Posted in Decorative Arts, Event, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, History of Medicine, Horticultural History, Literature, Maritime History, Motoring History, Mrs Beeton, Theatre History, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War One, World War Two

Mary Evans Picture Library – Celebrating 50 Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Anne Zielinksi-Old

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

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

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

London Fire Brigade (LFB)

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

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

Grenville Collins Postcard Collection

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

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

H. L. Oakley Silhouettes

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

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

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

Mary Evans Picture Library – A Few Fascinating Facts

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

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

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

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

Think History – Think Mary Evans

Closer to History

Centuries of Inspiration

From Antiquity to Modernity

The Specialist History Source

Visual Documentation of the Past

Picturing the Past

The World of Images

First Choice for History

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

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Selection of retail merchandise which has featured images from the collection at Mary Evans Picture Library. ©Come Step Back In Time
Selection of retail merchandise featuring images from various collections managed by Mary Evans Picture Library. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Posted in Country House, Decorative Arts, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, History of Medicine, Horticultural History, Vintage Retail, World War One, World War Two

Perfumes, Compacts & Powders – François Coty & The Doughboys: Stories From The Great War Part 10

Advertisement for Coty, Christmas, 1935.
Advertisement for Coty beauty products, Christmas, 1935. From my own collection.

Coty’s Personal Life

Eighty years ago, on the 25th July, French perfumier François Coty (born Joseph Marie François Spoturno) died in Louveciennes, France. Coty, a charismatic entrepreneur, transformed the French beauty industry with his bold strategy of creating attractively packaged products, at a range of price points, aimed at the mass market. Coty promised to:

Give a woman the best product to be made, market it in the perfect flask, beautiful in its simplicity yet impeccable in its taste, ask a reasonable price for it, and you will witness the birth of a business the size of which the world has never seen.

Born on 3rd May, 1874, Ajaccio, Corsica, Coty claimed to be a descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte’s aunt, Isabelle. Orphaned at the age of seven, Coty was sent to live with his great-grandmother, Marie Josephe Sporturno and after her death, his grandmother, Anna Maria Belone Sportuno, who lived in Marseille. His childhood was blighted by poverty which gave him the impetus to make a better life for himself as an adult. He achieved this ambition and went on to become France’s first billionaire. By 1928, he was the 5th richest person in the world.

In 1900, Coty married Yvonne Alexandrine Le Baron and they had two children together, Roland Alphée (b. 1901) and Christiane (b. 1903). However, Coty loved women and showered them with expensive gifts. He had many mistresses as well as illegitimate children, including five with one of his former shopgirls, Henriette Daude. Coty became a celebrity but also found himself the topic of gossip columns.

He often travelled with a large entourage, the Hotel Astoria in Paris was a particular favourite of his. He would take over an entire floor when staying there and liked to have his mistresses stay with him too. Despite his seemingly flamboyant public life, Coty was actually something of a recluse and didn’t like crowds. He enjoyed the finer things in life and money afforded him the opportunity of amassing a large collection of cars, art, property and racehorses.

In 1929, Yvonne, tired of his extra-marital activities, divorced Coty and married inventor and industrialist, Leon Cotnareanu. Yvonne’s substantial divorce settlement, as well as the Wall Street Crash of 1929, resulted in a period of economic hardship for Coty. Yvonne was eventually granted ownership of a sizeable chunk of  Coty’s perfume and newspaper empire (Figaro and L’Ami du Peuple). She subsequently sold Coty Inc. to Pfizer in 1963 and in 1992 they sold it on to German company Joh.A.Benckiser GmbH.

Advertisement for Coty from 1961. From my own collection.
Advertisement for Coty from 1961. From my own collection.

Embed from Getty Images

  • 2nd August 1963: L’ Aimant talc and toilet water by Coty. Harrods, London. (Photo by Chaloner Woods/Getty Images).
L'Aimant by Coty. This is one of my favourite fragrances. I always use L'Aimant powder. L'Aimant, launched in 1927 was one of the last fragrances Coty had been involved in creating.
L’Aimant by Coty. This is one of my favourite fragrances. I always use L’Aimant powder. L’Aimant, launched in 1927 was one of the last fragrances Coty had been involved in creating and has basenotes of rose, vanilla, citrus, musk and jasmine. He created L’Aimant in response to Chanel No. 5 which was released in 1921.

Embed from Getty Images

  • Les Grands Magasins du Louvre, a department store in Paris, France, 1955. The store where it all began for Coty. (Photo by R. Gates/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Coty The Perfumier

Coty studied with François Antoine Léon Chiris (1839-1900) at his factories in Grasse, France. In 1904, Coty returned to Paris and took his first fragrance, La Rose Jacqueminot, (developed whilst training in Grasse), to department stores and boutiques.

The story goes, that Coty took a small vial of La Rose Jacqueminot to Les Grands Magasins du Louvre, whilst there he collided with a woman and the vial broke.  A number of customers in the vicinity were so enamoured with the fragrance that they wanted to purchase a bottle.  The store immediately gave Coty a featured window display as well as an initial order for sixty thousand francs to supply the fragrance. La Rose Jacqueminot was an instant hit, selling-out straightaway.

In 1904, aged just twenty-nine, Coty founded his company in Paris (which is now Coty Inc., based in New York City) and in 1908/9, he transformed a Parisian residential villa into a vast industrial complex which became known as ‘Perfume City’ (La cité des Parfums). Perfume City had nine thousand employees and manufactured nearly a hundred thousand bottles of scent a day. Business boomed, resulting in subsidiaries opening-up in New York and London.

Embed from Getty Images

  • Coty Cosmetic Display at Marshall Field & Company, Chicago, Illinois, June 4, 1941. (Photo by Hedrich Blessing Collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

Coty’s policy of creating attractive packaging for his products meant he employed the best artisans of the time to help achieve his vision. This included glass designer René Jules Lalique (1860-1945) and the Glassworks of Baccarat. Lalique designed stunning perfume bottles for Coty’s early and very popular fragrances, L’Effleurt (1908),  Ambre Antique and L’Origan. The labels on the bottles were printed on a gold background and had raised lettering designed to give the overall packaging ‘a touch of luxury’. During his lifetime, Coty launched thirty fragrances and at the peak of his career had a turnover of ten million bottles of perfume a year.

In the 1920s, Coty purchased gardens in France and Italy, planting in them orange blossom and jasmine thus avoiding having to purchase these essences from suppliers in Grasse. In taking control of this aspect of his business, he saved a fortune and profit margins increased.

Embed from Getty Images

  • Coty Cosmetic Display at Marshall Field & Company, Chicago, Illinois, April 14, 1942. (Photo by Hedrich Blessing Collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

Embed from Getty Images

  • Coty Cosmetic Display at Marshall Field & Company, Chicago, Illinois, May 23, 1942. (Photo by Hedrich Blessing Collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images).

Coty’s Business Booms in World War One

In 1914, Coty joined the Nineteenth Infantry Regiment of Ajaccio but unfortunately was medically discharged in December, 1914, due to an astigmatism in his left eye. This condition eventually resulted in the loss of his sight in that eye in 1920. It is thought that the astigmatism may have been caused by a thrombosis of a central vein in the retina.

Despite being unable to serve his country in a military capacity, Coty contributed toward the war effort in other ways. He financed the transporting of wounded soldiers to his residence at Le Château D’Artigny which he had turned into a military hospital. Coty’s delivery vans were used to transfer wounded soldiers from the train station at Saint-Pierre-des-Corps to the Chateau. Coty’s mother-in-law, Virginie Dubois Le Baron, ran the hospital because she was unable to cross the Atlantic during wartime.

In January, 1917, Coty developed Le Jouet de France. This welfare initiative employed war wounded in a newly created atelier in L’ile de Puteaux, amongst Coty’s factories.  Coty continued to develop his business interests despite the war. In 1917, Maison Coty launched a twenty-eight page catalogue showcasing their product range which included: cologne; toothpaste; soaps; sachets; powders; brilliantines; lotions and powders.

In 1917, Coty released one of his most famous fragrances, Chypre de Coty which had basenotes of sandalwood, bergamot, oakmoss, iris amber and jasmine. Coty described it as: ‘a perfume of amber froth emanating at certain hours from the woods and the forests.’ The ‘forests’ that Coty referred to were those from his Corsican childhood. Chypre inspired Guerlain’s Mitsouko and Chanel’s Pour Monsieur but was discontinued in the 1960’s then re-launched in 1986. Other perfumes launched during World War One included: Jacinthe (1914); Lilas Pourpre (1914); La Violette Ambrée (1914) and L’Oeillet France (1914).

However, it was at the end of World War One that business really boomed. On 6th April, 1917, America declared war on Germany. In October, 1917, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) began active service on the Western Front. On 2nd June, 1918, General John J. Pershing (1860-1948), supreme commander of the AEF in France, attended the Supreme War Council in Versailles. US servicemen and civilians soon began to pour into France, particularly around Paris, at one point in time there were two million Americans, a large number of whom did not leave France until August, 1919.

Nicknamed ‘The Doughboys’, this influx of Americans boosted the local economy. Restaurants, shops and hotels were, once again, thriving. Coty installed displays of his products in hotel foyers which complimented his fully stocked stores in Paris, Nice and Bordeaux. He had cornered the market in beautifully packaged, affordable beauty at a time when currency was scarce. Demand for his products was high. Soldiers returning home in 1919, took back with them perfume, toiletries and metal compacts (a particular favourite!) as gifts for their wives and girlfriends. A majority of beauty products brought at this time, came from Coty’s stores. Women fell in love with Coty and demand for the brand overseas was high. This post-war sales boom made Coty, France’s first billionaire.

During this period, Coty Inc. had a store in New York at 714 Fifth Avenue which was decorated by Lalique. Benjamin Levy was Coty’s Sole Agent in New York, overseeing expansion of his business interests Stateside. At the beginning of World War One, Coty Inc. sold thirty thousand metal compacts a day in America, after the war this figure rose to ninety thousand.

Coty’s Property Portfolio

In 1906, Coty brought Georges Haussmann’s (1809-1891) home, Château de Longchamp near the Bois de Boulogne. Longchamp was remodelled by Coty who installed a laboratory where his fragrances, bottles, packaging and advertisements were designed. Lalique designed a glass dome at the property and Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) designed a stone tower there.

On 30th July, 1912, Coty continued to expand his perfume empire and purchased Le Château D’Artigny (now a luxury hotel) located near Tours, in the Loire Valley. He pulled down the existing structure and built a castle in the eighteenth century style, set in twenty-five hectares of parkland. Bespoke kitchens were installed with copper sinks and white marble work surfaces, there was also a pastry room in pink and green marble.

All bathrooms had marble wash basins and there was a two-storey linen room containing a staggering hundred and forty cupboards made of citron wood or Macassar ebony inlaid with mother-of- pearl. The Château floors were multi-coloured marble. There were ballrooms and a domed ceiling, in what was once Coty’s first-floor office. The dome is decorated with a large fresco featuring members of his friends, family, dignitaries and artisans (as well as Coty’s mistresses!) and painted by French-born American artist, Charles Hoffbauer (1875-1957).  The property was completed in 1929.

One of Coty’s most famous acquisitions was Pavillon de Louveciennes which  once belonged to the mistress of Louis XV France (1710-1774), Madame du Barry (1743-1793). Coty brought the property in 1923 and added five bedrooms in the attic area, a perfume laboratory in the basement, kitchens and a swimming pool. Coty spent the end of his life at Louveciennes, where he died on 25th July, 1934, following complications after an aneurysm as well as a bout of pneumonia.

Advertisement for Coty's 'Air Spun' Face Powder (1950).
Advertisement for Coty’s ‘Air Spun’ Face Powder (1950).  One of the brand’s most popular products, launched in 1934. Coty collaborated with costume designer Leon Bakst to create the box’s design. From my own collection.



Embed from Getty Images

  • Paris, France: Coty perfume shopfront, September 1929. (Photo by Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images).
Posted in Country House, History, History of Medicine, Horticultural History, Literature, Maritime History, Motoring History, Rural Heritage, World War One

Lady Hardinge & Tin Town – Brockenhurst’s Military Hospitals – Stories From The Great War Part 6

Embed from Getty Images
  1. A soldier writing a letter in a World War One military hospital. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

During World War One, temporary military hospitals were set-up at key locations throughout Britain with a vast number established near to coastal ports.  Their strategic positioning, ensured that journey times to and from the Western Front, for injured as well as rehabilitated soldiers, were kept to a minimum. Heritage properties, civic buildings, hotels, country estates and boarding houses were requisitioned by the War Office and transformed into fully equipped medical facilities for treating wounded service personnel. Some of the larger, private residences, served as convalescent homes.

Embed from Getty Images
  1. c.1915: Patients in the garden at Mr and Mrs Martin Ranger’s hospital for wounded servicemen. Unknown location but likely to be a private residence in Britain. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

When war broke-out in 1914, the tiny village of Brockenhurst in the New Forest, with its two thousand inhabitants, became an important hospital centre. This village location was chosen due to an abundance of country houses and large dwellings in the surrounding area. These properties provided suitable accommodation to be converted into medical centres. Brockenhurst railway station also offered excellent links to the Port of Southampton which, in August 1914, had been designated No.1 Military Embarkation Port. Wounded soldiers wheeled on luggage trolleys from Brockenhurst station to the local hospital(s) was a common sight throughout the war.

Embed from Getty Images
  1. c.1918: Wounded troops lying in their bunks on an ambulance train. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Embed from Getty Images
  1. Interior view of an ambulance train ward car with three tiers of bunk beds. Ambulance trains were used during World War One in France and Belgium to transport wounded or sick soldiers to hospital. This train was on display in several stations in Lancashire and Yorkshire before being taken to the Western Front. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Embed from Getty Images
  1. Another interior view of the same train. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

In World War One, both Balmer Lawn and Forest Park hotels were fitted out as military hospitals. Initially, these buildings were part of The Lady Hardinge Hospital for Wounded Indian Soldiers but later became sections of the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital. When the latter was operational, Balmer Lawn was used for Officers only. In 1915, Brockenhurst was officially designated by the War Office as a key hospital centre. Both King George V (1865-1836) and Queen Mary (1867-1953) visited Brockenhurst during the war. They were the first monarchs to have visited the New Forest since George III (1738-1820).

Lady Hardinge (1868-1914) was the wife of the then Viceroy of India, Charles Hardinge (1858-1944). Lady Hardinge had died suddenly of shock in a London nursing home, July 1914, a week after an operation to remove a malignant tumour.  Further tragedy struck Lord Hardinge when in December 1914 his eldest son, Edd, died of wounds received whilst fighting in France.

Embed from Getty Images
  1. 21st August, 1933: L to R: Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, his son Major the Hon A Hardinge and Viscount Hardinge watching a cricket match held at Penshurst Castle, Kent. (Photo by H. F. Davis/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

The Order of St. John of Jerusalem gave £10,000 to The Lady Hardinge hospital towards the cost of purchasing specialist equipment. In addition to the main hospital buildings, there were also a series of huts erected in the hotel grounds. Some of these temporary structures were used as Officers Quarters. Both Balmer Lawn and Forest Park sections combined, could accommodate two thousand five hundred Indian soldiers when it first opened.

