow authors Brandon Marie Miller and Mary Kay Carson. Between them, these 3 have over 50 published books to their names. Their blog features the ‘world of nature, and history’s makers and shakers’ and ‘share insights and stories about writing non-fiction for young people’.;

Copies of In The Fields and the Trenches as well as any of Kerrie’s other publications, can be purchased:



Posted in Decorative Arts, History, Maritime History, World War One

Mary Ann Rogers – A True Victorian Heroine: The Stella Memorial, Southampton, Hampshire

  • Short film I made with That’s Solent TV.  The SS Stella Memorial, Southampton. Film by Shan Robins (Twitter: @ShanTwoots ). Uploaded to You Tube 5.2.2016.

A few weeks ago, I made a short film with That’s Solent TV ‘s senior broadcaster, Shan Robins (see above). Shan and I made our film on a day with practically hurricane force winds! The microphone struggled a little bit, but nonetheless, hope you enjoy.

Shan Robins filming at the Stella Memorial, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time
Shan Robins filming at the Stella memorial, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time

 SS Stella: Stewardess Mary Ann Rogers

The Stella Memorial (previously known as The Rogers Memorial and before that The Stella Stewardess Memorial Fountain) is located on the Western Esplanade in Southampton. The monument has intrigued me for a long time, having passed it numerous times on foot whilst en-route to the city’s heritage quarter. The memorial is dedicated to Southampton stewardess, Mary Ann Rogers (nee Foxwell) (1855-1899), who lived in Southampton and drowned when the SS Stella sank in March 1899.

Mary’s backstory is heart-breaking. Born in Frome, Somerset on 14th February, 1855. She had 6 siblings, 2 of which were born after the family moved to 19 Weston Shore Road, Southampton shortly before 1865. In 1871, aged 17, Mary moved out of home and went to work as a general servant for Charles Trubbett and his family. Mary didn’t go far, the Trubbett family lived next door at 17 Weston Shore Road.

On 20th March, 1876, Mary married Richard Rogers (c.1852-1880) at the Independent chapel, Northam, Southampton. The couple had 2 children, Mary Ellen (b.1878) and Frederick Richard (b.1881). The Rogers’ marital home was located in Chantry Road, Southampton. Richard, a seaman, worked for London and South Western Railway (LSWR). On 21st October, 1880, 4 years into their marriage, Mary 6 months pregnant with their 2nd child,  Richard drowned at sea. He was swept overboard on the SS Honfleur whilst working as a second mate.

His death was in an era long before the Health and Safety Executive, ambulance chasing lawyers and large compensation claims being brought by family members against negligent employers. Instead, in 1899, it was normal practice for railway companies to offer employment to the immediate family of deceased employees. A job would be offered to either the surviving spouse or eldest child in the family. The latter in this instance was, of course, not an option.

This precedent negated the company’s responsibility to have to pay either compensation or provide a livable pension to the family. In other words, pay money out with no return for an indefinite period of time. There was considerable pressure to accept employment. With a toddler already and another baby on the way, Mary had no option but to accept a job with LSWR.

Almost immediately after the birth of her son in January 1881, Mary began work as a stewardess for LSWR. Her earnings were 15 shillings a week plus any tips received from passengers. For a woman in her circumstances, this was a decent, stable income and in modern terms, a job with prospects. It also kept her family out of the workhouse.

Mary’s parents, James (d.1899) and Sophia (d. 1894) Foxwell, looked after their 2 grandchildren in their home at 22 Albert Street, Southampton while Mary spent long periods of time away at sea. The family eventually moved into 45 Clovelly Road, Southampton and named their home Frome Cottage, a nod to their Somerset roots.

At first, Mary suffered from severe seasickness but after 5 years began to find her ‘sea legs’ and did well in the role. She was popular with passengers and known for her cheery and caring disposition.  Dr John Price explains the role of a steamship stewardess:

…. was in essence that of a lady’s maid or nursery nurse and many of the duties were essentially domestic in nature, such as attending to the needs of ladies in their bedrooms or in the female lounge, and washing and tending to the children.

As one contemporary examination of the role of a stewardess reported, ‘by far the most appreciable services they render is in attending upon and administering to the wants of lady passengers during sea sickness and other illnesses on board.’

Now, though, as the Stella pitched and rolled, throwing its passengers around like skittles, the stewardesses were wholly responsible for the lives of the women and children, rather than simply for their domestic requirements.

(Heroes of Postman’s Park: Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London by Dr John Price, The History Press, 2015, pp.133-34)

The Stella Memorial, Western Esplanade, Southampton, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
The Stella memorial, Western Esplanade, Southampton, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

The SS Stella

The SS Stella was one of 3 sister ships built for LSWR at a cost of £62,000 (nearly £4 million in today’s money). Completed in October 1890, she had a top speed of 19 knots and was licensed to carry 712 passengers. Fitted-out with all mod-cons, electric lighting and 1st class cabins had en-suite toilets. There was even a Ladies’ Saloon and a Smoking Room for gentlemen. The Stella serviced the popular Southampton to Guernsey and Jersey route.

By 1899, Mary had become a senior stewardess. Accompanying Mary on that fateful Maundy Thursday in 1899, was Ada Preston. It was to be Ada’s 1st day at sea working as an under-stewardess on the Stella.  Ada had known Mary since the early 1890s when she lived at 74 Derby Road, just a few streets away from Mary’s home in Clovelly Road. Ada subsequently moved to 37 Radcliffe Road but they kept in touch. Dr John Price comments:

In fact, it is likely that the two women walked together to the quay in Southampton on the morning of 30 March 1899; the same quay where, the following day, relatives of those on board the Stella gathered anxiously to wait for news of their loved ones.

