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.
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)
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.
…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. Buyme.’s main protagonistis 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.
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;
In October, I took part in a 1930s set drama-documentary, Produced/Directed by Sam Supple, for BBC Inside Out (South East). Filmed on location in and around the attractive seaside town of Herne Bay, Kent which included Edwardian architectural gem, The Kings Hall. The programme explored the ill-fated relationship between Kent showgirl, Lydia Cecily/Cecilia ‘Cissie’ Hill (1913-1940) and the Sultan of Johor (Ibrahim I) (1873-1959). Below is the full documentary as it is no longer available on BBC iPlayer.
Lydia Cecily ‘Cissie’ Hill was born at 2 Kitchener Terrace, Canterbury, Kent on 20th July, 1913 but moved with her family to Herne Bay in 1917. Cissie’s father, George Hill (b. 1882), served in the Royal Navy rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and retiring in 1932 (although he was called up from the Retired List in 1935 and served again until 1946). Cissie’s mother was Florence Cecilia Hill née Benge (b. 1889) who married George Hill on 20th December, 1910 at St. Gregory’s Church, Canterbury.
Until 1927, Cissie lived with her family at 4, Kingsbury Villas in Kings Road, Herne Bay, moving to Hyacinth, Queensbury Drive where they stayed until 1934. She attended Kings Road School, Herne Bay until Summer 1927 when she reached the age of 14 which, at that time, was the national school leaving age.
Holidaymakers at Herne Bay, 1st January, 1890. A view looking out to sea from The Downs in Herne Bay. People are sitting on the hill listening to a band play in an open bandstand. A shelter stands to the right for protection against the harsher weather.
Herne Bay – A Popular Victorian and Edwardian Seaside Resort
August 1921, Herne Bay, three young women in bathing suits enjoying themselves in the sea.
Herne Bay has been a thriving seaside resort since the 1830s with its pier being a particularly popular attraction and destination for tourists visiting the town. Building began on Herne Bay’s first pier, 4th July, 1831, opening in 1832. The pier was originally built to accommodate paddle steamers travelling between London, Margate and Ramsgate.
Unfortunately, the pier’s structure succumbed to storm and worm damage eventually being sold for scrap in 1871. A new wood and iron pier opened on August 27th, 1873, a theatre added in 1884 followed by extensive rebuilding work (completed in 1899) which created the town’s third pier complete with an electric tramway.
Pier Pavilion, Herne Bay, Kent. This view, looking out to sea, shows the Pier Pavilion which was constructed in 1910 after a design competition was launched.
The local Council purchased the pier in 1909 and a Grand Pavilion opened in 1910. Unfortunately, the theatre which had been part of the second pier, was destroyed by fire in 1928 and the Grand Pavilion burned down in 1970. A new sports pavilion (unusual for a pier) opened in 1976. In 1978, storms destroyed the main neck. The pier-head still remains isolated out at sea and is visible from the front entrance of King’s Hall.
In the late 1920s, early 1930s, Herne Bay had limited industry except for health tourism. In the late 1920s, Herne Bay Council created the slogan, ‘our only industry is health-making’. It was also around this time that the Council managed to acquire bathing rights from Hampton Pier in the west to Beltinge in the east. This added to Herne Bay’s kudos as an established seaside resort. By 1931, Herne Bay’s resident population was approximately 14,533.
Poster produced for South Eastern & Chatham Railway in conjunction with Chemins de Fer du Nord (French railways) to advertise Herne Bay as a healthy holiday destination to French tourists. January, 1925.
Out of season, Herne Bay must have seemed a very quiet place for an out-going teenage girl like Cissie. She was an attractive young woman with a talent for performing and trained at a local dance school, perhaps taught by Miss Myrtle Fox? (see photograph below from 1931) Cissie appeared in numerous dancing displays at the old Pier Theatre and elsewhere in Herne Bay. If she wished to further her career as a professional dancer, London would have been her only choice of destination.
Miss Myrtle Fox, a dance instructor at a Herne Bay school practises one of her energetic ballet routines on the beach.February 16th, 1933.
1930s London Nightlife
‘London’s Famous Clubs And Cabarets – “Playtime At The Piccadilly” Aka Picadilly Revels’ (1933). British Pathé film. Uploaded to You Tube, 13.4.2014.
1930’s London nightlife was void of gambling clubs, strip joints or nude shows. Except for the Windmill Theatre which did provide variety nude shows and famously never closed, even during World War Two, opening in 1931, closing in 1964. London did, however, have a thriving cabaret scene. Charles B. Cochran (1872-1951), a Sussex born theatrical manager and impresario, ran one of the most famous cabarets, at the Trocadero restaurant.
British Pathé film ‘Magic Nights’ (1932), filmed during an actual performance of Charles B. Cochran’s Cabaret Show at the Trocadero, London. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
Cochran, the Cameron Mackintosh of his day, was responsible for discovering many new talents and making stars out of them. Some of his high-profile discoveries were Eleanora Duse, Anna Neagle, Gertude Lawrence, Noel Coward, Jessie Matthews and the fame-hungry Dolly Sisters (who notoriously helped Harry Gordon Selfridge (1858-1947) to squandered most of his fortune in the 1920s).
Hungarian born dancers The Dolly Sisters, Jenny and Rosie famous for performing in revues on the twenties. They were discovered by theatre impresario, Charles B. Cochran. Image date, 1st January, 1923.
British Pathé film ‘Playtime At The Piccadilly Hotel’ (1932). Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
Other London venues that had popular in-house cabarets included, The Casa Nuova Restaurant, Casani’s Club, The Cosmo Club, The Piccadilly Hotel and the Grosvenor House Hotel. In the early 1930s, Cissie began work as a professional dancer at Grosvenor House’s cabaret, although exact dates of her employment there are unknown.
Members of the Empire Cabaret troupe appear in ‘Grosvenor Gambols’ at Grosvenor House, London.January 1st, 1930.
It wasn’t until the Summer of 1934 that Cissie met the Sultan of Johor whilst he was staying at the Grosvenor House Hotel. The hotel, on Park Lane, opened on 14th May, 1929 following extensive refurbishment. It was particularly popular with aristocrats, foreign dignitaries, entertainment stars and any wealthy individual who could afford the hefty room tariff. Everyone important in 1930’s society, stayed at the hotel.
From left to right, Lady Milbank, famous actor Charles Chaplin, Prince of Wales and Duchess of Sutherland attend the Charity ball for the benefit of British hospitals at Grosvenor House on November 19th, 1931.
The Grosvenor House Hotel was designed in a quintessential British style aimed predominantly at the American market. There were 472 bedrooms and it was the first hotel in London to have a bathroom in every bedroom and the first in Europe to have iced running water in every bathroom.
A six guinea suite at the Savoy Hotel in London. March 1st, 1939.
Other luxury London hotels also competing for wealthy guests at this time included: Claridges (1927, interior design by Basil Ionides (1884-1950)); the Savoy Hotel and Theatre (1929, Basil Ionides) and Strand Palace Hotel (1930, architect Oliver Bernard (1881-1939)).
The Sultan of Johor delighted in the comforts of London society. He liked high-living and loved the bright lights of both Paris and London. When in London, he would often lavish his vast income on dancing girls. However, Cissie was not the only theatrical to catch the Sultan’s eye. In the early 1900s, he fell in love with a former Gaiety girl called Nellie. In 1906, he brought Nellie £30,000 worth of jewels as well as a lease on a mansion at 34 Park Lane.
The Sultan was a regular guest at the Grosvenor Park Hotel, spending long periods of time there where he had his own hotel suite. The Sultan also spent his final years at the hotel, watching television in his suite. He died there on 18th May, 1959. In fact the Sultan’s father, Abu Baker (1833-1895), also died in a London hotel, Bailey’s in Kensington.
The 94 year old Sultan of Johor pictured with his wife and daughter arriving at Tilbury, on the P&O Liner ‘Himalaya’, England, June 2nd 1958.
The Sultan of Johor (1873-1959)
Sultan Ibrahim was born on 17th September, 1873. His mother, Zubaida binti Abdullah (née Cecilia Catharina Lange 1849-1936) was of Danish Eurasion descent and the 2nd wife (m. 1870) of Abu Baker. Abu ruled Johor from 1862, as Maharaja from 1868 and as Sultan from 1886 until his death in 1895.
Sultan Ibrahim’s father, Abu Baker, was a self-confessed Anglophile who modelled his tastes and habits on that of a typical English gentleman. He was a well-known figure in diplomatic circles as well as London society and fostered close friendships with European aristocracy, including Queen Victoria (1819-1901).
Sultan Ibrahim’s father, Abu Baker as depicted in Vanity Fair, January 1st, 1891.
Abu had an allegiance to the British government and Crown but later in his life many civil servants considered him to be ‘pretentious’ and ‘an unreliable potentate.’ Some of this friction may have been caused by his long absences on overseas jaunts and often unfavourable attention he attracted from the foreign press about his private life.
Abu Baker enjoyed the company of women, particularly European women (a trait Ibrahim went on to inherit from his father). On one particular occasion in 1893/4, Abu was sued by Jenny Mighell from Brighton for breach of promise to marry. Abu had courted Miss Mighell under the name ‘Albert Baker’ but during the relationship she discovered ‘Albert Baker’s’ true identity.
Miss Mighell subsequently lodged papers with the British Court in which she declared that Abu/Albert had failed to make good on his promise of marriage. Her claims were dismissed on the grounds that Abu was not subject to British jurisdiction therefore could not be sued under its laws for breach of contract. All this negative publicity proved rather unsavoury for both Abu and the British government.
Sultan Ibrahim was educated privately in Britain and went on to inherit the sultanate in November 1895, aged 22. Like his father, Ibrahim enjoyed the company of women and loved British culture, excelling at cricket, tennis, horse riding and game hunting. Indeed, he even presented pairs of tigers to London Zoo and was a Fellow of Scotland’s Zoological Society.
In Malaya he kept kennels, stables and planted a garden of English roses. He was a bit of a ‘petrolhead’, pioneering motoring in his homeland and where he could often be seen whizzing along the road like Toad of Toad Hall!
Sultan Ibrahim remained faithful to Britain throughout his life and in 1935, on King George V’s (1865-1936) Silver Jubilee, he donated £500,000 towards British defence (nearly £32million in today’s money!). In his palace at Woodneuk in Malaya, he kept a life-size portrait of Queen Victoria (inherited from his father) as well as paintings of other members of the British royal family.
Although he resisted many aspects of British officialdom, he was a strong supporter of British relations. The British establishment also awarded him several honours including, an honorary GSMG (1916), an honorary GBE (1935) and in 1947 was made an honorary major-general in the British Army.
Ibrahim was an imposing figure, a large athletic man with features inherited from his Scandinavian grandfather and Malay and Bugis ancestors. As was common amongst Malayan men, the Sultan had gold teeth inset with small diamonds. The popular press often referred to the Sultan as the ‘Playboy of the East’. He loved life, lavish parties and world travel.
In 1938, Time magazine described Sultan Ibrahim as:
Wealthy, virile, tiger-hunting Sultan of Johor, who was an oriental potentate, is entitled to have at least one attractive British woman staying at his palace on approval. His Highness, while making a round-the-world tour in 1934, was photographed in Hollywood with Mae West, and was the guest in Washing of Mr and Mrs Franklin D. Roosevelt
(Time magazine, 8.8.1938)
Despite his playboy ways, the Sultan possessed an astute political brain, like his father. Like his father, he was prone to bouts of self-indulgence, unpredictability, arguing a lot with his sons. He had 4 sons (1 died in infancy) and one daughter.
Cissie Hill and The Sultan of Johor – Star-Crossed Lovers
Cissie met Sultan Ibrahim in the Summer of 1934 (although it may have been in September 1935, exact meeting dates are disputed) at the Grosvenor House Hotel whilst he was still married to his 5th wife, Sultana Helen Ibrahim.
Cissie was a striking young woman with platinum blonde hair. He brought Cissie expensive jewellery, built her houses and provided her with an income. The British establishment did not approve of Ibrahim’s relationship with the glamorous showgirl and tried to dissuade him from marrying her.
The couple managed to keep their relationship/affair relatively low-key until 1937, when the house in Herne Bay (Mayfair Court) that Sultan Ibrahim had brought Cissie, was broken into. Burglars stole a safe and £5,000 worth of jewels from the property, 2 pieces missing were inscribed “with all my love S.I. “[S.I. = Sultan Ibrahim].
Speculation began to mount that these valuables were possibly part of Cissie’s wedding jewellery. Amongst the stolen items were a Sunray tiara, ropes of exquisite pearls, collars of diamonds and emeralds, wide diamond bracelets of the highest quality.
The burglary hastened the end of Ibrahim’s marriage to Helen, newspapers around the world had a field-day! Finally, on 31st December, 1937 he was finally granted a divorce. Following his divorce from Helen he went to Ceylon and reacquainted with Cissie who was on holiday there with her mother. All 3 of them toured Sumatra and then flew to Singapore on 27th May, 1938, en-route to Johor.
Divorce in 1930s Britain
In 1930’s Britain, it was possible to divorce your spouse, however, the process was by no means easy. English law did not allow for divorce by mutual consent, but rather required proof of adultery, or violence by one party. If either parties ‘colluded’ in order to obtain their divorce, the couple would both be refused a divorce as punishment. Collusion was strictly prohibited and perjury a criminal offence.
However, couples desperate to go their separate ways did find a way around these strict regulations. Either one of the couple (usually but not always the man), pretended to commit adultery. The ‘adulterer’ would travel to a seaside resort for a ‘dirty weekend’. His/her companion would be either a friend or unattached individual, also in on the act.
Once the ‘couple’ arrived at their hotel they would make sure that they were seen by as many people as possible, particularly the hotel’s chambermaid when she brought to their room bed! This type of charade was known as gathering ‘hotel evidence’ and witnesses who had seen the couple together would be called to give evidence in court at the divorce trial.
Ibrahim did have to resort to such measures as this, his position as a high-ranking foreign dignitary meant he could set his own rules. The Sultan was able to divorce Helen in 1937 after first having passed a Special Marriage Dissolution Act by the Johor State Council in order to make the end of the marriage legal.
Mayfair Court, Herne Bay – A Deco Moderne treasure
BBC Inside Out South East, ‘Sultan and The Showgirl’ documentary. Mayfair Court is featured 2 minutes 20 seconds in.
Sultan Ibrahim commissioned a stunning Deco Moderne house for Cissie and her parents at number 2 Clifftown Gardens, Westcliff, Herne Bay. Completed in 1935, ‘Mayfair Court’ still survives today (see documentary) with its blue and white colour scheme.
Cissie was executive owner of Mayfair Court and the two Deco houses at 139 and 141 Grand Drive. She also purchased a number of wide plots in Clifftown Gardens and Grand Drive. When it was first built, Mayfair Court also had a greenhouse (south-western corner) and a concrete tube air-raid shelter, possibly a Stanton shelter.
In 1937, steps and a bedroom were added over the garage to the south end of the property. Cissie lived at Mayfair Court, with her mother, until she died in 1940. Her father, George Hill, also lived there between 1935 and 1937.
1930s British Seaside Architecture
1930’s Britain was an exciting place to be if you were an architect. The pre-war housing boom was in full-swing and Mayfair Court was one of the new style of modern houses being built in Herne Bay. The south coast region of Britain had pockets of similar style, gleaming white villas.
These concrete and steel properties featured radius bay windows, glamorous balconies, nautical flourishes, Crittall window design, stepped stucco door/window surrounds, plenty of glass brick to encourage the sun and light to stream through and illuminated the interior. Some fine examples of this type of architecture exist in Kent (Cliftonville, Margate – Walpole Bay Hotel), Sussex (Grand Ocean Hotel, De La Warr Pavillion), Hampshire (Saltdean Lido and Hilsea Lido).
Mayfair Court is a beautiful example of Deco Moderne architecture, not Art Deco as it is often incorrectly referred. The ‘Moderne’ was actually an American re-invention of Art Deco. Moderne and Deco Moderne buildings embraced all the glamour and modernity of a Hollywood film set (see the work of MGM Art Director, Cedric Gibbons (1893-1960), particularly his set designs for Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Grand Hotel (1932) and Dinner at Eight (1933)).
Gibbons and Del Rio’s LA home (Kingman Avenue, Santa Monica Canyon). There are many similarities between this property and Cissie’s home, Mayfair Court. Both ooze Hollywood glamour. These are homes to see and be seen in, show properties, balconies to pose on and a crisp white and blue colour scheme as backdrop. Mayfair Court would have certainly stood-out from other pre-war modern houses being built in Herne Bay.
Wealthy, upper middle-class, aristocrats and upwardly mobile Britons, favoured Deco Moderne, over Art Deco or Modernist architecture. Art Deco, by the 1930s, had taken on so many variations it was almost unrecognisable from its original 1920s form. Early Art Deco commercial and domestic architecture was, for many traditionalists/fashionable sorts, a tad vulgar with its busy, geometrical shapes and bright colours. An excellent example of early 1930s commercial Art Deco architecture is The Hoover Building, Ealing, London.
It is no surprise that the Sultan should commission Mayfair Court to be designed in the stylish and glamorous Deco Moderne style. The overall effect is a convergence of both masculinity (polished interior surfaces, wooden finishes, monochromatic colour schemes) and femininity (sensuous curves both inside and out as well as elegance of form). Moderne was not as elitist or conservative as Modernism or the Modern style.
The Moderne managed to bridge the hiatus between masculine and feminine cultures. It was a style less purist and less radical but nonetheless fashionable and fun to live in. Many Deco Moderne villas built along the British coastline were commissioned as weekend or holiday homes. Further examples can be found in Essex (Silver End, 1927-8), Holland-on-Sea, Frinton-on-Sea, Hadleigh and Westcliff-on-Sea. Sandbooks in Poole also has some stunning examples of this style of architecture.
NB Mayfair Court is a private residence. Should you decide to visit the property, please remember to respect the owner’s privacy.
Cissie’s Tragic Death in 1940
Miss Hill brought an influence into my life which can never be replaced and which I never wish to forget.
(Sultan Ibrahim quoted in the Sunday Mirror, 10.11.1940)
The Battle of Britain began on 10th July, 1940 and lasted until 31st October, 1940. On the morning of Friday 11th October, 1940, Cissie drove to Canterbury to buy a wedding present for a friend. She first called to pick-up her friend, Miss Margaret (Peggy) K. Clark, at 10.15am.
Upon arrival in Canterbury the pair visited a shop in Burgate Street, Cissie then went to a furrier’s and her friend went on to another store. During an Air Raid, the furrier’s took a direct hit, whilst Cissie was looking at a rug, she was killed instantly. According to local newspaper reports on the bombings in Canterbury that day:
It landed on a well-known furrier’s store, the owner of which together with assistants and customers, were killed. In the bookshop next door, one of the lady partners lost her life. She and another woman were blown clean through into the next shop, that of a tailor, who with an assistant, saved themselves by crouching in a cupboard. The tailor was cut by flying glass. His daughter’s fate was for some time in doubt, but cries for help led rescuers to the cellar into which she had been trapped. She was extricated unhurt through the pavement grating.
(The Kentish Gazette, 19.10.1940)
The Sultan and Cissie’s mother identified her body which had been so badly injured that a positive identification was only able to be made because Cissie was wearing jewellery that the Sultan had given her.
