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A very quick posting this week, as unforeseen domestic circumstances have knocked my work schedule for six (apologies to my American readers for that impenetrable cricket reference)… Because of this, and various trips that were already on the agenda for the next few weeks, there’s likely to be a 3-4 week hiatus on this blog. I’ll try and post if and when I can, though, but in the meantime, a recent email exchange with ‘the usual suspects’ of the 17th century naval history field got me thinking about the new world where, quite literally, everyone’s a critic…

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New authors of naval historical fiction will quickly start to garner reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, blogs, and so forth. With a few honourable exceptions, these reviews tend to be pretty stereotypical, and having recently published my fifth novel in the genre, I think I’m now sufficiently qualified to be able to provide a guide to them, so that newcomers will be able to take all such criticisms in their stride. Believe me, I’ve had some or all of the following applied to my work – sometimes about the same book, sometimes even in the same review, for goodness sake.

1/ There’s too much technical nautical language - the principal charge levelled at Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series by those who can’t stand it. Can’t tell your futtock from your cro’jack? You’re toasted cheese.

2/ There’s too little technical nautical language - the principal charge levelled at every other series by those who loved Patrick O’Brian. No mention of futtocks and cro’jacks? Yep, Welsh rarebit time.

3/ There’s too much action - Sorry, this is naval historical fiction. To be true to the reality, you have to include battles. In some cases, very, very long battles, which are bound to take up a great many pages (e.g. in my latest book, which features a battle that lasted for four days).

4/ There’s too little action - Sorry, this is naval historical fiction. To be true to the reality, you have to include long periods in which very little happens. (And even if you haven’t ploughed through literally hundreds of ships’ log books of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, which prove the point in spades, read O’Brian again – and let’s be honest here, folks, for a lot of the time during that outstanding series, nothing much happens.)

5/ Too much of the plot is set ashore – Scenes on shore add variety, especially if you’re in exotic locations (as in my latest book, where I have several chapters set in mysterious, umm, Plymouth), and depending on the period and the theme you’re writing about, you might well need to set quite a lot of the action ashore. On the other hand, if the entire book is set ashore, you’ve probably strayed into writing in a completely different genre without realising it.

6/ Too little of the plot is set ashore - Scenes at sea add variety… OK, you get the idea.

7/ There’s too much soppy romantic stuff - Guess which demographic principally levels this charge at you?

8/ There’s too little soppy romantic stuff - Ditto. (Good morning, dear.)

9/ There’s too much random mindless violence - I refer you back to point 3. The battles of the period I write about were quite astonishingly bloody, and to play that down would be to give the reader a false, sanitised image, and – equally important in my opinion – it wouldn’t do justice to the remarkable bravery and resilience of those who fought through such horrors.

10/ There’s too little random mindless violence - I worry about you. I really do.

But finally, the key to reacting to criticism is to paraphrase the words of that well known vampire hunter, Abraham Lincoln: ‘You can please some of your readers all of the time, and all of your readers some of the time, but you can’t please all of your readers all of the time. I’m still bitter about whoever gave the Gettysburg Address a one star review on Amazon’.

 

In the last post, I noted how various events of the Second Anglo-Dutch war – notably the Dutch attack on the Medway in 1667 – were recalled during the First World War, exactly 250 years later. Of course, by far the most famous chronicle of the Dutch War is the diary of Samuel Pepys, so it’s hardly surprising that an author thought it would be a good idea to create a new version of Pepys to chronicle the events of the Great War. The writer in question was Robert Massie Freeman (1866-1949), a journalist living in Surrey. Freeman produced three books in his role as the latter-day ‘Samuel Pepys Junior’: A Diary of the Great Warr, Second Diary, and a Last Diary. The style is a decent pastiche of the original, and does convey something of the sense of the times; but Freeman, of course, lacked the real Pepys’s direct contact with those in positions of power (and the real Pepys was not bound by constraints of censorship, either by the authorities or by himself!). To give a flavour, here are Freeman’s first entries about the Battle of Jutland:

The title page of the second volume by 'Samuel Pepys Junior'

The title page of the second volume by ‘Samuel Pepys Junior’

June 3 – So home, and, dinner scarce dis- patched, when comes a news-sheet, and gives the most horrible tidings of the fleet being hotly engaged with the Germans westward of Jutland, and three of our greatest battle-frigates sunk, the Queen Mary one of them, with many others, to the number of a dozen or more ; of the enemy’s ships but one of any note foundered, and a few smaller craft. No word of any victory gained, so that none can doubt but Jellicoe is worsted. And a most dire misfortune it is for us. Yet what does, I believe, beyond everything trouble me is two of our lost frigates being the Warrior and Defense, they both laid down while I was of the Navy Office, and did myself see them on the stocks in Pembroke yard, having their plates put on. So to bed, mighty heavy of heart, and lay till past midnight, hearing the sea roar without the windows, and considering of all the poor sailors that be drowned. God have mercy on us all.

June 4 – Up betimes and to get news of the fleet, which is better than my expectatioun, the Navy Office giving particulars of many German ships believed to be sunk. Presently walking with Mr. Cripps by the sea, there we met Comr. Williams, with whom we talked and walked some time, and is, I find, a very brave experienced seaman, as good to hear speak as ever I met. He believes that Jellicoe and Beatty have for certain given the Germans their belly-fulls. He looks to hear in a few houres that the enemy, having been at last engaged with his whole fleet, hath been driven back to port with but a remnant of it. As for our losses, they are no more, says he, than the breaking of eggs, without which we may have no omeletts. Hearing which, and seeing his trust in our men and ships, did put me in pretty good heart. So home, and to eat lunch with some gust, having to it a very choice hen-lobster, among other things. This dispatcht, to Bexhill and Pevensey, and, Mistress Cripps coming in the coach, we had a pretty merrie ride.

June 5 – Home this day by the rail road, being sorely troubled with twekes of the lumbago by my being catcht abroad yesterday in Cripps ‘s coach, when comes towards evening a most fierce gale of wind and rain, and did soke me to the skin. The news in towne this day is all of the late battle ; and now ’tis made clear enough that Jellicoe did indeed belabour the Germans most soundly, and they only saved from losing their whole fleet by taking to flight and the night ling. But, Lord ! to read of the Germans, how- they do boast of their having got a great victory over us, all mad for joy, and singing hymns of praise in publick; most ridiculous beyond anything.

