Richard Ford’s grave in Heavitree. Photograph by the author.
Tucked away under a tree in the churchyard of St Michael’s, Heavitreee, by the edge of a path I once walked on a near-daily basis, lies the resting place of Richard Ford (1796-1858), Hispanicist, writer, art collector and historian. After spending several long sojourns in Spain in the early 1830s he moved to Exeter to be near his brother James Ford (1797-1877), later a Canon of Exeter Cathedral. After Richard bought Heavitree House in the summer of 1834, he filled it with books, antiques and artwork that he had brought back from Spain, and laid the gardens out using Moorish designs and artefacts.
The house, sad to say, was demolished by the council after WWII and the site is now occupied by a housing estate. Photograph by the author.
In 1840 Richard Ford met the Scottish writer and art historian Sir William Stirling (later Stirling-Maxwell, and 9th Baronet of Pollok (1818-78), who had also travelled in Spain and shared Ford’s deep interest in Spanish art and artists. The two men began corresponding on the topic. Ford’s Handbook for Travellers in Spain (1845) proved highly popular, and was reprinted in 1847, the year before Sir William’s four volume Annals of the Artists of Spain was published. This was the first scholarly history of Spanish art in English, and was chiefly responsible for making known the works of El Greco, Goya, Velazquez, Ribera and Murillo. It was, moreover, the first book on art to be illustrated with photographs. The first three volumes featured texts by Stirling Maxwell, whilst the fourth was a supplement of illustrations printed in a limited edition of 50 copies for his circle of friends and family. Sir William had taken a camera lucida on his first trip to Spain and used this as a drawing aid, but it is possible that his inspiration for using the calotype process to illustrate his book came from seeing Talbot’s Sun Pictures of Scotland (1845) or the earlier Pencil of Nature (1844.) Hill & Adamson were also commissioned to produce calotype images for the volume, but – for various reasons – their work was not included.
One of the images from the fourth volume of ‘Annals of the Artists of Spain’ (London: John Ollivier, 1848)
There were 68 photographs in all, taken by Nicholas Henneman using Talbot’s calotype process. Henneman had entered Talbot’s service in 1826 but was later trained by him as a photographer and placed in charge of the printing establishment at Reading. Many of the Spanish photographs were made from the original paintings, which had to be photographed outdoors in the sunshine due to the long exposure times required. When this was impossible, existing engravings were used. Several artworks were borrowed from Richard Ford, who died of Bright’s Disease ten years later at Heavitree House on 31 August 1858.
Ford’s headstone, with the inscription ‘Rerum Hispaniae indagator acerrimus’ – Most keen investigator of all things Spanish. Photograph taken by author, in very bright sunshine!
A set of the Annals of the Artists of Spain was retained at Pollok House, Sir William’s mansion in Glasgow, and a place very familiar from my childhood: in addition to regular visits to the parkland surrounding the house, my parents often went to dinner dances there, and I got to see inside the house from time to time. I still have distinct memories of seeing prints by Goya and Piranesi around the walls. When I began working in the Special Collections Department of Glasgow University Library, the Stirling Maxwell collection of emblem books became a favourite haunt, second only to the early photographic collections. Sir William’s fascination with emblem literature led him to collaborate with Richard’s brother, Canon James Ford, on the book ‘Ut Pictura poesis,’ or An attempt to explain, in verse, the Emblemata Horatiana of Otho Vaenius (London, 1875.) The preface and epigrams were written by Ford, while Stirling-Maxwell provided bibliographical notes.
The Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid is currently running an exhibition about Sir William’s volume – but Copied by the Sun/Copiado por el sol: Talbotype Illustrations to the Annals of the Artists of Spain closes tomorrow, so you’ll need to hurry if you want to catch it! Otherwise, there’s a massive catalogue published to accompany the exhibition, and the following are also well worth reading if anyone wishes to learn more:
Hilary Macartney, ‘William Stirling and the Talbotype volume of the Annals of the Artists of Spain.‘ History of Photography 30:4 (2006) pp.291-308‘The Reproduction of Spanish Art: Hill and Adamson’s calotypes and Sir William Stirling-Maxwell’s Annals of the Artists of Spain.’ Studies in Photography (2005), pp. 16-23.Gilbert, E.W. ‘
Richard Ford and His Hand-Book for Travellers in Spain‘ The Geographical Journal Vol. 106, No. 3/4 (Sep-Oct 1945), pp. 144-15Radford, Cecily. ‘Richard Ford (1796-1858) and his Handbook for Travellers in Spain.’ Transactions of the Devonshire Association, Vol. 90, (1958) pp.146-166
It seems like an eon since I last posted in this series, and so – to make up for lost time – this week I’m looking at four cdvs, including delightful portraits of three young sisters.