Cissie’s funeral took place at St. John’s Church, Brunswick Square, prior to the interment at the Cemetery, Eddington. The Sultan did not attend the funeral but sent a beautiful floral tribute wreath which was laid in the grave with the coffin.
Good-natured, she [Cissie] gave support to charitable objects and other causes, and she was the means of bringing happiness to people in straitened circumstances.
(Herne Bay Press, 19.10.1940)
Had Cissie married the Sultan, she would have been his 6th wife and known as ‘Her Highness Lady Lydia Ibrahim, Sultanah of Johor’. Such was his grief, the Sultan rarely spoke of Cissie ever again. He moved on in his personal life extremely quickly (much to the distress of Cissie’s family!), marrying his 6th wife, Marcella Mendl, (1915-1982), a young Romanian Red Cross flag seller, before the end of 1940 following a whirlwind romance.
On her death, Cissie left an estate of £16,970 (approximately half a million pounds in today’s money). There was no will.
The 6 Official Wives of The Sultan of Johor
Sultan Ibrahim’s private life was peppered with scandal. He had 6 official wives, 4 of whom became Sultanahs of Johor and two of his wives were of European descent:
1st wife = Maimuna (1876-1909) – married in Singapore 5th October, 1892, aged 19;
2nd wife = Ruqaiya (1880-1926) – married in 1897, aged 24;
3rd wife = Hasana (b. 1877);
4th wife = Intan (d. 1958);
5th wife = Helen Bartholomew Wilson (1889-1978) Scottish. Mrs Wilson’s husband had been a physician in Johor (Dr William Brockie Wilson – a Malayan born Scot). Following a divorce from her doctor husband, she married the 57 year old Sultan in a London Registry followed by a religious ceremony at a Surrey mosque, 15th October, 1930. Their wedding reception was a small affair, 6 guests attending a private dinner at Grosvenor House Hotel. The Sultan insisted that Helen be recognised as Sultanah, she was known as Her Highness Sultanah Helen Ibrahim. In 1935 (the 40th year of his reign), he had his palace, Woodneuk (originally built by his father c.1875), completely rebuilt for his new wife. In the same year, he put her picture, together with his own on a Johor postage stamp as a gift to her on their fifth wedding anniversary. Because Helen had lived in Malaya she was familiar with its culture and customs. When she married the Sultan, she fully embraced life in Malaya, speaking conversational Malay and often seen outside the home which was unusual for ordinary Malay women. The couple were sufficiently prestigious to be invited to the coronation of King George VI (1895-1952) in 1937 (he also rode in the carriage procession at Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953 with his 6th wife). The couple rode in the carriage procession to Westminster Abbey and stayed at the Grosvenor House Hotel. The Sultan divorced Helen on 31st October, 1937 in London. He agreed a divorce settlement of £5,000 per annum and she was allowed to keep her jewellery (not the crown jewels) which were worth £25,000;
Marriages between white, respectable, English women and members of overseas ruling families rarely attracted much criticism in the 1930s. Examples of inter-racial marriages in this period include: Mollie Elsip and Prince Ali Khan of Jaora (1930, Woking mosque), Elizabeth Louise Mackenzie and ‘Pathan Chieftain’, Syed Abdullah.
The Sultan with his 5th wife, Mrs Helen Wilson, during a visit to Berlin in July/August, 1931.
The Sultan of Johor with his 5th wife, Mrs Helen Wilson (1889-1977) whom he divorced on 31st December, 1937.
6th wife = Marcella Mendl (1915-1982) – a young Romanian Red Cross flag seller whom he met in 1940, whilst she was sheltering at the Grosvenor House Hotel during an Air Raid. Marcella converted to Islam and was known as Lady Marcella Ibrahim (1940–1955) and Her Highness Sultana Fawzia binti ‘Abdu’llah (1955–1982). He married her in 1940, when he was 67. In 1941, when Marcella and her new husband arrived for the first-time in Johor, the Daily Mercury (20.1.1941) described her thus: ‘Lady Marcella Ibrahim wore to arrive in Johor, navy jersey crepe dress with a tucked centre panel of turquoise blue, an off the face hat with heart-shaped crown, trimmed with matching blue. Diamond necklet. Black antelope bag and gloves, black ankle-strap shoes, ash-blonde hair, 2 soft rolls above each ear and curled softly on the nape of her neck.’ Marcella spoke German, Malay, French and English. She outlived the Sultan by 23 years and they had one daughter (b. 1950);
British Pathé silent film ‘Sultan of Johor’s Birthday Party’ (1946). Showing the Sultan and his 6th and final wife, Sultanah Marcella, enjoying the ruler’s 73rd birthday (begin 1 min 10 secs in to see the couple). Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
Germany surrendered on 7th May, 1945, and the next day was declared V.E. (Victory in Europe) Day, ending World War Two in Europe. However, for many servicemen and their families, May 1945 was not their war’s end. The Allies were still at war with Japan but on the 6th and 9th August, 1945, the United States dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered, World War Two was officially at an end.
One of the most poignant of these V.E. Day 70th events will be the lighting of a hundred beacons at various locations around Britain from Newcastle to Cornwall. In the skies above London, there will be an aerial display of Spitfire and Lancaster bomber planes, and cathedral bells will also ring-out across the country.
People are also being encouraged to organise street parties within their local community, similar to those organised 70 years ago. Although I am sure trestle and picnic tables will be employed in 2015 rather than dismantled Morrison shelters which were used in May, 1945! To help inspire you, I have curated a selection of ‘rationbook recipes’ from my own collection of 1940s cookery books. (Click here) I have also collated a Pinterest board packed full of inspiration to help you create a 1940s style look, for both men and women. (Click Here)
FAMILY HOLIDAYS IN HYTHE KENT, BEFORE WORLD WAR TWO
Before war was declared in 1939, my grandparents enjoyed carefree summers in Hythe, Kent at the family’s holiday home, a bungalow located on Dymchurch Road, directly opposite the seafront. The bungalow still exists today, with its original name, but is no longer in our family.
My great, great grandmother (pictured above, standing) Verena Jennings (b.1864) cut a formidable figure. She was an educated lady of independent means with a portfolio of properties across London. She married into the Chads dynasty, an illustrious naval family but later divorced her husband, an unusual step for a woman in Victorian England. Her ex-husband later took his own life for reasons which I feel it entirely inappropriate to discuss on a public forum such as this. However, she did receive a substantial divorce settlement and lived out the rest of her days enjoying a comfortable standard of living.
Great, great grandmother named the bungalow ‘Multum-in-parvo’ which is Latin for ‘much in little’. The bungalow remained in the family until the early 1970s. Every Easter she would come down to her Hythe seaside retreat. Compared to her usual standard of living in a large, smart central London townhouse with servants, conditions at the bungalow were primitive and servantless.
In 1929, the bungalow had a large garden, no sanitation, an outdoor toilet, no electricity or running water (rain water was collected in a vast metal container and boiled for daily use). Perishables were stored in a meat safe, which was corrugated with a grill on the front, as there was no refrigeration nor suitable marble-lined larder at the property. My mother tells me that apparently it became a family tradition, started by great, great grandmother, to take oysters and a pint of Guinness, most days at 11am.
Guinness advert. A print from the Illustrated London News, 12th December 1936. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
It was necessary to shop on a regular basis in order to eat fresh produce. A local farm in Palmarsh, close by the bungalow, provided the family with dairy products and the milkman called at the bungalow most days. A kitchen range was fitted after World War Two and in 1955, gas was connected to the property and finally in 1958, water and electricity. By the 1960s, basic mod cons had been installed.
The fishmonger and butcher also made home visits. Great, great grandmother grew quite friendly with the fishmonger which resulted in her hiring him as a chauffeur during the Summer months. She then brought a World War One Swift motorcar, although she didn’t drive herself, the fishmonger drove her around when she was at the bungalow. In exchange, she allowed him to drive the car for his own use from October until March. When she died, the fishmonger brought the Swift and continued to use it.
4th June 1938: A little girl at London Waterloo Station makes enquiries for trains to the seaside during the Whitsun Holidays. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Before World War Two, great, great grandmother used to journey down to Hythe from London Victoria on the East Kent Coach. She travelled with many of her possessions, including her beloved parrot. She would alight at Red Lion Square, Hythe and continued the rest of her short journey to the bungalow by train, alighting at Botolph’s Bridge, an unmanned halt close by. This halt opened in 1927 and closed just before World War Two in 1939, it didn’t re-open after the war. For a couple of years she travelled by train to Sandgate until it closed in 1931. The family also often made good use of Romney Hythe and Dymchurch light railway line (RH&DR) when visiting the bungalow.
August 1922: A family paddling in the sea at Dymchurch, 9 miles up the Kent coast from Hythe. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
RH&DR opened for public use on 16th July, 1927, when the inaugural train travelled from Hythe to New Romney. The 8 miles between Hythe and New Romney was covered in double tracks. In 1927, St. Mary’s Bay had its own RH&DR station known as ‘Holiday Camp’ due to its location near to several holiday and boys camps, popular in the area at that time. St. Mary’s Bay was known (and still is!) for its lovely beaches, perfect for bathing. In 1928, the RH&DR line was extended to Dungeness via Greatstone, creating a main line ride of 13.5 miles.
Another reason that attracted my great, great grandmother to Hythe in 1929 was its obvious potential as a popular, smart, seaside resort. During the 1920s Hythe had begun to invest in its tourist infrastructure and in May, 1924, the ‘Bathing Establishment’ had been converted into a restaurant and tea room, The Pavillion. It was then leased by Mrs Farmer and a music and dancing licence was granted.
Hythe has had a long history as seaside resort, emerging first in the Georgian period. In the Hythe, Sandgate and Folkestone Guide (1816) it was stated:
In the immediate neighbourhood of Hythe there is a pleasant walk called Marine Grove, leading to the sea-side, and another denominated Sir William’s Wall, where both visitors and the inhabitants frequently form agreeable promenades (especially in the summer evenings), and to which the refreshing coolness of the sea-breezes are extremely inviting…..
(Hythe: A History by Martin Easdown & Linda Sage, 2004, p.69)
High Street, Hythe, Kent, 1890-1910. The High Street in Hythe contains the Smugglers Retreat (on the right) which was demolished in 1907. Popular belief has it that a light was lit in the projecting upper storey window to signal to smugglers off the coast that it was safe to land. (Photo by English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
The arrival of Hythe as a respectable watering place really began in 1854, when the Corporation opened the Bathing Establishment behind the sea front in South Road at a cost of £2,000…They [the baths], catered for the craze amongst the wealthy that the bathing in, and drinking of, seawater could cure all their ills. Indoor baths had grown in popularity as a more comfortable alternative to sea bathing whilst, unsurprisingly, the drinking of seawater was in decline in 1860. However, the recommended daily does for any partakers was 1/2 pint of seawater mixed with milk, beef tea or port wine….The [bathing] machines were hauled to and from the sea over Hythe’s steeply shelving shingle beach either by horses or by using a winch.
In 1938, Stade Court Hotel and Four Winds Restaurant opened on West Parade, Hythe. The buildings were designed in the fashionable 1930s Art Deco minimalist style popular at the time. Leisure facilities began to increase in town and on 26th May, 1930 the Grove Cinema showed the first talking picture. The cinema was nicknamed ‘The Shack’ on account of its appearance but closed on 1st March, 1958.
On 12th June, 1937 the Ritz Cinema opened on the corner of Prospect Road and East Street. Another Art deco modernist-style building which could hold 858 patrons. Canal Hall in Hythe was another popular tourist destination, this time for dancing, opening its doors also in the 1930s.
Hythe’s spectacular, Venetian Fête, was one of the highlights in the Summer season calendar (and still is!). The event takes place on Hythe’s Royal Military Canal. The first Venetian Fête took place on 27th August, 1890 on the suggestion of Hythe reporter Edward Palmer who thought a parade of illuminated boats on the Canal would be an excellent tourist attraction and a showcase for local trades.
5th September 1935: The ancient pageantry of the Cinque Ports, Councillor E C Smith, mayor of Hythe, sets out in his barge to welcome visiting mayors during the Hythe Venetian Fête at the Royal Military Canal in Kent. (Photo by Horace Abrahams/Keystone/Getty Images)
The event continued every year until World War One when it stopped and restarted again in 1927. Unfortunately, in 1927, there were complaints from locals who were unhappy about the 8 hour closure of the canal banks during the procession. The event did not take place again for 3 years but in 1934 there was a big revival and the annual procession drew large local and national crowds. The last one before the outbreak of World War Two was on 30th August 1939.
British Pathe film showcasing women’s swimming costumes from 1939. Uploaded to You Tube, 13.4.14.
22nd October 1938: Young Muriel Richards, just one of the children sent to Dymchurch in Kent in anticipation of the start of World War Two. The storm clouds are gathering in Europe and the Summer of 1939 was to be the last time my family holidayed in Hythe until 1946. The evacuee in this image wears a label round her neck for identification. Original Publication: Picture Post – Album Of A Teacher In The Crisis – pub. 1938 (Photo by Merlyn Severn/Picture Post/Getty Images)
8th April 1940: Despite the war, painters brighten up the sea front at Folkestone in hope that there might be an influx of tourists during Summer season. Sadly, this frontline town struggled to attract the tourists as the war progressed. It wasn’t long before it became a militarised zone. (Photo by Arthur Tanner/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
HYTHE & SURROUNDING AREA DURING WORLD WAR TWO
On 3rd September, 1939, World War Two was declared. At the time 1,000 children were staying at St. Mary’s Bay Holiday Camp, near Dymchuch and had to be immediately evacuated. The Sands Motel in ‘The Bay’ had two large naval guns mounted on the front of it, pointing out to sea. The guns were disguised to appear like two adjoining houses having false roofs and wooden chimney pots. The defences along the sea wall were reinforced as iron scaffolding was erected and mines fixed to it. Both The Sands Motel and the children’s holiday camp took direct hits from enemy bombs.
1940, Kent. With the threat of German invasion imminent, a Coastal Guards detachment on the cliffs between Dover and Folkestone, are given a demonstration in the use of petrol bombs (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
During World War Two, Britain’s coastline was vulnerable to enemy invasion, particularly in the south or east. As soon as war was declared, beaches were planted with mines, barbed wire and other obstacles. Access to front-line coastal towns like Dover and Folkestone were heavily restricted.
1940, barbed wire defences on the coast of Folkestone and Dover (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Due to the location of my family’s bungalow, directly opposite the seafront on Dymchurch Road and close to the Hythe Ranges, this meant that visiting the property during the war was very much restricted. Definitely no holidays (the beach was out of bounds anyway!), local people and property owners had to obtain a resident’s pass to both visit as well as travel back and forth to their homes. My mother recalls that some of these visits made by her grandmother to inspect the bungalow meant that she had to be accompanied by military personnel to do so.
The Hythe Ranges have been used for live firing for nearly 200 years, they are one of the oldest ranges in Britain and are still used by the military today. There are two Martello Towers on the site as well as a “Grand Redoubt” fortification at Dymchurch which was built in 1800 as a defence structure in case of an invasion by Napoleon (1769-1821). During World War Two, the Martello Towers in Hythe resumed their role as a defence structure. They were used as look-out posts and armed with anti-aircraft guns and searchlights.
The Hythe School of Musketry, founded in March 1853, now known as the Small Arms School Corps (SASC). In 1939, the SASC took over responsibility for defences in the area:
A sea mine and boom defence system was installed in Hythe Bay and a minefield land on the seaward side of Hythe Gasworks. The beach was defended with a gantry of scaffold poles with attached mines and six-inch gun emplacements were located on the Promenade. Ladies Walk Bridge was demolished as a defensive measure, and others were disabled. The Royal Military Canal was enmeshed in barbed wire.
‘Toy Train Goes To War’ (1944). Short film featuring the RHDR before World War Two carrying holiday crowds and then refitted for its important role in wartime when, according to my mother, one of the cargoes it transported was ack-ack guns. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014
One of the RHDR engines, Hercules, was converted into an armoured train using guns salvaged from crashed aircraft. As the threat of invasion loomed, the Small Arms School was largely exiled to Bisley. Hythe became a prohibited zone and could be entered only with a valid resident’s pass: The district south of the Royal Military Canal was cleared and declared strictly out of bounds.
(Hythe: A History by Martin Easdown & Linda Sage, 2004, p.115)
Troops stationed in the Hythe area have been provided with a novel leave train. Troops of the command travel to visit the cinema and join main line trains for home leave. (On the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway – Probably at New Romney, Kent) (Photo by Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)
Unsurprisingly, due to its frontline coastal position, Hythe suffered at the hands of the Luftwaffe. During World War Two, in total, there were 19 air raids; 2 bouts of shelling; 11 fallen doodlebugs; 20 civilians killed (3 by a bomb that fell on and completely destroyed the Arcade in the High Street, 4th October, 1940). On 10th May, 1942, 2 people died when a bomb fell at the back of Trice’s refreshment rooms and on 21st August, 3 others perished when a bomb exploded in the air above Prospect Road and Bank Street. (Source: Ibid p. 115)
One of the worse instances of civilian fatalities took place on 15th August, 1944 when a doodlebug flattened numbers 1-5 Earlsfied Road, claiming 5 lives. In 1941, on the Hythe Ranges, close to our family’s holiday bungalow, 3 soldiers were killed by a bomb whilst practicing there. In April, 1944, all civilians (except those who lived there) were banned from sea by virtue of a 10 mile radius, this was enforced right along the coast of southern England. By the end of 1944, Hythe was a husk of its former self, battle scarred but nevertheless ready to rise again from the ashes and re-establish itself as a popular seaside resort once more. During the war, many of its residents had boarded-up their homes and moved in land which created a ghost town in their wake.
Evacuee Barrie Peacop enjoys an ice cream as he sits on a mine washed up on the beach at Deal in Kent towards the end of World War Two. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
HYTHE & SURROUNDING AREA AFTER WORLD WAR TWO
Hythe, like the rest of the country, celebrated V.E. Day on 8th May, 1945. A Victory Party was held for local children at the Old Jesson Club, St. Mary’s Bay. Hythe Town Band played as part of the area-wide celebrations, having been disbanded at the start of World War Two following call-up orders.
My family were not allowed to return to their holiday bungalow in Hythe until the Summer of 1946. When they did, it was quite a celebration by all accounts from the photographs I have seen in our archives. Summer 1945, my grandfather was still serving in Holland (more about him in a moment), therefore the Summer of 1946 was the first time all the family was able to come together and celebrate the end of the war. My mother recalls that everyone travelled down to Hythe in April 1946, this month also happened to my mother’s 2nd birthday!
The above photographs show my mother’s first experiences of the seaside and playing in the sand. However, she informs me that she was less than happy with her first ‘dip in the sea’. Apparently, a soldier and his friend were walking along Hythe beach and saw my mother and asked if they could take her into the sea for a splash. My grandmother agreed, my mother was scooped-up and as they splashed around a large wave engulfed them all. Mother was really upset, bawled her eyes and the shocked soldiers hastily placed her down on the sandy shore. She is still terrified of water today and has never liked swimming since, only learning to do so when she was in 60th decade!
My mother recalls that despite being allowed back on the beach in Hythe after the war, there were still many dangers present in doing so. Unexploded ordnance, debris such as rusty barbed wire and lots of fire bombs were common sights. Civilians were not allowed to walk on the Hythe Ranges for quite some time after the war and for obvious reasons until the sight was made safe to the public.
24th December 1945: A bomb disposal officer gently pulling a mine from the sea in Hythe, Kent. (Photo by Hamlin/Express/Getty Images)
In fact there was still barbed wire on parts of Hythe beach and by the bungalow well into the 1960s! Until 1971, just off the coast near Hythe, there was even a large piece of Mulberry Harbour wreckage that had broken-off in 1944. My mother tells me that this large piece of concrete and steel was the size of a small house.
24th December 1945: A bomb disposal officer with a mine washed up on the beach at Hythe. (Photo by Hamlin/Express/Getty Images)
Mother remembers that as she and her siblings grew-up throughout the 1940s and 1950s, discarded fire bombs and gun cartridges on the beach at Hythe were still a hazard. My grandfather insisted that everyone remained vigilant when playing on the shingle and sand. The more popular resorts in Kent, such as at St. Mary’s Bay and a little further along in Folkestone and Ramsgate, were first to have their beaches cleared of these hazards. It took a while longer for Hythe to be made safe.
13th November 1944: Authorised by the Town Council, the destruction of concrete tank barriers on the seafront at Ramsgate, Kent, finally begins. They are no longer necessary, and would only impede the return of the tourist trade. (Photo by Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
British Pathe film from 1964 featuring the bomb disposal unit operating along the Kent coastline, including Lydd, twelve miles along the coast from Hythe. They are clearing ordinance from World War Two.
3rd August 1946: The Marquis Trio performing on the sands near Dymchurch, Kent. Original Publication: Picture Post – 4152 – A Girl Drops Out Of The Blue – pub. 1946 (Photo by Merlyn Severn/Picture Post/Getty Images)
My mother remembers that holidays at the bungalow after the war until the 1960s were no-frills affairs compared to today’s beach holiday. Buckets and spades, ice-cream and swimming in the sea were the main activities. For the first decade after the war, people were still suffering the effects of rationing, money was tight and it wasn’t until the latter half of the 1950s when people’s disposable income began to rise. But these early years after the war were a time of carefree Summers, freedom to explore.
August 1955: Holiday-makers on the beach at Dymchurch, Kent. (Photo by D. Peacock/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
In the mid 1950s my grandfather purchased a new, grey, Ford Consul 204E (MKII – 1956) which meant that getting to and from the bungalow at Hythe was now much easier. In addition, photographs in our albums from this point forward, show that Summer holidays based in Hythe now included day trips further afield to places such as Pevensey and Polegate in Sussex.
My mother describes this post-war period as a time of simple pleasures, children saving their pocket money and spending it on ice-cream and souvenirs. Her favourite purchase was a doll with a crinoline dress made out of sea shells. Afternoon teas were a treat, fish and chip suppers were the norm and if they wanted candy floss then a trip to Folkestone was necessary. In the 1950s and 1960s, seaside shows at either Hythe Summer Theatre in the Institute or Leas Cliff Hall Folkestone were also included as part of the treats enjoyed by my family.
A scene from the film version of Dry Rot showing L-R: John Chapman, Diana Calderwood, Brian Rix, John Slater, and Charles Coleman (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
One of my mother’s favourite theatre trips was to see the play Dry Rot by John R. Chapman (1927-2001). This popular 1954 comedy, about dishonest bookmakers, was part of the repertory theatre in residence which ran over eight weeks at Hythe Summer Theatre in the Institute.
After the war, St. Mary’s Bay became popular again with tourists on account of its long sandy beach and The Sands Motel was often booked-up for the whole season. My mother loved visiting ‘The Bay’ to have an ice-cream and also remembers going to Dungeness sometimes too, she said they put an ice-cream kiosk in there after the war. In the 1950s and 1960s there were a number of holiday camps in ‘The Bay’, including Maddieson’s Golden Sands. A friend of my grandfather ran one of these holiday camps after leaving the army. Kent, particularly seaside towns, enjoyed a tourist boom until the 1960s when the advent of cheap foreign lure families away to foreign shores. Britain can never guarantee a rain-free Summer but the Continent could. Many seaside towns struggled to keep going, became shabby and fell into decline.
22nd August 1952: A boy dressed as Peter Pan surrounded by fairies floats down the Canal on a barge, one of the attractions at the Hythe Venetian Fête in Kent. (Photo by Stanley Sherman/Express/Getty Images)
During the war, no Venetian Fêtes took place in Hythe, the event restarted in 1946 but due to a lack of available materials to decorate floats there was no procession in 1947, it then took place annually between 1948 and 1954. My grandparents took my mother to the Venetian Fête in 1946 and each year from then on. The Fête would fall at the same time as my aunt’s birthday in August which made it an ideal family outing. From the latter half of the 1950s, it was then decided that because floats were expensive to decorate, Fêtes would take place bi-annually and this has remained the case ever since.
The Venetian Fête was always one of the highlights of my family’s Summer holiday. Even when the bungalow had been sold in the early 1970s, I remember still being taken to see the procession several times as a child on a day trip from our home in Battle and latterly Hastings. No carnival ever came close to the standard of floats that took part in Hythe’s Venetian Fête. In 2015, the Fête will take place on Wednesday, 19th August, 7pm start.
British Pathe film showcasing Hythe’s Venetian Fete (1960). Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
The RH&DR re-opened in 1946 between Hythe and New Romney and in 1947 the Dungeness section was opened by Laurel and Hardy. The New Romney to Dungeness extension was only a single as opposed to a double track because of the shortage of materials after the war.
Laurel and Hardy drive the inaugural train on the New Romney-Dungeness section of the line which had been closed since the start of the war, during the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway’s 21st birthday celebrations. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
c.1956: The size of the Hythe ticket office of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway corresponds with that of the trains themselves. The line boasts the title ‘The World’s Smallest Public Railway’. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
MY GRANDFATHER – SERGEANT FREDERICK LANGLEY, 314th/29th AA BN ROYAL ENGINEERS, KENT
My late grandfather, Frederick Arthur Langley, was born in 1916. When World War Two broke out in 1939, he joined the 29th (Kent) Searchlight Regiment, a volunteer air defence unit of Britain’s Territorial Army (TA), established in 1935. During World War Two the unit was part of the Royal Engineers.
The regiment had its origins in a group of Independent Air Defence Companies of the Royal Engineers formed in the Home counties by the TA during 1924. My grandfather’s regiment was part of the 314th (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Company which was based at Southborough and later Tonbridge, Kent.
My grandfather’s decision to join this particular regiment may have been influenced by his own father’s military service during World War One. My great grandfather, Arthur Langley, had been a Corporal in the Royal Engineers.
27th March 1942: Anti-aircraft guns ready for action below the cliffs of Dover as warning is given of approaching enemy planes. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
The 29th Kent Anti-Aircraft command played a vital role in the Battle of Britain (10th July – 31st October, 1940) which was waged in the skies, particularly over southern England. The regiment’s searchlight skills also provided an important first-line of defence along the Kent coast during The Blitz (7th September, 1940 – 21st May, 1941).
1942: Anti-aircraft gun pits in the walls along Dover’s coastline. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
An array of army searchlights illuminate the night sky over London, in the hope of spotting enemy aircraft during World War Two.
In the Winter of 1944, it became evident that the German Luftwaffe was suffering from a severe shortage of pilots, aircraft and fuel meaning that aerial bombardment of Britain could pretty much be discounted. In January 1945, the War Office began to re-organise surplus anti-aircraft and coastal artillery regiments into infantry battalions, primarily for line of communication and occupation duties, thereby releasing trained infantry for frontline service.
In this re-organisation, my grandfather’s regiment became the 631st (Kent) Infantry Regiment, RA. On 22nd January, 1945, the 631st was attached to the 59th AA Bde, which became the 307th Engineer Infantry Brigade. After an initial period of re-training, the 631st was sent to North West Europe in April, 1945 to work under the 21st Army Group and SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) commanded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969).
NAZI OCCUPATION OF THE NETHERLANDS IN WORLD WAR TWO
Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10th May, 1940 and the Dutch armed forces (apart from those in Zeeland) surrendered on 15th May. The country’s sovereign, Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962) resided in Britain during the war and whilst in exile managed the Dutch government, which had also escaped there. It was thought the Netherlands would remain neutral in World War Two like it had done in World War One. Therefore an invasion by Germany and the suffering subsequently endured by many Dutch citizens, shocked everyone.
Foreign Royalty, pic: c.1943, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, (1880-1962) Queen from (1898-1948) making a wartime radio broadcast while in exile during World War Two(Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
In 1939 there were 140,000 Jewish citizens in the country, 25,000 of whom were German-Jewish refugees who had fled Germany during the 1930s. Two thirds of the Jewish community resided in Amsterdam. In the Winter of 1940, all Jews had to be registered. On 1st May, 1942 all Jews were required to wear a yellow star. Only 40,00 Dutch Jews survived the war and 75% of the Dutch-Jewish population perished, one of the highest percentages out of all of the occupied countries in Western Europe.
During the war, approximately 400,000 people went into hiding in the Netherlands some of which were Jewish. One of the most famous of these ‘hidees’ was Annelies Marrie “Anne” Frank (1929-1945) a young Jewish girl from Germany. The Frank family moved from Germany to Amsterdam in 1933 when the Nazis gained control over Germany. In July 1942, the Franks went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookcase in the building where Anne’s father worked.
After two years, the group was betrayed and transported to concentration camps. Anne and her sister Margot were eventually transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died (probably of typhus) in February, 1945. Anne’s wartime diary, The Diary of a Young Girl, was published posthumously.
Less than 2% of the Dutch population sided with the Nazis. Immediately after occupation, democracy was abolished and parliament dissolved. The NSB party (Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging, the National Socialist Movement) a Dutch fascist and later national socialist political party were the only legal political party in the Netherlands during most of World War Two. Members of the NSB were rewarded for supporting the Nazis and as such kept positions of leadership during the occupation.
A Dutch poster from World War Two, depicting a WA man with the words ‘In dienst van ons volk, en gij? Wordt WA man’ (‘In the service of our people, and you? Become a WA man’), c.1943. The WA or Weerbaarheidsafdeling were the paramilitary wing of the Dutch Nazi party NSB, who worked in collaboration with the Germans to arrest Jews and Resistance members. Poster by Lou Manche. (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)
In 1943, the Dutch Resistance movement was strong whereas previously recruitment had been slow. In May, 1943, following the Nazi’s introduction of Arbeitseinsatz , every Dutch male aged between 18 and 45 was forced to work in German factories, particularly those bombed regularly by western Allies! Consequently, many eligible men went into hiding. Food was heavily rationed in the Netherlands and the resistance movement played a vital role in raiding distribution centres to obtain ration cards for those men in hiding. The LOLKP was the underground resistance movement organised for people in hiding.
Civilians and armed resistance fighters in a recently liberated Dutch city during World War Two force a traitor to walk the streets with a shameful sign around his neck which reads roughly ‘So we do with those who betray people in hiding,’ Breda, Netherlands, 1944. ‘People in hiding’ refers to Jews and Underground fighters trying to avoid the Nazis. (Photo by Horace Abrahams/Keystone Features/Getty Images)
Women were particularly important in the resistance movement, they tended to attract less suspicion. Membership consisted of citizens drawn from a wide range of occupations, religious backgrounds and political beliefs such as butchers, farmers, teachers and housewives.
Radios were confiscated by the Nazis who feared that the English radio broadcasters may give instructions to people of the Netherlands. Only 80% of all radios were ever handed in and many sets disappeared, hidden under floorboards, cupboards, cabinets etc. People became very resourceful and some created simple radio receivers ‘crystal receiver.
1946 Audrey Hepburn as a teenager with her mother, Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Actress Audrey Hepburn’s (1929-1993) experiences in the occupied Netherlands provide a fascinating insight in what life was like at that time. Her mother was a Dutch aristocrat, Baroness Ella van Heemstra (1900-1984) and her grandfather was Baron Aarnoudvan Heemstra, mayor of Arnhem, 1910-20.
Both Audrey’s parents belonged to the British Union of Fascists but her father was a Nazi sympathiser. When their marriage broke down in 1935, he moved to London and Audrey moved with her mother to Kent where she attended a small private school in Elham.
When war broke out Audrey and her mother moved back to the Netherlands to live in Arnhem as they believed, like many others, the country would remain neutral. In 1940, she used the name Edda van Heemstra in order to distance herself from an English sounding name. Her uncle was executed in 1942 in retaliation for an act of sabotage by the resistance movement. Her half-brother was deported to Berlin to work in a German labour camp and her other half-brother went into hiding to avoid the same fate.
Audrey attended the Arnhem Conservatory for the duration of the war but suffered malnutrition, anaemia, respiratory problems and edema, like many of her fellow Dutch citizens lack of available food had serious health implications. She supported the Dutch resistance and gave ballet performances in secret to collect money for the movement. Sometimes, she acted as a courier of messages and parcels for them, an extremely dangerous thing to do, if caught she would have been tortured and executed.
Resistance grafitti in a street in the Netherlands during the Dutch famine of the winter of 1944-45. The slogan reads ‘Eist Meer Brood’ (‘ask for more bread’). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
During the Winter of 1944-45, famine spread throughout the Netherlands. The famine had been caused by a German blockade cutting-off food and fuel shipments from farm areas. Approximately 4.5 million people were affected and many survived only due to a network of soup kitchens. Food was so scarce that people even ate tulip bulbs and sugarbeets.
In her memoirs, Audrey recalls making flour to bake cakes and biscuits from ground down tulip bulbs. Following liberation in 1945, she became extremely ill after putting too much sugar on her porridge and eating an entire can of condensed milk. It is estimated that between 18,000 and 22,000 people died that Winter.
‘Liberation of Amsterdam’ (1945) (there is no sound) by British Pathe. Allied troops parade the streets, greeted by delighted Dutch citizens after years of Nazi occupation during World War Two. Uploaded to You Tube 22.5.2013.
LIBERATION OF THE NETHERLANDS
The liberation of the Netherlands began in September 1944. The Allies crossed the Rhine in March, 1945 and Canadian forces entered the Netherlands from the east, liberating the rest of the Nazi-occupied Dutch towns. The Netherlands was largely liberated by the First Canadian Army which included Canadian Forces, the British 1st Corps, 1st Polish Armoured Division alongside American, Belgian, Dutch and Czechoslovak troops.
The 307th Engineer Infantry Brigade, of which my grandfather’s unit was part of, arrived in Europe on 23rd April, 1945. My mother recalls her father saying that conditions travelling across Europe were extremely tough. Food rations were low and soldiers did not always have the right equipment. At one point, soldiers in my grandfather’s unit were so dehydrated that they had to drink water reserved for train engines. The cold was another difficulty he encountered, he had to chew raw ginger to keep warm.
On 5th May, Canadian General Charles Foulkes (1903-1969) and the German Commander-in-Chief Johannes Blaskowitz (1883-1948) reached an agreement on the capitulation of German forces in the Netherlands in Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen. The following day, the capitulation document was signed in the auditorium of Wageningen University, next door to the Hotel de Wereld.
November 1944: Allied assault troops dash through the streets of Flushing (Vlissingen) in the Netherlands to clear out the remaining enemy snipers after the World War Two liberation of the town. (Photo by Worth/Keystone/Getty Images)
21st September 1944: Dutch citizens cheering British Sherman tanks in Holland. (Photo by Jack Esten/PNA Rota/Getty Images)
HENGELO & ENSCHEDE IN WORLD WAR TWO
Both Hengelo and Enschede are located in the Overijssel province of the Netherlands. Enschede was one of the first Dutch cities to be captured by the Nazis due to its close proximity to the German border. Enschede had a large Jewish population at the start of the occupation, approximately 1,300, only 500 of whom survived, many went into hiding on local farms with the help of resistance members.
In 1930, Hengelo had a Jewish population of 247 which increased to 360 in 1941 as a result of refugees fleeing from Germany. Jews had lived in Hengelo from the early 1800s onward and their community declared independent in 1830. The community was important in the development of the textile industry in the region.
In August 1941, the Hengelo Synagogue was vandalised by Nazis and members of the NSB. Fortunately, the building’s contents had already been removed and hidden in anticipation of such an attack. In September, 1941, Jews in Hengelo were rounded-up for deportation, this continued until the following summer. In 1951, there were only 86 Jews stilling living in the town.
On April 29th, 1943, workers in Hengelo walked out of their jobs in a protest strike. The Nazis announced that 300,000 Dutch army soldiers, previously captured in 1940 and subsequently released, were now to be recaptured and sent to German labour camps. Hengelo’s town centre was completely bombed out during an Allied attack on the 6th and 7th October, 1944. The raid killed 200 people. After days of carnage, the strikes resulted in over 180 deaths, 400 casualties, and 900 prisoners of war being sent to concentration camps.
EXHIBITION: 70th ANNIVERSAY OF THE LIBERATION OF HENGELO & ENSCHEDE, THE NETHERLANDS
Last year I posted on my Twitter account (@emmahistorian) a selection of photographs from our family archive featuring my late grandfather. In 1945, he had, together with his unit, been part of the Allied liberation of Nazi-occupied Netherlands. He was stationed in Hengelo, a city in the eastern part of the Netherlands, in the province of Overijssel, from April 1945 for approximately six months.
These photographs and associated backstory caught the attention of Dutch historian, Eric Heijink (@ericheijink) (http://www.secondworldwar.nl/enschede/ Twitter: SecondWorld.nl (@operatiemanna). Eric has curated a major exhibition commemorating the liberation of Enschede, 70 years ago this month. The exhibition opens on 1st April at the Centrale Bibliotheek Enschede and continues until 9th May, 2015. There is also a second exhibition at Synagoge Enschede which opens on 1st April and continues until 26th April, 2015.
However, the story does not end here! One of the photographs to be included in the exhibition features a local family from Hengelo, the Schuits, who had befriended my grandfather in 1945, following the town’s liberation. Together with some of his fellow soldiers, grandfather visited the family regularly, resulting in the soldiers forming an affectionate bond with the Schuits.
How do I know this? Well, conversations I have had with my family about these photographs and, more specifically, a lovely inscription written by the Schuits on the reverse of one of the photographs which reads:
To our best English friend Fred Langley in remembrance of his stay at Hengelo, Holland. Family H. J. Schuit.
I am extremely grateful to Eric’s detective work which has revealed that not only does the Schuit’s house still exist in Hengelo but both of the young brothers shown in the photograph are still alive! The eldest brother continues to live in the town. Eric made telephone contact with the youngest of the two brothers, Dick Schuit (79), who remembered my grandfather, “the Sergeant”.
Dick recalls that his parents came in contact with grandfather when trucks from his unit stopped outside their house, not long after Hengelo was liberated. The Schuit family invited him in for tea, together with several of his fellow soldiers, this tradition continued for quite a long time whilst the soldiers were stationed there. The Allies remained in Hengelo from the end of April, 1945, for approximately 6 months.
The Schuit brothers, Henrik and Dick, recall another British soldier, Jerry Barnard, a driver with the Royal Engineers, also being one of these regular visitors. On one occasion, another British soldier, ‘Jeremy’, brought with him a pair of miniature toy soldiers which he had been brought in Brussels and he gave them to Henrik and Dick.
