An Englishwoman writes home from a Rhodesian goldfield in 1936

Black and white lantern Slide of a Gold Mine. Part of Box 288, British South Africa. Boswell Collection. Slide number 43 Gold mine Date: circa 1890s

Black and white lantern Slide of a Gold Mine. Part of Box 288, British South Africa. Boswell Collection. Slide number 43 Gold mine Date: circa 1890s

During the early years of the twentieth century the goldfields of southern Rhodesia, like those in California in the 1840s, attracted prospectors from all over the world but chiefly from the Commonwealth. The mine at Mahaka, abutting the border with South Africa, was one of the biggest and best known and its history is well documented among official papers. What is less well documented is the experience of the gold diggers from Britain who found themselves camping in hostile territory with no guarantee of success. Among an archive of poems and other material at Jot HQ is an entertaining account by a young woman named Jo, who wrote home to her family on June 26th1936 about her life as a prospector.

Dear Mummie, Uncle Bill, Coo, Tom, Basil, John, Jimmy, Ronnie and the Rest of You !!

It is Sundowner-time 1) , and I am writing this in our little thathed ( sic) hut on he hill in the Mahaka valley—to the tune of the un-ceasing Mill—crushing—crushing on and on, to give men GOLD!!! It sounds good, but oh! Wouldn’t it be lovely to have lots of it in our pockets—little pieces to jingle and say—“ Well—I have the means and the world is MINE—LETS GO !!! “

            But I do not care two hoots at the moment, for my days have lately have been a dream; I suppose by now you have heard of our trekking into Lawley’s Concession 2)—into the wilds of wildest Rhodesia. We started off with the lorry loaded with fifteen black n—–, –picks, shovels, axes, guns, dynamite , windlass ( for going down the mines ), Mealie meal ( boys food)3) petrol, oil—oh, and a hundred and one things , then came Oliver’s Doge vanette—with Oliver driving—me and the head of the mining engineers , old Mr Taylor –at the back balanced Tozer—two other mining engineers—my personal boy ( who’s special job is ME ) –all on top of boxes of Gin, Whiskey, Brandy, Orange and Lemon crush, Beer, Stout and- oh, Ginger ale too—for the Brandy !! Also stacks of food –Guns & Ammunition—WHAT A PARTY !!! We had to make the road as we went along –coming to one empty river-bed, Oliver’s car gave up the ghost —we had to sit for over an hour in the boiling sun until by some stroke of luck someone touched a little gadget and off she started again. During that time Tozer was directing the gang of boys in road making in his best Kaffir—really he is a scream !! —but somehow seems to make the natives understand. He really is getting on splendidly and might have been an old Pioneer !! Continue reading

A working class household in early twentieth century Norwich


Found among the O’Donogue papers at Jot HQ is a long letter dated 3rd August 1977 from 1, Chalk Hill Road, Norwich by a certain Elsie Grint. We do not know the exact circumstances of the letter, but it seems likely that O’Donoghue placed a letter in a local paper asking if anyone who grew up in Norwich in the early years of the twentieth century could write to him with their Oak Street 1938reminiscences.

Elsie replied and her memories of that time are particularly detailed:

I lived at 109 Midland St ( off Heigham St) from 1917 to 1934…We lived at the end of a row of houses ( I think the rent was 10/- weekly) but we always paid 6d. extra because of the gable end & the very small piece of garden which ran alongside it. Our house had 2 small rooms downstairs & 2 upstairs, with a very tiny kitchen which held a copper & sink. A small ( & we had gas lighting before electricity was installed ) door in the living room opened onto the steep stairs to the 2 bedrooms. Another small door in the living room opened to the coal house under the stairs & the other door in this small room was the larder. All the houses were built like this & we had a small yard at the back, opening onto a passage which led to about 8 other houses, & in this yard was a toilet, which had a wooden seat from wall to wall ( very inconvenient if needed during the night).  

