Throwback – the southwest coast of Fife


I’ve written before about the two main Age of Sail links along this coast, which I walked a year ago – Keith at Kincardine and Cochrane at Culross. But although the rest of the coast is definitely age-rather-than-sail – no particular naval or nautical connections – there were still some interesting remains of Georgian period activity. I think what I found particularly interesting was the contrast – it’s the ends of the earth now, half industrial wasteland and half post-industrial wasteland, but it was obviously a busy place then, with all kinds of local industry going on.

The first grand industrial design along this coast was probably Sir George Bruce‘s Moat Pit at Culross, the first coal mine in the word to extend under the sea, constructed in 1595. Two hundred or so years later, Sir George Preston took inspiration from this and began producing salt on reclaimed land which became Preston Island. It’s now part of a much larger area of reclaimed land, made with waste from Longannet power station, but you can still see where the original island was, and the remains of the buildings put up around 1800.

Salt works, Preston Island

Preston’s house at Valleyfield, just inland, has a different claim to fame, as the botanist David Douglas (of Douglas Fir fame) worked as a gardener there as a young man.

David Douglas

Apparently there are still odd ruined remains of the garden, but didn’t go hunting – the house itself was demolished in 1941. Torrie House, another Georgian mansion further along the village, has also fallen into ruin, but still has an impressive gateway on the main road.

Torrie House gate

Further round the coast, Charlestown is a Georgian planned village, laid out about 1770 by the Earl of Elgin (who used his own initials, CE, in the layout, which can just about still be seen on the map). It was another industial plan, mainly lime production and shipping of coal mined on the Elgin estate, with a new harbour and a wooden railway line built to ease transport.

Old granary, Charlestown

Age of Sail in Everything – North Queensferry


I can’t seem to help finding Waterloo or Trafalgar monuments – among other things – wherever I go. Heading back onto the Fife Coastal Path at North Queensferry, after nearly a year away from it, I knew I would find a Waterloo Well, built by local sailors to celebrate the victory.

Waterloo Well

The well is decorated with a carving of an old sail ferry – the main reason for the existence of the village in those days.

Old ferry

I knew that the well was dated 1816, but it took me quite a bit of hunting to work out where.

Waterloo Well date

The Victorian Lion’s Head well just behind, with a proper pump, is decorated with an image apparently of a sailor and a fishwife fighting over the water!

Lion’s Head Well

Apart from that, North Queensferry is not a particularly Georgian place – like most of Fife, it tends to little old houses, and much newer ones. But it has all the right things for a Scottish sea port – a pier built by Rennie in 1810 and extended by Telford in 1828, and a little light tower built by one of the Stevensons in 1817.

Town Pier
North Queensferry light tower

The grounds of the little medieval chapel, destroyed by Cromwell’s troops in 1651, was walled in 1752 by the local seamen to form their graveyard, and they made sure to leave their mark on it.

Graveyard wall

The gates were locked, but apparently one of the stones has an inscription that would do for Jack Aubrey:

Now here we lay at anchor
With many in our fleet
In hopes to weigh at the last day
Our Admiral Christ to meet

Inverkeithing, a couple of miles up the road, produced an even better story – one house on the main street there, now a pub, was the birthplace of Samuel Greig, who started off as a local seaman and ended up – via the Royal Navy – as an Admiral in the Imperial Russian Navy.

Samuel Greig

(According to the information boards, he was born in what became the Royal Hotel – but half of the Royal Hotel seems to have closed down, and the other half has become the Half Crown pub – a play on words which amused me!)

Half Crown

Book of the Month: January – the census

The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker: The story of Britain through its census since 1801
Roger Hutchinson

This was a book which a friend on LJ had read and reviewed, and which sounded interesting, the census having definitely Georgian roots.

Although there had been censuses at many times and in many places (in the bible, in the Roman empire, the Norman census known as the Domesday book), mainly of taxpayers and potential soldiers, the modern British census is essentially a creation of the Napoleonic Wars, when two problems became important – the size of the population compared to the population of France, and the need to know how many people had to be fed, in order to know how much food was needed for them, in an age of wildly fluctuating grain prices.

The book is particularly good on these early censuses, overseen by John Rickman, and still figuring out exactly what is to be done. The first census, in 1801, is a count of households and of people, of births, deaths and marriages and of those employed in various categories of work, but it is not the record of individuals that it later becomes. The 1821 census is the first to record at least rough ages, as well as the first to cover Ireland, and it is 1841 before the census records individual names.

The second half of the book is more thematic, looking at changing occupations, population movement within Britain, the speakers of various languages, immigration and emigration, including those who came and left, or went and came back, and attempts to survey the population of various other parts of the empire.

In a way, a book which was more focused on the early days might have been even better, particularly for me, but it was still a very interesting books covering a wide variety of topics.

Collingwood Society: Lt William Landless

This month’s talk to the Collingwood Society was given by Tony Barrow, who has managed to give up being secretary of the society, but has not been allowed to give up doing talks. He was speaking about William Landless, who came from Northumberland and was a lieutenant in several of Collingwood’s ships, following him about in the years before Trafalgar.

