Sunday, 31 December 2006

Arthur Ransome e-Bio

MTS, with help from BBD and PH

When this was first posted in December 2006 there was no totally satisfactory Arthur Ransome biography on the Internet. Since then a really splendid illustrated biography has been published on-line by The Arthur Ransome Society (TARS).

Our version, which started as a school project and was then polished with the help of contributors to TarBoard, remains here as the first ever collaborative posting on IF NOT DUFFERS...

Arthur Ransome was born on January 18, 1884, in Leeds, where his father was a Professor of History. His father loved the hills and lakes of Furness, and carried Arthur up to the top of Coniston Old Man (later to become 'Kanchenjunga' in the Swallows and Amazon books) when he was only a few weeks old. Every summer, he took his family by train to Greenodd, complete with their belongings packed into a large tin bath, and then by cart along the valley to Lowick and, finally, to Nibthwaite, on the shores of Coniston Water.

The unnamed lake of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazon books is a mixture of lakes Coniston and Windermere. Frequently blending two or more real places into one he created a fictional landscape which is entirely realistic. Many of the things that happen in the stories are taken from his own childhood memories - the Knickerbockerbreaker, where his trousers were worn out and darned while he was wearing them by Annie Swainson, catching trout in his bare hands, collecting fox-moth caterpillars and meetings with the charcoal-burners.

It was to be a long time before he brought these memories to life in Swallows and Amazons and the rest of the books about the children who sailed and explored the lakes and mountains of Cumbria, the Norfolk Broads and the Walton backwaters. Ransome always wanted to be a writer. After brief employment with a London publisher, he himself had a succession of works published, culminating in Bohemia in London in 1907, and later became a newspaper reporter, working for the Daily News and the Manchester Guardian as a foreign correspondent.

As a young man, Ransome spent many happy holidays on the shores of Coniston with his friends the Collingwood family. Mr and Mrs Collingwood treated him as an adopted son and he thanks them in his autobiography by saying 'My whole life has been happier for knowing them'. He spent hours picnicking, with the Collingwood daughters Dora and Barbara, on Peel Island, which together with Blake Holme on Windermere, was to become famous all over the world as Wildcat Island.

Other friends shared Arthur's love of the Lakes and he talks of walks over to Ambleside, stopping at the Drunken Duck for bread and cheese and beer; of Cartmel, where he lodged at a farmhouse called Wall Nook; of more lodgings at Low Yewdale, where water was dipped from a beck running by the cottage and you might easily find a minnow swimming in the jug. He camped a little further up the valley and made friends with a group of gipsies, who taught him their language and customs.

After an unsuccessful marriage he went to Russia, where he was to report for the Daily News on the events of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its aftermath. It was while interviewing Leon Trotsky in St Petersburg that he met his future wife Evgenia Shelepina, who was Trotsky's secretary. His most successful book for adults, Racundra’s First Cruise, dates from this time, with Evgenia, in keeping with the of the conventions of the 1920’s, disguised as “The Cook”. In 1924, he gained a divorce, and was able to marry Evgenia and come back to The Lake District, living first in the Winster Valley. Apart from two periods when he went South, he lived in Cumbria for the rest of his life, finding inspiration and settings for Swallows and Amazons. His last house was "Hill Top" at Haverthwaite.

In 1925 the Ransomes bought "Low Ludderburn", an old farmhouse at the head of the Cartmel Fell valley with views as far as Ingleborough, in Yorkshire, and Helvellyn in the Lakes. Before long he was off to China to report on the volatile events there. Much later, he recorded his memories in Missee Lee, where the dragon processions are those he watched parade through the streets of Hankow.