Balmer Lawn Hotel, Brockenhurst, New Forest is now a 4 star boutique hotel but was a military hospital in World War One. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Balmer Lawn Hotel, Brockenhurst, New Forest is now a 4 star boutique hotel but in World War One, functioned as a military hospital for Indian and then New Zealand servicemen. ©Come Step Back in Time.

The land on which Balmer Lawn and Forest Park stand, was donated to the war effort by Mrs Morant of Brockenhurst Park. Brockenhurst Manor Golf Club, on Sway Road, which opened in September 1915, was also created on land owned by the Morant Trustees. The Club and grounds were used in the war by military and convalescing officers. In March 1918, a large parcel of land from the golf  course was donated by the Trustees for use by the Canadian Forestry Corps so that they could grow their own vegetables. A majority of this land was turned-over to soil to help the war effort and support food rationing.

Who were the Morant family? The Morants moved to Brockenhurst from Jamaica in 1759 and Edward Morant (1730-91) purchased a number of parcels of land in the village. In 1769, he brought Brockenhurst Park  for the sum of £6,400. Edward continued to purchase more local land as well as property and in 1771 he brought the nearby Roydon Manor which still exists today.

Each successive generation of the Morant family acquired more and more land, by the time World War One began they owned nearly all of the parish. The family’s income came via ownership of a number of West Indian Estates including one of  Jamaica’s largest sugar plantations. Port Morant, Morant Bay and Morant Lighthouse, in Jamaica, are all named after the family.

Embed from Getty Images
  1. The town of Morant, Morant Bay, Jamaica, c1880. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

Brockenhurst Park and Morant Manor, the adjoining country house, were close to St. Nicholas Church and not far from Brockenhurst station. The grounds were stunning thanks to extensive landscaping which began in 1865 when ornamental lakes and topiary gardens were created. In 1898, a fish pond, fishing house, rookery, pheasantry, dairy, menagerie, dog kennels, boat and engine houses were added. In 1910, an aviary was installed. The gardens were well-known and written about in Country Life, Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) visited the estate on several occasions.

When the third John Morant (1825-99) remodelled the main house in 1857, he did so to designs by Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880) which were in the French Chateau style. A few years before World War One, the 1911 Census shows a substantial number of staff were employed to look after the Morant family and their estate. It was a grand Edwardian country house of Downton Abbey proportions. During World War One soldiers were allowed into the grounds and the house was used as a convalescent home, probably for Officers only.

The house was finally demolished in 1958 and a new building erected on the same site, designed by Harry Gordon. Some of the Park’s features still remain, for example, an avenue of trees, the Italianate lake, topiary, some statuary and a very elaborate French-style gatehouse. The estate is no longer owned by the family and is now in private ownership. Old photographs of the original estate and house can be found here.

There are a number of photographs in existence showing the grounds of Morant Manor during the war. These were taken by Sir Rex de Charembac Nan Kivell (1843-1977), a New Zealand born art collector, who was on staff at the No.1. New Zealand General Hospital from 1916-1919. Kivell enlisted, under the name ‘Reginald Nankivell’, into the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 31st May, 1916 and was underage when he joined-up. He never saw action, although his collection does include many images of overseas military campaigns.

Nan Kivell’s extensive collection features many photographs of wartime Brockenhurst including portraits of local villagers as well as a snapshot of life in the military hospitals and convalescent homes there. His collection is now owned by the National Library of Australia (Nan Kivell Collection) and you can browse selected images, here. There is a rather splendid photograph of the Italianate lake at Morant gardens in Brockenhurst Park.

Embed from Getty Images
  1. c.1916: British nurses making surgical dressings, filling them with pine dust, during World War One. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

On the Lyndhurst Road, which is the main artery into the village, there once stood Morant Hall also called New Forest Hall.  During the war it was transformed into yet another medical facility. Whilst the Indian soldiers were being treated in Brockenhurst, Morant Hall was known as Meerut Indian General Hospital. When the New Zealand troops arrived, in 1916, the Hall became a British Red Cross Auxiliary facility (also known as a Convalescent Depot) called Morant War Hospital.

The Hall was managed by a committee of local citizens and could provide accommodation for up to one hundred and twenty patients. Local children also got involved and were sent to collect sphagnum moss and cotton grass for wound dressings, natural materials that could be found in the forest.

In the 1920s, the grounds and tennis courts behind Morant Hall, became the site of prestigious tournaments, warm-ups for Wimbledon. Brockenhurst Tennis Week was an important fixture in society’s social calendar. There is a rather stunning set of images, taken in the 1920s, of one of these Tennis Weeks and it can be viewed here.

Embed from Getty Images
  1. c.1915: Injured Indian soldiers of the British Army at the Brighton Pavilion, converted into a military hospital. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In its early years, The Lady Hardinge Hospital in Brockenhurst treated soldiers from the Indian Army Corps (3rd Lahore and 7th Meerut).  During this time, the short road that linked Balmer Lawn and Forest Park hotels, was renamed Meerut Road in honour of the Corps and is still called thus today. By November 11, 1914, the hospital had treated more than a thousand Indian Soldiers. Protocol dictated that British nurses were not normally allowed to attend Indian Soldiers in any military hospital either at home or abroad. However, because The Lady Hardinge Hospital was funded by a private charity, an exception was made.

In 1915, the hospital’s Matron was Miss Edith McCall Anderson R.R.C, she was aided by nurses Miss I. Frodsham, Miss Ryland-Smith, her assistants and seventeen Sisters who all spoke Hindustani. One Sister looked after two wards and there were twenty-four patients to a ward along with two English orderlies and native servants. The Sisters’ quarters were spacious and comfortable. Matron had her own sitting-room.

In early March of the same year, a contingent of male and female dignitaries arrived to tour and inspect The Lady Hardinge Hospital. The party included the Duchess of Bedford, Duchess of Somerset, Earl and Countess of Clarenden amongst many other philanthropic aristocrats. Everyone was met at Brockenhurst railway station by a number of motor cars provided by Dr Child, then President of the Automobile Association, to transport VIPs a short distance to the hospital complex.

A report of the visit appeared in The British Journal of Nursing (BJN), March 6th, 1915, an extract of which is printed below:

..There are twenty wards in all, of twenty-four beds, with the usual annexes, and single wards for native officers, who looked very smart as well as warm in the beautiful dressing-gowns sent by Lady Rothschild, of dark blue cloth with red facings, and one noticed a new use for the knitted scarves, which were ingeniously worn in more than one instance as turbans…beds had quilts of Turkey twill.

The wards had wooden floors, perhaps not the most hygienic. Upon arrival at a military hospital, all patients would have their clothes removed and disinfected, many soldiers were riddled with lice and other parasites. The patients’ clothing was then stored in the Pack Stores until, and if, the patient was discharged.

Medical facilities at The Lady Hardinge Hospital complex included a theatre block, two operating theatres, sterilizing room, preparation room, anaesthetic room and an x-ray room. Convalescing patients could relax in the recreation room which was carpeted and had divans with bright green velvet bolsters and low tables which the men could prepare their tobacco, play cards or chess on.

Following an escalation in hostilities, overcrowding soon became a problem at The Lady Hardinge with many patients forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor. Conditions were uncomfortable, many soldiers reported that there was a lack of food and inadequate heating. The Indian soldiers also found it difficult to adjust to the cold, damp British climate. Patient Sepoy Ranga Singh, wrote a letter from the hospital complaining about conditions there:

There is no fireplace. We are not given milk…It is very cold. We have to call the nurses “mother” and the European soldiers “Orderly Sahib” – if we do not we are reported. The five Brighton hospitals are good. The others are not good. We are not given soup. We get nothing.

(Reprinted in Mark Harrison, Disease, Discipline and Dissent: The Indian Army in France and England, 1914-1915. in: Roger Cooter, Harrison Mark, Sturdy Steve, eds Medicine and Modern Warfare (Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam, 1999) p. 192)

Despite patient Sepoy Singh’s unhappy experience at the Lady Hardinge, clearly efforts were made to cater for the various dietary requirements of both Hindu, Sikh and Muslim patients. According to the BJN‘s 1915 report, beside every bed there was a locker. Muslim patients were given a ‘lotah’ (drinking vessel) made out of aluminium and Hindus a ‘lotah’ in brass.

Muslim patients were served their meals on white china with a dark blue surround and Hindu patients had white china with a blue border. There were two kitchens one catering for Sikhs and Muslims, the other for Hindus. Their complex dietary requirements meant that a system of coloured discs were hung over each bed to help the servers at mealtimes. The numbered system operated as follows:

  1. All milk;
  2. Dahl soup;
  3. Chicken soup/mutton soup and milk;
  4. Non-meat, sugar instead of meat;
  5. Rice diet and meat;
  6. Chapatis, unleavened cakes, made of unadulterated wheat flour, with meat.

It is likely that some housekeeping standards did slip from time-to-time. The overstretched staff would have struggled to keep-up with increased numbers of wounded soldiers being admitted. In 1915, in an attempt to alleviate the problem of overcrowding, a combination of tented and galvanised accommodation units were erected to the south of Brockenhurst, at Tile Barn, a ridge overlooking both village and forest, a short distance from the station. Tile Barn’s complex of temporary, metal structures was nicknamed “Tin Town” by locals and provided five hundred extra beds. The site at Tile Barn is now an outdoor adventure centre for adults and children. The Indian Army Corps finally left Brockenhurst, for Egypt, in November, 1915.

Embed from Getty Images
  1. A wounded soldier in a London hospital reads a magazine with a Red Cross nurse by his bedside. 20th July 1918. (Photo by A. R. Coster/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

In 1916, the New Zealand authorities took over administration of The Lady Hardinge Hospital from the War Office.  The site at Brockenhurst became the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital incorporating a specialist centre for orthopaedic injuries. Tin Town remained but expanded with the addition of further huts for staff and stores. Balmer Lawn and Forest Park became minor medical sections.

By August 1917, the site also had a specialist neurological section under the supervision of Captain Marshall MacDonald. This department treated patients with neurasthenia (a non-somatic illness) and shell shock. Below is a letter written in May, 1917, by a New Zealand serviceman at No.1 New Zealand General Hospital:

You will have read in the papers that the New Zealanders were in the thick of the fighting on the Somme in the middle of September, and since that time we have been exceedingly busy. Prior to that thirty-six of our orderlies had been sent over to France; one has since been killed and several wounded. Our admissions have been heavier even than they were in Cairo, and a very large number of the cases were serious. The operating theatre at each section deals with as many as half a dozen —and even more— cases each day. We are badly understaffed in nearly all departments, and patients -when well enough – are occasionally attached temporarily. Just now the orderlies we have, seem to be quite a good lot of men, and include a few parsons and men who held good positions in civilian life.

The hospital here is divided into three sections. The first is headquarters, which used to be occupied by the Lady Hardinge Hospital for wounded Indians. Here over six hundred patients are accommodated. It is built of hutments, and it is possible to reach all parts without going out-of-doors. There is additional accommodation for the staff and for stores. This section is known as “Tin Town,” and its occupants as “Tin Hats.”

The other two sections are hotels, one at either end of the village of Brockenhurst, and on the edge of the New Forest. Each accommodates between two hundred and three hundred patients. Both are very fine buildings, and are as well equipped in every way as the central section. Besides these three, there are five auxiliary hospitals, each taking from twenty to sixty patients. They are sent there as soon as they are well enough to require light dressings. The names of these five are: Morant War Hospital, at Brockenhurst; ‘Home Mead,’ at Lymington; ‘Hill House,’ at Lyndhurst; ‘Thorney Hill,’ at Bransgore; and Lady Normanton’s, at Ringwood. “There has recently been added a convalescent home for officers at “Avon Tyrrell,” Lady Manners’ House. At all of these places New Zealanders receive the best of attention, and all those mentioned are within a radius of fifteen miles, from Brockenhurst.

Embed from Getty Images
  1. New Zealand soldiers aiding the war effort during their convalescence in Britain World War One. (Press Illustrating Service/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

One Australian nurse that worked at the Hospital was Staff Nurse Blanche (Alice) Atkinson. Blanche had trained in Adelaide and was a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNSR). She arrived in London on 22nd July, 1915 and soon found herself stationed at Brockenhurst. The following year, she was so overworked that she caught double-pneumonia and had a breakdown. Unfortunately, this led to her being invalided out of QAIMNSR and sent back to Adelaide to convalesce. She also caught Tuberculosis and died on the 9th December, 1916, aged thirty-eight. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal for her ‘devotion to service’ by King George V.

Below is an extract from a letter written in November, 1916, by a New Zealand serviceman, Corporal Oswald de Witt Vaughan, who served in the Wellington Infantry, 3rd Regiment Battalion and was injured at the Somme. He is writing to his father, Reverend Charles Vaughan in Kingston, Tasmania. Corporal Vaughan’s words provide a first-hand account of a wounded soldier’s journey from the battlefield to Brockenhurst. Corporal Vaughan did recover from his initial injuries and returned to the Western Front only to be tragically killed in action less than a year later, on 4th October, 1917, at Ypres, Belgium.

Short (silent) film clip of ‘trench cooking’ in World Ward One, British Pathé .

The cooks had orders to have breakfast ready early, and turning out betimes myself on account of the cold. I found a good fire going and tea and porridge on the boil. A few of us were standing round the fire, which they had built on the side of the trench, when, without warning, the whole business blew-up and the dixies [cooking pots] and their valuable contents were scattered far and wide. The cook got a bad hit in the leg, and I felt a heavy smack in the left side, about the lower ribs, which threw me to the ground for a time.

I picked myself up, and found I was smothered in porridge, a gruesome spectacle. I thought at first it was only a severe blow from something blunt, but as I began to turn a bit faint, and found difficulty in breathing, some of my mates turned their attention to me, and found a small wound just above the lower midribs.

They had me up, and helped me down to the first-aid station, and from there I progressed to the advanced dressing station…I finally reached the [36th] Casualty Clearing Station at Heilly, about ten miles back from Albert…I stayed there till Sunday morning, the 17th….they put us on an ambulance train….we travelled all day, very slowly for a good part of the journey on account of the heavy traffic, finally reaching the coast, early in the morning of the 18th. Leaving here again on the 20th we motored to Havre, about eighteen miles, and embarked on a hospital ship, leaving that night, about 10.3opm.

Reached Southampton early next morning after a good trip, and went by train to Brockenhurst, only about thirty minutes’ run on the L.P.S.W railway. The No. 1 New Zealand General Hospital is established here, and staffed entirely by New Zealand doctors and nurses, with a few Australian nurses attached. There are three sections, Forest Park, Balmer Lawn and Tin Town. I was in the first named, which is just outside the village; it was very comfortable and the food excellent. They shifted me from that place to this place [Thorney Hill Auxiliary Hospital, Bransgore] on the 26th to make room for cases coming in.

