Monday 30 December 2013

Fairs, letters and patterns

Earlier this month - the 15th to be precise - I found myself at another of my local Essex Vintage Fairs.  Fast becoming a quarterly tradition thanks in no small part to its proximity to m'parents' home it is also a well-run yet intimate event with some good bargains to be found if one is prepared to search beyond the "vintage" (in the worst possible sense as used to describe stuff from the 1970s, '80s - or even later - that just looks old or has a bit of retro about it) and "[insert decade here]-style".  (Those two types of items are, of course, found everywhere these days so this event is not unusual for that.)

While perhaps not quite up there with the summer fair in terms of atmosphere (despite the "Special Christmas Vintage Fair" tagline of the advertisements there was really very little to differentiate it from any other time of year beyond some occasional Christmas music and a few decorations) it was still great fun and we - mother and I - were both able to find a couple of things to take our fancy.

Mine has lost the wording
but is otherwise identical
The first find was mine - another book for my library and quite an apposite one in view of next year's centenary of the First World War.  In The Royal Naval Air Service is comprised of a series of letters written by RNAS Flight-Lieutenant Harold Rosher to his family (in Beckenham, South East London) from the outbreak of war in August 1914 until February 1916 when he tragically died in a flying accident.  I've already leafed through the first chapter and it looks to be a cracking read and a welcome addition to my World War One book collection (it should be a particularly good companion piece to James McCudden's Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps).  It's my intention to read through all (or as many as possible!) of my Great War books in 2014 as part of my own commemoration of the centenary and this one will be top of the pile.  I'm also delighted to note that it has been republished twice in the last eleven years and that copies are still available to buy or even read/download online.

At £3.50 for an original 1916 copy, however, there was no way it wasn't coming home with me.  It also has a fascinating pencil inscription on the frontispiece - 'G. Barham N.A.A, "Hood" Division'.  A little bit of digging has found that Hood Division was one of eight battalions of the Royal Naval Division, an infantry unit made up of surplus Royal Navy and Royal Marine volunteers not serving on ships.  A clear link to Harold Rosher, then, who served in the Navy's air force (before it was merged with the Royal Flying Corps on the 1st April 1918 to form the RAF).  Maybe this G. Barham knew Harold Rosher, who can say?  Interestingly enough, towards the end of 1916 the Royal Naval Division was re-deployed to the Army as the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division with the eight battalions losing their names (all famous naval commanders) so it should be possible to precisely place this Barham chap in the timeline of the RND. 

Now, for the second find (mater's, but equally exciting for me too) I must ask any ladies reading - particularly those of you who knit - to please be sitting down or holding on to something because I don't want there to be any swooning.  Yes - knitting patterns!

Not just any old patterns, either.  Hiding in amongst piles of Seventies- and Eighties-tastic booklets (dubious cardigans, three-piece sets where one of the pieces is a hat - you know the sort of thing) were a couple of absolute gems from a far earlier period...  Just feast your eyes on these!

From the 25th September 1937 issue of Woman's Own, a whopping 44 pages of woollen wonders in the Big Knitting Book!!  I mean,everything!  Look at it all! Quite literally the mother lode.



Pullovers (for chaps too)!

Even the kiddies are catered for!

If that wasn't enough mother also nabbed an "Autumn Woollies" book from "My Weekly, of approximately the same vintage (sadly there's no date to be found in it, but the styles look very much the same and the fact that it has some colour pages and is roughly A4 in size leads me to believe it is also pre-war).  

Got your breath back yet?  OK, here we go...

Not as many pages as the Big Knitting Book, but still some corkers for the whole family dwell within.

Why not indeed?!

Mater was quite tickled to note that the older, larger lady was referred to as a "matron"...

We chaps are well-catered for too!

By Jove, what a lot of patterns eh?  Should keep mother busy well into the next year.

I'll certainly be returning to the next fair on the 26th of January, with an even bigger one scheduled for the 2nd of March at a larger sports hall in Southend, to look out for more bargains, patterns and books for 2014.

Wednesday 25 December 2013

A Merry Eclectic Ephemera Christmas


Wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas!  May you all have a blessed Yule.

Sent from mater's new Kindle Fire (other tablet computers are available).  I'm converted!  What a fantastic piece of equipment; I may have to look into these things...

Monday 23 December 2013

Christmas Eve, Eve and Song

Christmas is nearly upon us, which means it must be time for another medley of festive classics from the Big Band period of the 1930s-1950s.  I seriously thought 2012 would be the final time I'd be able to do one of these posts, seeing as Yuletide tunes from that time were thin on the ground anyway and I had all but exhausted both my knowledge and YouTube's.  I've dug deep this year, though, and consequently am able to bring you another selection of seasonal songs from our favourite eras. 

Little information seems to be available about Jimmy Ray & his Orchestra, which is a shame as these two Christmassy numbers - both recorded at the same session on the 19th November 1937 - are a couple of topping tunes.  I Want You For Christmas also appeared in my festive post from 2011 when I featured the Dick Robertson version; it must have been a popular standard of the late Thirties as it was also recorded around the same time by Russ Morgan and Mae Questal - but I think I'll keep those in reserve for next year if you don't mind!

Recorded nearly a year later on the 11th November 1938 (Don't Wait 'Til) The Night Before Christmas is another rare Christmas-titled tune by Sammy Kaye and his orchestra (styled "Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye"), the vocals taken by The Three Barons - a singing trio from Cleveland, Ohio (Howard Greene, Edward Parton and Joe McGhee) who also performed as The Three Riffs.

Christmas just isn't Christmas without a Crosby song or three but although Bing has rightly endured and remains popular to this day, his bandleader brother Bob is less well-known now.  It's only fair, then, to include his orchestra's recording of Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow from early in 1946 when the song was riding a crest following Vaughn Monroe's chart-topping version.

