Mr Bazalgette visits Weston-super-Mare

I’m going to a series of talks about our town, the history of it and the people who have lived here. In the 1700’s our small village of Uphill, to the south of the town was bigger and more important than Weston, which was little more than a few farms and some fishermen’s cottages. All changed at the turn of the century, and now Weston has a population of about 78,000, and Uphill about 8,000.

There was tremendous growth in Weston throughout the nineteenth century, churches, schools, municipal buildings; great architects designed the buildings; in 1841 Isambard Kingdom Brunel built a railway bridge known as Devil’s Bridge, a single span brick bridge, with ashlar coussoirs.  It is the highest and widest single span brick bridge in the country and has a Grade II listing. One of Brunel’s friends and associates was Joseph Bazalgette; Brunel was born in 1809, Joseph was ten years younger.

I learned this evening that Joseph had been working on some water engineering project in Bristol and he came to Weston and had some input into the project to improve the sanitation system in our town. I learned this tonight at the talk, but I cannot find any corroborative evidence yet, apart from the fact that he wrote a paper with a Mr Whitehead   ‘A Report on the Yeo, Parret and Isle Drainage’in 1869. I was very excited to learn that a hero of civil engineering who saved the lives of tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people by his sanitation works in London, was in our town… but when?

I shall ask next week at the next lecture… Joseph was born in 1819, married Maria Kough from Kilkenny and had at least eleven children!

In case you are wondering about my featured image, it shows where the sewers used to empty into the sea just near our village – and this was after the sewerage and sanitation system was put in place! All is pure and clean now!


The Sea-Board Of Mendip – an account of its history, archaeology and natural history

Quite by chance I came across an old book originally published in 1909, or thereabouts, by Francis Arnold Knight about the Mendips, the range of southwestern hills which dive into the sea by our little village of Uphill. It was a mixture of history, geography, geology, natural history and folklore. It was charming and very interesting and I gave it to my husband for Christmas (so I could read it as well!)

Heart of Mendip, by Francis A. Knight (J. M.Dent and Sons, 8s. 6d. net), is a well-compiled history of a dozen parishes in the neighbourhood of Cheddar, in Somerset. The district with which Mr. Knight deals is not only among the most beautiful in the country, but contains several objects of especial interest, notably the Cheddar Gorge with its stalactite caves, and the ancient mining station at Charterhouse-on- Mendip. We are always glad to come upon such a volume as this, which cannot fail to stimulate the interest of the inhabitants of the countryside in their own local history, archaeology, and natural history.

I have just bought another book by Mr Knight:

The Sea-Board Of Mendip – an account of the history, archaeology and natural history of the parishes of Weston-Super-Mare, Kewstoke, Wick St. Lawrence, Puxton Worle, Uphill, Brean, Bleadon, Hutton Locking, Banwell, and of The Steep and Flat Holms.

As usual I did a little research, and discovered that Mr Knight was not only an old boy and teacher at Sidcot School where my son was a student, but had written many other books about the area, including one which featured Uphill. I have just purchased this (a reprinted modern edition) and look forward to reading it.

I can’t however, find out very much about Francis Knight; he was a Quaker, attended Sidcot School between 1862-1866, taught there 1866-1873, and is described as a topographical author. I believe he was born in Gloucestershire in 1852, and died in Somerset in 1915.

He appears in the 1871 census, at Sidcot School, and is a pupil-teacher – I’m not sure if this means he was a pupil and teacher or if he was like a student teacher. Ten years later in 1881, he is still at Sidcot, as a school master now; he is married to thirty-one year old Jane from Stockport in Cheshire, and they have a little girl, Louisa  Mary who is three. Also living with them is Jane’s sister, Harriet Redfern who is twenty-seven and  also a teacher at Sidcot, and like most families of their status, they have a servant Matilda Parker, from Gloucestershire, aged thirty.

In 1891 things have changed! The Knights no longer live near Sidcot School, they live in Weston-super-Mare; They appear to have a small private boarding school with Mrs Sophia Hobbs, a fifty-three year old widow who is school matron, nineteen year old James F. Keel from Finsbury in London who is an assistant school master, fifteen young boys aged from ten to seventeen from homes across the country, Plymouth in the south and Carlisle in the north, and three domestic servants. Francis is now described as a school master and journalist.

