As fire rained down on Yarmouth…

I shared an extract from my next Radwinter novel yesterday; it will probably be called ‘Saltpans’ and I hope will be published early next year. The extract I shared yesterday was about the salt industry, particularly the maritime salt making industry; in my novels, my main character Thomas takes on geological and other research, but often gets side-tracked by other things he finds out… as exampled by salt! A house he and his wife want to buy is called Saltpans, which sets him off on his research.

In another part of the story, he discovers his wife’s ancestors were involved in a bombing raid during the 1st World war:

I find another article; L3, L4 piloted by Kapitanlieutenant Count Magnus von Platen-Hallermund, (what a name!) and L6  crossed the North Sea from Fuhlsbüttel on the night of January 19th. The weather was not ideal and the leader of the operation, Korvettenkapitan Peter Strasser, who was actually operating L6, discovered it had  developed mechanical problems and it was forced to turn back home while L3 and L4 pressed on toward England.

The headwinds forced changes to the German plan; they were supposed to head to the north-east of England, to Humberside to bomb the industrial and military areas there, but weather conditions forced them to change their target and they steered a more southerly route towards East Anglia. The L3, under the command of Kapitanlieutenant Karl Fritz, made landfall over the Norfolk coast between Happisburgh and Winterton. Kapitanlieutenant Fritz’s new target was the naval port of Great Yarmouth.

L3 was actually seen from the ground as it passed over Ingham, heading towards its target in the dark. These days, if your country was at war with another, you might expect air raids, but back in 1915, it had never been heard of because this was the first, and this resulted in the first ever casualties in all the world of war, from an air raid.

It only took ten minutes, but they must have been the most terrifying and horrific and endless  minutes for the inhabitants of the small seaside town as fire rained down on Yarmouth from the sky, as high-explosive and incendiary bombs, ten of them were released from the airships.

One of the L3 bombs fell on St Peter’s Plain, killing spinster Martha Taylor and a shoemaker named Samuel Smith… I have a quick deviation into the 1911 census. Seventy-two year old Martha Taylor, a single woman was a net mender.

There were a lot of Samuel Smiths in Yarmouth at the time, but was this Samuel Alfred, I found, a forty-nine year old boot repairer, living with his parents, Esther and William Pye Smith (a bushman whatever that was), and his two young nieces Elise and Hilda Hutt who were st pschoolgirls, was this Samuel the man who died? If so, how tragic, because even if he had been awake, he would have heard nothing because he was deaf…

Bombs from the L3 also damaged houses, the Yarmouth port’s South Dock, the fish wharf and what bad luck to a steam drifter which had come into port which was also hit.

So from salt making to zeppelins… Thomas’s research takes him far and wide!

Here is a link to my  Radwinter stories, and my other paperbacks and ebooks:

My featured image by the way, is of Happisburgh Lighthouse

Case study… but not quite

I haven’t given much thought to the list of 73  recently… In case you’ve missed me chuntering on about it, the 73 is a list of suggestions of different sorts of blogs which can be written. A friend found it shared it, and it became a sort of challenge between us to try and write one of each of the suggestions.

I am on number 7 – ‘Case Studies‘… hmmm… what or who can I wrote about… a case study…

  • a process or record of research into the development of a particular person, group, or situation over a period of time
  • a particular instance of something used or analysed in order to illustrate a thesis or principle

I suppose I could write a case-study of my fictional Radwinter family, but I have written so much about them here already – and also to describe the process which created them would take far long – and the end product would be far too long!! I could write a case-study of how I came to create my books for reluctant readers – but I’ve been writing about them and how they came to be over the last few days.

My working life before my writing life was teaching, but it all seems a rather long time ago – in fact it wasn’t, but things have changed so significantly (for me – and probably for teaching too!) that I’m not sure I could write very much of interest.