Although not expressly mentioned on this YouTube video, Bob Eberly was most closely associated in the 1930s, 1940s and early '50s with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra so it's a fair bet that's who's playing here.  Bob Eberly was in fact a brother of Ray Eberle, the singer with Glenn Miller and his Orchestra (it was Bob who actually recommended the young Ray to Glenn when the latter was looking for a new lead vocalist in 1938).  You can certainly hear the similarity!

I was somewhat surprised that Artie Shaw didn't get in to the Christmas music act until the early 1950s, but this version of Jingle Bells from August(!) 1950 is the only example I can find from that otherwise popular bandleader (although there may be others that I've yet to discover).  Leaning more towards the really big band sound of the Fifties it nevertheless retains enough of Shaw's trademark sounds to make it worthy of inclusion here.

It only remains, then, for me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.  I hope you all have a ripping time and, for those of you in the UK, batten down the hatches and stay safe from that awful winter weather we're all due to get later today (and that goes for anyone else in the world experiencing the worst of the hiemal conditions).  I may return briefly on Christmas Day itself but in the meantime I hope Father Christmas visits you all and leaves you lots of presents (I can't wait to see what we all get, myself)!  Enjoy the music!

Thursday 19 December 2013

Plus fors - and againsts

What ho, everyone!  I trust we're all fully in the festive spirit now and having a tip-top time of things?

In the vintage blogosphere I do believe things have never been better and I myself have an idea for a couple of what I hope will be cracking posts before Christmas and the New Year, involving classic Yuletide tunes and recently-acquired knitting patterns(!).

I'd like to take a moment first, though, to apologise for any technical problems you, dear readers, may have encountered lately when trying to leave a comment.  You see, I recently finished creating a Google+ account for m'self and linked this blog to it.  Seeing as Google appear to own most of the Internet (and who knows where that will end...?), particularly my usual haunts of Blogger, YouTube and Google Search, it seemed a good idea at the time to have a profile to keep them all in one place.  Little did I know that by linking this blog to my Google+ profile I would be changing the commenting system to Google+ Comments, for which apparently anyone wishing to leave a message must have a Google+ account themselves.  Took me a while to cotton on to the fact too, seeing as I'm still very much an amateur when it comes to the internal workings of Blogger.

I then spent a day or so toying with the idea of leaving Google+ Comments in place until I decided yesterday evening that it is not for me to force anyone into creating a Google+ account just to post a comment and despite that firm's ubiquity there are probably more people reading this with just a good old Blogger account (or similar) then there would be on Google+, so to cut a long story short Blogger Comments have made a welcome return to Eclectic Ephemera.  Of course during that time of confusion and indecision some of you had left comments using Google+, which have now disappeared into the æther (they must be floating around somewhere, because if I switch back again they magically reappear and some of them are on my Google+ page) and I wanted you to know that I haven't forgotten them and that I value every one.  Jessica, garofit, Mim, Jennie, anyone else I've missed - sorry for faffing you about and I hope you will continue to comment in the future.

In fact, I hope everyone and anyone feels welcome to continue to comment.  I can't tell you the kick I get out of seeing "n message(s) awaiting moderation" when I open my Dashboard and reading the wonderful thoughts you've been kind enough to share with me.  In fact, there's another reason why I went back to Blogger comments, plus I can see all the messages in one place (and moderate them if - very rarely - necessary) which is something - unless it's passed me by - you can't seem to do so readily with Google+.

I will still be keeping my Google+ profile and posts published here on Blogger will continue to appear automatically on Google+, so please feel free to leave comments here or there.  I read and appreciate them all and they make writing this blog all the more worthwhile.  Sorry again for any bother; normal service has now been resumed!

Wednesday 18 December 2013

A century of shirts - one hundred years of Hawes & Curtis

A gentleman's shirt is arguably a design classic - the bedrock of a chap's outfit, from which the tie hangs (or under which the cravat goes) and over which the jacket sits.  Over the decades collars may have lengthened, widened, shortened or changed styles in numerous other ways and colours come and gone but the crisp cotton shirt has by and large always remained a timeless garment.  No chap's wardrobe is complete without a good selection of shirts and mine is no exception, with a mixed line-up ranging from high street to Jermyn Street (sometimes via the high street...!).

Ah, Jermyn Street - the centre, the Savile Row of British shirtmaking.  The list of businesses occupying this famous street is a long and illustrious one, a chap's dream shopping destination.  One name in particular, however, has celebrated a noteworthy anniversary this year.

Hawes & Curtis, who currently occupy numbers 33-34 and 82 of Jermyn Street (as well as several more locations in London and around the country), have recently marked 100 years in business - their first shop having opened in 1913.

Established in that year by two experienced cutters, Ralph Hawes and Freddie Curtis, the original store was situated just around the corner from Jermyn Street in the equally-renowned Burlington Arcade.  This combination of proven skills and a favourable location proved immediately successful and the House of Hawes & Curtis' reputation was cemented practically from the off.  It received an even greater boost nine years later, in 1922, when no less a person than the Prince of Wales - later Edward VIII / the Duke of Windsor, without doubt one of the best-dressed chaps of the era and a gentleman's style icon to this day - visited the shop and left with a selection of suits, blazers, flannels, handkerchiefs and of course shirts.  So impressed was he that he became one of the company's most famous patrons and recommended them to many of his friends and relations including the future King George VI and Earl Mountbatten.  Hawes and Curtis in turn created the now-familiar spread collar, designed specifically to accommodate his ties and the knot he inspired - the Windsor.  Later, the Duke of Windsor awarded them a Royal Warrant and his coat of arms was added to the shop.

Other famous customers of the time read like a Who's Who of this blogger's favourite style icons.  Fred Astaire, well-known for buying his clothes from London's tailors, became a regular visitor after seeing H&C's new design of backless waistcoat (designed to be worn under a tailcoat) although the story goes that the garment was so popular he had to wait in line with everyone else!  No-one ever looked better in a pin-collar shirt, either.