An enormous amount of Arthur Ransome's life has gone into his children's books. The triangular, square and diamond-shaped signals of Winter Holiday were invented at "Low Ludderburn", where he and his fishing friend Colonel Kelsall, who lived across the valley, used them to invite each other to go fishing. A new home at Pin Mill, Suffolk, taken in the hope that the sea air would improve his health, provided a base for exploring the waters which became the stting for We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea and Secret Water. From here, he visited the Norfolk Broads and - of course - sailed there and evolved the stories of Coot Club and The Big Six, with Dick and Dorothea forming the link with the Swallows and Amazons of the north.

Arthur Ransome died on 3rd June 1967, and his grave is in St Paul's Church, Rusland. His wife Evgenia (1894-1975) is also buried there.

Saturday, 18 November 2006

Steaming Down the Thames

Laurence Monkhouse

Being an account of a voyage down the Thames made by three steamboats in September 2006. Suilven has a fixed canopy with side-screens attached at night and in bad weather, Mudlark has a cabin. Phaeton, the smallest at 16 feet is open, the sleeping accommodation is a tent canopy put up at night. Despite this she has made many long voyages in Britain and in France.


Rain in night, foggy start, mainly overcast Up early but not early enough – P was already 'abseiling' Phaeton into the road. Hitched up and drove round to front and breakfasted. Away 8:45, traffic towards Burton dreadful so went through Ashby, filled up at Tesco – expensive – and got more stores. South along A42/M42/M40 – good new computer traffic control on M42, then off at Warwick and cross country, lovely market at Moreton in the Marsh – Fosse Way, to Lechlade. Missed turning, across Thames bridge, but back, dreadful narrow bridge into Trout field, had to uncouple trailer and wiggle it sideways. Finally there 11:45. David with Mudlark already there. Geoff and Pat with Suilven came 10 minutes later and had even more struggle with bridge. Launched and coaled – perhaps rather too leisurely, moved boats to pub frontage, had bar lunch. David took two wheels off his trailer and reduced pressure in others, and it then rode well. Finally the three men with trailers left about 15:00. David said he knew the way and wanted to go past a place where he could get auto gas – did complete loop of Wantage before reaching M4.

No great problem on M25 and bypassing Staines, then David dived into a garage with the intention of inflating his tyres and we followed him. L beginning to panic about time and all that still had to be done, told David he had an inflator so we went on, having difficulty crossing rush hour traffic, arriving Penton Hook a few hundred yards further on – 17:45. They close at 17:30, but we got in OK before the gates closed. Man arrived, very suspicious but David calmed him, left our trailer and Geoff and David's entire units, put coal for David and Geoff in van – now about 18 x 25 kg bags. All in van to office where man took payments for trailers (£1 per night) and slipping (£12.50). He remembered Phaeton, although it is years since she was there. By now it was 18:30, traffic easing, good run to Benson, that was shut too but we had gate code so left camper van in camping area (wrong plot as it turned out). John Winn arrived and drove us back to Lechlade. Ladies were in Pub, listening to good Jazz band. Good supper, then to boats – Phaeton seemed very full of gear. Rather disturbed night – we haven't got the knack we used to have of sleeping on board in comfort.


Fine and Sunny Sorted gear and packed away cover and tilt. Some order now returning. L put on temporary Licence stickers leaning over the bow and pinged chest! Firebars and bricks had collapsed amid ashes. Cleared ashpan and refitted them with difficulty. Lit fire with Barbecue starter and had steam in 35 minutes. Others not ready, so decided to sail as we were slowest. Had forgotten what the upper Thames was like – very small and winding, with WW2 blockhouse every half mile – it would have been a bit worrying if the German Navy had got this far. Others caught us up at first lock, and after that we found that provided the pressure was kept above 100 psi we could keep up with them and indeed exceed the speed limit. Three of our six sacks took us to Benson – we were burning little over 25 kg per day instead of 40 kg as estimated.

