A thing happened in 1667…

I’ve always been interested in history, enjoyed it at school and went on to do A-level history; I did a degree in History and English, and have continued to read about past events, visit sites of historical interest, watch and listen to programmes about the events which happened before I was born, or may parents, way back to the earliest human times. Obviously there are periods in history I know more about, but in general I would say that I pretty much know the course of the history of our country. There are some periods I never studied at school or for my degree – from about C13-C18 I have only a patchy knowledge, but in general (or for the purpose of the pub quiz!) I am OK on the main outline.

I guess I might possibly have heard of The Battle of Medway, but I would have to have a bit of a think to remember where the Medway ( in Kent) actually was, where it rose and where it entered the sea. As for when the battle took place, or who was involved in it, I am very ashamed to say I just had no idea. I might have guessed we fought against the French – wrong, I might have guessed it was in roughly the Tudor period – wrong, I would almost definitely have guessed that we won – resoundingly wrong!

The Battle of The Medway is also known as ‘The Dutch Raid’, and that gives you a great clue about who was attacking us! In the Netherlands it is called ‘Tocht naar Chatham’ – The Battle of Chatham, it took place in 1667 and it could be called one of the greatest fails in our naval history. The River Medway became a river of fire!

We have very dear friends in the Netherlands and we’ve always felt very at home there and feel that the Dutch people we have met are very similar in many ways to us. I knew that the Dutch Prince William of Orange became our King William III, and Vermuyden was erroneously supposed to have been responsible for drainage in the East Anglian fens, so I thought we had always had a peaceful relationship – not so! Four, yes four Anglo-Dutch Wars:

  • 1652–1654 – First Anglo-Dutch War
  • 1665–1667 – Second Anglo-Dutch War
  • 1672–1674 – Third Anglo-Dutch War
  • 1781–1784 – Fourth Anglo-Dutch War

In 1667 the Dutch captured a fort at Sheerness and then sailed up the Medway to Chatham, where they attacked the English fleet, captured England’s flagship the Royal Charles, and burned several other ships. Our Navy took defensive action by sinking about thirty more ships!! Military action saved the day, but the Dutch sailed away the victors! One result was that after that there was huge financial investment in the English navy, which became one of, if not the most powerful in the world.

In reading up about The Battle of The Medway, it’s been a puzzle to me, and to many other writers and reporters (reporters of the events to commemorate the event) that the battle is so unknown. Several people have written that it’s typical of ‘us’ to brag about our triumphs but to forget all about our defeats – well, I refute that. There is still hot debate about the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Invasion or the Norman Conquest, and even more about the events surrounding Dunkirk!

If you are in the Medway area – here are some links to events there:



A sad story

When I started the 50,000 word novel-writing challenge, I was very hazy as to which way it would go, how it would go and whether it would go at all! I really don’t think I am going to complete, but it has been an interesting journey.

I started with the idea of an imaginative memoir, being creative about things I couldn’t remember or didn’t know, but creative in a realistic and not anachronistic way. I used rivers I have known and loved as a way of travelling though my memories and reminiscences, and like with all rivers they wander and flow, sometimes disappearing to reappear unexpectedly… and trying to find the source is always tricky and mysterious.

I started doing a little research about the actual rivers, as well as about my family, and I’ve already mentioned the tragic skating accident of 1903 when a young woman drowned. Now in researching a different river, the Axe which comes out into the sea in our village, I found another tragedy, but which led me to explore an interesting life. The Axe winds its way through the Somerset countryside, and the nearest village to us that it passes through is Bleadon; an elderly man drowned in 1957 trying to save a young lad who had got into difficulties. This man came originally from Cornwall and it seems that he was a conscientious objector during the first war – which must have been hard and a courageous stand to take. I am now looking into his family history, and seeing what more I can find out about him. There is a gravestone for him in  Bleadon churchyard which I will have a look at – if it ever stops raining!

