Saturday, 20 October 2018

The Meon Valley Railway - friendly, pleasurable, beautiful by Carolyn Hughes

Last month’s blog looked at the literary and historical associations of the route along which the Meon Valley Railway once ran, many of which associations referred to people and times well before the railway actually existed. This month, I am going to relate a little more about the railway itself, and the purposes it served during its brief half-century lifespan.
Route of the MVR, adapted from
the map in R.A. Stone’s book,
The Meon Valley Railway, 1983,
Kingfisher Railway Productions.

Agriculture and horticulture

As might be expected in such an agricultural region, a good deal of non-passenger traffic for the Meon Valley Railway (MVR) came from shipping farm produce. In this part of Hampshire, the produce included watercress, fruit (especially strawberries and apples), milk and cattle. The London & South Western Railway (LSWR) put on special market-day trains, with both passenger carriages and livestock cars, that allowed farmers to accompany their livestock. There were local “pick-up/set-down” goods services all along the line, which called at every station to deliver and pick up any waiting goods.
Watercress has been grown in Hampshire for centuries. The area’s geology, with its chalky downlands, cut by clear chalk streams, provides perfect growing conditions. Apparently, in the 1800s, working people often ate watercress sandwiches, collecting the wild leaves themselves from rivers and streams. Watercress had a reputation as a panacea for everything from lethargy to baldness, scurvy and even freckles. Its popularity led to watercress farms being established throughout Hampshire. It was grown in gravel beds over which ran a constant flow of water from the mineral-rich springs fed by rainwater leaching through the chalk.
The commercial viability of Hampshire watercress received a boost in 1865, when a new railway line was opened between Alton and Winchester, connecting at each end with the existing LSWR line. The new railway was called the Mid-Hants Railway, although in time it became known as the Watercress Line, because it transported so much Hampshire watercress to London’s Covent Garden Market. One of the line’s principal stations was at Alresford, which was essentially the “watercress capital” of Hampshire. But watercress was also grown in the Meon Valley, at Warnford – in beds that are still actively producing watercress – and, when the MVR was built, it connected with the Mid-Hants railway at Alton, providing a fast route to London for the Meon Valley watercress growers. The Watercress Line is now a heritage railway.
Watercress beds at Warnford Photo © Tony Grant / cc-by-sa 2.0
The lower half of the MVR line ran through an extensive market gardening area. Strawberry growing was a very important industry for the area during the late 1800s to mid 1900s. An area just north of the Solent, around Titchfield and Fareham, bounded by the rivers Meon and Hamble, proved ideal for strawberry growing, the rather poor stony soil suiting the shallow-rooted plants, and a warm prevailing wind from the Solent reducing the risk of frost in the critical flowering weeks. In 1889, a LSWR station was built at Swanwick, a little to the north-west of Titchfield, specially to serve the local strawberry industry. In the late 1800s, the area produced as many as 7,000 tons of strawberries each year. During the weeks of the strawberry harvest, Swanwick station became one of the busiest stations on the south coast with the box vans of the “strawberry special” trains heading off to Covent Garden and across the country. But, while Swanwick was perhaps the focal point for the transport of strawberries, “strawberry specials” were also run on the MVR, with whole trains of strawberries being loaded at Mislingford and Wickham.
In the mid 1800s, the owner of the manor of Wickham, which included an area of the Bere Forest, built a settlement of houses for his forestry tenants, each house having an acre of land, at a place that was then, and still is, called Hundred Acres. The tenants found that the area was very suitable for growing fruit, and in particular for the production of early strawberries, and a few years later strawberries began to be grown there commercially. Initially the fruit was taken to Fareham station, six miles away, for onward transport to the London market and elsewhere. But the viability of the enterprise improved even further when the MVR was opened with a station at Wickham, only two miles from Hundred Acres.
It was in the 1960s that competition from imported fruit began to drive many producers out of business, and by the 1980s strawberry-growing as an industry in Hampshire was essentially over.
Strawberry fields in Hampshire
In the early days of the railway, all the MVR stations would have seen farmers bringing their milk in churns by horse and cart for despatch to the dairy at Portsea Island, in special milk vans attached to the normal passenger services. Livestock too travelled frequently on the line, to and from markets at Alton and Fareham. West Meon station was apparently the scene of the livestock of entire farms arriving by rail from such far away places as Cumberland and Northumberland, the farmers having hired special trains for the purpose. This must have been quite a sight!