Bishop Wood (1839-) of Lower Leigh.
What makes me want to acquire cdvs such as these? The attraction could stem from any number of things. There might be some unusual aspect to the image itself, or some intriguing detail in the artwork or lettering on the back of the card. It might be the photographer’s name that attracts, possibly because I am familiar with their work already, or because he or she has a local connection. Sometimes the place or person depicted is of interest. Handwritten annotations always catch my eye, for even a few cryptic details might provide enough clues to build up a little bit of background.
Such was the case with this group of four cards. Although they were produced by two photographers, one in Bristol the other in Tiverton, the similarity of surnames, placenames and handwriting indicated a close family connection. Piecing the jigsaw together involved a fair amount of work, but enough details came together to share here.
According to the printed advert on the reverse of the card, the portrait above was taken by R Houlson, of 5 Griffin Hill, Bristol. Robert Houlson was born in Bristol but had Devon connections, as he first appears as a commercial photographer in the 1871 census when he was living in Honiton.
Bishop Wood appears in the 1861 census as the 22 year old son of William Ayshford Wood (1810-84), a ealthy gentleman who lived at Leigh House in Uffculme and was one of the main freeholders in the parish. William’s other children included William (aged 19 in 1861), Penelope (aged 16), Florence (aged 9) and Arthur Ayshford. It seems almost certain that this Arthur Ayshford Wood (1849-) – Bishop Wood’s brother – is ‘A.A.W’, father of the three girls below. He married Julianna Palmer (1845-1921) at Tiverton in 1869, and their first child – a son named Arthur – was born in 1870.
The girls’ portraits were taken by Walter Mudford, about whom I have written in a previous post. His photography business was first recorded in 1878 and these were probably taken within five years of that date. Note the bearskin rug!
The caption to each portrait reproduces the pencil note on the back.
‘M. Wood, daughter of AAW, Leigh Court, now Mrs Worth of Tiverton.’
Julia Mabel Wood was born in 1872. She married Charles Lloyd Henry Worth at Tiverton in April 1894.
‘F. Wood, daughter of AAW, Leigh Court.’
Gertrude Florence Wood was born in 1875.
‘A. Wood, daughter of AAW, Leigh Court’
Alice Wood, born in 1876.
The 1881 census records Arthur Wood along with three daughters: Gertrude (aged 6), Alice (aged 4) and Ethel (aged 1) as well as a three-year old son named Ashford. The absence of any names beginning with either M or F was puzzling at first, but the 1891 census reveals that the eldest daughter (Julia) Mabel (now aged eighteen and therefore born in 1872) was away from home on the night of the census ten years earlier, presumably with her mother Mrs Julianna Wood (now 44.) A son Ernest had also appeared, born around 1883.
It is therefore possible to identify the three sitters as Mabel, Gertrude and Alice. Going by the ages and their dates of birth, Walter Mudford probably took the portraits in the mid-1880s. Dating their uncle’s portrait is a little harder, but if he was in his mid-40s when the photograph was taken then it was probably about the same time. He was then living in Dulverton, Somerset – not far from Tiverton and Uffculme – with his wife Elizabeth and describing himself as a retired farmer.
Sadly, his brother’s marriage broke up in the late 1890s – Julianna divorced Arthur Wood following his infidelity with a woman named Sarah Broad, and went to live in Heavitree, Exeter. I haven’t followed up how life turned out for her daughters – a project for another day, perhaps.
