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

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

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

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

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

Book Cover

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

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

*Biographies feature later in this article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine Stinson (1891-1977)

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

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

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

(Ibid. p.58)

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

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

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

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

Elsie Janis (1889-1956)

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

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

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

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

(Ibid. p.115)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Posted in Film, Literature, Review, TV Programme

Featured Author: Joan Ellis

Author Joan Ellis. Image copyright Joan Ellis.
Isle of Wight based author, Joan Ellis. Image copyright Joan Ellis.

I met independently published author, Joan Ellis, in August last year whilst doing one of my regular guest slots on That’s Solent TV’ s chat show, Talk Solent.  The show was presented by Shan Robins and we were also joined by award-winning special effects designer, B Jones. It was a fascinating discussion covering a wide range of topics, everyone contributed their well-informed opinions on the topics of the day. I was honoured to share the sofa with such talented and creative women.

Talk Solent chat show, August, 2015. Left to right, presenter Shan Robins, myself, Joan Ellis and B Jones. ©Come Step Back In Time
Talk Solent chat show, August, 2015. Left to right, presenter Shan Robins, myself, Joan Ellis and B Jones. ©Come Step Back In Time

Before leaving the studio that day, Joan pressed into my hands a copy of her latest book, I am Ella. Buy me. (2014). Joan knew that I was retro-obsessive with a particularly fondness for the 1980s (well, it was, afterall, the decade of my ‘yoof’!). Joan wondered whether I would like to feature it on Come Step Back In Time? I was delighted to accept.

Let me first introduce you to Joan. Born in London, Joan has had a long and successful career in PR and advertising. During the 1980s, Joan was a copywriter in several top London advertising agencies (Ogilvy, Lowe Howard- Spink, Banner and Arc Worldwide amongst others).

Some of the accounts Joan worked on included The Milk Tray Man and a rather famous cat food commercial for ‘Spillers Purrfect’. Anyone remember the black and white moggie channelling his inner Humphrey Bogart? Well, here is a reminder:

Never one to let the grass grow under her feet, Joan has also set-up a comedy club where she wrote and performed, even appearing on the same bill as Jo Brand. Once.  Joan’s extensive knowledge of Advertising and PR has seen her lecture at University level and she even taught comedian Noel Fielding.  He learned all he knows about advertising from Joan who encouraged him to showcase his creative talents on a wider stage. The rest, as they say, is history.

Joan now lives on the Isle of Wight with her daughter and husband. She often appears on television and radio discussing her career as well as offering advice to aspiring authors. Joan also performs a one woman, semi-autobiographical, show ‘A Woman’s Wit, Wisdom and Pratfalls’.

Below are a selection of interviews Joan has given on Isle of Wight’s Vectis Radio:

  • Joan discusses books, authors and the creation of writing. (13.10.2015)

  • Joan discussing her book, The Killing of Mummy’s Boy. (1.12.2014)

cover for ella

Joan’s transition from copywriter to author was a natural progression. Joan explains:

I was writing for eight to 10 hours a day on different briefs so I’d be changing my style and tone of voice depending on the product and the audience. It was fantastic training for becoming an author because you’re getting inside the heads of different audience types as well as the discipline of meeting a deadline and that creative process of taking things in different directions and thinking of things in different ways.

(The Drum (10.7.2015) ‘Advertising’s authors – What can the worlds of commercial and creative learn from one another?’)

Joan, the 1980s career girl. Image copyright Joan Ellis.
Joan, the 1980s career girl. Image copyright Joan Ellis.

I became the rarest of beasts in Adland in the early 1980s, a woman.

(I am Ella. Buy me. p.3)

 I am Ella. Buy me. will transport you back to the 1980s. Joan draws upon her own experiences working in advertising in London during this period and brings Ella’s fictional world vividly to life. A city world of Porsches, tailored clothing, big hair, inflated salaries and fine-dining.

The line between success and failure was very thin. One wrong move for a woman, (or rejected amorous advance from your boss!), would have seen you fast-tracked to the dole office, with your P45 tucked into your designer handbag. Offices had no internet or WiFi and a typewriter was still the secretary’s best friend:

Picking up his new electric typewriter, he hurled it through the window. Fortunately for her, he had forgotten it was plugged in so the wretched thing just dangled by its flex. Had it been a manual the traffic warden would be dead and Peter would be serving time for manslaughter. Progress can be a mixed blessing. (p. 77)

This is Thatcher’s Britain, where ‘greed is good’ but morals are bankrupt and sexism in the office, rife. This is the backdrop of Joan’s novel, a brilliant expose of 1980s life and Adland culture. I am Ella. Buy me.’s main protagonist is Ella David, a rare beast – a woman in a man’s world.

Ella must not lose her head as she has a mortgage to pay (at 9%!) as well as her ill mother’s rent. There is no Trust Fund to catch Ella, she is at the mercy of her sexist and predatory boss, Peter Richards. Peter, bored with his ball-clicker, demands something or someone new to play with, Ella finds herself battling more than just fat thighs.

Can love help her go from a girl in the firing line to a woman calling the shots? Fans of ‘Mad Men’ will enjoy meeting Ella. She’s Peggy meets Bridget Jones.

Bottles of champagne, a goodwill gesture from Jill’s mother, are set out on the tables and we quickly empty them. Everyone is anxious to party, our final fling on the dance floor before the bus comes to pick us up. We finish the meal as Jill announces the awards. For once, no-one really cares. Tonight, we don’t need accolades to make us happy. Only Peter looks lost without the trappings he has come to rely on in Adland. No Porsche, no hand-tailored suit and no fawning entourage. (P. 244)

Ella embodies all the qualities a 1980s career girl needed to succeed, intelligence, ambition, charm and a strong work ethic, ‘I’m programmed to work, not play’. Despite 1960s women’s lib and 1970s feminism, a 1980s office was still a male domain. Getting into the boardroom was a tough call, unless of course you were a secretary bringing in the refreshments (remember 1988 film Working Girl?)

During the 1980s, anyone, male or female, working in advertising was a precarious way to make a living.   If you were a woman, then the stakes were very high indeed. Being propositioned, fired, hired, rehired and having to hustle on a regular basis were all part of its culture. The route to the boardroom was a rocky and compromising one. In I am Ella. Buy me., Joan, has drawn upon her own experiences and has created the 1980s Adland culture very well indeed.

Although I am Ella. Buy me. is not autobiographical, there are many similarities between Ella’s and Joan’s experiences in advertising. More amusingly, on one occasion Ella must pretend to be a Tom cat called Marmalade in order that she can pen letters from him. In real life, Joan once had to create an advertising campaign for pet food in which a cat vocalises his thoughts. The cat’s voice in Joan’s commercial (see above) was, of course, male!

I am Ella. Buy me. is a terrific read, the perfect accompaniment on a long train journey or curled-up by the fire in a holiday cottage. As an experienced professional writer, Joan has skilfully offered her readers an amusing slice of 1980s nostalgia whilst still managing to create three-dimensional characters that you actually care about.

To purchase copy of I am Ella. Buy me., click here.

Joan is the author of four books in 3 very different genres:

  • The Things You Missed While You Were Away (2015). Memoir. Joan’s daughter’s childhood in the 1990s was very different to hers in the 1960s. As neither of them knew what it was like to have their Dads at home, the book was written as a letter to Joan’s Father, highlighting the moments he never got to share. It is for anyone who has been a child, if only to prove when we lose someone special, love comes from unexpected places to fill the space in our heart;
  • I am Ella. Buy me (2014). Humour/Contemporary women’s fiction;
  • The Killing of Mummy’s Boy (2014).  Psychological thriller;
  • Guilt (2014). Psychological thriller;
  • Five star reviews of I am Ella. Buy me, click here;
  • Five star reviews of The Things You Missed While You Were Away, click here; 
  • Follow Joan on Twitter @JoanSusanEllis .



Posted in Aviation History, Bringing Alive The Past, History, Review, World War Two

Featured Author (Part 2) – Kathryn J. Atwood ‘Code Name Pauline’ – Remarkable Story Of WW2 Special Agent Pearl Witherington


Following-on from my previous article featuring Women Heroes of World War One by American authoress Kathryn J. Atwood, I am delighted to introduce to you another fascinating book in Kathryn’s canon, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent, published by Chicago Review Press (2013). I actually read this book some month’s ago but due to a number of factors, including a hectic Summer period, it has taken a lot longer than I would have wished to finalise this post.