Wartime use
With each outbreak of the two world wars, for the MVR, as for most railways, traffic increased, with the passage of troop trains bound for the docks and France. A box van was added to all MVR trains to cater for extra parcels and troops’ luggage.
In 1940, the MVR line received some attention from the German bombers. Droxford Station was hit and two railway workers' cottages were demolished. Bombs were dropped either side of the line at Soberton although they missed the track, but West Meon tunnel was also targeted and a stretch of track was damaged. Apparently, desperate telephone calls were made after this attack, in an attempt to stop the train coming down the line from Alton, and what might have been a serious accident was avoided. 
However, the MVR did have an important role in the Second World War. During the build-up to D-Day, men and equipment had to be moved to the south of England, and large numbers of tanks were moved by rail to Mislingford  goods yard, from where they were then dispersed to local lanes and fields for temporary storage. Mislingford was also the site of a temporary wooden platform to serve the large number of Canadian troops who were encamped in the Forest of Bere.
The remains of the Mislingford goods yard.
Public domain.
I have mentioned this before, in a previous History Girls post, but I will repeat a little anecdote about Mislingford. The old loading gauge at Mislingford still stands (if nowadays much hidden by vegetation) on what is now the Meon Valley Railway trail (which follows the old railway from West Meon to Wickham), so you can pass by it as you walk the trail. I’m not really a particularly mystical person, but I have occasionally sensed a “something” at this spot… The ghosts perhaps of those D-Day soldiers disembarking from the trains? The clanking of those tanks being unloaded from the trains? There is actually a timber yard close by, so maybe it has only ever been the rumble of machinery and the sound of workmen’s voices that I’ve heard…? Or maybe not…
But the railway’s most famous wartime role came in June 1944, when the War Cabinet met Allied leaders in a special train parked at a heavily guarded Droxford station. When the train arrived, in it were just the British prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill, and the prime minister of South Africa, General Jan Smuts. Next day they were joined by Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, and Ernest Bevin, the Minister of Labour, who arrived by car. And, the following day, the prime ministers of Canada, New Zealand, and Rhodesia came too, and Dwight Eisenhower, the president of the United States, drove across from his nearby base at Southwick House. They were there to discuss the D-Day invasion.
Although the meeting was officially kept secret from Droxford residents, it seems that Churchill had chosen the station because it was near the coast and to the Allied command centre at Southwick. But there was also some speculation that the site was thought particularly secure because the train could be largely hidden by overshadowing beech trees, and there was a deep cutting into which it could be shunted if it came under attack.
Anyway, in the evening of the final day of their meeting, the 5th June, Churchill’s train pulled out of Droxford station and returned to London. And, shortly after midnight the following morning, Allied troops attacked Pegasus Bridge and, soon thereafter, the American airborne landings in Normandy began.
Droxford Railway Station in 1968 By Lamberhurst
 from Wikimedia Commons

