Category: Time

Tilbury Docks, the world on the move

Tilbury Docks, the world on the move

 

TILBURY DOCKS, The world on the move.

The world has always been on the move. The Romans, the Vikings and the Polynesians all set off for new lands across the seas. Humans throughout history travelled to explore new territory, wage war, colonize or establish trade routes for exotic goods. Only in recent times has sea travel been about pure pleasure.

In the 12th century, Christian soldiers set off on crusades to the Holy Land from Dartmouth in Devon. Did you realize that all the towns ending in ‘mouth’ have the river name as their prefix? So, Dartmouth is on the mouth (i.e. the opening to the sea) of the river Dart. Similarly, Plymouth is on mouth of the river Ply and Bournemouth on the mouth of the river Bourne. You get the drift. It’s fun discovering word origins.

Near ancient Dartmouth Castle on the west bank of the river Dart is a tidal inlet called Warfleet Creek. It makes for a peaceful site today for a Devon picnic but in 1147 and 1190 it was the spot for the gathering of hundreds of ships and thousands of keen crusaders eager to sail to and claim the Holy Land.

A Brave New Start from Tilbury Docks

Similarly, centuries later, the Tilbury Docks became the launching point for many British and Europeans to emigrate to places as far away as Australia. Many Australians are descended from such travelers to the colonies.

The Tilbury Docks replaced the original East and West India Docks that operated close to London. The coming of the railways and the increased size of ships prioritized deep water over closeness to the city because now the railway could bring people from inner London to the Thames estuary. Tilbury in Essex on the north shore of the Thames was an excellent site. Here, downstream from London Bridge, the river looped southwards through the river estuary marshlands. Here also there was land available and the convenient South end railway that linked the Tilbury Ferry.

Tilbury linked Britain to its Empire

At the dawn of the steam ship era in 1886, Tilbury was a progressive project to connect Britain to its Empire. But like any project, there were issues. The freemasons employed went on strike in 1889 citing hard work for little pay. Indeed, their pay seems incredible to a modern reader- just 6d or 5c an hour. Some concessions were made, and work continued but workers again went on strike in 1912.

The year 1912 is an interesting year as in April that year the unsinkable Titanic set forth on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to New York. But the world’s most splendid liner never reached American shores but sunk beneath the waves of the icy Atlantic near Newfoundland taking the bulk of the passengers with it.

Also in 1912, my grandparents, Winifred and Walter, set sail for a brave new start on the SS Rangatira steam ship, a far less splendid craft. Despite the sinking of the ill-fated Titanic and family concern, they still travelled all the way from Tilbury Docks to Sydney Harbour. I fictionalized their meeting and romance aboard the Rangatira in my historical fiction novel, Whispers through Time.

British Migrate to Australia from Tilbury Docks

For many Australians Tilbury Docks were the point of embarkation to Australia for either themselves or their forebears. Before World War II, Ten Pound Poms as they were called at the time, came in their thousands on this assisted passage scheme to start a new life. Later after the war, Europeans came too, escaping war ravaged Europe, to work as skilled migrants on the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme.

The traffic was not just one way. Tilbury not only farewelled but welcomed people. The current multi-cultural population of Britain is due to these arrivals. Caribbean migrants in the late 1940’s, travelled on the SS Empire Windrush to start a new life, lured by the offer of work and housing. Other nationalities also arrived from the outposts of the British Empire such as Africa and India.

Tilbury Docks may not be as exotic a location as the Taj Mahal or as steeped in history as The Tower of London but the docks have established their place in history.

Tilbury Docks in films

Like other iconic seaports, Tilbury Docks have also established their place in film. Wikipedia informs me that John Wayne’s smuggling operation in the movie Branigan took place at Tilbury. Also, the boat chase scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed not in Venice as suggested in the plot but at Tilbury. The docks also feature in the Jude Law film, Alfie (2004), Batman Begins (2005) and as the arrival point for Paddington Bear in the 2014 film, Paddington.

Just another slice of history to add to my growing history blog. Thank you for reading.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.

