Frances Mundy-Castle: a neglected poet

Democrats Chapbook cover 001The identity of the ‘ quiet woman‘ who wrote A Democrat’s Chapbook (1942), a hundred page long commentary in free verse on the events of the Second World War up to the time when America joined the Allied forces, was only revealed when Anne Powell included two passages from it in her anthology of female war poetry, Shadows of War (1999 ). However, those who had read her volume of Georgian verse entitled Songs from the Sussex Downs ( 1915), a copy of which was found in the collection of Wilfred Owen, might have recognised the style as that of ‘Peggy Whitehouse’, whose Mary By the Sea also appeared under this name in 1946. All three books were the work of Mrs Frances Mundy –Castle (1875 – 1959).

Thanks to her son Alistair, we now know a little more about Mrs Mundy-Castle. We know, for instance, that she came from a wealthy family and that at the age of sixteen she published a volume of her poems. She then married Mr Mundy-Castle, who managed a local brickworks, and the family settled down at Cage Farm, an early eighteenth century house on the eastern outskirts of Tonbridge. Here she seems to have held a sort of salon for local writers and artists, among whom was the cult artist and writer Denton Welch, who lived a mile or so away and was friends with her daughter Rosemary. In his later years, according to his biographer, she was ‘a frequent target of his malicious humour ‘, despite the fact that it was she who had given him the idea of writing his first book. Continue reading

Leavis’s ‘life enhancing’ piano shop

Leavis pianos pic 001Found in the May Week 1914 issue of the Cambridge student magazine Mandragora is this full page advert for the Regent Street piano shop run by Frank Leavis’s father Harry. Pianos figured very large in the lives of the Leavis family. Harry’s brother ran a piano shop in Mill Road and their father was a piano tuner in another part of the city. According to his biographer, Dr Leavis admired his father, apparently a cultured man, very much. It is not known whether Leavis, or his simian-faced wife, Queenie, played the piano.

Leavis was in his first year studying history at Emmanuel College when the advert appeared. When war broke out a few months later he signed up, but after a year was permitted to resume his studies at Cambridge—this time in the newly formed English department. Apart from short spells teaching at York, Wales and Bristol, Leavis spent his whole academic life in Cambridge, setting up home in Bulstrode Gardens–then an enclave of ‘thirties villas off the Madingley Road on the edge of the city, but now next door to both the Cavendish Laboratory and the Institute of Astronomy. How Leavis would have loathed this juxtaposition.

Interestingly, his dad’s piano shop lay almost opposite Downing College, where Leavis was to spend much of his time brain-washing vulnerable students. It is now a ‘Pizza Hut ‘fast food restaurant. He would have hated that too.

[Sent in by a loyal jotwatcher – opinions are his, although the tide seems to have turned against the Leavises this century. Take it or Leavis..]

Sir Frederick Treves on the smell of Nice

Found in The Riviera of the Corniche Road (Cassell896d404c280cb8f898f970a1ff20cf15, London 1921) by Sir Frederick Treves (1853 – 1923) this description of the old town part of Nice. Treves, of course, is well known as a prominent British surgeon  and for his friendship with Joseph Merrick, “the Elephant Man”. He was also a distinguished writer on travel, as well as surgery. In 1906 he had written on Dorset, the county of his birth, in the Highways and Byways series. He is particularly good on the smell of the old town. Odours are often neglected by travel writers. Does the area still smell the same?

 The old town of Nice is small and well circumscribed. It occupies a damp and dingy corner at the foot of the Castle Hill. It seems as if it had been pushed into this corner by the over-assertive new town. Its lanes are so compressed and its houses, by comparison, so tall that it gives the idea of having been squeezed and one may imagine that with a little more force the houses on the two sides of a street would touch. It is traversed from end to end by an alley called the Rue Droite.
This was the Oxford Street of the ancient city. A series of narrower lanes cross the Rue Droite ; those on one side mount uphill towards the castle rock, those on the other incline towards the river.