The First World War also saw the publication of one of the first properly analytical histories of the Restoration navy to be written by a trained historian. A W Tedder’s The Navy of the Restoration was published in 1916, and remains a reasonable introduction to the events of the period 1660-67; in particular, Tedder’s use of a wide range of often very obscure contemporary sources, written in several different languages, is exemplary, and an object lesson to students of naval history to this day. Tedder was actually quite an important influence on my own work. His was one of the first books I perused in the naval library at Plymouth, where I’d sometimes spend dreary Saturdays in 1980-81 reading about the Restoration navy, and where the idea of studying for a doctorate on the subject first came to mind. But by the time the book was published, Arthur Tedder had rather more pressing matters on his mind than the state of victualling during the second Dutch war: newly commissioned a captain in the Royal Flying Corps, he was fighting in dogfights over the Western Front. He never returned to naval history, but went on to rather greater things. By 1944, he was an Air Chief Marshal and the Deputy Supreme Commander of allied forces under Dwight D Eisenhower; he died in 1967, the first Baron Tedder.

Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, the Dutch viewpoint on the connections between the history of the Anglo-Dutch wars and the First World War sometimes appeared in print in Britain during the latter conflict. On 14 October 1914, for instance, The Times published the poem The Dutchman’s Greeting by one A J Barnouw of The Hague, which played to a highly sentimentalised notion of shared seafaring heritage and mutual respect:

England, there was a time when the Mijnheers

Did rule the waves, and Holland sent her fleet

In honourable war the foe to meet

Whose growing sea-power was a threat to theirs.

Then were the might days of those great heirs

Of glory, great in victory and defeat:

De Ruyter, Tromp, Blake, Deane, the sea’s elite,

To whose high deeds each country record bears.

The war is now with mightier foes than we,

But not with them shall thine old rival side

In feelings nor in deeds, whate’er betide,

For we in Holland recognise in thee

The champion of our nation’s dearest pride,

Dearer than wealth and power, sweet Liberty. 

In November 1915, J C Van der Veer, the London correspondent of the Amsterdam Telegraaf, filed a story about a visit to the Grand Fleet, which was circulated by the Press Association and printed in many British papers. Memories of shared heritage came to the fore once again, even in his conversations with the commander-in-chief:

Sir John Jellicoe can…cruise around the North Sea with a broom at the mast of his flagship, as did our Tromp, of whose heroic deeds the above-mentioned admiral reminded me good-humouredly. It seems to me that the British naval officers still today respect our naval heroes Tromp and De Ruyter.

Is that strange? The famous traditions of the former British fleet have gone over to the British. The latter rules the sea today… And when the British destroyer conducted me through long lines of warships, passing out of sight on either hand, I thought involuntarily how proud our great sea-hero would have been of the command of such a mighty fleet.

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There’ll be no post next week due to various commitments during the preceding weekend and early part of the week. Back in a couple of weeks!

I’m typing this blog on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, during a period when the centenary commemorations of the First World War are already well under way. Moreover, we’re only a year away from the anniversaries of Agincourt and Waterloo. Regular readers might remember that I’ve already made a plea for the 350th anniversaries of the events of the second Anglo-Dutch war not to be overlooked during what might well become a period of ‘anniversary fatigue’ – or at least, not overlooked in Britain, because the Dutch will most certainly be commemorating their brilliant attack on Chatham during 2017. But all of this got me thinking. After all, the 250th anniversaries of the second Dutch war fell during the First World War, so how, if at all, were the events of the former remembered during the latter?

Fortunately, that superb resource, the British Newspaper Archive, provides quite a lot of fascinating evidence with which to answer that question. Perhaps inevitably, the most memorable event of the war – the Dutch in the Medway – appears most frequently in the papers, usually as a point of comparison for ‘dastardly’ German raids. This was evident in the early months of the war, in response to the bombardment of the east coast ports of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool by the battlecruisers of the High Seas Fleet. On 17 December 1914, for example, the Manchester Evening News named the Dutch attack as the nearest parallel in history to the German raids, and reminded its readers of the havoc the Dutch had wreaked. A similar line was taken by the Evening Telegraph and Post on the same day, which went into considerable detail about the chronology of De Ruyter’s attack.

Britannia demands revenge for the German raid on Scarborough, 16 December 1914

Britannia demands revenge for the German raid on Scarborough, 16 December 1914

However, not all of the coverage of the raids made the same, relatively measured, comparisons. Hysterical reporting of the German raids in both the British and, especially, the American press drew forth a response from one of the most distinguished historians of the age, A J Pollard, Professor of History at University College, London, and later the founder of the Institute of Historical Research, who wrote a lengthy letter to The Times, published on 19 December 1914. Pollard was particularly exercised by American suggestions that the raids demonstrated Britain’s command of the sea to be purely nominal, and proceeded to list the many occasions since 1066 when the British coast was ‘not merely bombarded but invaded’. Chatham featured on the list, but so, too, did the French attack on Teignmouth in 1690 (an event omitted from more than one recent book about invasions of Britain), along with thirteen other enemy attacks from 1338 to 1797. ‘If the raid on the East Coast disproves our command of the sea,’ Pollard observed, ‘then we have never possessed it’.

Unfortunately, the reasonable and entirely correct judgements of historians like Pollard carried little weight alongside the torrent of hysteria being peddled by the popular press. For example, the Dutch attack on Chatham was recalled later in the war, too, as a (perhaps unlikely) point of comparison for Zeppelin raids. In July 1917, the Daily Mail thundered after one such attack that ‘Since the Dutch burned Chatham 250 years ago [they didn't, but accuracy has never been the Mail's strong suit], making mock of the miserable system of passive defence which the feeble English government of that age had organised with Stewart slovenliness [that's 'Stuart', proto-Paul Dacres], there has not been a more discreditable event in our military history than Saturday’s raid’. The 250th anniversary was noted by others, too. On 13 June 1917, the Liverpool Daily Post reported how Prime Minister Lloyd George had heard, from Whitehall, the sound of the bombardment that opened the battle of Messines, and compared this with Charles II hearing the guns of De Ruyter’s fleet as it came up the Thames exactly 250 years earlier: with the ‘Whiggish’ view of history typical of the times, it commented that ‘Cromwell had left the name of England feared; the poltroon Charles left the country a vassal of France’.