 Cary Grant was another Golden Era Hollywood actor who bought his clothes from Hawes & Curtis, beginning at the rise of his career in the late 1930s, and who runs Astaire close in the shirt stakes.

Robert Donat's splendid hounds-tooth suit, which he wore in 1935's The 39 Steps, also came from H&C (as did the short-trousers replica that Hitch presented to Donat after he complained once too often about the real one being ruined through all that running about over the Scottish moors!).


To celebrate this milestone Hawes and Curtis have not one but two Collections in their formal shirt range that take inspiration from their rich heritage - the 100 Years Collection and the 1913 Collection.  Both feature various nods towards a century of shirt design with a good mix of traditional and modern styles and colours.  Hawes and Curtis were kind enough to provide me with an example to review as part of this post so, taking inspiration from the chaps above, I selected their Plain White Twill Slim Fit Limited Edition Tie Bar shirt from the 100 Years Collection.

Plain White Twill Slim Fit Limited Edition Tie Bar,
from Hawes & Curtis' 100 Years Collection, £39.50
(or 2 shirts for £60)
This is my second H&C shirt (the other a 2 ply 100's cotton from their Warwick tailored fit range - a beneficiary boutique find from a couple of years ago) and my first experience of the slim fit style (in the past I've tended to stick with the standard classic fit).  But the side darts are well put together and the cotton twill is up there with the best I've experienced.  The fit is - as promised - trim without being too pinched at the waist; slightly more defined but no less comfortable or easy to work with than the classic fit.  "1913-2013" labels integrated into the side hem gussets are a nice addition too.  H&C's "silk touch finish" is no gimmick either - it adds a pleasant sheen to the fabric and gives it a soft, light quality (theirs have a "put it on and forget" feeling I've not encountered elsewhere) similar to that found even on their two-fold cloths, although perhaps not quite so pronounced.  Certainly it is one of the easiest shirts to iron that I've ever owned!

The pin collar is well-defined and looks like it should be easy to maintain.  The bar is designed, as you probably know, to sit under the tie knot and so push it outwards thereby giving an extra dimension to your necktie.  It also, I think you'll agree, has a classically dapper 1920s/1930s look to it too!  I can see this working well with many an outfit (although be warned, chaps, it still better suits a thinner tie or smaller knot).  H&C are also to be commended for being rare among shirtmakers of my experience in also offering it in a colour/fabric other than white twill, namely a light blue herringbone.  The mother-of-pearl buttons are a nice touch (they really do look better than plain old plastic ones), sitting well with the fabric, and the entire garment is thoroughly in keeping with one's expectations of a Jermyn Street shirtmaker with so many years' experience.

Nowadays selling mainly shirts, but also other items of menswear including coats and jumpers, H&C's focus on this essential men's garment coupled with their 100 years in the trade certainly seems to have kept them in the upper echelon of shirtmakers (yet with comparatively reasonable prices).  Ladies need not feel left out either, for like many modern shirtmakers H&C also sell women's shirts (with their own 100 Years Collection, I might add!) and accessories.

Based on my experiences I see no reason why Hawes and Curtis shan't celebrate many more anniversaries and I doubt that this will be the last of their shirts to make it into my wardrobe.  On the whole, this is a company that should be on every chap's (and chapette's) radar, and here's to their next one hundred years!

*This was a sponsored post in collaboration with Hawes and Curtis*

Monday 16 December 2013

'Unsung' London war bus brought back to life

'Unsung' London war bus brought back to life

With the centenary of the beginning of World War One now only a matter of months away, there will doubtless be many fascinating and worthy projects on the go in addition to those already announced by the Government.  Here's one now, in fact, involving the restoration of a 1914 London omnibus.

A very special and, today, rare model the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) B-type was in many ways the Routemaster of its day.  Arguably the first mass-produced 'bus it was an advanced machine for its time, able to travel faster even than the speed limit of the time (12mph - the B-type could top 16mph, although apparently 30-35mph was not unheard of!) thanks to its light weight and modern running gear.  Able to seat up to 34 people, including 18 on the top deck's weatherproof canvas-covered seats, over 3,000 B-types were produced; that and the model's reliability allowed for an expansion of routes and the introduction of the night bus with the B-type getting electric lighting inside and out from 1912/13.

A B-type converted into a pigeon loft for use in
Northern France and Belgium during the Great War, c.1916.
Almost as soon as war broke out in August 1914 up to one-third of the entire B-type fleet was requisitioned for military purposes and shipped over to France (and from there also to other far-flung theatres like Palestine and Greece) - quite a logistical feat if you think about it!  Over the ensuing four years they were pushed far beyond the design's limits - trading smooth London streets for rutted & waterlogged mud tracks, coming under enemy fire, being converted into anti-aircraft gun platforms or carrier pigeon lofts, not to mention providing transport for two-dozen fully-equipped soldiers (the hastily-erected window boards were in fact installed to stop the glass getting broken by the soldiers' guns and packs)!

Troops in Arras go back for a rest having
taken part in the Battle of Arras, May 1917.

Now only four B-types are known to exist.  B43 "Ole Bill", a 1911 model, served in France until 1919 when like so many it helped to transport soldiers back across the Channel and was bought back by LCOG, shortly afterwards being retired and used as a commemorative vehicle (on the 14th February 1920 it became the first bus to boarded by a monarch, King George V inspecting it as part of the peace celebrations).  It was donated to the Imperial War Museum as long ago as 1970, where it remains to this day.

B340 resides at the London Transport Museum and it is here that it will soon be joined by the one undergoing recommissioning at the moment.  This latest restoration looks to be the quite the project, having come about through a remarkable series of events.  It will also differ from its companion by being rebuilt to military specification, to honour the memory of the men its type helped transport to and from the front lines. 

An excellent undertaking, then, particularly for the Great War anniversary but also for 2014's Year of the Bus.  I'm glad to see the London Transport Museum taking such effort to bring back to life another of these forgotten buses and in order to commemorate those who took part in such an important date in our history.  It bodes well for the centenary events next year and I look forward more than ever to seeing them (and the B-type bus!).

