The Royal Tour – Harry Price

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The facsimile of the diary kept by Petty Officer Harry Price on board the H.M.S. Ophir during the Royal Tour of 1901 was printed in 1980 by Webb & Bower of Exeter. Harry had died back in 1965 and it was his son Jack Price who showed it to the publisher and which led to the facsimile printing.  Sadly it’s no longer in print but it is readily available on the secondary market for just three or four pounds, which considering how attractive the book is has to be one of the great book buying bargains.

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Harry was a talented artist and had attended Birmingham School of Art before joining the Royal Navy where he rapidly progressed to Petty Officer before joining H.M.S. Ophir just in time for the nine month long world voyage of Prince George and Princess Mary. George held both titles of Duke of Cornwall and Duke of York hence the slightly odd description given and he would later become King George V on the death of his father in 1910.

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The tour was started just two months after the death of Queen Victoria and was probably seen as an opportunity to introduce the younger Royals to the Empire after the end of her sixty three year reign. The diary is in Harry’s handwriting just as he originally wrote it as the voyage was progressing and provides a fascinating view of the trip and the various onshore excursions he managed.

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According to the list at the front of the diary, the route was as follows: Portsmouth, Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said,Suez Canal, Aden, Colombo, Singapore, Albany, Melbourne, Sydney, Hawksbury River, Sydney, Auckland, Wellington, Lyttleton, Hobart, Adelaide, Albany, Freemantle, Mauritius, Durban, Simonstown, St Vincent, Quebec, Halifax, St. Johns and then back to Portsmouth.

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I am including pages in sequence as the trip progresses so we have already reached New Zealand where he comments on the weather on the right hand page above. The style is quite chatty and it is clear throughout the book that he is intending this to be a souvenir that he can show to other people rather than a private diary. To this end he records his personal experiences but as though telling the reader about them.

The sketch below was taken up the river, some fifteen miles above Christchurch where as you can see the scenery was most bewitching, but a hard frost setting in as the sun went down made matters a little bit disagreeable, to us, who only a short time ago, were under a scorching tropical sun.

The date at this point was the 27th June so midwinter in New Zealand.

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Returning to Australia Harry produced the very attractive full page picture of the various arms of the Australian states inspired by examples displayed along the banks of the Adelaide River, this time he didn’t get ashore but they did have ‘a visitors day’ where local townspeople could tour the ship and this proved so popular that they were almost overwhelmed by the numbers.

It is quite enough; when I say that quite a number of ladies fainted, and the bluejackets and marines had their handsfull

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I remember this book coming out and the original volume by Harry Price being shown on various TV programmes, the reproduction is extremely good but it can’t have been a particularly sound financial proposition for the publisher as it must have been expensive to print and it soon slipped from the list of titles they had available even though it clearly sold well judging by the number of copies available on abebooks. I bought my copy a few years later second-hand for £4, I know I wanted one at the time but I suspect it was beyond my teenage finances.

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The crossing from Australia to Mauritius was surprisingly good for the Southern Indian Ocean but they hit bad weather crossing from there to South Africa as can be seen in Harry’s picture of their escort ship the St. George. It seems odd that South Africa was on the itinerary at all as the Boer War was in full progress with guerilla activity led by Louis Botha and Jan Christiaan Smuts in both the Eastern and Western Transvaal’s and Cape Colony respectively against the British occupation although by now the fighting really was going against the Boer forces. H.M.S. Ophir was protected by several British warships whilst in South African waters and the Royal couple had a significantly stronger armed guard with them whilst ashore whereas before the soldiers with them were largely ceremonial.

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Harry Price even included an image of one of the POW ships moored off the coast, in total they spent less than two weeks in South Africa and three days of that was moving from Durban to Simonstown which was then (as now for the South African Navy) the main naval dockyard. They then set off for Canada via the Caribbean.

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The strength of the Royal Navy at the time that the book was written can be judged by the fact that even leaving the small Caribbean island of St. Vincent there were four other naval ships available to escort the Ophir as it left the territory two of which are described as over 12,000 tonnes and in excess of 500 feet in length. There then followed a journey of ten days solid cruising up the eastern seaboard of the United States to Canada during which the American President William McKinley was assassinated and it is specifically mentioned that all the Royal Naval ships waiting for them in Quebec were also flying the American stars and stripes at half mast in respect.

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For the visit to Canada the Duke and Duchess disembarked and travelled for over a month via railway all over Canada. The Ophir waited for their return in Halifax, Nova Scotia and during that period was fully repainted and all needed repairs done. Discipline was clearly somewhat more relaxed than when the royal couple were aboard and this provided a break for the crew apart from their duties refurbishing the ship in dry dock.

