Sunday 29 May 2016

A poem to commemorate the Battle of Jutland - 31st May 1916 written by Roma White (1866 - 1950)

Roma White - pen name of Blanche Winder nee Oram (1866 – 1950) - British poet and writer

Blanche Oram was born in Bury, Lancashire in 1866.  Blanche’s father, Henry was a woollen manufacturer and her mother was Esther Oram, nee Allanson.   The family seems to have been wealthy for in 1881 they lived in Lark Hill, Bury and had six servants.   In 1891, Blanche Oram was lodging in Derbyshire, aged 25 single and her employment was listed as ‘Journalist/author’.

Blanche married Charles James Winder in 1897 – they had no children.  In 1901 Blanche was visiting her married sister Florence Barron in Lancaster and described as ‘Living on own means’.

The 1911 Census shows Blanche and Charles Winder living in Garstang in Lancashire. There is a death record of a Blanche Winder born about 1866 who died June 1950 in Bournemouth, Hampshire, which is very near to Poole, Dorset where she was inspired to write her poem about the Battle of Jutland.

After the Battle, Blanche apparently went fishing in Poole Harbour, Dorset on 3rd June 1916 with a local fisherman.  What he said inspired her to write a poem called "News of Jutland" which was first published in London in November 1917. 

Using the pen-name ‘Roma White’, Blanche published numerous books during the period 1890 -1910.  Many were reviewed in newspapers of the time.   During the 1930s, Blanche published numerous children’s books under the name Blanche Winder (King Arthur, Aesop’s illustrated fables and so on).  Blanche’s poem about Jutland was published under the name ‘B. Winder’ in “The Muse in Arms: a collection of war poems, for the most part written in the field of action, by seamen, soldiers, and flying men who are serving, or who have served in the Great War” which was edited by Edward Bolland and published in 1917 by Murray, London.


With thanks to Phil Dawes, Ian Inglis and Poole Library for their help in finding information about Roma White/Blanche Oram (Winder).

“News of Jutland” written by Roma White on June 3rd, 1916

(On June 3, 1916, when the news of our sad losses in our first great naval battle off the Jutland Bank had just come to hand, I went fishing with a sailor on the Naval Reserve. The following lines are, almost word for word, a transcript of his talk.)

The news had flashed throughout the land,

 The night had dropped in dread -

 What would the morrow's sunrise tell

 Of England's mighty dead?

 What homes were wrecked? What hearts were doomed

 To bleed in sorrow's school!

At early morn I sought my friend,

 The fisherman of Poole.

He waited there beside the steps:

 The boat rocked just below:

 "You're ready, m'm? The morning's fine!

 I thought as how you'd go!

 I dug the bait an hour agone -

 We calls 'em 'lug-worms' here.

 The news is grave? Aye, so I've heard!

 Step in! Your skirt is clear.

"My brothers? Any news, you ask?

 No, m'm! Nor like to be

 A fortnight yet! Maybe they're both

 Asleep beneath the sea!

 I saw' em start two years agone

 Next August - and I says

 We'll see 'em back by Christmas time -

 But we don't know God's ways!

"I'll pull her round the fishing-boats!

 The Polly's lying there!

 D'you see her, m'm? The prettiest smack

 For weather foul or fair!

 It's just the ways they've builded her

 As seems to make her feel

 Alive! She's fifty sovereigns' worth

 O' lead along her keel.

"Fine men my brothers war - I'll tie

 Her up against this boom!

 Don't fear to move free! This here boat

 Is built with lots o' room!

 You're safe with Jacob Matthews, m'm!

 He's ne'er been called a fool

 By any of the fisher-folk

 As lives in little Poole!

"How many left? Well, maybe half;

 They've gone off one by one.

 It's likely I'll be gone myself

 Afore the war is done.

 Attested just a month agone,

 And passed for fit and sound -

 It's shallow here for flat-fish, m'm,

 The boat's well-nigh aground.