Decline and death of the railway

With all the early excitement and anticipation of what the MVR might bring to the region, and despite its obvious value to the local agricultural and horticultural community, the line never fulfilled its initial promise.
As early as the years following the First World War, there seemed to be little or no demand for passenger traffic. The hoped-for London through-traffic never materialised, and after only a few years the London to Gosport services were cut back. During the summer months, Sunday excursion trains to the sea ran down the line, originating from Ascot and Farnham, but, without sufficient normal, daily passenger traffic, the line never really prospered, becoming only a rural branch line and a Hampshire railway backwater. The tourist traffic to the resort area of Stokes Bay (near Gosport) also failed to grow, with steamers preferring the more established ports at Portsmouth and Southampton. From then on the MVR only handled regular traffic between Fareham and Alton, and it wasn’t long before it became clear that there was no need for a frequent train service. Cutbacks were already being made by 1922.
It does seem that insufficient effort was made to promote the railway's services, with cheap fares, convenient schedules and more publicity. But, as early as the 1920s, there was also increasing competition from road traffic, with more and more commercial vehicles making serious inroads into railway revenue by competing for the carriage of goods. This applied to all railways, not just the MVR: rail passenger travel, as well as freight traffic, declined everywhere. And all railways began to make cuts.
Yet there did remain a demand for the MVR from local farmers: sometime in the 1920s, the parishes of Corhampton and Meonstoke asked LSWR to provide a halt in Meonstoke to “assist the local farmers in the transport of milk etc to the towns”. The potential site of such a siding was marked by a short piece of rail set into the ground, but the siding was never built. However, though the section of rail remained in place until 1960, when it was discovered by a farmer cutting hay, and damaged his machinery. The rail was then presumably pulled up!
But the MVR was an early candidate for closure and, in 1955, passenger traffic was withdrawn completely and freight traffic reduced. Local people protested, but to no avail. However, when the National Farmers Union made a strong objection to the closure on the grounds that the line was much used during the busy sugar beet season, an enquiry was at least launched into their case. But the closure proceeded nonetheless.
And so, in February 1955, a mere 52 years after the MVR had opened, the Hampshire Chronicle reported its final day:
“On Saturday last, February 5th, the Meon Valley Railway closed, and the last public trains left Alton to travel “down” at 4.30pm and Fareham to do the “up” journey at 7.46pm.”
Passenger numbers rocketed in the final weeks of operation, as people took their final ride on the railway. That very last train was apparently full of people, many of them, the paper asserted, people who often “attended the last rites of dying railways”. Many local people also watched the train’s final journey from the fields beside the track and from the stations’ platforms.
This MVR closure was long before the “Beeching Axe” of the 1960s, when many well-used yet still “uneconomic” railways were closed. Although goods services did continue for a few more years on the MVR, with a once-a-day service from Fareham as far as Droxford, and a similar service from Alton as far as Farringdon, by 1968 both services had ended.
There does seem little doubt that, when the Meon Valley Railway was closed to passenger traffic, it had been shown quite clearly to be unsustainable as a passenger railway. Yet it was nonetheless held in some affection.
When, on 5th February, that final train arrived back at Alton station, the Hampshire Chronicle reported that:
“…the final obsequies are observed. The Meon Valley Railway – friendly, pleasurable, beautiful – had come to its end.” 
Trackbed of the Meon Valley Railway, Chawton, Hampshire,
looking towards the south. Next stop along this line would
have been the halt at Farringdon. cc-by-sa/2.0

For detailed information about the old railway in the Meon Valley, see The Meon Valley Railway by R.A. Stone, 1983, Kingfisher Railway Productions.

Friday, 19 October 2018

The Rich American, the Travelling Captain and a Phallic Quest By L.J. Trafford

It hangs in a glass case in dimmed lighting: a small phallus carved in white with wings
made from bronze.
The label informs me it comes from Pompeii and that such items were symbols of fertility and strength. I could easily churn out 2,000 words on the subject of phallic imagery and objects in ancient Rome. There’s a lot of them. But that’s not what I’m writing about this month. For my second thought after, “Wow that’s beautiful." Was “I wonder how it got here?”

I found I couldn’t shake that thought. Just how did a tiny phallic amulet from the lost city of Pompeii end up in a gallery on London’s Euston Road? I suspected there might be a story there.
I was right. It is quite a story. One involving an eccentric American millionaire, a dashing ex naval captain with a love of fast cars & hobnobbing with grandees, and a quite extraordinary collection.

The American

Henry Wellcome courtesy of  Wellcome Collection.
If there is a better example of the self made man than Henry Wellcome I've yet to find it. He began life in a wood cabin in the slowly forming United States of America, the son of a travelling preacher.
This was proper frontier country. Aged eight Henry's home town was attacked by the Sioux. The young boy assisted his uncle in caring for the wounded.

Aged 15 he created and marketed his own version of Invisible Ink. Aged 19 we find him at the Chicago School of Pharmacy. A promising and developing career as a salesman for a drug company was interrupted when his friend Silas Burroughs suggested Wellcome follow him to London. Burroughs had in mind a British pharmaceutical company, but run with American panache, drive and most importantly American style marketing.
Henry took the leap to London and in 1880 Burroughs, Wellcome and Co was founded.

To say Burroughs, Wellcome and Co was successful is a gross understatement.
Burrough’s sudden and untimely death in 1895 left Wellcome as sole proprietor and enormously wealthy. What to do with all this money piling up?

Well there was partying for a start.
Henry Wellcome in fancy dress.
Courtesy of  Wellcome Collection

There was travel. 
Wellcome in Sudan.
Courtesy of  Wellcome Collection

And then there was collecting.

Wellcome had a dream, a grand ambition with his collecting. It was to;
“Trace the history of the human body in sickness and in health throughout the whole broad sweep of history.”
He intended to create a museum called the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum (and succeeded, the WHMM opened in 1913) and set about acquiring the objects that would articulate this aim.
Gentleman collectors in the Victorian era were ten a half penny but the way Wellcome went about collecting was something entirely different: it was industrial.
Partly this was born of his innate curiosity. Partly his American drive that had taken him from a wood cabin in frontier country to a multi-millionaire living within the fashionable London set. But mostly it was driven by the huge resources he had at his disposal.