The Schuit family lived next door to the Hotel Lansink in Hengelo, this location had its advantages. The Hotel had been commandeered by the SS as a divisional HQ (2nd Class) which meant that during regular raids on local properties, the Schuits were pretty much left alone. This was just as well as they were hiding a cousin from the Dutch town of Zwolle. The cousin had been employed in Germany but he managed to flee and seek refuge with the Schuits. He lived in hiding with the family for two months and survived the war.
The Schuit brothers remember the day Hengelo was liberated. British soldiers walking and others driving tanks down the nearby street of Julianalaan. There was one particular incident involving SS officers who were chased down the street by Allied soldiers as the men fled on bicycles. The soldiers caught-up with the officers (at gun point) and they duly surrendered.
Dick Schuit explained that the British soldiers were billeted in a nearby factory, officers were quartered in Hotel Lansink. Unfortunately, his family do not have any more photographs of my grandfather as it was very rare in 1945 for local people to own a camera. A majority of the photographs that exist from that time were taken by Allied soldiers. My mother has written to the Schuit family who are keen to re-established contact and we look forward to corresponding with the brothers, finding out more about my grandfather’s time in Hengelo as well as what life was like for the Schuits under Nazi occupation.
I was delighted to provide photographs from our family archive as well as background information about my grandfather for inclusion in the exhibition. It means a great deal to both myself and my family that he will be part of this event, a fitting tribute to a wonderful gentleman who served his country in World War Two. Grandfather was one of the lucky ones, he returned home, uninjured, to his family, after the war ended.
VE Day: Remembering Victory (BBC One – 1×90): Some of Britain’s best-loved figures from stage and screen recall the jubilation of that unforgettable day;
Britain’s Greatest Generation (BBC Two – 4×60): This major four-part series celebrates the last survivors of the Second World War, now in their nineties and hundreds, and their achievement in helping to win the war;
The BBC At War (BBC Two – 2×60): Debates about the BBC’s role were just as volatile in the 1940s as they are today. In this two-part series, Jonathan Dimbleby uncovers the story of how the BBC fought Hitler – and Whitehall – with a unique insight into one of the story’s leading players – his father, Richard Dimbleby;
Savage Peace (BBC Two – 1×60): Only at the war’s end was the true scale of human suffering and misery revealed, and so devastating was the scene that Europe was dubbed ‘The New Dark Continent’. This film will re-examine the aftermath of the War to ask if too much stress has been laid on an optimistic view of victory in Europe with celebratory images of VE day;
Fighting for King And Empire: Britain’s Caribbean Heroes (BBC Four – 1×60): In this programme, Caribbean veterans tell their extraordinary wartime stories in their own words. They also reveal how they have faced a lifelong struggle as they helped build Britain’s multicultural society – to be treated as equals by the British government and the British people;
World War Two: 1945 & The Wheelchair President (BBC Four – 1×90): David Reynolds re-examines the war leadership of American president Franklin Roosevelt. In this intimate new biography set against the epic of World War Two, Reynolds reveals how Roosevelt was burdened by secrets about his failing health and strained marriage that, if exposed, could have destroyed his presidency.
The cover of a Victory Special issue of Picture Post magazine depicting a mother and her two sons celebrating V.E. Day in Britain, at the end of World War Two, 8th May 1945 (published 19th May 1945). (Photo by Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
I was recently interviewed by BBC Inside Out (26.1.15 – 16 mins 10 secs in) for a segment to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Winston Churchill’s (1874-1965) death. Inside Out explored what Kent meant to Churchill as well as how he affected the lives of local people who worked for and met him. Churchill brought Chartwell, Westerham, Kent in 1922, the house became his lifelong family home.
Filmed on location at Hever Castle, Kent, I spoke to presenter Natalie Graham about society in 1965 Britain as well as Churchill’s painting legacy. We also discussed his friendship with John Jacob Astor V (1886-1971), 1st Baron Astor of Hever, a fellow politician, neighbour and owner of Hever Castle, one of the many Kent locations Churchill depicted in his art. Churchill encouraged Astor to paint, even giving him an easel as a gift. The easel, along with a paint-box and some of Astor’s artworks are on public display at Hever.
Occasionally with media interviews, one’s content is cut to the core and context of contribution gets lost in the editing suite. This article puts forward some of the fascinating points discussed during my original interview which sadly did not make it into the final edit. These omitted observations provide us with a fascinating glimpse into what society was like in Britain 50 years ago. Churchill’s death marked the end of the old guard and a turning point in the social history of modern Britain.
‘Churchill’s Funeral: World In Remembrance’ (1965) by British Pathe. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
On 30th January, 1965, Sir Winston Churchill’s State Funeral took place at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Churchill was the only commoner of the twentieth century to be given a State Funeral. Fifty years ago, many thousands of people, from banker to hippie, lined the city streets on a freezing cold Saturday. Millions more watched the event at home on their black and white television. Viewing this event as a grainy image would have only added to the general atmosphere of sombre reflection displayed by the viewing public.
In January 1965, there were 17.3 million televisions in private domestic households in Britain (Source: BARB), the same year approximately 16 million licences were issued. Television ownership had significantly increased since the previous televised civic event, the Queen’s Coronation on 2nd June, 1953. In that year, 13 million television licences had been issued.
A family watch television in their sitting-room. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
It was estimated that 350 million people worldwide watched the live broadcast of Churchill’s funeral. In the United States, although there was live television coverage, it had no sound. Viewers had to wait for the videotape to be flown back to New York where it was immediately transmitted to the public in full.
Twenty-four hours before the funeral, London appeared rather subdued, although underground trains were still running, there were no visible signs of an impending civic event. Unlike today where barriers are erected, roads cordoned off and a heavy police presence is the norm. In January, 1965, everything continued as normal with only a few exceptions, flags were flown at half-mast and lights in Piccadilly Circus were turned out after the funeral, a similar gesture to when Churchill’s death had first been announced a week before.
The window of Boots the Chemist in Piccadilly Circus, London, with the London Pavilion opposite, 20th April 1965. (Photo by Bert Hardy Advertising Archive/Getty Images)
After the service, Churchill’s coffin was taken by barge (the Havengore) along the Thames from Tower Pier to Festival Pier then onto Waterloo Station. The coffin continued its journey by train to Churchill’s final resting place, the Parish Church at Bladon, Oxfordshire. The interment was a private, family, affair.
People watch from their garden at Winston Churchill’s funeral train. 1965. (Photo by Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images)
The carriage that transported Churchill to Oxfordshire was a 1931, Southern Railway luggage van (n. 2464). It is now on display in the National Railway Museum, York to mark this 50th Anniversary. What interests me most about this carriage is, like Churchill, it had a long service history. During World War Two it transported vegetables and newspapers across the country. At the end of its life, this humble work horse was redeployed to perform one more public duty, perhaps the most important in its history, to deliver Churchill to his final destination on life’s journey.
Churchill’s coffin being loaded onto a train at Waterloo Station, London, before travelling to Blenheim Palace and Bladon after his State Funeral, London, 30th January 1965. The train was pulled by a Battle-of-Britain-Class locomotive named ‘Winston Churchill’. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
28th January 1965: Two members of the Womens Voluntary Service serving free cups of tea to the crowds of people queuing to see Churchill lying in state at Westminster Hall in London. The sign reads: ‘You’ve got a long wait. Free Tea! Or give what you can’. (Photo by Philip Townsend/Express/Getty Images)
My stepfather, who was working in Westminster at the time, paid respects to Churchill at Westminster Hall during his lying in state period. Dad told me that he and his work colleagues were expected to visit Westminster Hall, it was their civic duty, despite the tedium of queuing for hours on end, “at least we were given free tea whilst we waited!”, he remarked.
Many thousands of people also made the pilgrimage to London to pay their respects to a man who was so instrumental in freeing Europe from Nazi tyranny. In sixties Britain, a new generation of young people were now able to enjoy the benefits of living in a free and liberal society thanks to the sacrifices made by their parents and grandparents during World War Two.
My mother, a baby boomer, came of age in 1965. She remembers her family, neighbours and friends all watching the funeral on a black and white Bush television that had been purchased for the occasion. A number of the shops in her home town closed their shutters and a few shopkeepers put black crepe ribbons around their windows. Some employers also gave their staff the morning off of work to watch the funeral.
My mother recalls several older members of her parents’ generation wearing a black armband as a mark of respect, a tradition that had pretty much fallen out of favour with the public since George VI’s death in 1952 when this practice was commonplace.
Like so many who watched Churchill’s funeral on that wintry day in 1965, my mother particularly remembers the image of cranes along the Thames lowering their arms as the coffin, on board the Havengore, passed by. Although, this scene was orchestrated and paid for by the state rather than being a spontaneous heartfelt gesture from the ‘working man’. The dock workers who operated the cranes were actually paid to perform this manoeuvre. Some refused to do it as a point of political and personal principle.
‘A Year In Our Time’ (1965) by British Pathe. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
Churchill’s death marked the end of the old order and everything it represented, particularly Victorian conservatism. 1965 was the year that modern Britain began. Educational reforms gathered pace, new secondary modern comprehensives were created to provide a fairer system of learning for all. In hindsight, some educationalists acknowledge that the comprehensive system didn’t really work, it simply created a greater social divide within the secondary sector.
Labour MP Roy Jenkins (1920-2003) became Home Secretary in 1965. Jenkins immediately began to push forward with new legislation such as the abolition in Britain of capital punishment and theatre censorship, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, relaxing divorce law, suspension of birching and the legalisation of abortion.
The contraceptive pill first came to Britain from the United States in 1961 but until 1964 it was only available to married women for the sole purpose of regulating menstrual problems. In 1964/65 right through until the early 1970s ‘the pill’ revolutionised women’s (and men’s!) sexual freedom thanks to restrictions being lifted on the medical conditions for which the pill could be prescribed. Women could now take charge of their family planning, putting childbearing ‘on hold’ in order to pursue careers and educational opportunities if they should so wish. It wasn’t until 1974 that, controversially, ‘the pill’ became available to all women, for free, at family planning clinics.
‘The Pill’, 1965. A photograph showing a factory line of women packing boxes containing the contraceptive pill, taken by Chris Barham in 1965 for the Daily Herald newspaper. 8 million birth control pills were produced weekly at G.D. Searle’s High Wycombe pharmaceutical firm. This particular brand has the trade name ‘Ovulen’. The contraceptive pill was first distributed in Europe in 1961- recommended solely for regulating menstrual disorders in married women. By the late 1960s, however, ‘the Pill’ had come to symbolise social change, sexual liberation and women’s fight for equal rights. This photograph has been selected from the Daily Herald Archive, a collection of over three million photographs. The archive holds work of international, national and local importance by both staff and agency photographers. (Photo by Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)
28th September 1965: US actress Raquel Welch in London, in front of a poster promoting her latest film ‘One Million Years BC’. (Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)
‘Matchbox Cars’ (1965) by British Pathe. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
The Beatles go to Buckingham Palace to receive their MBEs, London, 1965. Film by British Pathe. Uploaded onto You Tube 13.4.2014.
In popular and consumer culture, 1965 was a landmark year. The Beatles film Help! debuted in London and The Sound of Music , directed by Robert Wise, was released. Mary Quant introduced the miniskirt from her shop Bazaar on the Kings Road in Chelsea, London. Sony marketed their ‘CV-2000’, the first home video tape recorder. Children’s toy ‘Spirograph’, developed by British engineer, Denys Fisher (1918-2002), was first sold.
Sony CV-2000 half-inch reel-to-reel videotape recorder. In 1965, Sony launched a domestic videorecorder, the CV2000, which would record a 30 minute monochrome 405-line tv programme on a reel of tape. It was very expensive (several thousand pounds in today’s terms) and complicated to use so it never caught on for home use. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images).
1965: A high street supermarket with shelves laden with tinned food. (Photo by Jackson/Central Press/Getty Image.
The 1960s was when supermarkets first appeared on British high streets. Customer self-service replacing shopkeepers in taupe overcoats (a la Arkwright) who individually selected and wrapped your purchases for you. Asda opened its first supermarket in Castleford, Yorkshire in 1965. Some might say that the supermarket concept, which began in this decade, altered the retail landscape of our high streets forever.
New range of central heating boilers, 1965. In a studio photograph, a model adjusts her new Autostat 502 model central heating boiler from the Victory range of gas-fired domestic heating boilers. (Photo by Paul Walters Worldwide Photography Ltd./Heritage Images/Getty Images)
c.1965: A housewife places a plate on the ledge between the kitchen and the dining room while her husband sits at a table in the dining room, England. The woman stands behind a stove. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Popular restaurant group PizzaExpress, founded by Peter Boizot, opened its first restaurant in London’s Wardour Street in 1965. Boizot was inspired by a trip to Italy and brought back to London a pizza oven from Naples and a chef from Sicily. Also this year, Kentucky Fried Chicken opened an outlet in Preston’s Fishergate, the first American fast food chain to open in Britain.
The scene outside Wandsworth prison the day after Ronald Biggs, one of the Great Train Robbers, escaped with three other prisoners. Biggs made his escape by jumping through a hole in the roof of the furniture van shown here, onto mattresses, and then out of the back of the van into a waiting car. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images).
On 7th January, 1965, identical twin brothers, Ronnie and Reggie Kray (1933-1995 & 2000) are arrested on suspicion of running a protection racket in London. On 8th July, Great Train Robber, Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Biggs (1929-2013), escaped from Wandsworth Prison having only served 15 months of his 30 year sentence. Biggs scaled the prison wall with a rope ladder and dropped down into a waiting removal van. He fled to Brussels by boat, then on to Paris where he had plastic surgery and obtained new identity papers. The following year Biggs arrived in Australia where he lived until 1970 when he fled once more, this time to Brazil, a country which did not have an extradition treaty with Britain. He didn’t return to Britain until 2001 where he was re-arrested and imprisoned but released on compassionate grounds, 6th August, 2009.
A search is carried out on Saddleworth Moor for missing children Keith Bennett (top right), Pauline Reade (bottom left) and John Kilbride (bottom right), October 1965. All three were the victims of Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The Moors murderers, Ian Brady (1938- ) and Myra Hindley (1942-2002) carried out their gruesome crimes between July, 1963 and October, 1965. Their victims were five children aged between 10 and 17 – Pauline Reade, John Kilbride, Keith Bennett, Lesley Ann Downey and Edward Evans—at least four of whom were sexually assaulted. The pair were arrested on the morning of 7th October, 1965. Their trial was held over 14 days beginning on 19th April 1966, in front of Mr Justice Fenton Atkinson.
On 8th November, 1965, The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act suspended capital punishment for murder in England, Scotland and Wales, for five years in the first instance, replacing it with a mandatory sentence for life imprisonment. When sentencing Brady and Hindley in 1966, the judge passed the only sentence that the law allowed: life imprisonment, the public were outraged.
Entertainment, Personalities, London, 29th June 1965, Five hopeful young women about to start rehearsals for West End roles in ‘Passion Flower Hotel’, L-R: Karin Fernald, Jean Muir, Jane Birkin, Francesca Annis and Pauline Collins (Photo by Bentley Archive/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
14th February 1965: Pop singer, pirate radio station operator and would-be member of parliament, Screaming Lord Sutch (David Sutch) dancing at the Black Cat Club in Woolwich. (Photo by Pace/Getty Images)
7th October 1965: Actress Britt Ekland sitting on the Mini her husband Peter Sellers (1925 – 1980) bought for her birthday, at the Radford Motor Company showroom, Hammersmith, London. (Photo by David Cairns/Express/Getty Images)
‘Diane Westbury is Miss Great Britain’ (1965) film by British Pathe. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
‘Avengers Fashion Show in 1965 – “Dressed To Kill”‘ by British Pathe. Uploaded by Vintage Fashions Channel, You Tube, 9.9.2011.
Through the ages – sackings and burnings, invader and pirates, smugglers and highwaymen, Kings and Queens, statesmen and reformers, and, in more recent years, threats of invasion, bombs and incendiaries, to say nothing of “doodle bugs.”
And yet through it all Rye seems to stand quite imperturbable and seemingly unconcerned with the passage of time, for we read that in 1263 the Friar of the Sack were allowed “to dwell in peace and quietude… in the Town of Rye,” and we can stand in the same street to-day and feel the same sense of “peace and quietude” and realize that nothing seems to have altered in the last 700 years. The peculiar appeal of Rye is that inasmuch as other towns take you back to the past, Rye brings the past ages right into the present day.
(Handbook and Guide: Rye, Winchelsea & Northiam by L.A. Vidler and W. MacLean Homan, 1950)
I spent my childhood in East Sussex, it is a picturesque county with a fascinating history dating back to the 5th Century AD when South Saxons settled there following the Romans’ departure. The ancient town of Rye, close to the East Sussex coastline, was once contained in the Manors of Rameslie and Brede. I visited Rye many times with my family and is a town that remains close to my heart.
In my collection of vintage publications there is a 1950 copy of the Rye & District Holiday Guide. It is a joy to dip in and out of this little book, a slice of nostalgia from post-war Britain. For a majority of Britons, 1950 was not a time of prosperity, food rationing was still in place and petrol rationing did not end until 26th May that year. During the early 1950s, many Britons chose to spend their holidays or days out close to home. Guidebooks, such as this one, became an invaluable resource. It was not until the end of the decade that one in three British families owned a car and venturing outside of one’s locality became the norm.
The guidebook is jam-packed full of advertisements promoting local tourist attractions as well as establishments offering that ever popular British staple, afternoon tea. In the back section there is a comprehensive accommodation list, some of the descriptions given are so charming, I thought it would be nice to share some of my favourites with you:
The Mill, Iden-by-Rye. An old Millhouse all on one floor, rooms of good size and comfortably furnished. On Bus route 2 miles from Rye and situated in country surroundings. Our own farm produce. Sandwiches willingly packed. Inclusive terms.
Monastery Guest House, High Street, Rye. Principal rooms overlooking secluded garden flanked by the original old Monastery Chapel wall (1379). Spend a restful holiday in a happy atmosphere with comfort, courtesy and consideration.
Thornton House, Northiam (near Rye). Ideal for country holidays. Good food, a happy atmosphere and every consideration. Bus and London coaches pass the gate. Inclusive terms from 4 1/2 guineas weekly.
Robin Hill is a Guest House unusual – antiquity with fine old oak beams and timbered rooms with cosy chimney corners, yet possessing every modern convenience.
Rye as a touring centre is ideal for walkers, cyclists and motorists. Rolling wooded country North and West of the town, the sea to the South, and the wonderful Romney Marshes to the East. Good roads radiate in all directions with country lanes and paths in profusion.
Rye together with its surrounding area, has long been a mecca for literary types. Playwright John Fletcher (1579-1625) was born in Rye in 1579 at the Old Vicarage House and at which his father, the Rev. Richard Fletcher, then resided as minister and preacher during the vicariate of Rev. Richard Connope, an absentee; as he would not resign in Mr Fletcher’s favour, the latter left Rye when his famous son was two years old. John Fletcher’s birthplace was pulled down in 1699 and a new house re-erected in 1701.
Henry James poses outside Lamb House c.1900. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images).
Lamb House (National Trust), Rye was home to American novelist Henry James (1843-1916) from 1897 until his death. James wrote The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904) in house’s garden room (destroyed by a bomb in World War Two). Lamb House featured as Mr Longdon’s home in The Awkward Age (1899).
E. (Edward) F. (Frederic) Benson, c.1915. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
E. F. Benson (1867-1940) moved to Rye in 1919 and lived at Lamb House. He wrote six novels and two short stories in the popular ‘Mapp and Lucia’ series. These quintessentially English novels depict life in a 1930s provincial market town. Four novels are set in Tilling, a fictional location based upon Rye. Lamb House became the model for Mapp’s, as well as for a little while, Lucia’s home, ‘Mallards’. Benson was Mayor of the Borough of Rye from 1934 and accorded Honorary Freedom of the Borough on March 22nd, 1938.
In 1773, theologian John Wesley (1703-1791) visited Rye, East Sussex, and wrote in his diary: ‘I found the people willing to hear the good word at Rye but they will not part with the accursed thing, smuggling.’ During the eighteenth century, Rye and nearby Romney Marshes were awash with smuggling activities. Bandits would smuggle goods such as brandy and tobacco in at night by boat from France to avoid high import taxes.
Arthur Russell Thorndike (1885-1972), English actor and novelist, early 20th century. Thorndike was the brother of Dame Sybil Thorndike (1882-1976). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
One of the most notorious gangs of smugglers was the Hawkhurst Gang who frequented The Mermaid Inn, Mermaid Street, Rye. Actor and author Arthur Russell Thorndike (1885-1972), born in Rochester, Kent, wrote a series of books, known as the Dr Syn series, based upon eighteenth century smuggling activities on the Romney Marshes. The main protagonist is the swashbuckling Rev. Dr Christopher Syn who leads a rebel band against the King’s press gangs.
Books in the Dr Syn series are:
Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh (1915)
Doctor Syn on the High Seas (1935)
Doctor Syn Returns (1935)
Further Adventures of Doctor Syn (1936)
Courageous Exploits of Doctor Syn (1938)
Amazing Quest of Doctor Syn (1939)
Shadow of Doctor Syn (1944)
Clip from The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh , a television adaptation of Thorndike’s concluding Dr Syn novel (but written first). This television series aired in three parts in 1963. Uploaded to You Tube 23.4.11.
A Victorian family gather to stir the Christmas pudding for luck. Christmas card of 1871 or 1872. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Of all the bountiful fare that graces the festive board at Xmas time, surely this pudding of all puddings receives the most enthusiastic welcome. Here comes the plum pudding !! Watch the eager anticipation of every member of the family – and is it not more than justified – could there possibly be anything more richly flavoured than the delectable richness of the cunningly mixed fruits and spices.
(Practical Cookery for All by Blanche Anding et al, c.1946)
November the twenty-sixth really sees the start of the preparation for Christmas in the New Forest. For that is the traditional date on which the Gypsies are allowed to start picking holly to sell at local markets and to make wreaths. Already they have filled their sacks with moss gathered from the boggy paths on the side of the hill above Abbots Well. This moss is used in foundations of wreaths…..On Christmas Eve the kitchen is very busy place. Although the cake and puddings have been made for several weeks there are still the mince pies to make, the chestnut stuffing to mix, vegetables to prepare, the trifle to make and the cake to decorate.
(A HampshireChristmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992, ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (pp, 20-23))
The countdown to Christmas has begun. For some, that statement will induce feelings of anxiety, for others, pure excitement and joy. For me, it is a mixture of both. However, now is the time to start getting organised in the kitchen, preparing menus, stockpiling your store cupboard, making your Christmas pudding, cake and mincemeat. It is also a good time to keep an eye out for bargains at your local supermarket, come 1st December, prices start to rise.
A Victorian family being served a huge flaming plum pudding at the end of their Christmas dinner. Illustration from “Eight Happy Holidays” published by E.P. Dutton & Company, New York, 1882.
In Britain this year, ‘Stir-up Sunday’ took place on the 23rd November and in 2015 it will be 22nd November. Panic not if you forgot to prepare your cake and pudding on the 23rd because you have still about a week to get organised. Don’t leave making these Christmas staples until the last minute, dried fruit needs time to absorb the alcohol which is what gives both cake and pudding that lovely rich taste and moist texture. Your Christmas cake will need to be topped-up with alcohol (known as ‘feeding your cake’) on a weekly basis until the big day.
I was recently approached by Spun Gold tv who make the popular weekly cookery show, Weekend Kitchen With Waitrose, for Channel 4 (Saturdays, 9am). Spun Gold asked me to help them with research for a forthcoming segment they were running on ‘Stir-up Sunday’. It was very good timing, I had been researching forgotten Christmas foods and customs for quite a few months. In addition, I also lent the production team a selection of vintage cookery cookbooks from my collection.
I am delighted with the finished segment, the production and presenting team (Lisa Snowdon, Steve Jones and Angellica Bell) did a fabulous job. Frumenty (see below) certainly divided the presenters! A special mention must also go to Weekend Kitchen’s excellent Assistant Producer Claire Paine who coordinated the research with myself. Claire has just started-up the excellent food blog, ‘Claire-en-Croute’ (http://claire-en-croute.com/), do have a look, it is very good.
I have reprinted below a selection of the best Christmas pudding, cake and mince pie recipes taken from my collection of vintage cookbooks. You will find recipes from the Victorian era right through to the 1960s. Hope you find a recipe that catches your eye. Don’t forget to send me images of your retro recreations or Tweet me @emmahistorian.
Vintage engraving from 1868 after the painting by Thomas Webster (1800-1886) a Victorian family sit down for their Christmas Dinner.
The origins of ‘Stir-up Sunday’ date back to the sixteenth century. In the Book of Common Prayer (1549), the following passage would be read-out to Anglican congregations on the last Sunday before Advent (or the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity):
Stir-up, we beseech thee. O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded.
Traditionally, stir-up Sunday is a communal event when family come together to help stir both pudding and cake mixture. Prince Albert (1819-1861) is thought to have encouraged the family element of stir-up Sunday, during the Victorian era. There should be thirteen ingredients in a Christmas pudding, the number represents Christ and his twelve disciples. The mixture should be stirred from east to west in honour of The Three Wise Men. The sprig of holly placed on the top of the pudding represents the crown of thorns on Christ’s head.
Medieval Christmas feast – illustration by Birket Foster, 1872. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)
History of The Christmas/Plum Pudding
The solid Christmas pudding, that we recognise today, would have once been a liquid porridge made from wheat flour. In Medieval England, frumenty was a classic grain pottage, made with almond milk, boiled beef, mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, spices and wine. Other variations on this recipe include: chopped poultry, pheasant, partridge and rabbit, sugar apples, raisins candied oranges and lemons. The fourteenth century, cookbook Forme of Cury , written c.1390 by chief master cooks of King Richard II, (1367-1400), contains a recipe for frumenty with porpoise (‘furmente with porpays’).
Christmas pudding ceremony at Greenwich Spaman’s Hospital, London, they are aboard a model of a hospital ship, ‘dreadnought’, Lady Stonehaven, Father Christmas and Father Neptune stir the pudding. 1931, 10th December. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that this liquid dish evolved into a pudding thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and flavoured with ale and spirits. In 1664, Puritans banned this type of pudding, along with mince pies, considering it to be a lewd custom, packed full of far too rich ingredients that could over stimulate the senses. It also contained alcohol, which of course for the puritans was a big ‘no no’. In 1714, King George I (1660-1727) re-introduced the pudding as part of the Christmas festive meal. As the eighteenth century progressed, meat was gradually replaced by all sweet ingredients.
A vintage colour Christmas greeting featuring a couple offering ‘Every Good Wish’, published c.1900. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Christmas pudding is sometimes referred to as ‘plum pudding’. However, before the Victorian era, plum was actually the culinary term for raisins. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, plum pudding was also called ‘plum porridge’ and was the first course at Christmas dinner. Similar to frumenty, plum porridge was made with boiled beef or mutton and when the meat was half-cooked, the broth was thickened with brown bread. Then currants, raisins, ginger, mace, prunes and cloves were added and the mixture then returned to the boil.
This porridge was sent to the table with the meat and eaten with it. Before the nineteenth century, wealthy families also ate a boar’s head which was in fact the first dish brought in for Christmas dinner. This stunning centrepiece was adorned with garlands, a lemon stuffed in its mouth and had its tusks left on. The boar’s entrance was pure theatre.
British comedians Eric Morecambe (1926 – 1984), left, and Ernie Wise stir up a Christmas pudding with actor Sir Alec Guinness (1914 – 2000) outside a mock-up of the doorway to Number 10 Downing Street, at Thames Television’s Teddington Studios during the making of their Christmas show. Original Publication: People Disc – HK0409 (Photo by Wesley/Getty Images)
The ‘pudding cloth’ or ‘clout’ was first introduced in the seventeenth century. The cloth (usually muslin) contained the wet ingredients in a round bundle securely tied around the top and boiled in the family cauldron (see Ruth Goodman’s demonstration above). Writer, Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665) describes the practice of using a wooden bowl as well as a pudding cloth. This bundle was boiled upside down in the steaming pot:
..put a linen cloth or handkerchiefs over the mouth of the dish [wooden bowl] and reverse the mouth downwards, so that you may tie the napkin close with two knots; by the corners cross or with a strong thread, upon the bottom of the dish then turned upwards all which is, that the matter may not get out, and yet the boiling water get through the line upon it on one side enough to bake the pudding sufficiently. The faster it boils, the better it will be. The dish will turn and rowl up and down in the water, as it gallopeth in boiling. An hour’s boiling is sufficient.
I must not forget to tell you, Eloise, that any of the above sort of puddings, no matter what made of, if sweet or savoury, is preferable made in a basin to being put in a cloth, which is often very dirty in appearance; while, if boiled in a basin, the paste receives all the nutriment of the meat, which, if boiled in a cloth, would evaporate in the water, if by neglect it ceases boiling. If you wish to turn it well out, thoroughly grease the inside of your basin when making. On pudding cloths: A pudding cloth, however coarse, ought never to be washed with soap; it should be dried as quickly as possible, and kept dry and free from dust, and in a drawer or cupboard free from smell.
(Soyer’s Shilling Cookery For The People by Alexis Soyer, 1860, p.103)
Christmas Pudding Charms
In the 1850s, particularly in Germany, tiny silver pudding charms were added to the mixture before cooking. There were usually six charms: boot (travel); wishbone (granting of a wish); thimble (bad luck, predicting spinsterhood); horseshoe (good luck); bell and bachelor’s button (lucky for a man). Depending on which charm you found in your pudding portion this would indicate whether you would be ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’ the following year.
It is sometimes possible to pick-up Victorian pudding charms in antique markets or on e-bay etc and reproductions are widely available on the internet. All these items come with the usual modern-day health and safety precautions. Old-fashioned replica Christmas pudding charms can be brought from Vivi Celebrations or The Charmworks.
Ingredients: ½ lb each of: beef suet, sultanas, currants, seeded raisins, breadcrumbs (white), ¼ lb each of: flour, chopped candied peel, blanched almonds and brown sugar. Grated rind of 1 lemon, ½ gill of brandy or rum, 6 eggs, ½ a grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoonful mixed spice, ½ teaspoonful salt. Method: Clean and pick the fruit and chop the almonds. Sift the flour, salt, and spices together. Add the finely shredded suet and rub it into the flour. Add the fruit and other ingredients. Mix all well together. Add the brandy. Tie in a greased and floured pudding cloth or basin, and boil for 6 hours. Perfect Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949)
Ingredients: ½ lb of flour, suet, sultanas, raisins, currants, mixed peel, carrot (raw and grated), brown sugar, peeled raw potato (grated). 1 teaspoonful each of: mixed spice, grated nutmeg and cinnamon, grated rind of lemon. ¼ lb of shelled, coarsely chopped, almonds. 1 large wineglass of rum or brandy or sherry. Method: Mix all ingredients together, put into basins. Steam eight hours, and use as required. Perfect Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949) An old family recipe about 1713.
Ingredients: 1 lb shredded Atora suet, 2 lb raisins, 1 lb currants, 1 lb sultanas, ½ lb candied peel, ¾ lb sugar, 2 teaspoonfuls baking powder, ¾ lb flour, 2 ozs sweet almonds. Rind and juice of 1 lemon. 6 eggs. 1 lb breadcrumbs. ½ nutmeg. 1 eggspoonful of salt, milk, sufficient to make right consistency. ¼ pint rum. Methods: Clean currants, stone raisins, put all the dry ingredients into a basin, blanch and chop almonds, add eggs, well beaten, grated rind of lemon, and the juice strained. Mix all thoroughly, put into greased pudding basins, cover with greased paper and steam 6 hours. Sufficient mixture for 4 puddings. The Recipe Book of Atora: The Good Beef Suet (1932)
(Plum Pudding) Ingredients: 12 oz flour, 1 lb beef suet, 1lb stoned raisins, 1 lb Tate & Lyle’s caster sugar, ¾ lb breadcrumbs, ½ lb tart apples, ¼ lb almonds, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 lemon, ½ teaspoon ground mace, ¾ pint old ale, 2 tablespoons Lyle’s Golden Syrup, ½ lb picked sultanas, ½ lb cleaned currants, ½ lb minced candied peel, 6 eggs, ½ nutmeg, 1 orange, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Method: Prepare the fruit. Put apples, peeled and cored, through a mincer with the peel and raisins. Blanch and chop almonds. Sift flour with spices and salt. Remove gristle and skin from suet and put suet through mincer with 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour to prevent it sticking. Mix all the dry ingredients in a basin. Stir in the grated lemon and orange rind. Make a hollow in centre. Add syrup, well-beaten eggs, and strained fruit juice. Lastly stir in ale, or substitute 1 glass of sherry and a glass of rum for ale. Cover pudding mixture. Stand 24 hours to ripen. Pack into well-buttered pudding basis. Cover with buttered papers and then with a pudding cloth. Plunge into boiling water, coming almost half way up the sides. Steam for 7 or 8 hours, keeping saucepan replenished with boiling water when necessary. To serve pudding, remove from pan, stand for 4 minutes, remove coverings and turn gently on to a hot dish. Sprinkle with sugar. Decorate with a spring or two of holly. Pour over a glass of brandy or rum, and set fire to it. Serve with brandy butter or brandy custard. More Every-Day Dishes Edited by Elizabeth Craig (1930s)
One dish of crushed whole wheat, sugar, spice, and raisins and skimmed new milk, simmered in a jar in the oven, or at the back of the stove overnight. It can be eaten hot or cold. A HampshireChristmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992, ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.23)
Colour lithographic illustration advertising the Centenary of Atmore’s mince meat plum pudding, Philadelphia, PA, 1876. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
Crusader’s Pie! The mince pie dates from the days of the Crusaders. It used to be called the ‘Christ’s Cradle’ and was oblong in shape instead of round. The Crusaders said the spices put into it represented the gifts of the Wise Men to the Holy Child, and the crust represented the cradle.
Ingredients: 1lb of cooking apples, 1lb of currants, 1lb of sultanas, 1lb of raisins, 1lb of chopped or shredded suet, 1lb of soft brown sugar, 1/4 lb of minced candied peel, 4 ozs of finely minced blanched almonds, 1/4 a level teaspoonful of mixed spice, 1/2 a level teaspoonful of grated nutmeg, 1/2 a lemon, 1 large wineglass full of brandy. A HampshireChristmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992, ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.25)
British magazine advertisement for mincemeat c.1930. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
Method: When the paste (pastry) has had the necessary number of turns, roll it out to about 1/4 of an inch in thickness, and line some large-sized patty-pans with it. Fill with mincemeat, cover with paste (pastry), brush over lightly with cold water, and dredge with castor sugar. Bake in a moderately hot oven from 25 to 30 minutes, and serve either hot or cold. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1915 Edition.
Method: Make 8 oz flaky pastry, and roll it out to ½ inch in thickness. Cut the required number of rounds to make lids for the patty tins to be used. Fold up the trimmings, roll 1/8 inch thick and cut out rounds to line the tins, making the rounds a size larger than the tins to allow for the depth. Line the tins, fill with mincemeat, damp the edges and put on the pastry lids. Decorate the edges with tiny flutes, make a hole with a skewer in the top of each and glaze with egg white and sugar. Bake in a hot oven (450F, mark 8) for 20-30 minutes.
Ingredients: 1 large apple (minced finely), 2 ozs each sultanas, seeded raisins, currants, and sugar, grated rind and juice of 1 lemon – more if liked. 1 oz candied peel, finely chopped. ½ teaspoonful cinnamon, ¼ teaspoonful mixed spice, 1 teaspoonful melted butter, 1oz chopped nuts, 1 tablespoonful sherry or brandy. Method: Mix all the ingredients well together. NB if brandy is used the mince will keep well. Line patty tins with pastry; fill with mince; brush round edges with water. Cover with pastry. Decorate edges with a fork. Brush over with beaten egg. Bake at No. 6 (gas) for short crust, No. 7 (gas) for rough puff pastry. Perfect Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949)
Vintage Advice On The Culinary Countdown To Christmas
Mrs Bickton Cooks’ Book by Margaret Hussey (1947):
Before the end of November make the Christmas cake and puddings.
During the first week in December make mincemeat.
During the second week in December ice and decorate the Christmas cake.
Make some plain good keeping cakes such as Madeira, Parkins or gingerbread, a few dishes with no fruit in are acceptable at Christmas time.
December 22nd and 23rd, make flaky pastry and set aside in a cool place. Make such things as biscuits, sponge cakes, jam rolls and flans, cheese straws buns.
December 24th make mince pies and sausage rolls and other pastries. Make cold supper dishes both sweet and savoury. Boil tongue or ham, make hard sauce for pudding, stew giblets, prepare bread sauce and stuffing. Singe, stuff, and truss the bird and put it in the roasting tin, prick sausages and cook these to be served cold on Boxing Day.
December 25th, put pudding on to boil early. Heat oven and put bird in. Head bread sauce and put under a cosy till wanted. Prepare vegetables, parboil potatoes and put under a cosy or round the bird, cook greens, skim giblet stock, remove the bird ¼ hour before serving and pour off dripping, then boil up the giblet stock in the pan for gravy it will not need any thickening, but strain it into a tureen or jug and keep hot till wanted. Dish up, and serve – carving will be speeded up considerably if it is begun in the kitchen, by cutting several slices from the breast and removing wing, leg and thigh from one side of the bird, the uncut side should be carried “right side out” and if possible kept to make a second dinner on Boxing Day.
Good Housekeeping’s Modern Hostess (1959):
The following time-table may be used as a guide is based on preparing a 14 lb turkey for dinner at one o’clock. 8.45am Light oven and set to moderate heat (350F, mark 4). 9am Put in turkey. Allow 15 minutes per 1lb (dressed weight) up to 14 lb; 10 minutes per lb for a heavier bird. Baste every ½ hour. If aluminium foil is used, remove it ½ hour before the end of the cooking time, in order to brown the bird. An alternative way of roasting a turkey is by the long, slow method. Cook in a very slow (250F mark ½), for the following times: 6-12 lbs 20 mins. Per lb and 1 hour 20 mins. Over 13-20 lbs. 14 mins. Per lb and 2 ¼ hours over.
10am Put pudding on to steam. 11am Lay table with silver, cutlery, glasses, etc., arrange dessert, prepare wines, set out coffee tray, etc. 11.30am Boil potatoes for 3 minutes, and meanwhile heat some dripping in a tin. Put the drained potatoes in this and place in oven. Put onion to infuse in milk for bread sauce.