Here is a link to my other books, some of which were started in previous novel writing challenges:


All that was found was his couch

I’m not going to comment on any of the recent political events, nor mention the extraordinary betrayals, double-dealing and back-stabbing that has gone on, on every side, however, I’m sure it is just the way power affects people – either wanting it, having it, misusing it… and I was thinking about this when I read an extraordinary account of events from three hundred and fifty years ago, thousands of miles away in the Caribbean.

I’m sure there are very few people who have heard of Willoughbyland – I never had, but I am now intrigued and am going to buy a book about it by Matthew Parker, called ‘Willoughbyland: England’s Lost Colony’. Apparently there are several places in England named Willoughby, and many more which have been given that name by English colonists over the centuries, in Australia, Antigua, Canada and the USA… there are also some islands in the Barents Sea, described as ‘elusive’.

However, the Willouhgbyland which Parker writes about was a colony established by Lord Francis Willoughby in what is now Suriname. Willoughby it seems had been a was a parliamentary at the beginning of the English Civil War (1642-1651); however when it seemed that this side was becoming too egalitarian, he changed sides after six years and became a Royalist.

Having switched to the losing side, Willoughby realised his error and sailed away to Barbados and declared it for the king; he was pursued by a parliamentarian fleet – he had a fall-back plan, a small colony he had established in Suriname, and he decamped there.

However, he didn’t stay long, although he didn’t stay long but went off again. In his absence the colony seems to have become a model for a modern egalitarian state – the very thing Willoughby had fallen out with the Parliamentarians over in the 1640’s. However, once again, power, corruption, and a disastrous war against the Dutch, plus infectious diseased introduced by Willouhgby’s entourage in 1664. Willoughby was almost assassinated, but he escaped to sea, where at last fate caught up with him; On July 26th, 1666, a fleet of warships and 1,000 men, on the way to St Kitts from Barbados was caught up in a violent and devastating hurricane. Almost all the ships, the crew , soldiers and others on board were lost at sea. Willoughby’s body was never found, nothing remained except a couch which once belonged to him, found among the wreckage of the ships.

Here are links to an article about Willoughbyland and to Matthew Parker’s book:



Taken by water

Having been a water baby myself, and much of my childhood taken up in, on or by the water, by rivers and streams and the sea, I love and yet am wary of the element. I have always been safe, thank goodness, and perhaps because I’m not really a risk taker, and also the slow-moving River Cam which was my childhood playground didn’t have many dangers – although people did come to grief. Going to the seaside when I was a child I had watchful parents, and also the beaches we went to were fairly safe – although nowhere is 100% safe for children… I remember going on a boat when I was quite small, maybe four or five; I have no idea where it was, possibly round the Wash, one of the largest estuaries in the UK. It is fed by five rivers, and I remember how we learned their names in our geography classes, a little rhythmic phrase  ‘the Witham, the Welland, the Nene and the Ouse, all run into the Wash’. The Ouse is the Great Ouse. On my little trip out with my dad into the wash I had to put on a life-jacket which infuriated me as I could swim, I kept telling them, I could swim!

Water features a lot in my novels, mostly the sea, and people come to grief in it quite frequently. In real life tragically people do lose their lives often I have to say through their own stupidity. Perhaps being a water baby I respect the element, some people maybe never see it except coming out of a tap – we had friends who visited who were astonished by tides – that the sea went out, and then it came back, and that happened every day twice! We have a very high tide, here in Weston, and all along the bay, beyond the sand, is deep dangerous, sucking mud, especially down our end where the River Axe flows into the sea. There have been several tragedies, despite all the huge warning signs and the best efforts of rescuers.

Just a couple of days ago, a party of about thirty schoolboys narrowly escaped death thanks to the RNLI – the Lifeboat Institute rescued them from drowning off the Sussex coast; they had gone for a walk, ignored several signs of danger and ended up trapped by the sea… idiots!