Not that sort of gun fleet: James, Duke of York's fleet at the Battle of Lowestoft, 3 June 1665

Not that sort of gun fleet: James, Duke of York’s fleet at the Battle of Lowestoft, 3 June 1665

Finally, it should be remembered that, at the time of the First World War, there was a much greater popular awareness of the Dutch wars, and of seventeenth century history in general. The average man in the street was likely to know who Robert Blake and Prince Rupert were in a way that would be inconceivable today, when many people think that ‘Nelson’ refers to ‘Mandela’. In the Cornhill Magazine for May 1917, for example, Bennett Copplestone commented on how certain families contributed men to the navy for generations on end, as a way of explaining the superiority of the British ‘seamen by heredity’ to the upstart Germans: ‘You may read the same names in the Trafalgar Roll and back to the Dutch wars. Most of us were Pongos [soldiers] before that – shore Pongos who went afloat with Blake or Prince Rupert – but then we became sailors, and so we remained, father to son’. On the other hand, the nostalgic and complacent assumptions so beloved of, say, certain Secretaries of State for Education, that schooling was so much better in the ‘olden days’, receive a sharp corrective from the little piece in the Newcastle Journal for 16 March 1915, a date which, the author claimed, was the 250th anniversary of the Duke of York’s establishment of a ‘gun fleet, the first regular system of naval warfare in England’. Evidently, the author had disastrously misinterpreted the name of the Gunfleet anchorage off the Essex coast, where James, Duke of York, took command of his fleet in March 1665.

(To be continued)

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Finally for this week, a quick update on the forthcoming movie about Admiral Michiel De Ruyter, which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago: it seems that Charles Dance has been cast as King Charles II, no doubt to capitalise on his high profile from Game of Thrones. Some might quibble about the 67 year old Dance playing the king, who was 43 in 1673 (when the film is set), but then, De Ruyter was 66 in the same year, and the actor playing him is 44, so I suppose it all evens out! Personally, I think it’ll be fascinating to see Dance’s take on Charles; he’s an outstanding actor, so it could well be inspired casting.

You know the scene.

Perhaps it’s in a 1930s cop movie, or maybe it’s a 1970s Cold War thriller. In either case, there might well be a moment where a bespectacled drone leads our hero into a huge, dark basement. The lights flicker on, illuminating the cobwebs in the corners. Rats scurry across the floor. Ahead of the hero: a vast bank of wooden drawers. His heart sinks, for he knows that somewhere within the interminable contents of those drawers will be the single, minute, piece of evidence which will prove the guilt of the gang boss or the identity of the traitor. Or maybe it’s a 1960s private detective thriller, where our hero arrives to see a blood-spattered body on the floor, surrounded by hundreds of scattered pieces of card, and knows at once that the one bearing the crucial clue has been stolen by the killer.

…and that, dear reader, was how we used to do historical research in the days before databases and Google. Yes, welcome to the world of the card index. The world that was once mine, and in one sense, still is.

The Way We Were

The Way We Were

It’s difficult now to conceive of just how ubiquitous the card index was. In a nutshell, pretty much everything that would now be stored on a database had to be fitted onto small pieces of blank card and stored in a suitable receptacle. Such an index was only as good as the people who conceived it, the system they devised, and the durability of said receptacle. I once proved the latter in spectacular fashion at the John Rylands University Library, Manchester, where the catalogue was on a card index in very large, sturdy looking wooden drawers. But they were not quite as sturdy as they seemed to be; pulling on one (‘C’, if you must know) with what I thought was only modest force, the whole thing jumped at me like a ravenous lion, with cards scattering to all corners and the drawer itself falling to the floor with a crash that probably did for several of the older and more somnolent readers.

Undeterred by this calamity, I created my own miniature version. When I began my doctoral research on the officers and men of the Restoration Navy in 1982, I realised pretty quickly that I needed a detailed index of all the captains and lieutenants of the period, which as much biographical information as I could muster on them, to enable me to carry out comparisons of, say, social origin and career structure. My starting point was Pepys’ register of sea officers, evidently compiled around the time he left office in 1689 and printed in volume 1 of the Calendar of the Pepysian Manuscripts at Magdalene College, Cambridge. So I produced cards for every officer on the list, about 1,500 men in all: two to a card in the cases of officers with very brief careers, one per card for those with many commissions and/or relatively famous careers. Onto each, I wrote in longhand the details from the Pepys list, usually just the post held (name of ship, lieutenant or captain), the year of each commission, and the name of the person who signed the commission; for the years 1660-73, for example, this was invariably James, Duke of York, the Lord High Admiral. Then, as I went through other sources over the years, I added extra information to the cards.

It quickly became clear that Pepys’ list had many inadequacies. Dates were sometimes simply wrong, or else confused; so, too, was the identification of people, particularly those with similar names. So gradually, my own index began to become much more accurate than any single source on which it was based. A few examples, chosen from many:

  • Pepys listed one officer called Peter Belbin, and allocated him lieutenants’ berths on the Rupert in 1672, the Gloucester in 1673, the command of the Sweepstakes in 1673, and then the post of first lieutenant of the Mountague in 1677. But according to ADM10/15 at the National Archives – a very similar source to the Pepys list, but which gives exact dates of service evidently drawn from information in the original ships’ pay books (long since lost), and every single entry and date in which I again added longhand to the card index (!) - there were actually two Peter Belbins, father and son, with the father holding the first three posts (albeit in the order Gloucester first, then Rupert) and the son having the commission on the Mountague. From other sources, I discovered that Peter senior was 63 in 1678, when he was superannuated on the grounds that he was too old to hold further office at sea; a Portsmouth man, he had also been the master of a number of important warships for at least twenty years, including the First Rate St Michael.
  • Pepys listed three John Hubbards, two of whom were commanding ships at exactly the same time. He gave ‘John I’ seven commands, ending with the Falcon in 1670, and ‘John II’ eight, ending with the Assistance in 1668, and noting of ‘John II’ that he was ‘slain in fight with some Algier men-of-war in the Streights, 1668′. But it was actually ‘John I’ who was killed in battle, when in command of the Falcon, in November 1669; ‘John II’s command of the Assistance actually began on 1 January 1671, and he died in command of her in the West Indies in July 1671. So ‘John II’ had the longer career, the opposite of what the Pepys list suggests.
  • Pepys shows one John Wood, captain of four small ships from 1660 to 1667, second lieutenant of the St Andrew in 1672, captain of the Kent in the same year, then lieutenant of five ships in 1673-4 and of three more in 1676-81. But again, these were two different men: ‘John I’ was dismissed the service after being held responsible for the wrecking of the Kent in October 1672, while ‘John II’s last four commissions were actually as captain, with three of them being large and prestigious frigate commands. So relying on Pepys alone would give a completely inaccurate picture of the careers of these men.

