Portsmouth A Literary and Pictorial Tour Launched on 21st Nov 2018, by Matt Wingett

Matt Wingett talks about the preparations for the launch of Portsmouth, A Literary and Pictorial Tour, and some of the discoveries and surprises he made along the way.

Well, it’s been quite an intense period over the last few months, preparing images, collecting together the writings of numerous authors and then going over my own reminiscences of growing up in and near the old town to get my book out, and the launch will soon be here, at Portsmouth Central Library’s Menuin Room at 3pm on Wednesday 21st November.

John Lynn, High Tide Below The Saluting Battery, Portsmouth Harbour

I’m just preparing the talk right now, and wondering what to cover – whether in my launch talk I should make a mention of some of the extracts I had to leave out for lack of room, or tell some of the extra stories about Pompey places I gleaned while I was putting the book together. And then, there’s the distinct possibility – in fact very firm likelihood – that people will have things to tell me about the hometown. Sharing stories is one of the things I love.

That, really, is one of the reasons I wrote the book. I’ve looked through 50 full length works by 75 different authors to put the book together. The idea was a simple one. I had over the years collected engravings, postcards and drawings of Portsmouth, from the 1700s onwards. And I had read so much about the town by really top-notch and important writers. Wouldn’t it be great – I thought – to find extracts from novelists who mention the town and put them with pictures of the places they’re talking about?

That was the starting point of Portsmouth, A Literary and Pictorial Tour. When I mentioned it to councillor Steve Pitt on facebook and he asked me if I was actually doing a real tour, I thought – Yes, I could do that. Start at the top of Portsdown Hill and work my way around the island.

That’s what I’ve done, with maps at the back to show the locations of each place written about and pictured.

I’ve been really surprised over the years by the quality of writers connected to the town. Of course, there is the big four: Dickens, Conan Doyle, Kipling and Wells, who all had stronger or weaker connections here. But then there are other lesser-known homegrown Nineteenth Century novelists.

George Meredith was born in the High Street and based the opening of his novel about a social climber, Evan Harrington in the town. Walter Besant was born just off St George’s Square, and he went on to found the Society of Authors, wrote around 50 novels, was compared favourably with Dickens in his day and earned a knighthood for his charitable work. His great Portsmouth work is By Celia’s Arbour, which gives extaordinary descriptions of the place as it was in the 1840s before the town walls came down.

In the Twentieth Century, Olivia Manning was born in North End and grew up in Portsmouth. She hated the town with a passion, but still wrote three novels while she was here. Nevil Shute, Graham Hurley, P G Wodehouse (to a lesser extent), Pauline Rowson, Lillian Harry and many others have had something to say about it this century.

And right now, there is a whole new crop of writers and poets working away around Portsmouth. Some are already internationally published, others are learning their trades, doing live performances, writing plays. Portsmouth was and is a fascinating place and much really interestiing stuff has been written about it.

And that’s my conundrum for the launch. Not so much what to write about, but what to leave out!

Well, wish me luck. And hopefully, I’ll see you there tomorrow. The Menuhin Room, Portsmouth Central Library, 3pm, Wednesday 21st November!

 

When Arthur Conan Doyle Came To Southsea

With just a few days to go before Holmes Fest 2018 begins on 27th June in Portsmouth, Matt Wingett reveals Arthur Conan Doyle’s early days in Southsea and the struggles he went through.

When Arthur Conan Doyle arrived in Southsea in 1882 stepping on to Clarence Pier from a steamer, he had £10 in his pocket, a medical degree and a strong will to make the best of his new life here.

He very much needed the last on the list. His previous attempt at partnership with George Budd in Plymouth had left him determined to go it alone. Budd was unreliable, prone to swings of wild temper and behaved like a melodramatic performer putting on a show for his patients. Doyle considered him deeply unprofessional – and worse – paranoid.

Soon Conan Doyle had set himself up at his surgery on Elm Grove, where his younger brother Innes later joined him to help out. Conan Doyle always had a hands-on positive approach to life, and he later recalled in “Memories and Adventures” applying his can-do attitude to make the best of the bare surgery. With very little money, he used his creativity to improvise, and his cooking arrangements would have given a modern Health and Safety officer a fit. He wrote:

What with cleaning up, answering the bell, doing my modest shopping, which was measured in pennies rather than shillings, and perfecting my simple household arrangements, the time did not hang heavily upon my hands. It is a wonderful thing to have a house of your own for the first time, however humble it may be. I lavished all my care upon the front room to make it possible for patients. The back room was furnished with my trunk and a stool. Inside the trunk was my larder, and the top of it was my dining-room table. There was gas laid on, and I rigged a projection from the wall by which I could sling a pan over the gas jet. In this way I cooked bacon with great ease, and became expert in getting a wonderful lot of slices from a pound. Bread, bacon and tea, with an occasional saveloy—what could man ask for more? It is (or was) perfectly easy to live well upon a shilling a day.