Friday 13 December 2013

Laurel and Hardy inspire BBC drama

Laurel and Hardy inspire BBC drama

It has always been a source of regret to me that I wasn't alive to see two of my favourite comic actors of the 20th century, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, when they toured the theatres of Britain with their live sketch shows during 1952-53.  Although they were in the twilight of their careers, having completed their final film in 1951 - the unholy mess that was Atoll K (also known as Utopia or Robinson Crusoeland, an absolute disaster of a film and no way to have ended a 25-year movie career - a mixed nationality of actors and crew meant that no-one understood one another, The Boys were both ill and in the case of Stan looked it, he also never really got the creative freedom he was promised so the story was weak as well) - by the following year they were in better health and keen to get out and meet the many fans who still enjoyed their comedy genius.  Stan, the creative one of the partnership, had several new ideas for the team but both agreed that another tour of Europe - where they remained popular - was the first step (they had twice before toured abroad, once in 1932 and again in 1947).

In 1952 they performed a sketch written by Stan entitled "A Spot of Trouble" and it proved so successful that in 1953 they returned with a new performance, "Birds of a Feather".  Playing to packed houses, they were overwhelmed by the joy and affection they still engendered nearly 20 years after their heyday.  On one occasion, arriving by boat at Cobh in Ireland, they were moved to tears by the crowds' cheering and waving and - I'd have loved to have been there to hear it - all the church bells in the town pealing out their theme tune, "The Dance of the Cuckoos".

The 1953 tour was another great success but it proved to be their last, for Oliver Hardy's health declined in 1956 and following a series of strokes he passed away on the 7th August 1957 aged 65, ending one of the greatest partnerships in film.

I'm pleased to see that the B.B.C. has now commissioned a new drama-documentary charting those last two years' of tours, to be written by the same chap who co-wrote the recent critically-lauded film Philomena.  I haven't seen that one myself but by all accounts it is a very good, if heartrending, story so I have high hopes for this forthcoming programme.

It won't be the first time the Beeb have produced a drama based around the last years of Laurel & Hardy, however.  Back in 2006 as part of its "Silent Cinema" season B.B.C. Four broadcast Stan, which was written by Neil Brand (who is also well-known for playing accompanying music - and in some cases composing new scores - for silent films, often shown at the British Film Institute e.g. The Wrecker) and which covered Laurel & Hardy's career in a series of flashbacks as Stan visited Ollie on his deathbed.  That was an excellent production, if sometimes tough to watch, with the actors playing the lead roles well suited to the parts.  Let us hope it will be more of the same with Stan and Ollie; I look forward to hearing more news about it.  In the meantime I can heartily recommend the book Laurel & Hardy: the British Tours by A. J. Marriot as an excellent tome on the subject of The Boys' later live appearances.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Flying in the slipstream of Lady Mary Heath

Tracey Curtis-Taylor: Meet the daredevil recreating Lady Mary Heath's historic 1920s flight

I remember first reading about this lady's aeronautical attempt last month during the coverage of the Goodwood Revival and I planned then to make a post out of it but then time moved on, work got in the way and the story was half-forgotten.  Now, with barely a week to go until its hopefully successful conclusion I can finally manage to feature it on here.

Really this is the story of two remarkable women - Mary, Lady Heath (born Sophie Peirce-Evans), a pioneering aviatrix whose name had sadly been lost to obscurity and Tracey Curtis-Taylor, the accomplished modern-day female pilot inspired by her forbear.

Flying through the glass ceiling: Saluting Britain's intrepid female aviators

Lady Mary Heath (or Sophie Peirce-Evans) is a name that by rights should be up there with Amy Johnson, Amelia Earhart and Diana Barnato-Walker in the list of famous women aviators.  The first woman to gain a commercial pilot's licence, the first woman to jump out of an aeroplane by parachute and the first person to fly a light aircraft solo from England to South Africa, a world altitude record-holder of the time - and she's practically unheard of today.  She looks to have been a most fascinating personality, glamorously photographed in fur coats atop the wing of her 'plane or dancing the night away in sumptuous ball gowns even while part-way through her record-breaking Africa flight, where she also took the time to hike around the savannah.  Even putting aside her feats in the air she sounds a remarkable woman - a university graduate, athlete, mechanically-minded and an ambulance driver during the Great War.  She truly was a trailblazer in all walks of life and her early death at only 42 is made only more tragic as a result.

Flying in the slipstream of Lady Mary Heath

Tracey Curtis-Taylor seems every inch the 21st-century incarnation of Lady Mary (and other early aviatrices) and her career before this event is just as remarkable, if still somewhat constrained by what regrettably remains a male-dominated industry even now.  However her role as an air show display pilot - currently at the excellent Shuttleworth Collection in Bedfordshire - and this attempt to recreate Lady Mary's 1928 Cape Town - Goodwood flight is a worthy and thrilling way to honour the memory of this forgotten female flier.

Not only is Ms Curtis-Taylor using a comparable aircraft in her 1942 Boeing Stearman but she has to contend with the same sort of endurance conditions Lady Mary would have faced 85 years ago, including variable weather and complex geopolitical borders.  Her journey looks to be as exciting and challenging as it would have been in 1928 and I have no doubt that she will overcome all obstacles and finish the course, just as Lady Mary did.  Here's to them both, and to Brooklands in a week's time!  (Hopefully I'll be able to post an update).

A Woman In Africa from Nylon Films on Vimeo.

A documentary film of Tracey Curtis-Taylor's extraordinary journey, A Woman In Africa, which will feature glorious African scenery and in-air footage of the flight is scheduled for release next year and if it can bring the name of Lady Mary Heath - and Tracey Curtis-Taylor - into the public consciousness, boost British tourism and show everyone what women in 'planes can do then so much the better!

Friday 29 November 2013

Timewarp fashion treasure trove discovered in Houghton-le-Spring house

Timewarp fashion treasure trove discovered in Houghton-le-Spring house

Ladies!  Get thee to Tyne & Wear next Saturday!!

