>’A Traveller’s Guide to Literary Scotland’

>Visit Scotland, in collaboration with the University of Glasgow and The Association for Scottish Literary Studies, has produced this very attractive introductory guide which is available for download from the ASLS site .

The guide displays the writers by region and then provides brief biographies (listed alphabetically) before displaying all the locations on a map.

A very useful, informative & handy publication.

>’Listening For The Past’


‘On the Machair’ and ‘Tweed’ are two pieces of ‘docu-music‘ composed by Cathy Lane.
Cathy is Co-Director of  CRiSAP (Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice) at the University of the Arts, London. Her article ‘Listening For The Past‘ – ‘A composer’s ear-lead approach to exploring island culture past and present in the Outer Hebrides’ is published in the current issue of the journal Shima and can be read here: Volume 5 Number 1 2011 p114-127.
Note: More of Cathy Lane’s work is available online: http://soundcloud.com/playingwithwords

Many Thanks…

…to those who have answered my plea for editorial assistance.

I am extremely grateful to you and the first pages will be on their way very soon.

(If anyone else wants to take a peek too, please drop me a line.)

Thanks again,

Back to the ‘sgrochladh’…

Editors Wanted!

As a result of several terribly kind people repeating their suggestion that I turn some elements of this blog into something more weighty, like a book, I am devoting my creative(?) energies to that task.

I would really appreciate it if some readers volunteered to take a look at bits and pieces as they slide from my typewriter and glide gracefully into a heap on the floor.

If you can spare a few minutes to help then please send me an email with the word ‘HARRIS’ as the subject and I will reward you with the odd page now and again.

Please don’t be shy!

A short life full of tragedy

Esther Bushnell was born in the final quarter of 1856 in Rugby, Warwickshire and named after her mother, Esther Hearnden, the daughter of a Maidstone ‘Hardware Man’. Her father, John Bushnell, was the Blacksmithing son of an Ironmonger, a trade that he too would enter in his own right after taking the family to live in Clapham, London. It may have been the growth of the railway that took the family to Rugby from their roots in Kent and it was certainly near to, what remains to this day, the busiest junction in the whole of the British rail network that the family were to move. It may also have been because John’s father, Joseph, had been born in Lambeth and the family may be connected to an earlier London Blacksmith called Bushnell. Esther had an older brother, John, whose birth had been recorded exactly a year before her own and a third child, Lucy, was to follow in the Spring of 1861.
In 1861 the family were living in Clapham Old Town in the now-obliterated Terry’s Lane. The first house in the lane was home to a 53 year-old widowed Charwoman, Jane Barrett, and next came her fellow widow, the 78 year-old Butcher, Fanny Terry, after whose late husband’s family the lane might well have gained its name? The Bushnells were next and finally Henry Blanche, a 43 year-old Greengrocer, and his family. Just four households suggesting, perhaps, either a short row or two-pairs of opposing buildings? A few years ago I did my best to walk in the steps of the Enumerator but, whilst I believe that I located where the lane once stood, I could not discern any structures extant from the 1860s.
Come 1871, mother Esther is in service in the Vicarage in Great Limber, Lincolnshire under the employ of the vicar, Thomas Ffoster Chamberlain who is as uncertain as to whether ‘Hester’ is married or not as he is as regards the spelling of her name which is particularly odd given his calling.
The children, meanwhile, have been separated with 15 year-old John learning the craft of the Blacksmith under the watchful eye of his widower grandfather in Maidstone whilst the two girls are ‘Enderd’ or inmates at the North Surrey District School in Penge, details of which can be seen by searching for ‘North Surrey’ – http://www.workhouses.org.uk/ . It must have been a miserable existence for the two girls, separated from their mother by an untraversable distance and from their father by his apparent disappearance from the Earth.
Worse was to come for in the Spring of 1878 that mother, still all those unaffordable miles away in Lincolnshire, died at the age of 42.
Things took their own brief upturn by 1881 when Esther was under the wing of her Uncle, Frederick William Luffingham, a Master Draper living at 104 Hoxton Street in Shoreditch. As an aside, little or nothing is known of this unusual family name and only slightly more of that of the Hearnden family that connected Esther to it. There may be some distant, in both time and space, religious persecution that led to the appearance of these names in the South-Eastern corner of the Country, and they certainly appear to have associated with other immigrant families in the ‘rag trade’.
In addition to her own security, Esther had the satisfaction of knowing that her sister was at the Home and Colonial School Society’s Training College for Mistresses in Gray’s Inn Road training to be a teacher. Also at this time, their brother John was in Cornwall where he appears twice in the Census of that year! Whether or not he was in Calstock or nearby Higher Dimson, he most certainly was an ‘Engineer’ or ‘Engine (Driver)’ and one of many such men responsible for running the steam engines at the mines that employed them.
John married in Maidstone 1883 before returning to Cornwall and starting a family, the first two children being born in that part of the World in 1885 and 1887 but Esther would never see her nephew and nieces for in the Spring of 1884, at the age of 27, she died, the death being registered at Tavistock, Devon, Cornwall. What was she doing in Cornwall? Had she found work there, was she just visiting her brother, or was there some other, perhaps romantic reason for her presence there?
Of course, ordering her death certificate might help answer the question, perhaps she fell ill but I prefer to let my imagination roam and see this most unfortunate young lady being as unlicky in love as she had been in life and, in a grand gesture redolent of late 19thC literature set in the wilds of the West Country, falling not under the ravages of TB but into a disused mine-shaft in despair at her lover’s rejection…
Although Esther’s life was over, there is one more thing to relate. Lucy did indeed become a teacher and is found in 1891 living with John, his wife and three children in the village of Sandling just a couple of miles North of Maidstone. However, by 1901 the 37 year-old is an Inmate of the  London County Asylum, The Heath, Dartford and her occupation reads ‘Schoolmistress’, with the word ‘Ret’ added as an afterthought. I have been unable to discover any further record relating to her, whether it be a marriage, an entry in the 1911 Census or her death.
Maybe I should have called this piece ‘Two Lives Full of Tragedy’?
On a somewhat happier note, John and his wife had celebrated 55 years of marriage before she died aged 80 in 1938 and he then followed her a year later when aged 84, the pair having lived for half a century in an idyllic spot near the archaeologically active chalk ridge known as the North Downs and the very attractive village of Boxley.
But that is another story…