Stopped for lunch cooked on the griddle and baked potatoes and talked to people going upstream, including the owner of a house at Benson whose mooring was used for the weekend by Consuta. Had talked of stopping for the night at the Rose Revived but still going well so pushed on to Eynsham. David had a television in Mudlark and we watched the weather forecast with a heavy rain warning just where we were – weather however looked fine. Walked across toll bridge and to the Talbot at Eynsham – looked OK and beer was fine, but service was slow. L had cottage pie which was OK, but C had fish cakes which turned out to include hard boiled egg which she dislikes. Very dark going back to boats – L stumbled over kerb and bruised a toe.


Torrential rain in night, clearing late morning, then fine The heavy rain warning was quite right. Woken about 01:00 by very heavy rain on canopy. Older fabric leaking badly, new area over us doing quite well, although water was seeping underneath at front end where it isn't sewn. Put oilskin coats over the feet of our sleeping bags. Rain on roof felt like a waterfall. Slept comparatively well, considering, waking about 07:00 – some patches of wet on sleeping bags but not too bad. Even Geoff and Pat had got some areas wet. Still raining but not so heavily. Breakfast, packed, rolled cover back but keeping it over stern, put on full oilskins, steam in half an hour, sailed at 09:00. Pumped bilge but surprisingly little had got in. C steering found restricted visibility difficult, but managed OK even in locks. Rain stopped as we got into Oxford and it became a nice day. Lock Keeper at Osney Lock said we had had 1.25 inches of rain in the night, 5 times entire June rainfall, so we felt our cover hadn't done so badly after all. David dried our sleeping bags in Mudlark. Took cover and tilt off as weather now looked fair.

Lunch by towpath above Iffley Lock – cooking on griddle and in oven again, then on to Abingdon arriving 15:45. Absolutely no steaming problems at all. David, Pat and L walked into town for stores and money. The Queen was visiting tomorrow – decorations going up. Back to boats and found that gypsies had arrived at the car park by the loos, hundred yards away, but hordes of police were there too – most unusual but they probably wanted to get rid of them before the Queen came – and did so. In evening walked across bridge and met John and Brenda Winn with Ian and Jeannie Whatley – ate at Broad Face Inn just across the bridge – it had been a National Finalist for pub food – deservedly, it was excellent – L had pork and honey sausages with mashed potatoes and red onion gravy, C roast pork loin. Afterwards C + L walked about in Abingdon Town Centre, lovely mild evening, like being in France, before going back to Phaeton to bed.


Rain in morning, then fine Good night, beginning to get the swing of it. Breakfast, packed, steam in half an hour, and away, but it then began to rain and we had to put on full oilskins. Luckily it didn't last. Went up newly opened entrance to Wilts & Berks Canal opposite Culham Lock Cut, only a couple of hundred yards but still caught the others at the lock – held up by big Dutch barge type boat with only one person manning her. Ran up old course of river below the lock, everybody including the big boat came together again at Clifton Lock, then up the old river, past the Trout Inn up to the weir – only Phaeton got there and we ran aground with a bit of bumping of skeg and propeller. Beautiful 30 foot Frolic there with clerestory roof to saloon. So through Day's Lock and reached Benson on the last of the fire. 30 boats expected, had to moor alongside Mudlark, had left van in wrong place but moved van – next to Calverts in a big new tent. Heap of our own, Mudlark's and San Toy's coal discreetly behind van. Cooked lunch on griddle – Thai kebabs, grilled courgettes, mushrooms. Pleasant idle afternoon of talking and helping people to launch, then in evening showered, put on smarter clothes from van and walked into village to Crown Inn – long tables, very jovial, sat with Robin Wallace Sims and Ian Miles. Back to sleep in van this time.