Embed from Getty Images
  1. April 1915: Playing a record on the gramophone to while away the time whilst recuperating in hospital. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Short (silent) film clip showing Australian and New Zealand soldiers return back home country in 1919, British Pathé.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, St. Nicholas Churchyard, Brockenhurst, New Forest. ©Come Step Back in Time.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, St. Nicholas Church, Brockenhurst, New Forest. ©Come Step Back in Time.

(The Mercury, 21.11.1916)

Between 1914 and the end of January 1919, when the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital closed, three thousand Indian soldiers and twenty-one thousand and four New Zealand soldiers had been treated at the various medical facilities across the village. Any Indian soldiers that died whilst at Brockenhurst were of course cremated in-line with their religious beliefs. However, cremation was a relatively new practice in Britain at that time and had only been legal since 1902. A suitable site to perform the cremations was found nearby, Perry Wood.

Ninety-three New Zealand soldiers died whilst receiving treatment in Brockenhurst. The cause of death of a majority of these New Zealand soldiers was either battle wounds or sickness.  The soldiers are buried in the cemetery adjacent to St. Nicholas Church, close to the former site of Tin Town at Tile Barn. Every head-stone tells its own story.

Short film about Private Potene Tuhuro, one of the New Zealand soldiers buried at St. Nicholas Church cemetery, Brockenhurst, New Forest. Video published by Hampshire Museums 30.10.13

The plot in the cemetery where the New Zealand graves are located is now maintained by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The uniformed head-stones were erected in 1924 to replace the white wooden crosses that had been there previously. In the Nan Kivell Collection, there are several photographs of the original graves as they would have looked during the war.

The imposing memorial cross, at the back of the plot, was erected in 1927. Every year, on the nearest Sunday to Anzac Day, representatives of the New Zealand High Commission and members of the New Zealand Forces attend a service at the cemetery.

There are additional head-stones of servicemen from other countries in the Commonwealth including South Africa. During World War One, South Africa was still part of the Commonwealth until apartheid came into force in 1948. The country did not re-enter the Union until 1994. Here is a summary of, both military and civilian, burials at the cemetery, all from World War One:

  1. 93 New Zealand soldiers;
  2. 1 Australian soldier (Australian Infantry, 22nd Battalion);
  3. 1 Canadian soldier (Canadian Forestry Corps);
  4. 3 unknown Belgian civilians (who worked nearby at Sopley Forestry camp);
  5. 3 members of the Indian Expeditionary Forces;
  6. 3 British soldiers;
  7. 1 South African (Royal Flying Corps).

When war broke-out in 1914, Brockenhurst was a tiny village of two thousand inhabitants. In 1918, the village had lost seventy-eight of its own men. Private Leonard Baden House, whose parents lived at Carey’s Cottages in the village, died on 24th November, 1918, aged eighteen. He had been a member of the Hampshire Regiment.

Another well-established local family, the Bowden-Smiths, who lived at Careys Manor in the village (now a luxury hotel), lost their youngest son, Lieutenant Commander Victor James Bowden-Smith RN (1887-1918). Victor was killed by an accidental explosion whilst recovering a German Torpedo which had gone adrift in the North Sea near Runswick on 22nd August, 1918, he was aged thirty-one.

The Bowden-Smiths had lived in the village since the eighteenth century. Victor’s father was Reverend Frederick Hermann Bowden-Smith and died less than a year after his son on 7th February, 1919. Reverend Bowden-Smith had been the Rector of Weston Patrick near Basingstoke, Hampshire.

The nearby town of Lyndhurst lost sixty-eight men and the hamlet of East Boldre lost seventeen. No village in the New Forest escaped without tragedy.

'World War One: A Contemporary Conversation' exhibition, at The National Library of New Zealand. ( ©National Library of New Zealand.
‘World War One: A Contemporary Conversation’ exhibition, at The National Library of New Zealand. ( ©National Library of New Zealand.

*********NEWS UPDATE (April 2015)*********

In April 2015, I was contacted by Peter Ireland, Exhibitions Manager at The National Library of New Zealand. In 2014, he curated ‘World War One: A Contemporary Conversation’, which opened on 16th October. The exhibition examines the effects of World War One, a hundred years on as it continues to be felt in large parts of the world:

A Contemporary Conversation looks at the period 1914 to 1918 and also considers the urgent subject of war today. World War One inflicted suffering on all sides, and while our account of this is non-partisan, the focus is on New Zealanders’ experience of the war. This is told through diaries, letters, and other documents drawn from the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library and Archives New Zealand. These often poignant first-hand accounts provide a sense of what it was like to endure the vicissitudes of war.


Peter wrote to say that he was working on a case content refresh for the exhibition. One of the items on display is a register belonging to Archives New Zealand that records the deaths of New Zealand servicemen in England, some of whom are buried at The Commonwealth War Graves Commission  (CWGC) Cemetery, St. Nicholas Church, Brockenhurst.

Peter came across this article and contacted me asking whether I would grant permission to the Library for them to include a selection of my photographs, featured here, alongside the register. I am delighted to confirm that I have now sent the photographs to Peter and these will indeed be on display in the exhibition very soon.

In the meantime, Peter has kindly provided me with a selection of images featuring this exhibition which I am thrilled to share with you here.

  • More information about ‘World War One: A Contemporary Conversation’ can be found here.
  • More information about the National Library of New Zealand can be found here.
  • The National Library of New Zealand have also produced a series of guides for anyone wishing to research aspects of World War One using their Library as well as The Alexander Turnbull Library. Both institutions have significant collections relating to all aspects of New Zealand and New Zealanders during World War One. For more information on this click here.
'World War One: A Contemporary Conversation' exhibition, at The National Library of New Zealand. ( ©National Library of New Zealand.
‘World War One: A Contemporary Conversation’ exhibition, at The National Library of New Zealand. ( ©National Library of New Zealand.
Major Kiely Pepper who attended the formal opening of 'World War One: A Contemporary Conversation' exhibition, at The National Library of New Zealand. ( ©National Library of New Zealand.
Major Kiely Pepper who attended the formal opening of ‘World War One: A Contemporary Conversation’ exhibition, at The National Library of New Zealand. ( ©National Library of New Zealand.

************* NEWS UPDATE ENDS **************

One of the more unusual World War One memorials that I have come across in the New Forest. This one is carved into the doors at the entrance of East Boldre Church (not far from Brockenhurst). Thomas Mostyn Field was born in 1900 and died on 31st May, 1916, aged 16. He died, along with 57 Officers and 1,209 men, who sank when their ship HMS Queen Mary was involved in enemy action at the Battle of Jutland. Thomas had become a Naval Cadet at the age of 13 and was serving as a Midshipman when he died. He was the only son of Admiral Sir Arthur Mostyn Field (1855-1950) KCB FRS and his wife Lady Field. ©Come Step Back in Time.
One of the more unusual World War One memorials that I have come across in the New Forest. This one is carved into the doors at the entrance of East Boldre Church (not far from Brockenhurst). Thomas Mostyn Field was born in 1900 and died on 31st May, 1916, aged 16. He died, along with 57 Officers and 1,209 men, when their ship, the battle cruiser HMS Queen Mary sunk as a result of enemy action at the Battle of Jutland. Thomas had become a Naval Cadet at the age of 13 and was serving as a Midshipman when he died. He was the only son of Admiral Sir Arthur Mostyn Field (1855-1950) KCB FRS and his wife Lady Field. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Grave ©Come Step Back in Time.
Grave belonging to three unknown Belgian civilians who worked nearby at Sopley Forestry Camp during World War One. St. Nicholas Church cemetery, Brockenhurst, New Forest. ©Come Step Back in Time.
A poignant reminder that not every fallen soldier was identified. St. Nicholas Church churchyard, Brockenhurst, New Forest. ©Come Step Back in Time.
A poignant commemorative stone erected by the parents of Private Lawrence, a member of the 3rd Battalion, Wellington Regiment, who died on 6th November 1917 at the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital. Private Lawrence’s official head-stone is out of shot to the left.  St. Nicholas Church cemetery, Brockenhurst, New Forest. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Lieutenant William Munro Duncan. Born 20th July, 1893 and died of sickness on 15th July, 1918, aged 25. He served in the New Zealand Medical Corps and prior to enlisting had worked as a shorthand typist for the New Zealand Government Railways Department. St. Nicholas Church Cemetery, Brockenhurst, New Forest.©Come Step Back in Time.
Lieutenant William Munro Duncan. Born 20th July, 1893 and died of sickness on 15th July, 1918, aged 25. He served in the New Zealand Medical Corps and prior to enlisting had worked as a shorthand typist for the New Zealand Government Railways Department. St. Nicholas Church Cemetery, Brockenhurst, New Forest.©Come Step Back in Time.
Lance Corporal Herbert Joseph Baird a member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Canterbury Regiment, 2nd Battalion. Born on 21st December, 1894 and died of battle wounds, 1st November, 1916, aged 19. Prior to enlisting he had been a shepherd in New Zealand. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Lance Corporal Herbert Joseph Baird a member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Canterbury Regiment, 2nd Battalion. Born on 21st December, 1894 and died of battle wounds, 1st November, 1916, aged 19. Prior to enlisting he had been a shepherd in New Zealand. St. Nicholas Church Cemetery, Brockenhurst, New Forest. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Private Meihana Huta a member of the New Zealand Maori (Prioneer) Battalion. He was born on 1st June, 1897 and died of sickness on 24th March, 1918. St. Nicholas Church cemetery, Brockenhurst, New Forest. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Private Meihana Huta a member of the New Zealand Maori (Prioneer) Battalion. He was born on 1st June, 1897 and died of sickness on 24th March, 1918, aged 21. St. Nicholas Church cemetery, Brockenhurst, New Forest. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Sergeant James McAnulty was a member of the New Zealand Veterinary Corps. He was born on 13th November, 1887, and died of sickness on 29th November, 1918, aged 31. Prior to enlisting he had worked as a plumber. St. Nicholas Church cemetery, Brockenhurst, New Forest. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Sergeant James McAnulty was a member of the New Zealand Veterinary Corps. He was born on 13th November, 1887, and died of sickness on 29th November, 1918, aged 31. Prior to enlisting he had worked as a plumber. St. Nicholas Church cemetery, Brockenhurst, New Forest. ©Come Step Back in Time.
©Come Step Back in Time.
©Come Step Back in Time.
Sukha worked as a ‘Sweeper’ in the Supply and Transport Corps at the Lady Hardinge Hospital for Wounded Soldiers, Brockenhurst. He died on 12th January, 1915, aged 30. His head-stone is in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, St. Nicholas Church, Brockenhurst. ©Come Step Back in Time.

For The Fallen

By Laurence Binyon (1917)

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children

England mourns for her dead across the sea.

Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,

Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal

Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,

There is music in the midst of desolation

And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,

Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;

They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;

They sit no more at familiar tables of home;

They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;

They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,

Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,

To the innermost heart of their own land they are known

As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,

Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;

As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,

To the end, to the end, they remain.

'Les ©Come Step Back in Time.

©Come Step Back in Time.
Posted in Activity, Aviation History, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, Film, History, Horticultural History, Literature, Museum, Rural Heritage

Gilbert White – The Parson Naturalist of Selborne, Hampshire

View of the gardens and back of The Wakes, Gilbert White's House, Selborne, Hampshire.
View of the gardens and back of The Wakes, Gilbert White’s House, Selborne, Hampshire. By kind permission of Gilbert White’s House and Garden.

See Selborne spreads her boldest beauties round

The varied valley, and the mountain ground,

Wildly majestic! what is all the pride

Of flats, with loads of ornament supply’d?

Unpleasing, tasteless, impotent expense,

Compar’d with nature’s rude magnificence.

Arise, my stranger, to these wild scenes haste …

(Opening lines from Gilbert White’s poem, The Invitation to Selborne)

Prof. Bell's library, on the ground floor of The Wakes. Prof. Thomas Bell (1792-1880) was a zoologist who much admired White's work. He retired, aged seventy, to Selborne and died at The Wakes in 1880. Prof. Bell himself published an edition of The Natural History of Selborne in 1877.  The former library is now home to interative exhibits about Gilbert White's life and work.
Prof. Bell’s library, on the ground floor of The Wakes. Prof. Thomas Bell (1792-1880) was a zoologist who much admired White’s work. He retired, aged seventy, to Selborne and died at The Wakes in 1880. He published an edition of The Natural History of Selborne in 1877, as well as making a number of additions to the property including a billiard room, which is currently the Museum gift shop. The former library is now home to a number of interactive exhibits exploring Gilbert White’s life and work.


A few miles south of Jane Austen’s (1775-1817) cottage in the pretty village of Chawton is the equally picturesque village of Selborne. It is here that the parson naturalist, ecologist and author of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne in the County of Southampton (1789) the Revd Gilbert White (1720-1793) lived. Selborne is a haven of peace and tranquillity in the heart of East Hampshire where time appears to have stood still; the village doesn’t have any street lighting, even in 2013. It is extraordinary to think that in this rural idyll there once lived a quiet, unassuming gentleman who wrote what was to become the fourth most published book in English, after The Bible, The Complete Works of Shakespeare and John Bunyan’s (1628-1688) The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). Since its first publication in 1789, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne would have been found on the book shelves of every respectable gentleman’s library from the late Georgian period onwards, and it has remained continually in print.

Gilbert White's original manuscript of The Natural History of Selborne (1789). By kind permission of Gilbert White's House and Garden.
Gilbert White’s original manuscript of The Natural History  and Antiquities of Selborne (1789). By kind permission of Gilbert White’s House and Garden. To hear a reading of the above letter, please click on the Podcast below.

Letter LXI to Daines Barrington from Gilbert White 

(Read by Emma, Editor, Come Step Back in Time)

Jane Austen moved from Southampton to the cottage at Chawton in 1809. In the film Becoming Jane (2007), writers Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams weave White’s observations on the mating rituals of the swift into the screenplay’s narrative. If you watch the library scene from the film in which the object of Jane’s (Anne Hathaway) affections, Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) reads an extract from White’s publication, you will notice that Tom uses the subtext of the quote as a means of engaging in an intellectual flirtation with Jane. To view this short scene (2 minutes 45 seconds), CLICK HERE. Comparison with the original text reveals that the screenwriters have exercised a certain degree of poetic licence in their use of White’s observations. Below is White’s original text for you to compare:

As the swift or black-martin is the largest of the British hirundines, so is it undoubtedly the latest comer. For I remember but one instance of its appearing before the last week in April: and in some of our late frosty, harsh springs, it has not been seen till the beginning of May. This species usually arrives in pairs…. If any person would watch these birds of a fine morning in May, as they are sailing round at a great height from the ground, he would see, every now and then, one drop on the back of another, and both of them sink down together for many fathoms with a loud piercing shriek. This I take to be the juncture when the business of generation is carrying on.

(Letter XXI to Barrington, September 28th, 1774, The Natural History of Selborne (1974), published by Oxford University Press)

Jane loved to walk through the countryside and it is likely that she would have made the round-trip to Selborne on a number of occasions during her time living at Chawton. In Becoming Jane there are several scenes representing the woodlands close by to The Wakes. She certainly would have read White’s seminal work and there is evidence amongst her letters to suggest that the Austens were on visiting terms with the family of one of his nephews, Dr John White, who for a short time was Jane Austen’s physician. Known as ‘Gibraltar Jack’, he was the son of Gilbert White’s brother the Revd John White, who had been chaplain to the garrison at Gibraltar, and when he was young stayed for several years with his uncle at The Wakes.