The lanes are dark, dirty and dissolute-looking. The town is such a one as Gustave Dore loved to depict or such as would be fitting to the tales of Rabelais. One hardly expects to find it peopled by modern mechanics, tram conductors, newspaper boys and honest housewives; nor do electric lights seem to be in keeping with the place. Its furtive ways would be better suited to men in cloaks and slouched hats…

The only thing that has not changed is the smell. It may be fainter than it was, but it must be centuries old. It is a complex smell ” a mingling of cheese and stale wine, of salt fish and bad health, a mouldy and melancholy smell that is hard to bear even though it be so very old. The ancient practice of throwing all refuse into the street has drawbacks, but it at least lacks the insincere delicacy of the modern dustbin…

From any one of the windows may protrude a mattress ” like a white or red tongue “..

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1846 Diary of J.W.Penfold—inventor of the octagonal pillar box

Any Jotters who in their childhood tuned into Danger Mouse, which is about to be revived, must know that his sidekick was called Penfold. It would seem that this character was named after the Victorian architect John Wornham Penfold (1828 - 1909), who is perhaps best known today as the inventor of the octagonal pillar box, several examples of which can still be found in Cheltenham.

But here we have a copy of the Punch Pocket Book for 1846 (discovered many years ago in an antique shop) that once belonged to the future architect and designer, then aged just eighteen, while he was working as a lowly assistant draughtsman in the London office of the renowned architect and illustrator Thomas Talbot Bury (1809 -1877) and his partner Charles Lee (1803 – 1880). At this time Penfold’s duties were various, and included surveying at proposed sites, researching legal documents, studying plans, often of proposed railways, and copying and preparing plans and delivering them with other related material to clients and lawyers. The Diary, also records Penfold’s churchgoing, social life, including visits of friends and relations, dining out, trips to the theatre and concerts, excursions to art galleries and museums, and visits home to his home town of Haslemere. Here  then  is a rare glimpse into the world of a trainee architect in early Victorian London at a time when  the ‘Railway Mania ‘ was raging across England and the metropolis was rapidly expanding.  Not surprisingly, most of the more interesting entries in the Diary illustrate the way in which these developments relate to Penfold’s work. Here are some examples:

January:
Wednesday 14th.Took letter to B. Williams, Waterloo Place & to Humby, Carlton Chambers. Copying Plan of Sewer under Richmond Railway on Mr Leader’s land & Beck’s Bill to W. Clay.

Monday 26th. …went with Sydney to measure across Westminster Bridge road where the south east extension is to cross by Miss Carr’s property. Inking in tracing of South Eastern Extension Ry.

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Frank Podmore—the scandalous private life of a ghost hunter

In his autobiographical Everyman Remembers ( 1931), the litterateur Ernest Rhys recalls his friendship with Frank Podmore, one of the more colourful members of the late nineteenth century Spiritualist community, a co-founder of the Fabian Society and the author of a fat biography of the proto-socialist Robert Owen.

Like Anthony Trollope, the Oxford-educated Podmore, was a writer who held down a day job with the Post Office. But unlike the Victorian novelist, he was, to quote Rhys, ‘unimaginative’ and  ‘practical to a degree, but cultured and full of intellectual curiosity ‘—ideal qualities for a paranormal investigator. But although Rhys touches on his friend’s investigations, he seems more interested in the odd personal lives of Podmore and his wife Eleanor. Here, for instance is his impression of the odd couple in their Hampstead home:

They set up house in Well Walk, and furnished it with extreme taste and a touch of virtuosity.

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Stephen Graham—a prince among Soho tramps

Just a few minutes walk from Leoni’s Quo Vadis is Frith Street, now famous as the home of Private Eye, but for a century or more  the haunt of Soho journalists, writers and other near- do- wells, including Stephen Graham, who from 1912 to his death in 1975, lived in a flat at no 60, a handsome Georgian town house. In the days before adventurers in dangerous lands were accompanied by a TV crew, Stephen Graham, who described himself as ‘tramp’ before that word had gained unsavoury associations, explored a number of exotic lands, including Russia, on which he became an expert, recording his impressions in books and articles, until he could no longer finance his expeditions.

