A completely random post, but this was not exactly the man I expected to meet on a pub sign while wandering through rural Cumbria.
Possibly more oddly still, until WW1 the pub was known as the King of Prussia, and the name is still on the signs. I’m not sure which king – maybe Frederick the Great, as with the more famous King of Prussia inn which eventually gave its name to the biggest shopping centre in America, but maybe more likely Frederick William III, who came to England as part of the visit of the Allied Sovereigns in 1814. That would make more sense of the George IV connection, at least, as he hosted the visit as Prince Regent – I couldn’t think why not George V, if it was renamed during his reign.
I took a notion to read this because it was talked about in the Bewick book I read, as the other major work of natural history to appear at the time of his Quadrupeds – and because, although it’s a bit earlier than Stephen Maturin, it seemed to fit so perfectly into his world, and that of other people I’ve been reading about – that time when people are starting to take science serious, and to look about them seriously, but where there’s still so much to be found out about the ordinary world, and before science becomes specialised.
In theory, the book is all in the form of letters, but some are more letterlike than others – the first section, which is quite distinct, is a set of descriptions of Selborne and its surroundings, and then we’re suddenly into something far more like a real letter, with scraps of observation of various things which are clearly part of an ongoing conversation, a mix of the habits of particular species, and of individual birds and animals. It’s very local, and fascinating for that reason – not just that particular bird (especially) are found in England, but that birds found or not found in Selborne are different from those other parts of the country, even some quite close by, and full of descriptions of their arrivals and departures, and their habits at different times of the year.
Halfway through the sequence starts over again with a new set of letters to a different person, and it took me a while to realise that this resets the choronological sequence – some subjects do come up again and again, but some of them are preoccupations of a particular period split up by the format of the book. This second series has more detailed scientific writing – lists of birds of particular types, and descriptions of swallows and martins which were also published by the Royal Society – but also more of the general conversation, including my favourite observation, that owls hoot in the key of B flat!
Swallows and their relations seem to have been the creatures which most interested White, and they reappear often, including the infamous comments on hiberation – but the interesting thing is that this idea really does come from observation, particularly of times when swallows briefly appeared during mild weather very early or late in the year and vanished again, presumably without having travelled from Africa and back.
Later observations become more varied – gypsies, the use of reeds for light, a shrew-ash which apparently cured the pain of animals which shrew had run over, leprosy, and echoes (said by Virgil to be harmful to bees, but White’s bees didn’t seem to mind being shouted at through a speaking trumpet, so he didn’t see how an echo could hurt them) – and the very last letters are historical, dealing with various severe winters of the past, and the fog caused by the Laki eruption in 1783.
It’s not arranged at all in the way that a modern book would be, but it’s fascinating all the same, and a surprisingly vivid picture of life in the area.
Last weekend I spent a morning in Cockermouth – essentially on the way to the hills, but I took the chance while I was there to prowl around and have a look at things.
It turns out that Wordsworth isn’t the only Georgian character they’re proud of – they also have John Dalton, who proposed the atomic theory and was the first person to create a table of atomic weights, Fletcher Christian, of Bounty fame (or infamy), and a man called Fearon Fallows, sent by the Admiralty to come astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope.
It was Dalton I came across first – prowling around early in the morning, before most of the shops were open, I took myself on a kind of treasure hunt around the marketplace, to find various pieces of artwork in the pavements and other places – which include a very scientific drain cover, and bollards decorated with Dalton’s atomic symbols.
I had time for more wandering around before Wordworth House opened, and found Fearon Fallows’ birthplace nearby.
Late in the morning I visited Wordsworth House, birthplace of both William and Dorothy.
I don’t seem to have taken many pictures in the house – I never do, they all look much the same – but I did like this ship in a bowl.
And a lady was making very decorative food in the kitchen!
The garden at the back leads down to the riverbank, and was a nice place to prowl around.
This weekend the Collingwood Society had its summer outing (or one of them), in the form of a ‘picnic’ of the grounds of Collingwood House at Morpeth.