The talk started with a quote from NAM Rodger:

The Navy was the only profession for a gentleman which did not require – indeed did not admit – the application of money or influence.

‘Did not require’ might be true, and money could not be as directly applied as in e.g. the purchase of an army commission, but influence, particularly from senior naval figures, was still very important, and Tony wanted to look at four different aspects which might lead to a sucessful naval career – influence, timing, skill and temperament, and plain luck.

The Landless family – some of whom were spelt Landles – had appeared in Northumberland in the late 17th century, and were rumoured to have been formerly MacGregors (now landless after proscription!), but there doesn’t seem to be any certain evidence of this.

William Landless was born at Easington near Belford in 1762, and in 1777 became an apprentice in the coal trade, before joining the navy at Leith, where George Younghusband, part of a neighbouring Northumberland family, was the impress officer. He was then sent to Chatham, where Roddam was port admiral, becoming straight away part of a Northumbrian network, and was sent to North America on the frigate Richmond where he was present as a prisoner at the fall of Yorktown. After being exchanged and sent home he was sent to the West indies in Royal Oak, where he took part in the battle of the Saintes.

Landless passed for lieutenant in 1786, but with little chance of promotion in peacetime he then joined the East India company, where he spent the next 10 years, rising to Chief Mate, with a brief return to the Royal Navy on Roddam’s flagship around the time of the Nootka Sound crisis in 1790.

In 1796 Landless returned to the navy for good, probably because he did not have the money required to purchase an East India Company captaincy, but possibly also because the country was again at war. He was at the Nore at the time of the mutiny, and was one of the officers appointed to replace unpopular officers who had been removed, and then spent time in the North Sea, where he met and dined with Nelson.

During the Peace of Amiens he was at home in Northumberland, helping to sort out his father’s tangled affairs, and then joined Collingwood’s flagship Venerable, before moving with him to Dreadnought. He then declined a transfer to Royal Sovereign which would have made him second lieutenant, ‘pretending a complaint in his eyes’, according to Collingwood, because he believed that Dreadnought, which was badly in need of a refit, was about to be sent home – but instead she stayed, and so Landless fought on Dreadnought at Trafalgar.

This failure to move probably got in the way of his later promotion, despite Roddam’s strong interest in it, and although he was given command of an armed merchant ship in early 1806, letters from Collingwood to the Admiralty urging his promotion (and grumbling generally about lack of promotion for his protégès) came to nothing until that August when Lord Barham was replaced as First Lord of the Admiralty by Lord Howick, another Northumbrian.

At that point Landless was promoted to commander and appointed to the sloop Morgiana, where he took a prize with a valuable cargo. Combined with the money he had made in the East India Company, which allowed private trade, this made him well enough off that when he was offered another commission in 1808 he refused, preferring to stay and build up his estate at Easington, which he had now bought.

So all four influences were at work in Landless’s career – the personal patronage of Roddam and later Collingwood, the timing issues which meant he had little chance of promotion in the peacetime navy and the skill which saw him rise through first the EIC and then the navy in spite of this, and finally the plain luck which saw him take a valuable prize.

Age of Sail in Everything – Kendal


I’ve said before that you can find a Georgian story, and usually even a Napoleonic war story, everywhere if you look for it – it’s a bit like a treasure hunt. In Kendal, I wanted to go and have a look at a monument a bit outside the town – one which I’ve described elsewhere as a slightly comedy monument, as it was erected to celebrate Napoleon’s confinement on Elba, but before the plaque could be added he had escaped and was off again!

Elba monument

Sadly you can’t get right up to it to read the plaque which was finally added a hundred years later, but there’s a picture of it in the link above – apparently the original inscription was to have been:

In honour of William Pitt, the pilot that weathered the storm Elba

Elba monument closeup

The Elba monument was apparently a response to an earlier Whig monument on Castle Howe in the middle of the town, erected in 1788 to celebrate the centenary of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ – if they can have an obelisk why can’t we style – so I thought I better go and have a look at it as well.

Castle Howe obelisk
Obelisk inscription

Castle Howe itself is the motte – or mound – of the first castle in Kendal, so much older than the monument, and is just up behind the main street, on the other side of the river from the later castle whose ruins are still visible.

Castle Howe

Collingwood Society 2018

The full programme for this year wasn’t ready by the AGM, but has now been published. So we have:

  • William Landless, a Northumbrian lieutenant, in January
  • a lecture which turns out not to be about the Merchant Navy after all in March
  • nautical pub names in April
  • Northumberland archives in May
  • The logistics of supplying a fleet in June
  • ‘Why Naval Battles don’t Matter’ in September
  • the various Trafalgar events in October
  • the AGM and a ‘Pickle Night’ in November
  • Small boats, as already announced, in December

But it doesn’t seem to be online yet, so I can’t link to it!