You know how I sometimes half-jestingly, half-wistfully wish - along with most of you I imagine - that there was a warehouse or boarded-up mansion somewhere complete with sealed rooms full of vintage clothing from our preferred time period?  Well, here is an example of it come true!

A bittersweet example in many ways, as the story behind this "treasure trove" is a particularly poignant one.  Although the "widowed-at-a-young-age-never-remarried-lived-alone-hoarded-things-died-in-their-nineties-nobody-knew" story is not necessarily an uncommon one (but maybe its unusual nature attracts comment and makes it appear more commonplace, if you take my meaning?) there is always something particularly touching about it and this one is no exception.   Perhaps it is the thought of the lady's routine of travelling and returning home with new suitcases to be filled with the best dresses - stashed away and destined never to be worn - over a period spanning 70 years.  Yet if she was happy (although I do wonder about that - was this the sign of a life that felt unfulfilled from the early death of a husband?), taking annual holidays and living to a grand old age, then fair do's to her say I.


Now her collection can be someone else's gain (yours, perhaps?) as this immeasurable amount of vintage clothing - valued collectively at £100,000 - is set to be sold off next month by the lady's friends with the help of a local vintage shop owner.  If you want to make a note of the date, girls, it's the 7th December and the sale will be held, suitably - and no doubt interestingly - enough at the lady's house in Houghton-le-Spring (no address given, but doubtless contacting the shop - the oddly-named "Dregs of Society"(!) - would provide it).  Some of the really valuable pieces like the Victorian and Edwardian wedding gowns of the lady's mother and grandmother are earmarked for the local Beamish Museum, however, which seems only fair.

A remarkable discovery, then, of a life's legacy - a fantastic fashion timeline.  I'm sure you'll join me in echoing the thoughts of the best friend and her hope that all these items will find new owners to use and appreciate them - a positive aspect of wearing vintage that many of us have commented on in the past.  It all makes you wonder what else might be out there...

Wednesday 27 November 2013

The return of Brough Superior


The return of Brough Superior

Just over a year ago I featured an article in part about two Brough Superior motorcycles from the 1920s, which made large sums of money when they went to auction.  The model was also briefly mentioned in another motorcycle-themed post earlier in the year.

1937 Brough Superior SS100
Both were prime examples (despite one being unrestored) from a motorcycle manufacturer of the inter-war Golden Years that was widely regarded as the producer of the ultimate 'bikes of the period.  The company was founded in 1919 by George Brough, the son of motorcycle manufacturer George Brough Sr. who built machines simply labelled Brough.  After a falling-out between father and son, George Jr. went and set up his own concern - cheekily calling it Brough Superior much to his dad's chagrin!

In the 20 years of Brough Superior production the company more than lived up to its name, earning the nickname "the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles" (a name the originally-litigious Rolls-Royce was not happy with, until one of its executives was given a tour of the factory and had to admit that is was more than a fair description, even going so far as to give Rolls-Royce's full approval).  Brough Superiors were truly bespoke machines built with input from the owner, all of them put together by a white-gloved hand - and then disassembled again for painting/finishing!  Each and every example of the original 3,048-model production run (approximately one-third of which survive today) was scrupulously tested before delivery.  The SS80 was named for its 80mph top speed, so each one was run at that speed or more after construction to ensure that it lived up to its moniker.  Likewise the SS100.  If one fell short, it went back to the factory for tinkering until it could satisfactorily meet the published figures.  George Brough Jr., himself a record-breaking motorcycle racer and designer, wanted only the very best.

T.E. Lawrence on his 6th Brough Superior, "George V", 1927
It was a vision shared by many rich and famous motorcyclists of the time (a SS100 in 1925 - the second year of its production - cost £170, equal to about £55,000 today which is about the same as the new 2014 model is expected to cost) including George Bernard Shaw and most famously T. E.  Lawrence [of Arabia].  Lawrence owned a total of eight Brough Superiors and was infamously killed on the back roads of Dorset in 1935 when he crashed his SS100 "George VII" (a ninth model, "George VIII", was under construction at the time).  "George VII" is now currently on display at the IWM London.

Sadly the Second World War did for Brough Superior as its factory was given over to war production.  Despite dedicated after-sales service from George Brough and later company owner Albert Wallis, which saw parts still being produced right up until 1969, no new Brough Superior motorcycles were produced after the outbreak of war.


Until now.  I'm delighted to see that the Brough Superior nameplate has been revived and now graces a wonderful and impressive-looking machine - the 2014 Brough Superior SS100.  Designed very much in homage to the original 1924-1939 SS100, this new 2014 model includes many traditional construction features that tie it unmistakably to its ancestor such as the uniquely-shaped fuel tank and a V-twin engine integrated into the chassis.  Yet, to this blogger's eyes at least, there is an obvious evolutionary aspect to the 'bike, which in its shape resembles slightly more the modern roadster design.  Yet it all combines to create a handsome motorcycle and in my opinion a very successful imaging of what a Brough Superior would look like in the 21st century.

No doubt this is in no small part thanks to the interest of the reborn company's new owner, marque enthusiast and former motorcycle dealer Mr Mark Upham.  It certainly sounds like he understands the ethos behind the brand and I wish him the best of luck with his product plan.  The Brough Superior name deserves to make a comeback and this could well be the motorbike to do it justice.

Monday 25 November 2013

Brace yourselves to suspend[er] disbelief... (2)

Part Two of "Braces with Bruce" (the first of which can be found here) starts on the slightly less contentious notes of colours and style.  Colours are still a point of discussion but again are largely a personal preference and while I wouldn't touch gaudy or heavily novelty-patterned braces with a barge pole if you've got the nerve and personality to pull it off then more power to your elbow (although be warned that wearing matching braces and [bow] tie is generally considered "naff").  Remember, of course, that braces were originally designed to be worn under waistcoats, pullovers and the like - i.e. never to be seen in public.  That's less of a factor these days, it must be admitted, but there's still something inherently "right" about a well-tailored three-piece suit with the trousers suspended by braces.  That's another thing in favour of braces by the way, in that trousers supported in this fashion always hang better than with a belt.  Again as something of a traditionalist I prefer muted colours like browns and greens, usually striped, or occasionally solid colours like red, blue or gold.  Once again Darcy Clothing and Tom Sawyer I find best for such hues, in both clip- and button-on styles.