The matter of money remained a tough one for him, and it isn’t true to say that money flooded in. He remembers:

I had obtained a fair consignment of drugs on tick from a wholesale house and these also were ranged round the sides of the back room. From the very beginning a few stray patients of the poorest class, some of them desirous of novelty, some disgruntled with their own doctors, the greater part owing bills and ashamed to face their creditor, came to consult me and consume a bottle of my medicine. I could pay for my food by the drugs I sold. It was as well, for I had no other way of paying for it, and I had sworn not to touch the ten golden pieces which represented my rent. There have been times when I could not buy a postage stamp and my letters have had to wait, but the ten golden coins still remained intact.

Elm Grove, had once had tall, elegant elms growing in the front gardens of some of the villas along its length. You can see a great example of how shops were built on to the old front walls of the houses at Rosie’s Wine Bar, where the steps up to the front door can still be clearly seen, inside, at the back end of the bar. The picture above is from before 1897, and shows part of the elm-lined street as it once was. Below is a more recognisable image of the road, with the elms still visible at the far end, where commerce hadn’t yet reached.

 

 

In Conan Doyle’s day, the nature of the street was thus changing from the country idyll it had been just a few decades before, as Southsea thrust further and further east along the farm fields of the island. Doyle wrote:

It was a busy thoroughfare, with a church on one side of my house and an hotel on the other. The days passed pleasantly enough, for it was a lovely warm autumn, and I sat in the window of my consulting-room screened by the rather dingy curtain which I had put up, and watched the passing crowd or read my book, for I had spent part of my scanty funds on making myself a member of a circulating library. In spite of my sparse food, or more probably on account of it, I was extraordinarily fit and well, so that at night when all hope of patients was gone for that day I would lock up my house and walk many miles to work off my energy.

So it was, that of an evening in Southsea in 1882, you might have met a tall, strong Scot, standing 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 14 stone of lean meat, walking the streets and getting to know his surroundings – as the adventure of his life was about to begin, and the adventures of his most famous hero, Sherlock Holmes, were to be begin here, too!

The opening night of Holmes Fest – Three Cheers for Arthur Conan Doyle – will be at The Square Tower in Old Portsmouth, on 27th June. Doors open at 7pm, tickets £10.

For the full Holmes Fest programme, go to: http://bit.ly/holmesfest2018

Sue Harper – my story for Holmes Fest 2018 opening night

Sue Harper will be performing her story at Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle on 27th June at The Square Tower.

Life Is Amazing: Hello Sue, tell us about your sketch at Holmes Fest 2018?.

Sue: My story is about the love between Holmes and Irene Adler. When it ends disastrously, she resolves to lead a life of crime and realises that there is a particular problem with becoming a criminal mastermind – her sex. Thus she works out a particularly fiendish way to spread havoc. And all ll is revealed at the Reichenbach Falls .

— Ohh! Have I given too much away?  :).


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


Life Is Amazing: Why do you love Sherlock Holmes?

Sue: I like Holmes because he combines instinct and intellect, and has more than a dash of Asperger’s. I am also fascinated by him because of the scale of his repression. He thinks he works by logic: but in fact his best conclusions come from gut instinct

Life Is Amazing: What would you investigate if you could investigate anything at all?

Sue: I would investigate the cause of broken hearts, and their rate of recovery.

Life Is Amazing: If Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes went shopping, what one item would each buy, and why?

Sue: Holmes would go shopping for a corset. Moriarty would shop for opium


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


 

Why I love surprising people when I tell them about Conan Doyle in Southsea

People sometimes sound surprised when I tell them I want to celebrate Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes in Southsea with Holmes Fest. They simply don’t believe that Holmes could have anything to do with our little town – and that’s why I’m so positive about it – to show them that actually Portsmouth and Southsea have a lot to offer those with the right attitude.

The Southsea in the 1880s in which Arthur Conan Doyle lived was a very familiar yet very different place from the one we know now. When he stepped off the steam packet from Plymouth in late June 1882, the Clarence Pier he landed on was a very different building from the one that was wrecked during the war. Here’s an image of it:

Of course, at Number 1 Bush Villas, Elm Grove, Conan Doyle famously set up his surgery. But I’ve often wondered what that meant for him when he stepped out on to the street. Sitting in his surgery waiting for patients, he would have been disturbed not by passing cars, though the clip of horses’ hooves on the cobbled road would have penetrated his consulting room.

