A message from father to daughter

October 13, 2015

A few days ago we saw an album that my great aunt Ruth gave to her sister, my great aunt Naomi.

The first message in the album comes from the father of those two young ladies, my great grandfather. Here is his message.


This is undated, but let’s assume it was 1905 for that was when Naomi received the album. It is, of course, biblical. I say of course because my ancestors were strict Baptists and great grandfather had a reputation as a fiery lay preacher. By 1905, though, he was racked with totally debilitating and excruciatingly painful arthritis. In 1901 he had been in Bath at the time of the census, trying bathing in the spring there in a fruitless attempt to alleviate symptoms. No doubt he couldn’t hold a pen and the message written at an angle says, ’copied for father’. I think the bulk of the writing is in the hand of my Great Granny.

The first line reads, O lord my pilot’s part perform and this is clearly based on a poem by William Cowper. The remaining lines, though, I can’t trace. Here’s the whole piece.

O lord my pilot’s part perform; (prayer)
In every dark and trying storm;  (trial)
And when the river I shall see,   (faith)
I then shall sing aloud of thee.   (triumph)

The meaning intended is, I think clear. In the eyes of my ancestors this life was merely preparation for eternal life in the hereafter. I believe this implies that death and entering the Kingdom of God is something much to be desired.

Personally, I’m not a subscriber to that point of view but I’ll respect those folks who are.

Wilton Mill

October 12, 2015

Back in 1976 Wilton wind mill was restored to working order to become the only working windmill in my home county of Wiltshire. For some time, my wife and I, with friends, became volunteer stewards. We showed visitors around the mill and had to know our stuff.

The arrival of my second child, in 1980, really put an end to our involvement in the mill but of course I retain affection for it.

The mill, a handsome brick tower mill was built in 1821. Its job was to replace water mills which had lost out in competition for water, to the Kennet and Avon Canal which opened throughout in 1810. The good folks of East Wiltshire found that with the demand the canal had there was insufficient left to power water mills.

I visited the mill the other day on a glorious autumnal afternoon. The mill itself was not open so I only looked at the outside.

The low sun and the wind direction combined to make a ‘full frontal’ shot just a tad difficult. It was bound to be a bit of a silhouette. But from behind, this old lady presented a fine sight.


Being a tower mill, just the cap rotates to face the wind. It is automatically forced to face whatever direction the wind comes from by the fantail.


Such an elegant engineering solution. It is 100% essential that the mill sails or sweeps face the wind. If for any reason the mill got ‘back winded’ the sails, cap and fantail would all tumble to the ground.

Wilton, as we saw, has 4 sweeps. Two of them are called plain sails. They are a wooden framework over which canvas is laid when the mill is in use to catch the wind. The other two sails are patent sails which are slatted. This is more complex but allows more control over the mill whilst it is operational.


We can see one of the slatted patent sails as well as a plain sail, with canvas furled.

Lovely mill! Lovely day!

Father and son on the beach

October 11, 2015

A few days ago I looked at mother and daughter at Haytor and commented on how much I liked to get up in hills – actually in preference to the seaside which I can visit a bit under sufferance. But when you have children (or as now, grandchildren) you have to put personal preferences to one side and get on down and enjoy the beach. And that, clearly, was what I was doing on the same holiday as the ‘Haytor’ one.


Yes, that’s me and my son who seems to be dancing round a piece of seaweed. Now it might seem odd but this is just the kind of beach I find least interesting. It’s all sand. Give me some rock pools and I’ll find something which I think is more interesting. If there are pebbles they have texture, colours and shapes I can enjoy. Sand always seems so uniformly dreary to me.

However, I seem to have the small plastic bucket and, no doubt, a spade is not far away. And with a bit of luck, son can build some kind of castle.


This would have been on the south Devon coast somewhere near Teignmouth. The year was 1982.

Sutton Veny Graveyard

October 10, 2015

Effects of Spanish Flu

If you are asked ‘what killed 50 million people just before 1920 the answer is not World War One. It is Spanish Flu.

It was a different world when the ANZACS came over here to fight in World War One.  Louis Bleriot’s rather shaky aeroplane had not long crossed the English Channel. It was only after the end of the war that Alcock and Brown managed to get a plane across the Atlantic – and that by only a whisker landing ignominiously in Derrigimlagh Bog in Connemara, Ireland.

Soldiers from Australia and New Zealand had to travel long journeys on ocean going ships to reach Europe. It was something people just didn’t do and that meant that most of our Southern Hemisphere fellows had never encountered anything like Spanish Flu and they hadn’t developed antibodies to help fight off such infections.

Sad to say they perished in droves throughout 1918 and 1919.

Some of them chanced to be in Wiltshire and are buried in the churchyard at Sutton Veny.

image002This burial ground has 169 war  graves of which more than 140 are of Australians. A goodly 100 of these succumbed to the flu pandemic which swept across Wiltshire through late 1918 and 1919.

To me there is something particularly poignant about a family man – and clearly a successful soldier for he had earned a Military medal, coming to the end of his life on the very day the armistice was signed.


His wife probably had to pay for the message at the bottom.

There is also something particularly poignant about a teenager laying down his life, quite some time after the war itself had ended.


Again an extra message has been paid for by a grieving family.

And of course the whole graveyard is poignant and redolent of the futility of that war and maybe wars in general.


How sad that these young men and women had to die far from home and loved ones.