In my latest novel I have been doing a lot of research on two very different subjects, the salt industry – focusing on sea salt rather than rock salt, and the zeppelin raids of the first world war. However, my research is very superficial as I just want to include a few details into a couple of the narrative threads.  The salt making is part of a story-line about the history of my fictional town of Easthope and how the archaeology of the nineteenth century salt works has a bearing on a one character. The zeppelins is part of a family history which is being traced… and here is an extract – Thomas Radwinter is telling the story:

I looked through the collection of news reports I had about the zeppelin attack. There were quite a few in the local newspapers, but one I’d not properly looked at, told me very much more than I already knew, about Anatole saving the young sisters from the burning hotel. It seemed that it wasn’t a bomb which had been dropped but a tracking flare.

Rescue from burning building

A sensational rescue from a burning hotel was effected in Great Yarmouth last evening, when two young girls, who were half choked with smoke, were led down a back stairs from the top story of Gentzer’s Hotel near Blacksmith’s Lane. The empty hotel had received a direct hit from an incendiary device and the flames spread rapidly. When the firemen arrived the old building was well alight. It took until morning before the flames were all extinguished.

I was intrigued that the writer used the word ‘sensational’ – I would have thought that was a more modern expression… anyway…

Plucky Rescue From Burning Building
by the gallant act of Anthony Finch

Two young sisters were rescued from death by burning near Yarmouth, early yesterday evening.
Finch was on his way from work, when he saw the zeppelin above but had no notion of what it was. Although filled with terror as fire rained down, when he noticed Gentaer’s old hotel was ablaze, he rushed in. The older girl, Irene had called from the window and Finch found her and the little girl, Mary. The bedroom furniture was on fire but he smothered the flames with an old curtain and despite only having one arm, carried little Mary out of the burning building.
Then, the child having been taken by Mrs Dotes a farmer’s wife, Finch ran back into the house, where he found Irene collapsed on a landing. He succeeded in carrying her down the stairs where the fire men met him.
Both sisters are in hospital unharmed but suffering from the inhalation of smoke.

So that was it, that was why Anatole was not a soldier – he only had one arm!

So this is research, but it’s not a case study! I must think some more about how to do number 7 of the list of 73!

Here is a link to my Radwinter stories:



The boot repairer and the beatster

I’m making good progress with my latest Thomas Radwinter adventure, possible called ‘Saltpans’; there is an story-line which involves a zeppelin raid on the East Anglian coast in 1915 – which actually happened, it’s not imagined by me! Two airships, the L3 and the L4 bombed various places along the coast which resulted in the first deaths ever caused by an air-raid. Two people died in Great Yarmouth, Samuel Alfred Smith a fifty-three year old deaf boot repairer and seventy-two year old Martha Taylor who was a net repairer.

As usual when I saw their names I immediately began to wonder about who they were – Samuel never married but he has an elderly niece who was present when a blue plaque went up to commemorate the event and the deaths of Samuel and Martha. I found details of Samuel in the 1911 census for Yarmouth; he was described as a boot repairer, working with leather something soles – I can’t make out the ‘something’ on the original record, and it isn’t transcribed. Samuel – I wonder if he was called ‘Sam’ by friends and family – was living with his parents, Esther Harriet and William Pye Smith and his two nieces Elise Ade and Hilda Agnes. His father was a beach man – not sure exactly what that was, but Yarmouth was a fishing and shipping town and no doubt there were lots of smaller craft along the beach… but I’m not sure!

Here is what a beachman actually was:

Going back to the previous census, Sam is noted as being deaf, so maybe that came on when he was in his forties. In this census he is a shoe repairer – different from a boot repairer? Probably not. Now his father’s occupation becomes clearer, beach boatman it says. The information is the same for the previous census too – and again no mention of Samuel being deaf. The 1871 census shows us that he had some siblings, Agnes and William but no other details. William Pye Smith married Esther Agnes George in 1858; I can’t find an exact date of birth for him, it may have been about 1840, and he may have died in 1921, aged eighty-one… I can’t be sure!

Martha Taylor who also died in the air raid was a net mender; in the census of 1901 she appears a s a ‘beatster’… a what? Does it mean ‘beater’? But of what? Written faintly beside the entry it says ‘canvas’ – was she something to do with making canvas? A beater in a the cloth making industry was someone who trampled it in water as part of the fulling process… a tough and unpleasant job, is this what Martha did? No, no she didn’t, with a little more research it becomes clear that a beatster is to do with the net-making industry – which is what poor old Martha was still doing when she was killed by the bomb from the zeppelin.

