Friday, 18 October 2013

Amused at Southsea

Clarence Pier, Southsea in 2013
I recently gave a talk in Portsmouth to the local National Trust centre and I popped along the road to Southsea to see if Billy Manning's amusement arcade was still there. As children in the early 1960s we used to spend a day and all our pocket money there. I can remember a paddle steamer circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight and a speedboat trip in and out of the warships at anchor. We were very impressed by passing under the overhang of  the flight deck of an aircraft carrier and seeing the fledgling hovercraft service running up onto the beach.
Hovercraft arriving, Southsea c.1964
Hovercraft loading, Southsea c.1964

What I did not realise was that the amusements were built on a pier, the Clarence Pier. It was opened in 1861 to serve the paddle steamer service to the Isle of Wight but was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in 1941. Reconstruction was started in the 1950s and the pier re-opened in 1961. It is unusual in that rather than running out to sea, it seems to run along the coast -- it is much wider than its length.
Well, the pier and the amusements are still there. I don't think that it is a listed building but that architecture is so distinctive that I would not be surprised if something was done about it in the future.

Monday, 7 October 2013

French Farming in 1890? Really?

The harvest is over, the haymaking is finished, the next crop is already pushing up through the tilth. It is the right time of year to view this illustration. It appears in a picture book published in 1890 by the Religious Tract Society and purports to show French farmers haymaking by electric light. In the foreground is what is known as a 'portable engine', that is to say, a steam engine which has to be towed into position. It is running a generator which feeds electricity via the thick cable to a lamp mounted on a pylon attached to the engine. In the mid ground two stands of wheat are being harvested by horse drawn reapers, stooks are being laid on the ground, haystacks are being erected and in the background we can see another steam engine with electric light pylon which is running a threshing machine by means of a drive belt from its flywheel. We are looking at a remarkable capital investment in machinery for 1890.

I first visited France 75 years after this drawing was published and was struck by how poorly equipped were French farmers compared to their contemporaries in the UK. Had something happened in the interim? Or is this engraving a representation of how the Religious Tract Society wanted the world to be rather than of how the world was? What do you think?

And why is the smoke from the engines blowing in different directions?

Thursday, 3 October 2013


Once again the Foreign Office fail their French exam.
'Couleur de cheveux' should read, 'couleur des cheveux'.
The error lay undetected for thirteen years.
Not another mistake in the
British passport?  On 5th September 1934, Mr. W. C. Ryan of 106 Abel Smith Street, Wellington, New Zealand wrote to the Foreign Office in London:

"May I be allowed with great respect to advise you that I recently saw a Foreign Office passport dated in the year 1926 and there is a misprint on page 2. Should  not the words, 'couleur de cheveux' be amended to, 'couleur des cheveux'? If this has not since been corrected, I feel that it should be brought under notice."
Yours faithfully,
 W.C. Ryan.

This error had been introduced when the printers De La Rue had taken over the printing of the British passport from Harrisons in 1921 and it had been perpetrated in every subsequent version of the document until 1934. The Foreign Office did not express much concern and even less regret that the fault had lain undetected for thirteen years and then had been pointed out to them by a member of the public rather than from someone within their own department. In correcting the mistake an official observed in a handwritten note in the margin of the file, "it is curious that we have not spotted it before."

Click here to go to The British Passport Centenary

Click here to go to my Sunday Post interview on passport photographs.

The Passport - The History of Man's Most Travelled Document, by Martin Lloyd.

Read the first chapter here.

Neither Civil nor Servant - Twenty four years in the Immigration Service by Martin Lloyd.

Read the first chapter here.

Search the blog for my series of evocative posts entitled, Passport Portraits of Yesteryear.