Monday, 31 October 2016

Of all the Statues in London!

King Charles II by Cibber in Soho Square Gardens

In one of the twists of serendipity that make history research come alive for me, I happened on this statue of Charles II in Soho Square Gardens yesterday. It was only two days after visiting Grimsdyke Hotel in Harrow Weald where the statue once stood. You can see from the inscription that the restored statue was presented by Lady Gilbert, the widow of librettist W.S. Gilbert.

Apparently when the statue was first commissioned during the king’s lifetime, it was part of an ornate fountain which stood in the square, then called King Square. 150 years it was very much the worse for wear and removed to Grimsdyke, which was then the residence of the artist, Frederick Goodall.

A plaque in the square notes that Joseph Banks once lived at 32 Soho Square. I have a certain fascination for Banks, as he is often portrayed as the aristocratic antagonist to my hero, working class James Cook. Lets just say that his reputation was not enhanced in my eyes when I realised that he bought his home in Soho Square in 1779, at which time the notorious White House brothel was already established at 21 Soho Square.

I was also interested to read that underground the gardens are honeycombed with tunnels and air raid shelters from the Second World War.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Blindingly Obvious

Place Names

One of my great pleasures in my pursuit of trivia is discovering a link which is blindingly obvious when you think about it. So often familiarity or a different cultural experience means that years of exposure can go by without realising the implications of a name.

In New Zealand, as a former British colony, we have many, many places and roads named after British locations. I am glad to say we have also kept many Maori names too, which confounds tourists when they have to pronounce them. (Lots of New Zealand placenames underscore our British heritage and show our age by being named for 19th century heros and politicians, but that’s another post)

So when I tell people in Britain that my home is in Cambridge, I have to quickly add, Cambridge, New Zealand. My suburb is Leamington, but here in England Leamington is over 100km from Cambridge! Many of the links are well known, with New Zealand counterparts for Oxford, Hamilton, and Christchurch. But you can still be caught out on the internet if you are not careful: I nearly booked accommodation in Cheviot in the Scottish Borders rather than the township in northern Canterbury, New Zealand.

Some are a newer surprise, for instance I only recently found out the famous House of Pain rugby stadium, Carisbrook in Dunedin is named for a castle on the Isle of Wight.

But the best realisation only occurred when I started living in the UK in 2014. In New Zealand we have many roads named after UK places… I have even lived on a York Avenue. But here in the UK if you are standing in the town square and see a road named say: London Rd, it will be the road to London. Doh! So obvious! The main thoroughfare through Hatch End is called Uxbridge Rd: so of course it terminates at Uxbridge. Brilliant for a directionally challenged traveller like me!

Friday, 28 October 2016

Cream Tea

Just booked a cream tea at Grimsdyke Hotel for this afternoon, and it got me thinking about cream.

In America they always ask if you want cream in your coffee: but I am never sure what they mean by cream. If by cream they mean milk at around 2 % milk fat, then yes, that is what I want in my white coffee. But it seems that sometimes they are actually using cream, judging by the fatty texture of the resultant coffee.  And I have been in many places when the request for a white coffee is meant by a blank stare. I have taken to asking for coffee with milk, with a shift to a short black/espresso when I am on the Continent, where a good non-frothy milk coffee so beloved in New Zealand is impossible to find.

A cream tea in UK is what we would call a Devonshire tea in New Zealand, although in NZ the cream has lost all connection with Devon, and isn’t even clotted. More details and pics after my cream tea today.

I remember my grandmother making her own clotted cream at home, using commercial milk and cream. It wasn’t til much later that I realise that she probably learnt to do this from her maternal grandmother, Emily Rowe (b. 1849) who was originally from Cornwall, next door county to Devon, and also famous for its dairy produce. The brand available here in UK is Rodda, which seems to be a Cornish surname judging from my family tree.

Commercial cream on this side of the world is confusing… in the UK shops you can buy single, double, whipping, extra thick double and of course clotted. That’s without going into the cultured types such as crème fraiche. In France I had difficulty in getting cream to whip and was told it is necessary to add a product to get it to thicken. More research needed here.

Thursday, 27 October 2016


From Harry Potter, we have become familiar with Grim, the name of a spectral black dog that portends death.

According to Wikipedia, Grim is also one of the many old names for Woden, Northern European King of the gods. It is believed that the name Grim attached to several ancient earthworks in England is to honour Woden. Similar earthworks are sometimes named for the devil, make of that what you will.