But it wasn’t just a case of sorting out cases of mistaken identity in the Pepys list, or rectifying the significant number of omissions. Often, I was able to add detail that made the men in question real, living people, rather than just names on a page. For example, a quick skim of the Pepys list would suggest that Captain Argenton Alington had a brief and unremarkable career, serving only as lieutenant of the Charles in 1668 and captain of the Guernsey in 1669 before being ‘slain in fight with Algier men-of-war off — in the Streights 166-’. In fact, Alington was killed on 3 July 1670, and his death was greatly mourned. He was the brother of the third Baron Alington, MP for Cambridge, and it was said of him that he was ‘a gentleman greatly to be lamented, as being a person of exceeding promising hopes’; Lord Alington was immensely proud of his brother’s career and his heroic death, even though he knew that it might well mean the end of his family’s male line and with it, the title. Then there was Thomas Penrose, recorded in the Pepys list with a bare entry showing his command of the Monck during the Second Anglo-Dutch war. But from other evidence, Penrose was clearly a colourful character – a client of the ship’s namesake, General George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, he was a Cornishman who kept his wife aboard his ship during the winter of 1665-6, by which time it was said that he ‘grows debauched’ and was much addicted to drink. (Hmm, now there’s a thought: I think Thomas Penrose really ought to put in an appearance somewhere in the Quinton Journals!)

I might well try and track down some other interesting information from the card index for future posts. In the meantime, though, I really must see about getting the material transferred into a database…after all, the world is full of criminal gangs desperate to get their hands on the exact dates of each commission held by, say, Lieutenant Endimion Drake (no relation – or was he?), or to sort out which Captain John Johnson was actually which. You can’t be too careful, after all.

There’s going to be a film about 17th century naval history.

Don’t get too excited: it’s not Gentleman Captain: the Movie, more’s the pity. Instead, the Dutch are making a film about their great national hero, Michiel De Ruyter, apparently set during the years 1672-3. From what I’ve seen so far, it looks very promising indeed. Frank Lammers, the actor portraying De Ruyter, really looks the part, and much of the filming is being done in Veere, which was both a genuine 17th century naval port and is the home town of Matthew’s wife Cornelia in the ‘Quinton Journals’. It’s probably a racing certainty that we Brits will be depicted as the bad guys, but that’s ok – after all, we seem to be the bad guys in pretty well every Hollywood film made these days, too. But it’ll be fascinating to see how the film handles both the complex politics of the time and the complexities of portraying naval warfare convincingly on screen.

Finding out about the De Ruyter movie got me thinking, though: just how often has the 17th century navy been portrayed on screen, even tangentially? Sadly, but probably inevitably, the answer is very little, even if one extends the definition of ’17th century’ down to, say, the end of the Stuart era in 1714 – and before we go any further, let’s be clear that in this context, I’m banning all discussion of the ‘P’ word  (don’t even think of mentioning ‘P of the Caribbean’), even if it means ruling out such wonderful films as those terrific 1930s/40s romps, The Black Swan and Captain Blood, along with the new TV series Black Sails, which hasn’t reached this side of the pond as yet.

It’s easy to see why this should be. I’m currently reading James Chapman’s book, Past and Present: National Identity and the British Historical Film, and he makes the following point:

The favourite periods for producers of historical films…have tended to be those which give rise to narratives of national greatness: the Tudor period, which saw the emergence of England as a great power; the Victorian period, which saw industrial progress and imperial expansion; and the Second World War, which in the popular imagination remains ‘our finest hour’.

The corollary of this is that there have been relatively few films or TV series set in the much more ambiguous and fractured 17th century, and even fewer that touch on naval matters. Of course, the reign of Charles II continues to pop up on screen from time to time, but for obvious reasons, the focus of film-makers has always been overwhelmingly on the racy goings-on at court: witness the likes of the Robert Downey Junior film of Rose Tremain’s Restoration, Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the Earl of Rochester in The Libertine, and in earlier years, Forever Amber and Nell Gwynn, of which more anon. But on Chapman’s criteria, it’s very difficult to imagine a film-maker successfully pitching a storyline about, say, the Dutch raid on the Medway in 1667, arguably the greatest military humiliation in British history; and even if such a script ever got written, the cost of such a project would probably be prohibitive (which is why there was only ever one Master and Commander film, and relatively few Hornblower TV movies).

There have been a few exceptions. The TV film of Dava Sobel’s book Longitude begins with the destruction of Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s fleet on Scilly in 1707. Naval events get a mention every now and again in the very stagey 1970s TV series, The First Churchills, which is available in its entirety on Youtube; see, for example, the ‘Glorious Revolution’ episode, at exactly 34 minutes in (blink and you’ll miss it, though). But far and away the most frequent 17th century naval ‘presence’ on screen has, inevitably, been that of Samuel Pepys. Equally inevitably, Pepys’s role as an important naval administrator hardly ever gets a look-in; his screen appearances have invariably been as a voyeur on the fringes of court naughtiness, scribbling down notes of all the risque goings-on and, perhaps, taking part in them himself. As such, Pepys has cropped up from time to time in films from the 1934 Anna Neagle vehicle Nell Gwynn (which also has as one of its characters a naval seaman who lost an eye fighting the Dutch) to 2004′s Stage Beauty, where he was portrayed by none other than Hugh Bonneville, subsequently Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey. Over the years, too, he has been portrayed by actors as diverse as Edmund Gwenn, better known as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, and even Steve Coogan (‘Aha!’).

There do seem to have been a few attempts to place Pepys in his professional context, but these are either lost or never saw the light of day in the first place. Chapman records that in 1935, there was serious discussion about making an entire film about him, starring George Arliss, but this project was abandoned in favour of Arliss’s somewhat odd portrayal of the Duke of Wellington in The Iron Duke. In 1954, the BBC’s Sunday Night Theatre broadcast a play called ‘Ninety Sail‘, which seems to have been set at the time of the Popish Plot and features, in additions to Pepys, such characters as Charles II, the Duke of York and, less expectedly, Captain Henry Priestman, a relatively obscure but somewhat controversial sea-captain (who, nevertheless, eventually ended up with an impressive memorial in the nave of Westminster Abbey). The script was written by W P Lipscomb, who wrote the screenplays for the likes of Dunkirk, A Town Called Alice and the Ronald Colman version of A Tale of Two Cities, and who won an Oscar, no less, for co-writing the script of Pygmalion with an obscure and long-forgotten hack named, umm, George Bernard Shaw. So ‘Ninety Sail’ might have been well worth seeing – but alas, the BBC either did not record programmes at all during that period, or else subsequently wiped the tapes, so the chances of it re-surfacing are probably nil.

