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A (not so) Brief History of Aviation at Shoreham. Part Four:- The Daily Mail £10,000 ‘Circuit of Britain’ race

June 28, 2017


Daily Mail Circuit of Britain pilots 1911. Flight magazine.

Hot on the heels of the Circuit of Europe air race, came the Circuit of Britain race, which had been announced by the sponsor, the Daily Mail, shortly after their famous £10,000, London to Manchester race between Claude Graham-White, and Louis Paulhan, a year earlier, during April, 1910. This epic encounter between the English and French airmen caught the imagination of the general public, virtually guaranteeing the success of any future great air race.

Some of the pilots entered in the £10,000 Daily Mail Circuit of Britain 1911. Flight magazine.

The Daily Mail Circuit of Britain would also be for a prize of £10,000, and would be using Shoreham Aerodrome as one of the control points, which is why I have included a good amount of the race details in this aviation history of Shoreham, but also to give an idea of just what a sensation these aviators and their flying machines were creating all over the country. Among the entrants were a number of aviators who had been associated with Shoreham, James Valentine, O.C. Morison, Gustav Hamel, E.C. Gordon-England, C.P. Pizey, Lieut. J.C. Porte, and C. Howard-Pixton, with the unfortunate Gilmour under suspension, missing out. For this race though, the emphasis would be on the durability of the machines, whereas in the Circuit of Europe, the aviators could change entire planes, or any parts thereof, as often as was felt necessary, now they had to finish the course in the aeroplane they started with. Added to that proviso, there were to be ten parts of the machine which would be marked by officials before the race, of which only 6 parts could be changed during the course of the contest. These conditions were intended as a test of the resilience of the various machines, something that had not yet been done in a race situation.

Flight magazine, July 22nd 1911, reports on the Shoreham flying ground:-

‘Great preparations are being made here for the reception of the racers in the Daily Mail second £10,000 contest, and for the accommodation and comfort of the public, who will have a splendid opportunity of seeing the men and their machines for 1s, 2s.6d, and 5s. each person, while cars, including the chauffeur, can enter at 5s. or 10s., according to the enclosure chosen. Holders of season tickets are admitted free.’

Daily Mail Circuit of Britain course 1911. Flight magazine.


In the Leeds Mercury, Monday 24th July, 1911, it reports on the scenes their correspondent witnessed on the first leg, Brooklands to Hendon:-

‘The whole of the twenty mile route from Brooklands to Hendon was crowded with spectators afoot and in conveyances, and at some points great multitudes assembled. In the immediate neighbourhood of the aerodrome at Hendon, there were fully 50,000 people. “Beaumont” was the first to arrive, the time being 04.20’

Entrant number 2, H.J.D. Astley taking off at Brooklands 22nd July 1911 in the Circuit of Britain race. Before chocks were used, the air machines were held back by human force until told to ‘let go’.


The Hendon and Finchley Times, Friday 28th July, 1911 describes the human sea descending upon the area to catch a sight of this highly publicised air race:-

‘The London crowds began to gather here before midnight. Thousands tramped through eight miles of long roads leading to the aerodrome. Cyclists streamed by all night. In taxi cabs and motor cars, by early trains and motor omnibuses, in costermongers’ carts and tradesmen’s vans, the army of sightseers passed north and west, through the black night and grey dawn. Scenes strange beyond experience resulted from this midnight gathering of the people. Within a mile of the aerodrome men and women slept by the wayside and on the sun baked earth of the fields, heedless of the throng which passed onwards chanting choruses.’

‘Every Hampstead tube station on the route to Golders Green had its crowd waiting for the first train at 2.45a.m. At the Golders Green terminus all the horse omnibuses available and at least 300 taxicabs were plying for hire, hooting and rumbling through the night, scattering the stream of wayfarers and rousing the sleepers by the wayside.’

Daily Mail Circuit of Britain 1911. 4a.m to see the aviators take off from Hendon for Harrogate. Flight magazine.


While the race itself was a rousing success, (it was estimated that around half a million people saw the start from the Hendon to Harrogate stage at 4a.m!), it also highlighted once more just how far behind France, Great Britain was in the aviation technology race. The first stage from Hendon to Brooklands, a mere twenty miles, whittled the field down from 29 starters, to just 16, with Vedrines and Beaumont already establishing a lead, with a further 9 entrants dropping out of the contest by Harrogate, where a crowd of between 70-150,000, (depending on which newspaper you read), were waiting for the first arrival, Vedrines, at 7.03a.m, very closely followed by Beaumont four minutes later. Only three more aviators made it to Harrogate, Valentine, Hamel, and Cody, with Hamel causing a great deal of concern on his arrival. The London Daily News, Tuesday 25th July, 1911, reports-

‘The 70,000 people who from daybreak till dusk thronged the fine green stretch of the Stray were perhaps most moved by the dramatic circumstances which attended the descent of Hamel, the young British flier. We saw his Bleriot monoplane gleaming in the sun five miles to the south east soon after half past eleven, and ten minutes later, having planed gradually down from a height of 1000ft, it was hovering over the Mayoral enclosure. A moment more and the machine had gently dropped in the centre of the ground. But there was no movement on the part of the flying man. Officials and mechanics hastened to the machine, and found to their dismay that the aviator was unconscious. Lifting him tenderly from the seat, they stretched him on the ground, and while some rendered first aid, others went in search of a doctor. Luckily a medical man was near and hurried to the spot. He found a man with faintly fluttering pulse, ashen cheeks, and hands and feet stiff and cold, and a quarter of an hour passed before there came a glimmer of returning consciousness.’

By the end of the second days flying, only Beaumont, on a Bleriot monoplane, Vedrines, on his Morane-Borel monoplane, and Valentine, flying a Deperdussin monoplane, had made it to Edinburgh, having stopped at the control point at Newcastle en-route. Gustav Hamel, having recovered sufficiently at Harrogate, later struggled on to Edinburgh, and then to Chryston, Glasgow, but he had been having engine problems for most of the race, and it finally gave out at Dumfries, forcing his retirement on Wednesday 26th July. Of the other Shoreham ‘associated’ aviators forced to retire, were;- Gordon-England, retired with engine trouble at the start at Brooklands, Lieut. Porte, crashed at the Brooklands start, Pixton, crashed his plane on a forced landing at Spofforth, while Pizey was forced to land at Melton Mowbray owing to propeller issues, only to damage the undercarriage when landing.

Gustav Hamel, Circuit of Britain, Chryston, Glasgow 1911

Gustav Hamel taking off from Chryston, near Glasgow. Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race 1911


Hamel at Stirling. Daily mail Circuit of Britain race 1911

Entrant number 24, Gustav Hamel, at Stirling. Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race 1911

The Yorkshire Post, Tuesday, 25th July, 1911, takes up the story from Edinburgh:-

‘Beaumont started off again from Edinburgh in the great flight at 03.10 this morning. He was closely followed by Vedrines at 03.25. According to one report, Valentine had also left, but another account states that up to 04.20 Valentine had not left. Large crowds had gathered to see the start, and the aviators, as they rose from the ground and soared off to the west, barely outlined on the grey sky, were very loudly cheered.’

Further on it reports the arrival of the leaders at Stirling:-

‘It was 03.40 when the great crowd assembled on the aviation ground outside Stirling caught sight of the first aviator. At first barely visible by telescope, the great Bleriot soon became visible to the naked eye. The machine came right over the town, not by the castle, as expected, made a gliding half circle, and then came down. Vedrines, 18 minutes later, came from the same direction, and also alighted. As the first to arrive, Beaumont was presented by the Provost with a silver inkstand. Both aviators met with a tremendous cheering when they descended.’

Vedrines at Kings Park, Stirling. 25th July, 1911. Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race

Beaumont flew that stage just three minutes faster than Vedrines, they were still neck and neck, with Valentine not too far behind them, while Cody, determined to finish, hadn’t yet reached Newcastle. The next stage for the leaders, was from Edinburgh to Bristol, via control points at Stirling, Glasgow, Carlisle, and Manchester, both having decided they were going to try and complete the stage that same day. The Western Daily Press, Wednesday 26th July describes this stage:-

Keenness of the Frenchmen

Later in the day the race resolved itself in to a struggle between the two great French aviators. Leaving Edinburgh at fifteen minutes behind Beaumont, Vedrines was, roughly, 16 minutes behind at Sterling, 54 minutes at Glasgow, and 44  minutes at Carlisle. Beaumont it will be seen, had gained substantially on his opponent, and the latter, when stopping at Glasgow to take refreshment, made no secret of his chagrin in not being able to maintain his original lead. Nothing apparently happened to Beaumont or Vedrines until they had passed Carlisle. Some 60,000 people were waiting at that town to give them a hearty welcome. The first to arrive was Beaumont, who flew over the racecourse nearly due north. He planed down quietly and landed without the slightest difficulty.’

Crowds at Manchester use rolling stock freight wagons to get a better view of the aviators in the Circuit of Britain race 1911. Flight magazine.

Manchester received the French aviators as everywhere, with vast crowds and tremendous enthusiasm, and down at Filton, near Bristol, it would be no different, further on in the Western Daily Press article, it explains:-

‘The scene which greeted Beaumont’s arrival this evening baffles description. The crowds had thickened beyond proportion since the news was received of Beaumont’s departure from Manchester at 5.44, Vedrines following upon his tail at 6.11’

False sightings kept the huge crowds ever alert, until;-

‘Glasses were trained upon this tiny black point, and it seemed absurd to believe that a man could so appear. But the speck increased in size until it resembled nothing so much as a huge blackbird with long, outstretched wings. The cheers from the aerodrome grew in volume, and the great Bleriot monoplane, with its red wings, and Beaumont sitting serenely at the controls. The fire was situated at the back of the hangars, and Beaumont steered directly for it, planing down upon that strip of the aerodrome nearest Filton station, and coming to a standstill quite near the fire.’

Beaumont’s landing time was 8.37, having taken 2 hours, 55 minutes. Unfortunately for Vedrines, the British and Colonial Company, that build the Bristol aeroplanes, have their own aerodrome nearby, and he landed there by mistake, but to compound the error, he sustained damage to his aircraft too, holding him up even further. Eventually he made it to the correct control point, but it was now after ten, and dark, Vedrines had lost valuable time to Beaumont.

Bristol to Shoreham stage

When the race was devised, Shoreham was intended to be an overnight rest stop, but Beaumont and Vedrines had already used up a good deal of their allotted rest time, so opted for a short stop there and push on to the finish line at Brooklands. Flight magazine of  29th July 1911 gives details of the final stage:-

‘They were astir in the small hours of Wednesday morning looking over their machines, and at ten minutes to five, “Beaumont” was given the signal to start, and getting away sharply, was followed two minutes later by Vedrines. The latter again proved the Morane was the faster machine, and arrived at Exeter two minutes before “Beaumont” at ten minutes past six. He was away again at a quarter to seven, while “Beaumont” did not start again till twenty minutes after, his engine requiring a little attention. A straight course was set for Salisbury Plain, where Vedrines arrived at ten minutes past eight to be followed about twenty minutes later by “Beaumont”. No sooner was “Beaumont’s” machine reported to be in sight, then Vedrines was anxious to be away, and as a matter of fact he started for Brighton (Shoreham Aerodrome) after resting only thirty three minutes, just about ten minutes after his rival had landed. About nine o’clock there was a sharp shower of rain at Brighton (Shoreham), and this probably kept the general public away, so that when Vedrines arrived at three minutes to ten the crowd to welcome him was not very large.’

Vedrines waits at Shoreham, Daily Mail Circuit of Britain 1911.

Meanwhile, horse racing enthusiasts on a train to Goodwood had been keeping an eye out for a glimpse of these famous aviators, as reported in the Leeds Mercury, Thursday 27th July, 1911:-

‘On the journey up from Brighton to Chichester this morning, the chief topic of conversation was not the Goodwood Plate, or whether Mushroom would beat Sunder, but the great air race. It was known that Beaumont and Vedrines were expected to arrive at the Shoreham Aerodrome during the morning. The aerodrome is only a few miles out of Brighton, on the way to Chichester, and is close to the railway. We saw plenty of people in the Aerodrome, but no flying machines. Just after passing Ford Junction, however, about 10.30, a fellow traveller, who was keeping a look out on the side facing the sea, shouted, “Here you are”, and in the distance we saw one of the air monarchs approach. The machine was at a great height, and travelling at a great speed. As if to give us a better view the train happened to come to a standstill just at the moment, and from every carriage window appeared the heads of eager and delighted sightseers. The aeroplane was having a very smooth journey in spite of the fact there was a good breeze, and it would arrive at Shoreham soon after half-past ten. We afterwards learned that this was Beaumont’s machine, and that Vedrines had arrived nearly an hour before.’

Vedrines and his mechanics waiting in a hangar at Shoreham Aerodrome. Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race 1911. Flight magazine.

Flight magazine, Saturday 29th July, 1911 details the finish of the race, Wednesday 26th :-

‘ “Beaumont” did not leave Salisbury Plain until 09.47 and so was practically an hour after Vedrines in arriving at the Shoreham Aerodrome, which formed the control station at Brighton. He, however, had used up a good deal of his rest time and so was due to start before Vedrines on the last stage to Brooklands. He had 3 hours and 40 minutes to rest, and took advantage of this to have a little sleep and a rub down. Punctually at 1.28.15 he was in the air and winging his way to Brooklands Motor Course, where he landed after a flight of practically forty minutes. Vedrines was not due to start from Shoreham until 2.41, when punctually to time he was away, reaching Brooklands at nineteen minutes past three. On his arrival at Brooklands, “Beaumont” was carried shoulder high, and after the officials had examined the seals, &c., on his machine and found them all in order he was declared to be the winner of the race and the £10,000 prize.’

Beaumont at the finish line, Brooklands 1911, in the £10,000 Daily mail Circuit of Britain race. Flight magazine.

James Valentine on his Deperdussin monoplane, and S.F. Cody on his self-built Cody biplane, were doggedly continuing, determined to see it through, and still the crowds turned out in their thousands throughout the route, as the sheer noise of the machines advertised their arrival well in advance. The Gloucestershire Echo, Friday 4th August 1911 writes:-

‘Valentine arrived at the Shoreham Aerodrome at 7.30p.m, having covered the distance from Salisbury Plain in sixty eight minutes. He thus wins the gold cup presented by the Brighton Hotels Association to the first British aviator reaching Shoreham in connection with the British aviation circuit.’ It concludes:- ‘Valentine left Shoreham for Brooklands in the “Daily Mail” aerial race this morning.’

The Leeds Mercury, Friday 4th August, 1911, updates Cody’s progress:-

‘Cody, who is still trying to complete the course of the great air race, left Clifton, Bristol, en route for Exeter, at 7.25 last night. He arrived at Weston-super-Mare at 8.15, effecting an easy landing on the sands in the presence of  a large crowd. He expected to Leave for Exeter at three o’clock this morning.’

Valentine finishes!

Nearly two weeks after setting off from Brooklands, and nine days after the Frenchmen, Beaumont, and Vedrines, had crossed the finish line, James Valentine finally completed the Circuit of Britain course, but not without mishaps even on the final leg from Shoreham to Brooklands. In the Globe, Saturday 5th August 1911, is announced his valiant effort:-

‘Mr Valentine, after being detained near Horsham by a broken stay, reached Brooklands at 6.49 last evening. He was cordially greeted as the first English competitor to complete the distance.’

Cody over the line at last, beats the telegraph.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Monday 7th August 1911, gives account of S.F.Cody, as the last competitor to finish what was considered to be the greatest air race to date:-

‘Telegraph service put to shame

Leaving Salisbury at four o’clock on Saturday, Cody landed at Shoreham Aerodrome at 06.15, and after partaking of breakfast, considerately provided for him by the manager of the aerodrome, left again at 08.25 for the final flight to Brooklands, which he reached at nine o’clock. Valentine when flying from Salisbury to Shoreham on Thursday evening beat the telegraph by twelve minutes, but Cody did still better on Saturday, the telegram announcing his departure from the Cathedral City at four o’clock not being received at Shoreham till 9.16.’



For a more full description of the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race, 1911, follow the link below for an excellent summary.



Next up in part 5;- Horatio Barber’s Valkyrie School at Shoreham, Miss Trehawke Davies flies in to Shoreham, James Valentine flies down the river and over the Adur bridges, Chanter school comes to Shoreham, and Piffard’s seaplane trials.



A (not so) Brief History of Aviation at Shoreham. Part Three

June 16, 2017




Aviation cartoon in ‘The Sphere’ 8th July 1911, showing the dangerous nature with which observers regarded the flying craze.

Returning to May 1911, the aviators based at Shoreham were keeping busy flying all across the south coast, testing their machines, honing their aviation skills, and entertaining the local populace. Of these aviators, judging by the news reports of the time, D.G. Gilmour and O.C. Morison were among the busiest of these young men. Going through the old newspaper archives, it seems barely a day goes by without one aviator or another taking up column inches in the publications around the country. Britain had aviation fever, and any news of these intrepid airmen was eagerly digested.

Douglas Graham Gilmour, aviator, based for a time at Shoreham Aerodrome.

Of these two aviators, Gilmour was blazing a trail which would result in a bill being rushed through parliament by none other than a certain Winston Churchill, to “provide for the protection of the public against dangers arising from the navigation of aircraft”. On the 1st April, 1911, a number of aviators had taken the opportunity to fly over the University Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge, reported in the Reading Mercury, 8th April, 1911:-

‘Huge crowds and several aviators witnessed the annual race between Oxford and Cambridge from Putney to Mortlake on Saturday.’ Further on it writes:-

‘The race was accompanied for the first time in its history by an aeroplane, which circled over the rival crews at a height of about 300ft. There were several other aeroplanes over the course. The aviators who had a view of the boat race from their aeroplanes were, Mr. Graham-White, who carried a passenger on his biplane; M. Hubert (biplane), and Messrs. G. Hamel, C.H. Gresswell, and Prier (monoplanes). These all started from Hendon. Mr. D.G. Gilmour, flew from Brooklands over the course.’

The Framlingham Weekly News, Saturday 8th April, 1911, reported:-

‘The presence of the aeroplanes pleased everybody, and one aviator, accompanied by a passenger who took several photographs while in full flight, responded to the hearty cheers of the huge crowd at Putney by waving his hands’

Further on it describes Douglas Graham-Gilmour’s exploits:-

‘The Bristol biplane, driven by Mr. Gilmour, followed the boat race from start to finish. In great circling sweeps Mr. Gilmour crossed and recrossed the river, and in this way kept fairly level with the crews, although he was travelling at about thirty five miles an hour. “I wanted to see the race” said Mr. Gilmour in an interview, “so I went straight down to Brooklands, jumped into my machine, and came right away. I was in such a hurry that I had no time to fill up my petrol tank. I had four gallons, and that lasts about an hour. I should not have come down at all but for that. Yes it is a novel way of seeing the boat race, and I was the only aviator to follow the crews all the way up to Mortlake. It is far the best way to see the struggle, and I was able to follow all the changes of position easily. The distance between the two boats can be gauged as easily as between two points on a map. It is a curious site to see the swing of the crews and the sweep of the oars from above, and it was the dark blue of the Oxford oars that distinguished the two boats.”


On May 15th, Police Inspector Marsh of Shoreham was given the task of arresting Gilmour at Shoreham Aerodrome, to face charges relating to the death of a young boy in a motor accident. Having been bailed, he flew from Shoreham to Salisbury to face trial on the 26th May, circling Salisbury Cathedral on his arrival. After evidence, he was acquitted by the jury after just ten minutes of deliberation. This was also the day that Churchill tried to have his ‘Aerial Navigation Bill’ rushed through Parliament.

Between the arrest and the trial, Gilmour flew from Shoreham to Hove, reported in ‘Flight magazine’, 27th May 1911, it states:-

‘Mr Gilmour at Brighton. (Hove actually)

‘While flying with Mr Gordon England from Shoreham to Brighton on Sunday last, Mr. Graham Gilmour steered his biplane out to sea. When still at a good height the engine suddenly stopped and the machine commenced to glide down. Fortunately before it touched the water Mr. Gilmour got the engine going again, and rising for a short distance was able to land safely on the Lawn Gardens. Later in the day the two aviators successfully made the return journey to Shoreham.’