12.15pm Put sausages round bird and turn them occasionally to brown them. Put the plates to warm. 12.30pm Put on water for sprouts and cook them. 12.45pm Dish up bird. Put mince pies in oven to heat up. Make gravy. Prepare coffee. 12.50pm Finish bread sauce, dish up vegetables. 12.55pm Dish pudding and keep with basin over hot water. Turn out oven, dish up mince pies and leave in warm oven. 1pm Serve the dinner.
MORE VINTAGE SEASONAL RECIPES
Perfect Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949)
Ingredients: 1 ½ pints wine jelly, 2 ozs walnuts, 1 tablespoonful rum, 2 ozs muscatels (seeded), 1 oz dates, 1 oz glace cherries, washed & dried. 3 ozs blanched dry almonds, 1 oz figs. Method: Make jelly, add rum, a few drops of lemon juice, an inch cinnamon stick. Chop roughly most of fruit and nuts. Pour a little jelly into bottom of wetted mould and set some fruit into patterns. When set pour in half-an-inch of jelly and allow to set. Fill in layers of fruit and jelly alternatively till the mould is full. Set in a cool place.
It was once the custom to celebrate the ‘Feast Of The Stars’ by holding a ‘Twelfth Night’ party. A special cake was baked for the occasion very rich and spicy. It was iced with a blue coloured icing to represent the sky and decorated with silver stars and twelve candles.
A HampshireChristmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992, ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.27)
Twelfth Night Cake
Ingredients: 8 ozs of flour, 4 eggs, 8 ozs of sugar, 9 ozs of butter, 1 level dessertspoonful of mixed spice, 6 ozs of currants, 8 ozs of sultanas, 2 ozs of candied peel, 2 ozs of glace cherries and a little milk to mix. Method: Grease a cake tin and line with paper. Prepare the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and sugar together, beat in each egg separately, stir in the sieved flour and spice, fruit, etc., alternately with the milk, adding a little of each at a time. Blend all the ingredients together, put into a prepared tin, and bake in a moderate oven of about 350F for two hours. When cold, ice with pale blue icing and decorate as suggested. A HampshireChristmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992, ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.27)
Ingredients: 8ozs plain flour, 1 level tsp baking powder, 5 ozs butter, 6 ozs soft brown sugar, 4 eggs, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, ½ teaspoon mixed spice, 8 ozs raisins, 1lb currants, 8 ozs sultanas, 2 ozs glace cherries (halved), 4 ozs mixed peel (chopped), 2 ozs chopped almonds, 1 tablespoons grated lemon rind, 2 ozs rum or sherry. Method: Prepare the fruit. Sift the flour with the baking powder and spices. Warm the beater and bowl. Cream the butter and sugar on speed 2 for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Reduce to minimum speed and tip in the sift flour, then the fruit and lemon rind, switch off as soon as ingredients are incorporated. Turn into a greased tin which has been lined with greased paper and back on a low shelf for approximately 3 ½ hours at 300F. Allow to stand in tin on a rack until cool. Turn out and pour rum over the bottom of the cake and when quite cold wrap in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin. Kenwood Recipe Book (1967).
Eggless Christmas cake from World War Two. Ingredients: 4 ozs carrot (finely grated), 2 tablespoons golden syrup, 3 ozs sugar, 4 ozs margarine, 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, vanilla essence, almond essence, 4-6 ozs dried fruit, 12 ozs self-raising flour, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 small teacup milk (slightly warmed). Method: Cook the grated carrot and syrup over a low heat for a few minutes. Cream the sugar and margarine until light and fluffy. Stir the bicarbonate of soda into the carrot and syrup mixture, then beat it into the sugar and margarine mixture, treating it as if it were an egg. Add a half a teaspoon each of vanilla and almond essence, and stir in with the dried fruit. Fold in the flour and cinnamon, and add the warmed milk to make a moist dough. Put the mixture into a greased cake tin. Smooth the top, and make a deep hole in the centre with a spoon, to stop the cake from rising too much during cooking. Put into a hot oven (gas regulo 7) then turn down to a very low heat (gas regulo 2) and bake for 3 hours.
Vintage engraving of London, England, before the Great Fire. From the Tower of St Mary Overies, Southwark, 1649.
A stunning 3D graphical representation of London before The Great Fire. Created by six students from De Montfort University taking part in the Crytek Off the Map project. Uploaded on You Tube, 8.5.2013.
On the second instant, at one of the clock in the morning, there hapned to break out, a sad in deplorable Fire in Pudding-Lane, neer New Fish-Street, which falling out at that hour of the night, and in a quarter of the Town so close built with wooden Pitched houses Spread itself so far before day, and with such distraction to the inhabitants and Neighbours, that care was not taken for the timely preventing the further diffusion of it, by pulling down houses, as ought to have been; so that the lamentable Fire in a short time became too big to be mastered by any Engines or working neer it. It fell out most unhappily too, that a violent Easterly wind formented it, and kept it burning all that day, and the night following spreading itself up to Grace-Church-Street and downwards from Cannon-Street to the Water-side, as far as the Three Cranes in the Vintrey….
By the favour of God the Wind slackened a little on Teusday night and the flames meeting with brick buildings at the Temple by little and little it was observed to lose its force on that side,..On Thursday by the blessing of God it was wholly beat down and extinguished. But so as that Evening it unhappily burst out again a fresh at the Temple, by the falling of some sparks upon a Pile of Wooden buildings; but his Royal Highness who watched there that whole night in person by the great labours and diligence used, and especially by applying Powder to blow-up the Houses about it, before day most happily mastered it.
(Above extracts are from The London Gazette – Monday 3rd September – Monday 10th September, 1666, Whitehall, 8th September, 1666)
Why Did The Great Fire Of London Happen?
The Great Fire of London began at approximately 1am on Sunday 2nd September, 1666. That summer had been exceptionally dry and London was in the midst of a drought. Buildings, made of timber covered in pitch and tightly packed together, had dried out in the heat. In effect, by Sunday 2nd September, London was a giant tinder-box, vulnerable to even the smallest source of ignition.
…old paper buildings and the most combustible matter of Tarr, Pitch, Hemp, Rosen, and Flax which was all layd up thereabouts.
(An unknown correspondent writing to Lord Conway, September, 1666, describing the buildings along the wharves of London)
Introduction to Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.
Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop one. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.
Sunday 2nd September, 1666
The fire started at the bakery of Thomas Farriner (Farynor) on Pudding Lane and one of the fire’s first victims was Farriner’s maid. The fire spread down Fish Street Hill towards London Bridge, destroying St. Magnus’ (The Martyr) church. It spread onto London Bridge, along the Thames to the Steelyard. In the City, forty-four company halls, including Fishmongers’ Hall, burned down and St. Margaret Fish Street Hill is completely destroyed. At 4am, Lord Mayor, Thomas Bludworth (1620-1682), comes to look at the fire and declares: ‘A woman might piss it out’
By 9am, fire had spread around the City, inhabitants desperately tried to save their belongings, removing them to north of the City. It is around this time, rumours begin that London is under either French or Dutch attack.
In 1666, Britain was at war with the Dutch. The Second Anglo-Dutch War began on 4th March 1665 and didn’t end until 31st July 1667. As fire raged in the City, inter-racial tensions, particularly towards Dutch citizens and Catholics, reached dangerous levels. On 4th September, there was even an attempt to assassinate the Portuguese ambassador. Violence street crime was endemic and lynch mobs combed the City hunting for suspicious foreigners to ‘weed out’.
By midday, fire had spread north above Thames Street and Merchant Taylors’ Grammar school is burned to the ground. The King, Charles II (1630-1685), appears with his brother, James, Duke of York at 3pm on the royal barge to observe the fire.
Diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), who lived in London when the Great Fire broke out, wrote a detailed eye witness account of the event. His diaries are important historical documents that provides us with a fascinating insight into what happened during those fateful four days in September, 1666.
The diary, in multiple volumes, was intended for his own personal use only and not publication. This comes as no surprise when you read some of the more racier entries which detail his lust for the ladies. Pepys wrote the diaries using a form of shorthand, popular at the time, called Tachygraphy. The text was not transcribed until the early nineteenth century. In 2014, much of his diary reads like a Twitter timeline, shortened sentences, jam-packed full of happenings.
Diary entry by Samuel Pepys for Sunday 2nd, September, 1666
(Lord’s Day) Some of our mayds sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast today, Jane called us up about three in the morning to tell us of a great fire they say in the City. So I rose and slipped on my night-gowne and went to her window, and thought it to be on the back-side of Marke-lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and to sleep.
About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window and saw the fire not so much as it was, and further off. So to my closett to set things to rights after yesterday’s cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down to-night by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish-street, by London Bridge.
So I made myself ready presently and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson’s little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at the end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge. So with my heart full of trouble, I down to the water-side and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire.
Poor Michell’s house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loath to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys till they were, some of them burned, their wings, and fell down.
Having staid, and in an hour’s time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods and leave all to the fire; and having seen it get as far as the Steele-yard, and the wind mighty high and driving it into the City, and every thing after so long a drought proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, I to White Hall and there up to the King’s closet in the Chappell, where people come about me and I did give them an account dismayed them all, and word was carried in to the King.
So I was called for and did tell the King and Duke of Yorke what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor from him and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way. The Duke of York bid me tell him that if he would have any more soldiers he shall.
Here meeting with Captain Cocke, I in his coach which he lent me, and Creed with me to Paul’s, and there walked along Watling Street as well as I could, every creature coming away loaded with goods to save, and here and there sicke people carried away in beds. Extraordinary good goods carried in carts and on backs. At last met my Lord Mayor in Canning-Street like a man spent, with a handkercher about his neck.
To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman, “Lord! What can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it,” That he needed no more soldiers; and that, for himself, he must go and refresh himself, having been up all night. So he left me, and I him, and walked home, seeing people all almost distracted; and no manner of means used to quench the fire.
The Great Fire of London 1666. Painting. Dutch School. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)
The houses, too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tarr, in Thames-street; and warehouses of oyle, and wines, and brandy and other things. I saw Mr Isaake Houblon, the handsome man, prettily dressed and dirty, at his door at Dowgate receiving some of his brothers’ things, whose houses were on fire; and, as he says have been removed twice already, and he doubts (as it soon proved) that they must be in little time removed from his house also, which was a sad consideration. And to see the churches all filling with goods by people who themselves should have been quietly there at this time. By this time it was about twelve o’clock; and so home, and soon as dined, away and walked through the City, the streets full of nothing but people and horses and carts loaden with goods.
They now removing out of Canning-streete (which received goods in the morning) into Lumbard-streete, and further. Met with the King and Duke of York in their barge, and with them to Queenhithe, and there called Sir Richard Browne to them. Their order was only to pull down houses space; and so below bridge at the water-side, but little was or could be done, the fire coming upon them so fast. River full of lighters and boats taking in goods, and good goods swimming in the water, and only I observed that hardly one lighter or boat in three that had the goods of a house in, but there was a pair of Virginalls in it.
Charles II (1630 -1685).
Having seen as much as I could now, I away to White Hall by appointment, and there walked to St. James’s Parke, and there met my wife and Creed, and walked to my boat; and there upon the water again, and to the fire up and down, it still increasing, and the wind great. So near the fire as we could for smoke; and all over the Thames, with one’s face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of fire-drops. This is very true; so as houses were burned by these drops and flakes of fire, three or four, nay, five or six houses, one from another.
When we could endure no more upon the water, we to a little ale-house on the Bankside, over against the Three Cranes, and there staid till it was dark almost, and saw the fire grow; and, as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire.
We staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it. The churches, houses and all on fire and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruine. So home with a sad heart, and there find poor Tom Hater come with some few of his goods saved out of his house, which is burned. I invited him to lie at my house and did receive his goods, but was deceived in his lying there, the newes coming every moment of the growth of the fire; so as we were forced to begin to pack up our owne goods and prepare for their removal; and did by moonshine (it being brave dry and moonshine and warm weather) carry much of my goods into the garden, and Mr Hater and I did remove my money and iron chests into my cellar, as thinking that the safest place.
And got my bags of gold into my office ready to carry away, and my chief papers of accounts also there, and my tallys into a box by themselves. So great was our fear, as Sir W. Batten hath carts come out of the country to fetch away his goods this night. We did put Mr Hater, poor man, to bed a little; but he got but very little rest, so much noise being in my house taking down of goods.
Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop two. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.
Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop three. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.
Monday 3rd September, 1666
Just after midnight, the post office on Cloak Lane burns down. Before dawn, fire reaches the eastern end of Cannon Street. Thames Street is next, followed by Cutlers’ Hall in Cloak Lane. By 10am, it reaches Queenhithe, then Lombard Street and Gracechurch Street.
The commercial districts are threatened when fire reaches Cornhill and the Royal Exchange. In order to stop the fire in its tracks and create a break, buildings on the south side of Cornhill were pulled down. Unfortunately, discarded rubbish in the street caught fire and ignited properties to the north side of Cornhill. Fearing civil unrest, the militia are sent in to help restore order and assist with fire fighting duties. Towards the end of the afternoon, Threadneedle Street succumbs and St. Benet Finke’s church is destroyed.
By evening, Cordwainer Street, Friday Street, Bread Street, Salters’ Hall, Derby House, Baynards Castle, St Mildred Poultry, St. Christopher-le-stocks, St. Bartholomew Exchange, Grocers’ Hall and Mercers’ Hall are all effected by fire.
Diary entry by Samuel Pepys for Monday 3rd, September, 1666
About four o’clock in the morning my Lady Batten sent me a cart to carry away all my money and plate and best things to Sir W. Rider’s at Bednall-greene: which I did, riding myself in my night-gowne in the cart, and, Lord! To see how the streets and the highways are croded with people running and riding, and getting of carts at any rate to fetch away things. I find Mr W. Rider tired with being called up all night and receiving things from several friends. His house full of goods, and much of Sir W. Batten’s and Sir W. Pen’s. I am eased at my heart to have my treasure so well secured.
Then home, with much ado to find a way, nor any sleep all this night to me nor my poor wife, but then, and all this day, she and I and all my people labouring to get away the rest of our things. The Duke of Yorke come this day by the office and spoke to us, and did ride with his guard up and down the City to keep all quiet (he being now Generall, and having the care of all).
This day, Mercer being not at home but against her mistress’s order gone to her mother’s, and my wife going thither to speak with W. Hewer met her there, and was angry; and her mother saying that she was not a ‘prentice girl, to ask leave every time she goes abroad, my wife with good reason was angry, and when she came home bid her be gone again. And so she went away, which troubled me; but yet less than it would, because of the condition we are in fear of coming into in a little time of being less able to keepe one in her quality.
At night lay down a little upon a quilt of W. Hewer’s in the office, all my owne things being packed up or gone; and after my poor wife did the like, we having fed upon the remains of yesterday’s dinner, having no fire nor dishes, nor any opportunity of dressing any thing.
Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop four. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.
Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop five. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.
Tuesday 4th September, 1666
In the early hours of Tuesday morning houses are destroyed in Whitefriars in an attempt to halt the fire. By dawn, Cheapside is ablaze and at midday the fire reaches Salisbury Court, Guildhall and St. Paul’s School is burned to the ground. The Sessions House in the Old Bailey, Ludgate and Newgate Prisons are next. Upon evacuation to Southwark, many of the prisoners escaped.
Early evening the fire had still not abated and next to be destroyed were Inner Temple and buildings along Fleet Street. To stop the fire spreading towards Whitehall, buildings from Somerset Houses to Charing Cross and Scotland Yard are pulled down or have their roofs removed. The fire is now raging along both sides of Fleet Street and heading towards Chancery Lane. At 8pm St. Paul’s Cathedral goes up in flames.
Diary entry by Samuel Pepys for Tuesday 4th, September, 1666
Up by break of day to get away the remainder of my things. Sir W. Batten not knowing how to remove his wine did dig a pit in the garden and laid it in there; and I took the opportunity of laying all the papers of my office that I could not otherwise dispose of. And in the evening Sir. W. Pen and I did dig another and put our wine in it, and I my Parmazan cheese as well as my wine and some other things.
This afternoon, sitting melancholy with Sir W. Pen in our garden, and thinking of the certain burning of this office without extraordinary means, I did propose for the sending up of all our workmen from Woolwich and Deptford yards (none whereof yet appeared), and to write to Sir W. Coventry to have the Duke of Yorke’s permission to pull down houses rather than lose this office, which would much hinder the King’s business.
So Sir W. Pen he went down this night, in order to the sending them up to-morrow morning; and I wrote to Sir W. Coventry about the business, but received no answer. This night Mrs Turner (who, poor woman, was removing her goods all this day, good goods into the garden, and knows not how to dispose of them) and her husband supped with my wife and I at night in the office, upon a shoulder of mutton from the cook’s, without any napkin or anything, in a sad manner, but were merry.
Only now and then walking into the garden, and saw how horridly the sky looks, all on a fire in the night, was enough to put us out of our wits; and indeed it was extremely dreadful, for it looks just as if it was at us, and the whole heaven on fire. I after supper walked in the darke down to Towner-streete, and there saw it all on fire.
Now begins the practice of blowing up of houses in Tower-streete, those next the Tower, which at first did frighten people more than any thing. W. Hewer this day went to see how his mother did, and comes late home, telling us how he hath been forced to remove her to Islington, her house in Pure-corne being burned; so that the fire is got so far that way, and all the Old Bayly, and was running down to Fleete-streete; and Paul’s is burned, and all Cheapside. I wrote to my father this night, but the post-house being burned, the letter could not go.
Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop six. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.
Wednesday 5th September, 1666
The Whitefriars district is on fire and Shoe Lane is threatened by the flames. Lambs Building in Middle Temple are destroyed and all buildings along the Strand are blown-up to stop the fire spreading. By evening, the fire is starting to be contained and west of the city is no longer ablaze.
Diary entry by Samuel Pepys for Wednesday 5th, September, 1666
I lay down in the office again upon W. Hewer’s quilt, being mighty weary and sore in my feet with going till I was hardly able to stand. About two in the morning my wife calls me up and tells me of new cryes of fire, it being come to Barkeing Church, which is the bottom of our lane [Allhallows Barking, in Great Tower Street, nearly opposite the end of Seething Lane].
I up, and finding it so resolved presently to take her away, and did, and took my gold, which was about £2,350, W. Hewer and Jane down by Proundy’s boat to Woolwich; but, Lord! What a sad sight it was by moone-light to see the whole City almost on fire, that you might see it plain at Woolwich as if you were by it. There when I come I find the gates shut, but no guard kept at all, which troubled me because of discourse now begun that there is plot in it and that the French had done it, I got the gates open, and to Mr Sheldon’s, where I looked up my gold and charged my wife and W. Hewer never to leave the room without one of them in it, night or day.
So back again, by the way seeing my goods well in the lighters at Deptford and watched well by people. Home, and whereas I expected to have seen our house on fire, it being now about seven o’clock, it was not. But to the fyre, and there find greater hopes than I expected; for my confidence of finding our Office on fire was such that I durst not ask any body how it was with us till I come, and saw it not burned.
But going to the fire I find, by the blowing up of houses and the great helpe given by the workmen out of the King’s yards sent up by Sir W Pen, there is a good stop given to it, as well as at Marke-lane end as ours; it having only burned the dyall of Barking Church and part of the porch, and was there quenched. I up to the top of Barking steeple and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw; every where great fires, oyle-cellars and brimstone and other things burning.