"I'll throw your line out - that'll do!

 Aye, fights on sea are grave!

 There ain't no Red Cross people there

 To lift you off the wave!

 There ain't no 'cover' you can take,

 No places to lie down!

 You got to go - wi' red-hot shells

 Just helping you to drown!

"It minds me of a night we men

 Had got the life-boat out.

 They'd 'phoned us up! And off we pulled

 With many a cheer and shout!

 We rowed her hard up to the wind,

 And clear the moonlight shone -

 But when we reached - you see, just there -

 Both ship and crew were gone!

"We cruised around for half an hour!

 Ah, m'm, our hearts was sore!

 We'd looked to throw the line to them,

 And bring' em safe to shore!

 Aye! these blue waves ha' swallowed up

 More finer men than me!

 But we've been always fisher-folk,

 And we can't fear the sea!

"Why, there's a catch! Aye, pull it in!

 'Tis on your second hook!

 Well, that's as odd a little fish

 As e'er a line ha' took!

 I've ne'er seen nothing like it, m'm -

 Don't touch it wi' your hand -

 These strange 'uns prick like poison, m'm,

 Sometimes - you understand?

"I'll take it off! It won't hurt me!

 You wonder what it's called?

 I couldn't say! The rummest thing

 That ever yet was hauled!

 A farthing's worth o' queerness, m'm,

 I'd name it if 'twas priced!

 A young John Dory? No - they bears

 The marks o' Jesus Christ.

"You'll see His fingers and His thumb!

 Where are they? Well, a bit

 Beyond the gills - look! Here's the place,

 Just where I'm holding it!

 So this ain't no John Dory, m'm!

 I'll put it safe away!

 You'll tell your friends you pulled it from

 The bottom o' Poole Bay!

"'Twas better than a submarine?

 There ain't such devils here!

 We've got the North Sea trawlers down,

 They keeps the harbour clear!

 You saw a heap o' tangled wire

 A-lyin' on the quay?

 And thought as they'd just hauled it up?

 Aye, m'm! That's how 'twould be.

"We're what they calls a' Naval Base,

 Since this here war abroke!

 You seen it up? Aye, yonder there!

 'Tis hard for fisher-folk!

 We gets our catches in the night!

 But we mayn't leave the Bay

 Save when the sun is on the sea -

 You don't catch much by day!

"But we've our bit to bear, as much

 As richer men nor we.

 We got to get a 'permit' now

 To take our nets to sea.

 We starts at dawn - if tides is right -

 And, when the sun be gone,

 Unless we lie inside the booms

 We'd like be fired upon!

"You want to see the mack'rel shoals?

 They come in black as - see -

 Yon house that's tarred from roof to floor

 Just there, beside the quay!

 My smack's up now by Christchurch steps,

 I've got my 'permit' signed!

 I'll take you out o' Thursday next

 If so be you've a mind?

I shan't be gone? Not yet! I waits

 Until I gets the call! -

 If you'll come out, m'm, with the nets,

 I'll promise you a haul!

 You're safe with Jacob Matthews, m'm!

 He's ne'er been called a fool

 By any of the fisher-folk

 The war has left in Poole!"

Wednesday 18 May 2016

The Nott Sisters - British poets and schoolteachers

Mary Telfair Nott 1858 - 1947
Jane Protheroe Nott 1859 - 1944
Martha Lucy Nott 1873 - 1946

Phil Dawes - a local historian and researcher - has been extremely supportive of this commemorative project.  Phil very kindly sent me this article about the three Nott sisters, one of whom - Jane Prothero Nott - is mentioned in Catherine W. Reilly's "English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography" (published by St. Martin's Press, New York, 1978 - p. 239).  Many thanks indeed Phil.