The earthwork I am particularly interested in today is Grim’s Dyke or Grim’s Ditch, which runs very close to where I am currently living, in Hatch End. It runs for a length of about 5km from Pinner Green towards Harrow Weald and was built in Roman Britain times, probably by the local Catuvellauni tribe, as a defense against the Latin invaders.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Old Strathcona 1906 to 1913

Why did the Coulsons leave Canada in 1913?

The Canadian census of 1906 show the family living in Strathcona. It seems they moved there sometime after their youngest child, Esther was born in Midway, British Columbia the year before. The family is still there 5 years later in the 1911 census, although the eldest girls Bertha and Ethel are not living with them. Bertha had married the Englishman Charlie Smith in 1909. I am still trying to find Ethel’s marriage to Ray Scuffham, another new immigrant from England, but their first child was also born in 1909. John is listed as a farmer.

I understand that John Archer Coulson’s business included horse buying trips across the border to Montana, and they ran a livery stables in Strathcona. This is referenced in a published history of pioneer times in the area which is in the possession of my Aunty Ruth. More details to follow.

Strathcona has now been swallowed up by the city of Edmonton, Alberta, but at that time the Coulsons moved there, it was a separate town on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River. It was booming as an important hub of the new Canadian railway system. There was also a lot of construction taking place, and the city required buildings to be constructed in brick and stone, rather than wood. This move was made in response to the 1906 Fire of San Francisco which destroyed 80% of the city.

Unfortunately the boom led to a speculative real estate market. In 1913 the bubble burst and many residents moved away. I imagine my family were affected financially too, and this, as well as John Archer’s poor health was a factor in their decision to move to Western Australia.

My grandmother Jessie stayed on in Strathcona to complete her education as a teacher. She was living with her sister Bertha Lindsay in 1916.  The Lindsays later moved back to BC and established themselves in the Okanagan Valley.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Louis Creek from 1924

Further online research confirms that when my great grandparents returned to Canada in 1924 they settled in Louis Creek, British Columbia, and spent the rest of their lives there. 

They never got to meet any of their daughter Jessie’s children (my grandmother), as she had married a Rongomai (via Eketahuna, the address specifies) farmer, John Evans and remained behind in New Zealand. How she must have missed them: her first child was born only a couple of weeks after her family departed by the ship, leaving her with no relatives in the southern hemisphere.

I have to remind my children that in those days, communication was so much slower and more expensive. Trans-pacific travel generally entailed travel by ocean liner, rural phone lines were party lines: one line shared by several families. You identified the calls meant for your household by your own morse code call sign. When you wanted to make a call, you first needed to make sure one of your neighbours wasn’t already using the line, then speak to the operator at the local exchange to put your call through. No such thing as Privacy laws then! Even up to the early 1980’s, toll calls had to be made via a real live operator, and the capacity of the international lines was so limited that calls at peak time, like Christmas, had to be booked in advance. Calls abroad were also limited by their expense: at around $3 per minute in 80’s prices, makes then more like $30 a minute in today’s money (2016)

My grandmother did make the return trip to Canada once in her parents’ lifetime. In 1935 when my mother Audrey, the youngest child was only 4, Jessie travelled to Louis Creek to see her dying father. All the children stayed in New Zealand. My aunty Ruth says she thinks her father forebade her to take the children as he wasn’t confident of her returning to New Zealand otherwise. It was also during the lean depression years, so money would have also been an issue.

I do not yet know why the Coulsons decided to base themselves in Louis Creek. As well as my great grandparents John Archer Coulson and Jane (nee Jacklin) their younger children Esther and Tom lived at Louis Creek too. The older sisters who had remained in Canada in 1912 were the three eldest: Bertha, Ethel and Maggie. They had all married before the family departed and were settled. Sadly Ethel died in 1922. 

My grandma Jessie had a different narrative arc. She only travelled to New Zealand around 1919: I believe it was after the war. She never lived in Australia. She had stayed on as a student teacher in Strathcona, and was living with her married sister Bertha in the 1916 census. I believe she was also tasked with winding up her parents financial affairs in Strathcona. Travelling as an unaccompanied young woman from Canada to New Zealand must have been quite an adventure. More of her story another day.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Drag Queens and Kings

My plan for this blog writing exercise is to write and publish every morning. The publishing part is important to keep me honest! So far, so good. Almost at the one week mark. How is that for consistency.

But today I must be out of the house early. No time to develop an anecdote. What to do? As it other creative areas of my life, my problem is never coming up with ideas… in fact life would be simpler if I didn’t have so many ideas buzzing around. 

On days like this, I think my offering may consist of a story starter, of what Wikipedia would call a “stub” A stub they define as a short article in need of expansion. Through the wonders of time and hyperlinks I hope to develop stubs into fully fledged stories. I beg your indulgence if they remain ugly ducklings for some time. Blog comments may remind me to return if you want to hear more of the tale.