With her imperious personality and feisty nature, one might argue that no actress was more suited to playing a monarch than Bette Davis. It’s therefore unsurprising that she played Queen Elizabeth (the First) not once but twice – a distinction shared only with Glenda Jackson, who reprised the role twice in 1971. Sixteen years, however, had passed between The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Michael Curtiz, 1939) and The Virgin Queen (Henry Koster, 1955), and the superiority of her performance in the latter film surely owe more than a little to the difficulties endured by Bette during this period.
The two films were very different anyway. The 1939 movie was based on the play by Maxwell Anderson and focused on the queen’s relationship with Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex – the character played by Anton Walbrook in Elisabeth von England and discussed here. This time her romantic interest is Devon-born Sir Walter Raleigh, played by Richard Todd. Beginning in 1581 after Raleigh’s return from fighting in Ireland, the film follows his arrival at the queen’s court – achieved through an old family connection with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (played by Herbert Marshall, who had starred opposite Bette in The Letter (1940) and The Little Foxes (1941) both directed by William Wyler.) Standing apart from the obsequious etiquette of other courtiers and royal confidantes with his direct speech and soldier’s boldness, Raleigh quickly attracts the queen’s attention. A distinguished career at the court seems assured, but Raleigh’s only wish is to sail Her Majesty’s ships on an expedition to the New World, and for this he needs her support. For Raleigh, serving the queen loyally is a means to this end. But for her? – the rest of the film explores the question of what Elizabeth sees in him, and how their conflicting interests and desires affect their relationship.
As this outline suggests, this story is really about Raleigh, not Elizabeth. In fact, the original treatment for the film was entitled Sir Walter Raleigh and was intended as a vehicle for Richard Todd. It had been over two years since Bette Davis last made a film, and Darryl Zanuck knew he could only lure her over to his studio, 20th Century Fox, with a juicy part. The Raleigh script was therefore substantially revised by screenwriters Harry Brown and Mindret Lord to give Queen Elizabeth a much more prominent role. This was almost the reverse of what happened in 1939, when the star status of Errol Flynn forced the insertion of his character’s name in the title. Todd was no Flynn, however, and both his character and his performance were totally eclipsed by Davis’s portrayal of the queen. Although Todd’s character is more aggressive than the Earl of Essex, no-one could buckle a swash like Errol Flynn, and Raleigh never really captures the same level of charismatic charm.
The Virgin Queen was filmed in CinemaScope, a relatively new widescreen technology that was well-suited to sumptuous costume dramas. It was directed by Henry Koster, who had shot the first CinemaScope film – The Robe – in 1953, and has also just finished working with Richard Todd in A Man CalledPeter (1954.) As the pictures (above and below) demonstrate, the CinemaScope format captures a wide panoramic sweep of detail, which in turn placed particular demands on the actors: they had to enter and exit scenes neatly, and remain in character even at the edges of the action.
The queen’s rival in love: Lady Beth Throgmorton (Joan Collins)
There was at least one point that made the role easier for Bette. The Private Lives had followed the queen right to the end of her reign, meaning that the 31-year-old actress had to play a woman almost twice her age. When filming for The Virgin Queen began in February 1955, she was 47, much closer in age to the real queen during this period – the film ends almost a decade earlier with Raleigh’s departure for South America. Not only was Bette freed from the temptation to make strained efforts to capture the physical effects of old age, but her experiences during the last sixteen years meant that she was able to bring greater empathy to the role of the ageing monarch. This is a more subdued Elizabeth than that of The Private Lives – even the most ferocious outbursts are underscored by a vulnerability that brings poignancy and depth to her character. This is particularly evident in her dealings with one of her ladies-in-waiting – Lady Beth Throgmorton (played by a young Joan Collins), whose romance with Raleigh causes the queen pangs of jealousy. When she reveals her feelings about age, beauty and fertility, the audience realises that her harsh reactions may not be quite as superficial and petulant as first appear.
The costume designer, Mary Wills, was nominated for an Academy Award.