Three spinster sisters, all teachers, set up a private school in Bristol in 1893. They called it Felixstowe Girls School. The school expanded and moved to new premises several times, always keeping the same name. Mary Telfair Nott was the eldest and the other two were Jane Protheroe Nott and Martha Lucy Nott.  Martha Lucy called herself 'Marlu' even on the 1911 census when she was joint-Head, which explains why she was difficult to track down.  The father of the family, Robert Nott, started work as a Railway Cashier who worked his way up to the senior position of Railway Accountant.

In 1871 and 1881 the family was living at 29 Portland Square, St. Paul, Bristol. The parents were Robert and Emma Nott and they had six children: William, Emma, Mary, Jane, Robert and Thomas. A nephew was also living with them in 1881 and one servant was in residence.  Thomas Nott died in 1879 when he was sixteen.  Martha Lucy was the seventh and final child born in 1873. She must have come as a great surprise to her parents, being born 10 years after the 'last' child, Thomas.  Her mother Emma Nott nee Protheroe was about 44 years old when Marlu was born.  

The Nott girls had a Governess when young so were home-educated initially. Jane later attended Bristol School of Science and Arts where she won, among other things, a geometry prize. Marlu attended Redland High School and she won prizes in English, French and Arithmetic.  In 1891 the family was living at 51 Apsley Road, Clifton. William and Emma had left home by this time. Emma had married Ivie Mackie Dunlop, a local businessman and wine merchant.  Mary, Jane, Robert and Martha were still living with their parents. There were two live-in servants.

After leaving school, Martha Lucy started work as a music teacher and by 1893 the three unmarried Nott sisters were all teaching and they combined resources and started their own school. Their parents were living with them and one could speculate that father Robert did the accounts and mother Emma helped with the domestic arrangements.  Martha Lucy passed a Cambridge Higher Local Examination in 1895. By 1901 the school premises were at 6, Downside Road. A young governess/teacher had been employed and there were three servants living-in. At that time there were only 8 boarders. The school expanded and moved to new premises in Upper Belgrave Road, Clifton. In 1911, by which time both parents had died, there were 41 boarders including several children born in India to expat families. There were four additional teachers, three of whom were of French origin, so we can safely assume that French language and culture were important subjects.

In addition to teaching, Martha Lucy and Jane P. Nott were both published writers. Marlu usually published under the name M. L. Nott but it appears that her pen name, used sometimes, was Mary Lancaster Nott. 

In 1908, thanks to a Royal visit and tour of Bristol we find out the school motto. A reporter went round town recording the residents' efforts at decoration and he noted the school's motto in floral work which was the surprisingly whimsical: 'Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace'. No doubt all the sisters had approved this motto but it was probably Marlu's idea. In the same year she published a series of tracts with equally whimsical titles including: 'With the Dagger and the Flowers', ‘Our earthly strongest power', ‘The Roses were too weak the Battle to win'.  

All this ‘whimsy’ must have been intended to stimulate the girls' creativity and it probably reflects the spiritual side of the Arts and Crafts Movement which Jane would undoubtedly have met at Art School. We can see from photos of the period (kindly supplied by Anthony Richards) that the school was elegantly furnished and that the girls looked happy, well-fed and well-dressed.  Evidence shows that the girls followed a liberal curriculum which included French, Music, Drama, Gardening, Horse-riding, Swimming, Hockey and Tennis. The Nott sisters couldn't afford to be slack on standards in English and Mathematics, as there were many rival private schools in the area and competition for pupils was fierce.

Pre-World War I Bristol was a hot bed of the suffrage movement with several branches operating there, including all-male groups.  Numerous 'stunts' were carried out and there was some vandalism by both pro- and anti-suffrage supporters.  One wonders what line the Nott sisters took with their young charges but it seems very likely that women’s rights would have been discussed if not overtly supported by the establishment.   

The school continued to operate in WWI but it must have been a difficult time with food shortages and men away fighting including the relatives of some of the girls. The Nott sisters' own two surviving brothers would have been too old to fight. There were also blackouts to contend with as the armaments factories around Bristol were thought likely to be at risk from Zeppelin bombing raids.