Built in 1610, The Wakes was originally a much smaller property than can be seen today. The name of the house is a nod to the family called Wake who had previously lived there. Gilbert White had lived at The Wakes for the majority of his life but only inherited the property in 1763 upon the death of his uncle, the Revd Charles White of Bradley. The house is now a museum dedicated to the life and work of Gilbert White, and it also houses The Oates Collection. This Collection consists of two permanent exhibitions celebrating the life of soldier and Antarctic explorer Captain Lawrence Oates (1880-1912) and his uncle, African explorer Francis [Frank] Oates (1840-1875). In 1954 the property was bought by public subscription, augmented by a large donation from Robert Washington Oates (a cousin of Lawrence), and opened as The Oates Memorial Library and Museum and The Gilbert White Museum in 1955. Separate articles on The Oates Collection will follow shortly.

The life and work of Gilbert White is a thoroughly absorbing area to research. It is possible to gain a good insight into what life must have been like for a rural parson and scholar in eighteenth-century England due to the wealth of written material, both published and unpublished, that has survived to the present day. His body of writing is extensive and includes correspondences with family members as well as the leading scholars from the Age of Enlightenment.

Some of the scholars that White corresponded with include: George Montagu (1753-1815), author of The Ornithological Dictionary (1802); Robert Marsham (1708-1797); Thomas Pennant(1726-1798) and Daines Barrington (1727-1800), both leading naturalists and Fellows of the Royal Society, to whom Gilbert White wrote the letters that form the basis of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne; John Mulso (1721-1791), a contemporary at Oriel College, Oxford, who corresponded with White between 1744 and 1790 and remained a lifelong friend and literary companion; and Thomas Barker (1722-1809) of Lyndon Hall, Rutland, a meteorologist, vegetarian and also White’s brother-in-law. White also met botanist Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and naturalist Dr Daniel Solander (1733-1782) in 1767, one year before they both joined Captain James Cook (1728-1779) for his first voyage to the Pacific Ocean aboard Endeavour.

Thomas Barker is a particularly important to White’s development as a meteorologist. The day after his sister Anne’s wedding to Thomas, which took place on 6th January 1751 at St Mary’s parish church in Selborne, White began his new record book, The Garden Kalendar. In this book he kept a daily record of all his activities in the garden at The Wakes, including climate variations, rainfall and seasonal fluctuations. He continued to record these data, each year, for more than forty years.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) is also known to have read White’s observations on the usefulness of earthworms as well as birds, about which he remarked: ‘From reading White’s Selborne, I remember wondering why every gentleman did not become an ornithologist.’ Darwin’s The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the Action of Worms was the last book he published on 10th October 1881. White, himself, said of the earthworm:

Earth-worms, though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of Nature, yet, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm. For, to say nothing of half the birds, and some quadrupeds which are almost entirely supported by them, worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation, which would proceed but lamely without them, by boring, perforating, and loosening the soil, and rendering it pervious to rains and the fibres of plants, by drawing straws and stalks of leaves and twigs into it; and, most of all, by throwing up such infinite numbers of lumps of earth called worm-casts, which, being their excrement, is a fine manure for grain and grass.

(Letter XXXV to Barrington, May 20th, 1777, The Natural History of Selborne (1974), published by Oxford University Press)

View from Gilbert's bedroom window of the garden.
View from Gilbert’s bedroom window of the garden.

White’s journals contain detailed notes and records of life at The Wakes coupled with observations of
the nature and wildlife that were to be found in the countryside surrounding Selborne. An openness to the pursuit of scientific enquiry coupled with a vigorous intellect saw White become one of the leading naturalists of his time as well as being one of the first known ecologists. He was also one of the first naturalists to recognise a connection between the weather and its impact upon the behaviour of plants and wildlife. He was even an early exponent of the relatively modern model of self-sufficiency and sustainability. In the garden at The Wakes, he grew a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and flowers. He even brewed his own wine and beer in the purpose-built brewhouse, which still exists today.

In his biography of Gilbert White, Richard Mabey writes:

He grew more than forty different varieties [of vegetable], including artichokes, endives, mustard and cress, white broccoli, skirret and scorzonera, marrowfat peas, ‘a remarkable long leek’, squashes, cucumbers, all manner of lettuces, and ‘a small crop of onions … for picklers’ … more experimental vegetables, too, including maize, wild rice and potatoes…. In the borders close to the house were planted crown imperials, crocuses and pinks. Vines and roses … tulips, wallflowers and columbines.

(Gilbert White: A Biography of the Naturalist and Author of The Natural History of Selborne, by Richard Mabey, published by J. M. Dent, 1993, p. 56)

Because White kept detailed planting records for The Wakes in his journals, correspondence, household account books and predominantly his Garden Kalendar, it has been possible today to restore the gardens back to their eighteenth-century origins. The gardens still contain a wine-pipe seat, two hahas, a herb garden, a kitchen garden, brewhouse, cut-out statue of Hercules and a hermitage complete with a thatched roof.

View from Gilbert's bedroom window of the gardens at The Wakes. The haha at the boundary ensures a seamless view of lawn and surrounding land.
View from Gilbert’s bedroom window of the gardens at The Wakes. The haha at the boundary ensures a seamless view of lawn and surrounding land.

Hahas are large ditches at the boundary of a lawn and were popular devices used by eighteenth-century garden designers which served two purposes. Firstly, they are practical, stopping livestock from grazing or entering onto your manicured lawns, thus also avoiding the unpleasant business of animal waste being stepped in by the lady and gentleman of the house. Secondly, they provide an uninterrupted and seamless view of the lawn and surrounding countryside, allowing landowners to survey the extent of their grounds.

Garden at The Wakes.
Garden at The Wakes.

David Standing has been the Head Gardener at The Wakes since 1979 and has worked tirelessly, together with a band of volunteers (there are approximately one hundred volunteers who work at the Museum every year) to restore the original layout of the garden using White’s writings. The project is now largely complete. There are twenty acres of ancient parkland surrounding the property, some of which is now owned and managed by The National Trust (Selborne Common, the Zig-Zag path leading to The Hanger, The Hanger, Church Meadow, Long and Short Lythes).

Book cabinet that houses Ronald's collection of editions of Gilbert White's The Natural History of Selborne.
Book cabinet that houses Ronald’s historic editions of Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne.



I had the privilege of being shown around Gilbert White’s House and Garden by Ronald Davidson-Houston. Mr Davidson-Houston has spent many years studying White’s writings and his biographical knowledge of the family is extensive. I asked him when he first became interested in White’s work: ‘I first read The Natural History of Selborne as a child but it was my career as a publisher that brought me back to the study of his writings. In 1981, I published [Exeter: Webb & Bower] the first edition of The Natural History of Selborne illustrated with contemporary eighteenth-century colour plates. It was a collaboration between The Gilbert White Museum and myself, with an introduction by the then curator, Dr June E. Chatfield. [The Illustrated Natural History of Selborne is still in print, now published as a paperback by Thames & Hudson.] During the course of my research, I asked the question, why has this book been published in so many different ways, languages and editions? It was then that I began to collect various editions of the book.’

The Illustrated Natural History of Selborne (2004), published by Thames & Hudson with an introduction by Dr June E. Chatfield.
The Illustrated Natural History of Selborne (2004), published by Thames & Hudson with an introduction by Dr June E. Chatfield.

15. Editions of NHS in other languages

The Natural History of Selborne, compiled and translated Izawa-Koichi and illustrated by Kuroda-Machiko (2008).
The Natural History of Selborne, compiled and translated by Izawa-Koichi and illustrated by Kuroda-Machiko (2008).

Ronald has collected more than a thousand copies of the book, many of which are extremely rare editions and a number are in foreign languages, including Chinese and Japanese. Two years ago he donated his treasured collection to the Museum and it is now housed in a purpose-built display cabinet located in Gilbert White’s Great Parlour. Ronald explained further about the publishing history of the book: ‘The first edition, dated 1789, was actually printed in late 1788 and some early copies were sent to a number of friends and relations in November and December of that year. However, 1789 is the official publication date. The price was one guinea ‘in boards’ (i.e., not leather-bound). It was printed on laid paper, which is hand-made and has watermarks. There are six engravings chosen from twelve watercolours by the Swiss artist Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (1733-1794), who, according to White, “stayed with me 27 days; 24 of which he worked very hard”. White’s brother, Benjamin White (1725-1794), was a bookseller and his firm, B. White and Son, published the first edition. The brothers’ niece, Mary (Molly) White (born 1759), undertook the copy editing. The first cheap edition did not appear until 1829. The original manuscript of the book was bought by the Museum in 1980 from a private collection in America.’

Mary (Molly) White. By kind permission of Gilbert White's House and Garden.
Mary (Molly) White. By kind permission of Gilbert White’s House and Garden.



‘Sagacity of observation runs through the work’

The Gentleman’s Magazine, January 1789

‘A more delightful, or more original work than Mr. White’s History of Selborne has seldom been published’

The Topographer, April 1789

‘This elegant and pleasing … work abounds with information’

The Monthly Review, July 1789

(Reprinted in The Selborne Association Newsletter, No. 47, December 2005, pp. 22-31, by R. Davidson-Houston)

Ronald has studied the first reviews of White’s publication and writes:

Along with a number of other close friends and relations of the author, Thomas White (who had given his brother Gilbert unfailing encouragement throughout the book’s long gestation and had also helped with correcting the proofs) received an advance copy in late November or early December 1788, enabling the first instalment of his review to appear in the January 1789 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine.

(Ibid. pp. 22-23)

Interestingly, in these early years of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, Thomas White’s review begins by putting forward the argument that the landed gentry, who were abandoning country living for a better life in the towns and cities, left behind them an economic void, and advocates that his brother’s work should not be devalued because it is a study of rural life in a time when it was not fashionable to write about such things. In Thomas White’s opinion:

It is with pleasure, therefore, we observe that so rational an employment of leisure time as the study of nature and antiquities promises to become popular…. But we agree with Mr. White in his idea of parochial history, which, he thinks, ought to consist of natural productions and occurrences, as well as antiquities…. A person with this writer’s patient observation would have made many remarks highly valuable. Men of intelligence like him are wanted, to promote an intimacy between the library and the plough.

(Ibid. p. 23 and p. 25)

Gilbert's father, John White. By kind permission of Gilbert White's House and Garden.
Gilbert’s father, John White. By kind permission of Gilbert White’s House and Garden.


White was born on 18th July, 1720, the eldest son of John White (1688-1758), a barrister, and Anne White (née Holt, 1693-1739), a rector’s daughter. Gilbert was one of eleven children and, although he never married, did enjoy the company of his many nephews and nieces who often came to stay at The Wakes. By January 1793, including spouses, his family circle had increased to sixty-two young relations. Ronald tells me Gilbert enjoyed socialising and it was not unusual for family parties to go on until 3 am, he also told me Gilbert ‘was five foot three inches tall and a thin, prim, upright man.’

Gilbert's grandfather, also called Gilbert White. By kind permission of Gilbert White's House and Garden.
Gilbert’s grandfather, also called Gilbert White. By kind permission of Gilbert White’s House and Garden.

Gilbert’s grandfather, also called Gilbert White (1650-1728) had been the vicar at Selborne from 1681. In 1728, John White, his family and widowed mother moved to Selborne. In 1741, Gilbert’s father began landscaping the gardens at The Wakes including laying out seven acres of the estate and creating walks and hedges. White inherited his father’s love of nature at a very early age and to celebrate his tenth birthday planted an oak and ash tree in the garden there. It wasn’t until 1750-1 that he planted further trees, including an elm, fir and beech.

Gilbert’s education consisted of a thorough grounding in the classics, as well as literature, at Basingstoke Grammar School. He made his first observations of nature in 1736, which he wrote in a notebook following a visit to stay with his aunt at Whitwell, Rutland. It is no surprise to learn that this clever young man was admitted to Oriel College, Oxford, in April 1740. Gilbert worked hard and played hard, enjoying all manner of extra-curricular activities on offer to a young Oxbridge undergraduate. He visited coffee houses, drank wine, played cards, attended concerts and visited many of England’s great houses. He also had an interest in shooting, but this quickly turned from the thrill of the kill to hunting for the purposes of obtaining specimens for identification and dissection. He graduated BA in June 1743 and MA in October 1746.


White was ordained as a Deacon in the Anglican Church on 27th April 1747 at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. His first post was at Swarraton, Hampshire, as curate to his uncle, the Revd Charles White of Bradley. Unfortunately, he contracted smallpox in 1748. It is thought that one of the reasons why no portrait of White exists, other than two small pen-and-ink sketches, may be due to the fact his face had been badly scarred as a result of this disfiguring disease. His old nursemaid, ‘Goody Marshall’ helped care for him during his convalescence. White’s lifelong fascination with melons is also thought to have begun whilst he was recovering from smallpox, realising the health properties of this exotic fruit. He grew melons in the garden of The Wakes and he used to have ‘cantaloupe feasts’ with his youngest brother Henry (1733-1788) who was rector and schoolmaster at Fyfield, near Andover. In the poem ‘Metamorphosis’ by his friend Dr John Scrope, White’s melon obsession (‘The swelling melon was his favourite fruit’) and his scarring due to smallpox (‘his roughen’d face’) are both alluded to.

Corycius long admired (a curious swain!)

The wealth and beauties of Pomona’s reign;

The vegetable world engrossed his heart,

His garden lingering nature help’d by art;

Where in the smoking beds high heap’d appear

Salads and mushrooms thro’ the various year.

But of each species sprung from seed or root,

The swelling melon was his favourite fruit;

Other productions kindled some delight

In his fond soul, but here he doted quite.

When others wisely to the grot retreat,

And seek a friendly shelter from the heat,

Anxious and stooping o’er his treasure, low

Poring he kneels, and thinks he sees it grow.

One day when Phoebus scorch’d the gaping plain,

Striving to rise at length he strove in vain,

Fix’d to the spot, exchang’d his shape and name,

A melon turned and what he view’d became.

Ovid would tell you how his roughen’d face

Retains the network and the fretty grace;

His skin and bones compose the tougher rind;

His flesh compressed retains its name and kind;

Shrunk are his veins, and empty’d of their blood,

Which in the centre forms a plenteous flood.

(Reprinted in Gilbert White: A Biography of the Naturalist and Author of The Natural History of Selborne,

by Richard Mabey, published by J. M. Dent, 1993, p. 58)

White was fully ordained priest in 1749. In 1751, he was made curate-in-charge at Selborne, a post that he returned to again in 1756, 1758 and finally in 1784 when he continued in the role until his death in 1793. Whilst curate at Selborne, he was also able to continue with his academic duties as a fellow at Oriel College. He also took on an additional parish, Moreton Pinkney, Northamptonshire, which he could do the administration for from his home in Selborne. In 1761, he accepted the curacy of another parish, Faringdon (now spelt Farringdon), nearby to Selborne and continued as their curate for twenty years.