Fine but mainly overcast David and Newtons decided to have a day off, although David had lit his boiler, but he came with us. Leisurely start, almost the last boat to leave. Up to Thame Mouth with David helming, River Thame looked (and was) very narrow but quite deep, went boldly through reeds to staithe which natives told us was head of navigation but pressed on another hundred yards to bridge. Got through but a few yards further it was very shallow and we turned. No other steamboats (some went up in afternoon). Back in the main river it was obvious we had picked up weed – L got some off but worried about ribs, David took over and cleared a huge ball. Up through the lock and stopped for lunch beside a convenient hedge. Fed all with grilled chicken and mushrooms and baked spuds. A Dragon Boat went by. Then on to Clifton and up backwater past the Trout moorings – lots of boats still there. Gently back to Benson, mooring alongside this time for loading. David engineered this time, rather better than L but he concentrated more! Several casualties including Annabelle and the Chairman – would have been unremarkable once but surprising now. Pottered for a while, trollied three sacks of coal and loaded into Phaeton. David made huge stack on his foredeck. Then changed into posh clothes including L's new pink jacket and to The Three Horseshoes for formal Thames dinner. Sat with Rutters and Adrian. Chairman arrived in time for L not to make a speech!


Fine and sunny, clouding later with slight shower Leisurely start, moving gear from the van to Phaeton. Suilven ready quite early and sailed, but Pat reappeared having walked back from the lock to pick up a fender and finding it rather a long way – we took her back with us. Had to queue for lock, but then a long clear run to Cleeve Lock. Went through this and Goring Lock and stopped for lunch. L walked back with David to the pub to say farewell to friends – very posh and expensive, bought shandy for David – £2 75!! – and not even proper beer so L didn't have a drink, which embarrassed David. Can't win. Instead back to boat and drank from our own copious (rather excessive) supplies, lunch on griddle. Geoff and Pat reappeared having had moules with Julian. On downstream past Reading – where we couldn't see a shop for stores for David – past our Island where we camped in 1988, and moored just above Sonning Lock. San Toy arrived a bit later having diverted from her return up the Kennet and Avon. Made up cover, then all in gloaming through churchyard (L talking loudly until he realised Evensong was still in progress) and to Bull Inn. Sat outside, although it got rather dark, good beer and food – L had liver and bacon, C Thai and rice.


Fine, clouding in evening Once again steam in half an hour. Stopped briefly at Shiplake Lock to get rid of rubbish and get water, then again at Henley Bridge – small free mooring place, just big enough for us. C, Pat and David went into town to shop while Geoff and L talked to onlookers. On down Henley reach and stopped at a bank for lunch – C had got lovely lamb burgers, but had to be careful L didn't get the ones with berries in. Signs said charge of £4 for mooring, but nobody came. On through Marlow and passed Ian and Sylvia's – whistling and waving. Carried on to Cookham, some disagreement about where to moor – Geoff's map seemed to show imaginary mooring places, but all finished up beside a park a hundred yards above the Bridge. Geoff rang the Rutters and invited them to dine with us. Made camp in leisurely style. Somebody came along to charge mooring fees but charged all three of us the price of a single boat. Got as respectable as we could – L had no clean trousers at all! – and to Ferry Inn – now revamped as a most stylish eating place, but surprisingly modestly priced (for the Thames) Sat outside waiting for the Rutters, expecting a car, but they arrived in Irene under electric power. Ate indoors – started with home made bread dipped into olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then L had burger bun and C had risotto. Afterwards all sailed back to the boats in style on board Irene.


Fine and sunny Rain expected in the night didn't materialise. Geoff had instructed us to be at the lock when it opened at 09:00 – we were there in good time but the lock keeper wasn't. Loos also shut, but there was one in the shower room. C helped David and did next bit on board Mudlark. L had so much steam that he led away, and saw a kingfisher in Cliveden Reach. C felt cold and returned to Phaeton. Steaming now not quite so good and others got to Jubilee River first. This was a cheat – a public navigation marked RESTRICTED NAVIGATION and shut off by what looked like an unbroken fence, but as the Rutters had briefed us this was merely a slalom course which we all negotiated without difficulty. So up this unspoiled bit of river to the weir at the end beside the paper mill. Back and to Boulters Lock, where nothing happened despite much whistling. No lock keeper and lock empty. However a single handed cruiser appeared at the bottom end and opened the gates and we got the message that we had to work through ourselves. By now several other boats had arrived, but L still had to work it single handedly, until a lady from the River Authority appeared to say that the lock keeper was ill and to work us through. The lock keepers this day were in marked contrast to up river where the keepers were invariably jolly – today few said much, one made it clear that he thought that we ought to put our fires out because of the 'Stop Engines' rule, and one was so busy talking to a supervisor that he didn't open the bottom gate until we shouted at them.

