Isle of Wight Hidden Heroes

John Vereker (Lord Gort) 1886-1946

lord gort

John Vereker (Lord Gort) was born on 10th July 1886.

At the start of World War II, he became the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force and, in this role, organised the evacuation of Dunkirk.

In later life, Lord Gort lived in East Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight, having grew up on the Isle of Wight as a child.

He joined the Grenadier Guards in 1905, promoted to lieutenant in 1907.

Promoted to Captain on 5th August 1914 and was part of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front.

The Vereker family name is long associated with East Cowes. He died on 31 March 1946.

Lord Gort was portrayed in the 1958 film Dunkirk by Cyril Raymond

St Simon of Atherfield (d. 1211)

atherfield

Some intriguing medieval references inform us of St Simon of Atherfield, neatly described as ‘a martyr to his wife’.

Simon was, apparently, murdered by his wife Amicia (or Avicia) on 21 March 1211, and she was sentenced to burn for the crime, probably in early summer the following year.

We are told that many miracles subsequently took place at his tomb, though its exact location remains unknown.

Tomb raiders
No mention of St Simon is to be found in any known calendar or martyrology, and no official recognition was granted to his status as saint; it is more than likely that Bishop Peter of Winchester – lord of the manor of Calbourne which possessed outlying rights at Atherfield – suppressed the cult fairly quickly, but not before appropriating the ‘seven pounds, twelve shillings and a penny’ left in offerings at Simon’s tomb.

Humble background
Of Simon himself, the sources tell us nothing of his family, implying that his background was humbler than that of his wife.

All we know is that he bore the toponym ‘de Atherfield’, and hence that he was a local man.

Dramatic death?
To be widely regarded as a martyrdom, Simon’s death must have taken place in dramatic circumstances; and the method of execution employed against Amicia, burning at the stake, was regarded as a particularly horrific one, even in the eyes of her contemporaries.

By murdering her husband, she had in legal terms committed an act of treason, according to the prevailing ethos of the time.

Murder in the blood
Amicia’s violent temper may have been an inherited trait: in 1255 we find two of her kinsmen accused of the murder of a man named Peter of Whippingham.

Within six months of his death, Simon’s tomb had attracted offerings of more than £7: this is a substantial figure which compares favourably with other shrines of the period, particularly given Atherfield’s remoteness – a fact which in turn helped the cult to be suppressed with a minimum of fuss.

Local saints
Simon’s cult, though intriguing, is not unique, and fits a pattern of victims of violence being subsequently turned into popular ‘local saints’.

The martyr would be portrayed as a person of spotless innocence, brutally and unfairly done to death; and more often than not, the cult would be frowned upon or suppressed as soon as it came to the attention of the church authorities.

No hint of St Simon’s murder survives in Island folklore or legends.

Image: boretom under CC BY 2.0

Admiral Dudley Pound 1877-1943

admiral dudley pound

Admiral Dudley Pound born 29th August 1877 in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, joined the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1891 serving in World War One and eventually rising to the Rank of Admiral of the Fleet on 31st July 1939 just before the outbreak of World War Two.

“Churchill’s Anchor”
Worked closely with Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and became known as “Churchill’s Anchor”, Pound’s greatest achievement was the defeat of the German U-Boats and winning the Battle of the Atlantic.

He was in poor health when he became Admiral of the Fleet and formally resigned from the post on 20th September 1943.

Ashes were scattered at sea
He died from a brain tumor at the Royal Masonic Hospital in London on 21 October 1943, he was given a funeral service in Westminster Abbey, and his ashes were scattered at sea.

Anne Preston

anne preston

Anne Preston’s disabilities didn’t stop her from setting up and running I.D.A.G (Island Disabled Action Group) through which she helped people with disabilities gain access to help, when they couldn’t get it from other health professionals.

She fought for shops and toilets to be more accessible for wheelchairs, as well as helping to make it easier to obtain or hire wheelchairs, mobility scooters etc,.