Reading about Wellcome’s collection is jaw dropping and ultimately a little dispiriting. How was I to find a record of my little phallus in this lot? To give you some idea of just how much Wellcome collected you need only know that they measured it by the ton.
There was 3 and a half tons of swords, five tons of photograph albums, 2 and half tons of guns and cannons and shields.
There were 110 cases of Graeco-Roman objects.
In all a million plus objects made up Wellcome’s collection. Somewhere in this million was my little phallus.

Though Henry Wellcome travelled extensively seeking objects for his museum (Much to the disgust of his wife Syrie “Ever since our marriage, the greater part of our time has been spent in places I detested collecting curios” - they later divorced) he did not take sole responsibility for acquiring objects for his museum. He did have a company to run after all, but also because he recognised that his presence at auctions was likely to push the price up of his desired object. To overcome this he was known to effect disguises, as he told a friend:
 “I usually put on very plain clothes. A top hat usually excites the cupidity of the dealer and the higher the hat the higher the price."

Alongside his own undercover missions he also employed a team of agents to travel the globe to find suitable objects for his museum. A bit of internet research brought me to one Captain Johnston Saint, one of Wellcome’s agents who undertook a tour of Europe on behalf of Wellcome. I wondered if he might be the man who purchased my little white phallus. I wondered how I might find out whether he was.

The Captain

Peter Johnston Saint.
Courtesy of Wellcome Collection
Peter Johnston Saint was born in 1886. He had served in both the Royal Flying Corp and the Indian Army. Well connected, (one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters was a childhood friend), he adored socialising, travel and fast cars.
He joined the, now named, Wellcome Institute in 1921 and had soon impressed Henry Wellcome. Within a very short time he was given the title of Foreign Secretary. The sole purpose of this role was to travel and buy up objects suitable for the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum. It was a job Johnston Saint was well suited to involving, as it did, much hobnobbing with Ambassadors, Cardinals, Directors of key museums and other such notables.
A friendly member of staff at the Wellcome Collection (thank you Ross!) pointed me towards the papers they hold on Peter Johnston Saint. There were letters to Henry Wellcome, reports on his activities as Foreign Secretary and (joy!) his travels diaries.
Somewhere in these diaries I might find my little white phallus. Hoping he had decent handwriting I began to read about Johnston Saint's trip to Italy. (click on the link if you too want a read).

Johnston Saint began his Italian quest on Saturday 19th January 1929:
“Arrived in Rome 8pm. Found thick snow here also, which I am told, is almost unheard of"

His diary is an interesting insight into how objects were sourced and brought for the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum. Some of the work involves making contact with the right people. Such as on Monday 21st January when Johnston Saint meets with Cardinale Gasquet, the Prefect of the Vatican archives. The Cardinal is presented with a gift:
“The Cardinal was very interested in the research studies and medical history which we sent them through the foreign office and he says he has placed these at the Vatican library on behalf of the Duce (Mussolini).”

Johnston Saint also meets with the Ambassador and secures a letter of introduction to the Heads of Italian Museums. But alongside hobnobbing with Directors, Ambassadors and Cardinals, Johnston Saint spends a great deal of time browsing through the small shops of Rome:

“In a shop near Forum Romano I found some very interesting objects. Several very interesting Roman large surgical instruments…. A Greek pornographic vase in terra cotta in perfect condition…. A small bronze amphora and a Roman votive foot in bronze. Also a very curious object which may be an amulet or perhaps a form of pomander.
I purchased all the objects above for £21. The pornographic vase being worth half this sum.
I then visited the shop where I saw this collection of 99 phallic objects.”

I thought for a moment that within those 99 phallic objects might be my phallus but as Johnston Saint drily records:
 “The price asked is a very high one and I do not think the collection worth it”

He did not purchase them.

But later that same day he is to be found in further small establishments:
 “At another a shop I found a fine Roman lancet, a bronze stigel with unusual form of handle – a weight decorated pornographic subject and a Roman bronze probe. Price £4.”

