Welcome to the August 2022 issue of our occasional news.
St Wilfrid and Church Norton
On a recent trip to Hampshire and Sussex, we visited several churches, because all sorts of history can be found in them. A few hours were spent at Church Norton, located on the Manhood, the curiously named peninsula that is surrounded by Chichester Harbour, the English Channel and Pagham Harbour. On old maps, the name is shown variously as Manhood, Manwed, Manwood and Manhope.
St Wilfrid’s Chapel at Church Norton, Sussex
(once the chancel of St Peter’s Church)
The legend is that Wilfrid (later St Wilfrid), the bishop of Northumbria, was journeying back from Rome when a storm blew his ship ashore on the Sussex coast. The inhabitants, who were still pagan, launched an attack, but the ship refloated at high tide. Wilfrid was later exiled from Northumbria and in AD 681 took refuge in Sussex, where he was granted land to establish a monastery. He successfully converted the pagan inhabitants to Christianity, and Church Norton became the seat of the bishop.
In 1075–6, after the Norman Conquest, the bishop’s seat was moved to Chichester and a cathedral constructed. What happened at Church Norton is uncertain, though a church dedicated to St Peter was built there from the late 12th century, perhaps replacing Wilfrid’s original monastery and church, which (according to Sussex folklore) the sea washed away, though the bells could still be heard during stormy weather.
Rebuilt at Selsey
The Reverend Henry Foster decided that a new church should be built closer to his congregation, which had shifted to the village of Selsey. In 1864, in spite of widespread opposition, the medieval church at Church Norton was dismantled and the materials were reused on a new site at the north end of Selsey. This church was also dedicated to St Peter. A new chancel was built, because the 13th-century chancel at Church Norton was not demolished. Instead, it became a chapel for burials and in 1917 was dedicated to St Wilfrid. In 1990, it was declared redundant and is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.
St Peter’s Church at Selsey, which formerly stood at Church Norton.
The chancel at the far end was built in 1864–5
The earthworks of a Norman castle are a short walk from St Wilfrid’s Chapel, and then it takes just a minute or two to reach Pagham Harbour, which is now a nature reserve of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). The harbour is a sheltered inlet, important for its mudflats and saltmarshes.
On the day we visited, James Stone was manning a pop-up stall to encourage people to join and make them aware of the work done by the RSPB.
In the mid-19th century, Pagham Harbour was a remote place with few visitors and a favourite haunt of Arthur Knox. He was a retired army officer and a keen ornithologist. In his 1849 book Ornithological Rambles in Sussex, he often mentions this place:
“The considerable peninsula which extends to the south-west of Bognor, terminating in the headland of Selsey Bill, is … far to the south of the more frequented highways; but it comprises a great extent of sea-coast … and also includes within its limits a wide-spreading inlet of the sea, known as Pagham harbour, which might almost be termed a great salt lake; for the entrance to the haven is so narrow and shallow.”
In our book When There Were Birds, we include several observations made by Arthur Knox. Like most ornithologists of that era, he was intent on shooting rare specimens, but was also happy to spend much time watching the wildlife:
“Here, in the dead long summer days, when not a breath of air has been stirring, have I frequently remained for hours, stretched on the hot shingle, and gazed at the osprey as he soared aloft, or watched the little islands of mud at the turn of the tide, as each gradually rose from the receding waters, and was successively taken possession of by flocks of sandpipers and ring-dotterels …and the melancholy note of the peewit from the distant swamp [has] mingled with the scream of the tern and the taunting laugh of the gull.”
Only by looking at the past can we fully appreciate what has been lost in our environment and what needs to be done for the future. During our visit to Pagham, notices about avian flu were a reminder of this devastating disease that is affecting wild birds, especially seabirds, as well as poultry – on a scale never before seen.
ROOKS AND BOOKS
The Birds by du Maurier
In 1952 Daphne du Maurier published a short story called ‘The Birds’ that she wrote at Menabilly, her home near the town of Fowey in Cornwall. It is a shocking tale in which all kinds of birds turn on humans. Although the action takes place in a bleak, post-war rural Cornish community in winter, the author shows that this is a worldwide disaster, in which humans are most likely wiped out. The terror imposed by the attacking birds was a reminder of the terror that so many suffered a few years earlier in bombing raids in the Second World War and later with the continuing fear of nuclear attack.