The place where he lived, in that grey-fronted Victorian villa was lively. To the north of him lay the artisan quarters, where dockyard workers, builders and craftsmen crowded in the St Paul’s Road and Green Road areas. When he stood at his front door looking out, he would have seen a row of shops and houses along which only ten years before the forlorn and stressed Rudyard Kipling had made his way from Lorne Lodge on Campbell Road to the school at Green Road. On his right hand side there stood a Baptist Church, and beyond that, a livery stables where the gentlemen of the area kept their horses.

 

On his left stood The Bush Hotel, and a little further, on the other side of the road, was Hide’s Drapery Emporium, where science fiction writer H G Wells worked sullenly as a teenager in Doyle’s early years in Southsea. I like to imagine that maybe, one day in 1882 or 1883, the pair met across the counter, while the young doctor twirled his moustache and considered which fabric would make a decent pair of trousers both durable and presentable enough to wear in the surgery as he saw patients.

The fact is, Doyle loved Southsea, writing in his autobiography Memories and Adventures:

With its imperial associations it is a glorious place and even now if I had to live in a town outside London it is surely to Southsea, the residential quarter of Portsmouth, that I would turn. The history of the past carries on into the history of to-day, the new torpedo-boat flies past the old Victory with the same white ensign flying from each, and the old Elizabethan culverins and sakers can still be seen in the same walk which brings you to the huge artillery of the forts. There is a great glamour there to any one with the historic sense—a sense which I drank in with my mother’s milk.

His book also gives a wonderful insight into life in the doctor’s surgery in those early years. Doyle also quotes a letter “written in straggling schoolboy script by my little brother to his mother at home which may throw an independent light upon those curious days.” August 16, 1882, it says:

The patients are crowding in. We have made three bob this week. We have vaxenated a baby and got hold of a man with consumption, and to-day a gipsy’s cart came up to the door selling baskets and chairs so we determined not to let the man ring as long as he liked. After he had rang two or three times Arthur yelled out at the pitch of his voice, Go a way but the man rang again so I went down to the door and pulled open the letter box and cried out go a way. The man began to swear at me and say that he wanted to see Arthur. All this time Arthur thought that the door was open and was yelling Shut that door. Then I came upstairs and told Arthur what the man had said so Arthur went down and opened the door and we found out that the gipsy’s child had measles…After all we got sixpence out of them and that is all ways something.

Doyle adds: “I remember the incident well, and certainly my sudden change of tone from the indignant householder, who is worried by a tramp, to my best bedside manner in the hopes of a fee, must have been very amusing. My recollection is, however, that it was the Gipsy who got sixpence out of us.”

The early years of his move to Southsea were tough. Doyle recalls “picking up a patient here and a patient there until the nucleus of a little practice had been formed.”

Doyle also learned to network: “I mixed with people so far as I could, for I learned that a brass plate alone will never attract, and people must see the human being who lies in wait behind it. Some of my tradespeople gave me their custom in return for mine, and mine was so small that I was likely to have the best of the bargain. There was a grocer who developed epileptic fits, which meant butter and tea to us. Poor fellow, he could never have realized the mixed feelings with which I received the news of a fresh outbreak.”

The characters in Portsmouth he also writes of with brilliance, as of the “very tall, horse-faced old lady with an extraordinary dignity of bearing,” of whom he recalls:

She would sit framed in the window of her little house, like the picture of a grande dame of the old régime. But every now and again she went on a wild burst, in the course of which she would skim plates out of the window at the passers-by. I was the only one who had influence over her at such times, for she was a haughty, autocratic old person. Once she showed an inclination to skim a plate at me also, but I quelled her by assuming a gloomy dignity as portentous as her own. She had some art treasures which she heaped upon me when she was what we will politely call “ill,” but claimed back again the moment she was well. Once when she had been particularly troublesome I retained a fine lava jug, in spite of her protests, and I have got it yet.

It was in this life that Conan Doyle decided that he had best supplement his income through writing. It is the fame he gained from his work that makes the celebration of his life such fun. And that’s why I love it when people are so surprised to hear that this town was where it all began.

Holmes Fest begins on Wednesday 27th June with “Three Cheers for Arthur Conan Doyle” at the Square Tower, Old Portsmouth.

For more information about all the events, go to: http://bit.ly/holmesfest2018

William Sutton – my story for Holmes Fest 2018 opening night

William Sutton  will be performing his story at Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle on 27th June at The Square Tower.

