I’m Almost There!

Almost where? I hear you ask. Answer – ready to upload “Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast” which, at the risk of driving you into mild catalepsy is my local history book about the East Coast of Yorkshire.

The Holderness Coast, East Yorkshire

The Holderness Coast, East Yorkshire

The book has taken around 18 months of research, writing and faffing, including an abortive sojourn at a publishing house (for which, if I’m honest I still bear a grudge). On reflection a good lump of that time was taken up with editing, copy reading, obtaining permissions/rights and I still worry that someone will find a typo.

On doing yet another re-read last night it was good to remember how many people and organisations have indirectly contributed – not in the least local museums and libraries. I know these invaluable institutions are under threat from “austerity measures” in the UK so I wanted to use this space to give a shout to some of them and urge anyone looking to spend a bit of time on this eroding coastline to go and visit.

So roll of honour:

Hornsea Museum situated in an old farmhouse in the centre of the town. Don’t be deceived by the apparent smallness of the building – it takes a good while to get round and is packed full of great exhibits. (Sorry Hornsea Museum – I don’t have a photo of you.)

Withernsea Lighthouse Museum – situated – yes you’ve guessed it in Withernsea. It stands, a little incongruously in the middle of the town and has some interesting coastguard and RNLI displays and selections of old photographs relating to local history.

Withernsea Lighthouse and Museum

Withernsea Lighthouse and Museum

The Bayle Museum in Bridlington is located in the old gateway to Bridlington Priory, itself a victim of his royal humpingness, Henry VIII. It is dedicated to the history of the town of Bridlington.

The Bayle Gate, Bridlington

The Bayle Gate, Bridlington


All three museums give a great flavour of times past on the coast and are open now, for the season. Check websites for details.

In addition to the museums I made shameless use of three libraries when researching “Close to the Edge” – these were Hornsea, Bridlington and Beverley libraries. Since libraries seem to be becoming endangered species I’d just like to say that without their helpful staff and the ability to plunder their resources I wouldn’t have been able to write “Close to the Edge.” Thank you one and all.

Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast is scheduled for publication as an e-book on 1 June and will be available from Amazon – that is gremlins permitting.

Sneak Preview

Today I thought I’d let you have a look at some of the photos used in my forthcoming book – Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast.

For those of you who don’t know the area (or even the country – UK that is) the Holderness Coast is a strip of East Yorkshire coastline that has both a remarkable past and an uncertain future. The problem is coastal erosion which has seen more than 30 villages and settlements disappear or “gone back to the sea” and the erosion continues today.

Close to the Edge is an eclectic and sometimes irreverent collection of tales about people, places and events along the coastline.

Have a peek at some of the photos taken by my co-conspirator in this enterprise – June Berridge.

Ruins of WW1 Fort Godwin at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire

Ruins of WW1 Fort Godwin at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire

Where'd the road go? Aldbrough, East Yorkshire

Where’d the road go? Aldbrough, East Yorkshire

Remains of wartime observation post tipped over the cliff onto Mappleton beach

Remains of wartime observation post tipped over the cliff onto Mappleton beach

Quick Update

Just to let you all know that after considerable faffing on my part – techie ignoramus that I am – I’ve changed the blog a bit. NOW you can read about the progress of my mag. op “Close to the Edge”if you click on the eponymous header at the top of the page. This, if my extensive calculations are correct (and the lovely people at WordPress are right) will take you to a separate page dedicated to my book about the Holderness Coast. It’s coming out as an e-book in May, larded with piccys taken by my long-suffering friend June Berridge as well as images from times of yore and will answer burning questions such as:

Why did Fat Willy give land to found a monastery?
What happened to the port of Ravenser Odd?
Who murdered the Rev. Enoch Sinclair?
Who were the naughty nuns of Nunkeeling?
Why is the Holderness Coast shrinking?

All will be revealed; stay tuned.

My general blog page will mainly have my meanderings about life in France. Oo La La!

Those Were the Days

Today, the village where I live musters around 500 souls but roll back the years and more than three times that number lived here. The place was a hive of industry with spinning mills, comb making and jet working factories.

At the bottom of my street there is a huge building, now empty and crumbling away that was used for spinning and carding wool. Built in 1827 to replace an earlier building, it presents an imposing front which was the family’s home together with workshops behind for spinning and carding wool. What you might call a Queen Anne front and a Mary-Jane behind.

spinning mill and masters house

spinning workshops

Initially the work was done by hand and often in the workers’ own homes but by the mid-19th century after yet another change of ownership, the newcomer modernised the mill and installed spinning, carding and combing machines. These were powered by water from a canal that runs alongside the building and on through the village. The workers at the mill ranged from age13 to 70. During the late 18th and 19th century this mill churned out finely combed and spun yarn later used in carpet and cloth manufacture.

The working of jet – a type of lignite – was another local occupation from the 16th century onwards. By 1800 there were six jet mills in the village, three of which had been seized from the Marquis de Puivert (he didn’t fare too well during the Revolution) and sold on. The mills produced jewellery and rosaries for export throughout Europe, the Middle East and America. Again, the canal running through the village powered the jet working machines for cutting and polishing the stone although the finer pieces were finished by hand using a mix of powdered limestone and charcoal from willow trees. As jet became less sought after the industry fell into decline and by the end of the 19th century was finished. The mills remain, some converted to other use, some left empty.

jade workshop

Our third industry – dating from the Middle Ages in this region- was the making of combs. In the village there were 10 comb-making establishments employing around 300 people. Originally the combs were made of boxwood but as that material became scarce holly, service tree, hawthorn and beech were used. Later, in the mid-19th- early 20th century ivory and horn were introduced. One factory alone produced, in a year, 42,000 boxwood combs and more than 21,500 ivory ones and all that through the labour of 8 men, 1 woman and 3 children.
As hair-style fashions changed the demand for these combs lessened and today the combs are mainly found in the brocantes and at car boot sales.

boxwood combs

Close to the Edge? Close to Meltdown!