I became afeard to stay there long, and therefore down again as fast as I could, the fire being spread as far as I could see it; and to Sir W. W. Pen’s, and there eat a piece of cold meat, having eaten nothing since Sunday, but the remains of Sunday’s dinner. And having removed all my things and received good hopes that the fire at our end is stopped, I walked into the town, and find Fanchurch-streete, Gracious-streete, and Lumbard-streete all in dust.
The Exchange a sad sight, nothing standing there of all the statues or pillars but Sir Thomas Gresham’s picture [statue] in the corner. Walked into Moorefields (our feet ready to burn, walking through the towne among the hot coles), and find that full of people, and poor wretches carrying their goods there, and paid twopence for a plain penny loaf; thence homeward, having passed through Cheapside and Newgate Market, all burned, and seen Anthony Joyce’s house in fire. I also did see a poor cat taken out of a hole in the chimney joyning to the wall of the Exchange, with the hair all burned off the body and yet alive.
So home at night, and find there good hopes of saving our office, but great endeavours of watching all night, and having men ready; and so we lodged them in the office and had drink and bread and cheese for them. And I lay down and slept a good night about midnight.
Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop seven. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.
Thursday 6th September, 1666
In the early hours of Thursday morning, an isolated fire breaks out in Bishopsgate but is soon extinguished.
Diary entry by Samuel Pepys for Thursday 6th, September, 1666
Up about five o’clock, and there met Mr Gawden at the gate of the office to call our men to Bishop’s-gate, where no fire had yet been near, and there is now one broke out. I went with the men, and we did put it out in a little time; so that that was well again. It was pretty to see time; so that that was well again. It was pretty to see how hard the women did work in the cannells, sweeping of water; but then they would scold for drink, and be as drunk as devils.I saw good butts of sugar broke open in the street, and people go and take handsfull out and put into beer and drink it.
And now all being pretty well I took boat over to Southwarke, and took boat on the other side the bridge and so to Westminster thinking to shift myself, being all in dirt from top to bottom; but could not there find any place to buy a shirt or pair of gloves, Westminster Hall being full of people’s goods; but to the Swan, and there was trimmed, and then to White Hall, but saw nobody, and so home.
A sad sight to see how the River looks, no houses nor church near it, to the Temple, where it stopped. To Sir R. Ford’s and there dined on an earthern platter; a fried breast of mutton; a great many of us, but very merry, and indeed as good a meal, though as ugly a one, as I ever had in my life. Thence down to Deptford, and there with great satisfaction landed all my goods at Sir G. Carteret’s safe, and nothing missed I could see, or hurt.
This being done to my great content, I home and to Sir W. Batten’s, and there supped well and mighty merry, and our fears over. From them to the office, and there slept with the office full of labourers, who talked and slept and walked all night long there. But strange it was to see Cloath-workers’ Hall on fire these three days and nights in one body of flame, it being the cellar full of oyle.
Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop eight. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.
Friday 7th September, 1666
Diary entry by Samuel Pepys for Friday 7th, September, 1666
Up by five o’clock, and blessed be God! Find all well; and by water to Paul’s Wharfe. Walked thence and saw all the towne burned, and a miserable sight of Paul’s church, with all the roofs fallen, and the body of the quire fallen into St. Fayth’s; [St. Faith’s church was in the crypt under the choir of old St Paul’s]; Paul’s school also, Ludgate, and Fleet-street, my father’s house and the church and a good part of the Temple the like.
So to Creed’s lodging near the New exchange, and there find him laid down upon a bed, the house all unfurnished, there being fears of the fire’s coming to them. There borrowed a shirt of him and washed. To Sir W. Coventry at St. James’s, who lay without curtains, having removed all his goods, as the King at white Hall and every body had done and was doing.
He hopes we shall have no publique distractions upon this fire, which is what every body fears, because of the talke of the French having a hand in it. And it is a proper time for discontents; but all men’s minds are full of care to protect themselves and save their goods. The militia is in armes every where. Our fleetes, he tells me, have been in sight one of another, and most unhappily by fowle weather were parted, to our great losse. So home and did give orders for my house to be made clean.
This day our Merchants first met at Gresham College, which by proclamation, is to be their Exchange. Strange to hear what is bid for houses all up and down here, a friend of Sir W. Rider’s having £150 for what he used to let for £40 per annum. Much dispute where the Custome-house shall be; thereby the growth of the City again to be foreseen.
I home late to Sir W. Pen’s, who did give me a bed, but without curtains or hangings, all being down. So here I went the first time into a naked bed, only my drawers on, and did sleep pretty well; but still both sleeping and waking had a fear of fire in my heart, that I took little rest.
People do all the world over cry out of the simplicity of my Lord Mayor in general; and more particularly in this business of the fire, laying it all upon him. A proclamation is come out for markets to be kept at Leadenhall and Mile-end-greene and several other places about the towne, and Tower-hill; and all churches to be set upon to receive poor people.
Aftermath Of The Great Fire Of London
The Great Fire gutted the medieval City of London inside of the Old Roman City Wall. Westminster and Charles IIs Palace of Whitehall were spared. In total, thirteen thousand two hundred houses were lost, eighty-seven Parish Churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, were destroyed. Approximately, 85% of the City’s inhabitants lost their homes.
There were only six verified and officially recorded deaths associated with the Great Fire, however, this is by no mean an accurate indication of the final death toll. In 1666, deaths of the poor and middle-classes were never recorded and many of victims were cremated by the fire. Civil registration of ALL births, marriages and deaths, in England and Wales, did not become law (Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1836) until 1st July, 1837.
Charles II set-up a special Fire Court to deal with disputes between tenants and landlords of burned buildings. The aim was to expedite the decision-making process relating to who should be responsible for rebuilding each property. The decision of the Court was based upon an individual’s ability to pay. The Court was in session from February 1667 until September 1672. Cases were heard and verdicts given on the same day. New legislation was also created. The Fire of London Disputes Act 1666 was overseen by twenty-two judges of the Kings Bench, Court of Common Pleas and Court of Exchequer.
There is a Monument to the Great Fire of London, designed by one of the City’s most influential post-fire architects, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). Robert Hooke (1635-1703) assisted Wren in the Monument’s design. The structure was erected near to Pudding Lane.
‘The Striking Parallels Between the Political Situation During the Great Fire of London and 2014’ by Political Editor of ITV News, Tom Bradby. (ITV online 23.10.2014);
The Great Fire of London – London Fire Brigade’s website, click here.
ITV’s new four-part series, written by Tom Bradby, inspired by historical events of 1666 with the decadent backdrop of King Charles II’s court, The Great Fire, can be seen now on ITV Player. Click Here.
Emma, the Editor of Come Step Back in Time, reads ‘A Letter From Folkestone by Miss Moneypenny’, written in August 1914 and reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald (30.9.1914) – A snapshot of life on the home front in Folkestone, at the beginning of World War One.
Monday 4th August, 2014, marked the Centenary of the outbreak of World War One. A hundred years ago the coastal town of Folkestone became one of Britain’s most important front-line locations. A gateway to France and the Western Front, eight million troops passing through there during the war.
In undying memory of the many million officers and other ranks, both men and women forming The Naval, Military, Air and Red Cross Services of the King’s Imperial and Colonial Forces who crossed the seas in 1914-1919 to defend The Freedom of The World (dedication taken from the Harbour Canteen books).
(Inscription on one of the memorial plaques close to Folkestone’s Memorial Arch)
I visited Folkestone on Monday to witness the day’s commemorative events which had been organised by Folkestone-based educational charity, Step Short. His Royal Highness Prince Harry unveiled a steel Memorial Arch on The Leas, alongside Folkestone’s seafront, as well as laying a wreath at the nearby war memorial.
WW1 At Home Remembers: World War One At Home – BBC (2014)
In the car park of Folkestone Harbour, a tented complex formed part of BBC World War One At Home’s Live Event. For more information about this BBC initiative, which is currently touring the UK until the end of September, CLICK HERE. I took the opportunity of visiting the Imperial War Museum’s (IWM) cabin which is also part of this BBC heritage pop-up. The IWM’s ‘Lives of The First World War’ project is an excellent idea, allowing members of the public to research life stories of those who served in Britain and the Commonwealth on both the home and fighting fronts. These individual stories can be from your own family or somebody you wish to research and be remembered. The researcher then has the opportunity to contribute their findings to the project’s vast on-line public database.
My great grandfather was a Corporal in the Royal Engineers during World War One and I had hit a bit of a block with my research. On Monday, access to public records was free to search in the IWM’s mobile exhibit and I was able to view my ancestor’s medal record as well as obtain his correct service number. I am looking forward to moving my research to the next level. For more information about this interactive IWM project, CLICK HERE.
On Monday, I also met-up with Kent director, Samuel Supple, whose World War One experimental documentary, Time Bleeds (2013), was filmed on location in and around Folkestone using a cast of local people. The film was shown on giant screens throughout the town as part of the day’s events.
Samuel also participated in a series of live panel Q & A’s organised by BBC Radio Kent in conjunction with BBC World War One At Home. Afterwards he took me on a tour of Folkestone pointing out various locations that had provided him with inspiration to create Time Bleeds. Mr Supple certainly knows his World War One local history!
During World War One, the above property situated on The Leas, Folkestone and now private flats, was Manor House Hospital. Samuel told me that it was a chance conversation with a librarian about a former VAD at Manor House, that begin his creative journey to Time Bleeds. An extraordinary diary/scrapbook belonging to VAD, Dorothy Earnshaw, has survived and can be viewed on-line HERE.
When Samuel looked at the album, several years ago, he was struck by the level of detail contained in the document. This artefact provides us with an insight into the intense emotional bond that exists between carer and patient as well as being a snapshot of life in a home front hospital during wartime. Samuel remarked: ‘The album reminded me of how we use Facebook and social media today to record our daily lives, leaving comments for our friends and loved ones. Documenting our thoughts, hopes and activities. There is a convergence of time and in that moment the idea came to me for Time Bleeds.’
Time Bleeds is an experimental documentary inspired by real-life wartime events in Folkestone and the aim of the project was to reconnect its participants with their own World War One heritage. Samuel also drew inspiration from contemporary works such as ‘The War Game’ (1965) by Peter Watkins and ‘Self Made’ (2010) by Gillian Wearing. Time Bleeds is a collection of interwoven stories drawn from either personal archives or local public records and explores the questions: “What if we forget?”; “What happens if these stories are lost forever?” and “What would happen if 1914 Folkestone became Folkestone in 2013 – would time bleed?”
Time certainly did appear to ‘bleed’ on Monday in Folkestone. Khaki clad living history groups mingled with royalty, civic dignitaries, war veterans and members of the general public wearing rain coats and clutching umbrellas. A heady mix of uniforms and casual attire, time had merged, for just one historic, but important, day.
Listen to Director, Samuel Supple, discussing Time Bleeds in 2013, with BBC Radio Kent host, Dominic King.
I have myself become very interested in Folkestone’s many fascinating home front and military World War One stories. Regular readers may remember an article I wrote earlier this year about the infamous White Feather Campaign (featured in Time Bleeds) which began in Folkestone. A notorious and controversial wartime Campaign, the brainchild of conscriptionist Admiral Charles Cooper Penrose-Fitzgerald (1841-1921). On 30th August, 1914, Penrose-Fitzgerald galvanized into action thirty women in Folkestone, many of whom were holidaying there, encouraging them to hand-out white feathers to men not in uniform.
The importance of Folkestone as a centre of military intelligence in World War One is another topic that has dominated my reading this year. I assisted with research on BBC Inside Out documentary, The Spies Who Loved Folkestone presented by writer Anthony Horowitz whose Alex Rider series of spy novels have captivated a whole generation. This drama documentary was Produced by Samuel Supple.
Because of its location, Folkestone was an ideal target for German spies. The town provided a point of entry and departure to Britain. Not long after war was declared in 1914, Germany lost its entire network of spies in Britain and was keen to re-establish its espionage infrastructure. If you were caught and convicted of spying, death by bullet in The Tower of London was the most likely outcome.
Spy-mania in Folkestone, as well as across the rest of Britain, was rife. Local newspapers were full of stories of suspected spies. Local Kent hoteliers, Mr and Mrs Wampach, (proprietors of Wampach Hotel, 33, Castle Hill Avenue, Folkestone), were victims of persecution. Their hotel was requisitioned for war service between 1914 and 1918 and the couple were subsequently treated unjustly by the authorities. The Wampachs were actually from Luxemburg and had themselves lost a son (Cyril Constant Julian) in the war. The distrust of non-British subjects was not just a national obsession, it became one’s patriotic duty to ‘weed-out the aliens’, otherwise you could find yourself the subject of suspicion.
Security, particularly in ports such as Folkestone, was extremely tight. The area was populated with Civil Police, custom officers, Aliens officers, Embarkation officers and Military Police. If you travelled by car from Folkestone to London in 1914, you would liable to be stopped by Special Constables no less than twenty-four times during your seventy mile journey. The arteries of subterfuge were well and truly blocked (or so the authorities thought!).
The British Intelligence Services were established in 1909. During World War One, Folkestone was full of British counter-intelligence officers. The town became HQ of a tripartite bureau, including French and Belgian intelligence officers and was under the control of Colonel George Kynaston Cockerill (1867-1957). The British section was based at 9, Marine Parade, and headed-up by the notorious renegade spy, Captain (later Major) Cecil Aylmer Cameron (1883-1924).
Spy-mania found a fertile soil in unbalanced brains. A girl of sixteen would confess to her mistress that she had fallen into the toils of a master-spy, who would beckon to her through the kitchen window with gestures that could not be disobeyed, and she would go out for the night, returning with a wonder story of gags and blindfolding, of a black motor-car and a locked room in a distant suburb, and the discovery of a soldier’s gloves in her box, did nothing to shake her story.
(‘Truth About German Spies: How They Came To England’, The World’s News, 12.7.1919)
BBC Radio 4’s major new drama series, Home Front, began transmission on Monday 4th August, 12 noon. This is by far BBC radio’s most ambitious production to date. The show’s Editor is Jessica Dromgoole. There are six hundred episodes, across fifteen seasons and these will continue to air until 2018. Although the stories are fictional, they are rooted in historical truth. The first season is set in World War One Folkestone. CLICK HERE;
For more information about Viola Films, CLICK HERE;
For more information about BBC’s World War One At Home initiative, CLICK HERE.
By Henry Chappell
YOU boasted the Day, and you toasted the Day,
And now the Day has come.
Blasphemer, braggart and coward all,
Little you reck of the numbing ball,
The blasting shell, or the “white arm’s” fall,
As they speed poor humans home.
You spied for the Day, you lied for the Day,
And woke the Day’s red spleen.
Monster, who asked God’s aid Divine,
Then strewed His seas with the ghastly mine;
Not all the waters of the Rhine
Can wash thy foul hands clean.
You dreamed for the Day, you schemed for the Day;
Watch how the Day will go,
Slayer of age and youth and prime,
(Defenceless slain for never a crime),
Thou art steeped in blood as a hog in slime,
False friend and cowardly foe.
You have sown for the Day, you have grown for the Day;
Yours is the harvest red.
Can you hear the groans and the awful cries?
Can you see the heap of slain that lies,
And sightless turned to the flame-split skies
The glassy eyes of the dead?
You have wronged for the Day, you have longed for the Day
That lit the awful flame.
‘Tis nothing to you that hill and plain
Yield sheaves of dead men amid the grain;
That widows mourn for their loved ones slain,
And mothers curse thy name.
But after the Day there’s a price to pay
For the sleepers under the sod,
And He you have mocked for many a day —
Listen, and hear what He has to say:
“VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.”
What can you say to God?
Henry Chappell (1874-1937), known as the ‘Bath Railway Poet’, found fame after the above propaganda poem, about suspected German atrocities during the war, was published in the Daily Express, 22nd August, 1914. The poem was subsequently published in an anthology of his work in 1918, The Day and Other Poems.
The handsome Pier which your lordship has so kindly consented to open may be taken as an additional proof of the desire of the residents of this place to render their town as attractive and beneficial as possible to the numerous visitors who are in the habit of resorting thither.
It was certainly a singular thing with respect to an enterprise of this novel character, which would have been almost impossible 50 years ago, and if steam and electricity had not brought Hastings so near the metropolis. It was originally intended to associate a harbour with the pier, but that part of the scheme had been abandoned.
It happened he [Earl Granville, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports] had not seen many of the most modern piers, but, as far as his experience went, he had never seen a more beautiful work designed for enjoyment, recreation, and restoration of health. It appeared to him that this was a peerless pier – a pier without a peer, excepting, perhaps, the unfortunate peer who had the honour of addressing them.
He would only add further that he trusted the pier would give enjoyment, recreation, and restoration of health not to hundreds, not to thousands, but to millions of their fellow-countrymen, that it would give some reasonable profit at all events to the shareholders, who had actuated not so much by purely commercial motives as by an honourable public spirit, and that it would confer all the advantages upon that ancient town and delightful watering-place which the promoters of the undertaking had a right to expect.
(Quotes from a contemporary newspaper, 6th August, 1872, reporting on the opening of Hastings Pier)
It was announced last week that the first planks of wooden decking have been laid at Hastings Pier in East Sussex. This event marks the first stage of a £14m project which will result in the historic Victorian pier reopening, Spring 2015. Back in October 2010, this iconic structure suffered 95% damage in an arson attack and its future looked very bleak indeed. But thanks to determination shown by the people of Hastings, a new chapter in the pier’s history has begun, which will see its reinvention as a vibrant seaside attraction, capable of meeting the demands of the 21st Century visitor.
The surviving Edwardian balustrade will be repaired at the Parade Extension, metal trusses, and beams, missing bracing, damaged columns and missing deck sections will also be replaced and/or repaired. The rest of the structure will be rebuilt/refurbished in a new, contemporary, design.
The Grade II listed landmark became property of Hastings Pier Charity (HPC) in August 2013. So far HPC have raised £13.7m but need a further £500k to complete the project. This regeneration enterprise is funded via a combination of £11.4m awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund together £2m raised by public donation and institutional sources. It is hoped that the £500k shortfall will be filled via a Community Share Scheme, whereby members of the public have until early April 2014 to purchase £1 shares (to a minimum value of £100 per person). The first £200k of this shortfall is required to fund a walkway over the sea. Hastings Pier was originally built under an 1867 Act of Parliament which allowed local investors to subscribe to its construction. Back then, a total of £25,000 was raised and the pier cost £23,250 to build.
The rise and fall and rise again of Hastings Pier is now the subject of a major new BBC documentary by Producer/Director Matthew Wheeler.The End of The Pier Show will be shown on BBC2, at 5.30pm, Sunday 16th March. The programme is a celebration of the golden age of the British seaside pier as well as exploring its fascinating two hundred year old history. There are also on-screen contributions from me.
2014 marks the bicentenary of Britain’s first pier which opened in Ryde, Isle of Wight, on the 26th July, 1814. On the 12th July, 1880, a railway opened on the pier and in 1924, Southern Railway took over its ownership. When the pier opened it was extremely popular.
Shortly after Ryde Pier opened, The Royal Pier Hotel was built in the town, specifically to cater for increased number of passengers visiting the attraction. After the Second World War, the pier’s pavilion concert hall was converted into a ballroom, known in the 1950s as the Seagull Ballroom. The structure is now Grade II listed.