I read some statistics about recent tragic losses at sea, in 2015, 385 people were rescued from potentially fatal situations, sadly 168 were not so fortunate and lost their lives. Over half of them had been walking or running (36), climbing or fishing near the sea when they were swept away. The figures showed more people had died while walking or running along the coast (36) than any other activity, whereas boating or sailing was 16 people… although sadly another 39 died by what was described as ‘commercial use of the water’. The previous years show that 2015 was not unusually:

  • 2011 – 164
  • 2012 – 163
  • 2013 – 167
  • 2014 – 163


In my latest Radwinter novel, Beyond Hope, the main character Thomas jumps into the sea to rescue a woman; it is particularity dangerous as it is where a river joins the sea, a river in flood:

The woman fell sideways, like a stone into the water beneath and then the man raised his arm… Hell! He’s going to shoot me and I yelled and jumped sideways into the boiling river.

It wasn’t deep and I fell painfully onto the stony bottom and was tumbled along by the surging water, trying to swim with it, grabbing for the woman. The powerful incoming tide and the rush of the outgoing river surged over me and I was coughing and spluttering, struggling for breath, trying to keep my head above water. I was swimming as hard as I could, hampered by clothes and shoes, dragged along by the sucking sea. The dark shape of the woman was terribly still, rolled in the powerful tide, a dark blob, no flailing arm, no cries for help…

Afterwards I was retrospectively terrified by what I’d done…. swimming here at any time would be criminally stupid but in the dark on an incoming tide and the river in flood, rip tide, rip current, drowned mother and children….

I grabbed the clothing of the inert woman as we were rolled over in the water and I admit it was at this point that sense took over from instinct and I realised my perilous situation… thoughts of my children flashed in my mind like a kaleidoscope montage … I can’t drown, I can’t! and I fought my way back to the shore against the strong and relentless pull of the rip.

I don’t know how I managed it but I swam as I never had before and suddenly I was out of it and the tide was dragging me into the shore. I felt as if I couldn’t go on much longer, at the end of my strength, and then I connected painfully with the sand.

Someone grabbed me by the shoulders and heaved me out, still clinging to the unmoving body….

If you haven’t read my story – here is a link:



Swept away

I’ve been to Iceland twice, and can’t wait until the next time I’m able to visit… I have nothing planned, but I fell in love with the island and would love to visit again and travel further.

Iceland is becoming an incredibly popular destination… and hypocritically, although I have been and would be a tourist myself, the thought of all the other tourists really discourages me… The last time I went, popular sites such as Geysir were crowded with people – in fact it was the first time I saw the ridiculous selfie-sticks, and although many people were like us, marvelling at what we saw, too many were badly behaved, not respectful, indifferent to others…

We saw tour guides, trying to tell people about the country, battling against the visitors chatting and ignoring them, we saw people walking by waterfalls and climbing over fences to go where it was clearly labeled DANGEROUS in English and other languages as well as Icelandic, we saw stupid and dangerous behaviour.

I was saddened but not surprised to see reports that a tourist had been swept to his death from the magnificent black Reynisfjara beach. tragic for his family, but unfortunately I’m not surprised… four tourists have died so far this year…

More hanging rocks at Reynisfjara beach

Hanging rocks at Reynisfjara beach

Rocks at Reynisfjara beach - reminiscent of the Giant's Causeway, County Antrim

Rocks at Reynisfjara beach – reminiscent of the Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim


Wrecks of the Pentland Firth

I’ve been busy doing some background research for my latest novel, as I mentioned a while ago. One of Thomas Radwinter’s ancestors lost his brother at sea… all fiction of course, but I wanted to make the detail realistic so I trawled the net (little joke) and came across a fascinating site with stupendous research shared about ships wrecked of the Pentland Firth, right up in the north-east off the coast of Scotland. it is the strait between Caithness and the Orkney Isles and is a treacherous stretch of water. However treacherous it may be, boats and ships have travelled its dangerous waters since people first took to the seas.