Edited by Kathryn, Code Name Pauline is a fascinating memoir of World War II Special Operations Executive (SOE), Pearl Witherington Cornioley CBE (1914-2008). I do hope that you enjoy this feature article about Code Name Pauline, it has been a pleasure to write this review, it is an excellent book and fitting tribute to a remarkable heroine of World War II.

The SOE was officially disbanded on January 15th, 1946 on orders from the new prime minister, Clement Attlee (1883-1967). All personnel files were sealed until 2004, 4 years before Pearl’s death and less than 10 years before the publication of Code Name Pauline.

I don’t like blowing my own trumpet. I find it really difficult, but at the same time I want people to know what really happened.

(Pearl Witherington Cornioley)


What you hold in your hand is not a history book. It is a piece of history. History books are often written by people who were not there. This is the testimony of someone who not only was there but who actively participated in what happened… Pearl Witherington was an agent of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a British wartime organization that secretly trained and sent agents into Nazi-occupied countries during World War II.

Toward the end of her life, however, she [Pearl] began to feel that her story might be inspiring to young people in difficult circumstances. French journalist Hervé Larroque approached her in 1994 with the idea of writing her memoir, and as their acquaintance progressed she felt she could trust him to handle her story properly. He conducted multiple interviews, some with Pearl alone and others including Pearl’s husband, Henri Cornioley, from December 1994 through June 1995. The transcript of those interviews was published in French by Editions par exemple in December 1995, with the title Pauline, one of Pearl’s wartime code names….Pearl was adamant that her story not be altered, I have taken great care to change as little of her own wording as possible.

(The above extract was written by Kathryn J. Atwood, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013. ‘Editor’s Note’, pp. xi-ii)

Born Cécile Pearl Witherington in Paris on 24th June, 1914, the eldest of four daughters of an expatriate English couple. Pearl had a difficult childhood and limited early education, not attending school until she was 13. Sadly, Pearl’s father succumbed to drink and in order to support her family, she went out to work as a secretary.

Pearl c.1932 (CD2-47a). ©Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013.

When the Germans invaded France in 1940, Pearl was employed as a shorthand typist to the attaché at the British Embassy. She wanted her family to be safe and decided to escort them back to England, arriving in Liverpool, July 1941. Now living in England, Pearl joined The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (the WAAF) but found her role in the Air Ministry rather pedestrian.

I knew I could help in the war effort, even if I didn’t know exactly how things were going to work out.  But I thought that I could be much more useful in France, pushing the Germans out, than in England doing paperwork.  I applied to the Inter-Services Research Bureau via the head of the air attaché, who was a friend and my former boss at the British Embassy in Paris.

(Pearl Witherington Cornioley, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013, p.33)

Pearl in her WAAF uniform before she left for France in 1943. ©Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013.
Pearl in her WAAF uniform before she left for France in 1943 (W67). ©Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013.

In 1943, Pearl managed to persuade the SOE(F) (the division for French operations) to take her on, after all she had many of the qualities required for the role, a fluent French-speaker, plenty of common sense, could think on her feet and as it turned out, was rather handy with a gun!

Pearl’s timing in joining the SOE was fortuitous. From June 1943, SOE’s recruiting system changed to a more comprehensive, largely psychological, assessment process. Methods used were based on War Office and Air Ministry experience in acquiring officers well after the first rush of volunteers had passed. Therefore, under the new system, Pearl’s character, practical skills and varied life experiences, took on greater importance and this only served to strengthen her application. Both male and female applicants were always treated equally in the SOE.

The process of initial têteà-tête was scrapped. Instead, candidates went before a students’ assessment board composed largely of psychologists, with whom they stayed for several days while their characters and capacities were thoroughly probed….

After the board, candidates were either sent on to paramilitary training or politely returned to the places whence they had come…Both private interviewers, such as Jepson, and the official board were prepared to treat women on a perfect equality with men. This was usual in SOE. The organisation was far in advance of the recent fashion; for clandestine purposes, there were several tasks that women would perform a good deal better than men.

(SOE: The Special Operations Executive 1940-46 by M.R.D. Food, 1984, p.60)

Pearl completed her seven weeks’ training in armed, and unarmed combat and sabotage and was soon on active operations in France. Pearl recalls:

….I spent seven weeks shut up in one of the special SOE schools. Training focused on the life of a secret agent and the necessary skills for surviving in France. We started the day with physical training at 7 am and worked until late in the evening. When they had finished with me I was exhausted…. Our training was very good on the whole. We were also sent to Manchester, in the north of England, to learn how to parachute. One of boys said to me, “You’ll see, it’s an extraordinary experience. you feel the whole world belongs to you.” But it’s not true! I was quickly back on the ground and second time I fell more heavily than the first, as if I had fallen 10 feet.

(Pearl Witherington Cornioley, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013. pp. 34-35)

Following her training and on the night of September 22nd/23rd, 1943, Pearl had to put her new skills to use when was “parachuted in” to France from an RAF Halifax, landing near Chateauroux, in the southern Loire. She was 29 years old.

After that, she [Pearl] lived an unusual life for seven months. Most of the time, traveling on night trains, she went to deliver messages, the content of which she rarely understood. She accompanied people as a guide, transported materials, and communicated back to London via coded radio messages. She was what was called a “courier.”

( Hervé Larroque, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013, extract from the ‘Preface’, p.xv)

Pearl's railway pass that she used while working as a courier and that identified her as Marie Vergès . ©Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013.
Pearl’s railway pass that she used while working as a courier and that identified her as Marie Vergès (Wo3) . ©Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013.

As an SOE agent Pearl was referred to as “Wrestler”; her nom de guerre in France was “Pauline”; in wireless transmissions to Britain she was called “Marie”.  Her false papers declared her to be the representative of a cosmetics firm, Isabelle Lancray, her backstory being that this was the firm that her future father-in-law had established with a partner. She joined the Resistance group known as “Stationer”. Her role was to act as a courier carrying coded messages.

The Stationer network was large and Pearl’s vital work with them cannot be underestimated. Throughout Code Name Pauline, Kathryn has written detailed text panels which help the reader contextualise Pearl’s memoir. These are very useful inclusions for the reader, particularly due to the nature of some of the historical intricacies contained in Pearl’s story.

Kathryn’s explanation of the Stationer network is particularly useful. Clearly written, the text cuts through the various complex strands of this subject and sets-out the key facts of this important movement in the history of French resistance. Kathryn writes:

The area covered by Stationer was large partly because it worked close and cooperated – liaised – with several nearby Resistance networks. Sometimes Pearl’s courier work overlapped with liaise work within these networks on behalf of Stationer. The Stationer network had liaised most closely with the Headmaster network, and a few months before Pearl’s arrival, Headmaster’s leaders had been arrested. Stationer filled in the gap, making the work of the already large network even larger and the trips for its couriers longer.

Although all SOE agents entering occupied countries acquired new identities – including a new name, a new personal history, and pretense of new employment- that they had to memorize until the details were second nature, couriers perhaps had an especial need of them since they were constantly out in public.

(Kathryn Atwood, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013, pp.49-50)

Whilst working in occupied France, Pearl reconnected with an old flame, Henri Cornioley, a Frenchman she had met before the war and they became engaged. They went on to work together in the Resistance and after narrowly escaping death in the summer of 1944, they both made it to England, marrying later that year on 26th October. They had a daughter together, Claire.

In 1945 pearl was appointed a military MBE and in 2004, at the British Embassy in Paris, the Queen presented her with a CBE. In 2006 Pearl was awarded her Parachute Wings, the insignia of the Parachute Regiment. Henry Cornioley died in 1999 and Pearl died on 23rd February, 2008.

Although aimed at young adults, Code Name Pauline is an inspirational book for anyone interested in reading more about a shrewd, intelligent, selfless and remarkable individual who served her country during World War II. Code Name Pauline also provides a brilliant, first-hand glimpse into a secret world rarely spoken about in public by those who were there.

I don’t consider I did anything extraordinary. Even today when people say, “You know, you did some incredible things, they weren’t easy,” I still don’t believe it’s true. I did it because I wanted to, because it was useful, because it had to be done.

(Pearl Witherington Cornioley, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013, p.153)

AW12 in New-York February 1946
Pearl in New York during the American lecture tour, February 1946. She’s pointing to the Marie-Wrestler section of the Stationer network on a map (AW12). ©Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013

Kathryn J. Atwood – Resources

A selection of reviewer comments from the back cover of Code Name Pauline.
A selection of reviewer comments from the back cover of Code Name Pauline.
Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Country House, Decorative Arts, Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Museum, Review, Theatre History

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

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©Come Step Back In Time

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

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  • Engraving from 1873 featuring Joshua Reynolds.