Day to day support
Anne did such a lot more to help the Island’s disabled become able and to not give up, and fight towards being recognised in the workplace as equals.

She even helped people who had not come to terms with their disabilities and ailments to accept what they have and help them cope on a day to day basis.

Held a place in everyone’s heart
Sadly Anne Preston passed away in April 2000 and has never been recognised nor awarded for everything she did, she held a place in everyone’s heart who she helped.

By Sharon Dearden (Anne’s daughter)

The Harris glass-making dynasty

Mike Harris at St.Lawrence C.1972 with his first trainee Tim Bristow

This is a brief story of how a family, of the most innovative and prolific exponents of Studio Glass-making, has helped propel this country to the top of the world glass-making tree.

Namely Michael Harris and his two sons, Timothy, the eldest and his younger brother Jonathan, also helped in no small part by Michael’s widow, Elizabeth, and now supported by Richard (Michael’s younger bother) to form ‘The Harris Dynasty of British Studio Glass Makers’.

The birth of Studio Glass
Up until the early 1960s, glass making was a somewhat staid and classic process to produce useful objects. Then an American ceramicist called Harvey Littleton explored the possibility to produce a mix of glass that would enable one man in a studio to produce objects, useful and decorative, on his own or with one or two assistants rather than as a factory-based multiple operative system required to complete one item as was, up until then, the norm.

Eventually with experimenting, successes came and he tutored several keen followers in this new Studio Glass making process. One of these early students, Samuel Herman, was invited on a scholarship to come to the RCA in 1967, where Michael Harris was the head of the Industrial Glass Design department and he showed Michael what had been achieved.

British Studio Glass Movement
This was a light bulb moment for Michael and, after many twists and turns, the British Studio Glass Movement was born, albeit that Michael had to move to Malta to prove that it was viable largely due to lack of support in this country.

Great commercial success followed due to Michael’s inherent talents at design and commercial marketing.

Forced to leave Malta
This product, called by Michael ‘Mdina Glass’, had considerable success on a world wide scale through careful and extensive marketing.

However eventually Michael was forced to leave Malta by the new Nationalist government in 1972, as were all semblances of British influence, and he decided to try to repeat this success on an island with similar characteristics.

He chose the Isle of Wight and so the Studio was founded in 1973 in a beautiful site at St. Lawrence.

Following a not-dissimilar range of designs and colours as were so successful at Mdina Glass, another breakthrough came in 1977. Michael made contact with his previous colleagues at the RCA and set up a competition for students to suggest a design that was new and radical, which could be produced commercially by the Studio Glass process.

Glass-making stardom
So was born a design which utilised Gold and Silver on the surface of black glass. Called eventually ‘Black Azurene’ it became the most successful design in studio glass that the world had ever seen and this propelled Michael and his studio and team, which now included his talented eldest glass-making son, Timothy, into glass-making stardom.

Eventually selling in enormous quantity to over 30 countries worldwide and selling to almost every major store in most major cities across the globe.

In the succeeding years of the immense success of the studio, a great volume of designs and processes have sprung from the fertile minds of the remaining family members, even after the sad demise of Michael in 1994.

Unique designs
Hot glass designs from Timothy and cold glass designs from his brother, Jonathan, as well as unique glass sculptural pictures from their mother Elizabeth. Many of these designs have incorporated some of the highest echelons of the glass-makers art of Cameo and a process known as ‘Graal’ and also of Incalmo, many of which included the now flagship process of adding 22ct gold and sterling silver to the surface of the pieces.

The Harris Dynasty seems to know no bounds.

Ground-breaking designs and techniques
However as Jonathan left to develop his own studio and cameo designs, the Studio’s success has fallen to Timothy’s ground-breaking designs and techniques too numerous to mention in one article.

It is praise enough to point out that from prestigious awards such as the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) in 1990, as well as a special piece of Cameo given to the Queen Mother for her 90th birthday.

Then a special gift presentation of one of his most successful designs called ‘Seascape’ to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll as a gift from the people of the Island Island in her Jubilee year of 2012 on Cowes seafront during her visit.

