Monday, 21 July 2014

Another family separated by Transportation to Australia

In April I wrote about the separation of the wives of transported convicts
Recently while researching a fascinating self-made 19th century manufacturer I have come across a similar story.

Frederick Savage, a renowned manufacturer of Carousels and Agricultural Machinery in the second half of the 19th Century might have made his equipment in Australia rather than in England if only his mother had agreed to join her husband in Tasmania.

His father William Savage was a hand-loom weaver in Hevingham, Norfolk who owned a small farm and six cottages, but with the introduction of power looms and decline in demand after the end of the Napoleonic War, William was forced to sell his property and take to poaching for survival.  As a result of the threats he made to a local gamekeeper one night, he was sentenced to 14 years penal servitude.  Young Frederick was only 18 months old and had a new born brother, when his father was transported to Tasmania in December 1829.

After 7 years William Savage was released and he asked his wife Susannah to join him but she declined and remained in Norfolk.  Within a year she had given birth to a son, followed by two more children within the next 6 years, all out of wedlock.  William lived his remaining years alone in Australia.

Despite growing up in poverty, Frederick Savage worked hard for several employers in Norwich and Kings Lynn, learning how to make agricultural implements, to work iron and as a wheelwright.  This basis in engineering enabled him at the age of 25 to obtain premises to set up a forge. Starting with forks he moved on to producing threshing machines.  In the 1870s he purchased several acres of land in Kings Lynn to build St Nicholas’ Ironworks.  There he produced a patent cultivating system, powered by a 10 horse traction engine.

In the early 1880s Savage turned to fairground rides.  These included a circular velocipede of 24 linked bicycles, “Sea on Land” and the “Galloping Horses” which are familiar to any Merry-Go-Round rider.  It was his use of steam power which made more sophisticated fairground rides such as the Razzle-Dazzle and Steam Yachts possible.

In 1883 Frederick Savage became a local councillor and he held his seat in Lynn for 10 years before being elected an alderman.  He was chosen as Mayor in 1889 and as a consequence of his prodigious fund raising for the local hospital a statue of Frederick was erected in the town.

For more information and photographs of Savage's fairground rides

Glimpses of Fiddaman's Lynn by Rosemary & Stan Rodliffe
"Frederick Savage, I presume" by Brian Morgan in "Merry-G-Roundup" Summer 2014 official publication of the National Carousel Association The Wives of Transported Convicts

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Lost in a Good Book

Wild Water by Jan Ruth

Writing contemporary family drama is probably the most difficult genre in which to achieve success, so it was a pleasure to find myself instantly immersed in the ever increasing disasters of Jack, the unlikely hero of “Wild Water.”  Successful estate agents from the wealthiest part of Cheshire don’t come to mind as empathetic characters, but Jack works hard, cares about his family and has sufficient stress to justify his intermittent smoking habit. His faithless wife Patsy, however, is difficult to like.  Her parental skills leave much to be desired and she always seems to be in search of better things.

And then the reader meets Anna, a quiet, artistic lady from Jack’s past who is trying to survive in an old, crumbling house in North Wales, by taking in guests.  Like Jack, she has a teenage son, but her life is also complicated.  She is warm, likeable and calm, in total contrast to workaholic, impulsive Jack. Their lives are entwined by Jack’s large complex family and ever more momentous events.

It is the strong characterisation which make “Wild Water” such an enjoyable read.  Jack’s children, his mother Isabel and especially his brother Danny are all given clearly identifiable personalities and the possibility of new stories to follow. Some of their names, such as Chelsey, are stereotypical and the break-up of a family is almost normal these days but the twists and turns of the plot combined with the emotional response this invoked kept me turning the pages avidly.

Combining the beautiful description of the Welsh countryside with a roller-coaster storyline makes “Wild Water,” an ideal holiday read and I can’t wait to read the follow up, “Dark Water.”