To put this in some context the average annual wage in 1929 was £200 per year. Johnston Saint spent £25 in a single day and this compared to some days was a low amount. Later this same week he spends £64 on a single drawing. Henry Wellcome's pocket was swimming pool sized, however, as we have seen Johnston Saint is very much using his own judgement on artefacts. Several he rejects as inadequate or over priced but not:
"A huge terracotta Priapus from Pompeii"

Which he snaps up. Priapus is the Roman God of Fertility and is usually represented with a grossly oversized erect penis.
A Priapus from Pompeii. Not
the one JS purchased.
Attributed to Aaron Wolpert

It's not all buy, buy, buy though. Johnston Saint takes the time to visit the sites. A trip to the Vatican Library on Friday 25th January impresses him much:
 “This marvellous collection particularly rich in manuscripts,.. And housed in the most luxurious surroundings. What impressed me most was the excellent state of all the books and manuscripts... although the library consists of some 300,000 books there was sufficient room for 4 times that number”

The baths of Caracalla have him recording wistfully:
 “Their magnificence, their luxury and their marvellous efficiency are only one of the many wonders of ancient Rome.”

 Writing Roman based Historical Fiction I have visited Rome numerous times for research and I found it quite fascinating to read Johnston Saint describing the exact same sites I have visited only eighty years before.

What I found really special was his description of a day trip to the nearby Lake Nemi on Sunday 27th January

“I was anxious to see the Largo di Nemi, the Lake in the Alban hills which the Italian government are draining in order to recover the two Roman galleys which were sunk there in the time of Caligula. The level of the water in the lake has already been reduced by ten feet,exposing the small Roman habour….. The bad weather and the recent heavy falls of snow have more of less held up the work for the present.
..... I think when these galleys are recovered we might be able to get hold of something. At this moment it is not possible to do anything nor there anything to be found.”

Bad weather might have prevented the work that day but work did continue and these massive ships were eventually exposed.

The now lost pleasure barge of Caligula. Look
at the man to the left to see the huge awesome scale
of this boat.
Sadly they were destroyed during the second world war. All that is left of them is a few artefacts recovered and displayed in Rome’s National Museum and photographs that show the epic scale of these ships. They were truly awe inspiring and to think that Peter Johnston Saint was so close to seeing these epic pleasure barges revealed from the water!

On Tuesday 29th January Johnston Saint reveals that he is leaving for Naples. Would he visit Pompeii? Would he stumble across a certain small white phallus, and hopefully write down that he did? Or did the phallus not come from Pompeii at all? Was it maybe discovered in one of those small shops by the Forum selling phallic objects by the hundreds?
There was only one way to find out. I kept reading.....

Those letters of introduction obtained from the Ambassador come in handy now as they gain him access to the Director of the Naples Archaeological Museum and a very famous cabinet:
“I also inspected the Pornographic Cabinets which is ordinarily closed. Here they have many friezes and stuccos found in various houses in Pompeii - a collection of lamps, phallic objects.”

The Pornographic Cabinet of Naples Museum was where some of the most extreme (to Western eyes of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries) were housed. It contained, as Johnston Saint mentions, many phallic objects and imagery. As well as a truly stupendous statue of the God Pan having it away with a goat.
From Naples Museum's famous cabinet. Photo attributed Kim Traynor.

It’s probably worth me pointing out, if you hadn’t already gathered, that Wellcome was very much interested in acquiring erotic/sexual material. The Wellcome Historical Medical Museum contained 300 sexually themed Roman objects. They were very much in keeping with his ambition of a museum dedicated to human kind and biology.

Dr Jen Grove of Exeter University has written a very thorough account of the collecting of sexually themed materials in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is what she has to say about Wellcome’s collection:

“In the large, richly bound accession registers which the museum used to record acquisitions, a member of Wellcome’s staff entered the term 'PHA' next to each of these items. This stood for 'Phallic Worship' and this label would also be given, almost uniformly, to each of the hundreds of objects featuring phallic and other sexual imagery in Wellcome’s collection from across world history. This tells us that Wellcome was interested in an anthropological theory, first developed in the Enlightenment period, which looked for the origins of religion in the worship of procreation. “

He also collected images and objects outside of this sex/religion theme including materials dealing with the pleasure aspect of intercourse:
“Objects which seem to indicate an interest in sexual pleasure for its own sake include a collection of historical and cross-cultural sex aids.”

This was why Johnston Saint was dutifully examining and purchasing statues of Priapus and other phallic related materials. Although Johnston Saint cannot purchase anything from the pornographic cabinet he does buy an extensive range of photographs of the objects it contains.

One of Peter Johnston Saint's photographs from his 1929 trip to Rome. Image courtesy Wellcome Collection

The next day on Thursday 31st January Johnston Saint is given a tour of Herculaneum. His mood is greatly different from the interest and excitement at securing his photographs from Pompeii. To see the theatre at Herculaneum he had to walk down through 60 feet of lava (this is still the case today).