Immense, but largely hidden talent
Timothy has increasingly pushed the boundaries of his universally appealing art as he has proved time and time again with a multitude of innovative techniques and finishes.

These have undoubtedly set him alongside the very best in British, and indeed global studio glass production, demonstrating his immense, but largely hidden, talent for innovative Studio Glass design.

Innovative and prolific
During 2013 the Studio relocated to new state of the art premises at Arreton Barns Craft Village under the ownership of another Harris family member ~ Richard Harris, Timothy’s uncle and Michael’s younger brother, where it continues production of one of the world’s great studio glass products.

The continuation of this tradition of excellence of design and production is driven, as it has been for many a year, by Timothy Harris, one of the Island’s ‘Hidden Heroes’ – supported by his team, his mother Elizabeth and the new owner, Richard Harris.

Timothy is recognised as one of Britain’s most innovative and prolific designers and makers of Studio Glass and ranks amongst the best on a world stage.

About the author
As a freelance marketing agent, I had the pleasure of working with Michael and the Studio, covering sales over the South West of England from 1980 up until his untimely death, when Timothy, Jonathan and Elizabeth took over control of the Studio.

I still work very closely with the Studio and now represent them as their Appointed Secondary Market Specialist with my wife, Ann, trading as Artius Glass.

It is now, as it always has been an honour and privilege to be a part of such a worldwide success story. And long may it last. I will certainly do my bit to maintain that success as far as I can.

Isle of Wight Glass Museum
The Studio’s site now also incorporates another very important facility which is the Isle of Wight Glass Museum with over 1,000 pieces of past, and right up to date, innovative items from this ground breaking Studio.

The studio is open daily and has an excellent viewing area where you can watch this very special glass being created by Timothy Harris and his assistants.

Website: www.isleofwightglassmuseum.org.uk
Tel: (01983) 716270
Email: info@isleofwightglassmuseum.org.uk

(c) Ron Wheeler. ArtiusGlass 2018

Michael Sydenham 1920-1995

Eldred and Michael Sydenham (left)

Michael Sydenham apprenticed – after Regent Street Polytechnic – at JS Whites in East Cowes, before signing up for service in the Merchant Navy until after the war.

Michael was an extremely talented and hardworking engineer, and although the war came into the middle of his education he became, after various business enterprises, an important member of the Engineering Department staff at the Newport Technical College, where he taught for 30 years and was given the post of Senior Lecturer before retiring with bad health.

Strong link with industry
Before and during his teaching, Mike had a strong link with industry.

Courageous business owners used his maths and engineering knowledge to put their ideas to work. One of the earliest projects in the 50s was pioneering work on glass fibre technology for boatbuilding with Will Souter, the founder of Souter, the former internationally acclaimed firm in Cowes.

Later Will’s son used Mike to test the new Carbon Fibre before using it for his new boat designs.

Invaluable knowledge
Harry Spencer, who also realised Mike’s knowledge of Maths and Engineering was invaluable for the success of new ideas, used him to develop a product called Rod Rigging Harry boldly converted a long and large section of the premises in St Mary’s Rd and he and Mike flew up to Bradford to buy the machinery to make it happen.

Mike’s boat designing interest was used by a firm in Cowes and Mike spent many hours planning and making the prototype for a cleat which is now on most racing boats.

An artist friend, Roger Scammell, smoothed the design and made it more commercial and Spinlock of Cowes marketed it.

Always busy
At home Mike made five Congreve rolling ball clocks, a quarter size Burrell Traction engine and restored a Rolls Royce 1930 – which took 13 years of spare time!

He also designed a fibreglass guitar and he collected clocks and when he retired from teaching would restore longcase clocks as an income.

Family history
The Sydenham family dates back to Elizabethan times, Drake married Elizabeth Sydenham and there is documented evidence of Sydenham governor of the Isle of Wight.