Douglas Graham-Gilmour at Hove lawns. May 21st 1911

In the same edition of Flight magazine, 27th May, it relates more flying activity at Shoreham:-

‘Doings at Shoreham 

Apart from the visit to Hove by Mr. Gilmour and Mr. England, a good deal of flying was seen at the Shoreham Aerodrome on Sunday last. Shortly after Mr. Gilmour left for Brighton, Mr. Morison was out on his Bristol biplane and made a circular trip over Shoreham and Lancing College. He then visited Brighton in his motor car, but soon after the return of Mr. Gilmour he was back at the aerodrome giving passenger flights. Mr. Gilmour and Mr. England also took up some passengers, heights attained being well over 1000 ft.’


The Great Aviation Race, June 1911.

Otherwise known as the ‘Four Kingdoms Race’, and the ‘European Circuit’, this was the biggest air race to date, with total prize money of £20,000, starting in Paris, and finishing at Hendon. Only two English aviators were entered, O.C.Morison, and Mr. James Valentine, both flying French built aeroplanes, although Morison appears not to have actually started. The Courier reported on Thursday 15th June 1911:-

‘Sixty aviators will start from Vincennes, near Paris, on Sunday morning next to compete in the great aerial race across France, Belgium, Holland and England, known as the European Circuit. The course is via Rheims, Liege, Verloo, Utrecht, Breda, Brussels, Roubais, and Calais to London. The competitors are due to arrive at Calais on June 26th. On June 27 they leave Calais early in the morning and fly across the channel to Dover, thence to the Shoreham Aviation ground at Brighton, and finally to the London Aerodrome at Hendon. There they will be met by a distinguished committee, and entertained on the following day in London. On the 29th they start for the final stage of the journey from Hendon to Paris; proceeding via Brighton and Dover.’


18th June 1911 Start of the European Circuit. Stage one, Paris to Liege.

R.Dallas Brett sets the scene in his, History of British Aviation 1908-1914, page 78:-

‘It was an imposing array of forty-three aeroplanes that lined up in three rows at Vincennes, ready for the start at 6 a.m. Since midnight a vast crowd, estimated at more than half a million people, had waited in driving rain to see the departure. A guard of 6000 soldiers and police had all their work cut out to keep control.’

Further on he continues:-

‘The perilous nature of the contest was shown up in terrible fashion on the first day. Before the control at Rheims was reached, three pilots had been killed and another badly injured.’

Flight magazine of  24th June 1911, writes:-

‘Altogether 43 of the 52 competitors who figured on the official programme were started, and 21 got through without trouble to Rheims, the “halfway” control for the day. Unfortunately, a fatality occurred during the starting operations to Lemartin on one of the Bleriots. He had made a good start, and was heading off to Joinville at a height of about 80 metres, when the machine seemed to suddenly collapse and fall to the ground, the aviator being so terribly injured that he died very shortly after admission to the hospital. Almost at the same time that this accident occurred came the news that Lieut. Princeteau, one of the officers who had received permission to follow the course, had met with a fatal accident while starting from Issy for Rheims. He had only risen to a height of about 30 metres, when apparently the carburettor of his machine caught fire, and in the sudden landing rendered necessary the monoplane capsized. The wrecked machine at once burst into flames and before anything could be done the unfortunate officer was burned to death. The third fatality occurred at Chateau Thierry, where Landron met his death in somewhat similar fashion to Lieut. Princeteau. The machine fell from a great height and the wreckage immediately burst into flames, making it impossible to rescue the pilot.’

Tabuteau flying at Dover, European Circuit 1911

Arriving at Calais on Thursday 29th June, the competitors were told that the stage across the channel to Dover had been postponed until first thing Monday morning, which allowed the stragglers to catch up. Flight magazine continues its coverage:-

‘At four o’clock exactly, as soon as the starting rockets were fired, Vedrines was in the air, and shaping his course by the great arrow laid down at Les Baraques, he soon disappeared out to sea. At three minute intervals he was followed by Vidart, “Beaumont”, Kimmerling, Gibert, Garros, Renaux, Train, Tabuteau, Barra, and Valentine. After the last of the aviators had gone, the crowd still remained at the arodrome awaiting news of the cross channel flyers, and at six o’clock a message was received by wireless telegraphy that ten of the aviators had arrived.’


The Courier, Tuesday 4th July 1911 reported the arrivals at Dover:-

Aviators Make Safe Passages

Leaving Calais at four o’clock yesterday morning, and subsequently at four minute intervals, the competitors engaged in the ‘Standard Journal Europe Aviation Circuit’ made safe and speedy passages across the channel to Dover, from whence, with a stop at Shoreham Aerodrome, the journey to Hendon Aviation Ground, in the north of London, was to be made.’

It seems amusing now, but was doubtless deadly serious at the time, but to be sure the aviators would find their way on the course, as stated in The Sphere, 24th June 1911:-

‘The organisers of the forthcoming European aviation circuit have sought the assistance of the Automobile Association and Motor Union in connection with the work of marking the course to be taken by the competitors in the English portion of the circuit. The route is chosen from Dover to Shoreham and from Shoreham to Hendon. The route will be marked by a series of large white arrows, 72 ft. in length by 12 ft. in width, placed at intervals on the ground in conspicuous places; smaller arrows, 36 ft. in length, will be used intermediately. Captive balloons are also being utilised at certain points along the route.’

(Authors note:- The imp in me wonders if they had to hurriedly turn those arrows round ready for the trip back after the last competitor had passed on his way to Shoreham?)

Cartoon in ‘The Sphere’, 8th July 1911, depicting the arrows laid out for the contestants in the European Circuit


Preparations at the Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome

In the same edition of Flight magazine, (Saturday 1st July 1911), which announced the official opening of the Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome at Lancing, it reports on the work carrying on to ready the aerodrome for the first arrivals of the European Circuit race:-

‘Owing to the very bad weather this week, nothing has been done in the way of flying, though the inventor of the Valkyrie, (Horatio Barber), has been down here all week with a machine waiting for the first reasonable opportunity to get into the air. Although nothing has been done in the way of flying, great progress has been made on the ground itself in preparation for the large crowd which is expected to witness the arrival of the aviators in the great European Circuit on Friday this week. During the last few days the grand stand and ten new hangars have been completed. Refreshment booths are in the course of erection, and the band stand is nearly complete. Visitors to the aerodrome during the week, therefore, will be well catered for; they will be able to see exhibition flights every day by the Valkyrie, and the arrival and departure of those flying in the European Circuit, both on their way from Europe and on the return journey to France, which is down for tomorrow (Sunday).’

Barber's Valkyrie at Marble Arch on the way to Shoreham July 1911

Horatio Barber’s Valkyrie monoplane by the Marble Arch, London, on its way to Shoreham Aerodrome, July 1911


 First in at Shoreham on the European Circuit: 7th and 8th Stages

Only two weeks after the official opening of the Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome, it has the prestigious honour of being one of the control point stops in the world’s greatest air race to date, not once, but twice, as the race continues up to Hendon, then returns on the way back, back across the channel, before the finish line at Paris.

The Courier, Tuesday 4th July 1911, relays the latest race details:-

‘There was great interest and excitement at Dover, where people were astir at an early hour, and each arrival was the signal for outbursts of cheering. Leaving again at 6 a.m, Vedrines was first in at Shoreham at 07.16, and all the other competitors, with the exception of Train, who, losing his bearings, injured his machine in a descent at the village of Heighton, had reached Shoreham by 07.55.’

Train at Newhaven after experiencing problems on the European Circuit, July 3rd, 1911

Aviator, Monsieur Train, (identified by his racing number, 67), at Newhaven after experiencing problems on the European Circuit, July 3rd, 1911

The Aberdeen Press and Journal, Tues 4th July, 1911, picks up the story:-

‘Vedrines led off in the stage to Hendon at 07.33, and, was the first to receive the congratulations of the officials and the general public at Hendon, in which there was a large sprinkling of the French element. He effected a graceful landing at 08.34. Vidart, who left Shoreham at 07.43, was the next in at 09 o’clock. Kimmerling, who departed at 07.50, followed at 09.04. Altogether, seven completed the journey yesterday morning.’


Regarding the aviators that had been held up on this short stage, the Aberdeen Press and Journal remarks:-

Mishaps to Airmen

Tabuteau lost his way, and came in from the north, and in addition to Train, Barra, Gibert, and Renaux carrying a passenger, met with minor mishaps. Barra had to descend at Heathfield, near Eastbourne, and eventually arrived at Shoreham at 5.45 p.m. He left again at 6.25, and ultimately reached Hendon at 7.40 p.m. Gibert, who won the trophy for the fastest cross channel flight, 37 minutes odd, was found in a hayfield near Dorking. The machine was removed to Holmwood Common, which he left at 5.35 p.m. and gained the goal at Hendon at 6 p.m. Renaux, who had to come down at Bodiham Park, just over the Kentish border, obtained mechanical assistance from Shoreham, and took two hours and a quarter in the flight from there to Hendon, which he reached at 8.33 p.m. still carrying his passenger, M. Senouques. Train, the only competitor failing to finish, sent a message from Newhaven saying it would take him a day at least to repair his machine, damaged by collision with a wire fence at Heighton.  Renaux was cordially greeted by the few remaining spectators at Hendon, among whom was his wife in a state of considerable anxiety.’

French aviator, Barra’s, biplane awaiting repairs at Heathfield, Sussex. 3rd July, 1911



 Meanwhile, over the Thames:-

On the 5th July, Douglas Graham-Gilmour flew his Bleriot monoplane up and down the Thames, causing a sensation which filled column inches throughout Britain and beyond, the first time an aviator had dared to try such a thing. Two days later, he flew down the Thames over the Henley Regatta course, The London Daily News, Saturday 8th July, reported the incident:-

‘-there were a few moments of great excitement when a Bristol biplane appeared over the course between the two races. It was manoeuvred beautifully, descending so that the starting wheels touched the water and sent up a shower of spray. It rose again, and the cheering at least equalled that given to the closest race of the day. Mr. Graham-Gilmour is believed to be the aviator.’

Gilmour’s daring display was considered a step too far, and brought him in to inevitable conflict with the Royal Aero Club, who hauled him before their committee and issued him with a flying ban for one month. This proved a most unfortunate situation for the popular aviator, as it precluded him from taking part in the coming ‘Circuit of Great Britain’ air race, organised by Lord Northcliffe’s Daily Mail, which carried a prize of £10,000.

There was understandable concern regarding the possible dangers of aviation, especially where crowds were gathered. As recently as 21st May, 1911, the French War Minister, Monsieur Bertreaux was killed by an aeroplane whose pilot had lost control of his machine. ‘The Daily News, Monday 22nd May, 1911, reports the scene:-

‘The tragic event occurred at the aviation ground Issy-les-Molineux, where huge crowds had gathered from the early hours to witness the start of the Paris-Madrid flying race. M.Train, one of the aviators, was seen to be in difficulties from the moment he rose from the ground. He had turned back in the direction of the sheds, and was endeavouring to avoid a squadron of cuirassiers who had been clearing the course, when he lost control and dashed in to the Ministerial group of sightseers with appalling results. M. Bertreaux, the Minister of War, was killed instantly, his arm being completely severed. M. Monis sustained a double fracture of the leg, and is believed to have received internal injuries.’


The European Circuit race finale

The competitors were now closing in on the final stages of the Four Kingdoms/European Circuit air race, flying from Hendon to the control point at Shoreham, before heading east to Dover, and crossing the channel and on to Paris for the finish line. The Evening Telegraph and Post, Wednesday 5th July, writes:-

‘From a very early hour this morning a stream of motors and other vehicles conveyed spectators to Hendon Aviation Ground to witness the start of the ten competitors in their return flight via Shoreham and Dover to Paris.’

Later in this correspondence:-

‘As six o’clock approached the aeroplanes were brought out, and practically as the hour struck Beaumont got away in fine style. Garros, Vidart, and Vedrines followed in quick succession. Then came Gibert, whose red coloured machine had a striking appearance. Renaux, the only competitor to carry a passenger was next, and apparently found his burden no obstacle to his progress. Tabuteau, Valentine, and Barra got off in the order named, and thus nine men had started within half an hour. There was some little delay owing to Kimmerling’s machine requiring attention, but the last of the ten starters got away by a quarter to seven.’

Flight magazine of 15th July 1911 reports on the aviators at Shoreham as they await the European Circuit contestants:-

‘Mr Barber made several trial flights early in the morning of Tuesday last week with a Valkyrie (Type B), taking with him one of his mechanics as a passenger, and also Miss Meeze. Next day Mr Barber started about 5 a.m on a Valkyrie with Miss Meeze, to fly to Hendon, as mentioned last week. Messrs. Gordon-England, Pizey and Fleming, who had flown over on Monday on Bristol biplanes, gave exhibition flights, and some pretty glides were witnessed by the visitors, who were already assembled to see the arrival of the aviators in the European Circuit.’

The Times newspaper, 6th July 1911, takes up the story of arrivals at the Shoreham Aerodrome:-

‘Ten airmen left Hendon early yesterday morning for Dover on the final stage of the circuit of Europe air race, organised by the Standard, and the Journal (newspapers) of Paris, and the Petit Bleu, of Brussels, and nine of them succeeded in reaching Dover after landing at Shoreham. They will leave on the cross Channel flight for Calais and thence for Paris at 4 o’clock this morning. A feature of the days flying was the fine performance of Vedrines, who occupied just under two hours on the journey from Hendon to the Whitfield Aerodrome at Dover. He wins the Shoreham £200 prize for the fastest flight between Hendon and Shoreham.’

Further on it continues:-

‘Vedrines was the first of the competitors  to arrive at the Shoreham Aerodrome, where a considerable number of spectators had assembled before 7 o’clock. He was sighted at ten minutes to 7, travelling at a great speed, and in a little over five minutes had made a skilful descent amid hearty cheering. Without leaving his seat he signed the official record and was on his way to Dover. The next arrivals were Garros and “Beaumont”, the former alighting only 40 seconds before the latter, and before Vedrines had quite cleared the aerodrome. These were joined in about five minutes by Vidart. “Beaumont” was  next away at 07.10, and was followed by Vidart and Garros at 07.20. Gibert in his red monoplane, descended at 07.11 and within six minutes of his arrival had taken the air again. It was nearly 07.40 before the next airman, Tabuteau, had alighted, and he was quickly followed by Renaux with his passenger, while two minutes later Kimmerling was on the scene. Of the three machines then on the ground that of Kimmerling’s was first away at 07.52, and Tabuteau’s was only a minute behind. In the meantime Barra had arrived, and after resting for half an hour started for Dover at 08.16 before Renaux, who left two minutes later. All the ten competitors had now arrived at Shoreham with the exception of Valentine, who, on finding that his engine was misfiring, descended without accident at Brooklands.’


(Meanwhile, also at Shoreham on the 4th July, 1911, the world’s first air freight delivery is dispatched)

Aviator Horatio Barber made the news for the inaugural transport by air of goods- ‘The Sphere’ 22nd July, 1911, writes:-

‘Brighton and Hove’s people have had the distinction of witnessing what is believed to be the first time in the world’s history that aerial transport has been accomplished, the flight having been made on July 4 from Shoreham to Hove. Notwithstanding that a large number of people were disappointed at the flight not taking place on the 3rd, which was due to the absence of a searchlight arranged to be in Marine Park, Hove, to show the aviator where he should land, hundreds of people assembled in the park in the evening to watch the flight and descent. They were not disappointed either. The aeronaut was Mr. Barber of Hendon, and the novel and interesting exhibition was arranged in conjunction with the General Electric Company, LTD, of 67 Queen Victoria Street, London, E.C., Mr. Barber carrying on his powerful Valkyrie, type B, No.5, monoplane a consignment of Osram lamps for delivery to Messrs. Page and Miles, LTD, Western Road, Hove. Arrangements were to have been made to enable the monoplane to be illuminated with Osram lamps, but this was not carried out.’

Harold Barber 4th July, Osram lamps to Hove

European Circuit final stage, 7th July.

This race had highlighted how far ahead France were from Britain in aviation design, construction, and piloting, with James Valentine, the only Briton who actually started, and despite his valiant efforts to continue in the race, eventually gave up after encountering problems on the Hendon to Shoreham leg. So Britain’s only involvement at the final stage was Maurice Tabuteau, who was flying a Bristol biplane, built by the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, Ltd, at Filton, Gloucestershire. Flight magazine of 15th July, 1911, describes the Paris finish:-

‘At Vincennes there was another huge crowd, among whom was General Roques and several other highly placed Government officials. At half past eight an extra sharp eye detected a speck in the sky, while an expert ear caught the sound of the unmistakable hum of a Gnome motor. Within a few seconds the news had spread round the concourse, and the cry went up, “They are here!”. The next question was “who could it be” as the news of  Vedrine’s accident had come through, and it was realised he could not be the arrival. It only needed a few minutes, however, to bring the monoplane nearer in to view, for it to be seen that it was the Deperdussin monoplane, and of course piloted by Vidart. He landed at 8.37, and was at once carried shoulder high to the Deperdussin shed to the strain of the Marseillaise. There was then a delay of seven minutes before the arrival of Gibert, who it should be remembered is the only monoplanist who had completed the full distance on the one machine, whereas the others have changed their machines several times. The third to arrive was Garros, at 9.15, and then the others came in at fairly lengthy  intervals, “Beaumont” being fourth at 9.26.’

‘The overall winner was Andre Beaumont, with a total race time of 58 hours, 38 minutes, followed by Roland Garros*, on 62hrs, 17 mins, 3rd place was Vidart, on 73hrs, 32 mins, and Vedrines, who had led for much of the race, came in fourth with a time of 86hrs, 34 minutes, having damaged his machine while landing on the next to last leg. 

* (This was the Roland Garros whose name would be given to a rather famous tennis arena in Paris).

Beaumont wins the European Circuit 1911

Oscar Morison flies from Paris to Shoreham.

While the  worlds press followed the race around Europe, aviators elsewhere continued to push the boundaries of what could be achieved in their fragile looking aeroplanes, and O.C.Morison was one of these intrepid aviators. He had hoped to race his new Morane monoplane in the European Circuit, but it wasn’t ready in time, and actually picked it up from the factory in Paris just after the race had finished. ‘The Daily News’, Monday 10th July, 1911 reports:-

Paris to Shoreham in 5 Hours

A remarkable feat was accomplished by an English aviator on Saturday (8th July), Mr. O.C. Morison (one of the most successful flying men in this country) getting from Paris to Shoreham with only two brief stops, and setting up what must almost be a record. Mr. Morison showed considerable pluck, for he did not announce the attempt, and there was consequently no tugs or torpedo boats out to render assistance should he require it. In five hours the aeroplane covered 250 miles, giving the high rate of 50 miles an hour, and this included the stops. Mr. Morison started his monoplane at Paris shortly before noon, and averaged a mile a minute to Calais. Stopping just long enough to replenish his petrol tank, he went on straight for Dover, and mounted at a great speed to a height of nearly two thousand feet, seeming through the heat haze to be almost among the lower clouds. The channel was crossed in half an hour, and, passing over Dover Castle, Mr. Morison made straight for Eastbourne, and descended in a field there at ten minutes to four. A quarter of an hour was occupied in once more taking in petrol, the engine was again restarted, and just before five p.m, the machine descended at Shoreham.’

Coming up in part four:- Lord Northcliffe, owner of the Daily Mail, offers £10,000 as a prize for the aviator that wins a Circuit of Britain race. Shoreham gets busy, more top aviators set up at the newly expanded facilities.


A Brief History of Aviation at Shoreham. Part Two

June 11, 2017

Harold Piffard and friends with his own designed and built hydroplane at Bungalow Town, Summer of 1911




In the summer of 1911 Piff was back in Shoreham, but this time he used a large shed on the shingle peninsula known as ‘Bungalow Town’, on the beach front, near Ferry road. Thanks to fellow local history enthusiasts, Howard Porter and Roger Bateman, the bungalow has been identified as ‘Palghar’, and the shed they used to house his hydroplane, was the old Lifeboat House.

Piff’s next designs were forerunners of the seaplane, but the challenge now was to be able to ‘unstick’ from the sea. Flight magazine of 22nd July 1911 reports:-

Hydro-Aeroplane at Shoreham.