Ronald as Gilbert White with Timothy the tortoise.
Ronald as Gilbert White with Timothy the tortoise. By kind permission of Gilbert White’s House and Garden.


White loved animals, there is no doubt about that. He had a pony (Mouse), dogs (Rover, Fyfield and a spaniel Fairey Queen) and, best-known of all, his beloved tortoise, Timothy. White often rode Mouse to church when he had to take the services and also enjoyed riding in the Hampshire countryside. He suffered from coach sickness so preferred travelling by horse whenever possible.

White inherited Timothy from his aunt, Rebecca Snooke, in March 1780. It is believed that his uncle, Henry Snooke, bought the tortoise from a sailor in Chichester for 2/6d in the 1740s. Observations and a number of scientific experiments were carried out on Timothy. White’s fascination and fondness for these hardy Testudine is evident in his writings. The following letter, from White to Daines Barrington, was written whilst he was staying at Delves House, Ringmer, near Lewes where Timothy lived prior to joining him at The Wakes:

A land tortoise, which has been kept for thirty years in a little walled court belonging to the house where I now am visiting, retires under ground about the middle of November, and comes forth again about the middle of April. When it first appears in the spring it discovers very little inclination towards food; but in the height of summer grows voracious: and then as the summer declines its appetite declines; so that for the last six weeks in autumn it hardly eats at all. Milky plants, such as lettuces, dandelions, sowthistles, are its favourite dish. In a neighbouring village one was kept till by tradition it was supposed to be an hundred years old. An instance of vast longevity in such a poor reptile!

(Letter VII to Barrington, October 8th, 1770, The Natural History of Selborne (1974), published by Oxford University Press)

No part of it’s behaviour ever struck me more than the extreme timidity it always expresses with regard to rain; for though it has a shell that would secure it against the wheel of a loaded cart, yet does it discover as much solicitude about rain as a lady dressed in all her best attire, shuffling away on the first sprinklings, and running it’s head up in a corner. If attended to, it becomes an excellent weather-glass; for as sure as it walks elate, and as it were on tiptoe, feeding with great earnestness in a morning, so sure will it rain before night. It is totally a diurnal animal, and never pretends to stir after it becomes dark. The tortoise, like other reptiles, has an arbitrary stomach as well as lungs; and can refrain from eating as well as breathing for a great part of the year…. P.S. In about three days after I left Sussex the tortoise retired into the ground under the hepatica.

(Letter XIII to Barrington,  April 12th, 1772, The Natural History of Selborne (1974), published by Oxford University Press)

Timothy the tortoise has been missing for more than a week. He got out of the garden at the wicket, we suppose; & may be in the fields among the grass. Timothy found in the little bean-field short of the pound-field. The nightingale, fern-owl, cuckow, & grass-hopper lark may be heard at the same time in my outlet. Gryllo-talpa churs in moist meadows.

(Gilbert White’s Naturalist’s Journal, May 28th, 1784)

Display in the Great Parlour at Gilbert White's House, showing a copy of The Natural History of Selborne and a model of Timothy the tortoise.
Display in the Great Parlour at Gilbert White’s House, showing a copy of The Natural History of Selborne and a model of Timothy the tortoise.

For more examples of White’s musings on Timothy and tortoises in general, visit the website, The Natural History of Selborne – Journals of Gilbert White. CLICK HERE. Dr Verlyn Klinkenborg’s delightful Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile (2007) published by Random House, is another recommended read if you would like to learn more about White’s beloved Timothy. This was first published in hardback in 2006 by Alfred A. Knopf. The British edition, with the title Timothy’s Book: Notes of an English Country Tortoise, was published by Portobello Books in hardback (2006) and paperback (2007).

Following Timothy’s death, it was discovered that the tortoise was in a fact female and her shell is now preserved in the Natural History Museum, London.


Gilbert White's study at The Wakes. The desk shown may have been the original desk owned by Gilbert.
Gilbert White’s study at The Wakes. The desk shown may have been the original one owned by Gilbert.

The Wakes officially passed to Gilbert White in 1763 upon the death of his uncle Charles. It would be a mistake for anyone to think that White’s parochial life stifled his scientific and scholastic output. Far from it. His location and lifestyle offered him the opportunity to completely immerse himself in his observational writing and experiments. He did not have the distractions that living in a city, such as London, would have presented him with. He also never married and bachelorhood seemed to suit him, devoting his life to his studies and the church.13. Bird exhibit

14. Bird exhibit

 Extract from Letter XXIV Gilbert White to Thomas Pennant – Ring-ousels

(Read by Emma, Editor, Come Step Back in Time)

In her essay, ‘The Baffling Swallow: Gilbert White, Charlotte Smith and the Limits of Natural History’, Anne Mellor writes of White’s possible conflicting motivations that he would have had to face as a result of his resolve to serve God, as well as commit himself to lifelong study of the taxonomy of nature:

Throughout, White wrestled with conflicting motivations. On the one hand, he was a product of Enlightenment thought, convinced that God had created one great system which man might eventually come to understand. Everywhere he sought to organize and classify his observations of plants and animals into coherent taxonomies, closely following the lead of Buffon and Linnaeus. On the other hand, he was convinced that one could approach truth only through the precise empirical description of natural events and creatures, minute particulars that he scrupulously recorded day by day in his “Naturalist’s Journal.”

(Mellor, A. K., Vol. 31, No. 4, Dec. 2009, pp. 299-309, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, p. 301, published by Routledge)

11. Gilbert White's Study

Letter XXVII from Gilbert White to Thomas Pennant – Hedgehogs

(Read by Emma, Editor, Come Step Back in Time)

 Extract from Letter XI Gilbert White to Thomas Pennant – Bats

(Read by Emma, Editor, Come Step Back in Time)

It really is extraordinary when you consider some of the historic world events that were happening during White’s lifetime:

  • 1741 – Handel’s ‘Messiah’
  • 1746 – Battle of Culloden
  • 1760 – Kew Gardens founded
  • 1768 – Cook’s first voyage
  • 1773 – Boston Tea Party
  • 1776 – American Independence
  • 1780 – Gordon Riots
  • 1789 – French Revolution
  • 1793 – Louis XVI Executed

2. Blanchard balloon flight at SelborneEven tucked away in rural Hampshire, White witnessed a number of historic events of his own, for example a balloon flight by Jean-Pierre Blanchard (1753-1809) in 1784. Earlier in the same year (2nd March) Blanchard had made the first successful balloon flight in Paris. According to White, in October of 1784, the whole village turned out to watch the spectacle of a further balloon flight by Blanchard. The event is documented in detail in a letter he wrote from Selborne, on 19th October, to his sister, Mrs [Anne] Barker:

Dear Sister, from the fineness of the weather, and the steadiness of the wind to the N.E. I began to be possessed with a notion last Friday that we should see Mr. Blanchard in his balloon the day following: and therefore I called on many of my neighbours in the street, and told them my suspicions. The next day proving also bright, and the wind continuing as before, I became more sanguine than ever; and issuing forth in the morning exhorted all those that had any curiosity to look sharp from about one o’ the clock to three towards London, as they would stand a good chance of being entertained with a very extraordinary sight.

(The Life and Letters of Gilbert White of Selborne, Vol. II, Written and Edited by Rashleigh Holt-White, published by John Murray, 1901, pp. 134-5)

Life at The Wakes was never dull; the house was often full with members of his own family visiting and at other times he had a small retinue of staff who also provided him with rich material for his journals. There were two members of staff who feature both in White’s everyday life and consequently within the text of his writings, Goody Hampton and Thomas Hoar. Goody Hampton was not exactly a permanent fixture at The Wakes; she lived in the village and worked for White on a casual basis. Richard Mabey, in his biography of White, writes of White’s impression of Goody:

Goody Hampton was employed as a ‘weeding woman’ in the summer months. She appears to have been a doughty worker, ‘and indeed, excepting that she wears petticoats and now and then has a child, you would think her a man.’

(Gilbert White: A Biography of the Naturalist and Author of The Natural History of Selborne, by Richard Mabey, published by J. M. Dent, 1993, p. 57)

On the subject of Thomas Hoar, Mabey writes:

… presiding over them all was Gilbert’s loyal retainer Thomas Hoar, who acted as his groom, gardener, scientific assistant and general handyman for forty years. He was a bachelor and slept at The Wakes, and would keep the journals up and write letters about events in Selborne when Gilbert was away. In the garden and in his treatment of plants and animals Thomas showed a delicacy and concern that is more than just a reflection of his employer’s own sensitivity.

(Ibid, p. 57)

Ronald also told me that girls from the village would regularly come and help at The Wakes. There is a kitchen on display at the house, but this is not the original that would have been in use during White’s residence. White was also interested in matters related to the management of a household and kept a close eye on things at The Wakes. One of his famous treatises is on the economics of the use of rush lighting as opposed to candles for those in straightened circumstances: ‘The careful wife of an industrious Hampshire labourer obtains all her fat for nothing; for she saves the scummings of her bacon-pot for this use; and, if the grease abounds with salt, she causes the salt to precipitate to the bottom, by setting the scummings in a warm oven.’ (Letter XXVI to Barrington, November 1st, 1775).

Letter XXVI from Gilbert White to Daines Barrington – Economy of Rush Lights and Besom Brooms

(Read by Emma, Editor, Come Step Back in Time)

According to Ronald, the ever-prudent White, not wishing to waste a single resource whether animal, vegetable or mineral even saved the hair that moulted or was combed from his dogs so that it could be used to reinforce the plaster on the walls of his Great Parlour.

Gilbert White's bedroom at The Wakes.
Gilbert White’s bedroom at The Wakes.
Embroidered detail of the curtains around Gilbert's bed.
Embroidered detail of the curtains around Gilbert’s bed. His aunt embroidered the bed hangings.

Mrs [Barbara] White, the widow of Gilbert’s brother John, came to live at The Wakes in 1781 and pretty much took over the running of her brother-in-law’s household. This arrival stimulated White’s interest in cooking and pushed forward apace his plans to expand the vegetable and herb gardens.5. Detail of curtains in bedroom

6. Detail of curtains in bedroom7. Detail of curtains in bedroomWhite died on Wednesday 26th June 1793 and is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Selborne. His headstone is not, as one might expect for such an important gentleman of the Enlightenment, pretentious. It simply reads: ‘G.W. 26th June 1793’ and is located among other family graves near the north wall of the chancel.

  • Gilbert White’s House & Garden and The Oates Collection is located at The Wakes, High Street, Selborne, Hampshire. For details of opening times and admission charges for 2013, CLICK HERE.
  • Literary Walks in East Hampshire. Self-guided walking tours of the attractive countryside in East Hampshire. This well-written tour of Selborne, gives you the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the Revd Gilbert White. Don’t forget your wellies or walking boots though. CLICK HERE.12. Exhibit in Gilbert White's study
Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Country House, Decorative Arts, Event, Exhibition, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, History of Medicine, Horticultural History, Museum, Review, TV Programme, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War One, World War Two

Vintage Pinboard – Period Drama & Documentaries – Be Inspired in 2013

1930s society glamour.
1930s society glamour.

Here are my recommendations for the best documentaries and period dramas currently on or soon to air on British television.

One other treat, that I am thrilled to tell you about, (credit and thanks for this must go to my husband for its discovery), is the recently digitised Radio Times Archive.  The first edition of The Radio Times was printed on 28th September, 1923, a joint venture between the BBC and publisher George Newnes Ltd. The BBC edited the publication from 1925 until 1937 and it was published in-house until 2011. The digitisation of four thousand five hundred copies of the magazine was completed in 2012. However, access to the full archive is currently restricted to BBC staff but it is hoped that by the end of 2013 the entire archive will be available on-line to the general public. Public access is currently limited to a small collection of, downloadable, pre-war television supplements. For the main website, CLICK HERE.

My favourite supplement is one published at the time of King George VI’s (1895-1952) coronation, which took place on Wednesday 12th May, 1937. To download this issue, CLICK HERE. If you want to listen to an original recording of the King’s coronation speech, then it is available on British Pathé’s website. It might be a good idea to turn-up the sound on your computer before you begin, as it is very faint. The whole speech lasts just over eight minutes.  For the speech, CLICK HERE.

Ripper Street – BBC One

  • Victorian Era
  • Drama Series 8 x 60 minute episodes. Sundays 9pm

Set in April 1889, six months after the last Jack the Ripper killing, East London. For H Division, the police department charged with keeping order in the seedy back streets of Whitechapel, life goes on. This fictionalised account of the aftermath of the Ripper murders and impact upon the police responsible for solving the crimes, is particularly violent and gory. But nonetheless, a well-acted ensemble piece that contains plenty to hold the interest of Ripper enthusiasts and social historians alike.  Cast includes: Matthew Macfadyen (Detective Inspector Edmund Reid); Jerome Flynn (Detective Sergeant Bennett Drake) and Adam Rothenberg (US Army surgeon and one-time Pinkerton detective, Captain Homer Jackson).

Hat from 1909.
Hat from 1909.

Mr Selfridge – ITV 1

  • Edwardian Era
  • Drama Series 10 x 60 minute episodes. Sundays 9pm

I have been waiting ages to see Mr Selfridge, ever since ITV teased us with trailers during season three of Downton Abbey last year. It was worth the wait, I know reviews have been mixed but the production values are high and Edwardian London never looked so good. This sumptuous slice of nostalgia helps fill the gap left on Sunday evenings by Downton.

Mr Selfridge is based upon Lindy Woodhead’s book Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge and created by multi-award winning writer Andrew Davies. It tells the story of Harry Gordon Selfridge (1858–1947), the American gentleman who established the iconic British department store, Selfridges, in 1909.  Cast includes Jeremy Piven (Mr Selfridge) and Katherine Kelly (Lady Mae).

Harry Selfridge was born on the 11th January 1858 at Ripon, Wisconsin, USA. Aged twenty-one, he went to work at department store and mail-order firm Field, Leiter & Co (later Marshall, Field & Co). In 1886, he became manager of their retail department. Selfridge left the firm in 1904, after having spent the previous fourteen years as a junior partner there. He used his fortune to buy Chicago firm Schlesinger & Mayer which he proceeded to sell quickly, turning him a profit of £50,000 to go with the return of his £300,000 initial investment.  Selfridge arrived in London in 1906 and lived in fashionable Arlington Street. He set about realising his grand plan to open a large department store in the heart of London and spared no expense in gathering around him the best team possible, employing one thousand two hundred staff at his Oxford Street store and even hiring Goldsman, the chief window-dresser at Marshall, Field & Co.

According to writer and historian, Claire Masset: ‘Perhaps the greatest advertising campaign of the early twentieth century was that of Selfridges, announcing its much-awaited opening in March 1909.  During the entire week of its opening, Harry Gordon Selfridge commissioned thirty-eight advertisements designed by well-known graphic artists, appearing on over a hundred pages of eighteen national newspapers. The campaign, which cost £36,000 (equivalent to £2.35 million today), caused a sensation, with 90,000 people visiting the store on its opening day and over a million in the first week.’ (Masset. C., Department Stores, 2011, p. 26, published by Shire Publications.)