Life Is Amazing: Hello William, tell us about your story.

William: My story is a Victorian detective story starring one of Sherlock Holmes’s contemporaries – Campbell Lawless, and is called Lawless and the Whisky Smugglers.

With whisky taxation high, the Scottish highlands are criss-crossed with smuggling routes. Lawless is sent to clamp down on the Sacred Band of Swollen Bladders. Seeking help from his godfather, Freemason John Macadam, and librarian Miss Villiers, he receives help from the Duke of Stirling, minister for taxation. In a showdown by Loch Katrine, he finds his helper has other allegiances.


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


Life Is Amazing: Why do you love Sherlock Holmes?

William: Because he’s named after two cricketers, and Conan Doyle himself was a stalwart performer for The Authors CC XI

Life Is Amazing: What would you investigate if you could investigate anything at all?

William: Erotobibliomania. Or Victorian tunnels.

Life Is Amazing: If Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes went shopping, what one item would each buy, and why?

William: Sherlock: rosin, for his violin strings…
…Moriarty: flowers, for his mum; because even super-villains have mums!


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


 

Clare Campbell-Collins – my story for Holmes Fest 2018 opening night

Clare Campbell-Collins will be performing her sketch at Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle on 27th June at The Square Tower.

Life Is Amazing: Hello Clare, tell us about your sketch at Holmes Fest 2018?.

Clare: A classic daytime television programme has been given a Victorian twist! See Sherlock in a very different light, as four performers bring to life something which probably shouldn’t be brought to life. A comedy sketch with a difference, which will forever alter how you see the programme it’s parodying!


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


Life Is Amazing: Why do you love Sherlock Holmes?

Clare: I love him because of the timeless appeal of his sexy logic.

Life Is Amazing: What would you investigate if you could investigate anything at all?

Clare: I’d investigate my incessant desire to find a pair of jeans that fit well. Seriously, I can’t stop. I have about 7 pairs.

Life Is Amazing: If Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes went shopping, what one item would each buy, and why?

Clare: Well, if they’re shopping down Gosport High Street, Moriarty would likely buy a Beef & Vegetable pasty from Greggs (even a criminal mastermind needs to eat), and I think Sherlock would buy a pack of pipe cleaners from the Pound Shop.


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


 

Vin Adams – my story for Holmes Fest 2018 opening night

Vin Adams will be performing his poem at Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle on 27th June at The Square Tower.

Life Is Amazing: Hello Vin, tell us about your piece.

Vin: The Adventure of the Desperate Author is a  sketch with Vin Adams and Nick Downes.

Watson has truly come at a crisis when he pays a surprise visit to Baker Street. Holmes has a bone to pick with Conan Doyle and, in the ensuing argument, everything Watson holds dear is turned on its head. Where is Mrs Hudson? What’s happened to Holmes’ violin bow? And why is Watson so vague about his wives? (Warning: parents may need to explain jokes to their children and each other.)


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


Life Is Amazing: Why do you love Sherlock Holmes?

Vin: As a child, I felt very much let down by the lack of robbery, violence and murder in the Noddy books by Enid Blyton. Sherlock Holmes filled that void.

Life Is Amazing: What would you investigate if you could investigate anything at all?

Vin: A friend of mine is adamant that he once saw a ghost – I’d like to investigate exactly what he’d been drinking.

Life Is Amazing: If Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes went shopping, what one item would each buy, and why?

Vin: Given that Moriarty had to resign his Mathematical Chair, he might like to buy a small stool.

Perhaps Holmes might buy a second Persian slipper to go with the other one (although this could dangerously increase his smoking habit).


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


 

Jackson Davies – my story for Holmes Fest 2018 opening night

Jackson Davies will be performing his poem at Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle on 27th June at The Square Tower.

Life Is Amazing: Hello Jackson, tell us about your piece.

Jackson: The Heinous Threat to the Empire is a narrative spoken word show, as the nefarious Dr. J. Fell describes the eerie case of a gravedigger acquaintance of his to Sherlock Holmes. As the show unfolds, it becomes clear that this case may threaten all of Her Majesty’s Empire.


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


Life Is Amazing: Why do you love Sherlock Holmes?

Jackson: Ever since I first read A Study in Scarlet when I was in my teens, I’ve devoured all of the Sherlock stories. I find them easy to read even today, even when I struggled with Victorian writing by other authors. There’s something about Watson’s detailing of Sherlock’s methods that seems at once beguiling and impressive, but there’s also a real warmth there. A feeling that these two work so well together and admire each other in such unique ways… that, to me, is the real draw of the stories even when the mystery is resolved. I’m not such a big fan of the BBC series as I think it misses what is really important about the Holmes stories – the heart.

