Monday, December 07, 2015

Respected Publishing House - Robert Hale Books closes after almost 80 years in business

On 1 December, after almost 80 years in the publishing industry, Robert Hale Limited, a well-respected London publishing house, closed its doors for the final time.
Very traditional and somewhat old-fashioned (in the best sense of the word), the company gave several authors, including myself, the opportunity to embark on a successful writing career.

I remember clearly, after my first book - SEA DUST was published in 2005, I visited their offices in Clerkenwell Green in the busy publishing district of London and met Mr John Hale, son of the company’s founder Robert Hale. At that time, John Hale was a man of quite advanced years so it did not surprise that a few years later he handed over the helm to his editor in chief.

Having published my first five titles, I am grateful to Hale Books. I parted from them amicably in 2010 mainly due to the fact their target market was the British Libraries. As such, their books were printed in hardback only and were expensive ($54.00 each shipped to Australia). Unfortunately Hale did not publish its historical fiction in paperback and the company was slow to entertain the opportunities of the fast growing e-publishing market.
On leaving Hale, I self-published my Hale novels in both paperback and as e-books and have subsequently added several new titles to my list.

For the editorial staff who guided me in the early years, particularly Gil Jackson, I thank you and wish you all the best for the future.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Whitby, Yorkshire, where legacy of the Jurassic Age has brought wealth and devastation.

Even at 187 feet (57 m), the towering face of Whitby’s East Cliff high is no match for the constant bombardment from the treacherous North Sea. The crumbling cliffs which characterise the rugged Yorkshire Coast have given rise to shipwrecks, tragic loss of life and even tales of vampires. But those rocks, which have showered down from the face of the cliff, have revealed secrets held for 176 million years.  

Robin Hood's Bay - a few miles south of Whitby
Ancient fossils fall regularly from the cliff face and fossilized footprints of dinosaurs have been found on the Whitby and nearby beaches. Stretching 35 miles (56 km) north and south from the mouth of the River Esk, this section of North Yorkshire’s forbidding coastline has been named the 'Dinosaur', 'Fossil ' or 'Jurassic Coast'.
Recognition of the town’s links to the Jurassic Era is seen in Whitby’s coat-of-arms. It features three fossilized ammonites. 

Whitby – or - Hwitebi (meaning “White Settlement” in the ancient Norse language) is located on an area that was once a swamp where “three-toed carnivorous Theropods and Britain’s oldest plant-eating Sauropod Dinosaurs” roamed and flourished.
“A dinosaur backbone, which dates back about 176 million years to the Middle Jurassic period, was found on a beach at Whitby after it fell out of a cliff face.”
Petrified bones of an ancient and almost complete crocodile have also been discovered together with many other fossilized specimens.

But in more recent years (17th to 20th centuries), it is two legacies of the Jurassic era that has helped Whitby prosper commercially. The most important is Alum – “a product that brought both wealth and devastation to the Whitby area”.
While alum has various uses, its prime use in Britain was as a dye-fixer (mordant) for wool. The woolen industry was one of England's primary industries – especially in Yorkshire.
From the late 15th century, alum had been imported into England from the Middle East and Papal States. The history of its usage dates back to 1500 BC when the Egyptians used the coagulant to reduce the cloudiness in water. 

Ruins of 12th Century Benedictine Monastery stand on the East Cliff
With the discovery of alum shale in the Whitby area in the early 1600s, an industry was founded to process the shale and extract the key ingredient, aluminium suphate. Urine was used in processing.
“This was an important contributor to the Industrial Revolution. One of the oldest historic sites for the production of alum from shale and human urine is the Peak Alum Works in Ravenscar, North Yorkshire.

“Unfortunately, however, by the 18th century, the landscape of north-east Yorkshire had been devastated by this process, which involved constructing 100 ft (30 m) stacks of burning shale and fuelling them with firewood continuously for months. The rest of the production process consisted of quarrying, extraction, steeping of shale ash with seaweed in urine, boiling, evaporating, crystallization, milling and loading into sacks for export. Quarrying ate into the cliffs of the area, the forests were felled for charcoal and the land polluted by sulphuric acid and ash.”

Jet shop and workshop on Church Street
Whitby’s second commodity, dating back to the age of the dinosaurs, is lignite, a black semi-precious stone that is polished to make pieces of jewellery. It is known as Jet.
Lignite is also found in shale. It was heavily quarried in the area in Roman and Victorian times, and led to the development of a thriving local industry that was at its height in the mid-1800s. Workshops were set up in Whitby to produce ornaments and mourning jewellery.  Local boys and women were employed in the workshops to hand-polish the stones. Black Jet jewellery was made popular by Queen Victoria on the death of her husband Prince Albert. (See my earlier post)

Today, Jet is still polished in the town but there is little demand and Whitby’s future economy will depend on a proposed wind farm (the world’s largest) to be constructed on the Dogger Bank in the North Sea.

