Southsea – St Jude’s Church and Vicarage

In his book A Study In Southsea, Geoffrey Stavert traces Arthur Conan Doyle’s life in the seaside town, partially through Doyle’s fictionalised account of Southsea life in his novel The Stark Munro letters. His real-life surgery at No. 1 Bush Villas, was renamed “Oakley Villas”, while St Jude’s was newly Christened “St. Joseph’s”. Stavert writes:

At “Elmwood”, a pleasantly commodious Thomas Owen house situated just off Elm Grove between Grove Road South and the Woodpath (on part of the site now occupied by Telephone House), with lawns and hedges on three sides, lived the Reverend Charles Russell Tompkins, a curate of St Jude’s Church, Southsea. Not content with a wife and seven daughters to minister to his creature comforts, the Rev. Tompkins also maintained a cook, a housemaid and a nurse. It sounds as if St. Jude’s was a comfortable parish in 1883.

I suspect the Rev. Tompkins was the original of the un-named “High Church Curate of St. Joseph’s” whose encounter with the new tenant of Oakley Villas is described in The Stark Munro Letters. The curate had been one of the first to call after the new doctor had put up his plate, with high hopes of welcoming him to the flock, and had been considerably taken aback when he was firmly told that the doctor had no intention of becoming a regular attender at his church or any other…

Come and celebrate Conan Doyle’s life in Portsmouth at Holmes Fest on 28th June 2017 at The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth. Tickets are selling, so book your seat here before it’s too late. https://www.wegottickets.com/event/401304

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Clarence Pier, Southsea, in the 1880s

One fine day towards the end of June 1882, a young man stepped ashore from a coastal steamer at Clarence Pier, at the western end of Southsea Common. He was tall, broad-shouldered, with plump cheeks, a well-developed moustache, and a pair of sharp, bold eyes which hinted that although it was only a month after his twenty third birthday, he had already been a round a bit and could look after himself nicely, thank you. He was dressed in comfortable tweeds, complete with waistcoat and stiff collar and tie, despite the time of year. With him he had all his worldly possessions: a tin box containing his top-hat (every Victorian gentleman with any pretensions to professional respectability had to have a top-hat, and consequently a box to carry it in) and a leather trunk.

It must have been a pretty heavy trunk, because not only did it contain his best suit, spare pair of boots (shoes were not commonly worn by men, being considered effeminate), linen and toilet things and a few essential books, but also a brass plate inscribed with his name and medical degree, and his photographic gear, comprising at least a large wooden box camera, separate lens, and a set of glass photographic plates. Young Doctor Conan Doyle had arrived to seek his fortune as a general practitioner in Portsmouth.

– From “A Study In Southsea”, by Geoffrey Stavert.

Celebrate the life and times of Arthur Conan Doyle in Portsmouth at The Square Tower on Wednesday 28th June 2017. Stories, songs, duelling, poison bottles – and a prize for the Best Dressed Victorian!

Light refreshments, good company and top hats. What more can you want?

 It’s here at last! – The Day of the Dead, from Portsmouth Writers’ Hub.

 

The Day of the Dead includes macabre, ghastly and chilling tales – all dealing with the subject of death, from writers connected with The Portsmouth Writers’ Hub. 28 strange and ghastly stories are brought to you by 20 writers, including experienced hands at crafting a spinechiller, as well as relative newcomers.

Established novelists such as William Sutton, Diana Bretherick and V H Leslie, rub shoulders with shining new talents, respected short story writers including A J Noon, Justin MacCormack, Jacqui Pack, S J Butler, Glenda Cooper, Sue Shipp, Tom Pinnock and many others.

The book is all about Death – but don’t think that it’s only a collection of dark tales. Magical stories of ghostly visitors mingle with comic tales of neighbourhood watching and cannibalism. Zombies are employed in one story to help claim an inheritance, while another is a broad comedy about a Victorian murder.

Shudder, weep, laugh… and enjoy – the authors of Day of the Dead invite you to join their celebration of all things mortal – before it’s too late.

 

sir-arthur-conan-doyle2 detailThings have been a little quiet on the website of late, but Life Is Amazing has been pushing on with producing more of the niche books associated with Southern England, and making new friends.

Recently we had several great reviews for Conan Doyle and the Mysterious World of Light. 

Dr Tom Ruffles, writing for The Society for Psychic Research described the book as “an attractive package,” noting that:

[the book’s] real service is not just in reprinting articles and letters, valuable though that is, but locating them within the debates between those who saw Spiritualism as a new religion, those who saw it as a return to a more authentic Christianity, those who saw it as an enemy of Christianity, and those critics who saw it as an enemy of reason.  There was an intense intellectual ferment, and by including material by other writers Wingett shows how Spiritualism tapped into a wider discussion about the place of religion in a world which could contain so much suffering and loss.  The various threads are tied together by his impartial commentary.

You can read the review here.

One of the great journals of paranormal investigation is The Fortean Times, and Alan Murdie (Chair of The Ghost Club, 0f which Conan Doyle was also a member), wrote:

Wingett does a valuable service for scholars and historians by reproducing every article and letter that Doyle wrote for the publication between 1887 and 1920. But he also goes further in examining the impact that Doyle made and the controversies which erupted as he set forth to convince the world of the spiritualist case for survival after death.

This is a great review, though you’ll have to buy The Fortean Times number 343 to read it all, since it is not available online.