Anyway, I know one thing for certain: I fully intend to go and see the film of Michiel De Ruyter, at a cinema somewhere in the Netherlands, as soon as possible after it opens. OK, I probably won’t understand a word, but I want to see it on the big screen, and if some cinema, somewhere, could show it with English subtitles, I’d be eternally in your debt. Who knows, I might even dedicate a book to you.

 

This week, I’m delighted to welcome an illustrious trio of guest bloggers – my friends and colleagues in the field of Restoration naval history, Frank Fox, Peter Le Fevre and Richard Endsor. Frank, the author of The Four Days Battle of 1666 and Great Ships: The Battlefleet of King Charles II, recently posted here about important new evidence regarding the ship lists of the Battle of Beachy Head, 1690. Dr Peter Le Fevre, the co-editor of Precursors of Nelson and British Admirals of the Eighteenth Century: the Contemporaries of Nelson, has been working for well over three decades on the Battle of Beachy Head and the controversial British commander in the battle, Arthur Herbert, Earl of Torrington. Richard Endsor is the author of The Restoration Warship, and the acknowledged authority on late Stuart naval shipbuilding. In this post, they examine the identity of the important shipwreck known as ‘the Normans Bay wreck’. Gentlemen, the floor is yours! *** Many thanks to J D Davies for making his site available. In 2005 divers freeing a lobster pot discovered a wreck about a mile offshore at Normans Bay near Pevensey on the coast of the English Channel.  At first it was thought to be the English warship Resolution which drove ashore in the Great Storm of 1703.  But the Resolution ended up close to the beach (the crew got ashore safely despite heavy surf), and gun-founder Major John Fuller recovered many guns from the wreck – 40 by May 1705 [thanks to ordnance historian Charles Trollope for this, citing the National Archives of England and Wales (NA), WO 51/70, Ordnance Office bill book, fo.10].  Archaeologists, however, have charted 43 guns at the Normans Bay site (as of 2007) with others undoubtedly buried, which makes too many for the 70-gun Resolution [Wessex Archaeology, Norman’s Bay Wreck, East Sussex, Designated Site Assessment, Archaeological Report (Salisbury, November 2007, Ref. 53111.03zz), p. 12 and fig. 2].  Also, tree-ring analysis has shown that the frames were German oak cut after 1658 [Nigel Nayling, The Norman’s Bay Wreck, East Sussex, Tree-Ring Analysis of Ship Timbers, English Heritage Research Department Report Series 25-2008].  This suggests that the ship was Dutch, perhaps one of men-of-war lost after the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690.  Unfortunately, modern English-language sources give few details of these vessels and their misfortunes.  We have sought to remedy this deficit using British, French, and Dutch printed primary sources, and British manuscript sources.  The results offer a plausible candidate for the identity of the Normans Bay wreck.

The Wapen van Utrecht, by Willem van de Velde the Elder (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

The Battle of Beachy Head (or Béveziers as it is known to the Dutch and French) took place on 30 June 1690 (Old Style) about 18 n.m. SSW of the cape for which it is named.  A French fleet of 70 ships-of-the-line (plus smaller vessels) commanded by the Comte de Tourville bested an Anglo-Dutch fleet of 57 ships-of-the-line (again plus smaller vessels) under the Earl of Torrington, with the Dutch contingent commanded by Cornelis Evertsen.  Afterwards, the allies retreated eastwards towards the Thames, and many of the ship losses occurred over several days during the pursuit.  The British lost only the third-rate Anne, forced to run ashore near Rye and afterwards burned; but the Dutch lost ten ships, listed in a report from Evertsen which was printed in the Dutch newspapers Europische Mercurius (July 1690, pp. 45-46) and Hollandsche Mercurius (1690, pp. 207-208); his report included an eleventh ship which unexpectedly survived.  In the list below, admiralty affiliations, building dates, and dimensions are from A Vreugdenhil, Ships of the United Netherlands 1648-1702 (London, 1938), and from information kindly supplied by researcher James C Bender.  Dimensions are in Amsterdam feet of 283mm.  Lengths are external stem to sternpost measurements, and breadths are inside the plank.  The vessels lost were as follows: Suikermolen fireship, 4 guns (North Quarter, origin and dimensions unknown), Commandeur Abraham van Brakel.  Sunk in action 30 June by broadsides from the Marquis de Villette-Mursay’s flagship, Le Conquérant.  [Eugène Sue, Histoire de la Marine Française, (Paris, 1856), vol. iv, p. 106, Tourville to Seignelay, 1/11 July; Mémoires du Marquis de Villette (Paris, 1844), p. 102] Kroonvogel fireship, 6 (Amsterdam, 1666, 86 x 22), Commandeur Thameszoon.  Burned in action 30 June in an unsuccessful attack on the French centre squadron.  The name of Thameszoon’s vessel is not quite certain.  [Albemarle captain’s log, NA ADM 51/55; Milford master’s log, NA ADM 52/69] Friesland, 68 (Amsterdam, 1685, 145 x 38), Capt. Philips van der Goes. The Friesland was dismasted during the battle on 30 June.  When the allied fleet anchored late in the afternoon, the Friesland, having had her anchors shot away, drifted on the tidal current into the enemy fleet.  After an obstinate defence, she was taken by Le Souverain, flagship of chef d’escadre De Nesmond. The next morning the French took out the Friesland’s crew and set her afire.  This occurred about 18 nautical miles SSW of Beachy head.  [Memoirs Relating to the Lord Torrington, ed. J K Laughton (Camden Society, 1889), p. 46; Villette, Mémoires, p. 101; Albemarle captain’s log, NA ADM 51/55; Plymouth master’s log, NA ADM 52/88] Noord Holland or Noorderkwartier, 72 (North Quarter, 1688, dimensions unknown), Schout-bij-Nacht (Rear-Admiral) Jan Dick.  Dismasted during the action on 30 June, the ship was taken in tow by the English third-rate Stirling Castle.  At about 9 p.m. on 1 July, Lord Torrington, in accordance with a council-of-war earlier that day, ordered the Noord Holland sunk because she could not keep pace under tow.  The Stirling Castle took the crew aboard and scuttled the Dutch ship late on 1 July or the early hours of the 2nd, 12-15 n.m. SE of Beachy Head.  Dick, who had been killed in the action, was taken to England and buried near the North Foreland.  [Stirling Castle master’s log, NA ADM 52/109; Royal Sovereign's captain's log, NA ADM 51/4320; Albemarle captain’s log, NA ADM 51/55; Hope captain’s log, NA ADM 51/4220; Evertsen’s journal, extract in J C M Warnsinck, De Vloot van den Koning-Stadhouder 1688-1690 (Amsterdam, 1934), pp. 110-111; Ibid., p. 121] Gekroonde Burg, 62 (Zeeland, 1682, 156 x ?), Vice-Admiral Karel van de Putte, commander of the Dutch rear division.  Disabled during the fighting on 30 June, the ship was taken under tow by the English third-rate Lenox that evening.  Late on 1 July, Lord Torrington, in accordance with a council-of-war earlier that day, ordered the lagging Gekroonde Burg destroyed to prevent her capture.  The Lenox, which received her orders about 11 p.m., took Van de Putte’s crew aboard, transferred them to her attending ketch Prosperous, and set the ship afire at 1 a.m. on the 2nd, with the fleet then 12-15 n.m. SE of Beachy Head.  The Gekroonde Burg blew up at 3 a.m.  [Lenox logs, NA ADM 51/3881, books 1 and 5 (all dates in the Lenox logs are off by one day, but corrected in the other sources here); Royal Sovereign captain's log, NA ADM 51/4320; Albemarle captain’s log, NA ADM 51/55; Julian Prize captain’s log, NA ADM 51/494; Evertsen’s journal, Warnsinck, pp. 110-111]

