My daughter, Beth, took this photo earlier this year on a visit to Bath.
This shop used to be TOVEY OPTHALMIC OPTICIAN, the business started in 1888 by my great grandfather, Frank Ivor Tovey. Great grandfather and his family lived above the shop and I was told that my grandmother was born in those rooms.
The shop front seen in these photos was newly installed by my great grandfather in 1906, designed by Alfred J. Taylor.
The current shopkeepers told Beth that Mary Shelley had lived there.
This was a surprise to me, but a little bit of research reveals that it is true. The rooms above the shop were rented by Percy Shelley and occupied by Mary’s step sister, Claire Clairmont, Mary and Shelley’s son, William, and his nurse, and Mary used this address, 12 New Bond Street, for her correspondence during that period from autumn 1816 to January 1817, although she also had other rooms in a boarding house near the Pump Room and Roman baths.
It was a dark time for Mary; Shelley was hardly ever there, and Mary and Claire were keeping out of the public eye because Claire was pregnant with Lord Byron’s child.
In addition, Mary and Percy Shelley’s first baby, Clara, had recently died in infancy while they were abroad and Byron’s relationship with Claire had gone sour. Shelley had run out of funds to support himself, Mary and Claire on their travels and they had returned to England on a low with winter coming. Mary felt deeply the rift with her father, but she determined to write the novel that she had started after a nightmare vision during their stay with Byron.
As if things couldn’t get worse, tragedy came with the suicides of Mary’s half sister, Fanny, and of Shelley’s wife, Harriet. It is hard to imagine how wretched life must have seemed on a dark, wet, winter day.
Out of all this came Mary’s ground breaking novel, Frankenstein.
(There are links to buy the books, Mary Shelley by Miranda Seymour, and Frankenstein, below.)
My mother, Winifred Tovey, wrote about her first visit to Tovey Opticians in her book, Strangers in Chaotung …
‘Frank’s grandfather, Frank Ivor Tovey, was descended from a family of watch and clock makers. He had qualified as an optician and set up the business in New Bond Street, Bath. It was here that Frank’s father, Ernest Tovey worked. Ernest trained as an optician when courting Nellie and had to change his name from Short to Tovey by deed poll when he married her, the eldest of the three Tovey daughters.
Frank’s auntie, Irene Tovey, also worked at the shop in Bath. She was the middle sister to Nellie and May and the first woman to qualify as an optician in England, for which she was awarded the Freedom of London.
During the weekend I spent a fascinating afternoon in the shop. I met all the staff members and then was taken upstairs into the workshop where spectacles were prepared for individual customers. At that time, 1947, spectacle lenses were made of glass and arrived in squares. First of all the lens had to be centred. If they were cylindrical the axis was marked with a blue pencil, then the lenses were cut, using a template, and bevelled to fit the spectacle frame. If bifocal correction was required, this was added as a segment, which was stuck onto the lower part of the lens. It needed great skill and care to obtain a good result. I found it fascinating.
Frank, of course, knew all about my background and had visited our house frequently, but I was slightly worried about what his family expected of me because of my working class background. Quietly, I was overwhelmed. Despite the fact that in view of our family circumstances I had successfully worked my way through to obtain a responsible post with a good salary, I did wonder whether Frank’s father would be happy to accept me as a suitable partner for his son.’
Sweetwings saves the Fleet
This little gunboat spotted on a recent visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard reminded me of a story in Maldwin Drummond’s children’s book
The Strange History of Seagulls
Now Maldwin knew his boats (he was a sailor all his life and was involved in the raising of the Mary Rose, as well as a supporter of the Museum of the Royal Navy), and I thought the boat in my photo looked like the MTB (Motor Torpedo Boat) in his illustration where ‘Sweetwings’, the seagull, gives the electrician early warning of a floating minefield.
However, on comparing my photo with Maldwin’s boat, the tell-tale funnel on the boat in Portsmouth led me to believe it is not an MTB, but an SGB (Steam Gun Boat) also used in WW2.
On page 25 of The Strange History of Seagulls we find out how Sweetwings saved the fleet.
It was lucky that he was so observant!