Also very positive was Roy Stemman’s review in Psychic News:

 

Not only does Wingett’s book give us an insight into Doyle’s thinking on a subject that he would ultimately regard as of the utmost importance to the world, but it also lifts the curtain on Spiritualism and is leading exponents in the early part of the last century.

Really positive reviews.

You can buy the book here:

Conan Doyle and the Mysterious World of Light – Paperback Edition

Conan Doyle and the Mysterious World of Light – Hardback Edition

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By Celia’s Arbour by Walter Besant and James Rice is an extraordinarily vivid Victorian novel set in Portsmouth in the 1840s and 1850s. Born in Portsmouth in 1836, Besant lived in the old walled town before the ancient fortifications were pulled down, and the precise descriptions of Portsea, Portsmouth and the old Dockyard bear testimony to his intimate knowledge of his hometown.

Matt Wingett talks about Sir Walter Besant’s By Celia’s Arbour

In his talk, Matt Wingett describes the life of Walter Besant, who grew up in the shadow of St George’s Church in St George’s Square, Portsea, and the insights he provides on the Victorian town. From the rows of old sailors sitting on the The Common Hard with their peg legs, to the debauchery in the town, the vibrant Polish population and the deep sense of history in which the town is steeped. Besant makes the Portsmouth of the 1840s jump to life.

Matt Wingett celebrates the town as it once was, and gives a description of the ancient fortifications, revealing how Portsmouth was once the most heavily fortified settlement in Northern Europe.

He also delves into Besant’s rich descriptions to evoke not only the town as it once was, but the fields and massive millpond that surrounded it, and further off, the heathland of Southsea Common, that grew wild around Southsea Castle.

Besant himself was a fascinating figure. A prolific author and co-author of more than 40 novels, he was highly regarded in his day. He was cited by two fellow Portsmouth-associated writers as an inspiration – namely Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He founded the Society of Authors and was knighted for his charitable work. This talk opens a doorway into the wonderful characters and vibrant world evoked by Besant, and reveals, finally, the position of romantically named place in the fortifications where the reader first encounters the book’s protagonists: Celia’s Arbour, or the Queen’s Bastion.

This post about John Pounds has been relocated here:

A Simple Act Of Kindness Can Change The World

 

The Spooky Isles asked me to do a quick look at 5 places in Portsmouth important to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation Sherlock Holmes.

 

I was invited by That’s Solent TV to talk about the Portsmouth novel, By Celia’s Arbour that I republished this year. For anyone interested in Portsmouth’s Victorian history, it’s a wonderful insight into a lost world…

 

Press Release: 6th January 2016

“By Celia’s Arbour”, a classic Victorian novel set in the old walled town of Portsmouth is to be republished in a brand new edition by Portsmouth-based publisher Life Is Amazing.

The story gives an authentic account of the town in the 1840s and 1850s by Sir Walter Besant and James Rice. Besant grew up in Portsmouth in those years. The book has many surprises for the modern reader.

“Most people don’t realise Portsmouth was one of the most heavily fortified towns in Northern Europe,” says publisher Matt Wingett. “The area now called Old Portsmouth was hemmed in on all sides by massive town walls built up into powerful defences since mediaeval times.”

The town was surrounded by a moat, and a Mill Pond on the Northern side separated Portsmouth from the Gunwharf.

In this setting, the story tells of three young people growing up together in the town. Leonard and Laddy are both secretly in love with Celia, and when Leonard leaves Portsmouth to make his fortune, he charges Laddy to look after her. Laddy is tested by his own sense of honour, the evil machinations of a bloodthirsty villain and threats to his own life which stem from his past.

“The thing that jumps out at the reader is the extraordinary detail about the town,” says Matt, “From the elms growing on the town walls, through to the scenes of soldiers marching through the streets and fields surrounding the town, from the bustling life of the High Street though to the eccentric characters living here, the town of Portsmouth comes to authentic life. It gives a window on to a world we would never have guessed existed looking at the streets today.”

“By Celia’s Arbour” is published on 31st January, and will cost £14.99.

Preorders are available on this website.

Lake Allen - The History of Portsmouth, 1817There was a period a few years ago when I worked as a rare bookdealer. I got all sorts of goosebump-raising works of cultural wondrousness, such as a 15th Century illuminated manuscript, or the 2nd Edition of the King James Bible. What I never could find was Lake Allen’s 1817 work, The History of Portsmouth.

I checked the auction records only to find one had never come up for auction in the last 50 years. No originals were for sale. It took me 10 years to find a proper, pukka first edition.

When I got hold of it, I was pretty impressed by the effort the young Lake Allen had put into the book. He wrote it when he was only 18 years old, living on Portsmouth High Street with his grandfather, Lake Taswell. Taswell was himself something of a local historian, who wrote The Portsmouth Guide, in 1775 and revised it as The New Portsmouth Guide in 1790. The fact is, though, these were pamphlets. Lake Allen’s work was the first comprehensive survey of the town’s history.

Lake was genuinely proud of his association with Portsmouth, and because it’s such a rarity, I decided to make a modern edition with foreword and added footnotes.

The book above is what we’ve produced, with an engraving of the King James Gate that I found in an antiques shop in Portsmouth on the cover.

I hope you like it!

You can order your copy here: Lake Allen – The History of Portsmouth

 

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