Friday, 17 July 2015

Correspondence Blog

When my late Uncle Stephen died, he left behind a number of old books. Dusty volumes, torn and battered, some might have thought beyond redemption. One of these volumes was called the Boy's Own Paper Annual and it was a collection of 52 brief journals running from October, 1886, through to September, 1887, (I have since bought several further albums).

As the title implied, the papers were aimed at male youths, and the articles covered such topics as Castles of England, Cricket, Arctic Experiences, and Talking Birds.

Alongside non-fiction were short stories and serials by some of the best adventure writers of the time; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Wilkie Collins, etc. Regular features were prominent with competitions, a monthly calendar of events, and the opportunity for boys and young men to write with queries to the editors and contributors. 

I suppose I have always enjoyed letters or correspondence sections in magazines and newspapers. Often flicking to the pages, usually near the back or front of a publication, where real people have revealed something of themselves in writing to the editors. 

This Correspondence section was intriguing. It contained replies from the editors but did not print the boys' original questions leaving one often guessing what the query was about. Curious, I flicked through the large tome, stopping at these Correspondence pages and remarking how varied and eclectic the interests of the Victorian boy were. 

Many replies dealt with hobbies and collections, or the keeping of pets. Some replies were rude and abrupt, others helpful and informative. Subjects ranged from emigration and employment to taxidermy and etiquette (not, I hasten to add, simultaneously). 

As a taster for this blog I shall begin with the reply that grabbed my attention and led me to write this book. Incidentally it begins with the initials of the young chap who had made an obscure and probably disturbing query:- 

A. B. A. - Banish madness from your mind and leave the dog alone. 

As with the rest of this blog, I shall leave you to be the judge.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Camp Life for Boys by Gordon Stables MD RN. Part 2.

But the great baldheaded, toothless, puny-bodied Button Age hasn’t come yet, and men are still men, and boys want to be men, and will be men too, and the nearer they approach to what are called “pretty men” in Scotland – that is, strong, hardy fellows built of bone and muscle, without an ounce of fat – the better they like it. I know this from the constant enquiries our Editor has about how to grow tall, and about measurements of chest, calves, etc., and how to reduce fat.

Another fact is this, that we all love picnics. We all want at times to throw off the fetters and trammels of civilisation, and become, if only for a day, savages in the wilds.

When I am abroad every summer in my great caravan, it is wonderful how often the remark is made to me by visitors: “Oh, it is just the life I’ve often thought I’d like to lead.”

Only they didn’t put their thoughts into practice.

My own first experience of outdoor life was when I was a lad. My father happened to have a large hill where sheep strayed. It was called the blaeberry hill, owing to the number of whorts that grew there. But most of it was heather. It terminated in a forest, and our own wood lay between it and our fields. In order to be early among the rabbits and hares and wild pigeons, I used to throw my plaid around me in the evening, and with my beautiful dog and gun betake me to the hill. The plaid just kept my bare knees – of course I wore my native dress – from rain or dew. Tyro, my dog, was my pillow. He knew all about it. But when I awoke sometimes of a morning I found my pillow sitting by my side with his tongue hanging out, and a fine big hare lying near me which he had run down by speed of foot.

When I had time in autumn, I made me a true Highland bed of sheaves of blooming heather, with the bloom of course uppermost. Ah! I’m never so happy now as I was in those days.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Camp Life for Boys by Gordon Stables MD, RN.
Part 1...The Great Button Age

 I do most firmly believe that there is a bit of the Crusoe in every really manly boy who lives and breathes. And quite right too. All our boasted civilisation, while elevating the minds of mankind, tends to render the body puny and effete. Most of our very cleverest of inventions aim at doing away with bodily labour and muscular exertion of every sort; and if science – electric and otherwise – continues to advance with the same rapid strides it is now doing, in the course of say, two hundred years the only thing men will be fit for will be to touch a button. Then will come the age of buttons or The Great Button Age. Human beings – bald and toothless, you know, with immense great chumps of heads on them and no bodies to speak of – will hardly care to move off the lounge. When they want breakfast they will touch a button, and presently it will come through the wall or up through the floor, or somewhere. When they want the things cleared away they will touch another button, and, hey! presto! The things will disappear.

When they want to go out they will touch a button, and the softly-cushioned electric carriage will come to the door of its own accord.

If one wants music in one’s room, he will merely have to switch it on by touching a button. Nobody will bother going to the concert-room, or any place else. He will be able to switch on a song, or chorus, and by darkening the room – another button – be able to see as well as hear...
(extract from Boy's Own Paper article Camp Life For Boys (September 3, 1892)

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


Do you remember copying your Dad shaving when you were a youngster...Now, with this great advice boys and girls can have their whiskers too!!


