Herbert de la Rue

We were sorting out the under-the-stairs; it has shelves and we use it as a food store for coffee, tea, biscuits, tins, bags of flour sugar etc… but t also houses the vacuum cleaner and the ironing board, our collection of shopping bags (we have so many because we are absent minded and forget them and then need to buy new ones) and pictures which we no longer have room for on the walls but don’t want to throw away. Many of them are by my husband, some are ones we bought together and have replaced, and some come from long ago… and here is the story of one of them:

We moved from the flat where I had been brought up as a child into a house which we bought from an old, very old friend of my grandparents, a Mr Pleasants, his wife and sister… I’m not sure now whether she was his sister or his wife’s sister, or maybe they were two sisters, but the three old folks had lived in their house for many, many years. They were pleased to have a family they knew buy it, and especially to have us two children move in with our parents.

For whatever reason they let various bits and pieces behind, no doubt they didn’t want them or couldn’t accommodate them where they moved into sheltered accommodation, I think on Honey Hill… its amazing what comes back when you think about things. Among the items we ‘inherited’ were some old pictures, including two very fine-looking Edwardian gentlemen we christened Albert and Edward, and a water-colour of Mr Herbert de la Rue. We knew this because it was inscribed on the back. My dad thought that the de la Rues were a printing firm who used to make playing cards, he also seemed to think that one of the old ladies had been a maid in service to the family in London.

We were doing some tidying and we came across the picture of Herbert de la Rue and I tried to find out more about him. He was born in 1855, his parents were Warren de la Rue of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, and his wife Georgiana. In 1871 the family were living in Staines (now called Staines-on-Thames)  and three children lived at home, Herbert, Ernest and Alice, along with eight servants. Ten years later the family had moved to Portland Place in Marylebone, half as mile from where my family were living by Regent’s Park. Now there were only the two sons at home, Ernest was now a partner in the firm of de la Rue & Co who which was described as wholesale manufactures, stationers etc. Herbert was an underwriter at Lloyd’s

I 1851, four or five years before Herbert was born, Warren’s occupation is F.R.S &tc, Chemistry, Mechanics, Card Manufacturer, Envelope ditto, and Wholesale Stationer, Engineer (?) employing with partners 410 persons… so my dad was right, they did make cards. At this time two other children were living at home with Warren, Georgina and Alice, Warren junior and Thomas.

In 1891 I can only find Warren’s grandson, Warren, living with his parents Ernest and Florence, and his  sisters, Irene and Phillis. Of Warren senior, and Herbert I can find no census return.

However, it is interesting that by 1911, Warren de la Rue junior, Herbert’s brother is living in Chippenham not far from Newmarket… Newmarket which isn’t far from Cambridge where the Pleasants lived who had the picture of Herbert de la Rue which set me off on this quest. Warren had a large number of servants, including a Swiss chef, a footman and a waiter… as well as several female domestic servants, one of whom may have been the lady I knew in her old age, living in the house we later moved into.



Marvellous Mary

I’m sure there are many marvellous people called Mary, but the one I’m thinking about is Mary Anning. I first ‘met’ Mary many years ago when I first began teaching; the school I was at had an integrated humanities course, matching English, history and geography syllabus. It started with the creation of the earth – the scientific theory, looking at the formation of rocks and geology, and the first creatures which lived on this planet. For the eleven-year-olds I was teaching, the best bit was when we reached the dinosaurs; to accompany the geology we read a book called ‘Mary Anning’s Treasures’ by Helen Bush which I think is out of print now. This told the true story of a poor young girl, the same age as my students who helped the family income by finding fossils along the Dorset coast near Lyme Regis with her father who was also a carpenter and cabinet-maker. What they found they sold to tourists.

It was a great story but I don’t remember where it ended, with Mary still as a girl, or Mary as an adult and a respected fossil hunter? I often thought of Mary Anning over the years when any mention was made on the news of a new and exciting find, and also when we visited Lyme Regis. Mary was born in 1799 into a poor family, but she rose to become famous across Europe and North America. She had a remarkable career and became respected for her ability to find and recognise and excavate (with the help of labourers) many huge fossilised remains of dinosaurs, including  the first ever ichthyosaur and two complete plesiosaurs and many, many more over her long career. She had a long career but a short life, dying at the age of forty-seven. She was just a very ordinary poor ill-educated girl with no advantages in life but became highly respected in the world of science – even though she never made her fortune.

You may not be able to read Helen Bush’s book, but you can read Tracy Chevalier’s excellent novel ‘Remarkable Creatures’, which I’ve just read for one of my book clubs. This is the story of Mary Anning told by her and also by the character of Elizabeth Philpot a gentile lady who shared an interest in fossils. It is a story which doesn’t just cover the finding and collecting of specimens, but the position of women in society, the class system, religious beliefs and prejudice, and the relationship of the two women who were so far apart through age and class and education and yet became friends. If you haven’t yet read it I do recommend it, even if you aren’t interested in fossils! Without exception everyone in the book club enjoyed it – and that’s really saying something!

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: