Archive for January, 2013

The Coronation in 1953

January 31, 2013

This year it is 60 years since our Queen Elizabeth II was crowned. If people in other parts of the world get confused – for we celebrated her Diamond Jubilee last year, Elizabeth became queen at the instant her father died in 1952. She happened to be in Kenya at the time but in any case, it takes time to organise a big state event, and you could hardly be cheering a new queen whilst mourning the deceased King. It’s normal for a year to elapse before the official crowning of a new monarch.

I wasn’t very old at the time of the coronation, but I have some memories.  Notably I remember going to our village scout hall where a television had been set up for the community to see the event – the first such event to be live televised. Of course, many people bought their first TV for this occasion so they could watch the pageant from the comfort of their own homes.

I was unimpressed with TV. My sister insists that the TV was projected on to a big screen. That’s not my memory. My memory is of a box at the front of the hall with some vague, flicker black and white shapes on it. From my position at the back of the hall, I really couldn’t make anything of it. I know I wanted to escape out into the real world, whilst others thought it was wonderful and marvellous.

And of course, in truth it was. I know we take live pictures from all over the world as 100% normal these days. Sixty years ago, it was a new miracle – to be able to see and hear events in London, as they happened whilst sitting in your own village or town. It is hard to imagine just how much of a breakthrough this was. No wonder most people, older and wiser than me, felt this was something almost sensational.

My first experience of TV has stayed with me. Of course I watch things, but for the most part I am not much of a TV user – and that despite the fact that I really do think the British Broadcasting Corporation is a peerless broadcaster.

Now to something I don’t actually remember from Coronation year. We went, as a family, up to London to see the decorations – and here we are.


From left to right we have my brother, my sister, Dad, Mum and me. Sadly, only my sister and I are still in the land of the living. Mum died young, when I was a teenager. My brother died in his early thirties. Dad lived into his upper 70s. He’d have been 93 if he was still alive now. That picture was taken near Buckingham Palace. My dad had a delayed shutter device which screwed into the normal button you pressed on the camera.


Here we have the same three children – sister, brother and self, playing on the coronation beacon on Mount Caburn in Sussex. The date was May 23rd 1953, a few days before the coronation – but a huge fire was prepared for this hilltop.

Happy days!

Meet the Ancestor – Great Granny Stevens

January 30, 2013

We have met Great Granny, the postcard writer, who called her daughter ‘China Chicks’ already on this blog. Let’s look at the person this time.

Great Granny was born as Sarah Anne Crosby in the little village of Butley in Suffolk. She entered this world on 1st September 1850. Her father, James was, almost inevitably, an agricultural labourer. Her mother, Mary Ann (Cullingford Smith) came from further north in Suffolk, Blythburgh. Cullingford Smith may sound posh, but it isn’t. Her father carried the names of his unmarried parents and was an agricultural labourer as well.

Great Granny was part of a large and growing family. She was the sixth of ten known children. Ellen, her oldest sister (also born out of wedlock) was ten years older than Sarah Anne. The youngest sibling, John, did not arrive until 1864, just a year before his father died.

Sarah Anne attended the school at Butley and it was there that she made a sampler, held now by a distant family member. I have a black and white photo my dad took.


After the death of James, the whole family slowly scattered. Some of the older boys went north and became miners. Others moved to the neighbouring county of Essex and continued to be farm labourers. Over a period of time, three of the girls moved to Isfield in Sussex – Ellen, the oldest, Sarah Anne, my great granny and Susannah, a younger sister. Why they moved to Isfield we don’t know, but it was in Isfield that Sarah Anne met local lad George Stevens. They married in 1879.

The family were never well off so photos of Sarah Anne are scarce.


I have no date on this photo which was by an Eastbourne photographer so was after Sarah Anne moved to Isfield.

Saran Anne and George had seven children. Two of them did not survive their first couple of years.


Here we have an older Sarah Anne, still with a certain degree of elegance.

And below we see Great Granny in the 1920s.


Great Granny died in 1929. We have a news cutting about her funeral.


It is a long time since I looked at this cutting. I realise a mourner was Miss Newnham, niece. Now who was she?