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Down the Rabbit hole in search of Hampstead Heath

Down the Rabbit hole in search of Hampstead Heath

Down the Rabbit hole in search of the Heath.

Down the Rabbit Hole of Research

Historical research can be likened to falling down a rabbit hole-Alice in Wonderland style. What may seem a curious but straight forward exploration becomes before long a ‘curiouser and curiouser’ foray, to borrow from Alice’s words. You pop down for a moment in time but emerge hours later, whirling from your discoveries.

Charged with fascinating facts, the trajectory of your novel takes an unexpected detour which ultimately, on reflection, was a good outcome. I am now a firm believer that detours are not a nuisance but actually where you were meant to go anyway. Straight lines are after all just boring paths from point A to B, aren’t they? Life is what happens when you have other plans.

The Hardy Tree and Hampstead Heath

So that is how The Hardy Tree (see my first blog) entered my Whispers through Time novel. Family research led to the Parish Church of St Pancras which led to The Hardy Tree then to Thomas Hardy himself etc. Similarly, as the Reeseg family featured in the novel lived nearby in Hampstead, I learnt about beautiful Hampstead Heath and its long history as a common space for London’s people.

Hampstead Heath entered the pages of history way back in 986 A.D when the seemingly unprepared king, Ethelred the Unready, granted the people land at ‘Hemstede, ’then owned by Westminster Abbey. Even in the 19th century, Hampstead was on the outskirts of London, so back then it really would have been in the boondocks.

Hampstead Heath occupies 790 acres on a sandy ridge that connects Hampstead to Highgate. As the largest area of common space in London, it has through the centuries offered the freedom and beauty of nature to all and a venue for runners, walkers and kite flyers. The heath features over 25 ponds that fill as rain falls due to the clay underneath.

These ponds originated from damming a tributary of the River Fleet way back in 1777 with the purpose of supplementing the city’s water supply. In time some of these larger ponds functioned as ‘segregated by gender’ swimming pools and model boat sailing ponds.

The geography of this area makes it one of the higher parts of London. From Parliament Hill, visitors can survey the changing London skyline. Golder’s Hill Park on the western end occupies the site of an original grand house destroyed in World War II. Unlike the rest of the free to range heath, this area is fenced and closed at night. It features a duck pond, a deer sanctuary, butterfly garden and small zoo.

Hampstead Heath in Literature

In Whispers through Time, Gustave, my great uncle, runs and cycles through the greater heath with his younger sisters, Winifred and Francesca. Reuben, Francesca’s love interest also frequents the heath to bemoan his fate as a star-crossed lover, torn between love and duty to his family and religion.

I am certainly not the only writer to use this beautiful public park as a setting for parts of a novel. The Heath provides the opening backdrop for Wilkie Collins’ Victorian novel, Woman in White. Bram Stoker also partly set his gothic tale, Dracula (1897) on the Heath. The undead character, Lucy now a vampire abducts children from the Heath. This book is a must-read for not only its dark tale but its classic vampire characters and Gothic setting in a Transylvanian castle. Written as a series of letters and diary entries, it is a riveting read, despite the passing of time since its writing.

Another more modern novel, John le Carre’s, Smiley’s People, also uses the heath as the murder scene of General Vladimir.

To experience more of Hampstead Heath immerse yourself in the historical novel, Whispers through Time based on the real-life story of my maternal grandparents who emigrated from London to Sydney in 1912, just months after the Titanic sinking, (see previous blog on The Titanic)

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Whispers through Time-The Titanic

Whispers through Time-The Titanic

TITANIC, an unsinkable tragedy

Even after its sinking on an icy cold April night long ago in 1912, the Titanic has proved to be an unsinkable story of human tragedy.

Indeed, The RMS Titanic lives on as a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when ego and greed overpower responsibility and safety concerns. This tragic tale is endlessly fascinating despite the ship’s loss to the icy depths of the Atlantic over a century ago.