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

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©Come Step Back In Time

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

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©Come Step Back In Time

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

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©Come Step Back In Time

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

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

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

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

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

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©Come Step Back In Time

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

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

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

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

X-ray Image And Infrared Reflectography Use In Painting Conservation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Events & Further Information

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

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

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

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

The Wallace Collection – Main Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few key dates in the history of Manchester House:

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

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

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

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©Come Step Back In Time

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

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

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

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

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©Come Step Back In Time

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

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

Mrs Margaret Thompson’s will (1777):

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

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

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

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

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

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©Come Step Back In Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing about The Lost Generation, Martyn comments:

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

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

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

Interview With Martyn Barr

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

Why did you decide to write The Lost Generation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews – The Lost Generation

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

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

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

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

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

Amber Rudd MP for Hastings and Rye writes:

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

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

Teachers’ Resource Guide – The Lost Generation

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

Canterbury Cathedral In Times Past: Remembering WWI

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

(Canterbury Cathedral Website, published 18.8.2014)

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

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

Author Martyn Barr ©Tim Stubbings
Martyn Barr in the Cloisters at Canterbury Cathedral. ©Tim Stubbings
Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Film, Museum, Review, World War One

White Feathers & Remembrance: Stories From The Great War Part 2

Film poster for Time Bleeds (2013).  Short docudrama by Kent-based Viola Films. Directed by Samuel Supple and Produced by Debra McGee. Image courtesy of Viola Films.
Film poster for Time Bleeds (2013). World War One inspired docudrama short by Kent-based Viola Films. Directed by Samuel Supple and Produced by Debra McGee. Image courtesy of Viola Films.

Time Bleeds (2013) – Viola Films

Last year, award-winning Kent-based production company, Viola Films, made a fifteen minute, World War One inspired docudrama, Time Bleeds. Directed by Samuel Supple and produced by Debra McGeeTime Bleeds asks the question ‘What happens if we forget?’, an homage to the phrase of remembrance, ‘Lest we forget’.  Other collaborators involved in the project included University of the Creative Arts Canterbury and Folkestone-based artist Matt Rowe.

Still from Time Bleeds
Folkestone beach scene from Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.

Shot on location in Folkestone, this experimental production sought to reconnect and engage local people with their town’s World War One heritage. The community cast for Time Bleeds was found through a series of method-acting workshops led by Gravesend actress Candis Nergaard. A key concept explored in both the creative development stage of Time Bleeds and subsequent filming, was the premise of what would happen if 1914 Folkestone became Folkestone in 2013, i.e if time bled.

      • Hear director Samuel Supple discuss Time Bleeds in an interview with Dominic King at BBC Radio Kent:

Samuel adopted a self-reflexive, guerrilla style approach to making Time Bleeds. The final edit is a montage of modern and period sequences featuring various story strands, interspersed with footage from Candis Nergaard’s workshops.

One of the film's young actors in rehearsal.
One of the film’s young actors in rehearsal. Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.
Costume fitting for
Costume fitting for Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.

The dramatic vignettes include a modern, musical nod to the infamous White Feather campaign and a farewell scene at a railway station between a mother and her young son who is leaving to join his regiment in 1914.

A 16 year old boy
A 16 year old boy bids farewell to his mother at the railway station. Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.

In one particularly harrowing scene, a teenage boy faces a firing squad made-up of his contemporaries. They must execute their comrade following his conviction for cowardice.

A young boy is prepared to face the firing squad.
A young boy is prepared for his execution. Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.

Many of the stories in Time Bleeds are inspired by real-life events from World War One but have been given a fictional twist to suit the medium. In the final result we see these various story strands brought together in order to create a cohesive, powerful and poignant example of community film-making at its very best.

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

The final test of sincerity is the willingness to face consequences, and the supreme test the perseverance to death. We hope that people will now be satisfied that the conscientious objector may at least be what he professes to be, and is not necessarily a mere coward masquerading under fine pretence.
(27th June, 1916, Manchester Guardian)

The notorious and controversial White Feather Campaign, featured in Time Bleeds, was the brainchild of conscriptionist Admiral Charles Cooper Penrose-Fitzgerald (1841-1921). On 30th August, 1914 he galvanized into action thirty women from the Folkestone, many of whom were holidaying in the area, to hand out white feathers to men not in uniform:

The purpose of this gesture was to shame “every young ‘slacker’ found loafing about the Leas” and to remind those “deaf or indifferent to their country’s need” that “British soldiers are fighting and dying across the channel.” Fitzgerald’s estimation of the power of these women was enormous. He warned the men of Folkestone that “there is a danger awaiting them far more terrible than anything they can meet in battle,” for if they were found “idling and loafing tomorrow” they would be publicly humiliated by a lady with a white feather.

(Gullace, N.F., (Apr.,1997), ‘White Feathers and Wounded Men: Female Patriotism and the Memory of the Great War’, The Journal of British Studies, Vol. 36, No.2, pp.178-206, Published by The University of Chicago Press. Extract from p.178)

Unfortunately, this fervent show of female patriotism by the women of Folkestone, resulted in some rather unpleasant misunderstandings. Men at home on leave, who had simply changed into their civvies and popped into town for a pint, were accosted by Fitzgerald’s band of overzealous women. Ignorance by these women of the men’s circumstances was commonplace.

It was not too long before white feathers, the symbol of cowardice, were handed out all over the country. Men who were invalided out from service as well as those in either reserved occupations or who had simply been found unfit for military duty, were subjected to a succession of humiliating encounters. These ‘White Feather’ women became increasingly unpopular. Eventually, the government responded by allowing those who were officially sanctioned as unfit for service, to wear a badge which read ‘King and Country’. The White Feather women were warned not to approach men bearing this insignia.

Following the introduction of conscription in 1916, very few men were subsequently classified as ‘unfit’ for duty. Previous conditions, that would have precluded a man from enlisting, such as short-sightedness, were now overlooked. Basic fitness was all that was required and if they were lucky, they would manage to successfully dodge the shells and bullets raining down on them in the trenches.  Quality was sacrificed for quantity as the conflict escalated.

One hundred years have now passed since World War One began. The last living veteran of the conflict died in 2012, a British citizen, Florence Green, who served in the Women’s Royal Air Force. In these next four years of Centenary events, it is important that the experiences of those impacted by the conflict are never forgotten. It is today’s younger generation to whom we must call upon most to keep these stories alive and help retell them to the next generation.

WW1 exhibit at Hurst Castle, Hampshire. Top left is the iconic WW1 propaganda poster, aimed at women to put pressure on their husbands and boyfriends to enlist.
World War One exhibit at Hurst Castle, Hampshire. Top left is the iconic World War One propaganda poster, aimed at women to put pressure on their husbands and boyfriends to enlist. Conscription did not come into force until 1916 which meant that propaganda campaigns such as, ‘Women of Britain Say Go!’, became a potent symbol of patriotic fervour. The approach of The White Feather campaign was different, one of direct action by the women themselves, targeting men perceived to be shirking their moral duties. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.

Later on this year, Viola Films will be running a series of free master-classes for residents in Medway and Swale to encourage them to work together in producing films inspired by World War One and the impact it had on the local area. The project is collectively known as, ‘For the Fallen’, and Viola Films will run it in conjunction with Blue Town Heritage Centre (BTHC), Sheerness.

Participants will explore the question ‘Why commemorate the First World War?’. Master-classes will be held at the Royal Engineers Museum, Gillingham (5th and 12th April) and the BTHC (29th March). The final films will be screened at an awards ceremony and special gala event. ‘For the Fallen’ will also include the development of a website and an app, thus offering ongoing opportunities for learning and participation. This project has been made possible thanks to a grant of £9,400 being awarded to The Royal Engineer’s Museum through the Heritage Lottery Fund’s First World War: Then and Now programme. ‘For the Fallen’ has also benefited from a £4,790 grant from Creative People and Places Swale and Medway. To read the press release in full, click here.