Mr Harold Piffard, who last year experimented at the Shoreham Aerodrome with an aeroplane, has now had another machine built, and this is fitted with airbags so that the experiments may be made over water. On Saturday evening Mr Piffard had it out on the sea at Shoreham for the first time, and although no flight was attempted, six people took their place on the machine and successfully tested its buoyancy. Motive power is provided by a 40-h.p. E.N.V. engine’

Piff, at the front, wearing the Boater hat, on Bungalow Town beach (Shoreham) with the latest hydroplane design. Summer 1911


A month later, Flight magazine of 19th August 1911 writes:-

Mr Piffard’s Hydroplane Capsizes.

After making one or two alterations to it, Mr Piffard had his hydroplane taken down to the sea at Shoreham on the 8th inst. Almost as soon as it was launched however, it capsized; but this was an emergency for which Mr Piffard and his assistants were well prepared, as they are all expert swimmers, and they soon had the machine ashore.’

Before Piff and his band of friends returned to carry on their hydroplane trials at Bungalow Town, on Shoreham beach, the nascent Shoreham Aerodrome had already become ever more popular with the British flying fraternity, with a number of aviators making it their base. 1911 was also turning out to be a ground breaking year for British aviation.

One of Harold Piffard’s hydroplane designs capsizes at Bungalow Town, Shoreham. August 1911

Earlier in 1911:-

Brooklands to Brighton Flight, Harry Preston get a Memento, 14th Feb

The Northern Daily Mail reported on Thursday 15th Feb, 1911, that Oscar Colin Morison flew his Blériot monoplane from Brooklands to Brighton, a distance of 40 miles, in 65 minutes the day previously. The flight would have been quicker had Morison not gone via Worthing, although he insisted, “there was not a hitch throughout the journey”. He had only intended to fly to Cobham, but as the weather was so fine, on arrival he phoned up Harry Preston, (owner of the Royal York, and Royal Albion, hotels), to let him know he would be landing in front of the Royal Albion that afternoon. Descending on to the beach between the Palace, and West Piers, he mistook the pebbles for sand, and his plane crumpled under him on landing, damaging the undercarriage and prop. No injury was incurred, but Harry ended up with the broken propeller hung up in his hotel smoking room as a memento of the landmark occasion. A reporter on the spot informed Morison that, “you are the first aviator to drop down on Brighton beach”, to which he replied, “So I am told. I have no particular impressions about the flight except that it has been a jolly fine trip” .

In Harry Preston’s book, ‘Leaves From My Unwritten Diary’ 1936, page 79, he recalls:-

“In my smoking room I have many air mementoes, among them a broken propeller. Oscar Morison gave it to me- he smashed it on Brighton beach, on an historic day in February, a quarter of a century ago, when he flew from Brooklands to Brighton”

He continues:-

“The intrepid aviator told me at luncheon at the Royal York that followed, that he would have made better time, only he had got off his line of flight. He was circling to land, when he noticed that there was only one pier, and he knew Brighton had two. “Wrong town,” said he, and flew along the shore line until he sighted a town with two piers. It was Worthing he had mistaken for Brighton. Air navigation was not quite what it is now’

This lunch at the Royal York had been quickly arranged by Harry as a member of the Sussex Motor Yacht Club, in Morison’s honour. Afterwards they presented the aviator with a silver cigarette case in memory of his historic flight.

Oscar Morison flies from Brooklands to Brighton to see Harry Preston. Feb 15th 1911

The Daily Graphic, Wednesday 1st March 1911, writes about Morison’s exploits, and his patronage of the new aerodrome at Shoreham:-

‘Brighton for the past week has been entertaining her first visitor to arrive by air, in the person of O.C. Morison, who safely landed  upon the beach at Kemptown after a surprise flight from Brooklands. The aviator is now stormbound, and his 50 h.p Gnome Bleriot is causing great interest among the visitors and residents who have inspected it in its temporary home in a local garage. When the present gale has blown itself out- and to judge by the “glass”, this will not be for some days- the Bleriot will be wheeled along the front to Hove lawns, and from this spot Mr Morison intends to fly to Brighton and Hove’s new aviation ground, where during the coming summer the town hopes to have the pleasure of receiving all the air’s conquerors.’

After repairs had been carried out, Morison took his Bleriot to Shoreham, on 7th March 1911 becoming the first aviator to fly in to the Aerodrome, from there, flying above Bungalow Town, and over to Lancing College at the invite of the Headmaster, Reverend Henry Thomas Bowlby. He put down on the College cricket field but the bowling green surface meant the plane hurried on a tad more than he expected, running the Bleriot in to a grass bank, breaking the elevator and thus rendering the machine temporarily inoperable. Morison put this opportunity to good use, showing the captive audience of schoolboys over the aeroplane, and the explaining the purpose of the controls. Given their former pupil, Piffard’s, exploits the year previous, a foundation of lasting aviation interest had surely now been cemented.

Bungalow Town resident, and regular columnist for ‘The Daily News’, John Frederick Macdonald, of number 2, Coronation bungalow, Beach Road, described the scene of Morison’s arrival at Shoreham, giving a wonderful first hand account of not just how he saw it, but also a reporters eye view of how some of the other residents reacted to this novel event, for ‘The Daily News’, Tuesday 14th March 1911:-

‘At eleven o’clock this morning I behold Shoreham-on-Sea, a simple and picturesque little town of three thousand inhabitants, in a state of excitement and delight. Out on their doorsteps come the trades people of the inevitable High Street, and, shading their eyes with their hands, they look eagerly upwards. More ardent interest in the skies on the part of the weatherbeaten old boatmen; still more rapturous gazing at the heavens from the maidens of Shoreham- and all kinds of incoherent exclamations from a group of small boys. “What,” I ask timidly one of the Shoreham maidens, “what is the matter?”, “we’re waiting for Mr. Morison”, excitedly replies the maiden- most radiant of blondes. “He’s left Brighton. He may arrive at any moment. He-“ , “Who is Mr. Morison”, I ask ignorantly. Then as the blonde regards me blankly- “I’m awfully sorry I don’t know Mr. Morison. In fact, it’s disgraceful of me. But I’m a stranger to these parts, and I’ve come here to lead the simple life, and-“

“That’s ‘im- no it’s not”, cries a boatman. “’Ere ‘e comes- no ‘e don’t”, shouts a small boy.

“You don’t know Mr. Morison?” exclaims the radiant blonde, with indignation. “Why we’ve been expecting him for five days. And I tell you he’s left Brighton at last. And I—“

“Here he is, here he is”, cries another maiden. “Coming along like mad”, declares a boatman. “Ooray”, yells a small boy. A whirring noise in the heavens. All eyes strained upwards. The whirring becoming stronger, almost thunderous. And over the narrow High Street of Shoreham, at a height of six or seven hundred feet, an aeroplane flies by. “That’s Mr. Morison”, gasps the blonde. And she and the other charming maidens, and a few of the tradepeople and a number of battered boatmen and, of course, all the small boys, run off down the High Street, and over the Norfolk Bridge, and along the high road that leads to the field in which Mr. Morison, the flying man and the idol of the South Coast, has descended.


It was an admirable flight. I am informed that Mr. Morison (who has travelled successfully from Brooklands to Brighton in his Bleriot machine) came over to Shoreham from the”Queen of the Watering Places”, a distance of six miles, at a speed of a mile a minute. Admirable, too, are the flights he made twenty four hours later—over Lancing College and over Bungalow Town, that colony of villas, chalets, and other strange miniature habitations formed out of abandoned old railway carriages, which has sprung up, quaintly, amazingly, to the number of three hundred on Shoreham Beach. So is Mr. Morison, most justifiably, Shoreham’s hero. So does Shoreham flock to the field and surround the shed, in which the aeroplane is housed. So does Shoreham proudly  refer to the field as “OUR Aviation Ground”. So does Shoreham triumphantly allude to Mr. Morison as “OUR Flying Man”. And so—since Mr. Morison is stated to have declared himself satisfied with the field—so does Shoreham confidently announce that its fortune as a popular seaside resort is made.

“That’s what we wanted—a flying man, and I’m sure we’re most grateful to Mr. Morison for taking a fancy to our town”, a tradesman informs me. “With an aviation ground, and a flying man, there’s no reason Shoreham shouldn’t become a fashionable place. Flying, there’s nothing like it. Flying is what you London folk call the limit. Why, I can see Shoreham swelling and swelling in size, until Brighton and Worthing get green and yellow with envy and jealousy. To borrow another word from the Londoners, Shoreham is going to be  IT”

In “The Brass Bell”

I cannot exactly imagine the “face” of Worthing and Brighton discoloured with jealousy; but I do know that I myself am envious of Mr. Morison’s popularity. A week ago I made quite a little sensation by appearing in High-street. I was a newcomer—and the old boatmen saluted me, and the small boys stared and gaped at me, and the blondes and brunettes gazed–O exquisite moment—curiously at me as I passed by. Gone, those attentions. Now I am a nobody; only Mr. Morison counts—and so how I wish I were Mr. Morison the idol of Shoreham! The fact is, one ought nowadays to be a flying man. Once it was splendid to be a Caruso, or George Alexander, or Wilkie Bard, or Sandow, or Prime Minister, or King; but the hero-worship of the hour is reserved for the gentlemen who fly—a throne up in the air excites infinitely more respect and enthusiasm than a throne in a palace. Is not simple Shoreham, since Mr. Morison’s coming, a new town? The whirring of the Bleriot has shaken it out of its slumber, frantically modernised it—rendered it ambitious, feverish, hectic, delirious. The very children now babble of aeroplanes. Old Joe the grocer, aged seventy, mumbles about aeronautics, as he searches for tins of sardines and packets of tea behind the counter. At the bakers, the “Standard” bread gossip has given way to aviation gossip. And one talks and talks of nothing but flying at the chemists, at the tobacconist’s, at the bootmaker’s, at–.

“Two Bass—one dry ginger—yes, now that flying ‘as come to Shoreham it’s going to make a powerful bit of difference”, states the landlord of “The Brass Bell”. “There was at least forty motors come over from Brighton today”, says a customer. “As many more from Worthing”, states another. “People will be coming from everywhere—just get flying and you get the money”, declares a third. But the landlord of the “Brass Bell” goes even further. He vows that simple Shoreham must be advertised—“you know, great big posters in the railway stations, on the ‘oardings, in the papers; pictures of a bloke flying, with the sky painted all blue, and words written underneath it like this—‘Shoreham for Flying. Shoreham and Air. Shoreham the ‘ome of Aviation and the Centre of ‘appiness and ‘ealth. Shoreham for the English’ “.

“What a time it will be!” exclaims a customer. “We shall have to have a theatre and a music hall, two shows a night”, says another. “You’ll have to enlarge your hotel. You know, a winter garden, and a band, and a garage, and an American bar—cocktails; and coffee beans placed handy on the counter for nothing”, advises a third. “Trust me”, replies the landlord. “Now that flying ‘as come to Shoreham, well, old Shoreham’s going to sit up”.’


James Valentine sets up at Shoreham

With a new railway station having been built at Shoreham airport, called the ‘Bungalow Town Halt’, the previous October, Shoreham Aerodrome was now attracting aviators of distinction, among them, James Valentine, who, as the Daily Graphic, Weds 1st March, 1911, reports further on from the previous article:-

‘Mr Valentine, who flies a passenger carrying machine of his own design, has decided to make the new ground his headquarters, and during the summer will conduct a series of week-end trips between Brooklands and Brighton, a distance of 34 miles, via Leatherhead, Dorking, and Horsham. The railway line will make a splendid guide, and prevent any chance of the machine and its occupants arriving at some rival seaside resort by mistake. Mr Valentine’s spare time is to be given to perfecting a machine of English make which will land and rise from the sea, so that he could not have chosen a better ground for his work.’


The Brooklands to Brighton Race, 6th May

The Brighton beach landing had inspired Harry and his brother, Dick, (Hugh Richard Preston, who helped run the two hotels with Harry, the Royal York, and Royal Albion), to put up a prize for a race from Brooklands to Brighton via Shoreham as the turning point, on the 6th May 1911, a large balloon was attached to the Palace Pier acting as the finishing marker for the competing aviators. The proprietor of the Palace Pier, Mr Rosenthal, put up £80 for first prize, while Harry Preston put up £30 for second place. There was also a third prize of £20.

There were 8 entries for the race, but for various reasons only four aviators started, Graham Gilmour on a Bristol biplane with Gnome engine, Lieutenant Snowden-Smith on a Farman biplane with Gnome, Howard Pixton on an Avro D type biplane with a Green engine, and lastly, Gustav Hamel on a Bleriot monoplane with Gnome. It was a handicap race, with Gilmour starting first, followed by Snowden-Smith 4 minutes later, Pixton ought to have been next, but was at the time trying to win another prize, while Hamel took off 12 minutes after Gilmour, who was already out of sight, and Snowden-Smith was disappearing in to the haze ahead. Pixton got going 8 minutes later, having completed his flight with passenger, competing for the Manville Prize.

The four aviators missing from the starting line up were:-

J Ballantyne (Farman biplane)

Mr Gordon England (Bristol biplane)

Mr C.H.Cresswell (Bleriot monoplane) Got lost in fog flying from Hendon to Brooklands.

Mr Hubert (Farman biplane) Also lost in fog flying to Brooklands.


Interest in the race had drawn crowds along the route, The Globe, 6th May, 1911, reported:-


“All the competitors made two circuits of the course before heading for Brighton. There was great enthusiasm among the spectators, and there were high hopes that a fine race would ensue. – Along the route- Holmwood (three miles from Dorking)- Four aeroplanes passed here at 3.40. Large crowds had assembled in the town, and loudly cheered as the machines passed. Lancing.- Three aeroplanes have passed here heading for Shoreham. Shoreham.- Mr Hamel passed here at 3.50. Another machine, a biplane at 4.7.”


The ’machine’ at 4.7 would have been Lieut. Snowden-Smith.

Spectators at Shoreham Aerodrome for the Brooklands to Brighton race, 6th May 1911

The Lichfield Mercury, Friday 12th May 1911, reporting a week later of the finish line at Brighton, stated:-

“Quite early in the afternoon an immense crowd gathered at Brighton, filling the front from pier to pier and even beyond. Just after four o’clock the first aeroplane hove in sight in blaze of the sun. It was flying high and dipping a little in the wind, which was evidently stronger at that height than on the ground, where the flags scarcely fluttered. Slowly as it seemed, but surely, and heralded by a burst of cheers that rippled along the front, it gradually dropped and crossed the pier accurately in the middle. One saw the number clearly, though it was scarcely necessary for identification, because it was known Mr Hamel was flying the only monoplane in the race.”

It continues:-

“From the terrace of the Royal Albion Hotel, Mr Hamel’s father “snapped” his son with a hand camera as he came sailing triumphantly past, and turned to congratulate his wife on the success of the young aviator.  After circling twice round the pier head, Mr Hamel flew back to the Shoreham Aerodrome, and afterwards departed for Brooklands.”

The ‘Sussex Express, Surrey Standard and Kent Mail’, picks up the story:-

“The first sight of an aeroplane renders one speechless for a time, but as Mr Hamel on his Bleriot monoplane gets nearer to the great mass of people the volume of cheers gets louder and louder. He is scarcely out of sight when Lieut. Snowden Smith, on his Farman biplane, arrives, and Mr Gilmour, on a Bristol biplane, comes next. The ease and grace which characterised the flying won great admiration. The times taken by these three competitors were:- Mr Hamel, 57 mins, 10 secs.; Lieut. Snowden Smith, 1hr. 21 mins. 6secs.; Mr Gilmour, 1hr. 37mins. 0secs.”

Explaining Pixton’s absence, it reports:-

“Mr Pixton, who descended on his all British Roe biplane on Plumpton Racecourse, received a warm welcome there. The people decorated his machine with primroses, and hundreds of names were written on it. He made the journey to Brighton after tea.”

Lieut. Snowden-Smith, who had finished second, it was pointed out, had missed the Shoreham turn, the competitors were supposed to keep west of the Adur Railway bridge before turning for Brighton, the Lieutenant had gone inside, to the east, so was disqualified, leaving Gilmour, who had finished in 1 hour, 37 minutes, promoted to 2nd place. From Shoreham later, Hamel flew back to Brooklands in just 34 minutes, suggesting a strong headwind may have held them up during the race. Gilmour stayed the weekend at Shoreham, possibly taking advantage of the entertainments along at Bungalow Town, when he left, he flew to Portsmouth, according to a report in the Jarrow Express, Friday 12th May 1911:-

“The first aeroplane to pass over Portsmouth made its flight on Tuesday from Brighton (Shoreham aerodrome actually) to Gosport, as a sequel to last Saturday’s aerial race from Brooklands to Brighton. The aviator was Graham Gilmour, who paid a visit by air to his brother in-law, Fleet Surgeon Capps, one of the staff  of Haslar Naval Hospital. Without alighting at Portsmouth, the aviator flew across the harbour to the hospital, and landed safely in the grounds, where it was reported that he had “shelled” a fort blockhouse at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour with oranges”

Douglas Grahame Gilmour, Shoreham to Black Rock race. May 13th 1911


Stuck in a Tree at Haywards Heath

Oscar Morison decided to fly to Haywards Heath on Tuesday 9th May, taking Eric Cecil Gordon England with him as passenger. It was an incredibly costly business maintaining their machines, especially when they crashed, so occasionally, when they turned up at a town or village, where crowds would very soon gather, they could charge between a pound and a fiver a time for a quick flight, which was not unknown among the aviators of the time. Reported in the London Daily News, 10th May 1911, it states:-

‘Mr Morison, the well known aviator, had a narrow escape from a serious accident tonight. Mr Morison arrived here from Shoreham yesterday on his biplane, and arranged to return tonight. A start was made about half past seven, Mr Gordon travelling in the machine as passenger. The aeroplane had only just started its flight however, when the engine suddenly stopped, and the biplane came down rapidly at the edge of a wood near a railway line. The crowd who had watched the ascent ran to the spot expecting to find the aviators seriously injured. On their arrival however, they found that the aeroplane had not reached the ground, the wings having been caught in the branches of an oak. The aviators, who were uninjured, were rescued by means of ladders. The biplane was considerably damaged.’

 The Shoreham to Black Rock Race

On 13th May 1911 Morison was in a well-publicized air-race with Graham Gilmour from Shoreham Aerodrome to the eastern boundary of Brighton at Blackrock, Morison taking the straight course passed the winning post one minute before Gilmour. Reported in the Belfast News-Letter of May 15th 1911, it states:-


“The contestants used Bristol biplanes of equal power, but whereas Morison went straight for the winning post at a height of 800 feet, Gilmour flew farther out to sea and rose to 1100 feet. What might have been a neck and neck race consequently ended in Morison’s favour by about a hundred and fifty yards. The winner crossed the line just after five o’clock, having covered the course in a quarter of an hour. He, however, made a bad landing in the grounds of Roedean College, breaking his skids and damaging the elevator. Gilmour, who descended there, alighted perfectly, and afterwards flew back to Shoreham.”

Oscar Morison at Roedean school, east of Brighton, after the Shoreham to Black Rock race, 13th May 1911

Aviators, Gordon-England, O.C.Morison, and Graham-Gilmour at Roedean school, May 13th 1911. Also, Harry Preston’s brother, Dick.

Shoreham Aerodrome inauguration. 20th June 1911

Reported in the ‘Flight’ magazine of 1st July 1911, the Mayors of Brighton, Hove, and Worthing officially opened the ‘Brighton and Shoreham Aerodrome’. It writes:-

“The ceremony was preceded by a luncheon, at which the aims of the promoters were explained, and it was stated that the proposals included a clubhouse on the ground. The ground is about a quarter of a mile square, but surrounding it is a flat stretch of country about a thousand acres in extent, free from trees, and eminently suitable for flying purposes. Already a large number of hangars have been erected, and the arrival of the competitors in the European Circuit race on the grounds this week, from which point they “take off” for Hendon, should give the fine aerodrome a splendid send off. Brighton should be under a great obligation to the enterprising men who have thus given it, at this early stage, so important a chance in alluring aviators to the district”

The Mayors of Brighton, Hove, and Worthing, at the occasion of the inauguration of ‘Brighton and Shoreham Aerodrome’ 20th June 1911

In the next part, the ‘Four Kingdoms’ race around Europe comes to Shoreham.

Shoreham Beach stories. Bonfire Night, by Andy Ramus

April 30, 2017

Bonfire Night on Shoreham Beach in the 1970’s


Living on Shoreham Beach as a child, you kinda felt like you owned the world sometimes, stood on the beach where all that changed was the position of the shingle, sometimes banked right up so high that it near buried the old wooden breakwaters, and then other days the sea would pull the shingle back so far as to expose, what then as a child, seemed like mighty tree turrets, or Queens Guards all neatly lined up. The tops of these breakwaters all crisp clean and square, with their horizontal binders that had big fat rusty bolts and square washers staining the timber below, keeping them clamped smartly together and providing us with a walkway to navigate along. Below these binders, the uprights were thinned out and rounded off by the ceaseless activity of the sea and shingle, sometimes gently caressing, sometimes thunderously pounding, but always the story of time could be seen most clearly at the bottom of these solid sentries. We knew as the shapes became more greatly accentuated and the ‘hour glass’ figure showed, that the end would be coming for the battle weary posts and soon the Sea Defence workers would arrive with their gargantuan machinery to extract the withered sentries, like a dentist pulling teeth.

Everything seemed so huge back then, with their long Whirligig boring tool, a giant corkscrew of a thing, massive caterpillar tracked vehicles which used to put me in mind of metal dinosaurs, all clanking and squeaking their way around, our own beach ballet, and with the lead part going to the Pile Driver which shook the earth with every pound as it battered in the new posts.

The breakwaters had two directions, one at the top of the beach parallel with the coast line, they’re the sentries, and the other directed like an arrow down into the sea, made into a solid wall by continuous planks bolted to the uprights, stopping a foot short of the 12 inch by 12 inch posts tops and giving the effect of a medieval castle wall, also making quite a handy windbreak all year round. Diving platforms at high tides, cricket wickets at low Springs, fortresses, hide and seek, obstacle courses, and cool shelters for fires and music under the stars in later years. I can stand at the top of the beach and go into memory freefall down the years, from a tiny tot happily bouncing around on the sand, wondering why all of a sudden it’d gone dark after a small sail boat had been picked up in a mini whirlwind and dumped on top of me, no harm done; through to turning over in a rubber ring before I could swim, and getting promptly fished out by dear old Da after they noticed my little legs pointing up out of the sea and kicking around, tears that time but otherwise undamaged. Endless summertime beach picnics, spending virtually the entire day playing, swimming, and eating on the beach, I remember we used to be a popular place for the rel’s to visit too, which was great. What a life it was, and free of charge.

Myself, my brother Ant, friend Mark Dewing, and my sister, Lizbet. On one our our many summer days spent on the beach, by those lovely wooden breakwaters.

My brother Simon about to throw the stone, and cousin Sally. Great shot of the old breakwaters.

My eldest brother, David, little sis, Lizbet, and cousin Mark. We were on these breakwaters all the time as kids, so much fun.


During winter, Bonfire Night was the biggest beach occasion. All the local kids had their own bonfire, our family (there were five of us) always teamed up with the Severs family from around the corner, and there were seven of them, so between us we usually built the biggest bonfire around, right bang at the top of ‘Mardyke‘, the north- south road that leads up to the beach, prime spot, really was, and slap bang centre between the beach huts to the East, and the Church of the Good Shepherd to the West. And we were really proud and proper, we thought, about how we built them, a decent Wigwam shape, no ugly lumps. People used to think they could use our fires to unload their unwanted burnables, which we didn’t mind too much, ’cos we wanted ours to be the biggest, but they’d just chuck it on willy nilly, ignoring the aesthetics, and we’d come home from school, straight indoors, change, have Tea , and shoot up the beach to re shape the fire to our exacting standards. We even had camps built inside, so that we could guard the fire at night. We’d start building weeks before the actual night, Bonfire Night was just the culmination of a six week adventure for us, of building, burning, letting off fireworks, and other excitable kids stuff.

We had to guard our fires, because it wasn’t unheard of for us to torch a rival fire that looked like it might be about to eclipse our own efforts. One time we took a raiding party down to a fire West of the church, armed with paraffin, paper, and lighters, to torch a foreign effort. It was massive, swollen by a consignment of wooden packing crates that a local firm had been liberally dumping on the beach for just such use. Unfortunately for the owners and builders of this fire, they got the vast majority of the crates while we were at school, and before the rest of us even knew they were there, so in one fell swoop they went from being virtual non runners to biggest fire on the beach by a mile, and thus catching our undivided attention. On this particular occasion, a combined effort by allied forces raised to the ground possibly one of the biggest bonfires ever seen on Shoreham Beach, two weeks before the actual Night. So successful were our efforts in this matter, and so big the fire, that the fire brigade was called, in fear of damage to local property, their bonfire being much closer to the houses opposite along that stretch of the beach. And who was there to assist them?, yep, to a man, our torch committee, offering to carry buckets if needed.

The Burning
Although there were normally six or eight fires going up each year, with different families kids responsible for each one, we were all mostly mates and the rivalry was a friendly one. There was a suspicion however that the big one which had sprouted overnight just past the church was being put up by grown ups, certainly none of us knew the kids along there, so when this monster appeared it couldn’t go unnoticed by any of us. Not much wood collecting went on that night, as we mulled around our fire, still the best looking if no longer, (for the moment at least), the biggest. About ten of us discussed what to do about the situation, or not so much what, as how, and when. Chris and Russ, the cousins, from Woodards View and Beach Green, had the fire next to ours, with the brothers Dave and Tim, from Ormonde Way by the river bank, they had access to the paraffin. Matches and paper were no problem, we had small fires most nights of the week during bonfire season, so just wait ‘til dark, and we’d swing into action.

Not exactly SAS stuff, we just walked down the beach from our fire, which as I said, was at the top of Mardyke, and drop down out of sight from the upstairs windows of the Kings Walk houses, which overlooked the beach. Noticeable only by the crunching sound of our feet through the shingle, like someone noisily chewing cornflakes, until we’d negotiated our way through the sentry breakwaters, and descended towards the sand, where upon, we could turn and quietly make our way along, hopping over the breakwater walls, not talking as we went, but being very serious about the whole thing. During the summer, when all our families spent vast amounts of time at the beach, we’d have our own section we each used, according usually to ease of passage. And with the breakwater walls dividing it up into allotments, groups of families had their own distinguishable stretch which they frequented; often we’d eye the Day Trippers with annoyance as they intruded on ‘our’ beach when real warm weather attracted increasing numbers. Anyway, we all knew which stretch of beach was who’s, so on this night of skulduggery, it felt a bit like jumping through peoples back gardens, but instead of fences, brick walls, or bushes, all we had to contend with, was the green slimy seaweed which clung to those parts of the breakwaters most regularly submerged by the ever rising and retreating tides, slippery stuff, so a sure footing was required whilst hurdling nimbly over.

As we came alongside the beach opposite the church, we could safely ascend, under cover of the fishing boats there, and their boathouse. Also there were the concrete steps leading up, remnants of the Second World War I think. All we had to do now was creep up from behind our victims’ bonfire, douse it with the paraffin, then light it, easy you’d think, but that nearly went wrong. It was being stubborn and wouldn’t light, so Tim chucked the whole plastic cans contents on, and at the same time that the fire took hold, the can was still in Tim’s hand as the flames came licking towards him, and panic set in, he chucked the can while recoiling away from the pursuing danger, then we all very noisily turned tail, and belted for it, sounding like a herd of elephants marauding through a crisp factory until, under the security of distance, dark, and the sure footing of sand under foot, we could stop and admire our handiwork lighting up the night sky with its flames spitting bright tongues of fire heaven bound, and giving a fine orange glow to the neighbouring fishing boats.

Another year, someone else’s raiding party lit our fire, not realising our eldest brother, David, was in the camp inside it, he got out ok, and saved most of the fire by pulling it down, but it could’ve been nasty. I think that was the year when some barge ran into Brighton’s Palace Pier, and half demolished it, sending loads of lovely debris along the coast to fuel our, by now, whopping great fires.

Death of a pier, Birth of a Bonfire

Shoreham beach was swarming with frenzied little boys running up and down the shoreline, first claiming what lengths had already been discarded by the tide, and then running right in to the sea, just to be sure of salvage rites, hands on rules, and with no bullies in our ranks, it worked, the bigger boys didn‘t seem so keen to get their trousers wet. I remember how happy I was that day, as we all ran around with huge beaming smiles on our faces, and how immensely proud we felt as we stood back at the end of an industrious day, and viewed with buoyant satisfaction, our marvellous creation, made all the better by the great lengths of ‘ex Palace Pier’ timbers, some as long as four metres/ twelve feet, (we were the children of the metric/imperial changeover). In those days of train strikes, power cuts, and minor food rationing, our pleasures were derived from simple things, and never at any cost but effort, though gladly done.

The Pier’s debris brought us an unexpected problem though; the timber from the Pier was all hardwood, either Teak or Mahogany, maybe both. Soon enough we had OAP vultures hovering around our creations, telling us it was “too good to burn”, and “a crime to waste such timber”, they even tried bribing us, but we weren’t having any of it. If there hadn’t been so many of us, I think they’d have taken it anyway, we caught one big fat old boy, always wore a flat cap and only ever spoke to tell us off for one thing or another, trying to nick a piece one night as we were returning from one of our regular forays along the beach, that was one of the great things about it, with every change of tide came a potential bounty of material for our fire. Anyway, as I say, vigilance always played a major part in our operations, we’d gone to some considerable length to make our prized bonfire the most impressive on the beach, so we weren’t giving any of it away, and we certainly weren’t allowing some mean, fat, old grown up try and nick any of it.

Whenever I pass the decaying remains of Brighton’s West Pier these days, I’m eternally reminded of times long since past, and how perhaps, we were the first to see that famous Pier’s proper and fitting send off, (even though it turned out to be the Palace Pier that was hit by the barge I found out later).

The Sea Defence incident

One year, the Sea Defence people got wind of the fact that we’d nicked a breakwater post from their yard which was conveniently situated off Kings Walk, and a piece of cake for us kids to get in and out of, we used to play in there all year round as it was. They must have known that we had all of their loose timber around on our fires, ‘cos if we hadn’t, the place would’ve looked a mess, and it didn’t, tidiest Sea Defence yard on the South coast come November 5th, but they had to draw the line somewhere, and we crossed it by using a 12” by 12” beast for our bonfire centre post, and that stuff ain’t cheap I suppose, so they got their big crane out and hooked it back out as we watched helplessly while our lovely wigwam shape crumpled and turned into a dumpling. Not put off though, and with renewed gusto, we set about rebuilding, with half a mind on revenge, they were only around during working hours, and we were night scavengers. Come the big night that year, they put a police guard at the entrance to the Sea Defence yard to stop any last minute pilfering, but that was no problem as our mate Dave’s garden backed on to the yard, so we could hop in and out undetected, right up to the last moments, and march triumphantly up Mardyke with our booty for the fire, it actually made it much more amusing thinking we’d had the last laugh.

The Night

What a night it always was, Kings Walk residents often had barbecues in their front gardens, while they viewed the bonfires going up, and people came from far and wide to see it all. Shoreham Beach, between the Good Shepherd Church and the Beach Green recreation ground would be packed with thousands of spectators admiring the results of, almost solely, children’s enterprise.

Although we’re a row back from the sea front, we’d still have a lot of people around for Jacket spuds, Flapjacks, Sausages, and all sorts of other tasty stuff. The Jacket’s were fantastic, nice and crusty, with a steaming and soft interior, which piped like a steam locomotive with the first incision of the knife, then we’d saturate the insides with margarine, turning it into mush, and scoff it down, saving the skin ‘til last, for a mouth watering drool -fest of a savoury chomp. Oh, and the Flapjacks!, Ma made the best Flapjacks in the world, cooked that day, and still a mite warm while sticky in our little paws, a tacky revelation which produced a taste sensation. Whenever a tray came out of our oven with Flapjacks, there was always a multitude of eager waifs trying desperately to look as if their mortal continuity depended on their paws getting clamped around the concoction of rolled oats, sugar, golden syrup, salt, margarine, and lemon juice. November 5th was the busiest night of the year for our kitchen, with a seemingly endless flow of cooked comestibles emerging from our Tricity cooker, and Ma had assistance from various other Mums visiting, so the place was a cacophony of different sounds, smells, and reverberations, voices raised continually higher, to be heard above the combination of firework explosions, and noisy children running amok. Cooking smells combining with the residual aroma of the burnt out Catherine Wheels, Rockets, Roman Candles, Volcanoes, Bangers, Air bombs, and plenty more. Then there was the smoke which filled the air, inside and out, but not of the suffocating or stifling variety, with the back door open to provide a source of ventilation for the kitchen, and the sharp crispness of a cold November evening, you could lean your head back for a healthy intake of breath keenly through your nostrils, and say, “mmm, it’s Bonfire Night and I love it!”

One year the fat from the grill pan caught alight, and as if it were part of the proceedings it was calmly dealt with by Ma, giving it the damp cloth procedure before removing it out of the door and safely on to the driveway. One minute the cooker was engulfed in flames, and the next it’s business as usual, without so much as a mention. I think a nuclear explosion could’ve gone off then, and we’d have thought it was a new firework amongst the organised chaos of the night.

These days, some know nothing intefering ‘Busy bodies’ have decided that bonfires along the beach are too dangerous to allow, so one more tradition is condemned to memory.

The wooden breakwaters gradually disappearing, but still a fine looking part of the beach-scape.


Things are different on the beach now, the level at the top has been raised by some ten feet at least, and the breakwaters on our stretch have gone, removed and replaced by piers of Norwegian granite rocks, which I have to say, have their own aesthetic value. If I were a child now, I think my imagination would invent plenty of playful purposes around or amongst them. For now, I’m quite content to sit a little up from the high tide line, and just watch as the sea breaks and washes over them, turning the brown sandy water white, then squint my eyes in the glow of the Sun glistening off the irregular shaped rocks. Between the piers, it’s much the same as always, with the water turning to white foam, and making the dry stones dark after immersion, that’ll never change, at least only in the manner of the waves and sea swell. Walking down to the waters edge, I always feel it’s a bit like being in an orchestra pit while some Wagnerian opera booms out all around you, and the sea fresh ozone clearing your nasal tubes, it makes you wish you could throw open your arms and become part of it all. Maybe when I die I’ll have my ashes spread at sea, and in death achieve a life long dream. I’m digressing again, anyway, yeah- changing, well the beach is much higher now as you step on up from the road, all part of a programme devised by the ‘Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Farms’ (since changed their name after the ‘Foot and Mouth‘ fiasco), to reduce the risk from allegedly higher tides. It all puts me in mind of ‘The Planet of the Apes’ film, when Charlton Heston comes across the ¾ buried Statue of Liberty, as I look along the beach and recall where all the different breakwaters were, and how, if they were still here now, I’d probably be sitting in ‘The Boat’, one of our favourite parts of the breakwaters as children, pointing southwards (obviously) from the ‘Sentries’ at the top end of one of the breakwater walls, was this ‘V’ shaped section which we’d played in a thousand times, as Horatio Nelson, Blue Beard, Captain Blood, or many times stood inside it, defying the encroaching sea as it claimed the ground around us. Now it’s all gone, the space occupied, and covered by mountains of imported shingle from further along the coast. Along past the church, where all those years ago, a few young scoundrels undertook that mischievous deed, the boat house is still there, with a few clinker fishing boats left, it doesn’t look as big as I’d remembered, but then what does, being a child, you always feel like you’re living in the land of the giants. All around, the shingle is banked high, and in time I suppose it will claim the boat house too, I can’t help but wonder what it will all look like in another thirty years time. Even now, as I look eastwards from ‘our’ rocky pier, I can see past the West Harbour Arm, which forms the entrance to the port of Shoreham, there beyond it stands the shiny metallic chimney of the new gas turbine power station, where once stood the two mighty, cream coloured, brick built chimneys of the old, coal powered, predecessor.

You know, these rocks have a craggy inelegant beauty about them, I think I like them. With the arrival of the full moon, bringing the Spring tides and their extreme highs and lows, you can still see the tops of some, ’not quite buried’, breakwater posts at the bottom of the ebb, old and new together for a while longer.

80 Years Reminiscences, by an Old Brightonian. Frederick John Ogburn

March 6, 2017

The following images are from a pamphlet of reminiscences, by an ‘Old Brightonian’, Frederick John Ogburn. He had worked as a baker through his life lived in Brighton, dying at the ripe old age of 92 in 1920.

Frederick John Ogburn  1828-1920

Frederick was born in Brighton, 1828, to James and Elizabeth Ogburn (Baptised 17th Feb 1828).. In 1841 they were living in Cavendish street, Brighton,  James’ occupation was listed as, ‘shoe maker’.


In 1850 Frederick married Eliza Reirdon, and by 1851, they had their first child, Clara Josephine, born in Lindfield. They would go on to have 12 children, 7 of were alive by the 1911 census report.

In the 1854 Brighton Trade Directory, Frederick is listed at 9 Montague Place, Brighton, under the ‘Grocers and Tea Dealers’ section.

In the 1858 ‘Melville’s Directory and Gazetteer of Brighton’, Frederick is now at 7 Montague Place, still as a Grocer and Tea Delaer.

In the 1861 census they are still at 7 Montague Place, Frederick is listed as a ‘Grocer and baker’. He and Eliza now have 6 children, and they have a niece living with them, Elizabeth Tullett, who is listed as a ‘Shopwoman’, presumably working in Frederick’s shop.

In the 1866 Post Office Directory of Sussex, Frederick is listed as a Grocer and Baker, of 7 and 17 Montague Place, Brighton.

In 1867, Frederick was a witness against an embezzler, George Greenstock. This was reported in the Brighton Gazette, Thursday 19th December. In the same year, Frederick was also declared under the Bankruptcy Act, to make payments to creditors of 4 shillings in the pound, in the London Gazette, dated 9th April, addresses given as, 7 and 17 Montague Place, Brighton.

By 1871, Frederick is listed in the census as living at 70 Sussex street, Brighton, occupation, Baker. Of the 7 children they have living with them, their eldest daughters,  Eliza, (18), and Elizabeth, (14), are listed as ‘shop assistant’.

In 1874, Frederick is again mentioned in the London Gazette, ‘in the matter of proceedings for liquidation by arrangement or composition’. A meeting of the creditors to be held at the Railway Hotel, Burgess Hill, on the 12th August at 4pm, ‘dated this 24th day of July 1874’. Black, Freeman, and Gell, 58 Ship street, Brighton, Attorneys for Frederick John Ogburn.

1877, and once again Frederick is forced into liquidation by arrangement, mentioned in the London Gazette on the 26th June, ‘Creditors to prove debts by 12th March’, and in the Morning Post newspaper, Thursday 28th June, ‘dividend of 6d on and after July 2 at Fenner’s, Brighton’.

By the 1881 census, Frederick and Eliza are still at 70 Sussex street, with two of their children, Ernest, and Amelia. Ernest, aged 16, is also listed as a baker.

In the 1882 Kelly’s Directory, in the Bakers section, Frederick John Ogburn has 3 addresses listed, 63 Albion Hill, Southern Cross, Portslade, and 18 North street, Portslade.

1891 census report shows Frederick and Eliza living at 63 Albion Hill, with their son, Ernest, and Granddaughter, Emeline Scammell. Frederick and Ernest listed as bakers.

In the 1894 Kelly’s Directory of Essex, Herts, and Middlesex,  Frederick is listed as a ‘Baker and Confectioner’, at 236 High street, Willesden.

In the 1901 census, Frederick and Eliza are still at 63 Albion Hill, with Ernest and Amelia living with them, and the Grandson, Frank. Frederick is listed as a ‘Baker and Shopkeeper’, Ernest, as a, ‘Baker’.

The 1911 census shows Frederick, Eliza, and Ernest, as lodgers at 23 Queens Park road, Brighton, the residence of Louise Ovenden. Frederick and Ernest both listed as bakers.

In 1914, Frederick has his pamphlet, ‘Eighty Years Reminiscences of Brighton, Hove, and District’, published.

In the 1918 Kelly’s Directory for Surrey, Frederick John Ogburn is listed as a private resident at Mount Pleasant road, Lingfield.