“One proceeds down a tunnel to the excavated portion and it is here that one can realise to some degree what a tremendous catastrophe the eruption of 79AD was.”

He is deeply moved by what he sees. One description he gives is particularly poignant and evocative:

“In one of the bedrooms on the first floor I saw a lamp, a glass bottle, and other objects including the marble table on which these things stood exactly as they were in AD 79”

That afternoon after his tour of Herculaneum he’s taken to see a local Hotel Proprietor. The hotelier's estate borders the Pompeii site and he has excavated his own grounds and found some objects he wishes to show off (and sell).   The hotelier had the permission of the Italian Government to offer these objects for sale, but with 50% of the receipts going back to the government. A fact that does not please Johnston Saint, as he notes;
 “So naturally there were no great bargains to be picked up.”

However what the hotelier shows him is so impressive that he cannot hold back the bucks:

“I brought some interesting objects. The following are the details. Excavated at Pompeii 1927. A Roman bronze lancet, a bronze probe on spatula handle decorated, a fine pair of tweezers in bronze and two surgical needles both fine in bronze. Then a terra cotta figure of a woman which is very interesting anatomically”

Also he buys a votive leg and foot. And records one final item of purchase:
”A marble phallus about 4 inches long with bronze wings, a chain and ring for suspending – perfect -used against the evil eye.”

A marble phallus you say? 4 inches long? Bronze wings? And a chain for suspending?
A bit like this one then?

Miraculously I had found it! I had found my phallus! It had been excavated in 1927 by the proprietor of a hotel that stood on the Porta Marina gate into Pompeii. He met Peter Johnston Saint on Thursday 31st January 1929 and showed him his collection of artefacts. Johston Saint purchased several of these objects on behalf of Henry Wellcome, including the phallus.
And that folks, is how my little white phallus ended up in a gallery in London’s Euston Road!


For some reason I feel this piece needs an epilogue. So here it is.
Henry Wellcome and Peter Johnston Saint
Courtesy of  Wellcome Collection
Henry Wellcome died in 1936. He left quite a legacy. Not just for his vast collection of curios (of which a very small slice can be viewed today in London’s Science Museum and the Wellcome Collection which stands on Euston Road) but also for science. His will set up a charity named The Wellcome Trust. He wanted the profits from his business to advance medical science.

The company Henry founded with Silas Burroughs went through several incarnations (including Glaxo Wellcome) before it was finally sold off and GlaxoSmithKline one of the largest pharma companies on the planet was formed. The money from this sale was ploughed into the charitable Wellcome Trust. Today the Wellcome Trust has assets worth £20 billion and in 2017 spent £1.1 billion advancing medical science.

And as for that small marble phallus? Well 700,000 people visit the Wellcome Collection each year and let’s assume absolutely all of them stare at that little white phallus and think firstly “Wow” and then secondly “I wonder how it got here?"

Further Reading

I'd highly recommend Frances Larson's "An Infinity of Things: How Henry Wellcome collected the World." if you are at all interested in Henry Wellcome and his mania for collecting. This book gave me much of the material for this article.
Special thanks also to Dr Jen Grove and Ross Macfarlane for their assistance.

L.J. Trafford is the author of the Four Emperors Series set in ancient Rome. She also runs the hashtag #phallusthursday on Twitter, which examines the use of  phallic imagery in ancient art and has a bit of a puerile snigger about it all. 

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Glass Town Wars and the Brontës - Celia Rees

I've got a new book coming out on November 1st.

With any luck, I'll be asked to talk about it and will have to answer that most commonly asked of  questions: 'Where do your ideas come from?': I've been trying to remember. When was that first seed planted? What other ideas, experiences, added to it? Nourished it? Allowed it to grow out of and over all the other ideas that never got as far as becoming a book? 

I think I've found the 'first cause'. In the 1990s, I worked part time at a Further Education College in Coventry to supplement my meagre earnings from writing. I was teaching Wuthering Heights to a group of Malaysian students and as part of the course we went on a trip to The Brontë Parsonage and Museum in Haworth. I'd never been before and I was as excited as any of the students. I love visiting writers' houses and have written about it here before. Indeed, that post details some of the fascinating things owned by the Brontës and on display at the Parsonage, but that post was based on a much later visit. What intrigued me most that first time was the tiny little books that the Brontë siblings had written as children. 

In those days, you could buy facsimilies of the miniature books. I remember buying two of them but, of course, when I really wanted them, needed them, I couldn't find them anywhere. They elude me to this day. The little books contain the writing that they did as children and adolescents about the imaginary world that they created and peopled.  The world that they called Glass Town. 