For today, this stub is about so-called cross dressing. The idea was re-ignited when I was researching the painter Zoffany for a previous post. He painted Garrick, the famous actor of the 18th century, several times. One striking portrait was of Garrick in drag. This popped up on my radar at the same time as the opening of Priscilla Queen of the Desert in Auckland, New Zealand. I know this because several friends have posted on Facebook about their attendance. And after all that is what Facebook is for: to inform our friends and if it makes them a little envious at that same time, so much to the good.

Back to cross dressing… I have other historic figures whose alleged penchant for dressing in clothes more customary to the other sex I intend to explore. People on this list include James I/VI of England/Scotland, Queen Christina of Sweden, a former governor of an American colony (damn I have forgotten his name), and the Scandalous Lady W. Oh and don't forget that female pharoah.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Louis Creek, British Columbia

Further internet research has confirmed that the Coulson family did settle at Louis Creek in 1924, after their return from 10 years working and travelling in Australia and New Zealand. As well as John and Jane, their daughter Esther and son Thomas were living there too, probably all in the same household.

John Archer Coulson, Adventurer

John Archer Coulson. 

I logged in to Geni, a web-based family tree site, for the first time in months yesterday… my go-to site is, where I pay a sub. On logging in I found I have a couple of unopened messages from way back. One is from Carson Stone, a stranger to me, who writes he is collecting information for book he is writing on the history of Louis Creek. He knows my great grandparents lived there, and requested any information I could share.

Great, this gives me a writing prompt for today. One of my aims is practicing daily writing is to discover the areas of my family story that need more detail and research. There is nothing like being asked to write a resume to help you see the gaps. And hopefully it gives a more coherent arc when family members ask for details for their family’s past.

So I will write a bare-bones story, and try and flesh it out. I know the family lived in Louis Creek, British Columbia, Canada, but not sure where in the chronology their stay there fits.

What I do know about John Archer Coulson makes me wish to have known him. He led a pretty adventurous life through a challenging era, family was paramount, and he didn’t shirk from his responsibilities. Think of this post as a first draft.

He was born in Alston, Cumbria in 1859, the eldest son of a mining family. The area has a long history of mining, dating back to Roman times. The treasure they wrested from the earth was lead. Mining still remains a dangerous job, even in the modern world of health and safety. Back in the 19th century, conditions were dire. The family story says that as his father George lay dying from miners lung at the age of only 56, he made John promise to take the family away from Cumbria and the curse of the mining life. John apparently worked double shifts in the mines to earn their passage, in the process weakening his own health. Seven years later the shipping records show him arriving in Quebec with his mother, brother and four sisters. He was twenty three and his youngest sister was fourteen. The eldest child of the family, Mary Jane, had already married and remained behind in Cumbria. But John had fulfilled his father dying wish. They were well away from Cumbria and now the family had the raw challenges of life in pioneering Canada.

The year of arrival in Canada was 1883. Three years later John marries Jane Jacklin in Howick, Ontario, Canada. His brother Thomas and Jane’s sister Mildred were witnesses.  Jane was a second generation Canadian, her family living in South Elmsley, near Smiths Falls, Ontario. 

Howick is on a spit of land surrounded by the great lakes of Erie, Ontario and Huron.

Their first child Bertha was born at the end of that year in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island off the west coast of Canada. That’s 5000km away from Howick. The tales of the endeavours John engaged in show him regularly moving across the vast expanses of Canada, and later the Pacific. 

He was involved in moving the Bastion, a wooden watch tower on Vancouver Island, (1891) he ran an ostelry in Strathcona (now South Edmonton) He had regular trips into Montana to buy horses to supply his business.

My mother marvelled to think of his courage and fortitude in his 50’s when he made another major family move. He was head of a large extended family group which travelled to Western Australia and worked in wheat farming before moving again to New Zealand. It is said that he was advised to go on a sea voyage for the sake of his health. I confirmed this today when I viewed the fascimile of his arrival card when he returned to Canada: reason for leaving Canada: for sake of Health. The family group included his wife, 5 children (the 4 eldest daughters remaining in Canada) his wife's brother Rufus and the man who later married his daughter Rosina, Walter Lindsay.

In 1924 most of the family returned to Canada, and I think this is when they moved to Louis Creek. My grandmother, Jessie Archer Coulson alone remained in New Zealand, having married John Evans, my grandfather. And that as they say, is another story. Or should it be "and they all lived happily ever after" ?