Long time no write! Since my last post I’ve been eagerly awaiting a verdict from the publisher about my book Close to the Edge. Finally, after getting all excited and talking turkey with the publisher, I get it kicked back with a comment that as they’re going to publish another book about East Yorkshire, they don’t want to take on a second one until sales figures are in. Did it really have to take eight weeks for them to tell me this? So after a week sticking pins in my voodoo doll, I’ve recovered my equilibrium and am on the move with the first version of the book – a Kindle version.

The Holderness Coast in days of yore

The Holderness Coast in days of yore

The book has a great selection of images both old and new (you’ll probably have to magnify this one to see it clearly) and I’ve learned that copyright is a minefield even for items that are over the prescribed time limits. I’ve spent so much time trying to track down owners, owners relatives, owners best friends and owners dog called Poochie that I’m beginning to think it isn’t worth the candle to include anything other than my own images. Still, ’tis done now as best I could.

I’ll by posting some of the images that didn’t make it into the book over on Pinterest – look for the Board called Close to the Edgeand over the next few weeks I’ll add to it. I’m also going to be making a few short clips for youtube so watch out for those as well.

So lots of final details to deal with whilst at the same time, I’m pressing on with a selection of spooky short stories – four written and three to go…oh and of course celebrating the anniversary of my first year in France (any excuse for a party). Suffice it to say I came, I saw and was conquered. It’s definitely home now.

Indie or…?

The editing is finished; the photos all ready and the whole book “Close to the Edge” is ready for uploading to CreateSpace…or is it?

I was extremely uncertain about using an editor but I am willing to admit there was no need for concern. The whole experience has been helpful and positive. Caroline High (my editor) has worked through the mss and combed out all the nits – the odd or inconsistent spellings, the bits that didn’t flow well or where I’d left the reader a bit at a loss because I’d forgotten to tell them something earlier in the book. No matter how thorough and careful you think you have been I would recommend that at least a “copy-edit” is a worthwhile investment.

Now comes the snag albeit an interesting one. Not only did Caroline do a sterling job as editor she also approached a publisher on my behalf. Now I’m in no-man’s land; sample chapters and an outline are now with the local history commissioning editor. Today, she has written and said she Likes It and is putting the mss in front of the sales team and has asked a few questions about the potential market. There’s a long way to go and nothing is at all certain but do I “stick” (with indie publishing) or, if I get the opportunity, do I “twist” (with traditional publishing)? I have to say it’s one of the best dilemmas I’ve ever found myself ruminating about and, if you haven’t guessed already, I know which way I’ll go.

So, a waiting game for a week or two. Indie or Trad? It’s a cliff-hanger!

Aldeborough Road End 3.jpg

The Thirteen Desserts

So that was Christmas – my first in France and full of food, fun with pre-Christmas parties, a gourmet veille de Noel (Christmas Eve) meal, an English Christmas on the day itself and further jollities over the New Year. Little wonder my wits are wandering and my waistline widening.

The shops were full of the essential Christmas fare such as truffles, foie gras and oysters; my neighbours’ kids have been almost beside themselves in a frenzy of speculation as to what Papa Noel will be bringing them and even the weather played a small part by whipping up a few snow flurries to crown the mountain peaks.

Lac Montbel and the snowy mountains

Lac Montbel and the snowy mountains

Amongst the Christmas traditions observed in parts of the Languedoc and Provence is the custom of the Treize Desserts – the Thirteen Desserts. It is a custom with religious significance – thirteen being the number of the Disciples and Christ himself at the Last Supper. After the main meal (called le Gros souper), tradition has it that there must be thirteen desserts placed on the table set between three candles (to represent the Holy Trinity)and each diner must have a small piece of each dessert to bring good luck during the forthcoming year. The desserts stay on the table for 3 days and in some parts a place is set for the family’s ancestors to come and have a nibble as well.

The mix of the Treize Desserts varies a little but generally includes:
a type of olive bread, eaten with grape jam. This must be broken into individual servings with the fingers, rather than cut with a knife to protect one’s wealth from disappearing in the coming year.
Around the olive bread are arranged the “four beggars” – raisins, dried figs, walnuts and almonds. These represent four monastic houses –Dominicans, Franciscan, Augustine and Carmelite.

The four Beggars

The four Beggars

White and Black nougat is set out to symbolise Good and Evil

Then there are dates – a symbol of Mary and Joseph coming from the east together with more dried figs and other fruits from the far east, recalling the origins of the three wise men.
A platter of fresh fruit including oranges, clementines, apples, pears, quince paste, melon and grapes form another dessert.
In addition there will be a whole range of pastries, biscuits and quite probably the ubiquitous bûche à Noel, a rich chocolate log.
All of this feast is accompanied by vin cuit, (cooked wine) – a reference to Christ’s wine at the Last Supper.

The Thirteen Desserts

The Thirteen Desserts


So now it’s on to the next tradition – the New Year resolution and this year my one and only resolution is not to make my usual well-intentioned but totally unrealistic wish list since I always fall by the wayside in double quick time. But what I do wish is that all of you who read this blog have a very happy, prosperous New Year.