  • If you want to take part in the free master-classes, you need to fill in a short application form, which can be found here. The application form needs to be completed and returned via e-mail or post by Monday 10th March 2014. Please return all forms to Rebecca Gazey on or post them to the Museum’s address: Royal Engineers Museum, Prince Arthur Road, Gillingham, Kent, ME4 4UG.
One of the contemporary flourishes in Time Bleeds. A modern take on the numerous propaganda posters issued during World War One.
One of a number of contemporary flourishes in Time Bleeds (2013). This design is by Simon Pruciak and Matt Rowe. A modern take on the numerous propaganda posters issued during World War One encouraging young men to enlist.  Image courtesy of Viola Films.
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, Film, History, Literature, Museum, Review, TV Programme

The Enduring Legacy of Charles Dickens

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

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

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

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

Dickens In Portsmouth, Hampshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dickens – From Boy To Man

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

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

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

Dickens The Writer And Journalist

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dickens And His ‘Invisible Woman’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dickens – The Social Commentator

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

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

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

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

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

Dickens And Serialisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dickens On Screen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Olivia Twist (2013), Trailer

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

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

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

The film’s writer and Director, Samuel Supple, grew-up in a village just outside of Rochester, Kent.  He remembers visiting St. James’ Church in Cooling as a young boy. In the churchyard there are thirteen, lozenge-shaped gravestones of young children, belonging to two families, who died in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Dickens used the setting as inspiration for his opening chapter of Great Expectations: five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine – who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle…My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Lawrence Oates – Soldier, Explorer, Hero

Earlier this year I visited Gilbert White’s House and Garden  in the pretty village of Selborne, rural Hampshire, which is also home to The Oates Collection.  I am delighted to bring you this article, my third and final, in a series showcasing different aspects of the museum’s collection.

Captain Lawrence ‘Titus’ Edward Grace Oates (1880-1912) began his career as a solider but spent his final years as an explorer, after having joined Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s (1868-1912) ill-fated second expedition to the Antarctic and epic journey of discovery to the South Pole (1911-1912). Lawrence’s uncle was African explorer, Frank Oates (1840-1875).DSCF6871

Last year marked the centenary of Scott’s Second Expedition and thanks to a National Lottery ‘Your Heritage’ grant, match funding by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust, generous donations and fundraising, the redesigned Lawrence Oates Gallery is now re-open to the public. The Gallery is a beautifully designed exhibition space which creates the perfect backdrop to tell the poignant life story of this courageous English gentleman. The Gallery also includes new interactive features that enhance the visitor experience including original expedition footage and photographs. The short film featured above, ‘The Oates Collection’, was produced following the recent refurbishment and provides a virtual tour of the first floor galleries. It gives an excellent overview of Lawrence’s extraordinary life.  The Oates Collection is the only museum in the world dedicated to the life of Captain Lawrence Oates.

Lawrence's beloved mother. He declared that she was the only woman that he had ever loved. Lawrence never married.
Lawrence’s beloved mother. He declared that she was the only woman that he had ever loved. Lawrence never married.

Lawrence was born on 17th March, 1880 at Putney, London to William Edward Oates (1841-1896) and Caroline Anne Oates (née Buckton). He was the eldest of four children and enjoyed a privileged childhood at the family country seat, Gestingthorpe Hall, Essex. He attended Eton College for two years but had to leave due to ill-health (he had weak lungs and caught pneumonia) forcing him to continue his education at home with the assistance of a private tutor.

Uniform similar that worn by Lawrence during the Boer War in South Africa. On loan to Gilbert White's House and Garden from the The Inniskilling Dragoon Museum.
Uniform similar to that worn by Lawrence during the Second Anglo-Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902). On loan to The Lawrence Oates Gallery from the The Inniskilling Dragoons Museum.

He began his military career in 1898 with the 3rd West Yorkshire regiment, followed by a regular army commission in April, 1900 and finally a posting to the 6th Inniskilling dragoons. He served in the South African War (Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902) where he sustained a thigh injury in 1901 which would later came back to trouble him whilst in the Antarctic. It was whilst serving in South Africa that he earned the nickname, ‘No Surrender Oates’ for refusing to surrender to a much superior Boer force. 

Captain Oates's despatch case used during his military career. On loan to the museum from The Inniskilling Dragoons Museum.
Captain Oates’s despatch case used during his military career. On loan to the museum from The Inniskilling Dragoons Museum.

After a short period of convalescence for his thigh injury, he returned to his regiment having been promoted to rank of lieutenant on 2nd February, 1902.  He continued his military career, serving in Ireland, Egypt and India, becoming a captain in 1906.

Lawrence found his posting in India to be too quiet and inactive. An expert horseman, he spent much of his time playing polo, steeplechasing and hunting, even bringing his own pack of hounds to India with him. By the end of 1909, the restless young Lawrence was looking for adventure and applied to join Captain Scott’s Terra Nova Antarctic Expedition, offering his services in any capacity as well as £1,000 (approximately £95,000 in today’s money) towards the expedition funds. Scott received eight thousand applications for this expedition. In March, 1910, Scott accepted Lawrence due to his knowledge of horses (he looked after the expedition’s nineteen ponies) and his military experience. Lawrence was the only army officer to join the Terra Nova Expedition.

On 27th January, 1910, he wrote to his beloved mother whilst in a Delhi hospital:

I have now a great confession to make. I offered my services to the Antarctic Expedition which starts this summer from home under Scott. They wrote and told me to produce my references which I did and they appear to have been so flattering that I have been practically accepted. Now I don’t know whether you approve or not but I feel that I ought to have consulted you before I sent in my name. I did not so as I thought there was very little chance of my being taken.

Scott, however, appears to be a man who can make up his mind and having decided, he told me so at once which was the first intimation I had I was likely to go. Points in favour of going: It will help me professionally as in the Army if they want a man to wash labels off bottles, they would sooner employ a man who had been to the North Pole than one who had only got as far as the Mile End Road.

Now points against. I shall be out of touch for some considerable time. It will require a goodish outlay of about £1,500 as I have offered to subscribe to the funds. I shall have to give up the hounds. I shall annoy the Colonel very much.

This was Scott’s second expedition to the Antarctic, his first had been in 1901 until 1904 when he sailed there on the RRS Discoverytogether with a team of fifty men.

Exhibit in The Oates Gallery showing Ponting's photograph of the Winter
Exhibit showing Ponting’s photograph of Scott’s winter quarters in the Antarctic. The Lawrence Oates Gallery.

In the spring of 1910, Lawrence arrived in London to board the Terra Nova. The Terra Nova Expedition was made-up of sixty-five men who operated on ship and shore.  Some of the key members of the team were:

  • Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) – Expedition leader who died on the return journey from the South Pole;
  • Dr Edward Adrian Wilson (1872-1912) – Chief Scientist who died on the return journey from the South Pole;
  • Henry Robertson (Birdie) Bowers (1883-1912) – died on the return journey from the South Pole;
  • Captain Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates (1880-1912) – died on the return journey from the South Pole;
  • Edgar Evans (1876-1912) – died on the return journey from the South Pole;
  • Admiral Edward Ratcliffe Garth Russell Evans (Teddy Evans) (1881-1957);
  • William Lashly (1867-1940);
  • Tom Crean (1877-1938);
  • Thomas C. Clissold (1886-1963). The cook who took part in two depot-laying journeys and trained sledge dogs. He was also a clever inventor of mechanical devices. To view photographs of Clissold, taken by Ponting, CLICK HERE.
  • Herbert Ponting (1870-1935). The expedition’s official photographer. His high-quality images produced on glass-plate negatives have left us with an incredible visual legacy of Scott’s expedition. Ponting also shot extensive film footage;
  • full list of crew members who took part in the Terra Nova Expedition is available on the Antarctic Heritage Trust’s (NZ) website. CLICK HERE.

    Exhibit in The Oates Gallery showing replicas of Herbert Pontings glass-late negatives.
    Exhibit in The Lawrence Oates Gallery showing replicas of Herbert Ponting’s glass-plate negatives.
Replica of the Terra Nova (scale 1/8 inch to 1 foot) made by Commander Rupert Head RN, 2011-2012. The Oates Gallery.
Replica of the Terra Nova (scale 1/8 inch to 1 foot) made by Commander Rupert Head RN, 2011-2012. The Lawrence Oates Gallery.

Terra Nova (a converted Dundee whaler) eventually sailed from Cardiff, Wales bound for New Zealand on 15th June, 1910. Additional supplies were loaded onto the ship in New Zealand, including thirty-four dogs, nineteen Siberian ponies (brought by Scott much to Lawrence’s frustration, Scott was not a horseman and had brought the wrong breed of pony, ‘a wretched load of crocks’ wrote Oates) and three motorised sledges. The Terra Nova departed Port Chalmers, New Zealand on 29th November, 1910 eventually arriving at Ross Island, near the continent of Antarctica, on 4th January, 1911.

Display panel in The Oates Gallery.
‘Scott’s science’ display panel in The Lawrence Oates Gallery.