Wapen van Utrecht, by van de Velde the elder National Maritime Museum)

Wapen van Utrecht, by van de Velde the elder National Maritime Museum)

Wapen van Utrecht or Stad Utrecht, 64 (Amsterdam, 1665, 147 x 37¼), Capt. Pieter Claassen Decker.  Her hull severely damaged in the action, the Wapen van Utrecht was left to leeward (west) of the retreating allied fleet and moving inshore. Schout-bij-Nacht Gillis Schey’s hardly less shattered Prinses Maria stayed with her and, late on 2 July, took aboard Decker’s crew.  According to Schey’s report, the Wapen van Utrecht ‘sank along the English coast’ the night of 2/3 July.  [Schey’s account of 7/17 July, Europische Mercurius, July 1690, p. 47; Evertsen’s journal, Warnsinck, p. 113] Maagd van Enkhuizen, 72 (North Quarter, 1688, 156 x 40), Capt. Jan van der Poel.  The Maagd van Enkhuizen was disabled during the action on 30 June.  Afterwards, the English fifth-rate Portsmouth towed a Dutch ship ‘of about 70 guns’.  This could only have been the Maagd van Enkhuizen, as all other damaged ships of this strength are otherwise accounted for.   The Portsmouth anchored off Hastings with her tow about 5 a.m. on 2 July and, on Van der Poel’s recommendation, cast off the tow.  The damaged vessel was observed from the English ship Suffolk to have run herself aground at Hastings before 9 a.m.   On the 3rd at 11 a.m., she was set afire to avoid capture, and blew up at 2 p.m.  [Portsmouth master’s log, NA ADM 52/87; Suffolk master’s log, NA ADM 52/110; Julian Prize captain’s log, NA ADM 51/494; Salamander captain’s log, NA ADM 51/3963] Elswout, 50 (Amsterdam, 1677, 136 x 36½), Capt. Adriaan Noortheij.  The Elswout was disabled during the battle.  Afterwards, the English fifth-rate Garland took in tow ‘a Dutch man of warr of 50 Guns’.  This was undoubtedly the Elswout, the only severely damaged 50-gun ship.   At 1 p.m. on 2 July, the Garland cast off the tow at Hastings, where the Elswout ran ashore.  She was set afire to prevent capture at 4 p.m. on the 3rd, and blew up at 6 p.m.  Captain Noortheij was reported by many sources to have been killed in action, but an English travel pass was issued in his name on 15 July.  [Garland captain’s log, NA ADM 51/384; Julian Prize captain’s log, NA ADM 51/494; NA SP 44/339, Warrants and Passes, p. 316] Tholen, 60 (Zeeland, 1688, 145 x ?), Capt. Cornelis Calis.  Disabled in the action, she reached a point near Hastings, probably under tow, and ran ashore at White Rock a mile west of the town on 2 July.  After resisting all French attacks on 3 July, she was burned to avoid capture at about noon on the 4th.  The identification of the Tholen as the ship burned at that time is made fairly certain by Tourville’s description of this last Dutch vessel destroyed as a ship of 60 guns.  The other large Dutch men-of-war burned at Hastings – both the previous day – are described by logs of English vessels noted above as ships of 50 and 70 guns, consistent with the Elswout and Maagd van Enkhuizen.  [Edgar master’s log, NA ADM 52/30; Hope captain’s log, NA ADM 51/4220; Sue, iv, p. 124, Tourville to Seignelay, 6/16 July; Historical Manuscripts Commission, The Manuscripts of Lord Kenyon (London, 1894), pp. 242-243, newsletter of Manchester, 5 July] Maagd van Enkhuizen fireship, 6 (North Quarter, origin and dimensions unknown), Commandeur Muijsevanger.  Though undamaged, she was beached at White Rock on 2 July on the orders of a more senior captain, presumably Calis of the Tholen.  She was abandoned by her crew some time on the 3rd and burned to prevent capture at about 8 p.m. that evening.  This fireship’s presence at White Rock makes little sense unless she had towed the Tholen there.  On 1 July, the English third-rate Edgar was ordered to tow a disabled Dutch man-of-war, but was unable to find the damaged vessel.  It seems likely that this was the Tholen, and that the Tholen’s captain appropriated the fireship for towing.  It would also have been reasonable to order the expendable fireship to accompany the Tholen ashore so she could assist again later if both survived the expected French attacks.  [Edgar master’s log, NA ADM 52/30; Hawk master's log, NA ADM 51/3860; Warspite master's log, NA ADM 52/122; HMC Kenyon MSS, p. 243] Another ship that Evertsen feared had been lost in fact survived.  The damaged 64-gun Maas under Captain Jan Snellen was probably the man-of-war initially towed by the English fifth-rate Milford, whose log ceases to mention this duty after the 1st.  On the 2nd, the fourth-rate Assurance, which had joined the fleet the day after the battle, took over towing what seems likely to have been the same vessel, only to have the hawser part in tacking.  Left on his own, Snellen sailed west making for Portsmouth, but was forced ashore early on the 3rd after being discovered by the French ship Le Saint-Louis.  The Maas went aground ‘before a little Harbour’ [Forbin, see below], perhaps the now-extinct fishing port of Holywell in modern Eastbourne.  Having mounted guns on the beach, Snellen drove off three attacks by French longboats, the water being too shallow for anything larger.  Because of the ship’s remote position – 7 leagues or 21 n.m. from Rye according to Tourville – the French declined further attempts on her after the 3rd in order to concentrate on easier prey at Hastings and Rye, and for the main pursuit to the east.  Later, Snellen refloated his ship, got his guns back aboard, and sailed to the Netherlands with only the foremast standing.  [Milford master’s log, NA ADM 52/69; Assurance master’s log, NA ADM 52/3; Sue, iv, p. 121, letter from Villette; Ibid., p. 124, Tourville to Seignelay, 6/16 July; Memoirs of the Count de Forbin (London, 1731), vol. i, pp. 278-279; Warnsinck, pp. 146-148, with extracts from Snellen’s letters]