A birthday present for Naomi

October 9, 2015

We have met my Great Aunt Naomi from time to time on this blog. She died aged 32, in 1911, from that scourge of the time, tuberculosis. Maybe her young death resulted in more of her items being kept but this one turned up in my sister’s house after her death last year. I’ll class it as something my sister forgot she had or failed to interpret. Surely she’d have told me about it otherwise.

The item is a book – an album of blank pages.


This measures some 21 by 13 cms and the pages are of reasonable quality different coloured paper. In later years it might have been called an autograph album. The album was a birthday present to Naomi on her 26th birthday which was on 23rd November 1905. It was given by her sister Ruth who had celebrated her 21st birthday earlier that year.

Ruth has written a greeting on the front page.


It was only a couple of years ago that I worked out that Naomi was known as Omy. Maybe my sister was lost as to who Omy was and stashed this away in a box in the loft. And there it stayed until house clearance began. Now of course, the circumstances are sad, but I am delighted to have this memento of a Great Aunt I never knew and who, by all accounts, was regarded as a very sweet person.

Actually, I didn’t know my Great Aunt Ruth either for she emigrated to Australia but I used to enjoy air mail letters that arrived from her.

We’ll have a look at some of the messages on future occasions. They all, as you’d expect from the family at that time, seem to feature biblical quotes.

The hen house, a maker’s plate and an optical illusion

October 8, 2015

When we moved to our present house, back in 1976, there was a rather derelict hen house already there.

image002It looks beyond it, but we renovated that hut, moved it to a more convenient location and had it in use for some years but one of those hefty storms of the 1980s blew it all over the place and it was way beyond repair. Our hens had to move elsewhere until we got a replacement.

I have preserved – or perhaps just kept – one small part of it. And that’s the maker’s plate.


It was made by F Pratten and Co of Midsomer Norton.

For me, in my working life as a teacher, the name ‘Pratten’ became a synonym for ‘mobile classroom’. I do not know if they were all made by this Somerset firm or whether some early ones were and the maker’s name stuck.

Sadly, the business closed down in the 1990s after some 80 or so years of making such buildings.

By the way, the maker’s plate is just a piece of pressed sheet metal. The other side, not normally seen because it was fixed to the hen house is an indented mirror image of the front.


You might see an optical illusion here. I know this is the back and the letters are indented. But sometimes they very definitely look to be raised. I’ve mirror imaged the reverse of this plate and I struggle to see that as it really is.


Mother and daughter at Haytor

October 7, 2015

Of course, that isn’t my mother but it is the mother of my little girl. In other words, it is my wife.


I think this was 1982. We were camping with sister in law and children she and her husband had at the time at Shaldon near Teignmouth in Devon. As per usual, I was happy enough to get away from the coast and up into the moors – in this case, Dartmoor. So here we see the sub two year old getting a taste of being up with the rocks whilst my wife appears to be catching a bit of wind.

I like the rocks – a Dartmoor tor on Haytor. They are very easily accessible by road so they are a tad popular. They make an easy beginning for a young family not accustomed to actual rock climbing.

The photo, of course, was taken on my good old Canon Demi.

Little Horsted

October 6, 2015

Back in 1892 my granny was born in a tiny little Sussex village called Little Horsted and here I have a postcard of the place.


This photo was in my grandmother’s collection but it wasn’t sent to her. However, it was sent to a place where she worked.


I picture a scene in which Granny, then just a lass of 13, was away from her home and feeling a bit lost and lonely. Perhaps a fellow servant, older and wiser, received this card and as the message was business like rather than personal, she gave it to Granny as a reminder of home. Actually, Granny and her parents moved home regularly. Her dad was a woodsman and they lived in cottages near the current job. But Granny did attend Little Horsted School and so non doubt she knew this scene well.

I can’t fathom out who Miss House was. Unlike my Granny, she was not at Saxon Court at the time of the 1911 census. But whoever she was, I thank her for I feel sure she was trying to make Granny smile.

The Slate Lands

October 5, 2015

On a wet and miserable August day we left Corris and promptly failed to go the way we intended. We mistakenly, but quite wonderfully, got to the slate lands around Aberllefenni.

This is a part of mid Wales where everything is made of slate.

In my part of the world we have chestnut paling fences. Here it is made of slate.


image002 High on a hill was a lonely slate mine.

Down at our level was the timekeeper’s office, complete with bell.


Also there is a sluice for managing water levels and power.


I have to say, I found this place – Aberllefenni – absolutely fascinating although it was hard to keep a camera dry!



The Gramophone Project – and a duck!

October 4, 2015

I’m afraid I have made absolutely no progress with my gramophone. The trouble is it looks reasonably OK and it works so I just use it.

And amongst items being cleared from my sister’s house there was this 78RPM record. Now my sister didn’t collect them and I don’t think this is a family piece at all. My sister traded and I suspect she bought this hoping (probably mistakenly) that it could turn a small profit. It is certainly a bizarre record.


Very reflective! I see my hands holding a camera at the bottom!

The record looks a bit like an LP, clearly divided into tracks. In fact it doesn’t play continuously. Each track is a separate groove.


This is record Y.B.19. I haven’t found much information about this one, but the Y.B. series appear to be sound effects and others in the series have a 1929 date. The other side has more harmonious birds.


So what are the sound effects like? Well not what you might expect. I have recorded the duck on the project gramophone and you can see and hear it by clicking here. I suggest you turn your sound up loud and prepare to fall about laughing!

You see it isn’t a duck at all. It’s a man pretending to be a duck.

But it is great fun.



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