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Saturday 28 December 2013


At time of writing in Scotland, summer seems an awfully long way off. Time to remember another plant developed by my horticultural ancestor John Salter. John was the grandson of my 4x great grandfather and his first wife, while my line is descended from his second – so John is a half cousin of mine.

Strawberry Jucunda – large, light crimson with firm red flesh of high flavour –widely grown in the United States, Yugoslavia, France and the Netherlands since its introduction by John Salter in 1854

He achieved a measure of fame in both Paris (1838-48) and London (1848-74) with the nurseries which he established in both cities to cater for the fashion for English garden flowers. At the same time that he was importing the English garden to France, he was bringing French fruit to England. A report in the Gardeners' Chronicle newspaper of 12th September 1845 announces:


John Salter of Versailles, France, can furnish the following new varieties (French and Belgian), which will be sent out for the first time this Autumn:-

“LA LEIGEOISE” (Haquin). —Hybrid from Roseberry, but in every respect far superior. The fruit is about 1¾ inches long by 1¼ in diameter; colour dark red; abundant bearer and very early, ripening in the open air from 10 to 1.5 days before “Alice Maud”, or Keens' Seedling. M. Morren, the celebrated professor of botany at Liege, speaks of it with unqualified approbation, and recommends it as the earliest known. Price £2 10s per hundred.

“PRINCESSE ROYALE” (Pelvilain).— Hybrid from Elton and Keens' Seedling. The fruit is long and very handsome; colour light rosy-red, most abundant bearer, early, and for forcing one of the best ever raised. The saleable stock is very limited, the two principal forcers for the Paris market having already retained the greater portion. Plants 2s 6d each, or 12 for 20s.

"COMTE DE PARIS" (Pelvilain).— Hybrid also from Elton and Keens' Seedling, but totally different from the preceding. The fruit is round, large, and handsome; colour reddish-saffron; abundant bearer, and a very desirable late variety. Stock very limited. Plants 2s 6d each, or 12 for 20s.

J. S. will remain in England until Saturday the 19th inst., and all letters addressed to him (post paid) at Mr. W. D. Salter's, Waterloo-street, Hammersmith, will meet with due attention. All orders above £2 10s will be delivered carriage free to London. Remittances, or Post-office orders payable at Hammersmith, will be expected from unknown correspondents.

Strawberry Princesse Royale, one of the French varieties sold in England by John Salter (from a hand-coloured lithograph by Alexandre Bivort, c1850)

William Davis Salter, with whom J.S. stayed while selling French strawberries to the English, was John’s younger brother. W.D.S. was the father of William Talfourd Salter, the lawyer whose cases I write up here sometimes.

The Comte de Paris was traditionally the heir to the French throne – in 1842 Prince Philippe d’Orleans, grandson of the reigning French monarch Louis-Philippe I, inherited the title on the death of his father in a coach accident; and it is probably him for whom the Comte de Paris strawberry was named. Unfortunately for Philippe and John a revolution in 1848, driven in part by high unemployment and an economic depression, overthrew the French monarchy and led to the establishment of the French Second Republic.

Philippe fled to America where he served as a captain in the Union Army during the Civil War. As a foreign owner and employer, and an ardent monarchist, John too had to leave France in a hurry. Back in Hammersmith he established a new nursery, from which in 1854 he launched his own very British strawberry, Jucunda. It was large, light crimson with firm red flesh of high flavour, and its success, while long-lasting, was not easily achieved.

The Jucunda strawberry, illustrated in American gardening magazine The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste soon after its introduction to the United States

Within four years it had been introduced to the US, where the initial reaction was poor. An article in The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste wrote it off thus: “If the experience of others with this variety is the same as my own, it will soon be laid upon the shelf.”

Young Jucunda plants looked frail and feeble, leading new growers to dismiss it as a failure. But for those who persisted, a later supplier declared, “it will amply repay good culture on all heavy soils. It continues bearing till very late, and the berries hold out large till the last.”

The flesh of Jucunda: firm, red, of high flavour

It became more popular on mainland Europe than in Britain, and was widely grown in Holland, Yugoslavia and – perhaps most pleasing to John Salter – France. Although none of the French varieties which John brought to sell in Hammersmith back in 1845 have survived, Jucunda is still used by Dutch strawberry breeders devising hybrid fruits today. The name means “delightful” in Latin.

Saturday 21 December 2013


Much of my ancestor Austin Cooper’s graphic design was in posters for the London Midland & Scottish and London & North Eastern railway companies, but in the course of his career he also designed 54 posters for the London Underground. I wrote last year about several series that he executed between 1928 and 1932 in promotion of London’s museums. Now I’ve found an even earlier commission, from 1924.