(Ibid. p.135)

Ada’s father had worked for London South-Western Railway but an accident had recently left him paralysed so, like Mary, she went to work for LSWR in order to support her family. Incidentally, SS Stella’s captain, William Reeks, also lived in the next road to Mary, Oxford Avenue.

The Sinking of the SS Stella

At 11.25am on the 30th March, 1899, the SS Stella left its Southampton berth, 10 minutes late. She was on her first daylight service of the season and a special Easter voyage. There were 174 passengers and 43 crew on board. The liner left Southampton in clear weather but several hours later, at 3pm, she hit a bank of patchy, heavy fog.  (Source: The Wreck of The Stella: Titanic of The Channel Islands)

Captain Reeks continued at high-speed, reportedly refusing to reduce his speed which also resulted in a miscalculation of his ship’s position. This decision would seal the SS Stella’s fate. At 3.30pm, the SS Stella, sounded its fog whistle and Captain Reeks set a look-out in the bows to listen for the Casquets’ foghorn. (Source: The Wreck of The Stella: Titanic of The Channel Islands)

At 4pm, the foghorn sounds and Reeks orders full speed Astern. He spins the wheel hard to Starboard and scrapes the Stella’s port side. Shortly after 4pm, the ship strikes Black Rock, one of the notorious Casquets group, 8 miles west of Alderney. The engines are torn from their mountings and water pours in along half her length. At 4.08pm, she vanishes beneath the surface. (Source: The Wreck of The Stella: Titanic of The Channel Islands)

The Stella was fitted with 2 lifeboats, 2 cutters, a dinghy and 2 Berthon collapsible boats. There were life jackets for 754 people and 36 life buoys. However, the lifeboats could only carry 148 passengers. There was not enough time to lower the 2 Berthon boats.

Five lifeboats were launched at rapid speed. One boat drifted until the Vera found it at 7am on Good Friday. Another boat drifted for 23 hours and was rescued off Cherbourg. The  port side lifeboat capsized after launching, stranding its passengers. It drifted for several hours then was righted by a high wave. The survivors managed to pull themselves in.

Unfortunately, they could not find the boat’s bung and the vessel filled, almost to its top, with seawater. The airtanks were the only reason the lifeboat managed to remain afloat. Survivors had to continually bail out the waist-height water with their hats and shoes. Four people died in this lifeboat, including its only woman survivor. The others were rescued by a French tug, Marsouin, at 3pm on Good Friday. One of the Marsouin’s crew straightaway located the bung on a chain!

The starboard cutter and dinghy, commanded by Second Officer Reynolds, contained mainly female passengers. These boats drifted for 15 hours in dense fog and rough seas until they were found 10 miles west of the Casquets at 7am on Good Friday.  (Source: S.S. Stella Disaster by Jake Simpkin)

Mary is said to have refused a lifeboat and insisted on staying with the ship. She declined a place in one of the lifeboats because she had just witnessed the port side vessel capsize and feared an extra person would determine the fate of the boat she had been invited to join.  Her heroic actions were reported in the Jersey Times (15th April, 1899):

Mrs Rogers, with great presence of mind and calmness, got all the ladies from her cabin to the side of the ship and after placing life belts on as many as were without them, she assisted them into the small boats. Then, turning around, she saw yet another young lady without a belt, whereupon she insisted on placing her own belt upon her and led her to the fast-filling boat. The sailors called out, ‘jump in, Mrs Rogers, jump in’, the water being then but a few inches from the top of the boat. ‘No, no!’ she replied; ‘if I get in I will sink the boat. Good-bye, Good-bye’ and then with uplifted hands she said, ‘Lord, save me’ and immediately the ship sank beneath her feet.’

(Heroes of Postman’s Park: Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London by Dr John Price, The History Press, 2015, p.136)

Unfortunately, detailed passenger lists are not available, these went down with the Stella. Many of the bodies were never recovered, including that of Mary and Ada. Captain Reeks also went down with his ship. Out of the 217 passengers and crew on board the SS Stella that day, 112 survived and 105 drowned. A total of 86 passengers and 19 crew members perished. Queen Victoria (1819-1901) sent a message of sympathy to the bereaved families via the LSWR offices.

Witnesses observed that the sea surrounding the wreck was littered with life belts, timber, luggage, personal effects and a furniture van. Some of the bodies were located in unusual places because of tidal flows. One was found in the mouth of the River Seine and the final corpse washed-up on a Guernsey beach 9 months after the sinking.  Many of the corpses were found floating still in their life belts leading to the conclusion that death had been caused by exposure rather than drowning.

The Board of Trade enquiry began on 27th April, 1899 at the Guildhall, Westminster. Its conclusion, ‘the SS Stella was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care.’ The wreck of Stella was discovered in June, 1973, by two Channel Islands divers. It lies in 49 metres (161 ft) of water south of the Casquets. The tragedy is sometimes referred to as ‘The Titanic of The Channel Islands’.

Me at the Stella Memorial, Southampton, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Me at the Stella memorial, Southampton, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

The Glover Family

Many tragic stories emerged following the sinking of the SS Stella. One of the saddest is the fate of the Glover children.  Seaman Thomas Glover drowned in the tragedy, he left behind a 2nd wife and 5 children from his previous marriage.

Thomas Glover’s 1st wife, Rosina Bella Glover, (nee Rickman) was born in Southampton, 1866. In July 1897, Rosina was run down by a Misselbrooke & Weston horse and cart in Shirley High Street, Southampton. Misselbrooke and Weston were an established local, family-run grocery business which had opened in 1848. The business was eventually sold to Tesco.

