#100daysofbfotc Day 40: Bertie

Bert Braund taken by Jim Willis

Taken by Jim Willis

Bertie’s presence in Barefoot in the Cobbles provides an opportunity to examine yet more facets of Albert and Polly’s brand of parenthood. Their second son, Bertie was born in 1900 and he spent much of his life in Clovelly, working on his father’s fishing boat. In today’s world, Bertie might have been labelled as having mild learning difficulties. A family story tells of how, as a schoolboy, he used to hold the donkeys and walk the unladen beasts up and down the street, when the visitors had finished their rides. Any silver coins he received as tips had to be handed to  his parents but bronze and copper were his to keep. After the deaths of his parents, Bertie went to live with his sister Violet in Bideford. He died in 1969.

‘The doctor looked at Bertie appraisingly.

‘Hello young man,’ he said. ‘You look just the age for my Scout Patrol. Have you heard of the Boy Scouts? I am sure you would enjoy the jolly times we have. We are off to camp in a week or two. What do you think of that?’

Bertie looked desperately at his mother for guidance. How on earth should he respond to this gentleman? He might have been speaking a foreign language for all Bertie understood of the words.

‘Oh no, sir,’ exclaimed Polly in horror. ‘Not Bertie sir, he’s well…. He’s not the sort for being away from home, camps and the like, no, no, no it would never do for Bertie.’ ’

Barefoot on the Cobbles will be published on 17 November 2018. More information about the novel can be found here. Copies will be available at various events in the weeks following the launch or can be pre-ordered from Blue Poppy Publishing or the author.


#100daysofbfotc Day 23: Dr Crew

Dr Crew

Unattributed newspaper cutting

Much of the incidental information about Dr Crew, that appears in Barefoot on the Cobbles, is based on fact. He really was the local scout master and he was indeed fascinated by chicken genetics. He breezes into the lives of the novel’s main characters when they are in crisis and there is only scope to portray the brief essence of a fascinating man, who spent just a short time in Devon.

Dr Francis Albert Eley Crew was born in 1886 in Tipton, Staffordshire, the son of a grocer. Frank was the only surviving child of five siblings. He was educated at King Edward VI School in Edgbaston and his interest in breeding and showing poultry began at an early age. His father changed careers and became the manager of a brick works; the family lived in Stourbridge at this time.

Frank went to Edinburgh University to study medicine, graduating in 1912. He married fellow student, Helen Campbell Dykes and together they set up a practice in Hartland and Clovelly. Quite what the inhabitants of rural North Devon felt about the ministrations of a female doctor is unrecorded.

A keen member of the territorial army, Dr Crew also ran the local scout troop. This allowed me to make a brief reference to a recently founded, yet significant, institution, which helped to evoke an essence of the era. The Bank Holiday camp in East Devon, to which Dr Crew alludes, is reported in the local press. Dr Crew was also an honorary member of the Mariners’ Union, along with Mr Caird, Clovelly Estate’s Land Agent. When the First World War broke out, Frank was attached to the 6th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. He gained the rank of major, serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps in France and India. The Crews had two children.

Dr Crew did not return to Devon after the war; instead, he went back to teach at Edinburgh University, becoming a leading authority on animal genetics, particularly chickens. During the Second World War he was in charge of the military hospital at Edinburgh Castle and was inspired by the many Polish prisoners of war to set up a Polish School of Medicine in Edinburgh. He gained the rank of brigadier and became the director of Medical Research at the War Office. After the war, he abandoned genetics in favour of concentrating on the development of nursing training. He made several overseas trips in connection with the World Health Organisation, including visits to Egypt, Canada and India. He worked for several years in Burma and India before retiring to Sussex.

In 1972, the year before his death, Frank remarried to Margaret Ogilvie Withof-Keus, with whom he had worked in the Army Medical Corps. More information about Dr Crews can be found here.

‘The doctor looked at Bertie appraisingly.