Life Is Amazing: What would you investigate if you could investigate anything at all?

Jackson: That’s a great question. I think Sherlock would be well placed to investigate corruption in modern politics, as I think he’d find it all a bit distasteful. Personally though, if it were me, I’d investigate the Fermi paradox – if there are so many stars and universes around us, and the universe is as old as it is, where is everybody?

Life Is Amazing: If Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes went shopping, what one item would each buy, and why?

Jackson: Probably an ounce of shag tobacco, that I’d like to think they share the same brand. Probably also have the same cocaine dealer. Of course, they probably should have both invested in lifejackets and helmets for the whole Reichenbach thing


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


 

Christine Lawrence – my story for Holmes Fest 2018 opening night

Christine Lawrence will be performing her piece at Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle on 27th June at The Square Tower.

Life Is Amazing: Hello Christine, tell us about your story and what else you’re doing at Holmes Fest 2018?.

Christine: I’m a writer and performer, I am performing at ‘Three Cheers for Arthur Conan Doyle’, a new piece of writing that I’m calling “Mrs. H”.

I will also be appearing at Moriarty’s Mischief  at Canvas Cafe on Saturday 30 June and am taking the lead with T’Articulation as the compere of Sherlock’s Shout Out at the Hunter Gatherer on Tuesday 3rd July.


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


Life Is Amazing: Why do you love Sherlock Holmes?

Christine: I love Sherlock Homes because he is perfectly flawed, totally barking mad, and possibly quite hot.

Life Is Amazing: What would you investigate if you could investigate anything at all?

Christine: If I were Sherlock, I would investigate any little mystery that came my way, especially after a few puffs on my pipe.

Life Is Amazing: If Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes went shopping, what one item would each buy, and why?

Christine: I once saw Moriarty and Sherlock together in Charlotte Street Market. Sherlock was purchasing onions and Moriarty a new pair of leather thigh length boots. I couldn’t for the life of me say why.


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


 

Charlotte Comley – my story for Holmes Fest 2018 opening night

Charlotte Comley will be performing her piece at Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle on 27th June at The Square Tower.

Life Is Amazing: Hello Charlotte, tell us about your story.

Charlotte: My story for Three Cheers for Arthur Conan Doyle is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Doyle’s love of mediums and centres on the often asked question, ‘is anybody there?’


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


Life Is Amazing: Why do you love Sherlock Holmes?

Charlotte: First of all, you need to know, I named my dog Watson. Holmes is actually my least favourite character in the books. Unlike the portrayal of Nigel Bruce’s Watson in the 1940s movies (with Basil Rathbone) Watson is not an idiot. He is not a bumbler (at least in most cases). He represents an intelligent war hero with a loveable gambling quirk. Even Holmes admits that he is in Watson’s debt. Despite being wounded, Watson is a crack shot with a pistol and is quite capable when Holmes requires the physical assistance of a brave man who has seen combat. I am so envious of Holmes because he has such a good friend and ally. Watson stands for loyalty. My dog Watson, not so much – unless you are carrying a bucket of KFC. That said, despite being a small white terrier he is fierce.

Life Is Amazing: What would you investigate if you could investigate anything at all?

Charlotte: I would investigate who stole my Ghostbusters poster in 1984. I was thirteen, I had two jobs and I did an extra shift on the milk round which involved getting up at four in the morning during a bitter cold December to buy the cinema ticket. And the man who drove the milk float was weird! Weird in a WEIRD way. It was my least favourite job of all time and when you think that I used to put egg mayonnaise on British Rail sandwiches, that is saying something. I was so excited about seeing Ghostbusters. And if I’m honest I still think it was Bill Murray at his best. How Murray got a Golden Globe for Lost in Translation and no awards for Ghostbusters I don’t know. I was thrilled when the cinema gave me that free poster. Thrilled. I was ready to go to Athena for a classy poster frame but I had to work and when I came back from Lenders Food factory on Saturday my poster was gone. Except for some suspicious black and red bits of paper. I suspect I know who took it and destroyed my poster, but I never had any real evidence. Which is probably a good thing that I am unable to solve this crime as my revenge would be as cold as the milk I delivered. Damn I am still annoyed. In fact, I am getting cross just writing about the incident. I would probably ask Mycroft for help. He understood people and Holmes would think the case of a missing Ghostbuster poster beneath him.

Life Is Amazing: If Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes went shopping, what one item would each buy, and why?

Charlotte: I’m not sure, but I would advise them to get life jackets and sturdy walking boots if they were going to fight near the Reichenbach Falls.

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