The ill-fated Titanic is the subject of many books such as the definitive A Night to Remember by Walter Lord (1956) and Titanic, An Illustrated History by Don Lynch (1992). The ship features in Stephen Weir’s book, History’s Worst Decisions and is even the inspiration for a children’s book called Polar, the Titanic Bear, about the actual teddy bear of a little boy who survived the sinking.

Speaking of which, there is one last book I just have to mention that is also a fascinating read. Shadow of the Titanic follows the lives of the survivors of that terrible night. Interestingly, most of them had sad lives and many died young and even quite soon after the event. The little boy who owned the teddy bear died in a family car crash within a year and is just one example of the long shadow that the Titanic cast over people’s lives. Some folks never recovered from family losses while others bore survivor’s guilt that prevented their happiness.

The Titanic tragedy keeps giving

Yes, the Titanic story is one that keeps on giving. There is so much to fascinate, so many lessons about human nature to appreciate.

As a long-time enthusiast of all things Victorian, the story interested me long before the blockbuster 1997 Titanic film produced by James Cameron. I had already watched the earlier film starring Barbara Stanwick and seen and read films and books where the Titanic had sailed in, including my own, creating a setting for many tragic storylines. I confess to Titanic jigsaws and scale models as well.

But all the tragedy could have been averted if someone like Bruce Ismay, Captain Smith or the ship builder, Thomas Andrew had read another book by a little-known author named Morgan Robertson. In 1898, he wrote a novel about a transatlantic liner loaded with the rich and famous that hit an iceberg near Newfoundland at similar co-ordinates to the 1912 liner. The ship, eerily called the Titan had very similar specifications to the actual Titanic.

If only someone had read this book, aptly titled Futility.

What caused the Titanic tragedy?

It is telling of human nature that we are drawn to details of tragedies. Perhaps it is because there is so much to take away and reflect on. The factors that caused the real-life Titanic tragedy are themselves endlessly fascinating. In this instance there were a myriad of fateful errors both human and natural.

Titanic was steaming ahead in a fateful race with Time itself. Captain Edward Smith confidently ordered her throttled into full steam so she could arrive in New York ahead of schedule. He along with Bruce Ismay, director of White Star Line wanted to showcase her capabilities as the biggest ship ever to sail the seas. It was Smith’s last commission at sea so this would be a fitting end to his career. A timely six day crossing of the Atlantic was important for both men. But thousands of others would have preferred to just arrive.

The Titanic had everything but lifeboats

Neither man seemed concerned by reported ice warnings in the ocean ahead, nor overly mindful of his responsibility to the cargo of 2240passengers, despite the paucity of lifeboats. The Titanic had everything anyone could want on board a ship except lifeboats. Even at two thirds capacity of its possible number of passengers there were only enough for 1178 people, leaving 1023 others stranded. That is only too if the lifeboats were fully loaded which was definitely not the case. Many that could take 65 people, left with less than twenty aboard. Some of these fortunate were extremely wealthy and influential women along with children and even first-class men.  Most second and third-class passengers went down with the ship.

If it were not for the speed, the inattention to ice, the lowered bulkheads, the limited lifeboats, the missing binoculars on the watch deck, the steel, the pop rivets, the last-minute attempt to swerve around the iceberg…. So may ‘ifs, so many factors that coalesced to cause tragedy.

Then apart from the ship’s construction, the speed and human factors there was the bad luck that the only nearby ship, the Californian turned off its telegram service and retired all staff to bed, even after sighting a flare rocket. ‘We thought it was a just a party,’ the captain claimed in defense.  Words that went down in history like those of Captain Smith. ‘I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.’

Titanic lives on in literature

There is so much more I could write about this Titanic subject. Many have. Instead, I chose some human-interest snippets to include in two chapters of my historical fiction novel, Whispers through Time. This book is based on my grandparent’s journey from London to Australia on a steamer ship, the Rangatira in June 1912, just months after the sinking of the ill-fated liner.

The tragedy was recent news. It is a wonder they still travelled into the ice infested waters of the southern oceans. But they did and even retraced the journey two years later through U boat infested waters to return to England as grandfather was called into military service. He was still part of the British Army, having served already in the Boer Wars when he was just sixteen. Their story continues on in the sequel released this year, Time, Heal my Heart.