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The final page I have included features a set of stamps issued in Canada to mark the royal visit and describes preparations to leave Canada and sail back for home. The book is a fascinating and beautiful historical document with almost every page decorated by Harry’s watercolours and one I like to pull off the shelves quite often, not just to read but sometimes just to enjoy the pictures.


The Drowned World – J G Ballard

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This week I’ve been reading one of the classic dystopian novels; and a very early book to take the theme of climate change as it was written in 1962. The edition I have was printed by the Folio Society  in 2013, bound in full buckram and beautifully illustrated by James Boswell who also created the design blocked onto the cover in reflective metallic copper and gold ink. The copper coloured endpapers continue the bright design so appropriate for a book about the burning sun beating down on a flooded planet.

J G Ballard is best known for his apocalyptic stories where the world is viewed after a catastrophe, “The Drowned World” is his second novel and is preceded by “The Wind From Nowhere” where extreme winds are destroying the Earth and followed by “The Burning World” where pollution in the oceans eventually gets to such a level that it blocks the precipitation cycle leading to no more rain and deserts everywhere. “The Drowned World” is a novel about the aftermath of runaway global warming, the ice caps have melted flooding most of the rest of the world, and humanity has largely retreated to the Arctic zones. Dr Robert Kerans and his older colleague Dr Alan Bodkin are biologists attached to a military expedition tasked with exploring the drowned cities however it has become clear over time that the charts they have produced are going to be no use as the heat is just increasing so mankind will never recolonise the majority of the planet. The temperature in flooded London is well over 40 degrees centigrade by mid morning and the afternoon heat is unbearable. Kerans and Bodkin hatch a plan to stay behind when the expedition is due to leave; along with the enigmatic Beatrice Dahl who is still living in the penthouse that belonged to her parents.

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They are all having strange dreams about the sun and a desire to head south into the increasing heat without clearly understanding why this urgent need has overtaken them. The other members of the unit are also having the same dreams and this is one of the factors that leads the commander to decide to leave sooner than originally planned.

The London that the three characters are left in when they do elude the journey north is rapidly regressing to a revitalised Triassic period with giant iguanas, huge bats and insects recolonising the swamps and flooded lagoons of what was once the squares and thoroughfares of the city. Kerans has taken to living in the top floor suite of what was once The Ritz, Bodkin scuttled the science station over the top of The Planetarium, presumably the one in Greenwich, whilst Beatrice remains in her suite and here they are planning on lasting as long as they can until the fuel and food finally runs out after when they will abandon London and head south as their dreams are calling them.

The writing style is sparse almost lethargic and matches the slowness of the characters as the heat forces the them to do less and less and just reduce their lives to sleep and short expeditions to occasionally visit each other. The washed out illustrations by James Boswell also match this sense of oppressive heat as the reader gets drawn into this world. Mankind is losing, the planet is returning to a more primitive state and it is implied that so is man.

Of course it is all going to go wrong and halfway through the book it does and a heightened level of horror is injected into the book which carries us to the inevitable denouement as the characters mental states slowly collapse. It’s a brilliant book, Ballard wasn’t really appreciated in his own lifetime although since his death in 2009 his works are becoming more and more respected but as he himself said

For a writer, death is always a career move

Raw Spirit – Iain Banks

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‘Hiya Banksie! Written any good books lately?’
‘Not if you believe certain critics, but I’m going to be writing one about whisky.’
‘A book about whisky?’
‘Yeah, malt whisky.’
‘You’re kidding!’
‘Not as such.’
‘This mean you’re going to have to do the “R” word?’
‘The “R” word? Oh! Research? Yeah basically. Goin to have to drive round Scotland, take trains, ferries, planes and such, go to distilleries, taste whiskies, that sort of -‘
‘And they’re going to pay you for this?’
‘They’ve already started.’
‘Right I see. D’you need a hand?’

So begins Iain Banks’ Raw Spirit: In Search of a Perfect Dram and those people familiar only with Iain M Banks the gritty science fiction writer or his even grittier ‘normal’ fiction written as Iain Banks are in for a surprise as this is a genuinely funny book interspersed with rants about the Second Iraq war which had just started as he set of in search of the “R” word. As a fan of both Banks and whisky, purchasing this book when it came out did not take much consideration and I recently pulled it back off the shelves as later this year I’m doing my own trip round some distilleries and like Banks I’m starting with Islay.

Rereading the book was a surprise, my 14 year old memory of what was covered is clearly faulty, yes there is whisky aplenty and distilleries also get pretty good coverage but a large part of the book is really about Banks’ love affair with Scotland and its “Great Wee Roads” or GWRs as they are referred to throughout. There is a lot more said about getting to the distilleries (both the roads and vehicle chosen to make the journey) than there is covering them or their production. There is also a considerable amount of reminiscences of past holidays, fun times in out of the way properties and time spent with old friends. The book is really as close as we ever got to an autobiography by Banks who sadly died in 2013 from cancer aged just 59. If you want a book about whisky then you are really better off with Michael Jackson’s definitive tome, but if you want a book about the joy of travelling around Scotland looking for whiskies and the friendships and fellowships that it can engender then this is for you.