Through Maidenhead, Windsor and stopped at Datchet for lunch – a second lot of lamb burgers and roasted vegetables. Runnymede, successfully raced a huge Dutch barge to Bell Weir Lock as we were getting a it worried about time. By Staines L was running down the fire and the hitherto excellent steaming was becoming very dull (we found later that the grate was heavily clinkered) – gingered it up with kindling. More kindling needed from Penton Hook Lock, and particularly in Marina – most of the embers had been thrown overboard and the wood which burned to nothing got us to the slip. Suilven came out first – their systems were impressive. We had the problem that our trailer was locked and C had left the key at Benson, but we tied the trailer to Geoff's towball and she came out without difficulty and was parked next to Mudlark's trailer. David was going on to Teddington. Essentials were taken out of Phaeton and put in Geoff's car. So away, towing Suilven, through the London rush hour – rather slow to M40, then good run to Benson. We all ate at the cafĂ© – adequate but no more after past two nights, then Newtons left, we unloaded residual coal from van, did some washing and drying as it was free, L showered, exhausted bed.


Fine and sunny Up, light breakfast of beans (all we had), packed, including 3 x 25 kg sacks, paid parking, away. Smooth run to Penton Hook, fuelled in Sainsbury's in Staines, arrived 10:30, unpacked boat including 2.5 x 25 kg sacks, had to move van to avoid crane laying up a cruiser, but still away by midday. Had gone 100 yards when we remembered we had left spare wheel on David's trailer, but back without problems. Then smooth run home, stopping at Services on M25/A1M for lunch, thence via Royston. Shop at Beccles. Home.

Wednesday, 31 May 2006

The Cairn on Kanchenjunga:

Some musings on an ancient debate

First published on Tarboard on May 21, 2006

I found this amongst some old papers. I think I wrote it some years ago with the intention of sending it to Mixed Moss in response to a debate about the origins of the Amazon pirates. I’m not sure if it ever arrived at Mixed Moss, certainly it never appeared in it. Anyway, I read it, quite liked some of it and decided that even if it is not up to MM’s standards I might inflict it upon Tarboard.

The Cairn on Kanchenjunga

I was delighted to Read Pauline’s Marshall’s “The Children on the East Side”. This put forward the claims of the red-capped Rawdon-Smith girls to be the ‘original’ Amazon pirates.

No one who has met Pauline could doubt that she is anything but a “real Amazon pirate”. She is as real as Kanchenjunga. I remember her, a few years ago, on a TARS trip to Piel Island (down the river and along the coast from Peel Island). Piel Island is crowned by a rather splendid but ruined castle which is inaccessible without a stiff, hands on the rock, scramble of the sort not usually associated with ladies, in or approaching, their eighties. I looked up to see a pair of pirates striding the battlements: Pauline and my (then) 15-year old son, Ian, striding the battlements, her redcap and his ponytail streaming out in the breeze.

Pauline’s claim to be the original and authentic Amazon is based on the simple claim “I was there.” Others have argued from their knowledge of AR’s life and letters that the sources of the Amazons lies elsewhere, with the Crossley or Collingwood girls.

The historian R. G. Collingwood (Uncle Robin to the Altounyans) never, to my knowledge commented on this piece of history so dear to the hearts of lovers of Swallows and Amazons. In his “The Idea of History he did, however, say something about historical knowledge in general which I find helpful when wondering ‘how it all began’. He claimed that what is important, when thinking about history, is not the closeness to the event but the ability to “think it again for yourself”.

