Tag Archives: travel

Halloween story: the Journal

My friend Marianne Collins, former librarian at the J____ Street Library told me this story. She had been filing some papers from a deposit collection in a manuscript box when she found a folder with no accession number. It contained a thin notebook which must have been over a hundred years old. About half of the pages had writing on them. There was a small bundle of photographs tied up with string. There was no mention of the book or the pictures in the manuscript list and no numbers missing from the sequence. Marianne, who was not the most scrupulous member of her profession, took it home. She had become suspicious of such discoveries since the events which brought her together with her husband Daniel, whose testimony I showed you last year.

The notebook is a partial account of a journey made to the city of D_____ in Belgium in 1896 by a woman named Charlotte Jones. In the first pages Miss Jones reveals she was attending a summer school run by a Madame Herzog in a building owned by the University at D______. The plan had been for her to be accompanied by her cousin but these arrangements fell down at the last possible minute. Her mother who had travelled with her to D___ was disinclined to change her own plans at such short notice. Madame Herzog, a charming and friendly individual assured the pair that Miss Jones would not be short of company of her own age and class. The mother was satisfied by this, Miss Jones herself less so, but she had no say in the matter. The school itself seemed pleasant and comfortable.


At first her misgivings are born out. The other young women in the rooms next to hers seem to be not so much unable as unwilling to speak much English to her, and are not particularly friendly. But then she meets an older woman who befriends her. It is hard to say how old this woman was. Charlotte, who is 18, obviously regards the woman, Mrs Spengler as much older, but other clues in the narrative indicate that she is in her twenties. They may both be in this picture:


Mrs Spengler encourages Charlotte to join her exploring the old city of D______ which has “many fascinating and esoteric corners” (Charlotte quotes directly from Mrs Spengler.) They visit a number of picturesque and secluded places.


“The pleasant summer days lend a kind of charm to these ancient streets. Mrs Spengler and I walk them in a relaxed manner. Today we went to a building she called the Institute de Cyanographie. Mrs Spengler insisted we both wear veils over our faces for this visit. Not an inch of bare skin was to be exposed.We were admitted by a young man who appeared to be the only person in the building. Mrs Spengler called him Brother C. He seemed to me to be an arrogant fellow with an impudent stare.The two of them spent some time closeted together discussing private matters while I was dismissed, and had to wander around the building on my own.


I saw no-one but in the dimly lit library fancied I heard noises around every corner as if someone was always just out of my sight, which was in any case obscured by the veil. I felt hot and uncomfortable so I went out and sat down in a quiet corner of the courtyard. With the sun shining down I thought I saw shapes in the air flitting across the place but I was overcome by weariness and I am afraid I fell asleep. Miss Spengler woke me but she was not at all angry. In fact she had removed her veil and seemed quite radiant with pleasure, as if something she had been told had pleased her immensely”


Charlotte continues her account the next morning when Mrs Spengler is off on a private appointment. There is a long but vague account of a dream she had, which she thinks she had dreamt many times before, of a garden and a statue which had filled her with unaccountable dread. She is glad to join Mrs Spengler for an afternoon outing. They enter what seems to be a public park with a long avenue which stretches away into the distance.


They walk for some time. Charlotte grows tired. In her journal she says she wanted to complain about the length of the walk. “If I had known we were going on a country hike I would have worn more suitable clothes.” Their walk takes them into a small wood.


“The noises of the city seemed to vanish. It was another excessively warm day and there was the incessant rustling of wind in the trees, except that I could feel no cooling breeze myself. I was glad to emerge from the wood into some kind of ornamental garden.”


“Here all was quiet. The water of the lake was perfectly still. As we walked on the rustling of the trees had gone. The only sound I heard was the crunch of our boots on the gravel. I told Mrs Spengler about my dream, and my feeling that I had dreamed the same dream before. She pointed out that unless I had related the dream to someone or wrote down an account of it I could not be sure that the feeling of familiarity was not just part of the dream. I found that confusing. Mrs Spengler laughed. She was in a very good mood. She told me her studies would soon be bearing fruit. She talked of the modern myths and legends which grow up in cities. She said she had been told for example that it was possible to gain some undefined power by imprisoning an innocent person in a statue. How many of the statues we see contain silent prisoners? I shuddered at the thought and was glad there were none visible here. We returned to Mrs Herzog’s by a quicker route. Why couldn’t we have come that way? We passed through the grounds of a house with a fountain.”