Frederick was registered as having died in the first quarter of the year of 1920, Brighton.

These are the details I have been able to find relating to the life of Frederick John Ogburn, in the hope that others may be able to add more at a later date, and maybe even some pictures.

The Great Storm- 22nd March 1913

March 28, 2016


The Great Storm on the Sussex Coast

At a recent auction of old postcards and photo’s, held at Toovey’s auction rooms in Washington, West Sussex, the collection of the late Maurice Stevens was apparently sold for over £40,000. Among this vast collection of rare photographic memorabilia, covering most of the known world, lay moments in the history of Sussex captured on film, and a surprising coincidence, given this Easter Weekend storm just gone.

Thanks to the Toovey’s website, many of these images were available to view, and download. It was quite a trawl, there were some 30 pages, each of 50 lots, from just a single picture, to some lots of over 700 photo’s and postcards. I started downloading Shoreham images, then any surrounding towns, until I noticed I had been seeing many different images of storm damage during March, 1913. From Worthing to Hastings, and all coastal towns in between and beyond, there was devastation caused by the storm which hit the south coast on the Easter weekend, Saturday 22nd March 1913. The events of that stormy night were reported all across Britain, and can be accessed through British Newspaper Archives online.

Storm damage at Worthing promenade, March 1913

Storm damage at Worthing promenade, March 1913

Reporting in the Sunderland Daily Echo on Monday 24th March, stated that,
‘Worthing was the town to suffer most. Huge seas repeatedly broke over the parade, flooding the adjacent streets. Shortly after midnight about 200 yards of the pier were swept bodily away, completely isolating the pavilion and the landing stages at the far end.’

Worthing pier destroyed March 1913

Worthing pier destroyed March 1913

The Echo continued:-
‘The scene of the front yesterday morning was one of indescribable confusion. Huge piles of shingle and wreckage made the parade east of the pier well nigh impassable to pedestrians, whilst a number of iron seats from the pier were found on the beach more than a mile distant.’

Worthing pier the day after the storm of midnight, Saturday 22nd March 1913

Worthing pier the day after the storm of midnight, Saturday 22nd March 1913

Havoc in Bungalow Town

Bungalow Town storm damage 23rd March 1913

Bungalow Town storm damage 23rd March 1913

Bungalow Town, as Shoreham Beach was known in the early 1900’s, was like an early version of Hollywood, with stars of the entertainment world choosing to live on this bohemian shingle bank. The elaborate wooden beach front bungalows which had sprung up from Shoreham to Lancing were extremely vulnerable to heavy storms, the Lichfield Mercury reported on Friday 28th March:-

‘Bungalow Town for a distance of more than a mile between Lancing and Shoreham was devastated. Fifteen structures at least disappeared, and about the same number are irretrievably damaged. Thanks to warnings on Saturday evening the danger to life was reduced, but seven persons, mostly visitors, were temporarily isolated in a bungalow where they had a terrifying experience until the receding tide permitted of their release in the early hours of the morning. A man named Doick was blown into the Widewaters (a stretch of shallow water between the beach and the main road) during the height of the gale, and was rescued in the nick of time. Artificial respiration had to be resorted to before consciousness was restored’.

Storm damage at Bungalow Town, 23rd March 1913

Storm damage at Bungalow Town, 23rd March 1913

Describing the resulting damage, the Lichfield Mercury goes on:-

‘The damaged bungalows are twisted out of shape, and several appear on the point of collapsing. The shingle bank was strewn with heaps of bedding, furniture, and other household goods that had been hurriedly removed from the threatened residences. The sea defences also suffered extensive damage’,

Bungalow Town storm damage

Bungalow Town storm damage

further on it states:- ‘

‘At one point the shingle bank on which the bungalows stood has been moved inland a distance of nearly a hundred yards, completely altering the contour of the coast, and only the main Brighton to Worthing road, which rests on a bank of clay, now stands between the sea and 400 or 500 acres of low-lying land on either side of the railway. The main road between Lancing and Worthing was impassable owing to accumulations of shingle and wreckage’


The ‘Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette’, wrote of Hove and Brighton:-

Sea’s inroads at Hove

The eastern end of the Hove Esplanade was partly washed away. The ashphalte slope which marks off the long parade at West Hove from the beach disappeared, and the sea carried the shingle over the ashphalte and left it there to a depth of several inches. Yesterday large gangs of men were busy clearing a path two feet wide

Brighton’s share

Brighton was saved to some extent by an abundance of beach accumulated by stone groynes, but a considerable amount of damage was done. The swimming stage at the head of the Palace Pier, on the east side, was practically destroyed, while the doors of several arches on the Lower Esplanade were forced in. Volk’s Electric Railway was torn up in parts. Portions of the wreckage from Worthing Pier were washed up on the shore at the point whence the old chain pier projected.

While the Lichfield Mercury states:-

‘Brighton also can scarcely remember a gale so fierce. On Saturday afternoon it began with a sudden whirlwind, followed by torrential rains. As the night came on the wind increased, and for several hours blew with hurricane force. Houses seemed to be shaken to their foundations, and there was general alarm. Much damage was done to the front, which on Sunday morning presented an extraordinary appearance. The sea in places made great in-roads, and at the most easterly end the road-way was torn up. At this point so completely was the road covered with stones thrown up by the waves that it was closed to vehicular traffic. On the trim bowling greens at King’s Cliff fishing and other boats found a safe anchorage. Several boats were smashed to pieces. Some arches on the under parade were considerably battered, and the “sea-going electric railway” was in parts demolished’

Flooding at Hastings

Of the Hastings storm damage, the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette writes:-
‘On Saturday midnight the tide at Hastings was the highest for years. It was accompanied by heavy wind, and considerable damage was done along the seafront. The rough seas dashed past the Memorial Clock Tower some distance from the front, and numbers of basements were flooded.’

Hastings after the gale, 23rd March 1913

Hastings after the gale, 23rd March 1913

John Jabez Edwin Mayall 17 Sept 1813 – 6 March 1901

December 15, 2013
J.J.E.Mayall self portrait

J.J.E.Mayall self portrait

Converting peoples loft spaces occasionally throws up stuff of interest, usually in the form of old newspapers, but recently at a job in Southwick we stumbled upon a pamphlet dated July 20th 1875, in almost perfect condition. The customers had told me that they believed the original owner, who had commissioned the place to be built, may have been involved in the moving pictures industry in its infancy, but they knew no more. In the early stages of setting out for steels and joisting, I had found an old, and barely discernable business post card with the name J.J.E.Mayall, and four addresses from London, Paris, Dublin, and Brighton in each corner, stating his  business as ‘Photographic Artist’, I had something to go on.
When back home I checked him up on the web site, and Googled his name too, finding that he had originally been called Jabez Meal when born on 17th September 1813, at Chamber Hall near Oldham, son of John and Elizabeth Meal.  John Meal was described as a manufacturing chemist and is believed to have specialized in the production of dyes for the linen industry, by 1817 John Meal and his family were living at Lingards, near Huddersfield in the cloth manufacturing region of West Yorkshire. In Baine’s Directory of 1822, Mayall’s father, John Meal, is listed as a dyer in Linthwaite. John and Elizabeth had two other sons, (that I know of), Joseph, born 16 Oct 1814, and Samuel, 1818. Joseph emigrated to America in 1834, setting up business as a Bleacher and Dyer
Since that first search, I’ve found out that Jabez married Eliza Parkin in 1834, had three sons, Edwin, (1835), Joe Parkin, and John by 1842, then emigrated to Philadelphia, America, where he studied and perfected the photographic process known as the Daguerreotype, invented by the Frenchman, Louis Daguerre. Setting up business at 140 Chestnut Street, with Samuel Van Loan in 1844, he also gave lectures on the art of photography, one being a, ‘Memoir on the Daguerreotype’ to the Philosophical Society of the United States in 1846. He was regarded as being the first photographer to use Daguerreotypes to illustrate a story. Returning to England in 1846, now under the name, John Jabez Edwin Mayall, he soon set up business as a ‘Photographic Artist’ in London at 433 West Strand.
Once back in England, Mayall advertised himself as, ‘Professor High School’, a nickname he had earned in Philadelphia, later dropping the nickname, and advertising as the, ‘American Daguerreotype Institution’. The reason for this mis-direction was quite possibly because the French Government had made a gift of the Daguerreotype process to the world, with the exception of Britain, owing to a shrewd Daguerre instructing a patent agent to file for the patent in England just five days before the French gesture, so Mayall led people to believe he was in fact American.
J.M.W. Turner R.A

J.M.W. Turner R.A

Between 1847-’49, the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, RA (baptised 14 May 1775 – 19 December 1851) a British Romantic landscape painter, water-colourist, and printmaker, visited Mayall’s photographic studio, although Mayall was at the time unaware that this man was indeed the great painter of world renown.
The following was published in “The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Founded on Letters and Papers Furnished by his Friends and Fellow Academicians” by Walter Thornbury (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1862), Volume II, p.259-264. :-
One of the most admirable things about Turner’s mind was, that it never grew old. It never froze and petrified into unchangeable fixity, but remained to the last thirsty for knowledge, and ready to grow as the world grew..One of the most interesting proofs of the perpetual growth of Turner’s mind is the following account of the interest he took in the science of optics and in the science of photography. It is kindly furnished to me by that eminent professor of the progressing and wonderful art, Mr. Mayall, of Regent-street:.

“Turner’s visits to my atelier were in 1847, ’48, and ’49. I took several admirable daguerreotype portraits of him, one of which was reading, a position rather favourable for him on account of his weak eyes and their being rather bloodshot. I recollect one of these portraits was presented to a lady who accompanied him. My first interviews with him were rather mysterious; he either did state, or at least led me to believe, that he was a Master in Chancery, and his subsequent visits and conversation rather confirmed this idea. At first he was very desirous of trying curious effects of light let in on the figure from a high position, and he himself sat for the studies. He was very much pleased with a figure-study I had just completed of ‘ This Mortal must put on Immortality;’ he wished to bring a lady to try something of the kind himself. This was in 1847; and I believe he did fix a day for that purpose. However, it happened to be a November fog, and I could not work. He stayed with me some three hours, talking about light and its curious effects on films of prepared silver. He expressed a wish to see the spectral image copied, and asked me if I had ever repeated Mrs. Somerville’s experiment of magnetizing a needle in the rays of the spectrum. I told him I had.


“I was not then aware that the inquisitive old man was Turner, the painter. At the same time, I was much impressed with his inquisitive disposition, and I carefully explained to him all I then knew of the operation of light on iodized silver plates. He came again and again, always with some new notion about light. He wished me to copy my views of Niagara then a novelty in London and inquired of me about the effect of the rainbow spanning the great falls. I was fortunate in having seized one of these fleeting shadows when I was there, and I showed it to him. He wished to buy the plate. At that time I was not very anxious to sell them. I told him I had made a copy for Sir John Herschel, and with that exception did not intend to part with a copy. He told me he should like to see Niagara, as it was the greatest wonder in nature; he was never tired of my descriptions of it. In short, he had come so often, and in such an unobtrusive manner, that he had come to be regarded by all my people as ‘ our Mr. Turner.’ 


“This went on through 1848, till one evening I met him at the soiree of the Royal Society; I think it was early in May, 1849. He shook me by the hand very cordially, and fell into his old topic of the spectrum. Some one came up to me and asked if I knew Mr. Turner; I answered I had had that pleasure some time. ‘ Yes,’ said my informant, rather significantly, ‘ but do you know that he is the Turner?’ I was rather surprised, I must confess; and later on in the evening I encountered him again, and fell into conversation on our old topic. I ventured to suggest to him the value of such studies for his own pursuits, and at once offered to conduct any experiments for him that he might require, and, in fact, to give up some time to work out his ideas about the treatment of light and shade. I parted with him on the understanding that he would call on me; however, he never did call again, nor did I ever see him again.


“I recollected putting aside a rather curious head of him in profile, and, you may be sure, on the following morning after this interview I lost no time in looking up the portrait, which, I regret to say, one of my assistants had without my orders effaced. I am almost certain you will be able to trace some of the daguerreotypes of him, for I made at least four, for which he paid me; and some I rubbed out where we had tried the effect of a sharp, narrow cross light, in which some parts of the face were left in strong shadow.


“I need not add, that at that time I was a struggling artist, much devoted to improving my art, and had just bought a large lens in Paris, six inches in diameter. I let Turner look through it, and the expressions of surprise and admiration were such that I ought at once to have known him in his true character; however, he was very kind to me, and by some sort of inuendo he kept up his Mastership in Chancery so well, that I did not. He sent me many patrons. I used to hear about him almost daily. When somewhat desponding of my success one day, I told him London was too large for a man with slender means to get along. He sharply turned round and said, ‘No, no; you are sure to succeed; only wait. You are a young man yet. I began life with little, and you see I am now very comfortable.’ ‘ Yes,’ I replied; ‘ and if I were on the same side of Chancery you are, perhaps I might be comfortable also.’ I was at that time fighting the battle of the patent rights of the daguerreotype. He smiled and said, ‘ You’ll come out all right, never fear.’ My recollection now is, that he was very kind and affable to me, rather taciturn, but very observant and curious; he would never allow me to stop working when he came, but would loiter and watch me polish the plates and prepare them, and take much interest in the result of my labours.


“I recollect Mr. Spence, the naturalist, sitting to me, and was much struck at the time with the resemblance of the two heads. I mentioned this to Turner, and I showed him the portrait of Mr. Spence. Mr. Spence was stouter. Turner stooped very much, and always looked down; he had a trick of putting his hand into his coat-pocket, and of muttering to himself.


“Whatever others may have said of his parsimonious habits, I cannot recollect one act of his that would lead me to infer he was other than a liberal, kindhearted old gentleman.”


When Mr. Mayall, the photographer, whose fame is now European, was first known as a young struggling American photographer in a small shop in the Strand, the wonderful art was then uncertain in its results, and few there were who could at that time foresee the influence it would exercise over art. It was one day during that moral epidemic, the railway mania, when Mr. Hudson ruled England, and all the world, from the countess to the costermonger, knelt down and beat their heads on the pavement of Capelcourt, in passionate idolatry to the golden calf. The age of chivalry had indeed gone. At Mr. Mayall’s door there were hanging photographs intended to satirize the folly of the day. On one side there was a Stock Exchange man radiant, shares being at a premium; on the other, the same man in maniacal despair at the Great Bubbleton railway shares falling down to nothing. These pictures (almost the earliest attempts to make photography tell a story) attracted crowds, and among them Turner. So interested was he, indeed, that he came into the shop, and asked to see the gentleman who designed them. After this, he came so often, that an Abernethy chair was habitually placed for him, so that he might watch Mr. Mayall, without interrupting him at work. He took great interest in all effects of light, and repeatedly sat for his portrait in all sorts of Rembrandtic positions.


This next extract is courtesy of ‘The Project Gutenburg’, who digitised the:-





(Talking about Turner)

‘He did not, however, lose his love of art and his desire of acquiring knowledge relating to it. It was in these last years, 1847-49, that he paid several visits to the studio of Mr. Mayall, the celebrated photographic artist, passing himself off as a Master in Chancery, and taking very great interest in the development of the new process which had not then got beyond the daguerreotype. To the interesting account of these visits printed by Mr. Thornbury, we are enabled by Mr. Mayall’s kindness to add that at a time when his finances were at a very low ebb in consequence of litigation about patent rights, Turner unasked, brought him a roll of bank-notes, to the amount of £300, and gave it him on the understanding that he was to repay him if he could. This, Mr. Mayall was able to do very soon, but that does not lessen the generosity of Turner’s act.’
Dutch Boat in a Gale, by J.M.W. Turner

Dutch Boat in a Gale, by J.M.W. Turner

Engraved print of J.E.Mayall Daguerreotype taken at the Great Exhibition 1851

Engraved print of J.E.Mayall Daguerreotype taken at the Great Exhibition 1851

At the Great Exhibition of 1851,  in what was effectively the first photography competition, with entries from six of the greatest nations of the time, J.J.E.Mayall had 72 of his daguerreotypes exhibiting among a total of 700 entered in the Daguerreotype and Calotype section, this helped secure Mayall’s name, if it hadn’t been already, with the interest and encouragement of Prince Albert, who with Queen Victoria, later commissioned him to take a series of photographs of the Royal Family as, ‘Carte De Visite’, the first to do so. His pictures of Prince Albert sold over 60,000 copies after the untimely death of the Queens Consort, doubtless adding a few digits to Mayalls wealth. He also photographed many of the most eminent people in the country, including such luminaries as Charles Dickens, William Gladstone, Alfred Tennyson, not to mention virtually the entire Royal family of the time.
I took this from the Spartacus, site, regarding the Great Exhibition of 1851 :-
 “Mayall received an “Honourable Mention” for the daguerreotypes he exhibited at the Crystal Palace and looking back over Mayall’s career nearly thirty years later the, “Photographic News”, stated that the pictures he showed at the Great Exhibition, “brought him to the front rank.”.
Carte de Visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, taken by J.J.E. Mayall

Carte de Visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, taken by J.J.E. Mayall

By the 1864, J.J.E. Mayall had opened new premises at 90 and 91 Kings Road, Brighton, leaving his eldest son, Edwin, (1835-72) to run the London establishments, while his other two sons, Joe Parkin, (1835-1922), and John, (1842-1891),also photographic artists, were located around Brighton at this time too, John marrying Eliza Caroline Josephine Dabbs of Lancing, (whose parents were running the Farmers Hotel in Lancing), in Worthing 1865, and Joe Parkin’s first born, Marian Emma Mayall, born in Brighton in 1868. J.J.E also had a daughter with Eliza, Harriet, who married Arthur William Woods, a solicitor, at Brighton in 1867. A Royal family portrait photo of Queen Victoria and eight of her children taken in 1863, has, ‘Mayall, Photo’, in the bottom left corner, and ‘London & Brighton’ in the right hand corner. Throughout John Jabez Edwin Mayall’s life, he called himself an ‘Artist’ on his census reports, but from early on after arriving in Brighton, he became involved in local politics, going on to serve as Mayor of Brighton between 1877/78, and, I discovered while working in that loft space in Southwick, played a huge part in saving Shoreham harbour, and driving through a bill in Parliament to have a reconstitution of the Trust Port, with the power to borrow funds from Government to improve the port, and make it a viable ongoing business that would benefit the local area and people, and not a few greedy speculators.
J.J.E’s wife, Eliza, died at Brighton in 1870, and in the April 2nd  1871 census, J.J.E is living at Hove Place House, Dyke Road, Brighton, as a widower, his occupation given as ‘Artist’. By late 1871 he has met and married Celia Victoria Hooper (nee Gardiner 1834-1922), a widow with one daughter, Celia Victoria Hooper (1863-1942). In 1872 they had a daughter, Elsie Lena (born Brighton 1872-1953), but unfortunately that same year, Mayall’s eldest son, Edwin, died after a long illness. In the Morning Post of 2nd March 1872, it read:-
 ‘Death of Mr Edwin Mayall- The Photographic News announces the death of Mr E. Mayall, son of Mr J.E. Mayall, the well known photographer of London and Brighton, which event took place, after many months of great suffering, on the evening of Monday last. The deceased was only 37 years of age, but had great experience in photography, having worked it from the earliest days of daguerreotype and calotype. He twice made the tour of the United States of America, and at other times he travelled through France, Germany, and Italy, always in pursuit of his art, and always bring back hints and ideas suggested by the working of photography in those countries. His death will be greatly regretted by a large circle of friends.’
Two years later, J.J.E and Celia had another son Oswald, (born Lancing 1874), and lastly, Sybil, (born Lancing 1876).
Shoreham Harbour
A Speech
On Tuesday July 20th 1875, Alderman Mayall, having been appointed by the Brighton Corporation to be one of the trustees of the Shoreham Harbour Board, gave a speech at a meeting of the trustees at the Dolphin Chambers, Shoreham, where he laid out his plan to get a new bill passed through Government to allow the port greater borrowing powers in order to make the most of Shoreham Harbour’s potential. In the speech, he proposes that Captain Walter Wood, and Mr William Hall, be heard to make statements regarding an offer that had been made to the shareholders, and submit a draft Bill  for the reconstitution of the trust, which would need the sanction of Government. In this address, Mayall goes on to explain why they needed to go to Parliament to have a new bill passed to obtain greater borrowing powers for a necessary improvement of the harbour, and how the existing financial limit of £3000 a year was woefully inadequate. To make this happen, the shareholders would have to be bought out, which was where Captain Wood came in, having already helped underwrite Milford Haven Docks work, his name stood on the Bill as promoter of the Milford Haven Improvement Bill of 1874, an operation that had already cost half a million sterling at that time. Alderman Mayall had also sought the guidance of an ’eminent engineer who knew something of harbour works’, and the Harbour Master, to determine what was immediately required. He even conferred with ship owners from the north, to find what would encourage them to send their ships to Shoreham. With all the available information at his hands, he deduced that, ‘Here is a revenue slumbering, it only requires ways and means in order that it may be rendered available’.
Having enlisted the help of Captain Wood, the Alderman decided it necessary to introduce him to the former Chairman of the Harbour Board, Mr William Hall, he states, ‘I believe these two gentlemen have now foreshadowed a policy which will be of great advantage to this harbour from a public point of view. And under no circumstances will I tolerate any policy from anybody that shall be of a private character, We must look to the  interests of the public, who are pre-eminently concerned; and we must look well to the trading and shipping interests of the port’.
Having explained all the reasons for the necessity of the proposition, how it would work, he finished by telling the gathered menbers, ‘I will but add, in conclusion, that I shall always be found to the fore in anything that concerns the prosperity of the port of Shoreham, with a view to making its harbour one of the first on the South Coast. (Cheers)’
The resolution was carried.
Ulysees S Grant, President of the United States

Ulysees S Grant, President of the United States

On October 22nd 1877, the President of the United States, Ulysees S Grant, while on his tour of Britain, spoke in response to an address by Mayor John Mayall of Brighton. (Taken from his papers).