The letter, which was discovered among a batch of other unrelated correspondence, belongs to his most productive period, is written from Frith Street and is dated 4th December 1926. In it he invites a Miss Morley to an after-dinner ‘mixed party of various acquaintances who will sit around the fire & talk.’ He also invites her to bring along her copy of his recently published London Nights for him to sign.

In his latter years Graham’s reputation fell into decline, and there is a depressing description of him in poverty and disarray in his flat. He died at an advanced age in comparative obscurity in 1975, but today, however, thanks possibly to the popularity of TV travelogues and cheap holidays to exotic lands, there is renewed interested in his work. Two major online sites are devoted to him, and Abebooks shows that his books are beginning to be collected once again. A biography by Michael Hughes has just been published Beyond Holy Russia: The Life and Times of Stephen Graham. [RMH]

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Eric Parker, Country Writer, Bird Lover & Sportsman

This press-cutting of an obituary was loosely inserted in a copy of Highways and Byways in Surrey (Macmillan, London 1919). It is dated 14/2/55 and was probably cut from The Times. He is so far unknown to the all knowing Wikipedia despite having written many books. A recent article about him  in The Guildford Dragon News is headlined Eric Parker, Who He? In the second hand book world however he is not forgotten on account of his many books, still mostly quite saleable...

Writer on Sport and Countryside

Mr. Eric Parker, a well-known writer on field sports and the countryside and an active campaigner for the protection of wild birds, died at his home near Godalming yesterday at the age of 84. He was editor of the Lonsdale Library and a former editor-in-chief of the 'Field'.

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Robert Byron and Tripadvisor review Balkh

Balkh is in northern Afghanistan and  is one of the oldest cities in the world, possibly the oldest. Tripadvisor make this claim, as does Robert Byron writing in 1937 in the supreme travel book The Road to Oxiana. Balkh is still known locally as 'the Mother of Cities.' It was the centre of Zoroastrianism and under the Greeks it was renamed Bactra, giving its name to the surrounding  Bactria territory. Balkh is now, for the most part, a mass of ruins but has an extremely long history, going back to the 26th century BC and further - when the plains were fertile…

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The Enchanted Forest

Came across a book about the New Forest in Hampshire - The Enchanted Forest by Gladys Mackenzie Forbes (Mate & Sons, Bournemouth circa 1930). It is attractively illustrated in black and white by the young artist Jacynth Parsons and is written in a sort of poetic, evocative prose that was popular at the time in nature writing. This piece is about the gypsies who had long been in the New Forest and is a somewhat romanticised view of their world. This is the New Forest of Augustus John and and Juliette de Bairacli Levy both of whom had befriended the forest dwelling gypsies.

Green-Wood Fires

Aromatic sweet scented smoke hangs in the windless air like a grey-blue curtain, and mingles itself with the autumn mist. A stream sings lazily along, and the mist changes its singing into plaintive sadness, as it also does the sharp thin music of distant children's voices. A dog's bark has a note of mystery, and all things seem far away and unreal.

Down in a sleepy sheltered hollow is a picturesque encampment of gay coloured gypsy vans, yellow, green, gold, and crimson, decorated with the brooms and rush baskets, by which the gypsies make a living, and looking like distorted giant toadstools against the glory of the woods. Each van has its own graceful plume of smoke, which gradually widens out, until it is lost in the blue grey curtain. In the centre of the ring of vans, is a large fire, made from the green-wood, gathered by the gypsy children, who are far afield after still more fuel, it is their voices which vie with the streams faint song.

Over the communal fire from crossed sticks, hangs a large black pot whose steam has the most inviting odour. Near the fire, women are busy with a culinary duties, and almost in silence the men are tending the animals, lean horses, and small sturdy donkeys, while several nondescript dogs group themselves hopefully around the simmering pot. Obviously the gypsies have only just arrived, yet already the hollow has an air of home, and is fragrant with green-wood smoke, and the good smell of savoury food. When darkness falls, the campfire will glow redly, and its smoke have an even  sweeter scent. One leaves the homely hollow, and the gay caravans, reluctantly, and with a tiny pain of regret.
To very few of us, for even a short time, is it made possible to live in such a simple, sane, and happy way.