Both of Scott’s expeditions were based upon extensive programmes of scientific discovery. The Chief Scientist on the Terra Nova Expedition was Dr Edward Wilson who declared: ‘We want the bagging of the Pole to be merely an item in the results’. Substantial scientific data and specimens were collected by Scott and his team. The scientific party included geologists, biologists, physicists and one meteorologist (George C. Simpson, 1878-1965) who created a weather station in the Antarctic.

Apsley GB Cherry-Garrard (1886-1959), a zoologist on the team, wrote and published The Worst Journey in the World (1922). The publication tells how Cherry-Garrard, Bowers and Wilson journeyed to Cape Crozier in darkness and dreadful winter weather to collect eggs from the emperor penguin colony.  The work done by Scott and his team of scientists created the foundations for Antarctic science today.

Scott led the march south from Cape Evans Base Camp on 1st November, 1911. On 3rd January, 1912 Scott selected a five-man team who would accompany him on the final part of the journey to the South Pole. He chose Dr Wilson, Henry Bowers, Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oates. The team reached the South Pole on 18th January, 1912, only to discover that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) and his team, had arrived there five weeks prior.

On 25th January, 1912, Scott’s five-man team began the eight hundred mile return journey. Fearing the worst and with his men in a bad way physically and emotionally, Scott asked Dr Wilson to issue each of his team with thirty opium tablets. Should the need arise the men could elect to end their own lives. The tablets were never used. Evans died on the 17th February, 1912. Lawrence died on 17th March, 1912. The remaining team members, Scott, Wilson and Bowers, succumbed to starvation and exhaustion and died c. 29th March, 1912 after having spent ten days trapped by a blizzard only eighteen miles from life-saving supplies that had been deposited at One Ton Depot. The team’s tent and bodies (except for Lawrence’s which was never recovered) were found eight months later, on 12th November, 1912, by a relief expedition led by Edward Atkinson. A cairn was built over the location of the tent.

The men needed five thousand five hundred calories each day and were only consuming four thousand four hundred and thirty with no vitamin C.
The men needed 5,500 calories each day and were only consuming 4,430 and no vitamin C which made them prone to bouts of scurvy. The above display is on loan to The Lawrence Oates Gallery from The Sutton Collection. Chief Petty Officer Tom Williamson was a member of the search party that found Captain Scott’s last camp and the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers. From there and from the hut he brought back a number of items which now comprises the ‘Sutton Collection.’ Oates wrote: ‘ Pemmican must have disagreed with me at breakfast, for coming along I felt very depressed and homesick.’ (15th January, 1912)
The Oates Gallery.
The Lawrence Oates Gallery.
Sledge on display in The Oates Gallery. Fully-loaded a sledge needed 4 men to pull it. Some sledges were 10ft long (3m) others were 12ft long (3.65m) and could weigh 1,121lbs (51kg) when loaded with equipment and rations. Birdie Bowers wrote:'...I have never pulled so hard or so nearly crushed my inside into my backbone by the everlasting jerking on the canvas band round my unfortunate tummy.'
Sledge on display in The Lawrence Oates Gallery. Fully loaded a sledge needed 4 men to pull it. Some sledges were 10ft long (3m) others were 12ft long (3.65m) and could weigh as much as 1,121lbs (51kg) when fully loaded with equipment and rations. Birdie Bowers wrote:’…I have never pulled so hard or so nearly crushed my inside into my backbone by the everlasting jerking on the canvas band round my unfortunate tummy.’

The Last Few Months of The Terra Nova Expedition – In Their Own Words

  • Scott told me today he was very pleased with the way the ponies were going.. (Oates, 8th November, 1911);
  • I am anxious about these beasts (ponies) and if they pull through well, all the thanks will be due to Oates. (Scott, 12th November, 1911);
  • Scott realises now what awful cripples our ponies are and carries a face like a tired sea boot in consequence. (Oates, 18th November, 1911);
  • Whenever one peeped out of the tent there was Oates, wet to the skin, trying to keep life in his charges. Poor Oates had suffered as much as the ponies. (Evans, 4-8th December, 1911);
  • Thank God the horses are now all done with and we begin the heavier work ourselves. (Oates, Shambles Camp, 9th December, 1911. Oates has to shoot the remaining ponies);
  • The back tendon of my right leg feels as if it has been stretched about four inches. I hope to goodness it is not going to give me trouble. (Oates, 26th December, 1911);
  • I have been selected to go on to the Pole with Scott…What a lot we shall have to talk about when we get back – God bless you and keep you well until I come home…The excitement was intense. It was obvious that with five fit men – the achievement was merely a matter of ten or eleven days’ good sledging (Oates, writing to his mother, 3rd January, 1912);
  • Pemmican must have disagreed with me at breakfast, for coming along I felt very depressed and homesick. (Oates, 15th January, 1912);
  • We are not a very happy party tonight. We have picked up the Norskies tracks… Scott is taking his defeat much better than I expected. (Oates, 16th January, 1912)
  • Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured here without the reward of priority. Now for the run home and a desperate struggle. I wonder we can do it. (Scott, 18th January, 1912);
  • One of my big toes has turned black. I hope it is not going to lame me for marching. (Oates, 25th January, 1912);
  • Titus‘ [Oates] toes are blackening and his nose and cheeks are dead yellow. At the same time Evans’s fingers were suppurating and his nails came off. His nose was rotten. (Wilson, 31st January, 1912);
  • Dug up Christopher’s [pony] head for food but it was rotten. (Oates, his last diary entry, 24th February, 1912);
  • Titus Oates is very near the end, one feels. What we will do, God only knows. (Scott, 11th March, 1912);
  • He [Oates] was a brave soul. This was the end. He slept through the night before last hoping not to wake, but he woke in the morning – yesterday. He said “I am just going outside and may be some time.” He went into the blizzard and we have not seen him since. (Scott, 16-17 March, 1912)
    The Oates Gallery.
    The Lawrence Oates Gallery.

    The Oates Gallery.
    The Lawrence Oates Gallery.

Dear Mrs Oates,

This is a sad ending to our undertaking. Your son died a very noble death, God knows. I have never seen or heard of such courage as he showed from first to last with his feet both badly frostbitten – never a word or a sign of complaint or of the pain, he was a great example. Dear Mrs Oates, he asked me at the end to see you and to give you this diary of his. You, he told me, are the only woman he has ever loved. Now I am in the same can and I can no longer hope to see either you or my beloved wife or my mother or father – the end is close upon us, but these diaries will be found and this note will reach you some day.

Please be so good as to send pages 54 and 55 of this book to my beloved wife addressed Mrs Ted Wilson, Westal, Cheltenham. Please do this for me dear Mrs Oates – my wife has a real faith in God and so your son tells me have you – and so have I – and if ever a man died like a noble soul and in a Christ like spirit your son did. Our whole journey’s record is clean and though disastrous – has no shadow over it. He died like a man and a soldier without a word of regret or complaint except that he hadn’t written to you at the last, but the cold has been intense and I fear we have all of us left writing alone until it is almost too late to attempt anything but the most scrappy notes.

God comfort you in your loss.

Yours sincerely

E.A. Wilson.

Replica of the home-made tree made by Scott's team to celebrate Midwinter Day (22nd June, 1911). The Oates Gallery.
Replica of the home-made tree made by Scott’s team to celebrate Midwinter Day (22nd June, 1911). The Lawrence Oates Gallery.
Ponting's photograph of Scott's team making the Midwinter Day tree. Oates sits at the table on the left. The Oates Gallery.
Ponting’s photograph of Scott’s team making the Midwinter Day tree. Oates sits at the table on the left. The Lawrence Oates Gallery.
Exhibit showing contemporary polar-exploration clothing. The Oates Gallery.
Exhibit showing contemporary polar-exploration clothing. The Lawrence Oates Gallery.
Rations used in modern-day polar-exploration. The Oates Gallery.
Rations used in modern-day polar-exploration. The Lawrence Oates Gallery.