 ‘Mr Mayor and Gentlemen: I have to rise here in answer to a toast that has made it embarrassing to me, by the very complimentary terms in which it has been proposed. But I can say to you all, gentlemen, that since my arrival in England, I have had the most agreeable receptions everywhere; and I enjoy yours most exceedingly. In a word, I will say that Brighton has advantages which very few places have, in consequence of its proximity to the greatest city in the world. There you can go and transact your business, and return in the evening. If I were an Englishman, I think I should select Brighton as a place where I should live, and I am very sure you could not meet a jollier and better people anywhere.’


 In the 1881 census, Mayall and family are living at, Storks Nest, Lancing, a property south of the railway station, his occupation listed as, ‘Artist’, something that never changes throughout his life, despite his political importance by this time. In this census, they have two servants, Ellen and Kate Clapshoe, and on further investigation I found they had a brother, Harry Clapshoe, (all Lancing born), who was employed by the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway Company, and their records show that he came recommended by J.E. Mayall.
By the time of the 1891 census, J.J.E was now living in Southdown Road, Southwick, where I discovered his pamphlet in the roof space, just 122 years later. He was still giving his occupation as ‘Photographic Artist’, and living with his wife, Celia Victoria, daughters, Elsie Lena, Sybil, and step daughter, Celia Victoria Hooper.  John Jabez Edwin Mayall died on the 6th March 1901, at 88 years old, and was buried next to his first wife, Eliza, in Lancing. His wife and daughters continued to live out their lives at the home in Southwick, Celia Victoria Mayall passing away in 1922, and her daughter, Celia Victoria Hooper, on 18th June 1942, leaving the impressive sum of £66,407 to her step sister, Elsie Lena Mayall, who died in 1953, at 61 The Drive, Hove.
I consider myself lucky to have found that pamphlet of a meeting held 138 years ago, and to have retrieved a little piece of Shoreham Harbour history, but more importantly, to have discovered about the life of this remarkable man involved in the birth of photography, who went on to exhibit in the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace, won the patronage of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, producing Carte de Visits of the Royal Family, photographed many of the most eminent people of his time, became Mayor of Brighton, and throughout his working life, approached his chosen medium with the mind of an artist. On top of all that, he involved himself with the concerns of the world around him, bringing his wealth of life experience and contacts to assist in any way he could.
Rest in peace John Jabez Edwin Mayall, aka Jabez Meal, your work here was done, and done well.

William Walker Sampson the, ‘Ring Master’, & John William Godward

March 28, 2013




Sampson advert, 'Champion of British Art' 1912-13While researching my family tree, I discovered a great deal of unexpected links to the art world through the late Victorian, to the Edwardian era, and from there, connections to what appeared to be the beating heart of a world rushing towards technological advancement, with London at its epicentre. Through my Great Grandfather, Henry Ramus, I have found myself unearthing a story which eminates outwards from the artist, John William Godward, and his seemingly biggest patron, William Walker Sampson, (who also happened to be Henry’s business partner), and on to some of the biggest names in the world of art, literature, entertainment, and industry. From Gaiety girls, and Stage Door Johnnies, to the old money of Europe against the new money of America, it seems that life as we know it now, with oligarchs, their fortunes, and their ambition to use that wealth to secure some kind of immortality through art collections, little has changed in the last hundred years or so. The difference is in the setting, but the human aspect seems curiously unchanged.


What is here is the tip of an iceberg, it spreads so far and wide, encompassing art, photography, literature, the birth of motor cars, aircraft, engine technology, travel in all its forms. It brings characters that came from nowhere, and found themselves mixing with royalty, as well as the super rich magnates from America. Sampson, who had been born illegitimately in Tynemouth, adopted son of a seaman, sold newspapers on the streets outside Newcastle railway station, saw his first gallery on a school trip to Cragside, Northumberland, skipping the feast laid on for the boys to sneak a second glance at Sir John Millais’s ‘Jephtha’, heading south to Harrogate where he begun his art dealing career with Dyson Lister, before making his way to the art capital of the world, London, and rising to head possibly the biggest art cartel of his time. Harry Preston, who from being a teacher, decided he wanted to taste the life of dockland London, became a shipping clerk, before taking up the running of ale houses, and illegal boxing bouts, finally moving into the hotelier business, and finishing up as owner of hotels in Bournemouth, and Brighton, not to mention giving the likes of Edward the 8th the benefit of his wealth of knowledge regarding the noble art of pugilism. Not forgetting  A.S.W.Rosenbach, a giant of the book selling and collectors world, who even more so than Sampson, or Preston, would fill column inches in newspapers across both sides of the Atlantic with his auction room conquests.


There are other characters of whom you will not have heard, but had you lived in their time, you would likely have known of them at least. I would call this an antidote to Downton Abbey, a story of some of the people that helped shape the time they lived in, and far more interesting because it’s real.


Through this research, I met an eminent art historian, Vern Grosvenor Swanson, who has since asked me if I would be interested in writing a piece for the ArtRenewal website, (apparently one of the biggest of its type in the world), explaining the ‘art ring’ that William Walker Sampson was running from about 1900 to his death in 1929, what follows is a beginning.


(Please bear in mind that this is a work in progress, very much a ‘rough out’ to work with)

The ‘Ring’

‘In these auctions there is a private feature for which one must always be on the alert, this is called ‘La Graffinade’. It consists of a ‘ring’ of dealers who do not outbid each other in the sales… These sharpers thus become masters of the situation, for they manage matters so that no outside buyer can bid above one of their own ring. When a thing has been run up sufficiently high to prevent any outside bidder making a profit, the ring meets privately, and the article is allotted to one of the members. This arrangement accounts for the high prices which surprise so many persons of experience. The ring does not wish the article to re-appear in the auction room, less it should fall to a lower price than at which they pretend to have acquired it. This conspiracy against the purse of private persons has driven from the auction room a large number of buyers….’

(2):- Louis Sebastien Mercier gave this enlightening commentary on an eighteenth century dealers’ ring in his:-
‘Tableau de Paris’: (Panorama of Paris, written 1781–8)

The Ring explained

While researching my Great Grand father, Henry Ramus, I discovered, (courtesy of an ArtRenewal website article on the Victorian artist, John William Godward by Vern Grosvenor Swanson), that he had been in business with a William Walker Sampson, as Fine Art Dealers during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. That same article named Sampson as being head of an art cartel, or, ‘Ring’ leader. Researching Sampson led me in to a world that involved some of the most eminent people in the country at the time, and to a closer understanding of the mystery of the Auction ‘Ring’, the ‘Knockout’, and the, ‘Knockback’.


My remit here, is not to discuss any rights or wrongs of a dealers ‘Ring’, (it wasn’t illegal at the time), but to show that, if such a thing existed in London during the early nineteen hundreds, there was compelling evidence pointing to William Walker Sampson being a ‘Ring Master’ of Christies and Sothebys at this time, and head of the most prolific Ring of this period, until his death in 1929 in Brighton. It is my hope, that this article should raise enough questions to at least suggest a more in depth investigation would be worthwhile, which, with a close analysis of Sothebys and Christies sales records from the period, should hopefully reveal a definitive answer as to whether W.W. Sampson was indeed head of an organised Ring, how successful it was, and how eventually it may well have led to his financial ruin..
Below are two more descriptions I’ve found which should give the reader an idea of what the Ring represents:-

(1):- ‘Pedigree and Panache: A History of the Art Auction in Australia’ (page 13)
By Shireen Huda

” The aim of the ‘Ring’, usually consisting of a group of dealers, is to reduce the competition and buy the intended work(s) for lower prices than would be achieved in a truly competetive marketplace; that is, beneath real market value. The members of the ring, rather than the original vendor and auctioneer, therefore reap the financial benefits. “

(2):- Hansard House of Commons records:-

House of Commons Debate 23 December 1964 vol 704 cc1241-59 1241
12.13 p.m.

Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry) “I am grateful for this opportunity of raising once again in the House the shabby practice of the ‘knockout’.”

“After recent revelations concerning this form of commercial brigandry, which is really what it is, I think that the House is fairly familiar with how these rings operate, but to get it on the record perhaps I may quote something which I have borrowed from elsewhere and which I have somewhat adapted. It describes fairly well and succinctly the operations of the ring. It says: A group of antique dealers decide to apportion the lots at a given sale, in advance, so that no underbidder may bid against the party chiefly interested. The antiques, therefore, change hands at a price much below their market value. This value is established at a second sale outside the auction room and the difference between the two prices is divided between the antique dealers concerned as a dividend offered in exchange for forbearance. That fairly well sums up the method. But I should perhaps add that in some cases—this is especially true in the provinces—it is not necessary to reach agreement or apportionment beforehand. This is because one member of the ring in given areas knows another and because in many cases, after many incidents, practice has made perfect.”
“There was the knockout graphically described by the Sunday Times as having taken place in the “hired snug” in a hotel. There, it is said, the ring had a poor day because after the first round those who dropped out received only £1 apiece. However, it is accepted I think, that the final round of some knockouts can be very exciting indeed. Three or four dealers may still confront one another; they are the experts in their subjects; and the ultimate shareout in the would-be final round can be about £1,000 apiece. Small wonder that one of those who, I believe, had been engaged in this practice described the process as ‘twice as exciting as poker’.”

The Atmosphere's the stuff



William Walker Sampson

William was born in Tynemouth, 1865, to Margaret Walker, (eldest daughter of John Walker, and Mary Ann).  On February 9th, 1869, Margaret married Charles Sampson, both of them aged 24 at the time, with Charles profession given as, ‘Mariner’, his father named as, Henry, whose profession was listed as, ‘Grocer’, while Margarets father, John, is listed as being a, ‘Waterman’. They were married at the parish church of Tynemouth, Northumberland, a maritime and mining community, and by the 1871 census, living at Little Bedford Street, Chirton, Northumberland, William has had the Sampson surname added to his full name.


On the 7th August 1887, William Walker Sampson married Elizabeth Colston, daughter of James and Elizabeth Colston,  a Scottish family from Dunse, Berwickshire. They both give their ages as 22, while William names his father as, Charles Sampson, profession- Ship Captain, Elizabeths father is named, James Colston, profession- Painter. They were married at the parish church of Jesmond, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Elizabeths younger sister, Helen (Nellie) Colston is a witness on the certificate. Williams profession is given as, ‘Clerk’. On 28th September 1890, William and Elizabeth had a son, John (Jack), born Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland., Williams occupation here given as, ‘Commercial Clerk’.


Since beginning on this road of research into Sampson, I have discovered a lot of information regarding the world of Victorian art dealing, not least of which was the modus operandi of greasing the palms of butlers, valets, and other servants in a position to spill the beans on their wealthy employers, especially regarding the works of art in a lot of the country’s stately homes. It is with this in mind that I mention now the 1891 census report for Williams wife, Elizabeth, where she, her sister, Nellie, and Williams sister, Lizzie, his Aunt, Mary Walker, and young Jack (John) Sampson, now six months old. They are living at Temple Grove, Mortlake, Surrey, and Williams sister, Lizzie, now aged 20, is a Scullery Maid, his wifes sister, Nellie, is a Servants Hall Maid, his Aunt Mary is a cook, while his wife, Lizzie, and boy Jack, are listed as Visitors.


So far, so what?, I hear you ask yourselves, until you discover that the residence they are staying at is that of their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Fife, but not just any old Duke and Duchess, this Duchess was Louise Victoria Alexandra Dagmar, the younger sister of George V and the fifth daughter of a British monarch to be styled Princess Royal..

Mortlake is some 285 miles from Tynemouth, half the length of the country, so however one looks at this situation, it’s quite some set of circumstances that would lead to Williams family members travelling that distance, in those days, to arrive at them all landing a job with Royalty.


A little after this time, the links between William, and my Great Grandfather, Henry Ramus, begin to come up. When Henry married May Simmons on the 21st December 1899, their address was given as, 21 Mecklenburgh Square, Henry stated as being an Art Dealer. In the 1901 census, William Walker Sampson, along with his wife and son, are now living at 21 Mecklenburgh Square, Williams occupation given as, ‘Fine Art Dealer’. Living at that same address in the 1891 census, was Henry’s Uncle, Benjamin Ramus, whose, by then de facto wife, Rose, was the mother of Henry’s wife, May. In the Post Office Directory of 1902, Henry Ramus is listed as, ‘Henry Ramus &Co, fine art dealers’, at 68 Wardour Street, whereas, in the 1898 Electoral Registers for London, William Walker Sampson is listed as living at 67 Wardour Street. To show further the strength of the bond between William and Henry, when Henry and May have their second child, he is named, Neville Walker Simon Ramus (4th Feb 1904)., giving him Sampsons middle name.


While Sampson was married, he was having an affair with Simeta Sampson, (they weren’t related), at least thirteen years before he married her after the death of his first wife, Elizabeth. The two of them are on the 1911 census, staying at the Queens Hotel in Leicester Square, London. The hotel was run by Harry Prestons sister, Winifred, and her husband, Edward Wrixon Bayley, and a Bernard Alfred Quaritch was also staying there at the time, a world renowned bibliophile and auction friend and rival to Dr Rosenbach, (whose role in this article I explain further on, as well as that of Harry Preston), but there can be no doubt that Sampson and Quaritch would have known each other from crossing paths at Sothebys and Christies.  Simeta gives her profession as, ‘Actress’, in the census, her sisters had been, ‘Theatrical Choristers’ in the 1891 census, and it would seem she had followed them on to the stage, perhaps snagging William as a ‘Stage Door Johnny’, named so as a result of the large amount of relationships that sprang from the profession, actresses often going on stage precisely to bag a man of means.

Simeta’s acting name was Simeta Marsden, taking her mothers maiden name. She was clearly a big name in her day, and their are quite a number of images of her available.

Simeta Marsden, actress, and William Walker Sampsons lover

Simeta Marsden, (Sampson), actress, and William Walker Sampsons lover


Henry Joseph Ramus (14 June 1872 – 20 July 1911)

Henry was the second son born to Joseph and Harriet Ramus, (after Alfred 1870), in Waterford, Ireland, his father named as a ‘Comedian’ on the birth certificate, he would later progress to Theatre Manager by the birth of their daughter, Louisa Martha in 1874. By the time of the 1881 census, Joseph and his family were back in England, living in Manchester, with Josephs profession given as, ‘Picture Dealer’, they had moved close to where the Manchester Regional College of Art building was, which dates back to 1880, with art dealing becoming synonomous with the Ramus name in the following years. On the 1891 Scottish census, the family are now living at 137 Renfrew street, Glasgow, just along the road from the Glasgow School of Art at 167 Renfrew street. On the census report, Joseph’s ‘profession or occupation’, is given as, ‘Picture Dealer’, as is Alfred’s, while Henry is listed as, ‘Artist (painting)’. Louisa Martha has by now flown the coop, and living at 136 Sauchiehall street, Glasgow, married at the tender age of 16, to Sigmund Stern, a ‘Working Jeweller’ born 1863 Austria. Their eldest daughter, Sophie, was born 1893 in Scotland, and their next eldest, Doris, born four years laters in Manchester, so I assume Louisa Martha followed her Father, Joseph, away from Glasgow sometime between ’93 and ’97.

This record from the London Gazette tells us where and what Henry was up to by 1894:-


“NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned,
Henry Ramus and Alfred Ramus, carrying on business
as Carvers, Gilders, and Picture Frame Makers and
Dealers, at 5, Withy-grove, Manchester, in the county
of Lancaster, under the style or firm of Ramus Bros.,
has been dissolved, by mutual consent, as and from the
31st December. 1893. All debts due to and owing by
the said late firm will be received and paid by the said
Henry Ramus, who will in future carry on the business
under the above “style.—Dated this 2nd day of January,

In the1895 Kelly’s Directory of Manchester , Henry is listed as a, ‘Picture Frame Maker’, at 51 Hyde Grove, Chorlton on Medlock, then in 1899 he married May Simmons, their address on the certificate given as ’21 Mecklenburgh Square’, and his occupation now, ‘Fine Art Dealer’. With William Walker Sampson and his wife and son living at 21 Mecklenburgh Square on the 1901 census, his occupation given as, ‘Fine Art Dealer’, for the first time, it might be fair to guess it wasn’t far from this time that they formed their partnership. With the connections of other dealers and family members to Manchester, Harrogate, Newcastle, and Scotland, I can’t help but think maybe William and Henry could quite likely have met sometime earlier. Certainly Henry’s upbringing was the more art oriented of the two, and with many other wider family members involved in the art dealing business, you could hazard a guess that Henry was the one with the art knowledge, while William , with his legal work experience may perhaps have been the numbers man, certainly a front man, with his name being front and centre on all their business transactions, that I have unearthed so far at least.


When Henry died at the young age of 39, he left his wife, May, £8,317, 8 shillings, 8 pence. Using an online, ‘measuring worth’ calculator, it estimates that this amount could be worth between £692,700 and £5,631,000, today, depending which criteria are used, not at all bad in such a relatively short time, even more so when you consider the money that would also come from the auction of assets.


There were two sales at Christies as a result of Henry’s death, here, courtesy of Vern G Swanson:- “Christie’s London auction sold the first portion of the stock of W. W. Sampson owing to the death of Henry Ramus ( -1911), a partner in the Firm, occurred on Saturday November 18th and Monday November 20th, 1911. No Godward’s were among the group sold. “


There was another auction two years later, held at Capes, Dunn, and Co, on October 21st 1913, at 12 o’clock at The Gallery, No 8 Clarence street, Albert Square, Manchester. The advert in the Manchester Courier reads:- ” On View. The Gallery. Sale of a valuable collection of oil paintings and water colour drawings, being the last portion of the stock of Mr W.W.Sampson, of 13 Air Street, London, W, owing to the death of Mr Henry Ramus, a partner in the firm, and comprising examples of the highest importance by leading deceased and living members of the Royal Academy and other distinguished painters of the English school”

A Beginning

The following quotes are taken from Vernon Grosvenor Swansons, ‘Eclipse of Classicism’ article at
“As early as 1905 another London dealer, William Walker Sampson (1864- October 1929) then in partnership with Henry Ramus, began to advertise and offer J. W. Godward prints and originals.”

“Working almost exclusively with the auction market, Messrs. W. W. Sampson was called “champion of British Art at auction” in his obituary. He had been bidding on Godward paintings at Christie’s since 1905.”

” ‘Bill’ Sampson, as he was called, was eulogized profusely in The Daily Telegraph as the great savior of British art during difficult times. In fact nearly half of all late 19th century paintings auctioned in London during this period were acquired by Sampson!”