The Birds by Hitchcock
The story was used by Alfred Hitchcock for a film that was released in 1963. He kept the title as ‘The Birds’, but changed much else, moving the setting to San Francisco and Bodega Bay in California, with a glamorous cast, including Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy and Suzanne Pleshette.
On the whole, the film works well, and the techniques were remarkable and at times dangerous. Even ‘bird wranglers’ were involved. A rather chilling ending to the film was proposed, but never filmed. The ending that Hitchcock chose was, in our view, rather unsatisfactory and abrupt. If you watch the film on DVD, make sure you buy a copy that has the ‘bonus material’, as it is so interesting.
The hugely successful short story is celebrated in Fowey by the giant ‘Rook with a Book’ sculpture that was created by Gary and Thomas Thrussell (whose studio is at Temple on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall). Initially intended to be in Fowey for two years, it has now been permanently placed in the Town Quay and is a popular tourist attraction and a ‘must’ for selfies.
Rook with a Book sculpture at Fowey
Fowey was therefore a fitting place for the first talk related to our book When There Were Birds, and the Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature is to be congratulated for coming to life again after such a long absence due to the pandemic. Waterstones at Truro was the festival’s bookseller, and we loved the display of our books with this gorgeous parrot.
The Fowey festival was formerly known as the Daphne du Maurier Society, and the theme of du Maurier remains strong. Have a look at two pieces on their website about ‘The Birds’:
DAYS IN DORSET
Towards the end of July, we were in ‘Hardy Country’ in Dorset. While Cornwall is inextricably linked with Daphne du Maurier, many different parts of Britain have connections with other famous literary figures. On this trip we kept stumbling across Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) at various historical sites
At Athelhampton, we paused briefly at St John’s Church, which was built in 1861–2, replacing an earlier church. Over a century later, the church was declared redundant, but it was taken over in the 1990s as the Orthodox Christian Church of St Edward the Martyr. In the churchyard is the gravestone of Alfred Cart de Lafontaine (1865–1944), which we photographed as he was (like us) a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
In 1891 he purchased and restored Athelhampton House, which dates back to Tudor times. Thomas Hardy, who was then living at Max Gate, some 5 miles away, was a frequent visitor.
Gravestone of Alfred Cart de Lafontaine
From the churchyard we could see visitors walking round the gardens of Athelhampton House. We tend to restrict our visits to places under the control of English Heritage or the National Trust, as we are members of both organisations and get free entry. Normally, we would not have bothered with the privately owned Athelhampton House, but were very fortunate to be invited to the opening of an art exhibition there that evening. What a glorious place, and we can now appreciate why it is one of the key tourist attractions in Dorset. We were especially pleased to see the dovecote, because in When There Were Birds we talk about how pigeons were raised in these curious structures to provide food for their wealthy owners.
Alfred Cart de Lafontaine was described on his gravestone as a Patron of the Arts, and the new owners of Athelhampton House are also stepping into that role, inviting Belinda Smith, an international artist currently based in Plymouth (https://www.belindasmithstudio.com/), to display her paintings in a major exhibition called ‘Under the Cedar Tree’ that runs until October.
The artworks are displayed in various places throughout the estate, including the main house, and they are inspired by the history of the house, its gardens and its ghosts, as well as by Thomas Hardy. Belinda Smith also paid homage in her work to the Russian-born cubist artist Marevna (or Marie Vorobieff Marevna), who lived and worked for a while at Athelhampton House (as her daughter Marika had married its then owner). It was especially interesting to see how history, art and literature can all be combined.
SUPERSTITIONS AT SEA
The summer issue of the online magazine Quarterdeck includes an article by us called ‘Superstitions at Sea’ – that is, superstitions related to birds. The entire magazine, with our article, beautifully illustrated by the editor, can be downloaded free-of-charge here (it is published quarterly by Tall Ships Communications and distributed by McBooks Press).
We talk about witches, how they were believed to cause shipwrecks and what could be done to prevent such disasters. Smashing the shells of boiled eggs was advisable, while seamen might equip themselves with lucky feathers and listen out for the warnings of birds. Storm petrels were feared, as they were believed to be witches or the souls of dead seamen.
Related to these small birds are the huge albatrosses that inhabit the Southern Ocean. In one incident in 1719, the Speedwell privateer struggled to round Cape Horn, and their woes were blamed on the second captain shooting an albatross.