What happened between 1891 and 1901? Francis is no longer a teacher and no longer has a boarding school. He has moved back from Weston-super-Mare to Winscombe, near to Sidcot School again. His elderly mother, eighty-eight year old Sarah is living with them and they have two boarders, Mr and Mrs Grubb, John a retired brass founder, and his wife Madeline. Whether there are any servants who come in from the village isn’t known of course, but the census tells us that there is a live-in servant, young Mary Blumsden aged nineteen.

It’s rather sad, looking at the 1911 census, knowing that within a few years Francis will have died. Here he is, aged fifty-nine, no longer a journalist or author but a retired schoolmaster. On the night of the census his daughter Louisa is visiting with her husband, John Rowe Dutton a chauffeur.  A cousin is also visiting, and there is one servant to help the family. Francis’s mother, Sarah Matthews Knight died in 1908 at the remarkable age of ninety-five!

Francis died in 1915, his wife Jane in 1928. His works live on, though, and i shall enjoy reading what he has to say about Uphill!

Snow leopards and the Severn Bridge

I’ve been challenging myself to tackle a list of seventy-three different subjects on which a blog could be written… I’ve done this for the past couple of days, but this doesn’t mean I’m going to do it every day for the next two and a bit months! The suggestions are very wide-ranging and aimed at people from every area of life who might want to write a blog, not just writers. There are some amazing blogs in unexpected sites… this is one of my favourites from a plumbers’ suppliers:

Back to the seventy-three… today I’m challenging myself to write about…  Current Events… I do occasionally comment on the world around us, but rarely if ever on political issues, and rarely on controversial issues. I have plenty of thoughts and ideas, but for me, my blog here, is not the place where I choose to air my opinions and views. So … current events…

Current events

I read a newspaper everyday, listen to the news on the radio, watch the evening news on TV, follow certain news websites from around the world, and I think in general keep myself up to date with what is happening.

Having relatively young children, it is very hard not to be anxious, depressed or worried about the world today… for example, looking on the BBC website in four different areas of news, local (Somerset) national (England and UK) and international (the world) the gloomy frightening, awful stories seem to outweigh by a long streak the positive optimistic news:


  • Severn Bridge tolls to be reduced
  • Criminal’s movie memorabilia to be sold
  • Vigilante trapped girl’s online groomer
  • Risks to brain-injury baby were missed
  • Health bosses press on with A&E closure
  • Jude Law sparks cinema security alert
  • Flying Scotsman stuck on slippery slope
  • Go-ahead for badger cull in 11 new areas
  • Leaders outline new transport plans
  • Royal Navy helicopter joins Irma effort
  • Yeovil Town 0-0 Cheltenham Town
  • Girl’s organs donated to record 8 people
  • Next generation of wild cranes fledge


  • Tube blast is terror incident, say police
  • Harrow Fire
  • Timber yard blaze brings rail chaos
  • Ex-footballer Clarke Carlisle ‘missing’
  • Emergency landing after plane loses wheel
  • Boy detained for killing love rival
  • Briton dies in Sri Lanka crocodile attack
  • NHS workers demand 3.9% pay rise
  • Gang sentenced for ‘territorial’ killing
  • Church ‘did not anticipate’ bishop row
  • ‘Annoyed’ customer failed in blackmail bid
  • HS2 ‘may disrupt city travel for years’
  • Suspended sentence for Redmayne stalker


  • Tube blast is terror incident, say police
  • Pound hits highest since Brexit vote
  • Bank hints at interest rate rise
  • Briton dies in Sri Lanka crocodile attack
  • Timber yard blaze brings rail chaos
  • Wealthier areas asked to build more homes
  • Ex-footballer Clarke Carlisle ‘missing’
  • New guidance targets type 2 diabetes risk
  • Man admits killing toddler in crash
  • ‘I was abused by nuns for a decade’
  • Bombardier announces Belfast job cuts
  • Boy, 14, slashed in face at school
  • Lancashire loss confirms Essex as champions