Shortly after his wife’s death, Thomas took his family to live in Jersey where he met his 2nd wife (name unknown).  Following Thomas’ death on the Stella, his 2nd wife did not wish to bring-up his 5 children. Consequently, on 10th June, 1899, she deposited them at Southampton Workhouse.  The siblings were split-up never to see each other again. The fate of the Glover children was as follows:

  • Laura Mary Glover (1887-1899). Died of tuberculosis in a Dorset nursing home and is buried with her mother in Southampton’s Old Cemetery;
  • Thomas Richard Glover (b.1889).  Sent to LSWR Servant’s Orphanage, Clapham, London in June, 1899. Thomas returned to Southampton to work in his Uncle George Samuel Payne’s butcher shop (102, 150 and 168 Northam Road as well as 95 Derby Road). He joined the Royal Navy and was sent to a shore base in 1911. Incidentally, George Samuel Payne became one of the 1st directors of Southampton Football & Athletic Company Ltd (8.7.1897) which then became known as Southampton Football Club;
  • William George Glover (b. 1892) remained in the Workhouse until 1901 and then also went to work for his Uncle George before joining the Hampshire Regiment;
  • Frederick Glover (baptised January 1894). Sent to Lady Breadalbane’s Home, also known as The Kenmore Orphanage, in Perthshire, Scotland. This was a small private establishment run by Lady Breadalbane herself. In 1912, a number of orphans created when the SS Titanic sank were also sent there too;
  • Elsie Lilian Glover (b.1896). Fate unknown following her admission to the Workhouse.

SS Stella Memorial

The memorial was unveiled on Southampton’s Western Esplanade by Lady Emma Crichton (daughter of the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire) during the morning of Saturday 27th July, 1901. Present also at the unveiling were Mary’s sister, son and son-in-law.

The Stella Memorial, Southampton. Once a drinking foundation but it has long since ceased to function as one. ©Come Step Back In Time
The Stella memorial, Southampton. Once a drinking fountain but it has long since ceased to function as one. ©Come Step Back In Time

Artist Herbert Bryan’s original suite of designs, submitted to Southampton Borough Council and Estates Committee, included a drawing of a memorial seat. The Committee rejected the proposed seat in favour of a more appropriate and practical drinking fountain. However, the memorial has long since ceased to function as a drinking fountain and 3 bronze masks (grotesques) from whose mouths water flowed have now been removed. (Source: Southampton Memorials of Care For Man and Beast by A.G. K. Leonard, published by Bitterne Local History Society: Southampton, p.46).

Close-up of stone-carved roses on the Stella Memorial. ©Come Step Back In Time
Close-up of stone-carved roses on the Stella memorial. ©Come Step Back In Time

The memorial is carved in Portland stone topped by a stepped canopy, with a ball finial. There are 6 outer columns and on the cornice blocks beneath the roof, 32 roses were carved in the 13th century fashion, echoing the roses in the Southampton coat of arms.  (Source: Ibid. p.46)

The memorial was paid for by public subscription. The sum of £570  15 shillings 8d (approximately £35,000 in today’s money) was raised from 519 subscribers. Amongst the subscribers were Emily Davies (1830-1921) and Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917).  Emily was a prominent feminist, educational reformer and suffragist born in Carlton Crescent, Southampton. Elizabeth was an English physician and feminist, the 1st Englishwoman to qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain.

After the memorial costs had been covered, £50 was paid to Mary’s daughter as a wedding gift. Her son received £200 to be paid at intervals until his shipwright apprenticeship finished. A sum was also allocated to pay for Mary’s father’s funeral costs, he had died shortly after the Stella disaster.

There were 4 key individuals behind the memorial’s creation:

  • Mrs Annie J. Bryans (1857-?). Wealthy lady who resided at Woollet Hall (now Loring Hall), North Cray, Kent. Annie wrote to the Editor of The Times (23.6.1899) to generate support for a memorial to  honour Mary’s heroic actions. She wrote: ‘Her beautiful deed shines out with a lustre which makes it not irreverent to say, “This that this woman hath done shall be told for a memorial of her.”‘ Annie made 4 voyages on the Stella and had been impressed with Mary’s good humour. Apparently, Mary had confided in Annie about her story of widowhood, struggle to be the sole support of her ageing parents and problems raising her 2 young children being away at sea so much. Mary had also told Annie she was intending to leave her seafaring life very soon. At the time of the Stella tragedy, Mary’s daughter, Mary Ellen (20) was to be married. Mary planned to live with her daughter and new husband, at the end of 1899. Annie also wrote a booklet about the Stella disaster, published by John Adams, a Southampton bookseller. Her booklet included the poem ‘The Wreck of the Stella’ written by the Poet Laureate, Alfred Austin (1835-1913). The booklet was handed out to VIPs and general public who attended the unveiling ceremony in 1901;
  • Herbert William Bryans (1856-1925), Annie’s husband and well-respected stained glass artist. Herbert designed the memorial with input from his wife, Frances Cobbe and artist G.F. Watts.

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  • Irish philanthropist and religious writer Frances Power Cobbe. 1860.
  • Miss Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904). Frances was a well-known Victorian feminist pioneer and religious writer. Active in Bristol as a philanthropist, working in ragged schools, reformatories and workhouses before moving to London where she became a journalist. She focused upon promoting women’s interests and rights in wider contexts. She was one of the first members of the central committee of the National Society of Women’s Suffrage, established in 1871. Frances was a driving force behind the Stella memorial. (Source: Southampton Memorials of Care For Man and Beast by A.G. K. Leonard, published by Bitterne Local History Society: Southampton, p.44). Writing to The Times with G.F. Watts in 1899 (23rd June), she made a plea that a separate fund than that relating to the memorial be set-up for survivors and their families: ‘I have a great desire that our heroine’s death, as well as her life, should practically help others, and that through her, as it were, many sufferers from the Stella disaster may be benefited.’ She also wrote a lengthy tribute to Mary which was engraved on a bronze plaque fixed to the central pillar of the memorial. The tribute reads:

In memory of the heroic death of Mary Ann [e] Rogers Stewardess of the “Stella” who on the night of the 30th March, 1899, amid the terror of shipwreck aided all the women under her charge to quit the vessel in safety giving up her own life-belt to one who was unprotected. Urged by the sailors to makes sure her escape she refused lest she might endanger the heavily-laden boat. Cheering the departing crew with the friendly cry of “Good-bye, good-bye.” She was seen a few moments later as the “Stella” went down lifting her arms upwards with the prayer “Lord have me” then sank in the waters with the sinking ship.