Let’s take a random chapter and breakdown the coverage of each subject, “12: Porridge and Scottishness, Football and Fireworks” has a total of 20 and a bit pages:

  • Porridge, why he doesn’t like it and other Scottish institutions such as kilts – 2½ pages
  • Six distilleries visited and their whiskies – 7 pages
  • Memories of Monty Python (he was an extra in one of the films)  – 1 page
  • Memories of blowing things up (fireworks with mates) – 4½ pages
  • Travelling – 1 page
  • The joys and tribulations of following Morton Football Club – 4 and a bit pages

That seems to be a pretty average hit rate for the theoretical subject of the book, although the travelling to whisky ration is normally higher than that, at least after you get past chapter one where Banks does stick more closely to his brief. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book, I very much did so, it’s an easy read and you want to follow Banks around the country as he enjoys the scenery, samples whisky and chats with old mates. You feel by the end that the Raw Spirit of the title is more the spirit of Scottishness rather than Scotch and it’s good fun.

As a final note my copy is the first edition hardback printed by Century in 2003, that also appears to be the only Century edition as by 2004 it was a paperback with a completely different cover published by Arrow. Both of these are imprints of Penguin Random House.

Johnson’s Directory

Johnson’s of Nantwich is one of the oldest still operating printers in the UK having been founded in 1827 by Thomas H Johnson and is still based on Oat Market in the heart of the town. The Almanack and Directory, that they started printing in the late 1800’s, lists the residents of the town by address, along with all public amenities along with their hours of opening, churches and other places of worship and the names of councillors not just for Nantwich but also the surrounding villages. The volumes are also packed with a fascinating collection of adverts and a “classified shopping index”, the title is in quotes at the head of this list, and there are also several articles on various subjects relating to the town. For a local historian this information is clearly invaluable, a genealogist would also find it useful for tracking addresses of people. I was born in Nantwich and can remember a lot of the businesses listed and can track my family moving house around the town as I read successive editions. I remember having copies of the Directory at home in the early 1970’s so as I’ve got older and more interested in local history trying to collect editions has become a challenge. They have never been particularly expensive but due to the ephemeral nature of the book they are surprisingly rare considering most households in Nantwich had a copy. At the time of writing there is only one edition available on abebooks.

According to John McMillan, the current Managing Director of Johnson’s, the 1977 edition that I have is the last year it was published, however establishing the first year is somewhat more problematic. 1977 was the 150th anniversary of the firm so there is a short article in the Directory on its history. This includes the lines:

In 1872 he printed and published the first edition of a publication that has become a household word in Nantwich and district – Johnson’s “Nantwich Almanack”, now known as Johnson’s Directory and Town Guide.

The Almanack, which cost a penny in the days before the First World War, has been published continuously for 89 years apart for a break caused by the production and paper problems of the Second World War.

Immediately there seems to be a problem with this description, this is the 1977 edition so 105 years after the specified first edition but is is also apparently the 89th year of publication. Further confusion is found in my 1938 copy (which says 1939 on the cover but internally describes itself as the 1938 edition and the 63rd year of publication). My next copy is the 1956 edition which is apparently the 68th year of publication, this implies a very long gap for WWII with possible production being 1938 (63rd), 1939 (64th), 1953 (65th), 1954 (66th), 1955 (67th) and then the next copy I have 1956 (68th). However this would fit in with the UK paper rationing period which started on the 1st June 1940 and which didn’t get removed until the Queens coronation in May 1953. It is reasonable to assume that as the Almanack and Directory would not be regarded as essential then Johnson’s would halt it for the entire period of rationing to preserve their paper supplies for other publications.

This clears up most of the sixteen year difference but not all of it. There wasn’t paper rationing during WWI but it is entirely possible that other priorities would mean that there was also a gap in publications during that conflict, until I manage to find an edition from before 1914 to confirm which publication year it claims to be that would remain a working hypothesis anyway. It is that or the recorded first publication year isn’t quite right, and if we take as correct the statement regarding continuous publication then stepping back from 1938 being the 63rd, the first would be in 1876 not 1872.  Enough of the history of publication lets look at some samples starting with my earliest…

1938 – 63rd year of publication

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The example I have has certainly been well used and a loop of string has been attached to the top of the spine so that it could be hung up, this was a book that was clearly referenced a lot and the owner wanted it handy. I really like the over the top cover design but it is when you get inside that it gets really interesting with some lovely adverts some of which can be seen below, click on the image to go to the page for that image and click there to see a larger version.