“Look at those poor fools, she said, indicating the statues. I thought that she was taking the conceit too far and told her so. She smiled at that.”

Back in her room Charlotte resolves to spend less time with Mrs Spengler. “I felt that if she could have found her wicked sorcerer’s spell she would have tried it on me.”

The next day she rises early and sets off intending to spend the morning at the Botanical Garden. She finds it rather dull and very quiet. She sits near one of the glasshouses and writes in her journal.


“The whole garden seems to be in a state of dilapidation. Perhaps it is not actually open to the public. I will go soon. I can see a man and a woman walking in the distance. No, it is just a woman in a old fashioned dress wearing a long cloak. Everyone here seems to speak English. I will ask her.”

The journal ends abruptly at this point. The bundle of photographs was a mixture of pictures taken by an amateur and picture postcards of the city of D____. There was a small portrait of a young man Marianne identified almost immediately:


A picture I thought I recognized:


Finally Marianne turned to the back of the journal. The rear pages had been glued to the endpapers. A date was written there, several months later in the same year, in a different handwriting than that of Charlotte Jones. Marianne had slit the glued pages open. There was one final photograph inside, nearly identical to one of the others.



The pictures are from a book on Antwerp. There is no record of a branch of the Cyanography Institute in that city. The group photograph is from a private collection. Normal service will be resumed next week.

Mary and Rachel’s walk in the country: 1893

In the autumn of 1893 Mary A_____, who was then 31 and her sister Rachel who was 18 set out on a walking tour of the Cheviot Hills. Here they are ready to go, with stout shoes, walking sticks and bags:

MS5097 front

Mary took a small sketch book and her watercolour set so she could make her own record of the journey in words and pictures as they travelled. I came across the book when a researcher was working on other material belonging to the same family. I was immediately impressed both by Mary’s small paintings and the vividness of her account.

Mary and Rachel were initially accompanied by their sisters Cicely and Grace and two friends, Gertrude and Nelly. Nelly and Grace dropped out first but Gertrude and Cicely stayed the course until White Hall where the four of them had luncheon by the burn.

Mary sketched them making their way back.

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Now the serious walking began.

“Then Ray and I walked on, keeping to the grassy track. Some little way further up we had to ford College-burns, it was lovely walking across through the cold water. The hills were most beautiful, the bracken was beginning to turn and we got quite tired of saying “how delicious it is”. Then we came to a most primitive bridge which we had to cross though it did lead us a little out of our way. This however we didn’t regret as we saw further up a charming little valley on our left. Very soon our destination for the night came into view and we both began to feel rather anxious…..”

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The source of their worry was the possible nature of their first night’s accommodation. Would the guest chamber be occupied? What if the shepherd’s wife was “crusty”?  In fact she turned out to be “perfectly charming” and after settling in they went out again. Mary drew and Ray “found perfect happiness among the pigs”.

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After a breakfast of coffee, cream and ham at 6 the next morning they set off up the valley into the mist. “We soon lost the track and had to steer by compass”. At the summit the mist cleared and they saw “rolling mountains stretching away as far as we could see.” “It was wonderfully wild and lonely”. They marched on through the lonely landscape, consulting the compasses as they went. As they headed downwards they “plunged through sphagnum and reed bogs “and “there was no sign of a track anywhere.”

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At 1pm they stopped at a cottage for some milk and to consult a shepherd about the path ahead. They pushed on, even though there was “rough walking over the tussocky grass” and crossing the stony river several times eventually found their way to the bottom of the valley. They stayed in the village of Allinton which was “so tiny that we anxiously began to wonder if it possessed an inn”. Fortunately it did, the Red Lion, and the two travellers were soon “installed in a charming little bedroom containing 2 beds and from the windows of which was the most delightful view.”