I got down a bit early because of the train times, so I popped into the town hall on my way to have another look at the Collingwood statue there – I don’t think I’ve ever posted about it, although I was there at the unveiling.
The statue is a replica of the one which went to Menorca to sit on an island on the harbour there.
The weather was a bit doubtful all day, which meant not as many people turned out as might have done, which was a shame – I had a nice day all the same, though.
I started off going for a prowl around the house and garden.
The house is a long L-shape, and at least about twice as big as it looks from the front – here’s the view right down the side.
Most of the garden is now the Catholic church and primary school and their grounds, but we were allowed to go down across the playing field to what remains of the quarterdeck walk and summerhouse.
Later on there were various kinds of wandering around, starting with a rather confusing quiz which did take me to a ‘secret garden’ with another Collingwood Oak.
Then there was an ‘expedition’ led by Tony Barrow to see what is possibly the last remaining whalebone arch in Northumberland – now the gateway of a perfectly ordinary looking house in a row of ordinary houses!
After lunch the house was opened up for a while – the highlight of the tour, for some reason, being the chance to go down into the cellar!
My favourite part of the house is the main hall – a lovely square open space two storeys high and the whole width of the back part of the house, with the stairs running up round the walls.
But the front room is very nice too, and although all the decoration is obviously different, the basic shape and the situation of the fireplace must be the same as when it was the Collingwoods’ front room.
On the stairs there were some paintings showing the house and church in earlier times – this one must be from after about 1850, since that is when the church was built, but it shows the summerhouse still standing.
And then at the end of the day I discovered that I had won the prize for being quickest at the second version of the quiz – which would have been a lovely thing except that it was mostly cheese, which I hate. Still, I’ll appreciate the beer, and the cheese has gone to a good home!
Last weekend I had company – one of my Age of Sail friends was visiting Edinburgh, and we went to the Georgian House, which is another of these things I’ve somehow never got round to doing.
I do seem to have been on a bit of a New Town kick lately, and this is the heart of it – one of the places they lit up when they did the Georgian Shadows show, in fact.
I didn’t get round to taking many photos, and my camera was playing up a bit, but I did manage a few.
The parlour was the sitting quietly room, with the comfortable chairs and the bookcase, but my favourite thing was the barrel organ – which when you look inside is exactly like the turn-the-handle music boxes you get today, only on a larger scale.
And it knew how to play the Fairy Dance, along with a handful of other tunes which are still familiar today.
The drawing room, also on the first floor, was the party room – big and empty enough for dancing.
You started at the top of the house and worked down, and we found it a bit odd that the sitting rooms were upstairs and the main bedroom downstairs!
It made sense to have the dining room on the ground floor, though, because downstairs again was the kitchen, so it meant that the food didn’t have so far to come. I was impressed by their array of pots and pans, and especially by the jelly moulds.
Also down here was the well stocked wine cellar.
And then we wandered off to drink tea and talk about George Heneage Dundas and Christy-Pallière and other mutual friends, which was nice!
Apart from regularly falling over Captain Cook along the Cleveland Way, I took a day off in the middle to walk the coast from Redcar to Saltburn and so catch up with myself before heading south from Saltburn (I’ve walked the coast south from the Tyne in order, although erratically over several years!), and to visit a couple of places connected with George Heneage Dundas – the model, at least initially, for Jack Aubrey’s friend.
I knew that he was buried at Marske, in the graveyard of the old church, St Germain’s, by the sea. This was rebuilt in 1821, and mostly demolished in the early 20th century, but the remaining tower may be much older, as it clearly shows the marks of two different roof lines.
I also knew from hunting online that he was included on a Dundas family gravestone (or a Zetland family gravestone, but he died before his brother became the Earl of Zetland rather than Lord Dundas), and that it was one of the biggest in the graveyard – but despite this it took quite a bit of searching to find it, as I hadn’t realised it was a flat stone.
The relevant part of the inscription reads:
Admiral George Heneage Lawrence Dundas
Died Octr 16th 1834 Aged 55
There are two mistakes in that – he died on 6th October, or possibly the 7th, as it was around midnight, and as he was born in September 1778 he had turned 56 a few weeks before he died – but it’s very much a family stone, and as it’s clear that all the lettering was done at the same time, it must have been after the last death recorded there, that of his nephew more than 40 years later.