Be aware that if you do plump for brightly-coloured or novelty braces you will almost certainly be labelled "eccentric".  In fact, let's face it, if you choose to wear braces at all you're likely to be called "eccentric" - or worse.  Even plain colours are not immune from notice by others - any shade of red in particular will tend to draw comparison with bankers (and yes, in both senses of the word).  But I say this - Gordon Gekko may have eventually been caught with his metaphorical trousers down but I bet he never once had to adjust his actual trousers.  Anyway, to judge a chap by the colour of his braces is just ridiculous and should be ignored along with all the other negativity we have to put up with from time to time.  I myself have a pair of wine red jobs and I'm about as far removed from a city financier as it's possible to get.

A final word on fixings - it is also possible
to get braces that have/accept both types
On the subject of style there are two aspects - size (width) and layout.  Although I wrote yesterday that "skinny" braces - that is, ones no more than 2½cm wide - are usually the preserve of the hipster or the younger generations who have adopted them as the fashion (and what's with wearing them off the shoulders, just hanging by the sides of the trousers?!), they should not be discounted.  You may prefer them for comfort, or other reasons.  They do the job as well as their wider counterpart, although they tend to come in fewer colours and almost always as clip-ons only.  The more traditional 3½cm width is better suited to the vintage look, however, spreads the load a little more and is available in a whole host of patterns, most with leather ends.  In my experience they also tend to be a little harder-wearing than the narrower variety.

Braces can also come in two main designs - the X-back and the Y-back.  These refer to the rear fixing strap(s).  As the names imply X-back braces have two rear straps, thereby giving the braces an X shape at the back.  This style seems to be more commonly found in the narrower clip-ons (right) - two fastenings giving a securer purchase, should one fail.  The Y-back, again considered the more traditional, is usually reserved for the wider, button-on braces.  It is better at ensuring the straps remain in place on your shoulders and, especially with high-waisted trews, gives a better holding effect.  That's not to say you can't get 3½cm X-backs or skinny Y-backs, but such variations are rarer.

It can only end in tears...
Attitudes that one encounters as a braces wearer are largely as follows.  Some people - children mainly although sometimes even fully-grown, otherwise respectable adults - will want to twang your braces as if you're a walking double bass.  This is more of a risk with clip-ons, although still annoying regardless of the type of braces you're wearing.  Best to just grin and bear it (it quickly loses its appeal, it seems); if they get a face-full of clasp/button it's their own fault.

We've touched upon the "eccentric" moniker already but I have also heard opinions ranging from "clownish" and "unnatural"(!) to "I didn't know you could still buy them".  (I knew my last job was doomed when a female co-worker made the "clownish" remark and another, when I tried to point out how preferable braced trousers are to a belt with rolls of fat spilling out over the top, was heard to say "yes, but that [the latter] is more natural, isn't it?".  By that logic, surely we should do away with clothes altogether?!  The muffin top/beer belly "more natural"?!  Has the world finally gone mad, I ask?)

Thanks to the success of a certain Time Lord we also have to put up with comparisons to [the outgoing] Doctor Who.  This is a small price to pay, however, for the successful reintroduction into the public consciousness of braces (albeit clip-ons), not to mention bow ties, tweed jackets and the fez!  If the best/worst comment people can think to throw at me is "Oi, Doctor Who!" then I consider I've got off lightly.

Some final words now on a couple of different forms of braces.  One I like the idea of, the other I don't; neither of them have I had any experience of, however.  The first is the sock suspender, an almost extinct form of brace these days and subject to even more ridicule than normal braces but still with a very real, useful purpose.  Many's the time I've pulled my socks up while yearning for a pair of these.  Like trouser braces they should really never be seen (and much of the comedy surrounding them is from their sudden appearance) but just go about doing their job of holding your socks up quietly and without fuss.  I've earmarked a pair of these to try one day; again not as difficult to get hold of as one might think with most of the online shops mentioned on the left stocking examples.

The other type I'm less sure about - the shirt stay.  Seemingly becoming more talked-about in recent years, I just don't get them.  What happens if you need to sit/crouch/bend down?  Won't it produce an odd angular effect at the knees?  God forbid the lower clasps should snap off, eh chaps?  Unlike with trouser braces or sock suspenders, I've never thought to myself "blasted shirt keeps getting untucked, I wish there was something I could do to stop it".  On the rare occasions my shirt tails make a bid for freedom it is the work of a moment to tuck them back in again.  Shirt stays?  Not for me.

Ladies need not feel left out, either.  Girls can  look just as good, if not better, in braces as the chaps.  Much, much better in the other type of suspender too, ahem!  With high-waisted trousers, particularly in the 1930s style so often beloved of the vintage gal, braces are a jolly nice addition especially if you want to channel some Marlene Dietrich/Katherine Hepburn style.  You ladies also have another alternative not open to us gentlemen - suspender skirts, almost a sine qua non for that Forties/Fifties look.  Some lovely suspender skirts are out there that I've seen and a splendid look it is too.

There we have it then.  Practically everything you wanted to know (or didn't want to know, perhaps) about braces, suspenders etc.  I do hope you've enjoyed my whimsical (windy!) take on those accessories. 

Sunday 24 November 2013

Brace yourselves to suspend[er] disbelief... (1)

It occurred to me this morning, as I was knotting my tie in the mirror, that a blog post could easily be made out of my experiences with that most noble form of trouser suspension - braces (or suspenders, as our North American cousins call them).