I have had a look through a selection of contemporary newspapers from 1909 and found some simply fascinating examples of Selfridges’ advertising campaign. I hope you enjoy reading them as much I did.

The dedication of a Great House.  A day well spent is passed at Selfridge’s. This house is dedicated to woman’s service first of all.  And for this there are many excellent and satisfying reasons.  To begin with, everything at Selfridge’s is obviously and charmingly NEW – the great building itself and its equipment – the vast stocks of varied merchandise in their entirety – the methods of displaying them to best advantage – and the unaccustomed and luxurious appointments instituted to provide every possible comfort for daily visitors.

  This House is dedicated to woman’s service first of all, and our purpose is to make her shopping more attractive than it has ever been before; so to satisfy her with value, stocks, and prices that she will discover a wider and more pleasurable opening in the word ‘shopping’ than she has hitherto read in it;  and learn regard for Selfridge’s as the best equipped place of merchandise in London for every shopping purpose in which she takes an interest.  There is a home-like lounge for smoking and gentleman are invited to use it as they would their club.

(Daily Express, London, Tuesday March 16th 1909)

Enamelled hat pins, tie-pin and buttons. 1912. On display at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham.
Enamelled hat pins, tie-pin and buttons. 1912. On display at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham.

The new hat pins  – we believe that we have gathered the largest show of hat pin novelties ever seen together on a counter. Some are metal filigree, some in enamel, others set with big coloured stones, and others again representing dragon flies, bees, etc. with semi-transparent born wings. This price for a ‘scarab’ pin is 6d. Filigree pins from 9d, and Louis Seize designs set with imitation amethysts, topazes, etc. are 1/- each.

(Daily Express, London, Wednesday 19th May 1909)

Woven underwear – for the chilly season.  Ladies’ white Scotch all wool combinations, guaranteed unshrinkable, with spliced seats, high neck and short or long sleeve or low neck and short sleeves – all sizes, price 8/3.

Autumn knickers – Ladies’ satin, cloth and serge sports knickers suitable for Autumn and Winter wear. These are particularly well made as regards shape and finish, and have buttons for fastening in detachable linings. Jap silk accordion pleated knickers in black and white (with linings) for dancing and evening wear. Price 35/

(Daily Express, London, 20th September 1909)

From 1916 to 1922, Harry Selfridge leased Highcliffe Castle, Highcliffe, Dorset from the Stuart Wortleys and this became his country residence, away from the hustle and bustle of London life. His wife, Rosalie and mother, Lois, lived at Highcliffe. Highcliffe Castle is a Grade 1 Listed Georgian Mansion, built in the Gothic Revival style between 1831 and 1835, originally for Lord Stuart de Rothesay. During his tenancy, Selfridge added a number of modern flourishes to the Mansion, including fitted bathrooms, steam central heating and a fully equipped modern kitchen.

After the death of his wife, in 1918, and his mother, in 1924, he lost his direction somewhat and embarked upon a number of romances with younger women. Then came the Great Depression and World War Two when retail therapy was the last thing on everyone’s mind. In his twilight years, Selfridge frittered away his money in French casino resorts and eventually died, virtually penniless, at 2 Ross Court, Putney Heath, London on 8th May 1947. He is buried in St. Marks Churchyard at Highcliffe, next to his wife and mother.

Meridian (ITV) have produced a short film (3 mins. 47) ‘Meeting Mr Selfridge’, about the new series and Harry Selfridge’s life here in England. There is also a segment about his time at Highcliffe Castle. CLICK HERE.

1930s  Burberry shooting coat. Perfect for those country house parties.
1930s Burberry shooting coat. Perfect for those country house parties.

Dancing on the Edge – BBC 2 

  • 1930s
  • Drama Series 5 x 60 minute episodes – Mondays 9pm (Starts Monday 4th February 2013)

This new drama series by acclaimed writer/director Stephen Poliakoff is set in England in between 1931 and 1933Dancing on the Edge follows black jazz musicians, the Louis Lester Band, as they find fame at the parties and performances of London’s upper class society. Cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew Goode, Jacqueline Bisset, Janet Montgomery, Joanna Vanderham, Tom Hughes, Angel Coulby, Wunmi Mosaku, Mel Smith, Anthony Head, Caroline Quentin and Jane Asher.

For further background on this production, see David Gritten’s excellent article, ‘Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge: Behind the Scenes’, published on The Telegraph’s website, Monday 21st January 2013. For the article, CLICK HERE. For behind the scenes photographs of the production, CLICK HERE.

One of the locations for this lavish BBC production was  Upton House and Gardens, Nr Banbury, Warwickshire (The National Trust). Before the Second World War, this fifteenth century manor house was owned by Lord and Lady Bearsted. Lord Bearsted (Colonel Walter Horace Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted, MC – 1882-1948) brought Upton in 1927 and until 1929 made many changes to the property and gardens. Notable additions to the interior include a stunning red and silver aluminium leaf art deco bathroom for Lady Bearsted (Dorothy Montefiore Micholls – d.1949) and in the grounds a swimming pool. Lord Bearsted was an astute businessman, he was Director of Lloyds Bank Ltd, Alliance & Assurance Co and also founded the Shell Transport and Trading Company. During the 1930s, the multi-millionaire and his wife hosted lavish house parties at Upton.   The house is full of priceless art treasures and Lord Bearsted was once a Trustee of the National Gallery.

On the weekend of 9th and 10th March, 2013 (Mothering Sunday Weekend),  Upton have a 1930s Beauty Parlour event. There will be demonstrations of 1930s fashion, make-up, hair and beauty techniques. There will also be an opportunity for you to make a gift for your mum. There is no need to pre-book as this event is free, although you will have to pay normal admission charges to Upton.  The house and gardens open again to the public from Saturday 16th February (11-5).  For 2013 opening times. CLICK HERE.

Riding sweater by Hawico, London, 1930s advertisement. 'Makes an irresistible appeal to all smart riding women. Made in sky, yellow, beige, white and guaranteed to withstand countless washings.'
Riding sweater by Hawico, London, 1930s advertisement. ‘Makes an irresistible appeal to all smart riding women. Made in sky, yellow, beige, white and guaranteed to withstand countless washings.’
London store Marshall & Snelgrove's 1935 advertisement for silk stockings.
London store Marshall & Snelgrove’s 1935 advertisement for silk stockings.

Spies of Warsaw- BBC 4

  • 1933 to 1943
  • Drama Series 2 x 90 minute episodes. Wednesdays 9pm

Directed by Coky Giedroyc, Spies Of Warsaw is a thrilling spy story set in Poland, Paris, London and Berlin between 1933 and 1943. French and German intelligence operatives are locked in a life-and-death struggle on the espionage battlefield. Based on a 2008 novel by American bestseller Alan Furst with the screenplay written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. The main protagonist is jaded French agent and former hero of the Great War, Colonel Jean-François Mercier.  Cast includes: David Tennant (Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier); Janet Montgomery (Anna Skarbek); Marcin Dorocinski (Antoni Pakulski) and Ludger Pistor (Edvard Uhl). This is a superb, classy and intelligent thriller. Tennant is brilliant as Colonel Mercier.

Commissioned by Richard Klein, Controller, BBC Four and Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning. Executive produced by Richard Fell for Fresh Pictures and Chris Aird for the BBC, co-produced by Apple Film for TV Poland in association with ARTE FRANCE and BBC Worldwide.

If you would like to read more about the background to this production, Olly Grant has written an excellent, detailed article in Broadcast Now. CLICK HERE.

Call The Midwife (Series 2) – BBC 1

  • 1950s – London’s East End
  • Drama Series 8 x 60 minute episodes. Sundays 8pm (Starts on 20th January)
Set in London’s East End in the 1950s and based on the memoirs of former midwife Jennifer Worth. For a short history of midwifery in the Britain then please see my popular article, Call The Midwife: An Historical Perspective  (well it did get picked-up and recommended by, which I was thrilled about). I will be writing about the tie-in book for series one and two in a future posting, so keep an eye out for that.
  • Goodwood House and Burghley House
  • Documentary – 2 x 60 minute episodes. Tuesdays 9pm (Starts 22nd January)

Who better to present a documentary about two of England’s greatest stately homes, than Downton Abbey‘s creator Julian Fellowes. The two houses in question are Goodwood House, in West Sussex and Burghley House, Stamford, Lincolnshire. Fans of vintage may already be familiar with the annual Goodwood Revival event, which this year takes place on the 13th, 14th and 15th of  September. Fellowes goes in search of fascinating stories behind these two houses and the characters who helped shape their history. Both houses were selected on the basis that they are still in ownership of the families who built them.

Goodwood House is the seat of the Duke of Richmond and Lennox. Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond (1672-1723) was the illegitimate son of Charles II (1630-1685) and Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth (1649-1734). The 1st Duke’s love of hunting led him to Goodwood where he purchased a small Jacobean house on the estate in 1697 for use as a hunting lodge. This house is now referred to as the ‘old house’ and is located at the back of the main house. Goodwood House was developed throughout the eighteenth century. The classical Main Hall was built in 1730, a Palladian style South Wing between 1747-1750 and a North Wing added in 1771. The Regency State apartments were added to the South Wing in 1800. The House now resembles three sides of an octagon. Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond (1701-1750) was a keen cricketer and arranged matches at Goodwood in the mid 1720s. The 2nd Duke is credited with setting-up the first formal rules of the game, the original document is now kept in Goodwood’s archives.

Burghley House was created by William Cecil, 1st Lord Burghley (1521-1598), Lord High Treasurer to Elizabeth I (1533-1603). The house is thought to be one of the largest Elizabethan mansions ever built. Building began in the 1550s. One of the most notable owners of Burghley was William Cecil’s great-great-great-grandson, John Cecil, 5th Earl of Exeter (1648-1700) who, together with his wife Lady Anne Cavendish (1645-1703), crammed Burghley full of priceless treasures, paintings, furniture and tapestries.  The 5th Earl embarked upon the fashionable Grand Tour and with his wife travelled extensively overseas during a twenty year period. One particular treasure is the Florentine cabinet, enriched with pietra dura panels, which was given to the 5th Earl by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The 5th Earl died in 1700 at Issy near Paris, apparently after consuming a surfeit of fruit!

The world's first solid bar of chocolate was produced by Bristol company, J S Fry & Sons in 1847. It was called Chocolat Délicieux à Manger (delicious to eat). The three brothers who were running the company when the chocolate bar was invented were: Francis Fry (1803-1886); Richard Fry (1807-1878) and Joseph Fry (1795-1879). By 1910, Fry's employed 6,000 staff. Exhibit shown are examples of Fry's chocolate labels, on display at MShed Museum, Bristol.
The world’s first solid bar of chocolate was produced by Bristol company, J S Fry & Sons in 1847. It was called Chocolat Délicieux à Manger (delicious to eat). The bar was bitter, heavy and a challenge for even the strongest of teeth and jaws. After a slow start, popularity gradually followed. The Victorians often took this portable confectionary with them on long railway journeys whereby it served as a handy snack. The three brothers who were running the company when the bar was invented were: Francis Fry (1803-1886); Richard Fry (1807-1878) and Joseph Fry (1795-1879). By 1910, Fry’s employed 6,000 staff.  Invention No. 5 in the BBC’s booklet 50 Great British Inventions. The exhibit shown are examples of Fry’s chocolate labels, on display at MShed Museum, Bristol.
  • History of Inventions and Technology
  • Documentary 4 x 60 minute episodes. Thursdays – 9pm. (Starts 24th January)

This four-part series will explore the background behind some of the inventions found in everyday life. Michael Mosley, Prof. Mark Miodownik and Dr Cassie Newland explore the very nature of invention and how and why things are invented. Some of the inventions discussed in the series will include the steam engine, jet propulsion, electrical generator, telephony and television. There is a fascinating and well put together booklet to accompany the series, 50 Great British Inventions. It is free to download and packed full of useful background information and images. CLICK HERE.

1935 advertisement for Schweppe's drinks. Soda water was invented, in 1772, by Joseph
1935 advertisement for Schweppe’s drinks. The advert reads: ‘For lively people, let there be lively drinks to match – drinks with sparkling, bubbling freshness to revive tired palates.  Schweppes Soda mixes with anything: it improves everything…that’s why it’s so famous.’ Soda water was invented, in 1772, by Joseph Priestley FRS (1733-1804) a clergyman and scientist. He published instructions on how to make carbonated water, using sulphuric acid and chalk. In 1774, the Swiss fizzy drinks pioneer, Johann Jacob Schweppe (1740-1821) set-up his Schweppes drinks company in London so that he could manufacture carbonated mineral water using Priestley’s method. The brand is still going strong today. No. 14 in the BBC’s booklet 50 Great British Inventions.

This series is part of the BBC’s year-long schedule of programmes focussing on all aspects of British inventiveness.  To browse the full catalogue of programmes due for transmission this year, CLICK HERE. Some of my personal favourites are documentaries on the Romantic landscape painter J.M.W. Turner RA (1775-1851) Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727); Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) – see my article on The Wedgwood Museum for further information on the Wedgwood dynasty; Why the Industrial Revolution Happened here; Locomotion: Dan Snow’s History of Railways and Stephen Fry’s Planet Invention exploring the background to the ‘stuff’ that fills our homes from putting knives, jeans, bras, flip-flops and fridges to handbags, fast cars and Swiss watches.

Do also check-out the many Genius of Invention related activities that are taking place at museums and heritage sites throughout the UK. CLICK HERE.

The modern hypodermic syringe was invented, in 1853, by Scottish physician Alexander Wood (1817-1884). He was not the only gentleman important to the development of this type of syringe. Francis Rynd (1811-1861) invented hollow needles and Charles Gabriel Pravaz (1791-1853) invented a metal-bodied syringe with a fine hollow point needle for treating aneurysms. Objects shown are from a display at The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, London.
The modern hypodermic syringe was invented, in 1853, by Scottish physician Alexander Wood (1817-1884). He was not the only gentleman important to the development of this type of syringe. Francis Rynd (1811-1861) invented hollow needles and Charles Gabriel Pravaz (1791-1853) invented a metal-bodied syringe with a fine hollow point needle for treating aneurysms. No. 15 in the BBC’s booklet, 50 Great British Inventions. Objects shown are from a display at The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, London.

Petworth House, West Sussex (the National Trust) currently have an important exhibition of Turner’s paintings on view, many for the first time. Turner’s Sussex  includes forty exhibits, plus a rare opportunity to view the Old Library, used by Turner as his studio when he visited Petworth, which he frequently did in the 1820s and 30s.  One of Turner’s patrons was the 3rd Earl of Egremont (George O’Brien Wyndham, 1751-1837) for which Petworth was his country seat. The exhibition continues at Petworth until 13th March 2013Booking is essential for Turner’s Sussex. Gates open: 10am; Last admission time: 2.15pm; Timed tickets every 45 minutes; Adult £10, child £5; Two-course lunch and high tea available to pre-book on 01798 342207.  To book tickets, call 0844 249 1895 or book online.