It was a marriage certificate for Sampson, to his second wife, Simeta Sampson, on the 3rd July 1924, that led me to the names of Harry Preston, and Philip Rosenbach, they were named as witnesses. Researching their names brought up, firstly, the Rosenbach Museum and Library, of Philadelphia, who checked, then confirmed, that they had records of transactions between Sampson and the Rosenbachs. They also informed me of a biography, long since out of print, for Philips brother, A.S.W. Rosenbach, in which was the name, W.W.Sampson, the link was proved beyond doubt, and now I had reference books with which to research deeper into the world that W.W inhabited. Soon after, I went to the Brighton History Centre, at the Royal Pavilion  and discovered that Harry Preston had also written a couple of books of his memories, and sure enough, W.W. Sampson is there too.

Sampsons second marriage cert
When I received copies of the transactions between Sampson and the Rosenbachs, they were on headed note paper, showing for the first time, the names of W.W.Sampson, and Henry Ramus, under the banner of ‘The British Galleries’, earliest date, 1909. On one of these dockets, a certain, ‘J.W. Godward’, was one of the artists named on the transaction, the very painter that Vern Swanson had written so extensively about, which resulted in me finding out about my Great Grandfathers business partner in the first place. Unfortunately the record didn’t mention the name of the Godward painting that the Rosenbachs had bought from William and Henry, but the transaction slips did detail a great deal of other prominent artists of the time, whose works they were sending across the Atlantic, among them, Sir Edward John Poynter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James Mc Neil Whistler, Sir Edward Burne Jones, to name but a few, and most of them either Pre Raphaelite, or loosely associated with. Virtually all the artists named seem to be of the classic school.


The British Galleries

There were two other names as witness to William’s marriage, Charles Stone, and Luigi Naintre. I’ve not been able to locate Stone so far, although there is a mention in the Rosenbach biography, talking of Dr Rosenbachs visit to London in 1921, page 144, which reads:-

‘He hobnobbed with old friends of Philip, (Rosenbach), Bill Sampson and the Stones, London Jews in the furniture business and on the fringe of the entertainment world’

(The biographers were mistaken regarding Sampson being a Jew).

Luigi Naintre, however, turned up in Sir Harry’s biography, he was an Italian with a flair for the restaurant and entertainment business, or as Harry tells it:-(written 1936)

‘Luigi had been at Ciro’s Club, and there started a new era in fashionable entertaining. Ciro’s was in fact the forerunner of the night-life places of to-day. It provided a place where ladies could dine and dance with their men folk without being considered Bohemian and daring. The Prince of Wales and his brothers; Lord Louis Mountbatten and the beautiful Miss Edwina Ashley, whom he married; society beauties like the Hon. Mrs. Milford Haven and Lady Zia Wernher; the Marquis and marchioness of Carisbrooke; Lady Patricia Ramsey, Lady Mary Cambridge (now the Duchess of Beaufort) all these dined and danced at Ciro’s, and made it; and also inaugurated a new pleasure life era in town.
Luigi went on to the Criterion, which Solly Joel had bought, and Ciro’s declined. A remarkable man, Luigi Naintre. He began his career in England as a butlers assistant in a private house in Hampstead at a wage of 6 shillings a week. Then he went as apprentice waiter, or “commis” as it is called in hotel parlance, to the Savoy. From there he went to Romano’s. It was the best place for him to acquire the knowledge of human nature which later was so useful to him at Ciro’s and the Embassy.
After two years at the Embassy he sold control to a syndicate for, I believe, £42,000, and remained as managing director at a large salary. He had also a separate wine and cigar business, very thriving, which he started with a £1,000 note given to him as a tip by a maharajah pleased with his lunch’.

This passage was worth putting in here, as I believe the clubs around Piccadilly played quite a part in this story, with most, if not all, of the characters involved being members of, Ciro’s, Embassy, Criterion, and the Eccentric. These clubs all get a mention in Sir Harry Preston’s biography

The Other Dealers

As a result of the new found information from the Rosenbach Museum and Library, (which I sent along to Mr Swanson, having spotted the name of Godward), he kindly sent me back his record of the paintings by Godward, which Sampson had bought or sold at Christies. There were 48 Godward paintings in total.  I also noticed the names of the other dealers coming up more than once, Francis Michael Evans, Henry Joseph Mullen, and William Lawson Peacock. After a quick search, it turns out that Henry Jospeh Mullen, like William Walker Sampson,  grew up in Tynemouth, in the North East of England, no more than a couple of miles apart, they were also both employed as, ‘Stationers’, and ‘Commercial Clerks’, on their early census reports. They were even married at the same parish church of Jezmond, Newcastle, just one year apart, although Mullen is 9 years senior.

By 1891, I find Sampson living in South Park road, Harrogate, listed as a, ‘Solicitor’, staying with John and Fanny Potts, son and daughter of John Potts, a ‘Coal Owner’, from Wallsend, (which is within a couple of miles of where Sampson and Mullen grew up), and by coincidence, he happens to be just a five minute walk from Francis Michael Evans, who has his, ‘Art Galleries’, at 68 Parliament Street. (I wondered at this point, whether the Potts might be financial backers for this potential Ring)

Henry Joseph Mullen and his wife, Isabella, have a child, Arnold, in August 1896 at Whitley Bay, Tynemouth, and Henry gives his occupation on the certificate as, ‘Fine Art Dealer’.

When I check further in time on Mullen, he has also set up in Harrogate by at least 1916, listed in the phone book as, ‘Fine Art Dealer, 44 Parliament Street’. After a further bit of delving, I find that Henry Ramus’ cousin, Jacob Alfred Ramus, has moved up to Harrogate now, first at 23 Park Drive in the 1911 census, (occupation- Fine Art Dealer), and then at James Street, which spurs off Parliament Street, listed in the 1916 phone book as, ‘Fine Art Dealer’, continuing from his fathers business, Isaac Ramus, which had operated out of 87 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London, trading as, ‘Ramus brothers, Dealers in Works of Art’, just around the corner from Sampsons ‘British Galleries’ in Air street, and opposite the Royal Academy. When you consider the geographical differences of Tynemouth, Newcastle, Harrogate, and London, it stretches the imagination somewhat to consider these facts as one big coincidence, but that in itself is not concrete proof of some conspiracy, however, if as is more than plausible, Sampson were running an auction Ring, these characters must be prime suspects for membership.


William Lawson Peacock is less obvious as a potential member, but he is not without a coincidence or two himself, turning up at Paradise road, Dundee, Angus in the 1901 census, the same town that Henry Joseph Mullen and his family were living during the 1861 census. Henry’s Uncle, Joseph Rowell Mullen living there from at least 1861-71, before removing to Chorlton Upon Medlock by the 1881 census, (occupation- Engraver), around the corner from Joseph Ramus, another Picture Dealer, and also Henry Ramus’ father.

Peacock was born, (1852), and raised in his early years, (1861 and 1871 census),at Melville street, and North Bridge, Edinburgh, strangely enough, not a million miles from William Sampsons mother in law, who lived in Edinburgh between the 1871 and 1881 census, latterly in the Canongate district, the same district in which William Lawson Peacocks sister, Helen Elizabeth Peacock is living at the time. W.L. Peacock has an art gallery at 130 Princes street, Edinburgh, (as well as being a partner of the French Galleries at 120 Pall Mall, London), throughout this period. He also travels regularly to Montreal, Canada, on business, as do a good few of the extensive Ramus family, but that’s most likely just another coincidence, mind you, who really knows?.


Francis Michael Evans

Francis was born on the 29th September 1854, son of Walter Swift Evans, an engraver at this time, and Sophia Spilsbury. Walter had been at various times, a ‘Church Furniture maker, Engraver, and Gilder, employing men and apprentices. Francis was one of eleven children to Walter and Sophia, many of whom inherited their fathers natural artistic talents, going on to be artists, engravers, art dealers, publishers, and photographers.


By the 1871 census, Francis was working as a Church Furniture Maker, the same as his father on this census, by the time of his first marriage, in Bath, Somerset, 1880 to Sarah Wadham, (herself an art student according to the 1871 census), Francis’ occupation on the marriage certificate was, ‘Fine Art Dealer’, his address given as, ’20 Trevor Square, Knightsbridge, Middlesex’.


{His brother, Ernest Francis Evans, and Sarah’s sister, Mary Ann Wadham, were witnesses on the certificate, and they went on to marry each other three years later, also in Bath, April 1883. On the 1901, and 1911, census reports, Ernest was a Fine Art Dealer, living around the corner from Henry Ramus during this ten year period, both just a five minute walk from Finchley station in West Hampstead, London. I think it would be quite fair to assume, that as Henry and Ernest were both Fine Art Dealers, added to the connection of J W Godward between Henry’s business partner, W.W. Sampson, and Ernests brother, Francis Michael, they would have most likely known each other well, and indeed may well have shared many train journeys into Piccadilly and the heart of the art dealing world at that time. It might also be fair to assume that Ernest would at the very least have been aware of any art ring which Sampson was running, and not unreasonable to speculate that he may have played a part in the business. On the 1891 census, Ernests occupation was, ‘Dealer in Wines and Spirits’, so, as with many other of the characters in this story, it appears as if he may have jumped on the bandwagon which was the world of fine art dealing.}


Francis’ new wife gave birth to their daughter, Frances Mary Evans, on the 11th March 1881, at 32 Sherbrooke road, Fulham, but it would seem her birth came at the cost of her mothers life, who died within the month of giving birth. By 1886 Francis has remarried, to Isabella Helen Wiseman, at St Mary Magdalens church, Brighton, his home address given as, 32 Parliament Street, Harrogate, while Isabella’s address is, 2 Russell Street, Brighton.


By the 1891 census, Francis Michael is now living at 68 Parliament street, Harrogate, occupation, Fine Art Dealer, and it is about this time that I believe he may have first come into contact with William Walker Sampson, who was staying with John and Fanny Potts at Bedford Lodge, South Park Road, Harrogate, no more than a ten minute walk away. As I have mentioned earlier in this article, John and Fanny were children of John Potts, Coal Owner, and his wife, Sarah Ann, from Wallsend, Northumberland, which is next door to Tynemouth, Sampsons place of birth.


Francis’ eldest brother, Bernard Walter Evans, was a highly prominent artist, he studied painting in Birmingham from the age of 7 years under the direction of Samuel Lines, William Wallis, and Edward Watson.


Bernard Walter Evans

Bernard Walter Evans

Bernard married Mary Ann Eliza Hollyer at St Luke’s, Kentish Town in London on 2 August 1870. His wife was the daughter of Samuel and Mary Ann Eliza Hollyer; her father was an engraver, and her brother, Frederick Hollyer, was a pioneer in the field of photography. Bernard and Mary Ann lived in London, and Harrogate, as well as spending several winters during the late 1890’s on the French Riviera. From the time I began researching this story, this is the earliest link with any of the players, to Harrogate, here is a part of his obituary:-


‘For years he lived at Harrogate, his residence, which contained a splendid studio, being 20 Park Parade. Our readers will perhaps better identify the house when we say it was long known as “The Old Parsonage”, later as a club. Many winters Bernard Evans spent on the Riveria, where he obtained numerous subjects for his drawings.
He was for a long time a prominent member of the Savage Club, and many other artistic organisations. He spent much of his summer in sketching points of interest in various parts of the country, but he remained consistently faithful for many years to Yorkshire. He was a great colourist, and has often been likened to Turner in his strength and method. His pictures will be found in important galleries and municipal buildings all over the world. He had a sunny disposition and a strong sense of fellowship.
It is now some years since his wife, who inherited the artistic nature and talent, died, and if we mistake not, she was buried at Harlow Cemetery where Bernard Evans was interred on Thursday. When this artist left Harrogate the town lost a great feature of interest because his studio was always open to visitors, and he had interesting works besides his own.’


‘Bernard exhibited his art many times throughout the British Isles and abroad. His first works were shown in 1864 at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. Examples of his work can be viewed in our Gallery of Works and his major exhibition pieces are listed in the Exhibits pages.’


‘In 1880, whilst still living in London Bernard Evans was the driving force behind the creation of the City of London Society of Artists and in 1881 he was elected a member of the Savage Club. He was also a member of the Society of Artists which met at Langham Chambers, where groups of artists produced “Langham Club” Sketches.’


Bernards wife, Mary Ann, also came from a family rich in artistic abilities, not least of which, her brother Frederick Hollyer, a pioneer in photography, specialising in reproducing the paintings and drawings of prominent artists of the time, notably, Edward Burne Jones, D G Rossetti, and G F Watts, among many others. Frederick also took portrait photographs at his Pembroke Square studio in Kensington, including artists, writers, and actresses of the day. While I doubt that Frederick, or his brother in law, Bernard Evans, had anything to do with Sampsons ‘Ring’, it’s hard to imagine they didn’t know each other, and I wonder whether, as the so called, ‘Champion of British Art at Auction’, as Sampson was referred to in his obituary, he may not have been one of Frederick Hollyers subjects for portraiture.



Harrogate is a spa town in North Yorkshire, England, the town is a tourist destination and its visitor attractions include its spa waters and RHS Harlow Carr gardens. The town became known as ‘The English Spa’ in the Georgian Era, after its waters were discovered in the 16th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries the ‘chalybeate’ waters (i.e. containing iron) were a popular health treatment, and the influx of rich, and often sickly visitors contributed significantly to the wealth of the town. One of the results of this situation, was an opportunity for ‘art dealers’, ‘fine art dealers’, or ‘dealers in items of virtu’, to exploit these well heeled tourists, setting up art gallery shops around Parliament street, and surrounding roads, and bringing up their auction acquisitions from the London auction houses, possibly especially chosen for this elite clientelle.


Here, courtesy of Vernon Grosvenor Swanson, are records of the provenance of two J.W.Godward paintings that involve Sampson, Peacock, and Evans together:-


On the Terrace

The Pet


oil on canvas, 20″ x 30″ (50.9 x 76.2 cm)

signed and dated lower, “J. W. Godward 1906”

Prov: Messrs. Francis Michael Evans, “Art Galleries” Harrogate, 24 May 1906; Sir Charles C. Wakefield, sold Christie’s London, 18 Jun 1909 (136) for £110 5s; bt. Messrs. Francis Michael Evans, “Art Galleries,” Harrogate, Yorkshire; Messrs. W. W. Sampson, The British Galleries, London, sold in Mar of 1911; bt. Messrs. W. L. Peacock, London, sold in Apr 1911; bt. Mr. Mungall-Creiff; The Leger Galleries, London, by May 1973; sold Phillips London, Jun 1996 (private treaty); sold to Frederick C. and Sherry Ross, Essex Fells New Jersey; sold Sotheby’s New York, 12 Feb 1997 (82) for $277,500; bt. Jerome and Susan Davis, to the present.



by Jul 1905

oil on canvas, 27-3/4″ x 23-1/2″ (70.5 x 59.7 cm)

signed and dated

Prov: Messrs. Francis Michael Evans “Art Galleries”, Harrogate, 31 Jul 1905; Charles C. Wakefield, sold Christie’s London, 18 Jun 1909 (137) for £89 5s; bt. Messrs. W. W. Sampson, The British Galleries, London, sold 24 Jun 1909; bt. French Gallery, London, sold 1910; bt. Messrs. Bennett Brothers, Montreal Canada, sold 13 Mar 1911; bt. Messrs. William Lawson Peacock, London, sold Mar 1911; bt. Messrs. W. W. Sampson, London; present location unknown.
So, not only did these characters coincidentally choose the same vocation, locations, and train stations, but they also appear to share an appreciation for the same artist.

Some Vernon Grosvenor Swanson notes from his, ‘Eclipse of Classicism:-


3. Christie’s London auction sold the first portion of the stock of W. W. Sampson owing to the death of Henry Ramus ( -1911), a partner in the Firm, occurred on Saturday November 18th and Monday November 20th, 1911. No Godward’s were among the group sold.

4. The Year’s Art 1910, p.29. The advertisement states that they have a specialty works “for reproduction.” The list of twenty-one artists mentions Godward and W. Anstey Dollond as their only classical artists. It concludes with “Special Terms to the Trade.” Who’s Who in Art 1927 p.203 notes that he began in the trade in 1887. It also notes that he was a member of three clubs in London; Embassy, Ciro’s and the Eccentric.

5. The Year’s Art 1930, pp.299-300. He was succeeded in business by his son Jack Sampson.

6. The Daily Telegraph (2 Nov 1929) He died on the 31st of October, according to David Mason and John Williams, drunk in his bath-tub.
7. James Mason and John Williams explains that the, now illegal, “Ring” was controlled by W. W. Sampson.


Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach


Researching the Rosenbach brothers, Philip, and Abraham, has given this article an important view into the auction rooms of the time, and the world that these auction room bidders occupied, as well as the people behind them, the money men that have the financial wherewithal, but not the time to spend it themselves.

With the books written by, and about, Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, as well as the online archives of immigration and census reports, I soon built up a picture of events surrounding Abraham, (Abe to his friends), and his brother, Philip. The earliest trip across to England for Philip, that I have a record for, is in 1903, when he sailed to England with Clarence Bement, (a shareholder in the newly formed Rosenbach Company), to, “establish lines of Credit”. Abraham’s first trip was in April 1907, between them, they shuttled back and forth across the Atlantic numerous times over a thirty, odd, year period, attending major auction room sales. Abraham came for rare books, folios, and manuscripts, while Philip came to London for art, and the high life, (although in fairness his younger brother later came to out do Philip in the high living stakes).

When in London, Abe had bids in his pocket from the industrial might of America, the likes of Henry E Huntington, a railway magnate, J. P. Morgan, financier and banker, Henry C Folger, an oil business man, among many others. In those heady days of stock market fluctuation, coupled with the emergence of America as the new financial heavyweight of global affairs, rare books, or ‘Incunabula’, were not just an expensive hobby for these extremely rich men, these books also represented a safe haven for their money, apparently unaffected by the markets ebbs and flows, and Dr Rosenbach had an almost unparalleled knowledge of these old books. From 1907 to 1930, the Rosenbach’s sailed between Europe and America relentlessly, gradually transferring the balance of literary power to the newly forming American libraries, paid for by the new business elite. These same men of industry, were also building art collections, seemingly competing with each other in their bid to later achieve immortality by their beneficence to the New Worlds institutions as they sought to create some meaning for their existence.


Rosie cartoon

In January 1922, the Doctor came to London for the Britwell Library sale, a collection of rare books the like of which seldom come to auction. Over the five days of the sale, bringing £80,259, the Doctor had paid £64,697 for his lots, £16,618 was for himself, the rest on behalf of his wealthy book hound customers in the U.S. To give some idea of the amounts being bid by todays values, using a price comparison calculator, the £64,697 that the Doctor bid, would be worth between £3,190,000, and £21,200,000 now.

Here is an excerpt from Edwin Wolf, and John Fleming’s biography of A.S.W. Rosenbach, which gives a little flavour of the time, (as well as giving a contemporary description of William Walker Sampson), pages 155/6/7:-

‘At the end of February, 1922, just before Dr. Rosenbach left for home, he gave a victory dinner at the Carlton. The small but distinguished company included E.V.Lucas, Arnold Bennett, Hugh Walpole, John Drinkwater, and William Sampson, the Doctors London crony.’

Further on it says:-

‘With one important sale following after another in London with such frequency, the Rosenbach brothers literally shuttled across the Atlantic. No sooner did Dr Rosenbach reach home than preparations had to be made for Philip’s trip over. It had been announced that the fine First Folios which had belonged to the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, in her day the richest heiress of England, were to be sold at Christies. While he was still in London, the Doctor had suggested to Folger that they might be bought by private treaty if he were willing to offer a high enough price for them. Dr. R got back his answer in three cables spaced a day apart: “£12000 FOR TWO FOLIOS SEEMS EXCESSIVE,” “IF NECESSARY PAY £12000 USE SECOND MESSAGE IF DESIRABLE,” and “WISH FOLIOS.” The heirs of the baroness-banker felt that the disappearance of the two principle items would hurt the sale and decided to take their chance under the hammer.