My First Record

January 29, 2013

I noticed that our wonderful British Broadcasting Corporation website had ‘celebs’ talking about the first record they had ever bought and I thought, ‘Yes, that will make a blog subject for me’. But I am varying the rules of the game just a bit.

My main source for records is and always was ‘second hand’. I certainly had no concept of childhood being ‘strapped for cash’ but it was, and at an age when friends were buying the latest offerings from the pop icons of 1960, I was going to jumble sales where I was almost showered with 78 RPM records which were old and redundant. I fear I could not tell you which one came first.

In 1965 I went to a political protest meeting. There was nothing unusual about this. Teenagers should protest and of course, it takes years before cynicism cuts in and you feel it is a futile waste of time. This protest was about Ian Smith’s unilateral declaration of independence in Southern Rhodesia. Mr Smith had decreed two classes of people in his country. His minority of ex European white people had control. The majority, black African population had nothing. Or that was how it seemed to me at the time. An unheard of band, The Dedicated Men’s Jug Band performed at this protest meeting. I thought they were brilliant and guess what – they were just releasing a single. I went out and bought it from a small record shop in my home town. This, of course was a 45 RPM  vinyl disc.


To be honest – this ‘A’ side, ‘Don’t Come Knocking’, was made a bit pop like for me. It wasn’t like the wonderful bluesy stuff they had played at the protest. But the ‘B’ side! Ah! That was so different and utterly brilliant in its simplicity.


‘One Time Blues’ has it all, notably fantastic solos on that jug. It’s by far the better of the two sides in my opinion.

There’s very little information that I can find about this band but there is a You tube video of them playing what I think was their only other single release. This film features men looking much older so probably was quite a recent get together.


January 28, 2013

Yesterday I had milestones. Just one letter changed today!

We all have millstones round our neck. Is this an opportunity for me to rant on about mortgages, difficult family members or things like that? The answer is, no! I don’t have those things. Being of the baby boomer generation, we have paid off our mortgage. I am blessed with a wonderful family. We don’t seem to argue and when chips are down we support one another.

It will come as no surprise that another thing I like is mills – water or wind.

At one time my wife and I were guides at Wiltshire’s only working windmill at Wilton near Marlborough (not the bigger Wilton near Salisbury). It still operates, without us being involved and you can read about it here. .

We were involved in the 1970s and it is now some time since I visited.


But there it was, grand as ever, with a millwright’s van there, on 14th August 2001.

We do tend to visit mills. This one is at Tacumshane not far from Rosslaire in Eire.


Now that is just beautiful. This photo was taken in 2011 when the mill looked better than it had done on a previous visit in 1990. Then the thatch had a tarpaulin to help keep it waterproof.


This one looks Gallic and it is. It’s on a hill that looks out over the Mediterranean Sea at Collioure.

If I pick a favourite style it would be the weather boarded smock mills – common in Kent which is one of my ancestral home counties. This one is at Woodchurch – my Great Grandmother, Sarah Jane Kesby lived there for a while as a baby in the 1870s.


Mills need maintenance and this one has been undergoing work each time we have visited. This was in 2010.

I had better stop. I could go on for ever!

Life’s Milestones

January 27, 2013

One of the things I love about writing this blog is the opportunity it gives me to relive old experiences. I am not nostalgic for ‘the good old days’. I recognise the good in today and hope for good tomorrow as well. Life is for living now. But I can’t deny that the past matters to me – perhaps more than it does to many people and I enjoy looking back at those milestones that mark our progression through time and space. Here’s one of them.


Hmm! It’s not that clear at this resolution so let’s zoom in.


Yes, I am using an actual milestone to remember a holiday, twenty years ago, in the Isle of Man. That three legged symbol at the top of the stone is a dead give-away, even for those who don’t know place names in this island from which, on a clear day you can see England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Actually, they claim you can see seven kingdoms. As well as the four above there’s Man itself, the kingdom of the sea and the Kingdom of Heaven. And it’s true. We had a clear enough day to stand atop a mountain and see all of them.

Being a nerd, I love milestones. I think my favourites are still the East Sussex ones from my childhood which tell you the distance to Bow Bells in London using a symbolic representation. Isn’t it the way of things? I have no photos of one of them, but there’s a good website called from which I have ‘borrowed’ this one.