Barrow monument, Ulverston

Hoad Hill

Away in Cumbria for a few days between Christmas and New Year, I visited the monument to Sir John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty for 40 years between 1804 and 1845, and apparently the first person to stay in a senior civil service post through a change of governing party, having been briefly out of the post in 1806-7 while a Whig government was in power, but specifically asked to stay in when they took power again in 1830.

After the Napoleonic Wars, with a new purpose needed for the navy, Barrow became a great promoter of Arctic exploratio, with the Barrow Strait in Northern Canada named after him, as well as the northernmost point of Alaska.

The monument is based on the third Eddystone lighthouse, but has never actually had a light, although it is visible from the sea and used as a mark.

Barrow Monument

It was built in 1850, two years after Barrow’s death, with the foundation stone laid by his sons. The coat of arms in presumably his – it seems to be the Barrow family crest with an added hand. I like the squirrel sitting on top!

Barrow monument plaque

There wasn’t much of a view when I was up there – the high hills were just about visible as whiter shapes in the grey – but it must have a pretty good one on good days. The line of the old shipping canal is visible as a straight line towards the right here, splitting from the curved line of the railway at the right of the picture – the site of the monument was chosen to be visible from the canal and the bay.

Ulverston sands

Throwback: Trafalgar Square

I did more wandering about London than I expected to on the day I was heading for Gibraltar – I was really there for the Trafalgar Day service, but having come out of St Paul’s with time to spare I decided to wander along the river as far as Somerset House, and still having time when I got there I decided I might as well go as far as Trafalgar Square.

This was one of the destination of my first solo trip to London, of course (a quite eclectic trip that one, including the Admiralty, Half Moon Street and the far end of the Cromwell Road!) – but I had actually been there on a much earlier trip, where all I remember is sticking my feet in the fountain on a ridiculously hot day, and having a pigeon stand on my head!

Nelson’s Column is a fairly late monument, despite being the most famous one, not started until 1840.

Nelson’s Column

As with the monument in Glasgow, the different sides of the monument are given over to different battles, this time in the form of bronze reliefs – the death of Nelson at Trafalgar, and Cape St Vincent, the Nile, and Copenhagen.

The Death of Nelson
Cape St Vincent
The Nile

The top of the column is decorated with metal recovered from the wreck of HMS Royal George.

Nelson statue

The Old Admiralty Building is really just round the corner – although I’m not sure that I ever went round to the Horse Guard’s Parade side, so I better go back some time for another prowl around.

Old Admiralty Building

Nelson’s Monument, Glasgow Green


I’ve been meaning for a long time to go and see the Nelson Monument on Glasgow Green, which was one of the first erected after Trafalgar, but when I finally got round to trying, on the day of the fireworks, I found they’d shut off the whole park, rather than just the launch area. So Christmas shopping provided an excuse for a second attempt.

The way into the park is through an arch which was once part of the front of Glasgow’s Georgian Assembly Rooms, built just before 1800 by James and Robert Adam.

Maclennan’s Arch

Two carved panels on the arch show Apollo playing on his lyre and the Three Graces dancing.

The Three Graces

Further in, Nelson’s monument is in the form of a very tall obelisk.


This was the first public monument to be put up after Trafalgar, although the monument at Taynuilt, erected by the workers of the Bonawe Iron Foundry which provided cannonballs for thr navy, is earlier.


One side of the base has Nelson’s name and title, and the others have the names of three of his famous battles.

The Nile

Near the base of the monument, an inscribed stone commemorates the fact that James Watt was walking in the area when he had his idea for a separate condenser for a steam engine. Glasgow Green is a very historic place!

James Watt’s stone
James Watt inscription

Throwback: Somerset House


Somerset House was one of the places I went to on my first solo trip to London, nearly 8 years ago, although I can’t remember now whether it was somewhere that I’d planned to go (knowing that it was the base of the old Navy Board), or just an exciting surprise as I wandered along the river. I suspect the latter.

And I was back quite recently, killing time on the day I flew to Gibraltar – having come out of the Trafalgar day service with plenty of time to spare, I decided that I might as well go for a walk along the river.

The original Somerset House was one of the great aristocratic London houses by the river, and later a royal palace, but in 1776 it was rebuilt to provide a suitable home for various government departments which had been scattered over London.

Navy Office door

The Navy Board was the administrative side of the navy – responsible for building and supplying ships and for the various dockyards, for pay, and for appointing warrant officers, with the Sick and Hurt board, Transport board and Victualling board under it – and often seems to have been at war itself with the Admiralty at Whitehall.

The Seamen’s Hall is still used as the main entrance from the river side, and when I first visited had portraits of several famous naval figures on its wall – I was sorry on my latest visit to see that they had gone.

Seamen’s Hall entrance


Because the building was built for the purpose – or because its so close to the river, or both – there are watery images all over it. There are various rover gods, but this one looks like it has to be Neptune himself.

King Neptune?

At one end of the main building is the stair known as the Nelson staircase, originally the Navy stair, which leads up to the old Navy Boardroom.

Nelson staircase

The stair was destroyed in the war and rebuilt, so the lovely railings aren’t original, but they’re very nice just the same.

Nelson staircase detail