‘Hello young man,’ he said. ‘You look just the age for my Scout Patrol. Have you heard of the Boy Scouts? I am sure you would enjoy the jolly times we have. We are off to camp in a week or two. What do you think of that?’ ’

Barefoot on the Cobbles will be published on 17 November 2018. More information about the novel can be found here. Copies will be available at various events in the weeks following the launch or can be pre-ordered from Blue Poppy Publishing or the author.

#100daysofbfotc Day 5: ‘Crumplefoot Tommy’

Crumplefoot Tommy‘Crumplefoot’ Tommy is referred to in the first chapter of Barefoot on the Cobbles. Although we do not actually get to meet him, we form an impression of his character through his wife and daughter. The ‘Crumplefoot’ nickname is supposed to refer to an injury to his foot, that he sustained whilst at sea. I have probably used this nickname anachronistically, as I suspect he was not injured until later in life but it was too evocative to ignore. Thomas is in his late thirties at the point at which he appears in the story. His wife, who was also his first cousin, has just given birth to the eighth of their nine children. Tommy was in the merchant service and also worked a fishing boat from Bucks Mills. His injury was obviously not life-limiting, as he lived to the age of eighty nine.

‘ ‘Why tears maid?’ asked Albert, moved by the plight of one of Crumplefoot Tommy’s ever-increasing brood.

‘Me da fetched me one.’ The tone was philosophical but she scarcely stifled a rising sob. ‘He said I woke the bebby but I niver.’ ’

Barefoot on the Cobbles will be published on 17 November 2018. More information about the novel can be found here. Copies will be available at various events in the weeks following the launch or can be pre-ordered from Blue Poppy Publishing or the author.

#100daysofbfotc Day 4: East-the-Water, Bideford


Looking across the River to East-the-Water

As the name suggests, East-the-Water refers to the part of Bideford that lies on the eastern bank of the River Torridge. One of the principal characters of Barefoot on the Cobbles arrives in East-the-Water in Chapter 2 and the following Chapter is centred on this part of the town. Although East-the-Water has never been the principal part of the town, at the time of the novel, the riverside’s wharves swarmed with activity. Higher up the hill were the prestigious villas of the Chudleigh Estate, built in the lee of the seventeenth century Chudleigh Fort. The Way of the Wharves, community history project explores the history of this area in more detail. There is also an account of East-the-Water’s history on the community website.

Ok so the real post this time – I hope!

So what happened there? I blame the rubbish motel internet – I am too mean to pay for the upgrade. Thanks to the 200ish people who looked at a blank post yesterday let’s hope this works!

So it is officially the hottest week for decades and here I am stuck in a motel room in that northern industrial city once again. For the benefit of my overseas readers, these rooms are not equipped with air-con and the windows only open a couple of inches because they are afraid of being sued if guests jump out. Normally, the rooms are equipped with fans. I appreciate that all these do is move hot air round the room but it does give the illusion of slightly less heat. My travelling companion sweet-talking the receptionist, resulted in the provision of an industrial strength, floor-standing fan, which I think may have deprived the receptionists of a breeze. Even with this on all night, the temperature did not dip below 28 degrees. I know, I must have looked at the thermostat at least once an hour. Now it is 7.30pm and still 29.5 degrees, a good fifteen degrees above my ideal bedroom temperature.

In other adventures: in an effort to look vaguely respectable for ‘work’ I brought a suit to wear. As I went to put it on, I discovered that the trousers were missing. I have no idea at what stage they escaped from the dry cleaner’s polythene bag in which they were ensconced but they are not there now. That put paid to the professional image I was trying to create. Anyone seen a pair of trousers lying abandoned at some point between home and here?