Follow my history blogs on https://joniscottauthor.com

Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.

Australian readers check out Author Academy Bookstore, https://authoracademybookstore.com.au

 

 

Writers of the Jazz Age

Writers of the Jazz Age

Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald

I love the imagery and depiction of the 1920’s idol rich in The Great Gatsby, so I read Tender is the Night, another of Fitzgerald’s novels written post WWI. The writing style is very different to that in The Great Gatsby and difficult initially to become immersed in. But I persisted and found this tragic love story very haunting and beautiful. This Jazz Age novel interested me for another reason. I set my novel, The Last Hotel (Tellwell) in Beaulieu-sur-Mer which is where the opening chapter of Tender is the Night is also set but of course a century earlier. I was so surprised when I read the opening lines of the novel.

“On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, almost halfway between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-colored hotel.’

How’s that for coincidence! A hotel!

Except that my hotel is neither large nor pink. But it could be considered proud due the quality of its occupants, my lovely characters.

The French Riviera and Writers of the Jazz Age

The 1920’s Riviera was a magnet for writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway to while away their summers mingling with other writers and artists. They would laze on the beaches glorying in the idyllic Mediterranean climate, and drink cocktails at sunset in their hotel bars. Somewhere in between they would pen a few words of their latest work in progress. To understand the frenetic jazz era, you must reflect on the horrors of WWI that wiped out a whole generation of young men. Then The Spanish Flu wiped out a heap more. The crazy pace and vanity of the 1920’s was a reaction to these tragedies. A sort of ’Live like you never have before’ mentality. We may see our own version of The Jazz Age once Covid-19 is over.

Who Was Francis Scott Fitzgerald?

Francis Scott Fitzgerald was born in 1896 in Minnesota. He was named after cousin, Francis Scott Key who wrote the lyrics to the American national anthem. ‘Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light…’etc. Fitzgerald entered Princeton in 1913 and apart from study, he wrote musicals. He dropped out in 1917 to enlist in the US Army and before going off to fight in WWI he submitted his first hastily finished manuscript, A Romantic Egoist, lest he die in the fighting. None of us writers have that sort of deadline!

Of course, he survived to write the novels This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. He and Hemingway stole all the best book titles! None of these masterpieces sold well in his time and he spiraled into alcoholism beside his mentally ill wife Zelda. He sadly died an untimely death at just 44, never achieving full recognition for his beautiful haunting prose.

 Ernest Hemingway

Fitzgerald’s life rather parallels that of Ernest Hemingway, another American who went to Paris after WWI. Both men with accompanying women and alcohol issues liked to travel around while they wrote, often spending long periods in The Riviera. Hemingway also frequented Spain and was fond of bull fights and hunting. I find his books rather shocking in their depiction of cruelty to animals especially bulls. Neither does he write with the beautiful flowing prose of Fitzgerald but instead in a blunt, terse way. Possibly a man’s writer. He too stole all the best book titles. The Sun Also Rises, To Have and Have not, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Farewell to Arms. They sound wonderful but sadly though they sound inviting, his writing is not for me. But it is interesting to see the different styles of these writers of The Jazz Age.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.

Australian readers check out and support Author Academy Bookstore;

Whispers Through Time- Full Steam Ahead

Whispers Through Time- Full Steam Ahead

Whispers through Time- Full Steam Ahead

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches
Robert Louis Stevenson (1885), The Railway Carriage.

 

Before the age of railways most people stayed in their hometowns and could not envisage travelling faster than a horse could gallop. Even the humble bicycle was not an everyday travel luxury until the 1870’s. The world changed forever when in 1830, another unrelated Stevenson, (spelt differently), namely, George Stephenson engineered the first railroad line from Liverpool to Manchester. He used the steam powered Rocket engine developed by his son, Robert.