“Even if a very learned historian or an eye witness, or a person in the confidence of the man who did the thing he is inquiring into, or even [if] the man himself hands him on a plate a ready made answer to his question, all he can do is reject it; not because he thinks his informant is trying to deceive him, or is himself deceived but because if he accepts it he is giving up his autonomy as a historian and allowing someone else to do for him what he, if he is a scientific thinker, can only do for himself.” (1994: 256)

For Collingwood, therefore, history becomes real when it is ”re-enacted in the mind of the historian”. This observation seems particularly apt when applied to the origins of the Swallows and Amazons stories. These books are peopled by characters who make a landscape vivid through their re-enactment of stories of exploration and piracy. Like paintings, the books have a depth conjured out of layers of landscape, action and character; it is this depth which makes the books ‘real’.

Now neither TARS, nor Tarboardistas, are under any obligation to be either historians or scientists; they don’t need to weigh the Rawdon-Smiths against the Altounyans against the Crossleys if the don’t want to. And even if they do want, if they are driven by a desire to know ‘what really happened’, are we not are trying to capture the thoughts of an author at the point of creation? This is like trying to catch sunbeams. Instead we should try to decide what it is which counts for each of us as a true and original Amazon pirate.

If the books are real to us it is because, like evidence for Collingwood, they answer questions we ourselves have posed as we relive the stories and make our own voyages in the “Swallow” or “Amazon”. This latest edition of “Mixed Moss” [I’m not sure which one I was referring to] with its reminiscence and research is like the cairn on Kanchenjunga. Each stone was placed by past explorers each message from them carries our expeditions forward by reminding us of those who came before.

Rawdon-Smith upon Altounyan, Altounyan upon Collingwood, Crossley upon Blackett, Kanchenjunga upon Matterhorn, Matterhorn upon then Old Man, the more layers, the more depth, the more ‘real’. Pauline’s (I always catch myself calling her Peggy) account of her childhood on the East Bank of Coniston Water and her life as an Amazon pirate adds to the messages in the cairn and should be celebrated for it.

Sunday, 28 May 2006

Beckfoot Found?

The Crossley Girls by Iain Hobbs

Studying the map

If you follow the hints laid out by Ransome in Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale, and study a map of Windermere, you arrive at a place on the North-West shore that matches the description of Beckfoot in all except the layout of the house. The geography of the area is detailed later in The Picts and Martyrs.

In SA, the people who live in the house are called Blackett and they own a houseboat. They also have a boathouse just to the left of the main house as you look at it from the lake. On the river, just to the east of the house, in the mouth of a beck, they have a 1motor launch. (In SA the two boathouses are combined, but AR establishes them as separate ones by the time SD is written.) In real life, from 1911 to 1935, Pull Wood House was owned by Sir Kenneth Irwin Crossley. He did not live there, but used it as a summer residence for himself and his family.

Also, from 1922 to 1928, Sir Kenneth 2owned the houseboat Esperance upon which AR based the one used by Captain Flint. The houseboat in the book had an upper railed decking on the cabin roof and steps from the for'ard deck to reach it. The photograph in Roger Wardale's book taken by the Scott family of Esperance shows this very decking. The picture has to be examined in magnification to see it, but it is there. There is also a good photograph of Esperance taken by AR in the Brotherton Collection, Leeds University Library. The similarity is unmistakeable to the WH illustration 'The Houseboat is frozen in'.

Their actual ownership of 3Pull Wood House (later to become a boarding school and renamed Huyton Hill), is supported by information from the present and previous owners, details of which are now in the TARS archive. The existence of a motor launch was confirmed by the staff of Huyton Hill. They pointed out the location of a former ‘Steamer House’ on the shore of the Pull Beck, exactly where AR illustrates it in SD. This remained up to the Second World War when it was demolished to make space for a bungalow called ‘The Noggins’ and Nissen hut.