This one is near Uckfield where many an ancestor lived and worked.

But holidays also are milestones in life’s progression and we remember it for all sorts of reasons. We had pre booked a campsite and when we got there found it to be truly impossible. So we didn’t stay and we found a great campsite at Laxey, near the milestone. It was the first time we had used a campsite which had a kitchen and washing up facilities. By pure chance my wife knew another camper there and they had blundered by forgetting their tent poles.  They were able to hire another tent!

We had a wonderful holiday and would love to go back sometime. But ferries are so expensive – it is always cheaper to go to France!

But milestones still happen.


This one is hardly a milestone for it has no miles on it, was on holiday in Cornwall last year, at Wenfordbridge. The family milestone here was that it was the first holiday after my wife had foot straightening surgery. Although the weather hardly allowed us to see Cornwall, let alone 7 kingdoms, it was wonderful in that life was returning to normal.


January 26, 2013

We nerds aren’t supposed to like art. After all, art, by its nature, is interpretive and not a wholly true representation of reality. Nerds are supposed to disapprove, preferring technical things.

This happy nerd very much likes Impressionist paintings and enjoys visiting art galleries, particularly if Impressionist art is on the walls. But to be fair, he’ll do Tate Modern or the National Gallery as well although not always with the same enjoyment or appreciation.

He particularly likes galleries where the camera can be out and in use. So here he is going to make a recommendation = an art gallery to visit. OK, it’s in France but not that far away from the UK.  In fact it is possible to take a ferry from the UK, direct to the town under consideration. And that town is Le Havre and the gallery is called The Musée Malraux often abbreviated to MuMa. The museum contains one of the most extensive collections of Impressionist works in France.

Let’s look at some favourites – I have been more than once and the pictures on display change.

Let’s start with Renoir’s ‘Portrait of Nini Lopez’.




That’s a Pissarro.

And a Sisley



Of course there are Monets – not to mention Manets, pictures by Degas etc etc. But I’m going to give a boost to Boudin who I refer to as ‘the cow man’.


Boudin was a Normandy man and the MuMa has a lot of his local works. I think they are wonderful.

Departure from Camp

January 25, 2013

I think this must have been the first year my family went camping with our own equipment. What we didn’t have was a car or any method of transporting our weighty tents and equipment. My dad hired a local farmer who took us using his car and a trailer.


It looks like a scene from the distant past, as indeed, for many people it is. Well, it was 1954 which was 59 years ago. We were being collected, probably after a fortnight of isolation on our remote downland spot.

It has to be said that the journey has not burnt itself into my memory. I am sure that for the next four or five years we hired a small lorry and travelling in the back of that is how I remember the way we went.

You can get an idea from that heavily overladen trailer that we did take everything, including bikes. There were no modern materials for the tents. The canvas was heavy duty, thick and the poles and frames were substantial wooden items. These days lightweight man-made fibres are supported, often, on fibreglass structures.

I do not know who the farmer was, but I guess that is him at the back of the trailer. My guess is that it may have been Tom Ellis who farmed in Ifield. My suspicion that it is him is based more on the car. In later years he drove a car like that around the farm. He had a limp and didn’t walk all that well. The car is definitely an Austin. I’m afraid I can’t tell you what model it is but if it is the one I remember it was a light green colour.

These cars had a badge on the back which said ‘Austin of England’. It was in script and I found it hard to read. In fact, for years, I thought it said, ‘Almighty England’ and that phrase is still used by me if I see an old Austin.

I love my country (which is the United Kingdom), my continent of Europe and my world. I don’t see one part of my country (England) as more mighty than other places in the world. So that ‘Almighty England’ phrase just makes me laugh.

A postcard from Great Granny

January 24, 2013

I learn much from the Edwardian post cards that my Gran saved. In terms of family history it may be trivial stuff, but somehow the pet names they used add a little something to people I never knew. We get confirmation of addresses lived at, for unlike the popular idea that ‘people didn’t move’ all I can say is that they jolly well did. Maybe not far from some home village, but some of them moved frequently.

Today we are looking at a card that was sent to my Granny, by her mother. Great Gran’s writing is near illegible, but we’ll do our best.image002


This is the front of the card and the message is clear. Actually, I rather imagine Great Gran was really saying, ‘I want my baby’ for my gran was the youngest of her children and the last to leave home.