I have long had an interest in the social history of piers and seaside culture. Perhaps this is due, in part, to having spent my childhood growing-up on the South Coast of England and taking regular trips to the seaside with my family. I also lived in Hastings for many years and remember its pier very well, so am delighted that it is being given a new lease of life.
Hastings Pier opened on St. Lubbock’s Day, Monday 5th August, 1872. Unfortunately, the day was blighted by torrential rain and storms; perhaps an omen for the pier’s future which has been blighted by fires, storms, bombings and an arson attack. On its opening day, a special train service ran from London Bridge at 08.30am direct to Hastings, costing five shillings for a return fare. The ceremony had all the pomp you would expect from a grand civic occasion in Victorian Britain. One contemporary newspaper article reported:
The rain being heavy the streets were not very crowded, and nearly everyone carried an umbrella. The pier was gaily decorated with innumerable flags floating from the sides, and volunteers and fireman lined the approach to the pavilion. When the Lord Warden arrived at the entrance he was loudly cheered. Protected by a waterproof, he walked up the pier during a pelting rain, being preceded by the Royal Marine band playing, the coastguardsmen, the Mayor and corporation, and the principal functionaries of the pier company. The Countess Granville found shelter from the storm in a bath chair and Mrs Brassey, the wife of the member for the borough, and some other ladies reached the pavilion by joining the procession in the same kind of vehicle.
The pier was located on the Hastings side of the dividing line between Hastings and St. Leonards, opposite the Sussex Infirmary which was eventually knocked down to make way for the White Rock Theatre (opened 1927). The pier’s architect, Eugenius Birch (1818-1884), built many of Britain’s iconic piers including Eastbourne, Bournemouth, Margate, and the former West Pier in Brighton.
Birch was a brilliant engineer who is credited with being the first pier architect to use screw piling to stabilise his structures. Hastings had three hundred and sixty cast-iron columns fixed using this method. Birch’s architectural design for Hastings Pier was in the Alhambra style, a Moorish inspired aesthetic which gave the building an air of exoticism and sought to inspire in its visitors a mix of fantasy scenarios and promise of hedonistic pleasures.
Prior to the Victorian era, a visit to the seaside had been the preserve of well-to-do aristocrats who would have had enough money to support such a trip. These jaunts were predominantly to ‘take the sea air’. Salt-water bathing was considered the very best cure for aches and pains, as well promoting all-round well-being. During the eighteenth century, the concept of a ‘seaside resort’ developed in tandem with the ‘health resort’. King George III (1738-1820) helped to popularise sea bathing and regularly visited Weymouth in Dorset. His first visit was in 1789 when he hoped that the sea water and fresh air would aid recovery from his first attack of porphyria. He continued to visit Weymouth regularly until 1805. The transition of the seaside from a medicinal haven to a resort bursting with leisure pursuits and activities, is perfectly illustrated by the social history of the pier.
Historically, piers have always been revenue generating. Halfpenny would get you onto the pier, sixpence into the pavilion or dance hall at the end and of course a small fee of a penny to hire a deck chair or sit down on the fixed seating lining the promenade deck. Hastings had two thousand six hundred feet of continuous seating and a pavilion with seating enough for two thousand patrons. On both sides of the pavilion there were landing stages that were suitable for pleasure steamers, row-boats and yachts to pull-up alongside. This would certainly have helped to increase visitor numbers to the pier. During its first decade of trading, Hastings Pier was extremely successful and on St. Lubbock’s Day, Monday 6th August, 1883, approximately nine thousand four hundred people passed through its turnstiles in just one day. A healthy footfall for a leisure attraction even by today’s standards. It is no wonder then, local governments in late Victorian Britain considered the pier a worthy financial investment.
The Industrial Revolution had transformed Britain’s travel infrastructure resulting in the expansion of canal ways and of course the development of an extensive rail network connecting inland towns to seaside locations. The pier became the epicentre of any vibrant seaside venue, a pleasure palace where the holiday maker could forget their woes for an afternoon. The greater range of attractions and facilities offered by a pier, the more enticing it would be. Visitors also needed places to stay, eat and shop which meant that the rest of the town profited. A seaside town with its own pier, made good financial sense.
The history of the British pier is also interwoven with the history of class and social conventions. Victorians and Edwardians were fixated with strict codes of conduct and social hierarchy, whether it was in the workplace, travelling, in the home or leisure activities, cross-class interaction was strongly discouraged by the ruling elite. However, the pier is one of the few spaces where these rules appear to have been relaxed a little. Perhaps due in part to the fact that the structure, although connected to the land, was sufficiently distanced from it so as to create a sort of ‘no-man’s-land’ where nobody really knew what rules to adhere to.
The pier became a melting pot of people drawn from all walks of life both male and female. Unchaperoned young ladies could promenade, accompanied by their female companions, with little disapproval. However, liberal attitudes must have been pushed to their limits on Bournemouth pier. In the early 1900s, a bylaw was introduced to prohibit loitering on the pier for the purposes of prostitution!
The Industrial Revolution had also created a new social infrastructure. The emerging middle classes had surplus income and skilled working people were now better paid. Consequently, by the end of the nineteenth Century, Britain’s economy was booming and leisure pursuits were increasingly popular. The Bank Holiday Act of 1871 was passed by Liberal politician and banker Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913) which designated four public holidays every year. The August public holiday (known as St. Lubbock’s Day in honour of Sir John) was traditionally set as the first Monday in the month and remained so for the following hundred years until 1971, when it changed to the last Monday in August and remains in place to this day. A newspaper reporting in 1872 about the new Bank holidays observed:
Employers have found that a day’s re-cooperation is not a day lost for themselves or their servants. The day’s leisure secured, then comes the question, how it is to be enjoyed; and here the facilities are increasing to a manifold extent. The railways running from London put forth tempting programmes of excursions to all the most pleasant places in our isle. Our readers may be glad to be reminded that trains for Dover leave the South Eastern station at London Bridge at 07.55am, and for Margate and Ramsgate at 07.40am. The new pier at Hastings is to be opened on Monday, and a train will run from London Bridge 08.30am, the return fare being five shillings. The Great Eastern will run the usual excursions from Bishopsgate to Hunstanton and to Harwich, Dovercoart, and Walton-on the Naze; and, in common with most other lines, offers an extended time for ordinary return tickets over the Bank holiday.
The Saturday to Tuesday excursions to the Isle of Wight offer a delightful holiday; while for those who cannot spare the time a day trip is arranged for Monday. While thousands will be drawn to the coast by the attractions of yellow sands and the prospect of a dip in the briny, there are a few who will prefer the calmer pleasures of rural scenery. At this season we are looking forward to a more extended holiday than that of a single day, and are preparing for tours in all directions. The Graphotyping company opportunely send us a parcel of their instructive and valuable shilling guidebooks, which we cordially recommend to travellers. All the books are embellished with maps and illustrations.
St. Lubbock’s Day was more popular in the south than the north where ‘wakes week’ were favoured. The wakes week began in the Industrial Revolution and consisted of a week’s unpaid leave, taken during the months of June to September, in which the factories, mills, collieries and other industrial outlets closed to enable workers to have a rest or take a holiday. During wakes week, firms often provided transport to the seaside for their workers. A holiday to the seaside was a popular choice for families if they could afford the return train fares.
Tourist guidebooks during the late Victorian era right-up until the Second World War were very popular. Even during the late Victorian era and for those who could afford it, short trips to Paris, France were also an option. Following the advent of motor travel, at the end of the nineteenth century, tourist guidebooks quickly developed into bulging tomes packed full of endless travel possibilities throughout the British Isles.
By the outbreak of war in 1939, approximately fifteen million people a year were visiting British seaside resorts. These resorts needed to offer the casual day-tripper, as well as the long stay holiday-maker, an excellent range of activities. Resorts became a one-stop destination seeking to satisfy all of your holiday requirements. Competition between towns to attract visitors was very fierce indeed.
Hastings Pier had an impressive selection of facilities including a bowling alley (1910), shooting gallery, bingo hall and from the 1930s a Camera Obscura (so too did Eastbourne Pier). Roller skating rinks could also be found on a number of piers. This was an activity first popularised by the Edwardians and continued to be a favourite with visitors until the 1970s. St. Leonards pier (which no longer exists) had a rink, so too did Boscombe (from the 1960s); South Parade Pier and Clarence Pier in Southsea; Southampton’s Royal Pier (1906); Victoria Pier, Folkestone (1910) had the ‘Olympia’ rink on the shoreline, to the pier’s west.
Bournemouth took a rather novel approach to this craze and instead of a purpose-built rink, they installed hard-wearing, teak decking so that visitors could roller-skate along the length of the pier. Southsea in fact boasted two roller rinks, one at the end of South Parade pier and The Open Air Roller Rink and Dance Floor located at the Bandstand Enclosure on the nearby Common.
Andrew and Robert Pearce, Southsea businessmen and owners of two award-winning bridal shops in the area (Creatiques and Inspired Bridal by Creatiques) recently shared with me their childhood memories of Summers spent in Southsea. Robert told me: ‘My family have always lived in the area and we regularly took trips to Southsea seafront. I loved to roller skate when I was a teenager. I used to skate quite a bit on the rink at South Parade Pier.’ I am grateful to Robert for providing me with the above photograph, taken in the 1920s, showing his grandparents on Southsea beach. South Parade Pier is just about visible in the background. I have also found a charming photograph, from c1908, showing two young ladies roller skating on the pier’s rink. Click Here.
During the Second World War, south coast piers, including Hastings, were breached, usually in the middle section, to hamper an invasion attempt and stop the pier being used as a landing stage. The only time in their history when these structures have been deliberately disconnected from the land. During the war, Hastings Pier was taken over by the armed forces and did suffer quite a bit of bomb damage as well as near-misses by V1 and V2 rockets. The pier re-opened to the public in 1946.
The pier enjoyed a second Golden Age in the 1950s, particularly during the decade’s latter half. Car ownership had increased and Britain was in the midst of a consumer credit boom. Day trips to the seaside were back in vogue and the pier was once again an entertainment hub to be found at the heart of nearly every British seaside resort.
Many big names from the world of variety took-up summer residencies at pier theatres, pavilions or dance halls along the coast. Bournemouth was a favourite of Sid James, Arthur Askey and Freddie Frinton, Brighton attracted light entertainment favourites Dick Emery, Tommy Trinder and Doris and Elsie Waters.
Portsmouth at one time had four piers: The Albert (1847), The Victoria (1842), The Clarence (1860) and South Parade, Southsea (1879). The latter three were pleasure piers and The Albert was used predominately as a landing stage, it no longer exists but today the Harbour railway station operates on the same site. The Victoria was originally built as a landing stage for the steam packet ferry trade to the Isle of Wight and France. When The Clarence opened in 1860, the Victoria’s popularity declined. The current Victoria Pier, dates from 1930.
During Summer months in the 1950s, South Parade Pier had band concerts in the pavilion every Sunday evening, Sid and Woolf Phillips, Tito Burns, Harry Gold and his Pieces of Eight with Sam Costa, Jack Parnell, Dickie Valentine, Lita Rosa and Dennis Lotis were just some of the headline acts. South Parade’s variety acts included Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, Bob Monkhouse and Derek Roy, playing to full houses every night. In 1974, the pavilion and main building on the pier burnt down during the filming of Tommy (1975) dircted by Ken Russell. It had to be rebuilt the following year at a cost of £600,000.
Unfortunately, these halcyon days did not last for long. During the 1960s, cheap foreign air travel and continental package holidays posed a threat to the pier’s survival. Holidaymakers could now jet-off abroad and enjoy guaranteed sunshine by the sea. By the early 1970s, a number of piers had fallen into a state of disrepair, revenue had dwindled and further investment looked unlikely. Sadly, many piers never recovered. Neglect as well as ownership issues were by-products of a British iconic that the public had simply fallen out of love with. It is only in recent years that interest in reviving and restoring these structures has gained momentum. Perhaps driven by the current trend for nostalgia coupled with the popularity of ‘staycationing’ due to the sluggish economy. Whatever the reason, the important point to make is that some of these structures, such as Hastings pier, are now being given a second chance to become a thriving seaside attraction once more.
This rather jolly documentary about Hastings pier was originally shown in the South East region earlier this year. But the demise of the seaside pier is a familiar tale repeated all around our coast and so a wider audience deserves to see it. Much like a stick of rock there are glorious old photos and film clips all the way through it, although the footage of the 2010 fire that threatened to make it Britain’s 42nd lost pier is a sad sight. Happily the much-loved structure is being restored to its glory days when 56,000 people passed through its turnstiles in just one week. Worth watching wherever you live.
A guided tour around Dickens’ Birthplace in Portsmouth, Hampshire with the author’s great-great-great granddaughter, Lucinda Dickens Hawksley. (2012, Telegraph.co.uk/Video)
There are many reasons to love Dickens, but I particularly love him because he’s such a magnificently capacious and versatile writer — gripping storyteller, gorgeous stylist, with such a vibrant command of metaphor and character. As a novelist, in terms of technique, there’s nothing he doesn’t do well. He’s got great intelligence but also has great heart. He’s unruly, predictable, chaotic, exciting. And in that sense he’s inexhaustibly new and inspiring, like Shakespeare. His worlds are big and all-encompassing; he always has something new and surprising to tell us.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Charles Dickens was born on the 7th February, 1812 at 387 Mile End Terrace, Landport, Portsea (now known as 393 Old Commercial Road, Portsmouth) and lived in the area for the first three years of his life. The Dickens family also lived at 16 Hawke Street in Portsea (from June 1812) and 39 Wish Street, Southsea (from December 1813). In 1904, the former family home at Mile End Terrace became Charles Dickens’ Birthplace Museum.
His father, John Dickens (1785-1851), managed the Dockyard’s Navy Pay Office from Christmas 1807 until January 1815 (his family left during the Winter of 1814). This was a turbulent and expensive time to be living in Portsmouth, Britain’s Navy was still at war with Napoleonic France (1799-1815). Rents across the city, particularly for properties located near the Dockyard, were very high. Landlords seized the opportunity to profiteer from the increased demand for rental property, particularly among military personnel.
John Dickens earned a reasonable living for the time, which in 1809 amounted to a salary of £110 per annum, rising to £220 by the time he left in 1815. However, the rent book for Mile End Terrace does show that John Dickens allowed himself to get into difficulties with the rent and arrears were not uncommon. All this being an early indication of Dickens Sr’s inability to manage the household finances properly. A pattern of behaviour that would, in later years, lead to some very difficult times for the Dickens family.
Having left Portsmouth as a child, Charles did not return until 1838 when he undertook a three week visit researching characters for Nicholas Nickleby (1838). In 2012, inspired by the tale of Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens’s great-great-grandsons Ian and Gerald, walked from London to Portsmouth wearing top hats and tracing the same route taken in the novel by Nicholas and his companion Smike. However, there was one small difference, Nicholas and Smike completed their journey in two and a half days, Ian and Gerald took five. The aim of the walk was to raise £50,000 for the Dickens Statue Fund.
Charles Dickens made two further visits to the city as part of a reading tour. In 1858, he recited extracts from A Christmas Carol (1843) at the Music Warehouse in Portsea and in 1866, performed a reading recital which was made-up of passages from Pickwick Papers (1836) and David Copperfield (1849). He gave this recital at St. George’s Hall in Portsea. In 1866, a Portsmouth journalist wrote:
As the greatest novelist of his day and as one who has laboured long and earnestly in his profession, not merely to amuse and gratify his readers, but to instruct and direct them, he has been wonderfully successful and done an immense amount of good.
Dickens was an enthusiastic, amateur actor and prone to over-acting when reading aloud. He loved the theatre and often performed in a company that he himself had set-up. On the 4th July, 1856, his company entertained Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and her court, also present in the audience were Hans Christian Anderson (1805-1875) and W. M. Thackeray (1811-1863).
The Charles Dickens’ Birthplace Museum will be open on Friday 7th February, 2014, 10-5pm. Free admission on this day. At 10.30am on the 7th, the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth and a representative from the Dickens Fellowship will be toasting Charles Dickens’ and giving a few words in honour of the author’s birthday. Additionally, the Museum will be open on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th February as well as between Sunday 16th and Wednesday 19th February. On these days, normal admission charges will apply:
If you want to find-out more about Charles Dickens, his family and their lives and work in Portsmouth, there is an illustrated talk taking place at The City Museum on Sunday 9th February (2.30pm, £3 per adult). For more information on this event, click here.
After their early years in Portsmouth, the Dickens family moved house fairly frequently and financially, times were tough. It is not for us to say whether or not young Charles had an unhappy childhood but what we can say is that it was far from settled and certainly full of adventure, both good and bad. In 1815, John Dickens moved his family to a house at No. 10 Norfolk Street (now 22 Cleveland Street), St. Pancras, London. In 1817, he uprooted his family once more so that he could take-up a post as clerk in the Navy Pay Office at Chatham Dockyard. The family lived initially at No. 2 Ordnance Terrace in Sheerness then moved to The Brook, 18 St. Mary’s Place, Chatham in 1821.
A tour around Charles Dickens’s London with actor Simon Callow. (2012, Guardian.co.uk).
Dickens – From Boy To Man
In the Summer of 1822, the Dickens family moved to No. 16 Bayham Street, Camden Town, London. Initially, everything went well for the Dickens family until they fell upon hard times as a result of living beyond their means. Charles Dickens’s father was arrested for debt on February 20th, 1824 and his family (with the exception of Charles) were consigned by creditors to the Marshalsea Prison in Southwark. Charles was sent to work ten hour days at Warren’s blacking-warehouse (3 Chandos Street, Hungerford Market) where he earned six shillings a week pasting labels on pots of boot blacking. During this period, he boarded with a family friend at 112 College Place, Camden and later a garret in Lant Street, Southwark. The income Charles earned helped his family keep their heads above water. John Dickens was released from Marshalsea on 28th May, 1824. The family was reunited at 29 Johnson Street, Somers Town.
Between 1824 and 1827, Dickens attended Wellington House Academy, North London. The Academy fell short of providing young Dickens with a solid educational foundation. In his view it was poorly managed, chaotic and standards of teaching were below what one would expect from such an establishment. Dickens began his professional career in May 1827 when he began work as a junior clerk at law firm Ellis & Blackmore of Holborn Court, Gray’s Inn where he remained until November 1828.
Charles Dickens: Literature’s Great Rock Star. (2013, CBS Sunday Morning).
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 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 (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.
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) , 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.
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.
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
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”.
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.
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.
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-makeris 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.
In 2011, award-winning Kent-based production company, Violafilms, made Magwitch (2012). A period film that acts as a prequel to Great Expectations (1860). Shot entirely on location in Kent, this slick and stylish production sets-out to explore further, the relationship between convict Abel Magwitch (Samuel Edward-Cook) and Molly (Candis Nergaard), lawyer Jaggers’s (David Verrey) feisty housemaid.
The film’s writer and Director, Samuel Supple, grew-up in a village just outside of Rochester, Kent. He remembers visiting St. James’ Church in Cooling as a young boy. In the churchyard there are thirteen, lozenge-shaped gravestones of young children, belonging to two families, who died in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Dickens used the setting as inspiration for his opening chapter of Great Expectations:
..to five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine – who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle…My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard..
(Dickens, C. (1998) , 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.’
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.”‘
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 Expectationsmet 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.’
‘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.’
‘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.”‘
‘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.’
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.’
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.