This tale inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge to write his poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, which was first published in 1798. Coleridge was born at Ottery St Mary in Devon in 1772, shortly after his father became the vicar, and he spent his early childhood there. In 1932, a commemorative plaque was placed on the churchyard wall, showing the sculpted head of the poet beneath an albatross in flight.
Budleigh Salterton talk
The Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival (flagged up as ‘celebrating books by the sea’) takes place 14th to 18th September 2022, with an impressive line-up. It is one of the leading cultural events in the South-West and beyond.
Our talk (‘When There Were Birds’) is on the first day, Wednesday 14th September, 2pm to 3pm. The venue is: The Public Hall, Station Road, Budleigh Salterton, EX9 6RJ.
The street name ‘Station Road’, as in so many places, belongs to a long-lost era, when Budleigh had a railway line and station. All this was lost in the 1960s due to the Beeching cuts.
We will be talking about birds and railways, as well as lighthouses, gunpowder, witches, shipwrecks, even migration to the moon – and much more. Tickets are £11 (£9 students and concessions). Everyone is welcome. You can see details about the talk and how to book here.
Julian Stockwin review
Julian Stockwin is well known as an Age of Sail fiction writer, most notably for his Kydd series, and his latest one is Thunderer. We were very pleased that When There Were Birds was one of his five summer picks, which you can see here.:
Julian’s choice of books is always worth checking out, and his other four titles are Royal Navy Versus the Slave Traders by Bernard Edwards, How to Read Water by Tristan Gooley, More Lives than a Ship’s Cat by Jeremy Stoke and Alistair Maclean’s War by Mark Simmons. Of ours, he says:
“I have always made time to read books by husband-and-wife writing team Roy and Lesley Adkins … This latest book is somewhat of a departure, but fascinating nevertheless … I particularly enjoyed the various references to birds at sea.”
Good news, because the hardback of When There Were Birds will be released in the United States on 16th August 2022 (the Tantor audiobook is already on sale there and probably also the e-book).
In our last newsletter, we said that it was already available in New Zealand and Australia (this is the information on the Hachette Australia website), but in actual fact the hardback will also be released on 16th August. Booktopia flags it up for Father’s Day, which seems a perfect gift idea.
The most curious review of When There Were Birds has been on what appears to be an American blog called ‘Book Reviews By So Many Books‘. We don’t think that we have ever had a review quite like it, as two book reviews seem to be spliced together, with puzzling results. It actually displays our lovely audiobook (narrated by John Telfer), and the author is cited as simply Roy Adkins. The review itself is largely of another as yet unidentified bird book, and the list of ‘Pros’ and ‘Cons’ makes no sense (such as the book being richly illustrated with photographs and artwork).
Roy is described as the author of more than 20 books, including Slimy Monsters of the Deep, Sea Predators of the Prehistoric Atlantic, Invasion of the Killer Jellyfish! and Hunting Dinosaurs. We’ve checked three of those books on the UK and US versions of Amazon and can find no such titles, but watch out. They sound great. We’re working on them right now….
The trouble with the internet is that such information gets copied and becomes fact. We will be forever linked to grotesque creatures. Meanwhile, who has our review and whose review is this?
Joseph Lees was visiting England from Australia in July, taking in sights connected with Nelson, and so we were thrilled with this photograph, showing him holding a copy of Trafalgar: The Biography of a Battle, with the stern of the Victory at Portsmouth Dockyard looking magnificent as the background.
As you can see, some of the warship is covered in scaffolding, and more is to follow, the first step of a major conservation project that started in May, a century after the vessel was moved into dry dock in 1922.
The work is expected to continue for a considerable time – a decade or more. However, it will provide an opportunity in due course for visitors to have access onto the scaffolding. For more information, see the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s website.
The relatively recent website of Shepherd aims to guide readers towards authors and books. As they say on their homepage: “Discovering a new book should be a magical experience … The internet is a bleak wasteland for book discovery. Online bookstores sell books the same way they sell toothpaste, without passion.” Numerous authors have been persuaded to write about one book that they wrote and then pick five related books.
See what you think of our choices! You may find that if you search under ‘topics’, the results aren’t quite satisfactory just yet.
The next newsletter will probably be in the winter 2022