The Strange History of Seagulls is a fun way to learn about the history of the Solent and Waterside area. It is illustrated throughout with Maldwin Drummond’s unique watercolours.
(The links below are to two other books by Maldwin Drummond. The Riddle was released around the same time as The Strange History of Seagulls and After You, Mr Lear: In the wake of Edward Lear in Italy is packed with Maldwin’s quiet humour. )
The Tall Ships sail training vessel, Challenger 7, graced this year’s Southampton Boat Show with her presence, reminding me of Maldwin Drummond OBE, who is unfortunately not with us any more.
Maldwin was a keen and experienced sailor and a lifelong supporter of Sail Training, instrumental in building the STA schooners and Britain’s gift to Australia, STS Young Endeavour.
Little Knoll Press published Maldwin’s delightful children’s book, The Strange History of Seagulls, in November 2016. The book tells the history of the Waterside and Solent area – or rather George the seagull and his relations tell the story!
This beautiful, quirky book is fully illustrated by Maldwin. It starts with the Vikings arriving at Ashlett creek and traces the Waterside coastline’s story right through to the development of foil sailing on today’s racing boats.
More about the book – The Strange History of Seagulls
Palembang and Beyond
by Mike Roussel
Mike Roussel brings together in this book a fascinating record of the British Pacific Fleet during the Second World War, in particular the closing years of conflict with Japan and the cruel fate meted out on the Palembang Nine after surrender on VJ Day.
The BOOK LAUNCH – a reunion
Saturday 14th April 2018
A rare reunion of Second World War veterans from the Fleet Air Arm took place at the book launch of Palembang and Beyond, held at The Museum of Army Flying – rare because of the great age reached by these veterans, who are now all in their late nineties.
They were young during the war, aged eighteen to twenty, and their active service took place during the early years of the RAF, which was newly formed in April 1918. Their stories are told within Palembang and Beyond, a new book by shipping and aviation author, Mike Roussel.
The book launch was supported by a large group of guests who came from as far afield as Devon.
The Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP, who wrote the foreword for the book, also attended. He explained how his interest in military history and a chance conversation with Mike Roussel had triggered the writing of this book about the Pacific War.
Mike Roussel spoke at the launch about how he had ‘discovered as it were by accident, three gentlemen who were air crew with Fleet Air Arm 849 Squadron’. In writing the book, Mike travelled to interview Arthur Page, Norman ‘Dickie’ Richardson and John ‘Buster’ Brown, all of whom had all flown in the bombing raids on the Palembang oil refineries. He also heard from them about their fellow airmen who never came home from the war, among them the captured air crew known as the Palembang Nine who were cruelly executed by the Japanese after the surrender on VJ Day.
It took Mike just over a year to complete the research and writing of Palembang and Beyond. During that time he transcribed the veterans’ stories for inclusion in the book and gathered from them many of the 151 photographs that are published there for the first time. The photos give fascinating insights into the type of aircraft and the terrain over which the Fleet Air Arm fought, showing how challenging the air offensive was in the Pacific War.
Attending the launch were veterans Dr Arthur Page, who was an Avenger pilot, and Norman ‘Dickie’ Richardson DSM, TAG (Telegraphist Air Gunner) who flew with Arthur. John ‘Buster’ Brown, who was also an Avenger pilot with 849 Squadron, lives in Yorkshire and was unable to come the distance. His brother, Michael Brown, represented him and brought his greetings and his wishes that he could have been there.
Julian Lewis in paying tribute to the veterans, said, “It is absolutely typical of this generation that they do not brag or boast in any way. For instance, it was only from other people and not from Norman himself that I discovered he’d been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for the Palembang raid. Mike has done terrific work in making sure that their stories live for all time, without which they would be lost to history.”
The book’s publisher, Jenny Knowles of Little Knoll Press agreed. “I believe it’s important that these stories should be told, because history easily gets rewritten and it can’t be rewritten if it is truly from a memoir. These precious gentlemen, the clarity of their memories and the importance of the things that they remember really should be there for people to know about in the future and now.”
(There are links below to other books by Mike Roussel.).