  • North Korean test splits world powers
  • Swedish politician ‘raped for his beliefs’
  • Swedish festival cancelled after rape claim
  • Saturn probe Cassini is incinerated
  • Full article Saturn probe Cassini is incinerated
  • Ex-CIA head quits Harvard over Manning
  • Manilla police removed after teen deaths
  • Paedophile furore wrecks Iceland coalition
  • Trump repeats ‘both sides’ controversy
  • Tunisian women free to marry non-Muslims
  • Irma-hit nursing home loses funding
  • Google sued over ‘sex discrimination’
  • Mayweather criticised over Trump defence
  • Lady Gaga in hospital with ‘severe pain’
  • George Harrison’s sitar to be auctioned
  • Snow leopard no longer ‘endangered’

So much to fear, so much to be angry and appalled about, so much sadness and tragedy…

There is good news in among it all though…  let me find a good news story in among each of these section of current events…

  • The death of thirteen year old Jemima Layzell in 2012, from a brain aneurysm must have broken the hearts of her parents and family and all her friends. However, from her untimely death, she transformed the lives of eight different people, including five children. She donated her heart, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, small bowel and liver and gave life and a decent quality of life to eight strangers. Great good came from her tragedy – and maybe this will make more people think about becoming organ doners after their deaths. I rally believe there should be presumed consent unless someone actually opts out.
  • it’s harder to find a good news story among the UK news items, I guess we could ‘borrow’ from Somerset news that cranes have successfully bred on the levels and marshes of our county… I guess the fact that a plane made a successful emergency landing after losing a wheel is very good news
  • for Essex who beat Lancashire at cricket, it’s probably the best news that they won – they weren’t actually playing Lancashire, but Lancs lost against Somerset so Essex won the County Championship Division 1
  • … and what good news from the world can we find? It is a triumph for Tunisian women that they are now allowed to marry who they choose. The best news  for the snow leopards is that they are no longer endangered, but merely vulnerable

Inspiration… just a little tickle of an idea…

I usually flick through the BBC page for news, but also for articles and videos in what they call their magazine. Today my eye was caught by a photo of a young man, just head and shoulders, leaning back against a wall. He looked a little like a young David Bowie. The question was posed ‘when was this photo taken?’ A tricky one because looking at the rather handsome young face, the tousled, longish hair, the expression, it could have been taken yesterday, or any time in the last thirty or so years. A reporter went out onto the streets of London and asked passers-by when they thought the photo was taken, and answers ranged from recently to the sixties.

As you can tell, they were all good answers, and the thing which shocked everyone was that it was actually taken in the 1865!! The reason they were deceived, and I was too, was that the photo had been coloured digitally. There were other photos too, a whole range, some very moving and one tragic and heartbreaking.

I was intrigued by the photos – I’ve seen other similar photos from bygone times which have been coloured and it really does bring those real people who lived before to life. It’s possible to engage much more with such pictures. A little thread of an idea came to mind, a little idea for a story which revolves round old black and white photos of people which have been digitally enhanced. I won’t say more until I have jotted a few ideas down – I may share the first draft here!

Here is another short film about colour photography:

If you want to read my books which all started with a little trickle of an idea, here is where you can find them:

By the way – I would love to see my featured photo in colour… i wonder if I could do it…

In need of a rethink

There’s an awful lot of thinking that has to happen before I can get writing… Sometimes it is a sort of subliminal thinking, a sort of mental playing about with a few scraps of ideas, the sort of things I mention when I’m writing here – a ragbag of odd names, unexpected facial expressions, ‘what if’ moments, fleeting glimpses of things, overheard scraps of conversation, vague and tenuous drifts of leftover dream on waking, misunderstood or misheard comments, graffiti, juxtaposed images, memories, odd news items, strange weather, rivers and seas and rivers meeting seas…

Then, for me, there’s a gradual coming together and the beginning of some form, and then I start – and usually when I start (which may not necessarily be at the beginning of the story) words come out in a stupendous rush, and ideas coalesce and form and reform, and strange branches of thought go off in all sort of directions. Sometimes I’m taken up with an idea – sometimes it needs a lot of research and I plunge into that in a fury, and write and write.

Then comes the more staid workmanlike work (is that tautology?) All the other things continue – the mental playing about, the coalescing, the sudden spurts of enthusiasm and inspiration, but it’s more formed now, following the pattern of the narrative.

And then… and then sometimes comes a realisation that there has been an error – maybe it’s something simple like a character’s name or description isn’t right, or that two characters have become confused, or there is a gap where a crucial explanation is missing, or something is written so badly it just has to come out and be rewritten, or there is a whole thread which doesn’t fit at all and needs to be extracted and maybe saved for another story. These things are a bit annoying, but only a bit… lots of work, but it’s all OK.