2013 Events at Gilbert White’s House and Garden

  • Wild at White’s Easter Bunny Hunt. Good Friday, 29th March until Sunday 14th April. Come and explore the stunning gardens and find those spritely bunnies hiding in the grounds. Included in the normal admission fee;
  • Gilbert White Study Day for the WEA. Monday 15th April (10-3pm). £45. Pre-booking essential;
  • Wild at White’s African Safari. Saturday 25th May until Sunday 2nd June. Follow in the footsteps of Victorian Explorer Frank Oates and hunt for the wild animals of the African Continent hidden in the gardens. Included in the normal admission fee;
  • 21st Unusual Plants Fair. Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th June. Over Father’s Day weekend there will be over thirty specialist growers of rare and unusual plants, trees, shrubs and seeds trading in the lovely grounds at the Museum. Admission for Plant Fair and Gardens only: £6 Adults, £2.50 Children, Under 5s Free. Please note Season Passes and ‘2 for 1’ vouchers are not valid on Bank Holidays and Special Event Days;
  • Regency-style costume making workshop. Sunday 30th June (11am-4.30pm). Part of Alton’s Jane Austen Regency Week (Saturday 22nd – Sunday 30th June).  Part of the Museum’s Volunteering Project you will be helping to add to their collection of period-style clothes and accessories. Some basic sewing experience is preferred. Both hand and machine techniques will be used to create and accessorize one or two Regency outfits using a commercial pattern. Tickets include a morning coffee, light buffet lunch and afternoon tea. Limited places – pre-booking essential. £10 per ticket. Book now in the museum, or by calling: 01420 511 275. CLICK HERE, for more information on this super workshop;
  • Teddy Bear Trail and Picnic. Throughout July. This event is part of the Hampshire Food Festival organised by Hampshire Fare (1st-31st July). There will be a teddy bear trail in the grounds of Gilbert White’s House where you will identify local produce that makes up the best picnic! Free entry for all children accompanied by a teddy bear and adult;
  • Gilbert’s Games and Country Fair. Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th August. This is a very popular annual event. Fun and games for all the family suitable for all ages and abilities. Take part or compete in some traditional eighteenth century games and pastimes including stool ball, Aunt Sally, croquet, cricket and melon rolling! There will also be local crafts people demonstrating their skills which all take place in Gilbert’s beautiful House and Garden. Some activities may not be suitable for younger children; all children should be accompanied by an adult. Admission to the House, Garden and Games: £7 Adults, £2 Children, Under 5s Free. Please note Season Passes and ‘2 for 1’ vouchers are not valid on Bank Holidays and Special Event Days;
  • Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’, outdoor production by the Chapterhouse Theatre Company. Sunday 25th August, from 6pm. Bring a picnic. Adults £13.50, Students & Children £9; Families £40 (2 Adults + 2 Child), 10% discount for parties of ten or more. Telephone: 01420 511 275 to put your name down for tickets before they are released on sale;
  • Wild at White’s Apples and Tortoises. Saturday 26th October until Sunday 3rd November. Normal admission charges apply;
  • Mulled Wine Day. Sunday 1st December.
  • Regency Dance. Saturday 7th December (7.30pm-11pm);

Opening times for 2013

  • Until 31st March, Tuesday-Sunday (10.30am-4.30pm);
  • 1st April-31st October, Tuesday-Sunday (10.30am-5.15pm)
  • 1st November-22nd December, Tuesday-Sunday (10.30am-4.30pm).
  • Also open on Bank Holiday Mondays, and Mondays in July & August;

Standard Admission Charges For 2013

Adult £8.50
Concession £7.50
Under 16 £3.00
Under 5 Free
Family Ticket (2A + 3C) £20.00
Pre-booked group of 10 or more £6.50
Garden Only £6.50
Posted in Activity, Decorative Arts, Event, Exhibition, Film, Literature, Museum, Review

Mr Watt, Grumpy Man of Metal Exhibition by Jon Mills at Enginuity, Ironbridge, Shropshire


©Jon Mills. Mr Watt, Grumpy Man of Metal, Exhibition by artist Jon Mills at Enginuity, Ironbridge, Shropshire.
©Jon Mills. Mr Watt, Grumpy Man of Metal, Exhibition by artist Jon Mills at Enginuity, Ironbridge, Shropshire.

Mr Watt, Grumpy Man of Metal, is an exhibition by blacksmith artist Jon Mills, currently running until 31st August 2013 at Enginuity Design & Technology Centre, one of the ten Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Shropshire. The exhibition features fun and whimsical sculptures showing the many adventures of Mr Watt, Grumpy Man of Metal, the central character in a series of illustrated books that appeal to both young and old alike. Jon has written a short article on his blog about the exhibition which includes some nice images of the metalworks in situ.

©Jon Mills
©Jon Mills


©Jon Mills
©Jon Mills

Mr Watt lives in a curious metal world and makes many unusual metal objects, such as a crab’s bicycle, a flying machine and a new kind of trumpet. Other sculptures on display include the runaway train from the book On the Wrong Track; the parson and his church from Under Wear and Tear; the witch from A Brush with Evil and the astro-barrow from Space… the Final Front Door. The artist has created a short video (2011) showing Mr Watt being made at his Brighton-based workshop. Filming and soundtrack by Arthur Mills.

©Jon Mills
©Jon Mills

Gillian Crumpton, Curatorial Officer at the Museum commented: “Jon’s work is technically outstanding and visually fascinating. We are sure that visitors will love looking at the many sculptures and following Mr Watt’s adventures.” To view sample pages form the book of Mr Watt’s adventures, CLICK HERE. I found this exhibition to be a complete delight when I visited it last month. The quality of craftmanship in Jon’s work is exquisite and a closer inspection is highly recommended. The metal vignettes do have an air of quirkiness about them and reminded me of some of the creations by film-maker Tim Burton.

©Jon Mills
©Jon Mills
©Jon Mills
©Jon Mills

Mr Watt, Grumpy Man of Metal’s creator, Jon Mills, was born in Birmingham in 1959 into a family of metalworkers and studied 3-Dimensional Design BA (Hons) at Wolverhampton before helping to found Brighton’s Red Herring Studios in 1983. In the mid 1980s he honed his skills at brazing, forging, laser-cutting and welding and exhibited work at One Off, Ron Arad’s London workshop and gallery.

In 1988, Jon created a music machine for a Terry Jones/Monty Python film, Erik the Viking (1989). You can view the original music machine sketch on the artist’s blog, CLICK HERE as well as the finished item, CLICK HERE.

In recent years, Jon has been involved in major architectural commissions, inventing exciting structures that engage with their surroundings whether in cities or in the countryside. His output is extraordinarily diverse and charmingly subversive. He makes dangerous toys and automata, dysfunctional furniture and an amazing range of sculpture with themes that are witty, whimsical, and sometimes darkly Gothic. Jon’s vast body of work has been shown extensively in Great Britain as well as in the USA, Europe and Japan.

Mills is very much a hands-on maker, preferring to produce one-off designs. Occasionally clients have ordered repeats on a similar theme, but Mills has tended to resist mass or batch production, opting instead for a more spontaneous approach – the evolving of ideas through the making process, be it cupboard or bridge. He has undertaken numerous residencies in schools, normally in conjunction with a specific commission, often incorporating elements of the children’s work into the finished piece.

(Quote taken from Artist’s own website, CLICK HERE)

Enginuity  is the perfect setting for Jon’s work to be exhibited. It is a fabulous and fun environment that brings together history and technology. Different zones – Energy, Green and Design – encourage visitors to interact with exhibits which enhances their understanding of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics behind objects, past and present. This ‘hands-on’ approach works extremely well and creates a vibrant, educational space that has a cross-generational appeal.

Create ‘Sticky Critters’ at Enginuity – Easter Holidays, 29th March-14th April 2013

In my view, the educational facilities at Enginuity are quite some of the best I have seen offered by any Museum. They include a vast warehouse style area with plenty of space for you and your family to get creative. When I visited last month, the workshop area was full of objects, old and new, to help inspire your artistic endeavours.

During the Easter school holidays this year, Enginuity are hosting a great fun family event. Use your imagination to design and create fun ‘sticky critters’ from craft materials inspired by the suction capabilities of an octopus, then discover how long they can cling to an upright glass surface. Paper, card, plastic and other materials will be used to make the designs based on frogs, geckos and octopus or any other creature of your own invention. The drop-in Nature’s Engineers family workshops will be held from Friday 29th March until Sunday 14th April, between 10.30am and 3.45pm.  Activities will vary from day-to-day and some additional costs will apply.

Museums at Night (Thursday 16 – Saturday 18 May 2013) – Julian Wild’s sculptures

Recently, The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, Shropshire beat-off stiff competition in the national Connect10 Competition, to secure international artist Julian Wild to work with the Ironbridge Gorge Museums during the Museums at Night event in May. The Connect10 Competition is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Museums at Night (Thursday 16 – Saturday 18 May 2013) is a national initiative by Culture 24 that encourages museums to remain open after hours for one night a year, allowing as many people as possible to visit their local museums. Across the country the public have been voting to send ten different artists to ten varied museums to work on a variety of inspirational projects.