A bit of a win win in the motel restaurant though. In the crowded dining room last night we patiently waited foodless for 45 minutes after ordering. When food arrived for a table who had ordered 25 minutes after us, we politely enquired as to the whereabouts of our dinners. We’ve been involved in the hospitality industry, we understand that these things happen. Cue grovelling apology, full refund of the price of our dinner, the appearance of our meals and the offer of a compensatory bottle of wine. Being virtual non-drinkers, I ask if we can have free breakfasts instead. Yes, is the reply. Today we descended for a our free breakfasts to be greeted with a bottle of wine as well! – that’s another for the book launch collection (permission for serving of alcohol permitting). It was 7.30am; we nonchalantly sauntered out of the restaurant looking like it was normal to be carrying a bottle of wine about at that hour.

Chris and Musket 1 DEPhotographyI have noticed that, as I struggle with all this marketing lark for Barefoot on the Cobbles, it seems that the way to get a reaction on social media is to post gratuitous pictures of the fisherman of my acquaintance. Forget images of cute animals, I have cracked the latest trend! So here is a random picture that has nothing to do with my post but which will get folks rushing to click on their like buttons – maybe.

Here, There and Everywhere

I am writing this in a field, to elucidate, I am in a caravan in a field, in preparation for the South West Area Genealogical Fair in Swindon. So far we have ‘enjoyed’ the music festival in the neighbouring fields and my shoe has had to be retrieved from the caravan site owner’s dog. Life is never dull. Despite the blog silence, there has been plenty to fill the days since our return from foreign climes. Activities have included speaking at a Migration day conference organised by Somerset & Dorset Family History Society’s Bridport Group. Then I got talked into being an ‘inspirational’ woman; in the company of iron women, nurses and fashion designers. No, I don’t quite know how I ended up there either.  I spoke to High School girls about, well, me really I suppose. The girls circulated from one speaker to another in a speed dating like haze.

I’ve spent a week trying to negotiate my way out of a room along the faceless corridors of a motel. I have attempted, on more than one occasion, to open the room door using my debit card. Yes, it is that time of year again. The glorious weather began and I was incarcerated in a northern industrial city, embroiled in the job I must not mention. It turns out that this coincided with (insert name of a northern industrial city here) Day, allegedly meaning 60,000 people were descending on said city. Fortunately, I managed to avoid 59,000 of them. Another indicator that I am not fit to be let out alone came when I inadvertently did something peculiar to Chris’ phone, meaning that it neither rang nor vibrated when I tried to summon him to collect me from the centre of the town to take me to the motel after my meeting. Fortunately we did manage to make contact but it turned out that whatever I’d done was considerably more complicated than just turning the sound off. Cue frantic ‘live chat’ to help lines and a Chinese whispers-like scenario whereby I read the handy hints suggested on the chat line to Chris who, without the aid of reading glasses, attempted to carry out the instructions for resetting a something or other.

Then there was the rather strange meeting room that I had been allocated for the session I was running in a city centre hotel. Being a small meeting, it was decided that I could have a ‘seminar room’ aka a thinly disguised hotel bedroom. This was six floors up from the rest of the public rooms. Great I thought, we will have our own en suite and indeed we did. Unfortunately in order to turn the bedroom into a meeting room it had been necessary to hide the bed – in the bathroom. The mattress was incongruously wedged into the shower and the toilet was inaccessible. Undaunted, I heaved parts of a double bed across the room in order to avoid us having to descend six floors.


The Braund stand at South West Area Genealogical Fair

This is also the height of the Swords and Spindles season. Typical. The record temperatures soar and I am encased in thick woollen seventeenth century clothing, entrapped in a classroom with forty thirteen year olds. There is the prospect of something very exciting on the Swords and Spindles front for 2019 but it isn’t yet confirmed so, for now, all I can offer is a tantalising hint.

And there is Barefoot on the Cobbles news: my tour de force is currently at the printers for the creation of a proof copy. The publishers are now also taking pre-publication orders. If you aren’t likely to be in a position to get a copy direct from my hot little hand, then this may be an option for you. Do please read what I have written about the book first, I don’t want anyone to get any nasty surprises.