Like most young lads I grew up knowing only of the common belt (or, sartorial gods forgive me, the elasticated waistband) in its standard leather or occasionally cloth form.  Until my vintage conversion braces were something my grandfather's generation wore, or were seen used to comedic effect in the Laurel & Hardy films that eventually helped to steer me on to my current path.

Although I'd long held the desire to try a pair of braces for myself - subsequent to my interest in vintage - it wasn't until my declining health in 2007 and the abdominal surgery which resulted that I took the plunge and invested in a pair.  By that time I was motivated as much by the need for the comfort that belts no longer afforded me as I was by sartorial considerations.  Still, I imagine I would have ended up gravitating to them even without medical intervention so I can't really quibble too much about the way I came to embrace them.  So with braces now a staple part of my wardrobe, it strikes me as the time to be writing a bit about them and the various forms they can come in.

The most commonly-found braces tend to be of the "clip-on" variety - that is, ones with metal clips on the end that attach to the trouser waistband.  Clip-ons tend to be largely vilified in the vintage world and not without reason.  Their biggest flaw is also their major aspect - the clips themselves.  Over time they will end up damaging the cloth around the waistband.  Some better quality examples may have inner plastic grips to try and lessen this problem but it can never be entirely eradicated.  If the clips do not have a firm grip on the fabric they will also have the unfortunate tendency to come adrift from the trouser.  While this doesn't result in the trouser-dropping embarrassment so beloved of comedy films, nor cause you to lose an eye, it is blimmin' frustrating as one side of your pantaloons begins to list and you struggle to readjust them, tuck in your shirt and reattach the errant clip all at the same time.  Equally the action of the clip coming away from the cloth and the need to re-establish a secure fastening simply exacerbate the first fault mentioned.

The top two factors in favour of clip-ons are their ubiquity and low prices.  Although they can be found in most high street clothing emporia they are still a rare breed there, usually consisting of the standard evening wear black, white or (occasionally) gold, the somewhat lamentable novelty patterns and the "skinny" varieties favoured by hipsters and the like.  More on those points later.

Practically every online [vintage or vintage-inspired] clothes retailer will have a decent selection of clip-on braces, however.  I tend to use Tom Sawyer Waistcoats or Darcy Clothing but you may have your own preferred source and indeed any of the shops in the Classic & Vintage Clothing & Accessories list to the left should offer something for all tastes and purses.  Yes, that's right - most of my braces are clip-ons, in spite of all I have said against them.  Of course I would ideally like proper leather-ended button-on braces and that is still my goal but if, like me, you have limited funds and several pairs of belt-looped high street trousers then there is still a lot to be said for clip-ons.

They are not the only avenue open to those of you unwilling or unable to stretch(!) to button-on braces, however.  It is possible, for example, to buy clip-on buttons, which work in exactly the same way as clip-on braces but allow for the use of leather-ended braces that are usually the preserve of properly-tailored trousers.  The downside is they still have all the negative qualities of clip-on braces as covered earlier.

Actual buttons for braces can also be bought separately and sewn on to the waistband of your existing trousers.  Beware, however - the trews must have a fitted waistband (that is, sewn into and properly attached to the trousers) and not just a folded over loose type, which will only result in the braces pulling the buttons/waistband in and up creating an ugly effect.  In my experience the buttons are also hard to come by unless you're willing to spend time rummaging around in the buttons bin at your local second-hand shop.  The only place I've been able to find that sells them separately online is a shop called Kleins.  (Bromleys also sell them with their braces, however)  Although theoretically any old buttons should do the job, proper braces buttons ideally need to be specially shaped to facilitate the holding in place of the leather straps (see above).

There's much discussion about the placing of buttons too.  General consensus seems to be on the inside of the trouser at the front and outside at the back (the former giving a clean appearance, the latter lessening any chance of discomfort from buttons digging into your back), although I've seen many a different variation (my recent Darcy acquisition, for instance, has all the buttons on the outside.  Exactly where to put them for the best fit can depend on your body shape and is usually a case of whatever feels best, although there is advice out there which tells of ideal distances from pleats, seams etc.

The next attachment option I absolutely beg you not to take, as I simply cannot believe anyone could honestly think they are a good idea.  I only mention them for the sake of completeness and, more importantly, as a warning.  Ladies and gentlemen - the Instant Buttons for Braces.  (I know, I apologise!)  I first came across these some months ago and I'm still struggling to come to terms with the idea that anyone could seriously advocate hammering a screw through the waistband of your trousers.  It is so, so wrong on every conceivable level.  I don't need to tell you what that will do to the fabric of your trews.  I daren't ask you to imagine what will happen if they're subjected to lateral forces, the kind of which might be applied by, oh I don't know, a tensioned length of elasticated fabric...  Honestly, if you take only one thing away from this post, it's this - avoid these!

From the ridiculous to the sublime now; the only true way to attach your braces - with fitted buttons!  No damage to your trousers.  No braces coming away unexpectedly.  Only secure, integrated attachments that allow you to make full use of traditional, proper leather-ended braces.  They may be harder to find, they may cost more than the alternatives but by Jove! they're worth it in the long run.  Teamed with a pair of high-waisted/fishtail back trousers they're nigh on unbeatable.  One day my wardrobe will be full of them only!  Darcy's again are my go to shop for these, although many other online outlets will offer similar at various prices.  Be sure to look out for the name Albert Thurston, which is generally agreed to be the Rolls-Royce of braces - and why not, considering the original Albert Thurston invented the things (as we know them today) in 1820. 

That's more than enough to be going on with for now, I think.  This post is already threatening to become a bit of a monster, so I think I'll split it into two.  I shall return with the second part of Braces with Bruce(!) - hmmn, not a bad alternative title - in a few days' time, when I will focus on the different colours and styles of braces available, plus some of my own daily experiences as a wearer of them.

But for now, Tinkerty-tonk!