The house and grounds can be seen from Waterhead Pier at Ambleside. It is directly across the lake. Just by the landing stage is the Waterhead Hotel. This was a favourite place to dine of Arthur Ransome and he would have been very familiar with the view. Until a few years ago, when trees grew at the edge of the lake, it was eveb possible to see the lawn from the steamer pier.

The staff of Huyton Hill confirmed that the grounds of the house contained a pigeon loft and also stables. The stables were on the far side of the grounds and were linked to the house by an electric bell to summon the Groom or Chauffeur.

The surrounding geography of Beckfoot/Pull Wood House/Huyton Hill is given in surprising and accurate detail within the pages of PM. You can follow the 4route taken by the Amazons from the back gate of Beckfoot over to the Dogs Home. The Beckfoot back gate is the exact location of the rear entrance to Huyton Hill.

North of the grounds of Huyton Hill is the valley of the Pull Beck, a large former stream valley populated by reeds and sheep. The map shows the remains of a long lake (now a swamp) and the meanders of a large stream, highlighted by reed beds on the bends. This area is known as Pull Beck Swamp and the Beck is the Pull Beck. Most of the time there is hardly a foot of water in the lake and the beck is un-navigable.

In times of heavy flood, just as happened in August 2005, the lake returns to its former glory, and AR’s Octopus Lagoon lives again. The lake has the same relationship to Huyton Hill as Octopus Lagoon has to Beckfoot; in fact they are identical even to the shape of the lake and that of the estate layout. The drawing in PM of Nancy clearing the weeds to make a birth for Scarab were based on this lake and surrounding area. The picture of the D's looking down on the Beckfoot lawn from 'The Lookout Post' shows the Steamer House in the distance exactly where the real one was.

The time when SD was being written is practically the same period as when Pull Wood House was being sold to the building firm of Pattinsons. AR has the builders in at Beckfoot redecorating. Something similar would have been happening at Pull Wood House.

Pamela and Ruth

Sir Kenneth's two daughters were born in 1913 and 1909. The younger sister, Pamela Catherine Field Crossley, was born on 30th December, 1913 at the Crossleys' new family seat of Combermere Abbey. The elder sister by three years was Ruth Irwin Crossley. She was born on 17th September, 1909.

Remember how Peggy Blackett introduces her sister at the parley in SA?

"Her real name isn't Nancy... her name is Ruth."

Each summer Sir Kenneth brought his two daughters from Altrincham to Pull Wood House so that they could use his sailing dinghy during the school holidays. At the same time their father could check up on the state of the house.

The sailing dinghy was kept in the boathouse to the left of the main house, as seen from the lake. The sides of the boathouse were decorated to match the decoration of the main house. It was built on the far left side of the house alongside the wooded boundary. The entrance is at the back in full view of the house as per PM. The front of the Boathouse used to be decorated with large Skull and Crossbones.

Evgenia Ransome's suggested that the Skull and Crossbones was put up by the Huyton Hill School pupils. However, the son of the Huyton Hill Headmaster, a former pupil, disputes this and claims it was already there. George Pattinson also denies any involvement. With those two owners excluded, that only leaves the Crossley girls. There is no record of where or when the girls were educated although it is thought that they attended boarding school.

Ruth and Catherine are reported to have sunk their father’s Houseboat, much to his annoyance. (Captain Flint wasn’t very pleased when the Amazons exploded a firework on the roof of the houseboat.) The location of the sinking is in dispute. According to one source, the houseboat was moored next to Silverholme and the girls were using it as a floating tent. According to another source, the houseboat was moored fairly close to the house. The next time the houseboat would be sunk was by the Sea Scouts when the Scott family owned it. If the official ownership dates are correct then the Crossleys still owned the houseboat when SA was written.

AR has the Great Aunt making the Amazons practice the piano. One of the Crossleys’ pastimes was to give musical recitals. They continued this practice when in residence at Pull Wood House, installing an organ for this purpose.