Read up about beatsters:

In 1881, there was Martha, living with her sister Jane who was also a beatster, and brother James who was a shipwright, and their niece and nephew, William and Alice Humphrey. In 1871, Martha was living at home with her parents, John and Elizabeth, her baby niece and nephew, and three brothers and sisters – it gives no occupations for any of them.  ten years previous to that, Martha – noted as Mary Martha – was living at home with her parents and brothers and sisters; one brother is a blacksmith, her father and another brother were ship’s carpenters. In the first census, that of 1841, the Taylors have seven children living at home, including little Martha – here named Matilda. her father was a shipwright, two bothers were blacksmiths, another was a caulker.

Both Samuel Alfred and Martha Mary who died in the zeppelin raid were ordinary, hard-working people, from ordinary hard-working families – like so many of their friends and neighbours. They only found fame and are remembered today because they were the first victims ever of an air-raid.

Some of the information I have found here might make it into ‘Saltpans‘ in the meantime, if you haven’t read my Thomas Radwinter novels, here is a link:

The first in the series, Radwinter’, is available in paperback:


The Norfolk Zeppelin raids

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m writing the next Thomas Radwinter story, and in this one, Thomas investigates the ancestry of his wife Kylie. Her father is Tobagan and her mother English, and to begin with he looks at the English side of her family and discovers that her grandmother as a little girl was living near Great Yarmouth during the first World War and was caught up in a bombing raid by German Zeppelins… Zeppelins, part of the German Imperial Navy (not the air-force as I had thought)  L3 an L4 to be precise.

On January 19th 1915  L3 and L4 had left Fuhlsbüttel near Hamburg in Germany to attack military and industrial targets on Humberside – the original target had been the Thames estuary but bad weather prevailed. These massive airships could fly for thirty hours, carrying bombs and incendiary devices. You might think that their first target would have been London; however the German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II would not give permission for the capital to be bombed for fear of harming his cousins, the royal family of Britain, nor on the historic buildings of the country. He wasn’t very keen on bombing Britain at all, but eventually relented and allowed for strategic attacks to take place, the first being on Humberside in the January of 1915.

I mentioned above that my fictional character, Kylie’s grandmother, was living near Great Yarmouth in 1915, so my imaginary world comes into contact with real, actual history. The two zeppelins, L3 and L4 were driven south  from their original plan because of bad weather, and changed their targets to the coast of Norfolk. They flew over the coast of East Anglia in the dark, north of Great Yarmouth –  L3 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Hans Fritz, turned south-east towards Great Yarmouth and  L4 under the command of Kapitanleutnant Count Magnus von Platen-Hallermund,  heading in the opposite direction,  north-west towards Kings Lynn. How did the pilots navigate to their targets? They dropped incendiary bombs to light their way.

L3 bombed Great Yarmouth killing and injuring the first British civilians ever to have died in this way. Now in the twenty-first century we are so used to the idea of air attacks, our news is full of the dreadful bombings and air-raids happening in other tragic countries. It must have been an unbeleivable horror and shock in 1915 to have this attack coming seemingly from nowhere, hundreds of miles from the war zone. Zeppelin L4  continued its route along the coast,bombing places I knew so well as a child, visiting them on ‘trips to the seaside’, Brancaster, Sheringham,  Heacham, Snettisham, until it reached Kings Lynn. L4 was  downed a month later by bad weather, a lighning strike setting the mighty beast ablaze.

I had to research all this, just as my character Thomas Radwinter does; people ask me if I plan my stories… well, no, I may have a general idea, but as the story evolves new things occur, sometimes thoughts arise from nowhere and I pursue them – like the zeppelin raids!  I had originally set this part of the story in Brighton, 1880-1911, but for various reasons had to change it. For some reason the historical action moved to Norfolk, and while I was researching I came across the zeppelin raids!

I know each writer has their own particular way of working, and what is perfect for someone is hopeless for another – and when I’m teaching about writing, I share the different ways people can approach their craft, but in the end it is what works and is successful for them… and for me (and Thomas Radwinter) my rather random way works very well!