Anna Brennand, Deputy Chief Executive Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust commented; “We are really grateful to everyone that voted for us in this competition, it is wonderful to know that in their busy lives our supporters found the time to vote for us. We are thrilled to be welcoming an artist of Julian Wild’s calibre to Enginuity in May and hope that everyone will come along to help him make an amazing sculpture from glow-in-the-dark pipes during the Museum at Night event”. The Museum will publish full details of the event in the coming weeks on

Julian Wild’s sculptures are often based on the history of a site and resemble three-dimensional doodles. His vision for the sculpture at Enginuity is that members of the local community will help him create a giant work of art, inspired by structures in the Gorge, from pipes.

Ironbridge – 2012 Most Highly Recommended UNESCO World Heritage Site in the UK According to  TripAdvisor®

On Come Step Back in Time, over the coming weeks, I am delighted to be able to share with you a series of fascinating feature articles that I have written about The Ironbridge World Heritage Site, its museums and world-class collections. Ironbridge Gorge has been voted the 2012 most highly recommended UNESCO World Heritage Site in the UK according to the TripAdvisor® traveller community. It also takes second place in the world behind the Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa, China and ahead of the Egyptian Pyramids and India’s Taj Mahal. It was not hard to see why Ironbridge had received this accolade. When I visited last month I found it to be truly worthy of its status as a national heritage treasure.

  • Enginuity is open 10am to 5pm and is one of the ten Ironbridge Gorge Museums;
  • A great value Annual Passport Ticket  allowing entry into all ten museums, valid for twelve months and unlimited return visits, costs £23.25 per adult, £18.75 for the 60 plus, £15.25 for students and children and £64 for a family of two adults and all their children aged up to 18 years in full-time education (terms and conditions apply); under 5s free;
  • Individual museum entry tickets are also available;
  • Activities and workshops vary day-to-day and some carry an extra charge in addition to the museum admission fee.

    ©Jon Mills
    ©Jon Mills


Posted in Activity, Decorative Arts, Event, Exhibition, History, Literature, Maritime History, Museum, Review, Theatre History, World War One

Heath Robinson Exhibition – St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery

 © William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.
‘The Fairy’s Birthday’. Pen, ink and watercolour by Heath Robinson published in Holly Leaves, December, 1925, p.21. Heath Robinson’s goblins appeared in the Christmas Numbers of a variety of magazines between 1919-1929. They are distinguished by their homely and somewhat bumbling appearance. They may be short-sighted, overweight and suffer from pains in their joints or shortness of breath. They may have a rustic quality and may well have been based on the characters that Heath met in and around Cranleigh. © William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.

I was delighted to be asked to review an exhibition showcasing a collection of precise ink drawings and delicate watercolours by William Heath Robinson (1872 – 1944) which is currently on at St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire until Saturday 20th April, 2013. The Heath Robinson exhibition is supported by Rathbones investment management services. This exhibition, from the William Heath Robinson Trust, showcases illustrations he produced for works by William Shakespeare, Hans Christian Anderson and Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) as well as for his own books. There will also, of course, be a number of his much-loved designs for eccentric contraptions and humorous drawings.

Heath Robinson has become a byword for the eccentric and rickety inventions which he created. In the 1930s, he was known as the ‘Gadget King’, a remarkable title given that in real life Heath was not very practically minded. He had only ever been abroad once, towards the end of the First World War, when he illustrated scenes from the western front. At the beginning of his career he was ranked with Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) and Edmund Dulac (1882-1953) as one of Britain’s foremost illustrators.

Heath counted among his friends, authors H.G. Wells (1866-1946) and Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), Heath illustrated Kipling’s A Song of The English (1909, published by Hodder & Stoughton), which celebrated Edwardian pride in the Empire. Heath visited Kipling in Sussex to discuss the book. Illustrations from the publication feature in the exhibition.

Heath was born on 31st May 1872 at 25 Ennis Road, Stroud Green, London. His father Thomas Robinson (1838-1902) chief illustrator of Penny Illustrated Paper and his mother, Eliza Heath (1849-1921), an innkeeper’s daughter. The Robinsons had seven children, Heath was their third child. Heath’s elder brothers Thomas (1869-1953) and Charles (1870-1937) also became well-known book illustrators.

Heath attended Miss Mole’s dame-school, Holloway College from 1880 to 1884 and Islington proprietary school from 1884 to 1887. He did not thrive in education, a fact which his father recognised removing him, aged fifteen, from the proprietary school and sending him instead to Islington Art School, where he remained for five years. He won a studentship to the Royal Academy Schools, graduating in January 1897, aged twenty-five. Whilst at the RA, Heath had become an accomplished landscape painter but subsequently struggled to make a living selling his artworks. Heath’s passion for painting remained with him for the rest of his life, in his spare time he continued to produce landscapes, experimenting with effects of light and colour, as well as figure studies in watercolour.

In order to further his artistic career he decided to join his brothers who were already working as illustrators. Although being an illustrator was a respectable profession, it could be notoriously difficult to make a living from. However, Heath had real talent for humorous art which made him much in demand, especially in the world of advertising. He also took the occasional commission for book and magazine illustrations (The Sketch, The Bystander and The Tatler).

Some of Heath’s earliest book illustrations were published in 1897 and by 1900 he had illustrated editions of The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, Fairy Tales From Hans Christian Anderson (1899, published by J. M. Dent) and The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (1900, these illustrations were influenced by the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)). Copies of the Poe publication are extremely rare, a limited edition of only seventy-five copies were produced, printed on Japanese vellum. He illustrated Anderson’s Fairy Tales with his brothers, Thomas and Charles.

'The Aeronaut' by Heath Robinson © William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.
‘The Aeronaut’ by Heath Robinson © William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.

Heath’s fortunes improved when he illustrated his own fantasy for children The Adventures of Uncle Lubin (1902, published by Grant Richards). He wrote about this publication in his biography, My Line of Life (1938, published by Blackie & Son): ‘The story is episodic in form, telling the tale of Uncle Lubin, a little old man in a tall hat and long coat, as he attempts to retrieve his nephew, Baby Peter, from the clutches of the wicked bag-bird.’

This book was particularly important, although not a best seller, it did earn Heath enough money to enable him to marry Josephine Constance Latey (1878-1974), the daughter of newspaper editor John Latey, on 30th April, 1903, they set-up home in Holloway Road. As luck would have it, a Canadian by name of Chase Ed. Potter had read Lubin and commissioned Heath to illustrate some advertisements he was writing for Lamson Paragon Supply Company. Heath was paid, in cash, for each drawing.

In 1903, Heath embarked upon his most ambitious project to-date, The Works of Mr Francis Rabelais, commissioned by Grant Richards. The book contained two hundred and fifty-four illustrations, a hundred of which were full-page illustrations, the rest smaller ones. The book was published in 1904 in two large quarto volumes to critical acclaim. Unfortunately, Grant Richards went bankrupt in November 1904 leaving Heath short of the monies that he had hoped to earn.

Heath moved to Pinner, Middlesex, in 1908 and lived there with his family until 1918, residing at Moy Lodge from 1910. Following his move to Pinner and until 1914, Heath continued to produce book illustrations as well as cartoons for The Sketch and The Strand Magazine, amongst other periodicals. He moved to Cranleigh in Surrey in 1918 remaining there until 1929, when he relocated to Highgate, London. In Highgate, he first lived in Shepherd’s Hill and later 25 Southwood Avenue, close to where he had spent a majority of his childhood.

Rough sketch for doubling Gloucester cheese by Heath Robinson.© William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.
‘Rough sketch for doubling Gloucester cheese’ by Heath Robinson.
© William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.

One of Heath’s finest achievements as an illustrator were forty-one pen and ink drawings for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1914, published by Constable & Co). A contemporary review, in The Times Literary Supplement, described the publication as: ‘The most complete and beautiful specimen before us of an illustrated book as a single work of art…’. A copy of the publication is on display in the exhibition. There is an inscription in the front of this book, which is on display in the exhibition, from Heath to his mother: ‘To my good mother with very best wishes from her affectionate son, will.’

In 1915, Heath produced illustrations for The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) (published by Constable & Co). The edition was originally planned as a lavish gift book but due to the economic climate at the end of World War One, it was published as a modest octavo volume. The illustrations are some of Heath’s finest and show a clear influence of Japanese prints. The Japanese style influenced an entire generation of illustrators.

