Our research recently took us to the seaside town of Selsey in West Sussex on the south coast of England, at the tip of the low-lying Manhood Peninsula, some 8 miles due south of the cathedral city of Chichester. Bounded by the sea on two sides, with fertile farmland to the north, Selsey was once virtually an island. Even now, there is only one main route into the town – the road from Chichester. It was on Selsey island that Christianity was introduced to Sussex around AD 680 when St Wilfrid was driven ashore during a storm and subsequently founded a monastery and cathedral there. Both have long disappeared beneath the sea due to coastal erosion.
Today, Selsey is part-seaside resort and part-dormitory town for Chichester. For centuries the main occupations were farming, fishing and smuggling, but in the 19th century Selsey began to thrive as a seaside resort. During the 1930s, when holiday camps were becoming popular, Broadreeds Holiday Camp was built, designed on a Spanish theme. In World War Two, the camp was used as accommodation for handicapped children evacuated from London, though its location right on the south coast made it a target for attack. Continue reading
We end 2015 with Christmas cards used for greetings. Internet communications have been with us for only a few years, and Twitter is a relative newcomer, but the concept of Twitter – writing a message in a few words – is much older. The General Post Office in Britain (which became ‘The Post Office’ in 1969) once provided a next-day delivery (in some places a same-day delivery) of letters and postcards without levying an extra charge. It was not uncommon for someone to post a postcard around midday to warn that they would be late home – and for the postcard to be delivered that afternoon. For much of the 20th century, there were relatively few telephones in Britain and mobile phones were a sci-fi dream, so postcards were the tweets of their day.
A 1905 greeting
At Christmas, cards became the main form of seasonal greeting, but festive postcards were used as well, especially for last-minute communication. The one below is a postcard of Queen Victoria’s statue at Southend-on-Sea in Essex, overprinted with ‘Best Wishes for Xmas and the New Year’ in embossed red lettering. It was posted with a halfpenny stamp in January 1909 at Sacriston in County Durham to an address at Wolsingham about 10 miles away. Agnes was writing to her uncle ‘to thank you for your cards which were very much admired especially those with the tinsel on. I am sending you this, which is not very nice, Continue reading
A few weeks ago, on 8th May 2015, Britain commemorated the 70th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe Day). This was not the end of World War Two, which continued in the Pacific, but the end of hostilities in Europe. In World War One, Britain had experienced a few raids by air and sea, but in World War Two the conflict was brought right into the British Isles with the bombing, the shortages caused by the war at sea disrupting supplies, and the constant threat of spies, raids and invasion. VE Day was therefore particularly significant for everyone.
Very few people in Britain had an easy life during World War Two, but it could be particularly gruelling for those in the munitions factories, as one young woman found. Continue reading
STOREHOUSES OF HISTORY
There are so many churches in Britain that their role as storehouses of history is often overlooked. Many date back to the early medieval period, and some were built before the Norman Conquest of 1066. Frequently altered, repaired and enlarged, the very fabric of these buildings is a record of constant use over the last millennium. Within and outside every church, various monuments also have their own history, and objects with no other obvious home are frequently stored in the local church or placed there for protection, so that some churches are like small museums. Most churches have at least one interesting story to tell, but the ruined Holy Rood Church in Southampton, Hampshire, probably has more than most.
THE AUSTENS IN SOUTHAMPTON
Medieval Southampton was completely enclosed by fortified town walls, large parts of which survive today. For a brief period Jane Austen was at school in Southampton, then a small port at the head of Southampton Water, and although she nearly died of typhus there, this did not deter her Continue reading
In the dim-and-distant days before computer games, children made their own entertainment – and sometimes their own toys too. An old favourite was the cotton-reel tank, made from cheap materials that were then readily available – a wooden cotton reel, an elastic [or rubber] band, a piece of wax candle and a couple of matchsticks. Reels for cotton thread were once made of wood, not plastic, and because most families did a great deal of sewing at home (mending and making clothes), empty cotton reels were abundant. With little money to spend on commercially produced toys, children would use their craft skills to turn them into military tanks.
Materials for a tank
A disc of wax was sliced off the candle and a hole carefully made in the centre, where the wick was. Through this hole was threaded an elastic band, one end of which was held in place by a wooden matchstick. The protruding loop of elastic was threaded through the hole down the centre of the cotton reel and secured in place at the other end by half a matchstick. When the longer matchstick was ‘wound up’, the so-called tank would crawl along until the elastic band unwound.
All kinds of refinements were added. The ‘wheels’ (the rims of the cotton reel) were frequently notched to give Continue reading