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They slept in the next morning and reluctantly departed at 10am. “As we crossed the village bridge Ray’s hat blew off and had to be rescued dripping wet”. The road, which “wound between pine woods” took them to another hill track. At the top of the hill they “found they must prepare for a regular battle with the wind”. Mary tied a black scarf over her head but Rachel “having none had to adapt a stocking for the purpose”. The “perfect hurricane of a sou-wester..met us full in the face”. They stopped for milk and shelter at a cottage “where we sat in a cosy kitchen with a blazing peat fire”. On hearing of their destination the cottager’s wife said “My word ye’ll get a blawing”. They soon hit more mist and driving rain and decided to head down into the valley towards the nearest village. “Looking like tramps” they knocked at the door of the Murray Arms where a “grand young lady..hesitated for a moment as to whether she could admit us but feelings of philanthropy gaining the day she showed us a room resplendent  with salmon pink decorations and peacock blue upholstery. Here we divested ourselves of our wet things which were solemnly taken by the servant to be dried by the kitchen fire, and not a muscle of whose face moved when she came up with tea and saw me arrayed in a Japanese costume made out of a duvee.”

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There was “thick mist and low clouds” visible from their window the next morning but they carried on and by lunch time the sun had come out and “for the rest of the day it was beautifully fine.” Up on the moorland they saw “rocky ridges, beneath the sloped moors brilliant with brown and crimson”. They halted “trying to take mental photographs.” “A little lower the road became almost more lovely, it wound round a little wood of silver birches… then on through a brilliantly green sloping field.. I do not think I ever saw anything more beautiful than that valley.” At the bottom they “left the higher hills behind us. They had walked 9 miles and were feeling “footsore” but “were doomed to bitter disappointment, there was no inn.”

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They did find a cottage though where “two charming and pretty girls of 16 and 20” invited them to sit down  and have some freshly baked hot bread. “It was an ideal cottage….a fat baby boy lay smiling in a wooden cradle..the girls were dressed in the neatest dresses..and the big north country fireplace was doing its duty”. “We decided a story ought to be written about those girls.” The girls told Mary and Rachel that 4 miles on they would find an inn. But they were not tempted by the cheese and biscuits offered there and walked another 2 miles to Rothbury where they found “comfortable quarters at the Queen’s Head and were very thankful to settle in”.

The next day was Friday. They found the Priory at Prinkburn closed and inaccessible. Long Framlington proved to be a “bleak. Rather uninteresting village”. Mary found a nail sticking into her foot and despite the repair affected by a “friendly keeper” found it hard going. At Edlingham there was no inn and tea “made we thought of boiled leather”. They headed for Bellingham cross country through “a wood which was swarming with creatures scudding about and birds flapping their wings in the dark trees with a great air of mystery. We were quite glad to escape being shot as poachers and reach the main road.” They eventually got to Whittingham around 6pm where there was “a delightfully clean and comfortable inn”.

Saturday was the last day of their tour. “We felt exceeding shabby..however it was market day and we thought we might pass among the farmers”.  After lunch they moved on. “We arrived in Coldstream in great triumph feeling very proud of having walked 77 miles and knowing well that the week we had spent would all our lives be looked back upon as one of the most delicious we had ever spent.”

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Mary’s narrative and pictures still convey the sense of adventure and achievement the two sisters must have felt, venturing through one of the wild parts of 19th century England. It was a short journey compared to those of other 19th century travellers but Mary and Rachel were in at the beginning of a new era of travelling and it’s good to have walked those hills with them.


Mary lived till 1950, Rachel till 1972. I recently met their relative who deposited the material with the library and who gave me permission to share this journey with you, so many thanks to him and his family.

I just wish Mary had painted the room with salmon pink decoration and peacock blue upholstery.

For modern day walking enthusiasts here is Mary’s summary of the journey:

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An Englishman abroad: Sambourne in Holland

This week we’re travelling with Edward Linley Sambourne again. Sambourne was an active man even in his later years. He thought nothing of taking a train to Scotland on a Sunday for a couple of days shooting returning for lunch with his Punch colleagues on Wednesday. So his tour through Holland in April 1906 is quite typical. He was with his wife Marion and maybe his daughter but as always he took photographs of women in the street. In the cities The Hague and Amsterdam he saw women dressed in the usual middle class day wear as seen in his pictures of London and Paris.

Here in The Hague a lone woman waits outside a grand building. Is that a bag in her hand or a large muff?

On a quieter street a group stop to talk, in a poorly composed picture (but understandable if Sambourne was using his right angle camera)

One of the districts of The Hague is Scheveningen, a seaside area where Sambourne found young women dressed in traditional working class costume.