Something Happened…

…a fantasy:

In 1861, the family of 28 year-old Ironmonger John Bushnell were living in Terry’s Lane, a few hundred yards from The Pentagon, in Clapham Old Town, Wandsworth, Surrey, London, where they had moved to at some point in the preceding five years.

By 1871 Mrs Esther Bushnell was in domestic service for a vicar in Lincolnshire, her daughters were at the North Surrey District School (an outpost of the Wandsworth Workhouse), her son was Smithing with her father-in-law back in her home-town of Maidstone and her husband (the census records her initially as ‘Unmarried’ but that is crossed-through and replaced with ‘Married’) has disappeared. Something happened…
Esther, holding 4 year-old Lucy in her arms and with John and Esther ready for school and at her skirts, stood at the step watching the childrens’ father John and their Servant, William Jeayes, strolling down the lane away from the leafy centre of the village and towards the sprawling warren of soot-soaked alleys that led to the railway. It was the growth of the iron tentacles in this quiet corner of London that had led them here following the years of living in Rugby. John’s work there had been fruitful and their domestic situation had harvested them John and Esther in quick succession. But the pull of the the South had been too strong and it had been decided that being back in John’s father’s family’s home county of Surrey, and near both their sets of parents in Kent, would be better now that a third child was expected. Thus it was that Lucy had arrived in Clapham (pleasing the child’s grandfather, even though it wasn’t quite Lambeth) and also that John had felt it time to employ a young man to train in the smith’s art. William was a pleasant companion who hailed from Northamptonshire but had been working in Rugby for a few months before the family offered him the chance to live with them and work in London. He didn’t need to be asked twice.

The two men were in high spirits, this was a boom-time in the area with much planned development, and business was brisk. Ironmongery provided, almost literally, the nuts and bolts of industrialisation and demand was high. Inevitably this led to the occasional short-cut but men such as these respected the materials they dealt with and the forces of the forge in which they toiled. They had no reason to be anything but content as they wove their way past the winding workshops down to the railside building that was John’s first and, as it transpired, last, venture.

Witnesses would later say that there was nothing unusual in the mens’ manner, no clues in their voices, no hints in their gait, nothing to suggest that that day was in any way exceptional. Many remarked on their passage that morning but not one person could recall seeing them return. In fact, after old Mick, the semi-vagrant, self-styled ‘nightwatchman’ who had seen them on his morning journey to the first hostelry where he could spend attain some senselessness of oblivion, after Mick’s sighting of them just yards from the door to John’s shop, nothing more was heard, or seen, smelt or felt, of either man again. The shop was still locked when, as the evening began to fade, Esther had asked her neighbour to sit the children whilst she went to find John and William. She was concerned. Her worry began to grow when she felt the brick at the forge-end of the building and found it to be be as cold as the earth from which the bricks had once been dug. Cold and damp where there should have been the dry warmth from a day’s toil. She had peered through the small, coal-webbed panes into the interior and seen a dark emptiness without the normal after-glow of the forge. The chimney had confirmed her fears and she began to run to the railway line that curved gently towards her. She looked between the thinning buildings until, at the edge of this bizarre bazaar of businesses, the lines lay before her. The sun was setting fast, casting long shadows from the myriad poles, and posts, sheds and other structures that lined the tracks. but nowhere were there the shadows of John or William. Neither were there any ragged bundles that might have once been men. There was nothing. A goods train hooted and clanked its way along the furthest track, the engine, streaming steam as its iron muscles pumped and pulled the huge load behind it. As the last wagon passed from sight, Esther turned and ran, her heart pounding with an ache beyond exertion, back towards the lane and the house of the Policeman.