And then… and then and then there is the major blunder. I am about thirty thousand words into a new story so it’s not a disaster – at least I haven’t finished the first draft and suddenly seen the major blunder!  I have several story lines, a family history, a stalker, the looking for/finding/buying a new house, a jealous ex-husband, not a missing but a found person – a found person who is also amnesiac, and then there are all the general plotlines around characters – their lives and loves etc.

As I was doing some extra research for my imagined family history, it suddenly came to me that I had made a fundamental error of judgement and would need to rethink the whole story of this family’s genealogy. Not a disaster, of course, I can do that… but it’s just irritating that I spent so much time working it out and researching it in the first place, and now not only do I need to unpick it, but also create a new history for them!

Here’s a link to my books which did make it through to being published – they all had a lot of rewriting in them, I hope you can’t see the joins! My novels are all e-readers, except ‘Radwinter’ which is also published as a paperback:

Looking up the Brontës

Many of us are fascinated by genealogical research, and looking through old records and census returns… one little offshoot of this is to look up the nineteenth century records of people we know from other areas… for example the Brontë family.

In the 1841 census, in the parish of Bradford in Yorkshire (the West Riding) in the registration district  of Keighley, in the town of Haworth, you would find Patrick Bronte, born in 1781 and aged 60, his sister-in-law Elizabeth Branwell of the same age who was born in Cornwall, and  two of his daughters,  Emily Jane aged 20 and born in Yorkshire, and Ann, a year younger; also in the household was fifteen year old Martha Brown who we can guess was a servant.

Charlotte, meanwhile was a short-term position with the White family at Upperwood House in Guiseley, also in the West Riding of Yorkshire; she had three charges, Jasper, Arthur and Sarah. Ten years later, Charlotte was at home; the family had a visitor, Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey. Martha Brown, the servant girl, was now a young woman of twenty-five, and there was another servant, eighty-one year old Tabitha Akroyd born in Haworth. Charlotte Bronte. Somehow over the ten years between surveys, Patrick has aged an extra four years – his date of birth is now recorded as 1777, not 1781, and his place of birth Ireland, and he is described as ‘Incumbent Or Perpetual Curate Of Haworth’.

In 1861, the inhabitants of the parsonage in Haworth have changed slightly; still in residence is eighty-four year old Patrick; all his children have died, he is alone apart from his son-in-law, Charlotte’s widower, Arthur B. Nicholls, and Martha Brown, now the housekeeper. There is another servant, Eliza Brown, who I guess is probably Martha’s younger sister. If you look back at the 1851 census, you can find Arthur B. Nicholls there in haworth, listed as ‘curate’ and living in Sexton House.

It’s really interesting to undertake  little journeys into the past like this; no doubt i could have found exactly the same information on any of the many websites devoted to the Brontës – but not as much fun!

I’ve used my interest in genealogy and family history research in my Thomas Radwinter series of e-novels; her is a link:



Happy birthday Joseph Mallord William…

Two hundred and forty-two years ago today, near Covent Garden a little boy was born and called John, and given the extra names of Mallord and William as well as a surname of Turner; yes, today is the birthday of J.M.W.Turner.

He’s described as an artist of the Romantic Movement, along with such contemporaries as  Delacroix, Constable, Gericault and Friedrich and he entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1789 when he was only fourteen. He started as mostly a landscape painter, influenced and inspired by other contemporary artists, but as new technology such as steam engines became more common his fascination with them led to some amazing pictures such as ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ and ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’.  He was much criticised for his style at the time, but today when we look at his work it seems extraordinarily modern. His eye was extraordinary, and the way he captured the sea in all its states, and the light and the sky, was just extraordinary.

He was certainly an eccentric man, but an absolute genius… if you haven’t caught the film about him, Mr. Turner by Mike Leigh then I really recommend it – a storming performance from the always excellent Timothy Spall.

Have a look at the Tate gallery’s biography of him:

My featured image is from Margate where Turner spent a great deal of time; it’s a representation of Mrs Booth by Ann Carrington; Mrs Booth was Turner’s landlady with whom he had a loving relationship for many years.