Sources – (Ref: Wikipedia – Alum)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Whitby's bridges from 14th century

The River Esk at Whitby in North Yorkshire flows into the North Sea. It is a tidal estuary.

The bridge spanning the river divides the upper and lower harbours and joins the east and west sides of the historic fishing town. For centuries, Whitby was an important crossing point and from 1351 a toll was charged for using the bridge. 

In 1609 a replacement bridge was surveyed. This was described as a drawbridge (1628) where men raised planks to let vessels pass. In 1835, the 100-year old bridge was replaced by a four-arched cast iron bridge having one arch that swivelled to allow vessels to pass through.

Between 1908 and 1909 the old bridge was replaced by the current structure, an electric swing bridge. No toll is charged.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Polished Jet jewellery popular in Roman Britain and the Victorian era

Queen Victoria was so grief-stricken by the death Prince Albert that she fell into a period of mourning until her own death in 1901 – a period of 40 years.
Not only did she adopt the outward vestiges of widow’s weeds (from the Old English "waed" meaning "garment") but she insisted every member of her court wear mourning for the next three years. Females of the court were only permitted jewellery made from jet during the next 12 months.
Following Queen Victoria’s example in 1861, black mourning jewellery became fashionable throughout the country. Besides being a sign of grief, due to its cost, jet was also worn as a sign of status or wealth.

A piece of Whitby jet jewellery
Whitby Jet (a form of lignite) is a fossilized precursor to coal. It has a metallic lustre and is regarded as a minor gemstone. Like coal, it was laid down millions of years ago from decomposing forests. Jet originates from wood of the family of Monkey Puzzle Tree – a type of pine tree.

This stone when polished: “has been used in Britain since the Neolithic period but the earliest known object is a 10,000 BC model of a damsel fly larva, from Baden-W├╝rttemberg, Germany. Jet continued in use in Britain through the Bronze Age, where it was used for necklace beads.
Whitby Jet was popular in Roman Britain from the third century onwards. Initially discovered in and around York, it was used in rings, hair pins, beads, bracelets, bangles, necklaces and pendants.”
Over the centuries, it was traditionally made into rosaries for monks.
Ruins of Whitby Abbey - North Yorkshire
Because of its perceived magical qualities, jet was also used in Roman Britain to ward off the gaze of the evil eye.” Perhaps it failed to serve that purpose, because the end of the Roman era in Britain coincided with the end of jet's ancient popularity. 

It was not until Prince Albert’s death that its popularity re-surfaced. Today we use the term jet-black without thinking of its sombre Victorian connections.

Whitby Jet shop and workshop, Church Street

When I visited Whitby last month and wandered along Church Street, I was surprised at the number of Jewellery shops specializing’s in items made from polished Jet.

Having been bequeathed a jet brooch from an Aunt who died over 40 years ago and having never worn it, I decided to find out what it might be worth.

The rectangular brooch (see above) is polished and bears the delicate engraving of a Yorkshire Rose on the face (in the photo the flash has highlighted the design but in natural light it is barely visible).
The silver clasp on the back is similar to one I saw in a Whitby shop dealing in antique pieces. I concluded that the brooch is a piece of Victorian (possibly mourning) jewellery. The similar item was priced at £450.00 (around $900).

When the shop assistant told me Whitby Jet dates back to the early Jurassic Age and is 182 million years old, I realized my piece of Jet deserved my respect.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Lost items from time of Charles 1 found behind a mantelshelf

When the old fireplace was removed from this 17th century building in Whitby, Yorkshire to convert it to a pie shop, the renovators did not expect to find a vast array of objects that had dropped down the gap between the mantelpiece and the wall.
Some dated back to the ‘fourteenth year of Charles 1’, that is the late 1630s.

As promised, since their discovery, a good selection of these artefacts has been mounted in a glass case and is currently displayed at the Humble Pie ‘n Mash shop at 163 Church Street.

While tucking into a steaming pie, recently, I was delighted to discover something of the building’s history, and learn a little of the secrets the fireplace had withheld for centuries.

The first written deeds state that in 1638 the property was leased by Hugh Chomley – Knight of Whitby to John Sneaton, a shoemaker. Several old buckles, no doubt belonging to the shoemaker, were among the items that had fallen down the gap.

There were also pieces of jewellery, children’s toys, buckles, needles and hand-made nails, rings, bone combs, coins (one dated 1681), a quill pen, buttons, hair pins, pieces of clay pipes, keys, written notes and  pencils.
Included in the cache was a cutting from an old issue of the Whitby Gazette reporting a disturbing case of child abuse. 

In a recent newspaper interview, the renovator’s mother speculated over the anguish the loss of certain items would have caused and considered the arguments that may have arisen as to where the items might have gone.
There was more to tempt a hungry history-buff in this shop than a just a tasty meat pie .

Pics: MM – May 2015
Shop front – picture provided by management