24 pounder of the type to be expected on the Wapen van Utrecht, drawn by Captain Nico Brink

24 pounder of the type to be expected on the Wapen van Utrecht, drawn by Captain Nico Brinck

This accounting of Dutch losses shows that of the seven large men-of-war destroyed, the Friesland, Noord Holland, and Gekroonde Burg sank or burned many miles from land.  Three others ran ashore and were burned at or near Hastings.  The identity of these, already established above, are confirmed by travel passes to the Netherlands issued by the English government during mid-July to the captains and officers of the Maagd van Enkhuizen, Tholen, and Elswout [NA, SP 44/339, Warrants, pp. 307, 314, and 316].  The remaining major warship, the Wapen van Utrecht, thus becomes the only possibility for the Normans Bay wreck among the Dutch losses of this battle.  And indeed, Gillis Schey reported that the abandoned vessel went down ‘along the English coast’.  This indicates that she sank near land, but is hardly conclusive in that the description covers many miles of shoreline.  Another source, however, focuses rather more narrowly on her resting place.  On 30 August 1690, Queen Mary promulgated a warrant which began, ‘Whereas 3 Ships of Warr belonging to the States Generall of the United Provinces were burnt neare Hastings, & a 4th was sunk neare the Haven of Pemsey [Pevensey] after the late engagement with ye French Fleet’.  The document enjoined her ‘Loving Subjects’ to assist in every way the persons appointed by the Dutch ambassador to ‘fish up’ the guns and equipment of these ships [NA SP 44/339, Warrants, pp. 368-369].  It hardly needs saying that ‘near Pevensey’ accurately describes Normans Bay.  Also worth noting is that the Wapen van Utrecht, built 1665, is an excellent fit for the tree-ring dating.

6 pounder of the kind that might have been aboard the Wapen van Utrecht - Captain Nico Brink

6 pounder of the kind that might have been aboard the Wapen van Utrecht – Captain Nico Brinck

The best way to obtain more decisive evidence is to raise some of the guns and remove the concretions to reveal the underlying inscriptions.  In 1666 the Wapen van Utrecht had six brass 24-pounders, eighteen iron 18-pounders, six brass 12-pounders, sixteen iron 8-pounders, sixteen iron 3-pounders, and four brass ‘draakjes’ (small shrapnel guns) [H A Van Foreest and R E J Weber, De Vierdaagse Zeeslag 11-14 Juni 1666, Amsterdam 1984, p. 197].  By 1690 the armament of this veteran warship – Beachy Head was her seventh major battle – undoubtedly differed.  Dutch ordnance historian Nico Brinck [personal communication] suggests that the final outfit was probably all iron, and the little 3-pounders originally on the forecastle and quarterdeck would have been replaced by a larger calibre, perhaps 6-pounders.  He also notes that iron guns supplied for the Dutch fleet in this period usually came from the great De Geers foundry in Finspong, Sweden, less commonly from Huseby also in Sweden, and sometimes from German sources.  Guns often had a founder’s mark on the trunnions (‘F’ for Finspong, for instance), and if they were aboard the Wapen van Utrecht, most would show the crossed anchors and double ‘A’s of the Admiralty of Amsterdam on the first reinforce just forward of the touch-hole. Even if the Normans Bay wreck turns out not to be the Wapen van Utrecht, this blog has at least added detail to what has been known of the Battle of Beachy Head.    

MPs, newspaper columnists and bloggers galore have sounded off on the subject of the reasons for the decline of the British pub. No doubt sociologists aplenty have written, or are writing, weighty doctoral theses on the subject. Even I had my two penn’orth a few years back, in my old blog . (And if you really have too much time on your hands and want to read my thoughts, they’re here and here - although it’s interesting that in the four years or so since I wrote those posts, binge drinking itself, and the violence fuelled by it, have gone into a steep decline in their turn.) But as far as I’m aware – and I’d be delighted if somebody out there proves me wrong – nobody has yet explored the demise of an important, but sorely neglected, sub-species of the British pub: the good, old-fashioned, naval boozer.

First, a definition or two – just what is a ‘naval pub’? For the purposes of this post, I’ll cast the net widely. Obviously, there are the pubs that are, or were, frequented by large numbers of serving sailors. The problem with this category, of course, is that there simply aren’t ‘large numbers of serving sailors’ any more, and if one believes what one reads (and even the navy’s own publicity), many of the current crop are more likely to be listening to their iPods or reading The Guardian‘s fashion pages while sipping cappuccinos than throwing eight pints down their necks in the Admiral Napier. As a result, many of the countless pubs that catered to naval personnel in the dockyard towns have fallen by the wayside. A classic example is the decline of the once-notorious Union Street in Plymouth, which I knew a little in the 1980s, long after its heyday, while following the closure of the dockyard in 1984, Chatham lost such evocative naval names as the Boatswain and Call, the Lord Duncan, and the Shipwrights Arms.