Despite this sense of inner empathy between actress and character, Davis in no way shrank from physically portraying the queen’s age. Ten years earlier in The Corn is Green (Rapper, 1945) she went against advice and insisted on making herself look older and dowdier than was required for the part. For The Virgin Queen, she went even further. Although many other distinguished actresses have played Elizabeth I – it’s a role that has attracted those of the calibre of Sarah Bernhardt, Glenda Jackson, Vanessa Redgrave, Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett – only Bette Davis went to the lengths of having her hair shaved. Although this might have deterred lesser souls from appearing in public – far less acting as a presenter at the Academy Award ceremonies – Bette dressed in a pseudo-Elizabethan costume and headpiece to present Marlon Brando with the Best Actor award at the Oscars on 30 March 1955.
Bette Davis after presenting Marlon Brando with his Academy Award for ‘On the Waterfront’, alongside Grace Kelly with her Oscar for ‘The Country Girl.’
She may have once referred to herself as ‘the Marlon Brando of my generation’ but Bette certainly did not share the actor’s reputation for mumbling, and her acerbic delivery of some of the film’s witty rejoinders still zing and sparkle, even if her accent is a curious blend of mock-Cockney and her natural clipped New England tones. There are numerous other historical oddities and anachronisms in the film, from the jumbled chronology to the presence of telescopes and the name of Raleigh’s ship. The underlying negativity about powerful women could also be classed as a ‘historical oddity’, reflecting as it does more than a little of the gender stereotypes of the 1950s – which is not to say that some contemporary opinions expressed on women’s roles seem even less enlightened than those of the Elizabethan era.
Bette Davis eyes….
At Bette’s request The Virgin Queen received its premiere in Maine, preceded by a cocktail party at her home, Witchway. Thousands of people crowded the streets outside the Strand Theatre in Portland, Maine, for the screening on 22 July 1955. It was not the huge success that Zanuck had hoped for, however, and less than overwhelming box office returns were not helped by the studio’s overly-pessimistic approach to publicity. Although colourful and adorned with magnificent costumes, audiences found parts of the film too stagey and dialogue-heavy. Overall, it is perhaps fair to say that it lacks the sparkle and visual spectacle possessed by The Private Lives, but the fearless and regal performance of Bette Davis is essential viewing: in the hands of a lesser actress, this version of Elizabeth could have been a comic monstrosity.
The film’s legacy has also proved enduring. Discernible borrowings can be traced back to The Virgin Queen from most subsequent Elizabethan biopics, whether in the films themselves or the promotional imagery. Joan Collins revealed that much of the imperious bitchiness she brought to her role thirty years later as Alexis in Dynasty had been learned from Davis during the filming of The Virgin Queen, whileBette’s striking make-up provided the template for Helena Bonham Carter’s appearance as the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland (Burton, 2010.) This royal performance continues to cast a long shadow.
For those interested in reading more about this and other film portrayals of royalty, I can recommend the newly-published collection edited by Mandy Merck, The British Monarchy on Screen (Manchester University Press, 2016) which includes no less than three essays on Elizabeth I as well as my own contribution on Anton Walbrook’s portrayal of Prince Albert.
In the summer of 1979 I went to see the latest James Bond movie, for the first time unaccompanied by my parents. They were not at all pleased when I returned home and repeated many of the film’s double entendres with innocent delight, but at the time I thought it was a great film with a catchy title.
Many years passed before I discovered – by chance – that the name Moonraker had not been dreamed up by the film-makers. The story of a hijacked ‘Moonraker’ space-shuttle capitalised on the renewed interest in science fiction that followed in the wake of Star Wars (1977) – but the original Moonraker story belongs to a period when even the steam engine was in its infancy. It was also a time when smuggling was rife in England, which provides the context of the story.
This was the first of Edwards’ series of postcards on county legends. Later ones included a Yorkshire ghost (No.3), ‘Essex calves’ (No.4) and ‘Devonshire Dumplings’ (No.11)
For most people the mention of 18th century smuggling conjures up images of barrels being landed on remote beaches under cover of darkness, secret passages in caves and so on, and it is often forgotten that such contraband then had to be transported long distances overland to be sold in towns and villages throughout the country.