Actions such as these – revealing steadfast performance of duty in the face of death, ready self-sacrifice for the sake of others, reliance on God – constitute the glorious heritage of our English race. They deserve perpetual commemoration, because among the trivial pleasures and sordid strike of the world, they recall to us forever the nobility and love-worthiness of human nature.

Bronze plaque with inscription by Frances Cobbe. Stella Memorial. ©Come Step Back In Time
Bronze plaque with inscription by Frances Cobbe. Stella memorial. ©Come Step Back In Time

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  • Platinum print photograph (1892) by Frederick Hollyer (1837-1933) of British artist George Frederic Watts. Known as ‘England’s Michelangelo’, Watts was one of the most important painters of the late Victorian period.
  • George Frederic Watts RA (1817-1904) advised Annie, Herbert, Frances and their group on the design of the memorial. Local newspapers reported that the designer, Herbert: ‘acted under the advice of Miss Cobbe and G. F. Watts, R.A.’ but it is uncertain how much the latter, then nearing the end of his distinguished artistic career, contributed to the actual design of the memorial.’ (Source: Southampton Memorials of Care For Man and Beast by A.G. K. Leonard, published by Bitterne Local History Society: Southampton, p.46).
Postcard, issued in 1903, showing the Memorial on Western Esplanade, Southampton. Postcards of local views and landmarks of Southampton were popular at the time. This postcard was photographed by Whitfield Cosser of Hanover Buildings, Southampton and was a particular popular one.
Postcard, issued in 1903, showing the memorial on Western Esplanade, Southampton. There were many postcards of local views and landmarks of Southampton in circulation at this time. This postcard was a particularly popular image which was photographed by Whitfield Cosser of Hanover Buildings, Southampton. The cannons shown here, British nine-pounders, were spoils of war from the Crimean campaign (1853-56) and were smelted down during World War Two.



Posted in History, World War One, World War Two

Featured Author: John Broom – Voices Of Faith From The First World War

Author John Broom. ©Dawn Broom
Author John Broom. ©Dawn Broom

I met author and academic, John Broom, in 2014, when our paths crossed in the history blogosphere. John had just launched  Faith In Wartime and we exchanged ideas on getting started with blogging. He is now an established history blogger. Faith In Wartime has gone from strength-to-strength with a fast-growing readership.

John graduated in History from the University of Sheffield in 1991 and has pursued a career in teaching, firstly in History, and latterly as a Specialist Teacher in Autism. In 2006, the inheritance of a collection of papers and memorabilia, written between 1940 and 1946 by his late father who served in the Desert Rats, sparked in John, a passion to discover the links between twentieth-century warfare and religion.

After completing an MA in Local and Regional History with the Open University, John decided to study for a PhD at the University of Durham.  He has also conducted research on behalf of the Bible Society for their First World War website.  John’s PhD research explores connections between the Second World War and Christian culture in Britain. He plans to complete his PhD in 2017.


In 2015, Pen & Sword Military published John’s first book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War (ISBN: 9781473854154 – Price: £19.99 / $39.95). When John approached me to ask whether I would like a copy to review, of course I was delighted to accept.

Fight the Good Fight is a fascinating read and very well-written indeed. The book is a detailed study of a usually hidden aspect of wartime social history, the topic of Christian faith.  Fight the Good Fight has been meticulously researched and includes a wealth of previously unpublished material.

There is a forward by Dan Jarvis OBE MP, Labour Spokesman of First World War Commemoration:

I am pleased to commend this book of case studies of Christians from all walk of life, of many different denominations and displaying a wide spectrum of political views. It includes accounts from the Western Front, the home front and from the prisons of Britain that held conscientious objectors and those on the Continent that held prisoners of war and spies.

These stories help us to understand better an aspect of the rationale behind the response of so many to the challenge of global warfare, and further increase our admiration for the depth of belief and of personal character that so many were called to show.

(Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War by John Broom, 2015, pp. x-xi)

Fight the Good Fight demonstrates the variety of ways in which people of different denominations; Anglican, Catholic and Nonconformists, interpreted the war as combatants, civilians, chaplains and conscientious objectors. The book will interest anyone who is fascinated by the social history of World War One, regardless of their religious persuasion.

Whilst a toxic mixture of nationalism and militarism tore Europe and the wider world apart from 1914 to 1919, there was one factor that united millions of people across all nations: that of a Christian faith. People interpreted this faith in many different ways.  Soldiers marched off to war with ringing endorsements from bishops that they were fighting a Godly crusade, others preached in churches and tribunals hearing that war was fundamentally against the teachings of Christ.

Esslemont Adams. Image courtesy of University of Leeds Special Collections.
John Esslemont Adams (1965-1935) was an Army Chaplain who served on the Western Front in World War One.  Image courtesy of University of Leeds Special Collections.

Whether, Church of England or Nonconformist, Catholic or Presbyterian, German Lutheran or the American Church of Christ in Christian Union, men and women across the globe conceptualised their war through the prism of their belief in a Christian God.

Fight The Good Fight brings together individual and family case studies, some of well-known personalities, others whose story has become neglected through the decades. Although divided by nation, social class, political outlook and denomination, they were united in their desire to Fight the Good Fight.