Gran was in service in Buxted at the time.


Saxon Court was a minor country house and still exists. I believe it is now a nursing home. In 1907, when this card was sent, Gran would have been 15. I wonder if she had already met Obed, her future husband. We have shown a coded card he sent to Ethel. Click here to be reminded.

Now we come to the message.


Before attempting a full transcription I must comment on the salutation – my own china chicks’. There are several cards sent to my Gran which call her China Chicks. It must have been her mum’s affectionate name for her.

OK. A best I can do transcription!

My Own china chicks

There you are still want your ma poor little ch. Did they feed you with a shuvle and give you cold cabbage and lard and make your tum tum ache. Kit says little Mary sends her love. She looking for a letter. I am longing to see you again for it seems such a long time since I saw you last. Mr S wishes to be remembered with love from mater

In cards sent from great gran to gran, she always calls herself ‘mater’. This one looks less like mater than the others do, but I have transcribed it as such,

The unanswered questions – who was Kit, who was Mary and who was Mr S.

Also unanswered is just where was Great Gran living? In 1911 she and husband George were at the delightfully named Pest House Cottage on the outskirts of Ringmer but in 1901 they had been in the Rose Hill area of Isfield.



January 23, 2013

Scottish Islands have become something of a speciality of ours over the last dozen or so years but back in 2001 they were still something of a novelty. So, too, was digital pghotography and that relatively easy ability to stitch photos together to make a panorama. Actually, in 2001 it still required computer skills. I, at least, had no auto-panorama facility.

But we have to have a go at things and standing at Claonaig on Kintyre (mainland), awaiting the ferry to Lochranza on the Isle of Arran, I took a few shots of the mountainous northern end of that island, some 5 miles away. I’d have been using my superb Olympus  Camedia camera with its 1.3 mega pixel capability. It sounds laughable in today’s terms but that camera continues to turn out super photos, albeit not taken by me. I can happily say it is the eye and brain behind the camera that really matters.

Back home I probably used some very cheap photo software to splice the images together, making adjustments to the brightness of each image to try to ensure a match. Looking at the image now, I reckon I used wiggly lines as the join between one photo and the next and I should say I did a bit of smudging as well. Here’s the image.


Now the blog format isn’t the best for panoramas but as ever you can click on the picture to see a larger version – albeit not as big as my original panorama.

We can see it was a grey day. At the left hand end (which is the north) we have Cock of Arran. Goat Fell, the highest mountain on the island 874 metres) is roughly in the middle of the image, but it is behind the range of nearer hills. These only go up to about 720 metres. At the right hand end the land slopes down to Whitefarland Point.

Many more Scottish islands have been visited since then. Bothering with putting together panoramas has rarely been done.

A Favourite Place

January 22, 2013

My most favourite place of all is where we used to camp as a family when I was young. A remote spot on the South Downs, a few miles from Lewes, has real meaning for me. There is nothing there in terms of man-made structure. It is just a huge field. But somehow my childhood and what made me what I am as an over 60 year old are all wrapped up in that field. If I feel troubled, and we all do from time to time, I let my thoughts turn back to ‘camp’. A peace comes over me. I feel at one with the world.

I have lots of photos of this place and the area but a couple of years ago my sister gave me a print of a painting by Eric Ravilious. He knew the area before I was born for, sadly, he was killed whilst working as a war artist in World War II.


There are enough clues in this for us – my sister and I – to be sure this is ‘our’ place. But it is stylised and not a photographic rendition of the area. But I love the image which Ravilious just called ‘Downs in Winter’. It’ll be no surprise, that we camped in the summer, but we visited at other times. I knew that view in winter.

The amazing thing about this picture, painted in 1934, is that it bridges two eras in my life. My childhood is utterly tied up with the area, but that roller in the foreground brings me to my 21st century life. I volunteer curate our village museum and the village is the one where that kind of roller was first made – invented by a local man with the surname Cambridge. That was back in the 1830s but farmers still use Cambridge’s clod crushing rollers to this day.

So hanging in the dining room is a picture that I glance at and it brings a smile to me for so many reasons. But mostly because it shows a favourite place.