The new church in the town, St Mark’s, built in 1867, contains several Dundas family funeral hatchments, moved there from the old church.
The first two are for Harriet, Lady Dundas – GHD’s sister in law – and his brother Lawrence, 1st Earl of Zetland.
The next two are for Thomas, 2nd Earl of Zetland – GHD’s nephew, who he was staying with at the time of his own death – and his wife Sophia.
Next door to the new church is Marske Hall, now a nursing home, but then a Dundas family possession, although their main home was at Aske.
The next morning I made a detour to visit Upleatham, where GHD was living when he died (if that makes sense). His obituary describes Upleatham Hall as the home of his nephew, but his Houses of Parliament record lists it as his home, and it makes sense that someone who wasn’t married and probably lived mostly in London had a base in a family house, rather than setting up a house of his own.
It’s a lovely setting – beautiful, but not so tame that it couldn’t be Scotland (and although the family were firmly settled in England by this stage it doesn’t ever seem to have occurred to them to move out of the north) – and from the road to the church Roseberry Topping is in view.
The village has a famously small church, but this is really only the remains of a much bigger building, left behind in the graveyard as a mortuary chapel when the church moved into the village.
Upleatham Hall was demolished in the late 19th century due to subsidence from mining, and a much smaller building stands in the grounds now, although it does include a carving which looks like it might have come from an earlier building.
It’s not all that easy at first to map the location of the old hall onto the current map – there’s also nothing remaining of the old Home Farm, and the new Home Farm is in part of the grounds of the old hall, which confused me. But it can be done, helped by the fact that the field boundaries haven’t changed much – and the site of the hall then turns out to be marked as earthworks on the current map.
The wellhouse marked on the old map is still standing, at the corner of the current roads.
These gateposts, near the start of the track continuing past the new hall, also look like part of the older building.
Following the path round, I took a slightly trespassy detour into the corner of the field, where I could look into the woods at the original site of the house.
(I was a bit amused that I’d been unwilling to walk through a field of cows to follow the coast path the day before, but had walked through one now to look at a house that wasn’t there where a fictional character had died. I’m mad, but it’s a fairly harmless variety.)
Two more family relics turned up along my walk – this is the old Redcar lifeboat Zetland, built in 1802 and the oldest surviving lifeboat in the world – and obviously named after the Dundas family, although they didn’t become Earls of Zetland until 1839.
And although there are Dundas Streets all over Scotland – far too many to count – they’re all named after Lord Melville. This was the first one I’d ever seen which was definitely named for the other Dundas family.
After working around the moors from Helmsley to Kildale, Cook started to come into the story on the fourth day, with Great Ayton in view down below for part of the day, and then his monument on Easby Moor ahead.
The start of the fourth day found me climbing up to the monument itself – an impressive marker on the hillside.
The monument was erected in 1827, and has a plaque praising Cook’s abilities.
(It’s odd to think that this was before Middlesbrough existed – the monument isn’t in the middle of nowhere, as it seems now, it’s overlooking the biggest town connected with his boyhood.)
After a day around Redcar and Marske on the trail of the Dundas family, it was day 6 when I next came across Cook, in Staithes where he spent 18 months working for a merchant before moving to Whitby to train as a seaman. It’s a very picturesque little harbour, piled into a gap between the cliffs.
The shop where he worked has been destroyed by the sea (a common story along this coast), but parts of it were used to build the house called Captain Cook’s cottage. There’s also a museum here, but I was too late to visit it.
The next day I was in Whitby, where Cook served his apprenticeship as a seaman and then worked for several years on Whitby-based ships, working his way up to master before joining the navy at the start of the Seven Years War.
A statue to Cook stands on the west cliff – as well as the inscriptions describing it, there are plaques presented by several of the countries which Cook helped to explore.