Most boys have a passion for whiskers, and (if some of them have not been much maligned) the use of the razor has frequently been discovered before the necessity of its assistance has arisen.

Shaving to produce hair, however, is a slow process to that which our boys may adopt this merry holiday-tide by a system which is simplicity itself. As if by magic, beard, moustache, whiskers, “billy-goat” every style of hirsute adornment, spread over the downy lips, cheeks, chins, of unfledged striplings!

And this is HOW IT’S DONE! Apparatus required:- two screens, a table, two lamps and reflectors, a small piece of silvered glass, and several pieces of wood with cardboard tacked on to them, which we will describe.

The performer sits behind a table, with the screens on either hand, and the lamps are arranged behind these on each side, on a level with his face upon which, by the aid of the reflectors, a strong light is thrown. Between his face and the lamps he holds a stick in each hand, and on the tops of these (which should be long enough to rest on the table, to give them steadiness) are fixed pieces of cardboard of such shape that their shadows falling on the face give the effect of moustache, whiskers, etc. On the table the piece of silvered glass is fixed so that it will not interfere with the view of the audience, and yet the performer may see his face in it.

The lights being “down” in front greatly assists the illusion, and some extra fun may be made by swallowing the moustache. This is done by opening the mouth, and, at the same moment turning the sticks sharply, so as to remove the shadows from the lips.

We cannot give any precise instructions as to the shape of the cardboard pieces, as all, of course, depends upon the size of the face. A little practice will however, soon determine the shapes required for “beard of formal cut,” or moustachios of all kinds and sizes.
We will give the simplest form first, (fig.1); but you may go into very elaborate curled moustachios and deliver a lecture on the various forms of vanity in these matters, the military moustache, the fop’s etc., with illustrations.

Here is an elegant one for instance, (fig.2) a “curled darling.” The sticks, lamps, and all your other aids to illusion are out of the view of the audience, concealed by the screens, and your face appears thus:-

Here is the back view, with the lamps fixed to the screens, and throwing a fierce light on the artist’s face; and his whiskers, etc, which are not in use are ready on racks at each side, you will observe.

If the expression of the face be altered for the different styles of moustache, etc., it will add very much to the fun of the entertainment.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Death of the Abyssinian Prince 1879

that follows has a more serious tone than some of my recent offerings. It is none the less intriguing, the background to the life of the Ethiopian prince, Amarayu has aspects relevant today.


The story of King Theodore of Abyssinia, his violent passions, his barbarous cruelties, his endless wars, his defiance of British power, the attack on him by General Napier, his determined resistance, and his fall behind the gates of his own city, Magdala – the story of all this must familiar, in part at least, to most readers.

The history of the march of our brave troops to set free the captives whom Theodore had so wantonly imprisoned is one well worthy boys’ reading, and we may perhaps be tempted one day to retell it, with suitable illustrations, in these columns. At present, however, we have to do, not with the terrible king, but with his son.

When Magdala had fallen and Theodore was dead, the Queen of Abyssinia sought refuge in the English camp, but in a few days died of consumption, leaving an orphan son, named Dejaz Alamieo (or Alamayu), between seven and eight years old. What could be done with him? The country was in confusion, thechiefs were opposed to one another, and there was great danger that if the little orphan boy were left behind he would speedily be got rid of, possibly by a cruel death. It was accordingly determined to bring him to England, and he was committed to the kindly guardianship of Captain Speedy to whom he soon became attached.

The prince on reaching England was placed at school, and proving a sharp lad, quickly made progress in his studies, and continued to grow in the respect of all who knew him. He has just died, and as many references to the sad event have been made in the daily papers, we thought our readers might like to know what he was like when brought to this country. The portrait we give is from a photograph taken at the time, and admirably preserves the likeness.


The prince died on November 14th, at the age of eighteen, of inflammation of the lungs, at the residence of Professor Ransome, at Headingley, where he was being educated at the expense of the Government. During his illness our beloved Queen, who took a warm interest in him, twice sent Sir John Cowell to see him, and was kept constantly informed by telegrams as to his condition. The remains of the young prince were brought to Windsor, and buried in the royal catacombs, St George’s Chapel.

We thought it might, perhaps, add to the interest of this brief sketch if we also gave a portrait of Lord Napier of Magdala, and we have selected for the one taken about the time that the prince was photographed; in other words, soon after the general’s successful campaign in Africa by which he won his present title.