At the end of World War One, despite the market for lavishly illustrated gift books having all but disappeared, Heath’s talents were still in demand. He obtained a number of commissions for illustrations to appear in advertisements and magazines. Between 1903 and 1942, he produced about a hundred advertising drawings for a wide range of products including Mackintosh Toffees, biscuits, asbestos cement roofs, whiskey and paper. He had a particular talent for parodying the processes by which the various products were made as well as contrasting some of the more desirable qualities of these products. The drawings often took the form of ‘before and after’, i.e. unhappy scenes where the product was absent and happy scenes where the product’s inclusion made everything appear better. A campaign of particular note was for Hovis bread.

German breaches of the Hague Conention - Huns using siphons of laughing gas to overcome our troops before an attack in close formation. Pen, ink, watercolour and bodycolour. Published in The Sketch, August 1915. © William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.
‘German breaches of the Hague Convention – Huns using siphons of laughing gas to overcome our troops before an attack in close formation.’ Pen, ink, watercolour and bodycolour. Published in The Sketch, August 1915. © William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.

Between 1920 and 1936, Heath produced over two hundred drawings for Connolly Bros. (Curriers) Ltd, a majority of which are still in the company’s possession. These collection of drawings were published by the firm as Heath Robinson on Leather, to commemorate the company’s 50th anniversary, in 1928, and were reissued to mark the company’s centenary in 1978. The exhibition includes examples of Heath’s illustrations for both Hovis and the Connolly Bros. (Curriers) Ltd. A particularly delightful illustration for the latter is ‘William the Conqueror appreciates the comfort of leather when crossing the Channel’, pen and ink, 1933.

In January 1921, Heath was commissioned by Jonathan Cape to produce colour illustrations for a complete works of Shakespeare. He completed the drawings in June 1922.  Unfortunately, only a handful of these colour illustrations still exist, several rare examples of which are in the exhibition. Jonathan Cape could not find an American partner to share the cost of publication and because of the continuing decline in the market for illustrated books, the edition was never published.

In 1927, Heath produced sixteen designs in full colour, based on popular nursery rhymes, which featured on a range of nursery china for Soane & Smith, Knightsbridge. The china was produced by W. R. Midwinter of Burslem, Staffordshire. Examples from this range can been seen in the exhibition. The attention to detail in the frieze of children’s faces is exquisite. This frieze appeared on the inside rim of cups, bowls and around the outside edge of plates and porringers.

Other characters featured included: goblins; Jack Spratt and his wife; Tom, Tom the Piper’s son and the old woman who lived in a shoe. The range was extensive and ran to cereal bowls, saucers, jam pots, sugar bowls, mugs, egg cups and even a tureen.  The service was so popular that it was later sold through a variety of outlets, although the later designs were simplified with the frieze of children’s faces replaced by a simple band of dark blue or pale green.

One of my favourite drawings in the exhibition is a pen, ink and watercolour sketch produced by Heath in 1930 for the luxury trans-Atlantic liner, RMS Empress of Britain (1931) operated by Canadian Pacific Steamship Company which was built in Scotland. The sketch is divided into two parts, the top features a suggested design for ‘The ‘Knickerbocker’ Cocktail Bar’ and the bottom half of the sketch is a design for ‘The Children’s Room’. A closer look at the drawing for the Cocktail Bar reveals some of Heath’s humorous touches. This illustration draws its inspiration from experiences of drinking a cocktail, which according to Heath make you affectionate, give you courage, nerve and produce human kindness. There is also a Cocktail Bird, A Pleasant Surprise and Cocktail shaking in the East.

The Empress of Britain operated from 1931 until 1939 as a steam passenger liner designed to carry 1,195 passengers (465 first class, 260 second class and 470 third class). During the summer months it sailed along the England-Canada route. In 1939, it was requisitioned for war work and became a troop carrier. It was torpedoed on 28th October, 1940 by a German U-boat (U-32) on the northwest of Bloody Foreland, County Donegal, Ireland. Mystery still surrounds the cargo it was supposed to be carrying at the time. It was thought to have been a shipment of gold, bound for North America, a fact that has never been proved.

Another intriguing pen and ink drawing, which I last saw whilst an art history undergraduate, is from How To Live In A Flat (1936), by W. H. Robinson and K.R.G. Browne, published by Hutchison & Co. ‘The One-Piece Chromium Steel Dining Suite’ makes a striking social statement about the popularity of flat-dwelling in the interwar years and contains humorous touches by Heath. In the following extract from the publication, explanation is given for another of Heath’s illustrations: ‘A vote of thanks, therefore, is due to Mr Heath Robinson for demonstrating that a certain amount of quiet fun can be extracted even from the last word in geometrical carpetry. Carpet draughts, they tell me, is just the thing for the long winter evenings, and as it can be played sitting-down – will keep the old folks happy and amused while the young people are out at the movies.’ (Robinson & Browne, 1936, p.42).

In 1944, Heath underwent exploratory surgery, following which he returned home to Southwood Avenue, Highgate, where he died of a stroke on 13th September, later on in the same year. He is buried at St. Marylebone cemetery, East Finchley. This quality exhibition is a delight for both children and adults, it is guaranteed to make you smile and raise a chuckle.

Tickets to the Heath Robinson exhibition and St. Barbe Museum, which is open between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Saturday, cost £4 for adults, £3 for senior citizens and students, £2 for children aged five to 15, and £10 for a family of two adults and up to four children; under fives are admitted free of charge. For more details visit or telephone 01590 676969.

  • Thursday 11th April, 2013, 10.30am-3.30pm there is a Heath Robinson themed Family Explorer Day at St. Barbe Museum. The Museum’s Explorer Days are engaging and fun hands-on creative activities for children and their family, including the opportunity to handle museum objects. Price is included in admission. Day ticket: Adult £4, Concession £3, Child £2, Family £10. For further information, CLICK HERE.

    Arts & Crafts selling Exhibition featuring the work of regional artists. The Old School Gallery, St. Barbe Museum, Lymington.
    Arts & Crafts selling Exhibition featuring work by regional artists, currently on at The Old School Gallery, St. Barbe Museum, Lymington until 13th April, 2013.

Arts & Crafts Exhibition – 9th March until 13th April, 2013

The Old School Gallery – St. Barbe Museum

An added bonus when you visit the Heath Robinson exhibition, is the Arts and Crafts Exhibition currently on at The Old School Gallery, located in the same building as the Museum. This is the Museum’s first selling exhibition, showcasing arts and crafts by regional artists:  Carol-Anne Savage (contemporary jewellery); Victoria Garland Prints (Prints); Mrs Ollie Chappell (Raku Ceramics); Sue Baker (papier mâché fish); Paul Reeves (beautifully turned wooden objects made from wood found in and around the New Forest or from dead or fallen trees) and Michael Turner (stainless steel sculpture). The range of items for sale is excellent and of an exceptionally high standard.

Sue Baker’s papier mâché fish looked striking hung on the white-washed walls of The Old School Gallery. Her inspiration for the fish comes from when she lived in Cornwall: ‘I’ve always enjoyed messing about with paints and drawing, and enjoy the point where craft and art overlap. I fell into the papier mâché interest over twenty years ago. Having tried a few experiments following ideas in a book. I decided I preferred to do my own thing. The fish theme developed from there. Living in Cornwall, where I was born (I moved to Dorset ten years ago), the fish were an obvious choice I suppose. I started making imaginative fish; but the demand for realistic fish grew, so I seem to make them exclusively now.’

Michael Turner's
Sculptor Michael Turner’s steel lion looking majestic in the entrance of St. Barbe Museum, Lymington. The lion is for sale. Price on application.

A stainless steel lion by Lymington based sculptor Michael Turner, which is positioned in the Museum’s entrance, proved to be a big hit with both adults and children on the Saturday I visited. If you have travelled through Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 in recent years, you may well have seen Michael’s lion on display there. The lion is for sale, price on application.

Michael describes his work thus: ‘I have been a sculptor for over fifteen years now. I enjoy using recycled stainless steel. In our throw away society, it’s great for me to be able to take discarded material and turn it into something beautiful, and every project takes on a new challenge. My inspiration mainly comes from nature in all its forms. I am especially fascinated by insects which I never tire of reproducing, experimenting constantly with different types of finishes on the basic stainless steel. I use polishing, paint and heat effects to produce a unique piece every time. My work is exhibited in selected galleries and recently featured in Harvey Nichols’ London and Edinburgh stores, as well as the Royal West of England Academy.’

  • The Arts & Crafts Exhibition continues at St. Barbe Museum, until 13th April, 2013. Michael Turners Lion at St. Barbe Museum