Young Gypsies by Augustus John
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How to be Happy on the Riviera 4


The concluding part of a posting of a complete book How to be Happy on the Riviera by Robert Elson W. (Arrowsmith Ltd., 11 Quay Street, Bristol, 1927).The appendix has a wealth of information, much of it aimed at the long stay vacationer and the expat or 'remittance man' (similar to the trustafrian of our time). The address and name of the British Consul in Monte Carlo (G W Hogg) the address of the British Library and the Anglo-American Library (in the Grand Hotel building.) There was even a weekly paper for the British abroad,The Cote D'Azur,that came out on a Friday. There is good advice for those who 'winter abroad' -- Hyeres is suggested for those who like it quiet, Monte Carlo for those who want it lively (but the bathing is poor). Also invaluable advice for the journey there, that might still hold true:-
"Don’t trust the time-tables as to there being a restaurant-car on any train southward from Paris (except the Calais–Méditerranée); bring a tea-basket with you and be prepared to grab things from the buffets at the Gare de Lyon and at Marseilles, or you may go foodless."

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How to be Happy on the Riviera 3

The penultimate part of Robert Elson's 1927 book dealing with indoor and outdoor amusements and of course gaming. There is a good description of a Gala dinner which has the authentic 1920s tone:

 "A gala dinner may be ...a more elaborate entertainment indistinguishable from a fête, the room being decorated for the occasion–sometimes in a really artistic manner–and a good programme of show-turns provided. There are sure to be surprises–toys to make noises with, balloons, etc. The peculiarity of surprises is that they are always the same. Occasionally really attractive gifts are distributed, or prizes given in connection with dancing or a tombola (raffle). If you are in an appropriately happy-go-lucky mood, a gala is usually quite enjoyable. It is good to play the fool sometimes, pelting and being pelted by the occupants of neighboring tables with little coloured balls, and trying to hit people at a distance with harmless projectiles. Also, you never know what may come of it. A happily-married lady of my acquaintance first made her existence known to her husband by hitting him on the ear with a flying sausage; he asked her to dance, and the thing was as good as done."

Such goings on would have been vieux jeu by the 1940s. Interestingly many fetes described have gone - The Venetian Fete at Cannes has been replaced by a film festival, car shows and uphill car racing at Monte Carlo has become the Rally, but the Burning of the Boat still goes on and the Battle of Flowers - so all is not lost.

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How to be Happy on the Riviera 2

The second part of a posting of a complete book How to be Happy on the Riviera by Robert Elson W. (Arrowsmith Ltd., 11 Quay Street, Bristol, 1927). There is plenty on food and restaurants (including menus and tips on coffee, ice cream and liqueurs) and some good descriptions of gamblers in Monte Carlo - 

"Little old women in Victorian black silk dresses and bonnets; others attired in the fashions of twenty or thirty years ago; exotic-looking young women, wearing extravagant parodies of the fashions of to-day – some exactly like cinema vamps; women like men, and girls like boys. A duke who is a frequent visitor summed it up neatly: 'There are always a lot of queer wild-fowl about'...you may see incredibly ancient men; wild-looking men with immense manes of hair; gaunt men with sunken cheeks and bony hands who might have come out of a novel by Mrs. Radclyffe, unnatural-looking young men who might have been created by Mr. Michael Arlen; people who impress you as half crazy, others who look as if they had been dead a long time, only they don't know it.'

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How to be Happy on the Riviera 1927

We are putting up an entire book on Jot101, a fairly early book on the Riviera. Very much of its time with local prices, information about the weather and sports facilities and recommendations for hotels and cafes and cabarets. Here are the first 4 chapters...


HOW TO BE HAPPY
ON THE RIVIERA

BY ROBERT ELSON


First published in August, 1927

Printed in Great Britain by J. W. Arrowsmith Ltd., 11 Quay Street, Bristol

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