Ruth and Catherine both fell in love with RAF Pilots at the start of WW2 and both married. However, both husbands were later killed in action. The girls remarried and Ruth emigrated to North West Ireland and then to South Africa. Catherine moved to London where she remained until her death. By a twist of fate, while in South Africa, Ruth gave birth to a son and named him TIMOTHY (echoes of Pigeon Post!).

Captain Flint and Sir Kenneth

AR based the appearance of Captain Flint on himself. The character background of Captain Flint, however, is Sir Kenneth Irwin Crossley. Sir Kenneth in his spare time was a big game hunter and travelled the world on hunting expeditions. He listed the places he had been in his entry in Burke's peerage. He competed in the University boat races when at Magdalen College Oxford, where he rowed as bow and may have won silver cups from university rowing competitions. He was an author of a book of poetry entitled Mere Verses.

Captain Flint flies "The White Elephant" flag on the houseboat. A pun on the expense of purchasing it? In the books Captain Flint explored the world and brought back souvenirs from his travels. In PD it is suggested that he is a big game hunter; he even has firearms. He writes about his travels, but the money earned is just a bonus. He kept his souvenirs in the study at Beckfoot and in the cabin of the houseboat. In PM it is mentioned that he has silver cups from rowing competitions. The one book written by Captain Flint and mentioned by name is Mixed Moss.

As well as Pull Wood House, the Crossleys had a well appointed town house in Altrincham, Manchester. Their doctor was a cousin of AR upon whom AR would often visit. However, according to the visitors book there is no record of AR coming up to his cousin and meeting with the Crossleys.

Sir Kenneth and his father, Sir William, were partners in two companies, Crossley Motors, a car manufacturing company and Crossley Brothers an engineering Company. Sir William had provided one of the cars for his wife to use as he left her to look after the estate. She would drive around to see the estate employees. Was this the original Rattletrap?

Sir Kenneth sold his late father’s Pull Wood House and grounds to local builder, and steam boat collector, George Pattinson.

The final chapter

George Pattinson in turn sold the house and rented a large section of the grounds to Huyton Hill School which on the outbreak of WW II was being evacuated from Liverpool because of the bombing. The house was renamed Huyton Hill. The school would later purchase the land that they were renting and the Pattinsons would manage the estate for them.

George Pattinson wanted to start up a museum to display his collection of steamboats. The original location for the museum was going to be on the shore of Huyton Hill House but he was persuaded to relocate it close to Bowness on Windermere as it would be easier to get visitors there. The Windermere Steamboat Museum is still there.

In the 1960’s the BBC filmed Swallows and Amazons in the real locations mentioned in the book and Huyton Hill was used as Beckfoot. AR objected and tried to get the filming stopped. The reason he gave was on the grounds that the actors were wearing lifejackets (a Health and Safety condition) and the children in his book did not.

The late Brigit and Taqui Altounyan were questioned over whether they had ever met the real The Crossley Girls or had been to Huyton Hill. The answer from both was “No.”

1According to the Windermere Steamboat Museum (WSM) and the daughter of the gardener at Huyton Hill, the motor launch was called Daffodil and it started out as a steam launch. It was used to pick up the laundry from town, Shopping trips, and family picnics. It was berthed in the Steamer House exactly as depicted in SD.

2The ownership of Esperance by the Crossleys is supported by the Windermere Steamboat Museum who provided details of her previous owners.

3In a letter to Betty Reid in 1972, Evgenia Ransome mentioned Pull Beck and Huyton Hill in relation to Beckfoot. The letter is reproduced In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons.

4This is not the location of the woodsman’s hut known to TARS members as the DH.

Information Sources:

Barrow in Furness Library
Lancaster Library
Windermere Steamboat Museum
George Pattinson Ltd.
Huyton Hill House
Members of the Arthur Ransome Society past and present
Former staff members of Pull Woods House
Taqui and Brigit Altounyan
Coniston Museum
Lloyds Register of Shipping