  • History of British Woodwork
  • Documentary 3 x 60 minute episodes. Thursdays 9pm
As part of the year-long partnership between the BBC and V&A, this three-part documentary explores some of the most important individuals responsible for shaping the history of British woodwork. Episode one explores the extraordinary life and work of fashionable furniture-maker, Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779). Episode two looks at the output of wood-carver Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) and Episode three provides a close study of carpentry during the Middle Ages, including a detailed look at the roof of Westminster Hall and the seven hundred year old Coronation Chairs.

1930s cocktail party.
1930s cocktail party.
Posted in Activity, Archaeology, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, History, Horticultural History, Maritime History, Museum, Rural Heritage

Happy 100th Birthday Tudor House & Garden, Southampton

Tudor House and Garden, Southampton as it appears today.

On the 29th July this year, Tudor House and Garden, Southampton celebrated its 100th birthday. The museum was officially opened on the afternoon of Monday, 29th July, 1912, by the Mayor of Southampton Henry Bowyer. The attraction gave a much-needed boost to Southampton’s morale following the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic less than four months prior.

Old poster advertising Tudor House Museum.

In 1912, the museum’s opening hours were 10am to 6pm during the summer and 10am to 4pm in winter, with an admission charge of 6d but free on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays. The museum’s first curator, Mr Nicholas, did not receive payment for his role.  Nicholas worked extremely hard to ensure that the museum was ready for its grand opening. He also organised the transformation of a former cabbage patch behind Tudor House to be turned into an old English garden.  In the 1980s the garden was re-planned by landscape designer Dr Sylvia Landsberg. Dr Landsberg wanted the garden to resemble a Tudor knot garden from the 1500s.

The garden at Tudor House that was designed by Dr Sylvia Landsberg.

Nicholas continued as Honorary Curator for over twenty years. During that time, he used his own money to fund trips to source objects for the museum. He worked tirelessly to assemble the museum’s eclectic range of objects. Eventually, the council appointed a professional curatorial team to manage the collection.

Selection of souvenirs sold at Tudor House museum in the last 100 years.
Unusual objects that were on display when the museum first opened in 1912.
Fireman’s helmet from the Napoleonic era. Before the helmet originally went on display in the museum, it was part of William Spranger’s own collection which was housed in a private museum at King John’s Palace, behind Tudor House.

According to A. G. K. Leonard in The Saving of Tudor House, the museum’s first year of opening was a great success:

The people of Southampton evidently appreciated the town’s first museum.  In September, 1913, the Borough Council received the report of its Estates Committee which included an account by R. E. Nicholas of the first year of Tudor House (ST 13 September 1913): this stated that 18,400 people had signed the visitors’ book there and that “probably quite twice that number had visited the house”….It was also reported that £30.10s. had been taken on “pay days” i.e. 1,220 sixpences…Alderman Bance told the council that in the first few months since its publication 1,958 copies of the history of Tudor House, a booklet by F. J. C. Hearnshaw, had been sold, along with 2,870 of the picture postcards of the house published by the Corporation.

(Leonard, A.G.K., 1987, pp. 27-28)

A Tudor gentleman helps celebrate the museum’s 100th birthday.

To commemorate the centenary, the current museum staff organised a wonderful day at Tudor House on Sunday 29th July, with an entrance fee of 6p! Staff also dressed in Edwardian and Tudor costume.

My attempts at making a mosaic coaster.

Grouting my mosaic coaster.
My finished mosaic coaster.

One of the activities organised by the museum as part of the centenary celebrations was a mosaic workshop in nearby Westgate Hall (formerly known as Tudor Merchant’s Hall).

I took this piece of flint along to be appraised by the archaeologist. I have kept it wrapped-up in a box since I was a child. Had I found a prehistoric axe head? Sadly no, just a nice piece of flint. Oh well, at least it puts that mystery to bed.

An Archaeologist was also on hand in the main museum to help identify any finds brought in.

Over the last five hundred years some of Tudor House’s many interesting owners/occupiers have included:

  • Walter and Jane William – Walter inherited Tudor House from his father. Walter was a wealthy merchant who exported wool and cloth and imported salt, wine, leather, oil, fish and woad. When Walter died, Jane inherited the building. Jane married husband number two, Sir John Dawtrey;
  • Sir John Dawtrey – Sir John was Overseer of the Port of Southampton and Collector of the King’s Customs. Following Jane’s death he married Isabel Shirley in 1509 and they had a son, Francis, in 1510. Sir John died in 1518;
  • Lady Isabel Lyster (formerly Dawtrey). Lady Isabel, Dawtrey’s widow, ran Tudor House for ten years. She was a successful businesswoman who traded in millstones for windmills and watermills. She also rented the Cloth Hall in St. Michael’s Square from 1526 to 1531;
  • Sir Richard Lyster (c.1480-1553) – Sir Richard married Lady Isabel in 1528. They became Southampton’s power couple, amassing a huge joint wealth. Sir Richard was a Judge and Lord Chief Justice of England.  He attended Queen Anne Boleyn’s (1501-1536) coronation, riding in the procession beforehand. He also took part in the trial of Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) and was Henry VIII’s (1491-1547) divorce lawyer. During their time in residence at Tudor House, Lord and Lady Lyster had eight servants, a bake house and a dairy. Following Isabel’s death, Sir Richard married Elizabeth Stoke, they had two children, Michael (d. 1551) and Elizabeth;
  • William Lankester (1798-1875) – an iron and brass founder and furnishing ironmonger;

    Photograph of Tudor House in 1880. Notice G. Cawte’s shop on the left and Pope & Co on the right.
  • George Henry Pope – tenant of the northern section of Tudor House and grounds along Blue Anchor Lane from 1868. Pope was a dyer, clothes and furniture cleaner and had a shop at the front of the House. His trade advertisement read: ‘Ladies’ dresses of every description cleaned or dyed. British and foreign shawls, scarfs, & c., cleaned by a process that will ensure the colours being preserved.  Gentlemen’s wearing apparel and servants’ liveries of every description cleaned in a superior style.’ At the height of Queen Victoria’s reign mourning customswere strict. For one year and one day a widow had to wear ‘widow weeds’, the only colour permissible being black. Colour restrictions extended to jewellery and all accessories. After a year and a day she could progress to ‘half mourning’ where she would be permitted to wear a touch of white or grey, then perhaps lavender and after two years full colour could be worn again.  It was customary for a Victorian widow to have her clothing dyed black and after two years re-dyed back to its original colour. Pope offered this popular service to his customers: ‘Articles for mourning dyed on the shortest notice…. The black extracted from silk, satin, Merino, cloth,& Co., and the material dyed to a variety of patterns’;

    A selection of tools used by Cawte’s family bookbinding business.
  • Henry G. Cawte – opened his family bookbinding business at Tudor House (then known as Old Palace House, 9 St. Michael’s Square) in 1859;

    Tools belonging to Eliza Simmonds.
  • Eliza Simmonds – a straw-bonnet maker, milliner and dressmaker who took a tenancy of part of Tudor House from 1869-80.  During the first half of Queen Victoria’s (1819-1901) reign the straw plait industrywas an important trade, supplying the flourishing straw-bonnet industry, particularly in Bedfordshire. Straw-bonnets with decorative flourishes were very fashionable. Straw plaiting, used as a basis for the straw-bonnets, was a popular source of income for women living in rural homesteads and a thriving cottage industry developed. It was always easy to spot a straw plait maker, the corner of her lips would be badly scarred as a result of moistening the splints from the straw bundle. If the straw had already been dyed, then her mouth would also be colour-stained;

    A pretty Victorian straw bonnet by Eliza Simmonds.
  • Josiah George Poole (1818-1897) – Poole had originally lived at Tudor House during the 1850s. He returned again in 1883 to set-up home alongside his business, J. G. Poole & Sons. Poole was an architect and surveyor who worked extensively on local projects including the Masonic Hall in Albion Place and restoration of the south side of the Bargate (1864-5).A. G. K. Leonard writes of the Poole family: ‘….Poole’s large family (he had five children by his first wife and sixteen by his second, although not all survived infancy) gathered for dinner in the Banqueting Hall.’ (Leonard, A.G. K., 1987, p. 4);

    Oil painting by V. C. Batalha Reis Ariba, painted in 1921, of Edward Cooper Poole, son of Josiah George Poole. Edward worked with his father and one of his many commissions was to re-design Southampton Royal Pier which opened in 1930.
Oil painting, by an unknown artist, of Mr Spranger, c. 1915. His portrait hangs in one of the upstairs exhibition rooms so that he can continue to survey all that he has created.

William Francis Gummer Spranger (1848-1917)

Without William Spranger there would be no Tudor House museum. He was a public-spirited man and epitome of the Victorian philanthropist.  Tudor House museum is Spranger’s legacy to the people of Southampton and everyone who is passionate about the city’s history and heritage. He brought the entire freehold property of Tudor House and Norman House from W. G. Lankester for £1,450 in 1886. Spranger was educated at Oxford and during his time living in Southampton (from 1893 until his death), took an active interest in local educational matters.  He was a governor and benefactor of Hartley College (now the University of Southampton), Chairman of the Southampton School of Art, president of the Hampshire Field Club 1904-5, the first chairman of the Southampton Record Society and in 1898 was appointed governor of Taunton’s College (now Richard Taunton Sixth Form College) and King Edward VI School. In true story-book style, Spranger’s last death-bed message was to the boys of the Endowed Schools [Taunton’s and King Edward VI] – “lead good lives and play straight”.  For his funeral at St. Michael’s, the church troop of boy scouts formed a guard of honour and at the cemetery the path to his grave was lined by boys of Taunton’s and King Edward VI Schools. (Leonard, A.G.K., 1987, pp.10-11)

Old photograph showing interior of Tudor House last century.

Tudor House has undergone a number of substantial restorations during its lifetime. The first being in the early sixteenth century, another under Spranger’s watchful eye between 1898 and 1902, some ten years before the museum finally opened.  The last major restoration took place between 2001 and 2011 when the Museum received £3.5 million of Heritage Lottery Fund Grants (for more information on this please see my article of 28th July 2011. CLICK HERE.)

Spranger said of his restoration of Tudor House:

“….the original building had undergone changes in the course of the centuries which he had no knowledge of when the builders’ men were set to work.  Externally, herring-bone brickwork had been covered over with stucco and characteristic timbering of the Tudor period was hidden in many parts.  Inside, some very remarkable discoveries were made.  Lath and plaster ceilings had been fixed below the original ceilings of panelled oak, great chestnut beams had been similarly hidden, windows blocked up, fire-places altered and many of the principal beauties, as now visible, defaced and despoiled. Every new find was a great temptation to go on and I spent so much money having things put as right as possible again that I was compelled to pull myself up.”

(Leonard, A.G.K., 1987, p. 15)

Tudor House and Garden is such a wonderful place to visit, a true gem in the old town of Southampton City. For visitor information please CLICK HERE.

Montage of old photographs showing the interior of Tudor House museum just after it opened in 1912.

Posted in Country House, Decorative Arts, Fashion History, History, Horticultural History, Literature, Museum, Vintage, World War One

Bathing Beauties

Beach huts, Bournemouth beach, Dorset.

This year the British Summer has not been conducive to swimming in the sea which is a shame because I enjoy sea-bathing and am fortunate enough to live on the South Coast of England.  However, we have had a few scorching hot days and on one such day, a couple of week’s ago, I hopped on a ferry to the Isle of Wight and made an impromptu visit to Osborne House.  I usually visit Osborne two or three times a year, it is such a special place, beautiful gardens and stunning architecture.  The impetus for this visit being the recently restored private beach which opened for visitors to Osborne on 27th July.  I certainly was not disappointed, it is a magical and peaceful place. I walked from Swiss Cottage on the estate, down through the woodland walk and onto the beach.

View on approach to the beach at Osborne House.

I sat quietly in the exedra, a limestone alcove, decorated inside with exquisite examples of Minton tiles.  The alcove was completed in 1869.  This is the exact spot where Queen Victoria quietly perused her paperwork and indulged in her passion for watercolour sketching.

Queen Victoria’s beach alcove, Osborne House.
View looking out from the beach alcove at Osborne.
Roof of the beach alcove which is decorated with Minton tiles.
Dolphin detail underneath the wooden bench in the alcove.
Queen Victoria’s bathing machine.

Victoria’s Bathing Machine has also now been relocated from Swiss Cottage to the beach. The bathing machine was installed at Osborne in 1846 and first used during the summer of 1847.  The veranda had curtains hung across it to protect Her Majesty’s modesty. A ramp, 146 metres long, stretched from shore to sea and the machine’s wheels were guided along by the grooves. The beach pavilion, which dates back to the 1940s when it was built for convalescing officers during World War Two, has now been restored and transformed into a beach café for visitor refreshments.

The beach is now a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation and boardwalks have been erected to protect the fragile areas of vegetation on the foreshore.  Victoria and Albert’s children loved to play on the beach. Albert enjoyed swimming and when at Osborne tried to do so everyday. He encouraged Victoria to swim regularly too.  Victoria’s love of the beach at Osborne can be seen in a number of her journal entries. Here is one lovely entry in particular:

We are very sorry and this is our last day in this dear place,….enjoyment of which will I am sure add many years to our lives……A very fine bright day, but still very cold.  We walked down to the beach and played about with the children.  In the afternoon, our last here, which is so sad, Albert drove me about.  The country was looking so lovely and the sea so blue.

(24th September, 1845, Osborne House, Isle of Wight. Original entry can be read here . The complete on-line collection of Queen Victoria’s journals from the Royal Archives.)

Sea bathing became popular in Britain during the second half of the eighteenth centuryKing George III (1738-1820) is credited with its inception, after having made a number of visits to Weymouth in Dorset to ‘take the sea air’.  Doctors promoted the health benefits of sea immersion believing it to be a cure for all ills and effective in treating scurvy, jaundice and gout.

Advert from a London newspaper, 1895, offering trips to the seaside by train.

It wasn’t really until railways connected coastal towns to major cities, c.1885, that the sea bathing really began to take-off.  Along the south coast towns such as Lyme Regis, Lymington, Southsea, Bournemouth, Southampton, Weymouth, Brighton and Swanage prospered as a result of this new craze.

Strict Victorian moral codes meant that no flesh could be shown by the female bather and swimming costumes that failed to cover the entire body were considered indecent. The invention of the bathing machine enabled the bather to be horse-driven/wheeled right-out into the sea away from prying eyes. The bather would then discreetly descend into the water without anyone seeing them.  Men were expected to wear a bathing suit as well and segregated bathing continued, in many resorts, until well into the Edwardian era.

Lyme Regis, Dorset.

Lyme Regis – Dorset

A picturesque coastal town, described by Regency travel writer M. Phillips in Pictures of Lyme-Regis and Environs (1817) as:

The charms of this amphitheatrical bay is considered, as it unquestionably is, – one of the most enchanting spots for a Watering-place, that can be found around the British Islands. The scenery altogether is magnificent…The invalid, from the fine sea bathing and sea air, for such it may be truly expressed, rarely visits Lyme without great benefit.  In the spring and autumn, when the frequent variations of the atmosphere operate so unfavourably at most other fashionable resorts for sea bathing…The Assembly and Card Rooms are elegant and spacious, and are delightfully situated opposite the Three Cups Inn….Sedan chairs are kept for the accommodation of the company.