In 1914 Miss Mary Nott produced her own adaptation of ‘Alice in Wonderland’.  Martha Lucy, writing as M. L. Nott undertook some war time 'good works'. She wrote the music for a children's song in 1914 and she wrote a short piece called 'Peace! Justice! Liberty!’  She was the editor of two war time anthologies. The first was a book to raise money for war horses entitled ‘The Fund for Wounded Horses at the Front’. She collaborated with Sir Henry Newbolt on this project and other contributors included such eminent persons as G.K. Chesterton, Rudyard Kipling and Harold Begbie. The war horse book had its cover sketched by a New Zealand soldier, Private W. F. Bell, and a copy was sent to the mayor of his home town Dunedin.  It is likely that the Nott sisters had met Private Bell and noted his artistic talents during visits to one of several local war hospitals.

The second anthology was a collaboration in aid of ‘Comforts for Soldiers’. The school girls would certainly have been encouraged to do knitting and sewing for the soldiers – it was an almost universal activity at the time. The older Nott sisters probably had a good grounding in sewing as their grandmother had been a dressmaker and had helped to look after them when they were children.

Jane Prothero Nott had a poem published in 1917 in the “Poetry Review” Vol. 8, alongside the work of better known poets Teresa Hooley and Eleanor Norton. After the war Jane continued writing and she also contributed to the ‘Winter Talks’ programmes at the Central Library.  She published 'A Little Book of Verse' (Erskine Macdonald, London, 1921) and had poems included in 'The New Spirit in Verse', in 1922.  In 1925 Jane was one of only a handful of British writers to have a poem accepted for an Edgar Allen Poe competition in New York.  Two of her poems: 'In Saxon England' and 'At Paddington' were included in the County Series of Contemporary Poetry, 1927.  

In 1930 the Nott sisters retired and the school was taken over by a progressive establishment which had originally started life as a Plymouth Brethren school. It continued as a school until 1940 when the front of the Felixstowe school building suffered bomb damage and was declared unsafe.  Teachers and pupils moved out and ended up in Newport for the duration of the war.

The Nott sisters’ final move was to ‘Penleigh’, 47, Canynge Road, where they lived together until their deaths which took place over the period of 1944 to 1947. They all left wills and, as they had no children of their own, the beneficiaries probably included each other and their two nieces, daughters of their older sister Emma Dunlop. Jane died in November 1944 aged 85 and her estate included the sum of £13,458 gross.  Martha Lucy died in February 1946 and her solicitor’s press notice, requesting any claims against the estate, described her as: 'known as Marlu'.  

Mary was the last to die - in March 1947.  She left the then large sum of £27,607 gross. The house, which had central heating, maids’ quarters and a large garden, was sold off. Her effects were auctioned in May 1947. In addition to the usual furniture and ornaments there were several violins, a harmonium and a 1934 sixteen horse power Morris Saloon. It would appear that Miss Mary Nott was still in the driving seat until she was 88.

Phil Dawes. Updated December 2015 with additions and photos provide by Anthony Richards.

Tuesday 3 May 2016

"We also served The Forgotten Women of the First World War" by Vivien Newman

Vivien Newman suggested that I might find some women poets in her book "We also served The Forgotten Women of the First World War" and she was right.

Mentioned in the book are three women poets - Mary Elizabeth Boyle, Phyllis Iliff and Alexandra Ethelreda Graham who wrote under the pen-name A.E.G.    Two of them are featured in Catherine W. Reilly's wonderful Bibliography of English Poetry of the First World War but Phyllis Iliff is not.

With many thanks to Vivien for a wonderful book and for finding another forgotten female poet of the First World War.

"We also served The Forgotten Women of the First World War" by Vivien Newman was published by Pen and Sword History, Barnsley in 2014.