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Death in a Red Canvas Chair

When I'm not researching or writing about dead people my favourite
 activity is reading.  Recently I reviewed my first book for Rosie
 Amber's book review challenge on
 and here it is:-

Death in a Red Canvas chair by N A Granger

The eye catching title page of this murder mystery exactly reflects the prologue where the victim is deposited in full sight of a group of mother’s watching their sons’ soccer match, but the scene has been set specifically for Rhe Brewster, our heroine and narrator.  Rhe is a part-time emergency nurse, wife and mother whose stubborn, determined character make her an ideal investigator with a penchant for putting herself in danger, which adds to the drama.

Gradually, Rhe’s life growing up in the small Maine coastal town help her to unravel both the reason for the victim’s death and a conspiracy involving many significant people in the community.  The back story of communication problems within her marriage and valued relationships with others ensure that the reader will want to return to Rhe’s life in future mysteries.

Characterisation is well developed, especially in the case of Sam, the police chief and some, apparently minor characters, tease the reader.  Are they only a small part of the plot or will they prove to be part of the major criminal activity?

As a British reader I had trouble with some of the vocabulary.  I had to look up Mirandized (read your rights) and had no idea what a “red slicker” was but generally Ms Granger has a fluent, clear style of writing which advances the storyline while enabling us to understand Rhe’s feelings.  Some of the quotes she makes from literature and songs are unfortunately misquotes which are difficult to ignore, but Rhe’s original comments such as her, “peculiar sense of ownership of this crime,” enhance the narrative.

The balance of problem solving, “edge of seat” events and a heroine who is likeable and real, make this an enjoyable read and I shall certainly look forward to her next venture into the precarious world of crime.

One Degree North by Steve Bridger

Advertised as an action thriller, One Degree North lives up to its promise.  Set on the island of Singapore in 1965 during Confrontation with Indonesia, it describes intrigue, explosions and fatal skirmishes involving Malay, Chinese, British and American nationals who are criminals, pirates, Secret Service and military men and women.

I have to confess personal interest in the location and timing of the book, since I arrived in Singapore as a teenager with my family in 1966 just as Confrontation was coming to an end.  As Steve Bridger explains, General Sukarno, President of Indonesia, wanted to annexe the northern territories of the island of Borneo from Malaysia. Part of his campaign was to make attacks on the Malay peninsula and Singapore from bases in the many smaller islands just south of Singapore.

And yet Singapore was a thriving city, a mixture of Eastern and Western influences, where British Forces families relaxed happily by the pools or wandered about town, their children went to see the Rolling Stones in concert and visiting sailors enjoyed stimulating evenings in the bars and brothels of Bugis street.

Steve manages to convey the contrast between the happy-go-lucky atmosphere of pleasure and the undercurrent of secrets, collusion and terror.  His characters are vibrant, lively and bold.  A team of disparate fighters are established with the promise that they will return in a follow up.  I recommend that you get to know them as I can see a film in the making.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Caleb Lovejoy

I can never resist an unusual name and this interesting character, still has a commemoration service held every year, over 400 years since he was born.  Caleb Lovejoy was baptised at St Nicholas’ Church in Guildford on May 8th 1603, the son of Phillip Lovejoy.  He was an intelligent boy who was given a free education at the Royal Grammar School before being moved to Southwark by his parents at the age of 14.

In London, Caleb was very successful.  He was a member of the Merchant Taylors’ Company, one of the Great Twelve Livery Companies, which gave him the freedom of the City of London.  He owned the Walnut Tree Inn and other property in Southwark and became a wealthy merchant who supplied wagons to Oliver Cromwell’s army, during the Civil War  His support for the Parliamentary cause was further demonstrated when he ejected the King’s tenants in Walnut Tree Alley.

But Caleb Lovejoy is primarily remembered in Guildford, as a benefactor.  In his will of 1676 he bequeathed property under lease in Southwark to form a charity for the benefit of the poor in Guildford.  He appointed three Guardians as Trustees.  Six pounds per annum was to be provided for, “teaching of poor people’s children their letters until they could read their Testament.”  The teaching to be undertaken, “by some honest poor woman.”  After 45 years four almshouses should be built in the parish of St Nicholas as accommodation for four poor persons of good character.