 I went to Heigham St School , which I think was demolished after the war & my first memories of the infant school was a sand tray, which we all had & made pictures in the sand with our fingers. We moved up to the junior school & then at the age of 11 years were separated—the boys to the boys school & the girls to the girls school until about 2 years later when we were moved to Wensum View School because of a new policy of education. If naughty we were made to stand in the corner for long periods & the cane was given if we were very naughty. Our heads were looked regularly for fleas & nits & we also visited the school dentist. Many poor children attended this school & did not have adequate footwear. Many wore odd shoes belonging to adults, which didn’t fit at all & school uniform was never thought of . Wensum View School sold berets for girls & caps for boys in around 1930 of the school colours , but they were not compulsory ( 2/- was a lot to pay for a school hat I was told). Next to Heigham St School was a large tannery which at times smelt awful. The owner had a large family & one of the daughters told me none were even allowed to speak at meat times. Continue reading

Llewelyn Powys—a typescript of his letters

Llewellyn Powys picIn an undated ( but probably late 1980s ) catalogue numbered ‘25’ from the American dealer David J Holmes are some genuine literary treasures and possibly some bargains. Letters from Henry James, A. E. Housman, W. S. Gilbert, and Lewis Carroll, together with manuscripts from Washington Irving and Vita Sackville West stand out. But at a mere $1,500 the undoubted bargain on offer is the typescript created by Alyse Gregory, wife of the writer Llewelyn Powys, of some of his letters, 1900 – 38.

The letters begin when Powys was at Sherborne School and end a few months before his death in 1939 at the age of 55 from complications resulting from a stomach ulcer. As Holmes remarks, the typescript is a unique resource, since many of the letters were destroyed after the author’s death. However, his wife only selected the ones she considered worth publishing, which is a shame. The correspondents included his brother, the acclaimed novelist John Cowper Powys, A. R. Powys, Philippa Powys, Gertrude Powys and H. Rivers Pollock, a barrister, and show how avidly he followed the burgeoning literary career of his brother and also how his tuberculosis was a constant worry. For instance, in September 1915 he declared:

‘I am happy, yes, I am happy, but do not think if my health remains to me I will work always…God—-but my sickness is persistent –it eats away at me always. I am surely doomed. I am as good as dead already…’ Continue reading

Anonymous book donor revealed

Found in a collection of ephemera this intriguing typed letter from the long vanished New York bookshop Tessaro's. The shop was in Maiden Lane which appears to have been a kind of bookseller's row. The address later housed a rare bookshop called Sabin's. Tessaro's was formerly called Rohde and Haskins who had dabbled in publishing at the dawn of the 20th century.

The letter deals with a request for the identity of the anonymous donor of a book from the recipient - a nurse (presumably) at The General Hospital at Fox Hills.  The shop decided ('we'll take a chance') to reveal the donor's identity. Significantly he was a soldier, as Fox Hills was a very large Army hospital dealing at that time with WW1 casualties. There the story ends. It would be nice to add 'and reader she married him.' The bookshop as go-between must be uncommon and in our cautious times it might not reveal the donor, or possibly send on the request to the donor for permission…

Dear Madam 
Acknowledging receipt of your note of 28th July we would say we do not know that the sender of the book desired it to be known who sent it, but we'll take a chance and say to you, in confidence, that it was mailed to you on the order of Lieut. G.C. Anderson.
Yours very truly,

Fox Hill Nursing Staff (1921) from
Advance Archive Photos (many thanks)

Brian Howard to the Duchess (on Rex Whistler)

Signed letter sold in 2010. Brian Howard poet, journalist, socialite, 'failure'. Found in a book from the Gilmour estate.

2pp. About 80 words to 'Dear Mollie' (ie  Mary ('Mollie') Montagu Douglas Scott, Duchess of Buccleuch) on her notepaper - Boughton House, Kettering dated May 1957. It is loosely inserted in a used copy of Laurence Whistler's book on his brother Rex Whistler (Art & Technics 1948) presented to her mother by her daughter Caroline (later Lady Caroline Gilmour.) The letter reads - 'Caroline might be faintly amused to know that when Laurence was compiling this book he wrote to me to for the complete text of my poem about Rex. In one's forgetful, selfish way, I didn't reply - so these weak little lines, this miserable quatrain is all that posterity will receive. The unhappy thing is that the complete (underlined) poem wasn't a bad literary portrait of Rex. Love, Brian.' BH has initialled the relevant 4 lines in the printed text.  LW does not name Howard in the text  but refers to him merely as 'a clever friend (who) drew his character in words...' The poem begins with the lines 'Laughter in the bedroom...' Letter sold with book which is sound but somewhat bumped. Brian Howard letters are seldom encountered.

When a copy of the Whistler book (not rare) shows up again we will post the missing lines.

21/7/13 Sure enough a copy has shown up and the lines read:

Laughter in the bedroom,
          in the bar-too,
          in the ballroom--
          But the laughter is an urn.

Not exactly The Waste Land but to his brother Laurence the lines catch Rex's character at about 21-- the way in which  he was 'subtly detached' from his 'great gaiety'. He writes 'Rex's smile was immensely amused, as only a thoughtful man's may be..'

Self portrait by Rex Whistler