Category Archives: History

Suffolk – the uneatable cheese of the Royal Navy

I’d like to introduce you lot to the excellent Foods of England project.

I particularly liked its entry for Suffolk Cheese, a product that is no longer made for reasons that will become obvious. Until the mid-18th Century it was used by the Royal Navy to feed its sailors, but by all accounts it was dry, salty and so hard there were many stories and jokes about the difficulty of eating it.

Naval administrator Samuel Pepys wrote that he was upset when his domestic staff complained about having to eat it. On the 19th December 1825, The Hampshire Chronicle carried a notice that read: ‘As characteristic of Suffolk cheese, it said that a vessel once laden, one half with grindstones and the other half with the above commodity, on arriving at its destination it was found that the rats had consumed all the grindstones, but left the cheeses untouched.’

Historian NAM Rodger reports that the Navy gave up provisioning ships with the stuff in 1758, no doubt to loud cheering from the foc’sl. My crews, of course, are always provided with the finest cheese I can afford…

Other sea related entries are hardtack or ships biscuits (a nuclear bomb test was named after them), grog, bumpo, and  Cheshire cheese (another Naval staple).

My thanks to Sarah Coxson for the tip!

Estuary, by Rachel Lichtenstein

As a regular Thames Estuary mudlarking sailor, I like the look of this!

The blurb:

The Thames Estuary is one of the world’s great deltas, providing passage in and out of London for millennia. It is silted up with the memories and artefacts of past voyages. It is the habitat for an astonishing range of wildlife. And for the people who live and work on the estuary, it is a way of life unlike any other – one most would not trade for anything, despites its many dangers.

Rachel Lichtenstein has travelled its length and breadth many times. Here she gathers these experiences in an extraordinary chorus of voices: mudlarkers and fishermen, radio pirates and champion racers, the men who risk their lives out on the water and the women who wait on the shore. Estuary is a thoughtful and intimate portrait of this profoundly British place, both the community and the environment, examining how each has shaped and continues to shape the other.

An extract:

‘As the light slowly faded on the longest day of the year I sat on deck with the rest of the crew drinking bottled beers, sharing stories and watching the cityscape transform. By dusk a low mist had begun to obscure most of the buildings. The iconic dome of St Paul’s temporarily disappeared before re-emerging, floodlit, against the London skyline. Red-flashing beacons began to appear sporadically through the fog, marking the tops of tall cranes and skyscrapers. The skeletal frame of the Shard came suddenly into focus as every floor of the tall skyscraper lit up simultaneously. At the same time the beautiful gothic structure of Tower Bridge behind us was illuminated from above and below, throwing a sparkling reflection into the black waters of the Lower Pool of London – a place where so many of the world’s most important ships must have anchored at different points in time. As night fell the lights inside all the flats, hotels and offices along the riverside came on. We floated in the dark void of the river between time.

‘On the water the sounds of the city seemed altered. I could hear the distant hum of traffic on the bridge, the clatter of trains rumbling past, the constant backdrop of sirens going off but it was as if they were coming from another place altogether, not the great throbbing metropolis above. I sat and watched the vast twin bascules of Tower Bridge being slowly raised. A Thames Barge sailed silently past and drifted beneath the bridge before quickly disappearing into the shadows on the other side. On the remains of a wooden jetty nearby, I could just make out the shape of a large black cormorant standing perfectly still with its great wings outstretched.’

Save historic Albert Strange racer Tally-Ho!

1927 Fastnet winner and legendary Albert Strange-designed cutter yacht Tally Ho is in need of help.

She’s lying at Brookings Harbor, Oregon where the harbour authorities have decided that if she isn’t taken up by a new owner intent on bringing her back to life by June, she will be destroyed.

The aim of the Albert Strange Association is to bring her back to the UK for repair and restoration, and hopefully back to racing. Historic and beautiful as she is, she would be a wonderful project for someone with the right resources and interest.

Designed in 1909 and built for the owner of an early British Isles steam trawler fleet, she was built by Stow & Son of Shoreham for cruising in comfort while indulging in deep-sea fishing.

The yacht is said to have all the beauty associated with an Albert Strange design, but withthe power and seaworthiness of a pilot cutter. She won the 1927 Fastnet race in near storm conditions, and only two yachts of the whole fleet managed to complete the course. Read some terrific descriptions of the race.

See also the Save Tally Ho Facebook page and the Wikipedia and National Historic Ships entries for Tally Ho.

People feel strongly about this vessel. Here’s an appeal from the Council of American Maritime Museums.

PS – The magazine Classic Sailor has just published this nice piece about Tally Ho. Let’s hope there is good news soon.