I especially liked this ship:
Down at the quayside, the replica of Endeavour was just returning from one trip and ready to set out for another – which I couldn’t resist. The ship is built on roughly 40% of the scale of the original, but that still doesn’t feel like the original would have been very big!
Over on the other, older, side of the harbour is the house where Cook lodged as an apprentice, now the Captain Cook museum. From the street it’s a nice building, marked with the initials of its original owners, Moses and Susannah Dring, although in Cook’s time it belonged to John Walker.
The house is built in an L shape around a courtyard behind – the attic of the main building is where the apprentices would have slept.
At the other end, the courtyard runs down to the harbour – and would have been lower in Cook’s day, running down to a slipway.
The museum itself is interesting but not always very clear – they have several exhibits which they’re rightfully proud of, but don’t put much effort into telling the overarching story which these things fit into (what happened on each of the three voyages, for example). My vague memories of the museum at Marton did help a bit!
This past weekend was the end of a light show celebrating the 250th anniversary of Edinburgh’s New Town – called ‘Georgian Shadows’, although it was really mostly the opposite of shadows, with people made out of light projected onto the buildings.
On Saturday night I managed to look around the buildings near St Andrew’s Square, after getting back quite late from the Borders.
General Register House was decorated with words from the original New Town proposals.
Dundas House had a light show which picked out different elements of its architecture.
The Melville Monument was telling the story of the plans, moving from the old town to the new.
By Sunday night the clocks had changed and there wasn’t much darkness – instead it was that deep blue twilight which is the real shadow time.
The Georgian House in Charlotte Square had the only real shadows, setting the table for dinner.
The link boy, carrying his torch, was the element which ran through all the different light shows – he turned up at some point on every building.
At the Assembly Rooms a queue of ladies and gentlemen were waiting to get in.
And St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church – the oldest in the New Town, opened as St Andrew’s in 1784 – was showing portraits of some of the early inhabitants – here two sedan chairmen wait for a customer.
Two Dundas families are represented in St Andrew’s Square, with Dundas House on the east side – now the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland – having been built for Sir Lawrence Dundas, a distant cousin and a rival of Lord Melville.
Sir Lawrence Dundas was not directly involved in the navy, but the family was still heavily involved in seafaring (as most influential families of the tme must have been) – Sir Lawrence invested in East India company ships and had Dundas relatives appointed to them, while his son was involved in the building and trials of the early paddle steamer Charlotte Dundas (named after his daughter), and his son was the naval officer George Heneage Dundas (of Master and Commander fame), who became First Naval Lord later in his life.
Dundas House is built on the side of St Andrew’s Square, looking right down George Street along the centre of the New Town, and stands on the spot from which the New Town was measured and laid out – a plaque on the floor of the bank commemorates this.
This site was originally intended for a church – the counterpart of St George’s in Charlotte Square, now West Register House – but Sir Lawrence apparently decided that it was too good a spot to give up, and had his house built there before the plans for the church could be agreed and the land acquired.
Whatever the issues with its construction, it is a beautifully decorated building
I have been misled by the Melville monument in St Andrews Square. Any time I’ve remembered to go and look at it it’s been in December, and it’s always been covered up by the ice rink’s bar – and so I assumed that there was an inscription on one of the bottom panels where I couldn’t see it. But no – all the panels are blank, and the only plaque on it celebrates Robert Stevenson’s part in its building.
It’s a very towering monument, but I got a good view of the statue from the Scott monument when I climbed that a few weeks ago – I’d never expected to see him on the level!
Lord Melville is one of those people who did a great deal for the navy without ever really being part of it – he was Secretary of State for War and later First Lord of the Admiralty, and as the latter managed to greatly increase the number of ships at sea by arranging for repairs rather than complete refits – indirectly contributing to the victory at Trafalgar – and the monument was paid for by members of the navy.
He’s also an occasional character in the Master and Commander series, as First Lord and as the father of Jack’s friend Heneage Dundas (which he wasn’t, but that’s a story for another day).
But he was a controversial figure in many ways, and was also the last person to be impeached for misappropriation of public funds in Britain – although he was eventually found guilty only of negligence.