Chavasse Memorial
The Liverpool VC Memorial, depicting Noel Chavasse and a stretcher bearer attending a wounded soldier. The statue was unveiled in 2008 and is now permanently located in Abercomby Square at the University of Liverpool. ©Dawn Broom 2015

Fight The Good Fight is divided into 6 sections containing 21 biographies and 2 case-studies:

  • Christian Britain in 1914 (John Reith, David Jones, J.V. Salisbury, Joseph Garvey, Lewis Valentine and Philip Bryant);
  • Three Chaplains and an Army Scripture Reader (Father Francis Gleeson, John Esslemont Adams, Russell Barry and Harry Wisbey);
  • Women in War (Lilian Hayman, Maude Royden, The Hon. Mrs Edith Lyttleton Gell and Edith Cavell);
  • Christians from Other Nations (Louise Thuliez, Martin Niemöller, Pastor Pieter-Jozef Dergent and Alvin York);
  • Conscientious Objection in the First World War (Francis Meynell, Howard Marten, Laurence Cadbury and Corder Catchpool);
  • Families in War (The Chavasse Family and The Brocklesby Family).

I have selected the biographies of Lilian Hayman and Pastor Pieter-Jozef ‘Jef’ Dergent to share with you in this article. I found their stories particularly interesting, moving and harrowing in equal measure. It also transpired that their stories were interconnected (although Lilian and Jef never met!). Both were united by the strength of their own faith and sense of religious duty, heightened by a backdrop of global conflict.

Lillian Hayman. Image courtesy of Norman Ching.
Lilian Hayman. Image courtesy of Norman Ching.

Lilian Hayman (1865-1944)

Lilian Hayman’s story appears in the ‘Women in War’ section.  Lilian was a Bristol-born surgeon’s wife who ran a boys’ Bible class in Brighton and then from her home in Bournemouth, Dorset (from about1912). In the Imperial War Museum’s Department of Documents there are more than 100 letters written to Lilian by some of her ex-pupils who were now serving in the armed forces.

Lilian wrote regularly to the young men who had attended her Bible study classes and often sent them parcels containing home comforts.  Lilian even sent one pupil (Tony Hewitt) a game of snakes and ladders. Another former pupil, Philip T. Bryant, had a particularly close bond with Lilian. Philip served on HMS Queen Elizabeth and according to John Broom:

His letters to her [Lilian] show a continuing devotion, describing himself as ‘your sincere young friend’. He wrote, ‘Forgive me if I chatter too much but I forgot myself in talking to you as you understand so much.’ He received letters from his mother and Mrs Hayman only, and emphasised the latter’s importance in his life: ‘I will always bless you for the way you have helped me to keep on the very Narrow Path we have to tread.’

(Fight The Good Fight by John Broom, 2015, p.90)

Lilian continued to teach her Bible classes until her death in 1944, aged 80.

Pastor Dergent. John Broom's own collection.
Pastor Pieter-Jozef ‘Jef’ Dergent. John Broom’s own collection.

Pastor Pieter-Jozef ‘Jef’ Dergent (1870-1914)

Pieter-Jozef ‘Jef’ Dergent’s biography appears in the section, ‘Christians From Other Nations’. He was a rural Catholic priest from the Leuven region of Belgium. Born in Geel, 1870 and consecrated as a priest in August 1893. Before the outbreak of World War One, he was working at Gelrode, near the town of Aarschot. John Broom describes this period in Jef’s life:

He was considered by his parishioners as a man of the people, who took care of children and the infirm. He set-up a Gregorian singing choir and was holding harvest time rehearsals in the church.

(Ibid. p.137)

When German troops invaded Aarschot on 19th August, 1914 there followed immediately a series of brutal attacks on local civilians. On the Leuven-Aarschot road, 75 were shot dead and another 29 were killed in the town including the mayor. Gelrode was also occupied on the same day and Jef’s church was used as a prison. John explains:

Priests were considered by the Germans to be dangerous partisans, capable of inspiring resistance from the Belgian people. Four priests hid in a well for 3 days and then left Aarschot in disguise on the night of 23 August. The dean of the town was held prisoner as a partisan.

(Ibid. p.137)

When the Germans searched Jef’s house, old gun cartridges had been found in a storage room. Jef was kept under arrest in a room in his house and then released on 20 August. However, he was now under suspicion of subversion.

(Ibid. p.138)

Following his release, Jef made the courageous decision to take 3 wounded men, by cart, to Aarschot where the Damien Institute, former home to the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts, had been converted into a Red Cross field hospital.  Jef and his driver set-out at 8am on 26th August,  safely depositing their wounded at the hospital later that morning. One of the fathers asked Jef to stay but he refused, wishing to return instead to his parishioners in Gelrode. A decision that would place his life in grave danger.

Whilst crossing the Market Square in Aarschot, Jef and his driver were arrested. Both were imprisoned in City Hall until 5pm the next day.  Afterwards, Jef was kept outside the town’s church where inside, there were 3,000 prisoners. Jef was subjected to violent physical attacks by the Germans as they tried to get him to renounce his faith. He was stoned, beaten, bound and prisoners were encouraged to urinate on him.

Jef was then moved to a nearby house, Blykershuis, 200 yards from the church. Behind the property, he was killed with 2 rifle shots and thrown into the river Denier. His naked body was found two days later by Red Cross volunteers, 5 kilometres from Aarschot. Identification had only been possible because of a watch discovered inside his tunic that was discovered floating near the body.

The British and American press widely reported Jef’s murder. His death and the circumstances that led to it, saw him elevated to the status of martyr. The exact cause of Jef’s death was not confirmed until1948 when his body was exhumed in order to carry-out forensic tests. It was revealed that he had indeed been shot twice, in the head and through his vertebra. Following a special ceremony in Gelrode churchyard on 4th September, 1949, Jef was reinterred.

