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

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

The Hard Interchange railway, 1870s

William Sutton – What I’ve Written For Holmes Fest 2017

William Sutton
William Sutton, internationally published author and storyteller at Holmes Fest 2017.

What I’ve written for Holmes Fest 2017

The story is called “Lawless and the  Pompey Piglets.” I wrote this brief mystery for Portsmouth Fairy Tales [for Grown-Ups]. It features the hero of my novels, Victorian detective, Sergeant Campbell Lawless (known as Watchman because he was formerly a watchmaker’s apprentice).

In Holmesian vein, he is reluctantly drawn out of London by a plaintive letter from Rana Cawnpoor, a young lady sadly entrapped in the fleshpits of Spice Island, her innocence exploited and her honour besmirched. Can he rescue her and her friends, the Flea and the Ladybird?

Tickets for Holmes Fest 2017 available here
Wednesday 28th June, 6.30pm, The Square Tower, Portsmouth
Price: £7.50

About William

William Sutton is a novelist, musician and Latin teacher. He has written for The Times, for radio and stage, appeared at festivals from Edinburgh to Eton College, acted in the longest play in the world, and played cricket for Brazil. He writes about language, music and futurology, plays bass for chansonnier Philip Jeays and cricket for Authors CC XI.

He is involved in Portsmouth’s DarkFest, in which he compères Day of the Dead at the Square Tower, and Portsmouth Bookfest, including Valentine’s Day Massacre.

He teaches classics. He has written for radio, stage, The Times, The Author, and magazines around the world. He plays bass in the bands of songwriter Jamie West and chansonnier Philip Jeays. He played cricket for Brazil, and occasionally opens for The Authors Cricket Club.

Historical mystery Lawless and the Flowers of Sin was one of the Mail on Sunday’s Books of 2016. Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square (Titan Books) unearths the stink beneath the cobblestones, while Lawless and the House of Electricity comes out later this year.

“Extravagant and thoroughly enjoyable” Allan Massie, The Scotsman
“An extraordinary novel.” Morning Star

The Hard Interchange railway, 1870s
The Common Hard Dockyard Railway – 1870s

William’s books

More about William

william-sutton.co.uk
twitter.com/WilliamGeorgeQ
facebook.com/WilliamGeorgeQ
pinterest.com/wgq42/lawless-and-the-house-of-electricity
soundcloud.com/william-george-sutton/sets/watchman

Arthur Conan Doyle and the vicar of St Jude’s, Southsea

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

June 1882: Arthur Conan Doyle Arrives In Portsmouth

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?

Great reviews for Conan Doyle and the Mysterious World of Light

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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