The Bathing Rooms afford another superior attraction, and accommodation, and are situated at the eastern part of the town; and another equally commodious, at the Cobb, where hot and cold baths, are as complete as can be desired.  It is but just to observe, that an eminent Physician, Dr. Baker, in analysing the sea water at Lyme to be more saline and heavier than the sea water at any other part of the coast.  At the upper baths is also a commodious Reading Room, where London and Country papers are to be seen. The pleasant walk adjoining the baths, is for the use of Subscribers.

(Phillips, M., 1817, pp. 6, 7, 13 & 14)

This was the period before the railway had reached Lyme Regis. Phillips would have travelled to the town on board the interconnecting Mail Coach service. According to Phillips, the distance from London to Lyme Regis was one hundred and forty-two bone shaking miles. The railway came late to Lyme Regis, it arrived in 1903. The town had a station up until 1963 when it was closed down.  The nearest station today is Axminster. Lyme Regis did suffer as a result of the delayed arrival of the railway and in the latter part of the nineteenth century lost a lot of its visitors to the nearby coastal resorts of Bournemouth and Swanage.

Some of the pretty seafront architecture in Lyme Regis.

Hot and cold inland bathing houses also flourished during the Regency and Victorian periods.  By the 1820s, Lyme Regis had three such bathing establishments, including one owned by J. Bennett, an enterprising shoemaker who saw a business opportunity and opened Bennett’s Hot Baths in 1824.

Local businesses often rented out bathing machines to visitors who preferred to swim in the sea rather than use the bathing houses. In the early part of the nineteenth century bathing machines would have been horse-drawn. Although the aim for the bather, during this period, was to engage in full sea immersion rather than traditional swimming.  The first bathing machine to be rented-out in this fashion in Lyme Regis was one owned by the proprietors of The Three Cups Inn.  By 1834, there were four machines in operation along the sands between the town and the famous Cobb.

During the Edwardian era and after the arrival of the railway, Lyme Regis saw its visitor numbers begin to increase. In Edwardian Lyme Regis, by Jo Draper (2008) there is a description, taken from Seaside Watering Places (1900-1901), which describes the town during this period thus:

The season is during July and August.  The parade – a terraced walk above the beach – is sheltered on one side by the famous Cobb, and on the other by smaller houses built close to the water’s edge and Church Street…The beach is hard, and good for walking on when the tide is out…There is good bathing, either from the machines, for which tickets must be obtained in town, or before 8am, from the Victoria Pier.  The sands to the east of Lyme are firm and a good walk can be taken along them, when the tide is out, to the village of Charmouth about 2 miles off.

(Draper, J., 2008, p. 18)

Lymington – Hampshire

In 1825, there were two bathhouses in Lymington, Legge’s Baths and Mrs Beeston’s Baths, the latter located on the edge of the sea marsh.  A warm bath cost 3/6; shower 2/6; cold bath with guide 1 shilling; cold bath without guide 6d.  The guide was a gentleman whose job it was to help the bather along with the aid of a rope harness tied under the bather’s armpits.

Lymington Sea Water Baths.

In 1833, The Lymington Sea Water Baths opened, they remain open today making it the oldest surviving Lido in Britain.  It was built by William Bartlett and Mrs Beeston ran it from 1872. Shortly after the Sea Water Baths opened, a bath house was opened nearby (now Lymington Town Sailing Club).  Historian, Vivien Rolf, in Bathing Houses and Plunge Pools writes of the bath house at Lymington:

Built in a neo-classical style, the central building was hexagonal, with an upper floor for social gatherings, and ground floor vaulted entrance hall which echoed the design of the subterranean baths below, where salt water flowed in at every high tide and was heated in the boilers.  Hot, cold and ‘vapour’ bathing was available, with separate wings of the building catering for ‘ladies and gentleman’.  Outside was an extensive open-air swimming pool.

(Rolf, V., 2011, pp. 47-48)

Lymington also had Assembly Rooms which provided facilities for those taking the waters or partaking in seabathing activities. The railway came to Lymington on 12th July 1858.  Nearby the towns of Milford-on-Sea and Barton-on-Sea were already emerging as popular seaside resorts. Although there were no bathing machines on offer as these two resorts.

Publicity poster for Southsea resort. Portsmouth City Museum.

Portsmouth and Southsea – Hampshire

A Pump-Room was set-up on the site of Clarence Pier, Portsmouth in the early 1800s and extended in 1825-6.  This extension included Assembly Rooms, Reading Rooms and marble seawater baths.  Southsea gained in popularity as a family resort after 1860 when the railway came to town and in 1885 the branch line was extended from Fratton to Granada Road. Bathing in Southsea remained segregated until 1910 with men and women’s bathing machines positioned at least fifty yards apart from each other.  Bathing machines fell-out of fashion in the 1920s when a trend emerged to have suntanned skin. Covering-up with head-top-toe bathing outfits was no longer favoured, bathers now wore suits that just covered the trunk of their body.

However, in Portsmouth and Southsea there were protests until the late 1950s early 1960s, about women wearing bikinis on Southsea promenade.  It all came to a head on the weekend of June 25th and 26th 1960, when a decision, once and for all, was made as to whether bikinis should be allowed to be worn along the promenade. The question was put to the vote among the (all-male!) committee of Portsmouth City Council.  The result was a resounding ‘yes’.  Gwen Robyns, the then Women’s Editor of the Daily Mirror, commented about the incident:

A bikini on the right girl in the right place and at the right time is an appealing sight.  It makes a girl feel deliciously feminine.  Fifty per cent of all bathing suits sold over the counter this summer have been bikinis. But you’ve got to be firm all over to wear them.  It’s fatal to have spare tyres and tummy bulges.

(Monday, June 27th, 1960, Daily Mirror)

Queen Victoria would not have been amused! I have found a fun British Pathé film made in Southsea in 1933, ‘Rehearsal Time: Meet ‘The Juggling Demons’ – Southsea’. Notice the male and female swimwear fashions of the period. CLICK HERE.

1930s, woollen, male swimming suit on display at Portsmouth City Museum.
Ladies 1930s stretch synthetic swimming costume and matching hat. Red House Museum and Gardens, Christchurch, Dorset.
Snazzy, vintage rubber bathing hat. Portsmouth City Museum.

Hilsea Lido – Hampshire

Hilsea Lido was designed by City Engineer Joseph Parkin and opened on 24th July 1935.  It is a stunning example of 1930s, Art Deco architecture. During the interwar years Lido lifestyle was all the rage, a place for the body beautiful to be seen and admired. This lifestyle was a far cry from the Victorian and Edwardian viewpoint that bathing was a solitary and private activity. Hilsea was a social hub where swimming and diving competitions, water polo matches, aquatic galas, novelty events and re-enactments of Naval battles using model boats regularly attracted 1,000 spectators.  The pool was built in the 1930s, during the Depression era, where jobs were scarce and money too tight to mention.  Hilsea Lido was nicknamed the ‘People’s Pool’ because it was built by the local people for the local people.  The Lido is thriving today and is still known as ‘Hilsea Lido: Pool for the People’.

Southampton – Hampshire

Although a bustling and thriving sea port, Southampton was once considered to be a fashionable spa resort.  In the mid to latter part of the eighteenth century, fashionable ladies were transported in their bath chairs from the main High Street, passing through Biddle’s Gate en-route to the Assembly Rooms.  The most famous establishment at the time was Mr Martin’s Baths.  The ladies wore flannel gowns and covered their heads with silk material or a leather bag.

Portsmouth resident Jonas Hanway, writing in his Journal of Eight Days Journey from Portsmouth to Kingston upon Thames; through Southampton, Wiltshire, etc. (1756) commented on Southampton’s emerging popularity as a sea bathing resort:

In this reign of saltwater, great numbers of people of distinction prefer Southampton for bathing; but you agree with me, that the bathing-house is not comparable to that of Portsmouth; not only as being smaller and uncovered, but here is no water, except at certain times of tide; whereas at Portsmouth one may always bathe. Shall you forget the proof we saw here of the fantastical taste of the age we live in, by the bathing vestments, intended for the ladies, being flounc’d and pink’d?

Swanage, Dorset.

Swanage – Dorset

Known as ‘Swanwich’ in the early part of the nineteenth century, Swanage became an important seaside resort along the south coast of England and its popularity increased when the railway arrived in 1885.  Shortly afterwards, the Pleasure Pier opened in 1896.  Swanage was a popular destination for day-trippers who travelled to the town by paddle-steamer right-up until the outbreak of World War One.

William Morton Pitt, MP (1754-1836) worked hard to promote the town as an up and coming Watering Place.  He even went as far as turning the Old Mansion House into a Hotel, re-naming it Manor House Hotel.  It was later renamed the Royal Victoria Hotel following a one-night stay by Princess Victoria. In 1825, Pitt built his seaside complex, Marine Villas (which included the renamed Royal Victoria Hotel).  The aim of the Villas was to accommodate the influx of visitors wishing to take the waters but wanting a high standard of residence whilst doing so.  Marine Villas housed the cold salt water baths, billiard and coffee rooms. The sea water would enter the baths via grills at the north side of the villa when at high tide would reach a height of five feet.  The Baths closed in 1855.  Pitt died in 1836, a bankrupt having sunk all of his fortune into transforming Swanage into a flagship sea bathing resort.

Ariadne guarding the cold water plunge bath in the grounds of Stourhead, Wiltshire.

Stourhead – Wiltshire

If you were wealthy then creating a plunge bath or bathing grotto in the grounds of your country retreat was one alternative to travelling to the seaside and mixing with the hoi polloi.  That is exactly what banking magnate Henry Hoare II (1705-1785), or Henry the Magnificent as he was also known, did on his vast estate in Wiltshire.  In 1743 he began to transform the landscape around his country seat, Stourhead, making the lake a central feature. The landscape of Stourhead is full of references to the text of Virgil’s Aeneid. There is a grotto which contains a cold plunge bath and displays a mix of classical, pagan, Christian and literary references.  At the edge of the bath is an inscription, translated by Alexander Pope (1688-1744), of a classical poem:

Nymph of the grot these sacred springs I keep

And to the murmur of these waters-deep

Ah spare my slumbers gently tread the cave

And drink in silence or in silence lave.

A Final Word on Bathing from Samuel Pepys

I cannot write a an article on the fashion for bathing without a nod to inland city of Bath Spa, Somerset.  On Saturday 13th June, 1668, diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) visited the famous Cross Bath in Bath Street. There had been a warm water spring at this location since Roman times. Pepys wrote:

Up at four o’clock, being by appointment called up to the Cross Bath, where we were carried one after one another, myself and wife and Betty Turner, Willet, and W. Hewer.  And by and by, though we designed to have done before company come, much company come, very fine ladies; and the manner pretty enough, only methinks it cannot be clean to go so many bodies together in the same water…..Strange to see how hot the water is; and in some places, though this is the most temperate bath, the springs so hot as the feet not able to endure. But strange to see, when women and men herein, that live all the season in these waters, that cannot but be parboiled, and look like the creatures of the bath!  Carried away wrapped in a sheet, and in a chair home.

The Cross Bath has now been restored and is opened to the public again. For more information on the recent restoration of The Cross Bath, Peter Carey has written an excellent article, CLICK HERE.

Bathing at The Cross Bath, Bath, Somerset, 17th Century.
Posted in Country House, History, Horticultural History

Myrtle – By Royal Command

Terrace at Osborne House, Isle of Wight.

‘Her lovely lace veil worn off the face, was arranged flat on her hair, and held in place by a narrow chaplet of myrtle leaves and a white rose at each side.  The bridesmaids wore no veils, and their wreaths of myrtle leaves were bound low on the brow, and held in over the ears with roses and white heather.’

Description that appeared in The Lady magazine, Thursday 26th April 1923, of the wedding of The Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon to The Duke of York

Last year, I watched the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on a huge outdoor screen at Osborne House, East Cowes, Isle of Wight.  An enjoyable experience and great atmosphere to boot.  I felt that Osborne House was the perfect backdrop to experience this momentous occasion.  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert brought the estate in 1845, with the aim of creating a summer retreat and place to escape from court life in London and Windsor. There is so much to see and do at Osborne but I was particularly curious to locate the famous myrtle bushes in the grounds.  The Duchess of Cambridge’s shield-shaped bouquet contained stems from the myrtle at Osborne together with a sprig from a plant grown from the myrtle used in The Queen’s wedding bouquet of 1947. 

View of lower terrace and The Andromeda Fountain, Osborne House, Isle of Wight.

I was particularly thrilled to track down the exact bush that had offered up its stems for the Duchess of Cambridge’s bouquet.  I knew I had the correct bush because the lovely lady in the tea kiosk opposite informed me, proudly, that she had watched through the window when officials had cut sprigs from it in the previous week.  I purchased my own little piece of history from the gift shop, a cutting from the myrtle bushes at Osborne and this has now been duly planted in the garden.

Myrtle bush that the Duchess of Cambridge's sprigs were cut from at Osborne House.

Myrtle (Myrtus communis) is a small evergreen shrub, producing fragrant white or pink flowers.  It can be planted out-of-doors if you live in a mild climate or if not, then kept in a pot and protected throughout the winter.  It thrives in a warm, sheltered position in full sun, ideally close to a south or west-facing wall.  The soil must be fertile and well-drained.

Upper terrace at Osborne House, showing Clock Tower.

It is a tradition that all royal bridal bouquets contain a sprig of myrtle from the grounds of Osborne.  The myrtle originally found its way to Osborne by way of Prince Albert’s grandmother, the dowager duchess of Saxe Gotha and Attenburg, who gave Queen Victoria a nosegay with myrtle during a visit to Gotha in Germany in 1845.  The myrtle was planted against Osborne’s terrace walls.  When Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, married in 1858 she began the tradition by incorporating myrtle into her bouquet.  Princess May of Teck (Queen Mary) wore a diamond diadem adorned with orange blossom, myrtle and white heather when she married Prince George, Duke of York on the 6th July 1893.  Lady Diana Spencer had myrtle from Osborne in her Edwardian-style shower bouquet.

Myrtle has been popular since ancient times.  Medieval brides used to wear a crown of flowers each with a meaning, good luck, long life and to ward off evil spirits.  Aphrodite was often seen pictured wearing a myrtle wreath on her head.  Roman bridegrooms also wore wreaths of myrtle.

In Germany, Myrtle is seen as a symbol of the innocence of the bride. The Language of Flowers for wedding bouquets in the UK is as follows:

  • Myrtle = love, the emblem of marriage;
  • Orange blossom and wheat = fertility;
  • Veronica = fidelity;
  • Heather = good luck;
  • Rosemary = remembrance;
  • Ivy = fidelity, marriage, wedded love, friendship and affection;
  • Lily of the Valley = return of happiness;
  • Sweet William = gallantry;
  • Hyacinth = constancy of love.

For opening times and visitor information on Osborne House, please click here.