Mike’s father, Rev Edward Alan Sydenham, was honorary curator of Carisbrooke Castle during the war and he set up the Museum, persuading Princess Beatrice to vacate her quarters.

He was a very versatile vicar, Oxford Don and president of Royal Numismatic Assoc. for two years, as well as being an artist, composer, writer and had the engineering skills making a train model for the vicarage garden at Wolvercote.

Mike passed away in 1995.

Barry Price

barry Price

Barry Price has raised a lot of money over the years for local charities.

He parascended around the Island for three and a half hours and raised £3,500 for St Mary’s Hospital, through Newport Rotary Club.

He’s also completed Walk the Wight many times.

Collector
Barry has around 35 collections of varying sorts.

This year (2018) will the 20th year he has put on an exhibition, displaying 1000s of images of the Isle of Wight that he’s collected over the years.

A heart of gold
Through Price’s Garage in Newport, he’s helped local lads make a start in life in the motor trade.

Barry has also helped many motorists with their cars over the years.

One example was recently when a husband and wife had both been very ill. Barry gave them an engine and fitted it free of charge.

Barry is 79 this year and still going – there are a lot more stories to tell.

Dr Arthur Hill Hassall 1817-1894

Arthur Hill Hassal

Dr Arthur Hill Hassall (1817-1894) was a physician, chemist and botanist primarily known for his work in public health and food adulteration.

He came to public attention with his 1850 book, A microscopical examination of the water supplied to the inhabitants of London, which became an influential work in promoting the cause of water reform.

The Thames caused the spread of many diseases, including cholera. In the early 1850s he also studied food adulteration. His reports were unpopular with food producers but they led to the first Food Adulteration Act 1860. Hassall had TB and pleurisy and required long breaks from work.

Arrived in Ventnor
In 1866 he moved to Ventnor where his experience of the microclimate led him to establish a sanatorium, despite being seriously ill himself.

He formed a London Committee to raise funds and found a suitable location at Steephill, west of Ventnor.

Royal National Hospital
Within two years the first part of the The National Cottage Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest opened and later became the Royal National Hospital for Diseases of the Chest.

The first ten years saw eight cottages built for patients and by 1901 the hospital had expanded to take 190 patients. The average stay was eight months. The regime was fresh air, good food and exercise, which became increasingly hard as patients improved.

The statistics for 1901 are impressive: 756 patients discharged, eight had died and 100 were unchanged, but the other 648 (86%) improved.

Closed in 1964
The Hospital was funded by patient subscriptions and donations from benefactors and charitable organisations. There were many legacies from former patients and their families.

By 1938 the Hospital had treated 38,363 patients, half from the London area. The hospital was closed in 1964, made obsolete by drug treatment of TB, and demolished in 1969.

Published extensively
Dr Hassall continued his interest in climate and disease and published extensively on climatic treatments for TB. In 1877 Dr Hassall left Ventnor and settled in Italy and Switzerland.

After a few years he was too unwell to travel to London, but he continued to study weather and published a book on inhalation treatments for chest complaints.

He died in 1894 aged 77.

Firefighters Colin Weeks and Herbert Dewey

Colin Weeks

It was the early hours of 5 May 1942, despite the darkness of the night the burning fires on both sides of the Medina lit up the streets of Cowes and East Cowes like a brilliant orange sun reflecting of the underside of the smoke and dust that hung in the sky like a thick circling and rising smog.

The pavements and tarmac were littered with debris, smashed bricks from entire walls that had slammed to the ground, shattered roofing timbers and slates that skittered away to fragments.

Between the rubble staggered the survivors, clutching one another, stunned, dazed, and unable to comprehend the scene and the noise of the roaring conflagrations, the engines of the fire pumps, the pounding fire of the guns of the Polish warship and the cries of relief as loved ones discovered one another and the grief of those who could not.

National Fire Service, Division 14d
Threading their determined way through the maelstrom moved an army of rescuers, Fire Guards, First Aid Parties, Voluntary Aid Detachments, French and Polish sailors and members of the National Fire Service, Division 14d, the Isle of Wight’s own.