Despite all the search parties, all the railwaymen, all the policemen, all the friends and neighbours who looked throughout the district, all the appeals that both her father and John’s father paid for in the newspapers, despite all the prayers offered in the churches, all the crying from the three children, all the half-seen faces and part-heard voices, nothing was ever found to tell what had happened to the two men.

With three children to support and no proof that her husband hadn’t simply vanished, Esther was forced to find work and, in the circumstances and with all the nasty rumours of what part she might have played in the vanishings, she was fortunate to find a respectable household happy to have her. However, the price paid was huge for, although her son John was taken under his grandfather’s wing as an apprentice smith, the two girls had to go and live in the harsh, unremitting regime of the District School. It broke her heart and Esther died, still in service, in Caistor, in 1878 at the age of 42.
And my interest in this mystery of Terry’s Lane? Well, John and Esther had a granddaughter that they never knew, and she was my grandmother…
(Note: The reason for this tale is not simply the disappearance from all the records of John Bushnell, but the simultaneous disappearance from the records of his servant, William Jeayes, too…)

William Jeyes was born in 1843/4 in Weedon, Northamptonshire and was the 4th of the 6 children of Cabinet Maker John Jeyes who by 1851 was a Widower living with his children in Weedon Beck. Oddly, in 1901 a William Jeyes, Platelayer, born in Weedon in about 1847, appears in London complete with a wife and 7 children aged from 1 to 20 and I can locate the family in 1881 too when William’s birth is given as 1848. It is possible that this is the same person but I cannot find the marriage record, nor William himself in 1871 and 1891. This, together with the discrepancy in ages, and a little poetic licence, is why I consider it possible that both men disappeared simultaneously…)


I recall the first time I saw familiar territory on a 1:50 000 OS map; land that I thought I knew well in its 1:63, 600 guise seemed stretched, less concentrated in its complexity, barren, almost. This artefact of enlargement, caused because the move to metric hadn’t been accompanied by much revision of the data, took a while to overcome. Metrication made sense mathematically but to someone who’s map-reading had been honed (OK, subjected to slight improvement!) over several spotty-faced years poring over the familiar density of the old ‘one-inch’ maps the newcomers were an unwelcome intrusion.
Sometime later I saw my first 1:25 000 map whilst walking in one on Britain’s National Parks and I couldn’t read it. It was as incomprehensible to me as a text written in a non-Latin alphabet. I can only suppose that my previous internalisation of the ‘one-inch’ format, which had been to such an extent that I could take-in a scene and imagine the ground lying before me, was sufficiently complete to be completely confused by the unfamiliar details, and space, on the super-scale impostor.
The relevance of all this? Well, all maps are approximations, compromises between the real World in all its dimensions and the paper plane created by cartography. All I had done was to embrace one such approximation and map it onto my mind, forsaking all others. It was a skill, but not one that was as easy to transfer as might be expected. Whilst the 1:25 000 map is a wonder of cartography (although desperately in need of revision), giving the walker hitherto unexpected detail of his surroundings anywhere in the whole of Britain, I still find the 1:50 000 easier to empathise with (my middle-age eyesight certainly no-longer finds the move from 1:63 600 such a pain) and I think the reason for that is context.
I was investigating fancy GPS gear with downloadable maps and realised that one would still need a paper map (and a compass, of course!) in order to make sense of the few square inches of illuminated LEDs. The ‘bigger picture’ that shows the lie of the land, that puts our place in a wider expanse, that reminds us that it is an appreciation of the whole that truly makes sense of the particular spot in which we are located, is what makes the 1:50 000 map such a treasure.
Oh, and if the option existed, I would still prefer a ‘one-inch’ map, with contours in feet and, preferably, at the same price as they were 40 years ago!
A fascinating site on the development of OS maps – http://www.fieldenmaps.info/info/
An excellent source of downloadable (£) OS mapping – http://www.mapyx.com/