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There have been a number of ships whose names are well-known to history because of their association with a famous man; Nelson’s Victory, Columbus’s Santa Maria and Drake’s Golden Hind are amongst those which come readily to mind. The Beagle however belongs almost in a class of her own, having become famous through her association with not one but two famous men: Charles Darwin, the father of modern evolutionary biology and Robert FitzRoy, the father of modern meteorological science. With the publication of Keith Thomson’s book, she has now acquired another distinction, the only ship (as far as is known) to have her own biography. For this book is quite specifically the life story of a ship, not of any of those who may have sailed in her.
This substantial work draws on and quotes from many sources, some of them hitherto unpublished. Baird is not an easy character to describe, but from his early years he was obviously fascinated by the discovery of the telephone and the ability to transmit sound over a landline and, of course, by radio when Marconi achieved fame with his transatlantic achievement. Although plagued throughout his life with ill-health he managed to engage in a number of business ventures, some of which were successful and others were not. He finally found that his lifelong interest was devising schemes to transmit moving pictures by wire or by radio, and although there will always be argument about who actually invented what we now know as television there is no doubt that he was a visionary in this area.
The first impression of John Coulter’s book ‘Norwood Past’ is that it is an extremely well produced and researched record of the past 250 years of life in Norwood, and is an admirable companion to Alan Warwick’s ‘Phoenix Suburb’ which, although written in 1972 and revised in 1982 by the Norwood Society, is still essential reading for anyone with a Norwood interest. Coulter’s book follows very similar chronological lines but has much more detail on the famous and infamous personalities of the day which is supported by dozens of excellent prints and illustrations which have not appeared before.
John Coulter has brought together a wealth of information about past and present Norwood public houses, hotels and beer houses. ‘Mine Host’ figures as a character in many books, and Coulter usefully produces an index of them and their establishments. Some were grand places - the original Beulah Spa for example - and others were nothing more than a short-lived ground floor room with beer barrels serving both as tables and seats, and of course as containers for beer. No doubt the latter is where the term ‘spit and sawdust’ originated. A beer house did not, apparently, need a full licence, and hence their proliferation at the time. Some were so short-lived that scarcely any record of them has survived.
This is an autobiography full of fascinating local history. Gerald Wells gives his family history and describes the building of Rosendale Road, South Norwood where he lived all his life and set up his Vintage Wireless Museum. He describes all the shops that existed in the 1930’s in the Road at the time when he attended the local primary school and went on to Dulwich College Preparatory School in Alleyn Park. He saw the burning of the Crystal Palace and discusses how the fire might have started. He became obsessed with ‘things electrical’ and collected them from wherever he could – sometimes without the owners’ permission! He began at an early age to build wireless sets and went to a school that gave some valuable background in engineering and in repairing wireless sets. He gives a fascinating account of the wireless sets of the day, interspersed to references to the ‘hit’ tunes of the time.
What a pleasure it is to introduce you to an autobiography by our own charming President, The Hon. Mrs. Maurice Lubbock. In reading it one can understand how the grace she exudes comes so naturally to her. Adelaide Lubbock's book spans the first quarter of this century. It is a record of her early life spent in this country and in Australia where her father, Sir Arthur Stanley, was Governor of Victoria. The Stanley family comes over as made up of very real people. Through a combination of her own memories and her mother's letters, Mrs. Lubbock gives a fascinating account of her childhood in a privileged society. At the same time she writes vividly on a number of aspects of the social history of the time.
We all have nostalgic memories of our childhood years. Where we fought, played, grew up from a children's world of make-believe to the real world that could be cruel - much crueller than children can ever be. The Geordie thinks of the Scotswood Road, Wallsend: the Glaswegians, the Gorbals, Sauchiehall Street: the Londoner - if he comes from south of the river - the Old Kent Road: the Elephant, Commercial Road, Brick Lane, Petticoat Lane and Dockland - these areas of cranes, ships' masts and funnels poking about the brick warehouses. A drive or a walk around where you grew up 30 or 40 years ago shows changes. Not just the buildings have gone, the chummy slum replacd by the cold and impersonal blocks, but the atmosphere - the people - the feel - is different in a way that has got nothing to do with bright new kitchens and indoor loos.
This book tells of the work, not only of one man, but of many with whom he shared his beliefs and talents. John Ninian Comper (the John was dropped in common use, probably because his father was also John Comper) was born in Aberdeen on 10th June 1964, but his accident of birth did not make him a Scotsman. His father came from Sussex and sought work as a schoolmaster, and ordination as a priest. His ambition had been to take holy orders in the Church of England, but at that time the Church of England insisted on an Oxford or Cambridge education, and so he was not qualified. The Scottish Episcopal Church imposed no such restriction, however, and so he was ordained a priest in that Church.
If you are looking for a good Christmas present for someone who is interested in local history, then this is a book you should consider.
Chris Shields is a local musician, composer, writer and historian. He grew up in a house on Spa Hill and developed an interest in the Beulah Spa from an early age. He has worked for the Croydon library service for many years and currently manages a branch library.
The book is a new look at the history of The Beulah Spa 1831-1856, a once popular natural saline spring and spa said by Faraday to be purer than Bath and Wells, containing more salts than the waters of Cheltenham.