Friday 22 November 2013

Vintage bus rides take on a new twist

Vintage bus rides take on a new twist

Following on from the story I posted last year, in which the local (to me) Epping-Ongar Heritage Railway ran a timetabled service of vintage buses, here now is a similar set-up involving the Yorkshire Heritage Bus Company which according to the accompanying article have just recently started running tours of the Yorkshire Dales in their vintage double-decker buses. It's splendid to see a family-run company making such a good go of the classic bus hire business - not just with the usual fare (no pun intended!) of
wedding and private hire but also with this excellent idea of touring the beautiful Yorkshire countryside. 

Just look at that stunning scenery as well and imagine how even better it must look from the top deck of a vintage bus!  Cruising the back lanes of Yorkshire in a 1959 AEC Regent, with such wonderfully-attired drivers and conductors(!) on hand, must be a glorious time-travelling experience.

Once again I've begun daydreaming about starting my own vintage bus company, except there aren't many picturesque views around my neck of the woods.  Not to mention - and more importantly - no PSV licence and no chance of buying a bus, ha!  Still, a chap can dream...

In the meantime, should I ever find myself in the pleasant environs of Halifax, West Yorkshire, I shall certainly avail myself of this company's lovely-looking tours.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

An imperial airliner - soon to fly again?

Back in March 2012 I did a post about a proposed new supersonic airliner that was essentially a biplane, the design having two sets of wings set one above the other.  Other than this link to an historic aircraft design the article mentioned was more along the lines of the type I used to include in the early days of this blog when I posted about anything and everything that interested me.  To give it the more vintage bent that this blog is now known for, I added a little bit of history regarding the fast biplanes and biplane airliners of the 1930s.  One of these was the Handley Page H.P.42.

The H.P.42 was born out of an Imperial Airways (the ancestor of British Airways) specification of 1928, intended to supplement their existing fleet of 3-engined Armstrong Whitworth Argosy airliners (also mentioned in my earlier post).  Handley Page's winning design was for a giant all-metal biplane with four Brisol Jupiter engines - two on the upper wings and two mounted on the lower wings next to the fuselage.  Two variants were produced - the H.P.42E (for the eastern routes to India and Australia) and the H.P.42W (for western routes to Europe).  The former seated up to 24 with extra baggage room for air mail, the latter 38.  Unlike the Argosy the cockpit was also enclosed - a first for a large airliner.  Imperial Airways felt its passengers valued comfort over speed so despite having around 500bhp per engine, the H.P.42's maximum speed was a sedate 120mph and its cruising speed a mere 100mph.  This led to commentators of the time noting that it was "as steady as the Rock of Gibraltar - and about as fast" and had "built-in headwinds"!  Indeed any substantial headwind encountered by an H.P.42 would invariably lower its cruising speed to 90mph, requiring extra refuelling stops particularly on the long-distance routes.

Handley Page H.P.42 G-AAUD Hanno at Semakh, Palestine, October 1931.

The aircraft's first flight was just over 83 years ago, on the 14th November 1930.  Clearance for commercial operation was given in May 1931 and the first passenger flight was undertaken on the 11th June 1931, from Croydon to Paris.  Eight H.P.42s were ultimately built and each was given a name,  beginning with 'H', from ancient British and Roman history or Greek mythology (can't see BA doing that today, can you?).  Hence there was Hannibal, Hanno, Hadrian, Horsa, Heracles, Horatius, Helena and Hengist.  For the next nine years they would ply the airways between London, Europe and the furthest reaches of the British Empire - suffering absolutely no serious accidents, an unheard of feat for aircraft of the time.  They were involved in only 4 incidents in their civilian lifetimes.  Hannibal had to force land in a field in Kent when its port lower engine failed, sending debris into the port upper engine.  Landing on two engines only, a tree trunk ripped off the tail and one wing and another engine were also damaged, but there were miraculously no serious injuries.  Horatius was struck by lightning in 1937 resulting in minor damage to one wing and also force-landed in Kent in 1938 causing damage to the undercarriage and one wing.  Hengist was destroyed in a hanger fire in Karachi in 1938 but the aircraft was empty and no lives were lost.

Refuelling Hanno at Samakh, Tiberias, Palestine, October 1931

The remaining aircraft were all pressed into RAF service on the outbreak of the Second World War.  Sadly none of them survived the conflict (although not for the reasons you might think), all of them apart from Helena being lost within one year.  Hannibal disappeared in mysterious circumstances over the Gulf of Oman on the 1st March 1940 - no sign of the aircraft or its passengers/contents has ever been found.  Horsa was burned beyond repair after a forced landing in Cumberland on the 7th August 1940.  Hanno and Heracles were both destroyed in one fell swoop when they were blown together during a gale at Bristol Airport on the 19th March 1940.  Hadrian was similarly wrecked in a gale at Doncaster Airport on the 6th December 1940.  Horatius had already been written off in another forced landing in Devon on the 7th November 1939.  Helena managed to survive until the end of 1940 but after a particularly hard landing an inspection showed irreparable corrosion had set in and it was scrapped in 1941.

Why am I telling you all this, apart from the fact that it is interesting (at least, I think it is and hope you do to)?  Well, last weekend I received a welcome surprise in the form of a comment on that earlier post from a member of Team Merlin, who it seems are actively undertaking to not only create a museum about Imperial Airways but also to build a full-size replica of the massive H.P.42 airliner!  (They're also based in a beautiful aviation-themed pub in deepest Wiltshire, I note).  I couldn't let such an interesting comment get lost in the archives, so here we are.  Wouldn't it be amazing to see one of these behemoths in the air again?  What a remarkable homage it would be to Imperial Airways' H.P42s and those early days of civil aviation.  Can such a (literally) huge undertaking be accomplished?  Your guess is as good as mine, but if a replica can be built of the Vickers Vimy bomber that flew non-stop across the Atlantic in 1919 then anything's possible.  I shall keep an eye out for their PR campaign next year with interest and - who knows? - maybe another eye out for a flying H.P.42 not long after that.


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