They would have sparked off Sambourne’s desire to catalogue different kinds of costume. The Sambourne archive at Leighton House is full of pictures of military and civil uniforms and all kinds of working dress. He also catches the seaside architecture in the background. I think the domed building is the Kurhaus, a hotel and restaurant opened in 1886.

One of this trio is giving him a suspicious look. But the pair below seem happy to pose for a picture with part of the pier behind them.

Sambourne and his party didn’t linger long in one place. They moved south on to Delft, home of the celebrated pottery and the artist Vermeer and just as picturesque in 1906 as it is today.

An excellent view of a woman crossing over one of the canals and below, more tall windows, traditional costume and curious glances.

The next stop was Haarlem. Although the picture below is also badly composed, Sambourne has inadvertently captured a tram line and a group of women carefully crossing it, along with his main subjects the two women in the foreground.

And in this picture, his interest is probably in the uniform of the nursery maid, but we can also see some characteristic Dutch architecture.

The next two pictures were taken in Amsterdam. Although the picture has faded with age it is still a good street scene especially the curious man in the background not looking where he’s going.

Another picture taken the same day which catches activity in the background.

There’s a clear contrast with some of the pictures taken in London and Paris – it’s obviously not a warm April.

From Amsterdam they went south to Utrecht where he met these three, who stopped long enough for a picture.

Can I throw in an entirely gratuitous reference to Dr Strabismus (whom God Preserve)?

Utrecht may have been an excursion as the same day they make their way back towards Amsterdam.

This is a river or canal side view taken in Muiden, a suburb or district of Amsterdam.

This woman was photographed having difficulty in the wind another place near Amsterdam, Marken then a peninsula in the Zuiderzee, an inland sea which was turned into the freshwater lake called the Ijsselmeer in the 1930s.

The party turned south again and a few days later were in the city of Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland. Here he found another traditional costume.

He found further examples in the seaside resort of Domburg.

This group look fairly serious but the final picture was taken in Westkapelle, a small city surrounded on three sides by water. A group of teenagers pay no attention to Sambourne but what three of them are looking at and the other one is ignoring we’ll never know.

Thanks to Sambourne expert Shirley Nicholson for some insights into his character.


Last week’s excursion into an alternate reality was illustrated with some pictures of the world we know. One reader expressed an interest so here is a list as they appeared in the post:

Weymouth Street 1993

Hampton Court, Great Fountain Garden 1984

The Garrick Club 1962

Chiswick Park 1962

Chiswick House 1984

Crystal Palace Park 1984

Laeken Royal Glasshouses, Belgium

Interior – North Audley Street 1962

Woman in black: private collection

Dance company in Lausanne 1916: library collection

Hampton Court 1962

Beach style 1906 : Linley Sambourne at the seaside

There was a heat wave in 1906 throughout the whole of the British Isles, quite late in the year at the end of August and the early days of September. Edward Linley Sambourne went to the coast as thousands of others did, and with him as usual went his camera.

In temperatures of 90 degrees the wind blowing off the sea must have been refreshing even though it also presented a challenge to these three women who are literally hanging on to their hats. Here are some others with the same difficulty:

Despite the heat holiday makers were wearing their normal clothes with few concessions to the weather.

Even on the beach, where Sambourne is still catching women unawares:

Has he woken this woman from her nap while her friend sleeps on? And caught the two below in another unguarded moment

I think he must be working with the hidden camera again, especially in this picture.

I’m quite certain that she wouldn’t have been pleased to be pictured emerging from the water like this in her modern bathing costume.

These pictures were taken at Brighton and Folkestone during the heat wave. Earlier in the year in July Sambourne had been in Weymouth where he captures the busy atmosphere of the crowded beach.

He may have crossed the Channel to Weymouth from Ostende where he had been a few days earlier. Here’s a picture taken on the boat.

Another woman having difficulty with a sea breeze. The same day Sambourne had been on the beach at Ostende.

A young woman goes barefoot to walk up the paved slope from the beach.

Another group of women go bathing making use of that curious Victorian invention the bathing machine:

And at the end of the afternoon when the crowds have thinned out, a more stylish young woman goes for a stroll. That was always my favourite time of day on the beach.

Earlier in the year Sambourne made another channel crossing, but this time his main photographic subject was this woman and her husband.

