Friday, 9 August 2013

The 100th Friday blog!

There are all sorts of reasons for working. Two old saws come to mind: keeping the wolf from the door and keeping a roof over one’s head. Some authors write commercial output – which they may well call “wolf scarers” – while also writing what they really want to write even though it does not earn that much.

I seem to remember that this was true of Bruno Trevanionn. We meet him in The Golden Cup. His, uncommercial, passion was to write about the work of Joseph Bazalgette (a relation) who was responsible, as Chief Engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, for an incredible networks of drains and sewers under London – much still in use today. He did much else besides, embanking much of the River Thames and building a number of bridges.
The famous Butterwalk in Dartmouth
I have a fellow feeling with Bruno on this subject. My grandfather moved from Kent to take the post of Engineer and Health Inspector for the then Royal Borough of Dartmouth and it was he who completed the embankment of the River Dart which resulted in the draining of a creek known as Coombe Mud and the creation of a new public space now called Coronation Park. Prior to this there was a row of cottages, Coombe Terrace, at the head of the creek and these remain today. If you drive down into Dartmouth by the new main road you will find them on your left as you skirt round Coronation Park.
Fairfax Place and, below, detail of the panels seen above the red car.
None of this has much to do with Marcia’s writing although she is fairly confident that the next novel to be tackled will be set in Dartmouth and the town is much in my mind at the moment. It has changed dramatically over the years. Indeed, it has changed dramatically during my lifetime. Much of the industry that kept the place alive has gone to be replaced by tourism. There is an industrial estate nearby but little is now made in the town itself. Gone are the boatyards, the pottery (Dartmouth Pottery is still made but not in Dartmouth), the blacksmith, the gas works and the generating house which supplied the town with electricity – 400 volts DC was produced which was, literally, lethal. All of these places are tangled up with my family history and so I can well understand why Bruno was fascinated by that of his.
The Cherub now a pub but once a merchant's house
One of the reasons that Dartmouth is so popular with the visitors is that it retains many of the medieval buildings for which it is rightly famous. We forget that they stand simply because the place was too poor to replace them until the wheel of fortune turned and we came to realise that these beautiful old treasures needed to be preserved.
As always, it is the river that is at the heart of Dartmouth
Marcia’s characters will probably be living in something rather more modern and definitely more convenient. Throughout history Dartmouth has swung between riches and poverty many times. Generally speaking it has been the sea that has brought the riches – as in 1592 when the famous Madre de Deus, a Portuguese treasure ship which had been captured was brought into the harbour. Much of her cargo “disappeared” before the arrival of Sir Walter Raleigh to take possession in the name of Queen Elizabeth.
The Britannia Royal Naval College as it is today
I have mentioned the Embankment: much of the earlier work that was carried out to embank the river and reclaim the muddy shores was done by French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars and it was shortly after that war that the decision was taken to create an academy for training officers for the Royal Navy at Dartmouth. Initially this was housed in an old wooden warship, HMS Britannia which is why the present establishment is known as Britannia Royal Naval College – and I am sure you will all remember the part that that establishment played in Those Who Serve and, later, in the Chadwick Trilogy.
I have to confess that I cannot find the name of this handsome fellow.