Even then, London Transport was concerned about overcrowding on the Underground. In the early twentieth century, posters encouraging the use of the Tube to shop in central London were frequently balanced by others urging shoppers to confine their activities to the off-peak hours between 10am and 4pm. That way, trains at rush hours would have more room for commuters.

Shop! but Shop Between 10 and 4 –
two Christmas posters from 1920, both by Gladys Mary Rees
As shopping increased towards Christmas, so did the need to manage the time at which shoppers travelled. The 10-4 message was already being promoted by 1920, and in 1924 Cooper was recruited to aid the campaign.

His stylised, simple image of a Christmas tree and presents is modern and direct, typical of the man who would go on to write a classic textbook about poster design. Although a  Canadian by birth, his empathy with the British love of nostalgia comes through in the motto “A Merrie Christmas” in a red ribbon above the tree. (Another example of this feeling for Olde England is his 1927 series for market towns served by LNER.) The bold font, his own design, is at once firm and friendly.

A Merrie Christmas
from Austin Cooper in 1924
and from me in 2013

Illustrations for this posting all come from Pleasure Trips By Underground, a wonderful book by Jonathan Riddell, a curator at the London Transport Museum, which I urge you to buy/visit!

Saturday 14 December 2013


In 1820, Daniel Wade Acraman sent his son William (my 3x great uncle) around Europe on the then-fashionable Grand Tour. Daniel had made his money with a foundry started by his father. Daniel himself was about to patent a new kind of chain cable, and under his management the family business would flourish to become one of the biggest in Bristol, where they supplied chandlery for the ship-building industry.

Daniel Wade Acraman’s memorial in St Stephen’s Parish Church, Bristol (photo by Bob Speel )

In time, when William took over the reins, Acramans would themselves become the owners of ships, importing luxury goods from all over the world and exporting British products to the colonies. But for now it was his father’s money which was paying for the cultural completion of twenty-one year old William’s education with a journey through the scenic wonders and architectural antiquities of the old world.

They kept in touch by letter, and a fellow descendent of Daniel’s has sent me a transcription of one of his letters to William during the trip. Mail was nothing new by the early nineteenth century of course, but I do marvel at the logistics. It was by no means certain that any given letter would find its intended recipient in the unreliable travel conditions of the time, and post was generally sent well ahead on the itinerary to await the arrival of the traveller. Daniel’s letter opens with a summary of recent correspondence in case either party has missed anything:
Dear William,
My last was to Naples dated march 23rd. Concluding you will return to Rome in time for this, I shall direct it there. Yours to your sister and myself of the 22nd ult. came home safe.

Pompeii, rediscovered in 1748, was why Grand Tourists went to Naples

It’s nice to think that William was in Naples thirty years before his sort-of cousin by marriage Thomas Richard Guppy went there to transform the marine engineering industry in the city. (I wrote about Guppy’s Neapolitan impact here recently – the relationship is tenuous: Thomas married Henrietta Jennings whose sister Caroline married my 2x great grandfather William Castle, whose sister Mary married William Acraman two years after his Grand Tour.)

There’s no mention of Mary Castle in this letter, dated 17th April 1820, although Daniel does report the impending marriage of a family friend Philip  and, in the same breath, information about a forthcoming Batchelors’ Ball. (Philip may have been Philip Protheroe, later a partner with Guppy’s father Samuel in a soap-manufacturing venture – the Bristol business community was a small and close-knit one.)

Otherwise, the big news is that William is to be allowed to take stock in the family business, effectively becoming a partner. His 80-year old grandfather William Acraman, who started the firm and after whom he is named, has approved!

Acraman’s Store, No.1 Quay, Bristol, built c1830 when the family business was thriving with William Acraman’s involvement

William's father Daniel is only 45 years old but in poor health and unable to make the trip with William as he would have liked. He expresses envy of his son's journey:
The illness I have is so great that at times I am quite done for ... I need not say what joy I should receive if I was with you, but that being impossible I must look forward to the gratification of seeing you safe at home.

William is on his way home, from Naples north to Rome and on eventually, the letter makes clear, through Switzerland, and
I suppose by the time you get home you will know how to value your little bed and English fare, although you must be amply repaid by the sights you have seen.

Daniel has a favour to ask of William during the Swiss leg of his homeward journey.
Your aunt wishes you to buy her a watch about five or six guineas when at Geneva, without a chain, to hang using her Figure of Time. You will do this or not if you find it convenient. Mary [William’s sister] likes her watch and we all thought it quite large enough.
So Swiss watches were already objects of desire in the early nineteenth century.