In the original version of this post I thought that they must be Sambourne’s daughter Maud and her husband Lennie. But after looking at some other photos of Maud and consulting Sambourne’s diary a Sambourne expert has shown that he was travelling alone on this trip. So Sambourne must have struck up an acquaintance with the couple. He was certainly persistent in his desire to catch the woman on camera, following her around the ship as she was buffeted by the wind.

Finally she takes shelter, but Sambourne is still snapping away.

She is probably wishing her new friend would just stop taking pictures for a while. But photography is an obsession, luckily for us.

As I’ve had to revise this post now we know who the couple on the boat are not I have an opportunity to thank the staff at Leighton House and Linley Sambourne House for putting up with me writing about their man. Both places are worth a visit if you’re in Kensington and if you want to read more about Sambourne Shirley Nicholson’s book A Victorian Household based on the diaries of Sambourne’s wife Marion is still available from Amazon and other online retailers.

Vickie and Nance’s excellent adventure

This story ends in Kensington in 1960 when an old woman named Victoria died at her small house in Holland Street. She had lived there quietly for many years. But a long time before that a young woman called Vickie and her sister Eleanor each inherited £30,000. They had a tragic background. Their mother had died giving birth to Vickie in 1875. Their father remarried and had seven other children with his new wife Clara. In this photograph you can see the contrast between the dark haired Vickie and Ellie and their blonde half-siblings.

Ellie is at the centre of the photograph looking confident and relaxed but as it turned out she was the more conventional one. Both sisters travelled in Switzerland and southern Europe but Vickie wanted to go further afield. She and her best friend Nance went to Egypt. Here they are sitting in a Cairo park with their new friend Monsieur Countour. It’s 1898.

In the nineteenth century the British had become obsessed with ancient Egypt. Egyptian influences are apparent in art, architecture and literature. In Victorian London there were theatres and exhibition halls in Egyptian styles. The influence can be seen particularly in burial places. Look at the Catacombs in Highgate Cemetery or closer to home the Kilmorey mausoleum in Brompton Cemetery. The Victorians seem to have felt a strange bond with ancient Egypt. Both cultures enjoyed elaborate and extensive funeral rites. By 1898 tourism was no longer uncommon. Vickie and Nance joined the other travellers who were visiting Egypt for the first time.

Just as with tour parties today a crowd of visitors mills about not sure what to do next. The locals do their best to get the tourists organised.

That’s Nance with an unknown man beside the Nile. Below are some exhibits in the Musee de Gizeh.

If you’ve been on a tour and seen the local museum you’ll naturally want to go riding as well.

That’s Vickie on a donkey at Saqqara. And here’s Nance trying a camel:

It’s very difficult to tell from what are basically low resolution holiday snaps but I get the distinct impression Nance wasn’t too comfortable perched on top of a camel in a very formal outfit. Vickie looks more assured in the same position.

Perhaps she’s getting some encouragement from Mr Drummond Hay.  From a modern perspective we’d also like to know what the camel owner was thinking. In the photo below the two men look enigmatically at the photographer, perhaps Vickie herself.

They could be annoyed at the whole process or simply maintaining a professional demeanour.

Vickie and Nance also travelled to other parts of North Africa and India returning to Egypt for an extended visit in 1903/04. Here is another chaotic looking outing with a caption in Vickie’s handwriting:

In this image you see some visitors, getting closer to a fallen statue than anyone could today:

They may be archaeologists. Vickie seems to have known the Egyptologist Arthur Weigall.

These pictures come out of a photo album deposited at the Library by a descendant of Vickie’s sister. As with all family albums details are often lost. Although Vickie and Nance were close friends we don’t know Nance’s surname.  The pictures show a couple of friends exploring the world in a way which would have been difficult or impossible for their own parents. But we are only catching a few glimpses of their adventures.

In 1904 Vickie was back in Kensington for her sister’s marriage.

She looks much more confident and assured than she did in the first group photo.

Vickie got married herself in the 1920s and moved to her little house in Holland Street. Here she is in her garden:

But I prefer to think of her on her travels. Here she is back in 1898 posing with a cactus as you would if you’d never seen one so big:

And finally another one with Nance on their way to India on board the ship Caledonia in 1902:

This week we’ve taken a holiday from purely Kensington and Chelsea matters ourselves. But all kinds of material end up in Local Studies collections, which is why they are endlessly fascinating.

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