However it was not until 1839, after the sale of Caleb’s estate, that land was purchased in Bury Street Guildford to build the four almshouses.  The eligible old people were required either to have been born in the parish or have lived there for 50 years.  They were given an allowance and must wear the uniform of a blue home-made gown with a badge of red cloth bearing the letters CL.  The houses were built as a low terrace of sandstone blocks with grey/brown brick dressing.  Attractive wavy-edged bargeboards were put along the bottom of the roof.

Also in his last will and testament, Caleb directed that he should be buried in St Nicholas’ churchyard and that the priest should be paid for a yearly sermon in commemoration of Mr Lovejoy.  There are two brass plates in the church; one giving details of Caleb Lovejoy’s legacy and his death and burial in February 1676 at the age of 74; the other bears the following verse which is said to have been composed by Caleb:

Caleb Lovejoy, here I lye, yet not I,
My body being dead
My soul is fled unto Eternitye
There to injoye that everlasting Bliss
Which Jesus Christ, my Lord
Who’s gon before, prepared hath for his;-
Wherefore my Body rest in hope till then
When he shall joyne thee to thy soul agen
And bring thee unto that most glorious vision
There to enjoye thy God in full Fruition.

N. Chadwick via
St Luke's Parish magazine
British History online
"Rambles Around Guildford" by W C Smith

Monday, 16 June 2014

Florence Desmond

The name “Florence Desmond” may be familiar to those who have attended the Florence Desmond Day Unit at the Royal Surrey County Hospital but not so many people will remember her for her acting talent during the first half of the twentieth century.

Born in London in 1905, Florence Desmond was performing on stage as a dancer from the age of 10.  She later became known as a singer and comic actress and as an excellent impersonator of famous actresses such as Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.  In her obituary in the Independent in January 1993 she was described as, "Not only the best impersonator of her generation, but by fat the best."  She demonstrated a satirical talent without any cruelty to the people she mimicked.

In 1928 Florence performed in, "The Year of Grace," a revue written by Noel Coward and she accompanied the production to New York where she danced with him.  She was to take New York by storm 18 years later at the "Blue Angel" night club with her witty and azccurate impressions of Hollywood stars using minimal props.  Miss Desmond participated in the Royal Variety performances in 1937 and 1951 and she was the leading lady in two films starring George Formby.  Mr. Formby called her, "an inimitable comedienne."  Florence also acted with Gracie Fields and frequently starred in pantomime as a principal boy.

In 1935 Florence married Tom Campbell Black, an aviator, but she was heartbroken a year later when her husband died at Speke Airport in Liverpool after his plane struck an RAF plane on the ground.  Her second husband, Charles Hughesdon, was also an aviator and in 1937 they set up home together at Dunsborough Park in Ripley.  During the Second World War, Florence toured army camps with ENSA entertaining the troops.  Her peaceful post war life was upset by a daring robbery.  Luckily Florence and her husband were away from home and the household staff disturbed the burglars but not before they had stolen a mink coat and stole. 

In 1963, Florence Desmond began fundraising for the purchase of a Betatron electron therapy unit to be installed at St Luke’s Hospital in Guildford.  She stated that, “If Betatron had been available, cancer might not have killed my beloved father.”  The Betatron, made in Switzerland, the first of its type in the UK, was used to treat primary malignant cancer.  £200,000 was required, of which Miss Desmond personally contributed £9,000 .  The climax of the fundraising was a Royal Gala on the stage of the Odeon in Guildford attended by Princess Alexandra and her husband Sir Angus Ogilvie, with performances by Vera Lynn and Max Bygraves.

The Betatron was installed in 1967 and remained in service at St Luke’s Hospital for 24 years.  A ward at St Luke's was named Desmond Ward in recognition of her considerable achievement. In 1991 when the McMillan Day Hospital was transferred to the Royal Surrey County Hospital it was decided to use her name again for the new Florence Desmond Day Hospital and on October 16th that year Florence visited so that she could see the excellent new facilities.

Florence Desmond spent her retirement at Dunsborough Park, enjoying the attractive gardens and the farm where she was once pictured in the Evening Telegraph with her sow and 10 piglets.  She died in Guildford on January 16th 1993 at the age of 87.