The sale included portraits and relics as well as books. Sensing that publicly shown Rosenbach interest in anything might raise prices, the Doctor advised Henry Folger, who was determined to get the folios in competition which he had failed to buy privately, that he would play an unusual, unobtrusive role. The portraits would not be bought under the Rosenbach name, but under that of friend Bill Sampson, a major buyer at Christie’s, which would eliminate his competition and keep Rosenbach’s name out of the limelight:’

Rosie at Sothebys

E.V.Lucas, Arnold Bennett, Hugh Walpole, John Drinkwater, were all renowned writers of the time, and by reading the biography of Sir Harry Preston, it can fairly be stated that they were all part of a familiar circle of friends, which along with, Sampson, Rosenbach, and Preston, included many of the most eminent names in art, literature, sport, invention, and business. I find it hard to believe that a run of the mill art dealer would find himself in the company of such men, let alone be regarded so highly by them, and it is a telling comment in the biography, “friend Bill Sampson, a major buyer at Christie’s, which would eliminate his competition”, as strong an indication as I’ve seen so far to back up the theory that Sampson may indeed have been at the head of a dealers ring, otherwise by what method might he be able to eliminate opposition in the auction room?

Over the years, the Doctor, as he was referred to in the newspapers, became a regular of the front pages in Britain, and never with more fanfare than when he outbid allcomers for Lewis Caroll’s, original manuscript of, ‘Alice in Wonderland’, in April 1928 at Sothebys in London, carrying the prize away for £15,400. Paintings were going for far higher prices that year in London, with Remrandt’s, ‘A Man Holding the Torah’, going for 48,000 Guineas, and Joseph Duveen announcing that he had bought Raphael’s, ‘Niccolini-Madonna’ for $875,000 from Lady Desborough, but these paintings didn’t hold the public imagination anything quite like ‘Alice’, or many of the other literary titles that the Doctor whisked away from these shores.

When Dr. Rosenbach sailed for home aboard the Majestic from Southampton on the 23rd May 1928, William Walker Sampson, and his wife, Simeta, were both aboard too. It is on this ships passenger lists that we get a description of William, 5’7″ tall, with fair complexion, dark hair, and blue eyes.  W.W names Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, 1320 Chestnut street, Philadelphia, as the friend he would be staying with, the Book King, and the Lord of the Ring.

Before William died on the 31st October 1929, it would seem his business must already have been suffering, as he only left ten pounds in his will, although he may have had properties. Given the time though, just two days after the, ‘Black Tuesday’, stock market crash of Wall Street, as well as the movement in the art world away from the classic style,  to Modernism, it’s possible to see that for someone that had spent the majority of his art dealing career collecting the work of classic style artists, this two pronged attack would have been difficult to take. His death certificate states that he died of a heart attack, although the symptoms of this attack can apparently often be the result of heavy drinking. It is well documented that Dr Rosenbach had a definite taste for scotch, getting through a bottle a day at times, and when I informed Patrick Rodgers of the Rosenbach Museum and Library of how William allegedly died, (he was rumoured to have died while inebriated in his bath), his response was, “What a way to go for William! I hope Dr. R. didn’t give him a bad example during their times together”.


Sir Harry Preston

Harry gives W.G. Grace his first ride in a motor car

Harry gives W.G. Grace his first ride in a motor car

While for this article, it may be stretching things a bit to include Sir Harry, I believe there are enough links to convince the reader he has a place in the story. When Harry first came to Brighton around 1900, he was running a hotel in Bournemouth while at the same time trying to reverse the fortunes of the Royal York Hotel on Brighton seafront. Prior to Bournemouth, he had worked as a shipping clerk in London, before turning his hand to run pubs in Holborn, Hackney, and Lambeth.


I first came across the name of Harry Preston as he was one of the witnesses at W.W. Sampsons wedding to Simeta Sampson in 1924, so I began investigating his life too, and was fortunate to find he had written two autobiographical books, both of which mention William Walker Sampson. It is only after having read his biography, as well as having traced his life through ancestry records, that the links make him part of the story. He also mentions a Loving Cup, and a commemorative silver salver, which were presented to him by close friends, Sampsons name being inscribed on both, handily, there is a picture of the salver in his, ‘Leaves from My Unwritten Diary’, which has many eminent names of the day, not least of which, a certain ‘Edward’, Prince of Wales. You can see,  ‘W.W.Sampson’,  just below the date, 1927, and, ‘Edward’, just above the word, ‘presented’.

Presentation silver salver, given to Harry Preston on the 17th October 1927

Presentation silver salver, given to Harry Preston on the 17th October 1927


Harry was known firstly as an Hotelier, a huge sports fan, especially boxing, also as an art patron, as well as a major organiser of charitable events to raise money for Brighton hospitals.  Mainly though, as Sampson is the focus of this article, their friendship, and shared friends, make the inclusion of Harry Preston an important factor in explaining the time they lived in.

Sir Harry after the dinner copy


Born John Henry Preston, on the 19th February 1860, the son of John Lovesey Preston, a solicitors general clerk, according to his fathers wishes, young Harry started his working life as a teacher, but soon decided this was not the life for him, and he made his way to the docks of London, finding employment as a shipping clerk.


Part of his game plan for Brighton, was to restore the publics faith in the town, which, to this end, included convincing the local council to cover Madeira Drive, next to the Palace Pier, in the latest road surfacing of the time, ‘Tarmac’, in order to hold the first speed trials there in 1905. Among the many drivers that gathered that July for this ground breaking event, was Dorothy Levitt, a former secretary at the engineering company, Napier and sons, in Vine street, Lambeth. She was convinced by Selwyn Edge to race for Napier Cars, which Edge owned, and soon made her name in the motor racing world, setting the Ladies World Land speed record at Brighton in 1905.


Dorothy Levitt driving a Napier at the Madeira Drive speed trials, Brighton, 1905

Dorothy Levitt driving a Napier at the Madeira Drive speed trials, Brighton, 1905

Napier and sons was owned by Montague Stanley Napier, an engineering pioneer who would go on to design not just motor cars, but aeroplane engines too. Napier also happens to be found on the provenance of two J.W. Godward paintings, Dolce Far Niente (1908), and Pharoahs Favourite (1920). Given that Harry Preston was the driving force behind the speed trials held at Brighton, I think it highly unlikely that he wouldn’t know Montague S Napier, indeed, having read Harry’s biography, I would expect him to have actively sought him out, such was his interest in all things to do with this new world of mechanical engineering. The Napier company also designed and built motor boats, another passion of Sir Harry Preston. In fact, given all the ties that the various characters in this article have to Brighton, I can well imagine a large majority of them being at Madeira Drive on the 19th to 22nd July 1905 for what was a world event at the time, Francis Michael Evans daughter, Frances Mary, was married in the town only a week earlier.

Next up we have Sir Charles Cheers Wakefield, another pioneer, this time in the world of lubricating oils for the ever advancing machines and engines that were being invented for use on land, water, and air. He coined the product name of ‘Castrol’, based on the fact the early engine oils had a large proportion of castor oil in them. Sir Charles is on the provenance for two of Godwards paintings, ‘In the Land of Dreams’, (18 June 1909), and ‘A Quiet Pet’, (18 June 1909). I think it’s fair to assume that plenty of the cars racing at the 1905 speed trials at Madeira Drive would have been using Sir Charles revolutionary oil lubricants, and just as likely that he would have been there to see it, quite possibly enjoying Harry Prestons hospitality at the Royal York Hotel too. He went on to develop oils for the evolving air industry too, so Wakefield and Napier would doubtless have been working on several projects together as a matter of necessity.


Sir Merton Russell Cotes, very much an art patron in his time, is on the provenance of at least three Godward paintings, two of which he sold at auction on the 11th March 1905, ‘A Priestess’, and ‘Dolce Far Niente’, while, ‘Portrait of Miss Ethel Warwick’, he bought on the 1st June 1917. He also happened to be an hotelier in Bournemouth, running the Bath Hotel, renaming it as the, ‘Royal Bath Hotel’, during the same period that a certain Harry Preston was also running a hotel in that town, and had been chairman of the Bournemouth Hotels Association.

Harry Preston and Edward Prince of wales at the Albert Hall, March 30th 1927, watching the boxing

Harry Preston and Edward Prince of Wales at the Albert Hall, March 30th 1927, watching the boxing

While I accept that Sir Harry Prestons link to any art ring is tenuous at best, I believe it’s fair to say he would have known a great deal of the players in such a ring, although, having read his biography, there don’t seem to be many people of note he didn’t have an acquaintance with. Certainly he was a close friend of William Walker Sampson, and he talks of attending auctions in his book, and was a member of the same clubs around Piccadilly that Sampson was.

Ambling and a Rambling (Plus Sir Harry Prestons first flight, in 1910

March 14, 2013


Harrys first flight, off Brighton beach, 1910, with Andre Beaumont as pilot

Harrys first flight, off Brighton beach, 1910, with Andre Beaumont as pilot

Today is all about ambling and rambling, ambling around Shoreham Beach, and rambling on about it, and other things, afterwards. Shoreham Beach is a nice enough looking place anyway, but always enhanced by a bit of the white powdery substance falling from the nimbus cumulus. Despite the fact that the sun was beaming, the snow is still hanging around, and a few snowmen are just about clinging on. It may be cold, but it’s a beautiful day, especially if you aint working, which it would appear, may be my state of affairs for a little while yet. I followed up a customers quote with the obligatory phone call, only to hear the not unfamiliar cry of, “we didn’t realise it would be that much”, it makes me weep that I know of people that get thoroughly shafted by firms and believe they got a good deal, or even if they realise they got shafted, it’s only when they’ve paid up and it’s too late. I told this customer I’d be happy to have them control the purse strings, just so they could see for themselves just how much everything costs, so we’ll see, but I’m not holding my breath.


On the up side, this means I have no work, so can do other stuff, stuff for myself, like sitting here, tapping away at the keyboard, I hope you two appreciate the sacrifices my non clients are forcing me to make. I found out last night that a certain council member that I disagree with about, well pretty much everything he spouts actually, will be at a dinner I’m going to on Saturday, this man is intent on concreting over every available space in Shoreham, calling it a ‘Gateway’ development, assisting developers in making themselves undeservedly richer, and very much to the detriment of the area I have grown up in and love to bits. Only today I was chatting to a friend and neighbour from down the road, Derek, he’s currently putting up gates and fencing to stop his dog running into the road, then he asked me if I’d noticed the increase in cars screaming up our road in the mornings, the very reason he is having to erect his gates and fence. I had indeed, as I recalled my story of giving some silly mare a gobful after she nearly ran into me, then hooted me for stopping so suddenly outside my house, I shouted at her, “this is where I live, not a rat f*****g run”. And there is the issue, since this mind numbing stupidity of over develpoment on Shoreham Beach, drivers now use Havenside and Kings Walk as rat runs to try and escape the long queues to get off the beach, queues that stretch back past the Beach Green sometimes. Only an absolute halfwit could possibly believe that building anymore than there already is on Shoreham Beach is a good idea.

Somewhere, there must be a very large back pocket that this council member resides in. I’m thinking of taking a photocopy of the dictionary meaning of the word, ‘Gateway’, to show him, as he is obviously frighteningly unclear as to its real meaning, unless of course, shocking sceptic that I am, I really believed that he is merely using the language of the very people that own the back pocket that he sits so comfortably inside, surely not, ahem, cough, splutter, pardon me your honour. As you can imagine, with alcohol involved, I may struggle to hold my tongue. Although in fairness, he can’t be the only one responsible for the calamity that has been allowed to already befall our once idyllic Shoreham Beach.


The Devil is approaching the time when she gets dropped back in the water, so hopefully, as long as the various bits and pieces get done in time, we may be sailing again sometime soon, which will make Squire a happy bunny, and the rest of us too. I look forward to racing again, and the day out as a whole, the banter, the mishaps, occasional glory, at least until the handicaps are in, and the beers at the bar after. While we wait for that moment, I can carry on with the family research, or more accurately at this present time, my research into the murky world of, authors, artists, art dealers, auction rooms, and the entertainment world of Edwardian times. It’s a surprisingly good subject, these people were the rock stars of their day, and the man central to it so far, William Walker Sampson, (my Great Grand Fathers business partner), was the ‘Ring’ master in the auction rooms of Sothebys and Christies for nigh on 30 years, according to art historian, Vernon Grosvenor Swanson:- “In fact nearly half of all late 19th century paintings auctioned in London during this period were acquired by Sampson! Such an amazing feat was made possible by virtue of his controlling “The Ring.” Most of the paintings were then dispersed, in wholesale fashion, to other dealers at discount prices.”.
There is plenty more to come on that, but as a result, I’ve been finding through researching Sampson and his friends, a world just alive with invention, and new boundaries being formed by the day. They were seeing the first bycycle, car, telegraph message, telephone, aeroplane, and heaps more, but more importantly for me, the people I’m researching wrote about it, so I’m reading it as fresh as if it were just happening, and next I’ll get to share it here, much like I did in my last blog, where Harry Preston took W.G.Grace out for his first drive in a motor car in 1901.
So here now, is another snippet of Sir Harry Prestons recollections from his book, ‘Leaves from an Unwritten Diary’, page 79 and 80:-

From motoring to flying was not a long call. Just lately I was reviving some old flying memories with Harold Perrin, the brilliant and popular secretary of the Royal Aero Club- I was one of the earliest members- when Sir John Milbanke, that modern young Corinthian, and his younger brother, were down, and we all chatted together.
Harold Perrin recollected, as I introduced Sir John, that a lady named Milbanke had done some flying in the early days. Sir John said “No” at first; but after a moment he remembered. His mother had gone over to Paris in a balloon from London around 1909- he would have been a boy of 7 then; and a few months later she flew with Grahame-White in one of the first water-planes, which took off from the sea down at Monte Carlo. The machine had no proper seat. One had to hang on with ones hands to a couple of wires.
In my smoking room I have many mementoes, among them a broken propellor. Oscar Morrison gave it to me- he had smashed it on Brighton Beach, on an historic day in February, a quarter of a century ago, (1910), when he flew from Brooklands to Brighton, forty miles in 65 minutes. Lindbergh was only 9 years old then, and Alan Cobham had not begun to fly.
The intrepid aviator told me at the luncheon at the Royal York that followed, that he would have made better time, only he had got off his line of flight. He was circling to land, when he noticed that there was only one pier, and he knew Brighton had two. “Wrong town”, said he, and flew along the shore line until he sighted a town with two piers. It was Worthing that he had mistaken for Brighton. Air navigation then was not quite what it is now. Soon afterwards my brother Dick and I arranged the first air race. It was from Brooklands to Brighton, for a gold cup. The airmen had to fly around the pier and land on the Shoreham aerodrome. Hamel, Snowdon-Smith, Gilmour, and Pixton started and finished. Hamel won. Time, 57 minutes, 10 sec.
Although, now, I do not care to move faster than 40 miles an hour, and I practically never leave ground, in the old days I moved faster and higher. That was because so many of the old pioneers of speed on land and sea and in the air were my friends. Andre Beaumont it was who first induced me to leave my beloved earth and venture up among the seagulls. He had come over from Dieppe, and brought his seaplane in pieces from Newhaven port to Black Rock, a mile out along the beach from the Royal Albion. He invited me to go up with him. I accepted. But when I saw him putting his machine together I regretted it. It looked much more home-made than any Flying Flea. Motoring and motor-yachting experiences had taught me much about the unreliability of the internal combustion engines of that day.
However, I took my seat beside him, the engine started with a shrill banging, the box of tricks shook as if it were going to fall to pieces; and thenwe began to move over the water. Faster and faster we went, while I gripped the wires on either side and hoped that she would break up while she was still on the water- I was a good swimmer, but no hand at a high dive. This thought was still in my mind when the sea in front of me seemed to drop away as if a giant were sucking it up. We were rising, miraculously, into the air. I regained my nerve and looked down and around with great interest. Ye gods, we were flying! It was one of the great moments of my life.
By the time we began to descend (we had been up perhaps 40 minutes) I had got my air legs- or should one say “wings” ?- and would have been surprised and mortified if we had taken a ducking instead of landing safely, as we did, with a big splash on the water.

Rebellion In The Air

March 10, 2013
Harry Preston with W.G.Grace, in Harrys first car

Harry Preston with W.G.Grace, in Harrys first car


It’s no secret that I wasn’t a fan of the new Shoreham footbridge, or the fact that the whole process was based on a pack of lies and hearsay, with no evidence of any description offered for viewing. So it is with great pleasure that I read of the many and various actions of rebellion regarding night time crossings of the old footbridge, they even have a facebook page dedicated to the brave anti establishment souls that take the law into their own hands, and deliver their own two fingered salute to ‘the man’ by ignoring all signs prohibiting their access to our lovely old bridge. Recently things have taken a new turn, and anti tamper paint has been applied to the area surrounding the access points, which has not only not had the desired effect, it has become almost a badge of honour to post images of their anti tamper paint smothered bodies on the facebook page dedicated to these determined local drinkers.


There is a powerful spirit in most of us, that simply doesn’t like being told what to do, by anyone, and it’s little things like being confronted with “you can’t do that” signs, that just make something inside twitch, tick, and whirr, and the rebel inside is simply straining at the leash to offer resistance. That resistance is now being advertised across facebook in the form of bodies smothered in black sticky paint, and quite the opposite of putting off these brave Beach Guerrillas, it has made them even more determined to cross that bridge, arming themselves with gloves, rags, newspaper, and anything else they think might help to avoid a smearing. If all that fails, then no matter, get caked in the stuff, take a heap of pictures, then defiantly and proudly show the anti tamper scars to your facebook public.


Work wise things have gone quiet again after a short burst, so I’m back on the family tree trail, although I’m getting side tracked a bit, following my Great Grand fathers business partner, William Walker Sampson, and his good friend, Harry Preston, both of whom I’ve mentioned before, but with good reason. Harry had some great stories to tell, and while he died in 1936, thankfully he wrote two autobiographical books, highlighting the extraordinary times he had lived in. So I thought I’d pick a few out from time to time, and share it here. This first one takes us back in time to around 1901, and the early years of the new fangled motor car.


Sir Harry Preston and his first car

Leaves from my Unwritten Diary


Chapter 3
Pages 37 and 38


Motoring we looken on more as a sport than as a commercial proposition in its ealry phases. It was adventurous. Often I received a telegram: “Party of seven coming by motor. Should arrive by 8.30. Please have dinner ready.” The chef’s face grew longer and longer as the clock ticked on until 10 or 11, and the party had not arrived to eat their dinner. His hair grew prematurely grey. He would remark sometimes that he knew those motors would be the death of him.


Amazing contraptions, some of those first mechanically propelled vehicles were. They had sometimes one huge, fat cylinder. It was do or die on that one cylinder. One of those early cars I had a ride in- a De Dion Bouton, I fancy- had some sort of belt- and- chain drive arrangement, so that when you changed gear- there were only two gears- the rear wheels slid back about a foot. There were two- cylinder little fellows that went along bang -bang- bang- pop- pop! and shook and rattled until you wondered they did not fall to pieces in the road.


Then they made a four cylinder car. I had one of the first turned out, and very well it served me for some years. This machine enabled me to work between Bournemouth and Brighton, keeping a foot in both towns (for some time Edith, my wife, held the fort in Brighton, while I fought a rearguard action in Bournemouth).


It would have been a physical impossibility for me to achieve this without that new fangled vehicle. A hundered miles divided me from my two spheres of activity, and I traversed this distance four or five days a week. We did the hundred miles in about four hours- not so bad, considering there were three level-crossings and the Southampton floating bridge to negotiate. We were a terrific spectacle as we bowled along. I gave W.G. Grace his first ride in this car. He was playing cricket in Bournemouth, and suggested I should get him to Brighton afterwards. I hesitated, as I had to get to Brighton by 4 o’clock, and I could not wait indefinitely while W.G made a century or so. I said something of this.


“When d’you want me to be ready?” he asked crisply.
“Not later than midday”, said I with equal crispness.
“Right”, said he. “Be at the ground at 11 sharp”.


I was at the ground at 11 sharp, and saw him elect to go in first. He chopped the first ball away. The second glanced off his body and fell on to the bails. “Out”, said the umpire, and before the crowd recovered from its amazement, the great man was walking off.


“Well, I said I’d be on time, didn’t I?” was all the explanation he volunteered, as he climbed into the car for his first motor ride. We made the run in good time, and W.G thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. We had a photograph taken of ourselves in the car to commemorate the occasion.