Map of the month – Webb, Dover & JellyFish

Captain nWebbDover, Kent (MAP: OS Revised New 1:50,000 – published in 1898)

Captain Matthew Webb was born at Dawley in Shropshire, one of twelve children. He acquired his ability to swim in the River Severn at Coalbrookdale.

At age twelve Webb joined the merchant navy, starting with a three-year apprenticeship. Later, whilst serving as second mate on the Cunard Line ship Russia, he attempted to rescue a sailor, who had fallen from the rigging of the ship, by diving into the sea in the mid-Atlantic. Webb swam for more than half-an-hour, but the man was never found. Webb’s daring won him an award of £100 and the first Stanhope Medal, and made him a hero of the British press.

In 1873, Webb was serving as captain of the steamship Emerald when he read an account of the failed attempt by J. B. Johnson to swim the English Channel. He became inspired to try himself.

On 12 August 1875, he made his first cross-Channel swimming attempt, but strong winds and poor sea conditions forced him to abandon the swim. Just 10 days after this first abortive attempt, on August 24 1875 Webb dived from Dover ’s Admiralty Pier and headed towards France. Porpoise-grease helped insulate him against the cold, but couldn’t prevent the pain of numerous jelly-fish stings. Tantalisingly close to the French shore strong currents prevented him from completing the last few miles for several hours; but eventually the currents slowed and his steady breast-stroke won out. Webb walked ashore some 21 hours and 45 minutes after he left England. His zig-zag course across the Channel had totalled over 39 miles (64 km). He was an instant national hero.

After his record swim, Captain Webb basked in national and international adulation, and followed a career as a professional swimmer. He licensed his name for merchandising such as commemorative pottery and wrote a book called The Art of Swimming. A brand of matches was named after him. He also participated in exhibition swimming matches and stunts such as floating in a tank of water for 128 hours… don’t tell David Blaine.

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Map of the month – Botchergate, Trollope and the Bellman

First Postbox - CarlisleBotchergate, Carlisle (MAP: OS Town Plans 1:500 – published in 1865)

vertical-pillarbox

Thirteen years after Sir Rowland Hill, Secretary of the Post Office, introduced the Penny Post that the first mainland Pillar Box was erected in Botchergate, Carlisle in 1853.

The advent of the British wayside letter box can be traced to Sir Rowland Hill and his Surveyor for the Western District, and noted novelist, Anthony Trollope (known for The Warden, Barchester Towers and the Palliser novels).

Before 1853 it was customary to take outgoing mail to the nearest letter receiving house or post office, where the Royal Mail coach would stop to pick up and set down mail and passengers. People would take their letters in person, or in some areas they could await the appearance of the Bellman. The Bellman wore a uniform and walked the streets collecting letters from the public while ringing a bell to attract attention.

In 1852 Anthony Trollope was sent by Rowland Hill to the Channel Islands to ascertain what could be done about the problem of collecting the mail on the islands. To post a letter in Jersey or Guernsey, the post had to be taken down to the quayside and handed to the Master of the Royal Mail steamer in person. This was a somewhat inconvenient practice, subject as it was to the uncertainties of weather and tides.

Trollope’s recommendation back to Hill was to employ a device he had probably seen in Paris: a “letter-receiving pillar”. The first pillar boxes was brought into public use on Jersey in late November 1852 and they were an instant success.

By the next year the idea had spread to mainland Britain, with England’s first pillar box erected at the corner of Botchergate and South Street in Carlisle. In basic form all boxes were vertical cast iron ‘pillars’ with a small vertical slit to receive letters, but by 1857, after experimenting with various designs, horizontal, rather than vertical, slots were taken as a standard. The Committee responsible for the standardisation designed a very ornate box festooned with Grecian style-decoration but, in a major oversight, devoid of any posting aperture, which meant the slots were chiselled out of the cast iron by local craftsmen, usually destroying the look of the box.

Prior to 1859 colours varied until a bronze green colour was chosen as the new standard, which was to last until 1874. Initially it was thought that the green colour would be unobtrusive. Too unobtrusive, as it turned out — people kept either walking into them or past them. Red became the standard colour in 1874, although ten more years elapsed before every box in the UK had been repainted.

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Cassini Maps Sale – 25% OFF!

Cassini Quad Map

Last few days of this Special Offer! – 25% Off all maps (ends 30th Sept 2015)
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Maps published from the mid 1800’s to the 1920’s
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These maps were published for larger towns and cities at scales of 1:500, (c.10′ to 1 mile), 1:528 (exactly 10′ to 1 mile) and 1:1056 (5′ to 1 mile) from the mid 1800’s onwards. An immense amount of detail is shown, down to every lamp-post and every pillar-box, even paths, trees and sheds in peoples gardens. For those who are particularly interested in local history and genealogy, the town plans are essential research tool.

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