The book may have been one penny when it started but by 1938 it had risen to three pence, not too big an increase in over 60 years. The contents page gives a good idea of the spread of information available

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The entry for pages 43-45 Bands and Banks definitely catches the eye and is exactly what it suggests with 5 bands and the same number of banks listed. I wish The New Domain Syncopators still existed, they sound ideal for the Nantwich Jazz Weekend. As for the cheese fairs, there are 17 listed for Nantwich for 1938 and they coincided with the Thursday Market. Other entries of note include the social opportunities and I quite like the sound of Ye Olde Nantwich Giant Onion Society which includes a note under its entry that “this society has no connection with any other onion club”

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The directory followed the same format in all the copies I have, listing each street alphabetically and then by house number which business or householder could be found there.

1962 – 74th Year of publication

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Post war the cover changed dramatically and the price doubled to sixpence, where it stayed right through the 1950’s and up to 1967. I chose the 1962 copy from my complete run from 1956 as this is the year I was born, so I can find my parents living on Whitehouse Lane or the Whitehouse Lane Estate as it was called in the directory because these houses were still being built and the lowest house number recorded is 39. Sadly Ye Olde Nantwich Giant Onion Society doesn’t appear to have survived and indeed the number of social and sporting clubs has dramatically reduced. the adverts are still very interesting though.

One fascinating section is the reprint from the 1932 directory called Old Nantwich which takes the form of an imagined stroll around the town describing people and places that the anonymous author passes. It is quite long so split into two parts each of twelve pages one in this edition and one that appeared in the 1963 copy. The inclusion of articles like these really adds to the books and they become more prevalent from this point onwards.

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There is also a three page write up about the church of St James in Audlem which continues a short series that had started the previous year with information about St Mary’s church in Acton.

1973 – Eighty-fifth year of publication

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This year the cover was redesigned again, dropping the Almanack reference and now describing the publication as the Town Guide. There had been a few price rises in the intervening years from six pence in 1967, up 33% to eight pence in 1968, then again up 33% in 1969 to a shilling (twelve pence). In 1971 we had decimalisation of the currency and Johnson’s took the opportunity to increase the price again by 20% from five new pence (which is what a shilling became) to six pence. In 1972 it went up again by 33% to eight pence and as you can see in 1973 a further 20% increase occurred taking the price to ten pence. In just six years the price had quadrupled from six old pence (2½ new pence) to ten new pence.  This was undoubtedly due to several factors, one definitely being the reduction in the number of advertisers and those that were there are mainly typographical in design so I have just included a couple for businesses that I remember well. By now we had moved to another new build property on Broadway and this house was surrounded by lots of wooden panel fencing, which always seemed to be getting damaged leading to regular trips to Derek Copeland and I also found an advert from my first employer when I was a paper boy for Carringtons.

The production value of the book has also greatly increased. Taking the ‘Town Guide” part of the name seriously the articles included are significantly longer and illustrated. They start with a guide which runs from a brief history of the town to lists of general information such as the fact that there are 4148 inhabited dwellings in the town of which 1291 are Council owned and the population is 11666 (1971 census).

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Of more interest to myself who enjoys the local history, this edition also includes the second part of what is really a stand-alone book entitled “Nantwich – Saxon to Puritan”. The first thirty two pages had been included in the 1972 edition, this has pages 33 to 88

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and it is a really good read, very well researched with full bibliographies after each section. The final section; pages 89 to 120 are in the 1974 edition which also includes a note that the full text had been published in December 1972 as a stand alone book.

1977 – Eighty-ninth year of publication

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As noted above this is sadly the last edition of Johnson’s Directory and there was a final redesign for what turned out to be its swansong.  The price has again trebled from 1973 now up to thirty pence so it is now 24 times the price of my oldest copy from 1938 almost all of which has happened in the last ten years. Advertising has become rather static with most companies simply running the same advert for years on end, this doesn’t normally matter too much but because of this habit Chatwin’s the bakers are still making a point of a prize they won in 1963 with the obvious implications that they haven’t done anything similar over the intervening 14 years.

The article in this edition is the Johnson’s story that I quoted from at the start of this blog and in a way that is entirely fitting. The company is a Nantwich institution and it has been fascinating to go back through my collection of their products and remember companies that sadly have not managed to last as long as them along with a few that are still trading eighty years after they advertised in my oldest copy.

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In a future blog I intend to look at probably Johnson’s finest publication, Hall’s History of Nantwich and I’d like to finish with a quote from the frontispiece of that book

Thus times do shift; each thing his turne does hold

New things succeed as former things grow old