A few years later, I was in Yorkshire again, visiting The Salts Mill Museum, outside Halifax, not  far from Haworth, There was a street market and on one of the stalls was a porcelain figure of a soldier, a Rifleman in a green uniform.

I can't really say why I was attracted to him, maybe I remembered something about Branwell Brontë being given a set of toy soldiers and that being the starting point for the stories the Brontë children began to make up, but I don't think it was anything as conscious as that. Maybe I just liked him and thought there was a story in him somewhere. Whatever the reason, I bought him and took him home and he lived on the shelf in my study while I got on with writing other things.

Charney Manor
Years later, I was at a Scattered Authors' Retreat at Charney Manor in Oxfordshire. Different people were discussing ideas for books and stories. Some History Girls, past and present, may have been there. One person described something she'd been thinking about for a book about the Brontēs. I remember thinking, I wouldn't do it like that. Time travel but not back to the Brontës in their Parsonage in Haworth but pitched into their fantasy world and it would be a boy, not a girl making this journey. But how? Why? What could happen next? I didn't have those answers yet. A few more years went by and I found the idea again, or it found me. Another retreat at Charney and I wanted to start something new. I remembered the Brontë idea and thought I might work on that while I was there, so I bought Christine Alexander's: The Brontës: Tales of Glass Town, Angria and Gondal to take with me.

One of the traditions at Charney is the Three Minute Read, when writers read from their work in progress. The proof of the writing is in the reading. The piece I wrote is now in Glass Town Wars, substantially unchanged. It gave me the How? and the Why? Boy in a coma.  Let's call him Tom. Best friend is a computer whizz (let's call him Milo) with the ultimate virtual gaming gizmo, a small, thin sheet of graphene small enough to fit in the ear. It allows you to actually live in the game. Only problem is, it's experimental. No-one knows where you'll be going, no-one knows how you'll get back...  

I knew where Tom would go. I knew he would go there as a soldier, a Rifleman in a green uniform, I knew he would meet Emily Brontë, or her persona in the Brontës fantasy world, but what would happen then? That was going to be the hard bit...

(To be continued...)

Glass Town Wars by Celia Rees is published by Pushkin Press, 1st November, 2018 

Celia Rees

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

PETERLOO - a place, a time and a film. By Penny Dolan

Some time ago, visiting Manchester for the first time, I “discovered” what seemed an impressive square. An enormous Victorian gothic building dominated the site but, even so, I did wonder why such a large expanse of rain-puddled pavement was – well, there.
My A-Z map book gave the name as St Peter’s Square; a small plaque on the wall informed me the area was once an open space known as St Peter’s Field where gatherings and public meetings had traditionally been held.

For a moment, I thought of similar places in London that I knew: Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park, and a green space out at Hampstead and, opposite Wood Green Tube Station, Spouters Corner, a patch of tarmac where, at weekends,  speakers stood with their placards, promoting vegetarianism, the rights of workers or eastern philosophy, often accompanied by the Salvation Army band, preacher and rattling tins. Occasionally, if one was lucky, there might be a man with novelties in a suitcase, or a three-cup trickster or a half-naked escapologist . . .

However, I was now standing in Manchester, staring at a rather jokey-sounding word for the first time: Peterloo. Remembering, I feel ashamed of my  ignorance then because the incident was not amusing at all. Peterloo was a vicious attack on a public gathering of our own people on that very site. 

The year was 1819.  The date was the 16th August. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and a large crowd of Manchester’s working people, dressed in their respectable Sunday best, had gathered in St Peter’s Field.  

It was an uncertain time, Although Napoleon was now defeated, the early nineteenth century so far had been a period of worrying unrest. In 1813, a few years before, the British Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, had been assassinated. The new manufactories had problems with machine-breakers, and the restrictive Corn Laws had brought widespread poverty, hardship and famine across the land.

The people wanted their grievances heard and they wanted representation, but for many the question was “How?” Parliament no longer reflected the distribution of the increased population and was mired in the scandal of the “Rotten Boroughs”, a situation where even men wealthy enough to have a vote had no Member of Parliament to represent their wishes.

The North suffered badly under this system. For example, the whole county of Lancashire, with its growing industrial towns and increased number of inhabitants, had only two MPs. At the other extreme, the one, single enfranchised voter living in the small, now-decayed borough of Old Sarum could elect two whole MPS’s to represent his views. Many felt this as a growing injustice.