Lilian Hayman used Jef’s example of self-sacrifice and unwaivering commitment to his faith as a lesson to her boys’ Bible class in Bournemouth on 28th January, 1915. Lilian compared his betrayal with that of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. (Ibid p.140).

  • Fight The Good Fight can be ordered online from the publishers, Pen and Sword. Click here;
  • Fight The Good Fight can also be brought directly from John Broom, personally inscribed and signed. Contact John via e-mail:;
  • John’s 2nd book, Fight The Good Fight: Voices of Faith From The Second World War, will be published by Pen and Sword on 30th April, 2016. Pre-order your copy now. Click here;
  • John blogs regularly at Faith In Wartime. Click here;
  • Read a selection of articles written by John for The Bible Society. Click here;
  • Follow John on Twitter – @johnbroom1970;
  • Listen to John on BBC Radio Solent (October, 2014) discussing the Stratton War Memorial located in Stratton, near Dorchester, Dorset.

Huntriss Memorial Window. ©Dawn Broom 2015
Huntriss Memorial Window. ©Dawn Broom 2015


Posted in Archaeology, Bringing Alive The Past, History, Museum

The Cast Iron Cooking Pot That Changed The World – Ironbridge, Shropshire

Cooking pot from the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, Ironbridge, Shropshire. Image by courtesy of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust
Cooking pot from the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, Ironbridge, Shropshire. Image by courtesy of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

A short while ago, I received a Press Release from PR Matters that was so exciting, I just had to share it with you here. New research, conducted by retired 18th and 19th century metallurgist Dr Richard Williams, has proved that a cooking pot in the collection of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust is the oldest known coke iron casting in the western world.

Without using coke to smelt iron, there would have been no Industrial Revolution; the supply of wood was simply not extensive enough. It has previously been assumed that Abraham Darby I (1678-1717) invented the process because wood was already becoming increasingly scarce and coke was therefore generally more economic, but Dr Richard Williams has established that it was, in reality, all about cooking pots.

Dr Williams has been working on behalf of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust as a member of the museum’s Birmingham Advisory Group. The work, published in the journal Historical Metallurgy shows that Abraham Darby’s genius was more commercial than technical (as previously thought) and that he actually first smelted iron with coke, as opposed to charcoal from wood, for just one application.

Working on behalf of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, he comments on what was primarily a technical analysis: “We have now shown how Abraham Darby was the first man to make a profitable business from smelting iron with coke rather than charcoal. He saw an opportunity that no one else did, applied for a patent to protect it and got on with creating the business to exploit it.”

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. An extract from Abraham Darby I's original 1707 patent for casting iron bellied pots.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. An extract from Abraham Darby I’s original 1707 patent for casting iron bellied pots.

In 2013, I want on an incredible press trip to Ironbridge, Shropshire. I cannot tell you what an astonishing heritage site it is. There are 36 scheduled monuments and listed buildings cared for by The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, spread over a 6 square kilometre site.

The Trust also operates 10 museums which collectively tell the story of the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. These museums are: Blists Hill Victorian Town; Enginuity; Coalport China Museum; Jackfield Tile Museum; Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron; Museum of The Gorge; Darby Houses; Tar Tunnel; The Ironbridge and Tollhouse and Broseley Pipeworks. For anyone interested in social or living history, Ironbridge is a must!

The cooking pot which has been the subject of Dr Williams findings, is part of the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron collection. The unique cast iron pot, dated 1714, inspired Dr Williams to wonder how it had been cast in order to have exactly the right metallurgical structure? He saw the relationship between the only patent (see image above) that Abraham Darby filed – about moulding such pots in sand – and his modified blast furnace.

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Diagram of the old Furnace, Coalbrookdale. The Furnace went out of use in 1818 but the foundry buildings around it remained in use and even expanded to enclose the remains of the furnace.Diagram of the old Furnace, Coalbrookdale. The Furnace went out of use in 1818 and the foundry buildings around it remained in use and even expanded to enclose the remains of the furnace.©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust ©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Diagram of the old Furnace, Coalbrookdale. The Furnace went out of use in 1818 but the foundry buildings around it remained in use and even expanded to enclose the remains of the furnace.
.Diagram of the old Furnace, Coalbrookdale. The Furnace went out of use in 1818 and the foundry buildings around it remained in use and even expanded to enclose the remains of the furnace.©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

It had been previously thought that the two inventions were entirely independent, but Dr Williams realised that Darby’s patent would only work if the liquid iron he used to pour into his moulds was made with coke.It would not have worked with the previously universally used charcoal.

Darby’s new process was much cheaper than the competitive one, which was most effectively practised on the continent, with a consequently large importation of pots into England. On the continent they used charcoal but, in order to get the right structure in their iron, Dr Williams recognized that they had had to pour their metal into moulds that were very hot, thus being obliged to use an expensive moulding process where the sand grains were bound together with clay, the so-called loam process.

Darby’s patent specifically said that he was going to use no clay and his moulds could thus not be heated. Dr Williams explains that to make most castings, the composition of the iron had to be such that a grey structure resulted rather than a white one, but this was much more difficult when the casting was thin, as with a pot, because the metal cooled more quickly than with a thicker casting.

The iron had to be high in silicon to come out grey, something that was very difficult to achieve using charcoal. But coke did it much more easily and this Abraham Darby already knew, from the work of others before him. He clearly knew it some years before he first set out to make iron himself, because his patent was published in April 1707 and he did not start his coke blast furnace until the end of 1708.