The Lord Nelson, Burnham Thorpe

The Lord Nelson, Burnham Thorpe

The second category consists of pubs with genuine roots in naval history. Perhaps the classic example of this genre would be the Lord Nelson at Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk: the pub where Nelson himself drank (indeed, it now markets itself as ‘Nelson’s local’), in his own home village, and the first one in Britain to be renamed after him following his death. But there are plenty of other pubs with Nelson connections, such as the Royal Hotel in Deal, where he stayed with Emma Hamilton, and the Lord Nelson at Milford Haven, where in 1802 he delivered a speech extolling the virtues of the great Welsh natural harbour. Another great pub steeped in naval history is the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich, right next to the Old Royal Naval College (or as it’s better known these days, ‘that place that turns up in pretty much every blockbuster movie’). But since the navy moved out of the college, the pub seems to have become a bit neglectful of its naval heritage; and perhaps the surest sign of its decline is that on one recent occasion when I went in there, another of the customers was Graham Norton.

My third and final category would be pubs with naval names. In the dockyard towns, there’s a considerable overlap with the first category; in Portsmouth until quite recently, for instance, Jack Tar could stagger from the Ship Anson to the Ship Leopard to the Keppel’s Head to the Victory, and then round the corner to the Royal George and the Invincible, all of which were within roughly a 300 yard radius of each other, immediately outside the dockyard gate. There used to be quite a few more in the same vicinity, and the principal street name, The Hard, inadvertently gave a pretty good pointer toward the sort of behaviour to be expected in the area on a Saturday night. But the naval name used to be a common feature of towns throughout the country. My own home town, Llanelli, was a port, but it had hardly any direct connections with the navy. Even so, at one time it had a Britannia Hotel, a Lord Nelson, a British Tar, a Trafalgar Inn and a Neptune Inn, as well as many more pubs with ‘maritime’ names, like the Ship, the Sailors Home, the Steam Packet, the Sloop Aground and The Three Mariners. Pubs called the Lord Nelson were everywhere; until relatively recently, there was even one in Stourport-in-Severn, far inland, which is where my Worcestershire ancestors hailed from. But one of my favourite examples of the naval name popping up in unexpected places is the Torbay at Ffairfach in Carmarthenshire. Ffairfach is a suburb of Llandeilo and is a long way inland, but its pub seems to have been named after an eighteenth century Torbay - perhaps an early landlord had served on her? – and to this day, the pub sign is a remarkably creditable painting of the ship.

The Torbay Inn pub sign, Ffairfach

The Torbay Inn pub sign, Ffairfach

The problems with the pubs bearing naval names are that, firstly, there are far fewer of them than there were, and with each one that closes, an entire point of contact between a community and Britain’s naval history disappears. But even in those that survive, the naval connection is often downplayed or ignored entirely: pictures of old ships do not necessarily sit well with wannabe Jamie Olivers trying to create rural gastropub heaven (or, in the humble opinion of the present blogger, hell). Worse, I know pubs where good old solid British oak beams and bars have been painted white ‘to give a friendlier/warmer/more feminine feel’ (most disastrously at my village local, although that doesn’t have a naval name or connection). A case in point was the Old Custom House in Portsmouth, one of the few old buildings to survive within the ghastly Gunwharf Quays complex that was erected on the site of the old HMS Vernon training establishment. When the pub first opened, in 2001, it had a large number of pictures and other memorabilia of Vernon, but most of that was discarded at the first refurbishment only a few years later. On the other hand, a few ‘pubcos’ have a rather better record, notably the much-maligned Wetherspoons, which does at least provide display boards and photographs which explain the heritage behind a pub’s name. For instance, they’ve named a pub in Newport the John Wallace Linton after the locally-born submariner and VC winner, while one of their outlets in Potters Bar rejoices in the name of the Admiral Byng (who lived at nearby Wrotham Park), although I’ve yet to investigate the amount of information about the ill-fated admiral on display within. But these are just a few isolated examples, and I’d suggest that they in no way compensate for the vast amount of naval pub heritage that we’ve lost. As I suggested above, every closure, every stripping out of ships’ badges or pictures that no longer fit with the desired ‘corporate image’, reduces the visibility of the navy and of naval history in public perception. There are many other causes of the ‘sea blindness’ that many believe to be afflicting modern Britain, but this is surely one of them.

Let’s not end on a negative and depressing note, though. Which are my favourite ‘naval pubs’, in any of the above categories, I hear you cry? (And even if you don’t, I’m going to tell you anyway.) Well, there are plenty. Honourable mentions to the minute snug bar in the Admiral MacBride on the Barbican in Plymouth, very much an old stamping ground during my time down west, and to the Lord Nelson at Southwold; back in the day, that mention would have gone to the nearby Solebay Inn, until the otherwise splendid Adnams Brewery wrecked it with a ghastly refurbishment. But pretty much at the top of my tree would have to be the Ship and Shovell, adjacent to Charing Cross station in London. (And no, Tripadvisor, it’s not spelt ‘Shovel’. 0 stars for you.) Not only is this the only pub in London in two halves, one on each side of an alley; not only is it full of naval history pictures and memorabilia, which makes it a real rarity in London; not only does it serve splendid beer; but it’s actually one of the very few pubs anywhere that commemorates a seventeenth century naval hero, i.e. ‘one of the blokes in my books’.

The Pembroke on a foggy night. Just imagine a press gang coming round the corner...

The Pembroke on a foggy night. Just imagine a press gang coming round the corner…

But my award for ‘best naval pub in Britain’ would have to go to the Pembroke in Portsmouth. It’s not in such an obvious and prominent location as the aforementioned pubs on the Hard, or the Still and West a few hundred yards away at the harbour mouth (which was once very nearly rammed by Britain’s last battleship), but it’s fairly adjacent to the Royal Garrison Church where King Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, its walls are adorned with the ships’ badges of current and past warships, and most days, you’ll come across a veteran or two propping up the bar, spinning yarns to anyone who’ll listen. But if anyone has alternative candidates for the title, I’d love to hear about them – and, of course, I’d then have to undertake the onerous task of personally researching all of the premises in question. This blogging’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

***

I’m delighted to announce that this site is about to host a very important guest post. Frank Fox, who recently provided us with new information about the fleets at the Battle of Beachy Head (1690), along with the equally renowned Restoration naval historians Peter Le Fevre and Richard Endsor, will be proposing a new identification of the ‘Normans Bay wreck’, one of the most important warship wrecks of the seventeenth century in British waters, the identity of which has long eluded naval historians and nautical archaeologists alike. We still have a few i’s to dot and t’s to cross, but all being well, this post will be available on this site next week.  

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