Wiltshire’s location placed it on the route between the coastal landing places of the west country and southern shores, and the lucrative markets in the central counties of England. According to the story, the residents in a village in Wiltshire – Devizes perhaps, although some versions claim it was Bishops Canning – were in possession of barrels of contraband French brandy on a brightly moonlit night when they learned that a customs & excise official was in the vicinity. The barrels were thrown into the village pond, and once the excise man had left, the villagers returned with hay rakes to retrieve them. Unfortunately, the excise man reappeared without warning and spied the men raking the pond. When he asked for an explanation, they replied that they were trying to rake out the large cheese they could see in the water. The customs man, seeing the moon’s reflection on the surface of the pond, laughed at the naive rustics and rode away. Presumably he spread his story far and wide and the ‘moonraker’ nickname became attached to the inhabitants of Wiltshire.
There are, inevitably, other versions of this tale that suggest the villagers really did believe the moon was a cheese, either from ignorance or drunkenness, and the story of the excise man was added on by Wiltshire folk in order to make them look better. If there is any truth in that, it is certainly a poorer tale.
The story was well enough known by 1787 to be included by the antiquarian Francis Grose in his Provincial Glossary (London: S. Hooper, 1787):
It has also inspired artists to portray the story on ceramic plates, murals and paintings such as the one below:
‘The Moonraker’ (1887) by American painter E.J. Rosenberg
It is on the front of postcards, however, that the moonraker legend appears to have found its most popular medium, and I have seen several variant forms at postcard fairs. This morning I had another rake around the ‘Wiltshire’ section in the postcard boxes of a local antique shop, but to no avail. Any further finds may well be added here in due course!
Recently I came across these beautiful watercolours by Ernest William Haslehust (1866 -1949), which provide the illustrations for Sidney Heath’s book Exeter (London: Blackie & Sons, 1912.) Unlike many watercolours, these are full of deep shadow, strong contrast and vibrant colour. His paintings present a vivid sense of how these landmarks appeared just over a hundred years ago.
This 16th century building was originally used by the cathedral clergy but after the Reformation it was the Customs House, a haberdashery shop, a coffee house (1726-1829), and art gallery. From 1878 to 1958 it was known as Worth’s Gallery, being the premises of Thomas Burnett Worth and his son, who used the picturesque building for printing and selling guidebooks, postcards and other ephemera for tourists. Worth ensured that ‘Mol’s Coffee House’ became a tourist attraction itself, concocting various legends about its links with Queen Elizabeth and the Spanish Armada. It is currently an upmarket gift shop.
This is the view from inside the courtyard of Rougemont Castle, with the old gatehouse and entrance to Rougemont Gardens on the right: another scene that has changed little since Haslehurst painted it.
Here’s St Mary Steps Church, with West Street rising up in the background and the entrance to Stepcote Hill tucked away to the right. The famous ‘Matthew the Miller’ clock is clearly visible on the front of the church tower. The area to the left and behind the viewpoint was swept away for the construction of the Western Way bypass in the 1960s.
A lovely view of the cathedral, showing the bishop’s palace to the right. As I explained in an earlier post, Bishop Phillpotts disliked the idea of living here and had his own residence built near Torquay. At the time of Haslehurst’s painting the palace was the home of the scholarly Bishop Archibald Robertson. The painting below looks like a courtyard behind one of the buildings in Cathedral Close.
Another pre-reformation building, this lodge also stood in Cathedral Close and was once the property of the Benedictine abbots of Buckfast. After the dissolution of the monasteries it passed to the Crown and then through the hands of lawyers and clergymen before becoming the home of the Choristers’ School headmaster. Both the lodge and the school were completely destroyed by a German bomb in May 1942.
I walked along this very stretch of water just two days ago and can confirm that little has changed: Topsham remains one of the most attractive spots on the Exe, with tangible evidence of its sea-faring importance all around. After the river became inaccessible to shipping higher upstream, Topsham became a prosperous port and the hub of the area’s maritime trade.
The closure of the River Exe to shipping was due to the construction of a weir in the 12th century. According to the story, this was at the behest of Isabella, Countess of Devon, which provides the derivation for the name ‘Countess Wear’ which is given to the area painted by Haslehurst below – although, like many such stories, the evidence and dates aren’t quite consistent. Behind the housing in Countess Wear the Exe meanders slowly, in long wide arcs, through flat grassy meadows that still provide grazing for cattle today, as well as being a popular route for cyclists and walkers.