It has not previously been realised – at least in the UK – that moulds used to be regularly heated. Dr Williams could find no reference to it in the English language.  There are however many references to it in the French encyclopaedias published in the second half of the 18th century, of which the Encyclopédie of Diderot is the most famous.

To prove his thesis, Dr Williams examined a number of 17th and 18th century pots made with the loam process at the Maison de Metallurgie in Liège.  He deduced that all pots bear characteristic markings that establish how they were made and in his paper he demonstrates that the pot in the Ironbridge Gorge Museums, dated 1714 (just six years after Darby’s first blast furnace came on stream) must have been cast using an iron made with coke. With no one else known to be making coke iron at the time, it could only be a genuine Abraham Darby product, the oldest known coke iron casting in the western world.

To begin with, coke iron was only of economic use for the manufacture of cooking pots, but the profit from this activity allowed him and his descendants the time to develop the coke blast furnace for all the other applications for which it became suitable. His first furnace produced just four tons per week.  In the world today, more than one billion tons of iron comes out of coke-fired blast furnaces each year.

Abraham Darby I – The Coalbrookdale Company

The Coalbrookdale Company was formed in 1709 by Abraham Darby I (1678-1717), an iron-master who had moved to the region from Bristol in the previous year. His original intention was to lease an ironworks with a view to setting-up a brass foundry – he had been experimenting with making brass pots since 1707 which led to his patent for casting iron bellied pots in dry sand.

He leased the Furnace at Coalbrookdale in 1709 from landowner Basil Brooke of Madeley and his wife Elizabeth, beginning blasting in January of the same year. Until the latter part of the 18th century, the most important industry in the Ironbridge Gorge was coal-mining – the first step on the road to the birth of the Industrial Revolution in the region.

Other coal-using industries utlising the area’s rich natural resources were: lead smelting; tar boiling; pottery making and brass manufacturing. The Tar Tunnel at Ironbridge is open to the public and well-worth a visit. In 1787, miners digging in the area struck a spring of natural bitumen (treacle-like black liquid) which has seeped out of the walls and formed into puddles for over two hundred years. It was money from coal that funded the first ironworks in the area.

Although now a haven of tranquillity, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the area resembled Dante’s Inferno, a scene which artist Philip James De Loutherbourg (1740-1812) captured so brilliantly in his iconic painting Coalbrookdale by Night (1801).

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Iron Works at Coalbrookdale by Philip James De Loutherbourg (1740-1812) from an engraving by William Pickett. ©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Iron Works at Coalbrookdale by Philip James De Loutherbourg (1740-1812) from an engraving by William Pickett. De Loutherbourg was a theatrical designer who worked for playwrights such as R.B. Sheridan (1751-1816) and David Garrick (1717-1779). His painting, Coalbrookdale by Night (1801), depicting the raging Bedlam Furnaces in Madeley Dale, Shropshire, a little further downstream from Ironbridge, recreates the iconic scene of fire and brimstone that we now associate with the birth of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain.
Iron Works at Coalbrookdale by Philip James De Loutherbourg (1740-1812) from an engraving by William Pickett. ©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. De Loutherbourg was a theatrical designer who worked for playwrights such as R.B. Sheridan (1751-1816) and David Garrick (1717-1779). His painting, Coalbrookdale by Night (1801), depicting the raging Bedlam Furnaces in Madeley Dale, Shropshire, a little further downstream from Ironbridge, recreates the iconic scene of fire and brimstone that we now associate with the birth of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain.

Between 1755 and 1780 the iron industry was booming in the region and five new groups of furnaces were set up:

The three surviving groups of iron furnaces mark these different phases in the local iron industry – the earliest, the Darby Furnace at Coalbrookdale …… Bedlam Furnaces (begun 1756-7) were the first of the great new Industrial Revolution furnaces, experimenting with new forms of power, while the Blists Hill Furnaces, begun in c.1832 and closed in 1912, signal the move away from water as a source of power, and eventually the end of smelting in the Gorge.

(Ironbridge Gorge by Catherine Clark, 1993, p.36, published by B. T. Batsford Ltd)

The Darby family were Quakers but did not force their religious beliefs on the workers at Coalbrookdale. The Darbys were known to be good employers as well as savvy business people, their workers rarely went on strike. Education, for both boys and girls, was also important to Quakers – a forward thinking approach for the time:

..adhering strictly to the ideals of self-discipline, frugality and simple faith, attitudes which extended into the conduct of their business. As members of the Society of Friends, Quakers formed a close-knit group, distinct in their way of dress and habits, and tending to socialize as a group. Many of the visitors who came to Coalbrookdale were Quaker associates, and the large houses at Coalbrookdale became a focus for this society.

The houses were built close to the works, but looked out over a more pleasant view of trees, pleasure gardens and a pool with a small decorative iron bridge.  For most of their history the houses were occupied for relatively short periods by family members or by works managers; often, as in the case of Abraham Darby III, while they built or altered finer houses elsewhere in rural settings.

Carpenters Row is an example of company housing: built c.1783, it is a terrace of eight cottages, each with a downstairs parlour with a range, a tiny pantry and a bedroom above….Carpenters Row would have provided a relatively good class of accommodation.

(Ironbridge Gorge by Catherine Clark, 1993, pp.40-41, published by B. T. Batsford Ltd)

Darby I’s son, Abraham Darby II (1711-1763), took over the running of The Coalbrookdale Company from his father in 1728. His contribution to the Company’s history is significant. He invented a method of making pig iron using coke which could then be converted into wrought iron:

The molten iron from a blast furnace could be poured direct into sand moulds to produce cast iron goods or cast ingots called “pig iron”. The pig iron was then either melted and cast in a foundry or purified to produce wrought iron that could be shaped by hammering and rolling in a forge.

(Extract from text panel at the site of the Old Furnaces, Upper Works, Coalbrookdale, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust).