All of this was why, on that sunny day in August, a mix of grievances and curiosity brought people from all around Manchester to St Peter’s Field. They wanted to hear the words of a well-known Radical orator, Henry Hunt, who the members of the Manchester Patriotic Union Society had invited to speak on the topic of parliamentary reform.

The local magistrates, wary of Hunt and what might become an unruly mob,, had arranged for soldiers to be in town. Clearly they wanted to be very sure there would be no civil unrest:  they had called up 4 squadrons (600 men) of the 15th Hussars; several hundred Infantry; the Cheshire Yeoman Cavalry; a detachment of the Royal Horse Artillery, two six-pounder guns, the Manchester Yeoman and six hundred special constables.

William Hulton, the Chief Magistrate and others watched St Peters Field from the window of a nearby house. Although there was no trouble at all, the crowd kept growing. Finally, when Hulton estimated there were 50,000 attending, he sent his local officials and 400 special constables into the moving crowd to clear a wide path through to where Hunt would be speaking and then sent in soldiers to arrest Hunt. The inevitable happened: faced by a hostile, uncertain, milling crowd, the cavalry galloped in with raised sabres, attacking people as they tried to escape the onslaught. By the end of the day, eleven people were killed, including a baby-in-arms, around five hundred men and women were injured and maybe more who would not seek public aid for injuries for fear of further trouble.

As reports of the St Peter’s Field’s massacre spread, many radical thinkers wrote letters and articles condemning the slaughter and questioning the actions of the Magistrates and the military. It was during this furore that the name “Peterloo” was given to this incident: a mocking, bitterly satirical reference to the victorious cavalry charges during the Battle of Waterloo three years before.

However, constantly afraid of real civic revolution, the Government backed the actions of the Magistrates and cracked down on anyone involved in such groups. Soon, under Lord Liverpool, Parliament imposed what became known as the Six Acts.

As a result of these new laws:
-         training in arms and drilling was forbidden

-         the seizure of any arms was authorised

-         prosecutions were simplified

-         seditious assemblies were forbidden

-         blasphemous libels were punished

-         presses were restricted in what they could publish.
And so the battle for representation and suffrage continued, well into the twentieth century.

Peterloo, it seems to me, was an act of hope but it was not the victory that the people hoped for, not then. Yet it was not an insignificant event and, as I write this post, there are aspects of this story that feel far too relevant. (Even at a simple level, was one of those acts why the British people do not normally carry guns?)

This brings another question into my head. As my Manchester introduction demonstrated, “Peterloo” was not an event I had ever been taught about. My own, long-ago Social and Economic History course swept over this specific people’s gathering, losing it among tales of come-by-night Luddites, the machinery of Industrial Revolution and the various Factory Acts.

Puzzled, I asked friends with children at secondary school right now about this matter – thank you! -  but I am still not sure of the result.

Peterloo is not, I think,  specifically included within National Curriculum Key Stage Three History topics (ie in lower secondary school classes, when history is compulsory). And then, post-Options, Peterloo may well depend on exam boards & teachers including the incident within their own particular syllabus. Is it ever raised in schools in a significant way now? If so do let me know.

It surely should and will, because Peterloo is about to be better known. Next year - 2019 - is the two hundredth anniversary of the massacre, so there should be plenty of commemorative events and media attention, particularly from the Guardian newspaper whose roots lie in that same radical Manchester ground. And, before that, on 3rd November 2018, something else is happening too. 

The film-maker Mike Leigh will be releasing his long-awaited project:


Although the History Girls blog is about historical fiction, especially novels, I really needed to mention the film here. Why? Just so people will know it is out there.

The great big Christmas circus of films about to descend on multiplexes everywhere with Winter season blockbusters filling every screen from Fireworks Night through to New Year, so you may need to look very hard to find the far-less-festive bread of "Peterloo".

I suspect it is the kind of film that may well appear fleetingly, at “selected screens only” and am not sure how the general distribution will work out. There’s no evidence – yet - of Mike Leigh's film appearing at my local Odeon, but I have spotted that "Peterloo" is scheduled for a single noonday showing on Saturday 3rd November at City Screen York. 

So, if you want to see Peterloo, and the interpretation that Mike Leigh brings to his film, start studying your arts cinema venues now. Here's the trailer:

After the event, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who had been in Italy at the time, wrote his famous poem The Masque of Anarchy, which includes these lines, and unknowingly, a by-line for the film:

Rise like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number.

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you -

Ye are many – they are few.

Penny Dolan

A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E