Railways not only revolutionized the transport of goods but people. As newly constructed rail lines connected town after town, the world opened up for pleasure and business travel. All classes of people could suddenly travel to the mountains, the seaside, to spas and resorts. Thomas Cook, a great enthusiast for changing horizons, offered trips and tours across England then later, The Continent and Egypt culminating in a round-the -world tour offer of 222days in 1872.

Travel for travel’s sake, a new trend

Travel for travel’s sake,’ became the fashion. Tourism was born. The elegant and well-off young completed the Grand Tour of Europe as a rite of passage. Along with their chaperones, they marveled at the beauties and art of Rome, Paris and Florence. Guidebooks such as Bradshaw’s (UK) and Baedeker’s (Germany) became essential companions, offering information on journeys, timetables and hotels.

However, for every invention, there is a flow on of good and bad. Railways, for all their benefits, tore up the countryside and polluted landscapes with soot and noise. Without trains, men and supplies could not have reached the more sinister destination of The Western Front of WWI. Railways were powerful agents for change, fueling the progress of the Industrial Revolution as computers have powered The Digital Revolution of today.

Many of you, like me may have watched Michael Portillo’s wonderful series on Railways of the world where he uses his Bradshaw to educate us on the delights of this form of travel, past and present, whilst wowing us with his colorful wardrobe.

Whispers Through Time

I like Michael love to learn about the past. I feel I definitely was born in the wrong time in history. The digital age holds little fascination for me. A romantic dreamer, I would have liked to live in my mother or grandmother’s era. But then again, I could have been unlucky to be poor and spent my life at a washing board bearing child after child like my great grandmother did. She had ten children, eight lived, one being Winfred my grandmother.

My historical novel, Whispers Through Time, the first book of my Time Trilogy, follows the early years and romances of two young sisters, Winifred and Francesca and their voyage to Australia just months after The Titanic sinking. Whilst researching their lives, I studied the development of the railways in London. I could not have them travelling from one place to the other if the line had not opened yet.

The railways firstly extended above ground until The Underground was built in 1863. My grandmother would have witnessed the protest in her hometown of Hampstead Heath when an underground under The Heath and an extensive residential estate were proposed in 1903. Fortunately, due to ‘green’ activism, developers halted construction of the estate and underground. The station tunnel already dug 60 metres below Hampstead Hill was never used. Instead, London authorities extended The Heath for public use.

In the sequel, Time, Heal my Heart, the railways still feature, and I couldn’t resist putting a Bradshaw in the hands of one of the characters!

History is so interesting! Read more each week in my history snippet blogs on Whisperingencouragement.com. Follow me on Insta.@authorjoniscott.

Books available online via websites, https://joniscottauthor.com

Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.

 

Australian readers check out Author Academy Bookstore:

 

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Whispers through Time – The Hardy Tree

Whispers through Time – The Hardy Tree

This lovely shady tree has stood in the Old St Pancras churchyard for over a century. It whispers through time of the many comings and goings in this ancient graveyard in the once secluded corner of London. The Hardy Tree, an ash tree, is unique as it is literally encircled by gravestones piled one on another. Most interestingly, Thomas Hardy the famous British novelist placed them there in 1865. Years before he became known for his tragic literary masterpieces and poetry, Hardy worked as an apprentice for an architect who had the contract to clear the cemetery to allow extension of the London railways. Nothing stopped progress during the Industrial Revolution in Britain, not even centuries of graves! You don’t always get to rest in peace.
Despite his qualifications as an architect, the grisly task of upending and emptying graves fell to the young Thomas Hardy and possibly others. In an artistic moment, Hardy decided to pile the gravestones around the huge ash tree and that is where they have remained all these years. The disinterred bodies were disrespectfully hauled onto wagons and moved to a mass grave in a new cemetery outside London.
While researching my family history, I discovered these fascinating facts about the Old St. Pancras church where my maternal ancestors were baptized and married. As a book nerd and huge teenage fan of Thomas Hardy novels (I named my daughter Tess after the tragic heroine of Tess of the d’Urbervilles) I decided to use the setting for the opening chapters of my Edwardian historical romance novel, Whispers through Time.

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Source:atlasobscura.com