For a more detailed overview of Ironbridge, below are links to previous articles I have written about various aspects of the site:

Posted in Archaeology, Bringing Alive The Past, Decorative Arts, Event, Exhibition, History, Museum

Exhibition – St. Barbe Museum, Lymington: ‘Out of Egypt’

Coffin mask that will feature in new exhibition, 'Out of Egypt' at St. Barbe Museum, Lymington, Hampshire. Image credit - Hampshire Cultural Trust.
Coffin mask which will feature in new exhibition, Out of Egypt, at St. Barbe Museum, Lymington, Hampshire. Image credit – Hampshire Cultural Trust.

An exciting new Egyptology exhibition opens at St. Barbe Museum, Lymington, Hampshire on Saturday 16th January. In Out of Egypt: exploring the passage from life to afterlife (sponsored by Thesis Asset Management), you can discover more about the religious beliefs and passage from life to the afterlife in ancient Egypt. The exhibition continues until 27th February, 2016.

St. Barbe Museum has had a recent history of producing some really terrific, unusual and cleverly curated exhibitions. I have covered quite a few of them here on Come Step Back in Time, have a browse through my article archive and see the range of fascinating  subjects the Museum has covered in its exhibition programming. The press pack I have received for Out of Egypt, certainly looks like 2016 could be St. Barbe Museum’s best year yet for stimulating exhibitions!

Displays for Out of Egypt will feature original artefacts from the Hampshire Cultural Trust and Bournemouth Natural Science Society collections including coffin masks, animal mummies, and canopic jars, which were used during the mummification process to store and preserve the viscera of their owner for the afterlife.

Overseer figure from the 6th Dynasty which will be on display at Out of Egypt exhibition at St. Barbe Museum, Lymington, Hampshire. Image credit - Bournemouth Natural Science Society.
Overseer figure from the 6th Dynasty which will be on display in Out of Egypt exhibition at St. Barbe Museum, Lymington, Hampshire. Image credit – Bournemouth Natural Science Society.

Also on show will be items that would have been placed in tombs such as amulets for protection from harm and danger; scarabs symbolising the holy beetle in ancient Egypt and Shabti figures, as well as a beautiful funerary boat.

The exhibition has been designed to appeal to school children and families through a host of activities, while still offering lots for adults to discover and enjoy. Themes include making a mummy, life after death, hieroglyphics, Egyptian numbers, gods and goddesses, Egyptomania – souvenirs and Egypt’s influence on British culture.

The timing of Out of Egypt, couldn’t be more on point. Interest in Egyptology with the general public is now at an all time high. This follows publication, in July 2015, by British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves, of a paper that claims Tutankhamun may not have been alone in his burial chamber. A series of ultra-high-resolution images of King Tut’s tomb (subsequently designated KV62) have revealed what is believed to be the outlines of two doorways, previously blocked and plastered over.

Reeves has suggested that behind these hidden doors there may be a lavish secret tomb belonging to the legendary Queen Nefertiti (the 14th century wife of Akhenaten, step-mother to Tutankhamun). Tutankhamun died at the age of 19, and it is thought that, due to his unexpected death, he may have been buried in a chamber of his step-mother’s tomb.

If Reeves theory is correct (although a number of academics and archaeologists dispute his claims!), this could potentially over-shadow Howard Carter’s (1874-1939) discovery of King Tut’s tomb in November 1922. Excavations to prove Reeves theory have not yet begun, indeed, there is a possibility they may never do so. Why? Well, Dr Zahi Hawasshas, Egypt’s former antiquities minister, not only disputes Reeves theory. He is also adamant that a hole is not to be made in the structure of KV62 in order to carry-out further investigations.

The main tomb is extremely fragile. Any further excavations could cause some of the priceless paintings to completely collapse not to mention potentially damaging the tomb itself. Archaeologists would need to find a way to enter the secret chamber, that has been hermetically sealed for 3,500 years, without causing any harm to the tomb’s infrastructure.

Debates, arguments and theories by Egyptologists will continue to grip the public’s attention over coming months. Keep any eye on global news reports, 2016 could still be the year when one of the greatest archaeological discoveries and  Egyptology’s greatest mysteries, is finally solved!

Out of Egypt Workshops

  • ‘Anthony and Cleopatra: Interactive Storytelling’ (February 17th). Join professional actors from Treehouse Theatre for an exciting and interactive storytelling session. Shakespeare’s passionate tale of Antony and Cleopatra is the inspiration for today’s story. There will be plenty of chance to dress up too! Performances are at 10.30am and 1.45pm. This is suitable for youngsters aged 4 – 11 years. £4 child, £3 adults. Advance booking required. Book online for the morning session here  Or afternoon session here ;
  • ‘Exploring Egypt: Family Explorer Day’ (February 18th). Discover life in Ancient Egypt and handle authentic objects from the time. This explorer day compliments our exhibition Out of Egypt. Youngsters will also get the chance to make decorative Egyptian cuffs, circlets and mini scarab beads. Usual admission charges apply.

Opening Times and Admission Prices

  • Out of Egypt at St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery will be open Monday-Saturday, 10am-4pm;
  • Tickets, which include entry into the museum, cost £6 for adults, £5 for senior citizens and students, £3 for children aged 5-15 years and £12 for a family of two adults and up to four children (including a voluntary gift aid donation); under fives are admitted free of charge;
  • For details visit or telephone 01590 676969.
Out of Egypt - Mummy board, 22nd Dynasty credit Bournemouth Natural Science Society
Mummy board from the 22nd Dynasty which will be display at Out of Egypt exhibition, St. Barbe Museum, Lymington. Image credit – Bournemouth Natural Science Society.


Posted in Activity, Event, History, Literature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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