A Staffordshire watch holder of the nineteenth century – the watch sits in a pocket behind the aperture, the dial visible without the need for a chain. Perhaps Mary Acraman had such a holder with a figure of Father Time.

Since, passing through Geneva, William was obviously returning to England by land rather than sea, it seems unlikely that he would get home to Bristol in time for the Batchelors’ Ball on 1st May that year. Perhaps, if he did, it was there that William Acraman met his future wife. She would certainly have been dazzled by his fresh travellers’ tales.

Saturday 7 December 2013


Thomas Richard Guppy, friend and adviser to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was my 3x great uncle. He was a gifted engineer who made many contributions particularly in the field of marine engineering and ship design. A life spent on construction sites and in iron foundries took its toll on Guppy’s health and at the age of 53 he moved from Bristol to Naples, in response to an invitation from the latter city.

For most of the nineteenth century Italy was moving slowly towards unification. But in 1849 southern Italy was a separate state known as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, formed in 1816 from a union of the kingdoms of Sicily and Naples. Naples was the capital of the combined lands; and it was here, not in Rome, Milan or Turin, that the first Italian railway was constructed in 1839.
The inaugural journey on the Naples-Portici line, recorded here in a contemporary painting by Naples court painter Salvatore Fergola, took nine and a half minutes

The Naples-Portici line runs east from Naples around the bay for a little under five miles. Last summer, driving to Sorrento on the motorway in the narrow transport corridor between the sweep of Naples Bay and the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, I kept company with the line for part of the way.

Vesuvio was the name of the locomotive which hauled the inaugural train of eight coaches on 3rd October 1839 in the presence of King Ferdinand II of Naples. The engine was built to designs of British railway pioneer Robert Stephenson by his regular manufacturer Michael Longridge at Bedlington, Northumberland.

 Above: an original coach from the inaugural journey, and a reproduction of the locomotive Bayard, which ran on the Naples-Portici line from December 1839 and was built to the same design as Vesuvio - both now in the National Railway Museum, Pietrarsa.
Below: based on the Fergola painting, stamps issued in 1989 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Naples-Portici line

With no previous Italian experience of railways, the line depended heavily on foreign input – French money and British engineering. King Ferdinand was determined not to be dependent on overseas expertise and in 1845 he opened Italy’s first railway workshops at Pietrarsa.

The first locomotive to roll off the production line was the Pietrarsa, still British designed and manufactured, but assembled in Pietrarsa. In 1852 the workshops wisely produced a huge cast-iron statue of their founder King Ferdinand, which still stands at the Pietrarsa workshops – now Italy’s National Railway Museum.

King Ferdinand II, founder of Italian railways, now stands outside the foundry which he founded, and which founded his statue

But Pietrarsa struggled with the high cost of importing coal – from Britain – and perhaps its continuing lack of metallurgical expertise was behind the invitation to Guppy which prompted his relocation in 1849. His reputation as engineer and director of both the Great Western railway and the Great Western Steamship Company must certainly have preceded him. He established his own engineering works in Naples, and over the next decade the metalworking industry there came to be dominated by just two firms – Guppy & Co, and Pattison & Co. John Pattison was a former colleague of Guppy’s.

Guppy’s firm was at one stage producing three locomotives a year for the expanding Neapolitan railway network. But his abiding interest was in marine engineering. After Italian unification in 1861 he and Pattison, pre-eminent in the new nation’s most important naval base, were extremely well placed to supply the needs of a new national Navy. Pattison built ships – destroyers and, later, faster more maneuverable torpedo boats – and Guppy supplied the engines to Pattison and others.

The escort vessel Rapido, built in 1876 by the Orlando Brothers in Livorno, with engines by Guppy & Co

For his contribution to the defence of the new nation, Guppy was knighted, receiving the title Cavaliere della Corona d' Italia. In his last years he continued to visit his workshops three days a week, and spent his leisure hours tending a vineyard on his estate near Portici (modern-day Herculaneum). He approached the cultivation of the grape with the same assiduous scientific rigour which he had applied to ships and trains. 2014 sees the 175th anniversary of the opening of the Naples-Portici; and I will be raising a glass of Herculanean wine to celebrate Thomas Richard Guppy’s part in its history.

An Italian engine type FS660; Hawthorn-Guppy, the 1885 successor to Guppy’s original Naples workshops, produced 12 of them 1903-1904. They remained in service until 1930, a tribute to Guppy's standards of engineering excellence.
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