The name, Pentland,  is thought to be Norse, and the waters are among the most dangerous in the world with fast, strong tides; one of the features is the tidal races, including the Merry Men of Mey,the Swelkie, the Duncansby Race and the Liddel Eddy. It’s not surprising then that many, many ships have been lost and sadly many lives… including the fictional Arthur Radwinter.

Mr D.G.Sinclair and Mr W. Bremner have compiled a list of wrecks and rescues going back to the 1830’s; although in an other part of my Radwinter stories I go back as far as that in Thomas’s genealogical researches, when he was looking for his great-great-uncle, Arthur, he only had to go back to the 1950’s. Between the years of 1934 and 1981 there were 236 wrecks according to Sinclair and Bremner, and it makes interesting but sad reading. Heroic rescues against the odds, lives lost, but lives also saved. Ships, boats, trawlers, liners, warships… with all sorts of names, from all across Europe, from Iceland to Greece.

You can find the page Thomas was looking at here:


… but you won’t find his uncle’s ship, the Brora Lass,  which like the man himself is fictitious:

So Arthur… born  in 1913… He didn’t marry as far as I could find out, and he died in Orkney… Orkney? Good heavens what on earth was he doing up there? With a bit of fiddling about I found out… he had been living in Orkney and was a fisherman… 1952 must have been a rough year for the fisherfolk and seamen of the Pentland Firth; I found records of several shipwrecks in that year.

The St Ronan, a trawler from Hull ran aground and was wrecked but fortunately her crew were rescued. The Strathelliot, a trawler from Aberdeen, also ran aground and again all the crew survived. The Guilder Rose was a motor vessel (does that mean it was a private yacht or something?) which got into difficulties and was rescued by an Icelandic trawler called The Selfoss. At the other end of the scale, a massive Norwegian factory ship… 23,00 tons, which sounds absolutely huge, crashed into a Swedish liner which was carrying competitors from the Helsinki Olympic Games in Finland. The Thorshovdi, the factory ship was undamaged, but poor old Anna Salen, the liner, caught fire and had to be towed to Scarpa Flow… I must find a map and see where these places are.

The Thor was a German trawler and it sunk and oh dear, sixteen men died, and one man was rescued from a lifeboat with a dead shipmate in the boat with him… oh dear…

… And also in 1952, The Brora Lass, another Aberdeen trawler came to grief on the Spur of Murkle with the loss of one man… Arthur Radwinter…



The third part of Thomas’s story will be published at Easter.

A pretty unusual name

We were getting a replacement freezer yesterday, and the lady in the shop was very helpful and while we were waiting for all the paperwork I couldn’t help but notice her name, Avonia. I was interested as I had never come across th name before; we live near the River Avon, near Avonmouth, our county was misnamed Avon for several years before protest brought it back to Somerset, and there is the cosmetics company called Avon.

Avonia told me that it was a family name from Appledore in Devon, her aunt was called it, and so was her great-grandmother’s best friend. Being interested in names I researched it when I got home; there is a place called Avonia in Pennsylvania, there is a family of  caudiciform plants called Avonia, in Biblical Greek it means lawlessness and there was a nineteenth century actress called Avonia Jones, born in 1839 and sadly died in 1867 of TB.

Avonia Jones had a strange and rather sad life; her parents were both actors, her father was a most eccentric man who wrote also wrote plays and practised law. After touring America with her mother, in Romeo and Juliet; while on tour in Australia she met  Gustavus Vaughan Brooke, He was an Irish actor/manager and over twenty years older than Avonia, but he was the man she eventually married four years later in Liverpool. In 18666 he sailed back to Australia but the ship he was on, the SS London, sank in the Bay of Biscay and 244 people were lost, including Gustavus. A bottle was found washed up on Brighton beach from the ship, with a message inside for Avonia from her husband. The following year, Avonia too died, childless.

I hope the lady I met has a happier and safer live than Avonia Jones! Avonia Jones had no children herself, but she had a niece named after her, Avonia Bonney