The wave of attacking aircraft had withdrawn back to Northern France as two of the NFS firemen, 19 year old Fireman Colin Henry Weeks and his best friend Leading Fireman Herbert James Dewey, both from the Ryde detachment, were making their way, under orders from Company Officer Max Heller, to take the opportunity to go to the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service canteen wagon stationed at the corner where Clarence Road turned in to Minerva Road beside Marvin’s Yard, and grab a well earned cup of tea and a sandwich.

Old friends who shared a love and gift for music
Colin and Herbert had been friends long before the government required a ten-fold increase in fire-fighting services to tackle the worst of the enemy aerial assaults.

Whilst twenty years separated them they shared a love and gift for music, Herbert, always known as Bert, being well known in the district for the shows he put on in the town and Colin for often performing at the piano.

It was a rendezvous with his piano tutor Mr Toogood that took Colin to the Town Hall on 7 June 1940 whereupon, being aware of his presence, his father Mayor – HWO Weeks – asked a clerk to direct his son to the Mayoral parlour when his lesson was over. Colin duly complied with a self-confessed feeling of ‘what have I done now’.

A pound a week
Mr Weeks Sr, was aware that the Auxiliary Fire Service was in need of a competent clerk and knowing his son’s administrative skills and capability on a typewriter he left it to Colin to make the decision whether or not to take the job but there’s little doubt that some fatherly pressure being applied.

Colin attended the temporary wartime station and training centre in Edward Street the next day and accepted the position, admitting in his diary,

“The reasons for my coming to the decision were not those of a patriot, doing his little bit for King and Country, far from it, I was hard up, earning a meagre allowance of five shillings a week and now I was offered the imposing figure of a pound per week.”

Bitten by the bug
He began his diary, dedicating it to his comrades in the fire service, soon after taking up his role and was known for sitting at the typewriter recording his fire service events between his required duties.

Admitting that he’d previously had no interest in the fire service and even had a particular fear of fire, he recorded that by August the fire service bug had bit him at his office desk and he began training as a fireman. He also learned to ride a motorcycle (pictured above) and spent much of his time scooting from one location to another as a service messenger.

Dedicated firefighter
By now, even when officially off duty, at the sound of the siren he’d grab his uniform and helmet and cycle madly to Edward Street and often as not, clamber aboard the rear boards of Jack Fountaine’s 2-ton Chevrolet coal lorry that was adapted as a fire service vehicle once the day’s coal deliveries were complete.

He describes scenes across the town and district unimaginable, one particular event affecting the St John’s area involving thousands of 1kg incendiary bombs. The claim was not as wild as it at first seemed as by now the Luftwaffe had developed containers that could carry several hundred of these devices and a bomber could carry several of the containers.

Fascinating insight
The descriptions of disaster are interwoven with the type of escapades and humour that one would expect from a teenager, but given the contrast of the days of action including exposure to some grisly and horrific events his apparent irreverence can be understood.

Suffice to say by May 1942 he had, for his tender age, experienced the inconceivable.

Unparalleled attack
The strength of the Luftwaffe’s attack that began late in the night of 4 May was unparalleled on the Island and completely unexpected, although the sudden arrival a week earlier of masses of new pumps and equipment compelled some to conjecture that intelligence of the attack had been gained.

The Air Raid Precautions headquarters in Newport was the communications hub for the disposition of services to come to the aid of the stricken town’s but by the early hours of 5 May, despite an earlier attempt to hold back at least one fire pump in each major sector, the duty warden in possession of information regarding the scale of the devastation promulgated the message to send all Islandwide resources to Cowes and East Cowes.

Buried side by side, as they died
As Colin and Henry took the chance to take a deep breath and refuel at the WRVS canteen the wholly unexpected second wave of Luftwaffe bombers approached from the south.

They were killed when the first stick of bombs made a direct hit on the van.

Colin and Herbert were buried side by side, as they died, in Ryde Cemetery three days later.

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